No Quarter 59 brought us the second instalment of Cold Steel, written by Skull Island eXpeditions author and lettuce aficionado Miles Holmes. We talked a couple of weeks ago briefly about the first instalment, in which we were introduced to Dr Nicolas Verendrye, a Llaelese Steelhead who’d fled Laedry to escape the Khadoran occupation and signed up as a mercenary hoping to seek revenge on the hated invaders from the North. Once again with a SPOILERS! Warning, let’s continue…
Part two of Cold Steel returns us to the mess hall of the Boral Chapterhouse in Midfast, where Verendrye continues his cautionary tale to a young Llaelese refugee seeking membership with the Steelheads, full of anger and a desire for vengeance and completely heedless of the cost to be paid. Verendrye sees in this young fellow much of himself when he signed up, and is perhaps seeking to save the youth from the horrors he himself has borne witness to.
This chapter starts with Verendrye’s trainee group replacing an entire platoon of Steelheads lost in battle against the Khadorans. The few survivors were put in charge of the rookies, and the cold, hard reality of what he what his future was likely to entail has started to settle in. As much as we, as tabletop miniature aficionados, enjoy playing a wargame, there is very little actually glorious about war. Mud, death and fire… appropriate, given that much to Verendrye’s surprise, their Company is not being hired by Cygnar, but instead by the Protectorate of Menoth and the Northern Crusade.
The interesting nugget to take away from the first part of the story is just how little Verendrye knows about the Protectorate. It’s so easy for us as players to rattle off details about the various factions and species of the Iron Kingdoms, but Johnny Llael here has likely met very few devout Menites in his life, and has never travelled further south, so when the Third Company is deployed under contract with the Northern Crusade, the rookie Verendrye is shown just how little mercenary lives are valued when compared to the lives of faithful Menites. Guess who gets to be bait for the trap being set for the incoming Khadorans?
Verendrye gets to witness firsthand the brutal savagery of a Berserker warjack and the struggle an infantry squad has in dealing with a towering metal monstrosity hell-bent on severing all of your limbs. He also gets to witness firsthand the power of a Warcaster on the field, as a certain white-armoured figure expresses her distaste for the Khadoran lines by, well, setting them all on fire. It’s the Menite way, after all.
He learns very quickly that he’s managed to sign up for something a heck of a lot more hellish than he expected. There’s a price to be paid for vengeance, especially when it’s to be attained by selling your services to someone else’s interests.
Verendrye’s story of what follows in the aftermath of the fight, of the treatment being endured by the Khadoran survivors, is no rosier than the story of the battle itself. The lot of a Steelhead is a grim and thankless one, and if the postscript to the tale is anything to go by, it’s going to get even worse in the next instalment of Cold Steel.