Chapter 2- Operation Dragons Breath

Russian Spetnaz Sergeant Dasha Fedorovich savoured the thrill of the calm looming before the storm. As a keen sniper and leader of Black Wolf rifle platoon within the elite Spetnaz Alpha Brigade, the pride of the Russian military, she yearned for any opportunity to throw herself into the heat of battle in the name of the motherland.

Sitting in the crew compartment of the Russian Mi-55 Locust Troop Transport Helicopter Dasha passed her gaze across the lines of Spetnaz soldiers who sat on the parallel benches which dominated the length of the transports crew compartment. Every soldier present was a member of the elite rifle platoon Black Wolf, each serving as the eyes, ears and right hand of the Alpha Brigade. They were the best of the Russian Federation military, each of them willing and prepared to lay down their lives in service to the cause.

The European army was currently making a feeble attempt to slip their forces through the icy valley Brennar Pass in a desperate effort to pierce into the heart of Russian territory. However rather an easy hike into the centre of Moscow the Euro jackals would find the unbreakable defence of the Russian Spetnaz Brigade ready to shatter their will as well as their bodies.

Dasha felt the movement of the craft beneath her feet, feeling the rock and waver as the helicopter descended towards their insertion point at the northern opening of the valley. The operation was centred upon the frozen wastes of Brennar Pass, the perfect battlefield to remind the Russian warriors of home. The helicopter finally settled over the IP, Dasha steeled herself as she prepared for the battle which was to come.

Dasha rose from her seat, clasping onto the overhead strap for support she rose to address her soldiers. "Prepare yourselves Spetnaz warriors!" a piercing wail tore through the cramped crew compartment, resonating through the skulls of every soldier present. The hatch in the deck of the craft slid open, the roar of the engines and the burn of the cold air intensified, enflaming Dasha's senses and enticing her anticipation for the coming battle. Dasha stepped over the lip of the hatch, staring down at the frozen tundra which lay beneath her. Without fear or hesitation she leapt into the abyss to embrace the harsh touch of the frozen air as she descended towards the frozen tundra below.

The Spetnaz Sergeant struck the ground running, her stride unwavering as she crushed the soft snow beneath her boots, she trotted to a halt a few feet away from the landing point. The harsh bite of the cold breeze instantly made her feel alive, in an second her childhood memories of ice fishing and hunting with her father intermixed with the scars and trauma of elite Spetnaz survival training flooded through her. They had turned a young girl into a leader of the most elite group of soldiers Russia had ever forged. Now it was time for her to put those skills to use, it was time for her Wolves to hunt.

"Wolves" Dasha said sharply, repressing a flickering smile at the resounding crunch of boots into the soft snow behind her. "Secure Uplink Foxtrot" the rhythmic crunch of charging boots assured her that her will was being carried out. Dasha took this brief moment of silence to savour the calm before the storm. Already she could hear the crescendo of explosions being carried on the wind as the first shots were fired, she yearned to throw herself into the fray and do battle with the European dogs. But for now at least it seemed that the talents of Dasha and her elite soldiers were to be utilized in securing Uplink nodes so that the Russian command could seize control of all communications and electronic systems within the valley. It was a far cry from the days of her proud Russian ancestors where victory in battle was only found when the corpses of your enemy outnumbered those of your own. But was a new age of warfare and for now it seemed they would have to endure it.

Dasha turned away from her idle dreams, stepping across the open field she moved towards the Uplink node that her men were already in the process of bringing under Russian control. She found the majority of her soldiers crouched behind the Uplinks defensive wall that, despite the looming threat of snipers, rose from their protection to salute their leader as she passed. The large bulkhead doors parted before her, allowing her access into the Uplinks main control room. The squad of technicians were engaged in the Russian concept of computer hacking, namely tearing apart the European systems and replacing them with 'more compliant' software to seize control the network.

The technician perched over the main computer system suddenly turned to face her. "The node is our comrades" a chorus of cheers thundered through the control room, the soldiers now bathed in the deep green glow of the Russian Spetnaz as the computers integrated into the Russian network. A great sense of pride washed over them accompanied by the relief that, finally, they would finally be able to enter the battle. Dasha turned on her heel and stepped out of the Uplink back into the frozen wilderness to greet the other squads of her platoon still positioned behind the Uplinks defensive walls.

Dasha could already hear the echo of explosions tearing apart the valleys looming silence, ushering in the first conflicts of a far larger battle. A formation of T-100 Ogre tanks, the pride of the Russia's Armoured Divisions, and escorted by Russian Army soldiers prepared to deliver harsh retribution upon their enemies. Dasha knew her men hoped to follow those war machines into the heat of the battle, but it appeared that fate had other plans for them.

"Spetnaz Command to Black Wolf, requesting status report"

"Sergeant Fedorovich, leading Black Wolf platoon" she answered in return. "My platoon has secured Uplink Foxtrot and is prepared to undertake another objective immediately"

"Excellent sergeant, stand by for next assignment" the COM fell deafly silent. Dasha could feel the anticipation rising within her soldiers; they yearned for this to finally be their chance to spill European blood on their own soil. In one moment their silent calls were answered. "Black Wolf we have a priority objective. European Enforcers Corps Engineers have secured node Uplink Delta" Dasha could hear the disdain in the voice of the operator. "That is unacceptable in the face of our war efforts. That installation must be secured immediately before it compromises our hold over the entire sector" Once more Dasha could hear the sound of aircraft engines being carried on the breeze towards them. "We are providing additional support, in the form of transport to the objective. Armoured column Vixen is currently inbound to your location" the Russian Tarantula Heavy Transport helicopter emerged over the high mountain range eclipsing Uplink Foxtrot, settling down onto the soft snow at its base. The loading ramp opened; through the haze of the up wash of snow the heavy vehicles remained concealed as they rolled out into the frozen wasteland. The Russian Cockroach Infantry Fighting Vehicles were the mighty steeds of Russia's Special Forces and the dread of any damned locusts who dared to stain Russian skies with their presence. "Bring glory to Russia and the Spetnaz Sergeant. Command out" the COM link fell silent. Nothing more needed to be said, they knew their objective, and every soldier in the platoon knew the price of failure.

It was a short ride in the heavy transports to the to the drop point, even with the large armament of heavy chain guns and armour plating the Russian Cockroaches was surprisingly agile even compared to their faster, and weaker, European counterpart.

The heavy tires of the Russian transports dug into the soft snow beneath them, sliding to a halt at the steep ridge of the hill which spilled down towards the target. The rear access door creaked open into the snow, the Spetnaz Rifleman disembarked from their vehicles and quickly formed into organised squads. As a single unit they began to advance; concealing themselves within the thick forests they remained hidden against the enemies' thermal sensors. From this vantage point the Russian rifle platoon could clearly observe the Uplink and its defenders, European Grenadier Engineers armed with MILANA-2 advanced anti-armour shoulder-launched missile launchers supported by Archer Combat Drones. Although these soldiers were equipped with sufficient munitions to down an entire flight of KA-65 Howler Gunships or even pierce the heavy armour plating of T-100 Ogre tanks with sustained fire their heavy equipment and exposed position would leave them easy prey for the hunters currently stalking them.

Dasha drew her Dragunov sniper rifle from her back, laying prone in the frozen tundra she lined up the scope of her rifle with the visor of the first European Grenadier. The other marksman within the platoon followed the example of their leader and drew their rifles, lining up their targets. They each wordlessly began to count down in synchronisation.

Dasha squeezed the trigger of her rifle, feeling the sharp thump against her shoulder of the weapon discharging. The round streaked across the great distance in mere moments, striking the target in the centre of the visor. The other snipers opened fire, eliminating an entire squad of Engineers before they even knew what was upon them. Having overcome the initial shook of the surprise attack the Grenadiers quickly dropped into cover and began returning fire, peppering the Russian position with a barrage of rockets and Heavy Machine Gun fire accompanied by concentrated laser fire from the support drones.

While the concentrated fire of the Engineers heavy weapons were capable of shattering the armour of a Cockroach ATV their wavering accuracy and slow rate of fire left them vulnerable to the precision strikes of the elite Russian riflemen. A Grenadiers rocket flew high, striking the crown of the heavy snow laden tree above the Russian position, a cascade of splintered tree fragments and thick snow crashed down on top of them. A minor hindrance, the Russian Spetnaz continued regardless, their wills unshakable in the face of their enemy.

The fire from the European position slowly began to falter as their numbers were slowly thinned, European Engineers daring to rise from cover to fire an uncoordinated barrage of heavy machine gun fire at the distant Russian position were quickly struck by a sniper shot into the centre of the visor. The barrage eventually ended entirely, the European weaklings had dared to surrender to their superiors. Over the whistling of the breeze and the echoes of battle could be heard the unmistakable whirr of aircraft engines approaching. Over the mountain range to the west emerged a European Gadfly infantry transport helicopter, descending towards the pacified Uplink node. Dasha pondered ordering her soldiers to fire a concentrated barge of sniper fire into the main engine of the evacuation helicopter, forcing the European dogs to watch as their last hope died before their eyes. She decided to spare the ammunition, better that some survived to tell their comrades what had occurred and what would be their end if resistance continued.

The European soldiers quickly ascended the drop ropes and loaded into the hovering transport above them as they made their swift escape from the battlefield. The Spetnaz Sergeant had chosen to spare the lives of these European soldiers, their survival would alter nothing for the coming battle but they would forever know and warn their brethren that it was the Spetnaz which had defeated them.

With the defenders vanquished the Russian rifle platoon quickly charged down the steep snow bank towards Uplink node. The bulk of the platoon quickly assumed defensive positions around the Uplinks defensive wall while Dasha lead a single squad to secure the Uplink node itself. Dasha passed her AK-47 ahead of herself, scanning the interior of the Uplink node they found it devoid of enemy soldiers. "Begin implanting the control systems"

Dasha turned on her heel and stepped out of the Uplink, leaving her soldiers to conduct their work, she emerged into the cold mountain range surrounding them. Dasha placed her palm to her ear and activated her communication link with Spetnaz Command. "Sergeant Fedorovich, Black Wolf platoon to Spetnaz Command. Uplink node Delta is under Russian control. We are awaiting further orders"

"Affirmative, Sergeant. Bear Claw platoon reports that Uplink Lima has been secured and is being reinforced with additional troops against an impending European counter-attack" Russian command continued. "We have just learned that a snowstorm is beginning to descend from the west and will strike the valley in less than an hour, soon the very sky itself shall be turned against us all. As much as our men would savour the sight of the Europeans cowering as much as to the might of the wind as to Russian steel we cannot afford to risk losing ourselves in the storm. We are withdrawing the bulk of our forces to the landing zone at Uplink Foxtrot and preparing a forceful counterattack once the storm has passed" Dasha began to pace idly around the outside of the Uplink structure, staring out towards the valley across the cold, untamed wasteland, hearing the lingering echoes of battle reverberating across the high snow-capped walls. "The next task of your platoon is to secure Uplink Zeta. Intelligence reports that the Europeans are attempting to secure the Uplink ahead of us" Dasha appreciated that Russian command were never ones to mince words. Dasha could hear the roar of vehicles engines being carried on the wind, through the frost she could see the dark green camouflage of the Ogre T-100 tanks rolling across the icy roads to the east. "We have delayed their forces with Howler gunships but we must secure the target before the storm arrives in order to establish full spectrum-"

"Incoming! Incoming Cheetah gunships" the booming voice of a Russian Rifleman called out into the open sky, silenced by the roar of the engines of European gunships emerging on the frozen horizon, their forward machine guns already ablaze with a barrage of precision fire.

Black Wolf platoon quickly scrambled into the cover of the Uplinks defensive wall, their small arms fire barraging against the hull of the gunships in retaliation. "Vixen" Dasha crouched behind cover as the sound of gunfire rang in her ears. "We have Cheetah gunships overhead Uplink Delta. They are yours to engage"

"Affirmative Sergeant, we will make mincemeat of them" the lead driver returned. When the Cockroaches guns came to bear the European aircraft would be torn to shreds.

The heavy Russian transports rolled down the snow-capped banks to the north of the Uplink, their weapons tracking the targets across the sky in a burning display of bullets peppering the sky. The Russian concept of anti-air was to simply fire hundreds of shells into the air a second, shredding the target in a cloud of super-heated metal. The strategy appeared to be tearing the gunships asunder.

Dasha drew her Dragunov sniper rifle from her back, placing the scope of the weapon to her eye she lined up the crosshairs with the cockpit of the lead Cheetah gunship. Although strengthened against shrapnel and small arms fire the cockpit window of the craft remained a structural weakness in European design Dasha was keen to exploit. The elite rifleman squeezed the trigger, the bullet piercing through the thin glass to strike directly into the helmet of the pilot. The advanced gunship was only as dangerous as the one daring to pilot it, without a pilot the vehicle was little more than a liability to the remainder of the formation supporting it. The rampant craft wavered in mid-air, the remainder of the European flight scattering in order to avoid being caught in the crippled Gunships final throes of death. In its final act of defiance the wayward craft suddenly lurched forward and smashed into the snow covered ground in a shower of burning fragments. With their wingman lost, and with the barrage of Russian gunfire only thickening, the Cheetah gunships quickly bid a hasty retreat while their strained engines could still carry them.

A deafening roar of cheers emerged from the Russians as they watched their enemy flee with such speed, the Spetnaz soldiers rising from cover to mock their defeated enemy with cries in their native tongue. Dasha realized too late, however, that their cheers of victory would be short-lived as it suddenly dawned upon her that the European Gunships were not simply retreating cowardly as she had first assumed but were instead merely clearing the path for their next attack. She knew her worst fears would soon be realized.

Out of the dark overcast skies, soaring on wings of fire, a flight of European Enforcer Corps Hailstorm Fighter Jets descended, their High Energy Lasers charged and prepared to fire. There was no time to seek cover against the storm, their weapons fired. Dasha felt as though she was being consumed by the heat and pressure as the strike impacted a few metres away, feeling her being thrown hard against the Uplink by the sheer force of the blast.

Her vision went dark, a surge of sensation shot through her entire system. When her senses finally returned her vision was a dense swirl of abstract colours and shapes, her skull pounded in her head and adrenaline flooded her veins in an attempt to suppress the waves of pain cascading through her body. Her eyes finally cleared, rising shakily to her feet, scanning the devastation before her she saw what remained. The first BTR of Vixen formation had been crippled in the attack, the smouldering carcass of the once proud Russian vehicle now lay broken and destroyed. The main cannons of the remaining Cockroaches tracked their targets across the sky, the cloud of metal trailing just short of the fast moving fighters.

Dasha had barely risen shakily to her feet as the deafening roar of the aircrafts engines returned to assault her ears; the Hailstorms were coming around for another pass. Dasha reacted purely on instinct, taking to her feet she held her assault rifle tightly to her chest, it may prove her only defence should she survive this, and quickly made her daring escape across the open field of ice towards the dense forests to the north. She knew that the fast moving attack craft would have difficulty tracking a single target across the open ice, preferring to simply bomb the stationary installation into the dirt. Dasha slipped into the safety of the woods at the base of the high mountainscape to the north of Uplink Delta, she had made it. She turned back to face the installation just as the Hailstorms returned, their laser cannons opening fire on the broken remains of the Russian defenders. Dasha steeled herself to watch as the bright lines of superheated plasma struck the target, she would remember this as just another act of cowardly European aggression, unwilling to face their opponents directly and instead preferring to strike their target with arms against which there is no defence. Turning away from the sight she remained all the more determined and continued to advance towards her objective. Any of her soldiers worth saving would quickly follow; the others would be remembered for their service to the mother Russia.

Dasha Fedorovich continued her long trek through the frozen wasteland. As night fell the wind began to pick up, bringing with it the looming threat of frostbite and hypothermia. Despite the biting cold Dasha continued to hike towards Uplink Zulu which dominated the centre of the valley, passing through the shattered remains of what had once been a popular ski resort town in this region, the buildings now broken open by the combined force of Russian and European guns, the only building left intact was the Uplink node itself.

Dasha stood on the ridge to the north overlooking the target site. So far none of her platoon had managed to catch up with her, she presumed they lay dead from the initial attack, died from exposure or had simply returned to the staging area at Uplink Foxtrot. Even left separated from her platoon with no chance of support she had to carry on the mission, for the honour of the Spetnaz.

Dasha observed the Uplink through the scope of her Dragunov sniper rifle, from what she could discern through the growing storm the structure appeared silently dormant. Dasha did not hold any illusions that the Europeans had no desires on the Uplink themselves, she knew that they may have even already secured the site and were waiting in the shadows to ambush any who dared confront them. She would have to take that risk; she could not allow the Europeans to secure the site.

Dasha secured her weapon; slipping down the steep snow bank she approached the target site. She moved towards the bulkhead doors which lead into the main chamber of the Uplink node. Dasha held her weapon tightly in her hands, feeling the biting cold of the metal against her skin as a reminder that she was still alive.

The bulkhead doors parted in a flurry of snow and ice, Dasha threw herself inside of the structure, her weapon held tightly in her hands. Through the thick haze of white she could make out the dark outline of a body inside of the Uplink. She saw the glint of metal in her hands, Dasha's grip tightened around her weapon in primal instinct. The two of them froze in place, standing on opposite sides of the divide, each with a rifle aimed at each other's chests, their fingers hovering over the triggers of their weapons. Dasha was the first to dare to speak in her fiery Russian accent. "Who the hell are you?"

From what she could discern the other woman was dressed in the navy blue armour of the European Enforcer Corps. "You first" the woman returned in a foreign parody of the Russian dialect.

"You speak my language like a child" Dasha replied with fire in her lips, though she had to admit that anyone outside of the motherland able to understand the vast intricacies of the Russian language deserved some small amount of respect.

"It helps to understand your enemy before you kill them"

"Do you really believe you could kill me?" Dasha slipped seamlessly into English. "We each have our weapons pointed at the heart of the other, it is only a matter of who dares first" The two of them stared each other down across the vast divide, each unwilling to allow the signs of the biting cold and fatigue to seep to the surface.

"Very well" Brianna said sharply, she was taking her life in her hands by even daring to attempt this. Slowly, so as not to agitate her counterpart into hasty action, she lowered her rifle until it fell slack in her arms. The woman's eyes stared back at the Russian woman with solid determination. "Captain Brianna Dark, European Enforcers Corps Battlegroup One Special Operations" Brianna extended her hand in an offer of friendship.

A smile cracked across Dasha's lips, she lowered her AK-47 from her target. "Russian Spetnaz Alpha Brigade, Sergeant Dasha Fedorovich"

"I outrank you" Brianna responded sharply.

"Only in your European military"

Brianna had activated the Uplinks vast array of life support systems, the warm air filtering through the room helping to keep the cold touch of the night at bay. The two soldiers, each dressed in the armour of their nation, sat across from each other. The both of them each passed their weapon between their hands, checking the device with the keen eye of a soldier whose life relied on the piece of equipment.

"You take good care of your weapon" Dasha broke the stale silence between them.

Brianna allowed the hint of a smile to break her features. "It is an advanced piece of technology" Brianna passed her gloved finger tips across the length of the rifle. "That means there are more components potentially to fail, more things to check"

"That is why I prefer Russian technology, why I embrace the Russian ideal of rugged simplicity" Dasha held her AK-47 tighter in her hands. "You Europeans rely far too much on technology to fight your battles" Dasha rose to her feet, she began pacing idly across the room. "When my enemy approaches I use my rifle. When the mechanism jams, I use the weapon as a club to break bones. When the metal shatters I use my combat blade to cut through organs and muscle. When the blade dulls I use my hands against whatever I can grasp. Only once my hands have become raw and bloody do I dare entertain the idea of accepting deaths cold embrace"

"A rather cynical view of the world" Brianna smirked.

"We are at war" Dasha said sharply with a thrust of her hand. "You must have the will to fight in order to win. A shell of a man with a laser rifle will always fall to the soldier with the rock"

"To be honest if we truly are dedicated to our cause we should be fighting each other now" Brianna pulled herself to her feet; leaving her weapon braced against the wall "Today I saw many of my platoon die by Russian hands, fathers and husbands. It was not even a fair fight; they were torn apart by tanks and gunships-"

"I watched as my entire platoon was felled by European Fighters. Once a man's will has been broken they will have nothing left, which is why the will of the Russian people is unshakable"

"Very well" Brianna approached Dasha. "Then answer me this, why do you fight?"

Dasha pondered the question, lost deeply in thought. "Because I love my country" the words seemed difficult for her to admit to another. "I remain loyal to my nation and its patriotic people not its leader or its ideals" Dasha closed her eyes, her hands tightening into fists at her sides. "It is the people I serve, and it will be the people who will pass judgement upon me if I betray them" Dasha suddenly felt the warm touch of hands wrapping around her clenched fists, she opened her eyes to see Brianna standing before her. "But I will not betray them"