Within minutes of the final result of the 1665 Microvision contest being announced in Cherry Tree's, Craitland, Ænst Fiþnan Herlot bi Merensk had angrily closed the BDN livestream of the event and sat crouched at his terminal, seething. Seething with hatred at the perfidious Inner Benacians for awarding nil points to Shireroth and precisely the five points necessary for Senya's awful song to steal a victory which had rightly belonged to the wise masters of Benacia, seething at how the Lach vermin, aided by Tellian and Mishalanski traitors, had been running riot in eastern Modan for an entire year, seething at being trapped in a Moraquine launch vehicle with no company except for a villainous crew of moronic auxiliaries who it was no longer even fun to beat, seething because he had been angry for so long that a dull rage had seeped into every pore and every fibre of his being. At that moment, born of the pettiest frustration, something within him snapped.
He had purchased his commission into the 5th Legion shortly before the War of Lost Brother's and had shared in the disgrace of the entire salb for the loss of the loss of their castra and the Imperial icons to a surprise Jing breakout from Kingsworth. Only his junior rank had saved him from those Crypteia firing squads which had decimated the ranks and sent the command staff into a panicked attempt to flee into the green. That had only made matters worse for those who remained behind. Herlot had spent six months shackled in a windowless cell waiting for the day when he would dragged into a tiled room with a grated drain set in the middle of the floor where the last sound he would ever hear would be that of a pistol being cocked behind where he stood. But instead, every time it he was dragged from his cell it was to be beaten and shouted at by masked men demanding that he confess or, what was worse, to be subject to the camp commandant's great amusement - forcing his prisoners to strip off and 'clean' themselves with lye and vinegar under the mocking gaze of the Crypteia garrison troops. Every seventh day he was dragged from his room, once a month to be cleaned, all the other times to be beaten. Every time, before being returned to his cell he would be taken into a room with a desk, a typewriter with a small bespectacled man sat before it. Every time he would slapped by his guards and told to either confess or to sign a blank piece of paper. For six months he had refused to confess to being a Jing collaborator, to being a Batavian sympathiser, to being in league with the Pretender King of Elwynn, to premeditated dereliction of duty, to desertion, to cowardice, to a hundred other absurd charges shouted at him between blows, and - every time he was brought into the room with the bespectacled man - he had refused to sign the blank piece of paper, until on the last time he realised - to his horror - that he had asked for a pen. He realised he was hoping that they would give him an old style cartridge pen with the sharp brass point in the forlorn hope that he could jab it into his own neck and end the endless misery. He was crestfallen to be given one of the newfangled plastic pens with a rollerball as its tip. With nothing left to do he had signed his name shakily, the pen feeling awkward in his cramped and trembling, chemically burnt, fingers. A guard snatched the blank sheaf from him before the ink could be smudged or the paper dotted with specks of blood and passed it to the bespectacled little man who regarded the paper with a look of wonder, before hurriedly slipping it into the typewriter and commencing with merrily bashing away at the keys. Herlot, dizzy with dismay, was manhandled by his captors towards a corner of the room and shoved down onto a stool and told to wait. The guards meanwhile took up position at beside the door and the window of the office respectively and from there were able to glower at him. Aside from the incessant clattering of keys, a deathly silence hung over the room. Herlot briefly considered attempting to dash his brains out against the wall but discounted it as he sank down into an apathetic despair.
He was startled then when the little man got up from behind the desk and walked over to where he sat, addressed him politely by his rank and surname and presented the signed paper, now covered in fresh typing, for his inspection. Disbelieving, Herlot held out his right hand and tentatively grasped the proffered piece of paper.
- "A letter of authorisation for your transfer to the Corps of Auxiliaries."
- "You would not believe how many of your colleagues blurted out something stupid once they were brought in here. I mean they instantly regretted it, but by then it was too late. You'll be taken to the accommodation block now while your other transfer papers are arranged."
That was nine years ago and in that subsequent time, the blemish against his good name having seemingly been removed, he had been assigned to various auxiliary garrisons in central and southern Benacia before being transferred into the Area Defence Vexillation of the Central Benacian Garrison, which included the rocketry regiment and its consignment of re-purposed Moraquine short-range ballistic missiles. Now, as the commander of one launcher and command vehicle pair in a battery of six, he alone had control over a missile. The missile, a rocket boosted ram-jet sat on a truck-mounted launch ramp, looked much alike to any other Moraquine in Imperial service, repainted with a mixture of mottled greens, browns, and greys, that was the standard paint scheme for vehicles and equipment assigned to Benacia Command. For some inexplicable reason, although a rehabilitation job with stalled career, he was trusted. He had the launch keys - in contrast to the old Goldshirian system which had entrusted three separate authorisation keys to senior commanders. Now, with agitated thoughts dancing around in his head that he could barely put in to words, he knew that he had an opportunity to instantaneously avenge Shireroth of the insult done to it by its upstart and insignificant neighbour. As had been standard practice for all of 1665, the Rocket Regiment attached to the Angularis Corps of Central Banner Command had set itself up in dispersed firing positions with the coordinates of the Inner Benacian capital - a wretched fleapit called Stonetree - pre-programmed into the targeting computer of the command vehicle and the onboard navigation software of the missile itself.
To the astonishment of the missile crew, the firing guard was lifted, the keys inserted and the firing pulse sent. The action was completed in less than a minute. None of the auxiliary crewmen had dared to utter a word, their decurion was known to relish opportunities to take out his fury upon those under his command in the past, and his authority was unquestioned. The Moraquine performed without fault, crashing off its launch rails leaving a billowing trail of acrid black smoke marking the ascent of its furiously burning rocket motor. The Moraquine, true to its design rose in an ascent to a height of some eighteen kilometres above the curve of the horizon before the pull of the planet's gravitational mass pulled it downwards at an angle of 30 degrees until ramjet speed was attained at an altitude of 12,192 metres and the rocket accelerated towards hypersonic speeds as it hurtled towards its unwitting target, the capital of the rebellious confederacy that presumed to call itself a Republic of Inner Benacia.
After eight minutes of parabolic flight the missile detonated at altitude of barely half a kilometre above Bagegeniśort, ejecting into the air - to descend as a shower of fine red dust - a preparation of dried and powdered dreadnettle (''urtica terribilis'') seeds and leaves. Dreadnettle with its distinctive red leaves, was notorious for being yet another a poisoned gift from Deep Singer gene splicers to the world of men. The merest touch of one of its stinger laden leaves would be enough to cause instantaneous blood crystallisation spreading in an irresistible cascade throughout the circulatory system of the victim's body - resulting in the most harrowing and agonising death. Once its potential had been realised the greater portion of Shimmerspring was depopulated and given over to its cultivation. Now 985 kilograms of Shimmerspring's finest product, bringing death on the wind, spread itself over the ruinous settlement, the Dolmen that served as its periodic legislature, and the nestled collection of tents and shanties clustered around the chaotic bazaars which were the city's prime attractions.
Soon the red mortality spread inexorably amongst those unfortunates who, having received a dusting or inhaled even the merest spore, twitched and struggled in vain as the blood crystallised in their arteries. The death agonies of a great multitude within the city had begun.