The Praedian Records

J.G. Phoenix

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 Fleeing Victory

Chapter Three

When they first arrived, Ricard wanted nothing more than to go down into the tunnels to escape the corrupted crystal mounds on the surface. Once they were in the tunnels however, he couldn’t wait to get back to the surface, away from the automated guns and greater number of corrupted crystals. After they came up for air only to be greeted by heavy gunfire, he realized that the 203rd’s first and biggest mistake was coming out here to begin with. They had no air support, and no idea how many they were fighting.

It could be a lot worse. While they were under fire, no one was out of action yet. Ricard guessed the rocks and uneven terrain around the tunnel entrance was providing cover for both sides. With one crucial exception coming over the horizon, the enemy could only shake them up for now.

“It’s just one drake! Shoot it down!” Lieutenant Rog tried his best to marshal the 203rd’s anti air tanks, but shells and rockets were coming down on them from every direction. In all the chaos, it was a wonder he was even able to keep track of the Munican bomber.

The anti air kept up the barrage despite the high explosive harassment, but the dragon-like plane managed to release its entire payload, receiving mostly superficial damage as it pulled out of its dive. The wounded drake left a trail of black smoke and dread behind as Ricard and so many others braced for the bombs. When they came down, the blasts were far, far behind them. Rog never gave the order for all units to report in. No one was anywhere near that impact.

Ricard came up through the commander’s hatch to see the rising smoke a fifth of a mile behind them.  “What, did he choke?” It took a special kind of idiot to miss by that much, Ricard mused to himself.

“He missed?” Nicholas called up from inside Chaser’s hull.

“By a country mile,” Ricard said, cocking an eyebrow at the dark column in the sky. “Something’s not right here.”

The sensor team’s report was the missing piece of the puzzle. “We think the tunnel’s collapsing, sir. Checking with the rear for confirmation. Over.”

If the tunnel collapsed, they couldn’t retreat from this attack underground. Ricard winced, realizing that dive bomber hadn’t missed his target at all. In fact, he may have doomed them all if the sensor team’s suspicions turned out to be true. They weren’t so far behind enemy lines that they couldn’t make it back to their allies with the fuel they had left, but they certainly weren’t going to fight their way back overland with enemies in every direction and no air cover.

Ricard had a feeling–a terrible sinking feeling that the Municans had an exceptionally large division of their own armored vehicles rumbling toward them at that very moment.

Lieutenant Rog swept the whole battalion with new orders, instructing the scouts to disperse and find the 203rd a way out of the area. The anti air tanks were to distribute themselves evenly throughout the formation of tanks as they formed a large defensive circle. Lastly, the light and medium tanks were to line up their shots carefully, and try to pick off any Municans that got too close.

The crystal mounds that subtly plagued them at the Cordaean ingress weren’t quite so numerous here; at least, Ricard thought to himself, maneuvering wasn’t going to be difficult. He slipped back into the turret and closed the hatch. “Alright, Nick, we hold here until one of the scouts finds a gap we can slip through.”

“So hull-down,” Nickolas began, before something occurred to him. “Hey wait, earth hull-down or metal hull-down?”

Ricard smiled bitterly. The terrain here was wildly uneven. There were plenty of spots to dig in and wait, but few of them offered a good enough angle to shoot back at anything that came their way. Metal hull-down it was.

“Chaser, get those arms deployed and cover your body. Then ease into our slot in the formation.”

Chaser rapidly unfolded its arms and the skirt armor attached to them as it began moving. As numerous tanks began to form a heavily armored circle around their logistics vehicles, more and more eyes looked to the sky. The 203rd’s formation would protect them from a good deal of the sporadic, random shells coming in, but from the sky, everyone knew they were starting to resemble an enormous bullseye. With all of their support units bunched up, a well placed airstrike would devastate them. It was up to the scout cars to find them a route out of this engagement, and fast.

Casey kept his head down as Alice raced around plumes of dirt and debris shooting up out of the ground. Whether it was a sudden turn or driving right over a mound, they were evading everything the Municans were throwing at them. It was times like this, when they were under fire and running for their lives, that Casey realized just how reckless the woman behind the wheel was.

“Ya didn’t have to jump that, did ya?” Casey pleaded as he bounced helplessly beneath his machinegun mount. If not for his helmet …

“We’re not taking hits, right? Feel free to complain when that happens.”

“Well that’s not fair-” Casey suddenly found his head firmly against the side of the scout car as Alice swerved to the right, narrowly avoiding another shell. Dust and smoke poured into the vehicle from the viewport and left Casey half blind. “That count?”

“No,” Alice called back, only sparing him a quick glance.

Casey tried to keep himself upright as the Municans threw more and more fire at them, but more than once he’d wound up on his back or dazed from smacking his head against something harder than his helmet. Wishing he had a seatbelt–and a proper seat for that matter–he put on his goggles and pulled his scarf up over his mouth before climbing back up to the gunner mount.

There wasn’t much for Casey to see outside at first, only the signs of battle behind them and the endless desert up ahead. Even so, he was relieved to not see any of their own nearby. That at least meant there were no casualties that he or Alice could confirm.

It wasn’t long before Casey noticed the lack of shells coming at them. Since Alice wasn’t driving like she wanted to flip the car anymore, he wasn’t getting thrown around like a ragdoll. The real question was what changed. “Why did they stop shooting us?”

There was no response. Casey smacked the roof with his palm a few times. “Alice, the shooting stopped. Think we broke through.”


“Time to call it in.”

“Wait.” Casey had to know what was happening, first. The Municans weren’t shooting at them anymore, but something was still coming in the distance. Like the first nasty surprise the 203rd received when they arrived, the next attack was coming from the air. He counted at least six drakes.

“I see them,” Alice called up to him. “We need to warn the Lieutenant.”

“Oh we’re gonna do more than just warn’em,” Casey said, grabbing onto his machinegun and doing a quick inspection. “Good, no damage.”

“We’re going to attack them?!”

“Just annoy’em a little. If even one breaks off and goes for us, then that’s one less for Rick to have to deal with.”

“Yes,” Alice half agreed, “but we don’t have a big enough gun to bring down a drake.” If one did decide to attack them, it would be all they could do just to stay alive. If they were doing this, Alice needed to find them some good ground. Her searching quickly went from hasty to desperate as Casey got the gun ready for ‘pester-fire.’

“There’s nothing out here,” she hissed. At least, she thought frantically, there was nothing she could see from such rough terrain. There could be an airport less than a mile from them and the only evidence would be the sounds of planes in the distance, along with the occasional low flier. They had to get higher anyway to get the drakes’ attention, so Alice brought them up onto another mound.

“Nice spot,” Casey called down, “Just be ready to move when one comes this way.”

Alice heard him, but said nothing, instead using their new vantage to search for something, anything that could help them.

“Heeeey!” Casey opened up on the formation of drakes as soon as they were close enough to see the bullets arcing toward them from the ground.

“Come on, come on.” Alice came up short in her search until, in a bid of desperation, she opened the driver side door and looked out behind them. Her eyes went wide by what they had missed on their way here. “Is that a village?” She wanted to take back those words immediately, noticing some of the buildings partially collapsed, and others being little more than foundations. It might have been a village at one point. Now, it was a ruin. Even so, that ruin was just the sort of cover they needed, and it wasn’t too far away.

“Casey, there’s a ruin behind us. As soon we get their attention we’re going there.” She wondered if he could even hear her over his own manic shooting. She doubted it; she could barely hear herself.

Suddenly, the shooting stopped. Casey leaned over his gun and tried to gauge the enemy’s response, but the drakes were still flying in formation. When Alice shut the door and leaned forward to get a good look herself, she saw the whole formation enter a wide turn to the southeast. Toward them.


“All six are coming?! What? It’s a 50cal, not a SAAM launcher! Alice get us out of here! Plan worked a little too well!”

“I noticed!” Alice got the car moving as fast as she could, and they nearly crashed driving off the edge of the mound. Six drakes, six armed drakes were coming straight at them with murderous intent. She didn’t like their odds with even one of those shrieking planes. “If we can just get out of the open we might have a chance,” she told herself.

All Casey could do for the moment was hang on as Alice evaded the drakes and tried to reach the ruins, the ruins neither of them could see anymore. There was one more thing he could do, Casey suddenly realized, something he should do while he still had the chance. He reached for the radio.

“The drakes peeled off?” Lieutenant Rog couldn’t credit something like that to the strength of the 203rd’s formation. Even with his anti air in position, they didn’t have enough firepower to completely repulse an airstrike. This formation was meant to keep the enemy on the ground from closing in unchallenged. Rog’s men were making themselves a big target for the fliers in exchange.

The Lieutenant tapped his operator on the shoulder. “Any news from the scouts?”

“Incomplete reports and a lot of screaming,” the operator shook his head, “Nothing actionable.”

It sounded like radio discipline was breaking down again. Rog needed a minute to try and come up with a plan, so he’d let his command vehicle’s operator, Lang, handle the radio station for a change. Unfortunately, he hadn’t come up with anything he liked, and the scouts hadn’t reported back with the intel they needed.

Getting out of this might require a gamble, a committed move made completely in the dark.

“Hold on,” Lang held out his hand to keep Rog’s attention, “This is Intrepid 1. 21, you’re breaking up. Repeat that. Over.”

“21?” Lieutenant Rog had a slightly incredulous look on his face.

“Intrepid 1 to 21. Good to hear. Get us some coordinates, then. That might be our ticket out of this mess. Over.”

Rog couldn’t hide the anticipation on his face.

“Sir, Intrepid 21’s scout vehicle made it out of the encirclement and found a ruin relatively close by. If the coordinates look good, we can probably muscle our way out and head in that direction.”

“Good. It’s not much, but an actual landmark will help us pull out of here. I’d also appreciate having better ground to fight on, if it comes to that.”

“Lieutenant, are we still on the mission?” That was a good question, so it was no wonder Rog’s driver, Tos, was asking.

Rog sighed, not quite sure himself. On the one hand, they were still at near full fighting strength. They were pinned down like rats, but if the enemy suddenly ran low on ammunition–something that wasn’t completely out of the question–the 203rd would be poised to make a violent comeback, potentially sweeping the field. It made the lieutenant wonder if the enemy had as many units out there as the incoming fire suggested.

“Yeah,” Rog gave the idea more consideration, “They could be playing us right now.”


“No one’s even sighted an enemy gun or tank yet. It feels like they’ve got us slightly outnumbered, but if that’s the case, they’re risking a lot by waiting for the drakes to bomb us into submission. They should be closing in before we get desperate enough to break out.”

“Ah,” Tos nodded, “You think they’re pinning us down until the main force gets here.”

“Those drakes they sent could actually be the main force, but there might be tracked reinforcements on the way,” Rog said. “They clearly knew we were coming, but they probably spread themselves out to make sure they caught us as soon as we came out of one of the tunnels.”

“In that case,” Lang began, looking away from his station, “We need to break out of here before possible reinforcements really close the net.”

“Or those drakes come back to hit us again. As soon as Intrepid 21 gets us those coordinates we’re making a break for it,” Rog decided. They had a bearing already, but the distance to the target would determine some critical details in the orders Rog was preparing to give the 203rd.

They didn’t have to wait long for Casey to report in, but the lieutenant wouldn’t have believed that at the time. Two minutes was an eternity while under fire, even if it was barely amounting to suppressing fire.

“Coordinates received,” Lang winced at the radio. Rog reflexively mirrored the reaction, wondering what was wrong. “Keep yourselves alive, Intrepid 21. Over and out.”

“What happened?”

“The drakes took out their vehicle, but our scouts made it to the ruin on foot. Both are injured.”

Lieutenant Rog clenched his teeth. “Not again.”

Lang and Tos already knew to keep quiet about this. Casey and Alice would probably survive until they arrived, but every time the latter got into trouble, far too many of Rog’s men broke ranks to try and help her. They couldn’t afford that kind of stupidity right now.

Lang handed Rog a slip of paper with the coordinates freshly singed on with hot mana. That was the only good news for the moment.

“Only a couple of miles.” At full speed–or near enough as they could get on this hellish terrain–it wouldn’t take them long catch up.

Ricard was sure he was going insane from all the waiting and worrying when Lieutenant Rog finally buzzed in with new orders. Apparently the scouts had found … something.

“Intrepid 21’s scout team have found a landmark for us. We’re heading straight for it. Staggered column. Intrepids 7 and 10 take point; Intrepids 2 and 4 take up the rear. We’re getting out of here right now.”

Rog gave more specific orders to the anti air units, sensor units, logistics vehicles, and even the scouts, but by that point Ricard was already focused on getting Chaser into position in the column. They were going to wind up roughly in the middle of the pack, a couple of vehicles in front of Intrepid 1, and right behind one of the sensor vehicles.

“Alright we’re left,” Ricard’s voice trailed off as he turned Chaser’s turret about forty-five degrees in that direction and waited. That was when he noticed the shelling beginning to die down considerably. Ricard wasn’t optimistic enough to think they would burn through all of their ammunition just suppressing them like this. What felt far more likely to him was a group of heavy tanks preparing to charge their position at point blank range. For a group as large as the 203rd, shock and awe was the only way to defeat them outright.

“We’re underway,” Nicholas reported.

“Alright, let’s fall in and get out of here.”

The radio chatter was picking up again. Rather than add to the noise, Ricard focused as best he could in order to use the Commune technique. “Alice, Casey, what’s the situation over there?” It was so much more waiting before he tried again. “Alice, Casey, it’s Rick. Respond.”

“Are they okay?” Nicholas looked back over his shoulder.

“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” Ricard frowned. “Alice. Casey. Come on, give me something here.” It was at that moment Ricard lamented being in the middle of the pack. At least if Chaser were at the front, he could move faster without as much scrutiny. He would still be in for a reprimand dragging the battalion along at such a high speed, but at least he wouldn’t feel helpless.

“Hey Rick. It’s Matteo. You reading me?”

Ricard cocked an eyebrow at his radio. “Intrepid 21 receiving. What is it, 7? Over.”

“Orders, reports, and relays ONLY!” Lieutenant Rog wasn’t having any unnecessary chatter on the main channel today.

Ricard sighed and waited for Matteo to inevitably continue their exchange via the commune technique.

“Still receiving?”

Ricard heard Matteo’s voice in his head this time, undistorted, but quieter. “What’s this about, Matteo?”

“I’ve been trying to raise Alice; congratulate her for finding us a way out, and all that. No luck so far. How about you?”

That wasn’t good. “Same here. No response through commune, either. I’m not sure what to think.”

“You know what I think? I think we need to double time it. The lieutenant gave us the lead, so we get to set the pace of this fighting retreat. Think you can keep up?”

The beginnings of a smile made it to Ricard. “I was just about to ask. Yeah, we can keep up.”

“Good. Now let’s get over there and thank her in person.”

Assuming Alice and Casey were alright. Ricard could only hope and follow Matteo’s lead along with the rest of the 203rd.

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