This scene contains violence and death.
Ayvarta, Solstice — East Wall Defensive Line
“Ah! What cruel god to have created the waters! I despise them!”
Though he had learned to swim, Von Drachen was still far from the most proficient swimmer, and all of his men were already up and fighting by the time he extracted himself from the water, breathing heavily and struggling to stand. He was pulled up to the barrier by a soldier in a black wetsuit, and found many more of his soldiers fighting already. They had the good fortune to have hit ground near a portion of the bridge where a tower had fallen over, providing good rubble for cover. His men pulled submachine guns free from waterproof bags and enfiladed the Ayvartan portions near the gate.
All manner of red tracers went flying over his head as he got settled.
There was a blazing exchange of gunfire happening as Von Drachen entered the scene. Across the bridge from him there were a dozen Ayvartans around a the remains of a collapsed, bullet-riddled tent, shooting back with a machine gun and rifles. This was likely their command post. Their cover was sparse, however, while his own men had the strong, chest-high concrete barriers. There were Ayvartans scattered all about, fighting ineffectively from any isolated rubble. He had successfully flanked the lot of them.
And this close to the gate, the wall gunners could not adequately target him.
Water was vile, but swimming was a powerful ability.
His own men fought with discipline. They engaged in groups of three submachine gunners, peeking up from the barriers, shooting at targets of opportunity, and then hiding from return fire while three more men attacked from farther up or further down the barrier. Though their position was confined to the left side of the bridge, they had many men and various angles from which they could shoot. While half his men engaged he ordered the remainder to crawl down the bridge and climb the rubble to flank.
Meanwhile, Von Drachen produced his own bag, and pulled his uniform from it.
“Keep fighting,” he said, “our lively friend is on its way.”
Von Drachen buttoned up his coat and put on his shoes in time to watch the Vishap come barreling through the second gate. He smiled, and he clapped for it, standing up to greet it alongside three of his men, dutifully firing on the Ayvartan position and suppressing it while he showed his support. To be the first man inside Solstice; what an honor–
In the next instant, the smile on Von Drachen’s face twitched as the Vishap exploded.
Already worse for wear, the Vishap was blown forward by an unseen blast and propelled across the bridge. Sliding on a streak of flame, throwing up rubble and churning up the bridge floor, the crippled superweapon came to rest, wheels spinning helplessly, its gun staring into space, almost off the edge of the Conqueror’s Way, with no line to the gate.
Von Drachen clapped his hands one final time and crouched with his back to the barrier.
“Hmm. Plan B.”
He waved over one of his men who was crouched with him.
He had a large waterproof pack with an X marking on it.
“Alvarez, we’re deploying the C-10 on the gate.” Von Drachen said.
Alvarez looked as if he was surprised to be addressed by name.
Von Drachen, puzzled by the reaction, tried to explain his orders once more.
He did not count on a far louder sound than his voice rising suddenly nearby.
A shell sailed over the collecting heads of Von Drachen’s platoon and struck the wall.
Rock and shrapnel exploded out from the impact and rained down on the bridge.
Von Drachen covered his head.
“Looks like our so-called superweapon is still alive!” Von Drachen shouted.
He peered over the barrier, briefly glancing over to Alvarez to find him dead, his forehead crushed by a stone come flying from the wall. He frowned at the sight.
Seizing Alvarez’s explosive pack, he pushed the corpse into the river.
“Water burials are honored in some countries.” He told the rest of his men.
Many of them stared at him.
“Look at the road! Our injured friend has company, you know!”
Von Drachen pointed to the Ayvartan side of the bridge.
Against the wishes of a shouting officer, it seemed, several men and women desperate to see the Vishap stopped once and for all ran out of cover with grenades in their hands.
This breach of discipline was most opportune. Von Drachen ordered covering fire.
His men rose as one from behind the concrete barrier and opened fire.
An overwhelming amount of submachine gun bullets crossed the bridge from their side.
Not one of the Ayvartan runners made it to the Vishap’s corpse.
Not one Ayvartan gun responded to the salvo. His men fired continuously on them.
Von Drachen took the opportunity and jumped the barrier with the C-10 in hand.
He ran as fast as his feet could carry him, crossing the no-man’s land, ducking fire.
He was within breathing distance of the gate, the closest any enemy had gotten to–
Just as he raised his head to behold the great wall and its gate, he saw a muzzle flash.
Overhead, one of the wall guns fired on the Vishap at an oddly direct angle.
Von Drachen watched as the shell flew downward from the wall and struck the Vishap.
There was a colossal explosion.
Such a blast could only have been generated by a 152mm gun or higher, but, he had seen all the aerial photographs, and he read the plans their collaborators in the Republic had given them, and various other sources. He knew all the guns on this wall were 76mm caliber at the largest, with the bigger guns used as indirect artillery behind the wall.
He looked briefly up again, and he thought he saw her.
He saw her red eyes, staring down at him in disdain.
Von Drachen dropped the C-10 pack, and made for his own side of the bridge.
He reached for his hand radio, carefully preserved in a waterproof bag.
“Von Fennec, it is likely I will be captured now. My new plan is to escape Armaments Hill somehow and attempt to undergo a guerrilla or sabotage campaign inside the city, and–”
His clearly stressed voice was met with dismissal from the other side.
“One moment,” said a woman’s voice.
In the next instant, Von Fennec took to the airwaves himself, scoffing.
“Von Drachen you’re not going anywhere! We’re protocol thirteen, and I need you there to keep things controlled. She’s coming to get you and the Vishap! You’d better live!”
Von Drachen looked out into the desert, sighing. “I’d rather be captured.”
On the bridge below them, the Vishap came to a halt, its legs chopped out from under it.
“You did it, Kajari. I hope you survived it.”
“I’m sure she did, Madiha.”
“I’ve got to make good on it now, Parinita. Let’s go.”
Atop the wall, Madiha watched with anticipation as Agni and a pair of engineers slid the gun barrel into the completed mechanism of the 152mm howitzer and fastened the recoil buffers tight, finishing the assembly of the gun. It was unmounted, merely sitting on the floor of the rampart without its carriage parts or gun shield, and its optical and ranging equipment lay on the floor as well. There were various other unused parts around.
There were also five shell crates containing pieces of the gun’s two-part ammunition.
“I completed my miracle.” Agni said. “It normally takes eight people an hour, you know.”
“With all due respect General, that gun will fall apart after a shot or two, and in its current state, its too unstable to be accurate anyway,” one engineer remarked.
“She knows. I explained all of this.” Agni said, in her toneless, matter-of-fact voice.
“Yes Sergeant! I am just sincerely hoping this gun needn’t be used.” He replied.
Madiha smiled. “You’re dismissed, corporal. See if you can help with the gate.”
She waved away the two men helping Agni and waited for them to be gone.
“Parinita, hold me from behind, okay?” Madiha said.
Parinita dropped her radio headset on the floor and stood behind Madiha.
“Agni, you load and fire, on my signal.”
Raising one curious eyebrow but otherwise inexpressive, Sergeant Agni nodded.
Madiha took in a deep breath, and focused on the howitzer on the floor.
Her eyes went red and her head felt hot as she pushed gently on the howitzer.
It vibrated gently and began to rise off the floor.
It was the heaviest thing Madiha had ever moved, she thought. She could feel her body tense up, and her brain, also, tensing like a muscle at the limit of its endurance. Her hands shook and she grit her teeth. She was out of practice for this sort of thing, but the howitzer was moving, sliding gently across the ground over to the rampart. Her shaking arms and legs steadied a little, and she lifted the howitzer off the ground a few meters.
Her head felt like it would explode, so hot and tight was the sensation.
“I’ve got you, Madiha. You can do this.”
Parinita embraced her from behind, one hand around the waist, and the other perhaps a little too close to Madiha’s breasts than appropriate, but Madiha didn’t mind then. Having the touch of a healer, Parinita could cool off the burning sensation Madiha felt when she pushed too much or invoked the fire inside her. She could feel Parinita shaking behind her, however. There was a slowly building pain, pinpricks of it, in her brain.
“Madiha, I’m having to go through a bit of effort myself.” Parinita said.
She felt her lover’s grip tighten, and her chest press against Madiha’s back.
This was such an effort that Parinita was being taxed trying to keep it controlled.
But Madiha had the gun over the rampart, and she was pointing it down.
Agni, staring silently at the spectacle, blinked her eyes rapidly.
She quickly picked up the heavy projectile portion of the shell, unlocked the breech, and shoved the object inside. Behind it came the brass-colored propellant casing, a long, thin tube. Once both pieces of the shell were inside the gun, Agni locked the breach tightly.
“I’m firing, ma’am! Get ready!”
Madiha took a deep breath, and Parinita tightened her grip.
Agni pulled the firing pin.
For Madiha it was like trying to hold back an earthquake. She felt the force of the gun diffuse into the air and it was as if she was holding the piece not with her mind but with spectral arms that could be shaken, and that were shaking, and it took all her strength to keep the gun from wobbling as it fired. A bright muzzle flash followed the ejection of the shell, and the recuperator simply couldn’t handle it, and the gun started to come apart.
All eyes turned to the bridge, where the shell sailed into the front of the Vishap.
The explosion that followed consumed the front of the Vishap in smoke, and nearly knocked the hulk fully off the bridge. It just barely managed to hang on to the stone.
When the smoke cleared the damage was immense. All of the concrete and armor in an area the size of a watermelon had collapsed inside and left a smoking pit amid the face of the Vishap. A quarter of the gun mantlet was blasted off and the rest came unseated, and the gun hung half-out of the orifice, almost like an eye plucked from its socket.
That was the end of the Vishap. Madiha let go of the howitzer.
Agni took a step back as the gun came crashing down onto the rampart, spilling apart.
One recoil buffer went flying, the recuperator was crushed, and barrel twisted off.
But it had served its purpose. This ramshackle gun had finally put an end to the Vishap.
Madiha looked down at it from the ramparts.
“Tell the Svechthan mountain troops and the snipers that they’re clear to rappel down.”
Parinita nodded her head and let go of Madiha slowly. She was breathing heavily from her exertions, but smiling and triumphant. Even Sergeant Agni looked relieved after her own efforts. There were enemies invading the bridge, but with the Vishap gone the existential threat to the gate was gone with it, and they could rally once more. Even as they spoke, Madiha could see her troops rallying once more and the frogmen and their officer on the bridge beginning to retreat back closer to the water they came from.
“Tell HQ that the eastern sector is tentatively clear–”
Madiha felt an eerie, sudden chill that prompted her to quiet suddenly.
It was as if there was a sound, distant, just on the edge of her ability to hear it.
Her pupils dilated, and red rings began to burn around her irises.
She looked down at the bridge again, gritting her teeth, her hands smoking.
“Madiha?” Parinita asked. “What’s wrong? You’re burning up!”
Parinita rushed to her side, and applied her healing touch.
Madiha felt her eyes sting so badly she started to tear up.
“Something’s coming.” Madiha said, words drawn from some ancient, prophetic sense.