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<Oxford> The cargo plane touches down in Occupied Sachsen's only large-craft aerodrome, and is immediately swarmed by ground-staff as they rush to unload its cargo of medical supplies. Joslyn and Caitlin step out onto the tarmac just as a sharp gust of wind whips across the runway, carrying with it bits of debris and the smell of smoke from somewhere nearby.
- Joslyn is clutching her new focus pendant tightly, scanning the area as best she can. Her 1st Lieutenant bars are pinned to her shoulders as she makes sure Caitlin is doing well. "You have any concerns, lemme know before we get in the air."
<Caitlin> Caitlin doublechecks to make sure her focus pendant is in proper order. It'd be a lie to say she's not nervous, particularly with all the stress of the last few days. She shakes her head, "I'm certain we both have concerns, but I don't have any for you to address." Stiff. Formal. Concerned with the task at hand. That's how it has to be right now.
<Oxford> Almost as soon as the crew is done unloading, another group begins to load the plane with wounded soldiers. With the Novgoraadi blockade in place, any evacuation has to be done by airlift, and the injured men are accompanied by several officers who were apparently deemed too valuable to risk losing if the lines were overrun.
- Joslyn nods and goes to find whoever appears to be in charge of the Albean forces here. They ought to have any info if there's any to be had.
<Oxford> Along the west side of the airfield, a veritable city of tents is set up among the stone-and-thatch houses of a little village. The tents bustle with activity, but the church seems to be the center of things - probably where the field HQ is set up.
- Joslyn takes Caitlin's hand to keep her from getting lost as they approach the church. From there it should be a matter of finding who has the most bars or stars.
<Caitlin> Caitlin raises her eyebrows at that particular gesture. "You know, the fact that I look 13 or so these days doesn't mean that I really am."
<Joslyn> "I know. but we're in enemy territory, and you're the only person I have left. I'm not gonna take any chances."
<Oxford> The old oaken doors are guarded by a pair of enlisted men, but seeing the two girls' rank and insignia they reluctantly move aside. Inside, soldiers scuttle about like ants in an anthill. A large map in the center of the sanctuary seems to be the focus of attention, but it's so crowded it's hard to get a good look.
<Oxford> Then, over in the corner alcove, Caitlin sees a familiar face, hard at work on the radio set.
<Oxford> Joslyn also notices a Brigadier General amongst the crowd of command personnel, though he seems a bit pre-occupied. He's currently shouting at somebody through a telephone, his face beet-red above a well-groomed mustache.
<Caitlin> Caitlin sighs in exasperation, though she allows Joslyn the indulgence—as long as she behaves. Caitlin tilts her head and looks closely over at the aforementioned alcove.
<Joslyn> "Captain Stranahan!" Joslyn will salute to the radio-woman and head her way - the brigadier general is probably busy and won't want to talk to some schoolgirl, if his face is any indication.
<Oxford> Erica Stranahan - Cpt. Stranahan, now, is speaking urgently into a radio headset. After each terse command, she fiddles one of the many dials for a moment before giving another order. When Joslyn hails her, she looks up in surprise, and quickly stubs out the cigarette between her lips. "Ah, you girls made it," she says hastily, pulling the headset down around her neck. "Where's everyone else, though?"
<Joslyn> "Reiker." Joslyn will say that and nothing else, and it's evident she doesn't want to even say that much. "We're all we got. You have anything that can help?"
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<Oxford> "That bastard. You can fill me in later," Erica says quickly, glancing back to her radio screens. "In the meantime, take this. It's a map to the target location; an old cathedral just behind the front." She hands over a cylindrical leather case which contains just that.
<Caitlin> Caitlin lowers her voice a bit, "Suffice to say, if you have a message for Mister Westfield, I might be able to pass it on."
<Joslyn> "Alright. Do you know anyone who knows they've seen flauri or Major Donalds?"
<Oxford> "Major Donalds, or someone that looked like him, was last seen at that cathedral by one of our patrols, making a final check before we pulled out. Dunno what else to tell you; map should get you there. You can grab a car from the motor pool, if you can find one that still works." At Caitlin's suggestion, Stranahan bites her lower lip and can't hide a blush, despite the grime on her cheeks. "Just uh… tell him I said 'hi'?"
<Joslyn> "Thanks for the heads-up." Joslyn will whisper something in Erica's ear before pulling back and looking at Caitlin. "You ready?"
<Caitlin> Caitlin nods curtly twice, one for Erica and one for Joslyn. "As much as can be expected."
- Joslyn smiles as best she can as she waves at Erica. "Keep safe, okay?" Should be easy now that she has the 3rd pendant Joslyn brought, but hopefully that'll not be needed.
<Oxford> Erica rolls the pendant in her hand and starts to say something, but closes her mouth and pockets it. "You too. Keep your ears open; I'll call you if we get wind of trouble." That seems to be all the 'goodbye' the newly-promoted captain can spare: she turns back to her radio and a moment later is back at work. "No, 3rd Company has priority; you've got to hold out with what you've got…"
<Joslyn> Once they're out of the church, Joslyn will try looking for the motor pool and a vehicle that'll start. "Any plans coming to mind, Cait?"
<Caitlin> "I would have to review all our information again. That or we… improvise. I'd prefer the former."
<Oxford> The motorpool, if it can be called such, is a wide lot with a half-dozen 4x4s in varying states of disrepair, with a pair of mechanics doing their best to coax some life out of one. Even as they watch, a truck is rolled in with a gaping hole in its engine block. The chief mechanic chases off the soldiers pushing it with a few choice curses.
<Joslyn> "I'm good at improvising…but yeah, let's go over what we know first." Joslyn takes out the mission briefing and starts leafing through it. "We're supposed to find Major Donalds and bring him back to Albea. Finding Flauri is a bonus…but if we don't find her we aren't supposed to hang around."
<Caitlin> "What kind of fortifications are hostiles known to have in the area?"
<Joslyn> "Lemme look…" Joslyn would figure several AA emplacments and a combat air patrol at the least, but better to see what the people getting shot at have seen.
<Oxford> The map itself doesn't have any indication, though a dotted line showing the general line-of-withdrawl shows the cathedral to be several miles behind the Novgoraadi front lines. There's a big black arrow drawn in that says only 'Nov Offensive'.
<Joslyn> "…Yeah, they've probably got it pretty well fortified."
<Caitlin> "…We're small, we'll make do. Perhaps my magic can help locate him."
<Joslyn> "Hmm…we're outnumbered, outgunned, and odds are we'd be facing huge amounts of resistance if we tried attacking the front lines. So let's go straight at the cathedral and root them out."
<Oxford> From the 1/4 Tonne that the mechanics are working under, the cough and sputter of an engine reluctantly starting gives rise to triumphant cheers. "Least we got one working," says the chief.
<Joslyn> "…anyone need that one right now?" It's mostly rhetorical, she's going to get it one way or the other.
<Caitlin> "We want to draw minimal attention."
<Joslyn> "And that means going in by ground instead of by air - or unless you feel up to a hike."
<Oxford> The men look up in surprise; they may not have noticed the girls before now. "That one… you mean this'un here? 'S prolly some colonel or major on the wait-list, lemme see now…" The chief mechanic waggles his bushy eyebrows as he sorts around for his clipboard.
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<Oxford> He doesn't seem to find it. "Sorry, Miss- er, Lieutenant? Really? Well, I must've lost the sign-up in the rush…"
<Joslyn> "Well…do you think we could borrow it for a bit? We're here for a search and rescue op…"
<Oxford> "Search'an…you two? Sir-amean, Ma'am?" He looks skeptically across the yard, and notices his subordinate giving him an amused grin. The mechanic thrusts his hands in his pockets. "Sure," he says quickly, turning aside to spit, "take the dem thing. Ma'am."
<Joslyn> "Thank you, Chief." Joslyn will clambor in and turn over the ignition.
<Caitlin> Caitlin follows suit—she didn't mind letting Joslyn do the talking at this moment.
<Oxford> The chief gives his underling a dismissive wave with one hand as Joslyn gets the 4x4 to start up with a cough and a small cloud of smoke. Once it's started, the engine rumbles contentedly, though how long the repairs will hold is anyone's guess.
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<Joslyn> it'll likely hold a lot longer than any of them think if Joslyn has anything to say about it. "Well…you've got the map Caitlin, make sure we're going the right way okay?" She knows how to drive, but this is arguably the first time she's been in something this big.
<Caitlin> Caitlin nods. She does her best to be a very thorough navigator.
- Joslyn carefully steps on the gas and keeps it slow and steady while she's maneovering out of the camp
<Joslyn> once she's out it gets a bit more speed, but she's not tearing up any land speed records.
<Oxford> The boxy little car makes its way out of the camp along the winding roads of the Sachsen countryside. The two girls clear the base in no time, and for a while one could almost forget they were in a warzone. Then they crest a hill, and can see a blasted field stretching out in front of them. Craters from artillery dot the ground, and two-thirds of the way up the hill is a narrow network of hastily-dug trenches, now abandoned.
<Joslyn> "How far do you think the church was from the basecamp?"
<Oxford> With a little consultation of the map, Caitlin figures it was just over 25 miles from camp, and about 4 miles behind the nominal 'front line'.
<Caitlin> "We're looking at traveling 25 miles from base to get to the church. And… The front line is 21 miles from base, for reference purposes."
<Joslyn> "Alright…so I figure about…" Joslyn checks the spedometer and does some math in her head. "We probably should hit the front line in about half an hour or so, maybe a bit longer. Think we should hit the sky there, or stay in this thing?"
<Caitlin> "…What is the probability of some form of antiautomobile traps being prepared?"
<Joslyn> "Behind their enemy lines? I'd figure not much. Doesn't mean we shouldn't keep an eye out."
<Oxford> The girls are approaching the line now. Though there isn't any physical sign of the front, the map indicates that once the pass over the next hill, they'll officially be in enemy territory.
<Caitlin> "I meant crossing the lines. I presume they're on the watchout for female children even more than they are automobiles…"
<Joslyn> "Point taken. Be ready to hit your pendant at a moment's notice." Joslyn will slow down considerably, making sure she isn't taken unaware by something she was going too fast to notice.
<Oxford> Her caution pays off. As the car edges around the top of the hill, Joslyn catches sight of something large and metal moving through the trees at the other side of the fields below. She sees a second, and then a third: tanks.
- Joslyn switched the truck off, frowning. "Look over there - tanks." Joslyn tries to remember if those were part of the seige engine that was being used to cut off the albean squadron.
<Oxford> From this distance, the girls can barely hear the clank of the treads, giving the Novgoraadi armour a certain solemn quality, like elephants or whales. The steel beast dwarf the little utility car.
<Caitlin> "…I can't say I'm a fan. We would do well to avoid thoseis it time to take a detour?"
<Oxford> While a bit strange to see armour patrolling the front, Novgoraad's production of tanks and other armoured vehicles has steadily increased over the course of the war. Elements from an armoured divisions were among those directed at the blockaded Albaean forces.
<Joslyn> "We could probably try taking them out from above…or we can walk. can't be more than what, three miles? Of course, if he's not there, then we're really gonna be in trouble…" Even at a leisurely pace, that's no more than an hour - and they'll likely be going a bit faster.
<Caitlin> "Ultimately, you're in charge. We don't want to attract attention, though. How many of these are we looking at?"
<Joslyn> "Looks like three tanks. If elsa were here it'd be no problem - she'd cook 'em from the inside out. But without her…I think we're better off hiding the truck and sneaking through the woods."
<Oxford> A quick peek reveals only three: a little small for a platoon-strength unit. There may be others lurking nearby, or the group may be understrength due to losses in the fighting.
<Caitlin> "I would prefer to avoid combat until necessary."
<Joslyn> "I'm inclined to agree - we've seen what using the pendants too much can do, so let's try to not use them unless we have to. Now then…" Joslyn will move the jeep into the foliage as quietly as possible before heading out on foot, making sure she has some sort of radio device (assuming she found one to start with, I hope)
<Oxford> A gust of wind stirs a few fallen leaves, though most are already packed down and sodden with the recent rain. With the 4x4 hidden under some loose branchs, the girls proceed quietly over the hill under cover of the trees. They are aided by long shadows - after the delays this morning, duck is already starting to gather by the time they reach the base of the hill. From here it will be more difficult: only open ground seperates them
<Oxford> from the enemy unit.
<Joslyn> "…we might want to activate our pendants soon - if they spot us, we'll need to be able to fight back, and if they don't see us then we'll make it to the church that much quicker."
<Caitlin> "I suppose you might be right. We lose any deniability, but I don't think it would help much anyway."
<Oxford> The field is split by a dirt road, an access for the farmer. The field is barren and studded with broken cornstalks, which jut like tiny towers to lord over the weeds.
<Joslyn> "Well, they have magic users on the nov side too - might help us blend in as long as we don't have to say much." Joslyn curls up into a ball as dark silver armor snakes up her form, transforming her with very little fanfare. She looks more like an armor-covered knight than a valkyrie of war, but assault isn't her main goal right now.
<Oxford> The enemy tanks seem not to have noticed. The girls are close enough now to see the enemy tankers, unbuttoned and manning machineguns on top of their turrets.
<Joslyn> "They must be looking for someone if they've got guns ready…someone's gotta be closeby. let's go!" Joslyn whispers, no weapon in hand yet.
<Caitlin> Caitlin nods. She tries to keep her transformation as subtle as possibleit even consists of one word repeated over and over wrapping around herself close to the skin and initiating the change. That word being stealth. "We shouldn't stay here."
<Joslyn> "Yeah, I know. head to the church, and hope there's a clue as to Donalds' whereabouts. If not, I think we have to try a night flight to find something."
<Caitlin> "Okay. Let's move."
<Joslyn> "On my mark…now!" Joslyn starts sneaking her way towards the church, as best as she can.
<Caitlin> Onwards, ho!
<Oxford> The enemy tankers don't react to the girls' passing, though one does a quick double-take that makes them both freeze, prone, in the soft soil for a few long minutes until he finally looks away. They finally reach the far side of the field and take cover behind a fallen log, ready to plan their next move.
<Joslyn> "…that was too close for comfort…do you know any of the language?"
<Caitlin> "If I wracked my brain, I might be able to come up with a few basic phrases. Unless I can find a means of using my writing abilities to translate, then… Not much worth noting."
<Joslyn> "Darn…if you could say something to the effect of we're on a patrol, that'd probably be enough to keep us from being shot at. Anyway…ready to make a mad dash to the church?" Joslyn takes one more look to be sure she's not overlooking something important.
<Oxford> The church is still about 3 miles away, and they haven't been spotted yet. Whether that's been overlooked or not is undetermined.
<Joslyn> "Well, if we do get spotted, just try saying something that'd make sense. something's better than nothing, and if we look like we belong, they're less likely to think we're not on their side. Now let's go!" Joslyn picks up the pace a little, doing her best to stay out of sight.
<Caitlin> "I've got an idea of what to say in mind. It's not my strong suit, but… I'm certainly not Elsa, so… We'll see what happens." Onwards, onwards.
<Joslyn> "I've got faith in you - you've got a way with words, you know."
<Oxford> They hurry onwards, crouched, dodging from shadow to shadow, for the better part of an hour. At last, they can see the peaked spire of the cathedral poking above the treetops ahead, its vaulted roof glowing purple in the last rays of sunset.
<Joslyn> "Great…just a little farther…" Joslyn is forcing herself to not break into a dead run.
<Oxford> The ancient cathedral's massive stone walls are covered in moss, and the vaulted ceiling is dark and cobwebbed above their heads. Though not strictly large enough to require flying buttresses, a few decorative ones are spaced evenly along the outer walls, mounted by hideous gargoyles shaped like the woodsmonsters of local legend. The outer door stands open, fallen off its hinges. The inner, of sturdy iron, stands closed, sealing th
<Oxford> e inner sancuary from the elements.
<Caitlin> "Would now be an appropriate time to try magically locating him, or do you have a first option?"
<Joslyn> "If you think you've got something that'll track him, by all means go for it."
<Caitlin> "Alright, what do you make of this? I'll write his name on a slip of paper and let it home in on him for us."
<Joslyn> "You act like I know your magic better than you do. try it."
<Caitlin> "Strategically, speaking, what I meant to ask was whether a flying piece of paper cruising after him would reveal us faster than necessary, but wandering would only be worse. Alright…"
<Joslyn> "We don't have to be right next to it - as long as we know where it is, we'll be fine.
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<Caitlin> She whips a sheet of paperabout index card sizedand quickly inks on it "Donalds" in flowing cursive script.
<Oxford> The wind is starting to pick up outside. It's getting dark fast; in a half hour or so they won't be able to see at all.
<Joslyn> "This isn't good…" Joslyn muses to herself. "we have fifteen minutes to search. If we don't have anything yet, we ought to head into the air or hole up in the church. what do you think?"
<Caitlin> "I think… I miss Elsa… We might be spotted in the air, though night can provide some cover…"
<Joslyn> "I know. I miss her too - but it's a trade-off. If we can't see, neither can they. If you could track the magic you used on the paper, then we wouldn't need to see it. Can you…I dunno, sense any magic or anything?" Joslyn will try out of curiosity.
<Caitlin> Caitlin shrugs. "Attempt number one, initiate." She releases the slip.
<Oxford> The piece of paper flutters toward the ground, but just before touching the smooth stone floor it leaps upward as if carried by a stiff breeze. The card rolls and dances a moment, before coming to a rest against the metal inner doors, pressed to the steel as if by an invisible hand.
<Joslyn> "…I expected it to be a bit less…" Joslyn looks for a word, but decides to just open the metal door with an armor-covered glove.
<Oxford> Obvious? Perhaps. The darkened cathedral is lit by a single candle, at the far end of the hall. As Joslyn swings open the door, Caitlin's paper drops toward the ground again, only to be carried further in by another draft. It floats, tumbling down the rows of pews, before twirling past the candle and disappearing in the blackness beyond.
<Caitlin> Caitlin takes in a deep breath. She whispers, "…I can't say that I feel good about this."
<Joslyn> "Me either…but what choice do we have? stay on guard, cait."
<Caitlin> "Understood." Into the darkness we must plunge.
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<Oxford> The cathedral's central hall is long and wide, with two wings a little more than halfway down that stretch into the shadows on either side. The air is cool and dank, like it comes from deep dungeons or caverns under a mountain. The candle grows closer with each step, the fragile flame flickering in the drafts.
<Oxford> Suddenly a bear-sized shape rears up from just outside the candle's glow and steps forward, eyes gleaming.
<Joslyn> "…" Joslyn remains silent and holds up a rapier in one hand, unsure if it's a friend or foe.
<Caitlin> Caitlin brushes her hair back nervously with one hand, clutching her massive quill pen with the other.
<Oxford> Major Donalds steps into the light. "G-girls?" he says uncertainly, blinking as his eyes adjust. His face is unshaven and a bit dirty. "What're you two doing here? Where are the others?"
<Joslyn> "Reiker. And I should be asking you that first question."
- Joslyn obviously puts her blade down at the sight of the Major.
<Caitlin> Caitlin breaks into a nervous if relieved smile. "We came to bring you home. We have to get out of here—it's getting dark."
<Joslyn> "No…it's gonna be impossible to see out there, we've got no chance of making it back to the Albean lines tonight. We'll have to hole up here and hope no one finds us."
<Oxford> "Me?" he says, gruff in a grandfatherly sort of way. "I'm here to recover a missing officer in my unit, of course. And I don't intend to stop, not when I'm this close." He harrumphs a bit, then turns to reach for something in the shadows and comes up with a can of beans. "Anyway, you two should eat; you look hungry."
<Joslyn> "…Sir, we have orders from above to bring you in as a potential threat to the Crown. I appreciate the offer…but unless we can find Flauri before noon tomorrow, I'm not going to be able to keep us here."
<Caitlin> "…But Joslyn, we were pinned down in enemy territory! We had no choice but to delay our return…"
<Joslyn> "Yep. and we were told if we happened to come across her…well, we can't just leave her out here, right?"
<Oxford> He begins to protest, but stops himself. "Ah… Orders, eh? I understand. By noon tomorrow… now that you're here, there's a chance…" He fixes the two girls with a hard stare. "You want to get Flauri home, don't you?"
<Joslyn> "Naturally. You know where she is?"
<Caitlin> "I'll use that later as an example when I teach Elsa what a rhetorical question is."
<Oxford> "Yes. Well, no." He looks away, a bit sheepish. "I thought I did. There was an incident, a while back; something that sounded like it was her doing. This is the closest church in the area. You might not know this, but, given her history… I guess I was just following a hunch." He shrugs his big shoulders and scratchs his stubbly beard. "But I'm sure she's in this area; I just haven't been able to search thoroughly with the Novs ar
<Joslyn> "No kidding. Actually…" Joslyn looks to Caitlin. "You could probably track her down with that little trick. We'd have to be really sneaky, but there's a chance it'll work."
<Caitlin> "It's worth attempting."
<Oxford> Donalds raises an eyebrow, but then remembers the piece of paper that blew into him earlier. "Oh-ho, that was you? Might just work, might just work." He nods. "Tomorrow morning, crack of dawn. We'll find Flauri and get out of here."
<Joslyn> "Well then - that's that. Until then, we hide, rest, and fill the Major in on the travesties that clown has been doinf to the air force."
<Caitlin> "It certainly didn't have your name on it by pure chance."
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<Oxford> Donalds nods. "It sounds like I've some catching up to do." He goes to take a seat, and then, realizing he still has something in his hand, stops and holds it out. "Really, though. Try these beans."