The Vanishing Shadows: A 1983: Doomsday Tale through Different Eyes.
Undisclosed Location. 2012.
Roderich's mind kept racing as he briskly yet carefully went down the crumbling pathway. Ahead of him, he could see Vash still keeping his rifle partly aimed at an exhausted looking man in a dirty suit that now served as their guide through the ruins. As much he found the Swiss blond's alertness incredibly excessive, it still surprised him that a writer like Jean Burnel wound up in the company of such ignoble men. But there was no time in figuring out just why the Frenchman's went this far from the RTA. At least he is cooperating with us, he thought with some sense of calm, compared to everyone else.
"How sure are you that this is the right way?" he heard Switzerland whisper in French, the Alpine's eyes filled with both concern and suspicion. "If you intend to stage an ambush on us…"
"I don't," the man wearily replied without looking back. "Monsieurs Zwingli, Edelstein…whether you trust me or not, my so-called contacts have played me for an embecile. To correct that mistake…I owe Sopron that much. Is she by any chance related to you?"
Austria let himself sigh heavily before catching up to the two. "Shall we keep ourselves focused on the mission, gentlemen? Danke schon." But with each step, the aristocrat found it more difficult to keep his composure. You couldn't be far now. Please hold on…
Closing his eyes for a second, the Nation tried to get a bearing on his surroundings. Doing so outside his borders strained him ever since the Empire fell, though not impossible. Despite the setback, he was able to tell who among the Alpine Expeditionary Corps were covering them from behind and those his aide sent off to sweep the perimeter. To his relief, not a single soldier had died in the attack. Yet he could still sense the pain of wounded men being carried back by medics. Bows and gunfire rumbling in the distance. Hearing death screams coming from those either stubborn enough not to run off into the Wastes or too weak to even stand. The more things change, they say… Even after so many generations, he took little pride in the less romantic sides of battle.
As they turned a corner however, Roderich finally sensed the presence of a young girl. The trace was faint, almost as though it was struggling to call out. That their guide seemed to quicken his pace towards where it seemed to be coming from only served to raise his hopes. He could still save Julia. It has to be her!
Before long they found themselves walking into an open clearing. Ahead was a wooden shed covered in netting and tents, just like the Frenchman described. Even though it seemed as though no one else in sight despite a light fog clouding their surroundings, the Nation remained cautious. Could this be it?
It is, kedvesem… Austria glanced around to find an unusually large bird perched closeby, speaking in a tone that for reasons unknown only he could hear. Familiar green eyes stared back at him with the same fierce determination his former wife had in their old battles all those years ago. Time to get our daughter back!
The aristocrat let himself grin mischievously for a second. So long as it all goes to plan… Then clearing his throat, he turned towards the soldiers. "I want you to maintain a perimeter and keep watch for any suspicious activity," he commanded. "Do not hesitate if you spot the enemy. It is imperative that the kidnappers not escape. Now go. Schell!" The Austrian watched briefly as the men took to their positions like clockwork. He then quckly shifted his attention to Switzerland. "And Schweiz, I need you to keep Herr Burnel out of harm's way. He's done his role," he whispered. "Take command of the men while I…we approach the shed. This ends now."
A resigned, knowing frown seemed to line the Swiss' face, which quickly vanished as the Alpine readied his gun. "I'll provide covering fire. But it's your call, Roderich. This idea better work!"
"Danke, Vash. I'll consider that as a yes." He let out a shrug. "Sufficed to say that in the spirit of Seleenwoche, this would be the most appropriate option." The Nation then turned his head towards the tired and increasingly baffled writer. "Et vous avez des tous mes remerciements, Monsieur. If what you really say of Julia is true, then I shall send her your regards."
Jean's exhausted yet relieved nod was all he needed to see as Austria took one last moment to compose himself. In the distance, he could already hear shots being fired. A strong yet peculiar gust of wind passed around him towards the shed. Now or never. Drawing out an old Luger pistol from its holster and with saber in hand, the aristocrat turned to walk towards the shed.
There was no turning back.
There was no denying the obvious. Surrounded. Trapped. Little margin for error. Most of the remaining guards could be heard holding off the Alpine Confederation's best and finest. The sounds of guns, bows and blades echoed inside the shed. And yet despite such problems, Col. Viktor Andrei believed that they've already won. I've won, he thought with a smug grin as he watched Mark seal up a long metal container. The organization he was working for would be most pleased.
Though truth be told, It's not like we've lost much in this god-forsaken trash heap. The glorified mercenaries his backers sent could always be replaced, while the bandits he and the American hired were worth less than the old suits they now had to put up with. As for Jean Burnel, the old Russian had a mind to have that pathetic writer's "accidental demise" spun on every obituary on Earth. Fixing a jacket left over from his old Soviet uniform, he made his way towards an armored van that would take them to safety. Then something went off.
"Colonel," the aging defector called out in English from the front of the van. "The fucking engine's dying up on me! Can you get your ass moving and drag that crate o-"
A gunshot cut the man off mid-sentence as he fell down unceremoniously into the ground. Forcing himself to ignore the shock, Col. Andrei turned towards the entrance. A young-looking bespectacled officer stood there in some dusty museum-piece outfit, an old saber and pistol aimed directly at him. Even without the strange aura that seemed to radiate from the Alpine intruder, it didn't take much for the Russian to figure out his identity. He had seen his employers' records on the Nation. Then again, this wasn't the first time he confronted Roderich Edelstein.
"Your collaborator will live, Herr Andrei. And so shall you if you lay down your arms," the aristocrat began in accented if formal English, forcing his voice into a cold, stoic calm that seemed operatic in this day and age. "This place...these Wastes may not be formally under Alpine jurisdiction. But if you let Julia go and surrender, you have my word that you shall receive a fair trail for…"
"Still bitter with Vienna, da? Or is it the deaths of your mindless drones?" The old man smirked, answering back in Russian as he slowly made his way to the container, his free hand grasping for his prized Makarov pistol. "I know you understand me, Avstriya. Almost 30 years since we last met and you still look the same! The men I've lost to your hand then and now are of little consequence, as no doubt do yours. But I work for neither Soviet Union or Siberia! Nyet, I work for a greater good for all humanity…"
The Nation fired a warning shot before slowly stepping forward. "Don't take me for a fool, Schwein," he sneered. "I've face whole armies, seen countless people die and just as many rise up to the occassion…but do not think that I belittle my own people. For even the least heroic and dignified among them have more of both than you: a second-rate officer, banditry, rape and pillaging, all to the highest bidder…am I missing something?"
"Then your servants must be blind," he retorted, a smug grin still on his face while carefully making his way to the container. "Americans, Soviets…Hah! Wasn't Doomsday brought about by Nations and their ideologies?! So why not remake this burning planet from these ashes? To topple abominations such as yourself, creating a new age for the Will of Mankind. That is what my employers believe. True power. And for the likes of me, there's much to be had in getting some profit off whatever it is this thing can give! Come to think of it, there was this time back in '84 when I…"
Austria fired another round, only this one grazed his head far too close for comfort. "I swear for the life of me that shall be the last bullet you receive. So let this be my final warning: if you do so much as touch her one more time, you would experience horrors beyond your imagining." While the aristocrat's face remained unmovingly stern, there was a just a hint of utter rage in his eyes that seemed almost impossible for any person to possess. "Now…let go of my daughter! SCHNELL!"
"Gladly…" The Russian forced open the container, revealing a pale, almost corpse like body of a young girl, her skin and clothes filled with grime and puncture marks. It took up nearly all of his darts to finally keep Sopron sedate. But it did the job, stunning the Nation just long enough for him to line up a shot with his pistol. Hope you enjoy the sight of your little brat. "…and so you know, that Magyar back in '84 screamed like bitch. Something to think about on your way to Hell!"
He pulled the trigger, a growing blood stain marking where he hit the Nation. Seeing the aristocrat forcing himself forward as though to lunge at him, he fired again. Then again. And again, until finally, the thing crumpled down close to the crate, glasses shattered and blood drenching the body. As the old man walked over to the limp, he couldn't resist the urge to shoot it once more just for good measure.
"You've...brought this on...yourself, Schwein..." the dying Nation sneered, only to start chuckling maniacally. "She won't...be as merciful..."
One last bullet struck the now bloodied chest. Now he had won.
"Do svidaniya, Avstriya," Andrei smirked assuredly. "A brave new world awaits!" And I'm sure my backers won't mind a dead body to test on...
You should have listened to him, te bolond.
A female voice seemed to echo in his head as a strong wind suddenly came out of nowhere, pushing the Russian off his feet and towards the side of the van. derʹmo…What on Earth was that?! Disoriented and groaning in pain, he tried standing up only to stumble down again. A part of him thought that he had heard it somewhere before, like an old ghost of a memory. But as he looked up, the answer was staring right at him. Nyet…
"Viktor Andrei, right?" A young-faced woman in an old Hungarian uniform stood close to where he had just shot the Austrian, an odd flower snugly fitting into her hair. But there was also a bitter, icy look in her green eyes as she walked towards him with a spear in hand. "No need to answer. I know what you've done to me and my family!"
This…this has to be some sick dream! "Y-You shouldn't even BE alive!" he growled. It all came back. He never really thought that much about his adventures in Hungary after the Invasion failed. Neither did he regret much of what he did. But you… "The bandits should have killed you!"
"You'd be right, being one of them yourself," she sneered in a tone that sounded at once sensual and inhuman. "I haven't forgotten what the likes of you have done. Killing…ravishing…violating what remained of my people…it wasn't enough to kill me right away..." Her clothes and flesh seemed to rot away with each step she took, yet the dead piercing look in her eyes remained. "…but that wasn't enough for YOU, wasn't it?! I remember the order you gave to your men…and what THEY'VE DONE TO ME!"
Desperately, he tried shooting at the abomination, only for he bullets to slip right past her until finally running out of ammunition. Almost as though on cue, he watched in growing shock as Austria struggled to stand from what should have been a fatal kill. This can't be happening. Can't be happening. "Im...Impossible! J-Just DIE ALREADY! THIS IS NOT O-"
Hungary's decayed form shrieked as she pierced the spear right at his firing arm. The Russian could barely breathe, let alone scream as the dead Nation's now darkened eyes stared directly into his. "Nem, you won't be a hero. You and your pathetic group will NOT bring the same madness to the world. Not to Roderich, Julia or ANYONE ELSE!" She drove the blade just a little deeper. " If you think of begging for forgiveness, it's a little too late for that. But killing you right away wouldn't be satisfying, now would it? The souls you've suffered would like nothing less than what I...nem, we have in mind…"
"Y-You…bitch!" He struggled to speak, for the first time in decades afraid. Afraid not of whether it was all a mistake, but what would happen. There was still a chance of getting out of this. Has to be! "You've already have your damn kid…let me go…"
"Gladly…" The image laughed in an otherworldly sound as it turned into something he couldn't describe. For some reason, he wanted to laugh, but try as he might, the man couldn't speak. Then a blinding flash as her voice turned almost faint. Almost human. Nyet...
"Let me show you what death is…"
And it was finally over.
There was silence.