Blakfire v2 Chapter 3
“I can think of a few more words to say than ‘balls,’” Niku remarked from behind Blaize. “But I don’t think they’d make this situation any better….”
Blaize had to agree to that. The seconds seemed to stretch into hours. What was the tank waiting for? All it would take is a single second to blow them all into smithereens. But now. It just sat there, engine rumbling.
A voice from the tank spoke, suddenly enough to make the trio jump. “Weapons on the ground,” said the gruff male Damontian-accented voice, ostensibly belonging to the commander of the tank. “You, the black-haired one. Remove the arm, and the guns, and step forward. You have until I count to ten.” The commander’s voice paused. “One.”
Out of Blaize’s peripherial, off to their right he saw an open door. A diner, it looked like. It was about thirty feet away….a gamble, to be sure. The Damontians seemed ready to shoot if they so much as flinched wrong. Behind him he heard the clicking as Niku and the girl undid their weapon harnesses. “No,” he whispered. “Left. Ten yards.”
The sounds from Niku hesitated, and the girl hesitated too. The tank apparently noticed. “Why did you stop? Five.” It said.
“Wait until ten,” Blaize continued. “Make them think we’ll be stationary targets. Then bolt for it.”
“Seven….please do not make us do this.” The voice warned. Blaize looked at the tank in defiance, as if he’d rather die than surrender, but took a step forward, reaching to the release on his arm, but stopped, staying in place and watching the tank. Behind him, Niku and the girl followed his lead, staring the metal monster down. “Eight.”
Blaize mentally counted the steps, reviewed what he’d need to do. “Boy, do not make this any harder than it is. I know a fellow Damontian when I see one. Nine.”
A deathly silence went over the group. Over the rumbling, Blaize’s sharp ears could hear the clinking sounds of movement within the tank. Reloading a round. Getting ready for the kill. The commander was clearly hesitating, waiting for any last minute surrenders. But soon, it became clear there would be none. “Ten.”
“MOVE!” Blaize screamed and ducked to his left, his shout followed an instant later by the roar of the tank’s main gun. Niku and the girl obeyed, already sprinting as the tank fired. Niku swore he felt the shell graze his hair, but none were hit, and the round flew downrange and demolished a small house.
The tank wasted no time. The rip of machine gun fire sounded from the tank’s hull machine gun, pelting the back of the trio’s ankles with asphalt as it tore up the ground behind him. But somehow, they made it. Glass shattered and sparks flew as the gunfire followed them in, and Blaize vaulted the register counter and took cover behind it, covering his head as bullets whizzed over and chewed up the countertop. Niku joined him an instant later, then the girl. They were alive….if only by the skin of their teeth.
Surprisingly it was the girl who spoke first. “YOU’RE BOTH INSANE!” she screamed. She held onto the brim of her wide Brodie helmet, her strap having come loose during the run, and pressed her back against the counter.
“Maybe, but we’re alive!” Blaize retorted, and he pulled his machine gun off his back and cocked it, making sure it was ready to go.
“That’s not going to do much against a Drache, Blaize.” Niku commented. “In fact unless someone has a Hammer AT gun laying around I don’t think we have ANYTHING to put a dent in that thing.
Outside, the sound of the tank’s engine got closer, followed by another sound: a loud clatter, then what sounded like scraping a steel beam across the asphalt. Blaize spared a look over the counter and cursed, ducking down and pulling the two towards the back. “Move! Those assholes lowered their dozer blade and are intent on flattening us in here!”
Almost as soon as he said that, a loud crash deafened them as the tank rammed into the building, crushing the store façade and smashing its way through tables and chairs. Blaize got no argument from the other two, and, staying crouched, they hurried out the back door, finding themselves in the courtyard. To his right was a low stone wall, just enough to hide behind, and they ducked down, hoping the tank would not see them there.
The counter they’d been hiding behind crumpled like a tin can as the tank crunched over it, but it wasn’t through yet as it continued through the building, bursting from the back wall like an angry rhino. It continued through, until it was completely out of the building again, which, having been gutted by the tank, only stood for a few more seconds before collapsing into a pile of rubble and filling the courtyard with dust.
“What now?” Niku asked, looking at Blaize.
“Gimme a second…” Blaize responded, pulling out a handkerchief and tying it over his mouth and nose to keep the dust out. The girl and Niku did the same, and Blaize chanced another look. The tank idled, barely visible in the settling cloud, the crew apparently waiting for the dust to clear. Did they believe themselves victorious? Blaize scowled at the idea of them gloating over killing three people for no good reason, and cautiously moved around the wall, approaching the side of the tank.
“What are you doing?!” Came Niku’s whispered voice behind him, but Blaize only held up a hand, continuing to approach the tank with his machine gun at the ready. At the sound of a hatch opening, he froze, watching as the commander, the one who had tried to get them to surrender earlier, popped up, coughing and yelling in Damontian at his crew below. He seemed distracted by whatever conversation, or argument it sounded like, he’d engaged himself in with the crew, so Blaize chanced a few more steps closer, edging along the wall of a building beside the former diner and bringing his gun up to bear on the commander.
At that moment, the commander, either through luck or detection, looked up and straight at Blaize. He let out a shout, but it was drowned by the chatter of Blaize’s machine gun as his throat exploded open in a crimson shower as he fell back into the Drache. Blaize, wasting no time, sprinted forward and released his machine gun, which, still attached to a shoulder strap on the elf, swung freely on his back now as he jumped, putting one foot on one of the tank’s bogey wheels, then on the top of the tracks, then finally pulled himself up on top, stepping towards the still open turret as the Damontians cursed in their language at the fact that their commander was now without the front of his neck. Blaize reached into his pack and pulled out a single hand grenade, pulled the pin, and dropped it into the open hatch, at about the same time the tank lurched forward, making the elf lose his balance and stumble backwards off the machine as it trundled forward. He hit the ground hard, crying out in pain as his machine gun slammed into his back, but he managed to survive the fall and groaned as he looked up just in time to hear the muffled explosion from the grenade. A plume of black smoke shot from the tank’s hatch, and as Niku and the girl pulled Blaize to his feet, the tank continued its course, smashing into another house and coming to a stop. Seconds passed, and then a massive blast knocked the three to the ground a second time as the Drache’s ammunition exploded.
As the three got up again, Niku looked at Blaize in a mixture of awe and shock. “Holy shit! You just…..holy shit.”
“I know, I know…” Blaize said, rubbing the small of his back where the machine gun had smashed into him. “But remind me never to do that again….” As he pulled his machine gun around to check for damage, the girl looked him over, her eyes suspicious.
“Yes, yes, daredevil stunts and all, I’m sure you’re a dashing hero wherever you’re from, but on that note…” She tightened her grip on her submachine gun and looked at Blaize. “That commander addressed you as Damontian. And indeed you share the features. Black hair, red eyes…..you’re an elf but the physical characteristics are known to carry across races.”
Blaize looked back at the girl, and sighed. “Well, fuck, took long enough. He was right. My mother was a Damontian Elf. She even served in the war 20 years ago. Pilot. She got shot down over Extremidad, fell in love with her captor, an Extremi human from Delsur Cruz, defected, then popped me out before she and my dad got themselves killed in some top secret mission. I was put in a shitty orphanage, got out of there, and joined the City Elves’ little coven until I was old enough to enlist in the Contracting Corps. There. My whole life story. You happy?” He glared at the girl bitterly, before pulling out an H-cig and lighting up.
The girl seemed satisfied, or at least put off Blaize’s explanation, and sighed, relaxing. “Sorry, I…should probably be more grateful. You two saved my ass. Name’s Lilly by the way. 2nd Lieutenant Lilly Gilliand of the Extremidad Royal Expeditionary Army. My squad was guarding the embassy here when the Damontians attacked….I went out to locate a wayward ambassador, lost contact with my squad right after they reported they were evacuating the embassy due to the Damontians’ push.”
“Ah…” Niku said as Blaize glowered and took a puff of his cig. “I’m Niku, this is Blaize. Did you find your ambassador?”
“Yeah…” Lilly responded, then sighed, looking at the ground. “He’s that poor shite what got blasted by the tank. All over the asphalt now.”
“I see…I’m sorry he died, for what it’s worth. “
“Nah, it’s fine, I didn’t know him from the janitor. Just….” She took a breath. “I took this job because I can’t do frontline work. Wanted something peaceful, hoping I would work up to a desk job. I’m not a fighting type.”
“Not everyone is.” Blaize said, rolling his neck and nodding to lead the two back out into the street. “So you’re Extremi, but just an ambassador’s guard. Who else is fighting? Just the ones who were at the embassay and the Militia?”
“How do you know about the-“ Lilly looked surprised, then nodded lightly. “Right. Contractors. You guys always seem to know more than you should, you know that?”
Niku only chuckled. “We’re sort of supposed to know this stuff, otherwise we’d be dead by our first contract.”
“Fair enough…” Lilly said, following Blaize as he continued on the route they’d been going before she’d stopped them. “As for your question, I honestly don’t know. Other than the ships, most of Mirror Bay’s military forces were decimated in the opening assault. They plastered the base here. From what I’ve heard from radio chatter, the Militia’s set up shop at the airport up at the top of the ridge. The Damontians hit that first and destroyed most of the planes and zeppelins there, but there’s talk that at least one zeppelin and a few planes survived, and they’re either going to try and thin some of the Damontian planes out with AA guns, then have the Zep and the planes make a break for it with the window they make, or they’re going to sit tight and wait for reinforcements from Amibilidad. There’s also talk of making a push to drive the Damontians back, but…” She trailed off as Blaize held up a hand, peeking around the corner where the tank had come from.
“Looks clear….our tank was probably separated from his buddies and stumbled across us.” He paused as gunfire picked up again, very close. He gripped his machine gun tighter. “Fighting’s damn close though….you got a map?” He looked back at Lilly. Lilly nodded and pulled it out, unfolding it and laying it against the wall. “We’re here…” She said, pointing at a spot near the city center. The map already had red marks on it to show enemy movement, but it was a bit overdue. Lilly actually acknowledged this, and pulled out a marker, repositioning the lines, hesitating, then reluctantly continuing as she re-marked the area around the embassy as enemy territory. Niku put her hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off and nodded at him. “It’s good. I’m fine. My men are capable, but they know the risks….” She looked back at the map. “You were heading from uphill, the industrial sector. I sent a bus up that way. Did…” Niku shook his head. Lilly’s face fell for a moment, but she hardened her expression once more and continued. “Where are you heading?”
Blaize approached the map and pulled out a pencil circling an area near the airport. “We’re going here. Old church. We’re supposed to pick something up and get it out of the city. Best bet is probably to head up to the airport…” He bit his lip thoughtfully. “Well, I’d hoped we’d only skirt the fighting, maybe get some shots from patrols, but now that the enemy’s lines have moved, there’s no avoiding going into the hornet’s nest now. We-“
A massive, but this time distant, explosion interrupted them. They looked up and peered around the corner to see one of the Wraith-class Zeppelins, its bridge a ball of flame. The cruiser had scored a direct hit with her main guns, and the burning zeppelin reeled like a boxer staggering from a suckerpunch. With no control, the stricken vessel turned inland, its bridge still burning like a pyre. It passed right over the three, so low that they could read the ship’s name: “Sturm.” The flames climbed up the Sturm’s envelope, and as it did, the heat caused the gas cells inside to burst. With no lift on the bow, the ship violently nosed down, and at so low an altitude, the bow immediately struck the ground and crumpled inwards, driven by gravity and the Sturm’s own engines. The crashed ship continued to plow into houses only a few hundred meters from the trio’s position, destroying entire blocks until friction and the draining lift brought the behemoth to a halt. Blaize, of course, was the first to speak.
“…..I do not want to be near that thing when the ammunition cooks off. I’ve already been blasted onto my ass twice today. Let’s move.”
Down in the bay, the cruiser’s horn sounded in celebration, but celebration was cut short as another Wraith-class turned towards the cruiser, her turrets already rotating to bear. The Cruiser took note and began a sharp turn as her own turrets lined up. The battle wasn’t finished yet.
The three left the cruiser and Zeppelin to their duel, and pushed towards the city center. At this point, the fighting was right on top of them, and the city showed it. The sun was almost blotted out by the smoke and dust in the air, and there was not a single building that was not ruined or simply rubble in the streets, which by this point was almost impassable from the amount of destroyed vehicles and shell craters littering them. While they tried to stay clear of soldiers from both sides, more than once they had to divert or risk running headlong into Damontian patrols or emplacements. And then at one point, they did.
“Across the street!” Niku called out just as gunfire erupted from a small ruined shop on the corner. The three took cover behind a wrecked truck as the machine gun emplacement opened up. At a pause in the gunfire, Niku popped up with his single-shot and fired from the waist; the .308 bullet nailed the gunner smack in the forehead. Blaize and Lilly were somewhat speechless as Niku ducked back down.
Niku only grinned. “You know that line I told you earlier about being a smith?”
Blaize squinted, then blinked. “You slippery fucker. You’re an Alchie?”
“And Alchemist, yes,” Niku responded, straightening his glasses. “The power to manipulate silver runs in my family’s blood for generations ever since the Last War bestowed magic on the world.” He held his hand up; there was a small zing sound, and the bullet Niku had fired returned to his hand, he pocketed it to be reloaded later, and shrugged at Blaize’s look. “It didn’t seem important to tell you! Thought this mission was going to be easy, after all…”
Blaize just shook his head and looked up, checking for more enemies before crouch-running across the intersection and checking the position. Indeed, the gunner was dead. “So why didn’t you do that with the tank? Send a bullet through the driver’s slit or something?”
Niku shrugged. “Well for one thing you were already charging in to take the tank head-on. For two, there was dust all over the place. I could barely see my hand in front of me. For three, I’m…not incredibly skilled. I can take out a machine gunner twenty feet from me, hitting someone obscured by a vision slit only a few inches tall in a dust cloud is a whole other ball game.”
Blaize only shrugged and pulled the ammunition belt out of the machine gun, putting it in his pack as he looked over the body for anything useful. Not seeing anything he shrugged and let the three of them down the road, then pulled them into an alleyway as he felt the familiar rumble of tank treads nearby. A Drache passed them by, and Blaize from that point stayed in the alleyways, only hitting the streets when needed. Once, a Damontian soldier burst from a doorway in front of them, and immediately saw them, his eyes wide with shock and fear as he turned to raise his gun. On reflex Blaize reached for his combat knife to throw, but a burst of submachine gun fire beat him to the punch as Lilly fired point-blank into the Damontian, ripping open his chest and sending him sprawling backwards. Blaize let out a breath, then approached the body, grimacing at the soldier's youthful face. “Look at him. Just some kid forcibly recruited into the Damontians’ ranks, told to fight or his family would be shot.” He sighed. “Bloody waste, it is.” After waiting for a few moments to see if any other Damontian soldiers showed up, they left without another word, leaving the dead soldier where he lay.
They kept moving for a while, but at one point, Blaize had them stop and review the map. “This isn’t right…” Niku said, studying the streets. “We should be out leaving the fighting by now. If anything, it’s gotten worse.”
“Where are we?” Lilly asked, peering at the two.
“Nearing the Extremi Embassy. From your relocations, the Damontians would have overtaken the embassy, but it should be at the bare edge of the front….” He peered out of the alleyway they were taking cover in, looking at the abandoned building across the way. “The building’s a husk now. Looks like a fire broke out or something. It’s gutted.”
“Standard procedure,” Lilly chimed in. “Extremidad is very particular about their intelligence. Embassies are to be burned if a hostile force is under threat of occupying them. Leave nothing the enemy can use against us.”
Blaize nodded, then frowned. “We’re still arse deep in no-man’s land. The Damontians must have gained more ground….at this rate they’ll get to the church before we do. Let’s go. Our path takes us up by the embassy.”
The three kept close as they moved along the street now towards the embassy. In it’s heyday, it must have been an impressive structure, three stories high and marble. The entrance would have had the Extremi flag hanging over it, grey with a white crucifix on an orange shield, but as it was, there was no flag now. The marble was the only undamaged part, with every window hollow and scorched from the interior fire. One side of the building had collapsed, either from a bomb or cannon fire. As they approached, Blaize called out, “We have a body. Grey uniform.”
Lilly made a small, choked sound and ran forward, and Blaize and Niku had to keep up as she bent down to examine it. Biting her lip, she rolled it over, then sighed as she saw the dead young man’s face. “Militia. Sniper bullet. If I had to guess, he’d been one of the militia members sent to help evacuate the building.” Lilly stood, shaking her head and sighing as the other two looked at the body. “I’m sorry, I saw him and I thought….” She took a breath. “Let’s go.”
The three continued on, their journey, and the fighting, far from over.