Fiction: Untapped Power
The following story takes place in the universe of Warmachine/Hordes and the Iron Kingdoms. It doesn’t fit into a specific period of time, and the persons and places involved were chosen for style reasons. I don’t care if Pendrake is actually a captive of the Skorne, or if Point Bourne has actually been captured by Khador. It’s just a story. Enjoy.
Private Declan checked the bayonet mount on his rifle for the third time in as many hours. Some of the men in his unit thought he was being over-cautious, but Declan didn’t want the blade falling off at an inopportune moment. The mount was fine, as usual, but that would only quiet his worry for so long. If something interesting didn’t happen he knew he’d be checking it again soon enough.
Declan’s Trencher squad was one of two squads assigned to the command of a haughty Journeyman Warcaster named Bridges. He, in turn, was protecting some professor from Corvis University. An odd fellow by the name of Pendrake. Pendrake had arrived at Point Bourne three days earlier and immediately approached Declan’s Platoon commander. He requested a small force be put together that could aid him with investigating ruins that lay to the north. The front had been quiet for a while now, so the commander agreed and set about assembling the necessary men.
Even though Declan was new to Point Bourne, there no more than a month, his squad was one of the more experienced there. He had been assigned to them to replace a man killed during the last battle against the Khadoran invaders. As a replacement, Declan was not accepted as readily as he would have been in a newly formed squad. His squadmates gave him a hard time, but were kept in check by their sergeant, a grizzled man named Davis.
The commander also assigned Journeyman Bridges to command the trenchers. Pendrake was cagey on the exact nature of the ruins, forcing the commander to cover his bases. Rumour had spread among the men that Bridges had friends in high places, as evidenced by the Minuteman – the most recent creation of the Cygnaran Armoury – that accompanied him. He would provide the group with magical support while getting a chance to test his ‘jack in the field. Declan had heard about the Minuteman, but couldn’t believe such a heavy machine could live up to the stories.
The force had set out the following day; crossing the Dragon’s Tongue, following the shoreline of Lake Thornmere north for an hour, then leaving the water and heading into the Thornwood. Pendrake carried no map, and Declan was not sure how exactly he knew where they were going. He would pause occasionally, taking notice of the geographical features before continuing on in a slightly adjusted direction. After a number of such adjustments, they found themselves in a large clearing. In the centre of the clearing rose a small hill topped with a cluster of stone structures.
As they approached the rise, Journeyman Bridges motioned to the two trencher officers. They, in turn, ordered their men to form a defensive perimeter around the stones with slit trenches and good sight lines. As the men set about digging, Pendrake took a close look at the stones and Bridges made sure his Minuteman was in full working condition. There was little communication between the three groups. Pendrake focussed on his studies, Bridges largely ignored the trenchers, and the trenchers knew their place.
With the defences completed and the first watch organised, two of the trenchers built a fire and started cooking some dinner. It was only when the smell of the cooking food wafted in his direction that Pendrake took a break from his work. He joined the trenchers and regaled them long into the evening with stories of his exploits. His work had taken him all over the Iron Kingdoms and many of the tales sounded larger than life, particularly the one with the giant. The ones the men listened to most intently were the ones that took place in the Thornwood itself. Stories of great wild beasts controlled by savage druids and militant trollkin were already shared between the men stationed near the forest, but Pendrake talked of working with these groups.
Pendrake told the trenchers that most of the people in these groups where just trying to live their lives in a world that was becoming increasingly violent. There were times where the pressures became too great and they were forced to strike back. Declan knew his fellow trenchers understood what Pendrake was saying, but when it came down to it a charging trollkin was still a still a charging trollkin, and they would shoot it just as quickly as they would an advancing Khadoran.
The night passed without incident. The men standing guard claimed to have heard noises both bestial and otherworldly come from the forest, but nothing dared step into the clearing. After a quick breakfast, the trenchers manned their positions while Pendrake returned to his work. He remained canny about the nature of the stones, but said he only needed another day at the most before they could return to the relative safety of Point Bourne. Journeyman Bridges had spent the night alone, seemingly preferring the company of his warjack to that of the men.
The morning passed largely without incident. Around lunchtime the quiet was suddenly shatter when a single shot rang out from the treeline. The trencher on guard on the western edge of the encampment toppled over, killed instantly. The men instantly sprung into action, diving into their trenches and readying their weapons. Declan stopped investigating his bayonet and joined his squad, weapon raised and at the ready. There was no sign of movement among the trees. No hint as to their assailant’s identity.
The men sat at the ready for a full two minutes before anything happened. Another shot rang out, this time accompanied by a half-dozen more and from a different direction. This time the trenchers were ready and not one of the shots found its mark. As the men adjusted their position and prepared to return fire a great bellowing sound rang out through the clearing. As if summoned by the sound, a dozen lumbering trollkin rushed out the treeline, heading straight for the encampment.
Most of the trollkin carried simples axes and shields. One particularly large trollkin to the rear of the group appeared to have abandoned his weapons in favour of what looked like a stone column while another wore a flaming brazier on his back like a banner. It was this last troll who was the source of the noise. Declan suspected it was one of the trollkin fell callers. He’d heard of their vocal exploits, but never had the chance to see one in action.
As the trolls continued forward, Journeyman Bridges and his Minuteman joined the trenchers. He shouted for the men to stand firm while casting protective spells on himself. Pendrake was nowhere to be seen, and Declan assumed he was taking cover behind one of the larger structures. The trolls were half way across the open ground before Sergeant Davis gave the order to open fire. The men picked their targets carefully and squeezed the triggers on their rifles. Many of the shots hit their marks, but were not enough to slow the trollkin advance. Their salvo was returned in kind by the snipers from the treeline, who were equally ineffective.
There was enough time for the trenchers to reload their rifles and unleash a second salvo before the trollkin were upon them. Behind the trenchers, the Minuteman opened fire. It’s forearm-mounted guns tore into the trollkin, and combined with the fire from the trenchers was able to down two of them. The close quarter fighting between the trenchers and trollkin was particularly vicious. The trencher bayonets were no match to the hefty axes and shields wielded by the trollkin, but they balanced things by being more agile than their hefty opponents.
To one side of the battle, the trollkin armed with the stone column swang it in a wide arc, sending two trenchers flying. The fell caller stuck to the rear of the group, preferring to vocally motivate his allies than engaging the enemy directly. Journeyman Davis noticed this and sent a mental command to his warjack. The Minuteman moved forward, crouched, than sprung back up suddenly leaping through the air over the battling forces and landing right next to the fell caller. The warjack shook slightly as its shoulder-mounted grenade launchers released their deadly payload, sending red-hot shrapnel into the trollkin forces.
Before the fell caller could react, the Minuteman aimed both of its slug guns at it and fired. The fell caller collapsed backwards, his voice silenced as a large hole appeared in his chest. Having come under heavy fire from the warjack and seeing their ally cut down so easily, the ferocity of the trollkin attacks quickly eased. It seemed like the trenchers would soon be victorious when a cry rang out from behind them. Pendrake shouted a warning to the troops. While engaged with the trollkin, a force of similar size had emerged from the trees on the opposite of the clearing and had almost reached the encampment.
Journeyman Davies rushed to the other side of the encampment, taking the Minuteman with him. The trenchers drove off the last of the trollkin, making sure they were in full rout before shifting attention to the new front. They had already suffered a few casualties and Declan was starting to worry that they might not be making it back to Point Bourne after all. Pushing that thought to the back of his mind he reloaded his rifle and fired off a shot at the advancing enemy.
This new group of trollkin was indeed similar in size to the one they had just fought off, and included a well armoured troll who lead them from the front. Realising that they had been spotted, their fell caller let out a sonorous cry. The trollkin picked up speed as their neared the defenses, raising their shields to protect themselves from the trencher attacks. As before, the trollkin crashed against the trencher line like a vast blue wave, their axes easily overpowering the trenchers meagre bayonets.
Journeyman Bridges tried taking out the trollkin fell caller with another airborne assault from his Minuteman, but this time the warjack wasn’t so lucky. As it landed, a trollkin wielding another hefty stone column caught the warjack with a lucky swing and knocked it over. Seeing his warjack go down, the Journeymen let out a cry of anger and leapt forward into the fray. He hacked at the trollkin with his sword, killing a couple before coming face-to-face with their armoured leader. The two dueled for some time as the trollkin gradually wore down his defences. Around them the battle raged on; trollkin cleaving trenchers while trenchers returned the favour with lucky shots and well-placed bayonets.
Declan had been particularly lucky so far. His first shot against the trollkin had managed to wound one of them, and he had managed to finish it off with a well-aimed bayonet thrust to the face. One by one his squad fell around him, some felled by trollkin axes, a couple literally shouted to death by the fell caller. The fell caller had not lasted long after that particular stunt, the trenchers having turned their attention to him until he lay motionless on the ground.
Eventually, there were only three of them left. Declan watched as Journeyman Bridges and the armoured trollkin faced off surround by bodies. It was clear that the trollkin was winning and it would only be a matter of time before it landed a fatal blow. Not having time to reload his weapon, Declan instead charged the trollkin from behind, hoping to distract him long enough for the Journeyman to gain some advantage. Unfortunately, his plan did not go as well as he hoped. As he got close to the trollkin, one of its mighty arms swung back, knocking Declan clean off his feet and sending him flying back into the trench.
He didn’t see the trollkin land the final blow, but he heard Journeyman Bridges cry out and then fall suddenly silent. Turning is attention the Declan, the trollkin started advancing on him. Declan tried to get back onto his feet but found himself unable to move. As he tried to force himself to move he heard a creaking some come from behind him. As he struggled he felt an itching sensation in a corner of his mind. He couldn’t explain it, but ignored it in favour of survival. The more he struggled, the more the itching grew until his whole head felt alive with electricity.
The trollkin was almost upon him when a shadow fell across him. It was the Minuteman, back on its feet and leaping to Declan’s defense. It landed next to the trollkin and grabbed it with both of its hands. With a creak, it lifted the trollkin above its head then flung it across the clearing. As the trollkin landed, the warjack leveled both of its slug guns at the armoured warrior and fired. The warjack then returned to Declan and held out a metal hand, which Declan grasped as he was pulled to his feet.
Stunned by what had just happened, Declan slowly came to realise that the Minuteman was somehow obeying his commands. He had seen trencher officers order warjacks around on the battlefield, but never at this level. He was so engrossed with his new-found power he was oblivious to the figure of Professor Pendrake emerging from the safety of the stone structures. He observed the unlikely pair for a moment before approaching them.
“Soldier, I think the Strategic Academy are going to want to have a word with you.”
This post’s word count: 2320
Total word count: 8054