After giving you two little original pieces of fiction the past couple of months, I will go in a different direction in the next few fiction posts.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you noticed the slew of battle reports for Warmachine in the past few years. The world of the Iron Kingdoms is a rich environment to tell stories in. A couple of years ago, we ran an IK RPG campaign. We put together a Cygnaran Unorthodox Engagement Team and had quite a few adventures.
An idea sparked out of this campaign. For the next few weeks, you can read the result of that spark. I’ll put up a chapter of the story of Unorthodox Engagement Team 22 every tuesday for the forseeable future.
Let’s dive right in with the prologue.
It was cold. Very cold. Bailey drew her coat closer around her, then turned her head to the side and exhaled slowly. She could see her own breath forming a cloud in front of her mouth. Then she looked back at her target, but the Winter Guard a few paces in front of her didn’t move.
Lieutenant Teagan Bailey surveyed her surroundings. Behind the Winter Guard in their great overcoats was a building. Nothing spectacular, a regular wooden structure which one could find all over this part of the continent. What was unusual about it was the lack of snow. Everything else in the vicinity was covered in a thick layer of snow, including Bailey herself. She hadn’t moved in a while and it was snowing. Like it was always snowing in Khador. The furry hats of those Winter Guards had a snow cone on top as well.
The building was completely snow free and seemed almost to glow a little. Snow was also lacking within a few paces around the walls. Whatever was inside that thing, it was hot enough to meld all the snow that fell on it. Could be an oven, but nothing normal people used. Must be something industrial strength. And they were far off any industrial area. The next settlement was about twenty miles to the west of here. Behind the building was a single rail road track, starting at a loading dock and going off into the woods.
She slightly shifted and looked for Higgins, her second in command. A normal observer would only see snow. The trained eye of a ranger could see some slight irregularities in one of the mounds of snow. That was Higgins. He nodded almost imperceptibly when he caught her looking over. Everything was fine on his end. A few more minutes and the guard shift would change, that was their chance at getting closer and maybe even inside the building and finding out what the Khadorans were hiding out here in the middle of nowhwere.
It had been the end of a very long journey, that had started in Bainsmarket a few days earlier. She had followed a suspected Khadoran spy she had spotted in a market. Without securing permission from her superiors, she and Higgins had set out to follow him. She told herself there wasn’t anytime to ask anyone before the spy disappeared. Walking across the border into Llael was iffy enough, actually going to Khador would probably see her court martialed. Higgins had just shrugged, when she proposed the trip. She hadn’t bothered to inform the rest of the unit, it was bad enough to get Higgins into trouble.
Now it was time for shift change. The guards out front picked up their rifles and walked inside, quickly opening and closing the door. They had observed a few shift changes by now and used them to get closer to the building. In a little under two minutes, the new shift would come out that same door and take up their positions guarding it.
She threw off the snow on her cloak and quickly moved towards the building, carefully staying out of sight of any windows, few of them that were even there. Higgins made his way to the other side of the building, he was aiming for the loading dock in the back.
Bailey reached the wall of the building, and started looking for a way in. Moving along the wall she turned a corner, where she saw a small window. It wasn’t open, but the glass was surprisingly clean. Slowly she pushed her head above the windowsill and risked a look inside. The building wasn’t very big, but pretty high, at least three stories high. And it was one open space.
To the right and the back of the building she saw a big metal contraption. Looking closer she saw it was a warjack or something that looked like one. It was only half assembled and was standing in some sort of harness. A few winter guard were milling around and she could see a few mechanics working on the jack.
The chassis was nothing like any Khador jack she had ever seen. It was smaller than most Khadoran chassis, but bigger than a Man-o-War armor. If she didn’t know any better she could have sworn, it was a light jack. But Khador didn’t have or believe in light ‘jacks. They build it big, slow and heavy.
From her vantage point she couldn’t make out too many details, but it was clear that the Khadorans were building something new and strange. That was confirmed when two Greylords walked into her line of sight. That magical order was responsible for warjack cortex production in Khador. Them being here would mean they were indeed building a warjack inside. But what kind?
Then she saw a little movement to the right of the harness. A small door opened and she saw Higgins slip inside. She cursed. That wasn’t the plan. Surveillance was their op, not breaking and entering. But she couldn’t do anything about it without drawing attention to them.
Higgins moved slowly and deliberately behind some crates. A few seconds later he put his head above the crates and watched the Khadorans work on the ‘jack. From what Bailey could see, he had a pretty good hiding place. For now.
Then she shifted position to get a better look inside and all hell broke lose. When she moved her foot, she caught a tree branch and snapped it. She cursed herself silently, but it was too late. Only now she noticed the beserker warjack standing in the front half of the building.
Its head whipped around at the sound of the branch snapping and the yellow glowing eyes looked straight at her through the window. The greylords near the other warjack noticed the beserker moving and now all the Khadorans were on alert. Apparently the jack was a real good watchdog.
Teagan stood absolutely still and didn’t move a muscle. She doubted the jack could see her, but she couldn’t risk moving. She just hoped that whatever guards were up front didn’t get alarmed and moved around the building. In a moment the jack would realize there was nothing there and turn back around.
Alas, that didn’t happen. Apparently the jack did see something, because it suddenly jerked into motion. Without any warning it raised one of his axes and threw it at her. A second later it started running after its axe, ignoring the sudden screams and commands of every Khadoran inside the building.
Baileys eyes widened for a second, before her instincts kicked in and she threw herself backwards and sideways out of the way of the axe that was heading straight for her head. The axe effortlessly crashed through the window and landed in the snow. Just a few seconds later the berserker broke through the wall at full speed. He stopped immediately outside the building and picked up his axe.
Bailey was up and running by then. She didn’t look back and didn’t have time to look for Higgins. She just hoped the sergeant got out in the confusion. Now she had to run from an insane berserker.
The moment he saw her, the ‘jack broke into a dead run after her. Teagan would never be able to outrun that ‘jack, so she had to think of something. Winter Guard and Greylords came out of the building after the ‘jack, screaming at the top of their lungs for the ‘jack to stop. But it didn’t. Something must have been off inside the cortex of that particular machine. Maybe there was no jack marshal or warcaster around to control the thing. Which would be surprising in and of itself.
Teagan kept running, zig-zagging through the snow behind the building. She was pulling a wide arc around the building. The railroad tracks were leading south. A couple of miles along those lines they had hidden their horses. If she made it there, she would maybe be able to escape the berserker. If not, well, lets not think about that just yet. She could hear the ‘jack crashing through the woods behind her and it was getting closer. Fast.
Then all of a sudden a heavy wave of freezing air hit her like a freight train from the side and threw her off. For a moment she wasn’t able to move at all, as she was lying in the snow.
“IGOR!” she heard a voice bellow. Moving was hard, so it took her awhile to get into a position to see the man behind the voice. It was another Greylord, but he was dressed a little better than the other ones she had seen in the building. Probably one of those kolduns she had heard about. He was gesturing wildly, but was completely ignoring her.
After a moment she realized it was the ‘jack he was trying to control.
“STOP IT” he screamed. She didn’t see him, but could hear the ‘jack come to a stop. It didn’t do anything. Now the koldun had time to turn his attention to her.
The feeling in her legs slowly came back to her and in a few more moments she would probably be able to move again. If she played her cards right, she might be able to run away again. Then Bailey saw runes forming around the hands of the koldun. He was clearly getting ready to send another one of his freezing spells her way. Judging by the impact the first one had on her, she wasn’t looking forward to get hit by another.
A shot cracked. The koldun was hit in the shoulder and thrown around.
Bailey looked towards the source of the shot. It was Higgins, standing quite a bit away, leaning on a tree. About a second later that same tree got hit by a giant axe. The berserker had thrown his axe again without hesitation. What was it with that ‘jack and throwing axes?
She used the momentary confusion and the ‘jack being distracted to get up on her feet and back to running, as the spell had finally worn off enough for her to move. The koldun was down for the moment, but she doubted very much that he was dead. That thick great coat probably ate that bullet whole. And she didn’t want to wait to find out what happened next.
The berserker ran after its axe. Higgins was already on the move. And now some more shots rang out. Apparently the Winter Guard had arrived on the scene and were shooting at them. It was high time they got out of here.
Half a mile through the forest she met up with Higgins and they ran together. There was no time to talk, the berserker was on their heels and the Khadoran infantry wasn’t far behind. The way in front of them was a bit easier to get across now and they actually got away a little from the warjack. Then they turned a corner and a giant tree was lying in their way.
“Where to?” Higgins asked, while sprinting towards the tree. There was no obvious way around it, as the tree was truly massive and stretched on for quite a bit in both directions. There was no hole beneath it to crawl through.
“Go over it” Bailey said between breaths. “What else is there?” And with that she picked up some speed and jumped as far up the tree log as she could, grabbing to hold on to whatever she could find.
Higgins did the same and the experienced rangers climbed up as quickly as possible. Behind them they heard the warjack coming around the corner, but they didn’t look back. Then Teagan heard a whining noise and the beserkers axe hit the tree, mere moments before the charging warjack hit the tree himself.
The impact almost threw both rangers off, but they were able to hold on. Barely. The ‘jack disengaged from the tree and took a step back. Both Teagan and Higgins resumed their climb, without looking back. They knew they only had a slight chance and stopping to look back at that insane warjack wasn’t gonna help them getting away from it.
They were at the top of that massive tree, when the ‘jack hit it again. This time they had a more secure lock on the tree and didn’t fall off. Now they had the time to look down at the ‘jack. The berserker had started hammering away with the axes at the tree, he didn’t seem to see any other way getting to the other side.
“Let’s get down here and to the horses” Bailey said to Higgins. He just nodded and started climbing down, when his superior stopped him.
“There, lets get down over there” she said. “Looks easier. And faster.” Without another word, both of them walked down the length of the tree trunk towards the upturned root of it. A quick look confirmed, that the ‘jack hadn’t noticed that yet and the other Khadorans were still a ways off.
As quickly as possible they made their way towards the root, until they found a good spot to climb down and start running again towards their camp and horses.
Just a couple of minutes later they heard a big crash. Without looking back they knew the ‘jack had made it past the tree and had resumed his pursuit of them. Luckily enough, their little camp and their horses weren’t far away.
They were travelling lightly, so all they had to do was unhook their horses and ride as fast as they could. Right as they saddled up and were ready to go, the berserker came around that last corner and spotted them.
It charged. But it was too slow. The two rangers kicked their horses in the flanks and sped off away from the berserker, the Khadorans and the snow. It took them three days straight riding to get back to first Llael and later Cygnar.
They didn’t exactly get a warm welcome when they came into Bainsmarket.
To be continued…