“There’s nothing to report West.” Olga hung her radio on her shoulder strap, adjusted her grip on the rifle and kept moving forward.
The woods were clearing up and she could see past the edge of them, onto the soaking wet plains ahead, even starting to make out a few of the village’s thatched roofs and rickety fences. She could discern some early-morning activity as well, and the sounds of homestead animals made it all the way to her, through the thicket. The rain was subsiding and being replaced by mist, soft strands of it rising slowly, reaching for the canopies.
The radio buzzed as it came alive with a transmission.
“Confirmed clear for the North, over.”
Good Olga thought Nikolai must have reached his position as well. She leaned her head in towards the radio and depressed the talk switch as she took a knee.
“Be ready for advance in 2 minutes, ov… Wait. Standby.” she heard a harsh grinding noise nearby, but her vision to it was blocked by a school of young pines.
“Everything alri-” the radio buzzed, but Olga cut the volume.
“Keep communications to a minimum.” she replied, then started advancing around the pines, stepping lightly, steadying her rifle against her shoulder as the noise came through closer and clearer. She reached a tall elm and pressed her back flush against it.
Holding her breath, she suddenly sprang up from behind it, aiming down sights… And came face to face with a fully grown Bengal tiger sharpening its claws against the bark. Olga smiled.
“Changa… You were supposed to join the others up on the ridge!” the tiger bared her teeth at her, cocking its head and pushing up against her with the clear intention of being pet.
“Alright, alright, enough!” Olga chuckled “There’s no time for that now!” she put on her most stern exterior and Changa started to settle down.
“Is that how a Rusviet soldier acts when carrying out an assignment? Hm?” she drew her shoulders back and frowned. Changa took a few steps back, moved her head from side to side and then sat down, mirroring her master’s posture.
A soft click came through the radio and Olga turned the volume up.
“-a, come in, what’s your status?”
“All good, Nikolai, just had to deal with a possible deserter here.”
“Still moving ahead with the operation?”
“By all means, 1 minute to ‘go’, make sure you’re all ready, we’ll overwatch and close in after you’ve reached the village. Over and out.”
“You heard her, men. Nikolai over and out.”
“Ridge advance team, understood. Thank you for capturing our deserter. Kristoff over and out.”
Olga smiled wickedly as Changa bowed her head.
“Come, there’s still hope for you to remain in the corps…” her master joked and moved further towards the edge of the forest with the tiger close by her side.
“Watch the village, don’t do anything if I don’t say so.” Olga whispered as she went prone, taking cover under a low-hanging pine branch. Changa shuffled next to her, eyes wide and scanning the area ahead, muscles tense and ready to pounce.
“Easy, girl” Olga took out her binoculars and started scanning the village “we’re still catching up to them, no need to worry so.” the animals in the village seemed restless as they shuffled up and down between the houses.
She panned left and could just spot Nikolai and his squad slowly making their way uphill, keeping to the tall grass and filtering in from tree to tree. A short pan right and she saw Kristoff descending from the ridge along with a semicircle of firepower covering the entire width of the clearing.
She scanned the woods opposite, a balding rampart filled with loose stone and slate. They’d opted out of posting any sentinels on it due to its lack of cover and of sure footing.
“Everything looks fine” Olga mused, turning her gaze towards the town and focusing in “Wait… Something’s wrong…” Changa pricked her ears up and made to move. Olga laid a hand on her.
“Don’t go anywhere, girl, let’s see if they end up finding anyone first…” she reached at her radio “Both teams clear to advance, position on the outskirts, then Nikolai can breach.”
She put her binoculars away, steadied her rifle against the ground and took aim through the scope, scanning it all as best she could.
A few seconds later, a panting Nikolai came through.
“Breaching in 5, 4…”
3, 2, 1… Olga counted down as she made sure Kristoff’s troops had taken up positions.
A dozen fully armed Rusviet soldiers started clearing the village, moving house to house, prompting much animal dissent as a flock of geese fled towards the rampart. It was all done soon as the settlement wasn’t that extensive to begin with, so Nikolai gave them all the all-clear and the rest closed in.
“Olga... “ Nikolai came through, monotone and serious “Meet us near the couple big houses to the East. You have to see this.”
They went past broken down fences, muddy, stagnant pools, and panicked geese, chickens, and the odd pig, well spooked by the time Changa started slowly pacing among them. They’d been restless even as Olga started her overwatch, and she soon realised her suspicions were true. Wading through a tiny stream where clear mountain water washed through a patch of caked blood, Olga and Changa approached Nikolai, Kristoff, and their squads.
They were all resting, in a circle, keeping far away from the middle of the small square, where a couple dozen bodies had been piled on top of one another. A cursory view of the situation told Olga this was not due to woodland animals or roving bandits.
“High-caliber shots, foot-plate marks here, and here, leaving East.” Nikolai paced around the perimeter “Medium walkers, fast ones. We saw a fuel residue trail as we were heading in. Might be the one that was damaged back at The Pass.”
“Gone maybe 2 days.” Kristoff had knelt by a bush that was half burnt “they may have wanted to leave less traces, but they were in a hurry. Opted out of burning it all down.”
“Any sign of him?” Olga inquired of a couple soldiers just now making their way into town.
“Prisoners look to have been held back there.” one of them pointed at a log cabin “Can’t say for sure…”
Kristoff stood up with a crooked smile and voiced the growing rumblings among the men.
“Permission to cook, Lieutenant?”
“What a waste…” Olga surveyed the area with disdain “Don’t get greedy, get a few birds together and move out. We’ll camp after sundown and can see to the meal then.
“Nikolai” she put in, calling Changa to her and moving towards the log cabin “Inform Command of this. Request heavy mech backup, have them catch up with us due East, we should reach the Sovereign Range tomorrow and can regroup there.”
They headed towards the log cabin and Olga sighed deeply as they entered. In truth, there was not much there, apart from a couple hurriedly-fashioned wall restraints onto which a manacled chain still hung to the side. Several shelves lined the walls, their ceramic and tableware contents scattered and mostly broken across the floor. Changa slid past her master and started pacing the room, looking for something. Soon enough, she was pawing at a spot near the corner of the wall. Olga knelt by her and gently pushed her aside.
Behind a rickety old shelf, she saw a mark. Small, freshly scribbled and smudged in blood, but clear to anyone looking for it. A simple ‘V’ inside a circle told Olga all she need to know. Changa nuzzled at her hand.
“We’ll find him, girl...” she hugged the tiger’s head tightly “We’ll find our Viktor.”
~ To be continued ~
All names, characters, images, and references pertaining to the 1920+ universe are the property of Jakub Rozalski, and are used in this work of fan fiction without the express intent of monetary gain or other material benefits.