Chapter 62: Reciprocation
The next morning, I was woken by my alarm clock, known as Fenek, who shook me awake before dawn.
Yawning, I had my breakfast, and a cup of coffee. Fenek remarked that he managed to find some the day before, and had bought some for me. However, judging from his scowl when he had a sip, I could tell that it wasn’t for him.
Honestly, it wasn’t too bad. Strong aroma with hints of hazelnut. I took a while to enjoy it before making my way to the Dragons’ barracks.
Adjusting my cap and holster, I strolled in to see only a handful of them milling around, the rest were probably still asleep. Hector was already leaning on one of the walls, glancing at me occasionally while talking to Faelius.
Pausing to draw my rifle and magazines from the armoury counter, I strolled over. “Do they always get up late?”
Hector huffed. “No, but this is earlier than usual.”
Sighing, I slung my rifle. “That aint an excuse. I’ll deal with it.”
I sauntered to the middle of the building and roared at the top of my lungs, “Gennermen, do you know what TIME IT IS?! WHOLE LOT TURNOUT TURNOUT TURNOUT!”
Much to my satisfaction as I looked around, I heard a chorus of shouting and one by one the room doors banged open and the dragons ran out, some of them actually looking rather startled. Nodding quietly in approval, I went back to join the two of them.
“Do you always shout at your men like that?” Faelius interjected, his head cocked and his eyes sparkling.
“I shout when I need to.” I replied with a shrug, “Going door to door will take too long.”
Faelius chuckled. “It is a shame that there was no chance to educate you in the arcane arts. Mind-speak could have woken them too. I must see to it that you are taught.”
I glanced at him, nodding before going to address the main group. I stood there for a while, waiting for any stragglers, before telling them to go and draw their equipment and such, same things at the last time.
This round, they were at least faster, and by dawn, they had already fallen in outside the barracks, and I marched with them to the square, where the trucks and other forces were already waiting.
I handed them over to Victor, who was busy designating the vehicles for them to load up into, while I went to claim my rover. There were several, as we would be running escort for the trucks, which, although capable of protecting themselves, were admittedly still vulnerable.
I had Hector in my vehicle with me, Fenek behind on the machine gun, and Flayme squeezed in next to the brown. Fenek seemed to be none too pleased at being dragged into another battle, while both Hector and Flayme seemed to be in high spirits as I did my checks on the vehicle.
“So, this is how it begins, yes?” Flayme’s voice piped up from behind as I started the engine and gave it a rev to make sure all was well.
I tested the gears a bit, driving around a bit as well. “What begins?”
“The fall of the council, of course!” Hector bellowed, grinning.
I smirked a bit. “Maybe, if we don’t all blow up later.”
In the background, I heard a lot of yelling, as the truck engines turned over and came roaring to life one by one. The convoy moved out one by one, with the rovers taking up position as escorts as the vehicles rolled out the gates one by one. Some trucks were towing the howitzers, others filled with ammunition, all scattered within the convoy. In addition to the rovers, the tanks roared up alongside, in case anything big came knocking.
When my cue came, I revved the engine and matched the speed of the truck that I was to take as my reference.
As we exited the gate, the truck’s engine roared as the driver accelerated, and I did the same, with both vehicles lurching forward as the convoy moved.
As we drove, I shouted over to my passengers, “Keep an eye out. You never know what will happen.”
Admittedly, the drive was quite uneventful. No attacks, nothing. Both comforting and unnerving at the same time. I spent more time finding and scratching itches than anything else. Didn’t help at all that it was practically a straight road.
Eventually, though, we finally reached the staging area. By then, it was already roughly midday. We wasted no time in unloading, and setting up camp, while the artillery was being set up. Spotters and scouts were sent out, while the rest of us did our checks once again to ensure that our weapons were serviceable.
I noted that a good number of the dragons still carried swords in addition to their rifles. When asked, they actually seemed to be proud of the blades, speaking of their exploits and such. Almost like in those old stories about legendary knights and their blades. I could see why they didn’t want to part with their blades.
I, on the other hand, spent the time cleaning my guns, and taking a bit of the time to get a snack and talk to the other dragons too.
It was actually a waste that I didn’t spend much time with the other dragons, I mused. They seemed to be an interesting bunch. I actually ended up with a small group of them and exchanging stories. They told me about their culture, and I told them about the pre-war culture here. I told them about the small annoyances like train breakdowns, and how people would text while walking and collide with things. They told me about the joys of flying and exploring the unspoilt expanse of their world, and how they fought for their chosen cause. I told them about our concrete jungles, and how global politics always complicated things. How we would be put on alert over a threat by another nation’s minister, and how the industrial activities of humanity had begun to alter the climate. How our technological progress came at a price, and how we were struggling to fix it.
However, my discussion was interrupted when Victor came running over.
I, of course, wasn’t too happy about being interrupted. “What?”
“The governor of Manila just landed in front of our forces. He wants to discuss terms-“ Victor prattled on.
“Then discuss la! You guys can handle what.” I replied flatly.
“Discuss terms with you. He mentioned a challenge.” Victor replied, making a face, “Dude, I thought they were supposed to have taught you to be polite.”
“Oh bugger off.” I replied with a smirk, getting up. “Where?”
Victor motioned for me to follow him as we strolled to the leading edge, where a large green dragon stood, in his quadruped form. He had a pair of white horns and white spikes that ran down his back and tail.
He must have noticed that I was looking him over as his head swung round on his long neck, his green eyes made contact with mine. “Ah, Tano’rath. There you are.”
I nodded tersely. “And you are?”
“You may call me Gadzooks. I am the governor of this town, and the headmaster of the academy here.” He replied, dipping his head.
I was actually quite surprised that he was actually displaying respect for me like that, and I reciprocated by bowing. “I see. So, I hear that you requested for my presence?”
The green chuckled. “Yes, yes, I did. I assume that your army is not here to have tea in my city, yes?”
I couldn’t help but smirk. “That is correct. I believe you mentioned a challenge?”
Gadzooks snorted. “First, may I ascertain what your intensions are?”
“You may. This is a little thing we call retaliation.” I replied with a nod. “As you may or may not know, we were attacked by Council forces a few days ago. We have seen fit to….reciprocate.”
“What of the inhabitants of the city and the Riders? As you well know, your reputation precedes you.” He replied, sitting on his haunches. Was that a hint of worry I detected in his tone?
I sighed. “If they do not resist, they will not be harmed. The reputation that you speak of is flawed. I am neither the leader, nor am I a ruthless cold blooded killer. Now about this challenge of yours?”
Gadzooks chuckled. “I’ve heard things from your teachers. I did not believe them, I must admit. However, I can no longer dispute them now.” He then took on a serious tone, “As for the challenge, it is simple. I am aware that those contraptions that you use to move your soldiers need this thing called a battery to work. I will…disable them, and if you are able to resurrect your fleet of motorised carts within two of your hours, I will yield to you.”
I blinked, taking a while to process what he said. “So…you drained my batteries?”
“If that is the proper way of saying it, then yes, that is what I did. I have always admired ingenuity, so impress me, o black drake. I will remain here and observe.” He replied, cocking his head a little at me. “Your time has started. Use it wisely.”
Victor shot me a worried look as I had the other commanders called over and spoke with them about the challenge. It admittedly sounded too good to be true, but alas, we decided that it was worth a try.
We must have spent a good quarter of the time arguing over how to charge the batteries, since a few attempts to crank any of the engines on any of the vehicles was rewarded with a low whining and a warning buzzer sounding.
Someone mentioned building a dynamo, or asking one of the dragons to spin the axle manually, but all of that was tossed out. If we had been on a hill, I could have gotten the rover engines running by putting them into gear and rolling them down the hill to crank the engine. However, we were on a plateau, and the incline wasn’t steep enough.
Eventually, Faelius joined the discussion, and almost at once suggested magic.
Seeing no other real alternative, I had Fyre and Flayme called over, while someone went digging for a voltmeter.
As Victor sprinted back with the requested piece of equipment, I got the both of them to cast spells of electricity, and measured the voltage between each hand.
Once they got to the right voltage, I brought them to one of the rovers, threw open the hood and made them charge the battery. Meanwhile, I clambered into the driver’s seat and waited a moment before getting them to let go as I cranked the engine.
The starter whined several times as the engine turned over. I heard it try to start, and not wanting to retry the whole thing, I jammed the accelerator to the floor and tried again.
I was rewarded with a whole lot of whining…followed by a roar as the engine came to life. Smirking, I high-fived Victor and the other commanders.
However, the dragons didn’t seem to be as enthusiastic as I was, and Fyre eventually spoke up. “It is good that we have this one machine running, but our energy reserves cannot sustain this if you wish to do the same for the rest…”
I smirked. “Nah. You’ll have to do it one or two more times. We’ll handle the rest. Watch.”
As Victor had them charge the batteries of another rover, I revved the engine a few times to charge the battery some more, before digging around the vehicle equipment bag to find the jumper cables. As the other dragons clustered around to watch, I used it to jump another rover.
In the background, I heard another engine splutter to life, then another.
I proceeded to direct the other drivers to get ready as we jumped the smaller vehicles first. They were given a while to drive around and charge the batteries before jumping the next batch.
Eventually, we proceeded to jump the trucks, which proved to be markedly more difficult, as some of the rovers couldn’t provide enough current.
However, time ticked by, and was marked with engines roaring or spluttering back to life, first sporadically, then regularly, and eventually becoming a chorus as every newly jumped vehicle jumped another, and another. We even managed to get the tanks running.
Glancing at the dash clock, I realised that I had forgotten to take note of the time.
Hoping that we had not run over time, I drove over to where Gadzooks was lying, obviously soaking up the sun. “We’re done.”
The large green sat up, and paused to look around, nodding. He actually seemed to be very surprised. “So I see. Show me.”
I obliged and showed him around a little. He seemed satisfied. “May I ask how you did this? I was told that you would not be able to recover!”
I smirked. “Some old fashioned ingenuity, and some dragon magic. Don’t forget, this is a mixed force.”
He actually seemed impressed and nodded. “I see. Very well, then. I yield.”
“I accept. I need your oath.” I replied tersely, as Victor strolled over with a few armed guards.
He gave me his oath. “I understand. However, the guard commander refuses to take my orders. I apologise, but you will have to make war this day despite this. I am willing to atone for this oversight if need be. Do what you will…” He actually seemed to be readying himself to die as the guards stood in front of him impassively.
“Your call.” Victor added, passing me a walkie talkie. “Arty is ready.”
I glanced at Gadzooks, “I’m not going to hold you responsible for something’s that not your fault. Do you have a family…er clan?”
“I have a mate. She is in my dwelling.” He replied, his voice wavering a little.
“If you want her to live, tell her to come here now. You will tell her to bring a yellow towel, and hold it in her left fore-claw. Ensure that it is visible.” I replied, as I activated the walkie talkie. “All forces, prep. Arty, sight on defensive force. Hold fire on dragon with yellow towel.”
Within minutes, an orange dragon landed, holding a yellow towel as requested. From the curves of her body, I didn’t need anyone to tell me that she was Gadzook’s mate. She gave me her oath and thanked me for sparing her. I instructed them to stay put.
The radio crackled. “Sir, bogeys sighted, clear of gate already. Several dragons, some on foot, some air, some with riders. Arty standing by.”
I glanced at Gadzooks and his wife. “You can stay and watch if you want, but it won’t be pretty.”
In the distance, one could already see the dragon forces marching out, with those flying silhouetted against the sun. Behind them was the city.
The two of them didn’t move. Gadzooks met my eyes evenly. “I have heard of the…efficiency of the tactics of the Resistance. I wish to see you in action. If it means seeing my forces torn apart, then so be it. They disobeyed orders, and by Council law, the penalty is death anyway. Do what you will.”
I nodded, and activated the radio. “Arty, commence firing. Sight accordingly. Ground, stand by to form up. Armour, make ready to move up.”
As the affirmatives poured in, I heard the low thudding of the artillery firing, and the sound of guns being readied.
Gadzooks cocked his head at me. “Not all your troops are armoured?”
“Armour is a term for something else. You’ll see soon enough.” I replied. I hadn’t shown him the tanks.
Eventually, the scattered thumping became a steady rhythm, as explosions bloomed in the distance, scattering the neat rows and files of dragons. They seemed to be confused, and running around in circles, trying to figure out where the shells were coming from. Their flying troops landed to help look, and were caught in a particularly nasty barrage, reducing them to pulp and smoke.
I raised the radio again. “All forces, move out. Arty hold when forces away.”
I had half a mind to join the attack, but thought better of it. Instead, I stood with the former governor as the troops ran past, some on foot, and others on rovers. Flanking the troops were the tanks. I paused to point at one of the leopards as it rolled past. “That is armour.”
Gadzooks snorted, unimpressed. “Is it not a metal box on wheels?”
“A metal box on wheels with a big gun.” I replied, and as if on cue, some of the tanks angled their barrels up and fired. “See?”
While the green dragon turned to look, I beckoned the guards over and instructed them to keep an eye on the duo. I hefted my rifle and jogged over to join the troops, deciding that standing and watching would not do.
That, however, would be something that I would regret.
By the time we reached what was left of the opposing force, the ground was already stained a deep red, and the scent of blood hung heavily in the air. Most of the scattered trees had already been reduced by splinters, and the ground was covered in multi-coloured debris; what was left of the dragons. Bones and scales alike crunched under our boots and claws as we advanced slowly and in silence…
I couldn’t help but gag as we rounded up the survivors, most of them giving up without a fight at all. The majority looked to be shaken to say the least, with empty looks in their eyes, and mutterings about metal rain of fire and death.
We gathered up the survivors, took their oaths and had them marched back to the base camp. I radioed ahead to let them know, while the main force moved onwards to the city. I radioed to have the artillery re-sight their guns.
When we closed on the rider academy, I found the doors firmly shut, but from the buildings within, no sound was emitted.
Dispatching some of the force to secure the town, I had the rest of them hold position behind me while I tossed a rock at the doors.
Remembering the gatekeeper, I shouted, “Open the doors, please!”
Again, nothing, and I stood there feeling like an idiot for a while, before the gates began opening.
The huge wooden doors parted to show the riders in force. All of them were in neat rows atop their dragons, arrayed behind the Gatekeeper, who sat on his haunches, looking straight at me.
“I see you have returned.” He commented, while glancing at the tank and the rest of the force behind me. “And brought some company.”
I raised a hand, motioning for the rest to stay put. “Yes, in fact, I did.”
The huge dragon eyeballed me. “Are you here to fight us?”
“Not if I don’t have to.” I replied flatly, holding his gaze. “Lower your weapons and we will lower ours.”
I heard someone shout from the crowd of riders. “Not all here wish to serve your cause, Tano’rath.”
I spoke up so that all could hear. “I would let you go, but unfortunately, that is not my call to make. The best I can give you is not shooting you now. Stand down.”
I heard some murmuring in the crowd as they discussed my words. Glancing at the Gatekeeper, I added, “I’ll give you some time to talk it over.”
The moment I turned to walk off, I heard an arrow embed itself next to me. Growling, my head snapped round. “Who did that?!”
Silence. In the meantime, someone tapped me on the shoulder, and Kazuki’s voice floated over. “I saw him.”
I glanced over at the blue and white wolf. “Keep an eye. Don’t shoot first.”
He nodded and was gone a second later, probably looking for a good spot. I glared at the assembled dragons, then the riders on their backs. “Well? No balls to own up is it?”
The Gatekeeper seemed to want to say something, but I shook my head. “You have five seconds. I will count.”
I started counting, and the murmuring increased. Even the Gatekeeper joined them, and seemed to berating the group in general for doing something rash. By the time I reached one, there was still no answer.
I tried to say something, but they were all too busy talking amongst themselves. Annoyed, I drew my pistol and fired a shot, getting their attention. “Now, still don’t want to own up? Nevermind.”
The Gatekeeper plodded over, glancing occasionally at my pistol and the force assembled behind me. “We-“
As he walked, I nodded. A moment later, there was a shout from the assembled crowd, and one of the riders fell, blood leaking from his head, soaking his tunic and dyeing his white bow red.
Throwing myself out of the way, I barely managed to bring my rifle to bear when his enraged dragon, a blue, came charging out, roaring and swiping at where I had been.
Lying on my back, I took aim and fired, solving the problem.
Dusting myself off, I walked back up to the Gatekeeper. “As you were saying?”
“We…” He actually looked stunned, and his mouth hung loosely for a moment before he picked up again. “I was going to…apologise for his behaviour, but I see that…that you…you already dealt with…him.”
Engaging the safety catch on my rifle, I shook my head, sighing. “What else did you expect me to do? It was pretty obvious what his intent was. If he had owned up, then I probably wouldn’t have had him shot, but he didn’t. It was either that or have all of you killed, and I’d rather not do that. I abhor killing as much as the next man, but sometimes, you need to fight to retake what’s yours. Now, stand down, or do you want to end up like the red mush out there in the fields?”
The Gatekeeper glanced out in the general direction from which I had come. “That was the fate of the guards?”
“Even after your governor yielded. Tread carefully, dragon.” I replied, feeling my eyes narrow. “My superiors would want you all dead. Give me a reason.”
“I cannot speak for all that are here, but I know that some here will not fight for your cause.” He replied, his head dipping.
I adjusted my rifle, and pulled out the radio with my left hand. “That’s their problem, not mine. They will be dealt with when my bosses see fit. Right now, putting down your arms will be good enough. If they want to join us, then by all means. If they want to live a quiet life, go ahead. If they are loyalists, they’ll either be killed or thrown out. But know this: if you fight us, we will not hesitate to rain hell and fire onto all of you.”
From the crowd came another voice “What if we don’t believe you?”
I snapped round, finding a snarl plastered onto my snout. “Don’t believe? The red mush not enough?! Want another fucking demonstration?” Without waiting for a response, I activated the radio. “Arty, sight on academy.”
With my own growls running under my tone, I turned to glare at the assembled group, completely ignoring the Gatekeeper. “You don’t know when to stop, don’t you? Didn’t see the carnage? What to be part of it?! You may have a death wish, but the guy next to you might not! Want to die? Walk out here and get shot. Don’t pull the whole fucking group in!”
The Gatekeeper shifted uncertainly. “Perhaps we need to calm down and adjourn to meet later.”
“I don’t have time for that.” I snapped, glancing at my own force. “Lay down your weapons. Yes or no.”
The Gatekeeper fidgeted a little before sighing. “I will yield. We will not make battle this day.” Subsequently, they split into two groups, with one group intending to leave, while the other giving me their oaths.
“Finally. Some good news.” I huffed, lowering my weapon. Behind the Gatekeeper, I saw most of the dragons and riders visibly relax, putting their weapons down. “Now, all of you will walk forward one at a time and place any and all of your weapons in front of me. Keep in mind that if you try anything funny, my men and I will not hesitate to shoot.”
As they began dropping the assorted weapons in front of me, I radioed over to say that they had yielded.
Soon, the roars of truck engines could be heard as the vehicles drove into the city, while some pulled up outside the Academy. The weapons were loaded up, and driven away.
Once done, the Gatekeeper, who had been eyeing the trucks, padded over. “What of us now?”
“Go home. Eat. Rest. You are under the rule of the Resistance now. Cause no trouble, and get on with your collective lives. If anything needs to be done and such, we’ll inform you. If anyone wants to join us or whatever, you can look for me.” I replied, bringing my force in as the riders and dragons dispersed, some outright leaving, while others content to go home. I pointed the army to take up the relevant defensive position, while having some admin people brought in to go through the material in the academy, and of course, revise the curriculum.
The Gatekeeper plopped himself next to me, watching the proceedings. “This is…not what I expected.”
I shrugged. “I don’t like fighting.”
“What of the Academy?”
I smirked. “Oh, it’ll still run, but it will teach proper science and stuff. That’s about it. Are the instructors still around?”
“Most of them left. However, a handful remain. Do you wish to speak with them?”
I nodded, and the dragon asked me to wait there while he went to fetch them. In the meantime, Faelius landed next to me, pausing to glance at the dead dragon and rider before shooting me a questioning look.
It took a while, but I managed to explain what happened, and finished just in time to have the Gatekeeper come back with a grand total of six instructors, all of whom recognised Faelius almost immediately, and a moment later, me. I recognised Althos and Aurak among the few.
However, before I could begin, I heard a familiar voice float over, “EH!” Glancing round, I saw Dany walking out the gates with Fovahlok trailing behind, an aura of defeat hanging to the blue. Didn’t take much of a jump to guess what was going on.
Pausing to motion for the instructors to relax, “Er, give me a moment. Have a seat or something first. Let me settle this.”
Subsequently, I walked to meet Dany halfway. “You again. Decided to stay, I see.”
Fovahlok sighed and nodded as Dany boomed, “YEAH! I want to join you! Where do I sign up AH?”
I couldn’t help but to chuckle. “Boss, not open yet. I’ll tell you all when open. Go rest or eat or whatever, and take care of Fovahlok. He looks a bit down.”
While the two of them went off, I settled down to speak with the instructors. “Okay, so since you are all here and not trying to rip my head off, I’m assuming that you’re here to help, or at least here to not make trouble for me.”
I received nods and assorted verbal confirmations from the small group as I leaned on my rifle. After a short pause, Althos spoke up. “What of us, then? Surely you can’t expect us to teach what we do not know!”
I shrugged. “In your case, you can resume teaching hand to hand fighting. Otherwise, you’re free to go about your lives like everyone else. If you want to attend the other classes, you’re welcome to do so.”
“What of our clans? They don’t all live here!” Aurak shot over, and all snapped round to stare at him for a moment, before they fixed on me once again.
I sighed. “Ah, yes, the C word. As you well know, there’s a war on. If they manage to get to the city, tell them to mention to the guards that they have family here. I’ll handle the rest. They won’t be harmed. Feel free to let the other inhabitants know.”
This seemed to cause the stir as the dragons began discussing amongst themselves, and my thoughts were interrupted by someone clapping behind me. I whirled round to find Victor smirking, being the source of the clapping, and standing next to Kazuki who was presently munching on a banana. “You should be in PR, bro.” Victor remarked, thumping me on the back.
I paused to glance at the wolf. “What happened to dim sum?”
Kazuki shrugged, still chewing. “Healthier choice.”
I subsequently turned to Victor. “Hah. I wish. Better than shooting at people, any day. I guess I’ll have a lot of paperwork to handle?”
“After that speech of yours? Obviously, especially with the family thing, but I agree with what you’re doing. The dragons are your problem, as usual.” Victor replied, prodding my chest jokingly, “I’ll see to it that we have classes running within the week, yeah?”
“Sounds good.” I replied, gesturing to the gathered instructors that we were done. “I guess this is going to be the new front?”
Victor nodded. “Probably, yes. At least we can rebuild Singapore, but this place is going to be hammered.”
“A shame.” I replied, dipping my head a little. “This whole thing has blown up so bad.”
Victor turned to look at both the city and Academy, and at the long line of refugees leaving both. I followed as he replied, shaking his head. “Yeah. Who would have known, yeah? How you think this is going to end?”
“End? Probably with one side lying in a pool of their own blood, dead. We aren’t giving up any time soon, and neither are they…and this is about where even my craziest plans end. Never thought we would have survived this long, let alone taken this city.” I replied with a half-smile, yet shaking my head. “If we win this, I’ll……buy you lunch.”
Victor chuckled. “I’ll hold you to that, and no cheap crap this time!”
“Haha, yes boss.” I replied with a smirk as Fenek wandered over.