The Coming of Ashes (MT) (Closed: Leonisa Only)

A staging-point for declarations of war and other major diplomatic events. [In character]
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The Coming of Ashes (MT) (Closed: Leonisa Only)

Postby Sparatar » Thu Dec 06, 2018 11:53 am

Sparatar-Havien Border Region

It was midnight – the witching hour. They slipped across the border like wraiths, cloaked in a white that perfectly matched the snowy mountain backdrop. Their footsteps, balanced and muted like those of any good warrior, left deep impressions that were nevertheless swiftly buried by the raging blizzard. A single file of men, threading their way through the treacherous landscape like a formation of foraging ants - scarcely the most impressive invasion force ever assembled. Yet these were the elite of Sparatar’s armed forces: the Fictos Nocte, or Night Daggers, trained from birth for war. It had taken them days to reach their vantage point on the cliffs beside the border fence. It had taken even longer to reconnoitre their target, painstakingly recording the number of occupants and the timing of patrols. But this investment paled in comparison to the years they had spent in barracks, hunting in forests, crawling through mud and dirt and coating themselves in blood for the sake of the Empire. Now they had a new foe – the Republic of Havien, Sparatar’s soft southern neighbour – and they intended to channel all that hardship here tonight. Their training would prove its value here, in the snowy foothills of the border region, in the prelude to a red dawn.

Lucinius, their point-man, halted suddenly in the middle of a snowfield. A tremor of anticipation ran down the line: had they been spotted? Were they about to be on the receiving end of a Haviennic artillery barrage? The wind offered no answers, howling around them incessantly, prying into gaps in their cloaks and sucking the warmth from their cheeks. Several minutes passed, punctuated only by that deathly howl and the occasional shriek of a hawk in the night-time. Then word began to filter back, slowly – the fence had been breached. Lucinius had been working on it with a pair of bolt-cutters. They each sighed deeply, not with relief but with disappointment. Blood had been promised, and the men were keen to test their mettle against Havien’s finest. Yet for now they were compelled to resume their silent march across the border, filing sullenly through the jagged hole Lucinius had torn in the chainlink.

Half an hour later, they saw it - a watchtower, standing like some time-worn geographical feature, its legs buried in the snow. At its apex rested the real target of their incursion: a bundle of radio and satellite antennae. It was strange, many of the Sparatites thought, to have come so far for such a tiny and seemingly insignificant handful of metal. At the base of the tower were two men, evenly sized, each resting lackadaisically against the walls of their improvised corrugated iron shelter. Snow had piled up on the shelter’s roof, and the rusted walls appeared to be quivering under its weight. Nevertheless the Haviennic troops stood trustingly beneath, shifting against their rifles every so often or stamping to warm their feet. Behind them, a snow-crusted steel staircase led tortuously up towards the structure’s summit.

Apius, the patrol’s youngest member, padded forward to join Lucinius next to a conveniently placed snowdrift. They crouched behind it, peering cautiously ahead at the sentries. Then, tapping his comrade on the shoulder, Apius drifted onwards like a ghost on the wind. A knife flashed briefly in the sterile moonlight as he transferred it upward, into his palm. Lucinius followed, drawing his one true love – a balanced throwing hatchet – from its loop on his belt. The pair stood stock-still, not five metres from their adversaries. Then, in a flash, it was over, blood and bodies falling in gruesome pirouettes, viscera steaming in the cold night air. The troop crept up to join the two, sidling past the corpses in a sickening parade. Finally, huddled under the corrugated iron, they could stand up straight, unbent by the wind. Josephine, the patrol’s grizzled matriarch, stepped forward from the semicircle they had formed. Pausing only to murmur a few brief instructions, she headed for the ladder, silenced pistol at the ready. As the troops fanned out, forming a perimeter below her, she began to climb – one rung after the other, taking great care not to slip on the frozen metal. Had her hands been ungloved, her skin might well have stuck to the naked steel; yet the Sparatites had come prepared, and Josephine climbed with unmatched zeal for the summit.

There were three soldiers in the watchtower. The first stood just feet from her, his mountain boots dominating the centre of her vision. The second lounged against a brightly lit console to the left, half-asleep, floating on an endless stream of radio chatter. The third stood facing the ladder, apparently mid-conversation with the first. He had just opened his mouth to speak when Josephine’s gun snaked up through the floor – his words turned quickly to screams as the pistol coughed, once, twice, three times. He collapsed, blood seeping from the perfect trifecta of perforations that had appeared on his torso. The second guard wheeled, issuing an animal cry of alarm. His boots whirled in front of Josephine’s eyes as he struggled to bring his gun to bear. Two more shots and he was down, the clatter of his rifle alerting his sole surviving colleague. As the groggy sentry rose from the console, fumbling for the revolver at his belt, Josephine took her time. She wanted to do this right. She aligned the pistol’s iron sights with his forehead and fired, the bullet passing cleanly through his skull and out through the watchtower’s starboard window. Josephine paused for a second, watching the apparent corpses for any hint of movement – then hauled herself up and into the control room. Her comrades were already moving up the ladder behind her.

Ten minutes later, their task was complete. The radio apparatus had been thoroughly decommissioned with the help of a sledgehammer and some wire-cutters. All three bodies had been arranged in the peculiar posture required by the Red Sacrament, their fingers interlinked behind their heads and their ankles crossed. And, in the centre of the control room, spelled out in blood, were four words: ‘heathens will not prosper’. Pleased as she was with the group’s performance, Josephine could not pause to congratulate them. The eastern terminals of the sky were reddening already, flush with summer’s early dawn. Fleet as foxes on their booted feet, the Sparatites dissolved into the waning blizzard like white revenants. In a couple of hours, Havien would wake to grisly news. No less than seven of its border outposts had been wiped out, their inhabitants subjected to the brutal religious discipline of the Republic’s northern neighbour. And, as the cacophony of accusations mounted, Sparatar would stand in proud acknowledgement of its bloody deed. The Red Sacrament had been performed, and now the hills screamed for war – the war that Sparatar had waited forty years for, the war that would finally propel this mountain kingdom into the stratosphere of global politics. Josephine could hardly wait.
Last edited by Sparatar on Thu Dec 06, 2018 11:53 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Havien » Fri Dec 07, 2018 5:06 am

The great steel beast rumbled forward, driving furiously at the snow with its tracks. Behind it, trailing off into the distance, was the evidence of its passage: a pair of clean, track-shaped cuts in the otherwise virgin snowscape, punctuated at long intervals by wide flattened patches where the men had paused to smoke or relieve themselves. The sun had set only an hour ago, and its luminescence lingered in the west. There was just enough light for the keen-eyed to pick out those tracks in the snow, and trace them to their source. That was what worried Par'Ruthil as he peered out from the IFV's top hatch.

The foothills of southern Sparatar were, to his eyes and the electric eyes of the vehicle, utterly desolate. Howling winds and the occasional distant avalanche had provided the only noise he and the men had heard all day, save for their own voices. It didn't make sense. Why would the Sparatites launch such a blatant provocation only to retreat at the first sign of a Haviennic retaliation? It was a trap, of course - but they had been combing these hills for almost twenty-four hours now, and the trap had yet to be sprung. What were these devil-worshippers waiting for?

Par'Ruthil nosed back down into the IFV, slamming the hatch shut above him. Ensconced in the driver's seat, wreathed in wires and cables, sat Jo'Bur, Par'Ruthil's longtime squad-mate and best friend. The younger man stooped to inspect an infrared reading on the screen to his left, then returned his eyes to the field of white before them. Par'Ruthil clumsily manoeuvred alongside him. 'Still nothing?' he asked.
'Nah,' shrugged Jo'Bur. 'If this is a trap, it's a very elaborate one.'
'What about the other units? Anything?' Par'Ruthil returned, exasperation seeping steadily into his voice.
'Nope. Actual says to advance until we hit the 13th parallel, then stop for the night.'
'Air cover?'
'Couple helos passed us about half an hour ago, heading north - not sure if you saw them. They checked in five minutes ago, said everything looked clear for us to proceed.'

Par'Ruthil paused to digest this information. On the plus side, he and his men had eyes in the sky protecting them; it would be difficult for the Sparatites to get the drop on an armoured vehicle if they couldn't move without being spotted by a helicopter. But this still felt wrong. Back in '05, when he and Jo'Bur had hit the beaches on Juno Island, the enemy had been waiting for them, machine guns and all. This, it seemed, was an entirely different kind of invasion - a silent, creeping one that tested nerves rather than combat prowess. Nevertheless, they were almost a day into the invasion now; the enemy was bound to be sighted sooner rather than later. With this in mind, Par'Ruthil headed for the back of the IFV. Cramped as it was, the troop-hold at the vehicle's rear offered the best protection from the howling of the wind outside, and thus the best prospects for an undisturbed nap. Reaching down, he shook Lucy'Ol awake. Her slate-grey eyes gazed up at him, puzzled, until he gestured toward the hatch. 'Your turn on watch,' he murmured.

In his dreams there were flames in the snow, dancing, turning the sky orange, flailing and screaming and hissing into the wind. Even the snow burned as it fell, populating the restless night air with a billion monstrous fireflies. For once, he didn't feel the cold.

He awoke to the loud clang of steel impacting steel. Jo'Burr screamed the alarm, rousing the sleepers in the troop hold. Par'Ruthil scrambled with the rest of them to his feet, reaching frantically around for his rifle. The clanging sounded again, fore rather than aft this time, and suddenly he could no longer see Jo'Burr. The front of the IFV had caved in, twisted metal and acrid smoke occupying the space where his best friend had been just an instant earlier. 'Fuck!' screamed Par'Ruthil. Even as he started forward towards the wreckage, however, Lucy'Ol grabbed his arm with more strength than he had thought her capable of. Before he knew it his boots were crunching into the snow, which had begun to melt around the now-flaming IFV. Little rivulets of snowmelt gathered around his feet, sliding back downhill, turning the vehicle's long and previously uninterrupted line of tracks into twin streams of sludge.

A scream, to his left. Lucy'Ol was down, spitting blood, her gore staining the pristine landscape. He started instinctively forward, raising his rifle and firing aimlessly in the direction he supposed the fire to have come from. His two surviving comrades, Ju'Fey and I'Pex, were crouched against the IFV's twisted hull, bullets beginning to ricochet off its surface just inches from their heads. He grabbed a handful of Lucy'Ol's combat uniform and dragged her towards them, across the snow. A bullet ripped across his forearm, spearing into his abdomen just left of the stomach. He dropped to his knees, as if winded by a punch. I'Pex dragged him into cover. From where he lay, panting and wincing in the night, he could see Lucy'Ol as the last of her fighting spirit drained away. Her fist, clutching at the snow, gradually went limp. Her mouth, curled in agony, loosened into a mere expression of disdain. And those slate-grey eyes dulled even further, if that were possible, losing the shine of life. Par'Ruthil stared in horror. Then, just as he struggled to regain his feet, the IFV's gas tank caught fire.

Looking back years later, he could not remember the explosion. Nor could he remember the fates of his comrades, or even how he survived. All he remembered was the materialisation of his dream - his nightmare. Fire - dancing, flailing, hissing, screaming. Flecks of smouldering ash duelling with flakes of snow in mid-air, so that the very oxygen of the atmosphere seemed to be alight. The blood, seeping from his belly, colouring the snow all around. He did not feel cold.

Then he heard them; voices, foreign voices, picking their way through the wreckage, conversing nonchalantly in their guttural Satanist tongue. He tried to raise his head and look at them, but his neck was too weak. Instead he just lay there, listening as they ransacked what was left of the IFV, listening as they picked the pockets of his dead brothers and sisters in arms. Then, as silently as they had no doubt prepared their attack, they padded off into the wilderness again, mistaking Par'Ruthil for a corpse and leaving him to rot under a blanket of snow and ash. He lay shivering for some time - not because he was cold, but because they had come so close, those heathens who had spilled so much of his countrymen's blood. Eventually, it occurred to him to call for backup. It was too late to save his friends, of course, but the Army needed to know. He depressed the button on his shoulder-mounted radio with quivering fingers.

'The war has started,' he moaned hoarsely. 'Men down.'
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