The Melancholy of a Whimsical Half-Elph
“Ain’t no surprise you’d show your fucking face,” Janus grumbled. Crescendo gulped as his boss watched from the window’s reflective surface.
Smoke arose from the ruined base. Janus’ nostrils flared when his subordinate couldn’t summon a response. He turned to face him. Crescendo was still soaked from the rain and an injury he had yet to tend to. Their silence set the tone as he stepped forward. Janus glimpsed the holstered revolver nestled against Crescendo’s pocket.
“Give me your gun,” he ordered. Crescendo reluctantly handed it over. Janus spun the chamber with feigned amusement. “I’m surprised you still hold on to this old thing.”
“It belonged to my grandpa,” Crescendo replied. His boss acknowledged his offense.
“Didn’t mean anything bad by that. You know these things always interest me. I don’t think my government had used this sort of thing in over a millennium. Humans have had firearms since the 1300s? Don’t quote me… Eh, it doesn’t matter, though. By the time we developed our current armament, we were contending with those damn Elphynians. These bullets wouldn’t have even tickled them. How did those bullets work?”
Janus nearly forgot the massive casualties reported.
“We did manage to wound her,” Crescendo said.
“What did I say?”
“That girl is as smart as a whip, but that ain’t our only problem.”
“She’s a technomancer.” Both said at once. Janus wasn’t as surprised as his subordinate.
“You knew?” Crescendo asked. Janus nodded. “How?”
“You boys. They tracked her and reported a disturbance when she was aware of them, especially when they got close. The same thing happened when I and her spoke.”
“How are we—”
“Gonna address it? Cire is already aware. I don’t think she’s going to do anything. But that ain’t the only bad news. Noticed the presence when you got here?”
Crescendo remained silent. Though he was tasked with keeping track of Enne, there was another target involved in connection to the rebels. Janus assessed its gun’s weight before looking his subordinate in the eye.
“Over a few dozen men dead, the base got blown the fuck up, and a little elf is the hands of the bratty elph. And all you have to say is that you goofed up? Imagine the news spreading throughout the other outliers. Janus and the city of Frederick have been attacked—”
“But it wasn’t from the rebels,” Crescendo blurted out.
“Don’t have to be! Sensationalism can be a real bitch. No one cares about the truth. They only know what they hear. This… This opened a can of worms…Ah, Al, that son of a bitch.”
“What’d he do?”
“What did he do? What didn’t he do?”
“He killed a bunch of our guys over some girl they were questioning. Eh, Salem—”
“Salem Kedward. We’ve been looking into her for some time. We think she has some ties with the rebels.”
“So, we caused a scene? We coulda followed her home and handled it there. But from what I hear, they mighta got too frisky with her. Somehow she got away after smashing a rock against their head. Tch. Imagine my shock knowing we fumbled the damned bag.”
“I never allowed that.”
“Bullshit! You’re my right-hand man. You’re supposed to handle this. Unbelievable!”
Crescendo buckled. Janus sighed before glimpsing the rising sun. Smoke had arisen from the north. The mountains looked beautiful from where they were. It was the dawn of things to come.
“I’ll fix this, boss,” Crescendo said.
“Power… Doesn’t just come from the barrel of a gun,” Janus sneered. “You understand? Be honest. Actually, no. You’ll probably give me some bullshit like a yes man. I don’t need that! I need results.”
Janus scoffed lightheartedly. He tapped the cold barrel against Crescendo’s head.
“And I think that’s the problem. Everyone thinks these… Give you absolute power. Real power is through information and propaganda. Guns are just a physical manifestation. It can put the fear in god in others. Vulkan’s boy scouts know when to steer clear of us. But when it comes to my government… Not so much.”
Crescendo remained silent as Janus slowly holstered his revolver.
“Us Ethoxians think weapons alone will scare them, but what they fear most is me, not some punk ass wearing a suit in the capital. You get it?”
Crescendo nodded along. Janus wasn’t satisfied by his silence as he shuffled against the table. He crossed his arms, assessing his subordinate. He continued: “You gonna say something?”
“Ain’t much to say,” he replied.
“You’ll understand someday,” Cressy, he uttered. “It ain’t easy maintaining control. The day I kick the bucket, it ain’t gonna send ripples; it’ll send waves.”
* * *
The eyes of the youth looked to the night sky. The moonlight’s glow faded as his senses grew cold. There was a sense of peace despite an erratic heartbeat. He coughed blood upon his beard when he tried to take a breath. He gasped painfully. The explosions, his panicked comrades in retreat. No one could save him. This he had come to accept.
The encroaching settlement forces had deployed their mana-tech weaponry. The rebel was caught by surprise by the overwhelming attack. They ran past him and discovered he barely clung to life as the weapons of war ripped his body in half.
Young and nameless, he slowly slipped away from consciousness as his innards pooled—another feast for the roosting crows. However, the awakened crows cawed at the melody of the killing fields. An imposing figure watched from the treeline as the Ethoxian forces gained ground.
“Mikail!” A young woman yelled. “We gotta get the hell out of here!”
Volkan towered above his comrade, whose face was smeared with blood. Mikail’s expressionless, stubbled face hid the grief he felt while observing his forces retreat into the woods. He had an antiquated light machine gun slung around his broad, muscular shoulders. His slicked-back hair was undone after barely evading the barrage of strategic strikes.
Another explosion destroyed a part of the wooded area, sending bodies flying out in pieces. Volkan watched more rockets arch into their location. The woman shook him, clutching his massive arm.
“Are you listening to me?” she asked.
He looked upon her, seeing the distress in her amber eyes. Her dreads were tied back past her shoulders. She had slung a medic bag along her toned shoulders. Her brown skin and combat uniform were muddied by her narrow escape.
“I thought we had it, Raquel,” Mikail responded regretfully.
“C’mon, get your head in the game!” Raquel replied.
Volkan sighed while watching the war machines tear down the tree lines ahead. Their brilliant metallic sheen contrasted the greenery, and their hydraulic movement blended with the terror.
“I’ve been fighting for years,” he said. Raquel listened. “This wasn’t even my war.”
“It’s our war,” Raquel reassured as he glanced over. “For the people. But we still need you… I need you.”
“Let me leave these assholes a parting gift then….”
That’s the spirit. Raquel smiled weakly.
Volkan gripped the thick 20-foot tall tree next to him and slowly uprooted it. Raquel kept a distance as he shouldered the massive tree. He projected it at the walking tanks before launching it. Raquel witnessed the force he put into it when his projectile pierced a tank preparing to launch another barrage of mortars. Its turret shot against its defensive line, disabling two other tanks. The chain reaction blew up a fraction of the tanks in the field, with dozens more emerging from the cleared forest.
“Bastards,” Volkan muttered. Raquel pulled him away.
They escaped into the dense woods. Outgunned and outnumbered, Volkan’s faction splintered into several fleeing groups. They pushed further with light infantry and ground forces when they believed the settlement forces wouldn’t advance. The tanks stayed behind but continued their mortars arched over the tall trees.
“Shit,” Volkan looked back, seeing ground troops close in on them.
The settlement soldier opened fire at Volkan and Raquel, only to be deflected by an invisible shield. He saw the bullet’s trajectory, which was aimed at his chest. It was a close call. He looked at Raquel, who summoned vines through the grassy floor and into their enemies. Vines and roots impaled the nearby enemies as they dropped their weapons.
“Good save!” Volkan said.
“Aren’t you lucky to have a wanderer by your side?” Raquel remarked.
“Target acquired,” An enemy soldier appeared in the distance, seeing the bodies of his fallen soldiers. “H—holy shit! No!”
Sorry buddy, Volkan thought.
Raquel led him into a shallow stream by an abandoned trail. Raquel looked around for cover as explosions and gunfire shook the land.
“Yo, Raq, where are we going?” Volkan asked. Raquel listened to the direction of the gunfire and explosions. “Raq? How about the others? We have to regroup.”
“They’re trying to trap us. We won’t have anyone to regroup with if they slaughter us here. We need to escape!”
“And how about our people?”
“They knew what they signed up for, didn’t they?”
Volkan rubbed his neck. Raquel sighed, easing her harsh tone: “Look. We have people waiting for us and whoever makes it out. But you are our leader. Without you, there is no revolution.”
“I’m just one man,” Volkan grimaced. His eyes watered to a muted disposition. “How am I any different from the people we’ve lost?”
“That’s how it goes. There is no such thing as a peaceful revolution.”
Raquel saw their comrades in the distance while settlement forces aimed from the sloping terrain. Bodies collapsed over the other after bursts of gunfire. Volkan took Raquel’s assault rifle and fired upon the emerging settlement soldiers, mowing them down in heartfelt fury.
The thick round’s sheer velocity tore off the enemy combatant’s limbs and flesh. The wanderer watched alongside her rebel leader as he finally slung his machine gun over. Ahead of them was a hillside of mangled bodies. Few were clinging onto life with agonized moans barely audible underneath the distant gunfire. Volkan took a deep breath, inhaling the barrel’s smoke before turning to Raquel.
“It won’t bring them back, though,” he said.
“It won’t, but the fight doesn’t end here,” she reminded.
Volkan and Raquel continued up the beaten path to the top of the slope. They walked past the trail entrance and into an abandoned parking lot where a lone visitor center stood. The sounds of menacing machinery stalked the rebels every step of the way. They ran toward the relative safety of the cover while mortars launched.
Raquel turned to see the mortar projecting toward them. She summoned a large shield that absorbed the blast but ruptured their protection and structure behind them. The impact hurled her against Volkan, who stood firm as the walking tank emerged from the small entrance.
“You know damn well mana won’t work on it,” Volkan grimaced. “Who needs mana when you got brawns? They can’t get us both; Play distraction, will you?”
“With pleasure,” she replied.
Raquel dashed to the side, quickly reaching around to the lumbering machine. It lowered a chain gun that lopped chunks of the pavement as she evaded without being slowed down. Her eyes gleamed. She felt the concrete crack after every step. And one mistake could cost her life.
Once she closed beneath it, she raised a mana shield before it could aim at her. It deflected the bullets back into the death machine. The steel plating dented further, but the pilot was in a well-protected capsule. The walking tank raised a foot, preparing to stomp on the wanderer.
“Not so fast!” Volkan yelled.
He swung an uprooted tree into the leg it was standing on. Raquel retreated as he dented the portion with a powerful strike. The walking tank collapsed under its weight. Volkan catapulted himself off the fallen machine with the lengthy log in tow and delivered an overhead strike into the tank’s cockpit.
Volkan tossed aside the tree after his stumbled landing. Blood seeped from the crushed cockpit. Raquel looked on with him. She used more mana than she anticipated. Fighting one was easy, but fighting dozens was a tall task for anyone. Raquel placed her hand on his sweaty shoulder.
“We have to go,” she said. Volkan nodded.
“We aren’t in the clear yet,” he said. “We can’t guide them back to the base.”
“There should be another way.” She agreed. “But it would take us longer to get back.”
“Captain Volkan!” A voice called from the woods.
Volkan and Raquel drew their respective weapons, observing as a small band of rebels emerged, many of whom were dwarves. The dwarven leader had a braided beard and a red face. The assault rifle was cartoonishly large as he slung it over his ill-fitting clothing.
“McCreary?” Volkan said. Raquel followed behind him as he paced over while accounting how many rebels were with the dwarf.
“Is this everyone?” Raquel asked, counting ten people, including McCreary. McCreary frowned with downcast eyes.
“I regret to say, this is,” he replied. Volkan’s hand trembled.
“No, but we had dozens with us,” Volkan said
“We were in over our heads, Volkan. How do you expect to fight Elven tech with peashooters? You tell me! How many of my men have we lost so far? How many wives and children—”
“They agreed to the terms,” Raquel chimed in on behalf of their visibly-distraught leader.
“And tell me, why would a wanderer like yourself care about our cause?” McCreary redirected his anger. “You just see us as numbers rather than people fighting for something! What the hell are you fighting for?”
“That’s enough, you two,” Volkan interrupted. “We need to retreat.”
“You know as much,” McCreary sighed. “We shouldn’t have relied on this wench to guide us. She’s only guided us to our deaths. Pfft. So much for wisdom!”
“McCreary,” Raquel sighed. “We need to take the longer route to base camp.”
“That would take days!”
“Yeah, but they may follow us. We should pick them off.”
“You and what fuckin’ army? We ain’t got none!”
“I didn’t anticipate the force they used today.”
“You tell that to their families. Come on, fellas, let’s go.”
Raquel watched as McCreary guided his men forward to the ordained path. Volkan stood by her as she let the loss sink in. Although Volkan was treated differently, the dwarf had every reason to be angered at her and Volkan. Raquel’s status as a wanderer came with false impressions of what they thought her to be. Her appearance and demeanor betrayed her core as a woman who tried her best. She believed they had a chance but forgot the unlimited backing of the Ethoxian Republic.
Today’s loss would weigh heavily upon her.
“Raq,” Volkan comforted her. “We live to fight another day.”
“I suppose,” she responded coldly. “So, what now?”
Volkan thought for a moment, seeing the clouds gather overhead. He could smell the scent of oncoming rain.
“Honestly, a miracle would do just fine.”
As rain fell, the fields were muddled with watery blood. Bodies of those who died in battle were frozen as the settlement forces carried their dead away. The rebels were left to nature as the crows feasted upon them. The young man that died looking up to the sky saw nothing, as he could see nothing more.
Their moment of peace was quickly disrupted by the machinery that emerged from the north.
Some interesting undertones here. Power can come in many flavors. It's all entrenched in our fears. Leave a comment and feedback. Both are equally appreciated! A comment would be nice too! UwU