This story segment contains violence and death, verging on graphic violence.
Dbagbo — Chanda General School, Administration
Hiding on the opposite side of the doorway, Sharna signaled for Leander to peer out.
He nodded and exposed a hint of a light brown cheek as he leaned out of the door.
A half dozen men stood several dozen meters away behind the auxiliary building.
Leander only got to glance at their position before he saw muzzles go flashing.
Several rifle bullets impacted around his head. He bolted back inside the building.
Then at once the vicious shredding noise of a Norgler sounded across the courtyard.
Chunks of wood and chipped concrete burst from the wall and frame and the floor outside. Debris and spent lead collected centimeters from his boots. Seething green tracer flashes accompanied every volley of automatic fire on the door and door-frame.
Leander saw a spark flash just out the corner of his eye, and he cringed reflexively. A rifle bullet snapped the top hinge; creaking all the way down the door dropped out onto the walkway with a loud bang. A handful of machine gun bullets ricocheted off the falling door and into the room. They bit into the ground and punched holes in the couches, casting feathered stuffing into the air. Leander saw Dr. Agrawal scramble up against a wall to avoid the sudden fire. Sharna pulled farther back from her side of the door.
“Wait for the crossfire to settle and then hit that corner!” Dr. Agrawal shouted.
As she gave the order Leander spotted several guns flashing from the Administration building. His comrades were retaliating, laying fire down the entrance to the school. Rashas and Norglers traded bullets across the courtyard from seemingly all sides. Heavy SMG fire struck against the enemy’s corners and riddled the pathway coming in from the edge of the hill. Machine gun fire from the Norglers swept the faces of the buildings, every open doorway visible from the school entrance, and the pathways.
Both sides were deadlocked; but only one side was trying to move forward.
Several men lay dead in their gray raincloaks along the courtyard and the path to the hill and along the edges of the school buildings. They had been surprised by the strength of the Ayvartan positions, and by the deadly crossfire they had set up in the courtyard. Whenever a man set foot on the stones of Chanda fire came at him from every angle.
But a rhythm had been silently agreed to after several minutes of fighting.
In a moment, the gunfire abated on all sides. Each was trying to bait the other to move.
“Now’s your chance.” Dr. Agrawal said, waving toward the doorway. She was crouched beside a radio through which no calls were currently coming, well away from the door. Her face glistened with sweat, despite the chill brought in by the incessant rain.
Across the doorframe from him, Sharna raised her head to signal for an attack.
“There’s five or six men around the corner, fifty meters or so.” Leander said.
“On ten, we peek out and shoot.” Sharna said. She raised her BKV up.
Leander nodded his head to show that he understood. Sharna nodded back, and she began to count up to ten, and as she counted the two of them crept toward the ground, held up their guns and maneuvered the long barrels slighlty out of the door-frame.
At the end of the count, Leander and Sharna dropped half-out into the walkway.
With their sides to the ground the pair opened fire on the corner. Leander pressed the trigger, waited for the kick and for the action to reset within the second, and pressed again. In quick succession they delivered six shots together; taking chunks out of the wall, a finger off a man’s hand, the bayonet off a karabiner rifle. A man fell out of cover, twitching in the throes of agony after a 14.5mm bullet flew too close his nose.
Bursts of reflexive enemy gunfire hit the concrete wall and the door, raising even more bits and splinters and fragments into the air with their wrath. All of this was soaring over their heads. Leander and Sharna rolled, pushed off the door-frame and out of the line of fire.
Covering fire from the main building started fresh and forced the Panzergrenadiers back behind the concrete again. But soon their Norglers were reloaded and returned to action, and the seething crossfire continued, long trails of SMG fire flying past green tracers.
Safe inside the administration building Leander stood up from the floor and shouldered his BKV using the cloth strap. He helped Sharna up. She kept her weapon in hand.
“Exactly how long do we have to keep this up?” Leander asked.
Sharna shook her head despondently. “As long as possible.”
He knew he wouldn’t get a number, but he still felt dejected after her response.
Back in Knyskna they had known exactly what to do, where to run.
In Chanda he knew, but didn’t want to admit, that they were holding out to the last.
Sharna nonchalantly fed a new stripper clip into her BKV, and handed another to him.
“Buck up, they are just men and vehicles, our rifles can handle both.”
Leander nodded. He took his weapon and reloaded it, held it in hand.
They started back toward the door when a mortar first hit the courtyard.
“Away from the doors!” Dr. Agrawal shouted. She threw herself on the ground.
Framed by the door, Leander helplessly brought his arms up to shield himself.
Sharna reached out, seized him, and leaped away from the aperture.
Fire and fragments blew into the room as a second shell exploded too close.
Leander felt the heat at his back as Sharna took him down on the ground.
From the force of the explosion the door frame burst completely, sending whole pieces of wood, fist-sized chunks of concrete and the remnants of the hinges flying. Hundreds of tiny holes formed in the couches; the tables shattered; fragments embedded in the opposite wall, tracing over it the pattern of the mortar’s killzone in a smokey black.
A multitude of explosions followed, sweeping across the courtyard seconds from the last. The blasts formed a sequence, like a hammer bashing into rock, lifting, bashing. A dozen blasts, fifteen, eighteen. Rumbling and booming– until they suddenly didn’t.
Leander heard the dirt cast into the air falling again, scattering. He heard the heavy air stirred up by the blasts and swept about by the rains, billowing into the room.
He lifted his head. He nudged Sharna, whose body lay heavily on him, her head over his shoulder, her breast at his back, her arms around him. She pulled slowly away. They looked around the room together. Where the door-frame once stood there was now a jagged hole punched into the wall, its dimensions slightly larger than the old door.
On the other side of the room Dr. Agrawal struggled up from the floor, her chest rising and falling with labored breathing. Debris sifted from over her shoulders and back.
They didn’t hear the guns anymore. There were no more sounds of crossfire.
Instead they heard footsteps splashing across the walkway, closing in.
“Pistols out now!” Dr. Agrawal shouted, aiming out the door.
From the floor Leander and Sharna drew their sidearms and held them shakily out.
When the first Panzergrenadier charged the room Dr. Agrawal perforated his face several times. His head was honeycombed with wounds. He fell forward, still running in death, and came to finally lie ungracefully bent against over one of the couches. Dr. Agrawal never stopped shooting. Soon as he fell, controlling her weapon with both hands, she methodically redirected her aim to the doorway and kept shooting.
Three men charged behind the first, raising their bayonets. Leander rapped the trigger on his pistol. He put two bullets through a man’s torso before he could even turn to face them; behind him a man’s knees collapsed from Agrawal’s shooting. Another lunged in with his bayonet and found Leander and Sharna on the floor along the entryway; blood burst from sudden wounds, and he cried and started to crumple. Sharna got him in his shoulder, his hand, his hip, hitting all across his body with every press of her finger.
Dr. Agrawal dropped an empty box magazine and reached for a new one.
Leander had counted in his head, he still had two left, one in the box, one in–
Something foreign entered his field of vision.
A stick with a black metal cap flew in from the outside.
It hit the ground, bounced once, in a fraction of a second.
Nobody had time to say it but everyone recognized it.
Leander dropped his pistol.
Without thinking he leaped forward from his knees.
Diving on the ground he grabbed at the handle, seized it in his hand.
He lobbed the grenade out the door off the side of a charging panzergrenadier.
Tripping over, the man’s full weight fell on Leander. His karabiner rifle rolled along the floor behind them, and his helmet fell like a can on the ground. A vicious struggle ensued. Leander kicked and flailed; the man loomed over and seized him by the neck.
Outside the grenade exploded in the courtyard. Several men screamed to a stop.
Leander choked; the man lifted him a few centimeters and battered him against the floor while squeezing his throat. He screamed when the grenade went off close behind him, the fire and smoke sweeping in over him, screamed unintelligibly, his grip tightening.
A despair-inducing click sounded from the side of the room.
Sharna was out of bullets. Leander felt everything darken.
Leander looked up at his attacker. His pale-pink skin dirtied by the mud and smoke. There were no lines over his face, no gauntness to him. He was young, fit, vibrant.
It was his first time seeing a Nochtish man so close. His blue eyes were filled with an uncomprehending fury that twisted his features. Leander’s hands grew limp against his.
Leander realized he wasn’t breathing anymore. His lungs just seemed to stop.
But his eyes were still open, locked onto the blurring face of the panzergrenadier.
They were not looking back. They danced, looking up, looking aside, moving with him.
Leander felt a sudden mix of fear and sorrow; this was a man who in the caravan would still be called a boy by his elders. Just like Leander. This man choking him could be his age. This man slamming him, killing him, who couldn’t look in his eyes, was a boy too.
Up until the end that gaze avoided his. Those blue eyes looked at anything but him.
Then they turned white; they seemed to collapse, to roll up into their own sockets.
He stopped slamming. His mouth hung, dripping with blood. His head fell over Leander.
Dr. Agrawal stood above, teeth grit, forcing the bayonet through the top of his head.
She pushed the corpse off Leander, and pulled him away from the door.
He felt her hands pushing into his chest, and her lips locking against his mouth.
Her breath blew through him. His lungs started pumping again. Leander gasped.
“Leander, are you conscious? Leander? Can you see me?” Dr. Agrawal said.
She patted his cheek. Leander nodded weakly. Her head dropped against his chest.
“Thank everything.” Dr. Agrawal said. She wiped her hands over her eyes.
Outside the crashing of mortar rounds into the concrete commenced anew.
Breathing hurt. His chest felt tight. Leander couldn’t speak. Dr. Agrawal sat him against the wall and gave him a water canteen. Leander drank. He coughed a little.
Between the mortar blasts Sharna crossed the hole in the doorway. She had her BKV in one hand and Leander’s in the other. She reached their side of the room and crouched.
“Is he alright?” She said. She looked at him; he tried to look back with some presence.
He could barely muster a little smile. Much of his body felt too heavy to move.
“He is alive and conscious.” Dr. Agrawal said.
Sharna looked distraught. “Not much else?”
“Give him time.”
A red blinking light on the radio alerted them to electric activity. Dr. Agrawal turned from her two protectors and picked up the handset. For almost a minute she listened without speaking, and then covered her face in her hand and released an audible groan.
She put down the handset. “That’s it for our artillery. They’ve got tanks around the rear, and they destroyed our Gnolls. One unit survived with only a loss of turret crew. Both of the tanks are apparently returning to the meadow and not attempting to surround us.”
She looked at Leander, stern in the face. Leander offered her a faint smile. He was mostly aware of his surroundings. He just found it hard to respond to them.
“What happens now?” Sharna asked.
“We can’t stay down here anymore. We’ll hide upstairs.”
Dr. Agrawal stood up from the floor and ran to the stairwell, and brought a bag back with her. Inside there were several deactivated mines from the supply depot’s small stock of strategic explosives. She slipped her arms through straps affixed to the radio box and shouldered it. She handed the bag of explosives to Sharna, and lifted Leander from the floor, pulling one of his arms over her shoulder. He tried to take some of the weight off her, but his feet could not muster any pressure on the ground to keep him standing.
“Trap the room quickly, and follow us upstairs.” Dr. Agrawal said.
Sharna nodded her head and set about her task immediately.
“We will keep you safe, Leander. You’ve done enough.” Dr. Agrawal said.
Leander nodded weakly. She started up the stairs, one foot at a time.
Behind her the mortars and the Norglers mysteriously abated all at once.
Again the red light on the radio blinked; but nobody saw it this time.