Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Writing: The Battle of the T'nar'o, Part 2

Continuing on from the previous entry, what follows is Part 2 of my short story, The Battle of the T'nar'o.

Here is a link to Part 1.

Soon after dawn arrived, it became clear that Shas'el El'cha'ko was both right and wrong. 

Doran's first indication was the sound of gunfire to his left--upstream, on the tau side of the river.  Team Four's shas'ui followed almost immediately with an desperate call over the cadre frequency.  "This is four, my squad is taking heavy fire from this side of the river.  Repeat, our side of the river.  My team been outflanked.  Request permission to fall back."

There was a pause as Doran waited for El'cha'ko's response.  He alerted his team to stand to, and they readied their weapons.  The sounds of lasgun and pulse rifle fire roared through the trees, and stray las-bolts shot through the air above their heads.  The amount of firing steadily increased.

Finally Shas'vre Nan'cal's voice issued the orders.  "Four, fall back to Team Three's position.  Team Two, maneuver to cover Team One's left flank." 

Doran relayed the orders to his team, wondering where the shas'el was.  His team got to their feet and ran through the undergrowth to take a position on Team One's flank, ready to support Teams Three and Four should they have to fall back further.  Team One kept a watch on the river. 

Doran's team took up their new positions, taking cover behind thick trees, intently watching inland.  Shas'vre Nan'cal walked up behind him, looking over his shoulder.

"Where's the shas'el?"  Doran asked.

"He's powering up his battlesuit."  The disgust in his voice at the shas'el being caught off guard was palpable.

From their position, neither Team Three nor Four were visible, but the roar of gunfire crashed in the distance, the volume so high that individual shots were no longer distinguishable.  The las-bolts came zipping through the foliage in their direction with increasing frequency, near misses occasionally causing fire warriors to reflexively duck.

"Three, this is the shas'vre.  Report status," called Nan'cal.

"This is Four.  Three's down.  Enemy attacking in force, estimate company strength.  We will be overrun if we don't get help soon."

Nan'cal didn't have a chance to reply when another voice came on the air.  "This is One.  I have enemy armored vehicles moving across the sandbar."

Doran looked at Nan'cal in alarm, a chill running down his spine.  Nan'cal replied immediately.  "How many and what type?"

"Two Hellhound class flame tanks.  Also two, correction three Russ class main battle tanks.  They have infantry moving up in support as well, estimate at least a platoon."  The shas'ui's voice was remarkably calm considering the circumstances. 

"Teams Three and Four, this is the shas'vre.  Fall back to the southeast.  Teams One and Two, prepare to move." 

There was a tremendous bang to Doran's right, and a cascade of severed and smashed foliage fell to the ground all around him and his team.  One of the gue'la tanks had fired its battlecannon.  Remarkably, the team held their ground, rifles still trained ahead. 

"Shas'el, shas'vre, come in."  Nan'cal paused for a moment, then cursed.  "Team Two, as soon as Three and Four are clear, fall back to support them.  Team One, cover Two's withdrawal, then rejoin." 



Doran glanced over his shoulder, and saw Nan'cal running in a crouch over to Team One's position.  Looking forward again, he could see the fire warriors of Teams Three and Four making their way towards them, moving to pass off to their left.  Several of them were carrying wounded.  Perhaps only two thirds of the them were uninjured. "Team two, stand by," he commanded. 

One of Doran's fire warriors suddenly jerked as a las-bolt deflected off his shoulder plate.  Unharmed, he trained his rifle forward again.  Doran waited until the last fire warriors had cleared their lane of fire.  Already he could see gue'la troops advancing.  There were a lot of them, and they were being very aggressive.  Not charging like or'es'la would, but steadily advancing, laying down fire as they went.

"Open fire," he ordered, and the twelve pulse rifles went off as one and then continued to fire steadily.  Doran could see the gue'la suddenly drop, either hit or diving for cover.  Due to the thick foliage, there wasn't much to see except for the occasional flicker of movement and the blasts of the weaponry flying through the air.

After he was sure, he keyed his mike again.  "Team Two is withdrawing."  And then to his team, "Fall back to the southeast, fighting withdrawal."  Team Two got to their feet again and maneuvered to follow Teams Three and Four, occasionally pausing to send more pulse rifle fire at the enemy to slow them down.

Doran ducked under low branches and leaped over gnarled roots of the dense trees, moving with a grace borne of desperation, his rifle tucked close to his body so it wouldn't get entangled by anything.  He caught up with some of the stragglers of the other teams, and began to help one of them carry the body of a wounded fire warrior, when he saw that the warrior was already dead.  He lowered the warrior to the ground and shoved the survivors forward, there not being any time for sentimentality. 

All too quickly the trees thinned out and the fire warriors found themselves at the beach.  An explosion nearby sent several of the fire warriors sprawling, and one of the tall trees slowly toppled over to crash onto the sand, its trunk severed by the shell.  Looking up the beach, Doran saw the gue'la vehicles, frighteningly closer than he anticipated, moving directly towards them. 

"Into the treeline," he shouted, frantically waving at the stunned fire warriors who were on the beach to get back into cover.  "Form a firing line!"  The fire from the lasguns was increasing again, now both from the gue'la inland, and from the infantry supporting their tanks. 

One of the hellhounds had gotten into range and unleashed its inferno cannon into the trees, setting them on fire and burning a handful of fire warriors who were too close.  In rapid succession all three Leman Russ battle tanks fired their main guns, showering Doran and his warriors with sand and metal fragments.  Doran's firing line was pathetically small, half of the warriors being killed or wounded in the barrage.  His trigger finger couldn't move fast enough to fire as fast as he wanted to.  He saw a fire warrior make a desperate charge towards one of the tanks, bearing a contact mine.  He almost made it to the lead Hellhound, but was cut down by a stream of explosive shells from a Leman Russ' heavy bolters.  There was no sign of Nan'cal or Team One, and Doran wondered if they had been cutoff.

There was a roar as Shas'el El'cha'ko's battlesuit screamed out of the treeline, its jets flaring.  Almost immediately it attracted a barrage of lasfire, bolts ripping up the ground behind it.  Gracefully negotiating the rough ground at breakneck speed, the battlesuit suddenly changed direction and made a beeline towards one of the hellhounds.  The flame tank, focused on burning fire warriors and vegetation alive, didn't react.  El'cha'ko got behind it and fired several shots from his plasma rifle at close range, right into the flame cannon's fuel tank, and then jetted away at high speed.  The tank immediately erupted, sending gouts of flaming debris in all directions.  A ragged cheer went up from the fire warriors, and they laid down volleys of fire to support their leader.

A Leman Russ had turned its sights onto him, high caliber shells firing from its heavy bolters, but lagging behind.  Its turret traversed in a vain attempt to bring its battlecannon to bear, too slow.  The battlecannon roared, rocking the tank backwards, but the shell wasn't even close.  El'cha'ko opened the throttle and his jetpack blasted the ground behind him.  He zoomed directly towards the Leman Russ, his burst cannon spinning and sending harassment pulses pattering against the Leman Russ' front armor.  Just before he collided with the tank head on, his thrusters flared downward with a sharp pulse, sending him skyward and over the tank.  He soared over the vehicle, executing a slow flip and landing lightly on his feet behind the tank.  Opening up with both burst cannon and plasma rifle, he lit up the rear of the tank, sending hot plasma into the Leman Russ's engine block and beyond.  Smoke jetted out of the tank, and then it blew up catastrophically, its turret soaring into the air. 

Weathering the storm of shrapnel, Shas'el El'cha'ko spun around to find another target, but he had lingered too long in one place.  With a triple metallic thunk, three holes, each the size of a tau's head, suddenly appeared across the torso of El'cha'ko's battlesuit.  There was an awful pause, then the suit detonated.

Doran froze in mid-step and stared in shock.  His spirit had soared when he had seen Shas'el El'cha'ko's gallant charge, and then crashed when he saw him killed.  With the shas'el's death, the fire from the tau slackened, and Doran knew in his gut that the battle was all but over.  Looking to his left, he saw Shas'la Viorssal lying dead next to him, the team's contact mine still clipped to his belt.  Doran took it and hid behind the trunk of a tree, intently watching the hellhound in front of him as it rumbled closer.  Its turret was aiming to its right, and it unleashed another stream of flame into the trees.  He clutched the bomb, waiting for his moment.

Out of nowhere Shas'vre Nan'cal crashed down by his side.  He was weaponless, and his armor was blackened and burned.  His helmetless head was bleeding.   Doran was too dumbfounded to speak.  Nan'cal looked him over for a moment, and said, "Give me that," snatching the contact mine away.  "Shas'ui," Shas'vre Nan'cal said, "The shas'el's dead.  Gather your team and get back to the landing zone." 

Doran nodded.  "But..." he said.

"I will join you there." Shas'vre said, but Doran knew it was a lie.  "Now get moving."  Doran hesitated, but moved when Nan'cal gave him a rough shove.

"Team Two," his voice wavered on the team frequency.  "Follow me."  He accentuated the order by pointing directly at each of the three fire warriors on his team that he could see, and all three left their positions to follow him.  They started running as fast as their exhausted legs could carry them, heading parallel to the treeline.  An explosion behind him made him look over his shoulder, and he saw that one of the Leman Russes had been disabled, its track blown off.  Nan'cal was nowhere to be seen.  Just as Doran turned his head back to watch where he was going, another explosion catapulted him through the air.  He crashed violently into the ground, stunned and deafened.  He lay there, unable to move.  It was an immense effort just to breathe at all.

A few minutes later the sounds of gunfire began to peter out, to be replaced by the pitiful moans of wounded and dying fire warriors.  Soon thereafter there were gue'la voices adding to the chorus, probably a party come to begin taking prisoners.  Doran wanted to raise his head, but it was still spinning and he couldn't bring himself to do it yet, still focusing on taking individual breaths. 

But a sharp cry of pain made Doran jerk his head up in reaction.  Growing numbers of gue'la were moving among the bodies of the fire warriors, many of whom were still twitching in their agony.  They had their weapons out, some covering the bodies while others watched the tree line.  Doran watched them approach a fire warrior position and climb across the fallen tree that had served them as cover.  Doran strained to see what was happening, but the tree was in the way.  The gue'la said a few words to each other, and one of them raised his weapon.  More cries of sudden pain made Doran's heart go cold. 

They were killing the wounded.

Over the sand Doran could see the the ocean nearby, and the sound of the surf was infinitely more pleasant than the sounds of death around him, so he focused on it.  The sea was relatively calm, reflecting the deep blue of the sky.  Staring at the ocean, his mind began to wander, with the wind blowing in from the sea, the smoke and flames were all invisible.  For all he could see, Doran could imagine that he was alone on the beach, enjoying the sunlight and the gentle breeze.  He hadn't had a chance to relax like that in years.

A pair of hoofless feet moved into his view, blocking the ocean.  The feet stuck out awkwardly in the front, more like a kroot's than the firmly planted feet of a tau.  The dark boots that covered them were tied in place with antiquated laces.  Craning his neck, Doran looked up at the creature.  He had seen gue'la in countless briefing vids, but never one close up in the flesh.

His skin was the color of pinkish desert sand, but soiled with grime and sweat.  His five fingered hands clutched a primitive looking rifle, the standard lasgun of gue'la forces.  It had a blade affixed to its muzzle, and Doran could see a smear of tau blood on it.  The gue'la was taller than a fire warrior, and broader, but nothing so brutish as an or'es'la.  His posture was more akin to the tau than it was to the or'es'la.  He also lacked the bestial appearance and bearing of the kroot.  In fact, he was more like the tau than either of those races, and Doran was struck by how alike they were.  These gue'la were more like the tau than different.

But his face was marred by a protuberance akin to a blunt horn in the center of his face that Doran knew was actually their olfactory organ.  His face had foul-looking short hair covering the lower half of the face, and more over each eye.  The eyes.  The eyes were hard.  Intelligent, but filled with an implacable hatred.  The gue'la raised his weapon.  There was no hesitation and no mercy.

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