Original Content The Last Charge of Lord Pruovel

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Warning alarms blared through the holding bay, mixed with a faint sound of shellfire that even the walls of Castle Narisel could not block out.

“My lord, there is still no word from Gunkeep Narisome.”

“Then we assume it is lost.” Lord Pruovel stood still in the armoring rack, not shifting his head to look at the retainer who had addressed him. “What of the inner holdfasts?”

“Eastriver District Holdfast is still holding on, my lord,” the retainer said, tilting his face to show the top of his bone crest where his loyalty marks were painted. “The others have fallen, lord.”

“They won't last long. Cousin, how long do the shields have?” Pruovel asked, keeping his voice steady. It was not the subjects’ place to see their betters tremble.
“At the current rate of bombardment, we have five hours before the generators overheat. If the enemy brings in more guns, no telling,” said Pruovel’s second cousin, a minor noble named Gouven who kept Castle Narisel and the surrounding districts.

With a series of clicks, the serfs attached the last outer plate of Pruovel’s power armor. He took a few steps forward, swung his arms forward and back, and grabbed his weapons— a heavy plasma repeater gun to complement the grenade launcher already attached to his gauntlet, and a ceremonial plasma-injector maul, all engraved and sculpted by artisans decades ago. The craftsmanship of his arms was matched by the finely wrought plating that clung to the servo-frame and synthetic muscles of his power armor.

The familiar press of the armor lining on his blue-gray skin was nostalgic to the lord. It was a relic of a more prosperous time. These last few years, the House of Pruovel did not have the incomes to commission new warplate of such artifice, not if they wanted to keep their lands maintained. Even putting on the armor had to be done wrong these days. It was a job for slaves, not serfs— while a lesser species, they were kin to the citizens and lords of the Domains. But the proper way was no longer an option, and so the decline continued.


- - -​

Lieutenant Colonel Alvursk looked up from the map screen. Enemy resistance was collapsing as expected. This late into the campaign, the Imperials had not mustered nearly enough forces to secure the whole city, and their coordination was too poor to outmaneuver the UN forces inside the urban environs. But there was still one key objective: Castle Narisel, the last stronghold of House Pruovel and Alvursk’s assigned target. The rest of the regiment— including the ultra-heavies— was already on their way to the next continental front. Alvursk’s armored battalion and the regiment’s heavy tank destroyers had been left behind to mop up Castle Narisel, as the 4th Mechanized Infantry Division swept up the city.

The rumble of the shelling could be felt even from inside the Monitor APC from which Alvursk commanded his battalion. He had been cooped up in that vehicle for long enough, and gestured to his comms operator that he would be stepping outside. Stepping over rubble to the remains of an exterior wall, Alvursk raised a monocular to his center eye, looking over the castle.

“I’d like to hear your thoughts, Lieutenant Colonel,” came the voice of Major Terrance Slater as the olive-skinned human stretched his back.

“Narisel is a good castle, but it is undersupplied and undermanned. There’s no question that we will take it, only how much it will cost us,” Alvursk spoke with familiarity. Castle Narisel was a large compound atop a cluster of hills, with a clearing of eight hundred meters separating it from the city on all sides. Any assault would have no cover as it approached. The gravitic shielding was still functioning. “The main risk is Pruovel’s Archangel. The last intel reports had it fleeing Kasuila Pass. We have to assume it’s repaired by now.”

“Assume the worst, and you’ll not be disappointed,” Slater replied. The major was advisor to Alvursk, and a reminder of how underqualified Alvursk was for battalion command. UN Army doctrine called for officers to serve sixteen years before they could be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. The needs of wartime shortened that as officers were killed and field promotions handed out in the moment, but Alvursk’s mere seven years as a soldier— including his time in the partisan struggle— were abnormally short. Looking past Alvursk to the castle, Slater continued. “Corps command is pretty pleased with the LXXX Legion’s performance this campaign. I’ll be happy to see another Imperial lord on the victory rolls, but we can’t afford to squander anything.”

“True. But our Mapusauruses should reduce their walls quick. 4th MID’s artillery should be taking down the castle’s shielding in a few hours. We’ll have a smokescreen barrage ready by then to provide some concealment for the attack.” Alvursk checked his timepiece. “The infantry should be regrouping with us soon. We keep the heavies back for overwatch, the mediums move up to let the infantry in, and then the 4th gets to have their fun storming the castle.”

“Solid plan.” Slater nodded. While Alvursk was the superior officer, he had made it clear the Slater was not to address him as “sir”. It would only feel patronizing given how much experience the major had. Alvursk’s higher position was simply politics. They were a part of the LXXX Korvulan Free Men Legion, the first regular legion raised by a free Korvulan state for the UN Army. It would not do for such a historic unit for the Korvulan species to be commanded at every level by humans, especially not as they were struggling for freedom from slavery under another species.

- - -​

The tactical displays painted Lord Pruovel a grim picture. The scanner crew serfs were highlighting every sign of an enemy unit in the castle’s surroundings, and there were many. The UN troops were keeping out of the open, but they were not invisible. The machine gun stations atop tank turrets poked out above rubble. The barrels of cannons protruded from ruined buildings. Observation drones flitted over the streets. They were, unsurprisingly, surrounded.

“Can you discern what type of troops we face?” Pruovel asked the master of scanning.

“I see mostly tanks, lord. They are keeping their hulls in cover for the most part, but those secondary gun stations visible in a few places—” The master of scanning indicated on the screens, “—are only present on some of their vehicles. I estimate twenty-nine medium tanks, at least seven fighting infantry transports, and six heavy tanks. There are at least two tank hunters present.”

“UN tank hunters work in contingents. If there’s one, there’s probably eight,” Lord Pruovel said. The UN was unlike the enemies he had faced in the constant power struggles in the Imperial Domains. They were varied in odd ways, divided into dozens of different groups and yet they barely even bothered to wear heraldry— but they made a point of fighting in different styles. At the same time, they were far more regular and consistent in some ways than his fellow lords. Their equipment was identical from group to group, and they hardly ever deployed just one of something. Those heavy tank hunters had first been spotted in UN ranks [six years] ago, and they had never intentionally worked alone. But there was something missing. “How many of those counterfeit throne-tanks?”

“None so far as I can see, my lord,” the master of scanners answered.

That was strange. Why would the UN send their best killers of throne-tanks elsewhere when Pruovel’s was still operational? Or… No, it was not strange, just disappointing. He knew exactly why they would send those massive, artless things somewhere else: He was not worth using them. The House of Pruovel, a millennium old and respected house in the Holy Imperial Domains, was now making its last stand against the forces of ill-order— and they could not even be bothered to send in their best stuff. It would not have stung so much if it were not a sound tactical decision.

“My lord, they are transmitting a video message on an open channel,” interrupted a citizen-serjeant.

“Bring it up on the main display,” replied Pruovel, suspecting that he already knew what it would be. After a bit of fiddling with the display controls, the message came on.

“— offer you a chance to live. Ah— Are you the lord of this house?” As soon as the Korvulan face appeared on the screen, Lord Pruovel had a flash of recognition.

“You know damn well who I am, Alvursk,” the lord snarled. He might be wearing UN fatigues and speaking from within an armored vehicle, but Pruovel would not forget a face that had adorned so many fugitive notices all those years ago. “Have you come to gloat? To spit in the hand of your old master once again?”

“I am here to demand your surrender and to kill you if you refuse,” Alvursk said, “And my title is Lieutenant Colonel. Use it.”

“You’ve never deserved a title. You had a place here, a home, and you threw away what I gave you to try and destroy our order of being. I was the best master any slave in the Domains could have.” Pruovel was nearly shouting now.

“Am I supposed to be grateful that you didn’t have us whipped quite as often as your peers? You could have pampered us with fine drink and baths but we still would have been your slaves.”

“And what will you do now? I know you can’t see it, but what I do is for the greater good,” the lord opined, “You have no idea of the pain you’re bringing to us all. People need order!”

“Are you just willfully blind? I have order. A better order, free of the whims of hereditary parasites,” Alvursk dropped his voice low, “I am obligated to let you surrender, but know that I would rather see you at the hot end of a flamethrower.”

“I’m not surrendering,” said Pruovel.

“Good.”

Lord Pruovel turned to face his entourage. They looked solemn. The House of Pruovel had been in a downward spiral for decades, but for so much of that decline it had seemed like nothing special. Power waxed and power waned, and if theirs was waning right now then their fortunes would turn upwards eventually. The cycle would continue and order would be kept. But the Pruovels fortunes did not turn upwards, and here they were— standing before a fall from which there could be no recovery. The lord had made a decision, and where a lord went, the vassals followed.

“Ready the Glory of Guide’s Eye,” Lord Pruovel ordered. “We sally forth.”

The Glory of Guide’s Eye was the throne-tank of House Pruovel. Over forty meters long, eleven meters wide, and nine meters tall in its hull, it was a war machine and a work of art massive enough to crush ordinary vehicles beneath its wheels. For now it rested in berth, tended to by nearly a hundred serfs. Work was slowed by the shortage of slaves, but all of the combat-essential systems were online to some extent.

“Sally forth? Lord Pruovel, are you trying to hasten your death?” asked Gouven as the group walked towards the throne-tank’s berth.

“Yes. I will not spend my last moments huddling in my keep when I could bloody them one last time and be done with it,” Pruovel declared.

“Are you sure that we shouldn’t hold out here as long as possible? Force them to siege us?” said Gouven.

“Perhaps staying here could delay my demise a few hours. But to be clear, I do not care. I do not care how many guns face me out there, or how many other houses fall. I will die before I let an upjumped slave cow me,” the lord said, “And I will die.”

- - -​

“That sounded like a productive conversation,” Major Slater hunched down slightly to fit his frame— taller than a Korvulan like Alvursk— inside the Monitor command carrier.

“Did he listen to a single thing I said?” Alvursk looked straight at the advisor. “You heard that whole exchange. Does he really not understand why slaves want freedom?”

“...No. Everything in his life was founded on superiority,” Slater said, “If he admits that's wrong, everything he's done is wrong.”

“Pity.”

It was nearly an hour before the situation changed. Then, as the 4th MID was shifting their mechanized infantry units just behind Alvursk’s battalion for when the time to assault came, the gates of Castle Narisel opened. All of the conventional forces that Pruovel had left emerged. Out from the main gate drove Glory of Guide’s Eye.

The UN reporting name for Imperial throne-tanks was “Archangel”. One look at such a machine in motion was all it took to convince most people that it was a fitting title. On nine sets of rotating wheels it rode, studded with plasma repeater-guns, mortars, magnetic ballistae, missiles of many types, point defense guns, and a few hulking heavy cannons. Invisible gravitic shields encased its bulk, generated by dark matter manipulators deep within the hull. Its body was sculpted with aristocratic iconography bearing the craft-signs of a hundred artisan masters, and lacquered in blazing heraldry of House Pruovel that shone in the afternoon sunlight.

Alvursk had the privilege of seeing it immediately through the sensor feed of a Lycaenid drone. In an instant, his comms were transmitting on the all-companies channel.

“Archangel at the main gate. X-Ray, get your machines over there and take it down. Bravo, hold your ground. Alpha, move to support Bravo at the main gate. Charlie, Delta, spread out and kill the conventionals,” he ordered, “Remember, target their point defenses first.”

With all of his companies acting as ordered, Alvursk changed his channel. First he would get the mortars working, then make some calls to the 4th MID to get their units in play. Managing a battle was busy work.

On the fields surrounding Castle Narisel, what little undamaged soil and plant life there had been was rapidly being ruined. Along the sides, the initially impressive outpouring of foot and infantry armored vehicles in varied shapes and sizes had slowed down to a trickle. Those forces of House Pruovel who had made the charge outside the castle walls were met with fire from Charlie and Delta companies of medium Komodo tanks protected by a platoon each of armored infantry. At the main gate, the Archangel and its retinue of smaller conventional forces charged down the slope towards the position of Bravo Company and half of X-Ray, the heavy tank destroyer company.

The mere eight hundred meters between the castle and the UN lines was short enough for nearly every weapon to be in range. In an instant, dozens of medium cannons fired volleys of high-velocity sabot rounds and shaped charges into the Imperial host. Unmanned ground vehicles accompanying every platoon set their machine guns, grenade launchers, and antitank missiles to work. Infantry fighting vehicles picked out targets for their autocannons and missiles while drones surveyed the battlefield from above. Heavy and light mortar fire rained down as point defense vehicles snapped their rotary guns from missile to shell to missile in efforts to intercept incoming fire before it could hit friendly forces.

The beleaguered troops of House Pruovel tried to respond in kind, but the difference in firepower and cover was too great. Minutes after the start of the engagement the advance had stalled. Those Imperial infantry who had not fled clung to the mud or crouched behind burning vehicle wrecks for protection from the incessant machine gun fire. Their armored vehicles used depressions as cover, occasionally moving to take potshots at the UN troops but not moving up. Eventually, the UN’s weight of firepower and a methodical, unhurried advance pushed them back.

The situation was different with the Glory of Guide’s Eye. The Archangel tank was faced by Bravo Company’s mix of Komodos and the heavy Tyrannosaurus tanks. While the medium tanks and their unmanned escort tracks engaged the Archangel’s retinue, the T-Rex tanks divided their attention. Some turned their ram accelerator cannons on their Imperial heavy tank peers, some focused their primaries’ fire on the Archangel itself, and all of their secondary autocannons and missile pods spat death at the lighter enemy fighting platforms. At the very back of Bravo’s position, four Mapusaurus heavy tank destroyers— half of X-Ray’s complement— carefully aligned their guns and began firing.

The Mapusaurus was built on the same hull as the Tyrannosaurus, but sacrificed its rotating turret and powerful secondary weapons for the space to carry its main gun, a heavy ram accelerator cannon large enough to damage even an Archangel. As Lord Pruovel’s throne-tank rolled onward, they all pumped round after round into its gravitic shielding, aiming to overheat its shield emitters. The Glory’s guns were not idle. Three Komodos, a T-Rex, and one of the Mapusauruses were knocked out. Bravo Company began a fighting retreat, and the lines behind them adjusted.

But Bravo was not fighting alone. The heavy Alpha Company, with two more Mapusauruses, was swinging around from the east to catch the Pruovel Archangel between it and Bravo, while the last two of X-Ray’s heavy tank destroyers moved in from the west. The Archangel was four hundred meters away from the UN lines when its shielding faded, too weak to fully prevent damage. Still Lord Pruovel drove it onward. Practically every UN fighting vehicle in range switched to target it in that moment. Fire from dozens of guns raked across the intricately decorated hull of the Glory of Guide’s Eye, much of it concentrated on a few specific points— the anti-missile point defense systems.

When the drone footage made it clear that the point defenses were gone, Alvursk gave an order. It was heard by all of Alpha, Bravo, and X-Ray Companies. As one, every vehicle engaged with the Archangel aimed a laser target designator somewhere on the throne-tank’s body. Moments later, even the Mapusauruses were drowned out by the arrival of a concentrated barrage of guided anti-tank missiles from 4th MID’s missile artillery. The warheads, laser-guided to the Glory, struck like a hammer of myth.

The pride of House Pruovel was rent open from the top. The UN heavies fired one last salvo into the holes torn in its armor. Smaller explosions, the result of fuel lines hitting electrical fires or ammunition cooking off, echoed through the carcass of the Archangel. Many of the dozens-strong crew that had operated it had been killed during its death throes. Those that could scrambled out of hatches to escape the wreck. A few tried to flee and were cut down by machine guns. Others threw down their sidearms and surrendered.

The ceiling over the command deck of the Glory had been smashed in by the missiles. Twisted metal had collapsed inwards, killing the command deck crew instantly. Still seated on his throne was Lord Pruovel. His power armor had prevented immediate death from shrapnel and overpressure waves, but it had not stopped a chunk of armor plating that was now embedded in his abdomen. As the lord’s life ebbed away, he could, for what it was worth, boast that he would not die a coward.

Status reports from Alvursk’s companies came in one by one. Casualties had been light, but there were still fatalities. One of the Komodos had exploded before its crew could escape. A squad leader had taken a plasma pellet to his neck early in the fight. A few tankers had been killed when their vehicles were knocked out. Alvursk made up his mind to see the dead before they were taken away by Graves Registration. Machines had been lost too. A few of the lost tanks were reparable, but others were not. Plenty of the unmanned platforms had been wrecked in the fight, as was usual. But those could be replaced, as could the expended ammo and water.

“Do you think we should stick around, Major? Search the wreck, help with the prisoners, all that?” Alvursk asked.

“No. The 4th can handle it,” Slater said, “I advise we get ready to move on.”

“I’m sick of this place too. We need to catch up with the rest of the regiment.” Alvursk turned to the comms station to give his orders.
 
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