WARPATH 1 RUST - 14

Thuringer Wald (Thuringian Forest), Germany

Summer, 1941

"Are you sure we're not lost, Sturmmann?" Obersturmfuhrer Otto Skorzeny, Waffen-SS, groaned as he stared at the thick green trees and rolling mountains around him.

The young, stout enlisted man at the wheel of the rectangular, open air Kubelwagen nodded, keeping his eyes straight ahead on the dirt road. "I assure you, Herr Obersturmfuhrer, this is the correct way to the base."

Skorzeny slowly bobbed his head from side-to-side. "If you say so. I'll be fully convinced when I see it for myself. It's been, what, a half-hour since we saw any sign of civilization?" He turned to the young Sturmmann, Brenmunster was his name. "I pity you poor folk, being stuck on a base in the middle of nowhere. No pubs to go to, or theaters or whorehouses. You must be bored out of your minds . . . if this base does exist."

"It does, Mein Herr. As for entertaining ourselves, we manage."

"I would hope so, Sturmmann." Skorzeny settled back in his seat, feeling the wind blow past his angular features, marred by the jagged scar running from his left ear to his chin. He hoped this wouldn't be a waste of time. The SS and the Wehrmacht drew closer to Moscow every day, and he didn't want to miss out when the Soviet capital fell. Well, whatever the reason they called him here to the forests of Germany, he'd hear it out, and if he decided it was pointless, he'd argue his case that a man of his talents was needed much more at the front. He'd already built up an impressive service record, and figured he could get away with arguing with his superiors more than the average SS Obersturmfuhrer.

Five minutes later, they came to a stop in front of a large rock outcropping with clumps of bushes on either side.

"We are here."

Skorzeny cast a doubtful look Brenmunster's way, then turned back to the outcropping. "Are we? I don't see a base. All I see is a bunch of rocks. We are lost, Sturmmann, or perhaps you are planning to rob me and leave me stranded in the woods?" He chuckled at his own joke.

Brenmunster glanced at him, his face betraying no emotion. The young enlisted man then looked back at the rocks and honked the horn. Two short honks, one long, one short.

A grinding sound came from the boulder, or what had been disguised as a boulder. Skorzeny leaned forward as it rolled to the right, revealing a dark tunnel.

"Ha!" he barked. "Impressive. Now I am very anxious to see this base." Actually, he was more anxious to see what this base contained. The SS wouldn't stick an underground base in the middle of the Thuringer Wald unless they wanted to hide something very, very secret.

The Kubelwagen drove forward. It went down a ramp and into a large, spacious chamber with numerous overhead lights. Several vehicles were parked around him. More Kubelwagens, armored recon vehicles, even a few squat PzKpfw III Ausf A panzers. Skorzeny shifted in his seat, his curiosity increasing.

The Kubelwagen came to a stop. Skorzeny got out and followed Brenmunster to a doorway guarded by two black-uniformed SS men, MP40 submachine guns dangling by their sides. They snapped to attention as Skorzeny stopped in front of them.

"Obersturmfuhrer Otto Skorzeny reporting as ordered."

"Papers," demanded the taller of the two guards.

Skorzeny pulled out his identification and his orders. The guard scanned them, looked up at him with an appraising eye, then examined the papers again.

"All is in order." He handed them back to Skorzeny, then checked Brenmunster's papers. All was in order with him as well.

Brenmunster led him through the door of, it turned out, an elevator. He pressed a button. With a jerk, the elevator descended.

"So where are we going, Sturmmann?"

"I am not at liberty to say, Herr Obersturmfuhrer."

Skorzeny grunted. As though a lowly enlisted man assigned to a secret SS base would tell him anything useful. Brenmunster had resisted all his attempts to pry any information from him on the way here. Why would he relent now?

The elevator halted, causing Skorzeny to sway a bit. Brenmunster opened the door, which revealed a corridor with stone walls and overhead lights. Roughly twenty meters away on the left side, two SS guards stood near a door.

"I take it that's where I am to go?" He pointed at the guards.

"Jawohl, Mein Herr."

Skorzeny stepped out of the elevator, then turned back to Brenmunster. "Are you not coming?"

"Nein." Brenmunster shook his head. "I have other duties to perform."

Skorzeny feigned disappointment. "Ach, just when I was getting used to the pleasure of your company. Oh well, good day to you, Sturmmann."

"And to you, Herr Obersturmfuhrer." Brenmunster clicked his boot heels together and snapped his hand up.

Skorzeny returned the salute just as the elevator doors closed. He whirled around and strode toward the two guards. After presenting his papers again, the more muscular guard opened the door the door for him. He walked into a rather Spartan office with a metal desk, filing cabinets, a safe in the corner, and a red and black Nazi banner hanging on the wall opposite him.

The d├ęcor quickly became an afterthought when Skorzeny noticed who sat behind the desk. His eyes widened at the thin man with a drawn face, small lips, glasses, and black uniform.

"Herr Reichsfuhrer." Skorzeny's right arm shot out in typical Nazi fashion. "Obersturmfuhrer Otto Skorzeny reporting as ordered."

Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, returned the salute. "Yes, I've been expecting you. Have a seat."

Once Skorzeny took the lone seat in front of the desk, Himmler continued, "I imagine you are wondering why you have been summoned here?"

"I have been wondering that since I woke up this morning, Herr Reichsfuhrer. But given the rather isolated location of this base, and the secrecy surrounding it, I can only imagine it is something of great importance."

"Very astute of you, Herr Obersturmfuhrer." A thin smile crossed Himmler's lips. "Then again, judging by your file I expected nothing less." He flipped open a manila folder on the desk. "You have served Das Reich with distinction in Austria, Yugoslavia and the Russian Front. Your superiors have lauded you for your bravery, your ingenuity, and your inherent leadership abilities. You are precisely the man we need to lead a very special, and very unique, mission."

Skorzeny drew a slow breath, excitement flowing through him. He slid closer to the edge of his seat. "What sort of mission is it?"

Himmler folded his hands on his desk. "Several months ago, the forces of Das Reich were poised to invade England. Unfortunately, Goring's Luftwaffe was unable to destroy the Royal Air Force and obtain air superiority over the country. As a result, the invasion was called off. But Der Fuhrer has not abandoned his desire to bring that soggy little island under our heel. He has been exploring other options to conquer England, and here at this base, it appears we may have it."

Skorzeny furrowed his brow. "How so?"

Himmler chewed on his lower lip for a moment. "Perhaps it would be best if I show you. If I simply told you, you might think me a madman."

Curiosity buzzed through Skorzeny. He got up just a couple moments after Himmler rose to his feet, his heartbeat picking up. A secret base, new talk of invading England, and Reichsfuhrer Himmler himself involved in the plan.

Ah, Otto. Look at the opportunity that's fallen into your lap.

He smiled as he followed Himmler into the hallway. They turned left and went down another corridor, the SS guards in tow.

"I take it your Luger is loaded?" Himmler asked him.

"Jawohl." He patted the pistol on his hip. "Always."

"Gut. You probably won't need it, but still, it never hurts to be prepared."

Skorzeny mulled over Himmler's words. What could they be doing down here where he might need his pistol to defend himself? It only served to heighten his curiosity and excitement.

They soon arrived in an enormous cavern, the floor smoothed out, likely by engineers. To Skorzeny's right he noticed a large open elevator, big enough to carry a panzer. To his left was a round steel door, like the kind one would expect to see at a bank vault. Four SS guards flanked it.

After presenting their papers, one of the guards picked up a phone attached to the rock wall.

"Guard post here. Prepare for visitors. Codeword, Hyperborea." After several seconds of silence, the guard nodded. "Jawohl." He replaced the phone and turned back to Skorzeny, Himmler and their guards. "Stand back, please."

The group took several steps back. The massive steel door swung open. Himmler walked inside, Skorzeny two steps behind him.

The vault was wide with a curved, stone ceiling. He counted roughly two dozen men, some SS, some wearing white lab coats. Scientists, perhaps? Some of those scientists stood behind consoles with a variety of dials and knobs and levers, and large cables running from them to . . .

Skorzeny's face scrunched in puzzlement. Before him stood a wooden structure that resembled a wardrobe. The biggest wardrobe he'd ever seen. One so big you could drive a panzer through it.

"So?" Himmler turned to him, looking bemused. "What do you think?"

Skorzeny shook his head. "With all due respect, Herr Reichsfuhrer, I have even more questions than when I arrived. Why would you build such a large wardrobe and hide it in an underground base in the middle of Thuringer Wald?"

"Actually, we did not build it. We only expanded the original design. As for why we must keep this hidden, you shall see." Himmler looked to a scientist by one of the consoles. "You there. Fetch us some winter coats."

"Jawohl, Herr Reichsfuhrer." The pudgy, balding scientist hurried off into a small chamber. Less than a minute later he reappeared with four heavy white coats.

Skorzeny held his coat in front of him. Why would they need this? It wasn't that cold down here.

Himmler and the guards put on their coats. Skorzeny sighed, shrugged, and did the same.

"Now, Herr Obersturmfuhrer, prepare to be amazed." Himmler turned to a scientist at another console. "Open it."

"Jawohl." The scientist pulled down a lever. Within seconds the two large doors of the wardrobe swung open. Skorzeny stared into a maw of darkness.

"Let's go," said Himmler.

The two guards went in first, vanishing into the blackness. Himmler followed. Skorzeny tried to keep pace, but slowed a bit. Tingles of fear went through him, fear of the unknown. Something wasn't right about this. Why would they need winter coats and guards to walk into a wardrobe, and why make one so large?

Curiosity overcame his fear. That and the fact he would never appear to be a coward in front of anyone, especially the leader of the SS.

Holding his breath, he strode into the wardrobe.

Darkness overwhelmed him. He kept walking, listening to the footsteps of Himmler and the two guards ahead of him. Their boots thumped on the wooden floor. Skorzeny locked on the sound, trying to judge the distance from . . .

Crunch.

He raised an eyebrow. That was not a sound he expected from anyone walking on a wooden floor.

He heard the soft crunch again, and again. What the hell could it be?

Something crunched under his boot. He stopped, furrowed his brow, and bent down. He ran a hand along the floor, feeling something granular and cold.

Snow?

Skorzeny looked up. He noticed light ahead. Sunlight? How could that be so far below the surface?

He rose and continued forward, his hand hovering by his Luger.

Pine trees suddenly appeared around him. In fact, an entire snow-covered forest stretched before him. Ten meters away in a little clearing stood a lamppost.

He couldn't keep his jaw from dropping. "Mein Gott," he whispered.

"It is rather . . . jarring, isn't it, Herr Obersturmfuhrer?" Himmler clasped his hands behind his back and just looked around the forest, showing not a single sign of shock.

"I don't . . . how is this possible? This can't be Thuringer Wald. It is summer. There would be no snow on the ground."

"This is not Thuringer Wald." Himmler turned back to him. "This is not even Germany, or even Earth."

Skorzeny stared at him, slowly blinking his eyes. Not Earth? Then where could they be? He tried to ask the question, but shock froze his vocal cords.

Get a hold of yourself, Otto. You are SS. Act like it.

He drew a breath and stood ramrod straight, hoping he'd forced all the astonishment off his scarred face. "Where are we, Herr Reichsfuhrer?"

"We are in another land. A land called Narnia."

"Narnia? Where is that?"

Himmler smiled briefly. "The answer to that question would possibly confuse you, if you asked one of the scientists back there." He nodded toward the mouth of the wardrobe, if it could even be called that now. "In simplest terms, Narnia seems to reside in another plane of existence, or what the scientists call a parallel world."

"You mean, like another planet?"

Himmler worked his jaw back and forth. "Yes and no. It is not like the planets we know, say Mars or Venus. It exists in another dimension, side-by-side with our world, only we cannot see it. Until now."

Himmler walked ahead, Skorzeny following. They came to a small rise overlooking a snowy valley that stretched to the horizon.

Skorzeny gaped and slowly shook his head. "How . . . how did you find out about this place?"

"It was during our invasion of Poland. An SS squad came across it in the home of a university professor in Wroclaw. They entered the wardrobe thinking there could be Jews hiding in there. Instead they discovered this." Himmler extended his hand toward the snowy horizon.

"So what do we know about this Narnia?"

"Quite a bit. When the SS interrogated the Jew professor who used to own the wardrobe, he refused to cooperate. The stubborn little vermin held out for quite a while. Then our people brought in his family. They shot his wife in the head, and threatened to do the same to his daughters."

Skorzeny grinned. "So I imagine that helped loosen the Jew's tongue."

"You are correct. We learned a great deal about Narnia from him, especially about its inhabitants."

Inhabitants? Now he understood why Himmler asked him if his Luger was loaded. So he could defend himself against whoever lived in Narnia.

"There are people like us here," Himmler continued. "But also all manner of creatures, creatures we had always believed to be made up. Minotaurs, centaurs, gryphons, dwarves. Even animals familiar to us like horses and bears and wolves are not as we know them on our world."

"How so?"

"They can talk."

Skorzeny drew back his head in surprise. Talking animals? Mythical creatures? Had the Reichsfuhrer told him this back in his office, he would have thought the man insane. But after going through a wardrobe and setting foot on another world . . . well, how far-fetched could things like centaurs and talking bears be?

"So what are our plans for Narnia? Does Der Fuhrer intend to conquer it?"

"Not at the present time. Though I'm sure one day Narnia will be made part of Das Reich. For now, Der Fuhrer is focused on the conquest of England."

"And what does Narnia have to do with that, if anything?"

A thin smile creased Himmler's narrow face. "Oh, Narnia has much to do with that, Herr Obersturmfuhrer. You see, we learned from the Jew professor that his cabinet is not unique. There are others like it throughout the world, and one of them happens to be in England."

Skorzeny's eyes widened. Everything started falling into place. "So instead of crossing The Channel and having to deal with the RAF and the Royal Navy, we can simply send our forces through that other wardrobe, right under the collective noses of the British."

"Exactly," said Himmler. "But before we can dispatch an invasion force, we need the route from our wardrobe to the one in England scouted, and then learn where exactly in England the other wardrobe is. That's where you come in Obersturmfuhrer Skorzeny. I want you to assemble a small reconnaissance unit. You can hand-pick your men, and whatever resources you need will be at your disposal."

Skorzeny's chest swelled. "Danke, Herr Reichsfuhrer. I consider this mission an honor, and I will succeed."

"I have no doubt you will. That is why I selected you."

"Again, Danke." Skorzeny nodded. "And since you said I can have any resource I desire, may I request that I interrogate the Jew professor you took this cabinet from?"

Himmler sighed. "Unfortunately, Herr Obersturmfuhrer, that is one request I cannot grant you. The Jew and his daughters were sent to a camp and, well, they are not available to anyone . . . ever."

"Ah, I see." A tinge of disappointment went through him. Sure, that meant three less Juden in the world. Certainly not a bad thing. But it would have been nice to pick the professor's brain before he became part of "The Final Solution."

"Do not worry," Himmler said. "The professor did not leave us empty-handed. In the safe in my office I have a map, hand-drawn by the Jew professor. It is rather crude, but it shows the route from this wardrobe to the one in England. The distance is between one hundred-ten to one hundred-thirty kilometers. It will be up to you to determine the best paths to take, any obstacles in the way, and any potential dangers from the Narnians. Once you reach the other wardrobe, you are to enter it and learn layout of the mansion and its grounds on the other side. When you return, we shall assemble our invasion force and send them through."

Skorzeny stared back out at the snow-covered valley. A smile formed. Soon, very soon, England would fall to Das Reich, and he would have a hand that conquest.

TO BE CONTINUED

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Otto Skorzeny is an actual historical figure. He is considered one of the greatest commandos in modern warfare, his accomplishments including the rescue of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, the kidnapping of the son of the Regent of Hungary, and behind-the-lines operations against Allied Forces during the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he escaped from a prison camp and made for South America, where he befriended Juan and Evita Peron and was part of a secret cabal of ex-Nazis called ODESSA.

As for the ranks used in this story, Obersturmfuhrer translates to Senior Storm Leader, the SS equivalent of a lieutenant. Sturmmann translates to Storm Trooper and would be the SS equivalent of a corporal. The Kubelwagen was basically the German military's version of the Jeep during World War II. The Wehrmacht was the German Army in World War II. Hyperborea, according to Nazi mysticism, was one of the ancient homes of the Aryans, located in the Arctic.