BATTLE REPORTS - The Hand of the King - 21 (Leadership and Governance)

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This was such a stupid idea. He couldn't believe he let his cousin talk him into it.

Somewhere, off to his left, was Rhamael. With the heavy fog covering everything, he didn't know if he was ten feet or ten miles away. "This is going to be fun," he had said. "You need to stop being so cautious," he had said.

Melchoir still new how to have fun. He still knew how to be sneaky. He still "had it". He just didn't see how engaging in a daring raid behind enemy lines under cover of weather was required to prove it.

Somehow, Rhamael had acquired intelligence about an enemy checkpoint. They knew where it was, all they needed to do was to find it. Then, once they took it out, they could ambush the enemy as they passed by. It was certainly daring.

The terrain around them began to change. Slowly, the group began to come up to a bend in the road.

This... looked like the place... he thought. It was kind of hard to tell, though.

"I think this is the place," the officer said in mute tones to his other officers gathered around him.

"How do you want to do this?" one of them asked.

"Well, the other Marshal Theleos is out there somewhere. He called dibs on outflanking the enemy while we hold them down at the front."

"We have to take it on the chin again?" the other officer complained, "Why can't we ever do the outflanking?"

"You've got to be pretty quick to beat Rhamael at dibs," Melchoir explained, "It's been awhile, and I was out of practice."

"Still..."

"Worry not," Sanario interjected, "Next time I shall chant a prayer for Melchoir, to invoke divine aid when calling dibs."

"Thanks," Melchoir replied. Just once he wished he could win dibs against his cousin.

"How will we know when it's time?" the other junior officer asked.

"I have no idea," Melchoir responded, "I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Don't let Rhamael corrupt you. There is no substitute for competent planning."

Neither the officers nor the priest gave as much ascent to his maxim as he would have liked.

"My only concern," said Melchoir, pulling out the battered old surveyor he had conveniently forgotten to return to line command, "is that we're not the only ones wandering around in this mist. The one thing I'd hate is for the hunters to become the hunted."

As Melchoir flipped the switch on his surveyor, the booming crack of a lascannon blasted out from nearby. The officer wheeled around as another and then another opened fire across the road.

The officer squinted into the fog. He could just barely make out the form of an enemy vehicle. With a concussive thud, the enemy vehicle exploded, causing the mist around him to flicker orange as a fireball lazily wafted out of vision.

"Well," Melchoir said with a mix of excitement and disappointment, "Looks like we'll have to improvise now."

The officer stared down at his scanner. These stupid things always needed recalibrating. There were all of his soldiers around him, but the fog was causing a bunch of false positives. In fact, according to the device, there was a squad of enemy soldiers right behind him, mixed in with his own troops.

The officer turned around.

A sudden blast of weapons fire slammed into him. The officer cried out as he lifted his power fist up to shield his body. The disruptor field and the refractor field yowled angrily, shooting sparks into the air as the fusilade of small arms fire crashed into him.

Sanario turned and saw a handful of enemy infantry materialize out of the mist right in the middle of them, opening fire on the command squad. The priest ran forward and hurled his body in front of the officer. His own rosarius field crackled and lashed out as Sanario stood in between the enemy and the officer, catching all of the incoming fire himself.

He turned as his refractor field thrashed and sparked around him, only to see Melchoir fall to the ground, wounded.

The guardsmen all around jumped in surprise. Suddenly the enemy was there, without warning. People began to shout everywhere.

"Men of Folera!" the priest shouted as the enemy continued to snap fire the last of their clips around them, "Rally to me!" he shouted again, lifting his chainsaw sword high into the air and revving it loudly.

"Let us destroy these foul enemy who think they can do such as this to those such as us!"

The guardsmen, looked around confused and in a panic.

"I said GET 'EM!" the priest roared.

Lasfire began to blast back into the enemy. Sanario turned and commandeered a nearby platoon squad and charged in.

The enemy desperately tried to fire into them as they were swarmed by the guardsmen.

In front of the priest, one of the officers ran eagerly into the fray, drawing his power sword. He and Sanario barreled into the enemy first. The enemy soldier in front of them clumsily tried to attack with the butt of his gun, but the attack bounced harmlessly off of the priest's refractor field. As he was looking at the priest, the junior officer ducked in and with one swift stab, plunged his power weapon deep into the enemy's armor.

Meanwhile, inspired by the priest, the other guardsmen charged in.

"Yes!" Sanario shouted as the enemy that had tried to attack him slumped to the ground, "Yes my children! Tear him apart! In the name of the Emperor, your god!"

The guardsmen did just that. Hopeless against the rushing throng of guardsmen, the enemy was trampled to the ground and filled with bayonets.

Sanario looked down with grim satisfaction. This was how you were supposed to wage war, with courage and martial prowess. Enough of Melchoir's scheming and plans. No, now was time to do things the Sanario way.

"We have vanquished the enemy here!" Sanario bellowed, "Now, let us charge forth and vanquish them over there! Follow me, to glory!"

"But, I'm second in command," one of the officers protested.

"I SAID FOLLOW ME!" the priest barked, revving his ten foot long chainsaw sword maniacally. This instantly quieted any opposition.

Sanario could hear lasgun fire erupting from the front of the men. There were more foes that needed a hearty smiting. The priest began to run forward, dragging the guardsmen behind him.

The priest rounded the corner of the ruins. He could see the conscripts making a desperate stand against more enemy soldiers that had materialized in front of them.

The enemy unloaded with arm-mounted small arms, downing the hapless conscripts in the front rank.

They turned around in panic, only to see Sanario charging at them from the other side. Then, the enemy charged them from the front.

The enemy sergeant hefted a massive two-handed hammer above his head. The weapon crackled with disruptive energy as he bore down on the closest conscript. The conscript could only look up in shock as the giant enemy soldier heaved his great hammer down and struck him square on the top of his head. Nearly instantly, the conscript sublimated into a fine red mist as the incredible concussive power of the thunder hammer blasted through his former corporeal form.

On seeing one of their kind get literally exploded, the conscripts broke and ran in a panic. No amount of rhetoric from the priest was going to keep them around. They hadn't signed up for THIS. Well, they hadn't signed up at all, but that was beside the point.

Sanario struggled as the fleeing soldiers rushed past him.

"Let those faithless cowards go!" the priest shouted, "We are made of sterner stuff! Now, who amongst you is willing to murder for your god?"

A great cry arose from the men as they ran forward. Lasfire began to pour into the remaining enemy from three sides. As the other two went down, the enemy sergeant took stock of the situation. As a massive tide of angry guardsmen poured out at him from behind the ruin, he could see the priest, hefting his mighty eviscerator.

Deciding running the hell away was the better part of virtue in this case, the lone enemy broke and ran away from the priest.

"No!" Sanario shouted, "Don't let him escape! Summon all of your energy with me now and CHARGE!"

Sanario burst forward as fast as he could. The sounds of battle were in his ears. The scent of blood was in his nose. The rush of victory surged through his muscles. He didn't think he had ever run faster in his entire life.

The mass wave of guardsmen struggled to catch up as the priest broke away from the rest of them. The enemy turned over his shoulder and saw the priest bearing down on him. There was no way he could escape. Not from this lunatic with a chainsaw sword. He turned and stopped for a moment, trying to get a few shots off at the priest. The poorly-aimed rounds ricocheted off of the priest's armor as they crashed into him.

This time, there was no one to stop the priest. No one to steal his thunder. With a scream of pure hatred, Sanario put all of the strength he could muster behind his eviscerator and swung it at the enemy. The enemy tried to lift his thunder hammer to parry, but the massive, whirling blade cut straight through the hammer and went clean through, burrowing into armor behind and easily slicing through flesh and bone.

The spinning chainsaw ripped through the other side, spraying blood and armor bits out of the enemy's back. Instantly, his arm and a part of his torso was gone. The enemy collapsed onto the ground under the sheer weight of the priest's attack. Sanario lifted his blade up again and prepared to smash it down on what was left of the enemy.

The enemy sergeant reached out with his hand, but also reached out with his mind. Suddenly, the priest filled with a twisting agony. His mind and soul ground against his physical form, shooting pain throughout his body. The enemy's psychic attack started to break apart the very foundations of his mind.

The strain suddenly made the sergeant lose conscious as the priest's legs gave way from under him.

The guardsmen looked down at the priest.

"Ahm... I'm okay.. kay," the priest stammered, unable to comprehend just how his own brain connected to the rest of his body. He tried to move, but only flopped worse onto the ground.

"I... ah can't... stand," Sanario croaked.

"Quick!" one of the guardsmen shouted, "Pick the priest up! Let's keep going, it's what he would want us to do!"

"Yes!" shouted a sergeant, "Let us keep charging, for the king!"

Three of the guardsmen picked the priest up from the ground. He was limp in their arms.

"Yesh..." Sanario began, "charge..."

The guardsmen continued to charge across the field, priest in tow.

Meanwhile, Rhamael had finally just arrived.

The officer had heard the sounds of battle and had come running with his advance guard. As he finally came up along a barricade, he could see close combat fighting happening in front of him.

He rushed forwards with his troops, desperate to join in the fray. As he approached, he could see the guardsmen advancing, carrying his cousin's priest along with them.

Then, from a nearby ruin, the enemy opened fire on them from a concealed position. The guardsmen began to scramble for cover, dragging the priest over towards the barricade.

Rhamael looked at the ruin, and could see a couple of enemy soldiers charging at them through the mist.

"Open fire, men!" the officer shouted, "Fire and maneuver! Be like the wind!"

The guardsmen began to open fire at a near sprint, sending covering fire for the guardsmen in front of them. A few of the shots eventually found their mark, downing the enemy as they came to the end of the barricade.

The wounded other guardsmen drug the priest up to the other side.

"Hello, my friend," Rhamael said to the priest, "Are you all right?"

"Imma... Ahm right," the priest tried to answer.

Enemy gunfire continued to land around them as some of Rhamael's guardsman began to fire back.

"You must excuse me, then. I have the enemy to sweep from before my awesome presence. Much more work to be done! If we never meet again, I wish the blessings of the king of Folera on you for all of your days."

"Come, men!" Rhamael shouted, "We must advance. Like the wind!"

Sanario rolled his head to the side, watching as the guardsman jumped over the barricade and charged into the mist.



"I think it's this way," one of the conscripts proclaimed.

"Are you sure?" another asked.

"That's in the direction of gunfire. I don't think we actually want to get CLOSER to the killy things," another added.

"Oh, come on, guys, that's our JOB. We're all soldiers here, now. We're supposed to find stuff and kill it. Isn't that kind of the whole point?"

"Yeah, but how are we going to find stuff to kill if we can't see anything?"

"Right, who knows how far away that battle is?"

"I think we should just stay here until someone gives us orders."

"I agree."

"No, come on, everybody, are we sheep or are we men? Let's show a little initiative here."

"Yeah."

The small conscript mob continued to argue with itself as the knot of soldiers huddled up the hill. They were lost, and alone.

"Hey, look, there's a road up ahead, I think."

"Yeah, I think you're right."

"Should we follow it somewhere? I mean, we can't get properly lost so long as we follow a road, right?"

"I think staying on the road is going to be more dangerous."

"Yeah."

"Okay, everyone, shut up. We'll put it to a vote. Everyone who thinks we should follow the road, raise their hands."

The conscript asking the question raised his hand, along with nine other members of the squad.

"And who thinks we should NOT follow the road?"

The other ten conscripts in the squad raised their hand.

"Well hell."

"So what are we going to do?"

"Well," said the one who called the vote, "I'm first conscript, so I get to be the tie breaker, and I say we take the road."

"What? First conscript?"

"You're not first conscript."

"Am too."

"Are not. There's no such thing as first conscript."

The enemy ambushed them from the road.

The conscripts turned as the enemy charged them out of the mist.

"Open fire!" someone shouted.

With a mind sharpened by desperation, the conscripts quickly attempted to form a line and began to fire their small arms. Stunned by the sudden wall of lasgun rounds, the enemy started losing one squad member after the other.

Only two of them managed to make it in. One of the giant enemy whirled down with his massive blade, literally cutting a conscript in two. Those around him, somehow steeled into action, attacked the armored knight back. Two of them grabbed the enemy's arm and tried to jerk the weapon out of his hands. Another pair tied to push him over, causing the enemy to fall back onto the ground. A fifth conscript reached down and held his other arm while a sixth wrenched the enemy's helmet off and punched his face with a rock.

Things didn't go so well for the enemy sergeant either.

The guardsmen were swarming around him like a cloud of angry hornets. He attempted to come down with his hammer, but the guardsmen scattered away from his blows, only to form back into the void when his hammer had passed by. He cried out in shock as several guardsman grabbed on to his great weapon and instigated a tug-of-war to free it from his grasp. Others pulled him in every direction at once. Someone threw a potato at him, the spud bouncing off of his visor.

With coordinated effort, the conscripts managed to disarm the sergeant and force him to the ground. They started kicking and poking him. The sergeant writhed on the ground, desperate to get back up, but being pinned down by the sheer weight of them. His power armor started to fail as various wires and bits of hosing were ripped out. Piece by piece, he was being ripped apart.

Somehow, his helmet got wrenched free. Above him stood a guardsman holding a bloody rock.

The world went dark.

The conscripts stopped to catch their breath, looking around them for any more threats.

"There," one of the conscripts said, "That was that, then."

"How many do we have left?"

The conscripts quickly counted off as they had been trained. Of their original 20, 18 were still left.

"Well, that wasn't so bad, now was it?"

"I've been in worse close combats."

"Oh no you haven't."

"Shut up."

"Gentlemen, please. Calm down. We just won a fight, but we've still got the main problem to deal with here. What are we going to do now?"

The other conscripts agreed.

"All right. Let's try this again. How many of us want to take the road?"

Nine guardsmen raised their hands.

"Dammit."