Description: Despite successfully destroying the power plant, the NOL commander in charge of the assault is left with more questions than answers as the Dragon seems to have outplayed her opponents yet again.
The life of an officer in the Libarium is something of a double-edged sword. There's plenty of prestige to be had for those competent enough to warrant the rank and with that recognition comes further opportunities and perks. Many officers are also members of the Duodecim, the twelve houses that represent it founding members and the de facto nobility within its social ecosystem, adding the perks of wealth and fame atop their already generous advantages. Luxurious offices, the freedom to act on their own initiative, and getting to foist all of the menial chores off onto your subordinates to name but a few. That last one is a particular favorite.
Of course, to whom much is given, much is required or so goes the old adage. While Katarina has never put much stock into religions or their fairy tales about the origins of reality, there are a few tidbits of actual wisdom to be plucked from among the barbaric babblings of ancient sages.
The sheer amount of bureaucratic red tape foisted upon those in positions of command would crush the willpower of anyone without the stalwart soul of a noble. Then there are the endless tides of complaints and incidents from those under one's command to deal with, most of which boil down to little more than childish whining and bickering. Many days she feels more like a grade school counselor than a military commander. And that doesn't even begin to touch upon the sheer amount of incompetence that manages to slip its way through the recruitment process.
Of course, there are the more serious downsides. The hammer of responsibility often falls first on the leadership when things go wrong, a particularly unpleasant aspect of command when half of your subordinates seem to need help tying their shoes in the morning. Every action one takes is often dissected underneath a microscope as rivals, and sometimes even one's superiors, look to undermine one's hard-won position search for anything that might be used for political gain. Having one's entire career up-ended by a single careless statement is a very real and ever-present threat.
And, like today, there is also the occasional need to leave the comfortable confines of one's office and suffer in the field alongside the grunts.
Katarina lets out a soft sigh of annoyance for what must be the tenth time in the past fifteen minutes. Half a dozen figures turn their heads to glance at her furtively, unsure if this particular display of irritation will result in anything that might affect them directly, but the lieutenant keeps her attention focused on the shimmering display that takes up the surface of her large desk and they quickly return to their work.
The command tent for today's combat operation had been set up in the shade of a large skyscraper, a bank or some such located several miles away from the actual fighting. The destruction wrought upon the forces that assaulted the casino has made it clear that the Dragon is both smart enough and well-prepared enough to target officers and Katarina has no intention of allowing a repeat of that foolish captain's folly play out on her watch. But, while she is reasonably certain that her position is well defended against surprise attacks, there is little that can be done to shield her from the oppressive humidity that grips the city.
Even divested of her bulky greatcoat, the small woman is practically drenched with sweat, her expensive dress uniform matted down against her back and chest. It isn't the pleasant sort of sweat either, that earned from a long jog or an intense sparring session. This is a sticky and disgusting film of tenacious moisture that somehow manages to make the heat even worse rather than offering a cool bit of refreshment.
On top of that thoroughly unpleasant aspect, there is the omnipresent stench of death and decay that lingers in the air. Perhaps not an unreasonable side-effect of the carnage that has been visited upon the city but that already foul stench on top of the crushing heat has combined into a truly vile miasma that makes the atmosphere a cloying blanket of awfulness. Several burners full of incense are scattered about the tent in an effort to stave off the worst of the putrid fragrance but adding potpourri to a stew full of rotten meat mostly just gets you lemon-scented decay.
Katarina holds a half empty cup of mint tea close to her face, idly clinging to the false hope that the hot fumes will drown out the worst of the smells. Fortunately, most of her attention is being held captive by something far more powerful than mundane odors. The World-Song chirps and hums in a near constant drone of beautiful music in the back of her mind as the conflict plays out in miniature replica upon the wide magical display in front of her. A near perfect copy of the power plant viewed from above shows the state of the battle, each side's forces represented by small motes of colored light.
For nearly an hour now, neither of those forces have made much in the way of movement. The initial approach to the power plant's front gate had been the most dramatic exchange between the entrenched mercenaries and the Libararium's mage corp. Katarina had expected them to put up solid resistance but the sheer level of entrenchment went far beyond what was reasonable. At least fifty soldiers had to be stationed there, each of them armed for war. Heavy machine-gun emplacements were positioned with commanding overwatch to any of the obvious approaches while small watch towers offered defensible fortifications for snipers to keep guard over their flanks. The front line combatants were likewise well protected behind the hastily built concrete walls and pillboxes littered throughout the front yard.
An attempt had been made to simply overwhelm the defenders with raw aggression. Mages projecting powerful shields took the vanguard, providing cover to those who came behind, ready to lob deadly fireballs and bolts of lightning into the mundane soldier's ranks. However, this was quickly stymied as mortar shells began to rain down from above, bypassing the mystical defenses entirely to assault those attempting to hide behind the walls of power.
A second assault thought to counter this tactic by adding more shields to the mix, offering protection both forward and above, only to discover that the grounds around the plant had been seeded with land mines. Once more they were forced to retreat or else suffer considerable losses. It had been an easy matter to bombard the streets with magic to clear the mines away from safety but that took time and further drained their mages' stamina.
That isn't to say that their efforts have been completely in vain. Several of the attackers had managed to lob explosive magic into the ranks of the Dragon's soldiers before being forced to fall back. The heavy armor each of the mercenaries wore seemed to protect them from outright death but there were noticeably fewer of them standing in their bunkers now than when the conflict first began.
And with every person that falls beneath the chattering onslaught of gunfire or the cacophonous blasts of arcane power the World-Song grows all the more beautiful. Despite her constant displeased sighing, Katarina's eyes are faintly glazed over as she wallows in the ecstasy of the music the artifact weaves through her soul. Such pure notes have not graced her for such an extended period since the first days of taking possession of the corrupted heirloom. Under normal circumstance, she spends most day struggling to contain a steadily growing madness, an intense desire to inflict pain and misery upon those around her so that she might briefly savor those enrapturing chords. Ironically, she now finds herself struggling to remain in control of her sanity, fighting off a compulsion to abandon herself completely, to draw her blades and dance a waltz of murderous glee to the tune of the cursed song.
Katarina blinks as she realizes that someone is speaking to her. Slowly, her mind pulls away from the dangerous precipice and returns to the present. She sighs again, hoping the annoyance she feels at being forced to experience the unpleasantness of her current surroundings once again will cover up the fact that she had drifted dangerously close to losing control. It works. The soldier takes an instinctive step back, straightening up into a stiff stance of attention while everyone else in the room suddenly tries to look very busy with their work.
"What is it?"
The man, a corporal judging by the rank insignia, clears his throat and offers her a quick salute.
"We've just received word from the Mishima Corporation. They report that they have lost contact with the team they sent to infiltrate the facility."
Katarina's already foul mood sours considerably at that news. She had been hoping that this stalemate might be broken by a successful bit of espionage. Once the plant was destroyed, there would be no need for the mercenaries to defend it nor any reason for the NOL to continue wasting time and resources attacking. Now it seems like she's going to be stuck here even longer.
Maintaining a solid grip on her composure, the scion takes a slow sip from her tea and savors the delicious beverage for several seconds.
"And what of the second team? I believe there were two commando operations planned."
The messenger nods and glances at a small data slate tucked into the crook of an arm.
"Yes, ma'am. A mercenary by the name of Zach Glenn volunteered his team for the task. Unfortunately, we haven't heard back from them eit-"
The report is cut short as a thunderous explosion drowns out all noise for several seconds. Even this far away, the shockwave of raw sound is deafening and several members of the command team flinch in surprise, hands flying up to cover their ears. With her hands occupied, Katarina isn't lucky enough to have that luxury, instead catching the full brunt of the audial assault as she staggers sideways. A loud solid ringing drone replaces the ear-splitting roar once the blast dies out leaving her temporarily deaf and disoriented.
Once her wits return, she realizes that the corporal is holding onto her, speaking with a worried look on his face. The sharp squeal in her ears makes it impossible to tell what he's saying, not that she cares. Scowling in annoyance, Katarina bats his hand away and wobbles towards the entrance of the tent unsteadily. Stepping out of the faint protection offered by the tent's cloud of incense nearly makes her gag as the intensity of the disgusting fetor ratchets up to eleven. Gritting her teeth, the lieutenant calls upon her magic and takes to the air, floating straight upwards until she crests the top of the surrounding buildings to get a direct view of the power plant.
Thick black smoke billows from a gaping hole in one of the trio of boilers, spilling into the air like lifeblood from an open wound. Flames are already beginning to spread from site of the explosion into other parts of the facility, dancing gleefully through the interconnected complex. Drawing a circle in the air, the mage conjures up a simple augury spell, creating what is in essence a magnifying lens. The distant facility grows sharper and larger in her eyes and she turns her attention towards the defenders, who seem disoriented and stunned by the sudden blast. Already they seem to be on the retreat, quickly abandoning their defensive positions while dragging those unable to walk on their own behind them.
"I guess that second team came through," she muses. "Now all we have to do is cut off their retreat."
Katarina's enhanced vision swings down to the assembled NOL forces. Surprise and anger quickly boil up inside of her as she sees the idiots preparing to go charging in, clearly hungry to give chase and rout their foes. She practically slaps at the side of her head, activating the magical intercom attached to one ear. After a couple of seconds the channel opens and she's greeted with the sound of an annoyingly enthusiastic officer.
"Hah! Did you see that, commander? We've got them on the run now! Don't worry, we'll run those bastards do-"
The teenager screams into the microphone, her cantankerous mood breaching through her usual veil of intense decorum. The fury in her voice slices through the jubilant boasting like a knife, cutting the field commander off mid-word. Grinding her teeth, Katarina takes a deep breath to calm herself and continues, her tone smoothing out to its usual soft and composed quality.
"You will fall back immediately. There is no way for us to tell what sort of traps may have been laid within that facility and the risk of secondary explosions is too great."
A frustrated noise grates against her ear as the man responds with obvious disgust.
"But commander! Are we to simply let these dogs slip away? They will surely go and reinforce the Dragon's fortress if allowed to escape."
"I never said we would be giving them the chance to escape," Katarina counters. "Dispatch teams to surround the plant. Give it a wide berth, there may be more mines seeded in the perimeter. Eventually, they will have to emerge into the open and we will be there to catch them. This time they won't have all of their fancy toys to protect them."
There is a pause as the soldier considers this but he quickly responds in the affirmative.
"Very well, commander. It shall be done."
"Say that again?"
Standing in the ruined remains of the power plant's front gate, Katarina does her best to keep her anger in check as her field assistant delivers the news for a second time. The young woman swallows hard but obeys the command.
"There is no sign of the Dragon's forces, ma'am. A thorough sweep of the facility has been conducted but we found no traces other than some abandoned weapons. It's... it's like they vanished into thin air."
The young officer clenches her fingers into tights fists, the soft fabric of her gloves muffling the creak of her protesting joints. There is no such protection for her teeth as she grinds them together audibly in aimless frustration.
How? HOW?! It doesn't make any sense! They had covered every escape route, blocked off every avenue of egress for blocks. Yet not a single one of those damned mercenaries had fallen into their dragnet. At first she had thought they might have done something ridiculous like allow themselves to be destroyed by the self-destructing facility rather than be captured but there are no bodies to be found anywhere. Surely they can't have teleported away. Such magic is nigh impossible even for the most skilled of mages and there are no reports of anyone skilled in the arts within the Dragon's ranks.
"There is... um, other news to report on, ma'am."
Katarina sighs, closing her eyes and rubbing at the side of her temple to try and alleviate the growing headache forming there.
"We discovered the bodies of the Mishima infiltration team," the aide says, looking down at the pad in her hand. "All dead. One had his neck broken and the others were, and I quote, 'turned into Pez dispensers'."
The noble winces at the unpleasant imagery evoked by that colorful description. More importantly, it raises the question of how they managed to successfully complete their mission if they were all slaughtered. Maybe they planted the charges and were caught on the way out, detonating them before they were cut down? Possible, she supposes, but that's pure speculation.
"And the other team? What of them?"
The aide checks her notes again.
"Aborted their mission. The leader reports that they were caught in some sort of a trap, as if they were expected. He was forced to fight against a knife-wielding woman believed to be named Zhenya but had to retreat. They were unable to place their charges. However, there is a note here that says the tunnels beneath the plant were already rigged with explosives when they arrived."
That gets her attention. Katarina's eyebrows rise in surprise at this news then quickly furrow as she considers the implications. A booby trap? A final bit of defiance meant to catch the NOL unaware as they claimed the facility? But that would mean that the Dragon had intended to lose the fight all along. No, she could have simply been preparing for any eventuality, though it seems suspect that she would fill her own defensive position with volatile explosives when her foe commands highly destructive magic. She sighs in disgust, now more confused than ever.
The aide double checks her notes then shakes her head.
"Just information on the damage caused to the facility, ma'am. That initial explosion torn apart the western boiler and the fires that spread eventually caused secondary blasts in the other boilers. This plant won't be providing power to anyone for a long time."
Katarina nods and shoos the woman away, striding deeper into the burned out yard to gather her thoughts. There's that, at least. While she might have allowed the Dragon's forces to slip out from under her nose, something she will no doubt be reminded of endlessly for the next few days, the primary objective has been completed. All that remains is to launch the final assault on the casino and erase that eye-sore from Southtown's surface.
The fact that all of the evidence is pointing towards the mercenary having sabotaged the plant on her own raises several red flags. What could she possibly have hoped to accomplish by forcing this fight if she planned to cut and run from the start? Neither side had lost any significant amount of forces. The NOL hadn't been forced to expend any valuable resources other than time. Was Kira simply trying to delay them? If so, why?
No answers step forward to provide themselves to her. Frowning, Katarina floats lazily up into the sky and turns her gaze towards the distant fortress-casino. The massive dragon sprawled atop its roof gazes back, its lazy smile seeming to taunt her with some hidden knowledge.
"What are you up to, snake," she whispers, receiving no reply except that infuriatingly inanimate smirk.
Log created on 14:54:38 06/23/2020 by Katarina, and last modified on 15:01:44 06/23/2020.