Eject advanced as fast as he could. The road was still level at this point, but would start going uphill after the next big junction. The climb would slow him down, but he felt a sense of finality that kept him from abandoning his intentions as unrealistic.
A certain Pershing had been trying to stir his resolve - in Eohelm's stead - for the past few minutes now, without any success so far.
«Come on! Don't you think it'd be smarter to just wait for backup instead of rushing a tank alone who's been gunning specifically for you?»
"No," Eject replied flatly.
The answer was baffled silence. Eject drove on undeterred. Sky contacted him again after a short while, apparently not giving up yet.
«Listen, the battle is as good as won. We don't want any fucking last-minute casualties, okay?» she said grimly.
"And I don't want her to get away or ambush us."
«You're gonna take an artillery shell to the face.»
"Not if I shoot her first."
«Oh, for fuck's sake.»
Her end was silent again for a while after that as she presumably had to ask Eohelm for more convincing arguments.
'Going it alone as per usual, I see.'
The sudden memory of the GW Panther's words felt so deceptively real that Eject had to throw a quick look around to make sure she wasn't actually present. He slowed down for a moment.
'Why don't you come and give it a try as well? We could put your little threat to the test.'
He shook his turret.
"If closure is what you want," he murmured, "you'll get it."
As he passed a side-street, he suddenly noticed some movement - or maybe he only had imagined it, because when he turned his turret around, there was no one there.
The sound of an engine further ahead made him quickly look through his hull's optics. His gaze met the Indien-Panzer, who was just halting in the middle of the big junction that Eject was about to enter.
Eject halted as well. His gaze was returned with a pleading look.
"You ..." Eject said tonelessly. The Indien-Panzer immediately burst out with a distraught flood of words.
"Eject! I'm so sorry!" he shouted. "I'm sorry, I really am! Please forgive me, I'm not a traitor!"
Eject started turning his turret around.
"Please, Eject!" the Indien-Panzer went on. "I didn't kill him, I'm so sorry, ...!"
He seemed to sense that his pleading was directed at the wrong tank and quickly turned around; the moment he was facing the street to his right, however, he froze for some reason. Eject had finished traversing and pointed his cannon at the motionless target. As he was about to pull the trigger, the Indien-Panzer was hit in the front. The shell's impact made the hull rock back on its suspension. There wasn't even a scream - the Indien-Panzer was dead immediately.
Eject frowned with confusion. He set himself into motion, approached the wreck.
"Who shot Panzer?" he asked into his radio.
«What do you mean?» Sky replied.
Eject came to a halt.
«Looks like it's no longer just us against them,» Fox said.
«See??» Sky blurted out. «Should have waited for us!»
With a discontent rumble from his engine, Eject started backing up. As much as he disliked the idea of postponing his plans, he wasn't hellbent enough on executing them to risk getting killed before he got a chance to do that - which would most likely happen if he entered the junction after all now.
Somehow - and he really didn't know how it was possible - Nordic was still alive. Instead of shooting him, the Indien-Panzer had just turned around and left. It was hard to tell what had happened afterwards. The only thing Nordic could say with relative certainty was that the shooting in the other parts of the town seemed to have ceased; or maybe he was simply not noticing it anymore.
What he did notice was the sound of an engine growing louder. It sounded incredibly strained. Tracks rattled against the concrete in a way that suggested their owner driving at high speed. Nordic blinked with confusion.
Before he could even think about acting, a flash of grey and brown zoomed past his position. Even though Nordic had barely realized what was going on, he had no doubts who that had been. The GW Panther was too familiar.
"Damnit ...!" he cursed to himself. This could have been his chance to kill her, after all! But maybe it wasn't too late yet.
It took an immense amount of effort to get his engine to start. Instead of a controlled motion, he ended up lunging out into the street before it stalled again. He was about to turn his turret to aim for the running GW Panther, but a sudden, earsplitting scream caught his attention instead.
"Outta the way!!
There was the screech of brakes, of tracks skidding across the ground. Nordic threw a wide-eyed look up the hill, from where a small tank was coming straight at him. The E-25 swerved to the side with an inarticulate yelp, a moment before he would have hit Nordic. He hit a building instead, crashed right through its front. By the time the debris stopped toppling down, Nordic still hadn't fully processed what had just happened.
"Why, thank you," a snide voice said.
Nordic was startled again and looked the other way. The GW Panther had turned around and was climbing back up the road. She reached Nordic while he was fruitlessly trying to get his cannon to load. He had to admit to himself it wasn't working when the GW Panther already stood right in front of him and there was still no shell in his breech.
With an unfathomable expression, the GW Panther only looked at him quietly for a moment.
"So you saw the end of this battle, after all," she said eventually.
"Did you win ...?" Nordic asked.
The GW Panther tilted her cannon, then pointed it at him with a smile.
"Yes," she said, and fired.
Eject’s gaze darted back. Behind him, the street led back to the garage spaces. Whatever he had seen in the side-street on the way from there, he now was sure it had been a tank. Ahead of him, there was another attacker.
«Are you sure it wasn’t the Panther who shot him?» Sky asked on the radio.
“Absolutely sure,” Eject replied grimly. “That wasn’t her cannon.”
He had barely finished his sentence as he heard the sound of what definitely was the GW Panther’s cannon somewhere beyond the junction. It was paired with an immediate explosion, suggesting that whatever she had hit, it must have been at point-blank range.
«Also,» Fox added, «I’m ninety-nine percent sure she would have let us know if it had been her.»
“I don’t like this,” Eject rumbled. His turret shifted from side to side indecisively.
«Rex and Fox,» Sky said, «do you guys have a line of sight?»
«Line of sight to what?
» Fox asked.
Eject backed up further, but the debris and vegetation was sparse in this street; there was no viable cover for his hull. The radio was silent for a few seconds before Sky replied again.
«The junction. Eject. Anything!» she said, her voice tenser than before.
«Not right now,» Fox said. «We’re entering the central—»
Fox suddenly fell silent. Before Eject could decide if that was a bad sign, the King Tiger spoke again.
«T34 is here, …» he said.
Rex finished the sentence in a sour voice.
«… and dead.»
Fox went on.
«Eject, Fox. We’re on the way.»
All of a sudden, the radio was silent. Siren had been broadcasting his own hunt over their shared channel — as he loved to do. But his last words and the sound of a crash made the following abrupt silence foreboding.
Tate strained to listen for any sign of life. He was waiting for even the slightest hint of a noise, but the seconds passed and the silence stretched on.
» Fang called nonverbally, but the addressed tank destroyer knew that he was at least as alarmed as he was. Tate did his best to remain calm, despite a growing feeling that the worst might have had happened.
"This isn't the first time he —
" he began to reply - nonverbally as well -, but Fang's response already arrived before he could finish the transmission.
«This isn't like the other times.
Considering their options for a moment, Tate decided on the one that was the least likely to get them killed.
"We're getting out of here.
«But Siren …
» Fang replied immediately. He didn't have to finish the sentence.
Tate looked up to the hill. In none of the scenarios he went through in his mind in that moment, they got out of the town alive if they took a detour up there. His gaze returned to the street. He started his engine.
"If we wait for him to join us, we will join him.
Fang obviously understood what Tate was implying with these words.
» he asked.
«But the T29 —
Tate found it ironic how only moments ago, the T29 had been the trapped one; but now, it suddenly felt like the opposite was the case.
"Preferable to a VK and Tiger. We'll take care of him.
With no further protests from his brother, Tate kicked his engine into gear, accelerating as fast as it allowed.
" he ordered.
He hurried down the street, reached the corner, drove out into the adjacent road - and saw the T29 to his left, facing him.
Eject turned around immediately as he heard an engine approach from behind him. His hull turned painfully slowly. The moment he had finished the turn and pointed his loaded cannon down the road, a tank rushed out of the street to the right. The Ferdinand did a brake turn. Eject fired, but the shell hit the other tank's front at an angle that caused it to ricochet.
The Ferdinand faced him and shot back — sharp pain sprang through Eject's front. Something scrunched behind him. He switched to his other view ports and saw a Jagdpanther stand in the intersection, beside the Indien-Panzer's wreck. Eject already braced himself for taking a shell to the back, but in that very moment, a different cannon roared and the Jagdpanther was hit in the side.
The tank destroyer's cannon darted to the side. Rex' voice could be heard in the distance.
"Shoot, if you want to die!" he shouted.
Eject would have preferred a shell instead of words, but they seemed to have the desired effect, at least. He looked in front of himself again, where the Ferdinand had already turned around and was fleeing. Eject's cannon was still reloading as the Ferdinand entered the street to the left.
Just in case he would return, Eject kept his cannon pointed at the building corner - even though he wasn't fully comfortable with ignoring the Jagdpanther. As the moments passed in tense silence without any events, Sky's sudden radio transmission made Eject flinch.
«Guys, what's the situation?»
Fox replied, his voice audible both on the radio and nearby.
"Hard to say, but we caught a Jagdpanther," he replied.
“A Ferdinand escaped,” Eject added. “He still might be somewhere …”
"Let's find out," Fox said. His voice was getting closer. Eject looked back again, but the German heavies were probably keeping a safe distance from the stranger in the junction. They weren't in sight, at least not from Eject's position. The Jagdpanther still wasn't moving, which was the wise thing to do when two cannons of that caliber were pointed at him. Eject dared to relax for the time being. He turned around and frowned at the unfamiliar intruder; said intruder had some explaining to do.
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