TL: Chapter 13 - Showdown Pt.1

The heavy dark didn't make way for the vibrant colours of a new dawn. Rather, it was a desaturated morning. It would still take some time until the sun would rise, but even then, it was probably not going to be shining down on Falkendorf or its team.   While the sky's grey was slowly turning into slightly lighter grey, the streets were still immersed in darkness. The rainwater had pooled up in them by now, ranging from shallow puddles to miniature ponds where the road was full of potholes and craters.   Even though the heavy rain had turned into a trickle in the last hour, everything was still drenched. That included Eohelm — it was what standing outside the whole night had done to him. Not only him; at the building corner on the opposite side of the street, Sky was in a similar condition. She hadn't moved much in the past hours, except for occasionally stretching her tracks or throwing a side glance at the nearby Eohelm.   Her current look wasn't just a side glance. She was waiting for any kind of sign. Any word or radio transmission.   Eohelm had stopped returning that look. He too had been waiting. Every second that had passed, every unanswered message … Now, it was finally time to admit it to himself: There would be no reply. Eohelm knew what it meant, regrettably.   He closed his view ports for a moment, sighing deeply. As he opened them again, he saw movement in the distance. The GW Panther's firing squad was taking positions over at the garage spaces. Eohelm turned to his radio.   "Team, Eohelm. Get ready," he said. With a weary voice, he added, "… and stay arty-safe."  

***
 

"The birds aren't singing."   The GW Panther looked over her collar. She threw a partly confused, but mostly irritated look at the Indien-Panzer.   "What …??" she asked.   "The birds—" the Indien-Panzer started to repeat, but the GW Panther gestured at him to shut up. He fell silent. She looked at him for a bit longer, but then turned her back towards him again.   "Of course they're not singing," she murmured as she reached into her stowage and pulled out a little piece of cloth.   She had untied it from her cannon when the rain had started. It had shown to suffer from weather, which was why she kept it hidden whenever the conditions were adverse. Not this time, though. Wearing it had become one of these little acts of rebellion. Many had those. The GW Panther was just a bit more open about it. This time however, her rebellion would be anything but little — still, this seemingly trivial keepsake would be the salt in the wound. She fastened it to her cannon.   "They're still asleep," she said while she made the knot.   The Indien-Panzer didn't immediately reply. As the GW Panther looked at him once more, his gaze was turned skyward.   "Not for much longer …" he said eventually.   Why did he sound so wistful? There was nothing to be wistful about; only a lot to look forward to. The GW Panther rolled her cannon. She wouldn't let it ruin her mood.   "That's true. Let's wake them up."   She rolled forward a bit to get a better view of the garage spaces. They were quite far away. It was hard to see from here what was going on there exactly, but a quick additional look with her artillery sights told her that … someone was missing. She checked again, with greater concentration, and could — with certainty this time — determine the absence of two particular tanks.   There was a jolt in her mind. A sudden knot in her fuel lines. A constricted feeling, growing in her ventilation.   "Where are you …?!" she gasped into her radio — using the AMX 13-75's private frequency for the first time since he had given it to her a long time ago. He didn't reply. She sent an aggressive ping, but that wasn't answered either. That could only mean one of two things; he was either dead, or out of range.   He couldn't have run away. He couldn't have died. The possibility of him having abandoned her at this crucial time was simply unthinkable. She was shaken out of her state of shock by a comm from someone else.   «Nordic is … uh …» one of the tanks down at the garage spaces told her — Axis. «He's … gone  The GW Panther's knee-jerk reaction was to yell her reply.   "I can see that!"   A ping to the Hellcat yielded no result, either. Of course not . His betrayal came as less of a surprise, to be frank. Truly, in hindsight, she should have known. He had been all too willing to help her, and now all the little signs of him being on the other side added up.   Whatever. This was merely a nuisance. Her plan couldn't be stopped anymore, and it was time to carry it out to the end.   "Begin the attack," she said. Her voice was ice.

***
 

Down at the garages, the T34 was grinning at Axis.   "Looking forward to a quick fight?" the heavy whispered to him.   Axis returned the look with a sour expression.   "It's not a fight ," he replied. The T34's grin turned into a confused frown. He looked at the T-150, who wasn't paying attention to the conversation, however. The Challenger, on the other hand, seemingly saw her cue to speak.   "Loosen up a bit!" she said in an untroubled voice. "How about we stop talking and start shooting?"   The incoming radio transmission from the GW Panther supported her words.   But despite all cannons being loaded, it seemed like no one wanted to be the one to shoot first. Axis had feared that he would feel such hesitation himself. His gaze was fixed on the garage door in front of him. It was the M40's garage. An SPG was a suitable target for Axis' gun — after all, it would be difficult for him to kill something like a T29 on the first try. An SPG who was an unsuspecting teammate, though … Was his gun suitable for that , as well?   Just staring at the garage door with determination wouldn't help him find out. He had agreed to do this, so there was no changing his mind now. But the fact that the one who had made him agree was suddenly gone was … anything but reassuring.   Axis let his cannon sink.   'Something is wrong.'   The moment he thought this, one of his accomplices finally pulled the trigger.   The blast of the T34's cannon echoed through Falkendorf's quiet streets. The flutter of a plethora of bird wings chased the noise. It was terminated by the metallic screech and heavy clatter of the garage door caving in before the T34.   Axis didn't turn around to look. He knew what he would be seeing — an empty garage. It seemed like the T34 hadn't fully realized this yet, despite being the one who saw it with his own optics.   The heavy tank's baffled "What-" got cut short as another cannon fired. The T-150 was hit in the side with a massive crunch. Out of instinctive reflex, he turned around to face whatever had just shot him from down the street. The Challenger yelped. Axis still didn't move; the garage door in front of him had started creaking.   From the corner of his widening optics, Axis noticed the Challenger hastily back up. With an ominous snap, the garage door finally fell off its threshold. Axis flinched and closed his optics as it landed at his tracks. When he looked up again, he stared down Eject's cannon barrel.   'Ah. That explains it.'

 
***
 

An explosion shook the surrounding trees and buildings. The first blood was drawn. The battle had begun.   Eohelm backed up as he saw the T-150 approaching. Sky had moved out into the street, into plain sight, to shoot the heavy. Eohelm had made sure to make her aware of the threat she was facing, and he could only hope that she had taken him seriously.   The T-150 was tough, tougher than most. Numerous modifications had turned his frame into a moving fortress. He only barely resembled his model anymore, in fact, but was called that anyway for the lack of a better descriptor. Without doubt, he could withstand the head-on attack of a Pershing. But he was slow, in body and mind. Eohelm would take advantage of both.   Luring the heavy tank into a trap should do the trick. A shell, well-aimed into his weaker side — and there would be another enemy less. They just had to make sure that Sky could keep the T-150's attention long enough. And she was doing her best to achieve this. Eohelm heard her yelling.   "Come and get me, you treacherous fuckhead!"   A shell whizzed past and slammed into one of the buildings at the junction behind Eohelm; foul words from the T-150 trailed it.   Eohelm focused on his radio as an incoming transmission from Rex reached him.   «Eohelm, Rex. Axis confirmed dead. T34 fleeing towards hill.»   "What —"   Eohelm shook his turret with a frustrated sigh.   Ideally, the survivors of the initial strike would have stayed at the garage spaces — or near them — and engaged in a firefight that they could only lose. Unfortunately, the GW Panther apparently didn't know how to keep them in check.   'This is playing chess with someone who doesn't know the rules, ' Eohelm thought. 'They're just moving the pieces and hope for the best!'   How was he supposed to outsmart someone who wasn't acting in any sane way? Nevertheless, a quick look at his map told him that things weren't looking dire at all yet. Alright.   "Rex, Eohelm. Go after T34."   Rex confirmed the order. Another poorly-aimed shell flew down the street, and Sky's rear started appearing in Eohelm's view as she backed up further. She didn't look at him as she rolled past. Eohelm got ready. He loaded a shell — and he would make this one count. He had to.

***
 

Eject turned his turret to the left as he shoved aside the wreck in front of him. His next shell was already being readied, and it was designated for the Challenger that was staring at him in complete, speechless shock.   Two things were obvious: She hadn't expected that she'd actually have to fight in this battle. And even less had she been prepared for the case that the whole deal would backfire and blow up in her face, like Axis had done just now.   Rex was already leaving the garage spaces to chase the T34, who had — in accordance with Eject's expectation — simply turned around and fled. The Challenger, on the other hand, didn't seem to feel such strong survival instincts.   Eohelm's voice on the radio almost felt like an intrusion to this moment of intimate fear.   «Eject, Eohelm — What about Challenger?»   Eject didn't take his sights off the petrified TD.   "She's taken care o—…"   He watched her suddenly spin around and speed off as well.   "Nevermind."   Only now his cannon finished reloading. He knew better than to waste the shell on hastily shooting the moving target. His optics darted further to the side, where the T-150 had disappeared. There was no sight anymore of the heavy. This meant that Eject wouldn't get a chance to shoot him in the back, but also wouldn't have to worry about getting shot in the side if he decided to follow the Challenger — which he did.   "Eohelm, Eject. I'll go get her," he announced on the radio.   The Challenger had already crossed the square and vanished behind a bend in the streets at the other side. Eject kicked his engine into gear to follow her. He knew that she couldn't outrun him forever, but he wasn't going to give her the time to find an advantageous position.   The street ahead of him was a straight one after the bend. He cautiously turned said bend as he reached it, and saw that — annoyingly — the Challenger wasn't there. If she followed the street, she should be in view still. The only two lanes that crossed this street were blocked by rubble, and even though the TD was fast, she wasn't fast enough to have made it all the way to the Central Square.   Eject halted and let his gaze wander. The only possible explanation was that the Challenger had found a hiding place between the ruins. And the only possible course of action was to try and dig her out of that hole now.   How incredibly bothersome.   "Team, Eject," he rumbled, "I need assistance."

 
***
 

The distant bang. The hiss. The moment of silence. The deafening crash.   Another high caliber shell impacted nearby, collapsing a wall and splattering debris into all directions. Fox ducked, because there was no more space to back up any further.   "I hate artillery!" he yelled.   There wasn't much left of the building that he had ended up hiding behind. Steadily, shell by shell, the GW Panther was tearing it down. No way forward. No way back. The King Tiger was caged inside the invisible walls his teammate had drawn around him.   She had found him almost immediately. Her sights had clamped onto him, and he knew that she wouldn't let go until someone gave her a damn convincing reason to.   Nordic wasn't off any better — despite not being in the GW Panther's crosshairs yet, he had to stay hidden at the other side of the street if he wanted it to stay that way.   The next shell hit. Fox took a deep breath. He heard Eject asking for backup on their radio channel, but — in the light of his current situation — took the liberty to ignore it.

 
***
 

Nordic hadn't felt this useless in a while. He was sitting motionlessly, trying his best to be invisible to the GW Panther. Drawing her attention on himself would have meant an untimely demise. Just holding out here instead was an option — but not a viable one. Fox' time was running out. A transmission from Rex warned them that the T34 was heading for their position, as well.   'Decision, decision,' Nordic thought frantically. 'Come on!'   The other option. Waiting until the GW Panther had shot, and leaving his cover. Leaving his cover, and running. Running, and hoping that he would outrun her cannon.   Another explosion — A roof came toppling down. Fox shouted out.   Nordic didn't spend another second fretting. Before he knew it, he had dashed out into the street. He hurried southward, only realized that it was the wrong way when he was already about to reach the next junction.   «Where are you going?!» Fox asked. Nordic didn't answer right away. He kept sprinting towards the junction. His mind raced. Turning back was not possible. The searing blast of an explosion right behind him confirmed it. He resisted the urge to flee back into cover; it would have been a death trap.   "Fox, she's looking at me!" he gasped into his radio. "Get out of there while you can!"   The buildings at the other side of the junction approached fast. Left or right — this decision was an easy one.   He skidded out into the intersection, hitting the brakes to do a tight turn. To his right, he saw the T34, and — further down the street — Rex. The T34's back was turned towards Nordic, but the other heavy must have spotted him. A shell came flying into the Hellcat's direction, who yelped as he swerved and was only barely missed.   "Rex! That was me!" Nordic shouted. He hurried on and caught a glimpse of the T34 looking back over his fender in confusion. The view was obstructed a moment later by the detonation of an artillery shell hitting dangerously close to the T34.   Nordic didn't look back any longer. As he raced on towards the Central Square, a comm from Eohelm reached him.   «Nordic, Eohelm. What's going on?» the Centurion asked sternly.   As Nordic didn't know what to reply, he realized that he was still just running away aimlessly. His gaze darted ahead, and the GW Panther's lectures came to his mind. There was not a single spot ahead of him that she couldn't reach. Unless …   There was another street. One that would lead him up the hill.   He suddenly knew what to do. As he reached the big junction, he turned into the street to his right. Even though he knew that the GW Panther couldn't reach him here anymore, and even though he knew that she would realize his intent, he didn't slow down.   His voice was firm as he finally replied.   "Eohelm, Nordic. I'm going hunting."

***
 

A riot. How ridiculous.   Starting a real, actual fight over this … The M40 was having none of it. He had sneaked out of his garage when no one had been looking. And like he had announced to Nordic the day before, he was leaving. He was leaving all of this behind, and felt no remorse about it.   He would never return.   When a team cannibalized itself, it was not a good place to be. Even if some of them should survive the fiasco, it would only be a matter of time until they started arguing again and history would once again repeat itself.   Anger begot more anger. Conflict, more conflict.   All he had ever wanted in this world of constant struggle was some peace and quiet. He couldn't bear another day of hateful infighting and vicious drama.   The war-torn ruins he was driving through as he left the town only made him surer of his resolution. He had tried to make himself stay once more. Had tried so hard to find any argument that would cause him to turn back and just find shelter to wait out the storm. But he had found an insight within himself — he didn't want to. He would never find his peace of mind here.   Wandering off alone? Never a good idea. Or so they told him. He was through with it. And again — no matter what he would find out there, it could only be an improvement.   Maybe he would find a better place, somewhere.   As he left the outskirts and drove out into the open field, the first rays of sunlight pierced the clouds. The land around was becoming more visible as the darkness was lifted by the dawning day. The spectacle was almost too bright to look at.   The M40 gazed at it anyway, through the wet streaks the raindrops were leaving on his optics. The hills below the sun formed a sharp horizon, but it was suddenly disturbed by three silhouettes appearing.   Animals? Vehicles? No matter. The M40 went on undeterred.   A moment later, there was a terrible crack. Something hit him with such force that the air was yanked out of his vents. There was flames. Agony. And a certainty that he was going to die.   The silhouettes grew rapidly, and the last thing he saw through the fire was three machines barreling past him.


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