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Shepherd of Fire

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Rhaemon Rhys'gar slowly opened his eyes as the sound of boots on the metal floor of the air transport brought him out of a slumber, wholly induced by the seemingly lulling drone of the turboprop engines. It had been a relatively long flight from Stormsend to Cusco, one of the principle cities in the uplands of the Southlands Commonwealth. The Fist of the Protector had been ordered south, after it had been determined that the Euphaian border had been secured and was well sealed. There had been little in the way of disturbances in the border region, but the experience had brought Rhaemon valuable experience in spending times with military officers and soldiers alike. He had ate and slept in similar quarters like junior and field officers, went on foot and helicopter patrols on a regular basis with normal foot soldiers, preferring to wear a non-commissioned uniform set, the only giveaway being the military-style patch worn over his heart that denoted his true rank within the national government.


The revelations of large scale corruption amongst officials in southeastern portions of the Southlands Commonwealth had been reported to the Lord Protector only that morning, and by nighttime, Rhaemon was headed south to investigate the evidence and lead an operation that would snuff out those responsible. As the Fist of the Protector, it was his sworn duty to carry out the will of the Lord Protector, and Rafael Sha'am was infuriated over the allegations against representatives that was considered treasonous and gross misuse of public offices. Rhaemon had been briefed by Fetter Childress, the Executor of Internal Affairs, on the situation at hand, and the allegations had gained a similar reaction. This was activity that simply [I]could not[/I] go unpunished or unabated, especially how corruption had seemingly seeped into every check and balance in the region, essentially, two representatives to the Grand Council of Free Citizens, two men by the name of Diego Culcera and Xavier Hert, were lording over the region as their own personal fiefdom.


What's worse, they had several prominent supporters at the Southlands Commonwealth Great District Assembly, as well as the wardens of several city districts and towns, support of several affluent and influential members of the community, the support of security forces, and a fairly large base of citizenry. What Fetter had uncovered was a mass abuse of power, ranging from stuffing ballot boxes, to what appeared to be assassinations of people who stood up against them, and the cover up of these crimes. Reports of low wages being paid to the working classes were going unheard, being shuffled under the carpet by local magistrates, whilst public funds were being used to fund private parties and gatherings for supporters and their families. Culcera and Hert were well liked by the regions' upper middle class, wooed by their promises of business support and their charismatic attitudes, and many being prominent supporters of the Archbishop of the region, Mendoza, who had denounced the religion of the state leaders and its growing popularity in the populace of the north. Mendoza had toned down his rhetoric after a visit by members of the Administration of Internal Affairs, but it appeared that his rhetoric had now been replaced with subterfuge, with undermining the local government.


The true strength of Culcera and Hert was unknown, and it was that fact that disturbed Rhaemon as he blinked his eyes a few times, after opening them, the red lights of the interior of the transport plane making it easier for him to open them, as he slowly looked around. The transport shook a little bit as it hit a little bit of turbulence, and Rhaemon grasped the straps on his seat reflexively, and looked up at an approaching dark figure. A red light near Rhaemon flashed on the man's face, revealing the identity to be Captain Posa Villaben, one of Rhaemon's trusted associates from the Stormlands Ground Forces, her normally hardened features a little softer in the dim light, and she grasped a cargo retaining handle next to Rhaemon.


"My Lord? Are you awake?" she hissed, as she bent down near him.


"Just now," sighed Rhaemon, blinking his eyes a few times and looking up at the soldier again. "What is it Captain?"


"We're making an approach on the Highlands Base right now, sir," she replied quietly. The Highlands Base was a major joint forces base shared by the Ground and Air Forces in the Southlands Commonwealth, standing roughly halfway between the cities of Juliaca and Cloudview. The base was to serve as Rhaemon's operations nexus in what he was now amicably referring to as 'Indian Territory', as he brought the hammer down on those who sought to undermine national governance rule. With a firm grip on the region that his opponents had, staying in a public locale was ruled simply too dangerous, and flying into a military base would provide him with some security and surprise, as his arrival was sure to stir up rumors of what could truly be impending for the corrupt government in the region.


"We're flying into a storm, you know that Posa?" asked Rhaemon, a little wistfully.


"We might be, but if my weather knowledge serves me right, its typically the bigger storm that invests the smaller one," she said, in a categorically confident voice.

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Rhaemon's senses were blurry, the sound of a siren wailing was somewhere far off as his ears were still ringing, and he could feel intense heat, the blast had lifted him off his feet and thrown him and those around him back close to ten feet. The front of the Highlands Base Operations Center had engulfed in flame in a sudden explosion, knocking him unconscious for at least a minute or two, and as he sat up, he held up a hand in front of his face at the intense heat from the fire that had engulfed its front. He heard a groan, and then a growl to his left, and he felt strong wiry fingers in his armpit, grasping him, and Rhaemon felt himself rising, and his feet sought to help this person find his feet, he had intense pain in his back and legs, the sound of Posa's voice was distant, dim in his ears, as she yelled out, "C'mon sir, we got to get you out of here!"


"What... of all the heavens and hells, what the hell happened!?" he yelled back, as he looked over at Posa, whose fair face was blackened with soot and had several small cuts and a bruise forming above one of her eyes.


"Bomb attack, good one too, little ill-timed though! We got lucky!" she yelled, her voice sounding like it had to go through water to reach his ears, as she guided him backwards, as another set of hands grabbed his other side. He looked to see one of Posa's soldiers, a sergeant, grasping him around the shoulders to help steady him as they all limped back towards one of the Tiuna tactical transports. Splinters and pieces of mortar littered the area, and the Tiuna still had some pieces of flaming debris laying on its top, as Posa threw open the rear door and pushed him inside. "This is Captain Villaben, Ops Center is black, I repeat, Ops Center is down, I need a transport aircraft refueled on the tarmac immediately, base fire and recovery to the Ops Center now!" yelled Posa, into the radio she kept strapped to her front.


"Refueled? Why?" yelled out Rhaemon, as he pulled himself up when Posa threw herself into the passenger seat of the Tiuna and began barking orders at the driver to get them back to the airstrip.


"This base is not safe, sir, we need to evacuate you now. I'm in charge of your security, this base is not secure, we need to relocate immediately," said Posa, looking back at him, as she grasped her sidearm and held it in her lap.


"Urgh...," moaned Rhaemon, grasping at his flank as he leaned back in the seat, pain shooting up his side. "You... you will not do anything of the sort, we are not leaving this base now. We're here to stay."


"Sir, I'd advise against this course of action, we can't guarantee your safety here, not with people willfully planting-."


"If we leave now, then this situation only gets worse, we are here to stay, leaving is unacceptable, Captain," growled Rhaemon, steadying his train of thought and hardening his glare at his associate. "Lock down the base immediately, I want a temporary command center set up in one of the smaller hangers, establish a series of perimeters around that command center. I want base security to immediately begin reviewing who could have planted that device, no one gets in or out of the base until we can guarantee the safety of this facility. Then we start hunting," he continued, looking at Posa with a hard stare.


"As you will, my lord," said Posa, heaving a sigh, that was audible enough even over the dull ringing in Rhaemon's ears, as he clutched at his head, shutting his eyes hard as a headache set in.


Despite the pounding in his head and the ringing in his ears, it was now clear enough to Rhaemon that someone had let slip that he had been on his way, and they had been able to organize quickly to counter it. Whatever was brewing in the Southlands was much more potent than anything in Stormsend had an idea of, and that had now been confirmed by what had just happened. Not only were the security forces in the region infiltrated, but there was a leak somewhere, both in Stormsend, and the ability to maneuver quickly enough to react to Rhaemon's arrival. The bomb had been planted with someone that had access to the operations center at the Highlands Base, which was disconcerting to Rhaemon; Culcera and Hert had contacts in the Stormlands armed forces.


"I need a secure uplink to Stormsend when you can manage it, Posa, find out who was in that operations center when the attack occurred," said Rhaemon, as he lay his head back and blinked his eyes, staring at the ceiling of the Tiuna, trying to focus his eyes.

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"You look pretty worse for the wear, Rhaemon," said Rafael, the tone the lord protector was using seemed a little amused, but the look on his face was full of ice. "Casualties?"


"Base security confirms around fifty total, killed and wounded, they're still reviewing surveillance for an identity on the bomber, sir," responded Rhaemon, his voice echoing a little in the cargo hold of the aircraft he had arrived in. Posa had immediately ordered the aircraft to be moved to a hanger and the building secured by her contingent from 'A' Squadron, 330th Lancers. She had also gotten a hold of base communications equipment and a secure uplink to Stormsend, leaving the Fist alone in the cargo hold. A combat surgeon had arrived shortly after Rhaemon had moved into the hanger, and under the watchful eyes of Posa and one of her trusted squadron medics, the doctor had given Rhaemon a variety of tests, concluding he had suffered a moderate concussion, but aside from scrapes, bumps, and his ringing ears, he was going to be alright.


"Who knew I was coming to the Highlands Base?" asked Rhaemon, looking wearily at the head of state. "Someone let something slip."


"Me, Fetter, the High Council, some of Fetter's staff, who he's already vouched for."


"And who is vouching for Fetter?"


"Rhaemon, that's a serious accusation you're making, Fetter is one-."


"Of the High Council, I know, but at this point, the only people I trust are you and Posa. Who knows?" interrupted Rhaemon, looking at the Lord Protector.


Rafael didn't say anything for a few moments, seemingly thinking for a moment, before clearing his throat, and looking directly at the webcam he was using for the video-conference. "I realize that you're shaken up by the attack, but until I have reason to not believe Fetter, he's on the trust list. The point you bring up troubles me, however, seeing as very few people knew when you were leaving for the Southlands, and where exactly you were going. Those were details that were kept within the High Council."


"Then Fetter has to start monitoring them, sir. We have a leak somewhere, someone is either leaking information, or actively helping out Culcera and Hert," responded Rhaemon, gritting his teeth when he shifted an ice pack he was holding against his shoulder.


"I need you to worry about Culcera and Hert down there in the Southlands, we need to build an investigation against them, and then crucify them publicly. They and those that follow them will be made example of, and that's why you are there, Rhaemon," said Rafael, looking firmly at his trusted right hand.


"If there is someone actively helping Culcera and Hert, the danger is not only here in the Southlands, sir," replied the Fist of the Protector.


"But the base, the very nexus of the problem is there, Rhaemon, the root of the vile weed resides in the Southlands. Others will worry about my protection here in Stormsend, you will eliminate the issue at its root. Once that is done, the rest will wither and die," said Rafael. "Once you find out where Culcera and Hert are exactly, I need you to contact me with a status report. But ultimately, how you deal with Culcera and Hert, and their proteges, is up to you."


"Yes sir," replied Rhaemon, nodding respectfully as Rafael cut the video link, and he stood up, and unlatched a door on the side of the cargo hold, and stepped down the deployed stairs into the large hanger. Posa was having her arm looked at by a combat medic, and she looked up when he came out of the aircraft, taking a look around the hanger, which now was becoming the nexus of operations for Rhaemon, with personnel setting up electronics and computers at fold-out tables.


"How's the arm?" asked Rhaemon, as he stepped up next to his trusted associate, looking at the medic carefully stitching the wound.


"Nothing in it, sir, just a good gash, doc here thinks I need a patch up though," responded Posa, not looking at the stitching job, but wincing ever-so-slightly when the medic threaded the needle through her skin. "Had worse, sir."


"I'm aware," he nodded, as he grunted a little when he sat down next to her, looking into her eyes. "What's our status?"


"The audio-visual boys and girls are getting things set up and synced right now, they're doing a bang up job, considering the circumstances. We'll have an operations center up and totally running within the next hour," she responded, nodding at the technicians as they set up electronics equipment.


"As soon as possible is preferable, Captain," nodded Rhaemon, as he held the ice pack to his shoulder firmly. "We need to establish where Culcera and Hert are, odds are they are in one of the urban areas where they enjoy lots of support. They could be on the move, since they know we're here, and if they know we're here, then we're already one step behind, we need to be in stride with them."


"What do you need me to do, sir?" asked Posa, her tone dutiful.


"We need surveillance established to help figure out where they are, signals, electronics, anything to get a lead on them. We have information on some of their leading supporters, we move on some of them, bleed the base of power. We might just get somewhere with that," he said. "Once this operations center is live, I need you to put a strike team together, best guys you got, we're going to brief them, then they're going hunting."

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