Chapter 1:

Shadow in the Dark

Bullet Loop


Darkness.

It surrounded me inside and out. Looking outward, it hid the things I couldn’t see. Looking within, it hid the parts of me I didn’t want to see.

Schink…

My knife sliced through the final mercenary. He fell with a thud, clutching his heavily bleeding neck. Relief washed over me as I watched the life slowly fade from his wide eyes.

Another body to the dozens already scattered around me. The blood had already started to dry on the weathered, grimy walls—faded posters of beauty products and smiling families adorned them. Now strewn with twisting cables, Shinjuku Station, once a thriving hub, had decayed into a brutal catacomb.

A soulless reminder. All in the name of power and control.

I slumped to the ground and clutched my abdomen. My cold fingers met the spreading warmth upon my exposed skin.

Harsh static caught my attention. I gave the room a cursory scan— there, a blinking light on my freshest kill’s earpiece. I slipped it on.

“All Metal callsigns, this is HQ. Search all eastern corridors on the perimeter. Target is mobile.”

I pushed my back against the wall, shimmying up and grabbing a nearby door handle. My arms strained and my calves burned. The weight of my harness suggested my ammo count was about as dire as my situation.

“Hostile is a young girl with silver hair and black overalls. She may be armed, proceed with caution.”

I unclipped the torch dangling off my harness. It illuminated the remains of a small police box a few meters away. I continued to pull myself along the wall, my breathing growing more unsteady with every step.

“She’s alone. Engage on sight, over.”

I’m compromised. Need to get inside.

I pushed the door forward and fell inside under my own weight. I felt my body slipping into shock. Any longer and I’d never make it out of this godforsaken place.

Straining to reach my back pouch, I pulled out a trauma kit, popped the lid, and jammed the syringe firmly into my thigh. Under the shaking glow of my torch, I watched as the translucent fluid pumped its way into my veins. The adrenaline kicked in immediately.

This should last long enough.

Something buzzed past my ear. Instinctively, I drew my pistol in one hand and a knife in the other, placing the blade under the barrel as I faced the noise. The buzzing became louder and louder, drowned out only by my own heartbeat.

The source of the noise darted around the corner and revealed itself to be a little, cylindrical flying drone. The red and black paint down its back, along with its rear mounted wings, resembled a flattened ladybug.

“LB.” I lowered my pistol and sighed. The adrenaline must’ve been throwing me off— I should have easily recognized her. “Did you do what I asked?”

The little drone fluttered its way towards me, hovering before my eyes. It then moved to my waist. A thin, red beam came from the lens at the center of LB’s body, tracing the bloody area. Like a crimson x-ray, the scan highlighted the entry wound and the path the bullet had taken through.

LB flipped a small knife from her metal body. I took my gas mask off and tore a section from my jacket, stuffing my mouth with the ripped fabric. As LB made the first incision, violent shockwaves of pain rattled my legs. I bit my makeshift gag hard enough to make my teeth go numb.

The second I heard the metallic clink of the bullet falling to the ground, I released the tension in my jaw. I gasped, the now-soaked rag falling onto my lap. Sweat dripped down the side of my face as I tried to ease my breathing. Just as I was about to collect my thoughts, LB sprang into action. Her beeping in my ear pulled me from my daze.

More of them. Moths to a flame.

LB nestled herself on my wristwatch. She projected an overhead map of the T-shaped junction we were sitting in. Red dots slowly inched their way down the digital display towards our green arrow. I peeked my head around the corner, but the moment their torches cut through the darkness, I darted back.

“Captain," a gruff and gravelly voice said. “Bodies.”

I heard another one of the guards calling for the rest. They stumbled upon my most recent victims.

“She’s close. We’ll sweep this corridor. Corporal, secure our flank.”

“Yes, sir. Metal-Nine, on me!”

A group of soldiers appeared in front of, presumably, the leader of this section. I looked back at LB’s minimap. Six, seven contacts. Maybe more in reserve. Too many for me to handle.

A migraine squeezed at the sides of my head. As I shifted in discomfort, my foot gently shuffled the shattered glass on the ground.

Oh God.

Bullets whizzed through the door and into the wall next to me. I grabbed LB and lay down as flat as possible, concrete dust and debris showering us overhead. They were close enough that I could hear each bullet cycling into their chambers.

“What are you doing, Corporal?!”

“In the police box, sir! She’s here!”

“Cease fire now! Get visual confirmation! If she’s not here, you’ve just given away our position!”

The gunfire stopped. Now dead silent, my ears rang as I tried to concentrate on their words.

“Sweep every corner!” their leader continued. “Understood?!”

“Yes, sir!”

I covered the light coming from LB’s hologram. There was no easy escape. I either had to make a hell of a distraction or fight my way out of this. The growing thuds of their approaching footsteps told me I wouldn’t have long to decide.

“Sir! More bodies!”

“There are still some unaccounted for. Check for survivors and watch your fire. If you shoot a friendly, you’re doing the paperwork.”

The light from the soldier's torch left the swiss-cheesed door and shone over the dead body. I peeked my head to make sure of the timing. One shot.

I’ll make it work.

“You ready, LB?”

LB answered by leaving my wrist and burying herself inside my jacket.

From his torchlight, I saw the mercenary kick the body over. His barrel-mounted torch lit up an innocuous-looking metal disk.

“GET DOWN!” he shouted. “MOVE, NOW!”

I pulled my head back, laid as flat as possible, and pulled the trigger.

In an instant, the corridor was filled with a bright flash. Thousands of ball bearings ricocheted through the room at hypersonic speeds, ripping through everything in their path. The screams and the sounds of their bodies hitting the ground were almost in unison.

Once the projectiles lost all their momentum, silence returned to the ruined halls. I pushed myself up what was left of the wall and drew my pistol. Rivers of blood flowed from one corpse to the next, forming a larger pool.

With my torch affixed under the barrel and my knife at the ready, I checked each body.

A stab in each neck, just to make sure.

The only surviving guard was crawling back towards the t-intersection. Like a slug, he painted a slick, crimson trail with each pull. For his miraculous survival, I awarded him a bullet to the back of the skull. He dropped instantly.

With the adrenaline now in full effect, my body felt significantly lighter. I rummaged through the supplies of each soldier. Not much was left of them—more swiss-cheesed than the wall and door I had used for cover.

I took a rifle hanging off the back of one of the bodies and made my way to the T-junction. They had come from the right, so it was likely that way would contain an exit. But I could only guess. The corridors were deathly quiet— one could hear a bullet clinking off the linoleum floor. I moved to the wall and slowly peeked my head around.

Instantly, the hall was flooded with light. My retinas burned as I withdrew around the corridor. I heard the unmistakable clicks of rifle attachments being readied for combat. Judging by the sound, there were dozens of mercs blocking the exit.

A single set of slow footsteps marched down the corridor. It was coupled with equally methodical claps.

“I expected no less from you, Yin.”

The speaker’s footsteps stopped halfway between the exit and my position. The spotlight illuminated him, casting a long shadow which stretched all the way down to my corner.

“Your resilience was always your most remarkable quality. But, it’s easy to mistake stubbornness for strength.”

That voice…

I gritted my teeth. “Was?”

“After everything, do you really think you’ll make it out of this alive?”

I gripped my rifle tight enough to turn my knuckles white. Senseless emotion overrode years of combat experience as I leveled my gun around the corner.

Right there. He’s right there.

His silhouette was so close. A volley of suppressive fire punished me for my over eagerness, before I could take the shot.

“See, Yin.”

I dropped to the ground to dodge the gunfire and rolled back into cover. Part of me wanted to attempt the stunt again. Another part of me didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.

“You know it’s over now,” he said. “I have more men than you have bullets. Be sensible.”

Every snide remark chipped away at my focus. Hundreds of possibilities on how I would make him suffer ran through my head, all of them nothing more than fantasies.

“Yin, you’re young. It would be a shame to lose someone as… capable as yourself over such petty squabbles. Why make a miserable place like this your tomb, just like your mo-?”

“Fuck you. Everything we believed in, you tore it all to shreds. I’ll cut you open, alive.”

A bullet slammed into the corner just above my head. Ceramic tiles chipped off the wall and showered me in dust.

“Fine, have it your way. Die the way you lived, alone and in the dark. Tragically and powerlessly clutching onto that which you hold dear.”

He was wrong, damn him. The only tragic thing about all this was that it took until now for me to see it. All the signs of his betrayal were there. And yet, I did nothing.

I heard him turn on his heels and walk back to the light. He wouldn’t leave just yet. A pompous ass like him wouldn’t miss out on the satisfaction of seeing my corpse with his own eyes.

I opened my jacket. LB hovered in front of me, emitting a sad beep.

“LB, get out of here. Let the others know.”

She nestled herself towards my chest. I weakly smiled, caressing the top of her metal chassis.

“I just… hoped coming back here would make a difference this time. For her.” I dropped my rifle. “I guess I never had a chance from the start.”

My hand moved below my harness straps to my top pocket, pulling out a small, rectangular bag. Charred at its corner, the golden-embroidered floral pattern on the red and pink fabric brightly shone in the dark. I turned it over, gingerly tracing a thumb over the silk-printed words. No matter the hardship, this omamori charm survived this far alongside me.

I pulled it close to my heart. My lower jaw quivered and a tear rolled down my cheek. I was never a faithful person—most people stopped believing in a God that would let a world like this exist. But, maybe it wasn’t too late to start believing now.

Maybe if I believed enough, I might get to see her again.

The torchlights were almost on me. I kicked the rifle out into the corridor and the encroaching footsteps stopped. Their caution gave me a few extra seconds to make peace with the inevitable. No amount of armour would help me now. I had no more miracles to spare.

The torches peered around the corner, glaring onto my blood-stained skin. I closed my eyes. All I heard were the roars of automatic rifles. I saw nothing. Felt nothing.

Darkness.

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