Shell Case Shorts 11 – Winner

A little later than intended as I really agonised over who should win the penultimate Shell Case Shorts. There was some great entries but I had to go with this entry in the end as it not only was action packed but wrote about Titans. I’d be mad not to. This first time entrant has netted himself signed copies of Luthor Huss and Wrath of Iron by Chris Wraight.

So I present to you;

War Horns by John Alexander

War horns blared, momentarily drowning out the tumult of war. Even through the adamantium head of the Warlord Titan Furious Intent the angry cry of the corrupted Titans of the Dark Mechanicum made it to the ears of Princeps Ioda Krill. He shuddered, the sensation translating via the haptic link into the Warlord’s gargantuan frame. The Furious growled its displeasure, the mighty machine spirit automatically spinning up the auto loaders of its gatling blaster, the tremendous barrels spinning freely in its mount. Krill gritted his teeth as he bent the will of the Furious to his own. For one hundred years he had been the princeps of the this indomitable machine of war and he knew its moods and what rankled. Moods formed by over a millennia of fighting the wars of the Emperor and the Machine God.

Moderati Jun Nian glanced up from his console alarmed by the sudden arming of systems.

‘Princeps?’

‘It’s fine Jun, just the old girl getting herself all worked up.’ His eyes were closed in concentration. Amongst other Princeps the battle of wills that raged between them and their God-machines was known as the dance. A violent tango between a man and a fiery willed woman who wanted as much to kill you as take the lead.

As he settled the Fruious beneath his boot once more he opened himself to the noosphere, providing him with all the information he needed. He saw what the Furious saw. He saw the bombed and shattered buildings, some of which loomed over even the Furious‘ 33 metre tall frame. He saw tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks churning about his feet in full retreat. The arrival of traitor Titans had caused a general retreat from Pavonis City. Pavonis, like the rest of Daltamoor had fallen to the Ruinous Powers three years previously and after 2 years of unsuccessfully wresting control the Departmento Munitorum had requested the aid of the Adeptus Titanicus.

The Legio Crucius, universally known as the Warmongers, had responded in force. The campaign would have been over in days had the forces of Chaos not been keeping their own war engines in reserve for just such a tactical move. Engine battles had raged across the entire globe, levelling cities, rendered thousands of hectares of land irradiated wastelands, and annihilated millions in the conflagration of the God-war.

Chaos Titans had moved in force into the capital city of Pavonis, halting the scything counter attack by Imperial forces that had all but retaken the city, and with it the Governor’s palace, in barely a day of concentrated fighting. The first the Imperial Guard knew of the titans was when the entire 443rd Balian Dragoons were snuffed out when two traitor Warhound Titans caught them in the open and unleashed their Vulcan Megabolters in a withering crossfire. Nothing remained of the heroes of the Lou Campaign but a fine red mist. Similar reports were heard across the city as Titans tore chunks out of the Imperial armed forces. The Furious Intent was the only engine in the vicinity and responded as quickly as possible. At full stride it still took the Furious three hours to reach the outskirts of the city in which time the traitors had made Pavonis its ghoulish playground. It took less than three minutes for it to account for its first kill.

As the Furious stepped into the city limits of Pavonis a traitor Warhound lopped round the corner chasing fleeing troops like an angry bird, gleefully tearing chunks out of the formation with weapons designed to lay super heavy tanks low. The Furious didn’t even wait for Krill’s haptic input. It’s weapon systems and void shields already powered to a state of battle readiness, it fired a single spear or energy from its volcano cannon that struck the warhound clean on the snout. Its own void shields squealed and popped before collapsing and the head of the Titan exploded in a shower Astartes sized shrapnel and flame. It lurched backwards, feet suddenly without direction like a drunk soldier after closing time, before pitching forwards and burying itself in a collapsed hab.

Since that initial contact the Furious had spent the last 10 hours fighting running battles with at least 6 other engines of Reaver class or above. He’d only glanced one target in the swirling dust storm their engagement had thrown up. Since initial contact their shooting war had raised fourteen buildings, most of which had stood since the earliest days of the Imperium. Sensori Okas had managed to identify 3 of the enemy engines from their silhouettes, their crimes against the Imperium stretching back to the darkest days of the Horus Heresy. Krill and his crew were under no illusions that, unless they were relieved, that Pavonis would be their tomb but they had all resolved to ensure as many of the heretical bastards hidden in the choking dust went with them.

‘Contact plus fifty-seven degrees starboard.’ Shout Okas, the glow of his sensor screen giving his skin a sickly green glow. Krill spotted it a moment before and was already simultaneously moving the Titan behind the gutted remains of the primary administratum building, and rotating the Furious’ torso. ‘All batteries reactive fire.’ He blurted through his MIU. His moderatis responded like puppets, their own links to the noosphere reading and interpreting the Sensori data, plotted firing solutions for a maximum spread, blurting the data to the weapon servitors and the sensori so he could watch for hard returns. The entire process took less than three seconds. The Furious unleashed two full salvos before the building blocked its line of fire.

Energy and solid rounds speared into the swirling gloom swiftly followed by a rippling series of bangs signalled hits.

‘Impacts.’ Shouted Okas. A cant would have been quicker but the moment over took him. ‘Three energy flares consistent with void shield flares.’

‘Get a fix on its position. Recharge main batteries.’ Krill muttered. As the crew acted out his orders the reactor core of the Furious amped up in response to the increased demand. Krill’s own heart quickened in response, his limbs flooding with warmth. Sweat beaded his brow as Krill picked apart the torrents of data that flooded the noosphere. The Furious was hungry. He could feel her straining at the leash of his will. He moved the Titan around the far side of the administratum building and sent an impulse blurt to the weapons servitors to fire.

There are few things more awe-inspiring than a Warlord Titan opening fire with all its weapons systems. Remembrancers of Great Crusade described it as the Emperor’s wrath made manifest. The reality was something entirely more terrifying. Air itself seethed. The thunderclap of over pressure made the air itself to shriek. Dust churned and swirled like angry hornets. A ruined building nearby shuddered and collapsed under the pressure and men fleeing between the Furious’ feet were knocked to the ground. Less than a second later the sky lit up with exploding energy as void shields howled and collapsed, less than a second after that explosions blossomed.

‘Solid hits.’ Reported the Sensori. Krill wasn’t paying attention, the Furious had sensed something. It was already moving in response. Krill tried to fight it but he couldn’t. He was too old. Too much a part of the Titan. The Furious Intent took a step back, then another and  another. It moved with an agility Krill didn’t think possible. The Furious moved itself back behind the Administratum building, back braced against the crumbling façade.

‘Princeps! What’s-‘ Nian shouted before the world outside the armour-plas of the Titans head and the sensor screens exploded with energy returns. The Sensori registered weapons fire pummelling the building and the space around the Titan. Energy flared at the edges of the Titan’s shields as near misses glanced off them.

‘Enemy Warlord Titan,’ Shouted Okas needlessly. Negative one-hundred and eighty degrees aft.’ Krill wasn’t listening. In his head he was waging a battle of wills with the Furious. She was a seething mass of rage in his mind. Determined to stride out and confront the threat. Krill couldn’t be certain if he felt the same sense of indignation or if the Furious was starting to encroach on his mind. It happened to all Princeps. The longer they spent in the chair of a Titan the more the Titan’s machine spirit began to dominate the princeps. Titans as old as the Furious Intent had absorbed the minds of so many Princeps over the centuries that she was all but self-aware. Krill knew he didn’t have long. He hadn’t spent enough time out of the link. It was an important part of preserving ones sanity but it hurt him to be away from the old girl for too long.

The incoming fire ebbed away. Either the attack titan had drained its energy reserves or it was moving around for a better firing position. Krill decided not to wait to find out. Turning left he took the Furious back the way they came at a walking pace, the sensori systems stretched out to maximum. He and the Furious could sense something was out there, waiting.

The dusty gloom lit up with muzzle flashes as a gatling blaster opened up. Heavy calibre shells smashed into the Warlord Titan’s void shields making them pop and fizz. Krill’s skin prickled as the void shield generators struggled to cope with the onslaught. He took direct  control of the weapons systems, his vision suddenly becoming the focussed aiming auspex of the volcano cannon. As he sighted down the monstrous weapon he felt the familiar snap of a void shield failing. Ignoring the stinging sensation covering his body he aimed at the muzzle flash and unleashed an over charged blast. There was a blinding flash in the gloom and the incoming fire suddenly stopped. Then there was a series of secondary flashes, dimmer than the first, as explosions touched off starting from what Krill suspected to be the enemy Titan’s magazine. Within moments ahead of the Furious was little more than a seething mass of secondary blasts before an indistinct shape fell to the ground.

‘Confirmed engine kill.’ Announced Okas. Krill, like the rest of the command staff already knew it. They could sense the change in the noosphere. But it was for the logs: another confirmed engine kill for the proud and noble Furious Intent. Then Krill’s world was filled with pain as the Furious’ shields were hammered to break point from behind. He instinctively put the titan into a stride searching to put distance and cover between the Chaos Warlord Titan that had flanked the Furious whilst she had dealt with what they knew to be a smaller Reaver class Titan. The war horns sounded behind him like a call to the hunt. Which it was.

Turning right the Furious was confronted by a Warhound Titan. It’s armour twisted and marked with obscene iconography and daubed expressions. Krill’s anger flared and he pushed the Titan onwards. The Warhound opened fire, turbo lasers causing another shield to collapse but it had chosen to stand and fight rather than flee. The Furious slammed into the scout Titan, knocking it off its four-toed feet before the much bigger Titan brought its follow-up step down hard on to its body. The Warhound Titan died quickly and with little drama, black ugly smoke boiling out from under its ruined carapace, its’ body twitching like a recently dead animal put out of its misery.

The sudden change of direction had put some distance between the Furious and its pursuer but the tremors Krill could feel vibrating through his God-machine told him he had little time. With skill born of a century of service, he reversed course, bringing the Furious about whilst blurting to his moderati to bring all weapons to readiness, overriding their initial priority of bringing shields back online. As he felt the warm tingling sensation build in his arms once more the ugly, warped face of the Chaos Warlord Titan loomed into view. A twisted, nightmarish shadow of its former glory, every surface was an unholy seething mass of faces, icons, scriptures and other horrors. Its head was a leering gore spattered skull that had what appeared to be mad staring eyes.

‘Fire.’ Krill exclaimed, opening his eyes for the first time in days to witness what was to come. The Chaos Titan had rounded the corner right into the waiting guns of the Imperial Titan and caught the full force of its fury at point-blank range. The result was instantly cataclysmic. Void shields failed with a pop of energy that struck the Furious causing systems to overload, relays blowing across the engine. As the shields of the Chaos Titan collapsed the combined incoming fire struck it in the head and chest, super charged energy and mass reactive shells the size of mag-levs melting or smashing apart armour plating and critical systems.

An explosion blasted outwards, shrapnel the size of battle tanks ripping outwards slamming into the Furious, scything through its unshielded torso and hip mount. Krill cried out feeling psychosomatic lesions to well up across his abdomen and thighs. The damage wasn’t severe, the armour-plate taking the worst of the impact but the hip-joint was buckled and snarled. Without attention it would slow the Furious and make her an easy target.

‘Bring void shields back online,’ Krill said through gritted teeth. ‘Jun get repair crews down to the port side rotational cuff, I need that joint de-fouled ‘ Jun nodded and began relaying orders, all the while keeping a worried eye on his Princeps. The way in which Krill had barrelled down that Warhound was reckless and potentially fatal. The kind of behaviour one would expect from hot-headed Princeps and their Warhound steeds. Had the reactor gone critical it would have blown the Furious apart. She was starting to win. Starting to slowly take Krill over. Depending on how this engine battle ended this could well be Krill’s final stride.

***

The sun had set on Pavonis. The Furious Intent stalked through the city with as many systems powered down as Krill and his Techpriest – Dolan – dared to avoid detection. Stealth was a peculiar concept to engine combat. To anyone on the ground a Titan was impossible to miss but to the crews of a God-machine they relied on auspex and the noosphere. A powered down Titan was surprisingly hard to detect, only the residual heat bleeding off its armour plates from the heat of the day gave any real return in the infra-red. A God-machine alone in a city against at least 3 enemy Titans of unknown classification was vulnerable, if such a notion could ever be considered so every effort had to be made to keep a low profil. Fortunately for the Furious and her crew the arch-enemy weren’t being as subtle. Heat spikes and energy discharges flashed across the passive sensori screens as the Chaos Titans indulged their baser instincts, slaughtering those Imperial forces yet to flee, or unable to flee, the necropolis Pavonis was fast becoming.

The Furious lurked in the darkness watching at a distance as a traitor Reaver and two Warhounds capered through the streets, pouncing on infantry and tanks with equal abandon, executing them with short ranged bursts of mega bolter fire or simply stamping on them with their adamantium shod feet, smearing flesh and metal across streets, the gleeful blare of their war horns echoing between the buildings and sounding for all the world like the laughter of maniacal children. Krill felt his anger rise, the fires of the Furous’ reactors burning hot in response. The sight sickened him and the Furious responded in kind, systems powering up to combat readiness, void shields springing to life. Krill’s moderati’s started to panic, blurting queries and pleading with the Princeps for an update. He ignored them. And the Furious were too intent on their prize.

Taking on three engines at once would be suicide in any normal circumstances but Krill didn’t care, he could feel Furious Intent creeping into his mind. The rage he was feeling wasn’t his own. The strain of the last few hours had finally eroded the last vestiges of his resolve. He was losing control. But before his consciousness was consumed he would bring low the traitorous dogs that had defiled this world. Taking full control of bridge systems Krill set the Furious into a run, each foot fall like the of the world.

At first the enemy titans didn’t notice the Warlord bearing down upon them, so intent on their cruelty. The nearest Warhound detected the impending threat first, it’s keener auspex array picking up the heat flare even as it crushed a Leman Russ battle tank beneath its foot. It hooted a warning, turning to face the new threat, hunkered low like a cornered beast. It didn’t have time to do anything else. The Furious hit the Warhound at full speed, void shields flaring as the energy field collided with the smaller engine and shredding it utterly. The Furious didn’t slow, leaving the mangled wreckage in its wake, swinging its weapons outwards delivering a point-blank shot from its volcano cannon into the chest of the Reaver titan. Shields flared and peeled like a dying flower, and the Reaver stumbled, crashing into a tower block in an explosion of collapsing shields and shattering masonry.

The second Warhound surged forward, vulcan megabolters spitting, shells ringing off void shields. The Furious responded in kind, rotating its gatling blaster and sending a torrent of shells slamming through its void shields in a thunder-clap of over pressure, and chewing into armour plating. The Warhound’s advance faltered and it shuddered like a dog shaking then it exploded, briefly being replaced by a small star as it’s reactor went critical. The event wave slammed into the Furious Intent, knocking it backwards, shields overloading in a brilliant blue flare momentarily casting out the night. Krill screamed with pain as the heat of the detonation seared the Titan’s armour plates and blinded its auspex arrays. Momentarily blinded the God-machine stumbled, crashing into a building almost toppling. On the bridge alarms were blaring as power system fluctuated. Moderati Nian was stood in front of Princeps Krill desperately trying to shake him from the battle catatonia he had slipped into. To Krill it was too far aware to matter. A moment later an energy beam speared out of the night and struck the Titan in the torso. With the shields down the blast punched clean through the Titan’s armour and out the otherside. Krill and the Furious cried out together, the Titan’s pained cry from its war horns ringing out across the landscape. It was met by a mocking honk of triumph. The wounded Chaos Reaver Titan stepped out of gloom its gatling blaster blazing.

Shells tore into the Furious’ body, chewing armour and causing explosions to puff in the night air. The crew on the bridge watched from the view ports as the Reaver charged its turbo lasers one more for the killing blow as its war horns trumpeted. There was a flash and an explosion. On the bridge the crew stared dump founded as the watched the Chaos Reaver stumble, a smoking ruin where its turbo laser mount had once been as the Warlord Titan Sol’s Justice strode from the darkness weapons systems blazing. The Furious’ cry of pain undoubtedly drawing her sister Titan to her aid. The Furious, seizing her chance, pushed herself upright, smoke billowing from a hundred wounds, stabilizers screaming, and fired its volcano cannon point-blank in to the face of the stunned Reaver, sheering off its head, neck and the top 10 metres of its beetle-back in a corona of fire. The Reaver toppled backwards, bringing down a building with it and lay dead in the rubble.

As the Furious blared its triumph, its war horns shaking the very buildings around it Nian stood before Princeps Krill, sadness etched onto his face. Blood drooled from Krill’s mouth and nose. His navy blue uniform was stained with a hundred patches of blood from the haptic backlash. The fact that the Titan strode on told Nian all he needed to know of Krill’s true fate but his report would show the crew taking manual control at the critical moment when the Princeps died of his wounds. Anything less would risk Furious Intent having her machine spirit wiped rather than risk the Titan becoming sentient. But Nian wouldn’t allow that. The Furious Intent would stride again.

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