Bonus Story: Tales of Hydra Company

on July 21, 2008 in Other Tales

Golden eyes appeared out of the darkness at the edge of the clearing. They surveyed the space, noted the three rocks… large, but not large enough to conceal even a small humanoid form. A whispered voice directed a concise report to a single pair of ears, and then a human woman dressed in dark green leathers strode out of the trees.

“Short rest,” Sandra Fayborn declared, gesturing over her shoulder. “Everybody take ten. Nora, keep those owl eyes peeled for our scout.”

“I hardly need a command to remind me of my duty,” the dour elf with the golden eyes said, following behind Fay with her bow slung over her shoulder.

“Yeah, well, that’s the funny thing about being a commanding officer,” Fay said. “You end up giving commands.”

The rest of the company followed: a short, oddly built and lithely muscled woman with the sides of her head shaved and a platform-like strip of red hair on the top, a cloaked elven woman with an ashy gray complexion, and another human woman in an abbreviated wizard’s robe of midnight blue.

Except for Fay, none of them were in anything resembling a military uniform, though they all had an insignia patch on their shoulders: the black silhouette of a nine-headed hydra. Nine such patches had been issued at the formation of their company six months before, but unlike the beast which gave the special ops team its name, new heads had not sprung up to take the place of those which had been cut off in battle.

“So, Flattop,” the mage, who was the youngest of the group, said. “You never said last night… what are your plans for after the war?”

“After?” the barbarous-looking woman repeated, idly spinning the haft of her immense battle axe between her palms.

“Yeah, you know. When it’s all over. What are you going to do?”

The woman called Flattop snorted.

“Our meat shield’s smarter than you are, Theona,” the cloaked elf said. “She isn’t making plans.”

“Shut up, Mur-Si,” Theona said. “We could make it.”

“I might,” Mur-Si said. “You won’t.”

“Oh, I have plans,” Flattop said. “They just don’t involve the war being over.”

“You don’t honestly think it’s going to last forever? It cannot possibly,” Nora said, staring impassively through the trees at the far end of the clearing. “The armies of the enemy must eventually disperse, or turn upon themselves. It is not in the nature of chaos to hold a pattern indefinitely.”

“One of these days, you’re going to have to tell us how a stick-in-the-ass paladin like yourself got assigned to Hydra Company,” Mur-Si said.

“A paladin is a human concept,” Nora said. “I have no part of their upstart religious traditions.”

“Let me tell you ladies something about war,” Flattop said. “It never ends… it just moves on. It’s like a doppelganger. Once it’s worn out its welcome, it gets the hell out of town, takes a new face, and changes its name… but it’s always the same creature underneath, and it can never keep itself hidden for long. When the war moves on, I’m moving with it.”

“Very poetic,” Fay said. “But let’s not scare the kid, okay?”

“Right,” Flattop said caustically. “We want to keep her as fresh-faced and naive as possible for when we see action again.”

“Buck returns,” Nora announced. “Wounded, and not alone.”

“Shit,” Fay said, raising her sword and hand crossbow. “Fall back to the edge of the clearing, and brace yourselves.”

“Any chance you could get your little boyfriend trained to not lead the forces of chaos straight to us every time?” Mur-Si asked Nora, who did not respond. She’d set an arrow to string and drawn it back, waiting. The darker elf ran to the far end of the clearing and scattered a few large jars from the inside of her cloak.

“We have met the forces of chaos, and they is us,” Flattop said.

Mur-Si’s pointed ears twitched. A flock of blackbirds took off and scattered above the treetops, not too far away. The non-elves became aware of the sounds of crashing and branches breaking.

“Hold that thing off until they’re on us,” Fay said, eyeing Flattop’s axe. “And try not to burn the whole wood down around us.”

“Your wish is my command,” Flattop said.

Nora released her arrow across the clearing, drawing another and letting it loose before the first had vanished into the woods. She sent off a total of five arrows before the majestic figure of a golden-antlered hart broke clear of the trees. Wicked looking black-fletched darts protruded from his flank.

“My love,” Nora whispered, redoubling her efforts with her bow. The first of the orcs to come into clear view caught an arrow in the throat… her eleventh consecutive kill shot, if the first that her comrades could see.

Mur-Si held her sling in check until the galloping animal was well clear and the orc horde was pouring out of the woods. The small bomb she lobbed at the first jar shattered it and ignited the contents, fastfire.

“Are you insane?” Fay asked as the alchemical preparation erupted from another jar, spattering trees and orcs alike with sticky burning oil. Some of the orcs fell where they were. The majority charged mindlessly forward, even as fire coated as much as half of their bodies.

“You only told the mutt not to burn down the woods,” Mur-Si said with relish, dropping her sling and drawing her daggers.

“Who are you calling a mutt, mutt?” Flattop demanded, but Mur-Si had already disappeared back into the woods.

“Wait… where’s she going?” Theona asked.

“Hey, The, we could really use something to slow down that wall of flaming orcs,” Fay said, discharging her crossbow.

The bolt hit one of the lead orcs, who had escaped the clinging fire, and dropped him with an electrical discharge. The bow re-cocked itself, and teleported another bolt into place. Its enchantments made it efficient as crossbows went, but she could still only shoot once every couple seconds with it.

As Buck approached, Nora ran out and vaulted onto his back, turning her bow sideways. The wounded beast turned and stopped before it crashed into the trees where the rest of Hydra Company were waiting, then wheeled around and raced along the edge of the clearing. Allianora peppered arrows at the orcs and the shorter, slower goblins who were now coming into view behind them.

“Any time now, The,” Fay said, but Theona was frozen with panic. The company leader cursed and let go of her crossbow. It turned itself around and floated in a ready position just off her hip. Gripping her sword with both hands, she rushed forward.

Flattop took this as her cue. She charged forward, swinging her great axe ahead of her and cutting an orc in two even as the twin blades ignited with magical fire. In no time the two were surrounded, but their weapons kept a clear space around them and the ground was soon littered with corpses.

Buck and Nora kept moving, picking off whatever targets seemed closest to scoring a hit, and twice saving the battle-shocked Theona from a foe who turned its attention her way. Even wounded, Buck was capable of trampling goblins and goring orcs.

Mur-Si reappeared behind the charging mass, cutting down multiple opponents and then disappearing back into the woods. Theona finally snapped out of her shocked stupor and started sending compact balls of lightning into the fray. Her shrieks and Flattop’s mad laughter were the only sounds the defenders made, except for the ringing of their weapons and the whoosh of Allianora’s arrows.

There were easily three dozen orcs and three score goblins in the group that had chased Buck back to the company, but they lacked organization or any sense of tactics. That wasn’t to say that Hydra Company was following an intricate battle plan, but they each knew their part in the battle and how to work around—if not exactly with—each other. The green bodies continued to fall, while only Buck, Fay, and Flattop sustained even minor hits… until an orc spear caught Nora’s mount in the side.

He pitched to the side, and Nora was forced to leap from his back to avoid being crushed when he rolled over. She landed on her feet, her gold eyes turning red with rage. Her dagger took the throat of the spear-thrower, and she immediately sought out and brought down another opponent, and then another.

It was over soon after that. The orcs fought to the last, but many of the goblins broke and ran. Once the clearing was empty of enemies, Fay ordered Theona to put out the fires and the others to keep watch while Nora ran to her fallen mount’s side.

Fay gave her a moment to let the situation sink in, then approached her slowly.

“Report,” she said.

“His wounds are beyond my means to treat,” Nora said, stroking the downed animal’s side. “We’ll need greater magic.”

“I’m sorry, Nora,” Fay said. “We used the last healing potion three days ago.”

“The wand…”

“We lost that when Barkskin bit the dust,” Fay said.

“Damn it!” the usually stoic elf shouted, pounding the ground with her fists.

“Nora, I don’t mean to be insensitive, but we need to know what he saw,” Fay said.

“His wounds will only worsen,” Nora said.

“They’re bad enough now,” Fay said quietly. “Let him give his report, and then he can… go on his way.”

Slowly, Nora nodded. She put her hand on Buck’s muzzle. His form shimmered and receded into itself, becoming that of a human man. The wounds remained, shifting into the equivalent positions on the human body but staying the same size, which… on a smaller sized creature with a thinner body… made them all the more devastating.

“Hello, lover,” Nora said, tears lining her eyes.

“Bridge… eight miles north,” he said. “Troll guards… eleven of them. Three platoons of orcs camped on far side of gorge. Ogres coming in, day after tomorrow.”

“Damn it,” Fay said. “That gives us two days to figure out how to take out the bridge.”

“Or how to say ‘hail chaos’ in orc,” Mur-Si said.

“Hold on, Buck,” Nora said. “I’m going to change you back now. You’ll live longer…” She touched his forehead, but nothing happened. “You’ll live,” she repeated, closing her eyes and focusing her will. There was no change. She screamed in frustration and shook him by the shoulders. “Change!”

“Allianora!” Fay shouted, grabbing the grief-crazed elf and pulling her away from the fallen human. Nora elbowed her in the face and ran back to her mate, throwing herself on top of him and sobbing.

“And I would have bet it you’d be the first one to do that,” Flattop said to Theona.

“I did bet that, but luckily Maeve bought it before the question was settled,” Mur-Si said.

“It’s too bad she couldn’t change him back, though,” Flattop said. “Venison’s better than orc meat, any day.”

“I imagine human would be, too.”

“You two filthy crossbreeds had better shut your mouths, or I swear by your Dark Herald you won’t leave this clearing,” Allianora said, getting to her feet and facing the two.

“He ain’t my Dark Herald,” Flattop said.

“Nor mine,” Mur-Si said.

“All of you, shut up and listen,” Fay said. “We started this mission with nine… the nine people High Command thought were best suited to bring the bridge down. There are now only five of us, and we have a choice…”

“Oh, now we have a choice,” Mur-Si said. “I don’t remember choice being mentioned at the briefing.”

“On paper, the mission’s already a failure,” Fay said. “The choice is, do we accept that or not?”

“I’m not half done killing,” Flattop said. “You can point me at the orcs or you can send me back to ‘our’ side. I’m not picky.”

“I’m fairly certain the terms of the pardon were contingent upon success,” Mur-Si said.

“The?” Fay asked.

“I want to go home,” the young mage said.

“Home is not an option,” Fay said. “Nora? You know I’ll take your word over anyone else’s in the company.”

Nora ignored the implied question. She returned to Buck’s side, bent down, slipped the bracelet off his wrist, and hooked it onto her belt. She then went over to retrieve her bow from where she’d dropped it. She picked it up, calmly strung an arrow, and then leveled it at her commander’s head.

“Nora?” Fay repeated, her voice a little shaky. “I know you’re upset, but…”

“We are finishing this mission,” Nora said. “And if I hear one word to the contrary, I’m putting an arrow through your head.”

“Well, you heard the lady,” Fay said. “Hydra Company, gather your gear. We’ve got a bridge to kill.”

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5 Responses to “Bonus Story: Tales of Hydra Company”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Shut up Soldier and Soldier.

    Current score: 0
  2. Erm says:

    How did Theona end up in this suicide squad anyway?

    Current score: 0
    • WsntHere says:

      I guess you’ve never seen “The Dirty Dozen.” Coupla gung-ho do or die military types sent out with a load of death row type hard core killers and the mandatory, only slightly evil lightweight skilled wimp with a heart of gold, to do an impossible job. Survivors get a clean slate. Good movie if you like war movies and Earnest Borgnine.

      Current score: 1
  3. Leila says:

    I’m preeetty sure “flattop” is Callahan, I don’t remember how Mack described her when they first met, is she a redhead?

    Current score: 2
    • Anon says:

      And Mur-Si is pretty definitely Mercy. Old School Assassin? Talking about eating people?

      Given the naming convention and the reference to a ‘darker elf’ plus Callahan calling her a mutt, probably half dark elf half pale elf.

      The other three may or may not have survived the war, but I can’t recall any mentions that might fit.

      Current score: 5