Time is of the essence. Not to waste it, I immediately call a meeting in Master Kong’s home. Everyone on the table, we discuss the plan to beat Crimson.
“Master, I think it’s only you I can trust with the formula, can you give me a piece of parchment and a writing implement?”
“Anything you ask, my child. Lynn!” The bespectacled assistant hands over a piece of parchment and a charcoal pencil. I jot on the list, charcoal, saltpeter, and sulfur, and the amounts of them that we need. I hand the formula, rolled parchment, to him.
“Master, is it okay for you to come with me for a walk?” The master nods yes, so we distance ourselves from the house. Finding an open ground between the trees in the woods, I light a charge. Quickly, I drag the master behind the rocks.
KABOOOM! For the second time, the land of the River Kingdom feels the shockwave of its first explosives. Leaves from trees get blown, and a violent tremor ensues from the trees fallen by the explosion.
We inspect the wreckage, finding the fallen trees scattered and a little crater on the ground. The site of the destruction horrifies the master. “This is foolishness. With such great power… the world is in danger!”
“I’ve thought of that, a long ago when I discovered this weapon. But I thought in this case, we need a weapon that could match Crimson’s. People like him won’t speak with us, unless we’re in equal terms.”
He rubs his forehead. “I hate to agree, but this must be kept secret. The weapon has a merit, but only for a few people, wise. My child, never tell anyone of this. I swear on my grave never to tell anyone of the formula.
“I believe you have a knight with you. Can you call him? I have a request to make.” He strokes his long frizzy white beard.
The master takes his time, talking with Albert, coming back only after a long while. Then, we continue the rest of the discussion of the strategy to be used in battle.
Difficult, I give the task of preparing barrels of gunpowder to the master and his disciples to, but he refuses to cooperate even after all the talk we had in the woods. So in an effort to persuade the master, I lay down my explanation.
On the sketch of Crimson’s hideout lying on the table, I mark the armory, barracks, granary, square, pub, a few random structures, and the villain’s headquarters itself. I look at our young ninja. And with enthusiasm, I explain the strategy in length.
“Artemis, the siege relies on how well you execute this plan. Listen well.” Artemis attentively nods and smiles as a response.
“First, you need to smuggle gunpowder kegs in these locations. Except for the charge in the quarters, make sure to have some men light the charges once given the signal. I’ll give you the signal in the air. You’ll know it. I can also make these things explode there too.
“Second, after the wide scale explosions, create panic with your gang. Spread rumors about how the vile master is mad with everyone. Tell them that they need to abandon base. They’ll believe it. After all, our new weapon, the bombs, have features quite similar to Crimson’s power, fire and smoke. So once the goons had panicked and escaped, we’ll have lesser enemies.”
“Third, Albert, Ricardo, and I will enter the scene and head to Crimson’s headquarters. We will lure the villain out. Again, we’ll give you a signal in the air once we had reached this point.
“Fourth, upon hearing the signal, please rescue Nina. Then, light up the charge in the headquarters. By the time it explodes, we will have Crimson to his knees. With the entire fort’s military capacity demolished, the explosion will surely bring him to his knees.
“If everything is executed well, we do not even have to kill anyone. Our goal as prescribed by the art of war is to route the opponents, only. Yes, we’ll route all of them out and emerge victorious with the capture of their boss, Crimson.” Bang! I slam the table.
Pleased with the lengthy explanation, the master volunteers his full cooperation to the plan. With much money from Albert, he immediately orders his disciples to procure volumes of the cheap alchemical materials. And learning that the funds came from Albert, he thanks the knight as well. He becomes very chummy with the knight, talking and laughing with him in a corner.
Midday, Albert leaves with Ricardo. He wants to buy the old man a new battle gear and has volunteered to pay for the repairs of the broken halberd.
All in tears, Ricardo hugs the knight, who begs to be released from his inescapable grasp.
“Sorry, Sir Albert. In the name of the River god, may your good soul find peace in the heavens.”
“NOOOOOO!!!” The knight’s scream echoes in the midst of the wilderness.
Immediately after the duo has left, Master Kong’s disciples come back with all the materials needed. We immediately begin the work of crushing and mixing the ingredients. With much care, the apprentice alchemists handles the volatile substances. They are well aware of the dangers of mishandling the chemicals.
Tightly, we pack the mixture in bucket sized kegs and signal rockets. We progress so much with little time due to the availability of materials and skilled labor. However, the process still takes much effort – we have spent the entire night to complete the task.
Early the next day, Master Kong’s disciples sent off a cartload of kegs to Artemis and his gang to be shipped as presents to their vile master.
Meanwhile, I doze off a bit to prepare for the battle, and a few hours after, I wake up to a noisy sparring match between Albert and Ricardo. As it seems, they have just returned from their trip. Ready for the battle, Albert shows some of his moves, while the old man in his new set of armor dodges them clean, firmly clutching the great halberd in his hand.
While the guys are at it, I devise some extra pocket bombs and rockets from the excess chemicals. Shortly, I join in the fun by lighting up a fireworks display.
Jaws drop, for the first time in the history of the River Kingdom, rockets light its sky, brilliantly painting the dimming purple canvas with a bouquet of sparkling white flowers.
Sadly, I can no longer light up the remaining fireworks. Our time is up; the sun has already set. Our team of fighters say our goodbyes to Master Kong and his disciples. And thus, we depart southwest for the upcoming battle.
A while after, we close to the hideout’s entrance, hiding behind the shrubs. There, I light up a rocket far bigger than the ones I set earlier. To the sky, it shoots straight, leaving a trail of white smoke.
BOOM! Dead of night, the explosion echoes in the midst of the wilderness, fragmenting into a thousand sparks that light the clouds and the ground like a flash of lighting would.
KAAABBBBOOOOOOMMMM! Tremors are felt, a huge blast from the hideout answers the firework, shaking the trees and the ground beneath our feet. Birds and other small animals flee in all directions. And a huge white mushroom shaped cloud soars to the sky.
The battle begins.
KOOOWWWLLLL! The entrance gate appears, the earth shakes and rumbles once more, and a flood of screaming goons rush out of the hideout. So far, the plan goes as scheduled.
In the heat of the commotion, Ricardo, and I slip inside the hideout, disguised in standard Crimson goon clothes. Sir Albert in his TAU, refuses to go in, saying he would rather wait for the goons to disperse as to not arouse any suspicion.
Dashing, we pass by the rows of buildings to be greeted by a smoking ruin – the barracks. Like a charm, the strategy works perfectly, thanks to Artemis’ fair execution.
As scheduled, we stop a fair distance away from Crimson’s HQ, a castle fortified with tall brick walls. I launch another rocket, which flies and explodes just above the tall walls of earth that encircles the hidden fort.
A dull silence follows. Nothing happens.
Don’t tell me Artemis got blown in the blast? N00b?
CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! A lone thin shadow emerges from the HQ. Clapping and walking slowly, he closes in, giving a chilling gaze – his golden eyes glow brightly in the dark. Halting a fair distance, the villain in the mask keeps on clapping, slowly and unempathetically. His pupils now visible, contract into a thin black slit, locking sight at a distance between Ricardo and me. “HAHAHAHAHA! Well done for making it here, my beloved Minister of Secrets.”
CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! I turn around slowly. My heart stops; a searing pain pierces my chest.
With a twisted grin from ear to ear, an oriental beauty draped shoulder to shoulder with a stream of long straight and ribbon-like jet black hair, slowly advances forward together with an army of a thousand goons.
“Ho, ho, ho~ Clever! But still a kid, naïve. Too trusting! Ho, ho, ho~” Chink! A fan of bronzen throwing daggers unfolds in a flash.
Hot blood rushes to my head, flushing my ears and cheeks with warmth. My vision becomes shaky, and a hot steam of air blows down my mouth. My chest smolders and explodes. “how could you, ARTEMIS?!”
SLAM! Dust and dirt flies as I strike the earth with my killer club. A strong desire within me wishes to rip the traitorous witch’s lungs and heart out of her chest.
“Brilliant work, Artemis. You shall be rewarded handsomely. Now, SIEZE the INTRUDERS! HAHAHAHA!” Crimson points a finger at us, commanding his army of goons to do the deed.
Clutching my weapon tightly and gritting my teeth, I lean my back against Ricardo. The wave of goons fall into formation, encircling us as they slowly advance forward, trapping us.
“It’s not over yet.”
“Right, kid. As long as the great Ricardo is in your side, you have nothing to worry about.” Smiling, his teeth glitter brightly.
“FOOL! Attack!” Artemis sends her bronzen daggers flying at us, leading the charge of the goons.
Chnk! Chnk! Ricardo deflects the daggers perfectly with a spin of his newly repaired halberd. He steels himself for the incoming charge of goons.
Artemis, you big idiot. Good, you don’t understand the gist of the strategy. As much as possible, I just wanted to eliminate the unnecessary bloodshed. Yes, there’s a thousand of them here, but goons of this quality will not be enough to capture me as demonstrated in your early attacks in Exteris. And bad, routing them goons back isn’t entirely impossible for me. Just a bit of bravado will do the trick, thanks to my modern weapon. I just have to act tougher than our villain here.
“Ricardo, defend my back!”
“Roger!” The man brandishes his spear, posing confidently.
Against the advancing flood of goons, I swing my club widely and mightily, to create an opening in the formation. Then I reach for a pocket bomb from my pouch. I light it up and toss it at the narrow gap beneath the charging mobs’ feet.
BOOM! Accompanied with the sudden burst of a white pillar of smoke to the sky, a spike of dirt, junk, and unrecognizable chunks of meat get tossed in randomly in all directions, creating a bloody mess. Once again, a rusty scent permeates the air. Another familiar scene greets me – mangled bodies scatter in the parts where I threw the explosive, destroying the formation.
The goons, Artemis included, halt their charge suddenly, creating a wave in the formation that knocks away its first line to the ground. In a sudden jolt, those who fell immediately jump back to their formation with shaking knees, clearly frightened to be lined up with the mangled mess on the ground. Hesitantly, the mob of goons takes a step back, creating a safe distance. The bravado takes effect.
“Fools! Get back to your formation!” With a distorted look in his face, Crimson, the infuriated villain, casts his glowing golden eyes and silvery gauntlet at the mob. A ghostly glow of crimson builds up in his palm, slowly enveloping his entire arm.
The simple act of encouragement restores the villain’s command of the troops, somewhat. The vile witch, Artemis, shakily commands, “The… the master’s furious! Get… get back to your formations, you!” She sends another set of daggers flying at us, encouraging the cowardly goons to slowly but hesitantly advance forward.
Thnk! Thnk! His halberd spinning, Ricardo repels another set of flying projectiles, taunting the mob, “My little friend is holding more of the precious gifts. Come get some!”
Success, some of them goons at the back get intimidated and start running away, which by the looks of it, upsets the villain, Crimson. The ghostly flame that envelopes his gauntlet grows and brightens. He becomes impatient, yelling “MOVE IT! TOO SLOW!” His crimson napalm cannon burst toward the goons’ scattered formation.
To counter, I brandish and toss a pocket bomb against the glowing jet of flame. The projectile catches flame a few feet away from the villain.
BOOM! The explosion cancels the attack and digs the ground up, hailing spikes of mud and dirt in the air, summoning yet another pillar of white smoke. In a display of might, its shockwave throws the villain flat against his castle’s solid brick wall.
“Look, the boss is losing! Let’s run!” More goons panic.
“RUN, you spineless cowards! FOOLS, save your lives! Your boss isn’t as tough as you think! This kid is the man!” Ricardo brandishes his spear, dances, shouts, and taunts the mob of goons. He is surprisingly good at doing this role.
“Wait, get back to your positions.” Ignored, Artemis loses her control of the goons. The mob disperses madly in a stampede, trampling their fellow goons in the dust, running in all directions.
“This can’t be! You fools! Back to your formations!” Leaning on the brick wall, the villain scramble for the control of his troops. He quickly follows by sending another jet of flame towards his followers.
“WAAAHHHHHH!” A hit, a couple of goons, devoured by the wall of crimson flame, writhe in agony, which only help fuel the hysteria more. The army that Artemis carefully organized for the ambush is reduced to a routing rabble.
“master…” Clink, clank! The vile witch, Artemis, drops her precious bronzen throwing daggers. Her knees hit the earth and her face paints an expression of dismay and hopelessness. Tears pool up in her dead eyes.
“YOU FOOL!” The villain remarks, preparing an attack directed against his failed underling. I reach for another pocket bomb to intercept the flame attack.
KAAAAABBBBOOOOOOOMMMMM! Tall white mushroom clouds rise up in the sky; the series of blasts shakes the earth and collapses all the structures around except one, the villain’s castle.
The chain explosion interrupts Crimson’s attack, covering the area with a thick dust fog. Anything a block away is barely visible.
A shadow falls from the sky.
CRAAASSHHHH! The hunko’matic TAU makes a cinematic landing, blowing away dust and dirt, and shaking the earth. Kneeling, it has Nina sitting comfortably on its shoulder. Oddly, I find myself sitting on the ground; I lost footing due to TAU’s shock landing.
The lass immediately hops down the TAU’s shoulder and reaches for me. “Sir Linus!”
Grabbing her hand, I stand up slowly. Left and right, the structures that earlier stood now lies in crumbles, flattened, covered by a thick cloud of dust and white smoke. And far ahead, I see a thin shadow of the villain running towards his castle.
“Wait, aren’t you going to give him a chase?” Scratching my head, I ask Albert
“Well, yeah, but it’s okay. It’s part of the plan, isn’t? Well, let me get this one done first.” Albert gestures, thumbs up.
“Artemis, you’ve done us a great deal of trouble. You’re coming with me.” He picks up the fallen Artemis off the ground and ties restraints on her.
The knight explains what he and Master Kong talked about yesterday. He says that the revered master was suspicious of Artemis and had asked many questions about her behavior.
When Albert tells him about Jim’s story, the master reacts with suspicion, saying that Jim was a disciple of his that died a long time ago. And the two come to the conclusion that Artemis told a lie. She is a spy sent by Crimson to lure us out to this so called hideout, which is nothing but a devilish trap.
Master Kong and Albert conspire to beat Crimson with an alternate plan, which commences shortly after we left Albert behind the hideout’s entrance. Behind the scenes, the disciples brought Albert a cart filled of powder kegs.
They cart strapped on the TAU, Albert drags it along, busting through the sea of goons at full speed. He lights the charges as he unloads them in the strategic spots Master Kong pointed on the map. And KABOOM! The charges explode. Chaos and panic further ensues, which drove more of the stupid goons to vacate the hideout on instinct.
“Brilliant, but you should have let me know. Look at the mess.”
“Hmmp!” All tied up and restrained, Artemis turns her face away and spits.
“What a waste, kid, but not bad.” Ricardo gives me a pat on the back. “Cheer up, kid. As plan B goes. Yeah, we won!” Wait, this old man is in it too? Man, why exclude me?
“What the heck is plan B?”
“Plan B, where the villain goes running, there he meets his end. The master prepared an extra-long fuse for this one.” Albert utters. Mean guys, they left me alone in the dark.
KABBBOOOOOOOMMMM! The castle collapses, giving way to a rising giant cloud of white smoke.
“This is it, huh? How cheap. Shame, we did not get Crimson, alive.”
“But justice is served. I don’t think we could have done this quick if it weren’t for your plan. Good job, Linus of Scientia.” My cheeks warm up to the good knight’s compliment.
“Hahaha, kid! I never knew you swin~ OOUUCCCHH!!” Nina gives the old man a boot in the shin. I’m not dreaming; Nina is back. It’s all over.
BLAGH! The castle supports gives in, collapsing totally, and a black fountain gushes out of the ruins and shoots up to the sky. A warm shower falls.
“Shame, that’s the end of it. What’s this? Strange, this isn’t water! Filth, it’s black!” Nina hides behind Albert’s TAU.
With my palm, I catch the shower – black fluids run down my arm, dripping, soaking the soil a shade darker. This couldn’t be!
“Get as many of the black stuff as you can. We’ll bring this back to Master Kong for analysis.”
Albert immediately pulls the cart in, unloads the unused powder kegs, and tosses Artemis inside.
Then, we dump the gunpowder out of the kegs to make room for the mysterious black fluid. With seven kegs filled, we head back to Master Kong’s place.
Ugghh! Why do I have to do this? So much to write and so many people to interview with this backlog of seven stories? Sir, Linus, you’re a demon!
Journey Day 5
Scientia uncovers thief’s Underworld Links
Exteris, the young master Linus captured the young thief in his hiding grounds, a neighborhood ridden with a gang problem.
The young thief named Ralphie confessed that he works for Crimson’s gang. Crying, he said “I give the money to Crimson as tribute. Else, he will burn our house down.”
In great numbers, Crimson’s gang attacked the investigative team lead by the young master, ending the interrogation.
Crimson razes Exteris; Scientia blamed for Arson
The vile underboss, Crimson, razed shanties, raised panic, and caused its people to blame the arson on Scientia’s investigative team.
The villain is a psychic. He has the ability to control fire. He used this ability to encourage his followers to obey his commands without fail.
The young master concluded that “Crimson deliberately razed the neighborhood to buy time for his escape. The villain is clever.”
The villain succeeded in manipulating their actions. He ran away blameless, while the angry mob blamed team Scientia for the villainous deed the villain did.
Biting the villain’s bait, the angry people of Exteris chased Scientia’s team out of the neighborhood.
Crimson’s Gang member kidnaps Scientian Journalist, Nina Fahrenheit
The Flying Dragon Inn – an unknown man dropped from the ceiling, pointing a dagger at Nina Fahrenheit’s neck.
The man dressed all in black dragged the victim to his wagon, pointing a dagger at its neck. He drove away in haste and said, “If you want me to set your brother free, see me in the outskirts of the town, southwest. We’ll wait till sunset.”
He brought the victim to Crimson’s hideout, southwest of Mercantium.
In his headquarters, Crimson and his gang locked the victim down the cellars.
Nina’s Rescue: Sir Albert volunteers; Gang member collaborates
Hotel la Constance, an enraged Sir Albert Reginald volunteered to help in Nina’s rescue, promising to bring Crimson to justice.
With the knight’s help, team Scientia went to the area the kidnapper demanded, the town’s outskirts, southwest.
Artemis, one of the commanders in Crimson’s gang, surrendered, giving much information about Crimson’s hideout.
According to Artemis, she surrendered because of her hatred of the gang leader, Crimson. The villain allegedly burned his boyfriend to death.
With Artemis’ help, the rescue team slipped in and explored the hideout. They agreed to suspend today’s operation, concluding that it was too dangerous.
Crimson’s gang razes neighborhood, Mercantium
Nighttime, a gang of masked men plundered and set a neighborhood in fire, eastside.
The fire quickly spread to devour the entire neighborhood, including the Flying Dragon Inn, the place the Young Master Linus stays at.
The inn’s manager, Ricky Ratchet, identified the men as members of Crimson’s gang. He blamed the arson on the Young Master Linus, saying “Those folks! They invited Crimson’s gang.”
The good knight, Sir Albert Reginald, intervened to resolve the dispute. He explains “I hear you, but it isn’t these gentlemen’s fault, but Crimson’s. I understand how you can’t place blame on the real culprit, considering how powerful he is.”
The knight reassured everyone that he would handle the case. Furthermore, he took charge of the rescue and firefighting operation.
Late night, he declared fire out.
Journey Day 6
Renowned Historian, Master Kong, joins fight against Crimson
East of Mercantium, Master Kong after giving the Young Master Linus a test, joined the effort to fight Crimson.
Master Kong, being a historian and a retired court scholar, tested the young master in the art of persuasive speech, debate. In addition, he gave the young master an old but unresolved problem to solve.
The young master passed both test, persuading the revered master to help him in his quest to defeat Crimson.
Both great men agreed to work together to develop strategies and new weapons that will be instrumental in defeating the villain, Crimson.
Journey Day 7
Coalition rescues… nyaaann…