Cruel Steel

Cadav is a broken world. Suffering after more than a hundred thousand of years after a massive mass extinction event that left barely any trace of the people that once lived there. Now, after the events have stabilised the world face's new problems. Malevolent monsters called Malific that inhabit the world, rising conflicts between The Six Queendoms of the world, animals that had evolved to live side by side with the killing machines that are the Malific Beasts. Team Steel is a lone black ops team in a world full of problems, and the fight is only just beginning.

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1. Prologue: Out the Forge

“In our world, where every day we needed to fight to survive, where every month is a struggle to find resources, where every year is a battle to maintain loyalty and kinship among the people, we learned one rule: Men are expendable.” -Inscription of Stavakin History

***

It was a nightmare. One he has had before. It didn’t scare him at all, it hasn’t for a long time. But it reminded him of the time where he was scared, before he learned to not feel that weakness. The memory was daunting.

He was running through the woods with a blindfold on. He was bleeding, a cut on his forehead and a gash on his leg. Mistakes, he needed to be better. The pain was weakness, he needed to ignore it. Push forward despite it. The Malific nor the more human enemies wouldn’t care he was injured.

He kept running, the feeling of tree roots under his feet telling him where the tree trunks would be so he could avoid them. He heard a twig snap and knew where she was. He immediately changed course and started running the other way.

No, he thought to himself. Never run in the direction they let you.

He adjusted his course and moved more right than before, but he misstepped in the change. His foot caught a root and he stumbled. It didn’t matter that he had recovered in a split second, he had given her an opening. A single mistake, small in the scope of the run, but it was fatal. He was already bracing himself for the switch before she was even swing it. It connected with his spine and he started falling.

***

Stark’s eyes flew open and he immediately sat up in bed, his breath caught in his throat. He was in his house, the room bare of any personal ornaments. A full moon shown through the window, reflecting off the snow outside to be just a bit brighter. It took a second, but he calmed himself down and released a disappointed sigh. He pressed a hand to his face a moment before brushing back a few strains of steely grey hair that fell in front of his face.

After a moment, Stark decided he wasn’t going to be getting to sleep tonight. He threw the covers back and swung his legs over the side.

“Stark?” A woman’s voice said softly through the dark room. Stark looked back at his wife, Aykla, laying in on the other side of the bed. She looked at him with tired brown eyes as she ran a hand over the swell of her pregnant belly. He could tell it had been a long night for her.

“Is something wrong?” She asked, adjusting her position on the pillows.

“No,” Stark said, his deep voice reverberating throughout the empty room. “Go back to sleep, I’m going for a walk.”

“Don’t you go back to work tomorrow?” She asked.

“I won’t be long,” Stark told her seriously as he stood up from the bed.

“Mhm, alright. Pick up some firewood while you’re out.”

“Okay, Aykla. You sleep well tonight, I'll see you in the morning.” Stark wasn’t much for putting expression into his voice, but he knew his wife appreciated the sentiment when he tried.

He fumbled through the closet and grabbed his street clothing before heading to the bathroom to put them on in the light. He shut the door as quietly as he could and flicked the switch.

He was greeted with his own reflection as soon. He had let his hair grow out a little too much over the last month. His grey hair had extended almost a full inch in the time. The skin of his chin was obstructed with a thick curly beard. If the unnaturally grey hair wasn’t enough, he had bright scarlet eyes with the left one decorated with black birthmark resembling a stylized treble clef. They were the marks of the Cruel, a sub-race of humans that Stark was one of the rare male members of.

He shrugged his heavy fur coat on, the familiar weight of it giving him a sense of comfort. He pulled a pair of wool pants over his legs and noted he needed the shave and get a haircut before heading back to work in the morning. He exited the bathroom and made sure he had his wallet before carefully making his way out of the room with only the moonlight coming through the window to guide him.

He walked quietly past his daughter’s room. Malivia was a light sleeper and wasn’t above complaining when people woke her up. His youngest son was a much deeper sleeper, but Jade was only eight years old so it could change for all he knew. Malivia’s twin brother was more like Stark, able to sleep no matter where he was. Cler was also a Cruel like him, making Stark breifly wonder if that was an unknown ability of their people. But he doubted it.

As soon as he was out of the house Stark pulled a cigarette from his coat pocket where he had left them since last time. He stuck it in his mouth and pinched the tip of it between his thumb and forefinger.

“Gial,” he murmured around the cigarette. A small spark of flame lit up between his fingers and ignited the tip of the paper roll. Wiping the ash on the bottom of his coat, Stark started walking through the snow towards the city.

It was snowing again, lightly but it hardly mattered. There wasn’t a corner of Girnought that wasn’t covered in at least three inches of snow but more often it was more. His boots crunched through the snow already on the ground as he made it out of Middle Housing. For all its faults, the housing area was right next to the food strip of Gailnought, the capital city of the Girnought Queendom.

Walking past the restaurants and bars, he made his way to the other end of town. The streets were empty but the bars were busy. It was just past midnight, many miners getting off work and taking to the bars for some late night drinking. Stark remembered his time doing much the same when he was still a teenager. With miners being able to drink when they turn fifteen it had been the only way to socialize outside of the mine itself. He didn’t remember the time with any fondness.

Stark entered the supply store about half an hour later and shook the snow off him. He had finished the cigarette and a second one in that time. Looking around the store he found that it had furs and wool clothing piled to the ceiling on the main shelves of the store with everything else piled around the much shorter shelves around the edges. Walking the length of the store, he picked up two more packs of cigarettes, a few granola bars, a bag of cold coffee, and a thermos. Placing the items on the counter and told the grizzled old man behind it,

“A bundle of firewood.”

The old man narrowed his eyes at Stark judgmentally, a silent question passing between them. Stark rolled his eyes and added, “My wife is pregnant.”

All judgment faded from his look and he turned around to get the wood out of the special safe it was kept in. A Girnought man wanting a fire for his home was weak, furs were plenty enough for a strong man to keep warm. But a man wanting fire for his children was okay, and the only reason a man wouldn’t be scorned for his purchase of firewood. It was annoying sometimes, Stark found, but he agreed with the sentiment. In Girnought, strength was everything. And that was important in all aspects of life.

The old man pulled out a large bundle of wood held together by a metal cord which doubled as a handle and brought it over to the counter. Handing it to Stark he asked,

“You got an ID?” Instead of answering, Stark reached into his pocket and withdrew his military identification card, placing it on the counter with a sharp click. The clerk nodded and started hitting buttons on a mechanical cash register. It took a few moments to get done and the empty store was filled with the sound of the heavy register keys clanking as he pressed them. When he was finished the man shot Stark another judging look and asked,

“That going to be on your military rations?”

“No,” Stark answered, pulling out his wallet. “I’ll cover it.” The clerk nodded with the approval of his choice. A man who can pay for things with his own sweat is a strong man indeed.

“That’ll be thirty Marks, then.”

Stark pulled out the proper bill and tossed it on the counter before collecting his items and walking out of the store in into the snow again.

Once outside Stark placed the firewood on the ground and ripped open the bag of coffee and poured it into the thermos. It was almost too small for the whole bag, but it managed it. Dipping his fingers into the liquid he murmured,

“Gail Malqure.” This time the flames appeared through the coffee, causing it the release a few hot bubbles as some of the water evaporated. As Stark screwed the lid over the now steaming coffee a woman walked up to him. She was young and wearing the royal colours, silver and blue. A Runner, the Royal’s choice way of communicating with people of lesser stature.

“Hey pal, you got a light?” The messenger asked as she pulled out a cigarette. Stark looked at her oddly and held up a finger. He murmured the word and a tiny bit of flame leapt from his fingertips, igniting the tip for the lady.

“Old Words?” She asked, impressed. “You must be military then,” Stark grunted a noncommittal reply. She nodded and took a breath of her cigarette. After a moment of silence had passed she asked,

“You wouldn’t happen to be Stark Stehlenev would you? I got reports he was walking around this side of town.”

“You found him,” Stark replied as he stared across the street, his eyes locked with an alley that was too dark to see out of.

“Oh good, you saved me a trip all the way to Middle Housing to get to you.” The Runner reached into her pocket and withdrew a letter sealed with the Queen’s sigil. A spear stabbing through the moon.

“A Royal summons from the Queen herself,” the Runner said, sounding more pleased with herself than with Stark. “You must be quite the soldier.”

“You could say that,” Stark said as he pulled out another cigarette. The Runner shrugged at his short response and turned to walk away, her job finished. Stark slipped the letter into his pocket without looking at it and finished his cigarette before picking up his firewood and heading home. He apparently had a meeting with the Queen in the morning and he needed to shave.

***

Stark stood in front of the throne room doors feeling more like himself. He was shaved, in his military uniform, his hair cut and combed. The grey and white uniform hugged him tightly, his highly trained muscles straining against it. The last eighteen years had given him more than enough time to get used to it. In fact, he found it comfortable.

The Queen’s palace was one of the few places in the Queendom to get electric heating, but it only ever used it when entertaining foreign guests. Currently, the massive stone structure was kept as cold as the air outside. Actually, it was probably colder because of the stone and electric light bulbs.

The room Stark was waiting in was the large, open area of the palace used for celebrations and feasts. People were hanging decorations for the Choosing festival. Girnought was hosting this year’s celebration, inviting all the Queens and their Royals to the capital city. They were hanging the banners across the stone walls. The green and white banner displaying the lotus for Vertaium. Gold and red display a hissing snake for Viperium. Purple and black with the depiction of gears for Bosteel. White and gold showing a cloud city for Elysium. And finally, a solid silver banner with black borders for The Queendom of Winds, if they happened to show up at all.

Stark was unable to look at the decorations any longer at the doors for the Queen’s personal throne room flew open and The Queen’s Guard came out.

The five female guards came out to collect him, the silver-grey hair and the red eyes marking them as Cruel like him. They each carried machine guns in their hands, the sturdy design clearly marking them as Girnought design. Their armour was clearly meant to resemble high-class dress clothes, but was very clearly designed for function too. Hard armour with dyed leather stretch over it in many places. The dress part ended just above their heels, revealing a matching set of combat boots. Ever part of their dress was clearly meant to both give them style but also make them effective. It stood out from the other things in Girnought, as a very small amount of people actually cared about how things looked compared to it properly serving the function.

They surrounded him on all sides and lead him forward, right into the warm throne room.

The room itself resembled a wide hallway, with a fire at one end and the throne at the other. The Girnought colors of silver and blue adorned every surface it could, right up to the Queen herself.

Stark kept his gaze cast downward as he approached, and knelt down silently the moment his escorts stopped moving. There was a silent for a moment before the Queen spoke.

“Senior Command Sergeant Stark Stehlenev, stand.”

Stark obeyed and looked up at the Queen for the first time since entering the room.

Queen had a fair face without a single flaw to be had, far more elegant features than most woman would ever have in Girnought. But the truly stunning bit about her was her snow-white hair, completely contradictory from the typical jet black most Girnought people had. It was pulled back into a long elegant ponytail that draped over her shoulder and hung just over her lap. The Queen wore thick steel armour plating from the waist up, polished to the point it practically glowed in all kinds of light. Below the waist, she wore a long glittering dress that gave the impression she was wearing woven silver. Her armour covered her shoulders, but her arms were bare down to the elbow where the rest of her arms and her hands were covered in elegantly crafted steel and silver gauntlets. She looked like a goddess, a goddess of war.

“Yes, my lady,” Stark said with a respectful nod.

“It is my understanding that you have put in a request to have your family moved into High Housing,” she stated, a stern, stoic gaze studying his response.

“Yes,” Stark said. “My wife is with child and my current home is already small.”

“But that is not the only reason, is it?” The Queen asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No,” Stark admitted. “My youngest son, Jade, is sick. And treatment is only given to those with either an officer rank or living in High Housing.”

“I see,” the Queen said with a nod. “And as I understand it, you have to be promoted to Master Sergeant before you can be made the first officer rank, correct?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“And your conscription is going to be done soon, is it not?”

“Just a few months, your highness.”

“And, Commander Stark, what will you do when your conscription is up?”

“Likely, I will have to go back to the mines.”

“And you don’t want that,” the Queen said dryly. “Of course, I knew all these things before you entered here, but it was important to clarify.” The Queen stuck out her hand and a file was placed in it. She opened it up and flipped through it.

“Stark Stehlenev, officially a Malific Control Unit Commander. Your track record is impressive, and the most impressive parts are blacked out. You’ve served the crown well.”

“It is a pleasure, my lady.”

“Then I suppose I should skip to my offer.” The Queen set the file aside and leaned forward. “I will approve you a house in the High Housing district and fast-track the surgery your son needs. And as it will be a shame to lose someone with your talents, I’ll make sure you are prompted to Privateer so you may remain in our military even after your conscription is over. And in return, I need you to perform a task.”

“Anything, your grace,” Stark said with another slight bow. The Queen raised an eyebrow.

“Anything? Are you sure?”

Stark looked the Queen in the eye seriously for a moment and said, “I did not get to where I was without strength, I am Girnought.”

The Queen nodded, that being all the answer she needed.

“You should know this mission is most likely the most critical mission of your life, and if you are found out it could spark a war.”

“Even if they caught me, they will never learn of your involvement. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve tried.”

“Good, I’ll have to trust in your experience. Now, clearly, I can’t tell you all the details here. They will be given to you in a self-destructing message as you approach your destination. What I can tell you as that you will be headed to the Bosteel mainland and traveling right through their cliff cities. With that in mind, do you know what you will require?”

“Ambrosis,” Stark said. “Those lands are filled with Malific that will require a good portion of Ambrosis to fight through.”

“We’ll double your ration,” the Queen declared. “Anything else?”

“At least two men, preferably experienced.”

“Our best Malific Control Units are off on missions. We can post a job notice for anyone to take your offer, but the secretive nature of this mission means people are unlikely to sign up.”

“Offer them promotions,” Stark said. “Men that actually care about their futures will jump at the chance of an easy promotion. If you tack on a side mission with a reward of say, a hundred Marks, the more enterprising ones will be tempted.

“Slic!” The Queen called. One of the Queen’s Guard leapt to her side and saluted. “Do we have anything in that region that would make a suitable side mission for Stark and the others?”

“Yes ma’am!” The Queen’s Guard stated. “One of our bests was recently lost and captured by Bosteel soldiers. It would be a massive tragedy to lose him, I suggest having Stark and his team free him and bring him back.”

“Make it so,” The Queen stated. She turned back to Stark and fixed him with a look. “Is there anything else you require?”

“Just one my Queen,” Stark began. “I would like to request access to my Soul Weapon.”

The Queen studied Stark for a long moment, contemplating it.

“And what is your Soul Weapon Commander?”

“A spear,” Stark answered. The Queen nodded.

“Then you will have it along with your other requests. Once again Stark, I’ll remind you that while you may not know it, this mission is more important than you could ever know. I look forward to your results, and remember The First Order.”

“Yes, my Queen,” Stark said, kneeling one more time. “A hundred by my hand before a thousand through my shield.”

The Queen smiled at the quote and waved at her Guard.

“See him out,” she ordered. “You do your Queen and Queendom a great service today.”

Stark nodded respectfully and turned away, following the Queen’s Guard out of the room as his mind processed what had been the most important meeting of his life.


 

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