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Ladies and gentleman please help us here at SGMW welcome our newest contributor, Bri Free!! Shes an avid tabletop gamer as well as having deep roots in the D@D/Pathfinder/pen and paper RPG, and we look forward to seeing more awesome write-ups from her, like this little gem here! Welcome aboard Bri!!

 What Jack?

Bri Free

                Beneath his white and gold helmet, Kreoss’s lips sneered in disgust as he stepped once again into a seemingly bottomless puddle of muck. How the Cryx could find such a place livable was beyond him; give him sand and heat and Menoth’s glorious rays over this any day. The swamp smelt of dank earth and rotting vegetation; mud, water, and barely visible strips of dirt stretched out as far as he could see in every direction. This forsaken place kept it’s secrets and it’s residents hidden well. Kreoss swore as he saw eyes blinking at him from a nearby pool, but they sunk back down below the water before he could be certain. A scaled tail just barely broke the surface as the creature moved away from his band of followers.

Kreoss turned back to his men. A small group, sent out into the swamp to verify the reported sighting of a Menoth Heavy Jack wandering the swamps. A group of Cinerators, their ever-flaming swords and pauldrons casting eerie shadows. A Vanquisher and a Repenter, their flails kept high above the mud, though they sank down to their knees in it.  Battle worn, but the only Jacks that could be spared for this mission. Though Menoths chosen wouldn’t normally dare venture this far in to the Cryx territory, that lost Jack could be an excellent addition to their depleted squad, and Kreoss was confident in their ability to get in and out without being hassled by the Cryx. As if they would dare attack a battle ready band of Menoths faithful.

Looking forward once again, Kreoss caught a flash of red from behind a fallen tree; it’s root system spread wide like an umbrella dropped on its side. He signaled for his group to stop. Kreoss sent out a sort of query with his mind, probing the area for any Menoth Jacks that he could link with. He found none but the two he brought with him, but was unsurprised; lost in the swamp, the missing Jack very likely had a damaged Cortex, preventing it from returning. Kreoss dropped a mental command to each of his two Jacks, and the Cinerators made way as they sloshed forward to investigate.1

 

~*~

                Deneghra grinned to herself as the light-blighted Warcaster moved his Jacks forward into her trap. It was a real treat that she’d managed to get Kreoss himself out into her swamps, seeking a ‘lost Jack’. She silently congratulated herself on that; there was no Jack, just a terrified swamp fisher who’d been more than willing to do as she commanded, in exchange for his family’s safety. His family, at that point, was already dead, but she’d let him think they were just imprisoned. She scoffed at that. Cryx? Keeping prisoners? About as likely as Deneghra worshipping the hated sunlord, Menoth. Which was to say, not likely at all. It didn’t matter though. The fisher had since been reunited with his loved ones, his body and that of his family… repurposed.

Deneghra focused her attention back on the approaching Menites. Her followers were already in place. Her band of Bane Thralls stood still as stone, awaiting the battle. Undead soldiers were so much less fidgety than their living counter parts. The Slayer she’d brought along hummed in what some might consider an eager tone, but what Deneghra knew to be nothing more than his power source fluctuating with the mental power she’d poured into it in anticipation of this skirmish. Off to her left, her Defiler clicked it’s tusks together in anticipation of the meal to come; it was hungry. The sounds of their presence were covered up quite handily by the sound of the local bugs droning away, and of course, by the clumsy Menoths footsteps as they trekked their way closer.

When the larger of the two Menite Jacks, the Vanquisher, appeared to have it’s foot stuck in a particularly deep bit of the swamp, Deneghra gave the command to strike.

Her forces surged forward, eager for battle. The Slayer making a run at the Repenter while its companion attempted to free itself from the mud. The Bane Thralls ghosted forward, barely causing a ripple as they moved toward their foe. Deneghra watched as the Defiler darted off to the side, splashing through a small puddle as it made it’s way to a murkier part of the swamp. She moved forward herself, allowing her opponent to see her. A mist seemed to always follow Deneghra, shrouding her from her enemies spying eyes. She spread her arms wide as she smirked at the opposing Warcaster. She could only assume he was staring at her as his helm blocked her from seeing his face.

“Bit far from your sandy wasteland, aren’t you, Kreoss?”2

~*~

                Deneghra’s tone was cold, the sort that could send lesser mortals into a case of the shivers. But Kreoss merely took the opportunity of her spectacle to direct his Jack forward, giving them just a bit of a mental boost to get them out of the mud and on towards the enemy. The Repenter moved quickly, light on it’s feet after the boost of power. It raised it’s flail arm high above it’s head as it prepared to charge. The Vanquisher wasn’t having the same amount of luck, but it freed itself from the muck and shambled forward, it’s flame thrower sparking to life as it ignited. The Cinerators drew their flaming swords as one, and marched forward in silence. They would not deign to speak to these heretics. They would soon be ash anyway.

Kreoss stepped forward and raised his hands above his head, which he lowered in prayer. A glow started to shimmer around the Cinerators, a transparent aura of golden light. Defender’s Ward they called it; a blessing of Menoth. His prayer complete, Kreoss looked upon Deneghra and said the only thing that came to mind at the sight of her dark form.

“You will burn.”3

~~*~~

                Deneghra snorted. Typical Menite; if it’s not with us, burn it. She stepped back a bit, steadied herself, and mentally threw power at the Slayer. The hulking machine powered forward at greater speed, hurtling into the Menoth Repenter.

The smaller Jack never stood a chance.

With it’s tusks lowered, the Slayer tore into the lighter Jacks leg mechanics, rending one of them useless. The Repenter leaned a bit to the left as it’s balance was completely knocked off. The Cryx machine prevented it from falling over, but it did so by grasping the Repenter about the head, crushing with its deadly claw and holding the Menoth slightly off the ground. With it’s right hand, the Cryx tore at the metal of the Repenters chest piece, goring it open. The Repenter sparked a few times, it’s wiring snapping and burning, before its figure went limp. The Slayer tossed the Menoth to the side, and awaited instruction from the warcaster, its eyes burning with blood lust.

Off to her left, Deneghra watched the Defiler slip into the muddied water of the swamp pool it had found. Sinking in til only it’s exhaust vents were visible, the Defiler then raised it’s head and shot at the nearby Vanquisher. Its first attempt to attack the Heavy Jack failed, but Deneghra bent her mind to the task, calling on words of dark power. From the Defilers mouth sprayed a toxic muck, glowing green and making a horrid squelching noise as it hit the Menoth Jacks armor plates. Deneghra hummed with pleasure as the white armor began to slowly corrode away. Pocked by the acidic sludge, a few of the Vanquishers internal workings whined in protest as the toxi sludge ate away at the finer wiring.

Deneghra looked upon the battle field and signaled for the Bane Thralls to continue their advance. She raised her arms above her head, chanting in some dark tongue, and the Bane Thralls seemed to almost dissapear. Almost incorporeal like, the Bane Thralls advanced, ignoring the mucky terrain and the shambled remains of the Repenter.4

~~*~~

                Kreoss scowled behind his visor, his insides clenched with rage. One precious Jack down already, and it would be damn hard to replace. He surveyed the rest of his group. The Vanquisher was coated in that vile mess the two legged Cryx Jack had spewed on it. Even as he watched, Kreoss saw the damage it was doing to the Jacks armor, eating away at it like hot water on a sugar pile.

The Menoth Warcaster mumbled a prayer to his blazing god, and the glowing aura around the Cinerators flared for just a moment. The Defenders Ward would hold. Kreoss smiled grimly. Good. Now, to deal with that Cryx monstrosity. He brought his gauntleted palms together, and by focusing his mental strength behind a simple prayer, Kreoss brought fire down on the Cryx Slayer. A blazing column of flame struck the Jack, and though it scorched it, the Jack seemed undisturbed on the whole. it advanced forward towards the Cinerators, who struck at it’s metal hide to no avail. The Slayer seemed both aptly named and unstoppable.

Deneghra’s face split into a rictus grin. Victory was hers, she was sure of it. She strode forward confidently, reaching her left arm high above her head while she pointed at the Menoth battle force with the her right. As she hissed out dark words that only she knew, Deneghra watched with pleasure as the religious fanatics all seemed to double over with pain. It was her trademark spell; though it lasted only a short time, Deneghras enemies would be hard pressed to put up a decent fight, weakened as they were.

While they struggled to overcome their sudden weakness, Deneghra used the time to her advantage. She flung her mental strength against the mind of the nearest Cinerator, and was pleased to meet almost no resistance at all. She slid into his mind like oil, took control of his body, and lashed out at the nearest Menoth warrior. It just happened to be the Heavy Jack, the Vanquisher. The Cinerators masterful skill with his weapon made quick work of the Jack’s defenses, and the blade bit deep. As the other Cinerators watched on in confusion, Deneghra pushed again and again at the possessed warriors mind. He slashed and swung and beat his sword against the Vanquishers side, causing only a small amount of damage each time, but it was quickly adding up.

Meanwhile, the Bane Thralls, though appreciative of their mistresses skill, made haste to take advantage of the distraction. With a flurry of blows from his wicked axe, the Bane Thrall champion felled the large Menoth Jack. It’s gears whining in protest ,the Vanquisher slowly collapsed backwards. The heat of the metal hissed and steamed as it hit the murky water.

The other Bane Thralls followed suit to their champion. Advancing forward, they engaged the Cinerators and two of the flaming warriors fell, not to rise again. Seeing them as the only remaining threat, the Cryx Slayer moved forward at Deneghras command, slamming into the Cinerators. Killing one outright with a sweep of its claw, the Slayer moved onto it’s second target, goring the heavy white armour with it’s deadly tusks. Upon hearing an ominous clacking noise from behind the Cinerators, the Slayer stepped to the side just as a spray of acidic sludge hurtled forth from the mouth of the Defiler still shrouded in the murky water. The Menoth warriors, to their credit, did not scream, though they did scrape franticly at the acid devouring their armor. It would corrade their armor much faster than a Jacks, the quicker to melt the flesh within.

Deneghra nearly crowed with delight at the sight of the enemy falling away before her forces; she spared a glance at Kreoss. Surely he must be begging his god even now to save them. She smirked. Not likely.

~*~

               Kreoss panted slightly, the sound echoing inside his helm. The beating that the Cinerators had taken had also taken it’s toll on Kreoss. Maintaining the Defenders Ward was proving too costly given the situation. He refused to think that they might fail; that he and his crew might not survive this encounter with the Cryx. Menoth was watching over them; they would not fail.

Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Kreoss reached into the reserves of his strength and pulled. From the sky above came a blinding white light, a beam centered on Kreoss. As it slammed down into the ground at his feet with enough force to rival a Judicators stomp, the shockwave spread across the field, knocking down the Cryx forces. Kreoss smiled grimly to himself at Deneghra’s enraged shriek. Quickly taking advantage of her distraction, Kreoss tapped into the flame of Menoth within him and rained fire down towards Deneghra. The column twisted like a living thing, and though he missed the Cryx Warcaster, the nearby Bane Thralls felt the bite of the flames. One fell to the ground, writhing and shrieking, while the others hurried to extinguish the flames on their robes.

The two remaining Cinerators did what any warrior would do with such a foul enemy laid at their feet. They struck at the Slayer, biting deep into the Cryx jacks armor. It flailed at them from it’s position on it’s back in the mud, sharp claws slashing at the air. As one Cinerator dodged the attack, his compatriot slammed down hard on the Slayers neck with his foot, and swiftly buried his flaming blade into the Jacks cortex. The Cryx Jack emitted a burbling, popping sound before the power drained from it’s shell, and it lay still.

Kreoss swelled with a sense of pride. This was how the Protectorate did battle! Menoth was guiding them this day, he was sure of it.

~*~

               Deneghra gritted her teeth and moved quickly to her feet. Kreoss’s token trick was always a nasty surprise. She consoled herself with the knowledge that he’d be dead shortly. Any idiot could see that Kreoss was desperate. He barely directed his troops as he focused on destroying her forces single handedly. Deneghra whispered quietly to herself, using her power to pull mist out of the nearby water. She set her spell on the Bane Thralls, and in so doing, made it possible for them to tread on the fog as if it were solid ground. The undead warriors did not hesitate; stepping carefully onto the mist, they charged the unsuspecting Kreoss. They ghosted past the Cinerators and over the remains of the still smoking Slayer. From the mist they dropped down into Kreoss reach, but were swinging their mighty axes before he had time to react.

Taking the first stroke to his side, Kreoss dropped to his knees in pain. He barely got his mace up in time to block the second attack, but his right side was left completely open and defenseless. He could just see, out of the corner of his eye, as the third Bane Thrall hefted it’s wicked axe. Closing his eyes in one last prayer to his beloved Menoth, Kreoss never felt the blow.

~*~

               Deneghra refrained from cheering aloud as her enemy fell. She strode across the small battlefield, heedless to the blood and muck gathering on her boots. She vaguely heard the cries of the Cinerators as they too were dispatched by the Bane Thralls. Deneghra strode through the mist, her eyes searching the nearby grass for her prize. And there it was, knocked away by the force of the attack, tucked neatly under some brush. Lifting her trophy gently, she proudly held it forth for her followers to see. Kreoss’s white helm; the force of the axe had bent the metal inwards, trapping the commanders head inside.

It would make a fine addition to her collection.

 

5

~~~*~~~