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End of Days . . In war, we come to realize many things that distinguish our fragile existence. We for once see the thin tether that hangs us precariously above the gaping pit of our demise as we struggle helplessly in the empty air. In the end, Fate cuts us loose from our misery and we fall into the bottomless chasm of oblivion, perhaps catching a glimpse of a flicker of light on our descent just before everything goes pitch black. Such is the way the world ends. In mankind’s ephemeral existence, our minds are shrouded by the dashing mysticism of our self-flattering significance. We hold possession and purpose, but in the end we depart with neither. In the war to end all wars, humanity made its final stand against each other as over 100 million men were mobilized for battle, almost three quarters of which perished. Through the deadliest conflict in history, we looked past our blindness and saw beyond the veil of reality. In the town of Kalach, about 45 kilometers west of Stalingrad on the Eastern Front, the fragmented journals of a Russian soldier by the name of Nicolai Petrovich were recovered amidst the rubble of the frozen wastelands, where to the bewilderment of the investigators the fields there resembled nothing like the typical geography of the area, almost as if something had transformed the unchanging earth that had stood there for eons. March 17, 1942 – “From one hell to another” Our men arrived at Stalingrad from Ulyanovsk after suffering heavy losses at Leningrad. Here we joined up with the 62nd army. We heard that the Germans may be coming here to constrict our oil supplies and to cut off transportation routes on the Volga River. Rumors are spreading that Hitler wanted more – that to conquer a city bearing the name of his arch enemy would mean a symbolic triumph for the Reich. We cannot let this happen; I will stand my ground to the very end at Stalingrad. July 28, 1942 – “Not a step back” There is no turning back from now on. Through Stalin’s orders we are to defend the soil of our motherland with every last drop of living blood. There will be secret police units stationed behind the front to kill off the deserters. Indeed our own men have been turned into vultures to pick off the abandoning stragglers. With the Germans advancing closer and closer each day, my comrades and I are soon to face the inevitable battle of our fates. Our days are numbered in the city, and the same night sky that I see right now will be soon ablaze with the chaos of endless gunfire and bombs. August 15, 1942 – “Wait for me” Today I received a letter from family with a newspaper clipping of a poem called “Wait for Me.” I cannot but shed tears as I read it. The war has torn so many lives apart, and yet we are still together in our hearts. I put the poem in the front pocket of my coat. I will keep it safe there, and I pray it will in turn keep me safe. August 23, 1942 – “The attack begins” It has finally come. There were a thousand planes of the dreaded Luftwaffe across the sky. At 18:00 the first bombs fell on the city, and black smoke rose in the shape of an ominous cross. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died inside the city already. Outside the city the German infantry advanced from the north while their panzer divisions encroached from the south. This is where we make our last stand in the lockjaw of war. When we fight the incoming enemy, we will give them a welcome so close that their supporting artilleries cannot fire without killing their own men. The moment has come, and I am prepared to make the final stand. October 2, 1942 – “Tears and blood” War is around us; in their relentless Blitzkriegs the Germans have launched an all out attack on Moscow, the heart of our motherland. While the capital is under attack, I am still surviving the bloodbath at Stalingrad. Our supplies are dwindling; the reinforcements that come must cross the dangerous Volga, which is still constantly under bombardment by the enemy’s artillery. Some days I see the Volga not as a river but as a stream of blood flowing through hell. What difference does it make? We are all damned to crawl through the burning ruins beneath the smoke filled sky until we can crawl no more. And so passes the day of days. November 18, 1942 – “A light of dawn” Ten gruesome weeks have lingered since the battle began. The Germans have suffered heavy casualties, but we have lost more. Neither of us seems to be winning, but one thing is certain: thousands are dying each day. Tomorrow we are to launch a surprise counteroffensive to flank and surround the German forces outside the city. We will be swift and they will not see us coming. November 29, 1942 – “Into the hills” We have marched out of Stalingrad. In the distant hills I looked down upon the wasted city that we have defended with our sweat and soul and saw nothing but a civilization lost – a massive graveyard stretching before the bloody horizon. For the past weeks and months we have fought and tasted the bitterness of suffering. Our men died from the killings, the cold, disease, starvation, and even suicide. Once I saw an entire unit shoot themselves on command; their cold and lifeless bodies fell synchronously to the ground. So many horrors lay buried in that city, and how many more are yet to come? Date missing I am approaching the town of Kalach from the south. The operation is going as planned. Soon we will have surrounded the Germans and secure victory at Stalingrad. The night is deep past the midnight hour, and I must get some rest. Even though hopes of triumph are amidst the air tonight, I cannot but feel an inexplicable dread. The sky is unusually red and the landscape is dark and vast in every direction. In my confined quarters within the city I sometimes felt strangely safe to be surrounded by walls, but here in this open wilderness, I feel the presence of a greater evil, one beyond the treacheries of humanity, one whose power spans immeasurable beyond the sky’s end. Tomorrow I must rise early before dawn to join my comrade Viktor; together we will patrol the frontiers. Confused? Go through the teaser story.

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