TL: Chapter 5 - Night Encounter

The sun had long disappeared behind the mountaintops again, and the night sky was clear. A full moon was adorning it, shining its light on the rugged landscape below. The grass and the leaves on the bushes swayed with a soft breeze. Arty was standing guard while her new teammates rested. The Sturmpanzer was overlooking the surrounding area through her artillery sights, using her convenient position to her advantage. But there was no one anywhere to be seen. Only some animals were wandering around at this late hour, but they were hardly a threat.   The spot the tanks had chosen to rest was relatively covered, but Arty had picked a position nearby that allowed her a good view of both directions of the path. She was standing on top of the edge of a cliff that was dozens of meters deep, her cannon moving about every once in a while as she switched the side she was checking — to her left and right, the path wound itself along the cliffsides, eventually closing into valleys again on both sides. Behind Arty, there was a rocky terrace, which was high enough to have its top hidden from observers on the path below. The other tanks were sleeping there.   But not all of them, it seemed. Arty flinched as something touched her side. She quickly switched to her normal sights and saw Sky, who had poked her side armour with her cannon. The Pershing moved up to her, parking herself next to her.   “So, any ideas how we should call ourselves?” Sky asked with a faint grin in her voice. Arty shook her cannon.   “I'm not … good with names,” she replied.   Sky just gave a thoughtful “Hm” in response and then fell silent for a moment. As she went on, her tone was grim.   “We’ll have to find some fuel soon, we’re all pretty empty.”   Arty nodded her agreement. She went back to watching the area through her special sights.   “There’s no one nearby. Not even track marks or anything. I don't think anyone's been here in a while,” she concluded eventually. She added a crestfallen, “A miracle wouldn’t be too bad now. Otherwise things are looking dire.”   Sky gave her an encouraging slap with her cannon.   “What’s with that negative talk? You stop that right now,” the Pershing said in a confident tone. “We’ll find something, I’m sure.”   She earned a shrug.   “It's just what I’m thinking,” Arty said. She figured that it was time for a change of guards and switched back to her normal sights, then turned to leave. She didn’t want to disturb the other tank’s duty. Before she could fully turn around however, Sky spoke up.   “Hey, you can stay if you want.”   Arty stopped. She was too hungry to sleep, so she didn’t mind a bit of a distraction.   “That would be nice,” she said in a smiling tone.   They talked about this and that to pass the time, until Arty suddenly noticed something unusual in the distance. She focused on the two moving shapes that were too oddly coloured and big to be animals. She interrupted Sky.   “Two heavies approaching,” she said quickly.   Sky looked at her, then past her. The strangers couldn’t be seen with normal sights yet, since they were hidden by bends. Sky nodded gravely and pointed her cannon down the path anyway, aiming at the spot they would pop up at eventually. Keeping her sights trained on that spot, she quickly reversed towards some rocks and foliage.   “Can you tell me what models?” she asked Arty, but the Sturmpanzer shook her barrel.   “I don't know,” Arty said, trying to focus as hard as she could. Even though she could see the other tanks somewhat clearly, she wasn’t familiar with higher tier tanks’ looks. “It’s hard to —” she began to say, but then recognized one of the models anyway, simply because it was such a famous one. “I think one of them’s a King Tiger!”   Sky had reached the cover by now.   “That's a tier 8,” she said with a determined voice. “I can take him on. Can you describe the other one?”   Arty's gun swayed a little as she re-adjusted her sights.   “Very rectangular. Rear-mounted turret. Most likely German …”   She didn't have to go on, because that was when the two tanks came into sight, far down the path. Apparently they hadn't even noticed yet that they weren't alone because they weren’t shooting yet.   “That’s a VK 45.02, Ausfuhrung B…astard. That’s bad. Very bad,” Sky said grimly.   Arty finally realized that other than Sky, she was out in the open. She looked around hastily in search of cover, but the two heavies were coming closer and closer and would be able to see her every moment now. It was too late for running. Sky’s next announcement also made it sound like this situation was intentional.   “Load your gun, looks like shit's about to get real,” Sky said to the Sturmpanzer.   “But —” Arty protested, wobbling on her suspension.   “Just stay there and distract them, I’ll ambush them!”   Arty had a very bad feeling about that plan, but she didn’t have any better idea.   “O-Okay …” she mumbled.  

***
  “That’s very unlikely if you ask me,” Rex mused in his thick German accent. “You shot him right in the fuel tank, he should’ve been dead.” The VK nodded to himself, as if to confirm his own thought. His friend, the King Tiger named Fox, just shrugged.   “It happens.”   “Ja, aber —”   “Rex.”   “Sorry. It's just fishy,” Rex mumbled. He didn’t actually have any theory what exactly could have gone wrong for the shot to be this ineffective, but he was convinced that something dubious had been going on. The only problem was: he couldn’t prove it. He took his gaze off the other tank and frowned at the path ahead. The cliff was forming a bend, and they slowly passed it. Behind it, an unexpected sight greeted them.   Fox and Rex stopped, heavy suspensions grinding to a slow halt. Their turrets traversed, massive guns pointing right at the Sturmpanzer who was standing in the middle of the path in front of them. No one said anything at first, so the only sounds were the heavies’ growling engines and the wind. The Sturmpanzer stared at the high tier tanks, and they stared back quietly. Then, she finally spoke up.   “… Good evening, Gentlemen! Enjoying your drive?”, she asked.   The two heavies remained silent for a moment.   “Fox, should we shoot her?” Rex finally asked warily. He didn’t take his sights off the lone SPG, but Fox threw a quick look around to see if anything else appeared suspicious. Rex went on.   “It could be a trick. Let’s not take any risks.”   Fox turned to the Sturmpanzer again.   “Artillery, are you alone?” the King Tiger asked thoughtfully.   The little SPG was shaking on her tracks, but didn’t say anything. The seconds passed in tense silence, until the heavies decided that they had seen enough to decide that something was off here.   “Too long,” Fox said and the distinct sound of two cannons being loaded could be heard. All three tanks flinched as an angry shout startled everyone.   “Hey, asshole!” Sky yelled as she burst out from behind her cover. She sprinted past Fox and shot him in the side while his turret turned too slowly to shoot back. He cried out in irritation and pain. Rex had been too surprised by the sudden assault as well to do anything at first, but now he shot at the Pershing, however his hastily aimed shell missed as she swerved to the side and disappeared behind rocks behind the heavies.   “Leave this to me,” Fox growled. Rex didn’t object and instead drove out of the way a little, turning his hull to face the new threat while his turret turned back around towards the spot where the Sturmpanzer was … or rather, had been. She was gone, the little brat. He quickly averted his cannon as there was a sudden explosion in front of his rear. The SPG hadn't hit him directly, but he was still caught in the blast. While it wasn't enough to penetrate his armour, there was still a nasty burning sensation. His glare darted across the surrounding area frantically as he looked for any sign of where the Sturmpanzer was hiding.   Another shot tore through the night air and some of the rocks the Pershing had driven behind were turned to dust. But she was already rushing on, surprising Fox yet again as she approached on the same side she had before, obviously defying his expectation. He stopped his turret mid-rotation to turn it to the other side instead, but his reload time would be too long to stop her before she could pass him again anyway.   “You goddamn cowards!” Sky shouted as she drove past the King Tiger and shot him another time. “Attacking a tier four? Really?”   “Shut up!” Rex roared. His friend remained silent to focus on taking aim instead of responding. The Pershing was making another turn, but this time Fox was prepared.  
***
  The noise had woken up the other two members of the team. Awol and Noob quickly made their way to a position from where they could see what was going on below the terrace.   “Where did they come from?” Awol cried out as he spotted the two heavy tanks down at the path, his voice still a bit bleary from being woken up like this. He had to watch his sister getting hit by one of the King Tiger's shells, not wounding her mortally but blowing off a part of the back of her turret armour as she attempted to zip by.   “We must help them!” Noob said. He was rocking back and forth on his tracks.   “But how? They're ten times stronger than us!” Awol replied, “They won’t even feel it if we shoot them!”   They had to get out of here, and fast. But he didn't even see Arty and he couldn’t leave without Sky either. In order to escape, they would have had to drive down to the path as well, which would have been a huge risk. The only solution he could think of would be to try to talk to the heavies and make them stop somehow, but considering how angry they looked, he was almost sure that this wasn’t going to work. But what other option did they have? He wanted to share his plan with Noob, but said Leichttraktor was already taking off to climb down the hill.   “Noob, wait!” Awol called after him, but to no avail.  
***
  Noob knew that he stood no chance against the two strangers. He was scared, and if he had had a choice, he would have ran away. But that would have meant the death of his new team mates.   He was just a Leichttraktor, a tier 1 light tank. He would merely be able to scratch the paint of these heavies. And should they decide to shoot back, well … Yet, he was driving towards them, his little cannon loaded. The other tanks hadn’t seen him yet, since he was approaching them from a dead angle. He was probably going to cause his own death, but he had an idea how the others at least would get a chance to survive.   Even he knew that outnumbering the enemy increased the chances of survival. And he also knew the value of distractions. If he could distract the heavies for even a second, it would maybe give Sky a small advantage. Maybe it would give her an opening to do some serious damage and turn the situation around.  
***
  There was still no sight of the Sturmpanzer, so the VK took it upon himself to ignore Fox’ earlier command. As the Pershing was struggling to drive in a straight line after taking the nasty hit from the King Tiger, Rex took aim at her as well and shot her in the same spot his friend had.   The shell hit her in the turret as well, knocking her unconscious immediately. She skidded a few more meters before coming to an involuntary halt.   “Good shot!” Fox said with a smile.   Rex grinned triumphantly, but a scream from somewhere above him made him focus on the battle again a moment later. He and Fox both turned their turrets towards the source of the scream. Only part of a tank was visible at the edge of the terrace to their right. It was impossible to tell from that angle what tank exactly it was, but the heavies weren’t going to take any chances and were reloading their cannons already.   “Might be another Sturmpanzer,” Fox suggested and Rex nodded. Before they could shoot it, it backed up and disappeared. Almost at the same time, an artillery shell blew up at Fox’ side. He turned his cannon towards the source of the shot — it was obvious now which bush the Sturmpanzer was hiding behind. Rex aimed at it as well, but as they were about to blow it up, something suddenly hit the VK in the back with the most unimpressive ‘ding’ sound. Rex’ turret turned around slowly. He was obviously dumbfounded by how a direct hit could just fail to achieve anything at all like this one had just done. In fact, it had barely hurt.   He found himself staring at a Leichttraktor, who looked like he was about to fall apart from shaking so bad with fear.   That was the moment when Fox lost it.   “What are you guys supposed to be? The Kindergarten Brigade?” he laughed. Rex joined his laughter, and instead of frightened, the Leichttraktor now started looking mortified.   “We’re not fighting a bunch of kids,” Rex said eventually, getting more serious again. “What are you doing here? Is this your base?”   Now, the tank on top of the terrace peeked out again; it turned out to be a Wespe. The Sturmpanzer too stuck out her cannon from behind her bush. This time, the heavies didn’t try to shoot them, so the SPGs dared to come out a bit further. Awol spoke up for the others.   “This isn’t our base, we’re just passing through here because we are looking for fuel,” he explained in a shaky voice. “We’re sorry we attacked you. We don’t want any trouble, really! If this is your territory, we will try to leave as soon as we can.”   Rex waved his cannon at the knocked-out Pershing.   “What about her?”   “She’s my sister. She was trying to protect us. We thought you were going to kill us.”   The heavies looked at each other for a moment as they silently deliberated what to tell the low tiers, then they turned to Awol again.   “Fair enough,” Fox said. “We are on our way to Falkendorf. Our team camps there. If you want, you can come with us. Obviously, you can’t stay there, but we could give you a little fuel at least so you can continue your travel.”   Awol slumped.   “That would be very generous of you. Thank you a lot for the offer.”  
***
  Sky had been woken up by Awol, and after her first moment of confusion and panic, he had been able to explain to her that the heavies had offered them their help. She had been wary at first, but had eventually agreed. They had decided to rest until the morning, but at sunrise, the six tanks had started making their way to Falkendorf, which the heavies explained was at the other side of the mountains. They had left said mountains behind eventually and were now driving through rolling fields. Rex and Fox were driving to either side of Sky, while Arty was following a little way behind them.   “Sorry about that earlier,” Rex said to the Pershing. “We thought you were a high tier team with a misfit Anhängsel.”   Sky didn't have to understand what the last word was to guess the meaning, and she had to chuckle. There was an indignant “Hey!” from Arty, who had heard it as well, but the Sturmpanzer seemed to take no real offence.   “It’s alright,” Sky responded. “Shit, I thought that was going to be the end of us.”   “Well,” Fox said. “Another shot from one of us and you would have been done for, that's for sure. I don't know if we wouldn't have let the rest of you go, though.” He shrugged. “There's no honour in slaughtering lambs.”   Rex and Sky nodded agreeingly.   “I respect that,” Sky said.  
***
  A bit further back, Noob and Awol were driving together. They weren’t paying attention to the other tanks’ conversation and instead had their own. Specifically, they were reviewing the previous battle.   “Like I said, you shoot them in the butt,” Noob said. “Always works, I told you.”   Awol couldn't help but giggle at that. He hadn’t doubted the Leichttraktor’s tactic. But he hadn’t expected to see it in action so soon, and the fact that it hadn’t ended in a disaster in that particular case was remarkable as well. You didn’t see a tier 1 shoot a tier 9 in the back every day, and especially you didn’t see that tier 1 live to tell the tale.   “You were right,” Awol said with a smile.   “Of course I was,” Noob replied with an audible grin.


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