Vandal Hearts Ch. 03byJoeBarnosky©
Capital Shumeria: Dover District
RAIN STEADILY POURS, PATTERING HARD onto the old street. Ash and his companions step through the gates of the Dover District stopping short of a man standing still wearing large crimson armor and a very large sword sheathed at his side.
"These are the advance troops?" Ash questions.
The district is filled with heavily armored crimson colored knights dueling with rioters dressed in little more than light clothing, all ill equipped and prepared for any kind of fighting of this nature.
"Hayahhh!" a crimson soldier yells as he brings down his sword across the chest of a rioter.
"Waaaa!" the man screams out in pain as his chest splits open and his insides spill out.
"Kiiiyaaaaaa!" another crimson soldier yells as he tears across the throat of another rioter.
"Unnnnh!" the rioter moans grabbing his throat as he drops to his knees. Blood trickles through clamped fingers as he looks up at the soldier with pleading eyes. When the light in the man's eyes finally fade he falls to the ground face first with a deafening thud.
"We, we surrender!" a rioter yells after seeing his friend die so violently. He drops his sword to the ground and raises his hands up in a gesture of surrender.
The crimson soldier standing a full head taller before him grins devilishly, "Surrender to death!" Then stabs the man through is chest.
"Aaaaahhhhh!" he screams out before falling limp.
"Barbarian sons of bitches!" Diego yells.
"Crimson Guard," Clint explains with disgust filling his voice. "Special anti-terrorist forces. An elite fighting force formed by the well known right winger, Hel Spites. They're famous for being ruthless with terrorist, but this is too much."
"Troops assemble!" a man, Kane, with ceremonial-like crimson armor and cape yells.
The crimson soldiers quickly and efficiently form into up into a small squad in front of Kane and he turns to face Ash with a smile that stretches from ear to ear.
"Well if it isn't the Security Forces!" he says loudly and with mockery so that his entire squad can hear. "What are you doing poking your little noses around here?"
Ash doesn't answer and instead stares at the man intensely boring holes through him with his eyes.
"I know you," Kane says resting his hand on the hilt of his sword. He moves to stand more casual. "You're Ash Lambert, the son of a traitor becoming a platoon leader. What a joke!"
The comment is followed by laughter from the squad which angers Diego more than it does Ash. "What did you say!" he shouts.
"You scum!" Clint says stepping forward.
Ash reaches up grabbing Clint's arm. "Stop it both of you!"
"But Ash," Diego protests.
"Let him talk," Ash says calmly, still seemingly unbothered by Kane's verbal lashings.
Kane smiles big again. "Always trying to sound like a saint aren't you?" He throws his arm out in an arc pointing his finger until it settles on a church on the top of hill. "As you can see, we've cleared the area of enemies. Some are still holed up in up in that church, but we have business elsewhere." He settles his hand to rest back onto the hilt of his sword again and says, "As long as you're here you can take care of those left in the church. Make sure you do a good job now."
Without giving Ash or the others a chance to respond he turns and leads the crimson soldiers away.
Once they are gone Diego shutters with anger and says, "That lousy creep!"
"Yes, but what are we going to do Ash?" Clint asks.
"Let's go and see if they will surrender," he answers looking up toward the hill as he draws his sword. "It looks like there are no enemies around, but don't relax your guard."
No sooner does he say this do War Ghosts and Hunter Imps appear.
"Where the fuck did these monsters come from?" Diego says surprised.
"They've been summoned by a powerful mage," Ash answers.
"We're gonna have to cut through them then," Clint growls and rushes past the other two.
Clint leaps through the air and catches the first War Ghost off guard cleaving it in half. The ghost mists away before his feet even touch the ground.
Ash is right behind Clint using him as a springboard. His sword slices through the head of another ghost then into the chestplate of another as he drives it into the wall of a building where it mists away upon impact.
"Look out!" Diego yells.
Clint rolls out of the way just as two arrows land in the ground where he was just at. Diego retaliates with two of his own in rapid succession nailing both Hunter Imps between the eyes, dropping them where they stand.
"This is a pretty filthy place for nobles to live," he says a moment later.
"After the war their estates were confiscated and a special tax was levied on them. They can't even vote," Ash explains as he steps back into the street to join his two companions.
"Just as the Ashah Dynasty did, we are oppressing them just for being who they are," Clint adds. "Politicians always make the weak in society pay for other's mistakes."
"That would make anyone want to fight back," Diego says throwing up his hands.
More War Ghosts suddenly appear drawing attention from the trio of fighters. Clint is the first to pull away from the group, rushing shield first into the closest of the ghosts.
The ghost's spear slams into his shield, sending reverberations through his arm. He ignores the jolting vibrations turning his body past as an arrow from Diego lands through the ghost's barbute. He presses one past, blocking an attack with his sword and gets slammed by the War Ghost's shield.
Clint hits the ground hard with the air being expelled from his lungs with such force that it burns when he tries to take a breath. The ghost pulls back then drives the spear downward at the large man but the burning in his lungs is too severe that his mind doesn't react fast enough for his arm to raise his sword to block it.
Ash's sword strikes the head of the spear just in time to sever it from the shaft. He then twirls the blade around and sends it up through the underside of the War Ghost's barbute, sending it back to where it came.
Ash extends a hand to Clint, who graciously accepts it. "Thanks," he says.
"Don't mention it," Ash says. He turns his attention toward a small group of Hunter Imps across the stream and points, "We have to release that drawbridge!"
"That switch should release it," Diego points out confidently.
"Good," Ash says. "Diego send cover fire, Clint cause a distraction."
"What about you?" Clint objects.
"I'm going to get the drawbridge lowered." And without another word and sword in hand Ash in running across the cobble stone road at full speed banking left and right as arrows bounce and skip across the stones.
Clint runs parallel with Ash creating the illusion of a formulated attack while providing the Hunter Imps with a greater range of targeting. Meanwhile, Diego returns fire but the Hunter Imps are already dug in behind cover and only deter them enough to not get a good enough draw on Ash or Clint.
By the time Ash reaches the lever for the drawbridge, Clint drives behind a building near it, having been grazed by an enemy arrow. The wound is minor, just barely a scratch but he hopes to create an illusion of being hit.
The heavy wooden gate slams down across the stream creating a bridge and almost instantaneously the Hunter Imps come out from hiding, firing their crossbows in rapid succession at the entrance.
After a moment silence follows and the three imps stand there looking through the portal precariously. Their fingers twitching across the triggers of the crossbows, just waiting for the simplest of movement, but nothing happens. Not until...
"Aiiiee!!" Clint yells as he crashes down with his sword from the arch of the drawbridge gate and into the head of one of the imps.
The other two quickly turn, swinging their crossbows around firing, but Clint is already rolling out of the way. Two arrows fly into the back of the head of one dropping it instantly to the ground leaving the last to nervously fight to reload the crossbow. By the time it does Ash is there splitting its skull open.
ASH, CLINT AND DIEGO ENTER the church and find a small group of rioters each armed with weapons.
"You're surrounded," Ash announces as he steps forward away from the other two. "Drop your weapons. We don't want any more needless bloodshed."
A smartly-dressed man walks toward Ash from the altar carrying a cane in his right hand. "You mean that, don't you," the man says.
"Of course I do," Ash answer nobly.
"Don't listen Count!" one of the young rioters yells. "He's a blood drinking devil!"
The count turns toward the young man. "But if we continue, everyone will die."
"Excuse me, Count," another of the young rioters says, "but how can you trust these soldiers that just slaughtered us?"
The count regards this questioning young man. "Peace needs to begin somewhere. Also, this man seems different than those crimson murderers. I'll give him a chance." He turns back around and steps toward Ash. "We surrender."
A chorus of grumbles echoes through all the men but ultimately they drop their weapons in and step back if a bit cautiously.
"I'm Ash Lambert of the Ishtarian Security Force," Ash informs them. "Thank you for your quick compliance," he finishes with a warm smile.
The count matches the smile. "My name is Roland Claymore. This riot is my responsibility. Please do not blame any one else."
Ash frowns. "We have laws here. It's not for me to decide, but I will report that you offered us no resistance."
"That's enough!" a loud voice erupts from behind. "Stop right there!"
Ash and his companions turn to see Kane and the Crimson Soldiers entering the church just as they are closing the doors behind themselves.
"The Crimson Guards have come back," Ash says not leaving out any of the malice from his voice.
"Nice job for a bunch of weaklings like you!" Kane says sneeringly. "But we'll assume control from this point on or maybe this son of a traitor wants to take credit for this?"
"I want no credit," Ash says shaking his head. "Do as you like."
The Crimson Guards start to march forward. Clint and Diego quickly step aside as to not be trampled by the soldiers. Kane follows behind the soldiers and stops when he reaches Ash. They stand face to face staring each other down until finally Ash backs down and steps aside.
"Thank you, I will," Kane says grinning. He looks up toward the group of rioters and asks, "Which one is Claymore?"
"I am," Count Claymore says proudly stepping forward from the rest of the group.
"Good. Come over here."
Claymore walks over and stands next to Kane defiantly and not showing any hint of fear.
Kane casts an evil smirk down at the man. "I have no need for the others. Kill them!"
Count Claymore's face changes into shock and he his momentarily speechless. The Crimson soldiers advance as the rioters try to run away but they have no place to escape. Diego steps forward in horror but is stopped when Clint places a hand across his chest.
Ruthlessly the Crimson Guard slaughter each of the rioters, slicing through flesh and spilling blood across the altar and floor until each and every one of the rioters is dead.
"What have you done?" Count Claymore asks when he finally finds his voice. He walks forward and falls to his knees into a pool of blood.
"Murdering son of a bitch!" Diego yells
"I won't forget this," Clint says.
"Kane you bastard!" Ash lashes out pulling his sword free.
"So the traitor finally shows his colors?" Kane asks spinning about with his mighty blade in hand. "Good! I've wanted to cross swords with out for a long time."
The church doors swing open and Clive rushes in. Before either of the soldiers can lock blades Clive rushes in between them. "Stop it you two!" he orders.
"Commander Beckett!" Ash says. The color quickly drains from his face.
"Stop! You're both sworn to defend this country!"
"Leave us be old man!" Kane snarls.
"You had best watch that mouth of yours, Kane!" Clive warns. "The Crimson Guard is already in enough trouble with the council. More trouble and even your father, Hel Spites won't be able to help."
"Save your hollow threats for someone else," Kane says sheathing his sword. "But I will be a big man and forget your rude words to me today. However, I'm taking this old blueblood with me."
Kane signals his soldiers and they quickly secure Count Claymore. With the count secured, Kane leads the group out of the church.
"Damn him," Ash says shaking his head in defeat.
"Thanks for staying cool, Ash," Clive says placing a hand on Ash's shoulder. "It will be fine"
A MAN WITH LONG BLACK hair and a royal-looking cloak with large metal shoulder pauldrons is standing in Clive Beckett's office as Ash enters it the following day.
"Excuse me sir," Ash says a little weary. "You wanted to see me?"
The man steps forward with a welcoming look on his face. "Oh, you must be Ash!"
"Ash," Clive says with a smile as he stands up from behind his large wooden desk, "this is Dolf Crowley, a representative from the Young Revolutionary Party."
"Nice to meet you," Ash says shaking the man's hand.
"Dolf has been sent out as a mediator to deal with yesterday's incident."
"I understand exactly how you feel Ash," Dolf says frowning slightly. "The Crimson Guard was completely at fault in yesterday's massacre. Normally there would be no need for a mediator in a case like this, but there are a few complications. As you know, the Crimson Guard is the pet project of Hel Spites, the Minister of Defense. Hel's tactics may be questionable, but his power and influence in the council is not. I personally think that he is a dangerous man who needs to be watched."
"Two council members are competing to become head. Hel Spites and Renaldo Castille, who is as you know the head of the Domestic Security Forces, your boss. See the pattern?"
"You're saying it's more than just a personal grudge between us and the Crimson Guard. Do you think it could escalate into a confrontation between the DSF and the army?"
"Well," Dolf pauses flipping his hair over his shoulder. "Let's not be overly pessimistic. But we need to act swiftly to avoid future trouble."
"So what do you want us to do?" Ash asks feeling a little suspious.
"As punishment we'll send you on leave away from your policing duties here in the capital. But that's just to establish your cover." Dolf says looking toward Clive with a smile then back to Ash. "The truth is that I have a top secret assignment for you."
Domestic Security Forces Headquarters
Gathered around a large table in the DSF Headquarters conference room sits Ash, Diego, Clint and Clive.
"So what is this top secret mission?" asks Diego.
"Do you know who General Magnus Dunbar is?" Ash asks placing his hands in the table leaning in toward him.
Diego sits back in his chair a little surprised. "Of course, the greatest hero of our country. Why?"
"He's also second in line behind Hel in the Defense Ministry." Clint throws in.
"Well three months ago he went to Gillbaris Island with a squad of handpicked soldiers and he hasn't been seen since," Ash explains.
"Gillbaris Island?" Clint asks incredulously. "In the Gadar Sea? Why?"
"I don't know. But I've heard rumors that he was acting on secret orders from Hel who was planning a coup d'état."
"That guy is out of control," Clint emphasizing by slamming his fist on the table.
Diego drops his chair back onto the floor. "And he wants us to investigate that, huh."
"But Magnus is known for his sense of justice." Clint looks over to Clive with a questioning look. "I don't think he would just blindly follow Hel Spites' orders."
"This secret assignment makes me uneasy," Clive says. "I'm still not personally sure how much we can believe this Dolf. It may be a wise idea not to accept this assignment."
No. I'm going to go," Ash confirms. "If we stay here we may cause trouble for you. You've been a good friend to me."
"Ash, that's not why I had you assigned here," Clive says giving him a concerned look.
"Of course I know that," he says with a warm smile. " But whatever Dolf's reasons may be, we can't ignore what happened to General Magnus."
"That's true," Clint agrees.
"I wanted to take a vacation anyway," Diego jokes.
"I understand," Clive says, his voice taking on a tone of resignation. "But this is a dangerous assignment. I want you to be careful every step of the way."