Chapter no 18

Forgotten Ruin

They weren’t dead. Staff Sergeant Jasper’s squad wasn’t dead. No wounds. Or at least no fresh ones gushing blood from hacks and slashes by small curved swords or long daggers. Or blunt trauma and broken bones from massive war maces. All the first aid I’d learned in Basic Training had consisted of identifying wounds and putting a bandage on them, or even applying a tourniquet when necessary. But that was it. Sword slashes and concussions and fractured skulls were going to be a bit beyond my ability to repair.

Chief Rapp had been training, and using, some of the air crew as medics to support his casualty collection point. I’d told myself I probably needed to get that training so I could be of some assistance when things got serious. But I’d been busy, and so now I fell back on the basic stuff I knew, which seemed woefully inadequate right at this current moment of seriousness.

Evaluation. That was the first step.

The first guy I checked wasn’t dead. I shook him, and slowly, like he was shaking off a three-day bender, he came around a little. I chanced a glance across the river and saw that the tracer hurl of the two-forty to our north had stopped. I tapped back into the command net and heard the first sergeant ordering all units to pull back to Phase Line Charlie now. Phase Line Charlie was to the rear of our current position.

There were clusters of dark shapes out there on the river, crossing directly for us. Orc shapes. Even the mortar fire had stopped, and it seemed like there was a lull in the battle as both sides reloaded and took up new positions in order to recommence killing one another. The problem for us was our position was in front of the forward line of friendlies, other Rangers. We were now in what would be, for the next few hours, enemy- held territory.

I went to work on the next soldier laid out outside the pit. Yeah, this one was sleeping too.

“C’mon!” I wanted to shout at them all. “Wake up!”

But I didn’t say anything because I was too busy trying to hustle and hunker and get to each of them. Still, they began to stir. As if they’d heard

what I’d been thinking. Just like McCluskey seemed to have during the debrief.

Was that a thing here? Could people hear your thoughts? Or was it just me? Because I could see that going really badly for me the next time I tried to advance my cause with the cute co-pilot of the C-17.

“What the…” began SSG Jasper when he sat up. His primary wasn’t at hand, and fast as he could he had his M18 out and pointed into the darkness all around like he’d just woken from the worst nightmare ever, mixed with a case of the DTs for bonus terror.

He then, not politely I might add, asked me who I was. When I told him I was the linguist and that that wasn’t the most important thing right now, he asked me what was the most important thing at that moment. Exactly. Again, not too politely.

“Sergeant Major says we’re pulling back to Phase Line Charlie, Sergeant Jasper,” I said. “We lost comm with your section and he sent me out to reconnect with you. Also, still not the biggest problem, Sar’nt.”

“Yeah. Then what is?” he raged accusingly.

Rangers were going for their weapons. Scrambling through the dirt and the sand to find them near and around the fighting position.

“We got bad guys coming in from all directions, Sar’nt.” I pointed toward the river where what looked to be at least a company-sized element was wading ashore as stealthily as a company-sized element could possibly do.

Sergeant Jasper swore and hissed his orders. He wanted the SAW up and working them. Grenadiers were to start dropping smoke to cover our retreat.

Then I pointed toward the three trolls tearing apart trees directly to our immediate south. Surrounded by teams of orcs on foot. They were moving slow. Apparently Captain Knife Hand had left a bunch of explosive surprises for them to find and they were getting leery about advancing too fast. One of those booby traps detonated and ripped into a troll who staggered from the hundreds of tungsten balls that zipped through its leathery hide. But then it just continued on. The dead orcs around it continued to be dead, torn to pieces by the explosive’s fast-moving shrapnel. Lying about like the victims of a massacre.

“Gotta boogie!” hissed the sergeant, changing plans. Everyone in the

section grabbed as much as they could and a minute later we were headed down the trail toward the center of the island to follow the path back into the one lane clear of explosives that would take us to Phase Line Charlie.

Sergeant Kang was on point and SSG Jasper brought up the rear. The rest of the section carried the SAW and the extra cans of ammo. I was with Kang and pointed out which way we needed to go when we emerged at the edge of the field the C-17 had landed in. Off in the distance I could see the shadowy bulk of the plane. Someone was retreating out of there and we could see the two SAW gunners laying down suppressive fire on some element out there in the woods threatening to come in close.

A moment later the three trolls stormed into the position we’d just left behind. They tore large trees right out of the ground and pounded the dug-in fighting position along the riverbank. The heavy weapons section to the north engaged them, slowing them with outgoing fire.

It was an ominous sight. The towering creatures moving through the tall trees, their mean yellow eyes blazing with fury as they scanned for something to rend limb from limb. Trying to dodge the bright tracer-laden fire of the two-forty coming at them from the north.

Sergeant Kang was watching forward, trying to find the trail we’d take next, when I spotted a line of orcs racing across the field around the plane. They’d cleared the southern defenses and were now storming forward into the CP. There were other creatures, strange and bizarre, mixed in with this enemy infantry force. Misshapen, twisted freaks. I had no idea what they might be called in PFC Kennedy’s games.

Kang was on the comm and talking with the platoon sergeant. Trying to figure our next move. We couldn’t go back because we’d run into the trolls. Forward was someone driving the command team out of the CP. And to our right was the main body of the enemy’s attack from the south.

And there was one more problem with our movement to the rear. We didn’t want to run into anyone’s ambush or booby traps.

“Streambed to our northwest. Take that, Kang. Watch for tripwires,” ordered Sergeant Jasper.

Kang sighed, shrugged, and hunch-walked underneath the burden of his overloaded ruck into the bushes, leaving the trail we’d been following back to Charlie. The twisting sandy-bottomed streambed that ran through the center of the island was just off to our left. It didn’t fill with river water

unless the river got high enough, and that hadn’t happened in the three days we’d been on the island.

Twenty meters into the brush we found the bed and dropped down into it one by one. Kang and I set up security while the rest of the team came down in and Jasper advised command of our situation and position. They noted our loc and told us to hold.

A minute later mortars started sweeping across the front just behind us. The first few indirect strikes landed out in the field the orcs were moving through. That should have checked any enemy troops and sent them for cover or pulling back. Not orcs. These warriors ululated, war-whooped, blared their tribal horns, and charged right into the raining maelstrom of death being dropped down all over them. The snipers atop the hill were engaging the huge trolls who were getting weirdly crafty about not getting hit by two-forty fire. For things so large and menacing, they somehow hunkered and ducked behind stands of trees and even slithered like giant snakes on their bellies to get closer to the line.

Here now, it’s just words I’m writing down for no one to ever read. At the time, there in the dark and already behind enemy lines shifting forward faster than we could move, it was one of the freakiest things I’d ever seen. And if I thought I was close to death in that firefight I’d pulled not ten minutes ago, seeing those trolls get crafty to avoid sniper and heavy machine-gun fire made me feel even closer now. They seemed unstoppable. One even pulled up a huge boulder half-mired in the earth and overhand threw it like a big-league fastball pitch straight at the hill. It snapped off the tops of trees along the way and rocketed right into the raised earth.

One of the Rangers down along Phase Line Charlie replied with a Carl Gustaf round. It didn’t kill it, but it went straight through the thing’s chest. That troll stumbled off toward the river. To die or recover, I had no idea. Kennedy told me later that in his games, trolls could regenerate hit points.

Then he had to explain what hit points were. So, that could be a thing here.

Or not.

Who knew?

But right now, the front line turned into a battle all around us as we hid in the streambed. We were only three hundred meters from Phase Line Charlie. But we might as well have been a thousand miles and all out of gas


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