IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume VI: The Rift
We Meet at Abojan Pass
Sunday, February 21, 2709, continued
Let's see...trying to think...see...yes, that's it, see—survey the land from this hill...That's it! Before the garbage ravine starts, there's a broad space between the hill and the manor...now full of tents. They must have added people, or maybe figured out that we went that way before. I chuckle nervously—that must be the punishment quarters. But no, the smell doesn't rise so high, that's right...and get your mind back where it belongs!
The building itself has two halves, the south half dedicated to storage, that being the coldest quarter...except I suddenly find myself bewildered as to which way south lies. My own trembling angers me but I can't make it stop. I'm not myself anymore, not even in little things that I used to rely upon. I have really got to get serious about cutting back on the greenfire!
Well, no helping it, now–and no room for excuses. We all know what we came here to do. I suddenly feel so, so tired, but I suck it up and stick another leaf in my mouth; resolutions will have to wait till afterwards, if we see an afterwards. It takes a moment. It takes forever. It doesn't work so well anymore...damn it! Not now, of all times, don't fail me now! Oh wait...there, something. Not enough, but something, anything'll have to do.
Okay, then. I signal my forces and we come whooping down the hillside, howling out our war-cries like we could make them all drop dead of heart attacks or something. But I can't even feel my heart pound like it used to at times like this, just my feet, punishing me and the hillside all the way down.
We rush the guard, crushing them under a ragamuffin wave of too many flooding in at once from our unlikely direction, and it just gets too chaotic to think from there. I stumble at the base of the hill, turn it into a roll at the last minute like I did it on purpose (and just in time, for shots fly over me!) and come up with tent-pegs in hand. I hit behind me before I strike ahead, feeling the enemy who rushed into my blindspot before I even know that I do. Speeded reactions take over–I let them rule my life! I knock a head with one hand, gash a gun-arm with another, thrill-terrified to stay a split-second ahead of their trigger-fingers.
I roll again on purpose out of another blast of fire and straight into a foxhole, all the sandbags facing the wrong way to protect the soldiers from us. I scuttle about on my knees to fight in that cramped space, tumble into somebody's lap, slam my head backwards against his teeth before propelling off of him into some other guy, kill him, find my arms grabbed and use their pull backwards to swing my feet up into a frontal assailant's chin to knock him unconscious. My captors kindly yank me to where I can get my footing, writhe from their grasp and finish them off.
Now I spin as I fight so that nobody can ever get behind me–I have become a tornado of war! In seconds I neutralize the whole row and leap dancing, laughing out of there, and now I feel it, I do, my heart beating, beating, beating! More men rush forward to dance with me, always more. I feel the flush in my face against the morning breeze, the heat radiating out from me–oh glory!
I don't shout orders anymore, I shove and smite, kick and gore, dodge and whirl and sidestep with my heart in my throat at every near miss, trying to scrabble into hand-to-hand range before anybody has time to raise a gun and shoot, trying again and again to keep everyone I engage in such a whirl that their buddies don't dare shoot at us, either. I leave another man dead from a blow to the throat; I don't keep track of how the others fare, but I work more to twist out of harm's way, myself, than anything else right now, watching for my chance, watching, dodging and scrambling and watching and hurting and watching...
There! The first rappelers skip down the mountainsides! Now more than ever must we keep the enemy distracted. I leap up on a barrel and give out three loud yips, then jump down laughing, twisting around gunfire. At my signal my reserve of wild women streak down our hill clad only in bandoliers, boots, and the savage paint of a badger's blood, screaming like furies and shooting as they run, their bare breasts bobbing defiance of the bullets coming back, but we don't have armor anyway.
And–perfect stroke! Somebody has fired up the ammunition-shack! Their sounds hidden by the explosion's roar, children swarm up the backsides of the cannon-nests and take down the gunners before they have time to switch to conventional rifles.
One cannon still roars—straight at the cliffs! God NO! I see rebels falling and then another blast and then dear God, again!
I stumble over bodies–theirs and ours–circling the building for the ladder that I've seen in flight, the one that goes up to the roof, to the cannon meant for me, above all distractions, firing now at our descending troops. I cringe at the sound of another blast.
Idiot! Who needs a ladder? I've gone too low on blood-sugar for full flight, but I can still run up the wall onto the roof and take a flying leap at the man behind the weaponry.
I tackle him and we fall hard on the roof, skittering and sliding over its terracotta corrugation as we grapple, trying to reach each other's throats, trying to kick each other's vitals—oh the deliciously hateful embrace! We roll off the side to a lung-stunning THUMP! while clay tiles fall with us and shatter. Somebody trips over us, cursing, and I don't even know which side. I don't break anything because he lands under me, and he doesn't break anything because I'm too light upon him to do much damage. But I catch my breath faster than he does, so I finish the job, and after he stops struggling and my tight fingers feel no further pulse, I stagger to my feet and look for other damage to inflict.
Cyran's troops have broken through on the other side—I see Cantunta out there--and more of the rappellers stream down all the time, but the enemy troops have numbers, too. And...good lord, is that Baruch? That is! I recognize him even through the bruises swelling up his face.—I promised his mother that I'd watch out for him!
I charge towards him, but the enemy keeps getting in the way. I body-slam somebody aiming at him, but I hit with all the impact of a leaf slapping a tree-trunk. No matter, I still messed up his aim; he shot a fellow-soldier in the ankle. Now he swings the rifle at me but I duck under it, grabbing his belt for balance, trying not to faint as I pull him off his center so I can knock his feet out from under him. I fall anyway, but I bring him down with me.
Baruch nails him. Then he nods to me and gives me a hand up, angry concern on his face. I stagger to my feet, force a grin, nod back, and toss the soldier's gun and ammo to a rebel I sense behind my left shoulder; the motion nearly throws me off my feet again. Baruch's gone, hunting other prey.
My head spins; I'm running out of me. Time to do something smart, maximum results for minimum expenditure. Time to think...think...no, engage before that guy kills me! More flurries of fighting, thank God or hell or the devil for my wicked reflexes, can't keep this up, I've got to do something before I pass out with no one to defend me.
Inside. Got to get inside. Military academies teach about Alexander's tactics, but not his psychology. All the best schools these days tell officers to stay apart from the fray if you can possibly manage it. She's got to be in there.
But where...kick the gun out of the hand pointing at me...how can I...whirring in my ears...fist to the stomach won't kill that one, but then pulling the same fist up to his chin knocks him out...where...
...There! An opening–I can make it to that door!
I slam inside–and curse my bad luck. I got turned around–this is the south end! I've entered the storage-side: a maze of boxes, jars, and rusting things, the noise of battle now muffled outside. I don't think the Abojans remembered half the things they'd accumulated here, while they lived, and now nobody left can guess. I do know one thing that I won't find in here, though–egress to the main building. No inside door connects the two.
Still, this mishmash certainly contains the wherewithal for someone like me to come out armed–and more to the point, fueled. I'm sure they must have some food stashed in here somewhere–that's half the point of putting storage on the south side, to keep food cool, besides insulating the rest of the house. I move about the place quietly, tottering a little, looking for that old, dead refrigerator where Deni used to keep her grain-goods safe from weevils when I see her!
Never mind what I said about luck–there she stands, General Aliso herself, in all her blonde-curled glory, up close and personal! She stands smack dab in front of the refrigerator that I seek–the General must have come in here to fetch something, all alone, moments before our attack–mere moments!