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...Bookmark here

TOO. BAD. FOR. YOU.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

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. Bookmark here

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

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

- 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.Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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

- 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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

He looked at me without changing his expression.Bookmark here

- I see. My name is Crush.Bookmark here

IT'S HIM. THANK GOD.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Haha, fair enough.Bookmark here

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?Bookmark here

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

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

- 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.Bookmark here

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?Bookmark here

He sighed and then smiled again.Bookmark here

- 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.Bookmark here

- Hell yeah! - I replied enthusiastically.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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".Bookmark here

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:Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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"?Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"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.Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

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

- 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.Bookmark here

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

- Thanks. I can han- Oh?Bookmark here

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?Bookmark here

- Hey, kit-Bookmark here

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

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

- 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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

What an intense guy...Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

- He’s dead?Bookmark here

- He's not.Bookmark here

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

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".Bookmark here

- 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.Bookmark here

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

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

- That's Joe.Bookmark here

- He's dead?Bookmark here

- He's not. Right, Joe?Bookmark here

- Mmmmmmh - did he... Moan?Bookmark here

- He's a zombie, then.Bookmark here

- He's not. Right, Joe?Bookmark here

- ... - not even a peep.Bookmark here

- See?Bookmark here

- He didn't answer this time.Bookmark here

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

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

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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

Wait, she's Crimson? That Crimson?Bookmark here

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

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?Bookmark here

- Thanks. Can I open it now?Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

- Why does the knife has blood on it?Bookmark here

- 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.Bookmark here

Am I holding the proof of a crime?Bookmark here

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

- Did you like it?Bookmark here

Oh, Lord. She avoided the question.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

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

- 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?!Bookmark here

Guess I have no choice...Bookmark here

Five minutes later.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

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.Bookmark here

- Do you want some, Joe?Bookmark here

- Mmmmmmm - that's a yes.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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? Bookmark here

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

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

Hey, only I can break the fourth wall here.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

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

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

- 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.Bookmark here

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

- Just that? - I inquired, confused.Bookmark here

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

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

-W-What about drones or night vision goggles?Bookmark here

- 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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

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.Bookmark here

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

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

- 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.Bookmark here

- 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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark 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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

Me and my big mouth.Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

Joe... I'm sorry...Bookmark here

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