February 1945

"So shadow’s presence that I have

Is enough when there exists

One uniquely framed in mind

To give that shadow strength enough

To enforce evolving."

Carolin’s closed eyes hold an expected void but on their opening she beheld a most unexpected darkness. It is clearly late at night but there is no light through the window, no light from anywhere. Sound is absent except for the infrequent crack of cooling timber frames. There is no snoring, no ticking clock. The world of sight and sound has been consumed, eaten up into a vast black void. And there is a strong, unpleasant smell. The air is still and musty, laden with the scent of damp and rotting things.

She knows she is not in bed but how did she get into this place? She remembers entering in to the mind but does not know the how, when or where of it. Her arm reaches out and touches nothing, so she crouches down to feel at lower levels. Her knee stings as it bends and this seems consistent with her memory of events. She can feel blood on her knee but nothing else. The floor feels gritty, unswept but otherwise empty. Carefully she moves forward at last touching something. An upturned book Then a broken chair. She moves it away and again, gingerly, moves forward. At last a wall and now a window ledge. A tight fitting blind which must be forced apart. There is nothing out there. Black night and possibly deep fog.

The height is right, the ledge feels familiar. This is her tower. This is her tower she is almost sure. She feels the ledge once more. Could she be wrong? This does not feel the same. The ridge has changed, the large nick along the edge has gone. The groove along the front is unfamiliar. Leaning to the right she feels the wall. It is the right distance but there is no built-in bookcase. It is her tower but not as she remembers. She turns and sits, aware at last of a directional sense. "It would be best to crawl", she thinks, "for things are not right. The stairs should be straight ahead." She needs to think aloud to introduce a whispered sound just to confirm she exists.

"This is too far. No. Here they are. The wall. But where is the rail. There is no rail as far as I can reach"

Carolin places one foot upon the first step down, presses firmly to test if it yields. It creaks but does not collapse and so with back against the wall she places her full weight on the stairs. There is an object a few steps down. A broken vase or something. At last she feels there are no more steps. "The front door should be here." It is but it seems locked. The key is absent. "I need light, a candle, stove or something. I need to see what’s gone wrong."

"The stove is over to the right. There’s always a candle and matches there." She edges her way through what seems endless debris and broken furniture to where she feels the stove. There are no candles, no matches, just the flint to light the stove. Carolin turns the knob and sparks the flint until a little flame bursts into life. A dull feeble, dying flame built from residual gas and in its light she sees the tidy rooms she once knew in total disarray. A broken picture lies at her feet. She picks it up and by the dying light still sees enough to know it is not her family in this frame.

The light shows one positive thing. The door is blocked by the fallen stair-rail, a wedge of timber acting as a lock. While the flame dies away she picks her way across the room, lifts the rail, clears debris and slightly forces open the resisting door. It is enough for her to slip outside into the wind-filled night. The air is chillingly fresh and the mustiness is gone.

A dark, fog filled, starless night of low visibility confronts her but it is still more welcome than the house she has left. It is strangely dark for a city street. There are no chinks of light from badly drawn curtains. The street lamp across the road is out. And only the rising fog holds anything but blackness. Carolin knocks on several doors but no one responds. At two of them she is certain there are people who have heard her but they do not even call out ‘Go away’. The houses are silent black fortresses from which she is excluded. The house she has just left is a shambles, derelict and cold.

But the fog is rising and as it lifts, slight glows can be seen from the direction of the railyards. The metallic, clanking sound of a single locomotive shunting carriages, carries through the night.

It is too cold for her to stay where she is. Her need is to find people and warmth. Prager-strasse and Ring-strasse in the heart of the city should have life, no matter what the cause of this street’s desolation.

Carolin is right. As she moves into the city she can see signs of life. Horses being led down darkened streets by people who refuse to pay her any attention. As she comes further into the city there are occasional small groups of people. They turn away when they see another human being, down a side street or back from whence they came. The few who are too late to avoid her, scurry past, eyes downcast, startled by the challenge of her voiced inquiries.

The sky is clearing. Occasional glimpses of filmy stars show in hurrying gaps of higher cloud. Now for the first time in hours she hears sound. A humming, droning, throbbing sound building from the sky.

Suddenly, devastating lights. High in the sky parachutes of white flaming metal marking out the zone of death. A flare of green bursts into brilliance along the bend of the Elbe.

White parachutes of brilliant light, casting shadows and silhouetting Dresden Castle and Hoskirche.

The drone becomes a howl, a whistling howl and red the sky around the Central stadium. A second burst increasing the intensity of red marking the lee side of the city. And to the plane that passes overhead a bright flash reaching from earth to sky and with it goes the Pertho rune. Pertho a rune of birth flashes to the sky.

This is not Carolin’s doing, it happens without any intent or actions of her own. It is the timing of the sequence, the placing of Pertho at a special place and a particular point of time. A place and time computed by men in collaboration, centuries apart. The only time, the only place where spontaneous evolution could occur. A point in time where the universal force combines with men in fear of battle, settling the fate of youthful sorceress placed in a state of unexpected, undefended, helpless alarm. And he who navigates the plane knows nothing of the change. The flash to him is just another one of those that light the sky around him, but now his seed will be forever changed. His first born daughter will bear the line of Pythias, bear the name of Elin.

Carolin notes without undue thought that Pertho has gone. She has too many other things in mind to fear the missing rune.

The drone above builds to a louder, lower throb joined by a whining howl. Wave after wave of directed bombs aimed to fall on Dresden’s inner city.

Out of buildings people pour heading for known destinations. Carolin stands bewildered until a man grabs her by the arm. "Come with me" he implores tugging urgently towards an open door. She recognises him in mixed relief and suppressed terror. Muller!

He slams the door behind them. There are a dozen or more people here and more beyond in a labyrinth of cellars. He leans against the wall, puffing desperately, all the while studying her with menacing scrutiny. "You look exactly like someone I met years ago. Even the dress she wore. But she’s dead."

He did not add "The subject of my fantasies" but his look, his voice conveyed the secret that until now was his alone.

This was an older Muller of balding hair and overweight frame. Muller whose greatest skill was imitation applied with restricted intelligence. It was natural that such a man had advanced within the force and was now responsible for its Intelligence Branch. His group held the responsibility for deciphering messages of the Allied Forces and he therefore knew what might happen next.

Above them shattering bombs in waves laid open windows and doors with explosive blasts of debris. Just as the white parachute and green flares led the way for the marking red and they in turn guided these shrapnel bombs, another more deadly wave would follow. But here they should be safe.

This illusion was shattered within a minute. The end of the cellar with its dozen people became a heap of screaming bloodied injured people. Around the corner was greater death and devastation. A direct hit pierced this supposedly bomb-proof bunker exposing those inside to choking fumes and the bombs that would now follow.

Once more Muller grabbed Carolin’s arm. "We must get out of here", he yelled, without thought to those in pain upon the floor.

With his free hand he yanked open the door and almost dragged Carolin into the street. "We must run", he said." We must get out of the city. Beyond the zone where you saw the lights."

He let go of her arm and started off at a pace above his own ability. Carolin followed for she no longer knew where she was nor how to get out of the firing zone.

And from the sky they came, bombs that spurted flame. Plane after plane in devastating pattern spreading fire into shattered buildings. Parts of the city were now ablaze, the flames reddening the sky with ever- increasing light. There was a spiralling tower of flame to their right and Muller chose his direction carefully. Within a minute the flames became a wall of heat racing through the city centre. It exploded past them with incredible speed but at a distance that did not harm them. They felt the rush of explosive wind that threw all before it into self-destructive motion. They heard the dying screams of burning victims caught on streets or in inadequate shelter. They saw four horses blasted into bone upon the square a little distance from their running flight. Trams were now alight as Carolin and her guide chased along less burned streets.

But Muller was exhausted. With a gasping cry of "In here!" he entered into a bombed structure. Here was a small intact room, its door still able to be closed.

He sat upon an upturned drum, choking to take in air, his face florid, wet with over exertion. Carolin was breathing hard but not suffering the same level of distress as Muller. However it was only a minute or two before he had gathered some composure. "I don’t think we’ll make it by running. We have to make the best of it here and hope that we are lucky."

Together they prepared the room, pushing metal cabinets over the door and building a further barrier in a small closet at the back of the room. Into this they both crawled and waited. Carolin was aware once more of Muller’s attentive gaze and despite their current bond he still terrified her.

His eyes dwelled too long upon her waist and her fear of how such a man might react in desperate times was intensified by this prolonged scrutiny.

"What is this?" he asked and, without waiting for a response, acted in the manner of the interrogator. He reached down and snatched the thread wound around her fertile waist. He held within his hands the rune of Gebo the rune of married love. The rune that placed in the hands of one with evil intent takes on a malevolent form. Love, to lust, to rape.

A shattering blast once more rends the air, the shock wave tears away the flimsy barrier that protects their lives. The air that blasts reveals the wave of all consuming fire that bears at express speed upon them.

Gebo rune of marital love but also joy in generosity. Muller lunges forward in desperation, springs upon her almost prostrate body, forcing her back further in the closet. This man will die in an unaccustomed act of love to futilely arrest this all-consuming fire. But now Gebo is part of him and her and Hagla also unites them. Hagla, runic-protector from flame, the last remaining rune.

With the fire bursting upon them Carolin cries "Enough! Enough! This is all a dream! I do not want to be part of it anymore!" She pushes Muller away with her hands. She pushes hard but she is not there, in his palm the thread of fire’s survival.