The Return of Ash Upon Killiopi Plateau he stood, watching through the sheets of rain the village he once lived in. He watched the different lights in the different windows as the villagers went about their business before resting for the night. Their innocence pained him. His purpose on this planet was death. And that was exactly what he was going to give them.

As if possessed by a demon, the warrior drew his sword and darted towards the houses in the village. Nobody was safe from his mindless onslaught. Men, women, children; all who stood in front of him lost their lives as he administered the doom that all humans would one day receive. And today was their day.

Cutting through the villagers, he entered a small shack and continued his slaughter. The woman he killed with ease as she begged for her child to be spared. He took no notice of her and entered the child's room.

As he opened the door, the child burst out of the room and ran towards its mother. The warrior, reeling from the slight shock, turned to face the child. Blood dripping from his sword, he began to walk towards the now crying child. He lifted his sword to strike, but he hesitated. He looked at the child and saw a young blonde girl, with brown eyes, dressed in a shabby red robe. She kneeled down, cradling her mother's lifeless body.

She turned her head away from her mother, and looked into the eyes of her mother's murderer. He looked back, both of them holding their own sorrow to themselves. She for her mother, he for what he was about to perform.

The warrior was overwhelmed with guilt. He continued staring into the girl's tearful eyes. He lowered his sword and dropped to his knees, placing his hand on his face. In his mind, he was taken back many years; where he led a group of freedom fighters destroy a great evil.

A fascist named Dolf had overthrown another fascist so he could exact his revenge on a world, which had taken his father away from him. This man was planning to use the ultimate destructive power, known as the "Flames of Judgement", to purge the world of life. But the warrior and his companions succeeded in defeating him, at the expense of the leaders life.

But that very leader, who gave his own life to destroy evil that day, was now on his knees, crying in one of the small shacks in the small village where he was born. He had committed a great act of evil here, and he could not reverse it.

He stood up onto his feet, wiping the tears of off his face. He looked at the girl again, and made a decision.

* * *

Capital Shumeria, two days later. Clint had finally finished arranging the new weapons. He didn't like Darius' new idea, but he decided to at least test them out with his commando unit. Clint had become the head of the Security Forces responsible for keeping the peace in and around Shumeria for nearly two years. He was elected into this position after his participation in the destruction of the evil empire who were controlling Ishtaria two years before.

The world was now at peace, despite the ongoing activities of thieves and pirates. But things hadn't been this peaceful for generations. People were finally happy. The politicians of Ishtaria were still upsetting some people, but nothing to serious had happened.

Darius had developed a new weapon, which had a long wooden shaft, and a handle at the end. Near the handle was a trigger. This trigger ignited explosive powder to propel small pieces of metal through the shaft into the body of a person. This metal would proceed to cause internal bleeding. Darius was very proud of this weapon, and named it the "Darius Hand- cannon". Clint was disapproving of this name, but Darius constantly reminded him that it was his invention to call what he wanted.

Clint had allowed Darius to manufacture this weapon for the security forces, but was worried that they would not work. The soldiers, on the other hand, were only to willing to try them out, except for the archers, who believed that this new weapon would be the death of their "art".

Clint didn't care, as long as they helped keep the peace. He was in constant worry that another war would break out, and more innocent lives would be lost. The cold eyes of corruption were once again viewing the council, with different factions amassing in different sections, all of who had different intentions.

Fortunately, new laws were introduced, ensuring that all parties involved in the elections and various other voters, were equal in power. This meant that military actions could only be passed if all parties in the council were in agreement.

But word told of one group who were growing in numbers in the wild-lands of the world. A group who were determined to overthrow the council and take the power for themselves. But this group existed only in rumour. Nobody could confirm their existence, so the council did not let these claims worry them.

Clint was just sitting down for the first time that day when he noticed it. On his desk, next to the various maps and documents, lay an envelope. He picked it up and swivelled it round in his fingers, looking for whom it was addressed to. On the front of the envelope were scribbled the words "Clint - Read this now!"

Startled by the words, he ripped open the letter with careful precision not to damage the letter. When he looked at the letter a look of shock emerged on his face.

It read.

"Dear Clint, I hope this finds you well. I apologise for not writing recently, but this passage does not bear good tidings. On my travels through the wild, I came upon Kiliopi Village. Clint, somebody nearly wiped them out. About three quarters of their population have been put to rest by an unknown attacker, and, surprisingly, nothing was stolen from the village at all. Clint, these people need protecting. I will await you here. I love you. Kira"

Clint placed the letter back on his desk and though for a moment. Who would attack a peaceful village like Kiliopi? He thought with great depth. There were no terrorist factions in that area, and the village isn't even in the jurisdiction of the Ishtarian council, so the attack wouldn't affect them. There was no possible motivation behind the attack.

After a minute or two, Clint couldn't think by himself any more, so he picked up the letter and made for the council headquarters.

It was near midday when he arrived at the headquarters. The council were still in deep debate before breaking to have their lunch. And grand Chancellor Dolan, once a fighter of the highest order, now a powerful statesman, was speaking his views on trade routes and prices when Clint burst through the doors of the debate room, letter in his hand. The council was in an uproar at his sudden appearance in the room.

"Clint!" shouted Dolan ", what is the meaning of this? You cannot just run into this room!"

"Chancellor Dolan, sir," replied Clint, as full of breath he could possibly achieve ", I come with news of an act of terror, outside of the councils jurisdiction!" The council began to talk amongst themselves, wondering were and what has happened.

"Order, Order!" shouted Dolan, while banging his hammer on his stand. A silence came over the council. He looked at Clint "Speak then!"

"Thank you sir," replied Clint ", ladies and gentleman of the council. I hold in my hand a letter from Kira, grand archer of the group who defeated Dolf the Destroyer two years ago. She informs me in this letter that nearly all of the citizens of Kiliopi Village have been killed by an unknown group!"

At this, the council began shouting various things at each other. The council hadn't faced anything like this in the two years that it had been in power. The politicians were mostly young generals who had survived the Crimson age and were not drafted into the Crimson army. They had only been involved in small skirmishes before, and with the lack of turmoil in the world, they were unprepared for such news.

"Order! ORDER!!" shouted Dolan once more, banging his hammer harder than before. "This is obviously a matter that we should have been prepared for. Clint, when can you mobilise a unit?"

"As soon as you say the word, sir!" replied Clint with a boom of confidence.

"Then gather a dozen of your best troops and travel to Kiliopi. I want you to bring some order to their village. We must ensure that the survivors are all kept that way, and that this does not happen again."

"Sir, yes sir!" said Clint, saluting in the appropriate manner.

"Also, I want you to investigate the area, and find out who was behind this," said Dolan, "if the rumours are true about a liberation army gathering in the outer-lands, then we cannot risk a full-blown war. I want this taken care of quickly and quietly."

"Sir," said Clint, saluting again. At this, Clint turned and left the room with great speed. He dashed out of the building and ran back towards the Security Forces HQ.

* * *

"CLINT!" Shouted Kira, as the Security Forces moved into Kiliopi village the next day. She ran straight towards them, and threw her arms around the man she loved.

"Kira," said Clint, holding he in his arms, "its been so long. How are the people?"

"Oh Clint, its disgusting," she said with deep sadness, "a single soldier attacked the village three nights ago. He killed nearly everyone, and took a survivor with him."

"How do they know he took somebody?" Asked Clint, trying not to let the nearby villagers hear him.

"Because her body was not among the dead," said a nearby villager, dressed in a priest's uniform, with long white hair, and a long grey beard. "Little Lucca was taken away by that madman after he killed her mother. After that, he left the village, killing nobody else. She had nobody else here, and her father is still away at Glasgow City."

Clint tried to put it the pieces together in his mind. A single soldier attacks a powerless village, kidnapping a child, leaving the rest of the village behind, he thought. None of it made any sense to him.

"Did anybody get a good look at him?" asked Clint to the priest.

"Only one man saw him clearly. It was raining that night you see. It was difficult to see him, and this person saw him walking away as he entered the village. Strangely, he didn't see anybody with him I only pray that the souls of those killed are somewhere better now. Nobody in this village ever did anybody any harm." At this the priest broke down into tears. "Please, I'm sorry, I just want."

"Hey!" Interrupted Clint, "its okay to be upset. This is a very traumatic experience, and we will get to the bottom of this!"

"Thank you, sir," said the priest, wiping away his tears.

"Who was it who saw the attacker?" asked Clint, cautiously.

"I'll take you to him," said Kira, "I've been here for a few days now, and I know my way about. You go and get some rest, father. You've been awake too long."

"I will," said the priest, "but promise me this, sir. You will catch him, won't you?"

In his mind, Clint despaired. He had no idea what was going on. He couldn't think of any suspects, and was afraid that his troops may not be enough to stop whatever forces were at work. But, the people of the village had been through enough, so Clint said, "we will. I promise."

Then the priest smiled at Clint and hobbled back towards his church.

" Okay, listen up!" barked Clint to his men, " I want this village cleaned up, and I want at least four of you guarding the village perimeter. Understood?"

"SIR! YES SIR!" Shouted the troops in unison, while saluting.

"Then go to work!" Then the troops dispersed and began to do their assigned jobs. "Right, Kira, were is this guy?"

"Follow me." Kira led Clint to a small hovel near the centre of the village. It was brown and the door was no higher than six foot. The windows were boarded up so nobody could see in or out of the window. Clint tapped on the door with his fist, and said:

"Is their anybody in there?" After about twenty seconds, locks could be heard moving on the inside of the door. It creaked open, and a youthful looking, travel worn man peered out of the open door.

"What business brings you here?" said the man in a clear, but gruff voice.

"I am Clint Picard," answered Clint, " I am the high commander of the Security Forces of Shumeria. I have been ordered by our council to investigate what happened here, and I am informed that you are the only person to have seen the attacker clearly." The man looked at him blankly. "May we come in and discuss the matter?"

A troubled look appeared on the face of the witness. He looked Clint in the eye and said, "okay." At this, he swung open the door, hurried the two of them in and swiftly closed the door behind them.

The inside of the house was no different from the outside: dark, shabby and small. A tiny bed stood nest to a desk. The room was lit by a small oil lamp on the desk, nest to a pile of various documents, an old, rusted jug, a cup full of wine and a plate covered in some old chicken bones. On the wall hung a cloak, a suit of chain armour, a shield and a Shumerian long- sword.

"Do you have a name?" asked Clint.

"Joseph," said the man, sitting on his bed, resting his elbows on the desk, "what do you want to know?"

"Just a description, Joseph," said Kira, in a soothing voice, " we don't want you to feel under pressure."

Joseph looked at the floor, and sighed heavily. He placed his fingers over his eyes and rubbed them tiredly. He obviously wasn't in the mood for this. "I really didn't see his face, I just saw his clothes," he said, growing melancholic, "and little Lucca."

Clint looked at him, growing frustrated. Clint was a pacifist at heart, and had only joined the DSF to keep the peace, not to create bloodshed. Situations such as this disturbed him greatly.

"I know this is difficult," replied Clint, covering his inner turmoil, "but we need all the information that can be provided to us." Joseph looked up and nodded. "What exactly was he wearing?"

"He was wearing armour, but not cheap stuff," started Joseph, deep in memory, "it looked really durable. Probably Shumerian, I couldn't really tell."

Clint looked at Kira at the mention of Shumeria. The idea of one of his own troops performing acts of terror angered him greatly. Kira saw the anger in his eyes and turned back to Joseph.

"Could you discern any emblems or crests from his armour, a sort of symbol?" she asked him.

Joseph looked at her nervously. "I couldn't see anything on his armour," he started before gulping, "but I found something strange on the ground were he had left."

A glimmer of hope appeared in both Clint and Kira's eyes. Joseph slowly opened the drawer on his desk and pulled out something wrapped in rags. He closed the drawer and placed the item on his desk and began to unwrap it, while Clint and Kira looked on, wondering what to expect at the bottom of the rags. Eventually the rags ended, and a small, circular tablet lay on the desk.

"I thought maybe it was an amulet," said Joseph, rising to his feet as Clint and Kira neared the desk. "Any idea what that means?" Joseph was pointing at the design on the tablet.

Clint couldn't believe his eyes. On the tablet, there was a design engraved. A sword, driven through the skeleton of a dragon. He looked up and met Kira's eyes.

"Clint."she started.

"What?" said Joseph, noticing the sudden change in their faces, "is there something wrong?"

Clint looked back down at the tablet and uttered two words, "Vandal Heart."

At this, the ground around them started to shake.

"What's going on?" shouted Joseph at Clint, "what have you done?"

Clint, grabbing Kira, "I don't know, just get out of here!"

As they all darted for the front door, the rumbling stopped. They all turned and looked back at the desk. The tablet was shining on the desk, almost like gold. Blinded by greed, Joseph jumped towards his desk.

"Its mine, I found it!" he said, moving his hand towards the tablet.

"Joseph, wait!" shouted Clint, but he was too late.

Joseph grabbed the tablet and held it in the air, " I'm rich, I'm.arghhhhh!" All of a sudden, black tentacles emerged from the tablet and started wrapping themselves around Joseph's body, causing him to scream in pain.

"JOSEPH!" shouted Kira, as Clint busted open the front door.

"Help! Help us!" shouted Clint into the village. He looked back at Joseph, who was now kneeling on the floor. But the screaming had changed. Joseph had started to laugh. He was laughing frantically, intimidating both Kira and Clint.

Kira walked towards him slightly. "Joseph."

Suddenly, Joseph jumped to his feet and began to destroy the room around him. The table, the bed, all of it was destroyed as he smashed everything around him with his fists.

Villagers had started to walk towards the house, wondering what was going on. Clint grabbed Kira and pulled her out of the house, slamming the door behind them.

Still running, they turned and looked back. The house was now shaking, the door rattling on its hinges. Then, in a flurry of banging and immense noise, the house exploded into flames, creating a shockwave across the village, knocking all who were standing onto the ground. Then, out of the wreckage emerged a figure.

Clint's soldiers rushed towards the scene of the explosion, weapons in hand. They all crouched and quickly loaded their weapons and took aim at the figure.

"Hold your fire!" shouted Clint at his troops, hoping that Joseph just might be okay. But his hope was in vain. The smoke subsided, revealing a monstrous being.

Dressed completely in rigid, black armour, red cloak flowing in the wind stood a dark knight. On the breastplate of the armour, the Emblem of the Vandals shone in the sunlight, encrusted with gold. In one hand he held a huge mace, in the other, a shield with the mark of the Vandals on it. Then he spoke.

"Anyone who stands before me shall perish. Who shall challenge me first?" He shouted in a booming, menacing voice. At this, the villagers ran for cover, leaving Kira, Clint and his soldiers to face this new menace.

Then Clint stood forward.

"I am Clint Picard, high commander of the Ishtarian Security Forces," said Clint, confidence in his voice ", what is your purpose? If you are here to mindlessly destroy, then, my troops and I will surely defeat you."

Then the knight laughed. Lifting his mace above his head, he began to walk towards the soldiers.

"You do not know what you face!" boomed the knight, still trudging towards the troops. "For two thousand years I have rested, and now, the relics have been awoken, as prophesised by Lord Toroah."

The teachings of Toroah had been forgotten in Ishtaria since the start of the first revolution. Only a few carried on the teachings, but these were dismissed as superstitious fools and were castigated from Ishtaria.

The knight carried on walking. The soldiers began to walk slowly backwards.

"Halt!" shouted Clint, " or we will be forced to open fire on you."

The knight laughed again, this time with a more angered tone. "You fools! Do you not realise that your man made weapons cannot defeat the great Titans of the Vandals. We were created to cleanse this world, and that is exactly what we will do!"

"We?" thought Clint, aloud.

"Yes," said the knight, nodding, "there are more like me! I am but one of seven!"

"Clint." said Kira, bow armed and pointed.

Clint looked around. The soldiers were ready. He had to do something. The knight was getting closer. Then, without thinking of the consequences, he shouted:


Almost simultaneously the troops pulled the triggers on their hand-cannons, and Kira released an arrow from her bow. But the knight was unaffected. The bullets just deflected of his armour, while the arrow bounced of his shield.

Then the knight ran at them, mace at the ready. Then, with great tenacity, he swung his mace, knocking three of Clint's soldiers flying into the air. Kira jumped back, and reloaded her bow and Clint jumped to one side, sword now in hand.

The knight turned to Kira as she fired an arrow directly into the gap in his helmet. It plunged straight into his face. He reeled back in pain, and, dropping his shield, blindly shouldered Kira onto the ground, injuring her in the process.

"KIRA!" shouted Clint, as he jumped onto the back of the dark warrior. He clutched his hand around his neck, trying to hold onto him.

At this, the knight, who was now trying wrench the arrow out of his face, began to swing Clint around, violently.

Then, with all his might, Clint plunged his sword deep into the neck of the titan. The knight screamed in pain, and swung Clint around, who was still holding onto his sword.

Clint flew of the knight, and took his sword with him, which was drenched in black blood. He landed against a solid rock wall, which was nearby. He was almost comatose from the impact.

The knight, who was now clutching his neck, managed to free the arrow from the helmet. Then, with a scream of pain, he turned towards Clint. Kira was still struggling on the floor with her injuries, and Clint's soldiers had either retreated or were unconscious.

Target in sight, the knight walked towards Clint. Still reeling from the throw, Clint held up his sword in desperation, hoping he would survive the encounter. Then, with one swipe of his mace, the unnamed titan destroyed Clint's sword.

"NOW, INFIDEL!" shouted the knight, preparing to administer the fatal attack, "DIE!"

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning pushed the Titan away from Clint. Clint, still hazy, from the attack, looked around, and saw a dark blur. The blur was using all kinds of magic on the armoured foe. Fire, water, lightning, earth, all of the elements were being hurled at the titan, who was now helpless.

Clint began to black out, but before all of his vision was encapsulated in darkness, Clint heard two voices. The first belonged to the knight.

"You may have defeated me now, sorcerer, but I shall return, and with greater numbers. The end of the world has begun!"

Then the other voice spoke. It was a voice Clint hadn't heard for two years.

"I'm counting on it!"

Then, just as Clint fell into the darkness, he uttered a name.