The entirety of the 119th had made their way back onto the mesa and busied themselves with salvaging anything usable. Food, water, medical supplies, and fuel for their jetpacks were of the highest priority. Little of the Isaiah remained besides scrap metal, but not everything. Several industrial refrigerator carrying emergency food supplies had survived, and literal tons of meals were intact inside. That would keep them fed… assuming they lived through the day.
The searching was half-hearted, as the 119th weren’t really here to scavenge. They were here to lure the enemy into attacking.
Herod hated this plan. It was risky and full of uncertainties. It was far too dependent on the enemy’s actions. It could go catastrophically wrong at almost any step.
It was probably their best hope.
She approached Sheba, who was using the scanner on her watch to determine what was under a pile of rubble the size of a house. “Colonel,” Herod said. “A word?”
“Sure, so long as it’s just one,” Sheba said distractedly.
“I know that you and Colonel Amalek aren’t on the best terms. I wanted to hear what you thought of his strategy, ma’am.”
“Feh. CHAMP’s got Lucy’s ear, of course. She treats every turd that falls out of his mouth like a bar of gold.” Sheba sighed heavily. “That said, I can’t think of a better plan. We’re screwed, I’m pretty sure- but we can’t retreat.”
“We could stay in the tunnels,” Herod suggested. “Shore up the defenses and wait for circumstances to change, ma’am.”
“Even if that’d work, we wouldn’t do it.” Sheba looked up, her smoky eyes dark with disapproval. “C’mon recruit. We’re a fucking BEACON legion- the most deadly fighting force in the galaxy by virtue of sheer bitchiness. And we’re the doublefucking one-one-ninth! We didn’t get nicknamed the lightning legion as a PR stunt, we’re called that because we’re fast and means. We don’t hide our heads from goddamn xenos and hope that they’ll leave us alone. A tactical retreat is one thing, but we’d rather die than hide.”
“Oh.” Herod looked at the girls scavenging through piles of metal and rubble. “That seems imprudent, ma’am.”
“If we were smart, do you think we’d be stranded on this hellhole?” Sheba grinned. “C’mon, back to work.”
Herod nodded and kept listlessly scanning the ground for potential valuables. It was five or six minutes later that the riders burst from above the clouds.
Just as Anna said: it was like they materialized from thin air, thousands and thousands of them. Enough to block out the sky with their fleshy bodies, enough to drown out all other noise besides the cruel beating of their wings and their horrible screams. They sounded almost human.
Sheba glanced at Herod and nodded. “Good luck,” she called, her helmet climbing the back of the head and covering her face. “Make them glad to be in hell, so that they’ll be away from you.”
The colonel made her way for the tunnels, but Herod didn’t. Instead she and about a hundred others dove for nearby piles of rubble. It wasn’t comfortable to go prone in the Gawain, but Herod lay on her belly anyways.
The riders circled above. “Hold position,” Amalek murmured in her comms. “All units, be ready to strike, but only on my signal.”
Using her infrared, Herod monitored the area around the rubble. Most of the riders continued to circle above, but some buzzed the entrances to the tunnel complexes. The first shots rung out, the distinct pneumatic thonk of the Beowulf’s expanding rounds. Tamar and her heavies were covering the retreat into the tunnels.
“What are we waiting for, ma’am?” someone asked over the comms. “The fight’s starting.”
“For them to make a mistake,” Amalek replied. “Hold position.”
Herod was under the rubble for what felt like hours when Amalek spoke next. “There you are, you scaly bastard. Soldiers, I’m going to mark targets for you now. Engage the ones in red- they’re the leaders, I want at least half of them dead. Don’t waste your time on any of the ones I haven’t marked. Attack on my signal.” The longest second of Herod’s life passed. “Now.”
Herod rolled out from under the rubble pile and spotted a rider flying low. She had a clear shot and she took it, her rocket blowing the rider apart. The mount turned and screeched at her, its flabby throat ululating. But it was too slow- Herod had already closed the gap, pneumatic blade drawn.
In one swift motion, she beheaded the beast. Its head hit the ground, flopped and wiggled like a fish, and then grew still.
That was how to kill to dragon. Cut off its head.
Herod increased her angle of ascent until she was moving directly up into the thick of it. Amalek had assembled one hundred of the best fliers in the 119th for this strategy. 100 birds against 8,000 or 9,000 dragon-riding Romeos.
Herod targeted the nearest dragon painted red by her display. She dodged a bolt from the rider’s spear, then went to drive her blade into the dragon’s gullet. It weaved to the side, and its head snapped at her, getting a mouth full of her shoulder.
Herod grunted at the pressure as the monstrous jaws tried to tear her arm off. She deployed her shoulder-mounted minigun and superheated high-speed rounds burst out the back of the dragon’s head. It still wasn’t dead, so she decapitated it for good measure. Its corpse- and its rider- went plummeting for the ground.
The other legionnaires acquitted themselves well. A girl with a sword on either arm hacked away at a big dragon. One bird fired a rocket into the side of a pursuing drake, and another followed up by slashing the beast’s head off.
They were killing and killing and killing. Now the great numbers of the dragon riders worked against them, they couldn’t coordinate against the swarming legionnaires. Herod and the others were like wasps buzzing around the head of a great beast, using their smaller size and fewer numbers to their advantage. The overwhelming strength of the enemy was no good against such small and mobile targets.
Amalek was pretty smart after all.