[What follows is the first (horrible) chapter in what I had planned to submit to Fantasy Flight when they announced they were looking for writers of DragonStar novels. I am keeping all the characters and much of the idea and adapting it to an upcoming project. What format it will appear in is yet reveal itself, but here is the original (unedited and, oh did I mention, horrible) version for your enjoyment.]
The dropship shuddered in the turbulence as Colonel Ursk’ga and the 71st Chimera Company of the Imperial Legion tensed and prepared while strapped into their seats. The harnesses they wore were supposed to protect them from any damage that might be caused by the violent shaking of a descent from orbit into a hot combat zone. However, as is often the case, the theory of this was far superior to actually engaging in a combat drop. Still, the Chimeras did not complain and a number managed to shout out quips that would send a wave of nervous laughter throughout the Company. One quip, however, was most definitely not in good fun.
‘Hey, Pinkie!’ jeered Lieutenant Haziss Ket of the Flux Spiders to Lieutenant Talia Winterbourne of the Steadfast Angels, ‘With a little luck, my unit will be allowed to take the Angels seats on the way back, eh? We get us a view!’ Ket was born of a human mother to a drow father. To celebrate the birth of his son, the elder Ket held a feast where the main course was Haziss’ mother. Lt. Ket, had always held that as a point of family pride. Ket was a heartless monster if there ever was one, but he led his unit with a sense of commitment do getting the job done. The fact that the Spiders were a lightly armored unit that specialized in wet work operations was probably the reason behind Haziss’ commitment. He was occasionally allowed to take part in wholesale slaughter, all for the glory of the Dragon Empire.
Lt. Winterbourne on the other hand was a human woman born to revere honor and justice. A war chaplain of the Redeemer God from the Unification Church, she held tightly and proudly to her ideals; ideals that, while he did not share them, Ursk’ga had the utmost respect for. When a battle was finished, and many other units were busy picking the scraps of wealth from their enemies, the Angels were taking a moment to pray to their deities for thanks and for the restful egress of their allies and enemies from the mortal world.
Talia was a good soldier who was loyal to the Legion, even if she did not share the morality of the Empire itself. On the other hand, Ursk’ga had no doubt in his mind that Haziss would gladly kill him if he thought it meant that he could gain the Colonel’s position. The pair of Col. Ursk’ga’s top lieutenants were very much opposites, both in personality and their place in battle and, therefore, in the Legion. Of course, this meant that Haziss and Talia also had a significant amount of bad blood between them. Ursk’ga could tolerate a rivalry, but he drew the line at one of his officers wishing the complete destruction of another officer’s unit.
‘Lt. Ket!’ Ursk’ga roared. He knew that this would get the half-drow’s attention, for all within the Chimeras knew not to anger their Colonel. Born of an orc mother and a white dragon father, Ursk’ga was more of an experiment in genetics than a child born of a lustful coupling. He had been raised with the military tradition drilled into his head and was a member of the Legion before he reached adulthood. The half-breed soon developed a reputation as a capable leader of men as well as being an indomitable warrior. It was said, within the ranks of the Legion, that Colonel Ursk’ga was the strongest being in the Empire on two legs. Indeed, Ursk’ga had found that he was stronger than most giants and even some dragons, but he left the bragging of his might to his men. They were both proud and fearful of the half-dragon. He had long ago proven that he did not need to throw the weight of his draconic heritage around in order to gain the loyalty of his troops. His bravery and prowess in battle earned their respect, the fury of his anger cowed them into obedience, and his very presence could keep them in line.
Indeed, Ursk’ga was an intimidating presence. He stood nearly eight feet tall, with a width of almost five feet from shoulder to shoulder, and a weight of nearly half a ton. His skin was covered in hard white scales that caused him to almost shine in sunlight. The half-dragon’s wide head sat atop a thickly muscled neck and was adorned with a jutting jaw that showed his thick lower canines as well as three small fins that ran from the top of his head to his back. His eyes were small icy blue orbs beneath his strong brow that appeared to be constantly furrowed. The Colonel rarely wore any armor, relying instead on his scaled hide and magical bracers to defend him, but he carried an impressive assortment of weapons. He utilized a plasma rifle as his standard sidearm, a fact that was intimidating by itself, but for an assault weapon, the Colonel utilized a huge, multi-barreled light machinegun that he slung under his right arm. Most impressive, however, was his melee weapon, a massive, enchanted sword, larger than any human could carry, that Ursk’ga had named ‘Worldbreaker’. He had smashed through powered armor suits with but a single blow from Worldbreaker, and shattered enemy bunkers to rubble. The sword was Ursk’ga’s constant companion, a fact which would only added to the Chimeras’ reluctance to rouse their commanding officer’s ire.
Haziss had placed his attention on the Colonel, trying to look innocent, but failing. ‘Should you ever repeat a sentiment such as the one you just spoke,’ the half-dragon announced, ‘I assure you that it will be your seat that is filled as you will have been compacted into a convenient economy size by your esteemed commanding officer.’
‘I apologize, Colonel,’ the half-drow sneered with a bit more contempt than Ursk’ga was comfortable with, ‘I often forget that my drow humor is generally misunderstood by… other species.’ The emphasis on the word ‘other’ led the half-dragon to believe that Haziss might have easily replaced the word with ‘lesser’. The drow, and even a miserable half-breed such as Lt. Ket, believe that they are the greatest of all races in the multiverse. They say that they have gone beyond such concepts as morality and self-control to a state where the strongest may feel all the pleasure that he or she can handle and those weaker are brought under the heel of the mighty. Most other races disagreed with this philosophy, noting that the drow are little more than black-skinned elves who long ago fell to the temptation of powerful demon magics.
Ursk’ga was wont to believing the latter of the theories. He disliked drow highly, often referring to them as ‘dark elves’ as an insult. In the half-dragon’s experience, the drow were undisciplined, hedonistic wretches with no respect for order or honor. The fact that he had put up with Haziss as long as he had was more a tribute to the half-drow’s capabilities than Ursk’ga’s patience. Still, the Colonel was starting to consider the possibility that Lt. Ket might be more a liability than a benefit to Chimera Company.
The half-dragon looked over to Lt. Winterbourne, to ascertain her feelings on this exchange. To his astonishment, she wore a worried look upon her face. This seemed highly unusual to Ursk’ga. Talia was a consummate professional who usually could be found with a demeanor of icy calm, especially when preparing to enter into battle. This was one of the things that made her such an effective officer. The men and women of the Angels could always sense the imperturbable composure of their lieutenant and would follow her lead. Wielders of divine magic were not uncommon unit leaders, but in Ursk’ga’s experience, it was a rare cleric who was able to lead without relying on her magic to rally her troops. Talia had that ability and it had served her well. In fact, the Colonel had no doubt that Talia might one day be leading her own company into battle.
Today, however, she wore a look of uneasiness. As Ursk’ga considered this, he realized why her disposition was so troubled. It wasn’t regarding the impending battle, but instead due to the Colonel’s admonishment of Haziss. The half-drow had not only insulted Lt. Winterbourne, but had implied the impending death of her entire unit. Ursk’ga had reacted without thinking, reprimanding Lt. Ket before Lt. Winterbourne had time to react. This realization made Ursk’ga somewhat uncomfortable. He had always considered himself evenhanded with his soldiers, and yet he now found himself favoring one over another. He had always admired Talia, but he had also always treated her equally. Now, it seemed he had instinctually acted on her behalf and, in turn, caused more trouble for her.
The more the half-dragon considered the issue, the more he realized that he had been somewhat favoring her in various ways for the last few months. This disturbed him highly. Why would a commander favor one of his lieutenants, even if they were as beautiful as Lt. Winterbourne? At that thought, Ursk’ga realized that he had come upon the answer: he was beginning to have romantic feelings towards the war chaplain. For a being that had spent his life pushing away his emotions, this realization was overwhelming. The Colonel writhed uncomfortably in his massive harness as the drop ship stopped shuddering upon nearing the ground. Ursk’ga knew that he had to pull his thoughts together before the Chimeras embarked, or the battle was already lost. With that, he thrust thoughts of Talia and himself from his mind and concentrated on why the company was under orders to attack in the first place.
Darhogar IV was an untouched world filled with peerless beauty. Its natural resources lay untapped, making the planet a particularly tempting morsel to the Empire. There were, however, settlers on Darhogar IV; a society made up of nature-lovers and druids. They were lead by a powerful druid who called herself ‘Harmonia’. Besides the society of naturalists, the planet held no sentient races, meaning that the only obstacles to the control of the world were the occupants of a small city in the center of a great forest. Harmonia, however, had openly impugned the policies of the Dragon Empire for many years. During the waning days of the bronze dragon, this crime could go unpunished. However, for the last five decades, the Empire had been under the rule of Mezzenbone the red, a dragon of peerless might and avarice, who would not stand for mites that detracted from his Empire. The Dragon Emperor had ordered the Legion to send their mightiest company to Darhogar IV and wipe out the inhabitants. Of course, Ursk’ga had embellished their orders to include the idea that Harmonium and her people were a dangerous rebel element that threatened the very existence of the Empire. Moreover, in many ways, the half-dragon did not doubt that such a statement was true. If one group is allowed to speak their mind and openly defy the rulings of the standing government, then others will think they can do the same. Mezzenbone would not have been Ursk’ga’s first choice for a sovereign, but he was still the Emperor and, therefore, Ursk’ga’s duty was to him.
A quick jolt to the dropship as the booster rockets fired snapped the Colonel from his thoughts. Before anyone else could react, Ursk’ga was out of his harness and readying his weaponry. The other members of Chimera Company quickly followed suit and the two advance infantry units, the Fur Fury and the Sentries, were disembarking even before the transport had fully landed. Ursk’ga followed them soon thereafter and found the air had a chill to it that caused the half-dragon to see his own breath and that of his Company. Seconds later, Ursk’ga was pleased to see that Sgt. Arturian Azmodel, the elven leader of the Sentries was already reporting the southwestern, western, northwestern, and northern perimeters had been secured. Soon after, Sgt. Glurthesch, the gnoll in charge of the Fur Fury, gave his own report.
‘Northeastern, southeastern, and southern perimeters secured, sir,’ the gnoll replied with a thick, growling accent, ‘But there’s something to the East.’
‘What is it?’ the Colonel queried as he rounded the ship, annoyed that he had chosen to depart from the dropship via the West-facing hatchway when the first obstacle lay on the other side.
‘Some sort of totem or shrine or something.’ Glurthesch returned, ‘Whatever it is, it has guardians.’
‘What sort of…?’ the half-dragon began, but the answer was obvious as he reached the other side of the vessel. The Angels and several other units had already disembarked from the dropship on the eastern side. Each soldier was going about his or her duty professionally, but all were taken aback by the sight.
About 30 feet away, on edge of the very woods that the druid city was believed to lie within, was a massive, 12-foot statue of a robust woman with leaves in her long hair and her hands clasped over the end of a hammer. Where the hammer’s head should be was an altar strewn with half-melted candles, flower petals, and animal viscera. In a half-circle around the shrine and facing the newly arrived Chimera dropship, was a pack of wolves, nearly thirty of them, all sitting with a scowl on their faces.
‘Indeed,’ Ursk’ga uttered under a breath before barking, ‘Lt. Winterbourne, to my flank!’
A few breaths later, Talia was at his side. ‘Yes, sir.’
‘Know you what this display means?’ the commander inquired.
‘Well, the druids here worship an aspect of the nature goddess of the Unifiers called ‘Denarri’. She is a dwarven deity of nature from a far-off planet. The shrine is presumably her likeness where they leave their offerings to her. The wolves, however, must have been sent to see what all the commotion was about.’
‘Hmm,’ the Colonel said as he stroked his broad chin, ‘So they know we’re here, then. That means we’re in for a battle.’
‘Sir, with all due respect,’ the human lieutenant said (it had always struck Ursk’ga as paradoxical that that very remark was often followed by a statement that was usually disrespectful), ‘Is it wise to assault a city of druids in a forest? They will have all the field advantages plus the fact that their nature magic will be stronger in there.’
‘True, but we have our orders.’ the half-dragon replied, knowing that the Lieutenant was correct. He considered the situation for a moment before adding, ‘We will have the advantage of firepower and we can assume that they aren’t fully aware of our compliment. If we do this right, it can be pulled off with minimal casualties to the Legionnaires.’
‘Fine, sir, then I will get the Angels prepared.’
Talia returned to her unit and began shouting orders as Col. Ursk’ga developed a plan. He looked around to the Chimera units that had made planetfall in the dropship. There were sixteen units in all; not really much of an army, but a decent size for a strike force. Half the total was made up of infantry units, which provided the bulk of the troops. In addition, there were two heavy assault and two heavy weapons units who could lay down a suppressive fire decent enough to fracture even higher tech city walls. There was also an airborne assault unit, a recon unit, Lt. Winterbourne’s chaplains, and Lt. Ket’s black ops unit. Unlike many commanders, Ursk’ga did not have a unit of his own that he led into battle. He preferred to be mobile, commanding a unit if it’s leader fell and otherwise going where his skills; as a commander or as a soldier, would be best utilized.
After a short time of contemplation, the Colonel had developed a plan of attack. The first thing to deal with was the wolf pack. ‘Lt. Haziss,’ He called out over his com-patch, ‘Have one of your men approach the wolves with caution while your snipers cover him.’ After a few moments, a grizzled human, a veteran to the Chimeras, stepped out of the secure perimeter. From where he left the circle, an elf and two halflings moved forward, training their high-powered precision rifles at the nearest lupines. As the veteran approached, three of the beasts moved from their position slowly and deliberately to intercept him. Almost immediately, a red dot appeared on each wolf. The human stopped and cautiously drew his knife, prepared for any attack. The three wolves stepped within a few yards of the man and sat back down, staring at him. The veteran continued to walk forward, careful to keep his blade behind his back, and cooed at the trio of animals. To the half-dragon’s astonishment, the wolves allowed the man to approach within arms reach and when the human put out his hand, the lead wolf sniffed at him with curiosity. After a moment, the beast nuzzled the man’s fingers and wagged its tail. Soon enough, all three wolves were nestling up to the human, tails beating a delighted rhythm.
‘Maybe this won’t be so hard after all.’ Haziss remarked into his comlink. A moment later, the wolves growled briefly before tearing into the veteran soldier with their lupine teeth. In seconds, the three snipers had picked off all three wolves and were firing at the rest of the pack by the shrine, but it was too late for the human from the Spiders. Ursk’ga could see that his throat had been torn our and he was bleeding profusely. Before the half-dragon could send out an order, he noticed that Talia had already broken perimeter and was running for the man, her sidearm drawn and divine energy glowing from her other hand. As she reached the veteran’s dying form, she fired in the direction of the wolves, more a warning shot than anything else, and knelt beside him. The Colonel could hear her call to the Redeemer as she placed her glowing hand on the man’s wound. A heartbeat later, both humans were running back to the periphery of the secured area, the veteran of the Spiders still covered in his own blood, but his wound healed. The remaining wolves had been shot or had run when the shots rang out, and the area seemed clear.
‘Lt. Winterbourne,’ Ursk’ga growled over his comlink, ‘I didn’t order you to break perimeter.’
‘Sorry, Colonel,’ she responded, ‘I was acting on instinct. Corporal Hillerd was bleeding to death.’
‘Still,’ he said, not wanting to retract his admonishment in front of the whole company, ‘Next time save your spells until I give the order.’ Nevertheless, the half-dragon thought to himself, nicely done, Talia. ‘Alright, Chimeras!’ Ursk’ga announced at the top of his voice, ‘Those wolves that escaped are going to be returning to the city to tell their masters what they’ve seen, which means we need to hit the druids before they can prepare for us. This means we need to move quickly. First thing’s first, unit commanders, I want a com-patch confirmation, stat!’ The Colonel waited a few seconds, hoping this wouldn’t take long. He knew that each soldier had a com-patch attached to the lower left side of their necks. The patch was a combination of magic and biotechnology that allowed communications to go through only at the user’s whim. In addition, each patch was set to only be attuned to certain other patches. Each member of a unit had their patch attuned to the Colonel, their unit commander, and to every other member of the unit, but not to any other unit except for in special situations. The unit commanders could hear Ursk’ga, their own unit, and each other and Ursk’ga was attuned only to the unit commanders. In addition, Ursk’ga and the unit leaders could telepathically direct their patches to receive from any unit soldier. The patches were an ingenious innovation created by halflings from a rim world. The com-patch was actually a living telepathic organism that could be ‘trained’ by placing it in various positions in comparison to others of its kind. This made communication easier by allowing commanders to cut down all the com chatter that would be going on during a battle. In addition, the patches were cheap to grow and maintain, making them better than both technological communicators and magical ones.
Less than thirty seconds after the Colonel had given the order, the first call came through.
‘Bloodhounds are go.’ Said Captain Del Furenko of the recon team.
‘Spiders are go.’ Came Haziss’ call, soon followed by the other unit commanders.
‘Stingers are go.’
‘Angels are go.’
‘Breakers are go.’
‘Thunderers are go.’
‘Sentries are go.’
‘Fury are go.’
‘Devils are go.’
‘Arrows are go.’
‘Fists are go.’
‘Monkeys are go.’
‘R Unit is go.’
‘Haze are go.’
‘Mugs are go.’
‘Razors are go.’
With Lt. Ajol’s Rave Razors calling in, Col. Ursk’ga was pleased, the whole check had taken less than two minutes. ‘Capt. Furenko, can your team track the wolves?’ the Colonel askedx over his com-patch.
‘We can try sir.’ Came the reply as Del and his team of scouts that called themselves the ‘Bloodhounds’ left the perimeter and headed for the forest.
‘Sardi, take the Stingers to the sky and provide air support for the Bloodhounds!’ the half-dragon ordered. The Stingers were the company’s best airborne unit. Unlike the other two airborne units, who utilizes liquid fuel propelled rocket packs, each of the Stingers was equipped with a magical ring of flight. ‘Ket, I want the Spiders on the Bloodhounds’ tail! Cover their rear flank! Remember, everyone, fire into the occasional tree to mark your way, we don’t want anyone getting lost in the woods today.’ He wheeled to see who was left. The half-dragon considered which unit to join and finally decided to be at the forefront of the battle with the Sentries and the Fur Fury. ‘Azmodel, Glurtsch, your units are with me. Following them, I want units two to a row: the Steadfast Angels and the Flame Arrows; then R Unit and the Heavy Fists; then the Thunderers and the Wall Breakers; then the Grinning Devils and Silver Haze. Herzwauk, I want the Happy Monkeys bringing up the rear.’
‘Affirmative, boss.’ Said Corporal Herzwuak, a gnome unit leader with a strange sense of humor, but who was a fine leader, nonetheless.
‘Fine, everyone stick together and keep an eye on the unit in front of you. Let’s move!’ Col. Ursk’ga let the way. He could already hear the occasional laser, blaster, or gun firing off, a sure sign that the units in the lead were marking the path. When he reached the edge of the forest, he could see the first burn mark in a tree ahead of him. Still, he was worried about their perimeter. The dropship had some defenses, but who could know what it would have to deal with when their enemies manipulated the very environment around them? The half dragon decided not to take a chance. ‘Dropship, this is Ursk’ga. Do you copy?’
‘We read you, Colonel.’ Came the response from the cockpit of the Chimeras’ transportation, ‘What do you need?’
‘I want you to go back to the Drake. We’ll need a dust-off at this point in twenty-four hours.’
‘A-are you sure, Colonel?’ the surprised pilot questioned. He had reason to be surprised. Without a ship on the planet, it would be impossible to retreat should the battle go awry. Still, the Colonel was optimistic about their chances but wanted to ensure that no vengeful druid destroyed their only way back to the cruiser that had transported the Chimeras to Darhogar IV.
‘Unquestionably, pilot. We don’t know entirely what we’re dealing with and I don’t want to take any chances with our ticket home.’
‘Understood, Colonel. See you tomorrow.’ With that the dropship fired its thrusters and ascended into the sky. Ursk’ga could see some of his soldiers glancing towards their only way off the rock they had been dropped on, but was pleased to find that none questioned his decision. He led them into the dark forest, confident that the Chimeras would be victorious once again.