Ready Or Not, Here They Come
"Cover!" Came the shouted call as the whistle of incoming artillery shells broke the quiet of the morning air. The patrol dived off the path they had been travelling down and hunkered behind several trees. Unfortunately, several of the trailing members had not heard the call clearly and those few seconds of indecision cost them their lives as the trio of shells landed and detonated.
"Damn," Lieutenant James Tragger commented as he looked out from where he had dived to gaze upon the remains of the trenchers that had died. "Anyone see what was shooting at us?"
"No sir," came the reply as Senior Sergeant Kenneth Harris came up beside him, his scattergun held at the ready. "Can you sense anything?"
"No," Tragger said after focusing for a moment. "But that means nothing really. I've never been very sensitive."
"I remember you mentioning that before," Sergeant Harris responded. The sergeant had been assigned as his adjutant/companion when Tragger himself had been assigned to Commander Charles Sydney as a journeyman warcaster. He had told Tragger that it would ease the burden of his transition from the Trencher Commando he had been before discovering his arcane abilities to the warcaster that he now was. For his part, Tragger had been grateful for the company of the older man. With more than 15 years of service as a Trencher on practically every battlefield that Cygnar had fought on, the man was a fount of experience and knowledge that Tragger could and did draw on as needed.
"Options?" Tragger asked, although he already knew the answer.
"Sir, you're second guessing again," Sergeant Harris shot back. "You know as well as I do that we cannot stay here."
"Right," Tragger acknowledged as he drew his hand cannon. "Fall back by units. Stay to the sides of the path."
"Understood," Sergeant Harris said. "And your position sir?"
"I'll be the rear," Tragger stated as he gazed up at the Charger and Sentinel warjacks that formed his battlegroup. "Me and the 'jacks can cover our retreat from whatever is likely to continue shooting at us."
"I'll grab several of the lads to stay back with us," Segeant Harris declared as he turned and moved off. As he departed, the Charger released a low whistle.
"No Echo, I don't have a good feeling about this either," Tragger replied to the warjack he had first gazed upon during his training at Point Bourne. He had demonstrated what his instructors had called ‘beyond average’ abilities with the Charger and they had recommended that it be assigned to Tragger to see if anything came of it. "Infact, I have a decidedly bad one instead."
They had been travelling for perhaps half an hour, each unit of the patrol moving in turn as the others watched for whomever had fired at them. But no one came.
"Sergeant, you ever been in a situation like this before?" Tragger asked Harris, hoping to draw upon the Senior Sergeant's experience.
"Like this, sir? No," Harris responded without taking his eyes away from where he was watching for any signs of who attacked them. "I've had to retreat while under fire. I've had to circle away from friendly lines to avoid enemy patrols and such. But I've never retreated to friendly lines after only three shots were fired at me."
"Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense to me either," Tragger agreed as a trencher dropped to the ground next to them. "Yes corporal?"
"Sir, friendlies approaching up the path. Looks like Commander Sydney, several 'jacks and at least a platoon of infantry," the corporal reported.
"Why would they be out here?" Tragger wondered idly. "Commander Sydney didn't tell me that he would be joining us."
"They must have heard the shots from earlier," Harris suggested as his mind worked through the situation. "And they are coming to reinforce us."
"Away from the town and the majority of our forces,” continued Tragger as a thought occurred to him.
“Out in the open,” Harris finished as the same thought came to him. “It’s a trap.”
“And we’re the bait,” Tragger said as he jumped to his feet, Harris mimicking his movement as they raced along the edge of the path. As he ran, Tragger mentally called for his ‘jacks to follow him as quick as they could as he leapt over a fallen log and the pair of trenchers that were using it for cover.
He was just coming up to the bend in the path when he heard the sounds of heavy warjacks approaching. Pushing himself harder and wishing he had some way to use his magic to increase his speed, Tragger continued to run. Rounding the bend, he almost ran into the lead squad of trenchers that were the vanguard of his commanding officer’s relief column.
"Where is Commander Sydney?" Tragger asked as he slid to a stop.
"Back with his 'jacks, sir," the corporal in charge of the squad replied as he pointed behind him. As Tragger looked over at where the warjacks were now standing his eyes settled on the short-cropped grey hair of his commanding officer. Holstering his hand cannon, he picked his way through the arriving troops and stepped up in from of the senior warcaster.
"James, good to see you're alright," Commander Charles Sydney said as he looked over his journeyman. "When we heard the explosions earlier, we feared you had been ambushed."
"I lost several men, sir," Tragger reported as sorted his thoughts into coherent words. "But I don't think we walked into an ambush sir."
"Then why shell you?" Trencher Lieutenant Albert Pratt asked from beside Commander Sydney.
"To get our attention," Commander Sydney observed as he looked around.
"To what end?" Lieutenant Pratt wondered.
"We're the bait," Tragger said even as the sounds of shells whistling through the air came again.
"TAKE COVER!!!" Commander Sydney yelled even as he pushed Tragger towards the edge of the path. Around them, men rushed to follow the shouted command before it had even finished being issued.
So, this is Chapter 001 of a short length Fanfic I wrote by hand over my Summer Holidays. A friend offered me a month away from everything and after what 2017 gave me, I needed it.
But I am back now and the remainder of Heir Apparent awaits. I'll also be typing this up and editing it in my spare time between everything. It is a complete work so it just needs transcribing and editing. Enjoy.
Ready Or Not, Here They Come
"Khadoran?" Tragger asked as he adjusted the position of his helmet in between barrages. So far there had been 3 of them, each lasting less than 5 minutes with a lull of almost double that time separating them.
“That would be my guess,” Commander Sydney agreed as he leaned against the log they had chosen to shelter behind, his Radcliffe carbine held in his weathered hands. “Counting shells, I’d say that we have at least 3 Destroyers and maybe half a dozen mortars.”
“Stopping to reload the Destroyers between barrages,” Lieutenant Pratt stated. “It adds up. We can’t move because we would be left out in the open if the mortars kept on firing and we can’t stay here because they’ll eventually either blast us out or bring up infantry to root us out.”
“You’re not wrong there,” Tragger acknowledged. “Sir?”
“We move. Pass the word along. When the barrage after next ends, everyone moves as one,” Commander Sydney ordered.
“It’s almost 4 miles back to Greyglen,” Lieutenant Pratt said. “We make for the town?”
“That dried up creek bed about a mile from here,” Commander Sydney directed. “We’ll gather there and dig in.”
"Dig in, sir?" Tragger asked.
"It's the only location of any form of natural cover between here and Greyglen while also keeping us between the town and the Khadorans. We cannot expose the town to their advance," Commander Sydney stated.
"Our men would fight and the walls are sturdy," Tragger argued.
"James, I don't deny any of those points but you yourself know the power that a single warcaster can bring to the battlefield. And not just from the warjacks they can control," Commander Sydney chided his pupil. James Tragger was a good soldier and would be a great warcaster but he was still acclimating to having abilities that others did not. "With one of us there, the town would hold for a short time but it would inevitably fall to the Khadorans. It may even still fall to them with both of us there but we can buy the time necessary to evacuate everyone across the river. And that is the most important part."
"The people," Tragger commented softly.
"Yes, the people," Commander Sydney repeated. "Now, in what condition are your 'jacks?"
"Echo is fine, itching to shoot something. And the Sentinel also good to go. They haven't done anything but walk around," Tragger reported.
"Good, I think he'll get his chance," Commander Sydney said. "I have Smith, a Defender and a Grenadier with me. I want you to take the Grenadier. The men will keep it loaded and firing but you'll be able to boost its range."
"Understood sir," Tragger acknowledged even as he focused on the Grenadier's cortex. He felt Commander Sydney release his control of the 'jack and then he formed the proper patterns in his mind with his will that would allow him to pass through the protective locks on the cortex and grant him control.
"Now I can focus on keeping Smith from trying to prove how tough he is," Commander Sydney said. From nearby, the Ironclad in question stomped his foot; his almost 6.5-ton bulk shaking the ground.
"At least he is better behaved than Ol' Rowdy," Tragger pointed out.
"Isn't that the truth," Commander Sydney agreed with a chuckle. "That 'jack of Stryker's is as stubborn and ornery as they come. But by Morrow it can fight."
"I remember the first time I saw it fight. It was about a month into my journeyman tour and we were, I can't even remember where we were," Tragger lamented as he took off his helmet to wipe his brow. "All I remember is the sight of Lord Commander Stryker, sword in hand, standing his ground against a tide of Flameguard. Behind him, stood Ol' Rowdy, ready to smash anything that came too close."
"An image that many in Cygnar's armies have seen and that none will forget easily," Lieutenant Pratt observed. "I sure wish he was on his way here now."
"As do all who see such times as this," Commander Sydney stated as he heard a sound on the wind. "But he isn’t and so it is left to us to perform our duty. And I would put your helmet back on, James. We have incoming."
"I think we have annoyed them enough Echo, let's go," Tragger directed as he reloaded his hand cannon. Beside him, Echo fired off another pair of rounds from its dual cannon at one of the Man-O-War Shocktroopers that was out of position from his unit; ending his life with a hiss of blood and steam. To their sides several Trenchers had been firing at targets of opportunity; not really expecting to hit very much but that wasn't their purpose.
"Right lads, you heard the Lieutenant," Senior Sergeant Harris announced as he readied a grenade on a tripwire. "Back to the Commander and be quick about it."
"You too Sergeant," Tragger ordered as he sighted on a Winter Guard that was getting too close, ending her life with a steady squeeze of his trigger. As he watched her fall, his empty hand was already reaching for another reload.
"Just as soon as the men are on their way," Harris shot back as he counted heads. Once the last of them had risen from where they had sheltered and began moving back, Harris turned to Tragger. "Time to go Lieutenant."
"Right behind you," Tragger advised even as he took another shot. Unfortunately, he only winged his target. Turning, he saw Harris looking at him. "Go Sergeant. We'll catch up to you."
"You had better, sir, or the Commander will have my head," Harris said as he took off through the trees after his men.
"Mine too," Tragger commented to himself as he looked through Echo's eyes and sighted in on another Shocktrooper. Focusing, he increased the power of the dual cannon's attack before letting Echo fire. Once again, his 'jack's aim was true and another Khadoran died. "Let's go Echo."
Echo replied with a hiss of steam directed at the Khadoran's before turning to follow Tragger. As they made their way through the trees, Tragger invoked his magic to aid their mobility; his magic searching the ground ahead of them for obstacles to avoid while also unnaturally speeding the movement of their legs.
Please enjoy Chapter 002. Now back to Heir Apparent for me.
Chapter 3: 003
Ready Or Not, Here They Come
"How did it go?" Commander Sydney asked as James dropped into the large foxhole. Judging by the dimensions of it and how much time had passed, James knew that it had to have been excavated by magic. Which made sense because Commander Sydney had taught him the same spell.
"3 Man-O-War Shocktroopers killed for sure and I saw a handful of Winterguard killed or wounded," James reported as he accepted a canteen from Sergeant Harris, who joined the two men.
"More than a handful is probably more accurate, sir," Harris corrected. "I heard at least 3 of my traps go off and Khadorans never travel alone."
"Where is Echo now?" Commander Sydney asked as he observed the Trenchers around them digging and preparing for the Khadorans.
"I sent him back to the Combat Engineers that were just arriving for a reload and refuel," James answered.
"They are here momentarily. Half of them are returning to Greyglen with the wagons and supplies," Commander Sydney stated. "Only a single team of engineers will remain here in case of damage to the 'jacks."
"Prudent, I guess," James remarked as he leaned against the side of the foxhole.
"What can you two tell me of the Khadoran force?" Commander Sydney asked.
"We didn't see much of it from where we were," James began. "Shocktroopers in front with Winter Guard in support. Hard to get an accurate count. I saw at least 2 'jacks though."
"That is all I saw as well, sir," Harris said as he accepted several grenades from a private. "But I'd hazard a guess and say that they have Widowmakers or Kossites with them for sure. They'd need them with all the trees."
"I'd have to agree with you Sergeant," Commander Sydney responded. "The men probably already know as well but would you pass the word along to keep their heads down when possible. No sense in giving them an easy target to shoot at."
"I'll remind them, sir," Sergeant Harris said before moving off to do just that.
"How long do we stay here?" James asked his mentor.
"As long as we can safely do so," Commander Sydney stated. "I have ordered that Greyglen prepare for siege. The remainder of our force is reinforcing the defences there now. We need to give them as much time as we can to do just that."
"What about the civilians?" James wondered.
"I have asked that they begin evacuating to the other side of the river," Commander Sydney replied. "Let us hope that the impending arrival of a Khadoran force will be enough to spur them into action this time."
"Here they come, sir," the nearest sentry called out from where he was stationed. His call started a wave of motion down the trenches in both directions as men and women roused from where they rested or ate, grabbed their weapons from beside them and prepared to defend themselves.
"So, it begins again," Commander Sydney observed as he climbed up onto the fire step and looked out through the loophole that the sentry had vacated for him. Thanks to the delaying action that his journeyman had accomplished, and the unexpected but welcome delay from the advancing Khadorans, he and his men had had almost 2 hours to prepare themselves. Now they would find out if it was enough.
"How bad is it sir?" James asked as he stood to the side.
"It's not good," Commander Sydney responded as he analysed the Khadoran's formation. "But as you saw them earlier, they have Shocktroopers in front with Winter Guard behind them. They have also deployed Assault Kommandos just inside the edge of the treeline."
"Destroyers?" James asked as his mind worked to keep a tally of what they were up against.
"Looks like 4 of them, with at least two more of a similar chassis," Sydney said. "I can't make out what they are from here though."
"Heavy and light infantry, 6 heavy warjacks and the warcaster that is inevitably controlling them," Tragger counted off for his mentor. "This is going to be a tall order, sir."
"Remember, we are not here to hold them back," Sydney reminded, turning to look at his student. "Only to delay them as long as we can without sustaining too many losses. If our position becomes untenable, we retreat to Greyglen."
"Do you have a plan for that, sir?" James asked as he felt the impatience of Echo through his link with the 'jack.
"We wait until they get within range of the Long Gunners and then we open fire," Commander Sydney stated calmly before adding. "I'll extend the range of one of the Trencher squads and you can extend the range of Echo and yourself; the Grenadier too when they come closer."
"And if they decide not to come closer?" Tragger wondered, trying to think of alternatives even as he asked the question.
"Then I extend the range of some Long Gunners and between them and the Defender they will target the Destroyers one after another. They will have greater range and more accuracy than the bombards those 'jacks carry."
"Understood sir," James acknowledged.
"Remember James, you will one day need to do all of this yourself. Always have confidence in your abilities," Commander Sydney reminded his student. "If you lose confidence, then the men around you will as well. And when that happens, all will be lost."
"I'll remember that, sir," Tragger said as he thought about those words.
"Good man," Commander Sydney responded, looking out at the Khadorans again. "Now off you go. The Khadorans appear to have grown tired of waiting."