My boring life as a mercenary
- Is everyone okay? - Crush asked, right after closing the school's front door.
- I guess so. - I said, looking around us. We are at the entrance hall.
- Where's Joe? - Crimson asked, looking around as well.
As soon as I heard that, I realized something and opened my eyes wide. I looked out the nearest window and saw a bunch of kids piling on top of Joe like zombies devouring a corpse. He's in the exact same spot I left him when we entered school territory. Joe, I'm so sorry... I need to tell them.
- Do you know where he is, Kireng? - Boss asked.
- He probably took advantage of the attention we drew to sneak around and look for the flag. - I answered, smiling. - Joe is one of the best, after all.
There's ABSOLUTELY no way I can tell them I forgot about him.
- Wow, he's one step ahead! - Crimson came back to her old self.
- That does sounds like him. - Crush said.
- I see. - Boss looks convinced.
- Let's move on and have faith in him. - I said, this time with a big smile. - He's our squadmate, after all.
Before we could do anything else, we heard the kids trying to get into school, but the door was stuck. Probably because Crush closed it too tightly.
- Quickly, we need to barricade it! - I said, worried.
- That won't be necessary. Look. - Boss pointed to a poster on the wall written "Safe Zone" - In this game, there are some safe places where they can't go after us.
- They know about that, right? - I said as I pointed to the kids trying to pass through the door and windows hitting it like zombies during an outbreak. Some of them even screamed and hissed at us.
- They are doing this only to scare us. I think.
- You think?
- Another rule is that the flag must be in one of the school's points of interest. The playground, for example.
We moved down the hall while we talked. Most of the students tried to surprise us outside, so we didn't have much trouble in the hallways.
- We need to be careful now. We are in enemy territory. - Boss stated, leading the way.
- Where was the flag last time? - I asked.
- The brats put it in a room they never went to, thinking it was the perfect hiding place.
- The janitor's room?
- The library.
- I see.
- A surprise attack is most likely. - Crimson is taking this "training" seriously. She almost sounds like a normal person.
- Indeed. Stay alert everyone. They can be hidden anywhere.
- Don't worry. I will focus on defense and will protect our rear. - Crush is focused.
I have to admit that having a big guy like him around gives me a lot of sense of security. I feel that as long as he is with us, it will be impossible to break our formation!
-If I remember correctly, this is the music room. - Boss said, stopping in front of a door with cute cat stickers scattered around and a sheet of paper taped to it. On the paper, it is poorly handwritten in crayon "cute cats inside". The door is closed, and it's not possible to see anything inside.
- It's a trap.
- Definitely a trap. The brats know Crush loves cats.
- I don't understand a lot of things, but even I can see that's a trap.
The three of us look suspiciously at the obvious trap before us.
- Even Crush wouldn't fall for that-
- KITIEEEEEEEES! HERE. I. COME. - he rushed towards the door and opened it without thinking twice.
As soon as he opened the door, Crush was surprised by several small children's hands grabbing him at once.
- W-What is this? I can't believe it! Was this a trap all along? - who could have guessed?
Crush loses his balance, and the students pulled him inside the classroom slowly. They were too many, even for Crush.
- Wait! Let me go! Urgh!
The scene looked like tiny devils taking a poor soul straight up to hell. Unfortunately, it was kinda expected, so it didn't affect us at all. We only looked very disappointed at Crush the whole time.
- Should we help him? - I asked.
- No, it will be a good learning experience for him. - Boss denied.
- Isn't he supposed to be the one with the most years of experience among us?
She ignored my question.
- Argh! No! The kitties! I must go back to the kittieee-
When they finished pulling him into the darkness of the music room, the door slammed shut. After that, silence.
-Cruuush... - I faked an unmotivated scream. - Anyway, is there any chance the flag is in there?
- Most unlikely. Another rule is that the brats can't "camp" inside the room the flag is.
- If you had said this before, wouldn't you have prevented what just happened?
- If there's anything that might stop Crush's love for cats, let me know. Besides, he already knew all the rules.
- Fair enough. Is there any other rule that you could have told us beforehand?
- I guess that was the last one. Let's move on.
- Roger that.
- Yes, ma'am.
We explored the school using professional stealth techniques to avoid confrontations with the elementary schoolers and- What? They have a lot more people on their side, so it's absolutely fair to use our military knowledge against them.
As time went on, they got smarter and adapted to our techniques. Also, their traps were getting more elaborate... And deadly. Right now, we're at the library to see if they didn't dare to put the flag in the same place as last year.
- Boss, we searched the perimeter. There is no one in the library besides us. - I said.
- Good job. - Boss said, looking at one of the bookcases. - It was right here. Hidden behind some educational books.
-How did you even find out it was there the last time?
- Loser's logic, ask him later if you want.
- Something is wrong. - Crimson warned. - All the places we went so far had kids waiting for us. Even in the safe zones. It's too quiet.
- Isn't that a good sign? As Boss said, they can't protect the flag from inside the room it's in, right?
- Crimson is right. Stay alert. It could still be a trap.
I kept my eye on my surroundings as Boss cautiously reached for where the flag might be. A few seconds passed. The tension is killing me. I feel like we could be attacked any second now. A few more seconds passed, and nothing. Isn't she a little too cautious? I turned my attention to her once again.
- Boss, why are you taking so long to-
She is on her tiptoes, still trying to reach the books.
- Need some help?
- No. - she's also trying not to show all the effort she is making.
Out of nowhere, the horror movie we were in turned into a romantic comedy.
- Maybe they place it higher compared to last year? - Crimson said, without any mercy.
- C'mon Boss. - I said while approaching her. - We don't have time for this.
- Shut up. I got this.
She tried for a few more seconds before she finally stopped. I guess she gave up.
She started again.
-... - she's not looking at us, but I can feel her frustration from here. I need to do something. It's starting to get awkward.
- Hmmm... I don't understand all this vain effort. It doesn't suit you, Boss. Are you perhaps too prideful to accept that you are not tall enough to reach it?
HER FEELINGS, CRIMSON!
- W-well... - oh, I know! - You don't have to hesitate to ask us for help if you need it, Boss. We are your team and your friends. We are here for exactly that, right, Crimson?
Boss stopped once again. She sighed.
- You being mature like that all of a sudden is weird, Kireng. - excuse me? - But you are right. I should rely more on my team.
So you are not admitting you can't do it?
- Take those books off the bookcase for me, Kireng. It's an order. - she said, slightly smiling.
The order part was necessary? At least she is in a good mood again. That smile is a good one.
I approached the bookshelf, and the first thing that popped into my head was "How am I going to tease Boss after easily picking up the books?" since I can't resist. But as soon as I pulled out the first one, a thin wire broke, and a smartphone hidden behind them snapped a photo with flash to temporarily blind me.
- Your head is mine, headbandit! - a boy yelled at the top of the bookcase and jumped towards me. I just took a step to the side, and he crashed to the ground.
- It was a good idea, but you're going to need a lot more than that to catch a mercenary by surprise.
Crush is an exception, and Loser doesn't count.
That same wire started a chain reaction. The bookcases began to fall one after another and blocked the library's entrance. Aren't they going a little too far? Just saying.
Shortly after, a bunch of kids came out from their hiding spots and surrounded us.
- Ok, I admit. I'm surprised.
Where did they come from? I'm sure we secured the entire library.
- Dammit, they got us this time.
- Can we do something?
I don't think so. This time there is nowhere to hide or run. Is this the end?
- Big sis Crimson! Over here! - said a voice coming from the ceiling.
I looked up and saw a little girl and two boys looking at us through a big hole. They removed one of the tiles from the suspended ceiling.
- Ah! It's you guys! - Crimson said. - It's been a while!
Oh, I remember now! They are the kids Crimson helped before! Around chapter two, I guess?
- Quickly, we are here to help! - One of the boys offered his hand for us.
- You traitors! - a boy that ambushed us said.
- Talk about the timing! Kireng, help Crimson. I'll hold them off.
She jumped high enough, and without much effort, she made it.
- They are going to escape! Get them!
- Kireng, you next. But before you go, change your headband with mine.
- Just do it.
We exchanged our headbands as she asked, even though I don't understand the reason.
- Boss, I think you would fit way better than me in that tight place since-
- Come again? - She's smiling. It's the dangerous one.
While Boss kept holding the kids, I also jumped up and managed to reach the hole in the ceiling with the help of Crimson and the kids on our side.
- Okay. Boss, it’s your turn now!
- I'll meet you guys later. Go!
- We are not leaving you behind!
- It's an order, Kireng.
- We need to leave. They know how to come up here! - one of the boys said.
- We are mercenaries, Kireng. The mission takes priority over our lives. You need to know when to make tough choices.
- Godammit! - I closed my eyes in frustration. - We are moving!
- Kireng... - Crimson noticed my discomfort leaving Boss behind.
- About time! - the other boy said. He started closing the hole with the tile they removed before.
The last thing I saw was one of the children finally managing to grab Boss on her leg.
- She looked me in the eyes.
- I'm counting on you.
After that, I only heard the noises of the children attacking.
- We'll take you to a safe place. Follow me. - the girl said.
Crimson and I followed them, crawling. The path was dark and tight. I needed to be very careful while moving, or the structure that supported us might not hold as it wasn't made to hold a lot of weight.
What Boss said echoed through my head. Will I be able to make a tough choice when the time comes?
After a few minutes, they stopped, and one of the boys removed another tile.
- They are not using this room for the game so it’s safe here.
- Thanks. We own you one.
- It's okay. We own big sis Crimson a lot!
- Yeah, don't let anything happen to her, or we will go after you.
- I can't believe big sis Crimson has such an ugly boyfriend! I will become stronger and take her away from you, otaku!
-My name is Kireng, dammit!
Why is it that the first thing everyone in this city thinks while looking at my face for the first time is that I’m an otaku? Wait, do we look like a couple to them? I looked at Crimson, and she doesn't seem to care at all about what he just said, but that’s how she is.
Me and Crimson, huh? Now that I think about it, I can't even remember the last time I got interested in having a girl-
- Stop daydreaming. You are wasting time! - he pushed me.
The hole wasn't that big, but I went over and fell to the ground. Crimson jumped down soon after.
- Y-you damn brat...
- Thank you very much! - Crimson waved at them.
- Please, come play with us again someday. - they waved back.
They were about to leave, but I called them back.
- Wait! Can you guys tell us where the flag is?
- Sorry, we already did more than enough for you guys.
- Yes, the other kids are our friends too.
They are so honorable...
- But we can give you a hint! Just because the flag is inside the school territory, that doesn't mean it's in the school building!
It makes sense. That's why we couldn't find it anywhere! Also, that’s probably why the majority of the students continued outside even after we entered school.
- Friends? - Crimson asked.
- Yep! Big sis Crimson is a very dear friend!
- Is... Is that so?
- Of course!
- Good luck, you guys will need it! Bye-bye.
They closed the hole with the tile and left.
Crimson is with sparkling eyes.
- Looks like you had some good friends, and you didn't even notice.
- Yes! But... - she looks a bit troubled now.
- What's the problem?
- I'm... Not a good person. - she lowered her head.
This again? I remember the last time we talked about this. Crimson seems to care a lot about what people think about her and if she's a good person or not. Are we going to have one of those conversations? Oh, Lord. It's been a while.
- What about it? We are not exactly good people, but there are still people who care about us. Also, those kids may not know the whole truth, but they do like what they know about you a lot. And that's what matters most.
- Hmm... I guess you are right. But the bad things I did will always be there. I wonder how they would feel if they found out who I really am…
I screwed up. She's more down than before. I wanna make her feel better, but I have no idea what to say. We have lived together for some months now, but there is so much I don't know about her. Am I even the best person to talk to her about that?
What if I change the subject for now? I looked around and noticed that we are in a regular classroom.
- Y-you know, It's been a while since the last time I had to take a class. I kinda missed it.
-It does seem fun. I never would have guessed that everyday life at school was so full of adrenaline. That must be why you miss it. You do like action a lot, Kireng!
- Please, don't take today as a reference. Don't you know how a school works?
- I've never been in one before, so no. I don't even know what it's like to be a student.- she said casually.
Of course she doesn't, you idiot. Crimson probably lost her childhood due to being trained as an assassin. Did I screw up again?
- You don't need to say it like that, Joe. I didn't mean to-
JESUS CHRIST, JOE IS ALIVE.
He's sitting at one of the small desks made for kids half his size, and he still has his headband! I can't believe it! I apologized for leaving him behind. By the sounds he made, I think he holds no grudges. What a friend! I wanted to hug him while in tears, but that would be weird.
How did he make it, you ask? Because he's Joe, of course!
- Hmmm... Hmm...
- Joe, it is true that we need a strategy, but what you’re suggesting will just get everyone killed-
- Big sis Crimson, hear me! - the little girl that helped us came back. She’s looking at us from the same hole we came from. This time, she’s alone and has a worried expression on her face. - They got us and know you're here! You and Kireng need to leave as fast as you can before- aaaaaah! - looks like something grabbed her by the leg and pulled her away.
- KID! - I should've asked their names.
I looked out one of the windows, and there are already some kids with scary eyes approaching.
- This position is compromised! We need to relocate now!
Crimson calmly sighed and put on the hood of her jacket.
- Let's leave this classroom and split up. Kireng, get Joe and go right. I will go left.
- Something on your mind?
- Yes. - I can see her murderous aura.
- I don't think killing is the best option here.
- Don't worry. They probably also know that now we know the flag is outside the school, so they will defend the entrances and exits at all costs. I'll only draw as much attention as possible to my side, leaving the path clear for you and Joe to get out of the school. According to the school map we found in the principal's office while searching for the flag earlier, there is an exit not far away if you go right and then straight down the hall.
Who are you, and what did you do to our dumb assassin? Wait, she's looking pretty scary right now. What if the kids ended up hating or fearing her for real?
- Crimson, I can do the-
- No, I'm the best option. It's all right. I'm used to it. - Crimson... - Also, I never played a game like this before. I really want us to win!
She smiled. Alright, I can feel your determination!
- Joe, come with me!
We left the classroom, and before splitting up, I said:
- We are going to win this for sure!
- I know! - Crimson answered.
I'm running down the hall as fast as I can while carrying Joe on my back. From here, I can hear the sounds of the distraction Crimson is doing for us.
- Joe, we don't have much time. Any suggestions where the flag can be?
- The playground! Good idea! - it's such an obvious place that we could easily overlook it!
The path was clear until we reached the exit. Three boys are guarding it.
- Ha! Did you headbandits really tough we-
- Joe, let's do a combo!
I grabbed him by his arms and used all my strength to swing and throw him in the direction of the kids.
- JOE, GOOO!
This attack took them by surprise and knocked down the three of them in a single hit. What? We are not breaking any rules here.
- Let's move on! - I quickly tried to put him on my back again, but I couldn't. Unlike Crush, I'm not that strong. Carrying Joe from home to school and running all day left me exhausted. This attack consumed the last strength I had. - I can't move my arms properly!
- They are here! I knew I heard something! - their reinforcements appeared.
- Aaah... What was that...? - the boys we knocked down are already coming back to their senses.
- Dammit! Don't worry, Joe. I'm not leaving-
Someone pushed me. It was... Joe? I ended up falling outside the school, and the door started to move. Just before it closed, I looked at Joe.
- Good... Luck...
He didn't even appear for five minutes during this chapter!
I'm by myself now, but I can't give up. I will complete this mission! I looked around. There are way fewer kids than when the game started. Most of them are desperately running in Crimson's direction. It's my only chance! I went straight to the playground.
When I approached the playground, I could see it. A white flag tied to the slide. There's no one directly defending it, so it must be the flag we are after!
I grabbed it up with a victorious feeling and noticed that something was written on it.
"That's a fake, you dummy".
- No, it can't be...
- Haha, you fell for it!
- The otaku is the only one left.
- We won! Hahaha!
How do these children always appear out of nowhere? They surrounded me. Dammit, I ended up falling into a more stupid trap than Crush. They are slowly approaching and showing off my fallen teammates' headbands to provoke me.
I took a few steps back, and I felt someone holding my leg.
- I got you. - a little girl hummed with her eyes filled with bloodlust. She was hiding inside the sandbox.
There's no escape now. My team sacrificed so much for our victory...
- I'm sorry. I failed you all.
- Actually, you've done an excellent job getting their attention until now. Well done, man.
- Yeah, that's me. - he's doing his usual carefree smile.
- Ah! Look what's in his hand! - a kid pointed out.
He's holding... A blue flag!
- Is that...
- It is. It's our victory.
- I can't believe it!
- How did he find it?
- You cheated!
- You were defeated already!
The kids are protesting.
- Was I? Kireng, could you read the name on your headband, please?
- Hmm? The name? - Boss asked me to switch with her, so the name must be... I took it off and read it. - It can't be... It's written "Loser" on it...
- What about it? He's the one wearing it, not you!
- Well, the rules say: "When they get yours, you are considered "defeated" and can no longer go after the flag" so as long Kireng protected my headband for me, I was still in the game. In other words, we won fair and square.
- That's not fair at all!
- You tricked us.
- You were supposed to be the one losing!
Loser is making a big smile while the kids protest against him. Is he by any chance proud of having deceived poor children by finding a loophole in the rules? If he's not, I sure am. You are a genius, Loser.
- Aren’t you getting too much ahead of yourself, Loser? Switch our headbands at the start of the game, and make the brats pay attention to us while you were free to look for the flag was my plan after all. - Boss said.
I take back what I said.
- There were no kitties in that room... - Crush is sad. He's holding Joe on his back. He gave me a thumbs up. We did it, Joe!
- We won! We won! - Crimson is very happy.
I just realized something. And no, it's not the fact that we are happy about beating kids in a game.
- So, that's why you wanted me to pick a fight with you at the start of the game. It was for the kids to think you were easy prey and eliminate you first.
- I'm glad you noticed my intentions when I looked you in the eyes.
- So that thing about being afraid of the kids was all an act?
- Of course! - he looked away. So he does have a trauma...
- I'm curious. Where was the flag? - Crimson asked.
- Where I assumed it would be in the first place. The gym. The kids are very predictable, after all. - he shrugged
Some of the kids stick their tongues out at Loser.
- Hmmmm! Hmm!
- Yes, Joe. That's why I told you to make the others avoid the gym at all costs after helping you.
That's why Joe suggested the playground? It's kinda far from the gym. Wait a minute.
- If you knew that it was in the gym all along, why did it take so long for you to take it?
- W-well... because it was very well hidden, of course.
- It was?
- I thought it was tied to the basketball hoop.
- Yes, we asked the principal to put it there because it's a very high spot! Anyone around our age can't reach it.
- I'm not a very athletic person, okay?! - he said, embarrassed. - I stayed all day jumping, trying to reach the hoop. What kind of school doesn't have a ladder when we need one?
What a loser.
It's starting to get dark. The parents came to pick up their children, and the principal thanked us for helping. As we were leaving the school, Boss gave us the training verdict.
- Loser, your deductions are sharp as ever. You easily found the flag. But thanks to your lack of physical training, we suffered way more than we needed. It's true that your job is not on the frontlines, but what if we ever need you there?
- Sorry, Boss... I'll train more.
- Crush, I know you wouldn't get caught in such a dumb trap if it was a serious mission, but that doesn't change the fact that you're too naive. It's no use having all these muscles if you get a bullet in the back because you believed in someone you shouldn't.
- I understand, ma'am!
- Kireng, you have a lot of potentials, and thanks to you, we won. But you are way too emotional. Caring for your teammates is a great asset, but don't forget that it's no use going back just to die with them when you can survive and complete the mission. - that's kinda different from what she said before.
- I'll think less with my heart and more with my head, Boss!
- Crimson, you had the best performance during this training. Not only did you have spies infiltrated into the enemy army, but you also opened the way for your allies to complete the mission. However, it was almost a suicidal choice. In a real mission, I don't want you to take unnecessary risks, understand?
- Okay, Boss ma'am!
- Reflect on the training and what I told you, we have an important job tomorrow.
- Yes, ma'am. - we all said together.
- Boss, if it’s okay, I'd like to know. Why did you, Crush, and Loser have to go through this hell last year?
- The principal owns the apartment we live in, so she offered us a discount on the rent if we helped with the children.
- I see...
I regret asking. Now I think the whole training thing was just an excuse.
I'd like to say that it's finally over, but as the Boss said, we're just getting started. My first job as a mercenary is tomorrow, and I need to be ready.
- What's up my homies? Ready for some noise? - That's George speaking from a microphone. He is on a small stage on the main avenue. I don't remember if I even commented, but he was elected mayor.
Now that it's night, I could see how much the residents have dedicated themselves to today. The streets are crowded with people and stalls. The lights and decorations give a completely different identity to the city. It looks like another place. It's such a beautiful sight that it makes you want to cry.
We can see everyone we met during those past months having a lot of fun.
Joe is looking flushed towards several girls wearing cat ears and maid uniforms. Looks like Sabrina's Cafe is also helping with the festivities. He still seems interested in that girl with the purple wig.
Crimson noticed those kids that helped us passing by while eating cotton candy. They were talking about how "big sis Crimson" is awesome and how fun the game was.
Boss is hiding behind me and Crush after we heard someone screaming something like "I'll punish all the criminals from this city!". Don't ask me. I didn't understand either.
Crush saw Amelia in a stall full of books and cats all over her. She is trying to promote the reformed library. Once again, Crush swore he would marry her.
Mitchell is in a medical tent on call in case anyone gets hurt, and even the supermarket manager is having fun his own way.
- Hey, Kireng! - It's Carlos. He's waving at me. What a pleasant surprise. - Want me to show you around? This is the best day in Little Clove in the entire year.
- Sorry, old man. Maybe another time! - I waved back.
- Oh, I see... - he looks a bit disappointed. - See you around, kid! Have some fun!
- They sure are having a lot of fun. - I said.
- You wanted to be with them, Kireng? - Boss said.
- Ha, not at all.
I'm sure all of us would like to enjoy at least a little of this great event, but we know we can't. We are going to travel in a few hours. It does feel like we deserve to be part of the fun, but unfortunately, we don't have time. What we need to do right now is go back home and get ready.
Maybe we can participate next year. We need to take enjoy it if we have the chance. After all, we are still mercenaries. And I know very well that mercenaries don't have good endings at all.