Part Four

Ellis took aim, and began firing. He dropped one, two of the leading goblins. The rest slowed up, but only for a second. Ellis got two more, clean shots to the head. The goblins were closing unbelievably fast. Ellis stood, still firing. He downed another goblin at a range of inches.

The falling corpse slowed the next two for a second. Ellis shifted aim, dropped the one on the right. The one on the left raised its sword high, and chopped clear through Ellis’ Kevlar body armor. He didn’t make a sound. The goblin wrestled the sword from Ellis’ crumpled body.

The assault team broke into the open and scattered left and right, leaving a clear field of fire for Evans and the Marines in the ravine. The ravine was narrow here, only about 15m across and 3 or so deep. It widened to the north and shallowed out back toward the village. The Marines perched on the lip of the ravine, low to the ground and firing at at the goblins pouring into the street.

Evans switched to god mode. His rifle belched fire five feet into the blackness, and every time he fired, a goblin died. The other Marines tried to match him. Goblins were dropping, but the rest sure as hell weren’t stopping. The camp road was littered with dead tangoes.

Boom. Boom. Evans’ .50 rang out, and goblins dropped. Simmons opened up with his SAW, and grenades started dropping into the pack as the assault team made the ravine.

Lewis heard a roar behind him and the harsh hiss of tires scraping to a stop in sand. Lewis looked down and saw Pethoukis leaning out of the driver’s seat, yelling, “Load ’em up!” A Marine on the back of the humvee had his hands on the grips of a pintle-mounted M2HB .50 cal machine gun pointed skyward.

He turned back to the narrow dusty plain between the ravine and the camp. Bullets were bouncing off armor. At most the impact just knocked down the goblins, they just bounced right back up and rejoined the chase. Damn, that’s eerie, Lewis thought.

He shouted at his men to load up the humvees Pethoukis had brought. Once he’d gotten the signal, Pethoukis took five humvees on a speed run down out of the village, around the camp and up into the ravine. Lewis’ men threw bags into the back of the hummers and Arp wrestled their still unconscious goblin pet into the back of Pethoukis’ humvee. Pethoukis and the other drivers executed some quick three point turns to get facing the right direction for their exit.

Evans and most of the Marines were still facing the camp, now boiling like an ant nest. An ant nest that now has a target. The goblins poured out of the camp. The Marines poured fire on them, but even though they could hit their targets – maybe it was the goggles after all, Lewis thought – the goblins’ armor was still proof against anything but a shot to the eyes. They paused at the edge of the camp, and hunkered down behind their blocky rectangular shields.

Now was the time to fall back. Behind Lewis, Coleman was firing into the tents with a SAW, long bursts of automatic fire. The Marines lashed out with .50 cal, 5.56, and 7.62; with 40mm grenades. He could see the muzzle flashes in his peripheral vision; but the goblins weren’t dropping fast enough, and damn sure not stopping either.

Chaos, confusion, and death. He had intended to sow as much as he could. The fire on the far side of the camp looked bigger. The war horns were louder now and coming this way. Mortar shells were still raining down but slowing. We’ll need some tomorrow, he knew.

“Mount up!” he shouted, and Marines dropped down from the lip of the ravine and ran for the humvees.

Carl Lewis (no relation, he smirked) could sprint a hundred yards in seconds even without steroids. These assholes would beat him flat, Captain Lewis thought, even wearing armor. He turned and dropped, and slid down the gravelly side of the ravine to the deck ten feet below.

He watched the lip of the ravine as he jogged towards the waiting humvee.

Two goblins came leaping out over the edge and skittered down the slope, swords drawn. These two weren’t wearing armor, which is probably why they hit the ravine first. “Be prepared, assholes,” Lewis thought and raised his arm and calmly began servicing targets. Two quick pulls of the trigger and the one on the left dropped with two new eye sockets. He oriented on the second goblin, and dropped him with another double-tap.

He stepped quickly back, scanning for more tangoes. Shots rang out from behind. It sounded like the party was getting going for real now. A squad of goblins appeared and poured over the edge to his right. He turned and fired until the slide locked empty. Jackson fired madly into the rush and went down with a goblin sword cutting clear through his right arm above the elbow. Lewis saw the blood spray black and green. Two more Marines went down as Lewis popped another mag in his .45.

As his Marines struggled with the goblins he ran up to the nearest, stuck the end of the barrel right into the visor of his helmet and fired. Return fire from the humvees started clearing the deck as Lewis holstered his pistol and grabbed the arm of a wounded Marine and pulled him into a fireman’s carry.

Evans grabbed the wounded Marine and hauled him into the Humvee. Lewis shot a quick look back. More goblins were dropping into the ravine back where he’d just been. In seconds they were running full speed down the rough floor of the ravine. One tripped and fell screaming and grabbing his ankle. Without NVGs, running in the dark is dangerous. Lewis and his Marines commenced firing.

Some were armored, some not. Their mojo didn’t seem to be working all that well and the Marines’ marksmanship cut into them, hard. They dropped, sometimes hit multiple times. Of course, the armored ones as often as not just jumped up again.

The unarmored ones stayed down.

The .50’s on the humvees opened up and pushed the goblins back like a fire hose. The goblins scrambled to regain their feet. Evans was dropping them one by one but they were piling up behind too fast.

Behind them, more goblins poured over the edge.

Lewis and the last three Marines leapt into Pethoukis’ humvee and they tore off into the darkness, leaving the screaming, hissing goblins behind them. And at least ten Marine dead.

***

Safely back in the village, Marine sentries kept watch for goblins following, but it looked like they’d given up and gone home.

Lewis supervised the unloading of the booty. He had it hauled into the local restaurant and coffee house and called for Pethoukis to join him. The three wounded he sent over to the corpsman. Two were only scratched, really. The third, he wasn’t sure if he would make it. The rest of the assault team he dismissed to rack out.

“We lost Jackson. Ellis. Nine others,” Lewis said.

Pethoukis nodded. “Well, we stirred them up, anyway.”

Lewis grimly nodded toward the pile of duffels and tarps. “Lets see what we bought. We paid enough for it.”

As he walked over, he looked down at the sword he had taken, hanging from its baldric. It looked odd hanging there, tooled leather over his marcam fatigues and Kevlar body armor. The leather was dyed red, as was the sword belt he’d slung over his shoulder and across his chest. He picked it up. It looked like the leather on the scabbard was stretched out over a wood frame. The hilt of the sword was black leather wrapped with what looked like very finely-drawn silver wire.

He drew the sword. “Pethoukis, look at this.” The two Marines looked at the weapon. The blade was long and straight. Fairly thin, too, from what little Lewis remembered of a brief childhood fascination with knights. The metal looked like brightly polished steel and engraved inside the shallow runnel that ran down a third of the length of the blade from the hilt. The engraving looked like runes, writing of some kind, he guessed. Certainly nothing he recognized and fantastically baroque in its ornamentation.

Not at all like the Marine officer’s sword he wore at formal occasions.

The rest of the sword was plain, more or less – a simple cross piece of silvery metal with delicate gold inlays done in intricate curving patterns. The pommel was silver too, and shaped like a donut, oddly enough. The donut had the same gold inlay as the crossguard.

Pethoukis bent down and peered at the blade. “Look at the wavy lines, sir,” He pointed with a finger, “It’s like those Japanese swords. They had wavy lines like this.”

“Watermarks,” Lewis said.

“Yeah, that’s it. The show said that swords from Damascus had that, too.”

“The best blades all did, sergeant, from what I remember.”

Arp and two other Marines entered the diner carrying the goblin prisoner on a makeshift stretcher. It was still unconscious, though the bandages they’d applied to its face seemed to have stopped the bleeding. They set him down near the Captain. Arp said, “Medic says it looks like a broken nose and a nasty concussion. He should live.”

“Go tell the corpsman when he’s done, to please meet me here.” They nodded and left the room.

Lewis sheathed the sword. He and Pethoukis each grabbed a duffel and heaved it up onto the table. Pethoukis unzipped the duffel and started pulling things out. A helmet. Some ordinary-looking gloves. An amulet. More armor.

Pethoukis shook his head. “Is all this magic?” he asked quietly.

“The helmet, surely,” Lewis answered. “And the armor. The weapons. I don’t know but it doesn’t seem that everything would be. Does everything we have have a computer chip in it? Those tents looked ordinary enough. They didn’t glow or shock your ass across the camp when you touched ’em.”

“I suppose.” Pethoukis picked up the helmet again. “It seems lighter than it should be.”

“Let me see,” Lewis asked. He took the helmet from his Sergeant. It did feel light, not that he’d held lots of magic helmets. He turned to Arp, “Arp, toss me your Fritz.” Arp unbuckled his kevlar helmet and tossed it to the Captain.

Lewis held one in each hand. The goblin helmet was lighter. That didn’t seem right; it was solid, he could feel it. He looked more closely. The helmet looked vaguely Viking – a bit conical, with a nose guard and cheekpieces bending over to cover the face. He spun it round, and looked in the open bottom of it. The metal was thick; it looked like steel. Fine workmanship too, he saw. There was subtle, artistic engraving all over the helmet. Some of it looked like it could be script, though he couldn’t be sure. Almost arabesque. This thing should weigh a lot more, and it shouldn’t feel like he was holding a bicycle lid.

“Super light armor? Like it wasn’t enough that it was bullet proof.” He set the helmet down. Aside from a more or less complete set of armor, another sword, a small axe and a big knife, the rest of the items in this duffel looked like personal gear. Canteen, shaving kit, clothes. The items were all recognizable, yet clearly not like any specific design he’d ever seen.

Pethoukis looked up from the other duffel. “Same here, Captain. All personal kit aside from the armor and sticky bits.”

“Let’s start a pile of weapons and another for things that might be useful or we can’t figure out. The personal stuff, ah, put it over there in the corner. Arp, why don’t you haul that big bundle up? Oh, and Pethoukis, make sure the sets of armor stay together.”

“I think the armor is as light as the helmet, Captain. All this together can’t weigh more than a wet cat. Ten pounds at the outside.”

Lewis gathered all the armor from his duffel together and lifted it. Pethoukis was right. This stuff was a damn sight lighter than his gear, and his gear certainly did not make .50BMG rounds bounce. Lewis made a neat stack over by the door to the kitchen. Pethoukis did the same.

Arp grabbed the big bundle he’d carried out of the command tent. One corner was stained with blood. It didn’t look any different from human blood. Arp unrolled it.

Lewis went immediately for the papers from the table. A large piece of parchment was crumpled around a metal platter. At least I guess it’s parchment Lewis thought. It’s far thicker than regular paper. Feels different, too. He unwrapped it. He hefted the silvery plate. “This weighs what it should weigh, anyway,” he said. He set that aside and smoothed out the paper. On it, roughly drawn in black, was what looked like a map of the village and surrounding area.

“They understand the importance of maps,” he said. Putting aside the map, he reached for another parchment. It was covered with unintelligible script, densely written in a purple ink. It had a wax seal at the bottom. That he set aside as well.

The three sorted through all the gear they’d taken from the camp. They’d netted five full suits of armor, counting the armor their captive was wearing when Lewis cold-cocked him. They had two extra helmets, eight swords on top of Lewis’, fifteen knives and daggers, two hand axes, and a nasty-looking flanged club that Lewis remembered was called a mace.

The smaller knives were very different from the bigger fighting knives. They looked like they were made with a lot less care, or by less skilled craftsmen than the others. They didn’t have the delicate inlays, engraving, or watermarks of the nicer articles. Pethoukis had tested them all, and the smaller ones, he guessed, were for eating because they didn’t have any sort of super sharpness.

Pethoukis took a foot-long dagger – it looked kind of like a Bowie knife – and carefully cut a long, thin sliver off the barrel of his rifle. But the better ones, Lewis thought, damn! Pethoukis raised an eyebrow. “Real close shave, sir.”

Lewis took one of the axes and took a swing at one of the thick wooden posts in the middle of the dining area. He tensed a little for the impact – but there was none to speak of really. The axe went clear through the five inch wood pillar. He looked at the edge of the axe, it was unchanged.

Pethoukis whistled. “That’s sharp.”

Lewis drew his sword. He knew how to use an axe – he’d chopped wood most of his life. But the sword felt unwieldy, despite the time he’d spent with his Marine Mameluke sword. He held it in front of him and swung it tentatively. Pethoukis grinned.

“Feels weird holding a sword, Sergeant.”

Arp spoke up. “Captain, if you don’t mind, why don’t you give me a minute with that.”

Lewis raised an eyebrow.

“I, uh, have some experience with these things.”

“What? How?” Pethoukis asked.

“Let me guess, SCA?” Lewis asked.

“Uh, no. I never was in that. But I fenced in college.”

“What’s an SCA?” Pethoukis wondered.

“Medieval re-enactors. Like at renaissance fairs.”

“Okay. Is that real sword work, or just play acting?”

Arp said, “From what I know, the SCA types try to get as close as they can – but they use padded swords. They’re used to wearing armor like this, though.” He waved at the armor stacked in the corner.

“Do we have any with us?” Pethoukis asked. “Their hobby just became a little less irrelevant.”

“I don’t know,” Arp said, “But Coleman probably would. And Simons fenced too. We practiced, sometimes, back at the FOB.”

“Arp, when we’re done here go find Simons. Pethoukis, put the word out – anyone who was in the SCA, report to me ASAP. Shit, anyone who played dungeons and dragons in high school. They’re likely to have better ideas about this than I will.”

Lewis handed the sword to Arp. Arp was a big man but moved like he was smaller. He gripped the sword lightly it seemed, but he had the look of competence. Arp tossed the tip of the sword slightly, feeling for the balance. He faced off near the heavy wooded door to the kitchen.

He held the sword up, looked down the blade, and then dropped into a fencing stance. He lunged, fast, and the blade went right through the door like it wasn’t even there, and back out as Arp recovered from his lunge.

“That’s one wicked sharp sword, sir. I barely felt it hit the door.” His eyes were wide with amazement.

“Arp, you just earned yourself a sword. Pick whichever one you like. Hell, you might just become the first Marine Corps qualified expert swordsman in God knows how long.”

Arp handed the sword back to Lewis and walked to the wall. He picked a larger, longer sword, which from the shape of the scabbard had a bit of curve to it in contrast to Lewis’ arrow-straight longsword. He drew the blade. It had a slight reddish cast to it, but Lewis could see the wavy lines parallel to the edge. The blade was thin, with an beautiful curve to it, like a cavalry saber. It purely looked mean. And lethal.

Arp gave it a tentative swing. He walked to over to the other post and lightly flicked his sword. The post obligingly split itself in two. Arp looked over at the captain. “Sir, you’re my new hero,” and grinned an impossibly wide grin.

***

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