Normandy, June 1944 Edit
Under starry skies, Standartenführer Hans Heydrich rode in his black King Tiger tank. Unlike many of his comrades in the Waffen SS, inhuman men who tried to conceal their atrocities behind a veneer of Teutonic duty and respectabily, this redcap colonel proudly displayed his crimes for those with eyes to see and in the dream-lit halo of Kenning, the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto and the shadows of the Oradour-sur-Glane Massacre glistened around him like crimson cobwebs. Garlands of skulls decorated his tank, and its treads, sticky with blackened blood, tore deep claw marks in the ground.
He had been a nobody; a small-town schoolmaster before the war in the mid 1920’s before the black dreams of National Socialism had rekindled his true nature.
A Matter of Bookkeeping Edit
He rode that night with Lieutenant Bock, another redcap in his own half-track. Their hungry red eyes gleamed with their thoughts of the coming carnage they would visit on the hamlet they approached. This was not some grand mission of conquest, though, but matter of bookkeeping. The corrupt Vichy regime was crumbling and the French Resistance was increasing their activity. The Maquis had blown an ammunition depot and intelligence had tracked their activities to the village below. Heydrich had requested the assignment for one reason: Kithain.
He had no doubt that there was a changeling core to the resistance here. Boggans, most likely, though he smelled the stench of troll involvement behind it all somewhere. It didn’t matter. Among the 150 men behind him there were over a dozen fanatical young Dreamers from the Hitlerjugend as well as six redcaps from his own corby; drunk on the Dark Glamour of war. With this, he would smash any fae-backed assault from the weakling French Maquisards.
Hardened on the Eastern Front, Heydrich was prepared for any eventuality, but even he was surprised as the tank lurched to a halt at a bend in the road. A pale woman in French provincial garb stood in the shadows; raven hair framing a slender face silled with black reproach. To Hans’ second sight, he could see her true form. Her white peasant dress melted away, revealing a coat of shimmering scales and a dark grey cloak. A miniature hourglass hung at her throat and she held a slender silver blade. She was obviously fae, but the colonel was a little disturbed he could not tell what kith. She was too tall and stately for a boggan and clearly not a troll. Perhaps she was one of the Spanish eshu who had been interfering.
“It is late, frauen,” he smiled, giving a gentlemanly Junker bow. “Are you lost? It is a dangerous time for such a pretty young morsel to be wandering alone in the woods. The barbarian Allies are afoot and have no respect for a woman’s virtue. Come with us and we will find you food and comfort.”
“My thanks, but I come as servant, lord, and messenger. The people of this valley are my obligation and do not desire you here. You may leave, little colonel, or die these two full months before your allotted time.”
“Then you are Joan of Arc, come to rescue La Belle France from her tormentors? Stupid bitch! The days of knightly valor are long past, and your toy sword is no match for tanks and bullets.” To kill another changeling with the weapons of Autumn went against the Escheat, but Hans had dared worse, and the Dreaming had yet to collect the debt.
With the merest inclination of his head, Bock’s machine gun barked. The woods erupted with phosphorescent fireflies as the woman leapt skyward in a storm of splinters. Bock was a master of weapons, both of dream and steel, and he was supernaturally fast. She, by contrast, seemed to move in slow motion. She landed on the half-track’s hood and Bock had a moment to be shocked before her leather-booted foot crushed his throat.
Heydrich stood astride his turret now; black blade and pistol in hand. A grenade tore a second half-track apart behind him. More shots echoed throughout the column along with war cries in both French and German; human and fae.
The woman spun like a ballerina on the half-track’s hood, but Heydrich had found her range. His luger flashed, and the woman’s face creased in pain as the bullet tore her shoulder, but the only sound that came from her was the shattering of glass as she smashed her ornamental hourglass. Heydrich grinned but inside he felt fear. Why was she so silent? He aimed again, ready to take her head clean off.
Suddenly his pet Tiger roared to life again, lunging forward and out of control. Its treads left the narrow lane, lurching sickeningly and throwing the SS man from his perch, face first into a tree. The redcap turned just in time to see the tank's grinding wheels come crashing down on him: almost 69 tons of clanking steel sheered through his legs, severing them at the knees. Shrieking, he cleared the tank’s treads as it lumbered blindly into the darkness. He spat blood and grasped his blade in his trembling hands. The woman stood above him, her eyes flashing black: twin mirrors reflecting nothing but death, terrible and sure.
“I, I know what you are now,” he rasped. He had never thought much about the tales of the shining ones who had left some 600 years ago, but there was no doubt in his mind what it was in front of him. “Why have you returned? Why now?”
“Returned, No little schoolmaster, not returned. We have always been here.” Her voice seemed almost kind, or maybe it was pity. Heydrich feebly raised his sword to block her whirling silver blade, but it shattered in his hands. A flash of pain and his world turned to roaring red, then hissing black, then silence.
Two month later, the resistance found the cripple in an abandoned farmhouse. He wore civilian clothes and claimed to be a simple teacher: hungry, broken, lost. There was soon little doubt that this was none other than the cursed Black Angel of Oradour-sur-Glane. The Maquis’s justice in such matters ran swift and sure. His last words were of a dark woman who haunted his dreams, but, if she ever existed, she had returned to the restless shadows.