Tales from Achien - Short Stories

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Life Must Go On, Brother (origins unknown)

"Brother..." he cries in agony.

"Do not worry for me. Life must go on, after all."


He jolts awake, sweat perspiring from his entire body. What was that? He looks outside. Although it is late afternoon, the Elyfesta still shines bright, illuminating the barracks. Outside, the chatter of soldiers makes the otherwise quiet camp bustling with activity. Some read letters from their family or lover, some share their rations with their companions... one would not believe they are currently in a war, stuck in their position for months.

No one really remembers how the war started. Was it a petty rivalry? Ideological differences? Resources? Perhaps... the archaic, superficial belief known as Religion? It has lasted so long, the ones who initiated the war have all passed away, leaving the problems to future generations. He remembers his grandfather talking about the war, and that was a story from his grandfather. Now here he is, laying siege to yet another walled city, in yet another region, with no end to relieve him of the pain other than death.

"Hey, Ruhyor, the commander wants you at his tent," a voice calls. It's Tahre, one of the commander's most trusted advisors and a dear friend of him.

"What is it about?" he asks.

"Something regarding the next assault on the city."

"Tell the commander I'll be ready in a moment."

"Be quick. The commander doesn't have all day." Tahre promptly leaves, closing the barrack doors behind him.

He quickly changes into his uniform. It's not much, really, just a shirt, a vest, and some metal guards for his arms and legs. He grabs his pike, dagger, and gun, shoving the dagger and gun into the appropriate pockets while holding the pike firmly with his right hand. Sometimes, I wonder, why do we need melee weapons at this time and age?

He walks to the commander's tent. To call it a "tent" would be a vast understatement. It is a beautiful building, perhaps the estate of a wealthy man or woman back in the times of peace. Inside the air is perpetually cool, made possible from the carefully planned engineering. Guards stand upright at every corner, holding their pikes and proudly displaying their state-of-the-art armor.

Finally, after several twists and turns, he arrives at the main hall, where the commander discusses war plans with his subordinates. There, he finds the commander, pointing and making directions on a model of the battlefield to one of his lieutenants. Suddenly, he looks up and notices him standing patiently at the door.

"Ah, Ruhyor! Here you are! Perfect timing!" the commander welcomes. The commander beckons him to walk over to the model, which he obeys promptly. Upon arrival, he notices a block, which represents a battalion, is placed further away from the others.

"You see the block here, correct?" The commander points to the isolated block, "I want you to position Battalion 8, your battalion, here, which will be tasked with acting as the vanguard of the army in invading the city."

"You've attempted that multiple times before, commander," he points out. The commander isn't the most creative when it comes to tactics.

"Oh, but I only want them to think your battalion is the vanguard. Your battalion is, in fact, a diversion." He points to a new mark on the model. "We have been working on this tunnel for weeks. While you engage with the enemy, the majority of the army will sneak under the tunnel and into the city."

"Can't we just bombard the walls?"

"You should know our artillery is too weak to destroy the walls, and the enemy knows that too, so they hide eternally inside the city. Oh, I forgot to mention," he walks to a table and picks up a strange object, "I want you and your troops to use this."

The object is clearly made of a sort of metal, painted over with the gray similar to the walls. It looks like a gun, but at the nozzle, a sharp tip is protruding out. There are little decorations to the object, but overall, it is simplistic and practical.

"This is the new harpoon gun we developed," the commander explains, "When you fire, the harpoon will extend and hook itself onto the top of the walls. When the gun retracts, it should be able to lift even the heaviest of us to the top of the walls in a few moments. At the tip there is an explosive. If the enemy cuts the cord, it'll activate the explosive which will kill him and any nearby. You can use this as many times as you like, but once the cord's been cut, the gun has no more use, obviously. Understand?"

"How many of us can use this?"

"Well, only 200 of them are available. The rest of you will need to scale the walls the old way."

"When will we be attacking?"

"Oh, right now."

"Now?"

"I've already explained the general plan yesterday, didn't I? You just need to distribute these guns to your soldiers. Oh, and don't use your pikes. Use a rifle instead."

"As you wish, commander."

"Any more questions?"

"No, commander."

"You are dismissed. I'll be expecting great things from you, Ruhyor."


The preparations are complete. Each battalion stands in a neat formation outside the camp, waiting for their turn to go in the tunnel. However, far away, his battalion is already charging towards the enemy walls, assisted by artillery fire from afar.

"Fire!" As the booming sounds of the enemy turrets scream again, some soldiers cower in ditches, waiting for the barrage to stop, while others continue their charge. Some had already fallen, their bodies pierced by shrapnel or simply blown to smithereens. Despite these harsh circumstances, he charges on, and soon the towering walls are in sight.

The first batch of soldiers shoot their harpoon guns. As the guns were designed to be easily used, all of them sound a satisfying click as they latch on to the walls. Although the artillery dealt little damage to the enemy, the smoke and sound it created is enough to cloak their approach, hiding them within.

"Quick, find a partner to hold on!" he shouts as soldiers quickly grab on to a comrade holding a harpoon gun. With all soldiers of the first wave in pairs, they retract their cords in unison, rising, no, flying up the walls with great speed.

To the enemies' surprise and to their delight, they arrive on the wall simultaneously, quickly revealing their rifles and firing on the defenders. With little effort, they quickly overrun two turrets and firing them at the enemy reinforcements below.

As more and more enemies approach their position, several soldiers, armed with only shields, move to the front while the rest fire their weapons from behind.

"Now!" he shouts. Suddenly, a second wave of the soldiers approach using the same method, easily flanking the enemy reinforcements and slaughtering them. Soon, they reach one of the towers, peppering the defenders with bullets and quickly occupying it. Now at a far more defensible position, he can easily defeat wave upon wave of reinforcements. This is easy, perhaps too easy.

Brother!

A voice suddenly shouts in his mind, and suddenly, he feels his head is aching. He clutches his head in pain, but the voices keep on coming

Brother, no! This is a mistake! Stop! Listen to me!

However, slowly, the voices quiet down, and he could once again hear the rattle of the rifles and clanging of sword and shield. He walks to the top of the tower, where much of the city can be seen, with its complicated street patterns and buildings of varying heights. Deep down, however, he knows they are most likely abandoned, its citizens whereabouts unknown.

He sees a constant stream of soldiers rushing to the walls, grouping and coming together until they are stopped promptly at his chosen chokehold to be slaughtered by his soldiers. The diversion is working, commander. All we need now is the main army to arrive.

Confident, he descends the tower, leaving the job of lookout to one of his subordinates. As he reaches the front, he could hear the screams of men being mowed down by bullets. The single nearby staircase leading to the tower is littered with mangled corpses, their bodies piling up and their blood flowing down like water from a fountain.

The soldiers suddenly stop their suicide charge and stops at the bottom of the staircase, and the two sides find themselves in a stalemate. Well, a stalemate is a win for us.

A soldier walks forward. "Greetings, soldiers of the South," he begins. Although his tone is friendly, the other soldiers giving way for him seems to suggest he is in a position of power.

"I have no need to tell you my name, but I am the commander of these troops, obviously. They fought and defended very well for our nation, fighting till the bitter end against you invaders."

"Have you come to surrender?" he interrupts, his voice filled with mockery.

"I must say your daring attack was very successful," the soldier continues, ignoring his words, "Although you have suffered many casualties, you managed to take down a tower and stopped us from retaking it back." He reaches for a step in the staircase and touches it with his finger before licking it lightly with his tongue. "All these unfortunate soldiers who died at the steps... this is the only way I can pay respects to them."

Keep talking, you idiot. Soon, your head shall be lopped off by us and your proud city burned to the ground.

"You must be thinking that you are the victor, correct?" The soldier's tone suddenly changes, replacing the friendliness with hostility. "You must be wondering, 'Why are the defenders so weak when they had successfully defended the city for many months?' That is because I know your purpose isn't to take the city. It's to act as a diversion, isn't it?"

How? He is suddenly taken aback by such a claim. How did he see through our plans and still launch such a feeble assault?

"You must be wondering, 'Why is he still launching such a feeble assault when he knows our plans?' Well, that is because I only needed to stop you from wreaking any more havoc. Look how many soldiers are with you. 50? Perhaps 100?"

He looks around, and to his surprise, there is only a handful of soldiers near him, their rifles all smoking and their shields smeared with blood. A few lay on the staircase, dead and crushed from the assault.

"Look downwards, my friend."

Peeking beneath the walls, he finds a great many corpses laying dead on the ground. To his horror, he recognizes every single one of them as his soldiers. Nearby, the remnants of his grounded forces are surrounded, their guns placed down in surrender.

"Fire at will, Goshar!" the soldier shouts.

As he watches helplessly, the shocked soldiers are immediately peppered with bullets, piercing their bodies or ricocheting inside them. Some look up at him in disappointment and fear before their heads explode from the sheer amount of bullets that hit. After a while, the firing stops, and the enemy soldiers return back to the gate.

"As you can see, you are not the victor, but the loser. Oh, and did you notice the soldiers I sent at you were actually criminals being offered a chance of redemption? Look at them closely and you will realize."

As he looks at one of the dead, he notices a mark on his neck. B23-6763.

"Our main, more well-equipped army is waiting for yours in the tunnel. At such a chokehold, I wonder if they'll survive."

Wait, how?

"You must be wondering, 'How does he know?' Simple. I have my spies and scouts. Your commander's plan was probably too obvious to not be noticed by us. If you think there is still hope, I'll say this: the tunnel is already compromised." He shouts toward the inner district of the city, "Activate all bombs!"

Suddenly, there is a great explosion, debris erupting out of the ground, and with it, pieces of flesh. There is only a short moment of screams until they are silenced by further explosions. As he sees a fortunate few escaping from the tunnel, they are quickly gunned down from all directions. So they were inside the buildings all this time. The explosions are continuous, deafening for a while until it stops, and the city returns to an eerie silence.

"There," the soldier smiles satisfactorily, "That army's gone, possibly vaporized. Now, all that's left is you and your companions. Of course, I am a generous man, and I am willing to give an offer."

"How would we know you will keep your word?"

"Oh, so you're willing to negotiate now? The ones executed outside did not accept our offer, and by the time they surrendered, it was too late. But other than that exception, I do follow my word. Now, do you want to hear the offer?"

Silence.

"It's simple!" He stares deeply at them, as if to investigate their souls, "One of you soldiers here, just one." He pauses. "If you kill your leader, I will spare the entire group. Does that sound like a good offer?"

His jaw gapes open. "They would never do this to their leader! This isn't even an offer, it's a death sentence!"

"But do they think so?" In shock, he sees his soldiers eye him nervously, fidgeting their rifles.

"No, you won't do that, will you, my comrades? My brothers?"

"So? Who's going to take that step?"

After a long pause, a soldier finally points his rifle at him. "I'm sorry, my leader." He fires a shot at his shoulder.

He falls, crying in agony as the soldier who shot him now stands towering above him as the others cower in fear.

"Brother, do you have no loyalty?" he asks, but is only responded by another shot, this time to the thigh.

"I must do what I must do for my comrades, dear leader. I'm sorry." He points his rifle at his forehead.

"Brother..." he cries in agony.

"Do not worry for me. Life must go on, after all."

Bang.

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