written by StukaGoggles & Arty
This is the second part of the transcript of a roleplay that I did with my friend, where we are writing out what happened "behind the scenes" of our characters' Heroes conversations. It's still going on, so this will be updated every now and then. Part one can be found here.
The more Ruth thought about this idea, the more mixed feelings she got about it. Sure, having a gun for Fafnir on the ready was handy. But the effort and - above all - time they would have to put into unmounting it could turn out to be a big mistake. After all, the team that had set up this bait could come back if they saw that Ruth had landed. And all tanks knew that a plane on the ground was a sitting duck.   "Give me the fuel cans, then. I can carry them," the plane suggested. At the moment she wasn't sitting still but instead rolled back and forth a bit with impatience. This was taking way too long already. She shouldn't be here. She should be up in the sky, away from prying optics and cannons. Usually, she could keep that anxiety at bay; but until then she never really had a reason to worry when it was acting up. For the last few years she had only been on the ground when she knew it was safe (because it had been her unit's airstrip).   "No matter what we do, can we do it fast, please?"    
Fafnir eyed the plane skeptically. Yeah, he didn’t want to linger here either when it was entirely possible that all hell would break lose as soon as anyone else arrived at the scene, but… He knew that. He didn’t need Ruth to point it out like this. And her nervous fidgeting wasn’t helping in making him feel less anxious, either. “I’m already hurrying!” he defended himself as he finished up his track. He drove forward a little to check if it was back on correctly, and could confirm that it appeared to be fixed.   Now, he tried to think. He tried to think if it was worth the risk spending all the time on looting that cannon, and getting slowed down by it on top of it. But Ruth was still fidgeting and it was driving the Hetzer crazy already.   “Can you stop??” he grouched and starting handing over the fuel cans. “You’re stressing me out!” His gaze darted to the wreck again, but he couldn’t decide. He really wanted to take this cannon. They most likely wouldn’t find another free one as easily. And he had eaten two enemy shells for it, too! He had earned stealing this gun… But then again,… Thoughts going back and forth through his core, he just wobbled on his tracks without going anywhere.    
That almost harsh tone from the Hetzer startled Ruth. She didn't know that he was capable of raising his voice in that way. But the fidgeting stopped. Instead, she watched Fafnir hem and haw for a few moments. Now he had started fidgeting.   This wasn't leading anywhere. Whatever they were going to do, anything was better than standing around there and thinking. After storing the last cans of fuel in her fuselage, Ruth huffed and made the decision in Fafnir's stead.   "Fafnir. Let's do this already," she said determinedly. "Let's get your gun and get out of here."    
Well, that… was at least a commanding enough tone to get Fafnir to snap out of his paralysis and comply immediately. He nodded quickly and kicked his engine into gear to head over to the dead Hetzer as fast as he could.   He looked at the wreck, and actually wasn’t sure where to even start taking the cannon off. With a frown, he started just pulling on the barrel, which of course didn’t move an inch. He pulled upwards instead, then wiggled it, then tried to reverse while yanking on it. Still without any noticeable result.    
Ruth's time calculations didn't include Fafnir playing with the Hetzer's cannon. What was he doing? Loosening it up?   He was quickly accompanied by the plane who stood next to him and watch him wrestle the barrel. She really wanted to ask him if he knew what he was doing but that would have only stressed him out more. And that was counter-productive to Ruth's plan to leave as fast as possible.   So instead, she chose her words more carefully: "How can I help?"    
Fafnir didn’t even notice at first that Ruth had joined him, not with his frantic efforts. When he did notice her being there – when she asked him something – he flinched and froze. Oh god, had she been watching him make a fool of himself the entire time? How horrible.   At least Ruth seemed more goal-oriented in her thinking than Fafner himself. It was a … good question.   “It’s… not coming loose,” he wheezed. “Maybe it got stuck when he died… or when you shot him.” A quick, sullen, side glance.   It suddenly occurred to him that this meant something had to happen to the inside of the tank. He let go of the cannon and tilted his gun pensively.   “I guess I could try to push from inside while you pull from outside?” he suggested and right away went about opening the wreck’s top hatch to stick his arms inside and grope around aimlessly.    
The implication that Ruth was the reason the cannon was stuck, alongside the glance Fafnir had given her, rubbed her the wrong way. First crying for help and then complaining about the help he had received? Just because he had clearly no idea how to unmount this gun??   She had been patient with him for long enough. The plane's hands took the dead Hetzer's cannon with an iron grip; the claws leaving scratch marks in the paint.   "I'm sure I broke more than just the gun inside that tank," she hissed and gave Fafnir an angry glare. "He's just a Hetzer, after all. Just like you."    
Well, even for someone as bad at picking up broad hints as Fafnir, that got the point across. The screeching of metal on metal, together with Ruth’s words and the glare, were nothing short of making his plating crawl.   “I-… I’m just sayin’-“ was his flimsy self-defense plea. Was she… threatening him somehow? Even if she wasn’t, damn. She was being quite intimidating right now.   He hurried up with his own task even more, and felt around for the breech in hopes of also finding the mount that way. That had to somehow be the reason for it not just coming off, right? Surely, the gun was somehow affixed to the inside of the fighting compartment. That, and all the cable connections. Fafnir just started yanking at whatever cable he could get a hold on, plucking them out from their connectors, and then tried to somehow unhinge the mount.   It did work, sort of. As soon as he had wrenched it loose, the barrel – together with the mantlet and, on the inside, the breech – slid out rather easily. Fafnir was ready to cheer and his grip loosened, since he thought that Ruth would have it from here. But with that, the mantlet turned itself upside down from its top-heaviness and the breech wedged itself against the opening it was supposed to go through. Fafnir’s optics grew wide, but he didn’t have the presence of mind to catch the cannon in time to stop this from happening.    
Ruth was holding onto the barrel with all of her hands when the whole thing started shifting. She already wanted to let out a sigh of relief when the barrel suddenly started turning, together with the mantlet (and the breech out of her sight). Unfortunately, she didn't loosen her grip on it in time.   The four steel cables were violently twisted alongside the barrel with a nasty crunching sound. Immediately, one of the hands lost its grip. The rest of the arm went limp and fell to the ground with a thud. Ruth turned to Fafnir. Her glare had gained a few extra levels of heat.   "A warning," she growled,"would have been nice. You know? Just a little warning??"   A broken arm was the last thing she needed right now. Well, the last thing she needed right now was Fafnir being an incompetent little bitch. So the broken arm was currently her second biggest problem.   The plane had to fight back the urge to just turn around and leave. She had to remind herself that they were on a mission and that she couldn't accomplish it without Fafnir.   For Winston's sake, she thought bitterly.    
Fafnir couldn’t do anything but stare in complete shock and terror as the events unfolded before his optics. Oh, he had fucked up now.   “I’m- I-… I’m so sorry-“ he stammered.   That arm looked very broken… And Ruth looked very, very pissed.   “I’m sorry!” Fafnir repeated. “Look at that-! It’s- Oh god, I’m so sorry…!”   He grabbed the other end of the cannon more firmly again, though it was more because he needed to hold on to something. The joints of his claws creaked with the strained grip. What a horrible mistake he had made! Literally unforgivable. He fully expected some sort of retaliation now.    
"Let's just get this fucking over with," Ruth grumbled and adjusted her grip on the barrel.   With joined forces, the two finally managed to extract the cannon from the hull. Ruth helped Fafnir to heave the thing onto his roof without saying a word. If she had done so, nothing nice or polite would have come out of her voicebox. Her broken arm was detached from her fuselage and simply left next to the tank wreck. There was no use for that anymore, aside from being dead weight.   After that, the plane took a deep breath and said as calmly as possible: "Let's carry on." As she turned away from Fafnir to take off again, a quiet "Du dämlicher Versager." could be heard from her.   A few moments later, the sky had her back as she headed towards where their camp for the night should be.    
With the extra weight of the cannon, Fafnir’s suspension had him sit low on his wheels. But that weight really was nothing compared to the emotional burden the incident just now had placed on his conscience. He did understand Ruth’s curse, and even though he preferred to pretend he hadn’t heard it, it definitely drove the point home.   Get it together, man!, he thought as he trundled off to follow the plane on the ground. The last thing he wanted to happen was for her to just abandon him out of sheer annoyance with his blunders.   After a completely undisturbed continuation of the travel, it was starting to get dark. Fafnir was starting to feel his engine getting exhausted from the additional weight he was carrying around, and he wasn’t going to be able to see in the dark. It was time for a break, and some sleep.   «Ruth…? Can we stop here?» he asked tentatively, after not daring to speak for her the entire time before – out of fear she would still be mad at him.    
The hours of silent flight had done wonders to Ruth's mood. While her oil had practically been boiling from anger when she had taken off, she had since calmed down. Now, the plane was mainly feeling sorry about lashing out at Fafnir earlier.   Needless to say, the incoming radio call was more than welcome. Even though hearing Fafnir's voice made it clear that he too was still preoccupied with thinking about what had happened. It caused another ping of guilt.   «Sure, I will land on that field in the northwest.»   The Focke-Wulf had seen quite a few roads on this day of travel. And it made her core ache that she couldn't just land on them instead of an unknown field with a random amount of ditches. But frankly, landing on a street was too dangerous right now. There was no way of knowing who travelled on them.   After making sure that there were no tanks visible in the vicinity, Ruth touched down on the aforementioned field. The ground was way too soft for her liking... it slowed her down way too fast.   "Oh fuck!"   Just when she was about to tip over forwards she extended her (now only three) arms to prevent the propeller to cut into the grassy earth. Fortunately for her, it worked as intended. Another catastrophe averted.    
It was somewhat reassuring that Ruth didn’t sound mad anymore. But Fafnir was sure that she wouldn’t forgive him so easily. He could only hope that he would not do anything that would irritate her further...which was not easy for someone like him.   «Alright!» he replied. He drove over to that field while she was landing, and arrived just in time to see her almost kiss the dirt.   “Ahhh! Are you alright??” he shouted and hurried to her side.    
There was only a strained grunt coming from the plane as she pushed herself back until her tailwheel finally touched the ground again. Missing one functioning arm out of four did make a difference.   "Yes, I'm fine. Damn dirt." Ruth looked down at her wheels partially sunken into the ground with dismay. Fafnir with his broad track didn't seem to have the same problem. With some struggling, she managed to position herself facing the field in case of a quick take off. Only then, she could relax. Well, not quite yet. There was still something on her mind.   After clearing her vents, Ruth started to talk: "I'm sorry that I snapped at you earlier. I didn't mean what I said, really." It had dawned to her that Fafnir, being a German tank on German territory, probably understood what she had called him. That only made it worse.    
Fafnir watched the struggle with his gun tilted, and nodded agreeingly. Yes, damn dirt.   Ruth’s apology was completely unexpected, and even made the Hetzer flinch. People being sorry for mean things they called him? Well, that was unheard of.   “Wha-“   He gave a startled blink, but then shook his cannon.   “No, you were right. I was being a huge, clumsy dumbass!” he insisted. “You were right… to get upset with me.”   Wringing a little, wry tank-smile from his features, he shrugged.   “No need to be sorry, okay?”    
Ouch. What exactly did they do to this poor tank back at the Legion? Ruth remembered that he had been drafted straight from the factory. What she had been identifying as outright shitty behaviour from the Legion's officers was probably considerednormal to Fafnir. He didn't know any better.   Oh, this conversation was so going to happen right now. The plane turned a few feet to address Fafnir more directly.   "Let me get this straight: You're not in the Legion anymore. That means that I get to treat you with dignity, whether you like it or not. And that includes apologizing for getting overly upset with you. Sure, you were clumsy back there but so was I with the idler wheel. And being clumsy is not a reason to get insulted, ok?"   Ruth had the feeling that it would take more to convince Fafnir that he is in fact a valuable being with the right to be treated well. But it seemed like a good start.   To emphasize that she wasn't mad at him anymore, a fuel can was fished out of her fuselage and offered to Fafnir.    
As he listened to Ruth‘s sudden outburst, Fafnir’s expression grew progressively more puzzled.   “But I really-…” he tried to argue, but trailed off, looking down with a flustered slumping of his suspension. Well, this was an awkward situation. He didn’t really agree, but didn’t want to antagonize Ruth by implying she was wrong. A bashful “Sorry. I’m sorry,” slipped out as he reached out to grab the fuel can.   It was definitely in Fafnir’s interest to move the conversation on to less uncomfortable topics, and he quickly turned around to trundle off to a more secluded spot.  Anyway! We should …uh… get ready for the night,” he suggested while slurping the fuel on the way.    
That went about as well as Ruth had expected. As much as she wanted to tell him that he should stop apologizing for literally nothing, she held back. It would do more harm than good, at least in that moment.   While gingerly following Fafnir, careful not to get stuck, the Focke-Wulf took her time to check on her own fuel tank status. The auxiliary one under her fuselage was empty. One of her other two was almost half-empty. Not a bad result for a whole day of travel.   After finding a good spot underneath some trees which Ruth only barely fit under, she replaced what fuel had been consumed over the day. Before the awkward silence between the Hetzer and her could spread any further, she decided to inform him about the status of their mission: "We should reach Ruindom in two days, if we cover a little bit more ground than we did today. How much fuel do you think you'll need with that extra weight?"   She gestured to the cannon which was still strapped on top of Fafnir. It looked uncomfortable.   "Do you... maybe want to set it down for the night?"    
Fafnir nodded and stowed the empty fuel can into his fighting compartment.   “Hopefully we won’t run into as many hostile tanks from now on… We should be back near Legion territory soon, right? Not many people hanging out there, usually,” he mused. Of course, it also meant that they’d have to watch out for patrols… which certainly made the Hetzer anxious in its own way.   They reached a good, secluded spot and Fafnir went about taking the cannon off his roof while replying. “Good idea. And, I think I shouldn’t need more than like… 20% more fuel with it.”   It was more of a sliding it off it than really lifting it, though, but he didn’t want to ask Ruth for help again. As soon as he managed to handle it off his roof while it scraped off the paint there, it ungracefully skidded down his flank, taking at least two tools and a skirt clasp with it on the way down before landing on the soft ground and embedding itself within it with a heavy thump. Yeah, that was… a good spot for it to stay for the night. Not like Fafnir could have really moved it far from there anyway.   He peeked to Ruth, hoping she didn’t disapprove of this course of events, and quickly re-attached the tools to his side armor.    
Ruth tried her best to estimate how far they would come with Fafnir's 120% fuel consumption. They still had plenty of reserves left. But after reaching Ruindom they would have to share them with Winston as well. Those were problems that didn't really matter to her until now. At the Legion, everyone got their meagre rations and that was it. It had always been someone else to calculate how much fuel a unit needed...   Before her thoughts could wander off to her favourite supply officer again, Fafnir's struggle with the cannon brought her back to the here and now. Ruth noticed that the Hetzer was peeking at her, probably awaiting a negative comment. Or maybe a slap.   Being clumsy is not a reason to get insulted. Oh how much she wanted to repeat that but it wouldn't find understanding.   Maybe small talk would make this tank at least a bit more comfortable. It was better than an awkward silence for sure.   So Ruth chose a random topic while pulling out her camo net and draping it over herself: "So, how old are you anway? I'm curious."    
As, very surprisingly, no chiding followed Fafnir’s clumsy handling of the cannon, he sat down lower on his suspension in an attempt to get more comfortable. His mind wandered to the need to camouflage himself, and he pulled out his own camo net as well, but decided to maybe skip the additional makeshift camouflage this time. He was blending in much better now with his new paintjob, instead of being visible from kilometers away.   His reply to Ruth’s question was rather casual. He didn’t mind talking about his age. “Well, I’ll turn four winters old soon.” That was, in his opinion, a more impressive way to phrase it than ‘I barely turned three a few weeks ago and the next winter is still far away, and Sulfur knows I don’t expect to make it that far’. It therefore was a bit on the side of prettying things up. “Why are you asking?” he then asked in return. The ‘I am curious’ statement didn’t really satisfy his own curiosity about Ruth’s reasons for wanting to know this. It didn’t really occur to Fafnir that she could just be trying to make random conversation.    
Four winters? Or to be more precise, three winters currently?? Ruth could barely remember when she was this age herself. Most of his anxious behaviour made sense now. Three winters at the Legion could wear you out like nothing else and in his case those had been his only winters.   "Like I said, I was merely curious," Ruth answered truthfully. "Wow, three winters... You're pretty young." She thought for a moment on how to keep the conversation going.   "When I was your age I was still living up by the sea. A lovely place. At least before our dear Armageddon planted her headquarters not too far away."    
“It’s not that young…!“ Fafnir tried to defend himself. “For a tank who has to fight for his life nearly every day, at least,” he added after a moment of thought, but then flinched as he realized how derogatory it must have sounded. He still wasn’t used that much to being around planes, huh?   “S-Sorry, I didn’t mean it like-…” he quickly stammered, but trailed off because he didn’t know how to make it sound believable that he did mean it any other way. “W-What was living at the sea like?” he quickly asked to distract from his blunder, “I’ve only ever seen it on film or pictures.”    
Of course Ruth was used to comments way more hurtful than this one. But they usually came from people she either didn't care about or even disliked. Hearing someone who she actually grew to like talking down on her like that, though. That stinged. As much as she had wanted to keep this conversation at a light small talk level... there was no way the plane could gloss over Fafnir's comment and talk about how nice it was at the sea.   "Who told you that," Ruth said in a low voice while slightly turning to the Hetzer. "Who told you that tanks have to fight for their lives and planes don't?" He was young. He had been fed awful Legion propaganda for all his life. He probably didn't know any better. But last time Ruth had checked, racism against planes wasn't on the top tier list of things the Legion stood for.    
Aw, heck. Now he had pissed her off again…! Fafnir ducked down low on his suspension and lowered his gun in an attempt to look as apologetic as possible. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t-“ he whined, “I just-… I’m just dumb, I’m sorry!”   He sensed that just crying excuses and apologies would probably not be enough to appease the plane, so he quickly tried to explain his reasoning behind his comment: “It’s just, I never saw the planes actually fight…! Or very seldom…! And when they did, it was always against defenseless tanks!” He kept his gaze averted, still looking like a poor sinner after being called out on his bullshit. “And you also kept saying stuff like it’s not so bad and whatnot…! I guess I was always a bit jealous that your lives seemed so much easier…”    
At least Fafnir wasn't leaving it at his usual apology. Especially his last point made Ruth painfully aware that she was part of the problem as well. That really stole the plane's thunder right then. All his points were understandable and... made sense from his point of view.   Time for some clarification. "Ok. First off, anything that I officially said about the Legion was just bullshit. It's propaganda, Fafnir. It's made to sound good. How else would other people want to join the Legion?!" She caught herself raising her voice and paused. Yelling wouldn't get her anywhere with Fafnir. And besides, he deserved a proper explanation about why his views might be biased.   The Focke-Wulf thought for a moment, then continued talking in a calmer voice: "I think can see where you come from. But I doubt that any tank a plane had attacked was defenseless. We're dangerous to you but you're also dangerous for us." She pointed at the duct-taped bullet hole in her wing with a clawed hand. "That was from a machine gun. It went straight through. A whole round of these can tear off my wing and then it's a high dive in a very low well."   Ruth paused again to think. How could she phrase her next words without sounding like she's whining about how hard life as a plane was. But she had to get her point across somehow. "I stayed with a free team for about ten winters. It was bearable but far from easy. After that, I lived alone for two and a half winters. That was far from bearable and even further away from easy. Made the five winters at the Legion feel like a vacation. Sometimes."    
Fafnir couldn’t decide if it was better or worse that Ruth actually took the time to explain why his statement had been out of line instead of just being mad at him for a while. On one hand he was thankful for the explanation, on the other hand she was making it a lot more awkward for him by drawing it out like that. But maybe he had earned that awkwardness.   As she was finished, he murmured a crestfallen, “I see… You’re right. What I said was really stupid and wrong. Sorry again.” Hopefully that was enough for an apology. He also hoped that something like it wouldn’t slip out of his voicebox again.  
There was no way of knowing for sure if Fafnir only said that because he wanted this conversation to end. But at least he sounded genuine. And surprisingly understanding as well.   Ruth decided that she had tortured him enough with teaching him common sense for today. "Apology accepted," she said, trying to sound as friendly as possible. He had learned his lesson, hopefully. Then again the plane knew that old habits died hard.   Instead of ending this conversation on a negative note, she tried to steer it somewhere lighter. After adjusting her camo net once again - even though that wasn't necessary - the plane spoke up again: "The Baltic Sea has some very nice areas. Not as stormy as the North Sea, as well. A pity that we won't go in that direction anytime soon."    
Fafnir nodded with relief and sat down more relaxedly again. He was glad Ruth didn’t want to rub it in any further; the change of topic was very welcome.   “I see,…” the Hetzer murmured. These names didn’t really tell him anything, but maybe he would remember them later if they’d ever end up in that area indeed. Probably he wouldn’t, though. But there was also something else he was curious about. “You said you lived with a team there? What was that like? Being with a team, I mean. Do you remember any of them?”    
With her mind already being at her old home, it wasn't hard to elaborate on Fafnir's question about life with a team. Well, at least with what Ruth remembered from her time there. The general mood, special moments and persons were still fresh in her memory. Other things like team members she wasn't close to, camps and battles had started to get blurry over the years.   "Being with a team is hard work," the Focke-Wulf started to explain. "You have to keep track of so many things. At the Legion you were at least provided with supplies. In a free team you have to plan on how to get them, then execute that plan and share it with everyone else. That's why I left eventually."   Ruth shifted a bit on her gear, as if her current position wasn't comfortable anymore. "At one point, my team had some really bad luck with raids and trading. It went on for months. Until our leader-"   She paused and thought for a moment. Suddenly, a giggle bubbled up from her voicebox. "I cannot remember her real name, all I know is that we've always called her Bitchface. When she wasn't listening, of course... Anyway! She decided that one of us gas guzzlers had to leave. For the greater good." The plane raised a pair of hands to put the last words into air quotes.    
Fafnir listened attentively and nodded a few times to show he was still following. Ruth's words weren't really what he wanted to hear, but even Fafnir wasn't delusional enough to simply dismiss them in favor of pretending his - admittedly a bit romanticized - view of what life with the teams was like was the only true view.   "I'm sorry you had that experience," he eventually said. "I hope the clan we're going to won't be this bad."   He tilted his gun pensively. "Do you think it's a big clan? The... Linden Clan?" He had realized that he didn't really know any details about this clan that Ruth had suggested. Actually, details would already be way too familiar of a term. He knew nothing about them. And that brought up some more doubts that he hadn't thought of earlier. "And do you know any of its members...?"    
There it was again. Before Ruth's thoughts could linger any longer on the bittersweet subject of her past, Fafnir brought up a new topic. He probably had no idea he could be that good of a conversation partner if he wanted to. And if he didn't say anything stupid.   Ruth decided to attribute the latter to the Hetzer's age. He'd learn eventually. Hopefully.   "It's a decently sized base. It even has a hangar," the plane explained, "Though I haven't seen much movement there, I doubt that there's any planes. They would've sent them after me when I was scouting." There wasn't much more to say for her. To be honest, she had chosen the clan mainly because it was the nearest to Ruindom.   A few moments of silence passed before Ruth perked up on her landing gear. "Oh! Let me check something real quick." She rummaged around in her cockpit and eventually fished out a folder packed to the brim with documents. It was the one she had taken with her from the Legion's base. She flipped through the index and eventually found what she was looking for: A section dedicated to the Linden clan's base and its surroundings.   Ruth handed the open folder to Fafnir. The pages showed a couple of aerial photographs along with some neatly written notes concerning the landscape and road network.    
Fafnir was honestly impressed at all the intel Ruth had on that clan. He had expected a much less elaborate answer.   "Oh, that's handy!" he noted cheerfully as he took the folder and scrutinized the provided documents. He looked at them for a moment, tried to memorize what he could, and then returned them to Ruth. But the fact that she had only been scouting there wasn't really the answer he had hoped for. He added a pensive, "We should probably try not to announce to them right away that we're ex-Legion refugees once we get there and ask to join them."    
After the folder was safely tucked away again (as probably the only item Ruth kept in her otherwise chaotic fuselage), she turned to Fafnir again. He had a point. A point she had failed to think about until now.   A pensive hum came from her while she thought about the Hetzer's idea. Being Legion deserters really wasn't the best conversation starter. But lying wasn't the most viable option, either. That could spell trouble later on if the clan found out.   "I think," she concluded, "that we should tell them the truth. When, or if, they ask about it. We left because we were treated... poorly." Not exactly the choice of words that Ruth had in mind in the first place. "How about I do the talking first? When we get there."   She started to like Fafnir, she really did. But there were some things that she'd rather do herself.    
"Sounds good to me," Fafnir replied with a nod. He didn't mind letting Ruth do the important talking - from what he had seen of her by now she was much better at that part than he was.   He sighed and slumped a little on his wheels as he decided that this was actually plenty conversation for now. The most important topics were discussed, the most important problems out of the way for now.   "Well, how about we get some sleep? Today was... way more adventurous than I'd like," he suggested sheepishly. "I'm tired."    
Adventurous, huh. That earned Fafnir a little chuckle from Ruth. "You don't say," she replied and adjusted her camo net where it had slid off her wing. Now that she had settled down, the sleepiness was sneaking up on her as well.   "Have a good night, Fafnir."    
“Yeah…“ Fafnir mumbled sheepishly before shutting his viewports. “Night!”   Morning came around once more eventually, and Fafnir was more rested than he feared he would be. He woke up early, the sun only barely rising. That was even before his alarm. But this time he wasn’t waking up confused and startled; he was getting a bit used to his large plane companion and their strange solitary road trip by now, apparently. Stretching his wheels with a yawn, he looked at said large plane companion to see if she was awake too already.    
Unfortunately for Ruth, she didn't share such a pleasant resting experience than Fafnir. She was still fast asleep. And currently stuck in a hazy dream.   ------------- In her mind, the plane was back at her unit's base. At the airstrip, like so many days before. Stub was there too, standing in front of her. They were chatting. About what? There were no distinct words but the mood of a pleasant conversation felt so very real to Ruth. They laughed together at something.   Then a shot. Stub went up in roaring flames, screaming. Ruth wanted to back up but... her wheels were basically glued to the ground. She wanted to cry out but it felt like her voice box wasn't responding.   Another shot eventually stopped the Spitfire's screams. Behind his still burning wreck, a form was taking shape along with the sinister chuckle of a familiar voice.   "Dra til helvete." -------------   The plane woke up with a yelp and a wince. It took her a hot second before she realised that she wasn't in any real danger. This wasn't the unit's base. And the tank next to her wasn't Concord. Maybe there are gods after all.    
It became obvious quickly that Ruth was still sleeping, and Fafnir decided not to disturb her… but in that very moment, she woke up. Fafnir was startled as well when she awoke so abruptly and – apparently – unpleasantly. The Hetzer backed up a little and ducked.   “Hey now… Are you okay…?” he asked cautiously.    
At first, Fafnir only got a deep sigh followed by a grumble as a response. He didn't have to wait long for a more elaborate answer, though.   "Yes, I'm fine," Ruth said and looked down at Fafnir. His worry was appreciated but the plane wasn't too keen on elaborating any further. So instead, she decided to change the topic: "Ready for the final sprint today?... Hold on, let me check something real quick."   There was a notification showing up in her system which immediately piqued her interest. It was from Concord. Surely this was another one of those Where are you posts made by someone else from the Supply Unit.   When Ruth went through the transmission her entire body froze. This couldn't be possible. This shouldn't be possible. No tank survives a detonation from that close. Was she still dreaming?   With a thin and shaky voice the plane turned to her companion again: "Fafnir. Did you get a notification from... from Concord as well? Are you seeing this, too??"    
“I… think so,“ Fafnir replied to the initial question, but then fell silent when Ruth became strangely agitated.   He watched her for a moment with his gun tilted, then it became apparent what was going on. It was understandable a moment later why the plane looked like she had seen a ghost… it seemed like she quite literally had. Fafnir was checking his notifications as well and he unfortunately did see what she saw. The Hetzer nodded gravely.   “Do you… uhm… think this will be a problem for us…?” he asked slowly and carefully. Well, it was a stupid question. Even if this Leopard didn’t cause them any direct trouble, Fafnir understood that his survival was definitely going to be a significant thorn in Ruth’s side. What he really meant by his question was probably something along the lines of ‘Will you make this a problem for us’.    
It took Ruth a moment to register that Fafnir had asked her a question. She was too busy building up an enormous amount of anger without having a suitable outlet for it.   "Well, there's nothing I can do about him right now," she hissed, "I don't even know where he is. Fuck!" It was doubtful that the Leopard would actively hunt Ruth down. Not in the state that he was in. And probably not later, either. It wouldn't be cost efficient to pursue a personal plane hunt and from what Ruth had seen of Concord, cost efficiency was what he lived by. He wouldn't come after her, no. But would she come after him?   "Dieses verdammte Arschloch!," she cried out in frustration. After a moment of silence, the plane added: "...I need to kill something."    
“Okay, so-…“ Fafnir started to reply, but then it sunk in what Ruth was saying. “Wait, what? Kill something…? Like what?” the Hetzer asked anxiously, shifting about on his tracks. Just running around and killing random people didn’t seem like a good idea to him. “W-We don’t wanna draw any attention on ourselves, remember??”    
Fafnir did have a point. But Ruth wasn't willing to give up her plan that easily. "Sulfur have mercy on anyone who will give you trouble today." Somehow she hoped for Fafnir to run into an ambush once again. Just so she could let her anger out on someone that wasn't him.   For now, leaving a nasty reply on Concord's message had to suffice. It helped her mood, at least a tiny bit.   "Let's have breakfast and then get going." She nonchalantly set a fuel can down in front of the Hetzer and took one for herself. The sooner they got to Ruindom, the better.    
Fafnir wasn’t entirely sure if a disaster was yet avoided, or if it was simply brewing slower now. He would have to live with that uncertainty for now, though. He nodded cautiously.   “Good idea,” he agreed and grabbed the fuel can to gulp down the diesel as fast as he could. Better to get this done quickly and get on their way, before Ruth could get any more pissed off and maybe get other ideas. In the back of his mind, he of course anxiously observed the exchange that was happening on the radio network. And cringed inwardly when he noticed that Concord wasn’t exactly helping the situation with his replies.    
After finishing her own fuel can, Ruth had managed to at least force her anger to a desolate corner of her core. For now. Flying over to Aerie Castle was tempting, of course. It wasn't far away. And the Leopard probably wasn't lying about him being there. But even a heavy would've recognized Concord's offer as a trap.   It really helped to remind herself about what her main goal was: Get Winston and then head over to -hopefully- safe territory of the Linden Clan. Concord could wait. Even though he claimed that he was a busy man, it looked like he wouldn't go around winning races anytime soon.   "I'll try and get someone from the Linden Clan on the line today," Ruth spoke up to change the topic. "If we get Winston tomorrow, we can head towards their territory without having to ask for permission five minutes before we get to them." Who knew if push came to shove and they had to make a run for it. Besides, it would keep her mind off of throwing more slurs at Concord over the radio network.    
"Sounds good to me!" Fafnir replied with a tilted gun. He tried to make his voice sound casual and cheerful, to maybe lighten up the mood a little. It could either work or would piss her off more, but the little hope of the former happening made Fafnir try, at least.   It seemed like the exchange that had caused the upset was done now, too. Fafnir finished up his fuel and stowed away the empty can. He set himself into motion to be on his way and continue the travel, but then noticed something... Off. There was a weird bump in the ground which was just prominent enough to make the Hetzer stop. And how lucky it was that he did, instead of just running it over. As he backed up and looked down, the looted cannon was lying in the grass.   His fuel pump skipped a beat and he quickly threw a look over his fender to make sure Ruth hadn't witnessed the almost-disaster. Okay, play it cool, Fafnir.   "Uh, can you help me for a moment? We need to put the cannon back onto my roof," he said sheepishly, acting as if he had approached it totally on purpose and for this reason. A stealthy peek downward told him that except for a few scratches, it seemed like the cannon hadn't been damaged by the contact with his track.    
Fortunately for Fafnir's frail dignity, Ruth had been busy checking her folder for the Linden Clan's radio frequency when he almost ran over the cannon. His request caught her somewhat off-guard.   "Uh, sure."   After putting the folder back, Ruth drove over to the Hetzer and together they heaved the heavy cannon onto Fafnir's roof. A task which had been a little bit easier if Ruth had been in possession of all her arms... "I'll hold it in place so you can tie it up," she said casually.   While waiting for Fafnir to secure the load, she absent-mindedly picked some grass and moss out of the muzzle. It must've fallen on some stones last night. It had a few more scratches than before...    
Fafnir quickly went about tying the cannon down again. He wiggled a little on his tracks to make sure it was indeed well-secured. Nothing moved, so he concluded it would do for now. But since Ruth seemed distracted, he cleared his vents and gave her a verbal nudge as well.   “You can let go now…!”    
The clearing of Fafnir's vents already indeed to Ruth's attention so that his word's didn't fall on deaf ears. "Oh, right. Sorry", Ruth said and let go of the cannon.   Her mind was still preoccupied with mainly two things, even after she had taken off for that day's journey: contacting the Linden Clan and the temptation of bullying Concord over the radio network. If she couldn't fly over to Aerie Castle to kill him in person she could at least bother him from a safe distance.   «Hey Fafnir, what if I make Concord so angry that his engine blows», the plane suggested over the radio with a trace of amusement in her voice. It would certainly pass the time before they got into the range of the Linden Clan's radio frequency.    
Back to travelling, Fafnir once again did his best to neither get bored nor ambushed and killed. But he hadn’t seen any markers on trees or rocks in a while that indicated a team’s territory. Instead, however, he had spotted the occasional Legion insignia… which was worse. Or at the very least, made him a lot more anxious than any other insignia would.   No one was showing themselves, though. Fafnir felt closer to a nervous breakdown with every minute that passed without something happening. This made Ruth suddenly contacting him out of the blue a lot more startling.   “I- uhh…..” he replied, completely caught off guard at first. Then, he gave Ruth’s suggestion a thought. “….Is that even possible?”    
Did this Hetzer not know what a metaphor was? Now that Ruth thought about it, it didn't surprise her that much...   «It's a metaphor. I doubt I could kill him just by making him angry but bullying him a bit would certainly pass the time», she explained. Hopefully Fafnir wasn't going to play a game of 20 questions about literary devices. «Do you want to help me with that?»   Just after she said this, she remembered that Fafnir ran into several encounters already. Maybe distracting him with shitposting wasn't the best idea, so she quickly added: «Only if it won't keep you from looking for threats, of course.»    
Fafnir hummed pensively and ended up shaking his cannon. Of course, Ruth couldn’t see that, so he had to also send a message.   “I’ll focus on my surroundings for now, alright?”   He wanted to say something else, specifically that he thought it was extremely unwise to repeatedly and insistently piss off a Legion officer. But would Ruth listen to him? Unlikely.   He sighed and trundled on, but kind of spectated the ensuing conversation on the radio network anyway. Not entirely voluntarily… But he couldn’t tune it out. Well, physically he would have been able to, of course. But emotionally, it reminded him a bit of the one time a fellow soldier of his unit had set himself on fire in the middle of their camp. A spectacle so gruesome that you simply couldn’t look away.   But other than back then, right now there wasn’t any chief around that would prevent Fafnir from at least trying to help. He didn’t want Ruth to make herself unnecessarily upset, and poked her with another message. It was really more of a pretense to distract her for a bit.   “Hey, uh, how about we take a break? The cannon is starting to feel really heavy and stuff…”    
Ruth had no idea about Fafnir witnessing the conversation between her and Concord; to be honest she thought that he wouldn't care enough to eavesdrop. His sudden request came out of the blue for her. She checked the time.   «Fafnir, we've been travelling for not even two hours», she responded. He had carried that cannon almost a whole day without complaining already. Then again, that day had been pretty stressful for him...   The Focke Wulf looked for a good landing spot ahead, anyway. The weather was fortunately clear so she could spot a meadow a few kilometers ahead. «Can you carry on for about ten or fifteen more kilometers? There's a clearing that looks good enough for landing straight ahead.»   At least Fafnir had managed to take her thoughts off of the temptation of arguing with Concord for now. If the Hetzer could manage to reach the clearing there would be enough time for her to contact the Linden Clan.    
“Sorry…“ Fafnir replied sheepishly. “I can do that, yeah.”   It seemed like despite the suggestion not being fulfilled immediately, it had worked anyway. There was no more kicking the bee’s nest on the radio network now… But Sulfur knew how long it would stay that way. Fafnir got the feeling that Ruth would be back at it soon enough.   It wasn’t like the Hetzer could fully relax now, but it was at least one thing less to worry about. He eventually reached the clearing… or at least what he suspected was the clearing in question. Halting at the edge of it, he took an anxious look around at first before driving out into the open.    
Of course Ruth had reached the clearing long before Fafnir. After making sure that there weren't any signs of potential threats in the vicinity, the plane touched down and backed up as closely as possible to the treeline.   Why am I still doing this? It's not like there's anybody here who could spot me from above, she thought to herself. Still, it felt a lot safer to have some solid trees in the back while the surrounding foliage obscured concealed her distinct form from prying eyes from the sky or otherwise.   Not too long after she had settled down, she spotted Fafnir coming out of the forest. "Over here!" She gave him a little wave. While waiting for him to make his way over to her, she set her radio to the Linden Clan's frequency. Unfortunately, she had no idea who manned that radio in particular.   «Linden Clan, this is Ruth. Do you read?» Hopefully they wouldn't just ignore her.    
Again, it was somehow delightful to see Ruth. Fafnir waved back and scurried over to her.   Meanwhile...   It was a pretty quiet day at the Linden Clan’s base. There wasn’t really anything planned for that day, except maybe some exercises later. That meant that everyone was pretty much free to do whatever they wanted to pass the time. For example the clan’s first officer, Kimber, had chosen to engage in some inter-clan diplomacy. His preferred method of doing that was the landline, which was why he was currently sitting in the administration building and using the telephone system.   Of course, he had some favorites among the officers he was contacting. Thus, some of the negotiations took longer than others. Even significantly… Like the one he had been holding for the past two and a half hours.   “…absolutely un-be-liev-able! And what did he say??”   All of his hands were occupied with giving his claws a sort of manicure – he had noticed that they had gone a bit dull with scratches and wear. And as the first officer of the aspiring next top clan of the North, he had to look his best, down to shiny claws, of course. It was something that was conveniently possible to do at the same time as talking on the phone.   Unfortunately, these two tasks combined were taking up his full attention. He didn’t even notice the incoming radio transmission.    
Ruth waited patiently for anyone of the Linden Clan to answer her radio call. In the meantime she watched Fafnir hurry over the field and kicking up a lot of grass and dirt in the process. She couldn't help but grin internally at the display.   That's kind of cute.   Once the Hetzer arrived she noticed that - in fact - nobody had answered her radio call. Weird. The range was alright and so was the frequency. Maybe it simply didn't go through. Or nobody wanted to talk to her right then.   "I've just tried to contact the Linden Clan but there's no answer", she informed Fafnir. They wouldn't get rid of her that easily.   «Linden Clan, this is Ruth. Can you hear me? I'd like to apply for your clan, » she repeated, more firmly this time.    
Fafnir sat down next to Ruth and nodded.   “That’s weird…” he mused with a frown. Before he could suggest that she tried again, she seemed to have the same idea already.   At the Linden Clan’s base however, Kimber was still completely absorbed in his negotiations.   “…no, no. You deserve better than that! Listen, I know what they say about settling-“   Fortunately for Ruth, someone else also had access to the particular radio frequency she was trying to contact. That someone, the clan’s leader himself, of course didn’t feel responsible for answering incoming transmissions to that frequency. That was, after all, what he had an officer for.   Sable, though, wasn’t as busy right now. He was only marginally busy. One of the shooting practice targets had been temporarily repurposed, and the Hellcat was currently throwing darts at it. Another clan member was present as he did this, but only to watch and compliment.   Despite being rather focused on that, Sable nevertheless noticed someone trying to contact his clan. He obviously ignored it on purpose the first time, convinced that Kimber would take care of it. But as the call was repeated and he didn’t hear Kimber replying, Sable got the suspicion that the first officer wasn’t doing his duty right then. Sable turned to his radio and sent a direct message to the Sherman.   “Kimber?? Hello?! We got someone on the line!! Would you kindly respond already?”   Upon receiving that message, the first officer flinched so severely that he dropped the phone receiver.   “S-Sorry! On it!!” he replied hastily. Scrambling to retrieve the phone receiver for a moment, he hurried to end the call: “Sorry, I gotta go! I’ll call you back sweetums! Love ya too, bye!”   He put the receiver down and cleared his vents before putting on his serious, professional, first officer voice, and finally responded to Ruth. Except that he hadn’t been paying attention and neither knew who was calling, nor what they wanted.   “Hello, this is Kimber, first officer of the Linden Clan. The connection’s a bit fuzzy – could you please repeat what you said?”  
At the other end of the radio connection, Ruth had already started to flip through one of her folders to double-check the radio frequency. Maybe she had misread it. No, everything seemed to be in order. The stamp and signature at the end of the report even showed that it had to be up to date. Surely, clans didn't change their radio frequency every two weeks, right?   A frustrated grumble escaped her as she put the folder back into its designated box in the cockpit. "Why are they not a-" Kimber's response cut her off.   His voice was loud and clear, yet he was talking about a fuzzy connection. An excuse as old as time... But instead of being snarky about the officer's obvious lie, the Focke Wulf was mainly relieved that she had someone on the line.   «Good to hear from you, sir. I was asking if your clan is taking in new members right now. Two friends and I would be interested in joining you,» she said. The thought of asking if the connection was any better now crossed her mind but she discarded it quickly. Who knew if that Kimber guy could take a joke.   After transmitting, she opened her canopy and turned up the radio's volume. With a wave of her hand she gestured to Fafnir to come a bit closer so that he could listen to what the Linden Clan's officer had to say.   "I finally got the first officer on the line," she told him. Hopefully it would turn out just as easy as the application to the Legion... Back then, they had taken her in without many questions or qualification requirements.    
Shuffling closer indeed – or as close as he dared to, at least – Fafnir did the equivalent of standing on tip-toes, sitting as high as possible on his suspension as he leaned even closer that way. He listened anxiously, knowing that a lot depended on how well this conversation would go for them.   «I see,» was the initial response from Kimber. «Hang… on.»   It seemed like the officer then forgot to let go of the transmitter or something, because instead of the expected silence, one could hear him talk to someone else, even if it was muffled and hard to understand that way.   «……want to join………..no……?….I know…………..I know……....right…..»   Fafnir looked up at Ruth, wondering if she was feeling the same kind of second-hand embarrassment that he was feeling right now. But he remained silent. There was also some rummaging on the officer’s end, accompanied by an exasperated-sounding «Yeah, yeah! I got it.»   Kimber finally seemed to be ready to continue the conversation.   «Are you still there?» he asked, un-muffled and intelligible again. «My clan is looking for new members, yes. But I’d like to ask you a few questions first to make sure you… and your friends are a good fit.»    
During the awkward wait, Ruth returned Fafnir's look as she glanced down on him. But instead of experiencing some second-hand embarrassment, she was enjoying herself greatly. That officer seemed... quite frankly, like an idiot. His first impression hadn't been the best and now the second one was barely better.   When the sound of rummaging through boxes and eventually paper came through the radio, the Focke Wulf couldn't hold back a chuckle. "Highly organzied," she said (after making sure that she wasn't transmitting as well) and gave Fafnir a little nudge.   When Kimber spoke up again, her mood started to shift, though. So it wasn't going to be as easy as with the Legion. Especially the part about whether Fafnir and - above all - Winston were a good fit for the clan made her fuel tank feel heavy.   I bet Concord would be great at stuff like this...   But what Concord could do, she could do better! Ruth sat up straight on her undercarriage and confidently replied: «Of course, ask away, sir.»    
The nudge made Fafnir flinch – his standard reaction to being touched unexpectedly. He didn’t fully understand why Ruth was amused by that officer’s display of incompetence, but awkwardly chuckled along anyway. That chuckle, however, quickly got stuck in his voicebox when it turned out that this clan actually seemed to have standards.   «Alright. I know no one likes these interviews, so I’ll try to make it as quick and to the point as possible…» Kimber went on, and then proceeded to simply throw a laundry list of questions at Ruth, which he was obviously just reading off whatever checklist he had grabbed. «What is your age? Tank type, if applicable - model, current armament? Do you possess any noteworthy assets and are you willing to hand them off to the clan’s treasury? Why are you looking for a clan, for what reason was or were your previous allegiance….s terminated - if there were any? What positive contribution do you…»   He audibly turned over the page.   «…bring to a clan in your opinion? Which-… oh wait… that one doesn’t apply, I think. Uhm… Okay, last question. How did you hear about our clan and what have you heard about it?»    
Ruth's newly found confidence evaporated when the wall of questions hit her. She scrambled to grab her notebook and a pen, then hastily wrote down at least a few keywords about what Kimber wanted to know. It was a sloppy mess. But so were most of her notes before clean copying.   Finally, the cascade of questions came to an end. Ruth had to take a deep breath, "Oh sweet Sulfur..." That had been more stressful than some combat she had witnessed. And the worst thing was that it wasn't over yet. But nevertheless the plane did her best to not show how tense she was right then.   «Alright, so... as for myself, I'm 17 winters old. Fw190 A-6/R11...» She cringed internally at that. Over the years she had racked up a lot of modifications and alterations that weren't exactly model-conform. But she still had her radar and the engine so... That still counted, right? Nobody cared about off-brand undercarriages, anyway. Right?   Anyway, back to the checklist. «The only assets I have with me right now is my armament. Three 50kg bombs and plenty of machine gun and autocannon rounds.» The display in her cockpit labelled Waffen-Schalter showed that she had barely wasted any ammo. True, the only thing she had shot in a while was an already dead tank.   Of course they had plenty of fuel with them as well. But Ruth wasn't willing to say that up front. Who knew how much was going to be left once they've reached the Linden Clan's base. Now for the most tricky part...   «Me and my friend are looking for another clan because we... we decided to leave our old one. They didn't treat us well there. But I'm sure that I could help your clan with my skills. I'm experienced in raiding bases and convoys and have a radar. So I can operate at night or during bad weather as well.» Talking about her skills seriously was the easiest part of all this.   As for the last question... she wasn't going to tell the officer that. Not if he didn't ask again. Maybe he would forget about it...    
At the sudden onslaught of highly intrusive – at least in Fafnir’s opinion – questions, it became painfully obvious now why Ruth was the one doing the talking. Whatever hope Fafnir would have had that he’d be able to make it through such an interview… this was a very direct demonstration that he wouldn’t even have gotten as far writing the questions down before breaking down in tears.   “Why do they need to know all of this??” he whispered to Ruth, a question that was of course rhetorical but an expression of how deeply uncomfortable he was with this sort of scrutinization.   On the other end of the radio network, Kimber also had whipped out a little notepad and dutifully wrote down Ruth’s answers. In the case of the strangers being accepted into the clan, this would later save him a bit of work and time while setting up their personal files.   Thus, he was only making little “mh-hm” confirmation noises while he was recording the answers on his notepad, and only really started actually thinking about them once it was all written down.   «Alright, uhm. Copy that. Let’s see,» he murmured.   He looked to the first answer, which already made him do a double take, honestly. 17 winters…. He was either dealing with a veteran then, or, what was much more likely, a braggart. He put a couple little question marks next to the age. And the model, well, he couldn’t say he had ever heard of that one. The designation sounded too elaborate to be made up. Perhaps some new fad model. But looking further, the ammo the strangers were bringing with them made even less sense. Where the hell did they get bombs…?   Well, he wasn’t going to make a fool of himself by admitting his cluelessness (though he definitely would go and ask someone more knowledgeable than himself later). Time to focus and prod at the part he did have something smart to say about.   «You said your last clan didn’t treat you well? That’s unfortunate. Which clan was it?»   What must have come across like the officer trying to verify Ruth’s claims, was really just… Kimber being extremely intrigued by what sounded like possible… scalding hot tea. A local clan treating their members so poorly that they were leaving? He could think of a few that would fit this description according to hearsay but getting an actual testimony from ex-members? That right there was gonna be gossip material for days.  
Even though the question about how Ruth knew about the Linden Clan had been successfully avoided, the question about her old clan was... even worse, to be honest.   "Fuck..."   Time to play it real cool. She couldn't lie, that officer would definitely double check any information she would give to him. There was a handful of clans she could choose from but the risk of the Linden Clan having good relationships with them was too high. Maybe a more... diplomatic approach was necessary.   «I don't know how that information could be relevant, sir. It's a sensitive topic for us and we'd rather leave it in the past. Where it belongs. So we can concentrate on our future.» She gave Fafnir a side glance. That was the smoothest answer that had come to mind and to be honest? Ruth was pretty proud of it. Besides, something about saying our future made her really excited for whatever would come. In a good way.   To further drive the point home that this topic was nothing the plane would further dwell on, she added: «My friend's name is Fafnir, 4 winters old. He's a...» Ruth hesitated for a moment. «He's a Flammpanzer Hetzer but we do have a fitting cannon for him. It just needs to be built in. I'm sure you have a capable TRV, right?»   They better have. Because Fafnir honestly was the easiest fix. Now that Ruth thought about it... maybe it would be best if the Linden Clan's officer didn't know about Winston. Maybe they could just say that they found him on their way to the clan territory?    
Kimber found it a shame that the strangers weren’t willing to hand out gossip material that easily. But he couldn’t come up with a good retort to that very solid reasoning behind not sharing the information. Oh well…   «Of course. I understand,» he replied, trying his best to not let the disappointment show through his voice – even if he didn’t succeed fully.   He proceeded to also note down the information about the other applicant.   «Yeah, yeah. Of course,» he replied absent-mindedly.   ….but his hand froze as he finished. A… Flammpanzer? Those were the ones with the flamethrowers, no? Weren’t they………… famously used by the Legion!?   That… definitely required some consultation with the clan leader. He hastily decided to end the conversation for now.   «Uh…. Well, thank you for answering the questions, I don’t need to know anything else right now. We’ll call you… maybe! Bye!»    
The sudden change in attitude and the hasty end of the conversation took Ruth off-guard. Why was he just cutting her off like that? Probably some important officer duties were suddenly in need of his attention.   We'll call you, maybe. That sounded... not very promising. Nevertheless, the plane responded to Kimber so that he could actually call her back: «I hope to hear from you soon, sir! My private frequency is 87.9... thank you!»   She ended the transmission and sat there for a moment, thinking about what she might've done wrong. After a few seconds, it hit her like a ton of bricks. Calling Fafnir a Flammpanzer had been a dead giveaway as to where they had come from.   "Fuck, I am so stupid!" She slammed her canopy shut again and slumped down on her gear. Great job, Ruth. You're lucky if they ever call you back. But it was probably for the best to stay optimistic about it. For Fafnir's sake. And because she wasn't 100% willing to admit that she had made a huge mistake.   So instead of dwelling further on that mishap, Ruth added: "But I'm sure that it'll work out just fine. He will call back, I just know it. And if he won't than they're missing out on an excellent opportunity and we'll just go somewhere..."   She trailed off mid-sentence. There was a... barely noticeable noise. A low hum which was just there, without coming from a distinct direction. At least the plane couldn't hear where it came from yet. It was... slowly but steadily becoming louder as if it's source was closing in.   "...Fafnir, do you hear that?," Ruth asked in a hushed voice.    
Actually writing down Ruth’s frequency for later reference, Kimber spent a few more moments looking over his notes. Kinda troublesome… He’d have to go bother Sable about this later. From what he understood, the clan’s leader was currently busy with target practice or something and Kimber didn’t want to disturb him during that, of course.   So, back to the more pleasant duties!   He grabbed the phone receiver once more, twirling the cord around in his hands cheerfully as he dialled the number of his previous conversational partner – who promptly picked up, obviously not having anything better to do either.   “Azure Echo Alliance, foreign relations and communications. Hello?” the machine on the other end asked in a professional tone.   “Heyyyyy! It’s me again, sorry about earlier. Had some applications coming in and stuff,” Kimber rambled.   The other officer’s voice immediately turned amicable.   “Oh yeah? Anything useful?”   “Ehhh, you know I’m not authorized to talk about any details,” Kimber replied with a chuckle. He looked around for the files, which he had put away during the interview, found them, and resumed polishing his claws.   “Aw, come on. What about…broad outlines?”   “Sorryyyy, I don’t want my commander wringing my turret again, okay?” Kimber sighed. He made a pensive “hmmm” before going on: “But, say, ….uh. Have you ever heard of the Fw190? What kind of tank is that anyway?”   There was a brief pause on the other end, before the other officer responded soberly.   “Bestie… that’s a plane.”   Kimber froze.   ------   Fafnir was startled by the sudden outcry and slamming of the canopy. Other than Ruth, he wasn’t quite sure what had gone wrong here. Even the silly thought that it was somehow his fault crossed his mind. But… he hadn’t even said anything…   He noticed the noise at about the same time that Ruth did, but was significantly less puzzled and a lot more frightened by it.   “I….. do!!” the Hetzer gasped, shifting around on his tracks hectically as he looked into all directions for whatever was approaching them. In vain. He didn’t see anything, but he had a very good idea of what it could be. And if he was wrong about that, he also had at least 3 other equally horrifying ideas what it might be instead.   All of the ideas had one possible course of action in common: HIDE.   “Bad news incoming!! Get in cover!!” he announced in a hurry and was already storming off to seek shelter between the trees.  
It didn't take too long until Ruth could identify the sound as well now that it was getting even louder. The hum was coming from an engine. Multiple engines. Plane engines. Under any other circumstances, the Fw190 wouldn't worry that much. Maybe she would've stayed on high alert but with an engine like hers and her guns fully loaded she could always count on taking an opponent on or flee.   But there were two major problems: First off, it clearly sounded like there was an entire flight heading their way. Secondly, she was on the ground. So instead of being just a little worried, a surge of panic shot through Ruth's system.   Should she take off? And face who-knows-how-many aircraft? Or try to hide in the forest and pray that they wouldn't see her?   "Oh fuck, oh fuck," Ruth mumbled and backed further into the treeline behind her. She could feel and hear twigs snapping under the pressure of being pushed by her empennage until she reached some thicker branches. They didn't even budge. And thus, only after a few meters the dense undergrowth had put a halt to her retreat.   The sound grew louder. And Ruth probably was still painfully visible from up above if anyone cared to look more closely. In a final attempt to hide herself, she pulled out her camo net and hastily draped it over her canopy. At least the light reflecting off the glass wouldn't draw attention to her that way. At least that was what she hoped.   "Don't... don't move," Ruth told Fafnir, her voice clearly shaking for the first time since they had met. Oh how much she wished to be able to hide like he did right now. After a moment of thought, she added: "If they see me, run... further in the forest. When they're gone, you head straight to the Linden Clan."    
Fafnir didn’t really need to be told to hold still; he was completely petrified with fear right then anyway. He could barely nod to confirm Ruth’s further instructions.   The Hetzer was ducking down on his suspension as far as it would go, wishing the foliage would swallow him completely. Which… actually worked, sort of. Or at least much better than it did for a big plane.   By now it was obvious what they were dealing with. It was also absolutely clear as day to Fafnir that these guys were looking for him and Ruth. Because, why wouldn’t they be? Not only were they traitors, they also had messed with an officer.... repeatedly. There was really no way that the Legion hadn't sent someone to put an end to these shenanigans.   The planes’ engine noises approached…. reached the clearing…. and then simply passed.   Fafnir still didn’t dare to move for worry they could look back and spot the runaway duo after all, but he at least remembered to let some air through his vents again. That took the shape of a very tense sigh. He sheepishly looked over to Ruth and started mentally fumbling for a text message to her.   «Please do not piss off people anymore»    
In the moment when the group of planes reached the clearing, Ruth was sure that her days were counted. Either because one of the planes would spot her or straight up from the stress she was experiencing right then. The cargo planes of the flight above weren't the ones who concerned her, it was their escort that put the fear into her. If those two P-38s would notice her, she was done for.   But thanks to some deity beyond or above - or sheer luck - Fafnir and Ruth remained unseen. The flight simply continued their journey eastward. Fortunately, that was the opposite of where Ruth and Fafnir would have to continue their journey. But that had to wait for now...   Ruth let out an equally tense sigh after the planes were at safe (or at least safer) distance. "Sweet Sulfur," she mumbled. A term that she rarely used at all. In fact, she was still shaken enough to not have a witty response to Fafnir's accusation that she was somehow responsible for all this. Instead, just a faint "I won't." was the response to that.    
Ruth’s response was acknowledged and accepted with a brief nod. As he was starting to calm down a little after the scary encounter, Fafnir also realized that the planes were definitely going a different direction than he and Ruth were planning to go. Good. It was probably the best idea to not linger here now, though. Trundling towards Ruth, Fafnir looked at her sheepishly as he reached her.   “So, I know we’re here to take a break, but I think it’s probably better actually to keep going…” he suggested.    
"Mhm."   Now that Ruth though about it, Fafnir had probably saved her life with wanting to take a break. Who knew if she had been able to spot the planes early enough while flying. Her radar usually covered that task but without any antennae (the Scavengers had seen no need to replace them) she would've been in for a nasty surprise.   The plane set herself into motion to manoeuvre out of her hiding spot. At least that what she tried to do. Only a few inches later her right elevator got stuck at a particularly stubborn branch.   "...du willst mich doch verarschen...", Ruth grumbled quietly and tried to wiggle free. Without much success. For the sake of leaving this place faster, she was willing to sacrifice some of her dignity: "Fafnir, I'm... stuck. Can you help me, please?"    
It wasn’t obvious right away to Fafnir what was causing Ruth to be stuck. She was, after all, pretty big and had lots of components that were sticking out in awkward directions, with huge potential to get stuck on the scenery. The Hetzer turned toward her fully and looked her over in an effort to identify the problem.   “…how so? Can you be… more specific?” he asked while tilting from side to side on his wheels indecisively.   If she had been a tank, none of this would have been necessary. He would have just grabbed a tow rope and pulled until she was free, or maybe pushed her instead. But planes, he was certain, were much too fragile for this kind of casual treatment. Fafnir was sure that he had heard more than once the advice of “never ever touch a plane unless you’re a mechanic and know what you’re doing, or your intention is to break it”.
To be continued...


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