The Storm Approaches
“Oi, get yer heads down you dirty gits!” Sergeant Thomas shouted as another volley of rockets arced towards them.
The Trenchers under his command slammed down to the ground instinctively, scrabbling with their hands in the rubble of the streets to find a hole somewhere, anywhere. But this section of Sul had not taken as much damage as others, and the men were left exposed between crumbling blockades as the whistling rockets approached the old merchant’s square. The first few deviated wildly off-target, exploding harmlessly against the solid stone buildings around them. But none of the Trenchers of the 41st were under any illusions about the inaccuracy of the Deliverers. The Menites relied on quantity of explosives to make up for their lack of accuracy, and too many men in the platoon had already lost their lives when the rockets finally drifted onto their positions.
“I don't care if you have to use your teeth, get through tha’ stone and get your arses some cover!” the sergeant ordered. The squad fell to it with pickaxe and shovel, but the stone was as difficult to break as the faith that drove the lunatics they fought. The ominous silence weighed on all of them, broken only by the sharp crack of iron desperately seeking to break stone and the grunts of men who knew that these were their last moments. The calm would only last as long as it took the Menites to reload.
But the next sound that came was not the whistling of the rockets carrying their deadly payload. From a side street in the clustered square the heavy tromp of boots sounded, rhythmic, a unified staccato that would tax the most drilled of elite soldier. The sergeant felt despair. That direction was their fallback route and was supposed to have been kept clear by those lazy Long Gunners behind them. He checked his rifle, ready to sell his life dearly. But he held his fire at seeing the symbol of the black swan emblazoned clearly on the shoulders of those that marched into sight. The blackened Cygnus, the dirge symbol of Lord Commander Stryker’s sworn vendetta against the deceitful Menites.
The armored warriors were huge. While Sergeant Thomas had never been on the front line of the skirmishes with Khador he’d heard stories of their steam armor, thick powered suits that granted the strength and sturdiness of warjacks to mere men. The marching line before him reminded him of those stories, but the sharp smell of ozone that filled the air from the over sized stormchambers on their backs told of their true origin. Each warrior stood over nine feet tall in their blue and gold armor and carried in their left hands massive shields that could have easily crushed any normal man that tried to lift them. The ugly snub nosed cannon barrels that sat in the middle of their shields were a brutally simple addition that needed no Cygnaran improvement to be effective. In their right hands they bore long electrified axes, sparks playing across the surface promising death to those touched by the blade. All of the warriors had their helmets closed fully and covering their faces, the only sign of life being an eerie blue light emanating from their visors. They strode without hesitation to the center of the square, placing themselves between the pinned down Trenchers and the hidden rocketeers. They turned towards the concealed Deliverers, leaving their backs to the Trenchers. With the clang of metal on metal they slammed their shields together, forming an impenetrable wall of iron facing the Menites hidden within the building ahead, as if daring them to fire. The followers of the Creator of Man accepted the challenge with a rallying cry, and seconds later the air was rent asunder with the whistles of incoming enemy fire.
A hellish inferno surrounded the armored giants, engulfing them in searing heat as the rockets impacted. Needing no encouragement from their sergeant to keep their heads down, the Trenchers huddled behind what cover they had managed to dig up. The concussions from the explosions caused the loose rocks and pebbles in front of Sergeant Thomas’s nose to dance across the hard pitted paving stones. When the detonations stopped he looked up, expecting the armored warriors to be nothing but slag.
They stood there, unfazed, unmoving, the very stone around their feet so hot it had melted. Through the hazy air the Trenchers saw the warriors raise their shields and carefully aim towards the building across the square for a moment before loosing their own volley from the shield cannons. Their shots found their marks, and within seconds the fanatical curses of the Menites had turned to dying moans. Another cannonade was fired into the building where the pleas for mercy came from. The giant azure warriors showed no pity, no remorse, no emotion at all as they fired their cannons again and again, and soon silence reigned once more.
Sergeant Thomas picked himself carefully off the ground and strode around to the front of the armored troopers, extending his hand to the warriors, seeking to thank them. They ignored his proffered gesture, their helmets moving slowly as they peered into the ruins, searching for survivors. The closed faceplates masked their visages completely except for the blue glow through the visor slits, and the Trencher sergeant let his hand drop limply to his side.
The sergeant rushed to get out of their way as they suddenly started forward again, their footsteps pounding in time with no signal, no word. They tromped down the ruined avenue, intent on their next quarry, the electrified blades and smoking cannons seeming to ache for more victims.
“Damned Menites claim we’re the demons,” Thomas muttered to a nearby Trencher who had poked his head up to watch the show. The heavy footsteps faded as their mysterious saviors disappeared into the depths of the besieged city. “Maybe they ain't so wrong after all ...”