1. Flight or FIIGHT! (Part 5)

    Suddenly he saw them. Two large hulking shapes rising swiftly from the depths of the river to stand either side of McCain. Within seconds the dripping stacks and upper hulls of the machines burst from the waters and Karchev found himself staring into the glowing, glassed in ports of Mariner class labor-jacks. As their vents came clear of the river they opened with a 'clank' and then a belch of smoke and ash erupted form their stacks as the machines switched from their internal systems to 'breathing' clear air.

    Allison McCain grinned, completely oblivious to the cold river waters swirling about her, as to her left and right her Mariners raised the cannon they each held and she poured her arcane might into their systems.

    K-BLAM! K-BLAM!

    The wounded Kodiac was hammered under the double blows of the cannons. Instantly blasted to scrap under the augmented power of the Cygnaran War-caster.

    "Still think I'm just a leddle fox?!" Allison yelled, jamming her pistols into her breastplate in an effort to keep them dry, before quickly beginning the cycle of reloading one of her Mariner's cannon. Karchev's throat issued a growl of hate and anger in response. He threw his anger and power into arcane force, willing the very ground to rise up and blast away the impudent b#tch. His remaining Kodiac turned towards the new threats.

    From some where close behind Allison there came a whoosh and gout of spray and she winced as a surge of water buffeted her into the 'Jack she was working on. She grabbed at the rope lines on the machine’s shoulder for support as the water sucked back into the river. The drizzling cloud of water that fell over her momentarily veiled her vision. Secretly she was glad the big Khardoran lug liked hitting things with his axe. He couldn't throw a ranged attack to strike the broad side of a Colossus.

    Sweeping wet hair from her eyes with the back of a wet sleeve she finished reloading just in time to see the second Kodiac come charging into the river at her. She didn't think, just reacted, pulling both pistols awkwardly and poured energy into her Mage-Locks. The huge ten-ton machine, running at full steam, sloughed into the river shallows and losing speed as it forced its way through the water, its bluff form raiseing an impressive bow wave before it. Then Allison's blast of arcane energy struck it. Such was the power focused through the guns that the Khardoran's charge not only stopped, the machine was actually forced backwards.

    The Kodiac's cortex streamed impulses to the giant machine's systems as it fought to remain upright. With arms flailing and systems straining the War-jack stumbled trying to maintain its balance only to have the treacherous stream bed shift suddenly beneath its legs, sending the 'Jack tumbling backwards. An eruption of steam exploded from the toppled 'Jack as its heartfire submerged and the river invaded in through the openings in its hull.

    Peering through the mist and haze Allison kept her pistols pointed in the direction of the river bank, wary in case Karchev himself came barreling down upon her. As seconds turned into moments and the air cleared, she listened to the pings and creaks as the Kodiacs chassis cooled. She heard a commotion from behind her and turned one of her mariners to survey what was happening. 'Looking' towards the river she could see Sergeant Gunter rowing back.

    "Woo-hoo! Way to go lass!" Gunter hollered, "Th' big red lug has packed it in!" Though he didn't stop pushing his oar through the water. His spirits rose immensely as he took in the be-draggled form of Lieutenant McCain standing there peering at him from between the two Mariners from under the black mop of hair plastered over her face.

    "Sergeant, you're back early?" Allison’s voice and the smile on her lips showed the joy and relief she felt at the sight of the bobbing inflatable craft.

    "Aye Ma'am. Young 'Kat' came up with th' idea. She got Gowan t' throw us their oar about two-thirds the way across. Then she got out and swum th' rest o' th' way." There was pride in Gunter's voice as he told the tale of the scout’s gumption. Allison nodded and accepted the Sergeants handshake in celebration of having survived the encounter.

    "I'll make sure to put in for a commendation for her." She said as they pulled the boat into the shallows near the fallen Khardoran machine. Gunter noted she sent one of the Mariners back into the river.

    "Right, we've about an hours labor time in the 'Jacks. Enough time to salvage a few things from the barge and get this rigged up and dragged across the river. We can find some where to stash the three for when we come back for the salvage." She grinned happily at Gunter and Langworth, who nodded and smiled back.

    "Aye, it were a good plan o' yours, t' use the Mariners as a sort o' 'engine' t' be drawin' us up stream like that, Lieutenant. T'is a pity th' buggers had t' go an' sink th' barge, it would a' been a right pleasant trip back down agin." Gunter complemented Allison on her tactics.

    "Oh well. You know what they say about the best laid plans.." Her voice trailed off as she concentrated on giving orders to the submerged mariner as it went about its salvage tasks.

    "Um, no Ma'am, I don't rightly do?" Gunter replied puzzled, though the explanation was forced to wait as they went about the tasks at hand so that they could safely 'tactically withdraw'.

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