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Vulture
AA Infantry


Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Sun Jul 25, 2021 11:18 pm    Post subject:  Priest
Subject description: A story written from the perspective of a Nod Acolyte.
Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Well, it was no secret I was working on this. A short-ish story written from the perspective of recently graduated priest ("Acolyte") in Nod's ranks, and with all the confusing aspects of his role.

Enjoy!


I had passed my exam to become an Acolyte in the service of Nod. Finally, I would be able to guide others to see the light, the Tiberium Future! The mere thought made me feel like an overexcited teenager again. An Acolyte should not feel this way. I was thirty-three years old, I was supposed to be a rational human being.
  Still, passing was not all good. It meant I would be deployed somewhere, and my last deployment was a nightmare. Sure, my last tour of duty had been mostly quiet. But the time it was not, I had to fight my own Brothers and Sisters in a desperate battle within the narrow quarters of my own base as the Black Hand burnt everything down, specificially targeting the quarters were the cyborgs were kept. It had been a terrifying experience, far worse than fighting GloboTech in Scandinavia, GDI in the Baltic or even  the Forsaken in former Ukraine, who were notorious for taking no prisoners. The Black Hand was becoming more and more of a loose cannon, and those overzealous cunts fought everybody that did not match their religious standards. Which no sane person did, because those pyrophiles were positively insane.
  Which is why I chose to became a disciple in the way of Tiberium. It was a much needed break from actual deployment, and it gave me a future as an officer or a priest. But that would be much more responsibility than just an Acolyte, and for now that suited me just fine. I had very few orders to give, and many more to obey, but ultimately it was probably the religious rank with the most freedom within Nod.
 
 Depending on the exact nature and location of my deployment, I could be lucky and have little more to do than keeping tabs and occassionally talking to local politicians. Check whether the population was faithful and make sure enough we would have enough willing fighters to take up arms against the oppressors of GDI. Not that they would fight GDI very often, but it was better not tell them that. You would actually be fighting the most often against those that tainted Kane's vision.

  And the ceremony tonight would make it all official. Those meetings were always wonderful. Even if the chants and smoke no longer made me feel as empowered as they used to, it still had that effect on the rookies that just finished their rudimentary combat training, or even the recruits that just started it. I remember being down there myself, and also how I was not picked by any acolyte. I was just too average, which is a problem when there are thousands of recruits but only a hundred or so graduating Acolytes.
  But in this ceremony I would also select one of the recruits, who would be my partner on my first assignment and if I wanted much longer, maybe even throughout my entire career.  As we rose to the ranks, this recruit remaining my Confessor before eventually becoming a Retainer, while I would climb the ladders of Faith into higher ranks of the priesthood. If I ever made that choice, that was. But these things were in the future. I should not get ahead of myself. For now, I would be an Acolyte and this person would be just my Confessor.

  Scrolling through the database, I noticed an immense list of names. Yes, I would see them in person before I could pick, then all neatly lined up in their black military uniform, ready to call out their names. For lower grading Acolytes, most of the promising recruits would be gone and many would just call out a name at random. Only a handful of people had a real choice when several hundred people would graduate and only about a dozen recruits would stand out. I had no clue what my own grades were, but I doubted they were too bad. I had studied hard and even did some extras, like getting my license to drive any Attack Bike in the Nod arsenal, from the old Kameda to the newer types, as well as APCs, in addition to the standard mandatory driver's license.
  I already saw myself standing on that podium, in front of those Brothers and Sisters, but it was not there yet.
  Most of the list was really bland. It gave little more information about the militant other than a picture of their face, some basic data and their grades, which was awfully little to know when you had to basically live with that person for several years. There was this guy that shared my first name of Amir that had actually quite high grades, but something about his face told me he was also quite ambitious. That was not too bad if I had plans to ascend rather quickly myself, but otherwise it would get annoying pretty quick.
  There was a really hot girl, which stood out as well, but I cursed my hormones as I looked at her. That was one way to ruin the assignment really fast, not to mention that it was actually quite likely she would be picked early despite her bland grades. Still, I would remember the name of Evgenia Brusilov.
  Peter Vikhrov was the second to truly stand out. He had very good grades, and I wonder why he was left here rather than be trained to be a guard of a higher priest. There was probably something that was not told to us here.
  Eva Drozdov just stood out to me. I did not know why, since her grades were mostly middling, especially in the religious aspect, but also physically the brunette was not outstanding, except that she was apparently quite a good climber. Not that anyone could climb well in the heavy combat armour that everybody had to wear nowadays, but it was something. She was also taking good care of her equipment. I took a closer look at the picture of  her face. She had long brown hair, beautiful blue eyes, but also a fair amount of acne, especially on her temples. She was visibly shy, but she seemed friendly enough. Maybe too friendly to be a good Confessor, since part of being a Confessor included torturing people that had serious accusations of having hostile sympathies on their backs. Granted, that was why I was glad to be never picked to be a Confessor myself, even if being an Acolyte meant that I would oversee the Confessor torturing a prisoner and possibly have to get personally involved. But now I was able to do the necessary things to see the Brotherhood thrive.

  I moved on. Eva Drozdov was a good backup plan, but Peter Vikhrov was likely to be a much better partner. But he was also likely to be picked quickly, especially by a woman that might consider him quite handsome.
  But there were plenty of standouts, young men and women alike. Another true standout was another girl, Miriam Poletov. She had high grades in the physical exercise department appeared to be more confident on the picture, so she would very likely to be taken quickly. Some of her grades indicated she was not too smart, which was a blessing in disguise as that might mean she would follow orders without thinking.
  Still, ultimately this process would still be somewhat random. Two dozen grades and a picture of their face were not enough to create an accurate judgement of another person, and the entire process seemed more designed to create a false sense of destiny. You would blame yourself rather than Nod for saddling you with an undesired Confessor. Another reason could be that this process made the green recruits feel more reverance for Nod's clerical class. I know I admired them more because of it, though I grew out of that rather quickly after dealing with particularly dumb Confessors and Acolytes alike.
 Pushing these thoughts aside, I scrolled down further to the list until the alarm clock ran.
 
  I cursed. I needed to prepare myself to look somewhat decent for the ceremony, even if that meant I would not be able to check the last fifty files. Still, I suppose it was not the worst. I had a few good ideas and a few worse ones, and  my primary choice was unlikely to be taken early. Her grades were average and her skin too imperfect.

  And I entered the ceremony. The graduated Acolytes always arrived last. The soldiers, as well as other travellers on the Path of Faith, were all chanting loudly. "Peace through power! Peace through power! Peace through power!"
  "Peace through power," I joined in the chant together with my fellow graduates. It felt not as empowering as it used to when I was younger. It felt not as empowering as it used to. Not since I heard how the Black Hand used the same phrase. But it still felt good. It was a phrase that I heard on a daily basis since I was little, and it was a part of life. "Peace through power!" I made sure I could be heard. Because GDI needed to go down! They wanted to deny us our Tiberian Future, and that was something we could not stand for. Peace through power!

  The conscripts were all neatly lined up in an open square formation, divided in sixteen blocks of each eight men wide and eight men deep. The poor sods at the rear could probably barely hear it if their names were called.

  And the first Acolyte was called forwards, and not long after he called a name of his own. One conscript walked out of the formation, saluted in front of everybody, before walking alongside the podium, following the Acolyte who remained on the stage, and barely seconds later both left, and the second Acolyte announced his choice. Peter Vikhrov. All the names I expected to be taken early were already taken. Evgenia Brusilov was taken a little later than I expected, even after Maria Poletov. The jerk who picked him was looking surely giddy, and for some reason I felt a wave of pity for the teenage girl. But also a few names I did not recognize, and at this point I became nervous. I really hoped that Eva Drozdov would not be called, but her name was still available on the list, even as more and more names were called.
  I would be better than that. "Amir Bugrov." The High Priest loudly proclaimed my name, and I walked on the stage.

  Sooner than I expected, it was my turn. I accepted the graduation certificate. And I called out my choice. "Eva Drozdov!"
  I became even more nervous as a willowy girl slowly stepped out of the back of the formation. She was hestitant as she walked closer, probably just as nervous as I was, shivering as she saluted in front of me. And we walked off, and I took another brief look at the girl. She had beautiful brown hair that reached her shoulders, and she had a thin frame to the point she could probably be squeezed inside a suitcase. Amir thought it was not really attractive, but that might keep them focused on their job. Besides, he doubted the teenager would be attracted to someone over twice her age. And while he would guide her through her Confessor stage, she would also keep an eye on him and be able to report on anything she did not approve of. He just hoped it would work out.
  Hopefully, the appointment would be relatively quiet so the Confessor would be little more than a personal guard.

  But for now, they would spend one more evening alone, thinking about the proceedings and only leave tomorrow, first thing in the morning, when they would be truly introduced to each other.  
  But unlike my new Confessor, I actually had things to do tonight. First, I checked my graduation papers. I kind of wanted to see how well I had done. Surprisingly for being called relatively early during the ceremony, my ratings were actually nothing outstanding by any means, which was good, because that meant I would just be one out of many Acolytes without too many eyes on me. Nobody cared about those who barely passed. The only outstanding grade I had was the surprising eighty-seven percent on the Benefits of Tiberium. Kind of funny, considering my examinator was pretty pissed when I opposed Tiberium-based health products for normal humans. Or maybe that was part of the test? I had not failed any subject either as I walked through the Path of Faith, which was very good. And I even took a few extras.
  Strangely, Nod advertised the use of those Tiberium-based condiments openly for the last few years, and it was already showing its results. And those were not great. There might be a few stabilizers that could potentially save the youngest children, but the adults using it would die a miserable death. Hell, even the children would, because the parents using it on their children would not go to see a doctor until it was far too late to save their offspring.
  But the fact that I was called relatively early meant that my average grade was still higher than most, and I wondered where the others failed, since my grades probably just barely qualified as above average.

  Next, I had to check my assignment.
             Ugh. Sector 129, a remote area in the hills of western Russia, as far away from my birthplace in Kamchatka as I could imagine. I had not seen my family for over a decade now... I wondered if they would still be alive. Or if they had followed my aunt's example, who, enthralled by Nod's stories about Tiberium, clasped her hands around a large green shard and then had the audacity to kiss it.
  I still remembered how her body started to convulse and deform as the material ran through her. It was a painful process that she somehow survived as she became less and less recognizable. The teenager screamed for as long as she could, a harrowing wail of
fear and pain that kept on going until it broke. And then it stopped, but at that point I was back in my combat gear, ready to put an end to it.
  I made the mistake to look at her, seeing a barely recognizable tangle of flesh and bones that should not be alive, yet it slithered slowly through the air. The creature was still in pain as it stretched and contracted, the newly formed Visceroid convulsing as it was now slowly moving through the air.
 
 I wished I had never seen that, and I vaguely remember emptying three clips into the Visceroid to put it down. Those things needed far more bullets than a creature of that size had any right to.

 As such, Tiberium was still a dangerous substance. For Tiberium to be our future proper, it needed to be treated with the necessary respect. And that means that you don't touch it, and especially don't attempt to kiss it.

  Putting my musings to an end, I looked back at my assignment. Very little about fellow Nod presence was mentioned, other than there being a harvesting base for a nearby large Tiberium field in the sector, but this base was not in my parish itself. Still, I might have to serve as a host to some of my fellow Brothers and Sisters every now and then. There was seemingly also a moderate GDI presence in the area, and the burning of an orphanage two years ago had been attributed to them. ztype GDI. They stooped so low as to burn an orphanage!
  But the perpetrators had never been found.

Next morning, I arrived the designated hangar right on time, where I was unceremoniously sent into an old Ratel APC. It was clear many Acolytes had been promoted, and even more had been killed. There were GDI insurgents everywhere, and as such fresh blood was needed to fill the ranks.
  That did not exactly instill confidence.
  But I would do my duty for the Brotherhood.

  Eva Drozdov arrived not long after, her body clad into Nod's typical black metal armour, but now with the towering metal hood on her head that was the most obvious difference between the attire of the common Militant and a young Confessor. The camera and the lamp being put on top of each other within the hood detracted slightly from its appearance, but their practical value could not be denied. And functionality over asthetics. at least in my humble opinion.
  We stepped inside the vehicle, and I briefly cursed that I was not allowed to take off my helmet when moving. A necessary safety precaution when driving through infested areas, but it made moving such a cumbersome activity. I hated it.

  As the vehicle started to get into motion for what was going to be a two-day drive, I spoke to the girl sitting in front of me. It was so awkward, and it was made even worse by the supply crate that was between us and contained our food for our first week or two at the new place. Still, I held out my gloved hand, which the girl cautiously took. "I am Amir Bugrov."
  Eva nodded. "I am Eva Drozdov, my liege."
  It was awkward how young she sounded. "How old are you?"
  "Sixteen, my liege."
 Even younger than I expected. "Are you aware of your duties as Confessor?"
  "I have to keep you safe and obey your orders, my liege." That way of addressing me would get old really quickly.
  The teenager sounded far too submissive, too scared. Was that beaten into her? "More or less, but please be a little less afraid." I paused, not knowing what to tell her. "I think we know more details once we arrive at our destination."
  "I agree, my liege." She shivered briefly, and it said something that this was visible straight through her plate armour. The girl was terrified.
   There was no need to be scared, Eva. Please. After we arrived, I would have to make clear to that I did not want to be revered. Or maybe she was just playing the role she was expected to play, not too different from what I did at the Monastry.
  Some of those elephant dicks had an ego far too big for their own good.
  Oh well, their fault if they got themselves killed.

Last edited by Vulture on Sun Jul 25, 2021 11:32 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Vulture
AA Infantry


Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Sun Jul 25, 2021 11:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

As the APC moved through the landscape, we remained mostly quiet. Flat lands were replaced with neverending hills, but eventually the vehicle stopped at a small angular building, with a concrete clock tower in the back. It was clearly inspired by the old churches and cathedrals, but with a very modern outlook otherwise. Various red windows dotted parts of the building, too.
   An Acolyte stood in front of the building. He briefly introduced himself, with the notion he was intending to study for his promotion, before he pointed inside, showing the way, starting at the front door.

As we walked towards him, I quickly took a note of my surroundings, and other than that the village was surrounded by relatively tall cliffs, deep in a valley, little stood out, other than some houses being surprisingly new, probably built recently by locals for local refugees as Tiberium encroached, probably from the north if the heavy-duty large concrete walls blocking the valley were any indication.

  As Eva and I entered the building, the residing Acolyte quickly showed me around, his own Confessor taking out the crate from our supply truck. The main hall, which took up the overwhelming majority of the building, was filled with benches for the locals, so they had plenty of seats at the gathering. There was a small stage, and it had an ominous red window high above near the pointed roof, at least from this side. On the stage I noticed the fittings for the altar of Kane, but it was clear the building could be used for other gatherings as well. I doubted it would happen often, whether it was for frivolities or emergencies, but it was good to construct a building with multiple purposes in mind.
I also realized that the building was far more impressive from the outside than from the inside. The relatively thick concrete walls did not help either especially since this building was quite small to begin with, leaving not that much room for the actual interior.

  The Acolyte led us on the stage and through a large double door that led to a moderately sized almost rectangular room  facility, which was mostly empty other than two empty wooden crates.
  To our right was a door that led to a small storage room that contained various artifacts and idols as well as the altar of Kane, as well as some electronic equipment required for the more pragmatic side of my preachings.
  The previous Acolyte bowed to the altar, and Eva and I followed his example. We needed to thank Kane for his view of the Tiberian Future. It was wonderful.
  The second room he showed was another storage room. It contained an emergency power plant and an emergency water purifier, both eating up most of the room. They were deactivated right now, but I had operated those before as part of my training, and they could be easily turned on in a case of emergency. The large equipment coupled with lack of windows gave the room an ominous feeling, but as long as everything worked properly this room would not be entered.
  Next, he showed us a pair of showers behind a large door, which a blue button on the side. They weren't showers for regular use... mostly considering there was another large door on the other side. "Watch this, brother," he clarified, and he quickly pressed the blue button. A large amount of water absolutely hosed us, washing over our airtight armour. I stood my ground, but Eva, being much lighter, collapsed on all fours as she attempted to withstand the waterfall crashing into her.  But it stopped just as quickly as it started, and the water rapidly drained away. "It is to wash off polluted Tiberium dust. It sometimes sticks to your armour and if you then take it off... " That could be a problem. I briefly wondered how the civilians lived in these areas. They did not have armour to protect them against the dust, and possibly also not industrial showers. Maybe they just did not leave their homes all that often. "It's mostly important if you have been near Tiberium fields, if you stay in town you won't need it. Yet."

  He wasn't done, as he showed me an adjacent room which was best described as a small cellar. It was empty right now, but GDI spies would spend their time there to be interrogated if they ever got caught. My task would be to keep them alive, but also to make them more willing to talk during actual interrogations. There was a closed locker to the side, and I did not really want to know what kind of instruments were inside, but the key was inserted, so it could easily be opened from here. Torture was the least fun part of my job. I did not even know if I could do it. But I serve Kane, and if fulfilling his will requires me to do so, I have to do it.
  There was also a door beneath the stairs,  which led into a small closet for me and Eva to store our combat suits and our weapons, as well as another door which led into a  shaft that contained a simple lift and a ladder and little else. Mechanical instructions on how to repair the clock were upstairs on the third floor. The second floor was just more storage, though it was mostly empty now.  
  Lastly, my predecessor pointed me upstairs, referring to the more conventional stairs. "Brother, there is a set of keys in the door." I saw them from here. "There would be a reserve set of keys on the desk of the office, together with more instructions. I need to run. Everything will become clear."
  And the other Acolyte left, leaving me alone with Eva.

  "Well, let's take this off, Eva?" Get rid of this bulky armour, it is far too clunky for use indoors.
  "Agreed, my liege," she answered, but it was clear the tired teenager needed not to be told twice.  She had been exhausted from walking around in it even more than I was, but I could not blame her for that. Eva was a light woman and walking around in armour just as heavy as you were yourself must be rather unpleasant.

  As we walked upstairs, we entered some kind of tiny cramped attic, with two doors, one on each side. The rightmost door led into a small bland office.  Almost everything was made of grey concrete or some light metal. It was a depressing sight, and the lift doors at the end did not exactly make it look any better.
  The left door led into the kitchen, which was outside of the cooking equipment mostly empty, other than a table where they could have our meals. Did Eva have to cook for me? Did I have to cook himself? Not that it mattered, I was a soldier. I could prepare rations easily, or even cook something for myself and Eva with relatively basic supplies.

  Two more doors. One led into a small bedroom, entirely made out of hard metal, from the small closet in the back to drawer underneath the hard grey bunk to the door of the closet hidden away at the back. And Eva had to sleep here? There was another door here, which led into a tiny bathroom.

  The last room was my own bedroom, which was significantly larger and more luxurious, with a large bed, with a  mattress that was still in its packaging. Sheets were also still packaged, everything was brand new. This was always done in more infested zones for people receiving a new assignment, purely because of safety concerns. This room also had a bathroom hidden behind, which was much larger than Eva's but ultimately also much smaller than what we used to have at home.

  "Ugh." It would still take some time to make this bed. "Let's fix this bed, Sister Drozdov."
  "Yes, my liege."
  "Don't be afraid to call me Acolyte Bugrov," I clarified. I was already getting sick of Eva's reverent voice. "We need to spend a lot of time here together, and that will make me feel less uncomfortable than the 'my liege' every time. We can even do Eva and Amir if you prefer that."
  "Okay, Amir."
  That felt a lot more comfortable, at least for me. "Great. How are you feeling?" After we finished making up the bed, it looked pretty damn nice, and this was just for a measly Acolyte. I could only imagine what the higher-ups would have.
  "Exhausted. I just want to sleep." Eva let out a large yawn afterwards, but then she immediately ducked away. "I'm sorry." She was cowering, as if I would hit her.
  I placed a hand on her shoulder. "You okay?" I pulled her upright.
  "Don't hurt me."
  I did not need to think about that. "No." I steadied the shaky girl. They had been quite rough on her during the training, a lot more than they were on me over a decade ago. I wondered briefly what else had changed in those fifteen years. "Before we are going to sleep, we have a few things to do. We have some supplies downstairs that need to be moved in the kitchen, and I think we should eat before going to bed."
  "Agreed," Eva responded. "I also have some orders I need to read. I know what an Acolyte's daily duties are... or rather, weekly and monthly duties, but there are some things that are unique to every parish." And those would be on that letter.

  We  quickly prepared dinner, standard Nod rations that tasted bland but were at least clean and healthy.
  Afterwards, I decided it was time to check the second floor. I wanted to have everything inspected before I went to bed. We used the lift, immediately entering a simple storage room, where there was indeed a large crate filled to the brim with boxes of of rice, just as my predecessor had said. And a second crate, which was our supply crate that we had taken with us on the journey here.
  But I knew we could store food here for months or years if we so desired. which was good. I left through the door, entering an empty concrete room empty, except for an impressive red window to our right from which we could overview the entire grand hall below, even if the angle and the colour of the glass would give a very distorted impression. It was quite impressive, especially for such a small building. There was a concrete throne in this room with two spotlights above it, even with polished figurines and other embellishments, but it appeared to be more impressive than comfortable, especially when significant portions of the throne seemed to be integrated with the building in its entirity, but that might also be an illusion. But outside of this abomination of a chair and the spotlights, this room was empty.
  There was one more storage rooms here, but it was completely empty. Hell, we could even use that throne room for storage, because it was not like you could see that room from the outside anyway. The throne was possibly visible through the glass if the light was turned on, but it seemed to be mostly cosmetic since he would be downstairs on the podium whenever The last room here was another bedroom, which was quite primitive with just a few bunks above each other, but at least it had its own bathroom. But if I ever needed to recruit additional manpower for my personal needs, this is where they would sleep and that was good to know. Though it was always a question on whether they could be trusted... which is probably why this room seemed dusty and unused, revealing clearly that earlier residents made no use of this possibility, and I doubted I would.
 
  The third floor was similar in shape and size to the second, containing the inner workings of the clock and a bunch of spare parts. It also contained the signal transmitter and even more spare parts for this electronic device, even if he would need a technician to fix it. No way we could do that himself if anything serious went wrong with it, though we could perform some basic maintenance. Our basic military education was good enough to cover a fair amount of that.

  Now there was one thing left that I wanted to do before going to bed, and that was to read the letter left in my  office, the last note from my predecessor. There would undoubtedly be some instructions that purely applied to this appointment and nothing else. After ripping open the envelope, I started to read out loud for Eva's benefit.

'To my replacement,

Welcome, brother. Hopefully, you know the drill of living in an heavily infested zone, and if you do not, tough luck.

There are a few things you need to know. First is that I do services three times a week, on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, always at ten o'clock in the morning.' Okay, that's good to know. That probably meant he still had performed a service this morning, and my first service would be the day after tomorrow.

The files on the leftmost bottom shelf is the hardcopy of mutant research performed in this sector.' The letter continued in relative detail, but most of this was not particularly relevant. 'One mutant is still alive and living in this parish, a young girl named Natasha, who has a T-E-xr-04 mutation. I am researching how she interacts with other humans, but there's no progress. She keeps being an outsider. Mutants are just subhuman, this proves it.' Or maybe other humans reject her. 'Feel free to execute her if you want. She will visit the shrine again on next Monday.' Monday? Does he mean tomorrow?!
 
  "Do we do that?" Eva voiced, before quickly putting a hand over her mouth.
  "I want to meet her first, Eva," I answered. My predecessor was likely sympathising with the Black Hand or Marked of Kane if these written viewpoints were anything to go by. "There are a few things I want to check before making a decision." I smiled at her. "There's more on this letter though."

  'In regards to criminal court cases, there are a few going on right now. They are the rightmost ones on the top shelves, marked with a blue tab. Keep tabs on those.' We weren't judges, but we were supposed to keep an eye on inappropriate activity and sometimes supposed to settle disputes. Everything was also digitally stored, but after sitting for so long in that rotten APC I preferred the paper versions to get myself acquinted.  

  As the brunette was checking the folders, I read the rest of the letter. 'Peace through power. Your predecessor.' I quoted the last sentence. 'PS: If you enjoy doing exercises, the second floor usually has the space. You probably already have noticed that the living quarters are pretty cramped.' I paused after finishing these sentences. "Yes. I have noticed that." The living room was as cramped as it gets and doubled up as our kitchen. The bedrooms, thankfully, were far more spacious, and for some reason me and Eva both had our own bathrooms too.

  "I see them," Eva stated, and she pulled out three folders. "Someone peeing outside, apparently in public, and apparently not for the first time." I would probably need to scare the living daylight out of him. "The second folder is thicker, with a local man insulting a soldier. Third is some lady getting caught smuggling Tiberium-based drugs." Eva was looking through the folders. "No family name, for some reason."
  "Not everybody has a family name," I answered, pretty much quoting my own instructor. Plenty of people were orphaned and sometimes even had absolutely no clue who their family was. And most mutants had stopped using theirs, a ploy that often only worked because of how much Tiberium altered someone's appearance, especially on mutations that were particularly unstable.
  "Do you have to do interrogations?"
  "You have the folders," I pointed out, and Eva blushed, before quickly handing them to me. "But ultimately, sometimes, we probably have to." I took a deep breath as I opened the first folder, but the guy that was peeing in public was handled by the police. The second guy, while a local, actually lived in a neighbouring parish but since the incident happened here, we kept tabs as well. The last woman was heavily mutating and executed on the spot. Good. Interrogations were not something I was looking for either. Especially since most of my interrogations would not be for standard crimes, because many of these would be handled by the general police department. Ultimately, my  tasks were mostly religious and if someone wanted to confess something after a service, I would be the one they speak to first, or sometimes Eva.
So, assuming everything went as planned, my tasks were fourfold: Accepting confessions, keeping tabs on the local population and especially mutants, checking which sixteen year olds were fit for recruitment and taking care of so-called GDI spies.
  That, and there were a variety of daily, weekly and monthly chores, but most of those were Eva's responsibility, though I did have to keep in mind when fresh supplies arrived and keep track of those things. In military bases this tended to be a task managed by the staff sergeant or even a logistics officer, but for these small churches in backwater towns, not so much. Then again, the amount of supplies we had to handle was a lot more limited, even if we received supplies only once every month or so, sometimes even less often, but well, what was used in those rations was usually preservable.
  In other words, we would probably get bored at one point.

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Vulture
AA Infantry


Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Sun Jul 25, 2021 11:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I stared at Natasha's files.

  It was, in fact, a mess. The girl's parents were mutated as a punishment for the opposition to Nod her grandparents posed and had died within three years after she was born, but no cause of death was specified. However, you did not need to be a genius to figure out their mutations were at fault. The daughter, who had a T-E-xr-04 mutation, was still taken care of by Nod, mostly because the then-overseeing Acolyte deemed it would be interesting to see if she could interact with other humans normally and relocated her to an orphanage. After all, ReGenesis would have a large transition period and while T-E-xr-04 was by no means a grand mutation, it would still take decades before the superior mutations could make up the numbers.
  His successor, or my predecessor, cared a lot less. He kept up the research mostly because it wasn't taking up too much of his time and might help him to remain in good graces with his superiors and did not cost anything other than an hour of his week, but it was also clear that the research was going nowhere. There had been no progression in the two years he was the Acolyte of Parish 38 in Sector 129 in Natasha's case at all, and the ambitious Acolyte put all the blame for that on the girl. He even left her to rot in the wilderness after the orphanage was burnt down by GDI. Very convenient. Natasha had built a shed twice, but both times it got destroyed, once by locals and once by my Brothers and Sisters. Where was she even sleeping right now?
  Was she truly unmanageable?

  Well, I would get my answers quickly enough. The report signalled that she always arrived on her own, on foot, knocking on the backdoor and desperately needing a shower. She barely spoke and left immediately after the Acolyte gave her two sets of rations. Or, what was not written, but clearly implied, was the previous Acolyte kind of ignored her. This added up with how he spoke about mutants. He would have killed her if keeping her alive had not been useful to him. It was not surprising by any means, as this point of view was common amongst many of my Brothers and Sisters.
  But Eva and I were waiting for her. We would give her a fresh start. Mutants could live in the inevitable Tiberium world that had been foreseen by Kane where we could not, but that assumed they could form a workable society. Otherwise they would just collapse under internal strife and Nod needed to put in a lot more focus on cybernetic enhancements.
 
  At the usual time of ten o'clock in the morning, she arrived. The girl was small. She was twelve years old, but I would have believed someone had they told me she was eight or nine years old. Only her facial structure gave any real indication she was older. To add onto this diminuitive appearance, she was thin and fatigued, her skin was pale and her clothes were little more than rags. It was no wonder she did not fit in. Her emerald hair reached down to her waist, but it had not been cleaned properly in far too long. The little girl needed a proper bath.

  "Welcome, Natasha," Eva spoke in the microphone. The Confessor always spoke first.
  "Welcome," It was the first time I ever saw a mutant from this close, despite having studied the ReGenesis project. She was not looking her best, but that was something we could hopefully fix.

  The girl remained still. "Hello," she said. "The... shower?"
  I hestitated a little before I pressed the button. That amount of water could seriously hurt such a small girl. But Natasha remained steadfast on her feet as the massive torrent of water slammed into her, barely even flinching under the pressure.

  And then it stopped.

  "Who are you?" Natasha asked. The girl was only now realizing she was dealing with different people. "You sound different, and I can hear you are not wearing your armour..." She hestitated.
  Oops. I should have put on my armour, but I did not want to let Natasha wait... not that it mattered with a closed door between us.  I decided to lock Natasha in, closing the door behind her and opening the door in front of me, giving me a much clearer vision of the girl, one that was not through a periscope.

  "My predecessor has been promoted. I am his replacement, Acolyte Amir Bugrov."
  "And I am Confessor Drozdov." She paused, realized I had told the girl my first name. "Eva Drozdov."
  "And I am Natasha," the child answered. She wrapped her bony hands around her long green hair, attempting to wring the water out.

  "How are you?" I  asked, not really knowing how to start a conversation with the mutant girl. His predecessor made it sound like she was as dumb as a rock, but that was not his first impression. Amir wanted to curse him for letting her get into this disheveled state.
   "I'm fine." She looked at the ground, clearly confused at the proceedings.
   "I doubt it," I answered, as I let her inside. "Be honest. Where do you live?"
   "Nowhere," she answered. "If I build a shed people know where to find me." The girl shivered, and it was clear she probably only escaped by luck.  
  Eva cut her off, stopping her from elaborating. "And where do you eat?"
  "Somewhere I can't be seen." We know what she eats. "Can you give me the rations already? I am hungry."
  To my surprise, I felt the urge to reel her in. She needed help. "I have a much better idea." If the Inner Circle wanted a mutant to integrate properly into society, well... then she needed to be fed first and gain a bit of strength. She needed clean clothes. She needed a roof overhead. She needed security, like every child, or every human for that matter. Without all these things, integrating would be a lot harder, and also, other people would reject you. I just hoped Eva would agree with me. In the name of Kane, we would take care of her.
  "So, Natasha," Eva continued. "Can you talk to me about your interactions with other humans?" It seems she did. She continued flawlessly where I left off, and at this moment I knew I had made the right choice by picking Eva Drozdov as my companion.
  The girl shrugged. "I rarely speak with others. People do not like me."
  "We won't do that," Eva started, the teenager clearly conflicted by what had been taught to her about mutants and then seeing the actual mutant child in front of her, and she guided the girl upstairs and into the kitchen, where she prepared some rations. "It's a bit early for lunch, but let's have it together."
    "I agree," I confirmed. I was a little irked that my subordinate was taking the initiative here. But that was a lot better than her being afraid of me, especially now when it made sense for her to do that. She was a lot less intimidating than I was, even kind of cute in her own way, and just had a much friendlier aura to go with that. Not just that, she was young enough to be actually quite close in age to the mutant girl. If they met under different circumstances and were both just a few years older, they could reasonably be friends. And it was not that I disagreed with Eva either. Having Natasha here for a meal also meant even more chances to see how she behaves, and with how timid she was I doubted it'd be the problem. "The real question is? Do we let her go back outside after she finished eating, or do we let this little girl stay here?"
  "Amir, she's safe to touch, right?" Eva barely turned away from the food she was preparing.
  "It's a little late for us if she wasn't," I pointed out, slightly amused. "But yes, her mutation is perfectly stable." I hestitated a little, a little scared of the unknown myself, but I knew the theory. E-type mutations were safe.  And so I pulled my fingers through Natasha's long green hair as a proof of point. It was surprisingly soft, but it was still a little sticky. Just like my hair would be if I did not take a proper shower for far too long. So I suppose that would be something that Natasha needed first.
  Surprisingly, Natasha seemed to appreciate the physical contact, and that was the moment I knew she would stay.
 
  We  remained silent for a little, content to have lunch in relative peace. One thing was certain though: Little Natasha was very hungry.   Fixing her up was everything but glamourous, but it was something that needed to be done, because otherwise the resources spent into the research would be completely wasted. If I noted everything down, my reports about mutants could be quite valuable. However, I needed to be careful to make sure the right superiors would read them. My predecessor was technically my superior now. And after a year I would be expected to write him a personal status report. But he was not my priest.
  After we finished lunch, it was time to return to the daily tasks. "Hey Eva, can you make sure Natasha gets her shower while I return to my office? She needs her hair properly cleaned."
  "Sure. Where does she sleep?"
  There were a few options. "I'll think of something." Natasha could sleep upstairs, or I could keep her close by letting her sleep in my room. I think she would love an actual bed to sleep in, and she might feel more 'protected' in the heart of our quarters. But while I knew that I would be able to keep my hands to myself when it involved such a small girl, Natasha might be worried about something like that, and that was something I would have to respect. And it was a valid worry, and I knew it would come into play with Eva. If she would sleep in my room for a prolonged amount of time, I doubted I would be able to keep my hands off for as long as this assignment was likely to last. I already doubted that, since an assignment like this lasted usually two years. I really did not need to tempt myself more than I already had to. The teenager was a little prettier than I initially expected and I found her more attractive with every passing day.

  I needed to get my thoughts back in order.

   Still with how many people within Nod, even the higher echelons, thought about mutants, taking care of Natasha might get me killed; the Black Hand hated mutants and cyborgs both, while the Marked of Kane saw cyborgs as the future. Not helping her could also get me killed; the Inner Circle did not like test subjects being mistreated as it messed up potential results, while the Sons of Kane saw stable mutations as part of the future.
  The frontline with GDI was also to be worth considering, the frontline was a fair distance away but GDI was pushing hard and mercilessly assaulting my brother's and sisters in the Baltic. However, Natasha might be an useful bargaining chip if worst came to worst. Which was not impossible; if GDI managed a breakthrough their army could be here within weeks, as after a breakthrough the infighting between the various factions of Nod could make it hard if not impossible to organize a proper defence.  And factions tended to blame each other for their own mistakes.

  There were reasons the oppressors GDI had reconquered most of Europe, and while my superiors pretended that was a temporary setback, if that had been the case their progress would have halted already. I knew better. While GDI had some interservice rivalry, they were unified in purpose. Nod very much was not.  Assuming GDI was not stupid, and I assumed they were not for those cockroaches to have lived for as long as they did, they would punish our lack of unity ruthlessly. They made huge pushes into Germany and France last year and while they were solidifying their conquests now, it was only a matter of time before they would take what used to be Poland and Belarussia next. Assuming nothing odd happened during my posting here, I would oversee GDI's conquest of this parish in western Russia next summer and be expected to commit suicide afterwards.

  And if it came to that, I would do so. There was no reason to live under those oppressors of GDI or those greedy corporate cunts of GloboTech.

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Tales of War

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Vulture
AA Infantry


Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Sun Jul 25, 2021 11:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I took a deep breath. I could do this. My first service. Then do confessions, if there were any. There were usually only a handful each week. I briefly checked the recruitment numbers that my predecessor had left behind. I would need to recruit one sixteen year old every year for Nod itself, plus four more for the local militia. I sighed. That does not sound like much, but when your parish only had several hundred inhabitants at most, this could pose a problem. I would need to see what the age distribution was. And visiting the shrine was compulsory, though I doubted everybody attended. There would be people too irreligious to care. Or people that would keep their children safe at home to avoid attention and avoid conscription. After all, most children did not return and some continuity in a family business was necessary.

  And Eva and I walked downstairs, changing into our armour, though we elected to leave guns behind. For civilian duties, it was the rule of thumb to leave our weapons behind. Which made sense. We were not expected to need them and if we did, the alarm would sound. I looked at the Shrine of Kane, but ultimately that one was only really used during more important gatherings.

  Eva opened up, and soon people walked in. It was clear that the people was skewed towards the elderly, which was undoubtedly straining the local population. There were a few children, a few teenagers, but very few people in their twenties and thirties. ztype, some of the children were mutating too. They would not even make it to the age of sixteen... And if I did not recruit enough, I would be the one that is punished.

  And then it was time to start. Eva closed the door, and I noticed only just over half of the two hundred seats were filled.

  "Greetings, ladies and gentlemen." I spoke clearly. Due to my attire, they would not be able to see I was a different person than the previous Acolyte. They might be able to hear it from my voice, but I was pretty sure my voice was distorted quite heavily. Sure, it would soon be obvious they were dealing with someone else, but only if they paid attention to my mannerisms. "We are here together, to be one step closer." I overlooked the crowd. They should be livid to be here. To serve Kane was the greatest honour one could achieve! "One step closer to the vision of Kane. A future, where everybody has access to Tiberium."

  "A future, that will not be denied to us by GDI. Those oppressors, they will not stop us in our quest to fulfill Kane's vision. A vision where we live, peacefully and healthy, surrounded by crystal green." It was a beautiful vision, though a few people were disinterested. I raised my voice. "A feature, in which we have live a better life. No infidels of GDI to burn the crops or kill your children." My Brothers and Sisters might also kill your children, but they do it for a good cause.

  "Peace through power!"  I raised my arm. "With me. Peace through power!"
 
  The people followed without hestitation. "Peace through power!" It felt odd to lead like this. I had done so before, but that was at the academy, where everybody knew what to expect and what to do. "Peace through power!"

"I can't hear you! Peace through power!" I shouted even louder, and the crowd was with me as they raised their arms. "Peace through power!"
I turned to a disinterested child. She was alone in a corner, not with her parents, and while she was standing, she was barely mouthing along, and she was raising her arms in sluggish, unwilling motions. No excitement within her. Was she one of the orphans? "Peace through power!" The redhead was flushed, probably because she realized my attention was on her. "Peace through power." This time she played along, raising her arms much more excitedly, even if I could tell it was fake. If she would do the same thing Thursday, I would need to give her a closer look. If she had been an adult, she would be executed in the name of Kane.

Not long after, I ended the session, but a handful of people remained in the hall. Some just to catch up with each other, but others wanted to speak to me.

  A middle-aged woman remained standing in the room. "Anything on your mind, ma'am?" I must be quite intimidating from her perspective, as I towered over her, still standing on the stage.
  "Yes, Acolyte," she stated, her voice raising in reverance. "It's my son," she whispered. "My youngest son and I use the new Tibby Shampoo, but my ten year old son absolutely hates it." She paused.
  "How are you feeling since you use it?"
  "I feel much better, revigorated. It feels wonderful." She paused. "But my son refuses to use it."
  I looked at the mulish boy standing near the wall. He had a brain. "Can I speak to him?" I eventually responded. I could not openly agree with him. I then looked back at the woman.
  The woman shrugged. "He has very little faith in Tiberium. It concerns me." Considering the veins of the woman were already visibly glowing with Tiberium, I could not blame the teenager. "He is even afraid of me  now."
  Well, even I would need to keep in mind to keep my distance of her when her mutation would start to progress. "I see, I see." I memorized the Tibbby Shampoo bottle. Ten year old was that weird age where the cartoon no longer really appealed to a child, and instead the child would start fight back against what she considered childish. Made sense. I did the same as a kid, but that was... not quite before the first airing of Tibby and Noddy, but not by all that much, and it was well before they gained a solid foothold. Still, the child was doomed as well. He did not realize it yet, but he was also already mutating. The signs were already showing and it was impossible for that mutation to be stable. And the mutation had already progressed too much to stabilize. "When did the problems start?"
  "Last month." She apparently did not trust my predecessor, otherwise she would have spoken to him instead. I wondered how she noticed the difference with how my voice was distorted, but there were probably some subtle differences coupled with mannerisms that she picked up on.
  It just created new questions, but one thing was certain. This woman would probably live only a few more months. Her son had a year or two left, and her youngest son would probably outlive them both, but for him it was also already too late to stabilize the mutation, if that was even possible. "Don't worry. He will come around." I spoke with conviction, decisively. Ultimately it did not matter whether the boy would change his mind or not. He was mutating into a tainted version of what Kane had willed, and as such he would no longer be recruited. Because he would be dead.
  Tibby Shampoo and Noddy Soap, the harbingers of the apocalypse and the bullet we shot in our own foot. I wondered how many of the others were already mutating. How was I supposed to recruit people if everybody was mutating already? Was that why my predecessor sought promotion? The town I was overseeing was quite small. I needed to take a closer look during the next service if the idea of using Tiberium-based healthcare products had taken a grip on the local population.

  The room was empty now. One man was left, who was wearing a civilian edition of Nod armour, though he had elected to not wear the round helmet that came with it. "Hello. I assume you are the mayor?" There was no one else it could be. He was definately aware my predecessor had left; and when I would be relocated, I would have to inform the mayor as well.
 "Yes, I am the mayor. My name is Ivan Nebogatoff."
 "Greetings. I am the new Acolyte." It was doctrine to keep your name secret as an Acolyte, even to local officials, but they were well aware when the religious officials of Nod were routinely replaced. For Natasha, it did not matter as much that she knew my name, because she was not leaving this building anytime soon.

  A silence fell, and it did not abate even after a minute. It was clear he wanted to tell me something.

  Maybe I should just ask. "Mayor, do you have anything on your mind?"
  He looked around, noticing Eva was standing behind him. "N-no." There was no one else in the room, other than Natasha who was still sitting in her spot under the stage. The Confessor took one step closer. "I haven't seen Natasha roaming the streets yesterday."
  A true politician. This is not what he wanted to talk about, and it is a dangerous subject for both of us, too. "Do not worry about her." For both my own and Natasha's good, it is better to be ambiguous.
  "Do you know where she is?" The mayor pressed on.
  "Why do you care?" It was clear he had not for the past years.
  The man opened his mouth, and closed it again before saying something. Good. "Because she is a potential danger."
  "I am aware. Do not worry about her." You have bigger problems.
  Eva was struggling to not laugh. He was probably closer to Natasha than he had ever been in his life before. But the Confessor kept quiet, just waiting for her time to escort the mayor out.
  "I will worry about a potentially dangerous delinquent."
  A frown marked on my face. "Isn't she much more dangerous when she is roaming the streets in town?" If she leaves, she does not pose a threat anymore. She was starving, so leaving for the wilderness was basically a death sentence for her weakened frame.
 
  Upstairs, I had plenty of things to do. Most notably, I had to check the database. The basic information of the local population, like age, eventual Tiberium Mutations and especially how faithful they were, was conveniently stored, and their local parish was something every Nod Acolyte was expected to memorize to some degree. And for good reason.

 There were a few really strange things, and the first one was that children were few and far between. Maybe I did not look closely enough, as I knew I had missed the unfaithful redhead by the time I had scrolled down entirely. So I started sorting by age... and there were only two dozen children aged under sixteen. How was I supposed to recruit four sixteen year olds per year from this pool?! That was even assuming they all would live, which was doubtful with how many were mutating.
  I did find the apathic redhead from this morning this time. She was eight years old, and to my surprise, she was also mutating, with the relatively uncommon and very stable T-E-gr-01 mutation. However, she was an orphan, her parents dead, but no cause was given. That probably meant they were killed by my Brothers and Sisters. At least it explained her behaviour.  
  Together with the twelve year old Natasha who was a little lower down, she was the only one on the list that had a stable mutation.
  "I would love to work on her faith," Eva stated. "She's super cute and deserves a chance."
  I arched my eyebrows. "Kept an eye on her?"
  "Yep." Eva smiled, but it quickly faded as I did not immediately respond. She hestitated. "I was afraid she would leave prematurely."
  That made sense, but I had the feeling she had different motives.

There were also twin girls who were marked, mostly for having not visited the shrine in years. Nor did the rest of their family frequently attend, so they were due for punishment. Maybe fining them would help?
 
  I scrolled down. A few mutant teenagers, of which the oldest was seventeen and in the terminal stage of his mutation. Nobody at all was aged between seventeen and twenty-eight. The twenty-eight year old was the youngest of a couple running a farm to the west, with her husband being one year older. I remember seeing them, they were present earlier this morning. The youngest two were too young to cheer on properly, but the oldest of their three children was six year old and was well on his way to become a loyal follower to the will of Kane.
  There were a handful of people in their thirties and forties, mostly farmers living leeward and sheltered from the Tiberian winds. But most people still living here were far older, often in their sixties. Very few people had their names marked for not attending the shrine regularly, and it seemed that the older people were, the more likely they were to visit, but if the traces of many people dying prematurely it was hard to draw definite conclusions.
  The man that was peeing in public was in his forties and not mutating. He had a history of weird and petty crimes, which was something to keep in mind. He actually had also visited the shrine, I recognized his face, but he had never spoken with an Acolyte before. The woman caught for smuggling would not be allowed to visit the shrine with her criminal history and progressing mutation. The man who had fought with one of my Brothers was reported here, but suspiciously absent in the list of inhabitants.
  "I am a moron." The guy was mentioned to live in a neighbouring parish.

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Vulture
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Joined: 08 Jan 2011

PostPosted: Sun Jul 25, 2021 11:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

The doorbell echoed through the building. It was not unexpected, but at the same time it was. I knew it would happen, but did not expect it to be this late on the evening. I quickly put on my armour, and made sure I was ready at the same time as the driver in the supply truck. The trucks in Tiberium-heavy areas usually had some kind of 'gangplank' that they could extend even inside a building, enabling someone to load and unload safely even in areas that were heavily infested by Tiberium without wearing heavy armour.

  Two men quickly unloaded three large wooden chests. "Any empty crates we can take back?"
  "Yes." I pointed to the two empty crates that were left here. The ones that still had content were upstairs. "These two."
  "Thanks." He returned to the truck, taking the empty boxes under his arm. "Take care."
  "Take care," I responded. It was rough out there.
 
  "Well," Eva stated, as she loaded one of the crates in the small lift.
  "They are heavy," Nastahsa stated. She had one of the crates in her arms, but she barely managed to lift it.
  "Don't worry," Eva stated. "I'll take it from you." The slender woman quickly unburdened the child, while I took the third and stacked it on top.

  Once upstairs, I had to make a small administration of the supplies we had received, but ultimately it was not too much work. I knew what should be in the boxes, and it was all there. The rice, the flour, the dried pasta, the canned vegetables and then there was the cheese and the meat that I had to store in the fridge immediately.

  And then it was done. It did not take that long, and yet it was bedtime.

---

  The second service was not all that different from the first. I was less nervous this time. It was just like at the Academy and the Shrine. Except with civilians rather than fellow students. And I knew the people now a little better.
  The woman that spoke to me the previous time was much more calm now the question was off her chest, but I had no clue whether this was incidental or that she just did not want to speak about this to my predecessor.
  The girl that I now recognized as Yelena is again not caring all that much. Sure, she chants along, but it is clear she does not give a damn. I signal Eva. She can stop Yelena from leaving the building. We are going to work on her faith.

  Mutants with stable mutations had the future. Not everybody within Nod taught so, but I surely did and I had the feeling Eva did as well. And they were the ones that had the most to gain from Kane's visions, much more than I did. I would eventually contract a mutation and die. So would Eva. That was just more likely than dying of old age at this point.

  After the session, nobody lingers. Eva stops Yelena from leaving on her own, taking a tight grip on her hand. They would walk back in through the backdoor instead, probably to make sure Yelena had no Tiberium particles on her. It was not too likely, especially not compared to Natasha, since she lived in a house, even if her foster parents, who had intended to return home quickly, stay a little longer, revealing that they never wanted to take care of her. Yelena's family had been family friends for generations, but taking care of her was just making sure the last wish of her parents remained fulfilled. I realized they did not even know she was a mutant... but I thought it was better to keep it that way. Safer for everybody involved.

  Leaving the stage, I hear a surprised squeal as water is smashing down on Eva and Yelena.  And not long after. A drenched Yelena comes in, squirming every second, her soaked clothes clinging to her body. It is clear she is absolutely terrified.  
  I briefly wondered whether that shower was necessary. The girl lived in our town after all, there was no need to douse her like that. It was very unlikely she had been in recent contact with Tiberium.
   Yelena's eyes widened when I focused on her. "I believe in Kane. Please, I believe in Kane's vision. Peace through power." The girl was babbling and almost panicking. Was she afraid I would hurt her?
  Eva tightened her grip on the child, to the point it looked like it was kind of painful. Was that really necessary? "I do not believe you. Follow me." The redheaded mutant was dragged along, even as Eva and I led her into the interrogation room. "Good. Take off your jacket."  Confessors gave the orders to those that needed interrogations.

  Yelena hestitated despite her clothes being thoroughly soaked, but did as she said, and it revealed an extremely slender girl. I knew the theory, it was not uncommon for T-E-gr-01, but I always expected it to be less... extreme. The girl was reedy even in her jacket, and that thing was covered with extra padding on the inside to mask some of her appearant frailty.
  "Good," Eva started. "Why are you here?"
  An odd question. But Confessors did actually not receive much specialist education. They were selected practically at random from raw recruits and whether they were good at interrogating or motivating was an open question. But as an Acolyte I could always step in and take over if Eva screwed up.
  "Well?"
  "You think I do not believe in Kane's vision."
  "Do you?" Eva leered down on the smaller girl, absolutely towering over her.
  "I do." The redhead squirmed, pressing her back against the concrete behind her.
  Eva quickly pulled off the child's wet shirt. "Do you?" Eva sounded harsher than I imagined possible from her.
  "I do. Please, believe me." Tears appeared in her eyes.
 
  Eva shoved the girl to the floor, causing me to take a step back. I did not expect Eva of all people to be able of cruelty. What happened to the innocent girl on the pictures? Or when she interacted with Natasha?
  Yet I doubted she would seriously hurt the girl, but better nip the worst in the bud. This was supposed to be an peaceful nudge, not interrogation or even torture. "Stop, Confessor." I ordered, and I noticed how the teenager staggered. She probably also realized she might be taking things a little too far. Still, while Eva had free reign in the interrogation to the point it would not even be a problem if Yelena died on the spot, it was not what we desired. We wanted Yelena to believe in Kane's vision, and I knelt at her side and placed a gloved hand on her forehead. "Yelena, we know you do not believe. It is okay to admit that. Then we make sure to know why, and then we make you believe. To see his great vision, and to find a purpose!"
  Eva decided to ask the question differently. "What do you think of Tiberium?" Her voice was wavering. She had rattled even herself with her behaviour.
  Do not worry, child. "If you tell the truth, your answer is good," I answered.
  The child wiped the tears from her cheeks. "Tiberium... it scares me." More tears flowed. "It destroyed my family. It destroyed everything." She paused. "I do not know why it did not kill me." I arched my eyebrows. If she was honest, that meant she did not know about her mutation at all.
"People in black armour with red capes burnt my house." The girl was reliving her terrors. "And then they burnt my new house too, where I had so many friends."
  Her parents had been mutants. Her mutation told us that. Natasha had referred to an orphanage and that it was burnt down. Was Yelena thinking back of that moment? It made a lot more sense now, and it was really hard to blame her. Wait... men in black armour with red capes burnt down the orphanage? Did GDI dress up as the Black Hand? My mind spun from the questions about the incident, questions to which Yelena would never know the answer. That must be it. My fellow Brothers and Sisters had reported the incident as a GDI incursion after all.
  "I see." Being scared of the Black Hand or people looking like them was natural. They dressed to intimidate. Being scared of Tiberium was a bigger problem, especially since Eva and I would die if we were exposed to even the smallest amount of the crystal. A rationality that many members of Nod also confused with fear, but well, they were dead now, and we were not. "I know, that as a normal human, Tiberium is very dangerous for me." I paused. "I also know we cannot stop its spread, and that Tiberium has massive potential to do wonderful things. I have seen some of those in action, and it is a sight to behold." I carefully snaked my hands beneath Yelena's shoulders, lifting the scrawny girl slightly. "But you are a mutant girl with a stable mutation. You can reap the benefits of that world. You can live in a Tiberium world where I cannot." If I understood Kane's words correctly, she was, just like Natasha, the kind of mutant that needed to be preserved. Sadly, I would never be able to ask him. He was dead, and even if he was not, why would he speak to a mere Acolyte like me?
  "I can?" The girl stared at me, eyes wide. "I do not know if I want to," Yelena admitted as she pushed herself to sit upright. "Tiberium scares me. And I would be alone." Wait... did she connect the dots really that quickly? She's a smart one.
  Being alone for your entire adult life is a scary thought, and especially when Tiberium would stop aging. "You know there are more people with stable mutations around, right?" As long as we stop the Black Hand from murdering them with every chance they get. I hoped they would not be in my parish, that would be a big problem and complicate everything. Why can't I just fight GDI? That was easy. Shoot the oppressors. "Why don't you join us upstairs?" It might help Natasha, too.

  I briefly wondered something else. Most of the mutants with stable mutations I had seen were girls. Sure, males with stable mutation were on paper just as common as females, but in practice they were killed more often, whether it was in the service of GDI's army, defending their family, and if male children survived they were more likely to be chased down. Natasha's shed was burnt down repeatedly but no one really bothered to chase her down when it was found out she was actually not inside at the time.

  "Natasha!" I ordered. "We have a new mutant guest. Can you help her shower? Make sure she's nice and clean?"
  "Sure. Why does Eva not do it?"
  I placed a hand on Natasha's shoulder. "She let go of herself, and you look quite innocent."  Especially with those beautiful green braids. Did she make those herself?
  "I want an explanation."
  Most soldiers would decline to give one, but I would want one too if I was in Natasha's shoes. "I understand." However... "I have to talk with Eva first, since it is probably her place to tell."  
  I motioned Yelena to walk upstairs. She was still positively terrified, even now I had changed out of my  armour. But I would not blame her. I just hoped Natasha would make for a good friend. The two girls probably knew each other.
  "Yelena?" Natasha's eyes widened. "Is that you?"
  "Natasha?" Yelena immediately jumped at the taller child, throwing her arms around her.
  "That's me."
  I smiled at the two girls. It made sense they knew each other. Both had lived in the orphanage, until it was burnt down and both had hair colours that stood out like a sore thumb. Not just that, they were the only children that lived in this parish with a stable mutation that survived. Natasha was not even born nearby, she just ended up in the orphanage here because the local Acolyte at the time had an interest in mutant research, and I assumed that the orphanage was only burnt down well after his reassignment. From the files, if it had happened under him he would have ordered the construction of a new orphanage. Instead, it was just more likely that it had happened under the supervision of my direct predecessor. Still, he made sure most children would find new homes. Getting your hands dirty by leaving children to their fate could burn bridges.  

  In my office, I checked whether there were any updates, but not really, other than a warning for Ion Storms in the vincinity. How much Tiberium was here even?

  At least this building was solid as a rock. It was built to take a pounding and was equipped with a lightningrod in case it did get hit.

  Eva sat against the wall in my office. "Ugh. I feel bad."
  "What happened?"
  The teenager shrugged helplessly. "I don't know. I wanted her to feel I was in charge."
  I scowled at her.  "Didn't you say she was super cute earlier?"
  "Yes." She stared at the ground.
  "That is quite contradictionary." I would not want to see a girl that I found super cute cry.
  Eva buried her head in her hands. It was clear my words were not making her feel any better, but I did not know what else to say. Or even whether she should feel any better. The idea of hurting a child repulsed me. I had taken lives of children before and it haunted me to this very day. "I know..."
  "Do you trust yourself with her?"
  Silence.
  "I take that as a no." This complicated things, at least in the long term. It forced my hand, and Yelena should sleep in my room. It was the only place Eva could not reach, and I could keep my hands to myself. I just wished Eva could, too.

  Why was I the one thad had to deal with this? Did other Acolytes also have these complications with their Confessors? Or did they just not care?
 Still, Eva was a nice girl otherwise. She just had a problem and we needed to work around that for the forseeable future.

  "Anyway," I finally continued. "Natasha wants to know what happened and I told her it is not my place to explain, so she'll probably expects you to talk about it during dinner." I paused. "It'll be also a nice opportunity for you to apologize to Yelena." As for what I would gain from this... well, Eva had been in the process of losing control of herself and she deserved to squirm a little for that.
  Because losing control of yourself in a much more dangerous situation could cost you your life.

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Tales of War

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Vulture
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 25, 2021 11:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I knew I was frowning as I took my place behind the altar. We had guests in our little ceremony. I knew there was a Nod base nearby, but I did not expect it to be controlled by the Black Hand. That was unwelcome. But I still had to pay them respect. Maybe the twelve Brothers and Sisters in pitch black armour would leave quietly, keeping the tanks that fuel their flamethrowers hidden beneath their capes.

Thankfully I had remembered to move the shrine of Kane himself into position for our Sunday session.

I grit my teeth as I realized this territory was partially controlled by the Black Hand. They rarely
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Storm Warshandled the official aspects of religious life, preferring to let that be handled by Nod proper, but unofficially they were by far the most devoted, and to a twisted version of Kane's will to boot. A vision that was unsustainable, unworkable under the ever-increasing pressure of Tiberium.

Their presence meant that the locals were very nervous as I got the ceremony started, anxious to show their loyalty to Kane lest they would be burned alive. It also meant that for the first time since I had received this appointment, literally everybody was present, even those that normally were not here. The middle-aged family with the twin girls, the elderly man  that was barely able to walk. And everybody was excited to hear about Kane's vision.

And I put on my best show, hoping to enchant the Black Hand into leaving quickly. Though I severely doubted they would, with the amount of mutating people in the crowd. The Black Hand, standing in the very back, would surely notice every single one of them.

Still, I was hopeful when they left.

---

 When I was upstairs, it was surprisingly quiet. Maybe the little girls watched the service through the red window on the second floor?
  Or maybe they were in my bedroom.
 "I am scared." I looked at Natasha, ruffling her green hair. She was not just scared, she was almost panicking. Yelena was feeling even worse.
 "Why?"
 "They..." The girl was swaying, and Natasha was holding her tight. "They are the men that burnt down our orphanage." Tears were streaming down their cheeks.
 "What do you mean, they are the same?" I queried. "Are you sure?"
 Natasha and Yelena nodded. "Yes."
 But that was done by GDI... but for some reason I felt the children spoke the truth. But my fellow Brothers and Sisters would not do something as evil as burning down an orphanage? It did not made any sense. "Don't lie to me," I whispered. I was furious.
  "But it was them." Yelena's eyes widened. "They looked exactly the same."
  I struggled to control myself. Natasha and Yelena had both been there. They had no stakes in lying. Hell, lying would be the easy way out to them. But I doubt they could describe a GDI soldier if their life depended on it.  
  That would actually be a fun test. "Girls, I have an exercise for you."
 "Hm?"
  "Draw oppressive soldiers from GDI."
 
  Two men looking like grotesque mockeries of the Black Hand appeared on paper.

  They had never seen GDI soldiers in their lives.

  They spoke the truth.
 
  "What is going on?" Eva queried, her mouth open in shock as she looked through the vision slit at the side of the office.
  "Let me take a look." Was the Black Hand up to something? Our quarters were pretty much soundproof. I left the kitchen, slightly annoyed at the distraction. I enjoyed watching the children as they worked on their drawings. It was strangely calming after the events of today.

  I took a step back.

  Numerous houses were on fire. Not all, but those that weren't would probably be caught in the conflagration later today. Thankfully the shrine was seperated from the fire by a fairly large open field.

  Eva and I looked away as one when a surge of flame rushed over a family as they were tied to a stake. Their agony was visible even from this distance. At least the flames purified their sins.
  "Why are they doing this? I thought they were satisfied with your service." Eva's eyes were wide open.  
  I shook my head, as I hastily sent an emergency message to my superiors. The Inner Circle needed to know what was happening. "Everybody not matching their standards deserves to die, in their opininion. Eva, put on your armour." I would have to do the same. "I doubt they will harm us, but I do not want to be caught off guard."  If I was a common soldier, like when I fought them, they would have no such stipulations, but killing an Acolyte was something they would hestitate to do.  Still, I had to remain calm at all times, both for Eva's sake and my own.

  The two Black Hand squads were about to enter the main hall of the shrine. So I manually recalled the robotic vacuum cleaner that automatically started its routine after any session, and opened the door, though I did it from a distance as I had no intention to get any closer to the Black Hand squads than needed.
  I then closed the door behind them. If they wanted to do something funny, they would not be able to get out of this building, as the stage was currently unreachable from the main hall, especially for men in heavy armour. And this by extension also gated the back door that we used to let Natasha and Yelena in, or to accept supplies.
  "Greetings, Brothers and Sisters. I saw you witnessing my service this morning. I hope it was to your satisfaction." Any uncertainty in my voice was masked by the heavy distortional effect.
  "It was." The leader was curt.
. "What brings you here?" If they knew the mutant girls lived here, I could have a problem. Even moreso if that was why they were here.  
  "We heard there was a new Acolyte in town. They can always use some help with fulfilling Kane's vision, especially with the purification aspect."
  You made my job harder, you mean? I am the one who has to calm the population after you killed some people. Or more than just some? And even if those killed were the ones that did not visit the Shrine, it would be not the easiest affair. How was I supposed to blame GDI for this, too? Nobody would believe it if I blamed the Black Hand. "Indeed. So you purified this parish?" I tried to sound as if I agreed with them.
  "We purified this parish." His voice was full of conviction. Even through his own distortion, it was clear he believed everything he was doing was the right thing. "We cleansed out everybody unwilling to partake in Kane's vision with the holy fire." Fire is pure, but I doubt napalm qualifies. "And for our holy work, we need new souls. New pure-minded recruits, willing to follow us in making Kane's will reality."
  My heart was pounding in my chest. I had to use the right words, or they would torch this building even if they were trapped in it themselves. "I will see what I can do." I had no clue who had survived Black Hands purging or not.
  "Seeing what you can do is not enough. We need fresh blood."
 "Our population is rapidly declining. Tiberium is advancing, rapidly mutating the locals." It might not even take that long.
  "Tell me something I don't know. We burned those Shiners, every single last one of them, though."
  "Good. They tainted Kane's vision." The only safe response. They did not know about Natasha and Yelena and I would like to keep it that way. It was not like the Black Hand would stay here any longer than necessary.
    "Can you recruit anyone?"
   "Doubt. If you checked the list, I either have to recruit children or farmers, neither of which is allowed." I stared down at him. "I am sincerely sorry, but my parish is small and its population relatively elderly, and the livable area is declining."
  "I understand. Can you do anything to change that?"
  "If I can, I do not know yet." I know that this new village is relatively newly built, moved from the lakeside to between the hills, and is now centered around three older farms, surrounded by a handful of walls. "There are not many families left, and the amount of people who can safely reproduce, now or in the future, is rapidly declining."
  "We do not care. We want four fresh sixteen year olds from this parish by the last day of August." The  Black Hand was clearly threatening me. But where could I find those in just over six weeks? Impossible. "If not..." He pointed to the door, and I pressed the button to open it. "Then this whole village can burn."

  And the men left, their APCs roaring out of town.  Hopefully I would never see them again.

  I kept the door open. People would want to talk after today. I had no clue how much of the town had been set ablaze already, but... probably too much.

  "Eva, how much damage has been done?" The girl had been guarding the backdoor, just in case, but now she had joined me on the stage.

  "A lot." Eva shouted from the door.  "I can't see it past the walls, but I see flames and smoke everywhere. I would not be surprised if they killed over half of the population." Well, a significant portion the population was mutating, so that was no surprise. But that was not half of the population, not yet at least. Thinking about this made my stomach turn.
  "Good to know. Stand guard. I'll keep the Shrine open."

  To my surprise, the two twins were the first to enter. They had entered so quickly that I wondered whether they had decided to hide from the Black Hand behind the Shrine itself. As they came closer, I noticed tears running down their cheeks and terror in their eyes. It was clear they had no clue what to do. I had no clue how they escaped the Black Hand's wrath, but considering how heavily they were breathing they had probably ran as fast as they could. But they probably visited the shrine only twice before. "Take a seat." I suggested.
  The girls sighed in relief, but it was clear they were still horrified, as they huddled close together in a tight embrace, more focused on each other than anything else. Weren't they eleven years old? Something in them looked much older...
The young family was the second to arrive, and they just took a seat. They were terrified, who would not be, but something within me told me that they had seen a similar incident happen before.
 
  A fit elderly woman quietly took up another seat at the back, followed by another elderly couple, and then another couple in their late forties arrived, with their young daughter in tow. The girl immediately started talking with the oldest son of the farmers.
  Their parents were about to scold them, but I signalled it was okay. Let the children talk and relax while we see if others arrive. Ultimately we are open so people can talk to each other and see if their loved ones are okay. Not for an official session, though we might end the day with a service regardless.
Next was a childless couple in their late forties or early fifties... or maybe their children already served as my Brothers and Sisters. It was not impossible.
  Eva closed the door. There was no one else outside.
 
  Were there really only just over a dozen survivors? Did the Black Hand really just kill ninety percent of the population?  
  Do we bury the dead, or what is left of them? Or do I dismantle this parish officially?
  I knew some people were talking about leaving this place. I could hear it. Eva could hear it.

  I turned down the volume from the microphone, only leaving the distortion on. With so few people, amplification was not necessary. "Welcome, ladies and gentlemen." My heart was heavy. I barely knew most people, but to see so few survivors was shocking. "We are here to talk about the future. What do we do next."
  "Bury the dead."
  "That is highly unsafe," I clarified. A number of the dead were mutants, so the smoldering ruins would be infested with Tiberium. "Not to mention we do not have the manpower to do so."
  "I want to live elsewhere." It was one of the twin girls that spoke up. "Away from this place." I did not blame her.
  The other twin did not hestitate to back her up. "Away from the place our parents were burned." They witnessed that?
  "We stay here." It was the farmer that spoke up. He found immediate backing from most of the others, but I did notice one of the children disagreeing with her parents. She wanted to leave, her parents did not. Well, we knew who would win that argument and it was not the child. Then again, opinions might change in the next few days once everything has settled in a bit.
   "Think about it. I will see everybody in the next session on Tuesday. For the Tiberian Future." I hestitated. "Peace through power." Hollow words. There was no peace, there was even no power. "For the Legacy of Kane." This felt better. But not by much.

  And everybody left. Mostly. Even as Eva prepared to close, two girls remained.

  "Where do we go?" The twins stared at each other.
  "We lost everything," the other twin spoke up.
  I searched for the right words as I looked down upon the broken girls. "Churches used to be a source of charity in the past." I smiled. "Climb on the stage. You can stay here for the night." There were empty beds on the top floor, but ultimately I did not want to take in even more girls. During the next session, I wanted to arrange a pair of foster parents for them if possible. "This is just a temporary arrangement, but it will do." I extended a hand, lifting the girls, one after the other. "

  Eva waved from the door, and I finally moved upstairs.

  After the girls had received their 'shower' and were then shown their rooms on the second floor, Eva joined me in my office.
  "The village is still burning," Eva stated. She sounded exhausted. "It's much worse now, and the wind strengthened. I made sure to drench my armour three times to be sure."
  "Did any quantity of dust blow inside?" I needed to know.
   "No. But I made sure the cleaning bots are on the clock the whole night."

  But I was also absolutely spent. If I had known the civilians for longer it would have hurt so much more, but it felt awful still. And the Black Hand still wanted to recruit four sixteen year olds from this village... after burning eighty percent of its inhabitants to ashes. There was literally nothing we could do about the fires, other than hope it would not spread to the closest farm. That could be bad.

  I checked for a response to my SOS earlier on the day, but my superiors just asked for more detail about he situation, so I hastily typed a summary of the events of today, including the sword of Damocles that the Black Hand hung over my head. Why were they in such a hurry?!

  But it was clear they did not give a damn. 'Deal with it' was how their next response could be summarized. A handful of GDI soldiers should not pose a problem. It was not GDI, you numbskull!

  ztype.

  But instead of just Eva, I had now five people who were my direct responsibility. Four of them would not be safe here, two because they were mutants, and two because their loyalty was shaky at best. The twins were more loyal to me and Eva than they would be to Nod, especially once they would learn that the Black Hand was technically a part of our organisation. They were still slightly too young to understand the deliberate friendly fire that was going on. Even I barely understood it.
  But even without their loyalty to Nod they could be very useful to Nod... they were still healthy extra hands that could become farmers or craftsmen or anything else a local community needs.
   
  Still... I doubted we would get any help, even after I passed the ball up to someone higher on the command chain. This was a problem I could not deal with myself, thank you very much. Hell, even during my Path of Faith I was taught to contact my superiors whenever I struggled with the Black Hand.
  But the next in line also clearly did not care about my problem if his response was anything to go by. I decided to be honest - because if I said it was GDI he would point to the local base. No, he was angry because I blamed the Black Hand for something clearly done by GDI. GDI always burnt villages. It must be a false flag by GDI. He was vehement.
  But I saw the Black Hand. Their red armour, their capes, their identification symbols that could not be falsified. I had fought the Black Hand before. I knew I was being lied to.

  Screw the walrus dicks.

  I was surprised that I slept at all during the night that followed.

---
 
  Next morning, I realized that I had to leave. As an Acolyte, we learned to drive ourself and the Confessor to safety. The question was what safety was. Most Nod territory had elements of the Black Hand. But there were more splinter groups within Nod that were very dangerous... so I just needed something fast to drive to the Inner Circle headquarters in Egypt...

  Driving through GDI territory in a ztyping Inferno with an alarm blaring would be safer.

  GDI territory? I shocked myself when I thought of this. GDI would take in the mutants and enable them to fulfill Kane's vision. GDI was not too far away. A buggy could cross that distance in one day. But GDI... No. Those oppressors also wanted to deny the Tiberium future. Kind of odd they did not kill mutants with a stable mutation on the spot. That combination in doctrine made no sense whatsoever. Why would GDI commit so many atrocities, but work with mutants? Things did not add up. Maybe they kill mutants, but Nod says they work with them to spark more hatrad within my fellow Brothers and Sisters? That must be it. A nice little lie in the name of Kane!
  But in that case, Natasha and Yelena would not be safe in GDI territory either.
  "What's up, Amir?" Natasha's voice was a little groggy.
  "Nothing, Natasha," I answered. "Did you sleep well?"
  "Not really."
   I ruffled her hair. "Understandable. How's Mylene?"
  "She's literally sleeping with her head on my chest right now." The green-haired girl smiled and wrapped her arms carefully around the redhead. "She's cute."
  It was adorable indeed. "Don't worry, you can remain in bed for as long as you want. I want to do something. I got out of bed, still in my pyjamas, and walked to my office.

  I wanted to see if I could arrange a buggy. There was by no means a guarantee that this was possible, but mobility was useful no matter where I would take it. And I did not doubt that it would come in handy if I had the Black Hand on my tail.
  But it was very quickly that I would have no dice. There was simply no way to get it here safely. Or the Black Hand just had confiscated everything. I did not know, but ultimately I doubted it mattered.

  Would I have to fight my way past the Black Hand once they returned?

  Would they even announce their presence or just set everything on fire straight away?

  Six weeks was not a long time. It was short enough to be not resupplied in that meanwhile. We would have to leave prior to that. There were three ways I could think of. The first was to confiscate a car from the civilians and just bolt. The second was to leave on foot, in full armour. The mutants could walk with us and serve as extra eyes and ears, but the twins would surely die. The third was to pray that something drew the Black Hand's attention, so the Inner Circle could assert control to ensure Kane's Legacy would not be tainted.
 

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Vulture
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 25, 2021 11:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Eva walked around the burning town, the camera in her hood active so I could follow her from my office. I was sitting behind the keyboard, striping down names as people were confirmed dead provided their corpses were somewhat recognizable, and otherwise just giving a number as I made a detailed report about the damage inflicted by the Black Hand attack. Should I report it as a GDI attack? I probably had to. The entire attack screamed Black Hand, but if the Black Hand read my report first I would avoid being punished for that report. No one with half a brain would fall for that lie, but it didn't matter.
  The higher ups would know it was a lie. But those without the frontline experience... I remember how my own brain twisted through as many hoops as possible, as I just could not fathom that the revered Black Hand would slaughter its own brothers and sisters. I kept rambling for a month that it must have been a false flag by the GDI before I learned the terrible, terrible truth.
  The Black Hand does only care for its own wicked vision, and not for the Brotherhood as a whole.
  But I had to play along, because otherwise the Black Hand would kill us before nightfall.

  I shook my head clear as Eva entered the ravaged neighbourhood proper. Some parts had burnt out. Charred corpses were everywhere. Some had a broken neck from having been hanged first, but the rope had been burnt in the inferno. Others were still hanging from trees or rooftops. Sticky green goop was oozing from another corpse, slowly dripping from a burst in a hardened green patch that had squeezed one of its eyes shut. Hard crystals already formed in the soil underneath and would soon affect the previously healthy tree itself. I suppose this was one way to spread Tiberium...

  One woman had been beaten so badly that her entire body was little more than a gory mess. Eva was almost throwing up, I could feel the erratic motions from the camera even myself. "Eva!" I ordered.
  "I feel sick," Eva admitted. She was queesy already, and nervous about what she might encounter next.
  "I understand. Can you go on?" Eva hestitantly moved through the ruins. One courtyard was already infested with small crystals that were even attempting to grow on the walls.
  A blackened child was lying on the soot-covered marble floor, his mangled body a barely recognizable. I was grateful for that, even as Eva quickly looked away. I did not blame her. I felt nauseatic already thinking about this, and memories from my own encounters with the Black Hand flooded my vision.

  But nothing could have prepared her for the mess of corpses that had bright crystals all over them and creating an impromptu prison for a small living bag of glowing flesh and bones trapped between the shards and the concrete walls, making squelching sounds as it attempted to wriggle itself underneath the corpses to find freedom and slowly making headway but at the same time not getting anywhere, as if the Visceroid was growing in size too. I forced myself to keep looking at the repulsive creature, not wanting to hide for what Eva was going through right now. She was convulsing, and I realized what was about to happen.

  The Confessor was vomiting for real this time.

  "Blergh." Eva groaned. "Urgh."

  She must have wanted nothing more than to tear off her hood right there and then, but doing that would be a death sentence. "Return to the shrine, Eva." She needed to clean up, and I knew she would want nothing more.

  "Ugh. Affirmative."  The girl sounded miserable. "I never want to do this again."
  I do not think anyone would enjoy this activity. "I understand." I waited a second before continuing. "Take care and return safely. I will help you once you are back here." Ishut down the connection and put on my armour. I decided to not send her out again to check on the rest. It was disgusting and with most of the corpses being either burnt or disfigured to the point of being unrecognizable, there was very little reason to expose her to that again. It would be cruel, borderline sadistic. Let Eva clean herself and her armour up, then take a shower, and then she can rest and recover until it is time to have dinner.
  But the things we had seen would stay with us for the rest of our lives.

  But that was something for later. I needed to finish my report. Mostly, at least. I regretted not memorizing the survivors when I had the chance yesterday. But tomorrow everybody should be here again. I doubted any of the survivors would want to miss any services under the current circumstances. Tomorrow I would send my report, and due to my emergency report yesterday, I had to be consistent and blame the Black Hand.
  Probably a death sentence, but I could delay sending the report.

---

Tuesday. Time for another service. Another one that would be different than all others. I was not looking forwards to it. I do not think anyone was. Eva was not. The twins were not either. They were surely expected to be present now. Or maybe not?

  Still, I had promised them to look for proper foster parents.  The girls were the first to take their seat, nice and close together in the front row, almost in the center. They had selected their place while I pulled out Kane's shrine. It might very well be my last service, and I kind of wanted to bust it out for the occassion. It was only used on special days.

  But it was clear there were even fewer people now. I saw the farmers, together with the other girl that was not part of their family. Where were her parents? I asked. Apparently they had committed suicide. Why did I hear that here, without receiving a report? I supposed I would have to write the report myself now all official channels had been burned away. Literally. It was my task to make the report.
  I asked whether they wanted to take care of the twins. They did not.
  The elderly couple had also committed suicide. And the exercising elderly woman was mutating. I did not notice that on Sunday. Maybe she acquired the mutation in the past two days? At any rate, I doubted it mattered. She stated she would take her own life later today, but she just wanted to be present at the last service. To hear about the vision of Kane one more time.
  That was not the reason she was here, but I let it slide. She just wanted to have a chance to say farewell to the last few survivors. Amd she could not fool me. I did not miss the stink eye she gave me. I let that slide as well.
  A year ago, I would have killed her for the blatant disrespect to Kane's vision. But few in her shoes would still respect Nod after everything. We had taken everything from her. But she would take her own life.

  ztype the Black Hand. I wanted to scream. And I had yet to even properly start the service.  ztype. This. Shit. Those deranged horse pee holes deserved little more than to choke on elephant dicks and be burned alive with their own ztyping flamethrowers. With those flamethrowers inserted in their rectum. Bloody cowardous cunts.

  Why was I the sacrificial lamb? Was I expected to call the Black Hand GDI impostors in the Service as well, like I did in the official report? If I had not been in a brutal battle with the Black Hand before I probably would do that, even if that was refuge in audacity here. Those dickheads carried all the tell-tale signs of the Black Hand and you needed to be blind to mistake them for GDI soldiers.

  I was still fuming as I finally raised my hand, silencing the attendants. "Now the questions and announcements are out of the way, it is time to welcome you, my fellows. Welcome you to what might be the last service in this parish." There was no reason to continue. After today, there was only one family of survivors left. A pair of parents, with their three children, plus a fourth adopted child. And two orphaned twins that had nowhere to go. "The malevolent Black Hand has taken it all from us." I paused, and everybody noticed my tone shift. Even the distortion could not keep my anger out. I tried to remain calm.

  I could not. Nod was nothing. "The oppressors of GDI oppose Kane's Will, but the infernal Black Hand denies us the chance  to make it a reality in the first place." I paused. I did not want to be dishonest to the last few survivors. "I do not know what is worse." Especially not after all my memories were refreshed. "After last week, I am very inclined to say the latter." A shock rippled through the room, but also relief that I straight up voiced what the survivors thought. "Ultimately GDI still has rules by which they fight." They had committed many atrocities, but ultimately I had seen my Brothers and Sisters commit more, and that was when only counting that round of duty where I fought against GDI itself. "The Black Hand lacks those. They are vigilantes, desperados that burn everything in their wake, even the Legacy of Kane himself if it suits their purpose."  

  I paused, let everything sink in for a second. The old woman had a brief smile on her face. I wondered why. Maybe she was happy that I addressed the true problems?
 
  "The Black Hand will stop at nothing to see the world burn before them. You can't be loyal enough to them, and if you fail to meet their contradictionary demands, you will be murdered sooner or later." I knew the twins had survived through sheer luck. The farmers made everything they needed themselves, so they avoided being supplied by Nod altogether. The other survivors had just managed to avoid the attention of the Black Hand, but many had decided to take their own life regardless. They had lost too much. Others had fled. "In an attempt to purge the parish of traitors that favour GDI, the Black Hand became oppressors themselves!" I had no clue what to say.

  "But once Kane's vision becomes clear, we can quell the unreast and overcome GDI. And guarantee a long-lasting peace, through the power of Tiberium!" I attempted to sound excited. I hoped it worked.
  It did not.
  "Peace through power!" For the first time, I could make out the distinct voices of the attendants. Nine voices were with me. "Peace through power!" Ten, counting Eva.

 Concrete masks...

 "Peace through power!"
 
  ...Creating an illusion of a future...

  "Peace through power!"

  ...Just one card out of many...

  "Peace through power!"

   ...In little more than shattered remains...

  "Peace through power!

  ...Revealed delusions of grandeur.




So yeah, that is it, guys Very Happy Finally done, it took some doing, but I hope you enjoyed reading this! Pardon the French in the last chapter, but I think the situation and main character called for it.
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