Shell Case Shorts 12 – Winner 2

The second winner of Shell Case Shorts 12 has written a superb story set in the Dystopian Wars universe but with a far more…domestic twist to it. Enjoy…

The Circus – by Al Phillips

The crack of the gunshot made people scream and scatter in every direction, women scooping up their children and running for the nearest place of safety as the report of the pistol echoed all around the buildings of the Strand. The bullet impacted squarely in the back of the fleeing Prussian spy, pitching him face first on to the cobbled frost covered street with a thud as loyal subjects to the Crown scattering in every direction.

Special Investigator Barclay Pensworth holstered his service revolver his breathing heavy and fogging in the winter air. Pulling his jacket closed, he approached the man lying in an expanding pool of blood, cursing himself for going for the kill shot rather than wounding him. Dead men can’t talk. Wounded men do, especially once the interrogators get hold of them. And the interrogators he knew weren’t the kind of men to let a little blood and a bullet hole put them off.

Crouching down Pensworth rolled the dying agent on to his back. The man, in his thirties, in a cheap tweed suit and messy curled hair took a swing for him but in his weakened state Pensworth batted the fist aside easily enough and pinned the spy down, knee rested firmly on his chest.

‘What was your mission?’ He asked in faultless Prussian. The man didn’t have long left and the analysts back at the Circus had already confirmed his identity, wasting time asking him about it would only benefit the Prussian’s plans, not his.

The agent started to laugh but it degenerated into a hacking, choking cough as blood began to fill his lungs.  ‘We spend half our time looking over our shoulders,’ the agent gurgled in perfectly pronounced English. ‘Convinced that Special Branch is about to spring a trap and kill us all.’ More coughing and blood boiled up out of the agent’s throat and joined the spreading pool beneath him. ‘But you don’t know anything. You think we’re just interested in stealing documents and fucking your secretaries for secrets.’ The spy shook bodily and his face drained of colour, his eyes taking on a glassy look.

Pensworth had seen it a dozen times before and started to stand. The agents hand shot out and pulled him down, bloody hands smearing his shirt with gore.

‘Dies ist nur der Anfang…’ He said before his breath gave out and his body went limp.

Barclay Pensworth stood, his face set with a grim distaste as Clement Barrington arrived on the scene, panting, hands on his knees and sweat seeping through his jacket.

‘What did he say?’ Barrington gasped.

‘This is just the beginning.’

***

Pensworth sat at his desk at the Internal Securities Department, 12 Millbank, London, staring at the coroner’s photo of the dead Prussian spy. The man’s last words were still ringing in his ears as all around him teams of analysts and researchers scrutinised documents, listened to wire taps and deciphered messages from every corner of the Britannian Empire and beyond for some shred of an indication of what the many enemies of Britannia were plotting.

Pensworth knew that there were dozens of spies operating in England alone. Everyone of them hell-bent on learning anything they could about the Britannian war effort and feeding it back to their superiors. Pensworth and his fellow Special Investigators knew this because the Crown had sent hundreds of its own agents around the world to do exactly the same thing. But unlike the thuggish tactics of the Yanks or the sadistic streak of the Prussians, the Internal Securities Department had a remarkable success rate when it came to turning those enemy agents to the will of her Majesty’s war effort.

Setting the photo aside he opened the file that had been hastily compiled as the pieces of the puzzle concerning the Prussian spy’s duplicity had fallen into place. Nothing jumped out at him. Pensworth had learned the man’s real name was Moritz Schweiger, not James Kendal as his impressively convincing counterfeit documents stated. Schweiger it seemed had built a quite unremarkable cover which, from experience, was the best kind.

He had led an unremarkable life as a waiter in some of London’s nicer restaurants, always paid his rent on time, had friends which he visited regularly and even donated money to the Royal War Orphans Trust. He was even seeing a rather pretty young thing, judging by her picture, who was the daughter of the mining magnate Lord Gerald John Richardson the fifth. A veteran of the Crimean and personal friend to Prince Albert, after he was discharged from service he had made his fortune in mining raw materials and after Albert’s death had stayed in close contact with her Majesty.

The funny thing was, Pensworth thought, it wasn’t his connection with the Lord, and therefore her Majesty, that had set alarm bells ringing but Mister Kendal’s parents. The family had, apparently, repatriated from Hong Kong eighteen months ago yet his parents were nowhere to be seen and their beloved son was slumming it waiting tables. Furthermore he would make a phone call every Sunday, regular as clockwork to a West London phone number and, according to the wire taps, spoke to his father. Yet despite the apparent closeness he never once went to visit them or them him which didn’t sit right for parents that would pay hundreds of pounds to transport him from the other side of the world. Pensworth’s instructor when he joined the ISD had always told him; the devil is in the details.

Flicking through the dossier he knew this to be true more than ever with Schweiger. Both the address he had phoned and Schweiger’s home had already been searched. Both locations had turned up very little other than enough transmission and cipher equipment to keep the boys in Technical happy for weeks. Regardless there was nothing to indicate a wider plot beyond the usual espionage and clandestine activities.

Pensworth’s superiors had told him to close the case and move onto a suspected Russian spy network operating out of a Gentlemen’s Club in Soho. The Russians weren’t subtle; it was an easy collar and could wait. Besides these things always went down the same way and he didn’t relish the thought of a protracted gun battle.

But more than that, the dying man’s last words still nagged at him. He took out the photo of the dead man and stared at it once more. He looked past the peaceful expression, the pool of blood, the overly white tooth that contained cyanide that the agent didn’t get the chance to use. He relaxed his eyes and let the entire image sink into his mind.

He blinked as he noticed for the first time a familiar lapel badge pinned to Schweiger’s jacket. He yanked open the top draw of his desk, his hand snaking in amongst the files, half eaten bags of boiled sweets, the cigar tin that contained his last Cohiba as his hand closed around the handle of the looking-glass something heavy slammed into the desk draw, trapping his arm. He yelped in pain and surprise yanking his arm free.

Looking up irritated he saw that the something heavy was Clement.

‘Sorry about that old boy,’ He beamed taking a bite from a sandwich. He leaned over his partner’s shoulder. ‘I thought the Ringmaster had already told you to put Gerry to bed.’

‘He did Clem, but something doesn’t sit well with me.’ He poked the photo. ‘What do you make of that?’ Indicating the lapel badge.

Clem leaned closer, the smell of tuna ripe on his breath. His small eyes, surrounded by a flushed and podgy face, squinted.

‘Looks like the membership badge for the Beefsteak Club on Irving Street.’

‘How on Earth do you know that?’ Pensworth asked. Clement smiled and turned his jacket lining outwards so his partner could see the small round badge.

‘Because I’m a member Barclay old boy.’

‘So how does a waiter, earning three shillings and nine pence per week afford a club membership?’ Clement shrugged as he pushed the rest of the sandwich into his mouth. Pensworth shook his head at his partner. ‘Well grab your coat fatty, we’re going to find out.’

***

The Beefsteak Club was like most of the other up market Gentlemen’s Clubs of London: wood panelling on every wall, tall back leather chairs, thick cigar smoke and burlesque shows three times a day. Had Barclay Pensworth’s mother still been alive she would have been mortified that her eldest son was in such an establishment.

He and Clement walked through the club, noticing fellow members of Special Branch, her Majesty’s crown court and seventeen members of parliament all enjoying the show. Pensworth ignored them all; he wasn’t interested in how the political elite got their jollies, so long as they didn’t break the law in doing it.

It didn’t take long for them to attract the attention of the maitre’d who hurriedly intercepted the pair as the systematically and deliberately opened the door to every private room in the club. By the time the tall, wiry and weasel faced man with slicked over hair caught up with the pair and hurried them into his office they had walked in on four private dances, seven card games or various types, two illicit acts that Pensworth would be referring to the local constabulary and what looked like the shadow education minister lashed face down to a bench and having his bottom whipped by a women clad in a peculiar leather get up. Pensworth didn’t understand it himself but was smart enough to let it lie. Political currency was valuable in his line of work.

‘What can I do for you gentlemen,’ Fussed the maître’d after both men showed him their identification. Pensworth leaned against the oak desk. Like every other room in the club it looked as though a small woodland had been felled to deck out the office. Even the red leather, riveted desk chair was the same cut as those the rich and the fat currently wallowed in. Pensworth nodded at Clement Barrington who dutifully pulled out the photo of Schreiger taken at the scene of his death and handed it to the man.

‘Do you know him?’ Pensworth asked, reaching into his jacket and pulling a pencil and small notepad from his jacket pocket. The man opposite him stared at the photo before handing it back, nodding. ‘That is Mister Kendal, a regular here.’ The man’s tone was disapproving.

‘You didn’t like him?’ Pensworth probed. The maître’d shook his head.

‘He was a common sort, a waiter for a footman if I were to guess. It’s the shoes you see.’ The man cast his eyes down at Pensworth’s own scuffed Policeman specials before continuing. ‘But we had to suffer him as he was a member by another man’s graces.’

Before Pensworth could ask further questions the man continued. ‘And he certainly made use of those good graces. He ran up bar bills into the hundreds attempting to brown nose his way in with our more exclusive members. I even caught him harassing Lord Livingstone Melbrooks-‘

‘Wait,’ Pensworth cut in, ‘Lord Melbrooks as in the new ambassador to the Covenant of Antarctica?’

‘The very same.’ Said the maître‘d.

Suddenly a bad feeling settled in to Barclay Pensworth’s stomach, heavy and brooding.

‘Clem, call the Circus, get as many men as they can spare over to Lord Melbrooks’ residence on Upper Grosvenor, I’ll start the carriage.’ Pensworth darted from the office the door slamming behind him.

The maître’d dropped to his chair startled. Clement smiled down at him.

‘Don’t worry old boy,’

***

The carriage growled and chugged its way through the streets as fast as Pensworth could make it go. Unlike the newer combustion engines now available, Pensworth still used a steam-driven model. It was far better of long distances but perambulating through the cobbled streets of London it was a hateful device and made the 2 mile journey all the more intense for fear the contraption would simply breakdown.

By the time the pair pulled up outside the Lord’s home the sun was starting to set and lights were coming on all down Upper Grosvenor Street. The Melbrook’s residence was shrouded in darkness. Both men disembarked from the carriage, the boiler whistling and clucked as the furnace was turned down to idling, and drew their weapons.

‘Where are the others?’ Pensworth asked. Barrington shrugged. He’d produced a bag of humbugs from somewhere and was cheerfully and noisily sucking on one.

‘They said they were on their way.’ He mumbled.

‘Well we can’t wait.’ Pensworth bounded up the stone stairs of the grand abode and without breaking stride kicked the door in. The black lacquered door splintered from the impact sending splinters of wood in all directions. Before Barrington could stuff his humbugs into his pocket his partner was through the door and sweeping his gun side to side for targets. By the time he’d joined him, Pensworth had already skulked his way through the impressive living room and was now stood in front of the hanging corpse of Lord Melbrooks, in the main dining room.

Pensworth holstered his gun with a curse and surveyed the scene. The body had been there for a couple of days judging by its stiffness and stink. There was a chair over turned below the Lord’s feet and the room itself was largely untouched, the table still set for dinner. Walking back into the main hallway Barrington was the first to break the silence.

‘Looks like the old bugger topped himself.’

Pensworth shook his head. The hallway rug wasn’t straight, something unheard of in a home such as this. Folding the carpet back he could see the parquet flooring was scraped and scuffed.

‘Look,’ He said pointing at the floor. ‘There was a scuffle.’ He turned and walked slowly back into the dining room scanning the floor for more clues. He crouched down next to a drinks table and picked something up.

‘What is it?’ Clement Barrington asked.

‘A small sliver of what I suspect was a crystal decanter. I’d say the Lord put up quite the fight. Little wonder, he was career military and boxed for his regiment.’ Setting the sliver down he moved to a small blood spot. ‘Someone took a nasty sock to the mouth.’

He heard Barrington sigh behind him. ‘How do you know all this?’ He asked.

‘Research, Clem, old chap. When Melbrooks was announced as the next ambassador to the Covenant the Circus did a full work up on him to make sure he wasn’t going to sell all our secrets for his very own snow fortress.’

‘Don’t they all live underground?’

Pensworth rolled his eyes as he pulled himself upright and dusted down his trousers. ‘Come on Clem, we need to report this and make the Foreign Minister he’s going to need a new ambassador.’

Then the window and everything around him exploded. The air was filled with noise, shattered glass and bursting wood. Both men dropped to the ground as the dining room and the hanging corpse of Lord Melbrooks was torn to pieces.

Pensworth and Barrington crawled out of the room, glass and splinters raining down on them from above as the fusillade from outside continued. Making it into the hallway Pensworth risked a glance out of the side window. Three men, nondescript suits, all armed with auto repeating rifles. Military hardware.

Pensworth edged round the shattered door and took aim at the nearest shooter, slowly pulling back the firing hammer with a practised hand. He was about to fire when a hand grabbed him by the collar and yanked him backwards. He span instinctively reversing the grip on his pistol ready to use it as a club on his attacker but it was Barrington pale-faced, his hands held up defensively.

‘What are you doing?’ Pensworth growled, ‘I had a clear shot.’

‘At the first one, yes. But what about the other two? That door affords you no protection old boy, they would have cut you to pieces.’

Pensworth scowled but knew his partner was right. The shooting had stopped and Pensworth spied the shooters jumping into a auto-carriage and sped away. ‘After them!’ He shouted, running down the steps, reaching his own conveyance only to find that the shooters had been thorough and riddled the boiler with holes.

A thought surfaced in his mind but before it could formulate a crumpled bag of humbugs was thrust under his nose. ‘Want one old boy?’ Barrington beamed at him.

***

The following morning Pensworth stood in his best suit and smartest shoes, and ram rod straight as the foreign secretary, Lord Cornelius Blackwood, read his report. It wasn’t much and it was inconclusive at best. Pensworth was unable to pursue the gunmen and so was yet to determine who they worked for or how they knew he and Barrington were there. Only the weaponry was identifiable as a Lee-Enfield Auto-Repeater ARLEIV a British made weapon and one found as a support weapon in every squad, in every regiment bearing the Britannic flag.

Blackwood turned over the last page and folded the report closed.

‘An interesting work of fiction Mister Pensworth.’ Said Blackwood leaning back against his overstuffed chair and steepling his fingers.

‘Pardon me my Lord?’

‘All this nonsense about Lord Melbrooks being found hung.’ He said waving a dismissive hand at the report. ‘A load of poppycock.’

‘My Lord, I saw the body with my own eyes.’

‘Then tell me,’ Blackwood stood and stared out of his window of the Houses of Parliament, staring down at the dirty waters of the Thames, ‘How is it that Lord Melbrooks departed these shores for Antarctica three days ago.’

‘What?’ Pensworth’s surprise overrode his sense of propriety. ‘That’s impossible.’

‘Impossible or not, when plod finally arrived at Melbrooks address all they found were bullet holes and bloody great mess. If you weren’t a Special Investigator I’d have you charged with breaking and entering and criminal damage.’

‘I don’t understand, my lord. Melbrooks is dead and I believe a Prussian spy is behind it.’

‘Enough,’ Blackwood raged. ‘That couldn’t have been Melbrook.’

‘I know what I saw!’

‘You forget you place Investigator! That couldn’t have been Melbrook because the damn blasted fool arrived in Antarctica yesterday and subsequently provoked the Covenant in to declaring war on the Kingdom of Britannia. His body washed to shore on the Falkland Islands this morning.’

Pensworth mind was reeling. Nothing was making any sense.

‘Now if you’ll excuse me, I have Lord Richardson waiting for me in the other room.’

‘Richardson?!’ Blackwood’s irritation was almost tangible at Pensworth’s lack of respect.

‘Yes, Investigator, now we’re at war with the Covenant as well as every other damn fool nation we’re going to need raw materials like never before.’

Pensworth felt numb as he was ushered out of Blackwood’s office.

What did it all mean? Melbrook, Richardson, Schweiger, what did they all have in common?

***

Clement Barrington sat in one of the private rooms of the Beefsteak Club on Irving Street and waited for the showgirl. He liked the burlesque shows as much as the next man but he found it all got a bit awkward when the show got to its racier parts. He’s much rather looking at ladies in a state of undress be a private experience. He reached for the scotch he couldn’t afford and took a long and lingering sip.

The door latch clicked behind him and he smiled. Rose was his favourite, and not just because she offered extras. The door closed and he adjusted, making himself comfortable.

‘Come on Rose my dear, don’t keep me waiting.’

‘I’m afraid Rose will be a while longer. Old boy.’

Barrington froze as he heard the familiar click of a gun cocking.

‘Barclay,’ Barrington said slowly, ‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m doing my job Clem.’ Barrington felt Pensworth move closer but he stayed behind him. ‘Or do you prefer Udo Herzog?’

Barrington let out a sigh.

‘Bravo Barclay old boy, you finally figured it out.’

‘I understand the Prussians wanting to provoke a war between the Covenant and Britannia, we were the only power left that they had remotely cordial relations with, but I don’t understand what Richardson has to do with all this.’

Barrington rose and turned to face his partner.

‘You presume too grand a plan Barclay old boy. Richardson came to us. Gave us the means to infiltrate the Circus. Even offered up his daughter to help maintain Schweiger’s cover.’

‘But why?’ But Pensworth already knew the answer as he said it.

‘Money. Richardson wants to be the exclusive provider or raw materials to the Britannic war effort and a war on another front, especially one as seaborne as the Covenant would hundreds of new warships.’

‘All this over money?’ Pensworth spat taking a step closer to his former friend.

‘Don’t be nieve Barclay. This war will burn out eventually and when it does Richardson will be the only man left standing with any credibility left. And the fortune to silence anyone who knows different.’

Pensworth nodded. He had pieced it altogether after his meeting with Lord Blackwood. He’d subtly investigated Lord Richardson’s holdings and finances and noticed not only aggressive expansion in mines but steel production. He’s also identified Richardson as Schweiger’s benefactor at the club. And for one other.

‘Just answer me this one last question Clem.’

Barrington shrugged, finishing off his scotch with practised ease.

‘Why did you kill the maître‘d?’Barrington smiled. It was a cruel smile Pensworth had never seen on the man before.

‘He gave me up. He didn’t realise it, of course, but as soon as he mentioned Schweiger and the ambassador I knew it would only be a matter of time. I knew my own movements in the club would eventually come to light.’

‘And the gunman outside Melbrook’s house?’

‘Necessary. I had to silence you but when the bullets started flying and they hadn’t killed you in the opening volley I found myself unable to do the job myself. We’ve been through a lot you and I these last two years.’

Pensworth nodded. ‘We have.’ He smiled at Barrington. ‘Which is what makes this so hard.’

The shot was swallowed up by the burlesque music and bellowed laughter of dozens of drunk and happy businessmen. Barrington’s body wouldn’t be found for another three hours by which time Rose had been paid off to say that he’d attempted to rape her and an unknown patron, hearing he screams for help, had shot him in her defence. The constabulary were currently unaware of the shooter’s whereabouts.

The following day the papers ran a headline story about mining magnate Lord Gerald John Richardson the fifth being tragically killed in an automotive accident whilst travelling to his country residence. He had been planning on spending time with her daughter following the shooting of her gentleman friend by muggers barely two days before.

Eye witnesses reported hearing what sounded like a gunshot before the auto-carriage lost control and collided with an oncoming lorry but they were unconfirmed.

Lord Richardson’s business holdings were currently frozen by the treasury while a will is found. However, due to the looming threat of war with the Covenant, sources close to the PM suggest that the assets may be nationalised until the crisis of war is over.

Pensworth folded the paper and tucked it under his arm tossing coins on to the news stand before joining the rest of the commuters on their way to work.

Shell Case Shorts 12 – Winner

And so this humble competition draws to a close but with not one but two superb winning entries. I really couldn’t decide between them so as there was 5 lovely books on offer I decided to award prizes to both.

The first story is a Warmachine offering from Twitter favourite, #warmonger and all round nice guy Mike aka @MrChom. The second winning entry will be posted separately.

So first up I give you…

Widowmakersby Mike Chomyk

Stanislav ran his hand over the ice cold frame of the Juggernaut. Its heartfire extinguished, its cold empty eyes stared at the grey sky. Anyone glancing would barely have seen Stanislav, his white ankle length duster draped over the snow around him. The coat was meticulously patterned to break up his shape from a distance and fool the eye into believing he was nothing more than another patch of snow and rocks.

‘Legion’ he said quietly, observing the scorch marks and deep gouges in the juggernaut’s frame. ‘I do not know if this one can be saved, he is old, his heartfire has gone out. If we move his cortex to a new frame he may not survive, Natalya’, he added, turning his head to the officer crouched beside him. Her breath hung in the air as she crouched, her back to him, covering the ground he could not see with her rifle. Her brown hair hung in a loose ponytail behind her, its end dusted with snow and ice.

‘Then we move, Stanislav. Whatever immobilised him may still be watching. The Legion may look blind and diseased but we know they see better than even we do. We must return to camp and see what the Koldun thinks to this.’ She replied, keeping her eyes trained on the horizon of the depression they found themselves in.

It was a long cold journey back to the camp. They were currently housed the burned husk of the border fort Kapitan Natalya Matovy and her crack team of Widowmakers had initially been ordered to reinforce. Dusk became darkness across the frozen landscape and the Widowmakers were bathed in the pale silver of moonlight. They moved with a quiet reassurance, barely shadows across the land. Matovy was rightly proud of her team, they were veterans, crack shots, the best that Khador had to offer. Often times, as now, her orders were unspoken as the four of them moved from cover to cover and always on watch for nearby threats.

Koldun Lord Berezov looked at them as they returned, his face underlit from the sickly pale glow of the fire lit in front of the Officers’ tents. He was a tall man, his face sunken behind a thin brown beard. He was young for his office but his voice carried age beyond his years.

‘Report, Kapitan Matovy.’ He ordered as she approached.

‘The Legion ambushed and killed the forces sent out to deal with them leaving little for us to find. We retrieved a unit patch of one Northern 12th Division rifleman, there were also some cogs and pistons from the fort’s Destroyer and the almost intact frame of a Juggernaut. All were marked with signs of Legion. It would appear that the Legion in this area have become very good at clearing their tracks. While we saw signs of battle, and of their victory we saw no signs of them at all.’

‘The Legion have always been clever at hiding themselves when they do not wish to be found’ He looked thoughtful for a moment. ‘This Juggernaut…did you preserve his cortex?’

‘My men are not mechaniks, my Lord. We know how unstable the Cortexes can be. His heartfire was long out, we were worried that if we attempted to move his cortex it might crack…or worse’

Berezov pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, obviously tired. ‘Very well, Kapitan. Sleep now; in the morning you will lead myself, some Kossites, and some Rifles to this Juggernaut. Empress knows we need every cortex we can find at the moment. I will retire also and see you and your men in the morning’ Matovy cracked off a sharp salute at her dismissal, the Greylord merely nodded in acceptance and then turned to enter the nearby tent.

That night her sleep was fitful. She had seen her share of combat. She had held the line as wave after wave of Mechanithralls had crashed against the might of the Khadoran army in full swing, she had been well and truly alone in the Thornwood, lost and low on ammo…knowing that the druids of the Circle hunted her. These Legion should be no worse and yet they somehow were. She had seen their beasts, all muscle and sinew, rip through Imperial warjacks like they were nothing more than paper and good wishes. She had watched with horror as men, still not quite dead, were taken and plunged into the spawning pots these abominations carried with them, had seen the lingering looks on the men’s faces as they sunk into the gory fluid that filled them. She had even witnessed one Legion swordsman be shot down only for one of the deadly Incubi to spring forward in his place…a mass of quivering slavering flesh that devoured all in its wake.

In the morning a cold light filtered through into the tents and the Widowmakers emerged to find a fresh dusting of snow had settled overnight. This was not unusual in the north but it would make progress more slow. The Kossites would be able to keep up, they were hardy people who knew how to traverse rough terrain but the Winterguard were a unit from Korsk also sent to reinforce the fort. They were cold, and hungry, and their simple boots were no match for the lands they walked. Matovy smiled as she gulped down a mouthful of Uiske offered from Stanislav’s hip flask but cursed the fact her team would have to babysit these men. At least the Greylord could look after himself, he was no warcaster but no one reached the rank of Koldun Lord without powerful magical abilities.

Koldun Lord Berezov emerged from his tent in full dress which was just as well, his long cloak and layered shirts would prevent the worst of the chill from hitting him.

‘Kapitan Matovy!’

‘Yes, Lord’

‘See to it that Lieutenants Ulyanov and Demerov are ready to leave. You will be briefing them on my plan and seeing to it that it is carried out. Your Widowmakers will lead the way; ten Kossites will run as detached units to your men, Ulyanov and twenty Rifle Corps will bring up the rear, the rest to be left here. I will, of course, be travelling between you with Zelnikov and Uzman of the Mechanikal Assembly in case this Juggernaut can be retrieved.’ Matovy saluted Berezov again and headed off to talk to Lieutenant Demerov, she had a feeling that Lieutenant Nikolai Demerov would not be happy about having men detached to accompany the widowmakers.

‘Natalya, this is lunacy, you know my men work better together. I’ll tell this greylord idiot myself if you refuse to!’

‘Calm yourself Nikolai.’ replied Matovy. Demerov was clearly fuming. Part of the irregular Kossites he wore a mixture of skins and leathers to keep in the heat that bulked him up to be a fearsome presence. Matovy re-shouldered her rifle as she tried to calm him, ‘I know you work better together but this Greylord seems determined to present as wide a front as possible to prevent ambush…he does not want his four best rifles all on one flank.’

Demerov sneered at this ‘Natalya, you have spent too long with these people, not only is their strange approximation of what might be called tactics making sense in your mind but you also seem to think that that garbage you call a rifle has somehow made you into a better shot than any of those you worked with for so long. You disgrace us.’

Matovy made to turn away and adjust her rifle but ducked down and swung the butt from a low stance into Demerov’s jaw. He tumbled back into the snow dazed and bleeding, his thin grey hair flapping in the breeze. ‘Do not forget, Nikolai, that I do not THINK I am a better shot. You forget your place. You are fat and old, Lieutenant; you have grown soft without Cygnarans to fight.’ Demerov lay in the snow and slowly focussed on her; he then began to smile.

‘You have not forgotten how to fight dishonourably…perhaps one day you may even be called Kossite once more. We will do as is asked, but know that it is under protest’ He stood and spat blood into the snow at her feet before heading back to his unit.

As Demerov skulked away Matovy turned her attentions to a third man who had watched the discussion. ‘I trust, Lieutenant Ulyanov that I will not need to take such measures to confirm your orders?’

‘We would be delighted to be the rear-guard for you, Kapitan Matovy.’ He stood, uncomfortable for a second, before continuing ‘May I ask, Kapitan, do you know Lieutenant Demerov?’

‘Know him? You might say that. He was my superior officer once before I left for the Widowmakers. I don’t think it ever really sat well with him that I could be promoted this high while he was left where he was. You are dismissed Lieutenant Ulyanov.’ Ulyanov saluted and returned to the waiting rifle section to talk them through their mission for the day.

The journey to the site of the battle was as slow as Matovy had feared. Patches of deeper snow necessitated that the Widowmakers and Kossites slow down for the Rifle Corps to stay within a supportable distance, and Koldun Lord Berezov’s insistence on travelling by horseback meant that the forward scouting elements had to be as far forward as possible using runners to communicate and stay in formation lest he be spotted before they could spot incoming threats.

It was past midday when they arrived at the wreck of the Juggernaut. Matovy had sent her men and the Kossites to occupy positions in amongst nearby rocks and a stand of trees. The Koldun Lord smiled as he neared the downed Juggernaut.

‘He misses his master, Koldun Medin. He saw him die, and then the Legion punctured his boiler and left him to go out.’

Matovy shivered slightly. The faraway look of a magician communicating with a cortex had always bothered her. She felt the Radiance in her pocket and said a small prayer in the hope that they would make it out of this safely.

‘Uzman, Zelnikov, he thinks his main damage is the boiler, can it be fixed?’

Two stocky men in overcoats dismounted their horses and approached the Juggernaut to inspect it. There was a brief exchange in Umbrean before one opened up in thickly accented Khadoran ‘We can fix him for now. He will be able to walk back so long as he is left to thaw for long enough and does not build up too much pressure, we cannot weld the boiler damage in this cold, merely solder and rivet.’

‘Then do so, and make haste. He has shown me that Legion patrol this area’ the two mechanics looked at each other and quickly began to set up their tools and get work underway on the juggernaut.

The Koldun Lord inspected the work as it went on; hammering, shaping, and the application of rods of metal to melt between the boiler and the patches. Many of the Rifle Corps began to mumble under their breath about being sent to save an ancient piece of junk, and the time it was taking. The cold was getting to them, and they had little to do but stand around and wait for orders to return to the fort. Matovy smiled; they were recruits…fine shots, yes, but they had seen no battles. They had not seen what a warjack could do, how it could turn the tides of battle, even one so old as the Juggernaut. Where Cygnar had scrapped its opposite number, the Nomad, Khador’s Juggernaut class had lived on as dangerous echo of a violent time. They had their quirks but left to their own devices their formidable strength was undeniable and for all their cortex shock technology even Cygnar had yet to find a quick way to cripple the chassis quickly and reliably.

Molten metal ran out of some of the joints and dribbled down into the snow leaving a hissing pool of water near where the ruined warjack lay. It seemed like hours but eventually the Mechaniks declared that the Juggernaut could be brought back online. Matovy sent runners out to warn her scouts…this was the most dangerous part of the operation. Until now there had only been noise and bodies to show where they were, a lit boiler on the other hand would give the Legion a marker that would be seen for miles in any direction. Riflemen were instructed to down rifles to give the Juggernaut water and coal from the supply sled the Mechaniks had brought with them.

‘We are ready, greylord, we await your command’ said Uzman as Zelnikov cleaned away their tools.

They Greylord looked at the Juggernaut again, ‘Then get it moving.’ he said.

The fire was lit and the two mechaniks looked on nervously as the water began to heat. Slowly life returned to the Juggernaut’s eyes, its heartfire restored.

‘It will be some time before he is able to move, 20 maybe 30 minutes, and that presumes his leg joint will hold up when he stands…some of the gouges run quite deep’ said Uzman, his nerves showing as the Juggernaut continued to warm. The trail of smoke began to spread into the cold grey sky. The sun edged to the horizon; the ground was bathed in a fiery orange glow, silence had descended; the only noise was the hissing of the Juggernaut’s boiler as its pressure rose. Breaths hung frozen in the air; still, quiet…Matovy could almost feel something was coming.

The chill was drawing in now, what had been mere discomfort in Matovy’s mind was now almost a physical presence screaming at her, but she could see nothing. It was then that Uzman keeled over with a gurgling cry, an arrow sticking through his back. Matovy reacted in an instant, running to the greylord and shoulder pulling him from his horse as an arrow sailed through where he had been sitting.

‘Rifles! Form up!’ It was Lieutenant Ulyanov. His men formed rank, freezing hands struggling to load their cloth-wrapped rifles. Arrows rained down on them, they had virtually no cover where they were but the legion archers had to contend with avoiding being silhouetted against the setting sun.

‘FIRE!’ he screamed, the rifle corps rippled out with fire, six of their number were already down and the cold was not helping their aim. Shots ricocheted off the rocks pinning the archers in place and downing one even as another four of the rifles fell. Matovy began to assume a firing position and wondered what had happened to her men and the Kossites that were with them. Surely they would have heard something if these archers had found them, even if they were caught unaware.

She raised her rifle to her eye, the small Radiance from her pocket pressed into the palm of her right hand, she saw a flicker amongst the rocks and fired, an archer fell clutching his neck. Beside her the Koldun had raised himself up to his full height once more and Matovy felt a twist in her gut as his eyes glowed blue and a blast of cold belched from his hand. The rocks in front of them shattered like they were no more than thin glass, the archers behind them met this pure and cruel cold head on. Several of the archers, like the rocks they used as cover, shattered before the arcane power, these were the lucky ones; those further away looked to have been blinded or were breaking out in cold burns on their exposed skin.

The archers had lost the element of surprise and with a lack of co-ordination began to flee their position from the top of the depression towards a nearby ravine. Matovy recognised this for what it was; this force had just been scouts. She knew they had to be stopped.

‘Ulyanov, have your men advance to that ridge and fire at will, stop them all before they reach the ravine!’ she cried. He moved what remained of his men forwards, half their number already lost to the punishing hail of arrows. Matovy headed for the ridgeline and saw similar fleeing figures from the areas the other troops had been in; clearly they too had been ambushed and driven off the attacks. The archers ran, knowing that the shadows on the lower ground would make it harder to be hit; this did not stop Matovy stopping another four before the ravine, a similar number from the rifles and the Kossite/Widowmaker teams meant only two escaped alive.

‘They know we are here now’ Berezov said, his face pale and worried. ‘There will be more, we must pull back to camp, it is defensible.’ He turned to Matovy and spoke ‘Kapitan, you will withdraw your men. Any bodies or wounded to go on the supply sled. We must hurry.’ The greylord was tired, she could see it. His spells had taken out as many archers as the all the rifle corps combined but at a huge cost to him. She sent her runners out and soon the troops returned from their positions. Casualties had been lighter there but these were men used to cold hard winters and long tedious waits on the hunt. Where the Rifle Corps had been distracted these men had seen the incoming Nyss archers, and stalked them. Only once the fighting began elsewhere had they used that moment of surprise to take down most of the attackers. One of her own men, Valentin, was down; he had been a good friend and drunk well. Three of the Kossites were dead…Demerov sadly not amongst them, she thought.

The Juggernaut, almost forgotten in the fight, clenched one of its mighty fists and rose. As it stood it vented its steam in a low bellowing roar, raising its head to look at Koldun Berezov in as close to a gesture of respect as its cortex could manage.

‘Good. We can move now.’ Berezov turned to Matovy ‘have three Kossites accompany Ulyanov as spotters with the rifles, Kapitan Matovy, your men will accompany myself and the Juggernaut…’ Berezov’s eyes turned far away again ‘…’Topor’. Two Kossites will be sent back to the fort at full speed to gain reinforcements, the rest will scout the ground ahead for threats.’

‘Yes, my Lord’ replied Matovy snapping off a quick salute and returning to prepare the remaining troops for a run to the fortress.

It was a long and hard fight in the retreat. Nyss archers sprang from nowhere to pick off one or two of the rearmost Winterguard, their bodies left behind in the snow as their numbers dwindled. Matovy could see them fall but the range was too great to shoulder her rifle and help. She sent forward runners and pulled back half the Kossites to aid the failing rearguard action, grim-faced men and women trudged back past her to join the inexperienced rifles and bolstered their strength in the fight.

The journey was longer and harder than it had felt in the morning but at last the pale light of the fires of the camp were visible on the horizon. The men were exhausted, ammunition was running low, of the twenty riflemen only five survived, half the number that had left where the Juggernaut was found. Even the Kossites’ fabled hardyness could not save them from the fire from the stands of trees and rocks that littered this place, several of their number had been left bleeding in the snow during the retreat without the time to save them. The attack slackened off as the fresh Kossites from the camp joined them, and vanished entirely as they rejoined the camp.

Berezov looked down at Matovy from his horse ‘This is not over Kapitan. They felled the garrison here, then they burned down the tower…they will be back and in greater numbers.’ He looked off to the dark horizon they had come from and shook his head ‘…have the remaining men prepare barricades and send a messenger back to the nearest town telling them this place has fallen. We must rest here tonight, the men can march no more’. Matovy could see in his eyes a sort of desperation; he knew they were going to die. Deep down in his soul Berezov knew help would never arrive in time and the Legion would destroy them all.

Men slept poorly or not at all as those who had stayed at the remains of the fortifications hastily used rubble to block easy access and began to use planking, logs, and offcuts to fill the rest. It would not hold in the face of a concerted assault but the point was merely to look like it was at least partially defended. A defensive trench was cut in front of the tower, enough to contain rifles sufficient for a fairly withering fire to be laid down on the approach.

Matovy slept fitfully, her skin crawled as her mind’s eye showed her every man they’d lost on the march back. Every man who’d been lost to Urcaen looked blankly past her, their wounds still open, blood no longer flowing, dustings of ice fringing their clothes, hands, and mouths. In the dream she turned and was met with a bright light, too bright to look at but neither burning nor blinding. It infused her, strengthened her… and then it spoke, strong and masculine but with a darker feminine echo ‘You were meant for more than this’.

Matovy was wondering what this meant when she was shaken awake by Stanislav.

‘Kapitan, Kapitan! A Legion force approaches from the horizon, Koldun Lord Berezov demands your attendance’ Matovy pulled herself together, the dream fading with her haste and headed out to the fortifications.

The area itself had been nothing more than a tower with a curtain wall surrounding a small courtyard being used as a rough stable, the small sleeping quarters and armoury being underground. The tower itself was relatively sound but missing its top level, overnight what had been the previous Kapitan’s quarters had had the walls levelled to use as a heightened platform for the lookouts and snipers. Stanislav lead her there. As she passed through the courtyard she could see holes in the walls had been filled, the one major gap in the west wall having been covered with around 7 feet of planking and with a rough firing step placed inside.

They ascended what remained of the tower and arrived before Berezov, he stood next to Leiutenant Ulyanov and brooded as he looked through a spyglass into the distance.

‘Good morning, Kapitan. Tell me what you see on the horizon.’ Matovy moved towards the rough attempt at battlements and peered through her rifle’s scope. She could see the oncoming troops. Legion archers and swordsmen, numerous smaller ‘Shredder’ warbeasts, and one large Carnivean flanked by several Shepherds.

‘I see a well-armed force we need to take down from range, Koldun Lord. We are vastly outnumbered, and there is no retreat from here. I suggest we begin cutting down what we can.’ Berezov nodded at this, he had seen death before, dealt death before, but this was the first time he had had to face odds like this, and it showed. He had originally only been deployed to the fort to be the eyes and ears of the Greylords Covenant, to replace his predecessor and report unusual activity from the Legion to Korsk. If he lived it seemed he would have a lot to report this time, Matovy thought.

‘Ulyanov, send ten of your men into that trench, have the rest take up positions on the walls. Matovy, your men are to line this tower top. Aim for squad leaders and beast handlers…after that pick your targets at will.’ Both saluted and went about their duties.

It was very manner of fact. They knew the Legion were coming, it would take them ten to fifteen minutes even at a dead run. Plenty of time to get men in place and as prepared as could be. The wounded were propped up against the walls if they could hold a rifle or were left in the small stable area if they could not. Every man and woman there knew what was outside, could see it coming closer and closer. Suddenly in the distance there was a ripple on the flank of the incoming force. A few seconds later the cracks of rifle fire could be heard. Demerov’s Kossites had lain in wait overnight outside the tower. Camouflaged and snowed over they were almost invisible in the field and an entire unit of archers fell after passing their rifles.

Matovy sighted in on the Kossites from her position atop the tower once more and watched as a unit of swordsmen ran to engage them, blades flashing in the low morning sun. She saw the Kossites reload and fire again, the first rank of Swordsmen fell from their shots before the Kossites turned and ran. The main body of the Legion was still headed for the fort but Demerov’s men had successfully drawn off some. As they ran Ulyanov signalled to the men in the yard and two great Khadoran mortars rang out. There were not many shells for these great guns and the Legion had done their best to prevent them being fired again when they sacked the fort but working through the night the men had righted and repaired them.

The shells dipped and landed short of the incoming Nyss, blasts sending some of them tumbling. The mortars rang out again, as often as the gunners could manage. Shells ripped through the Legion lines but their pace only grew. At last they were in range of the trenches, fire burst out and rained down from the snipers on the tower. Bodies fell, twisted and awkward but still the numbers were greater, the charge broke through the trench, and the Legion were at the wall. Lacking the Iron Fangs for such a defensive action the remaining riflemen retreated to the courtyard even as the Carnivean smashed through the barricades.

Matovy had picked off Shepherds and leaders throughout the assault but now she followed as the Greylord ran to the courtyard. They flew down the stairs and could hear the Carnivean smashing through everything it could find. Men, machines, mortars, all were brushed aside by the behemoth that stood before them. Berezov reached the courtyard and once more used his arcane powers to attack the legion. Some froze, many died, and the beast turned to face him. With a roar and a blast of heat the Carnivean made Berezov no more.

Matovy cried out ‘Fall back to the stables!’ and the remaining defenders gathered there as the legion relentlessly pushed on. Men fell, screams came from above everything, Matovy frantically reloaded her rifle and the beast backhanded her body through the stable wall into the Juggernaut. She slipped into unconsciousness and once more the bright light returned to her dreams.

Ulyanov could do nothing as Matovy was flung across the stables into the useless hunk of metal with a sickening thud. The Koldun’s death had left it inert, its cortex scrambled. He saw her fall even as he took out another swordsman with a well-aimed shot. It was then that he heard it. The Juggernaut sighed. He turned and saw its eyes flare, steam spewing from its vents, smoke now pouring from its stacks. Matovy was standing next to it, her eyes lit by an arcane blue glow. Her words rang like thunder in his ears and he was helpless but to obey…

‘In the name of the Empress KILL THEM ALL!’ The wounded rose where they lay, beleaguered rifles raised high and as one they fired. The Nyss before them fell and those behind began to falter, the Juggernaut barrelled into the screeching Carnivean sending it flying backwards towards the hole in the outer wall. It rose again and Ulyanov watched Matovy as blue runes surrounded her rifle, coalescing as she fired. A blue bolt thundered out and hit the open mouthed carnivean square in the jaw; its head disappeared in a shower of gore.

With their major threat gone and the riflemen reforming before them the Nyss faltered, failed, and then ran. Their flight took them straight into the Kossites who had doubled back behind them. Caught in a crossfire their force was extinguished, leaving behind only a bloody memory of the battle for the small border fortress.

Matovy watched the remaining fleeing Nyss and felt the fire pulsing through her veins. The power she had was unimaginable, if she thought hard she could even see the world through the Juggernaut’s eyes. Slowly she calmed herself, felt the power recede, and saw the looks on the faces of Ulyanov and Demerov.

‘You did well’, she said, her breaths ragged as the power receded ‘We must repair the wall and prepare for those reinforcements. Try and give the dead a decent burial too…’ She fell to one knee as it receded further, she was utterly spent.

Demerov spoke first ‘You too seem to have grown fat and lazy, Kapitan, you cannot even stand after a short fight such as this.’ He reached out an arm and pulled her to her feet ‘But in victory it seems that perhaps you are still worthy of being called Kossite.’

Ulyanov’s shock broke ‘Kapitan…what was that? You commanded the Juggernaut…that should not have been possible!’

‘This is Khador, Ulyanov, and she is Kossite. Put those two things together and anything is possible…now, let us get Kapitan Matovy to a place she can rest and we can begin clearing this place. I fear that for better or ill her life may be about to become far more interesting than either of ours.’

Shell Case Shorts 11 – Winner

A little later than intended as I really agonised over who should win the penultimate Shell Case Shorts. There was some great entries but I had to go with this entry in the end as it not only was action packed but wrote about Titans. I’d be mad not to. This first time entrant has netted himself signed copies of Luthor Huss and Wrath of Iron by Chris Wraight.

So I present to you;

War Horns by John Alexander

War horns blared, momentarily drowning out the tumult of war. Even through the adamantium head of the Warlord Titan Furious Intent the angry cry of the corrupted Titans of the Dark Mechanicum made it to the ears of Princeps Ioda Krill. He shuddered, the sensation translating via the haptic link into the Warlord’s gargantuan frame. The Furious growled its displeasure, the mighty machine spirit automatically spinning up the auto loaders of its gatling blaster, the tremendous barrels spinning freely in its mount. Krill gritted his teeth as he bent the will of the Furious to his own. For one hundred years he had been the princeps of the this indomitable machine of war and he knew its moods and what rankled. Moods formed by over a millennia of fighting the wars of the Emperor and the Machine God.

Moderati Jun Nian glanced up from his console alarmed by the sudden arming of systems.

‘Princeps?’

‘It’s fine Jun, just the old girl getting herself all worked up.’ His eyes were closed in concentration. Amongst other Princeps the battle of wills that raged between them and their God-machines was known as the dance. A violent tango between a man and a fiery willed woman who wanted as much to kill you as take the lead.

As he settled the Fruious beneath his boot once more he opened himself to the noosphere, providing him with all the information he needed. He saw what the Furious saw. He saw the bombed and shattered buildings, some of which loomed over even the Furious‘ 33 metre tall frame. He saw tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks churning about his feet in full retreat. The arrival of traitor Titans had caused a general retreat from Pavonis City. Pavonis, like the rest of Daltamoor had fallen to the Ruinous Powers three years previously and after 2 years of unsuccessfully wresting control the Departmento Munitorum had requested the aid of the Adeptus Titanicus.

The Legio Crucius, universally known as the Warmongers, had responded in force. The campaign would have been over in days had the forces of Chaos not been keeping their own war engines in reserve for just such a tactical move. Engine battles had raged across the entire globe, levelling cities, rendered thousands of hectares of land irradiated wastelands, and annihilated millions in the conflagration of the God-war.

Chaos Titans had moved in force into the capital city of Pavonis, halting the scything counter attack by Imperial forces that had all but retaken the city, and with it the Governor’s palace, in barely a day of concentrated fighting. The first the Imperial Guard knew of the titans was when the entire 443rd Balian Dragoons were snuffed out when two traitor Warhound Titans caught them in the open and unleashed their Vulcan Megabolters in a withering crossfire. Nothing remained of the heroes of the Lou Campaign but a fine red mist. Similar reports were heard across the city as Titans tore chunks out of the Imperial armed forces. The Furious Intent was the only engine in the vicinity and responded as quickly as possible. At full stride it still took the Furious three hours to reach the outskirts of the city in which time the traitors had made Pavonis its ghoulish playground. It took less than three minutes for it to account for its first kill.

As the Furious stepped into the city limits of Pavonis a traitor Warhound lopped round the corner chasing fleeing troops like an angry bird, gleefully tearing chunks out of the formation with weapons designed to lay super heavy tanks low. The Furious didn’t even wait for Krill’s haptic input. It’s weapon systems and void shields already powered to a state of battle readiness, it fired a single spear or energy from its volcano cannon that struck the warhound clean on the snout. Its own void shields squealed and popped before collapsing and the head of the Titan exploded in a shower Astartes sized shrapnel and flame. It lurched backwards, feet suddenly without direction like a drunk soldier after closing time, before pitching forwards and burying itself in a collapsed hab.

Since that initial contact the Furious had spent the last 10 hours fighting running battles with at least 6 other engines of Reaver class or above. He’d only glanced one target in the swirling dust storm their engagement had thrown up. Since initial contact their shooting war had raised fourteen buildings, most of which had stood since the earliest days of the Imperium. Sensori Okas had managed to identify 3 of the enemy engines from their silhouettes, their crimes against the Imperium stretching back to the darkest days of the Horus Heresy. Krill and his crew were under no illusions that, unless they were relieved, that Pavonis would be their tomb but they had all resolved to ensure as many of the heretical bastards hidden in the choking dust went with them.

‘Contact plus fifty-seven degrees starboard.’ Shout Okas, the glow of his sensor screen giving his skin a sickly green glow. Krill spotted it a moment before and was already simultaneously moving the Titan behind the gutted remains of the primary administratum building, and rotating the Furious’ torso. ‘All batteries reactive fire.’ He blurted through his MIU. His moderatis responded like puppets, their own links to the noosphere reading and interpreting the Sensori data, plotted firing solutions for a maximum spread, blurting the data to the weapon servitors and the sensori so he could watch for hard returns. The entire process took less than three seconds. The Furious unleashed two full salvos before the building blocked its line of fire.

Energy and solid rounds speared into the swirling gloom swiftly followed by a rippling series of bangs signalled hits.

‘Impacts.’ Shouted Okas. A cant would have been quicker but the moment over took him. ‘Three energy flares consistent with void shield flares.’

‘Get a fix on its position. Recharge main batteries.’ Krill muttered. As the crew acted out his orders the reactor core of the Furious amped up in response to the increased demand. Krill’s own heart quickened in response, his limbs flooding with warmth. Sweat beaded his brow as Krill picked apart the torrents of data that flooded the noosphere. The Furious was hungry. He could feel her straining at the leash of his will. He moved the Titan around the far side of the administratum building and sent an impulse blurt to the weapons servitors to fire.

There are few things more awe-inspiring than a Warlord Titan opening fire with all its weapons systems. Remembrancers of Great Crusade described it as the Emperor’s wrath made manifest. The reality was something entirely more terrifying. Air itself seethed. The thunderclap of over pressure made the air itself to shriek. Dust churned and swirled like angry hornets. A ruined building nearby shuddered and collapsed under the pressure and men fleeing between the Furious’ feet were knocked to the ground. Less than a second later the sky lit up with exploding energy as void shields howled and collapsed, less than a second after that explosions blossomed.

‘Solid hits.’ Reported the Sensori. Krill wasn’t paying attention, the Furious had sensed something. It was already moving in response. Krill tried to fight it but he couldn’t. He was too old. Too much a part of the Titan. The Furious Intent took a step back, then another and  another. It moved with an agility Krill didn’t think possible. The Furious moved itself back behind the Administratum building, back braced against the crumbling façade.

‘Princeps! What’s-’ Nian shouted before the world outside the armour-plas of the Titans head and the sensor screens exploded with energy returns. The Sensori registered weapons fire pummelling the building and the space around the Titan. Energy flared at the edges of the Titan’s shields as near misses glanced off them.

‘Enemy Warlord Titan,’ Shouted Okas needlessly. Negative one-hundred and eighty degrees aft.’ Krill wasn’t listening. In his head he was waging a battle of wills with the Furious. She was a seething mass of rage in his mind. Determined to stride out and confront the threat. Krill couldn’t be certain if he felt the same sense of indignation or if the Furious was starting to encroach on his mind. It happened to all Princeps. The longer they spent in the chair of a Titan the more the Titan’s machine spirit began to dominate the princeps. Titans as old as the Furious Intent had absorbed the minds of so many Princeps over the centuries that she was all but self-aware. Krill knew he didn’t have long. He hadn’t spent enough time out of the link. It was an important part of preserving ones sanity but it hurt him to be away from the old girl for too long.

The incoming fire ebbed away. Either the attack titan had drained its energy reserves or it was moving around for a better firing position. Krill decided not to wait to find out. Turning left he took the Furious back the way they came at a walking pace, the sensori systems stretched out to maximum. He and the Furious could sense something was out there, waiting.

The dusty gloom lit up with muzzle flashes as a gatling blaster opened up. Heavy calibre shells smashed into the Warlord Titan’s void shields making them pop and fizz. Krill’s skin prickled as the void shield generators struggled to cope with the onslaught. He took direct  control of the weapons systems, his vision suddenly becoming the focussed aiming auspex of the volcano cannon. As he sighted down the monstrous weapon he felt the familiar snap of a void shield failing. Ignoring the stinging sensation covering his body he aimed at the muzzle flash and unleashed an over charged blast. There was a blinding flash in the gloom and the incoming fire suddenly stopped. Then there was a series of secondary flashes, dimmer than the first, as explosions touched off starting from what Krill suspected to be the enemy Titan’s magazine. Within moments ahead of the Furious was little more than a seething mass of secondary blasts before an indistinct shape fell to the ground.

‘Confirmed engine kill.’ Announced Okas. Krill, like the rest of the command staff already knew it. They could sense the change in the noosphere. But it was for the logs: another confirmed engine kill for the proud and noble Furious Intent. Then Krill’s world was filled with pain as the Furious’ shields were hammered to break point from behind. He instinctively put the titan into a stride searching to put distance and cover between the Chaos Warlord Titan that had flanked the Furious whilst she had dealt with what they knew to be a smaller Reaver class Titan. The war horns sounded behind him like a call to the hunt. Which it was.

Turning right the Furious was confronted by a Warhound Titan. It’s armour twisted and marked with obscene iconography and daubed expressions. Krill’s anger flared and he pushed the Titan onwards. The Warhound opened fire, turbo lasers causing another shield to collapse but it had chosen to stand and fight rather than flee. The Furious slammed into the scout Titan, knocking it off its four-toed feet before the much bigger Titan brought its follow-up step down hard on to its body. The Warhound Titan died quickly and with little drama, black ugly smoke boiling out from under its ruined carapace, its’ body twitching like a recently dead animal put out of its misery.

The sudden change of direction had put some distance between the Furious and its pursuer but the tremors Krill could feel vibrating through his God-machine told him he had little time. With skill born of a century of service, he reversed course, bringing the Furious about whilst blurting to his moderati to bring all weapons to readiness, overriding their initial priority of bringing shields back online. As he felt the warm tingling sensation build in his arms once more the ugly, warped face of the Chaos Warlord Titan loomed into view. A twisted, nightmarish shadow of its former glory, every surface was an unholy seething mass of faces, icons, scriptures and other horrors. Its head was a leering gore spattered skull that had what appeared to be mad staring eyes.

‘Fire.’ Krill exclaimed, opening his eyes for the first time in days to witness what was to come. The Chaos Titan had rounded the corner right into the waiting guns of the Imperial Titan and caught the full force of its fury at point-blank range. The result was instantly cataclysmic. Void shields failed with a pop of energy that struck the Furious causing systems to overload, relays blowing across the engine. As the shields of the Chaos Titan collapsed the combined incoming fire struck it in the head and chest, super charged energy and mass reactive shells the size of mag-levs melting or smashing apart armour plating and critical systems.

An explosion blasted outwards, shrapnel the size of battle tanks ripping outwards slamming into the Furious, scything through its unshielded torso and hip mount. Krill cried out feeling psychosomatic lesions to well up across his abdomen and thighs. The damage wasn’t severe, the armour-plate taking the worst of the impact but the hip-joint was buckled and snarled. Without attention it would slow the Furious and make her an easy target.

‘Bring void shields back online,’ Krill said through gritted teeth. ‘Jun get repair crews down to the port side rotational cuff, I need that joint de-fouled ‘ Jun nodded and began relaying orders, all the while keeping a worried eye on his Princeps. The way in which Krill had barrelled down that Warhound was reckless and potentially fatal. The kind of behaviour one would expect from hot-headed Princeps and their Warhound steeds. Had the reactor gone critical it would have blown the Furious apart. She was starting to win. Starting to slowly take Krill over. Depending on how this engine battle ended this could well be Krill’s final stride.

***

The sun had set on Pavonis. The Furious Intent stalked through the city with as many systems powered down as Krill and his Techpriest – Dolan – dared to avoid detection. Stealth was a peculiar concept to engine combat. To anyone on the ground a Titan was impossible to miss but to the crews of a God-machine they relied on auspex and the noosphere. A powered down Titan was surprisingly hard to detect, only the residual heat bleeding off its armour plates from the heat of the day gave any real return in the infra-red. A God-machine alone in a city against at least 3 enemy Titans of unknown classification was vulnerable, if such a notion could ever be considered so every effort had to be made to keep a low profil. Fortunately for the Furious and her crew the arch-enemy weren’t being as subtle. Heat spikes and energy discharges flashed across the passive sensori screens as the Chaos Titans indulged their baser instincts, slaughtering those Imperial forces yet to flee, or unable to flee, the necropolis Pavonis was fast becoming.

The Furious lurked in the darkness watching at a distance as a traitor Reaver and two Warhounds capered through the streets, pouncing on infantry and tanks with equal abandon, executing them with short ranged bursts of mega bolter fire or simply stamping on them with their adamantium shod feet, smearing flesh and metal across streets, the gleeful blare of their war horns echoing between the buildings and sounding for all the world like the laughter of maniacal children. Krill felt his anger rise, the fires of the Furous’ reactors burning hot in response. The sight sickened him and the Furious responded in kind, systems powering up to combat readiness, void shields springing to life. Krill’s moderati’s started to panic, blurting queries and pleading with the Princeps for an update. He ignored them. And the Furious were too intent on their prize.

Taking on three engines at once would be suicide in any normal circumstances but Krill didn’t care, he could feel Furious Intent creeping into his mind. The rage he was feeling wasn’t his own. The strain of the last few hours had finally eroded the last vestiges of his resolve. He was losing control. But before his consciousness was consumed he would bring low the traitorous dogs that had defiled this world. Taking full control of bridge systems Krill set the Furious into a run, each foot fall like the of the world.

At first the enemy titans didn’t notice the Warlord bearing down upon them, so intent on their cruelty. The nearest Warhound detected the impending threat first, it’s keener auspex array picking up the heat flare even as it crushed a Leman Russ battle tank beneath its foot. It hooted a warning, turning to face the new threat, hunkered low like a cornered beast. It didn’t have time to do anything else. The Furious hit the Warhound at full speed, void shields flaring as the energy field collided with the smaller engine and shredding it utterly. The Furious didn’t slow, leaving the mangled wreckage in its wake, swinging its weapons outwards delivering a point-blank shot from its volcano cannon into the chest of the Reaver titan. Shields flared and peeled like a dying flower, and the Reaver stumbled, crashing into a tower block in an explosion of collapsing shields and shattering masonry.

The second Warhound surged forward, vulcan megabolters spitting, shells ringing off void shields. The Furious responded in kind, rotating its gatling blaster and sending a torrent of shells slamming through its void shields in a thunder-clap of over pressure, and chewing into armour plating. The Warhound’s advance faltered and it shuddered like a dog shaking then it exploded, briefly being replaced by a small star as it’s reactor went critical. The event wave slammed into the Furious Intent, knocking it backwards, shields overloading in a brilliant blue flare momentarily casting out the night. Krill screamed with pain as the heat of the detonation seared the Titan’s armour plates and blinded its auspex arrays. Momentarily blinded the God-machine stumbled, crashing into a building almost toppling. On the bridge alarms were blaring as power system fluctuated. Moderati Nian was stood in front of Princeps Krill desperately trying to shake him from the battle catatonia he had slipped into. To Krill it was too far aware to matter. A moment later an energy beam speared out of the night and struck the Titan in the torso. With the shields down the blast punched clean through the Titan’s armour and out the otherside. Krill and the Furious cried out together, the Titan’s pained cry from its war horns ringing out across the landscape. It was met by a mocking honk of triumph. The wounded Chaos Reaver Titan stepped out of gloom its gatling blaster blazing.

Shells tore into the Furious’ body, chewing armour and causing explosions to puff in the night air. The crew on the bridge watched from the view ports as the Reaver charged its turbo lasers one more for the killing blow as its war horns trumpeted. There was a flash and an explosion. On the bridge the crew stared dump founded as the watched the Chaos Reaver stumble, a smoking ruin where its turbo laser mount had once been as the Warlord Titan Sol’s Justice strode from the darkness weapons systems blazing. The Furious’ cry of pain undoubtedly drawing her sister Titan to her aid. The Furious, seizing her chance, pushed herself upright, smoke billowing from a hundred wounds, stabilizers screaming, and fired its volcano cannon point-blank in to the face of the stunned Reaver, sheering off its head, neck and the top 10 metres of its beetle-back in a corona of fire. The Reaver toppled backwards, bringing down a building with it and lay dead in the rubble.

As the Furious blared its triumph, its war horns shaking the very buildings around it Nian stood before Princeps Krill, sadness etched onto his face. Blood drooled from Krill’s mouth and nose. His navy blue uniform was stained with a hundred patches of blood from the haptic backlash. The fact that the Titan strode on told Nian all he needed to know of Krill’s true fate but his report would show the crew taking manual control at the critical moment when the Princeps died of his wounds. Anything less would risk Furious Intent having her machine spirit wiped rather than risk the Titan becoming sentient. But Nian wouldn’t allow that. The Furious Intent would stride again.

Shell Case Shorts 12

So we’ve finally come to it; the last (ever) Shell Case Shorts competition. It’s been a long and interesting road with some awesome entries and as we stare down the barrel of 2013 I’m really excited about the anthology which will be out in the New Year.

As it’s the last competition I did my best to make the prize as awesome as possible. And this month I’ve been helped along by the awesome Nick Kyme, Gav Thorpe and Sarah Cawkwell. A huge thank you goes out to them as they’ve already been so generous with their donations to The Shell Case in the past.

So this months prizes are; Tome of Fire and The Great Betrayal by Nick Kyme, Ravenwing by Gav Thorpe and Valkia the Bloody by Sarah Cawkwell.

UPDATE - The prize now also includes a signed copy of Battle of the Fang by Chris Wraight.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to add to this prize over December to give the Shell Case Shorts the send off it deserves.

scs12prizes

So, what do you need to do to win this pile of awesome? Well, here’s the rules…

Write a short story of between 3,000 & 5,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Monday 31st December 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Shell Case Shorts 10 – Winner

There were some great entries for October’s Shell Case Shorts but, as usual, there can be only one winner and it goes to a short story rather appropriately set in Firestorm Invasion written by a previous Shell Case Shorts entrant, Lee Faccini, who got an honourable mention for his Loyalist Emperor’s Children origins piece back in April.

Lee clearly did his home work I think capturing the what it means to be on the ground in the Firestorm Armada Universe very well. And the lucky bugger wins himself a Dindrenzi starter army for Firestorm Invasion for his trouble.

Firestorm - by Lee Faccini

Davin ran through his system checks one last time. One last time before it all became real. The academies trained you to your peak during simulation but nothing can truly prepare you for that which you have not yet experienced.  Nothing happens as you would expect it to, or want it to. Taking a slow deep breath Davin triggered the main power up sequence, tensing sharply as the display blacked out, flickered, and then gradually brought his surroundings into focus. Waiting a moment to allow his senses to adjust to their new sources of feedback, he flexed his neck and attempted to settle as comfortably as possible into his piloting position.

One by one the system indicators started to come on, each flicking through various warning states before settling on a column of green across the right side edge of his view screen. They glowed prominently against the dull red hue of his suits optics that made the world around him seem even darker than it probably was. Looking left and right, he could see the other members of his unit running through their own pre-combat rituals. Some moved impatiently in their harnesses, others stood still almost lifeless.

There were five of them in all lined up against one side of the metal container and all were ready to go into action at a moment’s notice. Davin ignored his squad mates and merely stared at the ground some ten feet below him, trying to remember everything he thought he’d never forget after the intensive, seemingly endless, training he’d endured leading up to this day. Although a rookie pilot he was a seasoned soldier and had seen enough combat to last more than his life time, with a few more besides. Fighting on foot was easy he joked to himself, easier to fight when you don’t have to remember how to walk.

And it was a joke. Being a true infantryman was utterly unforgiving without ever having to make a mistake.  Unprotected by heavy armour, casualty rates were severe in the extreme and you were lucky to see the other side of a battle, let alone a campaign.  Only through a mix of ability and luck could one hope to progress and eventually gain promotion, and the mix leaned more in favour of the latter the longer you served. Modern day battlefields were no longer a place for unprotected soldiers and he was glad to have left it behind. He had trusted in his ability and knew he would come to rely on it more ever now – he was good, and he knew it.  It was why he had been assigned to this unit despite it being his first suited combat drop.

Davin had never seen himself as the Elite Sections type, but his situational awareness and natural aptitude for combat techniques had got him noticed by his superiors. It wasn’t long before he was training to operate a War-Strider for one of the specialist Combat Infiltration Units. Adept at gaining access to heavily-defended positions in the midst of a full engagement, they were usually deployed away from the main thrust of a diversionary attack. After quickly breaching defences, they were tasked with completing critical objectives – primarily search and destroy- which would either complete the mission outright or enable the main attack to succeed.  It was a risky tactic as the possibility of being observed while deploying was high, and if the enemy had sufficient reserves to spare they would quickly be overwhelmed. But on many occasions the gambit had proved successful enough to now utilise it as a legitimate plan of attack – even if the CI Unit didn’t survive the attempt.

Davin’s unit had their objectives located in a large thermal energy facility that was supplying power to a number of military installations. If it could be captured or destroyed it would severely hinder the defensive efforts in this sector. The Terran Alliance had sought to hide it from the Dindrenzi in a wooded valley far away from any other positions of tactical value.  Hidden conduits running underground and the close in vegetation meant it was difficult to see from the air and almost invisible on the ground.  Only through meticulous intelligence gathering had the RSN pinpointed its location and once the list of assets it supplied became apparent, a full scale attack was inevitable. Three battalions comprising a full regiment from the Storm Legions had been allocated as sufficient for the attack plus a periphery of support elements – including their CIU assistance.

Just as he was about to do another mental check of his objectives, his comm-link sounded. The squad snapped to attention as a calm voice announced himself as Field Commander Horten. The sounds of war could be heard in the background and Davin knew the audio dampeners of his comm were straining against the cacophony of noise that must have been pouring through the transmission. Despite this Horten continue to talk as if nothing was amiss – secure in the knowledge his voice would be heard. Even though they had been extensively briefed on what was expected of them in the next few hours, Horten explained his exacting demands of their action and left each of them in no doubt that failure was not an option. They would succeed, they had been commanded to. 

As soon as Horten signed off, tactical data lit up Davin’s view screen, spooling lists on all manner of information flickered in the corners of his vision. With a jolt, the wall in front of him began to separate and sunlight spilt into the dingy container as it parted along its length, as the roof and floor pulled back behind them more of their surroundings came into view. The drop ship, nearing its target location, had begun to point its nose down for a sharp dive and as it rolled into the manoeuvre the battlefield stretched out in front of them.  As they descended, he could see Dindrenzi forces approaching the facility through the nearest end of the valley and tactical data told him the same was happening on the other side. 

Explosions billowed up from the tree line and fierce fighting could be glimpsed as they skirted the edge of conflict.  Flying lower Davin could see the Terrans were putting up a wall of fire to prevent any of the attackers from breaking through. Valenfyre tanks in concealed positions relentlessly sent shell after shell screaming through the undergrowth, punishing the dense Dindrenzi formations as they negotiated the dense terrain.  Blazing wreckage clogged the spaces between the massive trees towering overhead, providing a measure of cover but also further restricting room for manoeuvre. It was quickly degenerating into a blood bath.

A squadron of Long Bow tank hunters eventually managed to find a position with a good field of fire and holes had started to appear in the Terran lines as they unleashed the fearsome power of their rail-cannons. Lines of fire streaked between the trees, the extreme velocity of the rail slugs igniting the air as they ripped through it at hyper velocity. Trees centuries old and tank armour alike was torn asunder by the force of the slugs, bones of nearby soldiers turned to powder by the concussive force. Successes were short lived however, the distinctive contrails revealing the position of the tank hunters and they soon fell victim to the continued concentrated shelling that was steadily tearing the forest apart.

We need to move quickly thought, Davin.  The attack was doing its job in absorbing the Terran’s attention but at the current rate of attrition it wouldn’t last long, the forest negated their superior manoeuvrability and the Terrans had prepared their defences well.  Time was his biggest enemy now.

They approached the facility perimeter away from the fighting and attempted to break any sight lines the enemy had drawn on them.   The drop ship skimmed the forest canopy as it came in low, dodging the sporadic anti-aircraft fire that lost its way through the dense foliage.  The pilot swung the tail around so it was pointing towards the facility and levelled out for a few seconds before powering vertically into the sky, eventually disappearing into the cloud cover. In that brief pause the ten members of the 201st CIU had disengaged their harnesses and jumped out of the open container doors on both sides of their transport.

Davin braced himself for the impending impact as his suit plummeted to the ground – his descent ending abruptly with a jarring impact and his suits leg servos and inertial dampeners protested against the strain, warning lights momentarily flashing on his HUD.  His team thumped down around him as he pulled himself upright. An amber warning light had stayed lit on his HUD causing him to frown in irritation. A quick diagnostic told him the uneven ground had meant the joint had twisted a load pin on landing the would shear through within the next 30 minutes based on projected operational requirements.

Pushing the concern to one side, his first objective flashed up on his view screen and a timer began counting down – 90. sec. Until Mission Failure.  Breach the Perimeter.

Davin’s suit scanners had begun registering enemy contacts a small circular display in the bottom left corner filling with insistent red flashing dots. As his active scanners started to pick up hard returns his vision was overlaid with white ghosting silhouettes of enemy positions. His system highlighted the weakest defended sections of the perimeter on his map and his squad leader selected their target zone. “Unit 8, you’re with me.” Came his order and he dutifully followed as the squad dispersed further into the trees, some branching out to the flanks in a standard bull horns formation. They pounded their way onwards through the undergrowth, the twelve foot tall armoured exosuits pulping the foliage and smashing through brushes and fallen logs with ease. Their small window of opportunity meant there was no room for stealth of subtlety but within moments they were close enough to launch their attack.

A collection of icons floated on his screen with a distance counters rapidly counting down. They were just over 150 metres away from the perimeter wall. Echos of targets rippled all along their primary objective. Their silhouette identified them as a section of support platforms armed with autocannons and were risky to take on in frontal attack, but time was a factor – they had no choice.

60 sec. Until Mission Failure.  Breach the Perimeter.

Davin’s squad leader stopped ahead of him and knelt down behind a dead fall, checking everyone’s position before he gave the order to break cover.  Turning to look straight at him, he motioned ahead with his free arm and Davin heard the go signal in his comm-link. He started forward without hesitation and it was only a few paces before he crashed through the tree line and into the open.  As one the sentries arrayed ahead turned to face the detected threat and locked on to their chosen targets, gun fire rippling along the defensive line a hundred metres ahead.  Evasive manoeuvres were already being taken by the members of the 201st as the 54mm rounds began stitching lines in the dirt towards them but dozens of rounds still found their mark.  Davin’s suit began to register impacts on various locations though thankfully his speed meant they glanced off the thicker plating of his armour.

His comm-link was a chorus of noise. Grunts and yells punctuated by the odd cry of pain filtered in as the cascade of fire maintained its punishing rate. Several of the squad member indicators on his view screen had changed colour, mostly yellows and ambers but a few flashed red then winked out.  Another warning flashed up – it was his left knee again. The warning light had changed from amber to a ruddy orange. He ignored it, pushing on, faster now, dodging side to side as the early warning systems informed him when he was being targeted. Ducking under a sweeping burst, his knee joint protesting vehemently, he risked a sharp glance to his left and was just in time to see Unit 04 get caught in a cross fire than cut him in half.  Another red light. 

30 sec. Until Mission Failure.  Breach the Perimeter.

He had closed to within thirty metres and only now raised his coil gun to try and carve a gap, for fear of slowing his rate of advance. Quickly locking on to the nearest turret, he sent a burst of fire towards it, aiming for the sentry’s targeting array. The high velocity slugs tore through the armoured housing with ease, shredding the delicate sensors inside. Denied targeting information the gun fell silent, patiently awaitig instructions that would never come. Davin and the rest of the squad quickly exploited the gap he had created and the guns fell silent as they were neutralised one by one.  Blasting through the perimeter wall, they entered the facility and took up position amongst the closest group of buildings.

Objective Complete.  New Objective – Neutralise Primary Control Tower. 120 sec. Until Mission Failure.

Sirens sounded out as their presence was detected and alarm raised to the Terran defenders.  More ghosts appeared on Davin’s view screen and began converging on their position.  Seven of the squad had made it through in various states of combat effectiveness – but his squad leader was not one of them, a lucky shot shredding his torso as they cleared the breach.  Unit 2 quickly assumed command and split the survivors in to two fire teams, each group moving towards the objective via a different route.  The Control Tower itself was a tall spike of concrete, looming over the smaller structures that were scattered around it like leaves from a tree.

Davin and his two other squad members hastily moved through the industrial maze wreaking carnage with every stide. Enemy infantry were constantly appearing to launch attacks only to be annihilated by the trio’s fearsome weaponry, but there had been several near misses with Unit 6 now missing the left arm of his suit.  Explosions tore through power conduits and heat exchangers as they fought their way onwards causing a warning klaxon to blare out across the compoud. Davin could see on map overlay that Unit 2 and his group had taken a shorter route and were now closer to the tower, but judging by the ring of enemy contacts surrounding them it did not look like they were going to advance much further.

60 sec. Until Mission Failure.  Neutralise Primary Control Tower.

Enemy War-Striders had started to appear amongst the defenders in the heart of the facility and Davin realised the threat they posed had now been realised.  It wouldn’t take long for heavier armour to be redeployed and the facility to be locked down entirely. Reaching the base of tower the three remaining Gauntlet suits formed up to defend themselves against the army of defenders now on the verge of overrunning them.  The Morbius suits the Terrans used were somewhat smaller and less well protected than their Dindrenzi equivalents but their superior numbers were beginning to tell.  Davin fired his weapon continuously without pause, shell casings clattering around his feet. Temperature warnings flashed angrily telling him it was on the brink of a catastrophic jam but he continued to fire, smashing apart the his poorly armoured foes.

Withing moments the Terrans had closed the gap and were amongst them. Unit 6 dropped suddenlty. Without his other arm to defend himself it was all too easy to tear his suit to pieces and his screams were abruptly ended as an armoured fist smashed through his chest plate.  Davin was knocked sideways as another suit blindsided him, sending both of them sprawling to the floor amidst twisted armour plating and spent shell casings. Davin ended up on his back and reacted first to backhand his opponent who was trying to stand.  The blow caved in one side of the cockpit and a variety of fluids seeped out of cracks in the armoured plate as it slowly toppled over, its pilot pulped from the impact.  

As Davin tried to stand. There was a sickening thud as the pin finally gave out, trapping him in place. Two more Morbius suits body checked him to the floor and pinned him to the ground whilst another fired it’s Shardgun at him at close range, trying to find weak points in his armour.  Davin’s arm ignited in pain as it was blasted apart at the elbow, followed almost immediately by the other as it was torn off at the shoulder through brute force.  Fists began hammering down on his face plate which began to buckle under the repeated impacts. Warnings flashed and flickered as cracks appeared across his view and the last thing he could make out before his suits armour plating was peeled open were two words posted across his view screen.  Mission Failed.  Bio-electric feedback coursed through his body and he screamed as every muscle in his body contracted uncontrollably.  Screwing his eyes shut he almost felt a release as he faded out into the black.

***

Davin’s vision began to return from the darkness. The hazy glow soon becoming a blinding light he couldn’t turn away from.  Dull noises reached the edge of his hearing as he lay still, his body seething with pain and unable to move.  His body was still contorted with electrical discharge from the haptic feedback his nervous system had endured just moments earlier.  The lid of his neuro-chamber came in focus and he remembered where he was; back on the RSN Cruiser orbiting above the planet he had been fighting on.  A voice spoke from beside his chamber, slightly muffled by the glass. ‘This one’s alive too’ it said.
‘That’s four. Total.’ Answered a second voice, ‘A forty per cent survival rate is good for their type of unit.’
‘They must be as good as they say then.’ Said the first voice.
‘I don’t think the brass will see it that way. They failed the mission.’
‘Shit.’ The voice whistled. ‘He’ll wish he was dead after all.’
Davin considered the statement for a moment and closed his eyes.  They were probably right.

Shell Case Shorts 11

Well here we are in November and you know what that means? The penultimate Shell Case Shorts.

This months prizes have been donated by none other than Chris Wraight, Black Library author and all round top chap. His interview with The Shell Case can be read here. Up for grabs are signed copies of his novels Wrath of Iron & Luthor Huss.

Rules are as follows:

Write a short story of between 2,000 & 3,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Friday 30th November 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Shell Case Shorts 9 – Winner

September’s Shell Case Shorts winner is a previous winner from way back in May who wrote a fantastic Warhammer Fantasy story about desserters lost in the treacherous woods of Athel Loren, entitled Wildwood. This month’s winning entry is, effectively, the events leading up to and running along side that story. Aside from being a great story it’s fantastic to have the other side of the story.

The Hunt - by Ian Tovey

He was sitting in the darkest corner of the most disreputable drinking hole he could find located in Altdorf’s harbour district in a part of the city known as backstabber alley, trying to shake off yet another attack of the shakes. Long greasy hair shot through with grey framed a sweating face bloated by drink and the beer belly betokened a once dashing figure gone to seed. Closer examination showed that his doublet which had once been finely tailored in a deep plum coloured velvet was now faded, threadbare and crusted with drink and food stains, the matching britches were worn thin at the knees and ripped at the rear revealing a large portion of ample buttock. He picked up the leather jack with shaking hands, slopping some of its contents onto the table and into his lap and drained what was left in a single draft, tipping it back so quickly that some of its contents dribbled down his chin and soaked into his shirt. Wiping at his wine stained whiskers with a grubby sleeve he gripped the edge of the table to steady himself as he stood, cautiously, breathing heavily and swaying while he gained his bearings before stumbling towards the back door of the bar.

At a nearby table a group of half a dozen fashionably dressed young blades, full of bravado and cheap beer exploded in a fit of giggles. ‘Aah! The poor old sod’s pissed himself!’ one of them howled seeing the damp patch on the drunk’s groin. Another stuck out his foot as the drunkard tottered past sending him sprawling into a table laden with drinks and empty mugs, bringing him to the floor amidst shattered class and broken pottery, soaking him with slops. The drunk staggered to his feet and drew himself up to his full height; he glared at them with red rimmed watery eyes then belched explosively sending the blades into further paroxysms of laughter.

‘Oi you!’ shouted the barkeeper over the general hubbub, ‘we don’t want no trouble here, so bugger off you old sot!’

Gathering the little dignity left to him, the drunk staggered through the door and out into the gathering dark. As the cold night air hit him like a slap in the face, a wave of maudlin self-pity washed over him; he sank into the gutter and buried his face in his hands, shaking uncontrollably as he wept. Ten years ago things would have been very different, he thought as he got unsteadily back to his feet and headed for the cheap lodging house he reluctantly called home.

 ***

Captain Albrecht Schultz turned in his saddle and shading his eyes against the sun’s glare looked back along the line of troops as it snaked its way along the banks of the river Sol and felt his heart sink. At his side the army commander, Count Ulrich von Schloss spotted his movement and grinned, ‘Finest body of men a man can hire, eh Schultz my good man?’

‘Yes my Lord,’ Schultz replied though gritted teeth almost chocking on the lie; the Count was not a man to be crossed with impunity. In all his long years of soldiering this was by far the most badly equipped, ill-disciplined rabble that Schultz had ever had the misfortune to be associated with. Why he had allowed himself to let the Count to talk him into taking part in this crackbrained invasion of Bretonnia he would never know. Maybe it had something to do with the fat purse of gold that was being constantly dangled before him but which never seem to make its way into his palm.

With whoops and hollers a wild-looking bunch of extravagantly moustachioed men, dressed in an assortment of furs galloped by on shaggy ponies. The Count looked towards their rapidly dwindling forms, a beatific smile on his thin face, ‘Kislevite Cossacks, the finest irregular cavalry in the world!’ he breathed reverentially.

‘The biggest bunch of thieves, cut throats and drunkards more like’ Shultz thought to himself, but refrained from voicing his misgivings aloud. From his vantage point among the Counts personal retinue of heavily armoured knights, at the head of the column, he could see through the cloud of dust kicked up by the marching troops. The sunlight flashed and twinkled from arms and armour beneath the flags that cracked and fluttered in the breeze. He could make out blocks of halberdiers, scruffy looking troops of militia, several companies of archers; his own included amongst them, and a small group of highly professional looking great swords. Marching just behind the retinue came the Count’s other pride and joy, a troop of mercenary crossbowmen supplied by Duke Bastinado of Tilea who had also provided maps, information and funds in exchange for a battery of impressive looking, but ultimately useless canons. At the rear of the column, creating an even greater cloud of dust was the artillery and the baggage trains, chirgeon’s and sutler’s carts, whores, wives and children and the associated hangers-on that accompany an army on the march.

The day had ended in a glorious fiery sunset and the army had pitched its last encampment on the banks of the Sol before it turned west across the plain towards the Grey Mountains, camp fires filled the evening air with smoke and the smells of cooking. Captain Schultz sat in the command tent listening as the Duke’s reedy voice ran through the final plan of attack, ‘… so you see gentleman we will approach Quenelles from the east through the forest of Athel Loren, a totally unexpected quarter. In no time at all we will have swept aside any opposition and the city and its vast wealth will be ours.’ The other captains, arse lickers to a man in Schultz’s opinion, nodded and murmured their agreement. Schultz plucked up courage and addressed the Count, ‘My Lord,’ he tried hard not to sound sarcastic as he said the word, ‘are you sure that at this time of the year the mountains can be crossed at the point our guides are pointing us towards?’

The Count shifted his thin frame in the overly ornate chair that he had insisted on bringing on campaign and turned his ratty looking face towards Schultz, staring at him with cold dead eyes before answering, ‘Duke Bastinado runs the largest private ring of spies in the known world, and they have mapped the passes and the outer edges of the forest beyond. He assures me that there will be no problems on the road that we have chosen.’

‘Ah, the forest,’ replied Schultz, ‘have you considered how the wood elves will take to us trespassing on their lands?’

‘Pah!’ snorted the Count snapping his fingers in contempt. ‘Wood elves are a myth peddled by fat, ignorant peasant women, especially the garlic stinking Bretonnians, to keep their ill-behaved spawn in order. They’re a convenient fiction put about by that old blow hard the Duke of Quenelles as propaganda to convince the credulous that his precious city is invulnerable to a flank attack. You Schultz are rapidly turning into a whining old woman and we are growing tired with listening to your constant carping; your presence is no longer required at our councils. From now on you can march with that rag-tag rabble that passes for a company of archers!’

Schultz took one look at the Count’s bulging eyes, foam-flecked lips and crimson features and swallowed the impulse to comment on the folly of trusting a Tilean spymaster or entering the dark and foreboding homelands of the wood elves. He stood, saluted and, turning heavily on his heel, returned to his tent.

***

Things started to turn bad for the expedition as soon as it attempted to cross the mountains. The sun, which had shone on them for weeks on end, disappeared into massed banks of threatening grey cloud and the temperature dropped dramatically as they started to ascend the upper slopes of the foothills, shortly followed by heavy snow. ‘So much for Duke Bastinado’s information’ cursed Schultz struggling through a particularly deep drift. By the time that they reached the high mountain passes the pace of the army had been reduced to a slow crawl. The paths were narrow and icy making it difficult to move the artillery and the baggage, resulting in the larger canon and some wagons, mainly those carrying the tents, being abandoned.

And that was just the start. As the weather worsened and the men grew tired accidents started to occur with growing regularity. Whilst traversing a particularly difficult section of path with a cliff to their right and a sheer drop of a thousand or more feet to their left, a pony train, heavily laden with food supplies, slipped on a patch of ice and plunged screaming over the precipice dragging the five others in the string and their unfortunate handler to their deaths. Exhausted men collapsed by the side of the path and froze to death where they lay, their bodies rapidly becoming formless white humps beneath the constantly falling snow.

The army that came down from the mountains to follow the course of the river Brionne to Quenelles was a shadow of its former self with what little sense of discipline it had possessed at the start of the march beaten and frozen out of it. However, its real troubles were only just beginning. As soon as the Count’s army entered the forest men began to disappear. Stragglers at the back of the column disappeared. Outriders began to be picked off by archers hidden amongst the trees. Then just as suddenly the entire column would fall under sudden and brutal attack by figures in cloaks and covered faces, reaping a heavy toll.

Yet the men marched on, in mortal fear of feeling the bite of a white feathered arrow in his throat or back. Scouts moving ahead of the main column encountered deadly traps; shallow pits lined with sharpened stakes designed to maim and cripple an unwary man or horse, dead fall animal traps with a central spike on which the unfortunate victim became impaled or short poles cunningly arranged so that when trodden on they brought a spiked board up into the victim’s chest or belly. In the morning after the first night’s camp the sentries were found at their posts with their throats cut. During the second night the sentries vanished on for their bodies to be discovered strung up in the trees along the line of march, the last one still jerking and twitching as the column reached him. Yet of their attackers there was no sign.

The strain became too much for the common soldiers, many of whom were young men taking part in their first campaign. Despite the dangers around them desertion became rife and two of Schultz’s archers slipped away one night. Schultz wandered the woods for days, carefully marking his route with torn strips of his jerkin, careful to do nothing anger the wood elves further. Despite the pervasive sense of dread he was determined to find the men make an example of them. The army might be falling apart around him but he was damned if he was going to let his own regiment go the same way. The discovery of their mangled remains in a clearing had frustrated his plans and, he had to admit to himself, badly shaken him up.

Eventually the Count had decided to turn away from the river and head south towards the borders of the forest where reports said that it opened up into large easily crossed clearings. After a day’s hard slog cutting a path through dense undergrowth they finally broke out into open ground, a glade the size of a large meadow. The grass was thick and lush the small creatures flitted between its blades. As the Cossacks, strung out and agitated, emerged into the glade disaster struck. Spying a herd of magnificent looking pale grey and white horses grazing at the far end, drunk on vodka to a man, they set off without warning at the gallop to capture them. They had travelled less than half the distance to their goal when a single arrow took their leader in the throat with a wet thud. He continued to sit astride his horse, a bemused look on his face, choking on his own blood for several seconds before slipping from his saddle and falling beneath the feet of the horse next to him. Before his comrades could react a blizzard of arrows broke from the surrounding trees and scythed into them. Ponies screamed and plunged as the arrows struck home and men fell screaming and cursing from their saddles transfixed by the long shafts. One rider, pierced through the right shoulder, found his left foot tangled in his stirrup strap and was dragged for several hundred yards dashing his brains out as he bounced behind his mount. The few survivors of the arrow storm broke and galloped madly back towards the safety of the main body of the army; they were picked off one by one long before they reached it.

The Tilean crossbow men had been called up to provide covering fire, but before they could manhandle their heavy wooden pavaises into position or find a target to shoot at they too fell victim to a storm of unerringly accurate bow fire. With a bellow the Count led his knights in a mad charge across the glade and by some miracle he and a couple of survivors made it to the tree line where they kept going. Schultz realised with a sick feeling in his stomach that the army had been abandoned to its fate by its erstwhile leader. Strung out in a column of march it fell easy prey to its attackers and all hell broke loose. He watched horrified as the army disintegrated around him as the men fought shadows.

The air crackled with magic and the great swords who were attempting to cut their way out of the glade suddenly found themselves trapped by a dense tangle of viciously thorned bushes that sprang up out of nowhere and ripped the flesh of those who tried to break free from their grip. As fast as they had appeared the bushes vanished and the unit was attacked on all sides by a small group of semi naked, tattooed warriors who cartwheeled and cavorted around them wielding their swords with an effortless grace. As the dancers tightened their circle around the doomed great swords they were cut down one at a time without the Empire soldiers ever landing a blow on their opponents, their captain was the last to fall, beheaded by a lithe female warrior executing a deadly pirouette with a flash of silver.

The enemy was not however having it all their own way. As the men came to their senses and not even the elves supernatural agility could evade every thrust of arrow fired at point-blank range. But the losses were insignificant compared to the slaughter inflicted on the men of the Empire. To Schultz’s left a unit of halberdiers was holding its own against a group of elf spearmen only to be torn asunder from the rear by a group of nightmarish figures that seemed to be a mix of female elf and vegetation. They were unbelievably quick and strong and literally tore men limb from limb. His own company fared little better and soon only a handful of archers remained in isolated knots trying to fend off their attackers.

As suddenly as the attack had started it ceased and the elves began to withdraw to the edges of the glade; a deathly hush filled the clearing as the survivors stared at each other in astonishment unable to comprehend what was happening. A horn sounded close by and from the bushes emerged an elf twice the size of any man, his skin glowed with the fresh green tinge of new buds, his heavily muscled legs were covered with reddish coloured hair and ended in large hooves while from his brow sprang a pair of antlers that would have put a royal stag to shame. The figure was accompanied by two large wolf hounds and a retinue of hunters consisting of archers, spearmen, dancers and the peculiar tree women. ‘To the hunt!’ he bellowed before once more sounding his horn. The elves at the edges of the glade gave a great cheer as the figure and his retinue surged forward. The remaining men of the Count’s grand expedition panicked, broke and ran hither and thither; but all were hunted down mercilessly, except for Schultz who stood rooted to the spot with horror as death and destruction swirled around him. When it was all over the hunter stood before him, his naked torso spattered with gore and with strips of flesh hanging from his antlers. He cradled Schultz’s jaw in his great, gore soaked, hand and stared deep into his eyes, ‘I grant you the gift of life. You will be permitted to go back into the world of men and tell them of the power that lies in the forest. Worn them to never return.’

***

How Schultz found himself in the suburbs of Quenelles, his body battered and bruised and his mind broken he could not tell, but he did as he had been ordered and told all who would listen about the horror that awaited the unwary in Athel Loren. He slowly made his way back to the Empire and discovered that the Count and the few surviving knights had fled back across the southern spur of the Grey Mountains into Tilea. He had made his way to the court of Duke Bastinado where he had received a less than friendly welcome; the Duke had tried his new artillery train against a rival and discovered that several of the canon had been miscast. Barrels to had exploded when firing, killing their crews, whilst several of the others had defective touch holes that prevented them from firing. The Count was seized and thrown into the Duke’s dungeon where he eventually died lonely and raving like a madman in the darkness.

It didn’t take long for the locals of taverns across Altdorf to grow bored of his tales of woe and warnings and stopped listening to him. Soon he had become just another bitter old drunk, someone to be avoided at all cost or jeered at, but no matter how much of the cheap Altdorf beer he drank or how much raw spirit he poured down his throat he could not forget what had happened to him or his comrades and the warning he’d been charged to deliver. Nothing could provide the oblivion that would blot out the sights, sounds and the horror that he had witnessed.

Schultz opened the door of his lodging house with all the exaggerated quiet of a man who knows that he has drunk too much and staggered upstairs to the tiny cupboard that his landlady laughingly called a room. Still fully clothed, he collapsed into the flea ridden bed and pulled the soiled sheet over his head. Lying alone in the dark he shivered, closed his eyes and waited for the hunt to begin again. 

Shell Case Shorts 10

We’ve made it to double digits and we’re hurtling towards the end of the year. That means only two more competitions after this one and another step closer to the Shell Case Shorts Anthology.

I’m taking a slightly different tack with this month’s prize, paying forward some extraordinary generosity showed to me by those fine chaps at Studio Sparta. I refer to the two Firestorm Invasion start sets they sent me to review. To keep both would simply be greedy so the prize is nothing less than the Dindrenzi Federation kickstart set.

Rules are as follows:

Write a short story of between 2,000 & 5,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Wednesday 31st October 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Shell Case Shorts 8 – Winner

August’s Shell Case Shorts was all about sci-fi as the prize was nothing less than a signed copy of Dropzone Commander from Hawk Wargames.

There was some great entries but the winning entry had to go to Erin Freeman (@SixEleven) for not only setting his story in the Dropzone universe but for telling the story from the point of view from a dropship pilot, something which is at heart of Dropzone Commander.

So, without further a-do I give you…

Seventeen Minutes - by Erin Freeman

Seventeen minutes. Seventeen minutes was the amount of time between take off and being knocked out of the sky. Seventeen minutes and my world would be turned upside down.

It was supposed to be a fairly routine mission, do it by the numbers and go home. We’d done a hundred like ‘em and there was nothing to make us think this time would be any different. What’s that saying about pride and a fall?

***

The roar of our twin vindicator cannons reverberated around the cockpit of the gunship, rattling the consoles in their frames and shaking the fillings loose in my head. Another target suppressed. It it rarely matters in war whether you hit the target or not, just whether or not they’re able to fire back. My gunner takes his finger off the firing stud as the temperature gauge starts to turn red and the lack of noise is striking. It doesn’t last for long as movement ahead provokes another withering hail of fire. Something vanishes into a push of red.

The special ops team we were escorting and providing close air support for had been on the ground for four minutes. In that time they had moved into the nearby building and were clearing it room by room. I could hear their comm chatter and bursts of weapons fire. It was messy in there. Above them, my tub and the dropship the special forces had ridden in on were doing their damnedest to keep out of reach of the anti-air fire coming their way from floors our boys had yet to clear. But for all their determination each pot shot only brought more torrents of fire from our guns on to their heads. 

A red light winked on the main console accompanied by a dirty squawk. I tapped at the light, irritated, the missile lock detection system had been playing up for days but none of the mechanics had been able to fix it. A swift thump to the console and the light went out and the squawking along with it. A burst of comm traffic from headquarters warned us of light PHR walkers in the area. I couldn’t help but smile. It was me that had reported them in the first place. Everything we’d seen on the West side of the river had been light walkers and infantry. Nothing we couldn’t handle.

Not that it mattered either way. The mission had been designated Priority-one which meant come hell, high water or immanent crushing defeat, we had to complete our mission. UCM Intelligence had indicated the structure the spec-ops team was in was a hub for a network of underground tunnels that connected to buildings two kilometres behind our lines. They’d been making monkeys out of us, and mince meat out of our men, for weeks and the brass had just about had enough.

The plan was drawn up with the usual flare that the UCM was renowned for. Turn up. Shoot our way in. Complete the mission. Shoot our way out. On top of that we only had a vague idea of which building possessed the tunnel network. It was only the volume of light weapons fire we took coming in that validated our suspicions. 

The comm burst to life in my headset again although it was chopped to hell with static. A lucky shot had hit the communications relay and was now threading everything with static. I recognise the merest sound bite long enough to recognise the voice of my wingman, Janus. I looked over to him waving to get his attention before tapping my head set and then drawing a line across my throat so he knew my comms were down. He nodded his understanding and signed that light walkers had been spotted moving on our position. I signalled my understanding and passed the information to my gunner who was already spinning up his guns.

***

Ten minutes into the mission and the barrels of the vindicators were glowing red as their ammunition ripped apart PHR infantry caught in the open and sawed through the legs of a light walker attempting to protect them. The entire area was choked with smoking wreckage and the burst bodies of the dead. The mission was going well, almost too well. Apart from having to continually adjust the dropship’s position to target the oncoming PHR infantry, the mission was shaping up to be as much fun as escorting a senior officer around a recently secured city sector.

What’s that saying about being careful what you wish for? 

I was torn from my musings by the threat detection console going crazy. System jammers sent the electronic countermeasures haywire and the missile lock warning shrieked like a frightened child. As I struggled to re-engage counter measures the world was suddenly replaced by a searing white light and the sound of shredding metal, explosions and screaming.

For what seemed like an age all I could see was white light as my brain tried to decipher just what had happened to it. As my vision gradually returned to normal everything felt simultaneously normal yet out-of-place. All I could hear was the chatter over the Comm informing me of the bloody obvious, that PHR heavy walkers were active in my sector. There was no howl of engines. No wind noise. And a strange sense of weightlessness. I had just enough time to realise that we were going down before the ground rushed up to meet me and everything went suddenly black.

***

I came to only moments after blacking out. My cockpit was a charred mess and the stink of burning plastics hung in the air, mixing with the taste of blood in my mouth. I numbly fumbled for the canopy release and with a systematic bang of exploding bolts it blew clear. I was immediately bombarded by the battle unfolding on the streets. The crack of small arms fire, punctuated by the crump of grenades all with the undertones of flyers streaking overhead and the familiar whine of vindicator Gatling guns opening up.

Bullets ricochet off the hull of the downed gunship with a comical spanking sound focussing my concussed mind.  Glancing behind me I could see that neither my co-pilot or gunner had to worry about being focussed ever again. How I’d survived a nose first impact with the ground has remained a mystery to me but I was eternally grateful none the less.

Above me Janus’ gunship was still airborne, furiously jinking and bouncing his aircraft in an effort to avoid the worst of the anti-air fire. The hull was scorched and dented from a few lucky escapes where explosives had glanced off or failed to detonate. A smoky contrail and a desperate near miss gave Janus a target of opportunity. I watched from my cockpit as he expertly wheeled on the spot and targeted a crumbling residential building two blocks down.

The familiar, comforting, sound of the vindicators rippled into life and the facade of the building exploded into an expanding cloud of dust and debris before the entire side of the building, already undermined from centuries of neglect broke away altogether and toppled into the street bringing with it broken bodies in opalescent armour.

I remember punching the air like some wet behind the ears, green back, rookie. The PHR deserved everything they got for standing in our way when by rights they should have been fighting alongside us. My elation was short-lived, however, when another rocket burst from the shadowy depth of a nearby tenement and crashed into the back of Janus’ gunship. Flames and smoke belched from the number two engine and the deep throaty engines became plaintive and stuttering.

For a moment I could see Janus struggling with the control stick, desperately trying to keep his bird aloft. He’d lingered too long, stayed on station to try to provide cover for what was turning into a cluster fuck. The gunship lurched upwards, looping drunkenly  down a narrow street. I lost sight of him but the explosion and resulting fireball reaching skywards moments later told me all I needed to know of the fate of my friend and his crew.

With nothing left for me to do but survived I yanked my rifle free from its magclamps on the cockpit floor and made a run for it. I already knew the PHR had me zeroed in as the odd opportunistic shot had come my way. I ducked, I wove and put as much covered as I could between me and where I suspected the sharp shooters were hiding. I felt a round tug at my tunic but ignored it. Stopping meant dead.

I slid to a stop behind a pile of concrete just as a PHR heavy walker lumbered into view. I recalled the garbled comms transmission. Heavy walkers active in your area. No fucking shit. In the area they looked like plucked chickens. On the ground they looked like big scary chickens with massive guns. It’s torso swiveled, weapons tracking skywards as it sought out fresh targets. 

They say in combat time slows down and reactions faster and senses heightened. I don’t know if that’s true or but because when something big comes up against something equally big hell breaks loose to the extent your mind wants to find the darkest corner possible and hide. When the shooting started my instincts took over. I’m not sure how I managed to scramble beneath the debris, let alone curl up into a fetal position, clutching my head as the ground reverberated with the concussive forces being unleashed around me. By the time silence has returned to this corner of the city two more aircraft were smoking wrecks on the ground and the third had bugged out, smoke pouring from its engines.

I risked a glance over the debris and felt the colour drain from my face as barely 10 feet away stood the walker, weapon systems smoking and the sensor dish mounted to its body clicking and whirring. I had no doubt in my mind it was looking for survivors, something else to shoot at. After a few long minutes it loosed a volley of shots into my downed craft almost, it seemed, out of principle and stalked off with what I can only describe as a sense of disappointment.

***

I stayed put for a few minutes to make sure the walker had genuinely moved on before I broke cover. I had to link with the special forces unit and somehow get the hell out of this God forsaken city. With no chance of rescue, at least not from the air, I had to move. The first rule of being downed behind enemy lines was evade capture and, frankly, I was too pretty for prison. My options were clear; either try to hot foot it back to base or link up with the spec-ops and exfill with them. As base was the other side of a war zone it was really no option at all. The second rule of survival training was await for rescue. In the absence of rescue I decided I’d settle for the next best thing; somewhere to hide.

I peered over the balcony rail of an Easterly facing apartment on the 5th floor of an old tenement. In its heyday it would have been quite luxurious but the centuries, and the Scourge, had been cruel. Overlooking the crash site I was in the building diagonally opposite that of the spec-ops team who were plying their trade in. I could only cross my fingers that they were having a better time than I was. 

I stood watch at that balcony for what felt like hours when in reality on minutes were ticking by. The scene below me was oddly calm, the nature left to run-amok oblivious is to the sudden violence unleashed moment before. The scene was ruined seconds later by the walker once more striding into view. It’s body swiveled, as it began to scan the ruins and buildings in the area once more, seeking easy prey or any survivors it might have missed. Hot on its heels a couple of units PHR infantry, clearly emboldened by the presence of such awe-inspiring weapon of war, trotted into view. I immediately dropped down behind the balcony, gripping my rifle tightly. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt fear or, for that briefest of moments, gave into the real chance that I might not make out in one piece.

I risked a glance over the balcony, with great timing as ever, as I’m just in time to see the target building implode. Spec-ops had continued with their mission, despite the chaos unfolding outside. As the PHR forces scattered I realised that the spec-ops were already out and moving to envelope the PHR infantry. Caught unprepared and in the open the PHR infantry were torn to pieces. The walker, quicker to recover turned and began stalking towards the UCM infantry, its weapons spooling up. I wanted to shout a warning but at this distance it wouldn’t be heard.

My eyes scanned the sky in vain for some sign that reinforcements were on the way to save the out-gunned elite soldiers. And once again my timing was uncanny as no sooner had the thought entered my head but a second squad of special ops broke cover from the building opposite my own. It turned out they were keeping tabs on the battle all along and had been waiting for the opportune moment to strike. The walker had its back to the men as it stalked towards the first squad. To my surprise they ran for the building I had taken refuge in. My angry objections died in my throat as the entire bottom three floors of the building they had just vacated disappeared in an expanding cloud of fire, debris and shattered glass.

The PHR walker immediately span on the spot, forgetting all about the spec-ops team it was hunting. It gave the soldiers the opening they needed. Aiming for the weaker knee joints of the walker both teams unleashed their anti-armour rockets, blasting apart the poorly armoured joints, smashing the legs apart and pitching the walker into the ground with a fatal and final thud.

Time seems to slow down as I watch, such a fearsome machine of war put out of action by the simple act of surprise and a few well placed high velocity armour-piercing rounds. The earth shakes as it crashes down into the ground, smoke trailing from a variety of wounds. I can’t say the sight of it doesn’t fill me with a mixture of emotions, the first of those is vengeance for the downing of my fellow pilots, pride in the ability and quick thinking of our troops comes a close second.

From my vantage point it looked like a slaughtered bird, letting out various groaning sounds that I could only assume were its systems and power plant failing before the walker’s shattered body gave up and went limp, fluids and gases venting from its cracked armour like blood.

The loss of the walker took the fight out of the PHR troops who turned tail and ran for it…towards the building I was hiding in. Broken or not they spotted me soon enough and a hail of gunfire was spattering all around my vantage point within moments. Abandoning my vantage point I ran back into the building, looking for the nearest stair case to move higher into the structure. I dive into the stair well, my heart pounding. Below me I can hear yelling and then a flurry of gunfire. The blood rushed in my ears as I gripped my rifle tight, risking a glance over the railings to determine how much time I had.

I could feel the icy effects of panic creeping over me, threatening to drain my energy and slow me down. Evade capture, evade capture, evade captures. I repeated the mantra over and over giving me drive to move my aching muscles once more. I hit the stairs just as an explosion below shakes the building and I get knocked from my feet. I didn’t wait to find out what happened I just ran.

***

Bursting through the door to the seventh floor I darted into the nearest room and behind the first piece of cover I can find. Rifle resting on what I suspect was once a sofa, before nature claimed it, I had a perfect view of the staircase so I could cut down anyone that came after me. I clicked the selector switch from semi-automatic to full automatic as the sounds of gunfire gradually moved up the stairs. 

As the last of the gunshots rang out I screwed my eyes shut and waited for the inevitable. Who was I trying to kid? I was a pilot not a soldier and I didn’t stand a chance against a single PHR ground pounder let alone a squad of them. The sense of panic returned and I didn’t have the strength to fight it off. As the door slammed open I dropped down and cowered behind my makeshift barricade.

I remember the slightest tremor of heavy footsteps entering the room. It seems like an odd thing to notice now, but, back then, the headset I’d been wearing the entire time was hissing static. The shot that had caught my tunic had severed the wire from my headset to comms pack and I hadn’t even noticed. It’s funny what your mind focusses on the moment before you die. But instead of feeling the cool metal of a gun barrel against my head I feel a strong hand grip my shoulder and pull me bodily upwards. 

“Hey, get ready to move out.” The gruff voiced beyond my tightly shut eyes commanded me. My heart soared; it was a voice I recognised, or at least a dialect I recognised. Peering through flinching eyelids I was met by the glassy stare of a gruff spec-ops squad leader. He was covered head to toe in shit and gravy and looked every bit the grizzled elite soldier he truly was. I know full well I grinned at him like an idiot. At first his distaste is evident but it eventually gave way to a barely perceptible smile and points out of the window to the west. I stand up and look out. Shielding my eyes against the sun I could just make out a huddle of APCs churning up dust as they raced to reach us.

I slid to the floor and let out a sigh. I glanced at my chrono and smirked. Mission complete T plus 31 minutes.

Shell Case Shorts 9

This month’s Shell Case Shorts is extra special for me as the prize is a signed copy of the utterly awesome Gruntz 15mm written by Robin Fitton, an honoured member or the wargaming community and all round top bloke.

I had the pleasure of reviewing Gruntz v1 a while back and loved it and I’m really excited that it’s coming out in print. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning is the following:

Rules are as follows:

Entrants have two writing options.

1, Write a single short story of between 2,000 & 3,000 words set in any established wargaming IP.

Or

2. Write a pair of short stories of 1500 words the second following on from the first set in any established wargaming IP.

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Sunday 30th September 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!