Chapter 0:

Welcome to the team

My boring life as a mercenary

Have you ever had the feeling that your life is in such a mess that the only way to get back on track is to throw everything up and start over? But you can't, right? Because there's always something stopping you. Money, knowledge, people, yourself. I also knew this feeling very well, my friend. Makes you uneasy and feel like trash. I wish I had the right words for you, but unfortunately, the only thing I can say is...


Because I, differently from you, am about to start my exciting new life at any moment. You see, I was searching for action and adventure since my life went down the hole, so I, a born genius, had the brilliant idea to join Black Stream, one of the biggest and well know mercenary groups in the world. After months of training, dedication, crying alone in the shower, and going through some VERY unnecessary torture to prove my loyalty, I was finally able to become an official member.

Furthermore, they saw my potential and have already sent me to be part of one of their squads around the world for the next few years. That's why, right now, I'm going to meet them in a city named Little Clove. To be honest, I never heard about this place, but since Black Stream has a hideout there, I'm sure it's an important location controlled by some tough guys.

- We arrived, kid. - said an old man around his sixties while parking the old dark red pickup truck we are in.

This is Carlos. A very kind person who helped me a lot some hours ago. I must say that there are few good people like him these days.

- Thanks, Carlos. You're a lifesaver. - I said while grabbing my backpack and leaving his car.

He's a mechanic who was coming back from visiting his grandchildren when we met.

- Don't worry, Kireng. We were going to the same place after all. Also, seeing you with those puppy eyes alone on the road desperate for a ride was very heartbreaking. See you around, and welcome to Little Clove. - he answered while parting ways and waving his hand through the window of his truck.

Don't listen to him. He's senile.

Anyway, why don't I introduce myself while going to the rendezvous point? And before you ask, no. I'm not walking because I don't have money to pay for a taxi.

I’m Kireng. Actually, that's not my real name. It's more of a nickname I received after joining Black Stream and creating a new identity. I'm a young adult, handsome as expected, a little taller than average, and have built some muscle due to my physical training. I have short dark blue hair and am often wearing a black jacket, a navy blue t-shirt, and dark jeans. Call me generic, and I'll hit you.

Now, let's talk about this city. Little Clove is not big but has everything a city needs. A hospital, schools, a market, you know what I mean. There's a lot of people on the streets but not many cars. It makes me wonder if Carlos is doing fine in his workshop. In short, it seems pretty ordinary. Well, appearances can be deceiving. This place might be a real mess behind the scenes.

After around fifteen minutes, I finally arrived at the location they gave me. It's an alley. Looks like a suspicious place. I'm starting to get nervous.

When I carefully turned the corner to enter the alley, I saw a HUGE man around 6ft tall leaning against the wall crossing his arms. Everything about him said, "Yeah, I'm military" His haircut, his clothes, the scars in his arms, he was even wearing a dog tag. This dude look's as strong as almost everyone in Black Stream’s headquarters! He certainly is, or at least was, from the army.

-Are you, Kireng? - he asked calmly with a serious and intimidating face while looking at me.

- No, I'm with the wolves. - I answered serenely, deepening my voice. Don't judge me. I need to look cool if I want to be respected.

I said the code we combined beforehand correctly, but I have to admit. I am a little tense right now. If this man is not the person I'm expecting, I'm afraid I cannot take him 1v1 in this cramped alley.

He looked at me without changing his expression.

- I see. My name is Crush.


Crush, huh? In Black Stream, the members often get their nicknames based on some trait or something they did. Did he crush someone's head with his bare hands or something? That would be amazing.

What does “Kireng” mean, you ask? It’s not of your damn business.

- I look forward to being working with you, Crush. - he seemed a bit surprised since, this time, I spoke in a more friendly manner.

- Yes, I say the same. - Crush answered, doing a simple smile. - You aren’t exactly what I was expecting from what HQ told us.

- What? Not enough lasers or fangs? - I joked.

- More like “crazy otaku with a superiority complex”.

I’m gonna kill the person who gave them this description.

- Well, they didn’t tell an ogre would welcome me, so we are even.

- Haha, fair enough.

Good, he has a sense of humor. All that heavy mood from before is gone. We did a handshake. Maybe he was a little tense as well?

- Hmm? Is that all your things? - he pointed at my backpack.

- Ah, yes. I usually don't carry much stuff with me.

- Damn you, Loser. Even knowing how shy I am, you pushed your job of picking up Kireng to me, with the excuse that he was bringing a lot of luggage. - Crush said, frustrated while frowning his eyebrows.

Wait, all this time, was he being shy? That intimidating aura he had could have made a kid cry just from looking at him. And what kind of loser has "Loser" as a nickname?

He sighed and then smiled again.

- Well, I will just need to make him pay later for fooling me like that. For now, shall we go? The apartment is not far from here.

- Hell yeah! - I replied enthusiastically.

I'm getting nervous again! We are going to our hideout. I thought about asking Crush about the equipment we have in the way. Do we have any big guns or explosives? Maybe those high technology computers and drones? Better not, I want it to be a surprise.

Then I questioned what kind of job we do here since the city looks so peaceful, but he only replied: "Boss will fill you in better on this".

At last, I asked about the rest of the squad. According to Crush, besides him and me, our team has four other members. They are:

Smile. Our leader. She's among Black Stream's high ranks. But for some reason doesn't get along with the people from HQ. She's reserved and doesn't interact less than necessary with the rest of the team.

Loser. A friendly but tricky guy. He passes most of his time gathering relevant information and secret intel. He can read you like a book just by looking into your eyes. Seriously, why "Loser"?

Crimson. Even a rookie like me knows about her. The name “Crimson” stands for "she leaves red wherever she goes". A ruthless murderer without mercy. Even veteran mercenaries fear her.

And Joe. A very mysterious person who almost doesn't talk. He's a specialist in urban operations. Besides maybe Loser, no one in the team knows anything else about him.

"Me? I just know one thing or two about guns and am responsible for our equipment maintenance", Crush finished and laughed. I bet he has been modest.

In general, they seem very dangerous. I can't wait to meet them!

We ended up in a residential area. So, we are living among the civilians? I see. It's kinda cowardly if you ask me, but our leader must be the cautious type.

I keep looking everywhere, wondering and guessing where the hideout could be until we stopped in front of an old apartment building.

- It’s here. Wish I could go up and show you the place, but I have work right now. - Crush is talking while giving me a key - Our apartment is on the third floor, number thirty-two. If you ever forget, It’s in the keyring.

So, you're going to do mercenary work in a city in the middle of the day? Just like that? I respect you, Crush.

- Thanks. I can han- Oh?

Suddenly, something caught my attention. A small cat approached, and it's looking at us. Does it want something? I don't see a collar. Is it stray?

- Hey, kit-

- KITTYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY! - Crush screamed very loud and dashed full speed towards the poor animal.

The cat dodged, and I almost had a heart attack.

- Oh ho! Your reflexes are better than usual. Are you trying to show off to the new guy? - he tried to catch the cat, but it dodged once more.

I'm lost. Are they playing tag? He knows everyone in the street is looking at us, right?

- You won't escape from me this time! - now, Crush leaned a little and opened both arms to cover more space.

The creature noticed how solid Crush’s formation was, so this time instead of trying to dodge, it just turned around and started fleeing.

- Are you trying to run away?! Not on my watch! - he started running like a speeding truck towards the kitty ignoring everything around him.

What an intense guy...

Well, since Crush now seems busy running through the street chasing a cat while destroying public property, I took this chance to go inside the building unnoticed.

It's easy to see that the place is humble, not that this is a problem at all. There is an old iron elevator, but it doesn't seem to work, so I took the stairs to the third floor. By the condition of the walls, I can say that the structure is still in good shape. On my way to the apartment, I didn't see anyone. No garbage on the floor or shouting, so either this place doesn't have many residents, or they are, at least, decent people.

The third floor has three wooden doors distributed through the corridor. I stopped right in front of the one with the "32" in it and used the key Crush gave me.

The door led to a living room connected to a small kitchen. The furniture looks pretty old. The closed doors probably connect to other rooms. There's a TV from 2005 or something, a wooden table with some chairs around it, a moldy carpet, a floor lamp, and a sofa with someone laying on it.

It's a man with medium-length red hair. He's wearing a beanie covering his eyes, a white tank top, black shorts, and flip-flops.

After getting a closer look, I noticed that his mouth is open, and he looked more knocked out than sleeping. To make sure he's ok, I poked him with a handgun mag I had in my backpack. No reaction.

- He’s dead?

- He's not.

- KYAA! - I didn't scream like a little girl. You didn't read that, understood?

I turned around, and behind me, there is a dude around my age with short blonde hair smiling while looking at me. He's wearing glasses, a purple shirt, grey shorts, black sneakers, and a pair of gloves that shows his fingers. The first thing that passed through my mind while looking at him is "what a loser".

- The name is Loser. - oh - I saw the door open and couldn't resist. Sorry for scaring you like that. You are Kireng, I assume? Nice to meet you, man.

It's not like he's faking it, but something about his smile pisses me off.

- Yeah, nice to meet you too. So, what's wrong with him? - I asked, now looking at the man on the sofa again.

- That's Joe.

- He's dead?

- He's not. Right, Joe?

- Mmmmmmh - did he... Moan?

- He's a zombie, then.

- He's not. Right, Joe?

- ... - not even a peep.

- See?

- He didn't answer this time.

Before I could inquire more about the deceased, someone slammed open the front door.

- I'm back! - she said energetically while raising her right hand and going inside the apartment.

A young woman. If I had to guess, she's not even twenty yet and is somewhere near 5ft tall. She has long orange hair and is wearing a black and yellow short sleeve jacket with a hood, a gray shirt, a black skirt, leggings, and a pair of black boots with yellow shoelaces.

Good, another weirdo. At least, she is cute.

- Ah, you are the crazy otaku! - she destroyed my self-esteem with a big smile.

I’m seriously gonna kill the person who gave them this description.

- Don't call him that, Crimson. - scolded Loser.

Wait, she's Crimson? That Crimson?

- Ahahaha, sorry. - you do not look very sorry - Here, take this. It's a welcome gift!

She gave me a gift-wrapped box. Well, there goes the murderous image I had about her. Were the people from HQ exaggerating about her just like they lied about me?

- Thanks. Can I open it now?

- Please do! - Crimson said with a happy smile while putting her hands behind her back.

Such a cutie! Is she really a mercenary? I quickly unwrapped the box and opened it. What do you think it's inside? Bin Bon! Exactly! A Hunting knife! Cool, right? WITH BLOOD ON IT. FRESH BLOOD.

I mean, of course I saw a lot of blood before, but this was supposed to be a gift, right? Even Loser looks worried!

- Crimson, can I ask you a question? - I asked a little scared.

- Of course! - she answered as if there was nothing wrong at all.

- Why does the knife has blood on it?

- Oh, right! I forgot to tell you. - please don't forget! - I tested the knife myself before giving you to see if it was sharp. I hope you don't mind.

Am I holding the proof of a crime?

- You didn't stab someone with it, right?

- Did you like it?

Oh, Lord. She avoided the question.

She didn't just kill someone to test the quality of a knife, right? She's not that crazy, right Loser? I looked at him. HE LOOKS MORE WORRIED THAN ME.

- I-I... guess so. It's a pretty cool hunting knife. - I answered

- Yay! - Don't "yay" me! Someone out there is dead, and you are happy saying "yay"!

- K-Kireng... - Loser called me with a trembling voice while pointing his finger to a door - The bathroom is right through that door. You can clean the knife there... - he's not even looking at me. He wants me to clear the evidence?!

Guess I have no choice...

Five minutes later.

- Loser, are you going to eat that? - I pointed at the cookie on his dish.

- Take your eyes off from it. You already ate three. - he answered while pushing his dish away from me.

- Chocolate is so good! - Crimson has some different kinds of sweets on her dish.

We are eating on the wooden table I mentioned before. Loser brought sweets as his welcome gift to me.

What? We are mercenaries. People die all the time in our line of work. Also, after cleaning and taking a closer look at the hunting knife, I noticed how good it is. Crimson has very good taste.

- Do you want some, Joe?

- Mmmmmmm - that's a yes.

I threw some sweets in his direction. They fell on the sofa around him, and Joe gave me a discreet thumbs-up. I'm starting to understand him. I think.

Everything's nice and all, but I still didn't see any assault rifle or awesome equipment around. Do they keep everything hidden even inside the apartment?

- So, where's the good stuff? - I asked, full of anticipation.

- If you are talking about booze, we don't have. This is a novel suitable for 13+. - Loser answered while eating his cookie.

Hey, only I can break the fourth wall here.

- Are you going to say that even after what just happened?

- Since it was all implied, we can say the blood was fake, and the knife is just for cooking.

Damn, this guy is good. Why do we call him "Loser" again?

- Anyway, that's not what I mean. I'm talking about guns. Where are they?

- Hmm? - Loser seems confused - Each one of us has a self-defense pistol. You have yours, don't you?

- Well, yes. But I'm talking about some big guns like an assault rifle or an LMG.

- We have an M4A1 laying around somewhere but don't have ammo for it. It's Boss's old gun. You could ask her where it is. I think she will arrive any minute now.

- We have one bulletproof vest too! - completed Crimson still eating the sweets.

- Just that? - I inquired, confused.

- Yeah, It's not like we need anything else.

Loser's answering my questions like he's stating the obvious. Somehow we're not on the same page.

-W-What about drones or night vision goggles?

- Do you have any idea how expensive that kind of equipment is? A squad without regular operations like us can't afford that. Even if we could, we probably would never use it.

- Wait, what do you mean? We can't do our work for Black Stream with only pistols. What are they thinking?

Crimson and Loser looked at each other as if they just realized something.

- Kireng, you know what kind of team we are, right? - Crimson asked with a little worried expression

I'm about to hear something I'm not gonna like, aren’t I?

Then, Loser explained that our job in Little Clove is literally to just "standby and wait for new orders". And it has been like that forever. Also, the city is so ordinary that we never have work, and no one understands why Black Stream is interested in here in the first place. They tried to question HQ several times but never got a proper answer.

- Wait a minute. Before parting ways with Crush, he told me that he had work. - this is my last hope. Please, be something cool.

- He does, as a cashier in a supermarket. Black Stream sends almost no money, and we gotta pay the bills somehow.

- So, in other words, I have to request a transfer for HQ and leave this city ASAP. - I said while walking towards the front door.

- Unfortunately, Joe already tried that a lot of times. That's why he ended up like that... - Loser said with his head down and with a saddened tone.

I looked at Joe with sad eyes. All his strength and motivation, gone. So that's your story, friend? Look what this place has done to you. All that is left is pure boredom.

- I will try anyway. For Joe's sake too. - I said, determined.

Joe let a tear run down his face. He knows his hopes and dreams will live on with me. There is a life full of action waiting for me. I can’t let it end here.

I was just about to walk towards the door again when I suddenly bumped into something flat and still. The hell is this? I looked forward and see the door opened, then I looked down and there is a young woman right in front of me.

She's a little taller than Crimson, has long, messy black hair, pale skin, and dark circles under her eyes. She's wearing a black jacket, grey military pants, and a pair of brown military boots. But from all her traits, one stood out more than the others.

- Flat as a riot shield. - I said that out loud, didn't I?

Me and my big mouth.

She closed her eyes and smiled. Even a fool could tell that I was a dead man.

There was not even time to react. She punched me on the face and hit just the spot. I fell face down on the ground. Before everything went dark, a thought passes through my mind.

Joe... I'm sorry...