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The Siege of Geystheim
“Corrent!” Mason yelled, as he dodged through shrubbery and over boulders. Mason had always said that they shouldn’t be so far behind enemy lines, but he never expected to see a Corrent battalion! Katia, his daughter, sprinted to the right. “Dad! They’re gaining on us!” Mason dodged a bullet from an attacking scout. Ahead, he eyed a cave in which the men would not see them. The only problem was, the patrol was gaining. If they were found in the ravine, they would be give a crusader’s trial and shot. Then again, everyone knew that Corrent were fast. They would be caught and massacred if they kept running. “In here!“ he hissed, darting for the crevasse.
Mason was the chieftain of a Resistance arms convoy bound for Rorik. All else in the Rift was destroyed by the Corrent advance that had been amassed by the oppressive dictator, Psycho, because the Resistance (formerly known as the Rooks) had ceased their worship to him. The men that were chasing Mason and Katia were scouts, (fast-moving grunts with an itching to kill anything that moved) which were gaining until Mason and Katia dove into the ravine.
“Did they see us?” Katia asked. “Shhhh!” Mason hissed. “If they hear us, we’ll be dead and this operation will be for nothing.” He sent a silent prayer that he would survive, and closed his eyes. The tension was released as the men ran past the cave, unaware that their search had ended.
“That was too close for comfort.” Mason’s face was grim. “Are you hurt?” he asked. “No, I’m fine,” Katia panted.
Katia knew that they needed to get back to the caravan to go over what the Corrent stole, pick out survivors, dispatch the stragglers, and decide if it’s necessary to turn back to Grystheim.
She also knew that if they turned around, the caravan would never reach Rorik in time to beat the thousands upon thousands of Corrent in pursuit. If they kept going, however, they would likely starve or be killed off by the bandits that stuck around, unaware of the Corrent advancement. She wished she had her mother to help her decide. She noted Mason’s cold, knowing they didn’t have medicines to fight it, and that it was only going to get worse with time. She worried for him. He was in his thirties, but looked much older. His face was strong and weather-beaten, though he breathed heavily. As she glanced over to his swollen knuckles, a tight grip on his pistol, she noticed the trip wire to the left of her, near the mouth of the cave. Amazed that she and Mason had unknowingly bounded over it, her shock quickly turned to dread.
They were in a bugged cave.
The Corrent had bugs all around the forest, desperate to hear the chatter of a passing convoy, ripe for the picking. A bug not unlike the ones in that very cave was likely what did in his own caravan.
She caught Mason’s gaze and signaled to stay silent, for his earlier precaution had set them in grave danger, and they needed to escape as soon as possible. She wished he could radio the convoy, but any radio transmissions would be recorded, and would pinpoint their position for every enemy in the area to slaughter them.
They were faced with a choice. Leave the cave, in an effort to return to the caravan several miles behind enemy lines, and risk them being discovered by a patrol who would waste them.
Alternatively, if they tried to make it to Base Kilo, a day’s travel south, they could have a chance to rally a company of men to save what was left of the convoy. Katia knew that it was a long shot, but it was the best option. And, though Kilo was a ways away, they did have one advantage.
They were only two people, which isn’t great against 200,000 heavily armed and highly trained savages, but it gave the pair an element of stealth. The Corrent moved their squadrons around by marching them across open terrain, providing a weakness to artillery fire. They had no concept of fortification or defense. If they could dodge the patrols, they would slip past unseen.
Everything the Corrent stood for was attack, attack, attack, which lost them hundreds of soldiers day and night in relentless attacks, and, while they proved deathly efficient at taking positions, they were poor at defending the newly captured outposts.
This meant that small groups of fighters who utilized a tactic called guerilla warfare could sneak into enemy compounds and settlements, attack a single target with maximum prejudice and heavy weapons, causing maximum damage before disappearing into the darkness of night. The fighters are likely already evacuated before the fortress can rally a defense to stop the attack, unaware that there is nothing to search for anymore.
Katia realized this was their only hope, and signed to Mason that she would explain the plan once they were far from the cave. Mason nodded and motioned to Katia to take the lead.
Mason thought of home, mostly. That was all anyone could think about these days. Not like anyone had much of a home anymore. Everything at the forts had to be shared, save for clothes and canteens. Even the higher-ups had to pitch in at the fields to cultivate the next harvest. In fact, Mason was acquainted with an ex-con he met while working the West Fields of Kilo before he became ill.
Though Mason knew the man well, he never asked his name. He was a lively, restless soul. He was lean, had no hair, and a had a scar across his right cheek. He never mentioned it, and when Mason asked about it between tills of the plow, the man simply shook his head. Mason felt sorry for him. Here he was, a caravan chieftain, tilling the rocky soil, mere miles from the western front, and yet here was a man who was charismatic, war-torn, and hurting, all at once.
He was always helping. It seemed as though he never slept. He regularly shared his rations with the mothers of soldiers and helped wash clothes at the riverside, lasting into the dark hours of the night. He could cook, and aided the teacher at the school. Being a model soldier, his hands were bloody. He had seen his fair share of battles, and had come back from many recovery missions, one of which resulted in every man in his squad being rescued from the clutches of a Corrent Reaper, an airship the size of a city, shaking the man to his core. He and his squad mates are known to be the only people to have seen a Reaper and survive to speak of it.
He was a man of little sympathy. And, though he had been hardened from the heat of battle, he rarely showed his hurting. He was calm and collective, even amidst dire circumstances. Though, deep down, you could sense his pain.
Mason never told Katia of the man. Not that there was any reason not to. The man was caring, and it almost seemed as if he cared too much for the people he associated with. There was one thing that Mason couldn’t get off his chest, though.
Mason had seen him watching Katia.
Katia was doing laundry by the river with some guards, who were there for protection. Why the compound didn’t do its laundry by the north bank instead of the southern bank, which was closer to the fort’s bastion, eliminating the need for an armed patrol, was a mystery to her. As she scrubbed blood out of the knee of a pair of pants, she thought of what kind of medicine Mason would need to cure himself. Could it be that he needed stronger antibiotics? Or did he need extra Penicillin? She cared greatly for her father, but when she visited him she only felt dread and immense grief. She knew her father wouldn’t take priority in the medicine ration next week. He would be given the same stuff as usual. Painkillers and bandages.
What killed her the most was that there was nothing she could do to save him.
She could only watch his condition deteriorate, as he died a slow, tormented death. It was, as she thought, the worst way to die. Surrounded by crying loved ones, watching you slip in and out of consciousness in a damp and sodded excuse for a medical ward.
To Katia’s disbelief and disapproval, Mason still wanted to contribute and pitch in his time around camp. He should have been resting in bed with his friends at his side, but he chose to rise and move crates of supplies at the freight yard instead. The freight yard was positioned on the river, just north of where Katia was washing clothes.
The freight boss needed a volunteer to operate a lift on the docks, and naturally, Mason offered. It should be noted that the lift controls were on the operation deck above the rest of the freight yard near the edge of the river, and above the docks. From this vantage point Mason could see for miles in every direction. He could see the schoolhouse, children playing in the courtyard. He could see the hovels in the center of the compound, where families would rest their heads when the day’s labour was done. He could see the infirmary near the eastern wall. He was glad to see that its lights were off, and its beds empty.
As he snapped to, realizing that he had a job to do, he glanced to the riverside. He could make out a few figures, one knelt at the southern bank, and two more with weapons standing near the first. Mason thought nothing of it at first. After all, the compound had to wash clothes somehow, right? Then he became somewhat amused. He recalled an earlier conversation with his block’s constable, who decided who did what jobs for the day. He remembered the call for launderers, and Katia stepping forward. That meant he was looking at her.