Last week I introduced you to Lieutenant Teagan Bailey, a Cygnaran Ranger on a mission in Khador. They barely made it out and weren’t sure what awaited them in Bainsmarket on their return.
Read the Chapter I below and tune in next Tuesday for Chapter II.
“What in Morrows name were you thinking?” Captain Norton said. “Do you have any idea, what kind of trouble you are in?”
This was exactly the kind of welcome Bailey had feared on their ride to Bainsmarket. She thought alot about the consequences, but in every scenario, the information they gathered outweighed the risk involved. There was no way, she was going to just go back to business as usual after that trip.
So they went to their commanding officer after they got back.
“Who gave you the authorisation to sneak into Khador?” he demanded. “It sure wasn’t me.”
“Sir, if I may…” Bailey started, but Norton cut her off. Apparently, he wasn’t really interested in the answer to that.
“No, you may not. I am not finished yet. What were you doing up there anyway?”
“Sir, we spotted a Khadoran spy in Bainsmarket about a week ago. That isn’t unsual, we see them all the time. And the CRS has a file on most of them. Not on this one, he was new, so we followed.”
“Without consulting with me or anyone else first?”
“There wasn’t any time and we didn’t want to lose him, sir” Bailey said. “Pretty fast he was leaving Bainsmarket. At best we thought he would end up in Llael, but he just went on.”
She was a bit more relaxed now. The immediate anger of captain Norton was gone and he was into operational details now. There was still hope she could avoid a court martial.
“And how come you went along with this, Higgins?” Norton asked.
“Well, sir, I couldn’t very well let Lieutenant Bailey have all the fun, now could I?”
“Figures. Anyone else?”
“No sir, I didn’t tell anyone in my unit. Didn’t want to get anyone else in trouble if this went south.”
“What did you find out?” Norton now asked.
“The Khadorans are building something” Bailey said. “Or rather the Greylords are. It was way out in the country side. Somewhere here.” She had pulled one of the maps on Nortons table and pointed to the likely spot of the old shed they had found.
“They build something that looked like a cross between a jack and a Man-o-War armored suit, sir” she continued. “But before we got a good look at it, a warjack spotted us and decided to go after us.”
Norton was silent for a moment as he looked at the map. A second later he snapped to attention, as the door opened and Artificer General Nemo walked in. Bailey and Higgins came to attention as well.
“At ease, captain” the old man said.
“What can I do for you, general?” Norton asked, not relaxing one bit.
“Give me the lieutenant for a mission” Nemo said.
“Sir?” Bailey couldn’t help herself. It got her a stern look from Norton, but Nemo just smiled behind his bushy mustache.
“You recently discovered some Khadorans up to something, correct?”
“Sir, as I was just explaining to captain Norton, we were following a spy we saw in Bainsmarket” Bailey said. “He led us into Khador.”
“Ok and what did you find out?”
“Well…” Bailey looked over to Norton, who motioned her to go ahead. She pointed at the map again. “We followed him to a hidden facility, somewhere around here. It was just a squad of Winter Guard and some Greylords up there, but they were clearly building something.”
“Any idea what it was?” Nemo asked.
“No, sir. We didn’t get a good look before we were spotted and had to retreat.”
“A ranger got spotted by some Khadorans?” Nemo asked with mild humor in his voice.
“It was a Khadoran jack, sir” Higgins said. “Most insane beast I have ever seen. Berserker chassis, but something was off about it. He spotted us and without any command went after us. The Khadorans had their hands full containing the thing, so we had a good chance of getting away.”
“Mmh” Nemo was brushing his mustache. “I need you to go back there.”
“Sir?” This time it was Norton with the question. “Do you think it wise to send them back into Khador? This could lead to open war.”
“The Khadorans don’t need any cause for war, captain” Nemo said. “I doubt this would even reach their high command, if I interpret this endeavour correctly. This doesn’t mean it isn’t important, though.”
He sat down and motioned someone else forward. Bailey only now realized, that Nemo had brought a stormsmith with him to the meeting. The man was tall and striking, with an unruly mob of white hair. He brought a file and put it on the table.
“The project the Khadorans are working on is something they stole from us” Nemo said as he flipped the file open. A couple of blueprints were on top of a stack of paper. “We were working on a new cortex, when the Khadorans broke in and stole the prototype. The spy you followed had stolen some of the blueprints. Another team of them had stolen the prototype a couple of days earlier.”
“We haven’t seen any prototype up there” Bailey said.
“Yes, I would imagine” Nemo said. “The prototype isn’t up there. The way we figured, the spy was a distraction. There was a reason you could follow him that easily. Even Khadorans know a thing or two about spycraft and aren’t totally incompetent.” His smile took the sting out of the remark.
“We have a few leads and we need someone to run them down.” the Artificer General continued. “Captain, I want you to put together one of our unorthodox engagement teams under the lieutenant here.”
“Yes, sir” Norton said. “With what objective?”
“Finding the prototype and get it back. Destroy it if necessary.”
“What about the blueprints, though?” Bailey said. “Won’t they be able to replicate the prototype?”
“No, lieutenant, they won’t.” The stormsmith spoke up for the first time and couldn’t keep the disdain out of his voice. “We made sure those blueprints will lead to nothing but desaster for the Greylords.”
“Yes, forget the blueprints for now” Nemo said. “We need that prototype back. Can I count on you, lieutenant?”
“Yes, sir” came the prompt reply.
“I’ll leave you to your preparations then. But remember, the Khadorans have a few days headstart, so you need to move quickly.” Nemo got up and walked to the door.
“Oh, and take Mr. di Barra here with you” he added and motioned to the stormsmith. “He can help you and then report back to me about the mission.” Without another word he left the room.
“Well, Mr. di Barra. What are those leads we are to follow?” Bailey turned to the stormsmith. The mans face was a mask. He bent over the map and studied it for a moment.
“Here” he said and pointed to a spot west of Hearthstone. “We believe the prototype is on its way to a facility somewhere here.”
“That is the middle of Ord” Norton said.
“Yes, captain” di Barra said. “As the General already said, this whole operation is not necessarily sanctioned by Khadoran high command. Besides, we believe this is just a transit point. This facility might be our best chance, before the prototype disappears into Khador.”
“This might actually help us” Norton said. “Ord is a friendly nation, we can move more openly.”
“The general and I prefer, that this can’t be traced back to the kingdom in any way” di Barra interjected.
“Then we’d better leave you behind, a stormsmith might be a bit too conspicuous, don’t you think?” Norton shot back.
“I can conceal myself if necessary” the stormsmith said. “What I was trying to say, sir, was that we shouldn’t be engaging Ord in any official capacity.”
“That goes without saying” Norton said. “Anything else Mr. di Barra?”
“No. Lieutenant, see to it that you and your team are ready tomorrow morning. Captain” the stormsmith nodded and left the room.
“Arrogant bastard” Higgins said. “Begging your pardon sir.”
“You need a team, lieutenant” Norton said, not acknowledging Higgins. “Anyone in mind?”
Bailey was looking after di Barra for a moment, before she turned back around to her captain.
“I don’t trust the stormsmith, sir” Bailey said. “So, I want a mechanik with me. There is a good one down in the shop, Raina Shaw. I’d like her along if possible.”
“Sure, no problem” Norton said. “Who else?”
“There is a longgunner unit in town, we have worked with them before. I would like to have one of their sniper teams. Its always good to have some back up stashed away in the woods, when things get a little dicey.”
She remembered a mission or two where they barely got out alive if it wasn’t for some back up in the trees, clearing their route.
“Kilbride and Bainbridge are the two we want, sir” Higgins said. “They have helped us out of a tough spot or two over the years.”
“They are yours” the captain said. “That should make a nice team, small enough to escape notice, but enough people to get the job done. I don’t like this particular guy either, but make no mistake, the stormsmiths can handle themselves. Its probably a good thing, if that he comes along.”
“I have one more request, sir” Bailey said. “But you are not gonna like it.”
Norton just raised an eyebrow.
“No, lieutenant” Norton said firmly. “For one, he is in lock-up. For another, he is absolutely insane and should be discharged. But the trencher corps is not under my command here, so I can’t do anything about it. He is not coming with you.”
“Yes, sir, he is insane. And having him haul his door of a shield around won’t make us very stealthy or make the Ords overlook that we are Cygnaran. But I actually trust the ogrun. There is some method to his madness.”
“Not that we have figured that madness out, mind you” Higgins said. “But the guy and his arsenal come in handy in a fight. And we expect there to be some fight before this is over, don’t we lieutenant?”
“He nearly killed his superior officer, that is why he is in jail, awaiting courtmartial. How do you think do I justify releasing him?”
“Well, sir, hasn’t that superior officer already left Bainsmarket a while ago?” Bailey asked. “Besides, ‘on orders of Artificer General Nemo’ has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”
Norton actually rolled his eyes. “I am still not entirely convinced. This mission requires stealth. Rongar is anything but. He is just as likely to kill you than help you.”
“Sir, remember that little mission into occupied Lael you send us on three month ago? We barely made it out alive. Rongar is the reason we are still standing here. When things got heated and the trenchers were ordered to retreat, he stayed behind to help us and made sure we make it out of there. For all his craziness, and I know there is plenty, when push comes to shove, I want him protecting my back.”
“I’ll see what I can do. And that is all I can promise” Norton said as he saw that Teagan was starting to protest. “Again, he is not really under my jurisdiction or command, so all I can promise is to talk to Captain Flintwood.”
“Thank you, sir” Bailey said. “Then we have a full team. I would love to have some warcaster and jack support, but that would probably not be stealthy at all. We will leave at first light tomorrow, sir.”
To be continued …