Werner Waltz was sent to the Twin Cities of Gemini to participate in a new deal between Capricorn and the Romano Family. There, he discovered that his superior for the mission, Fritz von Spiel, was a True Conductor aiming to utilize Capricornian presence in the city for his own goals. The incident ended with the death of Von Spiel and the annulment of the deal between Capricorn and the Romano Family.
Skirmishes at the southern border with Argo continue as expect two months later, but something begins to creep closer.
Fehleinschätzung » Miscalculation, unrecorded.
Unoccupied Territory, Argoan-Capricornian Border
From his perch in the trees, Capricornian First Lieutenant Werner Waltz scanned the clearing through his scope. Bodies littered the marshy ground below, painted over with silver from the moonlight slithering in between the skeleton forestry. The light could not pierce through the fog that crept along the fallen leaves and branches. The veil blanketed the corpses, hiding them from sight.
It was quiet. The birds had flown away at the first gunshot. The Argoans had not. They had put up a fight—a fruitless one, since they had not been able to find Werner and his unit in their newly-issued, dark-gray uniforms among the branches above their heads. The light from the Capricornian conducting rifles had exacerbated the Argoans’ confusion leading to a break in formation which was followed by their deaths in a concise blitz of light.
As always during these execution events, nausea bubbled at the pit of Werner’s stomach. He couldn’t recall the last time he had been able to pull the trigger without hesitation. Every time he conquered this obstruction, it resurfaced during the next battle. He was certain that this had not been an issue prior to the synchronization. It did not affect his numbers, however. They remained the same in the high double digits. A number. A statistic. Quantifying lives so easily...
Werner tensed and peered through his scope as he spotted movement from below. Out from the thrushes stepped a lone woman wrapped in an Argoan gray. Gauging by the single star stamped on the shoulders of her uniform, she was most likely only a private. Her hands were held high in the air. Surrender, it seemed. But appearances were deceiving. Caution needed to be kept. That aside, if her surrender was genuine, it would be an inconsequential development. He most likely would not be able to extract any valuable information from her.
“Heimler,” Werner addressed the older man balancing on the branch just below him.
Friedhelm Heimler was a new addition to Werner’s unit. Although he was new, he was much older than the rest of them and had peppered orange hair and brow creases to show for it. He had served in the Capricornian Army during the Reservoir War and had obtained the rank of captain but was subsequently stripped of the position after he had voiced his anti-military rhetoric against the Kaiser in the years following the war’s conclusion. And yet, despite being renounced and over the age requirement for the draft, Heimler had voluntarily signed up to re-join the army. And—out of all services—he had opted to enter the Border Force. The man held years of experience and had passed all prerequisite tests for enlistment, so Werner held no doubt in his abilities, but…
Heimler’s reenlistment was a curious mystery to Werner. Perhaps it had to do with the man’s son who also happened to serve in the Border Force in the 312th Division. But that wasn’t pertinent. It would be a waste to dissect reason and rhyme.
Heimler fumbled at Werner’s address before dropping his conducting rifle. It scored down the branches before hitting the pile of leaves below with a soft thud.
Werner tensed, training his rifle on the Argon. The woman did not make any movements for the conductor. Heimler shot Werner an apologetic wince.
Werner shook his head and instead signaled to Fischer who was balanced in a tree over. Fischer nodded firmly before descending. Werner kept his conductor trained on the Argoan while Fischer approached her, forced her into a kneel and searched her for weapons. Two shakes of the head indicated that she was unarmed.
Werner gave one last careful sweep of the area through his scope before he signaled for his unit to descend to the forest floor. After swiftly scaling down the trunk behind Heimler and landing on the ground, he was greeted by a chorus of whooping cheers. A quick scan of his subordinates and the kneeling Argoan informed Werner that it was a celebratory gesture.
Private Derik Stein and Private Wilhelm Fischer were jeering down at the woman, while Private Otto Vogt and Lance Corporal Klaus Kleine looked on at them with both apprehension and relief. Combat medic Alwin Brandt was passing a v-cigarette to Second Lieutenant Gilbert Wolff while Nico circled the area and checked the bodies for pulses. At the center of all this, Heimler looked between the groups uncertainly, torn between a smile and a grimace.
Werner admitted that he was pleased with their performance on this operation so far. With only nine men including Werner himself to the unit, they had successfully cleared away the leftover Argoan companies along their route with no casualties. A satisfactory feat.
Werner clicked open his pocket watch and allowed the men to revel in their victory for another minute. It was 2250 hours. They were forty-five minutes ahead of schedule which he still found to be a rather tight window. If their trajectory and timeline remained the same, then they would meet up with Captain Weingartner’s platoon in 18 hours and 14 minutes. Then it would be operation complete, though he would have to take another look at the map to be completely certain.
“Enough.” Werner pocketed his watch. “There still may be hostiles in the area.”
“Oh, come on, Werner,” Gilbert said from behind the Argoan as he swung his conducting rifle over his shoulders. “We’re all getting leave after this. Let the men enjoy a little bit.”
“Celebrations are reserved for when something of merit is accomplished. We still haven’t completed this operation yet.” Werner paused in thought. “But good work.” He motioned for Stein. “Sweep the area with Kleine. Half a kilometer radius.”
Stein and Kleine gave the formal responses of confirmation before heading off into the surrounding thicket of trees.
Werner approached the Argoan prisoner and tried, “Common?”
The woman looked up and nodded.
“How many units are southeast of here?”
Her eyes narrowed before she answered in Common, “Don’t know, warmonger.”
Gilbert arched a brow from behind her while Fischer raised the butt of his rifle up and swiped it at the back of her head. The woman grunted, staggering forward on her knees.
Gilbert arched a brow. “Can’t question her if you smack the last two damn brain cells out of her head, Fischer.”
Fischer stiffened. “Sorry, sir.”
Stein and Kleine returned to report no hostiles in the area. A good development, although Werner considered ordering a double-check.
Werner motioned for Heimler who was now loitering by a thrush bush a meter away from everyone else: “Heimler, assist Fischer.”
Heimler cleared his throat, dipped his head, and started over to them. Just as he neared Werner’s side, however, he tripped forward and landed face-first in front of the Argoan. As he picked himself off of the ground and bared the brunt of disapproving stares, the Argoan locked eyes with the man’s waist—no, the sheathed combat knife that hung at the man’s belt.
The woman lunged at Heimler, ripping the combat knife right out from its holster and driving it without hesitation toward his gut. Werner darted forward in turn, hand extended. Acting before thinking. And—as always—such a pattern of events lead to unfortunate, unpleasant results.
The blade of the knife cut into and through Werner’s gloves as he wrapped his fingers around it to stop its course. The woman stared at him wide-eyed before she attempted to jerk the knife away from him. Werner merely tightened his grip. Although the blade budged ever so slightly with her tug and drew blood, it moved no further.
The Argoan released the weapon and fell backwards. Fischer and Stein were on her in an instant, pinning her to the ground beneath their knees.
“Are you alright, Heimler?” Werner inquired, wiping down the knife before handing it back to him by the blade.
“Y-Yes, sir,” stammered the man, sheathing his knife with effort. “Your hand—”
“You need to be alert,” Werner interjected. “I’m aware you’ve served in the Reservoir War before, and I’m not calling into question the experience you hold. But, this is a different war. A mistake like this cannot be tolerated more than once. Since the Argoans—”
“Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!”
The Argoan suddenly screeched the word as she kicked her legs out from beneath Fischer and Stein. Her face was pale in the moonlight, her eyes wide, her black pupils small, her white teeth bared. And then blood leaked out from behind her gums and poured out from the corners of her lips. She spewed out red and spat something out onto the ground.
A mound of flesh, twitching.
She had bitten off her own tongue, Werner realized. He held his bleeding hand, ears roaring as the young woman gurgled on her own blood. Nico was on her in an instant, brushing the other men aside and ripping out his conducting gloves from his pocket.
“Wrong… wrong…” she managed between mouthfuls of crimson red. “War…monger.”
“The hell are you doing, Fabrizzio?!” Fischer snapped, grabbing Nico by the shoulder. “She’s a—”
“Stand down, Fischer,” Werner ordered calmly despite the indignant annoyance that flared in his chest.
Nico reached for the woman’s mouth, his gloves already emitting their usual glow. Before he could place a hand on her, however, she shoved him back and kicked and clawed at the air. She spat again, sending blood spraying out from her mouth like mist.
“I will enter,” the woman wheezed before her eyes snapped to the back of her head.
Nico fell back, panting heavily, the woman’s blood still dripping from his chin.
“The hell was that….? Crazy lady…” Gilbert grimaced at the blood pooling into the damp ground as he looped around the scene. He nodded at Werner. “You alright?”
“It’s a minor injury,” Werner replied as he elevated his hand above his heart. He nodded at the combat medic still seated on the forest floor. “Nico, are you alright?”
Nico stumbled up to a stand, wiping the blood from his face with the back of his hand. “Sorry…”
“Are you hurt?” Werner asked.
Nico assessed himself slowly before he shook his head.
“Good. You and Brandt are the only Transmutationists we have in this unit. Be aware of your role and importance.”
“Yes, Lieutenant,” Nico drew faintly before rising to a stand and gesturing to his still bleeding hand. “Do you need me to look at that?”
“As I’ve said, it’s minor.” Werner frowned, scanning the thicket of trees. “Search the perimeter. If she was willing to put up this much of a fight, there will be others.”
Kleine and Stein exchanged looks.
“We just did, Lieutenant,” Stein said.
Kleine asked, “Would you like us to… do another sweep?”
At that moment, a sharp, terrible pain exploded at Werner’s shoulder. He stumbled backwards, gripping the area with a grimace. He surveyed the pain site but found no wound. Still, the area was numb―from the cold or the pain, he didn’t know. It didn’t matter.
Ridiculous. Of course, it mattered. If the other five felt this pain then it could compromise—
The other five. There was no response from them. Radio silence. White noise.
Something had gone wrong.
Werner’s gaze flitted from the stares of confusion from his subordinates to Gilbert’s increasingly prominent frown and then to Nico’s unrestrained concern.
Where had the miscalculation been? What had been the error?
He locked eyes with the Argoan’s body.
“Werner, what’s wrong?”
The throb of pain—Werner realized hazily as he continued to stare at the Argoan—was hauntingly similar to the pain he’d felt when he had been struck by that vitae-ray at the Ziegenberg Ridge. Gilbert stepped into his view, reaching out to remove his hand from his shoulder. No injury.
“What’s going on? Were you hit—”
“Keep moving,” Werner ordered, keeping his voice steady and even. His heart thundered in his chest as the pain spread. “Meet up with the captain. Complete our operation.”
Werner turned to Nico. “Nico, contact—”
He didn’t have the energy to say much else as the pain throttled from his shoulder to the rest of his body. He fell forward onto the forest floor.
Faintly in his mind’s eye, he saw phantoms of colorful letters fluttering downwards in-between ghostly pages of hand-written notes. He felt cold water swirling around him, heard the pitter-patter of a distant rain, tasted soot and salt.
Although there was no actual rain, he could feel the ghost of it from his memory of that day where it all began on the Aquarian-Capricornian border. That memory of cold rain seeping through the fabric of his uniform, deep into his skin, and reaching his core, where it slowly stole away his movement and sight.
The last thing he saw was all of his men staring down at him, the whites of their eyes matching the shade of moonlight pouring in from between the trees.
Oh, Werner, came that voice. It’ll be alright.