Somehow the chaos that had unfolded in the east wing had lasted only twenty minutes or so, and everyone in the rest of the Council building had strictly adhered to Mansa’s orders that the 3rd Meeting Room and all adjoining halls be left alone. Perhaps he had given that order to conceal the monster in their midst. Von Drachen had thought it innocuous at the time. Now, however, his thinking was very different. He had seen much.
Some things however had not changed much at all. Von Drachen strode down the Council Building hall into a more populated area, pushed past the aides and guards standing dumbly around, perhaps having heard the blasts from the eastern meeting rooms and wondered what was wrong. He walked nonchalantly past them and entered the room that had been given to his Cazadores company for clandestine Nochtish liaison duties.
There were a few radios, some weapon racks, and a small table.
There also he found Colonel Gutierrez sleeping in a chair, alone.
Von Drachen pulled off his own hat and struck Gutierrez with it.
In shock, the old man fell backwards with his chair and hit the ground.
“Why you do this Raul?” he cried, rolling around on the ground.
“It’s what you used to do to me when I slacked off!” Von Drachen said.
“Yes, but you were slacking off because you were undisciplined! I slack off because I am over sixty years old, mijo!” Colonel Gutierrez cried at him.
“I plan to be quite spry and aware at sixty! It’s not an excuse!”
Colonel Gutierrez glared. “You plan, mijo. And then the arthritis hits.”
Von Drachen raised his finger and began to respond.
There was a knock on the wall; the tapping of a bayonet.
At the door appeared a pair of armed Ayvartans, flanking the arriving Rangdan governor. He was sweating. Son of the regrettably late Arthur Mansa, Aksara Mansa was a tall, slender, dark-skinned man with a dire expression on his face, as if perpetually cursing the world with his eyes. He wore a dark gray suit, and cropped his curly hair close to his scalp.
There was some of his father in him at first glance.
But as soon as he spoke the illusion was quickly dispelled.
“General Von Drachen, I demand an explanation. I was to be notified when the meeting in the east wing was adjourned. And yet you return without my father, without your subordinates, and there is no word from the 3rd Meeting Room. I hesitate to disobey my father’s commands, but it appears you do not. So I ask you: What was the result? Where is Madiha Nakar?”
He had a voice that was clinical and humorless and boasted no great ego.
Nothing like that self-satisfied bastard Mansa.
Von Drachen smiled inside. Such was their obedience to the old man, that even though they must have clearly heard the grenades going off, they hesitated to seek after him until the last possible second. Von Drachen assumed there were no guards heading there even now. Nothing would have been done for hours, perhaps, had Von Drachen not himself arrived before Mansa. Madiha Nakar would have wide open passageways, so long as she kept to the east wing. She would probably notice this herself soon.
Perhaps she would appreciate a little more challenge than that.
“Madiha Nakar has killed your father and his subordinates, including that quaint fellow in the robe. I barely escaped her rampage.” He said.
Though far from the truth, Von Drachen knew he could not tell Mansa about monsters, magic and the like. That much he would reserve for Haus, though he knew the Field Marshal would not believe it. He could hardly believe it himself. No; for the young Mansa, a utilitarian lie would suffice.
It was such a good lie, Von Drachen thought, that even he wanted to believe it. Anything to distance his mind from what had transpired.
“Yes, everything was the doing of that murderess, Nakar, my Governor.”
Von Drachen needed no exaggerated affectation and no great storytelling skills. Aksara Mansa seemed immediately to believe everything he was told. His serious expression softened, his eyes grew wide, his cheeks slacked. At his sides his arms started to stir, his fingers curling.
Though he continued to deny Von Drachen, Mansa was already mourning.
“How? I don’t understand. Father said he could contain her. He said–”
“I suppose he knew how dangerous she was, or else he would not have ordered the eastern halls be given such a wide berth. We were quite lucky that the wing was deserted, though Arthur was not.” Von Drachen said.
“Explain to me how he died!” shouted the younger Mansa.
Von Drachen crossed his arms. He had Mansa ensnared.
“She escaped her bonds. Everything happened so fast. Mistakes were made. She eluded all of us. She was too quick. In the ensuing battle she bombed your father’s defenders and my own. Not even ash remains.”
“That cannot be. It is not possible. How could she–”
“She stole our grenades and killed everyone with executioner’s precision. Did you not refer to her as The Right Hand of Death? Trust me. I saw her earn that moniker tonight, Governor. She is exceedingly dangerous.”
“Have you any evidence for this?”
“One person survived. She will tell you that Nakar is fleeing as we speak.”
Though the girl might not say everything, she was clearly traumatized. As long as she said that Nakar escaped and killed someone, Von Drachen won.
“I think her name was Walters? She is worse for wear, and it would have been an impropriety for me to touch her, so you should fetch her soon.”
Somehow that seemed to do the trick.
Aksara ran his hand over his mouth and down his chin. At his side his men seemed equally shaken by the news of Arthur Mansa’s death at the hands of Madiha Nakar. Von Drachen was pleased at how easily they accepted his slightly embellished events. Though they were wary of him, they accepted Mansa’s distrust and aggression toward Nakar. She was their own blood, but the Cissean imperialist was a closer kin in spirit. He had an advantage.
At the moment he intended to push that advantage as far as possible.
“I offer my condolences, but now is not the time to mourn, Governor. You have an elite soldier now heading back to a military arsenal. She plans to make use of it against you, I am sure. I suggest you lend me your 8th Division so that we can swiftly cut her off and end the threat of her.”
In an instant, the younger Mansa’s dire expression returned.
His personal anger seemed to focus entirely on Von Drachen now.
“You failed to protect my father from that witch, and now you demand that I hand you more power to misuse? You have your own men, Cissean! If you wish to fail us again then pursue her under your own power! I will see the meeting rooms myself and determine Rangda’s next move!”
Von Drachen was left speechless.
He had not planned on this happening.
“With all due respect–”
Without a word more, Mansa pushed past his own men and out into the hall. He ran, likely toward the east wing. Stunned, his men ran after him moments later, leaving Von Drachen standing dumbly in the room, while Gutierrez helped himself to a sluggish stand using the table nearby.
Once again he was left to his own devices.
“Can no temperament ever work in my favor?” Von Drachen moaned.
He turned to Gutierrez with a sigh.
Gutierrez stared at him critically.
Von Drachen blew through his nostrils, irritated.
“I apologize for hitting you with my hat. It was a childish reflex.”
Gutierrez nodded. “I can’t stay mad at you, mijo.”
“I’m lucky at least one person can’t. Inform the rest of our men to wait ten minutes and then enter a state of high alert.” Von Drachen said.
“What? Wait ten minutes?” Gutierrez asked, raising an eyebrow.
Von Drachen rushed out of the room himself without explaining further.
He had a tank he needed to deploy now, and quickly.
“Wait ten minutes?”
“What do you think he means by that?”
“I don’t know! We usually go on alert immediately.”
“Another of the General’s schemes– hey, wait, stop!”
Madiha stepped out into the east green of the Council Building and held up her hands. She had built a lucky streak running down the halls of the Council Building, but she knew that however much Mansa had emptied the eastern interior, there were likely that many guards guarding the outside. Soon as she set foot on the ground, she had rifles aimed at her.
There were two men, Cisseans by the look of them and by their native speech, which she understood as filtered through her own. They had been patrolling around a little white-tiled path through the grass to the road. In their hands they wielded old bundu rifles with bayonets attached. They set their sights on her and she raised her hands. Neither moved closer.
“Identify yourself! Name and unit!” shouted one of the men.
His Ayvartan was excellent. Probably one of Von Drachen’s men.
She found it odd that they would not know her face.
She supposed Von Drachen’s discipline did not extend perfectly to them.
“Sneja Raj, civilian volunteer police! I’m out on patrol!” She called out.
“Bullshit! Show me your ID then, lady.”
Madiha wondered whether her reflexes could surpass theirs. Could she shoot a dart at them, and evade or deflect their shots, all at once? She did not know, and she was not inclined to attempt the maneuver. She was not desperate enough yet. But she grit her teeth in anger. She hated feeling so helpless.
“I’m getting my ID!” She said.
Both men lowered their weapons temporarily.
She reached into the inner pocket of her police coat, slowly and gently. There was nothing there. She had been stripped of her weapons and effects by Mansa and she supposed those had been vaporized along with him and his desk back there. But the movement gave her time to think.
“Hurry up lady!” they shouted.
Both men took a few threatening steps forward, their rifles held loosely in front of them as if wielded like wooden staves or clubs rather than guns.
Thinking fast, she formed a fist in her pocket and withdrew it.
In one quick motion she made as if throwing something.
Both men saw the flash of motion and panicked.
Together they stumbled to avoid the throw.
Madiha charged them.
She threw herself at the closest of the men, seized him by the waist and slammed him into the ground. Rifle and all they fell together on the grass, his helmet striking the earth hard enough to disorient him momentarily.
Madiha pulled his knife from his belt and stabbed him in the neck, tearing the blade out the side and ripping apart his throat and artery in a stroke.
Before she could turn the knife around she felt a rifle on her own neck.
She raised her hands and felt the bayonet puncture her collar and cut skin.
The remaining man cursed her in an explosive voice. “You fucking–”
From behind both of them sounded a high-pitched growl.
Madiha heard the man scream and his gun falling with a thud.
She heard him collapse on the green and the sound of ripping flesh.
She turned and saw a blur of motion as Kali mauled the man.
Its claws ripped large stripes of bloody cloth from his chest, and his struggle grew immediately weaker as its teeth closed around his neck.
In moments he had dropped dead.
Kali sat over his body and stared at her curiously.
Madiha glanced at her. She saw injuries; there were shards of glass embedded on her side and a slash mark on her belly and bruises and purple spots, where Brass Face had beaten her and imparted its cold.
“Oh no! Kali, you’re hurt! You need to go back to base–”
“Hey, what the fuck’s going on over there–”
From around the corner of the building more men appeared.
Kali leaped up into the sky, spread its wings and suddenly flew.
She descended on the men in a flurry of claws and teeth.
Madiha was torn, but she could not stay and fight. Nearly weeping, she took the opportunity and ran out into the street. She saw the long block road leading through the front of the building and into the connection to Ocean Road, and she made for it with all of her remaining strength.
Almost a dozen guards along the front green stared dumbfounded.
Most were volunteer police who scarcely knew what was happening.
But a pair of men started after her immediately, shooting as they ran.
Those must have been more of Von Drachen’s men.
Madiha covered her head and ran as fast as she could.
Lead flew around her, men screamed for her to die.
She grit her teeth, and she felt tears welling up in her eyes.
Her body ached, her head pounded, and the cacophony was unbearable.
Could she have stricken them all dead at once with ESP?
Could she have destroyed the entire building?
Could she have rained devastation down on Rangda as she did in Solstice?
No; those things would kill innocents. They could ultimately kill her.
They had done so in the past.
She hated it; she hated feeling so weak, so overwhelmed.
It was as if the power itself was screaming to be used.
But she could not simply throw it around.
Stepping out to channel fire would have exposed her to guns anyway.
Guns were by far more immediate.
Behind her she heard a loud thump and a scream.
Over her shoulder she saw Kali coming down on the running men behind her, knocking one to the ground like a boulder dropping from the heavens onto his back. With a bonecrunching slam she downed the man and took off into the sky again to gain air for a swoop against the other man. She was fighting viciously, despite her injuries, with all of her strength.
Madiha could have tapped into their minds and stopped them.
Like she had done to Brass Face. She could have swept into their heads.
That was what he would have done–
Madiha shook her head, desperate to clear it of these thoughts.
She was exhausted, stressed, tense and hurt.
Her brain would have probably turned to mush trying to control theirs.
She made it past the green and into the next city block.
Her pursuers had literally fallen behind her, harried by Kali.
Soon more would come, she knew.
She could not keep running. Not aimlessly, not like this.
She needed a strategy.
At the corner from the Council lands and a few buildings into the surrounding city she ran into a man on patrol near a shop alley.
He was not part of the volunteer police.
She saw a green uniform and immediately attacked.
Madiha tackled him down and stabbed him.
He put up no struggle.
Pulling him into cover behind the brick wall forming the alley, she took his rifle, his ammunition, his pistol, his grenades and flares. She found a first-aid kit in his bag and injected herself with a morphine shot; in his pocket there was a bag of nuts that she devoured. That would at least keep her upright for a time. Satisfied with her spoils, she returned to the street.
Overhead she saw Kali circling like a vulture.
Madiha took a knee behind a thick post-office box and waited.
If Kali could risk her life to fight then so could Madiha.
She would not set this city on fire to win.
She would not rely on her ESP alone and would not use it wantonly.
She was exhausted with false victories and the toll they took.
Those things she left to the dead tyrant Ayvarta.
She was Madiha Nakar and Madiha Nakar had made a decision.