The Landdragon Queen, Chapter 57

Battle is joined as heroes and villians combat at Vestia’s new capital.

Chapter 57.

County Montvaan, Vestia

Major Ualiar watched as his enhanced drove off the workers dealing with the massive piles of bodies alongside the railroad. The workers ran from their tasks and machines when the Enhanced arrived and started firing Projectors in the air randomly. Leaving few casualties behind, the workers disappeared and the Animator set the Animator up and started it. Bodies started to rise and in the slouching gait that Inanimates had, headed toward the new capital. Once it was apparent that there would be no more rising, the major and his team retreated to the portal, taking the Animator with them.

Neuw Athlin

Jomney turned from watching the queen and her party leave the station as his son appeared and handed him a message. He looked at it, cursed and said, “Have you shown this to the colonel?”
“Yes I did, father.”

“We have Inanimates on the way.”

Jomney looked over at the count’s estate. “It’s time that foxes get into the count’s pigeon loft.”

“We can do that, father.” 

“Don’t mess up, Samidal, or I will never hear the end of it from your mother.”

Sam disappeared as Jomney started bellow out orders.

Athlin.

Horatio looked at the message, and bellowed, “Mount up! I want to see company commanders in five! We’re rolling!”

He pulled out the maps and plotted his line of advance as the First TAV roared past him and onto the road.

County Hashal.

Ratug rode past the crew struggling with the more or less mud stuck cannon and cursed under his breath. He had tried to convince the locals that things were useless. The duc seemed to think that they were some kind of totem and insisted on bringing the lumps of bronze along. Ratug doubted that the duc’s gunner had been a careful about keeping his powder supply dry in the rain that caused the mud in the first place. Between the cannon and the “foraging” that amounted to looting, what should have been a one day’s march was looking like three. Ratug’s son, Olog rode up, saluted and said, “I think that there’s another army out there.”
“Where?”
“I’m not sure. The duc is sloppy about outriders and when they do go out, they stop and loot, So they don’t get very far out. We didn’t bring a lot of people, so I can’t get eyes out and if I send them out with the idiots, they get harassed by the idiots and can’t really look around. The idiots have pissed off the locals so much that they won’t talk to my people and there were more traces of horses on the roads than there should have been.”

“Anything else?”
“I’m not sure. I just hope that the place we are going is as easy as they say it’s going to be. Why did you take this contract, anyway?”

“The Protector wanted somebody to provide some backbone.”

“These idiots need it.”

“Ride ahead and look. If anyone asks, you are finding an encampment.”

“Ok, sir.”

Jorge watched the army from the hill overlooking the village. Duc Geral had been correct about his assessment of the rebel’s army. The orcs could be trouble, but they were forced to stick with the army and having one of his companies stuck on the train was going to crimp the colonel somewhat. That wasn’t going to be helped by the fact that quite a few veterans from various armies worked on the railroad and Jorge’s uncle had no problem recruiting volunteers when Jorge had raised the possibility of more fun and games on the railroad. That had freed Jorge so that he could make the army miserable, though the army was doing a very good job of that themselves already.

Ayre’s Creek.

The whistle of the approaching train could be heard under the wooden trestle as Lieutenant Ravahana watched the disassociater team set the coils up. The dissociator team would set the devise off when the train filled with orcish “laborers” passed.  The devise was ready when a voice called out, “NOT THIS TIME!” and shots started to ring out around the rapidly retreating disassociater team as the devise took a hit and the mana battery exploded. The lieutenant’s people tried to reply, but the shooters were shooting from behind the cover of the steel locomotive and steel walled freight car that had been placed in front of the locomotive. Still more men could be heard in the woods on the slopes above the creek and with the disasocciator destroyed, there was no point in staying, so the lieutenant ordered retreat.  

Neuw Athlin

Jomney walked up to the landdragons and said, “Your majesty, this place is likely to be under attack shortly, I must ask you to return to Astia.”
“If I refuse?”

“I cannot force you to leave. On the other hand, the fight that is coming demands that you survive. The rest of us are expendable right now. Our deaths will not start the civil war that the monsters want. Your death probably will.”
“Very well, I will go.”

The queen did not disappear and Jomney cursed. “They have another suppressor active. In that case, your majesty, retreat to the water tower.”

“Why?”
“The water tower is steel construction. The tank is proof from Projectors and the pump house is the most solidly constructed building here.”

“It is almost as if you planned it that way, Jomney.”
“I did take precautions. That was more for the folk here than for you, your majesty.”

Then I must make use of them and not make you worry as you conduct this battle, general.”
“I am not a general.”
“When this is over, I will send a letter to the President. Your father says that you were an officer in Service and that you still have reserve rank.”
“I’m not sure that I want the honor.”
“If you win here, you will not be able to hide anymore. Now keep us alive.”

County Montvaan

Horatio looked at the ruined village, survivors and piles of Inanimates, some still moving and cursed. He waved for a messenger, wrote a message and said, “Get this wired.”

The Inanimates had been raised from the pyres and were heading in mass in their thousands to the construction site, rolling over everything in their path. Horatio wanted to stop and help, but he couldn’t afford to slow down and he wasn’t prepared to deal with the mass of Inanimates in any case. Not with ten TAVs. He waved to another messenger and said, “Tell all special sections to get the crossbows ready.”

Horatio looked at the rain and hoped that the strings had been kept dry. He looked at the map and grinned. If he diverted at the next crossroads, there was a very good chance that he would be ahead of the Inanimates and free to move again. He hated to let them rampage, but he needed to be someplace else, first.


University of Ironton, Ironton.

Professor Xilynore heard some noise interrupting the lecture and turned around to find out what it was. Jhaan Umevan had come in and was speaking with Jorge. Jorge picked up his things, stood up, handed them to Jhaan, and disappeared. The professor looked at Jhaan and said, “What just happened, Mr. Umevan?”
“Jorge had to go to Ishendell, professor. There is a crisis. I need to go.”

The Umevan Estate.

Tad was taking a test when Naertho and Nat came into the class. Naertho went to Tad’s grandmother and talked quietly with her as Nat walked up to Tad’s desk and said, “Tad, you and I need to port to Ishendell with some people.”

“What’s going on?”

“There is another battle in the Mortal Kingdoms. There are more Inanimates.”

“Ok. Let me hand this to grandmother.”

Tad did, and his grandmother said, “I will tell the princess that you couldn’t stop to tell her where you were going, Tad. This sounds important.”

“It could be bad, grandmother.”
“I will want a report on what you did.”

“Yes grandmother.”

County Hashal.

Lieutenant Dillings joined Jorge and said, “Sir, I’ve been looking at those cannons that they have been dragging around.”
“What about them?”
“Back when I was a kid, before the Ravathyra took me, I wrote a classwork about the first war on the Peninsula. One thing I had was pretty pictures of cannon being hauled around by horses, on dry roads. The pieces had a lot of horses dragging them up hills and such. These roads are muddy. Those things should be immovable, even with more horses. The things are too light. For that matter, why bring them at all? They weren’t planning to face another army. This is supposed to be a surprise attack. The things are slowing everything down and these people are bad enough as it is.”

Jorge looked at the cannon through his binoculars and watched as a limber bumped along, the lid flopping open, something no competent gunner would allow, especially in this weather. He looked along the army’s train and there were no ammunition caissons. He turned to the lieutenant and said, “Good catch. Mark the cannon for special attention.” Looking at the map he said, “They will probably take them here, or here.”
“Why?”
“These places are about the same distance that the tube was set up for that Primary in Desert Howl.”

“There is a Scourge suppressor in Neuw Athlin.”

“The other side may not know that. There may be something else in the tubes as well.”

“What?”
“Some of the things that Gatherer and Collector had as weapons that they didn’t have at Lain Othrond.”
“Why did you think of that?”
“Some things that the old dragon found in Admiral Ehlark’s logs and talking to Captains Wavechaser and Ravathrya, along with my grandfather’s stories about the fleet that didn’t come back.”

“The fleet that didn’t come back?”

“I will have grandfather tell you the story later. It requires stormy weather in a seaport to tell properly, preferably by an old salt with a tankard in his hand. Ferret, I need you to get a message to Duc Geral. He is not to close with the rebel army until I give him the all clear.”

Jorge wrote the message and Ferret asked, “Why?”

“Those cannon aren’t exactly cannon and could have some nasty surprises loaded. An army concentrated for battle is a good target for the nasty surprises.”

“On my way!”

Geral jumped a bit as Ferret emerged next to him. He turned and said, “Don’t do that, cousin!”

“Or what?”
“I can think of something. After all, I have been tested at last.”
“I have more practice.”
“That may be, but I am a duc.”

“Another duc is hiding something.”
“What do you mean?”
“Jorge says that those cannon they have been lugging around are not cannon. He thinks that they are tubes for something nasty, as he put it. He doesn’t want you to close until the tubes are dealt with.”

“How did he spot the fact that they were not cannon?”
“Lieutenant Dillings noticed that the cannons did not have enough horses in the mud. They weren’t as heavy as they should be.”
“I see. Major Tollings thinks that this is a trap and the traitors are the bait.”

“He didn’t come out and say that, but that was how it sounded.”

“I think that he is correct. I will hold back as far as I can, as long as the queen is protected.”

“Jorge was going to take the cannons out as soon as he could.”

Gizmo watched the cannon being dragged up the road. It was going to reach the place between two trees where he had placed some surprises. The hauling soldiers and horses passed the point of the surprises and Gizmo turned his detonator.Three small booms went off, the wheel on the cannon blew off and the cannon flipped over on the ground as the two trees fell over on to the Cannon’s trail and limber, smashing them. Gizmo grinned and said to himself, “That’s one.”

Ratug rode up in front of his marching troops, looked at the ruined cannon and the troops trying to make order out of the mess and bellowed, “Clear the road!”

“We’re trying, Milord.”
“Get those trees off the road and kick the gun to the side.”

“The duc needs the cannon.”
“We can come back for it later. We don’t have time for it now.”

“We must get the cannon to where the duc wants them.”
“This will be over before that thing is back on wheels. I have my battalion and two regiments behind me and we need this road. So clear it or my people will!”

County Montvaan

Jon watched as his grenadiers skirmished back and forth with the railroad workers desperately trying to restore the railroad as the duc’s forces were tearing it up. The railroad workers were actually better armed than the grenadiers, with Fellowship or Kingdom service rifles and light machine guns, but they could not force their full strength and still restore the track. The battle went on as the Duc’s men would retreat, tear up track as the grenadiers stood and waited as the railroad vanguard reappeared and opened fire. Jon could not use the cannon as each of them had only a single shot and were being held for the royal army, and the queen. The cannon were not here in any case. Fortunately the railroad people did not have any cannon either.

Neuw Athlin.

Jomney looked at the messages and frowned. The good news was that the traitor’s army was late. The bad news was that there was a mass of Inanimates following the railroad in one direction and elements of the traitor’s army tearing up the railroad in the other. They had failed to destroy the bridge again, but that didn’t change the fact that quite a bit of track was being torn up. He turned to Ortalac and said, “We’re cut off.”
“That isn’t all bad. The Inanimates haven’t reached here and the rain hurts the other side more than it does us.”

“I’m worried about the queen being stuck here.”
“She’s a landdragon. Worry about the rest of us.”
Jomney laughed. “Make sure that your people have gas masks close to hand.”

“Already did. I made sure that we them issued when the Scourge devises went off. That was the nasty stuff you were worried about, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. I suspect that if they have any, they are planning to use it on the royal army. They can overwhelm us, if a Scourge devise Primary doesn’t do the trick.”

“I think that queen was right about the general part. You won’t be able to convince anyone that you are just a slave after this is over.”

“I didn’t ask for this.”
“But you stepped up and did it. Let’s make sure that the welcome is appropriate.”

Ishendell.

Jorge came into the warehouse across from the ancient portal and said, “What is all this?”
Ben and Nat turned and Ben said, “A surprise. We think that we have a way to make things more effective.”

“What do you mean.”
“You probably remember that my boss called me crazy. The reason he did that was that back when there weren’t any Inanimates, I would posit extreme scenarios and then come up with things to deal with them, mostly large or strange booms. If I was lucky, I got a test down in Desert Howl from time to time. Anway, I never had the chance to have the things fabricated during the five cities and things were tight, but I thought that since the other side withdrew the Animators, they would try again. So I used the priority I still had, talked to Nat and we had these things fabricated.”
“Where do I come in?”

“We also had some microportals spread around over there in Vestia and we were talking to some Beinan and other people during the reunion about the Blight being spread using crossbow bolts. We thought about it and decided that two could play the crossbow game and talked to the vendor that made the bolts for the Blight in the Fellowship. They were all too glad to make some up so that a microportal fits inside and when the bolt hits the ground, the microportal activates.”

“So if the microportal activates in a group of inannimates, we can drop your things right in the middle of them. Did you run any tests?”
“Yes we did, with things that didn’t go boom. Hal can handle the portals, but the bosses wanted your deft hands on the real thing the first time.”

“So how long do we have?”
“About a twentieth.” Ben pulled out a map. “My boss is with General Clinkscales and they are setting up a volley when the Inanimates reach this pasture.”

“Tad has been providing pictures and maps, I see. Where is he?”
“Buying some stuff I wanted,” Nat said. “He knows the Lower City boys better than I do.”

Jorge grinned. “That was my fault. Unfortunately I can’t fix it right now.”
“How is college dealing with you?” Ben asked with a grin.”
“With some difficulty. The odd crisis hasn’t helped. If I’m not on portal duty so that Rob can send some booms to the deadlands, I saving the Mortal Kingdoms from the Inanimate scourge. In between, I bait professors into giving me extra work so that I can dump reality on them.”

“Did it work?”
“I’m not sure. He didn’t fail the first paper. I may have to pop up and get the rest of the Qinvaris Blight material when we finish this.”

County Hashal.   

Jorge looked at the battery set up with three of the tubes in a wood far away from where a blackpowder cannon would be able to reach their nominal battlefield. The supposed gunners were not readying the pieces for fire, either. The traitor’s army was lined up more or less on the new road facing Neuw Athlin with two battalions preparing to assault the construction site. The traitor’s army was obviously waiting for something to arrive. Jorge grinned and waved his hand. A crossbow twanged and the bolt landed in the middle of the battery, where it was ignored. A guard seargant sent his squad to look for the crossbowman, but they didn’t find him. Jorge turned to Ferret and said, touched his head. “I shouldn’t be giving you this, but that is the anchor point for my house in Ishendell. Go there, get a ride to the big portal and tell Jorge that this location is to get special attention in about a twentieth.”
Ferret grinned. “Why don’t you want me at the house?”
“You will wake the baby. Believe me, I am glad that I’m here on this quiet battlefield.”
“I think that I know what you are talking about. Ok, I’m off.”

“Don’t stop to explore. You can go back later.”

Ferret ran off to get out from under the suppressor as Jorge returned to watching the evolving battle preparations.

County Montvaan.

Horatio breathed a sigh of relief as his GP raced down the village street on the other side to the onrushing Inanimates. He was on schedule and the crossbowmen started to lay the spread of bolts with microportals along the path of the oncoming Inanimates as sappers laid mines and his liason people got the villagers moving onto trucks so that they could be evacuated. His troops set up machine guns and fire points, digging in the muddy ground. He could hear the approaching battle along the railroad in the distance.

The Hideaway.

 Dúhael came upon Blackfire looking to send a Scourge devise through a portal and screeched, “Where are you sending that, brother?! We did not have any discussions on the use of further Scourge devises!”
“I don’t need to discuss military matters with you, brother.”

Blackfire waved for the devise to be sent through the portal. The devise disappeared and Blackfire turned to his brother and said, “That was not a Scourge devise in any case.”
“It wasn’t?”
“Yes. I had some of the broken Scourge devise cans retrieved, so that repairs could be made at some point and for times like this.”
“What do you mean?”
“The queen has been visiting the new capital frequently. I have to assume that there is already an active Scourge suppressor there. So sending a Scourge devise is pointless. On the other hand, the queen’s allies probably expect us to send a Scourge devise or a Primary. So I sent one.”

Dúhael smiled. “Then they may not look for the real threat.”

“In any case this is something that they cannot ignore.”

Herdir happened to be walking past and said, “They know about doing that.”
Dúhael looked at him and said, “What do you mean?”
“They will guess that the devise will not be real and will check it at an appropriate time.”

“How do you know?”
“They did the same thing to my father. They handed empty Scourged devises to my father and arranged to have false newspapers sent that made it appear as if the Scourge was doing tremendous damage.”

“So they know that the devise could be false,” Blackfire said.

“I would have to guess that they will suspect.”

 Neuw Athlin.

“Emergence!”

Jomney turned and called out, “Where?!”

“Southeast corner!”

A voice called out, “Got it. It’s a Scourge devise or can!”

Jomney tripped a switch on the devise in his hand. The area around the city began to glimmer with a shield effect.

Ortalac looked at it and said, “Does that help them, or us?”

“I don’t know. My guess is that it comes out at a wash. They can’t hit us with artillery, but we can’t shoot out either. That made things interesting during Ishendell.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve known Major Ravathrya for a very long time there at the Camp, we had the same bosses and mutual suffering. We had some interesting chats about the siege, once it was over.”

Ratug watched the shield go up and cursed. He had hoped that there wouldn’t have been one installed as yet. Still, he would only be facing construction workers and light weapons as well as Imperial slaves and Mortal kingdom serfs, who would be disarmed. The assault battalions prepared to advance.

Ishendell.

Ferret appeared and said to Jorge as he stood finishing the code for the port, “Jorge, the major wants this place to get special attention.”

Jorge looked at the map and said, “What’s in that orchard?”
“Some cannon that probably aren’t guns. I didn’t ask what the major thought they were, but he wants that place to get special attention when thing start.”

“That microportal will get a double dose, then. Do you want to watch things?”

“I need to get back. My cousin will need me.”

“You want to see the other end, don’t you?”
“Wouldn’t you?”

Jorge grinned. “Yes I would, but the price I pay for pulling this stuff off is that I have to be here and not watching things go off. I have other amusements now.”
“What are they?”
“I am a college student and I have an obligation to drive professors crazy.”
“Like that school in Altensee that my mother wanted me to go to?”

“Yes. I’m not planning to Scourge the university, but I will correct some things when the opportunities present themselves.”

“That sounds like fun. I need to go.”

Ferret disappeared and Jorge returned to work.

Harald stomped into Lissia’s parlor where she was reading and watching Lyari, who was sleeping. She looked up and said, “Hello Harald. Are you hear to meet the new addition to the family?”
“I was wondering where Jorge is. He wasn’t in his office and I thought I would check here before going on to Lain Othrond.”
“In Vestia. He thinks that the traitors are going to make their move against the queen today.”
“So, the traitors are making their move today. Is Jorge looking for surprises?”
“Yes. He mentioned the possibility of strange chemicals and using them to kill things like armies.”

“The Blasted Lands have a treaty that says that none of them would develop such things. The Grand Master brokered it, actually. But we all dug things up and Gredug’s grandson found some rather disturbing information on such things. The chemicals were used to destroy a combined Republic and Fellowship fleet.”
“The Republic and the Fellowship joined forces?”
“Yes. They were looking for the Hidden City and had some captured charts. The fleets never came back and both the Fellowship and the Republic blamed the other. We and the Fellowship started to go to war with each other and the Ravathyra became a sideshow.”

“Tell me more.”

Jorge looked at the clock on the wall and as the thousandths hand headed toward the top, he put his hand up and then waved. The pusher started to push rolling barrels through the portal, with each one activating the portal as they went through.

County Hashal.

Jorge watched as the battery suddenly had barrels rolling through it, which rolled for a bit and exploded into balls of flame, knocking the tubes over and bathing them in fire. What was left of the gunners ran, some with burning clothes as yet more barrels emerged and exploded. One of the tubes went off, sending its rocket or shell into the flames where the shell added yet more fuel to the fires as it went off with a hiss and the contents burned. The small trees in the orchard where the battery had been emplaced caught on fire, creating still more havoc. A grinning Jorge withdrew and headed to his next task.

County Montvaan.

Horatio saw the rising cloud of smoke in the distance and then, as the Inanimate mass approached over the microportals, barrels appeared and exploded, bathing the Inanimates in fire. The leading mass continued forward as the Inanimates behind burned until the mass hit the mines and barbed wire, where they stuck and stopped. Qinvaris militia men advanced with flamethrowers and torched the stragglers as barrels continued to emerge down the mass of Inanimates, followed by the flame cars and smaller incendiaries. Horatio had already turned his attention to the railroad fight, getting the troops mounted up and rolling.

Jon watched the fight continue. The railroad people had had the edge, simply because their more modern rifles did not have a problem with wet powder, could reach out to longer ranges and they had the machine guns. He wasn’t sure what the noise had been in the distance, but it was time that Jon changed things somewhat. A cavalry charge against the front of the railroad workers would be bloody. On the other hand, the cavalry appearing out of the rain on the flank would be a different story. He waved for a messenger and wrote out orders.

Neuw Athlin.

Jomney watched as the troops formed up for the assault. Looking through his binoculars he could see the cavalry forming up against the railroad’s guards and volunteers, the dying column of Inanimates being watched by the Qinvaris Projector trucks, who were not firing to give themselves away and the regiment, backed by the orcs, preparing to assault the city as the main body of the army stood waiting, for the royal army, getting wet and miserable in the rain. He could also see the Qinvaris mobile company moving up behind the grenadiers and sappers, who apparently hadn’t noticed that they, rather than being the anvil that the hammer of the D’ fleur cavalry was supposed to be striking the railroad workers on, were trapped themselves. Ortalac looked at the enemy formations and said, “What a bunch of idiots.”
“They are doing the best that they think that they can. But the Darkmage’s people didn’t tell them about the Inanimates or the TAVs, apparently. “
“Where were the TAVs?
“Here. The Qinvaris brought them down for the battle of the five cities and then just parked them while the Qinnvaris people started to help out. Since most of them wear slave collars, I think that some people forgot that they came down as militia.”

Ortalac laughed. “You have people pulled far back from the shield.”
“I don’t need to defend most of the city. It’s just bare ground. I also want to leave room for people to shoot and if they come in charging, they are going to get tangled in the construction debris.”

“Salted with barbed wire.”
“There may be some out there, yes. I think that the orc has got things together.”

“I think that you’re right. He’s got his assaults set up.”

Ratug dismounted and handed his horse to his subaltern. Looking down the rows of soldiers, he turned to Olog and said, “Watch my back. Here we go.”

Ratug waved his sword, the trumpets blew the advnce and his troops advanced toward the shield.

Sir Leo looked across his company and the company of duc’s guard that composed his command. He waved his hand in a downward motion and the two companies moved to a line. He could see the battalion of pikemen trying to form up and a rider heading in his direction.  The rider had a white flag and Leo recognized the livery of his brother. He rode forward and called out, “Are you surrendering, brother?!”
His brother pulled up and called out, “Why are you here, Leo?! This not your Duc’s lands!”

“I am here to stop an assault on the queen, Galan!”

“What queen is that?!”

“Queen Cécile!”
“I see no queen! Only a monster surrounded by mages and monsters!”
“You were not on the fields of the battle against the Inanimates, brother! She is the Queen!”

Jorge saw the parley and cursed. Leo was a good soldier, but this was not the time for a chat while the pikemen were trying to get thing into order. He drew up his RS2 and charged up to the pair. “Sir knight, are those troops surrendering?!”
Leo turned and looked at Jorge. “This is my brother!”

“Is he surrendering his troops?”

Leo looked at Galan. “Apparently not.”

“Then you have your orders!”

Galan drew his sword and charged Jorge, who punched his horse, knocking it and Galan to the ground. He then whistled and pointed and suddenly there were two loud reports and explosions amongst the pikemen. Jorge turned to Leo and said, “Keep those pikmen running!”

Leo looked at the wavering pikemen, at his unmoving brother and waved the charge. His trumpets blew and the two companies started forward at a walk and then a trot. The pikemen looked at the advancing cavalry and abandoned any pretense of trying to form up as still more explosions dropped into them and pikes dropped as the troops started to run. Two companies of pikemen tried to form up, but were somewhat scattered by the running soldiers and as Leo’s cavalry approached the two companies retreated down the road, following the rest.  Duc Geral’s regiment’s pikemen marched down the road and formed up. Duc Geral rode up, looked at the fallen Galan, Jorge and Leo and said, “What happened here?”
“The major made a point, milord,” Leo said.

“That was?”
“That unless my brother was surrendering, I was to continue.”
“Your brother is on the ground there. His horse appears to be dead. What happened?”
“The major punched my brother’s horse after my brother drew his sword. I need to go, milord.”
Sir Leo put his heels to his horse and rode off. Geral turned to Jorge and said, “What happened, major.”

“What happens in wars like this one. Leo’s brother was on the other side of things and took advantage.”

“You seem to have experience.”
“Don’t ask. There was an encounter between a Ravathrya raidcaptain and his Service lieutenant brother. Fortunately, I don’t think my brother recognized me at the time and I enlisted right after I was rescued. I did the same sort of thing to my brother.”

Geral laughed. “You are an amazing man, major.”
Jorge grinned. “Somewhat. Before I was enhanced I was the runt of the litter and not seafolk. That had it’s downsides in my family. Of course my parents are not seafolk either.”

“I know the feeling. At least my brother returned and I could be tested at last. I think that we need to get this thing done.”

“Yes we do, and even if I had killed Leo’s brother, I would be saving a lot of lives.”

“In the potential coming war?”

“A war I hope that we can avoid.”

“What if the war was necessary?”

“Then it should be as sharp and as clean as possible. Something that the other side seem not to understand. Consider this, where most of the troops are dupes.”

Geral looked at the unmoving Geran on the ground. “That is certainly the case. We need to move on.”

Ratug watched the tight columns of pike and swordsmen and hoped that the other side was what he thought they would be. Marching at an even pace, the soldiers passed a line of surveyor’s stakes. Then Ratug looked at the stakes again and realized that the assault could be in real trouble. He waved to his lieutenant, Urtug Ironhead, looked around and said, “Dig out those dirt piles for the mortars.”

The lieutenant looked at the stakes and said, “Registration stakes.”

“They could be surveyor’s stakes, but they aren’t marking out streets.”
“Not much cover.”
“I know. Get the men spread out and watching. I don’t think that this is just slaves, peasants and construction workers.”

Jomney watched the orcs start to spread out and the two mortar teams start to dig. Ortalac looked at him and said, “You don’t seem to be worried about the mortars.”
“That dirt may have something it was piled on top of, by accident, of course.”

“Wire?”

“Wire vine. We had to clear a lot of the stuff out when we started. We were planning to burn it, but the weather has been bad.”

“How heavy was the wire vine?”

“Old and heavy, spines an inch long. The vine was all over the place here, strangling everything.”

“That’s worse than barbed wire. You couldn’t shoot Projector fire into dirt piled on Barbed wire.”

“I didn’t want to order too much barbed wire and the vine was there. Do you know the orc’s boss?”

“It looks like Clan Ironhead’s top battalion. That would be Colonel Ratug Ironhead.”

“Has he had a lot of contracts here in the Mortal Kingdoms?”
 “Some. He doesn’t have my contacts and the Ironheads withdrew somewhat.”

“Did he make sure to get the Champion’s approval?”

Ortalac’s eyes widened. “You do have ears in strange places.”

“Not really. The Champion and his troops were also recent vistors to the Empty Lands and some people wanted an assement of what he would be like.”

“Is he also a member of the little club?”
“I can’t say. I think that the show is about to start.”

“I think that you are rigtht.”

Jomney reached for his whistle and put it to his lips. The lead pike men passed the two hundred yard stakes and he blew the whistle. Ortalac started to bellow orders.

 Ratug heard the whistle sound and winced. The mortars were not dug in and the machine guns were bogged down in the rear. Rifle fire opened up on the advancing pikemen and a Projector bolt hit the dirt that his sappers had been digging in to place the mortar, causing a mass of dirt and steam. The surviving crew dragged the mortar off as machine gun fire started to sweep across the advancing troops. Ratug grimaced as his troops dropped and started to return fire as the D’reale pikemen were swept away, the survivors dropping their pikes and fleeing. Ratug looked at the dissolving situation and called the retreat.

Jon watched as his company dragoons set up to provide covering fire for his advancing heavy cavalry. The grenadiers had stopped retreating and it was time to force the railroad workers off the railroad and off the field. His dragoon captain looked at him and he waved. The dragoons opened fire and the railroad workers ran for cover. The heavy cavalry prepared to charge when there was a roar across from the under construction freight station that had been in the middle of the fight. A sudden explosion appeared in the middle of the charging cavalry. Hulking shapes emerged from the mist and started to spray the grenadiers with what were probably bullets as grenadiers fell in rows or dropped to the dirt and looked for cover. Large vehicles appeared behind the hulking machines, disgorging men. Before things could become a rout, Jon turned to his trumpeter and called out, “Sound retreat!”  

The trumpets sounded and the various units started to withdraw, the dragoons covering the others as the cavalry stood to charge any foolish infantry. The machines, enemy troops and railroad workers took their toll but most of the Duc’s men were able to break off and retreat in good order.

Horatio drove up to Captain Stringfellow’s TAV and bellowed “Why aren’t you pursuing?!”
Stringfellow looked down at him and replied, “MY TAV IS ON RESERVE! WE’RE OUT OF GAS! ”

Horatio cursed and climbed up the side of the TAV. “I should have thought of that. Sorry, Radal.”

“Denny’s orders were not to continue to advance on reserve unless you ordered it. We’re down one TAV with a thrown track anyway. We have the railroad back, so we can get fuel from Athlin, but unless you think that chasing those troops back into the Count’s castle will change anything, I’m not going to risk running the TAV’s dry.”

“Those damn Inanimates. We used the gas I had planned to use for pursuit getting around them. Ok, we’ll stay here. Get that track fixed while you wait for fuel. I need to get things put back together anyway.”

 Jomney looked down as troops assaulting the city and the troops cutting off the railroad went into retreat. Queen Cécile walked over and said, “It looks as if this is over.”

Jomney looked over things and said, “It isn’t over yet, your majesty. The duc’s men were driven off the railroad and the first assault failed here. But the enemy isn’t broken and these people have nothing to lose at this point. They have to kill you or they are facing the block. At least your cousin and Duc D’fleur are. The others are in deep trouble as well, but they can say that they were duped. The two ducs can’t, especially with the things they have hauled out.”

 “You better be careful, or you may end up with one of the duchies.”

“Not I. That would not be good for you, in the long run. The folk in the kingdom would be asking too many questions about me and foreign influences and me allowing things like mages to live in my domain. Right now, with things the way they are, you can’t afford the strife.”

“Your advice is sound, unfortunately. I hope that Lord Zylvyre appreciates what he has in you.”

“Surprisingly, Tanyl does. You probably know that my father has had difficulty in buying my key. My father is not poor and that should tell you something. Of course that doesn’t mean that I’m safe.”
“You are the most modest man that I have ever heard of.”

“Not really. I have a lot of people depending on me at home and I am not going to give them up for a reward.”

“I see your point. I will have to work harder.”
“We will have to get out of this, first.”

“I have confidence in you and the others.”

Jorge grinned as Jerthad appeared on a horse and said, “I should have expected you.”
“I’m chasing some rumors of Clan Ironhead orcs that took a contract that they shouldn’t have. The Champion was rather annoyed.”

“They are here. They were part of the first assault on the construction site. Things haven’t gone as they planned.”

“Why are you here?”
“I have permission and orders. The consulate is still in the Copperleaf faery kingdom and I have a mandate to protect the queen in any case, as the President thinks that keeping the queen alive is in the Republic’s best interest.”

“You are not playing bodyguard.”
“I have some people watching her. I’ve been finding and dealing with some other issues. There are some huntsmen that I haven’t been able to catch and that is worrying. I have some others that I’m looking for. How did you find me?”

“Sir Leo told me where he saw you.”

“How is his brother?”

“He’ll survive. He was banged up pretty good when his horse fell on him. What was the deal with those cannon?”
“You found those.”

“The boom you lit off was rather obvious and your people created accidents for the others.”

“We can talk about it later. I need to keep moving.”

“Those were not cannon, and the left behinds were interesting.”

“I know. We can talk about it after this is over.”

Jorge charged off, leaving Jerthad turning to catch up with the main army.

Elderic found the headquarters tent where the others were gathering. Jon was the first to arrive, followed by Tomas, Haral and Frandel arrived with Bishop Restault.

Jon looked at Elderic and said, “Did you get the boy?”
“Some Justiciars and landdragon allies of the queen made off with the children before I could have arrived. The fae may have had something to do with that.”

“Did you not pursue?”

“Apparently the chidren were flown off using dragons. I see that the monster is still alive. At least you have not invested the city. Did not the cannon do their job?”

“The cannon were taken out of action before they could be used.”

“What about the mercenaries?”

“The assault attempt failed. The queen also had mercenaries, apparently.”

Elderic cursed. “I will be right back.”

He went to his horse, pulled out the small portal, wrote a cryptic massage and put it through.

The Beinan Estate.

Eudora was passing the small portal room when the portal activated. She looked at the message, and since it didn’t seem to mean anything, wrote down what it said, and passed it through. Then she continued to the portal and school, the classwork she had forgotten in hand.

The Hideaway.

Blackfire grinned as his niece came into his office. “What can I do for you, Seriellia?”

“This came through the small portal. It looked important.”

She handed him the message and he looked at it. “Yes this was. Thank you, Seriellia.”

 Blackfire looked at the message, cursed and went looking for Major Ualiar. He found him looking at the portals in reserve and said, “I need you to go to Altensee with an Animator and a portal, create some Inanimates and port them to the new capital.”

 “What happened?”

“The assault failed. Elderic did not send details, only the request that we launch more Inanimates at the new capital.”

“The risk to us should be low even if the assault has become a fiasco. Let me put things together. I think that I will use both Animators, the other from Vesticour or Clerves.”

“Do it that way. We spread the risk of detection.”
Ishendell.

Jorge reached for a Jump point and couldn’t reach any. He turned to Nat and said, “Somebody turned a suppressor on.”

“That was me. If you promise to stay, I will turn it off again.”

“Ok, I will be good. Who told you to do that?”

“Your lady and your grandfather said to be prepared to turn it on if it looked like you were planning to Jump to Vestia. Both of them have plans for you and that means that you stay alive.” Nat tripped a switch. “I can’t do that for very long, or people will squawk, but I can keep you here.”

Ben laughed and said, “If people squawk, I’ll just wave my Office of Inanimates credentials around and say it was an emergency.”

Jorge looked at the warehouse and said, “We still have plenty of barrels. Why barrels rather than steel drums?”
“The barrels will roll better and the wood stays on fire longer.”

“Also, the barrels were available at the estate,” Nat said. “Tad’s grandfather had quite few and since he can get new, he’s doing that, so he was glad to give them up when I told him what I wanted them for.”

“I sense a conspiracy.”
“More like a common interest. We all have our reasons for giving certain people hell and keeping you out of deep trouble.”

Jorge laughed. “I will be good. I just wish that I could see what was happening.”

“We will find out later.”

“Let’s set something up for the end of term at college. That way I can see it go off.”

Altensee.

Hadriuis looked at Hycis as they were going through the files in Altensee’s hidden Mage Academy and said, “Did you feel that?”
She looked at him and said, “You did?”

“I think that I’ve begun to understand why some of us were recruited into the Secret Orders.”

“This thing goes deeper the more that we look.”

Wyrran came in and said, “We want to lie low, for a bit.”
“What’s going on, Mage Wyrran?”
“Some folk came back, started Animating Inanimates and prepared to port them out. There is a suppressor active to prevent any fae from jumping out and we don’t have the people or the guns to interfere, so we stay here and sit tight.”

“I’ll help watch,” Hadrius said. “I can play the fool if I have to.”

“Do that. I think that these people will send the Inanimates where they plan to and leave.”

Hadrius joined Octavius and Magpie and they watched as the Inanimates were collected and marched off to a portal and being prepared to be sent through. The collectors arranged the Inanimates and then went out to collect more of them. Hadrius turned to Magpie and said, “These people aren’t watching the portal. We could get to it and mess them up.”
Magpie smiled. “I know just how to do that.”

With Octavius watching, Hadrius and Magpie walked stealthily to the portal and quickly removed a panel. Magpie reached in and twisted. He waved to Hardius and they put the panel back on the portal. Then they ran off. As they left, Magpie dropped some things over the ground. Once they returned to the house that Octavius was watching from, Hadrius asked, “What did you do?”
“Took the direction finder out of calibration.”
“What is a direction finder?”
“Jorge’s pet peeve. It allows a one way port to know where it is going to end up. If the direction finder is way out of calibration the portal sort of spreads the ports all over the place.”

Hadrius grinned. “That could be an inconvenience.”

“Jorge is careful about setting his one way ports up, mostly because his one way ports have large booms involved all too frequently and he doesn’t want the boom to end up someplace it wasn’t supposed to.”

“What were those things that you tossed around?”

“Microportals. Jorge is looking for microportals and any that show up in the new capital area are going to get some attention.”

“Torched Inanimates, right?”

“That was the idea.”

Wyrran joined them and said, “So what is going on?”
Magpie replied, “They are setting up to port Inanimates, probably to the battle at the new capital.”

“Why are you all grinning?”

“I made an adjustment to the direction finder on the portal.”
Wyrran grinned. “That should mess things up.”

“I also scattered sticky microportals around.”

“That should really mess them up.”

“We hope so.”

“They probably won’t look for something like that. Especially as they probably won’t find out what happened until things were over and they are probably rather rushed.”

The four watched as the Inanimates were lined up and then when things were ready, the Inanimates started to march through the portal. When the Inanimates were gone, the portal was placed in a wagon and the wagon and the soldiers left. Wyrran turned to Magpie and said, “While you were reaching inside the portal, you didn’t happen to drop something?”

Magpie grinned. “I may have dropped a microportal in there. It was in my hand and I needed to get rid of it.”

“We should be careful. We wouldn’t want glitches to happen to portals due to random objects dropped into portals. I will have to send a note around about that. Shall we return to digging through the files of nefarious people?”

Neuw Athlin.

Elderic and Jon watched the troops form up. The Army’s cavalry had been keeping an eye on the royal army and so far, they had been keeping their distance. The strange machines had not pursued Jon’s forces and the queen was still in the city. On the other hand, the incursion of Inanimates had not materialized and Jon’s cannon had all had accidents or been destroyed by the strange fires that had appeared in their battery even though they had been far from the new city. The destruction of the battery meant that the royal army was not devastated by the battery and the guns that had had accidents were scattered along the army’s line of advance and stuck. They could be recovered later. The challenge now was to use the coming Inanimates to win the battle. Elderic turned to Jon and said, “We advance.”

Geral watched the six regiments that formed the core of his and the royal army form up. They represented some eight thousands and unlike his enemies, his men had not had to forage, thanks to a gift from General Harper, King Nemes and the Lady Harper of canned food and former Qinvaris cookwagons. Geral turned to Alinar and said, “You must thank your lady mother for this gift.”

Alinar laughed. “Do not call my mother a lady in her presence.”

“Why not?”

“It has to do with her brother, who married a then wealthy family and left mother out on the estate and the fact that my father was a slave when they shared blood. Mother knew that dad was first class catch and that was before she found out about Harpoil. My sister has a wedding coming up and mother has quietly planned to go all out.”

“When is the wedding?”
“At the Conclave that opens the season next year, at the Imperial Park. My uncle and his “lady” are going to get rather a shock at the guest list.”

Geral laughed. “That sounds almost cruel.”
“Mother is shooting for at least five heads of state, including the Emperor, with all sorts of other types.”
“Do you think that she will achieve that?”

“She already has the Empress, Queen Cotina, Queen Diona and Collete Biera. I think that she is planning a charm offensive in the Republic soon with my father, So, yes, she will achieve it.”

“That is a lot of clout.”

“After we all had fiancés, she’s been doing good works and helping out with things like the Blight in Astaire, so she has been building a clout reserve. The Empress knew Mrs. Beira and since Roger’s family has clout, that made that arrangement easy.”

“Your mother sounds like a formidable woman for somebody who is not a lady.”
“The formidable is why she may not get any dwarf royalty. We’ll have to see how afraid they are.”

Geral startled everyone in the headquarters with his laugh.

Gorel Ironsmith watched the horses drag his two repaired launchers along the muddy road to the launch point that he had mapped out. The third gun had actually dented the tube after a rock fell on it and was useless, but Gorel had two to avenge his dead. The damaged wheels and carriages had taken his men three twentieths to repair in the rain and the mud and Gorel didn’t want to think very hard about where the draft horses had come from, but he was almost in position and ready. He looked at the map and grinned.

Leo looked through the rain as a stream of Inaminates appeared, behind the 2nd Royal regiment and cursed.  He looked back at the wagons and called out, “BALLS!”

The squires and peasants that had been supporting his squadron were already pulling tarps and trying to get fires lit. Ailed had gone to the cookwagon and with two cooks, hauled out the stove and was using it to light balls of sap, pouring rock oil on them to make sure that they burned. Leo called out, “Ailed, Get over to 2nd and tell them what to do! Barrad, you get the balls ready! Squadron load up and advance!”

The officers of the 2nd had seen the Inanimates in the mist, but hadn’t realized early enough just what they were dealing with. Fortunately, barrels exploded amongst the Inanimates and flames started to scourge the Inanimates. Two flame carts appeared in the stream and burned yet more Inanimates. Still, the Inanimates pressed the 2nd and took their toll as the 1st battalion could not get its pikes set in time. The second and third did and moved to support the battered 1st as Leo’s squadron barreled into the stream of Inanimates, catching more of them on fire. The casualties mounted, but the 2nd was able to break free and away from the stream, while the shambling things headed in the direction of the new capital, seven miles away. Things were getting into some sort of order when trumpets blared and the flags of House D’ veld and House D’reale appeared in the rain. The exhausted 2nd stood to its pikes and prepared to take the assault with grim faces. Leo called for his trumpeters and prepared to harass the enemy. If the 2nd did not hold, the flank of the army would be turned.

Horatio grinned as trucks appeared down the road, from Astia escorted by motorcycles. Roger rode up and called out, “Could you use some gas!”
“Yes we could! How did you know to come?”
“We came up with some folk to Astia and the messages had come in, so we drove here. I figured that gas would be something that the TAVs would need if you were operating from Athlin. This is about the limit of their range if you have any combat. So I brought some gas trucks as well as the riders.”

“You were right. We can use the gas. We also had some Inanimates.”
“Where did they come from?”

“The pyres. The bastards drove the men putting the bodies to the fire away and had a supply to Animate. The Inanimates tore up some villages, we were able to get ahead of them, but we ran out of gas here.”

“Then the riders can deal with Inanimates and you can deal with the rest. It looks like my father in law had the same idea.”

 More trucks appeared from Athlin and Denny drove up in a GP. “We followed you up. I figured that you would need resupply right about now.”

“We went around the Inananimates to get ahead of them. So we were short.”

“What’s the situation?”

“We drove off D’fleur troops that had been ripping up the railroad after dealing with the Inanaimates we encountered. There has been some action at the construction site and I’m not sure where the various armies are. Since the Tav’s were short on fuel and there is a suppressor active, I have established a perimeter here, with the railroad people. Line supervisor Rob Vinias is a Felloswhip reserve colonel. Here he is now.”

A man in the overalls of an active railroader and a suit jacket walked up and said, “You must be General Harper.”

Denny laughed and said, “You’ve heard of me?”
“After the Peninisula, the entire Fellowship army has heard of you. You pulled off a miracle there and that got noticed.”

“We’re not doing so hot here.”
“You are by my book. The TAVs turned up just when we were going to be in real trouble.”

“We were late, a bit. We had to deal with some Inanimates and I didn’t want to get stuck behind them. How bad were things, Denny?”
“Things were bad, in two villages. I had people stop and deal with the messes. The word got ahead of the Inaninimates for the rest.”

“I couldn’t stop, since we needed to be here, so we diverted, got around the Inanimates and let them come to us.”

“You did what you had to, Horatio,” Denny said. “I saw what you did with Jorge’s microportals and you couldn’t have done that chasing the Inanimates.”

“Let’s get the TAVs fueled up and some eyes out. I have a feeling that things aren’t over.”

Baladaric looked over the construction site from the count’s estate. Unfortunately, there was very little cover between the estate and where he could see the landdragons under the large and strange tower. From the tower, they would see him long before he could approach close enough to toss a spear. A miserable group of villagers with carts traversed along the road toward the construction site and the railroad beyond. This was the third group that Baladaric had seen, getting clear of the battlefield and the rampaging armies. Baladaric walked downstairs to the rest of the hunters and said, “Some folk need some help. Why don’t we aid them?”
Jomney turned to his sons and said, “Sam, why don’t you take some boys and those things you have been buying in the Sanctuary and the Lower City and see if you can get the suppressor shut down. Jorge’s people haven’t managed it yet.”

Sam grinned and started to take his clothes off. “Will, do, father.”

“Just make sure that you come back. Your mother will be annoyed if you don’t.”

“We will be careful.”

The boys became large foxes and grabbing satchels, they left. Ortalac said, “Was that a nice thing to do?”

“No, but Jorge;s people haven’t managed to shut the suppressor down and I want communications back.”

“My people are restoring the wire and laying field telephones to the railroad station.”
“That’s better than nothing, but I want Jumpers and to be able to talk to Duc Geral and Jorge.”

“Why do you think that Jorge hasn’t been able to shut down the suppressor.”
“I think that it’s sitting in one of those regiments and surrounded. Jorge’s people aren’t set up for a pitched battle and they’ve been busy.”

George looked at the regiment marching down the road and grimaced. The D’ Fleur duc was competent and had good officers and a progressive bent when it came to arming his troops. He hadn’t managed to replace all his pikemen with rifles, but he had made great strides in salting the regiment with rifles, breachloaders with brass cartridges at that. That, and the fact that the suppressor was in the middle of the regiment’s column made the task at hand, difficult at best. That was not helped by the fact that the duc’s sappers were now wary of booms and had found and disarmed three of George’s surprises with the ducs’ dragoons forcing bitter fights and quick retreats. The major found George and said, “What is the situation, lieutenant? The suppressor should have been shutdown some time ago?”
“Sir, the enemy is better than I expected, they are on the watchout for booms and frankly keep on the march and in better order than I expected. The cavalry are dragoons and not lancers and the pikemen have riflemen as support. Their sappers are competent and alert. I tried to set up three attacks and just got bloody noses for my trouble. I’ve had eight casualties, five dead, but my platoon doesn’t have the firepower to break the enemy up, I can’t get to the suppressor if the enemy stays in formation and I don’t have heavy mortars or heavy machine guns. The RS2s would force me to get close in before firing and they would cut my people down before I got within range.”

Jorge looked at the marching column in the distance and the wagon in amongst the other support, surrounded by cavalry and the rifle companies and said, “You have a point. There are too many for our kind of fight. “Let’s form up ahead of them and see if we can recruit from the royal army to attract their attention. I’m beginning to regret giving the boys up.”
“You had to do that sir. I imagine that they are giving the academy ulcers already. Ok, I’ll pull my people ahead. The fact that they had rifles was a rather nasty surprise. Somebody either sold some reserve, they have a gunshop or the duc had them made, with cartridges. Then he drilled his people and didn’t just choose his cousins as commanders. At least if he did, his cousin knew what he was doing.”

“Going after those cannon first was more important. Do you have microportals?”
“We used them up. I think that the word went out, because random crossbow bolts and sticks of wood get stomped on rather quickly. Then they do what they are doing now, change the line of march so that Jorge can’t drop surprises on them.”

“It was too much to hope for that our opponents would remain incompetent. Let’s see what we can put together.”

“This rain hasn’t helped a bit.”

“The rain helps and hurts everybody.”

“I almost wish for our pirate days back.”

“Think liked a pirate. We can pull this off. Look at it this way, if we don’t, my old boss will be laughing himself silly at us.”

There was a trail across the sky, Jorge looked at it and said, “That wasn’t good.”

“What was that?”
“They got at least one of those cannon put back together, I think.”

Gorel Ironsmith watched the rocket trace across the sky. The royal army was going to get a nasty shock. He prepared the second launcher and when it was ready, snapped the firing trigger. The second rocket roared out into the mist. Looking around, he said, “Our job is done here. Form up and let’s go!”

The 2nd royal regiment had fallen back about a quarter mile under the assault of the rebel pikes. The 1st was engaged and the front had fallen back about a half mile from where the 2nd had encountered the inanimates. Suddenly over where the 1st and the battalions of House D’ veld and House D’reale were dueling with pike and crossbow there was an explosion overhead. Soldiers on both sides fell gasping as a cloud spread over both armies, drifting in the direction of the House D’ veld and House D’reale troops downwind. Hundreds fell like lead toy soldiers as the rain disappated the cloud.

At first things were silent as the shock of what had just happened went through the opposing armies. Then the screams of those that had been at edges of the cloud and were not yet dead started as pikes and other weapons dropped onto the ground and the various soldiers became more concerned about not being where they were and less about fighting a battle. Both sides retreated away from each other and the dead as fast as they could, leaving the field to the fallen, the not yet dead and fallen pikes, crossbows and muskets. Leo looked at the retreating rebels and turned to his trumpeter. “Sound: FOLLOW ME!”

Leo led his companies upwind of the dead and flanking House D‘ veld’s broken formations that had become a mob, called out, “Sound: Charge!”

Jomney saw the first rocket trace, cursed and started to ring a bell. Other bells rang and men reached for gas masks and the rubberized hoods that Jomney had distributed. The bells had barely stopped when the second rocket hit the shield, bounced off as the warhead exploded. The cloud fell over the empty part of the construction site, the masked and hooded construction workers and orcs and on the rebel assault, where two companies had heavy casualties and the rest started to waver. 

Ratug was watching the inanimates as they approached the construction site when he heard the bells start ringing. He saw the first rocket explode over some troops and things start to unravel and called out “GAS! Masks! GAS! Masks!” He reached for the pouch containing his gas mask and pulled it over his head as his staff did as well. Fortunately the second rocket exploded over the shield and only the fringes of the pikemen were affected. The Inanimates ignored the gas completely, since they were already dead. They marched into the shield and Ratug bellowed, “FORWARD!”

Jomney looked down and said, “Now they are coming for real. They have finally gotten their act together.”

“At least we bought a couple of twentieths.”
“There is that. The next twentieth is going to be hell.”

“For everybody.”

“At least those evacuees were clear before the gas hit.”

“I think that the count sent some help to keep them moving.”

Jomney looked through his binoculars. “Rather large help. Maybe I was premature sending Sam out. KOL! Keep an eye on that bunch. We don’t want them getting underfoot!”

“Yes, Jomney!”

“They concern you?” Ortalac asked.

“You didn’t have my kids playing games when they were growing up. Down in the Empty Lands, I don’t think that there was a place they didn’t get into.”

Baladaric looked up the hill at the strange tower as he and the rest of the hunters walked slowly past. He could see the Inanimates and the army coming and that was going to be a rather large distraction, all too soon. He waved to the other hunters and strolled in the general direction of the count’s estate.

Nightblade watched the hunters. He could tell that they had been enhanced, but not as grossly as the marines had been. He only had his squad of five, as the rest of the Transformed were with the Major, dealing with bigger issues. So far, these people, whoever they were, hadn’t made any threatening moves, but they had come far too close to the queen for Nighblade’s comfort.

Jorge laughed as the foxes appeared and said, “So who sent you?”

With a foxy grin, Sam said, “Dad. He wants the suppressor taken care of.”
“Did you bring any microportals? We’re tapped out.”
“Yes we did. We brought all sorts of things. I think we spent just a bit too much time in the Lower City and the Sanctuary.”

“We can use all of it.The suppressor is in the middle of a regiment’s baggage train and I don’t want to wait for the regiment to engage before shutting it down.”

“If you provide some distractions, we can sneak in there. What happened to Tim and the others?”
“I had to send them home. My boss wanted to shake up the naval academy.”

“I didn’t think that the general was like that. He seemed to be ok when he was around, but more serious. His brother, on the other hand, was trouble, even for us.”

“Kulgha?”

“He and the other one are sneaky and were looking for help to harass the Great Captain. Of course, once they have their grip on you, they don’t want to let go.”

Jorge laughed. “I will be careful. Ok, you have Microportals. Hand them to me. You get in, shut down the suppressor. We provide some distractions.”

Sam pulled a box of microportals out of his satchel. “How will you get them where you want them?”

“Slings and stones. We were playing with very old and slave’s weapons. Slaves weren’t supposed to have weapons, but I suspect that you know that you need something if you are watching sheep.”
Sam grinned. “I’m not going to say, at least until grandfather gets dad’s key.”
“That is going to be expensive.”
“I’ve been helping with the negotiations. Mother, grandmother, Nueleth and Tinesi have been going back and forth and the Ravathyra haven’t wanted a new House, yet. Improving the tavern has been on the table.”

“Heavy negotiations, then. Let’s get this on the road.”

Jon rode up to the main body of his troops, following the rather battered dragoons and grenadiers. His cousin, Lenald, graduate of the Fellowship army’s military academy at Jon’s insistence, rode up and saluted. “We’ve been ok, except for some harassment. Gorel managed to get two of the rockets set up and launched, one landed on top of both one of our regiments and one of the enemy’s and the thing became rather a mess. The other struck the shield over the new city and bounced, so it splashed more over our troops than the enemy.”

“Have they tried for the suppressor?”
“I think that was what the harassment was about. Since the fae have relationships with the enemy, they probably want the thing shut down.”
“Somebody brought Fellie TAVs to the party. At least they were Fellie TAVs”

“How many?”

“Ten.”
“It wasn’t the Army. After the Peninsula, I doubt that there are ten in the entire Fellowship inventory. There were some rumors that the Qinvaris Militia picked some up. I wonder how they are operating them here. There is hardly a handy fuel source and the logistics would be bad. On the other hand, the Qinvaris are very good at logistics.”

“What have you been facing?”
“I think they were Pug marines. I hate to say this, but I want to keep a retreat path open in case Duc Elderic gets too clever. I notice that his troops haven’t exactly been closing with the royal army or assaulting the new city.”

“Do that. This is starting to look like a fiasco.”

“Regardless of what happens, it’s your head on the block if the queen survives even if we win on the battlefield.”

“I know. There’s no help for that now. If it does come to that, you get my sons out of the mess.”

“I will.”
  George had an ambush set up along the enemy’s line of advance. The ground dropped from the road and the royal army had formed along the ridge that the road ran along, facing the enemy. George waited for the two D’lanate regiments to pass and as the D’fleur contingent approached, he put a whistle to his lips. He blew and then pressed the microportal in his hand three times.

Lenald heard the whistle, saw a rifleman get hit in the chest with a stone and called out, “Disperse!”

The trumpets sounded as stones dropped into the column as they left the road on either side. Jon rode up and said, “What’s going on?”
That was answered as a series of small explosions rocked where the column had been as troops started to take cover. The explosions were followed by a spattering of rifle fire in Jon and Lenald’s direction and then in ten hundredths it was over. Lenald called out, “Check the suppressor!”

A lieutenant rode up, saluted and said, “They got it this time sir!”
“How?”
“They had fae foxes infiltrate. When things kicked off, they were already working on the suppressor and we were looking at an assault from the road. The infiltrators Jumped out in the noise.”

Jon sighed. “Elderic isn’t going to be happy about this.”

“Bugger Elderic with a ramrod. He was supposed to secure the royal children and he didn’t. Where is he anyway?”
“I haven’t seen him on the field.”

A messenger rode up, Jon looked at the message and cursed. “The left flank has been turned.”
“How? The rocket was supposed to at least weaken the enemy’s right.”

“Here’s the message. The flank became disordered after the rocket went off overhead and some cavalry officer charged in right behind the gas.”

“He must have big ones.”

“Very. We face to the left and the center with Elderic’s two regiments on our right.”

“Do we trust them?”

“Put the dragoons on the road between us and them.”

“What about our problems here?”

“They have what they wanted, so they shouldn’t be a problem, for us anyway.”

“Maybe they can find Elderic for us.”

Jon laughed. “Maybe they can.”

A GP drove up to the water tower and a man and a half elf got out. Jomney grinned and said, “Denny, you have arrived!”

“I brought a radio, which seems to be working now. This is my son Alinar, who will be your liason with the militia.”
“Who is in overall command?”
“You are, at least of the people here and the militia. You were here first and know the locals better than Horatio does. Horatio is refueled and reinforced by the flameriders. Where do you want them?”

Jomney pulled out a map, “We’re facing an assault here momentarily when the Inanimates get here, the first batch, that is. The left flank of the enemy’s army has been turned and the line is more or less along this road here. If the TAVs and militia could come up this road, we can roll the enemy’s right and end this.”

“Won’t things be dicey for your people?”
“I think that we can hold long enough. Leave the railroad folks at the station as a line of retreat for my people and Roger’s people to deal with the Inanimates and as a reserve.”
Elderic looked at the messages and tried to make sense of them. Two rockets had been fired, but the army’s left had been turned and was crumbling. The right was preparing to assault the queen, but hadn’t killed her as yet. Strange machines had driven Jon’s troops off the railroad and it was likely that the queen would soon be able to retreat even if the suppressor was still active. At least the two royal regiments in Elderic’s front were not advancing.

Geral looked at the duc’s banner and grinned. Elderic had not had the experience of dealing with the frequent incursions from Lain Othrond and hadn’t been sent by a mother determined to keep him out of the Church’s clutches to the Fellowship military school on the beach in Oceanside. A school taught by Fellowship veteran officers and old orcs who knew which end was the pointy one. So, for three years, up until his father’s death, Geral had been taught by people who knew the business, coming home summers and trying to convince his father’s old crusty knights that he knew what he was talking about. Fortunately, Geral had been able to retire the worst of the crusties and Semmont had taken the rest. That left him with a cadre of officers like Sir Leo, who while young for their jobs, were willing to learn and were proving themselves now.

Ratug watched the Inanimates go in. The front of the ememy’s positions lit up with flames as flamethrowers torched the Inanimates caught up in the barbed wire and wire weed that were essentially a flat wall in front of the low mounds that defined the enemy’s trench line. Heavy Projector fire tore into the column of Inanimates, torching chunks out of the column, but not slowing it down. The enemy likewise was holding and it was time for Ratug to change that. He turned to his signal’s sergeant and said, “Mortar fire on the Projectors and those trenches there. Prepare for an assault.”

Jomney cursed, as one by one, the delicate Projectors were hit by mortar fire or  damaged by near misses and taken out of the action. All too soon, all six were out of the fight, in spite of the heroic efforts of the Imperial Army crews that had come with them to keep them firing. The mortars then turned to his right trench and with Inanimates tearing the wire as they were destroyed, the path was clear for an assault. The rebel regiment was slow to drop its pikes and draw swords, but the orcs drove in, facing machine gun fire that covered Ortalac’s retreating people as they evacuated the trench line. Ortalac’s mortars managed to take two of the enemy’s mortars out of action and things went a bit quiet as the enemy worked to turn the trench against Jomney’s people. That was when the second column of Inanimates arrived, adding to the chaos.

Horatio’s headquarters platoon followed his reonaisance platoon through the village and up the road to the top of a hill where Horatio could see the entire battlefield. Rufus Lever was looking at the battle as Horatio drove up, turned and saluted. “Sir, we owe Jomney a big thank you. He just put us right where the TAVs can be the most effective, and the enemy does not even know that we are here.”

“Were there any outriders or sentries?”
 “Not enough. They weren’t covering each other and we took out the ones here. Ozzie and the boys dealt with them before they could get a message out.”

Horatio looked up the road that went back down the hill from the crossroads and into the rear the enemy and said, “I think that we should do our friend a rather large favor. Let’s roll.”

Jomney turned to the queen and said, “Your majesty, I want to request that you retreat to the railroad station.”

Cécile looked at the slave and said, “I have every confidence in you, Jomney.”
“Yes, you should. Right now, I want to be able to withdraw if I have to. With you, Rolain, Anais and especially Alb here, I can’t do that.”

“Alb?”

“Yes. I will explain later. Right now, I need you at the railroad station.”
“You did not say Astia.”
“I don’t think that you will Jump to Astia. On the other hand, you visibly going to the railroad station would be a good thing right now.”

Cécile looked at Jomney and grinned. “What are you up to?”
“I just put something that Elderic does not want even at his front, in a position to rampage all over his rear. I need time to let that happen and if you are visibly retreating, the assault here must be working.”

“You and Geral planned this right from the start.”
“We needed the rebels to get stuck in, and hard. If they are run off, there will be a civil war that could last generations. We also needed to make it clear just who the rebels were colluding with. That will help squelch any attempts by the real enemy to get further support and spread chaos through the Kingdoms.”

“I will obey my general then.”

“Good, your majesty. Shall we go?”
 

Baladaric and his men were assisting another group of refugees when things started. He and his men pulled their boar spears out from the carts and started to walk up through the various buildings and machinery that had sprung up between the railroad station and the water tower. At the very least, they were on the queen’s probable retreat. Landdragons suddenly appeared on the road and Baladaric prepared his toss.

Nightblade cursed. He had been discreetly following along and now was stuck on the other side of the villagers from the hunters that had suddenly revealed themselves. The frightened villages ran to and fro, trying to escape the monsters that had suddenly charged them, effectively blocking Nightblade’s people as the hunters moved through the buildings behind the water tower.

Baladaric suddenly had a clear shot at the queen and without hesitation, made the toss. The spear flew true and then a man jumped in front of the queen and was struck.

Cécile noticed the man tossing the spear as he launched it, screamed in anger and prepared to charge. Suddenly Jomney was there, and was struck in the shoulder by the spear. Blood gushing he fell. Cécile screamed again and prepare to charge, when she heard Jomney’s voice. “My wife is going to be rather annoyed.”

She turned and looked and another landdragon was pulling the boar spear out of his shoulder. The large landdragon looked at her and said, “I will deal with this, your majesty.” She could see the wound healing as landdragon Jomney bellowed, “Rolain, Joram, follow me! Anais watch the queen and Ald.”

In a very brief time the apparent dragon hunters were subdued and Jomney dragged the leader back up the road, followed by a squad of Transformed in Republican maring uniforms and strange cloaks that enabled them to be concealed. The apparent sergeant said, “My apologies, your majesty. The major is going to have my hide for letting them get so close.”

Cécile laughed. “No harm done, sergeant. Why don’t you provide an escort and allow my landdragon general to get back to his battle.”

“Will do, your majesty. I’m set for another run through the Flight Instructor for sure, now.”

Cécile proceeded down the road without further incident and Jomney the landdragon returned to his headquarters. Ortalac looked at him and said, “That wasn’t the first time this has happened to you, is it?”
“One tree.”
“What?”

“The fae grove in the Empty Land is one tree, in the village next to the Camp. It is a very nice tree, but it is one tree. My wife was the community’s princess when we bonded and her parents were caught up in a tussle with the Lady and killed. Herdir and I made a bit of a deal. I was the lady’s first landdragon, so she could study me, I would remain collared and the fae in the Empty Lands would have a measure of protection. Since the Darkmage is gone, the tree has put up sprouts, so we should have a grove soon, but for a very long time, I was it. The problem is that my wife gets annoyed if I go landdragon, since keeping me fed until I revert is expensive. Barrister, why are you here?”

Kulgha grinned. “I think that some folk are going to need my services all too soon and my aides have another task as soon as you drive some orcs back.”
“Do you think that I can?”
“My brother would be the one to ask, but it appears that your adversaries are starting to realize the pickle you put them in.”
“They seem to be moving forward.”

“With the queen gone, that is pointless now. There is nothing here you need to defend. On the other hand, they are stuck and don’t have a line of retreat. As for the orcs, they are mercenaries and this isn’t their fight. Once the commander realizes that things are hopeless, he will surrender and you can get a ransom payment from Clan Ironhead that will be rather substantial.”

“I’m a slave.”

“Then House Ravathyra will receive the ransom, something that Tanyl and Nueleth will thank you for and they will increase your budget accordingly, that is if they don’t hand you your key outright. That means that your wife will no longer need to worry about feeding the landdragon as well as your teenage sons. In any case, without the orcs and other things, this rebellion is over.”

“I need to get back to work.”

Ratug could sense the assault faltering. The Inanimates had not broken the enemy and while they had retreated to their second trench line, the enemy’s mortars had silenced his, or they were saving ammunition.  Olog double timed up and said, “Ammunition is short all around.”

“Ok, I guess we pull out, then.”

“That will be tricky. I wouldn’t spread it around, but those Fellie TAVs are now in the army’s rear and things are probably not pretty.”

The 2nd  battalion of House D’reale’s pikemen was forming up for their part in the  assault on the new city when huge machines roared up, blasted fire and death and roared right through the disintegrating formation, leaving the battalion shattered and ruined. The shattered survivors could see the column of machines heading right to the rear of 1st battalion.

The 3rd battalion of the D’reale infantry were marching up behind the assaulting Inanimates when the Inanimates started to burst into flame. Fire swept across the column and wagons spitting flame and moving by themselves rampaged through the Inanimates and then moved toward the formed battalion which quickly started to retreat. Riders on strange vehicles appeared and the battalion began to take rifle and machine gun fire. The retreat turned into a rout as the battalion disintegrated into a fleeing mob.

Elderic discovered that his army and rebellion had literally disintegrated when GPs and trucks drove up into into his headquarters camp and troops in Qinvaris militia uniforms dropped out, guns pointed at the guards and other soldiers, who promptly dropped their swords. A man in a Qinvaris militia hat with general’s leaves walked up and said, “Duc D’lanate, the queen would like to speak with you. Hand over your sword, if you please.”

Elderic looked at the man and said “Why should I hand my sword to a slave?”

“Oh, the collar? My wife insists when I am off the estate. I’m Dennis Harper and I suppose that we could wait for somebody suitable to take your sword, but the queen may get annoyed and she is rather annoyed already. Never mind, there’s Duc Geral.”

A grinning Geral walked in and said, “The mighty have fallen, Elderic? Hand over your sword. The queen is rather displeased with you right now.”

Ratug considered the situation and said, “Raise the white flag, this is over.”

Olog grimaced and said, “I hope that the clan doesn’t take the ransom out of our hides.”

“That is as it is. This was a fool’s errand from the start.”

The flags went up and the firing ceased. A pair of orcs appeared with a landdragon and the rather battered one in a colonel’s uniform said, “Colonel, you are in a great deal of trouble.”  

Jreghug appeared with his brother and said, “Yes he is. Uncle, didn’t you think to talk to my father before taking this contract? Apparently you didn’t know that Vestia is a clan ally and my father and the Champion are going to be rather annoyed at you, even though this attempt at regicide failed.”

“Your uncle is Protector and insisted that I take the contract.”
“That should have alerted you. On the other hand, you have been away and outside family politics. That is going to be expensive for uncle and your family, since it is unlikely that your clients will be able to pay, that is if they didn’t pay up front and in money that wasn’t tainted. I do hope that they didn’t use coin from the five cities. Faghig, make sure that you check for that.”

Faghig grinned. “Jreghug, I was going to check that right off. Father is going to be rather annoyed at uncle if the payment is in that coin as well as the rest of it. In any case, Jreghug, let’s get these troops sent home and make arrangements for the ransoms.”

“Is Vestia collecting the ransoms?” Ragug asked.

“Actually, the queen has deferred all the ransoms to Jomney.”

“Who’s Jomney?”
“I am,” the landdragon said. “I was hoping to avoid things like titles and large sums of money and the queen is insisting. My wife will probably insist that we buy the Camp and the rest outright and that we have a Seat. Thanks to you and your friends, I have yet another mess to clean up and I need to get people under cover before the snow starts.”

Ishendell.

Jorge didn’t see any more new microportal requests and the other end was sending a flurry of four pings on their microportals telling Jorge that things were over. He tunred to the gathered people and said, “I think that we are done here. Let’s go to dinner. You all out did yourselves today. Princess, I see that you managed to sneak in somehow.”

Immianthe grinned. “It wasn’t sneaking. Tad found me and wanted some help with some things. That was better than listening to my brother mope about his girlfriend.”
“Do I want to know?”
“Not really. I don’t know the details, since mother won’t tell me and a certain new girl has been hard to find in the residence lately. Did you buy her key?”

“If she was from the estate, Shael may have, but she is in the Republic helping my grandomother and being the elegant elf lady in the family. I, on the other hand, have classwork.”
“That was your own fault, Jorge,” Ben said. “If you hadn’t poked the clown on the first day, he wouldn’t have dumped those papers on you.”

Immianthe grinned. “What did you do Jorge?”
“I will tell you all at dinner, princess. There are too many to eat in back so the kitchen will have to suffer.”

 The Hideaway.

Blackfire waited by the small portal for the message of the success. None came and finally, a message came through, sealed by the seal of the royal house of Vestia. Blackfire cut the seal and the message read: “Dúhael, your plan to murder me has failed. Your allies have all fallen and their treason was clear to all. You have caused still more death and destruction in the kingdom, but your effort has failed, yet again. Your allies face the same fate that you do. My brave and determined people have been my strength. We will prevail and I will have your head. This I promise, for my dead, Cécile Regnant, Queen of Vestia.”

Blackfire took the message to Dúhael and said, “The effort has failed.”

“How?”

“I wouldn’t know. It will take some time to get a report.”

Neuw Athlin.

Jerthad walked into the busy headquarters supervised by a landdragon and said, “Your true self comes out at last, Jomney.”
“If you spread that around, I will be annoyed and so will my bosses.”
“When you can, could we make an arrangement for a sitdown.”
“To add to your collection?”
“Yes. I saw what you and the duc did here and it was remarkable.”
“It wasn’t just us and we have a lot of dead on our consciences.”

“Not as many as could have been. Considering the gas bombs, the Inanimates and the supposed Scourge devise, you could have lost it all if you had panicked and the army broken.”

“We didn’t keep track of the busted guns and that D’fleur gunner still got shots off.”

“Even the Major Tollings is not perfect and the guns were his responsibility. The rest came off more or less as you and the duc planned it.”
“I have work.”

“Yes you do. So do I, as it turns out.”
“That is?”

“I have to convince some orcs to give me information that I, as the Champion’s representative, am fully entitled to, concerning some contract details. The orcs in question may not want to give that information up.”
“Colonel Ironhead and the duc.”
“Yes. Duc D’fleur is a bit of an enigma here. He’s also managed to arrange his death as things wound down. He not only hired the mercenaries, he had troops, that here in the Mortal Kingdoms were extraordinary, managing to disguise what he was doing from the Church and his king while assembling the pieces of an army that could have created real trouble if it hadn’t been forced out into the open here. We can have a chat later.”

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