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Book One: A Good Day to Die
Written by Keith R.A. DeCandido
"I have never been so bored in my entire life," Davok announced as he sat down at the mess hall table.
G'joth alternated between stuffing zilm'kach into his mouth and tapping on his padd as Davok took the seat next to him. The zilm'kach was too soft; everyone was falling all over themselves over the presence of gagh on the menu, but G'joth had never been able to stomach the stuff. Sadly, the rest of the food was severely lacking, probably done on purpose to guarantee that all the gagh that had been taken out of stasis would actually get eaten and not go to waste. The quartermaster was no fool.
"You need a hobby," G'joth said as he tried to figure out which adjective to use to describe the bekk's bat'leth.
"Like opera composition?" Krevor asked with a smile.
"Novel writing, actually."
Goran frowned. "I thought you were writing an opera."
"I was, but the music wasn't sounding right."
Leader Wol arrived then, taking a seat between Krevor and G'joth. "And here I thought that you simply were tone-deaf."
"He is tone-deaf," Krevor said. "You've heard him hum."
"I happen to have a magnificent singing voice," G'joth said archly. "You'll find out tomorrow night when I sing before the meal."
"It couldn't be any worse than B'Elath," Krevor said with a shudder.
Wol frowned. "B'Elath?"
"One of the engineers." Krevor shuddered a second time. "The worst singing voice in all of creation. If you're lucky, you'll never be subjected to her rendition of 'The Campaign at Kol'Vat.' I'm told the Romulans use a recording of it for torturing prisoners."
Goran spoke up. "QaS DevwI' Vok says that every time B'Elath sings that song before supper, we win a great victory the next day. Besides, I like the way she sings."
"We should get her to sing tomorrow night, then," Davok said, poking at his gagh without actually eating any of it. "Maybe then I won't be so bored."
"Tomorrow night's my turn," G'joth said.
"And that's the other benefit."
Wol swallowed her gagh. "A victory would be a good thing. I helped Lieutenant Toq break up a fight between two bekks from the seventh earlier today."
Davok sneered. "Why did you break it up?"
"They were fighting because one of them complimented the other."
G'joth couldn't believe it. "You're joking."
"I wish I was," Wol said. "One of them said the other had a strong beard, and the other attacked him. It was ridiculous."
"You should have let them fight," Davok said, finally picking up a couple of worms. "At least then we'd have something to talk about besides G'joth's stupid novel." He swallowed the gagh.
Ignoring the jibe, G'joth asked, "Can you call a bat'leth 'sturdy'?"
Wol and Krevor exchanged glances. Wol shrugged. "You could. Why would you want to?"
"I need the right adjective."
Davok snarled. "You need a better hobby "
"At least I have one, besides complaining about how bored I am."
Wol turned to Krevor and, through a mouthful of taknar gizzards, asked, "Did you cut your hair?"
Krevor's hands moved self-consciously to her straight black hair. G'joth hadn't noticed before, but it had been growing past neck-length over the past few weeks, and now Krevor had hacked it back to what it was when she first joined the fifteenth. "I prefer to keep it this length," she said. "It was shorn in battle against the al'Hmatti when I was protecting Ambassador Worf."
Snorting, Davok said, "Not much of a trophy."
"You'd rather I do what Lieutenant Leskit does?" Krevor asked. "Wear Cardassian neckbones on my person like some kind of museum exhibit?"
"True warriors are not afraid to display their victories," Davok said.
Krevor shrugged as she swallowed her gagh. "You display yours your way, I'll display mine my way."
The intercom then sounded with Lieutenant Lokor's voice. "First through Twentieth Squads, report for combat. Twenty-first through Sixtieth Squads on standby."
"At last!" Davok practically leapt out of his chair.
G'joth got up more in a more leisurely manner, taking a moment to swallow one last bite of zilm'kach. The novel wasn't really coming along very well anyhow. Perhaps I should try verse...
* * *
Me-Larr watched with glee as the two Children of San-Tarah tried to beat each other senseless.
El-Yar claimed that Bo-Denn had stolen a small keepsake from her. Bo-Denn denied the accusation, and the item had not been found in either his hut, or El-Yar's, or anyone else's. However, the item was small and easily disposed of in the river, and Bo-Denn's disdain for El-Yar was no secret, and went back many seasons. Declaring the solution was but a formality for the Ruling Pack, since they hardly needed Te-Run's expertise to know that such a dispute was resolved by unarmed combat. It didn't even require a circle.
The fight had commenced after the meal, when the day's hunt had been consumed. El-Yar's white fur almost glowed in the flickering light from the assorted fires that had been lit around the village, whereas Bo-Denn's black-furred form seemed to have a glowing outline around it.
Although Bo-Denn was both larger and more powerful than El-Yar, she was much faster, with sharper claws. More to the point, she knew to use them. She had spent most of the fight on the defensive, but her attacks drew blood, where Bo-Denn had made many attempts to gain the upper hand, with little success.
Screaming, Bo-Denn suddenly dove at El-Yar. Me-Larr watched with amusement. No art to it, he thought, but art matters little if one achieves results. Bo-Denn's greater weight meant that he might very well crush El-Yar and be victorious.
Sure enough, Bo-Denn landed on top of El-Yar, knocking her to the ground. He lay across her, his bulk pinning both her head and her right arm to the ground.
"Now you die, liar!"
You should have pinned both arms, Me-Larr thought even as El-Yar reached with her left arm and grabbed the back of Bo-Denn's neck, then ripped out a chunk of fur and flesh with her claws.
Bo-Denn screamed in pain, but did not move. Perhaps he hopes to suffocate her.
Around them, members of the pack goaded on one or the other of the contestants. Me-Larr was not in the least bit surprised to see that most of those cheering El-Yar were the women, while Bo-Denn's primary support came from the men.
A three-note horn blow cut through the fighting, the cheering, and the screams.
Those sounds all ceased almost at once. El-Yar ceased her struggles, and Bo-Denn even rolled off of her. Suddenly, the Children of San-Tarah had a concern far beyond that of an accusation of petty theft.
Three notes meant something that had not happened since Me-Larr was a cub. Then it had been three of the packs rebelling against the Ruling Pack and attempting to take over the guidance of the Children of San-Tarah. That effort had failed, due mainly to the valiant Yi-Rak, who died quelling the uprising, as well as a much younger Te-Run. Since then, the only combat the San-Tarah had engaged in had been of their own choosing: on hunts, or in disputes like that of Bo-Denn and El-Yar.
The messenger who had sounded the alarm ran into the village, horn in hand, looking for Me-Larr. The head of the Ruling Pack ran toward her to make finding him easier on her; the others of the Ruling Pack did likewise, and they converged near one of the fires.
"We are invaded," the messenger said.
"By whom?" Te-Run asked.
"I do not know. I have never seen their like before. They appeared as if from the air. They have no fur, save for a mane atop their heads, their faces are flat, and they are armed quite well. They are moving toward us."
Me-Larr did not hesitate. Some threat had come. Perhaps it was more from beyond the clouds, like those whose sky-battle blotted out the stars generations ago. Perhaps they came from beneath the ground, or from the other side of the world. Ultimately, it did not matter. None may violate San-Tarah land without a fight, and no force existed that could defeat them in battle.
"To arms!" he cried. "A foe has come! Tonight we shall prove to them that the Children of San-Tarah are defeated by no one!"
All those present howled in reply, then ran to their huts to retrieve their weapons.
* * *
Wol materialized in the middle of a dirt road, the rest of her squad alongside her.
The only illumination was provided by the shoulder-mounted lamps that each member of the fifteenth carried. Among the many deleterious effects of the subspace eddies in the space around this world were that the stars were blocked from view, so the sky provided no illumination at night.
However, the shoulder lamps combined with some not-too-far-off firelight to give the Klingons--who had night vision far superior to that of most bipedal sentients in the galaxy--enough of a view to quickly take the lay of the land. The road on which they stood had tall, brown-leafed trees and shrubs on either side. Good cover for an ambush, she thought. A village--the source of that firelight--could be seen about a quarter of a qelIqam in one direction, a mountain in the other. The former, from what Wol could see, was constructed from simple huts made out of local flora. These people would seem to be easy prey.
However, the fifteenth did not have the honor of taking the village--which was apparently the closest to a first city that this world had. Their job was to secure the primary road leading into that city. Although calling it a road was, perhaps, giving this dirt path too much credit...
Wol held her disruptor pistol in one hand, a mek'leth in the other. QaS DevwI' Vok had warned them that energy weapons may not work on the surface of this world, so they needed to be prepared to fight with older, bladed weapons. No one really found that much of a hardship. Goran had decided not to take his hundred-year-old disruptor with him for risk of harm coming to the old heirloom. (The bekk claimed that it used in the service of Dahar Master Kor on Organia in the campaign against the Federation's Kirk, which Wol didn't entirely believe.)
Vok had in fact ordered that everyone take two secondary weapons, and they had to be proficient in both of them. In practical terms, that meant that most had to bring something besides their d'k tahg. (The exception, once again, was Goran, who had a d'k tahg, naturally, but never used it, as his hand was larger than the blade's grip, making it impractical for the giant's use. He instead carried a tik'leth on a holster strapped to his back, as well as a bat'leth.)
For her part, Wol had always preferred the flexibility of a mek'leth. Unlike the two-handed bat'leth, it could be wielded with one hand and was faster on the parry and strike.
The first order of business was to test the disruptors. Wol unholstered hers and attempted to fire it at a bush.
"Qu'vatlh," she muttered. "It seems that the concern about disruptors was justified."
"You mean," Davok said with a sneer, "the officers were right?"
G'joth laughed. "It does happen occasionally."
"We'll just have to do this the old-fashioned way," Wol said. "Stations."
Davok and G'joth took up posts on the far side of the road, Wol and Krevor holding position where they materialized, with Goran placing his mountainous self in the dead center of the road. Can't get much more secure than that, she thought.
Wol expected very little from this campaign. Once they took the first city, the Gorkon would break orbit and get a message to General Talak. The general's fleet would come and finish the job the Gorkon started, and then they'd move on to the next place. If there is a next place. In truth, Wol had hoped for a worthier foe than a group of primitives to have to conquer. True, their world provided many natural defenses. Apparently the area surrounding the planet not only prevented the Gorkon from using subspace communication beyond a certain range, but also disruptors and torpedoes--the former would not fire and the latter's explosive capabilities were neutralized. But that didn't bother Wol, as it just meant the ground troops were even more important.
She removed the hand-scanner from her belt. Unfortunately, it worked no better than the disruptors. "The scanners aren't functioning, either." Then she smiled. "It would seem that we truly shall have to depend on our instincts."
"Good," Krevor said with a grin.
"This will make an interesting addition to my poem."
Wol shone her shoulder lamp on her subordinate. "Poem? An hour ago, it was a novel."
"Novels are tedious."
"Especially your novel," Davok put in, causing a snicker from Krevor.
G'joth shrugged, ignoring Davok. "I was thinking about it on the way down here, and I realized that the themes I wished to convey would work better in a poem. Besides, a writer needs a challenge, and constructing an epic tale in verse is a far more worthy endeavor than attempting to do so in--"
"Quiet!" Krevor hissed.
Even as Krevor spoke, Wol smelled it, too. Unfamiliar scents were approaching. The only thing Wol knew for sure was that whoever it was was covered in fur. Some form of animal life, she thought, remembering hunts from her younger days on the grounds owned by House Varnak.
Wol readied her mek'leth. Next to her, Krevor unsheathed her d'k tahg. Wol noted that the other woman's blade was undecorated and worn, just as Wol's own was. The joys of being a House-less provincial--you take whatever d'k tahg you can get. "Proper" Klingons had their own personalized weapons. Wol had had to relinquish hers when her father cast her out...
Three furred bipeds leapt out of the bushes straight at Krevor and Wol. They wore no clothing as such, though several straps, pouches, and belts made of animal hide decorated their persons. They had pointed ears atop their heads, long snouts instead of noses, with lipless mouths at the ends of those snouts that covered teeth as sharp as a Klingon's and long tongues. Their fingers--three fingers and a thumb per hand--ended in sharp claws, as did their padded feet.
As soon as they were visible, they howled. Even as Wol raised her mek'leth in defense, she heard howls from all around her. This is a coordinated attack, she thought even as one of the creatures swung a weapon at her. The metal blade clanged loudly against her mek'leth. She parried, shoving her opponents' blade downward, even as another of the creatures attacked with a similar blade.
Wol had never seen a sword of this like. It curved upward from the hilt to a much sharper degree than that of her mek'leth, initially angling out from the hilt and then around into a deep crescent shape. That crescent then split in two, with one blade going straight upward, the other continuing to form the rest of the crescent. Each of the two blades ended in a V formation, granting the sword four points with which to attack.
Even as she elbowed the second creature in the stomach with one arm, she brought her mek'leth down on the first. However, the creature parried with the ease of a master sword wielder.
Now Wol wished she had brought a bat'leth. These creatures' two-bladed swords were as long as a bat'leth blade. Wol had fought mek'leth to bat'leth against single foes and won, but never against two. I need to even the odds.
A qutluch flew through the air past Wol's ear and lodged directly in the second creature's throat. The traditional weapon of an assassin, Davok had one that he claimed he took off someone who tried to use it on him years ago.
Making a mental note to thank Davok later, Wol turned her attention to the first attacker. They stood facing each other for a moment, Wol's shoulder lamp shining directly into her enemy's face.
Wol stared into the creature's eyes.
No, not a creature. For one thing, no mere animal could have crafted so impressive a weapon.
For another, the eyes that looked back at Wol were those of a warrior born who was prepared to do whatever it took to defeat Wol, just as Wol would not rest until her foe was dead.
I said I wanted a challenge, Wol thought, baring her teeth. "Today," she said, "is a good day to die!"
The alien said something in its language.
Wol then attacked.
The bloodlust rose within her as she leapt at her foe, mek'leth swinging ahead of her. They had taken away her honor, her family--all that was left to her was this.
Her foe did not limit its attack to its weapon. Claws, teeth, legs, all were used in service of its goal: to kill her. She, in turn, was bigger and had better protection. A glancing blow to her arm was absorbed by her gauntlets, where a like blow from her drew blood from her opponent.
Wol had no idea how long the fight had gone on when her opponent finally disarmed her. As her mek'leth went flying across the road, Wol grabbed for her foe's snout, then pulled the jaws apart, screaming her fury to the heavens as she did so. The alien tried to slice her torso open with its sword, and did succeed in drawing blood this time, but Wol was determined to score a victory. She yanked the alien's head backward, and heard the glorious snap of bone.
The alien went down, dead.
Wol turned and growled, looking for a new enemy to take on, but saw that the rest of her squad also stood victorious. Davok bled from a wound in his cheek, G'joth's left arm hung uselessly at his side, and Krevor now walked with a pronounced limp. Only Goran seemed unscathed.
"They fight well," Goran said.
Wol's shoulder lamp illuminated ten alien corpses bleeding on the road and off to the side. Five of them lay at Goran's feet. Davok walked over and extricated his qutluch from the neck of the one he'd killed.
"Vok to all squads. We have met with resistance in the first city. We need to fall back and regroup."
The bloodlust dimming as her rational mind once again took charge, Wol opened a channel. "The main road is secure, repeat, the main road is secure."
"Well done, Leader. Sixth, remain to cover our regrouping--take as many of them as you can. Fifteenth, keep the road secure. Twentieth, set up a base camp one qelIqam outside the first city. All other squads, head for that base camp. Take as many of these alien petaQ as you can! Qapla'!"
"We are running from battle?" Davok snarled. "This is madness! These creatures are--"
G'joth interrupted. "If Goran hadn't taken out five of them so quickly, those 'creatures' would have killed us all, Davok."
More howling sounded, mixed with the cries of Klingons as they fought. "The fighting is moving this way," Wol said. "Take positions." Then, remembering that Goran's position was the middle of the road, she added, "Goran, go with Davok and G'joth--we have to keep the road clear."
Soon, Klingon warriors, led by QaS DevwI' Klaris, started to run down the road, occasionally with aliens hanging off them or attacking them. Many were bloodied, some were badly wounded. Even as they passed, some of the aliens leapt from the surrounding shrubbery to attack, but Goran took care of those.
Wol heard movement behind her. She unsheathed her d'k tahg and threw it at the noise, which was from within one of the shrubs on the side of the road. "Hold station," she instructed Krevor, then went to retrieve her weapon.
The blade had lodged in the torso of one of the aliens. Covered with black fur, much of which was now matted down with blood, the alien slashed at Wol as she came closer, and muttered something in its tongue.
Ducking the swipe, Wol swung her mek'leth at the alien's throat--
--only to have it blocked by the alien's arm. The blade cut into fur and flesh and bone, blood spurting all over the shrub, the alien, and Wol herself. Though it wounded the alien further, it also, in essence, disarmed Wol, as her enemy then pulled its arm back, the mek'leth still lodged therein. Even as it did so, the alien reached down and swung upward with its sword, which had apparently fallen to the side.
Wol tried to fall back, dodging the attack, but her enemy was too fast, and the removal of her mek'leth too sudden. The straight blade sliced into her belly, followed quickly by the curved blade cutting her side.
Fire lit her entire torso, but the pain only gave her focus. Again, the battle lust rose, and she welcomed it. The blood roaring in her ears, she screamed to the heavens and lunged for the alien.
Peculiarly, the alien did not follow up its attack, nor resist Wol going for her throat. Wol had been throttling it for several seconds before she realized that her foe had already died--a bit late, but the d'k tahg finally claimed the alien's life.
Clutching her wounds with her left hand, she retrieved first her d'k tahg, then her mek'leth with her right and resheathed them.
She looked down at the furred alien. I do not know if there is a place in Sto-Vo-Kor for your kind--but if there isn't, there should be. After the Dominion War, this was almost a privilege. Jem'Hadar fought because they were bred to. Cardassians and Romulans fought out of a sense of duty to their country. But these people--these were more like Klingons. They didn't just fight because they needed to, but because they wanted to. There was a joy to their combat that was very Klingon.
The Leader returned to her post at the road, arriving just as Krevor sliced the throat of an alien that was attacking two wounded troops. From the city, she could hear howls. Are they cries of victory? she wondered.
Vok was, unsurprisingly, the last Klingon to come through, just as Klaris had been the first. A warrior's first duty was to fight for the Empire, but the QaS DevwI' were additionally responsible for the welfare of the troops. Just as Klaris would take command of the twentieth as they secured the new base camp, Vok would make sure that everyone who could move got out safely, and that those who could not would not be taken prisoner. If he had left the city, it meant that there were no living Klingon souls left behind.
Or, if there are, they won't be for long. Wol noted that no members of the sixth came down the road.
"Move!" Vok cried as he gestured for Wol's squad to go ahead of him. As one, Wol, Goran, Krevor, Davok, and G'joth ran down the road, following the other troops.
Davok muttered, "I still think this is cowardly."
"Did you say something, Bekk Davok?" Vok asked.
"He said nothing," Wol said, glowering at her subordinate. She also instantly regretted speaking. It was taking all her energy to make her legs work. Her left arm clutched her torso hard--she was half-convinced that if she let go, she'd fall in twain.
Vok did not pursue the matter. "You did well, Leader. Securing the road permits us to regroup and contact the Gorkon. Obviously, we will need more troops," he added dryly. "These are no mere primitives."
"No, sir," Wol said, clenching her teeth. The road was now taking them uphill. "They are true warriors, in the spirit of Kahless."
"Bah," Davok said. "They are overgrown targs with fancy swords. We have just grown soft from months of inactivity. I say we go back and show them the true mettle of Klingon warriors."
Wol closed her eyes for a moment, assuming that Davok's time in her squad--and in this life--had just been severely curtailed, but Vok just snorted. "You may say what you wish, bekk. However, since you are merely crew, I am free to ignore your words for the mewlings they are."
Before Davok could say something else stupid, they arrived at the base camp: a large clearing in front of a cave opening, bordered by several rocks and boulders. Wol thought, The twentieth's scouts did their jobs well. The clearing only had one uphill approach, and was very easy to defend. Two lamps had been set up to provide enough illumination to see by, so Wol shut off her shoulder lamp to preserve its energy cells; the rest of the squad followed suit.
Wol presumed that the base camp would only get temporary use. True warriors did not defend for very long.
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