The assault ended as quickly as it began. Tegan glanced up from behind his cover and risked a view of the damage. His eyes widened, taking in the horror of the stark reality before him. Her Majesty’s Fifth Assault Battalion had been obliterated in the single minute of a constant, heavy and unyielding artillery barrage. He had watched from behind the eastern bastion as instructed by his commander, a man who was no longer capable of commanding anyone ever again. There were random explosions from the unspent ammunition left behind in the now burning and smouldering assault vehicles.
Looking to the west, he saw figures darting back and forth between the now defenseless wall and the equipment that was once meant to protect it. They were not carrying in the dead; they were scrambling into and out of the vehicles for ammunition that could still be used. Tegan felt horrible for not being down there with them, but he had been given secondary orders in the very likely event that this should happen. Placing his hand over his left breast pocket, Tegan knew what had to be done, as much as he hated doing so.
Before he turned his back to the bastion’s wall, he looked across the plains, across the fields where multiple planes and other vehicles lay in twisted, smoldering piles. His eyes eventually settled upon the front lines of the Ranmurreiten forces. Their sleek, modern vehicles and well-dressed soldiers, hardly a scratch among them and not even visible at this distance. The thing that he took a last, long look upon was the single machine that had accomplished what no other army had done in over four hundred years.
It decimated her majesty’s most decorated forces as if they were farmers throwing stones.
Tegan made his way to the back of the compound, while men were feverishly preparing for the final assault. The men were being given rifles and explosives, while the women were being offered pistols with one clip of ammo each. They weren’t meant to fight; it’s just that the Ranmurreiten forces did not take prisoners, they took slaves. The pistols were to take the lives of both themselves as well as their children, if the need became that dire.
Tegan was stopped as he began to enter the area housing the H.O.V. Gliders.
“You’re going to have to turn around, kid. We need every capable hand out there. When that machine starts moving-”
“I understand, Sir, but I have orders” he told the officer. Taking the first of two papers from his pocket, he offered it to the Sargent at his post.
Taking the paper, he unsealed the note from his Senior Commander and read it. His eyes looked sad as he finished, looking back up at the young man. “He’s wrong, you know,” the Sargent said with as cocky of a grin as he could muster. “We’re still going to win. We’ll find a way.” He reached over and mussed up Tegan’s ginger hair. “We’ll win, just as sure as your hair matches my buttons.”
“Of course you will, Sargent,” said Tegan, trying to be as composed as his friend. “You’ll come walking in towing that machine’s head in, bold as brass, and I’ll be standing there looking stupid.”
“You do that well enough without my help, boy.” An explosion in the distance forced the Sargent’s attention away, as he noticed that the enemy’s men were forming up in lines. “Well, enough of this for now. You get in that thing and you go. Don’t look behind you. We’ll be covering the skies for you so you don’t have to worry.” Patting Tegan on the shoulder, he smiled one last time. “Godspeed, Tegan of Hallenwoulde.”
Tegan turned and ran to the glider before his heart and feet changed their minds. He had been with this group for the last year; they were like family to him. He could hear the Sargent yelling to the men manning the anti-aircraft guns to keep a watch on the sky and stop anything that tried to come past the fortress from overhead. Strapping himself in and engaging the Blue Matter drive, he took to the skies heading South just as fast as the engine would carry him.
In the end, he had listened to the Sargent; he didn’t look back.
“Congratulations on a well earned victory, Captain Adulous!” The Sub-Commander of the Guard was an older, stooped gentleman, but his voice betrayed his looks. His voice was that of a young rebel after his first visit to the bar.
“There’s no victory yet, commander. Their walls still stand”, Vahridan said as he motioned across the field with his hand. Pulling out his binoculars and looking across the plains, he felt a sense of awe. It was incredible, the sheer amount of damage that Doctor Balridagge’s mechanical monstrosity was capable of delivering in such a short amount of time. He was grateful that the good doctor was on their side in this war.
That monstrosity which stood at the front of their lines was truly a sight to behold. It was enormous, easily standing forty feet tall, made entirely of metal, hoses, steam, and Green Matter. The five pilots sat in the megatomoton’s head. The first man was responsible for it’s legs, both balance and movement. The second controlled the arms, the third handled the weapons, the fourth floated around and helped the others when needed and the fifth commanded the other four. It was armed with cannons, guns, blades, explosives and many other features hidden securely behind thick brass plating until needed. It almost reminded Vahriden of the knights in paintings of old, with his entire body covered in shiny metals to protect them against their enemies.
A gentle pop in the distance drew his attentions back to the other side of the great field. A small craft, probably just a planetary glider, an unarmed single-person transport ship, lift off and move quickly to the south. He only allowed himself a moment of hesitation before grabbing his helmet from the table and striding towards his Light Scout Attack Fighter. “Janden, Bourvis, with me.”
“Captain, there’s no need to trouble yourself over a single slip ship. Probably a frightened deserter,” exclaimed the commander, standing to approach the young captain as he began boarding his fighter.
“Perhaps, commander, perhaps,” said Vahridan as he donned his helmet. “Or maybe someone is taking something away from us before we can get our troops over there.” Vahridan began flipping switches as the fighter sprang to life. “But, if you’re wrong, and we let the one ship get away, do you want to explain to High Command why we let it go?” With his words stopping the commander dead in his tracks, Vahridan closed his cockpit and set his communications to his wing men.
“Okay, guys, if I’m right that entire fortress is going to try to blow us out of the sky when we go after that ship. Be ready.”
Sitting in her silent and plush chambers, Queen Aileen Thaeron waited for news from the front. She had sent her largest, most well-trained force to meet this new threat as a show of force to her unknown enemies. This was the way of war; one side rallies a few hundred people, they arm themselves with weapons and lies of how much better their lives would be with the fall of the monarchy. This was not her first uprising. There had been a total of three since her ascension to the crown if you include this most recent debacle.
Turning her attentions to the window overlooking the courtyard, she watched in silence as the people of the area outside of her walls made their ways to whatever destinations lay in their paths that day. There was no rush, no loud screaming (with exception of some the children playing hear the entrance), and no indication that the crown was once again involved in a war exercise. She was hopeful that this skirmish would be over before the coming autumn festivals. She enjoyed watching the turning of the leaves without the backdrop of columns of smoke in the far distance.
Her attention was suddenly caught by a man in a frantic run. Removing her spectacles from the table and placing them over her eyes, she saw a young soldier caught in the arms of the two palace guards at the entrance gate. He seemed to be speaking in a panic; she watched the guards examine his documents and then release him. He continued to make his way, at a sprint, towards the palace.
Aileen stood and made her way to the doors to the hall. Exiting, she turned and addressed the guard outside her private chambers. “Lieutenant Javores, when the messenger arrives, please direct him to my strategy room.”
“Of course, your grace.”
His confused expression as he turned to leave reflected the thoughts she knew many here held concerning her. Small. Frail. Gentle. Oblivious. Every time she knew something before he did was one more small victory for her. Turning quickly, she made her way to the strategy room, a room which was once her father’s war room. She had felt that even by having a room with that name in her home invited war to her doorsteps, so she changed its name after her father’s passing. Opening the heavy oak door, she touched a switch and, hearing the crackle of the blue matter through the walls, the room slowly filled with a gentle, radiant light. In the center of the room was a large table which held a topographical layout of the kingdom upon its surface. There were pieces sitting upon it, markers indicating the positions of her forces, the location of the enemies according to information from spies and scouts.
Reaching across the table, she picked up a simple circular piece sitting directly in front of a larger wooden representation of the Fifth Assault Battalion. The small round peg was dwarfed by the larger, hand-sculpted insignia of the battalion, a winged lion surrounded by lightning.
She heard the noise approaching, so she replaced the small marker of the enemy back upon the table. Perhaps by the end of her conversation with the messenger she could remove the blemish from the table. There was first a hurried voice, then the guard opened the door and announced that a communications officer from the Central Command Office had come with urgent news.
“See him in.”
The young man that staggered in was sweating profusely and his breathing was labored. She half expected him to just start rambling as fast and intensely as he had to both the gate guard and her personal guard as well. Instead, he took a knee, leaned down, and took a moment to reclaim his breathing and composure. He finally raised his eyes and met hers. It was only then that she realized he was almost in tears.
“Your… your grace…” he began. “It is with deepest regrets that I must bring you this urgent dispatch from the front lines.” He lowered his eyes for a moment and closed them slowly, he took in a long, deep breath before continuing. “It has been confirmed that, as of four twenty-two this evening, the vast majority of the Fifth Assault Battalion has been destroyed or rendered inoperable.” Watching the pain cross the face of the young officer, Queen Thaeron knelt before the young man and placed a hand on his shoulder. He raised his eyes once more to meet hers and continued. “About fifteen percent of the force has withdrawn back to the old fortress at the edge of the field. We have sent the Seventh and Fourteenth Battalions, as well as three squadrons of Wyrmriders.” He stayed kneeling, waiting on a cue from his queen.
“Where is my cousin?”
Lowering his head once more, he said, “With the severity of the initial attack, we don’t have a clear picture of which divisions of the battalion were-”
“Is he alive?” Her tone, more urgent. His response, more gentle.
“We simply do not know yet, your grace.”
Standing quickly, Aileen walked to the only window in the room, one which had no view of the city. Instead, it normally held an excellent view of the countryside. Today, however, the splotches of smoke in the far distance ruined the picture, much like dark clouds on the horizon signaling a terrible storm. She needed to know that he was all right. She now felt foolish for letting him go to the front when she knew that it could be dangerous. No, she had believed it to be as safe as any other insurrection in the past.
“Your grace,” the officer continued quietly. “The generals will be wanting to know the type of response we should send back. In addition to what the generals have sent, do you think-”
“Anything. Everything.” Turning to face the young officer, her gaze serious and hard, she continued. “Whatever it takes. Empty the barracks, loose the airships, start conscripting if they feel it necessary. I want these people stopped.”
The young officer nodded and turned to rush back to the Central Command Office with his orders, when the words of his queen caused him to stop.
“Lieutenant, no matter what, my cousin is to be found and brought back to the capital with the greatest of expedience possible under the circumstances.”