The dimly lit office and myself were illuminated with a sickly yellow hue coming from the flickering oil lamp. It was unusually quiet inside the Army's block despite the onslaught of wind that raged outside. However, this is not a coincidence but a customized design to prevent any information from leaking to the outside.
The silence was then interrupted by two heavy firm knocks on my office's mahogany door.
"Reporting. Sir Avil Novak from the Kisosky Infantry Division, '' the source of the knocks affirmed his identity.
"Go on," I permitted his entry.
Entering the scene was the rumored lone soldier, Avil Novak who was bathed in the lurid smell of blood and nicotine, not quite uncommon given the place we're in. His face looked dull, lacking any emotions or care. But there was this bluish bruise on his left cheek. Must've been from another scuffle with either the prisoners or his fellow soldiers.
"Greetings to Lieutenant General Fregor Morske. I have been dispatched to interrogate the spy and have obtained vital information with regards to their planned attack on our Western territory." With one arm behind his back, Avil Novak saluted me with a perfect posture, giving away nothing behind his pale mask.
I served the army for 20 years and despite my weakening body, my observational skills have become sharper than ever. And this mind of mine is telling me to be wary of this man. For he has a secret.
And he has kept it well hidden.
"Impressive as always, Novak," I commended his efforts, keeping a close eye for any movements. He seems to have come from a scene that agitated him enough to shoot, as shown by the slight traces of gunpowder on his right sleeve.
"Thank you, Lieutenant Morske," Novak said dispassionately, in his straight posture, bowing his head slightly in gratitude before placing the spy's badges and dog tag on my table discreetly.
"You have quite the talent. It's a shame given your shooting capability and excellent intel-gathering skills, you would have been assigned to the 85th Intelligence Battalion," Lieutenant Morske sighed.
Upon hearing the 85th Intelligence Battalion, Novak's face twitched slightly and quickly returned to his unmoving mask. Assuming that I didn't notice his sudden change, I continued. "You weren't as alone then, as you are now, aren't you?"
The corners of his lips twitched in agitation.
"Yes, if I remembered correctly, you had a twin sis-"
"I am honored by your high evaluation and care for me, Lieutenant General Morske," Novak courteously humbled himself as he handed over his report and smoothly ended my prodding. This information better be worth cutting me off.
The piece of paper saved his neck as it held crucial information he got from the spy regarding the enemy's movements in the West. and Lo and Behold: A siege formed by 800,000 men from the enemy Republic neared the coast of the Capital City of the Empire and a sudden alliance between the Eastern Coalition and the Republic. This will truly influence the already intense battle at the Meldren Theatre. I can't help but ponder how he got this information out of the rigid Republican spy's mouth. He must've done something inhumane, again.
The Republic is the enemy of our homeland, and with their forged alliance with the East having been finalized, I predict the possibility of an all-out attack on both our fronts. It was terrible news that needed to be relayed to the Main Headquarters immediately.
Novak knew what was going to happen soon. He and I knew that no matter how good our technology is or how massively skillful our soldiers are, the fact that two countries from both sides were closing in, ultimately spells our doom when handled the wrong way.
And I won't handle it the wrong way, hopefully, this man before me will do the same.
"You're dismissed," Lieutenant Morske ordered before tapping on a secured line to the headquarters.
"We'll await your order, Lieutenant Morske," Novak saluted me again as he turned to leave. My curiosity got the better of me.
"Just what did you do, Sir Novak, to get this information?"
Novak paused before answering, "Did you know, Lieutenant, not far from here there was a wolf that got eaten by a vulture because it cannot leave its own newly-born pups behind."
This was sudden. Is it another way to distract me?
Fine. I’ll go along with your ploy for now, Novak. “What was a vulture doing in this weather?”
Also, there was still something in his words that made me want to humor him a little bit.
“The wolf foolishly tried to play dead while shielding her pups. It was a rather heartwarming sight, Lieutenant,” Novak peered to the side as though reminiscing.
“Vultures are intelligent scavengers that sense death and when they do, they will never leave it out of sight. They will follow it, they will wait patiently for it, until it takes its last breath.”
“The war must’ve taken a toll on you, Novak. A vulture eating the wolf is simply the law of the jungle. Don’t worry too much about it.”
Is he threatening me? Insinuating that he’s awaiting my death?
I had to stop Novak from going further, as he was growing unnerved. He didn’t notice the way his eyes which were normally blank, now burned in a sort of tangled emotions of fascination and agitation, his voice turned grim.
“I’d like to think Vultures are righteous animals. They never attack living creatures. However, the Vulture I saw during the hike knew that the wolf was not dying.”
Tick… Tick… Tick...
“...Was it not?”
“No, Lieutenant. This vulture had another plan,” Novak turned sharply towards me and took a few silent steps forward.
Who knew that the sound of the pendulum on my desk could sound so slow and deafening. As though it was a ticking time bomb. It was almost a frightening sound.
“Did it..”, gulp, “kill the wolf for its own sake?” Now my heart beated louder than that of the pendulum.
The room fell into an uneasy silence as I dreadfully awaited his answer.
“No. Of course not, Lieutenant,” Novak gave a crazed smile. “The vulture ended the mother wolf’s suffering and the pups’ starvation.”
“Look, Novak,” I took off my glasses. “You’ve done great service to this country, but If you want to kill me, do it after we’ve saved the Empire.”
Novak seemed bewildered. “I apologize if you’ve misunderstood me Lieutenant. But I was only answering how I handled the spy.”
We had a moment of silence before I breathed a sigh of relief and even let out a strained snigger. How idiotic of me. It was obviously an analogy, a chilling and cynical one at that.
I couldn’t help but let out a heavy blow at the thought, knowing how interrogating spies can be a lot of dirty work. This man truly is loyal to the country to go so far as to throw his humanity away.
Perhaps Novak's outstanding talent on the front hid his destructive tendencies.
"I'll be taking my leave then, Lieutenant General. May God bring prosperity to the Empire."
But before he even finished his courtesy, he paused for a moment. It might have been the first time I saw him with an uneasy expression but before I could ask him. Suddenly , I see him rushing towards me. Pushing me out the window and before I knew it, a flash of light entered my vision followed by a roaring blast that blurred the balance between my senses. Gasping heavily, my lungs burned for oxygen as I frantically clutched my chest.
Soon a deafening ring rumbled against my aged hearing, vision still blurred and the only thing that I was facing were the stars who looked down on me with a twinkling irony as the building beside us was engulfed in flames.
I got a bad feeling about this, it might even be on par with my pissing scene yesterday.
We overheard some of the troopers talking about Hanes' lady and the bombing of the Lieutenant’s office. Apparently, the dark-haired lady was seen being dragged before by Sir Novak with his two other men to somewhere deserted for interrogation purposes, they said. Hearing this must have been alarming for Sir Hanes because his face began to turn awfully pale, fully displaying his irrefutable unease.
"Hey, uhm, they might be talking about a different woman-"
Without any hesitation, he bolted towards the troop members who were talking. Feeling that there was something bad about to happen, I followed him as well.
They pointed us to this empty shack, where prisoners holding important information were taken in for torture. So, why was Hanes' woman here? With Novak and his men? I've heard rumors that Novak was also a manwhore, fucking every woman that piques his interests then kills them brutally— even to the point of disfiguring their faces.
A literal Lady Killer, that crazy motherfucker’s got some fucked up kink.
Hanes pounded and kicked the metal door out of its frame. And within the darkroom, was a lean figure standing with his back facing against us, smelling of smoke, blood, and fresh gunpowder. He still had a cast on his right hand that normally held his cigar. Whilst in front of him was a pool of blood coming from the slender dark-haired brunette, her face disfigured. The other person was chained to a chair and lacked any resemblance to a human being as his skin was methodically peeled off, punctured where tissues and flesh burst out. Its fingers were missing and some of the surviving ones were bent unnaturally backward.
Two men were buckling their belts and zipping their pants close as they left the shack grumbling about not getting their turn. Hanes clutched his fists as he stood beside me and saw the scene.
"Sir Novak?" I called out.
Novak remained silent and reached for his lighter and cigar in his breast pocket.
"...What did you do to my Griselle, Novak?" Hanes' voice almost cracked as he asked withholding his anger, anguish, and fear.
"Shot 'er," he let out a curt confession, still facing the shadows with his back against us, and started to light his cigarette.
"You sure do make weird jokes, don't you, Sir Novak?" I asked incredulously, trying to lighten the tense atmosphere.
"What..." Hanes was dumbfounded by the sudden realization: the report about the successful interrogation of the spy and Grisella missing from her cell. It clicked. She was the —!
Hanes dashed towards Novak, grabbing him by the collar. Novak dropped his lighter and packet of cigs as it skid across the room towards me. I mindlessly picked it up as I watched the intense confrontation between them.
"What the fuck did you do Novak!?"
"For our motherland, Hanes," Novak gave an empty smile but did not struggle from the sudden reproach.
"What do you mean?!" Hanes exploded, shaking Novak's small frame like a rag doll, vehemently appealing for an explanation.
"That lass and her father were spies eliciting our information to the Republicans and were holding important information that may save our country. And to make the wolf spill I gotta point a gun at their pup, you see?" Novak exhaustedly recited as if he already knew what was going to happen.
"..." Hanes' face paled as blood rushed to his fists.
"But don't worry. I gave it some mercy," Novak's twisted reasoning ran shivers down my spine.
"...You gave it mercy? Mercy!?" The built-up anger was threatening to burst from Hanes.
"She was fucking raped by those scumbags! You let them rape her!"
"And? Weren't you planning to do the same?" Novak scoffed. "As long as that lass is in this place. She is seen as no better than a breeding horse."
Hanes' eyes widened and slammed Novak's small frame to the wall. He raised his arm and began to pummel Novak. Novak neither fought back nor tried to protect himself. He just stared back at him with an unreadable expression. Is he sorry? Is he feeling remorse? Or is he as depraved as the rumors say? I had no say in this situation, as I was just a bystander, seeing the shocking events unfold.
After a ceaseless triad of punches from Hanes, the bloodied Novak finally spoke, his crooked and unfeeling gaze never left his face.
"Your anger is misplaced, Hanes. Choose. The lives of thousands of our soldiers or that lassie, whom you just met?"
"But why kill her Novak!? Why?! You knew I loved her!"
"If I didn't, who would? Will those scumbags kill her without fucking her first?"
Both Novak and Hanes fell into a stand-still, nobody dared to move or rebuke Novak’s comment. Everybody in the room knew that having a lover—much less a prisoner of war was doomed to be a curse.
"You—" Novak began to push back, causing Hanes to stumble backward, landing onto the cold uneven pavement.
"—no, everyone knows I was chosen for this task because you need someone like me. You need someone who will dirty their hands just to get the fucking clean freedom you greenhorn soldiers brag about. Loyalty? Dignity? Honor?" he spat.
"Fuck, that ain't enough to stop the enemies from fucking your mother, sister nor your land!" He continued with a thunderous reply.
"...." Hanes remained unable to reply with his mouth agape.
"If you understand even a little bit then keep your fuckin’ trap shut and your hands clean, while you let me do the dirty work, okay boy?" Novak glared down at Hanes as if he was just a child.
After Novak dusted himself off, he reached out a hand towards me. I switched between gawking at his outstretched roughened hand and looking at the still fallen Hanes. I realized after a few seconds that he was asking for his cigarette back.
Hanes got up not before giving Novak the look—that I don't want on me— and then stormed off. I soon followed after him, leaving the dark-haired man with the scent of strong tobacco lingering on his clothes alone with the silent yet lingering echo of pleas of the woman he just killed.
"Hmph," Novak nonchalantly wiped the blood from his cut lip and aligned his broken nose, as he fixed his uniform and inhaled his cigarette.
"Fucking hell, that hurt like a bitch," he hissed.