Hey folks. Here’s another snippet from Book Two of the series.

I have to admit that I have a certain weakness for the character of Lieutenant Lanis. She’s a complex and interesting person and it’s so much fun dealing with her inner issues. Of all the characters in the story, I feel like I’m rooting for her the most, mainly because, despite being so confident, she’s really rather lost. She never fails to surprise me, always leading in new directions, even when I thought I had the scene planned out. 😛

The young officer walked over and smiled. “Sepp Hestor, Shiv 22, 12th AC,” he said, offering his hand.

Lanis looked him over. He was several centimets taller than her, and his soft, rounded face, though clean-shaven, showed a distinct beard shadow. His dark-brown hair was cropped in a tight military cut, and his blue eyes gleamed with confidence.

Compared to her scuffed and patched armor, his pristine gear and runic plate looked like they’d just left the New Madison factories. She could almost smell the rookie odor emanating off this guy like a bad cologne.

“Sheyrl Lanis, 33rd,” she replied, giving his hand a brief, firm shake.

Hestor’s eyes went wide and a stupefied grin lit his face. “Holy shit! The Widowmaker?”

Lanis’s deadpan reaction didn’t seem to register with him. “This is amazing!” he carried on, “I can’t believe that I’m dropping in with the friggin’ Widowmaker of the 33rd! You’ve got a hell of a reputation back at the academy. You wouldn’t believe some of the stories.”

Lanis rolled her eyes and snatched the EP rifle from her locker, beginning a quick inspection of the weapon. “First combat drop, Mr. Hestor?” she asked, changing the subject.

As she’d hoped, his enthusiasm waned a bit. “Yes, Ma’am,” he shrugged nervously.

She checked the sights on the rifle, faking a smile. “Ready to get out there and kick some Imperial ass?”

He smiled brightly. “Hell yeah, Ma’am!” He clenched his fists. “Can’t wait to channel some pain on them bastards!”

Lanis glanced over at the cluster of men Hestor had left behind. “That’s your team?”

Hestor nodded, beaming with pride.

“ArcAT?” Lanis guessed, based on their heavy body armor and weapons load out. Arcane Assault Team, one of the more common Shiv team formations. These guys would be expected to lead the charge against some of the strongest Imperial units. They looked to be about as experienced as their commander, and far less confident, if their fidgeting was any indication.

Lanis slipped the EP rifle into her leg holster and grabbed her EVI’s from the locker. “Do you know why you’re here, Mr. Hestor?”

Hestor snapped to attention. “To support elements of the 15th Drop in clearing Imperium strongpoints and antiaircraft emplacements in advance of the main assault force.”

Lanis stifled a smile as she strapped the goggles over her head. A good, quick answer, and exactly the sort she’d expect from a fresh-face junior grade. But it wasn’t what she was asking. She turned to face him. “I mean, do you know why YOU are here?”

Hestor cleared his throat, appearing somewhat confused by her question.

Lanis brushed a stray lock of hair from her face and glared up at the younger officer. “Allow me give you a clue.”

“Those guys,” she nodded toward his team, “are about to drop into the worst hell you can imagine. There are going to be things down on that battlefield that can see through walls and smoke and will suck the very living essence out of a man. Things that will crush them where they stand, flash fry them, or burst their insides without warning.”

Hestor glanced at his team and way he chewed the inside of his lip seemed to indicate that Lanis’s somewhat over-the-top evocation was having the intended effect.

“They’re going to face horrors straight out of their worst nightmares,” she continued, snapping his attention back to her, “And when that happens, the only thing that’s gonna stand between them and the void,—” she pressed her finger into his flawless runic chestplate, “—is YOU.”

She pulled her hand away, her expression softening. “Do you understand?”

Hestor took a breath and glanced about nervously, then looked her in the face. “Yes Ma’am,” he nodded.

“Good,” Lanis smiled, genuinely this time. She patted him on the arm and sent him on his way, hopefully a little wiser.

As she watched him leave, she lightly ran her fingers along the wooden stock of her EP rifle, feeling the cut marks—one for each ned kill her team had made over the years. Her hand lingered between the third and fourth cuts, a small gap representing the battle of Montrey.

For a moment, she was back in the ruined city, thrashing helplessly on the frozen ground, her body wracked with the agony of channeling backlash as a scene of screaming humanoid shadows writhing in a maelstrom of flame played out repeatedly in her mind. Eleven- the number seared into her memory by the fire that killed those men. The fire she couldn’t stop, because she hadn’t been strong enough.

She closed the door to the locker and headed to the drop bay.

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