Kansal’s Ambition (24.4)

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This story segment contains scenes of graphic violence, death, derealization and extreme emotional distress.

 

8th of the Postill’s Dew, 1997 D.C.E

Adjar Dominance — Dobo Broadlands, Agora Farms

10 Years Before The Ayvartan Revolution

33 Years Before The Solstice War

With the new year came the rains and the mud, but the toil remained ceaseless until it claimed her. All their meager paper money went to medicines that seemed to do her no good at all.

Daksha had grown bigger and stronger and taken on more and more of the work but it made no difference in the end, made no difference now; mother had succumbed to the new year’s mud and rain. No matter how much of the work Daksha did or committed to doing, no matter how much she successfully did — in the end the rains and the mud had drained the life from her mother. It was an impossible amount of work, done over an impossibly long amount of time.

They were committed to Volker’s crops, living on Volker’s land, and he had set them on an impossible task perhaps because he could, and now all of them were paying for that.

That morning the cows went unfed, unbrushed. Chickens roamed about, perhaps dimly wondering when their feed would be brought. No one was out on the farm. Crammed in the bedroom Daksha, Ms. Ulyanova, dodging house arrest, and the sons of the Foana and Noere families, there as friends and witnesses, looked over Yanna Kaushik. She laid in bed.

She was turning pale, coughing violently. Her strong arms and thick legs were limp and jelly-like. Despite all her muscle she simply had no inner strength left with which to move them.

She had worked under the rain, every day that Daksha ran to the village for school. They couldn’t afford not to. Daksha thought dimly that it was the rains that brought her low but in the back of her mind a voice screamed and raged and knew the real culprit behind this. It was not the rains and the mud and relative cold that put her mother in those fields all day.

“I’ve tried to contact a doctor I knew, but he is very far. I do not think he will arrive soon. I’m sorry.” Lena said. She was wearing a bright yellow dress with a voluminous skirt in her favorite style. She brought a strange touch of color to the dreary scene inside the house.

Yanna reached out a hand from the bed, and took Lena’s into her own. Lena’s hand seemed dainty compared to Yanna’s. But Yanna’s struggled visibly to maintain the contact.

“Spirits bless you, Ms. Ulyanova.” Yanna struggled to say. She coughed harshly after.

“Mother, conserve your strength, please.” Daksha said, trying to pull the blankets over her again. Both of the young men in the room turned their heads away. One wept openly.

“I am so sorry. I wish that I could do more for you. Had I been able to build you a palace here, I would have. I did as much as I could. I am sorry, Mrs. Kaushik.” Lena replied, stressing her voice. She gripped her skirts, and cast her ice blue eyes down at her yellow shoes.

“You needn’t be sorry for anything.” Daksha said. She found her own voice oddly calm at the time. Calmer than Lena’s. “You’ve done more for us than anyone, Ms. Ulyanova.”

Yanna curled her fingers around Lena’s hand, squeezing as much as she could.

She smiled at her.

“You were the mother to her I wish I could have been.” She said.

Daksha sat speechless.

Lena was dumbfounded, and then her eyes overflowed with tears. She bowed her head into her hands, weeping copiously into them, sobbing, quite suddenly crying herself hoarse.

The Noere and Foana boys closed their eyes, clasped their hands and bowed their heads.

They spontaneously chanted a prayer. They changed with urgency. Perhaps they knew that by the end of the last verse, Yanna Kaushik would no longer be able to hear them.

Daksha stood up abruptly and ran out of the house, her head down, fighting back tears. All at once everything in her mind was annihilated, leaving agonizingly blank thoughts behind.

Outside she found unexpected company.

Colonel Grabin was waiting on the road.

“Condolences, child. I have to get Lena home. Her guards only allow so much.”

Daksha barely listened. She walked past him and started down the dirt road.

She kept walking, walking, fists at her side. He didn’t stop her.

Perhaps he understood; perhaps he gave his implicit approval.

 

* * *

She spotted the first guard along the eastern portion of the estate. He was a very pale man, like Volker — they could have been brothers. Maybe they were. He had a pistol in his hip and a cigar in his mouth. He ambled along the bushes skirting the property. Ostensibly on patrol he seemed to more keen to stroll leisurely, casting lazy glances toward the manor house.

Stopping along the bushes, he stared out into the sparse wilderness for a moment. Von Volker’s estate was set on the hilly terrain north of Agora. Irregular patches of woodland framed the property, intercut with uneven, grassy bumps and dips in the terrain. Volker’s guard briefly interrogated the surroundings but he grew quickly bored of the gloomy bushes and trees. He gazed skyward, and found the clouds thickening and darkening, perhaps a sign of rain.

He took a long drag of the cigar, its tip glowing red. He turned his back on the inscrutable vegetation, extracted the cigar from his lips and blew smoke. He started to walk away.

Daksha pounced from the bushes. She hooked an arm around his neck and squeezed with all her strength. Taken by surprise he reached first for her elbow rather than his gun.

Her free hand forced a machete through his flank, driving it handle-deep into his body.

Blood spilled copiously from him and other unmentionable things spilled with it.

Once the light had gone from his eyes and the weight from his limbs, she dragged him to the bushes, stripped him of his lighter, his firearm and an extra box magazine and crept away toward the house, a small and ornate silver pistol in one hand and her machete in the other.

A line of blood trailed behind her from the edge of the blade, tracing the ground.

Situated in the middle of a cleared-out area of the hilly woodland was the estate building itself, a modest mansion, rectangular with two symmetrical, front-facing gables framing a recessed, stone doorway with a triangular pediment, and a pair of small corner towers affixed to eastern and western wings expanding upon the main structure. There were plenty of fragile windows and no light from any. Daksha snuck along the side of the building and around the back.

Behind the manor she found a carelessly open equipment shed almost as large as her shack. From the manor and shed a winding cobblestone path stretched through a garden set atop and against a little slope. Along the trail were shaped bushes, all manner of flowers, palm trees–

A thickly mustachioed, pale-pink man in a bowler hat and vest, fidgeting with a pocket watch, staring downhill at a series of beautiful flower beds carved flat into the earth below.

Daksha put the gun into her overalls and crept toward the guard with both hands on the handle of her machete. She held her breath; she felt every minute vibration of the stones, every shift in the earth beneath her feet. There was nothing else on her mind but imprecise, muddled feelings of physicality, an obsessive focus on her tendons, on the cracking of her digits and joints.

He turned his head around his shoulder; she decapitated him before he could lock eyes.

She kicked the headless body and it rolled gently downhill, coming to lie on the roses.

Machete in one hand, gun in the other, she doubled back toward the shed. Inside she found a large tracked gasoline-engine tractor — and a canister of spare gasoline beside it, as she had dimly expected. She picked up the canister and carried to the mansion, setting it down beside the back door. Gun in hand, she pushed open the door and peered quickly inside.

There was a darkened and empty kitchen with a stove, a dish washing sink, a quite grand ice box and pantry, and long rows of porcelain plates and saucers and cups behind glass. Charcoal for the coal fire oven, and a tank of firestarting fluid, was stacked into a corner of the room. A spare block of ice for the ice box, packed inside a crate full of sawdust, occupied another.

Daksha dragged the gasoline canister inside the kitchen. She threw away the cap and kicked it down, careful not to get any of the fluid on her boots as it gushed over the floor.

From the kitchen, a gloomy, empty hallway connected a few rooms to the foyer. A grand set of ornate wooden steps led to the second floor landing. There were busts set on pedestals flanking a carpet of an off-red color. Daksha peered in and found nobody around. She heard nobody around. She walked out into the foyer and inspected the carpet. It looked bleached out and old, but in reality it was just covered in a layer of dust that distorted its bright crimson color.

She thought there would be more servants or guards but the house seemed empty. Nobody was in the foyer; nobody up the stairs, in the second floor hallway. She peered down both ways and probed a few rooms, opening doors and lunging inside. Row after row of empty rooms. She found dust in the walls, cobwebs in corners. Did Von Volker even live here? But there were guards. He had to be here, he had to be. Daksha felt desperate, gripping her machete.

Everyone in Agora could have lived in this house, and yet it was desolate. Not even a maid. She ran a hand across a wooden door and left a streak over the dust. It disturbed her. She felt like she was walking into the lair of a goblin or a demon. Could humans really live this way?

Her world started to crash around her. Mind a blank, she wandered aimlessly through the manor with no clear direction. She kept walking through those empty halls, her paces echoing across the walls and inside her own skull no matter how softly she tried to tread. Volker’s manor seemed interminable, featureless, a desert of brick and mortar and wood. Had he eluded her? Had he realized what he had done and fled justice? She felt a chill in her heart.

All of this, he had taken from her. He had taken it like a despicable bird and fashioned himself a nest out of their blood and skin and it was this place, this macabre, lifeless place, a graveyard plot for the barely living with its off-gray walls and its dusty carpets and hollow rooms.

She turned a corner and heard a noise; inadvertently she found herself face to face with Haji, Von Volker’s Mamlakhan servant. At the end of a long hall he was coming out of a doorway overlooked by a large portrait painting of Ms. Ulyanova, carrying a display cushion holding what seemed like fine jewelry, including a gold loop ring with a heavy diamond.

He stopped when he noticed her and he stared, dumbfounded.

There was a short silence as each recognized the other as flesh and blood, real, present.

Daksha drew her gun and shot him three times as he started to scream. He fell back onto the floor and she trampled over him and over the dropped pieces of jewelry as she rushed under the eerie painting and into the room. Inside she found Von Volker hunched over a desk.

His office was as fine a mess as the rest. His desk was diagonal to the walls and dirty. There were pictures of Lena on the desktop, on the walls of his office — photographs the guards took of her every quarter for their reports. How had he had gotten a hold of them was anyone’s guess. He had stacks of papers, perhaps financial in nature, strewn across the room, and there was an open safe, and a large mechanical typewriter that had a horrific paper jam and an ink spill that had gunked up over who knows how long. There was no order to anything.

She raised her gun to the villain from across the room; but she wanted to see his face. She wanted him to see her make the threats. She didn’t want to shy away from this.

“Turn around you piece of shit!” Daksha shouted. She cocked the pistol — it had a slide. He could hear it, she knew. He could hear the lead cycled through it, hitting the floor.

Von Volker turned his chair around and stared. He rolled his eyes and looked exasperated, as though she had drawn him out of something infinitely more important than this.

“Yanna Kaushik died today because of you, you miserable pig. Have you anything to–”

Nonchalantly, Von Volker interrupted her.

“I don’t like folks intruding on my privacy, but I don’t want to have to clean you up from my property so here is my final offer, girl.” He said. His Ayvartan had gotten incredibly better. “I’ll give you 500 shells to fuck off out of my sight. Don’t haggle; just take it and go.”

She pressed the trigger and shot a hole through his shoulder. Von Volker flinched so hard he kicked his own chair from under him, and fell on the ground writhing and hollering.

“Don’t you know who I am?” He shouted. “I own you! I own this fucking hole!”

Daksha shot him again and again, in the leg, through the waist, in his stomach, in his chest.

She smiled. It was risible. He was so despicable, so wretched. All of his money and power satisfied nothing. He died alone watched on all sides by a woman who hated him more than any other creature on Aer, in a massive house that lacked even a house maid to clean its floors.

Even when the gun clicked, even when Von Volker stopped moving. She kept pressing the trigger as though more bullets would come out, and she kept laughing as if more wounds were scored on the corpse. Even when the gun fell from her suddenly limp fingers, they kept twitching in the air all by themselves as though there was still a trigger there to pull.

Her teeth grit of their own accord, stifling a sob. She closed her trembling hands into fists and raised them to her face, pressing hard against her eyes and the bridge of her nose trying to dam the tears. She could not press anywhere near hard enough to stop them. She wept. Her knees shook. As the blood pooled she came to the realization that everything was undone.

Daksha mustered the last of her strength and charged out of the room and downstairs, and while her composure held she threw the lighter into the kitchen to set the place alight.

Bashing open a window, clearing out the glass entirely with her machete, Daksha extricated herself from the burning property and ran headlong into the wood, her sobs turning to screams, and her gait irregular as she felt her legs wobbling under her own weight.

In the future, though the burning of the Volker estate could be confirmed with fact, Daksha would think back upon her experience of the day, and revise it, revise it, and torment herself with uncertainty about which parts were real and which a product of the haze of anger and sorrow that overtook her throughout the whole Postill’s Dew, and perhaps forever on.

 

* * *

Winter and the new year brought rain and mud to Ayvarta. Though nowhere near as rainy and muddy as Dbagbo or Tambwe, the village of Garani saw its fair share of rainfall. The New Year’s Festival had to be cancelled on account of the rain. Many people had fallen sick as well.

At least one person had died. Garani was as a somber as a twenty-building town could be.

Under thick sheets of windblown rain, Lena Ulyanova stood on the edge of her lawn with an umbrella over her head and waited, straining her eyes to try to see through the storm. A few more steps and she would have violated her house arrest. She was strongly considering taking those taboo steps, and however many more steps were necessary to scour the Agora.

It was the rain that stopped her, not the guards. It was getting worse; colder, thicker.

Lena stood out in the rain in intervals of fifteen and twenty minutes before retreating back to her cabin and pacing around the rooms in fits and starts. She cursed her constitution. In the Homeland (she refused to call it Calanchi) she was used to cold, dry weather; Ayvarta’s hot days and cold rainy nights, its damp air, took a lot of out of her. She could die under this rain.

Hours after nightfall, having worked several shifts out near the road, Lena opened the door and picked up her umbrella, but found Grabin approaching. She urged him through the door, and he discarded his dripping cape into a basket set near the door. He sighed deeply.

“No sign of her, but I only got as far as her house. This rain is murderous, Lenochka.”

She nodded and made to go to the kitchen, to distract herself by fixing something warm for them, but Colonel Grabin raised his hand to get her attention before she could leave.

He dug his hand into his coat and drew an envelope out from his pocket, of the sort that Lena handed to Daksha every other day. Envelopes full of conspiratorial hopes, revolutionary dreams. Lena took the envelope from him and ripped it open. There was a letter inside.

“They’ve chosen the name. It will be Svechtha, and we will be Svechthans.” Grabin said.

Lena looked up at him with surprise. The Soviets had decided on a name for the country.

“It’s a nonsense word, but I like it.” Lena replied. It brought emotion to her — she couldn’t place it because it was difficult to be happy under her current circumstances. But she felt a muted elation. “I love it, in fact. I hope those barbarous elves can’t even pronounce it.”

Grabin nodded his head solemnly.

“The Colonial Authority is overstretched. The Soviets are getting ready for battle.”

“So, you will be going?” Lena said.

“Yes. We can arrange for your arrival soon after that.”

“I decline.” Lena said.

Grabin grinned. He chuckled once. “I expected as much.”

“I’m not a soldier; I can write papers and lend money from here.”

“Hah, Lenochka, ten years and you already love this place more than home.”

Lena smiled. “I love the world, Grabin. My objective is the world. And judging by what I’ve seen today, though Svechtha may soon be free, the world is far, far from freed. I must do more.”

“I understand. But I must warn you; I am old. I will die soon. I haven’t the time to think about the future, Lenochka. I need you to do that; you are pushing thirty, and your health is fragile. In my place, and in your own place, you must think about the future of this struggle.”

Lena realized this all too well. But she did not protest. She took his advice silently.

Suddenly the door slammed open behind them.

Wind and water blew in. The Svechthans turned sharply around.

“I’m sorry Ms. Ulyanova! Tell me I’m not a monster! Please tell me!”

Daksha stood framed in the door, the wind beating her hair, tears falling down her cheeks and nose, her eyes bloodshot. She was sopping wet and caked with mud and brush. Her storm cape was ripped apart as if she had run through thorns. Her overalls and her shirt were filthy.

She walked forward, dropping her machete. Her legs wobbled and shook. Every step was crooked, as though she was perpetually falling. Lena had never seen her in such distress.

“You are not, Shacha! You are not a monster! Come here, come here!”

Lena  took her pupil into her arms. Shacha was heavy, taller than anyone in the room, rugged and lean and difficult to hold while weeping and screaming. Daksha’s legs gave out, and she collapsed to her knees. Lena held her, head to her chest like a babe, stroking her wet hair, matted with mud and leaves, while the girl cried and sobbed and spoke nonsense.

As she held her, Lena cried herself. What could she do for the world if she had allowed her pupil to fall into this state? She was holding the future in her hands; crying, hurting.

 

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