Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The coming of the few

The first of the few
This story is the first of the stories to be out in the new edition of The Reading Area, and I have no idea how long I'll keep this idea going.

The Fortress

    The guns of the warships laid down covering fire, and the ground cannons poured shells into the fortress for days, but inside the remaining members of the peoples of Cartinor, and a few rebels from the planet Ferron held out. 
     The three women from Ferron were the last of their tribe. They'd arrived in an old spacecraft to warn the people of Cartinor of the invasion by the Plamindar Shock Regiment. The craft got shot down, and the women fled into the woods, before making their way to the camps of Andreas Tarrit
    There was no need for the warning, Andreas, and his tribe was already involved in hand-to-fighting in the castle with the regiment when the craft got spotted in the sky. 
     Andreas glanced at the remains of the ammo in a pile in front of them, and said, "We have nothing to lose, surrender is not an option. We can't take them by force, so, the time has come to fight our war on our terms. These men get trained for armed conflict involving massive fire support. Our only opportunity to turn this war is to bring them into our world. Instead of fighting as units, we'll fight them man-to-man in the corridors."
      Sharinar, the eldest of the women, glanced at her companions and noting their nods, she replied, "We're ready to live or die with your men. It's better to die free than live as slaves. The women who belong to those perverted vultures out there are no more than sex slaves to be passed around like toys, and we'd die before we let that happen!"
     Sharinar shook Andreas' hand and watched as the leader walked to the small mound of supplies that remained. He stood for a moment, and then crossed himself. "Take what you can carry, we're going to hit hard and fast, and keep on the move. From now on, we cannot allow ourselves to get involved in a static war. We need to take the battle to the enemy with a planned series of hit and run raids to keep them off guard."
     Sharinar glanced at her friends, and called to Andreas, "We'll  cause a distraction to draw them in, and you can finish them off, Andreas. Godspeed, and the victory of the righteous!" She ran out, waving her Plasmatic burner, she hit the first men before they knew what they were about to fight. A fierce series of volley erupted combining the firepower of Sharinar and her two friends. As the ladies fired their second volleys, they dropped the guns and ran inside, followed by the screaming hordes.  
     The pursuers were so intent on revenge. They didn't notice the doors along the passageway open as they got trapped in a vicious crossfire. Those who avoided been cut down by various shells got hunted down like the animals they'd become. 
    As the tattered regiment fled the scene, Andreas and Sharinar yelled, "We'll cut them down as the try to get over the walls and return to their ships."
    With a surge of energy, the 15 survivors of the attack charged into the retreating troops, and death was their companion as the rush surged onwards. 
     Finally, the two warriors held their swords aloft and bathed in the glory of a momentous victory as the blood of their enemies, dripped onto their sweaty bodies.  Andreas – the Lohengrin man – was like many of his him, well- muscled, and tall with the darkened skin that comes from living in the area of Sulphur Springs on Cartinor. His companion in battle was Sharinar - of the Swakling tribe – she, like many of her tribe was slender built but a force of nature when roused. Sharinar was more than capable of holding her own in battle, as many men had found to their peril. The women of her clan are more ferocious than the men and are not afraid to ride into battle with their mates.
      Andreas glanced at the bodies laying at their feet, and commented, "You fought a good fight, Sharinar, if you want to go back your planet and warn them of the army approaching, I wouldn't blame you." 
       Sharinar tossed her head, her red flowing like wildfire, and replied, "I have no village, Andreas. I came here in my craft to warn your peoples of the danger. My planet was in ruins when I left, the last thing I saw was the clouds of Extoriun igniting over our cities and turning the air into superheated gasses. If I go back, there is no life to live, at least, with you, I have an opportunity to build a life. Besides that, I can't return, my escape used all my reserves of fuel, like it or not I'm here to stay."
      Andreas wiped the bloody remnants off his Fildrake sword and placed it back in the sheath. He looked at the ruins of what had been his life before the Plamindar Regiment had devastated his land, and he replied, "I'd like you to stay, but as you see, I have no home either. With the few men that remain it will be a long time before we're strong enough to defend ourselves, and with the Plamindarians not far away, and wanting revenge for this rout of their prized regiment. Living here will be nothing short of a constant war zone."
      Sharinar held Andreas' bleeding shoulder, and commented, "I think some of our medical supplies may have survived the crash after we get patched up, we'll see what else is salvageable."
      The walk from the remains of the fort to the site of the crash wasn't pleasant, many bodies covered the ground, and although the sounds of the battle had only just cleared, the carrion feeders were devouring their meals oblivious to the people walking among them. The door to the spacecraft had got so badly damaged it fell off the hinges as Tringar, Sharinar's medic touched it.
      Tringar went inside, and after a short time, she returned with some news, "From the quick glance I had, it looks like the power cells for the weapons have survived the impact. If we can't attack, at least, we may have limited defensive capabilities."
Perruvia, the third of the survivors from the ship, looked at their situation and said, "I don't want to rain on our parade. We gained a great victory, but we're stuck here with few supplies, and with a band of ruthless killers after our blood. Before we talk about the defensive possibilities, I suggest we find somewhere that we can defend."
   Andreas' friend, Jacquin, viewed what remained of the crashed vessel, and then said, "I suggest that we take what we can for now, and try to locate a cave. That way, we can assess our position and the options available to us. Perruvia is right, many of us sustained massive injuries, and we need to find a secure position to defend; the way we are here, we have no defenses and can be overwhelmed too easy." 
    Andreas tried to shoulder his shield, but his arm was too badly wounded to lift any weight. "I agree, our priority needs to be finding a secure spot to defend, after that we can tend the wounded," he said, gritting his teeth. "Calmarian, you take the lead for the first few miles, your heightened senses can warn us of any enemies ahead."
   Calmarian grunted his accepted of the order and dragged his tired body off the floor. "You can rest for a while, and I'll patrol the boundaries, for now, to make sure there are no Plamindarians near before we leave." With that comment, the man of Ferron left the shuttle and strode into the dark void. His only guides being his heightened senses and the twin moons. 
    The twin moons shone down on Calmarian's sweaty body as he paced the perimeter, his Lastork pistol never far from his large hand. Despite having taken a massive explosion to his chest, Calmarian led the charge for freedom, and his dogged determination ensured that he and his friends had a small hope of living to see tomorrow. 
    Calmarian kept his senses at their highest pitch, Ferron men it is said can hear the wind talk if they wanted to, in this case; he'd be happy if the night remained silent. The mist rising from the boggy ground around the crash site gave the area an eerie atmosphere and made Calmarian feel on edge. 
   It was this mist, which almost caused him to attack Perruvia as she came to see him. She tiptoed through the trees and roots, having lived as an outcast on her planet since the revolution several moons ago, she had become adept at hiding in shadows. Perruvia had her eyes - and heart - set on the man of Ferron since she first saw him. The men she knew are great swordsmen, and lovers, but they lacked the fire she saw in Calmerian. 
   Perruvia watched as the big man stretched, and relaxed his aching limbs. All the time she could feel her heart beating faster, and her breasts getting firmer as her nipples hardened at the thought of his firm, but gentle hands caressing her. She got lost in the smells he gave off, and stepped into the mist, he saw a figure approaching and quickly swung into action. "Hold on, Calmerian. It's only me, Perruvia come to see you," she whispered through her wet lips, "I've been watching you, and I want you so badly I can't breathe." 
    Perruvia threw off her green camo cloak to reveal her real self, under the cloak she had the body of an angel. Her firm breasts twitched as Calmarian bent to kiss them gently. She gasped as his hands touched her skin, with the surprising gentleness of a child holding a plant, for a warrior. Calmarian hadn't been with a lady since the beginning of the Carnac campaign many moons past, so, he was gentle and considerate with Perruvia. His gentleness was so arousing that she melted in his arms as their tongues touched and their bodies found pleasures they thought they'd never know again. 
   She disrobed her lover to reveal his body, his skin rough to her touch and heavily scarred from the many pistol blasts he'd suffered in the search for peace in the Carnac region. Perruvia noticed some of the scars still retained their redness, meaning they are relatively new. "When did you get the new scars?" She enquired as she tried to bring relief to Calmerian's body with her long fingers.
  He laid back in her arms, and let her fingers slide under his wet clothes, and she knew by the hardness in his groin that he wanted her badly too. He gazed at the stars, and then replied, "I'm not proud of some of the things we did, but we needed to do them to survive. On Carnac, one of the ways to survive was to become a pit champion. To get to the top, you need to employ tactics that would be forbidden in any war zone, and on any planet, except Carnac. On Carnac, life is cheap, and the rulers don't care if you live or die, so long as they're happy. In a war with no rules, you're expected to make your own up and hope to live to see the sunrise. I was one of the best in the pits, but as you see, I paid the price dearly for the honor of being a champion."
   Perruvia stroked his throbbing manhood, and then she unzipped his tunic to get the object of her desire out. She gently teased his penis to erection, and noting how strong it was, she raised herself on Calmerian and gracefully let him enter her moist mound. The two lovers writhed in ecstasy for several minutes, until both had climaxed and got exhausted, and then they lay together watching the moonshine, and the stars twinkle, as she held him closer, Perruvia enquired, "What was Carnac-like, Calmeria?"
    Calmeria paused in thought for a while. He' was so enmeshed in the fights, and he'd almost forgotten about the planet. He kissed Perruvia gently, and then recalling his time on the world, he said, "Outside the pit areas, the world is very friendly. Their coast is rocky, and they have lovely coves for fishing, and swimming in."
    Perruvia let her fingers travel down Calmerian's sweaty body, as she asked, "Did you have a lady on your home world?"
    Calmerian leaned against the rock at his back and then replied, "No. I have always been a loner. I never found a lady who wanted to be around me long enough to know me.  What about you, evidently a woman as attractive as you, had many admirers on your planet?" 
   Perruvia blushed, and then replied, "I had a couple of talented men friends, but, on the whole, the men were more interested in their sports than me."
    He looked at the beautiful woman next to him, and then he kissed her. They lay for a while locked in an embrace, and then he said, "I think it's time I did another round of the perimeter. I don't trust those Plamindians, and this fog is getting too thick to see what is happening for more than the reach of an arm. You go back and warn the others that we may get an attack soon, Perruvia. I promise I won't be far behind you."
   Calmarian watched as Perruvia slipped out of the cave, using the fog as cover, she moved silently towards the shuttle where the group was hiding. Calmerian took his pistol in his large hand and began his watch, all the time he thought I wish I were back home, at least there I know the enemy. Here, I feel as lost as anyone.
     The rush to the camp didn't take long, on her arrival and out of breath, all Perruvia had time to say was, "We need to get going."
     Andreas didn't require more warning, he called to the others, "Get what you can, we're heading to the caves on the hills."
      Sharinar replied, "What about Calmerian? How will he find us?" 
     Andrea' reply was short, "I've known him for many moons, and I know he'll find us soon, Sharinar."
     Jacquin began to get twitchy, and this put everyone on edge. He'd never been reliable at the best of times, but he is one hell of a fighter; capable of handling any weapon from a Lastock pistol to the heavy Armagrade blast rifle. His only trouble is you need to keep him on a very short leash, or Jacquin's likely to go on a killing spree. One tale about Jacquin says he was in prison for starting a riot in the Calderan colony after the vessel Forgestriker departed, leaving hundreds to the mercy of the Partrich Guards - a terrorist group known for some of the worst murders in the region.
    Tringar came out of the battered hulk carrying a large bundle, "This is everything I can salvage. It isn't a lot, but it's a start. We're small in number, so, we'll have to get into cover quickly." 
    As if on demand, the sound of pistol fire broke the silence, and Sharinar yelled, "You take them to cover, Portian. Jacquin, Andreas, and I will lay down suppression fire  to cover your escape." Sharinar glanced at Andreas, and then she kissed his sweaty face, "If we don't make it out of here, this is for you, my love."
    Andreas held her close and returned the kiss, and then replied, "We'll make it out of here, love. I saw a small ravine, if we can get to it, we can give better cover fire for the group, and remain hidden from sight."
   Sharinar turned to face Peruvia, and then called to her friend, "Leave your weapons, and run to the caves; we'll keep the men as pinned down as we can but once we run out of ammo it'll be a fight to the death with whatever we can find. We'll catch up with you, Godspeed and may all of our sisters on Ferron bless your escape, Perruvia, now go!"
   Andreas, Sharinar, and Jacquin gathered the weapons together and hefted them to the ravine; the dip was no more than a few potholes and a small trench. "It isn't much, but it's all we have," Jacquin said with resignation as he tried to find a place to lay down.
    Sharinar viewed the troops massing in the distance, and then she inquired, "How long do you think we can hold out?" It was a question that she didn't want to be answered, but felt she needed to ask. 
   Andreas took the field glasses from their case and studied their enemy's forces. He sat quietly thinking, and watching the enemy movements, and then said, "I'd give us ten to fifteen minutes at the most. It isn't much but anytime we can give the others will be worth it. We won't be moving from here, so gather what you need and keep it close, once the action begins there won't be much time to think what to do, it will just be reacting to the situations as they develop. May the Gods of our world's permit us to die a glorious death this day."
   Not usually a religious man, Jacquin glanced to the disappearing figures behind him, and then said, "Amen to that, Andreas. I can think of better places to make a last stand or to die, but I cannot think of two more loyal friends to end my days in the company of, may we meet in the next world in peace. For the sake of the others, may we hold the enemy long for them to reach the safety of the foothills."
   All the time the conversation was going, Andreas didn't take his eyes off the troops closing on their position.Sharinar was watching the air for aircraft, and enquired, "Do you think they'll bomb us?"
    Jacquin replied with a shake of his head, "No, if this area got destroyed, that means the side of the hills will collapse, and that means they'll need to make a two-day march to the other aspect of the mountain. That time will permit the others to find a defensive position and fortify themselves for an attack. If that happens, our enemy will need to bring in reinforcements for a siege, and that's the last thing they want to do because it will allow our people to attack their lines of communication."
    Sharinar tried to understand their situation, but was losing her focus, "You mean there are people willing to fight in this area?" 
    Andreas smiled, and then replied, "Your crash may have been an accident, but we've been fighting in this zone for years. Our troops have built up a network of tunnels and caves to hide in, and that's why the Plamindarians are amassing down there and not rushing our position. They won't bomb us into submission, but I wouldn't bet against an armored assault using their turbo-riders on the point, followed by the Howling Winds Armoured Division to drive us out, once that happens it'll be everybody for themselves. Our saving grace at the moment is they aren't sure of our strength, but that won't last much longer. Jacquin, take a look down there." 
   Andreas handed the glasses to his friend, Jacquin took them and studied what was happening below the ridge, "If you want to pray, now would be a good time, Sharinar. The riders are spreading out, and the tanks are warming their engines as the Gunners go through their final checklist for action. As strong as the armored force is, the incline is in our favor, it won't do much to slow the bikes, but it will slow the heavier vehicles. I hope for the sake of our friends that we gave them enough time to get to the foothills at least, if not they'll have no chance to beat the rush coming after our position gets compromised."
    The air shattered with the roar of horns as the engines roared into action, and the armor moved into action. With banners flying and trumpets blaring the armored division started its drive, ahead of them were the gunners of the turbo-riders, and behind was the remnants of the troops who lost comrades in the battle to take the fortress, all with one purpose - avenging the death of the fallen.
    Andreas watched in horror as he saw something he only heard of, "Jacquin, tell me that I am not seeing what I think I am seeing."
   Jacquin looked on in horror as he saw what Andreas was talking about, "No, you are right. The middle section comprises of two squads of the new Dragoneers, Andreas. We're in for more trouble than we expected. Once they get airborne, they can lay down fire to mask the advance of the formation, before we can defend ourselves."
   From their trench, they small group watched in fear as the six medium size dragons and their riders took to the air; the dragons circled for a few minutes to locate their prey, and then they swooped into action with fiery spouts of flame erupting from their mouths and noses scorching the air around the flight.
   Watching in horror, Andreas said, "Well, this could be our end, my friends. It is an honor to serve with such brave men and women, and may we meet on the other side in more peaceful times. Lock and load, people!."
    The dragons circled higher, and higher, all the time watching the skies as if expecting to fight in the air. But, Jacquin knew there were no dragons within 40 kilometers, and if there were, they were involved in other battles and would be unable to be able to defend their position.
   The group watched as the dragons raised their slender necks in preparation for the firestorm that they were going to spread across the ground. The biggest worry for Andreas was not the fire itself, but the gallons of toxic chemicals in hundreds of barrels in the vicinity.  The contents of the barrels were known, but not the effect of mixing the substances in the barrels under extreme heat.
  The first bursts of flame missed the barrels, but they burned the ground so much that the fencing around the compound melted. The beasts of war circled for their second and fatal dive at the compound.
 Jacquin saw the dragons as they soared into clear skies, and he said, "There' no point in running, once the barrels go up, this whole side of the mountain will erupt, and the fault line below will split wide open. We have no escape, so there's only one thing to do." With his final comment, he stood up and started to fire his Lastrok pistol at the approaching dragons, even though they were out of range.
Even though Andreas and Sharinar realized the futility of their actions, they joined in with Jacquin, if only to make themselves believe they were going down fighting, not lying in some ditch do nothing. 
The dragons had amassed for the final attack and were just starting to dive when from out of the sun when the air split with a cry, and looking up the Dragoneers saw the Griffon Flight. On land, this would be no contest, but in the air, the smaller and more agile birds of prey were in their element. The Dragoneers tried to turn to face their foes, but before they could maneuver several strikes from the Griffons hit the dragons so hard their mounts almost fell to the ground. As the riders struggled to regain control, the Griffons hit from below. The claws and beaks of the smaller bird tore shreds of skin off the dragon's underbellies and caused untold agony to their enemy. 
The ground troops sensing the tide of battle was turning, and that they would be without the cover of air support launched their attack squads at the ridge. The speeding riders were so determined to take the hill, and they never heard the roar the Bidors made. Nor did they notice the ground thundering under the hooves of the Bidor sweep until the forces met head-on. The Bidor are animals the size of buffalo with enlarged heads, and horns that are capable of overturning tanks, so a few motorcycles provided no challenge. Men were flung high into the air as the Bidor met their foes and tossed them around like children's toys. The resulting defensive action hurled riders high into the air; the troops went so high Griffons grabbed them in their talons making sure that they were dead before the landed.
With the edge of the attack broken and little support available, The Plamindians had little recourse but to send the infantry in, unprotected. The first wave moved slowly across the forest floor, once the armies came out of their cover, they charged the ridge. 
Andreas smiled and then said. 
"That is a surprise, I never expected any support, now it's up to us to do our part. The least we can do is take as many as we can before we get overrun. I don't expect to see the sunrise again. It's an honor to serve with you, my fellow warriors. Now, let's make them pay for each meter of ground they take!"
 Sharinar grinned and then yelled.
"For all who perished on Ferron, I give my life in honor of our world!"
With that call, she hoisted the Landsmar rocket launcher to her shoulder and fired the rocket at the nearest target. The rocket blasted out of the tube and hit the leading rider as he climbed back on his motorcycle. The explosion took out not only his bike but several more, leaving a gap in the line. 
  Jacquin was on the rim of the ridge and saw the explosion, he took aim and launched a volley of fire at the retreating riders killing several, and leaving more wounded and bleeding on the floor. He was about to rush the lines when Andreas called out.
 "Hold back, Jacquin; we are too weak to rush their lines. A final last stand is a noble end, but we don't want to make a suicidal frontal attack. While they're regrouping, we can try to find anywhere more defensible. I think we can make it to the treeline, at least, we won't be in the open."
 In the fading light, the trio crawled out of the foxhole and headed for the nearby treeline. The three friends were halfway there when some Snake ‘n ‘ Nape lit the air. The slow moving flares on parachutes lit the skyline for as far as Jacquin could see, and he sighed. 
Jacquin had seen this tactic used to flush rebels out before, and he yelled, "Get to cover, in a few moments the air will burn, and if the Napalm touches us, well burn from the inside out! Shit, there goes our chance of escape."
Andreas realized in a second that they had no hope, so he yelled, "Run for cover. I'll give you what cover I can!" With that command, he turned to face the onrushing enemies and then prayed. "For all my comrades, I devout to you this moment's glories and I hope to meet you in the other world in peace."
The blood from his wounded shoulder started to seep through the bandage that Sharinar had used. Andreas' shoulder was beginning to ache now the adrenalin of the fight had worn off, and the gun became hard to aim as his arm dropped. 
He muttered,"I need a rock to rest my gun on, or I'll be no use." 
He looked around and saw a large boulder not far away, as he tried to crawl to his revised shooting position, he felt two blasts hit him in the legs and then with the pain he passed out.  He laid for some time, and then he heard a voice he recognized say to him. 
"Come on, old man, and you're not done for yet!" 
Andreas glanced up to see the welcoming, grimy and blood-soaked face of Calmerian staring down at him. 
Andreas whispered through the pains.
 "My dear friend, I can't thank you enough for your intervention."
The big man smiled and then commented.
 "You'll have plenty of time for thanks once we make our camp, and get to a place we can defend, for now, I'm here to get you back to safety and then we launch our counter-offensive. Okay, can I have some cover over here!"
With the command, the air opened up with a massive barrage of rockets from several Parrusit rocket launcher, each capable of firing from 20 barrels at the same time. The Plamindarian forces halted before the onslaught and then turned and retreated in disarray as the Griffons swooped and launched their waves of attacks from the air. Men fell by the hundreds as commanders futilely tried to halt the rout. In a rush to escape, many fell before the feet of the Bidor and were crushed alive; the weight of the creatures not allowing even a low mumble before death.
The rush of the Bidor came with such force that the Eleporter regiment got destroyed out before the beasts were able to be mounted for action. An Eleporter in combat is a formidable an opponent for a Bidor, with its armored side plates and the ravaging fire from the Garron machine guns at the front of the beast, but they take time to group and time on this day is at a premium. The Bidor caused such destruction there was little for the foot soldiers to do apart from collect the weapons and ammo from the dead bodies. It was a day of glory, one of few at this stage in the war; the armies of Cartinor were suffering heavy losses in all the running battles against the Plamindians, so a tiny such as this victory called for a splendid feast.
Jacquin glanced down the slopes, and then he called out.
"We men of Cartinor and women of Ferron will continue our fight for freedom until the last of us has no breath left to stand." 
Andreas patted his friend on the back and looking at the destruction below their position, he commented. 
"Brave talk, buddy, but before we have time to celebrate we need to get to a defensible position, this day we are fortunate but don't always count on the help of others. Our prime target, for now, is to get to the caves and attempt to visualize our situation and our supplies."
Sharinar wiped the sweat and blood off Andreas' muscular chest, and she remarked. 
"We need to move from here; now our position is compromised it won't be long before the next attack, I fear."
Andreas winced as a crusty slab of blood cracked as she took it from his shoulder, and then he said.
"I agree, by the size of the attack that was no more than a raiding party, they expected little resistance and had gone back to report our strength. I'm in no doubt, the next wave will include Enforcer tanks, we need to get to a defensive position, and quickly. Once those tanks get here, they'll reduce this area to ashes in less than a minute."
Jacquin glanced into the distance, and shrugging, he said.
"Do you think we can get to the caves before we get hunted down?"
A gruff voice from behind replied. 
"It isn't a case of can we get to the caves? We have no choice, Jacquin, my friend. We have to get to the caves or die!" 
Jacquin and his friends turned to see Calmerian behind them, smiling, Andreas said. 
"It's so sweet to see you again, my old friend how did you find us?" 
Calmerian took a second or two to shake their hands and then said. 
"If we survive, I'll tell you. For now, our goal is to run like the wilderfox and get to those caves. Once we get there, we need to secure our position."
Sharinar tried to focus the glasses on the cliff face, after a minute, she asked.
"I've seen our target, and it looks almost impregnable with the sheer face, what's the problem?"
Calmerian didn't stop to think how to break the news; he needed Sharinar to understand their position quickly. 
"The problem is a tribe called Grandelfins. They are small people with long fingers and are capable of climbing any structure if they can get the smallest hand hold. Don't be fooled by their size. These men are as deadly as the Plamindian Killer squads, and they have no fear of death."
Jacquin added to the conversation. 
"Not only are their claws dangerously sharp, but they are also deadly toxic. Survival depends on avoiding contact with these people, not only being ripped apart. I don't know about you, but I'm not waiting around to find out what's on the way. I'm heading for the cliffs, the sooner we get there, the safer I'll feel."
The group set, no sooner had they started their trek through the forest than the air crackled with gunfire, looking to the sky, Sharinar yelled. 
"The Dragons are back, run for it!"
As the air got scorched, the ground trembled beneath their feet, and Andreas yelled. 
"The Bidors did their best, but once the Eleporters formed up, they had no escape. The base for the Griffon is so far they needed to get back to the ground as soon as possible, or risk coming under fire from being tired.  From here on, we're on our own; we'd better split up that way, at least, someone can reach the caves and get the defenses set up."
The four members of the group split up and disappeared into the shadows of the forest, each hoping they'd get out and make the run to the caves, but knowing the Grandelfins had hypersensitive nasal capabilities. Any scent left on a twig, or a leaf is likely to arouse their sensual ability and end with a terrible struggle. But, as they knew there is no way they wouldn't be able to escape undetected, the aim was to put distance between the pursuers, and the pursued, Hiding was never an option. Not even water could mask their scents; on the run and wounded the fugitives were running out of options. 
The Dragoneers were watching their progress and marking the path taken; so the soldiers had nothing to hinder the search. Tripping, sliding and stumbling through the undergrowth the friends struggled to keep moving as tired limbs ached more with each step. 
Out of the corner of his eye, Andreas saw his friends split and run in different directions, and he hoped, at least, one of them could get to the caves, he realized his chances were getting slim when he tripped over a root, and just lay on the ground. He crawled along the floor, trying to find the energy to stand, he tried once but fell as he got up. Out of energy and with his body tired; Andreas had no idea why he kept going; then something happened that spurred him on, he saw daylight. 
He stumbled to his feet and as he did he felt the heat of a seeker probe as it whizzed past his face, the next thing Andreas heard was a scream of pain; he wasn't bothered what the target was. All he was pleased to know is he was not the target. He took a quick glance and saw Calmerian signaling him, and then he heard the big man calling to him. 
"Keep going, Andreas. We decided to use the last of the ammo as a delayed action bomb and try to take out as many as we can at one time. Jacquin and Sharinar are behind me; they'll be making the final run to the caves as soon as you get here."
Andreas ran as fast as his tired legs could carry him, with each step the Grandelfins were closing on him, the friends could kill the leaders but more came through. With a dive of desperation,  Andreas leaped over the pile of rocks, and for the first time in a long while started to calm down. He knew what he had planned the act of a desperate man, but he also knew it was their only hope. Amid the firing, he said. 
"I realize this is a suicidal plan, and we could die for no reason, but I plan to detonate the explosives and aim the explosion into the Sigalite under the ground. If all goes well, this will ignite the lava and cause such a shock wave that they'll stop chasing for a few minutes. Before you say it, I have considered the possibility the explosion could bring the face of the mountain down on us, and bury us alive under thousands of pounds of rocks."
Jacquin glanced at Calmerian and saw his friend give a small nod. Then he remarked. 
"It's better to die crushed under the rock face than to be torn to shreds by those creatures, let's do it!"
Desperate hands dug into the soil as they tried to dig a small hole for their charge to go. Their fingers were bleeding and sore, but the friends continued to dig. Andreas glanced at the hole and commented. 
"The hole should have been bigger, but we don't have the time for exact measurements. Put all you've got left in the hole, and then run for all you're worth; you too, Calmerian. I want at least one of you to get to the others, and I am too tired to run anymore. If my death saves your lives, I'll die happy. Now I made the final speech I suggest you get the hell out of here when you cross the little ridge about 1,000 meters behind us I'll set this baby off."
The party of friends shook Andreas by the hand, and with tears in their eyes, they started to run toward the ridge that Andreas indicated. He knew this was as far as they'd get in the time he estimated he had remaining before the smoke blew away, and his position became exposed - he wasn't wrong. He looked back quickly to see his friends cross the ridge and turned his attentions to the lower side of the slope he faced. As the last wisps of smoke from the numerous fires died down, the Grandelfins emerged; some were bleeding, other showed signs of burns, but they still approached at a gallop. He smiled and muttered. 
"Well, I can think of a lot easier ways to cross over, but fewer nobler. If I am to die this way, then I die free - I hope they make it to  the caves." 
Andreas fired one shot into the explosive mixture, and then he got to his feet and started to count down."
"Five, Four, Three, Two, One." 
As he reached One, he smiled again as the ground below his began to erupt in spouts of poisonous gasses and flames. The heat from the flames ignited the gas making the fumes more toxic. He smiled and whispered to the wind.
"On schedule, thank you O Great Siglund, for giving me this glorious death."
The tremors caused Andreas' tired legs to fold under his weight, as he lay there waiting for his end, he saw the Grandelfins choking in the burning flames, and he smiled. After that, all he recalled was a blankness and no pain, this he assumed to mean he'd crossed over and was in the Hall of Heroes. This arena of hallowed souls, he'd always thought of as being a myth perpetrated to instill the warriors with courage in the face of death, but here he was.
Inwardly, he smiled, and tried to raise himself, but a gentle hand held him back.
"Don't try to move, Andreas. You can't feel pain because the herbs we use have a strong analgesic effect on your system.  You are lucky that one of our patrols found you when they did, a few more hours and you'd have been dead from shock. You must have been thrown clear in the explosion."
Andreas did as requested and laid down. He opened his eyes to see the kindly face of an elderly lady with long fiery hair and dark skin. Her wrinkled face glowed as his eyes glanced around her cave. After allowing his surrounding to register, she commented. 
"That was a brave and noble risk you took, and it paid off. Your friends are safe in the caves. Unfortunately, we can't say the same for you, and Plaminder squads are patrolling the area with one command - Kill Andreas of Thirlemre! I would offer you refuge here, but to do that would endanger our group and our mission to rescue the minds of the young people from the Game Lords, and we can't compromise our goals."
In pain, Andreas rolled over, and then he replied.
"I realize that because the work of a group known as The Word; people in our homeworld are reading. My people are in your debt for saving those whose minds have turned back to reading the works of Indie Writers; many of whom have had their writings destroyed. From what news I receive, there is a new uprising, and the Game Lords are no longer feared. Perhaps, one day, the Halls of the Learned can be restored in your honor."
The daylight from the cave entrance got blotted for a few seconds, and Andreas tried to get up. The lady patted him on the shoulder and then remarked. 
"Don't panic, the caves are well protected and go for miles underground. We've been hiding here for years and still haven't mapped one-third of them. The man at the door is Peter Grounder; he'll be your guide as far as we can take you. By the way, my name is Kabel; you may hear of our group in the future. It is an honor to meet with you, Andreas of Thirlmere, long may your battle be brave."
Andreas staggered to his feet, and winced as the pain shot through his body, and then he said his farewell. 
"Kabel, long may your battle to win the minds go on; you do an excellent job, and we hope it will continue. Before I go, can I ask a favor, please?"
Kabel smiled and commented. 
"You can. I'll tell you that your friends know of your survival and are on their way as we speak. I hope our two bands of warriors will join forces one day, Andreas."
Peter guided Andreas to the cave entrance, and saw the wounded warrior glance back and heard him say. 
"I can assure you when that day comes, Kabel, all Cartinor will rejoice for we are the saviors of the people."
With a gentle prod, Peter reminded Andreas they had a journey to make in the fading light of the day. A day when the leaders of two disparate groups met and became friends, and more importantly comrades in war.
Peter and Andreas set off in the darkening of the first day of the new age, as they passed beyond the trees Andreas enquired. 
"Who do you people see in this light, Peter?" 
Peter stopped walking to reply. 
"Over the eons, our eyes have adapted to the changes in light caused by the various chemicals used during the Indie Wars, but we're not fully adaptive like the Grandelfins, or the Plamindians; that is why we must get to the clearing and signal your friends before the light goes. Once the light goes, I am as blind as you are, but the Sand Demons use the dark to hunt?"
Andreas looked ahead and replied. 
"Sand Demons? Who are they?"
Peter's body gave a shiver, and he replied. 
"For now, all you need to know is even the Game Lords fear them. Nobody in their right mind leaves the cities after nightfall."
As Andreas tried to imagine creatures so powerful that the Game Lords are afraid of them, Peter said. 
"There's your signal, Andreas. Have a safe journey to the caves. We'll meet again of that I'm certain. This war has only just begun, and we need everyone we can muster for our side." 
Andreas dashed to the site of the flashing beam, and into the arms of Sharinar. Sharinar had to give Andreas a warning. 
"I'd best warn you now that Jacquin and Perrruvia were having a row when we left, as were Calmerian and Tringar. I can foresee many rows in their futures but much love as well."

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