Rhivera

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~Chapter Twenty Three- The Battle in Norino Part 1~

~Chapter Twenty-Three~

~Arturo~

The sun shines brightly on the sand dunes of Norino. We’ve been lying in wait, watching closely for our enemy to arrive. Over the last few weeks, we’ve made Miro’s presence well known throughout the northern regions. I figured that when we leaked information to the military that our hideout may be within the sands, they’d surely respond. But nothing as of yet. Miguel patiently watches the sands and awaits my orders.

We’ve been staying out of sight in the woods to the west of the dunes, near an exit point to the underground. Some of our forces are manned in the northern part of the dunes. Not many, but enough to draw in whoever might come.

I grip a switch in my hand, a wire protrudes from the bottom of it, leading to the ground and into the sand. If no one arrives, I may no have reason to use it, which feels like a waste after the effort we put in laying things out.

In time, the military does arrive, but it’s only a few hundred soldiers. I planned on at least a thousand to come here, not meager numbers like this. I’m not sure if I should carry things out today. Each exit point across the country can only be used once tactically. After each use, we have to assume the enemy will discover the exit point and we won’t be able to use it again.

I look through a scope at the military. If we decided to engage them, it’d be over in an instant. For once, we’d outnumber them rather than the other way around. Fighting a battle so heavily tilted in our favor seems... unheroic.

“Should we pull out, Miro?” Miguel asks.

I’m about to say yes, until I spot him. A white figure with a silvery helmet and blue visor among the other soldiers in the dunes. Is it Nirivo? All of the new survival suits the military has made are blue. I’ve only ever seen the one white Survival Suit.

I hand the scope over to Miguel. “That might be Nirivo down there.”

Miguel peers through, “It does look like it’s him.”

“Nirivo has become a bit of an icon to the military. Bringing him down would hurt their morale.” I explain.

“What are you thinking?” Miguel asks patiently.

We put all this effort into setting things up today, it seems like a waste not to make use of it. Using our trap in the sand, we may be able to defeat them without any casualties on our side.

I pause for a moment before grabbing my radio, “Battalion C, take the high ground and fire on them. Once they counterattack, fall back north to the checkpoint. We’ll be along soon.”

I hand the switch carefully to Miguel, “When I give the order, detonate this. I’ll use Battalion A to attack them from behind. Stay with the rest to guard our exit point.”

I begin to walk away when Miguel grabs my shoulder, “Are you sure about this Miro?” He asks, appearing concerned.

“It’ll be fine. Trust me.”

Battalion C fires upon the military, and they scatter across the dunes for cover, trudging through the sands. A single soldier sprints up the dunes and immediately returns fire, the one in white Survival Suit. There’s no doubt it’s Nirivo. That’s the same brazenness he displayed at Mount Rhive.

My forces feign retreat north just as I ordered. I travel with Battalion A, who circles behind the military from the woods. They follow at a measured distance while spreading out, preparing to flank them when Battalion C reaches the checkpoint.

Battalion C leads the military northward through the dunes and reaches a clearing in the dunes, their checkpoint. We continue to follow close at hand. I take position at a high point to look over the proceedings.

“Miguel, be ready,” I speak into the radio.

“Yes sir!” An oddly nervous sounding Miguel responds.

I watch the military pursue them until the bulk of them step into our trap.

“Now!”

Miguel flips the switch, and suddenly the sands beneath the military’s feet combust, and the hidden explosives detonate all around them, shrouding the area in dust and debris. We had a second set of explosives buried near the woods to aid in our retreat, but it looks like we won’t need them.

“Battalions A and C, attack now!” I order. Those explosives wouldn’t have killed many of them, it’s important to finish them off while they’re still in shock and disarray. If Nirivo wasn’t killed in that initial explosion, we’d kill him soon regardless.

My forces tear through the military with ease... bodies started to accumulate on the sands. At Mount Rhive, I only witnessed the aftermath of the battle and relayed orders at a distance. This time, I can see as things play out.

This doesn’t feel right. We outnumber them so egregiously. Every once in a while, I’m faced with moments like these, and it makes me doubt if what I’m doing is right. But I remind myself that it’s necessary to bring down the PCC. It’ll be worth it in the end. The only thing that can be done now is finish it as quickly as possible.

Amidst the chaos, I spot Nirivo through my scope. He wasn’t killed in the explosions earlier, but he isn’t retaliating either. He’s kneeling next to another soldier, pressing on his chest as if to resuscitate him. He’s so fixated on his comrade; he doesn’t seem to notice when my soldiers fire on him. Eventually, he pulls out his pistol and nonchalantly fires at my soldiers, forcing them to retreat.

Nirivo looks somberly down on his comrade before drawing his rifle and turning his attention to the rest of the battle. He effortlessly takes down some of my soldiers. In this open terrain, it’ll be impossible for them to close the distance between them and Nirivo.

“Draw Nirivo in between the dunes. Attack him from behind as soon as you’re given the opportunity.” I order the soldiers nearest to Nirivo via radio.

They fall back into the dunes, and Nirivo begins to follow but stops before he leaves his flat and open terrain. He knows he has power in this area. He isn’t going to be fooled so easily.

Maybe I could just leave him alive, we’ve already won. But I might as well see this through. Nirivo won’t fall easily though. Not without... incentive.

I place my scope at my hip and look to the soldiers guarding me, “Fall back out of view. I’m going to use myself as bait for Nirivo. You’ll have your chance when he comes after me. Understood?”

My soldiers nod and faithfully follow my orders. I make my way down to the dunes into the clearing that Nirivo is in. He spots me. I can’t see his face, but I can tell there’s terrible anger in him.

He holsters his rifle on his back and, with speed I didn’t think possible, sprints through the sand to me. I run back to the tip of the dunes, but in seconds, I feel his weight hit me as he tackles me to the ground.

I grab my pistol and fire two bullets to his ribs. I knew it wouldn’t kill him, but at this close range, it’ll hurt. It should have at least. Nirivo seems unfazed while tearing my pistol from my hand and tossing it aside.

He grips my head and presses it forcefully into the sand. I can feel him reaching for the clasps of my helmet to tear it off. I try to push him off, but he’s so much stronger than me. Instead, I do everything in my power to keep my helmet on, knowing that my life is forfeit if he removes my helmet.

I can feel the clasp on one side come loose when Nirivo’s weight finally leaves me. My soldiers have tackled him and are struggling to keep him under control. Nirivo feverishly struggles to break free; it takes about six of my own soldiers just to keep him still. They deliver a few swift kicks to his stomach, but that only seems to make him angrier. Even with the Survival suit, that should hurt. His tenacity is incredible. But soon they wrest his rifle away from him. Two grip each of his arms and the others keeping him on his knees.

As I stand, sand pours off of me. The cloak I’m wearing is covered, so I cast it onto the ground. I step towards Nirivo.

We look upon each other. Even now, Nirivo wriggles his body around to break free, and my soldiers do everything in their power to hold him still. Other soldiers from Battalion A and C approach us.

I reach for the clasps of his helmet. He tries to twist his head out of position but my soldiers hold it still. I find the clasps, undo them and lift the helmet. I can see brown hair as I take it off completely and chuck it onto the sand.

Juaquin?!

Juaquin is staring at me with a bloody lip and hate in his eyes.

Not him! It can’t be him! He can’t be here! Why is he here? He’s supposed to be doing some boring desk job for the military. He can’t be here! Was it him all along? Juaquin drops his head as if to accept his death.

“He’s just a kid,” One of my soldier’s murmurs.

“Miro, what do we do with him?” One of them asks me. If they could see my face under my helmet they’d see me stunned and struggling to catch my breath.

“D-Don’t kill him,” I say simply. That’s all I could manage to get out.

Juaquin lifts his head. There is surprise at what I said, but still fuming anger. “There’s no need to kill him, we’ve already won.”

“You spare me but you can’t spare my friends?” Juaquin yells. “Rico is dead! Everyone in my squad is dead because of you!”

I’m stunned into silence again.

Why?

Why does it have to be you?

----------------------------------------------------------------------

My ears prick up to gunfire coming from the north. There must be some of the military here that’s still holding on. I see an opportunity.

“If you promise not to pursue us, I’ll spare you and the rest of the soldiers that came with you. Promise me that, and I’ll give the order now.”

My soldiers look at me perplexingly, but with the trust that I know what I’m doing. Juaquin dejectedly answers, “You’ve already killed everyone that came with me.”

What does he mean?

The gunfire draws closer until soldiers in white and blue uniforms come over the northern dunes in greater numbers than should be possible. They fire down on us and on impulse, my forces fire back.

My soldiers release their grip on Juaquin. He grabs his helmet and runs, and I quickly lose track of him in the sudden chaos. I’m relieved to see him get away.

“Everyone fall back to the exit point, now!” I order. We run west, and I do my best to keep pace with the rest of my soldiers.

The number of soldiers that came from the north is far greater than those that came with Juaquin. Where did they come from? Norino’s base is over an hour south of here. They could’ve only come from the sea... Which means they must’ve anticipated our trap somehow.

I speak into the radio as I run, “Miguel, I need support! Prepare Battalions B and D to cover our escape. We’ll use our second trap to turn the tide.”

It takes Miguel a moment to respond, “We’re very preoccupied over here,” He answers in a strained voice, “The military just attacked. They’re coming in from the north and south. We’re doing all that we can to guard the exit point.”

They attacked my forces in the woods as well? How... How is this happening? If they figured out that this was a trap for them, did they anticipate we would attack from the woods? Why would they send Juaquin and those other hundred soldiers into the dunes then?

...Unless Nirivo was bait to divide us. If they had attacked before we split up, we would’ve just retreated into our exit point without incident.

We can still turn this around; we just need to move quickly, “Everyone move past the position of our second trap! After we’ve triggered it, we’ll support Miguel!” I order.

We rush through the sand dunes towards the woods with the military at our back. I run alongside my forces, doing my best to keep up. As we draw closer, I can see the military engaging our forces in the woods.

“Miguel, trigger the second trap at my command!” I ask as we almost reach the woods.

“Just give the word,” Miguel says with labored breathing through the radio. I’m counting on him to flip the switch. Otherwise, we’ll be surrounded on both sides.

We pass over ground laced with our explosives, waiting to be triggered, and make it back into the woods. Once our forces pass over the ground, I shout into the radio, “Miguel, now!”

Wordlessly Miguel flips the switch and behind us, the ground ignites in the face of our pursuers. We laid out those explosives specifically to aid in our retreat, if that became necessary.

“Miguel, hold out a bit longer! We’re on our way!” I say into the radio. Again, I’m met with no response. We push towards our exit point with true haste and are met with an even greater military presence.

“Battalion A, focus all your fire directly north. Battalion C, hang back and cover our forward assault. Battalion B and D, hold on as long as you can!”

Battalion A puts forth everything they can against the military. Bodies begin to fall all across the woods on both sides.

“Miro sir! They’re starting to circle around us. We’re losing a lot of people over here!” A commander from Battalion C says in desperation through the radio.

“Hold out! We need to make it to the exit point!” I yell, “Miguel, confirm your situation. What’s going on over there?”

Again, no response from Miguel. Our forward offensive isn’t making enough headway. There are just too many of them, “Miguel!”

“Miguel is dead,” A calm but sharp voice comes through the radio.

“Who is this?”

“General Victor Veran.” The voice says, “It’s over, Miro.”

They’ve captured our exit point. We won’t be able to escape. There are just too many of them to fight.

We can’t continue north; we’ll be faced with the full force of the military. South and East aren’t options; we’ll only be faced with more military opposition that way. Our nearest exit point to the underground is miles to the west in Illesto, but it’s our only option left to us.

“All forces, retreat west to Illesto!” I yell over the radio to the entirety of my forces. It takes a moment, but everyone transitions westward, pushing past the military’s forces that sought to cut us off. We travel deeper into the woods, with gunfire echoing behind us.

The sun begins to set as we lose sight of the military. My pace begins to slow and the rest of my forces stamina starts to dwindle as well. It’s the first time in hours that we’re allowed some form of respite. Although, I know they’re still following us. Every once in awhile the military fires a single shot into the air, probably to unsettle us.

Miguel has been with us since the beginning. After everything, that’s how Miguel lost his life. Failing to defend an exit point... He didn’t deserve that.

I could’ve just left Nirivo alone. None of this would’ve happened then. Hundreds of my forces have died today because of that choice. Juaquin’s friend too.

Even if we make it to Illesto’s exit point, the military will be expecting us. We’ll be met with even more resistance there. Our numbers have been hurt so badly, we won’t be able to handle whatever comes our way.

I slow my steps so I’m away from the rest of my soldiers. I turn the radio to a private frequency, “Melissa, are you there?”

There’s no response. I whisper so others can’t hear me, “Melissa, we lost. We’re trying to escape and make it to Illesto now, but I’m not sure we’ll make it. If there’s anything you can do, please...”

The radio starts putting out static. It’s not going through. I might be in an area that won’t transmit well. Or maybe the military is jamming our radio.

Either way, we’re on our own.

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