1216 words (4 minute read)

Chapter 1

He walks in wearing blood red armor. Snow flies in behind him, eager to fill the newly exposed room. A ghostly visage is etched onto his mask like a nightmarish happy face. Three rounds burst from his rifle, burrowing into the skulls of two mercenaries. A massive Viashano brute charges him, a roar of rage bellows from its crocodilian jaws. A quick sidestep allows the stranger to effortlessly dodge the behemoth. He pirouettes, dropping his rifle so that it hangs at his side. He switches to the secondary weapon, a shotgun, attached to his lower back. The reptilian mercenary begins its second assault with renewed fervor. The stranger pulls the trigger, high velocity shells tear through armor and scales, knocking it off its feet. The disturbed snow dances around the fallen warrior like sadistic fairies.

The stranger stops, scans the room for movement, but sees nothing. The frozen wind whistles through the breached door. In the center of the room, is a woman tied to a small steel chair. He approaches the hostage carefully, the display on his lenses calculates her heart and respiration rates. Bruises and scrapes can be found around her wrists, though they appear to be self-inflicted. Based on the dim lighting and disheveled nature of her appearance the facial recognition software takes a while to put a name to her. Then his eyes catch it, a faded scar along the left of her jaw. Emerald veins trace up her bare arms, before disappearing just beneath her jaw line. The veins confirm that like himself, she’s an Orothros operative. Though unlike him, her veins are darker with no noticeable glow to them. The fact that she’s an operative was expected, the scar though, that makes him pause. His throat tightens, he feels his heart rate spike. Carefully, he reaches up to brush the hair plastered to her face.

“Anna?” he whispers, unsure if what he’s seeing is real.

Emerald eyes shoot open, burning with rage. Her head shoots forward, throwing him off balance momentarily. She follows it up with an attack from her left hand, seemingly freeing herself from the restraints. He narrowly avoids the blow only to be struck by a swift knee to the gut that renders him speechless. Doubled over on the ground, her shadow towers over him. She raises the metallic chair determined to finish him off. He hastily tackles her to the ground. Hands grip her wrists, using his knee he manages to keep her pinned despite her ferocious struggles against his grasp.

“Anna!” he shouts above her feral screams. “Damn it! Calm Down! It’s me!”

She stops, her eyes refocus on her opponent. Her humanity returns for moment before fading behind a hysterical laugh. “Oh, well now that I know it’s you, why don’t you just let me go,” she responds sarcastically. There’s a twisted mix of desperation, and insanity to the way she smiles up at him. Yet he can’t help to acknowledge that a part of him finds it irresistible, almost like looking in a mirror.

Cautiously, he releases her left wrist. His free hand reaches up, fingers dig into the environmental mask on his face. The chill air stings his eyes upon being exposed to the frigid temperatures.

Her venomous glare softens upon seeing his icy blue eyes, fiery red hair, and familiar self-assured grin.

“Tal?” The fear, anger, and adrenaline slowly flee her body at the sight of an ally. “What-?”

“I picked up a recovery beacon, didn’t expect to find you.” He breathes a sigh of relief upon seeing her regain her senses. His grip relaxes. Taking a knee beside her, he begins work on removing the restraint that remains attached to her right wrist. There’s a sharp click, followed by the sound of metal clattering to the floor.

“Sorry,” she says as she sits up, rubbing her wrists. He hears a faint pop as she snaps her left thumb back into place

“Its fine, I’ve had worse,” he answers. “How’d you get here?”

Before she can respond a feminine voice echoes inside his ear. Enemies are inbound on your position.

“Something wrong?” Anna asks seeing the concern on his face.

“I may have made too much noise when I breached the room,” he answers without really apologizing.

Anna rolls her eyes as she hurriedly snatches a weapon from one of the dead mercenaries. They rush through the ajar entryway into the welcoming sound of gunfire and shouts of pain and anger. Bullets strike the scrambling mercs as they run between cover, leaving them moaning in pain. One zips past Tal’s ear before connecting with a mercenary running towards them. The man spins in the air upon impact before quickly thudding to the ground.

“Hey, be careful, that’s my good ear,” he chastises the sniper covering their escape.

“That friend of yours have a name?” Anna inquires.

“Later, we’ve got to get out of here first,” Tal says, flashing her a wicked smile as he unslings his rifle.

Five more mercs rush out of a nearby building to aid their comrades, their fingers hastily fasten their body armor in place. Without missing a beat, the two escapees engage the targets. Tal’s finger flexes on the trigger, downing two of them before they even realize he’s there. Seeing their friends fall so suddenly, the three raise their weapons in response. A barrage of plasma lined rounds burrow through their armor before they have a chance to consider pulling the trigger. Tal looks behind him to see Anna pushing forward with fiery determination. Tal grins in satisfaction, zipping ahead to embrace the fight.

His senses become fully heightened, each flake of snow, each muzzle flash, and each flexing muscle in his body brings an energy, a euphoria that makes him feel alive. His heart beats in rhythm with each rifle pulse; his muscles surge with each hand-to—hand take down.

Suddenly, as a new batch of mercs turn to face the escaping operatives his rifle clicks empty. Before he can say anything Anna tosses him one of the discarded automatic rifles. The moment the weapon lands in his gloved hands he pulls the trigger. Heated plasma tears through armor, flesh, and bone. He doesn’t say anything, and neither does she. They just push forward towards the edge of camp.

Tal knows every step she’ll make, but not because of any training or modification. It’s much simpler than that, it is trust, it is experience, and it’s knowing they’ve been here before. The rhythm between the two is electric and deadly for the ill prepared mercenaries. Tal’s grinning from ear to ear as they walk side by side out of the destroyed encampment.

Next Chapter: Chapter 2