Chapter no 19

The Poppy War

—Well, who is the newcomer? Nezha asked casually.

Rin wasn’t sure if she could talk about Chaghan without kicking something, which would be bad, especially since they were supposed to be hiding. But they had been guarding the barricade for what seemed like hours and they were starting to get bored.

—He is Altan’s lieutenant.

—How come I haven’t seen it before?

“He’s been out,” he said.

A volley of arrows flew above them. Nezha crouched lower on the barricade.

The Seventh Division, together with the Cike, had organized an assault along the dock against the embassies, in an attempt to cut the main Federation camp in two. In theory if they could keep the old Hesperian barracks, they could divide the

enemy force and cut off their access to the docks. They had sent two regiments, one would attack perpendicular to the river and the other would snake toward the dock from the canals.

But they would have to pass through five heavily defended intersections to reach the dock, and it was turning into five bloodbaths. The Federation had not fought in the open field because they did not need to, hidden and safe behind the walls of the buildings they held the docks, responding to the Nikara attacks with shots from the roofs and windows of the upper floors of the buildings of the Federation. embassies.

The Seventh Division’s only option was to throw all its infantry against the Federation fortified position. They had to bet that the pressure of Nikara troops would be enough force to force the Federation to leave. The war had become a battle of flesh against steel, and the Militia were determined to break the Federation with their bodies.

“I mean, you have no idea,” Nezha said as a rocket exploded above his head.

—What I mean is that it’s none of your business.

Rin didn’t know if Nezha was inquiring about his father or if he was just making conversation. He supposed it didn’t matter, Chaghan’s presence was hardly a secret, especially after Altan’s dramatic rescue outside the East Gate. Perhaps because of that, however, the army seemed more afraid of him than of all the rest of the Cike combined.

Several meters down, Suni ignited one of Ramsa’s special bombs and threw it over the barricade.

They crouched down and covered their ears until a now-familiar, acrid, sulfuric odor filled their nostrils.

The fiery arrows stopped.

—Is that shit? Nezha asked.

“Don’t ask,” Rin said. In the temporary calm granted by Ramsa’s dung bombs, they were able to move past the barricade and rushed down the street to reach the next of the five intersections.

“I’ve heard it’s creepy,” Nezha continued. Which is from the Interior Lands.

—Qara is also from the Inner Lands, so what?

“I’ve also heard that it’s supernatural,” Nezha said. Rin snorted.

—It’s from Cike. We are all supernatural.

A massive explosion rumbled through the air ahead of them, followed by a series of bursts of fire.


He was leading the charge. His blazing flames, combined with Ramsa’s pyrotechnic fire, amounted to a large amount of fire that dramatically improved nighttime visibility.

Altan had made his way to the next intersection. The Nikara continued to advance.

“But he can do things esperlies can’t,” Nezha said as they advanced. They say he can read the future. Destroy minds. My father says that even the Warlords know him, did you know that? He makes you think. If Altan has a

lieutenant who is so powerful that he scares even the Warlords, why do you send him away from Khurdalain? What are they planning?

“I’m not going to spy on my division for you,” Rin said.

“I didn’t ask you,” Nezha said gently. I just want to say that you might want to keep an open mind.

“And maybe you should stop poking your nose into my division’s affairs.”

But Nezha had stopped listening to him, looking over Rin’s shoulder at something far along the dock, where the first line of Nikara soldiers were pressing.

-What’s that?

Rin craned her neck to see what he was looking at. She then narrowed her eyes in confusion.

A strange greenish-yellow mist had begun to push its way out of the blocked area, towards the two squads in front of them.

As in a dream, the fighting stopped. The main squadron had stopped moving, lowering their weapons with an almost hypnotic fascination as the cloud-like thing reached the wall, paused, gathered itself as if it were a wave, and then poured heavily over the trenches.

Then the screaming started.

“Retreat,” a squadron officer shouted. Withdrawal!

The Militia went in the opposite direction immediately, starting a disorganized stampede away from the gas.

They were frantically abandoning hard-won positions along the harbor to escape the gas.

Rin coughed and looked over his shoulders as he ran. Most of the soldiers who had not escaped the gas lay gasping and shaking on the ground, clawing at their faces as if their very throats were attacking them. Some remained completely still.

An arrowhead grazed his cheek and embedded itself in the ground in front of Rin. He felt a stab of pain next to his mouth, and he pressed a hand against the wound and continued running. The Federation soldiers were firing from behind the poisonous fog, as if they were going to hunt them down one by one.

The line of the forest loomed over her. They would be safe once they could take cover behind the trees. Rin lowered his head and ran towards the trees. Just one hundred meters… fifty… thirty.

Behind her she heard a muffled scream. She turned her head to look and tripped on a rock, just as another arrow whizzed over her head. Blood flowed from her cheek into her eyes. Rin wiped himself furiously and rolled on the ground.

The origin of that scream had been Nezha. He was crawling forward furiously, but the gas had caught up with him. He looked at her through the fog. It seemed to Rin that he had reached out a hand toward her.

And he watched in horror, with his mouth open in a silent scream as the gas enveloped him.

Through the fog of gas he could see shapes advancing. Federation soldiers. They carried heavy devices on

their heads, masks that hid their face and neck. They didn’t seem to be affected by the gas.

One of them raised a gloved hand and pointed to where Nezha lay.

Without thinking, Rin took a deep breath and walked into the fog.

It burned his skin as soon as he came into contact with the gas.

She gritted her teeth and continued to move forward despite the pain, but she had barely taken ten steps when someone grabbed her shoulders and led her out of the gas zone. Rin struggled furiously to escape her grasp.

Altan didn’t let go.

—Get away! —Rin elbowed him in the face. Altan stumbled and grabbed his nose. Rin tried to dodge, but Altan grabbed her wrists and pulled her back.

-What are you doing? Altan demanded.

—They have Nezha! —She shouted.

“I don’t care.” Altan pushed her toward the tree line. Retire.

“You’re letting one of our men die!”

—He is not one of our men, he is one of the Seventh’s men. Go away.

“I won’t leave my friend behind!”

—You will do what I order you.

—But Nezha…

“I don’t regret this,” Altan said, and hit him in the solar plexus with his fist.

Dazed, paralyzed, she fell to her knees.

She heard Altan shout an order, and then someone picked her up and threw her over his shoulders as if she were a child. She struggled and screamed as the soldier began to trot in the direction of the barricade. From behind the soldier, Rin thought she saw the masked Federation soldiers dragging Nezha with them.


The gas attack had the precise effect the Federation had intended. The sugar bomb had been devastating, but the gas attack had been monstrous. Khurdalain burst into a state of terror. Although the gas had dissipated an hour ago, rumors spread quickly. The fog was an invisible enemy, one that killed indiscriminately. There was no possible hiding place from the air. Civilians began fleeing the city en masse, unable to trust the army’s ability to protect them. Panic invaded the streets.

Jun’s soldiers shouted themselves hoarse in the streets, trying to convince civilians that they would be safer behind the city walls. But people didn’t listen to them. They felt trapped. The narrow, winding streets of Khurdalain meant certain death in the event of another gas attack.

As the city collapsed into chaos, the commanders had begun an emergency meeting at the nearest barracks. Those from Cike crowded into the office of the Lord of

the War of the Ram together with all the Warlords and their non-commissioned officers. Rin was leaning against the corner of the wall, listening attentively as the commanders discussed the strategy to follow.

Only one of Jun’s soldiers on the beach had survived the attack. He was positioned far away and had put down his weapons and started running as soon as he had seen his comrades drown.

“It was like breathing fire,” he reported. As if red-hot needles were piercing your lungs. “He thought he was being strangled by an invisible demon…my throat closed, I couldn’t breathe…” she shuddered.

Rin listened, and held a grudge against him for not being Nezha.

It was only fifty meters. She could have saved him. He could have gotten us both out of there.

“We have to evacuate the center right now,” Jun said. He was remarkably calm for a man who had just lost over a hundred men in a poisonous fog. My men will…

—Your men will keep the population under control. “The civilians are going to end up trampling each other trying to get out of the city, and it will be easy for Mugen to kill them if we don’t round them up in an orderly manner,” Altan said.

Surprisingly, Jun didn’t argue.

“We are going to change the location of the headquarters, we will move further to the Sihang warehouse,” Altan continued.

—. We can leave the prisoner in the basement.

Rin sharply raised her head.

—What prisoner?

She was well aware that she should not speak, being a rankless Cike soldier. Technically, she was not part of this meeting and she was acting out of her position. But she was too hurt and exhausted to care.

Unegen leaned in and whispered in his ear, “One of the Federation soldiers got caught in his own gas. Altan grabbed the mask from him and dragged him outside .

Rin blinked in disbelief.

-You come back? She asked, her voice sounding very loud in his ears.

Did you have a mask?

Altan looked at her irritably.

“Now is not the time,” he said. Rin stood up straight.

—Did you let one of ours die?

—We can discuss this later.

He understood, abstractly, the strategic benefit of capturing a prisoner. The last Federation soldiers who had been caught spying on the shore had been beaten to death by angry civilians. And even so…

“You’re amazing,” Rin said.

“We are going to organize the evacuation of the headquarters,” Altan said loudly, silencing Rin. We will meet at the warehouse.

Jun nodded curtly, then muttered something to his officers.

They greeted him and left the headquarters with a quick step.

At the same time, Altan gave orders to Cike.

—Qara, Unegen, Ramsa, ensure a safe route to the warehouse and guide Jun’s officers. Baji and Suni, help pack up Enki’s tent. The rest of you resume your positions in case of another gas attack. —He stopped at the door—. Rin. You stay.

He stayed behind while the rest left the office. Unegen gave him a nervous look as he left the room.

Altan waited until they were alone, then closed the door. He crossed the room and stopped when there was a short distance between them.

“Don’t contradict me again,” he said quietly. Rin crossed her arms.

—Never, or only in front of Jun? Altan did not fall into the trap.

—You will answer me as a soldier does with his commander.

-Or what? Will you make Suni drag me out of your office?

—You are overdoing it. —Altan’s voice dropped dangerously in volume.

“And you let my friend die,” Rin answered. He was lying there and you left him.

“You couldn’t have gotten him out of there.”

“Yes, I could,” Rin fumed. And even if I couldn’t, you could, you could have saved my friend instead of taking out a Federation soldier who deserved to die there…

“Prisoners of war are of greater strategic importance than a single soldier,” Altan said calmly.

“That’s pure bullshit,” he replied.

Altan did not answer. He took two steps forward and punched her in the face.

Rin was not on guard, and took the full force of that blow without being prepared. Her blow was so hard that her head turned to the side. The sudden impact of it caused him to buckle her knees, knocking her to the ground. She put a hand to her cheek, stunned. Her fingers were bloody, she had reopened the arrow wound.

Slowly, he raised his gaze towards Altan. His ears were ringing.

Altan’s crimson eyes met hers and his face contorted with fury left her stunned.

“How dare you,” he said. His voice was too loud, distorted by his ears still ringing. You have misunderstood the nature of our relationship. I’m not your friend. I am not your brother, although we may be related. I am your commander. You don’t question my orders. You fulfill them, without questions. You will obey me or you will abandon the Militia.

His voice had the same double timbre as Jiang when he opened that void in Sinegard. Altan’s eyes burned red, no, they were not red, they were the color of fire itself. Flames rose behind her, flames whiter and hotter than any fire she could have conjured. She was immune to her own fire, but not his. It burned her face, suffocated her, and forced her to retreat.

The ringing in his ears grew louder.

He can’t do this to you , said a voice in Rin’s head. He can’t terrify you . He hadn’t come this far to now have to cower in fear. Not even with Altan. Not with anyone.

He stood, searching within himself for a malicious place and dark and horrible, and opened the channel to the entity he knew was waiting to be summoned. The room seemed to lean forward as if she were seeing it through a scarlet prism. The familiar ardor was in her veins again, the ardor that begged for blood and ashes.

Through that reddish haze he thought he saw Altan’s eyes open in surprise. She squared her shoulders. Flames burned from her back and shoulders, flames that were the same as Altan’s.

She took a step towards him.

A loud crack filled the room. Rin felt immense pressure. He trembled under the weight of it. He heard the laughter of a bird. He heard the amused whisper of a god.

Children , the Phoenix murmured. Ridiculous and absurd children. My children.

Altan looked stunned.

But although her flames resisted his for a moment, she began to feel warm again, his fire beginning to burn her again. Rin’s fire was incendiary, an impulsive flare of rage. The fire of Altan was born from a fountain, from a bottomless pit of hatred. It was a deep and slow char. She could almost taste it, the poisonous purpose of it, an ancient misery, and it horrified her.

How could a person hate so much?

What had happened to him?

Rin couldn’t hold his fire anymore. Altan’s flames burned brighter than his own. They had fought a war of wills and she had lost.

He struggled for another moment and then his flames left as quickly as they had appeared. The Altan fire left shortly after.

That’s it , Rin thought, I’ve crossed the line. This is the end.

But Altan did not seem angry. It didn’t look like he was about to execute her either.

No, he seemed pleased .

“So this is what it takes,” he said.

She felt exhausted, as if the fire had burned something inside her. She couldn’t even feel angry anymore. She could barely stand.

“ Fuck you ,” she said. Fuck you.

“Go to your post, soldier,” Altan said.

Rin left his office, slamming the door shut.

Fuck me.

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