TL: Chapter 15 - Showdown Pt.3

«Eohelm, Fox. Panther has stopped shooting me. What now?»   It took Eohelm a moment to reply to the incoming transmission from Fox. Focusing on tactics was much easier when he wasn‘t involved in a fight himself. He mentally went over the current situation, where everyone was located, and what the GW Panther‘s next move could be.   Before he could finally say something, Rex joined the conversation.   «Fox, Rex. T34 might pass your street in the next few minutes. Watch out.»   Fox confirmed receiving the message. Eohelm added to it.   “Fox, Eohelm. We also don’t know where Challenger is. She could be sneaking u—”   A shell flew past his turret just as he swerved to the side, making a sharp turn around the building corner before him.   “- up on you.”   Eohelm broke through the fence that divided the rails from the rest of the town, swerving once more to bring the wagons between himself and the T-150, who would most likely re-appear very soon. Right now it was a game of cat and mouse, until Eohelm would be able to somehow get to the heavy’s side again. How he would achieve that wasn’t completely clear yet. He also realized that Fox was still waiting for further instructions, and quickly returned to his earlier train of thought.   “Eject, Eohelm. What’s the situation? Any change?” he asked, making sure he was still up to date.   The initial reply was a moody grumble, but then a proper answer followed.   «Eohelm, Eject. She could be anywhere.»   Bad news. Eohelm sighed to relieve some tension, but it didn’t work. He flinched as a shell burst through the wagon he was just driving behind, showering the Centurion with its pieces. He shook off the scare and continued wracking his brains. As much as he didn’t like sacrificing even more firepower for hide-and-seek, there seemed to be no way around it right now. He turned to his radio again.   “Fox, Eohelm. Go north, help Eject find Challenger.”   «Eohelm, Fox. Understood,» Fox replied.   That left only one big question mark about the state of the battle. Eohelm suddenly realized that he hadn’t heard from Nordic for a worryingly long time. The Hellcat, in a streak of bravery that Eohelm did not fully condone, was planning to take on the GW Panther all on his own — despite the fact that without doubt, she knew he was coming for her. She would be prepared. It sounded all too much like a kamikaze mission. And the radio silence was the opposite of a good sign.   “Nordic, Eohelm. Report.  He anxiously waited for an answer … There was none.  

***
 

As soon as the terror of the high-speed chase had subsided, a different anxiety had taken hold of Nordic. Still hurrying as he had climbed the hill, he had now slowed down as he was almost reaching its top. Taking the detour to approach from the northern side instead of the southern roads like the GW Panther hopefully expected him to had cost valuable time, but he prayed to all the deities he could think of that it had bought him the advantage he needed to survive this encounter.   He knew that he couldn’t waste time with playing hide and seek, but rushing now could mean wasting his life. With the element of surprise on his side, he could have a chance to take out the Panther before she could even notice him. Even a grazing shot from her artillery cannon would mess him up badly. His idea of making it out of there alive was to sneak up on her … and her guard.   Careful not to run over anything that would make a loud noise, he rolled on as the path became less steep. The dense tangle of trees and bushes that had been surrounding him became sparser. The big castle ruins were in view again. Grass took over the cobblestone of the paths and roads that were joining each other again up here.   It took only a few more moments until Nordic finally reached the flat plateau that formed the hilltop. Only a few bushes and the occasional tree offered meagre cover there — the crumbled remains of walls and small buildings, a maze of debris, posed a deadly hazard instead. The enemies could be hiding behind every corner. From below, Nordic could hear the sounds of the battle, so clearly that it could have been happening on the hill. Every shot made him flinch.   He halted behind a wall, peeked through an empty window. The GW Panther was probably waiting in a spot where she could see him approaching from far away. On one hand, that would mean that she could be fairly exposed, but on the other hand, Nordic could be spotted already long before he got so see her. He didn’t underestimate the power of the artillery sights. Whereas any regular vehicle had to rely on their sense of sight and the luck to be looking into the right direction, an SPG could simply ‘feel’ their surroundings. Camouflage paint or ability to move silently weren’t going to save him here.   Right then, all that Nordic could see was the scenery. His strained gaze wandered from side to side, fruitlessly. The narrow window frame only granted him a small field of view. He had to dare to find a better position. Trying to suppress the racing of his engine, he inched out from behind the wall. He halted again as he had rolled forward enough to be able to look around the corner. He switched to his gun sights. The scene was the same, but as he looked further to the left, something caught his attention.   It was barely visible, but behind the remains of a small wall, Nordic could see a little trail of mist. The exact trail that he would expect the ventilation of a tank to produce in this cool weather. Nordic’s own ventilation quickened as he rolled back behind the wall, turned around, and sneaked on. He needed to get a better angle. Carefully, he kept watching his left as he advanced, until he reached a spot that would allow him to take a better look.   He rolled up to an overgrown hedge, looked past it. Finally, he spotted what he was looking for. A small blot of unnatural colours — a piece of cloth that moved ever so slightly with a breeze, giving away the tank it belonged to.   Nordic focused on that particular area, and now could easily make out the shape of the camouflaged and otherwise almost invisible GW Panther. She was showing her side to him, facing the way he had come from.  This is my only chance.  Shifting slightly, Nordic inched forward to be able to aim at her fuel tank.   He loaded his cannon, steadied it — and gave a jump as a voice suddenly yelled “Watch out!”.   Before he even thought again about pulling the trigger, he saw that the GW Panther was spinning around, turning straight towards him. In that moment, Nordic immediately knew that there was only one option if he didn’t want to get torn to pieces by a large caliber shell in a second. No time for turning around. He kicked his engine into gear and sprinted forward and to the right, hoping to increase the time it would take the SPG to line up her cannon with his frame.   He accelerated frantically, crossing the open space of the meeting place in the middle of the hilltop at breakneck speed. The only plan he could think of was to reach the other side of the hill, somehow. A sudden radio transmission from Eohelm went completely ignored. The road leading down the south side of the hill was in sight already. Nordic raced past a small building, swerved to the side to have something between him and the GW Panther’s gun. He yelped at the same time as the other tank he almost drove into by doing this. With a brake turn, he barely avoided crashing into the Indien-Panzer.   Said Indien-Panzer only gaped at Nordic as the Hellcat quickly regained his speed and continued his dash.   Somehow, it was shocking and unexpected when not an artillery shell, but the Indien-Panzer’s hit him in the back a moment later. Nordic cried out, feeling that something vital had just broken.   His engine stuttered.   Throwing a bewildered look behind himself, he could see the Indien-Panzer’s aghast expression for a moment before the medium disappeared behind the hill ridge.   Nordic struggled to keep driving in a straight line, but he knew that he couldn’t slow down or stop now.   His ventilation faltered.  This can’t be,’ he thought, feeling himself lose speed. He changed his mind about not stopping as he realized that he would not be outrunning anyone like this. His gaze darted ahead, and he spotted an open, large doorway. He hit the brakes and drove into it, coming to a halt inside.   His vision became blurry.   There was one thing he was suddenly certain of — he wouldn’t get out of this alive. Surely, the GW Panther wasn’t done with him. He had failed his one task in a battle he couldn’t help but feel he was at least partly responsible for. How on earth had he managed to get himself into such a mess?

***
 

The GW Panther blinked. She was baffled. Her gaze was fixed on the Indien-Panzer, who had rolled out from behind his cover and was staring down the other side of the hill. He seemed petrified. The GW Panther rolled forward, accelerating quickly as she hurried to his side. Only when she reached him, he suddenly flinched and turned his turret towards her.   “I — I got him —” the medium stammered, his voice agitated — but in a way that made it sound like he was about to start crying.   “No, you didn’t!” the GW Panther snapped at him. Her optics followed a trail of shreds of torn armour that led down the hill. “He’s getting away!” The fact that the Indien-Panzer had shot him at all was impressive. It looked like he had indeed landed a good hit, but the fact that Nordic wasn’t a wreck yet meant that he hadn’t hit him well enough. Someone needed to finish this job. And there was no way the GW Panther would risk her life trying to kill a wounded animal — even though she would have loved to deal with Nordic herself.   The Indien-Panzer didn’t react immediately, so the GW Panther gave him a verbal shove.   “Go!” she shouted. Fortunately he seemed to understand what she expected him to do. He didn’t ask or protest and set himself into motion, descending down the road.   The GW Panther had other tanks to deal with, anyway.   Waiting for Nordic to show up had cost valuable time. She was reminded of this when a radio transmission from the Challenger reached her a moment later — the pathetic TD was urging her to do something about Eject. The GW Panther grimaced, but only for a moment. She had to admit that she didn’t mind at all giving Eject some attention. She had hoped for a more personal encounter during this battle, but she had an idea how to make it personal nevertheless.   Returning to her previous position from where she could overlook the town center, she immediately scanned the streets for her new target.


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