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Into the Dragon's Maw - A Soldier's Terror

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

My name is Sëan Ollimur, APh-61125-LGR-5AF; hoplite of Alexander’s glorious New Empyraen Army, may he soon return! I feel like a gamin korakun of a man right now but know I'm a rigger for life, short and terrifying though that life is like to be!

I was born, as a man usually is, to my mother and father many years ago….do I have to start like this…I. Well I feel like an eejit, so. OK. OK, but I sound like a right lemb! Fine…here we go, sorry….

I was born hundreds of feet beneath the surface of the Moon, in a city or complex very few people outside of us as lives here even knows about. Big secret, you see, apparently, the Hèg himself gave the Order of Silence to me great-granddad - Navarch Seamus Ollimur – himself that we was to hide down there and prepare for his return. Right before he nicked the Crown, it was…course a big Hèg like Alexander cannot nick the Crown what with it being his ship and all but it sounds more dramatic and story like told like that, doesn’t it?

So, I worked hard, always seeing the shades of me mothers and fathers before me urging me on to continue the tradition of service. I earned me black iron helmet, me uniform and blessed sotithorax with the Eye of Alexander and Vergina Sun on its breast. You watch; I’m a hoplite now but I’ll be epibatoi or a Harpy pilot in no time!

I’ve me trusty Uranos on my arm, me knife upon me back, me pistol on me hip, black iron upon me head so proud….ùra ùra, och the army!

It was a long and hard slog to earn my arm plates of blue and red with that beautiful golden Gaia set in them, I was shaking with pride as I kneeled in the dust so as Sergeant Gwydion could reach to set them on me. He looked me in the eye then, seeing as he could owing to my recumbent position, and said to me

“Ollie, I want you for a trip down to Gaia, lad. Being a gealer as you are, it’ll be a slog and a half, make no mistake. Got it in you, you reckon?”

I told him, aye, I’ll take a crack at it, sure enough.

An he said back, quiet like “no crackin, you patchy wee meliton; you smash it or I smash you, see?”

So I told him, aye, I could do that as well. I could see we were to be having a grand relationship, ole Sarge and I!

He did not lie; I can tell you that for a drachma! Ole Sarge, he introduced me, and six of me gages to what he called ‘The Gèal Rig’s rig’; which twas no more than a old cargo lifter cage twisted to fit over a one’s shoulders, a harness welded on, and weights strapped to it as if yeh were a helot o’ Aquarius on a big job for a thirsty party! I swear to yeh now that that kùnakop thing weighed more than I do meself! I was in full kit an all, sweating cobs with me legs all a-trembling but at least I was not alone for me gages, they were suffering too. All while that smug taff tym smiled and laughed at our disarray!

I am sorry, Sarge, but at that moment, you were a bastard cymru kùnameliton in my heart and, sir, I was not alone in me sentiments! We the seven of us felt like we was sinking into the dust that clung to our armour like a drunk does to a wall.

“On Gaia,” you told us, a grin all across that ugly burnt head of yours. “The gravity is three times what you have here. You who was born here, will break your legs the first time you try and run, see?” Yeh then demonstrated by taking one of them light leaps into the air as the tourists like to, flying like the fairy that yeh are. “Low gravity, under mineralisation of the skeleton, low muscle density, extreme height, you know the story. Look you, those who can complete the course I will be taking you to now, will have , after a week or two, gained enough bone and muscle mass to survive tying their boots and may even serve as soldiers instead of little korakun whingers, right?"

May a mòr mug tod suss you up in the gead, we all thought. “Sarge, yes, Sarge!” we said aloud.

After a week, twas just me; Òconnaught, Eoighan, and Padriag left from seven. After two, twas only I left over. Gobha and Saoir were in the medics with torn muscles, Bansorn, and Seorga had espied themselves away home, the other three just vanished like uisge in the presence of a goblin. Twas only I remaining…

I felt knackered and done right in but, there was a soomp shiny feeling to that, I felt like the chalk o’ the cote, the sìc-à-siùl, I could lift the Rig’s rig in both hands and toss it away like it was nothing. With the rig off, I was mooching all smooth and verily flew to me ked that night!

Next morning, the Sarge was there. Til now he’d worn tan fatigues to training but today he was in his full armour of royal and gold, fine crested helmet in the crook of one arm; knife on his back and lig-riori holstered at his hip, he had a pack – my pack ! – at his feet and a lazy smile on them charred lips of his. Believe it or not, it took me two full minutes to spot the converted Stymphalion tranport with its ramp down behind him.

“No time for slan vala, Sëan,” he told me, the smile all gone. “Shy we got a clek in the nest so secrecy is our only friend.”

I lifted me bag from his feet and climbed the ramp without a word.

To say we flew into a skatagam of the highest order is an understatement. Our trip past the majesty of the Ring Docks was a thing of beauty, though I felt a pull like none other once we left my home behind. The green and blue jewel of Gaia growing on the screens as the dusty grey of home receded. Two Navy pilots in their black ellifint helmets sat silently in the cockpit with their backs to us, only their armoured hands moving now and then. The interior lights were off and the silence was uncanny, just the click of impact armoured fingers from the cockpit now and then, or the hiss of static as they surely spoke on a closed fono channel amongst themselves. The Sarge had his helmet on and had me don me mask and seal it on good as we took off. The tick-gah, tick-gah of me breathing my only companion for what felt like yonks but was surely no longer than minutes. Me fono lit up with the Sarge’s voice;

“4 minutes, zero four minutes to insertion,” he said without emotion. “I hope you’re all ready.”

It did near scare me out of me skin when six suits of epibatoi armour I had not even noticed raised a thumb each in salute at the very same moment. They were locked into grav-couches, something, perhaps, I should consider doing also. I saw now that they were all armed as the Sarge was, except one who was smaller in frame than the rest and had but a small pistol on their hip. A massive rifle, though, was locked to the bulkhead beside that chair and, with a thrill of fear, I realised this could only be the dreaded Persephone herself; best sniper in the whole gamin Empyraeum and stone-cold killer from afar. An enamelled skull with a crosshair on its forehead set on her nearest shoulder guard confirmed this was none other than The Lady Death her very self. I felt me thylakas tighten as I realised that if this was serious enough to have so many eps AND Lady Death along for the ride, we were about to drop right in the kak. Seconds later, it seemed, one of the pilots read me mind over the fono.

“Atmosphere in 3, 2, 1,” he began. “Going in hot and weapons free. Hold on tight, boys and girls, we’re burning our way in.”

I felt the whole airframe vibrate then with the dull kurrr-hurr-kurr of what could only be the hull-mounted Uranos cannons kicking off plasma into some orbital defences. I imagined I could hear their throaty roar over the increased pitch of the atmospheric engines but over that banshee's howl, I could barely hear my own hammering heart!

As the Stymphalion, jinxed, wove, and jerked, I found myself dumped into the one spare couch, next to an ep who was surely pissing themselves with laughter inside of that smug helmet of theirs. Taking a few to steady my breath, I pulled the crash harness down and locked it, only releasing said breath when I was locked in tight.

The Stymphalion continued to bounce like a cat in a sack but at least I was in a position to be identified when my charred corpse was finally recovered, enough would remain, melted to this lovely chair here. I heard the engines change in pitch and felt through the soles of my boots the rhythmic ka-ka-ka-kaahm of the Chimaera carbines under the forward swept wings firing. That meant we was firing at something on the ground, I realised...

"Heavy resistance in the LZ," I am sure this pilot was a gamin Psyber, he was that good. "Ground support incoming but be ready to drop and pop."

"You heard the man," The Sarge spoke up. "Get them ready." Six clicks of static sounded in reply. He looked my way with the sapphire eyes of his helm; I didn't trust myself to give him the traditional thumbs up, so badly was my hands shaking. I gripped the stock of my slung Uranos carbine firm like, hoping that doing so would disguise my absolute bladder squeezing terror. I licked dry and gummy lips inside my mask which thankfully hid my terrified eyes. I nodded with confidence I did not feel.

"Thàrros prin Thanatos!" he growled the motto of the epibatoi, head bowed.

"An bàs! An bàs! An bàs!" six voices chanted back, thumping their chests in time with the words.

To death, to death, to death, I added inside of my own head, this was it….

What followed took quite a while to reconstruct later on. I was just glad there was a later on to put it together in because, as soon as that Stymphalion hit hover and the ramp clanged down on the ruined Lùndùn street, fire hit us from all directions. I could see nothing but flashes of light, dust, and vague outlines of what looked like helmeted people with a half cloak over one shoulder. I could hear…kaos. My ability to distinguish one single sound was overwhelmed and I could do no more than run like hell, automatically staying as low as a big bugger such as I could, towards the royal and gold figures I believed were my side.

The kraka-krak of las weapons, the thunka-thunka-thuka of some large kinetic cannon, the grooowl-bark of the epibatoi Manticora pistols, the screeching whine followed by a deafening brrrr-budda-brrrr of a Gorgos rifle on full auto, maybe I even heard the kurrrr-hudda-kaam of my own trusty Uranos rifle...I heard screams, I heard shouted orders....I heard, I heard...

Of the actual fight, I remember little. I remember aiming my Uranos at anything resembling a dark helmeted figure; I remember kinetic rounds and energy shots kicking dust up all around me, spanging and sparking off our less than adequate cover. I remember hearing a scream dominate my fono as I poured every drop of terror into the discharges of my weapon. It took me a long time to realise the scream was mine. I remember flashes and flicks of adrenaline-soaked memory in strobe-lit madness. I remember thinking I was going to die any second. I remember a firm grip on my shoulder guard, dragging me back, urgent sounds filling my ears through the fono, sounds I could not distinguish as words. With a scream that was equal parts bravado and terror, I lifted my rifle to smash my attacker in the face, only to see the ugly, dirt streaked, and slightly amused face of the Sarge, as he lifted a gloved hand to push my rifle butt away from his face gently.

“We’re done, boyo,” he said softly. He'd lost his helmet at some point and dried blood covered one cheek. “You can stop now.”

So I stopped, right into an undignified pile on the ground, my unconscious limbs still shaking like a kaff-addict’s.

When I awoke, I thought I must have died because I opened my eyes to the face of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She had the most soulful eyes of greyish-green, eyes that wouldn't be out of place in a goddess’s head; her having witnessed the foolishness of mankind for so long, so soulful and deeply sad they were. She had sort of ragged dark red hair, and a pale-skinned, slightly pinched face that had seen too much strife and hardship. Yet she was beautiful still and I felt all the terror of the past day drain away under her gaze.

We were underground, it felt...dry like and smelled of oil and old metal down here. The 'hospital' I was sure I was in was well-lit and under an arched barrel ceiling with images of dragons everywhere; on the filials of the Doric columns, cornices and rosettes on ceiling, reliefs on the walls...where were we....I felt a jump in my chest as old memories presented an option and one of the machines I was obviously wired up to blarted and electronic protest. The beautiful doctor-lady pushed gently on my chest as I tried to rise to my elbows to get a better look. I relented and focussed on the really important view.

“He’ll be fine,” she said to someone much less important than her that I could not see I didn’t want to tear my eyes from hers now, they held me, pinned. “First day nerves.” Her thin yet full lips quirked into a slight smile.

“That’s my lad,” I heard the Sarge growl, almost proudly. “Knew I was right about you, Sëany-boy!”

“I recommend a little bit of rest for him, Gwyn,” the goddess said softly. “Gèalers take a few days to acclimatise, like you or I would at high altitude.”

“You know best, Kat,” the Sarge begrudged. “You know you took down seven of them Keeper melitona, lad? Seven! Not bad for your first out. Not gamin bad at all” There was a kind of avuncular pride in his voice now, a hint of laughter too. “I thought you’d espy out cold a lot faster but you were one of Nemesis' own furies out there.” He patted my arm awkwardly. “Well, done, lad, well done.”

I could feel my eyes getting heavy and closing of their own accord, the Sarge and the goddess Kat continued talking, though their voices were fading out on me now, weaving themselves into my approaching dreams.

“Let him sleep, Gwyn, you big softy,” I heard her say with a lilt of laughter. “and get some rest yourself; you look even worse than you normally do.”

“Lass, you should’ve seen it out there,” He sounded tired, voice dragging. “We barely got into the 'Tube alive, they were everywhere.”

“You got them out, Gwyn, you always do”

“Dragging that big lummox as well.” He allowed with a chuckle. “He’ll be right, that one. Heart of gold stolen from a gamin lion.” A barely stifled yawn.

“You push yourself too hard Gwyn, you should’ve waited for Soong and the scouts to get back.” Her tone was heavily reproachful.

He ignored the barb. “How is old Percy? What was he doing out there?”

“Clearing out what he could from what those…people…left of Blackfriars.” She sighed; it was quite interesting how she could make normal words sound like curses without resorting to coarse language. “You’re lucky he saw that ambush and called it in, Gwyn, you’re taking too many risks.”

“If we stop, your flickering flame of Panastàs will go out,” he sighed even more deeply. “The Lady Èkatà keeps them inspired and hoping, you do, but I keep them alive.” His voice sounded even more tired than I felt. “I shudder to think what would happen if anyone ever found The Nest like they found Blackfriars. We barely got you out of there alive.”

“You’re no good to us dead or half way there, Gwyn,” she wasn't letting this go.

“I’m bringing down as many as I can,” he said. “This tev here, pretending to be asleep, was the only one of seven that made it.”

“Maybe the Kalshodar…” so painful it was to hear the burning hope in her voice.

“Oh come on, Kat!” he sounded angry, voice rising. “They’re not coming back, though I could do with a couple of those mòr-dulàin right now. Maybe they were never even –“

A sharp meaty sound cut him off, I was almost too far gone to be amused but not far enough yet, unfortunately. I hope the Sarge didn’t see my smirk; she’d slapped him, quite hard too!

“You, Gwydion ap Nudd, need to stop speaking like that!” she sounded like a teacher or...a mother scolding a wayward child. It was odd, though; they say that your true, birth accent comes out either when you're drunk or angry, and hers did now. It was a strange, sing-song, liquid accent like none I'd heard before, one that sounded almost new to Easy-G. “We need you as much if not more than we need me. These young men and women need you. If word gets out that you are losing hope and talking…talking….such sillinesses…” she let it hang there, all pregnant and menacing like.

I dared not open my eyes but, from the Sarge’s breathing, it sounded as if he was fighting back tears! “I deserved that, U,” he laughed raggedly. “I’m sorry.”

The lady sniffed but sounded like she had taken his apology in good grace. “You need to watch this one,” she tapped my chest again. “He’s too bloody clever.”

“Part of the reason I chose him, U.” the Sarge laughed. “Listen, I don’t know about you but I need a drink. Let’s get out of this tev’s sneaky earshot. I’m paying.”

The lights went out then and I was left alone. I started but mull over all I’d heard in my head but sleep stole over me much faster than I’d imagined it could. I fell into a deep, healing sleep to the ticking and wheezing sounds of unknown machinery.

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