Chapter Thirty-Seven – The battle of Ur
Hor issued his orders as Shu’s vast army of magnificent, terrible berserkers drew up in lines, eight kilometres away from the seventh outer ring. The solid front line gradually appeared from the cloud of sand kicked up by their relentless loping stride across the desert. As the dusty cloud slowly settled, Khan and his men and women could see the sun sparkling on the berserkers’ weapons like a row of endless multi-coloured lights. Each of the lines contained six thousand berserkers, stretching back as far as Khan could see into the distance. He tried to estimate their numbers as he spoke to Hor on the field telephone. “I estimate at least six hundred thousand, maybe more,” he said. The full extent of Shu’s army became apparent in the next three hours while they drew up along the southern border of the camp. From the figures coming in from all the observers, the number was nearer six million.
Shu swung her bare legs across the ornate saddle and dropped down beside her stallion’s neck. Handing the reins to a berserker warrior, she walked to the top of the sand dune and surveyed the scene before her. She looked to the east as her legions took up position, then turned to the west and watched as the last legions finally came to a halt. She stood ready for battle dressed like her berserkers. Her naked body was exquisitely painted in henna coloured hieroglyphs and representations of desert flowers. Her slender back was protected by a circular metal and acacia shield, decorated with precious stones around the rim and shield boss. A red crystal glowed from the pommel of her sword. The deep blue metal of her double-edged blade was decorated with exquisite engravings of battle scenes close to the hilt. A perfect red crystal in a silver filigree cage, suspended by a delicate linked chain of gold around her slender neck, hung between her breasts, changing colour in unison with her mood. Her long honey blond hair flowed across her shoulders, fluttering behind her in the light winds of the desert. Forming an impenetrable circle around her, she was protected by her personal guard drawn from the ranks of her army for their frenzied ruthlessness in battle. Each of the twenty formidable berserkers wore similar red crystals in the buckle of their jewelled belts , denoting their position in Shu’s hierarchy. For over an hour, she stood silently taking in every detail of the defences thrown up to stop her. Then for the rest of the day she sat cross-legged in a trance while her berserkers stood motionless in the blazing heat of the desert.
Hor’s defenders maintained a state of readiness watching for the first sign of movement, until the desert was cloaked in darkness as the sun finally sank below the far western horizon. Across the empty space between the two opposing armies, the only movement came from the flickering flames of fires built to give warmth from the freezing night temperatures. Hor came forward to where Khan stood shoulder to shoulder with the men and women under his immediate command. The old warrior surveyed the scene for himself. Gripping Khan’s right hand and arm, the two warriors looked briefly into each other’s eyes. Khan silently nodded his head and turned back to face the enemy as Hor returned to his headquarters. If they survived the battle the two warriors would meet again one day, and greet each other as brothers in the way that only men who had fought together ever could, forming an unspoken bond stronger than any family tie.
At dawn the next day, from his vantage point on the highest of the ancient ruins of Ur, Akhen watched the sun rise slowly above the eastern horizon. Through his ancient binoculars, courtesy of the former twentieth century ‘Desert Rats’, he focused on the tiny figures on the sand dune behind the berserker legions. Gradually, as the sun rose, he could just make out the unmistakable shape of Shu standing on the crest of the dune looking back towards him and the camp. He saw her raise her sword then let it drop. The central legions of berserkers held their swords above their heads as they cried out their final salute to their queen. The sound swept across the emptiness between the opposing camps, striking terror into the hearts of the men and women of Hor’s army. The persistent earth shaking pounding rhythm of thirty thousand berserkers running across the desert, combined with their ear-splitting war cries blasting the defences, broke the early morning stillness as they sliced the air above their heads with their cruel swords, quickly closing the distance.
The men and women manning the missile launchers flattened the trajectory of their weapons, continually making adjustments as the front lines of the advancing frenzied berserkers drew closer. Khan looked left and right along the line of men and women standing in readiness beside their weapons. When the lines of berserkers disappeared out of sight into the line of depressions, and were halfway across their wide muddy black sandy bottoms five kilometres distant, Khan gave the signal. The dull thump as the heavy mortars fired signalled the first action of the battle from Hor’s defenders. The deadly projectiles climbed into the air then descended briefly before burying themselves in the depths of the oil soaked black sand, then erupting in a series of fireballs igniting the crude oil, sending a wave of flame along the entire length of black sand lakes surrounding the camp. Thick choking clouds of pitch dark smoke climbed skyward as the flames enveloped everything in the lakes. Terrible screams signalled the end of the thirty thousand berserkers who were trapped and consumed by the fiery sticky sand.
The smoke drifted across the scene of death towards the gap in the berserkers ranks where minutes before they had stood in salute. Shu’s eyes blazed with anger at the loss of so many of her warriors. She waved her sword for the next legions to move forward. This time only three legions attacked. They halted at the edge of the burning lakes and looked back at Shu. She pointed her sword to the right and left then forward. The legions split up and began spreading along the edge of the lakes, looking for, and finding, a narrow path between them. Running forward, screaming their deathly war cries, they quickly reformed again with the lakes at their back.
This time Khan signalled the missile launchers. A rain of warheads exploded in their midst covering them in a deadly cocktail of biological and chemical agents, instantly burning their skin and internal mucous membranes, killing them inside as well as out. Not one berserker from the three legions got any closer to Khan’s defensive line. Their weapons spent, Khan and his front line retreated beyond the relative safety of Shansur’s artillery lines.
For the moment Shu ceased her attacks. Too many of her berserkers were being annihilated. She needed to rethink her plans. That gave Hor and his army time to regroup. She sat for the rest of the day, her head protected from the sun by the shield held above her by one of her guards. Her eyes flashed in anger at the effective defence of the humans. If she continued throwing legions at them, eventually they had to run out of weapons, but at what cost. And how many were in the armed camp? One thing she was sure of. That accursed Nephile Hor had survived and was behind it. She could almost smell him as she sat cross-legged in the shade of the shield. Closing her eyes, she entered a trance for the rest of the day. Tomorrow she would swing the situation in her favour. In a way, it amused her when her enemy fought hard. Besides, she could soon bolster the ranks of her legions with the prisoners held aboard Kalki, parked in stationary orbit high above the Indian sub-continent. She had an endless supply of raw material at her slender finger tips.
Hor took the initiative. As the moon rose to its highest point in the night sky, the entire southern sector of the camp erupted in a blinding series of flashes from the muzzles of nearly a thousand artillery pieces. A discordant symphony of sound from the deadly creeping barrage filled the still night air with the whistling screams of revolving projectiles speeding towards their targets. Shu’s berserkers ran for cover with each dull crump as the projectiles exploded, showering the nearest ranks with burning white phosphorus. With each successive barrage, the explosions claimed more and more berserker lives. Then the long-range artillery took over, with their deadly payload of low yield battlefield nuclear warheads, cutting a wide path and creating a hot zone where even the hardiest desert plants would struggle to survive for hundreds of years to come. The barrages ended and the desert once more fell silent, except for the agonised screams and moans of the dead and dying. When dawn finally arrived, both armed camps saw the full extent of the devastation caused by Hor’s artillery.
An uneasy peace descended upon the battlefield. For the next five days and nights both camps stared angrily at each other across the deadly irradiated no-man’s land that divided them. Shu’s legions were seen spreading along the entire length of Hor’s defensive ring. The fact that the berserkers could be killed greatly increased the moral of Hor’s troops. While Shu had transformed them, she had not protected them in the way she protected herself and her personal guard with the red crystals. All the yellow crystals did was anger their wearers, psyching them up into a frenzied state for battle, and as Akhen had thought back on Mars, indicated their state of health.
Hor ordered an airborne strike sending hundreds of Mordred fighters into the air specifically targeting Shu and her bodyguard. She instantly threw up a protective shield surrounding her vantage point, bringing her awesome powers to bear by destroying the fighters overhead using the red crystal that hung around her neck. The fighters dropped like flies when the crystal’s destructive energy was focused on them. The attack was quickly called off. He could not afford to lose any more fighters. More importantly, he could not lose any more of his precious human and Nephile army.
A stalemate had been reached for the moment. Quiet descended on the scene of carnage. Auset and her volunteers tended to the sick and injured while the camp went about the task of rebuilding the defences where a few berserkers had managed to breach the lines. Their attacks usually happened in the dead of night, designed to unnerve Hor’s army, along the entire length of the defensive circle. Not knowing when and where was more unsettling than the attack itself. Shu’s psychological warfare was slowly turning to her advantage. She knew that Hor and his army would be cut to pieces if they left the safety of their lines attempting to break out, and she also knew that sooner or later they would run out of ammunition and other essential supplies like food. All she had to do was bide her time, a discipline she was expert in, following the thousands of years she had been sealed inside the small pyramid back on Kallorn.
After three weeks, the food supplies were getting dangerously low. Rationing had been in place from the day Shu first appeared. But now the meagre food supply was reduced to one bowl of rice and half a kilo of unleavened bread for everyone, excepting the wounded and those suffering from dysentery and other diseases. Water was in plentiful supply thanks to the river flowing through the besieged camp.
Shu stood on the hill searching the camp with her mind, trying to instil fear into the subconscious minds of Hor’s people, content for the moment that the siege was having the desired effect. Her berserker army stood at the ready surrounding them. From time to time small contingents of berserkers breached Hor’s lines, killing a few of his people, gradually reducing their numbers. Often the berserkers would carry off a victim to their own lines where the unfortunate prisoner would slowly be tortured in full view of his or her compatriots for days at a time, before being allowed the peace brought on by death. As the warmth of spring gave way to the intense heat of summer, Shu made her decision to end the stalemate.
Akhen and Hor had just returned to Hor’s tent when the whole camp fell silent listening to Shu’s berserkers delivering their terrifying salute, the prelude to a final bloody attack. The air was filled with the powerful voices coming from the remaining five million berserker’s singing their terrible song of death, accompanied by the pounding of swords beaten against shields, echoing all around the besieged camp. The camp prepared itself as the last echo disappeared. The stillness of the desert returned, and then Shu briefly held her sword high above her head. The Sun’s rays glinted on its razor sharp edges as she brought it down and pointed directly at Ur. The berserker legions poured forward screaming their frenzied war cries. From where Shu stood, the lines of her army looked like a snake writhing sideways towards its prey. The thousands of berserkers in the leading wave quickly overran Khan’s outer defences. The sounds of bitter hand to hand fighting echoed across to where Shu stood calmly watching. Her eyes darkened and a cruel smile crept across her face as each successive wave of berserkers penetrated further towards Ur.
Loud explosions and screams came from the dust-covered carnage below her. As dusk approached, she could see the distinctive white trails of disrupter fire and the blue flames from plasma torpedoes as they obliterated their targets. Hundreds of thousands of rockets climbed into the air, cascaded down and exploded indiscriminately ripping bodies apart, leaving nothing but bloody craters in the ground. The sounds coming from the minefields sounded like thousands of powerful firecrackers as they killed and maimed in the confusion of the battle. The deadly steel contents of claymore anti-personnel mines spread death. C4 and Semac charges detonated in the night, briefly illuminating the area around them. Agonised cries from victims impaled on the steel staked mantraps filled the air. Particle cannon vaporised everything they aimed at. The fusion rockets and disrupters of the crawlers cleared the ground around them with their deadly spread of fire. The popping sound of fusion pistols, combined with the ringing tones of berserker swords echoed around the encampment. Molecular charges claimed anyone who entered their domain, despatching their unfortunate victims forever into eternal darkness.
By dawn the entire Mesopotamian valley was littered with millions of dead and dying. Black smoke rose in columns blanketing the horizon in a sooty stinking haze from the countless fires fuelled by burning corpses, ruined buildings, burnt out vehicles, and destroyed field weapons. The sun rose behind the hill where Shu and her personal guard stared across at the smoking ruin of the camp. Nothing stirred from within. Not a single regular berserker was left standing. Faint cries drifted over to Shu from the last remaining mortally wounded combatants. She smiled and turned to mount her black stallion. Then she froze with one delicate foot in the saddle’s ornate silver stirrup.
From deep within the ruins of the wrecked camp, a lone berserker roared his terrible rallying cry, beating his bloodied sword against his battle-scarred shield. As Shu quickly turned round, nine other berserkers answered the call to arms with their ear piercing spine chilling response. For the first time since she had begun her orgy of destruction across the cosmos, a strange unknown sensation filled her very being – it was fear.
Next time – Chapter Thirty-Eight