This story is my first attempt at a multi-chaptered original fiction. The series in its entirety is called A Dangerous Mind, and it will be composed of several books. Each book, in turn, will be composed of several chapters.
A Dangerous Mind
Book One : A Game of Try Not to Die
In the midst of a cruel storm, the rules of the game remain the same:
Emerge as a victor, or pay with your life.
The Warfare Tactician
14th February, five years ago.
There was a brilliant flash of lightning, followed by the booming echo of thunder. As if on cue, the violent winds started tugging at the trees of the surrounding area, the dark clouds huddling together ominously. A heavy downpour soon swept the landscape viciously, but even then it barely put out the flames that had started to consume the unassuming laboratory at the very heart of the forest.
"Clear the building!" the twenty-two-year-old head of the operation barked, gesturing for the others to follow him. Together with three of his men, Maxwell Francis had been the one to set the government laboratory on fire – the signal that he and the rest of the team had agreed upon to coordinate their movement.
"As soon as the fire breaks out, you are to leave the premises," he told them. "Once I give this signal, it means we've retrieved what we need. Is that clear?"
The man gritted his teeth, running away from the building as far and as quickly as possible. He felt his frustration rise up in his chest as he glanced over to the men fleeing with him, cursing himself for his arrogance and naiveté.
He had failed. The whole team had failed. The purpose of tonight's mission was to capture the experimental headquarters that housed the government's most dangerous weapons and use whatever was there against the regime itself. The plan was simple enough, or so it had seemed: Launch a surprise attack, kill off everyone who was in the facility, and seize the place together with the armaments that were being kept there.
Everything had been accounted for, every single action that would be undertaken that evening premeditated and deliberate. Everything, but one: the recent weaponry that had been transferred to the facility only two days ago. Even Maxwell didn't have any idea what those weapons could be, but he'd heard rumors that these were unusual pieces of artillery – a special set that the government had invested a lot of research and money into.
He had thought it was ridiculous. Whatever the government could come up with, the Underground could imitate, and even better. They had the element of surprise to back them up, and they outnumbered the people designated to guard the place. He had been so certain that victory would be theirs – or at least until he found more than half of his men slaughtered less than ten minutes into the mission.
Maxwell spat, feeling the soft ground against his combat boots as he ran. Failure. The word echoed in his head like an irrevocable curse, followed by a mental image of a condescending younger man shaking his head. He could almost imagine the contempt in the eyes of the boy if he found out what had happened.
"You mean you failed?" the young man would say, with an expression as bland as his tone. "It seems I'll have to clean up after your mess again."
Maxwell screeched to a halt as a thought struck him, making the men with him stop as well. He squinted in the darkness, eyeing the inconspicuous building that now stood burning a good five hundred meters away. "Where is Clovis?" he demanded, wiping the rainwater from his eyes as he turned his head to look at the faces of the men around him. "Where is he?!"
There was a long, heavy silence, the evening so eerily quiet except for the cruel rain and occasional rumble of thunder not too far ahead. Maxwell ran a hand over his face in frustration, cursing all the gods he knew didn't even exist, wondering why he was surrounded by inept idiots who couldn't even answer a simple question. "Someone answer me!"
The outburst seemed to snap the men out of their astonishment, and one of them spoke up. "Clovis was on his way to the East Wing of the main building when I last saw him. I told him that the signal had already been fired at that point, but he still proceeded to go down." The man shook his head. "I don't think he followed us out."
"Typical Clovis," Maxwell heard some of his men mumble. This was certainly not the first time that the young man went against a direct order from someone ranked above him.
The nineteen-year-old Clovis de Marek was a renowned warfare tactician in the Underground, the only heir to one of the most powerful families involved in illicit business transactions. The young man was no more than a student, but he had long established himself as a cunning genius who acknowledged no authority but himself.
"Until the time you prove you're better than I am, please don't expect me to do as you tell me to," Clovis told Maxwell only six months ago, during a gathering where they unfortunately bumped into each other. "That will be like asking a god to kneel before a mortal."
Clovis' methods were always unorthodox, and it was an undisputable fact that there were many who did not like the way he conducted his business. Regardless, Korenthine – the name that the Underground and its members were collectively known as – did not stand for irrational judgment that relied solely on feelings and emotions. Korenthine was composed of the shrewdest, most scheming minds whose business decisions shaped the country's economy and politics – true Machiavellians who defined what it meant to say that "the end justifies the means".
Clovis understood this, and he reveled in it. His father had introduced him to the business at the young age of nine, and it was a starting point from which he learned the established rules, altered some as he saw fit, broke many because he could, and redefined even more because he found it necessary. Korenthine hated him for his genius, but at the same time they respected him for it: Clovis was his own master just as he was his own slave, and never once in the last eleven years had he failed to deliver the results that he promised.
Time and time again, Clovis de Marek proved himself to be a charming but dangerous man who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted.
And I absolutely hate him for it, Maxwell thought. He exhaled noisily, looking over to the burning building as he did. "There's nothing in the East Wing," he found himself saying, his voice sounding oddly calm and detached. It wasn't a secret to everyone that he hated the younger man's guts to the core, but he wasn't about to make a fool out of himself by showing how infuriated he was by Clovis' brazen defiance of his direct orders. No; Maxwell Francis had too much pride for a childish tantrum as such. "Our insider told me so."
"But he said they keep their new weaponry there," one of his men added, looking vaguely concerned. The Underground would be severely disappointed if Maxwell and the rest of his men came back practically empty-handed. Everyone on the team knew that the number of armaments they had amassed in this operation was unacceptable, and the fact that they didn't even have any information about the government's top secret weapons would only make it worse.
Maxwell scoffed before turning on his heel, heading in the direction where their vehicles were waiting. He knew that the leaders of Korenthine would not be pleased, but he was sure it wouldn't be hard for him to influence them into thinking of everything that had happened as a victory. He was, after all, Maxwell Francis, and there was yet any person whom he couldn't persuade to see things like he wanted them to.
If anything else, he also knew the architectural layout of the laboratory from inside out. The East Wing was a recent addition to the government headquarters, where the latest armaments had been transferred to this morning. It was also a dead end, and walking into it given the speed with which the fire spread was like a voluntarily meeting with death itself. Regardless of whether he would find the new weaponry there or not, Clovis was going to die in that place, and because of his own doing – a fitting end for someone who believed too much in himself.
The mere thought was enough to make Maxwell smirk to himself in glee. Things couldn't have been more perfect. "Let's wish him luck surviving that fire first."
…to be continued…
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