Stelle Cadenti (59.5)

This scene contains violence and death.

City of Rangda — Council Building

As the sky started to fall on their heads, Council and the 8th Division flew into an even greater panic. Mansa the younger struggled to control the chaos, but all faith in him had long since been lost. It was immediate: the troops on the Council lawn deserted their defenses and rushed into the building when the first aircraft overflew them. From every room, it seemed, staffers began to flee for their lives. People then packed the halls, staffers wanting to flee and troops wanting to hide, both blocking the others path. In the madness, weapons were lost or abandoned, radios and telephones left unmanned.

To everyone’s surprise, not a bomb dropped in the minutes that followed.

After the first long column of planes went by there was an eerie calm.

Then the first glider descended upon the lawn.

Nobody heard the whistle of the incoming craft over the cacophony and press of the mob.

Sweeping in from out of the blue, the gargantuan elven glider dove with abandon and leveled with miraculous precision, sliding over the grass on its belly and casting turf and tile every which way. It smashed its tail on a statue of Mansa the elder, went into a swift turn, and ended up just in front of the steps. Down came the ramp; and from inside the craft dozens of elven girls with submachine guns and rifles streamed out, their gleaming silver breastplates and circlet headpieces marking them as elven Knights of Lubon.

Von Drachen watched from the second floor window as the women forced their way in.

That was all of the sight his vantage afforded him. All of the rest was intuition.

He patted down his stolen Ayvartan uniform, smacking off the dust that had collected on him his last few scuffles in this god-forsaken building, and he walked back to the main Council room, where Mansa and a few foolishly loyal staffers remained despite the commotion. He looked with stoic neutrality at the Governor, who seemed to shrink back from his gaze. There was disquiet in the room, but not yet the outright panic elsewhere.

There was no immediate gunfire, despite the clearly forcible entry of the elven knights into the lobby. As the minutes passed, the staffers seemed almost to suddenly relax, as if there was any possibility the invaders would just turn around and head home at the sight of their brave council guards, holding fast the entryway they lusted to cross and abandon.

But Von Drachen knew that in this situation, silence could only be the sound of surrender.

Soon he heard the plate-armored footsteps coming fast up the stairs to the second floor.

He loudly cleared his throat and stepped forward, to the bewilderment of the room.

Soon as the first elf girl rushed through the door to the room, brandishing a pistol, Von Drachen drew himself up in a dignified fashion, and with a jovial expression, he spoke.

“Greetings, dear Allies to the North! I am Gaul Von Drachen, a Nochtish Brigadier, and–”

At once, the girl attempted to strike him with her pistol to silence him.

Almost on reflex, Von Drachen peeled the weapon from her hand and struck her back.

She staggered, her delicate little nose gushing blood over her pearl-white skin.

Von Drachen blinked, and looked down at the pistol now in his possession.

“I– I assure you, I did not intend to do that.” Von Drachen said.

Nevertheless he brandished the pistol back at the confused, frightened, hurt elf girl.

She raised her hands and dropped to shaking knees, suddenly defeated.

Then from behind her, a fresh pair of young female knights appeared, rifles in hand.

Witnessing the scene, they laid aim on the Brigadier. He drew his eyes wide.

Having tried Nochtish to no avail, he switched to speaking Ayvartan instead.

“Well. Now. Please listen to me, I’m a Nochtish — um, io sono um amico?

In response both girls cried out in tandem. His elvish was not impressive.

Desistere!” They insisted, jabbing their bayonets threateningly into the air in front of him.

Von Drachen grumbled. He did not speak Elf very well; he was as multilingual as one could be in Nochtish and Ayvartan territories, but not the world over. He got the gist of things, however. None of them would recognize him as an ally. None of these Elves were in on his plan. They were in fact not supposed to be here. He had not planned for this at all.

What was Allied Command even doing? What was happening?

He glanced briefly at his flanks, where Mansa’s guards had already given up their guns, and where the remaining staff hid behind whatever they could find. Mansa, still wounded and broken from the humiliation Von Drachen visited upon him, fell to his knees before the girls, who must have been half his age, and seemed ready to grovel for his life.

Just then, a much grander presence entered into this farcical engagement.

Crossing the door was a tall, young woman, her bouncy dark hair polished to a sheen as bright as her light armored breastplate. She came flanked by a procession of eerily young knights like the ones previously holding Von Drachen and the room in check. She wore the same rounded breastplate as them, molded to a gentle, even curve over her chest, and a blue uniform with decorative shoulders. Armored gauntlets and boots, and a silver circlet, as well as a sword, one perhaps deadlier than the trinkets given to Nochtish officers, gave her the look of a real knight. She had the aesthetic of dignified obsolescence, but the rifle at her back and the pistol in her hands were all too real signifiers of a modern combatant.

“Finally, a Paladin.” Von Drachen said aloud. He continued to speak in the Ayvartan tongue. At this point it hardly seemed to matter. “I am Brigadier-General Gaul Von Drachen. You and your forces are in the middle of a Nochtish coup operation, milady.”

Instantly, the woman grinned. She scanned the room. “How is that working for you?”

Her Nochtish was near-perfect, spoken with the cadence of an avid dictionary reader.

Judging this to be some kind of test, Von Drachen himself began to speak Nochtish.

“I admit it could be going better, but, if plan C fails, there is always Plan D, you know?”

She did not seem amused nor convinced by any of this.

“Have you some way of confirming the status of your operation?”

“I’m afraid I am only ready to make a very minimal effort to confirm anything, milady.”

Her grinning smile turned to one of cold contempt.

“Servant, you are in the presence of Lady Paladin Arsenica Livia Varus.” She said, again in near-perfect Nochtish. “In the absence of evidence for your claims, I will graciously extend to you the mercy of the Elves. Deliver me the Ayvartan commander of this garrison and become my subordinate, Drachen, if you wish to make yourself useful to the Alliance in its endeavors. I require intelligence and equipment to coordinate my troops.”

Von Drachen scoffed at the brazen mispronunciation of his name, but pressed that issue no further with the lady. He also did not resist her demands ,made in the name of “the alliance” and did not press her to, for example, use the selfsame radios she wished to abscond with to contact Field Marshal Haus, who, knowing his present disposition toward Von Drachen, might have decided to hang up and forget anything important was afoot.

No, it was best to go along with her and pretend to be Ayvartan, and pretend to be a turncoat to the turncoats he was helping turn coat. He had previous experience in this.

“I place myself at your disposal ma’am. My battalion shall aid your efforts, but I should warn you, the garrison of this city is ready to defect from the communists, and should you desire their aid, keeping their commanders in your pocket would be quite valuable.”

Paladin Varus nodded her head and demanded again. “Who commands them?”

Smiling, Von Drachen pointed to the prostrating, shell-shocked Mansa nearby.

“Mansa, please make yourself relevant.” Von Drachen said.

Ignoring him, and in fact speaking over half of what Von Drachen tried to tell him, Mansa immediately cried out. “Milady, I am Governor Mansa of the great port of Rangda! My family have been Elf-Friends for generations! Forever we have traded with your great kingdom, enriching its divine nobility! It is only the godless communist hand that severed our ties of friendship! My city is in open revolt against them, and should you aid us in betraying the heathen red yoke, I can guarantee your great navy an ally in perpetuity–”

In the next instant, Paladin Varus plugged two quick bullets into his skull and throat.

Mansa slacked, and fell with a thump onto a growing pool of his own blood.

“Pathetic flatterer. I have no use for a snake like you. Traitors betray again. Should this mutiny of yours be true, then I will bring all of you to heel. You will all submit in chains!”

From behind her, more of her knights charged into the room and began rounding up the staff one by one. Seemingly the only person not immediately manhandled was Von Drachen, who every girl bypassed while Paladin Varus approached, and, as was customary of the knights of old, ripped Von Drachen’s honors from his shirt, signaling the “taking of his banners” in the ancient custom. It was supposed to be shameful, but all of the things on Von Drachen’s shirt were fabrications, so it was ultimately meaningless.

“No longer are you an enemy general, Drachen. You bravely confronted and assisted me, and so, true to my word, you may join me as an Auxiliary of the great Kingdom, and men under your banner may also join. I cannot promise you glory, for that is reserved for–”

Von Drachen sighed. “Milady, you are making a terrible mistake.”

“How so?”

“There is a mutiny, and you could’ve stood to aid it, and have a city on your hands!”

At once the woman raised a hand to delicately shut him up.

Paladin Varus scoffed. “You are a talkative one, aren’t you? Ugh. I hate that.”

She turned her back on Von Drachen as if he were an insect, no more worthy of being squashed despite his offensive and pestilent nature, and she wandered over to the radios, idly playing with the knobs as if they were curious jukeboxes ready to sing her a song.

Von Drachen’s head descended into his open hands.

Not even allied foreigners seemed to understand how good and pure his intentions were.

All that he wanted at this point was a well-engineered victory. Was it too much to ask?

He looked to the corpse of Mansa on the ground. Belligerent, ignorant, reckless Mansa, too fast to do everything wrong, too slow to everything right. With his death, the 8th Division was now an unreachable, and un-led, but suddenly independent body in the struggle for Rangda. Paladin Varus had swiftly, smilingly, shot a strategic coup between the eyes.

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