With No Quarter 59 dropping, we’ve now got the second instalment of Skull Island eXpedition’s Cold Steel, by Mikes Holmes. This is a collaboration between No Quarter and Skull Island, bringing us the personal tale of a Steelhead mercenary in segments, tracing his career from its humble beginnings as a Llaelese refugee. Be a bit wonky to talk about Part 2 without first addressing Part 1, so let’s just duck back for a moment, shall we? Fair warning, SPOILERS! but then the magazine’s been out for a month now, so…
The story begins in an Ordic Steelhead chapterhouse, with an angry young refugee, fresh from Llael and burning with a hatred for the Khadoran occupiers, straining to see if he has been accepted into the ranks of the Iron Kingdom’s most recognized mercenary company. Across the room a veteran watches and decides to counsel the youth – not do dissuade him from contracting with the Steelheads, but rather to help ensure the youth is better informed in making the decision to sign his name to a life of hardship, trials, death and bloodshed, all in the name of vengeance.
The tale brings an interesting insight not only into what it takes to become a Steelhead, but also for the mindset of the Llaelse refugee. In Nicolas Verendrye we have a civilian – a non-combatant with no military training, a doctor – fleeing his home in Laedry to escape the Khadoran occupation. It’s a desperate journey that leads him West into Ord, and into the welcoming company of a jovial sort in a Five Fingers tavern…
… who, of course, has nefarious intentions, because it’s Five Fingers.
We often think of the Steelhead chapters signing on to fight for the major powers of the Iron Kingdoms, because that’s what we’re used to in a tabletop Warmachine game, but as our world expands with Skull Island eXpeditions and IKRPG, we’re encouraged to broaden our understanding of Immoren’s best known mercenary charter. As the tale unfolds we discover that the Boral Chapterhouse, based out of Midfast, have been contracted to hunt down and capture or otherwise eliminate a Slaver captain operating out of Blackwater.
A daring escape perpetrated by a man acting out of desperation, a carefully crafted Steelhead plan foiled by an impetuous prisoner, death, dismemberment, a tropical island, a foolish last stand – these all come together, packing a surprising amount of story into nine pages of magazine, and that’s all before Dr Verendrye makes the decision to put his civilian life behind him and try to pass muster as a Steelhead Halberdier.
What follows is an insight into just what it takes to be a Steelhead, the kind of training that goes into becoming one of Immoren’s elite mercenary corpsmen. When playing Warmachine it’s easy to dismiss the Halberdiers and Riflemen in favour of faction-specific experts, but a look behind the scenes shows that the Steelheads are not to be dismissed just because they fight for coin rather than country.
We end the story with Verendrye learning that he’ll have his shot at revenge – his company are being deployed to fight against Khadorans….
Miles Holmes caught the attention of a lot of readers with The Way Of Caine, one of the first offerings from Skull Island, and it’s a treat to not only have more fiction from his metaphorical pen, but to have it presented to us as a serial in the pages of No Quarter. Next week we’ll take a look at the continuing story in No Quarter #59.