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Mercykiller
11-23-2009, 05:58 PM
The Butcher of Sul



Darkness enveloped the company of Cygnaran soldiers as they crept through the shattered streets of Sul. Choking smoke from the latest fires they’d been ordered to set at the nearby Menite temples had covered their initial escape. As night swept in the men were glad to leave the flames behind along with the Stormhammer Brigade and its insane leader.

“Thomas,” Lieutenant Slader whispered angrily, shaking the old sergeant’s shoulder to get his attention. They were crouched along with several Trenchers in a destroyed fountain, in what used to be one of the many small markets that had once dotted the ruined city.

“Caspia is west, and we’re headed east. Why are we going this direction? Are you even listening to me, soldier? Explain yourself.”

Sergeant Thomas gave a long-suffering sigh as he chewed on his unlit hooaga in frustration. The bulk of their rebellious force, over a hundred men in all, was hidden a few blocks away waiting for orders. It had been remarkably easy to convince most of the soldiers to abandon the mad Stryker’s schemes; only the most vile and bloodthirsty had elected to stay behind. Thomas knew they’d report the desertion to Stryker, and he had no wish to see what the unstable warcaster would do if he caught up to his traitorous soldiers. He didn’t have time to coddle the arrogant Lieutenant. The man had risen through the ranks of the Long Gunners to his current position, and it disgusted Sergeant Thomas that such a soft man had been put in charge of his Trencher unit.

“Shut your bloody mouth, Slader. Since what we’re doin’ is technically treason I got no good reason to listen to you anymore. Morrow knows I’ve tried to be patient with your bellyaching, what with the war on and you not out of starched breeches, but we ain’t got time for your foolishness tonight.”

The old sergeant felt Slader stiffen in outrage in the dark next to him. Before the officer could get out more than an indignant squawk one of the other Trenchers had pulled him down, binding and gagging him in a practiced fashion.

“Thank you kindly, Donavon,” Thomas said.

“My pleasure. No, really, I mean it. I’ve wanted to do that for the longest time,” grinned the burly man.

Thomas knelt down next to the struggling lieutenant. “Listen up, lad. We go west and what do you think will happen? That’s where all the heaviest fightin’s been for months. You think any true-blue officers like yourself’s going to look too kindly on deserters? Worse yet, say we’re right and the war’s really over, and we ain’t traitors. Think any Menites going to care ‘bout that much after what we done? We’re on their ground, boy. The heaviest troop concentrations going to be right there on the way to Caspia. Peace or not, we’ll be burnt to a cinder by them a’fore anyone knows we’ve laid down our arms.”

Comprehension dawned across Slader’s face, and he stopped struggling.

“Exactly,” Thomas smiled. “Best way to get the lads out of this is to head east and circle back north again across the Black River. War or peace, that way’s a hell of a lot less fighting. Now I’m going to cut you loose, but first get this through your head: you ain’t nothing to us but dead weight if you act up again. We’ll be glad to leave you to get religion by way of a Scrutator if you cause any more trouble. Is that clear enough for you?”

Before Slader could swallow enough of his pride to nod, a scream rang out from behind them, quickly followed by repeating rifle fire and the dull detonations of alchemical grenades. Either Stryker or the Menites had found the troops; Thomas could only pray it wasn’t the warcaster. The Kommander had less mercy in him than a Five Fingers loan shark five weeks past payment due.

Thomas drew a knife from his boot to cut Slader’s bindings, but the Lieutenant’s head blew apart as the sergeant reached for him, splattering the pockmarked fountain with bits of blood and brains. The report from the rifle sounded immediately after, and the old soldier’s instincts took hold before conscious thought could. He threw himself flat against the dry pool just as the crumbling fountain’s Menofix exploded in choking dust from a second shot.

“Snipers!” he called out, but his Trenchers were one step ahead of him and had already merged with the ground, using every scrap of shadow and stone to their advantage. Sergeant Thomas and Donovan raised their rifles over the lip of the fountain and cocked the hammers back, but they couldn’t see anything in the inky darkness of the city.

“Mackenzie and her lads, gotta be,” Donovan muttered. “Always knew those Long Gunners had a few cogs loose, but never thought the crazy muckers would actually turn on us like this.”

The roll of thunder and arcane lightning flashing out from where the rest of the company fought on confirmed the sergeant’s worst fears. Only Stryker or Braddock could command such forces; the majority of their storm knights and other specialty troops they’d lost months ago and had never been able to replace. The ragtag company of men trying to escape from Sul was mostly composed of Long Gunners and the few surviving Trenchers. None of them had the equipment necessary to face a furious warcaster and the disturbing ironheads Stryker had commissioned. Although they couldn't see their comrades in arms, the screams and explosions from the ensuing battle assured them that the others were not going quietly into the night. They were making a fight of it at least.

“How many of those blasted Stormhammer suits did the bastard bring?” Thomas cursed. “Sounds like a slaughter.”

“The lads are good shots, likely they’re giving as well as they’re getting.”

Despite their best efforts Sergeant Thomas and the Trenchers were helpless to assist their fellow soldiers as the firefight moved back and forth in the unseen streets behind Mackenzie’s hidden troops. Every time the Trenchers tried to break cover to flush out the snipers, well-placed shots forced them to ground again. The Trenchers’ smoke grenades were long gone, and they’d left the explosives back with the others in the interests of speed and stealth. Muzzle fire from the snipers changed positions constantly, and Thomas’s squad could only return ineffectual fire at the deadly phantoms.

One failed rush left Sergeant Thomas with a souvenir: a rifle bullet, buried deep in his thigh. He tied it off, but knew he’d bleed out within the hour without medical attention. Pinned, unable to reach their brothers in arms, the trapped soldiers endured an agonizing half hour before the sounds of battle died down to an eerie calm.

“Maybe they won,” whispered Donovan.

“Not bloody likely,” Sergeant Thomas spat.

As if in confirmation of his pessimism the scent of ozone wafted across the group. An electric blue glow backlit the jagged horizon of ruined buildings across the street, and a huge figure moved within its nimbus.

“Morrow damn their eyes,” Thomas shouted, sighting his rifle carefully from where he lay. “Those blasted ironheads might get us, lads, but let’s take a few of the ruddy bastards down with us!”

The roar from a half dozen firearms lit the night with fire and fury. Nearly every bullet hit home on the lumbering figure, but most were deflected at the last moment by a field that crackled with energy at the impacts. A couple got through the failing protective barrier though, slamming into the form without downing it.

“A bloody power field?” Thomas swore, gritting his teeth. “When did they start equipping the … oh mother of mercy, Morrow save us, that’s no ironhead …”

Bill Braddock, a massive bear of a warcaster, charged through the ruins at the closest Trencher. Braddock was broken and bleeding, his face caught in a rictus of pain and rage. Lightning generators had been mounted on each of his wide shoulders, and even though several of the generator tower-spines were blackened and destroyed the others functioned well enough to arc intermittent bolts of electricity into the twin metal studs that had been buried deep in Braddock’s brain. They kept the giant man animate, refusing to let his brain rest, tormenting him with life. Despite the carnage that had been wrought it appeared that Braddock was alone, that he’d attacked and killed most of Thomas’s deserters single handedly. Mackenzie had been smart enough to steer clear of the frenzied warcaster and his fight, choosing instead to try and take Sergeant Thomas’s head for her own trophy.

“Poor ol’ sod, what’d they do to you?” Thomas mourned. He’d been lucky enough to be posted to “Lightning” Bill Braddock’s Trencher platoon at the start of the war, before the man had demonstrated his innate warcaster talent and been assigned to Stryker for training due to a boyhood friendship. Thomas had been impressed by both Braddock’s grit and the man’s joviality in the face of certain death as they’d carried out the daring stratagems that had earned him the moniker of “Lightning Bill,” and how the man kept to his Trencher roots and loyalties even after the officers got hold of him. Rumor had it that Urcaen had finally come to claim the giant warcaster in one of Braddock’s suicidal raids on the Menites, but Stryker had refused to let him go. Thomas’s duties had kept him relatively far away during Braddock’s recovery, but he’d heard disturbing stories of uncontrollable rage on the warcaster’s return, of the loss of a genius mind to the depths of savagery and bloodshed.

Mercykiller
11-23-2009, 05:58 PM
Whatever Stryker’s servants had done to keep Braddock alive was still working, but only just. The men he’d stormed through had been wounded and frightened, yet still they were Cygnaran soldiers, and they had taken their toll on the giant. Despite the thick armor and blazing power field protecting him the warcaster had taken grievous injuries, and the blood that covered his deep blue armor and turned it scarlet was as much from his wounds as his enemy’s. Gaping holes in his armor and reinforced longcoat revealed shredded muscle beneath, and blood ran freely from gouges and holes that peppered Braddock’s face and body. That he moved at all was a dreadful testament to the unstoppable fury that infused the man.

Braddock’s charge was clumsy but effective. He swung a massive crackling storm maul at his intended victim, and while the Trencher managed to dodge the worst of the blow the lightning that arced into his body from the generators embedded in the storm maul’s head electrocuted him for his trouble. Thomas had seen Stormhammer suits wielding the huge charged hammers recently, but none were as adept or lethal with it as Braddock.

“TRAITORS! Run, run again, keep running, I’ll find you, cowards!” the warcaster bellowed in rage, his eyes sizzling with arcane energy, feeding the faltering power field and lending strength to his dying frame. Braddock howled in tormented fury, his thoughts as scattered and violent as the lightning that kept him alive.

One of Mackenzie’s thugs didn’t move fast enough when the big man stumbled onto the sniper’s perch, and he paid the price for his sloth when Braddock brought a heavy boot down on the man’s spine, paralyzing him instantly. It wasn’t enough to satisfy the enraged giant, who then picked the sniper up with one hand and threw him with bone shattering force into a stone support column. He swayed with the effort, and for a moment his power field crackled weakly, on the verge of extinction, the armor’s Arcantrik Convergence engine whining in protest at how far it’d been pushed.

“He’s on his last wind, lads! Fix bayonets, and all together now!” ordered Donovan.

With horror Thomas realized that the Trenchers were actually charging Braddock, relying on their bayonets and courage to finish what their friends’ firepower had begun. The sergeant’s cries of warning fell on deaf ears as the men charged, vengeance for their fallen brothers burning in their eyes. Mackenzie’s snipers rose eagerly, taking deadly aim at the onrushing Trenchers, but before they could fire Braddock turned and swept his storm maul through the new targets that had risen from the ground around him, crushing down his allies in unreasoning madness for daring to deprive him of blood and murder. Their broken and electrocuted bodies were blasted away in an arcane explosion of frustrated rage and hatred, showering the area with burnt scraps of leather, metal, and smoking flesh. The telltale blazing red hair identified Mackenzie as she rose up with a disgusted look on her face behind the warcaster, took careful aim, and shot Braddock square in the back of his head.

“Traitor,” Braddock growled softly, swaying but not falling. While his stuttering power field had prevented a killing blow, part of his skull had actually been shorn away by the impact, and blood gushed out from the wound. Mackenzie went ghostly pale when Braddock turned towards her. She gave the silent signal to retreat to the rest of her cowardly friends, and before Braddock’s befuddled and bullet-riddled brain could force his form to move Mackenzie had melted back into the shadows, taking both the snipers and any hope of Braddock’s survival with her.

Although it hadn’t been her intention, Mackenzie’s failed shot gave the Trenchers the time they needed to cover the ground between themselves and Braddock. They fired their rifles as they thrust the bayonets forward together in unison, doing terrible damage to the already mortally wounded man. The azure glow dimmed but did not die in his eyes, and Thomas watched in horror as Braddock, swaying in his death throes, managed to swing his hammer once more with the last of his strength, the force of the blow combining with the lightning to char and crush the poor clustered soldiers within its radius. Donovan’s helmeted head sailed by Thomas, burnt nearly beyond recognition by the electrical discharge, a prematurely triumphant smile frozen on his dead and smoldering visage.

Braddock collapsed to his knees, his death grip on the storm maul’s haft saving him from falling over from wounds and exhaustion. Sergeant Thomas fought down the urge to vomit as he limped towards Braddock, the Butcher of Sul, the man who’d betrayed all that he loved dear in a blind devotion to a fraudulent commander who used his troops like so much expendable ammunition for a war that their king had declared was over. The tacky blood from the dead Trenchers made footing difficult, and twice Thomas slipped, holding his breath in terror that Braddock would rise up like some Orgoth demon come for its due. But the warcaster remained motionless, his rasping labored breathing the only sign that he lived on. The warcaster’s power field flickered one last time, and then collapsed entirely.

Thomas carefully placed his rifle’s barrel flush against Bill Braddock’s skull. Here was a man who he’d followed on suicide missions time and time again, a man he’d have been honored to call friend once. Here was a man who had slaughtered the soldiers who’d entrusted their lives to him, who’d destroyed everything he encountered in the service of an imposter with delusions of an eternal crusade against the Menites.

“Why, damn your soul, why? They just wanted to go home to the peace promised by our good King. The war’s over. Why couldn’t you and that bloody lunatic Stryker see that?”

Braddock’s head rolled back, his eyes cloudy with blood. Although they barely contained a spark of life, they locked Thomas’s own gaze in an iron grip. The sergeant felt his scalp itch under his heavy helmet, and his temper flared with a burning intensity, as if the warcaster’s madness was contagious.

“Never … over. You’re all … traitors …” Braddock whispered through pain-clenched teeth.

Shame and rage colored the sergeant’s face at Braddock’s words. Thomas tightened his finger on the trigger and braced his arm for the recoil.

“You are relieved of duty, sir.”

Fire and death lit the night one last time, and then all was silent.

Mercykiller
11-23-2009, 08:49 PM
Incident At The Temple Of The Inevitable Binomial Union (https://privateerpressforums.com/showthread.php?t=117), the sequel to this one :)