The Aftermath of the Magic Apocalypse
After wrapping up the workday, I head home to settlement 24 of compound 77. Kaiba Corporation names all its branches as compounds, even though each one could be a city in its own right. Compound 77 is one of the major branches that specializes in magic research. The compound is a double layer ring of settlements in a concentric pattern with the Kaiba corporate office at the center.
Once science had confirmed the existence of magic, mankind developed the capability to detect ley lines. These veins flowing with magical energy that can be harvested and utilized under the right conditions make it an ideal spot for spell research and suitable countermeasures against spell research. This is the main focus of our branch and the division I happen to work in as a research analyst.
My driver, Hans, also lives in Settlement 24. He is a war veteran of the last great war before joining Kaiba Corporation where he works as part of the security team. He is tall and muscular, but has a distinguished head of grey with a mustache and a light beard and blue eyes.
Long ago, humanity developed a technology supposedly called the Hyperloop that allowed for rapid transit over great distances. However, the knowledge of this technology was lost to time as a consequence of the great wars. It was probably due to the obsession with magic advancements and in part due to the extensive loss of human life that went far beyond the original projections of whoever started the war. After the last great war, Kaiba and dozens of organizations around the world tried to figure out the technology by reverse engineering. To date, no one has yet to figure out how the lost technology works. The loop is a tunnel with 3 lanes in an airtight space that uses magnets to allow the hovercar to travel along at a maximum speed of 120km/h. However, other than emergency response vehicles, most vehicles usually travel at half the maximum speed.
Since raiders and thieves are a danger to the general population, rather than have the loop go into town, it deliberately avoids each settlement by at least 1km and the vehicle must leave a corresponding exit tunnel and travel the remaining distance on the surface. This allows security to be focused on the entrances to the settlement and respond to potential attacks and breaches in the walls. Raider attacks in the last decade have become less frequent thanks to an overall focus by the company and local businesses to maintain a high employment rate among the people, but there is still danger.
Hans says to me “Miss, why don’t you stay in the company headquarters like all the new employees?”
“My younger brother is the only family I have left since our parents left us years ago. I was asked by them to look after him, so I want to keep that promise.” Normally, first year employees are required to live on the compound premises in a special dormitory. This is done for both security and to promote cohesion among employees. Thanks to Grandpa’s influence, I’ve been exempted, but this does make it harder to bond with my co-workers since I don’t usually attend most of the after hour functions the company holds.
“I see. Family is important. I lost my wife in the war.” Hans says as he continues driving.
“I’m sorry to hear that Hans. Was she all you had?”
“No, we have a son, but he doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. He blames me for his mother’s death. I can’t really blame him” says Hans in self-derision.
“It may not be my place to ask... why does your son think that?” I ask timidly.
“During the great war, my wife wanted to fight. She was a witch...and a powerful one at that. I didn’t think I would be of much use in the fight so I watched over our son while she went to fight. She encountered the Beast of Chaos in a battle...that wretched creature that is impervious to all magic and conventional weapons. If I had gone to fight with my wife...maybe I could have prevented her from dying. Forgive me...I need a moment to compose myself”. I hear muffled sobbing and see tears flowing from the side of Han’s cheek from the rearview mirror.
“I apologize, that must have been hard for you to share” After several moments, Hans wipes his tears
“...It was a long time ago, but my son blamed me and called me a coward for not joining in the fight. He was very fond of his mother and in his eyes, I failed to do my duty as a loving husband. I joined in the fight to see if I could get revenge for her, but in the end, I never did find the monster responsible.” says Hans in a self-deprecating manner.
“This may sound strange coming from me, but in my honest opinion, that may be a blessing in disguise. Your wife was a great witch and if she couldn’t do anything against it, would you have been able to? As much as your son may resent you, at least he still has you alive. My brother and I had to grow up without having any of my parents around. I would gladly take one parent still alive than not having any.”
Hans looks at me through the mirror and his eyes appear to be gently smiling. “Thank you young miss for the kind words. In hindsight, I have asked myself the same about confronting that monstrosity, and am grateful it never happened.” A deep sigh followed as Hans collected himself. “When my wife died, my son's outburst really shook me to the core. In my grief, joining her in the afterlife must have compelled me to do what I did, but as a parent, that is the most irresponsible thing I could have done.”
“Maybe it was your wife watching over you from the afterlife? You still had a son to raise”
Hans smiles and lets out a chuckle. “Maybe so. I can imagine her telling me she was the one who went to fight while I was supposed to watch over our son and that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to.”
We reached the exit for the surface that brings us closest to settlement 24. Right when the settlement is on the horizon-
We are slammed from the back left side of the vehicle. I’m assaulted by the flying glass from the smashed windows as I realize the hovercar is spinning wildly. Hans is fighting to regain control and I hold on for dear life against the handlebar on the side of the car. What just hit us and why didn’t we see it?
“Miss, are you alright? Are you able to move?” Hans asks in a panicked tone.
“I’m conscious. Luckily...they hit the side of the car away from me and I was wearing my safety harness, though I am not sure if I have any internal injuries. Do you know what happened?” I ask as I breathe to calm my rattled senses.
“Most likely this is a raider attack. They may have been waiting for a victim to come out of the tunnel and ambush us, probably using stealth so we couldn’t see them. Miss, whatever happens, don’t get out of the car and stay out of sight”. If we are lucky, they won’t notice you. Hans gives the jammed door a hard kick to knock it out and steps out of the vehicle. I hold my employee ID badge between my hands and press a switch twice to activate the emergency distress signal.
[Do you wish to ask for emergency assistance?] the metallic voice asks me. “Yes, please hurry”. If we are lucky, it will take 15 minutes for help to arrive. Even though Settlement 24 is close enough to see in the distance, the local police usually can’t afford to spare officers to fend off against raiders, let alone rescue victims from a raider attack. In the worst case, it would be leading sheep to a slaughter and jeopardize the settlement’s ability to defend itself from an attack. I pull my hands into my sleeves and brush away the glass shards off my blouse and seat. I lay against the seat while keeping my head as low as possible and still see what is happening. I peer through the remains of the back window and squint my eyes. I notice the tail lights of a truck a short distance away and Hans facing 3 men; correction 2 men and a large burly wolf of a man.
Why is a beastman among raiders? They are usually sought after for police and guardsmen. Kaiba Corporation pays exceptionally well. Beastman are made through a magical spell that fuses the animal body with a human. If that step is successful, it is stabilized by modifying the human genome with the animal’s so that the human body accepts its new normal state. The operation is incredibly risky that often ends in failure, in many cases death ending with the body breaking down into an unrecognizable mass of flesh and bone.
“Hand over your ID and we will let you live”. One of the raiders makes a demand to Hans
“Here you go.” says Hans as he tosses his ID to the ground about a meter away from the wolfman raider.
“The girl in the back of the car too. Girlie, you don’t think you can actually hide in that wreck of a car?” The wolfman snarls
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Wolfmen have a good sense of smell. But why is he after our IDs? I really doubt they will let us go after taking our ID’s, and I need to stall for time. I slowly and carefully make my way over the smashed back window of the car, and walk to stand just behind Hans while still being visible to the raiders.
“W-what guarantee do we have...that you will let us g-go unharmed and alive?” I ask. Raiders aren’t always known to spare their victims, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
“You don’t, but we could have just killed you and taken your ID’s. Shouldn’t you be happy we are just asking for it? Your companion offered his ID without hesitation.”
I have to give the raider credit for logical arguments. IDs were generally a wallet that contained one’s earnings. But ID’s of research staff could be used to infiltrate the company, conduct espionage or theft. In extreme cases, they could sabotage company operations or even compromise a settlement’s defenses. I have to avoid letting them have my ID, even if their motive is a simple robbery. I have to bluff them to stall for time until the company’s security forces arrive.
“U-Un-Unfortunately, my ID will be use-useless to y-you”
“Hahahah. Please, we robbed more than enough ID’s to know that isn’t true.” All three are snickering.
“Y-Yes, that’s why the ID’s were changed as of last month. You will see my ID is different from my companion who has been with the company longer. It won’t be useful to you”
“Meh, no matter how good they are at encryption or biometrics, it doesn’t matter. Not the first time they changed it. Now hand it over and we’ll be on our way”
Shit! These are smart raiders who have clearly done this too many times. I am over my head here. And the worst part, if they are really smart, they may realize my ID could be a jackpot.
“I would like to negotiate with you”
“Girlie, I hate to break it to you, but I ain’t into kids. I’m tryin’ to be all civilized here, but you are pushing your luck and tryin’ my patience. HAND OVER YOUR ID.” the wolfman bellows in fury.
It’s more than a bit nerve wracking seeing the hulky mass of fur being ready to attack. I really should just hand the ID but if there is a beastman, there is a good chance he has an accomplice whom we can negotiate with. It’s a gamble, but it’s my only chance to get us out of the situation.
“No...Not with y..you. With your boss”. I turn to look at the truck beside us.
The wolfman who looked ready to attack relaxes a bit and cackles. The other raiders beside him also appear surprised.
“Hahaha, you are clever girlie.” He turns towards the truck. He yells to the truck, “The little lass here wants to negotiate with you. Do you want to hear her out?”
“Hmm, she was clever enough to figure out you had an unseen accomplice. Maybe she has something worthwhile. Fine, what are you offering?”
The voice of the unseen accomplice came from the speakers the truck is equipped with. I haven’t seen her, but she is most likely a witch.
“I want you and your crew to work with us at Kaiba Corporation. Your talent can be put to use to help us with many of our challenges. And you can earn enough to never need to worry about making a living that you need to resort to robbing”
The ensuing silence while waiting for a verdict is painful to bear.
“Jeice, give them our answer.”
A thundering boom.
I turn in horror to face the source of that scream and I see Hans is clutching his shoulder in pain, blood dripping in between his fingers. I slowly turn to face the source of the sound and see one of the men next to the wolfman holding a cold piece of metal.
“Wench, no way in hell would I work for a company that harvests us witches and casts them aside when they have used them up. I misjudged how smart you really were or you genuinely thought you could lead us to a honeytrap. Either way...Holdergard, tear her to shreds!”
The wolfman steps forward, drawing a sword he had at his waist. He’s really going to turn me into mincemeat.
“Girlie, just know I don’t like what I have to do now, but you-”
Wait, what is the wolfman looking at? I turn my head in the same direction.
It’s faint, but what seems like a shooting star appears to be heading towards us. Hans looks and immediately grabs my hand with his injured arm and forces me down. “Stay down” he says as he uses his body to protect me.
I felt the reverberating impact from the crash landing despite having Hans on top of me to shield me.
When it rains it pours.