This scene contains violence, death and fleeting ableism.
52nd of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Tambwe Dominance, Rangda City — Rangda Riverside
As darkness descended over Rangda, the skies slowly grew thick with black stormclouds. Bolts of violet light crackled and whipped in the distance, lighting up the night with their violence. From somewhere out north a seething weather swept down on the tortured city.
Soon after the assault of the elves and traitors finally ended, the assault of the rain began. Driven by strong winds, the storm seemed to come from out of nowhere, and the rain fell in torrents that swept across the ground like the fire of a machine gun, putting out blazes, seeping into the husks of tanks and ruined buildings. Spent casings rolled down ankle deep flood streams that began to accumulate on Ocean Road. Every drainage ditch was stuffed with the debris of the war, and the water seemed to suddenly have nowhere to go.
Off in the distance, there was a twofold thunder. Some of it came bellowing out of the wrathful skies, but in between the flashing and booming, there were explosions. Chunks of the legendary shining port blew apart and were swept up into the rising seas. Ayvartan engineers worked quickly to destroy the berths, sabotage port equipment, and render Rangda unusable to the Royal Navy or the Nochtish one. A stock of naval mines was emptied off port, and floated amid the debris in the harbor. Those fishing ships not already smashed by the weather were unanchored and left to float away from the ruins.
All of this transpired over open radio frequencies. Von Drachen listened from the cab of his stolen Ayvartan 4-ton truck. Colonel Gutierrez drove patiently through southeastern Rangda, ducking civilians come out of hiding and patrols from their victorious enemies. They were trapped now behind enemy lines, and there was nothing that could be done about it until they escaped the city. Von Drachen had escaped that lunatic elf and he and some of his loyal men were bound for the bridge across Rangda’s eastern riverside.
Listening intently, he found the Ayvartans had become conveniently chatty in the glow of their victory. He had largely avoided capture by being in the same wavelength as his pursuers. Over the radio Von Drachen heard sectors being cleared, supplies being moved. He avoided flashpoints and scurried away like a mouse.
No amount of running would avoid an actual wall however. Even the smallest mouse needed a hole. Walls had to be broken.
“Mijo, I don’t think they’re just gonna let us through.” Colonel Gutierrez said.
“We’ll ask them politely.” Von Drachen replied.
Idly at the Colonel’s side, Von Drachen started to load a Norgler machine gun.
“Politely.” He said amicably.
“That’s an even worse idea than what I thought you would do.”
“What did you think I would do?”
“Drive the truck pell-mell through the checkpoint. You’d say it’s unexpected or–”
“That’s actually a fantastic idea.”
Von Drachen turned the lever on the truck window and tossed the Norgler out of it.
“Drive through the checkpoint ahead, pell-mell.”
Colonel Gutierrez banged his head on the steering wheel. “Dios libera me…”
“Be careful with your head, old man.”
Von Drachen, smiling, put his feet up and leaned back on his seat.
Ahead of them, after one final twist around an urbanization, the road muddied up, and there was a grass and dirt and plentiful water pooling over the earth. A mechanical bridge connected the rural edge of South-Eastern Rangda to the near-literal jungle across the way, and it was the only thing standing between the Cissean troops and freedom.
There was a checkpoint indeed, with a hasty barrier of sandbags and a pair of guards.
“Floor it, Gutierrez!”
Heaving a deep sigh, the old Colonel slammed his foot on the pedal, and the wheels of the truck screeched, and water and mud flew everywhere as the truck accelerated toward the barrier. Von Drachen grabbed on to his seat, and behind him he could hear his men screaming in the bed of the truck, unaware of the plan. As the truck’s headlight flashed over them the guards at the checkpoint exhibited curious determination and held firm.
Behind them, the bridge’s motors began to whir, and it began to lift on hydraulic power.
“Unfloor it Gutierrez!” Von Drachen cried out.
Gutierrez took his foot off the accelerator pedal and forced back the brake lever.
Once more the truck screeched and protested, and it ground into the mud.
Its wheels mired in the muddy road, and it came to a halt meters away from the checkpoint.
From behind the sandbags, the Ayvartan guards stood tall once more, rifles ready.
Von Drachen, reeling inside the truck, withdrew his pistol and ducked.
Just as quickly and haphazardly he pushed Colonel Gutierrez down with him.
Over the two of them, a pair of rifle bullets pierced the glass on the truck.
In after the shattered glass came the storm rain, descending into the cab.
It was biting cold, sharper than the glass.
“Gutierrez, you take the left one, I take the right.” Von Drachen said.
Without warning, he kicked the door open, and rolled out of the truck.
Falling into the mud, Von Drachen aimed and fired his pistol over the sandbags.
He struck one guard in the chest, and she keeled over backward.
At her side, the remaining guard was mysteriously, and unfortunately, un-shot.
On the other side of the truck, Colonel Gutierrez fell like a lump into the mud.
Though the General heard him fall, he did not hear him respond nor even move.
Von Drachen was speechless. He stared at the guard, and the sky, and the truck.
Scrambling for cover, he rolled under the truck as more rifle shots struck near him.
Drinking up water and mud as he crawled through the muck in which the truck was partially embedded and submerged, Von Drachen crawled agonizingly to the other side of the vehicle. There was a flash of lightning and a loud, booming thunder. Von Drachen grabbed hold of Gutierrez, stood him up, and with one arm opened fire on the guard checkpoint. He hit the sandbags, and the remaining guard hid behind cover.
There was another flash and more thunder; but this came from behind him.
Von Drachen felt something rumbling and leaped forward even before feeling the blast.
An earsplitting detonation smashed the bed of the truck.
On the force of the blast, Von Drachen and Gutierrez were thrown to the river’s edge.
Face-first in the muck once more, Von Drachen struggled to push himself up.
He looked over his shoulder. His truck was burning, a decimated husk.
Where his men could possibly be in that heap of scrap wood and slag, burning off its own fuel, Von Drachen did not know. He immediately wrote them all off as a loss. Poor boys.
Much more pressing was the tank making its way from ambush through nearby shrubbery.
Its main gun, a long, big bored weapon (76mm possibly?), trained on him.
From around the tank came a familiar woman, tall and fit, brown-skinned, with mid-length, messy dark hair and a face that was soft and pretty and contorted in the ways it could least be those things. She had the familiar Ayvartan uniform, coat and pants and all, one Von Drachen was wearing himself. At her side, a pleasingly figured woman, lighter in complexion, with colorful strawberry hair, carried an umbrella to shield them from rain.
“Give up this vain struggle, I outmaneuvered you.” said Madiha Nakar.
She snapped her fingers.
Behind her, the Ayvartan tank, of a type Von Drachen had never seen, unleashed a shot.
A shell soared across the river and exploded with such force Von Drachen felt it from afar.
Von Drachen drew his pistol.
In the next instant he felt something hard strike his hand, and the weapon flew from it.
It rolled over the edge behind him and into the river.
From the stormy sky, a scaly little creature with scintillating wings descended.
It perched on Madiha’s shoulder and growled.
“Gaul Von Drachen.” Madiha said. “Traitor to the anarchists in Valle Rojo, after selling out your side you caught the eye of Nochtish Grand Marshal Braun, who lobbied for you to be trained in Nochtish officer schools and to have a Nochtish command in the reformed Cissean allied military. Now a Cissean General. You were fast-tracked through to your current position out of need for Cissean strategic officers. You participated in the border battles, in Bada Aso. Now you are here. And you are conveniently at my mercy.”
“Did you read my book?” Von Drachen said, smiling. “How kind of you.”
Madiha ignored him. “Under the Helvetian accords I am taking you captive.”
“Ah, you want to make it official because the Helvetians are your allies now?”
She raised an eyebrow. “You will glean no insight from me.”
“I already have, Commander.”
“You talk too much.” Madiha rolled her eyes.
“I’ve barely talked at all.”
“There’s just something about your voice that makes me hate you.”
“I get that a lot. How come you understand me, by the way? I’m speaking Nochtish.”
“I speak Nochtish too.”
“You’re replying in Ayvartan.”
“Shut up Von Drachen.” She looked flustered. “This is a surrender negotiation, you fool.”
At her side the other woman frowned and shook her head.
“Is this something to do with the fireballs? Is it like science fiction telepathy?”
“I said, be quiet.”
There was something special about Madiha Nakar. She was strong and smart and gallant, a very princely sort of woman that one just did not see often at all. But it was not just that, not just the regal beauty and physicality of her as a specimen, but also, well, the magic, and the battling monsters, and those sorts of other things. Von Drachen had some idea now of what Madiha Nakar could do. She could shoot fire out of her hands. And she could understand any language, as if possessed of some supernatural mental abilities.
She was no ordinary soldier, and every part of her he could pick at was priceless.
Every little bit that he learned was a piece of the puzzle that would be helpful later.
And every contact he had with her seemed to teach him more and more of her secrets.
She was not very clever when it came to people. Perhaps some kind of autism?
No, that was uncharitable. He tried not to speculate too much. Speculation could run away with the mind, and in this crucial moment he needed rationality and focus. But– perhaps.
“Commander Nakar, I want you to know, I admire you. You strike me as a great woman. I believe, when Nocht wins this war, you may, properly medicated, have a place with us.”
Madiha averted her eyes. “I’m centimeters away from killing you.”
At her side, the woman with the bouncy hair and light makeup elbowed her gently.
Von Drachen did not fail to notice that gesture.
“If I may be so vain, as to ask what you think of me, your defeated enemy? You know I had this idea of us, of our cat and mouse game, our great chess match. Have I been worthy?”
Madiha frowned. On her shoulder, her little dragon pet made the same face.
“You’re an overrated little twerp.”
She was good at hurting people. Sometimes with guns; but also with words.
Von Drachen was genuinely hurt.
For a moment, he let his expertly choreographed conversation degrade to insult her.
“Well, you’re not very feminine.”
He turned his cheek to her. She frowned, as did the woman next to her.
“You owe your current state of health to the negotiation clauses of the Helvetian accords regarding enemy officers. Were it for me, I would have shot you already.”
She was rough, she constructed her sentences oddly, and was very on-edge.
That had not been the case in Bada Aso; but she had quite a terrible day today, after all.
And she had recovered somehow. That was also interesting.
At any rate, he could excuse her hitherto unknown bad personality on the torture.
Though he forgave her, that did not mean he would stop provoking her.
Von Drachen shrugged. “We’ve all been known to discard the Accords for expediency.”
“That is true. I expediently desire your surrender. I will tolerate no more nonsense.”
Von Drachen made a face of mock distress.
“Well, while we’re being dutiful, I would like to lodge a complaint, a violation of my rights. I cannot willingly consent to surrender in the ambiguity of my captor being a magic witch.”
“Shut up, Von Drachen!”
“You could take over my mind and force me to surrender. How is that balanced at all?”
Madiha was starting to sound more heated, and the woman behind her patted her on the shoulder and seemed to be reminding her of calm. Madiha sighed, and the woman smiled.
“You understand Ayvartan, right? I’m Chief Warrant Officer Parinita Maharani. We guarantee you’ll be treated justly under the Helvetian accords.” said the young woman beside Nakar. “Please stop being so silly and surrender, so we can go somewhere warm. No matter where you run there’s only death around you. You might as well not die, right?”
She was addressing him because the two of them could not actually kill him.
At least, not without greater provocation than just words.
He was so much more valuable alive than dead. An informational coup in the making.
They knew he was a traitor once, after all. Maybe they wanted to turn him again?
Or maybe it really was the Helvetians? Who knew? Idle speculation was such a bad habit.
At any rate, it was an opportunity.
“Ah, the good cop.” Von Drachen said, amicably.
Parinita smiled a little. “It’s not like we practiced it.”
Madiha rolled her eyes again. “Don’t bother with him.”
On her shoulder the dragon also rolled its eyes.
Von Drachen held up his hand and tittered. “Oh, my. Are you two ladies familiar?”
“I’m going to kill him.” Madiha snapped.
“Please don’t, it’ll get the film banned overseas.” Parinita joked.
Von Drachen continued talking with a smile on his face and a hand around Gutierrez.
He had found another thing he could use.
He continued to address Parinita, while his hand slid gently about.
“Are you technical staff? Is that sort of thing allowed? You have impeccable taste in military commanders, my girl, but as far as a romantic partner, I’m not so sure. Correct me, for I am most certainly wrong; but I had this imagining that homosexual women preferred partners with whom they could dress up together, and be feminine with? That seems like the thrust with women in my country, especially the feminist anarchists?”
Madiha stomped her foot.
“SHUT UP VON DRACHEN.”
Behind her, a lightning bolt flashed in the sky.
It struck so loudly it startled the dragon, and it flew away in distress.
Von Drachen, hand under the mud, pried loose from Gutierrez a grenade.
It went rolling out in the mud, visible, audible, dangerous.
Madiha immediately dove for her lvoer and pushed her to the ground for safety.
But there was no explosion, because Von Drachen never pulled the pin.
With every last ounce of strength, in one great herculean burst, Von Drachen seized Gutierrez and leaped amid sporadic fire into the river below. He crashed into the water as if striking a cement sheet, and the stormy current whisked him away in an instant. He couldn’t even see the look on Nakar’s face as he did it! What a waste to drown like this!
Somewhere between the water around and the water above, everything went dark.