“James!” shouted Walters as he checked the position and deployment of his new enemy.
“My Lord!” responded James, breaking off from his conversation with Arn.
“I want everyone in those transports on the ground as quickly as possible. Make sure it happens,” and then seeing James’ hesitation, “right now, Major!”
“And what about you my Lord?” asked the Major, obviously concerned.
“I think that I can take care of myself,” replied Walters, a grin on his face, “and anyway, Berbatov is no doubt already well on the way to removing the Tauran’s threat. Thank you for your concern, now please can you do what I’ve asked?”
Nodding, James was already scurrying on his way towards the launch bay, his mind engrossed in his new problem.
“Okay,” said Walters, turning towards Arn, “let’s take care of these robots, shall we?”
Berbatov was not in fact on top of the Tauran problem; their arrival had been a real surprise and initially they had made huge advances, easily slicing their way through Shan’s undead army. Now, however, things were just a little bit stickier as the plague infected ship itself turned on them.
Corridors melted and changed, catching Berbatov and his men unawares and revealing new pockets of enemies, this time led by the newly converted infectees. This in itself did not give Berbatov undue pause, but when vile and viscous fluids spat from the walls, hissing and burning against armour and boiling flesh, he began to lose his patience.
Walls which already had appeared diseased now seemed to enter into a new and deadly virulence as boils and pustules grew and erupted, showering over the unsuspecting soldiers. Webs of a tarry black phlegm spat outwards and stuck, allowing the zombies and their masters a more easier target. All of this was evilly coordinated in order to inflict the maximum damage.
Green eyes flashing, Berbatov’s normally bellicose nature had reached new heights and his rage took over. Instead of waiting for his enemies to show themselves, he began to strike indiscriminately at the structures around him. His halberd sliced cleanly through the putrid miasma facing him, the ship shuddering in response.
With a snarl he opened a portal, revealing one infected Immortal and a group of his undead followers. Powering forward, his weapon as light as a feather in his hands, he took his revenge. The Immortal’s corroded armour could not withstand the force of his blows, huge rents and holes appeared with each strike, the stench of death hanging heavy in the air.
The fact that they had visible targets also seemed to energize his men and explosive rounds flew, weapons sang and they killed in the glory of Walters’ name.
Viker and his fellow soldiers were pinned down, but were at least holding up the robots as they pushed forwards. The Eyatolian armour was laying down a ferocious barrage, smashing articulated limbs and pounding silvery bodies. They were taking casualties though, and with each passing moment more of the infernal machines appeared.
Walters’ men’s objective seemed no closer and their frustration was mounting.
“Our mission is to provide covering fire and also to prevent any of these creatures from reaching the tower,” explained Marius over his radio circuit, as he calmly destroyed the falling drop pods, “the more we take out, the less our boys have to deal with down there.”
He and his Wing were damaging severely the robots’ reinforcements, each sweep, each pass they coldly and clinically blew apart more of the constructs. Perhaps it was not the most honourable nor satisfying task, but having seen the potential damage the robots could cause, he certainly felt justified in his work.
Major James and his men had begun their deployment, the first of his troops were down on the ground now, using the pinnace as their homing beacon. He had forestalled the idea of drop pods and instead had decided upon the slower troop transports; what they lacked in speed, they made up for in quantity.
Even now, the first of his men and armour were on their way to join Krantu’s advance forces and he was beginning to believe in their probability of success.
Shan himself had decided to lead his forces in their assault on the city below. With no thought for any potential losses he may incur, yet rather thinking only of victory, he had used every means within his command to get his men on the ground.
The disposition of the robotic soldiers and Walters’ men were of no concern, he had sent sufficient troops, or so he thought to take care of them. No, his one and only priority was to take the tower and recover the object his Master had so clearly expressed a desire for.
Grinning evilly, he saw the first of his troops smash to earth and engage his enemies, whilst his craft raced towards the tower itself.
The breach Berbatov had carved out of the disgusting walls of the corridor, proved to be extraordinarily useful. Where his halberd had touched, the ship’s reaction was to draw away. Festering wounds became cleansed and the now corroded metalwork once more appeared. This brought a steadiness to the previously revolving scene of conflict.
Leading his men forwards in a concerted rush, Berbatov smote the foulness of his enemies. His men followed, pistol rounds exploding already rotten chest cavities outwards, melee weapons tearing through disgusting limbs and once dead Churchmen, stayed dead. That still left the transformed Immortals to deal with, and Berbatov took that fight personally.
Each time one of them appeared, he would hold back his own men and stride forward, his halberd whirling with blinding speed. Cuts from their infected weapons did not heal fully and even began to suppurate, but the big man ignored them all. His blade and its cleansing energy struck and smote, cut and cleaved. Fountains of pus-filled gore sprayed through the air, bloated flies withered and disease ridden bodies fell.
Shan had misjudged the ability of both his men and his ship and in leaving them to face Berbatov alone, guaranteed their demise.
James saw the lone craft as it roared across the battlefield, a black trail of smoke blooming from its rear. At first he thought that it was damaged, that either Krantu’s forces or even the robots had struck it. This changed though as he saw the inky cloud fall to earth, its tendrils reaching out to consume both robot and man where it touched.
He saw shiny metal instantly turn a rust-brown colour, before crumbling into dust. Men melted in front of his eyes and it was then he realised that the foul craft was in fact intact, healthy even, but clearly a carrier of the diseased and twisted health that a demon-follower was blessed with.
The Major was too far away to do anything more than watch, but just when he thought that they had failed, he saw three dots appear high in the sky. Their indistinct shapes firmed up as they raced forward at an incredible speed, bearing down on the Tauran craft. They were delta wings, and James’ spirits lifted as he realised that all was still not lost.
Marius and his Wing had quickly ascertained the disposition of enemy forces and were powering their fighters forwards to aid their embattled troops. It was then that the Captain noticed the lone craft as it streaked towards the city and the tower itself.
“Okay boys, you go and help our guys out,” ordered Marius, his eyes still fixed on what he now thought of as his prize, “I’ll take care of our infectious friend.”
His Wingmen waggled their wings in response and peeled away, transmission via his command circuit reassuring him that the rest of his Wing would soon join them. Wasting no time he increased the power to his engines, quickly eating up the distance between his delta wing and his prey.
“What is it?” snarled Shan, as one of his men tried to attract his attention, he had been busy enjoying the wonderful destruction caused by the moist cloud raining down on the ground below.
He did not wait for an answer as he could see the readout and the constant bleep of a target lock. Smirking to himself, he moved over to the control station, ready to deal with the approaching fighter. A Champion of a cursed God had his own arsenal, weapons bestowed to him by his Master. The effects of which were gloriously wicked.
Waiting for his targeting system to lock was an annoyance, but immediately on seeing the reticule turn green, he savagely activated the control sequence.
Laughing and cackling, the possessed missiles were launched. Their shells constantly reforming as the blisters grew and then burst, a stream of rot and debris falling behind them as they flew.
“Frak!” muttered Marius, as his systems announced missile lock and he broke off his attack run, jinking and weaving his fighter in an effort to shake the abhorrent projectiles.
They followed his every move though, their possession allowing them to anticipate his actions and still close the distance. One looping move, brought Marius’ fighter around to face them and he fired his own spray of missiles and plasma. Whether it was skill or pure luck, his efforts were rewarded with the destruction of one of the objects; a cloud of greeny brown smoke announcing its extinction. The other, though, bored onwards towards Marius’ hurtling craft.
Shan could see they were getting close to the city now, as what had once been an indistinct shape, now took on individual form and substance. Buildings, towers and spires in dark glory appeared before him and he raise his hands in jubilation. Nothing could stop him now.
Marius eventually resigned himself to the fact that there was no way to rid himself of the demonic missile. Once he had accepted that fact, he decided to ensure that at least one part of his mission would be fulfilled and, ignoring the projectile behind him, targeted the perpetrator of the attack on his fighter.
Eyes squinting in concentration he chased the horrid craft down, the strident beeping that warned him of an imminent impact ever louder in his ears. He knew that he would only get one shot at this and he was determined that it was going to be a good one. At last he was close enough and he fired everything that he had; plasma, autocannon and Spitfire’s streamed towards Shan’s vessel.
Then levelling out his delta wing, he did the only thing that was left to him to do. As the alarms in his cockpit began one long ululating tone, he punched the ejection sequence and prayed.
The Tauran Adept’s reverie was rudely interrupted as plasma beams scored his craft, burning through superstructure and tearing searing holes in his engines. Autocannon rounds peppered his wings and his own defense systems failed in their pre-programmed routines. With a huge roar and a gout of gigantic flame, one of Marcus’ missiles destroyed Shan’s engines, causing the craft to pitch and yaw and then tumble towards the waiting earth.
Shan screamed in frustration, he had been so close to an easy victory and he lashed out with a huge hand, crushing the half rotten bones and flesh of one of his followers. Feeling somewhat better, he looked towards the uprushing ground and became calm. He and at least some of his men would survive this and then they would complete their objective on foot. All was not lost, at least not yet.
Viker saw Marius’ craft hit and the subsequent strikes against Shan’s vessel, somehow they had just been given another chance and he meant to take advantage of it. He knelt and opened his arms in prayer, his thoughts clear and precise as he made his request. Then he waited.
Master Arshavin smiled to himself as he recognised the signatures of the arriving drone ships. Now, he could show these Churchmen and the recently arrived and overly corrupted Tauran forces, what a member of the intellectual class could do.
Guest post with D.P. Prior
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