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Walter
01-31-2010, 09:06 PM
Repetition upon repetition can make of any act, no matter how inconsequential, a sacred rite. Such was the case with the Petition for Clemency of Prisoner of Consequence 413.

As regular as the rains, as unfailing as the turn of the days, the Prisoner filed his motions. Each year, on the anniversary of his incarceration, he availed himself of the rights given to every Ordic citizen, to demand that his case be re-examined.

Every year, the jailor took it upon himself to read the brief. It was always a crude affair. The implements of writing were not provided to the prisoners, even to such an important prisoner as a warcaster. They could be purchased, using a system of work credit exchange that freed his guards of their chores, but such a purchase was far from cheap, and the prisoner spent much of his year's budget on these pleas.

Jardon snorted to himself, flipping the sparse pages of the folio back and forth as his eyes wandered across them, parsing for anything new. "Pleas" wasn't the proper description. As always 413 maintained his innocence, maintained that he'd been wronged or perhaps framed, and begged that his case reach the ears of his Majesty, Baird II.

The jailor shook his head back and forth. As if the case of a Warcaster accused of massacre could ever have been decided without the Royal attention. The prisoner grasped at straws. Jardon had no idea whether or not his claims of innocence were true, but true or no they'd long since found their way to the King, and yet here the Prisoner remained.

The numbering convention didn't refer to their current stock of noble prisoners, the tiny nation of Ord didn't have more than a few dozen notables important enough to keep under the kind of security measures 413 sweltered under. Instead it referred to his place in the list of prisoners that had ever been confined within this place. He was the four hundred and thirteenth such unfortunate, and to Jardon's knowlege, none had ever been released.

He sighed. Truthfully, the annual petition didn't amuse him as he pretended. Something about the prisoner's forthright refusal to believe that his King had abandoned him tugged at the old jailor's heartstrings. He wished that this man's story had a happier ending. He shut the folder with a sigh and dropped it into his outgoing message tray. Tomorrow a man would come and take it to his superior. He wondered each year how far up the chain of command these missives actually went. Was there some mildewed stack of them, growing larger every year, in some higher rankers wardrobe? Did they perhaps prop a door open? Were they burned annually for heat? Smoked by an idle nobleman to peals of laughter?

He put aside his thoughts of 413 and stood. It had been a long day, and tomorrow was just going to be another. It did something to a man, to live beneath the earth like a mole. It gnawed at the mind and eroded away the spirit. Folk were not meant to dwell so, the meanest peasant had the sun upon their face. He had not seen it in months.

He moved to the simple peg on the wall from which his overcloak hung, and swept it on. Jardon paused a second before going to the door, giving the folder on the desk a long look. He shook his head, the ritual sameness of it persuading him as much as anything else, then he went left his office.

Beth nodded from her desk. She would go to her rest after he did, another longstanding tradition. She believed that she'd decieved him as to how long she remained at her post, but he knew full well that she'd leave just half a bell after him, yet arrive in the morning a bell and a half behind him. Too young by half and useless, she was typical of the sort of personnel they got in the Pit.

He strode past her, passing through the guard post with a nod and a cheery greeting. They maintained the posts in the depths out of intertia. The prison had been built as though it was above the ground, off of a Cygnaran design which was supposed to be state of the art. There were innumerable choke points and cutoffs, murder rooms and traps. None of them had ever been used, and most were now unusable. They carefully maintained those guarding the stairs to the surface. The rest were simply a burden, their maintenance yet another worthless formality.

After several switchbacks and ladders he reached his room. He chuckled deeply as he entered. How it would shock the others of his rank to know that he made his abode within the cell reserved for prisoner 414. He lay down on the rude bunk and sighed, staring at the ceiling.

There were several reasons that he gave for his eccentricity. He said that by experiencing what his captives went through he maintained his empathy towards them. He claimed that by occupying the very cell that their next guest would inhabit he forced those tasks with maintenance to have it in working order. He told his men, jokingly, that the prisoners whose designations were 413, 411 and 409 were better company than he could find in the barracks.

He never let on the truth, which was that he stayed in the cell because of a dream. It was the same reason he worked in the Pit, the reason he'd thrown away a successful military career to work as a jailer for maniacs and madmen. Earlier in his life, back when choices were something that he made, and not something that he regretted, Morrow had come to him and told him what to do.

Walter
02-02-2010, 07:56 AM
The next day was unsurprisingly similar to those which had come before it. He rose and attended to his appearance, showering with the frigid waters of their melt spring and shaving with his own razor sharp combat knife. He completed his preparations before the jail had begun to awaken from it's nightly slumber, and was the first of the staff to begin the day.

This afternoon would be consumed by the Inspection, their quarterly visit from the lands above. A functionary would climb down the "abandoned mine" and bring them news and mail from the world above. In theory he might bring orders. More likely he'd bring an escort of soldiers and another Prisoner of Consequence. Anything to break the monotony.

The morning, however, would be as ordinary and scheduled as all of the others. He had a meeting with 258, an inspection of the mantraps in the east wing, and lunch with Arak.

As he left his cell and set out down the corridor he paused by Four Thirteen's cell. He could hear from within the rhythmic grunting and straining of the prisoner's disciplined excercise. He sighed. The only man in the entire complex up and about before him and it was a prisoner. He rapped at on the bars.

Immediately, the Warcaster within leaped to attention. Naked and filthy he still looked ten times more like a soldier than any of the men the military had seen fit to give him as guards. Jardon turned and faced the inmate squarely.

The man's physique was impressive. It was impossible to be muscular on a prison diet, particularly with your work credits going towards parchment and ink, but Four Thirteen pulled off the next best thing. He was fit. The emaciated look of the other prisoners was entirely absent. He looked as though he'd been thrown in yesterday. In more ways than one.

"Warden, Sir!" the prisoner snapped, coming to attention. His military bearing couldn't quite hide the one thing that made him look more out of place than his musculature. The hope in his eyes. They positively shone with it, he had the look of a first day trainee, holding to his discipline to tamp down his frothing fervor.

"At ease, convict." The jailor drawled the sentence out, flat and slow. "I stopped by to inform you that your eight Petition has been received, and will be transmitted up the chain of command. You are hereby so informed."

The prisoner smiled as he relaxed his formal posture, and returned with an even grace to his workout. Outside, in the corridor, his captor turned and headed on down the hall. Behind him, the convict's voice rang out.

"Cheer up, Sir! It's not so bad as all that."

He shook his head. He'd been doing that a lot lately.

The interview with Two Fifty Eight would be an entirely different affair. He stopped by the ready room to grab an armed escort and headed into the less secure eastern sector.

His own room was in the northern portion of the prison, the area where they held the most dangerous and highly regarded prisoners. The central area was the primary security buffer. The eastern sector, towards which he was presently moving was unofficially the area that they placed those prisoners who creeped the guards out. The old joke was that in the event of a prison break the East would be both origin and deterrent, as the prisoners within would slay one another to the last, given the slightest opportunity.

Guards in tow, he arrived at his destination. The cell was shabby and barren, it's inhabitant restlessly pacing and prying at his fittings. The Jailor didn't mention his guest's preoccupation, it was simply his way. The sun would rise beneath the earth before Two Fifty Eight ceased his escape efforts. If they could succeed they'd have done so long before. This prisoner had been incarcerated for over decades.

There was no reason to prolong things. The only reason this 'interview' was taking place was to satisfy the Jailor's orders. It wouldn't take long.

"Prisoner of Consequence Two Hundred and Fifty Eight, do you have any information regarding your superiors that you wish to reveal? I have been empowered to offer you clemancy in return for your assistance. Your silence does you no service in this matter. No? Very well."

He delivered the questions and responses, cribbed from the field manual, in a rapid fire monologue, and he turned to leave in the instant the last syllable had left his lips. Unsurprisingly the man within the cell had given no sign that he'd noticed his interrogator, save to eye the Guard's weapons as though evaluating the odds of snatching them.

He was almost back into the corridor when he heard the voice rising behind him, thin, whispery, but inhumanly compelling. He spun about, like a puppet grabbed and twisted by the prisoner's rasping intonation.

The Cryxian's frantic and useless escape attempts had ceased. He stood squarely, as a man stands, and stared into the jailors eyes with a burning gaze.

"My superiors? You wish to know of the Lich Lords? Know this, then. They come."

Walter
02-04-2010, 10:46 AM
[Edit: Modified previous entry to put 258's incarceration back further in time. It didn't make sense initially]

Disturbed by the Cryxian inmates dire promise, Jardon engaged in his usual inspection with a bit more fervor than was normal.

What he saw gave him some small measure of solace. In truth, the Pit was quite secure. Much of this came from the place's state of the art design, but a not inconsiderable amount was due to his own diligence and vigilance. He held his men to a military standard, and the results showed.

The prison was layed out in a Menofix pattern, with a north, south, east, and west wing, and a fortified central area. Each area had it's own fortifications and defenders, though their quality varied wildly.

The North wing held the most important prisoners, approximately a dozen in total. It had a fairly heavy security presence, a squad of Regulars stationed there at all times, with a demisquad perpetually on patrol. It's fortifications had been allowed to fall to rust and decay, however. There just wasn't the manpower to keep the gates, traps and cunning locks in good repair. They stuck with the cell fastenings, and left the rest to the guards. As a jail wing it was fine, as a fortress...well, he hoped it wouldn't be tested.

The West wing was minimally secured, one demi-squad on station and an unlucky fellow assigned to roving patrols. The soldiers stationed there were the discipline cases and the crazies. In another wing they'd be at risk of collaborating with the prisoners, but the west wing's felons were the most unpleasant sort. The facilities were as run down as their guards, the whole would fall in moments in the face of any determined armed intrusion. The only real saving grace was that the gate from central to west sector had a dead man's mode, locking the whole complex off from the rest of the jail at the throwing of a huge lever. This, at least, was in excellent working order.

The east wing had gone to ruins years ago. Jardon had evacuated his men and activated the dead man's gate. His yearly requests for the manpower and supplies to restore it to activate service had about the same rate of success as413's petition's for clemency. It was, at least, not a security concern.

The south held both the general population of the prison, and the majority of it's guards. Four squads of Ordic regulars dwelt within the swollen south sector. Most of the prisoners were also located in the south wing, kept in line by the carefully maintained Cygnaran equipment and the stern gazes of their overseers.

The facility's true security came from it's central region, a veritable fortress. Only two squads defended it, but they were the elite elements of the fortress, not Regulars but Grenadiers, capable and blooded in the border wars. They were equipped with firearms to complement the traditional Ordic sabre, and they even had a half dozen jack marshals, who between them kept the units pair of jacks (a Nomad called Bad Cat and an old Talon nicknamed the Scarecrow) operational night and day.

The garrison's commander, under Jardon, was an irritatingly young and mopy thing named Sansa, whose professionalism was matched only by her pessimism, and who was one of the few subordinates he considered a friend.

He told her what the Cryxian had said. Unsurprisingly, she considered it a prelude to the apocalypse.

"I'm always telling ya" her voice rolled out, dull and low, "one day they'll come after us. Damn gravediggers won't let this meat locker just rest."

He nodded curtly, dismissing her rather more abrubtly than he'd ordinarily like to. Fact was, he was a little bit weirded out by 258's speech. He couldn't remember the man ever communicating before. After the meeting with the visitor from the surface he'd have to ask around among the old timers. Maybe someone could think of a parallel case. It would take a lot of the strain off his mind.

He left his inspection disquieted, disturbed on some fundamental level. It fell to Sansa to dismiss the men of Central sector (which was where they'd finished up), but he knew she'd manage with ease. If she had a fault it lay in her communications with her superiors, she related to her subordinates with the instinctive ease of one who'd risen through the ranks. His vexation was unrelated to the troops. Their slackness and fatigue was nothing knew.

It was a crystallization of several things. The Cryxian's sudden loquacity, the world's changing face, the endless fatigue...it added up. He was disturbed as a locust is disturbed when winter approaches. He hated the tedium, warred with it and wrestled it at every opportunity, yet facing an uncertain future he found himself wishing for his ordinary routine. Routine didn't hurt. It numbed, but that made him sigh. The future that was coming, he was sure, would make him scream.

Walter
02-12-2010, 08:43 AM
Meetings with surfacers always made the jailer conscious of the eroding effect that the jail had upon him. This occurred regardless of the context of the meeting. If he met a fat one, he realized such a man could not exist below. If he met a thin one, it brought to mind the gruesome sicknesses that thrived within the lightless underland. And so forth. This meeting was no exception.

Senior Lt. Raul Cransick was a model soldier, professional and diligent to a fault. He would never have been posted to the Pit. Such men broke here. Jardon should know. He was such a man. He'd broken here.

They exchanged formal greetings, the jailor taking care to match the precision and formality of the other man's salute. Small talk followed, a nearly formalized exchange. He heard the news, all of it bad.

Cygnar and Khador doing battle in the east, the Thornwood lost, the Garrison at Felig reinforced, Cryxian forces raiding from hidden bases. Dire news, all of it. It brought home how very isolated he was in the Pit. The last news he'd had had been of the heroic defense of Northguard by their Cygnaran brethren. Now it was fallen, heroics futile in the face of Khadoran force.

He delivered the prison paperwork, tucked among it Four Thirteen's petition for clemancy. He felt instinctively that wherever it went astray each year, Lt. Cransick had naught to do with it. They were about through, he was just about to ask his guest to sample the Pit's home made fungus cakes (a sure fire way of ending an appointment), when the ritual went astray.

"Additionally, I have a Notice of Recall." The Lt's gaze didin't flicker as he made this astonishing statement. To Jardon's knowledge the notion of a Recall was without precedent. "Prisoner 413. I am to take him with me on my departure."

He stared blankly at the man, then saluted once again, more to buy time for his thoughts to catch up than because he was required to. "It'll take a moment to bring him to Central." he heard himself say. Cransick nodded.

He turned and left the room, thoughts whirling. Deliverance at last for his favorite prisoner. It was almost enough to let a man hope. He nearly skipped down the hall, an unaccustomed happiness radiating from the core of his being, warming his flesh and putting a grin on his face. The guards he past did double takes.

He paused a second later. It felt like the ground had rumbled slightly beneath him. He waited a second, dreading another rumbling, followed by the entombing shake of an earthquake. Nothing further occured, and he put it down to his good mood. He decided it had been his imagination.

It hadn't.

Mercykiller
02-12-2010, 11:36 AM
Really digging this story, can't wait to read more!

Walter
02-14-2010, 04:42 PM
He was passing through central, when he heard the screaming.

Agonized, high pitched and grating, it was the dying wail of the adult human male. He'd heard it in battle before he transferred to the Pit.

A less experienced marshal would have put it down to a prison brawl, or perhaps a guard being taken by his charges and experiencing their longed for revenge, but Jardon had no such illusions. The men in the west wing had been set upon by an overwhelming force. Such screams as issued forth had nothing of combat, nothing of hope or courage. They were simply the last noises of a being entering the infinite in the midst of great suffering.

The Grenadiers responded with commendable swiftness, taking firing positions covering the western entrance and looking to him for orders. It was one of the harder calls he'd ever had to make.

Every one of his instincts screamed at him to call for them to drop the deadman's switch and seal off the west wing. No one was going to live through whatever was happening there, and it would buy them enough time to get out via the central stare. Every one of his instincts, however, could not over come his sworn duty.

His oath bound him, compelled him to risk the many for the few. It was not a soldier's oath, but his vow to Morrow, made long ago and of his own volition. He couldn't turn aside from the felon's of the west wing, or any of his men who might be alive. He pointed to the First Grenadiers.

"With Me!" he roared, and rushed towards the deadman's gate. They formed behind him, while the Second shifted to take over their positions. He paused long enough to ensure that messengers were dispatched to the remainder of the prison. The sound might not have carried to the other wings, and he had a gut feeling he'd need all his men for this.

His hands didn't trembled as he unlocked the gate. He was the second man in when it rose, clanking and trembling due to the unlocking machinery's age. He had the brief impression that the machinery of the place had inherited the spasms he was suppressing by will alone, then banished idle reflection as he passed through the Gap.

It was as though Urcaen itself had come entered the western wing. He'd anticipated having to push through several corridors before he encountered the disturbance, but scarcely had he made it through the gate when he saw figures rushing at him. They were dark and heavy set, all but invisible in the gloom. The wing must have been fully secured before they permitted a sound to be made, allowing them to set this trap.

The man ahead of him ducked a heavy punch, but caught the followup strike on his buckler and fell like a shoved statue. The Grenadiers armor was stout, for a man to take a hit like that and drop spoke to a tremendous strength on the enemy's part. He didn't give it a chance to exhibit it again, striking the figure with a blow of his heavy jailor's maul before it could recover from it's attack.

Two shapes rushed at him, swinging their clubbing arms, and his experience carried him through. Rather than attempting to parry he dashed aside, shoving into another shape he hadn't even seen and bowling it over as the Grenadiers pushed into engage the enemy. The touch of the foe was cold and slimy, and the one he'd jostled reached for him with heavy metal gloves.

He was saved once again by his training. He'd have no time for a blow of the maul, but with a short jab of the long handle he had both time and range. He thumped it in the belly, and it's grasping arms, fell, their owner robbed momentarily of the leverage necessary for such a maneuver. A shot went off, next to him and slightly low, as one of the Grenadiers put a round into the enemy.

Jardon leaped forward into the foe's midst, swinging a monstrous two handed stroke as the enemy turned to react. He didn't hit any of the enemy, but at least two had their attention stolen by his breach of the line, and were struck down by their Ordic adversaries. His battle cry filled the darkness and he feigned another charge, then gasped and fell.

One of the fallen foe clutched his ankle in a grip of steel, in an instant it's iron hands would tighten and he'd be a cripple. He had but one chance, and Morrow smiled on him as his kick found it's target, heavy jailor's boots shattering the face and head of his enemy.

A Grenadier tripped over him, the man was backing up from some onslaught and hadn't seen him beneath. More than likely he was in fact on his way to rescue the head jailor, and had simply missed his way in the gloom. Whatever the reason, his tumble saved Jardon's life, as a bullet intended for him struck the soldier instead, but did not pass through.

He leapt upright, struggling a second to pull his foot from the foe's death grip, and cried aloud the retreat. They had to get out of this trap, get back to their prepared positions. Friendly hands pulled him back as they withdrew towards the door. Another bullet smacked into the wall beside him.

As they fell back into the central chamber, pursued and overrun by an avalanche of the foe, Jardon got his first good look at the attackers. They were wasted and pallid creatures, stumbling and smashing with animated enthusiasm. Corpses of men long dead, or constructs of familiar minerals and wooden shapes, now turned to the purposes of the Nightmare Empire.

Walter
02-21-2010, 11:09 PM
There is a rhythm to battle, a certain cadence that every fighting man learns to anticipate and understand. Right from the first, the Cryxian forces defied that pattern.

Typically, on bursting into an enemy's fortified position, there'd be an instant's pause, as the attackers sized up their foes, a grain of sand falling in an hourglass, the beat of a sparrow's wings, a heart's frenzied beat. Something. The thralls came on with preposterous speed, without the slightest pause or hesitation.

It betokened supreme confidence on the part of their commanding authority, no, more than that. It was the actions of a commander careless with his assets, a force certain of it's own supremacy. A leader to whom victory is more than a foregone conclusion, and struggle merely the disagreeable prelude to a triumphal parade. Where the usual flow of a battle mirrors that of a life and death struggle, the thralls moved instead to the cadence of the rapist.

The roar of the Second Grenadier's rifles jolted Jardon from his reveree, the pair of Thralls attacking him falling like dropped tools, their limbs heavy and clanking. He fell back and took a place in the firing line, then darted instinctively into the press again, at the sight of a fallen comrade.

The guard had been neatly crippled, a Mechanithralls viselike grip closing over his shin and powdering the bones within, and he lay like a corpse himself. The chief jailor dove forward, sword flashing, as the brutish thrall above him lifted clenched fists above its head like a boxer accepting his belt, preparing to swing them down and crush the life from the injured man.

It was the cleanest cut of his life, a long horizontal swing with both hands and all his will behind it. It was a tree cutting stroke, like a man swings at a practice dummy. No living man could have failed to duck beneath it's arc, but the thrall knew nothing of self preservation, and had eyes for none save it's target. The blade passed through it's left arm, it's skull, and it's right arm, neatly severing all three extremities in a picture perfect instant of violence.

Jardon had no time to savor his success, he dropped quickly to one knee and hoisted his man, his life saved by accurate covering fire from Second Squad, and ran back towards the line. His mind outraced him. Once he was back in the ranks he'd have to relinquish frontal command and take charge of the rallying of the ranks. They'd need every man for-

Cransick stood before him, standing out in his surfacer uniform among the drab Grenadiers. He aimed a handcannon directly at the jailor's skull and roared "DOWN!". A younger man would have died, but Jardon's body reacted with the reflexes earned in the Thornwood, and he and his limp passenger sailed to the floor the merest whisker before the enormous weapon roared.

Without looking back the chief jailor sprang into the ranks and past the Lt, exchanging a meaningful glance as he did. As he did so the Marshalls finished their work, and Bad Cat and the Scarecrow plunged into the melee. He'd have to hope that jack superiority would turn the tide, or at least hold back the foe. Right now, the only priority had to be the gathering and concentrating of his force, and above all the activation of the deadman's switch. If he'd read the man a-right, Raul would hold the line as well as he could.

He dashed across the room towards the lever, already pulling the Warden's Key which would allow him to activate the device. He prayed that the fighting hadn't damaged the drop mechanism. If it had, the switch's name would be grimly literal.

Walter
03-05-2010, 12:59 PM
A scream echoed from behind the Warden, a man's soul chilling wail. He gritted his teeth and kept up his sprint, resisting the temptation to turn and see which of his men had fallen. If he didn't activate the gate they'd all be screaming soon.

He reached the device and fumbled with the key, cursing his old fingers for a heated second before he slammed it home. With a might wrench he pulled the activation lever and whirled about, gazing upon a battlefield he'd abandoned for mere seconds.

He was appalled at the outcome. The thralls were all over his men, the Grenadiers slashing and hacking at the foe in melee combat instead of firing their weapons. They'd simply pushed through the volley, numbers overcoming their losses with the remorseless and timeless power of attrition.

Raul was down, a black blade jutting straight up from his chest as he lay prostrate. It must have been he who had screamed, for the blade was drinking blood and soul before Jardon's horrified gaze. Even as he completed his turn it rose on phantom wings, and flew back into the darkness beneath the gate.

The only sign of hope was the carnage wrought by the jacks. The Scarecrow swung a battered but serviceable battle glaive through it's foe, the unfeeling metal pulping the thralls without ceremony or delay. Bad Cat's ancient cortex had a predatory spirit, and beneath the ministrations of the Marshalls it pounced and stalked among the enemy, bringing the larger thralls to earth with dashing elan and an almost palpable pleasure.

Their reign was about to end, however, as the Cryxlight swelled. Beneath the gate Jardon could see the approach of a monstrous helljack, digging claws glimmering with the cold green flame. Other's followed it's approach, at least a half dozen emerging from the walls of the West wing with a ground eating tread that brought to mind the very progression of death itself. Among them walked a shrouded figure, mansized and shrouded in darkness catching the midnight blade with a warrior's grace.

All this the warden took in in an instant's horrified glance. The gate began to fall, then halted, arrested in it's fall by damage done to the archway moments ago. Perhaps an errant strike, or perhaps cryxian deviltry, but for whatever reason the gate halted in it's downward plummet.

Jardon swore and moved back into the hopeless battle. It was easier for him than it had been to charge the gate, but only by a little. He told himself that he had naught to fear. He had tried to do his duty. No more could be asked.

It was left to another to be the hero of the hour. Bran Tander, deep in the Marshall's trance, saw the situation as well as his mentor did, and was in considerably better position to take action. A burst of thought and the Scarecrow wound up it's weapon. A thrall's suicidal assault delayed matters a second, but then the jack was clear.

It was a moment of sublime connection for Bran, he felt like a Warcaster, unconsciously moving his flesh in imitation of the jack's mighty throw. The spear soared through the air clumsily and gracelessly, it was a weapon meant for the cut and thrust of melee combat, but it struck it's target as desired.

The helljack beneath the gate had brought it's scything arms up and taken a step back as the mighty spear had flown, its controller's despicable cowardice overcoming it for a moment, and it lost the chance to pluck the weapon from the air.

The spear struck the gate with a deafening clang, which was lost in the crash as the enormous deadman's portal, jarred from it's catch by the impact, crashed to earth and sealed off the western hallways.

The next several moments were touch and go, but mostly touch. The troops from the rest of the facility were arriving in a flood, and the thralls had been cut off from their reinforcements. Jardon led them in cutting down the monsters.

"Get the prisoners, we need to get out of here" he gasped, even as the last thrall fell. His men needed no encouragement, already bolting to begin organizing the evacuation. He sat down heavily, panting from the unaccustomed exertion of battle. Truthfully, all his exercises couldn't compare for the frenzied expenditure of energy that went with a of a life or death struggle.

"And hurry" he added with a sudden shunt of fear. "They dug a long way to get here, I doubt the gate will hold them for more than a moment or two"

As though to emphasize his point, the ebon blade suddenly emerged from the iron wall and swiftly, like a bread knife in it's proper employment, began to saw through the gate.

Spooker
03-11-2010, 01:01 PM
Wow.!

I really enjoyed that. Please keep writing.


Take care

Walter
03-15-2010, 01:23 PM
Prisoner 409 had always given Jardon more than her fair share of difficulty. It wasn't that she was troublesome. Far from it. She was among the most obedient and cooperative of his detainee's. This was the source of the difficulty.

Her arrest positively reeked of the political. She'd been drummed out of the military and into the Pit on charges that were, to any who knew her, preposterous. According to the text of the file she was fiend from the blackest pit. In Jardon's experience, she was a model soldier.

Her story was a simple one, far from uncommon save in the severity of her censure. She'd fallen for the advances of a social superior, and then she'd gotten with child and not had the good grace to vanish. The General had pulled some strings, and voila, her incarceration.

This ran through his head as he saw her in the line with the others, filing along towards the staircases under the shouted commands of the guards, needing no urging to race for their lives. His duty was clear.

The old General's reach was long indeed. 409 was under a Black Order, the only such prisoner currently in the Pit. Should the enemy take the structure, or a riot occur which threatened his command, he had orders that she was not to survive the evacuation. He had even received word, indirectly of course, that perhaps he should execute the order even in the absence of such occurrence. A despicable suggestion, and made in such a way that it could not be verified, it's very existence evidence of the rot that ran rampant through Ordic forces.

He drifted to the head of the stairs, standing sentry over each of the prisoners as they approached, drawing his short stabbing blade. He'd lived a long life, but never once had he shirked from a task just because it was unpleasant.

So focused on her approach was he that the iron limbs which seized him from behind caught him utterly by surprise. He was lifted into the air and spun rapidly, then set down again to the sound of riotous laughter.

He spun about to face his assailant, and found himself staring into the grinning mug of his resident warcaster. Jubiliation shone from every pore. At a time like this, under siege by the Nightmare Empire, trapped below the earth, the erstwhile prisoner was grinning like a madman.

"You've heard of your Notice of Recall, then?" he asked drily. It wasn't really a question. An enthusiastic headshake was the only response, whether because 413's emotions were too strong to permit speech or because he simply had nothing to add was unclear.

In the commotion he caught sight of 409, sliding along in the line with the rest. He'd missed his chance, if he'd ever really inteneded to take it. He turned his attention back to the Warcaster.

"You've chosen quite a moment to return to active duty. Our position is untenable, flanked by burrowing foes we are penned in the depths of the earth. Our evacuation is uncertain, our ability to hold another assault frankly dubious. Our-" he cut off, seeing from his conversational partner's unflagging grin that he was making no impression.

"I think you might be underrating out chances. We are honest soldiers of a sovereign nation, our foe are consumed by the weaknesses of their character. Virtue will triumph over vice." The words were shouted over the bustle of the evacuation, but somehow came across as solemn statements.

"That's all very well" Jardon responded, unimpressed, "but-" he found himself addressing the back of the warcaster's head.413 was striding back towards the deadman's gate, pausing only to grab a makeshift club from a thrall's corpse."

The dark sword had nearly completed it's circuit, a slow and menacing saw through the gate. If the circle it was cutting had been a clock it would be nearing midnight, when the gate would fall through and the enemy would once again swarm upon them.

The Ordic warcaster raced towards the gate along a forked path, coming right along the wall, close enough to touch it. He arrived just before the blade reached it's own trail, moving at a sprint and with monstrous momentum.

Jardon's heart caught in his throat, even as a chuckle forced it's way past his lips as he saw what was intended. With a mighty leap four thirteen struck at the blade with every bit of force he could deliver. The rude club snapped in half, unequal to such a task.

For a moment the former inmate's body obscured the outcome, then he stepped aside with a wide grin. The blade, stressed in a way it was never designed to be, had simply snapped off at the point where it protruded from the door. The shard spun across the floor, bleeding darkness like a severed limb sheds blood.

The old jailer shook his head ruefully. "Now, why didn't I think of that?"

Spooker
03-19-2010, 08:29 AM
Excellent.
I am really enjoying your story.

Turbulence
03-25-2010, 12:15 AM
This has been a great read so far! Actually makes me want to start writing some warmachine fiction again. I'm really enjoying this.

Spooker
03-29-2010, 07:54 AM
I miss your stories Turbo. They are excellent!

Take care.

Walter
03-30-2010, 04:13 PM
[Hey guys, sorry for the delay. I've been at Adepticon, and boy, was that a crazy time. Without further delay, here's the next piece of the story.]

There was no question whatsoever in Jardon's mind where the most dangerous position in the evacuation would be. The foe might flank them by burrowing, or be assailing the surface facility even now, but their main force had been committed to the west wing, and as soon as they made it through the gates they'd be on the heels of their prey like vile hounds.

Thus, he committed his strongest forces to the rearguard. It wasn't vain heroics, not the youngster's desire for glory rearing it's head once again in a man old enough to know better, it was the simple call of plain necessity. This he told himself as he took his place at the back. A moment later, he voiced a silent plea to Morrow for forgiveness. The faithful were enjoined to refrain from deception, even to themselves.

Being honest with himself, he was among the rearguard because he couldn't forgive himself if those under his charge fell while he did naught to prevent it. He couldn't deny himself the chance to defend his countrymen, couldn't hustle along to safety while others fell to buy him that chance. It wasn't the way he was made. But still, that wasn't the most important reason.

The truth of the matter was that he knew that Prisoner of Consequence 413, Solomon, 'Sunrise', Brucker himself, would be there, and that fighting alongside that man was the safest place to be. More, it was the 'right' place to be.

He drifted back along the stair, urging the men to hurry and the chastening the prisoners along, until he found himself among the rear guard. Bad Cat had been sent up along with it's Jack wardens, but he was unsurprised to see that the Scarecrow had been transferred to Solomon's control. Apparently the warcaster had gotten to know the garrison during his incarceration, and they'd a plan in case something along these lines broke out. He wasn't terribly surprised.

Alongside the jack and the caster he was somewhat surprised at the number of men who had taken the opportunity to form up and do battle. The Grenadier's remnant were a given, certainly, but a surprising number of the regular garrison, a squad or more, had found their way back here. Sansa, naturally, was in command.

She gave a laconic salute as he approached, then turned her head back to the tunnel behind them. They were slowly backing their way up, pace constrained by the prisoner's general physical impairment. Confinement below the earth had rendered many of them incapable of swift movement, understandably enough.

"The pounding stopped a moment ago, Old Man, they'll be on us in a moment here." She used the nickname that he'd picked up sometime in his first year on the job. "Best leave things be, you'll be needed once we get to the surface."

Jardon snorted. "I'm needed right now." He settled in alongside her, making distance to use his maul. "You are supposed to be inspecting the East Wing cell. I'm going to have to note your truancy in your file." He scanned the darkness as he spoke.

She chuckled. "You do that, Warden. But you'll have to cite yourself first, I seem to recall that evacuation priority was supposed to be Guards first, prisoners to be left behind."

He'd actually forgotten that soulless order. He'd taken one look at the official evacuation plans his first day on the job, and used it to mop up a mess of spilled fruit juice later in the day. "Guess that makes this a breakout."

Solomon spoke, for the first time since he'd joined the rearguard. "Actually, you know, it probably is, at that."

Walter
04-04-2010, 08:15 PM
They looked, askance.

Solomon continued. "I've been thinking about the enemy's movements, and the only way that this makes sense is as a jailbreak." His face pulled together like a dying spider as he related this speculation, an emotion that Jardon hadn't seen in all his years of captivity. Uncertainty, perhaps?

Sansa concurred. "Yeah, if they were just looking to destroy the jail they could have just burrowed into the supports, crushed us all beneath the ground." She looked around apprehensively as she spoke, her innate pessimism no doubt gnawing at her resolve.

Jardon shook his head. "I'm not so certain that we can ascribe ordinary human motivations to our foes." He paused, at a loss for words, then continued. "What you say would make sense if they were any other enemy, but I'd be wary of seeing too much of our own reasoning in the minions of the Dragon. There might be any number of factors behind their choice of tactics. Maybe they just wanted mostly intact bodies?"

He'd learned, long ago on the Khadoran front, not to be too quick to second guess the enemy. He recalled a young officer's presumption that the Khadoran conscripts would happily desert the military that oppressed them. He shook his head at the memory. No wonder he'd ended up working in the Pit.

The warcaster spoke again, eyes never leaving the gloom below. "As you say, Warden. But they breached the gate some time ago, and I've seen no sign of pursuit. That would suggest that their objective remains below, would it not?"

Jardon saw where this was going. "If you are suggesting-"

"So, our duty as loyal members of the armed forces is to deny the enemy their objective, right?". The old jailer knew that his ex prisoner didn't intend to simply speak over him, it was just that there was a certain ponderous inevitability to his thinking, and he didn't stop speaking until he'd gotten it all out.

Sansa wasn't so phlegmatic. "Are you crazy, Prisoner? You want to go back down there?" She cocked an eyebrow and stared at Jardon obviously and frankly incredulous.

There wasn't a subtle bone in the Warcaster's body. You could actually watch him preparing the "No but it's my duty speech", then see him check himself. Instead he simply looked back at the pair of them and said "Yep".

Spooker
04-06-2010, 03:47 PM
Excellent.

More, when you have the time.

Take care.

Walter
04-11-2010, 09:51 PM
Side by side, the trio pressed back down into the gloom.

Their departure had been without ceremony, a whispered command from Jardon to the rearguard had seen them slip quietly down the stairs, unfollowed by prisoner or warden. It had taken the old jailer a moment to reconcile his abandonment of his charge with duty, but his current belief was that the enemy would be found below. So long as he remained between peril and his wards, he could not fault himself too fiercely.

For his part, he found himself gripped by a sense of excitement long absent. It wasn't simply the thrill of action after a long abatement, this was deeper. It reeked of the divine, the blessing of his God. How rare are the times in a man's life, how precious, when he can say without hesitation or doubt, without the possibility of refutement, that he is doing the right thing. He felt the approval of Morrow within, a certainty, an ineffable sensation. He was a tool in the hand of one who was more than mortal, a hand that would not slip.

Sansa, by contrast, appeared riddled with doubt. She glanced up the stairs, into every crevice and chasm. She'd always been a dour creature, now she seemed on the verge of panic. The invasion of the monsters of the Nightmare isle had transformed her from jailer to prisoner, if only of fear. Her paranoid soul whispered within her, demanding a sense of safety that was simply not in the offing. Alone of the three she clutched her weapon, carrying a blade before her where the other two bore torches. Jardon thought to comment on it, but something deflected his impulse. Perhaps it was a reverence for the silence.

Solomon Brucker moved with an obvious excitement. Taking steps two or three at a time with a released prisoner's enthusiasm and verve. He looked for all the world as though they descended into the earth to pick up treasures, or receive the adulation of the masses. Unless you knew the man the last thing you'd associate his demeanor with was a prelude to battle with a vile foe. If you knew the man, you'd guess that immediately.

Their encounter was almost an anti-climax. Jardon had been steeling his nerves for another of the sudden rushes from the night which had characterized his earlier battle. He was prepared to lash out with the torch, to leap into the enemy or to fall back, as their numbers dictated. Instead, they ran into the foe in a far more typical fashion.

At the bottom of the stairs, in the same defensive position initially occupied by the Ordic forces, the enemy had left a platoon of their vile thralls, ten in number. They didn't lurk in the shadows, didn't dart about or hide, they simply stood. Obedient to whatever commanded them, Jardon had no doubt they would so stand until they rotted.

He half expected Solomon to simply run towards the enemy, torch waving, and he wasn't that far off. Before they moved out, however, the Warcaster moved his hands in a curt gesture and said something under his breathe. Jardon felt the power surge and recede, he was no sensitive, but neither was Brucker terribly subtle. He'd ensorceled the trio, and, that done, he fulfilled the Jailer's expectation, leading them down the last stairs and straight into the enemy's midst.

The enemy's ***** lack of motion came to an end the instant a living being set foot off of the stairs. Too late it occurred to the warden that they might have been able to simply pick the thralls off from beyond their instructed range. He cursed softly, breaking at last the unnatural stillness that had gripped them, and nearly costing Sansa her life as her head snapped around to bring him into her sight.

As the first thrall approached him Jardon discovered what the Warcaster's spell had done. He felt the enemy's potential, could visualize the path's its attacks could take and pick and choose his responses with a master's calm and precision. The theurgy bestowed upon the trio the defensive prowess of master duelist's. He quelled the concern that he felt at the thought of a man manipulating such power without the mitigating power of the traditional Warcaster armor. Then he had no time for such thoughts, for the battle was upon him.

His foe struck at him with it's left arm, and ranging hook intended to draw a response, not on a trajectory to actually strike. With his enhanced perceptions he ignored it completely, bringing his torch up in a two handed blow to the enemy's grinning skull, a shower of embers lighting the air as the thrall toppled into the embrace of it's compatriots.

A pair of the animated corpses had been following closely on the heels of his first opponent, and it's toppling form hampered one of their approach, and let him take on the next one without interference. He needed the time, as it wasted no time with preliminaries. It attacked with a pair of blows, one high and one low, and while the jailer's perceptions were enhanced his old body lacked the flexibility necessary to counterstrike and avoid injury. He was forced to step back, giving ground and waiting his chance.

As he stepped away he saw a bright flash from Solomon's position at the front of the wedge, and a pair of thralls toppled back, singed and smoking. The blast had been poorly controlled however, and the unarmored caster was caught in it's backdraft, tossed like a ragdoll to the ground.

Jardon had no more time to observe his comrade's plight, however, as the pair advanced together. He strode into their reach before he could question the impulses of the enchantment, and watched in amazement as the left hand foe's hook intercepted the back of it's comrade, blasting through the corpse's back with a spine shattering crack. He took advantage of it's impaired balance with a torch thrust to the chest which set the creature ablaze.

Suddenly, and without visible cause, everything seemed to speed up. The blazing thrall rushed towards him, and his suddenly unaided perceptions told him naught. It's arms spread wide, flames halo-ing it's attacks like a rippling vestment, and a sharp steel tongue protruded from it's skull.

It slumped limply forward, the "tongue" revealed as Sansa's blade. She stood behind the thrall, the rest of the enemy were crumpled and scattered about, felled and shattered by spell and steel. His glad smile was cut short as she made a curt gesture over her shoulder, to where Prisoner of Consequence 413 lay still and silent.

Spooker
04-18-2010, 04:41 PM
Very good read. Keep it coming.

Take care.

Walter
04-18-2010, 09:35 PM
The weight of a man's life never felt as heavy as it ought to.

In his time, Jardon had borne plenty of injured out of danger. It was one of his first impulses after a fight, to remove the wounded. Temple trained. He was no stranger to hefting and moving an injured comrade.

But it never felt right.

The weight that you carried could as easily have been a sack of grain, a particularly heavy piece of furniture. It didn't hint at the history you shared with your load, didn't droop with the strain of carrying those moments and memories. There was nothing unique about the experience, nothing to scream that another thinking and living being depended on you. It was an undertaking whose difficulty didn't correlate with it's significance, a task dwarfed by it's own moment.

Solomon should have been an insupportable burden. He always carried with him a profound sense of purpose, as though he alone was fixed within an orbiting and whirling world. His certainty was entirely unshakable, and it rendered him, whether prisoner or warcaster, the undisputed center of any situation. Stripped of that certainty, it felt as though the jailer was bearing another man entirely. Just a body, nothing of consequence.

With Sansa's assistance he lugged his old friend up the stairs, nearly as fast as they'd descended. They moved rapidly, supporting the man between them with weapon's sheathed. Speed was their shield now, speed and the gnawing certainty that the enemy had no interest in the pursuit. The guards, though destroyed, had turned them back, done their job.

Failure was galling. Whatever the Cryxian purpose was, they were achieving it even now. If Brucker could speak, he'd demand that they leave him and continue on. Maybe that was what a hero would do. Jardon didn't care. There would be more thralls below, jacks and whatever the black swordsman was. He was a soldier, and soldiers didn't advance unsupported into such odds. More, he was a man, and a man didn't leave another man alone in the dark.

Beside him, Sansa seemed calmer than before. Perhaps because she was moving away from the danger. Perhaps because she'd acquitted herself masterfully in the brief engagement. For whatever reason, she moved with the calm purpose that he'd displayed earlier. Now it was Jardon who continually cast nervous glances below.

He didn't really expect to see anything. The enemy had no motive to follow. They'd left the stair alone because their goal was below. Surely a trio of guards too stupid to quit wouldn't be chased. They had no call to follow after. He was sure of it.

They were halfway to the surface when he saw the cryxlight behind them, heard the trampling stomp of the helljack's iron feet. They had just another four flights to go, but at the rate it was going, the war machine would be upon them in 2.

He shared a glance with his subordinate, looked to the caster in hopes of a last minute rescue, and then they continued, increasing their pace as much as was feasible. He stopped glancing behind. There was nothing they could do to a heavy jack anyway, no use in fighting. They'd live or die by speed alone.

Too bad it wouldn't be enough.

Walter
04-25-2010, 05:53 PM
It would have been bad enough if the tread of the Helljack had been regular. If it's pounding beats had been solemn and inevitable, emphasizing the awesome power leashed within it and deriding the feeble men who raced away. Such a tread would have brought despair.

The enemy jack, however, accelerated rapidly as it launched into a growling, slavering, rush. It would be upon them in moments, claws and iron and hellfire and all. Jardon threw the trio down, hoping that the fiend would continue up the middle of the steps, perhaps missing the frail humans in it's frantic race to the surface.

No such luck. The pain of their impact upon the cold stone had scarcely had a chance to sear itself across their minds when the massive war machine came to a stop directly above them. Jardon and Solomon slumped against the stone, the jailer drained by age and fatigue and the warcaster unconscious, as Sansa faced off with the jack.

Her earlier terror appeared to have left her entirely, and she struck without fear at the engine. Jardon had once heard her boast that she'd trained with the Cygnaran Sword Knights, legendary dismantlers of jacks, and it appeared now that her boasting was not without merit. She struck twisting, scoring blows, not cutting against the helljack's plates, but gouging and thrusting into the hollows of it's dark interior, along the angles no larger weapon could penetrate.

For all her valor, however, the damage inflicted was insignificant. Her blows had fallen upon the joints of it's left hellclaw, but even as their impact began to show it was retaliating with the right. A massive horizontal sweep, far faster than such a hulking creation should ever be capable of, ripped the air apart.

On level ground, Sansa would have died in that instant. The parameters of Cryxian jack's anti-infantry attacks were well adjusted, and her response was entirely within it's understanding. The slash covered knee to shoulder, nothing a human could duck under or leap above. It was only the added height differential of the stair that made her bold maneuver function.

Sansa leaped. From a standing start she cleared the claw, displaying an agility he'd no idea she possessed, and landed safe and sound upon the other side, blade never pausing or letting as her series of precise attacks continued. Her blade passed over over the arm as it drew back, then cut deep into a hip and withdrew as she backed up.

A monstrous howl erupted from the maddened jack, and within it Jardon could hear the souls of the Cryxen. It was a sound of futility and wrenching despair, a horrifying bellow that cursed the world of men. Enraged by her momentary escape, the beast drew back both arms, and prepared to trample the jailer into paste.

Jardon, only now regaining his feet, turned his gaze away from the monster and the darkness, and looked up the tunnel. Dying here, in the Pit, was fitting for him. The darkness had claimed him so long, sucking away his vitality and hope. Now it wouldn't let him leave. Of course not, he'd been a fool to expect it. At least he'd die looking up, facing the-

Scarecrow?

11on2d6
04-25-2010, 11:24 PM
Just read to this point, and im hooked. I like your narrative style, you shift from 1stperson to little anecdotes in third person well, it makes for good little cliff hangers. My only criticism is in an extended piece it becomes predictable, but that in itself builds anticipation and dramatic import so is not wholly a criticism and more of an observation :)

So far, very nice. Cant wait for more.

Walter
04-29-2010, 07:35 PM
The Scarecrow's descent mirrored the fragmented impulse that had beckoned it. It was calamitous and uncontrolled. Jardon had heard the expression "louder than a warjack falling down a staircase" before, but he'd never understood it for the hyperbole it was.

The sound of the old Talon's tumble was beyond noise, it went deep into his bones, bounced his mind across flashes of memory and impulse and left him whimpering and confused. The sound of it's collision with the Helljack surpassed it fourfold.

He glimpsed Sansa frantically dodging it's discarded, tumbling, lance. He glimpsed men with torches hard on the heels of the jack, their haste betraying a supreme urgency. He glimpsed the Helljack's raised arms, left one shuddering and slow, as the multiton bulk impacted.

It was too much for his aged mind to tolerate. His hands splayed, his eyes rolled back, and he slumped beside his precious burden, unconscious on the cold stone.

Walter
05-02-2010, 08:17 PM
He drifted back into consciousness like a derelict vessel, slowly and painfully, with man shuddering collisions with unseen hazards.

Oddly, his vision was the first thing to return to him, eyes focusing on a flickering fire that burned before him. Familiar faces surrounded the fire, several of them looking his way with smiles. He tried to smile back, and found to his vague surprise that his mouth obeyed the impulses of his soul. He smiled.

As one his audience recoiled in horror, and he moved his arms, first thrusting off a confining blanket, to his face to discover the source of their disquiet. He was relieved to find that he was simply missing some teeth. From Sansa's (yes, that was her name!) expression he'd imagined something far more dire. As he was musing on this topic he found his hearing returning as well, and felt the first bits of pain from his battered form.

"-doing all right sir?" he heard a man inquire. He turned and saw Bran sitting beside him, the young jack marshal solicitously handing him a flask of something or other. He turned it away with an outstretched hand and consciously flexed his body, searching for damage.

He was aggravatingly unscathed. All his life he'd presumed that abject folly would be amply rewarded and here it seemed that the Powers that Be were giving him a free pass. He inwardly thanked Morrow and felt the warmth of his faith, flickering with a palpable heat he'd only noted previously in the presence of one man.

Turning his head still further he could see Solomon Brucker, seated at another fire and throwing back drinks with the lads. The Warcaster wasn't a huge man, but at this moment, silhouetted among comrades against a cold and uncaring night, he seemed to dominate the jailer's vision. He thanked Morrow again, with more feeling this time.

Sansa, seated on his other side, spoke up in her usual mournful tones. "Good to have you back, Sir." He nodded this time, feeling able to join the conversation again. He croaked a few times to clear his throat, then spoke with a wavering voice that gained strength as he proceeded.

"Bran, Sansa..."he faltered for a moment as his gaze passed over the other figures, then he continued "Darren, Lortan, Vulkis, what's our current status? Last thing I recall is being smashed in between two jacks as we fled up the stairs."

Bran answered. "You didn't miss all that much Sir, we scooped up the three of you and headed on out, fast as our legs could carry us."

He shook his head slowly, puzzled. "Then why are we camping? Where's the surface garrison...where's-"

Sansa spoke up, grim as ever. "Cryx sir. They've come in force."

nealb
05-03-2010, 06:07 PM
wow! first time I have really read fan-fiction. This has really blown me away :D I actually laughed about Jardon smiling with missing teeth. This really makes the game, and imagery come alive right now in my mind. Fantastic, this is why I love fantasy!

Walter
05-05-2010, 09:41 PM
Another figure spoke up. At first Jardon couldn't place him. He was naggingly familiar. "Well, you did miss one thing. A mass escape."

Bran shot the man a killing glare, then turned to his superior and said in a mollifying tone. "Nothing you could have done. When we got out of that tunnel and found what had happened to the surface force-"

He was interrupted. "What happened to our support? Were they killed? Missing? I have orders to report to a certain General in the event of this sort of situation. Was the fort intact?"

It was Sansa who responded. "You got it in one, Sir. They were killed. Less said the better. We stumbled on their remains, Cryxen work."

She continued to speak, doleful tones a match for the dire news. "We could see columns of smoke to the east, northeast and southwest. Some had that green tint you only get with Cryxen."

Jardon had a hard time following this, possibly due to his ringing head. "Wait, fire to the southwest? They are past the border? What of our...I don't know, the defenses? There's a war on to our east, for Morrow's sake, what were the border fortresses doing?"

The stranger spoke up again. "The enemy brought unmatchable warcaster superiority. Outpost eleven was hit by 4 casters at once. We could barely match them marshal for caster. It was a complete mismatch all along the lines."

The jailer focused on his conversational partner, noting now that his uniform wasn't the PIT's usual issue. He was a surfacer, one of the guards who he'd seen before on his reporting assignments. Must have survived whatever happened and joined up.

The man seemed to sense his discomfort. "I'm Jarl, aide to Colonel Lansen from Outposts Eleven and Twelve. I was searching for the garrison at your surface fort, not knowing they'd already been hit, when I ran into your troop."

Bran spoke up. "He helped us out in a dicey spot, too. The prisoners were fixing to take some payback before they split. A handcannon showing up behind them helped em find their heels, along with my bringing out Bad Cat."

Jarl nodded his acknowledgement, but Sansa spoke before he could continue. "Wouldn't have had this trouble if we didn't unshackle the prisoners." She glared ferociously at the distant form of Solomon. Bran heaved a long suffering sigh.

Before they could rehash what was obviously a sore point Jardon focused on the most important immediate consideration. "So, prisoners gone, but Mr. Brucker is up...what's our current combat effectiveness? Who do we have left?"

The fire crackled for a moment, highlighting the sudden silence. Then, all at once, they told him.

Walter
05-06-2010, 08:39 PM
Jardon sat alone, pondering the information. His impromptu briefing concluded, the others had returned to the larger communal fire, leaving him with a pair of guards at his own request.

While an outside observer might imagine that he was planning strategy or determining a direction, Jardon was frankly overwhelmed. Until the outbreak his life had been a dreary slog towards the grave, his Deity's command placing him in a position so dreary, so grinding, that it eroded his very being. He'd imagined an end, pictured a hundred ever afters to his career in the Pit, but he'd never visualized anything like this.

It was easier for the rest, he imagined. Sansa and her ilk just had to take his orders, fight the good fight and fall where the enemy lay thickest. Morrow had charged them with nothing more than their own existences. The commander's lot was harder. He had to grapple with the situation, wrest victory from the seemingly insurmountable foe.

He looked away from their fire and into the woods. There seemed no doubt that the Cryxian incursion was no raid, no trick of stealth and night. The Dragonfather's wild children were loosed upon the world of men, and for the first time in recorded memory the light of day would shine upon the legions of Cryx, stark and undaunted by the revealing rays. The fact that the enemy felt no fear of discovery raised a primal terror, deep within his aged bones.

Jarl's news had all been bad. They'd brushed aside the perimeter defenses with a combination of contemptuous ease and ritual cruelty. Their tunnels, their magic, and over all else the sheer power that backed their movements lent them an unassailable superiority in mobility. Years and years of their probing raids had gifted the enemy with a deep understanding of their target region. Thus far it had proven an unstoppable combination.

At the second outpost an entire garrison had fallen prey to the enemy's magic. Three hooded figures had walked thrice around the walls, and as the sun fell the ramparts went down with it. At the fifth outpost Duke Bryce had briefly rallied the defenders, but a monstrous winged creature, fueled by the souls of the conflict had descended from the sky on tattered wings and devoured him before the eyes of his entourage powerless. Worst of all was the fate of the first outpost, the only one protected by a warcaster. It had simply been burned to the ground, and burned still. Jarl said that the Ordic caster's screams had not ceased even now, two days later. High command ascribed it to a quintet of enemy warcasters, but the troops whispered "Toruk".

Against the enemy's roving at will through the countryside his own forces were not quite so impressive. He had Solomon Brucker, a warcaster imprisoned for egregious failures, who had thus far been unable to defeat a unit of the enemy's most basic infantry. He had an amalgamated unit of Grenadiers and more basic troops, which ought to serve well enough. He had another unit of the more patriotic prisoners, who could best be described as irregular. He had Sansa, who was apparently a blademaster? Who knew? He had Bran and the old Nomad. Then there were another two prisoners who'd chosen to stay.

Tuvore Kithslayer was a troll notable for the fact that Ord was the only land he wasn't actually banned from. He'd been exiled from Khador after deserting their army, Cygnar after an incident with his kinsman and a patrol of the Third army, and Llael following a disastrous attempt at Regicide. He was a huge, ill tempered warrior, who had landed himself in the Pit after an entirely predictable brawl in an army town went against him.

Mayet Tath was a problem of a whole different stripe. She wasn't terribly dangerous, nor likely to disrupt things, but her crime would be a problem if Brucker found out about it. The woman was an outspoken Thamarite, whose fervent missionary work had ultimately wound up angering the wrong official. As far as he knew she was a fairly competent adventurer, and perhaps sorceress, but if she got to talking with Solomon one or both would wind up dead.

As though to think of him was to summon him, the Warcaster approached him. He looked up, resigned to a pep talk or some sort of sermon. With another man he'd have expected an apology, but Brucker wasn't built that way. He faced forward, at all times, past failures and past successes were equally immaterial.

"Jardon", the ex-prisoner's tones were soft, but emphatic, "I know where we have to go."

Jardon sighed. This ought to be good.

Walter
05-09-2010, 07:48 PM
Much to his surprise, it was. Brucker's plan seemed forthright, sensible, and most importantly achievable.

"When I was interred, Sir, I had some little advance warning. I visited a local shrine, praying to our Patron to avert my fate. My prayers went unanswered, and now I perceive that they were selfishly voiced. I presumed to speak as commander of my fate and not-"

"Eh-hem", Jardon carefully cleared his throat. He knew Brucker of old, and when he got to feeling guilty he'd ramble on and on. Ordinarily he'd be glad to oblige with a listening ear, but they were pressed for time.

"Uh, yes. Sorry, the long and short of it is that I knew I had to attend the trial looking my best, so I borrowed some vestments from the ordinate of that shrine, and left behind my Warcaster armor. If it wasn't confiscated, it's likely still in there."

Jardon nodded thoughtfully. A fully equipped warcaster would be an immense advantage, not merely to their little group, but to the nation as well. It was a prize worth nearly any risk. Ord needed every son, now more than ever, if it was to survive this conflict. Most precious of all would be native warcasters, for those of other nations, Cygnar and Khador, would not doubt lend their aid only in return for influence, or outright surrender.

He spoke, turning the matter over in his mind. "I like this idea, Solomon. It's unlikely that the Cryxians would be garrisoning this shrine, hallowed ground is anathema to them, and it has no military significance. Further, your long incarceration has perhaps caused them to lose track of you, their scouting might not have told them where you cached your equipment."

Solomon nodded. "I'd feel a lot better with my armor about me, and my soul would be strengthened by a chance to undergo the rituals once more."

Jardon stood, admiring how neatly they'd skirted the truth of the matter. Cloaked behind duty, expediency, even patriotism was their ever present religious obligations. From the moment Brucker had told him that there was a Morrowan shrine nearby he'd known they would have to go there. The priesthood maintained such places as a refuge for the populace, precisely for times such as these. Any refugees in the area would have been drawn there like filings to a magnet, and such a place would need every defender that could be mustered.

On the other hand, he'd outright lied about the likelihood of finding the enemys. The refuge would draw the refugees, and the refugees would draw Cryx.

nealb
05-12-2010, 12:38 AM
I thought this would just be a short story, its starting to turn into the start of a great book, and I am well and truly hoked. Cant wait to hear the next installment, it keeps me going on my uni work :-)

Walter
05-13-2010, 07:57 PM
Jardon's bad mood vanished, along with the night.

As morning broke over their camp, he caught his first glimpse of the sunlight in years. He had to avert his gaze, the cleansing rays of dawn insanely piercing to one who had dwelt in the Pit. He turned his head, scrunching his face and blinking rapidly, self conscious before the outsider.

Among all of the company, only Jarl seemed unaffected by the onset of the day. Sansa cursed quietly under her breathe, shielding her face with a hand, while Brucker turned his back to the east and recited the Morning Prayer with a stentorian intonation. The company at large raised a ragged cheer, in which even the Trollblood participated.

As they broke camp, Jardon found himself unable to keep a grin from his lips. It felt selfish, to smile as his country faced it's most perilous hour, but the elation that he felt upon departing the jail demanded release. He'd longed for this moment, yearned for it on levels both conscious and beyond his self knowledge. It satisfied a deep seated need to stand once more in the light, as a man stands.

Their march was begun in a similar spirit. Nobody, not even the irregulars, could deny the improvement to morale that simple daylight had wrought. Jardon even had to quell Brucker's attempts to get the Grenadiers to march to the Ordic Anthem. In the bright light of day the perils of night, of Cryx, and the memory of the Pit seemed pale, wan, and entirely unworthy of consideration.

As the group moved out, Brucker gravitated to the rear, where he could observe the ebb and flow of communication among his makeshift column. Over the course of the morning, it was a revealing sight.

Brucker seemed to have adopted the irregulars, pacing among them and talking nonstop. From his gestures he was either telling fishing stories or exaggerating his prowess with the ladies. One way or the other, however, he drew laughs every other sentence. Perhaps it was his efforts at morale boosting, or perhaps something more mystical, but the Irregulars kept the pace without flagging, to Jardon's surprise.

The Grenadiers marched with unfailing pace and stout discipline, but their formation too hosted a stowaway, though in their case he matched the unit almost entirely. Bran Tander had joined their ranks after he transferred bad Cat to Brucker's battlegroup. With nothing to marshal he'd add his rifle and blade to the most powerful unit, putting his training to full use.

Bad Cat itself stomped steadily along behind them, battle blade stowed and hands filled with supplies scavenged from the wreckage of the surface facility. It had been a grim business, but a necessary one, and they'd all be glad of it before too long.

Riding it was another survivor, Jardon's own particular dilemma. The ill fated and beautiful 409, or Lasleen Touther, as she called herself above, had been assigned the interim duties of quartermaster. She seemed less buoyed by the change in surroundings, perhaps she'd been informed of the Black Order.

Alongside the Bad Cat, ever alone, walked the Kithslayer. Dour and solitary the scowling warrior alone yet bore his chains of captivity, though he'd snapped them in strategic areas so that they no longer hindered him. His only weapon was the ball and chain that had once hindered him, now revealed as a deadly flail. His gaze was fixed forward, his teeth ground, and his breath shuddered in and out.

Lastly there was the interim command structure, himself and his loyal escort. Sansa had simply attached herself to him, declaring dourly that after the stairway incident he couldn't be trusted to take care of himself. She'd simply ignored his orders to take command of the company, and he'd have found her presence somewhat comforting, were it not for their mutual companion.

Mayet had gravitated to their presence. He was tempted to suspect Thamarite ambition in her choice of the commanders as traveling partners, but it was more likely the fact that theirs was the most fitting place for an outsider to join the column. Whatever the reason for her original joining, she was unlikely to leave now. She and Sansa had struck up one of those inexplicable friendships that people of similar age and opposite natures sometimes form, and they gabbled away at one another like two birds all through the walk.

Such was their morning march, a pleasant stroll in the sunshine. A call from ahead put an end to it. They'd come to a clearing.

11on2d6
05-14-2010, 08:20 PM
cool little section, I like the little analysis that was done on the characters, helps us readers identify with each of them a bit more. Only problem is...i got to the end :(

Spooker
05-17-2010, 12:58 PM
Excellent, I really enjoy this story.

Please keep writing.

Take care

Walter
05-17-2010, 08:24 PM
The woods gave way to a scene of utter abomination.

Jardon had thought that the Pit had numbed him, inured him to the depravities that mankind could inflict upon itself. For the most part, this was the case. What had come upon the occupants of this clearing was no man, however, and the depths of foulness that it had plumbed were blessedly beyond the reach of any of the prisoners that he'd ever incarcerated.

He had surmised that the populace would likely have headed for their destination in this time of crisis, and it appeared that his guess had been entirely accurate. However, the enemy intelligence had forseen this move, and appropriate forces had been lying in wait.

The wreckage and bodies which littered the grasses were too few in number to be titled a full fledged caravan. More of a proto-caravan, one of the streams of humanity which would flow together into the typical refugee diaspora. He'd seen their like, often enough, in his days of active duty. They were constantly displaced about the borders of Ord, Llael, Cygnar and Khador. The Iron Kingdoms seemed to spawn the desperate, the displaced and the hopeless. Each conflict was a tributary, each incident a seed of misery, and in his years within the earth the trend had only accelerated. Until now, that is.

He'd heard it said by a veteran once, a man who had worked with the Swans when their old King reigned. "Cryxan wars father no orphans." He'd not understood the old man then. Looking upon their work he felt he could at last comprehend it. Atrocity such as this left no one alive to mourn. The family's of the departed would rejoin them soon enough, as victims and as thralls in the enemy's host.

The wagons were in surprisingly good condition. It appeared to his practiced gaze that the occupants had emerged to do battle on the open grass, women and children too. Against this foe the civilians had understood that their was no such thing as a noncombatant. They'd left their possessions within, and there they yet waited, masterless now and bereft. Pitiful memorials of lives snuffed by the enemy's brutality.

The corpses came as a bit of a surprise. Perhaps the enemy's thrall needs had been met, perhaps even Toruk was glutted by the strife which engulfed the land. Or, more likely, the refugees had been insufficiently muscular to be worth the animation. For whatever reason the victims of the Nightmare Empire's raid had been left to rot where they fell, unmolested save for one odd detail.

The first faceless corpse had repulsed him, the second puzzled him. Were the enemy using some manner of acid, to scorch the skin from their victim's very visage? By the third and forth he had come to a grim understanding. Some entity, whether the enemy's commander or one of their number, had taken the trouble to revisit each carcass and carefully cut the flesh from the front of their skulls.

It rendered the scene before him oddly abstract. He hadn't realized how much he relied upon glimpses of a face to differentiate a man from the abstract shapes around him. Pull that away, leave just staring redness with glimpses of white, and the mind skips over it. The gaze moves past it and settles on the flies, or the horse bodies. He looked slowly around, half expecting to see the faces hanging from one of the trees, an Orgoth-like celebration of their enemy's diabolic cruelty.

No such savage totem caught his gaze. The faces remained resolutely absent, the atrocity before him plain and unapologetic. It felt offensive, vulgar, to be seeing such a thing in such a way. Cryxan atrocities of days past were answered by fierce reprisals, the forces responsible compelled to slink away by dark, lest their deeds be brought back to their accounting. Not so with this act.

The enemy's trail was clear and broad, unconcealed and unconcerned, as though they walked the dark soil of their island home. It cried aloud a message to the old jailer and his forces. "See," the violated land fairly shouted "See your future. See what comes. See, and know, and despair." Jardon cleared his throat and spat noisily.

He glanced at his companions, looked first to Brucker. At the expression on the warcaster's face he did a double take, then nodded in satisfaction. It was odd. He'd been a warden for years, seen Brucker's face more times than he could count. He thought he'd seen every expression in old Sunrise's arsenal. He had never seen him look like this.

The grim scowl, the flat gaze, the loose oddly open mouth. No jailer could mistake it. At one time or another almost every inmate displayed such a face. It was the face of a man resolute, a man who had deliberated, called the council of his conscience and weighed events within the chambers of his mind. A man who's heart was set upon his goal, unwaveringly fixed to a point that, come what may, would never waver.

Solomon Brucker gazed upon the enemy's work, and resolved to destroy them without mercy.

Walter
05-23-2010, 05:58 PM
From the scene of carnage the band moved on, spirits dampened and hearts depressed.

The land seemed somehow to have lost it's color, to have taken on the Pit's lifeless character. There was no talk of singing now. The chatter which occurred was sullen and despondent, or fierce and swift. Faces were blank, gazes hard, and the whole of the band moved with weapons free.

There was a difference between comprehending that Cryxan forces were at large in the nation, and understanding it. The sight of their enemy's spoor had driven that understanding home to the members of Jardon's group, and robbed them of their ability to take joy in their release from the Pit.

Only Mayet seemed immune to the overall gloom, and she pressed Sansa and Jardon relentlessly with constant queries. Her voice was birdlike, high pitched and cheerful, Jardon found himself snapping his replies, perversely vexed that this slip of a girl was less affected by the sights behind than he.

"Yes" he replied, "I've known Brucker for quite some time now."

"Yes" he responded, "even before he was imprisoned."

"Yes" he answered, "we served together, back before the onset of the recent hostilities."

He noticed something odd, as they walked. Sansa had, in some moment when his attention had been diverted to the Thamarite, called the Ordic regulars over, and their trio had now practically joined the larger formation. This made far more evident the fact that his responses were the focus of all attention. He was about to remark on it when May cleared her throat.

"Oh, what's that?" He'd missed the last question. "Sorry, lass, my mind wanders."

"No worries, no worries, " she replied. "I was just asking what Solomon was sent away for?"

He looked over the assembled faces of the troops and sighed. That'd been what he thought she asked.

Walter
05-24-2010, 08:10 PM
[Minor note to anyone who follows this story. It diverges from WM's official fluff right after Legends/Meta. When I plotted it out the force books hadn't been published yet.]

Walter
06-03-2010, 08:14 PM
He paused for a moment, letting the beat of their trampling boots sound the tempo of the silence. He snuck a look out of the corner of his eye, verified that Brucker and the Grenadiers were still caught up in their conversation. This wasn't a story he could tell in front of the man. Not and stay objective.

He let the hush age, wither and finally expire as all moments must. Then he began to speak. "You have to remember, those of you who share my age, or imagine, for those of you not quite so grey, what a different place our nation used to be. The Ord of Warcaster Brucker's youth had yet to experience the horrors of modern warfare. The Five Fingers gangs made their typical trouble, and our mighty neighbors never ceased their posturing, but war, real war, was practically a stranger." He stopped once again, shook his head. This wasn't coming out right.

He looked back at Mayet and continued. "I'm not saying that we were innocent. We could see the clouds on the horizon. The Ordic eye had never closed, but seeing and comprehending are entirely different things. There'd be a demonstration of some new Cygnaran marvel, some lightning gizmo or whatsit, and we'd all chuckle that soon there'd be flying horses, and nothing would be done. We'd go back to our phalanxes, and our dueling houses, and...oh gods, the Aces."

She answered, cutting him off for a moment, her higher voice seeming to accent his gloomy tones without softening them. "The Paper Aces? I've heard something-"

He seized the narrative back from her, interrupting her sentence before it could reach it's conclusion. He found that he didn't want to know how they were remembered. "Yes, the vaunted Aces, the Ordic warcaster assembly, vaunted heroes who'd never actually battled anyone, leading jacks that were polished every day, but whose cortexes had never been used on the actual field of combat. Back in the day, the King believed."

"Ord's military was a fine one, on the books. We had calvary for charging across open fields, infantry who were trained to fight in phalanx and jacks at least 10 years behind the two great powers. We had nothing like Cygnar's Academy, nothing like the Khadoran Draug-whatever, just books and whatever our Aces could come up with. I think we knew, even then, that what we were was nothing like warriors. I think all the polish and prancing was a show, a play, a way to deny to ourselves what we knew to be true. We could handle Five Fingers trash, and make a show in our annual wargames with our allies, but that's all it was."

Mayet again. "And Brucker?"

Jardon sighed aloud and nodded slowly. "The worst of the lot. He was the Ace of Heroes, and the first to speak of honor and duty and such. He resisted the improvements that drifted down from Cygnar's way, called them unmanly or outright wretched. To Brucker the battlefield was, and still is, a place of heroism, of duels and honorable combats. He believed strongly in the limited war, the just war...in fact, in any war that didn't resemble the real one."

Sansa spoke up. "I seem to recall the other Aces were more of the same, right? Big medal soldiers who folded when the going got tough." Several other voices broke out, speaking their recollections of this or that figure from the days gone by.

"That's not quite fair. There were a few who saw the writing on the wall. Our present Chief Warcaster used to be the Ace of Warjacks, and he's as much a soldier as any man. They were few, however, and hampered by the fact that however much they knew the future's face, it was far easier to see the smiling past." He looked back, suiting his motions to his tale. Their path stretched behind them, less visible than he'd feared. Good.

"It was the year that Brucker beat the Sword Knight, what was his name?" He looked the crowd over, it was Jarl who spoke up. "Gathland, I think. He's still Preceptor, far as I know." Jardon nodded as the memory returned.

"Yeah, him. Well, that year we skipped the usual bout with the Sword Knights, our most realistic wargame, and that's not saying a lot, for a ceremonial dual between the leaders. Their Preceptor vs. the Ace of Heroes. Brucker won handily, no shock there. Warcaster vs. a man, what's going to happen, right?" He remembered the match. Even knowing what was to come of it, he'd thrilled to see their man triumphant. Solomon had looked every inch the champion that day, hand stretched out to help his worthy foe to his feet after a brief and conclusive bout.

"It was after the match when he showed up." Jardon spat. Eyes widening as he saw the warcaster's tramping form approaching the group.

Unaware, Mayet asked the obvious question. "He?" she warbled, birdlike voice rising into the forest air.

"Asheth" snarled Solomon Brucker. "Asheth Magnus, the Ace of Traitors."

Spooker
06-09-2010, 02:07 PM
Very good.
Keep it coming - Loving it.

Take care

Walter
06-25-2010, 10:30 AM
The arrival of Brucker scattered their little group, like a cat among pigeons. The column broke back into it's component pieces, units and officers drifting once again into separate bands. It was an odd effect for Solomon to have, he usually brought folks together.

Jardon chided him. "They'll find out eventually, no need to be so defensive." He looked carefully at the warcaster's visage as he spoke, probing for any clue or sign of Brucker's deeper passions.

As usual he saw naught beneath the surface. It was a recurring question as to whether Brucker was possessed of a singularly simple mind, or the player of a much deeper game. For whatever reason though, there was only ever one emotion on display. Currently, it was anger.

"No point to dwelling on what's past. I did enough of that in the Pit." The words were curt and quick. Almost before they were out the storm of his fury was passing. He laid a hand on Jardon's shoulder, concentrated briefly, and exerted his power.

Jardon gasped, feeling the heeling energies working through his battered frame. The bruises and pains of his tumble receded, not gone but going, and he felt renewed, bursting with vigor. It had been a long time since he'd taken healing, he hadn't realized Brucker could work such power without his armor's aid.

In response to his quizzical stare the warcaster responded. "Only a bit, and mostly healing. I'll need the armor to channel my full strength, but those things I'm best at, I think I can safely try." Jardon nodded slowly. He wouldn't have put it past Solomon to try despite any risk, if there'd been dire need.

The march resumed it's interrupted rhythm, their units forging slowly and tiredly through the woods, Bad Cat's tramping and the girl's constant conversation lulling the old jailer's tired mind into a semitrance, a kind of waking dream.

It was almost nightfall, naturally, when they next came across their countrymen. These weren't mangled corpses, however. In a way, they were worse.

Walter
07-05-2010, 08:23 PM
A roaring creek crossed their path at the limits of vision, the normally placid waters rushing and racing along perpendicular to their direction of march. The waters were clear, unpolluted, despite the presence of the hated adversary in Ordic lands, but the enemy themselves had outpaced their blight.

Defying the daylight, a pair of hoary specters hung menacingly above the waters. Like shadows cast by an unseen hand, the duo flickered and faded, but never disappeared, cloaked and ominous despite the afternoon's brilliance. They circled and dipped, rose and passed about, one after the other, a pair of ominous moons orbiting a world of suffering.

The center of their circle was a bridge, crude and rope wrought, as befitted this backwoods trail, which passed from one bank, to a minor island, and on to the other. It appeared intact at this distance, though it's planks might need minor repair the structures overall integrity showed no signs of decrepitude. Upon the island was the focal point of the ghostly predators hunger.

Misery was made manifest on that forsaken isle. Not twenty by twenty, yet crammed with a score of refugees. Ordic citizens, subjects of King Baird and deserving of the military's protection, trapped here by the heartless craft of the Nightmare Empire, a living larder for their thrall creation divisions. They were stacked atop one another, or hugging each other for warmth, several were maimed and no provision had been made for the infirm, so that now they were jostled and bucked by the movements of the throng with no consideration whatsoever.

Corpses littered the bridges, shot in the back or side. The impression was simple and obvious. Should the prisoners make a break for the woods they'd face the fire of their insubstantial tormentors. Their souls devoured by the spirits, those who fell would be forever damned. It made for a powerful deterrent. At least, it deterred the prisoners.

In the minds of Jardon and his men, it made rather a different impression.

Spooker
07-08-2010, 08:01 AM
Excellent.
Please keep the story going!

Walter
07-23-2010, 06:04 AM
Brucker was fast, but the Kithslayer was faster still.

Spurred by Jardon's decisive hand gesture the hulking Trollking turned to the Warcaster and gave him a straight right. Brucker was fit, he was trained, and he had the blessing's of his deity. It counted for nothing against the pure power now levered against him, the fist sank into his jaw like a boulder into sand and he toppled like a collapsing building. Stepping back Tuvore shook his fist slightly, unclenching his hand and wringing the sting from it.

Jardon warily surveyed their unit. Nobody protested the sudden assault. Everyone understood that Solomon Brucker would not be able to deal properly with what looked to be a hostage situation, not and keep himself alive. They were on a mission to arm an Ordic warcaster. It wouldn't do for him to die in some pointless gesture on a random bridge along the way.

Another gesture and Tuvore lifted the man he'd just sucker punched, and they proceeded down to the foot of the bridge.

Walter
07-27-2010, 04:22 AM
The dynamics of the situation were obvious to all.

Their force had the advantage of numbers. The Grenadiers had rifles, Jarl toted a handcannon. They had the firepower to reduce a more conventional pair of adversaries to meat and bone. These enemies, however, had an advantage of their own.

The shades were insubstantial, mere splotches of dread, adrift on the wind. The flintlocks they toted glinted beneath an unseen sun. The antique costumes they were attired in stirred in spectral wind. They floated inches or feet above the waves, or dipped their boots in the water, leaving no ripples. Bullets would pass through such apparitions as they would fog or smoke, inflicting no harm. No weapon, save one that was enchanted, would find purchase upon the Cryxian monstrosities.

"I've heard of such blights" whispered Jarl. "They materialize when they fire. We need to draw them into firing first." He hunkered down behind a bit of rotted fence as he spoke, though there wasn't nearly sufficient cover. They had advanced in a body down to the water's edge, and now hung there, impaled by their own reluctance, unwilling to retreat and leave the refugees, but unable to advance into unreturnable gunfire.

Sansa snorted, "Figures." she said. Jardon motioned for the pair to hush, and carefully considered the situation. The enemy had not, even now, altered their deployment to reflect an awareness of the newly arrived Ordic unit. They continued to orbit the strip of land, one always facing each bank, disdaining even to present all of their weapons on his warriors.

One of the refugees was gesturing fervently, trying to attract his attention, and he gave it to him. The man was a Cygnaran soldier, or at least had been. From the torn and bloodied state of his garments he wasn't doing much fighting any more, deserter perhaps, or simply a casualty. His dishevelment had let him blend right in with the refugees, but now that he spoke Jardon examined him carefully.

He had the look of one of the legendary Rangers of the Cygnaran Reconnaissance service. His leathers were torn and stained a deep crimson, but he didn't look to have been critically wounded. His gaze was level and sane, if somewhat harried by his present circumstances. He had a narrow face, and wore the symbol of Morrow at his throat.

"My partner" the man called. As he spoke he indicated one of the bodies sprawled on the bridge, a man in the distinctive uniform of the Cygnaran Gun Mages. At the sound of his voice one of the shades stopped it's menacing circuit, and crouched to draw, bony fingers wriggling over the grips of its firearms. The Ranger fell silent, and after a moment the specter resumed its previous motion.

Jardon considered. The Gun Mages were well known for their enchanted pistols. If he could get to that weapon and draw it he could take the first shot against the enemy. He examined the corpse strewn span of bridge. It just wasn't doable. There was no cover, no way to advance that distance while taking gunfire from an alert adversary, much less a pair.

"Boss" Sansa hissed, pointing. He saw what had drawn her attention. On the other side of the little island a mother had picked up her child, and was edging through the throng towards the other bridge. Perhaps she thought that the appearance of soldiers meant that the enemy would lose interest in her. Maybe her nerves had just broken. For whatever reason, their time had run out.

He took a deep breath, and stepped onto the bridge.

Walter
07-29-2010, 04:18 AM
One Step.

He took it with dread, imagining phantom bullets shattering his flesh. He turned his head as he took the stride, looking wildly from the left wraith to the right. He definitely had their attention. The nearer of the two moved it's hands into the classic gunfighter draw position, bony fingers flexing menacingly, inches from the handles of its flintlock.

Two Steps.

He took the second without really meaning two, distracted by the yells from the bank behind and his careful scrutiny of the enemy. They were making an awful clamor behind him, but over the noise he heard Jarl organizing a firing line. He blessed the man. That must be why the Cryxians hadn't started shooting yet. They'd take the squad's return volley as soon as they materialized.

Three Steps.

He discarded that explanation for the enemy's hesitation as he looked into what passed for the further one's eyes. There was no fear therein. These creatures were beyond such considerations. They were waiting for one reason. They were toying with him. In an instant that would change. They would draw, fast as anything, the bullets would speed to his heart and they'd rip his soul from him. He'd be one more victim, another quick meal in a deathtime that need never end.

Jardon shook his head, fighting off the mesmerizing gaze. Had that been the thoughts of the adversary, or had he just been imagining it? His situation was enough to make any man's mind play tricks.

Four Steps.

With deliberation he took his next stride. He began to pray, quietly and with a calm he was far from feeling. His faith was all he had left at this point. He did not hesitate in his prayer when he saw the last wraith turn fully to him, when he saw it's fingers begin the same pre-draw dance.

Five Steps.

His foot touched the corpse of the gunmage. The spectres hands touched the handles of their weapons.

Walter
07-30-2010, 05:02 AM
As Jardon bent forward, hands reaching for a pistol he'd never grasp, he kept his eyes on the closer of the two Pistol Wraiths.

With a menacing hiss the ancient flintlocks cleared their holsters. Long barrels rose, sliding menacingly towards the horizontal. It was an elaborate, menacing draw, like a child practices in the mirror when he dreams of being a gunfighter. Only an incorporeal being could perform such a ritual on a battlefield, it was the skulls and spikes of the Nightmare Empire in gesture form. Raw intimidation, for the benefit of the Wraith, to spice the soul it would consume with terror.

Jardon stopped reaching and stared down his assailant. Like hell he'd go out bending his knees before his foe. Gun probably wouldn't work anyway. He prepared himself, mentally, to jump aside as the enemy fired. He was aware that his plan, roughly stated, was to jump out of the way of the bullets. It didn't sound quite so ridiculous at the time.

The face of the shade was contorted in a sneer, its skull-like mien twisted and warped. The flintlocks rose and fixed on their target, and time seemed to stand still.

Then the Wraith rippled, a faint shriek crossing the veil and reaching Jardon's ears. A spot of absence was widening from the midst of it, expanding and eroding the rest of the creature with a startling rapidity and a frightening finality. It crumpled, as it had crumpled at its life's end. Writhing in hate and agony the creature cast about to strike down its tormentor, but the iron law of firearms had been invoked. The monster had been backshot, as it had in life, and death's long denied gates yawned before it. Struck between the shoulder blades it crumpled, a shape on the darkness, a whisper lost in the great shout of the world. With a last despairing hiss the Wraith departed Caen, and the afternoon was a little brighter.

Its partner had begun to spin at the instant it had taken the fatal shot. Its draw had none of the ceremony, none of the sadistic slow motion quality of the first Wraith's last motion. It was faster than snakes, faster than the lightning that splits the sky. The spectre had lost none of its knowledge of firearms, none of its intimate familiarity with weaponry. A lifetime of gunplay had taught it to recognize any wound, any gun. Its partner had been felled by a rifle shot, which struck before it had fired. So a sniper with a mystic weapon, using the man on the bridge as a decoy. Fine. The clarity of death focused the wraith absolutely. Toruk gaped beneath, its soul was forfeit to the void, this enforced a certain understanding.

The reload time on a rifle was too long. It spun, confident that the only weapon that could threaten its unending existence was recovering from destroying its comrade. Its flintlocks traversed the angles as its mind raced ahead. It would shoot down the backshooting dog who'd felled its ally, then the soldiers on the bank would discover why the Cryxian had chosen this area for their prison. Newly subject to gravity, following its shot, its vulnerable body would plunge beneath the waves, where it would regain its ghostly nature and emerge for more shots.

It completed the turn even as Jardon was shouting his surprise at the first ghost's fate. It stared down the barrel of a leveled rifle, emerging from a concealed hide and smoking from the previous shot. The second shot took the creature entirely by surprise, and took it between the eyes. The crumbling skull fell split and dissipating, the bony hands went slack and limp, and the second apparition followed the first into the Dragon's maw.

As the enemy faded away Jardon stood blinking on the bridge, breathing in delayed fright. So resolved had he been, so much effort had it taken to nerve himself for their bullets, that now, standing unharmed on the bridge, he felt as thought his strength had been leached away. He swayed, and remained standing only with a palpable effort. He moved his gaze from the position where one had fallen to the other's last position. His hand traced the arc of the bullets which had saved him back to the shore, where a man had appeared.

The figure picked its way down the bank towards them. The sniper was hidden in shadow, a slight and unassuming presence, indistinct save for his broad brimmed hat.

Walter
08-02-2010, 04:55 AM
Jardon finished reaching down and picking up the gun. There didn't seem to be anything else to do.

As he'd half suspected, it was cracked at the midpoint. Perhaps a bullet had struck it earlier, perhaps it had been damaged in its owners fall. For whatever reason, he couldn't imagine it firing. He shivered, suddenly feeling the emotion of the moment.

It was easy to do the right thing in an instant. He had had no time for regret, confusion, or even careful thought. Now, holding the evidence, he very nearly threw up. He had been about to die. If the man on the other bank hadn't been there, his carcass would be splayed out where he was standing, even now. The refugees would still be trapped, his men would be fruitlessly shooting into the water, or, Morrow forgive him, rushing out onto the bridge to try and recover his body. He shook his head, slowly.

The civilians had begun to file towards him, several of them raising impromptu cheers, and he was obliged to back up and let them get to the bank. As he got back to the bank he realized that the cheers weren't just coming from those who had just been released, many of his troops were contributing to the general din as well. He wasn't sure exactly how many of them understood what had happened. He'd walked to the middle of the bridge, stopped, and the enemy had fallen.

He instructed Jarl to see to the needs of their rescued countrymen, and listened with half an ear to the girls' protests. Sansa was particularly vehement about it, he suspected that she was jealous that he'd thought of the lone walk onto the bridge before her. He noticed May fetching the broken weapon that the Gunmage had dropped, that'd be trouble later. Then he joined Jarl in his labors.

The refugees had only been captured for about a day, for the most part. They'd been a caravan heading to the monastary, having quickly thrown their things into wagons and left their towns. The Cryxian capture had taken place as night fell, jacks and corpses burrowing from the ground around them. They'd been escorted to the island, seemingly because the enemy's thrall creating elements were not present, or perhaps for some yet darker purpose. Vaslo (the Cygnaran), had arrived some time later with his partner, also a captive. They'd spearheaded an aborted breakout attempt earlier that morning.

Jardon listened with half an ear to the circumstances, saying the correct things and leaving things mostly to Jarl. He excused himself a moment later, and went to meet the gunman. The fellow had blended into the crowd as they crossed, and now stood motionless and silent by the edge of the bridge.

Walter
08-03-2010, 04:47 AM
It was a frustrating conversation.

Jardon said "You are Morrow sent, stranger." The man said nothing. Jardon continued. "Certainly saved my hide at least." The shooter continued to stand motionless, a carved statue of a rifleman.

He was a short man, bland and unremarkable, save for an exquisite firearm and a distinctive hat. He carried himself with a remarkable stillness, moving only to accomplish a goal. His features were locked in an expressionless mask, his eyes were placid pools. The jailer had seen thralls display more animation.

"Well, what's your name, sir?" he asked, realizing that indirect queries weren't going to get him anywhere. This drew a response.

"Kell" the man grunted. His voice matched the rest of him, low and indistinct. Speaking in a crowd, it'd be swallowed up. In a hush, it'd resonate.

It was Jardon's turn to grunt. He'd heard of this man, who hadn't? Rumor had it that Kell was an assassin, a mercenary killer who'd put a bullet into anything for the right price. Unwholesome rumors put him working for the Khador side of the great war, off and on, and it was said that he kept the company of the worst of the Reds without apparent discomfort. Even in the Pit, the stories of Kell had made their way to his ears.

"Have you rediscovered your patriotism, Mr. Kell?" he asked. It occurred to him that he wasn't even sure the fellow was Ordic. Looking at him he could be from just about anywhere. There were faces like that in the streets of Cygnar, in Khador, probably even out east. "Or have you been hired to fight the Cryxers? I've heard you are a soldier for hire."

After an initial silence the man spoke again. "The latter. 4 Stars are paying bounties on Cryx kills." Jardon nodded. Once he knew who his savior was he'd realized that the assassin wouldn't have fired for nothing. It made sense that the notorious Five Fingers based criminal syndicate would move to save its base of operations. Morrow worked in mysterious ways.

There was nothing for it but to send Kell on his way. Brucker wouldn't countenance working with a mercenary fighter, it would offend his principals. Come to speak on that, there might be a problem between the Ace and the Kithslayer, now. He'd have to talk to Solomon before he did anything hasty. He laughed softly, mostly to himself. Like talking ever worked with Brucker.

He was about to tell Kell to move along when Jarl spoke up from behind him.

Walter
08-04-2010, 05:04 AM
"I'd like to engage your contract, Mr. Kell" said Jarl, nervously. Jardon stood aside as the surfacer moved to speak with his rescuer. "Let's talk about rates."

The sniper nodded amiably, and the two commenced a brief haggling session. It was a revealing conversation. He'd never heard the turkey talk of the mercenary business before. It hadn't occurred to him that there might be a distinction in the manner of a commission, as opposed to merely the amounts. It was surprisingly complicated, particularly given that a ravening horde of the dead were unleashed upon the land.

He said as much, and the mercenary merely nodded, and returned to the negotiations. He was also surprised by Jarl's candor, and by the fact that the aide seemed to be negotiating on behalf of the 4* itself. Apparently Colonel Lansen had been a man of many masters. He'd met the old man once or twice, had no inkling. It was worrisome.

He left them to their disgusting arbitration, and ambled over to Bran. The jack marshal was seeing to Brucker, who seemed to be on the verge of recovery.

"Let me take over here." Bran nodded and stood back. Jardon continued. "Least I can do, seeing as I'm the one who had him thumped. Why don't you go and pick the fellow's opinions on us teaming up with that merc?" He expected Bran to head off straightaway, but the man just stood there, looking at him.

"What?" he asked. "Something on my face?" Bran shook his head, slowly.

"They're in favor, sir." He was about to question the assertion when he was interrupted. "Cryx has invaded. They're in favor of teaming up with anyone and everyone living. They'd work with the Butcher. Another gun will be welcome, whatever its wielders motivations may be."

Jardon smiled to himself. It was easy to forget the basics. He looked down at Brucker and chuckled softly. "Well, I guess you are just going to have to accept that your outvoted." The warcasters stirred slightly, but did not awaken. "Also....unconscious."

Walter
08-18-2010, 10:11 AM
Brucker's assailant was now his bearer. With no more effort than it took a man to throw a shirt across his frame Tuvore hefted and hauled the unconscious Warcaster. Solomon had opened his eyes a few times, but hadn't quite recovered, and Jardon knew they couldn't wait. He'd given the orders, and they'd moved out, the purpose of their journey bouncing across the shoulders of the Trollkin renegade.

Kell had joined Jarl, or at least was located near him, to think of the assassin 'joining' didn't quite fit. He blended neatly into the column, seeming by some trick or tactic just another Grenadier, albeit one with a nicer rifle. He was fending off the questions of the men now, their curiosity aroused by the meeting with such a celebrated mercenary. Perhaps it was the fact that they'd seen him save the life of the Old Man, or perhaps it was the release from the Pit, but for whatever reason they displayed no reluctance at working with the notorious assassin. Or it might be simpler, as Bran had said, the dead were the enemy, so the living were allies.

The notion appealed to Jardon. It had the black and white that his worldview embraced, and gave him a gratifying sense of continuity with their environment. In the Pit it had always felt like death had the edge. They were basically in a giant grave, after all, and he'd felt oppressed by the endless dark. But here, in the light of day, in a pleasant Ordic wood, it was difficult to escape the conviction that life was triumphant, and would always be.

They made excellent time, the column and their accompanying refugees pressed towards the shrine with a fevered pace. They trooped through wood and glen, jogging and marching in alternating bursts, Bad Cat blazing a trail when the brush grew too thick. The pace flagged once or twice, exhaustion or simply lack of experience in overland marches taking its toll, but by and large they covered the distance.

They saw no sign of the enemy, until they reached the shrine itself.

Walter
08-25-2010, 10:59 AM
The shrine still stood, it's walls unbreached and its grounds yet hallow, but it was in plain jeopardy.

The besiegers were numerous and oddly organized, drawn up not so much in units as in packs. It reminded Jardon of the natural separation of liquids. The various strains sought their like, and the glass ended up properly partitioned. So too were the foes before them, divided not by military discipline but by mutual distrust or convenience.

They had made no effort to surround the shrine, plainly confident in their ability to run to earth any that might flee out the back or sides. Their coterie was clustered before the small building, blighting the grasses and chopping idly at the trees, as their shadowed leadership sought to breach the sacred aura of the temple.

Nearest to the Pit's survivors the thralls had been parked. They stood idle, their steam power gauntlets opening and closing reflexively. One gnawed endlessly on a branch of wood, another pair wrenched at an old well. They were white, pallid things, corpses standing in defiance to all that was natural. Their fitful motion was hateful, as was their bleached skin. Jardon felt his stomache turn as memories of the Pit flooded his mind. But the thralls were least of their troubles.

Behind them were another set of thralls, but the foulness of these creatures put the gauntleted variety to shame. These were bloated, their vile flesh filled to pursting with a foul bile. Hoses had been inserted, through some necromantic cruelty unimaginable to the common man, into their guts. Before the survivors horrified gaze one of them test fired it's weapon, belching an enormous stream of acid into the air. Where the yellow liquid fell a strange steam arose, and the vegetation withered away.

A member of the next unit of the enemy's force was nearly incinerated by the burst, and it took strenuous exception. The foul trollkin barked it's displeasure, as though sufficient rage could cause even the insensate thralls to acknowledge its fury. Upon dissipating its rage the vile creature stomped back to its vile kreel. None were so large as the kithslayer, but their forms were blighted and strange, and Jardon knew they'd make a fearsome opponent.

A trio of jacks rounded out the Cryxian unit. Two were hulking things, helljacks of the same flavor that had assailed them beneath the earth. They were alert and active, plainly under the control of a warcaster, as their gazes swept back and forth across the assemblage. The green hellfire burning within their eyes flared and sputtered as their master's attention waxed and waned, but the jacks, for the moment, stood still.

In contrast to their immobility, the final jack remained in constant motion. It was a much smaller creature, one of the so-called 'bonejacks' that veterans spoke of with such dread. Gripping jaws and its powerful legs brought a predator to mind, some manner of foul hound. It wove it's way among the assembled horrors, ever in motion, jaws clacking hungrily. The lethal arc node hung ponderous and dangerous on its shoulder, perhaps the greatest danger within the assemblage.

The survivors hunkered down behind the ridge, Jardon and a few others peering over. He pondered for a moment. They had to engage, the likelihood of refugees housed within the shrine was simply too great, but he didn't like the odds. Even if they prevailed, their would be casualties, sacrifices. He wondered where the enemy's warcaster was.

A moment later he had his answer. A boom roared out from the valley beneath, as the door to the shrine burst apart in an explosion of splinters and screams, and the enemy's leader became momentarily visible, sheltered by her helljacks. From this distance he could just make out the pale frame of a Cryxian warwitch, but no further details. He opened his mouth to give the command.

Brucker's roar startled him, terror at the revealing of their position freezing him for an instant. The warcaster came awake in a great burst, eyes wide and raging, shouting oaths and imprecations. Below, the host of the Nightmare Empire reacted, heads swiveling towards the disturbance, then back towards their battlegroup. Some decision, invisible to those crouched above, was reached.

As one, the enemy started towards them.

Walter
08-27-2010, 10:52 AM
The thralls surged up the hill, a wave of dead flesh and tarnished metal. They rose like a vile tide, tainting the ground beneath them and appalling the land with their loathsome presence. No cries or shouts rose from their ranks. The dead were silent, save for the trampling of their feet and the sloshing of the biles.

The irregulars advanced over the crest of the hill and towards the foe, firing their pistols, breaking the silence to pieces with the rapport of their weaponry. At Jardon's shouted command they prioritized the bile thralls, which were easier to hit anyway. It was an impressive bit of discipline, as this allowed the fighting thralls to close relatively unmolested. Unfortunately the enemy commander had seen this move coming.

The smallest jack had run up among the thralls, and now interposed it's metallic body between the pistol fire and the last pair of biles, the shots intended for them bouncing off its armored carapace. Brucker swore aloud, and the mercenary behind him, who had been taking aim at that same pair of thralls, echoed his oaths.

Brucker struck next, channeling his energies into a mighty blast, aimed at the bonejack. It veered wildly off target, however, and blasted some thralls from their feet. He also invoked the same protective enchantment that he'd cast in the dungeon,and Jardon felt himself once again imbued with a duelist's defenses.

Their wasn't time for another volley, as the thralls crossed the remainder of the distance, running in amongst the irregulars and slashing at them with their fearsome fists. Protected by Brucker's wards the majority of the unit was able to avoid the enemy's attacks, though a pair were not quite so lucky, falling prey to the enemies steam powered gauntlets.

With an ordic war cry the Grenadiers charged forward, firing their military rifles as they did so. Sansa's terse command brought them up short of entering melee range, however. The volley ripped into the thralls, felling a number. Jardon shook his head, sick with foreknowledge of the enemy's next move.

Sure enough, with the assault of the elite soldiers having scattered the fighting thralls the enemy commander put his biles into effect. The bonejack danced to one side, it's arc node flaring with hellfire as it did. A bolt lanced forth, cutting deep in Bad Cat's free hand, while the remaining biles gave a great groan and disgorged their contents all over the irregulars, popping like zits and showering them with caustic acid.

Not a man survived, even their weapons and armor were eroded away by the terrible flood. Jardon could see, here and there among them, the gleam of teeth or gemstone, but aside from that the men were simply gone. In a heartbeat they'd melted away, flaring like vapors before an annihilating force.

Kell's rifle barked, once and again, and the bonejack staggered, but its arc node remained intact, ensuring that the enemy warcaster could continue to excercise her baleful influence. The mercenary cursed once again, quietly and without force, eyes alert and scanning as he reloaded his storied weapon.

Brucker gave a woeful cry and charged forth, along with the Grenadiers, over the mangled remnants of the first clashing lines. Once again the assaulting weapons fire, this time into the enemies furious trolls. Their armor was of stouter stuff, however, and several were able to sustain bullet wounds without falling. They countercharged and a furious melee erupted.

The chaos of battle was absolute, furious trollkin strength and numbers negating the duelist's edge that the Grenadiers had been granted, and both sides cut and thrust with wild abandon on the hillside. At the center of the melee Brucker laid about him with a heavy blade, Sansa guarding his back as his energies left him. The Ace of Heroes was in his element, cursing the enemy as the monsters they were, and hewing them down into the earth.

Jardon swiveled his head wildly, for the enemy must be even now...there! He saw the Helljacks moving in. They headed towards the melee, filled to bursting with the power of their caster, ready to destroy the Ordic warcaster, and with him the heart of the living force's resistance. He screamed out a warning, but his voice vanished without a ripple into the din of the battle.

The jacks, however, met foes of their own. The old Nomad roared forth, impelled by Brucker's will, and interposed its battered form between the left Helljack and the caster. It would have been scrapped, but for Bran. The Jack marshal ran forward, interposing himself between his former charge and the oncoming soulsteel behemoth. It trampled him underfoot without a thought, his mangled carcass shirting red like a flattened watermelon. This action, however, cost it crucial momentum, and it was unable to deal appreciable damage to Bad Cat.

The other jack was met in its charge by Tuvore Kinslayer. The tormented Trollkin swept his ball and chain down upon it, once and again dealing it heavy blows with the solid weight, before it could seize him in its clawed extremities. The warwitch's focused energy surged through it, however, and at the last its arms found their prey. Jardon averted his gaze with a grimace, as the beast squeezed its assailant, then dropped him boneless to the churned earth.

Without the jack's interference, the battle of the Trolls and Grenadiers concluded, as swiftly as such things do, with the last of the trolls falling beneath Sansa's darting blade. Brucker pointed his blade at the enemy caster, and started forward, his men following.

Bad Cat struck back at the enemy helljack, clearly the beneficiary of Brucker's power. It cut four times, and the enemy engine fell still and silent, its armored form crashing to the earth with an almighty clang.

Suddenly, from behind the Cryxian forces, more war cries were heard, as the shrine's occupants poured forth. Jardon's heart leapt within him as he saw the distinctive forms of precuror knights enter the battle, lead by a champion atop an enormous warhorse. The Morrowan ran towards the enemy caster, who had remained far from the melee, and now turned.

Perhaps another of the enemy could have been slain at this time, but the resources of this foe were without limit. At a gesture from her dainty hands the living forces found themselves strangled and held by tendrils of shadow. Ordic soldiers and Morrowan guardians staggered to a stop, their flesh arrested by the grip of pure darkness. Only Jardon and Kell, high upon the ridge, were beyond her power's grip.

Far away as they were, they couldn't hear the words that passed between the witch and Solomon Brucker, as she walked forward and spoke briefly to him. An instant later and she was striding away, calm and unhurried in her majesty. Some of the soldiers fired their military rifles, the shots simply passed through the enemies form without effect. A moment more, and she was gone, the remaining members of her battlegroup running behind, trampling the heavy brush as they fled.

Walter
09-07-2010, 06:16 AM
Over time, every veteran develops their own little rituals, to be used in the wake of a conflict.

Brucker passed his time among the wounded, going from man to man and expending his healing energies. A soft white glow would rise from the fallen, and their wounds mended. Under his expert ministrations even the direst of injuries could be healed, and those who had suffered them would rise to fight again. Only those who had passed to Urcaen were beyond his efforts.

Jardon spent his first moments with the dead. He busied himself dragging the slain into a space set aside for them, arranging their limbs and covering up their gorier injuries. He recognized that there was no rush, but it just felt right, that the quick should care first for the still. He muttered as he moved back and forth, voicing last rights with a heavy heart. The melted irregulars were particularly grim. There was little to mourn or beautify, a bone or two here or there.

Sansa worked with the survivors, establishing a perimeter and getting the refugees into the temple proper. She was already conferring with the leader of the Morrowan soldiers, pointing towards Brucker and the other leaders. Hers was a businesslike way, no doubt she was already planning the next fight. She'd complain bitterly if he said as much, but there was no doubt in Jardon's mind that she was the best soldier among them.

Mayet and Jarl spoke quietly together. Neither had taken part in the battle proper, and now they picked their way through its aftermath with the kind of guilty overcare that was characteristic of civilians on battlefields. They needn't have worried, no one had any energy left to resent them. Jardon made a mental note to try and get Jarl to give his handcannon to someone who'd put it to use, if he wasn't going to be up in the fight in the future.

The Grenadiers milled about, exchanging greetings with the Preceptors, and saw to Bad Cat as best they could. They each had, no doubt, their own little rituals that they'd be looking to about now, but Jardon had no leisure to discover them. He'd speak to them later, try and see how each was doing, but for the moment they'd have to look to their own devices. Lasleen had come through, she'd be a good influence on the unit.

Tuvore and Bran were past the saving, bodies mashed and mangled by the jacks they'd done battle with. Jardon paid special care to their remains. Bran was the obvious hero of the day, saving the main battle from the onslaught of a heavy jack, but Tuvore had done the same on the other flank, without Bad Cat to back him up. Whatever his tortured past, he'd died an ally of the living.

Kell sat alone. He smoked a long thin cigar. If the battle had meant anything to him, he didn't share it with anyone.

Walter
09-20-2010, 06:54 AM
Brucker and the Preceptor commander, dismounted in the battle's aftermath, embraced and parted. They were obviously old friends, likely old war buddies. Jardon shook his head and headed towards them.

He came up at the same time as Jarl, both plainly intending to lend a certain military gravity to the meeting. Brucker had many virtues, but it was hard to anticipate how he'd handle any given issue that didn't involve smiting the wicked. Some tasks required a hero, others needed the precision and attention to detail that Solomon lacked.

Jardon spoke first. "Sir?" he let the question hang in the air. He wasn't entirely certain how Morrowan martial ranks progressed, precisely. The knight was clearly a man of some import, likely commander of this shrine, but his exact title eluded Jardon's recollection. Knight-Captain? Boss Man? He twisted his lips in irritation.

"Father" corrected the Morrowan, "Father-Defender Gaxxon if you want to be formal. I lead the defense of this holy place. Your arrival, Sir, was both timely and fortunate." He was a broad man, not terribly tall but not short either. Encumbered by his heavy riding plate he gave off an impression of ponderous deliberation. "Thanks for escorting Solomon back to us."

Jarl spoke up. "Father, thanks for the save. Your assault on the enemy's back turned the tide of the battle." He paused a moment, then continued. "We could use your force's assistance from now on. The enemy we face is greater than the division between church and state." He'd have gone on further, but Gaxxon was already shaking his head.

"Out of the question. Our oath is a binding one, we can not for a moment cease our defense of the sacred relic entrusted to our care." Despite his words, the Father-Defender was smiling broadly, and Brucker was also grinning like a dolt. Jardon squinted and thought for a moment. Something wasn't quite right about this. There was no way a friend of Solomon's would let some oath stop him from aiding the living against Cryx.

Jarl didn't pick up on whatever was amiss, and continued on. "What? Are you serious? We need your help man! Do you truthfully intend to...what's so funny?" He'd noticed Brucker's broad smile as well. Even Jarl, surfacer though he was, understood that Brucker wouldn't smile in the aftermath of a battle as their request for aid was denied.

It wasn't Gaxxon who answered, Jardon had figured it out. "Thamar take it, I'd forgotten how high you ranked. 413, it's your armor they are watching over, isn't it?" Both men nodded, and Jarl got it at last. "I thought their was too much force in this shrine. The Church watches its assets, eh?"

Solomon spoke then, looking out over the battlefield. "Father-Defender, if your charge was born into conflict you'd be concerned about it's welfare, yes?" Gaxxon nodded. "Your duty then, would be to accompany its bearer and assist him in the war, yes?" Another nod. "So, what you are saying, is that you are coming with us."

Gaxxon corrected him. "What I'm saying, Brucker, is that these Cryxian scum have had their own way long enough."

Walter
09-23-2010, 07:35 PM
The shrine was the answer to a pressing question. Every soul in the Ordic force wanted to be on the offensive. Their unit was likely behind enemy lines, and could inflict serious damage. At the same time, however, they had the refugees from the bridge to take care of. It would have been entirely unconscionable to take them on an extended foray into the enemy's supply echelon.

The holy Morrowan ground, however, was as safe a place as could conceivably be found, and the refugees (who understood the matter and shared their protectors desire for vengeance) professed their belief in its safety. A small number of them joined the force, actually, settling into a logistics function with an ease born of peasant life. They'd have been Irregulars, actually, if any of that ill fated band had survived the battle with the Cryxian witch.

Jardon had asked Brucker about her, in the aftermath, but the former prisoner had shaken off his questions. It wasn't like him, something that she'd said had unsettled Brucker, that much was clear. Jardon spat noisily. It was likely some boast or dire threat. Solomon had been underground and in his custody for too long to have any personal matters touched upon by a stranger. Her words must have pertained to the current conflict, and there was ample to be concerned about there.

Jardon headed over to where Gaxxon and Jarl sat conferring, and squatted down beside them. They were pointing at a map of eastern Ord. It was at least somewhat up to date, and obviously composed by someone who understood the requirements of the modern military. He looked at the Father-Defender in surprise.

"Huh, wouldn't have thought you priestly types would be such skilled mapmakers".

"Well, you have to remember, we are a martial order." Gaxxon smiled blandly at this. "Maintaining readiness for an outbreak of hostilities in even the most peaceful land is somewhere in our code. Most every chapter house has such maps for their local area. It's actually a fairly common happening for enterprising mercenary bands to spend fair amounts of capitol to get their hands on one."

"I can imagine." He looked more closely at the parchment. Then he glanced back up, startled. "You've got the enemy forces on here?"

Jarl spoke up. "He said that the refugees have been pouring in here since the attack began, and he's been taking their testimony and trying to get a picture of how things stand at this point."

Jardon looked carefully at the paper now.

A moment later, he wished he hadn't.

Walter
10-04-2010, 08:28 PM
The Cryxian forces spilled across the fabric in a tidal wave of black ink. With meticulous detail the brethren had plotted each sighting, each report. The resulting lines were striking in their simplicity. Once again Jardon was struck by the non-military nature of the Cryxian hordes. There was no feint, no attempt at disguising their battle plan. The enemy moved with all the subtlety and tactical flexibility of a hammer strike.

The enemy forces appeared to have divided into three main groups. The first pressed on towards Merin, a beheading strike which only slowed or stopped when confronted with force. This force was the enemy's main thrust, descriptions of it included massed heavy jacks and a strong warcaster presence. The Morrowans termed it the Axe force. Already it had trod Armandor underfoot.

The Axe force was presently engaged with the main force of the Ordic military, fighting a series of pressing engagements as they forced it back. From what Jardon could see the numbers were about even, once you accounted for the quality difference between man and thrall, and the military's withdrawal was very likely a holding action. They were likely scrounging the land for warjacks and casters, preparing for a major confrontation before the walls of Merin.

The second force was more widely dispersed, and its purpose was more difficult to see. This force had diverged from the Axe force immediately after the border breakthrough, and now swung south in a broad arc. The majority of the civilian deaths came at the hands of this force, and while it's composition seemed far lower in quality than the Axe force's they were well suited to the harvest that they now undertook. This army, labeled Scythe force on the map, spread far and wide, moving in a broad arc through the Ordic breadbasket, and obliterating all human life that crossed it's path.

Scythe force was heading roughly towards the celebrated city of Five Fingers, but Jardon wasn't certain that this army would engage a city. They might simply leave a holding force to place it under siege and continue their ravage to the northwest. No matter what the outcome of Axe force's decapitating strike was, if the civilian populace could be forced into the cities the nation of Ord was done for. Famine and disease would accomplish the Cryxian aims just as well as a host of thralls.

Opposite Scythe force was a similarly irregular collection of living forces. Jarl identified them as primarily Four Star men, mercenaries and privateers showing up in force to defend Five Fingers and the regions around it. They were well suited to the diffuse engagement that was necessary to defend against such a strike, and according to the map they were having more success than the military proper, though that might well be due to a reduced quality of opponent.

The final enemy army, code named Shroud force, was barely in Ord at all. They were the least of the thralls, with little to no Warcaster presence reported, and barely a jack. Just a host of the dead, spreading like an ink stain along the northern and southern border. They were attacking down along the fort line, spreading the break that the enemy's massed strike had torn in the east. They lacked the power to break the forts, but they were able to confine what portion of Ord's strength had been caught in them, and more critically they were cutting the lines of communication and relief between Ord and it's living neighbors.

The name Shroud referred to what must be falling across Ord in the eyes of Khador and Cygnar, as these thralls intercepted civilian refugees and military reinforcements alike. They were even pushing on the border forts of the other nations, pushing the allies of Ord onto the defensive, and keeping their forces away while the more effective Cryxian assets pursued the grim business of war.

Jardon and Brucker spoke with the Father-Defender briefly, and came up with a plan of action.

Walter
10-19-2010, 06:45 PM
The plan was both unspectacular and unsurprising. They would strike at the rear of the Scythe force.

It was the enemy army that was doing the most damage, without question. The depopulation of rural Ord would have generation long ramifications if it could be completed, and the endless thralls harvested therein would guarantee the success of the other Cryxian armies. Indeed, the enemy's strategy could be read as a diversion with the Axe army, making way for the main advance into the countryside.

Jardon didn't subscribe to that theory, in his view all of the enemy's attacks were in grim earnest. The dead legions just didn't seem subtle enough to bother with feints. They'd prepared long and hard for this day, and now they'd spend the fruits of that effort on battlefields across Ord. He figured that their strategy was an opportunistic one. If the Axe blow destroyed Meryn and crushed living resistance, well and good. If it merely penned up the most prominent living forces while the Scythe razed the countryside, then that too would fit the enemy's plans.

Brucker didn't care. The enemy were attacking the civilian populace. He was wearing a uniform precisely to put a stop to such things, and Father-Defender Gaxxon agreed with him. Nobody raised an objection, and that was that.

It would be some time before they moved out, however, as the refugees had to be settled into the monastery and the wounded from the battle seen to. He caught up with Brucker as he was donning his gear, to ask a question that had been on his mind.

"Solomon, what did she say?" There was no need to clarify further. He'd clearly seen the Cryxian witch speak briefly before she beat her retreat. It was an odd moment of calmness in a frenzied battle, and it stuck in his mind.

Brucker looked pensive, almost ashamed. He looked away for a moment and muttered something under his breath. It had been some time since Jardon had seen this look on him, his court martial if he recollected properly.

"Come on now, I have to-" Brucker raised a hand, cutting him off. He spat to one side, raised his voice into a more audible octave.

"She said" he related, "Bet you wish you had a gun right now, huh?" He scowled as he related the comment, his thunderous face daring the old jailer to laugh at him.

So Jardon did.

A moment later, Brucker joined in.

Everyone looked at them like they were crazy.

[Note to anyone who reads this regularly, I'll be at Warmachine Weekend! Say hi if you see me!]

Walter
11-02-2010, 08:27 AM
Brucker's war garb was a sight in and of itself.

Restored to his possession with hurried ceremony, the armor had clearly been taken care of. It was pure white, naturally, looked like some sort of composite marble and metal. Jardon had no doubt a smith would tell him that it was no natural material, the Priests of Morrow had clearly had a hand in it's fabrication.

In addition to it's odd composition, the armor was built to attract the eye. Fluted greaves, elaborate vambraces, the whole thing cried out "Enemy Leader, take an axe to me!". Such was the skill of the crafters that the armor even seemed to hold the sun's light, a soft golden hue warred with the white throughout, triumphing only in the cape.

Jardon groaned, shook his head. He'd forgotten the Aces all wore capes. No wonder they'd received history's condemnation as paper soldiers. They looked the part. No one who traveled with Brucker would be fooled for a second, but he wasn't doing the band any favors should they chance to meet up with allied forces.

Brucker, once armed, called the band together and gave a brief speech.

"We go to punish the wicked and protect the innocent. I'll not insult you by listing the perils, they are as numerous as you imagine. I'll not insult you by asking for volunteers, any man who'd forsake this obligation, in the face of the Dragonfather's hordes, is no man at all. I'll not insult you by promising to protect you, for to purchase victory we are all expected to sacrifice all we have. I'll just say this. I'm going to survive, and if you don't, I'll remember you."

Reaction was muted. The big man was no good at speechmaking, and he hadn't hit all the right notes here, but speeches wouldn't have moved these men anyway. Everyone formed up, stealing last glances at the monastery as they left it behind.

Brucker's cape fluttered in the afternoon breeze.

Walter
11-07-2010, 04:39 PM
They didn't run into any more of the enemy before night fell.

In a way, this was a comfort. Jardon's could take a man's measure without effort. It was a byproduct of his employment in the Pit. These men were running on emotion. They were sustained by their passion, by the urgency of the situation. He'd prefer comrades sustained by food and slumber, regular excercise and training. Failing that, some rest would go a long way. The men had left prison, fought a battle, and then marched hard for most of the day. If they couldn't find another foe before morning, there'd be no complaining from his quarter.

Brucker showed no such emotion. His conviction drove him onwards, and he was visibly reluctant when he gave the order to break their march and set up camp. Gaxxon and the Precursors probably could have continued on into the night, but encountering Cryxian forces under cover of dark would be too suicidal even for such zealots.

The command structure, such as it was, was interesting. Gaxxon clearly controlled his men, while Jardon was officially in charge of the remnants of the Pit's garrison. Those men who had previously been prisoners had no official leaders at all, while Jarl represented an alternate command structure entirely.

It showed in setting up watches. Gaxxon simply assigned Precursors to the task, while Jardon began to look through the irregulars for sufficiently unfatigued men. Brucker asked for volunteers to join him in staying up all night, and had to be talked down by Mayet and Sansa to get any rest at all. Jarl offered bonuses, payable after the present difficulties were over, of course, and by hook or by crook they managed to get three watches set up.

Jardon agonized over whether or not they should build a campfire, but ultimately his desire for light won out over the need for secrecy. No one knew what the Cryxians used to find their victims, it wasn't even clear if they would be increasing their danger by having light. The prospect of being set upon by the enemy in pitch darkness was simply too threatening, so light they'd have.

Fortunately, the camp was rife with military personnel, and they were able to set up a nightly fortification in some semblance of good order. It wasn't anything comparable to the shrine, but with a couple hours of labor (primarily performed by Gaxxon's men) Jardon was surprised to see rudimentary barricades surrounding their fires. The watchmen peered out over them, keeping their night vision by looking away from the fires, while the men huddled together as close to the life giving warmth as they dared.

The wilderness noise surrounded their shelter, animals hooting and night life taking place as though the land was unaware of the dire threat it was under. Jardon hadn't realized just how much the Pit had taken from him. Everyone missed the sun, the day. He'd longed for it for years consecutively, but only now did he realize how much he'd missed the night. Not the undifferentiated darkness of the Pit, but the natural quiet of the land at rest, the soft twinkle of stars far away, and the crackling of a campfire. It was just as natural as the light of noon, and just as necessary.

He had just begun to drift off to sleep, when he heard Sansa's voice, weird and strained, arising from her slumbering form.

Walter
11-17-2010, 09:48 AM
"Ye who have ears, hear the truths that have been given to me to impart"

"Ye who struggle, bide your moment. It is given unto you to hear these truths in silence and submission."

"Ye who have mind, receive the Word of Toruk"

"Ye who have hope, forsake it now"

"Ye who have triumphed over the Wraith Witch, glory not in your sunlight triumph"

"Ye who live, prepare for death"

"Ye who wonder, know that you are addressed by Divinitas, Lich Lord of Cryx and Prophet of Toruk"

"Ye who breathe, prepare to cease"

"Ye who seek to thwart our ascension, await the Unmasker"

"Ye who move, grow cold and still"

"Ye who seek the Trifold Blessing, mind it that the Circle of Cryx has your aim in mind."

"Ye who despair, ye are wise indeed"

"Ye who trust your comrades, know that one is a member of my flock"

"Ye who trust your fate, know that you are selected for the consuming"

"Ye who seek the blessings of the Gods of men, ye shall find your way blocked at every turn"

"Ye who laud your strength of arms, ye shall be taught the meaning of the concept"

"Ye who come to the final struggle, I await you there, with my Lord behind me."

"Ye who encounter HIM, ye shall pass no farther."

"Ye who are not daunted, take heed. I shall risk my existence to defeat your aims."

"Ye who worship not the God of Caen, ye are fool indeed"

"Ye who abide not by his principles, your fate shall be abomination beyond your understanding."

"Ye who take not heed of the words of the Prophet, hear now the Word of the Master"

"..."

"..."

"Burn"

Ice Raven
11-20-2010, 10:44 AM
Absolutely fantastic!

I'm reading this with baited breath!

You write really, really well.

Walter
11-29-2010, 09:44 PM
The last utterance was delivered in a harsh, choked voice, deeper than Sansa's throat could have possibly produced. It broke the spell that Jardon had been held by, brought him gasping and rising from the land between dreams and waking. He woke into tumult.

He must have been deaf to the world of men while the weird voice held him spellbound, for there was no other way to explain how he'd slept to this moment.

Men ran here and there, blades flashing as they strove against writhing daemons of smoke. They were shadows and shouts to his sleep benumbed mind, just a chaos of impressions against the struggle taking place at the center of the camp.

There Solomon and Gaxxon strove against a skull of flame, or perhaps a serpent, it changed instant by instant. It hovered above them, rising from the trio of bright fires they'd banked against the night's chill. The battle was not a physical one, but a clash of ritual.

With fervent intensity, cutting through the screams of the soldiers and the clamor of battle, they intoned Morrowan Battle cants, and it seemed that their prayers had some effect. The lower perimeter of the great flame seemed to sheet over an invisible dome, or sphere, and it wavered and sputtered in the night wind.

Jardon came to his feet before he could see more, and stepped straight through a smoke wraith. He was instantly chilled, the fog or vapor which composed the apparition like ice to his mortal form, but it faded around him and he passed on without trouble. He made straight for his target, like an arrow fired in desperation.

Sansa lay still sprayed in slumber, yet her mouth moved without ceasing in a grotesque counterpoint to the holy prayers of the Ace of Heroes. It contorted and distended to utter the the sounds that issued forth, and a plume of smoke emerged from her throat to join the mists of the camp.

To his side the Dragon-flame reared up, mounting into a vast pillar. Perhaps its conjurer was aware that his channel would momentarily be disrupted, or perhaps the wards were merely failing at last, but the flame that appeared from it's maw was no campfire blaze. Held still, mounting towards an inferno was the corrupted green flame of Cryx, gathering before the Dragon like an emerald midnight sun.

Too late, however, had the warlock responsible moved to this extreme. Before the flame could be released Jardon threw himself inelegantly across Sansa's prone form, landing a heavy knee to her thigh and waking her in a rush.

Beowulf99
12-01-2010, 06:49 PM
Need. More. I love this story!

Saidin
12-01-2010, 09:02 PM
I've been following for a while, just wanted to say great job so far.

Walter
12-06-2010, 11:12 PM
[Thanks for the feedback, guys! It always helps motivate me to know that folks are reading this.]

With the awakening of Sansa, the smoke shapes blurred into a more ordinary mist, and the flames flickered and died from the sky, guttering low in their pits as though chastened by the Morrowan chanting. The yelling and commotion took much longer to die down.

It was long minutes before order could be restored, and there was one more casualty, as a prisoner who'd taken cover in the forest came bursting out and was lit up from three vectors. Brucker roared with rage at the unfortunates, but Jardon figured they were probably fortunate to get away with just one incident of friendly fire.

He wasn't certain, but it didn't seem like anyone else had heard the Cryxian proclamation, nor noticed that Sansa's possession was the source of the incident. Certainly there was no rush to ask her what had been going on. She even seemed entirely unaware, aside from cursing his clumsiness she mostly seemed mortified to have slept through an attack.

If attack it had truly been. The mistaken killing at the last was the only actual loss their motley band had suffered, though several men had inhaled smoke and spent some time hacking and coughing. No actual Cryxians seemed to have been involved, and the band as a whole was writing it off as a haunting, just one of those things that happened on blighted ground.

Jardon knew better, but he wasn't sure who to tell, or even whether he should tell anyone. The enemy's sending had clearing been aimed at their morale. Would he be enabling them if he let Brucker and the rest know? Or had the spell mostly been about the fire and smoke nonsense, and his hearing of their incantation an unhappy byproduct? It was maddening.

Despite a bone deep weariness he elected to stay awake. He was unsurprised to see that the watch's size had doubled. Few had the constitution necessary to return to slumber after such an event, though most of the prisoners and refugees managed it. Gaxxon's men made up the majority of the new volunteer watchmen, for which Jardon was grateful, they were clearly the best soldiers of the bunch.

He wracked his brain. He didn't know much of the practice of warlocks and the like, but he doubted intensely that Sansa had been the agent of the enemy's spell of her own volition. She'd spent the last years of her life living in a prison, and fought like hell to deny the enemy said prison's contents. Her behavior didn't add up for an enemy agent, and besides, he knew the girl, she was true.

Someone had slipped her something, then, blighted food or a hex cast when she wasn't looking. Maybe one of the enemy in the battle, but more likely it was one of them. The Cryxian had boasted of an agent among them, and while Jardon wasn't predisposed to believe what the enemy had to say, it was certainly a possibility. Something about the voice of this Divinitas seemed too large for such petty deceits. They'd be beneath it's dignity.

He pondered his traveling companions, seeking the likely traitor, and came up with four possibilities.

Bringer Of The Void
12-07-2010, 01:27 AM
As others said before this is one of the best Fan Fictions that deeply expand an Important part of the Setting...

After all Ord is not only Pirates and Five Fingers, even if these are very cool Background Elements...

I believe that all of the Character's Cast are very believable and defined, but I especially like the way the most important Figure of the "Rag-Tag Army" (the Divine Warcaster of Morrow, Solomon Brucker...) is described from an "Outside" point-of-view...

Keep Up the Good Work.....!!!

Walter
12-10-2010, 09:53 AM
First, and most obvious, was the outsider, Jarl. He'd have been in a much better place to make contact with Cryxian agents, not being cooped up in the Pit. His association with the Five Fingers, whatever the exact nature of it was, certainly didn't augur well for his fundamental trustworthiness. He hadn't really participated in the last battle, and Jardon hadn't known him long enough to have formed an opinion of his character. If he had to guess, he'd point the finger at Jarl.

Another easy mark was Mayet. She was notorious for her somewhat heretical religious views, could they have led her from the beaten path? Once she let go of the conventional morality of Ord, would she still reject the faith of the Dragonfather? Brucker would certainly say as much, but Jardon had been taught that Thamarists, while selfish and ambitious, were not necessarily the monsters they were portrayed as. In particular, he didn't know how to square what he'd been taught of the Dark Sister's doctrine with eternal slavery to a dragon. Still, if she could abandon the faith of the land of her birth, who's to say she couldn't drop another just as quickly, and shape herself to the doctrine of the Nightmare Empire? Some flowers thrived in the moonlight, after all.

The mercenary, Kell, was another possibility. As a career soldier Jardon had naught but contempt for the Four Star scum, and the celebrated assassin was ultimately no better. His shooting skill didn't necessarily indicate a sound mind, indeed it would be entirely in character for a Cryxian agent to be an expert at dealing death from a safe vantage point. The sniper didn't seem like a coward to the old jailor, but he certainly didn't risk his life when he struck from hiding and a distance. He was widely traveled and cosmopolitan, and a sought after agent in times of conflict. He would be an ideal agent. The only thing that seemed incongruous in the portrayal was that in all of the stories he'd heard of Kell Bailoch, he'd never once heard of him working for Cryx, but there were plenty of tales of him fighting against them.

The last possibility was the most chilling, but he had to consider it. It could be Brother Gaxxon. The shrine had held out against a warcaster until they arrived. How? The relief force had sortied and rescued them, true, but the tide of the battle had turned by then. The enemy's strength was broken when Bran and Tuvore held back their jacks, Gaxxon and his relief troops didn't strike a blow. It went against his beliefs to suspect a Morrowan priest, but he didn't know this man, and perhaps the enemy's foul arts could counterfeit the trappings of his faith. Gaxxon or one of his subordinates would be an invaluable infiltrator for the enemy, precisely because they were above suspicion.

Shortarse
12-13-2010, 01:09 PM
Fantastic only complaints are there's not more to read and I am supposed to be working on my degree but can't tear myself away. If ever you publish a book I want a copy!

Walter
12-14-2010, 10:05 AM
With the dawn, the camp stirred. The former prisoners, and their former captors, savored the sight. The rising sun seemed to burn away the memories of their dark burial. The Morrowan Preceptors had rituals of their own to practice with the birthing of the day, and Jardon was unsurprised to see that Brucker led them in their communions. His warcaster armor apparently doubled as ritual vestments, for he hadn't bothered to change into the official raiment of the Morrowan faith.

Rest, even what little they'd managed, had done the men well. The native Ordic forces, mostly comprised of Grenadiers but with a sprinkling of survivors and refugees, formed up into marching order with much better cheer than they'd displayed at day's end of the previous day. The previous night's alarming incident seemed to have lost much of it's impact with the coming of light, and Lasleen reported the unit's strength as fully battle ready.

The Preceptors, of course, had the discipline to disregard the nocturnal sendings of the foe, and the rest and stamina to be ready to go despite working the majority of the watch. Then, too, their prayer most likely had a restorative effect. Brucker certainly channeled healing powers, most likely Gaxxon did as well, to a much lesser extent. Such puissance would go a long way towards increasing the band's resilience.

Bad Cat, oddly enough, was the most sluggish. It's cortex apparently had an affinity for the dark, born of long habit in the Pit, and roused only with growling reluctance in the bright morning. Jardon knew how it felt. They'd grabbed food aplenty, and water was in easy reach, but he'd completely forgotten to ask Gaxxon if they had any coffee. He shook his head, trying to clear it, and started as the familiar odor reached his nostrils. Someone hadn't forgotten.

He looked over, startled, to see Sansa ladeling the stuff out to a small group of the Grenadiers. Naturally. He moved over and took his place in line.
The soldiers mumbled excuses and moved aside, though he tried to wave them back into place, and he moved up to take a cup. Sansa arched an eyebrow.

"After you damn near crippled me last night? Some nerve, old timer." She matched her words with an easy smile and poured him a cup, looked like the last of the pot. Jardon chuckled as he took it. He moved to step aside for the next man, but discovered that everyone else had sort of moved off.

"Seriously though," she continued, "I have no idea why I was under so hard. Imagine, a battle didn't wake me! Fighting must have taken more out of me than I thought. I'm sorry sir, I l-" he cut her off. "You should be sorry," he made a face, "this is wretched. I've tasted better joe made in a Khadoran boot."

She subsided, nodding easily, back into the rhythm of their familiar morning rituals "Beggars can't be choosers, sir."

He turned away, heading towards Brucker, and walked a few steps, then paused. "Sansa", he called back, "Do better tomorrow."

Beowulf99
12-14-2010, 02:48 PM
Awesome Stuff Walt! Can't wait for the next update!

Walter
12-17-2010, 11:08 AM
Despite Jardon's misgivings, they headed out in the morning with all due speed. If the group was disturbed by their nocturnal misadventures, they didn't show it. Their march was more energetic and passionate than that of the night before. Rest had done them well.

Brucker led from the front, pressing forward with the Morrowans about him, the desire to mete out retribution plain in his every stride. Gaxxon ranged throughout the band, exercising the ancient luxury of the mounted man in the company of those on foot. The rest of the officer corp, Jardon at their head, marched in the center of the formation, shielded from sudden attack.

They were able to tighten their formation somewhat as they moved west, and the morning wore on. The trees were thinner on the ground, yielding more and more to the grasslands of central Ord. They were leaving the great wood behind, for which Jardon was inwardly thankful. As they emerged, however, they were struck by the sight as the veil of forest vanished.

The plains smoked and almost shuddered, seemingly appalled at the crimes committed amidst its grasses. There were several fires burning, and groups hurried hither and thither across the miles with dreadful purpose. On the high grasslands the scale of the Cryxian attack showed itself to full, ghastly effect, and it was a daunting spectacle.

But the will of the band was of iron, and they set out without ceremony or pause for the nearest band to the forest's edge, a supply caravan, wagons of dark iron, which had apparently emerged from the woodlands just a few minutes before them.

Jardon tightened his grip on his battered blade, and grinned a wolfish smile.

Walter
12-25-2010, 09:19 PM
The "Battle" which followed was short and sweet.

The thralls assigned to the supply caravans defense were adequate to protect it from, perhaps, wild animals, or desperate refugees. They were not equipped to battle soldiers. This area must have been considered safe by the Cryxian command, or perhaps they had just overlooked it, but for whatever reason the encounter was entirely lopsided.

The corpses ran towards the Ordic forces in an uncoordinated mass. The grenadiers fired a volley, over the shoulders of the Morrowan infantry, who formed a fighting wall. The enemy shambled mindlessly forward, and made it to the shield wall.

Between the armor of their shields and the increases reflexes granted by Brucker's defensive spell not a one of the Morrowans was struck down. They counterattacked, not leaving their wall nor exposing themselves. It was pure butchery, they crushed the skulls of corpses with precision and efficiency. Jardon marveled at their prowess. He hadn't supposed that the temples training was so effective.

The remnants of the enemy showed no hint of realizing their situation, and closed again on the shield wall, to similar lack of effect. One man went down under a heavy double handed punch, but he rose again in an instant, plainly none the worse for wear. The Grenadiers charged in to assist in the melee, and the last of the thralls were swiftly disabled.

Brucker and company didn't spend long consolidating their gains. With no casualties they moved on to the wagons themselves. Already Jardon could see other Cryxian forces turning in their direction. None appeared to be front line units, but their numbers were considerable. Still, they were some distance away. There should be time to wreck the supply wagons and make it back to the forest.

That wasn't the plan, apparently. Gaxxon and Brucker raced ahead into the wagons and immediately began the process of circling them up. As everyone arrived they pitched in, forcing the iron frames flush with one another, and taking up positions atop them. While a full circle wasn't practical, they were quickly able to make a sort of a U shape, by steering the front vehicles towards one another.

Gaxxon's men swiftly resumed their shield wall formation, spreading across the open area of the U. The grenadiers, by contrast, climbed onto the wagons and prepared to employ their rifles. The wagons contents, rancid corpses and wrecked metal, made for good firing platforms, and the sides would present a serious obstacle to thralls attempting to ascend them.

The command group stayed in the center, though Sansa and May ascended to the wagons to directly support the shooters. Jardon moved to take a place in the shield line, but Gaxxon motioned him back. Apparently he was in reserve, or something. Brucker was in the middle too though, so there was going to be some fighting.

He moved up to the Ace of Heroes. "Solomon, they are going to completely surround us." He didn't need to ask the obvious question.

Brucker nodded, absently, his gaze switching anxiously from place to place, waiting for the first of the thralls to arrive. "Yeah, " he responded, "their mistake."

maxxev
12-30-2010, 11:31 AM
*clap, clap, clap*

Very good very good indeed.

If PP ever do novels I think you're in with a very good chance.

Walter
12-30-2010, 12:50 PM
[I'm actually pretty sure that PP doesn't read fan fiction, for legal reasons. I dunno where I got that idea, I think I was at a con and talking to a black library employee, but my presumption has always been that fan fiction is invisible to the powers that be. Hmm...now that I actually write it down that sounds kind of silly.]

Jardon was disappointed to discover that the enemy forces were under some form of centralized command. He'd initially hoped that the Cyxians, lacking a command figure, would simply attack them as they arrived, and could be dealt with in detail. No such luck. The enemy forces converged not on the improvised fortress, but in a battle array aimed towards shield wall side, well out of rifle range.

The Cryxian forces, while impressive numerically (outnumbering their Ordic adversaries at least 4 to 1), suffered from the absence of a warcaster. They had no jacks, nor could Jardon make out an actual leader among them. Instead their advantage was sheer quantity. The enemy had gathered the defending forces of 3 other supply caravans and joined that strength to whatever their version of a roving response force was, to make up a veritable host.

The main force of their army was thralls. The walking dead, similar to the foes that Jardon had seen in the Pit, were deployed in force. Jardon wasn't dismayed by them, however, despite the numbers present. He'd seen such troops founder on the Morrowan shield wall before, and they had no special affinity for climbing the barricade.

The enemy had two other units, however, which seemed like they could present serious problems. Among the enemy, darting here and there, were a trio of distorted hybrid thralls. They were some blasphemous blend of the skeletons of man and horse, and displayed a quickness and a sentience that were both at odds with their mechanithrall compatriots. These creatures were likely responsible for the enemies coordinated response.

The real problem, however, was advancing more slowly. Waiting for this force was most likely the enemy's primary objective in gathering at a distance. The dreaded Bane Warriors of Cryx floated slowly over the plain, a dark patch against the green and blue. They seemed distortions, blemishes on the world's order. They floated slowly, two by two, just above the grass, brass and black figures with cruel pikes. There was something insubstantial about them, despite their heavy armor. Jardon figured they'd pass right through the makeshift barricade.

When the enemy had finished gathering Jardon was hoping that they would simply rush towards the fortress, to be held at the shield wall and picked off as they tried to bypass their own clumped formation. Instead of moving as a group, however, the forces of Cryx began to spread out, moving away from one another and drifting to both sides, like ink spilling onto a clock face.

They were still out of range on all sides. Jardon looked to Gaxxon, who was riding back and forth within the makeshift fortress, his steed snorting its agitation. They were being surrounded, calmly and methodically. If they sortied now they could hit one of the ends of the ring, using the fortress as partial cover, and disrupt the enemy's formation. Gaxxon looked to be thinking something similar.

He moved to Brucker and said as much, but Solomon slowly shook his head. "Let them come" said the Ace, "I need them clumped together."

Beowulf99
12-30-2010, 05:18 PM
I feel a Feat coming on... ;)

Walter
01-03-2011, 09:16 AM
The instant the ring closed, it began to contract. The thralls were still out of range of the defender's firearms, and they moved at a pace that Jardon could only call menacing. This was not the military advance, nor was it the cautious forward motion employed when the enemy threatened. This was a threatening gait, a purposeful strut. Yet another example of the enemy's propensity for intimidation.

They needn't have bothered. The men of Ord hunkered down on their improvised barricades, or stood solemn and silent in their shield wall. Brucker prayed quietly, asking Morrow for wisdom. Kell shifted his aim from moment to moment, perhaps rehearsing shots yet to be released. Bad Cat brandished it's battle blade, and worked it in furious arcs. Jarl, Sansa and May conferred quietly, while Gaxxon rode from place to place. Jardon took a moment to inspect the entire group, and didn't see a single combatant who was daunted by the Cryxian display.

Perhaps sensing that this battle would not end in surrender or rout, the enemy got serious. They advanced to the edge of rifle range, tempting the early volley. The Ordic forces refused to commit, understanding that the thralls would be on them before they reloaded. It was a momentary standoff. The enemy was safe where they stood, but would suffer if they took one more step.

Or perhaps if they did not. Kell started the battle with two shots of his long gun. The firearm's provenance was beyond Jardon's knowledge, but it was quite a piece of work. His bullets outranged the Ordic rifles that the enemy had compensated for, and his shots were as rapid as ever. A pair of Bane Knights toppled to the ground, dissipating into dust and ashes before they touched the soil.

There was a moment of stunned silence, then the enemy charged. Whatever commanding intelligence there was hadn't been expecting such long ranged and skillful gunplay, and, stung, lashed out. The enemy ran directly at the barricade, daring the bullets. The only noticeable clumps in the circle came off to the left, where the Banes had been directed. There the thralls stood thick and deep, clustered to form a mobile shield for the Banes.

With a thunderous roar the Grenadiers let them have it. While capable of combined fire, in this case they eschewed it, with each man picking his target. The corpses reeled and fell, but others continued the rush. They had more men than the volley could clear, and these were not living attackers, to be daunted by the destruction of their fellows.

The thralls came on, trampling their fallen underfoot and making the barricade. At the front of the U they engaged the shield wall, while all around they climbed the twisted wagon superstructure with an appalling quickness. Their steam powered fists made excellent levers, and hey hurled themselves up at the soldiers who had fired upon them. It was likely Jardon's imagination, but in the mindless dead he thought he could detect a hunger, an echo of their master's timeless need.

It was at this moment, as the enemy prepared to strike their first blows in earnest, that the Ace of Heroes played his hand.

A barely perceptible light shone from him, just a sullen glow, like a candle shielded by a cupped hand. It expanded rapidly, however, radiating out in every direction, and encompassing the wagon barricades and the enemy beyond. The glow rose from the ground, creeping up the legs of men and thrall alike, to markedly different effect.

The defenders found themselves healed. Cuts reknit, bruises faded, even the direst of wounds mended themselves without ceremony or display. This was the principal area of Morrow's power, channeled by a servant whose faith had never faltered, and it was effective beyond the telling. Even Jardon's old joints, hardened by years of toil in the Pit, relaxed and moved with the supple swiftness he recalled from his youth. In a twinkling the Grenadiers and Morrowans were restored to the absolute peak of health.

The thralls fared differently. None so abhor the crimes of the necromancer as the Morrowan faith, and His benediction was more than the animating magics could withstand. Silently and without a visible cause the dead simply toppled where they stood. There flesh was unmarred, but the vile magics which had compelled them to stand and fight were released, snuffed like candles in a pool of deep water. Even the Banes were not proof against Morrow's power, the stain of their presence was washed from the world, and their arms and forms clattered to the ground in sullen heaps.

Brucker breathed out, a deep breathe like a man emerging from deep, dark waters, and then in again.

Beowulf99
01-03-2011, 08:51 PM
Woot! Awesome stuff!

Walter
01-12-2011, 09:07 AM
The remainder of the day passed in a blur. The enemy had clearly not been anticipating that their gathered forces would be wiped out without compensating damage on the defender's side, and they suffered for it. The caravans whose guards had joined the attack were easy pickings. Another one blundered out of the trees and into an Ordic ambush later on in the afternoon.

Jardon put some thought into the enemy's supply strategy. The thralls had been hauling corpses and necrotite, short term supplies. There hadn't been any shipments of jacks, or serious reinforcement units. It seemed to him that the Cryxian main front must not be engaged in a major battle. The supplies that they were sending were the sorts of things he'd expect them to run low on while rampaging through the countryside, but not enough to resupply following a major confrontation.

This indicated that Scythe hadn't yet forced a major confrontation with the Five Fingers troops. He dared to hope that they were still cautious about meeting a living army in pitched battle. Cryx had a long raiding history, but so far as he knew they'd never fought a major engagement with a standing army, lacking the element of surprise. Their sneak attack on the forts notwithstanding, Jardon thought it entirely possible that the enemy would hold off from a straight up fight until they had some guarantee of the outcome.

Today's successes would hurt the enemy. Jacks would stall without the necrotite currently spilled across the Ordic grasses, and the wave assaults that the enemy favored would be curtailed when their thralls ran low. But they wouldn't be enough, not nearly enough, to stop the Scythe's momentum in and of themselves. The enemy pushed forward primarily because they had more warcasters than the defenders. Stripping supplies was all well and good, but it wouldn't change that grim dynamic.

Brucker would be as aware of these facts as Jardon himself was. Striking the underbelly was all well and good, but the place of an Ordic warcaster was on the front lines. He needed more jacks than the Bad Cat, he needed allies and specialized troops. Solomon would help offset the enemy's warcaster superiority, and might even have a chance at eliminating one of the Cryxian casters, but only if he could make it to their own lines. Otherwise, regardless of the damage they did to the enemy's infrastructure, they would ultimately be destroyed in detail, isolated and surrounded by the enemy throng.

Today's efforts, satisfying though they were, hadn't changed their ultimate situation. They needed to break through Scythe force...no, Jardon corrected himself. Their efforts had accomplished one thing. This morning, they'd needed to break through Scythe force. Now they needed to break through...and Cryx knew they were coming.

maxxev
01-13-2011, 02:34 AM
well not actually maxxev, the real maxxev (my O/H) liked this so much he insisted i read it and despite the fact that this isn't my usual reading material and my knowledge of warmachine is (exceedingly) limited i find myself enjoying this.
I hope you will continue : )

Walter
01-14-2011, 08:59 AM
As the sun set the Ordic forces were once again forced to make camp. It had been an exhausting day, but no one suggested just setting to out no the open plains. They assayed a short forced march as the day was ending, ultimately arriving at a position the mercenary sniper had pointed out earlier that afternoon.

Opinion was split over whether the enemy would retaliate during the evening, or whether it would take them longer to understand what was going on and take adequate steps. Brucker believed that the enemy would reel from the harm they'd wrought all day long, he was a veteran of military actions and didn't think the enemy would be able to adapt to a sudden presence in their rear in a 12 hour period. Jarl was more cynical, announcing that he figured they'd be attacked before the night was through, it would be just his luck. Gaxxon agreed, figured that the enemy likely had less command overhead than a living host of the same size and composition.

Jardon privately agreed with the Preceptor commander, but for his own reasons. Whoever had blighted Sansa, the traitor among them, that person would be desperate. They'd failed Cryx by not warning the caravans, he'd wager the Lich Lords didn't forgive failure lightly. If another day went by and they continued to enjoy military successes, the traitor would likely be forced to take direct action. To forestall that, he figured that the enemy agent had or would leak their location and approximate strength during the evening.

Fortunately, their location was formidable. There was a creek out on the plains, and it had fed a tiny copse of trees. This oasis made for an excellent fortified position, and the craft of Gaxxon's men had swiftly made of the treeline a makeshift barricade. They strung ropes (looted from the enemy over the course of the day or just brought from the monastery) between the trunks and bent branches down to weave snares. He even spied a few digging pits on the outskirts, plying spade with the same enthusiasm they showed for bashing the enemies of Morrow.

Jardon resolved to spend the night on watch. He leaned into the wall, deforming it with his body's weight. Unceasing vigilance was the only answer to the challenge posed by the enemy. He'd plenty of...

...

...

He jolted awake as a hand tapped him on the shoulder. His mouth tasted like sand and sweat, and he stifled a tremendous yawn. He looked around, dawn was breaking and Sansa and May were standing over him with a mug of coffee.

Walter
01-18-2011, 09:24 AM
Jardon cursed quietly, then stood and accepted his beverage. Natural consequence of getting older, he supposed, but he intensely regretted falling asleep so fast. He'd been planning to watch the camp for signs of the traitor, not to mention trying to keep up morale among the troops assigned to watch by sharing their burden. The fact that they'd had to pick their way around his snoring form as they circled the camp would have had precisely the opposite effect.

He sipped his coffee, smiling ruefully. No point in pining over what's gone, and at least he felt rested and refreshed. No Cryxian horror had crept up and slit his throat, so there was something. In addition, no one was on fire, so there was another improvement over the previous night. He thanked Morrow for small mercies.

Mayet spoke, because her piping and squeaky voice was exactly what he needed in the morning. "Rest well, boss?" She accompanied her greeting with a civilian's faux salute. "You were thrashing around something fierce all night." He closed his eyes for a moment. Naturally she'd been able to stay awake all night. His humiliation wouldn't be total without an 80 pound Thamarite ex prisoner excelling him at feats of endurance.

"Bad dreams" he grunted. "Getting too old for this nonsense." He waited a moment, sort of hurt that Sansa didn't contradict him. He looked around for Brucker and Gaxxon, figuring that they'd probably stayed up and planned the next move during the night. Sansa divined his intention, and pointed out beyond the fortifications.

Jardon walked a little toward where she indicated, then cursed again. Solomon knelt outside of the barricade, blade point down into the soil before him. It was a stance associated with a Vigil, a Morrowan tradition where the supplicant sat motionless throughout the night, ceremonially outlasting the darkness, and sought Morrow's blessing along with the rising sun. It was an old ritual, not practiced as much anymore, but no doubt it was good for the warcaster's soul. Jardon, however, wasn't terribly concerned about Solomon's soul, but his body could have used a night of rest. He'd brought forth Morrow's benedication yesterday, and cast his spells in each combat encounter. A long day of marching and fighting, and he'd followed it up with a night of prayer. Typical.

He made his way to the warcaster, unconcerned about disturbing him. The dawn had brought the close of the formal ritual, if Solomon still knelt it was either because he was meditating, or he'd just fallen asleep on his knees. The warcaster's helm rotated as Jardon got closer, and the Ace bounded to his feet with the irritating ease of the supremely fit.

"So, where do we go now?" he asked. Ever since pointing out the monastery there'd been an uneasy partnership between the pair. Solomon steered the party by virtue of power, but was technically ranked by Jardon until reconfirmed by HQ. In truth, they worked together well, and it wasn't really a point of contention between them. Jardon figured Solomon's Vigil had likely been directed towards determining their next move.

He wasn't disappointed. Brucker gave a broad smile and pointed back to the camp. "Actually, we don't need to go anywhere at all. We are right where we need to be."

Walter
01-21-2011, 09:38 AM
The Ordic force busied themselves with the myriad tasks of morning. Soldiers maintained their weapons, looked to the barricades. Morrowan precursors performed their devotions. The Bad Cat was awakened again, fires banked but ready to be stirred to life should the battlefield services of the old Nomad be required. The officers, however, were embroiled in a heated discussion.

"You don't want us to move anywhere?" asked Jarl? His eyes were wide and his voice a trifle unsteady. "Solomon, the enemy is certainly aware that we are here after yesterday's actions. Are you saying we should simply await their retribution?"

Slowly, Solomon shook his head. "Not as such, though that's certainly a possibility. Morrow has revealed to me that we are where we need to be. He didn't elaborate as to why, but we need to be here." This was a common Brucker failing. Faced with someone who questioned his decision he'd simply repeat his motivations, as though he didn't really have a choice.

"So, we are just going to...wait?" asked Jarl. He'd crossed the line into scorn. Jardon made a mental note to talk to him about that after the conference. It wouldn't do to take such a tone in front of the men. Bad for morale and all that. "How long?"

At this question Solomon looked uncomfortable. "I don't, exactly know, but I'm sure I'll know when it's time to leave." Jarl theatrically dropped his jaw and the Ordic warcaster nodded. "Ok, yeah, I wouldn't want to here that either. How about this, if noon comes and nothing has happened the unit can head off."

Jarl hadn't had Jardon's experience with the Ace of Heroes, so he believed him. He swore a bit more, then moved off. Jardon spoke quietly to Brucker. "So, what will we really do at noon, if nothing has happened yet? Jarl speaks for more of the men than you'd like to believe."

Brucker looked at him, expressionless. "The unit will head off, just like I said."

imomam
01-24-2011, 09:22 AM
This is done so well.
I am really enjoying it.
I need five more installment right now!
your character development is great and synergy is spectacular
Thanks for all the work and efforts

Walter
01-25-2011, 10:15 AM
They didn't have to wait that long.

Morning had crept by, its moments passed in enforced vigilance and tense silence. Few of the men could muster good humor as they awaited anything from a Cryxian warcaster to Toruk itself. Since the dawn of time soldiers have hated being on the defensive, and the men of the Pit were no exception. Even the Preceptors seemed subdued.

The officer core, naturally, did their best to keep morale up. Brucker moved tirelessly among the men, trotting out the stories of the Aces and, Jardon suspected, embellishing where necessary. Gaxxon blessed the assembled military men, dispensing Morrow's favors to the receptive minds. No Thamarites in foxholes, after all. Sansa and Mayet simply took turns at the wall, doing their "just another day" bit. Jardon inclined that way himself. To his turn of thinking no one was reassured by being told to be reassured. You were calm as long as what you were doing was familiar. They'd all stood watch before. It was only the unnatural exhortations of the officer corp that made this any different. Tough to be casual when some well meaning chaplain was busy reminding you that your sacrifice would be remembered.

Despite their wariness, however, what occurred took them by surprise. They had been scanning the plane with relentless vigilance all morning, but few men had kept an eye on the woods. It wasn't clear how the consensus had emerged, but the idea of Scythe Force sending a unit back to do battle with them was firmly enmeshed in the common mind. That their next encounter would be another caravan was entirely reasonable, but nonetheless no one had seen it coming. It wasn't until the front elements had actually broken through the trees that the Ordic forces took notice. What followed was a frantic redeployment across the length of the improvised fortress.

This was no mere supply caravan, that much was instantly apparent. For one thing, jacks marched in escort. A Nomad, a charger and an Ironclad were clearly visible in guard position. For another, the conveyance itself was both smaller and more ornately fashioned. The wagons of the other caravans had been heavy sledges of black iron, visibly the work of Cryxian hands. This was an ornate carriage, more the sort of thing a member of the nobility would travel in. They must have had a heck of a time getting it through the woods. The biggest difference, however, was in the quality of the personnel.

Jardon only saw a small number of thralls. Maybe 10, maybe less, they seemed to be employed for tree clearing, their steam powered fists crushing and smashing the vegetation to clear the way for the advance of the jacks and their precious burden. The remainder of the minders were Steelhead soldiers, riflemen and pikemen both. They had green and black armbands, but otherwise seemed untainted by their choice of employers. They moved with military precision, and drew up short as they sighted the Ordic force.

Among them were men in black, they seemed like military advisors or leaders. Certainly they took charge of the enemy's deployment with a quickness. Even as Jardon's men were shifting to man the section of the wall nearest to them the enemy had begun to alter their own path. Their wagon turned north, while the bulk of the guards shifted to position themselves between it and the threat. The deployment was crystal clear.

The enemy were uninterested in doing battle with a warcaster entrenched. If Brucker wanted to take them on he'd have to advance across clear ground to do it.

Jardon sighed. This one was going to be bloody.

Walter
01-25-2011, 11:21 PM
Brucker waved his hand, and the advance was on. That was all the signal given, and apparently all that was needed. The preceptors mounted the wall and fell into a march, shield wall towards the enemy. Following them came the Grenadiers, and the remaining irregulars. Aiming through the gaps that the Morrowans cunningly left them, they picked their targets and counted the paces.

For their part the enemy abandoned their attempted evasion as soon as the Ordic troops began their advance. They would not attempt to outrun this. Their own formation was a much looser thing, Steelhead halberdiers in front, riflemen in a much closer formation behind. The anchors of their line were their jacks, which took up frontal positions, as opposed to the Bad Cat which lingered behind Brucker in the rear middle of the array.

It felt odd to be advancing towards a living foe, Jardon had a sudden flash of his days fighting the Khadorans. It made him feel young again, young and afraid. Gunfire and the yells of battle took him back, and he roared a battle cry that the world had not heard in years.

"Aces High!" The men took up the cry as they closed with the foe.

The Ordic forces took the first shots, firing through their shield bearing partners, a feat made possibly only by the Morrowans superior training, they left halberdiers lying sprawled across the field. It was a punishing blast, but they hadn't the chance to aim, so it wasn't as devastating as it had been against the thralls.

The enemy's retaliation caught Jardon completely by surprise. He'd been expecting the enemy's riflemen to concentrate their fire, try and drop individual members of the shield wall, but instead the men in black, the enemy's mysterious commanders, played their hand. Moving through the mercenary ranks like sharks through bloody water they raised and fired cunningly wrought pistols, and the results were devastating.

Some of the shieldbearers were tossed bodily, other shots simply ripped brutally through the shields. The shield wall ceased to exist as the men lost cohesion, just in time for the steelhead's fire to rip through the suddenly vulnerable Morrowans like buckshot through a rotten sail. The gunmages, for such they unmistakably were, had unquestionably won the ranged war.

It was at moments like this that the tide turned, but Solomon Brucker was there to turn it back. He charged forward virtually alone, power field overboosted to the limit as he ran across the no man's land. One man untouchable, one man defying the battlefield mathematics that would see his foe triumphant, his cape fluttered in the breeze. It was madness, glorious madness.

The enemy had been poised to follow up their volley with a steelhead charge, but suddenly the front three found themselves in direct battle with a warcaster, and not just any warcaster. Brucker's skill with a blade was preeminent, had been so since these men's parents had been fighting. They tried a unified strike from three directions, but couldn't match his movements.

He couldn't stop the whole charge, of course, but he'd blunted it. The melee became general as the remnants of the mercenaries engaged with the irregulars and grenadiers, bayonette and halberd vastly unequal yet strangely similar in the tangled battlefield. Even the gunmages moved in and took their shots at close quarters, plainly trained in the art of close fighting by a past master of the excercise.

The Ordic officer corps could not remain uncomitted, and Jardon joined the second rank. From the corner of his eye he saw Sansa hew a leg from a Steelhead, her slender blade striking with a force all out of proportion to her stocky form. He saw Gaxxon sprout a third eye, running red, above his brow as he came out second in a duel with a gunmage. He had time to see no more as man half his age tried to bisect him with a halberd.

It was a long, arching blow. The kind that you'd lever against a tree or a particularly recalcitrant door. Fortunately for Jardon the Halberdier's blade had lost it's head in his last engagement, and it hadn't yet registered with his frenzied mind. The merc's pole thudded into the ground ahead of him as he stuck his short blade into the man, and twisted.

It had been a long time since he'd killed someone up close, but there was no time to ruminate. He pulled his steel free and faced the charge of a rifleman. He didn't have time to interpose his weapon, so he dropped down to his knees. It had sounded better in his mind, as the dying halberd wielder spitefully gripped his arms. They were pinned for a crucial moment as the bayonet came closer.

Brucker's spell went off just in the nick of time. Whatever peril he'd been in that prompted him to overboost his field was apparently over, and he once more bestowed his duelist's reflexes on his men, including one particular aging ex jailer. Jardon tensed and rolled left at just the appropriate instant, and dragged the arms that enveloped him into the path of the thrust, catching the point like a gleaming butterfly in a web of meat.

He had no answer, however, as the man sneered and discharged the weapon, blasting a shot through his comrade's carcass and into Jardon's shoulder. He swore aloud, but his enemy was already hastening after other prey, no doubt thinking him finished.

He wasn't far wrong, Jardon's arm hung by his side, and the blood gushed thick and red. He'd be done for if he wasn't healed, right enough, but just now he hadn't time to be lying about. He tottered too his feat, hoping no foe had his back, and found himself shoved back down into the muck by a pair of wrestling men. He rolled over onto them, and catching a glimpse of black flunk his good arm into the face of the one he took to be a gunmage. The enemy turned his head, angling to keep his eyes on the fight, but the criminal who was wrestling him stabbed him in the neck as he did so.

Together Jardon and the Ordic soldier rose once again, and for a brief second were free from the frenzied melee. Across the field Brucker's influence seemed to be turning the tide, the Ordic soldiers defending themselves like skilled gladiators, incongruously precise amidst the chaos of the battle. The jacks, however, were going to be trouble.

The charger was done, Jardon had no idea what had happened to it, but it lay on the field spurting strange energies. The Nomad was dueling with Bad Cat, blades flashing in a ponderous and multiton imitation of the battles going on around their feet. The Ironclad, however, was on a rampage, laying into the Ordic forces and giving a reprieve to the enemy where ever it stumbled. It was the last obstacle to their victory.

Jardon shoved his partner towards it, as there was no use speaking in such a clamor, and followed close on his heels. Across the field the Ordic forces seemed to have the same idea, those who had won their local struggles converging on the titanic war engine. It's hammer rose and fell as the first grenadiers came against it, their improvised explosive foiled by the prodigious impact.

Jardon and the second wave came upon it before it could raise the hammer again, smashing blades against it's knees and belly, searching for a seam or weakness. Jardon saw in his minds eye Sansa cutting the Cryxian jack in the Pit, and envied her the knowledge which enabled such effortless penetration of the layered iron. For his part his crippled arm made his blows clumsy and slow, and he felt like he was doing more damage to himself.

The man beside him, one of the Preceptors he thought, was suddenly gripped and wrenched up high by the enraged engine, its empty hand squeezing him, distorting him into a broken shape. The body was flung to earth with another boom, as the jack at last brought it's hammer into play. It smashed the ground, and all around it men fell, the very earth trembling beneath them.

Jardon was one of the few to keep his feat, Morrow knows how, and he saw the monster's furnace eyes glare at him. It lifted it's hammer again, and then, blessedly, he saw the eyes shatter, the beast struck suddenly blind by a pair of uncannily accurate rifle shots. It's suddenly unaimed hammer blow missed him by a hair, but shattered a halberd against a stone and flung the shrapnel a dozen yards.

With their last jack blinded, (Brucker had apparently aided the Bad Cat against the marshalled Nomad, he could see the enemy engine lying torn on the soil), the shout went up for surrender and clemency. Men who moments ago had been trying their damnedest to slay one another stood apart, panting and gasping, as all eyes searched hear and there, trying to see what would come next.

Walter
01-26-2011, 09:51 AM
It had been a sound call to surrender, on the enemy's part. Jardon put pressure on his wound and rapidly evaluated the remaining forces.

The foe had been reduced to a handful of riflemen, the close quarters fight had gone heavily against them, thank Brucker's sorcery for that. If they hadn't thrown down arms they'd be corpses now. Coming to the same conclusion, and with the Grenadier remnants ready to cut down running enemies, the mercenaries submitted to being bound.

The force which captured them, however, was a shadow of its former self. Gaxxon's horse trotted riderless among them, and the Preceptors had for the most part followed their leader to their deity's side. The Grenadiers and irregulars were reduced by half, and few among the officer corps had escaped injury. Brucker swiftly conjured his healing powers and Jardon was pleased to feel his arm whole and painless once again.

A shout from Jarl drew them over. This time he'd been forced into the fighting, and so far as Jardon could see the surface officer had acquitted himself well. His blade was red, his shirt was not. More, he'd made what was clearly the most important decision of the encounter, and knocked one of the gunmages over the head rather than running him through. The man was groaning and stirring even now.

"He's an officer," Jarl informed his listeners, "he was martialling that light jack." Jarl was breathing heavily, and took Brucker's healing with relief, but didn't have any visible wounds for it to mend. Jardon muttered congratulations, but Jarl shook them off. "He was taken down by friendly fire, one of the mercs shot him in the back. Must have been a misfire."

Brucker pronounced, "Only a fool trusts the loyalty of men bought by coin." Jardon shot a glance at Bailoch and shook his head. The sniper inclined his own slightly and shrugged his shoulders, as though to say "no, no he's got a point." Brucker extended a hand and exerted his healing powers once again. It wasn't the first time Jardon had seen him heal the enemy. At least this time he'd waited until the battle was over.

The gunmage stirred, eyes widening at his predicament, and then he tested his bonds. Jardon hadn't served in the Pit without learning how to hogtie someone, however, and it was immediately clear that the prisoner wasn't anywhere near strong enough to escape his captivity. His eyes filled with sullen hate and his mouth set in a hard line.

Jarl started the interrogation, going along classic lines. He played it easy, and he played it hard. Neither had any effect on their prisoner's silence. Threats did not touch him, and he spurned offers of clemency with an officer's grace. Jardon liked to think that if he were ever in the hands of the foe he'd be similarly resilient. With Brucker's tactic permission they even tried to mousetrap him, claiming that one of the mercs had already given the information up, and they just wanted confirmation, but he wasn't buying.

Solomon had begun to wander away as the interrogation continued, he had no taste for this sort of thing. Jardon followed. "This is pretty important, Brucker. I know you-". He was cut off by the warcaster's calm statement.

"It's not, you know. Not important at all." Solomon's eyes had a glassy calm to them, and his untouched cape flowed about him as he pointed theatrically at the carriage the enemy had striven to protect. "That is, though."

maxxev
01-26-2011, 10:48 AM
Gah, I want to read the next part lol.

Rave0183
01-26-2011, 11:18 AM
AHHHGGGHHH! So entranced in this story!

Walter
01-28-2011, 09:27 AM
The carriage, on closer inspection, actually WAS from a noble family. The arms of the Laddermore clan were prominently displayed along the sides. How it had come into the possession of Cryxian aligned soldiers was anybody's guess. Solomon and Jardon paused before it, then the Warcaster reached out and wrenched the door open.

Jardon wasn't sure what to expect. Very little would have startled him. He was, however, somewhat taken aback by the coffin. An elaborate example of the undertaker's art, it dominated the space within the carriage, resting solid and immovable in the very center. It was of black wood, wrought with dragonic carvings and brass fasteners. The ebony wood seemed to drink the light in, clearly darker than any natural tree would yield. In fact, if Jardon saw a tree made of this wood he'd walk the other way.

"It's enchanted", murmured Brucker. "Magic binds it closed." He climbed up into the interior of the carriage, which didn't rock or stir as his weight was added to it. Brucker had begun to murmur a prayer when Jardon reached out to touch the casket. It was hot to the touch, painfully so. He snatched his hand back, surprised that the floor of the contraption hadn't caught fire. Brucker took him by the shoulder.

"Show more caution," he admonished, unmindful of the vast hypocrisy of that statement coming from him, "the ward is not without potency. It may surpass me, in fact." Jardon orbited the ominous container to let him work, and watched as Brucker summoned his power. It had been some time since he'd sat to witness a Morrowan ritual, for which he hoped the Kind Twin would forgive him.

Brucker prayed aloud, his words rising and falling in rhythmic cadence. As Morrow's power entered the room Jardon felt it as a temperature change. A slight breeze seemed to cool his exposed skin, a meager light seemed to illuminate the darkness of the wood. The light trembled from moment to moment, as Brucker sought to sustain it against the extinguishing energies of the bound sorcery that had been worked upon the coffin.

He could see the strain it was having on his friend. Brucker's voice came harsher now, deeper and fraught with effort. His hands trembled as they clasped one another, and his shadow strained and twisted on the wall. The breeze was fitful, the heat oppressive and constant. The light in the depths of the coffin went out, black reigning once more, and Brucker's voice rose to a shout, then twisted into a wracking cough.

Jardon could think of nothing to say. The magic had surpassed him. Solomon wasn't nearly wizard enough to disbind the energies held against them, and he was out of practice in such abstract conjurations to boot. He shook his head, sadly. He leaned across the darkened surface and clasped the Ace's shoulder.
"We'll let Mr." he looked down and read the inscription on the front for the first time, "Vhaley sleep a while yet."

Rave0183
01-28-2011, 10:41 AM
You dirty dirty dog! VHALEY! yup...you did it. I am a slave to this story.

Walter
02-01-2011, 09:39 AM
[Hey guys, DBG is a year and a day old today. Thanks for all the encouragement.]

The prisoners were a problem. Or rather, they brought into focus a pre existing problem. It was the same one that had seen Brucker consigned to the Pit. The same issue that had let Magnus get the better of him. Brucker lived in the world as it should be, not as it was.

"They are prisoners of war" the warcaster said, patiently. "We'll take them with us until we link up with our own forces. At which time we'll transfer them to a proper holding facility." He had the patient, placid refrain of a parent explaining to their child the necessity of drinking foul tasting medicine. "We'd want the same if they had prevailed."

"Listen to yourself" Jarl snarled. "If they'd prevailed we'd be dead, chopped up and on our way to their fleshforgers. Perhaps thralls by now. Cryx isn't going to want to exchange prisoners. You've seen firsthand how they retrieve prisoners they want." He turned his head in impatience, staring over the plain with dread in his gaze. It had been bad enough to wait for the enemy when they had their full complement. It was vainglory to seek a battle with the diminished forces remaining to them.

"Then what do you propose?" Brucker asked, sourly. "You maintain we lack the manpower to pursue war as civilized men, so what course of action can we take? I warn you, sir, I'll not hear of violence offered to those who've dropped arms." Jardon had heard that tone before, it meant that Solomon was resolved, but could still compromise. If Jarl continued in his current vein, however, he'd cause the warcaster to conflate conceding the argument with abandoning his morals, and all would be lost.

Jardon interrupted. "Let them go." Both looked at him as though he was crazed. "Save for their leader, of course, I think our forces are adequate to escort one man. Let the rest go. What can they tell the foe? That we are here? They'll know from the sign of battle. Our numbers? They are trivial. That a warcaster travels with us? The witch can tell them that. These men have no information that could hurt us."

They looked at him thoughtfully, so he went on. "And I don't think they'll be in any hurry to report. I don't know what branch of the enemy employs them, but I can't imagine they smile on failure. I think that these men, given leave, will put their efforts into quitting this benighted land with a quickness." They looked convinced. He shut up and let them justify his compromise to themselves.

It didn't take long. "It is within the rules of war." Solomon's voice took on a practiced tone. "Prisoners may be released at any time and in any place not immediately hazardous to life and limb, or in any place with such hazard, so long as their erstwhile captors suffer the same dangers." Jarl confined his commentary to a nod.

Walter
02-02-2011, 09:41 AM
The band legged it into the trees. It grated on every man present to head further from the main battle sites, but the attrition that they'd suffered left them with no options. If they continued onto the plains they would have to do so by stealth, which would mean abandoning the coffin they'd seized, and the Bad Cat. It wasn't a palatable option, so they returned to the shadowed forest.

Morale wasn't absolutely at rock bottom. They hadn't been driven off or defeated. The officer corps took pains to spin their abrupt cessation of forward motion as a redeployment, a change in strategy. Jardon's personal line was that they needed a secluded place to investigate their seized asset. He left it ambiguous as to whether he referred to the captured gunmage or the stolen coffin.

The former stumbled along in silence, prodded grimly by surviving grenadiers. His hands were securely bound behind his back, perhaps more tightly than was strictly necessary. Despite his habitual silence he'd been gagged. If they hadn't been moving through rough terrain he'd probably have been blindfolded. The men had lost friends in the fight, and resented their opponents violation of the "us vs. them" mentality that had sprung up among the Ordic troops when confronted with the animate dead. The idea that a living man would work with the great enemy was offensive, somehow profane.

The latter had been removed from it's carriage, and was now being slowly born through the woods by the majority of the surviving soldiers. Without the enemy's multiple jacks there was no way to move a carriage through the trees. The coffin was rough enough. The weight was prodigious, and the strange and otherwordly heat radiating from it's interior necessitated the frequent swapping out of bearers. It slowed progress to a crawl.

Unavoidably, they left a trail. The coffin was bad enough, but the Bad Cat (refueled by seizing the enemy coal) stomped and smashed it's way along with unconcerned abandon. Its spirits had risen once they were back in the darkness, the gloom of the forest reminding it of the darkness of the Pit, and Jardon would have sworn that it understood that it's collateral trail made it more likely that a fight would come...and relished the possibility. It was said, after all, that the cortexes of jacks grew to reflect their warcaster's mind.

They were coming to the end of an abbreviated day of marching (they had to stop early due to the soldier's fatigue at the pallbearer duty), when Sansa and Mayet sidled up to Jardon. "Boss" said Sansa, "She's got something to tell you." Her mournful tones seemed slightly duller, no doubt the product of a hard day, but her eyes were clear and alert. Mayet was her usual birdlike self, unaffected by anything around her. She was presently regarding her hands with furious interest.

"Well?" he asked, voice surly. He still resented the odd partnership that the two had forged. Thamarites were no friends of his, and they shouldn't be friends of his friends, either. Not the least hateful thing about the Cryxian invasion was the strange partnerships it forced upon it's victims.

"I think," she chirped. "That I can get that coffin open."

Walter
02-07-2011, 10:25 PM
"How's that?" he asked. He kept his voice low as he did so, and gazed nervously around them. Brucker was over on the other side of the column, taking another turn at bearing the coffin. He seemed unnaturally eager to be around the accursed thing.

"I said," she lowered her tone as well, sharing his doubts about their leader's religious tolerance, "I think I can open that box." She looked away from her hands at last, and fixed her eyes on his. Mayet had a fierce gaze, projecting a focus entirely in contrast with her oddly avian demeanor.

"I'll bet you do." he grunted. "But I don't think you should be showing off any of your priestly powers in the presence of our beloved Ace. He probably wouldn't take it that well. Besides, if a warcaster can't open that glorified crate what makes you think you can."

She started to back off, but Sansa caught her arm. She gave Jardon a trust me look, and said. "Explain it like you told me." Mayet initially looked like she was about to argue, but then some root or branch caught her wandering gaze and she acquiesced. She still didn't seem happy though, speaking quickly and with an uncharacteristically normal tone.

"It's a matter of alignment. Solomon's power is too similar to the power that sealed the box. It's...well...proper." Jardon cocked an eyebrow and she held up a forestalling hand. Then she made her hand into an imitation mouth and chirped out a surprisingly good impression of Brucker.

"Open up, you wicked box. I'm a good guy so it's bad to get in my way." She brought up her other hand and opened it as well, making a sort of hissing voice to go along with it. "No way, I'm a bad box and I never help good guys." "You better!" "No way!" "I mean it!" "Me Too"...As she spoke she flapped her hands in turn, as though they were argueing.

Brucker chuckled in spite of himself, as Mayet's hands suddenly began to bite one another, then flexed into a complicated Llaelese finger excercise as she resumed speaking in her own voice. "Crudely put, but what I mean is that both spells are concerned with who is the rightful owner of the box's contents. Brucker asserts that it is us, on behalf of Morrow and by right of all the usual clap about justice and honor. The ward asserts that is its maker, on behalf of spooky doom. I'm not intending to argue with it. I'll concede it's the rightful owner, but I'm going to take the contents out anyway."

Jardon nodded. He wasn't a sorcerer himself, but that sounded plausible. "But how are we going to explain the box being open to Solomon? He's not going to believe you when you..." he trailed off as he realized why the girls had brought this plan to him instead of simply executing it.

"Exactly," said Mayet. "He's not going to believe me."

Walter
02-11-2011, 10:28 AM
Jardon made his way through the column towards Brucker. He didn't know yet what he wanted to say, but the Mayet situation was coming to a head. If she could open the box...if she could be trusted...if Brucker would even object to her presence, in the midst of a war with Cryx. Questions whirled through his head as he brushed past the weary soldiers, whispering apologies.

One stopped him, Kell the mercenary. He looked as dusty and disheveled as the rest. Save for his hat and famous rifle he blended with the column effortlessly. He'd even appropriated an Ordic insignia, and pinned it to the front of his mercenary garb. Jardon imagined that he did that for every client. His lip curled. "What?" he asked. This was something he didn't need right now.

Kell spoke, voice low and even. "You need to think." He looked straight into Jardon's eyes as he said it, calm and certain. He didn't immediately elaborate, and Jardon stopped moving up the column and fell into step beside the sniper. For a moment the tramp of their boots and the cursing of the pallbearers was the only sound.

"About what?" he finally asked. He'd spent a moment in contemplation, but nothing had leaped out as the focus of Kell's comment. The traitor, the girl's plan, the contents of the coffin...there was a lot to think about, but he wasn't certain what precisely Kell was referring to.

"Cryx". Kell nearly spat the word, eyes narrowed and staring straight ahead. His hand flexed as he said it, and Jardon suddenly remembered the rumors that surrounded Kell. A famous mission on a boat, a battle of which he was the only survivor, and a refusal to accept Cryxian contracts.

"What specifically about Cryx? Believe me, the accursed nation is certainly on my mind." He found himself warming a little towards the laconic sniper. Anyone who hated the Nightmare Empire was a comrade in arms, in these troubled times, unless of course he was the traitor. It would be nice, of course, if he could see his way clear to speaking more than two words at once, however. He seemed to treasure syllables like bullets.

"Why are they attacking?" It was a simple question. Jardon opened his mouth to give the obvious answer.

A moment later he closed it. Moments went by, he didn't say anything.

Walter
02-15-2011, 09:33 AM
Kell continued to pace him in silence, as Jardon thought the problem through. It was a question the same way a lit branch is a fire. Simple by itself but rapidly compounding in the dry tinder of circumstance. Jardon was still soldier enough to be shamed by the fact that he hadn't questioned it earlier, in fact. He scowled and applied his concentration to the enemy's action.

Cryx, invading a civilized nation in overwhelming force for the first time since the Scharde Island conflict. The attack coming from the inland side, at the same time as Khador and Cygnar's eternal skirmishing finally broke into serious hostilities. Ord as a target, rather than an undefended segment of one of the greater nations. The old jailor's scowl deepened as he mulled over the various moving parts. They didn't add up, not to the benefit of Cryx. He was missing something.

He spoke aloud, trying to draw information from Kell. "You raise an interesting point, sir." Step, step , step. "They are presumably here to gather resources, take land, steal cortexes...their usual raid writ large." Step, step, step. "That doesn't really make sense though, given that they can get more done as a large unit, could it possibly be enough to justify the risk? They've sent a huge warcaster presence. Quite possibly the majority of their strength is engaged, away from their island. What's the rush? Why do they suddenly need resources? I don't think they are after more of the usual."

The mercenary spoke, interrupting his monologue. "So, something unique then. Something worth the risk to their forces, and the renewed enmity that their actions will gain them." It was possibly the longest unbroken string of words that Jardon had heard from the man. Personal jeopardy must have loosened the locks on his tongue, or perhaps hatred of the enemy.

"Maybe..." Jardon thought it out some more. "Maybe it's a choice of target that draws them here. If its something they couldn't get elsewhere it would explain why they came so suddenly, but surely that would be better accomplished with a raid. Their numbers augur for plunder and wholesale devastation, not a grab for some prize of the Big Lizard. Cryx has sent it's armies abroad for the first time in landlocked history. It must be for something that can only be accomplished through a war host"

They trudged forward a ways, as Jardon grappled with the contradiction. Surely Cryx wouldn't have invaded Ord if it could be avoided. Khadoran and Cygnaran forces were simply too close, one or the other could smash through the Shroud force and take the Cryxians from the flanks. Militarily it made no sense to reveal your hidden weapon...in the middle of a fight between 2 hated enemies...by striking at a third. So Ord must be necessary. Some relic or site then...but why an army for such a task? Cryx was a past master of the skirmish and the raid. Surely they would have had better odds by deploying a few such forces and making a stab for whatever it was.

"Maybe a combination of the two." Kell tilted his head to the side, interested. "Perhaps something that they need to do, in Ord...with an army. Some grand ritual, some ultimate desecration, some unknowable draconic gesture that can only be perpetrated on ground that they've razed, surrounded by a legion of loyal followers and mindless thralls." He trailed off, it still didn't sound right. Just lacked that ring of certain truth, that confluence of elegance and correctness with which Morrow pointed out the path to the future.

He looked at the coffin, and pondered its place in all this. What were turned Cygnarans doing transporting a box, presumably with a body inside, through a Cryxian infested wilderness? They had fought fiercely, they were disciplined military men. Jardon had a hard time picturing them as deserters. They had clearly been on a mission, and very likely a delivery mission. He chuckled morbidly. Even a Cryxian warcaster wouldn't need to order out for bodies in a place like the Ord of today, they were in high supply.

marijnh
02-17-2011, 09:31 AM
I´m reading every installment as it comes with great anticipation. By the time it´s finished (whenever that may be) I'll compile the story in a printed ersion an put it next to the "official" stories from the PP website in my closet. It is an excellent story, and I look forward to reading the rest of it as it comes :)

maxxev
02-17-2011, 02:49 PM
Just a post to say i'm still reading and enjoying this, keep it up (please) lol :)

Walter
02-18-2011, 09:51 AM
[Thanks for the feedback, guys! Encouragement is a huge part of what keeps me going. I'll be at Adepticon, but I want to get in at least 4 more updates before then.]

He moved away from the mercenary as they finally stopped to make camp. He hadn't come up with any sudden revelations, but he felt like one was approaching slowly. He imagined it moving up on him by stealth, like a shark through cloudy waters, waiting to burst into his mind in a shattering moment of brilliant insight. He snorted, amused at his overactive imagination, with his luck the discovery would come just exactly too late to be of any use.

They were camping early, the sun still in the sky, though it would be gone in an hour or so. Pallbearer duty, and general battlefield fatigue, had worn them down. In Gaxxon's absence they'd used his horse, which some Precursor told the rest of them was named Duty, to rotate the worst conditioned members of the march, and consequently they'd left no one behind. Still, unspoken in the air was the knowledge of their situation, and the men were restless.

Jarl, as always, put words to their voiceless anguish. He approached Jardon and spoke quietly. "What are we going to do?" Jardon knew what he meant, but he wanted to make it explicit, so he simply quirked an eyebrow and motioned for Jarl to elaborate. The surfacer was only too happy to oblige.

"We've lost half our number, and picked up a package that we can't easily shift. We are surrounded by hostile forces, and defended only by the dubious shield of their ignorance of our numbers and precise location. We have a commander who was thrown in jail for military incompetence, and a force consisting of the remnants from three distinct squads. Irregular would be a kind description of its composition. We are assailed by day by traitors and the walking dead, and by night our smoke and fire rise against us. What are we going to do?"

"It's a troubling spot, right enough." He answered calmly and carefully. Condemning the honest sentiment of experienced personnel as cowardice would yield nothing beneficial. He warmed up for a bit of a speech. "We are in a daunting predicament, but consider it from another perspective. We are defending our homes, our families and our entire way of life. The Dragon Empire is not interested in occupation, nor in a negotiated settlement. We can't give up to them, can't yield to the fates they have constructed for us. So what should we do? We fight. We hurt them today. We'll hurt them tomorrow. If they seek us out by dark of night then by Morrow we'll hurt them under the moonless sky. We've hurt them in the Pit, hurt them at the Shrine, and hurt them on the plains. We've hurt them at the bridge and in the woods. We'll hurt them until we can't do so any more...or until we can go beyond hurting them. Morrow willing, we'll bring them back the death they scorn."

It seemed to go over all right. Jarl quieted down and the men who were standing innocently and conspicuously in listening distance would spread his influence to the remainder of the band. Jardon moved along, making his way to Brucker. It wasn't swift, he had to pause for several conversations, and once to break up a scuffle between a preceptor and one of the more irreligious ex prisoners. He spoke briefly with Lasleen, who had been taking a tally of their effectives. Jarl had been right, they had basically one slightly swollen squad left, plus the officer corp.

He moved up to Brucker, trying to think how he would phrase Mayet's request. Nothing presented itself as remotely likely to generate a favorable response. The Ace would not tolerate Thamarist practices in his force, it would be that simple. Jardon knew, with some despair, how unbending Solomon was on what he thought were moral issues. There was no give in him whatsoever, the Pit had been a long and enduring proof.

Brucker had once again taken up the Vigil. On his knees, in full armor, head bowed in prayer he looked over the camp. His unmoving form silhouetted in the dim light seemed particularly solid, almost rooted. The notion that words of his would move such a man, that he could affect such a will in any way, much less make it compromise, seemed preposterous. Still, he had to make the attempt. He moved up and breathed in deeply.

He paused, noticing that Solomon hadn't acknowledged him. Even deep in his prayers, he'd have responded. He looked more closely...then more closely still. A broad grin spread across the old jailers features.

He hurried back to the camp before his chuckling could wake the sleeping warcaster.

Walter
02-23-2011, 10:14 AM
He headed back to the coffin, pausing as he reached it's guard contingent. He always hated this sort of skullduggery, but Jarl was right. They needed a game changer, or at the very least they needed to be able to abandon the cumbersome box and march again. Another day like tomorrow would be simply unendurable. If they couldn't reach friendlies, and soon, they'd be ground away by attrition with random Cryxian elements.

"Pack it in, lads." he said, shoving a thumb over his shoulder at the sleep area. The Ordic forces had obstinately built another fire, daring the enemy to try the affront of two nights past again. Jardon was thankful, men in the fire's light wouldn't be able to see what he and the girls got up to out here, beyond its comforting glow. "I'll stand this post tonight."

They hesitated, then their ad-hoc leader, a prisoner named Baxter, spoke up. "You need any help sir?" His voice was diffident, at odds with his ferocious demeanor. If Jardon recalled correctly he'd been sent to the Pit for cowardice under fire, or suspicion of same. He shook his head, indicating with the tilt of his chin the firelit camp. It was sort of humiliating that they thought he'd fall asleep on duty, but he couldn't blame them, having done just that the night before.

As they started to move off Baxter looked back. He added. "I mean, any help with her, sir." Jardon chuckled ruefully. It was always so easy to underestimate the rank and file. They thought they were being so cautious...had to have been someone in earshot of the conversation on the march, now everyone knew. He was lucky they hadn't judged it necessary to tell Brucker on him. They trusted him at least that much.

"Move along", he growled, then, struck by a random whim, put in "but send Kell out to me". If aught went awry the mercenary would be a level head and a magic weapon pointed at anything that menaced. Also, he knew how to keep his mouth shut. They nodded and headed on back. Jardon hadn't actually given any orders to put the coffin outside of the camp proper when they'd settled down. He'd put it down to a fortuitous coincidence at the time, but now he figured it was more tacit encouragement from the soldiery.

He crouched the, aping Solomon's more practiced Vigil with muscles that were old and past their prime. He closed his eyes and sent his consciousness deep within, to the very best of his spirit, where he sometimes thought he could feel his God's echo. It was in such a state that he'd received the impulse to volunteer for the Pit. He'd meditated in this fashion when Asheth Magnus had broken the Aces. It was a solemn concentration that he reserved for life changing moments. He entered it now.

He besought his God's intercession, his protection. He prayed for understanding and patience, for strength in battle and justice after. He prayed for the continuance of life and the broadening of human agreement. He begged Morrow's guidance in the hard choice he was making. Was it truly the way to harness evil in service to a good end? Was that not the creed of tyrants? He asked for forgiveness. He-

heard Mayet's voice, close at hand. "Ready?" she chirped.

lordofnecropolis
02-24-2011, 12:21 PM
Just wanted to pop in and say how much I've been enjoying this thread. It's the only fanfic I actually get excited to notice an update on. After realizing how much I thrive on positive feedback in my own creative efforts, I figured it was important to stop by my favorite fanfic and leave some encouraging words.

Keep up the good work, bud!

Walter
02-25-2011, 09:47 AM
[Thanks for the feedback! I really like knowing that other people read my work.]

He rose and regarded Mayet. He noted with no surprise that Sansa had come along with, but was somewhat disturbed to see that she bore the unconscious prisoner like a sack of wheat over one shoulder. Her compact strength he'd grown used to, and he imagined that the men wouldn't have defied her when she told them to give him up, what he didn't know was why she'd brought the prisoner.

"If you think I'm going to have any part of a ritual sacrifice-" he began. He'd have gone on longer, but they broke into hysterical chuckling. Sansa shuddered so that she nearly dropped the gunmage. "I'm serious...what's so-" he trailed off as Mayet handed him a piece of parchment. Scowling, he moved a few steps closer to the firelight so that he could see it well enough to read.

It read "Jardon will accuse me of human sacrifice". He looked back at the pair, who were now standing innocently by the coffin, and shook his head. He stalked back to their side, growling "Cheap Shot" at Mayet. Sansa spoke up as he got there.

"Boss, give me some credit. I wouldn't have cooked this whole scheme up if it wasn't on the level. There's nothing terribly shady going on here." He sighed as he looked from one to the other. Sansa had a point. He had trusted her for years. If she wasn't as devout of a Morrowan as Brucker, still she wasn't a Thamarite either. She wouldn't be a party to anything morally reprehensible. Still, no reason to take chances.

"Tell me, exactly, what you are going to do, and what you need him for." He looked at Mayet as he spoke. She drew herself up, then visibly checked her enthusiasm, glancing to her compatriot for a moment before returning her gaze to him. He knew that look, it was a missionary limiting herself to the task at hand, and clamping down hard on the impulse to proselytize.

"I don't know how much you actually know of Thamarite doctrine, but you probably know that my Goddess gives each supplicant, well, those of us she approves of anyway, different gifts, based on our essential nature." Jardon nodded. She kept on going. "These magical gifts are highly singular, and vary wildly in power level. Each of us can do things that the others can't, and its not really a matter of study. The Ascendants offer a more structured path to power, but Thamar's personal service demands that we take what we can from her."

"Since an early age, I've been of a jealous temper." It clearly wasn't an easy admission to make. He responded, breaking the flow of her words, more out of spite than for any other reason. "I'd never have guessed." His voice was dry, disinterested. He wouldn't have, actually, Mayet seemed to him a person isolated and indifferent to her fellow creatures. Just goes to show you never know a person.

She nodded, bobbing her head quickly, then returned to the thread of her narration. "I wanted, more than anything, warcaster abilities. I want them to tell stories of me the way they do of the other titans of war. I wanted to command warjacks, to decide the fate of nations. Thamar looked into my soul and saw its essential truth. The wanting, not the thing I want, was and is the largest part of me. I'm grasping and avaricious."

Jardon started to get it. "I can use the powers of others, provided they are near to me. Their will makes no difference, Thamar is the Mother of Magic, and she's granted me this gift. If a person knows a spell, and I go near them, then I can use that power so long as I'm close. This guy" and she indicated the unconscious gun mage officer, "knows a rite to open this box. It's cryxian magic, but it won't be the first time I've plundered their powers."

Jardon furrowed his brow. That tracked clean, but how..."How," he said aloud, "do you know that this particular fellow knows the ritual you want? He hasn't said a word since he was caught." Mayet looked to Sansa, almost involuntarily. Sansa answered.

"I asked him" she said, putting special emphasis on the word 'asked', "and he told me." Jardon felt like someone had hit him in the stomache. What did she mean by that? They'd been marching all day, when would she have had time to. His breathe caught-, as she turned down her collar.

"He was more than happy to reveal the truth to a fellow servant of the Cryx" she spat, face twisted in self loathing. On her neck, hidden previously by the high collar she wore, was the top of a blighted scale.

Walter
02-28-2011, 09:35 AM
Jardon gasped and drew back, involuntarily. As he saw his movement register in Sansa's slumped shoulders and fallen expression, he immediately regretted the reflex. "Is that...?" he trailed off, unable to finish the question. It was obvious what that was.

She nodded somberly, face downcast. "Since the night with the fires and smoke monsters...the one I slept through. It started under an arm and has been spreading ever since. Most of my torso is a freakshow." As she spoke he thought back again to the strength she'd displayed in the previous battle. What kind of self delusional fool was he to ascribe the power to cut off a leg with a one handed swing to some mythical swordsman's method? It was blighted strength, pure and simple.

"How did..." once again he trailed off. If she knew she'd have told him before now, or just done something about it herself, more likely. She'd probably have done both, come to think on it. While she retained any vestige of her true self she'd resent whoever, or whatever, had done this to her. Sansa's training and discipline, her study of the swordsman's art, defined her. Tampering with her flesh cast that into question, it was a mortal insult.

She answered the aborted question anyway. "Boss, I don't know. The chow tasted funny, then I woke up and felt like rot. The next day the first scale showed." He'd figured the channel might have been established through poison on the night of the sending. Why hadn't he considered that the blight might be more than simply a connection mechanism? If he'd insisted that Brucker examine her then he might have been able to stop the spread of the blight, or at least slow its corrosive advance.

He had to say something. "Sansa...I...I'm sorry." It was the wrong thing to say, he saw immediately. He should have made light of it, or gotten angry, something that showed that this was still a fixable condition. His apology was the sort of thing you'd say to a corpse after a battle. In fact, she'd probably heard him utter exactly that expression of contrition to Gaxxon's body just recently. She'd been at his side for years, she deserved better.

She nodded. "Me too." She gave the falsest smile he'd ever witnessed and turned back to Mayet, who'd been standing politely to one side as they had their discussion. Sansa spoke again, not facing him. "My mind is still my own boss. If that ever changes...I want you to take care of business." He nodded, a nod she didn't need to see to acknowledge.

His gaze was arrested by Mayet's visage. The avian tilt to her head was in place, like always, but her habitual smile didn't quite close her eyes. They glittered like diamonds in the dim light. She'd listened to the devastating revelation, to his fumbling contrition, ultimately to a fatal agreement with that same bland expression. Her thoughts were still on the box, the challenge it represented and the opportunities within. It was relieving, in a way.

For the first time, she actually looked like a Thamarite.

Walter
03-02-2011, 09:15 AM
There was no grand clash of heat and cold, as Mayet commenced. Her chirping intonation was utterly at odds with the harsh syllables that emerged from her lips, like an elf speaking the language of the alligator folk. The coffin rippled strangely, a heat shimmer despite the cool night. It was responding, he felt. Cryxfires played across it's skin, ghoulish and green in the dark of evening.

He looked back to the camp, anxiously. The men had more or less agreed to leave them to it, but if they saw Cryxlight that would change in a hurry. The only movement he saw from that direction was a man in a broad hat approaching, as he'd requested. Mayet finished her invocation without ceremony or fuss, stolen syllables dying away into the surrounding dark. The sparks ceased, as did the shimmer. Jardon almost involuntarily moved his hand closer to the grim object...there was no heat. Whatever spell had been sealing it close had ended.

Jardon was struck by a sense of anticlimax. After Brucker's attempt he'd been prepared for all sorts of nonsense from this ward. He supposed this was the difference between a confrontation and an infiltration, and ruefully he was forced to admit that, in this situation, Mayet's approach had been superior. It wasn't a compromise of his faith, he hoped, to admit that sometimes it was more efficient to bypass evil than to do immediate battle. He was less clear on the morality of employing a lesser evil against a greater, but hoped Morrow would countenance it in the name of righteous aims. It did not escape Jardon's attention that this was the very creed practiced by most every tyrant in history.

"Alright, let's get this thing open." he told them. Sansa nodded, and moved to the head of the coffin. He approached its foot. Together they placed their hands on the ebon wood, and heaved. And heaved..."I think it's got a catch around one side" he said. She nodded, dropping her hands from its surface with an almost unseemly haste. Mayet came close and they all looked around for the lever.

Jardon was unfamiliar with elaborate caskets, in the Pit they'd simply shoveled the dead into a particular room and rolled a stone back over the entrance. It had been a grim duty, finished as swiftly as possible. The reverence for the deceased which impelled the construction of such a monstrosity was foreign to the jail's mindset. In the Pit no one had had much regard for the bygone, not even their peers. It had been a place which destroyed, dissected even, the bonds that tied a prisoner to his fellow prisoner. Despite his unfamiliarity it was Jardon who discovered the hidden latch.

He released it, and they shuffled back to their places. Before they could attempt to open the lid, however, it was lifted from within.