Tarnished Perceptions is an indirect sequel to the events of the Subterfuge Chronicles, picking up the story from Vamana Uldericks, the day after he entered his report on Target Alpha, on November 19th 2116. The events play out in a far more ordered style than the previous instalment, following a set uniform chronological pattern from the same view point. Once again it is done in 4 parts, with each one being a separate chapter in the short story.
It is set within the European Commonwealth, 6 years after the Sector was taken over by the morally dubious Vallarie Administration, exploring their peculiar ties with insurgent factions as well as their intetions for the world stage.
CONTAINS COARSE LANGUAGE, VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL REFERENCES
Chapter 1 - Subterfuge
A pallid skinned man stared across the fields, his bleach white hair illuminated by the pale moonlight, as he patiently waited for the quarry to arrive. His associates were due to land shortly and arrange for his transfer to the capital. He was outfitted entirely in grey: a light grey nondescript jacket, dark grey trousers and a pair of steel coloured boots, that were adorned with pale grey laces.
The dull roar of a jet engine could be heard in the distance. The smartly dressed insurgent retrieved a pair of binoculars from his jacket pocket and brought them to his scarlet red eyes. He smiled briefly as he the familiar markings that were displayed on the aircraft. That of a stylised hawk, heraldic symbol of the Vallarie Administration. However, Vamana noticed an additional signet on the tail of the approaching jet, that of a smaller bird which was resemblant of the Vallarian Hawk. It was off colour from the standard design, with the striking gold that usually adorned the body of the majestic symbol, replaced with faded violet.
This was an unexpected development.
He lowered the binoculars before carefully slotting them back into his jacket. After doing so, he withdrew a handgun from the same item of clothing as well as a clip of ammunition. He slotted the cartridge into the black pistol and prepared it for operational use, while examining its design. Satisfied with the weapon, he clicked the saftey off and tapped the inside of his ear.
"Agent 08, bring your team closer to the landing zone. It appears Target Alpha has deployed an airctaft of unknown intent to rendezvous at our position. Markings do not corolate with our instructions," he spoke clearly.
A small portion of static began to buzz in his ear, as the earpiece awaited a response.
"Understood, Agent 01. We shall perpare for hostile engagement," the disembodied voice, of the man identified as Agent 08, replied.
Vamana gritted his teeth. He didn't like it when Claude's intetions were unclear. He knew that was when the man was at his most dangerous.
The aircraft was much closer now as it entered into the final stages of the descent and the sound from the jet engines was almost deafening. Vamana kept his handgun firmly in the grip of his right hand as he continued to observe the approaching vehicle. As the wheels began to touch down he turned to check his left flank, and made a quick motion with his hand, indicating to the team to move in closer. He would not let himself be intimdated by Claude's deviation from his own instructions.
Agent 08 and his team became visible as the plane came to a halt. He was well built man, with piercing green eyes. It was clear that the team consisted of eight members. All of them wore the same clothing, the grey suited uniform of the Global Worker's Union. All of them carried a sub-machine gun (each was curiously adorned with the Vallarian Hawk), save for Agent 08 who was training a black handgun on the Vallarian aircraft with his left hand, while holding a peculiar light source in his right. He immediately made his way to the primary entrance of the aircraft. Vamana remained a calculated distance behind him. The rest of the team surrounded the vehicle, forming a loose octagon.
"Vallarian personnel! You shall identify yourself to the Blessed Worker's Elemental Group or be subject to termination," bellowed Agent 08.
The hatch suddenly opened, the door hinging downwards to reveal a small series of steps. Dominating the frame of the hatchway was a black haired, sharply dressed man, resplendant in a luxurious suit. A smirk had etched itself across his chisled face and he motioned to speak.
"Come, come my friends! Such hostility! I dissaprove so greatly," he spoke jovially, "put down your weapons and swear fealty to your true lord!"
Agent 08 tapped into his personal comms link to his leader.
"Permission to shoot this fool, Agent 01?" he asked
"Granted, Agent 08," Vamana responded.
He motioned his team to form around him, before issuing a command verbally.
"Ready your weapons!" he bellowed, "take aim!"
They all obeyed instantenously, training their guns on the target.
"Now, now," the mysterious man spoke once more, "I doubt that would be a wise investment of your time. Before you shoot, may a dying man have a final request?"
A woman appeared behind the suited man, outfitted in a striking red dress of fine Indian silk. She wore a red veil, that hid her facial features.
"A kiss from this fine maiden?" he asked sweetly.
Vamana gritted his teeth. He didn't like being played like this. At first he thought that Claude had carefully chosen this arrogant oaf to baffle and bewilder him. Then he reasoned he could be a diversion, merely buying time for the main man himself to arrive. Regardless, he had his own protocols to follow. Termintation of unauthorised personnel was deemed a top priority.
The suited man turned his attentions away from the hostile forces and towards the lady who was accompanying him. She kissed him briefly on the cheek.
Vamana was getting tired of these theatrics.
"Agent 08!" he shouted, "duly ignore the actions of the targets and elminate both of them."
"Alas you have made a grave mistake, dear children!" the suited man bellowed, stifling a laugh.
The air shifted slightly, almost as if it had been displaced for a fraction of a second.
Vamana felt something cold and metalic portrude into the back of his neck, followed by a jarring click that resonated throught his skull.
"That would be a grave mistake, Mr Uldericks," a shrewd, feminine voice carefully and quietly pronounced, "to disrespect our Lord like that. I kindly request you drop the gun."
Vamana quivered with an emotion he scarcely recognised. It was simple, primeval, fear. He knew the voice. It was very familiar to him. But it was impossible. His agents had scanned the area. No activity for miles around. She couldn't possibly have managed it. She shouldn't, physically be standing behind him.
The weapon suddenly dropped to the ground, making a sharp clanging noise as it struck the concrete of the runway.
"Now, gentlemen," the man coyly said, "you can choose to try and shoot me if you wish. But I appear to have secured a rather quick checkmate."
He smirked once again, as he lifted his hand and pointed in the direction of Vamana.
The young woman was standing there behind the terrorist, the handsome features of her face now no longer covered by a veil, long blonde hair flowing down to meet the straps of her red dress. In her hands she held, in the most graceful manner she could manage, a fully loaded shotgun. It was firmly placed against the terrorist's skull.
"Miss Christelle has kindly taken your leader as, how you primitive vagabonds would put it, a hostage," he burst out, barely refraining himself for laughing.
Horror struck the faces of the BWEG members. Agent 08 looked particularly aghast at the situation. For there was their leader, their beloved Agent 01, kneeling on the ground at the mercy of the monarch of Sector IV.
"Now I shall ask you politely once more. Please put down your weapons while I am still feeling kind," he quietly said, more gravely, the laughter now excised from his voice, "or you shall find yourself in a very similar situation,"
Agent 08 was unsure at what to do. He had never been outmanoeuvred like this before. Everything his dear leader had planned had always worked out to the letter before. Now, not only was the plan compromised, his very instructor was cut off from issuing him any more commands. Desperate times called for desperate measures.
"I surrender!" he shouted, "we all surrender. Blessed Workers, put down your weapons. Clearly this man has a tactical advantage over us. We cannot win if he was able to secure Agent 01 without a single bullet being fired."
He threw his handgun to the runway, as the glow that was emanating from his right hand ceased.
"I see some of you are not as stupid as you look. This man is wise, Agent 01. You should promote him. If not, I feel I could do with a man with his sharp perceptiveness. He would most definitely be a worthwhile investment," the suited man taunted, "Fire elementals are always very useful."
The rest of the team cautiously followed suit, but instead they carefully placed their automated weapons onto the ground.
"And just who the hell do you think you are!?" Vamana snapped angrily.
He was kicked to the floor by the firm boot of Miss Christelle.
"DO NOT SPEAK OUT OF TERM!" the man roared, enraged that his gloating had been marred, "FILTY CUR!"
"Should I silence this whelp?" Stephanie enquired in a playful manner.
"No good woman. For as tempting as it may be, he is still useful. Claude would not be best pleased to see the demise of such an interesting associate, and I do not wish to hamper the plans of an investment as brilliant as him," he cryptically spoke.
The man finally decided it was time to exit the aircraft and speak with his intended acquisition at a more personal level.
"Agent 08, where do your loyalties lie?" he questioned.
"To Agent 01 and the glorious cause!" was the reply given by the soldier.
"That is very rigidly defined and clear cut. I admire such clarity," the suited man said plainly.
He winked at Agent 08 before proceeding over to Vamana. He crouched down to look directly into the eyes of the restrained man. Stephanie kept her boot firmly on his back, the shotgun still aimed at the base of his skull.
"Now see here, Vamana Uldericks," he spoke very quietly, "I do not appreciate being greeted by such a poor excuse for an ambush. In future you shall refrain from such activities, if you continue to value your breathing privileges. This is not a threat. It is a warning."
Vamana meekly nodded as the suited man rose up from his crouched position. He turned to look at his female subordinate.
"Your Majesty, I feel our point has been made. Kindly step off of Agent 01." he commanded.
Stephanie removed her boot from Vamana's spine and stepped back a metre. The shotgun remained trained on the insurgent's head. The suited individual put out a hand for Vamana that was quickly taken. He pulled the bedraggled Agent 01 to his feet before placing the same arm around the shoulder of the terrorist.
"Now come with me, old chap," he spoke in a more friendly manner, "don't you want to know who you've really been working for?"
A small smile crept onto Vamana's face. He knew when he was beat. Part of him hated this arrogant being, but the other part admired his audacity and sense of control. It was inspiring. He promised himself he would manage the same one day. He changed his tone to suit the new atmosphere that the situation demanded.
"Yes, I am most curious," he spoke slyly, "I assume dearest Claude is waiting for us, and that he is well aware of the situation?"
The man smiled back at his newest acquaintance. He realised he was going to be a good direct investment.
"Of course," he replied smoothly, "but I shall reveal more in good time. For now, I kindly request you gather your team. We must make haste if we are to make it to the Palace on time. Our esteemed guests shall be arriving soon."
A worthwhile investment indeed.
Claude stared at the data-slate that had been handed to him in disbelief, his long grey hair quivered slightly as he shook with rage.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN... MY WIFE IS MISSING!?" he bellowed at his subordinate.
The man who had handed them the digital report was shivering slightly. He was resplendent in the uniform of a member of the Royal Guard, and he was well aware of the consequences for failure to uphold official duties. A second individual, even more regally dressed and bearing the signet of Captain of the Royal Guard, was standing besides his subordinate.
There was fury in Claude's steel grey eyes. Of all the times this could have happened. Of all the days. It had to be now. His plans had just been sent into utter disarray.
"P-please s-sir I-I c-can expla-" the Royal Guardsman was cut off mid sentence, as his head became detached from his body. Claude had sliced it clean from the man's neck in a mere fraction of a second, with an incorporeal blade formed from the shadows. It hit the floor with a ghastly thud, as blood began to gush from the clean wound that had formed upon the upright carcass of the soldier.
"And captain. You are telling me that the Albraun Jet is unaccounted for... AS WELL!?" he roared.
The body slumped to the floor and leaking blood onto the carpet.
"S-sir, I-I c-can't ex-explain i-it... b-but..." the Captain stammered, clearly frightened after witnessing the beheading, "H-her R-royal Highness j-just vanished... y-yes... vanished from i-in front of my eyes..."
"Now let me think... Did the air appeared to freeze for a brief moment... and then suddenly she was gone?" Claude asked through gritted teeth.
"W-why yes... " the Royal Guardsman meekly exhaled, "how did you guess?"
"It was no guess. It was an informed deduction. Something that a dear colleague of mine would approve of. I know exactly who is responsible for this," the CEO confidently informed his subordinate, "and it is an eventuality that could not be prevented."
The officer bowed to one knee and began to grovel.
"P-please forgive me sire," he barely managed to pronounce
"In this instance I put no blame on your leadership. Your men on the other hand are to be disciplined, after the operation has been completed, for failure to uphold royal duties," Claude commanded.
"Why thank you my most merciful lord," the man spoke, relieved that he would not face a swift death like the one his junior officer had just suffered.
"Now for the love of God man, stand up. You are my captain first and foremost, not just some pitiful servant." he snapped.
The Captain of the Royal Guard arose at his master's command. A small grin appeared at the corner of Claude's mouth as he motioned his right arm out to pat the man on the shoulder.
"And what use would I have for my most valued Captain if he happened to be dead? Especially with what we have planned in store for tonight," Claude laughed.
"Yes, my lord, but how will we manage that given the current situation?" the captain enquired.
"We will just need to improvise! The situation on our end may have changed but we have esteemed guests ready to arrive very soon. We must ensure they are given a welcome they will never forget," Claude maliciously mused, "ready your men and have a small detachment strategically placed within the Royal Atrium."
"Yes, my lord!" the man exclaimed before motioning towards the exit of the control room.
"Also, see to it that the residency of the domestic families is secured and that they are adequately protected" the CEO ordered, "and then rendezvous with my position as soon as I receive word of the location of my missing assets."
"Yes, my lord. But what will you do in the meantime?" the soldier questioned.
"I am going to busy myself with finalising our mission details. Everything needs to be perfect for when our esteemed guests arrive," Claude stated, a smile returning to his face, "and then the fun begins!"
A small passenger jet aircraft entered the Toulouse airspace, gradually transitioning into a descent. The runway was just visible as was the grandiose building that accompanied it. The Holy Commonwealth Palace, the seat of power for Stephanie Christelle herself, Queen of Sector IV.
The pilot of the aeroplane announced their current position over the intercom, "Ladies and gentlemen, we shall be arriving shortly. Please sit down and fasten your seatbelts."
Everyone onboard obliged as soon as they had been instructed, save for one individual, Vamana Uldericks. He had not moved from his seat since he had first sat down and had never removed the harness. His mind was turbulent, buzzing with ideas and countless questions after his lengthy discussions with the mysterious man. He did not like this lack of control over his own thoughts. Thus, he has resorted to an old hobby of his, reading over structural plans of the building where the operation would unfold.
It soothed his mind, and allowed him to dismiss the events that had occured at the Gibraltan Airstrip, while he ran through all eventualities of the mission in his head.
He had already participated in lengthy discussions with Claude about the plan, and Vamana had found it slightly bizarre that the man was not just seeking his counsel, but actually following all of the advice that had been suggested. They had spent days pawing over maps, running through each and every possible outcome. Claude had worked out probabilities while Vamana had deduced the most likely path of action. In the end they had decided eradication of the targets in full was highly improbable, even with more resources and personnel. Thus, it had been agreed upon that the primary objective was to discredit the marks and film all of their actions for the purpose of propaganda.
Vamana smirked briefly. He realised just how dangerous a team the pair of them were, as his meticulous planning meshed with the Claude's impressive adaptability. A fantastic marriage of the strategist and the tactician.
The Holy Commonwealth Palace was now teaming with cameras, carefully placed in strategic locations in every room of the structure. They were ready to film a masterpiece of strategic genius, the downfall of the Ghost_K team.
He could feel the jetliner descending more rapidly, as it finalised its approach onto the runway. Vamana decided now was as good a time as any to fold his map up and prepare for his meeting with Claude. After neatly tucking it into a small pouch, he placed the map of the Palace carefully into his top right pocket. He was anxious to inform his old acquaintance of these recent developments, and reveal how they could be used to improve the plan.
He turned his attentions to the man who had been sitting next to him the entire trip. The man who had told him the wildest of tales and the most incredible hypothesises, divinations of the future coupled with a promise that they would all come true.
What he had been told about the outcome of tonights activities was rather encouraging, but he felt that some information was being witheld. That something undesirable had also been foreseen. It was at that very point that Vamana realised something glaringly obvious. He had been too bewildered and enthralled by this mysterious individual to have enquired beforehand, but his head was beginning to clear as he approached more familiar territory.
"Why, good sir," he piqued up, "I just realised, that you never once did reveal your name. In all of our many conversations, you never once said it, even when you told me of Claude's heritage."
Vamana could hear the landing gear of the vehicle being deployed, while simultaneously the air flaps changed position. The descent was more rapid than it had been before.
"That, my boy, is quite simple," the man chuckled, "you never once asked it!"
The approach to the Royal Airstrip was well lit. Vamana turned to look out of the window briefly before turning back to ask the question.
"Well then, may I enquire to what your name is?" the insurgent chose his words very carefully.
There was a slight pause, and the suited man stared deeply into Vamana's eyes as. Their transportation continued to come closer and closer towards its destination.
"Very well, old chap, you may." he teased.
The wheels of the aircraft started to touch down on the runway, jolting the structure of the vehicle.
"What is your name?" Vamana simply asked, as plainly as he could manage.
The aeroplane began to brake, rapidly reducing its speed as it approached the end of the runway.
"Asiduus Aeviternus!" he exclaimed, with an odd sense of relief, "at your service, good fellow."
Vamana figured that had he not been seated, Asiduus would have likely given a slight bow. He unbuckled his seatbelt, for the vehicle was now stationary, awaiting to be guided out in order to taxi towards the Albraun Hangar.
"Such a fine name, " the terrorist remarked, "but tell me. If you were so freely willing to tell me yours. Why will you not answer my other question?"
A small vehicle approached and latched itself onto the front wheel of the jet, before it started to pull it towards the hangar.
"You mean to tell me that you still wish to know what Claude's real name is?" Asiduus questioned playfully.
The plane halted abruptly once more and the pilot spoke over the intercom once more, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking, we have arrived. Please proceed carefully to the hangar bay to await further instructions."
"Why, yes. He knows mine," Vamana said inquisitively, "it is only fair, and you of all people should know it."
The aircraft's hatchway opened once more, and the noise from the airfield flooded in.
"Well, simply put," began the well dressed man, "I can't say... "
Chapter 2 - Conspiracy
Asiduus Aeviternus was the first to exit the aircraft, stepping down the exit stairs slowly and confidently. He greeted the Royal Guard with a smile and motioned for them to lower their weapons. The Captain of the Royal Guard commanded his men to comply, stood to attention and proceeded to salute Asiduus. The rest of the soldiers quickly followed suit.
"Now this is the kind of greeting I like!" Asiduus exclaimed, "a proper welcome by a fighting force who know what respect is!"
The Captain maintained his status until he saw the second passenger to leave the vehicle, a woman in a flowing red dress. At that point he knelt down on one knee, with his hand placed firmly on the butt of his rifle. Realising who this person was, the Royal Guard immitated the positioning of their leader. Their heads were bowed as their Queen stepped out into the hangar.
"At ease gentlemen!" she commanded, the Royal Guard rose at her command, issuing a brief salute in the process before standing in a more relaxed manner, weapons at their side.
"I assume my husband has been looking for me?" she joked, scanning the perimeter in an attempt to identify him. Nothing. He wasn't visible.
The air shuddered slightly, as if it had suddenly become much colder. The light levels started to drop.
"Yes, Your Royal Highness," the Captain of Royal Guard stated.
Vamana Uldericks was the third person to exit the private jet, quickly moving down to stand alongside Asiduus and Stephanie. He was met with a brief salute, much to his surprise as the members of his personal force started to trickle out of the jet. At the forefront was Agent 08, who led his personnel into a straight line that was perpendicular to their leader. They saluted the Captain out of respect before simultaneously loading their weapons. The click from the guns reverberated throughout the hangar.
"Well, where is he?" Stephanie asked
"I don't know, ma'am... " the officer responded, as all of the lights were suddenly extinguished. Vamana guessed what was about to happen next and a small smile crept onto his face, delighted at the prospect that the man who had humiliated him was about to face retribution.
"Where in deed!?" a voice magnanimously projected. It echoed throughout the vast hangar, and Asiduus shuddered for a fraction of a second. All but one of the BWEG (a woman known as Agent 16) stood steadfast, they had experienced the Teledu's tricks before and were resolutely unfazed.
As the echoes stopped, deranged laughter filled the atmosphere. It was unsettling, but Vamana deemed it tamer than usual. However, it was then that the shadows began to shift into ungodly patterns and horrific shapes. Agent 16 began to shriek in terror at the images while the rest of the BWEG closed their eyes, and inserted earplugs into their ears. Agent 16 began to cry and several of the Royal Guard started to panic as well. She tried to use her powers to conjure light, but Claude's abilities had subjugated the entire area. Vamana was well aware of this nice little nuance and continued to stand beside his employers with a daemonic grin planted firmly his visage, as he hummed Mozart's Requiem to himself.
As the images twisted into more horrific forms, he discovered he was now being held by Stephanie, who clearly had never become used to the charms of her husband and was absolutely terrified at the conjured manifestations. Yet, Vamana knew the theatrics were almost at a close and had also deduced that his ally had done him a favour of sorts, by highlighting the weakness that exited within the ranks of his elite.
Footsteps started to ring out from the darkness. Almost unnaturally the Royal Guard started to move aside to let the presence through. They became louder at every step until they were almost deafening. Vamana's grin broke out into a full blown smile, as he tried to guess what his associate would do to Asiduus.
The noise stopped and the images dissipated. It was pitch black when a sound of a gun being fired was amplified by the acoustics of the hangar. The lights suddenly returned and there was a loud gasp from Agent 16, who was crouched on the ground. Asiduus was lying on the floor, clutching his chest as blood seeped from the area below his hand. However, everyone very quickly turned their attentions towards the figure who had suddenly appeared from the darkness. He was clad in an entirely black suit, complimented with a black shirt, black bow-tie and tinted glasses. In his right hand was a handgun.
He waved the other hand and everyone within the hangar knelt down out of respect. Everyone that is, save for Vamana Uldericks, who had began to applaud his comrade's display.
"I must say, old friend," he burst out, "that was most impressive, even by your standards!"
Vamana started to walk over to greet the man more personally but was interrupted by a second shot from the handgun.
He turned around to see where the bullet had landed, only to see the shattered remains of Agent 16's skull. Her body slumped forwards from the kneeling position she had only just adopted. Blood began to pool from the exit wound. Her long brown hair gracelessly mixed into the red liquid.
"What the fuck did you do that for!?" Vamana shouted, outraged at what had just occurred, "I can understand shooting that pompous fucker, but you just killed one of my top agents!"
"She was a Ghost_K plant," Claude stated coldly, "she had to be terminated. Could have turned on us at any moment."
A look of relief suddenly swept over Vamana's face.
"On the matter of spies," he spoke brazenly, the other personnel within the hangar still firmly kneeling, "I have found one has infiltrated your ranks as well."
Uldericks carefully scanned the Royal Guard until he recognised the Ghost_K informant. The data on him was rather outdated, but the terrorist guessed that this soldier was likely still feeding information back to Ghost_K.
A look of interested cropped up on Claude's face as Vamana carefully withdrew a handgun from his jacket pocket. He started to look for a clip, the suspected informant still within his peripheral vision, and withdrew it from another pouch within his jacket. As Vamana had hoped for, the suspect had started to leap to his feet as he grabbed his firearm.
But the terrorist was faster, as he swiftly threw his own armament to the ground and unleashed a blast of light energy at the target. The intensity of the ray was so strong that the upper torso of the informant was little more than dust. His body collapsed to the floor, instantaneously, with a solid thud.
Claude put down his own gun and holstered it into an internal pocket of his suit. He motioned over to shake Vamana's hand, who promptly reciprocated.
"It's been too long!" the well dressed man burst out, "but we have work to do!"
"Of course, but what of this Aeviternus fellow?" enquired Vamana.
"Let me handle that!" exclaimed Claude jovially, as he knelt down to inspect the other suited individual, "I just need to check if it is actually him or not."
He put his finger on the wrist of the sharply dressed individual and a smile broadened on his face.
"Nice try Asiduus, but I'd already guessed that you must have caught the bullet," Claude said, bemused at the situation.
The injured man suddenly rose from his feigned deathly state and patted his protege firmly on the back. His hands were badly grazed and bloodied. However, the bullet that had been fired at him was clearly visible, as Asiduus held it firmly in the grip of his left hand's finger tips.
"Next time aim for my head!" he riotously bellowed, "Then I'd actually have to put in some effort! Still, your assassination attempts always keep me on my toes."
Claude would have retorted with a comment about how it was his only means of checking whether it was actually the real Asiduus or not, but his attentions were now focused upon his frightened lover.
"Come now dear Stephanie, we have much to arrange," he spoke kindly.
She was on the brink of tears as she expected to see fury in the eyes of the man she loved. She had been fearing what punishment she would face for abandoning him at such a crucial time, and she had envisioned her own execution.
"Please, wipe away those tears," he spoke quietly, "I forgive you."
He held out his hand and pulled her up to her feet, before embracing her in a tender hug. He then let her go, and turned to face his subordinates. In an instant his tenderness was replaced with a righteous fury, as he looked upon his most loyal servants.
"NOW RISE MY LOYAL SUBJECTS!" he roared, "for today great things are afoot!"
All of the room rose to attention, weapons primed.
"For we shall vanquish our foes! The corrupt vigilantes, known as the Global Honoured Organisation Of Specialised Tasks - Unit K, shall face retribution for their crimes and the perceptions that the world has of these villains shall be tarnished for years to come!" he stated justly, "For the glory of the Commonwealth!"
"For the glory of the Commonwealth!" erupted the hangar in tremendous uproar.
Stephanie's hand clasped around his and he raised them both high up into the air.
"For the glory of the Commonwealth!"
They shouted again, in honour of his cause.
"For the glory of the Commonwealth!"
For he was their rightful king.
"For the glory of the Commonwealth!"
Their Monarch of the Shadows.
"For the glory of the Commonwealth!"
And they were his to command.
"FOR THE GLORY OF THE COMMONWEALTH!"
The heart of the operation was centred around the very depths of the Holy Commonwealth Palace. It was essentially a bunker, located 50 metres below the Royal Atrium, with underground paths leading to several key areas that were situated all over the Royal Grounds. One of these pathways provided a direct link to the Royal Airstrip.
It was along this cavernous tunnel that Claude, along with his large number of personnel, marched towards their centre of operations, accompanied by Stephanie, Vamana and Asiduus. The seven surviving members of the BWEG formed the rear guard of the marching forces and they were the last to enter the Royal Sanctuary. By the time they had arrived at it, Claude was already sitting rather contently in his command chair, with Vamana and Vallarie flanking him at a large control console. At the flick of a switch a massive digital display bathed the room in light.
Schematics of the palace, and the plethora of hidden tunnels that fed into it, were projected in a fantastical technicolor fashion that now filled a large segment of the room.
"Captain!" Claude bellowed, "I assume your men are already in position?"
"Of course, they were finalising their duties just as we intercepted the delegation," the Captain of the Royal Guard smirked, before continuing, "and Princess Christelle, as well as the Albraun Family, have been been taken to the Commonwealth Armoury, in accordance to your instructions."
"Excellent!" exclaimed Lasi-Faité.
The captain added, "I have also sent a detachment of ten Royal Guard to act as protectors, should the situation deteriorate. Hopefully they won't see active duty, but as Agent 01 regularly enjoys reminding me: 'It pays to be prepared'."
Vamana nodded with slight approval and Agent 08 allowed a slight grin to cross his lips. He was always amused when he saw just how far his master's influence reached.
"Stellar work, Haster," the CEO spoke more hastily, hoping to move on to the other matters at hand, "you are dismissed. Please join the rest of the Royal Guard in the Atrium."
"Yes, my liege," were the final words the captain uttered as be exited the control room and entered the spiral staircase that led to the Royal Atrium, beginning his long trek to the surface.
"Now, as you can see, I have taken great care to connect every part of the palace neatly together through subterranean links," Claude pointed to the large holographic display.
"At my suggestion," Uldericks interrupted.
"Yes, at your suggestion, Agent 01" the chairman sighed, before continuing, "This allows us hidden access to every and any corner of the Royal Grounds that we desire."
At this point Stephanie piped up, "A secret weapon that will be invaluable in the Royal Guard's destruction of the Guardians. We will be able to move in troops without them realising, and then close in on the Royal Atrium in order to occupy their attentions."
"And," added a keen Vamana, "at the same time it will allow myself, and the BWEG, to eliminate any auxiliary forces the Ghost_K team has brought with them. We will then rendezvous at the Royal Atrium to seal off the escape route of the Guardians."
"As a sort of noose," Agent 08 stated, "one that we are hoping the Chairman and Her Royal Highness will join us in tightening."
"Why of course," the man of the moment plainly said, "I wouldn't want to let you have all the fun, Agent 08."
Claude changed the display to show the profiles of the six "Guardians". Each one showed a full three dimensional body picture and a small blurb detailing their main talents.
"Now, Asiduus," he said, turning to face his mentor "I assume... "
The CEO trailed off as he realised Asiduus was no longer present in the room. All trace of him was gone. He hadn't even felt the atmospheric displacement, so he had no idea as to when the mysterious man had made his exit.
Claude suddenly felt a chill race down his spine. He was now worried. All this time he had assumed Asiduus had done him a favour by fetching Vamana for him, and that the primary reason the time elemental had arrived in Sector IV was in order to help him with his plans to vanquish Ghost_K. Aeviternus' appearance had initially overjoyed Claude as he felt victory was assured with his master directly at his side.
But now Asiduus was gone, and with that, the hope that had been instilled in Claude had vanished with it. He worried what business the man may have had aboard that aircraft. He resolved he would question Uldericks about it later.
Almost coincidently, Vamana began to speak, "It would appear the trickster has vanished. Such an enigmatic man, leaving before the main event even begins... "
He looked around, to be sure that Asiduus was genuinely gone.
"But please save faith, for we do not require such an illusionist as an advisor," he spoke with defiant confidence in his voice, that surprised Claude, "for he was an extraneous variable from the start. The plan I have so deftly poured my soul into, alongside my impulsive comrade, factors in every situation we may encounter. As I speak, the seeds of that plan are already starting to flourish."
"And," interrupted the audacious Agent 08, "they will very quickly blossom. For it appears our guests are just about to arrive."
He pointed at one of the large monitors that showed an advanced radar screen. It had picked up a trace that the computer had long ago been programmed to identify as Ghost_K.
But Claude wasn't reassured. The speech Uldericks had just given seemed too out of character. The last part in particular was sickeningly similar to the sort of words that were woven by devious wordsmiths such as Asiduus Aeviternus. The cunning fox had gained a new mouthpiece. It began to dawn on Claude that he and Vamana were but mere play things to this puppet master, and that the stage had been set for a grand show in deed.
"We're approaching the landing zone, Anderson," were the words that came from a muffled voice in the cockpit.
"Understood, Lysander," a gruff, serious man shouted over the noise of the jet engines.
The VTOL Jet Transporter was cramped and poorly ventilated. It reminded Anderson of the good old days in Quebec, as well as the fateful night he had first laid eyes on "Claude Lasi-Faité". His primary prey. How he yearned for those simpler times, when he could have happily disemboweled the criminal nuisance without tedious diplomatic talks.
It was widely known to the Ghost_K team that Damien resented the fact Claude had been granted the sanctuary of Sector IV, and that to move against him was to declare war on the European Commonwealth. But he most definitely had not come unprepared to meet with such an old enemy, and the entirety of his organisation had been deployed. Anderson had a plan to exploit the situation and assassinate Claude during the talks while framing the Captain of the Royal Guard in the process. The eradication such a high profile enemy of Ghost_K would improve their standing greatly.
However, he was becoming agitated. Two of his high level informants had failed to report back at a crucial moment, and he had recently discovered one of his aerial transporters had been shot down by an Indian Zone jet interceptor. They were already eight men down.
He looked at the other four members of the team who were seated in the embarkation section with him. Each of them looked slightly nervous, except for Zalmon who was smiling broadly, eager for a fight. His wide blue eyes burning with the desire to fight. Damien moved his attentions to Mathieu Dalton. He looked upon him in disgust, as he saw that the fairhaired Annemarie was holding the plant elemental's left hand tightly. He despised the happiness of others first and foremost. In an ideal world, he mused, they should all have to face the same suffering he had endured.
He looked over at the newest recruit. The lad was fresh and nervous, he'd never known proper combat before. He had combed black hair complimented with innocent hazel eyes
"It'll be okay, ma boy," Damien chuckled, trying to difuse the tense atmosphere, "they don't know what we have in store for Claude, and as soon as the target has been neutralised we will be out of there in an instant."
"Yeah... I know... " Laurence quietly spoke, "but... what... what if it goes wrong? What then?"
"Look, I have planned for all of this. We know the Vallarie Administration are in Claude's pocket, that is why this is a hit and run mission. We eliminate him and then we flee as quickly as possible."
"But what if it's a trap... " Laurence muttered, nervously, "what if the Queen's diplomatic meeting with is us just a ruse?"
"Look, son, I am counting on it being a trap" exclaimed Damien, with extreme conviction, "for we are going to be in and out of there so quickly any disorder or confusion caused will aid our escape. We also have a significant advantage over any hostile forces we may have to engage, due to our natural talents."
"But what if Claude really is a reformed character, and the Commonwealth are trying to help us... " Valentine said softly
"Well that is the price we pay for ridding the world of another villain. Even if he has been purified he has committed countless crimes and, for that, he must face retribution," the Ghost_K leader spoke with fury in his voice as the vehicle finished its descent to the grassy field below.
Chapter 3 - Engagement
The grand doors of the Royal Atrium were carefully opened by the Guard, while twenty more of their number had been placed either side of a long red carpet, standing rigidly to attention. They saluted in unison as the members of the Ghost_K team entered the grand palace. Damien Anderson was the first to enter, accompanied by two armed soldiers, each carrying automated weapons. Kenneth Lysander was the the second of the team to set foot within the palace, flanked on each side by two young women. Both of them carried ceremonial rifles, each marked with the symbol of the Ghost_K team.
Mathieu Dalton and Annemarie Lucia Engel entered in formal atire, followed by Zalmon Alexi Dejanović who was in turn flanked by a nervous Laurence Valentine. They all stopped at the foot of a short flight of stairs that stretched the width of the Atrium, and led to the agreed meeting point for diplomatic issues. They waited briefly before a magnificently dressed woman appeared from the doorway that led to the Throne Room.
She was attired in a dress of fine silks, that was adorned with precious gemstones and metals that had been skilfully woven into the fabric. The woman wore a light crown, forged from platinum, that was complimented with a large diamond. She looked down at her guests and prepared to speak.
"Esteemed guests," she pronounced clearly and delicately, "you may join me upon the stage."
She motioned for the Ghost_K delegation to walk up the steps, while the large doors of the palace where closed behind them.
"I am here to adjudicate the proceedings and have your leader swear an oath of honour, before he is allowed to enter into debate with the honourable Claude Lasi-Faité," the Queen spoke confidently.
Damien gritted his teeth.
She continued to speak, "But first, I must welcome you to the Holy Commonwealth Palace, for you are present here at my leisure. Please enjoy your stay before formalities commence."
Several servants appeared as she finished her short announcement. Each one of them carried a tray of canapés or small glasses of wine. Every member of the Ghost_K team relaxed and politely accepted the offerings their hostess had provided. That is, except for Damien Anderson, who was losing patience rapidly.
He didn't like the fact Claude had not immediately been present at their arrival. It made him very suspicious. Claude was always at his most dangerous when he wasn't visible. He knew the Vallarie Administration had ties to the criminal, but he was just unsure of how far they went. At this very moment, he thought, they could be conspiring to murder his team. Preparing an ambush just as Ghost_K were at their most vulnerable.
He stood alone, facing the Throne Room doors, as Kenneth walked over to him and slapped him firmly on the back, "Loosen up, Damien. It's just like we thought, that Queen is a royal bimbo and has no clue what our honourable friend might actually be up to."
"Then that is even more reason for us to not 'loosen up', as you put it, Lysander," Anderson hissed, checking to see if anyone could hear them, "if she doesn't know what he is capable of, then we are in even more danger."
The guests mingled with the staff and a select few members of the Royal Guard, including Captain Haster Metaph (who had struck up a rather rapturous rapport with Zalmon, as they exchanged tales of battle), for almost a quarter of an hour before the Queen returned to the delegation.
"Mr Lasi-Faité has requested that Damien Anderson swears his oath before he enters the stage," she plainly stated, "as he fears for his very life, due to the history he has shared with that man."
Damien laughed slightly before disguising it as a cough. He then walked directly up to the Queen and knelt before her.
"Your Majesty, if Claude wishes to play games with me, then I am happy to oblige," he spoke glibly, "and I shall swear my oath of honour."
"Servants, may you produce my sceptre," she asked, genteelly.
"Yes, ma'am," they responded, as the Captain of the Royal Guard presented it to her.
"Now," spoke the monarch, "Do you, Damien Anderson, Guardian of the Earth, swear by your honour to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth?"
"I do swear," he replied.
"Do you swear by your honour to acknowledge myself, Queen Stephanie Christelle, Her Divine Majesty of the European Commonwealth, as the patron of these laws?"
"I do swear."
"And do you swear to relinquish agression in the presence of the monarchy?"
"I do swear."
"Then arise, Damien Anderson, for you have sworn to be a true statesman, fit to attend the Royal Court," she spoke, with charm in her voice.
The doors to the Throne Room suddenly swung open. Blasted outwards by an unnatural force. A lone figure began to pace outwards into the Atrium, a stern look on his face. Damien stepped back in abject horror. For there he was, a man he had hunted for two decades, standing before him completely unarmed. He couldn't fight temptation. He didn't care about honour, only about the mission. He saw Claude was stepping closer and wrenched his handgun from a hidden holster beneath his shirt.
Stephanie screamed as she saw him withdrew the weapon. The Royal Guards were too caught up in informalities to reach for their weapons. Anderson couldn't be stopped as he aimed the pistol at Claude Lasi-Faité and firmly squeezed the trigger.
Vamana checked his position as he emerged from the subterranean pathway. Tunnel 31 lead to outskirts of the Royal Grounds, right where he had anticipated Ghost_K agents to have been deployed. The actual exit of the passage was obscured by an extravagant sculpture, resemblant of a hawk. Asiduus had already informed the terrorist that an unmarked VTOL Transporters had been intercepted by his airforce earlier that evening, and five others were identified entering Euro Zone airspace. Thus, he had deduced that four transports vehicles must have offloaded auxiliary troops to reinforce the Guardians.
Both he and Claude knew Anderson wouldn't swallow the bait completely, they had expected him to come prepared and they were practically counting on the fact that the man would not resist the temptation of an opportunity to kill his nemesis.
He moved up beside the position his accomplice, Agent 22 (the Blessed Worker of Shadow) had taken, and crouched down beside him. Uldericks had known the man for close on two years, a loyal specimen acquired in the aftermath of the failed 2114 Coup Attempt. Agent 22 moved over to the side of his leader, who had assumed the role of Blessed Worker of Light. The pairing had been decided before the elimination of Agent 16, as a means of complimenting the powers each member possessed in the most efficient manner.
Agent 22 indicated that he had spotted something. Uldericks withdrew his pair of binoculars and switched the setting to infrared to identify the targets. Eight Ghost_K personnel. Equipped with Infrared Targeting Systems and silenced assault rifles. There were armoured with heavy duty riot gear.
Agent 01 stifled a small laugh. Damien had actually gone out of his way to make this interesting, but he knew they would be no match for him and his assassin.
He allowed Agent 22 to peer through the binoculars, so that the shadow elemental could locate his intended victims more clearly. Uldericks then took the device back, briefly checked the location of the targets once more, before slotting it into his jacket pocket.
"On my signal," he whispered.
"Understood," Agent 22 scarcely breathed.
Vamana stood up from the crouched position by the statue, and started walking towards the armed team.
"Tis a fine eve for a starlit strole," he loudly pondered, "but I doubt her majesty would approve of such secretive actions."
"Identify yourself," barked one of their number.
"I am the Director of Order," Uldericks magnanimously announced, bowing slightly, "loyal servant of Her Royal Highness, Queen Stephanie Christelle. Long may she reign."
"Name!" demanded a female voice.
"Such rudeness from our guests," he dramatically complained, before lowering his voice, "it pains us deeply to see such disrespect."
"Who are you talking to!" shouted the second voice, more irritated than before, "Identify both yourself and your accomplice immediately. Or we shoot! Do I make myself clear?"
"Clarity is not the issue, but your intent. And I do not believe you are in any position to make such vile threats, dear child," Vamana carefully worded the retort, a smile slowly creeping onto his face.
The woman suddenly dropped her gun and froze.
"Excellent performance Agent 01, truly magnificent," a voice chirruped out from behind the Ghost_K agent, as a knife appeared at her throat and a hand muffled her mouth.
"Why thank you, 22. But you played your part even better," he cryptically teased the trapped woman, "for it seems there is only one little Ghost_K agent left."
"Indeed," the voice replied, "I count seven dead."
"You see, dear lady, as you were so fixated on disrespecting Her Majesty's loyal servant," Uldericks taunted, "you failed to notice my dear accomplice slit the throats of all of your silly little friends. It's marvellous, is it not?"
She began to squirm and emit muffled noises.
"Now, now, don't panic," he continued, "you are in very capable hands."
"Quite so," remarked Agent 22, as he slowly drew the blade across her throat, slicing deeply into her flesh. She struggled more vigorously as he completed the action, tears streaming down her face as she tried desperately to scream. Blood seeped violently from the wound, running down her neck and splattering onto her uniform. Her body convulsed rapidly before she suddenly stopped resisting. Her spent corpse now limp.
Vamana tapped a communications device that was attached to his ear.
"One team has been eliminated," he firmly stated, "all agents report current status."
"Hostile forces have been eliminated," the Blessed Worker of Fire announced over the radio
"Confirmed, Agent 08," responded Uldericks
That still left two transporters unaccounted for.
"We have taken out all enemy combatants," dictated the Blessed Worker of Plant, "Agent 14 disposed of them quickly and efficiently."
"Confirmed, Agent 09" the terrorist replied
"This is Mikaelus," the provisional Blessed Worker of Water, a former member of Royal Guard, spoke frantically, "Agent 12 has engaged hostile forces. I have also received word through official channels that the Royal Atrium is currently under fire."
"Say again, soldier," Vamana queried, anxiously.
"They are under fire. Hostile engagements within the Royal Atrium!" the man barked over the communications channel.
"Understood," spoked Uldericks with haste, "all agents, I repeat, all agents rendezvous at the Palace Doors. The trap is sprung!"
The bullet stopped dead before it reached its intended target, and it hit the floor with a soft thud upon the red carpet. Everyone in the room had fallen silent as they saw that their lord and master was still standing.
"My, my, Damien," Claude's voice rang out, "I knew you could never change-"
He was interrupted as Anderson emptied an entire clip at the criminal. Each one was halted in midair, mere inches from Claude's head, and repeated the fate of the first.
"You just don't learn, do you?" the suited man queried with contempt dripping from his voice.
Damien smiled maliciously.
"Oh Claude, you know me, that was just the canapés. A mere taster!" he retorted, arrogantly, "we haven't even reached the starter!"
"Guards, arrest that man! Arrest the Ghost_K representative! I won't permit such discord in my presence!" commanded the Queen.
Damien sighed loudly, "Oh you stupid dolt, how this man has played you! Nevertheless I shall not be dissuaded!"
He looked over at his various associates.
"Comrades!" Anderson shouted, "at arms!"
The ground exploded beneath Claude's feet as Damien concentrated his powers upon his target. The criminal responded with a blinding projectile composed of light energy. Anderson barely managed to block it through the hasty summoning of a pillar of earth.
Kenneth Lysander ran to the aid of his friend, only to be catapulted across the room by a sudden shift in gravity. He turned to face his attacker, his gaze met by a ferocious Stephanie Christelle, intense fury in her eyes, as she fractured the ground upon which he was standing.
Mathieu and Annemarie had taken up defensive positions. He had taken to a crouched position, holding a stylised rapier, while his wife shielded them within a rapid vortex. Zalmon had enclosed himself in a ring of fire, while using his ability to incenerate members of the Royal Guard, as they frantically attempted to shoot him. Laurence was occupied with creating barriers of ice and forcing hostile targets to drown in a desperate bid to keep himself alive.
The four armed Ghost_K agents stormed into the Throne Room, aiming to secure a forward position. However, they were confronted by Harald Albraun, who promptly opened fire on them with a submachine gun as he took cover from behind the throne. The first one was felled by a round that struck her heart, instantly killing her. She fell forward onto the velvet red carpet and the firearm she was holding slipped from her limp hands.
The second to become incapacitaed by the Director of War was a young man, who had barely managed to pull the trigger on his own machine gun as he felt three bullets impact into his stomach. He fell to the ground with a heavy thud, firing blindly as he collapsed. One of these shots clipped the side of one of his comrades, who was promptly finished off with a round from Harald's weapon, that hit his eye.
A young woman, named Olivia Melora, was the last of the agents to fall. Her rifle had jammed just as she had seen her associates felled, and she suddenly started to run out of the Throne Room. But this was a grave error, as Harald reloaded his weapon, and prepared to fire. Yet, her death was not the result of machine gun fire. Her final waking moments were spent trapped under a boulder that had been hurled by Damien Anderson. Her legs were crushed, the bones pulverised by the impact. Blood had begun to seep out of the tattered remains of her torso, as she frantically started screaming in terror. She instinctively started trying to push the rock off of her, but it was too heavy, as she continued to shriek.
Suddenly she went limp, as Claude dived behind the boulder. He sympathised with her pain and delivered a quick mercy stroke, slicing her windpipe.
While the criminal was distracted, Damien started running towards the doors of the Throne Room. He shouted to his comrades, "Guardians! The Atrium is a death trap! The doors to the grounds are sealed! Regroup in the Throne Room!"
However, Kenneth was still locked in combat with the Queen, he barked over the noise of the battleground, "I'LL FORM UP WITH YOU LATER! IN THE MEAN TIME I'LL TRY TO COVER THE RETREAT!"
He dodged a pillar of rock, just as he finished uttering his command, hurling a shard of ice at the Queen in the process. She sent a launched a piece of marble into the air in order to absorb the hit, the momentum of Ken's attack sending it flying across the room, hitting a Royal Guard in the process.
Annemarie broke her defensive barrier, and grabbed her husband's arm. They started a sprint towards the objective. However, Claude had regained his composure and struck Mathieu with a blast of light, singing his arm. Annemarie countered with a slicing wave air that destroyed the boulder the criminal was standing behind, throwing him back in the process. With the threat indisposed they continued their run towards the objective.
Zalmon had started moving towards the doors as well, setting everything on fire in his wake. He had resolved that he would burn the Atrium to the ground, as the team fashioned their retreat. Valentine saw what his comrade was doing and ran up to his position. It was then that he had an idea.
"Forget burning this place!" he shouted.
"What!?" Zalmon uttered over the roar of the fire.
"I have a plan!" Laurence yelled, "I'm going to douse the flames."
"WHY!?" his team mate barked back.
"To create cover!" he stated, projecting water onto the raging fires. Vast quantities of steam started to be produced, obscuring the position of the duo.
"NOW RUN!" the younger member commanded.
The pair sprinted across the battle zone and into the Throne Room. Zalmon quickly checked the room, counting four other members of his team, three dead Ghost_K agents on the ground and an unidentified dead body, that was in part obscured by the Royal Throne. He stared into Damien's eyes, and nodded.
Suddenly he started sprinting back into the Atrium, to reinforce his ally.
The Guardian of Fire spotted that his friend was under serious attack, as the Royal Guard were firing on him as the Queen relentlessly threw formed pieces of rock at his position. Zalmon ran over to where Ken was taking cover, and conjured up a ring of fire around them.
"Kenneth!" he shouted, "get out of here, I'll hold them off."
The Guardian of Ice nodded, and sprinted out of a gap in the flames. He ran as fast as he could, for his life depended, into the safety of the Throne Room.
"BARRICADE THE DOORS!" commanded Anderson, as Lysander collapsed at the foot of the Royal Throne. Annemarie and Laurence ran forward to bolt them shut.
"We... " gasped Kenneth, "can't just... leave him."
"We must. He stands the best chance of eliminating the targets and we must consider the future of the team." stated Damien, plainly and directly, "we have already lost all auxiliary forces."
"How... do... " the ice elemental continued to pant, "know?"
"Because we wouldn't be in this mess if they were still alive!" Anderson roared with fury.
He stared at the remaining members of his team. Five of them. One still fighting for his very life.
"FUCKING BASTARD!" he continued his rant, "THE BASTARD KNEW ABOUT THE AUXILIARIES! HE FUCKING KNEW! HOW COULD HE HAVE KNOWN!? HE'S NEVER THIS FUCKING ORGANISED!"
He kicked the dead Vallarian commander that had tried shooting him as he entered the room. He then knelt down and rummaged through the man's suit. He found an ID badge. Harald Albraun, Director of War.
Damien regained his composure and smirked as he picked up the man's weapon, "Well at least I've killed one of the Directors."
Mathieu piqued up, "Now what do we do?"
"We look for hostages. According to Mr Albraun's instructions, the Royal Princesses are located in the Armoury," Damien spoke with cold conviction.
Vamana had met up with the rest of the BWEG at the entrance to the palace. He smiled ghoulishly as he listened to the hectic sounds of discord emanating from the Royal Atrium.
"Well," he suddenly stated, "it appears things have kicked off earlier than we expected. Thus, this is a simple rescue mission. We extract Target Alpha and Target Gamma. We eliminate any hostile forces we may encounter. Understood?"
"Yes, Agent 01!" they said simultaneously in agreement.
"Excellent! By my deductions, a maximum of ten Ghost_K members remain. Six of them are Guardians. Four will just be simple employees, likely as easy to dispose of as the forces we have already encountered," he mused, "that said, our best plan of attack is a direct assault. The fact we have lost contact with our employers is a cause for concern."
He walked towards the grand steel doors of the Palace. They had been jammed shut to prevent the escape of the Ghost_K team. Vamana cracked his fingers. This would be a brief inconvenience. Uldericks projected both hands directly in front of him and projected a devastating blast of light at them. The doors suddenly burst open, revealing the chaotic inferno of the Royal Atrium.
"Mikaelus," he called, "go attend to your Queen and douse the flames of her attacker. Agents 12 and 14, provide support."
"Yes," the trio acknowledged in unison, as they began running towards the monarch and her blazing assailant.
He looked back at Agents 08, 09, 11 and 22. Vamana was well aware that 09 would be useless in this situation and stared at him.
"Agent 09," he stated, "you are to take the tunnels back to central command and monitor the situation from there. Report back to me as soon as you are in position."
"Understood, Agent 01," he quickly replied, before heading to the closest entrance to the network of pathways.
"Agent 08, you shall remain here until the fires have been extinguished. You as well, Agent 11. I want to you to make sure the Guardian of Fire doesn't try exiting this way."
"Of course, Agent 01," the pair responded.
He watched as the trio he had sent into the maelstrom of fire had started successfully repelling the fire. He noticed that Claude was brushing himself off in a corner. Satisfied that Targets Alpha and Gamma were no longer in danger, Uldericks turned to his remaining associate, "Agent 22, accompany me in my search for the Ghost_K team. My guess is that Damien will try to acquire hostages if he has realised he is trapped."
"Right away," he stated, as the both of them started to casually stroll into the carnage that had overtaken the Royal Atrium.
Chapter 4 - Absolute
"Found the Armoury!" Damien received over his personal communicator, "But I am now engaged in a hostile exchange ten Royal Guards."
"Understood, Kenneth," he replied with a hint of satisfaction in his voice. He'd soon have some bargaining muscle. He tapped the device again. This time it was set to message all members of Ghost_K.
"All members home in on my signal, the Armoury has been located," Anderson commanded. A slight beeping noise chirruped and began to repeat every 30 seconds. He rushed off in the direction Lysander had headed. It took him less than a minute to locate the room, as he followed the sound of gunfire. He saw his beleaguered comrade was taking cover behind the doorframe.
"I've managed to kill one of the Guards, but they are putting up one hell of a fight," he yelled, as bullets poured through the open doorway.
"So I can see," the Earth elemental plainly spoke, "but I shall finish this quickly."
As he finished the sentence the ground in the Armoury rapidly subsided, causing everybody in the room to fall to the ground.
"Eliminate all guards, I shall aim to capture the royals," Damien stated, fixated on the objective.
At Anderson's command, Kenneth rushed into the fray and began to systematically freeze all of the Guardsmen, however he failed to identify any members of the Royal Family. Lysander withdrew a firearm and shattered the nearest frozen body.
"Damien, none of them are here. They must have already fled," he relayed back to his superior officer.
"So it would seem," Anderson mused, as the remaining three Guardians entered the room, "regardless we shall hunt them down and find them."
He looked around the room and noticed some of the weapons were missing from their racks. Clearly his prey had been wise enough to arm themselves before they left. He smiled. It was going to be a good hunt.
Claude brushed himself down before observing his surroundings. He looked around the rapidly increasing inferno that now constituted the Royal Atrium and looked for its source. However, the thing that caught his eye was his wife, scarred and burned. He then trained his eye across to what she was fighting, and identified the source of the flames.
His records had identified the man as Zalmon Alexi Dejanović, the Guardian of Fire, an exceptionally powerful elemental. Yet, Claude could see that he was, at this current time, vulnerable and exposed. All the members of the Royal Court were now dead. He saw the corpse of the Captain of the Royal Guard lying close to his mistress. His death would be avenged.
The shadow elemental sprinted to the rear of Alexi. The man was too engrossed in his fight with the Queen that he failed to notice the presence of another individual. As Stephanie loosed off another tremendous seismic disturbance he leaped back. Putting him within arms reach of Claude, who did not hesitate, as he swiftly executed the Guardian with a slicing shadow blade to the neck.
Zalmon shuddered as he stumbled backwards, gripping his incised throat as blood leaked from the wound. As he attempted to speak the red liquid began to pool in his mouth, the air that was escaping from his lungs causing it to gargle and froth. He finally collapsed by the barricaded doors of the Throne Room, as his lifeless corpse slumped onto the deep red carpet.
Claude grinned for a split second, before realising the building was still on fire. He ran to tend to his injured wife and to his surprise saw three mysterious attendants aiding her to her feet. Two of them were fixated with extinguishing the flames. One was clearly a water elemental, while the other utilised his powers to rapidly reduce the temperature around the dying fires. The criminal looked at their uniforms and saw a familiar logo: BWEG.
"Nicely done," were the words that echoed throughout the burning room. They belonged to a familiar voice, and Claude couldn't help but smile when he saw the man in the flesh, as the terrorist stood by the doors to the Throne Room.
"Why thank you, Vamana," he spoke endearingly, "but I had been expecting you sooner."
"Yes, of course," Uldericks replied, "but what is done is done. And it is paramount that we ensure Damien does not apprehend the Royal Family. I shall seek out your daughter. I have picked up her tracking signal."
Vamana promptly aimed his hands at the doors and forced them open with a decisive beam of light energy.
"After you, Claude" the terrorist pointed into the Throne Room.
Lasi-Faité wandered over to the Royal Throne and was taken aback as he realised that a corpse had become hidden by it. It was Harald Albraun, his loyal friend and follower. His brother-in-law. Claude rushed over to him, hoping that his oldest supporter was still breathing. But Harald was still. Half of his body had become sunken in the earth.
The criminal recognised the injuries and gritted his teeth, "Damien... "
He turned to where Vamana was standing but realised that both he and Agent 22 were already gone. Following Ulderick's example he ran through the back doors of the throne room and into the corridors. He would find and locate the Albraun family. He wouldn't let them suffer the same fate that had befallen Harlald.
The team had split up in order to follow the other two corridors that led out of the Royal Armoury. Kenneth and Damien had taken the left exit while the other three had taken the right. Both teams were checking every room they came across, in an attempt to find the Royal Family.
Laurence was nervous, his fears had been realised. Everything had gone wrong. Their informants were dead, they were missing a Guardian, the targets were more organised than anticipated and now they were turning to questionable actions in order to stay alive. He didn't like the idea of taking hostages. It was never in the plan. The hit and run mission had turned into a desperate bid for survival.
He looked back at his comrades. Mathieu was clutching his right arm, where it had been scorched by Claude's strike, and Annemarie was vigilantly watching their backs as they advanced further into the corridors.
The young man kicked open another door, and to his surprise he had found one of the princesses and a Royal Guard. The soldier went to fire her gun, but her head had become detached from her body before she could complete the action. Annemarie had directed a razor thin blade of air in order to decapitate her in a single sure strike.
Natalia Christelle screamed, her sky blue eyes wide with terror, as Laurence ran over to subdue her. He tackled her to the ground, forcing her delicate eleven year old frame to the ground. His hand was placed over her mouth to prevent her from screaming again. Annemarie sliced off a piece of fabric from the uniform of the deceased Guard and strode over to captive princess. Valentine released his hand and the Guardian of Air tied cloth around the young girl's mouth.
Mathieu tapped his communications device to try and reach Damien, but there was no signal, just static.
"Radio's dead," he shouted over to the other two, as Laurence dragged Natalia to the corner of the room.
"This is wrong... " snapped Valentine "This is just wrong... what kind of a fucked up organisation is this... "
"We have to obey orders, Laurence, and we need to do everything we can to survive," Annemarie spoke softly, and walked over to comfort him.
"BUT THIS IS THE MONSTERS WE HAVE BECOME!?" he raised his voice, "TO STOP CLAUDE WE'VE BECOME JUST AS BAD AS HIM!"
"Ghost_K has to survive," Mathieu refuted, "we must do what is required of the situation in order to survive."
"She's just a girl... " Valentine solemnly said.
"And she's the enemy," the Guardian of Air plainly stated. She walked over to the child and placed the barrel of a handgun firmly against the girl's skull.
Laurence was conflicted. He looked on at the situation and couldn't believe what they were doing. Using an 11 year old girl as a bargaining chip, Princess Natalia Christelle, daughter of the Queen of Sector IV. His morality was too strong, he couldn't let this happen, suddenly he was running straight towards Mathieu . But before he could complete his planned assault he was knocked off of his feet by a massive explosion.
A large hole had been burned out of the wall by a searing beam of white light. A mysterious figure burst through the gap that had been created, shrouded in an aura of light. He appeared as though he was the incarnate manifestation of an angel, light flowing from his body as he directed an attack at the princess' captors.
"Let her go!" he demanded authoritatively, as he cocked a revolver.
Annemarie recognised the voice just a bullet struck her in the chest. The light from the individual was subsiding, as he loosed off a couple of shots at Mathieu Dalton, who ducked behind a chair. The man sprinted over to the restrained girl, and lifted her light body up. He looked for the nearest exit and walked towards it with his burden nestled into his chest.
"You there," he barked at Laurence, "come with me. I realised what you were about to do before I intruded. I am sorry if I injured you."
Valentine was shocked by what the albino man had just said to him and was struck dumb from the sheer levity behind the question.
"I-I... " he barely managed, as he managed to get to his feet, "I'm not sure... "
He turned to see Mathieu was dragging his injured body over to where his wife had fallen, and that the Guardian of Plant was too fixated on his own goals to notice Vamana Uldericks had started to speak. Realising his best chance of survival lay with accompanying the enemy, he slowly started walking towards the door.
As Laurence reached the doorway he was knocked out by a swift blow to the head by an unknown assailant, "It appears we have a new acquisition?"
"Indeed, Agent 22." Vamana Uldericks slyly remarked to his subordinate, "Bring him to the inner depths. He is a valuable specimen."
"At once, sir," the shadow elemental replied, as he picked up the body of the young man, slinging the unconscious man over his shoulders, and returned back the way he came.
The Guardian of Plant had managed to reach his beloved, and had started to cradle her in his arms.
"Annie, oh please, Annie," he choked reassuringly, "just try and stay calm. Your going to be all right."
He slowly unbuttoned her shirt, in order to evaluate the severity of the wound.
"Shhhh... Mathieu... it's okay... " she spluttered meekly, "I know... I know... I am not much longer for this world... "
Dalton looked at the mark on her skin that had formed off centre of her breasts. It was the impact wound from a hollow point bullet. He realised it would have punctured her lungs and torn her chest to shreds. She was dying.
"Darling," he tried to be comforting, "you're going to be fine."
He started to feel tears form up in the corner of his eyes.
"Mathieu... please don't cry... "she barely breathed, her voice thinning.
He held her tight to his chest as he gazed into her soothing brown eyes, and began to gently stroke her strawberry blonde hair.
"Y-you're going to be fine," he stammered, "e-everything's going t-to be okay."
His tears dripped onto her face as she started to lose consciousness. Her eyelids were flittering rapidly as blood seeped slowly from the wound.
"Just... remember... "her breath slower, fainter, "I'll always love you... "
Her eyes suddenly stopped moving. The rounded orbs stared blankly at the marble ceiling. Mathieu began to sob more hysterically as he planted a final kiss on her ruby red lips. Her heart had stopped as a result of the combined effects of oxygen starvation and blood loss. He closed her eyes and picked up the limp body.
Damien smashed his body into the last doorway on the corridor and found his prey within. There were five of them. An older woman (who he assumed was the mother) was standing at the front of four younger individuals of varying ages, carrying a semi-automatic rifle. The Guardian of Earth guessed that they were the remaining members of the Albraun branch of the Royal Family, and promptly opened fire on the one standing at the front.
Simultaneously, Kenneth Lysander leapt into the room, sending a precise cone of super-chilled air in the direction of the mother. Her weapon jammed as it made contacted with the frozen wind. She panicked and threw the weapon aside before throwing herself in front of her children.
Lyander's next conjuration was a needle pointed shard of thick ice that he projected directly into the woman's throat. It then shattered inside her esophagus, causing blood to pour from the circular wound that permeated both sides of her neck, as the rapidly shattering ice tore the insides of her throat to pieces. It was then that Kenneth began to toy with the woman some more, freezing the blood in her throat and her diaphragm, until they were unable to contract the muscles that permitted breathing. She slowly suffocated before Damien shot her in the head.
The pantomime was necessary to frighten her offspring. However, the single Royal Prince clearly had some fire in his belly, a large 18 year old brute of a man. He charged at his assailants, only to be bisected by a carefully erected pillar of stone that cleaved him in twain. Blood erupted from his severed body and splattered the surounding area red. The remaining three Albraun's were all girls, Royal Princesses of the Vallarie Administration.
Damien realised they were all useless compared to the main prize, Princess Natalia Christelle, but decided they still had a value as bargaining chips. Kenneth pulled the eldest looking one to the front, a fine twenty-one year old woman with long red hair and tantalising crystal blue eyes. He forced her to kneel before motioning to sample her voluptuous figure, only to be admonished by his commander, "NOT NOW, KEN! WE ARE TO MAKE AN EXAMPLE OF THEM! I don't want them spoiled."
Anderson searched the female for a communications device and found one nestled between her breasts. It was a simple two-way video phone. But it would do.
"Hailing Claude Lasi-Faite! Hailing Claude Lasi-Faite!" he stated over the device, "This is Damien Anderson. The Royal Family has been captured. If you do not grant safe passage they shall all be executed."
"We do not negotiate of terrorists," a refined voice cooed over the airwaves, it belonged to Agent 09 if the BWEG, who was currently situated within the Bunker, "release them now or face the consequences."
"We are not bluffing!" barked Damien, flustered, "I am prepared to shoot!"
He brought his handgun to the temple of the young woman's head.
"What is your name?" he demanded, "and please speak clearly into the radio for our friend to hear."
The young woman began to speak "Katlain Albraun, Second Heir to the Vallarian Throne, please I beg of you to save-"
Anderson had pulled the trigger. The sound from the shot rang out in the room, and through the radio. Katlain slumped forwards onto the marble floor. Her skull had been shattered. The bullet had killed her instantly.
"Two remaining," he spoke clearly over the phone, "that will be two more members of the royal family dead unless you listen to my demands."
"Let me reiterate for you, Mr Anderson, We. Do. Not. Negotiate. With. Terrorists," Agent 09 spoke more slowly, with an emphasised pronunciation afforded for each singular word.
Kenneth dragged over another of the sisters. She was clothed in long flowing dress that complimented her shapely figure. Her pale grey eyes were wide and filled with fear. She knew she was going to die next. Hoping it would buy her time, she threw herself onto Kenneth and started to caress his body, while beginning to kis him passionately. She forced him against a wall and began to frantically undress her captor, while he fell to temptation, embracing her delicately.
"THIS IS NO TIME TO FUCK AROUND!" yelled an enraged Damien, he aimed his gun at her leg and pulled the trigger. She screamed in pain as blood poured from the wound. Anderson tore her away from a shocked Lysander, and left her crying on the ground, her dress now ripped. Her sibling was stunned with fear, crouching in the foetal position, as she prayed for help to come.
But no one came as the Guardian of Earth brought the video phone down to the young woman's face.
"Name!" he shouted furiously.
She stuttered, "R-Rochelle A-Albraun, Th-third Heir t-to the Vallarian Throne. P-please have mercy, I'm only ninetee-"
The shot silenced the princess. Her eloquent body slumped to the floor beside her dead sister.
"One left," he warned through the communications device. This time he received no response.
"I AM GOING TO KILL THE LAST ONE!" he bellowed into the microphone of the phone. Still no response. The screen was now black.
Kenneth was still in shock from the sudden murder of the last princess. She didn't deserve to die. She didn't need to be killed so callously. He flatly refused to be a part in the death of another girl. The youngest one at that. She was only 16.
His lack of involvement did nothing to deter Damien who strode over to the last cowering princess and aimed his handgun at her head. He went to hold the video phone down to ask for her name, but before he could, he heard her scream.
"PLEASE SAVE ME!"
Anderson was suddenly hurled backwards into a wall, as was his disorientated associate. Claude Lasi-Faité had burst through the door and hurled a ball of dark energy at the duo. Fire was in his eyes as he saw his sister-in-law and several of her children dead on the ground. He called out at the young girl.
"Miki, come here, it's okay," he said gently.
However, he was suddenly thrown into the air by a pillar of earth. Damien had sprung to his feet, directing the pillar more precisely at Claude in order to pin him to the ceiling.
"I've been waiting a long time to do this, Claude," spat Damien. But his victory would be short lived.
The air pressure in the room rose rapidly as a typhoon began to form around the girl. Her eyes were stained red, they had become bloodshot as her elemental powers had awakened.
"LET UNCLE CLAUDE GO!" she screeched, sending the earth elemental to the floor.
The roof of the room they were located within had become detached from the main building, as the fierce winds increased in speed. Tears were streaming down her face. She looked at Claude and carefully lifted him out of the Palace. Happy that her protector was safe Miki tried to stop. But she could not manage to. The power was too much for her and had come to overwhelm her senses.
Lysander looked at his comrade and indicated they leave for the door. The pair broke into a sprint, but Damien was caught in the swirling vortex, with only Kenneth managing a narrow escape. He watched his friend become sucked into the maelstrom, but knew he had to find the rest of his team. As he ran down the twisting corridors of the Commonwealth Palace he noticed that it was slowly falling apart.
By chance he stumbled across the aggrieved Mathieu Dalton, who was carrying the dead body of his wife. Realising that the palace was about to implode, he shared his comrade's burden as they fled the collapsing building, barely making it out of a fire door, into the burnished dawn sunlight, as the structure heaved under the stresses put upon it by the out of control air elemental.
Chapter 5 - Epilogue
The sun was burning brightly in the clear midday sky, illuminating the rubble that once formed the Holy Commonwealth Palace. Damien Anderson pushed a boulder off of his robust ebony body. His quick thinking the night before had saved his life, to manipulate the earth around him and utilise the bedrock as a shield. However, he had noticed that he was now covered in cuts and bruises. A minor inconvenience in light of the circumstances.
He started to wander the ruined palace when he noticed a familiar body. It was the young princess whom he had threatened the night before. Her feet were crushed under a rock but she was still breathing and he could hear she was murmuring slightly. He moved over to her and went to withdraw his gun, only to notice that it was no longer there. Feeling pity for the trapped young woman, and realising that she may be useful, he used his powers to move the boulder off of her.
She coughed slightly and opened her eyes, before staring directly at him.
"Who are you?" she innocently enquired, "do you know where ma-ma and pa-pa are."
"Your Highness," he elected to speak formally, "I regret to inform you that your family were betrayed."
"What do you mean?" she asked curiously.
"Ma'am, they were gunned down by agents of the Vallarie Administration and your father killed by the hand of Claude Lasi-Faité himself," he blatantly lied.
"M-mother... f-father... " she stuttered, trying to hold back tears.
"Please do not cry, Princess Albraun, I have been assigned as your guardian," Anderson embellished the first lie, "and I promise to protect you. I swear my life forfeit to your service."
"I-I am most grateful kind sir... but where shall we go?" she asked tearfully.
"To a land safe from the predations of the demon known as Claude, and the agents of the Vallarie Administration," the dark skinned man continued.
"But, kind sir," the girl tearfully interrupted, "I-I can't feel m-my legs and m-my arms are in pain. I cannot come."
He looked down at her crippled form. Both of the girl's legs were completely crushed, the bone fractured beyond repair. Her arms were also covered in bruises, while contorted into slightly unnatural shapes. Damien guessed that they were dislocated.
"I would not expect a lady in your condition to walk," he gently told her, "and thus I will carry you as I am your protector."
"Thank you, sir, but may I enquire to as your name?" she questioned him.
"Damien Anderson, Your Highness," he bowed and picked her up in the same motion, "your loyal servant, forever at your service."
He walked away from the ruins of the great palace, a new burden in his hands, with his back to the blazing sun.
"Excellent," sneered Claude Lasi-Faité, "Mikeala Albraun really is the next Guardian of Air. As an individual of noble blood, I expect great things of her in the future. However, I have decided that she will remain under the charge of the Ghost_K team until I require her extraction. She will be the perfect infiltrator."
"Playing the long game I see?" Vamana queried, "A wise choice, my friend."
"Speaking of friends, it appears you have won the adoration of my daughter. She vividly recalled your heroics and insists that she is allowed to meet you again," he smiled, " I can see a strong political marriage in the future."
"When she is of age, the union will be most useful. That said I have a new acquaintance to show you. Agent 22 helped me recover a valuable asset from the Palace, prior to its destruction," Uldericks slyly hinted, "Agent 08! Agent 22! Bring in the captive."
The two agents of the BWEG entered the room with an unidentified prisoner, who had had their head covered by a black hessian bag. The prisoner was dragged over to Vamana who smugly placed his hand on the edge of the material.
"Think of it as a parting gift," he stated simply, "for I have my own affairs to attend to and plenty of footage to weave into propaganda."
As he finished the sentence he lifted the hood to reveal the beaten face of Laurence Valentine. Ulderick's tripped the bound man to the floor and began to exit the bunker, "do with him as you see fit, but Claude, please do not waste this opportunity."
"Of course not," Claude shouted to his ally.
"We shall meet sometime soon to discuss the matter further, until then, enjoy!" he pronounced with a light tone to his voice, as he entered the lift with his two BWEG comrades.
|K21 - Subterfuge Chronicles · K21 - Deceit and Disloyalty · K21 - Forgiveness and Mercy · K21 - Aces High · K21 - Tarnished Perceptions · K21 - Shattered Endeavours · K21 - Decayed Moralities|