The interior of the bronze-man was like nothing I had seen. There were handles for each hand, a brace for the head, and a two pedals for the both of my feet. Before the position where the operator would be suspended stood a small engine, set of control dials, and system gauges that even I could barely comprehend.
Upon inserting my head into the brace with the help of Franke and Derek I was able to see through what seemed to be a visor in the upper bulb of the bronze-man. I heard the engine sputter about and begin grinding awake as I pushed lightly on the lower pedal as if to walk. It was slow moving but with little time I was able to shuffle along like the others, barely moving the hulking mess.
Soon Jarvis, Derek, Franke and I marched further up the road leaving the steam-crawlers far behind. Clanking and crunching our way up the darkened path to cross up onto the higher ridge.
As we lumbered the winds grew still and the quiet dark of the ridges shadows consumed us. All that could be heard was the force of gears and the soft hiss of steam-gauges going off upon our shoulders.
”A light! ” yelled a muffled voice from the bronze-man inhabited by Jarvis.
I looked up to see two glowing orbs rushing closer and closer, breaking the empty seal of the shadow which enveloped us. Frankes bronze-man turned but not in time as the great hiss of steam filled the air. The orbs made contact with metal creating a grand display of light illuminating us all. A rusted, hastily furnished bronze-man with glowing red hands had pressed them into the side of Frankes bronze-man sealing his hatch shut. Then the others rushed fourth but it was too late for Franke as his steam release and visor had already melted away.
Jarvis reached them first, bashing the enemy to pieces as Frankes prison fell back. His engine did not stop however and within a moment a blood curdling yell rose forth from his chamber. The screams did not stop as I could only imagine his body being burned away by the heat of the engine and the trapped exhaust filling his lungs. I tried as I could, pulling at his coffin of glowing red but there was little I could do.
It was then the screams stopped and yet I did not. Clawing and scratching at the now melted casing which seeped through my now warped hands like soup down a drain. I pulled away from him and back to the others, the bloodied body of the enemy pilot lay motionless upon the ground illuminated only from the glow of the molten bronze behind me.
It was quiet the rest of the way up the ridge until we again reached the safety of light. Here on this level we could see our surroundings and know there were no more men or machines awaiting us.
”What was that? ” I asked, half knowing the answer.
”A pilot from the order of Gilton, ” replied Jarvis. ”They scavenge our bronze-men for parts making jury-rigged machines of their own like the one which just attacked us. ”
”Are they known to these parts? ”
”No, but there are always bases of theirs popping up around the mountains so I wouldn be surprised if we find one here. ”
It was a terrifying prospect but there was still a question nagging at me in the back of my head.
”Why are they doing this? ” I asked. ”Like why would they be so hostile to us in the first place? ”
To this there was a long pause before Jarvis spoke.
”The Order of Gilton is the violent wing of the Gilton liberation movement. The people of the east mountains known as the Giltons and the south lands known as the Virgils had fought long for independence from Jamin and its Kings and I guess some of them are tired of waiting. ”
It made somewhat more sense now but the voracity of the attack still did not seem in order. I felt little safely in what was once my mechanical suit of armor. If anything I felt trapped, gasping for air, sealed away from the Earth and sky. Yet I trudged on with Derek and Jarvis as they sallied forth further across the ridge.
Derek signaled to Amelia and Cambry to make their way up towards us by waving his arms on the cliff edge of our level down to theirs. Within a minute they had reached us and it became quite apparent what had happened was not the norm. Apparently it had been the first attack of its kind, using great heat and packed iron armaments to seal a knight in their suit. This was the story at least according to officer Derek who now took a vote. In the end we decided to head back to Dunn and regroup since there seemed little sign of any other Giltons and the daylight had begun to wane.
The trip back across the road was much like the first, only this time our pair of steam-crawlers rode west and with one less bronze-man, replaced now with a large piece of molten metal now cooled. It would soon be sent back north to the Capitol to be buried, I knew I wouldn be there for it though because I would still be stuck here on duty. I felt forsaken, what was once an opportunity to serve the King now truly did feel like servitude.
Upon reaching Dunn we wished him off on a transport crawler headed north before going back to the tavern from which we had been drinking and raised glass after glass to Franke and his service.
”Here here, ” said Derek. ”To a soldier and a friend, a man who died fighting those blasted rebels in the hills. ”
I thought and then spoke of his life before war, having known him quite a time before the others.
”To the son of a tradesman and a loyal friend too, always stopping by to greet me on his travels. ”
To this the others drank again and all throughout the night we told stories of his heroics and life before heading back off to camp. It was a cheery mood which I could not help but join, even as pain of the loss sat heavily within me. I could still remember meeting him for the first time. His father would always pass by the farm whilst my mother was still alive and from as far back as I could remember he would bring Franke with him. Always trading tools and coalatik to us for what water we could spare in that day.
That night I slept with the others, for I could not bear the loneliness and fear which filled me when laying on the crawler.
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