Black Legion: 03 - Warlords of Cunaxa (24 page)

BOOK: Black Legion: 03 - Warlords of Cunaxa
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“Who are they aiming at?” shouted Roxana, as she ran into the building and threw herself down. She headed for a tipped over metal unit about the size of a land car and dragged herself behind it.

“Everybody okay?” called out Xenophon.

Artemas and Glaucon waited near the entrance of the structure and glanced out to the wall. Artemas lifted her hand in acknowledgement and quickly ducked back down. The mortar barrage had slowed, but the pulse rounds from the scores of soldiers on the walls continued at the same pace. Glaucon tried to move, but a projectile quickly caught him and glanced off his shoulder armour.

“Man, what would I give for a Laconian shield generator, right now!” he snapped.

A small group of the Medes guards rushed inside and scrambled over the rubble, trying to not fall. It was the same officer they had arrived with from the APC.

“Come with me. Lord Cyrus is just ahead.”

He turned and left through the side door and was gone. Artemas chased after him. Xenophon was close behind. It fell to Roxana and Glaucon to help Tamara cover the ground. She might have appreciated their help, but the complaining and whining suggested otherwise. Out of the doorway, they moved a short distance to a number of large pieces of equipment and two destroyed APCs. Behind them were dozens of soldiers. They were operating communications equipment.
Lord Cyrus and his personal guard
were on the right hand side of one of the broken vehicles and busy watching the massive arched entrance to the Citadel. They pushed on until he spotted them and Artemas. He turned and grabbed her, his emotions clear to all those around them.

“Have you seen this?” asked Roxana in a quiet voice.

She pointed to their left and back along the street. Behind the ruined walls and buildings, lay hundred upon hundreds of warriors. Most were automatons, dressed in their Medes uniforms and carrying light armour and weapons. There were also small squads taken from the Anusiyans, probably to boost their morale as well as their fighting ability. She then turned and pointed in the opposite direction. Xenophon followed her gaze and found a bizarre collection of Mulac warriors waiting for their orders. They were a loose confederation of mutants, pirates and mercenaries from the border that must have signed on after the operations at Cilicia. Further away were even larger and more terrifying creatures.

“Taochi? Where the hell did Cyrus get them from?”

He looked at the muscled shapes that looked more like the Minotaurs of Terran myth than the reality of the Median Empire. They each wore armour and carried edged weapons.

“Dekarchos and your comrades, I thank you all for protecting my niece,” said Cyrus in rushed tones. Your guards units crashed on the way down here, and the survivors are with Meno and his Terrans. They should be here in the next ten to fifteen minutes.”

Tamara laughed at the news.

“So coming back for me wasn’t so bad, after all!”

Ariaeus appeared from the rubble with a group of a dozen Anusiyans. He spoke quickly and pointed to the wall. Xenophon tried to follow the conversation, but he could only identify a few of the proper nouns they used. Meno, Clearchus and Artaxerxes were the only ones clear enough for him to follow.

“Lord Cyrus, your niece knows the Citadel complex, and she could provide tactical information,” he said.

Cyrus turned to Xenophon and then to his niece. They spoke in quick but loud tones. He then walked away to confer with Ariaeus and his other commanders.

“Well, was that it?” asked Xenophon.

Artemas tried to smile, but her grim expression refused to bend quite that far.

“He appreciates the information, but until we are through the walls, it is useless.”

Glaucon lifted his head slightly to look up at the walls. They were certainly impressive, but he could see them representing no greater obstacle than those faced by Xenias back at the Gates of Cilicia.

“Just get him to use his heavy artillery to bring them down, easy,” he announced.

Artemas shook her head in disagreement.

“No, the heavy equipment was lost in the landing. Cyrus has invested in manpower and light armour.”

“Yeah,” Xenophon added grimly, “that’s why he hired the Legion. We have the armour, shielding and heavy weapons to reduce places like this. Even the Laconians have access to breaching mortars. Maybe Cyrus should have waited before starting the attack?”

That thought gave Xenophon an idea. He moved forward to Cyrus and was instantly intercepted by his Anusiyans. Their speed was impressive, but Xenophon had no doubts his two Asgeirr-Carbines and his own martial prowess would result in their quick deaths. He didn’t back down and stood his ground, waiting for Cyrus to turn around.

“Dekarchos, I have a battle to plan.”

He started to move away, but Xenophon inched closer.

“Lord Cyrus. Dukas Meno and his forces will have access to siege equipment. Valediction and Poseidon were the designated ships for the Legion’s equipment. You saw what happened at Cilicia without the right tools. Get him and his troops to the frontline, and he can bring down the walls and give your men the support you need to get inside.”

Cyrus looked to his commanders and spoke briefly. One walked away and to speak with their communications teams. Cyrus looked back to Xenophon.

“Of course. This task was to be carried out by Clearchus. I forget sometimes that you Terrans equip yourselves for these kinds of battles. Meno’s warriors have established a fortified landing zone and are still landing their supplies for the battle.”

The Median commander nodded to Cyrus and spoke a mere handful of words. Cyrus nodded, turning back to Xenophon. The commander, in the meantime, appeared agitated and after making several quick calls on his equipment, gave the signal for yet another assault.

“We have to keep attacking. The minute we slow down, they will be on us.”

He then moved over to his officers where he could direct the battle. Xenophon and Glaucon moved off to the left where a ruined wall section gave them a reasonably safe view of the unfolding battle. Directly in front of Cyrus’ position were two full companies of Anusiyan guards. They were spread out amongst the rubble and taking pot shots at the enemy on the walls. Off to the flanks, a dozen platoons of soldiers charged out across the open ground towards the wall. Those with heavy weapons blasted away, and a number managed to tear large holes in the wall. Only a few made it past the maelstrom and surged into the tiny gaps.

“They’ll never take the place at this rate. A child can defend a hole the size of one man. We need breaches, big ones. Either that, or we take out their air defences and fly over it.”

Xenophon looked up at the scores of smoke and vapour trails from dromons, fighters and gunships. The sky was a dangerous place for any of them, least of all the vulnerable transports.

“No chance. We need air cover and time to bring down the gun emplacements and missile batteries. After we have taken the outer walls, our armoured troops can smash inside and take the place, room by room.”

A loud screaming sound announced the arrival of the armoured spearhead of Meno and his forces. Eight dromons and an equal number of fighters came in low and fast. Once in range, the fighters unleashed three volleys of guided missiles and then strafed the towers. Explosions rippled through the masonry and metal, and the entire frontline vanished in smoke and dust.

“Look,” exclaimed Artemas. She was pointing at one of the command screens. It was sitting on a table nearby and showed an aerial view of the battlefield from one of the many reconnaissance drones circling overhead. The dromons had all moved directly over the wall and were landing soldiers the other side. Two were destroyed by gunfire, but in the confusion, four managed to land under fire. Two more were chased off and crashed safely on Cyrus’ side of the wall.

“That isn’t Meno. Look at the dromons!” said Roxana. She was also watching the feed.

“You’re right. Those are Dukas Xenias’ troops,” said a surprised sounding Xenophon.

“Where the hell is Meno, then?”

They all looked at the map, but there were no more dromons to be seen within this part of the battlefield. Ariaeus noticed their interested and approached the screen. He tapped it and switched it off.

“Protect Lady Artemas and stay out of trouble. This battle will be fought and won by Medes warriors.”

Another platoon of Anusiyans arrived, but this time carrying some kind of relic. It looked like an old flag but emblazoned with the iconography of Cyrus. Four guards stood around it. They had carbines held in slings across their bodies. Xenophon looked in fascination at the design, noting the mention of Aegospotami towards the bottom. He assumed it was a battle honour of sorts.

“Looks like they’re getting ready for a big push, don’t you think?” Glaucon asked.

Xenophon nodded.

“Yeah, a suicide attack, more like. They need to wait until the entire Legion is here. We don’t have infinite resources for this fight.”

Tamara groaned, partially out of pain but also out of boredom. They had been in the position for several minutes now, and she was rarely known for her patience.

“So what are we going to do then? Wait here, join the attack, or move to the rear.”

Xenophon wasn’t quite sure as to what he should suggest. He was saved by an ear-splitting scream when two missiles whistled overhead and slammed into the building to their left. On cue, an armoured transport appeared almost a hundred metres away and stopped just metres from the blast. Dirt and debris landed all around the thick metal armour. Unlike the Medes vehicles, this one was tracked and heavily armoured. The markings were those of Meno’s, and as soon as it stopped, a large number of Terran spatharii jumped out and fanned out in front of the vehicles. Next came small groups of men carrying heavy pieces of equipment. They moved in front of the soldiers and activated the devices that created a shimmering, almost invisible field in front that could absorb or deflect most small arms fire.

“Shield generators, about damned time!” said Glaucon happily.

The door fitted to the front of the vehicle dropped down like a boarding ramp, and from the blackness inside emerged the shape of Dukas Meno. His armour was black and adorned with trophies from a dozen raids in his suspicious career. He carried a heavily modified pulse rifle in both hands but held it down low, as if he expected to not have to face a single enemy. He marched forward, his soldiers moving ahead with their mobile shield generators. They pushed passed Cyrus’ forward position and mixed in with the Anusiyans along their front position. Right behind them followed another three armoured vehicles; this time a series of tracked APCs fitted with close range rocket systems. They were designed to break siege works and built specifically for this kind of work. They stopped and just a few moments later, a number of built-in shield generators activated to create a barrier along their frontal armour. Meno marched past Xenophon and threw him a cursory glance.

“We’re going in, care to join us?” he said bitterly, stopping near Cyrus.

“My Lord, my vanguard is here and ready to break their lines. Dukas Xenias is landing spatharii behind their walls. This is the moment, are you ready to end this fight?”

Cyrus looked surprised, but Xenophon felt nothing but dread. He turned to look to his friends.

“Is he serious? He’s brought what, two hundred men and a few siege guns? They’ll be through the walls and massacred on the other side if they try to end this fight quickly.”

Roxana looked up to the walls.

“I agree. You saw the aerial imagery of the compound. The outer walls are just the first stage. The Citadel itself is going to be a problem. If they just send everything through the breaches, they’ll end up trapped between the walls and the Citadel. Getting a few men inside isn’t the problem; it’s getting enough men and equipment inside alive and able to finish the job.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN
 

Citadel of Cunaxa, Cunaxa Secundus

As the previous seven great sieges of the Citadel of Cunaxa had shown, its great walls were both tall and thick. Bodies littered their foundations and holes covered the outer skin, yet still they stood. Cheering Medes soldiers taunted the attackers outside and took the occasional shot as they watched the shattered remnants of Cyrus’ attack fall back. Falling back was something of a misnomer; it was in reality something more akin to a total rout. The nickname being called down was the unbreakable walls of Cunaxa and for those few survivors running for their lives, the name was all too true. The defeat of Cyrus’ ground attack on the outer walls cost him over two thousand warriors, most of whom were the lightly armoured automatons. A surprising number made it to the breaches, but it was the prepared ground on the other side that took the greatest toll. As small groups emerged through the narrow breaches in the ancient walls, the sight of thousands of waiting warriors greeted them. Dug in behind recently built inner defensive walls and bunkers, they shot dead hundreds as they staggered inside. To make matters worse, the scores of turrets on the towers and the Royal buildings picked off the odd straggler that survived the initial gunfire. Xenophon and his group had moved back and joined one of the mixed groups of Arcadian warriors that had just arrived by APC. They were men and women from Dukas Xenias’ forces and included a number of the Night Blades stratiotes unit they had first joined, back when the Legion had been formed. There was little time for niceties though, as multiple defensive barrages from the Citadel itself had forced them all into the ruins for protection.

BOOK: Black Legion: 03 - Warlords of Cunaxa
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