City Series:Volume6b Chapter3
Chapter 3: The Wheel Runs
7/27/1939 – 7/28/1939 22:08 – 03:41
Suddenly, I remember my role
I remember my purpose in this world
That realization comes with fear
How can everyone else accept it so easily?
Dragons and the Geheimnis Agency
1000 years ago, the Messiah used a soaring dragon to conquer Germany with a one-armed youth by her side, so dragons receive special treatment within the Geheimnis Agency when compared to other Heidengeists.
The order of knights from 1000 years ago bore a lion emblem as they raced across the ground while the dragon named Sylphide conquered the sky. Due to that, the Geheimnis Agency’s Grösse Panzers generally take the name of lions and their aircrafts take the name of dragons. Also, their emblem is a wedge shape with a dragon on the top and a lion on the bottom.
The Geheimnis Agency’s approval only falls on the great and wise dragons, not the wild and animalistic ones. Thus, they eradicate the lesser dragons for being a stain on the reputation of dragons as a whole.
During the construction of the Geheimnis Agency’s North Base #9 in 1936, a green dragon was born from the ley line disturbance caused by the construction. The dragon emerged into the city from an old abandoned test site below Neuschwanstein Castle but was defeated by two Geheimnis Agents who rushed in.
There were no restful nights in the Geheimnis Agency headquarters. Only nights of preparation.
The night shift had just taken over and the HQ was entering the quietest part of the night.
The mess hall was just as quiet.
The only active lights were the fluorescent ones in the kitchen and the large sunlamp at the center of the ceiling. The place had a cold and dim atmosphere, but there was activity there.
The kitchen was empty, but someone was wiping down the tables.
Lowenzahn had rolled her sleeves up to her elbows, revealing awfully white and thin arms. They could even be called delicate as she used one to wipe down the tables with a rag.
Without wiping the sweat from her brow, she peered down at the table to see her face reflected in it.
She nodded in satisfaction and observed her reflected face.
She wrinkled her brow and smiled to see the same in the diagonally-reflected face.
She glanced over at the reflection from the side, altered the angle of her face, and gave it another glance.
And just as she found an angle she liked, a large figure appeared in the table mirror.
“What are you doing?”
She gasped and stepped back from the table. She ended up bumping into the person behind her, but…
“Be careful,” he warned as he caught her in a giant metal arm.
She looked back to find the familiar face of Hellard Schweitzer.
“Lieutenant? What brings you here at this hour?” she asked while stepping away from his arm and turning to face him. She smiled and tilted her head. “To visit me perhaps?”
She had to laugh at that. “That isn’t like you at all, is it?” she said before another quiet laugh.
He only tilted his head in confusion.
“I was thinking about some things and I thought some alcohol might help me gather my thoughts.”
“Oh? So even you drink.”
“I doubt there is a German alive who doesn’t drink.”
She pointed back at her left chest with her thumb.
When he realized what she meant, his face clouded over a little.
“Don’t let it bother you.” She smiled bitterly. “I’m doing a lot better than when you saved me 3 years ago.”
“Your father, Air Force Division Chief Muller, said you should rely on him more.”
“Did he? But an adopted daughter can’t rely on him too much. You saving me from the Neuschwanstein Dragon Attack 3 years ago was enough for me.”
“You did well at the hospital.”
“Only because you pushed me way too hard. Who tells a girl to run immediately after heart surgery?” She glared at him but with a smile. “I did manage to run, though.”
He gave her an earnest nod.
“We control Neuschwanstein Castle, so unlike Munich’s central hospital, Neuschwanstein’s hospital receives support from the Geheimnis Agency. We healed you, so we can ask you to run for us.”
“Yeah, until you learned about my illness,” she said while giving him some side-eye. His calm expression gave no indication as to whether or not he understood what she meant.
She sighed with the look of disgust intact.
“But that was when the real ‘fun’ began. You got your arm blown off and Lieutenant Alfred nearly destroyed the city with a single shout.”
“And for some reason, I found you treating my wound after we defeated the dragon.”
“You should really thank me because you were a bloody mess. …But since I didn’t have any family left afterwards, here I am now. I live with General Muller and I’ve become a bottom-level noble.”
Schweitzer smiled as he uttered that word. And…
“I will have a dark beer.”
“Coming right up.”
She walked quickly over to the kitchen counter, placed her hand on it, and hopped on over.
Once behind the counter decorated with flowers, she was in a battlefield known as a kitchen.
It was a large space. Stovetops and ovens were placed along the 20-yard walls and the central 4-yard countertop was large enough to butcher an entire cow’s head. A total of four smaller countertops were place around the large one and the aisles between them contained orderly shelves covered in cooking supplies and spices.
She carefully avoided the hoses and trays strewn haphazardly through the aisles to reach the back wall where several large taps stuck out.
“Do you run this place alone at night?” asked Schweitzer from behind her.
“Tonight is special. The chef is out getting supplies for the big party tomorrow.”
“The top brass are coming, right? I heard earlier that Lieutenant General Heiliger has arrived, so they’re definitely going to have a secret party just like last year and the year before that. Since he’s here, I assume all the Geheimnis Agency founders will be gathering for the usual.”
She smiled and noted Schweitzer’s silence.
“Do you know something I don’t?” she asked.
“On the way here, Lieutenant General Heiliger hinted that there is some further purpose to this year’s gathering. There are so many mysteries of late. Including that prophecy sent out to everyone 2 weeks ago.”
“The prophecy? What don’t you understand about it?”
“Everyone worked so hard to fulfill the one from two years ago, but while we were told this one would resurrect the Messiah if fulfilled, no one was ordered to work toward that end. Because we do not understand what it means. And with nothing to do, people start to lose trust in the higher ups.”
“God, you athletic types. You found who would become the Messiah two years ago, didn’t you? Then it’ll be fine. She will fulfill the prophecy and eventually become the Messiah. Everything is on track.”
“The fuse was lit two years ago, wasn’t it? So why add more fire now? You don’t have to do anything until the prophecy tells you to. I’m sure that’s what the higher ups have decided. …But based on the rumors in the mess hall, it sounds like the army is on the move.”
“Yes,” he said. “Sorry.”
She waved a hand without looking back.
“All you ever do is apologize to me. Isn’t that what I said to you when you lifted your head from my lap three years ago? You overthink everything. You never even lie, do you?”
“I have never heard of any virtue or truth found in lies.”
“And if you haven’t heard of it, it can’t exist? Have you ever tried to create those things among the lies? You’re hopeless.”
She came to a stop with the wall right in front of her.
Two rows of ten large taps were lined up along the wall.
They all produced different kinds of beer. There was a simple trough below to catch any that might spill.
“Men take everything so seriously but always ignore the details,” she said too quietly for him to overhear.
She grabbed an empty wooden mug from the nearby sink where it had been washed and checked the color of the cooling emblems embedded on the sides of the taps.
“Um, do you prefer it chilled? That is the latest trend.”
“I don’t care as long as I can drink it.”
“Yup, always ignore the details,” she said with mock cheer as she twisted the tap.
She filled the mug with a bit of foam at the top. After turning off the tap, she sighed, wiped the sweat from her brow, and looked back.
She saw someone new in the mess hall.
Past the enormous man with a prosthetic arm was an even more enormous man.
They had just been discussing a man larger than Schweitzer.
“Lieutenant General Heiliger…”
But she trailed off when Schweitzer looked back and called the man’s name.
Graham was not your stereotypical elderly man.
First, there was his size. His entire bald head stood above Schweitzer. Then there was the back supporting his enormous frame and his broad shoulders.
He emanated strength just standing there.
But the reason for this size was obvious at a glance. Four mechanical limbs extended from the sleeves and hem of his black Geheimnis Agency coat bearing the rank insignia of commander-in-chief. The quiet sounds of motors came from him whenever he moved.
He had a fully prosthetic body.
Schweitzer brought a hand to his chest in salute and Graham nodded in response.
He had no notable expression and he spoke in a deep voice with a sharp look in his eyes.
“I hear retrieving the Sylphide prototype’s parts was no easy task, Lieutenant Hellard Schweitzer.”
“I still do not think it makes up for my failure 2 years ago.”
“You mean allowing the Messiah to escape?”
Schweitzer hung his head and said nothing.
Graham started to say something but fell into a coughing fit instead. It was the deep coughing of illness.
But he soon got over it.
“Your report said you ‘failed to continue monitoring’ the girl who is to become the Messiah, but we understand that was necessary to fulfill the prophecy. I have a Psyche Outer device installed to ensure I do not err and my thoughts tell me you did nothing wrong.”
He pointed near his neck with a metal finger His coat swelled out on the back of his neck up to his brainstem. That modification had stopped his emotions so he could make accurate decisions.
The machine made small whirring noises as it moved along with his head.
“The time has come. The Panzerpolis Project will affect the government and military as construction of Germania begins and we set down the path toward war. It is time to grant you more power. On the 1st of next month, Air Force Division Chief Muller will grant you the rank of Captain.” A breath. “Well done enduring the past two years.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“My emotionless memories tell me that excessive honesty is the greatest virtue and fault of the Schweitzer family. Your father was the same when he worked as Heiliger’s aide.”
Schweitzer silently bowed and a cheerful voice spoke from behind him.
“Congrats on the promotion.”
When he looked back, he saw Lowenzahn standing beyond the kitchen counter with a wooden mug in hand. She turned to Graham and spoke without fear.
“Care for a beer?”
“Unfortunately, I have no sense of taste.”
“Aren’t you ever just in the mood to drink? And wouldn’t accompanying the Lieutenant help show your appreciation?”
She had a mischievous smile, but her words were sincere.
“I understand your reasoning, but his promotion has yet to be officially announced. It is too soon to celebrate.”
“You really need to lighten up.”
Schweitzer quickly spoke up to drown out Lowenzahn’s comment.
“Excuse me, but what is the Geheimnis Agency’s commander-in-chief doing here at this hour? Were you meeting someone?”
“I heard you were here. I might be commander-in-chief, but I am still a Neue Kavalier. I can move on my own two legs when need be.”
“I am here to order you to don your dress uniform tomorrow morning and arrive at the east gate barracks at 0900 hours.”
“Are we on our way to meet someone?”
“We will travel two hours east by car to reach Munich. I will provide further details en route.”
Graham turned around with a mechanical noise.
“The other nations have been making secret preparations whenever we make a move recently. Unlike when we were ceded the Sudetenland, England and France have grown cautious. As for America…”
After the clank of a metallic footstep, Schweitzer spoke to the larger man’s back.
“Instead of entering the war themselves, they have elevated M. Schrier’s AIF from a volunteer army to an official organization. And…according to Lieutenant Alfred Maldrick’s intel, the Messiah girl has returned to Germany.”
“I have heard that a portion of the army division is pursuing her. I just hope they are not acting prematurely.”
“Prematurely?” asked Schweitzer.
Graham responded without the slightest movement.
“The prophecy has not yet been set in motion. Capturing the Messiah now will likely alter destiny. Or it will if the development division’s decoding of Germany’s Tons is not complete.”
“Army Division Chief Karl Schmitt will arrive tomorrow, so we can discuss this further with him.”
Graham resumed moving without so much as a nod. He walked forward to leave the mess hall.
Schweitzer brought a hand to his chest and pulled his chin back to watch the man leave.
Graham did not look back. His enormous mechanical body took a dozen or so seconds to leave.
Afterwards, Schweitzer thought he could hear some distinctive coughing in the distance.
He kept himself in that pose until Graham’s formidable presence entirely vanished into the darkness outside.
“It’s gonna get warm.”
A mug moved in from behind him at eye level.
He looked back to see Lowenzahn sitting on the counter.
He took the mug, sighed, and drained the contents.
She watched with amusement as he drank it down.
“How does it taste?”
“I am in no mood to focus on flavor.”
“Don’t you lose your emotions too. I beg of you.”
She smiled bitterly and he earnestly nodded. He set the mug down on the counter without looking her in the eye. And rested his elbow on the counter to the right of where she sat on it.
“A direct summons from His Excellency? I honestly don’t know what to make of this.”
“Stop confusing yourself so much. You’re overthinking this like you always do.”
“Just hear me out. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but what’s wrong with that? How’s that any different from getting a birthday present? Or…” She paused to think for a moment. “Do you think he would do something awful to you? You don’t, do you? He stopped by to inform you of your promotion, so don’t overthink it. You only think so much because you’re anxious, but what do you have to be so anxious about? Someone who would never harm you invited you to go on a trip tomorrow. That’s all.”
He noticed her place a hand on his left shoulder and then she lifted herself up with only that left hand for support.
Her weight was added to his back as he leaned down to rest on his shoulder.
She was facing away from the counter, so she was sort of back-to-back with him.
“I know Bertecht Schweitzer, previous head of the Schweitzer family, served as Heiliger Karlsruhe’s aide during the Imperial Exile Incident that led to the Geheimnis Agency’s creation and I know he died because he could not suppress the rioters. He protected Munich’s central hospital during the rioting there and made sure never to attack the people, but was taken out by one of their bullets.”
Her fingers tapped on his biological shoulder.
“Germany’s Neue Kavaliers split into two factions after that: the Geheimnis Agency that exists solely to protect the country and its people, and those who choose to live a privileged life among the people.”
“You know an awful lot about what is far from a riveting subject matter.”
“Everyone told me about it when I asked about you.” She tapped his shoulder again. “Did you protect me at the hospital during the dragon attack because you wanted to be more like your father?” A breath. “Whenever I see your arm, it makes me think the exact opposite of an apology. It makes me think about how we were all saved by the loss of that arm. …Isn’t that the same?”
“The same as what?”
She smiled bitterly and unexpectedly whispered in his ear.
“You’re so slow on the uptake. Were you anxious when you came to save us? See what I mean now? You only feel anxious now – and will in the future too, I’m sure – because you have the time to sit and think, so try to relax instead.”
He nodded while feeling her weight on his back.
“You took some time getting to your point…but someone once said something similar to me.”
“Is it that Eryngium girl again?”
When he said yes, he heard a bitter laugh from his shoulder.
Instead of trying to figure out why, he said something else.
“The Messiah girl might tell me the same thing someday.”
He stood up.
She nearly slid off his back, so he scooped her up with his Der Held prosthetic arm.
His metal hand supported her in an unsteady sitting position.
She gasped and clung to his arm while adjusting her position.
Der Held gently lowered her onto her feet.
Once she was standing again, they faced each other.
She seemed hesitant to speak and sighed with a hand on her right hip.
“It felt like your hand was rubbing my butt just now. Was that on purpose?”
“It lacks that function.”
She responded to his blank expression with her shoulders drooping.
“It lacks what function?”
Hazel suddenly opened her eyes.
She must have dozed off, so she sleepily checked on her current situation.
This was the room Berger had taken her to. He was still not back, so she was alone sitting in the seat in front of the central table.
…A lot happened today.
Flektierening into a cat and running around was exhausting. Meeting Berger had also helped her relax.
“I’m so sleepy. Where is Berger, anyway?”
She straightened up, tilted her head, and checked the clock on the wall to see it was already past 11 at night.
The thick curtain over the window fluttered as the night breeze blew in.
She could see the color of the wind. She had gained that power once her right eye’s sight returned after the incident two years ago. It was a pale blue. The somewhat blurred Tons wavered, swirled, and danced around the room.
It was cold. She was only wearing Berger’s black shirt and Berlin’s nights were chilly even in late summer.
She got up to shut the window, but she remembered what he had told her.
…I’m not supposed to approach the window.
She thought over that and then turned toward the kitchen. The food below the frying pan’s lid had to be cold by now.
She sighed and let her shoulders droop before remembering how she was dressed.
“I actually dozed off like this.”
She thought for a bit and looked around the room, noting the absence of a closet or wardrobe.
…I wish there were some clothes I could borrow.
The cabinet below the sink seemed like the most likely spot. It was right next to the space with food in it. She approached the sink, crouched down, and sat with the hem of the shirt held in the back of her knees like a skirt.
“Sorry, but I need to check inside.”
After apologizing, she tensed up a bit and opened it. She detected a scent reminiscent of old wood and metal.
She saw two wooden boxes inside, just like in Berger’s hideout two years before.
She smiled a little.
“He gave me a shirt and shorts back then, didn’t he? Sandals too.” Her shoulders fell in exasperation. “But I didn’t get any underwear until the German barracks. I was running around without any until then.” Her shoulders fell further in frustration. “And he saw everything before that anyway.”
She hung her head. But…
“But I’ve forgotten all that unpleasantness and grown a lot over the past two years. Well, except in the chest!”
She clenched her fists and stood up with resolve, crashing her head right into the top of the cabinet.
A horribly dull thud filled the room.
She held the back of her head and doubled over.
Just then, she heard what sounded like something heavy falling over past the floor – on the ground floor below. It was dull wooden impact.
She wiped away the tears that were more due to surprise than pain and got up while being much more careful this time.
She stood up, looked around the room just once, and walked barefoot over to the door.
She pulled the thick door with both hands to open it.
She found the landing that opened out onto the front desk below. This room was in the very back, putting it furthest from the stairs. She could see anyone climbing the stairs from here.
Presently, someone other than Berger was doing so. It was a man and woman in black.
…Are they staying in another room?
She wondered that, but at the same time…
…I can’t let anyone other than Berger see me dressed like this.
She shut the door and waited a few seconds, but then something occurred to her.
…Could they be from the Geheimnis Agency?
She had seen those agents in black from time to time since entering Germany, not to mention the two men who had tried to take custody of her two years ago as the possessor of the Messiah Eingeweide eye. The pair climbing the stairs now reminded her a lot of those two. They had the same heavy tension and strained atmosphere surrounding them.
She quickly reached back to lock the door.
Just then, a knock came at the door.
Followed by another.
The knocking caused her pulse to race.
She froze in place and tried to mask her presence. She had to make it seem like there was no one here.
She held her breath, pressed her back against the wall next to the door, stood up on her toes, and remained entirely motionless.
A few seconds passed.
All of a sudden, she saw blueish white Tons flowing in. It was the wind. A powerful gust was approaching the window.
…Please don’t make any noise.
The wind blew in against her wishes, blowing the curtain and rattling its rail. The rattle of metal and rustle of thick cloth sounded so very loud.
She placed a hand over her mouth.
She suppressed it.
She did not want to make any noise, but she felt like the tremor in her throat would cause something to escape.
The wind died down.
But then another knock came.
A third one.
The speed and strength of the knock was the same as before, which told her something.
…They aren’t checking to see if someone is here?
They knew she was here and were waiting for her to respond. Like gentlemen.
They did not have hostile intentions.
That realization made her cower down.
This all creeped her out.
Then she heard a voice.
It was a somewhat deep and emotionless female voice.
“We have come to pick you up. We are from the Geheimnis Agency’s army division.”
The voice carried no doubt about her presence and was not taking no for an answer, so Hazel held her body tight.
She calmed her breathing.
…I can do this if they’re willing to talk.
She took a breath.
“What is this about? I only came to Germany on a trip.”
“But to us, this is the return of our Messiah.”
“I’m not your-”
“Destiny – the prophecy – has spoken. Whoever you are now, you will eventually lead us, so it is only natural that we protect you now.”
She thought about those uncompromising words.
After three seconds, she spoke.
“Wh-what happens if I…have no intention of leading you?”
The answer came immediately and without hesitation.
“Nevertheless, you are destined to lead us. It is that destined future that matters to us, not the present.”
The doorknob turned with an “excuse me” from the voice.
It was locked, so it did not open. The knob stopped.
…They can’t get in.
Hazel breathed a sigh of relief and provided her conclusion.
“I’m sorry, but at least for now, I don’t want that. …So please leave.”
“Nonsense. Do you think help is coming for you if you stay here? I am sorry to say that Dog Berger has abandoned you and departed on a mission for the AIF.”
She gasped and the woman beyond the door must have heard it.
“He will not return no matter how long you wait, so I would recommend abandoning that hope.”
“But he…but Berger…”
“We have heard everything from the gentleman downstairs. Dog Berger said he wanted nothing more to do with you.”
…That isn’t true.
“Think it through. If he is currently on an AIF mission, how is he supposed to get you out of the country?”
She fell silent. She stared down to her right where the cold frying pan sat on the stove.
She stared at the pan, took a few breaths, and shut her eyes.
Then she straightened up and spoke.
“I do not believe you.”
Her pronunciation was stiff as she was still unused to the language. It would not come as smoothly as German did.
But she kept going all the same.
“You claim that Mr. Berger left like that in order to hurt my feelings. No one would do something so cruel.”
She had no idea if the woman beyond the door understood English, but that allowed her to speak more freely.
“If he did leave me here, then he had a reason for it. He would have told the innkeeper downstairs the reason. But…” She frowned. “Unfortunately, I know the innkeeper would not have let you through. Yet here you are.”
…I hope he’s okay.
She recalled the friendly-looking elderly man’s face.
Then she heard a Text.
<The Fatherland allows no secrets.>
She reflexively held the doorknob with her hand.
It could not be turned from the outside and it was locked, so there was no way it could open.
Nevertheless, open it did. The knob did not turn and the lock remained in place, yet the door opened.
She realized her hand had released the knob and the door was open. Two people stood before her, both in black. One was a middle-aged woman in a black dress and a combat jacket. The other was a young, broad-shouldered man in a black military uniform.
Hazel tensed as she faced the two of them.
“What are you going to do?”
…Take me away?
“Are you going to take me against my will, just like you did during the Heidengeist test at school two years ago?”
Back then, she had tried to protect a friend they had gotten violent with and been blinded in one eye by the resulting blow.
…And then I was given the Messiah implant.
Those thoughts set her body in motion. Strength filled her.
Just then, both of them got down on one knee.
The woman’s short blonde hair swayed as she bowed her head and spoke.
“I am Geheimnis Agency Army Division Deputy Head Jeanne Schmitt. I must ask that you accompany us.”
Hazel found a quiet voice escaping her lips as the woman and man kneeled before her.
She took a step back to escape those two despite their defenseless pose.
She looked frantically side to side, but saw nothing that would save her. She had no idea what to do.
She took another step back.
Her back found the wall, but even at this distance, those two remained kneeling and motionless.
Their heads were defenselessly lowered, saying they were leaving this entirely in her hands.
She felt a chill because it was just like having a stray dog follow you around no matter how much you tried to shoo it away.
…H-how am I supposed to respond to this?
She had no intention of going with them.
But they would not listen to her refusal and she lacked the strength to force the issue.
And they had no hostile intentions.
If she could not refuse or force the issue, what choice did she have but to go with them?
And even if she waited here…
…Berger isn’t coming back.
She did not want to be taken away like this.
“Why won’t you let me choose?” She was speaking in her mother tongue once more. “Wh-why are you doing this? Please don’t. It’s wrong.”
The pair did not raise their heads, but they did slowly stand.
Hazel heard Jeanne speak with her head still lowered.
“Stop!” shouted Hazel. “If you’re going to take me away, then raise your heads and just do it!”
But Jeanne was unfazed. She took a silent step forward.
She took another silent step, closing the gap between them.
Hazel pressed herself against the wall and she could tell her legs were shaking for some reason.
“I-I’m not the Messiah. The Messiah implant hasn’t even healed.”
Jeanne said nothing in response. She did not force anything and she did not attack – she simply took another step closer.
The action was done gently, to avoid being intimidating.
She was trying to be kind.
…Wh-why? Why are they doing this all of a sudden?
By then, Jeanne stood right in front of her.
Jeanne crouched down, pushed down the hem of her skirt, and kneeled again. She slowly reached out a hand with her gaze lower than Hazel’s.
“I-I will wait here. Because…because Berger told me to.”
He was not coming.
She knew that, but…
“I-I don’t want to go. S-so I made some food and waited…”
She started to pull her hand back, but it would not move. She looked down to see it trembling. The fingers were shaking from tension.
With only the word “no” inside her, she saw that her arm was trembling too. When she dropped her gaze to her chest, she could tell her entire body was trembling.
Jeanne’s hand reached out as if trying to ignore or suppress that shaking.
Before Hazel could get the word “that” out, Jeanne’s fingertips had touched her trembling hand.
Her fingers were hard and bony for a woman and they squeezed to suppress the shaking.
Disgust filled Hazel and she shouted on reflex. She raised her head and wailed like a child. In English.
“Noooo!! Mr. Berger!!”
The instant her gaze reached the ceiling, she saw a bluish-white band floating down from there.
That was the wind’s Tons – the chilly melody of the icy wind.
She heard the sound of struck flesh as the young man behind Jeanne was blasted to the side.
With the sound of splintering wood, the man broke through the table and slammed into the windowsill. He flipped over and his upside-down legs shattered the window, making a sound similar to splashing water.
The shortest instant later, Hazel saw a different young man in black.
“Mister? Why the weird politeness when speaking English?”
This one was Dog Berger.
A battle began in front of Hazel.
Berger sent a leftward roundhouse kick sweeping up toward Jeanne as she tried to turn around and stand up.
<The Fatherland’s winds never cease blowing.>
Jeanne stood behind Berger.
Before his question was done, Hazel saw Jeanne pull out a handgun. The powerful red light emerging from the muzzle was the Ton of killer of intent and it extended toward Berger’s back.
“You actually showed up, Wild Hund? I honestly expected the dog to abandon the cat.”
“I ran into some Geheimnis Agents while picking up the package. After punching out the three of them, I came back here.” He smiled bitterly. “Based on that black dress, I take it you’re ‘Eisen Blume’ Jeanne Schmitt. …Middle-aged, just like the rumors said.”
After a gunshot, Berger was blasted to the side and slammed into the wall as if from a blow to the side.
A beat later, his black-cloaked form crumbled to the bottom of the wall. Hazel’s heart skipped a beat.
Her question was cut off by a series of gunshots.
Each shot caused his body to jerk as if kicked.
<Destiny cannot be pierced.>
Darkness burst out.
His black coat flew toward Jeanne as she fired her handgun. The metal hand emerging from the left sleeve thrust toward her neck. It was prepared to rip her throat out.
The bullets pierced the black coat, but they passed right on out the other side.
The coat had nothing inside it other than the left arm.
“I said it can’t be pierced, didn’t I?”
He burst from behind the flying coat as if tearing himself away from it.
He had removed his prosthetic left arm and he held the Eingeweide sword Gelegenheit with its shadowy blade active.
The blade emerging from the golden hilt was more than 8 yards long.
Eight objects similar to black flowers were attached midway up the hilt.
They were crushed bullets.
The black blossoms scattered when he swung Gelegenheit, slicing from ceiling to floor as if drawing out a diagonal circle.
<Destiny tears people apart.>
He shouted that Erklärung and the room was split in two. No, the entire inn was bisected. One half included Jeanne and her subordinate by the window and the other half contained Berger and Hazel by the hallway.
The diagonal cut caused Jeanne’s half to sink down for a moment.
And it did not stop there. That half of the inn fully collapsed.
Jeanne growled in anger and Berger held Gelegenheit in his mouth to pull a small boxy device from his pocket. He pushed two of the red buttons on it.
Immediately, the collapsing half of the inn neatly exploded, scattering dust and splinters more than fire.
He grabbed a chair that had just barely avoided being caught in the bisection and threw it into the rising smoke as if to be extra sure he got them.
“That’s three times now I’ve had to do that bit for you.”
The collapsing half of the inn could not support its own weight, so it broke apart and scattered along the ground.
Even if it was only half, that was a three-story building standing nearly 12 yards tall that had collapsed, so it caused an impressive amount of noise and smoke. It was not quite a roar, but a dusty sound surrounded them.
Hazel listened to that for a few seconds before peeling herself away from the wall.
She silently approached him and then the words spilled out of her.
“Why?” She hung her head. “Why did you come? Like they said, didn’t you have a reason to…”
She could not bring herself to say the rest, so she said something else instead.
“You aren’t the type to come back, but I still waited. And yet…”
“Say that in English, just like when you called my name.”
She looked up at that and saw him using his right hand to wipe away the blood dripping down his brow.
His face was not smiling, angry, or tense.
“Things have changed. The Geheimnis Agency is serious about this, so I’ll be taking you myself.”
“T-taking me where?”
“I read the letter in your bag on the way back here. I have to reach the German Army’s Base #8 in the Black Forest by tomorrow midday to destroy the warship about to be commissioned from there. That’s my AIF mission.”
“A skilled courier will be arriving there to take you back to America.”
She nodded at that, but then she recalled something she could not afford to forget.
“U-um, is the innkeeper okay? Don’t tell me they-”
“He’s alive. He can’t stay here anymore, though.”
Berger smiled bitterly for the first time since arriving. The expression looked somewhat troubled.
She tilted her head at that and he explained.
“Worry about yourself before others, silly girl. You have a lot to learn.”
“You have a point.”
She tried to force a smile and failed.
“Yes, you have…”
The rest of the words broke apart as her lips went loose and refused to take the proper shape.
A scratchy voice escaped her throat and the tears soon followed. She could not speak, her breaths seemed to crash into the bottom of her lungs, and she started to sob.
She shook her head over and over to ignore those words.
“Wh-why…why,” she choked. “Why did you come back?”
She let the tears flow and clung to his right arm as she wept.
The night breeze swept across them.
The wind blew across the Alfheim Meteorite Pit in the Black Forest of South Germany.
It also swept across the Geheimnis Agency Base #8 located to the east of that 400-yard-wide hole.
The large development base had a mile-long runway and an underground shipyard and it did not sleep at night.
There were five clusters of lights in the base.
The first was the runway lights to the east. The second was the large hangars covering the central eastern side of the base to the west of the runway. The third was the central command building west of the hangars.
The fourth was the underground shipyard located on the central western side of the base to the left of the command building. The top of the 4.5-mile shipyard had been opened up to reveal a giant warship within. The enormous aerial warship had the streamlined exterior of a glide bomb.
Several giant fuel pipes connected the sides of the ship with the walls to fill it with fuel, but a few were not connected to the ship and not yet in use.
The final cluster of lights was the Vaterland located on the far west end of the base. It gave off a deep, quiet rumble as it supplied the shipyard’s warship with fuel.
A new sound joined that rumble.
The powerful roar of wind emerged from a large hangar on the east end of the base.
The hangar was about 100 yards in each direction and it stood 15 yards tall. The large trailer stopped at the main entrance said it was a Panzer hangar.
A single figure stood at the hangar’s exterior.
The figure emerged from the hangar wearing only the black shirt, vest, and pants of the Geheimnis Agency. He held a plain white-bladed Werkzeug sword.
He was Alfred Maldrick. He walked to the center of the hangar light cast on the base’s road and raised both hands skyward. He yawned – loudly – with the somewhat scratchy voice of his artificial vocal cords.
He swung his hands back down and cracked his neck just before a loud voice spoke behind him.
“Enjoying yourself, I see, Sir Alfred.”
“You seem cheerful too, Nein.”
Alfred did not look back, but he did hear a loud metallic sound from behind him. The steel footsteps continued with a set tempo.
Those were the footsteps of two Grösse Panzers.
The air shook as the two long shadows extended to either side of Alfred.
The steel footsteps and rustling of Panzer Kleids approached him, but their shadows did not fall on him.
They came to a stop at his sides.
The blue one on the right and the red one on the left produced the distinctive motor noises of Grösse Panzers.
“Can you feel the wind, Nein? You, a product of the Eisen Ritter Project that joined just your brain and spine with the Panzer?”
“I can. Because the machine is my body now,” replied the blue one.
Alfred smiled at the scratchy voice coming from its speakers and he brushed back his hair.
“I only had a three hour test run after arriving, but that taught me something crucial.”
“What might that be?”
“That Eingeweide Grösse Panzer is special made for me. It was based on my Schwarz Löwe, but neither that nor Sir Graham’s Silber Löwe can hope to match it. Marsch said the combination of inertial control and rocket thrusters were crucial to giving it its high mobility.” He sighed. “I feel like I can only pilot this one because Schwarz Löwe’s Ober Emblem was entirely aerial based and because I had an Eingeweide training system installed in Schwarz Löwe. This Grösse Panzer can enter autopilot and boost its power with the Beweisen and it can handle anti-air combat without its Ober Emblem.”
“That is not due to the training system. That is because it uses a part of your body – your voice. In a way, it really is special made for you.” This time, it was the red and not the blue that spoke. “But are you sure you should ignore that previous summons?”
“You mean from Sir Graham? He asked me if I was free tomorrow and I said I was busy fine-tuning my new Grösse Panzer, that’s all. I would have gladly obeyed if he had made it an order.” Alfred did not even look back and he skillfully crossed his arms while still holding the sword. “But I do feel bad doing this to Lady Rose since she only wakes up this one day a year.”
He heard the blue one produce a metallic noise he knew was a nod.
He shut his eyes.
“But this gathering isn’t about testing the new Panzers, meeting Lady Rose, or the commissioning of the Gard-class Eingeweide aerial warship. This has to be about something else. Nein, have you heard anything?”
“I have not,” replied the blue one. “I was given the surname Nein because of the structural faults discovered in early development, so I have no interaction with our leader’s Naylor family or the second-in-command’s Karlsruhe family.”
“Do you think your younger brothers like Vier would know?”
“Unfortunately, my brothers have such inflexible personalities that I doubt they would tell us if they did.”
“If you’re calling them inflexible, then I know it’s bad. I’m sure Schweitzer is wondering what all this is about too.”
He opened his eyes and saw the stars of the night sky. The bottom part of the eastern sky was starting to turn purple, so dawn was approaching.
The red one spoke from behind him.
“Are you absolutely certain you will not be visiting Lady Rose with Sir Graham? You went with him the past three years.”
“I would love to, but this gathering appears to have a different purpose and Lieutenant General Heiliger arrived a lot earlier than past years. If I accompanied them, my personality would cause problems.”
The red one fell silent.
Only then did Alfred look back. He looked fearlessly up at the crimson Grösse Panzer that stood more than 9 yards tall.
“How about a kind word when your master gets self-deprecating?”
“That did not occur to me.”
“Unlike when I was using Schwarz Löwe, you didn’t bring it to a draw in the sparring match earlier. Getting old?”
“I have not counted my age past 100,” said the blue one. “That aside, why do you so dislike Lieutenant General Heiliger? He is the sole link between the military and the Geheimnis Agency and he is the brother of your teacher Sir Graham and of Lady Rose.”
“This has nothing to do with his job or family. I just don’t like him.” Alfred faced forward again and tapped his heel on the road. “Schweitzer’s dad defended Munich’s central hospital during the Imperial Exile Incident in ’19, but what do you think that man, his superior officer, was doing? The entire country was shaken by the emperor’s exile, but he was out buttering up those pompous politicians. And once the Geheimnis Agency was established, he was so scared of the rumors that he hid in the military and used his family name to gain social status.”
“Why do that? For himself. Those aren’t the actions of a Neue Kavalier.” He smiled bitterly. “Maybe what happened 2 years ago was his punishment for that. Having to hand over his own family to the military’s 2nd Heidengeist Crackdown, I mean. As an example to the people serving this country, he threw out his own wife and daughter.”
Alfred took a step forward and raised Rein König before his eyes.
“Four years ago, I fought a guy much like that and lost someone. I promised her I would…”
He hesitated a few moments before saying it in a self-deprecating way.
“…become the strongest.”
He opened his left hand.
He wore a woman’s ring on the middle finger. A red gem sparkled there.
“I must defeat everyone I come across. That is why I reached for this Rein König and why I had Marsch turn my voice into an Eingeweide component.”
“It is a shame what Sir Marsch did.”
“It sure is. Do you get it, Nein? I’ve waited two years – two years – after losing Marsch.” He took a breath and clenched his left hand. “All so I can defeat destiny.”
A task was completed at the bottom of the Alfheim Meteorite Pit.
The light down there cast shadows that gave the bottom of the pit depth.
The sky sat overhead, the work was carefully organized, water was drained, and a large slab was uncovered at the bottom. A misshapen concrete slab covered the bottom of the hole.
It was about 40 yards in each direction and looked like a giant lid.
Two men stood atop it now: the site supervisor and the site commander.
The commander looked down to the concrete at his feet and kicked lightly at the bumps.
“I never imagined P Wagner’s lab was hiding something like this beneath it. This looks like a floor, but it’s actually a portion of a ceiling. This is an underground room.”
“It is hollow inside. Our acoustic survey says it is not filled with water.”
The site supervisor pointed east.
The slab grew narrower as it extended in that direction, but still maintained a width of around 20 yards when it vanished into the hole’s wall. The room narrowed into a corridor as it extended in that direction.
“Where does that lead?”
“That direction leads to the shrine that predates the discovery of the pit.”
“You mean it goes all the way there? So is this an escape route from the lab to the shrine?”
“That is one interpretation, but look at this.”
The site supervisor crouched down and rubbed at the concrete slab to clear away the dust.
A white color was mixed into the concrete like whitecaps.
“This has rocks in it, including some very large ones. This isn’t like the other concrete rooms that used rebar.”
“What does that mean?”
“This room might be part of the original hole reinforced from within using concrete. You do that when excavating ruins. With a home or cave made of stone, you cover the inner walls with concrete to reinforce them.”
“Then this isn’t part of P Wagner’s lab? It was already here?” The commander looked to the ceiling of the passageway extending east and chose his words carefully. “So the passageway to the shrine at the base of the mountain and this space are much older and P Wagner happened across it by chance when building his lab on top?”
“Yes, he must have wanted to preserve this place, so he reinforced it and then left it intact when he destroyed his lab.”
The commander thought about that for a moment and smiled.
“What’s inside? Could we use that eastward passageway to get in through the shrine? With a 20-yard width, the entrance has to be pretty noticeable.”
“Remember how there’s a giant stone at that shrine in front of the rock face?”
“So that stone I poured drinks on is sealing something inside?”
“If the legends are to be believed, it’s sealing a dragon.” The site supervisor laughed and stood up. “Or to put it another way, whatever’s inside might just blow that stone away.”
He looked up toward the round slice of the night sky visible far overhead.
“But either that all happened centuries ago or we managed to get this far down without breaking the seal. Either way, it is our duty to dig further.”
“I see. Then we have no choice but to open this room.”
He lowered his gaze again to the floor – to that ancient space more recently reinforced.
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