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Chapter no 20

Forgotten Ruin

Three hundred meters of pure nightmare still lay directly ahead. It was enough keeping the orcs and shadow riders off our backs. They kept pushing from the rear and it was only Kang firing and falling back, with me covering as he carried the still-unconscious Mercer, that kept them from riding us down right there in the gully. I was doing what Kang directed me to do, providing cover and making sure our way forward was clear as we maintained visual with the rest of Sergeant Jasper’s team fighting forward. The team leader and the other two Rangers were killing their way through pockets of orcs who’d made it this far and were staging for their next rush into Phase Line Charlie. The last thing they expected to see was Rangers sweeping up the gully and engaging as they came, shooting the orcs down.

Jasper had already declared “Mag out” indicating he was down to his last magazine. Chatter over the team comm erupted about redistributing. And that was when I came up on Soprano who was busy getting in the last reload he carried for the SAW. He kneeled in the darkness of a part of the gully wash filled with the twisted and maimed bodies of dead orc warriors. Their faces were frozen in wicked snarls, even in death.

Sergeant Kang came up behind us, turning and firing short bursts to keep the pursuit back and then hustling forward to the next cover. Arrows suddenly rained down into the wash. These, at least, weren’t on fire. But it indicated that the enemy was talking between its various elements and someone had decided to group-select and target us with indirect ranged fire. Like this was some kind of computer wargame simulation. That was the only way my mind could understand how they managed to fire at us down inside the twisting gully. For the most part, the incoming arrow fire fell across the sand and fallen logs that had washed down in here during storms of the not-so-distant past. The arrows made different sounds when they struck. At first they hit the sandy bottom with soft, almost whispery hushes as they suddenly appeared in the streambed. Then they hit logs with loud CHUNKs. By then we’d covered under the logs as best we could, and Sergeant Kang threw Mercer down on the sand and lay on top of him to protect the wounded Ranger.

One of the arrows managed to slam into Soprano’s knee plate and

shattered with a loud crack. The comical Italian gunner exclaimed, “Hey… lookee that, mi amico.” Amico means friend. Yeah. I speak Italian too. Actually, I think I already mentioned that. “I tooka arrow righta in the knee. Like in that game. Now I can retire and be a town guarda!”

Guarda means guard. Obviously. Other than that, I had no idea what he was talking about.

The arrow fire ceased and moments later a dozen heavily armed orcs surged from the south along the dry streambed, pushing forward fast and lobbing spears at us. I was the lightest armed and the first out from under cover. Soprano was still duck-walking from under the fallen log we’d been covering under and Kang was just getting to his knees and putting in a new mag for his rifle when the orcs swarmed, running fast up the wash, axes out and screaming bloody murder.

I fired at the leader, pulling the trigger on the MK18 as fast as I could squeeze off rounds. Then I was out and there were still more coming straight at us. I reversed the rifle and slammed it into the helmeted head of the first one to reach us because there was no time to get a new magazine in. I thrust the butt of the MK18 forward and fast just like Drill Sergeant Ward had taught us all back in Basic Training and caught that one right between the eyes and along the bridge of his wide flared black nostrils. It rang his bell for sure, but he wasn’t down.

Another of the roaring orcs battle-cried and swung a notched sword at me. It was short and small like the kind ancient Roman centurions used. A gladius. The gladius hit my front plate and bounced off, but the blow knocked the wind out of me, and I stumbled backward, letting my rifle go and thinking only of getting out my sidearm once I could breathe again.

I was on my butt when I had my M18 out and I just started pulling the trigger on that one as it closed to finish me off with a stab. At that point I had no idea how badly I’d been hit. Whether the sword had slashed through my armor and into me… I had no idea. I didn’t feel any pain, but maybe, some other part of my mind was saying, maybe I was in shock and an artery had been cut deep. It was probably serious, but I was just thinking it was best not to die right this second.

Maybe someone could help me if I survived this fight.

I continued to fire, emptying the magazine at the orcs pushing forward. There were three now and I couldn’t tell if I was hitting anyone because my

eyes were watering and like I said I was having trouble breathing. My M18 had a targeting laser, but I hadn’t activated it. It was the sergeant major’s and I remember thinking as the last round left the weapon and the slide locked back that I was supposed to “clean” Volman. Retire. R&R. And that I hadn’t done that yet. Now I was going to get hacked and chopped up into little pieces by monsters from some fantasy game turned nightmare.

Of all the ends my mother had ever foreseen for me, which was her way of loving me despite her patrician upbringing, she probably hadn’t seen this one. Life is crazy and unexpected like that. It moves fast, as some like to say. And apparently death wasn’t any different.

Then Soprano opened up and I watched as right before my eyes, belt- fed 5.56 in adult-sized doses slammed into the misshapen heads, exploding brains and sending bone matter all against the sides of the gully. All of it really up close and luridly graphic in the moonlight. His work belonged in a museum with the other Italian masters, I thought as I processed all the destruction. And then I realized, Oh, this is how they think. Rangers. Violence is also an art. To them.

I recovered my rifle and breathing in gasps as I fumbled for a new mag when Sergeant Kang, with Mercer back over his shoulder and still holding his rifle, hauled me to my feet.

“Load your sidearm, PFC,” he grunted at me, and started off up the gully once more.

Soprano was still hosing the orcs farther back down the gully with the SAW, keeping them back as we pushed forward once more.

Then the sniper fire from the hill got re-tasked to assist our flight and crossing back into Phase Charlie. Some new creatures that looked like small dragon-dog humanoids came yip yip yipping in at us, waving their curved little daggers and shouting something unintelligible that sounded like “Breeeeeyaaark!

The rounds coming from Mjölnir up on the hill just vaporized these things as they struck.

I followed Kang around the next bend in the streambed and we found the rest of Sergeant Jasper’s team linked up with the main body and letting us through the line. And just as Soprano ran through and behind the improvised fighting position the Rangers here were fighting from, carrying the empty squad automatic weapon and running like a track star, the flanks

redirected their fire on the gully and closed off that route with extreme outgoing violence for our pursuers. The mortar team even obliged with a few rounds of white phosphorus just to make sure they caught fire. I had to flip my NVGs up real quick once those things came.

We’d made it to Phase Line Charlie. Barely.

Chief Rapp was there and apprised on Mercer’s condition. He’d brought PFC Kennedy. Even though Charlie was on the verge of collapsing, and we were pulling back to the hill itself, Chief Rapp started a transfusion on Mercer right there using PFC Kennedy as a universal blood donor. The Ranger O-Low Titer Protocol was something we’d all been briefed on and trained in during RASP. It had a high rate of success in preventing battlefield deaths. Identified universal blood donors such as Kennedy carried a “Universal” kit that could assist the medics in making a critical blood transfusion in minutes right there on the battlefield. Chief Rapp was a stud of course. Special Forces guys are not just competent at what they do, they’re gifted. First he got some tranexamic acid in the wounded man while Kennedy got the kid ready. Seconds later Mercer was being carried rearward and transfused at the same time.

That was it for his fight. At least for now. For the rest of us…

If we thought that was the main attack… if we thought that had been the best they could throw at us… we were wrong. Turtled on Sniper Hill at the northern end of the island with every fighting Ranger and their weapon facing outward toward the enemy, we were now in a fight for our lives. The enemy released everything they had, and it was clear from the get-go that they were going to wipe us out tonight or die trying.

That was when the captain ordered us into gas masks and detonated the body bags full of chlorine gas as we retreated up the hill.

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