Chapter 7:

Mercenaries don't have happy endings pt.1

My boring life as a mercenary

I woke up. I remained laying down while reflecting with myself about the last few days. Yesterday, me and Boss went to Black Stream's headquarters to discuss our first mission with our superiors. We are going after a man that tried to trick our organization. He is hiding in his mansion behind some bodyguards and may have the police looking after him as well. We also need to recover some documents that he stole from us. It's finally going to happen, my first real mercenary job. The action I was so desperate to have in my life is finally about to begin. I trained and studied hard like crazy every day for this, but instead of feeling excited like usual, I'm not feeling well. Maybe I'm just still worried about impulsively headbutting one of Black Stream's leaders right in front of the other two leaders? The guy with the monocle and the eye patch, I mean. Anyway, It's a mix of anxiety and fear, I guess? Even I can't describe it. Am I... Regretting it? After all I've been through, I still don't have enough determination to move on with my own choices? Now that I think about it, I never told you exactly why I made this crazy choice of becoming a mercenary, right? I don't mind telling you, to be honest. We are friends too, aren't we? The truth is that-

- YOU WILL NEVER CATCH ME ALIVE! - that's Loser voice coming from the living room. He seems desperate. Let's ignore it for now.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The reason why I choose to become a mercenary besides the action thing was-

- Crush, now! - that was Boss' voice followed by the sound of heavy footsteps running towards something. Then, there was the loud sound of something or maybe someone getting hit by a train.

- AUGHT! - by the way that sounded, Loser probably died.

So, as I was saying. It's not that much of a big deal, but-

- I'M NOT GOING BACK THERE! YOU CAN'T MMNH humn mmm! - looks like Loser is still alive, and his voice got muffled for some reason.

So noisy.

I stood up and aggressively opened the door of my room.

- Can you guys shut up for a second? I'm trying to have some character development here and-

I stopped talking when I looked at the scene right in front of me. Boss just finished tying up Loser in a chair while Crush is holding him tight. Crimson is watching, and Joe is laying down on the sofa as always. They all noticed me.

- Good morning, Kireng. - Boss said with her usual expression.

- Is this really necessary, Boss? - Crimson seems a bit uncomfortable by the way Loser is now.

- MMH! MMMNH! MMMMH! MMMRHHN! - as soon as he noticed me, Loser is trying to scream for my help, but his mouth is covered with duct tape. I never saw him so desperate before.

- I'm going back to sleep. - I said while going back to my room.

- You can rest some more if you want, but we will have a meeting in thirty minutes. - Boss said.

I looked at Loser. He's trying to escape with all his strength.

- Ok, no problem.

Half an hour later. Everyone is gathered at the wooden table. Loser is out of breath, and I think he is about to pass out. Besides Crimson, no one seems to care.

- So, Kireng already knows, and I informed Loser some hours ago so he could help me set up something. We are leaving Little Clove for a mission tomorrow morning. Black Stream's direct orders. - Boss started the meeting.

They all looked surprised when they heard it. Except for Loser and, Joe too, for some reason. He's not even showing signs of life. Is he apprehensive thinking this is some sort of joke? I think he may have died of disbelief.

- Now that Loser calmed down, you can take the tape out of his mouth, Crimson.

- Okay! - she ripped it off without any delicacy.


Anyway, Boss proceeded to tell everyone about what they told us at HQ. Since I came to Little Clove, this was the first time I felt like I was part of a real military squad. While Boss was talking, all the members took everything seriously. They listened carefully, asked relevant questions, and suggested ways of invading the mansion. They all seemed so professional... That was the first time I heard Crush said more than ten words in a row without any of them being cat-related. Crimson is looking with an expressionless face at the information we have on the person we are after. We didn't even know his name, and I can feel her mercilessness. Loser, who was screaming some minutes ago and still is tied up for a reason nobody told me yet, is with a thoughtful expression. Even Joe is giving more signs of life than usual.

The briefing of the mission ended. It's time to make an actual plan with what we have.

- How it's going to be then? - Crush asked.

- I've had some ideas. This guy's a penny-pincher. The mansion is old, and its security system is obsolete. Even someone without that much knowledge in technology like me can disable it and erase the security footage if necessary. - Loser said, still tied up, by the way.

- Mmmm… Ugh… - that was a good point, Joe.

- He doesn't leave the mansion since he betrayed Black Stream. He's scared. He probably doesn't even go near the windows, afraid of being shot. The only time of the day he is going to be alone is inside his room during nighttime. If this needs to be stealthy, we get him there. - Crimson is looking more like the image I had of her.

- Don't need to worry. - Boss said with her eyes closed. - I have a plan.

She made an intimidating smirk. Oooooh, so that's why they call her Smile then? She's looking more intimidating than Crush with his "shy face". During all the explanation of her plan, Boss was way more excited than her usual self. Despite the kinda scary smile that was still there the whole planning time, the way she spoke was captivating. Just the confidence in her voice was enough to believe that there was no way her plan would fail. She heard the suggestions the others made and adapted the plan with them. She's looking like a good leader to me, Monocle Eye Patch Guy.

Everyone was very engaged and talkative, except for me. Sometimes Loser or Boss consulted me if I could do this or that during the operation. I answered with "yes" or "of course", but other than that, I said nothing. Even after all my training, I felt like I would only be in their way if I tried to say something. As ironic as this will sound coming from me, the truth is only one. Since I came to Little Clove, I never felt so out of place. Dammit, I'm starting to lose my confidence.

Less than one hour later, the meeting is over. I don't intend to bother you with details, but for me, the plan is good. Basically, Boss will take the documents back while Crimson goes after our target. Crush will scout the surroundings of the mansion to inform if anything suspicious happens during the operation. Joe will make sure the civilians in the area do not get involved. Loser will take care of the security system. And I will go with Crimson to support her if necessary. The guy is expecting us, so he might have something up his sleeve.

- That's it. Everything is settled. Anyone has something else to say? When we leave the city tomorrow, we go with this plan, and there's no turning back. - Boss is back to her boring self.

We all looked at each other, but nobody said anything. I'm getting nervous. Part of me wants to tell Boss I'm not ready yet, but I can't do that.

- Are you okay, Kireng? - Loser whispered to me.

- You are the one tied up in the chair, and you are asking if I'm okay? Really? - Dammit, I avoided the question. He will certainly notice that something is bothering me. - Why are you like that?

- Oh, right. It's a funny story. Could you please release me so I can tell you about it?

That was suspicious.

- Are you trying to manipulate me?

- Of course not. We are friends, aren't we?

Yeah, he has a point. I got close to him to untie the ropes that held him to the chair.

- Are you an idiot? He will try to run away the moment he's free. - Boss said. - I was going to get to that point as soon as we were done with the planning. Since our team never worked together on an actual mission, and Kireng doesn't have any field experience, I thought it would be good to have some training simulating the closest possible of the real thing.

- That's a good idea, but where would we find a place to train like that in such a short amount of time? We are leaving tomorrow morning, and I doubt we can find it anywhere in this city. - that was me.

- Actually... There is one. - Boss said in a serious tone.

- W-Wait, you can't be talking about that place, right? - Crush is surprised. He doesn't like it either. - Now that you mention it, today is that day, isn't it?

- Yes, and it couldn't have fit in a better time. It may not be a good experience for a rookie, but it's the only option we have. - Boss is tense.

- Place? Day? What are you guys talking about? - Crimson is confused and curious like just me.

I looked at Joe, and he's not showing any reaction. I think he also doesn't know. Is this something only the old members know?

- It's hell. - Loser said, terrified.

- Okay, you are exaggerating. There's no way there's a place like this in Little Clove.


I looked at Boss and Crush, and they averted their eyes. They are not scared like Loser, but they are clearly uncomfortable.

- You’ve gotta be kidding me…

- In normal circumstances, you are right, Kireng. But today is different. Today is a special day in Little Clove. - Loser explained. - They have and

- And what does this have to do with our training?

- We can explain it to you better when we get there. I've already called who runs things there. Just like last year, no one is willing to help, so they see no problem in us participating again. But we need to get there before lunchtime. - Boss said. - Oh, but no guns.

The more I hear, the more confused I get. What in the heavens is this "training"?

- I won't go through that again, Boss.

- It's an order, Loser.

- I'm not afraid of screaming for help all the way there. - Loser said, determined.

- That's very childish of you, man... - I looked at him disappointed.

- You can't say anything, Kireng. - Crush said.

- So be it. - Boss smiled and hit him in the neck. Loser went unconscious.

Is it more or less like that when it happens to me?

We left the apartment and walked to the mysterious place where the training would happen. Crush is carrying the unconscious Loser as if he were a sack of flour, and I'm carrying Joe on my back. On the way, it was possible to see several tents and decorations set up throughout the city. Little Clove has never been so lively. It's like all the locals are getting ready for some festival that's going to happen tonight. Crush told me that today is the city's birthday, but how would that be related to proper training for a mercenary?

- It's here. - Boss that was leading the way stopped in front of an open gate. - You all wait here. I'll talk with the principal.

I don't know why I still have hope when it comes to this city. It's a school. We are in front of a goddamn school. Are we going to play soccer with the kids?

A lady around her fifties is at the entrance waiting for us.

- Oh, so these are the friends you mentioned, miss Smile? I remember Crush and Loser from last year, but you brought more this time! I must say your call saved me from a dire situation. Since their teachers got all obliterated this morning, I was afraid the children would have no one else to play "Little Clove's Foundation" with them during the afternoon.

Man, I can't believe it. I didn't expect Boss to be the kind of person who makes bad jokes. Playing with kids is training? Really?

Did she say obliterated?

- But... Are these two okay? Loser seems unconscious, and the other one is soulless.

- They are just acting. It's to entertain the kids. - Boss said.

- I see, I see. The children do ask me sometimes about Loser. He is so dedicated! They have developed a special affection for him after the last time.

Loser is still unconscious, but I think I saw him shivering a bit.

She came closer, greeted each one of us, and introduced herself. Her name is Margareth, and she's the school's principal. She also gave us headbands. It's for the game. They even have our names on the inside. Boss distributed them among us.

- Please, come in. The students are already in position. I'm sure the kids will love to hunt- I mean, play with you all.


She stepped aside and opened the way for us. As soon as we entered the school territory, she quickly locked us all inside.

- Wait, what are you doing? - I asked, confused.

- You don't need to worry. It's all part of the game.

- Don't you think locking up a bunch of adults you don't know well with your students is very irresponsible and dangerous?

- Aww, silly boy. It is not my students who are locked in with you. You are the ones locked with them. - she looked at the wristwatch she was wearing. - You have ten minutes before your doom, headbandit. Good luck.

Come again?

She left. She just said that and left. I put Joe down on the ground. Crush did the same with Loser. He sighed.

- Ah, man. Here we go again.

- We are on open ground and too close to the entrance. We need to move soon, or they will surround us. - Boss is making a strategy.

Crimson noticed something and got surprised.

- I can feel their bloodlust. At least a hundred are hiding in different spots near just waiting to attack, but they didn't notice us yet.

I looked around and couldn't see a single soul besides us.

- Aren't we just gonna play with kids? Why are you all acting like we're about to face a guerilla?

- They are... Worse than that... - Loser is back, but he's still recovering.

- What do you mean?

- There is a tradition in Little Clove every day of its birthday. - he's desperately looking in all directions to see if someone is coming after him. - While teenagers and adults gather to prepare for the festivities that will take place at nightfall, the children stay in their schools playing "Little Clove's Foundation" with their teachers. It's a game that resembles the most important moment in this city's history.

- I see.

- You didn't pay attention to anything I said, did you?

- Maybe.

He sighed and then continued.

- During the city's founding process, a group of bandits tried to invade Little Clove. That's us, represented by the headbands we're wearing. The kids ended up calling these bandits "headbandits" because of that. Our objective is to "steal" a flag hidden somewhere in the school. Are you listening? I summarized the best I could.

- I stopped paying attention at "founding process" but came back when you explained the game’s rules.

- Good enough. The students will be the villagers who had united to protect their land and defeat the bandits. Their goal is to catch our headbands. When they get yours, you are considered "defeated" and can no longer go after the flag.

- Sounds fun. It reminds me a little of a game in my homeland. But I still don't get why you are so scared.

- Okay, that's enough chatting, both of you. We are almost out of time. - Boss said.

- No, no. You don't understand. - Loser looked me in the eye. - Just like the farmers from hundreds of years ago, these brats have no mercy at all. All they care about is having fun and hurting bandits.

- They are kids, Loser.

- They are evil.

- Guys, you heard Boss. That's enough. - Crush tried to intervene.

- Are you afraid of kids too? You can tell me. I won't judge you. Too much.

- Are you making fun of me? - he got mad.

- They are coming. - Crimson said, looking at her surroundings.

- Do I need to? You are already making fun of yourself.

- Mmm! - Joe got mad at me.

- At least I-

It happened in the blink of an eye. A child hit the Loser's head at the speed of a bullet. Even Crimson, who seemed to notice the kid’s approach, wasn't fast enough to stop her. We could only look in disbelief as he fell to the ground in slow motion. He's not moving.

The child is a girl around five years old. After easily taking down a trained mercenary with just a single blow, she calmly stood up and removed the headband from Loser's head.

-LOSER! - I screamed.

I need to calm down. It's just a kid. She just caught us by surprise, that's all.

She looked at me with a creepy smile and said:

- One headbandit less.


Several other children started to come out of different hiding places and advanced towards us.

- Dammit! Don't let them surround us! We need to move, now! - Boss tried to lead us, but it's too late.

- They are everywhere! - Crush said while pulling out a boy who was grabbing his arm.

Crimson is silent since Loser's death. Is she thinking of some plan?

- I will kill them all. - she said, serious.

Well, that's a plan, somehow. But I can't let her do that! Demons or not, they are still children!

- Crimson-

-Whoever manages to remove the headband from that ugly otaku wins a lollipop! - one of the kids said, encouraging the others.

- That will be easy.

- Haha, otaku! So lame!

- Please, allow me to help you. - I said with a straight face siding with her.

- Kireng, you fool. You are getting carried away by the teasing of kindergarten kids! - Boss said, dodging the kids trying to get her headband.

- That girl is so fast. I can't even touch her! - said another student, surprised.

- Girl? Isn't she a boy?

- Even my sister has bigger than hers. And she is eleven!

- Crimson, permission granted. You may execute them all as you see fit.

- Yes, ma'am.

- I'll open a way for us to the school's main entrance. Be prepared. It will be our only chance! - Crush made a running stance. - Follow my lead! CHAAAAAAARGE!

Crush ran in a straight line with open arms and the strength of a truck. The children who were holding on to him let him go, and those who dared to stand in his way were hurled away. Don't worry. The only one who got hurt in this chapter so far is Loser.

We quickly followed Crush, and upon entering the school, we closed the front doors.