As he ran out of the room, the door to the laboratory was blasted in at that same time. A massive cloud of snow and dust blew into the room, temporarily giving the Rune Knight some form of cover as he ran across the foyer. Black Knight and Astro was supposed to inform them if they were any approaching enemies but so far there had been no updates. With natural light from the outside filtering into the building from the destroyed entrance, Shane could see that there was an unusually high number of silhouettes hidden within the cloud. Without sufficient backup and information on who they were facing, he could only take the most logical course of action. Retreat.
“Scarecrow, can you hear me?” Shane called through the communications device lodged in his ear but what he got was static. He immediately suspected that the enemy had brought something to disrupt their communications. That was probably the reason why Astro and Black Knight hadn’t cued them about the arrival of their enemies. Trusting his team members to do what’s right, Shane bounded up to the second floor with a powerful leap, grabbing the railings on the walkway and vaulting himself over with a loud clang as his boots stamped down on the metal.
The attacks were instantaneous, all of their offensive zeroed in on where the sound had originated from when the enemies swarmed into the ground floor. A dark ball of energy slammed right into the end of the walkway, causing the entire walkway to shake. When Shane turned around to look at it, the dark energy hadn’t dispersed and was instead eating away at the metal. Another ball of flames, hit the walkway again, this time right below where he stood. The force of the attack coupled with the destroyed end of the walkway lifted the whole walkway into the air, bending it at the other end. Cursing, Shane rode the walkway until it was lifted 45 degrees up into the air before jumping off it to the other end, rolling on the ground as a few more blasts of magical attacks struck the circling corridors from below.
Quickly the man dashed forward in a half-crouch and entered the first room he reached. He quickly slammed the door behind him, and when Shane took a look at the contents of the room, he sighed. Three pairs of eyes looked back him with fear. They were the researchers who had been injured when the Bosco soldiers had invaded the place, and now they were trapped in here with Shane against the overwhelming assault. But hiding out here wasn’t a good choice. Not when he still had men out there.
Opening the door slightly, the attacks had already stopped but Shane could hear the heavy footfall of the men occupying the entire area. The echoes within the building prevented him from accurately counting how many men there were from their footsteps but that wasn’t stopping him. Patriot appeared on his back out of nowhere and he put it on, strapping it around his left wrist. Without a single word to the desperate researchers, Shane moved as stealthily as he could and exited the room. There was at least five men on each floor, so that was fifteen men on the upper floors with at least another ten on the ground floor.
“Gotta love the odds,” Shane whispered to himself. Readying himself, the General of the Spec Ops division moved swiftly on his feet. An enemy appeared right in his view as he exited a room he had just checked. The enemy soldier instantly trained his clenched fists towards Shane, allowing the latter to glance at a particular device strapped to both his wrists. But there was no hesitation in his actions. Punching forth with his left hand, using the edge of the shield to supplement the strength of his punch, Shane got the soldier to double over and he grabbed the man roughly by the back of the neck.
With barely any signs of exertion, the soldier was lifted and thrown back into the room he had just came out from. Shane followed after the soldier and before the latter could even crawl back up, he had slammed the shield into the soldier’s chest while using the force of the punch to slam into the wall as well for a double hit. He didn’t even wait for the enemy to drop to the ground, before exiting the room. He was on the prowl again, looking for another target. After four more attacks on the enemy soldiers, none the wiser to where they had come form, Shane was already on the fourth floor. He hadn’t methodically been clearing floor after floor. Instead, whenever he found a chance, he would leap from floor to floor to take out the enemy.
However, the enemy wasn’t dumb. With more and more losing contact, the commander of the enemy forces realized what was happening.
“General Shane Stern!” the commander called out from the ground floor, a well-built man wearing the same combat suit as the other enemy soldiers. Like the others, he too had the same device at his wrists. By then, Shane had already deduced that those were magic equipment, designed to assist in the enemy forces to accumulate and enhance their magic powers in the form of energy blasts of varying elements. He had taken one from the soldiers he had beaten up, knowing that it would be worth studying by the Engineering Corps when he returned to HQ.
The sudden declaration of his name stopped Shane in his tracks, right as he was about to land the final blow on an enemy soldier. He had caught the soldier by his collar and was about to clock him with a punch when he was called, stopping his punch. With a glare, still holding the soldier in the air and walking to the railings, Shane looked down at the one who had called him out so arrogantly. Sneering, Shane held the soldier over the railing and threatened to drop him.
“You wouldn’t want to do that,” the commander said with a wide grin, as he clicked his fingers. From under the walkways, two enemy soldiers brought out two men that was very familiar to Shane. It was Black Knight and Astro. Even from above, Shane could see that the two of them had been roughed up slightly but it wasn’t enough to subdue them. When the two looked up at him, their intent clearly reflected in their eyes, Shane wasn’t disappointed at all. This was a tactical maneuver in the face of overwhelming numbers.
“Drop my man and I will drop yours, General. Why don’t you come down so we can talk?” the commander called out again. At his words, the two soldiers holding down Black Knight and Astro raised a clenched fist each and pointed it at their backs. Shane could see clearly the magic energy charging up their weapons on their wrist.
“Fine,” Shane finally said, but instead of releasing the soldier he had captured, Shane jumped off the railings together with him, prompting the soldier to scream as they fell. The Rune Knight General landed heavily with a crouch but appeared unfazed by the height. The moment he touched the ground, Shane tossed the soldier aside before stepping up to face the commander.
“You got me. Let’s talk,” Shane spat out as he looked at the commander. The two of them were equally built and of the same height. “Who are you?”
“My name is Commander Flyke, and we are ARGUS. We are a shadow group directly under the Magic Council’s rule, and unfortunately for you, we need the bones of the dragon you and your team found.”
“For a shadow group, you are very forthright with your identities.”
“You don’t have to worry about it. No one is leaving this place, and no one will know that we were even here, General.”
As he spoke, Shane began to notice that there was movement from the third floor. Originally thinking that it was the enemy soldiers, a second fleeting glance told him that it was Scarecrow. When the lab had been attacked, Scarecrow had hidden himself as well to gauge the situation.
By himself, he had taken down three men but Commander Flyke had attributed it to Shane’s kill count so he had gone undiscovered. He had noticed the same thing the General had seen when Black Knight and Astro was brought out as hostages. When he saw Shane jump down to meet to speak to the commander of the enemy forces, Scarecrow had started to plan his counterattack.
“How did you know about our location?”
“ARGUS prides itself on our intelligence. Do you think that as an extension of the Magic Council, we wouldn’t have planted spies in the Rune Knight? Granted, none of my moles were brought along for this mission, but news spread fast, General.”
“If I ever return to the HQ, I will personally purge every last one of your moles,” Shane spoke through gritted teeth, angered that the integrity of the Rune Knights had been compromised by the very same Magic Council they were serving loyally. It seems that when he returned, there truly was cleaning to do.
“You won’t. Once we secure the dragon, we will stage an avalanche. General Shane Stern and his team of Rune Knights, buried under the snow and frozen to death. What a tragedy,” Flyke said with a sneer.
“Not if I have anything to say about it, asshole,” a voice shouted from above. Every single pair of eyes below looked upwards, but only three men were smiling when they heard it. Scarecrow stood on one of the walkways and his hands were outstretched, palms open. Several items were already dropping down when they realized what he had done. Smoke and light burst into existence the moment the grenades dropped to the ground and it was chaos. With the silhouette of Flyke still in front of him, Shane lunged forward with a front kick at his target.
But the kick never connected. From the smoke, he could see that his kick had been stopped by a raised knee and then like a snake striking, a straight punch flew for his face. The Rune Knight General blocked the punch with a raised elbow, then extending his bent arm forward to backhand punch the ARGUS commander but it had been a trade. Shane’s backhanded punch had caught Flyke in the chest and in exchange, Shane took a punch to the gut. It had been a losing trade for him as he stepped back from the punch, where he could see the dying sparks of lightning lingering where he had been hit.
While the Rune Knight General and ARGUS Commander were fighting things out, Black Knight and Astro had easily destroyed their restraints and joined the battle. The report of his shotgun shots could be heard repeatedly, followed by the anguished screams of the victim. Black Knight was incredibly efficient with his chosen firearm despite the limited range he could fire and requiring to constantly reload. But when in action, all of his actions flowed together smoothly, allowing him to take down his opponents with ease. It was a skill honed during his years as a bounty hunter who specialized in using non-magical means to take down dark mages, and even as a Rune Knight, he still kept it up.
Comparatively, Astro’s base was in his street fighting skills. Magic-wise, he wielded the ice element and he would often incorporate brawling tactics into his Ice Make magic. Even at the moment, he was fighting in his typical brawler style supplemented with his magic, using bricks made out of ice and even unconventional tactics like blinding his opponents with a face full of ice crystals. His randomness also added an unexpected twist to the way he fought. Two ARGUS soldiers found out the hard way.
In their fight, even under the cover of the smoke and light flashes that Scarecrow had provided, Astro still saw fit to burst his two opponents with a storm of ice crystals. The moment it obstructed their vision, they saw the Rune Knight charging straight through and began his offensive. The one on the left was the first to be hit, taking a brick of ice straight to the side of his head while the other soldier doubled over with a punch enhanced by a gauntlet of ice. Astro attacked non-stop with his weird but effective spells, and within seconds the two soldiers had been beaten down.
From above the catwalk, Scarecrow had popped on a pair of thermal glasses and was pacing back and forth along the walkway. His right hand held his Desert Eagle high-caliber pistol while his left hand held another pistol similar to the Desert Eagle but with a much longer barrel. While his right hand fired non-stop, using around four to five hits to take down an enemy, the gun in his left hand only fired when he needed to diffuse any enemy attack. The soldiers on the higher levels were frustrated by the turn of events. Whenever they shot forth a blast of energy from their fists, Scarecrow would undoubtedly fire a black bullet from his left gun. Upon contact, the bullet would expand into a dark orb and consume the energy blast entirely before winking out of existence.
While the soldiers struggled against his Rune Knights, Shane was fighting toe to toe against Flyke. He was indeed capable to be the commander, making him one of the few opponents to be able to keep up with Shane in melee combat. Compared to the rest, their fight appeared to be on the normal end of the spectrum but their moves were high-end. The distance between the two of them were very close, keeping attacks tight and requiring high reaction speed to evade.
The intense fight only slowed down for a while when Shane managed to get in a palm thrust, using Hosenka Smash to blow the commander away from him. Flyke took the attack but he had managed to block it with his own palm, and stumbled away a few steps. Lightning was coursing through his limbs as he fought. After taking the attack, it wasn’t like him to slow down and the commander stepped forward a quick series of attacks. Leaping slightly into the air, Flyke smashed his right elbow downwards, followed by another elbow strike from the side with his left elbow before coiling his arms and releasing a close-ranged double punch into Shane’s chest.
When the first elbow strike came, Shane had countered against it with a push from his left palm and then held up his right arm to absorb the second elbow strike. The double punch had come as a surprise, pushing him back but it was an opening. Catching the outstretched arms after his double-fisted punch, Shane clasped down on the wrists and immediately moved forward, crushing into Flyke with his shoulder with all of his weight behind him. It was a tackle and by right he should have knocked Flyke away, but Shane kept one of the wrists firmly in his grasp.
He continued with Hargeon Smash, a supercharged uppercut that knocked Flyke into the air. The commander took it to his jaw in full, lifted into the air from the attack. But the man, lithe despite his size, flipped himself in air and without warning, sent a blast of lightning into Shane. The Rune Knight was thrown to the ground from the sudden attack, and before he could get up, Flyke was already on the ground and his hands around his throat. Lightning talons formed around his fingers and Flyke slashed twice across Shane’s chest, drawing blood.
Enraged, Shane stretched his left arm towards Flyke’s neck and punched upwards with his right fist, once more throwing his opponent into the air. Flames rolled along his arms, much to Flyke’s surprise, and joining his fists together, Shane released a jet of black flames towards Flyke. An explosion of black flames blew the smoke away as it hit Flyke in the air, throwing him further up into the air and smashing into the bottom of a walkway before dropping to the ground. It had been a very surprising attack, completely messing with Flyke’s rhythm.
He had thought his lightning elemental powers would give him the upper hand in the battle, but he hadn’t known that Shane hid the power of a god slayer. Shane had caught him completely off guard. Still reeling from the attack, Flyke was helpless to respond as a bullet him hit in the shoulder, courtesy of Scarecrow from above. The commander was forced to roll when a blast from Black Knight’s shotgun hit where he had last been. When he finally stood back up, a brick of ice even flew in his direction and hit the side of his head, but before he could pull himself back together, Shane had arrived.
With a roar, the General had flew forward with a lunging knee strike, smashing into Flyke from the side. The impact tossed him in the other direction like a ragdoll but that wasn’t the end of Shane’s attacks. The Rune Knight bent his elbow back and magic energy began to accumulate around his fist. Black flames were layered atop the magic energy and when Shane finally let loose a punch, the accumulated combination of energy and flames rushed forward in the form of a fist, beautifully crushing Flyke against the wall. As the attack hit, the entire building shuddered.
All of the enemy soldiers stopped upon the defeat of their commander, with the three Bravo Team members holding back their attacks as well. Coincidentally Huntsman and Hawk appeared from the basement and joined the fray, creating an encirclement around the remaining soldiers on the ground floor. All of the ones fighting for the higher floors had been shot by Scarecrow and were either bleeding out or killed.
“Round them up, team,” came the General’s orders and the team replied in affirmation. Within ten minutes all of the ARGUS members had been tied down, with the Bravo Team members standing over them, weapons pointed at them. Commander Flyke was restrained as well, held at gun point by Shane as he contemplated what to do with them. Silence filled the entire building after the raucous battle.
“Just kill me and be done with it,” Flyke spat out, as he looked at Shane resentfully. He had never failed in his mission so far, pulling off all sorts of impossible stunts for the Magic Council and their shadowy agenda. And right now, he couldn’t believe that he had been defeated by the Rune Knights, which in his eyes, were merely pretenders in uniforms, nothing but a puppet to the Magic Council.
“Believe me, I would like that option very much as well. But your value lies in you being alive,” Shane retorted sharply.
“Then you will be very disappointed,” Flyke spoke with a strong conviction in his voice. “Praise the Magic Council!”
His subordinates echoed their commander’s call and immediately after, all of them moved something in their mouth and bit on it. Shane was wide-eyed at this and tried to stop Flyke from biting down on the pill but he was too late. It was a fast-acting poison that targeted the victim’s blood stream extremely swift. By the time Shane had reached Flyke, the man was already visibly quaking in his bonds, foam pouring out of his mouth. Even in death, his expression was resentful for his defeat. Shane shook his head, disappointed that he had lost too great a lead to be used against the Magic Council.
The other five Rune Knights had also been flustered when their captives killed themselves but it wasn’t something new to them.
“Cap, what do we do now?” Scarecrow stepped closer to Shane as he asked.
“Call for transport. Astro, freeze the dragon below. Huntsman, Hawk, rig this place to blow. I don’t want anyone to ever discover this place and the dead dragon below this place.”
However, after giving his orders, the first to reply wasn’t his subordinates but the researchers instead. Erin instantly ran up to him and confronted him.
“You can’t do that, General! This discovery is a great deal for us! It would allow our fellow researchers to learn more about the dragons and find more uses for dragons as materials!”
“This dragon was the source of all these problems, professor. It was your thoughtless broadcast that attracted all of these hostile forces. Think about your injured team mates, think about the dangers that my men had to endure. I don’t care about what benefits the dragon would bring. I only know that dangerous people are waiting to get their hands on it. And honestly, I don’t trust Campione about handling this dead dragon as well,” Shane replied in a cool and calm voice, indicating that there was no more room for discussion.
Erin stuttered for a bit and looked to open her mouth to continue speaking but Shane silenced her with a glare.
“If you guys know what’s good for you, you would keep your mouths shut about everything that happened today,” Shane concluded before turning around to walk out of the building. Bravo Team would take care of the rest.
When the airship that Scarecrow had called for finally arrived in front of the Kirk-Star Lab, they herded the unwilling researchers into it. Shane had instructed to bring Flyke’s body back to HQ as well, so they could perform a post-mortem surgery to find out more about this shadow group. Lastly, the six Rune Knights watched as Huntsman activated all of the explosives strategically placed within the building. A massive yet muffled explosion took place in the basement of the laboratory and as the foundation of the building was destroyed, the laboratory cracked and collapsed on itself.
What was left was ruins, and within a day or two, Shane knew that it would be completely covered by snow. The climate of Iceberg would see to it. On the way back to HQ, the six Rune Knights were completely silent as were the researchers who could only look through the windows with despair. It was a startling discovery that they wouldn’t give up, but after considering the risks and reluctantly understanding it, they had unwillingly gone along with Shane’s plan.
During the flight back to HQ, Shane was constantly replaying everything that had happened during the mission. About the enemy soldiers from Bosco, about the shadow group working under the Magic Council. He was going to report it to Serilda and Mythal for sure, as he thought back to the other mission that Serilda had personally assigned him to undertake. There were too many things that were connected in this web of conspiracy. Shane lifted his head to look at the Bravo Team.
Each and every member of the team had performed admirably during this job, and through this assessment, Shane had realized that one thing allowed them to stand out in comparison to the Chess Team. While the Chess Team possessed overwhelming firepower, essentially harnessing the power of an army with just five members, all of the abilities that the Bravo Team combined made them a very formidable team against mages. Their dependence on magical equipment may be higher than the Chess Team, but their expertise and handling of the weapons had painted them as a very different type of beast. With two tactical teams at hand, Shane had a feeling that they would soon play a very big part in the coming storm.
It had barely been two days after they had returned from the chaotic mission in Iceberg, Shane compiling all the information he could to present it to the Field Marshall and Director. As the General found himself multi-tasking between his daily paperwork and trying to complete the report as quickly as possible, a knock on the door got his attention. Turning to look at the door, it was Link carrying a folder with a very grim expression on his face. Sighing, Shane leaned back into his chair as Link took a seat opposite him and pushed the folder to Shane across the table and opening it for him.
“Remember the missing researchers that you rescued?” Link said as he took out the photos of each researcher. Shane nodded as he looked at the photographs then lifted his head to look at Link.
“What’s with them?”
“All dead. Official reports say that they caught a very rare strain of virus during their week-long disappearance in Iceberg. The virus was activated when they returned to the warm weather of Fiore, thus inducing a heart attack in all of them when the virus attacked their hearts,” Link explained somberly. Shane frowned at this revelation and fixed a steely glance on one of his most trusted subordinates.
“Tell me you don’t believe this.”
“In fact, no. The Bravo Team managed to obtain blood samples from them and had our guys check it out. There was no virus. Instead, we managed to highlight a certain chemical in their body. It was this chemical that induced the heart attacks in all of them. I don’t yet what this chemical mix is, but from the looks of it, it’s very much custom-made. A new type of poison,” Link further explained as he leaned back into his own chair.
“During the encounter with ARGUS, they mentioned that they had spies planted in the Rune Knights. And I believe it’s the same person that informed them of our location, as well as the identity of the researchers.”
“You are saying that it’s one of Bravo Team?” Link sat up straight when he heard of Shane’s accusation but Shane quickly held up both hands to calm him down.
“No. I’m very confident where their loyalties lie. However, don’t forget that there were other Rune Knights that had known about where we were going,” Shane answered with a flash of worry in his eyes. For him to believe what Flyke had said and then suspect the integrity of his own coworkers was a painful decision to make, but Shane wanted to be safe rather than sorry.
“Ironbark… and Book…?” Link hesitated as he pointed out the names. Shane merely nodded his head.
“I’m also hoping that it’s just that bastard toying with me, trying to sow doubt but we can’t dismiss the coincidence.”
“So, what do you want me to do?”
“How’s the Alpha Team that you are bringing together?” Shane asked all of a sudden. His efforts hadn’t stopped at just creating Bravo and Chess. With Bravo being an incisive force and Chess supplying firepower, Shane had discussed with Link and the two had agreed that creating a team that focused on intelligence would be helpful. Especially with the long-reaching arms of a hidden group interfering.
“I’m not sure if they are ready…”
“Let them try. Ironbark and Book are veteran Rune Knights, so it will make it all the more challenging for the team. Treat it as an assessment,” Shane said with a dry smile. When Link nodded after a few seconds of hesitation, the man arranged the photographs that he had just spread out over Shane’s desk and inserted them into the folder before putting it to one side of Shane’s desk. He know that the man would need it for his briefing to the Field Marshall and Director.
[Total WC: 12531 / 12500]