*Authors Note-This was a story I wrote a few years ago as part of my backstory for my Dagorhir character. For those of you who don’t know, Dagorhir is a foam sword fighting game, or a LARP if you’re familiar with the term.*
The sun rises over the Southlands, sparkling off temple roofs and rivers on its way to distant locals. Famers plow their fields and look up in thanks for morning’s rays to light their work and feed their crops. Traveling merchants bless the sun for its added protection on the road and for the warmth after nights chill. One man, standing on the highest tower of a dark and ominous fortress on the outskirts of Southlands territory looks at the sun and frowns, trying to form the words to appease his own guilt at a friend’s death…
“One year today and I’m no closer to the facts of your murder than I was back then…forgive me Broom.”
From the tower stairs comes the sound of running feet, that special type of thump thump thump that signifies trouble for someone when it stops. Panting and cursing, a soldier-scholar from the Legio Promethean bursts through the door to the rooftop and pauses to catch his breath.
“Sir…*pant pant*…sir, news from the frontier…*huff huff gulp*…our outriders have reports…*pant pant*…reports of movement to the northwest…orks sir…filthy frakking greenskins have brought a damnable waagh almost to our doorsteps…” stammers the trooper
“Language Yuri, language…as my Ordinatus I expect better from you…now compose yourself and assemble the troops, Legio Promethean goes to war!”
“YES SIR, TRIBUNE BAINES!” Salutes Yuri
The man known as Milo Baines, Tribune to the Legio Promethean, citizen of the Southlands and member of Forge Terras Sur looks to the sun, shining on friends and enemies alike, and curses…
Two days and a bucket full of dust in the eyes later the combat-alchemist of the Legio Promethean arrive at a nondescript frontier outpost manned by local militia units. Underequipped, undermanned and lacking the training or leadership of the Prometheans, the men of the militia breathe a premature sigh of relief thinking that they’re going home now that the real soldiers have arrived…
“Who’s in charge here soldier!?” demands Milo as he swings himself off his mount.
“Well ya see sira, we got no formal leader…we just tends to do what needs doin’ and sends our reports back with them scouting boys regular…” says one of the militia men.
“Well that changes now soldier, by order of the Southlands Council and my rank as Tribune I hereby take charge of this outpost and all units within. I’ll need you to appraise me of the situation and the disposition of your men and supplies. Consider yourself in possession of the brevet-rank of corporal, “declares Milo
“…yeess sir…” stammers the new corporal
“Say it like you mean it son or don’t say it at all. We have no time to send for reinforcements, if my reports are true, and while I appreciate you and your men aren’t combat vets…I have to use what I have on hand. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry…now get to work, follow your training and do as my men say and hopefully we’ll all get back to our homes soon,” reassures Milo.
Rallying the militia and setting about with a purpose born of training and dedication, the Prometheans begin to unpack their gear and refit the outpost into something that might actually hold out against an ork waaaagh, as unlikely as that may seem. Amongst the containers and crates are seven boxes, coffin shaped and detailed in brass and bronze. No handles or hinges can be seen on the crates themselves, and the Prometheans in charge of their care can be seen treating them with reverence and caution, much to the confusion of the militia. As the afternoon grows long and night approaches, their tasks completed as best they can, Milo sets a watch and orders the remaining men to their bunks.
“Get some shuteye men, tomorrow promises to be a busy day.”
Just before finding his own nook to rest in, Milo chances to look northwest as he has “chanced” to look that way a dozen times since arriving. Seeing the red glow of burning towns and the clouds of dust and smoke wafting over the approaching waaagh, Milo knows that the survival of himself and his men is secondary to the safety of The Southlands.
We hold them here, or cause them to turn away he thinks to himself, and we’ve done our job…maybe then I can forgive myself for failing another who needed my protection…
The morning comes with a thunderous cry of WAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!! as the assembled hordes of greenskins churn the turf beneath they feet in their frantic efforts to come to blows with the small force standing before them.
“TO YOUR POSITIONS! Archers to the towers, infantry man the siege engines, heavy weapons stand by to repel!…unlock the war-clanks and brace for impact!” Milo shouts over the din.
His orders given, the twenty four men and women of the Legio Promethean jump to action, spurring their militia brothers along. Ten archers with incendiary arrows stand ready, a silent rain of death in their hands while the wall mounted repeating crossbows are crewed by the eight regular infantry. Ordinatus Yuri Popov oversees the uncasing of the war clanks, guarded by the Prometheans five heavy weapons users as Milo climbs the walls to see for himself just what’s in store. A screaming, seething sea of green anger and the stink of carnage great him as the horde comes ever closer.
“ARCHERS…FIRE!” he commands…and the rain falls.
Flaming arrows and speeding javelins impale and engulf the orks; burning twitching bodies are slammed aside and crushed underfoot by those that follow. Screaming bestial obscenities and carrying tribal totems the ork advance is monumentus and apparently unstoppable. No matter how many are slain by the far reaching weapons of the defenders, Milo knows this will ultimately come to sword blows and splintered shields. Jumping down from the wall defenses, Milo stalks towards his second in command, shouting orders as he goes.
“Infantry to me! Yuri, I’m taking the clanks and making a stand outside the gates, you have command…keep the militia in line and the archers firing!”
“But sirs, my place is at your side…or at least allow me to lead the charge…” Yuri pleads.
“My friend,” Milo confides, “none of us are making it out of this alive…it hardly matters if you die defending my life or your own…you are a good friend and a better second. May you die with glory and the knowledge that it took your killers more time to kill you than it took you to kill them.”
With nothing left to say, the brothers in arms part and see to their tasks. Leading the infantry and their war constructs to the gates, Milo begins to feel…something in the pit of his stomach. Not fear, that emotion has long since been burned from his body, but apprehension….as though an unknown element was turning its attention towards their plight. Banishing all concerns but the immediate, Milo forms his troops and war machines into a V to better pierce the great green heart of this waaagh.
“Stay together, fight as one! Clanks go wide to the left and right and make the cost of your destruction dear! FOR THE GUILD, FOR THE SOUTHLANDS…CHARGE!!!!”
And with that final order he and his force throw open the gates and rush into the heart of darkness and death. Slashing left and right Milo severs arms and legs, leaving those too wounded to fight where they lie…no time to finish the job he thinks as he sees two of his men split in half by ogres the size of houses…no time for anything he thinks as he pulls alchemical potions designed to burn through plate armour and throws them into the masses surrounding them…no time for finesse he muses as he uses shield edge and sword pommel, buying himself seconds with every strike…just enough time to strike again and again. His men exhausted, fight like the machines they serve, the machines fighting with them as though they feel the pain of their brothers deaths themselves. Bloody pools and the stink of death assail the senses and drive the soldiers of Terras Sur on…when suddenly the ground trembles. Fearing some new form of monstrosity come to the fray, Milo frantically looks around…hoping to head off certain death for just a few moments longer…hoping to hurt the greenskins enough to drive them off or on another path. Seeing nothing but the endless horde around him, Milo feels the ground tremble, and tremble again and AGAIN until…
And a sudden stop…
Milo awakens in a dark place, a tunnel by the feel of the space around him…and a light approaching.
“There you are”, a cracked and ancient voice says, “thought we were gonna lose you there for a second…you’re a very brave man…too brave maybe, considering…”
“Wha…where am I…who are you….MY MEN, SEND ME BACK TO MY MEN! THEY’RE DYING AND IT’S MY FAULT!” Milo shouts as he begins to panic.
“Whoa there sunny…no need for the drama…your men were dying before you left them and I doubt their lot has improved much…but you’re here now and I can finally rest…finally…so long…so long alone…dark…alone…in the dark, in the Machine…” the ancient voice rambles, “you are the key boy, the key…the key to the world…without you…you and your blood…everything falls falls falls falls…there I go, rambling…well, no time no time…to teach you the ways is what I must do, the ways of the Machine…to do the work…the work that must be done…’Lantean work…you…’Lantean…the Keeper you are, well…the new Keeper anyways…”
The old man, for it is an old man…dressed in bland robes, with a shiny bald head and a lantern held extended before him, turns and heads back down the tunnel, back the way he came.
“What are you rambling on about old man, send me back to my men, NOW!” Milo shouts as he begins to follow.
“No no nononononono…can’t do that, your blood…it’s thick with the trace of ‘Lantis it is…you need to stay to serve the Machine…to save the world.”
And with those words the tunnel opens into a cavern, bathed in light and sound and pressence…massive is too small a word for what meets Milo’s eyes…a cavern that could fit the moon, filled with pistons the size of gods, pumping and belching smoke to blot out the galaxy…forge flames a mile high and the awful cacophony of machines as big as continents. If it weren’t for his knowledge of mechanic, Milo might very well be forgiven for confusing this place with hell. As it was, he almost went mad at the sight, stopped in his tracks by what no man had ever seen before.
“what…what is this…”, he stammers..barely able to keep hold of his sanity, and yet…feeling vaguely comforted by his surroundings, as though something in him, in his blood, speaks to these machines…speaks to him…of a great and terrible truth, a truth that would destroy the world if it was known…
“Welcome to the world Milo,” the old man says…suddenly clear in speech, “you shall be the new Keeper of all this…the Keeper of the worlds balance…we broke the world so long ago…so long, and now we try to hold it together but we is I and I am tired…so tired, not done yet but soon soon…soon” he says as he slowly devolves to muttering and rambles. “You are needed, needed badly…the Machine goes wrong all the time and I’m too too old to fix it much anymore.”
“I don’t know what this place is or who you are, but if you need me so badly you’re going to send me back, let me finish this fight…and give me something to finish it with or I swear by all the gods I don’t believe in I’ll…I’ll…I’ll kill myself right now old man,” he says as he draws his belt knife and places blade to throat, ”…what then for you, no rest…NO REST…HELP ME YOU OLD FREAK!”
An uncomfortably long silence…and just as Milo begins to draw the blade, the man speaks.
“A boon you seek, from me to you and back again…a boon?…agreed…finish your fight on the surface, finish it…and as I think on it, find the others who seek this place…find them, and stop them…then find me again…nonono…I’ll find you…then we talk and I sleep…sleep and talk…go, now…take this and be careful…”
With that said, he turns to leave, gesturing vaguely into an alcove…a doorway. Milo begins to walk after him, insulted by the casual dismissal and what appears to be little help. As he passes the doorway he turns to see…to see, a god machine, a titan on earth…40 feet tall and armed to the eyes. Clad as a knight of the realm in inch thick armour and looking like death in a can. A hunched man shape, akin to Atlas holding the world, only instead of us all it holds two…things, magical staffs in each paw, weapons of unbelievable power not seen on the surface in ten thousand years and held here, for him…not that he knows all this of course.
Milo stares in awe at what must be, to him, the closest thing he will ever see to the divine when suddenly the old man pops out from behind the giants legs.
“Keep her safe and she’ll keep you safe…inside inside, ride behind the eyes and kill for all that you hold dear. It’s the last of its kind and acheing for solace, let it free itself on the battlefield once more…it’s duty it’s purpose lost for so so long…let it kill.”
Milo paces towards the war machine, a grim look on his face and the light of obsession in his eyes…to drive this thing he thinks, to feel it’s workings and learn it’s secrets…this…I’ve waited forever for this…did he say ‘Lantis…? But all thoughts of anything but immediate survival leave his head when the doorway slams shut with a finality that is unmistakable. Correctly surmising that since down was in, up must be out Milo hastens towards the Atlas as he know thinks of it, assuming this is part of the plan. Climbing the hanging pendants to the machines chassis, he stops to assay the kill tallies and battle honors stitched into the cloth. The pendants detailing the records of a thousand campaigns against what can only be the servants of gods by the scaring on Atlas’s torso and shoulders. Grasping onto what appears to be some sort of rotating set of barrels extending over the shoulder, Milo enters the torso just below the chin through a hatch designed for just such a thing. Seating himself in the cockpit, strapping himself down into the warn leather chair, he feels the rush of combat and a surge of familiarity much like before, during the fight. With that thought Milo wishes for nothing more than that the old man hurry. As if on cue, a violent wind begins, coming from beneath Atlas and…WHOOOOOOOOSHHHH
…Milo in Atlas slam out of a tube projecting out of the ground. Stumbling to a halt, Milo quickly runs through the controls at his disposal. Remarkable as the machine may be, it was obviously designed with war making in mind, and as such the controls are easy enough to understand…though perhaps not to everyone. Quickly cycling through several switches and levers, arming the main weapons and bringing the titan up to speed, Atlas stomps towards the left flank of the greenskin horde. Moving at full stride, he cradles what he believes to be the main fire control switch, a trigger mechanism on the handle of the joystick he holds in his right hand. Looking to his left, and the horizontal handle controlling his speed, he notices a button positioned under his thumb. Deciding to test out Atlas on willing volunteers, he depresses the button…
Thunderous noise and violent shaking as a stream of projectiles connects the distance between he and his foe, brushing aside the orks like leaves on the ground. Several runes begin to glow as he holds the button down, growing from green to yellow to orange, not wanting to damage Atlas he releases the secondary fire control button and looks, truly looks, at the destruction he’s wrought. A line fifty men deep and ten wide has been cut into the waaagh, startling even these blood crazed beasts into pausing.
“Now we’re gonna see what you can really do!”
Milo pulls the trigger…
Staggered spears of white light, brighter than the sun, cut into the horde, unstoppable until they meet the ground where…
A detonation so profound, so monumental that all who hear it will remember it for the rest of their lives, and the one that closely follows it and the next and the next, decimating the greenskins in the hundreds of hundreds. Not ones to be deterred, the horde changes tack, coming back around on both sides of Atlas, pelting it with spears and arrows and boulders as big as men. Individually weaker by an insane margin, in numbers even these brutes could damage or destroy such a mighty machine.
With Atlas obviously on the side of the defenders and ailing, Totoro rallies his remaining forces. Putting the last of his infantry and his archers, now holding their dual short swords instead of their trademark bows, in the front line and giving the few remaining militia what spears and polearms were available, he charges. Intent on nothing more than distraction he stays close to the fort, keeping the open gate at their back and their flanks snug up against the walls. The sting is felt and Totoro succeeds in catching once more the greenskins eyes. With this momentary confusion the last edge they are likely to receive and sensing that no matter how easily he was taking it on Atlas, the old machine was failing…falling to the ravages of time far faster than the assaulting orks.
“Death then for you my friend, death in battle…”
Every weapon he knows about lights up, stitching into the orks, raging across their numbers hard rounds and ethereal energy blast, cutting thousands apart and sending the rest in route, off towards the smoking ruins of their last victims. With Atlas’s last strength, Milo walks back to the place where they came out and stops. While dismounting he cuts a long strip from the honor banner hanging down from Atlas’s waist. As he walks away he wraps the aged strip of cloth around his right arm, vowing to honor his battle brother and find out just what the hell was going on. Coming up to the last of his men, he nods at the corporal, now much harder about the eyes with an ork cleaver in each hand.
Seeing his second, Milo says, “We have some things to talk about…” when Yuri nods towards the distance. Glancing back he see Atlas fall back into the earth, back where he came from…perhaps to walk again…
“A lot to talk about…”