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VAOmnibus
Cast (In Order Of Appearance)
K21LOGOV2.2

Shadow Of Your Former Self

"Don't forget to pick up some milk when you're out," a soft feminine voice cooed from the kitchen.

"Of course not, darling," the young man called back, as he left the small ground floor apartment.

They had only been dating for seven months, but he already felt as though they belonged together. She had appeared like an angel when he was at his lowest. He remembered it all too clearly. He remembered lying soaked in the alleyway, blood dripping from his mouth, completely unresponsive to the world.

As he prepared for death, a needle lying only a few inches from his arm, all the events of his life seemed to draw into his focus. When she found him, his bicep still had a piece of cloth tied around it tightly. His shirt was torn and his trousers were stained with mud.

"I was not destined to die that day," he mused aloud, as he looked at his arm. The the small pinprick scars from the needles were visible against the pale sodium glow of the street lamps. She had saved him from the abyss, and he thought himself to be eternally in her debt.

Yet, his saviour remained unaware of everything his life entailed. Yes, he had given up the drugs but he knew that his talents for thievery still remained in their prime. It seemed such a waste to stop stealing now that he was in a more stable state of mind. Being saved from his drug addiction was the best thing that ever happened to him.

For now he was able to carry out his plans in a full state of consciousness. Since becoming clean he had become more reckless in his endeavours. Taking greater risks, knowing he could actually now reap the reward. Petty theft was no longer his style, people were far too easy prey.

As he made his way down the empty alleyway, he felt a gentle breeze wash over his face. It was refreshing at first until it suddenly stung his face. Blood began dripping from his cheek.

Immediately he took an offensive stance. It seemed too precise and unusual to have been the wind. He realised it had all the halmarks of an Air Elemental.

"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want," he called out, nervously, "but if you persist I will be forced to do something you will severely regret."

Slowly his hands seemed to become devoid of light, as he tensed up his muscles.

Suddenly a current of air gushed right towards him, he projected both of his hands out in front of them and focused his mind. The artificially induced wind was halted in an instant.

A gaunt young woman, resplendent in a torn blouse and skirt, leaped out from behind a building and started to sprint towards him. She stopped abrubtly just before she reached him, realising that he was still standing.

"That's not fair, you're supposed to be dead already," she yelled, "I guess I'll just have to do things the old fashioned way."

As she finished her sentence she withdrew a handgun from the inside of her blouse.

"I-I'm warning you, p-please stop," the young man protested, "you don't want to see what I'm capable of. Please, I don't want to hurt you."

"Is that supposed to be a warning?" she sarcatically spoke, "it's utterly pathetic."

She aimed the pistol with both hands and pulled the trigger.

The young man jumped to the side, narrowly dodging the bullet.

He hit the concrete with a distinctive thud, landing uncomfortably.

His hands were now devoid of any light. The pupils in his eyes were dilated.

"I warned you," he carefully pronounced, "now run! Run if you want to keep your wicked life!"

"Shadow Elemental, how trivial," she stung, before unloading the entire clip into the young man's body.

Except the bullets never met his flesh.

All of them had been brought to an immediate halt in mid air.

"RUN! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! RUN!" he yelled, fear prevalent in his voice.

"Run! Run!? You've cost me far too much now, pal," the vile young woman spat, "I won't be leaving until I've finished the job."

She roared, as she threw blades of air at her target. The young man dodged them with unnatural speed and dexterity before leaping up onto his feet in a single bound.

"Then I guess that leaves me with no choice," the young man sneered.

He charged at his assailant, bowling her over before he pinning her to the ground.

"Ugh, get off of me!", she squealed, thrashing around as she tried to escape the clutches of the young man.

"I told you to run when you had the chance," he spoke superciliously, as he forced his hand down her top. Inside he found a purse, "this will do for now."

His other hand was still firmly pressed against her stomach.

"FUCKING GET OFF!" she yelled, "HELP ME! GOD HELP ME!"

After placing his most recent acquisition into the breast pocket of his shirt, the young man punched the woman firmly on the head.

Suddenly she was still. The squirming stopped and her eyes slid shut.

He brought his hand to her mouth and smiled. She was still breathing. He took out a piece of cloth and picked up the handgun she had dropped, placing it in her left hand.

Carefully he then moved her towards a drainage pipe and tied the other hand to it.

Pleased that she would either be found by her gang or picked up by the police, the young man continued on his way.

He checked his mechanical analogue watch and decided that he had done enough. The purse had contained a large sum of money and a couple of credit cards. He knew it would be a lot less hassle to make do with what he had obtained than to continue his plan to steal from the homes of the wealthy.

He turned to walk down the alleyway once more, towards his home and the woman he loved.

K21 - Subterfuge Chronicles

Part 1 - Retribution

WARNING
CONTAINS COARSE LANGUAGE, VIOLENCE, GORE AND GRAPHIC SEXUAL REFERENCES


A young woman walked purposefully along a crowded walkway, in the mellow autumnal evening. She jostled past pleasure seekers, those who had recently broken free of the confines of labour and the sullen commuters who knew what lay ahead in the nightshift.

The street was awash with colour: for while it was rather late, and the sun had already descended, the sea of neon provided ample light for those who had ventured out in the city for the night. She continued onwards, rudely pushing past anyone who got in her way. She was driven towards a set goal, and nothing would prevent her from achieving it.

She wore a simple waitress’ outfit that was clearly designed to be both tidy and reserved. It consisted of a neat light blue blouse that had a nametag attached, with the words “Sandra Mai” printed upon it, and a white knee length skirt. Complimenting this apparel was a pair of sky blue tights and fashionable white trainers. Her hair was kept in a manner befitting of a woman in her line of work, tied back for convenience, with cleanliness in mind when serving food. Upon her left shoulder was a large handbag.

Sandra made her way to a long stretch of road known as Javelin Street and changed her course accordingly. The cars were moving dangerously fast and she knew it would be suicidal to risk traversing it where the walkway met the road. She spied the entrance to a subway crossing further down the street, and made her way to it. Mirroring the rest of the luminescent city, the underground path was well lit by advertisements and directional signs.

The woman emerged on the other side of the road and began to asses her options. She had read a sign that indicated that continuing down the road was the quickest way to Nouveway, although she was aware of a short cut that involved moving through several backstreets and alleyways. She checked her watch, a cheap liquid crystal display bracelet. 22:42.

Sandra opted to follow the official route instead, as she didn’t like the idea of risking a wander down the side streets this late at night. Especially not when her intended destination was Nouveway. The district was, essentially, just a dressed up slum. She was thankful that this would be the last time she would ever have to venture there.

She set off left as the official route instructed and began to pick up the pace once more. She didn’t want to miss her most profitable clientele. Especially not when she was so close to having enough money to pay off her debts. She’d finally be a free and it would be a welcome feeling.

But Sandra still had one more service to perform. She knew that. She wished that her waitressing would be enough, but that had only been enough to cover for her day-to-day living costs. Ultimately she wished she had never had to take out the loans in the first place, but it was the only way she could afford to repair the damage that had beset her home.

She continued on further down the road until she met a junction. The traffic signs indicated that the Nouveway District was situated to her right, at the end of Nouve Avenue Sandra checked her watch again. 23.01. She was running slightly late. Nouve Avenue was distinctly quieter than Javelin Street but still bore a considerable mass of people. But these were of wildly different class. Sandra knew Nouveway well, and she was well aware of the kind of people it attracted. They were like flies to a bloated carcass. From rich slobs who trawled the streets for cheap whores and narcotics to thuggish, steroid fuelled brutes who worked menial jobs to carve out a pitiful existence in the slums they called home.

The young woman decided to pick up some more speed and broke into a light jog as she approached the border of the Nouveway District. A brightly coloured, and illuminated, green sign spelled out “Welcome to Nouveway” in large lettering. The fixture itself had been excessively defaced, but the neon tubes still defiantly displayed their message. However upon the top of the sign one of the more creative vandals had written the words "abandon hope all who enter" in fluorescent orange spray paint.

As she crossed into the slums, Sandra looked down at her current apparel and was shocked. She noticed her name tag was still attached to her blouse and quickly tore it off, startled at the revelation that she had just left it on. She had never been so careless before and she knew that Nouveway wasn’t the kind of place where you wanted people to know your name. She realised that she still looked very out of place and that she desperately needed to find somewhere to change.

There was a bar not far from her current location, and she decided that it looked relatively safe. For one, the neon signs that adorned the entrance were still working, which was always a positive sign in Nouveway. And, more importantly, it actually had a small notice which said it was open, a rarity amongst the majority of establishments in the district. It also looked familiar, almost as if it was one of her old haunts.

However, that is not to say that what Sandra had found was some oasis amongst the wastes. It was merely marginally better than what the rest of Nouveway had to offer, for when she entered the bar she could immediately detect the ambient air of unease. Everyone in the bar was either keeping to themselves or staying firmly within a close group. It was almost entirely silent, and only the bar tender dared look upon the newcomer.

"What’ll it be doll?" he spoke in a gratuitous, uncaring manner.

He then took another look at her, and his mood shifted to a less antagonistic and more jovial one, "Huh, well I’ll be damned, haven’t seen you round here for quite some time Candy. Life must be treating you good? Well stupid question, if it was treating you like it should, you wouldn’t be back here now whould’ya! Am I right boys?"

There was a slight murmur of agreement from the bar’s customers before it became deatlhly silent.

"Well, yeah, can I just use the toilets to change?" she piqued up

"Now don’t be silly, Candy! You know ma policy," he chirruped, "no matter how many times ya try it on with poor ol’ me"

"Fine, fine... I’ll have a double vodka," she said plainly.

"Why sure thing, you know where everything is? Right? So just pick it up before you leave," he spoke more gravely.

She motioned towards the back of the bar, where a pair of doorways lay. One with a clearly marked MEN plastered on it and another WOMEN labelled boldly upon it. Sandra entered the dank female toilet.

It was a squalid single room with a toilet bowl and a sink, and not much else. She locked the door and began to undress herself. She unfastened her blouse and bra before placing them on the toilet seat. From her handbag she retrieved a small black leather top, that barely covered her breasts and left her stomach exposed. She then motioned to take off her skirt and tights. After fishing a short black skirt from her handbag, she stuffed her work clothes into it and zipped the bag shut. She proceeded to fasten the short skirt around her waist.

She removed a small container from one of the pockets of her handbag. Within it was a small make up kit and she began to apply deep red lipstick to her pale lips. She also took out a pair of fake eyelashes and attached them to her eyelids without second thought, before applying a liberal amount of eyeshadow. After deciding this would be adequate, she placed everything back into the container before shoving it into her handbag.

Sandra exited the bathroom, and the bartender gave her a stern look. He motioned for her to come over.

He spoke firmly yet softly to her, "Now Candy, please don’t do anything stupid. Be careful out there."

She laughed at the thought. The old man had said that line so often in the past, she was certain that it had become an unconscious mantra. His warning had become a cliché, she was always careful.

"Yeah sure Joe, I’ll be fine," she spoke confidently, "but can you do me a favour and look after my stuff?"

"Why of course, madam. I’ll guard it with my life," he said jokingly and winked at her, before giving a small bow, "just like I normally do."

Sandra handed over her handbag to Joseph and left him some money for the drink she’d ordered. She took the generous measure of vodka and downed it in a single gulp. She handed the empty glass to the bartender and he gave her a look of concern, before she proceeded to make her way over to the exit.

As she left the bar she noticed a scruffy young man enter the establishment. She pitied him, no one that young should have to live in a place as hellish as this.

Sandra began to walk further into the slums. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

The majority of the streetlights had gone, in part due faulty wiring but mostly due to reckless vandalism. The advertising boards were just as worse for wear. Some parts of the streets appeared to be pitch black, as the typically bright glow from the rest of the city was blocked by the massive skyscrapers that constituted the slums.

On the outside they looked rather appealing and the architecture blended Nouveway in well with the rest of the expansive Quebec metropolis, but each building contained apartments that shared more in common with a prison cell than a house. It was no place to live. The people here merely seemed to exist.

Sandra knew where she could find the best custom. A well-lit street corner that was frequented by businessmen and other wealthy individuals looking for a cheap thrill. It was often joked that the reason it stayed in such a good condition was that the people who visited it payed for any damage caused. That probably wasn’t so far from the truth.

It took her ten minutes to get to the spot. She checked her watch again. 23:57. She was still late, but she could already see that the custom was far from gone.

Sandra stayed on the edges of the illuminated area, and hoped that someone would pick her up. She waited for almost half an hour, watching other prostitutes ply their trade, before a fat young man in a high brand sports car stopped by where she was standing.

He motioned her into the car, and she entered the passenger seat. He began to drive away before uttering a word.

"So how much then, five hundred?" he asked, bluntly.

"Well if all you want is something simple, sure. But don’t you want to be more exotic?" she teased, hoping to squeeze some more money out of him.

He began to sweat slightly.

"No, I just want things to be simple," he snapped.

"So where do you want to do this?" she enquired.

"Anywhere. Anywhere that’s dark. And no cameras," he spoke, slightly on edge.

The demand seemed odd, but several of her past regulars had made the same request of no cameras. She could understand why, if they were caught then their lives would be ruined. But this man wasn't someone Sandra had done business before, and she was nervous to fulfil the offer. However desperation and greed got the better of her, for while she knew she only needed three hundred more, she liked the idea of a little extra money on the side. And the sooner she could leave Nouveway the better.

"Well if we just continue on this road we’ll end up further into the slums. And the lights are largely broken. Just find an alleyway and we can do it there." she responded.

They continued on slightly further, and the man stopped the car. Both of them exited the vehicle and he locked it. The pair began to venture up into a secluded nearby alleyway. The faint roar of traffic could be heard from the distant Javelin Street. Sandra knew this place well, and knew it was relatively safe, with a short cut back to civilisation if she needed it.

She found a place where both her, and her client, would not be visible from the road and pressed him up against the wall. However, just as she was about to unfasten his belt, she noticed a gun holstered underneath the man’s shirt.

Sandra instantly panicked, and assumed the worst. She lashed out to try and grab the weapon.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU CRAZY BITCH!" he yelled at her.

She kept struggling, and ripped open his shirt to reveal the holster and gun. She tried to pull it out but he knocked to the ground with a blow from his fist.

He grabbed the gun and aimed it at her.

"I really don’t want to do this... At least not now. Not until I’ve had my fun," he slowly pronounced

Sandra’s heart sank. She realised what he had intended to do. He would have completed their arrangement before killing her to avoid payment. She’d have expected such a base move from a labourer, but never from a more refined individual like him.

"Now up against the wall!" he commanded

She moved towards the wall in a heartbeat, and pressed her back against it.

"And lift up that little skirt of yours. Then place your hand above your head," a sickening grin etched itself on his face.

Sandra was scared. Joe was right, she should have been more careful. She knew she had been foolish and had put avarice over self-preservation. And now she was going to pay for the mistake with her life. She began to cry.

"Now don’t cry girl, it’s all going to be over soon," slime dripping from his voice, as he removed his belt, gun still aimed directly at Sandra’s head.

He pressed himself up against her and she closed her sobbing eyes.

She heard an odd sound, akin to that of a bone fracturing. Suddenly the man began screaming in agony.

"AAAAGGHHHH! WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED!" he yelped, the supercilious tone exhumed from his voice.

Sandra opened her eyes and before her stood the grotesque pig, mutilated and butchered. Where it's filthy arms have been only two clean shaven wounds, where they were once connected to his shoulder, remained. Blood was rapidly gushing from these fresh wounds and he suddenly fell to the floor, completely overcome with pain. Sandra actually felt sorry for him, and turned away from the ghastly site. She deeply wished that his suffering would stop. It was at that exact moment the screaming halted. She opened her eyes again to bear witness to his severed head rolling across the concrete floor. She turned to look at her clothes and realised that she had become splattered with his dying blood.

Oh my god. What. What have I done, she thought to herself, utterly aghast at the scene which had presented itself.

She tidied up her appearance slightly, and knelt down before the decapitated corpse. Sandra searched through his trousers and found a small wallet. Within it was more than enough money to pay her, despite the fact he was prepared to just murder her. She slotted the wallet in between her breasts before removing the man’s car keys.

Everything will be okay. I’ve got all the money I need, and no one can prove it was me. I’ll be long gone. If police ask I’ll be truthful. I'll say that he attacked me and then that he suddenly ended up dead.

Sandra began to run down the alleyway when a noise startled her from behind.

She started running but was suddenly intercepted by the scruffy young man she had seen earlier at the bar. She opened her mouth to scream but was cut short by a quick scything cut to the throat.

She collapsed to the floor, staring wistfully at the orange sky. She could feel herself slipping away, as her consciousness began to fade into darkness.

Part 2 - Remorse

WARNING
CONTAINS COARSE LANGUAGE, VIOLENCE, GORE AND SEXUAL REFERENCES


I stood there, blood lightly splattered on my hands, staring down at the lifeless corpse that lay before me. The poor bitch didn't deserve it, but she'd got in my way. And I needed the money. I knew that I would find a better use for it than this cheap whore.

Better hide the body before the cops make their next patrol here

It didn't take much effort to lift her. She was fairly light, and it seemed that she had either been starving herself to look more appealing or had slim takings recently. Judging by the large amount of cash I had now procured, I was guessing the former.

I checked the street ahead, and could just make out the outline of a large dumpster. However, the street was full of people, and I was only just out of sight. I knew that if I moved towards it I would surely be spotted.

Seems I'm going to have to get creative

I dropped my victim to the floor, and began to scope out my alternatives. The other direction lead further into the depths of the slums. That would mean less people and less utilities, but that was a gamble I was going to have to take. I picked her up again, and noticed that she was still warm. Her skin was soft to the touch and I began to stare into her lifeless eyes. They were hauntingly beautiful, echoes of the life she had once enjoyed. Her form was akin to that of a masterpiece that had been cut down in its prime.

Stay focused

I could just make out a trash compactor a couple of blocks away. The lights had gone out further down the alley. Almost anything could be lurking there. If I was lucky it'd just be some hapless beggars whom I could quickly silence with a quick bribe or swift blow to the head. If I was unlucky... well, things could get messy. I slung her over my shoulder and ran further down the street, careful to see if anyone was around.

Odd, it's too quiet

It was just then that I could make out a two figures not far from my objective. One appeared to be masculine in appearance, the other more slender and much smaller. It was likely just a prostitute and her client. I looked for the nearest bit of cover I could find and spotted a pile of discarded crates. I carefully lay her down, with an odd grace that was unbecoming of the morbid situation. It was just then that a sickening feeling overwhelmed me, and suddenly I started to feel sorry for her. I'd been immature and selfish. I'd just taken what I wanted without even giving her a chance to fight back. I had merely cared about convenience and efficiency over human life. She hadn't needed to die. It all seemed so unnecessary.

She looks so fragile

I didn't like it. Every minute I wasted here was another minute that made me dwell on my actions. And worse, it increased the likelihood of me getting caught. I wanted to keep moving, but I knew I'd need to wait until the couple had finished their exchange of services. However, another option presented itself. They were in very close proximity to the trash compactor and I knew exactly what I was capable of. I grabbed her body once more and tucked it under the pile of boxes.

Now's my chance. They're both too distracted

I started to make my way further along the alleyway, slowly and silently, towards my latest prey. It seemed the client was lost in a world of ecstasy, meaning that he would be at his most vulnerable. The prostitute was moaning slightly as the large man continued to force himself against her. And then suddenly, he went limp. I had reasoned that subtlety was the key and had opted to cut the synaptic nerves in his brain. He was already dead when blood began to pour from his nose and eyes. The prostitute screamed but she was quickly silenced after I lunged towards her, forcing her to the ground.

This would be a more fair fight

She struggled as I forced myself on top of her and began to squeeze my hands around her windpipe. She tried to scream but the air couldn't reach her lungs. She kept struggling, more vigorously and I could see the absolute terror in her eyes. I smiled as she began to kick violently as distress gripped her body. There was a loud snapping noise as she thrashed her arms against the concrete ground, and her left arm broke. She tried to scream once more, but this time she went completely limp. The oxygen starvation had finally taken effect. I walked away, pleased with what I had done. I had been a fair hunter and used nothing but my superior reflexes and strengths to fell her.

The thrill of the fight... It's so empowering...

I checked both bodies for money and took all that I could find. It wasn't much, but it was a welcome reward for my noble actions. I had just rid the world of two more worthless scum. I lifted the client's body into the trash compactor first. It was a challenge as he was far heavier than I was anticipating, having probably become so enlarged due to excessive steroid abuse. I was barely able to slump him into machine, let alone lift him but eventually, after considerable effort he was firmly placed inside. I picked up the broken body of the prostitute. Seeing her torn like a pathetic rag doll amused me and I stifled a small laugh

"Oh how sad, to see a poor girl like you become the Devil's plaything... " I remarked in a supercilious fashion

I threw her gracelessly into the mechanical construct and closed the lid. I checked down the alleyway again, both ways. Nothing. No trace of a living being. I ran back towards my first victim, doggedly checking to see if anyone new had appeared. Nothing. I made it to the crates and carefully removed them from her lifeless body, gently lifting them from her delicate form. She looked so peaceful, and it seemed a crime to exhume her from her eternal slumber. As I began to lift the body, her long blonde hair fell freely.

She looks so empty...

I slowly began to make my way towards the trash compactor once more. I knew that my earthly time with the mysterious woman was coming to a close and I couldn't afford her the funeral such a refined specimen deserved. But my survival was more important than respecting the dead. She had had her chance in life, even if I was the one who was responsible for cutting it shorter. So much more could have been done to prevent her pathetic fate.

As I walked towards my target I noticed another pair of footsteps echoing in the dark alley. They were slowly getting faster and heavier. I turned around and saw nothing, but the footsteps continued. It was then that I noticed a menacing figure approaching from the shadows. I checked my watch.

"Shit!" I blurted out loudly.

I knew what it must be. I'd taken too long.

"POLICE! DROP THE BODY! AND PUT YOUR HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!" the officer yelled loudly.

Rookie error.

He'd just given away his position, so I could aim my shot more readily. I hastily threw my victim's body to the ground and projected my hands clearly in front of me of before launching a beam of pure white light in his direction. While it just missed the target, the flash had it's desired effect and the police officer began shooting blindly, clearly now unable to see.

"AGHHH! You've done it now you fucking bastard!" he shouted furiously

I could have ended it there, for the beam had also illuminated his position, and I could have made a sure strike against the officer. But it seemed that the real thrill was only there when I physically extinguished the life of a target. I grabbed the woman's corpse and rushed him, bowling him over with the combined weight of me and my burden. I threw her on top of him and pinned him to the floor with my right hand, as an ungodly strength overwhelmed my body. The poor bastard was still swearing madly at me, screeching that I let him go.

He was squirming like a trapped rat so I took a domineering stance over him and took out a small switchblade. It had never been used before, but today it would taste flesh and blood. I crouched down beside him and pressed the blade into his stomach, slowly twisting it. He screamed in agony and began to cry like a wounded dog. I dug deeper as blood began to erupt violently from the wound as I punctured his internal organs. I kept twisting it, further and further until the entire weapon was fully embedded in the officer's gut. I then stood up and kicked full force onto the blade which caused his spine to become severed. The police officer stopped twitching. It seemed the shock of shattering his spinal cord was what finally finished him. My hands were stained deep scarlet before wiped them on his unsullied trousers.

I stood up once more, my foot on his disembowelled stomach, savouring the kill.

I looked at my watch and realised it was getting late, deciding to run back to my first victim and gently pick her up, before continuing in my original mission uninterrupted. I opened the lid once more and I placed her delicately into the disposal unit, like a flower upon a grave. I looked into her eyes again. There was a deep sadness in them.

The eyes are the windows of the soul...

It made me uncomfortable. I removed the knife from the police officer's body and with great effort shoved him into the trash compactor. I pocketed the blade before shutting the lid firmly on the machine.

I made my way towards the operating switch and flicked it on. The machine creaked to life and began to crush the load it had been burdened with. The sound of bones snapping could be faintly heard over the noise of the mechanical parts of the disposal unit churning my victims. Each of them nameless. Yet, despite that, my first still haunted me. I had never done anything like that before. Murder had never been my style. It was careless and selfish. But it felt more natural than anything I had ever done before.

I checked behind me and could see a couple of whores coming down the alley from the main street. I decided now was the best time to run, and quickly bolted from the trash compactor.

I could just about hear the infernal device stop. As I ventured further into the darkness.

Part 3 - Reflection

WARNING
CONTAINS COARSE LANGUAGE AND VIOLENCE

An exhausted man pushed open the luxurious door that led into a large office. A weary look was plastered across his face, and reflected in his worn eyes. The room was rather tidy and well organised, a serious and officious man, resplendent in a business suit, was situated behind a large desk. The piece of furniture provided the central focal point of the office. It was a curious hemispherical design, with the finished product a round table that was balanced on a single point. The man sitting at the desk stood up as the stranger moved closer towards him. He suddenly took an official stance of attention and saluted the intruder.

"Commander Anderson!" he spoke rigidly.

"Please, enough of those formalities Chief Constable, " Anderson replied quickly, in an casual manner.

"Why of course, but still. It is always a pleasure to meet you," the Chief Constable said, "I take it you require my assistance?"

"You can read me like a book, Legrand. I require aid in apprehending a suspected serial killer," he spoke in commanding manner, without hesitation.

"I can provide anything within reason, Anderson," the suited man was fast to reply.

"I require a team of Q-SORT officers. I am expecting a high lethality engagement with the target. He has already killed five people in the last hour," the interloper relayed the information plainly.

"I believe I may already be aware of the man you are wishing to capture, and special forces are hardly necessary. We have received a report of a missing police officer and dispatched two armed lieutenants to locate and arrest the suspect," the Chief Constable spoke far more calmly, "there is no need to worry Commander, we have already sighted him on the edge of the Nouveway District, everything is under control."

"Eric!" Damien shouted, smacking his hand down on the desk at the same time, "that won't be enough! You have no idea who you are dealing with"

"What do you mean?" Legrand questioned, unease clear in his voice, "Armed police will be more than adequate regardless of who we are dealing with."

"I request that I am given a Q-SORT team as back up for the armed officers. Things could go badly," he spoke through gritted teeth, his aggravation was rising.

"Well then, give me good reason. Please, as much as I respect you Commander, I need acceptable justification to deploy our most valuable assets. It would reflect badly on myself, and our department, if they were deployed against a Class-3 Felon with no just cause. The target is not a high enough priority for such heavy handed action," the Chief Constable spoke clearly, the volume increasing as his own annoyance grew, "sending two armed response officers is all that is required. Unless you can relay all the information you possess, Damien."

Chief Constable Eric Legrand typically had a high tolerance for fulfilling unofficial requests to his former colleague, but after falling under great scrutiny during an investigation that uncovered his sympathetic ties to Ghost_K he had become rather limited in the support he could offer. He had already faced disciplinary action and suffered ridicule from his superiors for being affiliated with them. He was well aware of what they thought of the organisation his commander had been now ensnared by.

"Eric. I am not going to fuck around. I just don't have the time," Anderson spoke gravely as he retrieved a handgun from his jacket pocket and aimed it at the head of the Chief Constable, "you will order the dispatch of a Q-SORT team. You will put them on standby immediately. Do I make myself clear."

"What the hell is this Damien!" he exclaimed, "if I fulfil your request my career is over! It's that simple, you'll just have to shoot me."

Eric began to quake with fear, and placed his hands instinctively on his head.

"Well I guess I'll just need to shoot," Damien snapped

He altered the position of his gun slightly. Anderson pulled the trigger and the bullet hit tip of the Chief Constable's left ear. It slowly began to bleed

"Agh! Fuck! You've crossed the line... " Eric growled, trying to mask the pain, "you've gone too far... how can any good come of this... "

"This is not time for your moral bullshit," Anderson exclaimed, "ORDER THE FUCKING TEAM!"

"F-fine, I'll put them on standby... But please, you have to tell me what happened," Legrand spoke quietly, shaking violently, "what could have happened that would make you shoot a friend?"

"I shall. But for now, walk over to the phone," Anderson commanded, his firearm still aimed firmly at Eric's head, "dial it."

The Chief Constable slowly made his way over to the device. He picked it up and began to rapidly key in the digits. He waited momentarily for the dial tone. After four consecutive rings a woman answered.

"Now request deployment," Anderson ordered slowly and clearly, "don't try anything funny."

Eric spoke quickly and relayed Damien's command to the woman. She was initially confused by the request but obliged without question.

"Seven officers have been placed on standby. I also detailed that I was conversing with the team leader and so that an eighth uniform should be taken from storage," Eric said plainly, a look of betrayal in his eyes.

He stared directly at Damien Anderson. A man he thought he knew. A man he thought he trusted. He would have never expected such a heartless act from someone he once considered a friend. A rage began to awaken within him, now that he was no longer afraid for his very life, the amount of hate he felt towards his former colleague was immense. Simultaneously he began to appreciate that he had actually been shot, and brought his hand up to his damaged ear.

"NOW TELL ME WHY WOULD YOU FUCKING SHOOT ME!" he bellowed, blood dripping from his fresh wound, "YOU FUCKING MANIAC!"

"Because he killed her! The bastard killed her... " Anderson shouted, tears forming in his eyes.

"WHO?" Eric roared.

"I'd been tracking her for weeks... she was special like me... I was supposed to pick her up today... take her back to the order... " he lamented, his eyes sullen with sorrow.

"THAT DOESN'T EXCUSE WHAT YOU JUST DID! YOU FUCKING SHOT ME!" Legrand yelled, overcome with fury.

"She changed her schedule today... I missed her... " he choked, overcome by grief, "I was too late... she was already gone... "

"GET A FUCKING GRIP OF YOURSELF!" the Chief Constable rushed over and physically grabbed Anderson, "You've just had me order a Q-SORT squad because of a fucking girl."

He started to violently shake his former comrade, but his face remained empty.

"When I found her she was dead... crushed... defiled... " Damien spoke wistfully, "I failed. I couldn't even complete a simple task... "

Realising that his comrade was still unresponsive, Legrand opted to punch Anderson directly in the face.

"That's for ruining my career you selfish prick," Eric snapped. He was quivering again, although it was not with fear as before, but rage.

"I'll catch him though. Eric, I promise you that," the Commander spoke again.

"Are you even listening?" Eric snarled, "And you better catch him, it's the least you can do given all the crap you've just put me through. If you waste what I've just done for you, I swear I'll kill you myself."

"He's dangerous, Eric. That's why I need the Q-SORT," he spoke sullenly, "and I saw his broken body too... the young officer who went missing... and two others... "

"So he killed all of them together, at the same time?" Legrand mused, with less aggression in his voice and genuine concern.

"And she was one of us... she was supposed to be a Guardian... but this monster cut her down in cold blood," he lamented

"ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME!? That doesn't change my situation, Damien," Eric growled, "I'm finished. This is beyond a cover up."

"I can help though, I can vouch for you. You will have the backing of Ghost_K," Damien piqued up hopefully.

"Ha! Ghost_K is the problem. My superiors did not approve of our connections. They hold you in extreme contempt my friend," the suited man spoke far more calmly this time, "and they did not take kindly to having their star officer leave the force for some ridiculous band of merry men."

Legrand began to laugh to himself before facing his old colleague again. A small smile began to creep onto his face.

"Now it is best you should be on your way," he ordered, "the team will be ready for the brief."

Damien began to compose himself and looked into the eyes of his former colleague.

"Good luck," Eric Legrand cheerfully spoke, "but please leave your gun."

Anderson was filled with a feeling of dread as he placed it down on the desk.

"That will be all my friend," Eric spoke in a peculiar tone

It was already too late to stop him, as Damien closed the door.

Part 4 - Recollection

WARNING
CONTAINS COARSE LANGUAGE AND VIOLENCE


File:07931
Subject: Target Alpha
Date of Entry: January 18th 2116
Record: Worker 01

This document is authorised solely for reference by operatives of the Blessed Worker's Elemental Group in regard to the cyber terrorist Sleeping Teledu (alias of Claude Lasi-Faité [VERIFICATION NEEDED]). Any unauthorised personnel will be severely punished if caught with this document in their possession. Details of my own personal encounters are key in understanding the abilities and motivations of this individual. Most importantly it illustrates the true danger possessed by this man.1 For more detailed references of other displayed powers please refer to the appropriate files. 2

Aged seven years, four months and twenty-three days I first encountered the individual known as "Claude" in the Quebec Region, within the Nouveway District. Research has failed to provide a conclusive real name for the suspect, but the man addressed by police officers on 15-06-2096 (approx. time: 0304h) in that manner. The target was clothed in dark blue jeans trousers; black shirt and black loafers. Each item of clothing was frayed and worn, particularly the trousers which sported a multitude of tears. Dark patches of red fluid (later confirmed to be blood) had stained the trousers, shirt and hands of the individual. The target sported unshaven facial hair (colour: grey) and long grey hair (arranged in a pony-tail). Due to the darkness I was unable to make out the eye colour of the target.

The target first conversed with me at approx. 0257h. It initiated a transaction of cash to purchase my silence on the matter of his dubious appearance. Transcript of the conversation (as accurately as can be reconstructed) is as follows (between 0257h and 0258h).

Target Alpha: "Hey, you didn't see me, right? Here's one hundred, just lie low and don't get caught."

01: "Okay."

Target Alpha: "Good. You're a good little kid. Now, you better get moving. Shit! I can see them just behind me."

At that moment I turned to face the direction the subject had entered from. In pursuit were two Quebec Region Police Officers. Both officers carried a MP5 and were outfitted with full body armour. I followed the most logical option and took up a covered position behind a waste bin. Evaluation of the situation indicated that the target would have been quickly disposed of if fighting ensued. Following transcript details vocal communication between officers and target (accurately verified from police archives) that transpired between 0303h and 0305h.

Police Officer 1: "Claude Lasi-Faité! This is the police. Put your hands on your head. There is no escape."

Police Officer 2: "If you attempt to resist we are authorised to use lethal force."

Target Alpha: "It's okay officers. I'm ready to give myself up."

Police Officer 1: "You are under arrest for multiple homicide. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law."

At this point, the second police officer approached the target with a set of handcuffs and placed them firmly on it. The subject.

Target Alpha: "The problem is, you really didn't send enough men to take me down."

At this point a bright light flash emitted from the target. I was unable to visually confirm what transpired immediately after, but when vision was restored the target appeared to be free from its bonds. Both officers appeared to have become visually impaired and had resorted to dangerous tactic of firing machine gun rounds wildly. They loudly exclaimed profanities that would be wasted in transcript.

It should be noted that it was during this time that the target demonstrated the abilities it possessed in full. Target Alpha proceeded to direct beams of pure light against the officers. Each was propelled backward by these blasts. The power which Target Alpha demonstrated was incredible.3 The target also utilised light as a means of projecting beams which were capable of searing flesh. I could see that one of the police officers had been severely burned after receiving a direct hit to the face.

However, Target Alpha proceeded to illustrate it had control over a secondary skill set. The target utilised an unknown (later identified to belong to the element of Shadow) power to disembowel the police officer which had been hit directly. This was done very slowly and appeared to be surgical in nature. Extreme precision was displayed, likely in order to pierce the armour, before making incisions into the flesh and organs of the intended victim. The police officer emitted loud noises of pain and terror before succumbing to his wounds

The second police officer, seemingly no longer visually impaired, targeted Alpha and proceeded to fire approx. 200 rounds at it. At this time I assumed that the target had been disposed of and began to leave my position of cover. Unexpectedly Target Alpha remained undamaged. Several bullets were littered both in front and to the side of it. Its hand has projected in front of it and an expression of contorted facial muscles resemblant of a smile had appeared on its face. It spoke once more, likely in an attempt to goad the police officer. Transcript as follows (verified from police records, approx. time 0311).

Target Alpha: "That was pathetic. You can do better than that. I just killed your comrade and you can’t even land a single hit on me. Come on, I’ll let you take the first punch at me."

Police Officer 2 (Into communications device): "This is Foxtrot-Eighty-Four requesting immediate dispatch of armed response team to converge on my current position. Hostile has proven-"

The police officer was silenced by Target Alpha. His throat was visibly slit, but no weapon was apparent. Blood spilled from the incision rapidly and the police officer proceeded to collapse to the floor. Excessive blood loss was the clear cause of death Transcript resumes (approx. 0312).

Target Alpha: "Oh, calling your little friends is rather unsporting, I was hoping for a nice clean fight from you. But if I must, I’ll be happy to play with them."

An armoured VTOL aerial vehicle (make unknown) became visible overhead and eight reinforced Kevlar ropes descended from it, each attached to heavily armoured Quebecois Special Operative Response Team (Q-SORT) officer. Each was geared head-to-toe in armour which protected the limbs, torso and joints of the individual. They were also outfitted with a helmet that offered limited vision. Four of the Q-SORT officers were armed with heavy duty assault rifles. Two were armed with RPG Launchers. One was armed with a shotgun. The final one, which had a slightly different uniform, appeared to be equipped with nothing.

The unarmed leader of the team walked towards Target Alpha (at this point the target had six lethal weapons trained on him). He opened up a dialogue with the target. The transcript of these events is unverified due to data being unavailable (apparently seized by Ghost_k). Approx. time 0314

Q-SORT Leader: "You’ve caused a lot of trouble for me you stupid fuck. Far more than you could understand. Now you can either come quietly or I’m going to just kill you myself."

Note: the leader took an aggressive stance with his right arm projected. The target began to laugh at this point.

Target Alpha: "With what exactly?"

Note: the Q-SORT officers cocked their weapons

Target Alpha: "Oh, is that supposed to scare me?"

Immediately after these words were uttered a pillar of earthen origin struck Target Alpha, throwing it backwards. It appeared that it had also caused significant injury, as the target began to bleed from his mouth. Transcript continues, approx. 0315.

Q-SORT Leader: "I’m going to make you suffer. You are going to pay for fucking up my operation."

Another pillar erupted from the ground. This time though, the target dodged the attack. A second pillar did, however, glance the left arm of the target. I remember hearing a cracking noise when it made contact. I assume a bone was broken in the limb. Transcript resumes approx. 0315.

Target Alpha: "Shit! That fucking hurts man... but at least this is a proper fight!"

Q-SORT Leader: "Four... fucking months. I nearly had her. She would have been safe from vulgar little cunts like you. We needed her and you just gratuitously killed her."

Target Alpha: "Which one do you mean? I've killed so many. It's such a shame I never knew how much fun it was until today."

Q-SORT Leader: "You're a dead man walking. I don't care if they want you alive."

I was not sure to the reason for the anger demonstrated by the leader. To this day I have yet to uncover this particular mystery, as record pertaining to Target Alpha’s civilian casualties of 15-06-2096 appear to have been confiscated by Ghost_k.4 The anger of the mysterious man (assumed to be a Ghost_k member) appeared to feed his abilities.5 At this point a multitude of spikes erupted from the ground where the target currently was. I am certain one may have penetrated its foot as a loud scream of pain was audible.

The Q-SORT team held their position and did not fire (it is assumed this was ordered by their leader) although it seemed Target Alpha would soon be terminated as a result of severe injuries caused by the rocks that had struck him. However, the target was defiantly relentless in enduring the attacks, and continued to dodge several of them while even unleashing a few beams of light energy wildly.

The team leader appeared to be unphased by these attacks, likely due to antiglare protection on the visor of the helmet that he wore, and thus he continued the barrage. It was at that point, the unexpected happened, as Target Alpha unleashed a tremendously powerful blast of raw energy at the entire Q-SORT team. The projected blast is nearly indescribable, the closest I can manage to explain the phenomenon as, is that of a spherical object completely devoid of light, seemingly not corporeal in substance. The aftermath, on the other hand, is something I will never forget.

It was a truly devastating site to behold and I would rather not dwell on the emotion it stirred up in me. Severed and contorted limbs of several of the Q-SORT team littered the area. Blood stained the walls and the floor. The buildings which enclosed the side street were cracked (I can only assume they had become heavily damaged as these structures were demolished 2 weeks after the incident occurred). Two of the members who had not been slain were firing their assault rifles blindly towards the last visual conformation of the target. The VTOL craft began to descend, likely with the intent of retrieving the survivors.

I began to run. It was illogical to remain in such a hostile environment. I do not think I was spotted as I sprinted away from the scene of the chaos. I can distinctly remember the leader forcing himself to stand, as I checked back the way I was running from. He had been at the epicentre of the blast, logically he should have been dead, but somehow he had survived when so many others had perished.

The last thing I remember was his loud voice shouting. I assume he was referencing to Target Alpha. The final unverified transcript is as follows. Time unknown (estimate 0320)

Q-SORT Leader: "You can run all you want! But the darkness shall not protect you from my wrath. I. WILL! FIND YOU!!!"

1. Extremely high Shadow Elemental control. Proficient Light Elemental control.
2. See Files 00193; 01301; 01322; 02495; 03028 for more conclusive data
3. See File 03029 for complete list of reasons for preferred capture of Target Alpha alive
4. See File 04651 for occurrences of similar erasures of police records in relation to Target Alpha
5. Worth further research in near future, has been identified in several former BWEG members

Crystal Clear Intentions

It was a new dawn. A new day. The day everything would change. All of my efforts had lead up to this point.

Eight years ago I was nothing but a lowlife thief, an insignificant street rat that would never amount to anything. But then everything changed. I made a mistake. A grievous error. I killed a woman in cold blood. And that thief became a murderer.

That in itself spawned a drastic upheaval in my life. Suddenly I was a higher class of criminal. My activities were now no longer so harmless. Yet, of course that was only the tip of the iceberg, for my selfish actions brought me to the attention of more than just the authorities. For that was the day the wrath of Damien Anderson was unleashed upon me.

As time went on "murderer" became "serial killer" and extinguishing life became all but a daily occurrence for me. Massacres were now something that was expected of me, yet a life of chaos would never be the end of it. I realised that the one thing I required most of all was power.

As I stand here today, supping champagne with my conspirators, I can't help but feel the satisfaction of achieving that goal. From assassinating high priority targets to acquiring small-scale businesses. Everything I had done was in preparation for this moment.

The day I would take power of an organisation that could stand toe-to-toe with the mass conglomerates that ran the world.

I turned to face my most loyal associates. Men and women who had aided my efforts from the start. My "Inner Circle".

Jordan Hansen, a dispossessed Sector XII Officer, was engaged in a conversation with a man I did not recognize. Hansen was a man that who had come to my attention at the end of the last century. A very capable soldier and a seasoned commander, who was in the eyes of his government regarded as worthless. Yet, their inability to spot his talents beyond elemental power would be their undoing, as the gifted man came into my service.

Harald Albraun was speaking with his sister-in-law, Stephanie Christelle. The former had been a benefactor and a close friend for several years now. He understood my worth and respected my determination. He was a European nobleman who had been stripped of his power when the last rulers of Sector IV had been deposed, and a new one instated by the Ildano Corporation. I had promised I could return his nobility one day, provided I had the right tools.

The latter was a young woman who had made my acquaintance rather recently, and she had been offered to me as a wife by Harald, on the behalf of her father. I of course politely accepted, not wishing to offend the Albraun's or the Christelle's patriarchs. She seems a kind and affectionate person. Although at only sixteen years of age, I can't help but feel she is rather young.

Notably, her father was not present at our small celebration. I could only assume he had more important things to attend to back in Toulouse.

I could see Kila Norovich and Petra Alamani rather obsessively engaged in a discussion. Every now and then a brief snippet of the conversation would reach my ears, usually a tidbit concerned with destabilising the Euro Zone or Siberian Zone. Norovich was a former Siberian Agent, one with no amnesty for his former employers. They had killed his family and nearly managed to get him. By some random freak of chance I had ended up saving his life. He was a man with an important skill set I just could not pass up, and thus I promised him the destruction of Sector II if he were to support my cause.

Alamani was nothing more than a glorified bureaucrat. He was insignificant compared to Norovich, but I needed his services none the less. As an informant already planted firmly within the Euro Zone, he was sadly rather key to my future plans.

I looked at my watch. It was the perfect time as all of our shares had just been be transfered into a single entity.

I took my glass of champagne and tapped it thrice.

"Ladies and gentleman! I would just like to announce that the foundation of our new organisation is officially complete!" I projected enthusiastically.

There was a cheer from those present, accompanied by a rather subdued round of applause.

"The Vallarie Administration, our glorious new enterprise, is now a tangible entity!" the words leaped from my tongue.

Everyone raised their glasses and toasted the pronouncement.

"And exactly who will lead them?" a sly voice emanated from the edge of the room. It was the mysterious man who I had noticed speaking with Jordan, "who will sit at the head of this fine organisation? An organisation that you have funded under a pseudonym, Mr Lasi-Faité!"

Indignant at this rude interruption I called for my guards to seize him. Yet, there was not reply. No response. That was when I noticed that the room was eerily frozen still. And that everyone was somehow locked in place.

"What is this trickery!" I exclaimed, horrified by the situation.

"It is no trick, my son. This is what my ability permits me to do!" the shadowy gentleman stepped out into the light. He was middle aged, resplendent in a fine looking tuxedo. Like myself, he was wearing a pair of sunglasses, "now, back to my original question. Who exactly is going to run this little affair!"

As he spoke, he took a champagne glass from one of the inanimate people and took a sip.

"That's hardly any concern of you!" I spat.

"I believe it is the right of the investor to know how his money is being spent!" the suited man laughed, "I'm very interested in the actions of my employees."

I stood their in disbelief. This was the face behind the man who had been funding my actions. This was the person responsible for guiding my hand for the last few years.

"So you are William Sandro!?" I cried out, slightly worried about the intentions of this man.

"Correct! Well, that is a convenient pseudonym. I prefer to be known by the name Asiduus Aeviternus," he playfully pronounced, "and you have been in my employ quite some time."

"Well," I summoned up my usual persona, "don't you think I have used your money productively!"

"The future will decide that." Asiduus glibly stated, "now please answer my question."

"Surely it is obvious, Mr. Aeviternus! I will have my darling future wife serve as CEO! She has already adopted the name of Libor Vallarie Kwolac," I smirked, confident with my plan, "she is an ideal puppet who will do as I command."

"How clever! For it allows you keep your own identity hidden," the man contemplated, "although such genius comes as no surprise! I have always known that you were the most worthy of my children. That you would make a most worthwhile investment!"

"What on earth do you mean!" I shouted, confused by the previous sentiment.

"That I am your father, dearest Claude. The one who gave you life." the Aeviternus stated, a smug smile on his face.

The air seemed to chill for a second and suddenly the man was gone. As if he had never been there in the first place. The cheers of my associates resumed and I could here one of them comment that their glass had vanished.

It seemed unreal. That entire situation. The conversation. It was as if it was a waking dream. A nightmare. It couldn't have just happened.

"You didn't think that they were really your parents... " a whisper reached my ears from behind where I was standing. I turned around to face the direction it had come from but alas no one was there.

Stephanie seemed to notice my peculiar behaviour and walked up to me before asking after my stunned state, "What's wrong, Claude? You look like you've just seen a ghost."

K21 - Tarnished Perceptions

WARNING
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

One remaining.

"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.

*

Kenneth sat down and breathed a sigh of relief. He was finally safe. He had escaped the Palace. Escaped Sector IV. And most importantly: He had lived.

Mathieu patted him on the back as he sat down onto the sofa. It was a surreal thing to be doing. Only two of them. The place seemed so quiet.

"That was some stellar flying you managed back there. I am grateful that you were able to save us," the plant elemental remarked, with a false warmth.

Mathieu had just finished possessively making a list of each and every member who had been killed during the failed ambush. The entire thing had been a disaster. On final count: 45 dead. 3 missing in action.

"Don't mention it... " Kenneth replied, morose.

They were the only two survivors. Everyone else was gone.

"I've never noticed how large this place is," Mathieu mused, with a twisted humour in his voice.

"Or quiet?" Lysander tried to joke.

"Well... Block 441 has never been this empty before... I mean... we have forty-four people less than normal... forty-four... " Dalton solemnly spoke.

"I know, we'll stick the news on. Our little conflict must have caught the media's attention by now. I mean, the whole bloody Holy Commonwealth Palace fell a part as we left, they won't be able to cover it up!" he chuckled vacuously, "especially as our arrival was broadcast live across the Euro Zone... "

Kenneth's attentions drifted away from the switched on television, as he started to ponder about the whole ordeal. For the first time in his life Lysander found himself doubting Damien Anderson. All these years he'd followed him, knowing his friend was right in his convictions. Right in his cause. The event had been broadcast live to show the peaceful intent between two parties who had been embroiled in vicious conflicts. It was supposed to highlight that matters could be soved diplomatically.

But Anderson had opened fire on their hosts. He had shot first. He had instigated the massacare. Ghost_K had lost fourty-four people. Just how many innocent lives had the Vallarie Administration lost, Kenneth pondered. He had been responsible for several of those deaths. He had also borne witness to three cold blooded murders. Unarmed Royals. The very people who had allowed the Ghost_K delegation into their home.

It was sickening.

Upon reflection, Lysander realised a critical part of the whole ordeal. The Queen had only attacked him in order to defend a man who was under her sovereign protection. The Royal Guards were defending themselves as well, only for the Guardians to slay them in their droves. It hadn't been a righteous battle with an enemy of the state as Damien had proclaimed. It was a massacare of the misguided, driven by Anderson's personal vendetta against a single man.

Forty-four dead. To ensure the death of one man.

He vividly remembered seeing Claude hurled into the air by the horrendous winds. The man was likely dead, but it was hardly compensation. They had thrown away forty-four lives. And that was if they were lucky. With a remaining three merely unaccounted for, they were likely dead as well.

The sight of the murdered Ghost_K personnel would forever haunt him. They had checked all five transports in a bid to find one that was still airworthy. They had found their auxiliary personnel, fallen on the ground. Some had their throats cut, others had been frozen death, a few were little more than charred bone and a couple had just been shot dead.

The Sector VII News was largely obsessed with their own affairs, detailing the unrest within the Upper African Zone as government forces were embroiled in a couple of conflicts within insurgents and reporting progress of efforts to quell the antagonistic supporters of the World Justice Uprising. But Kenneth knew they couldn't pass up the opportunity of showing the misfortune of a rival political sector. It was then he heard the words he had been waiting for.

"... and we are now joined by our foreign correspondant in the Euro Zone," a young female presenter introduced the next panel.

"Yes indeed, Sasha," the European journalist replied to his colleague, "and I am standing in front of what remains of the Holy Commonwealth Palace."

He was carefully positioned on the screen so that the audience could see the wreckage and rubble of the building.

"We have received an official statement from the Queen of Sector IV that at approximately 2200 hours an invited delegation, comprising of key members of the organisation known as Ghost_K, opened fire on a reprimanded criminal who was under the sovereign protection of the Euro Zone. This criminal has been identified as Juan Iral, a high end assassin noted to have been employed by several Sector Governments. It has been confirmed that his corpse was retrieved earlier this afternoon."

It was then that the correspondant pointed at the broken form of the palace. The sunlight glinted off a piece of shattered glass.

"As we can see, the entire structure was levelled during the conflict. We are guessing as a result of unregulated use of elemental powers by the Ghost_K team. Miraculously both the Queen and her daughter survived the ordeal. Just a second, I have just been given a disc by a member of the Royal Guard. He has informed me that it contains footage from the event. Ladies and gentlemen, please hold while we prepare to show the live footage."

There was a brief pause, Kenneth and Mathieu were suddenly on the edge of their seat. Interested at what it would show.

They blanched when it appeared on screen.

"As you can see from this momentous footage, wanted terrorist and leader of the International Worker's Union, Agent One saved the life of Princess Natalia Chistelle. That is correct, we are not quite believing it ourselves. But this video clearly shows Agent One, bathed in light, rescuing the princess from the clutches of three Guardians of the Ghost_K team. It has been confirmed that this incredible man shot dead wanted criminal Annemarie Lucia Engel in order to save the young girl," the journalist quickly spoke with enthusiasm in his voice.

There was a look of shock on the reporters face.

"Agent One... is... is... a hero. I never thought I'd ever be saying those words in the same sentence! Now, that is all we have time for as this segment has already overrun, back to the studio." he finished.

"Why yes, this truly is astounding stuff, but it also raises questions as to why the man was present within the Euro Zone and what business he had in Sector IV... " the female reporter queried, just as Mathieu turned off the TV.

Agent One. Vamana Uldericks. The man who had killed his wife. He roared out in disbelief. Smashing his hand against the table.

"He is the HERO!?"

Kenneth scarcely muttered, voicing his own troubled thoughts.

"And we are the villains."

A Light In The Darkness

"Is that you home now?" a sinister voice rang out down the hallway, "Oh, darling Kenneth, back so late from another mission?"

The man who had entered the domicile froze in an instant. His muscles noticeably tensed up at the sound of the voice. It was an impossible voice. One that belonged to a man he thought was dead.

"So, what was it today?" the voice rasped, "Hostage taking? Assassination? Murder? Just how were you managing to spread more order in this world? Just how were you bringing more light amongst the dark places."

It was clear that the house was darker than usual. Only the hall light had been on when the man had entered the building. He slowly unzipped his black jacket and slid his left hand towards the holster he was wearing.

"Or am I mistaken?" the voice mused, "Was, was little Kenny playing the good guy again? Saving kittens and thwarting the villains?"

The man moved slowly down the hallway, towards the room from which the voice was emanating. He slid the safety off of his gun and moved his index finger towards the trigger. Suddenly the hallway light was extinguished and the entire house was plunged in to darkness.

"You're not fooling anyone, Ken," the voice continued, tauntingly.

It was at that point he found the room he was looking for. He burst in and withdrew the gun. Seeing a shadowy figure waiting for him, he pulled the trigger and loosed off all the bullets the clip held. To his horror he found the bullets had all failed to hit their intended target, and had merely fallen to the ground.

"N-no... i-it... c-can't be... " the man muttered, defeated, "you're dead. This can't be happening. You were reported as being dead."

"I merely had it aranged for an alias to be reported dead. Juan Iral had recently become rather unpopular with several South American governments after assassinating one too many an official, so it was a good time for him to die," the shadowy man crowed, "I admit, he'll be sorely missed by everyone, Kenneth."

"B-but... I saw you being thrown out of the palace... moments before it was destroyed... " the Guardian of Ice barely managed to speak.

"Thankfully my niece saved me... " the mysterious man lamented, "Which reminds me! It's time to get down to business... "

The darkness abated slightly, allowing a light to illuminate the features of the sinister individual. A ghoulish grin permeated his face.

"Do you remember how you ended the life of my darling sister-in-law? Do you remember how you were an accomplice to murder of my nephew? Do you remember butchering my two nieces as they begged for their lives? Do you remember how you nearly killed little Miki?" the voice venomously pronounced.

"They were all as corrupt as you. Anyone associated with you knows no innocence, Claude," Kenneth retorted.

"Trying to be smart I see, trying to act tough... I can understand that," the shadow man responded gravely, "but let's see how your family appreciates your morality."

"YOU MONSTER! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THEM!" the Guardian of Ice yelled.

The entire room became awash with light. To Kenneth's horror his wife was suspended from the ceiling by a rope attached to her hands. A gag had been tied around her mouth. Beside her, sitting on a wooden chair, he could see his son bound with duct tape on his legs and arms, with a strip attached across his mouth. Claude was seated upon an armchair, resplendant in a tuxedo, his left hand ablaze with light energy.

"You killed members of my family. You made them suffer unneccesarily," Claude stopped for breath, anger dripping from his voice, "it is now time that I returned that favour."

"Please let them go! You're grievance is with Damien, not me. He slaughtered your family. Not me!" the Guardian of Ice spoke, distressed by the state of affairs.

"Damien is an amoral monster with neither a soul nor a family," the suited man replied, "yet you seem to possess both. I cannot make him suffer. Neither am I strong enough to kill him."

A sneer spread across Claude's face.

"So you must face penance in his place," Claude recited, "that, and I have footage confirming you killed my darling sister-in-law. My wife has been struck by a grievous grief since her sister was found dead. Let us see your own wife suffer such pain."

As he finished his sentence he stood up from the armchair and brought out a knife with his right hand. With his eyes still firmly upon the Guardian of Ice and his left hand directed straight at Kenneth, Claude stabbed it into her hand. She began thrashing about in pain, as muffled screams filled the room.

Kenneth Lysander responded immediately by directing a shard of ice at Claude, but it was intercepted by a blast of light.

"I admire your spirit," the suited man gloated, "but you can't win."

Maintaing his eye-contact with Kenneth, Claude then punched her directly in the stomach.

"ZARA! NO!" Kenneth cried out before unleashing another shard of ice directly at Claude.

Unfortunately this was what Claude had been hoping for, as he moved Zara in front of the shard. It tore through her flesh like butter and pierced her other hand cleanly. Blood started pouring from the wound.

Realising what he had done, Kenneth fell to his knees.

"I-I'm so sorry... my love... "

"It's almost biblical," Claude sneered, before forcibly removing the gag.

Zara Lysander screamed in agony as her protests were no longer muffled.

"HELP ME! PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!" she yelled.

"Did, did you hear that? She wants it to stop. I could do that in an instant, but there would be no fun in that," the suited man said with a sadistic joy in his voice. He withdrew the knife that was lodged in his victim's hand and used it to slowly draw a line from her collar bone to her pelvis. Her clothes were torn by the blade and blood began to seep from the newly opened wound.

"LET HER GO! LET HER GO OR I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU!" Kenneth shouted.

"Please, by all means try."

In a fit of anger Ken hurled several shards of ice at Claude as he rapidly cooled the room. The Shadow Elemental leaped to the ground and forced the young boy down with him. With his boot firmly placed upon the child's flank, he stood up and stared directly at Kenneth.

The Guardian of Ice went pale as he realised what had happened. His wife had been perforated by shards of ice. They had struck her in multiple times. One shard was lodged in her neck, another had pierced her right eye. The left eye remained permanently open, dilated and unblinking.

"Oh... oh... dear... " Claude mocked, "it seems Kenneth has done the same to his wife as he did to darling Anneliese."

"YOU BASTARD! I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU! YOU MURDERED HER!" Ken yelled, distraught.

"I did nothing of the sort. Your recklessness killed her," the suited man spat, "but I guess this makes us even."

Suddenly the room was plunged into complete darkness. Kenneth couldn't see a thing. He began moving about randomly as he heard binds being ripped off.

"Eric!" he shouted, frightened at what was happening, "oh God, please tell me you haven't killed him as well."

The panic grew as he began thrashing around the room. And then, just as suddenly as the lights had vanished, the house was flooded with light.

The Guardian of Ice was filled with relief when he saw his son lay unconscious upon the floor. All of his binds cut. However, tucked into the breast pocket of the childs shirt lay a note.

Kenneth hurridly opened it and started to read.

Mercy is a rare gift few possess. To kill an unarmed person is as unsporting as it is cruel. Consider this my final act of humanity.

Guarding The Past

"It's good to see you are awake Mr. Valentine," a voice superciliously pronounced, "we were beginning to get slightly worried we had gone too far."

"What the hell have you done to me!" the man referred to as Valentine yelled in frustration.

"Don't you remember?" a shadowy individual queried as he entered into the room, resplendent in a two piece suit and black fedora, "you came to us seeking assistance."

"I did what!?" the restrained man exclaimed.

"You came here, to me, with the intention of seeking our assistance," the suited man reiterated, "and I am more than happy to oblige."

"To do what exactly!?" Mr. Valentine shouted.

"You and me, my dear Laurence," the man spoke as he removed his hat, lifting up his tinted sunglasses at the same time, "why, we are going to save the world."

The room was suddenly ablaze with light. Revealing a small cell that had a single bed within it. Upon that bed was the man known as Valentine. Forcibly held down horizontally by a series of restraints.

"If that was my intention I'd have never come to you, Claude! You're a villain!" Valentine shouted.

"What of Ghost_K, Laurence? What do you remember of them?" the suited man queried.

"They are even more despicable than you!" the Laurence spat, "they are murderers. They abduct children. They ruin lives. Their only motivation is to destroy."

"What about Damien Anderson?" Claude toyed.

"A criminal. An agent of chaos intent on destroying the world. A murderer as morally blank as yourself!" Valentine bellowed, "HE KILLED THEM ALL! Slaughtered the entire Albraun Family for no reason."

"Kenneth Lysander?" the suited man mused.

"He murdered his wife!" the restrained individual began to rattle the bed.

"Ah, good, I was slightly concerned that our conditioning was failing to sink in properly." the mysterious individual smiled.

"What conditioning!? What do you mean!?" Valentine yelped slightly, in a manner akin to a wounded dog.

"Even better, you have no memory of our previous encounters either," the smile broadened on the face of the suited man.

"I've never met you before in my life! I honestly hoped I never would. I've seen the reports!" Laurence struggled violently, "I've seen what you've done! You're a murderer!"

The man smirked before kneeling down beside the bed.

"Now, now. It would help matteres immensely if you remained calm. You're no use to me in this state," Claude mused.

"What do you mean use!? What the hell do you mean!?" Valentine roared.

"Shh... shh... shh... " the suited figure hushed, "you've asked that question thirty-six times now."

"What!? No I haven't! I've never met you before in my life!" Laurence struggled again, panicking.

"That is correct, you have not," Claude responded, "as far as you are concerned you have never met me. Now, do you know of the attack on the Holy Commonwealth Palace?"

"Why of course. Yes. Wait a minute. I was there. I remember. There was a fire. I tried to douse the flames. I cannot remember why!" Valentine exclaimed, clearly distressed.

"You wished to save the Royal Family, Laurence. You are a hero. You can never forget that," the suited man smoothly pronounced.

"Yes. I remember being a hero. My intention was to protect and save people," the restrained man managed to speak in a calmer manner.

"Yes, you were definitely a hero. And as a hero you must save the world. You must do everything in your power to achieve that goal. Nothing can stand in your way. Friends. Comrades. Lovers. None of them can remain as an obstacle to your destiny," Claude cryptically continued, "one of those obstacles is the Ghost_K Team."

"Of course! Because the world is more important than a single human life!" Valentine proclaimed rather righteously.

"Excellent, it seems your secondary conditioning is developing right on schedule," Claude remarked before moving over to where Laurence Valentine and removing the restraints.

"Up we get," he said, lifting the young man to his feet, "we need to test your dedication to the mission."

"Understood," Laurence replied very quickly and coldly.

Claude withdrew a handgun and placed it in the right hand of the captured Guardian.

"Bring her in!" he shouted.

The criminal brought out a clip and through it to Valentine.

Almost instantaneously, the door to the cell opened. Two men, wearing the uniforms of Vallarian Guards, forcefully dragged a screaming woman into the room. Her head was covered by a hessian bag.

"That woman there is an agent of Ghost_K!" Claude playfully pronounced, "she came here to try and kidnap you. So that you would be forced into the service of the organisation."

"What is her name?" queried Laurence.

"That is irrelevant," the criminal carefully spoke, "she is intent on standing in the way of your goals."

Suddenly Laurence shoved the clip into the handgun, disengaged the safety and proceeded to unload a three rounds into the stomach of the prisoner. The screaming ceased. Replaced by a ghastly gargling noise as blood seeped onto the fabric of the hessian bag.

"Perfect!" exclaimed Claude as he brought a syringe to Valentine's neck and injected him with a powerful sedative. The firearm fell to the floor as Laurence became limp. Claude carefully lifted the unconscious man back on to the bed and reattached the restraints. He stooped over and picked up the black handgun.

"Get the body out of here!" he ordered to his two subordinates, "and have someone clean up this mess. The room has to be in the same condition Subject Psi found it in."

The responded immediately, dragging the corpse of the young woman out of the room. One of the men reappeared with a mop and initiated the action of washing the floor.

Having completed his intended purpose, the suited individual exited the room and closed the door firmly behind him. As he entered the corridor he was met by a short blonde haired young woman, "He's still hesitating I see. By my estimates it will be another three weeks before we can move onto phase two."

"So I had figured," Claude replied, stroking her face, "I am most enthralled with your deductions, my dear Stephanie. You never cease to impress me."

"Why of course, but I have far more important matters to attend to," she replied, "I can't spend my whole time here."

The woman allowed a slight grin to etch itself onto her face, before suddenly moving on to another topic, "I'm still not so sure about your proposals for a political marriage."

"It is of no concern at this present moment and we have already discussed this in full. Natalia will be wed when she is of age," Claude snapped.

"Yes, I understand, darling, and that's not what I meant. I just don't see the necessity in at all," Stephanie objected.

"Vamana is an educated man of ethics and understanding," the suited man replied, "I want to keep him close."

"He's a double-crossing liar, at worst, and a weak fool, at best!" She stared directly into Claude's eyes, "you should have seen how he squirmed in the presence of your father... "

"This is not up for debate, Stephanie! We've already agreed to this. He is extremely important for public image," Claude slickly pronounced before grabbing his wife by the waist.

"His or mine?" she spat back, repulsed by his arrogance, "because I am not at all enthusiastic about giving our beloved daughter to a monster, for the benefit of his popularity."

"That's all a matter of perspective," Claude mused, forcing her closer into his embrace, "but I can ensure you she will be in very capable hands."

K21 - Shattered Endeavours

Sleeper

"OH! MY! GOD!" shouted an ecstatic young woman, in rapturous delight, "I DON'T BELIEVE IT! WE'VE FOUND YOU! WE'VE ACTUALLY FOUND YOU!"

She sprinted over to a dazed young man, resplendent in a two-piece suit, wearing sunglasses and a fedora that covered most of his dark hair. He was walking along the blazing streets of the Sector VII urban sprawl, roughly in the direction of where the woman had been standing.

"And just who the hell are you!?" he barked in surprise, his voice hoarse.

"I-I-I am Alison Katsura... " she spoke, nervously, with bright turquoise hair covering her eyes. She quickly fixed her fringe and proceded to continue. "The Guardian of Fire. Agent of Ghost_K. I'm sort of like you."

She smiled, awkwardly as her light purple eyes glistened in the sunlight.

"So Zalmon has already been replaced... " the mysterious individual mused, immediately deducing the nature of the encounter.

"Oh you mean my predecessor. Oh yes, I've heard lots about him from Damien, Ken, Mathieu and Miki!" she exclaimed, before continuing on into a long flood of information that was supposed to only be recited to new recruits.

He decided that he would continue to ponder his predicament and just ignore the ramblings of the odd young lady who had approached him.

"Just how long have I been gone... a day... a week... a month?" he whispered, under his breath. The young man suddenly clutched his head in agony. Images of distorted, broken, memories sharply flashed through his mind. The Holy Commonwealth Palace. The fire fight. Hostage taking. The building collapsing. Black cloth bags. Bright lights. Two faces. Two leering faces. They were so familiar to him but he couldn't place who they belonged to. A nurse as well. A kind female nurse who tended to his needs every day. And then suddenly a hotel room in Bordeaux. He remembered waking up there, as if everything had just been a dream. As if nothing had been real, an airplane ticket to Sector VII tucked into his pocket. He groaned in pain as the memories suddenly faded.

"Umm, sorry, did you say something?" Katsura enquired, the noise having taken her attentions away from the drivel she had been spouting, and back to the young man.

"It. It's nothing. The heat, that's all. Can we just get to the lower levels. Towards Block 441 That's why I wandered back here in the first place." he barely managed.

Alison began to speak again, rather rapidly, "Oh yes, of course. Umm sorry, I got carried away there. I'm a bit new to this you see and-"

The young man placed a hand up to her mouth.

"That's quite all right, sweetie, we were all new once," he pronounced in a rather condescending and impatient manner, "but I would quite like to get out of the burning sun."

"Oh yes... of course! Right away!" she hurriedly grabbed him by the arm in a peculiar manner.

"Look, I know the way back from here, you don't need to guide me like some kind of dog. I made my way here from bloody Bordeaux, I'm hardly going to forget the shortest leg of my journey," he sighed.

"S-s-sorry, It's just that you've been gone a while. I mean. Umm... you might have forgotten by now. That and we need to hurry! Everyone will be relieved to know that you aren't dead!" Alison exclaimed, tugging on his arm.

"AREN'T DEAD!?" he suddenly burst out, breaking free of her hold, "I've only been gone about a week! For fucks sake! You guys are really fucking optimistic, huh!"

"W-well... it's been more like... fifteen months... " Katsura said in a slightly embarassed way, as she clasped her hand around his. "but it's okay, you're safe now."

She then hugged him spontaneously, as he froze in utter disbelief.

"F-fifteen months," he stuttered.

The revelation had come as a great shock to the young man, but Alison was sure to consolidate him before finally fulfilling his request to find some shade. They had headed towards one of the large staircases that connected the ground level areas to the underground sections of the urban jungle. She started to fill him in on everything he had missed, starting from the most recent events and working back, as she wanted to see how far back he remembered. He had largely just nodded and agreed with what she said, as they ventured down the gargantuan steps. That was, until something she said struck him like a brick.

" ...And well, it turned out one of the Royal Princesses was actually the next Guardian," Alison rattled on, "Miki Viollete. Well, that's not her real second name. I can't remember what it is, but she needs to hide her identity."

The mysterious young man suddenly stopped walking, just as the pair entered the lower depths of the metropolis.

"Hold on. You mean, Mikayla Albraun? The Fourth Heir of the Vallarian Royal Family? Daughter of the deceased Harald Albraun, the man who was murdered by Damien Anderson's hand? THAT MIKI!?" the man said, alarmed.

Here the air was far cooler, as the settlement was completely subterranean and shielded from the harsh rays of the sun.

"That must be her. But don't be silly, Laurence, her father wasn't killed by Damien! Oh no, it was Claude who did that. Kenneth told me," Katsura ignorantly argued back, in defence of her leader.

Both of them were carefully watching their step during their descent down the large underground flight of stairs.

"Figures," he snidely shot at her, "that they would twist the truth like that. The lying bastards."

A sudden, yet refreshing, light gust of wind flooded the staircase

"What?" she questioned, confused.

"Look. I was there. At the Palace. I saw the body. The injuries had been caused by protruding spikes of stone," Laurence spat. "only Damien could have been that precise."

"S-sorry... " Alison apologised, "I didn't know. I was only saying what I'd been told."

"It's quite all right... but for some reason... over those last few days... or months... " he drifted off.

Laurence vividly remembered when he had found the other princess, Natalia Christelle. When he kicked open the door. When he tackled her to the ground and silenced her. When he dragged her over to the corner of the room.

"Are you okay?" Katsura enquired, "What were you about to say?"

"Oh, it's nothing... just thinking about the palace. That's all," he quipped as his mind drifted back to the scene. To Annemarie Lucia-Engel. To when she had had a gun placed against Natalia's head. It was wrong. The whole damn Ghost_K team was wrong. He regained his train of thought, "It's just that... I've been questioning the morality of the team ever since the Palace Ambush... And that for something that happened fifteen months ago... why is it so fresh in my memory... "

"Oh, well... I see... " Katsura mumbled, slightly confused.

As they reached the bottom of the steps he noticed a familiar individual was just stepping out of Block 441. Valentine didn't want to be noticed that soon, so he improvised a distraction technique.

Laurence quickly grabbed Alison and gently pushed her up against a wall. He looked into her startled and frightened eyes, before speaking softly.

"Stay quiet and don't make eye contact with him... " he whispered.

Valentine slid his left hand down her body, towards her short black skirt. Alison struggled slightly, unsure at to what he was doing. She almost screamed just as he placed a finger against her lips.

"Stay still, it's part of the act, I don't want him recognising us yet... " Laurence hissed, "just play along."

Katsura nodded, and responded by placing her arms around his waist. He took his right hand and slowly unzipped her black tight fitting jacket, revealing a very low cut white t-shirt.

"I need to tell you something very important," he spoke quickly and quietly, just as he brought his other hand around her back in order to bring her closer into an intimate embrace, "Damien Anderson cannot be trusted. Ghost_K is corrupt."

"Okay... " Alison breathed, her breasts pressed up against Laurence's chest.

"You need to know the truth," Valentine spoke in a hushed voice, "all of Miki Albraun's family were killed by that man. Don't ask me how I know this. Because frankly I am not sure myself, beyond seeing Harald Albraun's corpse."

Alison moved her head towards his in order to kiss him, closing her eyes. Realising that to refuse would reveal their location to Anderson, he promptly reciprocated as she slowly rubbed her leg up against his. Laurence was completely bemused as she passionately enveloped his mouth and slowly danced her tongue around his. It lasted for more than 2 minutes before she retracted backwards.

"He's gone," Katsura piqued up.

Laurence looked around to see that the entrance of Block 441 was no longer occupied by Damien Anderson. The man he had been trying to avoid.

"Well that was one hell of an introduction!" Alison exclaimed, "Only known you 30 minutes and you have me up against the wall!" She winked at him as he turned back to face her.

"Yeah, sure, I guess," he rushed, "but I didn't want to be caught. I still have more to tell you."

"Sure thing, lover boy," she teased, grabbing his hand lightly, "what all is so important that you had to seduce a helpless girl like me."

The atmosphere changed in an instant, as he grabbed her hand tightly and forced her arm against the wall. He stared directly into her pupils.

"Look, I don't have time to play games with you," he snapped, "that man is dangerous. Damien Anderson is a murderer. His accomplice, Kenneth Lysander has also been responsible for the deaths of innocent people. These are facts those monsters clearly elected not to tell you. None of that team can be trusted. Not even Mathieu. And God help Miki if she is working for Damien, because she has probably been brainwashed."

"P-please let go, you're hurting me," she squeaked.

"Now listen here, " Laurence continued on, coldly ignoring her, "you cannot tell another soul anything I have just said to you. Or we are both dead. Don't think Damien wouldn't kill you just because you are a Guardian. How else do you think he became leader of the team?"

She looked at him aghast, in utter horror. Guardians weren't supposed to kill one and other. It was not right. It was against everything she had been taught.

"Th-then why did you tell me... ? " Alison wept, "why did you burden me with this awful knowledge."

Laurence looked into her eyes again and released the tight grip he had on her hand. He smiled warmly, and gently clasped both of his hands around hers.

"Because I need at least one person I can trust," he spoke sweetly, "I need someone who can help me deal with what I know."

He brought his arm around her shoulder as they walked towards the doors of Block 441 together.

Absolution

WARNING
CONTAINS VIOLENCE AND GORE


I casually sauntered up towards the front door of the gargantuan building that shared architectural similarities with a termite mound. A colossal mega-structure, formed from the intertwined matrices of manufacturing works, office blocks and retail outlets. Towering black obelisks stood as great blemishes upon the horizon, the very sun itself was obscured by a canopy of bridges and walkways. For it was the very heart of a business conglomerate that spanned the globe. Calypso Industries. The official "sponsors" of the Upper African Government.

It was wholly amusing to see a familiar operational style in place. Calypso Industries enjoyed the same privileges of my own company, only they tried to be subtle about it. Everyone knows that my beloved Vallarie Administration and the Sector IV Royal Family are one and the same. But Calypso Industries liked to play down their involvement with their own Sector's political affairs.

Of course, secrets don't stay hidden forever. And a man of my station is clearly aware of such underhanded practices, for I regularly utilise them myself. All Europeans know Christelle is their Queen, yet few know I am their leader. I was knew fine well that Calypso Industries were the Sector VII government.

As I reached the entrance to the building, the large automatic doors ached apart. Clearly worn from over use. What greeted me was truly astounding. A sight that was not befitting of the structure's haphazard exterior. The entrance hall was lined with polished white marble and adorned with a multitude of gold decorations. It was clear that the organisation wished to emphasise their power and wealth through this display of finery. A gleaming gut centered within a filthy, stagnant hive. I smirked slightly as I noticed the symbols of all twelve sectors, arranged in numerical order, had been lined up opposite the primary entrance. These massive effigies appeared to have been cast from solid gold, and I can only assume that they were indeed made from the metal.

Of course it was the Vallarian Hawk that first caught my eye. It looked very majestic beside the golden star that symbolised Sector III. It was very amusing to see the mark of a communist nation represented so decadently. To its left, the eagle was flanked by the sigil of Sector V. An archaically designed heraldic symbol that had been replicated perfectly in this metal medium. Every last detail had been etched on.

It was at that moment that I elected to fix the positioning of my sunglasses and increase my pace, as the the central information desk drew nearer. I was met by a tanned young woman, who had just raised her head from a data tablet.

"Why hello there, sir," she politely pronounced, "what can I help you with?"

I tipped my head forward, as I removed my fedora, and slowly scanned the upper half of her body. Long brown hair cascaded down beyond her shoulders, meeting the silver blouse she was wearing. Attached to the blouse was a name-tag that bore the logo of Calypso Industries that had been juxtaposed with the words "Danielle Mauril".

"Why yes, Danielle," I pronounced eloquently, "I have an appointment with the CEO at three o'clock."

She looked at me as if I spoken a humorous line. Bemused and slightly irate. All of a sudden the woman's expression changed as she looked over my attire and noticed the platinum badge pinned to my breast pocket. Director of Trade: René Martain.

"Oh! I see, you are one of them," she squeaked, seemingly nervous with excitement, "One o-of the c-corporate elite here for the trade conference!"

"I suppose I am," the words loosely fell from my lips.

"Why it's a-an honour, Mr Martain," Danielle shuddered, as she suddenly stood up, "but we weren't expecting any of you on the ground floor. Surely you would have flown in and landed on one of the higher levels? Nearer to the canopy?"

"I could have, but I prefer to see everything for myself," I spoke softly and quietly, before pointing at the gold symbols, "and I would have missed all of this had I done things the easy way."

"W-well of course, b-but still... " she trailed off, still in awe. It was rather surreal seeing the reactions of common people to their ruling masters. Clearly she was also hoping that my presence would somehow benefit her situation, as if I was a sign from a higher purpose that her life would change. Not wishing to disappoint my captive audience, I continued.

"Well Danielle, I would quite like to have a personal guide with me. I'll pay you triple your annual salary, right now in cash, if you agree to accompany me," I slyly propositioned.

"U-um... w-well... " the young woman was completely dumbstruck by the thought.

"And you can work for my company on double salary, straight away, if you agree of course," the speech playfully left my tongue.

"R-right a-away sir," Danielle replied, shaking slightly, "I'll accompany you at once."

"Excellent, you can escort me to the CEO, bring me to him and hand in your resignation in person," I winked, "sound like a plan?"

"Of course," she responded in an instant, as she climbed over the desk, data slate in hand.

I smiled at her, and she motioned me to walk over to the other end of the room, towards a colossal column that was dotted with several entrance ways. From the schematics that were visible upon the young woman's data slate, I was able to determine that it was the central lift system, the fastest means of accessing the higher floors of the tower.

The lift was surprisingly spacious and offered a perfect secluded location for analysing further areas of the building. Danielle had handed me her data slate after we had entered and I had become involved in searching through a multitude of alternate paths to the summit that existed throughout the gargantuan construct. Each one was a potential escape route, but the most convenient was a direct line to an airstrip that was located upon the canopy.

I suddenly forced the lift to stop when we reached that floor.

"Change of plans, my dear," I confidently announced, "I'll need you to acquire a vehicle for me, as I have no intention for us to walk back."

"What do you mean?" Danielle responded, confused.

I threw her an electronic cash card, that she failed to catch. The young woman had to bend down to pick it up.

"Use this to purchase us an adequate aircraft. I have a vital engagement to attend to back in the homeland after this, and I do not wish to be late. Please have something ready for my arrival," was the command that was issued from my lips.

"O-of course, b-but why the change of plan?" she spoke up, worried.

To this, I responded with a wink.

"All will become clear soon enough." I coyly remarked.

The young woman exited the lift and I reengaged the vertical transport. The data slate was still firmly held within my hand and as I looked upon my exit strategy a slight grin made its way onto my face.

It was at that point the lift suddenly stopped. Top floor.

The doors quickly shot apart and I was immediately met by a group of ten armed security personnel.

"Sorry, sir," one of them spoke, "standard procedure."

It was the one who had addressed me that withdrew a metal detector from his belt and scanned me. As I had expected, it turned up negative.

"Looks like you're clean," he stated, "please proceed to the CEO's Office, Mr Martain. Director of Trade."

Two of his subordinates flanked me and brought me to the office doors. The duo pushed them open and I was met by a large conference table that had a Calypso Industries Executive from each Sector but my own seated at it. I took my place to complete the arrangement.

As well as the twelve major stakeholders, representatives from the eight main Calypso Industries Departments were also present within the room. At the fore of these individuals was the Head of Military Research.

This was ultimately a grave mistake. With all of the eggs in one basket an opportunistic fox could easily devour them all in a single strike.

As the CEO entered the room to address his subjects I brazenly stood up.

"Mr Martain! Sit down in the presence of your master!" barked one of the other board members, a Sector III official.

"Now why would I do that?" I quipped, "as far as I am concerned I am my own master!"

"Sit. Down." the official spoke through gritted teeth, as the CEO glared at me. Seemingly affronted by my innocent interuption.

"I would prefer to stand when I am making an example of someone!" the words were joyously pronounced from my mouth.

"ENOUGH OF TH-" the CEO himself bellowed, before suddenly being cut off.

A sliver of shadow energy pierced his gluttonous throat. The ballooned form seeped bright red blood over the suit of CEO. He brought his hand to the wound as the two guards stationed outside of the room burst in.

They were easily cut down by twin beams of light. My attacks had seared holes directly through their chest, disintegrating their hearts in an instant. The bodies of the two men hit the ground with a satisfying thud.

It was at that point the representatives stood up and attempted to escape. Of course, I was not going to allow such cowardice.

I focused my mind on increasing my bodies reflexes in order to distort the passage of time. The shadow abilities allowed me to move faster than humanly possible. In a single bound I was standing in front of the doorway, right before the panicked crowd.

A smile broadened upon my face as my eyes became stained pitch. I waved my hand and beheaded the man who was closest to me. As I finished that attack I brought my hands to the throat of a smartly dressed woman, snapping her neck in a fluid motion.

My right leg found the stomach of the man who bore the title Head of Military Research. Enhanced by unholy talents the kick ruptured his internal organs before the force sent him flying into the wall.

A foolhardy, well built, young man charged at me as my foot reached a stable alignment upon the ground. He attempted to punch me but was intercepted by a wave of light energy that I was able to forge into a shield. It burned the flesh of his hand and he winced in pain. I quickly silenced him with a quick incision drawn across his throat.

I noticed one of the women was reaching for a firearm from one of the dead guards. Realising this was a potential threat I instinctively dove towards her and forced the weapon out of her hands while throwing her to the ground. I brought my newly acquired pistol to her head and discharged a shot into her skull.

Of course, there was a second weapon still present within the room, so I rushed into a group of people who had surrounded the corpse of the other guard. One of them had already taken the gun, and I felt a shot impact on my chest. I stumbled back and fell to the ground.

The one who had fired the shot ran over to me and lowered the gun so that it was pointing towards my head. As he squeezed the trigger I dodged my head out of the way of the shot while simultaneously grabbing my own gun and unloading a round into his heart. As the man fell upon my location I grabbed his weapon with my other hand and leaped up from the ground.

However, the pain from the first shot was now burning into my chest and I knew I would need to be quick in my disposal of the remaining targets. I aimed the handguns at two different people and fired them in a synchronised strike. The bullets shattered the skulls of these victims and blood violently exploded out from their wounds.

To my annoyance, the executives had made it to the doorway and were attempting to force it open. I loosed off a barrage of shots at these vermin, emptying the clips.

I wounded five of them in the back, but their deaths would not be swift enough. I focused all of my energies into a single shot of my combined gifts and hurled it at the survivors.

The explosion that followed was marvelous. It lived up to my expectations and more. Flesh and bone erupted into the air. I relished the carnage as blood splashed against the walls of the room.

While the explosion was sensational, the aftermath was a true masterpiece. Red liquid stained the walls. Bodies had been ripped asunder. Torn apart by the shadow energies. Happy that my business had been completed on schedule I sauntered out of the hellish nightmare that had overcome the CEO's Office.

However, just as I was about to leave, something caught my attention. It was the CEO himself, still clinging onto life, crawling towards where I was now standing.

Blood poured from his mouth as he attempted garbled speech. I pitied him.

Thus, I walked up to him and placed my hands on his head. I then took my thumbs and pressed them into his eye sockets, forcing his eyes to burst. He struggled slightly before suddenly falling limp.

Satisfied that he was definitely dead, I began to stumble out of the office and dragged by injured frame towards the lift. However, as soon as I left the CEO's Office I was met by a quartet of armed guard.

Tired of the game, I launched a beam of searing white light against the ceiling. Blinded by the blast, they started firing blindly. I narrowly dodged a fatal shot as I moved my head so that the bullet only clipped my ear. Suddenly the point that I had hit with my elemental beam started to fracture. The very structure of the roof had been damaged.

I loosed off a second attack, knowing full well what it would do. As the beam struck the intended target the entire ceiling caved in, crushing the four soldiers. With all tasks at hand complete, I continued my strenuous journey towards the lift.

At this point I was practically crawling, and I had to force myself up right in order to press the button that allowed me to summon the device. Having pressed it I fell to the floor. I groaned in agony as the bullet wound on my chest started to leak blood. My left ear was singeing with pain as bright red liquid spilled from the ruined lobe.

The lift doors opened and I used my abilities to propel myself off of the ground and into the compartment. Yet, I misjudged the power I put into the blast and ended up hurling myself against the wall. Luckily I had landed next to the control panel. I knew which floor my escape route was located on. I slammed my fist against the button before my arm fell down by my side. The doors closed.

I truly was a sorry sight to behold. My fine suit stained with so much blood all while my shirt became soaked in the liquid. I waited for what seemed like eternity, before the mechanical portal was no longer closed to me. Seeing my escape was so near instilled a new vigour into my wracked body.

Delirious, I ran straight towards the landing deck, shouting the name of the woman.

"Danielle!" I cried out, mournfully.

No response. She had likely just abandoned me and stolen my money.

"Danielle!" the utterance was slightly weaker this time.

I grabbed my chest as blood still continued to seep from it. I forced more pressure on to it to try and stem the flow. That was when I saw it, her body lying lifeless beside a sleek private jet. Blood had pooled around her head and a clear entry wound was visible upon her temple.

"How amusing," echoed a chillingly familiar voice, "that this young woman was such an optimist. I mean, she had her whole life ahead of her... until she uttered your name."

A man stepped into view, outfitted in a simple grey coat and charcoal trousers that were complemented by black boots. He slowly walked over towards me as I clutched my chest.

"V-Vamana... " was all I could utter.

Lies

WARNING
CONTAINS VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL REFERENCES


A young woman lay shivering on a concrete floor. Her blonde hair scattered upon the ground as the white fabric of her wedding dress had become splayed out upon the unwelcoming surface.

"I-I-I a-am s-sorry... " she stuttered, her grey eyes filled with terror, "m-my m-merciful l-lord... "

"Insolent wretch!" a grey suited figure bellowed at her.

He walked over to her and withdrew a knife. For a brief second his bleach white hair was reflected on the side of the blade. He knelt beside her quivering frame, before making an incision into the dress.

First the grey clothed man sliced off the straps of the dress. Then he began to systematically tear into the fabric, forcing it off, piece by piece from the skin the frightened girl. With all of the fine materials removed, he turned his attention to her underwear.

"V-V-Vamana... " she squeked

At that utterance he struck her cheek with the back of his hand.

"How dare you speak my name!" he barked.

She could feel the force of the strike reverberate throughout her face, from the point of impact to where her skull met the cold concrete.

Vamana forced his hand upon the woman's breast as he cut free her bra, before proceeding to unceremoniously peel the white lace material from her and throwing it on the ground. The terrorist drew the blunt edge of the weapon down from the woman's breasts to her groin. With a quick incision, the white panties were liberated and thrown beside the remains of the rest of her clothing.

He stood up to admire his handiwork.

"P-p-please... " the young woman was sobbing slightly.

She was completely exposed. Vulnerable to the whims of her captor.

"Shh... shh... shush now... " he spoke with a tone of false sympathy in his voice, "I am not some monster Natalia... This is merely to demonstrate how our contract will work... "

A grin made its way onto the terrorist's face.

"B-but... I-I l-love... you... " Natalia interrupted, "I w-want t-to do as m-my l-lord c-commands... "

Vamana suddenly threw his knife at her. The blade narrowly missed her neck as it bounced off of the hard flooring.

"RULE ONE!" he roared, "NO INTERRUPTIONS! In my presence, you speak only when you are spoken to. Do you understand."

Natalia nodded, tears streaming from her eyes.

"Rule two. You are loyal to me, and me alone," Vamana relayed.

"Y-yes... m-my l-lord... " the young woman replied, as eye shadow stained her beautiful face.

"Rule three. You adhere to everything I command you to do," he smirked, "you perform any action I require of you. Without question. Without fail."

"O-of c-course... " she wailed.

"Those are the basics, other rules may be added should the need arise. But you WILL obey those three no matter what," Uldericks laughed, "for you are mine to command. And I am yours to follow. Is that clear?"

Natalia meekly nodded again, her naked body still quaking.

He continued, "And should you break any of these rules. The consequences will be... regrettable."

"U-understood... " the young princess cried.

"Now stand!" he commanded, "for I wish to take your measurements for a proper uniform and body armour."

The young woman did as she had been commanded and rose to meet her captor at eye level.

Vamana withdrew a length of measuring tape from his jacket pocket before walking up to his property. He forced the length of plastic ribbon against her bare flesh as he wrapped it around her waist.

"22 inches," he Uldericks stated, as he tapped a small device attached to his ear.

He allowed the measuring tape to fall freely and dangled it down towards the floor, where he trapped the end with his foot. The grey suited man proceeded to bring the tape up to the head of the young woman.

"5 feet. 2 inches," he mused, activating the communicator once more, "definitely a height I can work with... "

Natalia was still quivering, fear in her eyes. He coiled up the measuring tape and placed it back into his jacket pocket.

"Now... what you must understand is that I am a cruel man. That I do not suffer fools. And I do not tolerate those who outlive their usefulness," Vamana venomously pronounced, with a particular emphasis stressed on the last word, "yet, I am aware that my subordinates require to be maintained. In particular I am aware that you have acquired an emotional attachment towards me."

The smartly dressed terrorist slowly stepped towards the young princess. He brought his right hand to the back of her head and slowly pushed it towards his. Vamana bowed his head slightly and coldly, mechanically, planted his lips onto hers.

His right hand slid down her smooth body in a peculiar manner. It was not affectionate in nature, culminating in a motion that was more akin to one that would be made when admiring a piece of machinery.

Natalia responded by bringing her hands to his head as she closed her eyes. Her mouth opened slightly, as she expected him to do the same. But Vamana's lips remained pursed shut. She opened her eyes in astonishment as an unusual feeling overcame her and ingressed into her being. Vamana's calculating crimson eyes stared back at her.

She felt as though their gaze penetrated her very soul. Natalia shuddered slightly as she moved to bring her arms around the man she adored, becoming lost in a feeling of bliss.

He lowered his eyebrows slightly before making a brief utterance, "Hands by your side."

Natalia obeyed in an instant, aware that failure to do so would invite repercussions, but overall she no longer felt afraid. The emotion had been supplanted with a curious excitement. Uldericks removed his left hand from the back of her head and brought it to Natalia's face as he continued to examine his property.

He smirked slightly as he moved it from side to side.

"A fine face for film," Vamana casually remarked, "perfect for propaganda!"

Natalia gasped as he brought his hand down towards her neck.

"Yet I could break you at any moment," Uldericks spoke with a sinister sting in his voice as he applied a small amount of pressure to her neck.

The young woman moaned as the force intensified.

"P-please... Please... Please... " she mewled.

She moaned louder as his fingers forced themselves against her. She screamed loudly as the feelings climaxed for a brief second. And then it died down completely.

Vamana released his grip. He brought his right hand to his jacket pocket in order to extract a folded piece of cloth from within. He unfolded it and proceeded to wipe both hands with the napkin.

Uldericks folded it up again and placed it within his suit. His hand remained inside it as he retrieved a black handgun.

Holding it by the barrel, he handed it to Natalia.

"Now that we are done with the pleasantries, your loyalty will be tested," Uldericks carefully announced, "You are to shoot the next man who enters this room."

"B-but w-what about clothes?" she questioned.

He suddenly projected a blast of light energy close to where she was standing. It violently exploded against the wall of the warehouse as he opened his mouth.

"NO INTERRUPTIONS!"

He tapped the communications device that was attached to his ear.

"Send him in."

Vamana withdrew a magazine clip for the firearm and hurled it at Natalia. She wasn't quick enough to catch it as the casing struck her stomach. It fell to the ground with a metallic clang.

She stooped to pick it up as a faraway door on the other end of the warehouse opened. A Vallarian Officer, carrying a small pile of clothes, had entered the large building.

As he approached the duo a look of horror struck his face as he realised that the Royal Princess was completely nude. Vamana's ghoulish smile did nothing to ease his worries.

"WHAT IN GOD'S NAME IS GOING ON!" he burst out, "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HER ROYAL HIGHNESS!"

Natalia slotted the ammunition clip into the handle and walked up directly to the soldier. She brought the gun up to face of the young man and pulled the trigger. The bullet struck him in the eye socket, causing blood to erupt from the entry wound.

Vamana started to clap his hands together as the body of the officer slumped to the floor.

"Nicely done, my dear," he remarked, grinning like a madman, "you didn't even hesitate to do it."

"Of course not, my husband. For I am yours to have and to hold," Natalia uttered in an adoring manner, as a smile overcame her blood splattered face, "for better and for worse."

Aftermath

WARNING
CONTAINS VIOLENCE AND GORE


"Old friend, it's been too long," a smug voice magnanimously pronounced, "and I am so glad you opted to come alone."

"Of course. Other people simply get in my way," the man the taunt had been aimed at gave a swift retort. He stepped forwards into the centre of the industrial warehouse. The man was resplendant in a uniform of the Ghost_K team. Upon the shoulders of the militaristic jacket he wore, were the rank bars indicative of the position of Ghost_K Commander.

"Someone told me you had a proposition," the voice rang out, echoing against the walls of the vast building.

"Well, I've come to realise I made a mistake hunting you. I let anger and revenge dominate my life," the man replied calmly, "Mathieu made me see that you and me were not so different. He may have intended that as a warning against my action, but I came to realise you could be a valuable ally."

"Oh?" the voice piqued up with great interest, "is that so?"

As if out of nowhere a black suited figure appeared directly in front of the Ghost_K Commander.

"Claude," he stated, fixing the positioning of his fedora, "just think about it. With the power of the Guardians you would be unstoppable. We could take the world and bend it to our will."

"True... but first, Damien, let me to enlighten you as to why we are, as your friend put it, so similar?" the suited man scathingly forced his words through gritted teeth.

"Why would that be?" Damien replied.

"Because you made me the man I am today," Claude spat, "I've spent years living like this now. I've become so accustomed to killing it is a part of my daily existence. And you know why that is? Because Instead of receiving help, instead of people trying to have me change me ways, I have been hunted all my life. I didn't mean to kill that poor girl... "

A slight tear appeared at the corner of the criminal's eye.

"Intent changes nothing, you were a natural born killer, you slaughtered her so efficiently. You were destined for the life you lead due to the gifts you possess," the Guardian of Earth taunted, wishing to exploit the apparent weakness in his advisory.

"But you know the worst part. I came to enjoy it. I found new, inventive ways of slaughter," Claude lamented, "as I lived each day on the run I had to do everything in order to survive. I learnt new tricks I could use to kill people more quickly. Slowly that killed me inside."

"That is what people like us have to do. I was in very much the same position. Even before I dedicated my life to hunting you. We have to adapt to survive," Damien twisted his words. He could say his prey was weak for turning.

"But the thing is, Damien. I also learnt that there were more twisted devils than you. When I had nowhere else to go I sided with them. You forced me to ally myself with lunatics and psychopaths. And what about me? Well you molded me into the perfect sociopath... " a sinister grin overcame his face as the words left his mouth, "and that ultimately you made me a darker demon than them all. They have petty goals and ambitions. What do I wish for? Chaos. Pure, unadulterated chaos."

He began to laugh maniacally.

"But that... that's insane!? You can't wish for nothing but chaos!? I mean... you already wield considerable power. Why not wish to make it greater?" Damien questioned, dumbfounded by the lunacy he had just heard.

"I don't care for any power that would allow me to rule the world. Hell, I don't care much for power at all! I intend to see the world burn in retribution for your mistakes. The World Justice Uprising will be tame by comparison. I have plans in motion for something absolutely," he paused for breath, "Spectacular!"

"There is no logic behind this... what all will that achieve? It's hardly retribution." the Earth Elemental spoke, slightly more panicked than before.

"Damien Anderson... Vamana Uldericks... Asiduus Aeviternus... Fools who think they can shape the world in their own image. Yet I am a benevolent demon. I intend to leave them a more malleable Earth that they can attempt to rebuild to match their twisted ideals," Claude's grin broadened, "but first I must sunder that world. Bring it to the brink of oblivion."

"So you will help me achieve that? By leaving me a war torn Earth?" the Guardian inquired.

"No... For the Ghost_K team is already neutralised. I have things set in motion to ensure they do not get in my way much longer. Thus, I have no use for you," his tone suddenly shifted to an even more sinister one, as he directed a scything wave of shadow energy at Damien's throat. Blood began to pour from the wound instantaneously.

"B-but... w-why... " he garbled through blood.

Claude ran over to his injured adversary and held him upright as the man clung to his bleeding throat.

"Because, old friend, Mathieu was wrong. Despite the superficial similarities we are not alike... " the criminal smiled enthusiastically, "and you made the fatal flaw of dropping your guard. Had you preempted my strike I would have accepted the offer. But I can not allow myself to ally with a man who has become so weak... "

"Y-you... bastard... " Damien spat out.

"Nothing personal," Claude spoke slowly, "but seeing as you are beyond savior at this point, let me tell you a little secret. No one knows this. Not even my father. The little issue of my name."

He moved his lips right next to Anderson's left ear.

"..."

Damien's eyes widened at the name, "No... no... y-you... can't... be... th-that... is... "

Claude smiled broadly as he helped the Guardian of Earth slowly to the ground, as he realised the man was nearly dead.

"Now, pleasant dreams old friend," he softly spoke before snapping the man's neck.

It was at that point Claude withdrew a communications device from the jacket of his fallen foe.

He switched it on and awaited a reply.

"Damien!? Where the hell have you been? Your ID claims you are in Sector V." a familiar voice crackled over the phone.

"Oh my, dearest Kenneth, please give my regards to your wife," Claude taunted.

"WHO IS THIS!? What have you done with Damien!?" the voice of the Guardian of Ice roared back.

"Oh Damien wished to gain my allegiance. And then he well... how can I put this lightly... he died!" the Criminal spoke playfully, relishing the torment.

"AGENT 01!?" the Kenneth shouted, confused

"Guess again," the words danced from his mouth

"C-Claude... " the voice on the other end spoke, seemingly deflated.

"Perhaps," he teased, "anyway, I must be going. Just wanted to deliver the delightful news that your brave leader is dead. Au revoir, mon amis!"

Kenneth stood there in disbelief. He attempted to reply but the signal had already been cut off.

"Ken, who was that?" asked the voice of a young man.

"I-it was nothing Laurence... nothing... nothing at all... " the Guardian of Ice trailed off.

"But I've never seen you so startled before. You mentioned Agent 01 and Claude. Something is up," Laurence stated, having evaluated the situation.

"No... no... it's quite all right. I just need to get some fresh air. Hold this please," Kenneth commanded with a lifeless stare, his voice empty of any emotion. He handed Laurence the communicator and proceeded to leave the room they had been standing in.

A young woman walked up to block Kenneth's exit, but she was brushed aside by a firm push.

"Out of my way Alison... " he barely pronounced, "I just need to get some fresh air... I'll be back soon... "

Alison walked over to Laurence and gripped his hand tightly.

"What do you think happened?" she asked, worried.

"My guess is that Damien was incapacitated. That is the most likely evaluation I can give based on what I just heard," Laurence whispered into her ear.

"Should we go after him? Anderson and Lysander were such close friends... " Alison quietly responded.

"We need to give him some space. Although I'd say it's vital we find Mathieu as soon as possible. He also used to be friends with Ken." he remarked.

Alison let go of Valentine's hand and proceeded to run down the corridor. She saw Kenneth leaving by the main entrance to Block 441 just as she collided with Miki Albraun and Li-Pau Nao, who were conversing about something rather trivial.

"Urgh!" she exclaimed, before apologising to the young couple for walking into them.

The Guardian of Ice continued on unabated, as the door closed behind him. He paused briefly to freeze the doorway shut with a quick manipulation of aetons.

"That should stall them... " he muttered, before continuing on down the street. Before him were the gargantuan steps that led to the surface areas of the settlement.

Slowly Kenneth began to climb them, staring wistfully upwards in the process. The ascent was arduous, slowly exhausting the grizzled man. Yet his demeanor remained unchanged and constant throughout. His eyes soulless and empty.

His name rang out in the distance. He turned around and looked down the distance of a kilometer. he could see some familiar figures frantically making their way towards the grand staircase. He smiled briefly, considering that it had taken them close on half an hour to melt the ice that he had used to jam the door shut.

Lysander turned around once more and continued towards his goal. Ground level beckoned.

As he reached the final step, Laurence decided to pause. He looked at his uniform and elected to take off the jacket. He stared at the rank bars.

They indicated his status. His position. Deputy Commander. However, he knew that was no longer the case. Now he would have to step up as their leader.

Kenneth tore of the bars in disgust.

He couldn't do it. He knew he couldn't lead the team now. Not after everything he had done.

"I'm not a leader... I'm a weapon... " he mused, "a soldier... not a statesman... "

He threw the jacket down next to the torn pieces of cloth and walked off into the morning sun.

Deconstruction

It was a warm Summer's evening, with the occasional cool breeze gently flowing over my face. As I walked down the quiet street I couldn't help but have my attention drawn to a large symbol that resembled the letter "G". It had been crudely sprayed upon a propaganda billboard in fluorescent purple spray paint.

"Quite a shock to see that, mate," someone wearing a fedora halted in her movements as she walked up beside me and noted, "I didn't think Ghost_K had any grasp on this territory. It seems they have spread their claws to every corner of the globe now."

I looked over, noticing her badge. It was a small gold boulder, signifying she was both an Earth elemental and one of my First Class comrades. Her name badge read "T. Tindall". Under the crook of her left arm I could see a rolled up magazine with what appeared to be a topless woman on the cover.

"I'd watch out on saying those sorts of things," I replied quietly, moving closer towards her, "Those kind of thoughts might land you right up shit creek. They might think you imply they're stronger than we supermen."

"Nonsense," she replied, "I merely give reason for the elevation of our guard. Especially with their terrorist attack on the Commonwealth Palace."

"They hit the Commonwealth Palace?" I asked, my left eyebrow shooting up in surprise, "I wouldn't have thought they were possessed of that sort of courage."

"Yeah, don't you remember? It was pretty bad," she responded, "Ghost_K had to ask for the Bolshevik scum to help them."

Nobody mentioned a name, but we knew who they were. The IWU. Those subhumans were quite possibly our greatest internal threat.

"Kenneth Lysander murdered his wife during it," she continued, "I think they've gone straight off the deep end, even for supporters of mob rule."

All of a sudden she took out a fob watch and checked it.

"Ah, I've got a Party meeting on sustainability in a few minutes," she stated, turning to leave "See you around, mate."

As she retreated off to her meeting, I decided to walk across the street. It was then that I spotted a police officer approaching the billboard on the other side. Not wishing to draw attention to myself I kept walking.

"Ghost_K," I heard him mutter disdainfully. As I crossed the tarmac road. However, at that moment he noticed my presence and immediately challenged my position.

"Fire Elemental!" he commanded forcefully, "I seek your assistance."

This was exactly what I wasn't hoping for. The officer had immediately honed in on my pin badge, a stylised gold flame.

"It is always an honour to serve The Party," I responded, bowing my head slightly.

"Then you can do so by removing this taint! This FILTH! From our glorious land!" he roared slightly, clearly indignant at the presence of the graffiti. Curious as to why he himself could not perform the act, I took a quick glance at his own pin badge. A golden teardrop. He was a mere Water Elemental.

"For the glory of the Oceanic Empire," I vacuously announced.

My hands ignited the air around them. When the flames had managed to build up to an acceptable level I projected them against billboard, scorching away the graffiti in the process.

"That will be all, citizen," he barked, as he started using his own powers to douse the flames.

Not wishing to spend any more time in the company of a police officer, I elected to walk away at pace. It was rather curious to see a Ghost_K Symbol within the sanctuary of the Oceanic Empire. Sympathy for those monsters was non-existent within Sector XII.

They had committed so many atrocities that only a madman would spread their symbol within our glorious nation. Added to that, supporting them in any way is an executable offence. It irritated me that someone would be so brazen to do so.

As I made my way out of the back streets I noticed a hooded girl running down pavement at quite some speed, she brushed past me as she ran down the alleyway I had just exited. Someone acting like that was clearly in some kind of trouble. It was likely she was fleeing from a hostile dissident or that she was involved in criminal activity as a drug runner. Either way, catching her would severely improve my chances for promotion.

I turned back the way I had come and reached for my gun. I turned the safety off and started to give chase.

I sprinted as fast as I could down the street and saw her disappear down an alleyway. However, I was too slow, as I was unable to see where she went afterwards. Gun in my hand, I edged further into the alleyway, cautiously gauging the potential threats that could be awaiting my arrival.

At the end I found the entrance to a cellar. It had all the hallmarks of a filthy Worker hovel. A den of corruption and decadence. While the underclasses had to be kept like cattle, their stupid heifers still found ways of exploiting money from the more desirable classes through prostitution. Steroid fueled bullish scum profited greatly from a bustling drugs trade that funded their own indulgences.

The sight I found when I entered was utterly repugnant. Normally, a First Class Citizen would not be caught dead in a place like this, but if a young woman had entered into the locale, she was clearly in trouble. Added to that, reporting the location of this filthy place would considerably aid my likelihood of promotion amongst the Department of Intelligence.

Filthy piggish people grunted at me when they saw my well mannered demeanor. Disgusting, these sort of people were even more deplorable than the Ghost_K team. Lacking any spark of elemental power was just wrong.

A large brutish man approached me, clearly offended by the presence of a superior being.

"Oi! G'it out uv 'ere now!" he growled,"Or ah smash y'ar pretty little 'ead in!"

Such nonsense was ridiculous. Not willing to be talked to in such a manner by brutish thug I shot my hand to his throat and ignited it.

He squealed in pain as his flesh burnt and my grip tightened. His body slumped to the floor as he passed out due to the intensity of the pain.

"Now, I am looking for a young girl with red hair!" I announced, "any who help me will be looked upon more favourably by The Party!"

There was a general stare of disbelief from the uneducated masses that stood before me. None of them had the audacity to attempt to stand up to me like the previous brute, yet none of them were willing to help either. Clearly they had no aspirations for life. It was as if they were not even human.

"You Firsties are just as dirty as the rest of us!" a tall, well built man chuckled, "I'll give ya ma unspoilt daughter if you're lookin' for a good time. Provided I get a handsome reward in return."

He winked at me before dragging a red haired girl out from behind a stall. The man forced her over to me before wrestling the skirt off of the young woman, leaving her lower half exposed.

"She's yours for a kick-back, mate," he continued, "a nice little job with the higher ups."

He winked at me again.

"I think you have completely misunderstood me good sir," I spat back, utterly repulsed by the proposition. The girl was likely only fourteen. Selling a person like that, even a Worker, was despicable.

"What ever do ya mean?" he replied back, "One red head, as asked for!"

"I'm not after a prostitute," I hissed, "I am looking for a girl who ran down here about two minutes ago."

"Ah very well, mate," he replied, slightly dejected, "can't help ya there! Still, the offer stands. Ya can have her anyway, so long as I get that job."

Disgusted, I withdrew my handgun and aimed it at his head.

"You are hereby under arrest! The charge is Attempted Human Trafficking. The punishment is execution," I righteously proclaimed.

At that, I unloaded a shot directly into his skull. The daughter proceeded to run away, shrieking in panic. The crowd of onlookers went silent.

"Anyone else feeling lucky?" I baited.

Everyone just stared at me, seemingly frightened by the events that had just unfolded. As I walked past the unconscious steroid fueled brute, I made sure to unload a shot into his skull as well.

This had delayed my search more than I had anticipated, and was going to be a clear hindrance to my plans to find this girl. In the brief glimpse I had caught of her, I had noticed her pin badge was silver. Something was very wrong if a Second Class Citizen as young as her was down here in a place like this.

I continued into the bazaar, searching down alleyways, hoping to catch a glimpse of the young girl. After five minutes of searching I noticed a scattered pile of small objects littering the ground near the end of one of the alleyways. On closer inspection I discovered they were packets of drugs.

I could only assume they were somehow linked to the mysterious red-head. It made some sense, as she had been running rather hastily and had appeared to have been burdened by something. Perhaps she had encountered something that made her panic and run.

It was unlikely to have been police, as they clearly weren't properly aware of the existence of this particular den. The abundance of freedom for these lower class scum was simply appalling.

As I ventured further away from the bazaar I heard the sound of a gunshot. Honing in on the direction it had originated from, I started sprinting. It was a long shot, but something just seemed like it was the right way to go.

That was when I saw it. A horrific situation. There was a young boy, bleeding out from a bullet wound and a brutish man holding someone up against the wall. I ran over to the teenager and placed my palm against his head. He was ice cold.

Seeing as the captive of the large man was clearly in some deal of pain, I ran over to where he was holding his prey hostage. To my horror it was the red-haired girl I had been looking for. Immediately, I withdrew my gun and sprinted towards the criminal who was physically abusing her. Just as I was about to shoot the ground exploded beneath my feet.

Suddenly I was catapulted into the air. Earth Elemental. It was the only explanation.

As I crashed down to earth my body became impaled upon a pillar of concrete.

With my waking moments becoming more and more disjointed, all I could see was the exploded remains of the brutish man and the unconscious form of the red-headed girl. I reached out my arm towards where she was lying in a futile gesture.

Her arm moved over to where mine one lying and I heard her say something fleetingly, "Daddy... "

And then it all went dark.

VallarieCrest
Chronology
K21 - Subterfuge Chronicles · K21 - Deceit and Disloyalty · K21 - Forgiveness and Mercy · K21 - Aces High · K21 - Tarnished Perceptions · K21 - Shattered Endeavours · K21 - Decayed Moralities

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