User:HMSVictory/New World Order
It is the twenty-first year of The Empire's conquest of Tamriel, and Tiber Septim's main battle-groups are making large gains against the chaotic and divided provinces. Against all odds, Junior Scout Commander Nahum Galahad returns from a long mission behind enemy lines, only to find his unit, the Skingrad First-and-Only, has been redeployed under a charismatic new commander. Galahad faces his most challenging experience yet, as he faces evil forces of the Daedra without his men.
'Are you sure about this, sir?' Galahad yelled above the storm as they crossed the yard, heads down into the knifing gale.
The wind was full of ice crystals that flashed like glass dust in the beams of the blockhouse lamps. Kanow had no intention of opening his mouth to reply.
They reached the iron proch of the asessment block, and pulled the cold wooden hatches shut behind them. The wind-howl subsided slightly.
'I said-' Galahad began.
'I heard,' Kanow replied, brushing powder-ice off his leather coat. 'Sure about what?'
Junior Scout Commander Nahum Galahad shrugged. 'I was only wondering, sir, if we should wait.'
Kanow snorted. 'This camp's at full capacity, Galahad. We must process, process, process.' With each repetition of the, he slapped his hands together quickly. 'If I waste time checking each and every tall story these deserters and cowards spin, we'll be overrun. What's my motto, Galahad?'
'Fast appraisal, fast despatch, sir.'
'Fast appraisal, that's right. And in this case, are you in any doubt?'
The scout hesitated.
'Well, I'm not, Kanow said. 'Deserters and cowards. You can see that just by looking at them, and smell it just from the stink of their bodies. And that story? It doesn't deserve corroboration, Galahad. It's patently mendacious.'
'Yes, sir,' said Galahad.
'What are they?'
'Deserters and cowards, sir.'
'That's right. Did you actually think we should get this verified?'
Galahad looked at his feet. Pools of ice-melt were forming on the stone floor around his boots and coat-hem. 'There were certain aspects which I felt to be complelling and worth-'
'Shut up, Galahad,' Centurion Kanow said.
Kanow pushed through the inner hatch into the main hallway of the assessment block. Galahad followed.There was an animal warmth in the air, a cattle-bower stink. Laced with wooden walkways and staircases, five storeys of prison containment rose up on either side of the gloomy hall space, and from the shuttered stone pens all around them, Galahad and Kanow could hear moans and murmurs issuing from hundereds of incarcerated men. Dirty, degenerate wretches with ragged clothes peered out at them through the serried wire gates of the sorting cages on the ground floor.
'Please, sir! By the grace of the Empire, please!' one man called out, reaching a filthy hand out through the bars.
Kanow unsheathed his broadsword and racked the slide. The wretch drew back immediately, and inmates in the nearby pens shrank away to the far walls with a muted wailing, like reprimanded dogs.
A nearby hall door opened creaked open and let in a fierce gust of icy air. The centurion and his junior both shielded their faces from the cold. Yelling and waving enchanted shock mauls, a gang of armoured troopers began herding in another batch of new arrivals from Outer Processing.
'Pen one seventeen!' a voice shouted, and the stone cage door on one seventeen unlocked with a clack. The troopers drove the newcomers inside, enthusiastically beating the slowest or most reluctant amongst them.
Once the cage was locked again, the gang of troopers began to disperse to other duties.
'Trouble, Centurion?' asked Troop Sergeant Maskar, noticing the drawn sword as he came over.
'Not yet, Maskar,' Kanow grunted. 'But I need you and an armed detail, if you've got a moment.'
'At your command, sir,' Maskar nodded, and turned. 'Formation six, with me!'
Maskar was a big man, shaven-headed and fleshy. Like all the Camp Xeno troopers, he wore leather-jacked steel armour that was articulated around his torso in overlapping segments, so as to give the impression of a well-developed but flayed musculature. He slid his shock maul into its belt loop and unlimbered his spear. The five troopers with him did the same.
Kanow wiped the blood from his sword with a cloth. The afternoon's round of executions had left it splashed with red.
'Pen three twenty-eight,' Kanow said, and the legionaires fell into step behind him, lifting their spears.
'Summary kills, sir?' Maskar asked?
'I'll have the paperwork done by the morning, sergeant. The warrants too. But this can't wait. folow my lead.
Kanow looked round at Galahad.
'What, what now?'
'Nothing sir,' Galahad said.
The party clattered up two flights of wooden stairs, their hevy tread shaking the steps, then turned right along the third deck gallery.
They reached the cage door of three twenty-eight. The chamber within looked empty.
'Pen three twenty-eight!' Maskar yelled, and the magical lock-bolts shot open.
Kanow entered. The third deck pens were larger holding tanks reserved for group of up to thirty inmates. Several of the wall candle-lamps had apparently blown-out. Kanow could just make out some dark figures, a dozen or so, cowering in the shadows at the back of the pen.
'Were they armed?' asked Maskar.
'They were when they arrived,' Galahad replied. 'But they surrendered their weapons without protest.'
Kanow ignored his junior's pointed emphasis.
'Where is the leader here?' he called.
A figure walked towards him out of the shadows: tall, lean, feral. The Imperial's clothes were a dirty patchwork of leather and fur, stained almost black with dirt and dust. A vagabond. His angular face was masked behind a thick, grey beard of matted dreadlocks, but where it could be seen, it was lined with scars, and seemed to have a discoloured, grey cast, as if the dirt was ingrained. His hair was shaggy and long, and also matted grey. His eyes were piercing.
'Centurion,' he said, with a formal nod that was strangely at odds with his untamed, wolf-like appearance. His voice was dry, with a peculiar, almost alien inflection. 'I trust you have renewed my statement and have made contact with-'
Kanow raised his sword, pointing the tip towards the man's neck. 'You are a heretic and a deserter. You now face the justice of the Septim's Empire and-'
An immense and sudden force tore the pistol painfully out of Kanow's hand. Simultaneously, a knuckle-punch struck him in the throat and he fell back, gasping.
A vicing arm locked around his neck in a throttle-hold. Kanow felt himself being dragged tightly against the assailant's body. Then he felt the sharp point of his own sword press against his temple.
'No one move,' said the man behind him, with that same dry, curious accentuation.
Maskar and all the other troopers had their spears held above their heads, aiming them directly at Kanow and his captor. Galahad stood in the middle of them, bewildered.
'Put the sword down. Now,' Maskar snarled under the length of his pilum.
'So you can kill me?' replied the voice behind Kanow's head. 'I don't think so. But I'm a reasonable man. Look, sergeant. I had the stone drop on you just then, and yet no one's dead so far. Is the act of a heretic or a deserter?'
'Drop the sword!'
'Put up your weapons, sergeant,' Galahad urged.
'That young man's got the right idea,' said the man with the sword to Kanow's skull.
'Not in a million years, you bastard,' Maskar replied.
'That's a shame,' the man choking Kanow said. Then, quietly, he added, 'Dercius.'
Figures moved out of the shadows. Either that, or the shadows moved out and became figures, Galahad wasn't sure. All he knew was that in a heartbeat, Maskar and his men had been crippled and dropped by swift phantoms, their spears ripped out of their hands.
Maskar and his men writhed on the deck, clutching bloody faces, snapped arms and broken noses. The shadows, now armed with the Legionaires' weapons, surrounded Galahad.
'What do you want?' Galahad asked quietly.
'Shut up, Galahad! Don't give them anything!' Kanow yelled. The choke-hold tightened.
'You were saying, Galahad?' said one of the shadows.
Galahad swallowed. 'What... what is it that you want?'
'What I asked for in the first place,' replied Ibram Guant, his arm locked around Centurion Kanow's neck. 'I want to talk to Legata-Garland Barthol van Voytz, and I want to do it now.'
He had been expecting to get a view of the infamous Sparshad Mons as they rode in, but all he could see from horseback was a rugged expanse of snow hills flanked by nearby mountains dulleby the looming clouds. Sporadic clusters of trees decorated the landscape.
'Where's the Mons?' he asked.
'Directly ahead, sir,' the lead rider called back.
'I can't see... oh.' He still couldn't see the Mons, but he could now tell where it was. The areas of his view not blocked by hills or trees were covered in a grey fog. It looked like a natural weather pattern, or the haze of a gathering blizzard, rising like a cliff-face above the region.
But it was smoke. A gigantic slab of smoke lifting from the battlefront and veiling the bulk of the Mons. He raised his spotting scope to his right eye and was able do detect tiny flashes in the base of the fume-bank, like sparks. Catapults, Ordnance-grade spells, nāptha pots, all assaulting the hidden edifice.
'Escort peeling off,' someone to his left announced.
He looked around, and saw the four Legion Horseriders turn away, leaving only him and his two guides.
The three horses were still galloping, as they had been for nearly half an hour.
'About two minutes,' the lead guide reported.
'Thank you,' he replied. He adjusted his scope again, and lined up on the rapidly approaching HQ. It squatted like a reptile on the bleak, white landscpae. Four Command Mirror Tents arranged in a square formation, surrounded by hundreds temporary stables, barrack-tents, temporary living quarters and stone barricades. A vast assembly of Imperial Legion power, a mobile city: each Mirror Tent alone was the size of a small village.
He lowered his scope, and placed it in his horse's saddle-pocket. He put on his helmet and adjusted the set of it, but despite the helmet, despite his splendid formal armour, and despite his respected rank, he still looked like a pale-faced youth. And a frightened one, too.
Junior Scout Commander Nahum Galahad sat back against the butt of his saddle, closed his eyes, and tied to calm his nerves. His whole body rumbled violently as the horse ploughed forward. he opened his eyes as he realised they were finally entering the HQ.
Galahad swallowed. My Legata Garland, he rehearsed for the umpteenth time, I extend a cordial greeting from my commanding officer, Centurion Kanow, who apologises that he could not come here himself...
Brigades of wooden war-machines waited in the cold for deployment order, tenders and armoury loaders moving amongst them. Vast forests of troop tents covered the wasteland like infestations of angular fungi, surrounding the large prefab tents of infirmaries, mess-halls and training barns. Dozens of brown torch masts sprouted from the camp all around, like spears planted into the ground.
The cold was amazing. There were no lit fires around. The clouds were so cold they seemed to be suspended, frozen, in the sky. Frostbite, he thought. What a perfect sickness to return to the camp with, after all those months of intense desert sunshine.
He looked north, at the towering smoke bank, at Sparshad Mons. Now he was outside, Galahad could distinctly smell the reek of ashes. And the Mons was a good five, six miles away.
'Not a pretty sight, is it?'
Galahad turned. A man was approaching him across the entry square. he was tall and straight-backed, and wore the white armour uniform of a Legion Camp Officer.
Galahad saluted him.
'Junior Scout Commander Nahum Galahad, Camp LVIII,' he said.
The man mirrored the salute, and then offered his hand. 'Camp Prefect Hadrian Faragut. Welcome to Frag Flats, Galahad.'
Galahad shook the proffered hand.
Faragut had a commanding manner, but appeared only a few years older than Galahad. He evidently hadn't been a full Prefect for long. What little Galahad could see of Faragut's face was lean, tanned and clean-shaven. But the white and gold full-face helmet hid his eyes, and therefore his character and temperament. there was a slight crook to his lips, as if Faragut was amused by something.
'I'm the welcoming committee,' Faragut said. 'The Legata-Garland was going to greet you personally, but it was felt that might be too intimidating.'
'Indeed. I'm glad it's you.'
'First time at the Flats?'
Galahad nodded. 'First time in a support camp, too.'
'By the Gods, they have kept you locked away, haven't they? Xeno. That's an eastern station, in the deserts, isn't it?'
'Yes. Deliberately removed from the war zones here in Skyrim. It's pretty bleak.'
'Count yourself lucky. The zones are... demanding.'
Faragut spoke with an increasing curve of a smile, as if to suggest he had seen many things and, more importantly, done many things. Heroic, glorious things.
Galahad nodded. 'I often wish for something more demanding,' he said.
'Careful what you wish for, Galahad,' Faragut replied, his smile disappearing. The northern zones are hell. There's not a single man of my rank who doesn't pray for a soft posting like yours.'
Galahad bridled softly. Not only was Faragut teasing him for being out of the fight-zones, he was teasing him for landing an easy option. Camp Xeno wasn't easy . It was a bastard, bitter job. Thankless, punishing, relentless-
Galahad decided not to say anything.
'You were admiring the Big Smoke?' Farragut said.
Faragut gestured towards the grey roil rising off the horizon.
'Oh, I just wanted to get a look at the Mons,' Galahad said.
'Not from here. The Big Smoke's been a permanent fixture since the assault began three months ago.'
'It's what... six miles away?'
Farragut chuckled. 'Try sixty. Have you any idea how big the Mons is?'
'No,' Galahad replied.
'Shame you won't get to see it,' Faragut said, in a tone that suggested he enjoyed meaning the opposite. Sparsahd Mons is so wonderfully impressive.'
Galahad suddenly remembered the question he had forgotten to ask anyone for hours.
'What exactly is the Mons?'
Farragut looked suprised. 'I though you knew, otherwise I would have told you earlier.'
'Well?' Galahad said.
'Sparshad Mons is a huge Daedra fortress. And it's like no Daedra fortress ever to have kissed our arses before. We classified it as a "Step City Ruin," whatever the hell that means. It is a huge circular stone formation, several miles in diameter. It's thick walls separate 21 open spaces, dubbed "compartments" by our ingenious superiors. The compartments are accessed through huge stone gates, which are operaated from magical cranks. The weird thing is, each compartment is completely different from the next one.' Farragut paused.
'What do you mean?'
'Well, the first compartment you enter through the main ramp, for example, is arid, dotted with a few clusters of vegetation. Reminds most of us of Hammerfell. Anyway, the one to the west of it is like a swamp. Or a jungle. It's just mind-blowing. When we managed to force the gate open, we couldn't believe what we were seeing. There was literally three feet's distance between these two compltetely contrasting landscapes. We've got no idea what maintains them, which is half the reason why we haven't just blown the whole thing sky high from underground. Well, that and High Command thinks it's some sort of ancient relic.'
Galahad noticed that Farragut seemed to be rather uncomfortable talking about the Mons' interior.
'How much progress have you made?' he asked reluctantly.
'That depends on your definition of progress. If three months of battling hideous creatures and only controlling four of the compartments is progress to you, then we've made bloody excellent progress.'
More Coming Soon