Chapter 3: March unto the Unknown
3rd Recon Platoon, ~150km into the Special Region; July 15th, 2017 – Early Morning
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Corporal Abigail Ramirez cursed while complaining as she fiddled with the ELINT set on the LAV-MEWSS, “I’m getting company level chatter here! A full datanet from the sound of it.” That got everyone in the LAV-MEWSS -including Abigail’s commanding officer 2nd Lieutenant Robert Flores and the overall platoon commander 1st Lieutenant Youji Itami- into something of a muted uproar. The US had sent a pair of vehicles -consisting of one LAV-MEWSS and a M3A3 Cav Bradley with an element of Calvary Scouts- with each JSDF recon platoon due to the sightings of the unknown drones and aircraft in the Special Region. Now, as the platoon got its bearings, the ELINT system’s passive receivers started to pick up immense amounts of traffic. That prompted the raising of the MEWSS mast, and that was when things got even more interesting.
“Can you make anything out?” 2nd Lieutenant Robert Flores asked, “Or at least a bearing so we can avoid them?” Robert Flores didn’t want to stumble upon them unexpectedly and cause an incident, especially with all the unknowns that are in play.
“I barely have a bearing of North-Northeast right now. If I must guess, it might be a company HQ element given the amount of traffic,” Abigail answered as she continued to fiddle with the ELINT set, “Damn these guys are good. Their ESEC is impressive, can’t get much outside of the presence of the signals, their encrypted traffic, and the direction of the biggest source.” That worried everyone else that was in the compartment. The ELINT equipment is some of the best that the US can come up with, and with it not being able to do much, it meant that it could get messy.
“Alright then,” Itami said in English, “All we have to do is keep our distance and things would go…” That was when Itami was interrupted.
“The source is moving! Looks like they’re going westward, away from us,” Abigail exclaimed, “Can’t get a good read on its speed either. Looks like they’ve stopped just like us and looked to get their bearings.” That got everyone on edge for a moment before relaxing a bit. At least the signal simply moving westward and not towards them.
“Alright then,” Itami sighed, “We’ll head to the outskirts of this ‘Coda Village’ and start our recon in earnest. Hopefully we’ll never see what that source consists of.” Everyone couldn’t fault the laid-back 1st Lieutenant for saying that. The unknowns just have far too many variables to reliably guess at what they would do when in contact. For all 3rd Recon Platoon knows, they might be Nazis… and thus requiring a wide berth.
“We can’t pin everything on hope Itami,” Robert replied, “Given what has happened so far, we don’t know what will happen.” With that, the 3rd Recon Platoon prepared to set off for Coda Village…
Coda Village Northwestern Outskirts, Company Command Vehicle Scout’s Honor; July 15th, 2017 - 14:20 Hours
“Hauptmann, we’re on the outskirts of Coda Village,” Leutnant Hannah Küttner stated, “1st Squad is ready to move in with you.” The rules of engagement were rather strict in this instance. Any village encountered must have the platoon -or in this case company- commander move in with a squad to initiate contact before the rest of the platoon would move in. For Huptmann Aaron Thomas Fredrick Neumann, this was the first town that had people in it. Thanks to the intelligence provided by Azibal and her group combined with aerial reconnaissance, Coda Village is the best location in Aaron’s company’s sector to start going ‘in depth’ on the local industries, politics, and economies. So far, the other platoons have been making great time and made inroads to the local populous… but haven’t encountered the alternate Japanese soldiers yet.
“Alright then, pop the hatch, I’m doing the RoE’s procedures,” Huptmann Aaron Neumann ordered, “As much as I hate this RoE, can’t say that I don’t argue with the reasoning though…” The last time this sort of RoE was done was back during the 1930s and 1940s during the initial stages of what would become known as the Africa Commonwealth Project. The Africa Commonwealth Project was something developed out of the MittleAfrika plans developed prior to WW1. The general idea behind MittleAfrika was simple: build the nations within German-held Africa into respectable countries and then give them the choice to move towards the future with their own two hands, be an ally and trading partner with Germany, or become part of a German Commonwealth. While the idea was initially scrapped because of the Treaty of Damnation, it gained new life after the Great War of Resistance… and with American money. Now Africa is the posterchild of non-exploitive colonial policy, as the African Federation isn’t practicing some form of genocide every metaphorical ten minutes.
“Understood Hauptmann,” Leutnant Küttner replied, “The rest of the platoon is on hot standby.” As Aaron exited the command vehicle, the others went back to their stations, launching a small drone to keep an eye on the situation…
Coda Village, Northern End; 14:25 Hours
“Looks like everyone is staying indoors,” Feldwebel Reinhard Steiner complained over the radio, “That’s unusual to say the least.” Aaron simply sat there, slightly worried about that statement. Given the technological state of the ‘Holy Empire of Alnus’, the flow of information would be horrifically slow -i.e usually taking weeks to months normally, with significant information usually taking days at best- by the standards of the Iron Pact. Then again, the Iron Pact have the miracles provided by technologies like fiber-optic internet, radio communications, and self-powered vehicles using hydrogen or -if the infrastructure isn’t good enough- gasoline engines.
“Probably someone on one of the farms saw us and hauled ass on his horse and stated that someone was coming,” Aaron answered, “Given that we’ve pretty much shattered the local garrisons in the fight for our little hill, banditry has likely risen sharply. Better to simply give the more combat experienced bandits what they want than die needlessly as barely-trained peasant levies.” History is rife with villages that did that, and often caused more problems than it solved in the long run. Still, given that using things like spears, swords, bows, and other implements of war of the medieval warfare required a lot of training to utilize properly and the fact that medieval peasant levies weren’t the best thing in the world, it is somewhat understandable.
“Sir, I’m picking up light radio chatter. Barely encrypted. Looks like that radio signal source we detected while getting updates from the rest of the company showed up,” Leutnant Küttner updated over the radio, “Given what little intelligence we’ve got from the drones, the engines would probably be heard well before they saw the vehicles.” Aaron mentally cursed. Just what the company needed, complications. To be more specific, complications from the alternate Japanese military.
That was when several villagers started looking at the bushes that the squad were hiding in, almost outright saying ‘you can come out now, we know you’re there!’.
“Alright, we’ve been had,” Aaron said, “Disengage combat fractal pattern and fall in, we’ve got a village to understand.” Soon enough, the 10-man plus one squad commanded the intelliwear-based uniforms to switch from combat forest fractal to a less camouflaging non-fractal forest cammo scheme and walked out of the bushes.
“Elder!” one of the children exclaimed in Saderian as she ran down the earthen street, “We’ve got more men in green on the north side.” Aaron balked at that bit of information, had the unknowns decided to visit this village as well? That was when another child practically pulled Aaron by the hand across the village…
Town Center, near the Town Hall
Aaron frowned as he was practically dragged by the locals towards the town center, barely having time to put his OICW on safety so nothing would set it off. As Aaron was dragged through town, he noticed that the locals were in awe of his comrades, be their weapons or their uniforms. It took a few minutes, but Aaron and his squad were at the center of town… and right in front of the Alternate Japanese… with what looked like Alternate Americans.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Aaron muttered to himself… and that was when the situation became wrong. Aaron -and apparently his opposite- noticed an unnatural tension in the air. A tension that would quickly spark conflict if either side wasn’t too careful. Aaron heard his opposite muttering the same exact thing under his breath… which didn’t come as a surprise. You got command rank not because of how badass or heroic you are, you got command rank for keeping a cool head no matter what the situation.
Things got hectic when one of the Alternate Americans saw Aaron’s patch and became overtly hostile.
“Damn it Itami! We’re dealing with Nazis!” the Alternate American exclaimed in English as he unholstered his rifle, “I fucking hate it when I win the bet!” The rest of Aaron’s squad soon got their rifles into ready position while the Alternate Japanese/American platoon’s leader did a facepalm as he tried to defuse the situation with his platoon-mates.
“Just great,” Aaron mumbled to himself as he did the hand signal for lowering weapons, “Just what we needed… if I had known that being part of the 7th Panzer Division would set off that sort of reaction, then I would have left the patches at Fort Portal.”
“Sir, you know protocol,” Reinhard said flatly as he moved to drag Aaron out of the line of fire, “Get to cover.” Aaron simply rolled his eyes as he stared down the agitated Alternate Japanese/Americans as he tried to defuse the situation on his side, not even once moving his hand to his OICW.
“Who is the leader of your Platoon?” Aaron asked in English.
Itami started to break out in a cold sweat as his mind raced. Private Richards had started a standoff just because the squad in front of him had 7th Panzer Division patches. While what appeared to be the leader had tried to get his squad to lower their weapons, one of them spouted something about protocol and cover in German. That was when the leader gave Itami’s squad the most intense stare he ever witnessed -like if death itself was behind those eyes- and asked who the platoon leader was.
“Everyone, stand down,” Itami ordered flatly, giving his platoon-mates his uncharacteristic stare to stomp out any disobedience, before he answered the man’s question, “I am the platoon leader and name is Youji Itami, 1st Lieutenant of the Japanese Self Defense Force. May I ask who you are and where do you come from?” Itami’s JSDF platoon-mates lowered their weapons but kept them in the standby position just in case things devolved into a straight-out shoot-out. Most of the Americans slowly followed suit… but two of them still had their weapons drawn.
“My name is Aaron Thomas Neumann, Hauptmann of her Majesty, Sophia of the House of Hohenzollern, Kaiserin of Germany,” the man answered, “… and sorry if I’m rude for asking but what is a Nazi? From the tone it sounds almost derogatory.” Itami noticed that the situation could still escalate as the stare abided, if only little by little. Private Richards -the man behind the standoff- was clearly already in a panicked state… and Itami couldn’t blame him. That stare took him back to the day he wanted to permanently forget.
“Sorry about Private Richards,” Itami respectably apologized, “I don’t know what got into him… but then again it must have been that weird tension in the air.” Hauptmann Neumann simply nodded in acceptance as the situation was defused.
“Now that you’ve mentioned it,” Hauptmann Neumann commented, “There was this weird tension in the air the moment we neared the village and only now it has mysteriously vanished. Only a few places could do that, but that’s always at a handful of atrocities during the Great War of Resistance.” That was when Aaron turned to his squad. “Alright, give the signal for the rest of the command platoon.” With a simple ‘jawohl’, one of the squad spoke into her mic.
“Damn Itami,” Flores exclaimed in awe, “I thought we would have started shooting before you could talk everyone down like that. Didn’t know that you had it in you.” Itami sighed at that comment, it’s like no one thinks of him other than a laid-back and lazy otaku. “… also, is your luck this bad? I mean what are the chances that they would pick the very same village as us, let alone a confrontation?”
“Pretty damn low,” Itami answered in English, “Then again, so far everything indicates that they’re anything but through. Still, at least we’re not turned into paste.” Flores raised an eyebrow at the last comment.
“Can you run that by me again?” Flores asked flatly, “Turned into paste? Really?” Itami looked at Flores like if he was stupid, insane, or both. Itami frowned as it became obvious that Flores rolled snake-eyes on all his observance checks.
“Take a look at their armor,” Itami answered, “The movements are a bit too like the various exoskeleton experiments to be simply training. Given that the shape and overall aesthetics of the weaponry, their weapons are harder hitting while probably having the same rate of fire as ours.” Flores simply frowned at that. “They have a lot more firepower than we have… and most of ours is attached to our vehicles.”
“Crushed I can get,” Flores replied, “but paste… that’s a bit much don’t you think?”
“Better to overestimate someone than underestimate them,” Itami answered, “Given that they’re equipped with what looks like armored plate style combat exoskeletons, they probably have better armaments than us.” Flores raised an eyebrow to that. “We are barely equipped with interceptor plates as it is… and I for one don’t want to get needlessly killed.”
Coda Village Town Hall meeting chambers, a few minutes later
“… and these maps are accurate up to 400km away from what the locals call ‘the Holy Hills of Alnus’,” Aaron explained as he gave the copies to Itami, “From what we’ve gathered from the eight locals who were on their pilgrimage, we’re probably looking at a continent roughly the size of North America. We’re roughly right smack in the middle of that continent.” Itami nodded as he looked at the given maps, noting their extreme detail.
“These would be rather useful in the long run,” Itami commented, “This is far better than simply aimlessly running around hopping that the directions of the locals are somewhat accurate.” Itami mentally sighed as his job of exploration just got a whole lot easier, so much so that he can go back to his hobby faster.
“If 3rd Platoon is like I remember them,” Aaron smirked, “they should be near or in the village nestled in the nearby forest by now. They’ve always been a wee bit more enthusiastic about their duties… much like the old Aufklärungsjäger in the Great War of Resistance and World War 2.” That was when the head village elder noticed the location of the village in question and decided to shed some light on the matter.
“Wait, you’re heading off to the Fae Elven village?” the Elder inquisitively asked in Saderian, “They’ve been the village’s major local trading partner for generations. We usually trade our excess foodstuffs, ironworking, and manufactured goods from the cities for their woodcraft, bows, meat, alchemy, and silks. Allowed us to be rather well-off than most…” Aaron and Itami looked at each other for a moment. Fairy elves? The word ‘Seriously?’ popped into the minds of the two officers as the Elder described the two villages’ relationship.
“That’s… good to know,” Aaron commented in Saderian, “Thanks for that information Elder.” That was when Aaron heard an excited yelp from one of Itami’s compatriots, talking about ‘busty epitome of beauty Elves’ or some such… much to the dismay of his colleges.
“Alright then,” Itami said as he made up his mind, “That village would be next on our places to go.” Aaron nodded in agreement. “Old Man! Get everyone ready! We’re going to the village the Elder mentioned.” Itami hoped that he would get some accurate information on the economic dynamics of the Empire, and thus get more time with his hobbies.
“So, how about we go in as a convoy?” Aaron requested, “Given that other Aufklärungsabteilung companies have been encountering some of the nastier local fauna, it would be recommended that we have safety in numbers.” Itami simply shrugged, as he couldn’t fault for the Hauptmann’s suggestion. The JSDF and USMC haven’t found anything dangerous with the local fauna, but it didn’t mean that there wasn’t something dangerous lurking in the shadows.
“Itami, are you seriously suggesting that we go out with them?” Flores asked, “I mean, we know very little about them as it is!” Flores wasn’t wrong on that, but he wasn’t 100% right either. Then again, learning -along with trust- is generally a two-way street.
“I know that Flores,” Itami answered, “Problem is that the only way in getting to know them is to at least spend some time with them at the very least. Better do it before any of our superiors decide to do something stupid like forbid contact with them.” Itami, Aaron thought to himself, is a strange officer. He acts like Erwin Rommel’s ‘lazy genius’, yet quite a few of his actions simply indicate that he has literally no will to do more than be ‘good enough’. “So, we’re going with them. Hopefully we can get to the village before nightfall and spend the night.”
“I hope to God that you know what you are doing Itami,” Flores complained, “If this bites us in the ass, I’m blaming you for it.” Neither Aaron or Itami couldn’t fault Flores though…
On the Highway towards the Elven Village, 3rd Recon Platoon Recon Command Vehicle (BDX10 Command); 17:20 Hours
“Well, they’re a bit of an odd bunch, aren’t they?” Takeo Kurata asked to no one in particular as the radio sounded with strange music
, “They are dead serious in the professionalism department but then this sort of thing happens.” Itami wasn’t going to really argue much on the oddities of Hauptmann Neumann and his unit. They’re human, and thus they can be anything really.
“If I remember right,” Sargent Major Souichirou Kuwahara started, “most of the music they’ve been putting on are old military marches… but I don’t know what this one is exactly. Then again my understanding of German military marches is… lackluster at best.” Itami simply sighed as the convoy moved forward.
“Wait…” Private Richards muttered -forced to be with Itami for his actions in Coda Village- softly, “I remember hearing this march. If I’m not mistaken, that’s Alter Jägermarsch.” Everyone in the vehicle looked at Richards like he grew a second head. “What? My grandma Erika was from Germany, and she had a few records with old German marches and music.”
That was when the music quickly cut off.
“Break, break, break. 3rd Platoon to Company Command, 3rd Platoon to Company Command; have encountered hostile local fauna at Walddorf. Walddorf completely annihilated. We’ve only managed to evacuate 95 survivors of about a population of 180. Send message to all commands: hostile fauna confirmed. Data will follow.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Itami sighed as he took in the message, “Alright, get me the Hauptmann.” Takeo quickly handed over the radio mic to Itami. “Lieutenant to Hauptmann, what’s the plan?”
“Hauptmann to Lieutenant, we’re stopping right here to rally with 3rd Platoon, we’ll take on the civilians before retreating to Coda Village. Their ETA is five minutes. Better send a FLASH to your command immediately,”
Hauptmann Neumann ordered through the radio, “This is certainly going to be mess when this is all over.”
Itami simply sighed in sadness, he knew a few politicians who are more than willing to use any fallout from this as an excuse to further their political goals… on both sides of the isle.
“Understood Hauptmann,” Itami responded before looking at Takeo, “Alright we’ll pull to the side and wait for Hauptmann’s 3rd Platoon to meet us with the survivors. Hopefully we can get back to Coda Village and work out a plan there.” Itami didn’t like it but civilians had to be taken care of… and there might be casualties in the evacuation, and the HQ platoon is better equipped to handle them…
Thirty Minutes ago, Elven Walddorf; 3rd Recon Platoon
Leunant Silvester Häring smiled as the locals greeted them with open arms. The platoon had made great time to get to this village, and the village -although a bit skittish at first- accepted them with open arms. The village chief -one Hodor Marceau- and his elder advisors had explained some of the village’s economy. Some coinage was exchanged, samples of the local fauna and products acquired, and yet another language for the linguists to learn. Everything was going smoothly…
That was when the word ALARM showed up on his HUD. Häring quickly sent a mental command to his system, showing the situation with Squad Dora.
“Leunant! We’ve got hostile local flying mega fauna trying to kill us as it moves towards the village! Evacuate everyone at once!”
Häring’s blood turned to ice at that statement. If the area had mega fauna willing to attack settlements…
“Hodor Marceau!” Häring exclaimed in Saderan, “I must talk with you immediately!” Hodor quickly looked towards Häring as he ran towards him. “My fourth squad just got attacked by flying mega fauna and it’s heading towards the village!”
“What?” Hodor asked, “Can you give a description of this?” Häring was understanding, as evacuating a village is no simple task and thus not to be done on a whim.
“I can do one better,” Häring answered, “I’m sending battlefield telemetry to my datapad right now.” The datapad soon showed live footage of Squad Dora -led by Feldwebel Hans Hitler- trying to not die against the monster in question.
Marceau’s eyes widened to -if it weren’t for the current situation- comedic proportions. “ALARM!” Marceau exclaimed in Saderan, “ALARM! A great fire dragon is heading towards our village!” The elves simply stared at Marceau for a moment… before dropping whatever they were doing and going towards their homes, doing physical achievements that simply put Olympian athletes to shame. “Elder Ertzwald, gather the warriors together! We must slow the fire dragon before it gets too close to the village!” The elder in question quickly moved to gather whatever warriors he could.
“Jäger! Steiner! Everyone is to be combat ready in five! We’re making a fighting withdrawal towards the Hauptman! Smalls; get that SHORAD ready, we might need it!” Häring ordered, “I want civilians that can’t evacuate in the IFVs! We’ll ride them if we have to!” With exclamations of ‘Jawohl Leunant’, the rest of the platoon went to work. “Feldwebel Hitler, make a combat retreat to the village. Once here, prepare to take on civilians… I don’t care if you have to tank-ride the IFV, just make it happen…”
~10km north of Walddorf
“Understood Leunant!” Feldwebel Hans Hitler responded as he ran for his life, the reversing IFV firing it’s 3cm autocannon at the flying monster, “Gefreiter Rottmann, we are leaving!” Sounds of automatic rifle fire echoed through the forest. "Damn our luck! Our IFVs aren’t equipped with MRM systems!”
Soon a recoilless rifle made an echo throughout the forest, sending its payload into a tree near the dragon in question, sending tree splinters all over the place as the HEAT-MP round detonated. The dragon noticed this and started to back off a bit, leading to some cheers.
“Reload that Raketenpanzerbüchse!” Hans bellowed over the radio, “Make your next shot count!” The two soldiers quickly did a textbook running reload of the 10.5cm recoilless Raketenpanzerbüchse 92. Few soldiers could do such a thing as reloading the weapon is rather hard while on the run… but the two women are excellent multitaskers.
“Raketenpanzerbüchse loaded!” Gefreiter Höger exclaimed. Soon her platoon-mate fired the weapon, taking out the left rear claw of the dragon by sheer luck. The two went into overdrive and vacated their spot, barely missing a fiery demise.
“Feldwebel Hitler! Contacts, behind!” exclaimed Rottmann over the radio, “GUOS drone has about twenty contacts coming up from behind.” And soon enough, the data from the GUOS drone was fed into Hans’s Cross-Com feed… showing locals -probably militia- with various compound bows. That was when one of them stopped and drew his arrow, whispered a few words, and loosed the arrow at the dragon, causing immense destruction as it barely missed its mark.
“They’re giving us cover!” Hans exclaimed, “Double time it to the village and see to the evacuation!” And with that, the entire platoon went into overdrive, maintaining a top speed of 30km/h as they went…
Walddorf, five minutes later
The village is in complete chaos. Entire families took whatever heirlooms and vital supplies they could and loaded them into the various travois and wagons. Draft animals were readied while every elf was making sure that everything was accounted for. So far, the ‘reaction’ body of warriors -some 60 in all- have helped Häring by relieving Dora squad… but could only delay the dragon for a few minutes. The rest of the warriors -including the village chieftain, Hodor- had finished their preparations.
“Alright, I want a small contingent of warriors to help escort our people out of the forest, I’ll lead the rest to distract the dragon as long as possible,” Hodor ordered, “My contingent will try to keep the dragon occupied for as long as possible. Everyone else must make to Coda village at best speed.” Everyone else knew what Hodor was ordering, at best this is a suicide mission… but this was also the only way to ensure that the villagers will be able to escape unscathed.
“I understand Mr. Marceau,” Centurion Häring stated as about faced and turned to his subordinates, “You’ve heard the man, let’s get this convoy moving!” With that, the convoy of elven refugees -including Hodor’s daughter Tuka and wife Umillia- swiftly left the village… leaving Hodor and 59 warriors behind… waiting for the Dragon to come again.
Hodor turned around and simply stood there, mummering numerous chants in his preparations to fight against the Fire Dragon. The calling of spirits isn’t something to take lightly, as it always drains one’s mana pool. It is extremely draining to call upon numerous -or powerful or in the rare case both- spirits at once. This is one of those times that such actions are necessary.
“Chieftain,” a warrior exclaimed as she dashed into the village, “It’s coming this way.” Hodor simply frowned at that information before quickening his chanting. That was when he saw a blot of red in the sky, and quickly drew his bow before chanting special magics into the arrow. Others that can do so did the same… and barely seconds later, they all let loose. Normally, a steel-tipped arrow is useless against a Great Fire Dragon’s scales… but that didn’t pertain to arrows imbued with the power of numerous spirits.
The arrow penetrated the outer skin of the dragon, but it didn’t do much besides making it angry.
Hodor quickly maneuvered to another location as he started the enchantment chain again… and that was when Hodor heard the screams…
The warriors that positioned themselves closer to the dragon began to burn. Horrifying screams filled the forest as the owners of the voices burned. Hodor quickly steeled himself as he let loose another arrow, this time hitting it in the right eye. Hodor smiled as the giant beast backed off, but it quickly got over its shock as it unleashed more of its flaming payload, all but four others.
That was when Hodor’s day went for the weird, as unknown silhouettes started appearing out of nowhere. They looked like humans, but the armor and weapons were something that Hodor have never seen before. They had chain-link armor with limited armor plates while the helmet is adorned with horns and wings. The weapons, on the other hand, are different than the usual fare. The shields looked like nothing Hodor had seen before, their swords were incredibly large compared to what seemed to be practical, and their crossbows were simply gigantic compared to the common ones across the Empire.
“Lauf schnell, Elfen. Wir werden die Linie gegen diesen Drachen halten, “the ethereal being spoke in a language that Hodor couldn’t even begin to understand, “Festhalten Sie Männer! Festhalten! Lasst uns diesem Biest zeigen, wie der Deutsche Orden kämpft!” The being quickly pointed in the direction of the evacuated villagers. “Es ist jetzt an der Zeit sicherzustellen, dass diejenigen, die sich nicht schützen können, vor dieser schrecklichen Bestie gerettet werden! Zu den unnachgiebigen Kampfkameraden!”
Hodor couldn’t believe what was happening… spirits -hundreds of them- attempting to hold the line against one of the deadliest beasts in the world… and they were succeeding. Something like this is unprecedented! Even in the time of legend, something like this never happened; even in the great epics of the various races on this Earth.
“Brother,” Theodas began, “what should we do?” Hodor looked at Theodas, his mind still trying to process what is happening. “Brother!” Theodas started to shake Hodor, trying to get Hodor out of his apparent shock.
“Oh, right,” Hodor replied as he got out of his shock, “I think they want us to get to our families… and I think that is a good idea…” The remaining four looked at Hodor like if he was insane. Physical manifestations of spirits are extremely rare, to see hundreds of them at once -and going towards a fight no less- had never happened before in recorded history. However, not doing so meant that they had to fight a Great Fire Dragon.
“…” Theodas replied wordlessly, his brain still trying to work out if Hodor was insane or not.
“Well, it is either going to our families or… getting killed by the Great Fire Dragon,” Dalyor sarcastically answered, “I choose going to our families.” Everyone couldn’t really argue with what Dalyor was saying and agreed to simply get out while things were going in a positive direction…
Somewhere in Italica Province; Nightfall
The small band of brigands cheered and smiled as they split the spoils of the lone trader they ambushed. All and all, this was an excellent haul for a lone trader. So far, the band have been sweeping through the province, increasing their reputation among the decitizens of the criminal world.
“Ah another fine load of spoils!” Nonus Vassenius Pennus -the band’s defacto second-in-command- laughed aloud, “Now this is the fight we live for! No more being killed from beyond eyesight! No more explosive spells shattering our formations! Everything is up close and personal!” The seven others couldn’t help but agree. They all had been at the battle of the Holy Hill of Alnus and the horrors that were inflicted there. Even Duran -one of the most capable generals in the known world- couldn’t win against the forces that had taken the hill. While the vast majority of the survivors dispersed to their homelands, Nonus was one of the handful that decided that they couldn’t go home… and turned to banditry.
“At this rate, we can gather enough men to overthrow the local lord!” Spurius Horatius Decianus bragged, “To think of it, from brigand to lord! This is too easy!” Spurius started to laugh… until he quickly went silent. The air was deathly still before the head fell off the man’s shoulders. The brigands began to panic as they searched for the attacker… before going face to face with an unknown warrior. The warrior only wore chest-plate for armor, but his clothing was outlandishly colored to the point that it was like the warrior wanted to stand out. The warrior is armed with the largest sword that they had ever seen, over six and third feet long… and a smaller and more sensible shorter sword as a backup. All while being bathed in an ethereal glow.
The warrior simply scoffed as he gored another of the band. “Du bist es nicht wert, mit meiner zweihändigen Klinge zu sterben! In meinem Leben habe ich in vielen Schlachten um Geld, Prestige und Ruhm gekämpft. Doch du hast die Armeen verlassen, denen du gedient hast, und wurden Briganten!” the warrior stated, “Du wirst von meiner Klinge getötet werden wie die tollwütigen Hunde, die du bist! Du hast dein Land, deinen Herrn und deine Familien blamiert! Bete zu deinen heidnischen Göttern um Vergebung, denn ich werde nicht!” It was then Servius Modius Disertus did the foolish thing and charged, becoming nearly bisected for his troubles.
Like a demon from the netherworld, the warrior made his way through the rest of the band, ruthlessly killing any that he could reach. A trail of blood, death, and mangled bodies went for a dozen or so feet before the last brigand -a young child named Reeve Heimart- laid on the ground literally pissing himself.
“Please! Let me live!” Reeve begged as he continued to piss himself, “I’ll do anything you ask! Please, I beg…” It was then that a giant halberd turned the begging brigand into a pile of gore.
“You are so selfish!” Rory the Reaper complained with a chuckle, “Those brigands were for the All Father! Now you’re going to be their replacement!” With that, Roy crossed the distance and gave the warrior the soles of her platform shoes before twirling around her halberd. The warrior simply shrugged it off, signaling Rory that this wasn’t a human opponent despite his appearance.
The warrior quickly bunny hopped backward and began to analyze the situation. The supposedly teen girl before him is far stronger than she looked, and that made the warrior smile. One of those he was his objective have come into the open, making the rest of his mission much easier… only complicated that she was going to attempt to kill him. He quickly raised his zweihändgen in a blocking position as the halberd came down towards him. The weapon -much to Rory’s surprise- blocked her halberd.
Rory’s blood began to freeze as the warrior took one of his hands and went behind his back to grab something… before revealing a weapon that Rory has never seen before; it had a trigger like a crossbow, but everything else was different. The warrior quickly pointed the end of the weapon towards Rory’s torso before pulling the trigger. A small explosion was heard, and Rory felt a sharp and horrific pain in her gut. Rory’s regeneration started kicking in as she broke off. The warrior threw the weapon onto the ground and charged with his zweihändgen.
Rory was barely able to avoid the first swipe before she went to stab the warrior. The stab did hit its mark… but the warrior chuckled as Rory sat there in bewilderment as her halberd phased through the warrior. “Du musst ein unaufmerksamer Tölpel sein, um anzunehmen, was dein Gegner ist, kleine Dame,” the warrior chuckled, “Ich habe dir nur erlaubt, mich mit deiner zweihändigen Hellebarde zu erstechen, um zu einer Erkenntnis zu kommen. Ich habe eine Nachricht an deinen Meister, sowohl mündlich als auch schriftlich.” The warrior quickly produced a scroll with a complex seal.
Rory quickly regained her composure and sulked for a moment. This warrior had the audacity to call her a little lady and yet he was carrying two messages. “What is this message that you want to tell Emoly?” Rory asked in the warrior’s language.
“Now you speak German!” the warrior spat, “Tell your Gods that their time has ended, for the Old One has returned! … and the Old One is righteously pissed at what has happened since being stabbed in the back and left for dead!” As soon he gave the messages, he vanished without a trace. Rory could only stand there, as her very soul shakes with fear. Emoly had told her about The Old One… how that Hardy led the other divines to overthrow the Old One because of her ideals. That divine conflict is how Hardy was able to control the Gate… although not as effectively as the Old One.
Rory could sense that the Divines are now in a state of disarray as this information has filtered up to them through her. Emoly now had new orders for her: find the men in green and assess them…
Coda Village; July 16th, 2017 – 08:40 Hours
“Alright, is everyone ready?” Itami asked in Saderan as the village elder took a gander at the assembled convoy. The convoy’s structure is somewhat odd in Itami’s view, but he couldn’t blame the overall structure. Normally the structure of a convoy is a single column with armed mixed with the transports. What the Iron Pact has done is something vastly different as it resembled more like a naval convoy than a land one. The two SHORADs would flank the center of the convoy alongside with the platoon of recon IFVs. The command vehicle would be at the center while the two IFVs nestled themselves in the front and rear of the convoy. Itami’s platoon took up positions near vital points of the convoy to cover any holes in the defenses.
“Yes, Centurion Itami,” the Village Elder answered. The Village Elder -along with the two nobles that governed the ‘county’ that the village resided- quickly went to action when Itami and Hauptmann Neumann returned to the village with elven refugees in tow. Once it was explained what had happened, they quickly ordered everyone to prepare their wagons as they were going to leave in the morning unless the Great Fire Dragon showed up first.
That was when they heard a scream and a horse baying madly. Itami and his squad quickly moved to the front of the convoy and saw a little girl lying on the ground and Hauptmann Neumann simply standing there in front of the seemingly out of control horse.
“Now settle down Missy!” Hauptmann Neumann exclaimed, trying to calm down the horse, “I know you’re scared but this isn’t the time for you to lash out like this!” The horse rose up, seemingly going to stomp the Hauptmann into dust, but horse simply stomped the ground. “Now calm down and we’ll fix this. Now give me the hoof that is bothering you.” The horse, reluctantly, raised it’s rear-left hoof and the Hauptmann took a gander and found the problem.
“What’s the problem?” Itami asked politely in English.
“Something got this mare in a riled state,” Hauptmann Neumann replied, “Accidentally threw the girl off her perch on the wagon. Most likely suffering a concussion at this point.” Itami quickly ordered Mari Kurokawa to check and stabilize the girl while another girl kneeled next to the local in question. “… and I’ve found the problem. Hey, Charles, give me the medical plyers will ya?” The man -likely American- handed over a pair of plyers and got a nasty rock out of the hoof. Everyone -including the locals- winced when they saw the rock.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” Flores exclaimed, “A simple rock caused a horse to get into a riled-up state?”
“Well, it is the equivalent of a rock splinter in the space between your toes,” Hautpmann Neumann explained, “but yeah. Then again, I’ve lived with horses on my family’s estate for decades… and gave me a leg up in my SpecOps training.” Flores then began to bang his head against a house lightly at his moment of stupidity. “Then again, if you aren’t around horses all that much, then you’ll never know the subtleties of horse care.”
“So… is the horse ready to go?” Itami asked.
“I’ll have to tell the owners to keep an eye on it and it’ll slow us down a little, but yeah she’s ready,” Hauptmann answered.
“The little girl is stable Itami,” Mari Kurokawa reported, “She’ll have to be in the command vehicle to heal but there isn’t any lasting damage. Very light concussion.” Itami sighed in understanding.
“Alright,” Itami said, “tell her parents that she’ll be with us for the time being. Now let’s see that this convoy starts moving.” With that, everyone got to their vehicles as the soldier on the back of the front IFV started waving his signal flags.
“Attention! Move out!” came Hauptmann Neumann’s voice in Saderian. Itami knew that this was going to be a very long trip.
Italica Province, Scout’s Honor Command Center; July 18th, 2017 – 12:10 Hours
Aaron simply stared at the holographic data-plot that sat at the center of the command center, trying to think of the next move. So far, the beast that had hounded everyone hadn’t showed up… not even on radar -thank 4th Platoon’s SHORAD operator being quick enough to get his radar to track the beast, and thus get its signature- for the last day. That got Aaron worried, as that indicates that the beast is far smarter than it looks.
“Attention all units! All stop!”
Aaron quickly grabbed the radio mic. “What’s the situation?” Aaron asked with a commanding tone. The last thing he wanted is the forces of the Holy Empire of Alnus attacking the convoy.
“We’ve sighted a little girl in a goth loli costume and a teenage boy in armor… and a massive murder of crows. They’re walking towards us sir.”
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Aaron sighed, “Alright Scout’s Honor is going to head to the lead alongside with Itami’s command car and assess the situation with the lead vehicles.” Situations like this have to have a high level of delicate handling and given that the possibility of the mysterious tension in Coda Village happening again, virtually a requirement now. “Driver; leave our position in the convoy and move up to the front. We’re going to meet these exotically dressed unknowns.”
The driver simply nodded as he split left from the center of the convoy and moved towards the front.
It only took the two command vehicles a minute or two for the vehicles to get to the front of the convoy, but as the two vehicles stopped, the locals started coming out in droves and called the two oracles.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Aaron complained with a sigh…
Leo of Rodes, Apostle of Cefulla, the Goddess of Governance, Law, Order, and Bureaucracy, frowned at his predicament. He was told by Cefulla to work with Rory Mercury, Apostle of Emoly, the God of War, Judgement, Theft, and Madness, to gauge how much of a divine fuckup that Hardy did by opening two Gates. More specifically, meeting up with the forces that gave the Empire and its client states such devastating defeats with what amounts to a rounding error in terms of fatalities. Hardy had been -according to Cefulla- cursing up a storm after she discovered that she only got the locals who died and not anyone from either the forces on Alnus and Remus Hills.
That scared the Divines something fierce, as this information suggested that something is backing both on a divine level.
So, the last few days had been essentially meeting up with Rory and wandering around, trying to find these ‘Men in Green’… and lo and behold they stumble upon them, with villagers from two villages… specifically a human village with the legendary mage Cato and one of the few Fae Elf villages in the Empire proper.
Leo was surprised that the Men in Green simply stood there flabbergasted as the villagers ran towards Rory and himself, trying to gain favor to the divines via the Apostles themselves. Didn’t they have their own divines and apostles?
“Oh, great Oracles,” one of the elderly villagers proclaimed, “we are sorry that we haven’t done our daily prayers! We’ve been on the run from the Great Flame Dragon for the last day and haven’t find the time or the place to peaceably pray.” Leo and Rory’s eyes widened to their widest, there were no Great Dragons -let alone something as destructive as the Great Flame Dragon- out of hibernation… and awakening such beasts would be problematic both in the mortal and divine realms. There are specific laws for the beasts and awakening a Great Dragon on purpose is punishable by death… if the dragon in question didn’t kill the idiot in the first place.
“The Divines understand your situation, but we aren’t here for you,” Rory stated, “We are here to judge the Men in Green.” The villagers’ eyebrows rose in alarm. Rarely the divines sent their apostles to judge people… which gave shocking implications on what the Men in Green are. “Although the early awakening of a Great Flame Dragon is… problematic, it won’t disturb our duties.” That was when two of the Men in Green politely interrupted Rory.
“Sorry to interrupt,” the taller Man in Green solemnly stated in Saderian with a thick accent, “but you have us at a disadvantage. My name is Aaron Neumann, Hauptmann of Her Majesty Sophia the First of Germany, and this is Leutnant Youji Itami of the Japanese Self Defense Force. We’ve been escorting this convoy of villagers in their quest to escape the possibility of being eaten by a Great Flame Dragon.” Leo sensed truth in these words… but his senses were getting fuzzy around this ‘Hauptmann’ and ‘Leutnant’. A cursory look at Rory ensured that Leo knew that Rory was having the same problem as well… which didn’t bode well.
“My name is Rory Mercury, Apostle of Emoly,” Rory began.
“… and my name is Leo of Rodes, Apostle of Cefulla, Goddess of Law and Governance,” Leo continued, “Our Gods have saw fit to see what you are capable of… although the early awakening of the Great Flame Dragon is an unexpected shift in the flows of fate.” The ‘Leutnant’ raised an eyebrow at the mention of fate, and Rory simply licked her lips. Leo mentally sighed as Rory got hot and bothered with the foreigner… the shenanigans that will ensue will be embarrassing as it is funny. Especially since Rory refuses to shapeshift to her proper body. Leo only recently became a demi-god a decade ago and he was still getting used to the shapeshifting aspects. Then again, not a whole lot of beings knew of the shapeshifting abilities of an apostle…
“Ah,” the ‘Hauptmann’ replied, “Well then, you’ll have to hitch a ride in the command vehicles, everything else is sadly filled to capacity right now.” Leo raised an eyebrow at that statement. In such a scenario, the convoy would leave unneeded articles behind to ensure that the convoy moves ahead of the Great Fire Dragon… until it started to hinder the escort’s ability to maneuver. Then that is the point where people get left behind. Yet… these ‘Men in Green’ are allowing them to ride with them to the point that their fellows are forced to hang onto their wagons. Very unusual…
“We can’t ignore your hospitality,” Leo stated -the Men in Green raised their eyebrows at the mention of hospitality- in an almost regal tone, “it’ll be an immense dishonor even for us Apostles to spit at your hospitality.”
“Ah, then hospitality is truly sacred here,” the ‘Hauptmann’ stated while the ‘Leunant’ gave a smile, “Alright, Itami I think Rory wants to go with you. I’ll take Leo here… and hopefully this little stop hasn’t caused us any trouble yet.” That was when the ‘Hauptmann’ heard something in his helmet and started talking in his native language before switching back to Saderian. “Well, we better start hoofing it then. The villagers are getting a bit restless with this stop. Given what Hans told us about the Great Flame Dragon, I wouldn’t blame them. Alight, sorry to cut any prayer sessions short but we’ve got to move out!” The various villagers quickly ended their prayers and went back to their wagons.
Leo and Rory followed their respective Man in Green into their wagons… and onto an unknown path.
Italica Province, the Scarred Lands; That Evening
The convoy had stopped for the night, and Leo couldn’t imagine that something with this much uncertainty in the background having an immensely festive atmosphere. Right now, a group of ‘Finns’ and ‘Germans’ -led by a woman named Viivi Nieminen- were playing something called ‘polkas’ with their instruments -which consisted of string and wind instruments that Leo never seen before and some crazy instrument that utilizes air and has keys on both ends of the air bag- to calm the villagers down.
… and the craziest thing? They were succeeding beyond all expectations.
“On kauniina muistona Karjalan maa, mutta vieläkin syömmestä soinnahtaa,
” Viivi began, “kun soittajan sormista kuulla saa, Säkkijärven polkkaa!” As the song continued, Leo just couldn’t help but start tapping his foot… as the song was practically begging to be danced to. It was like fear and paranoia was simply melting away like ice under the hot summer sun… and in this situation, keeping fear and paranoia from getting out of hand is paramount. With something like a Great Fire Dragon on the prowl, not having a cool head will have most -if not all- within the convoy die the moment said dragon shows up due to poor sleep, poor eating habits, and the like.
“Ah,” a voice behind Leo commented, “feeling the beat of the polka?” Leo couldn’t help but practically jump out of his armor as the owner of the voice -whom Leo recognized as Centurion Neumann- caught him off guard. It was like he simply slipped behind him! Leo had never encountered someone who can walk so silently. Not even the elves of the Weyto mountain range could compare to how silent footed Hauptmann Neumann was…
“I… uh…” Leo muttered as his mind tried to make since of what just happened.
“Oh,” Centurion Neumann sighed, “I accidentally snuck up on you, didn’t I? Eh, it happens to everyone and… it appears that I have forgotten to put the keys on a belt loop. Sorry about that.” While Leo couldn’t sparse what the Hauptmann was thinking, he could take a gander at the body language as a reference… and what the body language was telling him was this isn’t the first time that this sort of thing happened.
“… you did Hauptmann,” Leo answered, “and to answer your question, yes I was feeling the beat of the music that’s playing.” Hauptmann Neumann simply chuckled a little at the response.
“Polkas are interesting things Leo,” Centurion Neumann stated, “While folk music of their own accord, they tend to simply be begging to be danced to. I should know, I’ve sung plenty of Oktoberfest songs to last eight lifetimes.” Leo couldn’t help but agree with the sentiment that the Hauptmann had.
“… and this ‘Oktoberfest’ is?” Leo asked politely.
“Probably the biggest holiday that humanity has ever created,” Centurion Neumann responded, “Originally started out as a wedding anniversary between nobles but grew into a two-week long party of entertainment and food. Two weeks where everything but essential services are shut down and everyone not on shift celebrates. Throughout its history, Oktoberfest has only been canceled a handful of times with most of those cancelations because of war.” Leo couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Yes, there are numerous holidays and festivals that are recognized across the empire, but nothing that lasted for two straight weeks.
“That is… too fantastical to believe!” Leo exclaimed in his disbelief, “Even the Divines of the Empire allow for such a festival, and for good reason.” Centurion Neumann simply chuckled a little.
“It is possible when you’ve got an agricultural sector as sophisticated as ours,” Centurion Neuman answered, “Your capabilities in agriculture require most of your population in the fields, working their asses off for little payoff… we simply have the technology and understanding to reduce that number to barely a single percent of our population. Given what we’ve seen so far, it is probably something everyone would discover in a few centuries without help.” Leo couldn’t believe what he was hearing… but he could understand the sentiment somewhat.
“So…” Leo started, “Why aren’t you enjoying the festivities with everyone else?” It was uncommon to have people that aren’t at least willing to be with large groups of people, and those that can’t tend to live very short and brutal lives.
“I’m currently at my limit Leo,” Centurion Neumann answered back, “I can be at the center of a party with the best of them, but I can only withstand the sheer number of stimuli for so long before I get a sensory overload. Even with all my cybernetic implants, I’m still limited by my biological limitations… more specifically my brain in this instance.” Leo simply sighed, he had met such people over the years… and they’re simply great and gentle people. Yet… Leo could sense that Centurion Neumann’s hands were bathed in blood… something that always raised red flags… Leo hoped that these were simply false positives and not something more sinister…
Artyom*, Russia (north of Vladivostok, Russia) – GATE Earth; July 19th, 2017 – 07:20 Hours
Russia, unbeknownst to the world, is on the verge of civil war. As Putin and his party kept using increasingly brutal methods to keep the populous in control, the more resentment of Putin and his comrades get built up. With the Ruble being locked out of the world financial markets and all Russian-owned assets ceased (and at gunpoint if needed), the economic situation had deteriorated to the point that it was worse than the days of the Tzars.
Therefore, Astafyev Mili Olegovich -former investigative reporter that got blacklisted by Putin- was risking his neck for his Chinese Second Department handler, Han Bo, for information on the current political situation within Russia. What Mili had discovered, via rumor, that the situation near Vladivostok is deteriorating rapidly. The army garrison there had been rumored to defect to the local Communist Party of Russia… and that rumor is probably the scariest of all given how little restraint that Putin’s Russia has shown to put down descent.
That is why Mili dragged Demenok Marfa Ilyinishna -another blacklisted investigative reporter- and Protasov Gerasim Vadimovichinto -a private investigator- into this. Why? It was mostly a gut feeling about the rumors. If Mili was alone and he got killed in the chaos, then the rest of the planet would be in the dark about what is happening. This way, he can ensure that at least one person can get to the handler and tell the world what is happening… and plan for it.
“So Mili, those rumors led you here?” Demenok asked, “Anything specific about those rumors that you want to tell us because this is not exactly like you.” Demeok and Gerasim were a bit worried about Mili. If he was caught and tortured, then the rest of Han Bo’s information ring would be compromised… which could get a good portion of the other rings compromised as well. To see Mili act a bit out of character shook them to their core.
“It is because of what the rumors are saying,” Mili answered flatly as he produced a folder, “In the outskirts of Vladivostok there is an old Soviet era military RnD facility that has been abandoned for decades after a mysterious accident.” Demenok and Gerasim nodded as Mili began to explain himself, the Soviet era was riddled with military RnD facilities utilizing the esoteric and outright exotic to bring down their enemies… and occasionally they would suffer a mysterious accident that forces the facility to shut down. “From what I can scrounge up, the facility used to be a RnD site for some sort of teleportation technology. The facility suffered an accident that killed around a dozen people, and the facility was quickly decommissioned and stripped of anything of value. The scientists and their assistants were quickly shipped to a quantum mechanics Naukograd that would later serve as their prison, and the facility has been laying there, rotting away…”
“Until recently,” Gerasim completed, “Something about that facility has gotten you spooked then.”
“Yes,” Mili replied, “A few weeks ago, before the entire thing that has been happening with Japan and the ‘Special Region’,” Mili finger-quoted ‘Special Region’ for the obvious political maneuvering to minimize the possibility of a UN operation, “a contact of mine started hearing rumors about this facility being used by the Communists as a depot of some kind. He couldn’t get much closer, so I came over and investigated myself.” Demenok and Gerasim looked over the literal hard evidence that Mili presented with an inquiring curiosity. Mili -as well as the various information rings across Russia- had to use physical media as it was far easier to dispose of than its electronic counterpart. Some acid and fire and you remove any evidence of wrongdoing tracing back to you. “When I got there, my contact stated that he saw a massive increase in activity to and from the complex…”
“… and that has you scared,” Demenok finished as he looked through the files, “Skimming through what you’ve collected, I can see why. A lot of this equipment is mil-spec and then some. I can see fuck tons of modern Kornet and Khrizantema launchers alongside other heavy equipment.” Demenok then took a closer look at photos that were under the label ‘Unknown Equipment’. “Then there are these mysterious trucks with unknown cargo. The shape of these things is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Have you gotten any information about these?”
“No,” Mili sighed as he answered, “those have been completely hush-hush ever since I started seeing them. Hell, I’ve seen larger trucks with what looks like massive container trailers coming in and out of the facility at night. Couldn’t track where they went but this sort of activity should be rather obvious…” Gerasim gasped in realization as she went over a few odd additions to the facility.
“It might be because to the outside world, there isn’t such activity!” Gerasim exclaimed, “A lot of the area is die-hard Communist, so the government couldn’t get accurate intelligence even if it wanted to. These towers have been set up recently and probably camouflaged the activity, so it can’t be picked up easily via satellite or aerial recon...” That was when realization kicked in.
“You mean that…” Mili began.
“… that we’re dealing with some sort of wide-area electromagnetic camouflage that can fool most electronic and optical sensors?” Demenok finished.
“Well, sounds fantastical,” Gerasim answered, “but the pieces fit. Such things have been postulated in science fiction… but to see it in operation in reality is a wholly different matter.” Mili and Demenok couldn’t really argue with Gerasim’s line of logic… if anything, this made things even more disconcerting.
“How are we going to explain all of this to the rest of the world?” Demenok asked… but Mili and Gerasim simply left the question hanging…
*Obligatory warning: Yes, there is such a place called Artyom, Russia... found out about the place when looking for towns north of Vladivostok...