City Series:Volume6b Chapter5
Chapter 5: The Wheel Races
07/28/1939 21:42 – 23:21
There are people I have never met
There are worlds I have never seen
They appear before me
Suddenly and forcefully
The Antiwar Independent Force. Established in 1934. Originated as a civilian intelligence agency funded to keep tabs on Europe by some capitalists who moved to the US to escape the tension in Europe and learned that Sofort Lesers around the world had prophesied the imminent destruction of the world.
The situations they found often required taking direct action and they received corporate sponsors seeking to receive intelligence from European governments and militaries, so they secretly established a combat force meant to correct the world’s power balance. Their role is to seal away Ober Geheimnis – relics and technologies from a previous world – and to deter any excessive military actions or rampant war profiteering.
This force was established in ’37, but the process of putting together an actual force and working out the internal command structure meant they could not reveal the force’s presence to the governments, militaries, and corporations they worked with until ’39. Their main force was primarily made up of Heidengeists and, in ’39, they held a training ground in the US state of Arizona with enough ground and aerial troops for four divisions.
Schweitzer and Alfred walked down a wide, dark stone hallway.
Their clothing was torn and their skin was marred by a few scratches and bloodstains.
Their footsteps sounded wet. The ground was flooded up to their ankles. Around 6 hours had passed since they started down the hallway indicated by Bermark. It had sloped down, sloped up, and curved every which way, but they still had not reached the end.
Alfred walked out in front and he did not slow his pace as he asked a question.
“Hellard, what do you make of this? That juvenile dragon we ran across at the start seemed awfully real, but the great serpent after that seemed fake to me. I’d say the three creatures after that were real, but what about that one just now?”
“I think it does not matter.”
“Agreed. …Although in children’s stories, the illusions fade away and you reach your destination once you identify them as such.”
“I doff my cap to your refusal to show mercy even to illusions, Alfred.”
“Don’t flatter me.”
Alfred’s tone was serious, but he swung his right hand the very next moment.
An instant after the slash, a white light was released from Rein König’s path, like the blade’s afterimage had taken flight. The destructive light shot toward the supposedly shallow water.
A pillar of water roared into the air to their right before parting to reveal a massive sea serpent.
It screeched beyond their audible range and raised its head. The left half of its face had been sliced away.
The remaining eye was glaring at Alfred.
But Alfred ignored it and casually waved his left hand toward Schweitzer.
“You can have this one. It’s too tedious for me. …Honestly, nothing here has any real fight in it.”
The serpent may have understood his hoarse words because it opened its mouth and charged.
Schweitzer took an exasperated step forward.
The wet footing was irrelevant as long as he controlled his weight and center of gravity appropriately. He moved his right foot forward and rotated it by pushing his toes, ankle, knee, thigh, and hip to the right in that order.
The movement of his lower body pushed his upper body forward.
Der Held’s metal fist flew forward like a shell, crashing into the side of the serpent’s face as it tried to attack Alfred.
Its face audibly burst open and its body was propelled backwards.
Alfred used a swing of Rein König to keep the spraying blood off of him as he walked on ahead. Schweitzer held up Der Held to do the same.
“This may not be an illusion, Alfred. What if these are being created by rearranging the Tons of the ether?”
“Giving them an artificial life? This seems too largescale and constant to be Tuning. And if it’s been mechanically automated…well, I’ve never heard of that kind of technology.”
“Bermark called this a ‘castle’. What if the Geheimnis Agency base was built atop the ruins of an old castle full of Ober Geheimnis, similar to the area below Munich’s central hospital?”
Alfred stopped out ahead of him and looked back, so Schweitzer asked a further question.
“Why must we pass through here to meet our commander? This hallway seems to stretch on to infinity, but I think it is actually being created as we walk using the same technique used for the serpents and dragons we have encountered.”
“But based on how this is going, it doesn’t look like the way forward opens when we prove our strength.”
“Our commander must be testing us. To see if we will notice something here.”
“An interesting idea, but what are we supposed to notice?”
Schweitzer saw Alfred raise Rein König in his right hand.
He launched an attack of light upwards, earning a scream from the ceiling. A bestial scream.
Something like a thick rope made of nothing but dark shadow dropped down. Three such things did.
Screaming, they fell behind Alfred. Schweitzer noticed several sharp horns on their heads as they splashed into the water. They screamed and struggled, thrashing in the water, but then…
Yes, they vanished. More like they turned invisible than dissolved into the air.
Alfred looked around.
“None of these serpents or dragons can put up a fight. Why would someone create the technology to mass produce them? I know during the Obstacle Era there was a war fought using inhuman mass-produced soldiers known as Divine Warriors, so is this the same tech here?”
“We honestly do not even know this is a form of technology.” Schweitzer sighed. “Whoever made this place must have known what they were doing, but what were they trying to make?”
“Probably a real dragon that could put up a fight, Hellard.”
He immediately answered that with another question.
“Then think about it, Alfred. The true dragon would have been with the Messiah…so why were they trying to create one here? And why hide it?” He was not done yet. “Our leader must be able to control a dragon. Not to forcefully bend it to her will like we did 3 years ago, but to have it obey. And after the Messiah vanished a millennium ago…”
“What if someone tried to obtain a dragon in order to lead us? What if they used the technology passed down to them in order to obtain an Erde Drache or Luft Drache so they could lead the leaderless Neue Kavaliers?”
Alfred cut in to answer those questions.
“That would have to be the emperor who the Messiah left Germany with.” Alfred spread his legs a bit and looked up. “The four Neue Kavalier families of Naylor, Karlsruhe, Maldrick, and Borderson served the Messiah and received certain benefits in return. After the subjugation of Germany, my Maldrick family even demanded this Rein König that the one-armed youth left with the emperor.”
“So once the Messiah was gone, maybe the emperor wanted a dragon – even an artificial one – in order to lead someone and to become greater even than the Messiah.” He continued with a note of self-derision. “And history shows just how well that one went. The German imperial line died out a mere 200 years later with the death of Henry VI in 1197. You learned all this in school, didn’t you? Or did you forget it all? When did the Germania Dragoons declare their independence from the throne after returning from the Crusades?”
“In 1198, a year after the imperial line died out.”
“Correct. And by around 1200, the Ring of the Nibelung was being recited across Germany as an epic poem. That poem used a ring as a symbol of karmic retribution and eternity and we still use Nibelung to refer to the Wheel of Ruin.” He scoffed. “But the center of a ring is empty. Was that a reference to our lack of a leader and how we traded a thousand-year vacancy for peace? The emperor from a thousand years ago created this place to become our leader and ultimately failed, but is that destiny going to repeat itself now, Hellard?”
“The Wheel of Ruin, hm? Lady Rose mentioned that.” Schweitzer thought while he spoke. “Alfred, didn’t our commander say ruin would come to this world in ’43? And the prophecies are meant to avoid that? All so the Messiah will return and become our true leader.”
He stopped there, his face briefly stiffening in realization.
Then he smiled and moved with enough force to blast away the air around him.
He turned to the right and raised Der Held.
“Eingeweide arm Der Held, prepare Ober Beweisen.”
The surface of the prosthetic arm briefly glowed dully in the darkness.
“Alfred, I know why we must pass through here.”
“In that case, my own guess must be right.”
Alfred stepped up alongside Schweitzer.
He gently raised Rein König and kept the movement going, drawing out a silver arc and preparing for an overhead slash. He grinned and slowly crouched down.
The water before them opened wide as if in response.
What had been a hallway transformed into a vast space filled with darkness. A faint mist rose from the water at the bottom of that space and it continued to change.
The space’s Tons were remade before their eyes.
“I hear a voice. The lament of a historical relic – of a poor machine that has gone unused for so very long.”
A quiet Text entered the space, perhaps as a response to Schweitzer’s statement.
<A Legend spreads through the populace.>
The dark water spread further, growing too large to see the end.
Alfred stopped moving.
“This appears to be an Eingeweide system build in the middle ages. Its master must be long dead, so does it run off of a powerful posthumous will, similar to the Sylphide? What do you think?”
“The persistence of those who wished to rule Germany lives on in this place. This was abandoned after it failed to create a dragon, so our base was used to seal this secret history away.”
About 100 yards ahead of them, the water’s surface slowly rose as something pushed up from below.
There was so much water, the swelling of the surface looked more like a sand dune than water. Something massive had to be lurking below.
At some point, the swelling accelerated all at once.
A few moments later, the tip of the swelling ruptured and the water cascaded down.
The water bud split open and a great water dragon blossomed from within.
The crashing water was like the roar of an avalanche but much more pleasant. The smooth water dragon’s exposed head and neck measured more than 20 yards long.
“I bet Naval Division Commander Lillie Telmetz could use her Tuning to create a dragon like this,” said Schweitzer, his expression serious.
“This failure from the past is no match for a dragon made by one of the Fünf Leithammel.” Alfred had a smile in his voice. “And the Fünf Leithammel who can make that dragon isn’t even our leader, so the past emperors who could only create these failures were never cut out for the job. …The Messiah led a far stronger dragon.”
“Our purpose is to protect this country and its people and that is why we desire the Messiah as our leader.”
They both smiled at that.
Maybe it was meant as a response, but the water dragon bent its body into an arc and then rushed toward them.
It had to be more than 200 yards long in all, so its body alone was a weapon. A collision from that would do serious damage.
But the two men were unfazed as that great pressure and water-scented wind approached.
“This place is meant to teach us that the Messiah is the only leader for us,” said Alfred. “By showing us the alternative.”
“Then let us go meet out commander. The one and only commander who can lead us to the Messiah.”
“That is why we pass through here and why we must go meet our commander.”
The dragon approached.
In a flash, Alfred straightened up, stretched up, and bent back.
The wind shook. He used the bend of his body to swing the Rein König forward with all his might.
A voice accompanied the powerful slash.
Light flew. Light massive enough to fill the vast space. The white light lacked heat, but it had strength. Rein König amplified his Ton until it could tear right through the approaching destruction.
The dragon, the water, and the entire space before them were struck by the whiteness.
Everything they could see was subtly distorted. The scenery unraveled like a loose thread, the shadows wavered, the water tremored, and the air rippled.
The dragon and everything else were equally struck by the destructive power.
“Eingeweide arm Der Held – Ober Beweisen.”
His calm voice signaled the beginning of it all.
With a bang of gunfire, an empty cartridge was ejected from his prosthetic arm.
A metal-reinforced staff was pushed out from the ejector in the upper arm, so it struck the air. It produced a solid sound of impact, despite nothing existing there to be hit.
A barrier line of bluish-white ether raced out, as if to slice apart the wavering and distorting scenery, and then an Erklärung shook the air.
<The scattering lights in the sky are the stars
Excellence is determined in the sky
Do not compare your height to others
All power is lost in the face of humankind
In the heights dwell the soaring dragons
In the depths dwell the foundations of the earth>
The ether forming the space around them came to an immediate stop.
The wavering shattered, the distortion split, and it all revealed its true form. The form of the hallway they were to walk through.
Hazel awoke to a voice.
It was deep but not too deep. A depth with a hint of something higher. It was a woman’s voice.
…Do I know any women who sound like that?
She did not. Wondering if she was imagining things in her sleep, her sleepy mind began to drift off once more. Her cracked eyes told her it was still dark out. She could sense a nice warmth on her skin. Her mind was wrapped in the veil of a light doze.
If she shut her eyes again, sleep would take her once more. But…
She heard the voice again. And she sensed light too.
The light reaching her retinas through her eyelids was not the sunrise. It was unpleasantly bright. She opened her eyes just enough to tell the circle of light was pointing down at her from above.
She tilted her drowsy head.
“Spending the night with a naked girl, Dog Berger?”
She opened her eyes in a hurry to see the chest of a black shirt in the perfect nuzzling position. And she saw Berger’s face.
And since her Flektieren had worn off in her sleep…
The burst of air had not woken either of them, so he must have been tired and she must have been…
The thought made her want to hide, so she stopped thinking about it. She also tried to move away from Berger, but…
Her arms were folded up and pressed against his chest and she could not extend them. The sleeping bag was taut against her back, leaving only a limited space to move around in.
“It’s so tight.”
She struggled a bit but then looked up.
Berger was waking up.
She looked up at him to see his blue eyes slowly open and focus.
“Huh?” He looked her in the eye for a few seconds. “Wait, what the hell are you doing, Hazel!?”
“What am I doing!? You’re the one that pulled me into your arms!”
“Don’t lie. Anyway, get out, Hazel! You’re twisting my arm all weird.”
“D-d-don’t touch me- ah…no, e-especially not there…”
While they struggled inside the packed sleeping bag, the female voice from before reached them.
“Shut up the both of you.”
A small shape moved into the range of the light shining on them.
It was an army boot. It swiftly moved to the center of the light and grazed Hazel’s ear.
That was all Berger got out before it slammed into his jaw. After the clack of teeth against teeth, someone grabbed the sleeping bag from behind, lifted it up, and pulled it back.
The zipper was undone behind Hazel.
The chilly air reached her back and someone lifted her up from behind.
She was roughly tossed to the ground like someone peeling a fruit. After noticing her skin glowing with a pale light in the darkness, she crouched down and wrapped her arms around herself.
She looked up to see someone in a flight jacket. Their back was turned. They were far from tall – 5 feet at the most – but even from behind, they radiated a strange intensity.
A flashlight shined out from their face, so they must have been holding it in their mouth.
They were crouched down and holding the end of the sleeping bag.
“Ah, hey, what do you think you’re doing?”
Berger’s protests were silenced as the sleeping bag was zipped up.
The flashlight light moved, a muffled voice said something, and the person pointed at the squirming sleeping bag. They skillfully tied up the open end of the sleeping bag with a strap and sent a solid kick into the center of the shouting bag.
“What do I think I’m doing? Demonstrating the principles of democracy with some nice, democratic vigilante justice.”
The flashlight shut off and Hazel panicked at the darkness that suddenly surrounded her.
“Um,” she called, but the only response was the sound of another kick.
The powerful blow was of a type she had never heard before.
By the time she questioned it, it was already too late.
She heard humming. It was a jazz song with a nice tempo. It was a chart topper she had often heard on the radio while in the US.
The kicking started back up in time with the song. The light humming took the place of the trumpet, the sax, and the drums, while a kick sounded with each and every note.
It was a nice tune and Hazel could not help but nod her head to the beat.
…Isn’t there someone inside the sleeping bag being kicked?
The kicks came so quickly it was hard to believe.
“What is it? Use English.”
“Um…what are you doing?”
Kicking like this tenderizes the meat by breaking the fibers.”
The kicking continued.
So did the humming. Then they asked Hazel something.
“More importantly, are you okay? I would recommend against selling your body when you’re still so young.”
“Eh? No, um, that isn’t what this was.”
“Yeah, I was young once. You’re drawn to these men who live in the moment and decide to put out. But I’d recommend against that too.”
Hazel was unsure how to respond. She could still hear the kicking and the humming, but then she panicked.
…N-now is not the time to be enjoying the music!
She could tell this person had misunderstood the situation. And given the circumstances, she knew where that misunderstanding had come from, so she spoke up.
“U-um, I’m fine. Please don’t worry. He didn’t do anything to me!”
The kicking stopped and the somewhat airborne sleeping bag plopped down onto the ground and rolled once to the side. Once all was silent, Hazel sighed in relief and continued.
“I-I’m fine. So please stop that. Because…because…” She hung her head a little. “Mr. Berger is used to seeing me naked.”
After a pause, the kicking resumed with double the intensity and the sleeping bag burst open.
“What the hell have you been doing, you scumbag!?”
A voice called from further off in the forest.
“Captain Sevan! It’s almost time for the meeting!”
“Got it! Hey, you all stay away from here! It ain’t a pretty sight!!”
The other voice faded into the distance.
After a few seconds, the humming made one final and extra-hard hit before stopping.
“Hmph.” The figure stopped moving, wiped the sweat from their brow, and turned around.
“You okay, girl? Staying far away from men like this is the real secret to happiness, if you ask me.”
“I see,” was all Hazel could think to say.
The person removed their flight jacket and tossed it her way.
She caught the still-warm leather garment and draped it over her shoulders like a stole.
She noticed an unfamiliar perfume on the collar.
The figure stood before her and she could see the Ton light emanating from their body. A mighty red light was pulsating from them.
The person standing within that light was a woman.
She looked to be in her mid-thirties and her wavy brown hair was cut to shoulder length.
She looked Hazel in the eye and smiled.
“Don’t worry. I’m Corelle Sevan. I have some business here, so I’m sorry, but I can’t immediately send you back to the village.”
“U-um, I’m Hazel Mirildorf. …Does that mean anything to you?”
Corelle’s expression changed when she heard that. Her eyebrows rose and the tone color of her Tons grew orange.
“Oh? Are you the daughter of the Oscar Mirildorf the higher ups are trying to bring onboard?” She crossed her arms and frowned. “God, M. Schrier and those other bastards are using Berger to win him over through his daughter, aren’t they? Listen, girl.” She crouched down to Hazel’s eye level. “I’m sure a lot has happened, but I hate it when people do it for such calculated reasons.”
“Um, I think you’re misunderstanding this.”
“It’s all right. You often don’t realize what they did to you until later. I understand the urge to defend your first, but we can discuss this all more on the way back to America.”
She smiled and rubbed Hazel’s head.
…What do I do now? She’s not listening to me at all.
“You know what? Forget it,” said Hazel. “Just go on believing whatever you think happened here.”
“Absolutely not, you moron!” shouted the sleeping bag.
It loudly tore open behind Corelle.
The stuffing scattered through the air and a figure in a black coat stood up. He held Gelegenheit with a black blade thrusting from it.
“Corelle! Do you have any idea how hard it was getting her here from Berlin!?”
“Captain Sevan, General Pale is demanding you get to the meeting right this instant! He says he’ll punch me if you don’t!”
The distant voice wholly ignored Berger’s protests.
Corelle placed a hand on Hazel’s shoulder before standing up and shouting into the distance.
“Got it! I’m sure I already missed my part, so tell him to wait another three minutes!!”
“Understood!” called back the voice, followed by footsteps fading into the distance.
Afterwards, Berger adjusted his grip on Gelegenheit.
“What, you think three minutes is enough for my anger to fade?”
The answer was extremely simple.
“Don’t be dumb. The three minutes are to get this girl dressed.” Corelle sighed down toward the ground and inhaled. “I’m not gonna spare even a second of my time listening to a sex criminal’s excuses. Now turn around, idiot.”
The hallway ended almost immediately after Schweitzer and Alfred began walking again.
It ended in double doors surrounded by the white walls and ceiling of the hallway. The metal doors had minimal decorations carved into its surface. The floor was brown tile and a little wet. No sign remained of the battles they had fought with the artificial creatures. Except, that is, for their torn clothing and injuries.
“This looks familiar,” commented Alfred, hooking Rein König’s pommel on the door’s handle.
Schweitzer rushed through the door, keeping his stance low.
Alfred followed and looked around with Rein König ready at his hip.
The large room’s 20-yard walls had stovetops and ovens installed and a 4-yard square counter sat in the center. Smaller counters were on all four sides of that larger one and the pathways between them contained shelves full of cooking tools and spices.
Alfred kicked at the hoses and tools cluttering up those pathways. On the far side was a counter opening up on the adjacent room.
The scene looked odd, but…
“Only because I don’t usually see it from the kitchen,” concluded Schweitzer.
Alfred nodded in agreement.
“Oh?” said a voice from their left.
Lowenzahn turned toward them after opening the charcoal oven on the wall there.
She placed cloths over her hands in preparation to pull a large metal sheet from the oven.
“Weird but perfect timing. Can you help me out?”
“Huh?” Alfred’s shoulders fell and he tilted his head. Then he turned to Schweitzer. “You’re in charge of her, right? So go help her.”
Schweitzer took a look around and confirmed that the two men and Lowenzahn were the only ones in the kitchen. Past the counter, the mess hall was too dark to make any judgments there.
“Did space revert to the wrong location?” he muttered, scratching his head and stepping forward.
He navigated a pathway too narrow for him, a few trays catching on his legs, to approach Lowenzahn.
She bowed and gestured toward the oven with exaggerated politeness.
Inside, he saw a yard-long leg of venison sitting on a dark metal sheet so it could roast along with some vegetables. Some carved onions had burst atop the brown-cooked venison, giving it an oily sheen.
“Did you cook this?” he asked, grabbing the metal sheet with Der Held.
“I did, but…isn’t that hot?”
“I can cut off the feeling at will. Unlike artificial organs, combat prosthetics generally do not need to feel pain.”
“What about when you touched my butt?”
“It is in both our best interests that I do not answer that.”
He pulled the metal sheet out. She was impressed with how easily he lifted the metal sheet and he judged the food on it to be well made.
He placed the entire sheet atop the serving cart she had prepared.
Then he glanced behind him.
Alfred stood there with Rein König in hand.
Alfred met Schweitzer’s gaze and nodded. Schweitzer returned the nod before facing forward again.
Lowenzahn stood before him, so he crouched down a bit.
“May I ask something, Lowenzahn? We have run into a slight problem and I will try to ask this as indirectly as I can.”
“What is it?”
He thought about how to answer her direct response.
“Where is our commander’s office?”
“In what world is that indirect?” She breathed an exasperated sigh and looked up. “And to answer your question, you’re already there. Whatever room I’m in is your commander’s office.”
He nodded as she turned around and started pushing the serving cart.
The two men only realized what she had said after the wheels started squeaking.
Their voices echoed through the kitchen.
Lowenzahn let inertia take the cart and placed her feet on the bottom level. She looked back as it coasted out of the kitchen.
She was smiling.
“Welcome to the Sofort Leser’s feast, Captain Hellard Schweitzer and Lieutenant Alfred Maldrick. I am Lowenzahn Naylor, the Sofort Leser who commands the Geheimnis Agency.”
“Today is my 20th birthday. …Did you bring me a present?”
A strategy meeting had begun in the Black Forest.
Two large plastic tents had been set up in a hollow. No light could escape them and the voices did not fare much better. Since they were in a hollow, they would have to be seen from directly above to notice.
The two tents sat there like two boulders.
The starlight shined on several smaller figures around them.
They were a mixture of human and Heidengeist. Around a dozen men and a handful of women were either standing or sitting there. There were also some guards positioned further out.
Hazel sat between the two tents with a green blanket over her shoulders.
Corelle sat next to her with an identical blanket.
She had told Hazel a lot as they whispered to each other.
“Hmm. So you are about to attack a base at the Alfheim Meteorite Pit to destroy an aerial warship under construction there? And not only is it a High Organ ship, but it’s equipped with a Babel Cannon.”
Hazel was still not used to the English term High Organ instead of the German term Eingeweide.
“It’s just one of the ships meant to make up the Gard-class. The High Organ system will be used to link 8 ships together, creating a high-altitude fortress. They hope to accomplish what wasn’t technologically possible for the Bladlikburg.”
“And it carries a Babel Cannon too?”
“Yes. One large enough to make intercontinental attacks if hooked up to a sufficient power source. And since they’ll be using the Phlogiston extracted and accelerated by the Vaterlands, they’ll be able to reload whenever they want while it remains in Germany. If they get that thing up and running, the slow British and French aerial ships will be sitting ducks. But if we can destroy it now, it’ll take them a full year before they can build another. Also,” continued Corelle. “We were given an additional and quite unusual mission this time. Most of us are tasked with sinking the Gard-class, but a few of us were given a different mission. This mission came from P. Wagner – the very same P. Wagner who had a lab in the center of the Alfheim Meteorite Pit and designed the Kaiserburg.”
Corelle answered Hazel’s confusion by tilting her head and continuing her explanation.
“A British recon team noticed the Geheimnis Agency had started digging up the Alfheim Meteorite Pit two years ago. I don’t know how word of it reached him, but P. Wagner apparently paid M. Schrier a visit with a single demand.” She sighed. “ ‘You must take back what the Geheimnis Agency digs up.’ ”
“Yes. So now that the excavation is nearing completion, our local cooperators have been clamoring for us to make our move.” She looked to the tent on her left. “And after P. Wagner provided detailed information to M. Schrier, he decided to make it top secret even within the AIF. Not even Berger knows. A small team was put together separate from this one and they’ve all been sent in to infiltrate the dig site already. Our attack will be their cue to make their move.”
That explained why Corelle was keeping her voice so low.
Hazel kept her head low for no real reason.
“This is top secret?”
“I think the only ones here who know are Pale and me. I transported the other team here on M. Schrier’s orders, but not even I was given any details on their mission. And the team itself wasn’t told what exactly is being excavated.”
“Why is it such a big secret?”
“They don’t want anyone outside the AIF finding out. We’re an international force of sorts, so anything known to all our members will reach every country around the world. But this mission was presented to M. Schrier by P. Wagner. The secrecy suggests it isn’t even an AIF mission. It’s more of a personal matter.”
“There’s something real bad buried there. You know how the Kaiserburg nearly destroyed the global balance of power? It was made in that lab and something there has caught the Geheimnis Agency’s interest. Then M. Schrier received the details from P. Wagner and concluded the world can’t learn what’s being excavated there. Not until the moment it’s been dug up.”
Hazel thought about that and soon voiced those thoughts.
“Is the Geheimnis Agency searching for clues to build another ship like the Sylphide from two years ago?”
“Reports from our agents at the dig site say the local Geheimnis Agency staff don’t even know what it is. They’re just following orders.”
Hazel observed Corelle’s face as she said that. Then she sighed and voiced the idea that had just occurred to her.
“Then what about this attack on the Gard-class warship?”
“Yes, it might be no more than a diversion for the secret mission. For the moment, M. Schrier understands whatever-it-is’s value even more than the Geheimnis Agency does since he has P. Wagner’s opinion go to off of. If the Geheimnis Agency prioritizes defense of the Gard-class, the secret mission will probably succeed.”
Corelle laughed bitterly and Hazel took a step forward on her knees and asked a question.
“Um, shouldn’t you be participating in the meeting inside the tent?”
“The transport unit’s part is already over. I already demonstrated my power as a Highlandest using my 47 Telling Cards, so the rest of my job is to wait until it’s time to head home. …I’ll introduce you to ‘Hardest Wolf’ Pale Horse later. He’ll dance a jig when he learns you’re Oscar’s daughter.”
“Dance a jig? Is he a funny person?”
“Pale led a unit of England’s special forces during the Great War and made it all the way to the headquarters of the Geheimnis Agency – known as the Germania Dragoons back then – located at the center of Naylor family territory. His forces were almost entirely wiped out, but the fortress was utterly destroyed. 70% of the dragoons were defeated and he fought to a draw with ‘Kommandeur’ Heiliger Karlsruhe.”
…That was the name of my dad’s former superior. And…
She hesitated before opening her mouth.
And she shut it again.
Seeing that, Corelle gave an exasperated shrug.
“I call it a draw, but Pale only had his right eye taken out while he used his Third Lunar Emperor prosthetic arms to blow off both Heiliger’s arms. …The man loves to fight, so recently he’s left England to fight in the Ethiopian conflict and the Spanish Civil War. And he always joins the losing side.”
“That’s who leads the AIF?”
“M. Schrier thought long and hard on whether to give that position to him or to your old man.”
That made her gasp.
…I had no idea.
There was so much she was unaware of.
“Having former Major General Oscar with us would mean a lot when fighting Germany. He has a lot of supporters in the military here, so it would send ripples through the country. But the AIF hopes to be an international organization, so the command position was given to Pale who has fought all across Europe.”
“I see,” said Hazel with a tilt of the head. She gave Corelle a look of renewed admiration and sighed with a hint of disappointment in herself. “The AIF sounds amazing. And it looks like they even accept women.”
“Some Strikers are women, right? This is the same. In the US, some states are letting female civilian pilots assist their aerial units, so this will be the standard eventually.”
“But…you’re a captain. That’s incredible.”
“US military regulations require that if you’re going to lead a flight team. …Although the rank is mostly thanks to my Urban Name of Highlandest, which I earned from my use of Telling Cards.”
Corelle was being modest, but she was also smiling in a bashful way. She smiled until her eyes disappeared.
Hazel stared at that smile until it suddenly ended.
“Is something wrong?”
“No,” said Hazel.
Corelle placed a hand on her head and used her thick hand to muss up the girl’s hair.
“Don’t lie to me, Hazel Mirildorf. Berger hasn’t convinced you to hide your feelings like he does, has he? A woman’s gotta let her true self shine through.”
“No, um, uh, I was just a little jealous is all.”
“I still don’t know what I should do or what I should be. And then I look to you or Mr. Berger and you already have Urban Names and everything.”
“Everyone gets one of those once they do something of note.”
“But people call me the Messiah when I haven’t done anything. And the implant still isn’t working.”
Corelle’s hand stopped on Hazel’s head. Hazel lowered the ends of her eyebrows and looked Corelle in the eyes.
“Mr. Berger said I should stay away from all this. He said there was something I have to figure out before I can get involved.”
“What don’t I have? And why…why is it so wrong?” She took a breath. “Why is it so wrong that I don’t want to run away and that I want to do something?”
A change came over Corelle’s face.
For a brief moment, her jaw dropped like she had noticed something strange, but then she lowered her head and placed thoughtful hand on her jaw.
Hazel watched in confusion as Corelle shut her eyes and spoke.
“Here’s the thing, Hazel. Berger has Gelegenheit and I have my Telling Cards. And maybe you didn’t want it, but you have the Messiah implant and it’s broken right now, right?”
“M. Schrier told me not to tell anyone until the time came, but take a look at this.”
Corelle pulled a letter from her pocket. It was old and discolored.
“M. Schrier gave me this Lost Memory. He says these letters from the past started arriving for him and those around him about two years ago…and some even before that. This year in particular, several of them have crossed the ocean to reach him.”
She held the letter up in front of Hazel, but her fingers were gripping it tight. She was only letting Hazel see it, not handing it to her.
“When he gave me this mission, he told me I was sure to meet a girl once I arrived.”
“And he told me to give that girl this letter and have her deliver it if she said a certain phrase at a certain time.”
“What phrase and what time? Deliver it to who?”
“I can’t tell you that yet.” Corelle shoved the Lost Memory back in her pocket. “But Hazel. Hazel Mirildorf. Listen carefully. This is like a test. A while after this mission begins, my transport unit will pick up Pale and then fly out across the Mediterranean. Carrying you. But…”
“If you figure something out before then and I kick you out – just like M. Schrier hopes – you will probably find yourself on the battlefield.”
Laughter erupted from the tent on their right and Corelle glanced over there.
“Prepare yourself, Hazel. Unfortunately, there is a lot I don’t know about this mission. Destiny here is filled with too many uncertainties for my cards to read. …That includes the Lost Memory, the Geheimnis Agency excavation, P. Wagner’s actions, the mystery object being excavated, and the tense international situation,” she said. “You are much the same, Hazel Mirildorf. Everyone is searching for an answer. Unfortunately, that answer might just be war and ruin.”
“All information regarding this excavation will now be considered top secret.”
At the Alfheim Meteorite Pit, the Geheimnis Agency site supervisor had gathered approximately 60 workers atop the large extraction platform surrounding the 50-yard dig site.
Behind them, several truck-mounted sunlamps shined on the dig site where large automatic winches were at work. Two winches were suspended on either side of the pit.
The sound of the winding winches joined with the wind blowing through the forest to reverberate through the pit. The irritatingly loud roar sounded like someone breathing through a wind instrument.
“The Alfheim Meteorite Pit is where the Messiah once descended from heaven. She walked from here to the shrine at the foot of the mountain, where she met the one-armed youth and was convinced to descend to the world below.”
The site supervisor looked to the rising wires.
“This is also where she entered her slumber upon finishing her work. The one-armed youth and her dragon guarded her bedroom until death claimed them.”
“Well done working in such a sacred place.”
He bowed and the workers bowed back.
The four winches completed their work at the same time.
Something was lifted from the pit.
A pallet for transporting Grösse Panzers was hoisted up by the winches.
A black tarp covered a massive shape measuring 30 yards long and 10 yards wide.
White steam was slowly but regularly blowing from the gaps in the tarp.
Almost like breaths.
They all looked up to watch it.
The shape below the tarp did not even stir as it released its white breaths.
No one said a word and tension filled their faces as they watched.
The wires were fully wound and the winches stopped.
The sudden stop caused the entire winch structure to sway. The total weight made it a slow but powerful movement, but the winches were designed for lifting Grösse Panzers, so they could withstand it.
It took a few minutes for the swaying to stop. Then the winches’ sliding mechanism activated.
The two winches on either side slid along the rails suspending them, making sure to move too slowly to produce a pendulum effect. They slid toward the extraction platform the men stood on.
A worker standing on the edge of the platform shouted over to the edge of the pit.
“Send it in!”
After a short delay, an explosive roar sounded from the other edge of the pit.
It was the deep rumble of machinery.
A massive shape moved out from the edge. A Grösse Panzer transport truck slowly backed up along a simple paved road too narrow for its size.
The extraction platform was made to provide as much flat space as possible above the bowl-shaped pit, so the truck did not need to descend far. It soon reached the end of the road and drove up onto the platform.
Its reinforced tires dug into the platform’s surface, keeping it from slipping. The massive truck’s vibrations directly reverberated through the platform, but everyone feeling those vibrations through their feet heard a different rumbling.
It was a breath from the great dark shape sliding toward them from above.
A powerful sound like papers blowing in the wind escaped the black tarp.
They all tensed, but the rumbling quieted and finally vanished altogether. However…
Someone on the edge of the pit called over through a megaphone.
They all turned that way to see two large figures standing in the starlight.
They were both Grösse Panzers, one blue and one red. Their silhouettes were enough to note differences from the standard models, suggesting these were custom models.
The blue one held a long gun in its right hand and the red one carried a large shield in its left hand.
“I am Bermark Nein of the Geheimnis Agency Army Division’s Independent Unit. I have been tasked with guarding you for the short distance to the #8 Flight Base. I shall accompany you.”
Most of the workers on the extraction platform saluted to express their thanks.
But some felt differently. A small number did not salute.
They instead paled, but caught themselves before anyone noticed.
They had the pale faces of people realizing a plan had gone horribly awry.
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