Authors: Michael G. Thomas
“Xenophon, is it? Why aren’t you back home on Attica? This isn’t the place for young men of the city.”
Glaucon stepped alongside Xenophon to see what he was doing. The old man instantly recognised the rich playboy and troublemaker from back home.
“Glaucon, be damned. Last I heard you’d been fighting the Thirty Tyrants. Then you joined the Exiles for sedition.”
He looked to Xenophon and nodded slowly.
“Ah, it makes sense now. You are involved in the conspiracy of Gryllus?”
“Yes, it was Erika Montoya and her people that did it and framed us for the murder. When this campaign is over, I’ll use my money to find the truth and to get my revenge,” Xenophon replied through clenched teeth.
Kantos reached out and placed his gloved hand onto Xenophon’s armoured shoulder.
“My friend, I will help you. Gryllus was a good man, a friend of the city, and many mourn him. A number of us stood against Montoya and her revolutionaries, weeks after the uprising on Attica. Your father wasn’t the only one that vanished suspiciously. My own brother was taken and found dead. Then they came for me.”
He looked down to the ground, desperate to hide his face. When he finally looked back up, his eyes were pale and his face tight with anger.
“A small group of us escaped and met up with the Legion just before Cilicia. When this is over, we’ll go back with you to Attica. There will be a reckoning!”
Glaucon smiled at this news. Kantos was an old man for sure, but he was quick witted, fast with his hands and a deadly fighter. He had every intention of returning home a rich man, but it would take money and people, plus a little force to achieve it.
“So, Kantos, how is your speed these days?”
Kantos laughed. “Better than your mouth.”
The three laughed and continued chatting for another minute until the Komes turned back. He could see Xenophon, Glaucon and a group of stratiotes together, listening to their adventures and tales so far. He hadn’t seen them this way for weeks. It was just what they needed prior to a fight.
We can use him.
He pointed to Xenophon.
“You know Xenophon and his people. They fought with us before and you know their reputation. They have local knowledge of the area and know the weak points of the tower. We will use out grapples, climb the tower and strike at these two points, as indicated by Lady Artemas.”
She moved from behind the cover where until now she had only been seen by a handful of the soldiers. Many had never seen a Medes woman before, let alone one of her breeding and obvious beauty. She pulled out her carbine, checked the magazine, flicking the safety off.
“Well, boys, are you ready to follow a woman into battle?” she asked wryly and nodded towards Komes Pasion. He threw her a magnetic grapple unit. She then turned from them and sprinted off. The rest of the Terrans were left stunned, and even Komes Pasion appeared lost for words. He pulled the bolt of his own rifle and waved it forward.
“Night Blades, to the tower!”
From total inactivity, the frontline transformed as dozens of lightly armoured stratiotes broke cover and rushed through the killing ground towards the tower. Xenophon, Roxana and Glaucon chased after her, but her speed was greater than even Roxana could manage. Tracer fire from the hundreds of defenders poured down at them but was quickly answered by the gunfire from the hidden automaton soldiers. Xenophon saw Artemas vanish into a great blast of dirt and smoke as three mortar shells dropped down directly into the attacking formation. The force of the blast threw him to the floor, and he felt the impact through the armoured legs of his spatharii armour. Glaucon staggered but managed to stay upright. His friend grabbed at him and lifted him to his feet. Scores of Night Blades streamed past them and to the base of the tower.
“Come on, we need to get up there!” he growled and then jumped ahead.
Xenophon peered through the smoke and saw the shape of Artemas. She had miraculously avoided the blast and was aiming the magnetic grapple up the tower. With little noise, the device launched a projectile up and over the defences until it locked into something on the other side. She tugged at it and then ran at the wall. With speed and grace, she jumped and landed feet first on the wall. The grapple wound in, and she ran up the wall as though she was on the horizontal surface.
Citadel of Cunaxa, Cunaxa Secundus
Three Terran fighters jinked to avoid their pursuers. The advance forces of Tissaphernes had now arrived, and the growing air supremacy of the Terrans had been turned around completely. Even the autonomous drones used by both sides were shot down the minute they approached within several kilometres into the warzone. But more horrendous was the thick black smoke that had settled through parts of the city. Most was coming from the scores of destroyed buildings, but some came from the smouldering wrecks of dromons and armoured vehicles that had been torn apart by the violence in the city.
Tamara watched the unfolding battle from the relative safety of the broken rubble in front of the
walls. One of the powerful siege machines burned with great intensity, but the other three continued to launch their deadly projectiles against the thick walls of the Citadel. She lowered her eyes down to the sight on her Doru MK II rifle. She’d already adjusted the optical sight to two hundred metres and watched the tower for signs of the enemy. Just as Artemas has said, the outer wall was clear and free from weaponry. She checked for the shapes of the Night Blades, but the greatest movement came from Artemas herself. She was already halfway up and increasing her lead with every step. About twenty of the stratiotes were also on the tower, lifting themselves up using the ropes from the grappling equipment.
To the left,
whispered one of the
men to her side.
A small group of eight
Night Blades had stayed behind
to assist the automatons in the overwatch gunfire. Four were expert shots, and the others performed the vital role of spotter.
It was a job perfectly suited to the lightly armoured Night Blades.
Tamara kept her eye on the scope and panned the weapon slowly to the right
, looking for the potential target. The wall was almost two-thirds the height of the tower and covered with crenulations like something from the ancient past of a hundred different races. Small sections jutted out at fixed intervals with gaps for soldiers to fire from. They were covered with metal plating to stop being hit by bombs and missiles from above, and even sported low power energy fields. They flickered on and off to give the defenders an opportunity to shoot. It was these gaps that the Night Blades watched for, the times when they were vulnerable to attack. It was there that she saw two Medes warriors moving a heavy pulse cannon into position. The larger of the two seemed to be carrying most of the weight. The second carried a drum with cables running to the weapon.
Tamara took careful aim at the larger figure and squeezed the trigger. The Doru rifle punched into her shoulder, accelerating the projectile at super high speeds. At the same time, it loaded in another two rounds and fired them off in almost the same moment. The first struck the Medes in the head, and the other two scattered nearby with one striking his throat. There was a slight puff of red mist, and then he instantly vanished from view. But most importantly, the dead man dropped the heavy weapon. It fell about a metre before the second man reached out of the gap to grab it. A second Night Blade shooter managed to strike him in the arm, and the weapon dropped from the wall and clattered amongst the rubble on the ground.
She thought happily.
It was a minor victory by all accounts, but with her injury and the maelstrom of battle raging all around her, it felt good to be back in the fight and doing something useful to help her comrades. She moved the sight back to the left and watched Artemas. The lithe and agile lady had made it two thirds up the tower and was now running to the left as though swinging on the rope. Tamara watched in awe, and she changed direction and ran. It was as if she wore magnetic boots. Just as she reached the right-hand side, her feet lifted up, and she sailed around the tower to the side. Then she let go. Tamara’s heart felt as it had stopped, as she watched her fall down and disappear onto the wall. She tracked the spot where she expected to find Artemas, but the shape of the wall hid everything from her. Movement on the tower caught her attention. It was somebody dressed in the same attire as her.
“Xenophon!” she uttered in both surprise and concern.
He was swinging along the tower, much like Artemas had been, but with a little less speed and grace. His left hand held onto the narrow wire, and his right hand was raised and pointing to the wall. Streaks flashed from the muzzle of one of his Asgeirr-Carbines. He then let go and vanished inside the wall structure, along with Artemas. Tamara let out a sigh at the sight of her two friends vanishing into the unknown.
* * *
Five kilometres from the Citadel came the main assault wave; squadrons of dromons with gunships and drone escorts swept in low and fast over Cunaxa’s urban sprawl. Even from this distance away, the gunfire and missiles launched from the primary defences reached out to strike them. The drones functioned much like ablative armour and rushed out in front to take the attention of the tracking systems. Some were shot out of the sky, but a surprising number made it through.
Right behind them came multiple formations of dromons, all of which were led by a single heavily armoured command dromon. Though superficially
to the other craft, this one had been
by Clearchus from the substantial funds paid to him by Lord Cyrus. It had slightly less interior space but carried thicker front armour and even shielding. It was something never used before on dromons, though he suspected it would soon become common practice. Once activated, the shield unit had functioned much like an airbrake.
It was one of the many reasons they were not normally used. Some cunning work by the Ionian engineers on board his Titan had allowed them to modify three separate units to create a crude cone of protection along the front of the craft. It was far from perfect, but their calculations made the craft proof against projectiles up to pulse cannon sizes. Two shells struck the nose and glanced off the shielding, sending streaks of multi-coloured energy from the craft. A small piece of armour tore off from the impact as a low amount of kinetic energy managed to break through the many gaps in the improvised shield.
“Damn, that was close!” called out Clearchus.
The dromon shook from the impact but continued forwards on its course. Four more dromons formed up behind him in a wedge formation and deployed their ground attack arsenal. Dromons were usually unarmed, but the Laconians made use of both transport and gunship variants. The first wave, led by Clearchus, carried the best troops and also the dromons with the greatest number of weapons.
Clearchus watched the sight of the battle through the toughened glass of the nose of his command dromon. The great bulk of his armour made anything but a modified vessel such as this useless to transport him and his elite bodyguard into battle.
For this, the final and perhaps greatest battle of his life, he was wearing his best and most lavish armour. Like all Laconian military equipment, it was both effective and a sight like no other. The chest armour was muscled like a bronze cuirass of old, and his helmet was only slightly different to those his people had used back when shields and spears were the main weapons of war. His personal shield generator was built into his left arm. Although heavy, it would be able to provide him with full body protection in any direction he placed his forearm. His long crimson cloak looked black inside the darkened confines of the dromon. He turned back to his comrades. They were handpicked to be his elite bodyguard. There was no doubt in his mind that his unit could take any objective, no matter how well protected.
“Strategos, we’re moving over the Arcadian landing zones.”
Clearchus nodded at the news and watched from the small windows. They screamed past a number of dromons that were busy bringing more troops to the battle. They were not far from the Citadel now, and his body ached with anticipation of the epic battle he’d imagined for so many months. Looking ahead, t
he sight that greeted him was like one of the many paintings he’d seen back home of the greatest battles of ancient legend. Back when Laconians fought bloody, epic battles against the Medes.
He checked the tactical overlay that was being projected inside his helmet. Signal traffic between the Terran units was substantial but proving effective. Every single unit from dekas sized squads right up through to tagmata were in contact and moving quickly to their respective fronts. He expected the main Terran effort to be ready for battle within twenty or thirty minutes.