Voices of War | Devotion

A mine cart railway disappearing down a dark shaft with blue-green bioluminescence.
Beneath OId Hirutara

Compiled from historical accounts and extracts from the diary of Rand Qarstan – (April 3/124).

At 23:23 on 6 April 3/124, an underground explosion decimated a significant section of the eastern walls and fortifications of Old Hirutara. At the time, the ruined Second Age city was the seat of Anaran High Command for the Home Island War effort.

Like the vast majority of Home Island, the city’s tunnels and catacombs were believed permanently lost in the destruction caused by the Anders Asteroid. Incredibly, the Daxians stumbled upon an intact section accessible only from outside the walls.

Historians have suggested that the attack was a mere distraction, owing to the fact that the Daxians gained no ground as a result. Instead, several operations across Home Island, Anara, and even further afield played out amid the ensuing chaos and confusion. These include high-profile assassinations, ground attacks and acts of sabotage.

6 April 3/124

The mine cart is carrying me down beneath old Hirutara for the last time. I’ve grown fond of the slow, hour-long descent. It gives me time to consider how privileged I am to have been given this responsibility.

“You are called upon, Rand Qarstan, hero of Dax.”

That is how she said it, none other than Councillor Araxxis, as we sat in her office in Greimont drinking tea!

“The Hero of the battle of Burning Wood, what a privilege,” she’d said in welcome… of me!

Little Rand Qarstan from the Districts. Imagine all those who said I’d never amount to anything. Just look at me now.

Now, I sit here in the light of the cart’s small electric lamp, scratching my thoughts into my diary. The journey is uneventful; the only landmarks are the rock and debris from the tunnelling effort.

This is the last of more than two dozen return trips. I have spent two weeks loading and shuttling the explosives, placing them precisely, and carefully connecting them up. It’s an art, choreographing the ordnance in just the right way so as to cause the most effective chain reaction.

The explosion is to be triggered by a timer. I carry it with me now, along with the detonators. I have planned everything down to the second. Once I have installed these last components and triple-checked everything, I will evacuate with enough time to make it to a safe distance.

Oh. Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Something unusual occurred on my last run, and here it is again.

At this depth, the walls and floors are damp. Reflections are cast in all directions from the lamps on the mine cart. In the shadows, I see a strange blue-green glow, which is even more vibrant this time.

Amazing… I just deactivated the lamp for several minutes, and I am utterly awestruck. The entire tunnel is lit and seems to be getting brighter and more vivid by the moment. Perhaps some tiny mysterious creature in the water, some biological effect in response to my presence, or that of my light.

It is bright enough now that I can continue to write without the help of the lamp—also, it is pulsing. At first, I thought I had imagined this. I wrote it off as some trick of the light, but now I am certain—the light throbs, cascading down the tunnel ahead of me.

It’s… no, what a preposterous thought. It’s as if a message is being sent below, pre-empting my arrival.

I have just arrived at my destination. The glow is more and more remarkable to me. It coats every surface and is so bright I can see every detail in its blue-green cast.

I must complete my task, though I find myself utterly distracted by this phenomenon. I wonder almost… could this be some living entity. What is its purpose?

I have reached a defining moment in my life. One that may well result in my name being etched in the history of Dax, perhaps in that of all Unara.

The detonator is faulty… the timing mechanism has failed.

I can’t understand what has happened. The device is one of my own design, and flawless in its simplicity, but there is no time left to identify the cause or fix it. The explosion is scheduled for 23:23 exactly, and many other operations—and lives—are counting on it.

It is 23:15 now. The only option I have is to use the manual primer.

It is my duty—my honour.

Even my skin glows now, pulsing dazzlingly, and I feel it tingling. I can’t comprehend it, whatever it is.

I would love to have had more time to study it.

It is beautiful. It radiates now from all over, every rock, each explosive, even the detonator chord. Also, the primer, where it pulses with the most intensity is almost warm to the touch.

I will place my diary in the cart, which I will send back on its own.

Please, whoever reads this. Ensure that it, along with my love, is passed to my wife and child.

To my beautiful family. What I do, I do for Dax, and also for you.

The blast and the brief conflict that followed were named the Last Door. Now awakened to threats from below, Anara doubled down on its defences in Old Hirutara, vowing Dax would never again breach the city.

Beneath the city, the tunnels were investigated and explored well beyond the walls. Many were collapsed and mined, others restored and fortified. In time the tunnels became an extension of the base itself, housing weapons caches, providing clandestine operations with access to Daxian territory, and more.

The Catacombs of Hirutara would go on to play a pivotal role in the war for years to come.

As for Rand Qarstan, it has been speculated, alongside more outlandish possibilities, that Council operatives may have sabotaged his timer. Perhaps the Council considered his devotion a stronger guarantee of success. That he would be made a martyr was also suggested, but his name was never once uttered in Daxian propaganda.

Lastly, the strange phenomenon he mentions—the blue-green glow—is a topic outside the scope of today’s story.

Soon, we’ll bring you another story from Unara. Thank you for reading.

Illustration by Midjourney & G.G.B.

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