Panzer Dragoon Zero
Chapter 2: Battle for the City
They drove around the wall cautiously. There was nothing worse than catching these guys unawares, as a stryder that found itself frightened would go berserk, and would panic. Golia squadrons Two and Three were ahead of the other squadrons. They stopped at the top of a small rise, leaders pondering what to do. The western rim of Natalis was the only side of the wall that could be traversed by skimmers. The other three sides were densely populated forests, and the trees were spaced too close together for anything but a coolia to travel through. Even the western side wasn’t completely devoid of any vegetation. About one hundred feet up the sandy banks were the beginnings of the forest. It was in this sandy space that the battle would have to be fought.
“I’m gonna tell you this once more…” came the transmission from III-1. “We can’t take any time up here. The others will be five minutes or more, anything could happen between now and then.”
“But look at them. We’re only twenty units, and we’ll have no chance if we go at them now. If we don’t wait, we’ll be served up as lunch. Trust me, I’m more experienced that you are Tyrell,” was the reply from II-1.
Nestlis listened as the two Captains of other squadrons argued across the plain. The perimeter wall of Natalis was huge, so it’d take them a few minutes to get to the stryder pack. The skimmers hummed quietly now as their engines warmed up. A few minutes later the skimmers of Golia’s two and three came into view, all perched at the top of a hill.
“What’s the new kids name?” It was Golia Two’s leader, aka II-1.
“Erm, I’m not sure…”
Then, Nestlis heard Esker speak up over the radio: “My name’s Captain Esker.” Nestlis smiled to himself. I bet that felt good, didn’t it Esker?
“How long is it gonna be before you lot get here?”
“I’m not sure, two to three minutes I think Sir.”
“Did you hear that Tyrell? Can you not hold on for three minutes?”
As if it was a response, Tyrell grunted.
“That wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
The other skimmers joined up with Two and Three a few minutes later and by now the stryders had started honking and acting cautiously towards the group. Each skimmer squadron had ten vehicles in it, so the fifty were now sitting atop the rise, forming a plan of attack. The stryders were starting to get more agitated, and were starting to honk louder. It was an eerie, otherworldly sound that resonated from the creature’s throat and out its mouth like a bullet. It shook the plexi-glass of the skimmers.
“That’s awful!” yelled Golia One’s leader. “We gonna do something or just sit here like a bunch of melons?”
“Quiet Razor,” warned Wilson. “These guys have seriously sensitive hearing.”
“Listen I don’t see what the problem is,” said Esker.
“Well if they hear any noise, they might-“
“No not about the noise, about the tactics. We have fifty skimmers against about a thousand stryders. That’s too many stryders for them to operate a decent attack. If we line the skimmers up, and fire at them from here, I reckon we’d be able to take out at least a hundred, maybe two hundred if we’re very lucky, before they get to us. Maybe about fifty might get trampled to death by the others running from behind them, and then we’ll be able to get into proper combat.”
There was silence for the moment.
“I must say, that’s well thought out,” said Wilson.
“We could always retreat to the forest if things go bad, the trees are wider over there and I think we might just be able to sneak through. Stryders don’t have good eyes for the dark do they?”
“Sounds good to me,” said Wilson. The other leaders signalled their agreement. “Alright men, line the skimmers up.”
“Ah, so good of you to join us Emperor Cruitin,” stated Lord Niro.
“In this situation my Lord, nothing is as good as it first appears.” Cruitin dismissed the Lord’s puzzled look and asked for a drink. As it was brought over, a young lady entered the watchtower, clutching to a clipboard and almost tripping over her shoes with nerves. She looked around the room before spotting the man she wanted, and hurried over to him.
“Excuse me your highness.”
“Yes young lady, how may I help?”
“I have been assigned as your new personal assistant. My name is Brava.”
“Ah yes, my new assistant. I hope you’re more capable than the last. Come my dear, watch heroes in the making.” He pointed towards the large glass window overlooking the western perimeter.
“Aw, I don’t know if I can sir…”
The stryders were now extremely agitated, and were strutting around in circles, still honking away. The skimmers had lined up on the ridge and were now locking their tracer cannons on the enemy.
“Ready everyone?” said Wilson. He’s seemed to have taken the control of this mission away from the Golia Leader, I-1, thought Esker.
Ready? As if! Nestlis thought, as he flipped open the cover of the tracer firing system.
“On three men…”
This was the biggest moment of his life, thought Nestlis.
This was the end of his life, thought Esker.
And then, at the same time, they both thought…
…‘What the hell?’
A stream of fire rained down onto the stryders from the entire line of skimmers. The orange rainbow illuminated the sky with bright colour and filled the air with an arid cloud of smoke. At first the tracers were successful, and couple of dozen stryders fell without moving a muscle. However loud the screamed their unworldly scream, the rain of fire silenced most cries. Then the stryders began to mobilise, and they started to charge towards the enemy. The ground thundered and shook, and the smoke rising up behind the pack leaders was disrupted occasionally by boulders being tossed up by the horde.
“Ok everybody, lets hit the gas and stir ‘em up a little!”
The skimmers flew off their slight incline and into the path of the onrushing stryders. When the beasts saw that their enemy was attacking, they seemed unsure of themselves once more and a couple started to retreat. The humans seized this slight blip in concentration though and charged their vehicles into their opponents, running the wary creatures over.
“My word Lord Tyrell,” snorted Lord Niro, “what a marvellous tactic our brave chaps out there are employing. Don’t you agree?”
Tyrell watched with intent as another stryder fell in the intense heat of the battle. “I would certainly tend to agree indeed.”
“I’m not sure where your son is Tyrell, can you see him?” asked Niro.
Tyrell scanned the battlefield, looking for the distinctive markings of the lead skimmers. “No, but I can’t make out leaders of four and five either. Only Wilson and Razor are distinguishing themselves at the moment. Ah wait, I think I see five now…”
Esker slammed on the brakes just as a large male reared its head up in front of him. Stryders were mainly desert dwelling creatures, but they were known to live in the surrounding forest aswell. They had triangular heads, small bodies and muscular legs. Their bodies were mainly a blood red colour, but with some lighter brown patches on their heads and upper back. The more dangerous stryders had a large horn protruding from their heads. These stryders were able to paralyse their victims, so it was imperative that nobody exited their skimmer.
The stryder Esker saw through his screen was one of the slightly more docile ones with no horn. It stared at him through the plexi-glass, eyeing him for a threat. Esker was about to blast it back to the ancients when somebody beat him to it. Tracer bullets from the left tore through the animal’s body and left it in a heap on the ground. Esker looked for the source of the bullets and realised it was Nestlis, who said down the radio “Did I just save your ass? Oh I think I did…”
“Ha, maybe so, but can you save your own ass? Take a peek to your right.” Esker had spotted the giant horned stryder charging towards Nestlis’ skimmer. He watched as Nestlis spun out the way before giving chase to the monster. It was then that Esker had to come back to his sense as one of the horned beasts had now set its eyes on him. With a quick tug of the controls the skimmer turned away from the beast and powered its way through the battlefield. He sped past Golia’s III-4 and V-7, who themselves were under vicious attack from the horned monsters. Damn it, why didn’t these contraptions have rear firing weapons as well as front firing ones!? He weaved in between everybody else’s personal battles, sometimes there were as many as eight stryders versus one skimmer. He sped through the legs of one beast, which immediately gave chase.
“Looks like our lad Esker is in a bit of trouble,” said General Rooget grimly.
Brava’s heart promptly fell, tumbling through her insides. She imagined that she heard a ‘clunk’ as it landed in her feet. She was about medium height, with green eyes and a dark complexion. At the moment her dark hair was hanging loosely around her shoulders, and she was biting her nails.
“He’s being chased by a couple, no, make that trio of stryders,” continued the General.
“What about my lad? Can you spot him?” enquired Lord Tyrell.
“No, and I take it your having no such luck either?”
Tyrell just shook his head.
“Have we actually had any loses yet?” asked Cruitin, the Emperor-to-be.
“No, I haven’t seen any, although its so confusing with all those monsters, it’s hard to tell.” Said Tyrell. “Wait… shit…”
Esker watched in horror as the skimmer flew through the air in front of him towards the outside of the city wall. It smashed into the concrete structure and came to rest at the bottom. The crumpled wreckage was smoking slightly from the back, and it didn’t help when a couple of stryders started to tear the vehicle apart. Right now though, as selfish as it might sound, Esker had his own problems to worry about. He had picked up another stryder, and it was another horned one at that.
“Nestlis how’s your situation?”
“Oh yeah, just fine and dandy cheers. I’m being chased by a couple of… things… that won’t leave me alone, I’m trying to avoid everybody else’s battles, and I’m meant to be trying to watch your ass but I don’t even know where you are!”
Nestlis couldn’t help him. “Don’t worry about me, I can fight my own battles.” He had to swerve to avoid IV-5, which was reversing away from three beasts while firing its lasers. Didn’t seem too bad an idea actually.
Esker slammed the brakes, and the creatures ran straight passed him before they realised he stopped. Esker blasted away with tracers and managed to get one of them, it fell to the ground with one final howl. The other two though had now realised he had stopped, and were charging him once again. He noticed that they were both the horned ones. He slammed into reverse, and used the mirrors on the sides of the craft to navigate while firing at his pursuers. They both bit the dust surprisingly easily, and now Esker was free from hassle for the meantime.
“Where are you Nestlis?” He blared down the radio.
“Right behind you, nice little trick you pulled of there.”
“Hey man that was easy, it was nothing,” he lied. “You need any help?”
“Nah man, everything is under control now. I was inspired by a lunatic.” He meant that he had copied Esker.
“Alright then people,” he switched to the radio channel for his entire group. “Who needs a little help?”
“Any ideas which skimmer that was??” asked Tyrell anxiously. Brava stood quietly behind him, ears almost twitching.
“No… but Lord Niro, you think it was a four?”
“I thought I saw its red markings, although I can’t say I’m certain.”
“In any case, it seems the battle is won, but not without its losses.” said Tyrell.
Nobody had noticed the trees shaking to the north, they shook rapidly, moving closer to the plain… like something was running underneath the canopy… something huge…
“Looking good guys,” said Captain Tyrell on the radio.
Wilson added his agreement: “I think there are about twenty left now guys… what the hell?”
With a few last honks, the remaining stryders stampeded away from the plain and into the southern section of the forest. Cheers went up on the radio, but Esker drove straight over to where the crumpled skimmer lay, climbed out of his machine, and went over to the pilot. Esker saw that he had a badly bruised, bloodied face, and was unconscious, maybe dead.
“We need to get him to a doctor, quickly.” There was tension in his voice.
“General Rooget, did you see that?” Emperor Cruitin sat forward in his chair.
“No, what was it?”
“There it is again! Watch the trees to the north!”
“They’re moving…?” A sudden flash of white appeared above the treetops, before disappearing again as quickly as it had appeared. “I hope that’s not what I think it is…”
“Can’t we call the men back in?” suggested Niro.
“No, we never set up a radio link between the squadrons and the city…”
“God they smell awful.” Nestlis referred to the many annexed bodies of stryders lying around the open space.
“I’m sure the fact that they’re dead doesn’t have anything to do with it.” Replied Esker sarcastically. “Look at all those flies…”
A deafening scream echoed around the clearing.
“What in the gods was that!?” exclaimed Razor, rather loudly.
The roar came again. The trees on the other side of the clearing burst apart and a full-sized, full-blooded Golia leapt into clearing and screamed at the men.
“Ah, this was most unexpected…” whispered Wilson.