This scene contains violence and death.
Rangda University — Northern Campus
Danielle heard the detonations of a pair of shells behind Harmony. Though she could not see the shots being fired at her, and relied on Caelia for all-around vision, she could still drive defensively. There were general maneuvers she could perform that would make her a harder target for an unstabilized gun (which was most of them). Snaking cost her several kilometers off her sustained speed, but would foil all but the most expert gunners by itself. Varying her speed also allowed her to be anywhere but in the middle of the enemy’s sight.
Controlling the tank had been difficult at first. Nearly anything was difficult for Danielle to do. But after enough practice, she thought she had a good hold on the technique. In front of her there was an instrument panel with her gauges, as well as a pedal and two gigantic clutch levers. Turning both levers forward to varying degrees accelerated the tank, while turning them back reversed the track. By pulling them in opposite directions she could turn. Normally she could leave the sticks stuck forward, but in this battle she was swinging them forward and back in quick intervals, correcting, twisting, turning.
As the Jotun seethed behind her, Danielle tugged harshly on the sticks.
Harmony lurched in a chunky, ungainly movement into the corner ahead.
Disappearing into the Northern Campus intersection, Danielle knew she had lost the Jotun behind her for a crucial minute. It could not shoot her, but better yet, could not see her.
She charged through the intersection, between a pair of short, squat office buildings, and hid in a back alley formed by the tightening urban block structure of the campus proper. When the Jotun came rumbling into the intersection it would find no sign of her around.
Hidden and safe, she parked and laid back, catching her breath, wiping sweat off her face.
“Are you alright, Caelia?” She asked over the radio.
She looked up from her seat, and could see Caelia’s feet behind her.
“I’m as ok as I have been.” Caelia half-heartedly replied.
“So what happens now?” Corporal Kajari asked.
Danielle heard her drumming on the turret roof with her hands.
“Don’t make noise. Listen: when the Jotun enters the intersection, we’ll rush out of cover behind it, and run across the street, into another alley, and behind the set of buildings opposite these. We’ll use our speed and attack from multiple directions this way.”
Corporal Kajari grumbled. “So we’re exposing ourselves to it. At close range.”
“No, Danielle’s got it right here.” Caelia interrupted. “Corporal, you might not have noticed, but the Jotun’s turrets aren’t acting independently. Whenever the main gun fires the available subordinates all fire in the same direction and the rear gun remains in a neutral position. It makes sense that a tank commander just can’t effectively guide all that firepower. One person can only reliably control one gun in one direction.”
Danielle smiled inside. Caelia had put her plan in a much better light than she could have.
It made her feel almost happy to be able to be competent and valuable in front of her.
Despite the circumstances in which they found themselves.
“Corporal, those turrets were taken from Goblins. Goblin turrets have at most fifteen millimeters of armor. With your BKV, you might not be able to damage the Jotun itself, but you can destroy the turrets.” Danielle explained. “Blow up their ammo and you’ll be filling the Jotun with smoke and fire. Then its crew will either surrender or cook inside it.”
“Okay, this is sounding like a plan! So, when does it start?”
Danielle had no way to see the Jotun hiding behind this building.
But she had been keeping track of the distance in her head.
“Right about now.”
Danielle grabbed hold of the control levers, pressed the catches at the top to release them, and pulled them both toward herself while slammed the pedal with her foot. Harmony’s tracks started to spin, as did the road wheels, and the tank reversed itself. Once she was facing the direction she desired, she first pushed one lever forward to correct, and then she thrust the second as far to the fore as it would go. Harmony then thrust down the alley behind the buildings, crushing several empty garbage cans as they sped toward a corner.
“Brace yourself, Corporal!” Danielle called out.
Harmony swung around the corner and charged off the street and into the road.
Ahead of them, the Jotun trundled past and stranded itself in the intersection.
At full speed they hurtled past the monster, driving behind its engine block.
Through her periscope, Danielle watched the AT-turret closely to see if it would move.
Corporal Kajari would not give it a chance. Danielle watched as several bright red tracers split the distance between them and the Jotun in an instant, punching several holes in the rear AT turret before it could even think to get a shot off. Smoke wafted out from the perforations along the mantlet and turret front, and fires started to flare within.
Harmony hit the opposite street and dove into its own alleyway without stopping.
Soon as she hit the next corner into the back street, Danielle took her foot off the pedal to lose some speed, and jerked her clutch levers one forward and one back to take the corner. Her timing was just right; she angled easily between the back of the street buildings and the next row within the alleyway, and then just as easily she faced the next corner, and now running parallel to the unseen Jotun, Harmony sped out. This next attack run would be the trickiest. She would have to corner and then run full speed in front of the Jotun.
“Corporal, reload, and let them have it when we run by!” Danielle shouted.
“I’ll help too.” Caelia said.
Harmony’s turret turned perpendicular to its hull.
“On a Goblin turret, an HE round could still have an effect, right?” Caelia asked.
“At this point, anything helps!” Corporal Kajari said.
Danielle saw the corner ahead.
Drawing in a deep breath, she swung the sticks forward and back.
Harmony angled out of the alley, into the intersection and perpendicular to the Jotun.
She rushed down, spotting the machine moving haplessly forward.
Its turrets began to turn all at once to face the incoming Kobold.
Caelia preempted them and unloaded the main gun on the AT turret.
Though the high explosive shell did not penetrate the turret, it exploded just in front of it.
Through the smoke, the AT turret retaliated, but its shot went wide as Danielle snaked.
Corporal Kajari’s BKV opened up on the AT turret. Quick semi-automatic shots punched a half-dozen thumb-size holes into the front turret. Inside, the incendiary effects must have hit the ammunition, because without warning the turret erupted into fire and smoke, and sent pieces of shrapnel flying into the frontal machine gun turret and the mantlet of the main gun. Smoking violently from three separate orifices, the Jotun looked like the ghost of a tank as Harmony burnt track past the main gun and made for the alleyways.
“Danielle, it’s going to shoot!”
Above, Caelia must have been looking through her periscope.
Danielle quickly adjusted the levers and started to snake.
To squeeze between the alleyway buildings, however, she would have to stop.
She could not see behind the tank. Danielle was operating with no information.
One shot from that 76mm to the back of the Kobold would set the tank ablaze.
Even if it didn’t penetrate, the concussive force would have killed Corporal Kajari and damaged if not outright exploded the engine. Caelia would be hit by fragments or burned or concussed. And Danielle would be helpless to stop any of it. She played out the scenario in her mind, weighing in everything she knew about their two tanks in a split second.
Gritting her teeth, she made a snap decision.
“Everyone hold on and keep your weapons on that main gun!”
Danielle punched the right lever forward and the left one back.
Harmony began to swing into a left turn.
Then she pulled back on the right lever and thrust the left forward.
Without losing speed, Harmony entered a short half-spin.
The turret and front glacis faced the Jotun in time for the tank’s shot.
Danielle wanted to close her eyes, but she stood stalwart.
Punching both levers forward, she charged into the shot.
Everything shook violently in front of her, and she jerked forward and back as sharp-headed anti-tank shell dropped against the sloped front plate at an angle and deflected with its point broken but its internals unexploded. Ricocheting in a violent arc, the enemy shell bounced away from them. Its attack uselessly spent, the Jotun was vulnerable.
In front of her, Danielle could see a dent where the shell had stricken.
Had there not been a track link welded to her hatch, she might not have survived.
“Shoot it now!” Danielle shouted over the radio.
“Roger!” Caelia and Corporal Kajari replied, as if Danielle had the authority.
Stopped less than a hundred meters from the Jotun, Harmony unloaded its own weapons.
Caelia’s main gun unleashed a high-explosive shell that exploded against the side armor of the main gun, and Corporal Kajari rapped the trigger on her anti-tank rifle and scored several penetrating hits under the thick gun mantlet where the armor was vulnerable. There were flashes accompanying the penetrations; the BKV shots were incendiary, and the little rounds exploded with sharp, burning bangs inside of the enemy tank.
Smoke started to waft out of the holes.
Atop the Jotun’s main turret a hatch went up.
From inside the turret they saw a man climb out, holding a rifle with a grenade affixed to the front. It was an old anti-tank grenade mount, a rarity now after the development of the BKV gun two years ago. Despite its status as a relic it packed a terrible punch.
Aiming just over the turret, the man intended to shoot Corporal Kajari.
“You will have to kill me to stop me! I will see you all in hell!” He cackled madly.
Danielle grabbed hold of the sticks in a sudden panic; overhead there was a tinkling sound as Caelia struggled to reload the machine gun in time to dispatch the surprise attacker.
“I am Badir The Lionheart! I have clawed and killed and survived gangs and wars and purges! I am the Lion, the apex predator, the king of the pride! Bow before me!”
Before anyone could do anything more a shot suddenly rang out.
Lieutenant Badir, “The Lionheart,” stumbled over the Jotun’s ruined main gun.
Bleeding profusely from the head, his corpse landed atop one of the burning turrets.
Another figure rose sheepishly from the turret.
“We surrender! We surrender! Please stop!”
For an instant he had a pistol in his hand, but then he dropped it and waved a white cloth.
Judging by his helmet, he was the Jotun’s gunner.
Two more hatches flipped up, and surviving crew stepped slowly out with their hands up.
Carefully and peacefully, they left the Jotun behind to burn and surrendered themselves.
Caelia sighed with relief over the radio. Danielled slumped against her instrument panel.
“Whoa, what just happened?” Corporal Kajari asked over the radio.
Somehow, they had won. Unbeknown to them, the Lion Battalion was fully defeated.
Rangda University — Muhimu Shimba
Soon as the Jotun left the park the tide began to turn against Lion.
The 2nd Company held their ground, and though they took losses, they inflicted enough gunfire on the forest to pin down the Lion elite within the wood. Machine gun fire was viciously exchanged over the park ground. Amorphous at first, the column of Motor Rifle infantry began to reorganize and to fight back effectively, lead by one loud, central voice.
“Use the shell holes! Dig yourself in and fight!”
Charvi Chadgura returned to the fore and dropped into one of the holes blown open by the explosives that had claimed her company’s officers. She took Private Ngebe’s submachine gun, laid it against the dirt outside her makeshift foxhole, and shot back at the Lion veterans in short bursts. Her gunfire disappeared into the wood, but it was the effect that mattered most. More of her infantry started to drop into the holes and to fight back.
They might not dislodge the enemy, but they could hold the ground for now. There was resistance. Lion was forced to hide as well, and they could not just throw her back now.
And that was key; because the Motor Rifles would soon be living up to their namesake.
With the conquering of University Avenue and Main Street, the roads were open for vehicles, and vehicles soon started to arrive. High explosive rounds and heavy machine gun fire soared suddenly over the park and shredded the woodland cover of the defenders and saturated their positions with lead and fire and smoke. Chadgura watched in awe as a pair of Kobold tanks and Half-Tracks arrived to support the offensive, coming down the hill and through the main road. Their arrival fully restored the morale of her allies.
Suddenly it was not just the people in the foxholes fighting back, but the entire column.
Overwhelmed, the Lion Battalion began to lose ground as the 2nd Company left the foxholes and started to push, under cover of their vehicle’s high caliber gunfire.
Moments later the white flags went up in the wood. The Lion Battalion was defeated.
Men ripped the yellow sashes from their uniforms and shambled out of the park.
More trucks and vehicles started to arrive. Medics ran through the column, treating and reassuring the fatigued and wounded of the 2nd Company. Gendarmes arrived to control the prisoners and take them back to the base to be processed. And behind the convoys, a grandiose Hobgoblin with a purple Hydra painted on its turret side and a large radio antennae appeared and trundled into the park. Its hatches went up near Chadgura.
Major Burundi dropped from atop the turret, pulling off his headset.
He smiled and stretched out a hand to Chadgura.
Chadgura looked at it with a numb expression. She clapped her hands softly.
“Ah, sorry. You’ve been through a lot, I know.”
Major Burundi retracted his hand, and used the other to pat Chadgura in the shoulder.
His expression darkened as he surveyed the area.
“We should’ve committed more equipment faster here. I was too focused on conserving our initial strength. All of this is on me. I cannot apologize enough, Sergeant. Officers like me fuck everything up, and field leaders like yourself make the mess work out.”
Chadgura shook her head. “It was not on you. We didn’t know our enemy well enough.”
“That, too, was on me. But I’ll treasure your sympathy. You’re a hero, Sergeant.”
Chadgura clapped her hands again at the notion. She found it hard to cry again, and she could feel her voice going back to its dull, ordinary tone. It felt strange but almost comforting, too, to return to that mode, to that way of being. She was back to normal.
But it still gnawed at her. Gulab had come to save her, even though she herself did not save Gulab before. Even though she had endangered her. It felt like she had been taking from Gulab and not giving anything back. And now she did not even know what–
“Well, I’ll be!” Major Burundi laughed heartily. “Sergeant, look!”
He pointed over her shoulder, and Chadgura turned.
Coming down around northeastern corner of Muhimu Shimba were a pair of tanks.
One enormous tank looked worse for wear, its many turrets charred to bits and still smoking and blackened, looking like they had been hosed down with an extinguisher.
Near this tank, with a gun pointed at it like a knife to a prisoner’s throat, was Harmony.
And atop Harmony, Gulab Kajari smiled and waved victoriously.
Had Chadgura’s old senses not fully returned, she knew she would have cried.
Instead, a very, very small smile appeared spontaneously on her face.