Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Tales of Raythia: Trojan Horse | Chapter 3: "Assignment"


The Tales of Raythia
Trojan Horse

Chapter 3: Assignment

    “Alright. One last time.” The NCO said as he cycled back a few slides to the topographical map.
    Pvt. Marie LeRoux let out a long, slow sigh and sat up straighter in her chair after realizing that she was beginning to list off to one side out of sheer, absolute fucking boredom. Her hand drifted up to her hair and traced the valleys of her tightly knotted locks with her fingers; the old habit of running her fingers through her curly hair replaced once she joined the army and had been required to wear it regulation.
    She glanced over at Diego, or Sergeant Olvera as the baby-faced Team Leader insisted on being called, as he stared intensely at the slide for the third…no…fourth? Fourth time they’d gone over it.
    LeRoux had always thought the Sarge was a little cutie and she’d even taken a swing at him the first time they’d met, but he’d been just as straight-laced then as he was now. Hell, he was actually maybe a bit MORE straight-laced, but that wasn’t here nor there. He was a good lead but not her type when it came to personality.
    Still, he was good eye candy. Sharp brown eyes, brown skin, and clean-cut brown hair that shaped his face nicely even with that softer chin.
    “You day-dreamin’, girl?” Johnson whispered.
    “Only about throwing you through a window, Johnson.” She whispered back with a side-eye towards her Grenadier Rifleman.
    “You promise to try?”
    If she was honest with herself, it would probably take hitting the massive man with a dump truck to actually do so, so try was really all she COULD do in that scenario. Part African American, part American Bison, and probably part cinder block, Pvt. David Johnson worked out about as religiously as a priest went to church and probably was near three-hundred pounds of pure muscle.
    “Yea. If you promise to eat shit, lug-head.”
    “Stow that shit.” Sergeant Olvera barked, glaring at both of them for a half second before looking back at the map.
    Spc. Andrew Merrick, FireTeam Bravo’s remaining member and the team’s Dedicated Marksman, gave them both the side-eye before smirking wordlessly and looking back towards the map. LeRoux frowned and did likewise.
   The blonde man always made her just a little bit uncomfortable. He was practically her antithesis. Cold, calculating, and collected, not to mention tall, thin, and was always perfectly trimmed well beyond regs. She knew he could rely on him like a brother, but that didn’t make his silence and cold perfection unnerving sometimes.
    Still, she liked the college boy. He tended to be unexpectedly fun even if she didn’t see it coming half the time.
    “As I was saying…” the NCO began again. “Satellite and Drone imagery have confirmed the presence of an enemy encampment here on this hillside.”
    The man motioned towards the far end of a topographical map that had been highlighted with a red circle and a variety of scribbled information.
    “While we have been aware of it for several weeks, it appears well-fortified and, while it could hypothetically be taken care of with drone strikes, we believe a high value target Hassan Asghar calls this place home. If we can take him alive, the rest can be dealt with cleanly.”
    “Now, as of yesterday, we have identified movement on the far end of the hillside.” The NCO now motioned towards the opposite side of the map. “Here.”
    “Following this discovery, we scanned the hillside and confirmed with thermal imaging that there are a series of tunnels that appear to potentially lead directly to the enemy encampment and that these individuals are potentially using the tunnels either as a primary or secondary route into the camp.”
    “Unfortunately, we cannot confirm this at this time as the individuals we have spotted have been dressed primarily in civilian clothing, mostly robes and shawls. Additionally, we have been unable to confirm any weaponry, leading to the possibility that this is an unrelated farming or herding community, though we have not identified any cattle or produce as of yet.”
    “Now, it’s possible that this community, if one exists, may have ties to the enemy encampment and are providing aid or it’s possible that undercover operatives dressed as civilians are using it as a backdoor before slipping off into the cities. We need to find out what’s going and, more importantly, if whether we can use this backdoor ourselves to secure Hassan before calling in the big guns.”
     “Your mission is simple. Recon. Go in, investigate the tunnels, see if a community exists and extrapolate what their purpose is. Identify if a route exists through the tunnels to the enemy encampment and report back. Engage only if engaged and no heroics. In. Out. Debrief.”
    LeRoux looked up and down at the faces of her team. Sgt. Olvera’s eyes were hard set and he was giving a curt nod. Spc. Merrick was motionless as a statue except for his eyes being ever so slightly narrowed. Pvt. Johnson was also nodding, though he looked about as bored as she felt.
    “Any questions?” The NCO asked.
    No questions.
    “You have your orders. Dismissed.”
    “Man, I fuckin’ hate Recon.” LeRoux growled.
    “Trust me, we all know you do.” Johnson said with a barking laugh.
    The four of them were geared up and on their way towards the Humvee that would be dropping them off in the middle of bum-fuck-egypt. They’d get to hike the lovely two miles across open terrain under the cover of night to keep anyone from spotting the transport bringing them in. When they got out, they’d call for a ride and get the fuck out.
    “No listen to me, man…” LeRoux began before Johnson perfectly echoed her next words. “…it’s because it’s so fuckin’ boring. We go in, we look, we don’t shoot any-Hey. Stop that. The fuck? Stop that, man. Johnson. I swear to God you…”
    Johnson stopped echoing her when LeRoux reached up and slapped him on the back of his helmeted head.
    “Fout toné! Get manman ou! Tét zozo…” she swore.
    “Knock it off!” Olvera snapped at the two of them. “I swear, you’re both like bickering children.”
    “She started it.” Johnson said with a smirk.
    “And I’m ending it. Straighten the fuck up. We’ve got a job to do.”
    “It’s shit-detail, that’s what it is, Sarge.” LeRoux muttered.
    “Yea.” Johnson agreed, far louder than the little Creole woman. “It’s, how do you say it, LeRoux? Makakri?”
    “ENOUGH!” Olvera bellowed, stopping short and getting his face not inches from theirs. “You will pull your heads out of your asses this instant or I will ensure that the next time you want to do so, they’ll have to be surgically removed, comprende putas?
    Johnson and LeRoux’s jaws both snapped shut and they both gave a quick nod.
    Malditos chicos estúpidos…”Olvera mumbled and turned to keep walking, Johnson and LeRoux trading glances before Merrick walked up beside them.
    “You know,” he said in a whispered tone. “maybe if you ask ‘are we there yet?’ enough times, he’ll turn the hummer around. Won’t get McDonald’s, but what’s it worth to ya.”
    Both Johnson and LeRoux snorted, looking at the tall man as he passed, his hands in a shrugging gesture.
    “I don’t know, man. I like my McDonald’s.” LeRoux whispered.
    Johnson snorted again but said nothing further before the entire FireTeam gathered into the Humvee; the armor vehicle heading out into the darkened desert towards their next mission.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Tales of Raythia: Trojan Horse | Chapter 2: "Judgement"

Eight Point Star Design Found on Etsy:
The Tales of Raythia
Trojan Horse
Chapter 2  -  Judgement

    Amelia swallowed hard, forcing the lump in her throat and the breakfast that was threatening to come up right behind it, down.
    Despite the absolute terror she felt at that moment, no one looking at her would be able to tell. Her amber eyes were steady, locked directly ahead of her. Her golden hair, straight, cut short, and tied close to her skull, was immaculate, without a single strand out of place. Her lips were a thin line, her jaw hard set, and her posture perfect. Arms rigid but ready, back straight but flexible, knees locked but trained to respond at her slightest thought.
    No, if you looked at her, she was a statuesque model of everything she had been trained to be.
    And people were looking at her.
    Eight other sets of eyes, each a matching hue of golden amber identical to hers, stared back at her: each a hard, trained gaze with many more decades experience then hers’. More decades then she could hope to achieve in her lifetime.
    Old men in a profession that killed young.
    The Eight Points of the Council of the Sun.
    The hand-appointed of the Goddess Solair.
    Each sat at their designated seat around the Council table, their bodies just as hard and ruthlessly trained and ready as her own. Despite their age, Amelia knew that she would not stand a chance in a one-on-one with any one of them and, with that passing thought, she once again had to swallow down breakfast.
    No face gave away any emotion. No thoughts could be made out from any of their stoic faces.
    “Recite the Doctrine of the Radiant.” Paladin Golina, the closest to her, commanded in his gravelly voice.
    The simple instruction brought a sudden stillness to her thoughts. A calmness that quelled her fear from the moment before.
    The words slipped out one by one, clear and crisp as easily as breathing.
    “A paladin is a tool to be used by the Golden Lady and by Man-Kind alone. Their sword is the blade to cut down foes and wheat alike. Their pommel is a hammer to crush evil and grind grain equally. Their shield a fortress to protect the innocent from evil and darkness no matter where it is found.”
    “A paladin is to serve until such time as they are released by death or the Golden Lady herself. Their work is for all and forever, a dedication of the one life they are granted in honor of all those who might lose such lives they have been gifted without one to stand against evil for them.”
    “A paladin may stand alone on the battlefield but never alone in life for all Man-Kind is but one blood. No bloodline is special and though all are unique, all are the same. The man to a paladin is their brother and the woman their sister and all are family lest they are a foe.”
    “A paladin does not seek judgement, but they do uphold it. Those that have wrought themselves an enemy of life, of the Golden Lady, and of Man-Kind are a foe to be dealt with. To be corrected, to be culled, and to be brought to the light under the sun.”
    “A paladin shall only use violence in defense of oneself or in defense of another and only so if peace or diplomacy is impossible or such acts would be corrupted by a foe to a twisted version of their original intent.”
    “A paladin understands that no foe is too great to be defeated and no weakness too small to be exploited. They know that everyone and everything will be brought to their end and so they must never fear the mighty while never believing themselves to be such.”
    “A paladin knows that a disarmed foe is not a harmless one for a snake without fangs still has venom and it needs only cunning to use it. However, when one is helpless, stripped of their mental, physical, and all other capabilities to defend or to harm, they are to be treated with absolute dignity and honor.”
    “A paladin without honor is paladin no more. All life is precious; a gift to be cherished and loved until that day which Hamet take us. Death is not a punishment but the end of a journey and should never be inflicted lest it be the permanent end of an otherwise dangerous foe. A dead man does not learn the error of their ways and it is only through life that a foe may be a friend and honor restored.”
    “A paladin stands before the Rising Sun as a symbol of peace, power, and righteousness. They hold themselves above all others not in glory, but in aid; a servant on their knees at the edge of a cliff pulling those below them up and standing before the gathering darkness to beckon the Sun and defend all who might fall back down without them.”
    “A paladin carries the Light of the Rising Sun within them wherever they go. Darkness may infiltrate the hearts of men, but the paladin is the light at the end of the tunnel, even if they merely hold the torch needed to find their way out of the gloom. No soul is forgotten, and every life is a blessing to be cherished and bolstered.”
    “I stand before you and the Golden Lady in reverence and solace and do hereby swear it that I, a paladin, will uphold these laws until Hamet take me from this life and beyond.”
    Every word that left Amelia’s mouth was clear.
    She had to wonder at times what she had done more of through her life: swinging her sword or reciting the Doctrine. Put to the test, she had to think that the numbers might be pretty close overall. She said it out loud and to herself dozens of times a day, everyday and had been doing so ever since she had learned it at the start of her training.
    A lullaby turned promise and a promise turned prayer that had been drilled into her since she was a babe.
    Paladin Golina glanced back over his shoulder towards Paladin Stillwater. They exchanged an unknowable look though this time Amelia felt less uneasy, her nerves calmed by the promises she had made to her Goddess and to Man-Kind. They were here to judge her right to be granted the mantle of Paladin but, if for some reason they elected not to, Amelia would simply continue her training and present herself again on the next Day of the Rising Sun.
    It would be a disappointment, but one she could and had dealt with before.
    No matter what happened, she knew where her heart laid, and an organization of men mattered little in the face of who she was as a person. No decision would burden her because, in her mind, nay, in her soul, she was a paladin already.
    She would fight for Golden Lady.
    She would fight for Man-Kind.
    She would lay her own life on the line to be the hammer and the blade for all others who stood under Solair’s radiance.
    Her title didn’t matter.
    Paladin Golina and Paladin Stillwater’s gaze turned to the other side of the table, this time both towards Paladin Jecoux who gave a very small nod.
    “You speak well, Sister.” Paladin Golina declared, looking back towards Amelia. “And you Know the Doctrine.”
    Strange choice of words. Every initiate knows it.
    “Thank you, Brother.” Amelia said.
    “You have called upon the Council before for Paladin-hood on the Day of the Rising Sun, have you not?”
    “I have.”
    “And you were denied.”
    “I was.”
    “How many times?”
    A wince of annoyance flashed in her mind. They all knew the answer. It’s not like they weren’t all there for it.
    “Seven.” She responded simply, giving away no sign of the momentary emotion.
    “And you continue to try.”
    “I continue to serve. It is my only desire.”
    “Hmm.” Paladin Golina hummed with a soft nod.
    The unease started to bubble up again from her belly. They’d done this before, and this was normally where they kicked her out. Recite the Doctrine and get the Hells out. Get back to drilling in the yards.
    “How long have you been training now, Sister?”
    “Twenty-six years. Since I was three, Brother.”
    “Yes, of-course. And how long will you continue to try?”
    Damnit all to the Hells.
    “Until I bear Solair’s mantle or Hamet take me, Brother.”
    “And what will you do until then?”
    “I will train. I will learn. And I will be a teacher and a servant to all, acting on and honoring the Doctrine no matter my title.”
    Paladin Golina held Amelia’s gaze for a long time. She was ready to be dismissed; ready to be excused. But it wasn’t coming. Granted, it was a slightly longer conversation then normal, but…
    And then he turned his back on her.
    One by one, Paladins Golina, Stillwater, Jecoux, Kimo, Redbark, Feign, Ianara, and Lasset all turned away from her and faced their place at the Council Table.
    Amelia had no idea what to say or do. They had never done something like this before. Normally they just told her to try again and come back next time around. This was new.
    So, in light of the unusual circumstances, she didn’t do anything.
    The Paladins each extended their hands out to their sides, just barely touching fingertips with their neighbors on either side, and forming a circle of gloved, metal gauntlets around the Council table. Their heads bowed and eyes closed, they begin to speak in perfect unison.
    “Oh, Radiant One!” they declared in a single, booming voice. “Rising Sun of the Heavens and Eternal Flame. We ask for your judgement. Look upon us and rejoice. Look upon us and sing. Look upon one who will be your Hero and your Champion. A Paladin of the People. Look upon her and let her be judged. To Know you. And you, to Know her! Know what is in her heart and let her be judged!”
    With each word, the sounds in the room seemed to echo and intensify. They seemed to bounce off the walls and each word began to feel like a punch to the gut. By the end, the force of each syllable felt like a hammer in her chest and she could only clench her jaw to keep from crying out in pain. Then it all stopped, and the room fell deathly still.
    Around her, the candles and torches winked out.
    No. she thought. They’re still burning. They’re just…not giving off as much light…?
    Wisps of flame seemed to sizzle, almost imperceptibly, away from the flickering, dulled candles and torches towards the center of the room. It gathered at the center of the table and began to form into a minute, flaming sphere. A tiny ball of fire that gave off for more light than anything that size should have been capable.
    Was this some sort of spell? Magic? But why?
    Amelia stared at the little dancing sphere as it started to grow both in size and intensity. The room growing hotter and sweat running down her chest and legs beneath the steel armor. None of the other paladins were looking at it and she wondered if she shouldn’t be either, but she couldn’t help it.
    It reminded her of the sun.
    An unconscious smile slipped across her lips as she stared at it.
    Why would she fear the sun?
    Why should she fear Solair?
    The heat was no longer too hot.
    The light was no longer too bright.
    The radiance of the little sphere was not too much for her because she knew that it would never harm her. The radiance she felt and the love she felt was that of her Goddess and both of them knew she would carry her Doctrine for the rest of her life in Solair’s name. She would love and be loved by the Golden Lady and she would be a beacon of light for all to rally behind.
    She wasn’t going to be a Paladin.
    She already was one.
    As quickly as it had come, the sphere vanished, and the room suddenly felt colder and darker for it. It was nothing compared to the love of her Goddess. The light that she cast.
    And, to her surprise, Paladin Golina was suddenly in front of her, cradling her cheek with an ungloved hand and a knowing look in his eyes.
    “It is alright, Sister.”
    A choked sob escaped her throat that she hadn’t known was there and she realized her cheeks were wet, stricken with more tears than she’d cried since she was a child. The tears still ran freely and, reaching up take Paladin Golina’s hand, she found she shook too hard to do so.
    “That was…” she barely managed.
    “It was. Just for a moment. And she has smiled upon you.”
    Paladin Golina took her hand, gently as the grizzled man could, and placed it against her own breastplate. There, emblazoned where it had not been before in glittering gold and red rubies, was the eight-point star.
    The symbol of Solair.
    The symbol of a Paladin of the Rising Sun.
    Any resolve Amelia still had was broken in that moment. She clung to Paladin Golina as a child might, collapsing to her knees but for the older man’s strength holding her up, sobbing uncontrollably.
    The tears would not stop coming.
    And there was joy in her heart.