“Go,” yelled the jumpmaster, and Paul launched himself into the air, keeping his feet down and falling slowly to the ground. His hands gripped the two twin
blunderbusses he carried, the straps over his shoulders. The square was empty except for the smoking bodies of elves, but arrows still rose into the air from the
Something struck through Paul’s jump suit and impacted heavily on his breastplate. His armor was a little heavier grade than that of his men, and of the
heaviest possible enchantment for toughness. The body of a man not as fortunate fell beside him, eyes staring into space.
The Immortal looked around for a target as he fell, swinging his right hand blunderbuss to cover a group of elfin bowmen who were taking up position to take
out some of the paratroopers. A pull of both triggers sent the shot from twin barrels into the bowmen, more of a nuisance than a real threat. Several of the elves
went down, clutching at painful wounds in arms or legs. One clutched at his eye socket. The rest moved to cover, exactly what Paul had wished.
Arrows rained from the sky now, the paratrooper bowmen putting down a suppressing fire upon the heads of the elves. Not the most accurate of archery, but it
was allowing the men to reach the ground with fewer casualties. He triggered one barrel of his left hand blunderbuss at what looked like a mage, watching the man
go down as the pellets peppered his chest and abdomen. The gun swung onto a swordsman, someone who looked like a leader, running across the square with
other troops behind him. The man fell over with several wounds gouting blood from his legs, and the men he was leading to catch the paratroopers at their most
vulnerable moment scattered.
He looked up quickly, to see how the rest of the formation was coming down. The airships were firing away at ground targets as ground based cannon fired
back. A shot penetrated the tough hide of the Parrot, then another. Battlehawks were looping through the air above the ships in a ballet of dog fighting, each trying
to gain an advantage to attack the opponent bird from behind, while their riders threw magic and fired arrows at each other. The Brotherhood riders were getting
the worst of it, outnumbered and out classed by the Imperial riders and birds. Then he sensed the ground coming up fast, and turned his attention back to landing.
Paul dropped the guns as his feet hit the ground. No time to reload, he pulled his preferred weapon from the sheath strapped over his back. Fifty inches of
blade, balanced by the long handle and heavy pommel ball, enough to make anyone think twice about getting within a body length of the warrior.
All around him the other troopers gathered. Men pulled sections of pole and spearheads or axeheads from their carrying bags, quickly assembly pikes and pole
axes. Bowmen repositioned their quivers. Men formed in squads, platoons, companies, rallying around their officers and NCOs. Humans, elves, a dozen orcs,
even a large halfling or two, joined together as a unit.
The men of the First Battalion knew their jobs. A company formed on Paul as he jogged toward the steps of the center pyramid. B and C companies headed
for the entrances of the other pyramids, while D company and the battalion support platoon stood their ground, holding the square until the other battalions could
fight their way through.
Elves in armor poured from the pyramids. The airborne bowmen knocked many down with the armor penetrators launched from their power bows. The pike
men moved to the fore, long spears thrusting in the assault, while the pole axemen swung in from the sides.
Paul pushed the thrust of a long sword aside, turning the swordsman half way around with the force of the block. His blade swung back in swiftly, slicing
through the shoulder guard of the man, incapacitating the arm. The man dropped his sword from nerveless fingers, looking up in time to catch the fifty-inch blade
through his belly armor and out his back plate. The strength of the Immortal lifted the elf from the ground and flung his dying body into the air, to knock down a
pair of elves running down the steps.
A red-hot fireball came from above, deflected at the last moment by the out flung spell of a battlemage. The battlemage took the brunt of the burn through,
and the fire melted his armor and burned the flesh from his bones. The troopers to either side of him suffered severe burns, their jump suits caught aflame. A
priest hurried to put the fire out and ease their pain. Nothing to do for the battlemage. Another hero to be posthumously decorated.
The men drew closer together as the remaining warpriests chanted their spells of protection. The harness and rings of protection worn by the troopers glowed
a bright blue, a glow that reached out and formed a shield around the massed company. The battlemages waved their arms and projected their own shields of red
fire out ahead and above the company. A trio of fireballs came in from above, one completely broken up by the red shields, the others striking the blue and draining
most of their energy. Some burn through was to be expected, and some of the forward troops received burns that pained them, but didn’t put them out of action.
Paul felt a tingling pass into him as he absorbed his share of the magical fire.
The company archers brought their fire to bear on the trio of mages who stood on an upper tier of the pyramid, flinging their energies down at the troops. The
elves turned their attention to the incoming shafts, flinging bolts of energy and missile shields at the arrows. Wooden shafts exploded in the air, or struck invisible
barriers and fell rattling to the steps of the pyramid. Another cloud of arrows came in on a higher arc. Paul looked behind, to see the archers of the company in the
square adding their fire to the attack. An arrow got through, hitting a mage in his open hand, destroying his concentration. Four more came through the next
cloud, and suddenly there was only one mage on his feet, frantically trying to intercept the arrow storm. He couldn’t, and shafts seemed to sprout from his chest as
if they teleported into place.
A solid ball struck into the compact mass of troopers, tearing one man apart before breaking the limbs of a couple of others on the rebound. One threat gone,
another appeared, thought Paul. The elves were good. They had used the threat of magical assault to group the men together, giving them a better target for the
high velocity anti-air cannon they had mounted on the roofs of the surrounding buildings.
The archers shifted their fire to the rooftops, but the men manning the cannons were well protected by other elves holding large shields, fending off the assault
of arrows. Another round hit, followed by two more, while the troopers tried to disperse. There was not much room on the steps, except backwards, a direction
which no man wished to go. Elves poured from the entrance of the pyramid, waiting for their guns to soften up and disrupt their opponents.
Paul was about to call for help when the hawks arrived, swooping in five teams for the various rooftops surrounding the square. Riders threw their tracking
fireballs ahead of them, the long handled globes bursting with energy on the way to their targets, blasting with the heat and fire of a magical fireball as they struck.
Giant claws reached out to grab for shields, to tear at the men behind. Gunners fell screaming as the very targets they had been trained to engage took them by
surprise. The hawks screamed throughout the engagement, a high-pitched piercing sound meant to bring fear to the men on the roofs. It must have worked,
because many of the gunners panicked and ran from their weapons.
The hawks rose back into the air, less one of their number which flopped wounded on a rooftop. A couple of riders hung limp in their saddles, arrows
protruding from their armor as testament to the desperate courage of the men they had fought. But the rooftops were now unguarded, and arrow fire from below
drove the survivors from their guns, while the troopers reformed their tight square and advanced up the steps. The elfin swordsmen yelled their high-pitched war
cry as they charged down at the ready airborne troopers.
The airborne pikemen used the longer reach of their weapons to push the swordsmen back, leaving dead and dying elves upon the steps to be trod over by
rubber soled boots. The bowmen launched volley after volley toward the dark entrance of the pyramid, cutting down reinforcements as soon as they appeared in the
light. Within moments the steps had been taken, the swordsmen all cut down.
Paul rushed the entrance and the heavy gate fell into place, locking the enraged Immortal out of the target. He screamed, a roar of fury, and waved his sword
in the air. Turning he saw one of the other companies entering their pyramid, having overcome the resistance before the gate could be closed. The last company
milled about the gate of theirs, locked out as well.
“Fall back,” he yelled to his men. They reacted immediately with the ingrained discipline of Imperial soldiers. As they moved down the steps he noted the
dozen bodies of fallen airborne troopers, the price they had paid to take the steps they were now abandoning.
[Commodore Baranif] he sent to the commander of the flotilla. [I need some firepower here, now].
[What do you wish, my lord?]
[I want two of the heavies down here in front of the pyramids, now. I want the gates blown in].
[They will be there in minutes, my lord].
Paul cursed under his breath, wishing he had the foresight to have their cannon down here already. Time had been wasted, and the success of the assault was
now in question. Hold out, my friend, he thought. Just hold out for a few moments more.