Ilysveil: Spiral of Madness
by J. H. Zech
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Soon after, her company crouched at the edge of the forest just before the mountains. “Pennington’s platoon, prepare to attack. I’ll launch the diversion first.” Krimhilde’s eyes glowed red.
Black smoke rose from beyond the mountains. A siren rang out from the fortress. Pennington and a small platoon jumped out of the bushes and rushed toward the gate as it closed.
“We’re officially war criminals, aren’t we?” Eschwal asked.
“I tried to place the magic circles where there weren’t too many people at risk,” Krimhilde said. “Unfortunately, even if my Outsider ability lets me activate the circles from afar, I can’t see what’s happening around them. If the court ever asks, I was the only one who placed the circles. I’ll take full responsibility, so don’t worry about anything and just fight.”
Eschwal strapped her glider onto her back. The black fabric over the frame made it resemble bat wings. The privates in her platoon also put on their gliders. Krimhilde put hers on and grabbed her magitech gem. It glowed with a green light. The others followed, and a strong wind flowed through the forest and upward.
“Take flight!” Krimhilde jumped up, and a gale carried her into the air. Eschwal and her platoon followed. They cruised upward in a V-formation.
Vallenheim saluted. “I’ll await your signal, Captain! Godspeed.”
As she ascended, the cold air stung her cheeks. Her platoon steadily rose higher behind her. “Don’t ascend too quickly. We’ll get altitude sickness. Once we’ve reached our target altitude, we’ll stay put for a while to adjust. Pennington is going to give us the signal after he stalls the enemy.”
Cannons, magitech gatlings, and fireballs shot down the slope. Explosions and smoke covered the base of the mountain. Even if she had made a diversion, casualties were inevitable for Pennington’s platoon. She, like the Empress, had sent people to their deaths for her own selfish reasons. Did that make her a hypocrite?
She had ordered Pennington to prioritize evasion, and she had sown discord with her explosions in Tiziano, so little progress was made either way for a while. Finally, Pennington’s voice came over the radio. “They’re fully focused on us now. We’ve been distracting them for now, but I think this is the limit. Are you ready, Captain?”
“Affirmative.” Krimhilde turned to her platoon. “Pennington has bought us all the time he could. Everyone, we’re charging in!”
They all followed her, jetting straight for the mountain fortress.
“Everyone, start charging your magic blasts now,” Eschwal said. She pulled out a blue crystal orb, and it glowed with energy. The aura around it grew as she charged it up.
Past the clouds, the fortress came into view. Krimhilde pulled out a blue orb and charged it with aura. She checked that everyone behind her had their blasts ready too. “Bombs away! Focus on the turrets and the cannons on the slope first!”
Her platoon dropped their glowing spheres of energy. Blue bursts of magic aura littered the mountain. After a short pause, soldiers from the fortress turned a mounted crystalline sphere and launched a fireball at her platoon.
She flew upwards, and her platoon moved to the sides. “Split up as planned! Keep focusing on their turrets! I’ll deal with the magitech launchers!” The fireball passed just beneath her feet. She was staring at the edge of death and would soon stare into its abyss. Undoubtedly, the abyss would stare into her too, and she would become the abyss itself.
She dropped a large magic blast onto the roof of the fortress. A blue explosion covered the facility, but there was only a small dent with the smoke cleared. There was a hint of blurry green energy near the dent. “Enhanced concrete and a barrier? How troublesome.”
Only her Outsider ability could deal with the launchers efficiently, but she needed to get in closer to use it. Krimhilde charged in. For a brief moment, no fireballs came her way; they probably hadn’t expected her to close in. The soldiers adjusted the launchers and aimed for her. Krimhilde spiraled around the fireballs flying at her and came within a few meters of the balcony wall. Her eyes glowed red. She took a hard right turn and glided across the wall, creating magic circles in her path.
Once clear of the fortress, she activated the circles. Red bursts of aura shook the fortress, blowing chunks of concrete down the slope. The magitech launcher crystals had shattered from the blast.
“The launchers are gone! Eschwal, time for the next phase!” Krimhilde radioed Vallenheim. “You’re clear to advance! Pennington and I will provide cover.”
“Understood, Captain. We’re moving out now.”
Pennington’s platoon emerged from behind the boulders and charged at the fortress, now unhindered by the turrets.
Eschwal pulled out a black sphere from her pouch. It glowed, and smoke poured out of it. She rushed over the fortress as they fired, blanketing the peak with an impenetrable cloud of grey.
Covering them with greyness, she was truly bringing the light of Ilysveil’s civilization to them. If any doubted her loyalty, that Eschwal bore allegiance to Elvengard, Krimhilde would point them to this sight. Could there be an act more Ilysveilan than this?
The other fliers in the platoon released their smoke over the fortress in waves, with other waves of bombers interwoven. A shot of energy rocketed out of the smoke. Krimhilde activated the magic circle she had placed on Eschwal beforehand. A shield of aura took the impact. Someone had managed to target her through the smoke?
“Evasive maneuvers, now!” Krimhilde shouted.
Her platoon split just as a large beam of green energy fired from the smoke. The beam scattered into multiple threads. She swerved to avoid the beam heading her way. The rest of her platoon flew around to try to dodge them. Some beams exploded.
“Captain, two of us are down!” Eschwal buzzed over radio.
Who were they? Darren? Nifley? Braun? It was sad, but she wouldn’t apologize to them or their families. They had given their all, and so would she. “Have them retreat to the forest if they can. We cannot stop now!” Krimhilde said. She had said that, but someone had manipulated the trajectory of the magitech rifles blasts simultaneously and without visual confirmation, a feat only possible by an experienced mage.
A man’s voice came over the radio’s open channel. “This must’ve been your ace in the hole. An aerial assault was indeed entirely unexpected. And with smoke, you prevent us from seeing you. But don’t mock me. I am Colonel Klaus Unvemitir. Even if I can’t see you, I can detect your magic signatures! Surrender.”
“No. Surrender will not be an option for you either,” Krimhilde responded.
Krimhilde radioed her platoon. “If your shield breaks, retreat to my position. I’ll renew my magic circle on you. Only one of them can detect our positions, so the smoke will still slow them down.”
They exchanged fire for another half hour or so. Krimhilde breathed heavily. Using her Outsider ability meant using her own magic aura, and she doubted she could outmatch the magitech powder supplies of an entire fortress.
“Your magic signature is getting weaker. Your time is up. I suggest surrender. Unlike you Ilysveilans, we respect the rules of war, and all prisoners will be treated humanely,” Colonel Unvemitir said over radio.
“Captain, we’re ready,” Vallenheim said on their private channel.
Krimhilde wiped the sweat from her brow. “Finally. I’m at my limit here. Everyone else is, too. We’ve been using wind magic for hours now.” She radioed the Colonel. “It looks like it’s your time that’s up. Do it, Vallenheim!”
A massive explosion of blue energy burst from below the fortress. The pressure wave knocked Krimhilde back. Rocks and rubble slid down the mountain.
“What have you done?” Colonel Unvemitir yelled.
Krimhilde panted. “You thought we were trying to hide ourselves with the smoke. You were so focused on finding magic signatures that you didn’t notice another platoon sneaking up the mountain on a different path. A platoon that wasn’t using any magic aura.”
“That explosion just now—”
“All magitech powder. It’s too hard to be stealthy and evasive carrying that much powder. That’s why I had your forces split between dealing with Pennington’s guerilla tactics, the chaos in the town, and fighting my aerial assault. With the cover of smoke, they were able to put magitech bombs all over the supports below the base of the fortress. And now...”
The fortress tilted as the slope gave way. It rumbled, inching down the mountain. Gravel and dust scattered in its wake.
“Fugeria has not fallen in two thousand years. Burn in hell, Ilysveilan!” Colonel Unvemitir said.
Krimhilde already knew she would. The fortress skidded down the mountain and broke apart, grinding to a messy halt halfway down.
“The battle is won! Seize the town and any ammunition they have,” Krimhilde said.
“We’ll wait at the gate,” Pennington and Vallenheim said.
* * *
Krimhilde and Eschwal and the rest of the flying platoon made their way over the mountain peak and landed onto the guard station controlling the gate on the west side. She had already expected it to some extent, but it was even worse than she had imagined. The fire had spread throughout the town. Likely one of her explosions had hit near a gunpowder storage depot. The black smoke of death blocked out the sky above, and vague figures in the town below ran for their lives. She would burn in hell one day, most likely one such as this that she would create.
Eschwal pulled a lever, and the gate rose. Pennington and Vallenheim’s platoons came charging through the tunnel soon after.
“Meet back with me here in an hour,” Krimhilde said.
Her three platoons dispersed into the town. Krimhilde strolled through the wavering red streets. The beauty that she had seen a few days ago had vanished. Both heaven and hell were made by people, and a paradise could exist only as long as others wished it to. She looked at the base of the mountain she had descended from. The small field of gladiolus flowers had turned into a bed of flames.
She passed by a small house, the roof collapsed. A dead man burned inside.
“Come on, we have to run!” a woman said.
Krimhilde instinctively pointed her magitech rifle.
The woman and her son froze. It was the mother and the red-headed boy from before, Tomas. Just civilians. She lowered her rifle. The terrified woman tugged at her son’s hand. Dragged along by his mother, he looked back at Krimhilde. He glared at her with tearful eyes. They were the eyes of a beast, of hatred. She knew, for she had had the same eyes.
Humanity had surpassed barbarism through its rationality, or so the claim went in Ilysveil. Krimhilde laughed at that notion; anyone could see clear as day that the true face of humanity was a beast. The burning man was no doubt the boy’s father. She hated and killed, and in the process, she would create others who would hate and kill. The spiral of madness of this world had no end.
In the midst of the unreal landscape, Krimhilde came upon a wide black building. Banging came from within the garage. Someone was still alive in there, someone she could save. It wouldn’t undo her war crimes or provide any path to redemption, but she still wanted to do it.
“Get away from the garage door!” Krimhilde placed a magic circle on the grey panel, and the panel melted.
Rifles, magitech crystals and powder, bombs, hammers, wires, and a kiln were scattered about the spacious garage. Two bodies were burning. In the center of it all, a young adolescent girl with long, platinum blonde hair stood. She wore baggy grey clothes, tinted black by the smoke.
“Are you here to kill me?” she asked.
“Then take me with you.”
This was a weapons workshop and, judging from the size of the building, likely the largest one in Tiziano. What was a girl doing here? “Who are those people?” Krimhilde pointed at the bodies.
“My parents.” She said it without a hint of emotion in her voice. Her pale blue eyes looked dead inside.
“Were your parents weapons makers?”
“No. They just sold the weapons. I’m the maker.”
“The Smith of the Reaper...” It was hard to believe this girl could make all these weapons. She hadn’t confirmed the other side of the rumor yet though.
“Is that what they call me outside? I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been outside.”
“I’m a member of the Ilysveilan army, you know. I can’t guarantee anything if you come with me.”
“It doesn’t matter. I have nowhere to go, and I’ve wanted to go out for so long. The fire didn’t kill my parents.” Her eyes flashed red. “I did. I did because I finally saw a chance to escape.”
Krimhilde’s eyes glowed red. “You’re an Outsider too.” Krimhilde understood; Outsiders had no place anywhere. Perhaps she could create a place for her. “What’s your name?”
Krimhilde put her hand on the girl’s head. “Very well. From this day forth, you’ll be my subordinate. Have you any attachments to Fugeria?”
“Good. You’ll be starting fresh.” Krimhilde walked out of the garage, Sylvia following her. As they headed back toward the gate, it started to rain from the dark clouds above, and the fires died down. Krimhilde had never met another Outsider before, and she had heard they were constantly besieged by thoughts of destruction. Considering her own impulses, perhaps it was true. What advice could she give Sylvia then? She didn’t know.
The rain had stopped by the time they reached the gate. Her dripping bangs covering her eyes, Krimhilde said, “I can’t guarantee that I’ll always be around for you. Whatever happens, don’t lose yourself to the madness.”
“You don’t sound at all like what I imagined a soldier would be like,” Sylvia said.
“Soldiers kill for their nations. I kill for myself. But you have no reason to kill anymore. You have a clean slate, beyond the cycle of love and hate. Don’t waste it.”
After the flames of hatred burned Fugeria and Ilysveil and herself, what would be left? Krimhilde looked at where the patch of gladiolus flowers used to be. Amidst the wet ashes, a single sprout stood facing the sky.
Copyright © 2018 by J. H. Zech