Sound and light returned agonizingly slowly to Belfamor’s senses. He groaned and tried to move, but nothing seemed to happen. A wave of panic hit him. Was he paralyzed? Was he being crushed by something massive? He slowly opened his eyes, and shut them tight again as blinding light flooded them. The monotonous buzzing in his ears slowly coalesced into the sounds of explosions and gunfire and men and women screaming in rage and pain. Very carefully he tried to open his eyes again, and realized that the blinding light he was seeing was Meargetal, Trisitania’s sun. It was just past noon, and Meargetal was almost directly overhead. It was a clear summer day in Selorin, aside from the haze of smoke caused by the battle.
The sight of Meargetal in the sky gave Belfamor a small amount of clarity. It had been about an hour before noon when the 3rd Battalion had landed on Trisitania. He’d lost track of time after that, but considering it was only a little over an hour since they’d landed, he couldn’t have been unconscious for more than a few minutes. He tried to move again, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that his body was responding now. So he wasn’t paralyzed or pinned underneath anything.
“General!” a woman’s voice called suddenly. She sounded distant, but Belfamor wasn’t sure if that was because she was distant, or because his head was still fuzzy from the explosion. He groaned and tried to stand up, but movement was still difficult.
“General Hemetal!” the woman called again. Belfamor shook his head in an attempt to clear it
“I’m here!” he said, his voice sounding thick and slow to his ears. There was a sound of someone scrambling over a pile of rubble, and then a woman appeared in Belfamor’s vision.
“General!” she exclaimed, relief evident in her voice. “Thank the One you’re alive! Are you hurt?”
“I think I’m fine,” Belfamor said, shaking his head and trying once again to stand. “I don’t feel any pain.” He rose partway, and then slipped and fell onto his side.
“Let me help you up, sir,” the woman said, grabbing his wrists and guiding him gently but firmly to his feet.
“Thank you, Captain…?” Belfamor said, not knowing the woman’s name.
“Avredai, sir,” she replied. “Leatoreai Avredai. XO, 3rd Battalion.”
“Ah, yes,” Belfamor said with a grimace. “I thought you looked familiar. Apologies for not remembering your name, Captain Avredai.”
“No worries, sir,” Avredai said with a grin. Captain Avredai was a plain-looking woman, average height, with brown hair that was no more than an inch long and brown eyes. “We both have bigger problems to worry about right now.”
“That we do, Captain,” Belfamor said, looking around. “What’s the situation?”
“We’re bogged down, sir,” Avredai said in a no-nonsense tone. “The enemy’s got barricades at every approach to the Palace. Heavily-fortified, with rocket launchers and mortars. Our vehicles are getting torn apart.”
“So I noticed,” Belfamor said wryly, eyeing the wreckage of his Adralack. “Air support?”
“Negative, sir,” Avredai replied, shaking her head. “Enemy’s got AA guns mounted on all the buildings around the Palace, and on the Palace itself. Any approach by air will get shredded.”
“Any word from Admiral Zomulin?” Belfamor asked.
“Last we heard, the enemy fleet had pulled back and she was resuming offloading operations.” Belfamor pursed his lips and thought for a second.
“Orbital bombardment would make short work of those AA guns, but I’d rather leave Selorin as intact as possible,” he mused. Avredai eyed him critically while he thought, but he ignored her. “Well,” he finally said, “if we can’t go by Adralack, and we can’t go by air, we’ll have to go by foot.”
“Yes, sir,” Avredai said, just barely suppressing her grimace. “I’ll spread the word, sir.”
Twenty minutes later, the 3rd Battalion had regrouped and was moving, slowly but steadily, toward the Imperial Palace. Neminatrix’s forces had prepared for an assault by ground vehicles, so they’d set up heavily fortified barricades at every intersection around the Palace, but either they hadn’t anticipated their enemies changing tactics, or they didn’t have enough manpower to do more than that, because they’d left the buildings around the Palace unoccupied. The 3rd Battalion was using that to their advantage, slipping into the buildings and flanking the enemy positions. Using these tactics, the 3rd Battalion was able to smash the outer ring of Neminatrix’s defenses, forcing his troops to abandon their barricades, and retreat to a smaller ring of barricades closer to the Palace.
The second ring of barricades was proving a tougher nut to crack, however. Neminatrix’s troops had learned from their mistakes, and were occupying the buildings immediately surrounding the Imperial Palace as they fell back. Unfortunately for them, they had been forced to abandon much of their air defenses as they withdrew, which gave the 3rd Battalion an opportunity to call in air support for their final push on the Palace.
Belfamor watched from the roof of a nearby building with a satisfied expression on his face as a squadron of MK71 “Venemear” Low Altitude Attack Fighters hovered just out of range of the Imperial Palace’s AA guns and bombed the Nerzaga out of the inner ring of barricades. The Venemear was in the same category of vehicles as the Adralack: only good for one thing, but very, very good at that one thing. In the case of the Venemear, that one thing was attacking ground targets that couldn’t fight back. Venemears were fairly agile, and absolutely loaded with weapons, but on the negative side, they were extremely lightly armored, meaning that they could easily be shot out of the sky with one rocket or missile. But when given adequate protection, they were devastatingly effective at tearing up ground-based fortifications.
“General Hemetal?” said a voice behind him. He turned to look, and saw Captain Avredai coming up the stairs behind him. He acknowledged her with a nod and turned back to watch the Venemears at work. “The Adralacks are ready to roll again, sir. Enemy forces are retreating into the Palace.”
“Excellent, Captain,” Belfamor said with a small, satisfied smile. “Let’s move on then, shall we?”
To be continued…