Riding War Dragons of Death
Excerpt from Reiten Kriegsdrachen des Todes (Riding War Dragons of Death), by Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) Maximilian Weiss, 23rd k.u.k. Tiroler Fliegend Einhornwaffe (Imperial and Royal Tyrolean Flying Unicorn Brigade)
We set the English skies aflame. Even our Valkyrie Zeppelins were more than just transports. They were attack ships and bombers as well. We provided air support to them in addition to making strafing runs on London, Southampton and Dover. Our method of attack was simple; we would fly in a v-formation like a flock of geese, making sure that they could see us from the ground. When they started firing, we banked hard and went into a nose dive. Sometimes we used bright, strobing lights to confuse the anti-aircraft gunners.
When we got close enough to touch the ground, our mounts would release clouds of poison gas from their rear ends at a cue from us. We were insulated from this by wearing pressure suits, masks and our own oxygen supply. As the enemy lay convulsing and gagging on the gas, a second-wave of warcorns would appear behind us and their pilots would shoot any Tommies laying disabled on the ground. Any who were still alive after that would fall to the sharp incisors and overlapping sets of jaws in the mouths of the mighty beasts we rode — who were like horses in exterior appearances only. We were lightly armed, carrying only rifles, grenades, pistols and of course the poison gas produced by the warcorns. Speed and terror were our primary methods of overcoming the enemy’s vastly superior numbers and arms.
I would say it was a horror to see these things done to other human beings, but it is more horrific to contemplate than it was to experience them. There was no fear, no anger, no decisions to be made. One watched one’s arms and legs go through the motions of killing from far away, like an automaton. At the time, all we were thinking was, “it’s him or me,” and that we had to kill as many as possible or be killed ourselves. In war, any who stop to think will die. We trained until our actions became instinctive, and then in combat we acted on those instincts as if they were nothing more than reflexes.
Of course, now I have had years to think about it. I wish there had been another way, but wishing will not make it so. We all knew the Dual Monarchy was dying. Many of us hoped that we could win the war by using these extreme measures, and by winning the war, we could restore some semblance of peace and order. It’s not that we were loyal to the Empire. We simply thought it offered the best chance for life to go on as it always had. What we did not realize was that life had been bad for most people for a long time. There was no “golden age” we could return to. I was very young and self-important when I was recruited into the Fliegend Einhornwaffe. Most of us were. Had I known then what I know now, I perhaps would not have fought so hard for the Dual Monarchy.
A few of the older pilots saw the futility of what we were doing towards the end of the war. They objected to the brutality of our methods. One officer tried to defect but was shot down by the French as he crossed enemy lines. That was in July, 1918. Another was suspected of wishing to join him. He was made a public example of. He had a show trial and then faced a firing squad made up of fellow soldiers of the Flying Unicorn Brigade. The rest of us were ordered to witness.
It was about a month after this that civil order broke down completely. Some units disbanded. Others kept fighting without any orders, contact or resupply from High Command. Some officers went completely rogue. One company took over a village, named it a new country and declared the commanding officer the new emperor. Others roamed the countryside with what was left of their brigade, robbing and pillaging farms and villages, murdering anyone who got in their way.
My brigade disbanded in August, 1918. From August until peace was declared, I set up a mobile petting zoo and roamed Austria, charging one slice of bread per person — or whatever else the peasants could afford — per show. Sometimes I had Dusty jump through a hoop. Other times she would prance. We also played a game where children would win a sweet if they could throw four stockings on Dusty’s horn.
I sold my shiny dragoon helmet. I traded one of my Meritorious Conduct medals for a jug of milk from a three-legged cow. One of my former subordinates saw me in a tiny village, putting on a show for farmers’ children. He was very drunk on homemade rotgut. He said I was a disgrace and tried to fight me, but one of the farmer’s wives clobbered him with a sack of moldy potatoes. While he lay unconscious, I rifled through his pockets and took out a watch on a chain. The watch was cracked, probably from our fight — so I set it on the ground beside him — but kept the chain, since it was made of gold. I set a stale loaf of bread on his chest as payment. These were hard times.
After the peace treaty was signed, those of us who still had unicorns — flying or otherwise — were ordered to surrender them immediately. They were considered dangerous weapons, and rightfully so. It was a condition of the armistice. A few people tried to hide them. We all knew what was to happen once they were surrendered. Most of us didn’t want to see them herded away into some facility and slaughtered like cattle on an assembly line. They were beautiful creatures, even if they were destructive and hard to control at times. There are stories that a few were sold at a high price and smuggled out of the country but I doubt this. Rather than hand them over to an enemy we despised — the government — we took matters into our own hands, ending the lives of the creatures who had served us faithfully on our own terms. When the authorities found out about this, they were irate, but it would have been an embarrassment to prosecute us since we were still held up as heroes of an Empire that no longer existed but in memories. So, we all quietly walked away after it was finished, those few of us who were left anyway.
August 19th, 1917
Military communique from Oberst (Colonel) Moritz Bauer, 45th k.u.k. Tiroler Reitende Einhornwaffe (Imperial and Royal Tyrolean Mounted Unicorn Brigade) to Hauptman (captain) Johann Wolf, 16th Sonderservice Alpen Einhornwaffe, D Trupp (Special Mountain Unicorn Brigade)
An enemy zeppelin has been shot down in the area. It is believed to be carrying high-value targets including former-president of the United States Theodore Roosevelt. Intelligence indicates they are on a special mission to disrupt and destroy the Einhornwaffe. Your orders are to intercept and stop them at all costs before they reach any Einhorn fortresses. Roosevelt and any other Allied humans must be taken alive. Attempt to take any Bärenvolk with them alive as well, but kill them if you must. They may have joined forces with deserters from the 45th. If you see the deserters, shoot them on sight. All prisoners are to be taken directly to me for interrogation.
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