This chapter contains mild sexual content.
48th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Under a sky lit by fireworks and stars, a surging ocean sent a boat careening past the harbor of the Shining Port and smashing through the stone barriers around Tambwe’s upper waters. Pieces of the old fisher washed up along the meter-thin, sandy stretches of beach beneath the cliffs north of Rangda. Puzzled and alarmed by the vessel, Rangdan law enforcement quickly put together a rescue group. Careful to avoid the same fate as the unknowing fisher, Rangdan boats searched carefully along the rocky depths and hidden shallows, while climbing teams dropped down from the cliffs and onto the beaches to comb the debris.
While the rescuers would have rather been drinking and partying under the falling colors of the pyrotechnics displays, they did not openly complain about fulfilling their duties. Rangda was a coastal town, and these people could be fisherfolk and traders that keep the city supplied. Electric torches in hand, the rescuers searched along the beaches, examining the chunks of the boat that had washed up, and keeping an eye out for signs of life. They found pieces of the prow collecting all along the rocks, and identified the boat from one.
It was a Higwean fishing boat, named the Banteng. Judging by all the pieces, it was around ten meters long and not particularly seaworthy. Any expert eye would have found it inconceivable that such a vessel could sail so far from home. Curiously, no net was found, though the boat had its equipment set up for fishing. Having seen this kind of crash occur to larger vessels, the rescuers thought the boat must have been hurled against the rocks by the violent tides and smashed to pieces. There was a slim chance someone survived.
Despite this, for several hours the operation continued.
Though they searched out at sea and beneath the cliffs, all they found was the wreckage. No bodies were found, no personal effects, no signs that the boat had any particular direction. It was as if a ghost fisher had sailed endless days from the Higwe islands just to crash in this lonely strip of rock. Standard procedure dictated the rescue operation would continue where possible until dawn, allowing the sun to shed light on the situation.
Rescuers, however, were more than willing to let this become nothing but a mystery.
To the rescuers, at least for a few hours after dawn, it would remain so.
At the Shining Port, however, a sleepy morning patrolman from the port security found a connected mystery in the form of a pair of unidentified people climbing the port seawall onto one of the warehouse blocks. Spotting them from afar, he at first assumed nothing about the boat crash or security risks, and instead thought they must be port workers or fishers who fell into the water on accident. He ambled over to offer help; then, close enough to get a better look, he saw black leather waterproof cases strapped to their backs.
“Stop!” he shouted, “what are you doing with those? Stop right now!”
He waved his electric torch, the only piece of equipment he was given.
One of the two arrivals then produced a weapon.
At the sight, the port patrolman felt he had died right there in spirit. His whole body tensed, and he took no further step to close the fifty meter gap between him and them.
However, the mysterious man with the waterproof cases put down his gun.
He raised his hands.
He said something in a language the patrolman did not know and kicked the firearm.
It rolled some distance between them.
Confused, the patrolman followed his first instinct and picked up the weapon.
He looked up from the ground as he bent to take the gun.
Neither of the two mysterious port climbers made a move.
Both of them looked rather young.
What were they up to? It was impossible for the patrolman to imagine.
He had heard stories, years ago, of migrants from other nations who tried to take boats illegally into Ayvarta. They were often fleeing the consequences of political actions taken abroad. But these people took boats here. They ended up on the ports and in the beaches. They did not climb sea walls onto the ports. And they did not carry weapons and goods with them! Of course, all of that happened in peacetime, however.
“Easy now,” he said, raising his voice and pointing his newfound zwitcherer pistol at its former owners. He swept his hands toward himself, urging them to follow. They did not appear to share a language with him at all, and so he used his body language to try to communicate. Thankfully, the two strangers, hands up, began to walk as instructed.
Soon he got them to a phone, and called the police. And for a translator. When asked what language he needed to interpret, the patrolman did not know. He had never met an elf or one of the northern barbarians or a hanwan or anything like that; he had no frame of reference. He practically begged the policemen on the line to just take this burden off him.
After he hung up, the wheels of Ayvartan law, lulled to sleep by their distance from battle and by the levity of the last week, began to spin with a sudden, terrifying realization.
By noon, the fate of the Banteng begged more questions than it answered.
49th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Tambwe Dominance, City of Rangda — Red Banner Apartments
Slowly the light of the dawn crept over the tops of Rangda’s buildings and washed over the facades, casting brilliant lances through every crack and cranny, into every hole in a curtain and through every gap in a shutter. It was no different for the windows of the Red Banner Apartments. Facing the dawn, they slowly took the full brunt of the morning light.
Accompanied by a misty morning breeze, the sunlight illuminated all of Madiha’s room, starting with a beam of light the size of a wooden plank that cut across the bed and shone almost directly into her eyes. Groggy, grumbling, Madiha’s stretched under the blankets, extending her legs, thrusting her arms, exhaling a drawn-out yawn.
She felt something pleasantly warm and soft behind her as she arched her back.
Arms wound around her belly, and she felt a woman’s breasts press against her.
Reflexively she thrust upright, sitting against the backrest.
Parinita lay beside her in bed, stripped of clothing and still sound asleep.
Madiha slowly recalled the events of the past night.
They had felt almost dream-like.
Prior to this, it had been quite a long time since she last experienced sex.
She felt her lips upturn into a small smile. Parinita had made her very happy.
In turn Madiha knew she had reciprocated those sentiments well.
Watching her lay in bed, Madiha recalled all of the times in Bada Aso that she had seen Parinita laying on the floor, atop a desk, against a wall, bent over documents — catching sleep wherever she could get it and in whatever position she happened to be. No matter where she lay, she always looked so peaceful, as if in meditation. In this bed, however, she looked overjoyed in sleep. Her eyes were gentle, and she wore a pleasant smile.
Madiha pulled the blanket up over her lover’s shoulders and over her own.
Bundled in the blankets, she delivered a little kiss to her forehead and inched closer.
She retracted her legs, bent her back and bowed her head to make eye contact.
Face to face, she touched her forehead to Parinita’s and embraced her.
She found herself soon staring right into her lover’s bright green eyes.
“Hujambo, Madiha.” Parinita said, staring blearily forward with a fond little smile.
“Hujambo,” Madiha said. She smiled back, her own eyes half-closed, sleepy.
Parinita tipped her head up and clumsily closed her lips around Madiha’s own.
Madiha reciprocated so strongly she bumped her forehead on Parinita’s.
When they separated, they rubbed their heads and laughed.
Slowly this exciting moment passed and they settled into a happy silence.
Under the blankets their nude bodies lay close enough to draw sweat out.
Madiha felt her lover’s warm breathing on her face. It was almost dizzying.
Their hands locked together between their legs, fingers tightly entwined.
“Is it fair to say I’m your girlfriend now?” Parinita asked.
She rubbed her cheek on the pillow, her body shuddering with a yawn.
Madiha chuckled. “That’s fair to say. But I think it’s against the regulations.”
“To hell with those! The army’s a proletarian institution isn’t it? We’re all comrades. And if you can’t kiss your comrades all over who can you kiss? We’re girlfriends now.”
“Fair to say, but beside the point.” Madiha said, in mock seriousness.
“Alright, hear me out, Colonel. Consider a state of total war, where the entire machinery of civil life must support a massive military effort; in such a state, isn’t it fair to say we’re all part of the army? If so, must all emotional engagement cease? I’m saying, we’re all comrades, we’re all fighting for nation and party. So we’re girlfriends.” Parinita said.
“You’re determined to have this come hell or high water I see.”
“All I’m saying is everyone’s doing it! Even the commissars are messin’ around.”
“True. I’m fairly sure Daksha Kansal always has been.” Madiha replied.
“If she can, why not us?”
“That is a strong point.”
“So you agree, we should be girlfriends.”
Madiha raised one of her hands to Parinita’s cheek.
“I made my thoughts clear last night, didn’t I?” She said.
“Well; it certainly felt like it down here.” Parinita said, throwing a lusty wink at her.
Madiha chuckled again, this time turning a little red.
Parinita reached out a hand herself, stroking Madiha’s cheek and hair.
“Can you say that you love me again?” She asked.
Her voice took on a different tone from the girlish levity of seconds ago.
“I love you, Parinita.” Madiha said. She drew out the syllables, tasting every word.
“I love you, Madiha. We’re girlfriends now.” Parinita replied, her silliness renewed.
Madiha sighed fondly. “I’m more partial to lovers; you can have lovers in the army.”
“‘Lovers’ sounds so cold.” Parinita said, puffing up her cheeks in childish indignation.
Having settled that matter, the two left the bed. They stumbled into the bathroom together, pausing for a kiss every now and then as if they needed to restart a battery every so often. Madiha’s bathroom shower was a stall with a water faucet two meters up, and as such was too tight for them, so they took turns washing up. Parinita grumbled.
“Without a couple’s bath, it’s not much of a romantic morning-after.” She said.
Madiha turned up the water pressure in the shower, splashing Parinita.
She felt so flighty and elated, like there were butterflies fluttering in her chest.
She wanted to do anything to make Parinita laugh and smile and make little sounds.
After washing up, they settled into bed again, their hair wet and sloppy, dressed in Madiha’s shirts. On Parinita the sleeves were a bit long, and the end of the shirt reached below her thigh almost, and was pleasantly covering. She looked quite amused to be wearing it. They lay side by side, holding hands, staring at the roof, listening to the sounds of footsteps on the street outside, the occasional passing car, a few birds.
“Is Minardo coming today?” Madiha asked.
“She better not be!” Parinita replied.
They shared a gentle laugh.
It was strange how different this felt from just being around Parinita, like before.
Madiha had felt elevated by her lover’s presence even before this day.
But in the afterglow, holding hands, having been as honest as they could be about their feelings, their relationship took on an entirely different character. There was no more baggage, no more masks. No more hesitation or anxious waiting between them. Having aired their desire for one another they could open their hearts more fully than before.
Madiha tightened her grip on Parinita’s hand, squeezing her palm.
“Are you alright with talking about it now?”
“Yes, of course. We must.”
Together, they turned on their sides, facing each other. They held hands between each other and gazed into each other’s eyes, both ready to dismantle one remaining barrier.
“Do you want to go first, or should I?” Madiha said.
“I should go first.” Parinita said. “My part of this mess is the least coherent. First I’ll tell you a story my grandmother told me ad-nauseum. It concerns your powers, a little bit.”
She sat up on the bed, took a deep breath, and began to tell the tale.
Long ago, the world called Aer was shaped by the shadows of an everburning flame.
It was not the flame that brought life, but the shadow, hiding within its cold darkness all of the world’s creatures and sparing them the brunt of the flame. However, the children of the shadows were quarrelsome, and as they went their separate ways, they discovered a terrifying world around them. Ancient things that had withstood the flame without aid lived beyond the borders of the shadowed lands and preyed upon the children.
Divided from one another, the children could only scurry away from nature’s wrath.
An enterprising few, however, found their panicked way back to their beginning.
When these children returned to the bonfire they reached through the shadows.
Betraying their ancient mother they stole embers to stoke their own fires. Their light cast out the primordial shadow and they now lived facing the Flame. Soon they ceased to hide, and wielded Power against their enemies. The creatures that would come to be called People would exterminate all that was strong and vicious, taming the world in the process. But the farther afield they explored, and the more they conquered, the weaker became the flame they left behind. Soon, even the embers they had taken went out.
Once the flames dimmed, they brought a new dark age over the world of Aer.
The People became lost without the Ember and huddled in the shadows once more.
Across the world, the People desperately clung to the tiniest ashes of that flame, and in their struggle they found the means to imbue some of their own with the knowledge they had lost. In the South a Warlord was promoted to power through great sacrifice; in the North upon a Sage’s skull the remnants of the old ways were agonizingly etched; in the East a Sooth-Sayer was cursed with eyes that saw history in sleep; in the West a horrible Champion was given the strength to shake the world, and was hurled into the dark.
Through great campaigns these indomitable Powers, tied forever to the wheel of life, cast blood and flesh into oblivion to fan the World’s Flame, and averted the great Dark.
Forevermore, until the flame dies out, their actions reverberated across History.
Parinita told her story, and then paused to take a breather, coughing gently.
“It’s an interesting mess of disparate lines.” Madiha said.
“I told you it wasn’t coherent.” Parinita said.
“You weren’t kidding.”
“Every culture has something like this. The World Flame, monsters, shadows, Embers; I told you the animist version, but every religion has shades of this tale somewhere.”
“Then is all this true?” Madiha asked, rubbing her chin at the conclusion of the story.
“It’s a big batch of vague nothing.” Parinita said. “All of it is religious gibberish, and I can tell you a dozen sects right now that quibble about specific lines in that story. Historians and theologians argue about it to this day. We think of these things as metaphoric, since they mean nothing if taken literally. But then, say, what do you make of the Embers?”
“I think it’s obviously Magic. I can do Magic. You’ve seen it.” Madiha said.
“I have seen you do amazing things, Madiha, but you have to understand, Magic is something very specific depending on who you ask. In Nocht, the Agharta Organization believes Magic is the ability to craft objects with unnatural properties. In Lubon, the Orrean Societies believe Magic is the ability to heal the sick with a touch like the Messiah was purported to do. In Hanwa and Kitan, Magic is seen as the ability to control the elements of nature. And here in Ayvarta, Magic is the ability to transmute mercury into other substances.”
“I think at least some of them would see some of what I do as Magic.”
Parinita shook her head. “Have you heard of ESP? It hasn’t been verified at the moment, but it’s the scientific idea that our brains are capable of affecting the world directly through a superhuman sixth sense. I’d say you have the power of ESP. You have exhibited very obvious clairvoyance, clairaudience, psychokinesis and pyrokinesis.”
Madiha smiled. “Are you just saying that so you don’t have to say it’s magic?”
“I’m saying it because it fits best what I have seen. You’re a psychic, not a wizard.”
Parinita was taking the subject rather seriously, but Madiha had to contain laughter. It felt completely ridiculous to call her a psychic or a wizard as if those were categorically distinct things, and furthermore, as if they were realistic things. Madiha did not believe any of those descriptions fit her, but she knew she had powers outside nature and that lacking any reasonable explanation, they might as well be called something like Magic.
However, Parinita felt these were important distinctions, so she tried to believe them.
“I expected you to be a bit more mystical, given those healing hands of yours.”
“That’s not really magic either. We have the concept of chakras and chi — ask an Ayvartan or Kitanese upaveda specialist. They consider it a science, not magic.”
“You consider it a science then?” Madiha asked.
“I consider it not magical, because magic is nonexistent or dead.” Parinita said.
Perhaps it was more productive now to move beyond this subject, Madiha thought.
“Explain to me what this ‘dark age’ represents.” Madiha said, crossing her arms over her breast. “I know the stories about the World Flame. Some clergy would say it’s very dim now, and will continue to dim across the kali yuga or age of strife until it gets put out completely. Others would say it is already out. So what is this ancient dark age then?”
“If I told you the year should actually be 1941 or 1942 would you believe me?”
“I think in general the idea of a calendar is a tenuous abstraction.” Madiha replied.
Parinita nodded. “Well, there is an entire era of our time that’s just gone. Between then and now, if you believe the stories, we lost the ability to do magic, the last of the mythical beasts were wiped out, and civilization crumbled enough that we basically started over from square one in several arenas. But we counted the years through the catastrophe, so it was say, around year 90 when we start having a clear record of nations recording events again. All records before the dark age are in so many pieces we have no clear picture of them. Even the language of the pre-dark age cultures is in utter tatters to us.”
“Ninety years seems too short a period to be really called a dark ‘age’.” Madiha said.
After all, she had seen a few people live to ninety. How could everyone forget?
Parinita raised an index finger responded in a very matter-of-fact tone of voice.
“Back then the average lifespan was thirty. Average age of childbearing was fourteen — I know it sounds gross, but it was true. And who knows what catastrophes ravaged the population at that time. Imagine a pandemic hit them? Cut that lifespan in half.”
“I see your point. We could have gone through a lot of generations in 90 years. But what was really lost then? If the story is a metaphor, what are the prevailing interpretations?”
“A lot of people think it represents scientific knowledge of past ages that we lost. Perhaps some ancient empires fell due to outside stress or catastrophe, and slightly overlapping periods of anarchy and retrogade social structures followed, and that’s our dark age. Or it could metaphorically mean something simpler. Perhaps it refers to the destruction of the libraries in ancient Solstice? And then, you know, in this context of loss and disaster, what are the ancient things then too? Some people think they were an advanced sister species, and our strain of human out-bred them. Perhaps the decay of this species led to a demographic collapse, and our dark age. Who really knows?”
Interesting and bewildering as this conversation had become, Madiha thought they were veering far from any usable information now. Clearly, Parinita had quite a history with mysticism and religion, and that history entwined with Madiha’s own. She was starting to believe that, if this was all merely an introduction to the real discussion, then she would likely never find clear answers about whatever followed. They had to move on from this.
“Regardless: the part about the Warlord agrees with my experiences.” Madiha said.
“Yes, that part of the story is relevant. You are the Warlord.” Parinita replied.
“I’m positive about it myself, but I’m wondering what makes you so confident about my status. Is it just that we live roughly in the ‘global south’ or is there more to it for you?”
“There are specific parts of Ayvartan history that refer to god-like individuals who have united peoples, formed kingdoms, and launched massive conquests. Interpreting those accounts leads me to believe that your powers appear to be drawn from theirs.”
Madiha shivered at the phrase ‘god-like being’. She detested being elevated to a hero, and only begrudgingly accepted admiration as a commander. To be seen as god-like would deeply disturb her. There should be no Gods among a community of equals.
“In what form did you find these records?” She asked.
“Folklore; oral histories, songs, epic poetry, inscriptions. Some imperial records.”
“Sounds tenuous.” Madiha said.
“That’s our history.” Parinita replied, shrugging comically. She chuckled. “The Socialist Dominances of Solstice has spoiled you with its atheism and bureaucracy. Ayvarta’s history is deeply steeped in the mystical. We’re a long line of unreliable narrators.”
“I’ll choose to believe you.”
“I’m glad. I was worried I’d lose your trust with all this poppycock.”
“What kind of powers are attributed to the Warlord?” Madiha asked.
“It’s very vague. The Warlord is described as a being that appears in history to fight a great and terrible battle, and then vanishes again. While alive, the Warlord ‘unites men,’ and ‘holds sway over the flames of war.’ So, these are commanding figures, war heroes.”
“And ultimately, one of those figures started the Ayvartan Empire.” Madiha said.
“Yes, perhaps, but ultimately,” Parinita started, miming Madiha, “you ended it.”
Madiha sighed. “So then, what are you? Are you the Sage or something, Parinita?”
Parinita raised her hands defensively. “No, no! My family were upaveda practitioners. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s the new Emperor put a lot of stock in faith healers and folk mysticism after the passing of his father. He launched an inquest to gather as much mystical knowledge to his court as he could. My mother and our clan was brought in from the countryside as exemplary practitioners of these trades.”
“So you’re a folk healer? When you touch my head, what do you do?”
“My grandmother would say I’m manipulating your conduits, opening your head chakra to allow a free flow of that fiery mental energy out of your body.” Parinita said.
“And yet I’ve seen that you don’t actually need to touch my head to do that.”
“I think I have ESP too.” Parinita replied, staring seriously at Madiha.
“So are we all just gonna have ESP someday?” Madiha asked.
“Perhaps we are seeing the dawn of a new type of human.” Parinita shrugged.
Madiha rubbed her forehead and eyes. Parinita did not actually know, she supposed.
A cool morning breeze blew in from the window. Madiha felt a chill on her half-naked body and it dawned on her again where and how they were having this discussion.
“We should not dwell too much on this while half-dressed in bed.” Madiha said.
“I love dwelling on your bed half-dressed.” Parinita said coquettishly.
Madiha pushed on. “So you say your family taught you these things?”
“My grandmother, again. She taught my mother too. When the Emperor brought my mother to court, he did so because he knew our village, and our family, had some connection to a previous iteration of the Warlord. He became obsessed with this notion, and his ego stroked our own. My grandmother took pride in this lineage of ours. After his death she expected that due to the chaos of the time, I would be the next in our family to meet the Warlord.”
“Take one step back: did Ayvarta II believe he was the Warlord?” Madiha asked.
Parinita nodded her head. “He sure did. Up until he was killed by the Zaidis he was convinced that he was the reincarnated Warlord who was destined to ‘reunite’ Ayvarta. However, all of his attempts to ignite the powers he thought he had failed, and many caused him injury. My mother became one of Ayvarta II’s court doctors, essentially.”
“So you lived in some opulence at the time?” Madiha asked.
“No. Never.” Parinita said. Her voice took on a bitter tone. “My mother wanted free reign in the palace. It was too hard for a young, sprightly woman to hobnob with the rich when she had a little brat with her, so she sent me away to a tutor on the other side of the city.”
“I’m sorry.” Madiha said. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I’m not upset with you. Let’s agree to blame it all on that horrid Emperor.”
“Emperor Kanawe Ayvarta II.” Madiha said, feeling a bitter taste in her own mouth.
Before the battle of Bada Aso that name was an empty word rolling around inside her skull without association, just another lost memory. Now she knew it all too well.
In her mind, she recalled the image of that man, tall, an ashen, pallid brown, sickly and yet muscular, strong, flowing with gold and silk, as if a statue clad in both the glory of life and terror of death. He was like a god upon the world, in who’s hands the fate of millions of people rested every day. She recalled how she, just a girl, stood before him as if an equal, challenging him before his throne and surrounded by the living shadows at his service.
She recalled the terror of realization on his face as she killed him.
It was her fire dart that took his life, and made his powerlessness definitive to all.
One streak of red through his chest, exposing the same flesh any human had.
That as the end of the Ayvartan Empire.
She was the Warlord; she ended what an older Warlord designed and started anew.
Zaidi guns would gain the credit, but it had been her who did the murderous deed.
Her little hands set the chaos of this age into motion.
“Ayvarta II was definitively not the Warlord. I killed him.” Madiha said.
She vocalized it heavily, meaning to make a confession to her companion.
Parinita was unfazed. “Obviously he was not, because two Warlords don’t live contemporaneously. He was born long before you, so he couldn’t have been.”
Throughout the discussion, an idea had been swimming just under the surface of Madiha’s mind, and this line of dialogue caused it to surface suddenly. Madiha felt overwhelmed with an existential fear, triggered by this idea. Two Warlords don’t live contemporaneously. So, Madiha, as the Warlord, was a unique entity. But she also wasn’t; not completely.
Because she was still the Warlord. She inherited this power. His power.
Madiha gazed into her lover’s eyes. Her words felt heavy on her tongue, too heavy to speak. For her to talk, to vocalize the agonizing thoughts that began to burn in her skull, took a monumental effort. She felt tired after speaking. But she had to know for sure.
“I need you to be honest with me. Knowing all of this; do you not come to the conclusion that perhaps there is no Madiha Nakar? That I am nothing but the reincarnation of some ancient folkloric character? That I have no will and soul but what I share with history?”
“Of course not!” Parinita quickly replied.
She pushed closer and laid her hands suddenly on Madiha’s shoulders.
“You are Madiha Nakar! You can’t just be some ancient ghost. You’re not nothing. You laugh and you cry; you worry about others more than yourself, maybe even to a fault; you’re afraid of the opaque man! You’re enthralled by military maneuvers. You’re writing a book! All of that is you and nobody else, Madiha! You’re you, a complete person.”
Her vehemence and the fire in her eyes seemed to burn away Madiha’s fears.
Though always haunted by self-doubt, at least Madiha could tell herself that she would trust Parinita’s judgment and believe in herself. She might be the Warlord, but that was not the sum total of her self. There might not be much else to her — but perhaps she had the potential to build more, now that her life was piecing itself back together for her.
“Thank you.” Madiha said.
Parinita pushed herself up and gave her a quick peck of a kiss, on the forehead.
“Everything I said before this was conjecture. This is the only thing I know for sure. I love Madiha Nakar; a person; her own person. I know this where I know nothing else for fact.”
Madiha smiled. She never thought she could feel such monumental relief.
She raised her hands and held them over Parinita’s own.
“I think I should lead the conversation now. What do you want to know?” Madiha asked.
Parinita smiled. “I don’t know where to start; and yet, I don’t feel desperate to know.”
“Do you know the extent of my abilities?”
“I know some things, but no specifics. I don’t feel compelled to ask.”
Madiha felt blessed to hear that. She also felt rude about the amount of questions she leveled on Parinita. But Parinita did not seem to be offended by the interrogation. She had been earnest in wanting Madiha to know more about her. Now Madiha wanted to reciprocate that earnestness, though Parinita seemed to trust her enough not to want it.
There was one item, however, that was too concerning not to share.
“I should tell you.” Madiha said. “There is something that frightens me about them.”
Parinita nodded. “You can always confide your fears to me.”
Madiha breathed deep. “I can use my powers to confer to others the ability to fight better. They gain my knowledge of weapons. Their shots are truer. But I can only impart this power if I think of them as my tools. I command them to act in my stead. Do you remember when I was teaching you to shoot, outside Bada Aso? I commanded you to shoot the fruit for me. That was the only way. And it frightens me to think about that.”
“I know that the Warlord is supposed to be proficient with any weapon they touch.” Parinita replied. “I suppose the mental trigger is thinking of other people as weapons.”
“Back in ancient times we did not have the concept of regimentation.” Madiha said.
“But even back then, there are accounts of the Warlord affecting his armies, making them stronger. It might be metaphorical; but who knows? I think as long as your intentions are good then it does not matter in what way your powers work.”
Madiha nodded. Again, she felt a great relief that Parinita was accepting her so readily.
She had feared so much that all of these things marked her out as a monster.
That her actions and decisions and her past could never be understood by anyone.
Perhaps Parinita did not fully understand her; perhaps she did not fully understand Parinita either. Despite this they had accepted one another. They were ready to be gentle and loving whether the mystery could be solved or not. Across the gulf between them their hands had reached out and created light where there was once gloom.
Both were pieces to a puzzle, and it was wedging together as best as it could.
“Is there anything else at all you are curious about?” Madiha asked.
“Just one thing.”
Parinita looked into Madiha’s dark eyes with a gentle expression.
“What do you plan to do now?” She asked.
Madiha smiled back. “Win this war, and try to do right by you.”
Parinita leaned closer and kissed her, this time on her waiting lips.
“That is all I need to hear.” She said.
City of Rangda, 8th Division Barracks — Regimental HQ
After the night of the festival there was a general weariness around the base as soldiers returned to their duties. Scores of young men and women were hung over from a night of drinking and partying, others nauseous, having eaten too much fatty and sugary food. Quite a few would not get out of bed, having slept nothing the night before and instead celebrated every second of darkness. It took some doing for the officers to get their troops out to the fields, but slowly the drills resumed in whatever laggard way they could.
Meanwhile the 1st Motor Rifles’ Headquarters had one of its most lively afternoons.
“Maharani, could you pass me those artillery tables? I know it isn’t my job but I would like to go over them before I have the batteries organized for today’s shooting drills.”
“Yes, of course, Colonel. I had them on hand for just such a situation.”
“Thank you. You’re always so efficient, C.W.O. I couldn’t command without you.”
“It’s because of your inspiring leadership, Colonel, that we can fight at all.”
Logia Minardo stared at her commanding officer and her aide-de-camp and adjutant as they fluttered eyelashes, and stroked each other’s hands and spoke in dulcet tones to one another. Hovering about the main desk, looking over a bundle of artillery papers thick with formulas and angle calculations and impenetrable arithmetic, they appeared to be working, and indeed, it was work someone had to do. But it was the way they carried on their work that drew her attention. They had an aura to them that was warm, gentle, rosy.
Both of them looked like they had gone through a hot-pressing machine. Parinita’s hair was shiny and bouncy, her uniform perfectly put together, her skin practically glowing. Meanwhile the Colonel, who was not known to take great care of herself, was impeccably clean and neat. And was that a touch of powder on her face, a bit of pigment on her cheeks? A bit of gloss on her lips? Who applied all of that? It couldn’t have been her.
Minardo’s gossip mind accelerated faster than a Garuda plane on final approach against a bomber formation. She could come to only one conclusion. Everything had gone just as she planned. She snickered to herself, crossed her arms, and swelled with pride.
Or maybe it was the baby swelling– no. Thank everything. It was definitely pride.
“You two really lit up the festival last night!” Minardo said, giving them a thumbs-up.
Upon seeing her expression, both Parinita and Madiha stared her way in confusion.
“Is she up to something again?” Madiha asked.
“I don’t know.” Parinita said. “She looks like she is.”
“No!” Minardo replied in a mock exaggerated tone. “I’m not up to anything!”
She was only half-joking.
She realized she had gone a little far and caused some mischief for the Colonel before, but that was just how she was. Her curiosity had gotten the best of her. Ever since she heard of the hero of the border whom she would be serving, Minardo had a hunger to learn more about her. She had served and suffered under heroes before, enough she routinely prefixed their titles with so-called. Though she had no choice but to serve in her capacity, Minardo had wanted to test Madiha. She needed to see whether this hero was noble or dangerous.
Madiha had handily passed Minardo’s tests. She seemed a very alright kind of gal.
Not Minardo’s type at all, but she immediately realized who’s type Madiha was.
So, while she openly tested Madiha, she also nudged something else along too.
Madiha seemed to notice the mischievous way in which Minardo was carrying herself.
“Sergeant,” Madiha said, “I can’t work if I’m expecting you to be a nuisance everyday.”
“Then stop expecting it! I’m not being a nuisance!” Minardo dejectedly replied.
“Thanks for the funds by the way.” Parinita interjected, laying her hands on the Colonel’s shoulders as she spoke, as if to remind Madiha to be a bit softer on Minardo. Ah, Maharani; that girl was almost angelic. Pretty and gentle, and intelligent, and never a downer like the Colonel always was. Not Minardo’s type either, but still, wonderful.
“Oh, it was an investment, dear, do not thank me.” Minardo replied cheekily.
“An investment in what, might I ask?” Madiha said.
Minardo put a hand delicately over her mouth, and laughed her oh ho ho! laugh.
Her mind soaring with elation, she felt that the time had come.
Reveling in her gossipy glorry, she revealed to them her master plan.
“It was an investment in creating a sexy, mature power-couple to set the festival ablaze! Pregnant and single as I am, I could not dominate the festival as I have in years past. But you two exceeded my expectations! Why, I hear you gave a saucy little display of affection for a crowd at a shooting gallery! You two are really the talk of the town!”
Parinita’s face flushed red as a tomato, while Madiha’s mouth hung, shoulders slack.
“People are talking about us?” Parinita said, covering her mouth.
Madiha looked horrified at the thought. “I’m– I’m what?” She said in tandem.
Minardo continued to laugh delicately as her superiors grew ever more awkward.
“You should consider it an honor that the goddess of matchmaking, Logia Minardo, deems you a worthy project! I told you I never miss the mark in romance!” She said.
Both Parinita and Madiha were left amusingly speechless at this revelation.
Mercifully for the two of them, the door to the headquarters swung open right then.
Corporal Gulab Kajari and Sergeant Charvi Chadgura, rifles in hand, arrived with a young man from the gendarmerie, marked as such by his yellow armband and the blue beret he wore in place of a garrison cap or helmet. They were agitated. Minardo saw their chests rising and falling with heavy breathing, and their foreheads soaked in sweat. The Gendarme was stiff in posture and spoke in short sentences as if trying to mask his shortness of breath. Had they been running all the way here? And if so, from where? Gendarmes were never good news.
“Colonel.” He said, pausing for a moment after. His sentences were terse. “Requesting your presence. Ocean police station. Very important matters, require your attention.”
The Colonel appraised them warily, forgetting her previous embarrassment.
“May I ask what for? I am finalizing a training program for the batteries. Without my presence we will be further set back in getting this unit ready to fight.” She said.
“Colonel, there’s a spy.” Gulab said, her trembling voice barely audible in the room.
“What did you say?” Madiha asked, standing from her desk.
The Gendarme shot an aggravated look over his shoulder at Gulab.
“Nothing’s confirmed.” He said. He drew in a breath. “We have to hurry. Please.”
With a serious look, Madiha nodded to Parinita, who nodded silently back.
“Hold down the fort, Maharani. Minardo, come with me. And please, be serious.”
“I am perfectly serious.” Minardo replied. She felt her own voice tremble.
“Be careful, Colonel.” Parinita said. Madiha waved her a gentle goodbye.
Sergeant Chadgura remained in the barracks, rifle up, bayonet in place, guarding the headquarters as someone who had proved she could be trusted. Corporal Kajari and the Gendarme led Minardo and Madiha to small parking lot on the other side of the base, where they took a car. The Gendarme drove them through the base gate, around a corner and through Ocean Road to the police station, a building lost amid the many similar constructions with small windows, inexpensive masonry and stuccoed walls.
Across the main road, the storefronts and clubs were busy taking down their decorations and attractions. Bystanders barely paid them attention; most who stopped to look turned their eyes to the police station, where a dozen armed officers stood outside for security.
In their blaring red shirts and pants, the volunteer civil police had unsteady grips on their bundu combat rifles. Being called to action was rare, and combat utterly unknown to them. In all her years living in Rangda, Minardo had never seen a civil policeman or woman with a rifle. On patrol, they had metal clubs. A select few neighborhood officers had a revolver and carried no more than twelve bullets on their person at any given time.
It was thought unconscionable to assign rifles to policefolk in a civilized Ayvartan city.
Abandoning the car just off the street adjacent the station, Madiha and Minardo jumped over the side of the car, and hurried through the phalanx of police officers and into the station. Kajari and the Gendarme quickly followed. At the front desk, a young woman waved the Colonel over, and hit a button on the wall. There was a buzz, and a locked door on the other side of the lobby opened into a gloomy stairwell to the basement level.
“Dangerous persons are confined down there.” She said.
“Are there interrogation resources?” Madiha asked.
“There is a special room.” replied the receptionist.
“You stay here. We’ll handle the rest.” Minardo told the Gendarme.
He saluted, and remained with Kajari in the lobby, guarding the hidden door.
Minardo followed Madiha down the steps into the gloom.
She wondered what the character of this spy would be — and how the Colonel would handle it. Now it was not her testing Madiha. It was the circumstances themselves.
How would the Right Hand of Death handle this?
For better or worse, Minardo had to see.
One story below the ground floor, the Ocean Police Station possessed underground facilities for authorized personnel only. Ayvartan jails were generally very low capacity. Upstairs, there were likely only a few cells — there was never enough criminal activity to warrant any more, and what activity there was would often receive the swift punishment of hard labor. Jails were quickly emptied, and prisoners were always bound somewhere else, either to a local rehabilitation program or to some northeastern mine or farm.
After the nightmare of Akjer, however, the interrogation chamber became a silent companion to the jail in large cities home to important industries. Madiha recalled how, years ago, she had to deal with prisoners in private homes or in the chief’s office in the local station or in other unsuitable places. Wherever she traveled, there was no soundproof isolation room, no one-way glass, no recording equipment, nothing to handle political interrogation. No civilian was ever interrogated thoroughly before then; civil interrogation had not become a needed science with discrete resources until the Akjer treason.
Rangda’s police station was well equipped, as expected of a modern precinct in this dark age. At the bottom of the stairs, Madiha and Minardo passed through a security door with a slot through which they could identify themselves. A button and a buzzer allowed them into lobby with a metal door on one side and the bulletproof security room on the other. A long hall connected to the lobby, with four doors leading to two large rooms. Madiha and Minardo were led by a civil officer to the last pair of doors, and through the right one.
Beyond was a room with a glass window, through which another room could be seen.
Madiha could see the captive, and through a speaker system could talk to them if she desired, but the captive could not see through the glass on their side. There was recording equipment, weapons and medical equipment stored in the interrogator’s quarters, in case any of it became necessary. Meanwhile the interrogation room itself was stark white, furnished with a few chairs and a single table just off-center. It was soundproof, and isolating. Only a plastic cup of water was given to the captive inside.
Having learned painful lessons from the Akjer treasons, the interrogator’s quarters contained a small support team and several amenities. There was a civil officer who monitored the interrogation room at all times, but there was also a nurse on standby in case the prisoner hurt themselves to escape their predicament. Each room had a telephone to call the station above in case any further assistance was needed, as well as a radio.
It was an interesting tool, the radio. They could use it to keep the interrogators entertained through long, dull periods of waiting for the prisoner to cooperate or crack; or they could pipe music and programs into the interrogation room and unnerve the prisoner.
“How was he found and how long has been in here?” Madiha asked.
“We found him this morning,” said the police officer, “he was trying to climb the sea wall onto the port. Last night the coast guard had to deal with an unknown ship that went screaming past the harbor and smashed on the rocks. Knowing that, we think these guys tried to divert our attention so they could sneak into Rangda. A civil patrol caught them this morning and we’ve been holding them for the past few hours like this.”
From behind her, Minardo approached the glass and examined the prisoner.
“How many have you got?” Minardo asked. Madiha was about to ask the same.
“We got two, both of them appear to be Nochtish.” said the nurse, stepping in at the behest of the police officer. “One looks to be nothing but a boy, real soft-faced, early twenties at most. I don’t know why he would be involved in this. This guy here feels like the mastermind — probably in his mid-twenties, with a rough semblance. Both of them are a little famished and weary. I think they were crammed into that boat for quite a while, Colonel.”
“Were they carrying anything into the country?” Madiha asked.
“See, that’s the tricky part.” said the police officer.
He led them back out of the interrogator’s quarters and around the corner again.
In a bomb-proof storage room with a metal door, they kept the prisoner’s belongings.
Opening a slot in the door, the police officer urged Madiha to lean in.
Looking through, she saw a sealed, waterproof case, likely metal.
On its front was a built-in combination lock.
It was a spy suitcase. She had dealt with these before.
“We don’t know if it’s a bomb or anything like that.” said the officer.
“Don’t touch it yet. Have any prisoners said anything?” Madiha asked.
“Nothing helpful. Younger guy just sits there crying like a baby. Meanwhile the other guy was talkative at first, but when we got a Nochtish translator in here, all he wanted was to talk to someone with authority from the ‘communist army’. Now he’s being quiet.”
“He will get his wish. Minardo, stay behind the glass. I’ll talk to him.”
“Can you understand Nochtish?” Minardo asked.
“I think I know enough for this.”
Minardo nodded her head and return to the interrogator’s quarters with the officer.
Madiha took the other door and entered the interrogation room itself.
Inside the air was still and smelled stale. It felt quite oppressive, as it was meant to.
She examined the prisoner as she walked to the table. Madiha thought he looked fairly clean for someone who had been on a boat for who knew how long. He was not especially tall, compared to her, but he was decently built. He had strong cheekbones and rounded jaw, messy dark hair slicked back, maybe waxed. Stubble was growing along his cheeks and mouth, and he had sharp eyes and a strong nose. Were she inclined, she might have said he was handsome. Certainly some women probably did. Maybe he believed it too.
Officers had taken his trenchcoat, so he was dressed in a button-down white shirt and black trousers. His belt was gone. His tie had been removed too, in case he might attempt something with it. Madiha had seen it in the other room, along with his shoes and socks and other effects. It was a red bow tie, in a style a little too cute for this man.
She sat across from him on the table. He had on a defiant expression. He turned his head to face the wall, holding it up on a fist, and stared at her from the corners of his eyes.
At first, his off-hand remark was said in a language Madiha did not understand.
Then in the next instant, as if a switch had gone off in her brain, Madiha started to hear clear Ayvartan words superimposed over the sound of the man’s foreign speech. Her mind was translating all of the Nochtish into Ayvartan, and she was sure that if she spoke, her Ayvartan would sound Nochtish to the man as well. It was a useful power to possess.
“You’ve got a fancier uniform. That mean you got a fancier brain too?” He said.
“Funny.” Madiha said in a calm, but unfriendly tone of voice. “I am army colonel Nakar. Your first step to ever leaving this room again is to tell me your own name, nochtman.”
For a moment the man looked surprised to hear her. She couldn’t know exactly what he heard, whether it was perfect Nochtish, or accented, or what. But he understood her.
“I’m not fuckin’ Nochtish.” He replied. “I’m Lachy; Nocht’s fuckin’ dead to me.”
“You seem to think you know what I want to hear. Just tell me your name.”
He pulled his gaze from the wall and made eye contact, sitting up straight.
“My name is Bercik Scheldt. I’m a journalist. A real globe-trottin’ one, lately.”
“Mr. Scheldt, how does a Federation journalist end up nearly perishing in the wreck of a Higwean fishing boat off the coast of northern Ayvarta in this time of war?” She asked.
“It’s a long story you don’t actually care about. Listen: I’ve got information for you.”
“What kind of information? And why do you wish to contribute it to us?”
“You might not believe it, but not everyone in Nocht is happy about this war. I think it’s an injustice what that bastard Lehner is doing to your country. I want this shit to stop.”
“An injustice is putting it mildly.” Madiha said. Despite his intriguing propositions, she could not allow him to believe that he was winning her over yet. She had to appear skeptical and neutral, and maybe even a little antagonistic. Yielding too early might allow him to hold back information. He had to feel at least a little desperate. That was her personal style, anyway. Every interrogator had their own ways of treating a prisoner.
“I know; look, I know, that this sounds like a load of shit. I’m not here seeking asylum. I’ve got papers, loads of papers. They’re in my suitcase. You can have the fuckin’ code. It’s 778899. It’s dumb and easy because I want you to open the thing. Go open it.”
“I will bring it here and you can open it yourself.” She said tonelessly in reply.
Bercik did not seem like a man who was willing to die; he was emotional and agitated and obviously losing his patience. Had there been a bomb, or poison gas, or something of the sort in his suitcase, his expression would have likely betrayed his dismay at the thought of it being opened in front of him. Instead, his face changed little since she spoke.
He crossed his arms and said nothing as if waiting for her to do so.
Nodding her head to him, Madiha stepped out of the room. As she left the room Minardo was already coming up the hallway with the suitcase in hand, waving with her other hand and nearly skipping her way toward the door. She thrust the case into Madiha’s hands with a smile on her face, and with a wink, she returned to the interrogator’s room.
Shaking her head at her subordinate’s conduct, Madiha returned to Bercik.
“That was quick.” He said. “Guess you ain’t so afraid of it after all.”
Madiha did not reply. She set the suitcase down in front of him.
Without hesitation, Bercik spun the dials in front of the case.
He popped it open without incident. From the case he withdrew a thick file folder, its contents bound inside it with a series of rubber bands. When he pulled it free of the case, Madiha saw the photographs sticking out of its sides and top, and the various markings and stamps and official signatures decorating the folder’s front and back. She had never seen so many eagles and crosses and other strange ink markings in her life.
“This is Generalplan Suden. An internal planning document for Nochtish military command and for trusted politicians at the highest levels of the Lehner administration. It details everything Nocht knows about you, and everything they plan to do to you.”
Bercik stamped the files on the table and pushed them toward Madiha.
She picked up the folder, pulled off the rubber bands, and flipped through.
As she read, she felt a sinking sensation in her chest and a stone in her throat.
There were photographs of Ayvartan places, thousands of them, from Bada Aso and Knyskna all the way to Shebelle, Rangda, Kepr, Kharabhad, Chayatham, Jambia, and Solstice. Aerial photographs, on-the-ground photographs, maps, drawings. There were specifications for the Goblin tank and the Rompo truck and the 45mm anti-tank gun and the old Anka biplane. Lists of territorial army battlegroup formations down to the company organization.
There were errors: the 10-Division structure of the Adjar and Shaila Battlegroups were superimposed on Ayvarta as a whole, instead of being seen as their own dysfunctional regional styles. Several rivers on the map were plotted to go places they did not. All of the data on the Kucha and Red Desert tribes and other unincorporated communities was a century old and poorly translated into Nochtish. Several city maps were as old as 2022, and Madiha supposed they had been leaked in the Akjer treason, not later.
It was not the information on Ayvarta that surprised her the most. It was the treasure trove of details on Nocht and their own movements. She saw stage by stage plans within Generalplan Suden. Operation Monsoon, that fateful battle at the border that she had somehow survived. Operation Endurance, the movement from Adjar and Shaila to Tambwe and Dbagbo. Various naval operations as of yet not undertaken. An air campaign to subjugate various cities, perhaps like the one she had managed to repel.
And finally, Unternehmen Solstice, a plan to behead the Socialist Dominances of Solstice by striking with all of the Nochtish forces in the theater at the capital of Ayvarta, at the heart of communism in the southern hemisphere. There was no thought of starving Solstice out, no grand operatic siege plotted against it like the elves had once attempted in the 1900s. Nocht intended to break the walls and kill everything inside.
As she flipped through the pages Madiha struggled to maintain her outward calm.
Her hands wanted to shake from the information held between her fingers.
Was all of this true? If it this was true she had an informational coup in her hands.
Generalplan Suden, in her hands, changed everything. It made plain that the threat of spies and traitors in Ayvarta was extremely, painfully real, and that information up to around 2029 appeared to be available to Nocht. The Hobgoblin, the Ogre, the Garuda, and other newer weapons were thankfully not present in these reports. But all of their infantry weapons were — those were far slower to be revamped than their vehicles.
Furthermore, holding Generalplan Suden made clear Nochtish intentions in the war. Madiha could plan for everything Nocht would bring from 2030 to 2031, where they arrogantly expected the war to end. At worst, they could invalidate Nocht’s careful preparations and force them to improvise to throw them off. At best, they could use Nocht’s plans to set traps, and defeat Nocht’s operations decisively. It all hinged on whether Generalplan Suden was true, and if so, under what conditions it was leaked.
“How did you obtain this information?” Madiha asked Bercik.
“I had an informant within the Nochtish political sphere.” He said.
“Are you confident of its authenticity? How do you know it is valid?” She asked.
“Because that guy is dead and the Schwartzkopf tried to kill me too. Because I can never go back to my home country for fear of being tortured and executed.” He said.
That was unfortunately not good enough for Madiha. She felt a sudden and strong sense of frustration. She needed all of this to be true. She needed to be able to believe in Bercik Scheldt and his flight from Nocht and that these papers were real and important to Nocht. It was no good that Nocht knew about the leak. Their plans might have already changed. But if at least some of this could be relevant and verifiable, she might just be able to–
Flipping through a list of Nochtish units idly, she found a name that struck her.
A name she recognized amid the mess of inscrutable information in the files.
Brigadier General Gaul Von Drachen of the Cissean Azul Corps.
She remembered that battle under the raining, thundering skies of Bada Aso.
That man was real. He was a verifiable piece of information on Nocht’s forces.
Ferdinand, Meist, Anschel, Dreschner, Sturm; could these names be real too?
“What do you expect to happen now, Mr. Scheldt?” She asked.
Bercik’s face darkened, but his gaze on Madiha was as strong as ever.
“Listen, I’m ok with living in a cell, I don’t care anymore. I know what I’m doing and I’m satisfied with it. But that guy in the other cell, his name is Kirsten Susala, and I dragged him into all of this, and he doesn’t know a goddamn thing and doesn’t deserve to be locked up. Please, if you’re gonna do anything, do it to me and let him go.” He said.
Madiha nodded her head. Something like that was what she wanted to hear.
She thought he seemed genuine. He really did care about his companion. And she thought that he really did escape from Nocht and he really did believe that these documents were worth delivering to Ayvarta. He at least believed everything he was doing served his purpose; and he believed his purpose was moral and necessary.
So though Madiha could not completely verify the authenticity of these documents, she knew Bercik was not a spy or a liar. He was a civilian journalist taking a moral stance.
“I am leaving, but only temporarily, Mr. Scheldt. Please behave.” She said.
Bercik nodded, and he stared at the walls again. Madiha left the room.
Outside the room, Minardo was again waiting for her. Without a word, Madiha handed her the Generalplan Suden documents and she began to look through them. Her eyes went wide and her jaw hung as she read the documents and perused the photographs and examined the various maps. Madiha could see the fear in her expression as she realized the extent of their vulnerability. It was an earth-shattering document, the kind of thing that trapped history within the ink on its pages. This was a turning point, if true.
“Spirits defend us all.” She whispered under her breath.
“Do you think it is real?” Madiha asked.
“It must be.” Minardo said. She closed the document and held it tight in her hands while explaining. “Nobody would go through this much trouble to disseminate a false document of this scale. I’ve put together profiles like this before, though only of regions, rather than nations. An incredible amount of work went into this. All of this effort, and nearly killing this man for the possibility of delivering it to us; what would be the advantage to them? And why include the information on us if it is all a ruse? Now we know they have information on the Goblin and Anka and other weapons of ours that is accurate. So we will change those vehicles or phase them out. This cannot be a deception leak; it gives away too much.”
Madiha nodded. She was pleased with Minardo’s assessment and thankful she could count on her to have a good head on her shoulders — whenever she wasn’t playing the office jester. Finally she was making the professional facet of herself known again.
“We need to get these documents to Solstice as quickly as we can.” Madiha said. “And we need to do it through our channels. I don’t trust the Civil Council in Rangda to be anything but a nuisance. I’m going to leave you here and keep them from meddling.”
“That’s a tall order.” Minardo replied.
“I entrust it to you. Just contact me if anything happens.”
“Will do, Colonel.”
Minardo saluted with a big, bright smile.
For once, her cheerful demeanor was a relief rather than an annoyance.
Madiha left her side and entered the interrogator’s quarters once more.
Addressing the nurse and officer, she said seriously, “keep this man and his partner here but do not treat them poorly. They are to kept safe and provided for. Do not allow anyone access to them save for myself, the translator, and Staff Sergeant Minardo.”
Both the officer and nurse nodded their heads quietly, their faces turning pale.
“Whatever happens, he is under KVW jurisdiction. Understood?” Madiha said.
Again they nodded. Neither of them had the black uniform she did, so there was no thought of dissent. Where it came to matters of secrecy and intelligence, people like Madiha reigned supreme and people like the civil police followed quietly along.
Leaving Minardo behind, and with the Generalplan Suden documents returned to their spy suitcase for safety, Madiha traveled back up the stairs and requested the Gendarme return her to the base. Nobody asked what was in the suitcase. Nobody dared to.
“Was he a spy?” Gulab asked, as they climbed into the back of the car.
“That is classified, Corporal.” Madiha said.
There was a great tension in the air. Everyone knew something very serious had occurred, and that there would be a sea change in Rangda’s military situation and in its politics soon to come. Bercik’s arrival in Ayvarta, and his treatment by the powers at be, seemed like an omen of upheavals to come. A storm was brewing around Rangda.
In her hands, Madiha thought she might just be holding a turning point in the war.