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Chapter 6

"Let's move. You know the drill."

Vincent give me a very tight nod before crouch-walking forward, out of the treeline. We were both wearing a Renskr ghillie suit, coloured with Autumn shades to fully blend in with the discoloured flora. I fastened my Black Rogue before quickly catching up to Vincent.

The logging facility was but a mere fifty meters up the road, but still we went at it slowly and steadily.

"Turn off your UIP. They'll notice the signal once we're in." Vincent said without looking at me. Without second thoughts, I followed the order, and stowed away my UIP in my inventory while bringing out my lovely, trusted toy.

The VMAR96. My dream weapon really. Though not a sniper rifle in essence, it still beared the most significant features of the Valkyrie. I toyed around with it some time ago, and managed to morph my rifle into an assault rifle. Took me hours to get it working without being tossed back by the immense recoil. Thank god the game came with suppresive methods to reduce your recoil, otherwise my right arm would've been lossed ages ago. Raises the question as to how Jäger's still standing after handling Surkov...

"Going in." I say as I slip past Vincent, and sneak up to the door, ducking beneath the window.

The entire premises was empty. We both knew it was all deception. The Darkwing would have to be holed up beneath the facility, or not be here at all. Either ways would be just as shit.

I open the door carefully, my breathing drops. I try to pick up any sound as I push open the door, but nothing gets through to me. Seems it is clear.

I step into the facility, looking around. Vincent quickly dashes past me, hardly noticeable really. This guy was sneaky. No footsteps or anything.

The inside of the logging facility was empty and stripped to the bone. Nothing was here. The old band saws were rusty and seemed to have clogged up into the ground. Chips of charred wood still coated the corners of the room, and the windows were covered with cobweb rags. gently rocking in the wind. The roof barely held together, supported by rotten wooden beams.

"Target down."

"Huh, what?" I turn around to Vincent, who was holding his sniper rifle, aimed at the top left corner.

Seconds later, I hear a fleshy weight collapsing to the floor with a smack.

"...Ehr... How- Huh...?" I scratch my head, too baffled to bring out anything sensible.

Did he just... shoot? With his gun?

Vincent ignored my attempt to inquire as to how he killed the crowsnest guy, let alone as to how his gun was silent as a mouse. Even with a silencer, complete and utter silence was... nigh impossible....

"Vincent." I step up to him, grabbing his shoulder.

He turns to look at me.

I fall to my knees, and just stare at him in disbelief. "Tell me... 'HOW'.... you did that..."

"What?" He says, slightly annoyed.

"No sound emition." I state swiftly. "That's, like, impossible!"

He sighs, and shows his rifle. "Tresspasser. My best invention, you could argue that yes. Needs no explosive power, works on the coilgun idea, or electric coil theory. Therefor, there is no recoil, and no blast. So no sound."

"And the guy?"

"I dunno what he was planning. I think he was taking a nap, never knew we were coming in the first place."

My eyes scan the Tresspasser quickly. It takes me a split second to realize the specs for the gun. 8 round box. Around the 20 mm rounds, give or take. Likely semi-automatic, with enormous delay after repeated use. God, the faster you fired the quicker the coils work out. I guess the range on this gun was relative. The more power you spend, the less effectiveness it has. But... With the silence worked into it, and the rechargable energy, I'd guess it only needs one shot really. Or just a few. Not like Valkyrie.

"Let's go." Vincent moves towards the stairs, and I follow his steps, bearing the VMAR up front.

Into the basement we go- No, into the lion's den.

This was pure suicide from my perspective. No intel whatsoever. No clue how big this place would be, if it even existed. Underequiped, cornered. I felt totally out of my comfort zone, to be honest.

"Aren't you, like, the least worried?" I ask, giving Vincent a stern look. He turns to me for once, and stares me right between the eyes.

"I like the shadows."

I fold my arms. "Well that's a pathetic answer."

"I just do."

"Grah."

"Look." He says as he hops down the stairs. Fuck, he really was silent. Jumping, walking, crawling. No sound. "I'm a man of stealth. Of course I like the shadows."

With that said, he suddenly cocks his head, and steps towards one of the basement's walls. They had reached the bottom of the stairs, and Laura was curious as to what he had discovered.

Vincent moved a few boxes and pieces of junk, which revealed a tiny gap in the wall. Could hardly fit a person through it.

"I'll go first. Just follow me, and do anything I say. No room for mistakes."

I sigh, but nod firmly as I form up behind him. I had to rely on his senses it seems. He was way more familiar with this type of situation it seemed. I think he had more experience with stealth than anything, really. Even his sniping. He wans't a sniper, he was a ghost who happened to know how to aim. That's a compliment. One deadly ghost, holy crap.

We both stepped through the gap, and made our way onwards.

The gap indeed was meant as a hidden door. Behind the gap, a long corridor lead us down into the depths of the earth. The corridor itself was crudely carved out, with various roots hanging from the ceiling. We both had to crouch a little, squirming our way to the end.

After a few minutes in the dark, the first real lantern in the underground network shedded some light for us. We stowed away our flashlights. "Better to rely on their light than our own. We could give away our position far too easily like that." Vincent commented.

The corridor eventually widened, and grew larger in size. We had to be a good hundred meters down. The chill in this place was freezing. Good thing Renskr outfits came with extra layering.

"Ok. Time to activate the suits." Vincent said as he opened his menu. I did the same, and clicked the skin option tab.

Within a few seconds, our ghillie suits transformed, shedding the autumn colouring and adapting an earthy, scorched soil colour scheme. Standing in the shadows, you were invisible, and in the light you could barely make out the outlines of our figures.

I nod at Vincent, as I remove the safety pin of the VMAR. He locks his Tresspasser, and lowers the weapon as he signals to move forward, into the caverns up ahead.

Operation Shady Kingpin had commenced officially from here on out.

---

A few minutes later the corridor widened and grew into a more cavern-like structure, though it was obvious that the place was carved out and carefully constructed with support beams and other infrastructure. We both silently moved through the underground network, keeping our map updated every second so we wouldn't get lost. I was supressing my breathing, only a muffled draw for breath leaving my ghillie suit hood.

Vincent motions for me to huddle down near a few crates as he peers past the edge of them, into the darkness beyond.

"Get out your explosives." He hisses as he scans up ahead.

I nodded swiftly, and obeyed his command. I opened my inventory and hastly selected the explosives handed to me prior to the mission. I had Ridley tamper with the design of the Iron Star I used; An effective claymore I used to secure my position with.

'Don't worry about the damn signal.' Ridley's exact words when he handed the new Iron Stars to me.

I selected one, and it materialized into my hand.

I admired its form. It had been turned from a standard military claymore into a brick of mechanical brilliance and highly-destructive chemicals. God nows what Ridley stuffed into the bombs. I didn't care, as long as they did the job. Hopefully I didn't need to worry about the signal this far beneath the ground. I was concerned the signal would be too weak to pick up on. Safe to say, innovative Scordato had a master plan for it.

If only I could do chemistry or science as well as Ridley could. I wouldn't be having these hideous concerns in the first place. Oh well.

"Next move?" I ask, voice hushed as I whisper to Vincent.

He turns to me, and lays a finger to his hood.

"Thirty minutes. Get going."

And with those words, and no further instruction, Vincent vanished into the shadows behind him, leaving me shocked and deserted.

"V-Vincent?" I whisper, putting my hands to my mouth to increase the volume of my voice. I check my UIP for a shred of signal, desperate to contact Vincent. No reception here, damnit.

I briefly felt a surge of panick well up in me. Did he really leave me all to myself in this network of tunnels and caverns, a supposed hideout for one of the deadliest cartels in EWO, with no instruction or plan?

I snapped out of my moment of weakness not a second later, and braced myself before gathering up the courage to move out.

A no-brainer for me, I stuck to the shadows. It was really miraculous how well the suit blended in with my surroundings. I almost felt like a true chameleon.

After a few minutes of travelling through the shadows unseen, I heard a faint echo against the walls.

I dropped my breath, and focused on the noise.

It sounded like a slicing noise almost.

I shrugged, and moved on. I suspected Vincent going to work, but I couldn't know for sure. I didn't even know how big this labyrinth could be, for all I knew it could've reached for miles and miles outwards.

I grab my first Iron Star tightly as I move into a whole new direction, following a trail of electrical wiring. The math was simple. The most reinforced place inside this 'safehouse', or 'safebasement' more like it, would be where the Darkwing's upper echelon would be situated, along with their most prized possessions. But in order to maintain a strong defense, you need supply. In the form of power, water, you name it. So my first gander was to keep track of the wiring untill I run out of wire to track, after which I needed a different source to keep track of.

Along the way, I snuck up to a support beam. This one looked appropriate. It was solid metal, a good meter thick. Ridley said this explosive I was handling was strong enough to rip apart any material on my path. For his sake, I hoped he was right.

With a soft thud, and a click of activation, I concealed the Iron Star, planting it on the backside of the support beam. The green light flickered in the dark, but not enough for the human eye to easily pick up on.

I got up, and selected the second explosive.

Then, I heard it again. That slicing noise.

"Huh..." I mumbled to myself as I cloaked myself in shadow once more.

It was strange. I hadn't come across anything in my path. Not a single guard or patrol. Yet, the base showed all the vital signs that it was occupied, atleast in the last couple of days.

I shook my head and took a right, following my trail as I ventured deeper into the heart of the network.

I pulled up my wristwatch, checking my time. A mere quarter of an hour had past.

Suddenly, I felt a vibration in my pocket, and my hand immediatly shot towards it. It was my UIP going off.

"Vincent?!" I whisper coarsely as I crouch down immediatly.

"Patrol. Dead ahead. Updated your map. Down, now."

The UIP falls silent once more, and I didn't need to think twice.

My body falls forward, but silently slides onto the floor. I shuffle myself to the side of the hall. Lucky for me, this looked more like a cavern that was carved out. The edges of the hall were still crude, and were rid with dark fungus and gnarly roots. Exellent for me to take cover in.

I push my hood underneath a few of the roots, and wrap myself into position. I could feel a slimy fungus rub my warm cheek, but I let it slide for now. Had to stay motionless for the next minute or two.

I finally heard the patrol heading my way, loud footsteps resonating agains the walls. A few manly voices filled the air, growing louder, filled with commotion. The footsteps rapidly increased in frequency; They were running.

"C'mon, Murphy's down, Ralph's down; We've got company in here, damnit!"

"Go, go go!"

"Fuck, shit- Fuck!"

I look at them from the corner of my eye as they race past me. Poor sods. Dressed up in the oldest of rags in the game, for all I knew, though they bore impressive weaponry for their looks. Was that their angle in this business? Gun-trading? Black Market selling of ammunition or something? Snatching latest in-game released content?

It would explain how they remained on top of their game. But why would a gun-trading cartel side with Nathaniel, of all choices?

It was a fishy combination to me, raising a number of questions. Figured I needed to mull things over with Cromnik soon again.

I get myself up once the footsteps die out. I bring out my UIP, and check for a signal. A short moment, the signal flickers, and I recieve a message.

"Left left right down left."

I scratch my head, and remember that Vincent auto-updated my map, which I bring out a second later.

Thank you, you idiotic yet brilliant mastermind. He had mapped out my entire map, the son of a bitch. How he did it, I couldn't answer. Hell, he even took the time to mark all the kills he made, plus the type of material encountered, noting the supply count, and much, much more.

This guy had to be a tactical wonderkid or something. He was twenty steps ahead of my own thought process. And to think we're on the same team? How could anybody keep up to his handling speed while maintaining a low profile?!

I brushed off the dirt from my suit, and continued on the path Vincent layed out for me.

Left, left, right, then down, then a final left.

Soon, we'd wrap stuff up in here. Guess the first half was over... Couldn't get any worse, right?

---

The darkness of the underground slowly crept back into the hallway. The lights were more seperated as I closed in the core of this safehouse. Security measure, had to be. Designed this way so only the actual members of the Darkwing would know exactly which route to choose. Fuck that shit, I had Vincent on my side. He knew this place inside-out in a few minutes time.

I headed onwards, slithering through the halls, planting bomb after bomb on my way. This time around, I didn't focus all too much on the exact placement. I was more focused on planting as many as I could. This whole place had to go down in fifteen minutes, leaving no trace and no room for the cartel's wicked operations.

I materialize another Iron Star, rip out the safety pin with my teeth and press the activation button as I carefully toss it near a beam. The bomb sticks into the ground easily.

"Here we go..." I mutter as I slam the stock of the VMAR into my shoulder, and brace myself against the wall. A crossroad was up ahead.

'Left left right down left'. I had to follow Vincent's route in that exact order.

I crept around the corner of the crossroad, and peered into the deep dark beyond. I glare down the sights of my VMAR, trigger finger at the ready.

No sound. No movement.

Then, I feel this warm substance roll down my cheek. Felt like the damn mushroom all over again.

"Yuck, stupid muckus..." I grumble as I wipe off the substance. Guess I didn't clean myself up enough. Then again, who cares about looks in this place.

"Strange..." I say to myself as I try to hold up the fluid in the light of my UIP. Barely reflected anything in here. I growl lowly, and with a sigh I increase the light emmitance of my UIP.

Red. Sticky...

Wait a minute.

My hand shoots for the hood of my ghillie suit. Must've dripped down from my hood.

As I thought, covered with the same fluid.

My voice trembles as I turn my gaze up above. A meter above me, dangling from the ceiling, hung a body of one of the Darkwing mercenaries. Uggly fellow. His entire visage was covered in blood. Now I know what dripped onto me...

"Ewwwww." I immediatly leap away, into the corrider to my left, careful not to stray from my route. I felt my stomach turn upside down.

Sure, I'm a sniper. Killing people in this game is what I do for a living. I've seen players rip apart, be crippled, torn to shreds, be set aflame, you name it. But never, ever, have I been disgusted more by a corpse than this sorry fellow.

I hold up my UIP, and take a closer look. His neck had been carved open, the cut slicing up to his chest. His shirt was torn in half, and bloodstained. The blood itself must have gushed down on him as he hung up there. What a horrible way to die. Atleast a 50. cal bullet would get you to sleep in a millisecond or something.

No one needs to go this way. Not like this.

Jezus Vincent, you must've had issues when you were a child. I was suddenly deeply concerned for my own life. This guy was a fucking type A killing machine programmed for stealth take outs, like a camouflaged superpredator.

I step away, mouth still wide open, and force my eyes off of the dangling corpse. I shook my head. Had to keep moving. Couldn't waste anymore time.

My pace picks up as I now drop the charade and go full sprint mode. Vincent had clearly taken care of any opposition on the way, save for a few stragglers who evaded him by chance.

I hear it again. That slicing noise. Fuck, that sick bastard must've cut open another guard or something.

I take my right, and find myself leaping down a flight of stairs.

My eyes trace the floor quickly. Blood. More and more blood.

Holy fucking crap.

I fly down the stairs, and come to a grinding halt. A few more meters, and I would've fallen to my death.

Before me, a gigantic cavern lapsed out for miles and miles. This place was huge. Stalactites hung from the cavern's roof, extending down in the air. Droplets of water dripped down from them, yet no sound was heard as they plumitted into the unknown.

I take a step back, and repeat Vincent's instructions.

'Left, left, right, down, then left.'

Easy peasy.

I leave the right-hand corridor behind me as I dash into the left corridor. For good measures, I toss two Iron Stars behind me as I enter the hall.

The walls turned from earth and roots to steel plating, same for the floor. I finally saw light again. Thank fuck for that, don't know how much longer I could've held out in the shadows. My ghillie suit automatically adapts to the new enviroment, and colours to a grey, urban tone, almost like thousands of grey-coloured cubes patterned across the fabric.

The corridor widens, and turns into a hall. At the end, I see a reinforced slidedoor. The plating had to be a few inches think, blast resistance and all.

I puff out my breath, and compose myself. A few minutes to go, Vincent had to be waiting for me inside or something.

I feel my UIP buzz, but I choose to ignore it this time. Probably Vincent asking where the hell I'm at.

I take one step forward, before my eye catches a glance in the depths of the hall.

A flash, just a tiny one.

Fuck, that's a scope.

I leap away, and take aim with my VMAR. I hear the first shot fired at me whirl past me, missing my head by a few inches. I return fire immediatly, not properly aiming, but only to supress my target till I have a clear vision on him.

The hall was filled with a few support beams, acting as pillars, and apart from the pillars a few boxes lay scattered through the hall. No wonder the bastard chose to hole up here. How did Vincent get past here in the first place?

I end my mad dash by sliding to the nearest pillar, and change my mags. The guy had shot about five times, and all five times the bullets narrowly missed me. He was good, damn good. I was lucky I had a good reflex.

I feel my UIP buzz again, I don't react again. Fuck, Vincent?! Understand it for God's sake, talking while being fired at isn't the best combo!

I adjust my scope in a split second, and lock my VMAR, before coming out of cover. Within a millisecond my sights are locked on my target. I could only see the tip of his outfit, plus his ankle popped out. I fire two shots, before I come to a halt. The painful cry said enough for me.

I lower my VMAR as I slowly walk over to my kill. He was crying his lungs out as he lay on the floor, smacking his fist into the boxes he used as cover.

I don't say a word as I stand over him. I swipe away my silver hair so I can take a proper look at him.

He bore an AWM-styled rifle, but it seems this guy made some necessary adjustments. Not my personal taste or preference, but it apparently suited him. He had a nice little SMG attached to his belt too. The cuffs of his jacket looked pumped up, he might've concealed something in his sleeves.

"F-FF-Fuck you... F-..." He spat out as he reached for his rifle first. He couldn't reach it, so his hand shot for his SMG. I step over him swiftly, and disarm his from his weaponry as I lock him down. The good old arm behind his back. He was done for.

I toss away the guns, and proceed towards the door. I can hear him squirm and writhe in agony behind me, but there was nothing he could do.

Atleast, I thought so.

A piercing pain shoots through my calf as I feel a bullet penetrate through my flesh and bone. With a loud cry, I fall to the floor. I look behind me, glaring at the sniper I left for dead.

His sleeve was rolled up. Somekind of concealed gun was bound to his wrist. Fucking hell, I should've double-checked his arms, I knew it looked odd.

He passes out a few seconds later as I crawl towards the slide door. My UIP buzzes again, and this time I pick up, no other option left.

"Laura!"

"Vinny!" I cry out, moaning painfully. "Get over here, fuck-! I'm hit!"

It takes a few seconds before I hear footsteps near the slide door.

I pick up my UIP. "It's locked on my side, you need to open it from your side!"

I groan painfully. "How the fuck is a safehouse locked from the inside?!"

"I don't know, someone messed with the coding! Here, fill this in; It'll unlock the systems!"

"Got it!"

I force myself upright on my left leg. I practically slam in the code into the door's systen pad, and moments later it slides open. Vincent comes running at me, and he grabs my waist, forcing my arm around his neck as he carries me inside.

"Argh!" I moan as he seats me on a table.

"Okay, minute on the clock." He says as he opens his inventory. He applies emergency care to me, adding more and more suppresive medicine into my body as he continues to rattle on about his findings. "Found nothing of use, no ISD. They moved it, but seeing as I was on a clock I couldn't crack their system just yet. I could pinpoint their files though, so I hardwired the crap out of their shit and forcefully transferred the still secured files onto my database."

He removes his weaponry, the Tresspasser evaporating into thin air as he stores it away. I do the same, just before he lifts me up and supports me on the way out.

"Chuck out your last explosives, then we're set to go." He snarls as he chucks out his last few bombs too. I nod, and activate the last few Iron Stars I posses.

We rush to the corner of the room, where an emergency exit stair spiralled up through the ground. Vincent moves me upfront, and pushes me up first, making sure I don't fall as we move out.

A few minutes later, we hit the surface. The cap that closed the stairs lied in an outhouse basement. Vincent swept past me as he checked the perimeter.

"Abandoned." He mumbles as I seat myself. "I'll call the Skyfire, sit tight."

It took the Skyfire a mere few minutes to sweep over here. We boarded, and while the medics tended to my leg, Vincent held the remote-detonating system in his hands. I could faintly hear him copy the commands from Cromnik, and a few seconds later I heard a deafening blast echo throughout Eden.

Darkwing Syndicate's days had been numbered.

Now to close this fucked up lead once and for all.

Chapter 7

My vision blurred, and suddenly turned into coloured rays, in every colour possible. Soon, the light became too harsh for me to look, so I closed my eyes, only to open them seconds later.

I felt... heavy. And restricted.

I was looking at the ceiling. The gray, sad, same-old ceiling.

"Stay there, Captain Schwarzerfeld. We're almost done with your medical attention."

I nodded vaguely, not even knowing who or what said that. I tried to lift my head to locate where the fuck I was. I was... well, not naked. But it felt that way. My uniform was removed, forcefully, and I was wearing a white tanktop and sweatpants. Not my favorite clothing, but oh well. The room was dimly lit with shades of blue and green, reflecting against the walls onto my bare skin.

I lifted my right arm, and took a good look. Multiple tubes were stuck into it. I felt slightly disgusted. Never liked hospitals, or modern medicine. In the real world, I hated hospitals. Well, hated is a strong word for it. Anyway, I didn't like 'em. End of story. I never get injured, so I never have to go.

Okay, that's a lie too. I do get injured from time to time. Remember when I fell from the stairs? Not the first time, oh no. And the times prior to this one were... very, very painful. Trial and Error is kinda my thing. It's how I got this good at sniping.

About sniping... I guess you're wondering how I got this good. I'm not saying I'm the best. Never will. God, that would be awful. Many do regard me as the best. Hence the giant inbox of mail every week. But in truth, the guys of Hotel Novermber all were better than me. They were specialised, and maxed out to their full potential. Whether it was natural talent, a fitting character trait or just something you did in real life before gaming, they all were good, to the point where jealousy makes you sick to the bone.

And then there's me. I've played this game so much, it's insane. I started out like the average player, really. Testing out what I wanted to become, looking for contracts, scouring the world looking for adventure or skirmishes. I always knew I wanted to snipe. Sniper rifles just had this crazy allure to me. Moreso than other steriotype guns and their roles in the game.

You roll with shotguns? Not my thing, hate getting up close. LMG's? I like the powerhouse kick it has, but no way I could cary such a badboy around 24/7. Assault rifle? Too boring, too standard. Pistols? Hah, you're joking right?

No, I knew it in my heart. A sniper was always what I wanted.

I liked being miles away from the action, but still having an important role. One shot could change the battlefield entirely, if placed correctly. Sure, my rifle was heavy, but I didn't have to shoot the damn thing continuously like an LMG.

Anyway, back to how I started.

I was surprised I was a Hybrid. Honestly, I still love the fact that I am. Especially a Demon Hybrid. Shame I never visit Hell that often. Kick-ass place. Anyway, I spent my days on Eden, mingling with the playerbase. The Human Faction always thought I was one of them. My identity as Hybrid was concealed most of the time, unless my contractors asked for it. Never stood in my way though. As soon as I got a respectable reputation, nobody gave a crap about that. Fuck, even some Angels hired me once, strange as that may be. It was all about the missions, the gold and the sniping for me. I really didn't care about factions, or the supposed 'war'.

"All done, Captain." The voice sounded again. I felt the tubes slide away from me, popping out of my flesh which sealed up moments later.

I tried to roll off the operation bed. My calf wasn't hurting anymore, but my legs felt oddly light, almost sleeping. My head was hurting, probably some drug I had while I was being treated.

"Lieutenant-General Cromnik is waiting for you, miss."

"Thanks..." I grumble as I slide over to the slidedoor. Before I exit the room, an electronic closet door opens up for me in the wall, presenting me with my uniform, washed and clean and all.

I quickly change into my uniform, and head out, leaving the medical centre behind me.

It took me a minute or two to make my way to Cromnik's office, though when I tried to enter, I was held up by Ridley. He popped out of fucking nowhere.

"Whoa, what?" I snapped at him as he pulled me aside. "What's your deal, Scordato?"

"Laura-" He started, though I sniffed loudly.

"Schwarzerfeld, damnit. Get it right." I grumbled as Ridley shook his head. "You know I don't like my name being-"

"Yeah, yeah." Ridley scoffed as he rolled his eyes. "Nyeh, not important. Are you going to talk with Cromnik?"

"Of course I am, why would I be here otherwise?" I snorted, folding my arms.

"Can we, like... talk first?" He asked.

I raised my eyebrow, but nodded in the end. "Sure we can."

We walked away from Cromnik's office. I could swear when I turned my head around to look at his office that I spotted a sillhouette in the window. I thought for a second that he might've seen me leave on purpose.

We settled for our own appartment. I crashed on the couch while Ridley quickly grabbed two sodas from the fridge.

"Okay..." He sighed as he sat down on the couch opposite of mine. "Vincent's busy with his own matters. He was kinda distorted once he returned. I mean, I would be too, knowing you were shot down there..."

I hummed. "He cares for the team. We don't see it immediatly, since he's kinda shy and quiet, but deep down that guy is something entirely different."

"Yeah." Ridley sipped his drink. "I think all of us would be as distorted as Vincent when once of our own got shot."

I shifted uncomfortably. I wasn't sure I was, weird enough. I mean, I'm human, I have a heart. I care for stuff. But I don't panic that easily. I've seen countless players die, I know the system revives them later. I saw everything in a different daylight.

I shook my uneasyness off, and quickly nodded at Ridley.

"Anyway, the mission was a succes. You should've heard Jäger when he heard you guys made it out. He was toasting drinks one after another." Ridley chuckled faintly.

"Sure he did." I said, placing my feet on the table. "Where is he anyways?"

"He's out of town." Ridley said, putting down his drink. "Preparing for the next mission. Cromnik hinted to him that you'll be paired with him."

"I am?" I frowned. That would be... interesting, least to say.

"You seen what the guy can do with a gun?"

"Sure have. Remember the day of the meeting?"

"Yeah."

"Then you must've heard the echoes of Surkov..." I sighed, as Ridley laughed at me.

"Sure did." He grinned at me. "He showed me Surkov while you were off with Vincent."

"Did he now?" I leaned forward. "He didn't ask you to shoot it, did he?"

"Even though I'm tempted as Hell to shoot it, I didn't." Ridley said. "That thing would rip any of us apart. I wonder why the bastard's still able to shoot a gun."

We both chuckled at the thought.

"So..." Ridley leaned forward too, staring at me expectantly. "Cromnik... I know you've sat down with him before. Now, trust me on this one. I've learned a thing or two aswell. You weren't the only one with questions."

"We're on the same page it seems." I nodded at Ridley.

"So what did you bring up with him, the day after we came back?" Ridley asked with a hushed voice.

"I wanted more information." I puffed. "I feel like Cromnik's withholding stuff from us. Like he's playing us like a puppeteer."

"I got the same vibe." Ridley groaned. "But specifically, what did you bring up?"

"Why we had to take out Nathaniel, why we had to retrieve this random ISD... I even brought up my own arguments." I explained. "The factory that I searched left no trace for me to pick up on, and that's hard to accomplish." I grumbled as I crossed my legs, slightly annoyed at the thought.

"Well, here's where it gets interesting..." Ridley suddenly grinned, and leaned back in his couch, his arms resting horizontally ontop of it. "Remember when I took out the truck, and forced the guards my direction?"

"Ah, yeah..." I crack a faint smile. I remembered that. Proved to me just how brilliant Ridley was with his Velociten. "You were amazing that day. Truly. I was impressed."

"Well, I wasn't in the clear yet from that point onwards." He said. "I had to face some... complications..."

"What kind of complications?"

"Well... I had to cut down a few guards on the way out. Had to switch Velociten for my other gear, otherwise I would've been pane tostato." He replied. "Swapped Velociten out for my Dragon Mk. 2 and a few Bayonets. Remembered Vincent's advice on stealth, so I sneaked up on all my targets. Few moments later and all that was left was a smoking barrel, a blood-stained bayonet and a few corpses."

"Your point?" I asked, still confused as to where he was taking this all."

"Well, I instictively checked the bodies for loot etc." Ridley smiled. "One of them had something useful on them. Managed to pinpoint a location in Eden on the guy."

I rushed up from the couch. "Wait! We can cut out Cromnik with this!"

"Exactly." Ridley laughed as he downed his drink. "If Cromnik's not giving us the full picture, we'll have to get down and dirty ourselves!"

I felt so relieved all the sudden. I really wasn't up for another frustrating stake-out with Cromnik. This was our ticket to answers. No more shennanigans.

"Okay, let's hold this thought." I finally concluded, once we both settled down from our little spur of hype. "We'll call Jäger and Vincent in on this. We need to stick together and work in secrecy on this."

"Right..." Ridley nodded hastly. "Cromnik can't know a single thing. We need to leave him in the dark, and keep him under the impression that we are still clueless."

We grinned at eachother, and moved to the kitchen to grab a drink from the fridge again. This time, something more celebrative, something stronger. Jäger had enough stashed, so we took something we thought looked fancy.

"Let's do this, together."

"Hmn!"

---

Harth. We moved to Harth two days after Ridley and I secretly discussed our plans to get to the bottom of this all. To unravel the mystery of Cromnik, and what really was going down.

I didn't visit Cromnik that day, when I talked with Ridley. I was too bothered to go. Of course, the next day he was all over me, being angry and all. I just played my part, and kept up the acting. I think he was genuinely under the impression I was still in the dark about everything he had told me.

Good thing that we kept it that way.

Anyway, it was getting late in the evening. We left base, with Cromnik's consent. Jäger gave quite the impressive speech about how we were gonna build a 'proper team spirit' through drinking. I swear, if anybody could convince someone that getting hammered together was a teambuilding exercise, it was Jäger.

So, Ridley's lead. It lead us to Harth. More specifically, it lead us into this small outskirt town. Shady little place. Cozy, but shady. Nyeh, it was weird, let's put it that way.

We were all wearing more part-time clothing. Not that we packed our gear, we definitely did, in case we got into a serious mess, or a pickle or something.

"You look nice!" Jäger chuckled loudly. He was walking behind me, wearing his brown overcoat and a white undershirt, and some sturdy boots. God, he didn't even care to brush his hair or something. Atleast Vincent took care of his looks, though he wasn't into the 'smart' look- Scrap that, the 'casual' look. He even wore military stuff in his casual life. Military jacket, for real? It looked darn good in my opinion, but still, not something I'd wear when I'd go out.

"Shut up." I snarled back at him, as I turned my head away. Ridley, walking next to me, only grinned as we walked down the pavement in town. He looked pretty good, with a flashy white and black hooded jacket and neat gray pants. Was he really the only guy who had some taste or something?

As for myself... I felt....

Argh. Terrible.

Look, I'm someone who usually wears what she feels comfortable in. Sweatpants, baggy oversized checked shirts, you name it. I take care of my hair and my make-up and whatnot, not too overly concerned though. I'm not that girlish. Of course, I like to look good, but I'm not into the super duper, nail-polished, manicure girls. That's a level too far.

But... tonight... urgh.

I looked down at my dress. It reached my knees, I was even wearing high heels. Atleast the colour was right for me, I liked blue. But I felt so weird. I never wore a damn dress.

"I'm never doing this again." I sighed painfully.

"Well, you shouldn't have lost the bet to Jäger..." Ridley replied. "You should've known better."

"How was I supposed to know I would lose that game of chance?" I huffed. "I almost won that card game. One more Queen of Spades and I would've completely wrecked him."

"Well, you didn't draw it, so you lost. And now you'll have to wear a dress." Ridley chuckled.

"Here, take this, you'll need it." Jäger suddenly sped up to me, his overcoat in his hands. It smelled like alcohol already, and we weren't even at the bar yet.

"Ehr... Nooo... thanks, Jäger, but no." I shook my head, shivering in the cold.

"Will you take mine otherwise?" Ridley whispered in my ear while Jäger shrugged and fell back to Vincent.

"Ehr... Well..." I hesitated. I didn't want to be dependant. I took care of myself, not them.

Before I could object, Ridley had already thrown his coat around my shoulders. God, it felt amazing. I felt warm instantly. I didn't show it of course. I just kept a straight face, and nodded at him.

"Why can Scordato hand his coat to you, but not me?!" Jäger blurted out.

"I didn't hand it, I threw it over her." Ridley laughed as he poked Jäger. Honestly, if you compared the two next to eachother, it would look like a cat poking a bear. Jäger huffed, and grabbed Ridley tightly, ruffling his hair with his knuckles.

"You sneaky svoloch!" He laughed as Ridley tried to escape his bearhug.

"Just being a good guy here, ok?" He chuckled as he finally escaped his humongous clawlike hands.

I sniffed, and walked on. On the way to the bar, I could hear a few whistles across the street, likely from some pathetic loser trying to be funny. God, that was annoying. Didn't make me feel much better, but most of those pathetic guys suddenly shut the fuck up once Jäger moved in beside me. Made me feel a little better.

We finally found the bar we were looking for. The intel we gathered on our suspect showed that he frequented this place often enough. We had a good, sturdy 90% chance of catching him here, as our statistics showed. Had to give credits to Vincent. How in fuck's name did he accomplish this stuff... God knows.

I pushed open the door, immediatly being met with a huge cloud of smoke mixed with all kinds of shades of alcohol. Typical stuff. I hurried inside, and took a seat near the bar. Jäger smoothly took up a chair next to me while Ridley and Vincent moved deeper into the place, checking out the extension of the bar. We split up the bar in two, they would cover the back end of the place while we'd keep an eye on the door.

"Usual for me." Jäger grinned as he ordered up. The barman simply nodded, and grabbed a bottle or two and started pouring in various glasses.

"As for me..." I looked at Jäger rather dull. "Do I have to?"

"Da!" Jäger rumbled, slapping his hand on his knee. "A bet's a bet! Let's get this going!"

"Urgh." I facepalmed for a moment, then faced the barman. "One scotch, no ice."

"Comin' up lass." He smiled as he delved into his collection of bottles. A minute later he slided the drinks across the bar, stopping pitch perfect infront of us.

"Why am I not surprised the owner of the place knows you..." I sighed as I swirled around my whisky.

"Loads of pubs know me." He chuckled as he rested his arms on the counter. He threw back his first glass easily, but took it down a notch with the second one. He was more in for talking I guess. My eyes shot to the entrance everytime I heard the croaking of the door.

"So... You're from Germany right?" He asked. Simple questions, huh. I wasn't as bad as Vincent, but still... I didn't like small talk all too much. I preferred to keep it nice and short.

"Mhm." I hummed. "What about it?"

Jäger grinned. "You're lying. You're not from Germany."

"Oh, sure. Prove it." I mocked him.

"I can't, but I have a hunch." He grinned as he took a swig of his drink. Wow, that stuff smelled bad. And I mean real bad. I could almost taste his drink, that's how much it reeked.

"Too bad for you." I rolled my eyes and took a small sip of my whisky. Grah, strong stuff. I'd have to limit myself. One scotch was fine for me, but too many and I'd be out for the night. And to think we might have to get messy with our suspect if things didn't work out in our favour.

"You know, we never really talk back at HQ." Jäger mentioned. "You spend more time with Ridley than with either me or Vincent."

"So?"

"We hardly know you."

"Is that a bad thing?"

"Well, what if I did want to know you?" Jäger shrugged, looking at me. His squarish jaws grinded atop of eachother, something must've been bothering him.

"I... I never felt compelled to really get into deep conversations with anyone at Renskr, mind you." I shrugged in turn. "Not even Ridley."

"Why not?" He asked.

"I just didn't. I'm just that type of girl."

"Gotta loosen up!" Jäger chuckled as he grabbed his third drink.

"You don't know what's good for me; You hardly know me." I said calmly as I stared at him.

"We're much alike, even if you deny it." He replied.

"We're not."

"Are so." He said. "I don't get it. You distance yourself so much from other people... Why?"

"I already told you why."

"Well you're not telling me everything." He insisted on getting answers. "Don't give me that govno, devushka." He grumbled at me. "C'mon, nothing's wrong with sharing some stuff. I can tell you 'bout myself if you want."

"Well, let's roll with that then." I sighed. I didn't get it. Why was he acting all strange all the sudden?

"What do you want to know?" He straightened his back, and reared himself to me. "Background? Interests?"

"Let's start with background I guess."

We sat there for a good twenty minutes or so, in which he kinda shared his life story. About his life in northern Russia, his experiences in the harsh winter, his life before Hotel November, etc. etc... It felt kinda alright, I guess. I never felt comfortable around Jäger. He wasn't really the type of guy I would hang out with. Then again, my choice of people to hang out with was pretty darn limited anyways. But this version of him... It was nice. Not the drunk, freeloading Russian beast of a man I always viewed him.

I didn't have to scold him for his rude ways, or his habits. I didn't have to feel like I was raising some impolite, witless wonder. He actually seemed like a nice guy. A colleague, nonetheless.

Maybe it was a good thing I got to know him.

"So... Your turn, I take it?" He laughed as he signalled for another drink. "You need one too?"

"No thanks." I muttered, still swirling around my whisky. "I dunno. I'm not the friendly girl who shares her troubles. I keep my shit to myself mostly."

"You're so uptight!" He bouldered cheerily. "Laura, Laura... You should relax! I'm not the average nosy guy, trust me."

I shook my head. "How hard is it to understand that I'm not the type of girl you think I am? I get it, you're okay and all. That's fine. The thing is: I'm not."

"Can't you change it?" Jäger asked. He actually used a different, more quiet and honest tone in his voice. Sincere almost.

"Why?"

"You'd be... well..." He rubbed his jaw, feeling the texture of his stubbles on his jawline. "I'd say you'd make quite the girl."

"Too bad for the guys who think they'd have a chance then." I shrugged, downing the remainder of my glass.

We both stayed quiet for a moment. That golden, awkward silence. Well, not entirely awkward. It felt out of place almost.

"Look, Dimitri..." I finally say as he runs his hand through his hair. "Don't get me wrong, okay? This... all of this, is just work for me. You three guys are all fun and nice and stuff, but I don't do that. I don't do friends. You three are just colleagues, or as you'd put it 'drinking buddies'."

Jäger grumbled for a second, following it up with a toothy grin. "Doesn't fool me, Laura. you'll have to try better!"

I rolled my eyes as he chuckled and ordered up.

As I sighed deeply, and ordered a softer drink, I couldn't help but wonder. I took a good look at him as he chatted up the barman happily, toasting in random russian slang. I felt... different. Different then how I would feel around him before. Was it because he actually tried to know me better? He actually cared for me?

Naah, it couldn't be. I shrugged at myself as I stared off into the distance. I didn't know how he felt for me, I had no clue how I felt about him. One thing was sure, the whole image of drunken numnuts had almost completely vanished. I finally saw this... other side to him.

But I was scared, though. I don't know why I cared all the sudden, but I felt bad. Real bad. I looked back at him, staring into his brown eyes. If he actually felt that way - and I am purely taking guesses here - and he actually were to try to prove himself...

I don't know if there would be pieces left of him.

I stared into my glass, my mind went blank for a sec.

That's when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

I turn to see who it is. I'd let Jäger chat with the barman a bit longer I guess.

"Remember me?" I heard a manly voice sound as I turned around.

Staring me down was a tall guy, parted brown hair, with a red shirt, gray pants and thick boots reaching up his shins. He was throwing me this crooked, almost wicked grin, his eyebrows furrowed as he stared at me.

"Sorry, do I know you?"

"Oh, you do." He shook his head. "Name's Lawton. Philip Lawton..."

I raised my eyebrow. He tried to stick out his hand, expecting I'd shake it. I didn't.

"Bollocks, you're rude." He laughed as he leaned against the bar. "But I guess for a lady who was good enough to take a skilled opponent such as myself out cannot be tarnished in any way. Still, regretable that you opted not to return the curteosy."

"Suuuuure." I frowned. "What do you want, Lawton."

"Please, call me Philip."

"I'd rather not."

"Suit yourself." He smiled. "I'll have what the lady's having, good sir."

The barman quickly flicked up a glass, poured in the liquor and shove it down the counter towards Lawton, who grasped it eagerly with his left hand.

"Sorry, I hardly know you." I said plainly.

"Oh, but we do know eachother quite well." Lawton curled the corners of his mouth. "It was a pleasant battle to behold, even though I lost."

"...You're making, like... zero percent sense." I fold my arms.

He chuckled, and leaned in close.

"How's that calf doing, Captain?" He smirked.

I immediatly jumped up, much to Jäger's surprise.

"Who the fuck are you?" I snarled.

Lawton simply laughed. The bar fell quiet as Lawton finished his drink, and stepped down from his chair, flipping a coin or two towards the barman. "For your trouble, good sir." He added.

"You know this suka, Laura?" Jäger stepped towards Laura, smiling broadly as he took a good look at Lawton.

"Ah, Laura." He licked his lips and he rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. "How delighted I am to learn the name of the foe who managed to take me down. Never have I met such adversity, such tenacity, such perfection."

"Fuck off, you've got no business with me." I snarl as I step back once more.

"Oh, but I do." Lawton laughed again. "See, my lady, you robbed me of the biggest payment yet in my carreer. The Cartel would've payed me a lifetime of supplies if I were to hold the line. But no, you had to rob my good fortune, didn't you?"

"Oh, sorry, I was running my own errands." I said. "Now, are we done here?"

"Far from it." He snickered.

In a split second, the wristcannon he used on me materialized, with ammo and all, below his left hand. He must've hid it from sight with a Soulcraft spell. Nifty trick, gotta hand it to him. I was already preparing to dash forward, on high heels nonetheless, and take him out.

No need it seemed.

Before he could even properly raise his arm, Jäger had him locked in possision, still grinning.

"My friend, my tovarich..." He chided Lawton as he dragged him to the wall. "You weren't planning on firing that, were you?"

"Let go of me, you filfthy pig!" Lawton growled as he tried to fire at Jäger's head from his locked position. The bullet missed Jäger's head. He hardly flinched, he just laughed and pinned him against the wall.

"Scordato. Hand me that lovely knife of yours for a second..." He chuckled, with a dark tone in his voice, as Scordato flicked a Bayonette his way.

"You know what we do with a suka like you?" Jäger chuckled as he played with the knife in one hand. "Ever heard of the saying, an eye for an eye?"

"What about it?" Lawton snarled.

Jäger laughed. "I never believed that. I believe in taking an eye before your opponent takes yours... Here, let me demonstrate comrade..."

Even with my extensive history killing people, seeing bodies obliterated, shredded to pieces... I couldn't bear to watch this. This Lawton might've tried to take his revenge, which he might or might not have deserved, but this... This was too much.

I stormed off, Vincent dashing after me while Ridley stood behind Jäger, witnessing the horrible spectacle.

All I heard was Jäger cackling happily paired with the most terrifying, awful scream I have heard in my entire time in EWO.

I just covered my ears, and sat myself down on the pavement.

God, how could Jäger do that?!

---

I was quivering in the street. For one, I felt cold. Secondly, I could still hear the rasping, crunching sound of a Bayonette being planted inside Lawton's skull.

God, this whisky didn't help one bit.

I heard the bardoor slam open, and amidst the loud commotion of the pub I could hear the agonizing moans of Lawton.

I couldn't help but take a peek at him.

He was bleeding, rapidly. Seems like he snatched a rag from behind the counter and placed it against his now pierced eyesocket. His other eye was bright and pale, though if I had stood closer I might've seen the deep scarlet veins pump violently within that crazed look of his. He was stumbling, and one hand was using the wall to keep him standing.

I wanted to say something, but I knew I didn't have to. He tried to shoot me earlier.

I didn't know how to feel.

Ridley came out of the bar, and saw me standing there, in the middle of the street, dislocated.

"Laura!" He said as he did a step towards me. I instictively stepped back.

Ridley sighed deeply, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Look, I didn't expect... 'this'."

"I'll get to this lead myself, thank you." I said coldly, almost no emotion in my voice. I turned stone cold inside, my entire being just froze up. All this time I spent with Ridley- No, all this time I spent with Novemer Company- No, even more recently! All this time I spent with Jäger, Vincent, Ridley, in this very bar. Our very partnership... It was all gone in this moment.

I didn't give two craps about these guys anymore. They could all burn in hell. I know I was considered a killing machine with my sniper, but I only did what the mission asked of me.

This... this was just a vulgar display of sadistic fury. There was zero point to this whole move Jäger pulled.

"No, Laura- Urgh, damnit." Ridley shook his head. "We'll talk this over once we get back. Let's complete the mission together."

I shook my head, and swiped up my menu. I had all the intel I needed on this guy we were tracking. I quickly selected my uniform, the clothing materializing over my dress and shoes. I felt Valkyrie fall into its holster on my back.

Then, I saw him. He stepped outside, his pants and shirt covered in blood, not even speaking about his hands. A few splatters of blood rested on his face, dripping from his jaw. He was grinning. That fucking grin. How in fuck's name can you grin after you maim a guy like that.

His facial expression suddenly changed instantaneously once he saw me, in my uniform with Valkyrie on my back. He tried to clean himself up briefly. The grin disappeared as he walked over to me.

"Don't. Come. Any. Closer." I hissed between my teeth.

"Laura, please-" Jäger tried to calm me down, throwing a half-baked shrug at me. "The svoloch had it coming. There was nothing I could do!"

"Monster..." I said. "How can you possibly claim what you did was necessary..."

Jäger rubbed his neck, and cleared his throat. "Look, come on... I only did it to protect the group."

"Sure you did."

"He was going to shoot you. Are you blind?!" Jäger said, raising his voice now.

"I could've handled it just fine!" I snarled back at him. He tried to step towards me again, that's when I snapped. I didn't want him anywhere near me. Everything about him reminded me of what he just did. His stench, his looks, his heavy breathing, the way his boots scrapped along the ground...

'Click'.

"Laura..." He said slowly. "Put. The gun. Down."

I was walking away. Valkyrie was in my hands, my crosshairs matched the spot between his brows.

Once I felt like I was far enough from both Jäger as Ridley, I suddenly kicked into high gear. Whilst I threw Valkyrie away, after deselecting it into my inventory, I gathered my strength and activated my Soulcraft, Shadow Burst. Blazing through the darkness of the town, I headed off to my coördinates. I could hear Jäger roaring at me as I disappeared into the dark night, paired with some cursing of Ridley.

After a moment, I couldn't hear them anymore, their voices falling silent beneath the rushing winds swirling past me.

I gathered some more strength, and leapt up into the air, using the wall to get up onto a roof.

I witnessed a flash in the corner of my eye.

Ridley was trailing me, flashing with pure white light as he surged over the rooftops.

"Fuck."

I groan as I brace myself, boosting myself forward through the air, across the street. Safe to say, I could sense Ridley doing the same. I ignored it still, and leapt down, torpedoing myself down towards the street. My boots barely touched the surface before I surged forward.

The world flashed before my eyes. I was starting to feel the drain in power inside my body. Gotta suck it all up, and keep my head straight.

I look over my shoulder, for just a second. Ridley was gaining on me.

Did I really have to resort to -that-?

No, no... I couldn't. I didn't want to be around them right now, but I couldn't bring myself to such a status in which I'd be a loose cannon. I wouldn't have control of what I'd be doing.

"Shit shit shit." I curse loudly as I hear the deafening blast of Ridley accelerating towards me. We both zigzag through the streets, sometimes using our urban surroundings to try and gain on one another or to create more distance. He was excellent at following me, he wasn't letting me go.

I check my map. Not long till I reach my destination. Vincent wouldn't be there, nor would Jäger. Ridley would though. If I didn't act fast, that is.

I clench my fists as I materialize my blindfold. Closing my eyes, my fingers select an item from my inventory.

A moment of silence fell over me. I cleared my mind, and focussed. I couldn't mess this up.

In my hands, two oddly shaped warglaives form, made up out of a buckler and two curved, two-bladed shortswords. They were burning bright red, with pure, unbridled hellfire. I let my feet grind against the stone as the shadows around me retract. I spin around, unleashing the warglaives in a circular motion, creating a massive wall of fire that split the street, and the two houses into two. I jump up into the air using Shadow Burst to launch me up high.

I can see him glance up at me. He wasn't holding anything, no weapon at all. He was wearing his uniform though, just like me. He was blazing with light, the palms of his hands shining with globes of a yellowish glow.

I reared myself, leaning forward, and burst towards the ground, through the fire. He had lost all his speed, but he would easily get around the fire and join up. I had to do it. I had to take him down so I could finish this myself.

But at the last second, the moment I crashed into the floor infront of him... I couldn't do it.

For the first time in my life, I couldn't strike down my enemy.

Maybe... I didn't know...

We just stared at eachother, struck with fear and surprise, not able to move an inch. Both our bodies were trembling, we pushed ourselves to our limit in this wild chase. My hands released the warglaives, which fell clattering onto the ground and evaporated into thick, black smoke moments later. The fire behind me, the one I caused, had lit the houses, and was burning brightly, though it would be over soon.

I couldn't strike at Rildey.

"Laura..." He says wearily as he steps towards me.

"Don't touch me!" I yell as I try to get away.

He tries to grab my wrist, and he succeeds. I know I can't get away now, I'd have to take him down by force. I step towards him swiftly, drawing the arm over my shoulder as I gut him with my right fist. I step back, and turn, trying to jank him over my shoulder and into the ground. He resists, and twists my arm around, leaving me yelping in pain. I turn around, raising my leg as I turn on my axis, sending it towards his head. He blocks it thought, and lets go of my wrist, but in return moves up towards me. Before I know it, both my arms are locked in position against a wall, which we backed into, and he's so up close that I can't move, nor kick him effectively.

Then, he embraces me.

That's the moment where I just break down. Not crying and all that crap, but my entire being just breaks down into a million pieces, shattered beyond recognition. I was completely caught off guard. He was holding me tight, pressing me to his chest, his left hand coiled around my head.

And I just stood there, not saying anything. I was shivering, not because I was cold, but because I didn't get it.

How could he be doing this? I tried to take his life, for fuck's sake.

He let go of me a minute later. Wasn't enough time for me to compose myself, I was still gasping and staring at him in disbelief. "Look," He said, "I get it. I was disgusted too. I wanted to stop Jäger with what he was doing, trust me. But, I also know that he did was to protect the rest of us. I am surprised he took it that far, it's not like him to lose his temper like that."

I couldn't say a single word. Ridley threw me a cheesy chuckle as he shook his head.

"I don't know... He's an odd one. But... He must've felt something really deep and really bad. Something so dark and desperate that he surrendered to his inner rage."

He stepped away from me, and looked around.

"You did a number on these poor houses... Mama mia." He grinned. "Next time, if you try to kill me, or otherwise hurt me, do keep yourself in check."

"...We'll go together." I finally blurted out, after what seemed an eternity of confusion.

I didn't like it. I still felt disgusted from earlier, and I knew I wouldn't be able to look Jäger in the eye for the next week or so, let alone the rest of his life... But it wasn't right of me to judge Ridley like that. I already excluded Vincent, because he came outside with me, but I had felt that Ridley was just as much to blame. But I was wrong.

I couldn't blame him for the feelings that coursed through Jäger in that moment.

"You're not mad at us, are you?" Ridley asked me as he motioned me to follow. He didn't even reply to my statement, he acted as if it was a given that we were gonna go together.

"No..." I said. "Just at Jäger I think..."

"What did you two talk about anyway? In the bar?"

"...He... he told me about his life outside EWO..." I lied. Well, technically, I didn't lie to Ridley. I told part of the truth, because I thought I might've stumbled onto something. Maybe he really did like like me.

Goddamnit Jäger... This was going to complicate things.

Chapter 8

"Okay... Okay... Yeap. Ridley out." Ridley stored away the UIP, and looked at me. "Let's move, not much time."

I nodded, and followed his lead.

We rang Jäger and Vincent, or well Ridley did, and told them we'd clean up this mess and get to the lead. They tried to protest, but once I shot Valkyrie into the air and shouted into the UIP that if they didn't move their butts the next bullet would be between their eyes they quickly complied.

On the other hand, this night didn't hold much in store for us anymore. Jäger ripped out someone's eye in public, and I set a street on fire. Plus to think two top notch military snipers charged through the city at high velocity, two blobs of black and yellow, would go unnoticed?

We were spotted and out in the open, alright.

Cromnik had called us together not long after that initial meeting. November Company wasn't supposed to be a public media magnet, so to speak. We knew that EWO insiders, for instance reporters working for massive streaming platform companies or the fan-based websites deticated to the latest news and released content, would be attracted to this kind of deal. The four deadliest snipers in the world working for Renskr? That's one hell of a story.

No, November Company was to be a secret in most ways. Nobody but Renskr military had access to us, and nobody but Renskr military knew about us.

Hell, even most of the military didn't know who we were. They've seen us before though, but they always figured we were part of the regular crew and all. A select few inside the military, consisting mostly of Cromnik and his officers, knew of us and our missions.

As for the game, we were to be considered classified.

Yeap. We weren't doing a brilliant job at concealing ourselves this time. Best snipers in the world but the most obvious idiots in all of Eden.

This heralded bad news though. I'm a person who gets paranoid easily. Lets say for instance we'd go to a forest at night, and I would light a bonfire. Sure, the odds are that the forester is asleep at 4 in the morning, but still you have this creeping doubt in the back of your mind that tells you he's coming. And right now, I had an awfully strong feeling Cromnik would get to know of this little mistake of ours, meaning we'd be caught.

No time to think about that though, we had to locate this sucker and interrogate him for information as quickly as possible.

"We're almost there." Ridley said as we slowed our pace.

We had crossed into a heavily urbanised district of the town. All the houses in this district were broken down and seemed to have suffered from corrosion a lot. We walked around for a bit, till we finally found the place we were looking for. The house seemed to have been a loft at some stage, but it had been repaired inconsistantly and poorly, so it resembled little of its former state.

Ridley stepped towards the door, and opened it. Funny to see there wasn't a lock, I expected more from these henchmen.

Safe to say, with that kind of lock, the rest was easy peasy. We sneaked inside, we could hear this guy watching streams in his living room. A few minutes later we had tied him down and we were all enjoying ourselves.

"So... You're... Uhm..." Ridley scratched his head. "Listed as... Barry McLeonid?"

The guy nodded, though he was upset. "Did you -have- to tie me down?"

"Sorry, safe measures." Ridley said. "We'll untie you once we have our answers. And don't worry, we aren't the type to resort to torture... Though... we could-"

"No, no!" The guy quickly cracked a smile, sheepishly, and shook his head. "Look, I don't want any trouble, m-m-mkay? I just want what you guys want."

I cocked my head, and leaned forward. "You sure you worked for Nathaniel?"

Barry looked our way, his eyes widening. "How did you... Wait a minute, I recognise you..."

"Who, me?" I asked.

"No, the guy. He's the one who blew me to shreds!" He yelled. "Do you know how long it took me to get back in shape on this account, huh?!"

"Not the point here." Ridley said calmly. "All we want to know is some details about your former employer, Nathaniel."

"Then why didn't you say so!" He grumbled angrily. "Let's get this over with. That son of a bitch didn't even pay me well enough in the end, so I guess I can slag him off. Is he owing you two money too? We can get at him together you know-"

"What is he doing with the ISD." I interrupt as I jank his head my way.

"ISD?" He laughs. "Girly... You really need to be specific."

"That ISD." I growl.

"Ohw, that one." Barry says. "The one we stole from Renskr. Sure, I know about that one. Nathaniel wants to crack it open. God knows why, he was pretty adamant about retrieving it at the time."

"Has he cracked it open yet?" Ridley asked quickly.

"No... He had no luck with it this far. Of course, this is already like, what, three weeks ago?" Barry pondered for a moment. "But he did say he was close. Real close."

"What does he know about it?" I continue to press.

"He never told any of us..." Barry sighed. "None of us knew, aside from Nathaniel self and his Uppper Echelon of Commanders and other staff members."

"Oh come on..." Ridley rolled his eyes. "You guys must've known something, right?"

"Come to think of it, one of my buds did overhear a conversation once..." Barry suddenly said. "Something about them doing the entire server a service by removing the looming threats, I dunno."

"What threats?"

Barry shrugged. "I really don't know, man. You'll have to go to Nathaniel yourselves for that answer. All we did hear was that we would be fighting for the protection of the realm. Sounds like a bad one-liner, but man Nathaniel is convinced of his cause."

"Give us a moment..." Ridley sighs as he pulls me into the kitchen, leaving Barry in the living room.

"You thinking what I'm thinking?" I ask Ridley.

"Either Nathaniel is bonkers, or he truly is fighting for a righteous cause."

"How do we know which one he really is?"

"I have no clue." Ridley runs his hands through his hair. "I guess it all depends on where you and Jäger will be sent to. If you can get your hands on the ISD, you could get Nathaniel to talk with you two."

I didn't want to work with Jäger just yet, but it seemed that we had no choice as a team. If we were to unravel the truth of matters, we would have to act fast.

"Fine." I grumble beneath my breath. We move back into the living room, Barry was still staring at us.

"You two done with your chit chat?" He grumbled at us.

"One last thing..." Ridley knelt at his chair, looking him straight between the eyes.

"What's that?"

"Where's the ISD being kept?"

Barry grinned.

"A mining facility in Loeganask. It's basically a safehouse- Wait, you're going after that? It'll be your deaths, I tell you."

Ridley smiles, and gets up.

"Don't worry about that, we've got that covered."

---

"You had direct orders, Captain. Don't you EVER dare disregard my direct orders again, or I'll have you stripped of your rank and payment and you'll be back in the gutter!"

Cromnik slammed his door shut, leaving me out in the cold. I sighed deeply, and shoved my hands in my coat's pockets.

To be honest, I didn't give a shit. The only mistake I made was that I thought we had a slim chance of getting away with the mess we made. Of course, Cromnik found out. Probability was too fucking huge I guess. Who wouldn't take notice of a massive hellfire and a stabbing incident in a pub? It was all over in the news. Luckily Vincent and Ridley weren't noticed that heavily, though me and Jäger got some attention. Jäger moreso than me. His reputation had rocketed sky high by now.

Speaking of Jäger... It had been a day now. I still didn't want to see him. I patched up completely with Ridley, and Vincent I didn't even need to talk to. That last one was a given, nobody ever talked with Vincent in general. When I tried to clear the air between us he just gazed at me and shrugged. Maybe he didn't give a crap about the whole incident, I dunno.

But Jäger... I couldn't face him. How in fuck's name was I going to complete a mission with him? I couldn't sign up alone, that was for sure.

I walked around the base for a little while, till I reached a certain point of the base. I could hear sniper fire, various shots being released.

Could only be three guys by my count.

I shook my head, and reluctantly headed over. I had to try and see if either Vincent or Ridley would swap places with Jäger.

I selected Valkyrie on the way there, and swung it over my shoulder and onto my back. I trodded slowly down the same dirt road, and quickly spotted the three at the firing range. The same patch of dirt where Jäger won his first bet with me.

Ridley had Velociten in his hands, and he was lying on the floor. I could see him crank his bolt-lock at high speed as he pumped out various types of shots. One was the famous Sparkplug. The bullets would connect with the target, shredding it apart, but the effect following it was a high-pitch crackle of electricity and a blue-ish and white spark whizzing like a cloud around the hole which penetrated the target.

Vincent was sitting behind Ridley, inspecting Tresspasser. He had taken out some components, and was fiddling around with a Sparkplug of his own, which he disassembled aswell. He seemed deep in thought, so deep that he didn't even flinch at the roaring sound of the bullets leaving its chamber.

Then, there was Jäger. Surkov was resting on his broad shoulders, the stock burrowed in the ground. A big toothpick rested in the front row of his teeth, slightly to the right. He was watching closely as Ridley kept hitting his targets perfectly, and nodded in approval almost as each target fell.

He was the first to notice me, and grinned happily once I arrived. "You came!" He said cheerily.

I didn't reply. I didn't even want to acknowledge him, at all. I walked straight past him, and knelt at Vincent's feet. Though I didn't look, I could see Jäger throw a shrug at Ridley, who looked up from his scope.

"You up for some target practice?" I asked Vincent as I whipped out Valkyrie.

"Maybe." Vincent nodded at me without looking at me. "Want me to check Valkyrie for you?"

"Well, I don't know if-" I couldn't even finish my sentence. Vincent already snatched Valkyrie from my hands, dropping Tresspasser onto the ground. His nifty hands quickly got to work, disassembling my rifle within a few seconds.

"How do you-" I wanted to ask, but I didn't finish my question. It was pretty obvious really. This kid knew everything and anything. It shouldn't have surprised me that he knew so much about my rifle without ever shooting it.

"Hmn." Vincent hummed, amazed by what he saw. I raised my eyebrow, curious as to what he was thinking.

"What is it?"

"You made some... interesting adjustments..." Vincent slided off the barrel and inspected the firing system.

"I had the necessary help with that." I said, still intruiged in what surprised him so much. "Guides to all the parts of the rifle was the first step. Then came the testing phase, which lasted a week or two. I found the perfect combination for me, and it worked pretty well."

"I know my rifle inside out, so I recognise a few pieces in Valkyrie..." Ridley said as he got up. He left Velociten on the ground, and took a closer look at my rifle, clearly interested aswell. "But I gotta agree with Vincent. You have made some adjustments that I'd never think of making."

"Why's that?"

"Well, it certainly works. But it's very complicated how you assembled and tweaked Valkyrie." Ridley skimmed through the pieces as Vincent quickly reassembled the rifle.

"Fire it!" Jäger said as he stepped in. "I've seen everything about Velociten and Tresspasser, but nothing of the Valkyrie yet!"

"Well-"

"Neither have I." Vincent said as he looked up at me, handing me back my sniper rifle.

Ridley rubbed his neck. "I don't suppose I've seen much of Valkyrie either, excluding that one shot you took at Nathaniel."

I hesitated, but nodded ultimately. Couldn't do any harm in shooting a few targets, right?

While Jäger and Ridley worked on the firing range settings, I quickly flipped through my rifle's specifications. Seems Vincent calibrated it for me, nice move on his behalf. I slid in my mag after auto-filling it with a command. I locked it, and went prone. My standard optical scope materialized, and I immediatly set to tweaking the range finder. Placing the stock at my shoulder, I started dropping my breath's frequency. Had to control it more, so I slowed my entire breathing down a notch.

There was practically no sway of my crosshairs. The conditions were prefect to shoot in, barely any wind at all. I quickly marked all my targets in a few seconds, and moved my finger to the trigger.

"Fifteen targets. Let's see this Valkyrie shine." Jäger said as he stepped back a little, dragging Surkov with him. Ridley and Vincent both crossed their arms, and waited expectantly.

I closed my left eye, and scanned my targets once more.

My mind went blank. All I could hear was my blood pumping through my body.

In a matter of seconds, I shifted my gun from left to right, in a thirthy degree angle. My shots left the chambers in split seconds, roaring violently as they left the barrel. I felt little recoil as I shot down my targets, most of it being nullified by shock absorbers, though I'd still feel a kickback in my shoulder, where the stock connected with my body.

Once my crosshairs moved over my last target and I released my final bullet, the firing range grew quiet once more. A small trail of smoke whirled up from the barrel's end. I sighed, pleased with my results. Not a single target missed, thirteen headshots and two lethal shots to the chest. My target's would've likely been shredded to oblivion, either heavily punctured lungs or a straight shot through the heart.

I got up, released the mag, which fell on the ground and disappeared, and stared at the three lads.

"Satisfied?"

For a moment, I thought they'd all stay quiet and just simply nod or something.

I was so wrong, I almost jumped up.

"I want to try first!" Ridley said as he stepped up to me.

Vincent was quicker, and practically robbed me of my rifle. "I'm up." He simply said as he dropped to the ground.

"Nu-uh!" Ridley grinned as he threw himself to the ground, wrestling Vincent for the rifle. They were like two young dogs, play-fighting for a delicious bone. I couldn't help but roll my eyes and chuckle.

"You can both fire it, damnit." I said, clearly amused. "Vincent first I guess."

Ridley fell onto his back as he slammed his fist into the ground. "Always the same. God. Damnit."

The next few minutes, I just watched Vincent and Ridley waste a few mags on the targets, both fooling around with my settings. Of course, Ridley wanted to try out the Incendairy Ammo, and later he tried to feed Valkyrie some of his own magical superammo. Didn't work as intended, sadly. Would've loved to mess around with his supply stock.

Vincent got the hang of my rifle quickly, though his aim was a little off at times. Still, he picked up on Valkyrie damn fast. I could clearly see his natural talent for guns and firing them.

It wasn't till I stepped back a little because of the deafening blasts of the Valkyrie that I realised Jäger was standing behind me all the time. I looked up at him just when he was looking at me.

I quickly looked away, and shuffled aside.

"Laura..." Jäger started as he moved towards me, hands spread out. "You're mad, aren't you?"

"You think?" I snorted.

"Come on!" He chuckled. "It wasn't that bad, I left him intact right? How about we go for a drink and talk this over?"

"That's your solution for life, isn't it? Drinking?"

"Makes my head clear!"

"I think it rather clouds your mind."

Jäger laughed, and tried to move closer again. I stepped away again.

"Just- Don't come near me."

"Awh come on, you know I'm not going to hurt you." He said with a grin.

"You really don't care, do you?" I asked him rhetorically. I was actually getting mad right now. "You couldn't care less about Lawton, can you?"

"He tried to shoot you, I prevented from doing so. Nothing wrong with that right?" Jäger shrugged.

"You really don't!" I blurted out with a sarcastic hint to my voice. "How couldn't I have sensed that! The soulless communist douchebag has the empathy of a teaspoon, how surprising! Here's a tip for you: Drink less, pull yourself together and atleast TRY to be more like Ridley or Vincent!"

"Ouch!" Jäger chuckled heavily, seemingly not hurt by my comment. So you're saying I should take notes on how to be normal from those two? One's a silent basementdweller, and the other is a wacko-... well, the other one's pretty okay I guess."

"Hey, you don't wanna know pal." Ridley shrugged as he laughed, returning to the Valkyrie. Vincent didn't even react to Jäger. Think he almost embraced that remark as a compliment.

"Truth is... I really don't know why you're so mad at me." Jäger's tone changed slightly. Maybe it did bother him that I was angry with him. "I protect you from an ambusher, and you repay me with nothing but hatred... why?"

"You -what-?!" I stomped my foot angrily. Holy shit, seems he was as thick as two short planks nailed together. Jesus Christ Jäger! How moronic can you be?! "You even claim you -'protected'- me?!"

"Well, da!" Jäger said, confused.

"Well maybe I don't need your kind of 'protection'!" I said loudly, shooting him a death glare. "How is ripping someone's eye out protection?!"

Jäger wanted to answer that, but he clenched his jaws onto eachother.

"I have no clue what went on in your mind when you acted, Dimitri, but clearly you messed up here. You're a sadisitcal maniac in my eyes. Nothing more but a violence-addicted killing machine. There's no heart in you, there's nothing in you. Nothing. At. All." I said as I picked up Valkyrie from under Vincent's nose.

"C'mon, don't be like that!" Jäger tried to grab my arm as I wanted to leave.

I snapped. I turned around, and balled my fist. Normally I wouldn't even care to punch someone, but I guess the disappointment in Jäger was too damn huge on my part. My fist connected with his jaw. Moments later, I was crouching on the floor. Fucking hell, I must've broken my entire right hand with that punch. It wasn't even coördinated, I just wanted him to back the hell away from me.

Jäger stood there, dazzled and thrown off by my punch. His jaw had turned bright red, but no damage whatsoever it seems.

I was panting, but quickly composed myself. "After the mission in Loeganask, we're through Jäger. We're never working again after that."

And with those words, I left, leaving Jäger speechless and confused.

---

May 15th, 2045

A few days. That's how long I let this feud rest between me and Jäger. My hand truly was broken in EWO, but of course with modernized medicine in the game my fingers were quickly fixed.

To be honest, I hadn't seen Jäger. Vincent didn't let a word loose about him, as usual. Ridley said he had seen him around, and that he had talked to him. Out of sheer curiosity I asked how he was holding up. Ridley only shook his head, and said it was for the best if I kept to my original intention and not talk with him.

I... felt weird. I wasn't going back on my own words, but I certainly did feel odd.

I mean, in the short three months that I got to know the guy, I would've thought he'd still be cheerily and happy and all that crap after what I said to him. He isn't the type of guy that breaks down over something trivial as a fight. But from what Ridley had explained to me, it seemed as if he had made a 180 degree turn in his life.

I sighed, and rested my head in my hands, cupping my face as I thought about Jäger. Moments later I slapped myself and shook my head, trying to forget him.

We had a mission to fulfill, damnit. Work first, rest comes later.

I had my Valkyrie next to me, ready for action. I checked my UIP for signal, and looked around briefly. Jäger would meet up with me just a few clicks away from Loeganask.

I could see the mining facility in the distance. I could spot the gigantic conveyor belts slowly dragging inside the paydirt and other geological material. Cillindrical storage silo's stood tall and black, a sillhouette against the white, snow-covered landscape. The whole mining facility was like a spot of soot in the middle of a whiteout.

Suddenly, I could hear the crunch of a boot through the snow. I turned to face Jäger. He had Surkov strapped to his back, and he was wearing his standard outfit, adjusted to fit the enviroment more with shades of white and grey.

"Ready?" I ask as I take up my Valkyrie, and take aim.

Jäger didn't reply. He just hit the ground, and whipped out Surkov.

I didn't care to ask again, so I just lined up my crosshairs as we both scanned the perimeter.

We did that for a good minute or two, counting the forces present, the critical points of the facility and much, much more. It seemed that the western end of the facility, where the transport trucks would normally park and load up with the prospected goods, had been turned into a huge landing pad for aircraft and such machinery.

"What's the plan?" I aks after a few minutes of silence, following our extensive search for information about the place.

"We take out the base, find the ISD and get out of there." Jäger said plainly as he kept his sights on Surkov. He didn't even look at me.

"Okay..." I said slowly. "What are we going for first?"

"You tell me." Jäger says again, with his monotome voice.

"Hello? Are you even here?" I ask him. He seemed like a remote, distant version of himself. Hollow, almost.

"You head me." He said. His voice wasn't as rich as usual. Normally he'd be pumped up, ready for action. But today, he seemed to not even be present.

"Fine." I say after he didn't continue his sentence. "We'll disable the aircrafts first, and then turn our attention to the personel. I'll handle the facility. Scordato and I worked on disabling vital structure points, and Vincent helped me recognise these weak spots. You'll handle the soldiers while I lay waste to the mining facility."

Jäger didn't reply, he just kept his dull stare on his scope.

"Am I clear, Jäger?"

"Da. You're orders are... very clear, 'Captain'." Jäger said harshly, almost trying to keep his jaws clenched shut.

I raised my eyebrow at him. "Fine, we'll take the shots in-"

"Relocating." Jäger said, again sticking to the monotome, crude hint in his voice. With sluggish steps, he moved off into the distance.

I didn't object. I had the feeling he was still sore from what I said to him earlier this week. I still wasn't intending to apologize or to go back on my words, but I think I understood in that moment how he felt. He was hurt, and he didn't want to be around me anymore. I had become what most colleagues and partners are to me: a temporary associate. Disposable. Just another face of the many.

I didn't know if I was happy about that. Just because I wasn't attached to anybody didn't imply that I wanted everybody to be like me. I wasn't setting the standard for people to follow.

I enjoyed being the outcast, the lonely one, being self-dependant. Jäger wasn't like that. He couldn't be like that.

I hummed at myself, and agreed with my conciousness that I'd give him the necessary space. We wouldn't be together much longer after all. Soon, we'd be history. Our time together at Rensker would be nothing more but a vague dream, long lost.

"Opening fire." I heard his voice crackle over the UIP. Moments later, it was as if sound itself had been lost. My hands almost shot to my ears, trying to dim the roaring shots of Surkov. I couldn't, though. I had to focus.

I could trace his shots, which were perfectly placed. Sure, his shots were easy to follow. He only shot a bullet every few seconds, but with a force behind it strong enough to shred a tank in half. I could see and hear the aircrafts in the distance exploding as Surkov's shots ripped them apart.

Soon enough, the alarming sound of sirens filled the air, turning the scene into an apocalyptic nightmare for the soldiers, under constant hailfire of russian justice.

I turned my Valkyrie, and started working myself. I had to use mutliple shots per weak point in the structure. I quickly realised these spots were reinforced with Soulcraft barriers. Nifty Angels. Nathaniel was well aware of these spots, and had them covered. Nothing I couldn't handle though. I just enhanced my own bullets with Soulcraft, and soon enough I could break through the barriers and tackle the exposed works of the facility.

Once I had cleared my task, I turned my sights to the personel. I could see the bodies scattered across the field fo strife. Jäger had taken down so much already. Literally, he had obliterated enough on the field. The landing pad was barely recognisable anymore. Uncontrolable fuel fires combined with metal debris ruled the landing pad now.

The actual field where the soldiers were moving through wasn't a pretty sight either. Apart from the small impact holes the bullets of Surkov left, the field was covered with scarlet-drenched snow, and the twitching remains of the men.

I swooped in with Valkyrie, and quickly dispatched the backrow of reinforcements. It took us another few mags before the battlefield finally grew quiet.

My eardrums were pumping rabidly, and I had this most irritating peeping noise ringing in my ear. And it wasn't because of Valkyrie.

I could see him move back over to me.

"Good work." I said as I moved down the slope, sprinting towards the facility. I could hear him on my six, trailing me towards the mining facility.

We arrived, panting from our journey through the thick snow. Jäger was a little quicker, seems he was used to trodding through the snow. Must've been his extensive experience of living in Siberia.

The snow disappeared, or more like thinned out, as we approached what seemed to be 'The Pit'. It was a deep quarry. Like, really deep. You could drop a rock into the dark depths below and not hear it fall.

"The elevator will be out of order, due to us cutting the power." I said as I unpacked a few necessary items from my inventory. "Nor will any other supplementary power line. They're totally relying on Soulcraft and other such sources down there."

"The ISD will be pretty deep down. So will Nathaniel." Jäger muttered slowly as he looked up at the remains of the facility above ground.

"It will take me some time to clear the lowest floors." I said as I hooked up my rappeling gear. "I need you to keep this place on lockdown till I return."

Jäger didn't answer me, and kept ordening his stuff.

"You know, I get it that Vincent is a silent guy, but atleast you could have the guts to answer me when we're on missions." I said, annoyed. I knew he needed space, but atleast he could be helpful here. "You haven't been drinking, have you?"

He turned to face me, towering over me with all his height. It was the first time I really had a good look at him.

He looked like a mess, in truth. Broken, messy, far from awake. He wasn't himself. Even the usual happy glistening in his eyes had gone. Empty, sloppy... Those were some words to describe him. On the other hand, he was balling his fists, and his brows furrowed deeply. He seemed frustrated, and angry maybe.

"Just go." He finally said as he let his hands slide alongside his body, turning away from me. "Go."

"Fine." I said as I stepped away slow,y, attaching my rope to my gear. I chucked the rope over the edge of the pit, and started going down.

The last sight I had of Jäger was him standing still, staring into the distance. Whether he was scouring the horizon for signs of enemies, or if he was reminiscing old times, perhaps contemplating something... it didn't matter.

The further I descended, the darker it became. The world around me grew tighter almost. The air grew thin, barely breathable. Or should I say thick? I didn't know. Maybe it was thick because of the dust that spiralled down from the walls of the quarry. Maybe it was thin because it was cold and deep underground.

I shook my head, and tried to keep quiet.

With a thud, I landed on the loose soil at the end of the line.

I unzipped myself, and used my Soul Vision to take a look around. Not too far from myself, and up a ladder, I saw the door into the ground, the very entrance to Nathaniel's personal vault.

This was going to be a tough nut to crack...

Chapter 9

I closed the latch behind me tightly, twisting the gears of the mechanism and making it grind into it's original position. With Valkyrie in one hand, I started wondering around.

The inner parts of the safehouse was... intruiging. It wasn't like what I experienced with the Darkwing Cartel. Their little safehouse was crudely carved out, rid with roots and fungi and all that crap. This was truly given some thought and attention.

Instead of narrow, damp hallways, I entered the dark safehouse only to find massive halls, multiple levels high. I could stare down over the railing, and spot numerous walkways spanning horizontally, from front to back and from side to side. It was all made out of iron, even the walls were plated with sheets of iron. It was marvelously constructed.

Hell, I could even feel a gust of wind in this place. It was vented in here?!

Jezus... How was this never spotted? I mean, if this base was truly this well constructed and equipped, how couldn't anybody have ever stumbled upon this place?

I tightened my grip on Valkyrie's stock, and moved onwards. I tried not to make much sound, but it was difficult in this place. Everything resonated. Every little wave of sound I emmited would be reflected against the metal on all sides of me.

Halfway down the first walkway, I stopped dead in my tracks. I could hear the clanking of feet against the iron walkways below.

The first group of men I encounter. Great.

I readied my Valkyrie, but halfway through aiming my gun I decided not to try and fire. The moment I would release a single shot, everyone in this place would have a pinpoint accurate read on my position.

My best bet was to do nothing.

So I did. I went prone, rolled quietly onto my back and pulled up the cowl of my uniform.

A few moments later, I could hear them pass through the hall. They were like a few floors beneath me, judging by the sound delay. I could see a dim light being reflected into the air, a small flicker in the dark. They must've been patrolling these parts after I cut the power from the outside.

I got up after laying low for another minute. I had to move fast yet with great patience. I couldn't rush my way through this one and risk being heard.

I had to repeat my course of action a few times over. The final one was the most dangerous attempt. The patrols were right above me, passing over my walkway. One of the men almost stopped near me as he peered into the distance, scanning my walkway. Luckily, he was pushed on by his comrades.

I sighed, and quickly dashed forward and through the door at the end of my walkway.

"God... damnit..."

I planted my hands in my sides as I shook my head. All I saw was a staircase that would lead me down to another walkway, presumably.

This was gonna take a long, long time.

This mission was nerve-wrecking, I tell you. All you can hear is your own panicky breathing, your own footsteps clanking ever so quietly against the metal of the floor you were walking over, and from time to time you would freak out because a patrol would appear out of freaking nowhere.

These had to be the scariest few minutes in my entire carreer in End War Online. And I thought I had seen it all when Vincent left me alone during the Darkwing mission.

Just about halfway down the great hall, I stopped to catch my breath. I was mentally pushed to my limit. My Anima pool was being drained more and more, and the dark conditions weren't exactly favourable for me. My muscles were turning stiff from the constant restraint I was holding over them.

I just couldn't go on for much longer. Not like this. I needed to rest.

I quietly shut the door to the new flight of stairs behind me, and slammed myself into the wall. My body slid down the iron wall, and I finally came to a halt as my rear met the floor.

This wasn't the time to think about anything else but the mission, but for some reason I just felt like I had to.

Jäger. Fucking Jäger. This guy was messing with my mind big time. I couldn't wrap myself around reality anymore, it seemed. I didn't know how to feel. Was I angry? Partially, I guess? Did I truly feel no regret about what I had said? No, I didn't feel even the slightest bit of regret. Then what the fuck was bothering me so much?

Was it maybe...

I shook my head as I stared at the ground. No... Was I really being bothered by this?

I had to speak the words. I had to ask myself the question.

Was he in love with me?

And thus I sat there, quietly, in the dark, trying to reserve my strength as I rested. The one question floated around in my mind, and I was trying to look at it from every possible angle.

Was he really in love with me?

It would explain so much. Why he showed so much interest, why he bothered so much to get close with me. All the times he asked me out to drink, his level-headed persistance. Maybe that's why he was always so happy? Did he only grin and laugh around me? No, he did that around everybody... He was always happy. Always.

But not right now. He had turned bitter, hollow inside. My words must've shredded him apart then... Oh god. No wonder why he seemed so distant today. Well, I mean... Nobody can take it lightly when you declare you never want to see their face again.

This also accounted for his behaviour in Harth, in that bar with Lawton. Maybe he felt as if I was threatened so badly, so he overreacted... Oh Jäger... You stupid, stupid, stupid idiot....

I wanted to get up, but I didn't feel like I could. It felt as if I was nailed to the ground.

So I sat myself down, and tried again. I think I answered the question right? There was enough evidence to support the fact that Jäger truly did feel quite something for me.

There was still something left unanswered.

I facepalmed out of frustration. How couldn't I have even payed attention to that...

All that was left was how I felt about Jäger.

I sighed deeply. I didn't know. He wasn't like the average guy, he was far from that. He was funny, enthusiast, charismatic, interesting, spontaneous and overall had a huge heart for those around him. On the other hand, he was sardonistic, edgy, and almost terrifyingly brutal at times.

I held my breath, and counted to a hundred. I had to make up my mind before I moved on. There was no way I'd go without getting an answer from myself. I had to resolve this.

I kept thinking. Did I like him? I was annoyed by him mostly, but he could act so much differently around me, just the two of us. But he could also be very dominating and overprotective. And just looking at eachother as two humans... We were so different. We weren't alike in many, many ways. Too different.

It would never work between us. Certianly if you look at it from my side.

I wasn't the type of girl for him, and I didn't want to be the type of girl for him.

I finally gasped for air, puffing loudly and taking deep breaths.

"...N-No..." I finally puffed out as I got up, not feeling so burdened any longer.

I picked up Valkyrie, and set off to descend the last few floors of the hall.

Everything went much smoother from here on out. I felt liberated, as if a huge burden had fallen from my shoulders. I think I understood him even more clearly right now, and I knew I understood myself even better.

It would be an even worse afternoon for Jäger once we'd get back to Renskr, but atleast I knew what I had to do.

Even though there wasn't room in my life for him, ever, or would there ever be a realistic chance that we'd be together... Atleast I could tell him I was sorry for what I said without feeling in the wrong.

I would apologize to him, and tell him we'd still work together.

That is... if he is in shape to keep working with me...

---

I stepped into what I could only describe as the Catacombs. The iron belly of the safehouse. The last part, the most fortified. This is where the ISD would lie. This is where Nathaniel would be.

I had thought about facing off against Nathaniel. I could picture him clearly in my head. Peculiar player if you ask me, didn't quite fit the character of a bad guy. He was tall, handsome, with long, flowing hair falling down and over his shoulders. He had this magical appearance almost. Most cunning disguise indeed.

Vincent had run the background checks for Nathaniel once more, updating his own database in the meanwhile. The first time when I had killed Nathaniel, he wasn't prepared for a sniper squad takedown. This time around, it seemed different.

Nathaniel is what we'd call a... more fantasy-set player. You have players who are mech-heavy, mostly of the Human Faction, and then you have this seemingly huge base of gunslingers and all that jazz, like myself. And then you have the fantasy-set players. Those who delve into the more arcane arts, and those who rather wield the sword than shoot the gun. I admired those players, and aspired to be like them someday.

I loved sniping, and would continue to do so. But deep down I loved being the one wielding the sword, like in the old days of the world.

Nathaniel had changed. Trained, more like it. Seems apparent, from all the available intel that we had at Renskr, that Nathaniel had steeled himself in the time that he was given. His defensive capabilities had rocketed, so his Soulcraft must've been powerleveled quite heavily. Ontop of that, he hadn't been seen with a gun for ages, sticking to his sword.

He was up to something here, it had to be a trap.

First step?

Spring the trap.

The gigantic door slammed shut behind me, and locked itself. I was convined to this space to work in I guess. More than enough room to fire the Valkyrie in. This must've been one of the best storage rooms once, where the best quality ore was stored after being prospected.

"I've been expecting you." A warm voice suddenly spoke. A dim, yellow light filled the room and cleared it from the dark shadows haunting it.

Not too far from myself, like a good twenty meters or so, stood Nathaniel. He was radiating with his own yellowish hue, his gauntlets resonating with power. He was wearing the same uniform as the guards I remembered from the mission with Ridley, just more imposing and impressive than before.

"Nathaniel." I said as I lowered Valkyrie. "What a surprise- Oh wait."

"Never knew such a lovely young girl had such charm." He sneered at me as he folded his arms behind his back, pushing aside his golden cloak. "I presume you came for the ISD."

"Oh, you're handing it over to me?" I asked sarcastically.

"Tsk tsk, Laura." He chided me. "Believe me when I say I would want to hand it to you, but I can't. Not when you can't face the truth about Renskr."

"What truth." I frowned as I raised Valkyrie again. I was on edge now, it felt off.

But I had to hear him out before deciding to blow his brains out. So I wated patiently.

Nathaniel flicked his hair back, and planted his hands in his sides. "Look. Renskr is playing you lot. I know all about November Company. You're not the only ones who can gather information about their opponents."

"Lies." I shook my head as I kept my eyes fixated on him.

"Isn't it odd?" Nathaniel continued, not taking any notice of my comment. "The best snipers in the world band together out of nowhere?"

"Payment is payment." I replied plainly. "This isn't going anywhere, is it now?"

"Look." Nathaniel's facial expression grew more serious. He raised his voice as he returned a glare my way. "Cromnik purposefully tricked you into service, whether by cash or not. He's used you for his own secret agenda, not that of Renskr."

"How would you know?"

"Who in Renskr truly knows who you are?"

"Almost nobody knows about November Company." I retorted.

"Not the point. He's keeping you secret so his own affairs are kept muffled away from Renskr's true leadership." Nathaniel continued, now adding a more aggressive tone to his voice. "He isn't working for Renskr, he's working for an entirely different affiliation!"

"You have any proof?" I asked. This was extremely interesting. Nathaniel truly did posses the truth, but I hoped he was willing to share it with me. If not, I'd have to extract the truth by force from him.

"The ISD we stole from Cromnik details everything, I assure you." Nathaniel sighed. "I can't hand it to you. That information is top secret, even among my own men. Nobody may know what I try to combat in this game."

I stepped back, thrown off by his explanation. "Who do you work for, Nathaniel?" I hissed at him, locking Valkyrie, preparing to fire if necessary.

"There is a dormant evil in this world." Nathaniel slowly spoke. "Some would see it restored to power. Some try to prevent it."

"Look, dude." I shook my head. "You're making, like, zero sense. At all."

"You'll find out one day. I hope not though, I hope that by the time you find out what I speak of you won't ever have to face this terrible foe." Nathaniel stepped back, starting to walk away from me. "I urge you to leave now, Laura. Leave this be. Leave Renskr behind, and never return."

In my hesitation, my finger disobeyed me. I didn't know whether to shoot Nathaniel or take his advice and leave. It had to be the truth, didn't it? Disregarding the bullcrap about some old evil, of course. It had to be the truth about Cromnik. But it didn't detail -what- Cromnik was lying about all this time, or who he worked for.

I had to find out. That, plus I never fail a mission once I start it. Ever.

So I shot. The bullet roared as it left the barrel, but was met with Nathaniel's gauntlet, dropping to the floor a moment later.

What followed that was a hailfire of bullets on my end. I just fired through my entire mag in a matter of seconds. The pure force behind each shot was enough to atleast push Nathaniel back, all the way across the room. His efforts were emphasized by the growing moans of strain he was making all the time. His own magical barrier he had erected infront of him wasn't big, but it was enough to absorb the impact of my shots, and each time my bullet hit his shield would spark and light up with flashes of blue and yellow, literally spitting out the ricochet bullets. His own cloak was swept back as Nathaniel kept feeding his shield more Anima. Through my scope, and the strife of the battle, I could spot Nathaniel's face. It seems as if he was entirely focused on supporting his shield. I guess his Soulcraft demanded such a high toll from him, that he couldn't do much more than protect himself during battle.

I reloaded my rifle, and started shifting to my right as I tried to hit him from multiple angles at once, testing the limits of his shield. Nathaniel kept himself facing towards me, and thus the shield was kept intact. I tried every available spot to throw him off his game. Changing up my patterns and the speed at which I fired didn't prove to be fruitful to me either. So I came to a grinding halt, slipping over the iron floor as I knelt down. I flicked up my Valkyrie, and slammed the stock against my shoulder, but I didn't fire. My crosshairs hovered over his head.

Suddenly, I hear the hall echo loudly as iron doors churn open.

"Shit." I curse as I rear my sights to the back end of the hall. I could spot his personal guard streaming from the exits at the end of the hall, all properly equipped with military material, ranging from guns to swords to uniforms and all. I quickly scoped in on the first group, consisting of just a few men, and gunned them down in a split second, leaving them bleeding on the ground. My bullets tore right through their torso, blowing a hole a few inches wide, gaping and all. Horrible scene, I know, but that's the intended effect of a sniper.

The other men were so struck with horror that they retreated for a moment. They would've, wasn't it for Nathaniel. The next few shots I fired at them got blocked by his extended shield.

I had to keep on the move, otherwise I'd be hit too. While strafing to the left, across the hall, I picked off a few more guys. The first few were really pityful. Those were the braves few who thought they could take me down with a sword but no protection. Easy pickings, since Nathaniel protected the wrong men with his shield at the time. All I had to do is swap my aim to the chargers and it was easy pickings. The backrow men were troublesome. Sure, their aim wasn't perfect, but they made one hell of a challenge. I had to constantly skip from one direction to another while popping shots at their heads. Since I killed off the majority of Nathaniel's men, he had an easier time defending his own soldiers. Luckily I picked up on a new idea of mine while I was dodging shots left and right, and quickly zoomed in on Nathaniel himself. Bastard got lucky enough, he raised his own shields just in time, but at the cost of his last few men. Brave guys. Didn't deserve to be killed off this way. Could've been more honorable.

Nathaniel suddenly tried to push the assault on me as I ran out of bullets for a moment. He dropped his shield, and with wings set ablaze he surged towards me, his heavenly sword glistening behind him as he charged up at me. I hardly had time to react, but I had no choice but to abandon the Valkyrie.

I felt my blindfold slide over my eyes as I activated my Soul Vision, and I felt my two odd Warglaives fall into the palms of my sweaty hands. The hellish fire of my weapons spread to my body, combusting around me as I defended myself from Nathaniel's strike. In a fiery pool of black smoke and red flames, I could feel my excess clothing literally burn away. All that was left was my white, ripped and burnt shirt, along with my boots and charred pants. The flames doused around me, and quickly retracted to the glaives as they met with Nathaniel's own sword, creating a spectacle of black and yellow Soulcraft sparks. I disengaged, and unleashed a powerful strike, not at Nathaniel but in his direction, sending the flames towards the floor he was standing on. Hellfire didn't need actual material to burn, it burned on itself. The flames licked the iron floor as it rushed towards Nathaniel, but as expected he split the wall of fire into two with the flick of his wrist. His Soulcraft truly was a force to be reckoned with.

"You have some nice moves, Captain." Nathaniel calmly spoke as he treaded towards me through the flames. I stood hunched over, warglaives raised in defence, and I was panting heavily. Soulcraft takes its toll quickly, certainly with my destructive spells. I had to be careful not to overextend here. "You've been acquainted with the ways of Dark Soulcraft I see?"

I kept quiet, and followed his movements as he circulated around me.

"Warglaives. Peculiar choice, I must admit. Bold too. Weaponry dating from the oldest days of Creation." He said, a hint of admiration in his voice as his inspecting eyes rushed up and down my body.

"Don't want to change your mind about handing me that ISD?" I managed to blurt out as I composed myself.

Nathaniel chuckled, and readied his sword for another round. "You'll have to get past me first, Demon. Only my death will grant you a path towards your desire."

"Cut the angelic crap, you're just another player remember?" I sighed.

"Sure, but roleplaying is one of my hobies!" Nathaniel cheered happily as his sword started to glow with bright light.

"Just another reason to kill you!" I grin as I dash forward, locking my glaives with his blade before he could finish his enhancement spell. He spun around me, striking at my sides repeatedly. I kept spinning, the fire of my glaives creeping in all directions as I pushed him away. My glaives protected both my sides with the blades, and the bucklers protected my hands too. I was well-defended. It was the attack that was the hard part.

I slashed forward at Nathaniel, one of my glaives being met by his sword while the other bounced off his shield. This happened another few times, preventing me from harming him. He was a complex Soulmagi, that was sure. He raised his shields just at the right moment, and in just the right spot. Light Soulcraft was renowned for being control-centered and more precise, while Dark Soulcraft favoured unrelenting and feral power. Hence why fire is quickly associated with Dark Soulcraft, for its very nature is destructive and wild.

I had to find an opening, and fast. He would just tire me out till I couldn't fight anymore, and kill me with either his spells or with a swipe of his sword. My eyes scanned the floor around me, and found the Valkyrie. A plan crept into my mind, slowly but surely. I deflected his sword with my right glaives as I retreated towards my gun, guiding Nathaniel into the direction I wanted him to tread. I sent the tips of my glaives towards his head, the point of the blades narrowly missing their intended target as the shields pushed them away just far enough. Nathaniel roared as he finally made the one misstep I was hoping for: He overextended before I did. He stepped info close range, towering over me as he tried to drive his sword down on he in an attempt to overpower my defenses. I grinned as I dropped to my knees, catching Nathaniel's crossguard on the way down as I crossed my glaives above me.

I quickly dragged my own blades to one side, disarming Nathaniel by sweeping aside his blade in the process. One of my hands coiled around Valkyrie's stock while the other swirled with fel flames, which I sent at Nathaniel, creating a curtain of fire around him eating away at his entire body. He had no choice but to raise an entire shield around him, which nullified the idea of a controlled, precise shield in one small spot.

Moments later, his shields were down, and he was vunerable. I already had Valkyrie locked and ready, and I pushed my rifle forward, stopping an inch away from his forehead.

"So this is it, huh?" He laughed sheepishly.

"Seems so!"

And with one final shot, Nathaniel fell back, defeated.

I threw Valkyrie on the ground, and made my way to the back of the hall, past the now disappearing bodies. I moved up and through the doors at the back of the hall, and entered a small room behind it. Well, small is just a relative term, it seemed small in comparison with the grand hall I just fought in.

In the middle of the room, on a table filled with papers, suitcases and other such stuff sat a lone ISD. I knew it was the one I was looking for.

My hand moved in, and opened a screen, and I stored it away in my inventory. I didn't have enough time to spit through the rest of this place, Jäger was up top waiting for me. God, I could only imagine how tough his life must be if I was dealing with this shit down here.

I quickly rushed out of the room, and towards the door.

Time was short.

---

I finally finished my climb up my rappeling rope, that was still attached up top. I could feel the cold air strike my face as I entered the whiteout once more. My head instictively turned towards the facility, trying to spot Jäger. I could see him move back down towards me, Surkov slung over his shoulder as he walked over to me. I dusted myself off, and quickly wrapped up my gear to store it in my invertory.

"You got the ISD?" He asked as he kept his gaze fixed on the horizon.

"I got it." I puffed. "Took down Nathaniel and his men with me, the whole place is ablaze."

You could say that again. The fire I caused while fighting only grew stronger, and actually had spread towards the exit by the time that I left the hall. Smoke was still rising from the door as I started climbing. Looking over my shoulder, I could see smoke spiraling up through the Pit, thin as it may be.

"Hrmn." Jäger grunted. "Call the Skyfire so we can go home."

"Look, Jäger-" I started, but before I could start to explain myself he was already moving away from me.

I rolled my eyes, and shrugged. "Another time then..." I murmured quietly to myself. Kinda obvious, he was still hurt. I'd have to explain myself later.

I snatched my UIP from my inventory, and quickly got a hold of base as well as the Skyfire.

'Ah, Captain." I heard Cromnik answer first. "You acquired the ISD?"

"We got it, sir." I looked around, scanning the facility once more. "We cleaned this place up nicely, though I have no clue if we're in the clear just yet."

"You're not; You've got reinforcements swooping in from the north and the west." Cromnik sighed over the UIP. "The Skyfire is coming in hot, but not for another ten minutes. And even so, I don't know if you can clear the airfield by that time."

"We'll buy it the time it needs." I assured him. "We can hold this place down till the Skyfire is ready to land. It'll be partially protected by the facility, since it's placed between the runway and the troops coming in from the north and the west."

Cromnik didn't respond at once. I could hear him discuss some orders beneath the crackle of the signal, maybe he was contacting the Skyfire. Though, after a minute passed, he finally spoke.

"They'll be coming in pretty darn hot, mind you." He stated carefully. "Both you and Jäger have roughly a good few seconds to board it. The Skyfire will contribute to clearing the perimeter before attempting to land."

"Just pump out a few 'Panzershredder' shots and it'll be fine." I suggested.

"The gunship is well prepared. They'll contact you once they hit the area."

"Copy that."

"And Captain..." Cromnik added. "Protect that ISD with all that you have. Got that?"

"Solid copy." I gritted my teeth as I forcefully copied the order.

"Good. Cromnik out." And with that, Cromnik left the channel, and I switched off my UIP. I took my Valkyrie, and rushed up to Jäger's position.

"Skyfire will come in hot in 10, they'll bombard the area around us before landing. We've got a tight timeframe, so be ready to move when necessary." I told Jäger as I took up position next to him, a few meters away.

He didn't reply, but I knew he understood me. I'm pretty sure he had tapped into the channel while we discussed orders, since his gun was already pointed northwest.

We sat there for a few minutes, in almost complete silence, not sharing a single word. We both kept our rifles at the ready, and our finger on the trigger.

I couldn't stand it. I had to talk with him right now.

"Look, Jäger..." I said, starting out slowly.

"Don't bother." He said harshly.

"No, I gotta say this." I shook my head as I looked towards him. "I know how you feel. Atleast, I think I do. I'm surprised you were so hurt by my words- And don't lie to my face and tell me you aren't hurt."

He didn't reply, he just blatantly ignored me.

"But... yeah..." I was having trouble finding the correct words so say. "...I understand you assaulted Lawton like that. You only tried to protect me. I was too blind to see that, I guess. I was convinced you were tackling him like that for your own pleasure..."

He still didn't comment or anything, so I gathered up the courage to continue.

"Remember in the bar?" I said carefully, minding my choice of words. "I think it's the only time I genuinely felt something more. I think I almost saw you as more than a colleague."

I noticed his eye shooting to the right. I got his attention now. But this was going to be painful... Argh...

I took a deep breath. This was it.

"You do know we won't be what I think you want us to be, right?"

The most painful silence dropped. I didn't know what else to say. There was nothing I could say. I spoke my piece, the ball was in his court. But it seemed as if Jäger was just as lost for words as I was. Had I hurt him even more by speaking the truth? I mean, did I truly have a choice here?

"C'mon, say something." I said quietly.

I heard him grumble. I noticed his fingers tightening around Surkov and his jaw thicken as he clenched them shut.

"I don't want to hurt you. I never wanted to." I tried to explain. If this didn't work, I don't know what would. "Sure, I scolded you. I despised you for many things you did. But I never wanted to hurt you. And I have no clue how you truly feel, but I think I'm not far from the truth here."

He kept quiet.

I wanted to continue, but my eyes caught a glimpse on the horizon. I quickly scoped in, and located my target. I heard Jäger reacting to my sudden move too.

"Tango on the hill." I said as I lined up my scope.

"...That's not one..." I heard Jäger's dim, muffled voice sound as he stood up.

"What are you doing?" I hissed as I tugged at his pants. "Get down, you're exposing us!"

"No need, they know perfectly fine where we are." He said as he lined up Surkov, and popped a shot. I quickly averted my eyes, and looked through my sights, just in time to see the poor soldier explode into a million pieces.

"I need you to move down and hold down the bottom tier of the facility. I'll take care of the tanks." Jäger nudged my back, forcing me up as he kept his eyes on his sights.

"What tanks?" I complained as I started to move down. "I didn't spot any-"

My sentence was cut off as another bouldering shot from Surkov was sent, and not even a second later it was surpassed by a gigantic explosion, sending debris flying on the horizon and smoke trailing upwards through the cloud of brimming fire.

"-Those- tanks." He muttered. "Now go!"

I didn't second guess him again, and jumped down towards the lower levels of the facility, using the stairs as a shortcut. I hopped over the railing, and rolled as I landed in the snow to break my fall. Rushing over to the northern end, I could hear Surkov roar, masking the shots popped at both Jäger as myself. I could feel the bullets land not too far off from myself though, flying past me and landing in the snow around me.

I slammed myself into an iron wall, and rolled aside to a better spot. Using the gasline pipes as support beam, I rested Valkyrie on it and started picking away at the soldiers moving down the snow-capped hills. Sometimes I could hear Jäger's cries atop of the battle, but mostly I could only hear the blasts of the Valkyrie ringing in my ears.

I was fighting like a machine, I tell you. I mean, I was a quicker marksman than the rest of November Company. My entire rifle suited a more fast-paced style too, supporting me the most. But holy fuck, I was pumping out two to three mags a minute at best. It was insane! And to think I never had to target the same enemy twice. I was dead certain that all my shots hit my designated targets.

"Laura! Heavy troops comin' in hot!" I hear Jäger roar at the top of his lungs as he reared himself, blasting down another tank that was rolling down the hill.

"Got it!" I yell as I spot the troops he called out. I zoomed in as shots whirled past me, lining up my scope with their heads. They were weird units, in my opinion. They hard-countered snipers, I tell you. Well, to be honest, they didn't hard-counter Jäger's Surkov, since that beast of a gun just shreds through anything you put infront of it for the next four kilometers.

These men wore a pitch-black, steel-reinforced mechsuit, with gasmasks and long LMG's. 'Juggernauts' is the common term for them, since they can take a good few shots before actually getting pushed back or shot down entirely.

That is, if they are fighting regular players.

"C'mon, you pesky bastards..." I curse as I keep my Valkyrie steady. I could see them line up and pop the firing-safe off. It was now or never. I hold my breath, and pop my entire mag. My first few shots sink into their equipment, disabling the hydraulics so they were true sitting ducks. The next few ricochet off their helmets, dazing them and causing them to be incapacitated even further. The last few shots left in my mag were well placed, each Juggernaut getting repeatedly hit in the exact same spot in their armour, tearing the plating open as the bullets dented it time and time again.

I panted heavily as I gasped for air, but I kept my sights on the Juggernauts. It takes them a few seconds, before they fall back into the snow, collapsing.

I hear my UIP buzz, but I don't even have to respond to it. I already heard the familiar roaring engines in the sky. The Skyfire was circulating the facility a few moments later, and the now renowned Panzershredder was tearing up the hills, deforming the scene with blasts of dirt, snow and other stuff.

"Our ride's here!" I yell at Jäger as I relocate towards the runway. "This is it, Jäger, let's move damnit!"

"You go ahead, I've got worse problems!" He roared as he jumped down, out of sight.

I was worried, quite so, so I groaned and sprinted around the facilty. The Skyfire stopped shooting, so I could finally hear something apart from the incessant explosions.

I could hear tanks, and I could hear Surkov roar.

Was he facing down tanks all by himself?!

"Jezus- JÄGER!" I screamed as I pushed myself to the limit. Son of a bitch, he really is insane!

I disregarded the Skyfire coming in to land as I slid through the snow on my knees and lined up my targets. Three morons trying to cut corners and gun down Jäger from the flank. They all went into shock as I pulled the trigger once, triple killing them as I slid past.

I got up, whipped the Valkyrie onto my back and crossed the runway.

That's when I saw him.

He was taking on three tanks at the same time, outmanoevering them all at once. Two more tanks were already blasted to pieces, a good fifty meters away from where he was right now. The facility was burning too, set ablaze by the piercing shots of the tanks that missed Jäger time and time again. The tanks were sluggish compared to Jäger, who popped a shot every few seconds. I could see him move around, relocating every second as he whipped out Surkov to send another tank to its doom.

"C'mon, we're going!" I roared as I tried to pull a few shots on the closest tank, to no avail.

"You go!" He snapped at me as he quickly dashed past from behind his cover, unleashing another shot and making a tank explode into a million pieces. "I'll hold them off, so the Skyfire can take off!"

"You bastard!" I shouted at him as I heard the Skyfire stop not too far from me. They were keeping the engines running for us, all we had to do was board the gunship and take off.

"Look!" He turned to me as he hid behind solid cover, a tank's shot colliding with his cover and exploding. His cover was thick enough to hold off the shots, but not for much longer. "They'll kill us all if you don't go! NOW GO!"

"FUCK THAT!" I cried out as I felt two arms grasp me from behind. I rid myself from their hold as I tried ot move towards him.

"Take her with you!" Jäger shouted at the men trying to get a hold of me. "I'll keep 'em pinned!"

"Got it! Captain, let's move!" I heard the two men behind me shout as they grabbed a hold of me again. I tried to free myself, kicking and screaming as they dragged me to the gunship.

"Get the fuck off me, you fucking dipshits- JÄGER!" I cried out one last time as I was pushed up the ramp and into the Skyfire. The last things what I heard were Surkov's shots accompanied by Jäger's sardonic cackles, and of course the explosions of the tanks.

As soon as the ramp closed up and the gunship was moving again, the men released me. I tried to release the ramp's hatch, but it didn't work, so I rushed up to the front and looked for the best window.

I watched his figure grow smaller and smaller, as the fires and the troops closed in on him.

"Sit tight, Captain, we've got bigger issues!" I heard one of the men shout.

I was still lost. Confused. Did we just pull the biggest asshole move in history here? We sacrificed him! We used him as a scapegoat, leaving him behind to his fate, and nobody gave A FLIPPING SHIT!

"Captain! Sit! Down!"

I was frozen, angry at myself, at Jäger, at Cromnik and Renskr. I was trembling, pushed to my breaking point. I could feel a pair of hands curl around my arm, but it wasn't important to me. All the sense in my arms and legs, in my entire being, had vanished. It didn't matter, not one single bit.

"CAPTAIN- MAYDAY!"

I heared a bleeping noise, then the world seemed to combust and scream and roar with the force of a thousand volcano's erupting, followed by total silence and blackout. The last thing I remembered doing before covering my ears was something I only did once. Dark Soulcraft wasn't suited for it, but it was the first lesson I ever learned: Raise a shield.

I could feel myself float in space, bouncing around through the Skyfire's hollow belly as the flames tore away at me. My uniform quickly caught fire, not all too bad since the shields protected me but enough to sear away at my clothes and flesh. I screamed and writhed in pain as I twitched and convulsed in agony. I was being burned alive in a crashing plane. I finally felt myself pop out the Skyfire, likely through a crack in the hull or maybe through the ramp that blasted open, I don't know, honestly. I kept falling for a few seconds- No, crashing down for a few seconds. Even though I was still screaming in pain, I managed to slow my fall at the last second, preventing my entire body from being crushed upon impact. Instead, I hit the ground at a mediocre speed, sliding through the dirt and the snow and down a hill.

I was still twitching heavily. my arms and legs spastically flailing around as the snow doused the burns on my body.

After what seemed eternity, I could finally hear some more. The world grew louder again, and instead of that awful ringing noise in my bloodshot ears I was starting to hear other sounds.

It sounded like... gunfire...

"F-Fuck..." I spewed out some blood as I rolled over, trying to find my gun. It wasn't among the wreckage next to me, nor could I see it anywhere near me.

I tried to raise my finger to open my menu, but my severe burns were too painful to allow me to.

I let my head sink back into the snow as the world around me began to spin and flash dark again. I was panicking, I was hurt... I had no means of defense.

The gunfire grew closer and closer, louder and louder. I heard faint cries and roars of pain and suffering in the distance, likely the now-incenerated crew of the Skyfire.

I was done for, and I knew it.

Then, I felt myself being flipped over. My eyes shot open as I looked up to the sky, meeting an odd, red-haired face. A dogtag fell from his neck and hovered over my head.

"..."

"...Laaaauuuraaaa..."

I tried to focus, blinking with my sore eyes as I reached out with my fingers.

Sound finally returned, and I realised who it was.

"LAAAAURAAAA!" I heard Jäger cry out frantically as he bent over me, trying to shelter me. He was holding two rifles I had never seen before. Well, they seemed like Surkov, judging from the sillhouette I could make out, but I didn't know he owned two?

He shouldered the weapons, and picked me up, carefully carying me over his shoulder and into the treeline which wasn't too far off apparently. He settled me near the stump of an old, whithered tree as he pulled out his two snipers once more.

"Sit here, I'll protect you!" He shouted as he grabbed my shoulders and pressed me to his chest. I was gasping for air, and couldn't answer, but I didn't have to. "Do you hear me? I'm with you Laura!"

I could feel him tremble, and I could feel his grip around me tighten. He was shivering so badly, but so was I. We both were, for different reasons. I, out of pain... And he too. Different types of pain. I was just messed up and hurt physically. He was hurt mentally. He was so cold to me, so distant, too hurt to ever be around me again. But then again, Jäger hated the fact to not be around me. He had to. He hated the fact that I was hurt, that someone had near killed me. He hated the fact that I couldn't love him, but he hated the fact that he loved me of all cases.

He let go of me, and sniffed as he straightened his back.

"Kooshi govno ee oomree! BURN IN HELL!" He roared as he sprinted away from me. I could barely make out what he was doing, but I could spot the soldiers moving towards him.

He was... a fucking machine... Even worse than I was. He was laying waste to these bastards. They all fell. None of them could even pull a single shot. Cartridges were sent flying in every direction as Jäger unleashed both his rifles, bearing down on his enemies. This was the true strength he possessed, the unbridled fury that called itsef 'Dimitri Jäger'.

Hell, nothing stood in his way. A sea of blood flowed down the snowy hills, leaving a grotesque scene of cracked bones, dislocated limbs and scarlet-coloured snow behind. And in the middle stood Jäger, with fire in the background and the wind in his hair. He was laughing, but I could see his eyes well up with tears.

It was the last thing I truly witnessed, before I couldn't bear to sit up straight anymore. I succumbed to my wounds, it was too much.

All I saw, was Dimitri on the horizon. All I heard were the dying screams of the legions of men he killed.

Then, the world went black...

Chapter 10

I woke up in my bed. I felt super hot, so I immediately threw off my blankets, exposing my body to the sweet, chilled, nightly breeze. I grabbed my clock on my desk as I walked to my door. 03:37. What a shitty time to wake from a nightmare. Nevermind. I casually tossed my clock into a pile of dirty clothes as I stumbled out my door.

I had to get outside right now. I needed more air, holy fuck.

I made my way down the stairs, and rushed through the kitchen to the final slidedoor. With a soft, yet hurried push, I stepped outside, barefoot and scarcely dressed. Stains on my clothes, I'd fix that later. I'd have mom help me, and I'd explain why and how I got them. Right now, I just needed one thing.

I spun on the balls of my feet, and plummited backwards into the grass below, still wet from morning dew.

And I lied there, thinking about the past three months in End War Online. Of course, I thought about the nightmare first... That got some priority right now.

I dreamt about the Loeganask mission. Those images were impactful, sure. But for some reason, amidst the fire and ice, I could see a few figures. Figures from the past three months. I could see a scarred and bleeding Lawton, with a gaping eyesocket and bloodstained clothing. I could see Nathaniel, scorchmarks and cuts covering his elegant visage, sword in hand as he stumbled through the snow. I could see Barry, the guy we interrogated, too, among many other soldiers I had killed off. The whole scene turned into this gore-fest, surrounded in wreathing flames and snowfall.

Grotesque. I think that was the word that first popped into me.

I sighed, and fiddled with the grass between my toes. I liked this. People would call me mad if they saw me like this. I wouldn't object if they said I was, let them. I don't care. It feels good, and that's what matters.

I looked up in the sky as my breathing grew calmer.

Tomorrow was the day. Tomorrow, I'd finally uncover the truth.

Nathaniel's words still crept around in my mind. I pondered whether what he said was true or not. After all, some stuff he had said about Cromnik did make sense, and even with his vague talk and all I couldn't help but feel as if what he did say was really familiar to me.

I had my plans all finished, in the case the truth would turn out bad for me. But I couldn't help but wonder what the rest would do if they knew about my future plans?

For example, take Vincent. I don't think he'll ever be in a unit like this again, he'll likely crawl back into some creepy, dark basement and not come out for months. Or Ridley, for example. I don't think he'll feel much for my plans either.

And then... there was Jäger left. Hell knows what that guy would do.

I turned on my belly, and buried my head into my arms. I still had to talk with Jäger. We hadn't spoken a single word after he rescued me. Even though I finally understood him, and his actions, I felt as if the world was put between us two.

I just had to mend the damage I had caused.

I had to patch up with him. And I'd do it all tomorrow...

---

"W-What is the meaning of this?!" Cromnik shouted out as I kicked him back into his office chair. Ridley caught him on the way back, and quickly wrapped him around the chair with some nifty knots. Jäger strode into the room, and comfortably took a seat in a chair too, resting his large, mucky boots on the table in the center of the room. Vincent quickly moved in after Jäger, and whipped out his suitcase with the ISD in it.

"We got your ISD." I said sternly as I started walking to and fro through the room, my hands folded behind my trenchcoat. "We didn't plan on handing it over -just yet-, mind you."

"You... You bastards!" Cromnik cursed as he shook in his chair, testing Ridley's knotting. Safe to say, he was nailed to his chair. "That is Renskr Military property! You have no right-!"

"Oh, we don't?" Ridley silenced Cromnik as he quickly curled his hand around his jaw. "Shame, shame. We tend to disagree, Cromnik. We think we have all the right in the world!"

"Da!" Jäger nodded firmly. "We did all your dirty work, not you. I think we earned this ISD."

Cromnik tried to cry out at us again, but Ridley already took care of that. He used a leather strip to silence Cromnik properly, tying it around his head and leaving part of it between his teeth.

"See, I think we went over this once before, Cromnik." I said as I twisted around to face him, removing my ceremonial peaked cap and laying it on the table. I shed my coat, gloves and vest too, exposing my suspenders and rolled up sleeves as I bent forward, one of my boots placed on Cromnik's chair as I closed in on him. "I thought we weren't gonna lie to eachother anymore, right? But it seems you withheld information from us. Like, what was in the ISD."

Cromnik's eyes widened in fury as he shook his chair again, but a swift kick to his knee taught him to sit still. "I know, I know. You said that information was classified and all, but I think a contractor needs to know what he or she is risking his or her life for, don't you agree?" I said with a dull grin as I turned to Vincent and Jäger. "Isn't that right, guys?"

Jäger laughed out loud, and Vincent was too busy unpacking the ISD to react. And even if he wasn't busy with technical stuff, he wouldn't have reacted anyway. He never did.

"See, we learned some... pretty interesting things once we recovered the ISD." I continued as I returned to walking in small circles around the room. "Our research was delayed, because of the plane crash, but we managed all too well to crack this case."

"It took me a good few hours to solve this one." Vincent remarked as he turned the ISD towards Cromnik and me. "Very tricky coding, like nothing I've ever experienced in the game before, but breakable nonetheless."

"Hard work pays off, right?" I said as I grabbed the ISD, and slid it over to my side of the table. "Now, we're gonna be nice tonight, aren't we?"

Cromnik's fists balled up as he murmured something inaudible.

"I see. We're still gonna try, if that's okay with you..." I nodded at Ridley.

"Okay, here's the deal. Everytime you speak out of order, or if you interrupt anything we say or do... we'll... Ehrm..." Ridley tapped his chin as he held his other hand on the leather strip around Cromnik's head. "I guess snapping fingers is the first line of thought. We'll see what we 'snap' from there on. I mean, ten fingers, ten chances. Seems fair enough to me."

Cromnik dipped his head, and flexed his muscles as he sank back into his chair.

"Good man." Ridley grinned as he removed the strip from his mouth. Cromnik had to spit out the rugged taste of the leather first, followed by some nasty coughing, before he was able to direct his attention to us again.

"Right." I said as I leaned back on the edge of the table, crossing my arms in front of my chest and crossing my legs. "I think it all started to make sense once I reflected on my time in November Company. The toughest and craziest missions evidently provided us with the nessecary answers to this mystery."

I took a pause before continuing, keeping my gaze fixated on Cromnik.

"The most tricky, yet stunningly important clue was overlooked easily." I began. "Every location I visisted had something that tied it all together. Well, no every, but the surpluss of the missions had it. I think the majority wins, in this case. Always when we swooped in to check out the locations you sent us to, we found nothing but ruin. Nathaniel's troops tried to leave no trace. Too bad we're excellent at tracking down even the slightest traces. Vincent, if you will?"

Vincent opened his menu, and spawned in a few items from his inventory onto the table. They were all fragments of boxes, broken down parts and other sorts of junk. "These items always littered the scene. They all had one thing in common. Serial numbers, item identification codes, imprinting..."

"And what truly tied them together, was that everything seemed to be linked to one main source!" I cheerfully said as I picked up the nearest fragment of a box. "See this one? Seemed to us that there wasn't a single trace left to identify this object, but when we looked closer and properly examined it, we can make out three very vague letters... Anything come to mind?"

Cromnik sighed, and looked away.

"I asked you something, Lieutenant-General." I hissed as Ridley grabbed a hold of his hand, ready to snap his thumb in two.

This alarmed Cromnik in a split second, as he looked at me with fear in his eyes. "Alright, alright! I get it, you found the imprinting and the coding directed towards the 'AEP'. So what?"

"That was our first start. The 'AEP'. No clue what it was, no kidding." I laughed as I tossed the box fragment back to Vincent. "Of course, we moved on to our enemies! Or well, supposed enemies. I think Nathaniel was equally surprised that we swooped in time and time again to recollect that ISD. So, I had Jäger and Ridley move back in to where Vincent and I had left off last time we did a mission together."

"We obviously could not re-enter the ruins of the Darkwing's hideout. We blew the place up, like planned." Jäger commented as he leaned forward to grab a glass. As he walked through the room, in search for a drink, he continued to explain. "Lucky for us that we tracked down their new location while Laura was recovering from the plane crash. Seems those suka's had some interesting knowledge about the matter. A few drinks, and they spilt the truth easily."

"What truth- AAAARGH!" Cromnik cried out as he kicked in his chair, trying to reach for his right hand. Ridley had snapped his pinky, which was now bleeding from the areas where the bone stuck out.

"Tsk. You're a hard learner." Jäger chuckled. Cromnik was going to continue to cry out in pain, but Ridley's hand swooped in omniously, grasping his ring finger. Safe to say, Cromnik swallowed the pain through rabid sniffing and breathing, as he shut himself up again. "As I was saying, we learnt that the Darkwing never had ties to this AEP faction, nor did their contract state in any form that Nathaniel's forces were AEP-related. It seems that Nathaniel's claims that they were doing the right thing was true after all."

"Which brings us back to the biggest part of this all: Nathaniel." I ended Jäger's sentence as I stopped in front of Cromnik. "I never believed a word he said till I read all about your AEP business in the ISD. His theories were... vague, least to say. Far-fetched, no doubt, but they were ever so true. I met up with him, reluctantly, and apologized. We'll be returning that ISD to him soon, he'll be safekeeping it once more. He wasn't the foe we were meant to fight; You were, Cromnik."

I turned towards the ISD, and scanned through the information. "You were nothing more than a shadow of a malignant force. A puppeteer in the darkness, scheming and plotting for your...'AEP'. And what we found... Oh boy." I sighed as I turned back to Cromnik. "Most of this stuff still doesn't make sense to us. But I guess we've got Nathaniel to explain this all to us, if needed."

I leaned in towards Cromnik, as Vincent and Jäger moved up the table, Jäger with a drink in his hands of course, closer to Cromnik too. Ridley planted his hands on both sides of Cromnik's chair as he towered over him, ready to snap more fingers, or other body parts, if needed.

"Now, you'll tell us about this ISD, and about the AEP." I crouched before him, looking up into his eyes. "All that you know."

Cromnik's lip was trembling, but with a nod of my head, he spoke. "Where do you want to start?"

"Let's start with the AEP itself. What is it?" Jäger asked with a deep, rumbling tone in his voice.

Cromnik hesitated, but started talking ultimately. Ridley's actions had burrowed deep into his mind, frightening Cromnik and conning him into speaking up. "The 'AEP'... We stand for equality among the people. We've found power in this game, unbridled. Potential. Instead of keeping it shackled, we would see it evenly spread throughout the players- No, not only the players... Far, far bigger."

"Equality, huh?" Ridley tapped his chin once more.

"Seems reasonable on the outside, doesn't it?" Cromnik said with a dull voice. "We're nothing more than scientists, daring to go further. I fail to see why you would oppose us? After all, we're trying to progress in human evolution here. For the good of mankind!"

I turned to Jäger and Vincent. "I think he's starting to lose it. Bloodloss perhaps?"

"Who knows." Jäger muttered as he offered a shrug. "If he truly loses it, I'll kill him myself."

"Mhm." I turned back to Cromnik, who was starting to smile frantically. I was almost freaked out by the wrinkly curves of his mouth. He looked like some escaped asylum patient to me, all time up to prevent him from bursting free in a spur of insanity.

"Tell us about Void then." I said with a stern, commanding voice. "Tell us about this power..."

"Void! Oh, oh... sweet, sweet Void!" Cromnik licked his lips, so delighted by the sound of the word. "Isn't it marvelous? The true concept of nothingness. The true end time, rewriting every law this world holds. Everywhere, anywhere, not here at all. It fascinates a scientist like me, truly. All these years ago, and it's still in this world! The Nephilim! Yes, yes... hogging all that power. How magnificent it would be if Void was shared, not shackled. Oh, the potential of what we could do with it! Think about it!"

"The Nephilim?" Vincent perked his brows. "Neither Amanda nor Michael wield such a power, you fool."

Cromnik only cackled at us. His eyes started to shoot in all directions, and even when Ridley snapped his ring finger as a desperation move he continued to cackle. His eyes became bloodshot, and his nails burrowed themselves into the armrests of the chair, the bones churning as they cracked under the immense pressure.

That all stopped, of course, as Jäger stepped in and drove a bayonette, curteosy of Ridley, into his heart, crushing his rib cage in the process. I could hear Cromnik's last few words before he passed on, though.

"A-All... that... power... it'll be o-oours... ggggyyyuuuu...."

And with that, Cromnik slid back into his chair.

That was the truth.

All of it.

---

May 27th, Althern, 2045

"So. You'll really go?" I say as I slide my drink onto the counter.

"...Da..." Jäger said with a roughdry voice. He sounded so hollow when he said that. His side of the counter of where we sat was already piling up with drinks.

We had talked all night long. We were the only two remaining customers in the bar, aside from the bartender of course. The rest of the players were nowhere to be found. Of course, this bar was only frequented by players of our timezone... or well, what fitted in between our timezones.

It had been almost a good two weeks before Jäger and I sat down together. We had taken the Skyfire and our supplies after killing Cromnik. November Company was officially disbanded, our ranks stripped. Not that we cared for that, but for the sake of being neat...

I sighed, and took another swig of my drink. I don't know why this was hitting me this hard. It felt strange.

"We never had the chance to talk." I commented.

Jäger huffed with a half-baked grin. "Sure we did."

"No, I meant as in 'talked'." I ran my hand through my hair as I looked up to him. Our eyes briefly met before Jäger seperated our gaze.

"...That..." He grumbled as he downed another drink.

"Jäger, I-" My voice could not find the strength yet to convey what I was feeling.

"Don't worry about it..." He smiled. It was a painful smile, I could tell. I knew him too well at this stage. I knew he was faking it.

"You're lying to me." I said as I leaned towards him.

"I'm not, forget it." He said, clearly becoming irritated.

"Look, you can hide it all you want but we both know something's bothering you." I tried one final time. "Just tell me."

Jäger hesitated for one small second. His body was already turning towards me, his jaw slightly opened, as if ready to say something. But... he didn't. He shook his head, and turned his cheek towards me.

I wanted to say something, but something inside of me held me back from doing so. I couldn't hurt him right now. I was almost 100% sure that he felt something for me, and I knew 100% sure what I would say to him. But seeing him like this was hurting me. It made me not want to turn him away, even though I knew I should.

It was a nagging, agonising feeling. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't bring it up, in fear that I would break his heart.

So I clamped up, straightened my face and stared into my glass.

"Actually, nevermind..." I said with a dull voice. "It's of no use, I guess."

"Mhm." Jäger hummed.

"So... where will you go to then?" I asked, for courtesy's sake. "Any prime ideas of what the future holds for Dimitri Jäger?"

"I dunno..." Jäger sighed. "I just know that my time with you lot is up. It was a good ride, but I think it's best if I just...move around on my own again. Work without ties. Explore the game some more."

"You miss those days, then?"

"Mhm..." He nodded as he shoved the last glass onto the counter. "I guess I do."

"I feel that...vaguely..." I dipped my head.

I peered up at my interface. It was almost nearing 5 in the morning.

"I gotta go... So I guess this is a final goodbye."

"I guess it is." Jäger stood up, opening his menu.

I wanted to open my menu, but I stopped for a second.

"I thought you were going?" Jäger asked curiously, peering at me.

I reached around my neck, and pulled out my dogtag. "You've got one like mine, don't you?"

"Da..." Jäger said slowly, as he reached to pull out his own. The two tags glistened in the dim light of the pub.

"Keep it on you, 'First-Lieutenant'. Let it remind you of what you left behind." I said as I stored mine away, opening up my menu in the meanwhile.

"I won't, 'Captain' Schwarzerfeld." Jäger nodded as he turned around, raising his hand. "Next time we meet, I expect you to atleast know how to drink properly. Maybe then we can talk."

"I'll keep you to that..." I said as he walked out of the bar.

"...Dimitri..."

I smiled, and tapped my button to log out.

We'd meet again, someday.

---

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