Part Seven

Goblins were dropping now. It was strange to watch the steady, straight lines of quick-marching goblins. Every few seconds, some Marine would get lucky, and find a gap in some unlucky goblin bastard’s armor, and he’d drop like his cords were cut. Smooth as silk, to the shouts of the NCO file closers, the ranks would dress and close up.

They weren’t slowing them at all, and they weren’t killing them fast enough.

At three hundred meters, grenades started falling in the goblin ranks. The grenades just weren’t powerful enough to kill; all they did was knock a few goblins off balance. The machine guns he’d placed at intervals along the low wall started reaching out, to an all-too familiar lack of effect.

Damn! They could aim, but no matter how good his Marines’ marksmanship, hitting an eye slit an inch wide bobbing up and down at 200 yards and more was a lot to ask. All they could do is pour lead down range and hope some of it stuck. Boom! another IED went off on the road.

The “Huuh! Huuh!” chant came faster. The goblins charged up the hill, some still carrying banners despite Evans’ best efforts. They were dropping faster now, his men steady and increasingly accurate as the range closed. A thousand monsters from hell charged up the hill and they knelt and fired. He throat tightened as he watched these Marines, his men, perform like nothing he’d ever seen.

Lewis dropped back to his post at the road. He had the measure of the enemy coming up the slope. We’ll bleed them, and they’ll hesitate, he said to himself. And if they can’t taste it, they’ll fall back. They had before. The decision point would be the roadway.

***

Pethoukis stood with the Captain behind the wall. They heard the clattering of the enemy’s gear, the stomp of their armored feet on the broken asphalt. The steady chant of, “Huuh! Huuh!” beat time under the skirling of the goblin horns.

Over the rough pile of rubble, his men methodically aimed and fired. The goblins were past the second to last barricade. Lewis watched the front rank cleared, eight goblin dropped by lethally accurate fire. The rank behind marched over the corpses, unsteady for a moment and then breaking into a dog-trot again. And again, Boom! the last of the IEDs buried in the roadway went off, an old 155 mm Iraqi army howitzer shell. Most of the blast was focused upward by the ground, but still Lewis felt the concussion from over a football field away like a punch in the gut. Two dozen goblins flew off the roadway to lie broken in the gullies to either side.

The column paused, cried, “Huuh!” clapped swords to shields in a deafening clatter, and marched forward. Lewis glanced at the marker on the side of the road, 100 m.

He could feel the goblins. They were eager. They wanted blood. And they were determined to get it.

By some miracle, the goblin banner man stayed alive. Rounds were sparking off his helmet and his head jerked every time one hit. But he kept charging, waving his blood-red flag. Lewis screamed, “Someone wax that fucker! I need that goblin down!”

The M2 machine gunner on the corner of the barricade just held down the paddles of his weapon, a stream of fire reached out, tracers visible even in the awful glare of a desert noon. The banner snapped in half, struck by a .50 cal round, the cloth dropped to the ground. The goblin stared at the broken stick in its hand for half a moment. Then it screamed, tried to catch the fallen flag, and danced as rounds hit his armor. One round found a weak point at the knee, he fell backwards. Two rounds went under his chin and he died, blood pouring out of his helmet.

Still the column advanced relentlessly, “Huuh! Huuh!” Through the dark slashes of the helmet eye slits, Lewis could see the goblin’s eyes showing white against their dark skin. Crazed with fear, anger and rage. Remarkable, he thought. He could feel his own adrenaline pumping, narrowing his vision. He shook his head slightly and took a deep breath.

Lewis looked to his left, where Pethoukis knelt by the detonator, behind the barricade. “Now, sergeant!”

Pethoukis pushed down on the detonator. Lewis looked back. Nothing. The sergeant pressed down several more times.

“Pethoukis!”

The sergeant dropped the detonator, and frantically followed the wires. “I don’t know, Captain!”

Oh fuck, fuck, fuck. For what we are about to receive….

The Marines on the wall for the first time looked unsteady. Their M4′s couldn’t mount a bayonet and made a shit-poor club.

Pethoukis ran along the barricade to where the wires went under. Thirteen hundred gallons of completely non-exploding gasoline fucking wasted.

Too late. Lewis watched the first goblin clear the wall, bracing himself to leap with his left hand, sword in the right. His bronze armor almost glowed it was so brightly polished. Jardine and Webster reversed their weapons and attacked. Webster hit the goblin in the chin, rocking him, only to take the goblin’s sword straight through the neck. His head flopped over backwards as he toppled. Jardine caught a goblin sword with his rifle. The goblin was murderous quick, dropping the sword back and coming in again slicing through his Jardine’s hip. Corporal Jardine dropped screaming and spraying blood.

Pvt. Inman dropped down on his back and fired straight up into the eye of his attacker, dropping him in a spray of blood. Inman scrambled back like a crab, but the next goblin over the wall speared down with his sword, ending Inman.

Lewis screamed, “To me! To me!” He pulled the goblin helmet down over his head.

***

“Don’t see this every day,” he thought and missed Jackson. And then he was in it.

Private Chen was scrambling back, firing. A goblin lunged with his sword. Chen tried to parry the blow with his carbine, but the goblin was faster. The sword went straight through the ceramic and Kevlar body armor into Chen’s chest and he fell. Arp, Simons and Angelo charged forward. That morning, Arp had said, “Captain, you and the Sergeant stay back a bit, attack what gets through, they’ll be off balance.”

That plan went right in the shitter. Lewis had hung back, slightly – he knew that the other three were a damn sight better at medieval combat that he was. A half hour of swinging at a tree fucked up the tree right well, but it didn’t make me a swordsman, he thought. But at least it didn’t feel like jerking off with his left hand to hold the sword. That’s a start.

The three armored Marines crashed into the first rank of goblins over the wall. Arp lunged, caught the center goblin in the throat before he could react. He twisted the saber as he recovered from the thrust. Blood ran down the dark blade.

Angelo was a mad little fucker, swinging both axes at the nearest goblin. He wasn’t much taller, but the goblin had speed on him, and reach. They traded blows until someone put a bullet through the goblin’s eye. Angelo leapt forward, swinging at the foot of the next goblin coming over the wall, toppling him back.

A half-dozen goblins had made it over the wall. They wanted a beachhead; and Lewis knew if he didn’t prevent that, they were all dead. Lewis faced off. His opponent was short like most of the bastards, but he had long arms. His sword was shorter than Lewis’ stolen blade, straight like a Roman legionary’s sword.

The goblin slid his right foot forward and stabbed upwards. Lewis was holding his sword low, the way Arp had instructed. He moved, awkwardly, to block. The goblin backed off, feinted, came in from the other side. Lewis’ vision went gray. He felt a moment of panic before the fear bled away. The sword, of its own accord though it was Lewis’ muscles driving it, snaked right, scraped along the edge of the goblin’s gladius and turned, flicking it almost contemptuously out of line.

Lewis shuffled two half steps forward, his movement confident and assured. His sword dropped low, caught the goblin in the hip where his leg armor met the segmented body armor. Lewis felt the sword *hesitate*, almost like it was negotiating with the armor, and it was through. The goblin cried out, the sound muffled by the enclosing helmet. Lewis watched its eyes widen in pain.

The captain stepped back, cocked his arm. Straightened, and the sword leapt forward, piercing the goblin’s throat. It gurgled and fell.

What the fuck, over? He saw a blur over to the left and the sword was there, parrying, beating back. He half-spun, swung, and the goblin was minus an arm. He saw Simons dueling with a goblin, pressed hard. His armor had gouges already where the goblin’s sword had scored it.

“Huuh!” The captain spun back right. The sword floated out, light as a laser, shortened the next goblin. The head rolled back and blood shot up in the sky, black in Lewis’ colorless vision. This is kinda cool, he thought. He saw another goblin drop, drilled though the eye by a bullet. Time was slowing almost to a standstill and Lewis was speeding up.

Simons fell, bleeding. Arp was fighting two goblins and Angelo was nowhere to be seen. The Marines had backed up maybe twenty feet and were pouring fire into the breach, knowing they weren’t likely to hurt their own. Lewis saw sparks glinting off armor as bullets hit.

Lewis strode forward. He laid blow after blow, cutting through armor that thousands of his bullets hadn’t even scarred. Angelo reappeared, swinging blood-drenched axes and screaming. Lewis couldn’t hear what he said.

Goblins were pouring around them. There’s not enough to stop them. They’re going to roll us up. His sword found a gap or made one in the gut of another goblin.

The gray sky wheeled. Lewis fell so, so slowly. Color seeped back into the world. Yellow sun and blue sky. And red, orange and black fire.

***

His head throbbed. He could barely open his eyes. Lewis struggled up, his hand searching for his sword.

“Captain, it’s alright.” He recognized Pethoukis’ gravely voice. Nothing was working right.

The world slowly came into focus. He was leaning against the wall of the gas station, looking up at Arp, Pethoukis and Evans.

Evans cocked a thumb at the Sergeant. “Pethoukis managed to light off the gasoline bomb. That’s what knocked you on your ass, sir. They all fell back after the barbecue. Must of lost a couple hundred in the fire alone.”

“They’re regrouping on down by the bottom of the road,” Pethoukis added. “They’ll be coming back. And there’s another group coming in from the west.”

The captain wearily got to his feet. “What’s the bill, sergeant?”

“Twenty-seven dead, five wounded. Two bad, probably won’t make it. Simons bled out before we could help him. You should see his armor, it’s cut totally to shit.

“Most were at that road barricade, killed when they breached the wall. Some got loose and hit us from behind on the wall. Was a hard time putting them down.” He sighed. “Evans estimates we got 250, maybe 300 of them. Big part of that was the firebomb. And we can’t play that card again.”

We’re down to what now, 82? Even if we got 500 of them, there’s still over a thousand of them, and more coming. And us fresh out of mortars, grenades, mines, and gasoline – and low on ammo.

“And, uh… sir? What exactly happened to you on the wall?” asked Arp. “This morning you were hacking that tree like a retard – sorry, sir – and at the wall you turned into fucking Zorro.”

Lewis paused. “I don’t know, Corporal. I don’t know what happened. It wasn’t me – I know I can’t fence for shit.” He looked down at the sword in his hand. It felt no different than it had when he first picked it up; light, well-balanced, well-made. And completely different from the fight, where it was the angel of death. “Death is light as a feather…”

“Pardon, sir?”

“Arp, it wasn’t me. It was the sword. I was just along for the ride.”

The four Marines stared at the sword. “Did you feel anything weird, Arp? Vision, anything?” Lewis asked.

“No sir.” Arp paused, thinking. “That sword you gave me is a wonder, sure. Light, strong, perfect balance, and sharper than a bag full of razors. I can do things with it I could never have done with any sword I’ve ever used before. But it was all me driving.”

Lewis said, “I don’t know how to describe it. My vision went kind of black and white. The sword was doing the fighting, reacting – but I was choosing targets. I was in control, always. It’s hard to explain.”

Coleman walked up. “Looks like the captain found a +5 vorpal sword.”

“Excuse me?”

“A magic sword, sir. I saw you take the head off that one bastard, smooth as silk. Snicker-snack.”

The captain shook his head, painfully. Coleman was a bit much sometimes. Most times.

“Pethoukis, see to evening out the ammo. We need to get ready for the next dance.” He sheathed his sword. It felt right, now, that’s for damn sure.

“Get working parties out, salvage the goblin’s armor and weapons.”

“Already done, sir.”

***

From the top of the gas station, Lewis and Evans watched doom approach. A body of mounted goblins rode in from the west, leaving an enormous rooster tail of dust stretching up into the sky.

“I make it about 5, 550, sir.”

“Lots of banners. Is it me, or do these ones look taller than the others?”

Evans lowered his binoculars. “Not sure, hard to tell at this distance.”

The small regiment wasn’t coming straight for the village. They angled slightly north, heading for the goblins. Probably be another planning conference. The goblins seemed to be standing down a bit, though they were still in ranks.

Whatever respite I can get, he thought. Life is sweet when it’s measured in minutes.

The armor on the new goblins was brighter, where it was visible. Evans thought they were wearing something over the armor; Coleman said it was probably a surcoat.

Evans raised his binoculars again. “Captain?”

“Yes?”

“Take another look. The one about five in from the right end of the first rank. He’s a lefty, his shield is hanging on our side.”

Lewis scanned, searching. He saw the white shield, sure enough. Red something. He adjusted focus. “What the hell?”

“Is it me or is that a big ol’ red cross painted on that shield?”

***

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Continue on to Part Eight