"Clouds of Tyranny"

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The Merchant Town of Pan'dier

“Smith, you dirty son of a bitch,” mumbled Lock to himself as he trudged through the underground sewers that led to secret entrances to a dozen small towns in the area surrounding the Returners HQ.

This particular tunnel led to the smelly sewers under the town of Pan’dier; a town known all over as a place to buy rare and hard to find items such as adamantine metals, ore, and some of the most expensive garbs in the world. The black thick water was up to Lock’s chest while he slowly traveled through the sewers.

He had his father’s Damascus sword held high above his head to protect it from excrement of Pan’dier’s inhabitants. He was working the time of day through his head, Okay, I left just before sun up…three hours in the mine rails…hmm, almost four hours in this smelly cavern…or does it just seem that long? Noon sounds about right.

Just then Lock saw what he had been waiting to see ever since he stepped foot into the sewer system; the small exposed window leading to rear of the town from the sewers. He speed walked to the opening and looked out for witnesses and saw no one in sight.

Lock pushed his sword through the opening and sighed, Hope I didn’t gain any weight since last time, he thought to himself.

He sucked in his stomach and jumped up into the opening and began pulling himself out to the light of day. Lock crawled out on his stomach and looked around before coming to his feet. He grasped his sword as he stood.

While he had only been to Pan’dier once before; it had been a peaceful town then. Now it was under the rule of the empire. He was sure the friends made with the last visit could be dead now or had fled to hang on to their lives.

He saw the wooded area to the rear of the town; a large backyard for the small house he looked at. Lock slowly strafed along the outer walls of the before creeping slowly by the window and peeking in.

He saw an elderly man standing two feet from a dining table while an imperial soldier ate. This is what I’m good at! He smiled to himself.

Lock kneeled and crawled passed the window before standing to approach the back door. He reached for the small throwing dagger in his belt and pulled it out. The handle was sticky with the sludge he had traveled through, yet the blade itself was shining and razor sharp. Lock took a step back, lifted his right foot and kicked the middle of the door with all the anger he could force out.

The door flew open and the hinge housing the locks broke into several pieces. The soldier in one motion, turned and saw Lock, and then kicked back his chair and stood with his mouth full. He reached for his automatic rifle that lay on the table wrapping his hand around the butt and trigger. He lifted the gun and before he could take aim, Lock’s hand flung the throwing dagger forward.

The knife sailed quickly through the air, with a speed so great it made a noise as it cut through the warm air of the room. The silver blade pierced through the soldier deep into his Adams apple causing the imperial to release the gun involuntarily before falling to his knees while holding his throat. The soldier fell to his side and his body went through violent convulsions trying to cling to what was now his shortened life.

Lock casually walked to the fallen soldier and kneeled down to him. He saw the man’s eyes begin to grow dark. A gurgling sound came from deep within his throat; he was choking on his own blood.

“Here,” said Lock malevolently, “Let me get that for ya.”

Lock gripped the dagger and pulled it out quickly. Skin peeled with the knife and blood poured out of the soldier’s neck forming a small puddle around Lock’s boot and making the ground sticky. The light in his eyes went out; while his hand stopped grasping his throat and came to rest on the floor.

The elderly man stood there looking at the body on the floor and the war-seasoned man. Lock looked back at him; noticing the man was shivering with fear. Obviously, this was the first death the old man had seen, thought Lock as he wiped the dagger’s blade clean. The man was upwards of eighty years old with salt and pepper colored hair.

“Are you going to kill me?” asked the old man frightened.

“What?” said Lock?

The man looked at Lock waiting for death. “I’m with the Returners, sir,” said Lock assuring the man that his life was safe. The man’s eyes widened with a ray of hope.

“Are there more outside?” asked the man as he looked out his window as if he was hoping for an entire army of Returners to be waiting right outside the window.

“Actually, no. I’m here to gather information so we can properly infiltrate the towns under imperial control, including this one,” said Lock as he looked around the organized and quaint house, “I need two things from you. First, an estimate of their numbers, how many soldiers and how many lieutenants and generals. The second is a bath. Imperial soldiers don’t smell like dirty garbage.”

Lock motioned to the dead soldier implying he intended to dress as an imperial.

“I’ll get the tub ready, but it might not be very hot,” said the old man.

“That’s fine,” said Lock as he kneeled down and began undressing the soldier trying not to get the sewage, which was dripping from his clothes, on the soldier’s uniform.

After stripping the soldier down to his undergarment, Lock dragged the lifeless corpse to the corner and shed his own clothing. The old man came into the room.

“It’s ready…my name is March by the way,” said the man.

“Lock. And thank you for your help,” said Lock as he picked up his Damascus and walked into the washroom nude,

“Come with me.”

Lock eased himself into the lukewarm water and began scrubbing himself with the sponge; the harder he scrubbed the blacker the water got. The old man spoke while Lock washed himself and shaved using a straightedge blade. A towel and a foam bucket were lying next to the tub.

“Here’s the word going around town,” began March, “There are three lieutenants, a general, and forty-three soldiers here. The majority of them positioned in the library, which they’ve turned into their base, but many others including the lieutenants are under the library.”

“Right I have been down there before but I went through the library this time. Any other ways in?” asked Lock as he slid the razor from his lower neck up to his chin.

“Yes, actually. You can get on the roof and get inside the east wall; it’s very wide and accessible. You get to the roof of the library by jumping from the surrounding roofs. First, go into my attic and use the trap door to get onto my roof.” Lock gave March a confused look. “I redo my shingles every year so I installed a trap door so I don’t have to deal with a ladder.”

“Interesting,” nodded Lock.

After finishing up his close shave, Lock put on the soldiers uniform and placed his blue bandana in his pocket. After transferring his many knives, he grabbed his Damascus and headed for the attic. March showed Lock the steps that led up into the attic,

“Lock, they have a prisoner down there under the library, a woman. Or so I’ve heard,” said a nervous March.

“I’ll get her somewhere safe,” said Lock.

The inside of the attic bore a description as to what kind of person March was; meticulous, neat, and maybe a little obsessive on cleanliness and organization. The attic looked like an organized antique shop.

“Hmmm,” said Lock, “Thought I’d be climbing over junk.”

Lock walked ten feet to the trapdoor and pushed it open and crawled onto the roof. He closed the door behind him and made his way toward the edge. He looked over down for imperials, but saw none. Lock stood and took five steps back sprinting forward and leaping at the edge of the roof. His right foot hit the edge of the next house slipping back a little and causing him to fall to his knees. He crawled to the next target; this jump was a little further.

“Damn!” said Lock.

Once again he peeked over the edge, seeing nothing. This time he intended to run the whole distance of the roof before jumping, as the gap between this and the next house was close to fifteen feet. Lock stretched his legs, took a deep breath and ran for his life. With each step he felt his heart beat faster and faster until he made the jump. Sailing over the distance, he knew he would clear it and this brought a smile to his face.

As he landed, he heard a tremendous crash and felt himself dinking through the roof. The world went a dark gray around him. Shit! I’m indoors, thought Lock as he lay on his back on the floor.

“Ughhhh!” groaned Lock.

“What the hell?” said a startled voice across the room.

Lock picked up his head and looking around located an imperial soldier lying in a small bed. He had landed on the floor in what was obviously a young girl’s bedroom, complete with stuffed animals and pink wallpaper. Lock readied himself to leap up and take the soldier out but remembered at the last moment the uniform he now wore.

“What were you doing up there? On guard?” asked the soldier.

“No, I was…exercising…the elevations…makes it…more…effective,” said Lock hoping the imperial would buy it.

“Hmm, I think I’ve heard that somewhere before, maybe I’ll try that one of these days. You gotta be careful though, these old houses are very fragile.”

“I am learning through experience.” Chuckled Lock raising a hand requesting assistance, “Can you help me up.”

The man grabbed his hand and pulled him up.

“You new?” asked the soldier.

“Uh, yes,” said Lock “Name’s Thomas Rakes” he added, making up the name on the spot.

“Lieutenant Gary Bellum. How long ago did you join?”

“Umm, a couple weeks ago.”

The Lieutenant’s eyes strayed from Lock’s face to the sword attached to his back.

“That doesn’t look like standard issued.”

Lock looked over his shoulder before replying “Uh, no. My personal blade. Grew up learning swordplay. I find that guns are so impersonal. Nothing like killing with the power of cold steel, right?”

“Hmm, interesting. Well, you ready to go to work, soldier?”

“Sure, what’s on the agenda?”

“Well, let me ask you this: you have any kills under your belt?”

“Sure, a couple,” said Lock. A ton of you crooked bastards and it’s still not enough, He added silently.

“Well, in that case you can dispatch the traitor we have under the library.”

Lock’s eyes widened, “Love to.”

The two of them proceeded downstairs and into the living room where Lock saw a girl not more than thirteen sitting in the corner shivering. There were five soldiers lounging around the room, laughing and talking amongst themselves. In an attempt to blend in, Lock glanced at the girl while waving at the men and moving forward to join the Lieutenant. He had seen the puddle of blood in the center of the room and the defeat in the girl’s posture. He worked hard at putting the obvious images from his mind; otherwise he would lose it and take out every soldier in the room. Lock left the library out the front door and made his was down the brick walkway leading to the street.

As lock gained conspicuous access to the street, he was better able to see the threat that faced the town. There were two men standing outside every building along with Doberman type attack dogs. The townspeople went about with their heads down, avoiding eye contact with the soldiers. There was some obvious need to assistance here, but they would have to wait.

“First time in the town,” asked Bellum.

“Second,” answered Lock, “Say, is there a man here by the name of Jameson Stable?”

The man looked at Lock crooked.

“Uh, he owes me money,” said Lock to counter attack any suspicion.

“Well, you’ll never see a dime I’m afraid.”

Lock heart stopped at Bellum’s words.

“I executed him a few months ago. He had the balls to call me a chicken shit imperial bastard,” laughed Bellum at the memory.

Lock’s lips tightened as he tried to hold back his anger. The killing of a good man who stood up to tyranny was almost more than he could stomach. When they got into the library, he saw what he had feared the most. There was a large mass of at least thirty soldiers, far too many for him to take on alone, If only I had Ray and Pearl, then they would all be dead in minutes.

Lock followed his ‘commanding officer’ to the stair case in the back that led below. There were two guards with shotguns defending the entry.

“Sir!” saluted the two men simultaneously as Bellum saluted back.

“At ease, this is…hmm, what was your name again soldier?”

Lock strained, thinking hard. Fuck, what name did I make up?

“Um. Thomas…R-rakes.”

“Right, don’t feel insulted. I’m awful with names.”

Lock nervously laughed, to cover the pounding in his ears. That was too close, he thought. They began to descend the stairs into the dark corridor that housed many storage rooms filled with old chairs, books, and broken down bookshelves. After several yards they stopped at a door on the left, about halfway down this straight corridor. Bellum turned to Lock.

“Guard the door, Private Rakes.” Said Bellum as he went inside and closed the door behind him.

The door was a large, heavy wooden door with a barred window inset near the top. Lock stood on his towed to peek in and see what was happening. From his view point he could see two men inside next to the Lieutenant. They were all looking down at something that was out of Lock’s view.

“Talk!” yelled Bellum as he reached his hand back and swung it downward.

The sound of the slap echoed off the room’s walls and Lock could see blood flying to the lieutenants left. Someone’s in there…it must be their prisoner!

“If you talk, maybe we’ll just throw you in jail for the rest of your miserable lying life.”

There was no reply from the prisoner. Lieutenant Bellum was getting agitated with the lack of response.

“I can shoot you starting with your feet, then your knees, then your stomach, and finally your tits. Then you can lay there and slowly bleed to death. I hear it’s a painful way to go!”

Bellum was yelling angrily by them time he finished his tirade. Wait, thought Lock, he is hitting a girl? Combined with all he had already witnessed, Lock could feel the anger pulsating throughout his body. His contempt for all things Empire related was reaching a bursting point within him. Bellum shifted his body just enough so Lock could finally see the prisoner.

A blonde girl with her face covered in blood was sitting on the floor. She looked about his age, which was way too young to die. And no one deserved what the lieutenant had promised.

Lock felt for his Damascus at his back. He chucked the straps that were holding it there. He never liked binding his weapon like that, but it was necessary as that is what imperial soldiers did with their melee weapons. Sweat covered his forehead as his blood began to pound; he felt himself being filled with the emotions he had to suppress. He was trembling with the need for vengeance and anticipation of what was to come. He took a step back and prepared to kick in the door.

As the door crashed open, Lieutenant Bellum turned quickly to face Lock.

“Solder! I gave no order to enter.” Bellum began, but his words were cut short by Lock’s fist crashing through his nose causing blood to spray in his eyes and sending him back a few steps.

Lock swung his sheathed sword into the air and pulled his wrist back sending the scabbard flying like a bullet at the soldier’s face that was standing to his left. He twirled his unsheathed sword backwards and did a rear stab toward the soldier to his rear right, planting it through his abdomen so deep he could feel the resistance of the stone wall against the tip of the blade. He brought the sword around and thrust the blade into the heart of the soldier to his left, who had been stunned by the flying scabbard. Both soldiers fell to the floor and were dead upon impact. Lieutenant Bellum stepped forward.

“Ahhhh!” screamed Bellum as Lock planted the bottom of his boot into his stomach, causing the man to drop to one knee. Lock slammed the bottom part of the handle of his sword into Bellum’s face, which dropped him down on his back.

“You fucking traitor!” yelled Bellum holding his face in pain.

Lock looked down at him ferociously as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his blue bandana, holding it high tint he light so the imperial scum could see it. As recognition dawned in the lieutenant’s face, Lock raised his Damascus up to his own head in a stabbing motion while pointing at the lieutenant.

“This is for Jameson!” yelled Lock as he stabbed the knife downward through Bellum’s right eyeball, disintegrating it and causing brain matter to seep up through the vacant eyehole.

Bellum’s head convulsed for a couple seconds before his body become lifeless. Lock threw down the sword in victory with a large CLANG! He turned and kicked the door closed. He went to tie the blue bandana to his forehead, but remembering what he was wearing stopped. It would not do to be seen wearing it while he still wore the uniform of his enemy.

Lock looked down at the prisoner and found himself in shock. The pretty blonde girl was wearing an imperial uniform with a patch on the left breast with the skeleton of a cobra.

“She’s…a general?” said Lock to himself.

The girl was out cold. Lock retrieved his sword and picking up the scabbard, sheathed the sword with it. He sat down against the closed door to rest and look at the unconscious girl.

When she finally awoke, she looked around to find her guards dead and an uninjured soldier sitting across from her. Then she noticed the bandana in his hand. Her eyes widened.

“You are…a Returner?”

Lock stood up with purpose, “Yes.”

“So, are you just gonna leave me here?” she asked.

“Why were they beating you?”

“I’m a ‘traitor’ didn’t you know?” She spit blood on the floor in front of her to show how tough she is.

“They wanted you to talk?”

“Yeah, they assumed that just because I want to leave the imperial army, that that means I intend to join Velxeer.”

“Velxeer? The kingdom at war with the Empire?”

“Correct. When, in fact, I just want to be my own person. I don’t like the Empire anymore; they have become too evil and corrupt.”

“Ah.”

“So…you gonna get me out of here?”

Lock looked at her closely; chain bindings clasped around her wrists as she dangled with her knees barely touching the floor as her wrists ached from the steel bindings.

“The lieutenant has the key,” said the girl.

Lock went over to Bellum and searched his pockets till he found the small bronze key. Although he had misgivings about releasing her, he also was overcome with a strong feeling that this was the right thing to do. He crossed over to her and unlocked her right chain as her hand dropped to her side. He then did the other and she dropped all her weight to her knees. Lock caught her under her arms and helped her to her feet. She looked into his eyes and he noted that she had two different colored eyes; the left was green while the right was blue.

“Can you walk?” asked Lock.

“Yeah, I’ll be okay.” She said with force.

As they whispered back and forth they shared their breath being so close to each other. The girl turned away and went to the chair in the corner where her sword was and picked it up. The sheath had an emerald dragon sprawled across it; it was slightly curved like a fang and very narrow.

“My name is Alexandria Leshea,” she said as she reached into her back pocket and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe the blood from her face.

“Lock…Lock Clive.”

Lock placed his hand on the door and looked behind him to see Alex kneeling down to the soldier with the wound through his heart. She pulled a necklace from his pocket.

“Got it.” She smiled to herself.

She fastened the necklace in place on her neck. It had a thin gold chain with a pendant housing a bright green stone.

“Ready?” asked Lock.

“Sure,” responded Alex waiting for Lock to lead the way, knowing what waited for them down the hall.

They exited the blood filled room and shut the door quietly behind them. They continued walking side-by-side down the corridor.

“So, how long have you been with the Empire?” asked Lock.

“Since birth. I was raised in the army. All I know is that this,” Alex gripped her pendant, “was my birth mother’s. “

“Been a Returner long?” She asked.

“Five years.” Lock replied, “How many Returners have you killed, general?”

“Hmm, I’m not sure. How many of my friends have ‘you’ killed?” asked Alex patronizingly.

How dare he, she thought, giving himself this holier than thou attitude. He had made his choices, she had made hers. They just happened to be on the opposite sides.

Lock was quiet as his nostrils flared. Smart-ass, he thought. They came to a T intersection and looked to the left corridor.

“That way,” said Alex as she pointed down the hall.

The sound of the gun firing reached them before the bullet did. BANG! The bullet flew by Lock’s head and ricocheted off the wall.

“Shit!” screamed Lock, “Two to the right.”

Alex was looking back the way they came.

“And three behind.” She replied.

Lock violently turned around to see three men running toward them, about thirty feet removed.

“You get the right!” yelled Alex just before running toward the three men with bolt-action rifles.

Lock withdrew his three throwing daggers from his side and turned the corner. The two men raised their pistols and fired as Lock knelt down and flung all three daggers in their direction. One landed in the neck of the man on the left and the other two in the other man’s chest as they both dropped down. Lock turned to see how Alex was faring and he couldn’t believe his eyes.

Alex ran to the man in front and jumped into him landing her foot into his chest and spring boarding against the wall; she walked along the wall as if there was no gravity for a few steps before leaping off and swinging her sword. The two men in the rear froze in amazement and she decapitated the one on the left, and then impaled the man on the right. She placed her hand on his face as blood oozed from his mouth and pushed him off her sword violently.

She turned where the leader stood fifteen feet away and thrust her sword so it was pointed at him. Lock watched on as a bolt of lightning shot out of her sword and sizzled the soldier’s flesh and boiled his blood; portions of his skin bubbled from the heat and his inside ceased to function. All three men were lifeless as Lock walked toward her.

“Not as weak as I thought. HA!” laughed Alex.

Lock stared at her in amazement.

“You’re a…spell caster?” asked Lock.

“Lock!” yelled Alex as she motioned her palm behind him.

Lock turned to see a soldier crawling on the floor with a knife sticking out of his throat aiming a pistol at him in a final resort to take Lock’s life. The floor beneath his head puddled up with water then began to sparkle with ice just before a spear of ice shot up through the bottom of his chin and exited through the top of his head. A stray bullet hit the floor, missing Lock by several feet.

“Whoa,” said Lock.

“That answer your question?” asked Alex

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