The Blood of Kings, the epic Iron Kingdoms novel from Douglas Seacat, releases in print and digital on May 25th. While you wait, read the following excerpt from The Blood of Kings and enter a Goodreads Giveaway to win a signed copy!
Her forces chewed through the vanguard of the Storm Knight column with admirable speed, attacked as they were on both sides. Colonel Lynn Hawkins joined battle personally, drawing her Thurian hammer and swinging at a passing Storm Lance to topple him from his steed, which galloped on. The man’s wind was knocked from him with a loud exhalation of breath. Before he could scramble to his feet, she speared his neck with the sharpened point atop her weapon.
Several knights on foot charged her, and she and her steam-powered Defender warjacks met them as an unmovable wall of steel. Her power field shimmered and lit the air around her as it deflected harm away. Her Defenders swung their weighty shock hammers and annihilated knights, throwing them yards away as broken corpses. The plated armor worn by Storm Knights was well made but was intended to protect them from glancing rifle fire, explosive shrapnel, or the blades of human opponents—not direct hits from a six-ton warjack.
Her own riflemen advanced behind her in lines, firing on soldiers and knights that were not yet engaged in melee, covering her position. A number of knights loyal to King Vinter IV escorted her, ready to intercept their opposing counterparts. They shouted insults at the nearest Storm Knights, some of whom they recognized. There had long been animosity between the older knightly orders and the Storm Knights. Hawkins cared little for such grudges, nor did she feel sympathy for any in the ruling class, whether on her side or the enemy’s. Still, she was glad to have armored soldiers at her side. The Fourth Army had never boasted many knights, having only inherited those that were dishonored, like she was.
Hawkins enjoyed personally striking down Stormblades and Stormguards, seeing in their young faces the arrogance that was a mirror of their leader, Lord General Stryker. None of these knights would have served under her with the Fourth. They thought themselves better than her. Many had come from families of high standing, living pampered lives and destined to join the kingdom’s aristocracy. Others may have come from common birth but had been elevated to Leto’s elite and held themselves above common soldiers. They were not her superior now.
She took pleasure in sending her hammer down to crush the helmet and skull of another enemy trying to close on her from the side and found herself panting, feeling her age. Once a light clash like this would not have fazed her. Time took its toll. Still, even with some of her muscles screaming at her over the unfamiliar abuse, she also felt exhilaration.
Amid a slight lull in the melee she took a moment to scan the enemy forces through the eyes of her warjacks, drawing on her mental connection to their cortexes, giving her a broader perspective than she could have managed alone. Through the eyes of her northernmost Sentinel she saw amid the advancing soldiers a ring of silver-armored Stormguard surrounding a man that could be none other than King Leto. Several protective warjacks were nearby, and she had no easy means to get to him even if she were inclined to suicidal impulses. At least she had confirmation of his presence.
Despite having seized the initiative, Hawkins knew her advantage was gone. They had divided the heavy cavalry from the front of the column and wreaked havoc across the forward infantry, but already more soldiers and warjacks were rushing to engage, spreading across the front of the new line and shoring up their flanks. The enemy force greatly outnumbered hers, and they would soon realize to what degree. Their morale would recover, while that of her own men shivered and would soon crumble.
The clouds above darkened and churned as Cygnar’s storm weapons affected the weather. The distinctive scent of ozone filled the air. Bolts from unleashed storm glaives joined lightning called from the sky by stormsmiths to annihilate her soldiers and disrupt the cortexes of her warjacks. With no foes in her reach she drew her hand cannon and fired on the nearest, directing her Defenders to do the same.
The earth suddenly heaved and Hawkins barely retained her feet as an explosive shell erupted nearby, knocking down one of her Defenders as well as several of her knights. It was an approaching Avenger warjack, with its seismic grenades, another sophisticated new weapon that the Fourth Army had been deprived of. She urged the fallen Defender to rise and sent the other to charge the approaching machine. Lord General Stryker’s other warjacks had yet to reach him, but she saw they were closing.
Another horseman neared, and she turned to see Coleman Stryker atop his steed. He reared up as his sword pointed at one of her knights that had courageously but foolishly charged him. A bolt of lightning took the man in the chest before he got halfway there. He groaned in anguish, staggered, and fell. Stryker shouted, “Colonel Hawkins, I command you to surrender! I promise you will receive a fair trial!”
“And a swift execution, I’m sure!” she yelled back, giving him a fierce smile. “I don’t think so. There’s still time for you to visit Stonebridge and bend knee to our true king!”
He gritted his teeth and pointed Quicksilver her way, launching another lightning bolt. She slammed her heel into the ground even as she swiftly reloaded her hand cannon. The electrical blast was absorbed by the insulating conduits she had installed in her warcaster armor, sent down with a tingling sensation through her legs and into the metal spike in her boot heel that delivered it safely into the ground. She raised the heavy pistol and fired at her attacker, though she did not expect to penetrate his power field. Sure enough, the field around him flickered into visibility as it deflected the bullet away.
Hawkins urged her last unengaged Defender, the one that had just regained its feet, to charge the other warcaster, hoping to occupy him for a bit. Staying would be a losing proposition. Stryker’s customized Ironclad was rushing forward to intercept, while he nudged his horse skillfully to step to the side, evading the Defender’s downward blow as it smashed into the earth beside him.
She raised her hand and runes spread around her fist as she pointed toward Stryker. The ground around him erupted into jagged spikes of stone. His horse staggered and he was forced to leap clear to avoid being crushed beneath it. The earth around him remained unstable. She enjoyed using his own tricks against him but knew it would not last long. The Ironclad crashed into her Defender, knocking it off its feet and smashing it with its powerful quake hammer. Stryker finished the ’jack with an overhead blow from Quicksilver.
“Sound the withdrawal!” she shouted to Major Faulker, who nodded and raised a horn to blow two short notes. Then the two of them raced back toward the eastern hillside.
Several of Miles’ mounted knights were nearby, one of them holding the reins of a horse that had lost its rider. She went to it and vaulted into its saddle, then pulled Major Faulker up behind her before spurring the steed forward. As her men began the retreat behind her, she maneuvered her remaining warjacks to assist them. Her Sentinels had carved out an open space among the enemy lines with their chain guns, but more of Leto’s soldiers filled that gap. Her riflemen rushed east behind her in staggered waves, half firing to cover the other half and then alternating. They climbed up into the hills, veering north, while her embattled melee knights held their counterparts at bay. It was time to break for Stonebridge.
Her officers conducted the fighting retreat well, inflicting a heavy toll on those of Leto’s forces that attempted to follow. The forested and rocky hillside favored them, giving ample cover and a superior firing position. After the initial fray, Hawkins sent messengers on their fastest remaining horses. Vinter would muster his army to give chase, though so many people and their equipment could not be moved swiftly even in the best circumstances.
Given the limited size of her force, Hawkins felt satisfied with the casualties she had inflicted compared to her losses. She had accomplished her goal of bloodying the enemy. Now the question was whether this would be enough to satisfy Vinter, whose temper was legendary. Given she was the only warcaster at his disposal, she felt reasonably certain he wouldn’t execute her—at least not yet.