One Knight Stands – short story

The Great Crusade recently held a short story fiction contest, for which I fell back upon the small bit of background about Imperial Knights to create my entry. I had great difficulty including a background section to give it context, whilst keeping within the 1,000 word limit, but here’s the story:

My original submission:

ONE KNIGHT STANDS

Raelic blinked, checking his dashboard for the fourth time in as many moments. Nothing had changed – his boredom itched for something to happen. The drone of his suit’s generator and the seemingly frozen clock on the dash – this job had become a living slumber, a far cry from his youthful aspirations.

The Teoton house do what they can to protect their megasaur herds against carnosaur incursions, but this ecosystem has existed for millennia, long before martian expeditions marked it for colonisation. On occasion, hunting parties are sent out to cull the growing population of predators, but their efforts are quickly compensated – nature restores the balance. It is said that larger breeds dwell beyond Teoton’s herding grounds, but until they pose a direct threat, no action would be taken. Such stories planted a challenge in Raelic’s mind as a child as he trained to perform his duties for Teoton. A challenge poorly sought, for dwindling supplies on Epsilon-2124 had restricted operations to the most crucial. Times were hard, the last delivery from the Mars was overdue several cycles. Many in his order were forced to sit out of duty as their suits had fallen into disrepair or worse. Some not returned from increasingly vicious carnosaur attacks. Yet, despite the rise in incidents, Raelic remained a combat green. Something he foolishly hoped to change.

Blinking again, Raelic glanced up from his dashboard at the misty treeline. He was alerted by a an amplified sound, routed through his suit’s system. Squinting at the highlighted area, other sounds could now be heard, something unsettling the jungle wildlife.  Suddenly, a large burst of light appeared and his suit reeled hard, knocked to the left as a tree beside him exploded in a shower of hot ash. His senses were shaken, but the suit’s optics sufficient to focus on the large figure emerging from the trees. The silhouette was unmistakable, an errant class knight. Why had it fired upon him? His mind juggled confusion, panic and anger.

“Hold your fire!”, Raelic’s frightened voice demanded across the vox channel. “This is  Raelic, Reeve of Teoton, please identify yourself!”

The response was swift and tragic, one of Raelic’s bondsmen, en route to his alerted position, vanished in a hellish cloud of superheated magma. Clearly the unknown knight was not alone, nor mistaken. Their identity became clear as more knights walked into view – Greuthungi, a rival household. While no love was shared between their fiefs, they had never come to blows. This was unthinkable.

Distressed at the loss of his kamerad, Raelic switched vox channel and called out to his remaining ally, hoping he hadn’t yet been spotted. “Undin, are you receiving? Greuthungi are attacking, three sighted.”

“I hear you Rae”, acknowledged Undin. “We need to alert someone! We can’t take this fight, they have us outnumbered and off guard. That errant just toasted Icarus!”

Slamming his fist against the transmitter controls, Raelic roared in frustration. “I cannot connect to base! Why are they attacking us? The Seneschal will be furious! Surely they can’t expect to get away with this?”

“Leave the questions until later Rae. I don’t think they’ve spotted me yet. Get out of there, draw them to abandoned mine if you can. We need to even our odds.” Undin hastily put together a plan in his head.

Raelic tried to calm his thoughts. The attackers hadn’t fired since killing Icarus, but it wouldn’t be long before the thermal cannons cooled and unleashed another shot. Wasting no time, he turned and made haste for the old mine. His lancer class knight was far swifter than the enemy errants, but his hope was placed upon escaping the relatively short range of the enemy weapons. Empowering the alternators in the suit’s legs, every ounce of energy was placed into delivering himself from danger. He detected all three enemies matching his course.

“Undin, I think they’re in pursuit. Do you have a plan? Can you contact base?”, reported Raelic.

“No signal, Rae”, Undin complained, sounding far less worried than warranted. “They must be jamming us somehow. Maintain heading, I’ll try to catch their flank as they pass. Let’s show them the error of crossing Teoton lancers. For honour and glory!”

Raelic smiled. “Honour and glory, Undin. I’ll give them quarry yet!”

Carrying his suit with grace, Raelic’s lancer sprinted hard and fast. The enemy gave pursuit, training their weapons on him. They held fire, wary of the range and speed of their target. The cannons could destroy the toughest armour, but made poor weapons of barrage. The shot had to be on target.

Undin was surprised they so hastily dropped their cover and given chase, but disregarded his inquisitive mind. An opportunity was hand and he had to take it. Waiting until the enemy had passed his position, their frontal shields were no longer concern. He had the advantage and put his training and experience to work.

Leaping from his concealed position, he unleashed an intense bolt of energy in a wide, deadly arc from his power lance into the enemy formation. Lightning danced from the direct hit on the first knight, across the dank field, into the others. The thundering clap of the devastating strike could be heard even through his suit’s filters. One errant froze mid-step and fell unto itself, rendered useless by the overpowering charge of Undin’s lance. Death delivered, he now faced the remaining two, seemingly unharmed by the carried lightning. The lance spent, he brought his battlecannon to bear. Time slowed as he took a long, hard gulp.

“This is it, Rae”, resigned Undin, accepting his fate.

Grinding to a halt, Raelic spun to face his pursuers, now exposing their rear to him. Undin’s plan had worked, but at what cost, he thought. Firing everything at the two standing knights, he swore an oath of vengeance for his fallen bondsmen.

As the clouds cleared, his promise had been delivered.

And the edited version after submission:

ONE KNIGHT STANDS

RAELIC BLINKED, CHECKING his dashboard for the fourth time in as many moments. Nothing had changed. He itched for something to happen.
The drone of his suit’s generator; the seemingly frozen clock on the dash – this job had become a living slumber, the boredom a far cry from his youthful aspirations.
‘The Teoton house do what they can to protect their megasaur herds against carnosaur incursions,’ the rote-tapes had declared. ‘But this ecosystem has existed for millennia, long before Martian expeditions marked it for colonisation. On occasion, hunting parties are sent out to cull the growing population of predators, but their efforts are quickly compensated – nature restores the balance. It is said that larger breeds dwell beyond Teoton’s herding grounds, but until they pose a direct threat, no action would be considered against them.’
Such stories had planted a challenge in Raelic’s young mind as he trained to perform his duties for Teoton – a challenge poorly sought, for the dwindling supplies on Epsilon-MMCXXIV had restricted operations to only the most crucial.
Times were hard, the last delivery from Mars was overdue by several cycles. Many in his order were forced to sit out of duty as their suits had fallen into disrepair or worse. Some never return from increasingly vicious carnosaur attacks.
Yet, despite the rise in incidents, Raelic remained green; unproven. Something he foolishly hoped to change.
Blinking again, he glanced up from his dashboard at the misty treeline.
He was alerted by an amplified sound, routed through his suit’s system. Squinting at the highlighted area, other sounds could now be heard, something disturbing the jungle fauna. Suddenly a burst of light flared and his suit reeled, knocked to the left as the tree beside him exploded in a shower of hot ash.
His senses were shaken, but the suit’s optics were sufficient to focus on the large figure emerging from the trees. The silhouette was unmistakable: an Errant-class Knight.
Why had it fired upon him? His mind juggled confusion, panic and anger.
‘Hold your fire!’ Raelic demanded over the vox, the slightest trace of fear in his voice. ‘This is Raelic, Reeve of Teoton. Please identify yourself!’
The response was swift and tragic – one of Raelic’s fellow bondsmen, making for his supporting alerted position, vanished in a hellish cloud of superheated magma and gobbets of melted plasteel. Clearly the unfamiliar Knight was not alone, nor firing mistakenly.
Their identity became clear as more Knights walked into view – Greuthungi, a rival household. While no love was lost between their fiefs, they had never come to blows. This was unthinkable.
Distressed at the loss of his kamerad, Raelic switched vox channel and called out to his remaining ally, hoping he hadn’t yet been spotted.
‘Undin, are you receiving? Greuthungi are attacking. Three sighted.’
‘I hear you, Rae,’ acknowledged Undin. ‘We need to alert someone! We can’t win this fight – they have us outnumbered and off guard. That Errant just toasted Icarus!’
Slamming his fist against the transmitter controls, Raelic roared in frustration. ‘I cannot connect to base! Why are they attacking us? The Seneschal will be furious! Surely they can’t expect to get away with this?’
‘Leave the questions until later Rae. I don’t think they’ve spotted me yet. Get out of there, draw them to the abandoned mine workings if you can. We need to even our odds.’
Raelic could tell that his ally was hastily putting a plan together in his head.
He tried to calm his thoughts. The attackers hadn’t fired since killing Icarus, but it wouldn’t be long before their thermal cannons cooled and unleashed another shot. Wasting no time, he turned and made haste for the old mine.
His Lancer-class Knight was far swifter than the enemy Errants, but his hope was placed upon getting outside the relatively short range of the enemy weapons. Empowering the alternators in the suit’s legs, every ounce of energy was placed into delivering himself from danger. The auspex detected all three enemies matching his course.
‘Undin, I think they’re in pursuit,’ he reported. ‘Do you have a plan? Can you contact base?’
‘No signal, Rae,’ replied Undin, sounding far less worried than the situation seemed to warrant. ‘They must be jamming us somehow. Maintain heading, I’ll try to catch their flank as they pass. Let’s show them the error of crossing Teoton Lancers. For honour and glory!’
Raelic smiled. ‘Honour and glory, Undin. I’ll give them quarry yet!’
Carrying his suit with grace, Raelic’s Lancer sprinted hard and fast. The enemy gave pursuit, training their weapons on him, though they held fire, wary of the range and speed of their target. The cannons could destroy the toughest armour, but made poor weapons of barrage. Their shots would have to be on target.

UNDIN WAS SURPRISED that they had dropped their cover and given chase so hastily, but ignored the niggling doubt in his mind. An opportunity was at hand and he had to take it.
Waiting until the enemy had passed his position, their frontal shields were no longer a concern – he had the advantage and put his training and experience to work.
Leaping from his concealed position, he unleashed an intense bolt of energy in a wide, deadly arc from his power lance into the enemy formation. Lightning danced from the direct hit on the first Knight, across the dank field and into the others. The thundering clap of the devastating strike could be heard even through his suit’s filters. One Errant froze mid-step and crumpled forwards, its guidance systems rendered useless by the overpowering charge of Undin’s lance.
Death delivered, he faced the remaining two, both seemingly unharmed by the carried lightning. The lance spent, he brought his battlecannon to bear.
Time slowed as he took a long, hard gulp. ‘This is it, Rae,’ he said, resignedly.

GRINDING TO A HALT at the sound of the fire exchange, Raelic spun to attack his pursuers, their rear armour now exposed to him.
Undin’s plan had worked, but at what cost, he thought. Firing everything at the two standing knights, he swore an oath of vengeance for his fallen bondsmen.
As the clouds cleared, he saw that his promise had been delivered.

Whitehorn

Aint nothing but a horn

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