The assault begins...
Gregory P. Wong
Chapter 5: Siege
"Holy Lord in heaven," Nagamasa whispered as he spied the wall of Sraida approaching, the rising western sun illuminating the... swarm. He lowered the electronic binoculars.
It was impossible. With his view, he couldn't see the end of the line of creatures. It had to be nearly two miles wide, and only the Almighty knew how deep.
"There has to be at least three hundred thousand in that mass," he wife said in the same horrified/disbelieving tone he had just spoken with.
Well, yeah. There was a goddamned flood of them.
"How are we going to hold that back?" he gasped. "We were already iffy on one-fifty thousand Sraida... and now we have to take on three hundred-thousand!?"
His wife looked like she was about to reply, but one of the armored UNT marines sidled up beside him.
"Sir, we have approximately forty minutes until the Sraida enter trebuchet and ballista range, and they'll enter catapult and longbow range nine and twelve minutes after that, respectively."
"Thank you, er..."
"Korkuv, sir. Staff Sergeant Jakobi Korkuv."
"Yeah, thanks, Sergeant."
"Sir," the sergeant said and moved away.
Time seemed to slow to crawl for a moment, then it sped up horrifyingly fast as the last few minutes dripped away.
"PAD? Give me a countdown."
"Yes, sir." A few minutes later, "Five... four... three... two... one... mark!"
"Open fire," Oichi said.
As if on cue, a flight of six-foot ballista bolts and boulders arched into the air, where they seemed to fly in slow motion towards the black mass of Sraida.
With the E-binocs, he watched as the ballista bolts, then the humongous boulders, impacted into the mass of Sraida. The tough chitin of the aliens might as well have been paper to the ballista arrows, and each of the plummeting rocks squashed dozens of the aliens.
It should have shocked the enemy into caution, but the Sraida moved as if nothing happened, even as the siege weapons opened ugly holes in their lines. Which was just plain disturbing.
He heard the sounds of soldiers reloading the low-tech artillery.
He waited for the last of the boulders to auger into the dust-or some of the Bugs-and then he called "Fire at will!"
Another wave, and then a third, a fourth, a /fifth/, barreled into the air. As the sixth wave of boulders-the ballistae had a higher rate of fire than the trebuchets-arched into the early morning sky, the catapults joined in, tossing special rocks that cracked into airborne shards upon impact.
Another catapult salvo. Then...
"Archers! Nock arrows!" he heard his wife pipe. Soldiers echeloned along the pass walls, at different height levels, reached for their projectiles.
The sound of ten hundred arrows being drawn and fitted reached his ears. Oichi looked into his eyes.
"Draw!" The sound of one thousand bowstrings being pulled.
"/LOOSE/!" Oichi cried.
A swarm of arrows, thicker than the ballistae and trebuchets and catapults combined climbed into the air. One thousand yard-long arrows tipped with needle-sharp pile-heads reached their apogee and then began to fall gracefully towards the ground.
Then they fell into the swarm. The pile-heads, specifically meant to defeat their natural armor, penetrated them easily.
It looked like the Sraida were about to retreat, but that was only because so many died in that one volley. He looked into his E-binocs.
The Sraida were going down, but only when multiple arrows had penetrated them. A lucky shot to the heart or head killed them, sure, but this was far less effective than he had expected. Maybe 550 died in that one volley, a puny amount when compared to the size of the swarm.
But, of course, good archery units could pound out ten arrows a minute.
"Nock arrows and draw! /Loose/!" Oichi yelled again, and whispering death blackened the sky.
Again the shower of yard-long shafts slammed into the Sraida, and hundreds of the creatures fell. But it just wasn't enough. The Sraida galloped past their dead comrades in their eagerness to close with the death-spewing archery unit up on the pass walls.
They were coming on too fast, and even the fast-firing bowmen weren't able to fight back the tide. It was like trying to fight back an avalanche with a firehose. Enough firehoses at key points could hold it back.
But there weren't enough hoses to be had.
"Oichi, we need volley fire."
"Right. I'll coordinate the group on the left wall!" his wife called. "I'll use the zip line."
"Okay," he said to her. He used his headset to connect to the communications sets of the bowmen. "40th Archery Regiment, I'll be coordinating your fire. 17th, Oichi will be giving you your firing coordinates. Standby for transference of command."
He grinned a bit. Sure, he was used to fighting with swords and spears and arrows, but all he needed was a little adaptation to command a "modern" armed force.
Oichi hooked a special harness to the zip line, pushed off the ground, and reached the 17th on the other cliff wall. He double checked to make sure she was okay, then directed his gaze back to the charging swarm. The Sraida were incredibly fast, and could cover the distance between them and the phalanx units in about five minutes.
Five minutes wouldn't give him enough time to take them all out, but he could do plenty of damage.
"Regiment!" he called to his group of five hundred. "Nock arrows!"
"This looks very bad," Xiao Qiao said to her husband.
"Oh, yeah," Yu replied, not a hint of humor in his tone.
The longbows Nagamasa and Oichi commanded had decimated the Sraida, but the survivors still outnumbered the five thousand deployed UNT regulars and reaction forces by at least fifty-to-one.
At least they had gotten into formation in time. The first ranks of soldiers at the entrance of the mountain pass-a thankfully small two hundred yards wide-stood with their five-foot high, two-foot wide tower shields at the ready in one arm. Their light short swords hung sheathed from their sides. Another shielded rank stood behind them. Behind those twin 300-person rows stood the determined ranks of pikemen, holding their twenty-foot pikes at the ready, forming eight rows of pikemen. The other two-thousand soldiers were the rapid-reaction forces, wielding ten-foot glaives, two feet of which were taken up with recurved, wickedly sharp blades. Each of those troopers also carried a bandolier of ten light four-foot javelins and a broadsword with a yard-long blade.
The PCA-320s that the troops wore multiplied their strength by three and speed by one and a half, and the diasteel armoring was incredibly durable. But he wasn't too happy with the odds. If the Sraida could somehow flank them-fat chance, since there were damned big wall, but...-it could roll up the entire formation. That's why the reaction force of two thousand divided between herself, her husband, Yukimura, Noh, and Nobunaga existed: to make sure the Sraida couldn't make a successful maneuver Liang-or Ying, as she was the one in control of tactical maneuvers-didn't want.
But it still looked dismally bad.
Using E-binocs, he saw a cloud of dust barely obscuring the rapidly approaching Sraida. They would be upon them in no less than two five minutes.
Since her communications headset-which was helpfully coordinated by her PAD-was configured to the main tactical channel, she heard Liu Bei's voice echo in her ear.
"Shields up! Draw swords!"
She focused her gaze on the front ranks of soldiers, and she the soldiers heft their tower shields with their left arms and draw their short swords with their right. Metal glinted in the early morning sun.
Good thing the sun was in the Sraida's eyes, not theirs.
A minute passed, then "Pikes down! Prepare to receive the enemy!"
She gulped. The comforting hand of her husband squeezed her shoulder gently. She gripped his fingers for a moment. She checked herself over.
Yup, her fans were in perfect order, razor-sharp edges polished and exquisitely sharp. Geez, though, the new garb was taking some getting used to.
It was, well, a much better battlefield outfit than what she had arrived in. It was a reddish tan, fairly tough and light cloth covering the light but durable articulated plate she was wearing. The armoring stopped at her thighs, but a chain mail "skirt" protected her to the knees. Her forearms were also bare, but bands of light, strong-feeling metal were slapped her and there. A helmet of sorts, one that left the very crown of her head bear, topped her head.
Somehow, this armor scheme was both protective and sexy at the same time.
And it looked like it was time to test it.
The Sraida closed with the sharp spikes that projected nearly twenty feet in front of the first rank of soldiers. The very front ranks had been devastated by the longbows of Oichi and Nagamasa, and holes kept appearing where arrow volleys, boulders, or ballista bolts fell.
Despite not being where the action was, she felt her skin crawl at the mass of gibbering, killer monstrosities.
Then, the Sraida slammed into the wall of needle-sharp spears.
And they didn't even seem to care.
Oh, they sort of did. Even the blood-crazy Sraida did not leap unto the spikes. But they did attempt to batter the pointed bits of metal away, to no effect. If the Sraida moved the wrong way, or missed the slap, a sharp bit of alloy went into their bodies without remorse. If the Sraida did manage to avoid the needle-sharp pikes, the rows behind it were sure to spear it. Every here and there, one might make it to the shield wall, but the front-line soldiers chopped down the attacking creature.
But, already, some of the pikes had to temporarily withdraw as heavy bodies piled up like grisly kebobs on the shafts.
Longbow fire continuously devastated the creatures, but it wasn't doing enough. A tidal wave of dark gray, gibbering insects was only barely being contained by the pike regiments. It seemed like hours, but only twenty minutes passed as the Sraida expended their fury on the pikes and shields.
Well, the Sraida were pretty much stopped. Not many were being killed, sure, but the Sraida couldn't really go anywhere. They would just have to be held until the longbowmen and siege weapons shot them all down. Then the pikes would advance into-
A single Sraida began to scale the wall, away from the deadly wall of pikes. Right towards the archers on the left wall. The pikes were in no position to reach it.
It only clambered for a moment, though, since a squad of bowmen shot it down.
Goody. Problem solved. If-
Her breath stuck in the throat.
A mob of the creatures began to monkey the dead Sraida's lead. Arrows poured onto them, but it seemed as if a tentacle from some ugly gray creature was reaching to pluck the archers from their stations. The archers at the lower levels were getting fidgety.
"Yu, we have to take them out."
"But we were expecting a break somewhere on the ground level. We can't fit our entire force unto the bottom ledge!" Her husband shook his head."
"Maybe not..." she mused. Then, she had a thought. She keyed her headset to three of her 30-man platoons. "First, Second, and Third platoons!" she called. "Get ready to move out. We need to relieve the archers on the left wall!"
She was about to grasp the zipline that would take her to the lower-level archers, but her husband grasped her arm firmly.
"Qiao! Are you nuts? You have ninety people... that can't keep the Sraida out for long!"
"Yu, I'll be fine. Those archers-"
"The archers are doing fine. They just need to redirect their fire. Even if they can't they can escape the-" She saw Yu's eyes go wide as he trailed off. "No..."
"What?" she asked. He had obviously seen something she had missed. What? If the archers were swarmed under, it was only a small loss, though she hated to think that way. What-Oh, no.
Yu probably saw the understanding in her eyes. "Yeah. If the archers get taken out, the entire flank is open. Damn..."
Yu released her arm. He looked deep into her eyes. "Take care, okay. I don't want to... lose you."
She touched his cheek tenderly and tiptoed to give him a quick kiss. "I'll take care of myself," she told her husband.
She activated her headset comm again. "Platoons! Time to move!"
She grabbed the line, attached her harness to it, and slid down towards the archers. She looked to her sides and saw her platoons following her on different lines.
It was not a second too soon. The staff sergeant commanding the front most archer squad saluted. Her reflection showed in the blue visor.
"Ma'am! Thanks for the support!"
"Sergeant, get your squad outta here. We'll take the flank."
"Ma'am! On the move!" said the sergeant, who began to issue commands over the comm system. They beat it of there.
She opened a link to Oichi, who had command of the left wall battalion.
"Qiao to Oichi!"
"The Sraida are making a press on the 40th."
"Oh, yes. I saw. What do you have in mind?"
"Withdraw the, uh..." she blanked for a moment, "the archers of Bravo Company, 18th Battalion. We'll set up shop there on the lower tier."
"Okay. Just note that you won't have archer support until Bravo is relocated. The battalions are hard pressed to weaken the main Sraida body already, and we can't spare any arrows."
She took one look at the Sraida leaping up towards them, and gulped.
"I'll be fine. Just don't take too long, Oichi."
"Wouldn't dream of it, Qiao. And, as the clichÃ© goes, give 'em hell."
She grinned. "The very best. Out."
She turned, and assessed the situation. This ledge was relatively small, no more than fifty feet wide. That would be an excellent tactical help, since the Sraida wouldn't be able to bring their superior numbers into play.
But, then again, the Sraida could just climb up.
She ran a quick flash-status check for her three platoons. All lieutenants reported that everyone was accounted for.
"Second Platoon! Get up here. We'll have you as-" she stopped as a scrabbling sound reached her ears. A second later, a swarm of Sraida began to swarm towards them.
"Platoon, javelin volley! NOW!"
The Sraida's front row flew back as four-foot spears impaled them.
But it wasn't too much an effect, as the following Sraida raced over the fallen bodies. But it gave them breathing room. She opened her blade-edged fans, and the troops readied their glaives.
She ducked under the leading Sraida's flailing claws and drew her fans up across the Sraida's torso, spilling its guts on the dusty ground. Her troops were using their glaives to great effect, threshing the two-foot blades back and forth, mowing down the overgrown bugs like wheat, but more and more came on, four arms flailing. The Sraida were strong, and a troop who let a Sraida into his blind spot, past his glaive, was killed before he could draw his sword. The diasteel armor wasn't enough against those terrible claws.
She batted another Sraida hand away, and used the momentum of her block to spin herself around and slash the creature across the waist. It dropped.
Another volley of javelins, and another, swept the Sraida away... for a moment.
The Sraida were becoming smarter, and were pressing her soldier's formation with renewed vigor. They were trying to exploit weaknesses, but she prevented any probe personally. Her armor was splattered with black.
A soldier to her left went down under two Sraidas' windmilling quad of arms, and she had to deal with the duo. A slash to the neck, followed by stab into the other's face with a folded fan dropped the two aliens.
"Ahh!" she cried as a Sraida claw scored her bare arm. She caught the other arm with her fan and opened its body vertically with a lighting-fast slash. She checked her limb. It wasn't too bad... just a scratch.
"Damn," he hissed as another Sraida tried to take her. She took it instead, and it flew back without a head.
She saw more and more Sraida swarming.
"Oichi, I hope those archers are ready..." she muttered through gritted teeth.
"If the reaction forces can't handle those flanking probes, our phalanx plug won't mean spit," Huo said to his wife.
"Ooh, you have gift of understatement," Rong replied grimly.
Finding no reply, he just swallowed nervously.
With nothing else to do except sweat and wait, he popped his gauntlets off and cracked his knuckles. At the loud sound, his wife turned to look at him.
"Jesus Christ! Do you have to do that every other minute!?" His wife demanded exasperatedly.
"Uh... I'm not doing it that often."
"Uhh. That's the fourth time in five minutes."
"It's not my fault that my limbs have the propensity to collect nitrogen gas bubbles," he protested.
Rong remained silent, until she snorted and burst out laughing.
"'Propensity to collect nitrogen gas bubbles'? That sounds like a lawyer speaking."
He puffed out his chest. "But did you ever see lawyer who could kick Stallone's butt?"
Rong laughed and slapped his shoulder affectionately. "Of course not. Besides, lawyers can't be both smart, large, and sexy like you."
He patted his chest. "I'll take that as my due, beautiful."
Rong just snorted again. "Watch it, big guy. I love you, sure, but don't push it." She winked to show she had been joking.
He grinned, but lost it when he saw the reaction forces. He keyed his headset to get Liu Bei.
"It's Huo. I don't like how that flanking counter is going."
There was silence for a moment. "I don't like it either. I still think we can hold for a while longer, but it could change really quickly. We might have to get prepared for a retreat."
He cursed. "Gotcha, Bei. We'll hold."
"Okay. Bei, out." He turned to his wife.
"I don't look good. Liu Bei doesn't know how much longer we can hold out."
Rong shook her head. "I know. The frontline units have reported an average of twelve-percent losses. And that's with everything going more or less to the plan. We've barely taken out eight thousand of the creatures, most of the casualties resulting from the never-ending arrow volleys."
The screams and madness continued for another fifteen minutes. Still, from the reports coming in from the front-line soldiers, all was going okay.
Suddenly, he heard an urgent pinging in his headset. He toggled the communicator.
"Main forces!" came the urgent voice of Oichi Azai. "The right flank is about to be threatened.
The voice of Nobunaga Oda cut into the channel. "Qiao and Yu can't provide cover! If they shift, the left flank will collapse. Noh and I will handle the right. Hold on!"
He didn't like the sound of that. He looked up, and saw the battalions of reaction troops ziplining to the right tiers where the archers were making a run for it. As the first glaive-wielding reaction soldiers touched down, a knot of Sraida charged at the armor-encased soldiers. A storm of javelins stopped them. Then it closed to hand-to-hand range, and the soldiers thrashed the creatures. Safe up there.
"/SIR/!" screamed one of the frontline noncoms.
"What?" he answered.
"I don't know what the hell just happened! They're... Dammit! Watch out!" The communication descended into a chaos of cries and commands and sounds of clashing metal.
"Crap, crap, crap," he muttered like a litany. He needed to see what was happening. He had no idea what to do. God.
"Hey, Rong, something's up on the front lines. I don't know what to do. It's messy out there, that much I can hear."
Rong looked shocked for a moment, and then she turned to her PAD.
"Hey, PAD! Get me a good holographic image. Something from a frontliner. And, uh, feed it to Huo's PAD."
"Ma'am!" twittered the device, and a 3-D image blossomed two inches above his box.
It was literally a frontline soldier, holding a shield. It was form the point-of-view of the troop. As he watched, the Sraida backed away from the wall of pikes... seemingly impossible because of the sheer crush of the aliens. Then they charged.
Of course, he expected them to stop their full-speed dash before they encountered the needle-pointed spears. Then they would do their damnedest to get through. After all, they weren't stupid.
He watched, and waited for them to stop.
The front row of Sraida literally dove-violently-unto the pikes, jostling them out of the way by the pure weight of their numbers. As the dying Sraida writhed and spurted black goo, their followers charged the next rank of pikes. They had all just gone kamikaze on their butts. Oh, God.
"PAD! Pipe this to Liu Bei's PAD. This is not good!."
He stared in horror at the image. The troops were frantically shaking off the piling bodies, but they weren't doing it fast enough. Not nearly fast enough. Here and there, a "clean" pike shoved through the pile of bodies, but it was immediately weighted down by suicidal aliens.
The soldiers maneuvered their weapons in a frenzy, the bodies coming closer and closer. In some places, corpses helped block the alien like grisly barriers.
And then, through the eyes of a soldier, he saw a Sraida slip past the encumbered pikes.
Right into the shield wall.
Instead of trying to get around the shield, the insectile alien charged straight into the tower shield. The soldier carrying was bowled over by the powerful bulk of the four-armed alien. The alien leapt off the dazed trooper and screeched in fury.
And then it fell, a shuriken dart suddenly appearing in its face.
Lucky, lucky. Thank God for ninjas.
He watched the soldier toss the alien off and get back into position.
...And get mobbed by ten other creatures.
The line was compromised. A moment later, the holographic image "tipped" over and faded into a fuzz of static.
"Bei! They've broken through the shield wall! We got to withdraw!"
A loud curse-completely out of character for that guy... which meant how badly this thing was going down the toilet-reverberated through the comm net. "Tell the rear two ranks to raise pikes and withdraw. All other ranks are to drop their spears and draw swords. Do it now!"
The transmission cut. Uh-oh.
He barked out orders, and he heard his wife mirror them. Troops smoothly lost their pikes and drew out their short swords. Seeing the troops getting pushed back by the horrendous aliens, he charged in. It was hard, yeah, since he didn't want to knock them over, but he managed to get to the front, Rong hot on his heels.
The first Sraida he saw, he grabbed in an iron-shod grip. He lifted the alien-it wasn't too heavy, considering his muscles-and flung it into a tangle of Sraida roaring for blood. A swipe of Rong's boomerang disemboweled several more of the aliens.
As the troops withdrew, he noticed that he, his wife, the two Maedas, and Liu Bei and Shang Xiang were on the front too.
Dammit, it was like fighting back a blasted /avalanche/. This was going to be as tough as hell...
It was rapidly turning into a rout. Oichi Azai shook her head and prepared to snap out orders. The only thing that kept the soldiers from getting literally swamped with Sraida was her and Masa's sustained arrow volleys.
But even that wasn't going to last for too much longer. Dammit, the reaction forces were getting hit hard, and she was too busy supporting the main phalanx to give the reaction forces anything but a platoon.
"Oichi! It's Nobunaga."
"Yeah?" she answered.
"You... you have to withdraw. We can't defend you much longer."
Ice filled her chest. "Brother... we can't! We're the only thing that's keeping the regulars from getting swarmed under! If we have to withdraw, we'll need at least ten minutes so we can get situated at our secondary firing locations."
She could swear she heard Nobunaga grind his teeth. "Oichi, I can give you and your husband five minutes before we begin our withdrawal. We're dying out here."
The ice transformed into squirming bugs that migrated to her stomach. "Okay. We'll begin pulling out now."
She shook her head, and set up a link with her husband.
"Masa! We can't-"
"Oichi, I heard," he interrupted. "Initiate contact-break. I'll follow. Hurry, honey."
Her throat dry, she answered, "I'll go, Masa. Be careful, sweetheart."
She tapped her PAD, ordering it to patch into the 17th's communication channel.
"Battalion! We're moving out. Execute, uh"-Oh, God, she was blanking. Oh, yeah, thank God-"Gamma-7. Repeat, execute Gamma-7!"
The archers of one company stowed their longbows and began to scramble back, heading for their designated guard towers up on the highest levels. Taking those towers would give the soldiers an excellent vantage view... and if things looked too hot-like right /now/, come to think of it-it would give them a way to get to other towers on lower levels with ziplines.
Her brother, Qiao, Yu, and Lady Noh were holding off the immediate Sraida waves... but only for a little bit.
"Troops! /Triple/-time it! The reaction forces can't hold out for long! Move!"
She was a bit happy to see that the soldiers were moving pretty darned fast, but thy weren't moving fast /enough/.
Which meant some potentially sticky problems.
A bleat sounded over her command channel. Grimacing, she noticed that her PAD was projecting a representation of a tangle of Sraida advancing on the front archery units.
She pushed past the ranks of soldiers, towards the lower tier's front row.
The aliens were almost there. Oh, great.
With a grunt, she kicked the kendama crystal forward, taking off a Sraida's head. As the body toppled, she jerked the sphere back, knocking a trio of Sraida off their digitigrade feet. As the ball swung back towards her, she whipped the ball in a smooth circle, breaking some skulls, snapping some spines.
A volley of arrows, and one more after that, silenced the survivors.
She opened her comm. "Yu, we took them out. Uh... we're fine."
"Great," said the unseen Chinese man hurriedly. "If you don't mind, some more Sraida need a good whacking..."
The comm popped off.
Well, at least that had gone okay.
A beep sounded in her headset. Ahh...
"Ma'am, we've finished relocating 16th and 31st Battlions. The 11th is right behind them. The battalion will complete its withdrawal in three more minutes.
She waited for her men to get into their secondary, and then she squirted a message to Nagamasa.
"Hey, Masa. We're out. Get moving!"
It took a second for him to answer. "Okay. Uh... we're having a bit of a problem over here. Hold up." The comm went silent for a good thirty seconds. "Okay, that's all good. We're moving."
"Okay." She thought. "Don't do anything stupidly heroic, Masa, or I will beat you senseless before I hug you. Out!"
Her husband laughed. "Sure, sure. Same goes for you too, Oichi. Out here."
She snapped off the communications headset.
Someday, she and Masa were going to have a nice, quiet house out near a beach where they would have good jobs and a pair of kids.
Yeah, sure... in a million years.
"Archers, prepare to begin support fire!"
This was way bad.
Makie-or Kunoichi, since she couldn't decide which she should call herself by-knelt on an overhanging rock. The black mass of the bug-like aliens were slowly pushing back the UNT formations slowly and bloodily.
She shook her head.
With a burst of ninjitsu energy, she teleported, latching her left hand onto a projecting piece of rock. With her right, she dealt out a lightning fast volley of shurikens that buried themselves into throats, eyes, and brains. The squad of archers that had almost been butchered waved in random directions-since she was a ninja, and a damned good one at that, they couldn't quite locate her-and moved out of the area.
She let go of her handhold and nimbly navigated to the lower level of the pass, drawing her daggers as she went.
Four Sraida were down by the time the others in the group knew they had been offed, but she had already gotten her butt out of there.
She was doing "tactical strikes," which meant she was supposed to screw with whatever the aliens had for minds.
She slipped onto another rock outcropping to watch the approaching carnage.
The Liu Bei guy was shifting the main phalanx force into a convex pattern, allowing the regulars a chance of safeguarding their rapidly-weakening flanks. If she could sow some more mayhem, it would let the troops withdraw more easily.
She took a quick peek over her shoulder. She had long ago lost her "team" faster than a beached jellyfish loses water. It hadn't been hard, really. The Arcone Arbalests were pretty good, with their invisibility and all, but they just weren't as good as her.
The bubble-like formation was nearing completion, and the rapid-reaction forces were beginning to pull away, taking shelter behind the sturdy shields of the regulars. Losses were still pretty bad, and more soldiers were falling by the minute, but it wasn't going to be the utter rout she had feared.
She was planning her next move when she saw a figure break past the rear ranks, alone. The person was heading at a dead run towards the main wall.
The bastard was abandoning the others.
He probably needed a good beating. Something that would make him turn around and fight. The little-
She saw the figure clearly through the dust and sand. He was clad in red and black, and he wielded a spear whose blades formed a cross.
Yukimura was fleeing battle.
Hot, furious hate welled in her breast and warred with disgust and a sense of betrayal.
Kunoichi it was. To hell with Makie. Makie was just some stupid girl who had married a man who was a true coward at heart. She hoped that bastard never got within three planets of her again.
Still, there were Bugs to kill. After helping the poor soldiers in the regular formation, she was leaving this place... She unconsciously fingered her shurikens. Someplace far away from Yukimura.
To hell with Yukimura...
"Where the hell is he going?" Liu Bei muttered under his breath.
His PAD had told him that the young Yukimura Sanada had just bolted for the stronghold. Seeing no other explanation, he wrote the young warrior off as a coward. The Japanese warrior hadn't seemed like the type-far too honor-bound and valiant-but he guessed that overwhelming feelings for self-preservation arose in all types of people.
He had more important things to think about right now.
The main forces had gotten into a sturdy enough position, so he and his wife and friends didn't have to do a frontline action. The Sraida were savage fighters.
The main phalanx forces were withdrawing inch by bloodstained inch. The past hour or so had seen the regular army withdrawn to no more than five hundred yards from the main wall. Siege engines sent out deadly loads at the creatures, surrounded by arrows from garrison bowmen.
The fighting was getting harder. The four mile wide field wasn't funneling the Sraida at all, and the fast aliens were capitalizing on the open ground.
They were too fast.
Fortunately, the siege engines on the main wall was keeping this withdrawal from become a complete route.
But just barely.
In his headset, the voice of Zhuge Liang called.
"Lord Liu Bei, we're going to try to get the small entrances open, where you troops can funnel through. Have your soldiers surround the entrances and create a buffer zone."
"I'm on it," he replied to the master strategist. "Liang, could Ying provide tactical advising? This is her realm."
"Of course, Lord," entered the voice of Yue Ying. "I suggest that you move the 23rd Battalion to a flank defense position on the southern entrances. The Sraida pouring in from the east are shifting that way."
"Thank you. Out here," he said hurriedly before belting out commands to the soldiers.
The 23rd made their transition, but the Sraida made a thrust to where the battalion had withdrawn. Luckily, a reaction force under Lady Noh was in he area, and the probe was repulsed.
Then, with a roar, a knot of Sraida broke through a barrier and charged into the ranks.
Cursing, he dashed forward before the troopers were forced to break formation. His sword flashed out, gutting a shrieking alien. Sensing another Sraida striking at his back, he spun, lashing out with his sword. His blade batted the razor-edged limb away, and he used the momentum of his spin to draw out the sword sheathed along his back. A deft movement had the Sraida stumbling, its guts pooling at its feet.
But there were more.
"/Shang/!" he called to his wife. "We need to clear those Sraida away!"
He and his wife locked eyes with each other knowingly. With a flick, Shang hurled her chakram at him as he hurled the sword held in his left hand at her.
He smiled as the deadly disc barreled towards his face.
A yard from his face, it deflected, and began to rotate around him like some chaotic satellite. Shang had gracefully caught his sword, her other chakram rotating around her body.
Then the chakrams ignited as his swords crackled with lightening.
As he leveled his sword with the one Shan was raising, he smiled grimly
An arc of psionically-induced electricity blazed through the air and connected the swords he and his wife wielded. With the blazing chakrams creating a dazzling shield around their bodies, he charged the Sraida with his wife.
It was impossible for the ferocious aliens to reach him through the barrier of steel and flame, and as he ran the crackling line of lighting blew apart aliens as their own superheated bodily fluids become their own explosives.
The deadly line of electricity utterly destroyed the assaulting Sraida in the vicinity.
As the last mutilated body fell to the ground, he saw his crackling sword fly high into the air towards him, rotating slowly. Smiling, he snatched the chakram out of the air and tossed it back to his wife, who stood several yards distant.
The perfectly thrown blade landed hilt-first in his hand. He smiled wider when he saw Shang balance the thrown chakram on her finger.
But then the moment passed as more Sraida roared and charged.
He and his wife charged back.
/And the fun don't stop/... Keiji thought as a heavy swing from his spear's weighted end propelled a Sraida a good fifteen yards.
Okuni ducked under a Sraida's three-handed swipe. She retaliated with a fierce upward jab that crunched the Sraida's throat.
"This is getting intense, Keiji," his wife said in a tense tone.
"You're telling /me/," he grunted. "I'm down with fights, but this is nuts."
She just chuckled grimly.
The fighting was, thank God, slowly petering out as the soldiers withdrew into the walled stronghold. All the temporally displaced warriors and the rapid reaction forces were performing a rearguard action for the main forces.
And, goody goody, they had to rear-guard /themselves/.
A tangle of Sraida was darting around looking like it was feeling lucky.
Okuni apparently followed his eyes, since she said "Well, warriors first."
"Oh, yeah..." he grunted as he dodged his way through the UNT troopers. He could here Okuni's feet patter as she chased after him.
He grinned recklessly.
As he burst past the hard-pressed shield line, a Sraida swiveled a multi-eyed head to stare at him.
Until he walloped it off with a heavy swing of his spear. The other Sraida, probably thinking they would have easier sport with him than the troopers hiding behind the shields, turned for him. As the half dozen aliens converged on him, he lashed out with the blades, slicing through hard carapace as if it were nothing. The force of the impact sent the disemboweled creatures flying.
He turned to face another mob, but a flying umbrella bowled them over like ninepins. A good number of them had their spines snapped or skulls crushed.
That was his wife. What a woman.
More Sriada diverted from their path to the UNT line to come at him and his wife. Every single one of the bug bastards that got within claw ranged died.
"Keiji!" came a voice over his headset. It was that Liu Bei commander guy. "Begin withdrawal into the stronghold. Archers will provide cover! Move!"
He blinked and looked at his wife. While they had been busy, almost all of the UNT lines had retreated into the stronghold.
Talk about tunnel vision.
He felt a hand tugging on his sleeve.
"I think now would be a good time to move, Keiji," Okuni said hurriedly.
He nodded. "You're right. Go... I'll hold 'em off till your safe inside."
"Oh, no you /won't/," his wife snapped. "We go /together/."
"Uh, yes honey," he replied distractedly as a Sraida claw descended towards his face. He caught the arm in the fork of his blades, and with a deft twist, snapped the limb clean off. Roaring in rage and pain, the insectoid attempted to spit him with its other three arms, but he rammed it with the blunt weight of his spear, propelling the alien away.
"Okay, I think we can go /now/," he huffed to his wife as he pulled her towards one of the minor gates.
"Geez. Finally, honey."