Chapter 27:

War Machine

The Melancholy of a Whimsical Half-Elph

We’re in position. Mikail’s voice spoke clearly through McCreary’s earbud. The dwarf looked down the scope under a tarp that protected his body from the stormy weather. He breathed steadily while observing the guard’s formation. Raquel and Mikail led the small squad until a certain point. The proximity sensors would give away their position. They’re really keeping everyone near the event.

You got a lock on them? Raquel whispered. I only have a few seconds to throw up this sound-suppressing bubble, and—

“Yeah, yeah,” McCreary muttered. “Quit ya yapping! I’m tryna focus!”

Well, focus faster!

“You try lining up your shot at the same time lightning strikes. What a silly plan.”

Guys, Mikail sighed. There’s no turning back once we pop off.

They fell silent while waiting for him to take the shot. The checkpoint comprised several structures that spanned the quarter-mile section of the road, much recently built with the latest gadget. Several solar-powered turrets would pose a threat if they were detected. The intermediary was sparse, considering the access point it served for most travelers. A flash filled the sniper’s sight, and the dwarf pulled the trigger when the thunder roared. Everyone waited. Nothing happened, as McCreary confirmed the device’s destruction.

“Got it,” he whispered. “Proceed with caution.”

Mikail snuck against the short blockade while Raquel guided another small band to the other end. He glimpsed the reflective lens from McCreary’s position. Raquel gestured her hands. It took effort for her to stretch her arms to the side. The atmosphere nullified the torrential downpour. Some guards noticed the subtle change. Mikail clenched a chaff grenade.

“Here goes nothing,” he uttered.

Before the guards realized what was happening, Mikail tossed the chaff grenade. The bubble suppressed the sound, and the mist dispersed throughout. Many began agonizing as they clutched their heads. Some screamed as they collapsed to the ground. Within moments, the base fell silent. Raquel’s strength waned, allowing the bubble to break down. She glanced at the horrific sight.

“The hell?” he said with a shaken voice.

“Wait a moment,” she said. Her stern voice caught his notice as he turned to her. “Wasn’t that a chaff grenade?”

“Yeah… One of the ones Extendo gave me.”

“Good thing none of us are modified.”

And why is that? McCreary asked as he stood.

“No, no, no,” Raquel shook her head. “We don’t want to do that. The thing is, that grenade functions like a chaff grenade… Just with lethal effects. Not only does it disrupt electronics for much longer, but if there are electronic implants, it can say in the brain, it could very well—Fry all the nerves associated. There’s a high chance of death.”

Mikail examined the bodies from afar, finding pooled blood beneath their heads.

“Let’s search for some more explosives,” he said. He stepped over the barricade. “Keep it to under 10 minutes.”

“Mikail?” Raquel voiced her concern. She noticed his saddened gaze upon the younger bandits.

“Y’know… You get used to seeing them with masks. There are quite a few young ones here. This one is still alive.”

Raquel looked upon the youngling with apathetic eyes. Death had long been a cycle, but her young revolutionary leader found it an injustice. He kneeled beside him, discovering his bulging eyes and his ears oozing blood. His screams were reduced to an incomprehensible groan, unsettling Mikail as he turned away.

“We have many young men dying for a cause, too,” she coldly reminded.

Mikail shook his head before looking off toward the city. The rain had only lightened slightly. He reached for his combat knife and cradled the young man’s head. Without hesitation, he jammed it into the side of the dying youth’s head and took it out. Warm blood ran down the palm of his hand. He turned to face her and nodded:

“Tomorrow isn’t built without the blood of the youth. That’s what you’d say, right?”

Raquel held her frown as he walked away.

* * *

An hour later…

Cire observed the city streets from the high tower. Her Elphynian ears wiggled gently to muffled sounds in the distance. She slid her fingertips against the cold window covered in raindrops. The storm remained steady through the evening without showing signs of letting up. Her speech was about to begin, and the building’s staff was scrambling to get things in order. A sinking feeling cast aside tonight’s engagement, however. She looked around the minimalistic room she stayed in. She stared at the golden ornamental flower in her hand. Fleeting nostalgia is what she felt.

I should be off.

Upon exiting, she walked down the hall. Its regal presentation contrasted what she’d seen throughout the city, let alone the lower floors. The carpets were strewn from the finest quality silks from the Ethoxian Republic. The holographic art and sculptures adorn the corridor until she reaches the double doors. She reached for the golden handles until someone opened them to greet her. The vast ballroom stretched the rest of the floor. They spared no expense in providing the best quality food and drinks. Janus waltzed toward her, wearing a pressed military uniform adorned with medals given by his government.

Does she sleep in her kimono too? He thought.

“Cire!” he spoke lightheartedly. “It’s almost time.”

“How much prep work do you need for lofty speeches?” she yawned.

Snappy, Janus tightened his lips.

“Um, please, there’s plenty of food—”

“And how much did this cost? I recall seeing longer bread lines than usual.”

Her soft voice broke through the boisterous dialogue, silencing everyone including Janus himself. His enthusiasm waned, but he knew he couldn’t speak up. She lifted her chin as she looked into his eyes. The lilac eyes emitted an uneasiness. Everyone nearby reluctantly looked toward the pair. She leaned closer to him.

“This has to be one of the best-looking areas of the city,” she whispered. “You’ve managed to squander the city’s prospects in two hundred years.”

“Well,” Janus searched for his words before speaking. He discovered an icy glare when she leaned away. “Securing peace comes at a cost.”

“Right. Of course. It’s easy to forget.”

She walked past Janus as he balled his fist. He snatched a cup from a passing waitress and gulped it down. The small holograms of historical figures talking to their guests on each table failed to impress her. She wasn’t nearly interested in the food. The dark elph observed the podium and the silent drones that faced it.

And I’ll have to fake a smile that could fool the world. She thought as the lights dimmed. Orchestral music began playing as she walked to the podium. She remembered everything Kathryn told her: Straighten her posture and show a little grace. Even now, Cire felt her retainer’s omnipresence.

Her lips pursed along her otherwise expressionless face. She glimpsed the small crowd full of Janus’ cronies and small-time politicians from the nearby settlement of Neo-T’Rach. As the subtle fanfare settled, Cire looked to the camera. She couldn’t let out an annoyed sigh like she wanted to as she held a gentle smile.

“Good evening, everyone, and thank you for joining us,” Cire said. Her voice projected a soothing tone. “Tonight we celebrate one of the most important moments of this city: it's Refounding. Like most parts of the Earth impacted by The Collapse, Frederick has become the beacon of endless possibilities.”

The ground rattled, sending everyone into a panic before an explosion shattered the glass behind her. Everyone scrambled away as the flames spread. Cire sensed the lingering mana as the chaos settled. Through the crackling fire, Cire honed into gunfire erupting in the distance. She rushed to the balcony and saw crowds trying to escape. Several drones proceeded to the action. Janus grimaced with clenched fists as he leaned over. Another explosion rocked their surroundings. Janus relayed a message to the self-defense forces as Cire listened. Crescendo showed everyone out. The blaring sirens drowned out their voices.

“Janus?” Cire spoke. “Will you be able to handle this?”

“Of course!” he yelled. His voice was rattled but immediately faltered to the expressionless woman. “Ah, I knew I should’ve invested in the anti-mana protocols.”

“The attack was pretty small-scale.”

“A powerful wanderer, perhaps? We aren’t far from the northern checkpoint.”

Janus grit his teeth before taking a haggard sigh. The snipers assisted the drones as they reached the perimeter. Cire sensed something was off when their military vehicles rolled by. Civilians strayed away from their path. The sporadic gunfire ceased behind the steady, thunderous shots from the rooftop overseers. A chain of explosions tore through the column, sending them slamming against the old buildings. Janus’ breathing quivered.

“So, they’ve already infiltrated,” Cire said. He looked over his shoulder as he received word within the internal comms.

The guards stationed at the north gate are dead, the voice informed. A cold sweat rolled down Janus’ face.

“H—how did this happen?” he yelled. “Find them and kill them all.”

They could be amongst the crowds, sir.

More explosions followed. This time it came from the west. Smoke rose above the glowing neon lights. Cire walked along the railing, absorbing the pleasant rain breeze. Janus snickered when he looked over. He cackled when he turned to her, but she remained indifferent.

“Ye ain’t gonna do nothing?” he asked.

“It’s only getting started,” she replied. She shifted slightly toward him. “You’ve spent so much on ensuring a powerful defense force, but you’re already hot and bothered.”


“There’s no conversation to be had, Janus. This is your show, and these people are looking for security. Can you even offer that?”

“Look here—"

“Why are you still here, Janus? Hm? Rodri did well to prop you up, and we just watched a column of fancy equipment shredded by a well-placed I.E.D. You didn’t get pointers from The Ethoxian Republic’s conflicts in T’Rach?”

The bandit leader growled.

“Send more air support!” he ordered. “I’m heading to the base right now!”

And thus, the night is redefined by the chaos of fate. Cire thought as she turned to see the rising smoke.

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