Note: I wanted to put the complete chapter up yesterday, but I'm also working on one of the papers for my Master's classes. Doing those dry, boring academic papers always saps me of energy, and I had to force myself to do this chapter so as not to leave this fic to wither and die. Hell, this isn't even the complete chapter yet. I decided to split it into two parts so as to put something up. Hopefully, I'll be able to complete and post the rest of it by tomorrow.=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
Anyway, enough Mal-whine. Here's the first half of the next chapter:
EDIT: Added the rest of the chapter.
Primary Sonnenrad, Stalingrad
Oberst Otto von Klausenberg watched as a pair of Wehrmacht soldiers carefully laid Generalmajor Schrödinger on the stretcher and gently hoisted him up. Though he kept his face rigidly composed—he was, after all, a senior officer—he was quite worried about his general. He might not have known that much about magic himself, but he knew that anything that could’ve affected so great a sorcerer as his commanding officer so severely was nothing to take lightly. There was some comfort in the fact that the general was breathing steadily, and the medics had pronounced the man stable, but while the general lay unconscious any comfort was still all too little.
Around the colonel other soldiers were also busy tending to the other fallen mystics. Some of them were carried along in stretchers like the general. The breathing of the poor souls was visibly much more labored than that of his general, and a few were even twitching—some violently. Otto would’ve thought that a testament to how powerful his general was, to have come out with nothing worse than unconsciousness from a nasty, city-spanning magical mishap that had so severely affected the other clearly lesser mystics. He would have thought that, if the sight hadn’t so deeply perturbed him. The fact that the rest of the arcane practitioners were being carted off in body bags rather than stretchers didn’t help any either.
A grimace found its way to the carefully stoic expression he was trying to keep. If this was the effect on one of the Black Sun arrays, how much worse could those around the other array sites have been affected? Even as the question formed in his mind, he already knew the answer. As if on cue, he saw a Wehrmacht hauptmann walking hurriedly up to him.
“Heil!” the officer saluted as he stood before the colonel. He even gave a parade-ground heel click.
“Ja?” Otto prompted tersely.
“Herr Oberst,” the captain reported, “we’ve received reports from the other Sonnenrad array sites. Most of the Ahnenerbe people are—”
“Dead,” Otto stated bluntly, “or incapacitated, am I right?”
“Ja, mein Herr,” the captain nodded uneasily, “Reports from the other units not near the arrays, the ones with psychics and mystics attached to them, also say the same. The few who remain conscious are in no condition to fight.”
The colonel’s frown deepened. This wasn’t good. The psychics and magicians had been their best counter to their opposites on the Bolshevik side. Say what you will about the damned Bolshies, the witches and warlocks of their Winter Corps were trained and skilled enough to be quite a genuine threat. Without their own to stay them…
“What about the Soviets?” he demanded, “How would their own arcane practitioners fare? We all saw that explosion of light, and it covered the entire city.”
“I honestly wouldn’t know, Mein Herr,” the captain said apologetically, “Magery is not my forte, but if I may hazard a guess: Since the arrays were well within our lines, then, er, y’know…”
The man trailed off, but it was clear what he was trying to say. The… accident would likely not have affected the Soviet counterparts as badly, which meant that the Winter Corps was still an active threat. And now they had no direct counter, and they still didn’t know what other trouble the botched spell would bring itself.
“All right, get on—”
Whatever Otto had been about to say was interrupted when one of the soldiers let out a yelp. The colonel and the captain spun, their hands instinctively reaching for their sidearms. They saw a soldier pointing at a writhing body bag.
“Then get the poor bastard out!” another shouted, “He’s still alive.”
“B-but there was no pulse,” the other stammered, “I'm sure of it—”
The body bag suddenly jerked and launched itself at the soldier, knocking him to the ground, much to the surprise of his compatriots. The soldier groaned, raising a gloved hand to cover a bloody nose. The body bag kept twisting and turning wildly, looking absurdly like a giant worm trying to beat the poor hapless trooper into submission.
Otto frowned. Something about this wasn’t right, he could feel it. His hands reached for the two Luger pistols holstered to his hip. He’d just unlatched the holster flaps when another one of the soldiers reached for the crazily convulsing canvas bag…
“Hey, HEY!,” the soldier shouted, reaching for the bag’s zipper, “Calm down! We’ll get you out of there soon enough.”
“No, don’t!” Otto yelled just as he pulled out his pistols.
Too late. The soldier reached down and unzipped the bag as two other soldiers held down the violently shaking form.
The results were immediate.
An arm shot out of the body bag and slapped the soldier in the face hard enough for the sound of bones breaking to be heard—whether from the soldier’s skull or from the arm, no one was sure (it was likely both). The soldier’s head snapped to the side and he crumpled. The other troopers were too surprised to react quickly. Not so Otto, who aimed his Lugers and fired four shots into the figure in the body bag. Without a word, without even a grunt or groan, the occupant tore itself out of the canvas bag and fell upon the soldier she—it was one of the Vril mediums—had knocked down. The four bullet holes she sported didn’t even seem to slow her down at all.
“Schiesse,” Otto hissed under his breath as the troops finally started to react to the seemingly crazed woman as she began to savagely beat the fallen soldier with a wild, uncontrolled flailing of her arms.
There was a sick crescendo of flesh upon and flesh and broken bones even as the soldiers dove at the woman. Since the woman had been right on top of the unconscious soldier, they dared not fire at her. The woman’s crazed flailing continued even as three strong Wehrmacht men pulled her off of their comrade and tackled her to the snow. One of them, the stuttering bloody nosed soldier, lost his grip when the woman’s elbow caved in his larynx. His other two buddies violently started to stab the woman with their combat knives as the soldier rolled off, loudly gurgling as he gasped for breath.
Colonel vol Klausenberg had seen enough. Even as more men leaped into the tussle with the mad, inhumanly strong woman, he turned to the stretcher-bearers carrying the wounded and began barking out orders.
“Get them to the nearest vehicles, now!” he ordered, “Preferably something fast. A half-track.”
“But Herr Oberst—” one men began to protest, but Otto cut him off.
“Now!” he snapped, “We haven’t much time. Schnell!”
As if on cue, several more body bags began to twitch and move. Some quick-thinking reacted fast and tackled the things to the ground, others didn’t even bother and began to shoot into the bags. This proved not only futile—as the writhing bodies in the bag didn’t even seem to feel the shots and just kept trying to wriggle free—but also foolish as some of the shots actually ricocheted off the cold, now partially uncovered concrete and slammed into the legs of other soldiers.
Otto knew all of that was to no avail. He’d seen this before, in Warsaw. There was no way they could win this, not with what they had right now. They needed the 6th Army consolidated, with all the surviving sorcerers evacuated and kept safe, to even begin to battle this threat.
“Don’t bother!” Otto shouted at them, “Get into the nearest vehicle now! Half-tracks, trucks, tanks, anything you can ride on! We need to evacuate and link up with the main body of our forces immediately!”
The words were barely out of his mouth when everything went hell.
The multitude was in exultation as it began to coalesce around the remnants of the summoning arrays around the city. They grasped greedily for the nearest of the soul remnants lingering in corpses of the slain around the city. Pulling, tugging, almost tearing, but not consuming. The restraint to do the last would have resulted in cries of frustration from the voices, but it was more than offset by the promise of more than mere scraps to feed on. The tugging and pulling made the things move. They could make the things hunt. And, oh, they could finally feed!
Small movements at first; nothing more than jerks and twitches. However, the multitude could learn quickly, spurred on by the promise of prey. Like a violent ripple, the corpses were torn from their resting places as the Schattenstämme dragged them by the lingering soul-stuff on the cold-preserved flesh like children dragging puppets by the strings.
The movements were far from elegant. The things moved in jerky, unpredictable ways, limbs swinging and shooting out in ways that would’ve torn muscles and dislocated joints. Mostly, the bodies just rolled and drag themselves across the ground with random movements. The people watching would’ve found it almost comedic, had they not been overwhelmed by horror and revulsion.
The Schattenstämme didn’t care; didn’t even notice. To them the people where nothing but shells within which the prey hid, shells which they could not touch, could not break.
The exultant cries of the voices had taken on a predatory edge now. They now had something with which to break the untouchable shells and feast on the prey within. As one, the multitude pounced.
The areas around the Black Sun arrays erupted as hundreds of reanimated dead surged from shallow graves and hastily made corpse piles. Jumping, rolling, flailing, clawing—some even seemed to be half-flying as they were dragged forward by unseen forces—they came, impelled by an inhuman hunger. The mobs of abdead quickly coalesced into a nightmarish parody of an army, dressed as most of them were in the Soviet and Axis uniforms in which they had died. They sped down the streets and tore through shattered buildings, a roiling wave of undead, heading toward the locus of the failed arrays.
The troops around the Black Sun arrays, already trying to fight of the suddenly reanimated bodies of the Vril and Ahnenerbe mystics, felt their rising horror turn into sheer, unbridled terror as they caught sight of the wave of undead rushing toward them from all directions. Some were so horrified that they just stood there, mouths agape in aghast disbelief, as the horde slammed into them. They disappeared in a cloud of wildly thrashing limbs, beaten to death within seconds.
Unthinking terror was suddenly joined by desperation, and the rest of the soldiers began to open up in earnest. The originally staccato gunfire had erupted into a massive firestorm as soldiers began firing in earnest at the reanimated bodies of the Ahnenerbe and Vril mystics. Older Kar98K rifles, semi-automatic Gewehr-41s, Schmeissers, and even pistols all roared as one, sending a wall fire that would’ve stopped a conventional advancing force cold. The weapons mounted on the vehicles began to open up as well, and the sound of heavy machineguns and cannon fire were added to the fray.
Abdead bodies twitched as round after round struck them, turning the bodies into Swiss cheese. However, they kept on coming. Bodies which were taking fire from the machineguns of a panzer and a half-track had lost heads, limbs, even entire torsos; many disintegrated into fine mists of practically liquefied flesh and powdered bone by the sheer volume of fire. Some of the advancing bodies even seemed to be little more than bloody pulp held together by gristle. And still many kept going. If anything, the things seemed to be getting better at moving, their movements becoming less and less random and jerky and more coordinated. The others similarly ignored the gunshots and tore after the soldiers with a horrific single-mindedness.
Worse yet, some of the soldiers they had beaten to death started to spasm and jerk as their souls were consumed, adding their ethereal energies to the now-growing Schattenstämme. These bodies were quickly infused by the gibbering multitude of the Schattenstämme, quickly rising and joining the seemingly unstoppable mass.
The Wehrmacht men fell back as they kept firing, scrambling toward the nearest vehicles and trying to clear the shot for the heavy weaponry at the same time. Many of the vehicles stayed, heroically waiting until the last possible minute to load retreating troops—at times over the capacity of the vehicles in question. Other vehicles were less inclined to do the same. A number gunned their engines and tried to tear through the army of abdead even as officers screamed into the radio orders to keep the force together. The heavier vehicles, such as the panzers and half-tracks, managed to use their sheer mass and armor to brute force their way through. The sickening sound of mulched corpses was added to the noise of engines and gunfire as undead body after undead body disappeared under steel treads.
Even then, the horde kept coming. Many of the troops clinging to the hulls of the armored vehicles forcing their way through found themselves pulled off of the vehicles, kicking and screaming. Those who couldn’t make it into the vehicles were simply overrun, no matter what resistance they attempted in sheer desperation. They were dead within seconds. A few, seeing the inevitable, turned their weapons on themselves and committed suicide. Better death by your own hand than by an unholy army of reanimated monstrosities, after all.
This time, even the bravest or most foolhardy of the vehicles could wait no longer. They revved their engines and tried to bull their way through the tightening press of abdead. Again, the heavier vehicles had the advantage. The occupants in the trucks held on for dead life as the vehicles drove over the moving corpses. Even then, the sheer number caused some trucks to stall or shudder to a halt, their occupants set upon by the horde in a flash. The smaller cars had it worse. All of them only made it a few meters or less before they crashed to a halt and disappeared under a pile of zombies.
Even something with the sheer weight and armor of a panzer weren’t guaranteed an escape. One which had stayed behind to cover the evacuation had charged, roaring forward onto the onrushing mass of undead. A few of them fell, crushed into red paste under the treads and tonnage of the Panzer II. The tank commander had even cheered, but his cheers quickly disappeared when several of the reanimates simply launched themselves at the tank. Several slammed into the sides of its hull and fell off, some getting crushed, but one managed to jump right at the tank commander and pull him off the tank screaming. A second one managed to land on the turret and hang on, before pulling itself into the now vacated top hatch. The vehicle suddenly veered off and slammed right into and through the wall of one of the crumbling buildings, bringing the entire structure down upon it.
Similar scenes repeated themselves all over the array sites. The pandemonium of weapons fire, vehicle engines, and even the desperate, terrified screams could be heard for practically miles around. Over the air waves a veritable cacophony of panicked radio messages were streaming out, only to be met by confusion and demands for clarification. The Axis radio communication around Stalingrad essentially disabled itself, as the great volume of traffic simply overwhelmed any attempt to make sense of it all.
Over the noise of the sound and radio waves, however, was an unheard clamor. For as the Schattenstämme fed, it grew. As it grew, the excited, frenzied jabbering of the multitude became the heady roar of euphoria and predatory bloodlust. They needed to grow more. They needed to feed more.
They would have more.
Somewhere on the outskirts of Stalingrad
Efreitor Mikhail Florianovich Gapanov was bored. Dead tired and bored, not to mention cold. He yawned, his breath visible in the winter air. He rolled his shoulders and tried to shift the Tokarev semiautomatic rifle he had slung over his right shoulder into a more comfortable position. The rifle wasn’t that heavy, all things considered, but after over an hour of sentry patrol duty he almost wondered how the strap hadn’t sawed clean through his shoulder by now.
He stopped at the remnants of what had been a brick wall and stared out toward the bombed out shells of buildings just beyond the forward outpost he was currently guarding. Well, alright, perhaps “outpost” was just too generous a label for where he and his platoon were hunkering down right now. They were just a small force holed up in what had once been a small apartment complex of some sort, looking out at the rest of the city, which was currently infested by fascists. They were basically there to observe, report, and even do target spotting for artillery if they needed to. In some moments, being close to the front was actually kind of exciting, in the nerve-wracking sometimes terrifying sort of way. However, such moments often occurred between long stretches of mind-numbing monotony and boredom.
Mikhail shifted his rifle again. Damn, this really was stupid. Walking a beat like this made no damn sense. Why the hell did he need to patrol out in the open when the rest of the company was hidden within the damn buildings? That would just tell any German who’d come out this far would immediately see that there was somebody out here, meaning that they’d lost any opportunity for surprise or ambush. Not to mention that his patrolling out in the open made him a target for any Nazi sniper who felt like taking a shot.
You’d think that an officer who’d survived fighting in Stalingrad this long would have developed some kind of common military sense. He let out a grunt sourly. Of course, survival didn’t always mean you were smart enough to survive, just lucky enough to have lived this long. The young lieutenant commanding their little forward force was certainly not one of the smart ones by any stretch of the imagination—which was something he had little of as well—and he had the bad habit of not listening to the experienced sergeants who were.
He came to the end of another patrol circuit and started back the other way, cursing softly under his breath and leaving a wispy trail of mist behind him. He’d wanted to go some place that was at least a little warmer than walking around out in the open air of winter, but his assigned shift wouldn’t end for quite some time. Mikhail promised himself again—he’d lost count of exactly how many times he had done so—that if he lived to see the war end, he’d be out of the army as fast as he could get the paperwork all filled out. He’d done more than enough of his duty to the country in this damned place, so he wouldn’t give any more than he needed to. He’d started imagining what he’d do once he’d finally gone back to the safe, satisfying life of being a civilian. First, he’d gorge himself on as much food as he could get. Rations were terrible these days, even for a civilian. Then he’d sleep for an entire week. No interruptions. Just a good, long rest…
Mikhail never saw it coming. Everything suddenly went dark just before he felt something slam into him, knocking the breath out of him. Before he could gasp for air, he felt himself get slammed back-first into the wall, which rattled any coherent thoughts out of his head for moment. Just as suddenly as it had enveloped him, the darkness pulled back and he could suddenly see again. Something was right in front of his face. Something pale capped by something black. There was also a sound. After a moment he realized that that something was someone’s face. A small, pale Oriental-looking female face with short black hair. The face had an angry expression, and it looked like she was yelling at him. Well, that explained the sound.
His momentary stupor suddenly broken, he began to struggle and yell back at the strange girl—she looked hardly into her early teens—trying to reach for his rifle. He couldn’t. Something seemed to be binding his entire body. He looked down and saw nothing but pure blackness, darker than a moonless, covering everything up to his chest. More horrifying was the fact that the darkness seemed to be spilling right out of the girl’s body.
He looked back up at her face, his eyes now wide with fear. She was still screaming at him in some gibberish that he couldn’t understand (Chinese?), her voice punctuated by the tinkling of the bells hanging from hair tufts on either side of the girl… thing’s head. What the hell did she want from him? And just where the hell did she come from?!
“Ya ne panimayu tibia!” he yelled, hoping that she’d understand from the tone that he was saying that he didn’t understand her.
This only seemed to infuriate the girl-creature, however, as he felt the darkness tightening around painfully around his body. His scream strangled on his throat as he felt the air being squeezed out of him.
“Please,” he managed croak, “What do you want from me? What the hell do you—”
His sentence dissolved into a gurgling scream as pain erupted all over his lower body. He heard the sickening crunch of breaking bones, bones he immediately realized were his even as his vision turned white from sheer agony before beginning to darken.
As the dark overcame him, whether it was his own vision or because of the black mass flowing from the girl, his last thought was that, at the very least, he could get his long rest after all…
As the soldier disappeared into her shadow, Rasa snapped her hand forward and grabbed the man’s hat. It had looked at lot like Justinian’s at first glance, but looking at it now she realized that it was the wrong color. A quick sniff also revealed that it smelled wrong too. She knew what he smelled like, this wasn’t it. It was disgusting. Any smell that wasn’t Justinian’s was disgusting.
She crumpled the hat, letting out a howl of frustration before throwing it onto the ground with great force. The small cloud of snow it kicked up hadn’t even settled when she stormed off, the pure black mass of her shadow swirling angrily behind her.
Where was Justinian? WHERE WAS HE?! She’d been going from shadow to shadow, desperately looking for him while now, but could find no sign of him. Her body began to tremble in fury, frustration, and fear. Why couldn’t she find him? Why were they separated? Had he abandoned her? NO! No, not Justinian. Never. He’d never abandon her. He was Justinian. No. Never…
She fell on her knees, grasping at clumps of her hair. She shook her head violently as she slammed her fists against the snowy ground again and again.
“NO!” she shrieked again, this time out loud, “He won’t do it. Not him!”
But even as she said it to herself, the doubt was still there. The fear was all to real. The sound of it ringing across her mind. It heard it. And It took it, the sound of her doubt and fear. The maddening, incessant ringing of her frustration. The loud, unthinking frenzy of her anger. It took them all, and began to sing.
Faint at first, a mere whisper in the back of her mind since she had just forced It back there recently. But It was always back there, always waiting. Dancing with the music of her emotions until they got loud enough, impassioned enough, tumultuous enough for it to start singing. And so they had, and so It did. Humming at first, unnoticed in the chaos of her thoughts. Then mouthing out the song in Its wordless ways. Then the half-whispered sounds, fleeting in the din of her mind before, louder and louder, she began to here It. Its song. By then it was almost too late.
“No,” she again. This time a soft murmur not a shriek. This time at IT.
She was dimly aware of sounds coming out from around her as she began to stand up. The voices of people hidden in the buildings in the surroundings, people pointing at her. As she straightened up, she heard several loud pops. Guns. They were shooting. At her. But she wasn’t paying attention to them, not early, even as her shadow flared up around, encasing her in protective darkness.
No, they did not worry her. She would deal with them after it dealt with the real enemy. The only truly dangerous one. It.
She screamed at him in defiance, in her mind and with her mouth. Having just so recently subdued by the bells Rasa possessed, It could put up not real fight. So weak that Rasa would not even need the bells, not this time. The girl’s savage roar shouted down It, sending it scampering back into the dark corner of her mind. She didn’t want to her Its song. She WOULD NOT hear Its song, and It WOULD BE QUIET! There was only one song she wanted to hear. His song. Justinian’s song.
She would find him, and she would hear it again. And It WOULD NOT interrupt her.
Her eyes snapped open, and she stopped yelling. A savage expression entered her face as her eyes turned toward the general area from where the Red Army soldiers were shooting at her. Her eyes saw nothing, encased as she was in depths of her shadow. However, she did not need her eyes. She drew on the otherworldly senses of shadow, and she could feel them. Feel where they were, especially those within the shadows of the apartment complex they were holed up in.
Her shadow suddenly shot out, zipping in through a window and merging with the shadows of the apartment buildings. Every shadow in the building suddenly became unnaturally dark, as if nightfall had suddenly come in the places where the shadows touched. Happening too quickly for most of the soldiers to properly process, many were gaping in stunned astonishment when the pitch black reached out and grabbed them, sucking them into its darkness before they could even fight back, not that it would’ve helped.
And even if their guns could’ve harmed the shadow, the point was quickly rendered moot. Just as quickly as the shadow had seized them it had also crushed their weaponry, as well as the arms that held them. Before they could even yelp in surprise, the soldiers found themselves crying out in pain.
Only one soldier had not been seized instantly. It was the officer commanding the platoon. Though Efreitor Gapanov had, somewhat uncharitably, thought of him an unimaginative dimwit earlier, he had the presence of mind to grab the radio and jump out one of the windows before the shadow could grab him. It helped that he had been sitting closest to the small fire they had been using to keep warm, and thus had been far enough away from the shadows when the shadow-thing had merged with them. It had been occupied with grabbing the soldiers closer or within the shadows when he had shaken away his shock and made a run for it.
He was already in contact with headquarters with his field radio, having managed to make it a few meters away from the apartment complex. He was in the process of hurriedly, in an almost panicky manner, reporting the attack on his unit when something took hold of his legs, causing him to crash face-first into the ground. He reached for the radio, determined to complete his report, when he felt his legs being crushed. Pure agony came over him as the shadow moved up his body, over his arms, and around the radio. Thinking it a weapon, the shadow crushed the radio as well as his arms, worsening the sheer pain already flooding through him. The officer was still screaming when he was dragged back into the shadows.
Rasa extruded from her now-expanded shadow, appearing before each captured soldier one by one. She focused first on the ones with hats similar to Justinian, for she had realized something. Justinian hadn’t left her. He’d never done so before, and she was absolutely sure he never would. Not him. No, he had been taken from her. That was the only explanation. The proof was in the hats. Why would they be wearing hats like Justinian’s unless they knew something about it? About him. It made sense.
They had taken him from. She would take him back.
She would make them give him back.
The girl leaned over a soldier, grabbing the back of his head to make him look right at her. She screamed at him, demanding that he tell her where Justinian was. She had her shadow crush him slowly when he wouldn’t answer her properly. She’s stop if he told her where Justinian was. She didn’t care about him anyway, all she wanted was Justinian. The soldier still didn’t answer her properly. In rage, she had him crushed completely and consumed by her shadow.
She receded into her shadow, only to appear before another soldier. She repeated the process. Again and again and again until, finally, there were no more soldiers.
She felt her frustration and anger practically boiling within her. None of them had answered her properly. However, she did not howl or shriek or cry. She had a direction to her purpose now.
People were hiding Justinian from her. She would find them. She would find him.
She would make them talk or she’d destroy them. Eventually, someone would tell her.
64th Army encampment, west bank of the Don River, Stalingrad
General Chuikov welcomed them without much preamble. The general was a direct man, not given much to bluster or painstaking protocol. His headquarters reflected that. It was a simple collection of radios, maps, documents, and staff officers assembled efficiently in one of the more solid buildings on this side of the river, in such a way that allowed for quick packing and transfer when necessary. There was little, if any, of the minor luxuries most general officers and their staff always managed to wrangle for themselves (ha, so much for classless equality). Indeed, other than that which a military command center needed to operate, there wasn’t much difference between Chuikov’s headquarters from the quarters used by the men of the 64th Army.
That earned the man Makar Daryevich Igorov’s respect. Real respect, not the grudging variety he allowed the puffed up little bastard who nonetheless could fight when needed. If nothing else, the man was doing his job of defending the Motherland rather proficiently. Though he vehemently disagree with the mockery that was the so-called Party of the People currently in power, the Motherland was still the Motherland. Any soldier who defended her, and did it very well, deserved some respect.
“The Troika reporting as ordered, General.” Igorov saluted smartly, his two subordinates and the NKVD man, Koslotsov did the same.
The latter shot him a quick look of disapproval at his conscious omission of the word “Comrade,” as he always did. However, the man said nothing. Igorov had to repress to urge to chuckle. Just because he respected the general doesn’t mean he’d go into that whole overwrought “comrade” business just for him. If anything, it was more respectful that he didn’t as any attempt to do so on his part would have resulted in something clearly ironic sounding, which wouldn’t be respectful in the slightest.
The general didn’t seem to mind either as he merely nodded at them agreeably before he strode over to a chunk of concrete debris and promptly sat down. He gestured to them saying, “Be seated, comrades.”
His subordinates quickly found seating places of their own, quietly positioning themselves behind and slightly to the side of their superior officer. Koslotsov seemed to have been hit by momentary indecision, eyeing a stool within his reach. Protocol-conscious careerist as the man was—to Makar’s unceasing annoyance—he was probably worried about the propriety of grabbing a stool when the highest ranking officer in the room was only seated on a mere piece of debris.
The warlock colonel decided to relieve him of his indecision by simply walking over, grabbing the stool, and carrying it back to where he had been standing. He willfully ignored the outraged look the NKVD officer shot at him, though he had to resist the temptation to laugh as he felt the man’s glare trying to burn a hole a through his back. He knew that Lev, his teenage subordinate was fighting hard not to laugh. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Antonina shoot the boy a reproving look while trying to hide a smirk herself. All of this did not get past the general, and his only sign of reaction was a very slight twinkle of amusement in his eyes.
After all, practically no one liked the NKVD.
While a sound behind him indicated that Koslotsov had finally sat down on something, the general began to speak, ignoring any pleasantries.
“I assume you know why I’ve called you here.” General Chuikov stated. Without waiting for a reply, he went on, “That little stunt the fascists just pulled is raising quite the heckle among high command. Everyone’s wondering what the hell just happened.”
Chuikov unconsciously ran a hand through his disheveled hair before continuing, “Generals Zhukov and Vasilevsky, in particular, want to know, and they’d like any input on how this may affect Operation Uranus.”
Operation Uranus was a massive counteroffensive push scheduled to begin in a few days. The primary commanders were Zhukov and Vasilvesky—the latter of which being Chuikov’s superior—and, if their plan succeeded, they’d encircle and completely cut off the German 6th Army and their Romanian allies. After the armies were encircled and cut off, all they’d need to do was starve them out and either systematically eliminate the dwindling remnants, or force them to surrender.
Easier said than done, of course, but it was a sound plan. Certainly, from what information he’d been given—and Chuikov respected his rank and abilities enough to allow him to be privy to certain bits of information despite his status as an unrepentant tsarist—they’d gathered more than enough of the forces needed to do so over the past few weeks with more than decent secrecy. However, whatever plans had not expected whatever the Germans had just done. And any strategist with sense knew that it was often the unexpected which made the best laid plans go completely to seed.
Since whatever the Germans had done was magical in nature, and since he was probably the most experienced in the mystical arts in the area, they’d naturally consult him, whatever they felt about him. Rightfully so, too.
The general looked at him expectantly.
“Honestly, sir,” Igorov began, “I am not completely certain. It was something big, no question about that.”
He could almost feel Lev wincing, and he knew the normally outspoken boy was biting whatever comment he wanted to add—he was in the presence of a general officer, after all. Still, he had been the most affected by the earlier magical backlash. His telogreika his had blood stains from the backlash-induced bleeding of the symbol carved onto his forehead.
“However,” the aging colonel continued, “I haven’t been able to find out exactly what it was. I tried scrying, but something’s obscuring any attempt at remote viewing. Like some sort of shadowy mass is obscuring everything around the Nazi arrays.”
Makar noted that the Chuikov’s eyebrows quirked at the mention of the “shadowy mass.” The general, however, kept silent and seemed to be waiting for him to continue. The sorcerer shrugged mentally. The general would tell him when he felt like it. Of course, a little indirect prompting couldn’t hurt.
“I tried asking around, but no one else seems to have any idea either. We don’t have any observational forces that deep into the German-held parts of the city. At least, none with any radios.”
The general grimaced at that, mostly because that hadn’t always been true. Chuikov was an ardent advocate of “hugging the enemy,” and he’d always placed pockets of troops in and around any enemy-held areas. Not just for scouting and forward observation, either. Such units had been raising hell in Stalingrad for a while now. Raids, sabotage, and ambushes had constantly harried the Germans, adding up to a not inconsiderable amount of enemy attrition, not to mention how much the Germans’ morale had suffered. The Troika had actually participated in quite a number of those, as a matter of fact, since they were under Chuikov’s command. Although, they’d been recalled just shortly before the Germans had acted.
Just prior to that botched magical business earlier, the Germans had spent days leveling and cleaning out entire city blocks in the areas they held. The massive operation had forced many of Chuikov’s holdout units to move away to a safer distance, so there hadn’t been any observers anywhere near to arrays to report any details. It had alerted that them that the fascists were up to something, but since they knew nothing about that all they could do was fortify defensive positions and see what happened.
General Chuikov seemed to mull it over for a bit before he looked back up at Colonel Igorov.
“I’m sure you have thoughts about what it probably was, though,” the general stated, “Da, Tovarisch Polkovnik?”
So he wasn’t quite ready to enlighten him yet. Alright, he could wait.
“Very likely a failed large-scale summoning, General.” Makar ventured, “Athough, I’m not sure if the shadowy obstruction was the summon itself, or merely a side-effect.”
A little reminder couldn’t hurt either.
The general quirked his eyebrow. “Well, I may have something which could provide some illumination on the matter.”
“Just a few minutes before you arrived, we received a message from one of our forward units across the river,” he began, “The unit’s commander managed to report that they were being attacked and overrun.”
The general looked at him squarely.
“Before we lost contact, the commander was able to scream out one word: ‘Shadows.’”
This time, it was Makar’s turn to quirk an eyebrow in curiosity.
“We haven’t been able to reestablish contact ever since.”
“I see,’ mumbled the Troika’s commanding officer, nodding slowly, “Definitely a summoning then.”
He put his hands together in front of his face and lapsed into a thoughtful silence for a long moment. Finally, he slowly came out of his reverie and turned his head. Atonina caught his gaze levelly. The pretty, young major’s expression was its usual carefully impassive self, although there was a definite knowing quality in her eyes. He also caught Lev’s glance, and saw the boy’s lips quirking into a slow smile.
He sighed. They just knew him too well.
Makar turned to look at the general.
“Well, general, I guess we’ll have to go and have a look then.”
Somewhere in the Karpovka district, Stalingrad
“Hm, cold.” Justinian observed. A blatant understatement, and a stupidly obvious one to boot. But no one was around to call him out on it anyway, not that the boy would’ve cared much one way or another.
Still, the freezing air was just a minor annoyance to him, if anything. Honestly, he couldn’t understand why people always went on about how bad Russian winters were. He wasn’t even in any proper winter gear, and it wasn’t really bothering him too much. Then again, extremes in temperature and environment never had bothered him that much as far as he remembered. Maybe it was a matter of perspective?
He shrugged and kept going.
Awkwardly he crawled forward, try to keep his profile well within the narrow trench between the pile of debris leading from the building he’d just crawled out from to the building he was crawling too. Not too much trouble finding piles of debris this deep into the city. In fact, it seemed that the entire city was nothing but piles of debris approximating the shape of urban sprawl.
“Hey,” he whispered to himself, “That thought was actually kinda poetic. I gotta remember that.”
Normally, he would’ve stated the observation to Tribonian. After all, why talk to yourself when there was someone else to talk to? However, his ever-faithful companion had been knocked out cold by the backlash of whatever had yanked them out in the middle tesseracting. He looked down at the hand pocket (on his hoodie, not one of his vest pockets) where he had stuck the bird in and pulled him out a bit—still unconscious, but also still breathing. He pushed the quail back in carefully.
As for his other companion, well, he had no idea where his little pet shadow girl had gone. Well, no, that wasn’t completely true. The bells he’d given her had this distinctive and strong aura, one he could sense for probably hundreds—maybe even thousands, he wasn’t sure as they’d never been separated before—of kilometers. He didn’t know exactly where she was, but he did know that the aura was stronger in a certain direction. That was a start.
So, he was making his way through the city to find her. After all, what kind of pet owner would he be if he just let her wander off with out going to look for her. He may have been many things, and sometimes he wondered if he was also some certain other things, but he knew that one thing he was not was a bad pet owner. His parents would’ve been proud, if he even had parents.
As he crept his way forward, he could hear the faint sounds of weapons fire way off in the distance. It seemed to be getting louder every second, though it was still pretty faint. He slowly looked around toward the general direction of the weapons fire. Along with the usual view of the strands and threads of the fabric of space-time twisting and undulating, there seemed to be a cloud of dark, shadowy something spiraling toward the ground. It reminded him a bit of Rasa’s shadow, although it was a lot more wispy and pulsating-y than hers ever was.
At any rate, whatever it was couldn’t be good. Especially with all that weapons fire. Still, he shrugged. He’d worry about it when it got close enough to really be worried about it.
Not that he didn’t have enough to worry about already. After all, it was the first time since, well, he wasn’t sure how long, that he was going on without any protection from either of his companions. He’s usually be strolling along casually, confident in the psychokinetic protection of Tribonian and the guard dog devotion of Rasa. Now, he only had himself to rely on for protection.
It was honestly pretty darned annoying. It bothered him far worse than any temperature ever did. He’d had to do all his sneaking around just so he wouldn’t get spotted and shot at—which was something that would quite possibly bother him the most. After all, he was deep in German-held territory, and he doubted that they’d appreciate his choice of Soviet-chic headgear. Unconsciously, he reached for his Red Army ushanka with one hand and adjusted it. To be fair, though, Nazi German headgear wasn’t all that shabby either.
He let out a sigh. Ah, well, such is life.
Finally, he reached the building and slowly began to crawl forward within it. He looked around. It was a big building, whatever it had been. Though the walls were still up, the floors from all the upper levels had caved in and there was nothing but several big piles of rubble within. There was also sunlight shining through the multiple gaping holes up on the roof.
Suddenly Justinian froze—no, not from the cold. He’d heard noises coming from behind one of the big rubble piles within the building. Looking closely, he could see the faint flickering glow of a small fire. There was definitely someone behind that pile. No question that they would be soldiers.
After a moment, he began inching forward again. With all the rubble in the place, maybe they wouldn’t notice him at all. Then again, maybe they would. He sighed again. This would be so much simpler if he had a kinetic push handy, or an all-consuming shadow. Or even a weapon of some sort. He knew there were for than a few weapons in his collection. Of course, digging out the right storage tesseract was the problem. Most of the time, when he fished out any of the myriad of storage tesseracts from his pockets he usually got the out by random.
He didn’t have time to try and go through as much as he could before he stumbled across something useful. Besides, the noise from all the objects be splurged out of the tesseracts would be pretty loud, and they’d be bound to notice the green flash every time he opened out a tesseract.
Then again, that reminded him. You didn’t just pull stuff out of storage tesseracts, you could put stuff in too! And he wouldn’t mind another gaggle of soldiers for his collection.
The boy looked around again, this time observing the strands of space-time around him. There actually was one knot folding in on itself a few feet away from him, unseen by ordinary eyes. How convenient. Or, well, it would be if he wanted to grab it and weave and blue tesseract. However, he didn’t want to port out of here. Not yet. Not until he found his errant little pet.
With a sigh, he turned away and resumed looking. After a moment, he found one. An errant, stray thread of space-time. It was a little thing, happened all the time. Even more often the twisting and folding which resulted in the space-time knots he used to weave out a blue tesseract. Like the knotting, it was a fairly minor thing and did nothing that could affect—or even be noticed, for that matter—by most people.
He wasn’t most people.
Justinian crawled slowly toward the free thread, hoping that it wouldn’t drift away or wind back into its proper place in the fabric of space-time. Slowly, steadily he went forward until, after what seemed to be hours for all the careful anticipation, he grabbed hold of the free flowing string with his right hand. With a quick tug, it broke lose and he quickly would it up in his hand. Then, with deft movements of his fingers and wrist, he weaved the string of space-time into a pulsing, glowing green tesseract.
“Yup,” he whispered under his breath, “still got it.”
The boy began to crawl forward again, inching purposefully toward the slight flickering behind one of the rubble piles. He was hoping that, since the rubble pile obscured his view of the soldiers, it would obscure their view of him as well. He just hoped that nobody was set up in another place, looking out and around. And that the faint green glow of his tesseract wasn’t too visible over the piles of rubble.
This time, the crawl seemed even longer than the one he did to grab the string of space-time. Maybe because he had to hold the tesseract in his right hand, so he only had his left to support the weight of his upper torso. Or maybe it was because he was even more nervous than he had been when crawling toward the loose thread of space-time. Or, y’know, maybe it was both.
Anyway, after a forever longer than the forever earlier—if that made sense—he finally reached close enough to make out definite voices. He still couldn’t make out what anyone was saying, since the conversation was in hushed whispers. Still, at least he now definitely knew that there was someone there, and that there was more than one someone.
Now all he needed to do was close the distance, quickly toss the tesseract from out behind the rubble pile, and hope that the soldiers were packed tightly enough around the flame for the tesseract to suck them all in.
Yeah… Why do things like that always sound easier in your head? And just who was he asking anyway? He was the only one who could hear himse—
Justinian’s train of thought was abruptly cut off because, at that moment, his left had had caught a piece of debris; a piece of debris that had fallen on top of a thick bunch of snow, compacting said snow into ice. Since most of his forward weight was being supported slowly by his left hand, he found himself face-planting as his weight made the rock his left hand had landed on slip over the ice beneath it. As his face smacked into the layer of snow on the floor, his right arm was jarred enough for him to let go of the storage tesseract.
The twisting and pulsating hypercube landed on the pile of debris in front of Justinian, which was sufficient enough to set it off. The tesseract expanded into its net, momentarily flashing bright green as it sucked in the pile of debris. As quickly as it had opened it closed, reverting back into a small, softball-sized cuboid.
Of course, the bright green flash had been more than sufficient for the soldiers to whirl around, guns up and ready. By the time Justinian picked his face up off the floor and wiped the snow off, he was looking up at a bunch of soldiers looking down at him. Their expressions quickly narrowing from wide-eyed surprise to hostile suspicion. Oh, and their guns were pointed right at him too.
For a moment, nothing happened. Justinian and the group of soldiers just stared at each other in tense, uneasy silence.
Justinian blinked. Then blinked again.
Almost incongruously, a bright, friendly grin bloomed on his face.
Last edited by Malchus
on Fri Apr 16, 2010 6:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.
I admire the man, he has a high tolerance for insanity (and inanity - which he generously contributed!). ~Shroom, on my wierdness tolerance.