A Sword of Ivy, Part 4

“Echo One, this is Fox One,” came a voice over Hana’s earpiece suddenly.

“Echo One here, Fox One,” Hana replied. “Go ahead.” Fox One was the commanding officer of Giant Hammer, Colonel Vondamisk Latrafai.

“Captain, I need Echo Team to take up flanking positions on those two ridges to the northwest,” Col. Latrafai said. “You’ll be providing covering fire for our advance up the middle.”

“That’s a pretty good position, Colonel,” Hana replied. “What are the odds the enemy doesn’t already have troops up there?”

“I know they do, Captain,” Latrafai shot back in a slightly condescending tone. If Hana cared about such things any more, she’d be annoyed at the emphasis he put on the word “Captain”, as if her rank was lower than hers. If she had been a captain in the Army, she would be several ranks lower than Latrafai. But she was a Naval Captain, which meant that she was the same rank as Latrafai. But it didn’t really matter what Latrafai thought of her. “That’s why I’m sending four squads with you to secure the position,” he continued.

“Are you sure that will be enough, Colonel?” Hana asked, her brow slightly furrowed.

“My scouts tell me there’s only 50 troops on each ridge,” Latrafai retorted. “General Belvanoi says that your squad is the best in Fangalin. Two squads per ridge ought to be plenty of backup.”

“Understood, Colonel,” Hana said. “Echo One out.” She looked around at her squad. “Okay, Echo Team. We have our assignment. We’re going to be laying down covering fire from those ridges up there,” she said, gesturing to the sweeping ridges stretching out to either side of them. “The main enemy encampment is in between them, so we’ll be perfectly positioned to support the main push up the middle.”

“Too perfectly,” replied Moratino sourly. “The Empire is sure to have those ridges heavily defended.”

“Colonel Latrafai assures me that there are only 50 troops on each ridge,” Hana said. “We’ll be assisted by four squads from Giant Hammer.”

“Which will be plenty, if there really are only 50 troops up there,” Moratino grimaced. “But what if his information is wrong? If I was defending this valley, I’d have ten times as many troops up there. If they lose those ridges, they’re done for. Any commander worth his salt would know that.”

“Maybe we’re lucky and the enemy commander is an idiot,” Hana said in a slightly exasperated tone.

“We’ve made the mistake of underestimating the Empire before,” Vedregela said somberly. Hana gave her a long, searching look, and suddenly something occurred to her. She cared about these people. As much as she tried to make herself stop caring, she couldn’t. Xeliana, Vedregela, Moratino, Retico, and the rest…they belonged to her, and she belonged to them. They could never fill the void in her heart where Arcten was, but they didn’t need to. If she lost any of them, there would be new voids in her heart.

“Okay,” she said softly, and then she repeated it, louder and firmer. “Okay! Here’s what we’re gonna do.” She leaned forward and told the squad her plan, and as she did, grins spread across all of their faces.

***

“Now this, is devious,” said Vedregela in delight as she, Hana, Retico, and three other members of Starfengt stood at the foot of a cliff, looking up at its sheer face.

“I certainly hope so,” Hana said dryly. “Otherwise this is going to be a one-way trip.” She looked around at the members of her team. “Everybody ready?” They all nodded in determination. “Echo Two, this is Echo One,” Hana said over the radio to Xeliana. “Ready to execute?”

“We are in position, Echo One,” came Xeliana’s response. “Ready to go on your mark.”

“Very good, Echo Two,” Hana said. “Execute.” As soon as she said this, she grasped the wall of rock directly in front of her and began climbing. The plan was simple. If Colonel Latrafai’s scouts were wrong, and the Imperial commander wasn’t an idiot, then a frontal assault on the ridges with the number of troops at Hana’s disposal would be suicide. Instead, Hana was just sending the squad that Latrafai had loaned her up the slopes of the ridges, but their attack was simply a diversion. Their objective was to engage the enemy, and then fall back and draw as many enemey troops with them as possible. Meanwhile, Starfengt would scale the cliffs on the sides of the ridges and assault the enemy encampments from behind. Once Starfengt began their attack, the regular squads would turn and push back, catching the Imperial troops in a vice.

Of course, if Moratino was right, there would be 250 Imperial soldiers waiting for them at the top. 250 Imperial soldiers versus 20 regular Fangalin troops and 6 Starfengt assassins. But at least this was a challenge worthy of Starfengt’s skills.

Climbing the cliff meant that they couldn’t carry as much gear into this battle as they usually would. In theory, they could have used floatpacks to hover up to the top of the cliff, but floatpacks gave off an energy signal that could be detected by anyone paying attention, and if Hana’s plan was going to work, they needed to catch the enemy completely by surprise. They were wearing special gloves and boots that attached themselves to the surface of the cliff face, so they didn’t have to worry about losing their grip, but they still had to use their own muscles to pull themselves up. This meant carrying a light load, but a light load for a Starfengt assassin still meant that they were bristling with weaponry compared to a regular soldier.

As soon as they reached the lip of the cliff, Hana signaled a halt. “Echo Two, what’s your status?” she said over the radio.

“We’re in position, Echo One,” Xeliana replied. “Waiting on your signal.”

“Sigma One,” Hana said again, this time contacting the leader of the squads assaulting the ridge, “give me an update.”

“We have made contact with the enemy and have begun falling back!” yelled the squad leader over the sounds of battle. “You were right, Echo One! There’s a lot more guys up here than we thought!”

“Hold tight, Sigma One,” Hana said reassuringly. “We’re coming.”

To be continued…

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