Ilysveil: Spiral of Madness
by J. H. Zech
Basking in the warmth of the radiant Fugerian sun, Krimhilde Octavian strolled through the market street. A stand was selling fragrant and sweet bread, another tent sold jewelry, and a craftsman had a collection of glazed pottery on display. She had come here to burn this “uncivilized” nation.
“It’s surprisingly peaceful here,” Lieutenant Vallenheim said. A soft breeze made his thin brown hair flutter.
“No one has successfully invaded Fugeria for two thousand years,” Captain Krimhilde said. “And no one’s even tried in the last thousand. People themselves become peaceful when used to peace.” It felt good to have her long hair down after tying it up for so long under her military cap. Her golden locks sparkled in this light, unlike in Vathel, where the fog painted everything a shade of grey. It was positively ironic that the self-declared Empress had proclaimed in the capital that she would spread the light of Ilysveil’s civilization to Fugeria.
“Even so, I’m surprised they let us in so easily,” Vallenheim said.
“Without our uniforms, how would they know? It’s not like Ilysveil has officially declared war.” It was the first time Krimhilde had seen Vallenheim in civilian clothing and, perhaps due to the contrast, the serious and handsome Vallenheim looked rather silly in his brown overalls.
Vallenheim looked Krimhilde up and down and smiled. “That dress really suits you.”
The frilly white and blue dress was just something she had bought at the last minute. “I’m your commanding officer. Remember, we’re not here on a pleasure trip.” Despite her light scolding, she smiled as she said it.
“I know,” he said without a hint of reflection or regret. He looked up into the distance.
Multiple stone buildings dotted the mountain, topped by a fortress near the peak. The grey concrete mass looked as though it had scarcely changed since the Middle Ages. At the base, a single sliding gate was open as dragon carriages, automobiles, and people passed through. Krimhilde knew that Fugeria could be so lax with its immigration policy only because of its belief in the impregnability of its defenses.
“After seeing this in person, Vallenheim said, “I have serious concerns about this campaign. A single company would find it difficult to pass through, let alone a whole army. Has the Empress gone mad?”
“We’re soldiers,” Krimhilde said. “We just take the orders, not give them, at least for now.” The Empress hadn’t gone mad at all. This plan was probably the most sane thing she could do. If Krimhilde succeeded, the Empress would take Fugeria. If she failed, then the Empress could get rid of an illegitimate child of the royal family, all in the name of the nation. Krimhilde clenched her fists. She detested the Empress, and she detested the world that made such absurdities sane.
A red-headed boy was running circles around his mother, begging for a snack. The mother grabbed him by the collar. “Tomas, stay still. If you misbehave, the Smith of the Reaper will get you.” The boy quieted down.
“A local myth, perhaps?” Vallenheim said. “But given Fugeria’s sudden military development the last few years, this may not be a coincidence.”
“It’s likely more than that,” Krimhilde said. “A mere scientist who makes weapons wouldn’t be used to scare children like that. There’s always an inhuman component to it.”
“Inhuman? You don’t mean—”
Krimhilde’s blue eyes glowed red as she grinned. “Indeed. This Smith is probably an Outsider, like me.”
Vallenheim groaned. “I’m not looking forward to fighting an Outsider. One is plenty scary as it is.”
Krimhilde slapped Vallenheim on the back. “Don’t be so rude. Besides, it’s just a legend. And even if it’s true, there’s no guarantee that the Smith is here in Tiziano.” She looked around and created invisible magic crests across the street and fortress base. A patch of gladiolus flowers swayed near the foot of the mountain. She decided not to place a circle there. It was a shame to burn something so beautiful. “I’m done.”
“As usual, you have ungodly speed. I assume you’re also thinking of a plan?”
“I have a few ideas. I’ll tell you about them when we get back to camp.”
* * *
Later, they returned to a brown tent back at camp on the Ilysveilan side of the border. Private Pennington, a broad-shouldered man in green-grey military uniform, saluted her. “Welcome back, Captain Octavian, Lieutenant Vallenheim!”
Private Eschwal, a young half-elf lady with oval glasses saluted. Her straight blonde hair flowed over her pointy ears. “Captain, the fabrics and metal frames you requested have arrived.”
“Good work,” Krimhilde said. “I’ll now discuss the findings of our scouting mission.”
On the map laid out on the table, a long column of mountains divided Fugeria, on the west, from Ilysveil, on the east. The fortress stood atop the mountain, and Tiziano lay to the west just beyond it.
“Both the Captain and I saw it,” Vallenheim said. “Between the turrets, the long-range cannons, and the variety of magitech launchers on the fortress itself, it’s impossible to try to go through the main gate or to scale the mountain.”
“Oh, that’s encouraging,” Pennington said.
Eschwal elbowed him.
“So I assume you’re not going to tell us it’s impossible,” Eschwal said. “Right, Captain? Even if the Empress is sending us on a suicide mission, I trust at least you won’t do that.”
“Of course. I don’t intend on any of us dying needlessly,” Krimhilde said.
“There’s always a qualifier at the end.”
Vallenheim said, “Captain Octavian is just a pragmatist. She at least won’t send us to die in the name of honor or anything foolish like that, Private Pennington.”
“Indeed, it’s impossible on the ground or on the mountain, but it’s not impossible.” Krimhilde slammed her hands on the table. “It’s 1908. The rules of the 19th century don’t apply. If we can’t go on ground or on the mountain, we can go above it.”
The room went silent. Krimhilde knew full well that she had proposed something absurd, but it was no more absurd than this very situation of invading a nation for the good of humanity.
“The principle behind it is simple. I’ve procured some frames and fabric. We’ll fashion a kite of sorts and attach ourselves. Then we fly over the mountain by controlling the difference in air flow above and below us.” She revealed a green gem from her pocket. “This magitech gem can do the calculations for us. As long as we cast and maintain the appropriate wind magic, it’ll handle the minor adjustments. Ilysveil has built up an advantage in magitech science over the past few decades, and now is the time to use it.”
“Even so, we’re just a single company,” Eschwal said. “You can’t seriously expect us to take out a whole fortress ourselves.”
“Destroying the whole fortress ourselves isn’t feasible in a short battle. However, I took a look at the geography of that mountain. The fortress is built into the slope of the mountain. If the supports and the surrounding slope are destroyed, the fortress will slide down the mountain under its own weight.”
“The problem is that since the supports are below the base,” Vallenheim said, “an aerial attack can’t hit it,”
“Back to the drawing board already?” Pennington asked.
“Private, I know you barely passed your exams at the military academy, but try to think it through a little bit more,” Krimhilde said. “Now listen to my plan.”
* * *
Three days later, they had completed all preparations for their mission. Krimhilde approached the tent but heard her subordinates’ voices inside. They sounded like Vallenheim, Pennington, and Eschwal. She thought about entering but refrained. It was possibly their last day for frivolous conversation, or for being alive for that matter; she would let them savor their last moments of peace. Still, even if she couldn’t join them, Krimhilde was curious about their conversation; she masked her presence by covering herself in a thin veil of magic aura and peeked.
“Did your relatives send you those?” Vallenheim asked. “I’m rather surprised.”
Pennington held a folded light blue blanket under one arm. “Of course not. They’d never do something like that for me. This is for my mother.”
Eschwal stifled a laugh. “Are you saying you made that? A big blockhead like you knitting?”
“Do you have a problem with it?” Pennington’s pale face reddened.
“Not at all. The asylum can get very cold at night, so I think it’s very sweet,” Eschwal said, coating the last word in a sugary tone.
“Now, now. Don’t tease Pennington so much,” Vallenheim said. He grinned. “Besides, weren’t you the one that made a mess in the cooking area the other day, making chocolates?”
Eschwal crossed her arms. “That couldn’t be helped. I’ve never made non-dairy chocolate before, or chocolate in general.”
“I feel sorry for your father.” Pennington shrugged and shook his head. “Becoming vegan just to marry an elf. I couldn’t imagine life without meat.”
Eschwal playfully kicked Pennington in the shin.
She turned to Vallenheim. “You’ve heard our embarrassing stories. Now spill yours.”
Vallenheim wistfully looked off to the side. “I’m afraid I don’t have anything like that. I don’t even know my parents’ names. The Captain took me in when I had nothing. She’s almost like a mother to me.”
A mother to him? Krimhilde was only twenty-eight. She briefly loosened her control of her aura in that moment of irritation. Vallenheim glanced up at the gap in the tent flap.
“Yuck.” Eschwal gave him a disgusted look. “You’re about the same age as her, maybe even a little older. Don’t let her hear you say that.”
“It’s fine. No matter what she thinks of me, I’ll always be grateful. For someone who has nothing, to be needed is the greatest thing you can have.”
Pennington and Eschwal fell silent. This conversation had outlived its usefulness. Krimhilde dropped her aura veil and marched into the tent with gusto. “Are you all ready?”
They saluted. “Yes, ma’am!”
After a short briefing, she sent Eschwal and Pennington to line up with the other privates. Krimhilde and Vallenheim then walked out of the tent together.
“You noticed me outside the tent, didn’t you?” Krimhilde asked.
Vallenheim turned his head away. “Perhaps.”
“Why did you say all that?”
“Those were my true feelings. I wanted to say it. That’s all.”
“You idiot.” She wasn’t in any position to be honest about her true feelings, and yet Vallenheim had opened his heart anyway.
They approached the privates. They were going to war, either as glorious vanguards or as sacrificial pawns. Krimhilde lowered the black bill of her cap. No matter what the outcome though, it was not for her nation. She would burn the fortress and Tiziano, but she would also one day burn the Empress and Ilysveil, and eventually, herself, in the flames of her hatred.
The company had lined up in rows in front of her, saluting.
Vallenheim, standing beside her, whispered, “Would you like to say the prayer before we go, Captain?”
“At ease, everyone.” Krimhilde folded her hands together as her company dropped their salute. “To the gods, Erxian and Ehteria, I offer... no words of prayer.”
They were speechless.
“Uh, Captain?” Vallenheim said.
Krimhilde waved him off. “From birth I was not wanted. I was sent here to die. Most of you here were sent to die.” She looked at Pennington. “Whether someone just wanted to get rid of you.” She looked at Eschwal. “Whether you’re hated because of your race.” She looked at Vallenheim. “Whether you had no one and nowhere to go.” Krimhilde turned to her company again. “I ask, do the gods have your best interests in mind?”
No one said anything. The privates looked at each other.
“Knowing that you were sent to die, do you still want to live?”
Vallenheim said, “Yes, ma’am!”
After a pause, other privates joined in. “Yes ma’am!”
“Then we need no words of prayer to such gods. Our rage is a righteous one. We’ll create a miracle with our own strength.”
The privates cheered.
“Begin the mission!” Krimhilde said.
The privates split up into three groups and marched forward to the mountain.
“I didn’t know you had it in you to be so inspirational,” Vallenheim said.
“Do you all just think of me as a dictator?”
Vallenheim looked away and said nothing. Krimhilde pinched his cheek.
“I would have forgiven you if you had lied to me in that instance.”
“Sorry, Captain. I can’t speak for the others, but I really do think you’re a great leader. Under different circumstances, you may have been a hero.”
Krimhilde’s eyes were downcast as she smiled weakly. “We’re the villains. To the Fugerians and to the Ilysveilans. There’s no sense in pondering what could have been when we don’t even know if we’ll be alive soon. Let’s go.”
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by J. H. Zech