Birds wheeled in the air above the silent forest clearing and a blue sky domed the world of Ogof III as Laydon Maltax placed his helm back upon his head. He was a young man but a man who had seen more of war than anyone would wish to. His short cropped blond hair rubbed at the padded liner of his helm but he was used to it; far too used to it. His armoured lance had stopped here overnight and despite official orders to the contrary they had shut down their three Afara type striders and took their rest under the plainly seen stars rather than in the cockpits of the machines. It had been a risk but a small one as the enemy was a distance away and their movement through the thick woods had been in secret. Plus they had the advantage of a wide area Chameleon Circuit field which hid them from anything but nearby careful eyes. Now it was morning and the mission resumed to keep Ogof III in the hands of the rightful Kingmaker.
As Maltrax took to the recessed ladder in the left leg of his strider, named Caracan, he looked to his left and to his right as the two other pilots did likewise and ascended to the access hatches of their own machines. The three Afara type mecha towered over the smaller trees and their heads reached high into the upper branches of all but the oldest trunks. He climbed up past the knee and then to the waist before circling around Caracan and then on up to the back of the strider's neck. Once there he typed his command key into the tiny numeric pad under its armoured cover. Some preferred a retinal scan or a print reader but Maltrax used numbers as was his way. With a heavy thud and then several clicks the access hatch lifted up and out from the machine's back allowing its commander to slide himself into the cockpit space. It was dark inside and he took his familiar place in the chest of the war machine.
The Flexpad Containment Couch was inert and as Maltrax placed his legs into the places for them and then his back into the upright holder he turned the main activation switch to command on. Slowly the containment couch fitted itself to him and soon only his hands and head were outside of it. As the Groatvey MkX Heavy Ion Reasc Fusion Reactor came online he pressed more studs and thumbed the twin sticks which met his fingers. Caracan shuddered slightly as the joint locks on its legs and arms and spine were released and the Sislain Fibamuscle bundles all over the Afara took the strain. More than twenty tonnes of titanium alloy armour and weapon systems took less than twenty seconds to give Maltrax a line of green lights in his vision. He finished connecting the last strands of data cords to his helm making his vision and hearing that of Caracan and then just for a moment he felt giddy as the primary node of the strider took his sense of balance as its own. He lifted one foot and then the other almost feeling the ground under the massive three toed feet with their Hakamould Type 5 Maxdure Foot Pads. He checked the status of the Anda 60mm missile pod mounted on Caracan's shoulder and confirmed its load of Felta Type 6 munitions and thirty one shots left in the magazine. Then he slowly brought the mighty Otca powered sword to readiness. Its nine foot blade glowed to an orange and then to a blue edged intensity. Only he carried a sword while the other members of his lance had large lasers and projectile weapons. It was his honour in The Code Gallant and it was a lethal instrument when put to use.
The three mecha were ready to commence their mission and as each pilot signalled commitment Maltrax looked to his shield which covered most of one arm of Caracan. It was more than a foot thick slab of titanium which was scored and pitted across its blue and white surface from the impact of enemy rounds. The shield protected the strider as it closed with the foe and one corner of it was missing entirely where a Duxis Battlesuit of the bitch Princess had lopped it off with its own powered sword. Maltrax let go of the weapon controls and rubbed at his temples. Even though he could not touch them through his helm the reflexive act calmed him. It took Retained Knights a lot of training to operate larger walking machines such as the Afaras and Magogs and some simply never managed it while other suffered nausea or headaches of varying intensity. He only suffered for the first minutes of operation but he gladly did this knowing the potentially dangerous price of an artificial mind aboard Caracan. Before the Gurtan Activation and the massacre that followed all of the larger machines had some degree of sentience which meant the pilot thought about acting and the artificial mind did the rest. Not now. Never again. Some pain was worth the safety and primacy of human kind.
An hour passed as the lance advanced towards the positions of the Prydian Army. Hawk reconnaissance had confirmed enemy armour including several Mullo Armoured Fighting Vehicles and Striders too. Around a hundred Retained and several hundred Muster with supporting Battlesuits and Portable Weapon Platforms. The Canlastrian assault would be to the left of this gathered retinue of the enemy while his own Afara's would come in from the forested right in surprise. It was a fine plan and Maltrax had been listening to the secured comms signals from their own knights as they flitted into place, their armour blending with the surrounding landscape as they went. They had no ground crawling armoured vehicles of their own but they did have a high degree of veterans and many Anvil 888 launchers. When the assault began it did so with the booming retort of a fifteen Anvils whose rounds streaked and converged upon a single Prydian Mullo which exploded in a shimmering blinding hail of metal; its twin Fretan Railgun turret was thrown straight up in the air. A few seconds later a barrage of 12.5mm Angis Rifle caseless bullets destroyed a second Mullo as two lances of Retained focused all their fire upon it. Many bullets were stopped or ricochet from the hull but hundreds penetrated and vital systems were shredded along with the crew.
The comms net went silent as the cacophony of battle made speech impossible. Ghostly text flickered across Maltrax's helm and reported on casualties and the progression on the assault. The seconds they had to remain hidden were torture. To be in the fray was his life and his duty. But victory was duty in essence and so they stood still and paused. Fifteen seconds passed and then the command was given to attack. As one the three Afara Striders ran out of their cover and fell upon the flank of the now responding Prydian retinue.
Caracan rose to the challenge of battle and all of its systems were functioning at peak efficiency. Maltrax added a fusillade of 60mm missiles to the blinding flash of a 15Mw Valerin laser bolts, Bodkin armour piercing shells and 50mm grenades. Enemy Muster were flailed by the attack and died with no hope of evading or even turning to face their trio of assailants. They turned their fire on a third Mullo which was rotating its turret to bring twin Angis cannons to focus upon Caracan. Its titanium hull shuddered under the impacts before a Bodkin shell entered the control cabin and obliterated the two crew. It was at this moment that the strider pilots as one saw the six approaching Duxis Battlesuits. The Duxis had evidently been held in reserve or hidden by Chameleon fields up to now. Maltrax gave the command and he turned Caracan towards the approaching battlesuits while his two fellow lance mates continued to pound at the flank of the main Prydian force.
Six upon one were sporting odds even for an experienced pilot such as Laydon Maltax and he knew it. Evidently the foe knew it too. They split into two groups of three and while one tried to get around Caracan the other three made straight for him. Knowing he could not allow any of them to pass him Maltax used all of his remaining missiles upon the three trying to evade him. Eighteen 60mm explosive missiles flew from Caracan's shoulder and while some missed most found their marks upon the running battlesuits. One was instantly vaporised as the ammunition for its Bodkin was set off. Another slumped to the ground its arm tore off and chest brutalised by explosions; its pilot might live on but he or she was out of the fight. The third took three missiles losing its arm shield and then the arm to absorb the detonations. It reeled and then righted carrying on towards the other two Afara's. Having done what he could and seeing the red glare of an empty ammunition reserve upon his display Maltax focused upon the other three Duxis and just in time.
Experience in the fray sharpened his reflexes and just in time the shield on the arm of Caracan rose up and in front of its body. Its surface boiled as laser bolts struck it and then rang like a bell under the striking of two rail gun rounds. Titanium glittered to the ground but the mighty shield held. Legs twice the height of a man strode onwards closing the distance. Again the shield rang and vibrated with beam and projectile impacts and his sensor nodes told Maltax that one rail gun round had struck and severed the empty Anda missile pod upon Caracan's shoulder.
The Strider and three Duxis met in a dance of death and destruction that lasted mere moments. Only one of the enemy battlesuits was armed with a powered close combat weapon and it had a spear and shield combination. Maltax swung his shield out and away from Caracan's body and used its immense kinetic energy of its mass and his closing speed to strike one Duxis which had been upon him with its Valerin laser cannon. The impact caved in the whole chest and head of the Prydian battlesuit killing its pilot instantly. As he did this the spear armed Duxis dove in trying to and getting beyond the swinging shield and the tip of its spear met the lower chest of Caracan with a howl of energy and tearing titanium alloy. Warnings sprung up in Maltax's vision but he ignored them and struck out with the nine foot blade of the Octa sword at the third Duxis which was readying its rail gun for a point blank shot. The blade came down and across the enemy and severed the focusing barrel of the railgun before cutting through the right leg of the battlesuit. It fell to the burning grass and the energy stored in the primed sequence ready rail gun released turning the damaged Duxis into a boom of spinning fragments. The spear came away from Caracan's chest with clumps of Sislain Fibamuscle clinging to it. Being within the minimum arc of the striders sword and shield Maltax was left with few options, none of his weapons could be used; but he had one trick left to use. Lifting the left leg of the machine he lashed out with a kick. The Hakamould Type 5 Maxdure Pad under the foot connected with the withdrawing energised spear and was split and burned by its field. However the momentum of the kick carried it on and the spear with it crashing the spear into the upper body of the Duxis. The spear flared and died as it was crushed into the chest and head of the battlesuit.
Unable to prevent it Laydon Maltax allowed Caracan to sink to one knee as its left foot smoked and sparked. He had stopped the Prydians and now they would carry the day. Canlaster was one step closer to winning this world.
A quick note before I go on. I set myself a challenge for the fiction here and it was along the lines of NaNoWriMo. Not a whole 50k words novel of course but rather one draft in under an ninety minutes and then a single five minute edit on 2000 words. After that it goes to virtual print regardless of condition. Did it work?
I hope you enjoyed this little story of an Afara Strider named Caracan. The idea of the tale came to me during the play testing of Callsign Taranis and I have kept it with me in my head awaiting a time to put it out for others to read. You can become quite attached to a mecha it seems and in fighting against the Prydian Army who are normally the good guys I was pained when Caracan was damaged and even took 'him' out of the fray for fear of total loss. Canlaster is my favoured League when not taking the white and red side.
The Afara model was constructed and painted by Sam Croes who also added the decals to give it a more regal look. He also created for Callsign Taranis a frankly superb technical drawing page which you can click on and enlarge here.
We have a month long special offer...it is a bloody good one....25% off all three variants of the IAF128 Afara Strider our resin light mecha which is 55mm tall. The Afara is generic enough for many settings and it is designed for tabletop gaming being easy to assemble from few parts and durable to use in play too. I am also told it can be easily converted and altered with parts from our other codes such as IAF065 Vehicle Conversion Kit. The discount is online and all you need do is add to cart, reward points are as normal and can be used on this offer too. Offer ends 1st April.
Click on the links to learn more and remember you get IMP43 Female Muster Banner Bearer in every order for free until months end.
We have no more releases this month and next month will be all about the Shia Khan as many of you are patiently waiting for.
Thanks for Reading,