Prologue: October 19th, 1813
A massive explosion shook the earth. Everything trembled in its violent wake. Smoke rose up from the city miles into the air, shrouding thousands of people beneath in a great shadow. The shockwave of its sound tore through everything, even the minds and hearts of tens of thousands of French soldiers in the city of Leipzig.
The soldiers were fighting street by street, house by house. They were in a battle with their lives within the grasp of the alliance of Prussia, Russia and Austria and Sweden.
It is 1:00 PM October 19, 1813 and the French Grande Armée fights for its very survival inside the city of Leipzig. It has been days already into the battle and the Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte, had come to the conclusion that it is a losing battle and decided to retreat.
However, the only liberation for the French was the sole bridge across the White Elster River.
A dreaded scream broke through the chaos, "The bridge...! The bridge is down!"
"We have no other way out! There's nowhere to go!" The others cried out in panic and in fear for their lives.
Who wouldn't be? Thousands of enemy soldiers were advancing from the other end of the city.
Thirty thousand men were now stranded in the city. Thirty thousand exhausted, fatigued and demoralized men trapped in a labyrinth of wood and stone. A river stood on one side and on the other was the enemy army intent on their utter destruction.
The destruction of the bridge meant defeat for the French.
Debris. Wood. People. In the thick of the chaotic battle, they all hurled through the air like mere pebbles. Through the explosions and confusions, hysterical shouting and the heavy treading of the soldiers' boots were heard.
Amidst the war torn streets stood Nathalie. With a gray scarf wrapped around her, she stared gravely at the plume of smoke rising from whatever remained of the bridge.
Panic. Confusion. Agitation. With these emotions in hand, everyone ran across the streets. But Nathalie stood still. Without panic. Without confusion. Without agitation. Just there staring at the destruction of the bridge.
"No. no- it can't be," a very soft voice came out of her. It was a voice devoid of hope.
It was understandable. She had been in the devastated and war-torn city of Leipzig for days. The stress and the fatigue she endured must have been intolerable.
"W-what? What the hell just happened?" Holding her musket tighter with both her hands, her face contorted in confusion and fear. Her eyes trembled as she gazed upon the devastation ahead.
"W-W-What the hell just happened to the bridge?!" she once again cried out in a mix of emotions.
"Ugh!... Hey! Where do we go now?" Claire, a friend of Nathalie's, stopped beside her and took deep breaths to quench her need for much needed air.
Nathalie looked back at her. In her eyes reflected the despair and uncertainty of being trapped in the city surrounded by the enemy.
"Where do we head now?" the bespectacled lady asked once again, wiping the sweat off her forehead.
The two young women were in grave danger. Not only was a fierce battle raging around which placed them in harm's way, but they weren't civilians in this war; they were part of the French Grande Armée. They were wearing the same blue-white uniform and shooting the same musket like other Frenchmen.
"Cross the river!" Nathalie said to her friend. After adjusting her shako, she sprinted towards the bridge along with her friend.
"How? H-how are we going to cross that?" Claire asked as she saw the huge river snaking around the city. The river's extend seemed impossible for her to cross no matter how much she thought of it.
"There's no other way than to swim it!" Nathalie shouted at Claire as she pointed at the other bank of the river.
"What?! Are you crazy? We'll drown trying to cross this river!"
"You're a good swimmer! I know you can swim across that!"
In the middle of their discussion, bullets whizzed past their heads. Enemy troops were closing in, shooting at anyone wearing a French uniform.
"Get in the water already!" Nathalie shouted again.
"What about you? You know you're not that good in the water. You might drown trying to cross!"
"That's why I'm going to find a shallower place where I can cross - now go!"
"No! I am not going to leave you here! We will both find a better crossing."
"This is not the time to-"
Before Nathalie could even finish, a cannonball bounced by dangerously close to them. It was so close that the two of them were almost thrown to the ground. The impact cracked and destroyed the cobblestones that made up the road they were standing on. Glass panes from windows of the houses in the vicinity shattered. Splinters of wood sprayed through the open area.
Regaining their balance, the two young women sprinted and, ploughing and shoving their way through the densely packed body of soldiers, made their way to the edge of the river.
By the time they reached their destination, they felt nauseated from the exhaustion.
"Dammit! The enemy is closing in; we need to get out of here now." Nathalie's eyes shook in fear as she saw a column of Prussian and Russian troops closing in from the road some distance ahead.
The enemy had broken through the Grimma Gate earlier and were starting to make ground through the ferocious house to house fighting.
Nathalie and Claire, however, know that it was just a matter of time before the city collapsed to the alliance. They needed to escape.
"Jump now! Jump now!" Claire reached out her hand, convincing Nathalie to jump with her as she stood by the edge of the river.
"Okay, okay! I'll jump! Just help me swim so I don't drown!"
"Good! Now let's go!"
But before she could grab her friend's hand, Nathalie saw a group of Prussians quickly closing in on them.
"Tch!" She knew they would get shot in the back if they swam the river with the enemy this close to them.
"Sorry Claire." Nathalie muttered softly before she pushed her friend over.
She planned to distract the soldiers and give time for Claire to swim across the river safely.
"Wha...?" Before the woman in glasses could even utter a single word, she was already falling towards the water.
"Live on." It was the last word that Claire heard from Nathalie, and the last thing she saw was her friend before everything turned into the splashing of water.
Believing that her friend was safe, Nathalie turned around to see that the enemy was drawing near to her and the other French soldiers. They were surrounded. They had them outnumbered. They were outgunned, yet she remained defiant.
She raised her musket to her shoulder and aimed at the approaching enemy, the concentration in her eyes almost inhuman.
"Let's get this over with."
With these words, Nathalie pulled the trigger. Her story has begun.