The Praedian Records

J.G. Phoenix

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Fleeing Victory #8

by | Nov 14, 2021 | FV, Pinned, Short Stories


Fires raged as Fort Baldi’s troops and workers tried to regain some semblance of control. The breach into the northern wall had nearly cost them the battle. However, the Cordaean attack was still well underway. As Fran rendezvoused with the rest of Jinete Team, the garrison prepared for the all too likely air attack.

Brightest orange and darkest brown made up much of Fran’s view of the northern sector and its facilities. What few Cordaean armas had managed to make it inside the base had caused massive damage before they were defeated. Even the HQ building, which had been of particular interest to the armas, had been sufficiently shelled to be in immediate danger of collapse.

“They shouldn’t have gotten close enough to attack us here,” Lazo said bitterly, “not directly.”

“It is strange,” Fran agreed, almost certain they were on the receiving end of an ingenious attack. Whatever the Cordaeans had done, it had been at least a partial success, if only because they managed to bypass the Munican frontlines and half a dozen other well defended and well stocked bases and outposts. There was no way they could figure out exactly how the enemy had circumvented all of that while the battles was still on.

“We’ll figure it out later. We have to get rid of the artillery before they start firing again, then hope the garrison can deal with the rest.”

There were also the Calmans, Fran reminded herself. She couldn’t just forget about the more subtle of Fort Baldi’s intruders and let them have their run of the place.

Jinete Team flew high above Fort Baldi where they found Lieutenant Colonel Sandoval, some of her escorts, and an assault team that was finally ready for the battle. Of the more than thirty draques that made up the massive formation, Valencia’s heavy assault draque was the largest. 78 feet long from head to tail, and with a colossal wingspan just over 80 feet, Jubilosa was an imposing ground attack variant of Munica’s assault draque. The other assault draques at Fort Baldi were equipped with haze guns in their mouths, chainguns on their arms, and any ordnance they had to carry mounted on short pylons on their bellies. Their pilots were better protected than the scout riders, having fully enclosed cockpits on their backs. While Jubilosa was similar, her chainguns were both mounted on the sides of her head, shrouded in conformal armor plating. Instead of chainguns, her arms carried slender rocket pods, and her ordnance was hidden inside a large bomb bay directly beneath the cockpit.

Fran found herself smiling as they passed over Fort Baldi’s walls out into the open desert fields. This is how she preferred to do things, with Valencia at the front and her own keen eyes poised for anything the enemy had planned for them.

“The counterattack is about to begin,” Valencia said, briefing the scout and assault teams, “Assault units, ignore the automatons and cripple the armas. Then move on to the artillery. Fort Baldi’s cannons are being deployed as we speak, so they’ll finish them off. Scout units, fan out and keep any Cordaean gunships from getting past us. Once the artillery is dealt with, we’ll join you and put them down, too. Simple, no?”

The plan relied heavily on the momentum they would gain during the initial attack run on the armas. Since even the draque scout variants could shrug off anything short of a rocket propelled grenade from infantry units, the automata troops the Cordaeans had brought to support the armas weren’t much of a threat on their own. As long as the assault draques were past the armas before any gunships arrived, they should have an overwhelming advantage. A solid attack plan. The only difficult part would be the initial attack, Fran noted. Cordaean heavy armas carried two large fifty caliber machineguns which were just potent enough to whittle down draques over time. A withering barrage from those would slow them down and make them easy targets for an arma’s main gun. Some of Cordaea’s armas were armed with nothing but anti-air weapons to make things that much more difficult for Munica’s draque units.

Fortunately, Perspicaz spotted only two dedicated anti-air armas, something the assault units could handle if they were careful. Even in the dark, the scout draque’s optics could easily make out the shape of known threats. While Perspicaz couldn’t speak to Fran, it could show her what the draques could collectively see through a small display nestled between the control sticks. A list of all the armas Perspicaz could make out were quickly filling a side panel, offering Fran the chance to tap on one of them to prioritize it. For the moment, she was only interested in any potential aerial threats. They had to be on their way.

“Begin the attack!”

On Valencia’s order, the scouts broke off and kept a safe distance above the incoming fire. Shrieks filled the air as the assault draques began a murderous dive on the Cordaean armas. Fran watched in awe as Jubilosa led the attack. Despite Valencia’s order to merely cripple the heavy armas, Jubilosa destroyed one outright with a bomb and melted the turret off another during her pass. Neither of the crews could have survived. The assault draques behind Jubilosa focused primarily on the machineguns and the treads of their targets, spraying countless bullets and mana to overwhelm them. Even the anti-air armas were quickly put out of action.

“Gunships spotted,” Lazo called over the radio.

“Let’s distract them,” Flora said.

“Distract, sure, but don’t pass up a kill,” another from Jinete chimed in.

“Yeah,” another voice said, “we can bring at least a few down ourselves.”

“Enough chatter,” Fran sighed, watching as six gunships appeared on Perspicaz’s display. She could only communicate with the other riders via radio or commune techniques, but the draques could pass combat data along to each other through their deceptively informative shrieks. “It’s fine to take them down but no unnecessary risks. We’re just stalling them until the Lieutenant Colonel deals with the artillery. Understood? Prepare to attack!”


The gunships were in a loose formation, but approaching quickly. Each was an armored fuselage, laden with guns, cannons, and rockets, all of it kept aloft by two large rings whose inner surface glowed faintly in the night. Jinete couldn’t meet them head on and scattered in all directions as the gunships opened fire on them. They had almost been to slow to react, as one of the riderless draques had been blown out of the sky in the first pass.

“Not too close,” Fran ordered, “Just don’t let them get past us! Keep them their eyes on us!”

“Sorry, Captain!” Lazo apologized in advance as he came up beneath a passing gunship and latched onto it with his draque’s claws.

The gunship tried to shake him off, but Lazo’s draque held fast and began snapping at the cockpit. Unable to get a grip and rip them out, the angry flier tried its haze gun instead. A weak blast was enough to take out the pilot, and Lazo used the opening to force the gunship into an inverted state. The gunner in front took over the controls but they were already falling rapidly. Lazo released the gunship and watched as the gunner struggled. It was close, and if they had been at a higher altitude, he would have saved the gunship. Instead, a violet fireball marked the crash below.

It hadn’t been a perfect performance, Lazo thought, looking at his draque’s energy reserves. He and most of the riderless units Jinete were dangerously low. They spent a great deal of mana on the heavy arma inside Fort Baldi. The draques could fly for a while longer, but such a huge discharge of mana for a single attack was out of the question. Even the reduced blast he used was enough to push his reserves deep into the red. He supposed distracting the gunships was all he could get away with after this.

An explosion rang out behind Fran. She looked to see another drone shot down. It probably wasn’t ‘dead,’ but with their fighting ability already reduced, they couldn’t afford too many losses. “Climb higher! Get above them!”

Someone was already above one of the gunships. Flora and her draque dove straight down onto one that was trying to break through to support the Cordaean ground forces. Her draque grabbed onto the ring repulsor on the left side and tried to break it. Despite her best efforts, the arm, as well as the ring itself, were ridiculously sturdy, not so much as budging as the draque clawed, whipped, and bit down on it.

Fran was close enough to see the struggle for herself and was taken aback by the trouble the gunship was giving Flora. She always thought Cordaea’s midcentury switch from helicopters to these strange rotorless designs was an odd decision. They always looked frail and underpowered, but the gunship was just shy of freeing itself from Flora’s grasp with only light damage.

“Sister, how are things down there?” She didn’t want to distract Valencia, but Fran wanted a time table. The gunships were struggling to break through, but they had a slight advantage over Jinete.

“Almost done. Casaulties?”

“We’re down two draques and low on mana.”

“Understood. Give us a moment.”

A moment? They couldn’t be finished with the artillery yet, Fran mused. She almost didn’t see the last gunship in the pack open fire on her in that moment and Perspicaz had to dive to avoid taking too many hits. The bullets that landed either bounced off leaving deep dents in its armor, or embedded themselves in its armor. Fran realized she’d been extremely lucky there.

“Don’t let your guard down,” she said, as much to herself as to the rest of Jinete.

“One’s breaking through!” The warning was too late for Fran to do anything about it, but even the riderless draques understood the mission. One of them chased after the gunship, even as another started firing on it. The draque was riddled with bullets, and sensing its own destruction, unleashed a concentrated burst from its haze gun, spending the last of its energy to down the gunship. Both the gunship and the draque went down in flames.

Jinete Team was too scattered and exhausted to deal with all four of the remaining gunships, and another one managed to get past them. Fran was about to give chase, but her sister’s words came to her. “Just a moment, she said.” Fran turned back toward the gunships that were still fighting, and the three survivors seemed as intent on killing them as the armas had been. If they were committed now, that was good enough. “Evasion! Fly circles around them!”

The riders were quick to change their tactics and began flying close to the gunships, but not attacking them. Each kept an eye on their surroundings as they kept the enemies’ weapons from tracking them.

Just a little more, Fran prayed, just a little more and-“I’m hit!” Flora’s draque was struck in the tail by a rocket, nearly killing her outright and sending them both into a tailspin. The gunships changed their tactics as quickly as Jinete had. Instead of attacking the riders circling behind them, they attacked whoever wandered into their gunsights, sending gunfire and rockets flying to try and catch them. Fran immediately dove after Flora, but the Cordaeans were out for blood, and even she was under fire before she could reach her. Perspicaz flipped onto its back, shielding Fran from the incoming fire, and suffering massive damage in the process. Fran wasn’t sure she could recover before they slammed into the ground at the rate they were falling.

Suddenly, a brilliant orange light lanced the gunship attacking her, destroying it before she could even process what was happening. Flora was still in danger, so Fran quickly guided Perspicaz out of their fall and caught up to her. That was when she saw Jubilosa rising to the battle. A second shot from the massive draque’s haze gun blew away another gunship.

“Thanks,” Fran said under her breath.

They were dangerously close to the ground, but Flora had partly recovered and she and her draque were bracing for the crash. Just as Fran caught up, she ordered Perspicaz to grab onto them and pull hard. That was enough to dampen the impact, but both draques and their riders were sent tumbling helplessly over dirt and rocks as they landed. Only their rider harnesses kept Fran and Flora in the saddles as the draques flipped and flailed.

Fran was barely conscious when it was over. She wasn’t even certain she’d saved Flora, but both draques were whining and shrieking like the damned as they so often did when they were badly damaged. Fran undid her harness and climbed over to where she hoped Flora was. She was relieved to find the girl, even if bloody and unconscious. She was breathing. That was all that mattered for now. She pulled the slightly charred first-aid kit out of what was left of Flora’s saddle bag and opened it up. Thankfully, the contents were just fine and ready to use.

Just as Fran reached her wounded subordinate, the ember-clad hulk of a gunship came crashing down nearby. She looked up to see another one falling down. It looked like Valencia had things well in hand. The plan had worked. Surveying the field, there were two dozen fires burning, marking the doomed–or soon to be–wrecks of the Cordaean armas, artillery, and gunships. In the distance, Fort Baldi’s own artillery were sounding off, and one by one, the distant fires were fed high explosive ordnance and enveloped in smoke and dust.

“Are you alright, Fran?”

Jubilosa landed with a large thud beside the two riders and Valencia appeared from behind. She carefully climbed over Perspicaz’s twitching limbs and knelt by her sister and Flora.

“That was quite the landing,” she smirked. That was a look only Fran would ever get to see up close.

“I wouldn’t call that a landing, myself,” Fran forced a smile. She hadn’t taken as much of a beating as Flora, but she wouldn’t be able to ignore the pain once the adrenaline wore off. It was already catching up to her. She would be spending the night in a medical tent and she knew it. “Flora survived, but I don’t know what her condition is.”

“We’ll get you both back inside once the assault unit gets here. Good job following the plan.”

“Right, but what about the Calmens?” Fran knew she was out of the fight, but the Calig Ghosts still had to be found.

“Let me worry about that,” Valencia said. Her words weren’t nearly as confident as usual.

Fran knew full well why. Too much time had passed. At this point, they had nothing to go off of and those ghosts might already have fled. Worse, their objectives were completely unknown. Maybe they came to steal something, or maybe they planted bombs all over the fortress. The longer she thought about it, the more uncertain she felt.

“What do you think they want?”

Valencia paused a moment, sparing the approaching assault draques a brief glance before answering. “It’s not Cordoba, at least I don’t think so. I don’t know for certain, but Calig isn’t interested in colossi. For them to attack Fort Baldi in particular could mean any number of things. All I’m sure of is that they used the Cordaean attack as a cover for their own operation. They got a little careless, it seems, but that’s all we know.”

“We really don’t have anything to go off of.”

“Frankly, I’m more interested in the Cordaeans,” Valencia said, “they wouldn’t put so many men at risk just to cover for the ghosts. They played at least one major card for this attack. Now we know they have a secure route deep into at least one area we control and they have an objective at Fort Baldi in particular.”


“Likely. We have to figure out what they know and how they got so much firepower on our doorstep without anyone noticing. First things first. I need to finish securing the base.”

Fran nodded. There were a lot of mysteries to unravel, but the Cordaeans had irrefutably lost this battle.

A tremor shook the ground, throwing Valencia off balance and causing Jubilosa and the other draques to cry out. When the Sandoval sisters looked to the source of the tremors, they were horrified to see a massive plume of fire erupting from the center of Fort Baldi.

“What in the blazes just happened?! A bomb?!”

“Oh God,” Fran breathed, “Are the generals alright?” Was it the Calmens? Had Calig’s Ghosts brought one enormous bomb with them to take out the fort in all the chaos? They were too far away to see the true extent of the destruction.

The riders started radioing anyone they could reach, trying to figure out what was going on inside. Only a handful of calls were coming out of Fort Baldi itself.

“What do we do now?” Fran watched as the bright explosion faded away, leaving a dark shroud over their base. Her thoughts were racing uncontrollably as she tried to wrap her head around the situation.

Valencia slowly tightened her gloves. “Whoever is responsible for this is going to pay. Dearly.”




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