Ashen Grounds

Entry Writchal #1

Theme: Droplets of Time, Radiant Winter

Theme: Radiant Winter 

Ashen Grounds 

By PrimDom 

Murky skies engulf the plains. Their frozen tears fell upon the remains of a once great civilization. The terrain ahead is a graveyard of buildings. The hollowness sings as shivering winds cut through them. 

“Looks dead, not sure if anything is even here.” Microv yells. 

“Oh come on.” Derrick grunts. “Everything is pretty much dead by now.” “I just don’t feel like wasting my energy for nothing.” 

Derrick chuckles. “A military Android like you?” 

Their voice echoes throughout the ruins. It’s so quiet that their footsteps on the tender, snow-covered streets dominates the scene. Microv and Derrick continues to debate over each other, eventually falling behind the other man who leads them. He suddenly falls silent, his body is like it’s petrifying. The two notices. 

“Sir?” Microv asks. 

Their gaze now fell upon him. They wonder what came to him this time. 

“Hush.” The man says. “Did you catch that?” 

Derrick’s sight scour the whole district, not even missing the skies above. Microv only gazes at Derrick. Just as the two about to say that nothing is going on, they caught something. It’s like a heavy breathing, and a hint of shivering. Judging by the sound, it should not be far away. 

“Someone is around here isn’t it?” Derrick asks. 

The man then sprints, trying to locate the source. The two catches up. He stops before what seems to be a small remains of a bungalow. The heavy breathing is even more evident. He digs through the debris. What he found drops his jaw. 

“My goodness!” The man cries, gently. 

A girl in a uniform, covered with her deep cobalt blue blazer is cowering in the corner. Her dark gray skirt is of knee length, and her leggings are torn. Some centimeters ahead of her is a darkened concrete, probably the burn mark of her campfire. She raises her head and looks at the man in the eyes. Her laminar peanut hair is of shoulder length. A glittering golden pin is clipped to them. Her brown eyes are frail. The man feels that she keeps wishing for death. 

The man approaches the girl. 

She raises her head higher, perceiving the entire height of the man weighing down on her. She straightens her legs and raises one hand as high as her chin.

The man drops to his knee. 

“I am a father of no daughter, and you seem to be a daughter of no father. A victim of the mass razing of cities. I offer you to play our role properly. What say you?” 

The girl hesitates. She jerks herself back and leers at Microv and Derrick. 

“He’ll take good care of you kid, I promise.” Micorv barks. 

Derrick looks at Microv. “You mean we?” 

“I don’t know, I’m satisfied with my responsibilities.” 

“This week will be your most arduous one this month, if she refuses.” 

The man gives his hand. 

“What say you?” He grins. 

The girl stares at his face. His grin is innocent, and his eyes are sharp with determination. Refusal comes first to her mind. A kind and, perhaps, resilient man doesn’t deserve her. She would probably be a thorn on his side, especially during these dark times. Moreover, she couldn’t come up with anything to repay him. 

However, she has nothing left. She even hadn’t had a proper meal for the past two days. Even if she refuses, the man would insist. So her choice is pretty much absent. 

The girl takes the man’s hand and nods. 


That was a year ago. Her name is Katrina, a stray third year high-school student. How she survives the annihilation is beyond me. The thing now is, I’m grateful to have her around. I can be a father at last, though she is not of my blood. If only Sofiana isn’t sterile. 

Her hesitation is still largely immeasurable. Especially toward me. But that is not the case for everyone. She speaks like flipping a hand when it’s Microv or Derrick, but that becomes like solving second order partial differential equations when it’s me. Perhaps something to do with their social prominence? I don’t know, I envy them for that still. I am the one who adopt her, but they are the one who got along well. 

“Oi, sir!” I hear Microv yelling from the distance. “You planning to skip your meal? Sofiana doesn’t like that, you know?” 

I stand up from my seat. “Heading over.” I say, while putting down my bamboo sword. 

That’s Microv Edward, my first subordinate, an Android with an Australian accent. He’s an ex-military officer turned scientist and a tech expert. 

He then moves inside, but he seems to be pulled by someone. Then my wife emerges out of the farmhouse’s door.

“Pratama, double time! You might want to see this.” She is in her blouse and a long skirt. A denim cloth is wrapped around her head and covers as much as her breast and her back. Under that cloth is a chocolate wool scarf wrapped around her neck that I bought for her birthday, years ago when I was in the academy. 

I reach the door. “Spoil me.” I say. 

“No. You have to see it for yourself.” She responds. 

The strong, delicate smell reaches as far as the backyard. I don’t think I have been practicing for that long but my stomach feels like they are staging a coup d’etat. 

Derrick is already in the dining room, talking with Katrina. He sits beside her with his bowl of soup on the table. He is my second subordinate. A British computer scientist, and a prominent hacker. I was his supervisor when he’s working on his doctoral thesis. 

Katrina and Derrick seems to be having a great topic before Sofiana grips her shoulders. She bends over, leveling her face with her while fixing her sight on me. 

“Guess who made the soup for lunch?” Her eyebrows flinch, and she gives a smooch on her cheek. 

She should have given me that prior to my presence in the dining room, but oh well. 

“Eh,” Katrina cries when she looks at me. Whatever conversation she has with Derrick fell apart. “B-but you taught me how.” She says to Sofiana. 

“Fair enough,” She responds. “But when you do the cooking, it’s basically yours.” 

“You definitely want this, sir.” Derrick points his spoon at me. “This, your daughter’s aptitude.” 

I roll my eyes and nods, before sitting down across him. Sofiana then puts a bowl of soup before me and another one on her table. She sits beside me. 

I spoon a portion of the soup to my mouth. The warm broth melts my dry and freezing jaw. Its savory taste drives my saliva wild, making me crave for more. 

This is really something. 

I take another piece before opening my mouth to speak. 

“Katrina.” It is as if I has an important announcement, Derrick and Sofiana also has their eyes on me. “No doubt. You’ll make an excellent cook.” Then I turn to Sofiana and squints. “Or probably an exceptional wife.” 

“Thank you.” She says, stuttering. “I’m glad you like it.” 

That makes me curious to what else she has in store. But before that, I should focus on her interest first.

“Now, what are you interested in, sweetheart?” That last part is exhausting. Katrina shakes her head. “Forgive me, father. I’m still confused.” 

I just nods while grabbing a mug of hot chocolates that belongs to my wife and puts it to my lips. She just leers at me without saying anything. 

“That means it’s fine, take your time.” Derrick says to her while pointing at me. 

She tilts her head and giggles. She covers a small portion of her mouth with her hand. “I never knew you are so good at body languages.” 

“I’m not.” Derrick says while putting a piece in his mouth. “Just him in particular.” He jerks his head at me. 

Yeah, right. Whatever. 

I put the mug down and takes a deep breath. I silently wonder where’s Microv in all this. Sure he’s an Android that doesn’t feast upon what we feast, but he’s the one that pulls me here in the first place. 


“Kid!” He burst out of the corner of the next room, not failing to catch all of our attention. He heads straight for Katrina and places his gadget next to her. “Look at this.” He says. 

“What is it?” Katrina asks, peering at the gadget’s screen. 

“It says we can use electron’s spin polarization to characterize the topology of materials. What do you think?” 

“Ah, that’s intriguing.” She responds. “How about a little help for digging on its overview someday?” 

“Just tell me when you’re ready. I don’t have anything to do but to look after your father.” He turns his sight at me and flinch his eyebrows. 

“I don’t remember you don’t have anything to do but to look after me.” I blurt out. “What, you’re getting old? You’re like thirty now, do humans degrade this fast over time?” 

There are times when I wanted to shut his mouth so bad. But fortunately for him, this is not one of them. His words burst everyone to laughter. So I just roll my eyes, suppressing my irritation. 

“Ah, stop it you two.” Katrina says, reluctantly. 

Microv turns at me again. “Don’t worry, I’ll get your bloody job done.” 

Thanks sweetheart. That’s one way to repay me and I’m grateful for that.

It’s our regular afternoon. Quite trivial, but powerful enough to linger in my mind. After finishing the lunch we head back to our desks and continue our work. 


The world is left barren after the annihilation. Not much is going around these days. Time becomes an illusion. It sweeps past my consciousness, bringing me to the next day, of the next week. 

Katrina fell ill. 

We first dismissed it as being a common seasonal fever. Things suddenly grow out of hand when every cure I could get in this settlement couldn’t drag her out of her sickness. 

What comes next is an exhausting month, as Microv, Derrick, and I scour any sources we can find for a cure, day and night, but to no avail. I keep losing sleep as Katrina’s condition worsens day by day. Her skin blanches, and her breath is stagnating. She is already unable to support her own weight, so she has to stay in bed most of the time. My wife is taking care of her. 

Today, a medical expert comes for a visit per my invitation. 

“Her breathing rate today collapses even worse than the last time.” He says. “If the disease linger to the fourth day, her breath will be so low that it won’t be recognizable anymore.” 

A news that even fools could predict. 

I turn away for a moment. My heart feels heavy. I raise my palm to cover my mouth. That makes me realize that my palm is shaking. The sentiment that befall upon me once have returned. I can’t lose her like this. I don’t want to. I just start caressing her and nature is going to take her away from me? 

Suddenly I feel the doctor’s pat on my right shoulder. I turn around. 

“There’s a solution however.” He says. 

That sparks something within me. I take a step closer to him. My sight is now so fixed on him, that it probably makes him uneasy, judging by how he takes a little step back. 

“Tell me,” I say. “Everything.” I will do anything the doctor speaks. 

“Have you ever heard of the Radiant Winter?” 

I squint my eyes. I think I have heard that somewhere before. 

“Is that the flower that only blooms during the winter?” 

“Correct, usually found in the northern Baltic. Thought to be pieces from heaven, no disease known to have stood their ground against their pollen. If brewed properly, they could save your daughter.”

It can do that? It sounds a bit odd, because they should have made their way to commercial medicines. Maybe I was too occupied that I didn’t hear about it. 

“Our apothecary used to have those brewed herbs, until the mass bombardments.” He says, nodding. “That is the only cure that you haven’t tried from our store.” 

“If I can get the apothecary a stalk or two, will they make me another brew?” “I can’t guarantee you. You should speak to them about that.” 

My mind doesn’t think when suddenly my arm reaches for my coat and scarf hanging on the door. My body feels like it’s surging on its own, striding beyond our farmhouse’s door. When I realize it, I’m already marching on the snow-covered street, heading toward the apothecary once more. 

I burst through the entrance. The unusually loud crash between the door and the wall it is latching to sends everyone’s sight on the room toward me. I used to hate being the center of attention in a situation like this, but there are greater concerns. I head straight to the receptionist, not even releasing my eye from her. There’s a customer that she is currently serving, whom I briefly turn to. 

“Pardon me, are you done?” I ask him. 

I can tell he’s wavering and even wishing to get out of here as soon as possible. “I-I was about to leave.” He points toward the entrance. 

He eventually snatches the two small glass bottles on the table, putting it in his mantle’s pocket and trot away. 

“What can I do for you, sir?” The receptionist asks. 

“You never told me about the Radiant Winter.” 

“Oh, I am sorry sir. It’s because we don’t receive them anymore.” 

“How much do you need for the brew?” 

“The brewing process would take a toll on our resources. My employees just flew off to their own quarter for the leave, three days ago. It’s not like they’re going anywhere. It’s just some gears require greasing if they have to work overtime.” 

That doesn’t sound good. Time is ticking Katrina away. Even if I snatch a stalk and bring it here, the apothecary is still unwilling to hand the brew devoid of cost. All my reserves had blazed away to delay Katrina’s passing. There has to be another way. 

“Is there anything I can do, so that you would give me a brew of Radiant Winter?” The receptionist rubs her chin and leers upward, slightly to her left. 

“How about we make a de-”

“I’m listening.” I am grateful that she provides me a chance. 

“Okay.” The woman jerks her head. “You know, the brew is remarkable. We made a huge profit out of them. But since we don’t receive supplies of the Radiant Winter anymore, our figures are basically not like they used to be. As a result, I have to lower my employees’ wages.” 

“I have to restore the market for those herbs?” 

“I’m not saying you have to re-establish the market, just this place in particular.” The woman tilts her head. “If you guarantee a steady supply of the Radiant Winters, we’ll guarantee you the brew.” 

Sounds like a simple task, but I knew too much for that to be true. There has to be something there, waiting for me. I wonder if she could fill me in more. 

“Anything I should know?” 

“Well, the mass bombardments shouldn’t bother the production of the crops, since the village that cultivates and puts them to commerce survived. The fact that they aren’t obtainable anymore tells me that something’s amiss. It’s like they’re now isolated, and protected.” 

“Protected? By who?” 

“All I heard is a group of people, and they’re fanatics. I don’t know, some sort of a cult maybe?” She leans closer, “It is said that they worship the flowers.” She whispers. 

Fanatics!? The annihilation should have wiped them all. 

But whatever, this is for Katrina. Even if I have to chop some heads, I will. “Thank you.” I nod, before rushing back home. 

I hang my scarf and coat before bursting to Microv’s room. Papers are scattered all over the floor. I found him sitting there, leaning against his bed while Derrick is lying on it, his arms are holding papers above him. 

“Found something?” Derrick asks, rising up slightly, his right elbow is supporting his weight. 

“A village in the northern Baltic, we’re going there.” I say, panting. 

“You think we’ll find a much more able apothecary there?” Microv asks. 

“There are powerful herbs cultivated there, the Radiant Winter. Our apothecary would brew us a cure if we could re-establish trade for the flower between the village and us.” 

“Why can’t we just snatch a stalk or two and give them to the apothecary?” “That’s not the deal, Microv.” 

“Ah, bloody hell.” He grunts. “You should have sent me there instead.”

I sigh. Maybe he’s right. 

Derrick then stands up. “We’re packing now, I guess?” He asks. 

“We’re packing now.” I reply. 

“Oh, so this is like that fairy tale quest where you-” 

“Just shut up and get going.” Derrick says, patting Microv’s shoulder. 

Microv stands up. “I was going to say impressive, but whatever.” He then storms past me, stepping right in the gaps amidst the scattered papers. “Come on!” He says. 

“Go, I’ll catch up.” I say to Derrick. 

He just nods. 

Then I head to Katrina’s room. There my wife is sitting on a stool beside her bed. She frowns while staring at Katrina. Her sight is weary, probably after those days of losing sleep. Her right hand is on Katrina’s cheek, her thumb gently runs across it over and over. 

“Oh,” She says after turning to me. Perhaps Katrina’s care has deprived a huge chunk of her energy. It takes her seconds before noticing my presence. “Hey. Please tell me you’ve found something.” She strikes a grin that I knew is fake. I can tell she’s on the verge of tears. She is like a diamond, glimmering and tough to crack. But once cracked, she shatters. Our situation is perhaps one of the mighty hammers which has managed to do that. 

I sit on the edge of the bed, just beside Katrina’s leg. 

“There’s a flower, the Radiant Winter. I will have to travel to another village, one day away from here with my jeep.” 

“Then you’ll come with the cure?” She asks. 

“The apothecary will make us one.” I nod. 

She turn down for a moment, closing her eyes. Then she holds my face and leans forward. Her mouth goes straight for mine. Time suddenly stops. Our tongue crosses each other. Her saliva spreads all over my mine. Her sweet lip is warm and fluffy. She may be sterile, but she is still my wife. I could not give my affection to other women anymore. I knew she requited my affection. But there are times and events that cause them to waver. This rallies them once more. 

Just when I feel like I have to go… 

“Father…” A gentle groan comes from my side. I let go of Sofiana’s graceful mouth. 

Katrina looks astonished. It might be because this is the first time she sees us kiss. She then strikes a smile. 

I lean toward her face. “Everything will be fine.” I say. “I’ll get you a cure, and you’ll be in shape soon.”

Katrina nods. “Father…” 

It seems like she wants to ask for something. “What is it, dear?” 

“It’s fine if you don’t bring the cure.” She says. “Just promise that you’ll be here if I won’t make it.” 

Tch, no. My teeth are crushing each other. I don’t like what she’s saying. I will bring you the cure, darling. I promise. I’m not losing another daughter. Fullstop. 

What I give her is just a nod. It is what she asked, and I hope she is relieved that I approve it. I then kisses her forehead. 

“Be careful, father.” 

“I will.” 

“She’s right,” Sofiana chimes in. “Be careful.” 

I kiss her on her right cheek before rising up, heading to my room. 

I grab my backpack and set up my gears, putting in equipment and supplies that I might need for the journey. Then I strap my utilizer to my left wrist. I figured out that I might clash with those cult members, so I better be prepared. I scour around my room, trying to find the thing. 

It seems like the boys are ready. They even has the jeep started up. I’m glad that they share my ambition. Microv leans against the jeep, talking to Derrick. I seem to disrupt their conversation. 

“Sir, we are in need of combat apparatuses in the case of unavoidable hostilities.” Derrick says. 

“I got my bayonet.” Microv says, raising it in front of us. 

“Yeah, and there’s your taser too.” Derrick says to him. 

“I got it settled.” I say, raising a military-grade shovel on my left hand. 

“The shovel!” Microv exclaims. He seems to be excited as he snatches the shovel from me. “I’m not sure if we’re able to commit some trench warfare.” Derrick says. 

“Nonsense!” Microv yells. “You see this sharp edge here?” He runs his finger across one of the shovel’s edge. “Now with thermal amplification, you can send someone else bleeding to death.” 

“It’s military grade, Derrick. The Fritz used them centuries ago in close quarter combat. There’s no reason for discarding it when we need it.” I say. 

“Very well.” 

“I’m driving.” Microv says while rushing toward the driver seat. 

“Take the front Derrick.”

“Aye aye, sir.” 

Derrick goes to the other side of the jeep. 

When I open the jeep’s hatch, I see my wife standing on the terrace, gazing at us. I nod and waves my right hand while smiling back. She responds with the same gesture. 

“Are you planning to freeze us inside?” Microv blurts out. 

“I’m heading in.” I say as I put myself on the back seat. 

I then slam the hatch closed. 

As soon as the locks activate, Microv steps on the gas. We’re cutting through the hail of freezing droplets from above. 

When I look outside, the village I’m living in has shrunk in the distance. It is now clear. The die is cast. 

I have to succeed. 


It is an enchanting evening in spring. The grass plains near my home is blooming. The fragrance fills the air. One thing missing from the scene is my daughter dancing to and fro amidst the vibrant blossoms. 

That aside, the field is pretty much owned by no one. So whenever it blooms, the folks would gather round and pick a flower or two, and bring them home to their care. 

I don’t feel like missing the fun too. Sofiana and I take a stroll there, hoping to catch one that sparks our sense. Microv and Derrick are probably going to mess around. 

We then found one that does so. We take care of it as soon as we brought it home. A Hyacinth, magnificent, and could send one’s imagination wild with its scent. After days of watering and fertilizing, we watch it grows even more mesmerizing. Then suddenly, the fragrance turns to sting my smell. What’s weird is that I’m the only one who smell it. I ask the others, but they don’t, only me. 

Day by day, the smell keeps amplifying. The thrusting odor gets into my nerve as it reaches even the darkest corner of my house. I check the flower again. The main stalk has shriveled, stunning me as I wonder what went wrong with my care. It however, left three offspring on the same pot. It seems that the three, despite their size and age, could make my sense go on a rampage. 

I have no choice, I can’t live like this. So I cut them down. 

As soon as the last petals fell to the soil, something falls upon my nose. But when I realize it, it is rather my nose that hits something, the side screen of the jeep. It is dark outside, I can barely see a thing. The only thing visible are those illuminated by the jeep’s front torch.

Microv is still on the wheel. I mean it would be weird if he switches with Derrick since he’s an Android. I can see Derrick has submitted his body to the seat. 

I yawn. Microv catches on that. 

“You awake?” 

“Kind of.” I say, still stuck on the dream that I just had. 

“Well, we aren’t there yet. You might want to retreat back to your dream.” Good job Microv, now I’m not doing it. 

“I don’t think I will. That was a weird one.” 

“Pardon?” He asks, leering slightly at me through the rear mirror. 

“I got a stalk of flower in a pot, which then grew its offspring. Until it starts to smell so bad, that I had to cut them all.” 

“Did you yoink them from the grass field when it’s spring?” 

“Don’t remember, maybe.” 

The thing about it is that it’s the strangest one I had so far and I can’t seem to comprehend it. 

“Do you think it means something?” 

Microv hums. “Not sure. Probably one day in the future.” 

I look back outside. “Eh? Will I live long enough to see that meaning?” 

“Would be fortunate of you, if that’s the case. But don’t worry, I’ll send a letter up there in case you don’t.” 

I chuckle. “I’d like to see you try.” 

I close my eyes for a moment, enjoying the silence that now permeates the interior. The humming of the engine makes a perfect lull. But I don’t think I will submit to it anymore. Especially when the face of my previous daughter glimpses past me. My eyes open wide, and I find myself peering over my shoulder, thinking that we just went past her. 



“Do you think I deserve an offspring?” 

“Well it’s your right to reproduce.” 

Her name is Genesis, an Android of my handcraft. She hasn’t even see the world, which back then was a stunning utopia, before the annihilation occurred. Until now, I still couldn’t put her up without dragging my mind to the religious fanatics who took her away. The annihilation too was their doing. Wherever they go, troubles always follow. There will be no tolerance for them. They have to be suppressed. 

“This is the third time nature says otherwise.” 

“Dropping your loyalty might help.” 

And crush the very thing that uphold my ambition so far? Her oath remains to this day, ever since I put the ring on her finger. She had casted her dreams aside to put me on the top. She hasn’t met her parents for over a decade, and now there’s no way she could do it. I couldn’t just throw that like it is something disposable. So I kick the base of his seat, hard. 

“Ow,” He grunts. “Alright, alright, that sounds wrong.” 

I sigh. 

If nature really prohibits me from bearing children of my own, then do I really have to do this? What if it would be in vain? What if I still lost her, even after her disease is cured? What if nature does allow me, and it’s just that I’m not in the right moment? 

“Damn those thralls, they got me discharged.” 

What did he say? Thralls? 


My thoughts kept me awake. 

The road we’re going through is relatively planar. To the left is a desolate land as far as the eye can see. Nothing is between them and the pale blue sky in the infinity. My feet is shaking. Something eerie is whispering to me. Something about the vast amount of corpses lying beneath the winter’s soft terrain, victims of the annihilation. Or it’s just my lack of experience in a huge chunk of nature with not even a hint of human presence. It makes me reconsider my place in this world. I think I could be a philosopher if I dwell here long enough, maybe. 

To the right is something even more shivering. Arrays of majestic, yet abandoned skyscrapers that’s no longer in one piece. Their hollow interiors turn them into pipe instruments, chanting silent requiem day and night. Just as I thought it couldn’t go any worse, a large piece of the structure decides that it is somehow a good time to de-attach from the structure’s frame. Dust fills the air. The crash is so loud that Microv turns for a brief second to the right. The annihilation really does resets the whole world. Perhaps this is how living in dark ages feels. 

I think I should take a stroll to these solitary landscapes once in a while. Perhaps Katrina would love it. 

Two hours later, the village come to our sight. The name is Tuhkapohja. Before we reach the ridge where the village is settled, we have to go through the outpost on the right side of the road. It is manned by two people. One is stepping out to greet us. He seems to be wearing his uniform behind that mantle, judging by his black trousers. Microv stops by and rolls down the window. 

“Travelers, looking for a stay.” He tells them. 

The man then allows our pass. 

“Any teenage girls with you?” 

Microv turns to Derrick and raises an eyebrow. 

“I’ll slap that face of yours back to him.” Derrick grunts. 

He then turns again to the man. “What’s the problem?” He asks. 

“They’re vanishing here, still investigating. Just keep an eye on yours, if you have one.” 

Great, other than a cult, there’s also kidnapping going around this place. I wish not to come across them during our quest, but that’s too good to be true. 

“Can I bring one home, if I found them?” 

The man giggles. His head flinches. “Well if she is willing, who am I to forbid?” “Just ease off when one is missing again.” Microv chuckles while stepping on the gas. 

“Safe stay!” The man shouts. He keeps waving his hand until we reach the village’s perimeter. 

We are fortunate to find a modest inn while checking in, I notice a huge map behind the inkeeper. The title on the top says ‘Tuhkapohja’. There’s a solitary structure to the north. I wonder what that structure is. Beyond that is a cliff. And it says that the cliff is one of the tourist destinations in this place. 

I tell Microv to stay with the innkeeper for more information while Derrick and I settle the provisions. We then collapse to the delicate bed in our room. Microv would probably be jealous but he barely need sleep. 

He returns fifteen minutes later. 

“White Stripes.” 

Derrick and I rise up. 

“The cult with the Radiant Winter.” Microv continues. 

Derrick turns to me. 

“Do you think we can convince them?” He asks. 

“Well, those thralls lack their reasoning.” I cross my arms. 

“Thralls?” Derrick asks.

“Fanatics, but more of a mock.” Microv says. 

Derrick’s head flinches. “Relatable.” 

“The innkeeper says that they’re praying right now.” 

“Why do you still insist that words could still turn their heart? You saw with your own eyes that our last encounter with them didn’t end well.” I grumble. 

Microv shrugs. “Maybe that’s just you. You haven’t tried us.” 

Derrick turns to me. “At least we know what we’re up against, sir.” 

“Correct, intel. Know your foe, to make them woe.” Microv exclaims. 

That’s one I couldn’t reject. I gather my strength and stand up, exhaling a piece of air, before nodding firmly. 


Derrick follows. “Where are we heading?” 

“Atop the ridge,” Microv jerks his head upward. “Their altar is there.” 

“Excellent! Another hiking session it is.” Derrick exclaims. 

I frown. Hiking is cool. Just not on winter. 

But whatever, this is for Katrina. I walk pass them toward the door, only to open it and tell Microv to take the lead by jerking my head. 

“Here we go.” He exclaims. 

Now I know what that solitary structure is. 

We follow the footpath that keeps getting steeper. The sight of the village makes this trek less arduous. It is quiet, but unlike the ruins, there are still folks roaming around. We encounter some passerby and a pair of boys, one chasing the other. We don’t see any female of below adult age. Everyone must have kept them under their own roof, thanks to the kidnapping. If we could get rid of those two, the kidnapping and the thralls, I might decide to move here. 

The path lead us to a stairs, which goes straight for the altar. The altar appears to be an organized pile of limestone and marble. It has a large circular structure, and is the only lavish building in Tuhkapohja. There is a curved line of spaced pillars that seemingly forms an entrance to the circular hall inside, which is open to the outsider. Inside the hall is an amphitheater, enough to hold a hundred people. But the people sitting there is less than that, judging by the vast empty seat. 

At the gate we are halted by two men, both wearing dark brown robe with white outlines. We ask them that we want to meet their leader.

“The prayer is still ongoing. You will have the chance honorable guests, once it is done.” The man’s gentle voice relief the tension inside me. He called us honorable guests. I guess not all thralls are hostile. That gives me hope. Maybe we really can talk this out. 

Microv leers briefly to Derrick and I behind him. 

“How long?” 

“This is the last phase, it should be done in less than five minutes.” 

“We’ll wait.” I say. 

“We are grateful for your understanding,” The man says. “We shall pass this news to our leader, soon.” 

While waiting, Microv and Derrick further their conversation with the two men. I stand behind them, looking around. Our flanks are filled with nothing but arrays of trees, covered in snow. I wonder if this gate is the only way into the hall. 

Eventually the prayer is done. One of the men goes into the hall, the other keeps us occupied. From here I can see him speak with someone else, presumably the leader. I can see him turn his sight on us. He then marches toward us with his hand hidden under his sleeve. 

“We wish the Winter bring wealth upon you, gentlemen.” He says as soon as he arrives. “Let us discuss the affairs in our tavern.” 

“Very well.” Microv says. 

The man then turns back and walk away followed by Microv. Derrick takes a step forward. “He is not that bad, sir.” 

“Or,” I object. “He doesn’t seem yet.” 

We then follow their steps toward the tavern. 

It’s warm inside. What he refer to as tavern is actually a place where he meets his guests. We are the only ones here. He allows us to sit on the teak-framed sofa. 

“I am Victus, the archpriest of the White Stripes. What brings you here, O honorable strangers?” 

I turn to Microv and Derrick, who do the same. I hope this goes well. 

“We would like to ask you to return the Radiant Winters on commerce.” I say. 

Victus shakes his head gently. “My apology. But only our brethren are allowed to have the herbs. And they too, are prohibited in sharing it to those not of our member.” 


“The ability to relieve any known diseases are comparable to what the divines are able. They are the manifestation of divine powers. And to use such power, you have to be dedicated to them.” 

“You mean something bad will happen if plenty of non-believers are using it?” “Correct. The last time this healing power is overused, the mass bombardment took place.” 

His words stunned me, not because those two events sound somewhat related, but because I know those two events are unrelated at all. I shouldn’t have raised my expectation. These thralls still rationalize any major event as being a divine intervention. Microv and Derrick strikes me a frown. Perhaps they’re as astonished as me, since they also knew too well about the event. 

“I see, that’s intriguing.” Derrick chimes in. “However, I wonder what if this village is in need of the herbs?” 

“For each roof, there is at least one of their member with us. We may forbid usage for strangers, but relatives are still eligible for a treatment, should they fall to need.” 

“Good, sir.” Microv clears his throat. “Imagine the prosper that would come if you trade those flowers again. Imagine seeing this village as a superpower of this continent, with you at the top.” 

Victus then gazes the floor. He seems to be contemplating. That makes me wanting to give Microv a pat on the back. Because that seems to have persua- 

“No.” Victus says. 


“Pardon?” Microv asks. 

Victus lifts his gaze back to us. “We’ve seen superpowers rise and fall. Their statesmen, starving for power, would do anything to gain them, even as further as breaking or rewriting the divine code. I will not allow my brethren to violate the testament brought by the divines.” 

This isn’t something that’s usually came from me, but I have no choice. 

“How do I become a member then?” I ask. 

Microv and Derrick spontaneously turns at me, although I don’t see them directly. 

“After the paperwork, you will be put into an entire season of ritual practice and spiritual training while under our supervision. Then the judges decide, whether or not you are worthy of our ties.” 

An entire season? There’s not even a week left, let alone an entire season.


It’s getting dark. We retrun the inn.

My chest fell to a cavernous depth. My limbs, it’s like they’re swallowed by the abyss. I collapse to my bed. My heart grows so heavy that I think the bed couldn’t handle it. 

I’m going to lose another daughter. This journey is over. I couldn’t deliver what I have promised. 

I pull the blanket and curl myself. My eyes are welling, I really am cursed to have no offspring. I think Microv and Derrick are looking at me right now, it’s the first time they see me like this. 

“Sir.” Derrick calls. 

It doesn’t feel right to leave him hanging. But it’s better that I don’t speak to anyone right now. So, I cower even harder. There’s no more word coming from them. I assume they left me alone. It’s the best that they can do right now. ‘Forgive me, darling’ becomes the only phrase that comes to my mind. I begin to lost count. My eyelids are getting heavy too, so I let them go. 

It was a brief rest. My thirst wakes me up. Derrick and Microv is sitting by the window, gazing upon the darkness beyond while exchanging words. I grab a glass of water and sit back on my bed. The two is quick to notice. 

“Better, sir?” Derrick asks. 

I don’t know if I could answer that. The pain is still there. Losing another daughter to another thrall. And the idea that this might be my fate. I could not live up to that. 

“I don’t know.” 

It’s all that made it out. All while my mind reach out for Katrina, who’s health is draining over time. Guess it will remain that way, until she loses her breath. Then I remember what she said to me before I left. If she won’t make it, at least I’d be there beside her. 

Derrick comes and sit down on his bed, which is beside mine. 

“Sir, Microv and I found something.” 

I don’t turn to him, my sight remains fixed to the floor. No matter what’s coming, if that doesn’t help my situation, I’m not listening. 

“This may help our situation.” He says. 

Since he’s brave enough to claim that way, my attention is suddenly all his. “Speak.” 

“We were down there in the inn’s café, when we overheard from two folks that they heard strange noises in the woods, northwest of this village.” 

I don’t think I understand how does it helps. “Then?” 

“We think that’s where they keep the girls.”

“The kidnapping?” 


“How could you be so certain?” 

Derrick exhales and lean away from me, his hands lay on the bed, supporting his weight. “The innkeeper says that some girls are last seen heading toward that woods.” “Then how come everyone overlooked that?” 

“They did a search, but found nothing. Seems like the responsible party is excellent in covering their tracks.” 

“These fellas,” Microv exclaims. I was surprised that he’s suddenly before me with his right hand raised. “They don’t have the proper equipment.” 

“You mean we’d definitely find the girls?” 

“If we do,” Derrick says. “The village will be grateful. They might symphatize with you and persuade Victus to provide the herbs.” 

I’m not sure whether this will work or not, but there’s a chance that it will, so I’m taking it. Besides, it might casts billions that lost their lives away from me. 

“Pack our gears then, we head there.” I say. 

The village has already went asleep. An excellent timing. Our operation would go unnoticed. We head for the woods with electric torches on my hand and Derrick’s. Microv takes the lead. 

He’s a military android, hence he has every standard utility that a professional field army have as a feature. That involves a night-vision sight and an EM transmitter. The plan is to let him scour the woods’ underground structure for a ‘well-structured’ anomaly. That is, an underground chamber. Besides, Derrick’s utilizer is able to connect to any terminal and operate it unnoticed. There has to be at least one terminal in that underground chamber, so Derrick would confirm if Microv really finds the chamber. 

This freezing woods already seem eerie in the daylight, let alone now. But it’s not like some dark creatures would fall upon us. Fortunately, we only spent an hour before stumbling upon something. 

“The chambers. I think we got them.” Microv says with a smirk in his face. “I’d agree.” Derrick says. “My utilizer picked up a computer terminal in the vicinity.” “Do you see an entrance?” I ask. 

Microv then points ahead of him. “There is an auxiliary hatch over there.” “What do you mean auxiliary?” Derrick asks.

“That means the gang don’t use the hatch often.” 

Derrick and I share a look before heading toward the direction Microv has pointed. It is a huge boulder covered in moss. 

“Crack it open!” Microv says to Derrick. 

I then turn to derrick, who is now vigorously running his fingers back and forth on his utilizer. He catches me gazing at him. 

“Don’t worry, I’m doing it.” He smirks too. 

At times like this, I would usually feel bad for not contributing to the task. But there are greater concerns. 

Not long after, a piece of the boulder shifts. It then slides open, revealing a large hollow crack that hosts a chamber with small orange illumination. 

“There we go gentlemen.” Derrick exclaims. 

“Are you aware of how pathetic it would be if you couldn’t hack through?” Microv chuckles. 

“He obviously do.” I say. “Let’s go.” I jerk my head. 

We tip-toe downstairs. I am astonished that there’s a base lying beneath the village and none notices. Microv and Derrick seems incredibly quiet. This place is something they usually comment upon. I leer at them behind me. They only leer back and nod. I believe that their astonishment is there. I appreciate them for not commenting anything as to not giving away our presence. 

We proceeds from one dark hallway to the other, following Derrick’s guidance toward the terminal that he accessed through his utilizer. If that terminal could open the auxiliary hatch, then it has to be somewhat a central terminal. The lack of personnel here encourages our gratitude. Seems like the sleep time applies to these men as well. We eventually arrive before the room that hosts the terminal without any hindrance. I try to open the door, but it’s locked. I shouldn’t be surprised. Microv then grabs my shoulder. 

“Let me.” He says. 

He pulls out a thin stick and insert it into the door’s lock. It opens the door. “They built a computerized entrance but they don’t apply it to this one?” Derrick whispers. “Perhaps none but them could get this far.” 

“Fair enough.” 

Derrick trots inside and sits before the terminal. Microv and I followed. After closing the door, we look around the room which is mostly filled by metal drawers. Microv finds tagged 

folders in one of them. I gaze down upon him, who then peers at me for a moment. He decides to pull the tag that says ‘Feature Analysis’. 

Microv places the folder on a nearby table and opens it. I place my torch beside the folder. “Research papers.” Microv says. 

“What’s it about?” I ask. 

Just when that question left my mouth, we stumble upon a page that shows a sketch of a female face. The sketch comes with series of divergent lines pointing at a specific point in the sketch. At the other end of those lines are writings that I couldn’t read. It’s not because they’re in foreign language that I don’t understand, it’s because I don’t have a background of pharmacy. 

“Who’s face is this?” I ask again. 

“Was that rhetorical?” Microv responds. 

“Can you read those writings?” 

Microv turns to me, “Not a pharmacist either.” 

But something hints me that anyone here is working to optimize feminine beauty. That suspicion of mine is justified when suddenly we stumble upon a sketch of a naked teenage girl. I turn away for a moment, before recalling that I’m old enough for this. Microv seems to have caught me turning away, so I clear my throat to dismiss it. 

“Still underaged?” He says. 

“Move along.” I respond. 

The sketch also has those lines and writings too. But this time there are mathematical formulations on it. 

“Gentlemen, have a look.” Derrick suddenly calls. 

Microv and I come over to him, who have made an astounding discovery. Microv leans closer toward the screen. It shows footages of girls sleeping in rooms, perhaps separated ones. 

“We found them, I guess.” Derrick says. 

“Is this recorded?” Microv asks. 

“No, this is live. You can access any device here using this terminal it appears.” “I don’t think we can return them now.” I say. 

“We need reinforcements.” Microv exclaims, leaning away from the screen. “We have to turn this over to the authority.” I exclaim. 

“But we still don’t know the party behind this mess.” Derrick responds.

“The terminal doesn’t say anything?” 

“More like doesn’t have anything to say. It is either devices access program or other miscellaneous files unrelated to anyone that are stored here. No personal logs, or recording of some sort.” 

This close, and the culprit is nowhere to be found. At least we now know of this place. The authority would run it over and end the kidnapping. 

But something tells me the White Stripes is responsible for this. 

We decided that we had enough. Derrick takes shots of the footage and this room, downloading it to his utilizer before we return to the surface. He reopens the entrance hatch and close it once we got through. Derrick and I march toward local officers as soon as possible. It took us several seconds before we notice that Microv fell behind. I turn around and find him peering at the void behind him. 

“Microv, let’s go.” 

He turns to me and nod. “Right behind you.” 

Microv approaches us, his sight sometimes wandering to his flanks once every few seconds. 

Did he notice something? 


“Closed? What security force on earth decides that they should all have a shut eye?” I ask gently. 

“We are, sir.” The officer guarding the building says. “I mean it’s winter, our service only lasts for twenty hours. Please be patient.” 

I nod and walks back to Microv and Derrick. 

“What a bunch of unprofessionals.” Derrick blurts out. 

“Want me to spark them?” Microv grunts. 

“And lose the chance of the folks’ sympathy?” Derrick grumbles. 

I sigh. “We’ll return here in a few hours. Let’s rest for now.” 

Nobody says anything. We cleave through the silence of the village’s street back to the inn. I think I heard a conversation between Microv and Derrick, but I’m too tired to listen. 

Inside, I place my gear down before collapsing to the bed. I keep reminding myself to be patient. Few more hours before we turn this over. Once that happens, this kidnapping business will end. Hoping that this place would trade us the Radiant Winter as a reward feels too much, but I’m still clinging to that. I can still save Katrina. She will be fine soon.

I can already picture us strolling across the blooming field back home during spring. She is there, stopping by every flower that has her mesmerized. Their features however, still leagues below her. Her smile brightens the field. I feel ten times more comfortable here than I used to be. I pick a flower and approaches her. Acknowledging my presence, she rises up and meet my eyes. I nudge her hair slightly and tuck a flower in her right ear. 

She then gazes briefly down at my feet, her face turns red as berries. When she raise her face, she has her eyes closed and tilts her head. What comes after is a wide smile that melt my heart. 

“Thank you.” She says before running off deeper to the field. 

I stride behind her. 

Then I realize. The flower that I tucked on her right ear is a Hyacinth, the one that struck my smell like no tomorrow. 

“Oi, sir.” I hear someone calls my name. Sounds like Microv. But he’s nowhere to be found. 

Then someone grabs and shakes my shoulder. 

“Sir, sir!” 

The dream shatters, I return to the inn. Seems like my thoughts had lulled me again. I found Microv shaking my shoulder. I shove my blanket away and rise up. Before I ask him any question of what’s going on, something in front of my bed amplifies that question further. 

“Microv, what happened!?” 

“My instinct just got justified.” 

Before my bed are four men, all tied up and unconscious. What’s more stunning is that the men are wearing dark brown robes with white outlines, the White Stripes. 

“They snuck upon us. Fortunately, I smell them coming.” Microv exclaims. “They were about to wrap you up. But are fool enough to fall to my trap.” 

“My goodness.” 

I turn to Derrick who appears to be as stunned as me. 

“Does this mean…” 

“There’s a high chance that they are, sir.” Derrick says, nodding. 

So it is true. It feels satisfying to see that this people turns out to be responsible for the kidnapping. We now have a reason to bring them to the ground. 

I stand up and approaches the men. One of them raises his head, the youngest one, turning his sight to me.

“You, trespassers.” He says. 

“What have you been doing with those girls?” 

“For the divines’ continuous blessing, they have to be pleased.” 

Pleasing the divines with those girls? That doesn’t sound good. But if that’s the case… “Then why do you have research papers on female features?” 

His eyes met mine, his lips is straight. Seems like he’s not going to answer that. Very well. “Ugh!” He grunts as I struck his face with my fist. 

“Tell me!” I say, my tone goes slightly over the top. 

“We study them, to create a female with the most captivating feature ever known to man.” “Then what? You’re going to sacrifice them?” 

“Once the divines agreed, she will be sent to the garden where the Radiant Winter blooms and…” 

That’s enough. I give him another blow, hard enough that it turns him unconscious again. These thralls, they’re as troublesome as ever. If not because of them, the annihilation wouldn’t have occurred. Our civilization would’ve reach upon unimaginable height right now. 

Microv and I look at each other. 

“They’re coming.” He says. 

“No, Microv.” I say, approaching him. “We’re coming.” 

Five hours has passed since we returned from our search in the woods. We found something, and that seems to have gotten us into trouble. But we are one step closer to bring these peoples to justice. I am one step closer to purge this village of this thralls. And I’m not going to stop. Time to put my swordsmanship to use. 

Microv and I grab our gears, including the shovels. 

“Derrick, grab the jeep and turn this over to those officers. Lead them to extract those girls at the underground chambers we found.” 

“Wilco.” Derrick nods. 

“Time to confront them, the hard way!” I exclaim. 

“At last.” Microv says. 

We leave through the window in our room. Hopefully none sees us coming. It’s early in the morning and their ritual is about to begin again. This’ll be their last. 


After marching to the vicinity of the altar’s gate where the two guards are standing, I rest for a while, gathering my stamina after the hike. We are in the bushes, beyond the sight of those two guards. I take a deep breath and calm myself down. 

“Are we ready?” Microv asks. 

“Go.” I say, my voice firm, my hand is itching to shovel their face flat. 

Microv and I leap out from the hiding and charge into the guards. They notices us and pull out something from their waist. Sticks, probably strong enough to cause bruises. By the time they’re ready, it was too late. Microv shoves his entire weight toward one of the guards. I struck the other’s stomach with my shovel’s butt and swing it against his face. The two guards collapsed. 

The crash of my shovel is probably loud enough to alert anyone on the altar. We march through the gate. Everyone stands up on our presence. Surprisingly enough Victus come to meet us, followed by four guards. 

“Gentlemen what have you done!?” His tone remains gentle even in this predicament. 

“You are responsible for the disappearance of the girls in this village. We’re taking you down.” 

“Let us not partake in this sort of vigilante. Let us all settle this before the legal authority.” He says. 

Microv and I share a look. We know that our response to that is obvious. Besides, it is him who commits vigilante first. 

“Denied.” Microv responds. A second later he has his shovel heading to Victus’s face. 

But he is repelled by one of the guard. The other struck Microv’s stomach and shove him back. 

“Very well then.” Victus says, retreating behind his guards. “Acolytes, to arms!” He yells. 

That man hurries back to the altar and orders all the worshippers to leave through the back door, before doing it himself. All the while the guards, or Acolytes perhaps, are covering their leave. We have to take on this four before us first. 

I go for one of the acolytes’ leg. When he moves to parry, I jerk my shovel back and slam its edge against his face. It was swift and in a second, he collapses to my right. The other goes for my head, his stick fell straight from above. My shovel met the stick. Then I thrust my right knee against his stomach as soon as possible. I shove the stick away and swing my shovel back, crashing against his face. The loud bang brings satisfaction. I find Microv standing with one of his feet on the acolyte’s back. He slam his shovel to the back of his head. 

“Clear!” Microv says. 

We proceeds toward the altar, where another six guards fell upon us. Microv’s back and mine met for a moment. We peer to each other and nod.

I charge the guard to my left. He times his stick and struck at the right moment. But at that moment, I twist to his right and successfully hit the back of his head with my shovel. Once he fall to his knee, I swing the sharp edge of my shovel against his back. His blood splatters out, sticking to my shovel. An excellent opportunity. I put the shovel to my lip and lick the blood, enduring its bitter taste on my shovel as my saliva runs over it. 

That hesitates the other two to attack me. I can see it in their face, which just seconds ago was firm and ready. Now there’s nothing in there but doubt. 

One of them yells and charges against me. The other follows suit. I march to meet them, taking a deep breath. One swings his stick for my head, but I duck at the right time. I hold my shovel with both hands and goes for the man’s waist. He screams in pain while the other is hustling toward me. With another hit, I shove the man away and brace for impact. Along with the stick is his body weight, which is now held by my shovel. He slams his stick many times against my shovel, giving me no openings. 

When I thought I see one, I raise my shovel. But his foot meet my face first, hard. My back hits the floor. I raise my shovel, bracing for impact again. But before his stick hits me, Microv shoves him away and drops him with three successive hits, two to his torso and the last one to his head. I see beyond him and find guards lying on the floor, hoping that they’re dead. 

“Such a takedown you gave there.” 

He gives his hand, which I take, pulling me up. 

“Grind with me for a week and you’ll be able to do that, guaranteed.” He says. 

We give no more thoughts nor words and head straight toward the back door where Victus made his leave. Behind it is a cobblestone pathway that we follow. Since Victus is heading this way, he must be on the other side. On our flanks are glass structures that hosts my purpose here, the Radiant Winter. Their numbers are overwhelming yet they are kept here by the White Stripes. 

They belong to this village now, not only them. 

The path leads us to a circular limestone paving, where it ends. Beyond is more woods, covered in freezing snow. And beyond the woods, is a cliff. Microv looks around while I catch my breath. 

Then Victus appears behind us, from the way we came. 

“You have trespassed our domains. You shall be punished.” He says, still in his gentle tone. But now it’s topped with anger, I can sense it. 

Now he is wrapped in a combat gear from head to toe. He looks way more intimidating than before. That gear seems heavy, and I think this shovel can only scratch those machinery. I have to find another way. But before that… 

“Why do you keep the flowers for yourself?” I ask. “You know you could have been on the top of the world, should you trade them.”

Victus meet my eyes. Those sharp determined eyes, I think that’s one I can admire from him. 

“Whatever that is, if the price is my daughter, then I won’t budge.” 

Am I hearing this correctly? His daughter? 

“How ill your daughter is, that you need this much of the Radiant Winter? I thought a stalk is enough for any sickness.” 

“My daughter is dead!” Victus yells, for the first time in front of me. “The mass bombardment didn’t just took place, they also took her from me!” 

Microv and I share a look. 

“They are the last beautiful thing that we enjoyed together, before those damned missiles struck. They are my lifeblood as I strive day and night to recreate her, so that I can see her again. I will not let anyone take them away from me!” 

This is the first time I relate to a thrall. Losing a daughter is the hardest burden any father could bear. It’s their next purpose after caring for their spouse. Sure they can make another. But the first loss would guarantee a wound that lasts through their lifetime. Like him. Like me. But now I have a new daughter. And although my love isn’t as great as it is toward Genesis, it will be once this is over. 

I take a step forward. 

“I will.” I say. 

I think that snaps him. He pulls out his stick with his right hand and charges toward me. His charge is quick, perhaps owing to the gear he’s wearing, and I haven’t brace myself for the impact. Fortunately Microv jumps in the way just in time. 

“Over my corpse!” He grunts. 

The gentle and calm thrall that I respected the first time we met, has turn into a bursting ball of anger. I twists to his left and aims for his waist. But he pulls out a tonfa with his left hand, which then met my shovel. We are then tossed back a few meters by a shockwave, perhaps coming from his gear too. This will be a trouble. 

Victus swings his stick upward in my direction. I nudge back to avoid it. Then he thrusts his tonfa toward me. I managed to shift to my left, but that barely hits me. He goes for my head with his stick, so I raise my shovel. But it hits so hard that it pushes me back. I parry more strikes from him. He manages to strike my stomach, shoving me away and turns around to meet Microv who is charging toward him. My back hits the snow covered limestone. 

Microv aims for the left of his head, but his shovel meet Victus’ tonfa. He then thrusts his stick, but Microv quickly pulls out his bayonet just in time to parry that. In their standoff, I notice something on his back. A polygonal bulge on his armor. It glows crimson, faintly illuminating the premises behind him. That got me wondering, so I charge toward his back.

He leers behind him and notices me. But as soon as he does, Microv shove his head against Victus’. That might not hurt him, but the temporary shock is enough for him to shove his stick away and swipes his bayonet across his chest. From my side, I don’t think that does anything. The opening however, allows me to aim the sharp edge of my shovel toward the bulge. My shovel then sticks on the small crack that it just made. Electricity buzzes out and the crimson light flickers. 

Microv and I seems to be fortunate. Perhaps this gear is still a prototype and the bulge is the weak point. A power source or something? Was that the one that enhances his speed and strength? 

I hit the crack for the second time, attempting to cleave through. But Victus sends another shockwave that tosses us back. The three of us recover our ground, I catch our breath. Victus leers behind him. He doesn’t seem to be injured much, but he does seem irritated. Especially when I broke that bulge on his back. 

I circle around him, toward Microv’s position. 

“That helmet is nut. Not sure if I can manage another one without any fracture.” Microv says. 

Victus marches toward us. 

“I have a plan.” I say, while we both retreat. 

So I tell him his plan. 

“Are you sure? You seem to be overwhelmed by him seconds ago.” Microv says. I nod. “Just give me your bayonet.” 

“Very well.” 

He hands me his thermal bayonet and run off towards the woods beyond us. All the while I position myself in front of a track that goes along the cliff. Now it’s just he and I. 

“You got something up your sleeve.” Victus says. 

“What? You’re scared?” 

“I might as well wait here, starving you out.” 

I chuckle at that notion. “I don’t think so. You are the one racing against time here Victus.” He frowns in silence. It seems like he doesn’t understand. 

“You see, there are only two of us confronting you here. What do you think happened to the other one?” 

It takes several more seconds before he gasps. He turns back. “No!” 

Suddenly my utilizer flickers, indicating of an incoming message. I play them out loud with the speakers. A message from Derrick.

“All White Stripes scientists have been rounded up and locked in one place, sir. Local authority reinforcement is on their way to secure the chambers.” 

His face turns again to me. His sight is firm and fixed. His grip grows tighter. And I can see his teeth pushing against each other. 

“You take my daughter away from me!” He points to me, his hand trembling from how tight his grip is. 

I take his daughter away!? 

Something is scalding within, perhaps incited by his words. Thralls like this… I decide to release it. Guess what… 

“Painful isn’t it!?” My voice went over the top. “That’s how I felt when I learned that thralls like you took my daughter away!” I think this is as far as I can go. I don’t remember bursting like this before. Even in my adolescent times, it never went this terrible. “Now I have a second one, and I will not let you take her from me again. I will not sacrifice mine for your petty, irrelevant, harlot, you refer to as your daughter.” 

He screams. 

I scream. 

We both snap and charge each other. 

Two men, bursting like no tomorrow, on a collision course. Showing no remorse, wishing for the other’s downfall. Their sheer will boils them to the core, melting any chunk of snow they traverse on. Their hands thirst to spill the blood of the other. The terrible fate that befall upon their daughter has brought them here. And here will it be decided. 

No, it has been decided. Katrina will survive. 

Victus’ blow is weaker than it was before. Perhaps that bulge supports the weight of his armor. Now that it is damaged, that weight fell upon him. Even still, my weapons are barely doing any harm to him. And that he can still parry my attacks, landing counters that deals several blunt damage, mostly to my torso. My shovel is my best hope of parrying his attack. So I decided to keep parrying until further down the track. 

The contest starts to take a toll on my muscles, as I keep falling back. I think the same goes for Victus as his attacks are declining and his speed wavering. I’m able to land some hits toward his stomach and head, provoking him. Perhaps he doesn’t have a fighter background as I do. I take another chance when his breath wear him down. But he managed to counter attack and shove me to the ground. 

I quickly rise up to prepare for any strikes he has for me. But it turns out he remains in place, catching his breath. I do the same. 

We stare at each other. It has been a tough fight. But there will be no draw.

“I’ll shove you down this cliff.” He says, panting, jerking his head to the left. “I’ll take you with me.” I respond, also panting. 

“At least you don’t get to see your daughter anymore.” 

I nod, turning away for a brief moment. 

I’m finally here. There’s another track to Victus’ right, traversable by ground vehicle. It plays a part in my plan. Now that he’s right in the middle of the track, it’s over. 

“Good news, you’ll see your daughter soon.” I say. 

Victus raises an eyebrow, before turning to his right, toward the noise of an incoming vehicle. I shovel a chunk of snow and toss it to his face. As he’s distracted by the snow, Microv springs from the tree behind him, unleashing his taser feature on his fingers upon the bulge on Victus’ back. 

“Aaagghhh!” Electric sparks run amok across his body. 

As he is twitching in place the vehicle keeps getting closer. Microv and I leap back. Eventually it clears through the snow and crash into him before stopping, sending Victus down the cliff to my right. His scream echoes as he fell toward the freezing depth below. His armor shatters piece by piece as he comes crashing with the stones sticking out of the ledge throughout his fall. 

Eventually he hits a hard surface, thinly covered in snow. And there, he stops moving. Derrick comes out of the jeep. 

Microv raises his arms to the sky. “Haha! Scientia, victrix!” He yells. 

“Scientia, victrix?” Derrick asks. 

“Come on, this is our bloody cry now.” 

Derrick then turns to me. “What do you think, sir?” 

Microv follows. 

I turn to them. “Scientia, victrix.” 


It’s over. 

Tuhkapohja’s authority decides to disband the White Stripes and charge the members with community service. The village looks even brighter since then, with the folks strolling around, chanting songs with the Radiant Winter tucked in their ear. 

Too bad I can’t join them, but it still bring me joy thinking about their excitement for the return of the girls. Or should I say daughters. 

I gaze at the ashen sky that sheds their frozen tears upon the world.

Victus became a thrall because he lost his daughter. He worships the Radiant Winters because they are the only witness to the best memory he had with her. I don’t know how many people like Victus are out there. One thing for sure, the annihilation may have wiped those thralls away. But more seems to have sprout from the ashes. I couldn’t remain idle. Let Genesis be their last victim. 

“Dad!” A loud voice that reminds me that I’m not alone here. It snaps my thoughts and has me falling back. 

“Katrina, please. You don’t have to yell like that.” I beg. Although it is probably my mistake that she has to yell like that. 

She sighs. A temporary gust flutters her peanut hair. “You are really into your daydreams, aren’t you?” She tilts her head. 

Uh, not really. The one I just had is important for our well-being. 

She then smiles. “I think I want to be an Android specialist like you dad.” 

“Oh,” I raise an eyebrow, before leering to my right. “It’s hard to believe that I’m this charismatic.” 

I don’t know if it’s just my feeling, but I think she strikes me a brief pout there. 

She places her hand on her waist and leans toward me. “Dad, come on. Isn’t it natural for a daughter to follow the steps of her father?” She grumbles. 

That definitely sounds amazing, an offspring who will continue my legacy. It provides me a relief, a brief respite from the turmoil of my worries. At least I am a father for once, though she is not of my blood. I turn back to her and nod without any further thought. 

She smiles again, before turning back and takes several steps ahead. 

“You know,” She says. “I even have a name for my first Android.” 

“Spoil me.” I say. 

She turns to me again and lifts her chin high. “Sylvana.” 

I cross my arm. “Sylvana…” 

“Correct. Then there’s my family’s name.” 

“Sylvana, Tribhuwana.” I say. “What a lovely name.” 

She just nods.

Writer: PrimDom

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