He tightened the grip on the Haakar Walker’s controls. He stared off into the plains, his eyes narrowing on a patch many meters away. The chattering of the soldiers next to him showed him they had not paid attention. His diligence might save their lives this day.
Sure enough, he spotted it the next time. A flag barely breaking the grassy fuzz of distance. Captain Prescotesh straightened on his Walker’s saddle, bringing himself up out of what little cover the walker provided. He whistled, catching the attention of his aid. The young Lieutenant’s attention snapped to his captain, then to the men quickly.
“Atten-huh,” bellowed the Lieutenant, instantly cutting the chatter of the men.
Soldiers jumped off the ground, many coming to attention, a few just stiffening at the sudden call. Captain Prescotesh nodded out to the frontier, pointing their attention outward. All heads turned.
“They are coming,” said Prescotesh, his words barely audible over the small hum of the boiler in his Walker.
The Lieutenant Turned and walked closer, eyes out into the wilderness.
“How can you be sure?”
In the newly created silence, a faint horn could now be heard. Soldiers stiffened, all eyes shot out into the distance. A small cloud began to form. A dust cloud of an approaching charge. Prescotesh sighed. He hated being right.
“Company! To arms!” shouted Prescotesh.
The order hadn’t been completed before the soldiers rushed to their entrenchments. Rudimentary, chest high cover littered the opening of the trade wall. The wall itself, barely a story high, offered little cover. A few riflemen scaled the ladders and lay flat ontop the wall. A small foxhole had been dug where a few soldiers knelt using the very ground as cover. The rest haphazardly lined up behind their fearless leader.
Captain Prescotesh sighed. These recruits were going to get him killed. Messy lines, quick to action and slow to response, and their general lack of precaution. He hoped they could shoot their rifles as well as they shot their mouths.
Two recruits stepped to the back of his walker, opened up the back, and began to shovel in a few loads of coal into the small furnace. The boiler would roar to life, breathing new life into the Walker. The Haakar Walker was a mechanized Gaza favored by most Kantebury units. It fulfilled the traditional roll of the large creatures called Gaza from their homeland, domesticated and used until they were practically extinct. Due to their rarity, actual military and industrial use is all but illegal. However, thanks to the grand technology of the day, they were reborn as mechanized walking beasts.
The military model Captain Prescotesh sat upon now favored actual combat. Twin rotary machine guns were nestled on either side of the steam “trunk”, which was currently retracted. When filled with steam, the “trunk” would extend to reveal a fearsome bludgeon with a mace at the end and blades lining the length of it.
Captain Prescotesh pulled his spyglass from his satchel strapped to the side of the walker. Looking through it, he eyes what was approaching. The enemy was still difficult to see. However, he could distinctly see the trails of at least two steam bikes. The other dust patterns seemed to suggest they were approaching on the mighty Rams they favored. They were closing ground, quickly. A solid twenty combatants charging on his platoon of maybe thirty to forty men.
And the tourists.
Out of their tent nearby,the hollers of the tourists arming up cut through the silence of the waiting soldiers. One by one, the three thrill seekers rushed to the lines, spreading themselves up. Lord Patel was dressed as if he was a soldier of the Kantebury military, in a neat and clean uniform and pith helmet with the addition of a bandolier of flasks. His shotgun was large, custom made. It dwarfed many of the rifles in use by the soldiers, and was ornately decorated.
Mr. Hendsbury held a simple bolt action rifle, but wore a smart white suit. He, too, wore a pith helmet to match the soldiers surrounding him, but he stood nonchalantly by a wall smoking a pipe that probably cost Captain Prescotesh’s monthly salary.
It was Mr. Carlyle who seemed the most serious about what they were about to face. Although he wore only a tan suit and held a new lever action rifle, he stood ready, in line with the soldiers behind the Captain.
“Sorry about this, Captain,” he said as he caught the eye of Captain Prescotesh.
“You three, this is your last warning,” said the captain, seeing now he could make out their combatants with the naked eye, “She devils are not to be trifled with. If you leave now and stay at a safe distance-“
“Blow it out your arse, Captain,” chuckled Lord Patel, “This isn’t a boys’ troupe. We are finally getting our shot.”
“Fire on my command, gentlemen,” the Captain said, more sternly then he had before, “You will not break my men into a frenzy!”
With that, the Captain took another look into the telescope. He could clearly see them. The large maidens riding muscular rams. The ram horns provided protection for their Vibranni riders as well as acting like handles for them. A few steam bikes roared just along with them, the Vibranni riders hollering. They held large rifles, if appeared. Passengers seemed to hold weapons as well. One of two held flags. The Captain knew from memory that the flags were mounted to spears, and were just as deadly as any bullet.
One of the steambike’s headlights flared. The Captains attention was dragged to the few bikes they had within their ranks. He frowned. It appeared that instead of a head lamp, these Steambikes had a rifle barrel protruding from its midst. Clever bitches, thought the captain.
He slapped the telescope closed and allowed it to fall into the pouch at the walker’s side. He straightened up once more and allowed his deep, commanding voice to boom across the field.
“Steady, men. Do not fire until I give the order. She devils are fast and agile. Distance is your enemy with them. A wall of lead is harder to dodge then a single bullet. Fire together. Stay together. Stay brave. We outnumber them!”
The captain knew full well numbers did not matter out here on the border. In Kwazulite, large numbers only meant more bodies to bury. The Vibranni were deadly and these were experienced warriors. His men were mere recruits tasked with surviving their first engagement.
And he was only a Perdadu. A single Perdadu. A warrior of honor, trained to protect the people of the Kantebury empire. In the end, though, it was just a title. All that was left was his training and his fragile mortality.
Gunshots were heard. The wizzing of bullets going wild could be heard far overhead. Although Precotesh knew they were too far away to land any solid hit, the recruits still ducked and jump with every shot and whiz of a bullet. Prescotesh knew the truth, the bullets didn’t have to hit. The She Devils were intimidating his troops. They didn’t need to land any shots. If they could unnerve his soldiers they would only need to close the gap.
Prescotesh leaned over, graping the controls of the Walker and revving the engines to life. He took a few steps forward in the large mechanical walker. More of a symbol to his troops then for any strategic purposes. He turned a nozzle and allowed the trunk to fill with steam, uncurling it and allowing it to extend.
“HOLD!” he yelled, causing some of his troops to jump at his command.
The sound of the Steam engines was now a defined hum, filling the ears of his soldiers. The gun shots were beginning to sink up with the bullets wizzing over their heads. A round cracked nearby, digging into the wood of the wall. Dirt and dust was tossed up as a bullet landed only a foot or so from a soldier. The soldiers tensed. The sound of clicking filled the line as soldiers checked to ensure rounds were in chambers and safeties were removed from their triggers.
All at once the gun fire stopped. The thunder rose as the Vibranni kicked their mounts into a desperate full charge. The steambikes roared to life and their barrels at their front began to fire off. They wouldn’t waste any more bullets, the true attack had begun.
The wall of angry Vibranni was clearly in front of them. Even ontop of the vibrating mechanical beast Captain Prescotesh could feel the thunder of the charge. He saw Vibranni riders rest their rifles on the ram’s horns, taking aim.
They weren’t close enough.
Like lightning striking a tree the line of Vibranni cavalry fired as one. Rounds cracked and snapped against the Kantebury lines. Battlements splintered. Dirt and dust flew into the air. And men cried out as they were hit. Two riflemen fell, clutching minor wounds. Others cried out as near misses snapped their nerve.
The thunder of the Vibranni grew.
“Hold, men, steady,” commanded Prescotesh.
Two heart beats passed before another volley from the Vibranni rang out. Prescotesh ducked further down as this time three bullets pinged off the walker’s metal plating. More screams as three more men clutched at legs and arms. A few soldiers broke line to take cover, only being coaxed back into place by their fellow soldiers.
A shot rang out. Lord Patel firing his side arm towards the Vibranni threat.
“Hold, men, hold!” shouted Captain Prescotesh, “Not yet. Just a little farther!”
He didn’t need a spyglass to see them now. The Vibranni were reloading and taking aim. Only the guns on the steambikes fired at a semi regular pace, almost one round every five seconds. However, his soldiers were beginning to lose their nerves. The tourists were showing obvious signs of anxiety as they angrily held.
The Vibranni released a final barrage. More soldiers fell victim to the barrage. Prescotesh looked up, his eyes boring into the mass of charging Vibranni. He could hear their war chants, now.
“Company,” yelled the captain, soldiers snapping at the ready, rifles steadying.
Only a single moment passed between his commands, but it gave him a chance to double check his decision. The ram’s hooves pounded into the ground. The Vibranni’s chants filled their ears. The roar of the steambikes almost drowned out the sounds of their weapon fire.
“Fire!” yelled the captain.
The word had barely left his mouth as his soldiers opened fire. As if hitting a wall, several Vibranni were tossed back off their mounts. Two Rams fell while a few more only tripped slightly. A steambike sputtered and began to fall behind.
Captain Prescotesh didn’t even order it as his soldiers reloaded another round into their chambers. They aimed again, but only the tourists continued to fire. Lord Patel fired his shotgun ruthlessly. His blasts claimed a ram or a Steambike rider with every shot. Mr. Hendsbury keeps firing off shots, but he shows no sense of urgency as he does so. Mr. Carlyle was taking his time with each shot, looking to Captain Prescotesh before each one. His shots were clean and precise.
“Fire” commanded the captain once more, and men fired in unison once more.
All but one of the steam bike drivers were knocked off. One of the bikes barreled into a ram, the boiler breaching and causing a miniature explosion. Chaos broke out among the She devil lines. Rifle shots went wild and spastic. Some cavalrymen began to slow as other enraged riders barreled on ahead of the line. Prescotesh leaned forward and grasped the controls firmer.
“Fire Free,” he commanded.
Shots rang out sporadically along the captain’s lines. Prescotesh gripped the controls and pulled the triggers of the walker. The rotary guns spun and began to roar. The stream of bullets landed a little short from where the captain wanted it. Pulling on the controls, the stream was brought up into the wall of charging enemies. The charge broke rank, spreading out and slowing their charge. They avoided the stream of bullets coming from the walker.
Prescotesh honed in on the last of the steambikes. Riddling the rider with bullets, steam began to spray from the bullet holes. It dumped the rider into the dirt. Bullets pinged off the armor surrounding the saddle of the Haakar Walker. Prescotesh continued to fire on the advancing enemy.
The sound of a miniature explosion rang out. One of the rams had charged one of the emplacements. Wood splintered and shattered. Men were pushed back, covered in debris. The ram was stopped cold, but the Vibrann had used the momentum to fling herself up and over the barricade, landing in the middle of the stunned riflemen. In one fluid motion, she had swung her rifle all the way around her, tripping up the entire group.
Just then more Vibranni leapt into the fray, stabbing and slashing at the men on the ground. They were immediately under fire by the other riflemen, who would fire then charge, bayonets at the ready.
Pssssssss. One of the compressors on the back leg of the walker began to spew steam. The Lieutenant jumped back, covering his face and screaming from the searing steam. Slowly, the walker began to kneel. Prescotesh was watching his machine gun fire slow and he slowly began to become exposed. Vibranni leapt into the battle, and climbed on the ramparts to the support gunners. Slowly the sounds of gunfire were replaced with screams and metal clangs.
The Captain released the firing mechanisms and braced himself against the controls. In one, fluid motion he leapt from atop the walker and landed on the ground. He pulled his Shashki Scythes from his side holsters. Just in time to block a Vibranni spear and slash at its owner’s face.
In a strong swipe, he killed her. Cleaving her neck wide open. Pushing her down, he braced for another attack. Another Vibranni with a rifle and bayonet charging right at him caught his sight. He diverted the bayonet with one Scythe and backlashed with the second, cutting her throat. A third attacker was cut down by a volley of gunfire from a small group behind the Captain.
The Captain ordered them up in one fluid motion, rushing to the aid of another soldier. The soldier was fending off the knife of one of the Vibranni warriors and was in a losing battle. The Vibranni managed to catch both his wrists in her hand and pulled the back, raising her dagger in the other hand to strike. The Captain barely made it to her. He crossed the Scythes and placed the over her neck. Pulling with all his might, he pulled the Scythes apart, running both blades through her neck. Beheading the warrior, he helped the soldier up.
“Thank you, sir,” the soldier managed to stammer out.
Before Prescotesh could reply, the soldier gurgled, and the tip of a large spear protruded from his throat like a tree branch. Prescotesh couldn’t react as a figure flung itself on the soldier, then kicked Prescotesh back with powerful legs.
Prescotesh hit the ground and rolled. Pushing himself off the ground, he assumed a warriors stance with enough time to parry a blow from a charging Vibranni, dealing with her in the same manner as the others. It was all over in a few short seconds. However, raising his head, he saw the figure that had kicked him.
She rose off the body of the soldier so quickly it looked like a rifle bolt springing into action. Her skin seemed brown with all the dirt and drying blood, but patches of her skin underneath some torn clothing he could see the flash of bright orange skin. She towered over the battlefield, her legs contorted and looking like that of some kind of animal. She wore, what looked like, a bastardization of Vibranni native garb and an officer’s jacket from some other country.
And she glared at him, her eyes bright and narrow in the heat of the battle. She cut into his eyes and glared with all the fire and hatred of a woman scorn. In one hand she held what appeared to be a cavalry sword, while in the other she held what Prescotesh had assumed to be a spear, but now he saw the hilt was far too short. In her hands, it looked more like a long dagger then a spear. Both blades were dripping with blood.
She knelt down, her battle stance shrinking her once more to a less menacing size. She prepared to charge. Prescotesh twirled the Scythes in his hands, playing with the weight and preparing for a fight. As if on que, she charged, her large legs making her bound the great distance in only a few short strides.
She jabbed with the dagger. The Captain side stepped it effortlessly. Wasting no time, he slashed out with his scythe. She blocked with the sword. Throwing up her elbow, she got him in the face. He recovered from being stunned with enough time to deflect a jab from the sword. The dagger came down and he blocked with the Scythe. She swung up with the sword, breaking his block. With the momentum she kicked out at his gut once more.
Prescotesh was again knocked off his feet but before he could be thrown a ropey object wrapped around his neck and pulled him back. He was choked as he was slammed into the dirt. Unable to free his neck, Prescotesh rolled as her large foot came down hard where his head had been. She thrust with the sword and Prescotesh was barely able to deflect it with his Scythe. He lashed out, catching her in the thigh. The rope around his neck tightened.
Prescotesh realized it was her long tail that had wrapped itself around his neck. Swinging out, he tried to slash at her tail. She deflected. She spun around, he tail offsetting his balance again. With another swift kick she lifted him in the air, only for him to be slammed back into the dirt. He felt the grip on his Scyth loosen. With a halfhearted block he kept her dagger away from him.
His vision began to go black around the edges. He had to do something. She thrust once more with the sword. Instead of blocking, he rolled to the side and allowed the black to pierce right into his left should. He let out a moan, however this move left her open. With all the strength he could muster, he slashed at her tail with the inside of the Scythe. The grip weakened as she screamed and he felt another hard kick to his stomach.
As he rolled in the dirt, he realized he had gained some distance from her. Pulling at the ropey tail at his throat, he felt no resistance and he tossed it aside. He had dropped one of his Scythe in the last struggle, and only had one left. He looked up at his opponent.
With rage, she was closing the gap once more, leaping into the air and kicking out with both her feet in a dropkick motion. Stumbling back, Prescotesh was able to dodge the attack, but she countered with a slash of the sword. The sword ripped across his chest, his uniform ripping with the awful sound, and his sash now slipping off easily.
Prescotesh managed to deflect another strike. She reeled back and tossed her dagger. Prescotesh deflected it aside. She spun and lashed with the sword once more. She caught the inside of the Scythe with the blow and it was yanked out of Prescotesh’s hand. The ring from the blow seemed to tear through the battlefield as the Scythe soared through the air, disappearing from sight. With one more deliberate kick square in the chest, Prescotesh was sent backward into the corpse of one of his rifleman.
Out of breathe and now weaponless, his mind raced as he looked around the battlefield. The alpha Vibranni now stepped towards him. The sword seemed to catch the sun in all the right places to get right into Prescotesh’s eyes. He reached behind him into the soldier’s kit. Looking behind him, he found a dagger on the soldier. He pulled it out and turned to meet his attacker but a gunshot rang out, making his ears ring. The blade to the dagger was now missing. In the hands of the Vibranni was a smoking pistol. An older model, maybe black powder, looked four shot, but a heavy pistol. She cocked back the hammer on it, but instead of firing a shot, she raised her sword, ready to strike.
She began mumbling something in her tongue. The sword slowly bridged the gap between her hand and his throat. He looked into her eyes. Fire. Hatred. Pain. Fear. He was going to die by this she devil.
A gunshot rang out. Heat enveloped Prescotesh’s head. He closed his eyes and mouth as the warm liquid splattered his face. He was sure his jugular had been pierced, his blood spilling all over, but he swallowed, and realized the blade hadn’t pressed against him just yet. He opened his eyes, and looked at the Vibrannin.
She clutched at her chest. Blood had stained her jacket. A second shot rang out and she jerked back. Falling backwards, her sword clanged on the ground.
Prescotesh turned. Behind him a few yards back stood Mr. Carlyle. His lever action rifle was held by his side. He nodded at Prescotesh. Prescotesh turned back to the battle, not bothering to get up.
Rifle fire had resumed. The Vibranni attackers were retreating, firing shots back at the Kantebury soldiers. Mounting their rams again, they collected what rams they could and road back into the outlands. With cheers of victory, the surviving riflemen took chase, firing after them and regrouping just outside the battlements. Other soldiers beat on wounded Vibranni, or held prisoners at rifle point. A few were sobbing over lost comrades or dragging wounded further back.
Prescotesh rose, with great effort, to his feet. He halfheartedly brushed off his clothing.
“Gentleman,” he shouted, trying to gain control of his men, “Regroup! Secure the prisoners and the wounded. I want a runner so we can be relieved. Regroup and await counter attack! Do not assume it’s over until we are home.”
“Well, I say,” Lord Patel was climbing down from his perch, grinning ear to ear, “Wasn’t that just exciting. I think it’s time for a spot of tea, don’t you, chaps?”
Captain Prescotesh shook his head and rolled his eyes. Tourists…