View Full Version : The Swan and the Dragon

08-08-2010, 10:47 PM
Moving carefully, quietly, Commander Coleman Stryker of the Royal Cygnaran Army walked through the rows of tents, settling his bulky Warcaster?s armor on his strong frame. There was mist this morning, clinging to the ground at knee-height, but it would burn off soon enough. Stryker could hear the regular, deep breathing of his boys as they slept, rolled in their blankets. He smiled softly. Boys, he thought ruefully, as though I?m one to talk about youth.

At thirty years of age, Stryker himself was hardly an old man. Indeed, with his crimson hair, ready grin, and boisterous humor, he was frequently mistaken for someone ten years younger than his years, and twenty or more less than his rank pins suggested.

Shaking off his reverie, Stryker moved toward the edge of the camp, arriving presently at the sentry post, where the Trenchers were still awake. Stryker lowered himself into the neatly dug foxhole, sitting calmly on the rim of the fighting position, and nodded to the lieutenant there. The man was a squat bear, not over six feet in height, but nearly as wide as he was tall, a grinning, hard-fighting, tougher than boot leather lifer who had earned his lieutenant?s stripe in the field.

The lieutenant, Blake MacBain, nodded to Stryker with a slight smile and handed a battered metal cup to the Warcaster. Stryker nodded his thanks and drank. The liquid, heated on the boiler of the Grenadier light Warjack assigned to MacBain, was hot, tasting of coal, mud, and gunpowder, but it was coffee. Stryker drank again, and the world sharpened, focused. Even here, on the southern border of Cygnar, the mornings were cold in the winter.

It would get hot, though. And all too soon, like always. ?Anything moving out there this morning, lieutenant?? Stryker asked. He noticed that the Chain Gun crew, set up in a slit trench just forward of the main hole, twitched slightly. They had been so intent on the field in front of them; they hadn?t noticed that the man who had joined them was their commander. Stryker smiled again, taking another deep drink of the potent, vile-tasting coffee. A right Trench Brew, sure enough.

MacBain shook his head and sipped some of his own coffee, free hand resting absently on the lock of his breech-loader. ?No, sir. Not a peep all night. But I keep gettin? the feeling that we?re bein? watched, but by someone who?s sly. They ain?t in the neighborhood, if you catch my drift, sir.?

Stryker nodded slowly, knocked back the last of the Trench Brew, and handed the cup back to
MacBain. ?I know exactly what you mean, sergeant. I?m worried about the same thing. We had reports of enemy movement all over this area not two weeks ago, and now we haven?t seen hide nor hair of any of them.? Stryker paused a moment, thinking. The lieutenant?s words had struck a chord with his own unease. ?I?ll be leading a patrol in force out into the hills to see what kind of trouble I can stir up.?

The lieutenant nodded slowly. ?You be careful, sir. I don?t want to be the one to explain to certain folks how and why I let you get killed out here.?

Coleman nodded and stood. ?I wholeheartedly agree with you, Drake. Keep an eye on things while I?m gone.?

It took two hours to put together the column. The mix was one that had served Stryker well for years, a troop of Sword Knights, a dozen Long Gunners, with their Lieutenant and Company Standard, as well as a pair of Stormsmiths, the Trencher Captain Maxwell Finn, hauling his huge mini-slugger who came along ?to keep an eye on the Commander?, as well as his Journeyman, Lieutenant Walker. In support came the Warjacks, a Charger and a Defender.

Left behind in the camp were the bulk of the Trenchers, the Mechaniks, a squad of Precursor Knights, and the second squad of Long Gunners, new men out on campaign for the first time. Plenty enough to hold the enemy should they decide to try and crush Stryker?s base camp while he was gone.

Moving out in formation, Stryker leading the way, the Cygnaran troops began the patrol circuit. The area around Caspia was a wild hodge-podge, flat plains to the north, rolling hills to the south, and blasted desert between. Stryker and his men were patrolling through the area south of Caspia, an area which rose and fell unpredictably.

Soon enough, after about two hours of marching, Stryker felt something tickle the back of his mind. It was primal, this sense, something buried deep in the recesses of his mind. It made his breath quicken, and his heart race. He halted his men, spreading them out in a combat formation. The area was not a good one to fight in, with a dense thicket of desert trees and scrub on his left, and a low, steep hill on his right. Another hill rose over the thicket, and a small wall, last stubborn remnants of an ancient homestead, narrowed his approach options to the second thicket on the far side.

Stryker himself trotted along the right flank of his line lieutenant Walker at his side, dispatching his Warjacks to anchor the line there. The heavy Defender chugged up the hill, where its Heavy Barrel would have greatest advantage. Captain Finn moved up next to it, swiftly digging a fighting position and setting up his mini-slugger to protect the huge machine from marauding infantry while the light, lithe form of the Charger churned ahead to scout out whatever might lay behind the stone wall.

Captain Cathmore, commanding the Sword Knight detachment present, urged his Knights forward, having them stay in loose pairs so as to benefit from each other?s shields while staying far enough away from one another to avoid being caught in blasts of artillery.

Lieutenant Hammond moved his Long Gunners in behind the Sword Knights. It wasn?t an optimal deployment, by any means, as they could not shoot past their armored brethren without risking the lives of the Knights, but once the Knights deployed, the Gunners would be able to fire for effect. The two Stormsmiths, Darkmantle on the right and Ridden on the left, moved to flank the force, and the ominous growl of thunder assured Stryker that the Forces of the Cygnus would fight with the aid of Mother Nature herself.

With his own units deployed, Stryker could finally see his enemy begin to emerge from behind the woods and hills on the opposite end of the field. They were not the Menite zealots he had been expecting, but rather were the horrifying and evil spawn of the Cryx. On the left there were Bane Thralls, odious creations whose heavy axes could rend men to dog meat and whose constantly shifting shadows could render the keenest eye blind. In the center strode Wrongeye and Snapjaw, immoral Gatormen mercenaries who would work for the highest bidder. As Stryker watched, they slid into suddenly murky sections of swamp and disappeared.

On the right, answering the question of where the enemy had disappeared came Mechanithralls. These wretched constructs were reanimated bodies augmented with Mechanikal parts, and mounted small furnaces glowing a hellish green from the necrotite which fueled the war engine of Cryx. They shambled forward, the rotting robes of Protectorate Zealots still hanging from their tattered bodies.

And there, in the center of the undead line, streamed a figure out of nightmare and legend.

08-08-2010, 10:48 PM
Continuing the story. Stupid character limits.

Well over seven feet tall and covered in skeletal metal and shifting shadow, came the unmistakable skull-visage of the Iron Lich, Asphyxious. At his side were two Deathripper Bonejacks, speedy engines of destruction that mounted terrible ripping jaws and foul necro-tech arc nodes in their bodies. With a wave of the Iron Lich’s hand, the two tiny machines split up and rushed forward, one to the right, and one to the left.

Stryker turned to his Journeyman. “Lieutenant Walker, quickly, cast Arcane Shield on the Knights! I will cast it on the Gunners!”

Walker nodded and blue runes leapt into his hands, mirrored by Stryker. The men in both squads felt their bodies harden, and as the thunder rumbled, the sky darkened, and the enemy advanced, Stryker smiled.

He would end them here, today.

The Mechanithralls and Bane Thralls advanced boldly, as did the Bonejacks. It looked like the Lich was going to let the Mechanithralls, simple drones that they were, carry the attack, while the Bane Thralls, much more difficult to produce, would be used for the final gambit.

Stryker shook his head, intoning another spell from his repertoire, this one on the Charger. Blue runes enveloped the fast machine’s dual cannon in its right arm, endowing it with a third again its normal range of fire. It strode forward, and as Stryker slid some of his awareness into the machine’s cortex, it steadied its cannon and fired, punching two holes in quick succession into the bone jack on the right. The machine wobbled, stricken and bleeding foul steam, but it stayed upright, and its most dangerous system, that of the Arc Node, remained intact.

Intact, that is, until Stormsmith Brue Darkmantle moved to the top of the rise he and the defender stood upon and called down a tremendous blast of lightning from the black clouds above and shattered the delicate Cryxian machine in a cataclysmic display of raw electric power.

The Sword Knights gave vent to a cheer and moved forward under Stryker’s command. What he was doing was risky in the extreme, but if he could gauge the distances just right, he might be able to entice the Iron Lich to move his own infantry forward, which would give Stryker a perfect opportunity to strike the evil being down. In a measure to protect his men, sensing that these next few moments would be the time to win or lose this engagement, Stryker called upon the vast stores of arcane strength, pulsing out ripples of strength which hardened armor and gave all his men a supernatural toughness that rendered them nigh-invincible.

Sure enough, the Lich took the bait, gliding forward to cast a parasitic wash of unholy magic over the Sword Knights in the front. The first blast missed, but the second one struck, degrading some of their ability to deflect damage. However, Walker slid a little of his own arcane strength into the spells covering the Knights, and his Arcane Shield negated the ill-effects of the Lich’s evil work.

The Mechanithralls charged forward, two reaching the leading knights, and attacking them in a flurry of powerful blows. One Knight, James Tanis, went down, his helmet dented by a massive fist. He struggled feebly, his life spared by his armor and the arcane wards in place over him, but even as he tried to reach his Caspian Battle glaive, the Mechanithrall above him was preparing another blow. He would not regain his senses in time. A second Knight, Brogan Darkmantle, found himself pinned by a second Mechanithrall, struggling to keep its putrid jaws from tearing into his throat.

Stryker shook himself, forcing himself to focus on the task at hand and drawing all his remaining arcane strength into his soul. The Long Gunners would have to make do without his Arcane Shield for a few minutes. If this worked, the Lich would be destroyed and his Thralls would follow him into Urcaen.

08-08-2010, 10:49 PM
He slid his awareness fully into his two Warjacks, urging the Charger forward. With a loud ch-ching the twin barrels of its dual cannon cycled, dropping two cartridges into the firing chambers. The sturdy little machine skidded to a halt, and under Stryker’s guidance, fired twice.

The Iron Lich must have felt secure at this range, believing himself safe from harm. However, he had not counted on Stryker’s forethought and instincts for battle. Stryker had never allowed the Snipe spell to dissipate from his machine, and the forty additional yards of range marked out the precise distance to the body of the Lich Lord. The undead Warcaster jerked once, twice under the small, powerful rounds.

The Mechanithralls, heeding their dead master’s call, abruptly turned away from the Sword Knights, charging forward toward the menacing shape of the Defender, and it’s powerful Heavy Barrel. They found themselves frustrated, however, under the ringing torrent of fire from a mini-slugger. Maxwell Finn, having leapt from his trench, stood, feet braced, helmet low on his brow, plastered the Mechanithralls with fast, accurate fire from his heavy weapon.

Stryker nodded to the Captain, who continued to blaze away at his enemies, Hooaga cigar clamped firmly between his feet, his eyes sparking with anger and determination. Knowing the Captain could keep the enemy pinned down, Stryker urged his Defender forward.

Eight tons of Warjack lumbered forward, drawing even with its smaller brother, and Stryker once more saw the Iron Lich through the ‘eyes’ of one of his Warjacks. Stryker paused, waiting for a gust of wind to die, until finally giving the great machine permission to fire.

Flame and a thunderclap of discharging gases erupted from the snout of the heavy barrel. Stryker could see the air twisting and condensing as the heavy conical round flew downrange in a tight spiral, blue runes of magic, Stryker’s magic, encircling it as it flew. The Iron Lich’s skull-face lowed out of the darkness, and the heavy shell smashed straight into the Lich’s monocle with a terrible velocity which shattered the Lich’s artificial form.

With a great sigh, the thralls slumped to the ground, becoming, once more, the dead corpses they should always have been. A great cheer rose from the Cygnaran soldiers as the stuff of their nightmares were banished and sunlight began to break through the unnatural darkness their master had cast.

With a satisfied smile, Stryker turned to his men. Darkmantle was helping Tanis to his feet, and to Stryker’s surprise and elation, none of the rest of his troops had suffered so much as a scratch. Grinning, Stryker turned to survey the field.

It took a long instant for him to realize what was wrong, but when he did, it sent chills down his spine.

The body of the Iron Lich was nowhere to be seen.

Still, Stryker thought to himself, we’ve stopped him here today, and deprived him of all his servants, without losing a single man. That was enough for today. He turned and walked down the hill, to rally his men and complete the patrol circuit.

In the thicket of woods across the stone wall, a skeletal Skarlock Thrall, an undead creature bound to the Iron Lich crooned softly to the grisly trophy it bore. The rest of the Lich’s body had been left behind, for it was not important, but the Skarlock clutched the mangled remains of Asphyxious’ skull. “Not to fear, my lord. All ssshall be righted sssoon. I ssshall take thee to thy daughter, Deneghra, and we ssshall restore you to your proper place of power, yesss….”

The Iron Lich’s empty eye sockets burned with baleful green fire as the Lich’s essence raged.

He would be back!