The Praedian Records

J.G. Phoenix

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Fleeing Victory #1

by | Oct 4, 2021 | FV, Pinned, Short Stories


The third time was the charm. Someone back at headquarters must have put that ridiculous thought in the Colonel’s head. It was the only explanation for what Sergeant Ricard Silva and the rest of the 203rd Reconnaissance Battalion were going through. The enemy were the ones who were supposed to be hunkering down while artillery fire rained down all around them, not the other way around. Ricard chanced one last look outside the hatch of his arma before a shell struck nearby and forced him back inside. He couldn’t see anything out there but sand, smoke, embers, and the charred debris of allied armas blown off from hundreds of meters away.

“They’ve got us,” Ricard said, letting himself fall into the vehicle command seat. “Visibility is practically zero.”

“Should we fall back?”

Ricard smiled grimly at the young arma mechanic in the driver seat. Private Nicholas Thompson was always one to point out the obvious, and he never seemed to fully grasp the situation, but he had an innocence about him that made Ricard act more courteous with him. It helped that his skills as a mechanic were second to none in the 203rd. While retreat sounded like a good option under the weight of so much wild artillery fire, they were already embarrassingly east of their original fallback position. If they went any further without orders from Lieutenant Rog, they would wish they had just hunkered down with the rest of them and taken their chances.

“No, defensive maneuvers only. No retreat until the order comes. Lucky for us, the Municans can’t tell exactly where we are. As long as we don’t take a direct hit …”

“But we can’t get any intel, either,” the Nicholas noted, “So it’s just like last time. Mission failed?”

“I don’t know,” Ricard sighed. “Probably. Definitely.”

Cordaea and Munica were at war. It was nothing new. Both countries were aiming to redraw the borders at the heart of the Arena. This vast uninhabited wasteland separated the two countries’ populations from each other, Cordaea was in the east, and Munica was in the west. The Arena played host to dozens of wars and countless border skirmishes over the centuries. This time, things were shaping up differently from the usual border push. Munica had been testing a new weapon in secret, managing to quietly pick off several Cordaean squadrons before enough intel reached High Command to prompt a full investigation. By this time, they knew only that the weapon was massive and mobile. There were rumors that the new weapon was a colossus, but arguments against such an idea were myriad and quite compelling. Cordaea had twelve colossi of its own, but they were ancient, impractical and ineffective in modern warfare. They were relics for inspiring the masses and–occasionally–crushing monsters. Few other countries had them, and for similar reasons. Munica was not one of them.

Backed up by the army, the 203rd’s main objective was to confirm the existence and location of this new weapon by relentlessly harassing Munican forces in the same regions Cordaean squads had gone missing. It was hoped they could bait the enemy into unveiling the new weapon in a counterattack, but this time, against a much better prepared force. It was a high risk operation, Operation: Summons. Once they knew where it was, Operation: Vanquish would begin, and the full might of the Cordaean Army would come crashing down on Munica’s new weapon. The 203rd Recon Battalion would be relying on Colonel Jerome Vespa to get them through both the army’s operation and their own alive.

“Either way, we’re gonna die at this rate,” Ricard groaned.

“Don’t say that,” Nicholas protested.

The initial thrust of Operation: Summons was a push into a lightly defended region in the Northwest Arena. There, the 203rd took an outpost for themselves, blew up another that resisted too long, and shot down half a dozen draque scouts. After that, the Municans started fighting back in earnest. When the vanguard of the 203rd got too close to a Munican stronghold at the base of the Rojo Mountains, the artillery fire was forthcoming and generous. Colonel Vespa wanted to avoid a premature escalation in the conflict, and kept the bulk of his forces back far enough to keep up appearances. It was a calculated but costly move for the vanguard. The 203rd had to be enough of a nuisance to make the Municans consider their new weapon as an option for dealing with them, but not so much so that they warranted reinforcements from further west. The artillery combined with the artificial sand storm was more than enough to halt their advance so far.

“Think about it, Nick,” Ricard said, “Day 1, we make a push, they cover the place in dust and shell us until we run. Day 2, we make a push at a slightly different angle, they cover the place in dust again and start shelling. Today’s no different. We’re just waiting for the order to leave.”

Nicholas hung his head.

“All they have to do to win is not interrupt Vespa’s crazy plan. If he keeps throwing us at that base, we’ll be dead before this newfangled weapon even shows up.” Another shell punctuated the point and rocked them on the spot as it landed. “I don’t care if the other units are poking around, they’re not going to learn anything we don’t already know, and these guys are getting harder to fight by the minute.”

“Come on, Rog. Hurry up. Don’t let us die out here,” Ricard muttered under his breath. Being inside an arma didn’t make him feel any safer. He had gone through all the requisite training for commanding an arma and knew the treaded behemoths, even the heavier ones, were far from invincible. As far as Ricard was concerned, Munican artillery was the appropriate response to an armored advance, especially since their aerial units were such easy pickings for the Cordaean gunners.

Nicholas shook off the blast and turned himself halfway around to face Ricard directly. “We’re going to survive. Even if we get hit, I can fix Agile and have us moving again in no time.”

“Well,” Ricard smiled, “I believe you, but we have to survive whatever takes Agile out of the fight, don’t we?”

“This is Lieutenant Rog,” a voice cut in over the radio, “Intrepid, sound off!”

“Finally!” Ricard straightened up and listened intently as the other arma crews called out in sequential order. On the first day of this Rojo offensive, only a couple of numbers had gone missing. The second day saw a few more. Today, six other crews had reported in so far. “Intrepid 18 reporting. No casualties.” His report was the last, meaning only eight crews were on the line, including the Lieutenant. Eight surviving crews, eight out of the twenty crews they began the operation with.

When the realization of what he’d just learned struck him, Ricard’s face went pale. There were numbers that should have been said, needed to be said, but between every other report, there was a sickening silence on the airwaves. Everyone had lost friends in this operation, but this was insane. Ricard knew the makeup of the whole platoon by heart; he knew where his friends were, and where a certain other person was. “Who’s left?” Ricard asked himself bitterly, trying to keep his thoughts away from the mounting dead, “Matteo. Luca …”

“All surviving armas, retreat,” Lieutenant Rog gave the order at long last. The order came too late for too many.

Nicholas didn’t wait for Ricard’s signal, and directed Agile to fall back. The arma sent its treads spinning counter to each other to quickly turn around on the spot. Then they began running in parallel and drove them all east at speed as artillery continued to rain down.

Ricard looked over his shoulder, knowing full well there was nothing to see. The inside of Agile’s hull was blocking his view of the battlefield, even as it shielded him from the fire and debris outside. As they made their way out of the hellish desert storm, Ricard picked up the radio. “This is Sergeant Silva to Intrepid 1, requesting another sound off.” The words felt childish and desperate coming out of his mouth, but even so, he couldn’t let it go. Not this time. He cared for everyone in Interpid in his own way, but the ones he might have lost today were too much to bear.

“… negative, Sergeant,” Lieutenant Rog responded. His voice was sullen, and both men knew the lieutenant’s responsibility was to the living, to Ricard, Nicholas, Matteo, Luca, and the others. Anyone who hadn’t reported in by now was almost certainly dead. “Just pray for them.”

Nicholas immediately bowed his head, letting Agile navigate on its own.

Ricard could only sink deeper and deeper into his seat as reality came crushing down on him. “Dammit.”

Suddenly Agile stopped in its tracks. Ricard nearly slammed head first into the main gun’s loading chamber. When he looked down to try and see what was wrong, he saw Nicholas nursing a fresh welt on his forehead. He probably didn’t know, either. “Agile, what’s wrong? Why’d we stop here?” Not waiting for a reply that only Nicholas could readily interpret, Ricard got on the arma’s periscope. The view outside was still dark, as if they were in an actual sandstorm and not a Munican contrivance. It wasn’t until it began to move that Ricard noticed a pillar-like structure blocking their way. He had questions, but he didn’t see why Agile stopped instead of going around. Maybe they were going in the wrong direction?

“Nope,” Ricard confirmed with his compass. They were still facing east. He took one more look through the periscope, but the pillar was gone. “What the …?”

Agile quickly began reversing and Ricard and Nicholas yelled as they and their arma were violently flipped end over end. The shock knocked loose everything that wasn’t tightly secured and sent both men all but tumbling inside the hull. Ricard fell onto the upper hatch of the turret as they came crashing down. All he could do was ignore the pain and get up. Nicholas crawled out of the driver’s seat and tried to reach him. Neither had to say a word. They knew the procedure for a flipped arma. They had to get out and either run like hell, or help Agile right itself. Ricard quickly got the turret’s side hatch open and hauled himself through it. The smoke and sand rushing past him reminded him of his scarf and goggles and he quickly covered up with them. “Goggles! Cover your mouth, too,” Ricard called back into the side hatch.

It was a relief to see Agile’s mechanical arms already deploying. The arma hadn’t been knocked cold by whatever hit them. The arms of the Cordaean light armas were similar to that of a pruden, and they carried thick, heavy shields on them that could help protect the vehicle from more unconventional attacks. The compromise with such a design besides the increased cost, was that the suspension system, as well as the weakest part of the arma’s hull, were completely exposed while the arms were undocked. On the other hand, Agile would only need a few moments to flip itself back over. They wouldn’t need any extra vehicles or equipment. Ricard planned to investigate in the meantime.

The artillery strikes weren’t landing anywhere near them anymore, which was both a relief and a sign. Ricard was still trying to figure out what that sign was, and where that pillar had come from. In the end, all he had to do was look up. Past Agile, that pillar was there again. Ricard followed the uneven structure up higher and higher, wondering when it would end. The darkness continued on, never truly ending, but rather culminating in a set of five red lights. A central light was surrounded by four smaller ones, but all of them were intense enough to pierce through the storm and fill Ricard with a sense of dread. Were the rumors actually true? Were the Municans testing a new colossus out here?

It was too late to warn Nicholas as he came out without making him even more confused. As Agile began to right itself, the pillar–no, the foot of the Munican colossus rose up from the ground. Ricard nearly panicked. “Nick!”


Nicholas hadn’t seen the colossus yet. He was facing the wrong way. “Dammit!” Ricard grabbed Nicholas by the shoulder and dragged him away as fast as he could. “Don’t talk just run! Run!”

The colossus’ foot came down like a stroke of lightning, crushing Agile and detonating the arma’s store of ammunition and fuel all at once. The explosion caught Ricard and Nicholas just as they began to move and sent them both tumbling to the dirt.




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