Ord is a land known for its long and storied mercenary tradition. Its people have repelled attacks from the disciplined Khadorans to the north and the pirate reavers of Cryx off their coast for hundreds of years, and the hiring of mercenaries and privateers has frequently been a key part of these successes. It is perhaps somewhat surprising, then, that the career of Salvador Dumanti began as inauspiciously as it did.
Salvador Dumanti - “Sal” to those close to him – was born the fourth son of struggling peat farmers in central Ord. His family had no military tradition, but the one thing it did not lack for was children. With no chance of inheritance and a lifetime of carving peat ahead of him, Salvador decided to take his future into his own hands and leave his family at the age of 16. He spent several years working odd jobs at roadhouses, docks, and anywhere else that would take him in and give him a few coppers to assist them, but his big break came when he was working in the kitchen of an alehouse in Berck. The coastal town was always bustling and Salvador had picked up a number of valuable skills, including a passable skill with knife and gun. He rarely needed them, being wise enough to keep a low profile, but when a recruiter for the Steelhead Mercenary Company came into his tavern looking for recruits, he saw a chance to really make a name for himself. At the tender age of 20, head full of dreams of glorious battles with comrades in arms, Salvador Dumanti signed his mark on a piece of paper and enlisted with the Company.
His training went quickly, as his natural aptitude for marksmanship got him assigned to a rifle corp in short order. He learned to take orders and concentrate his fire on command with his fellows, then was assigned to a squad and quickly got hired for patrol duty along the northern border with a chartered company called Barrik's Raiders, led by An Ordic mercenary warcaster on permanent retainer with the Ordic crown named Barrik Pharsalos. Any illusions he had about glorious battles were quickly dispatched within the first days of this tour. The rainy season had just started, and his unit was hired to patrol north of the fortresses, keeping an eye out for Khadoran patrols venturing too close to Ordic lands. This went on for months. They would spot a lightly armed patrol of Winterguard and exchange frivolous volleys before both sides would retreat to their respective borders. Nights were spent in hastily erected camps on hills just high enough to not be flooded in leaky tents, or sometimes in muddy trenches making sure no enemy passed their position. The misery was constant, the glory never so much as glimpsed, and the two-year contract Salvador signed with the Company was looking to be a very long term indeed.
Not everything was terrible, though. Barrik Pharsalos and Salvador ended up getting along rather well. Barrik had spent his initial time as a Steelhead rifleman as well, and the fact that his skills as a warcaster allowed him to command a very respectable price for his services was certainly inspiring to Sal. Barrik would often sneak Sal extra rations from his food, or an extra few rounds of ammunition – the kid had promise, he would say when questioned about it, and keeping that rifle of his pointed at the enemy at firing for long enough might turn him into something great. The middle-aged warcaster only could afford a refurbished Nomad warjack, but the great machine was more than enough to keep any opposing armor well away from the rest of the troops.
The rainy season was nearing an end when the fateful orders came in. A sizable Khadoran force was assembling with the intention of attacking an outer watchtower key to the advance knowledge of Khadoran movements in the region. Barrik's Raiders were sent to stop this from happening. The rain was drizzling and visibility was rather poor, which allowed their force to sneak up on the Khadoran camp relatively unobserved. They attacked in force, halberdiers charging in with riflemen supporting them with concentrated volleys and their small cavalry contingent moving in from a flank. The Khadorans reacted much better than anticipated, though, and instead of disorganized fighting they quickly met their attackers and began to turn the battle. Among the couple dozen Winterguard were a venerable Juggernaut and a fresh-looking Destroyer, both of which were proving to be formidable obstacles, and both being led by a large Man-O-War with an axe canon. Between a cavalry charge and a follow-up from the Nomad the Juggernaut was reduced to scrap quickly, and rifleman fire and halberdier charges decimated the ranks of the Winterguard. Before Barrik could capitalize on this event, however, the Khadorans made a strong push back. Destroyer shells landed in among the Steelhead troops, tearing them apart while a veritable hurricane of Winterguard rifle bullets, blunderbuss slugs, and grape-shot sprays tore through much of the rest of the Raiders. The final turning point was when Sal saw Barrik's power field flicker from concentrated rifle fire, then die just in time for a blunderbuss shell to impact his chest.
The battle quickly fell apart from there. Barrik's death caused a feedback in the Nomad's cortex that shut it down, while the remaining troops panicked at the loss of their leader and the casualties they had sustained, and began a full rout. The Winterguard pursued them and the battle quickly became a fight for their lives. Sal lost track of time as he went from frantically reloading his rifle to firing it to pulling out his sword to hack at a Winterguard, only to realize it was already a dead man, then to turn back to fire with his rifle. The moment of clarity hit when he ducked into cover and realized that he was behind the Nomad time stood still as in his panic he pleaded with the venerable warjack to save him, and he saw its heartfire surge back into its eyes. It stood and brandished its mighty battleblade, cleaving through a nearby Winterguard while swatting another with its shield away like a fly.
Sal stood behind the machine, his mind shared between them both and the world lost in a haze of reloading and firing his rifle, and swinging his great battle blade in sweeping arcs to clear away Winterguard. He was able to rally a handful of other fleeing Steelheads and fight to the high ground. They had scarcely over a dozen men, armed with halberds and rifles, no officers, and one battered Nomad. They were able to find cover behind rocks and logs, the halberdiers set their pikes in the ground, and the Winterguard looked to break their morale with a charge. After a volley from the defending riflemen and the efforts of the halberdiers and Nomad the charge was diverted, and as the Winterguard fell back Sal ordered a countercharge of his own. The riflemen reloaded and fired into the retreating red uniforms before the halberds charged. Sal, ammunition running low, pulled out his sword, little as it was, and charged down the hill along side the Nomad, until the remaining Khadorans broke and routed in turn.
As the company that had once been Barrik's raiders made their way back to the safety of the Ordic fortresses, they took what they could from the battlefield. The spoils of war were generous to them, and aside from an ample supply of ammunition, firearms, and some important military documents recovered from the body of the Man-O-War Kovnik, Sal was able to salvage most of Barrik's warcaster armor, though the older man's mechanikal spear seemed to have been damaged beyond repair. There was a part of Sal that felt remorse for looting the body of a recently fallen friend, but mercenary life was tough work, and he felt justified that Barrik would rather Sal have taken the armor than it being left to rust in the field.
The commanders in the Ordic military and their liasons with the Steelhead Company were ecstatic when the survivors returned. The pay earmarked to pay Barrik's Raiders was paid to the remainder of the company, as per the contract, making the survivors wealthy men indeed. The intelligence gathered from the Khadoran papers ended up being little of note, but it did state that without the force that the Raiders had routed the attack on the watchtower would not be able to commence. Sal was promoted to a Sergeant for his role in turning the battle around, and since the Nomad and armor were the personal property of Barrik Pharsalos neither the military nor the Steelheads had any claim on them. Sal's fledgling talent as a warcaster was noted by the Steelhead Company, and with a fair portion of his earnings he was able to re-negotiate his contract. He sold the badly battered Nomad to an Arcane Mechanik who was able to fix up the armor for him and make it ready for use, and his new contract allowed him a looser relationship with the Steelhead Company to “hone his talents”. He would henceforth work as a free Steelhead Agent.
A young man with a pocket bursting with crowns and a new lease on life is not the most responsible individual. True, Sal sought out arcanists to learn from and honed his arcane talent, which proved to be formidable for one his age. He also purchased upgraded equipment for his military rifle, equipping it with a scope and bipod that would allow it to serve as a stable, long-range firing platform. He practiced in his warcaster armor, learning to harness its power field and draw on its power in the field. And he got drunk. A lot. He visited brothels and inns, traveling from town to roadhouse to city burning through the sizable earnings he had made in a couple years.
Sal is now 22. He has exactly two gold crowns to rub against each other, a suit of expensive warcaster armor, his standard issue Steelhead military rifle and sword, and a handful of other odds and ends. He is realizing that he needs to get serious about putting his skills to the test on the field of battle, to earn some money so that he can buy ammunition, better weaponry, and re-establish his career as a Steelhead. With a suite of skills, a pocketful of gold, and eventually his own stable of warjacks, Sal intends to create his own mercenary company and lead them into battle for whoever will pay their price. For now though...a hot meal and stein of ale sound like a pretty good place to start.