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Ghosts of Hammakko

Chapter Text

By the time Oscar found him, Tapio was sitting in a wooden chair in the blacksmith's workshop. Oscar looked tired, almost as if he was sleep walking. He slowly entered, grasping a coat and some webbing in his hands.

The workshop had been opened, and turned into a medical center. It was one of the most reinforced buildings in the town, and one of the very few left standing. Doctors had now made it up to the lines, and they directed medical troops with the confidence of a commanding officer.

Tapio sat a short bit away from Hersir Larson, who was bandaged and propped up on a cot. She was awake, and talking with blacksmith Moller, who was also bandaged, but was pacing and speaking wildly.

"Overall, a complete success!"

"A success? Complete?" shot back Larson, "You lost two of the three walkers. Four of the only trained operators died today."

"Tragic, yes," said Moller, "But from a battle-test perspective, not a complete loss. We proved the worth of the Stridsvalker. Found and fixed some minor flaws. Increased its endurance and load bearing capacity. We demonstrated its effective anti-infantry capabilities."

"You were easily taken out," said Larson.

"We were overwhelmed and under-supported," said Moller, "Also, surely the next version will have stronger armor. Possibly not put the seams at the very vulnerable edges. I'm not claiming the mechs as indestructible, but we performed quicker and more reliably than a Jotunar."

"You are unbelievable!" said Larson.

"I just..." Moller dropped to one knee next to her cot, "I just want a favorable report. We were well out of standard engagement situations and I don't want this to negatively reflect on me or my work."

"Blacksmith Moller, breathe," said Larson, "My report will be glowing."

"Glowing?"

"Aksel; you, yourself, charged directly into battle to give much needed support to my men. You held the line, and saved many lives," said Larson, "When the tables turned, you did not panic and you did not run away. You held your ground, supporting the ground troops despite the danger you were in. You acted as a true mech operator instead of as a simple inventor or weapons maker. You did your ancestors proud."

"True," said Tapio, "I watched it all with my own eyes. You should be proud. It was a gift you arrived when you did."

"Now go sit down before you pass out," said Larson, "You test my patience."

Moller smiled. He rose and walked further into the workshop, where a similar wooden chair waited for him. Tapio shook his head, before turning to Oscar.

"What do you have there?"

Oscar gave a start as if he had been ripped from deep thought. He looked to Tapio, who pointed to the clothing he carried.

"Oh," said Oscar, "It's yours. I... I found it. And your gear."

Oscar dropped the webbing at Tapio's feet. He displayed the coat, showing a massively bloody stain and a bullet hole in the back.

"I... I recognize the bullet," he said, before yelling, "HOLE! The hole. Not the bullet. That's... that's in you."

"Easy, there," said Tapio, reaching up and grabbing the coat, "You're alright."

"I couldn't find the others," Oscar continued to stammer, "The things. Your rifle. Your helmet."

"Relax," said Tapio, looking worried at him, "You're alright. You are in shock. My helm is over there. Forget about the rifle."

"Oh," said Oscar, "But what if they come back. You need something. I can find a rifle. Won't have the axe-bit."

"Oscar," said Tapio, "I need you to sit down. Now. Relax yourself. What is wrong. Are you in shock?"

"No, I just," said Oscar, he struggled with what to say.

He sat down on a bucket next to Tapio. He fiddled with his hands. Tapio had seen men like this. Oscar was in shock. He tried to gesture to a medic, but they were busy with more injured patients.

Tapio turned to Oscar, "It's ok, talk through it, Oscar. What is wrong? What are you feeling?"

"It's not... a feeling," said Oscar, his voice was horse and barely not a sob, "I... I see them, Tapio."

"Who do you see?"

"Them," said Oscar, his eyes going distant, his voice a whisper, "I see the Rusviets. I see the man I killed. When... when it gets quieter, I hear his screams. I hear the pleads of the dying men I tried to help. I see Frederick and Neil being shot. Every twig sounds like a bullet whizzing past. Every stomp of a mech sounds like... them."

Tapio swallowed hard. He looked to the ground himself.

"I... can't make it stop," whispered Oscar.

"You cannot make it do anything," replied Tapio, "You are haunted."

"H-haunted?"

"They are ghosts," said Tapio, "And they demand to not be forgotten. I... I see them too."

Oscar looked at Tapio, before looking away, "Your nightmares."

"Sometimes," said Tapio.

"How do I get rid of them?" asked Oscar.

"You don't. Or, more accurately, I do not know how. I have been to doctors. I have seen witches and medicine men. I have spoken about it. I have allowed time to heal the wound. Still, I am haunted."

"What do I do?"

Tapio sighed, "You... learn to deal with them. You'll be haunted by these ghosts of Hammakko. Friend and stranger. Enemy and ally."

They were quiet for a little bit, before Oscar spoke again, "Does anything help?"

Tapio thought about it before speaking, "The fight. The act of making new ghosts. I have tried quiet. I have tried travel. However, nothing has silenced them like the creation of new ghosts. In battle... I can focus. I can act. I can hear the slightest twig snap. I can overcome many things. But in silence... in celebration, they will come. They always come back."

Oscar nodded. Their gazes went out the large open door of the workshop. A Drekkar walker was wading out of the shore, and its massive artillery cannon was pointing to the east and adjusting. The sounds of the walkers continued to fire in the distance. One walker must've been close to Hammakko, as the cannon blasts sounded much closer than the others.

The Knarr had left a while ago, but now a group of three Jotunar walkers lined up and waited in the road. Troops moved around on various tasks. Some engineers secured choice buildings that were still standing while others dug through the rubble of crumbling buildings.

Across the roadway, rows of bodies were lined up, grey blankets had been draped over them. The dead from the attack. Each one a Nordic Soldier who had lost his life.

Oscar stared intently ahead. He kept clenching his jaw, and Tapio could see the muscle in his cheek tense over and over again. Tapio looked over the wounded. He knew he couldn't leave. Not until his surgery.

The bullet had been small. A combination of his rib and shoulder blade had somehow stopped it, but it meant the bullet would need surgery to retrieve, and his shoulder blade was shattered. It could mean a long time in a place like this. Or it could be a ticket west, to a large, modern hospital in a city where he could receive proper care.

"Aesir," said Larson, "When I'm out of here, I have a command waiting for me currently under the command of Aesir Krassow. I need solid soldiers. People I can trust. Will you join me?"

Tapio sighed. He closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair, despite the pain.

Few would have called it serene. The orders of Sergeants. The barking of doctors to medics. The groans and whimpers of the wounded. The distant booming of artillery fire.

Tapio's heartbeat was loud. His shoulder yelled louder than the loudest air raid siren. His ears began to ring. The silence, though, was still there. The silence was deafening to Tapio.

The moans of ghosts. The screams of artillery shells. The thunder of massive footsteps of goliath mechs. His nightmares waited to ambush him.

"Yes," said Tapio.