Early Summer, 1998
rating: +17+x

The early summer of 1998 was a rather unstable time for the Polish.

Or perhaps it had always been that way. Since the fearsome storm of war broke out in '39, the Land of FieldsPolska had been in a constant state of fear. Even after the end of the long German and Russian rule over the nation, the poverty-stricken Poles were almost entirely forgotten by the world — though that may have been far from reality, the people sure thought so. And even as the troublesome Russian troops left, the economy was in ruins and the deteriorating standards of public order caused constant turmoil throughout the nation. Still, it was better than it was before, and Kwaśniewski was turning out to be a far better president than anyone expected. Things were finally looking up for Poland.

And so, the people of Poland tried their best to shake off the shadow of the Cold War, and in the stagnating unrest continued to live their lives with all their might.

To Mikołaj Piłsudski, that spring had been the perfect time to make a profit. As a reporter for a free magazine, he'd gotten three whole stories on his own already this year. His report in May, exposing the widespread illegal donations and lobbying behind the local systemic reforms that had just been released, had gathered particularly good reviews, and had given him quite the reputation as a reporter.

But he wasn't satisfied. He couldn't stand the fact that he, who was supposed to be one of the leading journalists in the entire nation, had been sitting at the window seat of a bar, talking absolute shit for the longest time. What's more, the man he'd brought with him was the one being constantly trashed by people like himself — in other words, a politician — and yet he was worried for his own safety. That pissed him off a little.

"And that's why I can't agree with you," Mikołaj said while sipping watered down vodka, which had gone up in price like it was nothing. He knew he was drunk, but he didn't have enough reason left in him to stop drinking. He wasn't a drunkard, either, but seeing that his companion today wasn't someone he minded showing weakness too, he got caught up in the moment and drank a little too much.

"Prometheus going bankrupt, that's so strange. Given what they've disclosed, they've been in sound financial condition, and even that arson incident two years ago didn't cause much damage, right? Then they suddenly went bankrupt and got bought out by a foreign venture called something-or-other. All the former employees are hiding, and none of the people living near the office remember a single thing about how the employees looked. The police and fire department all lost the records of the investigations into the arson, and all the big media outlets are quiet. It makes no sense!"

"I think your question is a valid one, but I'm not so impressed with the coverage," Senator Donald Tusk said, in the type of deep voice you use when you want to rebuke an old friend. His plain-clothes disguise was quite simple, but effective enough to blend in in the darkness of the bar and not attract attention. He had always been a sensible man, and now he was trying to stop the twisted, rotten journalist before him from getting wrapped up in a dangerous case.

"Prometheus Neurons is definitely a strange company, too. The upper houseSenat, too, has plenty of connections in both the senators and the defense officials. Though it's just a rumor, the Russian military stationed here also had dealings with them — but nobody knows any inside information on that. Do you get what I'm saying? It's dangerous."

"That's why I want to discover its secrets, in a way that they don't notice. I have assistants in the army and the Senate, there's nothing I can't do. Looking away from the reforms, it's the best way to find out who's been profiting from associating with foreign laboratories."

"I'm worried for you, Mikołaj. We've been friends since university. You could be putting your life on the line."

"Hey, hey, what are you saying? I'd rather know who's going after me, so I can write a story about it. The army, the police, your colleagues? There are people in the Senate who'd like to chase me all the way to Lithuania."

"I'm asking you to not be so reckless."

As if to admonish his disobedient friend, the senator leaned forward. With the calm scent of high-grade perfume mixing with that of vodka and floating into his nostrils, reminding him of the difference in how he and the person before him had ended up in life, Mikołaj let out a little sigh. At these times, the man before him never gave up. Since the days of one-party communist rule, he had been involved in the democracy movement, and that track record was on full display here in the bar.

"Listen, I've learned a lot coming to the Senate. This world is full of things far beyond our comprehension, and hidden, powerful powers seem to be the ones who really run this country. Perhaps the leaders and cabinet members of every party can reach that level. The members of parliament either wish to become them, or fear them. In any case, I will be there sooner or later. Just be careful."

"Ho ho, it's not a conspiracy theory. You're already talking like a priest; since when did you wear those robes?"

"It's not something to be proud of, but the pious ones at my church have always been supportive. Thanks to them, I've even manged to give speeches at mass."

Tusk shrugged and poured more liquid into Mikołaj's emptied glass. Though he was aware that he had been drinking a bit too much, Mikołaj meekly gulped it down. What was the point of getting into a drunken argument with this man? He struggled to clear his throat for a moment.

"And as for the church!"

Tusk said, so loudly as to make Mikołaj worry that it would make those around them turn around to look — though Mikołaj knew that was simply an old habit he had when he wanted to shelve an uncomfortable topic. This must have been his friend's way of helping him out, because the story was definitely not going to go in his favor.

"Didn't you say that you had an interesting story in the works earlier? The Church, um, what is it? The… strange people who revere the hero of our land."

"The Orthodox Church of St. Chopin?"

"Yes, them. An interesting, unique form of faith…"

His choice of words was befitting that of a senator. The journalist, who had no need for formalities, snorted.

"I covered it, but it never made it into the news. My editor was a Catholic, you see, and he hated heretics with a passion."

"It's a hard topic to cover, isn't it?"

"Of course. I know I wasn't supposed to be interviewing cults and the like, but they weren't all that crazy. They're just obsessed with classical music to the point that it's affecting their social life. Their rites are mostly just prayers and performances of music."


"They wouldn't let an outsider see the really dangerous stuff. But I came back before they started to trust me, so I knew I couldn't make any money — even though they made me go through the initiation ceremony and all that. In any case, I heard the father of St. Chopin himself had the same name as me."

"Is that why?"

"You can tell they're obsessed."

Tusk let out a strained laugh, while Mikołaj chuckled.

The sound of a mobile phone rang. Mikołaj picked up the slightly heavy chrome device — newest model, Japanese-made — and saw a number he recognized.

"Speak of the devil. Sorry, can I step out for a moment?"

"Go ahead, but please make it quick. I want to spend some time with my family after lunch."

Nodding, Mikołaj extended the antenna on his phone. The cacophonous noise continued, and he felt slightly annoyed that even a Japanese-made phone was not free from defects.

"Halo, halo? Piłsudski here. Is this Ana Sidło?"

Intercepted Communications Record GoI-484A-#04209

Sender: Ana Sidło, GoI-484A ("Orthodox Church of St. Chopin") Outer Cover Member, Civilian

Receiver: Mikołaj Piłsudski, Class I Designated Information Preservation Target (Journalism), Civilian, designated Level D Monitoring Subject

Date: 1998/07/12, 12:55 UTC+2

[Begin Recording]

[Wiretap activation, noise]

Receiver: Halo?

Sender: Oh, oh God.

Receiver: Is this Ana Sidło? What is it? I'm busy—

Sender: He's spoken to us.

Receiver: About what?

Sender: He's coming, I heard it, his composition, on- on the tone of the record, oh, my brain stem—

Receiver: Fuck, what the hell? Hey, you were pretty decent until half a year ago. What happened? Heroin?

Sender: No, no. Please, believe. Can you not hear it?

Receiver: I'm listening. That's not what I'm asking - did the church people bring you in? You said you had no intention of joining, you were just an enthusiast. And now you're telling me you're tripping balls?

Sender: No! [Noise] They're not part of it. I can hear it, there's no reason you can't. Once you've done the initiation, there's— there's the piercing sound of wings, and ringing of applause! Someone stop it! [Noise]

Receiver: What? Hey, isn't that that waltz in the background?

Sender: My head's splitting, that sound in my head - the thunder - oh, God— [Noise]

Receiver: Shit, I get it. I'll call the police and emergency services. I'm in Warsaw now, you're at the Żelazowa Wola house, right? I'll be over in an hour. Wait for me, I'll help you. Don't die on me.

Sender: Come down to us, O Saint [Noise] Come down to us, O Saint [Noise] Come down to us, O Saint [Buzzing] Oh, Saint, I don't want this [Buzzing] Come down to us, O Saint [Noise] [Buzzing] No! [Buzzing] [Noise] Applaud his coming [Buzzing]

[End Recording]

"What was that?"

Tusk's voice bore an air of confidence. Mikołaj simply nodded.

"A colleague of mine who helped me get in contact with that church. She said she was just an enthusiast, and that she had friends in the church, but no matter how you look at it, she's tripping and dying right now. She sounded like her heart could have stopped at any moment. I'll call the authorities and go over myself to have a look."

"If that's the case, I don't think I have any more time to renew our friendship. I'll head home quietly."

"Please, be good to the family. I'm going to help her now."

"A model citizen as always, Mikołaj. I'll send some liquor later - a weak one."

"That's kind of you."

The two of them awkwardly laughed, then stood up from their chairs. Just as they had agreed and done since their time at the University of Gdańsk, they split the bill half and half, and so that the public wouldn't recognize the senator making his way up in the world, they quickly left the establishment and looked up at the cloudy Warsaw sky together. Tusk checked his gold-plated watch, and Mikołaj took out a silvery phone from his camera bag.

And so,

the ceremony ended,


Sixth Frontline Evaluation Report

Sender: 766-PO Joint Evaluation Team "First Republic (Rzeczpospolita)" Frontline Command Office

Receiver: Site-30 SCP Foundation-Global Occult Coalition Joint Large-Scale Divine Entity Task Force "King's Road (Trakt Krolewski)"

Date: 16:41 - 12/07/1998 - UTC+2

Deployment Status: GREEN

Combat Status: RED

Target: UE-1076 (KTE-3842-Bosch-Ex Machina)

Target Status: Healthy

As of 16:40, 766-PO Joint Evaluation Team was deployed to Kraków, Małopolska. Frontline command was established; reconnaissance and provision of support to individual Foundation Mobile Task Forces and GOC PHYSICS Division Strike Teams.

Full control of major roadways and railways in Małopolska Voivodeship has been achieved. DK7, DK79 and DK94 have been fully locked down. Local police has been assimilated into the Foundation's Polish branch in accordance with the Anomalous Emergencies Agreement; until the full deployment of Polish national troops, they are to assist in the evacuation of local civilians.

Communications in the central and southern parts of Poland, plus nearby areas - the entirety of Slovakia and the eastern part of the Czech Republic - have been shut down as part of a Level II state of martial law. All communications, except the bare minimum of emergency services, various administrative communications, and lifeline maintenance communications have been shut down. The release of a cover story will be left to groups under the direct command of Site-30 Joint Command.

The deployment status of each task force is as follows. The initial operation is 39% complete, with personnel losses within acceptable limits. The target is thought to be a Response Level 5 threat or equivalent.

Task Force Deployment Status Losses

ρ-4 ("The Choir")

Deployed to Kraków. Maximum requirement for ritual equipment. Following construction of a vertical deep defense position, planned to be redeployed to Bochnia.


8841 "Mourner"

Deployed to Kraków. Establishing a command post and ritual location at Wawel Cathedral. Usage of Eastern European ley lines for ritual summoning has successfully begun.


737 "Dreamliner"

Deployed to the Bilcza-Morawica defense line. Measurements using Akiva radiation counters for UE-1076 are to continue up until the approach limit. Counterattacks on UE-1076-A groups are being performed by surrounding task forces.


ι-22 ("Measure Dynamicists")

Deployed to Kielce. Providing computational assets to each task force, improving efficiency of firepower projection. Planned to provide ballistic missile guidance during the last Foundation-GOC attack phase.


8026 "Firebug"

Currently en route along DK79. Deployment to Kraków pending completion of disguise as Polish firepower troops. Outpost Squad No. 2 has been lost to UE-1076-A-04 during reconnaissance. No effect on operational efficiency.





ε-1 ("Tawny Owl")

Deployed to DK28. Assigned to cleanup and disinfection of remaining UE-1076-A groups. Due to biological damage caused by high-intensity reality contamination left over from the trail of UE-1076, it is expected that this task force will lose all operational efficiency within 6 hours.


δ-37 ("Deers in the Plain")

Deployed to DK94. Providing static defense against already-present UE-1076-A. Severe losses due to lack of anti-biological and anti-divinity equipment, posing a problem for continued combat.


3658 "Flatpack"

Deployed to Stróże. Participated in the first aerial bombardment of UE-1076. Complete loss of operational capability due to UE-1076-A counterattack.


1190 "Skipjack"

Deployed to Stróże. Participated in the first aerial bombardment of UE-1076. Hit by high-strength aspect ray while providing flanking support and transported into an unknown pocket dimension.


α-14 ("Orleans' Flame")

Deployed to Stróże. Participated in the first aerial bombardment of UE-1076. Following an unknown attack by UE-1076-A, aerial capabilities and 40% of ground control were lost. Currently consolidating forces in the vicinity to construct a temporary evaluation team.


Addendum: Special Proposal - LK-Class Event

The continued grasp of the 766-PO Joint Evaluation Team on the situation is projected to become difficult with the current state of battle and rate of losses. In order to achieve operational objectives, it is necessary to deploy more Foundation-GOC assets. This is an extreme risk to secrecy. The violation of neighboring nations' sovereignty caused by the operation has caused damage that cannot be ignored, and NATO, Slovak and Russian forces are now commencing defensive actions based on their individual national response systems. With these circumstances, the continued handling of the UE-1076 situation is impossible with current forces.

Based on calculations with current computational resources, UE-1076's existence will be leaked to international society within 72 hours, followed by a complete loss of control of the situation. This is based on the assumption that UE-1076 and groups of UE-1076-A have not been dealt with in the next 170 minutes, and is unrelated to the current containment/destruction status of UE-1076.

766-PO, by its rights under the Wartime Joint Operations Agreement, makes the suggestion to Site-30 Command as well as the Foundation and GOC's respective High Commands to consider invoking a LK-Class "Unveiling" scenario.

There was no signal.

The phone had become useless - in fact, payphones, short-wave radio, telegraphs, trains, taxis, possibly even air travel, all means of transmission and transportation had become useless.

The situation was blatantly absurd. There should have been no announcement of martial law, yet everyone was staying inside, or on their way home so they could stay inside. In other words, though there were a lot of people on the move, there was nobody to help them. What happened was obvious, more so than if you'd seen a fire - the decision to abandon the car took courage, but it was the only way to get off the droga krajowanational road, which was now blocked at each section. The sounds of honking cars, angry drivers, and crying babies filled the road, but Mikołaj kept walking.

Shit, he'd said he was an hour away - though it had been three and a half hours in reality, and he'd just gotten off DK92. How was he to get through the next seven kilometers? As the forty-year-old drunkard walked, clutching his reporter's gear, that crazed classical music enthusiast may very well have choked to death. Strangely enough, there were checkpoints set up along the highway, but the people in them weren't police, or soldiers. They weren't exactly young, but they didn't have the laziness or corruption of those who'd entered public service during communist rule. In any case, compared to standard fare for Polish officials, these people were just too suited to the job.

Strange things were afoot, and everything was a mess. Above all, that voice - that unpleasant buzzing of insects he'd heard in the bar, and that voice - that voice that undoubtedly belonged to Chopin himself. Of course, neither Mikołaj nor Tusk had heard Chopin's voice in the flesh. But it wasn't just him - at the very least, the people around them at the time definitely heard that voice too.

As he walked along, feeling his insides boil up instead of sobering up and clicking his tongue, Mikołaj noticed it. Fuck, another checkpoint. The way to Wyjazd was blocked up, and the people guarding the checkpoint were those diligent-looking guys. While they looked like policemen on the outside, they were neater on the inside.

"Excuse me. I'm sorry, but the road is closed. You can't get any further. A political prisoner has escaped and has taken—"

Fuck, this again. In the last few hours, things had completely gone to shit; Mikołaj wanted to scream. The lovable policemen of this country, Mikołaj's bread and butter, would never fucking say "excuse me" or "I'm sorry" when stopping someone at a checkpoint. But he still had some sense in him, and so, since he needed to hurry, he didn't hesitate to use his inner strength.

"Just curious, do you guys have a car?"

"I said, the road is closed. Please turn back. You can't get any further."

"I asked, do you have a car? I mean, if you're setting up checkpoints all over the highway, you're bound to have a car, right?"

"What's the matter with you? If you don't listen to me, I'll have to resort to emergency measures."

"Heh heh, so you do. That'll do."

"You…" grunted the not-policeman, taking a step forward. Mikołaj saw the strange words printed on his thick neck, stuffed into his uniform, and said those words.

"There's someone, could be a member of the Orthodox Church of St. Chopin, in Żelazowa Wola. She might be dying right now, I think I can get through to the church through her. How about it?"

Evaluation Log UTEs-PoL0043-Blue-Polonaise

Evaluated Subject: Radosław Bukowski, UTEs-PoL0043-Blue-Polonaise

Non-Evaluated Subject A: Donald Franciszek Tusk; "Freedom Union" Senator

Non-Evaluated Subject B: "Kowalski"; PSYCHE Department Special Envoy [Foundation Representative]

Evaluation: 12/07/1998 - 17:40 - UTC+2

[Begin Recording]

Non-Evaluated Subject B: Ah, in that case, let's make this quick. To be quite honest, even the manpower we're putting into this project isn't quite enough.

Evaluated Subject: I am here for the safety of my comrades. All demands you make of me must be as an equal.

Non-Evaluated Subject B: You say that, but we're in a global crisis right now.

Non-Evaluated Subject A: Wait, Kowalski. Why don't you let me do the talking? [clears throat] Good evening, Mr. Bukowski. I am—

Evaluated Subject: Your face betrays how out of place you are, child of Kashubia1. You are still young, and do not know of our world.

Non-Evaluated Subject A: No, no, I learned of it today. Our leader, Buzek, just collapsed of a brain hemorrhage. The ministries are in chaos, but I want to take the opportunity to make my entrance on the world's stage.

Non-Evaluated Subject B: Let's cut to the chase, alright, Mr. Tusk? At this very moment, Satan, who looks like a boiled lump of shit, is trying to fuck this country in the ass and throw it into the North Sea.

Non-Evaluated Subject A: Wait, wait— I, as a representative of the government, am here to negotiate. Mr. Bukowski, you should know what that dishonorable sect of your church is doing in Małopolska, yes?

Evaluated Subject: Ah, those poor, wretched souls. They were swallowed whole by a false melody — that melody is not that of a saint; they must have heard a voice from another world. It's a horrible, horrible fate.

Non-Evaluated Subject B: I'm surprised you know so much about the divine.

Non-Evaluated Subject A: We, as the government, are not considering holding your church accountable. No, no, we have many of your fellow believers in the Senate, and this is a free country. But, without the help of your Church, this country will not exist tomorrow.

Evaluated Subject: … What do you seek from us?

Non-Evaluated Subject A: An opposing ritual. I don't understand the details, but… isn't there something you can do to suppress the monster? We'll handle the external part, and you guys can handle the internal part of the problem. If we do that, there'll be peace.

Evaluated Subject: Nonsense, dear child of Kashubia. When the ritual is over, you'll abandon us, and cling to your own.

Non-Evaluated Subject A: That is an option, yes, but even if the government is saved, the country, no, the world will be destroyed. Besides, you see, Mr. Kowalski and I are here without informing Command.

Evaluated Subject: … What?

Non-Evaluated Subject B: It's a top-secret operation. Your fellow comrade, Ms. Sidło - a member of the outer circle, and your fellow Chopin enthusiast - is under the protection of the GOC. Neither the Foundation nor anyone else at Joint Command know this.

Non-Evaluated Subject A: There is not much we can give to you in return for your cooperation. But we, we do not want to die here. By erasing the records of Ms. Sidło, and following that, other Orthodox Church members, we can keep this meeting secret, and enlist you and the Orthodox Church as a bona fide third party to the Joint Command.

Non-Evaluated Subject B: High Command won't accept it, but they were the ones who sent me here. My heart is in this country, but my office and family are in New York. It's a whole separate chain of command. There won't be any leaks.

Evaluated Subject: But—

Non-Evaluated Subject A: A man by the name of Mikołaj, who has your contacts, is by Ms. Sidło's side right now. Not to mention many of the fallen church members are being retrieved by government employees and Mr. Kowalski's subordinates. We promise to provide adequate care for them and erase their records from all relevant databases. And, of course, we'll do that for any church members who help in the ritual.

Non-Evaluated Subject A: I want you to trust me, Mr. Bukowski. As for us, I'm sure that man who asked you for an interview would most definitely never have denied your faith. We, too, from now on, will be the same. We are both in a difficult situation, and today, we need your help.

Evaluated Subject: [silence for 140 seconds]

Evaluated Subject: … Wait a moment.

Non-Evaluated Subject A: Of course, as long as God permits.

[End Log]

Addendum: This log is classified as top secret of the PSYCHE Division Central Europe Branch. Opening of this log requires the approval of three officers at the level of deputy director-general, including the Chief of the Central Europe Branch. This log's existence is a secret.

Looking out the window, he couldn't see a thing.

In the last days of the socialist government, and just after democratization, Poland had hit rock bottom. There was no way they could survive the cold Central European winters without enough firewood for heating. Blackouts were in force to conserve fuel and to protect against NATO reconnaissance aircraft, and the Polish walked shakily in the darkness.

But now, Poland's economy had recovered, if only slightly, and electricity was no longer a luxury. Of course, it was expensive, but you needed it to survive. While many roads remained unlit, headlights sped through the highways in the fields like meteors, and in the early evening the lights from the farmhouses along the road, though dim and hidden, fueled the nostalgia of the youth who had gone to the city to work.

But in this instant, the road was devoid of light, and there was only the dark of night. Evacuation underway, the muscular man by his side said, using as few words as possible. To the employee in charge of monitoring Żelazowa Wola, a man who called himself Madringal, this country was starting to fall apart. Mikołaj cursed at a lot of things - his own powerlessness, the GOC's strictness not letting him, a journalist, carry even a camera or a memo pad, his classmate who had forced him into this situation, and the Foundation, which he didn't know much about but cursed anyway.

He'd threatened a not-cop with weird tattoos in Wyjazd, gotten a car and a driver out of it, and successfully rescued his collaborator from the brink of death. It had all been going well until he'd entrusted Tusk and the not-cop's superiors with negotiating with the priest he knew, in exchange for transporting the breathless classical music enthusiast, buried in a pile of cicada carcasses, to the hospital. From then on, it had gone to complete shit. He'd been prodded and pushed everywhere, then shoved into the back of a van. He'd received one message from Tusk, which was "do as they say". Other than that, there was no explanation and no way to get out of this situation.

"So, to sum up what you're saying…"

Mikołaj had been talking to Madringal, asking him questions here and there. If he didn't, he'd go insane - but what little Madringal had told him was enough to shatter the common sense he'd built up over almost 40 years of life.

"GOC… Global Occult Coalition? So that was your little den. And there's a "Foundation". They run the world from behind the scenes, is that what you're saying?"

"Not quite, but you're not far off, either," the man muttered. Mikołaj noticed that his face, reflected in the window of the van, was strangely warped and difficult to recognize.

"There are a lot of shitty things in this world, but only a handful of people do the shitting. Still, that's more than I can count on my hands and feet. Our job is to shut them up and blow their heads, from their mouths to their brains, to the fucking moon. We're the GOC, the most badass motherfuckers, protecting the world."

"And what about the Foundation? It seems like they don't play well with you guys."

"Right on. Pretty much," Madringal said. He was slimy, like a sweating bottle of milk, but that slipped out of Mikołaj's vision and disappeared. Mikołaj figured that was just how he did things.

"Most of the time, we're enemies, but sometimes we work together. Like now. I don't know why, but they like to lock things up in boxes. Sometimes it's useful."

"And this one?"

"I don't recommend blaming either of them. But I daresay those who remain unaware will bear the brunt of it."

"You, too," Madringal wanted to say, but he held it back. Mikołaj caught on anyway.

He sighed. The sound of explosions echoing like thunder in the distance meant there was a battle going on somewhere nearby.

With a roar, several huge trailers passed by their van. Tied down to them were layers and layers of waterproofing, concealing the barrel of a tank. Mikołaj reached for his camera on instinct — though it had been confiscated. Their vehicle was at the head of a GOC supply convoy, so Mikołaj wondered what organization that other convoy belonged to.

"Finally, the troops are coming in. We'll see whether they survive."

Madringal's voice was that of a fatigued man finally finding relief. Mikołaj shivered a little, less so that the convoy belonged to the national army but that the stoic man, sitting upright against the hard seat next to him, was showing some emotion.

"Is the mission, um, difficult?"

"Simply put, it's going to be a battle like no other we've had before. This 'Ex Machina' identifier is something we thought we'd never have to see in our lives."

Carelessness, that's why it happened — the man quietly laughed.

Mikołaj didn't know what "Ex Machina" meant, but he had the feeling the man by his side was a soldier about to be sent to his death. It had been a long time since he had experienced it — the same feeling the nation shared just before democratization, meeting the western troops on the eastern front, a feeling of unease that spread from his toes through his body.

Suddenly, the sky in the east glowed brightly, and an aurora shone. Though his ears heard deafening silence, a waltz, played, no, screamed by the buzzing of wings, had begun to play in his head. Mikołaj finally felt he had gone insane, that he was hearing the voice of the God-like cicada. In the next moment, a gust of wind blew, the man next to him gripped tightly, and with a boom the car was blown to the side of the road.

In the drizzle, the car slid to a half. From the inside of the cracked door, Mikołaj peered outward, bewildered. A liquid that smelled like kerosene — jet fuel, it was, had erupted into flames, and melted fragments of something glowing bright green were scattered all over. Looking around, he could see fires all over the hillside. The aurora borealis — which hardly, if ever, shone in Poland — poisonously lit up the sky, clearing away the darkness of the new moon night. The convoy behind stopped one by one, and men in camouflage shouted in anger and began to collect the debris. Someone had brought out a flamethrower and had begun burning up something, something that had oddly shaped limbs, and where the head should have been there was a strange protrusion; it let out the hoarse cry of a cicada. Unable to maintain his gaze, Mikołaj looked away, and until the pieces were cleared from the highway, he heard the incessant sounds of cicadas.

On the other side of the hill, the city of Kraków was shining. Some of the distant glow must have been from explosives.


The sounds of shelling were already enough to shake the whole city.

The street in front of the Kraków town hall had been turned into a field hospital. Mikołaj didn't have enough courage to look into the tent. Fortunately, the odor was weaker than he had expected — besides the smell of the black soil in the forest. The masonry trembled in the shockwave, and there were plenty of armed soldiers coming and going, but it was unusually quiet.

"A barrier of tranquility and purification has been built up. Their buzzing is like a curse, the more you hear it, the crazier you get. I've heard of people who shot themselves because they couldn't get the buzzing out of their brains no matter how they tried," said Madringal. The term "barrier" no longer confused Mikołaj. Once they'd entered the city, he'd seen people dressed as priests, curse-layers, and witches, praying and making rituals. Among the national guard, who were inspecting tank barrels, were knights polishing their greatswords, and there were giant orange tanks with limbs standing outside the city walls. Mikołaj was afraid to say anything.

"I'll be off. The orderlies will stay with you. For anything else, ask the Foundation agents."

"… Thanks, I guess."

"It's fine. And here."

The worker took a small box out from his pocket, and, to his surprise, a set of reporter's gear that Mikołaj thought had been confiscated popped out. Madringal scratched his head, almost as if he had no idea what to say.

"I don't know if I'm supposed to say this, but it'd be hard for you to understand if I didn't say anything."


"I've been ordered to give your camera back to you. You're free to do anything. Wait here. The Foundation will take you into custody."

"What does the government, and the Foundation, want with me? I'm just a journalist, there's no value in carrying me to a place like this."

"What we need on the battlefield are soldiers. Warriors. The government, the Foundation, the Coalition, we all have a different battle for you."

And so he was left on his own to think.

Just like that, the man was gone. He got on a trailer, and Mikołaj watched as he got onto the back and the trailer lifted up to reveal one of those misshaped orange humanoid suits.

Suddenly realizing it, Mikołaj raised his camera. A few armed personnel watched him, but none approached him as he gingerly pressed the shutter on his camera — just once. Amidst the sounds of shelling and green lightning, he heard the quiet sound of film spinning and imagined how the photo would turn out.

The photo slid out of the camera. Nobody stopped him. He saw the emblem of a blue earth, surrounded by a pentagram, adorning each of eight U-HEC units, walking towards the gates to the old city. One of them turned its head towards him and nodded. Mikołaj could feel it.

"Ah, excuse me! Are you Mr. Piłsudski?"

Mikołaj immediately felt the aura of the man who approached him while he was changing his film — it was different from any of the other strange people he'd met. He had an air of intelligence — just like Tusk — but he was younger than his old classmate, and seemed more pure.

His name was Woźniak. The Foundation liaison agent, or so he claimed, hurried Mikołaj along. Mikołaj asked where they were going. The cathedral, Woźniak replied.

"Hey, can I take some photos?"

"Go ahead. That's why we called you here."

"Huh. Aren't you guys meant to… keep things secret?"

"We used to. Things are different now."

"It's insurance", Woźniak said, smiling as he handed Mikołaj a film case — the same model that Mikołaj had been using. "Tusk's advice was probably right — you may be in danger of being killed." Awkwardly laughing, Mikołaj took the film. He wouldn't have been able to tell if the film had been tampered with, but he had no choice anyway but to do what the government and the Foundation told him to do.

Along the way, Mikołaj snapped pictures left and right, using up six whole rolls of film. At the entrance to the cathedral, the priest handed out what looked like cards. At Woźniak's signal, the priest nodded, and handed out a particularly large card to Mikołaj. His response to Mikołaj's thanks was delayed — he seemed to be wearing earmuffs of some kind.

"It's a talisman. Keep it close to your skin."

"A talisman?"

"I mentioned this earlier, though briefly — the thaumaturgical pulse was very, very strong. We all have our own defenses against it, but for civilians like you, you need a strong protection. Even looking at it, people with low resistance will get affected easily."

He put the talisman with his press card, which fit perfectly. Climbing up to the balcony of the cathedral, Mikołaj unfolded his tripod and looked down the finder. Beyond the walls of the old city, along the Vistula, there was a bright area to the east, where the aurora, the lightning, flares, and searchlights competed for brightness. Tiny shadows regularly crossed the sky and were sucked into the glittering area. By the intermittent vibrations of the ground, Mikołaj figured missiles were being fired from somewhere.

Glad he was unable to see the form of God, Mikołaj clicked the shutter repeatedly. From the high position of the balcony, there were no obstacles around, so the impacts passed through the ward and reached him. The sounds of explosions and bombardment, buzzing, the roar of jet engines, reverberated through the sky, mixed with the sound of a piano. On the surface of the Vistula, illuminated by floodlights, the shadows of orange giants rushed along. A sluggish giant danced into the green sky. Mikołaj struggled to follow the accelerating formation with his low performance night lens. He paid as little attention as he could to the approaching sounds of bombardment and the accelerating piano melody.

And just once, the sky lit up in a different color — not green, but a transparent blue. In the eastern sky, the green light was extinguished for half a minute or so, and a sound like breaking glass reverberated. Not knowing what had happened, Mikołaj snapped a photo, changed the film, and wrote down his notes about the scene before him on his notepad. Behind him, Woźniak was shouting about pulses and prayer-warheads, but he paid that no mind. This scene, this anomalous battle, had to be recorded. Even if everything would be covered up by the Foundation, or the Coalition, or the government, he had to take these photos. He paid no mind to the passing of time, and lost himself in his work.

He didn't understand a thing when he saw everything turn green and felt someone pull him from behind.


When he woke up after all had passed, the first thing that came to him was the taste of blood.

Before he realized he was awake, his instincts acted and Mikołaj spat out something — a sticky lump slid out of his throat, and then he opened his eyes.

He was in the middle of the cathedral, looking up at the sky. The aurora shone. The ceiling was gone. The tall spires were melting, dripping to the ground ominously like hardened lard. The stone walls had been torn apart like paper, with geometric markings on many of them, though many others had self-destructed in a shower of sparks.

Mikołaj tried to get up twice, but failed. His entire body had fallen apart. Feeling a heat on his chest, he looked down to see that the talisman he'd attached to his press card had more than half burned off, and the melted card case had stuck to his shirt. He'd probably gotten burns on his stomach, but he felt no pain — in fact, he didn't feel any pain at all, anywhere on his body. Somehow, he managed to stand up and, fighting back the dizziness, he looked around. Melting stone and crumbling walls blocked out most of his vision. The balcony he was supposed to be on didn't exist, and behind the huge hole that had been broken in, there was nothing but darkness.

His mind turned to the camera. That was the biggest problem. Luckily for him, the camera was lying just by his side. As he reached for it, Mikołaj stopped. Next to the camera, the lump of blood he'd just spat out was no longer blood. The lump that had come out of his body was a black lump of soil, and in the middle of it was a cicada, wriggling out of its shell. The cicada's head was nearly crushed, but its face looked like that of a human.

He remembered the smell of black soil at the town hall, and looked at the cicada. He took out his camera, took three pictures, nodded, and then crushed the cicada under his foot. Until the feeling on his soles dissipated, he quietly applied his weight, and waited for the curse to dissipate. At that point, he thought about just who the person who'd pulled him back was.

"Oh, God…"

The answer came immediately. At the sound of moaning, Mikołaj turned around. Under the collapsed wall, a scrap of clothing peeked out. He struggled for a moment, and then a disfigured Woźniak came out from under it.

Woźniak looked like he was about to die — from his waist down, he had turned to green, sticky fluid, spreading all over the cavernous floor. A hole had opened in his chest. Mikołaj was shocked — there was very little he could to for him. And then he realized there was only one option.

"Hey, can I take a photo?" Mikołaj asked. Woźniak nodded. He changed the film, snapped three photos, and looked up from the finder. Woźniak could no longer move. Mikołaj silently made the sign of the cross, and kept the man's proof of life in his case. And then he realized he didn't know what God Woźniak was referring to.

With a deep breath, he took in air without the smell of soil, and looked to the sky in the north. Far away, he could hear the sounds of helicopters. To the east, there was nothing. Nothing at all. It was certain that one battle had ended.

Thinking of a few words, Mikołaj started to walk. The reason he was here was clear. Once the soldiers' fight is over, the journalists' fight begins.

This was his battlefield.

People of Poland, good evening. I am Donald Franciszek Tusk, of the Unia WolnościFreedom Union.

Today, I have an important announcement to make to all of you. With the reinstatement of Buzek's cabinet, there has been a reshuffling, and I, Donald Tusk, have been appointed Minister of Paranormal Affairs.
Many of you are probably feeling anxious about the recent news reports. Indeed, we have faced a great loss. Many of our people are affected by this tremendous disaster, especially in the voivodeship of Małopolska. Poland is hurting, suffering. It is trapped, threatened.
However, the world now stands in solidarity with Poland. The UN, the EU, the CIS, and various countries have offered their support. At this very moment, more and more resources and manpower are entering our nation. Distribution will begin today, first to the four voivodeships of Małopolska, Świętokrzyskie, Subcarpathia, and Silesia. Within a week, we will have distributed aid to the whole nation, and restored all major highways. We thank our neighbors for their goodwill.

There has been a veil in our world. Up until now, this veil has protected our world, allowed us to sleep peacefully, promised us that we can believe tomorrow will come. It has been maintained by ignorance, faith, and common sense, but now it has been torn away. Trilateral talks between our nation, the Foundation and the Global Occult Coalition will begin tomorrow at 1 pm. Their assistance has enabled us to overcome this difficult time. With new bonds and alliances, the early summer of 1998 will forever be remembered. The truths will be revealed, and we will have to face them.

Have a look at this photo. This is Kraków, the epicenter of the disaster. But people are living on. We are looking towards tomorrow and moving forward. This is how we, Poland, have always been.
The government, the parliament, the courts, the police, we will all protect you. We will fight for you. We will walk with you. This photo, Kraków, the people, are our symbol. Let's unite and overcome everything in this time of crisis.

Tomorrow, Poland will lead the world into taking a new step into the future, beyond the veil and into the darkness. May the future of Poland be.

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