Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Day Eight-Thirty-Four: Me/We

Two days after the massacre at Dodoshire, Arabella the Councillor met with General Landry, one of the heads of the Imperium’s military forces. He was not happy.

“They’re idiots,” Landry scoffed, turning so quickly to face Arabella that the medals adorning his golden armour jingled. “Bloody idiots. Their strategies have us running blind half the time. We’ve wasted more resources ’n I ever care to think.”

Arabella cringed. They were sitting in Landry’s command centre at Ironwill Outpost, a spartan room he assured her was free of the prying ears of their masters. Arabella had long ago given up on the notion that she was ever completely alone - the nagging voice of the rats could slip into her mind even in her dreams, and she was helpless to do anything but obey - and Landry’s insistence that he’d installed magical devices to block out their probes did not assuage Arabella’s fears.

“Look here,” Landry insisted, sweeping one beefy hand towards a war map so large that most of it was draped over the edges of his desk. Wooden miniatures representing battalions decorated its spotted surfaces. “If our intel is correct - I damned well hope it isn’t - the little bastards have divided the army in two, and there’s a huge gap in-between with no pickets to stall enemy incursions. They could change direction tomorrow ’n cut us down the middle, ’n we wouldn’t know it ’til we were too late.”

“Surely their dragons could address any problems on that front,” Arabella countered, though weakly. Military strategy was not her forte.

Landry snorted. “Dragons are all well ’n good when you set ‘em loose without a mission, but they’re shit at orders. Or at least they are with vermin in charge of their brains. I’d say four times out of five the rats will send them on some wild manticore chase that’ll ruin an otherwise fine battle plan. I wouldn’t put any stock in ‘em.”

Arabella studied the battle map quietly. Landry was not wrong: the rats appeared to have divided the bulk of the Imperium’s forces rather sloppily down the middle, allowing the enemy almost unimpeded passage into the west. She might normally have thought they were attempting to flank the Non on both sides, but the Imperium battalions were still too scattered for a large scale operation, and they’d received no orders hinting at a counteroffensive.

“I don’t recall having such difficulties in the beginning,” Arabella murmured, trying to remain neutral.

Landry planted his hands on his hips, shaking his head. “That’s part of what has me so damned flummoxed. We weren’t havin’ trouble at the beginning. I mean, yeah, there was a bit of a stalemate at the borders, and the Nothings showing up caused us trouble, but… hell, the Non should never have penetrated as far west as they have. Their numbers’re considerable, but our attempts to drive ‘em out have been, well, inept. Barely put a dent in the bastards.”

Arabella clucked her tongue. Scanning the map, she noticed that there were three miniature colours on the map: blue for the Imperium, black for the Non, and a few mystery reds. “What are these red battalions? They appear to be inside Non territory.”

Scowling, Landry shook his head again. “Allies of the Imperium. Some private army, I think. Don’t know much. The rats give me details on their movements, but they’re as inept as we are. Worse, even, I think. They keep throwin’ themselves at the Non in the stupidest ways ’n gettin’ their asses handed to ‘em. No backup from us, either. I’m surprised I still have to use their minis.”

“I see.” Arabella allowed her eyes to stray from the map to the window, as if the world beyond might be more instructive for their predicament. “Have you raised these concerns with the masters?”

Landry shrugged, then raised his fingers and placed them over his eyes, miming what appeared to be a pair of goggles. Arabella got the message instantly, wondering, not for the first time, how often her own eyes had shone white when she thought she was in control of herself.

Standing, Arabella walked to the window, pressing a hand against the grimy glass. A pair of recruits - Too young, she thought, young enough to be Dedric and Payne - were sparring inelegantly outside. They were nowhere near ready to face live opponents, let alone the Non, yet she knew they would probably be dying on a battlefield within the month. Their opponents would not be wielding wooden swords.

To think that a species which could appear like a blasted platypus could cause so much trouble, Arabella thought, fingers clenching into a fist against the glass. Or a penguin, for that matter. 

Behind her, Landry sighed. “I’ll get to the point of this meeting, since I’m sure you’ve got lots to do, councillor. At the rate we’re going, we aren’t going to win this war. We outnumber the Non, and their tactics are a bit… sloppy… but ours are far sloppier. It’s almost as if the masters want to lose - ”

Landry did not finish his sentence, as the room was suddenly filled with the jarring sound of four distinct pops, each a cannon blast in miniature. Arabella’s heart leaped as she stepped away from the window, half crouching, and Landry pulled his sword from his scabbard, eyes wide. The command centre filled with purple smoke -

- and though it did not clear for some time, Arabella immediately realized that two objects had rolled near her feet. One tapped lightly against her shoe, abruptly warming her toes. She jumped away with a little shriek.

Landry stooped nearby, soldier’s instincts forcing him to move cautiously. He touched something, and the faint sound of rolling metal bounced off the distinct clunk of his heavy gauntlets. He swore, shaking his hand. “Oh, blast, that’s hot. And… problematic.”

“Problematic?” Arabella asked, waving the smoke away from her face with virtually no success. “Define ‘problematic’, general…”

“Er…” Landry stood, kicking at the object in front of him. It rolled away. “Those, uh, magical devices… I installed… might be a little broken.”

Arabella’s mouth went dry. She stood stiff and at attention, feeling like a new recruit being dressed down by a drill sergeant. Worse, feeling like a child caught by a parent with one hand in the proverbial cookie jar, and no lie ready to save her from the jaws of fierce punishment.

The smoke did not clear for almost five minutes. When it did, Landry found a piece of parchment pinned to his war map. It provided new orders for both of them - namely, a summons to coordinates in the west. Also included was a single, scribbled sentence that made Arabella’s blood run cold: “You can’t hide from me, so don’t try.”

Arabella stared at the note, fixated on that final sentence. “Interesting.”

“That’s an odd way to phrase it,” Landry replied. His normally-flush face looked pallid and taut, the complexion of a man who has just discovered a terminal illness swimming in his bowels. “‘Interesting’. I’m lucky I’m not decoratin’ the spaces between a dragon’s teeth right now.”

“No doubt,” Arabella said. She pointed at the message. “Notice anything odd?”

Landry shook his head. “Should I?”

“Probably.” Arabella swallowed hard. “Every message I’ve received in the last year has been pluralized. So who is ‘me’?”

No comments:

Post a Comment