Battle of Haibi Chapter 23
Previous: Battle of Haibi Chapter 22: どっしやっみない
Chapter 23: Survivors
"RADIO FAULT" blinks at the bottom of her field of vision.
"Damn, you!" somebody cries, "It was supposed to be safe in here!"
Roku struggles to her feet, scrambling over the humanity laced wreckage. Still almost blind, it takes her a couple of minutes to realize that the Defense Tower's shell is still intact. Overhead, the sky is open, and she can see batwings circling and chompers hungry for targets. Below, she can hear hundreds of people crying in agony in the shattered garden decks.
I must defend them.
She grabs her rifle and heads towards the nearest window, a third floor window, she discerns, leaving behind the wreck of the turret.
"You coward! Don't leave us!" people around her desperately scream.
I wish I could explain. Even if my radio worked, I could not. I must not draw fire to this Tower. I must get outside before I can shoot. I wish you could understand battle. I wish you could understand that I'm doing my best to protect you.
She jumps from the window, lofting her rifle so that she may beat it to the ground and go into a roll. She lands in a tree, the branches braking her fall. Getting up, and finding her rifle, surprise greets her.
The tower exterior has suffered no damage. Apparently all enemy fire hit the roof alone. Looking up, she can see the enemy firing upon the aqueduct, the large canal which routes the river from one side of Haibi, around the central basin, to the other. When it goes, the whole town will be flooded in mud and debris, with only the Central Tower being possibly high enough for its peak to show.
"Come with me to the Well of Flight, Defender," a voice insists behind her.
She turns to see Shinzoo, the new caretaker of the birds, and suddenly wonders how the two who were in the aviary are doing. He brushes the snow she knocked out of the tree from his hood and shoulders. A couple dozen people are standing with him, many shivering, one with a small camera. She can't identify herself to him, and it eats at her soul that she can't go with him. She would draw attention to them.
She offers her rifle.
"No, sir," he says, holding his hands up, "I have no idea how to use this."
She holds up one finger. He takes the rifle so that she can begin signing in Toganese.
It was a long, and very rapid speech. Shinzoo looks over to the lady with the camera, and she points it at the Defender's hands.
"I can't understand," Shinzoo weeps, "But we must get going now." The young doctor offers the rifle back. She takes it and starts running away back into town.
The lady with the camera was only ready to record the last few seconds of the mysterious Defender's message.
Roku knows what she has to do. The bird lands on her shoulder. His jet-black feathers glisten in the grim light of the battle. He shimmers, and for a moment, looks to her so bright as to be almost like a dove. As he turns dark again, Roku realizes that her Washi mask had just scanned him in ultraviolet, where the slightest tinge of indigo shines as bright as day.
The crow is part of the plan. He begins to rigorously preen his wings, his feathers still mangled from when she threw him out of the turret just before it got hit.
She looks about, few Defenders remain. Mortars are deployed, but abandoned. Even if they have ammo, they have no orders. Haibi has ceased to exist ... except as the automated systems in the Central Tower and the wall. She wants to fly, but the enemy controls the air and would easily spot her. With her weakened vision, it is unlikely she could compensate. She walks.
Samurai soon realized that the aqueduct was indefensible. Only a handful of buildings were outside the flood zone, and one of them was Western University. The birds. He pulls his flyer into the air and puts his sword in his scabbard, relying on his rifle to defend himself as he travels.
He arrives, to find the place deserted, except for treasure-hunting Maggots and Imps, easily dispatched by several methods at his disposal. After stowing his glider, he draws his sword. The Western University's entrance is from the south, and he heads north towards the north wing, at the west end of which is the aviary. As though to emphasis that his location is obvious, a batwing launches a fireball at him, but it is panicky and goes low. Instead of reaching him, it strikes the top of the campus' north wall, most of which collapses and crushes the aviary, somehow leaving the north wing itself mostly intact.
After a few more slashings, the hellspawn retreat from him, and he raises his rifle to bullseye two batwings overhead, along with three chompers. Sure now that he can get away undetected (with his glowing sword holstered, of course), he does, slipping over a small bridge into the tall grass and sparse trees beyond, where Sector Five's mortars lie in ruins.
It is once there he stops, and realizes that the birds were not in the aviary. He plays back his mask recording to make sure. Then, he realizes that all he can do is pray for a miracle.
Roku watches the enemy ground forces concentrate on destroying the wall itself, while the air forces concentrate on the northern dyke of the aqueduct. It is slow work. She climbs the steps of the Central Tower along the west side, and enters in the seventh floor, the very top where the steps are the steepest. She proceeds to lock down all the stoneleaf books. They glow no more, never to reveal their secrets to the enemy. They must never know how close we were to winning without the Saviour's help, but by their own casualties.
She goes again back to the outer stair on the side of the building, descends one level to a training deck. She secures the big stoneforged door to the opening beside the outside stairs, then pulls out her tablet computer. This is one tough little machine. She sits down on the floor and starts teaching it how to recognize the crow's strange variation of Toganese sign language, one that splits each Toganese gesture into two that the crow may sign.
She knows what she has to do, now. The Saviour's plan wasn't anything like what she thought. Then again, neither was the enemy's. They were expected to begin their strike in about two hours, at daybreak.
She's taught the computer the basic two gesture rule of crowfoot Toganese, then signs to the crow the first seven Toganese letters, then, "It must learn by example." She gestures for the crow to stand on it.
The crow shakes his head, then extends his left wing. He folds it back up, then signs with his feet, "It'll know that crows are smart. We can't have that."
"Haibi is gone," she gestures slowly, "I'll hide this tablet really well, so it will be impossible to find without the Saviour's help." She flips her hood back, then lifts her mask. With a smile, she opens her mouth to speak, then closes it. She signs, "If anyone overhears, they'll wonder who I'm talking to." She adds, "Bird Seventeen, you know how we guard the secrets of the Toga. I will do more more to safeguard you, not less. This mode is not accessible without the password, and I've called it lizard mode."
The bird turns its head sideways, fluffs out its feathers, then shudders much as a wet dog would. She can tell from the look in the crow's eye, this must be how they laugh. He adopts a serious pose, then signs, "Ashfeather Six, I trust you." He hops onto the tablet and, as each Toganese character appears, teaches it the pair of gestures used to form it with crow's, or rather, lizard's feet.
"Saviour... Father," Roku whispers, "Show me how to do this. Haibi must last until your light arrives." She settles down to her knees, rests her elbows on the floor and her face in her hand and sobs, "We must have a remnant left ... please Father, have enough grace for a few dozen, a few hundred who can survive ... otherwise what's the point?"
Next: Battle of Haibi Chapter 24: The Longest Night