There seems to be no escape from this darkness...
Gregory P. Wong
Chapter 7: Reap the Whirlwind
Shang rolled away from seeking Sraida blades, swiping with her chakrams as she moved. No longer able to stand on one leg, the Sraida fell over and screeched until she stomped its throat.
She saw Bei take a bad swat to face.
With a cry, she hurled a bladed disc at the monster's face, nearly cleaving it in two.
Somehow the phrase "splitting headache" seemed way too overused.
And utterly, completely, irrefutably inappropriate for this fudged situation.
Any hope of forming the UNT troopers was shot to hell, and the archery and siege units were doing their all just to keep the Sraida from scaling the walls.
She dashed over to her husband, his right cheek oozing from three ugly cuts.
She dug out her chakram from the Sraida's ruined face, and tried to get a better look at Bei.
He waved her away. "I'm fine, I'm fine."
Oh, really. There were times for the tough-guy routine... and it wasn't now.
"You're not okay," she hissed. "Hold still."
She tore a strip from her shorts-a patch that wasn't drenched in someone's blood-and pressed it to her husband's face.
"Keep it there until the bleeding slows. It's-"
"Only a temporary measure until the UNT medics see to me," Bei finished. "Gosh, sweetheart, you're lecturing a firefighter on first aid?"
Despite the completely screwed up situation, she pouted playfully.
"Well, someone has to do it," she declared.
Bei exaggerated a sigh. "Okay, okay, you win."
Her husband took the compress away. The bleeding was a little slower now. Would do for a while.
"Okay, let's do this," she said.
No sooner were the words out of her mouth than a Sraida leaped at her. There was a metallic snick as one of Bei's swords took off its head.
She was going to thank him when more Sraida charged in.
"Bastard!" she hissed when she missed a block and a Sraida raked her shoulder. She punched her chakrams into its torso. She and the other ancient warriors were making the Sraida pay damn high in bodies to even scratch them, but this wasn't going to last very long. She was already nearing exhaustion, super-powers or no.
Too many UNT soldiers had fallen already... but what else could they do but fight. It was so... idiotic! All that she and the soldiers could do was hope the tachyon-displacer device was up and ready before they were all dead.
But that wasn't going to happen.
A volley of arrows knocked down four dozen Sraida, and she had some breathing room.
And then she felt the ground start to shake.
It was different from the incessant pounding of the Sraida feet. It was... deeper?
Then she recognized the sound, something from when she was, well, a Chinese warrior-chick.
Another Sraida tried for her, but she smiled as she took it out. Reinforcements had arrived.
"Not a moment too soon..." Yue Ying heard her husband whisper as a formation of two thousand cavalry charged down the mountain pass, ramming through the Sraida.
In the lead was a gray charger with red trappings. And seated on the saddle was a young Japanese man in red armor, wielding a cross-bladed spear.
Interesting, that some of the other warriors had thought Yukimura Sanada was running away.
The decision had been Liang's, with his almost eerie sense of foresight. Of course, that's why he was such a good strategist.
Not only had he seen the need of a cavalry unit, he had reformulated his plans on the fly, which wasn't a usual strategist characteristic.
Originally, the cavalry had been meant to engage the Sraida after they had gotten through the wall in force, where the faster horses would be at an advantage. However, as was being painfully demonstrated, the Sraida probably weren't going to be spooked by a head-on charge. After all, a wall of spears hadn't even fazed them. And the Sraida could easily yank riders off of their horses. But a mounted attack from the rear...
Yukimura had been summoned from the front lines to lead the charge. If the history was right about the young man, he was an excellent tactician, and well-versed in light and heavy horse movements. It was a miracle in and of itself that they had arrived so soon after looping around the back entrance.
The cloaked observer drones were tracking the cavalry assault. The horsemen were rapidly closing in on the Sraida, and only now were the rearmost aliens noticing the oncoming tide of horse and man.
And spearheading the charge was Yukimura Sanada, a full ten yards in front of his command.
Snap out of it! They have to be warned.
She tapped her headset, opening an army-wide communications.
"All garrison units! Break contact and get away from the breaches! Repeat: Get away from the breaches!"
A chorus of acknowledgements sounded. A chime sounded. Her PAD told her it was Nobunaga.
"Why are we doing this? If we disengage, we're inviting them into the sortie field. They'll have too much room for them to maneuver. We'll be swarmed under!"
"It won't be us who'll be swarmed," she whispered into the receiver, and snapped it off.
There was a whine as her husband sent another bolt of psionic light on its way to explode on Sraida carapace.
"With luck, this won't end here," grunted Liang. He was getting tired from projecting his energy. It was a drain on the human body.
Super powered or not.
"I hope," she replied.
Yukimura Sanada charged the enemy, two thousand at his back.
The Sraida didn't really notice them until he was literally on top of them.
"/OVER HERE, YOU ALIEN MONSTROSITIES/!" he roared as his horse jumped and crushed two slow Sraida beneath its hooves.
Makie... he hoped she was okay. God help the Sraida is she wasn't.
His powerful heavy charger plowed through the Sraida, knocking over the large aliens as if they were nothing. His cross spear flashed in the sun and three Sraida fell away dead.
And then the other members of the heavy cavalry arrived behind him, plowing the aliens under and cutting down those the horses didn't get.
He saw, out of the corner of his eye, the other cavalrymen draw level with him. Their lowered lances spit aliens, and when the weapon was snared, the long cavalry sabers lashed out.
But not him. He had been the best cavalryman in the Takeda army, so he damned well knew how to handle his spear correctly.
Dammit! There was no end to these things! All he could see was a solid sea of monstrous insectoids.
It was a strict no-no when engaged, but he took one hand from his spear and toggled his headset.
"Ying! This is Yukimura!" he yelled into his headset as he cut down the Sraida. Amazingly, the cavalry hadn't slowed its pace. He thanked God that the Sraida hadn't been as packed as they had been at the entrance of the pass. The moment his horses were forced to slow, they were in big trouble. Shock and mobility was the strength of cavalry, and one, really, came from the other. Once the horses were bogged down, all shock-value was gone.
And then it would be all over but the screaming.
/But too bad, you alien bastards, there won't be many human screams/.
"What's the situation?"
There was a significant pause. "Pretty bad." Dammit/. "We have three major breaches at the wall, and about a dozen small ones. We don't have much time. I've recalled the units away from the breach, and we have a /very large load of Sraida in the sortie field."
He cursed. "At our current rate, we'll be at the wall in fifteen minutes. Is that enough...?"
"I'd like half that, but that's not something you can give at this point." A crackling whine sounded in the background. Sounded like lightening. "We can hold for that long... but hurry. We're barely keeping our head above water as it is."
"Acknowledged," he replied as he swept the head off an alien. Wait, he had to know... "Ying, is everyone... accounted for?"
"Everyone's fine as of now, but-"
Oh, please don't say... "But what?" he interrupted.
"I haven't been able to establish contact with, er, Makie."
"She was leading a tactical unit of Arcone Arbalests," he heard her pause a bit as she said the designation. Why would the Arcones name their super-warriors after a crossbow? "And she dropped from contact a few minutes after we recalled you." He dug the brains out of a Sraida skull with a quick stab. "The Arcones she was leading are completely puzzled."
"She was always a good ninja," he muttered as he speared another insectoid.
"Never mind." A Sraida head flew. "Over and out."
"Out," Ying replied.
He really wanted to think right now. Why would Makie-or Kunoichi-run off like that? Maybe-
He grunted as a Sraida claw raked his shoulder. His armor stopped it, but it showed his lack of focus. This would get him killed! He had to push his wife out of his thoughts while he fought.
He was rapidly nearing the wall. In fact he could see-Jesus!-the large rents in the metal. The big holes were large enough to allow dozens of Sraida.
But now they were going to allow the cavalry.
"55th, take the left breach!" he called to his cavalry regiments. "61st, take the right! 50th, follow me down the center! Cold steel!"
A chorus of "Cold steel!" and acknowledgments reached his ears through the headset.
His charger was still plowing relentlessly through the alien bodies as his horsemen followed and dealt death.
And then he had a thought.
What if Makie was not just unaccounted for... but dead? God, no. She was good, but she wasn't invincible.
He snarled and pushed his horse harder.
He was almost to the wall, and he streaked down towards the center breach. Sraida scattered like leaves, and he knew they would be trampled or cut down by the following cavalrymen. This was flat-out insane! Two thousand mounted men were literally erasing fifty times their number! The narrow confines of the mountain pass allowed the riders to form a solid snake of cavalry that swept the insectoids under steel-shod hooves.
And then he and his men where at the wall.
The 50th followed him through the center breach, knocking back the Sraida. He could see that the cavalry weren't as densely packed as before, meaning they wouldn't have the slaughter that they had riding up to this place.
That was what the swing and second attack was for.
The UNT soldiers were using the reprieve to reform into their phalanxes. Good.
Breaking past the mob of Sraida that had gotten through-Good Lord, they had to number over seven thousand-he held his spear high over his head.
"All cavalry units, form up at the westernmost wall!" he ordered.
Despite not being brought up around this sort of thing, the cavalrymen actually did the maneuver correctly, wheeling around to meet up with his unit at the back of the sortie field. In a short few minutes, a wall of just under two thousand horses stood at his back.
Causalities had been obscenely light, but-damn-he'd lost at least thirty men.
But now the Sraida were going to lose the rest of their 300,000.
Whatever those things had for morale, it was now irrevocably and thoroughly shot to hell. Having the swiftly moving horsemen-
And then it hit him.
She had disappeared a few minutes after he was called back. He'd been told that the others hadn't been warned so that they wouldn't unconsciously reconfigure in preparation, and thus accidentally warn the Sraida.
In the middle of battle, he had run back towards the outpost at full speed.
As though he were running away...
It was like a wall of ice slammed into him. No, Makie, please, no. She had promised not to attempt anything against herself, but now, he wasn't sure. Him looking like a coward might have snapped her desire to keep on living.
With a roar of rage, he channeled his psionic energy into his arms. The triple blades of his spear burst into dazzling flames. A few nearby horses nickered.
Horses didn't like fire...
...and now the Sraida were for sure going to hate it.
"Lower lances, and /CHARGE/!" he roared as he spurred his horse forward.
It had been... pure nuts. Zhu Rong shook her head and continued wrapping a dressing around her husband's thigh. They'd traded the barbarian-garb for some really spiffy unpowered armor, but the Sraida had rammed its claws into Huo's leg, causing a nasty slash.
The battle had turned bloody as soon as the Yukimura person led that mad charge.
Bloody for the overgrown roaches, that is. The column of horsemen had charged down the throats of the Sraida, and then "broken and engaged" in a really weird melee that was almost too fast-moving for the ground-pounders to comprehend completely.
Whatever the details were, the Sraida had been all put down, but at a horrible price.
Two thousand UNT troopers were dead outright, and at least double that were critically wounded. That left only four thousand, mostly archers and rear-rank soldiers. The cavalry was still intact, but it had lost a quarter of its men.
She frowned and looked for the Japanese leader. There he was, by the wall. He was sitting with his back to the metal, and he looked extremely... disheartened? Grieved?
"That Yukimura don't look so good," said Huo from behind her.
"Yeah. I wonder if it's because that ninja girl went missing?"
"Hmm," murmured her husband. "If anything, I think that'd be it."
She just shook her head. Poor guy.
A chime sounded in her headset. She toggled it on.
"All UNT soldiers," ground out the tired voice of General Adrian. "We managed to whack the Sraida first wave, and I'm proud of everyone here. What we managed to do was nothing short of miraculous.
"Unfortunately," the general continued after a pause, "this galaxy seems to not like miracle-workers, which proves the universe blows a long fat one." Adrian took a deep breath. "The remainder of the initial Sraida assault force is making a charge at us. We have about thirty-six hours before they make contact," another pause, "drones estimate the force to be in excess of four hundred kay."
Oh Jesus Lord. Three hundred-thousand had almost killed them all... and that was with prepared defenses and fresh troopers.
"Zhuge Liang, Yue Ying, and the high command agree that the best option now is a diversionary open field engagement. We'll take it to them, and hopefully they'll be distracted enough to steer clear of the research facility.
"All soldiers with experiences in riding, meet up with the cavalry commanders. All others, we're going the mechanized infantry route. APCs and ranger hoverscouts are on standby. We'll try to hit them hard enough so that the Bugs become disorganized. Be prepared to sally at 0800 tomorrow."
The comm snapped off.
She shook her head and polished off her boomerang with a rag. The blades were extremely sticky with whatever the Sraida used for blood. So, the boomerang would be nice and shiny just to be covered with alien muck again. And then they were going to die. For sure. There was literally no chance.
"Four hundred kay," she muttered quietly.
"Crap," Huo muttered.
"Keiji..." Okuni pleaded with her husband. After some hours of barely-revitalizing sleep, it was nearly time
"Sweetey... I have to. Matsukaze doesn't like other people much." Keiji's personal horse had been also been "rescued" and had been kept cooped up in the UNT stables. The horse handlers had nicknamed her husband's horse "Kamikaze."
"But..." she trailed off, knowing that she didn't have much of a chance of swerving Keiji.
Her husband reached out and gathered her up in his arms. She felt his face on her hair.
For all his gruff competitiveness, he was quite gentle with her.
She felt tears build and run down Keiji's chest. He was leading the charge with the other warriors. It was just her luck that she had never learned how to ride a horse. Even Oichi had learned it from Nagamasa when they had been in the "right" time. Her? She had been too busy dancing.
And, for once, Keiji wasn't too hot to do battle. The Sraida had the tendency to do that.
"Honey, it's duty. This is our last ditch to give the scientists more time."
"I know, Keiji. It's just that... I don't know. I don't want you to..." She couldn't say it.
"Well, I promise I'll do my absolute best not to, 'kay?"
She giggled a bit. Nothing kept a good Keiji down...
Then, a thought.
"How strong is Matsukaze?"
She felt Keiji's eyebrow arch. "Plenty strong? Why?"
"Could he take two people?"
"Sure. He could-" a pause. "Hey, good idea.
She grinned into his chest. "Of course, you can steer him. Everyone knows Asian women can't drive."
Keiji let out a braying laugh. "Good one! Of course, you ain't half as bad a driver as I am."
"That's because you drive a cop cruiser!"
She shook her head and laughed with her husband.
Then a chime sounded from her PAD, telling her that it was time to mount up.
"I love you, Keiji."
"And I sure as hell love you Okuni."
And then she and Keiji walked over to Matsukaze.
The horse wasn't half bad, really. It was just the entire situation was down the toilet. Qiao adjusted herself again as the column of horsemen charged along.
"Yu?" she said to her husband as he barreled along to her left.
"Do you think this'll work?"
"I hope to God it does," he replied.
She didn't say anything in reply.
At the front of the column was Yukimura, Keiji-with Okuni behind him-Bei, and Shang. There were exactly 2,173 horse-riding soldiers, gleaned from all the UNT survivors who could ride. The remaining soldiers were going to follow in transports and deploy on the field.
She could see the opening to the mountain pass ahead.
"We sowed the thunder, and now it's time to reap the whirlwind," Yu said suddenly.
"Nothing much. Just a thought. We started this as soon as Yukimura began his charge."
"And now we reap what we sowed," she finished the metaphor.
Her husband didn't say anything. Then...
"Qiao?" she heard Yu ask.
"I love you."
She choked. That was it. One final profession... and then there would be nothing.
"I love you too. I'll see you where ever we end up."
Silence, except for the pounding of hooves.
The sheer mass of creatures nearly shocked him off the horse. Nobunaga couldn't believe it.
The first rabble had been bad. This was much, much worse.
He had this really strong desire to hug Noh right now, but he suppressed it. Distractions were bad at this juncture.
He saw Yukimura raise his spear high into the air. The Sanada wasn't an impossible character to deal with, and he supposed he could try and concede to his wife's wishes.
The cross-bladed spear waved forward. As the saying went, it was now showtime.
Pure. Utterly. Completely. Nuts.
Yep, those were the words. Huo spurred his horse one. It was a pretty strong critter, what with taking his bulk. Now it was time to test this horse's brawn.
Time to get all bloody again. Damn Sraida.
"We have to cut in at an oblique approach," Shang heard Yukimura say.
"I know. We want to hit them hard enough to chase us, but not deep enough so that they can wheel in on us," her husband said back.
"Whatever it is, this is gonna suck," she said. "At least we'll have plenty of Sraida to keep us company."
"No joke," Bei muttered. "I can't see and end to them." No need to clarify on "them."
The seething mass of Sraida was fast approaching. Yukimura suddenly slanted to the right, towards the north. He was going to try and hit a corner of the Sraida mob, right?
A few more seconds...
Dammit! The Sraida were wheeling around faster than anyone had expected. Oichi hoped that the Sraida would have second thoughts.
She looked over at her husband. Masa's face was frozen in a grim frown. She was probably sharing his facial expression.
She clutched her kendama and prepared to swing it in bone-shattering arcs...
...And then she and the vanguard slammed into the Sraida horde.
No! They were moving to envelop them!
Kunoichi sat on a dune watching the obscenely numerous Sraida tromping their way towards the UNT place. She had been giving them plenty of pain though, darting in and taking a dozen of the overgrown bugs every half hour or so. She had probably caused quite a delay with the buggy freaks.
She was out of shuriken, though, so she would have to visit some bodies and get them. Oh well. Story of her life. Always making bad decisions.
Most significantly with /him/. She still couldn't quite get her head around how much she loathed him.
Then she saw the column of cavalry exit the mountain pass. Weird. She'd thought they would be holed up in that stronghold.
Maybe they wanted to get some back from the Sraida.
Whatever the reason, she could see what the cavalry was trying to do. Yuk-that /bastard/, not "Yukimura"-had explained advanced cavalry tactics to her once. What the commander was trying to do was shave off a "corner" from the Sraida force, and force the aliens to pursue.
Damn! The Sraida were reacting too fast. The targeted section was already ballooning like a pimple on overload.
She saw a flash of red in the lead. Hmm... It hadn't looked like the Zhou Yu guy was much of a rider. What was he doing leading the charge?
Oh, geez. Whoever the leader was, he had just broken from the main column and was heading deeper into the Sraida horde. Whoever it was, he was some fearless hardcore rider, distracting the Sraida so the column could successfully complete the maneuver. That guy was dead for sure. It was kind of sad, though. He should-
Dear God, no. It couldn't be.
She saw the cross-bladed spear raise high into the air and burst into fire.
She knew only one person who could do that. Only one person she knew was a rider and a cross-spear wielder.
He hadn't been running away at the initial defense. She had seen the tail of a cavalry column entering the pass yesterday. It had to have been Yukimura in the lead...
Tears blurred her vision. How could she be so damned stupid!? Yukimura would never run away from a battle like she thought he had.
And she had left him. Yuki loved her... and she had thrown it away because she had been too selfish. All Kunoichi, no Makie.
And Yukimura was going to die alone.
She was going to ditch Kunoichi and take up Makie Omori Sanada again... but that was for later. She couldn't let go yet. Not with Yukimura looking death in the face like that.
Dammit, he wasn't going to die. Not if she had something to say.
She yanked her daggers from her belt and charged of at full speed towards the lone figure. One order of ninja-girl, with a side order of vengeful daggers, coming right up!
Damn him if he was letting that brave Yukimura die alone. Zhou Yu directed his horse towards the figure of Yukimura. The Japanese man was on foot. Probably the sheer mass of insectoids had just dragged down his horse. His long saber flashed, its length engulfed in fire.
And then he was flying. Dammit. A Sraida must've hamstringed his horse.
"YU!" he heard Qiao screech. He was going to tell her not to help, but he was really too busy now.
Well, he did have enough time to cock an eyebrow as the other warriors, including the Mindlancers, Legions, and Arbalests, charged in and were all forcibly dismounted. Looks like the Sraida could learn new tricks.
And, Jesus, what a melee. The cavalry was probably tangling with the aliens right now.
Well, might as well die with piles of bodies flung around. Ha ha.
It was her dream all over again. Yukimura was slashing away with a spear that had blades forming a cross shape. Keiji batted away foes with his fork-bladed spear, covering Okuni, who was using an Eastern-style umbrella to knock back enemies. Bei, in green armor, kept the enemy at bay with twin swords as he fought back to back with Shang. Qiao and Oichi also fought back to back, their weapons flashing with force and lightening. Nagamasa and Yu were whirling in dances of death. Rong wielded her boomerang and Huo battered enemies with his gloves and body.
Liang was there too, driving back mobs of Sraida with his fan and blasts of energy from his bare hands. Her scythe-spear chopped through enemies bloodily. It was utter madness. She wasn't even thinking anymore, just reacting.
Something was wrong though. The ninja girl wasn't here...
She lashed out with the spear again.
But more and more Sraida came, and her strength-and probably everyone else's too-was waning.
It couldn't end like this...!
And then she felt the hair standing up on the back of her neck.
She looked behind her, and saw some type of glow surround Yukimura.