Deicidium is a work of fiction that comes with a Content Warning for Violence, Language and Body Horror. This work is not suitable for young readers or the easily disturbed.
Where Erich went, the void had always followed. It was more than just an oppressive weight on his shoulders. Pressing down, compressing his spine with every second, digging into his very soul. A sort of child he had birthed and was expected to carry for life. Always screaming and defecating, never growing up.
So why had it abandoned him today of all days, in this plain room that represented everything he hated?
The windows were facing Erich, as if the whole world was currently judging him. The sun glared at him. Like the gaze of the monarch he had heard so much about. Erich could barely see the backlit outline of the figure behind the desk. Mercifully, a cloud blanketed out the light and he was left staring at the poster on the opposite wall:
SONS & DAUGHTERS OF AVALON
YOUR KING REQUIRES YOUR SERVICE
BECOME A HERO IN HIS ARMY
DEFY THE GODS
The blood red words framed a line of idealistic beautiful soldiers. There was a break in the line, a gap that urged Erich to fill. If he of all people didn’t join this war, the Avalonian people would be worshipping gods like the enemy wanted.
You don’t want me, Erich had thought. I’m a burden.
Erich’s logic on why he would make a poor soldier was well rehearsed by the time the draft officer heard it. During the interview, he had clutched his chair handles like he was about to fall for his life. This would be hist last chance and if he ran, they would throw him in prison. Erich even considered attempting to explain the void to the middle-aged man.
He didn’t. When Erich spoke of his mental state, it was as if he was speaking a foreign language or regurgitating a swarm of bees. Nobody understood it, they would just put distance between themselves and Erich.
Every argument he had spent hours on was caught in his throat. Meaningless under the level stare of the man drafting him. Erich could only muster monosyllabic answers.
‘No’ wouldn’t be enough.
The officer looked him over one more time and brought down the wood-mounted stamp. The thud echoed like the blade of a guillotine. On Erich’s file, boldly in red:
Cleared for active service.
“Welcome to the army.”
“Save it for the enemy, son.”
“I’m going to puke.”
“In the can, please.”
Erich had aimed for the draft officer’s shoes. There was no marksmen credit awarded but instead a reputation. That had been a few months ago and it seemed like a lifetime.
Basic training was no better. His messy hair was sheared off, and they woke him up early every single day. Erich ran daily for what felt like hours. His waistline did shrink ever so slightly, but it was never enough. Erich held a firearm for the first time in his life, they told him how to load, bolt and fire within seconds. To affix his bayonet, to attack. To be expected to kill.
Erich had thought of it as endless, but it ended so quickly as well.
They called it basic because they kept it short and taught him to fill out a line. Then they threw him on the first airship out of the Orin Colony. To the front. The trenches had awaited him. Except, fate had intervened.
Erich snapped back to reality.
He was in the dark, literally. He couldn’t even see his uniform or flight coat within the claustrophobic pod.
“I can’t believe we got two virgins,” another passenger called out.
Erich looked directly across the pod at the woman grinning widely. Her shotgun was carelessly leaned against the wall.
“I can tell we were desperate.”
“I’m equally enthusiastic about my being here,” Erich replied dryly.
He leaned back against the pod’s wall. Thankful it was there to brace him. Even more thankful that today he could manage sarcastic opposition. It had been a good day. The void was hidden, Erich’s body and mind were filled with manic energy.
“Is that an Orin accent? How adorable!”
“Yes,” Erich replied flatly. “I’m a frontier boy. Leave me alone.”
“For the commonwealth!” she mocked.
“I’m Private Wren Sanders,” the boy to Erich’s left blurted out. “I know this is my first drop but I’ll do my best.” Erich felt second hand embarrassment.
“Corporal Peyton Hill. At ease, for the love of Perdition.”
“Ma’am,” Erich said. Hill shot him a sharp look.
“My apologies, you said to be at ease but that’s never my style, right Wren? I’m Erich. Erich Renner.”
“Private,” she corrected.
“It’s never too late to join up,” Wren said, perking up.
“I was drafted,” Erich scoffed.
“Regardless of how you got here, you’re pretty fucked. The first time is always the hardest,” Hill mocked. “It’s an experience quite like nothing you’ve ever done before.”
“Oh, is it now?” Erich grunted.
“You’ll probably cry for your mother,” Hill added playfully.
Erich rolled his eyes.
“Let me guess.” Erich interrupted. “You already fucked her.”
“Twice,” Hill replied without skipping a beat. “And never wrote to her.”
“That’s just rude,” Erich responded.
“I’m uncomfortable,” Wren said.
“Shut up,” Hill scoffed.
Erich opened his mouth to say something. To tell Hill off and ease Wren’s mind. But he found the words stuck in his throat. He was happy to defend himself but was this boy worth his time? The effort?
“You should be uncomfortable,” Hill spat. “because—”
“Relax Hill,” A woman with her arms crossed said.
“I’m just giving them a bit of a hard time, they’re about to be shot at. You want them thinking they’re safe, Chambers?”
“They’re already nervous and know what they’re in for,” Chambers countered.
Her voice was deep. Chambers wore Sergeant stripes on her collar and was a half head taller than him. She was broad, with an athletic build that barely fit into the cramped space.
“We have to ruin the fun eventually,” Erich replied. “Thanks Sergeant.”
“If I wasn’t here, Corporal,” Chambers said, putting emphasis on the rank. “You people would be having fun all the time. Besides, do you know what gets young men like Private Wren Sanders there killed? Its not the enemy. It’s their own panic. You can’t make him feel guilty either or he’ll be aiming his rifle a little too high instead of at the enemy and you’re the one who will get shot, Hill.”
“Four years and I’ve never been shot,” Hill mocked.
“I’ve been shot twice,” Chambers replied. “Dragging people like you back to their trench.”
That seemed to shut Hill up.
“Thanks,” Wren said, nervously.
“Don’t worry about it,” Chambers replied briskly. “Any questions come to me. The Commander will likely be busy with other things. Speak of the man, he’s here. All of you, look alive!”
The pod became quiet once more.
“We have two soldiers on their maiden drop,” a man shouted, entering the pod. It was Second Lieutenant Wells. The latch closed behind Wells and darkness flooded the pod for a few seconds until the lights turned on. “You two know what to do. Follow my lead and we’ll follow the Captain’s commands and things should go smoothly. Back in my teaching days I might have been patient for you, but there isn’t time for that in war.”
Captain Kavan Mandis. That fucking bastard. Leader of the Steel Dragoons. Cavalry that rode the skies.
“You were a teacher?” Private Wren asked, dumbfounded.
“Did you teach primary school?” Erich asked dryly.
“I was a professor. I have a PhD so don’t try to be smart, Private. I’m smarter.”
He banged on the door twice and a bang from the outside answered him. The light started blinking and the pod shook slightly. It was moving. Wells adjusted his rifle and assumed his position in the final spot.
“Hold onto the handle, for the love of Perdition.”
Erich spared a glance for the lever above him. It was easily within reach and it was required to hold onto with one hand. The technology built into pod would run a current through his body and ground his feet to the pod. Cutting edge shit, really. The methods kept secret by one of the various Mason Orders. Erich remembered from his college days taking an interest in the reclusive inventors. They had been outcasts of society until industrialization. Most of their technology seemed like magic. Nobody outside their ranks understood how it worked and it had remained that way.
“Masks on,” Wells ordered.
Erich scrambled, grabbing at the mask which was hung over his shoulder. He lifted it to his face and it clicked into place with the kettle helmet and the flight cap. Making sure the tubing was connected properly, Erich adjusted it within seconds and felt the air move into his mouth and nose. His breathing was heavy, the sound amplified by the containment of his face. Erich could barely see through the goggles at first, until his eyes adjusted.
Wells was shouting additional orders, but his voice was muffled.
His chest was cold. Words were drying up in his mouth. Erich could only mumble weak protests. His body frozen while his mind urged him to make a break for the door and pry it open, so he could slither out.
The void. It was back.
You’re going to die.
The light blinked and went out.
It’s going to hurt.
The void had never left him.
Everyone will know.
The pod dropped.
Erich didn’t feel the change in his whole body like he expected. It started with his stomach. The fluids inside becoming suddenly present and rising. It was moments like this that Erich remembered he was just a series of flesh and fluids held loosely together by bone. How breakable it all was. His eyes were rocking within their confinement in the skull. Erich felt aware of every centimeter of the spheres as they burned. Ribs swaying in the force, his bones smashing against his muscles, intestines unfolding. His throat branching into two paths.
Erich tried focusing on the mission. Intel had said the Ca’an Empire developed a weapon. They were dropping in hot to a remote mountain city. The operation had forty men and—Fuck!
Erich couldn’t focus on thoughts. Only sensations.
The cold was devastating. Erich’s hands shook. Despite his uniform and additional shearling flight jacket, he was shivering violently. It felt like his body had been dunked in a lake on an autumn morning. It was so sudden, his whole body burned in the way icy cold water made you.
His insides lurched.
Erich couldn’t see anything in the darkness, but his breathing quickened. He felt the pressure of the fall in his head now, like his skull was trying to retreat out the top of his head. His hand shook, clutching onto the handle like he was hanging off a cliff. Erich’s knees felt like they were buckling, like his shins were about to explode through his body, but his feet remained stuck to the floor despite his body’s protests.
There was a sudden lurch. Erich’s body rocked forward as he barely held onto the handle.
“First parachute!” Someone screamed.
The sound of the fall outside the pod drowned out anything else Erich could have heard. He wondered if Wren was okay or if he was screaming. Erich had to clench his jaw in order to stop the human reaction of crying out himself.
They were falling. They were falling to the ground. They were falling out of the sky to fight on the ground. They were about to die.
Erich had heard the accounts by soldiers being transported to the battlefield by boat or tank. The light would go on, the doors would open and the bullets would enter before they could leave. Men would get cut down the second they saw the light of day. Stationary machine guns with men aimed at the obvious targets would be ready. Ready to stop the flood of men.
The pod shook, the chute detaching. Erich clenched the handle. His free hand was at his side, frozen. He willed his fingers to move and they found his pistol holster. There was now barely any feeling in his body. Nothing except for his toes and the tips of his fingers. Likely a side effect of the machinery.
“This is a fucking coffin!” Erich grunted to nobody.
Another sudden thud, the second parachute activating. They were rocking back and forth now. Erich couldn’t stop himself from pressing his free elbow to the wall.
They were going to die.
There was no way something this large, this heavy, this hollow would survive the fall. It would liquify them all upon entry. They would splatter on the ceiling and mix together. The remains needing to be separated using spoons to send back home in jars. Erich’s mom would receive his “remains” and wonder how she had failed him. How she had raised a young man with so much promise who dropped out of college and got drafted into the Great War when he was pushing thirty. Of course, he fucking died like an idiot. They dropped him out of an airship at maximum altitude in the middle of the night. His mom would ask why they had done it. “Shits and giggles,” the uniformed MP would reply. “He fucking screamed like a little girl. It was quite pathetic. You should have raised him better. Not told him everyday that he was special and meant to do great things. Ha bitch, he wasn’t.”
Erich snapped out of his delusion. He cursed himself for taking that cutting-edge psychology class. Even years later it still haunted him at the strangest moments.
“Please,” he thought. “Let me survive—”
Erich was cut off, all his senses exploding at once. The pod had stopped moving abruptly. There was only pain in his toes. The current worked its way through his spine and out through the tips of his fingers. It was like touching exposed wiring. The noise was overwhelming. A wall of sound that shook his body. The metal walls fell away on impact and Erich turned around to see them fall flat like a present that had its lid removed. The walls bent where the ceiling began, and the metal plates jutted upwards, forming walls.
“Move!” Sergeant Chambers screamed in his ear. She seized him by the arm and dragged him to one of the low walls. They ducked behind it. She already had her weapon at the ready. It was a light machine gun, a recent invention that resembled the stationary guns but smaller. It had a bipod that was folded up.
“Weapons on Instant,” Wells ordered distantly.
Erich obeyed the order, turning off the rifle’s safety lever and chambering a round with the bolt. There was a wall of smoke and dust around the pod. They couldn’t see beyond it. The massive object had formed a crater, dirt was still raining down on them.
The smoke began to clear, the squad was in position. Erich scanned the horizon with his rifle. There were tall dark shapes, buildings that varied in size and height. They loomed over the uneven street. Everything varying and makeshift. Mainland towns were often hundreds of years old, with narrow alleyways and stone bridges crossing over the street. It was like a world from another time, even with the dozens of loose bricks still raining down from the pod’s landing. Everything had been hastily modified for the recent invention of automobiles. Never rebuilt, just built over.
“Clear,” Chambers muttered. She had unfolded the bipod of her weapon and set it across the top of the makeshift wall.
“It’s quiet,” Erich replied.
There were no bullets raining down on them. The only sound was the scattering bricks and the distant thuds of other pods crashing down. One building, illuminated by several lamp posts was collapsing, a hole through its mass where a pod had smashed through.
There were people coming closer. The Pod had landed near the peak of a hill, the road suddenly sloped on Erich’s side. The buildings loomed on both sides, narrow alleyways acting as cover for Wells and Corporal Hill who were moving together.
“Targets acquired,” Wells called out. “Down the street. My Seven O’clock. Sergeant lay down cover fire. Riflemen reform and fire.”
Chambers opened fire. Her weapon was devastatingly loud, even with Erich’s ears covered by leather padding. Every thud of the weapon rang out, smashing against both sides of his skull like small hammers. The weapon itself shifted slightly under the rapid fire, the chamber dispelling rounds that rolled into the pod’s crater. Erich watched the taller woman work. Her posture stiff and the weapon’s stock pounding back with every shot. Chamber’s face was still hidden under her mask but everything from her controlled bursts to shifting targets conveyed absolute calm.
Erich was forced to squeeze closer to Chambers as Wren took a knee beside him.
The figures were still obscured by the mixture of dust and darkness, many of them were holding lanterns and proceeding carefully. A few heads popped over the hill but quickly dropped when Chambers had started firing.
“I’m holding them down,” Chambers said between bursts. “The Commander will want you two advancing and firing. Go to the alley on the left.”
“Ma’am,” Wren replied quickly. In a crouched position he left the safety of the pod’s walls and moved towards one of the alleyways, on the opposite side of Wells and Hill.
“Follow him,” Chambers added to Erich.
He snapped to attention, hands sweaty and uncomfortable beneath his gloves. They gripped the rifle like they had the pod’s handle.
“Be sure to secure the alleyway, don’t get flanked.”
Erich willed his legs to move and he ran at a crouch. He carefully avoided walking in front of Chamber’s firing and joined Wren in the alley. His legs had thundered in protest with each step, the pain shooting through his shins and knees all the way up his spine.
Was he suffering consequences from the drop? Or was this just fear? They were shooting at targets and engaging in combat. Fuck.
Remembering Chambers’ orders, Erich scanned the alleyway and saw only trash and abandoned furniture. It was clear.
Chamber’s weapon stopped firing and she was switching drums. Single shots rang out as the enemy tried advancing. Wells and Wren were already ducked at their respective corners.
Erich joined Wren, standing over him and leaning around the wall, his rifle out. A lantern dropped to the ground and went out. They were closer than he had initially realized. In the confusion they probably couldn’t spot Erich and the others in the dark alleyways.
Erich assumed the firing position and lined up a shot. A single enemy was running over the hill, trying to make it to the cover of an abandoned carriage. Erich placed his finger over the trigger and remembered to squeeze, not pull. That saying had initially confused him until the drill sergeant had made a fist closing motion contrasted by a single finger waggling.
Erich exhaled and fired.
His first shot went wide, and the window of the carriage burst.
“Fuck,” he muttered. “They don’t stand still, do they?”
“They don’t,” Wren mused. “Try again.”
Erich cocked the bolt. The shell flew out and bounced off Wren who was firing his second shot already. A new shot chambered, Erich took aim, this time trying to consider the distance better.
Chambers was firing once more, her bursts concentrating on another set of cover.
“They’re entrenched,” Wren said. “Do we keep firing?”
“We fire until we’re told not to,” Erich guessed.
“Fire in the hole!” a woman’s voice screamed.
Wells was out of the alleyway on his knee while Hill emerged. She took three steps and lugged something over her head which landed near the carriage where at least three enemies had situated.
The explosion rocked Erich and he was surprised how he could feel the heat from that distance. A few blocks of wood scattered near them and Erich had to pull Wren behind cover.
Hill was advancing quickly, bouncing from pieces of cover. She popped up and fired two successive blasts with her shotgun. Despite being pump action, the shots were seconds apart and devastating. People dropped and others tried to get to other cover.
Erich and Wren emerged and fired. Two figures dropped, Erich saw his shot clip someone’s knee and they fell forward. It wasn’t so bad shooting at people from this distance.
Chambers was moving forward now too, Wells directed her and the others to new cover. The remaining forces only lasted a few seconds. Erich hit at least two more targets while Wren got three.
Erich had to take a moment to compose himself and reload. His hand had stopped shaking as he retrieved the stripper clip and loaded it. Erich cocked the rifle, and something occurred to him.
There had been no return fire.
The squad was behind new cover, the darkness of the street engulfing them all. No more lanterns shining on them. The stars dominant above. A few fires could be seen over in other streets as the sound of firing echoed throughout the city.
High pitched and shrill.
More explosions. Grenades going off. Shots being fired over and over.
Then, overhead something blew up in a red magnificent light. Erich stared at the flare and slowly brought his eyes downward to the illuminated streets.
Bodies in pieces, clothing torn and bloodied. Horrified expressions. Terrified. They weren’t wearing helmets and there were no scattered weapons or tools. Among the many corpses, a woman was dragging herself to cover, her knee simply gone from where Erich had shot her. She wore a nightgown and jacket. Erich made a motion to help her, but Wells held him back with a hand on his shoulder. The woman went limp a few seconds later.
“Perdition,” Chambers gasped.
“This… no,” Hill replied.
Erich ripped off his mask and let it dangle off his flight jacket. He could now smell the stench of blood and Sulphur. The streets were littered with the bodies of civilians caught in a nightmare, they had come out to examine the explosions. Some had lanterns, others only had candles. Erich couldn’t tell how many because there were so many mixed body parts, many of the heads were caved in and mixed.
“The red flare,” Wells snapped. “Our orders are to retreat to the outskirts and meet back up with the Captain’s squad. We need to get moving—”
He stopped when Wren lurched forward suddenly dropping his weapon. He gagged and clawed at his mask. Erich calmly helped him pull it off and adjusted his feet so that bile wouldn’t get on him. The vomit sprayed out and Wren renamed motionless, everyone watching him.
“What the fuck did we do?” he asked.
“We were advised that this might be a staging ground with undercover soldiers,” Wells said coldly. “The Captain wishes for us to reassess the situation on the outskirts of town. We’ll likely move in with the auxiliary force. Now we need to move before we’re met with resistance”
“Who the fuck is going to fight us?” Hill asked, peeling off her own mask. Her eyes were wide.
Wells in turn, removed his mask. Erich wished he had kept it on because the man was stern and expressionless. His eyes hollow.
“We follow our orders to the best of our ability. We’re Steel Dragoons and we have to make it out of the city before a resistance is mounted and they capture one of us. If they are civilians and they can prove that Avalonian forces raided them, we’ll all be at the mercy of a global tribunal and charged as war criminals.”
“So, we should help them!” Wren spoke up. “Try to undo the damage we did.”
“See how many we can save, they’ll understand,” Hill agreed. “Because it isn’t our fault. We were just following—”
“Orders?” a deep voice interrupted. Erich stepped back, realizing it was Chambers. She removed her mask. Her expression was dark. “We carried out orders. We’ll be considered just as guilty as those who ordered it. I have a family. I’m not going to the hangman.”
“The pods!” Erich grunted, motioning to the massive crater nearby. “That is our tech. Lots of fucking evidence! We’re fucked now. We might as well help.”
“No,” Wells disagreed. He was already walking down an alleyway with his weapon at the ready. “We have artillery for that. We move to the outskirts and await the Captain’s decision. The local militia will likely be armed within minutes and we need to move.”
The artillery. It had seemed like an unnecessary footnote in the plan. The airship would be dropping it off outside the city after the initial drop. They were there, just in case they needed support. Just in case they needed to level the city.
Just in case.
Erich thought back to that poster. All the way back. Back in the recruitment office. That void in the line of soldiers, all willing to serve. To kill with smiles on their faces. To die if needed. Those smiles said, “we protect our own.”
Somewhere, the gods were mocking Erich.