Clouds of Tyranny

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Chapter 16

CHAPTER 16: HARMON’S LAST STAND

All the inhabitants of the Returner’s HQ began to wake up at sunset. Some of the lesser soldiers had trouble getting to sleep but the Doc fixed that with a few chewable tablets; the Returners didn’t have this problem being experienced in the procedure. Smith had not slept to make sure everyone had what they needed before the trip to Harmon, he would sleep at night as he usually did. Smith’s first errand of the night was to make sure that there was plenty of nutritious food, consisting of bread, soup, and dried meat for the trip to keep everyone’s energy up. Smith waited patiently in the dining area till Tara entered from the women’s dorm; she was the first one up for a change.

“Hello,” she said sitting with Smith.

“Good morning Tara,” he said before noticing her right hand, which had a blue bandana wrapped around her palm with a wad of gauze peeking out from underneath it, “My, what happened?”

“Was practicing a trick and hurt myself, but I’m ok.”

Smith shook his head then froze in realization.

“Wait! You’re wearing the bandana.”

“Yeah, it feels right to wear it now. After all, I am one of you now, right?”

“That’s right,” he said smiling over at her.

They sat quietly for several minutes until Tara finally broke the silence.

“So, since I’m part of the team now…” Smith looked at her intently, knowing exactly where she was going.

“My mother, can you tell me more about her?”

Smith took a deep breath before speaking.

“I met her in Turklane, a small farming town to the far south. Her stomach was so bulbous; she could barely do her work. Why the farmer had a pregnant woman tilling the soil, I’ll never know. I saw her toiling away in the field and something inside me said that she needed help, so I offered to provide her food and shelter in exchange for nothing. She met me for dinner that night and that’s when I felt something. The same thing I felt in you; a gift. I asked of the father of her unborn child. She said he was dead, but I knew that was a lie; that’s MY gift.”

“So, you never met him either.”

“No, not until many years later.”

“What? Who is he? Where is he? What does he look like? Does he-“

Tara was frantically asking questions till she was cut off by Smith.

“Tara, I’m telling you about your mother. Trust me, you’re better off never meeting him.”

She stared into Smith’s eyes waiting for him to continue.

“Anyway, I offered to provide anything your mother needed up to your arrival and refused to take ‘no’ for an answer, which she tried to say multiple times; your mother was very prideful, maybe too much so. It took you twenty hours to finally make your exit, like you didn’t want to leave. I cleaned you off and then handed you to your mother so she could see what she created; she couldn’t stop staring at you as you nursed.”

“Wait. You were the first person to hold me?”

“Yes,” smiled Smith, “I named you as well. Your mother said that was her repayment to me. After she had recovered from your birth, she wanted to leave, but I asked her not to. One night, she tried to sneak away in the middle of night. I knew she would, but I caught her in the process. I told her that if she ever needed my help to seek me out. I gave her the location of the first Returner camp and she found me several years later.”

Captain Reuben and the Velxeer Archers were the next to emerge; they sat at their usual segregated table, Tara noticed that Ten seemed normal today; she didn’t have the same robotic qualities she had upon her first arrival. One-by-one the soldiers from HQ as well as the other Returner camps settled in the dining area waiting for their queue to leave.

Next came Ray, followed by Sam. Ruthie and Eve emerged sometime later and joined Ray and Sam at their usual table along with Tara who had left Smith’s side once her friends surfaced. Pearl walked out of the ‘Returners’ door followed by Julius who looked as if he were sleepwalking, probably awoken by Pearl. The Doc walked out with Bridget and Helena with him and sat down with Smith; the three of them each holding a medical bag for the trip. The last to reach the dining area was Alex and Lock, who arrived together. They stood in the doorway and looked at the room full of people arranging to go to Harmon.

“Lock,” whispered Alex, “About last night? What I said…I was just in the moment…and…”

“It’s time to go to work,” said Lock walking to the center of the room to make an announcement as Alex stood there in love’s limbo.

“Returners! Make your way to the armory! Soldiers! Line up against the wall outside the armory!” said Lock as he made his way down the hall that led to the infirmary, the dorms, the training room, and the armory.

“This is a room I haven’t seen yet,” said Tara looking around from inside the armory as Lock and Pearl rummaged through various objects that lay on the shelves and hung from the walls; swords, knives, staves, spears, shields, armor, ammunition, and guns of all types.

To the very back of the armory Tara saw a barred cage that was most likely for prisoners, though it did not house anyone at this time. Inside the cage was a hole in the ground that was used as a lavatory, a tub of water used as a sink, and a metal bench used as a seat or a bed.

“Tara?” said Lock going through a box of various pistols.

Tara turned around suddenly.

“Huh?”

“Here,” said Lock handing her a silver .45 caliber pistol that matched her other one complete with holster for her other hip and four more magazines.

“Thanks,” said Tara attaching the guns in a crisscross fashion to her waist and pocketing the magazines, which now gave her a grand total of seven clips of ammo for Harmon; two being housed inside her pistols.

“Let’s see what else we got here,” said Lock exploring about the shelves, “Ah, put this on Tara.”

Lock threw Tara a Teflon vest to wear and then picked up on one himself and threw a third one to Ruthie; Tara banged on the vest and noticed that beneath the lining was a hard metal plate for stopping bullets. Ruthie handed it over to Pearl.

“It’ll just slow me down,” said Ruthie being rebellious of Lock.

“Sam!” said Lock throwing a small box at him, “Last box of mags.”

Sam removed eight of the bullets from the box and put the box into his back pocket and inserted the eight bullets into his Magnum revolver and placed it back in its holster which lay a few inches below his left armpit.

“How are you on arrows?” asked Pearl looking at Ray.

Ray gave her a bizarre look and opened his trench coat, which had what looked like an endless supply.

“Eve?” asked Pearl.

“I’m fine,” answered Eve putting two fists up. Since the Returners were all outfitted, now it was time for the soldiers to get prepped.

Lock walked to the doorway and peeked his head out the door.

“Okay! When it’s your turn at the door, you specify what you are comfortable with; sword, pistol, crossbow, etcetera etcetera!”

When Lock went back inside he saw that Alex was helping herself to a large rectangular shield and began tying it to her back. One by one the soldiers from the four Returner locations walked up to the door and requested their choice weapons.

The Returners changed into their outfits and retrieved their weapons before joining the soldiers in the dining area. Smith watched his Returners walk out, all of which were ready for a battle that could make or break their cause. There was Lock, his number one, wearing his bandana, bulletproof vest, cargo pants, and his ‘knife boots’; the knife boots had small blades that retracted in and out of the toe. On Lock’s body were over a dozen throwing daggers that lay on his thigh, in his belt buckle, buried in his vest, and one in his shoe and his Damascus hung from his left hip.

Tara was forced to leave her skirt behind and was wearing camouflage cargo pants with her two .45’s attached to them, a black tank underneath her vest, the bandana on her hand to prevent further injury, and her hair tied up in a ponytail. Ruthie was with Tara wearing her outfit that she wore in the Retriever’s swamp; she always wore this on missions.

Ruthie wore her black fighting gloves with retractable spikes and blue bandana tied in a helmet fashion over her hair. Pearl was outfitted with thick jeans, a sleeveless black shirt, leather fingerless gloves to protect herself from her own weapon, and her blue bandana tied around her left bicep. Eve wore her bandana around the belt loop of her daisy duke jean shorts as well as a tight blue T-shirt with her large knife at her side; it was half razor and half serrated blade. Ray didn’t change a thing about his appearance with the exception of his bandana that he tied much like Lock, in a stripe fashion on his forehead. Ray had his arm bow filled with arrows and the sword he bought in Velxeer hung on his right hip considering Ray’s a southpaw.

Julius did what all his men did, using their skin color to their advantage; all of them wearing black clothing to match their flesh. Julius wore black jeans, a black long sleeved shirt, and his bandana tied in a bow on his lower back around his belt. Julius’ weapon of choice is a double-barreled shotgun, which he carried due to its size, and a 9mm Beretta that sit snuggly in the front of his pants. Sam, a simple family man, didn’t bother to change since he had gotten to HQ.

Alex wore her cargo pants, white mesh top under the vest that had been provided, the shield tied diagonally to her back, her dragon’s blade on her back, typical military boots, and her newly acquired bandana was being used as a tie for her hair that was up in a ball behind her head.

Clyde looked ready to go, he craved battle after being out of commission for the last couple weeks. Clyde wore black slacks, a red tank top that showed off every single ripple of his muscular torso, and his blue bandana tied to his right knee.

Everyone going to Harmon was in the dining area awaiting instruction from Smith; Lock had Tara to his right and Alex to his left.

“Psst!” whispered Tara trying to get Lock’s attention.

He turned his head slowly to look at her as she pointed her finger at a steak knife lying on the table several feet from them with her left hand. She opened her right palm and the knife zoomed ten feet and landed in her hand without incident.

“Huh!” said Tara sounding accomplished.

“Good work,” whispered Lock back at her, “Listen, stay close to me okay?”

Tara looked at him intently unsure of whether he trusted her or if he still felt like it was his duty to protect her even though he was with Alex now.

“Sure.”

Lock looked forward and Tara looked over at Alex who had undoubtedly been glaring at her the whole time. Ooh! Someone’s jealous, thought Tara laughing to herself. Everyone got completely silent when Smith walked to the center of the room. He stood there silent for a moment thinking of what to say, then pointed to Lock with an open hand.

“These are YOUR men.”

Lock nodded and stepped onto the table ahead of him and looked about the room and saw every single person looking to him for some encouraging words; the Returners looked ready, but the soldiers looked scared and nervous.

“You all know both possible outcomes of this fight. Retreating is not one of them, I will sacrifice my life for our cause and I expect nothing less from all of you. We will be outnumbered, yes! They have training that we do not possess, but we do have something they could never begin to understand: hope. Know this! We will not falter, we will not fail. The forces of evil will not win. We’ll strike them down where they stand and refuse to quit till every single imperial is dead. Harmon needs you! We all want peace and the only way to achieve peace is to fill your heart with hate! The empire doesn’t want to take your lives; they want to take your home, your morality, and your faith in the right to do well. And we can’t let them…for if we do…they win! The only thing we can do is prevail and create a new era of GOOD!”

Lock threw his fist into the air and everyone in the room did the same and cheered for Lock as he jumped off the table. Lock was nearly tackled by Sandy, the little girl that called her uncle since she had no family.

“Uncle Lock, be careful and come back,” she said sadly.

Lock kneeled down to her level.

“I will.”

Some of the soldiers grabbed the bags full of food and blankets and Lock led everyone into the tunnel leading to Harmon; they’d be in Harmon in six hours.

Lock and Pearl led the pack across the plains while the other Returners handled the rear so as to ensure there were no stragglers. Ruthie and Tara were engaged in conversation as Alex walked quietly as to get herself in the right frame of mind for battle.

“I hope he’s okay,” said Tara referring to Lars who was in Harmon making preparations and hiding the meek civilians underground.

“He’s fine, Ter,” said Ruthie reassuringly, “He may be skinny and sweet, but he can handle himself.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” said Tara nodding her head up and down.

“You really like him, don’t you?” asked Alex.

Tara was surprised at Alex’s willingness to talk to her after what had transpired since they met.

“Yeah, he’s nice and he’s caring and he’s a good kisser,” answered Tara,

“What about you and Lock?”

Alex smiled at Tara for her attempt to be civil.

“It’s…complicated,” sighed Alex, “I haven’t a clue at how he feels about me, but I am falling for him. I try to stop myself but I can’t.”

“Lock’s a strange animal,” said Ruthie sighing, “One minute he’s in love, the next he’s trying to get rid of you. That’s just the way he is in relationships ever since Alisa died.”

Jillian turned her head around as she walked forward.

“I don’t know what I’d do if my love died.”

“It’s happened to me before when I was in my late teens,” explained Alex, “You feel lost even though you know where you are. You blame yourself for what is not your fault. You try to smile but your lips wont curve.”

Jillian’s lips tightened at the depressing thought.

“I’m so sorry Alex.”

“Thanks.”

“That’s enough, Ten!” yelled Reuben from the front of the Velxeer group which was in order of ascending number.

“Apologies, sir!” said Ten sulking.

“Give her a break!” yelled Alex in his direction, “Is it against the law to be human in your country?”

“Keep it down back there!” yelled Lock referring to everyone, then looked at Pearl who was leading the group alongside him.

“You’re a real ass, you know that,” said Pearl scoffing at Lock.

“What?”

“You heard me. She says the ‘three little words’ and you don’t say anything? You just ignore someone’s feeling? Is that how you work now?”

Lock hung his head in shame.

“I just didn’t know what to say. What can I say? ‘I enjoy having sex with you, but I don’t want to spend forever with you’?”

“At least then, she wouldn’t be confused. Women, no matter how strong, are still women and they need closure, compassion, and sensitivity.”

“Yeah, I know. But, I don’t wanna hurt her.”

“Better to hurt her feelings than kill her identity. Right now she’s blaming herself. She thinks it’s who she is that you don’t love or she’s not pretty enough.”

Lock glared at Pearl judgmentally.

“How the hell do you know that?” asked Lock.

Pearl shook her head in exasperation.

“Because I’m a woman and I can see it in her eyes.”

They reached the halfway mark as the moon disappeared behind the mountains behind them draping a blanket of darkness over their heads.

“Commander Lock,” said a jar-headed boy walking behind Lock.

“What is it?” asked Lock looking behind him at the boy.

The boy pointed to his right.

“Movement to the south.”

Lock and Pearl both threw up their fists to halt the group’s movement.

“Are we late?” asked Pearl trying to see through the darkness.

“No, too small for an imperial threat. A dozen, maybe more,” answered Lock.

“Pan’dier?”

“Seems like it.”

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Alex running towards the small group of people hundreds of yards away. She stood there talking with them for a brief moment, then commenced to walk towards Lock and Pearl.

“Lock, these men are from Pan’dier. Fifteen in all,” said Alex as they approached him.

Lock looked at the fifteen men with .38 caliber bolt-action rifles draped over their shoulders.

“Who’s in charge?”

“You are,” said one of the men.

“She is,” said Lock pointing to Alex who was responsible for acquiring their assistance.

Alex positioned the fifteen gunners within the middle of the soldiers, then took her place at the rear.

The black night began to fade to a dark blue as they progressively got closer and closer to their destination.

“How long you think?” asked Pearl inquiring about the distance left till they would reach Harmon.

“We will reach the hill overlooking Harmon in about an hour, so ninety minutes. Be ready for the Lizarros.”

“Guess again,” smirked Pearl, “We took care of them a few weeks ago.”

“Oh, good.” Ray and Eve walked alongside Sam and Reuben near the middle of the traveling soldiers.

“Are we there yet?” asked Ray sarcastically.

“Funny,” smiled Eve.

“Great,” said Sam, “Feels like vacation with my daughter. Yakkity yak yak.”

Ray winked at Eve and began pushing his finger into her arm.

“Daaaaad! Ray won’t stop poking me!” joked Eve mimicking a little kid’s voice.

“Don’t make me come back there!” said Sam playing along.

“Do you people think this is a game?” said a fed up Reuben.

“Apparently, happiness is against your nation’s laws as well,” said Tara joining in on the ‘we hate Reuben’ club.

“We are going into battle! Now is the time for concentration!”

“I agree, sir,” chimed in a Velxeer archer trying to gain bonus points with his commanding officer.

“Hey Three!” said Ray trying to get Three’s attention.

Three looked at Ray who was rubbing the tip of his nose with his index finger.

“Got a little something right here.”

Three gave him an angry look and pointed his face forward. Julius choked on his own laughter as he turned his head to look at Ray who was four people behind him, then saw something strange at the end of the line; Ruthie riding on Clyde’s back.

“Damn!” said Clyde faking a strain, “You need to lose some weight.”

“Look who’s talking, fatty,” laughed Ruthie tapping the top of his head with her palm.

“It’s called muscle,” argued Clyde.

“I don’t agree with that,” said the Doc walking alongside his two nurses.

“You’re calling me fat now?” asked Clyde angrily.

“No, I don’t agree with her on your back like that. You’re still healing,” explained the doctor.

Ruthie looked over at the Doc realizing that what he was saying was right on the money and began to get off of him.

“Its fine Ruthie,” said Clyde shrugging off the doctor’s advice and grabbing her legs so she felt safe.

An hour passed as they approached the hill just before Harmon. Alex saluted a decomposing Lizarro as they passed it.

“Your handy work?” asked Ruthie looking down from Clyde’s shoulders.

Alex nodded a confirming ‘yes’. Lock halted the line and ran quickly up to the peak of the hill to look at Harmon’s situation. He crept slowly up the hill and looked over the top to see an abandoned Harmon and Lars hammering the wooden wall that surrounded the town. Lock waved everyone towards him as they followed his lead and saw the quickly approaching town as the sun slowly peaked up from the east.

They entered Harmon through the side entrance on the west side of town where Lars was building traps.

“How are things?” asked Pearl.

“Hey, glad you guys made it,” said Lars looking down at them from atop the twelve foot wall, “Townspeople are safely tucked away. Explosives set on the north entrance and got a few traps set up here.”
“Sounds good,” said Lock looking around the dark town.

“Pan’dier,” yelled Alex pointed to the inn in the north part, “Follow me to the roof.”

The gunners from Pan’dier walked up to the front of the group where Alex was now positioned next to Lock. Before leading them into the inn that would give them roof access she looked at Lock intently, not knowing what to say. Lock stared back at her wanting to say something, but couldn’t. To the right of the inn was a small store that sold sundries.

“Doc,” yelled Lock as he looked at the shop.

The Doc and his two nurses, Bridget and Helena, walked up to the front where Lock was.

“In there,” said Lock pointing to the shop.

“Right!” said the doctor walking toward the shop followed by his nurses; they needed to be protected till the fighting ceased.

“Alright, I want three on the inside with the Doc and two guarding the door on the outside,” said Lock counting out the ones to go.

The young soldiers jogged over to the shop and positioned themselves. Lock looked to the southeast part of town where a bunch of residential building stood.

“Captain Antleon, up there?”

Reuben looked to where Lock was referring to.

“Perfect,” agreed the Captain, “I’ll position my men.”

Reuben nodded at Lock and led his archers to the residential area where they commenced to climb the rain gutters to the top of the buildings and positioned themselves facing the main entrance on the south side of Harmon. Lock divided the remaining soldiers into three groups and sent one group to the rear entrance in the north side of town with Ray, Clyde, and Sam, one group to stay at the side entrance with Lars, Pearl, and Julius, and one group to take with him to the main entrance on the south edge of town along with Ruthie, Eve, and Tara.

When Lock’s team made it to the main entrance Lock positioned his soldiers in various spots that would be unseen by the imperial soldiers such as in the tree that lay in the center of the courtyard, along the wall, behind the gate of the entrance, and behind bushes.

“Okay, here’s the plan,” started Lock, “They walk in and we come down on them with a surprise attack consisting of Ruthie, Tara, Eve, and myself; soldiers don’t move. Then they open fire, we take cover, and the archers take more of them, then you soldier’s spring into action only when I give the word.”

They all nodded as the soldiers began hiding in their spots. Lock looked at Ruthie.
“I’ll be right back.”

Lock walked toward the alleyway in the southwest corner of town that connected to the various shops to look for the Retriever, who should have arrived already.

“Retriever,” called out Lock silently as he walked through the alley, “Retriever?”

He heard and saw nothing and looked back the way he came and saw smoke coming from the mountain tops.

“Shit!” Lock ran back to his team, “It’s time! Tara, fire a shot into the air.”

Tara pointed her gun to the heavens and shot a single bullet alerting the other teams of the threat that now approached them.

“They’ll be here shortly,” said Clyde, “Don’t go past where I am standing or the blast will get you. Engage after you see five blasts come up from the ground.”

“As soon as the fifth one goes off, run through the smoke as it will provide cover,” said Ray.

“Very good,” said Sam getting into the right mindset for the battle.

“I have a series of traps,” said Lars explaining his plan to his team, “Stay clear of the doorway, as long as we stay on this side of the wall, you’ll all be okay. Let them come to you. I will signal to the shooters for the first wave of their attack.”

“And take no prisoners!” yelled Pearl with conviction.

Alex had her gunners positioned on the roof that was of a triangle shape with each side at a forty-five degree angle; they were lying on their stomachs on the side that was inside the walls as not to be seen by the soon coming imperials.

“Okay, when Pearl gives the word you fire. Don’t be quick…be accurate…head shots or the heart. Make sure you all prioritize, the ones with firearms die first. Let our soldiers handle the imperials carrying melee weapons.”

“Alright archers,” said Reuben egging his soldiers on, “This will be a proud day, a victorious day. Some of you won’t make it back, but know that it is your duty to give your lives for the kingdom of Velxeer.”

Reuben looked down at Lock’s team who had their backs to the wall for concealment. While Reuben was turned away, Jillian looked over at Alex from across the town and waved, wishing her good luck as Alex sat atop the peak of the triangular roof smoking a rolled cigarette. Lock peeked his head out the main entrance doorway and saw the empire approaching, five minutes away…if that. Lock looked at the three female Returners he had the honor of fighting alongside with.

“Welcome to hell. No mercy,” he said grinning like a villain.

CHAPTER 17: DESPAIR UNDER A CURTAIN OF BLOOD

Lock stood against the wall next to the front gate holding his Damascus with both hands while Tara stood next to him with a single gun drawn; the first one she had acquired. Through the front gate walked an imperial soldier wearing a patch on his sleeve that indicated he was a lieutenant.

“People of Harmon,” yelled the lieutenant, “The Empire demands your cooperation and total submission.”

The lieutenant looked around for the townspeople, but only saw Lock to his left, then froze.

“Attack!” yelled the lieutenant in desperation as Lock’s sword pierced through his sternum and peeked out his back.

Lock violently pulled the blade back out and dropped the man to the floor. Suddenly, five men rushed in through the front gate and were met with their doom. Ruthie had her spikes out and landed her left fist into a soldier’s stomach, followed by a right to his nose; the three sharp spikes breaking through the skull as he fell. Lock swung his sword at two men in front of him, eviscerating one man, then brought the blade down removing the other man’s arm at the shoulder; blood shot out of the nub that once housed an appendage. Lock kicked the one-armed man in the rear of the knee dropping him to the floor, then stabbed down into the man’s heart.

Two additional men approached from behind Lock hoping for a Returner fatality, but Eve answered by leaping behind one of them and reaching her head around him and slit his throat with her serrated knife; the front of the soldier’s neck oozed blood onto the floor as he fell. The other soldier turned his attention from Lock to Eve and aimed his pistol less than a foot away from her head. Tara pointed her palm at the gun and it flew out of his hand and into the air, he was bewildered as he looked at Tara. Tara smirked at the now unarmed soldier and pointed her .45 and fired at him; the bullet shot through the man’s forehead and the blood exited where the bullet entered, Lock getting imperial blood on his cheek.

“Now!” yelled Lock queuing his soldiers to reveal themselves as a dozen soldiers ran through the entrance while the remaining soldiers stood behind with machine guns drawn waiting for a clear shot at the Returners.

The soldiers leaped from behind the bushes and began attacking the twelve imperials that posed a threat to them. One of the Returner’s soldiers fell at the hands of an imperial rifle into his chest. Lock released one hand from his Damascus and threw a dagger at an imperials eye while Tara managed to shoot three more. Ruthie kicked one imperial in the testicles, then round housed another before turning her attention back on the kneeled imperial writhing in pain, she grabbed two handfuls of his hair and began bashing him in the face with her right knee till he was either dead or brain-dead; she couldn’t tell. Ruthie looked back to the man she had kicked in the face and he was trying to get up but didn’t quite know where he was, she came down hard with a boot and crushed his head. The soldier’s numbers were diminishing and Lock knew they’d be firing any moment, so he turned toward the threat outside their front door to see them aiming as their general positioned for them to open fire.

“Cover!” screamed Lock as he looked to Ruthie who was back flipping out of harm’s way along with Eve, he grabbed Tara around the waist and fell towards the wall for cover as three of the boys were hit more than twenty times by the imperials bullets.

Lock heard the barrage of bullets flying less than a yard away as Tara lay on top of him.

“You okay?” asked Tara.

Lock put his palms over her ears as not to damage her hearing.

“Let it rain!” yelled Reuben Antleon from atop the building.

The archers sprung to their feet atop the roof and pulled their strings releasing thirteen arrows down on the imperials; all of which had hit a vital area. The imperials panicked and were now concentrating on the archers above them and began firing. Jillian was on her third arrow when she felt a splatter of blood hit her left cheek and she knew right away that Eleven was gone, but she refused to look. If Jillian took her eyes off of her prey, she would surely die and that could not happen; she was the best and quickest with a bow. “Get up,” said Lock after removing his hands from Tara’s ears. Tara and Lock stood to their feet, but were quickly brought back down to the hard ground by the explosion to the north.

At the rear entrance, the first explosion had turned twenty imperials into tomato bisque, heads flying towards Clyde, Ray, and Sam who were at the front of their team waiting for the right moment to send them toward their enemies. The imperials weren’t of ignorant rabble, several of the armed soldiers fired at the ground setting off three more explosions from beneath the soil sacrificing only a few of their own.

The imperial soldiers ran through the rising smoke and leaped towards the Returners as Ray pointed his right arm at them and released five of his miniature arrows dropping three imperials to the floor. Four of the boys didn’t wait for their queue and ran towards their threat.

“That was only four!” yelled Clyde at the boys as they disappeared into the smoke.

Clyde could no longer see anything…BOOM! Ray shook his head, knowing that the stupid young boys were in pieces now. The three Returners stood with their team waiting for the smoke to clear till they saw almost thirty more imperials running towards them.

“Now!” yelled Clyde pointing at the Empire.

Bullets flew from both sides catching Clyde in the leg and Sam in the shoulder, but they carried on. Ray fired the three arrows that remained, then drew his sword and thrusts his blade into an imperials stomach as he twisted it to widen the hole in his body as he heard loud gunfire from the west.

“Fire!” yelled Alex as the Pan’dier gunners let loose another symphony of gunshots at the approaching Empire.

Lars signaled at Alex and she halted her shooters from firing then looked next to him at Pearl.

“Duck!” he yelled without thinking.

They both kneeled as a young boy from the Returners side used a knife to cut rope that was tied to a pillar of the building adjacent to the west entrance. Down swung a large log that lay horizontally, that had numerous knives and sharpened stick protruding out of it, and hit eight imperials in their torsos; three flying back several feet, five becoming stuck to the log and swinging with it now, and all of them deceased.

Many more imperials managed to slip through the moving hazard and made it inside the town, one trying to make it to the center of town. Pearl turned and saw the young imperial trying to escape, so she pulled out her corded knife and whipped it into his back and jerked it hard causing the man’s back and side flesh to split open and his inside began pouring out atop a waterfall of blood as the imperial screamed in pain.

Pearl walked over to his flailing body and pressed her boot against the back of his head and thrust the sharp head of her weapon into the back of his neck.

“Shut up!” she yelled as she pulled out the blade.

“Pearl,” yelled Julius.

Pearl turned to look at Julius who was reloading his shotgun as he stood over two dead men without heads.

“They’re going around! Guard the walls!” said Julius closing the chamber of his large gun and walking along the walls looking up for climbers.

Pearl joined Julius in his errand,].

“How many out there?” asked Pearl.

”Enough,” said Julius being unsupportive.

Somehow, an imperial was able to sneak past Lars, but unlucky for him, Alex saw him.

“You guys handle yourselves,” said Alex to the fifteen gunners and then leaped off the roof while unsheathing her dragon blade in midair and slicing down splitting the imperials head in half.

Lars turned to see that Alex had saved his life who was now staring at the roof in the southeast part of town where the Velxeer archers were positioned; there were only eight of them left including Reuben.

“You can thank me later,” winked Alex as she ran towards the main gate where Lock, Eve, Ruthie, and Tara were.

Lock was putting the finishing touches on a man that he had already completely removed from his knees and was taking a knife to his throat. When he turned around he saw five gunned imperials looking at him, who must have climbed the wall to the west and snuck in. Each of the five soldier’s heads fell of their shoulders like dominoes and blood geysered from between their shoulder blades. Lock looked around till he saw Retriever catching his tri-bladed chakra.

“You’re late,” said Lock.

Retriever squinted at Lock as if to say ‘you’re welcome, jerk’. Alex was approaching the tree in the center of the courtyard where Tara was seeking cover as she reloaded her pistols.

“Tara!” yelled Alex pointing ahead of her at an approaching imperial holding a short sword.

Tara dropped the gun from her right hand and pushed her palm towards the air and the imperial flew back fifty feet into the wall banging his head so hard the back of it split open and left a blood stain as he was knocked unconscious. Tara nodded at Alex as she continued reloading the magazines. Alex continued walking to the main entrance as she stepped over the headless corpses and went over to Lock.

“How you looking here?” asked Alex coldly.

Lock looked up at Reuben till Reuben saw him looking, then Reuben held up two fingers on his right hand and three on his left.

“Twenty-six, give or take,” said Lock looking at Alex.

Alex nodded, noticing an imperial pointed his rifle at Jillian.

“Block me,” she said sternly.

Lock stood directly in front of her as she waved her palm towards the air between Jillian and the imperial soldier as the bullet fired from the soldier’s gun. The bullet veered off course and missed Jillian by mere inches.

“Let’s go,” said Alex unsheathing her sword and running towards the front gate.

She leaped over an imperial’s head and stabbed her sword into the top of his head and he fell to the floor as she grabbed the handle of her sword when his knees hit the ground and pulled out her blade.

Pearl and Julius heard noises from the opposing side of the wall.

“Sounds like climbing,” said Pearl.

Julius nodded and pointed his gun towards the section of the wall that emanated the sounds and fired creating a large gaping hole and blood around the rim of the hole. Pearl jumped up and grabbed onto the bloody hole and pulled herself up to get a view and saw no one attempting to climb the wall. All she saw was three bloody carcasses lying on the ground and soldiers from the Returner’s side canvassing the area outside.

“We’re good,” said Pearl jumping down to where Julius was.

“Let’s head back,” said Julius walking alongside Pearl.

“I was wondering,” said Julius nervously, “Maybe after we’re all done here-“

“I like women,” said Pearl abruptly.

“Ah.”

Suddenly, they took a step back at the sound of loud thunderous gunfire coming from the western entrance where Lars was. They ran quickly back to their post where Lars was standing behind a humongous six-nozzle gun the size of a small horse with hundreds of bullet casings shooting out the side of the weapon.

The front entrance was now Empireless with minimal casualties from the Returners and Velxeer.

“Okay!” said Lock commandingly, “Ruthie take half the soldiers to the rear entrance. Tara, take Eve and the other half and head for the side entrance with Velxeer. Me and Alex will be there in a minute.”

They all did as they were told and Lock looked to Alex, who was standing at the gate staring into the distance.

“Alex? Are you okay?” asked Lock standing next to her looking at her face.

“Go,” said Alex robotically.

“What?” asked a confused Lock as he looked into the field.

Lock saw a bizarre looking man atop an animal he had yet to see; a large lion-like animal with four tusks protruding from its cheeks that all curved inward around his mouth like pincers.

“Mold 17,” said Alex, “A genetically mutated human with remarkable strength and power.”

Mold 17 is eight feet tall wearing knight’s armor complete with iron helmet and a long trident spear almost as tall as he was.

“What’s he riding?”

“An Oblar. Go Lock, I have to use the power.”

“I’ll keep people away, survive,” said Lock touching the small of her back before going towards the rear of the town.

Alex walked out into the field so she had room to work and waited for Mold 17 to make the first move. Mold 17 snapped the reigns of the Oblar and began trotting towards her. She drew her sword and gripped it with both hands as she channeled her energy into her dragon blade; a yellow hue began emanating from it. Mold 17 was less than one hundred yards away. She swung the sword and a blast of light shot through the air and hit Mold 17 in the upper regions of his chest and he flew off the Oblar; his iron helmet rolled away after he hit the ground.

The Oblar didn’t realize that its master had vacated its back and kept trotting towards Alex who had stuck her sword into the ground. She dropped to a single knee and placed palms down against the cool stone path leading into the town. The beast was a stone throws away. Alex flipped her hands around so her palms were pointed up and then lifted them violently into the sky as her body leapt a few feet off the ground.

From beneath the ground a stone pillar erupted ten feet into the sky as the Oblar ran into it, instantly taking its own life from the impact its head had against the unmovable stone. She peeked around the pillar and smirked at her handiwork.

Lock was almost to the rear entrance when he noticed the Doc’s safe house; the soldiers designated to guard the door were not fulfilling their duty, one lay dead on the floor and the other one missing. Lock could see violent movement inside. Lock drew his sword and ran to the large window on the side of the shop and jumped into the air and cannon balled through the window, cutting his knees and the top of his forearms.

He saw three men in front of him as he decapitated one, stabbed another in the heart, and grabbed the third by the back of his head and jammed his face into the jagged glass along the window sill; the flesh around his eyes being ripped apart and blood pooled along the window. Lock turned from his victim to look for the Doc and was now looking at a tall muscled imperial. Lock swung his sword but the large man blocked by hitting Lock in the inner elbow causing him to drop the sword.

The man wrapped both hands around Lock’s neck and began to squeeze, but punched him as hard as he could in the stomach; the grip loosened. The man growled and grabbed Lock’s waistband and flung him over his head into the wall. Lock’s back hit a framed glass picture, then fell on his side to the hard wood floor; he felts his elbow twist the wrong way. Lock slowly tried to get to his feet, but was meant with a boot in the face. He couldn’t see straight, just blurred images of blood and his dead soldiers with the Doc and nurses in the corner.

The man gripped Lock’s vest and pulled him up. Slowly Lock’s vision returned and he saw the ugly mug of the large imperial.

“You die, scum!” growled the man into Lock’s face.

Lock spit a huge gob of blood into the imperial’s eyes, blinding him. Lock dropped his injured elbow down on the man’s arm to release the grip and felt a shooting pain in his arm. He groaned, then stomped his foot down hard on the front of the imperial’s left ankle; he heard it snap in half. Lock quickly pulled out a combat knife and jammed it into the large man’s stomach so hard and deep Lock could feel part of his own hand enter the man’s body. He moved his hand up and down inside the man’s belly as he felt the imperial’s blood drip down his left arm.

When Lock was satisfied, he pushed the man’s body away from him and it landed atop the man that had been decapitated. Lock was exhausted and collapsed on the floor and leaned against the walls.

“Fuck!”

Bridget, Helena, and the Doc ran over to Lock to check him.

“How’s your back?” said the Doc looking into his eyes for injury that might have been sustained from the choking.

“A little sore. Is my arm broken? It hurts like hell!” said Lock while Bridget rubbed his leg.

The Doc squeezed several parts of his arm looking for a break.

“Can you bend it?” asked the doctor.

Lock bent his arm and cringed as he did so.

“Yeah, it just stings.”

Helena began wiping the blood from his nose while Bridget treated his cuts from his entrance through the window.

“Okay, straighten your arm,” said the Doc examining further, “Does it hurt when you move it or all the time?”

“Just when I move it or flex the muscle,” said Lock.

“Good, it’s not a damaged nerve, at least. You’ll be okay in a couple days. Put this on your gums,” said the Doc handing Lock a tiny jar with some kind of paste inside.

“What is it?”

Bridget finished the last gauze application on his knee and then looked up.

“It’s ointment to stop the bleeding in your mouth.”

Lock wiped it over his top and bottom gums and started rising to his feet.

“Come on Doc,” said Lock walking over to his Damascus, “Time to check on the injured.”

Alex gingerly walked over to Mood 17 with sword in hand, who was already to his feet waiting for Alex. She was ten feet removed as he signaled at her with his hand as if to say ‘Let’s party’. Alex ran towards him and neglected to notice that he still had his trident’s spear; he swung it from his left hip and grazed her across the belly cutting threw her shirt and drawing blood.

She swung her sword towards his left kidney, but his large hand grabbed her right forearm before she could connect and threw her towards a large boulder. She flew through the air and landed on the jagged rock, cutting her side and landed on the grassy floor. He walked violently toward her and prepared to throw his spear at her. She used what strength she had left to raise her palm and the trident’s spear disintegrated in his hand as he growled at the frustration.

Mold 17 pointed his right hand at her. Alex felt the gashes on her stomach and side burn like someone was holding a fiery torch against them. Alex held her wounds and screamed in unbearable pain.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

The pain was so intense; tears dripped through her now closed eyes, until it just stopped. She looked over at Mold 17 who had a cord wrapped around his neck with a spearhead dangling over his right shoulder. Past Mold 17 was Pearl pulling her cord tight, trying to either strangle him or hold him back.

Mold 17 looked at Pearl and curled the middle of the cord around his wrist and jerked it hard towards his own body. Pearl was dragged through the air headed for Mold 17. When she got close enough, Mold 17 extended his right arm straight to clothesline her in midair. The impact felt like someone had hit Pearl in the forehead with a large piece of timber.

Pearl lay sprawled on the floor dizzy and confused from the attack. Mold 17 looked down at Pearl whose eyes appeared as if they were swirling. Alex saw her opportunity and leaped onto the man-beast’s back and he struggled and jerked around like an unbroken horse. Alex managed to grab Pearl’s spearhead and stick it in the center of his throat before he grabbed her head and flipped her in front of him. As she flipped through the air she repositioned herself and landed on her feet and turned to him maliciously; she had regained her composure thanks to Pearl. Alex’s hands glowed blue as spider webs of electricity swirled around them. She thrust her ten fingers towards Mold 17 and lightning shot out of her fingers as Pearl looked on in amazement at the blurry vision she saw. Mold 17 shook violently from the power of the spell that electrified his organs, but was able to lift a hand. The hand glowed crimson red, until more crimson erupted from his chest and blood flowed, splattering on Alex’s face. From within the humanoid’s chest peeked a razor sharp blade, then Mold 17’s eyes went dark and he fell forward. Sticking halfway out his back was Retriever’s tri-blade chakra.

Alex looked at Retriever, who was walking towards them to ‘retrieve’ his weapon. Alex and Pearl got up and Alex waved to Retriever in appreciation. Pearl began unwrapping her cord from around the man’s throat.

“Are you gonna tell?” asked Alex picking up her dragon blade and placing it inside its scabbard.

Pearl thought for a moment before answering the very important question that could change their lives forever.

“No. But you can’t keep it a secret forever. It can only help Alex.”

“You’re wrong about that.”

Retriever pulled his tri-blade violently out of Mold 17’s back.

“You’re not gonna say anything, are you?” asked Pearl to Retriever.

Retriever attached his weapon to his belt, then gave her a wide-eyed look as if to sarcastically say ‘Very funny’.

Lock walked with Doc and his two nurses towards the rear entrance expecting the worse; which is what he got. Lock saw nothing but death. Every single soldier was dead, Clyde holding his stomach in pain mumbling incoherently, Sam’s body bleeding from its headless neck, and Ray faced down with a puddle of blood under his chest.

The Doc ran over to Clyde seeing as how he had the greatest chance of living among the soldiers with intestines falling out their chests and appendages yards away from their bodies. The two nurses began work on Clyde; applying pressured to his stomach wounds.

“I…was…supp…osed…ta…protect her,” mumbled Clyde to himself.

Lock looked over at Clyde in confusion.

“Her? There weren’t any girls back he-“Lock stopped speaking at his realization, I sent Ruthie back here!

Lock ran over to Clyde and pushed the nurses aside and grabbed Clyde by the sides of his head.

“Ruthie! Where is she?”

“I…was…supp…osed…ta…protect her…They…took…her,” mumbled Clyde again who was obviously disillusioned due to the massive blood loss that seemed like a mote around him.

Lock banged Clyde’s head against the wall he was leaned up against and began yelling hysterically.

“Where the fuck is she!!!”

The Doc grabbed Lock and tried to get him off of Clyde.

“Stop!” pleaded the doctor, “You’ll kill him!”

“Dammit!” yelled Lock crawling away, his emotions too intense to allow his to stand, “Ruthie! Oh Ruthie!”

Tears oozed through Lock’s eyeballs as he slammed his head into both of his hands. After several minutes he realized something to his left, Ray was breathing.

“Doc,” said Lock abandoning his emotions for a second and pointed to Ray’s body, “Ray’s breathing.”

Doc ran over to Ray and flipped him over gently and saw that the only part of his body capable of movement was his mouth and lungs. Doc peeled back his shirt where it was cut and noticed the coloration of the wound.

“A rabid blade,” said the Doc to himself.

Eve, Tara, and Julius arrived at the rear entrance and saw the carnage. Eve immediately ran to Ray and began stroking his forehead.

“Ray, talk to me. Please?”

“He’s been stabbed with a rabid blade. It paralyzes your entire body making your allies think your dead, so they won’t bother to help and you eventually bleed out.”

Eve began to sob at the doctor’s words.

“He wouldn’t want to live paralyzed.”

“Don’t worry,” said Doc pulling a syringe from his bag, “He’ll get better over time. A few weeks and he’ll be fully recovered. Helena, bring the gauze.”

The Doc rolled up his left pant leg, poured some beige liquid, and then stuck the syringe into Ray’s right leg and pressed the plunger down. Lock sat on his knees with his head down scared to death as he punched the hard ground repeatedly in anger.

“Lock?” said Alex who was bloody herself, “What happened?”

Alex knew something was wrong.

“Bridget!” said the Doc pointing to Alex.

Alex waved off the young nurse,

“I’ll live.”

Pearl kneeled next to Lock along with Alex.

“What happened?” asked Pearl sincerely.

“They got Ruthie!” said Lock grabbing Alex with one arm and Pearl with other and began just holding them for emotional support.

Tara just stood in shock over Ruthie, she hadn’t moved a muscle since she heard.

“Shit! The bleeding won’t stop,” said Doc sounding flustered.

Tara snapped out of her trance and rushed over to Ray and placed her left palm on top of his wound. The Doc wasn’t sure what she was doing, but when she removed her hand the wound was sealed and the bleeding had ceased; Doc was in awe. Tara looked over at Lock, who was being consoled by Pearl and Alex, and wondered how Smith would want to handle this.

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