Valiant Hearts – Chapter 3: What Goes Boom In The Night

The salt air whipped across newly appointed private Lucian’s face as his squad traversed the bay and onto the mainland. The constant rocking of the speedboat threw him into a violent fit of nausea. He was a seafarer by his Askan blood alone. He and his family have been happy land dwelling peoples for as long as he could remember. Picking up occupations as farmers or bankers, anything to keep as far from the sea-line as possible.

During the required basic training every young Askan must endure, Reid failed his sea-readiness exam time and time again and was only ever passed because his instructors got tired of rescuing him every time he fainted and fell into the bay.

The private was leaned over the side of the boat and tried to think of anything other than where he was, but he could only recall the events of that morning. He had a sleepless night, dreading the following day ever since his new squadmate, Gunny Clyde Vargas, informed him to be ready early that morning for a mission brief. He knew it was only a matter of time until he was requested for combat. It had been three weeks since his arrival to base camp, and most of his recruited peers had already been shipped out to fight. Now that he and Elise were assigned to Squad Two, he knew it wasn’t going to be long before he had to hold a gun and kill someone in the name of his country.

After wretching in the woods behind his barracks, he arrived at the command tent just in time for the morning briefing. Walking through the tent flap, he was quick to notice he was the last to arrive, which he could tell by the look on Captain Alice Everett’s face didn’t win him any points with his new squad leader.

Major Hudson was curt and to the point in her mission brief. She showed the squad to a table with a map of the greater Aska peninsula and the mainland she shared a bay with. Little red triangles and blocks represented the enemy presence on the continent. With a long wooden pointer, she circled the area of Reid’s former village which she casually informed them was now half ash. Reid let out a sharp breath, recaling the explosion from the night he was rescued. What brought him even more grief was watching Elise wipe a single tear from her eye. He had forgotten it wasn’t only his home that had been lost that night.

The Major’s cold dismissal of the loss of life was both disturbing and welcome to Reid. He was of course still haunted by the sheer loss of life from that night and his brutal interrogation but was simultaneously tired of dwelling on it. He figured there was no more use crying over something that already happened.

The commander informed them that it was too early and risky for a full force attack to regain their recent loss. Scouts had reported that the enemy was already too dug-in to risk Aska’s fragile army. That coupled with the fact the Federation still hadn’t declared they would honor their alliance with Aska in the greater war. So, for now, at least Aska was still on her own against the military giant.

Instead, Major Hudson declared that Squad Two would be undergoing a sabotage mission to destroy the enemy’s weapon’s depot. It wasn’t going to stop the Vormare Republic’s fortification of the town, but it was going to slow them down. And Aska needed every minute she could get.

Hudson explained that usually, a squad wouldn’t do such a risky mission alone, especially with two cadets who have just earned their ‘blues,’ but the time to strike was then, and they were the only populated squad not out on existing orders.

“Private Lucian… Reid, are you okay?” A gentle hand squeezed his shoulder. He jumped in surprise and snapped his neck back to see a concerned Elise staring back at him.

“Oh! Sorry, you startled me,” Reid wiped the sea water off his face “Yeah, I-I’m alright. Don’t think I have anything left to throw up, so I guess that’s a good thing!” He chuckled patheticly

“I wish I had known you got seasick, poor thing,” Elise dug around in her military issue backpack and handed him a couple of capsules, “Dramamine,” she yelled over the roar of the boat’s engine. “Sometimes I have to take it too.”

Reid threw back the pills before she had even finished explaining what they did. He would take anything to make his stomach stop doing backflips.

“Damn, kid!” Clyde Vargas shouted up to the pair from where he sat operating the engine, “What kind of Askan gets seasick?”

“The kind who would take the safety of land to the choppy sea any day of the week.” Reid moaned leaning back in the boat

“Actually, Gunny Vargas, seasickness is an incredibly common thing. Even amongst Askans. Especially if you’re not used to it.” Elise explained, “Even I had to take some Dramamine before we launched.

Vargas rolled his eyes.

“Hey, Lucian!” Specialist Luther Kane shouted from across Elise “Did you ask Nifta for safe passage before we launched?”

“My God, don’t tell me you still believe in that horse-shit fairy tale, Luther.” Vargas rubbed his forehead

“Why wouldn’t I, Gunny? See, that’s the difference between you and me-” Luther started

“What? That I live in reality and you smoke enough herb for the whole squad?”

“No. The difference is, I choose to believe in magic, and you choose to be boring!” Luther flashed the Gunny a coy grin

“What the hell is a Nifta?” Reid questioned dasily

“It’s a story I used to tell my kids at the school!” Elise chimed “You see, a long time-“

“Shush!” Luther threw his hands in the air, the colorful bird he kept perched on his shoulder flapped wildly “I’ve got this one newbie!” He awkwardly crawled over Elise’s lap and forced a seat open next to Reid on the boat’s wooden bench. Causing everyone involved to stiffen with embracement.

“You see, thousands of years ago, before the kingdom of Aska was even formed, a group of families were pushed out of their homes by raiders and forced up north,” Luther was sure to gesture wildly with every newly added element to the story “So they went up and up and up till they hit the ocean. Out of options, these crazy fuckers decided to build some boats, never even seeing an ocean before, and set sail into unknown waters!”

“If they never saw the ocean before, how did they know how to make boats?” Vargas butted in.

Luther waved his hand dismissively at the gunny “Unimportant,” then continued “So they build these boats and put their whole lives on them, wives, children, livestock, everything. Just as they lose sight of the coastline, the clouds darken, and they hear the roar of distant thunder. Soon, a storm, bigger then you’ve ever seen descended upon them!

“The brave sailors had all but made peace with their gods. Understanding and accepting nobly that their luck had run out and that the ocean was to be their watery grave. Until a beautiful mermaid appeared from the depths! She tied golden ropes around their boats and, with the help of several sea creatures, lead the weary travelers across the treacherous waters and to a new virgin land.

“Once the refugees were safely off their makeshift vessels, the leader clansman asked the woman’s name. She told them it was Nifta, she was the goddess of the sea. She had followed them since they entered her waters and learned of their troubled past. Once the storm blew in and threatened their lives, she decided to intervene and save them. Sympathetic to their cause, she declared they had her divine favor, and she would bless them by sea for generations to come.

“That war fleeing tribe of people were the founding members of the kingdom of Aska, and it is said, Nifta is the reason Aska has seen such bounty trading and fishing in her ocean. Legend has it, if you pray for Nifta’s guidance, any boat trip you encounter will grant you fair weather and a bountiful haul.”

“Yep, just pray your worries away to a magic mermaid, Private, and all your dreams will come true.” Vargas made a flutter motion with his free hand

Captain Everett, silent for the entirety of the trip, craned her neck back to her crew, “You two, cut the shit!” She turned back towards the water ahead, “Cut the engine while you’re at it, Vargas. We’re silent from here till the mainland.”

Vargas nodded, flipped a switch, and the boat’s small engine went quiet. Captain Everett turned in front facing seat and reached into her backpack “Everyone plug in,” she withdrew a small earpiece and plugged its short cord into the back of the wireless communication device she wore around her neck.

Reid and the squad followed suit, wrapping the earpiece’s rubber-lined support behind the ear allowing the foam covered speaker to sit snuggly within the ear.

“Refresher for the newbies,” Everett continued “Place your pointer and thumb on the buttons here to talk,” She pointed to the two buttons on either side of the split communication collar around her neck. “This thing picks up the vibrations in your throat when you talk, so you can whisper, and it will sound like your talking regularly to everyone else.” She pressed the two buttons on her neck and pointed to her earpiece with the other hand, “Everyone hear me?”

Despite the sound of the choppy waves slapping against the boat, Reid found he could hear his commander as clear as if she was seated next to him. Her squad flashed her a thumbs up.

“Great,” She withdrew her hand from the communicator “Vargas and Lucian get to rowing,” She tossed a pair of ores in their direction “‘ Eagle Eyes’ Ladetto, the Major informed me before we left you killed it at the gun range.”

“I did my best ma’am,” Elise saluted

“Nineteen out of twenty sharpshooter targets is better than best, kid, that’s a new military record. Do me a favor and don’t die before we get a chance to utilize that.”

Elise’s lip quivered “I-I’ll try ma’am.”

Everett waved her over to the front “Grab your binoculars and help me scan the coastline.”

“Kane,” She looked to the specialist seated next to Reid who saluted in return

“Get that map ready and let me know our best approach vector.”

“Aye-Aye Cap,'” Luther nodded, his parrot repeated his words.

Vargas and Reid settled into their new positions next to each other and picked up their ores. “I’ll try to slow down to your speed, so we don’t end up going in circles, kid” the Gunny mocked

“Don’t slow down on my account, Gunny. I’ll be able to match whatever speed you set” Reid responded

“Hey, you two morons! This isn’t going to turn into some pissing contest, is it?” Everett spat sharply

 “No ma’am” They replied

“Great, because if that were to happen, you’d both would be swimming home, get me?”

“Yes, ma’am” They moaned again in unison

Though Reid tried his best to meet his companion’s rowing speed, he was quickly met with the reality that Gunny Vargas was all muscle and had cut through the water with ease. Though he put up a good show, to begin with, the hours of vomiting and lack of sleep quickly caught up to him. The Gunny ended up having to slow down significantly, so the squad didn’t end up doing donuts in the bay.

“Captain,” Elise pointed toward’s the coastline “Spotlights ahead and multiple patrols.”

“Shit, you’re right,” Everett looked back at the boat, “Kane, what does the map say, any natural landing spots near our target?”

Luther scratched his head “I see the bay narrows into a creek that will take us through the heart of the city-“

“Bad idea” Reid spoke up, “That will take us right next to the town hall, and I’m sure that’s where they made their garrison. It has remained well fortified since the Askan’s used it in the first war.”

Everett propped up her leg on the edge of the boat “Okay, pukie, where do you suggest we land?”

Reid lowered his ore and rubbed his arm “I once dropped my keys in this storm drain near the deli. I remember having to ask the town patrol to crawl into the tunnel to help me fish it out.”

The private took a few wobbly steps over to Luther’s map “There,” he pointed to the map, “I think that’s where the access is.”

Luther eyed the map, “Ladetto, check your two-o’clock.”

“I see a couple of lanterns, but it looks pretty quiet,” She reports

“Well, I don’t love the idea of crawling through a sewer, but that could work,” Captain Everett sat back down on her bench “Well, get to rowing boys, and try not to slap the water so damn much this time Private.”

“Y-Yes ma’am” Reid answered shakily

Within minutes the group approached the tall stone levy and spotted the surprisingly large storm drain fixed into the side of the cobblestone wall.

“Wish we would have had that the first time we were here. Maybe we wouldn’t have lost so many if…” Vargas caught himself “I’m sorry Alice, I shouldn’t have-“

“Just shut it, Vargas” Everett took a deep breath

Luther handed her a long rope with a hook fixed on one end “Cap, would you-“

“Yeah,” She snatched the line from his offered hand and swung the hook upwards catching a solid anchor on the first try. “Silencers equiped?” The team checked their weapons, Reid tugged on the silencer of his army-issued pistol.

“Private, did you only bring your sidearm?” Everett whispered sharply at Reid

“Ma’am, I thought you didn’t want me to bring my rifle,” Reid blinked

The Captain slapped her forehead “Yeah, don’t bring the clunky ass assault rifle, but always bring a backup. Did you seriously not bring a sub-machine gun or even another pistol?” her tone grew in agitation

“I-I didn’t-” Reid stuttered

“He can have mine Cap,” Luther handed him a compact machine gun that was roughly the size of his forearm “I always bring a few different ones.”

The Captain pinched the bridge of her nose “We’re going to get fucking murdered,” She whispered under her breath, “Someone remember the fucking explosives at least?”

Vargas shook his backpack, “Got it here, Alice.”

“Good. Hey stupid,” Alice rolled her head towards the Private

“Me?” Reid slung Luther’s weapon over his shoulder

“Who else would I be talking too? Get in there and lead us to your deli.”

Reid silently nodded and slowly ascended the rope. Feeling his commanding officer staring daggers behind him the whole time.

The sewer was initially wide enough for the group to bend at the waist and spare themselves from getting the years of garbage and sludge all over them, but soon the tunnel narrowed, and the squad was forced to crawl on their hands and knees through meeters of grime.

Reid stopped and peered through a thin grate. He spotted a yellow-faced building with colorful flowers and a sign that read ‘half off’ in the window sill. He pinched the buttons on his communication device, “Captain, this is it.”

His earpiece crackled to life “Scan the area and pop open the grate if it’s safe,” Reid heard his Captain’s voice echo in his ear. He peared through the narrow slits the best he could manage, then determinging the area was clear of patrols, stuck his fixhandled knife into the seam and pryed open the heavy grate. One by one the slime covered team exited the discusting storm drain and quietly replaced the lid. Luther pointed through the yellow building’s kicked in door and the squad, being sure to keep low and quiet, eased their way inside.

The building’s storefront looked as if a small tornado had run through. Tables were crushed and overturned, chairs were thrown across the room and used to smash glass display cases. The stench of moldy cheese and rotten meat hung thick in the air. Elise spotted a half dangling sign above the counter that read ‘Golden Pig Deli.’ She touched her hand to her mouth and looked to Reid, whose typically bright eyes were dull and his face cold and stoic.

The squad crouched low under the storefront window and Luther withdrew is map while Vargas kept a lookout. The specialist traced a line with his finger and looked to his commander “This was a pretty good spot to land Cap. If we head a couple of blocks south, then hang a right at the fork, well be on top of the depot.” He whispered

Everett nodded “Ladetto, stack up with me. Lucian, Vargas watch the opposite side. Luther, support.” She rounds the corner of the doorway then halt immediently in her tracks. The rest of her team pear around the corner and spot a gray-clad trooper leaning against the building faced the opposite way. The Captain holds out her arm and stops the rest of her team. Without breaking focus the lone soldier, she slowly withdraws a long hunting knife from the sheath on her belt. Then, in one swift motion, she wraps her freehand around the man’s mouth and plunges her dagger deep into his neck. Crimson blood to spew from his neck and coated her black glove.

Once he stopped flailing and went limp, she drag him by the arms into the deli. Reid and Elise watched in horror as the man’s eyes, wide with terror slowly rolled into the back of his head. Blood pouring from his throat.

Everett wiped the blood off of her dagger using the troopers coat and looked her new recruits over. “Welcome to war kiddos. You don’t kill them first, they just live long enough to kill you later.” Wiping the blood from her face with her sleeve, she drew her machine pistol and rounded the corner once again. Elise shook herself from her shock and rushed after her.

The team met little resistance for the next few blocks minus having to duck and cover for the occasional patrolling jeep. Till they reached the fork in the road. Luther halted the group and pointed out a trooper overlooking the street from a second-floor balcony. The soldier had stood up out of his chair and was stretching.

Everett patted Elise’s shoulder and pointed for her silenced sniper rifle. Elise withdrew her bolt action rifle and laid down on the coblesone street to take aim. “You’re clear to take the shot when ready, Ladetto,” Everett whispered in her ear.

Reid, crouched closely nearby, could hear Elise shaking so much that the frame of her rifle rattled. “Easy, kid. Take a breath. In and out that’s good” Everett’s tone turning suddenly warm “Look at his uniform, not his face and remember, this is just another training dummy back at camp, ya?”

Elise took a deep breath, steadied herself, and squeezed the trigger. A pitchy wine rang from the end of her rifle, and the trooper fell backward into the room the balcony extended from. Everett patted her on the back “Good job. That fucker ain’t getting up anytime soon. Now, shoulder that thing and let’s move.” Elise quietly got to her feet and threw the gun over her shoulder.

Reid, forgetting himself a moment, reached out to her “Elise,” he whispered before Vargas punched him on the shoulder.

“Keep focused, Lucian! It takes only a second for a bullet to land between your eyes.” He whispered tersely.

The squad made their way down the last city block and darted into a nearby ally. Luther eyed his map and patted the brick wall of one of the buildings “This warehouse should be it.”

Vargas peered around the corner and spoted several troopers standing guard infront of a pair of massive metal doors. “Enough guards to look right.” He whispered back

Everett pointed up at a large open window on the second floor, “That’s our way in”

“Found a ladder,” Elise holstered her pistol and bent down to pick up a dusty wooden ladder in the bushes. It was only Reid who noticed the guard who had appeared around the opposite side of the building and was raising his rifle for Elise’s head.

Reflexively, Reid lifted Luther’s sub-machine gun and sprayed. In seconds the man’s torso was shredded apart by the anti-personnel bullets Luther had loaded into it. Chunks of flesh flew out the back of the man’s body as blood ran down the front of his thin armor. Reid’s onslaught only ceased when the full magazine of his rifle emptied. In seconds the enemy soldier was reduced to a heap of human flesh and gore on the dirt beneath them.

Reid couldn’t pry his eyes away from the bullet-riddled corpse. White as a ghost he lost feeling in his limbs and dropped the gun. Luther caught the SMG before it could fall to the ground and braced Reid before he could do the same. Elise had fallen to the ground and was cowering from the scene. Her black-gloved hands firmly fixed on her mouth, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“We don’t have time for this,” Everett spat “Vargas, grab the ladder and get up there with the explosives.” The Gunny rushed past Elise, rested the old ladder against the brick wall, and quickly ascended.

Luther spun Reid around, so they faced each other “Look man, I know. But right now we need you okay? You need to keep that head on straight for a little longer.”

Mouth dry and unable to say a word, Reid simply nodded. “Here,” Luther handed him a couple of extra clips for the rifle, “Reload that thing and help Elise.” The specialist then turned and joined Vargas in the warehouse.

After reloading the weapon as instructed, Reid walked over to Elise and helped her back to her feet. She whispered a shaky ‘thank you’ in his ear and joined Everett on the opposite and of the warehouse. Reid was about to join her when something caught is eye near the fresh corpse. He noticed the rifle the man had leveled for Elise, was pulsing a strangle blue light. The Private crouched down and examined it. The gun was unlike anything he had seen before. It didn’t have a wood stock or steel frame but seemed to be entirely comprised of some sort of dark gray lightweight metal. The barrel was smooth and shaped like some sort of elongated egg. It was broken along the length of the weapon into three separate segments. Long thin blue lights ran under the broken sections.

Reid ran up to the two women on the opposite side of the building.

“Lucian! What the hell are you doing away from your post?” Everett growled

“Captain!” Reid presented the rifle to her “The man, he had this. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Everett snatched the gun from him and looked it over “What the hell?”

The group heard the creak of the ladder and spotted Vargas and Luther running up to them. “Place is wired and ready to go, Captain, we set a timer for twenty minutes so we better-” Vargas was cut short

Everett shoved the strange weapon into Luther’s chest “Have you ever seen anything like this?”

Luther turned it over in his hands, his face scrunched in confusion “No… I have no idea. Where did you get this?”

“Private dumbass picked it up from his first blood,”

Luther handed it to Reid, “Keep that in your pack. The boys at camp will want to examine that freaky thing.”

“Captain, like I said we are on a timer so-” Vargas tried again

“Timer? Well hell, why didn’t you say something Gunny? Let’s get the hell out of here!” The Captain waved her arm, and the group hustled back down the dark street.

*

“Five, four, three, two, and…” A loud explosion sounded from the shoreline and sent ripples down the bay. A pillar of colorful fire engulfed a part of the seashore. Loud sirens rang and half dressed officers ran out of nearby buildings, dazed and confused shouting orders to any nearby century that would hear them.

The weary team cheered from the safety of the water. Celebrating their first successful attack of the war. Vargas reached into his pack and withdrew a whiskey bottle and five shot glasses.

Everett laughed for the first time she, or her team, could remember for a long time. “Really, Clyde?” She snorted

“Well, I figured in the off chance we lived, we would want to celebrate our first successful mission as a squad.” He rested the glasses on a wood bench and poured out the shots.

Everett raised her glass and looked over her squad “Got to hand it to you chuckle-fucks, not to bad. Try not to get any worse, and we may just live to see the end of this war. To Squad Two!”

“To Squad Two!” Everyone cheered and threw back their shots.

Luther turned his glass upside down and placed it back on the bench “Reid, still got that weird gun?”

“Yeah,” Reid reached into his bag and withdrew the strangely shaped glowing rifle. He handed it over to the specialist who scrutinized it in the moonlight.

Everett wiped the alcohol off her lip “Does that thing even shoot bullets?”

Luther sneered “Only one way to find out,” he pointed it towards the black horizon and pulled the trigger.

A bright bolt of blue energy blasted out the end and nearly capsized the small speedboat. The bolt shot several meters before landing in the water with a loud sizzle.

“What kind of crazy shit are these bastards up too?” Everett shouted clasping hard on the boat

“Was that some kind of crazy rocket?” Vargas watched wide eyed

Elise watched the bubbling water in horror “God, that thing was aimed for my head…”

Luther looked back at the strange gun and saw the light had changed from blue to yellow, “Huh” He muttered

“Um, guys,” Reid looked back from his team to the shoreline frantically.

The group follow his line of sight and notice bright searchlights from the enemy base scanning their general area.

“Looks like we weren’t the only ones to enjoy the light show,” Everett turned to Vargas “Get us the hell out of here Gunny!”

“You got it,” The large man turned over the boat’s powerful engine, and the newly spirited squad disappeared into the cover of the night.

** Previous Chapter – Chapter 2: Welcome To Squad Two **

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