… I Will Build My Church
Near the Himalayas
Dr. Edward Richtofen
May 16th, 1942
Richtofen could not help but bask in the glory of the breathtaking statue being constructed in, of course, his honor. The idol had been designed and constructed by the architects of Shangri-La’s local tribe.
Using Group 935’s resources, an outpost at the stone temple had been constructed, which should also double as a secluded laboratory for Richtofen's personal experiments, much like his former laboratory at Alcatraz Island under the Illuminati. This would be much more accessible, and most importantly, all his own.
After baking in the direct sunlight beaming down onto the dirt road, Richtofen found solace within the temple, where he had agreed to meet with Doctor Schuster to tour the mining operation. Edward had not taken the time to enjoy the fruits of his labor recently, and would not have much more with his appointment as Director of Operations at Der Eisendrache.
Inside, Schuster stood at the center of the room, looking over blueprints for the outpost on a stone slab. Only this small section of the room was in direct sunlight due to a hole in the roof.
Richtofen emerged from the darkness, frightening his old friend, “Doctor Schuster!”
Schuster let out a yelp, “Ah-ah! My god, Edward, you frightened the daylights out of me!”
“Apologies, Baron. How goes the operations at Griffin Station?”
Schuster readjusted himself, “Progress on the MPD has been... limited.”
Edward took Schuster’s shoulder, guiding him towards the doorway leading outside as he spoke.
“Time for research on Vril and the pyramid is just as limited at Der Eisendrache. Doctor Maxis has ordered that we continue our rocket testing, as well as work on his infernal Ray Gun. Mein Gott, I’ve told him time and time again, his naming conventions are terrible! Imagine you are a young, blonde German soldier und your allies have abandoned you. You must choose between two weapons to take on the entire Red Army: the... 'Ray Gun', or... the Wunderwaffe DG-2!”
Schuster excitedly replied, “Oh, the Wunderwaffe!”
“Exactly! Finally, someone who knows what I mean when I say that a weapon should sound just as powerful as it performs! Doctor Wagner disagrees, of course. Always Doctor Maxis’ lapdog... so sad.”
They were now exposed to the sunlight, making their way on the path towards the village which was located just uphill from the mine.
“Doctor Schuster, there is a reason I invited you specifically for this meeting… besides my desire for your company, of course.”
“Oh? What would that be?”
“Our excavation team made some very intriguing discoveries in their work in Africa. Some discoveries I would like you und Doctor Groph to explore when the time is right.”
“What did they find exactly?”
“You may find it somewhat hard to believe, but, while digging in an area designated as a potential 115 deposit, they discovered a… town.”
Schuster slowed his pace, turning to Edward, “A… town? Like the ancient Vril-Ya cities within the Earth Groph is always rambling about?”
Richtofen shrugged, “Not exactly. It was some sort of American… cowboy village.”
Schuster stopped completely, “What?!”
“You know, cowboys! On their horses with pistols,” Edward turned his hand into the shape of a gun, faux firing into the air, “Pow, pow! ”
“How… how is that possible? Have the Americans created a research station in Africa?”
“There was no one alive in the town. It appears the townsfolk all died many years ago… in... cowboy times. How it ended up in Sub-Saharan Africa, I cannot be sure.”
Schuster shook his head, “That is quite remarkable, Edward. But what does that have to do with me?”
“Well, less you und more Doctor Groph. A resident of this town went by the name of Jebediah Brown. He was some sort of blacksmith far ahead in genius than the science of his time, much like ourselves. He had designs for something called the Agarthan Device.”
Schuster sighed, “Oh boy. Edward… ”
“Hear me out, Baron! This Agarthan Device would hold the ability to grant any desire that its creator wishes. It is able to manifest the full power of the Aether within our own world, giving its creator control over the fabric of reality. Theoretically, of course.”
Schuster scratched his head, asking, “Like a genie?”
“Precisely! I know that sounds like the ramblings of un apple pie-eating hillbilly, but he was one-third of the way there. He crafted the Vril Vessel: An artifact found in Groph’s research, und I have held it in mein hand. ”
“I understand your skepticism, Doctor Schuster, really, I do. While our plan to unlock the gateway to Agartha through the pyramid is the ultimate plan, it is necessary to explore all of our options.”
Schuster paused, searching for words, “It all sounds a little… far-fetched. And complicated. What of the other components? What are they? Magic beans? The forbidden fruit of knowledge?”
Offended, Richtofen pulled from his coat several copies of Jebediah Brown’s work, as well as a schematic for the Vril Vessel, pushing it into Schuster’s chest. “Since you are unconvinced und perhaps a little grumpy, you should pass this work onto Doctor Groph. He will understand.”
As they returned to walking, Schuster paused before muttering, “I’m sorry, Edward. There has been a lot of stress in our work as of late. I do not mean to belittle you, especially after all you have accomplished.”
Richtofen noted Schuster’s pouting expression as he looked to the ground. Looking to ease the tension, Edward replied, “That’s alright, Doctor Schuster. It all really is very hard to believe how far we have come und what we have discovered. We are on the cusp of a new age for humanity… und not everything will always make sense at first glance.”
Schuster perked up as his old friend showed mercy. “Thank you, Edward. I really am sorry I cannot match you in intuition. Trying to keep up as you guide us through the darkness into the light is difficult, at times. But difficulty is what I signed up for when I first met you, all those years ago.”
Richtofen smirked, patting Schuster on the back, “I knew I could count on you, old friend. When this is all over, you will get the rest und relaxation you so surely deserve.”
The pair had trudged through a short patch of mud before arriving at the village square, with architecture adorned with local art and symbols carved into the stone. As they arrived, they could hear scuffling and yelling just around the corner of a home.
Richtofen and Schuster sprinted to discover the source of the commotion. A group of villagers were surrounding the head of the mining operation from Der Riese, who was tugging at the hand of a young boy from the village, as a man who appeared to be his father was yelling in limited English to let him go.
As Richtofen approached the crowd, they took notice of his arrival and cleared a path before kneeling in respect. They were now silent, aside from the father’s cries and the boy’s struggling.
Richtofen jovially approached the situation, “Gentlemen! What seems to be the problem, Herr Meier?”
The miner continued to grip the boy’s arm tightly, responding to Richtofen as he held him in place.
“There’s a frayed wire attached to the generator that needs replacing. But it’s deep in the rock and we need someone small to reach in and replace it.”
Edward tapped his finger to his lips, “Hm, that seems quite reasonable. And you, sir, what is the problem?”
Richtofen pointed to the father, now kneeling as well with his hands together, begging Richtofen to free his son.
“Please... my son... no work... danger! Danger!”
The voices returned to Richtofen's head, “Will you allow these simple beings to trample over you? Convince them to listen to your will.”
Richtofen replied to the father calmly, “Living in a jungle with Element 115 and men rising from the dead is already quite dangerous, no? Surely the boy can handle this task.”
The man began to cry, bowing his head as he continued to plead, “Please! Please! Please!”
Meier shook his head, speaking directly to Richtofen now, “This one has refused to cooperate before. I say you tell them to follow our demands, or we will never get anything done! Explain to him I’m taking the boy.”
Richtofen paused for a moment, reviewing Meier’s words carefully. He turned his body to face Meier, and approached him robotically, coming close enough to his face that he could feel the warmth of his breathing. He was a few inches taller than Meier and looked down on him with a stone-faced expression as he gripped his shoulders tightly. Meier became visibly uncomfortable, averting his gaze downwards towards the sobbing man. Richtofen spoke softly so he, and he alone, could hear.
“They... are not our slaves. They are willing laborers, und they answer to me, just like you .”
He squeezed tighter on Meier’s shoulders, his breath hitting his face.
“Why do they answer to me, you ask? Do they fear me? No. They respect me. They can see that I will lead them on a path to greatness. They see that I am their savior. Let me command my people. You... should return to your work in the mine, where you belong. Am I understood?”
One of the voices creeped in, “Bravo, old boy.”
Now sweating at the forehead, Meier nodded his head in submission, as Richtofen released him and turned back with a smile on his face to the father, who was still muttering to himself and his son through the tears.
“Alright, calm yourself! Let us form a deal, shall we? Herr Meier will still use your son for this very, very important task. But, you can take off work for the day. Ja? No work today! How fun! How does that sound?”
The villager shook his head, “No! No! No work! Please!”
Richtofen seemed perplexed by the fatherly attachment to the boy, a feeling he could not relate to.
“Really? I thought that was a fair offer, myself. I would have taken it!”
The man was still kneeling and begging, eyes red with tears. Meier was visibly shaken and removed from the conversation. Schuster watched silently.
Richtofen paced back and forth for a few moments, before making a final offer, “Hm... ah! How about the boy does not work in the mines, but you solve this little problem und work for longer periods throughout the next couple of days? Hm? No work for the boy, the lucky little brat, und you will pick up his slack.”
The villager hesitantly nodded, finally standing from his position and taking the now released boy to his side.
“Thank you. Richtofen.”
Richtofen grinned, waving to the father and the boy, “ Bitte ! Send the boy running home, now, Herr Meier will need your help with this wire situation.”
Meier hesitated for a moment about speaking up, but did so anyway, “How are we supposed to replace the wire? That's why I needed the boy!”
Richtofen placed one hand on Meier’s shoulder gently, though still provoking him to flinch.
“I’m sure you will figure it out, Herr Meier. Goodbye.”
Meier and the father stood silent for a moment, before Meier led the two of them to the mineshaft’s entrance, stepping inside the torch-lit hole. Richtofen looked at Schuster, pumping his fist into the air.
“Now that, Doctor Schuster, is how you run an organization!” Richtofen chuckled to himself.
“That was... impressive, Doctor. Both parties seemed... satisfied.”
“Follow my example, and one day, when we’ve unlocked the MPD’s powers und I can safely retire, it will be you in my boots giving all of the orders.”
“Me? I don’t know what to say, Doctor. I was beginning to think you did not think me capable of leading a project.”
“Of course I do, Baron! I had hoped you would not take Groph’s assignment as head of Griffin Station as an insult to your leadership ability. I simply wanted to avoid the appearance of nepotism, as you are a dear friend of mine!”
“Of course not, Doctor. Eh... thank you. I appreciate all that you’ve done. The station, this... jungle is simply breathtaking.”
The crowd around them was now dispersing as they trekked down the hill towards the ruined temple, now the entrance to another set of mines.
“All you need, Herr Schuster, is confidence! Confidence und assertiveness. Everyone responds well to these traits. Soldiers, laborers, scientists... we are all ready to serve the needs of others with the right leadership to light the way.”
“I will certainly work on that when I have the chance. Perhaps I will try it with these mercenaries you’ve hired?”
“Hm... ja, that could work.”
Up ahead a few meters was a soldier, sitting down on a stone sunk in the mud, smoking a cigarette, his German MP-40 resting against a tree. Schuster began to pick up his pace, moving ahead of Richtofen, eager to exploit his newfound confidence. Richtofen felt the urge to stop him, but the voices prevented him, “Let him go, Edward. How else will he learn?”
Schuster called out to the soldier as he approached, “You there, uh, sir. How many undead attacks have there been in the past forty-eight hours?”
The mercenary continued to puff smoke, looking at Schuster with confusion and then contempt.
“Erm, did you hear me? Can you answer the question? You don’t seem to be doing much right now-”
He stood up from the stone, now visibly taller than Schuster, and his build much more intimidating than it had seemed before. Schuster seemed uneasy and frightened.
Richtofen had now caught up with them, and jovially wrapped his arm around Schuster.
Richtofen let out a mood-lightening chuckle, “ Doktor Schuster ist mein Freund hier, er war nur neugierig geworden, bezüglich der Angriffe durch die Untoten, die vor Kurzem stattgefunden haben. ”
Schuster interjected, “Oh my, I, uh, apologize, I mean, es tut mir leid . Ich bin Doktor Schuster -“
The soldier raised his hand towards Schuster, instructing him to stop speaking before replying, “Three, perhaps four attacks in the past forty-eight hours. Doktor Richtofen, we need more supplies, und certainly a higher payment for such work.“
“Ah, ja , of course, thank you for bringing this to me personally... I will see that your shipment is doubled, und your wages are... improved.“
The mercenary tossed the cigarette into the mud before wrapping the strap attached to his weapon around himself, “The rest of the men are down below. The miners have begun blasting.“
Richtofen bowed, replying, “Danke, comrade!“
Richtofen guided Schuster forward until they were near the mine’s entrance, where another mercenary stood guard. The facade of the mine was held up by wooden scaffolding, and the interior was lit by gas lamps for many meters before the tunnel branched. Placed in the dirt leading outside was a set of rails for carts to transport ore, particularly 115.
Richtofen patted Schuster’s back, smiling as he did so.
“A noble attempt, Mr. Schuster, but some nuts are harder to crack than others, to speak metaphorically. You must remember these men are not loyal to our cause. They are only loyal to the man handing them their Reichsmarks , which happens to be me. Give them time, und perhaps they will understand what we are working towards. Then, maybe they would work for free... But probably not ...“
Schuster replied, “I may have been a bit overzealous. Surely, they will come to know me as I continue my work here and at Griffin Station. No need to rush these things.“
Richtofen halted as the voices began to whisper in his ear, drawing his attention towards the end of the mine shaft.
Then came the eruption of echoed gunshots and screaming from inside. The man standing near the entrance motioned for them to stay back before pointing the weapon into the sparsely-lit mine. From inside, the screams grew louder before a set of lights from mining helmets cut through the darkness. The men scattered once they reached sunlight, heading for the secure radio station outside the village. Inside the cave there were flashes from the barrels of automatic weapons, and more boots as a set of armed mercenaries ran towards the light. Amongst them were village laborers, defending themselves with the help of pickaxes and hammers. They all formed a defense around the entrance, pushing Richtofen and Schuster back as they prepared for an attack.
From inside the mine there was unnatural screaming and snarling. A set of figures passed by a gas lamp, one even knocking it to the ground as they lumbered forward. They could hardly be seen by Richtofen through the crowd within the dark cave, but he could see the dim lights of their eyes, completely void and dead-set on reaching sunlight.
The man from uphill came running down, followed by two more mercenaries, faces red and sweat dripping. He took aim with the others and crouched in formation. The lamps in the tunnel began to fade as they were blotted out by the beings inside.
The first one came into view, head first. Its skin was grey and covered in muck, the skin around its jaw decomposed. Its bare body was covered in tattoos and splotched with various bumps and lesions where maggots lived. Its yellow pants were torn revealing bone poking through skin and muscle. It swung its veiny, thin arms, attempting to pounce as it entered daylight before an anonymous gunman tore a hole in its chest, knocking it back. It was quickly trampled as two more, equally rotten and disgusting corpses, charged forward. The surplus of ammunition proved to be enough to hold them at bay for now.
A stray bullet impacted a gas lamp near the entrance, cutting out the last available light to spot the attackers. It seemed almost endless, as the trained professionals fired in shifts, taking note of each other's ready status. Another stray bullet created a loud ping as it bounced off of a metal rail, creating a spark which ignited the gas dripping from the hanging lamp. A few in the center of the horde were now burning at their legs, revealing a pile of corpses beneath and the empty tunnel to their rear.
As Richtofen watched in awe, he heard the whispering voices return, which drew him away towards the ground beneath him. He was shaken by the tugging of something at his ankle. There was a filthy, brown and grey hand wrapped around him, and the ugly, terrorizing face of its host, snarling as it pulled itself through the shallow mud.
With the attention of everyone else drawn towards the mine, they had not noticed the riser. Richtofen moved swiftly, pulling from his bag a small, relatively dull knife, leaning down and shoving it into the wrist of his attacker as he used his other leg to stomp on the wound. It grew angrier, rearing its head back as it came out of the dirt. Richtofen continued repeatedly stabbing shallow wounds into the wrist, but it showed no sign of easing off. It pulled Richtofen’s body to the ground, and as he struggled, he toppled over.
Schuster attempted to stomp on the zombie's arm to release its grip, with little success. Edward’s screams were silent compared to the hail of gunfire.
The beast’s ravenous face grew still as the metal point of a pickaxe shot through the top of its skull to the bottom of its jaw. Its wielder was a village laborer who left the tool in place, before prying the fingers off of Richtofen’s boot. Through the haze of adrenaline, Richtofen could see the outstretched hand of the man, a tattoo of a black sun on his chest. He took his hand, rising to his feet as gunfire ceased.
“Mein Gott , thank you, I would have-“
As the villager kneeled to the ground to worship him, Richtofen could now see the festering wound in the man’s neck. He also noticed the shakiness of his hands and heavy breathing before coming face to face with his bloodshot eyes. As the group of mercenaries began to disperse in search of more undead, the laborer began to lower further, fainting onto the ground, barely even alive.
Richtofen cocked his head around to the men around him, who were paying no mind to the dying man.
He knelt down, examining the wound, gaping and filled with pus.
“That is... quite large.“
With no one paying any mind to them, Richtofen raised his voice, “Will anyone get this man to the barracks?! He needs medical attention! This is surely infected!“
He had drawn the attention of two other laborers, who arrived and attempted to keep the man alive as they dragged him away.
Richtofen and Schuster were now left shaken standing in the middle of all the chaos. Edward looked at his blade, stained red with aged blood, before resting his arms at his side and turning to Schuster.
“It appears we will not be touring the mine.“
Schuster’s complexion was pale and demeanor like that of a frightened child, “So it seems.“
Edward began heading back up the hill, and Schuster followed in suit. The two men were silent as well as slow in their pace.
The voices chimed in, “Why do you worry your mind with these worthless beings?“
Richtofen muttered to himself, “They were going to just... leave him to die.“
Schuster turned to Richtofen, apparently hearing his statement, “There was nothing that could be done, Edward. His injuries seemed... fatal.“
“What does it matter, Edward? Just another body to the pile. He lived a meaningless life, and he died for you. Take solace in the one useful deed you allowed him to perform.“
In a hushed shout, Richtofen said, “Quiet! Stop tormenting me!“
Richtofen was now gripping the blade’s handle so hard his hand was a bright red.
Schuster sorrowfully replied, “I am sorry, Edward, I didn’t mean to-”
Edward cut him off, “Nein , no, not you... you’ve done nothing wrong.”
Edward paused a moment to calm himself before continuing, “Do you know what they called me during my time at the front? I’m sure you’ve heard the nickname I was given: ‘The Butcher. ’”
“I've heard these rumours, yes.”
“It began as a facetious nickname given to me by General Amsel during my time there, but he and his... men... they transformed it into propaganda. A tool for fear. The occupied peoples on the streets dared not to rebel against the Reich. ‘Beware the Doc .’ The Butcher would torture and tear you apart, with no morality or even a purpose. It is a fate worse than death to be in The Butcher’s hands.”
They had reached a nearby stream, where Edward was crouching down, placing the blade of his knife into the water to wash away the blood.
“Every day I’ve thought about how... ludicrous it all was. I am a man of science. The Butcher should mean nothing to me... as time has passed, however, I’ve begun to wonder if he is truly gone. If perhaps, I am not as innocent as I seem, in my endeavors to do good; To do the right thing.”
He raised himself up, taking a look into the dull blade, before wiping it dry with his coat and placing it back into his bag. Schuster stood silent, listening intently. With nothing further, Richtofen began to head back towards the hill, but was stopped when Schuster asked him a question: “Edward, where did you get a Hitler Youth Knife?”
Edward turned back, sullen-faced, replying simply, “It was a gift.”
He took a moment to respond, “During that time, I was invited to present some of my work in science to a group of Hitler Youth for the week. I was reluctant to, as children und I do not quite get along. At this time, however, I needed to form a strong partnership with members of the Reichstag, und this was the perfect opportunity to prove myself.”
“Was it a gift from the staff?”
“Nein ... there was a boy in the group who had followed my work, only that which was published, of course. He seemed to be the most interested in my presentation, and during my stay with them, he would constantly ask me questions I could not answer. It was a constant barrage of information und details that I did not care for. The boy simply would not leave me to myself. During a trip through Berlin, he confided in me that his father had left to fight in the war, leaving him and his sister with nothing. His father did not seem to care for him very much, denying him a chemistry kit every year for his birthday und physically reprimanding him when he would ask. He wanted to be a Doctor and save lives.”
The sun was beginning to set towards the opposite side of the mountain, reddening the cloudy sky.
“On my last day, the boys created their own knives to use in their scouting trip. The child who had continued to follow me said that I must save as many lives as I can until he can become a Doctor. He came to me with his completed knife, und took from his belt a leather sheath. He had cut into the leather, 'Dr., ...' well, I can’t remember his last name. He was glowing... with this expression of pride und happiness... und when he showed me the sheath... I took it and tossed it aside. He had ruined it, rendering it completely useless, and I told him as much! What a waste of raw material for a barely legible inscription! He ran off in tears, of course. The little brat could not handle the criticism. Since he clearly had no use for the blade anymore, he tossed it to the ground, und I collected it. Now... I mostly use it to spread jam on toast.”
The two men stood silent under the sunset, the buzzing of mosquitoes and chirping of crickets booming in comparison. Schuster searched his mind for words, before turning his body towards the upper hill and pacing towards the barracks.
“The sun is getting low, Doctor.”