This story segment contains depictions of violence and death as well as psychological and emotional stress.
28-AG-30 Central District Headquarters, “Madiha’s House”
“We haven’t even gotten to talk about a movie for a while.”
Parinita watched the column depart from the office window.
At first she sighed, but the sighs turned to tears.
She tried to squelch the first drops with the back of her hand, but her mouth started to make sobs, and her body turned cold and shook. She closed the door, and lay behind Madiha’s desk, slamming her back in frustration against the hard wood and the metal frame.
For what seemed like hours she remained behind that desk, her legs stretched against the door to keep it closed shut, shedding copious tears, and berating herself. She beat her head against the desk, and bawled out loud. Never before had she felt so helpless.
She felt like such a fool. Madiha’s fire was growing brighter and stranger before her eyes, and her actions had become erratic and dangerous. She could be consumed at any moment and still Parinita had failed to explain to her anything of what she knew!
But there was a shuddering in her chest whenever she imagined that conversation.
She felt a terrible anxiety toward it and it always gave her pause. Damnable weakness!
Deep in her heart she feared that Madiha would not understand.
What if all of this was solely in Parinita’s head?
What if it was just another lingering scar of her grandmother’s contempt and her mother’s negligence? Perhaps there was no Fire that was eating Madiha and no Power in her. Perhaps Madiha was just Madiha and nothing more. Perhaps she had it all wrong.
After all could anyone truly confirm whether the legends were true? At first she had thought that if she sat down with Madiha, the Major would have a related epiphany, and at once the two of them would have connected and resolved everything between them.
But slowly, like an icy build-up over her skin, it dawned upon the Secretary that she could potentially approach Madiha and explain everything she thought she knew, entangled in bizarre myth and half-remembered history, and that in turn Madiha could recoil in fear, tragically, disastrously, having no frame of reference, having no experiences that could confirm it. And after this final wound between them, Madiha would depart.
She would burn out all alone and vanish from history.
Parinita’s trepidation hit its peak, and she could not bear the thought of this.
She felt like a thief, who stole away with a piece of Madiha, something she needed to know to understand herself and would never uncover on her own. But how could they share in something so strange and distant? How did human beings even communicate across these horrifying gulfs between them? Parinita felt so isolated, lost and anxious.
She stalled and stalled, and Madiha grew further and further away. Now it seemed the most impossible thing, to confess to her what Parinita knew – that she was not a twisted thing, that she was not a monster, that Madiha was gifted and exceptional and necessary.
And valuable, beautiful, powerful, inspirational; Parinita shook her head.
Madiha did not need this right now. That much she had made perfectly clear.
Parinita had work, and her work was not this. This could wait a little bit.
It had to, she supposed.
The Chief Warrant Officer wiped away her tears, stood up from the desk, fixed her tie and patted down her skirt, and departed the office, clipboard in hand.
Madiha wanted her to work, and the army needed her to work, so she would work.
She would find something to organize in this chaotic day.
She would weather the distance, for Madiha’s sake, for what Madiha wanted.
Her tears had hardly dried completely before she was stopped outside her office.
“C.W.O Maharani, the Weather battalion’s received new information.”
A young, out of breath staff member stopped before her, grasping a bundle of papers in his shaking fingers. He bent nearly double, coughing, having run all the way from the other side of the building. Parinita patted him in the back gently while taking the documents from him and reading them quickly. She understood immediately the source of his concern.
Based on these new projections the clouds overhead were not intent on simply drizzling over them; and the isolated thundering was only a harbinger for worse to come.
An alert had to be sounded.
“We need to contact all units quickly! Has anyone reached the Commander?”
The staff member looked up at her, hands on his knees.
She recoiled from the dire look in his eyes.
“I’m sorry Chief, we haven’t been able to reach her.” He said grimly.
Parinita dropped the documents and ran past him, rushing to the staff office. She tried not to feel overwhelmed or overcome by helplessness. She had to do something! They had to put out an Army level contact and quickly – if Madiha stayed out there for any longer spirits only know what would become of her! All of the river district was in danger!
28-AG-30 Umaiha Riverside — 2nd Line Corps Area
Carried by the surging winds, rain battered against the defensive lines on the southeast district, falling over gun shields and down the necks of cloaks, pooling around sandbags. Machine guns and anti-tank guns on a bridge and its two adjacent streets watched the roads and a pair of buildings, one on each side, served as forward bases overseeing the defense.
Men and women stood around the guns, taking cover in their sandbag redoubts and behind the bridge’s balustrade. They huddled on the riverside streets, flanked by the blocks of buildings and the cobblestone roads into the trendy shops and the historic areas.
Between the redoubts and below anyone’s notice the river swelled.
Troops from the 2nd Line Corps in the southeast kept their eyes peeled for the enemy, but the growing rain reduced visibility, and introduced an even greater and subtler danger – a languid feeling in bellies and heads. Tranquility and contentedness. Along the Umaiha the soldiers had not seen fighting for two days now, and under the growing rain it seemed impossible to muster the energy to fight. Yawning, they let the watch slack.
It didn’t matter.
Under the driving deluge and growing thunder the first shells flew silently.
But they did not land.
All at once a half-dozen heavy shells exploded in the air just over the heads of the defenders. Fragments rained down on them just as fast as they normally flew up from stricken ground. Over gun shields, through tarps, around sandbags the fragments flew, cutting a swathe across the defensive line. Few died, but everyone was reeling.
Inside the forward base buildings it took a minute before anyone caught on.
Direct fire followed as they tried to respond.
Shells smashed against sandbags and tore the gun shields right off machine guns. They smashed holes into the balustrade and pounded against the base buildings, finally waking the officers inside to the threat. Light mortar rounds crashed around the line, causing little damage but much confusion. Men and women shifted fighting positions in the wake of the shelling and found lead flying around them. Machine gun fire streaked over the lines.
In the distance, men in beige uniforms, uncloaked, fully soaking in the rain, charged against the line with rifles and bayonets, with grenades in hand, under the cover of two tanks, unseen artillery and multiple machine gunners mounted on light cars.
Within several hundred meters the enemy had come to Umaiha’s south-bound stretch.
Batallón de Asalto “Drachen” of the Primera de Infanteria was on the move.
Von Drachen followed right behind his men, on the right bank of the Umaiha.
He had the same amount of troops on either side, without having taken any of the bridges – but he preferred the right, because there was more territory to cover on his right. His left was up against the city limits in a sense, and made him feel trapped.
Walking briskly toward the defenses along with his column, he could see everything transpiring; if so inclined he could have shouted orders to the men in front of him.
That wouldn’t be necessary. This attack had been well prepared for and well rehearsed.
His handpicked forces had effected a stealthy crossing much further south, before there was even an Umaiha to cross at all, tramping through the rubble the Ayvartans believed would deter passage. While Nocht sat and wondered why their brute strength and dizzying speed continued to fail them, Von Drachen had stopped launching hopeless attacks along the Vorkämpfer’s foolishly planned routes and began forging his own perfect path.
Now he had a column moving against the defenses on both sides of the river, rather than on one. He had artillery and armor against an enemy that thought him devoid of both.
At the head, his two Escudero tanks put their quick-firing 40mm cannons to good use. They had been adapted from Helvetian anti-air artillery, but exploded just fine against sandbags, rock and human flesh. Dozens of explosive shells crashed against the Ayvartan lines, taking out chunks of sandbag and leaving vicious bite marks on rock and concrete.
Behind them, mounted on light all-terrain cars received from Nocht, Von Drachen had his machine gunners stand on the passenger seat and deploy their guns on improvised mounts, shooting relentlessly to cover his advance up the stone streets.
Finally, a kilometer behind the advancing columns, he had deployed his artillery: six powerful 15 cm guns, and twelve 6 cm mortars now shelling the enemy haphazardly.
He raised a hand radio to his mouth. “Silencio por dos minutos.”
Silence for two minutes.
At once the shelling of the mortars and the guns stopped completely, and movement hastened. Von Drachen’s tanks sped forward and his men broke into a dash.
As the charge grew earnest, resistance stiffened and the enemy returned fire.
Frontal blows and vicious, rapidly wizzing 45mm attacks from the defensive line gave his tanks sudden pause. Ayvartan machine guns opened fire, and Ayvartan riflemen and women started to dig their heels and peek out of cover. Lead started to fly into his column and Von Drachen started to see his men fall, but this did not concern him.
Within two minutes the distance was methodically closed to within the hundred meters.
“Tiempo al blanco.” He said over his radio. Time on target.
His favorite artillery order.
All at once the Ayvartan defensive line exploded again with the fire from all his guns and mortars. All six guns and twelve mortars that had gone silent coordinated a single devastating hit, timed perfectly to hit every part of the Ayvartan line simultaneously.
On the bridge all of the forward-facing balustrade exploded into chunks, and corpses fell from the bridge into the growing river along with mangled bits of their machine guns and anti-tank weapons; a shell exploded over each of the two thick sandbag redoubts blocking traffic on the riverside streets, the fragments descending like a shower of needles in the company of rain; several mortar rounds exploded among scattered Ayvartan fighters and over the roofs and before the doors of their little forward bases.
In the face of the artillery attack Ayvartan fire quieted.
Those last hundred meters were nothing to Von Drachen’s men.
They now charged ahead uncontested. Both Escuderos smashed right through the sandbag walls, and his scout cars hit their brakes, allowing machine gunners to charge into the fray. Hundreds of men poured into the streets, meeting the hundreds of exposed men and women on the opposite side, shooting and stabbing and trampling in a savage melee.
Both the tanks turned their guns up from the street fighting, and put several shells through the windows into the forward bases, exploding among Ayvartan officers and radios and supplies and their sheltered wounded. In a swift blow the HQs were gone.
Blood flowed into the river, and smoke and fire joined the rising wind and falling rain.
Three days of planning, and within the space of twenty minutes, Von Drachen had broken his first line. He walked past the ruined bridge, crossed a street corner, and laid under an awning, taking shelter from the rain while his men charged through the door.
Knives and bayonets flashed through the windows, and the occasional rifle bullet went through one of the thin walls. There were screams and roars and struggle.
Upstairs a grenade went off.
Von Drachen lit a cigar, and tried to ignore the clammy feeling from his wet uniform.
One of his light cars dashed past the building and braked at the edge of the broken-down sandbag wall of the defender’s old redoubt. Riflemen chased after retreating enemies and machine gunners opened fire relentlessly into the breach in the enemy lines.
Running gun battles erupted further up the street as the Ayvartans dashed from their positions while being hounded by the advancing Cissean riflemen. From his vantage Von Drachen could see little of it, but he heard the continuous stamping of feet, the intermittent cracks of rifles, as the converging masses took their battle dozens of meters away.
From the car, Colonel Gutierrez dismounted, and approached Von Drachen. He saluted.
“We’ve got them on the run sir. We can see the next line. Artillery is readjusting.”
“Good. Tell the men to keep running, and not to stop. Same for the tanks and cars.”
Colonel Gutierrez nodded.
He saluted again, and then the old man turned and marched toward the car.
Overhead a deafening burst of thunder masked the sudden swelling of the river.
A massive wave surged up over the borders of the street and crashed past the bridge.
Surging water overtook the Colonel’s car, shoving the machine gunner off his mount and smashing him against the stones. Gutierrez nearly leaped back in fear, and rushed away from the edges without looking until he had shoved carelessly back into Von Drachen.
The General’s cigar fell off his lips and into a puddle just outside the awning.
Von Drachen stared dejectedly at the moist stick, and felt something close to mourning.
“Que carajo paso?” Von Drachen said, in a gentler voice than was probably warranted.
“Oh, excuse me, General; the river, sir! Santa Maria I’ve never seen such a thing.”
“You’ve never seen a river? I’m not so sure anymore of your qualifications here then.”
“No! No, General, I mean I’ve never seen one swell up like that! This is dangerous!”
Dangerous? Von Drachen took a casual glance at the river. Another wave suddenly rose and crashed over the shattered balustrade of the bridge, sweeping away the corpses and the metal husks of the ruined Ayvartan emplacements and swallowing them whole.
“Maybe. But; I believe this presents a unique opportunity as well!” Von Drachen said.
Gutierrez looked at him, wet and miserable. “Ay dios mio.”