FHD Remix Chapter 44

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Previous: FHD Remix Chapter 43: Homes for the Toga; Growing in the Garden

Chapter 44: Battle of the Great Gate

"Tatakai," she says softly, "It's time." The halo over her head flickers like a flourescent bulb about to go out.

Tatakai turns around from her cooking. She takes the pot of the already overdone rice from the heat and walks over to her friend Menmo, who looks sad, reflective.

She rushes to her friend and stoops, wiping the brown strands of hair from her tear-filled eyes, "Menmo, what's wrong?" Tatakai pleads.

"Nothing," Menmo says, "My Flight's in three hours and I can't be late. I can only tell one person."

"Oh," Tatakai sighs, then wraps her arms around her friend, the first person she saw after emerging into her new world, "I'm going to miss you," she sobs, "I wish we could have one more song together."

Menmo returns the embrace, "I wish I could stay longer, but he says the sudden shock of these things is needed to remind us to make the most of every moment we have," she sobs, "We just won't work hard enough if we know how long."

"Oh, Menmo," Tatakai cries, "We'll all miss you. You've grown so wise in your time here as a haibane. You might be the wisest of us all."

"Thank you," she answers. She pulls gently away from the embrace so she can look Tatakai in the eyes. "I'm glad it was you. I'm glad you were the person I found to tell of this. You are better than the rest of us at taking big news and sharing it with others. I'm sorry it has to be like this."

"I'm not," Tatakai answers, "You're right. We'd never reach our full potential if we knew how long we had." She smiles, "It'll hit me harder when I don't hear you play tomorrow morning."

Menmo smiles, happy that she's been able to hear such a specific statement of how much value she is to Old Home.

"Better get going," Tatakai says, "You don't want to be late for your Flight."

Tatakai watches until she disappears over the Hill of Winds. Once Menmo is out of sight she sprints from her house in the North Nest, waking the four Toga living with her, into the East Tower of Old Home

"Kurai!" she cries, "Kurai, I need your help!"

Kurai spins about from her role fixing breakfast. So does Yaiba, Bob, Gibson and Helen's mother.

"It's Menmo's Day of Flight," she cheers through her tears, "Please help me rig the clock to ring continuously. We have very little time."

"It's the morning!" one of the groggy Young Feathers croaks from his pyjamas while unscrewing an eyeball with his knuckle, "Don't these things happen at night when everybody can see them?"

Shimoni comes to in her bed, slowly orients herself. The dream of her, as Helen Ochreby working on the enormous circulation fan on Mars, leaves her mind very slowly. She realizes that her alarm is not ringing, and the room is brighter than it should be. In the distance, the bells of Kana's clock chime.

She slept in.

"Oh, crap! Yurushi!" she calls, "We're late for work!"

Yurushi's gone. He left a note: <Shimoni, don't worry about sleeping in. Our irrigator will be done by the time you come by to water our garden. As we explained, all you'll need to do is fill the tower Hubert and Helen built. The pipes will do the rest. Yurushi>

The clock is still ringing. <That's odd. If Kana's clock malfunctioned, they'd have shut it down faster than this. It's been a whole, what four minutes? I mean, unless somebody deliber->

She rushes outside. All twenty-two of the newborn Toga, who have carefully painted grey feathers onto their wooden wings, stare off into the southwest. The trees of the Western Woods. She walks up to the fairly sizable crowd at the edge of the garden.

At Abandoned Factory, Chishio and Shijima head to the outside table to enjoy their breakfast.

"That clock is still ringing," she moans, "Tatakai said that only for a Day of F-"

They see it.

Chishio gasps, "Seriously, look at that!"

A brilliant vertical beam of light splits the cloudless blue western sky like an axe through the dryest of logs. Opposite the rising sun, buildings and people cast a second shadow, and stop to see the brilliance. Soon the beam divides into several, and the pattern slowly rotates about its source on the ground.

"Roll call!" Shijima screams.

The stately beams glisten in the sky for a full ten minutes before, just as suddenly as they appeared, they vanish, and all of Glie dims slightly. Everyone and every thing casts just one shadow towards the northwest. Menmo is gone, and all Old Home cries for her.

As winter approaches, normal precipitation patterns do not, and even as the sun climbs to a lower zenith each day, summer-like weather perseveres. Old Home seems colder without Menmo, but the displaced human parents more than take up her slack in looking after the Young Feathers. The first evening was lightened by the comical failure of the first Y-fitting on Yurushi's irrigation system before Shimoni had even finished filling the tank. Helen had the foresight to put a valve on the siphon to let in air and stop the flow before it flooded the corner of the garden where the break occurred. She had an elegant way of starting it again that everyone was surprised at. She took the loose end of the hose leading to the Y-fitting, filled it up with water from a bucket, which rested in the sag between her and the tank. She screwed the next length back on, lifted it up over her head for just a moment, and then set it back down. Moments later, as a few bubbles rose to the top of the open tank, the water started squirting out of all those painstakingly perforated pipes to water the entire garden at once. Even Shimoni, the one who could emit water from her hands at will, was impressed by the ingenuity of the three children.

This day, past the autumn equinox already, the crane rolls slowly down the Hill of Winds, having just replaced the last turbine generator. No longer a diesel-electric crane, but merely an electrical one, Shimoni doubts the town will ever see another drop of liquid fuel.

The twenty-two Toga, with notebooks like Helen's, hire themselves out as engines, replacing the many dead tractors and other machines. Four worked at Abandoned Factory for several weeks, building the twelve sturdy pedal-quads that they use. With their low gear ratio they go at the pace of a funeral march, but they can keep up that pace all day with a three tonne trailer going uphill. In this way four of the windmill generators were taken to Hubert's metal shop and back. While going downhill, they clutched the pedal shaft into a small generator of Shimoni's design. Thus a discharged battery was taken out of Glie's grid, and at the end of the day returned fully charged; the Toga were not only helping to move stuff around, they were helping keep the Glie-jin warm at night.

Shijima and Chishio were among UAC's best electronic technologists in their previous lives, so they took to building and recycling the exotic batteries at Abandoned Factory. People with homes they couldn't keep warm over the winter adapted Shimoni's unexciting house design to whatever materials they had available. Tatakai was delighted when she reinvented the lost technology of spray foam insulation, processed with one of Shimoni's chemical recipes from the chaff of the hay fields. Livestock farmers concentrated on breeding more dairy goats, knowing that meat livestock bred for slaughter would have no buyers outside.

Just before the equinox, Jack got the help of a group of Maggots to ship several of Shimoni's sturdy single-charge batteries over the wall to the Beaver Butch, ensuring that they could print new seed instructions. Assured that their surrender would be honored, Tatakai let them through the small South Gate into the wall, where they transformed into Toga, adding fourteen more engines for hire just in time for winter to announce itself with thirty-five centimetres of snow.

Frustrated and bored as ever, with his revenants suffering from some sort of viral osteoporosis, Erebus idly rolls around hailstones that are, to his broad two-and-a-half story frame, the size of softballs. The planet runs out of water, and with his minions no longer able to reliably turn collected precipitation into blood by finding the strange quantum virus that does so, and with much of the grain farming infrastructure destroyed by the earthquake almost two years ago, Earth's hellspawn are dying by the millions. Maledict takes some small comfort that the same must be happening inside Glie, with no rain all summer, a thirsty, starving tinderbox doubtless unable to put out another fire like the one he observed the smoke from earlier that summer.

Catching a crow tearing a tasty piece from a pinky killed in the hailstorm, Erebus storms at him loudly yelling, "Filthy Corvus bastard! Have some respect for the dead!!"

Jack takes off and circles, gizzard satisfied, cawing loudly, wishing he could make known his thoughts, <You have my bones in a bag on your belt, hypocrite. And, I know who my Father is.>

Every Tuesday, the three haibane still gather at the Great Gate in the hour after sunrise, the last vestige of the weekly market. They look like Toga today, save for glowing halos hovering barely over the tops of their hoods. The three usually banter at each other, no longer expectant that the gates will ever open again. This time they trudge in silence over the deep snow, waddling along, dressed appropriately for the forty-below deep freeze that has gripped Glie. An unusually tall heap of snow represents the abandoned cart, still lying where it was left.

Tatakai stops twenty metres short of the gate, and throws one of her little green disks that measure exposure to delta radiation.

Shimoni, holding the binoculars, lets go with one hand and waves the back of it at Tatakai. The disk landed facing away. Tatakai throws another, and Shimoni gives the thumbs up. The disk is only a couple steps away from the gate. After three minutes by her watch, Tatakai taps her shoulder. Shimoni waves her arm in a chopping motion. No delta radiation a couple steps away from the Great Gate. Certainly good news. Inside the wall, the yellows were saturating in ten seconds, and for the first time ever, the moat actually froze over, leaving Tatakai to do her duties on foot. Fortunately, the Saviour showed her where Glie stored flare rifles just for such an occasion. The spectacular little devices worked with a tiny piece of wood and could be recovered and reused. She couldn't see the small cracks any more, but anything big enough for a Maggot or imp to squeeze through, she could find, and it was too cold for Ticks and Trites.

The three, unable to speak and be heard through their scarves and hoods, stood silently, observing that five raven topped the gate. How could they even stand to be out in this weather? Yaiba imagined them huddled together in the trees of the Western Wood, not evenly spaced along the top of the Great Gate at forty-below.

Evenly spaced?

The white wings made the creature incredibly difficult to spot on the snow covered ground. It crawled along the ground. The off-white coveralls masked its body, and the wings masked its legs. About the only thing you could spot was its rifle, and when it shrank to a little dot, you got worried because it was pointed right at you.

As another Cacoe drops out of the sky, the creature cycles the bolt on its rifle, crawling up to the Great Gate from the outside of Glie. It never missed a shot. Despite how primitive the weapon appeared, the first eighty shots were perfect. The first imp to catch sight of it from twelve hundred metres away immediately lost her head. Imps could see into the far infrared with two of their nine eyes. They spotted the creature easily, but around the glare of the hot rifle, they couldn't see the features of the ground in order to locate it!

Erebus was furious. About the only creatures he had that were capable of hitting this pest at such distances were the revenants and the strange guided missiles they somehow controlled by instinct. They were all sick or dying, and therefore unavailable. Now it was cutting down the camp. Somehow it was fast, and he didn't know where it was.

"A featherwing!?" Maledict snorts.

He concludes not on the basis of the creature's appearance, but reports coming from imps desperate to save a hellknight who took a head shot. Just one hit, and the wound burns away any bandages placed over it. The hellknight's veins bulge under pressure and the medics are worried the hapless creature is about to explode. After losing the pulse of the mighty warrior, they run, and their prediction is proved accurate as the hellknight's torso explodes just behind the perimeter ridge of the siege camp.

Erebus makes sure that the bones of the last known and deadliest featherwing are still in the bag on his belt.

If it was a man or a woman, they could not tell, but there was no doubt it was a featherwing when it stood up and flew. Once it landed at the outer Great Gate, it went prone and again vanished against the snow, spitting highly accurate and deadly bullets at the hundreds of creatures now charging it.

Erebus smiles. It might be expensive, but this enemy is doomed. Its back is against the Wall, and there are no reinforcements. Only if Tatakai can somehow learn-

"Tatakai!" The voice emanates from in front of them.

"Menmo!?" she squeaks.

"I hope you're there because if you're not, about four hundred Toga will die in the next few minutes," her voice says from the direction of the gate. "You've always faithfully awaited the Toga this time every week, as futile as it was. I hope you haven't given up, because today, if you have come to wait at the gate despite the cold, this siege will finally end, at least for this winter."

Shimoni jumps up and down.

"Second raven to the right plus one quarter to the third, Mancubus, a platoon commander," she says.

Tatakai raises her hands, and a flash emits through the wall.

The well bundled up monster, about half as tall as Erebus, is hit by the light and flies backwards, sliding on his back, and then tumbling over the camp's perimeter ridge. He smashes three imps and two Maggots who had no idea he was coming. After halting, he doesn't even twitch.

"Ah, crap," Maledict grunts. He looks like a gigantic horned budgie with the tent wrapped around him to keep out the cold. He's having trouble keeping his footing on the huge hailstones, how the snow came down from his vantage point.

Erebus, beside him grunts, "Good news, master, not that we can take advantage of it. We have identified a Toganese convoy, on the route from Quarry Four, five kilometres out and moving fast."

"Cut them off!" Maledict orders, "Do not let them reach Glie!"

At the Great Gate, Menmo, the featherwing, orders through the wall, "Please, the sector between the fourth and fifth ravens. Over fifty Maggots and many wraiths."

The nearest Maggot jumps and is knocked out of the sky by the shockwave of Saviour's light, which cuts down the crowd of hellspawn like a huge scythe.

Menmo knows at least one wraith got around left, can see the tracks. It materializes with a yellow flash but moves so slowly, naked in the cold, that Menmo, unskilled in combat, easily runs it through with her bayonet, then skootches along the gate, knowing that her previous position is now too obvious.

Sensing a Cacoe, high in the distance, aims her rifle aloft, unable to find it over the open sights. She pulls the trigger anyway, sensing an incoming hellknight on her left. After the round leaves the muzzle, she sees it, a speck in the distance hopelessly out of range.

A blue wisp finds the bullet in the sky, and on instructions from the Saviour himself, guides it true to its intended target. Yesu quietly thanks the helpful spirit, and it leaves the projectile half a second before it hits the Cacoe in the opening above its mouth, filling its brains with featherwing poison and dropping its burning carcass onto the Toga convoy below. It lands between the wagon lanes and bursts into cinders.

The hellknights are trying to carpet bomb for Menmo with their green fireballs, unsure of her position, but close. All six drop with one accurate blast from Tatakai, safe behind Glie's wall.

"This is insane," Saboath, inhabiting the last standing Mancubus anywhere in the area, desperately groans into his talking box, "We are taking too many casualties. We should wait until the Toga get closer, mix it up with them, and let that light cut them down along with the rest of us. We can accept the losses if we take the Toga with us into the fire."

"The featherwing is directing Tatakai's attacks. Take him out immediately, or there won't be any point," Erebus orders.

"Understood," Saboath groans, "I no longer have current information on the convoy position. The featherwing shot down my last Cacodemon from four kilometres away."

Erebus tosses his box in frustration, "This one's worse than Jack."

"I'll deal with them myself," Maledict growls, throws off his covering and takes to the sky.

Tatakai continues to obey the steady stream of fire orders coming through the wall. No one inside Glie has any clue of the battle raging just outside the gate. Word is spreading though, not just with the flashing but that the three haibane have been standing there for almost an hour longer than usual.

"Batwing, Batwing!" Menmo desperately cries, "Fourth raven, five-four-zero mils five second beam on my mark."

<Five-four-zero mils?> Tatakai gasps, <Must be elevation but what the heck is a mil?>

The fourth raven jumps off the wall and dives straight down along it. Just eight and a half metres from hitting the ground, it viciously beats its wings, producing a radical change in direction. Instead of tracking the bird, Tatakai marks the spot on the wall where it flapped, and holds her hands ready.

"Please," Yaiba cries, holding up her hands, having watched the poor bird smash into the cart with a bang she could hear through all her head coverings from eighteen metres away. It's a splat mark, severed feathers rolling away in the cold breeze along the base of the wall, pieces of its wings scattered around the cart.

"Mark!" Menmo cries.

Maledict is surprised how close in front of him the beam appears, he can't swerve before he hits it. Betruger's last cry echoes as he passes into the beam, smashed to pieces by the Saviour's light. He couldn't get even one fireball off on the convoy ahead. The spirit senses the world dimly after leaving its shattered host, unsure if it will be able to make it to another one.

The voice of Saboath from the talking box lying in the snow confirms what Erebus just watched through his binoculars, <Maledict is down, Maledict is down. I have no more hellknights, recommend retreat, over.>

Erebus throws the binoculars so hard at the tree to his left that they break the sound barrier. Tiny bits of them fly all over the place, even some pieces missed the tree entirely. Then he picks up his talking box and orders, "Retreat is authorized, but don't cross that convoy's path, Saboath. Take the long way around Glie and stay out of sight of that featherwing."

<Understood, master,> he replies with relief.

"Oh, and Saboath," Erebus says, "Try not to let word of Maledict's demise spread, at least until we can get him back into another host.

<Yes, boss,> he responds crisply.

Sitting down on the uncomfortable hail, several kilometres from a battle scene he doesn't want to watch any more, Erebus sighs to himself, "What an awful day."

Yaiba sighs in relief as the light of healing restores the bird. Blood and feathers back in place, the raven takes off and climbs furiously, away from Tatakai's firing lane until he is above the height of the wall, then returns to his place on the wall as the fourth raven.

<Even if that was my last dive,> thinks Jack as he lands, < It was certainly worth it for a batwing. I wonder if it was Maledict?>

Next: FHD Remix Chapter 45: Market Square

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