E.S.P (72.3)

This scene contains violence, death, coercion and acts of misogyny.


Ayvarta, Solstice City — South Wall Defensive Line

Wave after wave of Nochtish infantry, sappers and armored vehicles hurled themselves at the walls of Solstice. The staggered marching ranks that appeared so clean over the hills broke into irregular masses as they approached the wall. Every incoming column lost scores of men and machines to an endless barrage of machine gun fire, howitzer shells and soon, the howling secret weapon of the Supreme High Command: rockets.

Blood, by the metric tonne, stained the white sand the color of wine. Piles of bodies choked up foxholes and makeshift trenches made by the previous barrages and exposed the new columns to more gunfire with less hiding places. Smoke from the shellfire and overheated machine guns lingered and turned the day dim; but the endless gunfire was a blessing, because the stench of gunpowder and fire and the unending din of the barrages and roaring of cannons drowned out the sheer absurd reek and riot of death.

Standing at their walls, the Ayvartans quietly manned their guns, every minute of shooting at least eroding their minds less than the bullets eroded northern flesh.

For some, it was a sight they were desensitized to, and with eyes wide and unblinking, they bore witness to a blur of indistinct violence. For others, it was justice, and they howled to their comrades that the imperialists were serving their time for their sin. These folks were welcomed, because the validation kept the rest a little more sane.

For a very select few, it was a disturbingly joyful chaos that they outright enjoyed.

Sometimes, over the endless cacophony of machine guns and howitzers, Brigadier General Nadia Al-Oraibi could hear the cackling of her colleague Brigadier General Gazini as she watched the unfolding carnage. Her expression was rapt, bright green eyes following the bombs across the sky and then twisting with laughter once they splashed fire and metal on some unsuspecting Nochtish unit, wiping it from the sands. She raised a machete into the sky and pointed out enemy units for the nearby wall gunners to attack, who then tried their best to oblige their superior. Gazini was easily pleased.

Bravissimo gunnery crews! Splendido! Carve up the earth and drop them to hell!”

While the slightly out-of-place elf cheered on the gunners, the calmer General raised an eyebrow at the sight of the last ammunition truck parked behind the wall, its stores rapidly depleting. It had arrived an hour ago and none since had come to replace it.

Despite the volume of fire and the loss of life, this situation was untenable. They were unprepared for such a sudden attack; Nocht should have been 50 kilometers from Solstice, and any penetrations through the desert should have been no bigger than company-sized. Nakar had warned of deep strikes from the open desert, but who listened? Nadia had thought the probabilities too small. Now she was enacting a plan that required days of preparation with hours instead. Everything was a mess.

They had to break the Nochtish forces, to destroy their will to fight, and soon.

It would at least buy time to figure out what the front line looked like anymore.

Nadia pulled back the sleeve of her uniform to check her watch, and turned to the radio man at her feet, huddling behind the thick stone ramparts for cover. She arranged a few locks of sweat-drenched black hair behind her ear and cleared her throat. Even fully prepared, she found it difficult to speak, and the radio operator was forced to wait a moment with the handset to his face and his eyes staring up at the commander. She wondered what he saw: a stout and confident commander, or a skinny, sweaty bespectacled girl pulled from a basement office, stuffed in a coat and medals.

“One minute until the Prajna are ready to fire. I want Corps artillery on the line.”

“Yes General! Will do. And um; I know what you meant ma’am, but Prajna are controlled by the High Command, not Corps, so it’ll take me a moment to reach them.” He said.

“Thank you, Specialist.” said the General, her hands shaking ever so slightly.

Nodding and smiling gently, the young man returned to work on the radio.

Nadia felt foolish and she almost wanted to be buried in a hole, but it was to be expected. This was the front line and she was nervous. She was so unused to speaking, and especially to speaking loud enough to be heard over the sound of front-line fire.

“Never thought I’d hear ‘the Genius of Defenses’ stuttering like that.”

At her side, she saw the sleek, smirking face of Eleanora Gazini lighting up with mirth, and she turned the other cheek and surveyed the battlefield instead. And yet there was an impression of the woman left in her eyes, radiant despite her years and her filthy brain and soul. Elves were infurating; who knew how old any of them were, perpetually frozen in their mid-thirties or early forties at some point or other. Gazini was old enough to have served under and been jailed by three separate administrations in one war each. Yet she was rather beautiful, with one vibrant eye, a slender figure, flowing golden hair falling from under her cap, and a lovely complexion only marred by a scar or two.

She could hear Gazini moving closer by the ringing of the bell on the bright red dog collar around her scarred-up neck. Her fellow General swooped in closer and threw an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close with too much presumed familiarity. When Nadia stared at her sidelong, she caught a glimpse only of the black eyepatch.

“Al-Oraibi, you’re not a scholar anymore! You’re a General! And in this degenerate age of impersonal machines, you’re a General who gets to watch the front, like the Cavalry of old! Take it from this spent old bitch, the youth need to stand straight, and be merry!”

Though she had written extensively about what happened in theory in these situations, actually acting out the plans that she crafted as “The Genius of Defenses” was a new challenge. Especially with “The Cannibal Hound” as her neighboring commander.

“Your brand of merriment will just land me in prison.” Nadia shot back.

“It’s not bad! It builds character. You meet many interesting women.” Gazini shrugged.

On her arm was an iron shackle, worn to denote her status as part of a penal troop.

Nadia stared at it with disdain.

“Ma’am!”

The radio operator called to her from below and Nadia was grateful for the attention.

“Are the Prajna crews taking suggestions for targets?” Nadia asked. “I have a few.”

Gazini covered her mouth to stifle a little chuckle while Nadia gave the coordinates.

Below them the scattered remnants of another wave of Nochtish infantry coalesced into a dreadful mass and made a push for the wall once more. On their backs were large bags of explosives that Nadia had witnessed going off in isolation before, detonated by shells and fire. They were powerful bombs, more powerful than any Nadia had seen carried by infantry before. It was the objective of their attacks to blow a hole in the wall using the explosives, Nadia quickly surmised. She had since had her units target them specifically.

However, Nadia had her own powerful explosives available.

Within minutes of her request, she felt the ground beneath her, the wall upon which she stood, quivering with a force originating from the city center. Overhead the massive shells of the Prajna cannons soared skyward in an acute arc, rising into the clouds completely out of sight before careening earthwards. Nadia and Gazini watched the super-heavy shell as it crashed to earth amid the teeming mass of the enemy in front of them and exploded widly, detonating their bombs and consuming the enemy charge.

White fires spread across the desert in front of them. Gazini stared, bewildered.

From the initial explosion flew a cloud of burning fragments that clung to bodies. Sticky, flashing white-and-red fire spread throughout the corpse-choked trenches and foxholes and sandbars, consuming the bodies as fuel and leaping atop any survivors like hissing imps, grappling screaming men to the floor and twisting them into horrific shapes. A smell, a smell more terrible than the gunpowder and carrion, rose from the sin below and up to the wall, where Nadia caught a whiff. She recoiled. It was chemical, awful.

“Tell the Prajna crews the experimental white phosphorous super-heavy incendiary worked. Nocht should not have exposed Madiha Nakar to such weapons.” Nadia said.

“It’s beautiful!” Eleanora Gazini cried out, clapping her hands, the inferno below reflected in her eyes, burning figures dancing with the flames. “Oh, what a sight!”

Nadia thought Gazini might shed a tear, but instead she picked up a radio from off the backpack carried by another man who had a shackle around his lower arm. Her voice lost is cheery, girlish tone as she addressed the men on the other end of the cord, barking at them like a mother or a teacher giving pitiless discipline to some misguided flock.

“Hey you laggards, isn’t it about time you made your appearance? You’re making me look bad! Such a beautiful battlefield and you haven’t the dignity to seek glory in it? Go!”

From somewhere below the wall, trap doors opened, and from them emerged men in fireproof hardsuits and welder’s masks, with machetes, trench shotguns, and pistols in hand. Screaming like the berserkers of the northern legends, they stormed out to meet the remaining Nochtish forces. Amid the white fires, the field of corpses and the blowing sand of the khamsin, they must have seemed like demons. Nadia saw the incoming fresh wave of Nochtish men crest the sands toward the killing field, and upon witnessing the horrors ahead of them, they broke before they even set foot into gun range, and fled.

“Pursue!” Gazini shouted into the radio. “Your heroism in defense of the capital in these desperate times, will be rewarded! You do well and we’ll be made a real rifle division!”

She sounded almost giddy at the prospect.

Nadia, already in a real rifle division, knew not why.

She sighed, and laid back upon the wall, sweating profusely, breathing heavily.

War was just a mathematical equation, or so she had thought.

She solved this one, at least. But there would be more. And today wasn’t even over yet.

“We need to convene with Nakar. How’s the Conqueror’s Way holding up?” Nadia asked.

Below her, the radio man made the relevant call out to his counterpart across the city.

“I’m getting interference ma’am.” He said, confused. “It’s like there’s a storm out there.”


Ayvarta, Solstice City — Conqueror’s Way

Yanyu Zhuge waited for a little bird, but none would send a pity chirp her way.

She withdrew her own pistol and took aim at Aatto Stormyweather, who in turn pressed her own pistol harder against the temple of Madiha Nakar. Aatto struggled to hold the general, who was severely weakened by her recent traumas but strong enough to be a nuisance. The two of them were each screaming all manner of things at Yanyu.

“Shoot her! She’s too dangerous to be allowed to escape!”

“Shut up! I’ll really shoot, you know! Don’t fuck with me!”

It made the grimness of this scene almost subtextual. Everything looked an utter farce.

Yanyu felt the stupidest of the three. She had relied so much on the little birds, on the whispers in her brain that told her what to expect, what would happen, what should happen. It was hard to stand on her own two feet with the kind of confidence she once had. How did one respond to one’s own complete failure? She stood with her pistol up, paralyzed with indecision. Everything felt surreal and heavy and impossible now.

“Fuck this! Listen you! I demand all the Nochtish prisoners be released right now–”

“Don’t listen to her! Shoot me and I’ll use the spark to blow her to pieces!”

“What? Are you crazy? You don’t even know if that will work! Just shut the fuck up!”

“Both of you shut up!” Yanyu shouted, suddenly shooting her own gun.

Her bullet landed at Aatto’s feet and the dog-eared woman nearly leaped with fear.

She barely managed to retain control of Madiha, who tried in vain to escape.

Aatto pulled her back by the neck and aimed her pistol at her head once more.

“Hey! You think I won’t do it? Stop this crazy bullshit and start a prisoner exchange–”

“Oh, no need, I’m here! I’m the only prisoner!”

Before Yanyu’s temper could snap again and cause an even more grievous mistake, all three of them were drawn to a shadow walking in through the clouds. He approached amicably, his hands raised over his blond hair and a mirthful expression on his face.

“Von Drachen!” Aatto shouted.

Yanyu moved as invisible and instant as a gust of wind.

In the blink of an eye she had Von Drachen on the ground, one arm twisted behind his back, his bent legs controlled by her own, and her gun behind the man’s neck. Both the speed of her attack and general shape of the contortion she had put him in seemed utterly beyond human, and Aatto stared in astonishment at the scene. Her gun trembled against Madiha’s head. She was clearly unsure of what to do in this situation.

“I’ll shoot him.” Yanyu said. “Free Madiha this instant.”

“God damn it! You fucking idiot!” Aatto shouted, hurling abuse at Von Drachen.

“Everything is fine.” He said in a choked voice, wincing as Yanyu applied pressure.

“You escape from the Ayvartans and get captured again? And you call yourself a man? You’re a garbage little boy playing soldier! I should shoot you myself!” Aatto yelled.

“I’m doing my best.” Von Drachen replied. “I still have options. Let me think.”

“Think fast.” Yanyu said.

She seemed to press her knee somewhere uncomfortable, and Von Drachen gasped.

“Any ideas?” Aatto shouted.

“She has beautiful, powerful legs, Stormyweather.” Von Drachen muttered.

Aatto grit her teeth. “Ugh! Fine, we’ll free our prisoners together. Let’s just break even.”

“I agree. Clearly this is not the destined hour of our deaths.” Yanyu replied.

Madiha seemed to then regain the manic energy she lost while struggling.

“Don’t do it! Von Drachen is extremely dangerous! We can take both out–”

Aatto smashed the back of Madiha’s head with the pistol and knocked her out.

She threw the body on the ground. “I’m walking away. Let that guy go, you hear?”

Yanyu watched Aatto intently as the dog-eared woman started walking back, cycling her aim between Madiha and Yanyu but retreating as she had promised. Yanyu slowly released Von Drachen from her grip, and the humiliated General stood at an anguished pace, as if collecting the bones he was using to raise his arms and legs one by one.

Soon, he vanished in the fog alongside his psychic companion.

And when the fog started to vanish with them, Yanyu sighed with relief, and awaited rescue from the walls. The Gate went miraculously down, tanks and infantry came rolling out, but the battle was over long before the reinforcements arrived. Yanyu propped Madiha up against a wall and tried to make her look dignified as her subordinates approached. Despite wavering at the end, she was still a hero today.


50th of the Lilac’s Bloom, 2030 D.C.E

Ayvarta, Solstice City — Field Infirmary, 1st Guard’s

Madiha dreamed of evil, thrashing emotions.

Her slumber had no coherent designs, no poignant imagery.

It was all fire and rage, loud directionless sound. There was shaking cold that traveled through copious sweat that tore across her body like razor blades. There was violence, a horrible dehumanizing violence of the senses that ripped her brain in half. Violence unrelenting upon her body. It was an indescribable, formless pain upon herself, from all sides. There were bullets from without, and a brutal slashing coming from within.

Unbeknownst to her she was moaning, screaming.

There was no sense of time. She could’ve been suffering a million years.

Then without warning, she bolted upright, coughing and choking when suddenly the need to breathe returned to her. She felt a sharp pain shoot down her body from her head. All of her senses turned on at once. What little light was coming into her space was too bright, and what little sound she heard was too loud. Her skin was clammy, and her whole body heavy and hurting. Her stomach burned, a cauldron empty save for acid.

“Madiha! Take this.”

She heard the familiar, supportive voice of Parinita Maharani, her lover and confidante and deputy; she felt her warm, soft hands thrust something into hers that was cold to the touch. Parinita helped Madiha lift the drink to her mouth, and Madiha drank. Once she got used to the sensation of drinking, she downed the entire cup of soda water.

“Parinita.” Madiha said, breathing heavily.

“I’m here.” Parinita said. She held Madiha’s hand.

When her eyes finally got used to the lights, Madiha could see her lover’s eyes, her bouncy strawberry hair, her peachy skin and her red-painted lips. She smiled, weakly, and still breathing heavily, but feeling safe and at home with the one she loved.

“I’m sorry.” Madiha said.

“Oh you will be!” Parinita replied, weeping suddenly. “When you get better I’m going to make you watch the most cringe-worthy theater adaptations I can find on film, I’ll punish you thoroughly for being so reckless after you told me you wouldn’t!”

“I’m really sorry.” Madiha said, weeping herself. “I’ll accept my punishment.”

“Ah damn, now I’m gonna cry even harder.” Parinita said. “Ugh. I was useless again.”

Before Madiha could say anything to assuage her lover’s anxieties, the flap of cloth that covered the entrance to the infirmary swung open, and the two of them had to quickly stifle their tears and try not to look too lovey-dovey in the presence of whoever had just entered the room. Madiha was nearly blinded again by the sudden intrusion of more light into the room, but she did see a pair of figures in uniform trenchcoats walk in.

“General, I’m glad you’re awake. Congratulations are in order.”

“Hah! I knew you’d bounce right back. You’re unkillable, they say.”

Madiha knew both of the visitors. She knew the first one to speak exceedingly well: it was Nadia Al-Oraibi, the General known as ‘The Genius of Defenses.’ A young woman with a tired, loveless expression on her face, her body thin and long-limbed, her sweat-slick skin the color of desert stone. She arranged her black hair behind one of her ears, fidgeting with it. At her side was the wildcard known as ‘The Cannibal Hound’, Eleanora Gazini. Though she ruthlessly self-flagellated her own age, calling herself a “spent bitch” and an “old harpy” far more often than tasteful, Eleanora looked as vibrant as an elfin girl half her age, blonde-haired, emerald-eyed, fair-skinned.  Though she was scarred up, especially around her neck and missing eye, she was tall, sleek and quite sparkling.

Gazini used to be a prisoner of war before; Madiha was still hazy on her promotion.

Both of them approached for handshakes. Al-Oraibi gave her a proper and very quick shake, while Gazini seemed to want to rip her arm off, drawing a predatory glance from Parinita. After exchanging pleasantries the arrivals sat across from Madiha; Al-Oraibi properly, and Gazini backward, pressing her breasts against the back of the chair.

“General Nakar, as I said, congratulations are in order. We believe that, unknowingly, you endured the main objective of the Nochtish attack. Your destruction of the Nochtish secret weapon prevented a breach in our most vulnerable sector.” Al-Oraibi said. “And with the western desert thrust scattered, Nochtish forces have retreated back to their main lines 25 kilometers away from the city, out of artillery range. Though their forces are likely extending slowly northward and eastward in the deserts, the city is safe.”

“Yes, well done! Our work isn’t over yet, but you really sent those goons packing. As far as the desert is concerned, I sent some of my undesirables into the sand in pursuit.” Gazini said with a vicious little grin. “If they come back, we might get something to work with on how far the Nochtish lines have stretched out and how thick they’ve gotten.”

Al-Oraibi stared at Gazini with consternation. “Our recon aircraft will do that work.”

“Our air recon is amateurish and you know it. They’ve given us the wrong coordinates to everything except the most intimidating rocks and sand pits in Solstice.” Gazini replied.

“And you think a bunch of inmates on horseback can do better?” Al-Oraibi snapped.

“I don’t think anything about those scum, but for their sake, they’ll find something.”

Al-Oraibi turned away from Gazini and started to very obviously ignore her. “General, once you are up and about, we need to go over any actionable intelligence together. As our mechanized element, the defense of the city beyond the walls will fall on you.”

Madiha nodded her head silently. Al-Oraibi’s unit was largely infantry and relatively static, with their motor vehicles in use as artillery and ammunition transports. Gazini’s unit had some motor transport but as a penal unit, were not allowed to use it freely. Most of the motor and tank power in the city lay in Madiha’s hands, with only a few other, smaller tactical units given to the southern defensive army. Outside the city, the rather green northern and eastern armies had motor and tank units, but they were raw, and untested. High Command was cautious about committing them so soon after formation.

For better or worse, the SIVIRA had adopted a posture that Solstice should be self sufficient as possible in its own defense, and the industrial might of untouched North Ayvarta was being hoarded and accumulated cautiously. Though the new armies were theoretically powerful, the High Command was saving them for when an opportunity arose for a massive counteroffensive. Everyone had the mindset that Solstice was still in the defensive phase, and so the new armies shouldn’t be wielded. After all, many old officers had been court martialed or shot in grim 2030 for wasting good armies on pointless attacks when they could’ve been defending strategically and saving themselves.

Madiha knew the southern army was in a bad way from defending Solstice for so long.

It was not in any state to counterattack, not by itself.

But Madiha had other ideas about the state of the army as a whole.

“I’m recovering fast.” Madiha said. “Once I’m back up, I will be heading to the SIVIRA to propose that a counteroffensive be planned in the northwest and eastern desert.”

Al-Oraibi and Gazini stared at one another; Al-Oraibi in horror, Gazini in awe.

“You splendid nutcase!” Gazini said. “I will give my full recommendation!”

“Your word means nothing, you chained-up dog.” Al-Oraibi said. “Nakar, this is crazy.”

“I know.” Madiha replied. “It’s a gamble. But we have to do something.”

Parinita smiled from the side of the bed, and sighed fondly, shaking her head.

“I cannot support this. And furthermore, we should also consult our new comrades.” Al-Oraibi said, reaching for any out. “The Helvetians and the Kitanese might not consent–”

Behind them, the cloth covering the entrance flapped up once more.

Yanyu Zhuge arrived then, dressed in a lovely, form-fitting, long-sleeved silk gown.

Madiha averted her gaze, but the Kitanese woman seemed to harbor no ill will.

She was smiling, and she spoke as if she had heard the entire conversation.

“A little bird told me our comrades are ready to attack.” She said, winking one eye.


Ayvarta, Solstice Desert — Nocht FOB, “Ostlich Wüste”

After the punishment received at the hands of the Ayvartan superguns, the remains of the forces sent against the walls hastily retreated to the 25 kilometer “safe zone” in the desert surrounding the city. Their own gamble had failed: sneaking in units through the desert gave them access to the city past the South Solstice Front, but they could not move enough firepower to be decisive. Almost all of the Corps that had made it through was infantry and light tanks, and almost all of it had been destroyed. Now the remainder risked being trapped between the Solstice garrison and the South Solstice Front.

Progress along the coasts was slow but it was happening, but the city and the armies in the desert around it still represented a massive bulge against in the Nochtish lines. In order for the Fennec group of forces to survive, they would have to link up with either the elven coastal forces, many hundred kilometers away; or sneak back through south.

Right now, however, Von Fennec was preoccupied with assigning blame instead.

Far in the background, the tank transporters lumbered away despondently and the remaining infantry marched away alongside them. Von Fennec ordered Aatto Jarvi Stormyweather and Petra Hamalainen Happydays to follow him out behind a large boulder jutting out of the sand, and he stood them between himself and the stone.

He then started to shout at them, at first incomprehensibly. For the past few days they had been marching he had been quiet, but now he seemed to be letting it all out.

“I blame this on you, witch! We lost the superweapon, we lost massive amounts of men, we lost our shot at the wall, and all because you fell asleep on the job when you should’ve been our secret weapon! You’re nothing but a trumped-up fog machine!”

Aatto grit her teeth and closed her fists, and Petra rubbed a gentle hand across her arm as a gesture of sympathy, and to try to calm her down. Around them the air grew colder.

“General–”

“Quiet, radio girl!” Von Fennec raised an index finger just a hair’s breadth away from Aatto’s face. “Us Louplanders, we’re treated as the scum of the Federation, because of people like you! Those of us who work hard and uphold the Federation’s values keep being brought down into the dirt by barbarians like you, Stormyweather! You are the reason that our kind will never make it! You disgust me! I made General in this army, the only Louplander General in the regular forces, and now look at what you’ve done to me! I will go back to the Oberkommando and be humiliated and demoted, my work undone!”

“I don’t give a shit about you or your precious Federation! Fuck you!” Aatto spat back.

“You had better start caring! Our homeland will never become anything without the Federation! That’s the work I’m trying to promote! And I thought I could have an ally in you, but you’re content to be another drunken, hedonistic bitch in my way instead!”

“General!” Petra shouted, scandalized. “Aatto’s done everything she could–”

In one brutal snap Von Fennec put his hand across Petra’s cheek, knocking her down.

“Don’t raise your voice to me!”

Aatto’s calm finally broke and the subtle cold around them became a wintry gust.

Von Fennec gasped as his throat closed. He struggled as his body raised off the ground.

“Aatto no!” Petra shouted from the ground, weeping, rubbing her cheek.

Aatto’s eyes burned with blue vapor.

The atmosphere around her was dense with power.

She had her hand outstretched, her teeth grit. She growled, and squeezed her hand as if struggling with Von Fennec’s physical throat. He thrashed and coughed in the air before her, helpless against her attack. Petra made it to her feet and grabbed hold of her, and she shouted and pleaded, but Aatto would not acknowledge her and pressed her attack.

Von Fennec’s fingers wildly struggled against his belt.

He seemed to finally shake something loose and brandished it at her.

Aatto’s eyes dimmed, and the cold dispersed from around her like a popped bubble.

Von Fennec fell to the ground, and raised himself back up, gasping for breath.

Aatto was suddenly stunned, and she moved as if in a trance, trying to raise her hands to attack Von Fennec again, but doing so too slowly and limply to have any effect.

Petra, still holding on to Aatto, looked at Von Fennec in horror.

In his hands there was a small purple cube attached to some sort of horrible little mechanical stand, like a compass with a skeletal claw set on top, clutching the cube. Every so often the little metal fingers would turn the cube on its axis, one rotation, and there would be a tiny, almost imperceptible spark of some dim, purple-black energy.

Could Petra see it because she was a little bit psychic herself?

She could feel something dreadful from it, but it didn’t have the effect it had on Aatto.

“You absolute dog.” Von Fennec gasped. “Not so mighty now?”

He struggled to walk up to Aatto and smacked her with his other hand.

“No!” Petra shouted, but she was too scared to stand up to Fennec herself.

Von Fennec ignored her, focused entirely on Aatto with a cruel, cold gaze.

“You think this wasn’t foreseen? You belong to the Federation, witch!”

Von Fennec raised the device to Aatto’s face, and the catatonic Aatto stared at it.

“This wasn’t the protocol, but to hell with it. If you won’t be an ally, you’ll be a tool.”

“Please stop!” Petra shouted.

“I said shut up, you worthless peasant!”

Von Fennec raised his hand again.

From the desert, a gunshot rang out.

Von Fennec’s fingers flew from his hand before they could come down on Petra.

Blood spurted down on his face. He brought his wounded hand down and stared at it.

He looked up at the rock; Petra looked over her own shoulder in disbelief.

Gaul Von Drachen emerged from around the stone landmark, brandishing his pistol.

“You should show a little more respect for women, Von Fennec! Do you not know the sort of things they go through? Aatto and Petra experience your oppression twofold.”

He walked nonchalantly up to Von Fennec, and kicked him in the knee.

Von Fennec fell back, screaming and thrashing, dropping the device.

“Von Drachen! You traitor! You’re turning against us! Just like you turned against the anarchists! I knew you would!” Von Fennec cried out, making as if to try to crawl away.

“Ah, you have me all wrong. I think you’re the one who betrayed our values.”

Von Drachen picked up the device he dropped, and threw it into the desert.

It struck a rock, and shattered.

At the site of the impact and upon the very second it was struck, the device issued a wave of purple-black electricity, lightning, energy — whatever one could call the effect — that surged and grew into a perfectly circular blast, a hole in reality, consuming everything. A few meters in diameter across three dimensional space, the blast seemed to sink into itself after a few seconds, and left behind a perfectly circular hole in the ground.

For a moment, it was as if it had left a perfectly circular hole in the wind too, a spot where the gently blowing sand of the desert had been consumed in mid-air.

“Huh. Interesting. Anyway, I do this for the Federation and all of that.”

Von Drachen nonchalantly aimed his pistol at Von Fennec and shot him in the head.

Petra screamed with horror.

Aatto blinked, and looked around herself in confusion.

“Oh shit, I must’ve killed the old fuck. Damn, ugh, I really did it–”

She noticed Von Drachen then.

“Wait–”

Von Drachen shrugged for an instant.

He then shouted. “Snipers! Snipers in the desert! Double time! Double time!”

He pushed Aatto and Petra by the shoulders away from the site.

“Let us agree,” he whispered, “that Von Fennec was just a regrettable casualty of war.”

Petra was speechless and upset by everything, and merely sobbed and clung to Aatto.

Aatto, meanwhile, grinned viciously. “I won’t miss him.”


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