The ice meteor lobbed over the open plains of the grassy prairie, lumbering passed the front line of Daedal’s militia. The sixty meter in diameter frozen rock propelled through the air in such an awkward manner that any onlooker could only describe it with the impossible phrase of ‘falling sideways’. No object should move like that. But in the case of mystical powers, such a sight is all too real. And for the Daedal tanks and heavy armaments, their reality was about to be met with a hail storm of jagged shards.
“Now!” Uana screamed, the air visible due to her icy breath.
A demolition soldier slammed his detonator.
The meteor hung not more than twenty meters above the ground when it exploded from the inside out. The barrage of rock and ice shrapnel tore into the ranks of Daedal’s engineers and drivers, piercing through the armored vehicles.
The meteor split into a hundred parts, with some chunks large enough to crush any unlucky soul caught under the crude boulders.
“They managed to turn my asteroid into an ice grenade.” Hales said dumbfounded. “Remind me to ask them how they pulled that off.” She said to none of her team members in particular.
“Get ready for the charge!” Marcarios’ warning boomed out.
With their explosive weaponry delayed, and a few rendered unusable, Daedal’s army would be forced to press the attack immediately, knowing that they had little time to take the plant and dispose of as many of Garghent’s Specters as possible. A dozen Specters either captured or killed would be a crippling blow to any city’s military.
A dozen soldiers with superpowers was no slight force however. Thirty veteran special forces soldiers rounded off Garghent’s task force for the mission. More than enough to handle the simple objective of a lightning fast operation to capture and secure an unused metal factory.
That was until someone tipped off Daedal about the mission, who then sent some four hundred soldiers to intercept Garghent’s newest elites.
Rabio’s name kept popping up into Hales’ mind. On some instinctive level, she knew it just had to be him. “He wants your word that upon your next encounter it will be as a fresh start and an open mind.” Mathis, Rabio’s middleman, had said.
Hales shook her head of those thoughts, not the place, definitely not the time. Not with a regime of enemy soldiers advancing!
Hales mustered as many stars as she could. She would have to fight conservatively, knowing that the next couple days would involve constant fighting.
“They are going to send soldiers around, well out of range. We’ll need to spread our defenses out.” Santiage, the tactician said. It was true. The army divided into three groups. The main group numbered around three hundred soldiers strong, and the other two counted at fifty each. The two smaller forces broke off and began a wide trek, arcing a safe distance from gun range.
“A couple hours, you reckon?” Saccha suggested to Santiage, referring to the time it would take for the flanking maneuver to be set up.
“No longer than that, but they may wait until nightfall to attack. Four hours, I’d say.” Santiage replied.
“The night is going to be the most difficult part,” Ava started explaining, “they are going to craft camouflage suits with grass and breach the plant.”
“Santiage,” Hales ordered, “coordinate with Marcarios and set up the necessary defenses.”
“Yes, captain.” Santiage stayed low and made his way across the wall to the Cull.
Daedal began preparing deployable barriers in a battle line two hundred meters out.
“So they are going to hold the plains and wait for the night raid?” Hales asked.
“Seems like it.” Saccha responded as he mounted an assault rifle on the railings of the wall. He opened fire. Hales had trained with guns for long enough now that the booming sound didn’t make her flinch.
Both forces were close enough to be in effective range of their rifles. The conflict began in earnest.
Garghent had the superior defense on the raised wall, protected further by Marcarios’ energy shield. Daedal did have numbers, the onslaught of enemy fire made it dangerous for Garghent to peak over.
Saccha picked his targets expertly and fired in short bursts, ducked back under cover, waited, and fired again. He settled into a routine and dealt death to his enemies one by one.
“We need Mancers to break the enemy line!” Called out Genjam as he returned to the wall. His own Chaos Blue firing spears out at the command of his fingers. He focused on the deployed barricades, as his spears at this range were too easy to dodge.
Hales was skeptical at first of the efficacy of the energy shield, but any bullet that hit it evaporated immediately. Daedal aimed high, for headshots.
“Uana, Hido and Bregan are recovering.” Genjam said out loud. Those five Specters, including Genjam, were the ones who launched the meteor. Only Genjam and Corvan had the stamina to keep fighting after. For Genjam, that was on top of using his most powerful ability, Cerulean Knight just hours before.
Dartan approached Hales, ducking. “Ready for more?” His eyes were bloodshot but still reflected the millions of numbers in his vision.
“Let’s not go as big.” Hales said.
“Genjam’s going for walls. We should too.” Hales suggested.
“Bring out some asteroids.”
Hales wanted to use stars but Dartan hadn’t been able to write an equation to multiply their size yet.
Hales brought out a half dozen meteors. Nothing over ten meters, she told herself. Dartan’s Rule made it easier to grow her asteroids and she’d need to conserve that energy in order to launch them.
Dartan’s hand initiated his equation writing. His nose bled.
Hales turned to her medic. “Espen, check on Dartan after this volley. He’s going to suffer permanent damage if he keeps this up.”
Dartan didn’t have the willpower to argue.
“Yes ma’am.” Espen saluted and pulled out some supplies.
Santiage returned. “Okay, this is the plan. Captain Juy and her squad are going to defend the west wing. She’ll have her moon powers by then. Cull Marcarios is taking the east wing. This north wall is left for everyone else.”
“Done,” Dartan mumbled.
Hales expanded one asteroid first. As soon as it reached a size that extended over the wall it received a flurry of bullets. The asteroid broke apart and crumbled over Hales’ head. Her helmet protected her from the worst of the falling debris.
“Shit. I’ve got to get down the wall and launch them from below. I won’t be able to see where I’m throwing. Dartan, do you think you could give me coordinates?”
He groaned, “Yeah but I need to deactivate my power.”
“That’s fine.” Hales started down the wall with her five remaining asteroids. The adrenaline brought life into her muscle as she descended the stairs.
“Cursten, we need to maintain communication with the teams going on the east and west wings tonight. Can you give Juy and Marcarios two-way radios, make sure it can’t be intercepted.” Hales called from down the wall.
“On it, captain.”
“Rub this onto your temples and neck. It’s a numbing salve, it’ll help ease the head pain.” Espen handed Dartan a small vial. Dartan gratefully accepted and quickly dumped half the bottle into his palm and lathered it all over his head and neck. Espen wanted to tell him he was using too much but a soldier declared he’d been hit. Espen rushed over to the soldier who was bleeding from his shoulder. It was Genjam.
“Dartan, give me a wall to target!” Hales called as she grew her second asteroid. Dartan peered through the railing and energy shield.
“Two hundred and twenty meters out. Angle to the left a bit. If I’m zero degrees, aim for ten degrees!”
“Got it!” Hales imagined the wall, what it looked like and where it was positioned. She’d need to rotate it fast and throw it hard if it had any chance of reaching. The axis of her gravity didn’t necessarily depend on her eyesight. If she could mentally picture the target then she should be able to hit it with fairly good accuracy.
Hales never tested this use to any reliable extent but she knew in theory it could work.
The asteroid spun fast enough to ruffle her hair. Hales took two steps back and spread into a wide stance, one hand pointed forward for balance and the other hand, the one with the asteroid floating above her index finger, was poised behind her. Her arms stretched as far as possible in both directions.
Hales kept her core tight and her body grounded. One slight mishap and she’d waste energy, miss her target and throw her asteroid with too little speed.
Every movement had to be precise and powerful.
Hales took a heavy step, bringing her back leg forward while her body stayed in the center as she moved under her leg. Her arm in front cut down and across her torso, chopping the air and swinging back.
As her front arm went back, her back arm shot forward. She flicked her wrist at the apex of the throw and let the asteroid ‘roll’ off her finger for the final motion. The asteroid catapulted over the wall and came crashing into the enemy ranks seconds later.
“Hit!” Dartan called, “one barrier is down and looks like you caught a couple enemies too!” Dartan started rubbing his face as the aphrodisiac effect of the salve kicked in. His face was numb but also felt like it was burning, or rather a tingling heat.
“Give me another wall!” Hales called. The martial art technique helped allow her to move her sore body. Establishing a routine gave her the opportunity to put her body in autopilot, the muscle memory running her through the motions.
“Two hundred and thirty meters, negative fifteen degrees!”
Hales went back into stance and launched another ten meter wide asteroid. Daedal’s soldiers were prepared and focused their fire on the slinging asteroid. They were able to destroy this one in mid-flight.
But during that brief distraction, Santiage and Saccha unleashed a devastating clip into their ranks.
Santiage had his M2 light machine gun. Saccha emptied his fourth gun. Discarding it, he scooped and racked his next gun and switched off the safety.
A Specter in Xander’s squad was dealing as much damage to the enemy formation as Hales and her squad. He could coat his bullets in his saliva by either spitting on each individual shell or the more efficient method, which is to place the bullet in his mouth for a few seconds and then load the shell into the chamber. He used a bolt action rifle and each shot carried a vicious amount of piercing power. Hitting the lower corners of the deployed covers where the reinforced hinges lay could cause the wall to topple on the damaged side. His piercing rounds ensured a sizable hole would be made regardless of his accuracy.
Cursten had the radios tuned to a hidden channel and began distributing them out to each squad leader.
Marcarios radioed in shortly after. “Cursten, I need a battery supplying the energy shield. Think you can come up with something?”
“I’ll be right over, Cull.”
The sun was in no rush to dip below the horizon. The orange sky it cast acted as an ominous reminder of the coming night raid. The waiting was the worst part.
Garghent had the daytime victory, only a handful of wounds but dozens of kills. Hales and Dartan caught much needed respite with the other ragged Specters. They would need to be restored by nightfall. Though a couple hours hardly gave the body enough time to recover properly, they were trained by the best to be the best. A couple hours was more than they got during their awakening camp.
“Looks like they are salvaging quite a few tanks.” One soldier commented.
“Going to be a hell of a night,” Remarked another.
Cursten finished configuring the battery. “The shield will hold for a couple hours at best.” He said while examining his handiwork. He’d found a way to rig a large battery from his backpack by connecting it to one end of the energy shield. It no longer required Marcarios’ constant use of his Fulmen Aspect to maintain its power.
“I’m taking my squad to the east wing, keep an eye on the shield. If it falls, we’ll be overrun.”
“Yes sir! I’ll radio you in before the battery dies so you can recharge it.”
“Give me thirty minutes notice, the fighting is going to be intense.”
Cursten saluted and went through double and triple checks, ensuring nothing would slip out of place.
Marcarios gathered his squad and headed for the north wall.
The captains left to defend the main wall gathered, except for Uana and Hido who were still recovering in one of the factory buildings and Genjam who was being bandaged and having bullets removed from him. Dartan being the most recent addition to the makeshift hospital.
Bregan, Xander, Corvan and Hales brainstormed even as the fighting continued. They moved down from the wall to discuss strategy without distractions. Juy and her squad were already on the west wing preparing their own defenses.
“Xander, who is your Specter with the armor piercing rounds?” Hales asked.
“Eris, and his Aspect is Bodkin.”
“Right, we are going to need Eris to produce a lot of anti-tank bullets. My squad has got an M2 machine gun. We can use that to destroy the tanks.”
“That works, I’ll have him start but he’s been using saliva all day. I’m not sure how much he’s got left.” On that note Xander climbed the stairs back to his squad.
“What’s everyone’s strongest move?” Corvan addressed the group.
“Gravity Field, but I can’t pull that off now.” Hales replied first.
“I’m going to combine fire and lightning.” Bregan said grimly.
“You’ve got enough energy to last the night?” Corvan asked seriously.
“I’ll be fine,” snapped Bregan.
“You?” Asked Hales to Corvan.
“Seven Trumpets. It’s a last resort ability, though, so other than that I can try firing sound blasts at them. My Chorus is best at closer range though.”
“Xander’s got his Grand Awakening Karma Form.” Suggested Hales.
“Bastard is too stubborn to ‘waste’ his Karma.” Bregan almost spit the words.
“We don’t have enough to hold.” Corvan concluded grimly.
“Like hell we don’t! Leave the tanks to me.”
“Bregan you lack the range to fight them,” Corvan tried to reason.
“Could we give up the wall and fall back? Their tanks wouldn’t be useful inside here.” Hales cut in.
“We’d be overrun and the evac helicopters would have nowhere to land.” Corvan dismissed, “we have to prevent a breach at all costs.”
“You’re wasting time.” Bregan said. “I’m getting ready. Like you said, we don’t have a choice.” Bregan left without hearing further debate.
“How can we survive?” Corvan tapped his side in thought.
“Maybe Eris will be enough?” Hales offered.
“We can’t rely on him. He may be able to take out a single tank or two but not much more than that.”
“Are you sure we shouldn’t give them the wall? They are going to bombard the lower portion and destroy the energy shield anyways.”
“Orders were to hold. Marcarios and Juy would get flanked if we lose it.”
“Then we should retreat!”
Xander rejoined the group. “I heard you say retreat.” Xander remarked as he descended down the steps.
“We can’t.” Corvan answered.
“Eris is sick. Too much gun metal in his system.” Xander broke the news.
“How sick?” Corvan asked skeptically.
“He’ll be fine in a few hours, it’s a result of using his power too much. He’s been at it all day.” Xander explained.
“How many bullets did he salivate?”
“Not enough.” Xander said, rubbing his face and showing his stress for the first time.
“Use your Karma.” Hales said.
“No.” Xander said sternly. “We can do this without that.”
Corvan looked exasperated. To him no one was cooperating. To Hales no one was being realistic. They couldn’t hold the wall with so many Specters being fatigued.
Their brainstorming made no progress. Bregan was sitting on the wall meditating.
“So how are we going to stop them from blasting the wall?” Hales asked again.
“Tanks are moving into position, about five of them!” Called Santiage from on the wall.
“Times up.” Hales said.
“We hold the wall.” Corvan reaffirmed.
“Okay.” Hales agreed, not caring anymore. She left to update her squad. Cursten was attending the battery of the energy shield at the end of the wall and Espen was in a small workroom administering first aid. Ava, Saccha, Santiage and Liem were all fighting on the wall.
“Here’s the plan.” Hales concluded with a spread of her hands, annoyed still at the whole situation.
“Sounds thorough.” Santiage said. He had overheard some arguing and figured the young captains had disagreed.
“Let’s hope the wall holds.” Liem said.
“Synthesis!” Shouted Bregan. He held fire in one hand and electricity in the other, supplied by his pyrotechnician and electrician alike. He clapped his hands together and pulled them apart. An orb of orange, crackling fire floated in front of him. He grabbed it and the power was now his to command.
“Hales, I need gas planets, as many as you can muster out!”
“Where?” She called back.
“A line in front!”
Bregan is going to torch the entire prairie, realized Hales. She hadn’t noticed the sun sneak below the horizon. Dusk was ending, and night rolled in.
“We’re down wind.” Ava stated. “Don’t start a bushfire.”
“There’s barely a breeze.” Hales argued as she started drawing out gas planets.
“It’s enough to whip back in our faces,” The terrainer warned.
Hales stopped making new planets. Bregan noticed. “Hales throw them right now!” He was gathering his own power into an unstable mass of plasma, ready to spew it out like a hose.
Enemy fire intensified as they sensed something was coming. Tanks were in position and taking aim. The energy shield buffered from the stress of bullets as they focused hundreds of rounds per second into the shield.
“Energy shield is going down!” Cursten shouted before radioing Marcarios.
“Hales, now!” Demanded Bregan again. He was too tired to start his own fire as he lacked the plasma to properly ignite the entire plain himself. He needed a fuel supply.
Hales threw out her gas planets, dozens… a hundred… two hundred.
They were tiny, she needed quantity over quality right now.
The first tank shells rocked the wall, blasting bits and chunks off at a time.
Bregan put his wrists together, palms facing out. His plasma gushed like a water spout. Fiery orange and bubbling. He aimed broadly for the planets lined up. His plasma reached fifty meters, not even half the distance to the enemy line.
The gas planets burst and the fire erupted. A wall of flame roared to life and thick smoke billowed from it, creating a screen between the two armies.
Tank and bullets shells fired on anyways, and parts of the wall crumbled. The energy shield flickered and the occasional bullet would pass through.
“Shields cracked!” Cursten yelled.
The wall of fire quickly spread toward the plant.
“Corvan, start shouting! Keep it controlled. Too much and you’ll kill it!” Hales ordered.
“Son of a-” Corvan started. “Is it going to work?”
“Don’t go too loud! Watch it and adjust as you need to!” Hales responded. “You better start now!”
Corvan shook his head in disbelief. He cupped his hands around his mouth, making a cone to better project
Corvan kept his voice deep as he screamed. The soundwaves needed to be low, long and wide.
Hales wanted him to displace the oxygen molecules toward the front of the fire, away from the plant. He fought against the wind but the more encompassing wavelengths of deep sound could push more oxygen as long as he maintained a steady bass.
His Chorus Aspect ensured that he did just that. The noise was so deep that Hales felt it in her chest. Corvan made sure not to snuff out the fire. If he completely displaced all of the oxygen then the fire would die in an instant.
The fire wall changed directions and crept up on Deadal’s army.
Corvan added more force the further the firewall went.
Flames tore into the enemy lines, causing them to retreat. Garghent sprayed bullets randomly into the plain. The tanks tried turning but the retreating soldiers blocked their path as they all streamed back in disarray.
“That’ll buy us a few hours.” Saccha said as he began reloading all his emptied guns.
Flashes of light lit both the east and west. Marcarios was using lightning bolts and Juy was using her Moonblink like a strobelight.
“You think they are winning?” Hales asked Santiage.
“There hasn’t been any radio calls. Marcarios is about as good as they come and the night is captain Juy’s element. I’d say they’ll be just fine.”
“Get some rest, all of you.” Ava said to the captains. Soldiers from each squad nodded agreement as the teams gathered.
“If they return tonight, we’ll wake you. We just need a couple people working in shifts for the watch.”
The fire wall died in large portions at a time since there was little to burn as the wind pushed it back toward the wall where it had already charred the grass.
Hales gratefully accepted, Bregan finally admitted to being exhausted and Corvan couldn’t speak as his voice gave out. The rest of the Specters were still recovering inside one of the abandoned factory buildings. Genjam was bandaged in a couple places but would live.
Hales sank to the ground and tried sleeping.
Sleep didn’t come this time. She replayed the day over and over again. Part of her perhaps was unconsciously worried that Daedal would strike the north wall again tonight. She dealt with that feeling by analyzing the battle. The worry that the west or east could fall left her anxious as well.
Laying in the dark did feel divine, however.
A couple hours passed and Hales was fading in and out of sleep. A loud wind-chopping noise disturbed her from falling back asleep.
“What is that?” Hales asked out loud.
A few groans stirred awake as groggy eyes looked around.
A soldier burst through the door. “Evac is here!”
They were early by at least a whole day!
Now everyone stood wide awake.
“That’s not good,” croaked Corvan as his voice box had healed slightly.
“Why not? We can get out of here,” Genjam said, wincing as he rose to his feet.
“Juy and Marcarios…” Corvan tried clearing his throat., “are still out there. Daedal will send an all out attack.” His voice barely above a whisper. It carried the impact just as seriously.
Juy and Marcarios would have to switch to a retreating defense. Daedal could now storm the plant without any resistance.
“Enemy is charging! North wall.” Came the voice of Cursten on multiple radios in the room.
The helicopters grew closer and closer.
“We got to go!” Shouted one soldier. Hales hoisted her pack to her shoulder and left the factory building.
It was sometime after midnight and the helicopters could be seen approaching from the south. Four in total. Two teams per chopper.
“Wave them down, tell them to land over there,” Xander ordered to one of his soldiers, and pointed to a clearing far to the edge of the plant on the south side. “We’ve got to set up a defensive formation and make a steady retreat.” Xander was taking charge amidst the chaos of all the noise and people moving about and enemy gunshots and frequent radio calls.
“This is Captain Juy, my squad is moving toward the center.”
“The Cull has ordered a fall back from the north wall. Immediate evacuation. Don’t let the choppers land. Have them drop a ladder.”
Orders were repeated until everyone knew what needed to be done. It was short notice, after a full day and night of travelling and combat, but Garghent prepared to leave. They conquered and subsequently lost the plant in a span of twenty-four hours.
So goes war. Nobody wants to lose, nobody wants to die.
Daedal, however, lost seventy soldiers between the initial day skirmish when Garghent first attacked and the afternoon to night conflict while Garghent defended. Garghent’s force suffered half a dozen casualties with several more wounded.
Percentage wise, they had both sustained blows to near equal amounts relevant to the size of their forces.
This calculation was made before the final night breach.
Daedal’s soldiers stormed the walls from all sides.
Garghent retreated into four tight rings around where the helicopters floated above. They dropped the ladders down.
Marcarios shouted angrily. “They didn’t bring attack choppers!”
Gunshots bounced off the reinforced plating of the hovering choppers.
The Specters gave a final push, having recovered enough to suppress enemy advancement.
They unleashed a torrent of all their powers. Preserving the plant was no longer a concern.
Uana used Gale to freeze and send jagged icicles. Bregan fired a Synthesis of dirt and steel to add mounds of sharp obstacles, sealing off paths between buildings. Jillian was sprinting with Alacrity back and forth between squads, strapping wounded soldiers to be hauled into the helicopters while Hido protected her with Guardian.
Hales used planets to bombard enemies randomly, abstaining from stars to remain in the cover of the dark. Juy blinded and confused enemies with Moonblink, probably the most essential power for the evacuation.
Marcarios electrocuted anyone who got too close to metal and considering this was a raw iron factory, his conductive capacity was ravaging the enemy.
The rest of Garghent’s force opened fire in every direction with rifles, pistols and machine guns.
The first chopper was fully loaded and started its escape.
A second chopper was ready, this one was Cull Marcarios’. He refused to leave until his squads were ready. He climbed up near the cockpit and shouted. “Why did you bring transports? I requested attack choppers!”
The pilot stuttered under the scrutiny of a superior officer. “Sorry… sir. There were none available.”
“That’s impossible.” Marcarios argued. Nothing about this mission had gone as briefed. Command couldn’t even get the clean up right.
“I’m afraid not. Garghent’s being invaded by five different cities. There’s an all out war, sir.”
“We have to go!” The pilot shouted anxiously as more and more bullets were taking their toll on the armor plating.
The last two choppers were finally fully loaded.
One pilot spoke over the comm system “All teams ready. Let’s get out of here.”
The helicopters flew out even as soldiers were hanging onto the ladders. They had to finish climbing as they flew in the air. Bullets still whizzed by but no one was hit luckily.
Saccha hoisted Hales up the rest of the way. She flopped down in a seat and looked around. Everyone was accounted for. She was in a chopper with Corvan and his squad.
Hales guessed that some eighty more enemy soldiers had been wounded or killed in that last fight. She closed her eyes.
There was a single enemy tank left that had survived both the ice meteor and the firewall.
The rapidly distancing helicopters would make for a longshot with a one and one thousand odds of hitting.
The tank shell rocketed through the air.
Just when Hales thought she could relax, she heard the grating, harrowing sound of the helicopter’s tail being blown off and the pilot shouting into the mic words you never want to hear in an aircraft.
“We’re hit! Tail is shot, crash landing!”