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Epilogue

The War for Geneva ended in the June of 2010 when the entire city was burned to the ground and the surrounding countries destabilized. The most affected countries were France, Germany, Denmark and Greece, which soon began a political revolution. The Crusaders who survived the War for Geneva eventually moved to the middle east where they began hunting terrorist cells. Eventually, they formed their own private military organization centralized in South Africa. They currently compete with other private military forces such as Blackwater in the field. Part of their mission included seeking out and eliminating all remaining vampire bases around the world. Of the original 10 around the world, the FoV have destroyed 6 including the original Russian and Denmark hives. The Crusaders have successfully destroyed a hive in Afghanistan, Mali, Niger and Texas.

Bentley and Penelope went on to be renowned scientists and engineers, eventually pioneering space travel technology and relaunching Hawken Enterprises as an aerospace Company similar to NASA and SPACEX. They also moved away to Great Britain and got married shortly after the death of John Puller. As of 2018, they are two of the richest individuals on the planet and oversaw the reconstruction of Paris, therefore personally owning roughly 30% of the new city's real estate.

James Barkley, now long since retired, enjoys life in Hawaii. He sometimes visits the Cooper family at the Idaho base and has even been included as part of the extended Cooper family, deemed "grandpa James".

Sly and Carmelita live quietly at the Idaho base. All operational systems have been deactivated as of 2012 and the C-17 was never recovered or replaced. Therefore, as a last job, Sly bombed the Alaskan C-17 base, destroying all traces of the Warfighters existence outside of the former Idaho base. Unfortunately, the Armors and swords could not be destroyed, so instead they were buried beneath a 10 foot layer of concrete. Upon the completion of the reconstruction of Paris, Sly and Carmelita bought a vacation home identical to Carmelitas previous apartment. However, the extended Cooper family used the Idaho house as a meeting place.

John P Cooper was born on September 23, 2010 the healthy first son and first child out of 4 of Sly and Carmelita Cooper. Eventually, he started to feel the traditional 'thieving urge' at which point, John Puller himself showed himself as a ghost to tell the boy to ask his father of his story, and when he was ready, he told him the story of his own life. The story of how the world almost ended and how the apocalypse was so close to happening and what it had cost him. But most of all, why he did it.

Now go,

The future is waiting...


Part 15: House of the Rising Sun

Sly

I was told I had been picked up shortly after I had passed out, falling in my parachute from the the back of the burning Archangel, by Carmelita in a Sentinel. She quickly drove me to the nearest bombed out airport and got me onboard Ghost Rider in a touch and go landing. I can't believe John actually shot me. In the leg sure. But still, the fact that he shot me at all was enough to send my brain into a frenzy. Sure he had shot at us before in London but that was different. Before he was just meaning to scare us off, but now he had actually taken the shot. At least I was alive, that was the good news. Unfortunately there was even more bad news that was slightly more pressing.

In my fall I was unconscious, so I wasn't able to feel my right femur crack in half when I hit the ground. Despite all that had happened, all we had lost and all we had fought so desperately for, I was out of action indefinitely from a damn broken leg. It was at this point that I had to remind myself however that John was likely dead. We had killed the demon we had helped unleash onto the world, the mission was a success. But there was still the matter of the Fangs. They were deathly crippled, sure. But they were most certainly still alive. They had to be dealt with. But that's when Carmelita stopped me. In the time I had been unconscious she had finally decided to tell me that she was pregnant.

At the time I didn't know what to say. But then again, what was there to say? Suddenly I had gone from being a cripple with a death wish to being an expecting father, and the happiest man on earth in a matter of minutes. And in those moments, I made up my mind. My career, my life in crime, my mission to save the world, all of it melted away at the thought of finally having a family with Carmelita and our new child. I was done.

It was the summer of the same year and we had recently gone to the nearest hospital for an Ultrasound to check on the baby and hopefully see if we could identify the gender. I was shocked when the nurse told us it was a boy. It was strange to hear about something I never thought about until so recently. Suddenly it started to feel a lot less like a dream and alot more like a possible future reality. I started to imagine a life where my wife was also the mother to our son. Until now it all seemed like a far off fantasy, and now it was coming faster than I could have ever imagined. Maybe dreams really can come true.

The next morning, I carefully went downstairs early to make breakfast. Being that I wouldn't be able to walk correctly for a number of years now, I had to watch my step. Pancakes were always her favorite, so I started making some along with some eggs and bacon. But suddenly, looking out the window in front of the kitchen, I saw an old pickup truck drive up from the far side of the airfield and up to the hillside with the big oak tree. I squinted to see someone getting out of the car with a cane and limp over to the grave stones and sit down. I broke away from the counter and went over to the mantle where there sat my old binocucom. I grabbed it and looked out the sliding glass door across the field and lo and behold, there he was. The black and white Siberian tiger was slumped against Sierras grave with his cane laid in the grass next to him.

I was tempted to go upstairs to grab a sniper rifle to shoot him from across the airfield, but two things stopped me. First off, I was still a bad shot. And second, I might wake up Carmelita, something I really didn't enjoy doing. So I did the first thing that came to mind. I opened the picture frame gun safe closest to the front door and took out a suppressed M1911 and gently racked it to make sure it was loaded. Then I quietly slipped into a pair of shoes and carefully slipped out the front door. I climbed into one of the two Sentinels in front of the house and, careful not to rev the engine too loud, turned around and started off toward the oak tree to meet John.

Driving up slowly and putting the car in park a few dozen meters away from him, I didn't really know what to expect. Was this a trap? Or was he here to ask me for a favor. In either case, it all ended now. I had finally found a life I couldn't even dream about leaving behind, and I wasn't about to have him take that away from me. I disembarked the Sentinel and shuffled carefully towards, with my gun raised in one hand ready to shoot him in the head at the first sign of trouble, and in the other leaning heavily on my wooden cane at my side, still needing it to walk after my injury from a few months before. But for some reason, he didn't seem to notice me. In fact, he hadn't even turned his head since I had arrived. He just kept on staring off into the distance behind me. It was only when I was only a few meters away when he finally raised his gaze to meet mine. I stopped in my tracks.

"Hey Sly," he said weakly, "long time, no see."

It was only then when I noticed the knife handle protruding from his side. What the hell happened to him? I was tempted to lower my gun and examine the wound, but knowing John, he probably could have treated a simple knife wound himself. And again, he wouldn't be here unless he had a reason. I stayed my ground, but dropped my gun to my hip and leaned more on my cane.

"What do you want?" I asked flatly.

"From you? Just to talk," he responded solemnly, "My time here's almost up."

"What do you mean?"

"The jobs done Sly," he took out a bottle of whiskey and a few glasses from behind him, "It's over. You can live in peace now."

It occured to me then why he had come home. Thinking from his point of view for a moment, everyone he had ever known and loved had died. He was alone now and he's the last of his kind. I was the only real friend he had left. But even more than that, he had come to die. This thought was further solidified when he filled the glasses and offered me one of them. I finally lowered my gun all the way and walked over to sit down next to him on Sierras gravestone.

He handed me my glass and I took it, taking a little sip as I looked out over the airfield at the victorian style house where my whole world still slept soundly as the brilliant arcs of sunlight tinted the whole valley with a warm shade of orange.

"She's a nice girl Sly," John said from behind me, "I'm happy for you."

I turned back around to see that he had already begun pouring himself a second glass.

"Thanks," I had finally started to relax, but not just because of the drink, "I never got the chance to tell you this before but… I'm really sorry about what happened to Sierra."

"Yeah…," he looked down at his glass while he swirled it, "me too."

There was a short moment of silence before he spoke again.

"I was going to be a dad you know," I did a bit of a double take at his gentle smile before looking up to finish the thought. "She never told me until the last minute. In case you haven't figured out by now, that's why I drove you away. Made myself the bad guy."

"Why?"

"Because I knew the day I buried her here that my days were numbered, but you… you still had a chance." He said as he raised his glass, to which I toasted, "to a better tomorrow." and we drank. I admired the sunrise as I tasted the air mix with the alcohol in my mouth to make a crisp airbourne mixture. And for one reason or another, I softened up, even started to feel bad for John. He came back just to talk for a few more minutes in the place he called home.

"You know, we can probably still save you. I can have Bentley come down here and prep you for surgery," I said as he poured himself another glass.

He scoffed, "No, I'm too far gone. And the knife is a poisoned tri-blade bayonet. But even if I lived, what would I do? I can't go anywhere. I'm a terrorist to a world that will never know what really happened."

"John, we'll think of something. Bentley can scrub the interpol database of any trace of you. You can start a new life."

"Maybe he can, but that's not the point," he took a big swig of whiskey and put it down to grip the handle of the knife, "I just want to see Sierra again."

And with a suppressed grunt and visual signs of effort, he pulled the knife out of his abdomen. Blood immediately started to flow from the wound as he threw the knife aside. John started to breathe more heavily as he gripped his side. I strained myself to not try to help him, knowing that this was what he wanted.

"You know," he chuckled under his breath, "this really sucks."

Not knowing what I could do, I just laughed at the very thought of John poking fun at his own death. The situation so outrageously strange that I really never would have thought of it on my own.

"Yeah? Well maybe you shouldn't have pulled fucking a knife out of your stomach," I jabbed.

In response he laughed out loud for a moment, letting his head fall back against the gravestone, his smile slowly fading as he gazed off into the distance, as though seeing something that I could not.

"Sly," he said absently, "promise me you won't make the same mistakes I did."

"I promise," I said sincerely, starting to feel tears swell in my eyes as his condition got worse by the second.

"Thank you Sly. It's been a pleasure…," he stopped himself short and for the first time, I saw him cry, not tears of sadness or fear, but tears of joy. I could barely make out his last words over his sobbing, "I'm coming home." His head rocked back to lightly touch the gravestone and turned away. The glass fell gently out of his other hand and spilled into the grass.

And just like that, on May 16, 2010, John Puller passed away on his wife's grave, finally at peace.

8 years later

Far off in the distance a new steel target was screwed firmly into a wooden post about 200 meters away from me. A moment later, a single shot rang out across the valley and responsive 'ding' echoed in reply. It was a good shot, but not from me, because after all these years of practice, I still suck at shooting long distance. The shot instead came from the bolt action Luger .22 rifle I recently bought for my my 7 year old son. I had taken him out today for his first time shooting. I walked him through all the steps and parameters of taking a shot, and lucky for me, he was a fast learner and caught on quickly. And eventually, I just let him take shots on his own. He was doing just fine hitting the target about once out of every 5 shots.

"He definitely doesn't get his marksmanship skills from his father," John said jokingly from next to me.

"Yeah," I replied, "you know, I'm sure Bentley and Penelope wouldn't mind having you around every now and then too."

"Maybe, but let's be honest, Bentley hated my guts."

I scoffed, "slightly."

We stood and watched for a while as my son let off a few more shots downrange in silence. A father and his fallen friend

"So, John P Cooper huh?" John asked, "a bit cheesy don't you think?"

"Yeah, well, we needed someone to remind us of the 'Annoying Uncle John'."

He chuckled in response, "screw it, I'll take it."

We had another moment of silence while my son reloaded his rifle and fired his next shot.

"You really did good here you know," John said, nodding towards the house, where Carmelita tended to our second and third child in a back porch swing. Our first daughter and second son. "You've really made it."

"Yeah but it could be better." I looked down at my feet.

"Yeah?" he replied, facing back towards me with his chin up and hands in his pockets, "how so?"

I could only think of so many ways of saying it but before I could, my son looked back over his shoulder from the ground from his shooting position.

"Dad, who're you talking to?" he asked, sounding slightly annoyed .

"Nothing. Just remember to account for changes in wind direction." I replied, waiting for him to turn back to the range before walking away from him and toward the base of the oak tree where there now lie 3 gravestones, third belonging to John Puller.

In accordance to his will, John left us everything he owned. All his money, all his remaining assets, everything. All he asked in return was two things. First to be laid to rest beside his wife under their favorite oak tree, and second to have the following quote written on his tombstone:

"All The Heavens and all the Hell,

all the demons and all the angels stir within you,

For you are the author of your own destiny.

If there must be violence, let it have been in our day,

So our children may live in peace."

I started to tear up, looking down at his grave. The one who, if I really thought about it, I owed my new life to. My old friend…

"We miss you John," I looked back across the airfield at the house, the same view I had 7 years ago, only a little warmer, "We all do."

Sly 5: A Thief's Heart
The End
~John P Cooper

Part 14: Operation War Machine

The following is a timeline of the events that transpired during the build up and highest point of the War of Geneva

January 24:

-Operation War Machine begins

-John Puller contacts various homeless veteran communities and encampments across the US via encrypted radio frequencies.

-Massive crowds of homeless veterans begin to amass around major air force bases

-The Cooper Gang read Sierras message and see her message about Johns weakness and how to use his resolve against him

January 25:

-John temporarily locks the Cooper gang inside the Bunker's main main garage in a proxy attack and lands in Idaho to withdrawal most military assets and special equipment

-John Puller disconnects Hector from Archangel

-John assists in the capture of Camp Pendleton in California with little resistance from active armed forces

-Similar events happen at roughly the same time across the country

-US military powerless to engage the masses or threaten to devastate the morale of the US military

-A total of 50 B-52 cargo aircraft and Archangel take flight from all over the country carrying over 40,000 retired veterans with their own individual gear and weapons, plus various other weapons including 2 MOABs, a cumulative 100 50-pound bombs, 4 M3A3 Bradley IFV's, 3 M777 artillery guns and 6 of the 8 Sentinels

-US veteran homelessness drops by roughly 50%

-The Cooper Gang gather all remaining assets and takes off in Ghost Rider, tracking the fleet of B-52's heading East

-rouge unit designated as the Crusaders

January 26:

-The War for Geniva begins

-Archangel assumes its aerial defence protocol and protects the B-52's from air to air fighters as bombing runs are carried out on major thoroughfares in the city, prioritizing the river that runs through the city as well as streets and buildings immediately surrounding the Headquarters

-most roads were destroyed in bombing runs, making them untraversable to normal city vehicles

-MOAB dropped on Geneva's commercial shipyard

-B-52's Land in Geneva Airport to unload personnel and cargo.
-Ghost Rider arrives, having tipped off the German and British air force

-German armed forces detected approaching from the east

-Crusader artillery strikes commence briefly on incoming German mechanized infantry before M777's are destroyed by British cruise missile from offshore battleship in the Ligurian Sea

-German armored division continues advance

-Sly attempts to board Archangel and is unsuccessful, landing near Geneva Airport undetected

-Sly Steals night vision equipment and begins sabotaging equipment

-Ghost Rider fires on Crusaders in an attempt to allow Geneva civilians to escape the onslaught

-German KSK Special Forces Arrive in Geneva, British SAS en route

January 27:

-KSK attempt rescue operation of FoV officials

-unsuccessfully infiltrated the city and killed by Crusaders at the Botanical Garden near the lake coastline, Sly saves one operative

-Sly nearly killed by operative an hour later for conflicting intentions, Sly is forced to kill the operative

-MOAB is dropped on a German Leopard 2 Tank column

-German infantry arrive in Geneva

-Sly sneaks onboard Archangel when it is landed for refueling and reloading in Geneva Airport

-as jet is taking off, SAS unit infiltrate Archangel and kill its crew when it's airbourne

-Archangel's aerial defense countermeasures are compromised

-B-52's begin taking damage and getting shot down by German fighter aircraft over Geneva, largely destroying what remains of the city. Remaining Crusaders resort to using guerrilla warfare

-John and Sly fight back against SAS unit

-Sly and John successfully fend off against the SAS unit but Archangel is critically damaged and quickly losing altitude

-John shoots Sly in the leg, attaches him to a parachute and kicks him off the back of Archangel.

-Sly passes out in his descent and Archangel crashes at full speed into a hillside to the south east, roughly four miles from Geneva, destroying part of the province of Veyrier and Monnetier

-John survives by equipping Knight Armor and jumping off immediately before impact

-Carmelita picks up Sly in a Sentinel and brings him to Ghostrider at the Geneva airport

-Cooper Gang retreats in Ghost Rider

-intensive urban combat ensues in Geneva

May 14:

-After a long battle costing the lives of most of the Crusaders, the FoV leaders are evacuated through armored transport but are intercepted by John Puller who disables the armored transport with a Carl Gustav rocket launcher in the city of Nyon

May 15:

John Puller kills all FoV leaders in a fortified hotel in Nyon but is mortally wounded by a high level guard by a poisoned tri-blade knife

Sly and Carmelita discover their child's gender at local hospital in Idaho, its a boy

May 16:

John Puller returns home...


Part 13: We have no Tomorrow...

Ch. 35

Bentley

We had to cut half of our engine power to keep the damaged engine from igniting the fuselage but keep up the airspeed just enough to keep us from falling out of the sky. It was a stressful several hours on the route back to Idaho and required both mine and Penelopes skills together to manage. It was hard to believe John could turn on us like that. After all we've been through. Sure, he was angry, I get that. But did it really rationalize him trying to kill us? And sure the third shot fired on the boardwalk could be debated, after all maybe he saw someone in the building and shot them out to defend us. But I still couldn't fathom why he would try and shoot us out of the sky from another gunship. He could have killed us all in a single shot to the fuselage. But what was even more puzzling is why he didn't. I debated with Penelope as we zig-zagged around the command center. She brought up the idea that maybe he was putting on an act for someone, making it appear as though we were enemies. But I disagreed.

"If he was just acting then why did he shoot out an engine?" I replied over my shoulder. I was trying to focus on the problem at hand while debating at the same time and it was rather stressful, "he almost knocked us out of the sky over the Atlantic Ocean. He could have killed us! And besides, there's no one for him to act for."

"That's a valid argument," she replied, she was facing the opposite wall trying to manage the fuel consumption through 3 seperate monitors, "but all I'm saying is if he really wanted us dead, we would have never left the boardwalk. He had the perfect opportunity from a safe location and he didn't take it. And besides, he did save us."

"So you're saying he wants to save us but at the same time he wants to kill us but still doesn't want to kill us?"

"As confusing and convoluted as it sounds, yes. That is my leading theory."

"Eh, well I don't have a better idea so let's go with that."

I put in a few final commands into the computer and turned to check on Penelope. 2 of her screens were covered in the schematics for the AC-130, but the other had lines of code scrolling down it.

"What's this?" I asked pointing to the code.

"That's Hector," she replied without looking up from the screen, "After we were attacked by John, I got the idea to start looking through Hectors basic code. There's some interesting things in here."

"Wait, but Hetcor is flying the plane. Isn't that a bit risky when he could drop us out of the sky?"

"It's ok I'm not changing anything," she said, waving for me to calm down, "I'm just taking a peek. Besides, we need every tool we can get if we want to stand a chance against John since he clearly has the better firepower."

"Ok, well what did you find then?" I pushed a button on my legs control panel to drop my stance to a sitting position. Still wasn't used to that...

"A number of things actually," she stopped the scrolling and opened a few more monitors to display different lines of code. "There's a destination chart, mission list, protocol database, member manifest, and of all things, a copy of everyones will."

"Well that's not weird at all," I said sarcastically. Penelope wasn't amused though and kept going.

"But the strangest thing was that beyond the initial firewall I needed to crack to get into Hectors code, there's another one that I can't even see through," she scrolled through a long series of code on one of the screens, "It looks like something you would do."

She was right. Whenever I set up a firewall on any piece of equipment, from the Thiefnet laptop to the binocucom radio signal, I always use a very particular method of encryption that is nearly impossible to crack unless you give a very specific input given in a very specific time frame. So if you take too long to put it in, the entire system would shut down before it could be cracked, causing you to start over again. But just looked so familiar…

On a hunch, I nudged past Penelope and typed in a single passkey. Seven letters, not even sure if it would work. My name, Bentley. It couldn't be a coincidence that this resembled my work so much, this had to mean something. I pressed enter and just that screen went dark. Penelope waited in silence as all the other screens kept running and the wind kept roaring outside the windows. There was a deathly silence, waiting for something to happen. Anything.

But then code started to write itself.

'Facial recognition' was all it said and a camera that was built into the control panel above the monitor turned on for a moment and turned off a second later. On the screen, a digital reconstruction of my face was shown for a few seconds before disappearing again. A moment later, a single line came onto the screen accompanied by audio from Hector.

"Hello Bentley. I've waited for this a long time for this."

And below it was a single file, named 'Sins of our Fathers'. I opened it in anticipation to reveal two video files. One for me, and one for Sly.

"Penelope…" I turned to her, lost for words. I was hoping she would say something. Advice, a friendly 'don't do it', but no. Nothing. She was just as lost for words as was I.

Oscar

I was able to take a cab from JFK Airport to Manhattan but the whole way, I was constantly keeping an eye on my surroundings. Whenever we stopped, I identified anyone so much as holding a closed umbrella or awkwardly walking around in a trench coat. The heavy night time rain didn't help in that endeavor and I hugged my briefcase close to my chest. As we crawled through the traffic crossing the Brooklyn Bridge I noticed that a black Mercades Benz SUV tailing my cab. They followed me all the way through Manhattan Island up through the dark streets. It felt like I was being driven to my final resting place as the giant signs of Times Square slowly rolled by the windows on our way to my destination. I knew who they were. The Scorpions had found me. I really didn't think they would be as good as they were, but here they are now, stalking me like a wolf with their prey.

"We're here," prompted the driver as we arrived at the doorstep of the Park Hyatt New York Hotel. I handed him a wad of cash and stepped out.

I took a deep breath and ascended up the glamorous staircase toward the main gold plated doors. Before the bellboy opened the door for me I could see the Mercades coming to a halt where I had at the bottom of the staircase and several men with black trench coats and fedoras stepped out. I hurried to the front desk and checked in with a reservation I had set on the plane ride over here all the while checking my surroundings. The Scorpions still hadn't come through the doors. I still had some time.

I was handed a key for a suite and I hurried off for the elevators, positive the Scorpions weren't far behind. Once the doors closed and I started to rise, I cracked open my briefcase and peeked inside. All there was is my laptop. I booted it up so that when I got to my room I didn't have to wait for it to start. My time was running out and every second was valuable. When the elevator stopped I sped through the halls to my room at the end of one of the corridors. I closed the door behind me and quickly unpacked my laptop and plugged it into the wall so it could hack into the towers network and connect to the Idaho base. John didn't know I was here. Neither did Sierra. With any hope, no one would ever know I was here. But just in case, I had to make one final message. A message to a son who would never know who I was, and I pray wouldn't have to. I spun the laptop around and opened it, relieved that the computers AI had already established a secure connection to the bunker. I took a slow deep breath and wiped my forehead for the sweat that had accumulated over the past few hours. This was it. I thought about what I would say on the ride over here and I had so much I wanted to say. There was so much I wanted to explain with so little time. I flipped up the monitor and started the video recording process. I also plugged in a dead man's switch. Should I die during the recording process, the feed would cut and the video file would be sent to Hector where it would be buried deep in his code. The light came on next to the camera at the top of the laptop. This was it.

"Son…," I thought of something to say. Anything, "If you're seeing this then I'm dead," come on you can do better than that. I thought harder but at some point when I was looking out the rain soaked window, I stopped thinking and I started to speak from the heart instead, "I'm sorry I couldn't be there for you in person. But I assure you, I was always there for you. Watching over you like a guardian angel. Bentley… You wouldn't remember because you were too young, but you were taken from us because of something I did. But none of that matters anymore. If you're watching this then something has happened. You've probably guessed by now that I made Hector. One of my best inventions," I was starting to brag. Get with it damn it, "but the important thing is why. Why you've gone to such an extent to dig through the code of Hector to find a secure hidden database and use your own name to unlock a carbon copy of your firewall. For one, I'm glad you picked up on the trail of breadcrumbs. It's a fine piece of art you've put together here. But back to the point," I knew I was running out of time. I couldn't prove it but I could feel their presence nearing me. Like a grim reaper. I had to stay on task, "there's only one thing that could drive you this deep into the code. Something happened and now you're at odds with John and Sierra. The first thing you have to understand is they are two of the most dangerous individuals on the planet. Especially John. Back in the Warfighter days, he was the guy we sent in to either extract information or kill targets, and he was the best at it. If you want to stay alive, don't stay in one place for too long or they will find you and they will kill you."

I thought really hard on what other advice I could give him. I knew that of all the possibilities, this was really the only cause for him to find this message. John and Sierra were my friends. No, more than that, they were my family. But this was my son. It's the least I could do, "but in the first chance you get, go to these coordinates," I jotted down a set of coordinates for the Idaho base and held it up for the camera, and quickly tore it into little pieces, put it into a nearby trash bin and soaked it in alcohol from a complimentary bottle of red wine to destroy it, "once there you need to find a scrapbook. Sierra is the only one who ever took pictures from our missions. She was never supposed to but now she has a record of everything we've ever done. Everything from the Warfighters to Hawken Enterprises. But there's more. I told Sierra to hide something that could give you a clue in taking out John a while ago. It's not much to go off of but if you want any sort of edge, that's the best place to start," I heard several footsteps outside the door. They found me and now there was nowhere else to run. It was funny how I had originally set out to lead the Scorpions away to protect John and Sierra, but in my goodbye message I was instructing someone in how to kill them. But I had to see the obvious. There was no other scenario in which Bentley would ever come across this message. "I think my time is up. I wish I could have seen you grow up in person, like how it should have been. I regret a number of things in my life. I regret not putting my family before my work, I regret not standing up when I should have, and I regret not seeing the consequences of my actions until it's too late. It's too late for me," the team bashed through the door and started to sweep through the room behind me but I stayed at my computer. I knew what was coming, "You still have time to make it right."

I never heard the bullet crack through the screen. I dropped the switch and the feed cut at April 3rd, 2007 at the stroke of midnight. It was automatically sent to Hector and, without John or Sierra knowing, took the file and buried it in my hidden database that I renamed ''Sins of our Fathers' along with the video message Connor had made just before he died. I didn't know what The future was out of my hands now. It's up to them now.

Bentley

I was frozen in front of the screen after it went from static to just black. The wind roared outside and the computers made their miscellaneous beeps. The other monitors kept on scrolling through lines of code but Penelope and I stayed where we were, motionless. Neither of us dared make a sound in case my father still had more to say. After a minute of staring at the screen, I stood up, finally breaking the silence with the wiring of the motors in my legs.

"We need to find that scrapbook," I said with conviction.

I walked out of the cockpit to find the others so they could see the message as well. But of all things, I felt different from how I've ever felt before. It was more with confidence. After seeing my father's face for the first time in memory and hearing his voice, I suddenly felt a new kind of power. A sense of purpose for something bigger than myself. He said so much that reflected my own thoughts. For so long I've put the job first. There was always a heist or a project, but in all that time I subconsciously neglected Penelope. When we're done with this, I won't make the same mistakes. I'll make my father proud.

We landed a few hours later in Idaho. Well, it was more like we skidded to a halt on the runway. Upon landing, the landing gear failed and we slid across the runway and nearly crashed into the hillside below the house. I was personally surprised that the gunships ammo didn't explode, but miraculously the entire plane stayed in one piece. Immediately we all went to work. Penelope and I got a number of Sentinels and dragged the plane back to the hangar to try and repair the damage. I still hadn't told her of my change in heart after seeing that video. I just didn't know how to bring it across. Sly and Carmelita took another Sentinel and sped up the hill to the house to find the scrapbook.

Carmelita

We didn't really have anything to go off of so we just started in their old bedroom. We hadn't moved their things yet so nothing had really changed since we had left for Denmark. Before everything fell apart. We sifted through their things in hopes of finding the scrapbook but instead we came across a strikingly odd number of guns. In fact, the entire box spring of the king sized bed was one huge gun safe, as was an entire wall in the bathroom. After Sly cracked the safes, we found at least 30 different guns of varying types from short and long barreled AR-15's of various types, shotguns, pistols, body armor, Night Vision Goggles, Aug's, two GM6 Lynx's, and even a few guns that had enlarged barrels big enough to fit a soda can into, ironically with 'his' and 'her' 'can-cannon' engraved into the side. Not sure what they would have used those for but sure. Why not I guess…

Unfortunately, we never found anything resembling a scrapbook. After a few hours, Sly plopped onto the end of the bed and fell front first with his arms spread eagle. I couldn't blame him. I myself flopped stomach first lengthwise over the bed. I propped up my chin on the back of my hand and looked out across the room to the closed door of a balcony. The white transparent drapes were partially drawn and cast uneven shadows across the entire room while letting out a stream of orange light to flood the room in the evening glow of the setting sun outside. It had been a very long day to say the least. After almost dying on several different occasions, I was exhausted. I was honestly on the verge of forgetting what we were looking for. And to think that only 2 days ago we were married! I wasn't sure if this was the most unique honeymoon or the worst. Maybe both. Was this how normal marriages are supposed to be?

I scoffed at the idea of comparing myself to anything remotely normal. I was a former cop married to a retired master thief, with an infamous hacker and crack mechanic for friends, all trying to stop the world from caving in on itself while trying not to die at the hands of an international agency and a psychopath tiger after his cyborg wife died. I couldn't imagine a way this could possibly be conceived as normal. But then again, anything is possible in America I suppose. We stayed there for a while, letting the orange rays soak into the walls and slowly crawl up to the ceiling. Of all things the atmosphere made me think of pancakes. 'And now I'm craving pancakes. Great'

I turned my head to look at Sly. He was turned over now, clearly either asleep or almost asleep. I nudged him and he groaned in protest.

"Come on," I beckoned, prying myself off the surprisingly soft bed, "dinner time. I'm starving."

"In a minute," he mumbled, hardly moving.

I kicked him gently and he started to groan and shift around in an extended effort to get up. I led him downstairs sleepy eyed and started to sift through the cabinets and cupboards in the kitchen for supplies and eventually found enough to start cooking. Sly had woken up enough by then to try to help.

"Pancakes?" He noticed what I had the ingredients for as he stumbled into the kitchen, "But it's like 8."

I shushed him playfully, "Pancakes are life. Life is all the time. Pancakes all the time." I struck a pose holding the box of batter with a big over exaggerated smile as though I were advertising it and Sly cracked a smile.

"Jeez you are so weird," he chuckled as he came over to give me a kiss.

"Says the guy who just figured out what pants were" I jabbed back before submitting to his embrace.

I stayed there for a while, enjoying his warmth. This never gets old. After all this time, it finally feels like we've found a way we can be together. Now all I can think about is what life could be like after this whole fiasco is over, given that none of us gets killed. The thought sent shivers up my spine and I thought back 2 years ago when John asked us to write our own wills. It was an eerie feeling then and sometimes I still think about it. But then I remembered, there were will we should have read, Murray was gone and so was Sierra. It had been over a month and we still haven't opened their wills. We'll do that tonight. But now, pancakes.

Later that night after dinner, the four of us gathered in the living room to read the wills. Sly opened the dusty filing cabinet in the corner of the room and took out two files. One for Sierra and one for Murray. He sat down next to me on one of the sofas and weighed the files in his hands. Bentley and Penelope were sitting in an adjacent sofa across from a coffee table.

"I think it's only right that we open Murray's first. He's been with us from the start and we wouldn't be the family we were… or are now... without him," without waiting a moment more, he gingerly opened the file and pulled out a single piece of paper. He stared at it for a minute, as though trying to force the words out of his mouth.

"Wow there's… alot," he noted. I leaned on his shoulder to see entire paragraphs written. He started reading it off, "I never really thought about death until now. It's not something I've really cared about. Never really seemed like it was too close but now that I sit down and really think about it, it's been knocking on our door ever since we left the orphanage. I suppose with that said it's good to have a plan," he stopped for a moment, "as for me, all I ask is that you take care of my van. You can use it but just take care of it," he paused again, this time bringing his hand up to his chin. I could see him start to tear up as he silently read the rest to himself.

"Do you want me to read it for you?" I asked softly.

"No," he replied, "No I got this," he wiped his tears and continued, "I've watched you all for a long time. I've watched you all start your own lives and meet someone special. But you never really followed through on these connections. They're special you know… You're all special. If One day I die and you need to read this, just know that in all that time, you've made our family that much bigger. You need to put aside your differences and what we are now and look forward to what could be. Bentley, you have a strong will but Penelope still has a heart and I know that you still believe that. You belong together. Sly...," he trailed off again before starting back up, again wiping away a few tears. He leaned back and pulled me close. I followed the words on the page as he read aloud, "I've never seen any two people more in love with each other or more meant for eachother. I can see in you two what I know most people dream of what you have. I know I did," I looked up at Sly and he looked down at me. I started to tear up too and he kissed me on the forehead. He finished the page, "I can only hope that you can go on one day and live lives together. Settle down and just be people, like how it should be, with or without me."

Ch.36

Sly

I wasn't sure what to say. I never knew Murray had thought this out so well and so thoroughly. It was almost as thought he knew he wasn't going to make it. It just didn't sound like his normal self. It didn't have his cocky pride and bravado of 'The Murray'. This was a legitimate goodbye statement. Surely he couldn't have known he would go out like he did but still, I just wasn't prepared for what was said. I put the piece of paper back into the file folder and put it on the table in front of me where it slid midway across until it stopped in the middle. Bentley picked it up and read it silently with Penelope while I picked up and opened Sierras file. To my surprise it was almost empty. All that there was was a flashdrive. I picked it out of a plastic bag tucked into a pocket built into the file wall and weighed it in my hand.

"Bentley, can the bunker play something on a flashdrive?" I asked from across the table. I kept examining the flashdrive. 'No Tomorrow' was engraved into one side of the metallic device.

I could see Bentley look up from Murrays will from the corner of my eye.

"Yes, of course," He closed the file and stood up as I handed him the flashdrive, "Want to do this now?"

I nodded.

We all gathered ourselves and walked out to the bunker. The big door still had a huge charred spot on it from when the Fangs attacked and tried to blow it open. It barely showed any signs of damage as it slowly creeped open as though nothing had happened. Upon walking inside Bentley immediately went over to a console and plugged it in. The giant screen at the end of the bunker hall turned on and a loading bar appeared on it as we all stood in front of the couches. The page filled rather quickly with lines and lines of code and a password prompt appeared in its place. Did Sierra really anticipate her will being stolen enough to put a password lock on it? It must be important then to feel like you needed to protect something even after death.

"The password is hardwired into the flashdrive so I can't hack it," Bentley said from behind the bar counter off to the side. He peeked over the side and put an arm on the countertop, "I think we definitely need that Scrapbook now."

Carmelita

So we searched again and again we found nothing throughout the entire house. But then I remembered something. Bentley's father pointed at Sierras scrapbook as an incredibly important item and the fact that it's hers means that she would probably have it nearby at all times. But that was the problem. Of all people besides John, I spent the most time with her. I got to know her the most out of everyone here and if there was anything I learned is that she hated her past. In fact she rarely even spoke of it. So why have a scrapbook? Or maybe it wasn't just a scrapbook to her…

I called everyone together in the living room after about an hour of searching.

"Did you find something?" Bentley immediately asked upon coming into sight from the staircase.

"No, but what if that's the point?" I started when we had all gathered, "We've looked all throughout the house and we didn't find anything. But what if it's not in the house?"

"But where else would it be?" asked Sly.

"I think I know," I answered, "I knew Sierra fairly close. We talked a lot and I got to know her and the one thing I learned about her is she would rather leave the past behind to live her life as it is now. So why would she have a book containing all the memories of a past life she only wanted to forget in the house she wanted to start a new one in?" I let it sink in, "what we need to ask ourselves is where are the things she wants to forget?"

Again, there was a silence as the words sunk in. I pondered them myself, but in all honesty, even I didn't know where else to look. The bunker could take forever to look through as we didn't even know how deep into the ground it went. So where else could it be? Could it be buried beneath the house somewhere? Or maybe it's hidden out in the woods in a concealed location that they never showed us. The thought of searching the entire property came to mind and the idea of searching for months on end surfaced. We didn't have that much time to lose on a wild goose chase. There had to be another way.

Finally Bentley broke the silence, "Well, if she wanted to forget something, she wouldn't go there. She would put everything that reminded her of her past life in a place she would never need to go to again. The only place that I can think of that she would really never have a reason to go is the hangar. The only time anyone ever goes in there is when we need to prepare for a mission. If there's no mission, then there's no reason to go there. And if there's no reason to go there, it makes for a good place to forget about things," he looked around at us, "so are we going to stand around and talk about it some more or are you all convinced enough to get off your asses and take a walk?"

So we took a walk through the cool midnight air to the hangar. We opened a door on the side of the big main door and filed in. Still, the AC-130 was in shambles. I honestly couldn't say whether it was totalled or just in need of a simple fix but a fair assumption would say that it was unsafe to fly. Everywhere else had machine parts scattered around. In preparation for our missions, I had personally never actually been in here. Mostly because I never had to. But the first thing I noticed besides the gunship was the big concrete structure built into the back of the hangar. It had a big steel door that creaked when Sly carefully opened it. Inside was as dark as could be at first but when I flicked on a nearby wall switch, fluorescent ceiling light fixtures flooded the room with a brilliant white light. Before us was a very strange arsenal with unusually large weapons that were too big for a normal person to hold. There were display cases that lined the walls and inside each of them were Knight armors. I counted 9 cases with suits of varying sizes and types. A few had what looked like a jet engine strapped to its back and exhaust vents coming out of the extremities. Some were actually smaller than the others. Only two came close to resembling the suits John and I wore in Denmark. But there were others missing. In fact, of the 9, there were only 5 suits present. We all took a moment to admire them but I went around and looked at the names above the cases on plaques of those who's suits were missing. Slowly walking by I read the names in my mind; 'John, no surprise there. Sierra, again, not too surprised, Steven Algof? I bet it was the one Sly used to save me in. It's a nice look. Ivan Burkov…' Something caught my eye as I stopped in front of the empty armor case. Behind the clear glass, a message was jaggedly etched into the steel backing and a knife was stuck firmly below it. Of all things to say, the inscription read, 'Never needed it.' Why would someone say they didn't need something like the Knight Armor? Maybe they we're just stubborn. Or maybe, judging by how the knife was stuck through the steel and concrete that made up the walls, maybe he was just that strong…

I had to take my mind off of it before I delved too deep into the subject. We were looking for the scrapbook afterall, not the meaning behind an aggressive carving. Keeping a steady pace walking along the wall, my eyes wandered to a floor-to-ceiling cabinet with steel grate doors at the end of the room. It sat alone on its own wall. Through the metal grate, I could clearly see 6 swords hanging on the wall behind it. Walking closer to them, I could see that they were also labeled with names. Now I was starting to think that they were the old Warfighters John told us about. He never told us who they were or what their names were, but he did say was that once there were more.

I scanned each and every single one and each one was identical. The same 5 foot sword with the same bandguard and the same strange symbol etched into the blade near the handguard. It didn't do anything but for one reason or another, just looking at it sent chills up my spine. I couldn't explain how it felt, but all I knew was it was unnatural. Then my gaze fell to the floor and at the base of the case just below the last sword was a thick book with a polaroid picture on the front. I kneeled at the base of the cabinet and upon closer inspection the picture was of her in full army gear while holding an M4, smiling as she stood on a grassy hill that sloped down to a field that eventually touched the ocean. This was it. I had to be it.

I stood back up and found the handle to open the grate. Upon turning it, the symbol etched into the swords started to faintly emitt a ghostly red hue, not as intense as the glow of Johns but still equally unsettling. I reeled backward in surprise, letting one of the doors swing open and clang against the metal frome as it opened to its full extent. I stayed for a moment, mesmerized by the glow. I wasn't sure whether I was intrigued by the red mark or terrified in how I felt like they would somehow come to life and attack me. Either way, it was unsettling as hell. I carefully bent down and snatched the book up from the floor of the cabinet and closed the door again to the cabinet. The glow of the swords intensified once again but faded once more as I backed away. Soon, they were as dormant and lifeless as they were before.

"Are you ok?" asked Sly.

I whipped around to see him with a very concerned look on his face. But this wasn't a cute, playful kind of concern. He looked almost scared in the way he examined me for whatever reason.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Don't worry about it," I said, holding up the book and waving it, "I found the book. Let's get out of here." Just then I saw Bentley and Penelope behind Sly examining two of the armors. "What're they looking at?"

Sly traced my vision and I followed him over to Bentley.

"Did you find something?" He asked.

"I found two somethings," he pointed to the overhead nameplates above two of the suits and what they said shocked me. One of them I saw coming to some extent as it was labeled Oscar. But the other I wasn't expecting at all. It was labeled Connor Cooper. Sly's dad was a Warfighter?

Sly

I just stared at the armor through the glass case. I can't believe he never told me anything about this. On one hand it was awsome. My dad was even more of a badass that I had originally thought. He was both a master thief and a Warfighter. But on another I felt betrayed. How could he have kept something like this from me? Did he not want me to know? And most importantly, why? I wish I could go back to that dream to ask him more questions. But just then I wondered, was it the Warfighters fault that he died? Was it his fault that Clockwerk found us all that time ago and killed him and my mom? Or was it the Warfighters? Did the Warfighters have a part in the deaths of my parents? My mind was flooding with thoughts and possibilities but I couldn't make sense of any of them. So I did the next best thing.

"Let's get out of here," I said as I pushed past everyone. I left the concrete structure and walked ahead to the Bunker.

It wasn't too long of a walk but I still felt the need to be alone. Upon turning the corner to enter the bunker I let myself fall against the wall and slide down to the concrete floor. I put my elbows on my knees and my hands on my head. All this time I had been trying to keep a level head. Trying to keep my cool. But now I could feel it all breaking down. Was this how John felt? Is this how he feels now? I let my head drop between my knees and I closed my eyes for a few precious seconds in an effort to try and regulate my breathing.

While I was on the ground, I felt a soft hand on my shoulder.

"Sly?" I heard Carmelitas voice and I took my hands off my head and peeked my head back up to see her kneeling in front of me, "Oh god, are you ok?"

I noticed then that I was crying. What the hell was I doing? I didn't even know anymore. Feeling as though all the strength had been sapped from my body, I leaned forward and pulled her in close. For just a moment I felt a little better and for today at least, I had had enough.

Bentley

By the time we had arrived back at the bunker, both Sly and Carmelita were gone. I could see the upstairs lights had recently come on so I assumed they had gone up for bed. That left me and Penelope to read over the book. Fair enough, they wouldn't have been able to do much anyways. So without any delay, she and I went into the back room and got to work.

The minutes turned into hours as we sifted through the book, not because of the size, granted it was rather thick, but it was more impressive in the meaningfulness of the pictures. I counted at least two hundred pages and on each one was a handful of photos that pertained to their own separate mission. Turning page after page, I could make out different environments, from hilly plains to dense forests. From elegant city high-rises to what I made out to be a battleship in the middle of the ocean. And she was never alone in any of the pictures. She always shared the frame with at least one other person, whom I could easily assume to be other Warfighters. There was John in most of them whereas a certain Racoon was nowhere to be found. I then started to think that maybe the three never knew each other. Given what had happened to Connor, I wouldn't be surprised. And on the inside of the back cover there was a landscape photo with all of the Warfighters in casual clothes with the exception of Connor who was again nowhere to be seen. Sierra had her arms around John while they stood in the middle of the picture. Looking at them all reminded me us our gang before Murray died. They seemed like a family.

After glancing over all the photos the first time, we had come across nothing of use. No cleverly hidden numbers, no words hidden in the background of the photos, not even the call sign of a plane or helicopter. So we read it over again, and again, and again. We scanned each and every image into Hectors computer and even digitally altered the contrast levels of the photos. Still nothing of use. At 5 in the morning we finally gave up. It was a lot less about needing rest and more about just being frustrated. After all this time and all the puzzles i've solved, I was being felled by a simple hidden code. I was out of patience and out of mental energy. In all honesty, I just wanted to look at something else. Of all things, maybe a good movie. I've recently heard of a new movie that came out about dreams and delving into one's mind. While movies weren't really my thing, I was intrigued by this one. I stood up and turned to Penelope.

"I think I'm about done for tonight," I said, making her jump slightly as though in a daze, "Wanna come with me to watch a movie?"

"No it's ok, you go," she responded, placing her arms on the desk and turning back to the book, "I just want to get some progress on this code."

"If you say so," I replied reluctantly, "just don't stay up too late."

Just then I saw her head fall hitting the table. A moment later I could make out a light snore.

"Told ya so," I quietly teased as I tried to lay her back in her chair. But after seeing how laughably uncomfortable she looked, I thought about it again and made a decision. I leaned over and pulled her arm around my neck to stabilize and picked her up in my arms. Rather romantic really, like when we had first met and she saved my in Blood Bath Bay. It felt warm and fuzzy. Whatever it is, I liked it.

I carried her into the house and to her room where I laid her down in her bed, caringly pulling the covers over her. But then something unexpected happened. As I pulled away, her arm fell against my leg. And I felt it! I hadn't felt anything below the pelvis in years, since I had been paralyzed when we took down Neyla. I didn't understand how or why I could feel it, but her touch on my skin was electrifying. But still, I just couldn't understand how it was possible. So I did the next best thing. Nothing. I walked out of her room and softly closed the door behind me. Walking back to my room I contemplated to myself what I had just felt. Was it really possible that I could have full sensation in my legs again? Maybe I could even use them again. For the first time, I felt hope for myself. And maybe, I could truly be my own man. I continued to think as I slowly walked to my room, listening to the near silent whir of the motors that powered the legs. Secretly wondering if there could be a day where I might not need them anymore.

Bentley

Ch. 37

I woke up the next morning to a sliver of sunlight shining through my window, same as usual. I slid to the edge of my bed, disconnected my legs from the wall-charger and put them on and proceeded to get myself ready for the day. I tried to ignore the sudden return of sensation in my legs. Maybe it was just my brain playing tricks on me. Or maybe, just maybe, my legs actually were starting to repair themselves. Could it be that the motions of walking was stimulating the nerve cells in my lower body? Or maybe it was just that my body had spent enough time recovering and now they were ready to start being used again. Either way, it wouldn't help me now.

I left my room and walked down the halls as I normally did, listening to the near silent wir of the motors in my synthetic legs. I just couldn't help thinking about how sick I was of relying on technology to move. My wheelchair, even these advanced robotic legs couldn't match the pleasure of being able to walk unassisted on my own two feet. So to try and take my mind off of it, I drew my attention to the pictures on the wall as I walked by. The pictures in the hallway leading to the kitchen was different from those in the living room. Here there was only one person in each frame. There were seven pictures, each with a small plaque showing their name and lifespan. Looking at them, I was saddened by how no one of them had lived to age 60. Connor Cooper was the first at the closest end of the hall to the kitchen and my father was at the opposite, closest to my room. I doubled back and stopped in front of my dads picture for a moment. I wonder if he knew that I would end up here, inevitably following in his tracks. Maybe one day I'll see him again, and I could ask him all the questions I was never able to ask. Only if it could be in this life.

I walked back down the hall, holding back a few tears, when I recognized another face just after Connor. In the living room there was a picture that hung over the sofa of a black labrador wearing Vietnam era combat gear riding in a helicopter flying towards a dense jungle coast. The same black labrador stood smiling by a Sentinel with his hands in his pockets. He was tall and very muscular, wearing jeans and a OD green t-shirt that were only able to cover up some of the numerous scars that arced deeply over his arms, neck and face. But even while his body told a story of pain and suffering, he still looked as content as could be. I was mesmerized by the contradicting sub narratives that were subtly written into the seemingly simple picture. I looked down at the plaque and saw something odd that I had not yet noticed. There read;

Steven Algof

1955-2006

But what intrigued me was two small notches made in the frame below it under the last number of each year, making 5 and 6.

Just then the wheels in my brain started to turn. I looked at all the other picture frames and found two random numbers marked on each one. I thought back to the scrapbook. How there were 8 people standing side by side including John and Sierra but excluding Connor. I raced back to my room and grabbed a piece of paper and pencil to write them all down. After looking over them all I got a total of 12 numbers and labeled them with their corresponding names. I raced out of the house and into the bunker to look at the book. My heart was pounding and I hoped that in the sudden early morning adrenaline rush I wouldn't forget the faces of the Warfighters. I reached the computer in the room in the back of the bunker and hastily opened the scrapbook to the inside of the back cover. Without even sitting down, I hurriedly matched the names to the corresponding position in which the Warfighters stood in the picture. Eventually, I was able to reshuffle the pairs of numbers into a new single 12-digit code. From there I went outside to where the flashdrive was still plugged into the console of the TV and took it into the back, plugged it in and inputted the code. Without hesitation, I ran the new code I found and waited while the computer processed it. The screen started to fill with endless streams of code pouring over the TV. I waited in suspense for what could have only been a few seconds but felt like an hour after my adrenaline rush from before. Just as the silence was starting to set in and I could start to hear the blood pumping in my ears, I heard Penelope enter the room.

"Bentley? What are you doing? " she asked curiously. I jumped at her sudden appearance. She was wearing a pair of jeans under a bathrobe she had apparently just put on.

I was about to explain to her my method in finding the code when the monitor went dark. I turned back to see that all the code that was originally there was now gone. Now there was only one line at the top. It read 'access granted' and beneath it was a single thumbnail video link with Sierra facing the camera with her fingers laced on the desk in front of her. Not seeing why not I played the video.

The video immediately filled the TV screen and played. Penelope and I stepped out from behind the counter to stand in front of the couch. The screen filled my field of view as Sierra silently read the papers in front of her on the screen. A minute or two had passed when she finally changed her posture. She let out a reluctant sigh and brushed a hair from her face and her eyes settled on the camera.

"The date is… May 29th, 2003. So you figured out my little puzzle. Not bad," she began in her familiarly calm voice, "I can only assume that you are either someone I personally knew and trusted or someone who knew me too well. In either case, I might as well give you what you came for."

She glanced down at her papers for a moment before proceeding. "I can only hope John isn't watching this. He's been through alot and he has his demons… but then again, we all did. But still, he has a good heart. Not many could see it but I can. I think I'm finally getting through to him," she paused for a moment, staring at the screen, "We all had our roles in the team. Mine was a marksman, EOD and an urban close quarters specialist. John's role was stealth infiltration, data collection and target elimination. When it came down to it, he was both our interrogator and our assassin," she took another pause, "he never took pride in his job, in fact he hated it... but that never changed the fact that he was the best at what he did. So then there comes the question, how do you kill John Puller?"

I rushed back behind the counter to get something to write with and prepared to take notes on what she was about to say and paused the video. I turned looked over the counter at Penelope, looking just as shocked as I felt.

"We need to get everyone down here," she said, "now would be nice."

John

A day earlier...

The plane ride to Alaska gave me plenty of time to come up with my next move. The silence of my solitude was broken only by the constant rushing of air outside the hull. Although one of Archangels engines was still damaged from a few days before, everything seemed to still operate without any major problems. Archangel was designed to take hits much worse than those it took above Switzerland after being retrofitted with a fuselage similar to that of the US's A-10 attack jet, so the C-17 wasn't even losing fuel because of the missing engine. But that wasn't what I was thinking about. I was trying to think of what I would need to do what I needed to do. I had one of the most advanced arsenals in the world on board this aircraft and in Alaska, there was even more. But what I needed was manpower. If Sierra were here it wouldn't be a problem, after all, we had faced similar odds before. But the fact is, she's dead, and no one could replace not only our compatibility and chemistry, but also our combined combat effectiveness. So if I couldn't have my partner, then I had a simple alternative…

I arrived in Alaska at around 3:00 AM on an abandoned airfield just south of Kotzebue Sound in the middle of the forest. The landing was rough, given that no-one had been up here in decades to upkeep the runway, but was otherwise unhindered by any major obstructions. Hector taxied to the end of the runway and into a hangar just big enough for Archangel. Upon entering the hangar though, I could see from the cockpit the seemingly lifeless structure light up with a brilliant white light and the machines and robot manufacturing arms attached to the ceiling and walls started to come to life and pass over the cockpit as Archangel passed through. When the C-17 finally stopped I heard the hangar door loudly rattle as it closed. I walked through the plane, out of the already dropped cargo bay and stepped onto the cold concrete floor. I personally had never been here, but Oscar used to tell me stories of this place. It was were Archangel was modified after it was bought from the US Air Force shortly after the Warfighters was first formed in 1991. It was impressive that a place like this could exist so long ago, back when floppy disks were still a thing...

I briefly stood at under the tail of the cargo jet and marveled at all of the robot arms extending from the ceiling and scanning every square inch of Archangel, moving methodically and precisely over the surface of the aircraft. It was mesmerizing seeing the hangar go from being another abandoned shack in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness to a complex automated facility starting to perform its various functions. But not seeing what I could do, I left the machines to do their job. Afterall, there was another reason I was here.

I went back inside to get a winter jacket and a gun. Since this was bear country, I would be an idiot to go out without any way to protect myself. After that, I left through a large metal door that was just beyond the reach of the right wing of the aircraft and closed it behind me. I was instantly thankful for my decision to get a jacket because even for being at night, it was frigid in the northern air, despite it being Springtime in the northern hemisphere. Although the cold felt nice on my face, perhaps the nicest thing I had felt since I got my scar.

I waded through the melting snow banks through the rusty steel buildings that made up the encampment with my rifle over my shoulder. Some of the lights had come on after the hangar had accepted Archangel for the first time in forever and there were now just enough patches of light to guide me to the building in the middle of the camp. I didn't really know what the layout of the camp was, as it was also under a similar GPS shroud to that of the Idaho base. But I could see the silhouette of a building ahead slightly larger than the others, which mostly looked like shacks. As I got closer, I pulled a flashlight out of my jeans pocket from under my jacket and shone it at the building ahead. It had a few windows and a glass door installed in a wooden structure that stood about three feet above everything else in the camp. But while it looked nicer, than the creepy steel shacks that dotted the terrain, it also looked older with clearly visible signs of erosion and decay.

I got to the door and tried the handle but it was locked. I scanned my surroundings and held as still as I could as to not make any noise myself in an effort to look for anyone who may be close by, and unslung my rifle. I wasn't going to shoot the glass of course. Not only would that be a waste of ammo, but it would also make it abundantly clear to everyone and everything in a four mile radius that there was someone here. So instead I shoved the end of the barrel through the glass door next to the handle, shattering it. I reslung my rifle and reached an arm through the new opening in the broken glass to turn the handle from the inside. I pulled the door open and quietly closed it back behind me after slipping inside. The inside looked to be in significantly better condition than the outside although very dusty. It was lined with desks and filing cabinets that appeared to be mostly cleared out. But looking around the room, my eyes came across a cork newsboard with a map of the mainland US and tacks pinned in a number of states. Among the states were California, New York, Texas and Florida. A number of photos attached to the pins with string lined the outside of the map and below it all was a folder sitting on an otherwise empty desk under a knife. I walked up and picked it up. It was labeled "War Machine Protocol". I took out a small camera, opened the file and started comparing the information to the map, all while taking pictures of everything I saw.

"If I can't have my partner," I said solemnly to myself as I snapped a picture of the map, "then an army will have to do."


Ch.33

John

Upon lifting off from the airfield I immediately crashed on my bed. I had already put in a new set of coordinates for Archangel to fly but I had to think of an actual plan of attack now. The chairperson for Denmark was my first target, but that was only because he was in charge of the territory where Sierra died. Everyone else was on the list as well but only as an afterthought. And with him dead the others are likely going to be much harder to deal with. So that meant that I would need to hit them more indirectly. So I had to put myself in their shoes and think like them. Besides their leadership, what is the most important part of an organization like the FoV? Their morale. So from there I looked again at the files that Hector had decoded thus far. In those files there were recruitment maps that showed where they were receiving the most new personel. Those charts were nearly worthless to me as all they showed was that they received new recruits from all over the world. But what interested me was that they seemed to have a very high density around Europe. It would make sense due to the FoV being based in Europe but the larger areas of population for the higher up FoV personnel seemed to be based in Great Britain. They essentially ran the entire country from MI6 to Parliament. Unfortunately No One was there because they were still holed up in Geneva. It was time to change that.

"Hector, cancel current destination nad set a course for Geneva. Circle the area at a 10 mile radius. Wake me up when we get there," I told the computer before falling asleep. I was exhausted after having not slept in over two days. I was functioning completely on caffeine and after I stopped drinking it, I could feel the energy drain more and more as the minutes rolled on. I think I had earned a few hours of sleep.

Or maybe not. As soon as we entered Swiss airspace, Hector woke me with a blaring combat alarm.

"Sir, we have been intercepted by two Swiss F-22 Raptors," Hector informed, "They are hailing us sir."

I quickly got out of bed and threw on some clothes. Less than a minute later I was rushing out of my room and into the command center to grab a wireless headset, "Hector, patch me through," I got a quick glance at the radar screen. There was nothing, but considering that F-22's are stealth aircraft, I wasn't surprised. But they weren't perfect, their flaw being their high heat exhaust, "and scan the surrounding airspace for infrared heat signals. Lock onto them," I hurried out of the command center and into the cargo hold to prepare a railgun.

"Yes sir," was all I heard before the channel switched.

"Attention unidentified aircraft. You are entering Swiss airspace. Identify yourself or be fired upon," was all I heard from the pilot. I tried to remember the ID number of the aircraft. Being the only original aircraft of the Warfighters, I memorized it like a very elaborate last name.

"This is November-Echo-Mike-5-1-5 to pursuing aircraft, please acknowledge," NEM515 wasn't the catchiest name by a long shot. Back in the day when we first got it, we used to call it Nemesis. The name quickly grew old so we never used it.

"November-Echo-Mike-5-1-5, you are entering a temporary no fly zone," they responded. I carried the railgun to the edge of the cargo bay as they spoke, "we will escort you out of the airspace to the north. Any deviation from the escort will result in lethal force. Please respond."

"I muted the mic for a moment to talk to Hector, "Do you have a lock on one of the aircraft?"

"Yes sir. There is another aircraft on our 6-o'clock. How should I proceed?"

I started the stopwatch on my wrist watch and hit the button to open the cargo bay. "Charge the railgun and open fire on the adjacent aircraft in 30 seconds," I slid open a breech on my railgun and slid in a sabot shell. I closed the breach as I pushed a button to begin charging it. I counted back 6 seconds before shutting it off. As the bay door opened completely, I was met with the cold roaring winds of the upper cloud layer and the view of an F-22 raptor reflecting sunlight off its wings as it floated about 200 meters behind Archangel. I lied down at the edge of the deck and set up the weapon with a heavy bipod in front of me. I counted 6 seconds and shut off the charging process. The rifle was now live. The pilot of one of the fighter jets spoke over the radio again.

"You have 30 seconds to respond," he said.

I had one shot to take out the F-22 directly behind Archangel. Normally I would have to account for my movement, their movement, and the wind speed of the surrounding environment. But with a railgun, the shell moves so fast that it doesn't matter as much at this range. I started counting down the seconds. '10, 9,..3, 2, 1," and I pulled the trigger. It was a featherweight trigger that requires minimal effort to pull, but the result was an intense shockwave. I was scooted back slightly over the metalic floor by the sheer force of the railgun going off. And less than an instant later, the F-22 was torn apart lengthwise and quickly fell out of the sky. At almost the same time, there was another shockwave from the direction of the gun battery and another mangled mass of metal and plane parts fell behind the tail of the C-17 and began its descent back to earth as well.

I stood back up and hefted the railgun over my shoulder as I walked back to the wall to close the bay door again. Piece of cake.

It wasn't long before I arrived in Geneva. Even being 10 miles away, I could see the city swarming with Swiss military personnel. The local officials probably knew about the F-22's I shot down earlier, I could see from the command and control center that there were tanks and APC's patrolling the streets and helicopters maintained a steady flight pattern in the airspace. I was lucky I didn't even have to get close.

"Hector, charge the railgun battery and prepare for oscillating fire," I ordered as I sighted in the UN compound with a joystick through the railguns targeting computer. I wasn't going to target any of the Swiss ground units. Afterall, they probably didn't even know what they were defending. They're soldiers, just following orders. Once upon a time, I would have been in the same position. But if they're too close to the compound then I won't hold my shot for them. Ten seconds had passed before the computer gave the cue that meant the railgun battery was charged and calibrated. Without waiting a second longer I pushed the trigger on the joystick and the firing sequence began. The twin barrels reciprocating fire shook the whole plane and with each shot the shaking intensified. It started subtle but 15 shots later I could feel my teeth rattle in my head. I kept an eye on the computer screen as it tracked each shot arcing through the air to its destination and impacting the ground with such force that it appeared to explode on impact. But that's the beauty of the railgun. It shoots a 25 pound shell so fast that the sheer force of the impact causes the surface to combust. And that's exactly what it did, tearing the compound appart. After 30 to 40 shots, I let go of the trigger and the shaking seized. The building and the entire surrounding area was now decimated. All that remained now was a landscape laden with craters and the broken remains of former buildings. Even so, I doubt this actually killed any of the politicians. It's a standard protocol for any high level government building to have an underground bunker. The UN Geneva headquarters would likely have one as well. But that wasn't the point of the attack. In fact, there's a chance they aren't even there anymore. My purpose was to send a message. The Geneva Headquarters was one of the most heavily fortified buildings in the world and now that it's destroyed, it sends a clear message to the UN, that they can run, they can hide, but there is no shield they can put in my way that I can't tear apart. But more importantly, it would get them to disperse, thinning out their forces and making them easier targets. Now all there was to do was find them.

A day later the news reports started to come in with many different theories. There was one about a potential rogue African nation declaring war on Switzerland and another about a military coup against the UN in Geneva. Of all of them, there was only one report about the now infamous Phantom from a news source actually coming from Geneva itself. This was good, he more the better. Fear afterall, is a weapon all on its own.

After some more time, Hector was able to tap into local radio frequencies. Live news reports and radio broadcasts were funneled through the C-17's onboard computer and filtered for anything important. Soon enough Hector found a live report from another point in Switzerland that a number of German officials and ambassadors were taking off shortly from Bern Airport about 80 miles east of Geneva. They must have fled Geneva when they lost their F-22's, smart move.

According to the news reports, the German diplomats is set to take off in 5 minutes from a Boeing 747 bound for Berlin. Unfortunately, the 747 was much faster than Archangel, so I set a course to the airspace in the flight path between Bern and Berlin. I had just made it 50 miles past the airport when the 747 took off with a full fighter escort. I had roughly 2 minutes before they arrived at my position, so in preparation, I ordered Hector to activate the C-17's areal defence countermeasures which consisted of 4 deployable automated flak cannons hidden throughout the aircraft. There was one of top, one in the nose, and two on the side closer to the rear. They were absolutely devastating to enemy aircraft, but take much too long to activate while in combat.

Soon enough, the fighter escort of 6 JG-74 tactical fighters moved to intercept Archangel before it got too close to the passenger jet. Their hails were ignored and Archangel immediately opened fire on the squadron as soon as they got within range. I observed the gun perspectives from the command and control room through various monitors, all the while preparing the railgun. The nose cannon took out two of the aircraft before they had a chance to scramble. After which, they began evasive maneuvers and tried to find a blind spot. The guns continued to track the fast-moving aircraft and struggled to keep up with their rapidly changing movement. But eventually, one moved too slow and was tagged by the flak cannon on the side. A few shots later and it erupted into flames, beginning its quick descent back down to the earth. The other jets had much more luck, managing to out maneuver the gun tracking and making it to the rear of the aircraft, which was kind of a blind spot. But even so, Hector kept firing in their general direction. Eventually, one shot managed to snag the fuselage of one of the planes and it erupted into flames. Unfortunately, not before a burst was fired and hit one of the engines, causing it to flame up. The damage wasn't enough to cause it to malfunction and it kept running. The remaining two broke off again and attempted to flee, activating their afterburners and leave the area as soon as possible. Their path, however, sent them right over the flak cannon mounted on the roof of Archangel. I was nearly thrown out of my seat as the overhead explosion rocked the plane. I cursed as the feed for that gun went out, meaning that the target was so close that taking it out inflicted self damage to Archangel and destroyed that gun. It was alright though, there were still 3 active flak cannons and the last remaining aircraft was on the run.

Hector continued to try and shoot down the last fighter even though it was clearly out of effective range. But the real prize, the 747 had just come into view in the direction of the fighter. Hector raised altitude to match that of the passenger jet and turned hard as to match its direction. The railgun deployed, and I began firing at the 747, each shot ripping through the body of the aircraft as though it were made of cheap plastic. Eventually, I hit the fuselage of the closest wing and it exploded, and it started to slowly drop out of the sky, but I kept firing until I was certain that nothing could have survived. But in my attack, I neglected the status of the last fighter aircraft. It roared past the railgun again, while letting loose another burst. This time, it disabled the flak cannon for the left side, rendering that flank defenseless. Now with the last pursuit aircraft in front of Archangel, I had one last chance to take it out before it turned around and finished me off for good. I overrode the controls for the cannon in the nose and started firing in a stream in front of the jet, trying to lead it as much as possible. Eventually, one of the engines started to emit smoke from the exhaust. And soon after, it erupted into flames as well. It was over. I put my headset down and shut down all the monitors, beginning the return process for the weapons batteries.

"Hector, drop altitude below radar and set a course for Heathrow Airport." I ordered as I stood up and stretched, "And cut power to the damaged engine. I want a full damage report by the time we land."

I walked out of the command center and returned to my room. I had about 2 hours before I arrived in London and by then I would need a plan of attack. In taking out the 747, I killed all the German diplomats in a single strike. It was a bold but stupid move to put everyone in one place but I doubt anyone else would make the same mistake. Now my targets were the leaders of Great Britain. The prime minister and a very specific influential figure the heart of London.

Ch.34

John

It was a rough midnight landing and required Hector to black out the entirety of London's air traffic control system. In the chaos, I landed and occupied a hangar just off the runway. I waited a few minutes as Hector hacked London's public surveillance system as well and upload a version of the Phantom protocol. I had a plan, but in order for it to work, I had to be invisible. An hour later I was on the streets, doing the same as I had in Geneva, disposing of high profile gangs and local criminal organizations. But in doing so I was also gaining information on the London Underground. I learned that the Fangs owned every aspect of the city, from the media to the police force. On top of this, London was also a major recruiting hub due to an asset connected to the church. Father Gabriel, a former Royal Marine chaplain, was one of the FoV's most valuable recruiters and moral supporters of the organization according to the locals.

So 3 days after I had arrived, I found myself walking down the streets alone at night in the middle of a rainstorm. The streets were as empty as could be, largely because of the recently instituted martial law as a result of my actions and the increased murder rate. I had to say though, it was refreshing, walking in the rain. The raindrops on my black jacket over my casual jeans and white t-shirt soothed me, almost like I could hear myself think. The thoughts and emotions flooded in like a tidal wave. And I just then started to realize just what kind of person I had become. Over the last few months, I had crossed every line and broken every boundary that I had once set in place for myself. It wasn't that I was becoming what I used to hate, it was much more that I was embracing it. I was letting my inner demons take the lead in my actions and now, I could feel myself losing sight of what I was. What I once held dear. But the irony of the situation was I was doing what I was doing because everything I held dear was taken from me. I switched from feeling empty to being filled with a pure hatred of everything associated with the FoV. But just for a moment, I thought of where this was all going to end. What would the world be like after I was done? Then again, it couldn't be worse than what it is now. But still, I wasn't completely at ease.

I walked up the steps and opened the great door to the church. It was a grand building, with columns supporting a vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows covering every available space to create a truly special atmosphere. Before me were rows upon rows of pews facing a central altar and a grand pipe organ. I let the door close behind me and slowly walked through the central aisle, letting my fingers brush the tops of the fine woodwork of the oaken pews. I found my way to a confessional booth and waited. I honestly took no pride in what I had to do next, but I waited. A few minutes had passed before I heard an elderly man enter on the opposite side of a wooden screen and sit down.

"Have you come to confess my son?" he said. I reached for a gun that was tucked in a holster under my left arm, but stayed myself. I took it out and laid the suppressed M1911 on my lap.

"Yes. And for advice," I responded.

"Then tell me your sins my son," I don't know why I was doing this. But… I just felt like I should. Confessing to a corrupt priest. Oh the irony.

"Forgive me father, for I have sinned," I began, "the blood of countless lives is on my hands, but I've always been told that it was for the greater good. For justice, or to make the world a better place. But it never does. In the end nothing feels like it ever changes. All my life, I've done all I could to keep monsters at bay, but when it's all said and done, I always lose those who I care most for. And sometimes, I feel like I'm becoming a monster myself. And sometimes I wonder, when does it all end? Or if it's all worth it."

"Inner peace is a quest of the heart and soul, and much less of the mortal world," he said in a calm, level voice, "and if you seek justification…" he hesitated, "only you can find it. It cannot be given or bestowed, only learned on your own."

A fine amount of wisdom, but I could feel the confliction in his voice when he mentioned justification. Maybe he wasn't just a tool for the Fangs, "And what if that's not enough?"

He waited a moment, "Only you can decide what path you travel in the end. And whether you will be consumed by your monsters."

"Thank you father. But now, may I ask you a more personal question."

"Of course."

I picked up the gun and pulled back the slide to rack it, "Do you have anything to confess?"

I heard him draw a ragged breath on the other side of the wall, "You're the Phantom?"

"Yes."

Another pause, "I knew you would come eventually. And I can assure you, you're doing what must be done."

"What do you mean?" I asked curiously.

"I have much to confess, if I may," he explained to me there how he came to be a priest. He was plucked out of the military after being one of the last in his platoon to survive an ambush. After he was discharged, he was appointed by the British government to be the head of the church, but despite his new promotion, he deeply regretted his new position. In fact, he hated his job. The whole church was little more than an elaborate recruiting operation for the FoV. He had personally recruited thousands of individuals into their ranks and even held some level of power in their leadership. He regretted each and every one, and deep down, he regretted having ever taken the job in the first place. "I've been praying for someone to come along and end this madness. And now, you've come along to answer those prayers."

"I'm not here for you or because anyone sent me," I responded, "I'm here to finish a job."

"Why you're here doesn't matter as much as the fact that you are here," I heard him shift in his seat behind the wall, "but I must ask, why are you doing what you do?"

"The FoV took my wife from me," I said plainly, "I want revenge."

"Then may you find satisfaction in your vengeance," I heard him shift in his seat behind the wall, "Phantom, I believe I am ready to leave this world."

I nodded subtly and put the tip of the suppressor against the wall where his chest should be,"Any last words?"

"Yes, finish the job," he said and he drew one last breath.

"Rest in Peace Father," And with those last words, I squeezed the trigger twice through the conjoinding wall. A moment later, I heard his weight hit the opposite wall.

I got up and walked out of the concessions booth. I put the gun away and slipped my hands into my jacket pockets. I walked out the door and retraced my steps outside back to the airport. I took the time to reflect on what the priest had said before he died.

'Only you decide the path you travel in the end. And whether you will be consumed by your monsters,' he said. It sounded poetic, but even being corrupt, I could see the truth in his words. These demons of mine are mine and mine alone. Only I can chose whether I control them or let them take control. I didn't have the luxury of being in a position to say that 'I had no choice'. I was in a unique position where I had nothing to hold me back and nothing to lose. I am truly the master of my own fate. The only question now was what did I want that fate to be. Yes, after the job was done, there would be a better world by some measure, but what would be left of me? Was there even a future for me? Or was I merely a pawn in some elaborate plan? Who knows, I surely didn't. But then again, why should I care?

My next target was the prime minister of Great Britain. He was personally responsible for the creation of the FoV, being one of its first supporters and source of most of its funding. If he died, the FoV would lose their source of money. My first plan was to use his family like I had with the chairperson of Denmark, but unfortunately, she wasn't as clean. In fact, while the Prime minister was in charge of the funding for the organization, his wife was in charge of their research division. The vampires, the puppet masters, the Valkyrie research, it all led back to her. Mr. and Mrs. Stryker as they were known in the professional world. And that's where the data trail ends. Even on the confiscated hard drives, no one knew their personal whereabouts or even where Mrs. Stryker was based. All that I knew was that due to his political obligations to his country, Mr. Stryker was based somewhere in London. But the problem then became drawing him out. Upon landing I had to survey the area. In interrogating the locals, I also learned that the government had an elite squad that went in and maintained order whenever the public went too far out of line or when the local police couldn't handle the problem. So to use this, I had to push hard against the police. In the 24 hours prior to eliminating the priest, I dismantled the majority of London's police force. It was a compound attack of Hector hacking and disabling their network and me doing around to their motor pools and destroying their vehicles with explosives. It was all over in a few hours and gave the elite squad a reason to come to London. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, being the first force to be considered 'elite' that I have faced in many years. But that wasn't to say that I didn't know how to deal with them. You see, when it comes down to it, all elite units are built on a simple principle, they're hunters. So the solution is you give them something to hunt.

It took some doing but I managed to figure out how to make Hector create a fake path using the cameras. Cameras would black out and turn back on again in a sequence that would indicate a path and given that the government also had access to the cameras, they could track it. By now I wouldn't be surprised if they figured out that I was cutting the camera feed to hide my movements, and the response time to the church attack supported this. So I created a path snaking around the city and occasionally disappearing and reappearing in a random location. According to the radio, it was working. The FoV squadron was going crazy in trying to anticipate and cut off the path but it would always disappear before they could catch it. And even better, one of the pursuit vehicles was referred to as carrying a VIP. It wouldn't make sense for that VIP to be anyone other than Mr. Stryker. My need to interrogate the squad was outweighed by the opportunity to eliminate a very important figure from the playing field. So I set up a fake trail on the opposite side of the city as I drove a Sentinel through the city to a building near the London Eye ferris wheel. The Waterloo Bridge was a natural choke point, meaning the squad would anticipate me crossing it, so in theory they would try and cut me off when I got there. But instead of actually cutting me off, they should run right through my kill zone along the Waterloo Bridge and boardwalk. But I should've known it wouldn't have been that easy.

Hector started the trail to the bridge but the Fangs weren't the only ones who had caught on. Of all things, I saw the Cooper Van come around the corner before anyone else. Through the railgun scope, I could make out Sly, Bentley, Carmelita and Penelope getting out of the van and walk along the boardwalk. They were right in the middle of the killzone. A minute later, 8 black Suburbans came from both sides and surrounded them on the boardwalk. They formed two barricades on either side and a full platoon of FoV operators exited them wearing the same uniform as the operators that attacked us in Idaho. I could hear them from my perch shouting orders to the Cooper Gang to get on their knees. They complied and a few seconds later, out stepped Mr. Stryker. I charged up a shot as I watched him walk across the boardwalk to the Cooper Gang and kneel in front of Sly. I could only assume he was asking him questions. Then he pulled out a gun. I didn't have much time and I had to make a decision. I had the option right now to take out the prime minister. A single shot is all it would take to essentially erase him from existence. But that shot would be guaranteed to kill the entire Cooper Gang as well. It was an unbelievable feeling to know that my actions thus far have led to those I had fought with for so long to be lined up in my crosshairs. To know that to do what I came to do, I would have to kill them as well. One trigger pull, 3 muscles compressing a featherweight trigger is all it would take to end all their lives.

Just then, I saw Mr. Stryker point the gun at Carmelita, and Sly's composure changed. He went from his normal cocky complexion to a pained look, as though he was begging him to not kill her. He didn't want her to die. And then through it all I saw something familiar. All the rage from the months before was finally dissipating, realizing that for once in my life, I couldn't do it. No, I wouldn't do it. Sly and Carmelita have something that Sierra and I had. Something worth more than all the gold in the world.

"Damnit," I cursed under my breath. I readjusted towards the barricade on the left and fired a sabot at the SUV's. The shot exploded all the vehicles in my line of fire. Shrapnel went flying and killed the nearby Fangs. I pushed a button by the hand grip to start another charge and pulled open the breach to put in another sabot shell in. I slid the bolt back forward, locking it in place, and looked through the scope again to sight in the other barricade. I counted 6 seconds, switched off the charging mechanism and opened fire again. The second barricade exploded and now, there was nothing but burning rubble on the boardwalk. I surveyed the boardwalk through the scope and found the Cooper Gang again. Sly was kneeling over the dead politician holding a gun. The others were still regaining themselves. Sly looked up from Mr. Stryker and put down the gun next to him. He pulled out his binocucom and pointed it right at me.

"Well, he knows I'm here now," I said to myself. Might as well show him who's looking out for him. I grabbed the bag full of Sabot shells and slung them over my shoulder as I dismounted the railgun and stood up. I hoisted it over my shoulder as I looked down on them, the only friends I had left. But looking across the river at them between the burning barricades of overturned Suburbans, I realized I now had a problem. Knowing I'm alive would make them want to join me and if they did, Sly could end up in the same situation I was in, not knowing if peace even exists anymore. But I couldn't give up now. The death of Mr. Stryker would only cripple the FoV. The organization would eventually recover. I had to finish what I had started, but in order to protect my friends, I would need to be their enemy.

So knowing Sly was watching, I charged the railgun and reached back to grab a sabot. I loaded it and aimed it from the hip in the general direction of the building behind them. I fired, the recoil sending me reeling back from the ledge and the shell hitting the wall behind them, making it crumble rear the Cooper Gang. It's a close call, but not close enough to cause them any significant harm. Just enough to scare them. I turned around and walked off the roof and back to the Sentinel waiting for me on the ground. Driving past them back over the Waterloo Bridge I could see the look of disbelief as they started running for their van around the corner. Maybe I should've hit that too.

They tried to cut me off on the road back to the airport and run me down, but they didn't stand a chance. When they cut across the street in an intersection, I just dodged them and smashed through a telephone pole and climbed over a few parked cars along the road before returning to a normalized course on the street. Before they could try and speed up, I punched the gas. The Sentinel instantly jumped forward and I was slammed back into the seat. I could hear the wir of the turbos in the engine compartment as I blasted through the streets at a blistering speed. Soon, I had arrived at the airport. As I smashed through the fence and hit the tarmac, I was greeted by dozens of black security Suburban SUV's between me and Archangel. In response, I activated the Sentinels weapon systems and fired 3 missiles in quick succession. They destroyed most of the SUV's in a quick series of fiery explosions but there were still some left. Those that remained and continued to close on me I finished off with the hood-mounted machine guns, but there was still one. Not seeing why not, I rammed it's side just as it tried to turn away and flee. The force of the impact crumpled the side of the SUV like it was made of tin, while mine, made of steel and many times heavier, went right through, barely slowing down.

I drove into the cargo bay of Archangel and stopped in the aircraft. Climbing out, I caught a glimpse of the Cooper van as the door closed. I ordered Hector to pull out and prepare for liftoff while I raced to the Command and Control room. They would no doubt try to hail me. And of course they did.

"John!"I heard Sly's voice over the radio as I put my headset on and pulled up a chair before a desk, "John what the hell are you doing?"

Should I tell them the truth? Yeah why not, "I'm finishing this war."

"I get that but why the hell are you shooting at us?" The C-17's surveillance systems were now online and I could see the AC-130 pulling out of a nearby hangar and quickly preparing for takeoff. I had to beat them into the air if I wanted to lose them. But with still one engine down, it was unlikely either way. I didn't answer Sly as I ordered Hector to make a 'hard takeoff', or instantly putting all the engines to full power. I was thrust back into my seat and a moment later I was in the air. But upon turning around to fly west, I was met by Ghostrider matching my speed at my same altitude on my flank.

"John. Answer me damnit, "Sly kept persisting. I did the only thing that I could do and charged up the railgun battery. They must have noticed it deploy and activated their own Howitzer battery. Asbad as this situation was, it just got a lot worse. After a minute, I heard Sly's voice again, "Deactivate your gun battery and land in Iceland. We need to talk."

"No we don't," I replied. I raised altitude slightly so I had view of the top of the AC-130. I had to aim just right for this to work. If I missed, then I would either provoke them to shoot me down or I would kill them all by accident or hit their fuselage, exploding the entire aircraft, "This is my war. Not yours. And I'm going to finish it."

And with that, I fired the railgun over the length of Ghostrider and clipped their furthest engine, causing it to explode. But the explosion wasn't enough to take the wing off, meaning they would only slow down 10 percent. However, that 10 percent would give me plenty of time to leave their line of sight by the time we reached Idaho. After that, they would have no way to track me. But I wasn't going to Idaho. It wasn't my place anymore. Instead I was doing north, over the Arctic-circle to Alaska to the home of one of the original Warfighters. A master marksman and survivalist by the name of Alexander Spyker. I just hope I can find it before I run out of fuel.


Part 11:Fall from Grace

Ch. 30

John

It was seared into my brain, that day we attacked the castle in an effort to rescue Sierra and Carmelita. And I am still haunted by the decision that noone should ever be forced to make. But there wasn't time to think about it. I just did what my gut told me and dove in front of the bullet Sierra had fired destined for Sly. It glanced off my armor but I instinctively pointed my machine pistol at Sierra and fired in a streak. Most of them missed, but one found home in her chest. I hit the ground instantly knowing what I had done and scrambled to my feet. I slid over to her and cradled her in my arms to inspect the damage done. The bullet had found home in her left lung and she was wheezing due to the blood filling her lungs. I raised her head and to my relief she didn't attack me.

"Sierra I'm so sorry. I can fix this," I reached back for my medkit that was strapped to my back. It wasn't there. Of all the things to forget on a rescue operation, I forgot my fucking medkit?

"Don't worry about it John," she said with a hint of her normal sarcasm, "I can take a hit."

She tried to sit up but just then she coughed up blood in my face. Some of the splatter hit me around my eye but it didn't bother me as much as what could be her final breaths.

"Damnit... John… I gotta…," she gave up trying to talk through the intensifying spasms and more and more blood streaking her fur and staining my hands and her hair. She brought up her left arm and wiped some of the blood from her face. Then she started to write on her other arm in her own blood. When she was done she let her writing arm go limp to show me what she had written on the other. And for a moment, everything around me vanished and the world stood still. I had to do a double take to be sure I was reading it right. I looked down at her and despite all that was happening, she gazed back at me with a weak smile, holding back the spasmodic coughing just to have one last moment of peace. I began to tear up, not with sadness, or anger, but with tears of happiness. For a moment, nothing else mattered as I held the love of my life in my arms.

But then her eyes gently closed and her body tension faded away. It looked as though she had simply fallen asleep with a peaceful smile on her face. But I knew better. I panicked. Maybe, just maybe, there was something I could do, something I could use to save her.

"No. No! Please no!" I started to break down and cry. I looked around desperately for something I could do to bring her back to me. But I knew that it was too late. I pulled her face next to mine in a final embrace and I felt her blood mix with the trails of tears rolling down my face as I wept, "please don't leave me."

But it wasn't just her that I had lost just then. Before she died, she had written one word. 'Pregnant'. I was going to be a dad. But now it was all gone. I reeled back and unleashed a roar from my diaphragm at the ceiling as it finally gave way and collapsed around me.

By some miracle I made it out alive 2 full days later, but I couldn't leave Sierra behind, so I took her body with me. I was mostly protected by the Knight armor, but I suffered a single long gash over my left eye. I could still see through it but the blood seeped into my eye, making me keep it tightly shut to keep the stinging sensation at bay. I found a piece of cloth still attached to a pole sticking out of the ground and I took it to wrap around my head as a makeshift eyepatch. It wasn't perfect, but it'll do for now. I was careful not to leave my sword. For one, it was a powerful weapon and a vital asset, but also so that no one else may accidently come in contact with it. I was lucky enough to come across an old abandoned Chevy truck and after some effort, I was able to get it to run again.

My first objective was to get back home, but as of now the local airports were likely on lockdown by the UN to protect the interests of the FoV. But then it hit me. I was far from innocent, but if not for the UN and the FoV, none of this would have ever happened. When it came down to it, it really was all their fault. Sierra wasn't herself when she attacked us, she was controlled by the Fangs. And they forced me to end her life. This isn't the end, I swear to god.

I crossed the border into Germany and found a radio tower near Klanxbüll, a little over a mile from the Denmark/Germany border. It was occupied by a few radio hosts, broadcasting a local radio channel. It wasn't much but it would have to do. When they went home for the night, I took control of the building at the base of the tower and started doing some creative rewiring. The station as it was only had enough range to affect a radius of around 500 miles at mostand to increase that range I would need a lot more power. Thankfully, there was already a fully charged blackout reserve battery in the basement. On top of that, although the tower itself receives power from the city nearby, only about a third of it is used to power the tower. Everything else is used to provide power to all the lights and appliances in the building. So by diverting all the power to the antenna I can boost the towers range over a massive range for a short period of time. Whether it was enough to reach Idaho was another question entirely, but I wasn't left with many other options.

I plugged my radio into the antennas amplifier and got ready to divert the power. I wouldn't have much time as the antenna wasn't meant to handle this much power at once, it likely would barely last a minute before failing. I found a map and looked for the nearest airport big enough to land one of the jets. I rehearsed what I was going to say then I flipped the power. The room went dark and I could see blue sparks flying through a small window up high close to the ceiling. I didn't have much time. I punched in Hectors emergency access frequency and started giving out orders.

"Hector this is Delta I need an emergency evac by Archangel at at Sylt airport at coordinates 54.91 degrees North and 8.34 degrees east," I thought for a moment. If I tipped off Sly and the others that I was alive then it would trigger a hunt that could end poorly. Sly had done more than enough in particular. I didn't want him to go down the road that I have. "Requesting evac immediately. Phantom Protocol."

"Yes sir," was all I heard on the other line before it went dead and the building caught fire.

I rushed out just in time to watch the tower start to fall over with arcs of electricity still streaking up the legs. It crashed to the ground tangent to the direction I ran and started a small brush fire where it landed. I ignored the quickly spreading blaze and walked back to the truck where Sierra was still laid across the back seat. It wasn't a great arrangement, but I didn't have many options. At least Hector was coming with Archangel. But the Phantom Protocol was an extra step that I chose to take. Essentially, it meant that whatever I did would leave no traces in any database connected to the Warfighters and nothing would be recorded by Hector unless I explicitly told him to. It was made as an emergency countermeasure in case any hostile force ever took control of the house and the bunker in Idaho. Obviously that wasn't the case, but the point is that now I could still make some use of my assets without the Cooper Gang knowing I'm alive.

I drove out of that town and took a bridge to Sylt Island where the airport I instructed Hector to fly the C-17 to was. On the way I stopped and stole a cherry wood casket for Sierra and put her in the truck bed. When I arrived I waited for around 7 hours for the plane to arrive and when it did I quickly drove into the cargo bay, careful not to make the casket jump. No clearance was granted for Hector to land a jumbo jet on this runway so I had to hurry in getting Sierra from the truck to the jet before security came to ground us. But we took off just in time before the runway was sealed off. I knew that Sly and the others were searching for Archangel. In fact, they had just taken off in the AC-130 bound for China according to Hector. Of all places...

At least there was noone at the house I had to dodge when I returned. I didn't want to talk to anyone right now. I left the Knight armor in the C-17, drove up to the house and walked around the back where there was a shed with a bunch of gardening tools. I grabbed a shovel and some wood and drove the truck with Sierras body up to a hill just beyond the airfield. There was a single large oak tree occupying the space with its thick branches spanning outward like an intricate web frozen in the air. This was always her favorite spot. We would come out here to drink red wine and watch the stars all night long. That felt like so long ago, before any of this madness started. Back when I was too stubborn to let go of the past and live my life with her in peace. Maybe then we could still be together.

I climbed out of the truck and started digging under the shade of the tree through the snowfall. Every shovel-full bore the memories of a lifes past, reminiscing in all the time we had spent together. It brought tears to my eyes while I scooped out the earth. Knowing it was all over. All those jobs we pulled and risks we took, to the long nights and sweet memories we shared all led to this. I finally finished digging and climbed out so I could say my final goodbyes. I said sorry for dragging her into this mess, sorry for never listening to her when she told me to stay, but most importantly, for letting her down in the end. Something I learned over the years is no matter what happens, there is always something you can do, but when it came time for me to save her life I failed. I forgot to bring a freaking medkit. I could have put a valve in to clear out some of the blood so she could breathe. But that doesn't matter anymore.

I lowered her casket gently into the ground with the truck and started to fill in the hole. Every scoop of dirt felt like it weighted half a ton with the weight of my tears, my guilt, and my ever growing rage. As each clump of dirt hit the casket I could feel the anger growing inside me as I buried who could have been my future wife. But what others don't know is she was much more than a fiancé. She was the last thing in this world that I held dear that gave me a reason to show restraint. I wanted to be a better person for her. But now that she was gone there was nothing holding me back. No reason to keep me from opening the gates and letting loose the demon that has resided within me for so long.

I finished filling in the grave and took the planks of wood to mark it. It read;

Sierra Puller

1981-2010

A fighter with a heart of gold

A lover with the soul of an angel

I stood before the grave, down on what had taken me all day to accomplish and I said a few final words.

"You deserved better than this. I'm sorry it had to end this way," my voice cracked as I struggled to keep my voice steady, "Sierra I… I love you... And I will always have a special place in my heart and memories just for you," I looked over my shoulder and drew a ragged breath as I looked at the sun starting to sink over the horizon. The snow was still gently falling through the gaps in the tree branches and starting to find home over the exposed dirt of the grave. "Evil people did this. They took you from me. I have no doubt that soon… soon I will see you again. But until then, I can only pray that you can forgive me, not only for what I have done, but for what I will do."

And with that I looked back at the house where we used to live, it still had most of the windows blown out from the attack but I'm at least glad that Sly had started putting the place back together. Construction equipment could be seen surrounding the Victorian style house. But now it didn't feel the same. Without Sierra here, the memories of all the love shared only brought the knowledge that it was all gone. It was my home, but now, I'm not sure if I belong here anymore. The part of me that wanted to live a normal life had been torn out of my reach and now I couldn't see a reason to stay. It was my home, but now I felt like I had no home

I turned my back to Sierras grave and began my walk down the hill to the C-17 to gather supplies. It was then that I swore that I would find everyone responsible and end them. They've laid waste to countless lives around the world and now they've crossed a line in making me kill Sierra. Morals no longer mattered to me. The law had been corrupted and the only justice to be found was by bullet or by blade. Was it right or justified? I didn't really care anymore. The UN has been found guilty of unforgivable acts and now there was hell to pay. And for once it wasn't for the sake of others. Not for world peace or stability. This one was for me.

Ch.31

John

I took a short trip back to the bunker in one of the Sentinels to gather ammo, guns and equipment. I would likely never be coming back here so I would need to pack for the long haul. I traded in my FN Five Seven for a suppressed M1911. For one it was quieter, but it was also a matter of just how damn hard it was to get my hands on ammo for the Five Seven. It was a shame too, I really liked that gun. And just for that, I grabbed two M1911s to make up for it. Practical? No, but it looked cool. I also took one of the old railguns and plenty of custom Sabot shells for it. It was heavy, bulky and no one makes the ammo for it anymore, but it was built by Hawken for the sole purpose of punching through everything on the battlefield, and that kind of power could come in handy.

Before I left, I went to the bathroom with a medkit from the infirmary to treat my wounded eye. I stood in front of the mirror as I gingerly removed the makeshift bandage from my head to reveal a long gash that crossed over my left eye from above my brow to past my cheekbone. I quickly got to work disinfecting it with alcohol and stitching it shut. When I was done I leaned on the sink and looked back at myself in the mirror. As I gazed at my reflection, it reminded me of my nightmares. In fact, the blood from my cut had seeped into my eye, which now had a deep red tint to it. I barely even recognize myself anymore. After leaving home when my parents died at 17, this is what I've become. I could feel myself evolving into the demon of my nightmares. I wound up and shattered the mirror with a big punch. I stayed there for a moment, looking back at my reflections through the broken shards of the mirror. Some pieces falling to the floor while others gave interconnected fragments of my image through jagged lines and missing pieces. The broken reflection gazed back at me with a deadly conviction. I slowly turned and walked away, never to return.

I loaded my bounty onto Archangel and prepared for takeoff. I had gotten everything I needed, but I also just wanted to leave as fast as possible. It hurt being in a place I can't call home anymore, so in a way this was for the best. But the irony lingered as this was the only place left in the world that I could consider myself at home. A past home for a past life I suppose. It was with a heavy heart that I closed the bay doors, shutting out the light of the sun and setting coordinates for Hector to fly to. It took me a while to leave the cargo bay even after takeoff, not that I really had a significant reason to. But it was more just what I had just set out to do had weighed heavy on my heart.

When I finally left, I went to the command and control center and rechecked the coordinates to make sure they were right. In roughly 5 hours I would land in Geneva Switzerland. A number of things exist in Geneva, from a beautiful river to it's respectable architecture. But I wasn't interested in any of that. I was much more concerned with the UN European Headquarters that was based there. I was done fighting the little guys. From now on, I was taking the fight to their home soil. Then, I was going to burn it all to the ground.

Landing in Geneva Airport, I suddenly remembered some of the missions Steven told me about from before the Warfighters were formed. He ran a number of undercover infiltration missions in Russian cities. He would paradrop in, dress like the civilian population to blend in, and seek out his target as though he was just a commoner. Steven would tell me of the methods he used, like buying tourist brochures and newspapers, or sometimes the simplest of methods, like just asking someone on the street for a given tip-off, like a closed off construction site or a specific store. In any case, secret operations carried out by a government entity rarely are actually kept secret when it's carried out in a public place. Thankfully though, I wouldn't have to go through all those procedures. Instead, I just googled the address while I was still over international waters. I really love the internet sometimes.

I made myself appear as a mere tourist among the people of Geneva, taking pictures of the architecture and scenery. It made me sad for a moment, thinking of how much more Sierra would have appreciated the sights than I was. But of course I took pictures sparsely, as to save memory. I was also sure to avoid the major streets of the city, taking smaller roads and back alleys alot to avoid being spotted by a camera. Of course being back alleys though, there were a few occasions where individuals or groups of thugs would try to rob me. I sincerely felt sorry for whoever picked up the trash from the dumpsters after I was through with them. Technically it wasn't my fault, it was always in self-defense, but I just got a little carried away at times. And it wasn't like i could let them go, blow my cover and compromise my mission. As the days went on and I kept looking for a weakness in the security, I accidentally developed a reputation on the streets of Geneva. I recall only 3 days after I had arrived picking up a newspaper and reading the headline issued by the local police. It read:

The Phantom

'Several reports have come in of gruesome murders on the streets of Geneva. The suspect appears to have used a single american made firearm and dismembered the bodies of his victims only to discard them in various trash reciprocals in back alleys. The suspect appears to only target gang members but unfortunately, there have not been any confirmed sightings of the criminal and he remains at large. He is considered armed and extremely dangerous. If seen, please call your local authorities immediately.'

The article then went on to give generic suggestions as to stay safer, like to never travel alone or never travel at night. They were valid, but were hardly the most of my problems. There were a few details that just didn't seem right. First of all, who even reads papers anymore? The only people who would ever read the papers were people who didn't have a smartphone or computer access. Like me. Second, Why would they make this the headline? And on top of that, why call it 'The Phantom'. But then I remembered back to when they found us in Idaho. They tracked Ghostrider. Ghost and Phantom were nearly synonymous. This newspaper wasn't a public warning, it was a message directly to me. The Fangs knew I was there. So much for stealth I suppose.

The days went on and I had no luck in seeking chinks in the UN's security. A week and a half had passed when I gave up and returned to Archangel. I took off my hat that I used to hide my scar and my hawaiian shirt and threw them on my bunk in the hull of the C-17. I let my weight fall into the mattress but sat up at the side of the bed. Across from me was a cork wood wall with pictures that I had taken of the UN building tacked to a projected map. I had taken nearly 300 pictures around the compound with no luck. The security functioned on a strict 3 hour overlapping rotation that meant that there would always be active patrols on site 24 hours a day. There were defensive marksmen stationed on the roofs of the surrounding buildings, IR and fiber optic security cameras on every corner, radar towers and attack dogs patrolling the perimeter. On top of that, I even saw a glimpse of a recently assigned security task force of 15 arriving at the compound just the other day. They were greeted by 5 pre existing task force members, meaning there was already one there, which means that now there was a small platoon of highly trained gunmen guarding the inside of the compound now. The building, by all means, was impenetrable to me alone.

I thought for a second of calling for backup, but who would I call? The Warfighters were all dead now, I was it. And the last thing I wanted to do was drag the Cooper Gang back into this mess. But then I remembered something that one of the older members said. Alexander Spyker was a comically funny guy, even in the face of danger. In fact, it was signature of him to make an ironic joke whenever something went horribly wrong during a mission. His way of dealing with bad situations I suppose. But he was an extremely proficient hunter. His targets being both wild game, and other threats. He always said, 'your best weapon was fear. If you have that, then all you have to do is wait for your prey to make a move for you. Let your target do the work and when they have their attention focused on something, take a shot from somewhere else.'

I pivoted and fell back into my bed, staring at the ceiling as my head started to spin. I was wasting my time because I was trying to bash my head against a brick wall. I was never going to get into that compound. Not alive. But the UN knows I'm here. The Fangs know I'm here. But instead of putting out a public announcement through something like an email or a radio or TV broadcast, they chose instead to essentially write me a message to say that they knew I was there. They were trying to scare me away quietly. I thought again about what Alexander had said. "Let your target do the work." I can't break into the compound because nothing ever got inside unless they want it to. But what if nothing got in? Could I starve them out? No, that wouldn't work. It would take too long and one way or another, they would sneak basic supplies into the compound. And even if they didn't, they could just call on NATO to provide an armed transport to get supplies in and the officials out.

"So I can't seal them inside, but can I draw them out?" I asked myself. I thought long and hard about ways to draw them out of the fortress. What could be so valuable to someone that could break down someone of such power enough for them to compromise their defenses and come out into the open. But then I had an idea. It would almost be poetic justice to take from them what they've taken from me. They took away my family after I had lost one family after another for one stupid reason or another. It never got easier. The pain, the desperation of trying to save them never changes. Maybe it would be justice, maybe it's crossing a line. I don't care. There's nothing sacred that can't be taken away in an instant. The Fangs would learn that soon enough.

I took a short nap and did a little more digging. Interestingly, every single one of the members of the UN had established families in their home countries. All were married, most had 1 or 2 kids. It was the perfect bait. Hopefully they had the humanity to care for their wellbeing.

First thing was first, I had to make the Fangs fear me. But it was more than that, I had to be the devil in their eyes. So I went on and cleaned up the streets my own way. I kept myself out of sight and only went out at night, but I made every moment count. On the first night, I had interrogated and executed 12 different gang members and in only 3 nights, 400 bodies of all the gang members in the local crime syndicate that ran around the Geneva Sea had turned up on the streets or on the beaches of the lake or rivers. The public was mortified and so was the UN. The compound had gone from a fortress to a full on military base with NATO personnel and equipment on site and the city was under martial law. Oddly enough though, Geneva had never been safer. As soon as I was done with the major gang, all the other smaller gangs had reportedly surrendered themselves to the local police department out of fear of being killed. As a result, crime levels were at a record low for the next several months after, ironically making Geneva one of the world's safest cities.

I was barely able to take off in Archangel the day after I had finished my spree. I was done there and there really wasn't anything else I could do. I wasn't stupid enough to try and take on the UN headquarters, they would just shoot Archangel out of the sky before I did any significant damage with the onboard railgun. But what I did gain was all of the personal cell phone numbers of all the politicians on site, thanks to Hector hacking the local radio towers while I was busy in the city. All in all, it was a grand success. Phase one of my plan was a success and now 'The Phantom' was now a well known domestic terrorist in the region, and he was about to go international.

While in the air en route for my first target, I started to have second thoughts about my decision. I kept telling myself that I didn't care, but was that really true? There was blood on my hands now. Civilian blood. Sure maybe they ended up all being part of a gang but I didn't know that at first. Was I really becoming that much of a monster? It was like I was turning into the kind of person who I would have killed without a second thought, had I run into myself from a mere few years ago. I really was turning into my own demon. But then I started to think of what Sierra would say. What all my old team mates would say. After all, they're the entire reason why I'm doing this. But it was too late to turn back, the plan was already in motion. Something was going to have to go.

I touched down a short time later in Denmark. My first objective was the chairperson of Denmark. I spent a few days finding his family at a vacation home in a forest east of Horsens. An attempt to hide them maybe, just a very bad one. I took a Sentinel out through the woods until I found it. It was an admirably well taken-care-of Victorian style structure that stood alone among the trees as far as the eye could see. The canopy of trees casted a picturesque orange filter over everything, to make you feel like you were walking through a masterfully produced painting. But what I cared about was the building an its security. It was secluded, and didn't have anything more than a basic alarm system. An easy target.

A few days later, my plan was ready to be set into motion. I shared a live video chat using a smartphone that I had taken from the wife,

":Good morning chairman," I began, "I hope your day has been going well because that's about as good as its going to get," I took a pause and crouched down and turned the camera to make his restrained and gagged wife and daughter seen. They had bags over their head but it was obvious who they were, "You see, you are responsible for a number of things that I frankly, just don't have the patience to name."

He started rattling off threats and pleas, which I ignored. I took out one of my pistols and displayed it clearly for the camera before standing up.

"You owe me a life, now it can be yours, or it can be theirs," I took the gun out of the picture and muffled screams of fear can now be heard in the background.

"Just let them go! Please, what do you want?" the politician pleaded.

I gave it a moment to sink in. "I want you to suffer,"

A little girls voice was heard, "daddy?" and then a gunshot rang through the room that I was in. Muffled screams of terror intensified and the politician began cursing and threatening relentlessly.

"If you want to save who's left, come to your vacation home near Horsen. Come alone. I don't need to tell you what'll happen if you piss me off. You have 24 hours." And I cut the feed.

A mere 12 hours later, he arrived alone in a black SUV at night. He exited the drivers side and shut the door behind him. He cautiously walked in through the front entrance and left the door open behind him. I saw him through various night vision cameras hidden around the house and in the walls as he made his way through the unlit hallways. The only light source was from the wide screen TV that resided in the family room. It had a recorded video from the hacked hard drives we stole from the Russian base. This one in particular was of a meeting with all of the superiors of the UN and FoV negotiating various deals and discussing operations. He fell to his knees before the TV and just stared at the moving picture for at least 5 minutes as it played. Then it stopped abruptly and the screen went black. A second later, 2 words appeared in white letters in the middle of the screen.

'I win.'

An instant later, the entire house exploded in a glorious fireball that reached up through the canopy of the woods and set the nearby trees on fire. I was around 4 miles away in the city of Bisholt at a villa. The wife and daughter were safe in the next room over and through my window, I could see the amazing ball of flame soaring over the misty Horsen Sea. I never hurt his family, in fact they were watching TV the last time I checked. I wasn't a monster. Not completely. Not yet at least. But the job certainly wasn't done. Not even close, because in the footage that I showed the politician, every member of the UN committee was present as well as the majority of European leaders with the only acception being anyone from the US. That meant that for my job to really be done, all of Europe would need to fall. I was declaring war on Europe.

Ch.32

John

60 hours ago

I didn't know how the wife would react to me. After all, I was a random guy with a scary scar on his face in the middle of the woods. So I made due with what I had. The entire building was independently operated, so all of its power for everything came from an outdoor generator. From what I could see, the security system was impressively complex, but none of that mattered if it couldn't get sufficient power to operate. I thought about going in at night when I first arrived, but I opted otherwise. The next morning when they went for a walk, I made my move. As soon as they were out of sight behind the trees, I turned off the generator that was positioned on the side of the house on a platform just above the forest ground. As soon as I knew that everything inside the house was powered down, I picked the lock and forced the front door, being sure to leave it open. Lock picking wasn't really my thing but I picked up a thing or two from Sly. Once inside, I opened the bag I had brought with me and took out a laptop and audio recorder and put them on the table. Then, I waited for the wife and daughter to return.

I heard them approaching as the boards creaked under their feet. I turned on the audio recorder and waited for them to enter. I heard a little girls voice squeek around the corner of the hallway.

"Daddy?" she called out made my heart break to think that someone so corrupt could keep someone so innocent so oblivious to an evil that he himself was responsible for.

They rounded the corner and I felt my heart sink a little more when I saw the little family trying to cautiously tread around on the wood floor. The little girl couldn't have been older than 6 and the wife might have been in her late 20's or early 30's.

The girl looked up innocently to her mom who was holding her hand and asked in an a little voice, :"Is that one of daddy's friends?"

She replied, "Yes, yes, he is. Go to your room Maya," as she gently nudged her back down the hall from which they came.

"Ok mommy," she said and skipped down the corridor.

She watched her for a moment before turning to me and rushing to the chair that sat adjacent to me at the table I sat at. "Please, just take whatever you want. Just leave me and my daughter alone." She sounded terrified of me. I couldn't blame her. After all I was a stranger that just appeared in their house.

"Ma'am, I'm not going to hurt you," I consoled. I folded my hands and put them on the table, trying to appear as casual as I could. "But I do need to ask you some questions." She nodded. She was still clearly nervous but didn't look as stiff. "How much do you know about your husband's involvement with the UN?"

"Well, what's there to say?" she started, brushing her hair as she looked down at the floor, "there's not allowed to talk a lot about his work. National security and all."

"I would understand that, if his job actually involved national security," She looked up suddenly, "are you aware that your husband sanctioned the use of black sites in central Denmark?" She went silent, staring at me with a dumbfounded look. "I think you need to see this."

I turned my laptop around and played the video that was already set up on it. She watched it attentively as the classified 40 minutes of footage played. It was no wonder that it was classified too. Hector had just recently dug up the file from the stolen hard drives and it was extremely telling, even for me. The meeting was between UN leaders and the leaders of the already existing FoV division. It showed that the FoV actually weren't a generic group of psychopaths, but instead, originated as a group dedicated to the wellbeing of the planet as a whole. Meaning that their priority was the wellbeing of life on earth as a whole as opposed to the safety of a given nation or group of countries. The meeting took place around 1999 and discussed the developing crises of limited resources and energy clashing with the growing world population. Eventually, all members unanimously agreed that a genocide would be necessary to both reduce the global population and decrease the amount of harm done to the climate while preserving the planet's ability to sustain life for a future population. Simply said, it was stupid, and who could blame the UN for not wanting to be associated with it. After all, they had to keep their reputation intact. But the fact still remained that the UN not only let it happen, but even granted the Fangs substantial funding and land to operate on. When the video ended, I closed the laptop. The wife was pale from seeing what her husband had really been doing at work.

After some time of staring into the floor, she finally looked back up at me across the table, "What do you need me to do?" she asked.

"First off, what's your name?" I was still trying to be nice, but she seemed to be on my side now.

"Genesis"

I nodded, "Genesis, I need you to help me do something," and I explained to her my plan. When I finished, Genesis went to get her daughter and started to pack their essentials. I turned off the audio recorder.

40 hours later

Apparently before she was married to the politician, Genesis was studying in theater for special effects and props for movies. She used things from around the house to craft a dummy about the size of her daughter and dressed it in her clothes. After putting a bag over its head they were indistinguishable. In that time, I rewired the houses security system to that the cameras were arranged to survey the interior of the house and give me a live broadcast to my laptop. I also rigged the TV to be remote controlled from a window on my laptop as well. Then I primed explosives all around the lower floor of the house, embedding C4 explosives in the furniture and the walls along with an improvised substitute for napalm made from basic household chemicals, to erase all traces. Just before leaving, I left a relay transmitter in one of the kitchen cabinets so that if anyone were to trace the live video call, to the husband, it would lead them here.

They packed their SUV and we drove around the Horsen Sea to the village of Bisholt. It wasn't very big, and was more of a very large villa than a town, but we rented 2 rooms. When we made sure her daughter was settled in the room, Genesis and I went out to a deserted barn and put dark sheets up around the walls so the husband wouldn't be able to tell we had left the house. Then we shot the video, using a blank round as opposed to a live bullet in the video as to make it more convincing but still keep everyone safe. Then, we returned to the villa. All there was to do now was wait.

12 hours later: present

I imagine Genesis and her daughter saw the explosion as well. It'll probably be on the regional news soon anyways. As far as I was concerned, it was a success. A job well done. But now Genesis was a widow, and no longer someone to make money for their household. I was unsure how to approach them about that situation, or even if I should bother to say goodbye. I did just kill her husband after all. Even so, Genesis soon opened the door to my room, startling me slightly. Cords were strewn all over the corner in which I was stationed and the big cushioned recliner chair had 5 pieces of equipment leaned against it charging up through their own respective wall outlets and cords. Even so, Genesis took a seat in a swivel chair that resided at a desk on the opposite wall from which I was at. She rotated it to face me and sat down.

"So did we get him?"

I was pouring myself a shot of whiskey, "Yep." I responded casually.

"What are you going to do now?" she asked curiously.

I put the bottle down and brought around the shot glass. "My job's not done yet. There were dozens of people at that meeting and all of them need to die."

"I won't argue with you as to doing so but, if I may ask, Why are you so set on killing off the UN committee?" she asked hesitantly. I couldn't blame her for asking. It was obvious that they were in the wrong but I never really explained what it was that I had against them. I thought for a moment, swirling the light brown liquid in the glass, trying to come up with a way to give a digestible answer but still tell the truth. After helping me as much as she has, she deserved as much.

"They took everything from me and killed my friends. Then they killed my wife," I downed my glass and reached over to pour another shot for myself, not bothering to see her reaction.

"Oh my god," she said astonished, "I am so sorry. I never knew."

"You have nothing to apologize for," I turned back to her again with a full glass in hand, "You never even knew about your husbands involvement until I found you. But now there begs the question, what will you do now?"

"Well," she crossed her arms and crossed her legs as she began, "he had a healthy life insurance account and a pension that I could use for a decent while. After that, I could start working again. I'll live. But as for my daughter, I don't know. One day I'll have to explain who her dad was. I'm not looking forward to that. But until then I can just put her in another school. Probably somewhere in Canada."

"Good call," I thought for a second and put the laptop on the table next to the whiskey bottle and stood up from my recliner. I walked over to a bag that was lying partially unzipped on the bed and took out a stack of Euros. I handed it to her and began packing my things. "That's around ten thousand US dollars. It should be enough to get you a decent few plane tickets across the Atlantic."

She gingerly took the wad of cash and ran a finger over it as though to count it.

"Thank you. But you don't have to give me money," she said. I started going around and packing my things, "I can pay for my own plane ticket."

I stopped loading my electronics into my backpack. "Need has nothing to do with it. Where I'm going now, money wont do me much good," I quickly packed the rest of my chords and zipped all my bags before she could respond.

"But where are you going?"

"Genesis," I slung the backpack and duffel bag onto my shoulders and turned to her, "It's best you don't know." I walked past her and opened the door, but before I closed it behind me, I looked over my shoulder back at her. She was watching me leave. There was a familiar look in her eyes. It was the some look that Sierra got when she was worried for me. I couldn't afford this right now. "One word of advice. Stay off the grid until it's over."

And I let the door close behind me. It was best that I put as much distance between her and me as possible. I couldn't risk having emotions in the middle of this operation. Not now. Besides, she would only slow me down, or worse, get her and her daughter killed. Even so, I stayed there, with my back turned to the door for a moment, thinking about it, as if there was even anything to consider. When I came to my senses I hurried out of the villa and climbed into the Sentinel and slammed my fists on the wheel. On the drive back to Archangel past Horsens, I tried to put the thought of Genesis out of my mind. She was sweet, I'll admit, but she could never keep up with me. Maybe that's not the point, but I still wasn't ready to leave Sierras memory behind me. And I don't think I ever will.

Part 11: Ghosts

Ch. 27

Carmelita

A week had passed since the funeral and nothing had changed. There was still the solemn feeling, like we had lost a war. Murray was dead as well as John and me and Penelope, we lost a number of good friends. Murray had always been the gentle giant of the group with a big heart that could always light up a room with his silly demeanor, but now it was gone, and it left a huge hole in our lives. Sly and Bentley took Murrays loss horribly, as they didn't even want to discuss a new plan. In the heat of the moment, they trudged on through the pain, the guilt, but now it was swallowing them whole. We kept strong long enough to last through the funeral, but now that it was all over, we were broken. It killed me to see Sly especially like this, but what could I say? What could I do? Murray was his brother. He loved him. And I knew that if anything happened to Sly, I would be right where he was. I spoke more with Penelope and she felt the same as I did but for Bentley. He wasn't doing much better,

Sly occupied his mind by trying to fix more and more of the house. I helped him when I could but as we continued to build and repair the damages of the house, became prevalent that he was doing this to be alone, equally as much as he was to fix the house. But I stayed and helped him anyways. Every now and then he would shed tears for his lost friend, in which case I could walk him inside and we would share a few shots of whiskey and cuddle on the couch. It seemed to help him. Bentley occupied himself by dismantling the Time Machine. He blamed himself for Murrays eventual death more than anything else. He said that if it wasn't for the time machine, we would have never met John, and we would have never started this stupid war in the first place. All for a world that had hunted them for their entire adult lives. He didn't even wear his robot legs anymore, prefering to use his old wheelchair instead. Eventually, Bentley also dismantled all the older upgrades and equipment as welI, leaving it just an ordinary van with a neat paint job. I couldn't say I knew how they felt, as I had never lost a friend as close as Murray was to them. But their pain radiated off of them and I could feel their sorrow when they went through the notions every day. Before he went to sleep every night, Sly drank a glass of wine and stared up at the ceiling in bed.

Weeks, maybe even months had passed and we had completely cut ourselves off from the outside world. No TV, no radio, nothing. In a way, we just wanted to be left alone. After all, hadn't we lost enough? Our home, our friend, it was all gone. Now it was just the four of us. As time went on, we started to care less and less about the outside world. Now, we could care less if the Fangs took over the world. It was barely our concern anymore. We did our part and now Sly and Bentley were emotionally crippled. But on the upside, now we had more time to ourselves. We had no reason to be on the run anymore. We had a nice house with everything we could need in what was likely one of the safest places in the world now. Of course there was still the threat of an attack from the Fangs but in all honesty, the odds of that happening were slim now. It's been over a month since Denmark, and we never saw a single scout. Yes, we were missing some information and a cargo plane but really, why should we care? It's not like we were ever planning on using them again. Eventually, Sly came back around and started talking more. But one day he just seemed to wake up different. As though he flipped a switch in his head.

I was preparing breakfast and coffee one early morning in mid February. It was very cold outside and the steam from the bacon and eggs I was making rose up in subtle whisps to combat the chill. I was just finishing the bacon when Sly snuck up on me and hugged me from behind.

"Sly!" I exclaimed, catching my breath, "jeez you scared me."

"I know," he said softly over my shoulder, "just felt like starting today early."

"Well that's new," I joked. Lately he had been sleeping in till 10a.m., but now it was only 8, "So what brings you around at such an early hour?" I turned off the stove and turned in place to face him, still in his embrace, "is there something you want to talk about?"
"Oh it's just… I've been wondering about what Murray would have wanted for us," he looked endearingly into my eyes and I could see the softness in his smile, "You and me in particular."

I gently wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him closer. "So what would he have wanted?" I asked curiously.

"Well... what if we never left here," he gestured out the newly replaced sliding glass door, "I mean, look at this place. It's beautiful." He was right, Recently the snow had started to melt and now all the lush green fields and vibrant flowers were coming back.

"It is," the thought of staying here in Idaho sounded too good to be true. But then again, why not? "Why on earth would we leave?"

"Exactly what I'm saying, but there's one other thing."

"Well you have my full attention," I pulled him a little closer.

He spoke a little softer now, "Bentley's still not out of the woods. But when he gets better, how's about we get married?"

I was speechless. It was such a change of tone. A change in character. I was struggling to fun the words to say.

He cutely cocked his head a little to one side, "Well?"

I must have sounded out of breath when I finally spoke. But then again, what was there to consider? He knew my answer, "Yes, of course." And I hugged him tightly, immediately cursing myself for not kissing him. I'm so glad that my Sly was back.

We headed out to China only a week later. And from there to Australia. There was some debate as to where we would go to get married. The obvious first choice would have been Paris but that clearly wasn't going to happen. The Panda King offered to have the ceremony in his village in China, but it was too high profile of an area and we still wanted to stay under the radar. The some problem went for Dimitris estate in Italy, not to mention that the european region was destabilizing after the fall of France. So we settled on the Outback. It wasn't glamorous, but it was remote, safe, and frankly had a breathtaking sunrise and sunset. The Guru was more than happy to host us and provided various Australian delicacies to the best of his abilities. Unfortunately I had never heard of the majority of them and some looked like they were from an alien planet. Thankfully Dimitri and the King family brought some food as well. Dimitri helped fund the whole ordeal and the Guru was our priest. At sunset, on the day after Valentines Day, we were married before all Sly's friends and teammates. Only if I could understand the Guru. But at least he was good with hand gestures.

After the ceremony we had dinner and a reception. Many stories were told that night that I hadn't known. Like how he stole a cookie jar from the orphanage, or how Sly was a freaking pirate. And I never would have thought that he would have been able to tame a giant sea creature. I was still getting over the fact that he did all of this but still had no idea of how to to swim. It was nice, thinking that we had finally made it.

Later that night, after the wedding was over and everyone else was asleep, me and Sly were still awake. Alone by a fire up on a ledge overlooking the great black expanse that was the Outback. It was like we were teenagers, sneaking out just to steal a few more hours together only to get into trouble. It was more than great. It was beautiful. But there were still things on our minds.

"So what are we going to do now?" I was leaning on his chest and Sly was sitting on the ground leaning against a log facing the fire. He was brushing his fingers through my hair as we talked and laughed.

"Well now that you've finally caught me…," I hit him playfully in the chest and he chuckled at his own joke. "Aw come on, you did still catch me."

"You're damn right I did Cooper. I always catch my thief," I looked up to see that big cocky grin that he always has when he's having fun.

"And now that I'm being formally interrogated, I think I'm going to try and fight a dragon."

"No. No you're not" he started to break out laughing, "Oh my god, what did I get myself into," Letting my head come back down to his warm chest, chuckling as well. The strange thing about Australia is, although it's only barely leaving winter in Idaho, it was rather warm here. So we changed out of our clothes and into something much more relaxed. So we took the first chance we got to change out of our dress clothes and into something more relaxed. I was in a jeans and white T-shirt and Sly had tan cargo pants and a green T-shirt. Like a scene from out of a romantic teenager movie, "So really, now that we're married, what do you want to do?"

"I can't say I haven't thought about it," he said, calming down now, "but in the world we live in now, there's so much we can't do anymore but so much we can at the same time."

"What do you mean?" I wondered out loud, fixated on the fire.

"Well, we could just pick up roots and keep moving around. We could see the world all over again."

"But we've been around the world already," I sat up again and sat criss crossed in front of him, "I don't see the point of doing it again. And you said it yourself, in the world we live in now, there are some things we just can't do anymore."

He nodded in understanding, never letting his eyes leave mine. "Then what if we never left Idaho then? If you think about it we really have all we'd ever need there. We have food and water, I'm sure if we went far enough in some direction we would find a few neighbors. And we'd have each other."

"Yes we would," I looked over the log he was leaned against to see the faintest bit of sunlight coming over the horizon, signalling the start of a new day. Maybe it was a poetic sign from the universe that this was the start of something new. Something that could last. I leaned in close to him and he brushed his fingers through my hair, I whispered intimately a few inches from his face, "Sly, we could go anywhere as long as I go with you."

And I gave in and closed the gap between our lips. But this time, neither of us let go. The love became more and more intense and I knew that if heaven was on earth, I had found it with Sly. We never let up even as the sky turned orange and brilliant streaks of bright colors painted the clouds of the sky above us, I never opened my eyes. For I feared that if I did, then I would have to let go of this wonderful feeling and come back to reality. I was lost in a world of bliss and I never wanted to let go.

Ch. 28

Sly

We definitely didn't get any sleep that night. So after we had dropped off Panda and Jing King, I napped for the better half of the flight home. After all the excitement of one day, I thought it was finally time to get some rest. Ironically, that's when things started to get weird. I had an oddly vivid dream. It started nice, going to a dance with Carmelita back in Paris. I was dressed in a dark tuxedo and Carmelita was wearing her long leg slit black danced across the ballroom floor, gliding around as though we were floating on air. The whole room heated up when she whispered into my ear, "So when shall we slip away?"

"As soon as we're done showing the crowd who's boss," I spun her around and pulled her close by the waist.

She gave me a seductive look before pulling away, leading off to the exit. I was about to take her hand when everything suddenly stopped. Like I was watching a video and suddenly someone had pressed the pause button. I walked around her in a circle only o find her completely frozen in mid stride, a dreamy look on her face. I looked around to see that the crowd had also succumbed to the stillness. I walked among them to inspect them all only to find that they had also been frozen where they stood. I pulled a pocket watch from a table only to find that it was also frozen. Suddenly a voice reverberated across the room from behind me.

"I can see why you like her so much," I spun around to see a raccoon sitting at a dimly lit booth with a cigar burning in one hand. There was something too familiar about him, "she reminds me of your mother."

"Dad?" I jogged over to the booth and took a seat across from him. A glass of champagne materialized in front of me, "is that really you?"

"Well yeah," he casually opened his hands in front of him like it was obvious, "who else would I be?"

I choked back tears as I struggled for words, "Dad, I can't believe it's you... I have so many things to tell you..."

He held up a hand to silence me. "Champagne first, talk in a minute."

My dad slowly sipped his glass while I drew a long drink from the glass, finishing long before he did. "Is this still a dream? Are you really here?"

He responded by subtly smacking me upside the head and holding up a finger while still drinking from his glass.

"Yeah, got it."

He sure took his time in finishing his champagne. When he did he help up his hand again as to tell me to wait, put the glass down and wiped his mouth.

"Ok," he said, "let it out."

I took a deep breath, "What's going on? Are you really here? Am I still sleeping? Where are we…" I went on for at least 20 minutes asking random questions. In the meantime my dad poured himself another glass of champagne and drank it in increments. He seemed like he was trying to be polite while I rambled on, nodding as though trying to process everything I was saying as I spew out over 15 years of questions. Everything from the Cooper Vault to the night he was killed by Clockwerk. I had so many questions. But at some point, I came up with a blaring question that I should probably ask right now, "...And umm, why are you here exactly?"

He looked up from pouring another glass, as though hearing me stop talking for more than a breath was of news to him. He adjusted himself and put the glass aside. He laced his fingers on the table and leaned forward so that the overhead light cast an ominous shadow over his face. "Ok, so let me give you a brief summary of the situation. You're sleeping yes, but you're not exactly in your head. We're in a simulated event of your past. A memory that I've reconstructed for you. I've been watching you for a while you know. You've got some good moves." He gave me a cheeky grin and my face went a little red.

"Umm, so how much have you been watching?"

"Only the important parts," he started chuckling and looked away for a moment. I traced his gaze across the dance floor to Carmelita. "She really does remind me of how your mother and I were you know. Constantly getting into trouble," I turned back to him and he had a subtle reminiscent grin on his face, as though he was remembering her, "You've done well with her. She's a strong woman. I'm proud of you son."

Those last words were enough to bring tears to my eyes. All I've been through and all the pain I've endured in my life, somehow it was all worth it just to hear those words. I wiped some tears from my eyes, "thanks dad."

"Yeah," he leaned over the table and slapped me on the shoulder before returning to his seat. He was about to say something before I spoke first.

"You knew she's not all… good as of right now. Maybe you can help me with that."

"Depends," he lifted his hand beckoning me to speak, "What's the problem?"

I put my arms up on the table and looked back at Carmelita, still poised in mid stride across the room, "Something happened in Idaho…" I turned back to face my father who was still waiting attentively, "she went completely berserk. Is there anything you might know about that?"

A small grin crept across his face as he subtly nodded. He called out across the room to seemingly noone in particular, "Eir! Mind telling my boy the deal?"

Suddenly a white lynx dressed in a shirt and jeans materialized at the end of the table, instantaneously sitting down next to my dad. She eyed me with a stare that for one reason or another sent chills up my spine. Her eyes were as blue as the Mediterranean Sea and she carried herself with an intimidating level of authority. Then suddenly, she broke composure and rested her elbow on the table to prop up her chin in a dreamy look, "So you're the guy."

My eyebrows raised in surprise and before anything else can be said, my dad stuck his hand out over the middle of the table.

"Before you make a fool of yourself, she's 500 years old. And Carmelita's ancestor," he said warningly.

I was kind of lost for words now. Especially since I almost called her 'mom' when she first materialized. That would have been horrible.

"Oh Connor, you always have to ruin all the fun," the lynx said relaxing back into the seat and crossing her arms. "And I can tell your son certainly didn't inherit your level of charm," sassed Eir, to which my dad scoffed.

"Can someone please explain to me what's going on? Like, again?" They turned back to me, as though remembering I was there. They're throwing a lot at me at once and if anyone else materializes in the next hour, I'm pretty sure I'll have a coronary.

"Oh, umm, yeah. Eir, would you please," my dad waved for her to speak.

"Of course," the lynx cleared her throat, "It was a nice wedding, but what would have made it better would be a huge keg of Ale…"

"Eir," my dad warned, "please stay on task."

She sighed resistantly, "Fine," she materialized a glass of what I could only assume was tequila or whiskey and swigged it before beginning, "so how familiar are you with Norse mythology?"

"Kind of familiar. Big axes, braided beards, Thor, that's about it though," I answered honestly.

She was clearly not impressed with my sarcasm, "how on earth did you get my relative to marry you?" She rolled her eyes before continuing, "Anyways, in Norse mythology, there is a legend of the Valkyries. It was a legend, until someone made it real…" she proceeded to tell me her account of the raids of the Angels of Death. As she went on, she only captured more and more of my attention. She told me her story of meeting Slaigh MacCooper, fighting with him, and eventually, how he sacrificed himself so that she could live, "That frog did something to us, something called 'gene-therapy'. It altered us and it seems to have altered everyone in our family line from then on. Last year there were only two of us left. You knew Sierra, but she's gone now, as I am sorry to hear. Carmelita is all that remains."

"So you're telling me that Carmelita is an Angel of Death?"

Eir looked at me and nodded calmly, "yep." like it was no big deal.

"Should I be worried in any way?" It was a worthy concern, for obvious reasons.

"Oh no, you don't. But anyone else that tries to cause her or anyone she truly cares about harm or if she sees that the life of anyone she cares about is in mortal danger, the culprit is more than likely not to survive. That night in the forest was the first time she's ever seen that side of herself. It was basically just a test run."

"A Test, so she can be stronger?"

"Something like that. The Valkyrie gene doesn't just increase your strength. It also boosts your speed, stamina, and mental processing. After all, you have to be more than strong to take over all of Europe,"she waved a hand and her glass refilled. "In other words, she's capable of waging war."

I was somewhat stunned from this revelation. In all honesty, I wasn't entirely sure what to do with this information. Like, what was I supposed to say? 'Yay, my wife is a genetically engineered badass warrior. Fear me.' It was borderline overwhelming.

"Does she know?" I finally broke my trance long enough to ask the question.

"Yes, I told her," said Eir as she took a swig from her glass.

"Wait, but how does that work then? I thought we were in my head."

"Well we are," Eir explained, "but we aren't limited to just you. I came to her, just as I'm coming to you now."

"So what does that mean exactly?"

"Basically we're ghosts," my dad clarified, "We do ghost stuff, like take candy from neighbors on halloween and haunt houses," and he made a mock-ghost noise.

"I will never understand your culture," Eir shook her head as she stood up from the booth. My dad followed and so did I.

"Ok, now before we go, I still need to answer your last question, why we're here."

"Time's up Connor, he's waking up," the room started to shift as though the walls were turning to sand and a whirlwind was slowly eroding the architecture away and slowly turning it all into a cyclone of dust. Eir walked back into the cyclone and disappeared.

"Son, you've got a nice life and you've lost a lot," my dad said as the cyclone picked up speed. The floor was starting to fall away, leaving the floor on top of it suspended in mid air to disintegrate on their own, "but you've entered a whole new world and started a fight that you can't just abandon. The world is collapsing Sly. You need to go back and finish what you started. You'll find what you need in London," now he was starting to fade away, starting at the legs and the sand creeping up his body till all that was left was his torso, "It's time to wake up... I love you son." And with those last heartfelt words, he fell away into the now rapidly spinning sand storm. Soon, the sand started to dissolve me too.

"I love you too dad," and I closed my eyes as I fell away as well. All I was now was a disembodied spirit. Everything started to go dark, getting dimmer and dimmer, until it was all pitch black. Then the sound started to recede, and soon, nothing.

An instant later, I woke up, staring up at the ceiling with Carmelita still fast asleep next to me. I jolted upright in bed and startled her awake.

"Sly?" she stirred sleepily, "What's wrong?"

"I saw something," I looked over my shoulder at her lying on her side, "we need to go to Great Britian."

Ch.29

Sly

I immediately seeked out Bentley, whom I found in the control center of Ghostrider. It was 6 in the morning but he had a habit of waking up early. I stormed into the small dimly lit room where he was standing before a desk in a room lined with computers on one wall.

"Bentley," he turned around startled by the sound of my voice, "I need you to re establish communications."

"Umm… good morning to you too. But are you sure?" He dropped down in a sitting position and started shifting windows around so he had a new workspace on the computer.

"Yes I'm sure," I walked over and put my weight on the desk, "Specifically with Europe."

"Alright then," he responded as he began to type away.

Soon enough the screen started filling with news articles from the last few months of the destabilization of Europe. There were also multiple mentions of a terrorist called 'The Phantom of Geneva'. It was like the world was falling apart. There were reports of assassinations of various politicians ranging from prime minister's to representatives and their families. According to the reports, everyone in the region was treating it like a doomsday event. My dad was right, our actions over the last few years had started a chain of events and now the world was seeing the consequences.

"Bentley, we need to finish this," I looked to him to my right.

"But why?" he threw his arms up in the air,"why should we care what they do? They've never done anything for us."

"Because we caused this."

It was a rough argument but after we debated for the rest of the flight, we finally came to the conclusion that if was only right that we clean up the mess we'd made. I also had to assure Carmelita that it was the best course of action. She was full heartedly opposed to the idea at first but when I told her about my dream, she seemed to understand. But she mentioned that at some point, we would need to talk about my talk with Eir.

In what only felt like another hour, we touched down in Idaho. We quickly loaded up our mission essentials and gear onto the plane before taking off. We took with us our sneaking suits, basic weapons and a few long range weapons along with Bentleys Grenade launcher. We also took two Sentinels and Murray's van loaded with communications and surveillance equipment. Although it was dismantled, it was far less suspicious than the Sentinels and could provide a better means of staying hidden.

Shortly thereafter, we took off for Great Britain. To be honest, I didn't know what to expect. Maybe it would be a repeat of how Paris fell, buildings crumbling and fires in the street. We never even gave ourselves time to process the situation of even develop a plan beforehand, so we started simple with what we knew. We knew from the news reports that Marital Law was being enforced in most of Europe including Great Britain and all air traffic was closely monitored. We couldn't land somewhere around Great Britain because it was an island and their air radar would detect us before we got anywhere close. So Bentley had to quickly forge a travel warrant from the US as a private jet liner for a New York Billionaire. It was simple but gave us a decent reason to fly a cargo plane into the country with no major cargo to offload and do private business in the area. But as for dealing with the chaos in the region, we decided that our first course of action would be to find this 'Phantom of Geneva'. We still had no real idea as to who the Phantom was or what they were after. So maybe we could talk to him and make him an ally. But if worse came to worse, at least we knew who the enemy was.

We touched down in Heathrow Airport at roughly 7:20 am. It was rather foggy outside so we really didn't know what to expect on the ground. We taxied into a private docking space and there were 3 vehicles waiting by the rear of the parking spot. As the cargo bay door dropped, several wolves in suits exited the vehicles in unison to greet us. It was rather fortunate that we had anticipated such an event and had gotten dressed beforehand in formal wear to look like we were who we said we were. They waited by their Suburban SUV's as we walked out to the 16 henchmen.

"Hold," one of them called and walked out before the others. He held out a hand expectantly, "your papers please."

Bentley stepped forward and handed over several masterfully forged documents. There were no giveaways to that they weren't legitimate, even the weight of the paper was researched. The wolf flipped through the various pages before asking security questions like date of birth and current residence.

"And may I ask your business in London?" he asked with a soft accent still flipping through the pages.

"We're here for a meeting discussing the removal of company assets from Great Britain," he glanced up for a moment before returning to the pages.

"And why is that?"

"Simply said, we are less than pleased with the status of the region. We don't want to lose assets because of a conflict we aren't a part of," answered Bentley.

"Well I am truly sorry to hear that," he neatly reordered the documents and handed them back, "Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, enjoy your stay in London."

"Thank you," I took the papers and handed them back to Bentley. Anderson was an alias that Bentley had set up for all of us. Everyone's last name was anderson either as an adopted brother or by marriage. We could have done better but with the short amount of time he had to prepare, it did the job well.

The wolves got back into their SUV's and drove off into the fog and eventually disappeared behind the wall of grey. Now it was time to start the next part of our plan, find the Phantom.

We drove around the eerily empty city streets in the van while Bentley sat in the back, trying to scan radio frequencies for any sign of the Phantom. Radio chatter was at a minimum, but there were a number of reports of murders in the area. They mostly consisted of thugs and gangs, but there was recently one confirmed murder of a church priest a mere day ago. It wasn't much but it was a start. On the drive over to the church, Bentley did a little digging on the priest. He was the suspect in multiple investigations by Interpol for corruption, but every one had gone cold before turning up any significant evidence. Even so, he was a respected priest and held a high position at the Temple Church. He was killed yesterday evening in his confessions booth during a rainstorm by two .45 bullets through the conjoining wall. When we got there we parked a few blocks down, just within view of the church. I could see the building was still swarming with police. We were too late to get anything of value from the actual crime scene since it was probably already taken as evidence, but then Carmelita had an idea.

"We can't get into the church because there are probably forensic teams doing their job right now," she explained from the passenger seat, "but there are still security cameras all around the city. If we can tap into the security cameras watching the front of the church at that time, we might be able to see who the Phantom is."
It was worth a shot. It wouldn't be too hard to break into a public data farm or for Bentley to hack the city's security network, but ironically it wouldn't be necessary. Being owned by the city, the cameras are considered public property, meaning that anyone can have access to recorded footage just by googling the cross-streets at which they are located. So in a lackluster turn of events, Bentley hijacked a local IP address to make us untraceable and started looking through the cameras in the area. It took him a few minutes before he called us all back to share his findings.

"The cameras didn't catch anything but there's something else going on here," he started as he pulled out a dry erase marker and started writing on a whiteboard he brought with him. He drew several boxes spaced out in a grid pattern and a number of arrows. "So the church is here," he marked one of the boxes 'church', "and there are security cameras lining this entire street," he made circles with triangles sprouting from one direction indicating a field of view, "I think he just walked down the street. He didn't try to sneak in or anything. But there's a problem." he punched a few keys on his keyboard and directed our attention to a screen where a number of camera feeds were showed in a grid. The church was in a number of them, "Watch this," and he played the footage and one by one, they all went dark and came back on when another had gone dark. It was as though something was being hidden or a segment from each feed had been cut from each tape as to hide the movement of someone walking on the street. The feed cut in front of the church and a minute later, came back on. Then, the same happened in reverse. "I think this Phantom is smarter than we originally thought."

"So what do you suppose we do?" Carmelita asked, "If we can't see him then how are we supposed to track him?"

"We wait him out," Penelope piped in. She had been quiet this entire trip, "We can't see him directly, but whenever he moves in front of a camera, it shows up as being under maintenance, which can be tracked. So I think our best option is to lay low and Bentley and I make a surveillance sub-matrix to track whenever one of the cameras gets shut off. With any luck we'll have a general direction within a day or so."

So that's what we did. We went back to the AC-130 and waited as Bentley and Penelope went to work on developing their matrix…thing. Not seeing anything else to do while we waited, I took out my cane and started playing around in the cargo hold. It had been a while since I had done so and it felt liberating. Jumping and flipping through the air like I was in the circus. It was a nice couple of hours.

It wasn't long before something came up. After sorting through all the legitimate cases of maintenance, Bentleys matrix locked onto a path that was being hidden by the cameras, but this time it was moving fast. The frames switched four times faster than before along the River Thames. The Phantom seemed to be approaching the coast, in which case, we would lose him because there are no cameras over there. So we loaded up the van and raced downtown. We had just arrived at the Thames when Bentley said that the trail had gone cold near the Waterloo Bridge. Al the cameras had come back on in the area and it was like the Phantom had vanished into thin air. We got out to examine the boardwalk by the river, looking for any clues as to anyone's whereabouts at all. But there was nothing. I just then noticed that the entire area was deserted. The only sound was that of newspapers blowing across the street and the screech of birds overhead. But then came the many back SUVs from around the buildings. They instantly had us trapped on both sides and formed a blockade 30 meters away in both directions. Out stepped a small army of armed guards with body armor and weapons and a patch of a snake head closely resembling those of the guards that had tried to attack us in Idaho. We dealt with them with ease then, but now we were in their territory. We were at their mercy. They held us at gunpoint and shouted at us to put our hands up, to which we complied. When we had gotten on our knees, a bulldog exited the nearest SUV. he was wearing body armor and sunglasses over a jacketless suit and carried himself with importance. I remembered him from the news and media outlets as the Prime Minister of Great Britain. This meant that Great Britain was a part of the FoV. He stepped forward to a few meter from us and stopped. He put his hands on his hips and looked around at us.

"You have caused a great deal of trouble for my associates. Haven't you?" He said. We said nothing in reply. "Not feeling talkative? Fine, let me put something in the air to break the ice,"he slowly began pacing. He pointed to each one of us as he passed and named us off, "Penelope, renowned pilot. Bentley, infamous hacker. Carmelita, exceptional Interpol agent," He stopped at me, "and who can forget Sly Cooper, the master thief." he walked over to me and crouched down. A few feet away. I wasn't sure whether I should try to snap his neck or not. My better instincts told me that may be a bad idea. "I bet you thought you were invincible."
"Only on Sundays buddy," I couldn't tell for sure but I could swear I could see Carmelita crack a smile out of the corner of my eye.

"You've got heart, I like that," he pulled out a Sig Sauer P320 and aimed it at my chest. "So if you want to keep it, why don't you tell me where your friend is."

"I don't know what you're talking about," I told him, "we're it. Everyone else is dead."

"Bullshit," he replied calmly. He shifted his aim to aim at Carmelitas head, "how 'bout now?"

"I swear I'm telling you the truth," I realized then that he had no intention of letting any of us live.

"I'm sure you are."

My heart stopped as I heard the springs of the trigger start to fight against the bulldogs trigger squeeze. And a moment later, we were blinded by an explosion from behind the minister. We were knocked off balance and I seized the moment. Instantly taking the gun and turning it back on him to pull the trigger in his face. I looked over my shoulder, my ears still ringing, and saw that something had torn through all the SUV's, leaving them a mess of twisted metal and burning gasoline. All the guards had been killed by the shrapnel. A moment later, there was another blast, doing the same to the guards behind us. Now we were all that was left on the boardwalk.

I traced the shot to a building opposite from us across the river. Up past the London eye perched on a building, I could just make out the silhouette of a lone marksman. I took out my binocucom and zoomed in on him to get a better look at him. A siberian tiger was just standing up, hefting a railgun on his shoulder with one arm. It was John, he was alive. But something was off about him. The most notable of which being he now had a long scar going over his left eye, which was now tinted red. 

Part 10: Hell to Pay

Ch. 25

Sierra

I had another dream while I was out. As it went on it became more vivid. It was the woman warrior from the last dream before we went on this damn mission. But this time, I was alone with her, inside the cavern under the castle. She walked with me around the compound as though guiding me on a tour. There was no sound and I dared not disturb the silence. But then she walked me into the big dome in the middle. The grand entrance was open and the guards that were present were frozen in time. We reached the middle of the place where there was a big circular table that looked unusually modern. It had various rusting consoles built into it and had what appeared to be a holographic projector in the middle aimed upward. It looked more like a state of the art briefing room than an ancient structure. But the strangest thing came when the warrior turned around. A white lynx clad in armor of silver and gold. She stood there, scanning me from head to toe with a curious gaze. She looked me in the eyes with a semi-concerned look and finally spoke.

"You have no idea what's going on, do you?" I still dared not speak, but her voice was smooth as silk with a norwegian accent. It comforted me, "you can talk to you know."

"Ok, well who are you?" I was hesitant to pry too much. I didn't know what she was capable of. "And what's going on?"

"Fair enough, let's start with the basics. My name is Eir. I was a part of a special group of individuals from long ago," she gestured around at the room. "This place is where we started and ended. And now you and your friend have ended up here as well. You were both captured and you are both still asleep in separate rooms. I am here now because you triggered something inside you that I had as well. I believe they're calling it the Valkyrie gene around here."

"Valkyrie gene? Is that why we've been losing control?" This 'Eir was bringing up more questions than she was answering. Valkyries were just a legend, but this person was telling me that not only were they real, but also I was related to them. This was a bit much.

An individual who called himself Sir Raleigh kidnapped 39 individuals including Eir and altered their genetic code. They moved on and had children, each of them also had the gene. And now so did I. Eir then explained that Carmelita and I were both direct descendents of her. In fact, we were the last living carriers of the Valkyrie gene.

"Ok, this is a bit much to digest."

"I can't blame you," she said, "when the original Valkyries found out, we tried to burn this place to the ground," I wasn't sure if she was being serious or if this was her trying to be funny and relatable.

"Right, why exactly do they call this place Odin's Throne Room though?"

"Because when we caught the bastard frog who told us his name was Odin, we set him on fire and hung him from the ceiling," she casually gestured to the ceiling where there was scaffolding leading up to a ledge, where there hung a decaying rope. I realized then that she wasn't really exaggerating anything.

"We don't have long now," she started to fade away like in the past dream," I've told Carmelita everything I've told you. You need to get out of here, but there's something wrong with both of you."

"What? What's wrong with us?" The room started to go dark and dust was starting to fly around, but not like before. Now it felt a sandstorm, blinding me. Eir said something in reply but I couldn't hear as everything went black. But then I started to come to. I was laying down on a bed in a small room with an IV draining blood from my arm into a container below me. I promptly pulled out the IV and smashed the container beneath my boot, covering the floor in blood. The ground shook as I stood up, not sure if it was an earthquake or if it was just me. I admittedly felt a bit weak and disoriented, but I was awake nonetheless. Then, for one reason or another, the lights started flashing.

Sly

I was surprised when Bentley put up only minor resistance to Johns plan. It was crude and involved minimal stealth tactics, but still seemingly foolproof. Both Archangel and Ghostrider took off in less than an hour and shortly thereafter, we were nearing the Castle. John and I stood fully armored in the bay of Archangel as the door opened. He offered me one of his cigars again like at the beginning of every mission, and this time I took it. Something felt familiar about it. It was like the scent of the smoldering end lifted a memory to the surface of my mind just out of reach of recognition. He reluctantly let me use the Knight armor of a former Warfighter, Steven Algof. It wasn't at all what I was used to, but it fit. In fact it felt less like a suit and more like a much bulkier second skin, replacing my body with one of hardened steel yet maintaining flawless motor control. John also gave me a custom belt fed .458 SOCOM rifle designed specifically for use with the armor while he himself carried only his sword. Of all things, he didn't let me use a similar sword. It was 4 feet long and damn near unliftable without the armor. But the creepiest thing about it was whenever he held it by the handle it glowed at the edges and energy spirals up his arm. And there's this odd looking glyph that appears on the blade. He would never explain to me what it meant.

Penelope sped ahead of us in Ghostrider and began circling the castle. Moments later, we too began circling the castle. We could see the AC-130 deploying its gun battery opposite from us over the castle and as we passed over the outer walls, I dropped off the back of the bay door and started accelerating towards the ground. I've done plenty of free falls before, base jumps and I've even reached terminal velocity after jumping off towers. But I had a parachute then. John explained to me before hand that because the armor weighs so much, parachutes wouldn't work, so it was up to me to use he added strength it provided to stick a landing or else become a pancake on the cobblestone streets.

As I fell through the noon sky I felt myself go faster and faster. The warm sun on the back of my neck competed against the cold wind rushing at my face. I felt the armor pull me toward the earth faster than I've ever gone. I passed my normal falling speed and it soon felt more like I was being propelled by an invisible jet engine on my back. The earth coming faster and faster until I saw just the right moment to make my move. I braced myself and brought my legs under me, slamming into a rooftop and sliding to the ground. My momentum continued to push me along the cobblestone street and I continued until I collided with a cargo truck, rocking it back and leaving a large dent in its side. I fell to one knee, panting from the sharp adrenaline rush. It was far from my most graceful landing but I made it. I was just starting to gather my bearings when I looked up to see the distant figure of John making his own approach. But shortly thereafter, there was a red flash of light just before he slammed into the main tower of the castle. The great stone walls gave away and started to crumble as though it was made of packed sand. A magnificent show of power, but we weren't all that was being brought to the fight.

Murray

I saw the castle start to fall from the treeline just beyond the outer wall. I signalled to Bentley and we began our approach across the snowy field. We had with us a full combat setup, Bentley toting the XM25 grenade launcher and myself with an M240 machine gun. And for a getaway, we took 3 Sentinels with us, the third being operated through remote control by Penelope in the AC-130. We built up speed toward the south wall, but there wasn't a doorway.

"Ok Penelope," Bentley prompted over the radio, "you know what to do."

"Rodger that Bentley," she sounded ecstatic to be in charge of Ghostriders weapons battery, "engaging all weapons."

Moments later, a single shell from the AC-130's Howitzer cannon turned the wall in front of us into nothing more than a cloud of dust. We drove through the debris without feeling anything more than a sharp bump. Shortly thereafter we emerged and deployed the Sentinels combat systems. Climbing out of the cars just on the other side of the wall, I could see that the cars had risen an extra half foot off the ground, but more importantly, two M2 Browning 50 caliber machine guns rose up from their hood and two 4 foot long missile tubes coming up from just behind the drivers cab.

Together, the Sentinels drove off in a linear formation down the street to clear the rest of the surface of the compound and Bentley and I moved quickly through the ruined cobblestone streets. Ghostrider continued to bombard the castle surface with its lighter cannons, as not to destroy the subterranean level. Bentley and I moved to the horse stable where John and Sly said they'd meet up with us so we'd attack the lower facility together. We had roughly half an hour before both gunships unleashed with their bigger guns to destroy the base and everything underneath it. So far, everything was going according to plan.

Sly

Both teams made it to the rendezvous point without many problems. Without further ado, Bentley hacked the elevator through its power supply and soon, we were descending on the metal platform. Lowering down from the chaos from above, we were met by a legion of guards armed to the teeth with machine guns behind concrete barricades in front of the elevator. Luckily we were expecting such a defence and had planned a formation to deal with it accordingly. Bentley and Murray got behind John and I, and Murray handed John his M240. Together, we laid down a steady stream of suppressive fire while we, being in bulletproof armor, were were mostly safe and acted as bullet shields. When the gunfire finally stopped, there was nothing left but bodies and broken chunks of concrete lying around. John handed Murray back his M240 and together we pushed on through the rubble. All the while, we could feel the ground start to shake and angry chirping sounds coming from the tunnel ahead of us. We knew what was coming.

After coming out of the tunnel, I was surprised to be met with no guards and for a second, it was empty. But an instant later, guards and vampires alike came out in streams from all directions. They rounded the corners and swooped out from the buildings like a flood. But we had no intention of running. We all had a personal stake in this. For Bentley and Murray, the Fangs had taken two good friends. For me and John, they took a fiancé. John was completely unhinged and although I didn't let it show, I felt similarly. I secretly wished that I could just jump in and tear them apart with my bear hands. But lucky for me I wasn't stupid. John on the other hand wasted no time in drawing his sword. While we stood at a ready firing stance at the mouth of the tunnel, he walked out seemingly unafraid of the horde that lie before him. I could see him just clenching the fist of his free hand while the other held the sword out, letting the blade drag gently on the concrete floor. The horde of vampires and guards swarmed into a single mass and moved to meet him before he reached the buildings closer to the dome which was in sight above the crowds but the energy snaking up the sword only grew more intense. At some point John broke into a steady jog, building up into a full sprint. The rest of us broke formation and started to follow his lead in an aggressive assault with our guns at the ready. When John was mere yards away from the horde, he spun around and cut effortlessly through 20 or 30 vampires. When he spun, I caught a glimpse of his expression. It wasn't the John Puller I knew, this was someone entirely different. His expression showed only anger and disgust and radiated with aggression. But the oddest part of all, his eyes weren't their normal shade of blue. Instead, they were a deep red. John asked if I had ever seen a demon before. I don't think he was referring to the Fangs.

Together we pushed through the horde with brutal efficiency. John at the front took the biggest bulk of them while the rest of us took care of anyone on the roofs that may threaten to bear down on us. It was chaos with John tearing through enemies and lunging around from target to target like a madman, Murray shooting anything that got too close to him, Bentley and I in the middle, Bentley shooting various shells into the crowds from normal explosives to incendiary rounds to temporarily stem the flow from certain directions, and me, using the massive 458 SOCOM rifle to blow holes in the guards on the roofs. It was a brutal method, but it worked. We pushed on through the subterranean town and eventually reached the expanse of land between the buildings and the dome. We fought our way through until we could see the entrance, only to find it closed by a giant steel door.

We were really depending on that, and now that the dome was inaccessible, we were stranded. But on the upside, the crowd felt like it was starting to thin out. Could we really be capable of killing 10,000,000 vampires and guards? I guess so. At some point, John cooled down enough to let Murray take care of the rest. The only remaining vampires were sprinting down the street from which we came. A short burst and a moment later, it was all over. The ceiling still shook from the gunships bombardment and dust fell but when it all was done, we were all that stood above the bodies that now densely littered the streets. John put his sword away and turned to me, clearly out of breath.

"Come on, we need to find a way to get that door open," he said before turning back to jog over to the door to inspect it. But before he could, it slowly started to door creaked downward into the ground. And there stood in the doorway both Carmelita and Sierra in front of numerous bodies behind them inside. They walked out from the dome and I rushed forward to meet Carmelita with the others close behind. I was beyond happy to see her still alive but something was off. It became very apparent when I tried to embrace her, she grabbed me by the throat and punched me in the face as hard as she could. My body was protected by the armor, but the only major flaw was there was no helmet to go with it. She spun and kicked me while I was down and I was sent stumbling backwards a few yards. I quickly stumbled to my feet and she kept advancing with little to no facial expression.

"Carmelita stop. what's going on?"

She didn't respond and tried to punch me again. I dodged the blow and shoved her from behind just enough to knock her off her feet. I looked back to see John struggling as well. He and Sierra were in a wrestling match with John trying and failing to subdue her while Sierra thrashed and fought everything he tried to do. I turned back around to see Murray trying to talk to her and calm her down. This failed horribly as Carmelita grabbed him, and threw him over her shoulder. He landed and tried to roll in pain but Carmelita pinned him to the ground and started punching him as hard as she could. I just stood there in shock as John gave up and spun and threw Sierra and dashed over to save Murray. He grabbed Carmelitas wrist as she was winding up for another punch, pulled it back and as she turned to face him, he punched her in the face. She lied there on the floor, hopefully just unconscious. Behind us there was a subtle whirring noise and the cocking sound of a gun. I turned around to see Sierra with her arm gun deployed aiming right at us. I acted on instinct and dove over Carmelita to protect her and John Dove sideways between Sierra and Murray. I covered her the best I could and I heard a single bullet impact metal and a quick burst of a submachine gun before John's heavy fame hit the floor. There were no words as I heard John scramble to his feet. I checked Carmelitas pulse and was relieved to see that she was still alive. I looked back just in time to see John slide down to his knees at Sierras side who was now lying on the floor. Did he just…

Just then Carmelita groaned and her eyes fluttered open, "Sly?"

"Carmelita don't move," she stayed still on the ground and looked up at me as I stood up.

"What happened?"

"I don't know," I joined Bentley as he tended to Murray who was still lying motionless on the concrete.

"Wait, I think we were hypnotized," she began, "I remember that feeling from when I was with the Contessa…"

"Sly," Bentley interrupted after checking for a pulse, "Murray's dead," he pointed to the side of his chest where blood was now profusely spilling out. "He was shot in the heart."

"What?" I heard Carmelita scramble over to see for herself. "No, Sly did I do this? I'm so sorry."

"No Carmelita, it wasn't you," I looked up to see Sierra now choking on blood. "It wasn't either of you."

I have to admit, I was angry. Sierra killed Murray. But at the same time, she didn't. She didn't have control of herself. It wasn't her fault. But I knew who was responsible. And those bastards were going to pay. The ceiling started to give way but I refused to leave Murray behind. I never leave a friend behind, but John didn't listen to me when I called for him to follow.

We barely made it out alive. We ran off the elevator just as the ground started ti give away. The Sentinels drove up through the dust and debris that now littered the streets and we climbed in. I put Murray in his own car, Bentley drove another, and Carmelita rode in mine. We narrowly dodged the ground collapsing all the way and sinking into the earth. The castle, the Dome, it was all gone. Tomorrow it'll be little more than a headline in the morning news. In the end, we gained nothing. We got none of the intel we had hoped for. But we lost so much.

Ch.26

Sly

We reached out to all of our allies and friends across the world. They all responded but some did not have air travel. So the day after Murray's death, we flew across the world in Ghostrider. We first went to China to get Panda and Jing King and from there to Australia to fetch the Guru. Dimitri came on his own. Upon arriving back in Idaho again, we held a funeral for Murray. It wasn't much and we weren't much of a crowd, but we were his family. And we still are.

It was nice seeing everyone again, even the Panda King. It had been a long while. Nearly 5 years had passed since we had raided the Cooper Vault and since then, I hadn't seen any of them. The Kings were doing well, although Jing was still unmarried. Her father expressed great satisfaction in this. The Guru had been spreading his teaching his teachings throughout the outback, although he now prefers solitude. And as for Dimitri, he was Dimitri.

The funeral went nicely, although we kept all the Warfighters assets sealed away and out of sight. No-one needed to know what we were up to. When they asked how he died, we said he died in a heist gone wrong in Denmark. I suppose it wasn't entirely wrong but it most certainly wasn't the truth. After the funeral, we gave them all rooms to stay in in the house. It was still in pieces but I had put in effort in the days prior to the ceremony to make sure that the place was as presentable as possible. But considering that I had almost no preparation time, it was nice. Only if Murray were here.

After the ceremony late at night while everyone was asleep, I got up to get some water in the kitchen. Just kidding, I was getting some wine from the cabinet for me and Carmelita. The funeral put a lot of stress on all of us both emotionally and physically so I thought a bottle was in order to both recover and mourn privately for our lost friend. I was just reaching up into a high cabinet when I heard someone coming down the hallway behind me. The footsteps were too heavy for Carmelita. When I turned around I was greeted by Panda King.

"Good evening Cooper," he began in his normal heavy voice, "would you mind if I pour myself a beverage?"

"Of course," I reached into another cabinet near the sink for a glass and handed it to him. He then went on to pour himself a glass of water from the water cooler attached to the refrigerator. "Have you ever lost someone before?"

"Yes," he finished filling his glass and turned to me, "My wife passed away shortly after she gave birth to Jing King."

"I'm sorry to hear that. I Never knew," I suppose I had always been somewhat curious to the roots of the King family but I never would have guessed that Jing Kings mother would be dead. I had always just thought she was gone.

"There is no need to apologize Cooper, you've done nothing wrong," he took a long sip of water, "But may I question why you ask?"

"I was wondering how did you coped with her loss? If you don't mind."

He looked down into his glass and swirled it, as though thinking of how to put it into words, "I cared for the child she left behind. In doing so, I honored her legacy."

Well that didn't help me much, although it was surprising. I would have thought that, being the Panda King, he would have set out on a revenge quest. But instead settling down to be a father to honor his wife.

"I wish it were that simple in this case," I leaned against the counter near the sink and rested one hand on the bottle I pulled out of the cabinet.

"Why not?"

"Well for one, Murray never had any kids."

"You are mistaken Cooper, he very much was a father."

"I'm sorry?" was there something I wasn't aware of? Did Murray have a secret lover? No, it wasn't possible.

"When I saw him in China, fend off waves upon waves of foes, I saw something in him. I saw a fiery passion. The willingness to lay down his life if necessary to save what he loves and the refusal to give up on it. There is no greater love than that Cooper."

"But what are you referring to."

"His van, Sly Cooper. He cared for it and sacrificed for it as though it were his own. His van is his child. If you wish to honor him, care for the child of Murray," he gently put his glass down on the counter behind him and turned back to walk down the dark hallway from which he came, "Goodnight Cooper. Sleep well."

"Likewise," I took a while to think about what he had said before going back upstairs to Carmelita who was still in bed in her nightgown. She was sitting up against the headboard where she had propped herself up on a number of pillows on her side of bed and was squeezing her arms tightly as to keep herself warm. I sat on the edge of the bed and her face lit up when I presented the bottle.

"You always know what a girl needs," she chuckled. I poured her a glass before serving myself. I took a sip and looked out the open door that led out to a small balcony, letting what the Panda King sink in.

"Do ever think about the future?" I looked back over my shoulder. She looked up while in mid sip before taking the bottle to pour herself some more.

"Yeah. I mean, sometimes," she put the bottle down on the nightstand next to her, "It's just that lately the future has seemed so bleak. I used to think about it all the time but now, not as much." She cocked her head a little to the side, "Why? What's bothering you?"

"It's just something that I heard from someone downstairs," I looked down at my glass to think of a good way to bring the idea across, "Have you ever thought of… I don't know, someday having kids?"

"Umm, kids?" She put her glass down next to the bottle, "Well, I can't say I've never thought about it. But…"

"I'm not saying we should have kids now," I corrected, "I was just wondering… some day."

She smiled at the thought, "well I can't say that I don't want kids at some point, but the world is such a dangerous place right now."

"Yeah I know. Hopefully when this is all over we can live our lives," I walked around to my side of the bed and crawled into the covers, "No more fighting, no more running, just us. And hopefully Interpol doesn't find us out here."

"Well about that…," she picked up her glass to finish off what was in it before putting it back down. She turned to me and she had my full attention, "Remember when we hijacked the AC-130?"

"Yeah?" How could I forget? I was nervous as hell before I proposed in the bay of that plane. It was really appropriate though, considering we had just stolen it and were just finishing a heist. It's certainly more interesting than your average proposal story.

"Well when I was in the office in the hangar I hacked interpol."

I raised my eyebrows in surprise. "You did what?"

Carmelita chuckled at my reaction and took my glass to refill it and hers, "well I seized the opportunity." She handed me back my glass, "guess who I learned that from."

"Fair enough," I took my glass, toasted and took a sip, "go on."

"Well," she started again, repositioning herself on her pillows, "when I hacked interpol, I found your records and deleted them."

"What?" Does this really mean what I think it does?

"Sly I cleared your records. All of our records." She shifted closer to me and spoke in a more hushed tone you're a free man now. And so are the others."

"Wait, so this means that we don't have to run from the law anymore?"

"Yeah," she leaned in a little closer so that I was only a few inches away from her face I could almost taste the essence of sweet red wine trailing off her breath, "So what do want to do, now that you're no longer a criminal?"

I smirked, "Well I now that I've got no record to speak for me, I think I've gotta get into a little trouble," And before she could say anything I closed the gap between our lips.

The next morning we started flying everyone home. We headed out around noon in Ghostrider. Of course Archangel would have been nicer to use and would have been the prefered option, but there was a problem with that. It had been gone since we had landed after picking up the King family and the Guru. And what's more is Hector couldn't find it on GPS. It had simply disappeared along with multiple files from his database associated with the Warfighters without any evidence of them having ever being there. The only reason we caught the missing files was because of Bentley and Penelope's combined memory of the computers software. But that wasn't all. Under the tree that we had planned to bury Murray, there was another gravestone facing the house. It was marked "Sierra Puller".

Part 9: The Raid

Ch. 22

Sly

We took Sierra and Carmelita to an infirmary on the second level in the bunker. It was retrofitted to accommodate 12 patients and came equipped with all the necessities to treat everything under the sun. But the strange thing was, physically at least, they were perfectly healthy. Sure maybe they had a few scrapes and bruises but otherwise they were fine. Upon rushing them to the infirmary, Bentley instantly put both of them through a full body MRI scan and only confirmed what we already knew. No physical injuries. But what he did find was that both Carmelita and Sierra were now in a sort of 'cooldown state', possibly to give their bodies and minds time to recover from the fight in the woods, thus leaving them in a short term coma. But still, the unsettling thing was that we still had no idea what caused them to go berserk. Our only option was to wait for them.

So we did. For 3 days we waited in suspense. In that time I was able to come to terms with what was happening on a much grander scale. The world seemed so different now that we had been attacked on our home soil. The other night wasn't a well planned out mission with designated entry points, an objective and method of escape. We had been attacked by a force with the intent to kill on our home soil, we had no preparation time and no pre-existing plan. I guess my point is I no longer left safe because they knew where we were. We were all targets and they knew where we were. I felt like the world had become 10 times more dangerous now that I knew that at any moment we could be faced with another wave of Fangs, or even worse, just nuked off the face of the planet like what they did to Paris. But at the same time it gave me a new perspective on life. Living with the possibility of death every minute of every day made me value each minute of every day because it very well could be my last. Everyday I woke up and walked out of the bunker, the sunrise that rose over the airfield seemed that much more beautiful as it could very well be my last. It made it easier to appreciate the world around me knowing that it could all be taken away at a moments notice. But as the days rolled on, noone came. Why was that?

Carmelita

I woke up in a big room on a white bed. I didn't know how much time had passed or what had happened in that time. All I remembered in recent memory was the deep burning rage in the forest and after that coming back to life standing in a nightmarish forest of bodies and blood. There was an axe in my hand and I was soaked in blood. The last thing I saw was Sly standing awe-struck up high in the treeline whether it be in shock or fear. Maybe both. Then everything went dark. But then something infinitely more strange happened. When I went unconscious I was thrust into a massive battlefield with a number of other warriors. Sierra was also there and together we clashed with a seemingly endless force armed with only a sword and an axe. It was nauseatingly gory but for some reason, it felt completely natural. It continued for what felt like only a little under 30 minutes and before we knew it, nothing was left but a field of our fallen foes. I stood next to Sierra marveling at the expanse of bodies when I heard footsteps crunching gravel behind us. I whipped around ready for a fight to see a few dozen women warriors with armor, swords and shields. They stood in a non threatening stance and one stepped out alone to meet us. Slowly, as she approached, the image of the world around us started to vanish like wisps of smoke in a gentle breeze. The field of bodies and eventually the other warriors evaporating into streaks of dust blowing around us like a cyclone. The lone warrior finally submitting into dust as she stood only feet away. She said nothing but only glanced at us both and smiled. She turned away and she herself evaporated into mist. Soon, we were in a bark void, and we evaporated as well.

When I regained consciousness I felt drowsy at first but an instant later I slammed into my senses, my breathing increased and I heard the beeps of a heart rate monitor get faster and faster. My eyes darted around the room as though expecting a threat, but there was none to be found. I saw Sierra in the bed next to mine sweeping the room with her arm gun looking just as panicked as I'm sure I did.

"Did you see it?" I called out.

"Yeah… yeah I did," she responded seemingly out of breath, "What the hell…"

Just then a door on one side of the room was opened rapidly and in came Bentley, Sly and John. Murray and Penelope shortly followed. Sly rushed to my side and started frantically looking at the equipment before asking if I can hear him. 'Of course I can hear you ringtail. Can you please stop yelling into my face?' I gave him a nod and he calmed down, collapsing into a nearby chair. I finally started to calm down enough to fully assess my surroundings. We were in an infirmary of some kind. A local hospital maybe? I was hooked into various machines and a needle fed fluids from a hanging IV bag at my bedside. I was in a medical gown and I had various minor bandages all over my body. I tried to sit up in bed to gather my bearings further but Sly held me back with a hand on my shoulder.

"Carmelita, no. You need to rest," Its funny how a spouse can be both so annoying while being so sweet at the same time. I know that he knew I hated when someone tells me I can't do something, but he was probably right. I glared back at him but let myself fall gently back into the bed. I started to ask questions, starting with the basics. 'How long was I out' and 'What happened' were all I really had in mind but the answers I got only raised more questions.

I had really been out for 3 days? It had only felt like a mere hour at most. But then again, I suppose time is relative when you're asleep, if that's what you call sleep. The second question was met by a simple 'We don't know' which didn't help much. Again, we had more questions than answers.

Bentley insisted that I stayed in bed for at least another 8 hours before I were to walk again. No seeing any point in resisting, I did as I was told. He performed various reflex and motor skills tests while having a close eye on my vitals. When all checked out as shockingly above average performance, he unhooked the machines and gave me something to change into. Sierra gave the same results and was also given a set of clothes. Everyone left the room to give us some privacy and now me and Sierra were left to ourselves. I felt fine, really, but there was just one thing that bugged me.

"Sierra?" she looked over her shoulder while putting a red and black flannel on, "did we seriously have the same dream?"

"A field of bodies turning to dust?" I nodded, "Then I guess so. Maybe this is one of those things where there's a hidden message that we're supposed to find out in some stupid wizard quest."

I chuckled at the thought. The sarcasm was truly appreciated after the revelations of today thus far. "Yeah, it'll take so damn long that they'll make like 3 movies of us just walking around."

Sierra threw her head back and let out an over exaggerated laugh. "Oscar worthy indeed."

We finished getting dressed and met the others outside.

Over the next few days a lot happened. At first there were various arguments with Bentley and Sly whether I should do some level of physical therapy or not. After I won that argument, Bentley got to work planning our next move. John got involved as well. He seemed pissed off about the whole situation more than anything as he just wanted to find the nearest Fang compound and burn it to the ground. I suppose I couldn't blame him but then there was the problem of the UN being under Fang control. And being the UN, we would essentially be declaring war against most of Europe if we were to make a move against the heart of the organization. Sooner or later, we were going to need to take care of that, but how we would do it, I had no idea. But I suppose that problem would have to wait for later.

I did notice something different about Sly though. Despite the house being somewhat of a wreck with every piece of glass, mirror and window pane shattered from the explosion on the bunker, he seemed to be completely at ease. I suppose the right word is 'at peace' with the situation. When I asked him about it he told me his perspective saying 'life is never more precious than after it is so close to being taken away'. It sounded poetic and I suppose it made sense. I thought about it more as the days rolled on and it sounded more grounded with each passing second, more than just a catchy quote. Maybe John and Sierra felt the same way, having been on the razors edge for most of their adult lives. Maybe it was these moments of peace that they longed for. Maybe one day we could all truly understand what it means to be at peace. Or maybe not. Who knows.

Sierra

John had been busy at work with Bentley and Penelope for the last week or so. I wish I could help them but I honestly can't understand half the things they discuss, so I leave the technical work to him. If it helped him to stay busy then I was ok with it. Despite being so busy, he still checked in on me often to make sure I was doing ok. He knew me well and he knew I was capable of handling myself, but I suppose it's the thought that counts. Then came the day he found something.

It was an early morning in the early January of 2010 when John called everyone to bunker for an emergency meeting. Upon dragging everyone out of bed at 6AM, he led everyone to the main room of the bunker where he had made a stack of pancakes for everyone to have while he explained his findings. We all took a seat while John led a presentation on the big screen. He must have had half a liter of coffee before because he was speaking well-above normal pace. I looked around to see Murray munching on pancakes nodding absently as though listening to a beat and Sly just sitting with a leg up and his mouth hanging open sleepily. Carmelita had fallen asleep on the couch leaning against Sly. I'm sure he was about halfway through his presentation when I stopped him.

"Honey, please. It's early, can we do this some other time?"

He let out an extended 'uh' just now realizing his audience was being put to sleep. "That... might be a good idea," he said finally, "I haven't slept in like 2 days."

Oh my god, he always does this when he gets obsessed with something. "Damnit John, go to sleep!"I lectured him.

"Yeah I'm gonna... take a nap." He started walking over to the couch next to me.

"Go to sleep!" I almost cracked up laughing when he fell asleep as soon as he hit the cushions, his head back and mouth wide open. I wasn't very coherent either so I turned sideways, put my feet up on the armrest and let my weight fall against John for a little while longer.

It was starting to bug me though. I wanted to tell him something that could change everything, but then the attack on the house happened and he had been so busy ever since. I needed to tell him at some point. After the mission.

The next day, John was able to coherently deliver his presentation. He explained that Bentley had found a military fort established by the UN in northern Denmark that used the external architecture of a medieval castle. The castle itself had been around a while, since the early Cold War. It was built by the USSR to cover something up. The Soviets didn't know what it was and never mentioned it in their archives but it was hinted at being a well guarded secret. All they said was that what they had found could 'change the future of warfare'. Thankfully nothing became of it and the facility was eventually abandoned. Now the UN had occupied the castle under the blacklisted FoV division, so officially, noone is there at all. In fact, the castle didn't even appear on GPS or satellite imaging. But still if the Soviets thought so highly of it then it could only lead to disaster in the hands of the Fangs.

"The castle itself is around 40,000 square meters with walls 30 meters tall. We'll need to do some field reconnaissance when we get out there but infiltration won't be too hard because as far as security goes, it's just a temporary operating base in a castle," he explained, "But what were really after is what's below the castle. We need to find out what it is, what the Fangs want it for and destroy it. All personnel and security on site are FoV so lethal force is authorized. But I need everyone's attention for this next part. Murray?"

Murray was busy devouring a pizza at the minibar off to the side. He jumped a little and turned around in his chair to face John

John continued, "None of this feels right. We found this castle of all places due to a random string of intercepted communications. We know there are other bases that are far less critical to the FoV, yet we have this while all others are totally radio silent. I want you to keep in mind that whatever is beneath the castle is buried under so much earth that even ground penetrating radar is useless, meaning anyone going in will have no way to call for backup. I think this is a trap."

Ch.23

Sierra

It was a solemn morning the next day. You could almost say we dragged our feet getting all the gear onto the gunships. We kept throwing ideas around for what we might encounter. Murray suggested a tank battalion which could certainly be plausible. Bentley mentioned that the castle could be another vampire base which could be even more likely. In all honesty though, there was no way of telling what we would encounter. We were going in blind so we prepared for everything. Both gunships were fully stocked and serviced and packed with all the necessities to wage war. We took half the armory with us including everything from normal rifles and sidearms to AT rockets, various explosives and even an automated M777 Howitzer. John made sure the Knight armors were on board and the Sentinels were gassed up and fully weaponized. Even the Cooper gang ditched their normal gear for our stealth suits. Murray unfortunately didn't fit in any of our pants so we just let him take the battle dress shirt and a belt. It fit him well enough.

We took off the next morning in both planes. Most of the Coopers were in Ghostrider and me, John, Penelope and Bentley were in Archangel. Bentley and Penelope were with us mostly because the C-17 had all the sophisticated computers and we needed both of them at the controls. We flew out of the country soon, and because we were flying against the sun, arrived within 100 miles of Denmark at around 8PM that night. This worked out well for us so we could find a local airfield big enough to harbor Ghostrider and Archangel. Eventually we came across Aalborg Airport just under 10 miles southeast from the target. Bentley quickly hacked into their flight records to create forged flight ID's paths before sending a request to land. The local air traffic control accepted without any problems and we touched down shortly before 9PM. They granted us temporary use of a segment of runway for our own purposes. It was time to put the plan in motion.

Sly

Murray insisted we take the van, and in a way it was perfect. It gave us a way to relay communications through a secure position. Murray and Bentley opted to drive it while I drove Carmelita in one of the Sentinels and John and Sierra took another. Just like an average teenage joy ride I suppose. I was still getting used to the stealth suit John had lent me. It fit well but what bugged me was the material. Although completely sound suppressive, it was skin tight, like a compression suit with extra protective padding and straps wherever needed. It wasn't that it was uncomfortable, it's more that it just wasn't what I was used to.

It was a cold year in Denmark. Not cold enough to make the tarmac freeze over but enough to create a layer of snow that now blanketed the landscape. Our tires met the ground and we maneuvered our way off the airfield. We took the nearby motorway 55 northwest at a steady cruising speed. For one, we had to be ready to respond to any nearby threats. We were after all, in hostile territory now and we had to be ready for anything at any given moment while we drove. It was pitch black beyond 20 meters around us as there were no ambient sources of light so we departed with NVG headsets so we had a much longer field of view. Through the green glow of the night world I could see the last rolling landscape of the denmark countryside. Rolling hills and evergreen trees blanketed in a thin layer of green tinted snow as we rolled through the winter wonderland. We kept going until Aabybro where we took motorway 11 another several miles west when we could see the castle coming into view over the treeline. We launched off the road and dropped our ground speed to a crawl so the van wouldn't break down. We kept going through the woods for around 15 minutes until we came to the end of the forest.

We put the cars in park and Bentley began performing systems check of the Cooper van's onboard equipment, relaying test messages to us and Penelope back in Archangel. When everything checked out, the rest of us did a final equipment check before heading to the edge of the treeline. I had my cane of course but I, along with everyone else, was given a slightly more heavy setup than normal. We all had a suppressed FN Five Seven and our previous suppressed AR15's but we all carried a second long gun just in case. I carried a compact 870 shotgun, Carmelita had a M320 grenade launcher with specialized ammo, Sierra had a suppressed SRS A1 bullpup sniper rifle and John carried an extra bag of C4. Murray was to stay behind and provide additional fire support and relay communications of for whatever reason our normal comms were compromised. When the four of us were sure that all of our gear was ready to go, we started the first phase of the plan. We took off across the 1200 meter field between the treeline and the castle. But before we did of course, John and Sierra took out their cigars and drew a long breath.

John

Bentley and I ran countless simulations before deciding on a final plan. This phase was purely intended to gather intelligence. But still, we prepared for everything, hence the extra firepower. Sierra took up an overwatch position at the edge of the treeline to spy on the castle at a distance. After claiming to have seen no significant observational equipment, we began our advance. There was no cover at all so we rushed as fast as we could. When we arrived, Sierra was short to follow. We took a moment to take our breath. Seeing the air condense in front of me while leaning against a concrete wall brought back memories of the Warfighters, when we were still all around and in action and for once, I was comforted by those memories. Whether I acknowledged it or not, I've been here before. Facing the unknown and going in anyways to see what layed beyond the next door was what we did. No, it was what I did. So I guess that meant nothing had changed, and I was in my element.

When we were ready Sly scaled the wall on his own, expertly utilizing his cane in finding seemingly non existent handholds and vaulting points. When he vaulted over the top I heard two suppressed gunshots in quick succession before a rope was dropped down the slightly slanted cobblestone wall for us to climb. I went first and upon reaching the top I found Sly in a crouched position with his rifle at the ready with two dead guards close by.

"Not bad man," I patted him on the shoulder as I took up a crouched ready position next to him.

"I learned from the best, remember?" I could hear a faint hint of anxiety hidden in Slys voice, but he was doing a good job in hiding it.

"Damn right you did…," I was cut short by Sierra coming over the edge of the wall.

"Oh my god get a room you two," she said, triggering Sly to break his stance to hold himself back from laughing. I looked over my shoulder at Sierra. I clicked my tongue and winked cheekily at her in response and she rolled her eyes. Carmelita came over the wall as well totally oblivious to what had just happened and helped Sierra throw the bodies over the edge of the outer wall as to avoid alarming other guards to our presence. Sly finally regained his composure.

"Ok, lets go before we, give away our position," he said through the tears. And we pushed on as a unit along the top of the outer wall.

The walkway ended at a tower with a door that led inside. Sly quickly picked the lock and we took a flight of stairs down to the ground level. Sly picked another door and upon determining that there were no footsteps just beyond, Sierra and I stepped out onto the cobblestone streets of the castle. We were in. Sly and Carmelita went back inside the tower to take the wall walkway to the opposite side of the castle, to cover more ground in less time. It was admittedly a huge risk in splitting up but we needed to be thorough in what little time we had. When the day breaks, we would have no natural cover and we would be stuck in the castle until night fell again. Stealth was key.

Carmelita

Stealth was key. That's what John had said about this phase of the mission over and over again. He and Sly were obviously some of the best at it, Sierra wasn't new to this kind of environment, but me? I wasn't a stealth operator or a renowned thief. When it came down to it, I was a cop. I was never formally trained or taught in the art of stealth. Everything I knew I learned was from watching Sly and observing his complex methods. But of course, I wasn't an idiot so I knew a few key points along with a few tips given by Sly and John. Stay low, stay quiet, and the darkness is your friend. So I did my best to keep up, staying at a close proximity to Sly and being sure to make as little sound as possible when guards were in earshot.

It wasn't long before we arrived at the northern point of the castle. From there, Sly launched himself off the edge and landed like a cat on the sharp ridge of the roof of a nearby garrison. He faded into the darkness and became nothing more than a silhouette darting over the rooftops before the occasional spotlights surveying the inside of the castle in the close background as he made his way to the central spires of the compound. I however was not as acrobatic as the ringtail. He had his fancy moves that were well fitted for his role of scaling to the high towers and seeing if there was anything of interest up there. But I was stuck to the ground.

I jumped down about 30 feet from the top of the wall to the cobblestone streets, not making a sound as I landed on all fours. I looked up and behind me quickly before making a dash for the nearest shadowed cover, a small gap between a building and a large M35 tarped supply truck. My mission was simple, find out how many personnel are stationed at the castle and what kind of equipment they were armed with on the surface. Simple enough. I creeped along the building, letting my fingers drag on the bricked surface of the wall. I had just emerged onto the street to jog over to the next building when two chatting guards emerged from further down the street to my right. I stayed my position behind the wall and just peeked out enough to see them change direction. Both were wearing badges, although in Danish. Thankfully I had studied Danish during my early years in Interpol so I could read one of them to read "driver". I seized the opportunity and darted back for the truck and jumped in the back. There were boxes lining the sides of the truck bed. I wasn't sure what was in them because it was pitch black beneath the tarp but I was able to scoot a few of them around just enough to hide behind. I settled down by the left side of the truck bed as I heard the two guards embarking the vehicle and starting the engine. As we drove around the castle, I was able to see where we went, as well as hear their conversation.

My Danish wasn't perfect but I could make out enough to understand the general meaning of their words. I heard complaints about how their chain of command told them to be on high alert without explaining why. There were various other references to the horrible food and the cold winter but what really caught my attention was when the conversation suddenly shifted to a more serious tone. I didn't possess the vocabulary to understand the majority of their conversation but I was able to make out one word. Valkyrie.

We made a sharp turn at what looked like a horse stable and the driver stopped in the middle. Suddenly the ground started to move and I started to see the floor around the vehicle start to rise over the top of the top of the truck. We were being lowered into the ground by a sort of freight elevator. With all the ambient noise and the engine still running, I seized what may be the last opportunity to communicate.

"Carmelita to team," I whispered, "I think I've found a way into the subterranean level. I'm in the back of a cargo truck and I might need backup. The entrance seems to be a freight elevator in a horse stable on the western quadrant of the castle. Roughly…"

I was shut up by a hand coming over my mouth from behind. I reacted quickly, whipping around and pulling out my pistol at the same time to meet the face of whoever was behind me. I could identify the silhouette of Sierra as she pulled back her hand and holding it up in a gesture for me to keep quiet. She tapped her ear and spoke through the communications channel.

"This is Charlie. I'm with Carmelita," she began, "I can confirm the elevator being in a stable in the southwest corner of the castle."

John responded. "Copy that Charlie. En route."

Then Sly spoke up over the channel as well. "I've scouted all of the towers and they're remotely of importance. Mind if I join you guys?"

"Might as well," John replied, a static starting to interfere with the audio quality, "meet me at the roof… horse stable…..from there..." and the connection was completely inaudible though all the static. Soon, it was severed all together. For the time being, me and Sierra were on our own.

Ch.24

Sierra

I've been here before, being stuck undercover and not being sure where I'm going. But in the end I always find a way out. After jumping in the back of this truck while it was driving by I very well knew that I was going to end up underground one way or another, but I didn't anticipate Carmelita having the same idea. On one hand I wasn't alone. I had immediate backup and an extra set of hands which is always nice. But on the other, Carmelita said she couldn't find a barracks. That might be because the barracks wasn't on the surface but also underground, but now we didn't know how many people are stationed here. But when I really thought about it, it was far more likely that we would find a barracks underground while the castle on the surface served as a visual facade. Either way, here we were and our first priority was to wait for an opportunity to leave the truck without triggering an alarm or tipping off the guards.

The elevator stopped smoothly about 50 feet below the surface. There were two guards there. One checked the driver ID and the other walked around the truck to inspect it for any hitchhikers. While he inspected the bottom of the vehicle with a mirror, Carmelita gestured to the boxes that cluttered the truck bed but I knew that if I were to move any of them, the guard would be close enough to hear the sliding of wood on metal. There was nowhere to hide and we couldn't run without tipping him off. So I carefully walked to the back where a loose flap was all that kept us hidden from the rear. I waited for the guard to lift it open and in one swift motion I reached out to grab his collar with my left hand, I deployed my arm gun which was suppressed, shot him in the head at point blank, and yanked him inside the vehicle. Now all there was to hope that no one noticed he was gone until we were clear of the area. The other guard gave the driver back his ID and gave him a hand signal to proceed down the lone tunnel lit by wall mounted lanterns that laid ahead. As we pulled away he didn't even look concerned about the absence of his friend.

"He was heading back anyways," Carmelita said, "his shift was over." I didn't know Carmelita knew Danish. It's a useful skill I wish I had. It'll come in handy given where we were.

The truck continued down the dimly lit tunnel until Carmelita spotted an end where it seemed to open up. Seeing a final opportunity, Carmelita and I dropped out of the back of the truck as it was leaving the tunnel and let it drive off. We took cover behind a waist high stack of boxes immediately next to the opening and peeked out to examine the new area. But just then there was a reverberating noise behind us, like someone struck a large hollow metal object with a hammer.

John

This mission was looking a lot less like recon and more like we were making up a plan as we went along. The truck had just driven off into the tunnel as Sly was walking up to me. I watched the guard casually return to a console and push the button, causing the elevator to rise. Before it could go too high I jumped down and landed on the rising platform. There was a loud bang when I met the harsh surface and startled the guard on post. Before he could react I pulled out my rifle and shot him twice in the chest. Sly shortly followed me and we jumped down to the dirt covered floor.

We followed a single tunnel along a short path until it expanded into a larger room and the dirt changed to concrete. The expanse was absolutely breathtaking, a large dome like cavern cut into the solid rock. There was another compound down here many times bigger than the castle above and in the middle of it all was an old domed structure. I slowly took out my camera and took a picture of the subterranean city for original recon intent, but with every passing moment it seemed less and less likely that we would be returning to the surface only to come back a second time. There was only one reason why we had separated the mission into two assaults and that was so we could create a more careful plan of attack without leaving a trace the first time around. But with multiple bodies already being left around the compound, it had become obvious that total stealth was no longer possible. As I lowered the camera my ears twitched to a noise to our right. Crouched behind a stack of boxes were Sierra and carmelita, urgently waving at us to come over. Sly and I dashed for their position and we immediately got down to business.

"We're compromised. As of now this is a one trip job," I said, we were in the middle of the open and there was noone around so there wasn't any point in whispering.

"Yeah we know," Sierra looked over the boxes as though expecting something, "I left the supply boys a little present. As soon as they off-load, this whole place'll go up."

"You planted a bomb in their truck?" Sly sounded shocked.

"No, there's a body in the…" she was interrupted by a number of shouting voices shortly followed by a loud siren that echoed throughout the cavern. As of now, the whole base was on high alert, "yeah, that one was on me."

Sly

From there things only got harder. Despite not having to worry as much about noise discipline anymore, sneaking around became exponentially harder with guards darting around corners and spotlights flashing every which way. This time we stayed as a group, pushing on though the compound and shooting anyone who entered our line of fire. But the scary thing was every building we walked past had security cameras at the corners, meaning whoever was behind the controls knew exactly where we were. We pushed on and on, being careful to cover our flanks at all times. We kept our pack as tight as we could, moving at a cutthroat pace, and at some point totally ditching stealth all together. As of now we had determined that we weren't going to be able to do much more recon, so we made our sole objective simple. Get to the dome in the middle of the cavern, find out what it was, and destroy it along with the rest of the facility. On one hand I was glad Bentley wasn't here right now or else he would be blowing out my eardrums about how we were all going to die in some extreme fashion. But on the other, we could really use his help right now, being that we were now operating with no intel whatsoever. We were totally blind. John's briefing back in the bunker was starting to come back to me now, especially the part about this being a trap.

John

Everything got so erie from then on, from the progressively more sparsely populated roadways to the feeling that we were being watched. No it was more than that, it was like we were being observed. Studied for our tactics by some unknown party. It felt like those we did encounter were almost handed to us, doing the exact same thing every single time. There were always four of them hiding behind buildings on the street, peeking out to fire. But more than that, they seemed only intent in tactics that would make us burn through more ammo. Over the course of our 20-30 minute march to the dome, it became more and more obvious that this was an incredibly well thought out defense strategy. They were starving our ammo supply and there was nothing we could really do about it.

We pushed on, using ammo more conservatively, particularly by having Sierra pick off guards from a distance with the SRS A1 which could punch through the layers of metal that made up the buildings. Using this strategy we slowed to a crawl, but it worked. Eventually we reached the end of the buildings and before us stood the dome. It stood no less than 100 meters high and was planted firmly in the earth. Sly took out his binocucom to scout the structure from a distance, saying that there was a giant metal door, like a hangar with guards posted at the entrance. There was no way that they were the only guards. In fact, if I were laying a trap, I would post those guards to indicate a point of interest and as we moved in, we would be swarmed with guards from all directions. This was past being risky and now entering the realm of plain stupid.

"Sly, did you take pictures of that dome?"

"Of course I did," he put the binocucom away and turned to face me behind the stack of boxes and crates we hid behind, "So what's the plan?"

"We're done here. Let's get out while we still can," I knew I was going to be met with resistance but I was more willing to risk encountering a larger force than go into what we knew was an ambush.

"But it's right there," protested Carmelita, "I thought we already ditched the original plan."

"I don't care what the original plan was. They know were coming. They've known we're coming for ages now." Of all the places to be having this argument this was quite possibly the worst, "it's not worth dying in a hole for no good reason."

"Guys," Sierra spoke up, "look up."

Above us hovered 4 separate surveillance drones in the air high above us. Just then I felt the ground start to shake at a low frequency. It was all so familiar. But then I saw vampires starting to flood the streets and come out from around the dome.

"Damnit!," I shot all the drones out of the sky in quick succession and turned to the team, "Run!"

Sierra

Run and gun. That's all we could do as we dodged the hordes of vampires and guards posted on rooftops now bearing down on us with automatic weapons. We shot the guards first of course so they couldn't make any of us a casualty so they weren't the biggest problem we faced. It was the vampires. No matter how many we killed there were thousands more to replace it. We ran desperately through the crowds, sliding around corners in the endless maze of hopping nightmares. I started to feel the rage coming back to me from the forest and I knew that Carmelita was likely feeling it too, my reflexes lightning fast and physically tearing vampires apart when they got too close. The violence was intoxicating, the stress and fear being only as fuel to power an undying fire within my soul, letting loose all the anger and hatred that I had built up over a lifetime. All the wrongs that had been committed to me and those I loved had amassed a debt that could only be paid in blood, and it was past time I collected my share. Eventually Carmelita and I had stopped running, stopping to face the horde ourselves. When we ran out of ammo, we took out our tomahawks and kept going.

But then the strangest thing happened. The vampires stopped attacking and they just stood there, as though waiting for us to kill them. We cut our way through a large group until there were no more. There was just me and Carmelita standing in the middle of an intersection with dozens of guns trained on us both from the rooftops and from the street. Carmelita tensed up to pounce from next to me but I held out my hand to keep her in place. It would be naive to think we could take them all on in our current position. We played right into their hands. Then one of them yelled something in Danish.

"They want us to drop our weapons," Carmelita translated, "what's the play?"

"Do what they say," I gently put down my tomahawk and unslung my rifles, "first priority right now is to stay alive."

Carmelita let out a protesting growl but did the same, un-slinging her AR-15 and M320 to place them at her sides as I had done. Then two guards with longer rifles stepped forward. They stood before the other guards at street level, took careful aim, and shot us in the chest. I struggled to maintain composure, but that soon turned into a struggle to stay awake. And not long after, nothing.

Sly

I should have trusted Johns instinct to retreat. Now we had somehow lost track of Sierra and Carmelita. In all honesty though, that was likely the only reason we were able to escape, dividing the horde just enough to allow us to punch a hole through to the tunnel through which we came. I hit the button and for 30 long seconds we waited for the elevator to drop down enough for us to get on. Just as it reached the ground I hit the same button to begin the platforms ascent. As I stepped foot on my platform I heard my gun click empty. John started taking out C4 charges and chucking them over the crowd. As we lifted off I fired off shots from my 870 into the heads of vampires that were lucky enough to grab onto the edge of the elevator. Just as we had risen halfway up the shaft I started to hear the familiar static of the radio channel trying to re establish. I heard Bentley over the radio but ignored it.

"Hector I need a ride now!" John yelled over the comm-link and he blew all the charges below us, shaking the ground.

The castle was populated with more guards than before and with the rising sun starting to emit rays of orange light over the walls we were not only completely exposed but also out of ammo. We had to sneak around until I found a small guard patrol. We dealt with them with tomahawks and took their guns and ammo. The guns were in fairly good condition, military grade HK MP5's, but even so, we didn't need to take on the whole castle with them. We just needed to get to a point where a Sentinel could pick us up. They were unsuppressed so as we took on group after group of guards we attracted more and more attention to ourselves. Finally we were backed onto the top of the wall surrounding the castle. We were surrounded, pinned down and again running dangerously low on ammunition. Just then, a Sentinel pulled up to the wall beneath us.

"Our ride's here!" John yelled over the gunfire. "Time to go!"

I nodded and he chucked the last two pieces of C4 in either direction along the top of the wall at the waves of guards. Together we lept off the structure into the soft snow below while I detonated the charges behind us. We were pushed slightly further by the force of the blast only being a dozen meters to either side of us and landed in the snow beyond the car. We got to our feet and jumped in the Sentinel to speed away, all while John shouted orders to Hector. I got on the line as well and told Murray to get the van moving back to the airport as fast as possible. We tore through the forest and when we found the main road from which we came, John floored the gas. I could hear as well as feel the aggression of the engines angry roar as we tore through the sparsely populated streets. I wasn't entirely sure how fast we were going but we had crossed the 15 miles of roads and were back on the tarmac in less than 5 minutes. Upon arriving we actually outsped a landing passenger jet.

We rounded a corner and saw Archangel and Ghostrider still where we left them on the airfield. John yanked the wheel to one side and corrected to drift in an elongated arc towards the planes. Just when I thought we were going to run into them, we stopped a mere number of yards away from the open cargo bay of Archangel. He climbed out angrily and marched up the ramp. I finally let go of my white knuckle grip on the overhead handle and cautiously followed him inside. John was lifting crates of weapons and ammo out of the stack we put them in in front of all the extra Sentinels in the cargo bay. He was trying to uncover the long weapon crate on the bottom that housed his armor.

"John slow down and let me help," I walked over to help him but was barely regarded.

"Fuck off," he said bitterly without turning around. I had never seen him like this before. I thought he was angry at the house when we got attacked but this was something entirely different. This pure rage.

"Ok well at least tell me what your plan is."

"I'm going to kill them all," he responded sternly.

"And how exactly are you going to do that John?"

He shoved off one final box and it landed with a bang on the floor. He had a grave look as though he was protesting his own decision.

"With this," the box opened itself and John turned around, panting heavily.

"John," I gestured to the armor, but there was something else inside. A sword? Seriously? "You can't attack an underground bunker with a suit of armor."

"Oh it's more than just a suit of armor Sly," he brushed his fingers along the flat of the swords blade. To my dismay it started to emit an eerie red glow from the edges and creases. Strange glyphs materialized and faded away and trails of strange red energy snaked through the air in the direction of John. I was silent, "Tell me, have you ever seen a demon before?"


Part 8:Ride of the Valkyries

Ch.20

Slaigh

The Valkyries were once thought to be a myth. Or at least extinct. But that all ended one summer day. The day the norse angels of death began their crusade across the land. They started as rumors. Nothing more than gossip or conspiracy. 39 godlike women warriors tearing their way through villages and towns. "A child's bedtime story couldn't burn nations to the ground" everyone said. But when armies went and fell before them, it all became so very real. The angels crusade had begun in the east, where the legendary vikings once lived. From there, they pushed inland and back west toward the british empire. Some said they were out for revenge against the old English empire for the fall of the vikings. The local magicians worked long and hard to find a way to keep the valkyries at bay, but nothing worked. They pushed on as they set fire to everything they conquered. Their force was unrivaled until they suddenly stopped.

The Valkyries then crossed the English Channel and began tearing across the British mainland. But what baffled the scholars was the Valkyries now ignored all the major cities and only attacked what laid directly in their way. They continued into Scotland where they suddenly vanished. They appeared in random villages, killing many but letting most live, mostly asking questions as if they were looking for someone. It wasn't until then that we found out what they were searching for. The Valkyries were after me.

Eir

I don't know where we came from. Neither me nor my sisters do. I awoke in a cold room with no light and a hard stone floor. A door opened and like a child I walked curiously through it. There was a large circular room with a large table in the middle covered in swords and bows. Out stepped many others from doors similar to my own. I counted 38 others including me. All of us lynx's and all of us women. We wore the same black T-shirt and pants. We began to talk, trying to piece together what was going on but with no avail. No-one had the slightest memory of who or where we were. Then a voice boomed throughout the room.

"My warriors!" the large face of a frog appeared above the table of weapons, "I hath summoned thee!"

We all stood at attention to the floating head. Did it call us warriors?

"I am Odin, thy father and you are my Valkyries!" he boomed, "you have many questions, I know. You have been asleep for a long time. I wish I could answer them all but now you must prepare for battle."

The dark rooms suddenly lit up and in the back of each one there was a set of armor. I went to mine and there was a glorious set of armor with shined metal that felt both sturdy yet light weight at the same time. I put it on and found it to be perfectly fitted to my body. There was a scroll attached to it with some basic information written in fancy gold handwriting. I was Eir and my mission was to find someone named Slaigh MacCooper in Scotland.

I stepped back out to find the others at the table taking weapons.

"There is great evil in the world. They have forgotten you," said Odin, "Bring me the staff of Slaigh MacCooper and cleanse the world of evil!"

Not knowing any better, I picked up a sword and a bow and quiver. I mounted them all on my armor and joined the rest of the Valkyries on one side of the room. We stood at attention as Odin kept talking.

"Now go forth my daughters and do my will."

The head vanished and the entire room went dark. Then, a massive door slowly creaked open. Streams of blinding sunlight streaked in and filled the room. We walked towards it together and entered the outside world for the first time. Did any of it sound right? No, but we knew nothing. So we did as we were told.

Sir Raleigh

I closed the broadcast to the Valkyrie room and began to chuckle evilly to myself. They bought it. Every one of them. Those genetic experiments of mine will get that cane with ease. I should be thankful to that La Paradox fellow for breaking me out of jail. After this little job, I'll be a king back in modern day. Or maybe not. In the present I'm just a criminal. A rich one yes, but a criminal nonetheless. But here, I'm a god. And no-one knows better.

Eir

The 39 of us proved to be an effective group of warriors. We tirelessly fought off entire armies single handedly without losing a single Valkyrie. We were stronger, faster, and smarter than anyone else on the battlefield. We were, after all, the angels of death. So we played the part. Whenever there was a village or kingdom in our way, we took what we wanted. When they resisted, we killed them all and burned everything down. We trudged over the hills and and through the plains but as our quest drew on, the concept of what we were doing started to wear down on me and when I consulted my sisters I could tell they all felt the same.

Odin warned us of great evil in the land. Sure there were bad people but there were mostly just folks trying to live their lives day by day. When we all stopped to talk about it at the strait between the mainland and the land known as Britain, we came to an agreement. No more unnecessary deaths until we knew what exactly was going on. Maybe this Slaigh MacCooper could give us some answers. If Odin wanted him dead so badly, we may as well know why.

We stole a fleet of ships and sailed across the strait. When we landed, we made a straight line through the British countryside. Whenever we came across a kingdom, we stayed away from it. Whenever we came across a smaller village, we infiltrated with disguises and asked the locals questions. Sometimes they gave us answers. Usually they would recognize us instantly and we killed the population in self defense, leaving another village to burn. But by the time we reached Scotland, we knew where Slaigh was.

We found Slaigh MacCooper in a village overlooking the north edge of the island. Instead of charging in however, we opted to say at a distance and watch for a while. We stayed and we watched for 2 days but we never saw him. It was strange, being that every village we got information from said he would be here. So we devised a plan. It was ruthless and heartless but if luck was in our favor, no-one would need to die today.

Slaigh

We heard them before we saw them. A loud horn echoing over the hills. The horn described by the survivors of the burned villages. Sharp and loud unlike anything else I had ever seen before. The other villagers were my friends and in an effort to save me, they kept me hidden in our village elder-house. But when I heard the horn, I knew the Valkyries had found us. It didn't matter how well I was hidden if they were just going to burn the place to the ground. So I picked up my stone cane and stepped into the late morning sun.

They stood in an archery line aimed at the village. All of them with a flaming arrow ready to fire. The whole village was present, men, women and children standing at the edge of the village to see the angels of death. As I pushed my way to the front, they made a single statement.

"We are the Valkyries. If you resist, we will kill you all. If you give us Slaigh MacCooper, we will let you live." It was never repeated.

I was hesitant at first but I could never live with myself if I let them take my village, my home. I stepped forward, shuffling through the crowd of terrified bystanders with my cane over my shoulder and walked across the field toward the line of Valkyries. Out stepped the Valkyrie that made the announcement and we met just before the firing line, the wind sweeping her blond locks over her face. She was about to speak but I spoke first without a hint of fear in my voice. I was indeed afraid, but I was more afraid for the lives of my people. .

"If I went with you in peace, will you let my people live?" she stood before me, a full head shorter than me. She had a look of surprise from the bold statement, but quickly regained her composure. Multiple archers were aimed at me now.

"Yes," she responded.

"Then I surrender," I let my cane fall to the grassy earth with a heavy thud, ready to accept my fate, "I refuse to stand by while my people are slaughtered by monsters. So do with me as you will."

The statement left the warrior in shock. Maybe monster was too strong of a word. Because now I didn't see an angel of Death, or even a warrior. I saw a woman who I had hurt dearly. The archers slowly lowered their bows and slung them over their shoulders, extinguishing their arrows. They looked just as taken back as the lynx that stood before me. Suddenly the air changed and the Valkyries gathered behind her.

"I'm sorry. We had to be sure of who you were," she began, "my name is Eir and we are in dire need of your help."

Ch.21

Sleigh

The Valkyries set up camp about half a mile from the village. They didn't seem to want to associate themselves with the village folk, but it was likely for the best. They all protested the idea of having a band of ruthless warriors camping only a short walk from our homes, but they were helpless to do or say anything about it. So there was a stalemate that went on for days between the Valkyries and the townspeople. Only I ever made treks between the two.

I visited the women often to bring them food and to learn more about them. I learned that all the stories were true about them. They had encountered countless armies and overthrown dozens of kingdoms, but all in the belief that they were all evil. They entered the world only a month ago with no memory of anything and their "Odin" told them that all others who lived were evil. They never even knew of the stories and motives people had spread in their name until they heard it themselves. All they were told was to find me and my cane to rid the world of evil. It all sounded very strange but the Valkyries must be telling the truth, or else my people would be dead and the village burned to the ground.

"When we call you from your dwelling it was a test," Eir explained, "You passed, obviously. But now we have the problem of Odin. We fear he may come looking for us for failing him."

"What if we were to strike back at him. He lied to you, deceived you into believing the world was nothing more than evil. Surely he must be evil himself," I reasoned.

"But he is Odin," said another, "we don't even know how powerful he is."

"If he sent you after me instead of coming himself then surely he must believe you are stronger than he," they conversed amongst themselves, thinking over the idea of fighting against Odin. Worried looks were exchanged and I left them to think about what I had said. Two days later, they unanimously agreed that for Odin's deception, and in the names of countless lives lost, he must pay.

Sir Raleigh

It had been nearly 3 months since I had sent the Valkyries on their voyage to retrieve that cane. I began to worry. The lynx's were kidnapped from the opposite side of the planet in what is today Canada and none of them were truly related. I performed gene therapy on each of them, amplifying their abilities and individual skills greatly. Alone, they could keep an army of beasts at bay but together they were the perfect weapon. But what I couldn't control was their free thought. I could wipe their memories and implant fake ones, but with the fall of the Contessa in modern day, most of her hypnosis research was lost. So although I could erase their minds, I couldn't keep them from thinking for themselves. For this, I was especially afraid of the possibility of the Valkyries encountering someone, possibly the Cooper, and having a change of heart.

Now as the weeks rolled on, I grew especially paranoid. Turning my establishment into a small fortress. I built and activated hundreds of robots, amassing my own army with whatever I had. I thought I was ready for anything, but then the Valkyries returned.

Eir

We described the fortress from which we awoke, the rooms, the great table and the place from which we came in great detail to Slaigh. He seemed to recognize the details of the terrain. He called the place Denmark, the same place our legend originated from so many centuries ago. Armed with this information we began to formulate a plan. One of the Valkyries said that given the amount of time we spent by the village, Odin would likely be growing suspicious and we would need to prepare for a fight unlike any other. Slaigh began consulting his village elders who suggested we seek the help of the neighboring kingdoms. I doubted it would work and it was just their effort to get us away from the village but we left regardless.
We set off for all the kingdoms of Scotland and then the kingdoms of England. I could tell that even the kings respected Slaigh by how they never talked down to him. But even so, wherever we went, we were turned away. Our story as the Angels of Death had spread far and wide and no one wanted anything to do with us. They called us monsters, demons even. I suppose I couldn't blame them, after all, it's how we were made and we knew no other way. Maybe we were monsters, never once stopping for a moment to question whether what we were doing was right or wrong. We did as we were told no matter how bloody it got. We could say that we were different now, that we had changed, but it would never matter. We were on our own and for the next month we made our trek from France to Denmark.

The journey took us through the burned out ruins of the kingdoms and villages we had raided. What once stood tall and full of life was now nothing more than a dead shell of its former glory. I truly appreciated Slaigh, never turning on us and demanding an explanation for the horrible things in which we had done. He spoke to us as equals, sometimes even as children. None of us minded. He spoke with compassion and kindness, a trait that was totally foreign to us before we encountered him. He told us story after story of his adventures and the world. He told us of his vast family lineage, his various quarrels and encounters with corrupt kings, even how he first met his wife and his adventures with his children. He was quite the storyteller and has had quite the long and remarkable life. Up till now he claimed to be retired, now simply a village elder. A pang of guilt struck me when he mentioned this. After all he has been through and retiring to a life he has very well deserved, we brought him from his home to stop a threat a world away. He said he didn't mind though, that it was nice to get out of the village every now and then.

We finally arrived at the dwelling in which Odin let us loose onto the world. It was the same but now had walls built up around the place. Strange guards patrolled night and day that needed neither food nor sleep. We stayed back at a distance, careful to avoid detection and tried to form a plan. Slaigh recalled a time when he had encountered a fortress similar to this one and how he had gotten past the guards by poisoning the water to cause 'extreme bowel movements'. But given the nature of the guards and how they never even drank, it didn't seem like a viable option. After 3 days of hiding and planning, we came to the conclusion that the only method of entry was through the way we had come in through.

Slaigh

The next morning we attacked. In all honesty, I went on this mission without the intention of returning. I had lived a long and happy life. I was content with what I had done and I was growing old anyways. Having my wife passed away and my children moved on and now growing their own families, I had nothing more to look forward to. Besides, I couldn't think of a better way for me to go out than on the field of battle.

I followed the Valkyries on horseback in our charge. Upon entering archery range, the guards formed a defensive wall armed with only swords. The Valkyries had shields and battle axes and I had my stone cane. Whatever they were, they could not stop us or what we had planned.

We reached their line and swords clashed with axes at full speed. An intense battle ensued that seemingly went on forever. Whenever we finished off one wave, another would arrive supplying dozens more guards to kill. We fought off wave after wave until we had pushed far enough to gain access to the door the Valkyries spoke of. Unfortunately, it was a massive metal door that was far too large for even me to lift. Then I spotted a hole in the wall 20 feet above me. I called to Eir in the heat of battle and signalled to the hole and put my hands out. She sprinted over to me and I vaulted her up just high enough to reach the entry point. Shortly later the big door opened, letting us inside.

We made our way inside while still fighting off the guards and Eir closed the door when we were clear. Soon we were submerged in pure darkness. I couldn't even see my hands. Yet there was still no peace as the silence with the banging of the guards against the doors. Soon, they would break through.

One by one, we lit the torches that we had brought with us. I walked around the room for some time, admiring the sheer size of the place. This Odin must have been a great architect to have had such a structure built. But then in looking at the ceiling, I saw an abnormality, like a see-through barrier that blocked off a smaller room that overlooked the grand doorway. Then I saw something move behind it. It must be Odin, just watching us as we made our advance.

"Eir," I called and she came over. I gestured up to the window. It was no less than 4 stories high but I could easily throw something up there. I however would not be able to follow. It's time to make a decision.

Eir

Slaigh threw his cane up to the barrier and shattered it. The cane came back to him like a boomerang and he turned back to me. One by one he launched the Valkyries up to the room. As I prepared to go up, the door began to finally give way, letting trails of light shine through the torch lit room. It wouldn't be long now before the guards had broken through and swarmed the place. I took a defensive stance to keep them at bay but Slaigh grabbed me from behind and threw me up to the ledge. I turned back just in time to see Slaigh heft his cane in his hands and turn to the now collapsing door. It was then that I understood. He had no intention of surviving.

The Valkyries helped me to my feet and before he faded out of sight, I could see Slaigh fighting, smashing leagues upon leagues of guards with his mighty cane. The last thing I saw was him lunging onto a horde of guards yelling, "Come on! What are you waiting for!" That was the last time he was ever seen alive.

We left the room and worked our way around the halls. They were very different from the room from which we awoke. Here the halls were far less grand and rather dull. There were pipes running along the walls and ceiling. When we cut some open, but there was only either air, water or oil in them. Very strange indeed.

As we pushed on we encountered small troops of guards. We dealt with them without much problem and pushed on over their scattered pieces. Deeper and deeper we went into the odd structure. There were rooms but only filled with the scattered pieces of the guards, as though they were being built there. We pushed on and on until we encountered a larger door with grand designs and a deep red finish. 'This must be where Odin resides' I thought to myself. Four of us began to chisel away at the hinges and locks with their axes and the rest of us formed a shield wall for whatever lied beyond. We waited for what felt like an eternity. It felt like an hour before they returned to the wall. Now it was loose enough so that a single blow of any kind would send the door crashing down. All the Valkyries lined up before the door and charged with a mighty battle cry ready for whatever lied ahead.

But when we burst through the door, all we found was a lone frog in shaking in his chair. The chair stood before a desk and a wall showing images of the halls through which we went through. All this time he had been watching us but never lifted a finger to face us himself. But then I remembered his face. It was Odin, but this pathetic creature was no god. I broke formation and grabbed him by the neck and hoisted him out of the chair above the room.

"Who are you?" I demanded bitterly.

"I… I am Odin, your father," the frog was desperately trying to keep up the act. I slammed him on the desk and cut off one of his legs with my axe. He howled in pain and I hoisted him up again.

"Answer me damn you!"he was starting to cry now. After all the pain and suffering that he had caused the world, was he really going to beg for mercy? What a disgrace.

"I… am… Sir Raleigh, and I come from the future…" he started to go limp and pass out so I dropped him so he could catch his breath. Then I called to a few of the Valkyries to cut some of the oil lines from the hall. I wanted the bastard to be awake for this.

We destroyed everything in the room until all that was left was the shattered pieces of equipment lying in heaps on the floor. Then we doused it all in oil and set it on fire with the torch. Then we dragged Sir Raleigh through the halls from which we came, all while setting fire to all that we passed. Finally we arrived at the door that led to the ledge that overlooked the great room. Before we went through though, we cut another pipe and doused Sir Raleigh in oil. We took some rope that we had brought with us, tied it around his fat neck and took him to the ledge. He begged us for mercy, to spare his life with tears in his eyes. I took a torch from another Valkyrie and stepped forward.

"I don't care who you are or from where you've come. You will burn for what you've done," I threw the torch at his feet and we watched as he went up in flames. His screams filled the room as the flames grew. Before he could fall off the ledge himself, I kicked him off as hard as I could so he went flying. Then the rope ran out of slack and you could hear the neck of the frog snap. The Valkyries looked over the edge into the great room to see the frogs flaming, lifeless body swaying beneath us. Odin, Sir Raleigh was dead.

We left Sir Raleigh's body there to hang as a warning to anyone else who may call themselves a god, to prevent this kind of bloodshed from ever happening again. After much effort, we found Slaigh's body out under the doorway of the great room. He died honorably in battle, taking countless guards with him. We carried his body back to his village in Scotland where he was buried next to his wife. We stayed for the entirety of the funeral and afterwards, left in peace.

By then the legend of the 39 Valkyries had spread far and wide. Every kingdom and village as far as Russia had heard of us. So to keep ourselves safe, we split up and went our separate ways, never to see eachother again. What we had was a rare opportunity to start a new life. We had no past and nothing to hold us back, so we could say we were whatever we wanted to be.

The former Valkyries spread all over the world. They settled down and had families. All the while, the gene therapy done on them had a permanent effect on their descendants. The gene would be active in females but dormant in males, so only the females would receive the abilities of the original Valkyries.

Over the centuries the Valkyrie family trees grew and faded, but eventually a young Scientist by the name of Dr. M would discover the Valkyrie gene in the DNA of certain individuals that possessed extraordinary traits, particularly in females. When he created his Kaine island fortress, he tried to replicate the gene in numerous experiments in his monsters, which largely failed. When the fortress fell, Dr. M's research was lost in the destruction. However, a covert research department under the UN had been hacking into Dr. M's data bases and had a full backup of his research. Since then, their research has come forth with numerous breakthroughs in gene therapy and biological warfare. The research department belonged to a blacklisted department known as the FoV, or the Fangs of the Vipers.

Act 3: Demons

Part 7: Stateside Kill

Ch.18

Sly

There is no comparison. This is the highest point I've ever been in my life. I was engaged, happy, and the air was full of life. John and I built a bonfire as soon as night fell in Idaho. We passed a bottle after bottle of red wine around the raging fire as the night drew on and the festivity grew. There was never a dull moment as we talked freely about our more personal endeavors, like our first encounters, first date, first dance, even our first times working together. John and Sierra certainly had a more dramatic first encounter than Carmelita and I. And Bentley and Penelope had the most awkward relationship moment out of all of us. I guess that ironically made me and Carmelita the most normal relationship of the bunch. Murray simply stated his first encounter with pizza in an effort to join the conversation. It was actually quite incredible, involving multiple car chases and leaps off of tall objects and several explosions. I wasn't sure how much of it was true but I certainly hoped it was.

The night drew on and the fire continue to fight back the snow of the impending winter. We kept doing so for a while and for a while we were at peace. During the daylight hours Penelope and Bentley would brainstorm and try to come up with a plan of attack against the Fangs. They always said they were on the brink of something but never really came up with anything. John, Murray and I would usually spend time with the new gunship. We painted a Cooper calling card on the side of the AC-130 and officially deemed it the "Ghostrider". In spirit of naming the new aircraft, John thought he may as well also name the C-17. After some time he came up with "Archangel"

"I don't really have a reason for it or anything," he said, "It just sounds cool."

Possibly the best rational ever for naming a jumbo-jet. When we were done with the AC-130, John took it upon himself to hand brush an angel riding a horse while wielding an M16 on the side of the aircraft. I had to say that when it was done, I wouldn't mind putting it in a museum.

A few days passed and many more bottles of wine were passed around many more bonfires. It was nice. Then came the night we sat down to watch a movie in the living room. It was a hard decision between Frozen, Range 15 and Captain America. After much debate, we decided to watch Range 15 first, despite myself having never heard of it. We made it about 4 minutes through the insane intro sequence before switching to Captain America, but not before losing many, many brain cells. Captain America was good though. One of my favorites in fact. It was a good change of pace after the insanity of the last movie.

The movie had just finished when Murray got up to make more popcorn and snacks and John switched the movie to Frozen, which he was absolutely ecstatic over for one reason or another. We were about 10 minutes in when he got up to 'check on something' and went into another room. That's when we started to hear windows break. There were footsteps and when a musical number started, three guys with masks on stormed in the room carrying sawed off Ak-47s. They pointed them around threateningly and shouted demands. They looked around the room as though doing a head count. One turned to another. I could just barely hear him say, "One is missing."

Just then, a noise came from Sierra, like the subtle whir of a motor. I turned to see what it was to see her with her left arm outstretched, but there was something off about it. It was as though her arm had opened up and the barrel of a gun had popped up out over her wrist. Then she shot the two that had spoken. Before she could shoot the other, John stepped into the room with an 870 shotgun and blasted him out the sliding glass door.

"Is everyone ok?" asked John casually, slamming back the pump on his shotgun.

"I had him," complained Sierra.

John chuckled, "I'm sure you did," he said tossing me the shotgun, "you know how to use that right?"

"Uh… yes?" I replied hesitantly. John trained us in the use of rifles, but not shotguns. But it seemed fairly self-explanatory.

"Good enough for me," he walked over to the coffee table in the middle of the room and opened the top off of the base. There was a loaded AR-15 with a Glock 17 and a tomahawk. He quickly equipped the tomahawk to himself, gave the pistol to Bentley and slung the rifle over his chest. Then he went over to a horizontal picture frame, flipped up the front and exposed another AR-15 and pistol. Sierra retracted her gun back into her arm and went over to the hidden gun rack.

"It's been awhile since you've used that," John remarked.

"Well everything gets a return, doesn't it?" I'll have to ask later what the heck happened to her arm so that she could put a gun in it.

John opened up multiple other creative cavities around the room to reveal even more guns. When he was done, John, Sierra, Carmelita and Murray had AR-15's, I had a shotgun, and Bentley and Penelope had pistols. Everyone had an earpiece that was linked through Hector. It was a bit much for home defence. It made me wonder what was coming. But just then Hector spoke over the earpiece.

"4 armed vehicles coming up the main driveway."

Oh, that's what.

John

I wasn't sure whether I was more pissed at these guys for attacking us in our own home or excited for the fact that I was in a real home defence situation. Many people think of how it might be like to defend your home from a threat and I had to say, despite the fact that we could all die, it was pretty awesome. Either way, we positioned ourselves at strategic positions at the front of the house on both floors and prepared ourselves for the wave of incoming trucks.

When the white Chevy Silverado's came around the corner, I could see a common logo of a snake with its teeth bared on the side. 'Fangs? How did the Fangs find us?' I thought to myself. But then I remembered the AC-130. It didn't have any stealth hardware, so they could have tracked it here. Regardless, it didn't change the situation much. The Fangs started to disembark their vehicles, but then I had an Idea.

"Hector, play home defence playlist."

"Yes sir. Playing Home Defence playlist," he responded, and soon, 'Bitch I Operate' began to play at full volume over the speakers all throughout the house and around the property on repeat. I was oddly proud of myself for this.

"John, Really?" I heard Sly complain over the radio. It only made me chuckle to to myself.

The Fangs looked at each other wondering what was happening, a few even bobbing their heads to the beat of the song. As good as the song was, it wasn't just for the sake of having background music. It was a distraction technique made to make it easier to stay undetected in a small environment and disorient the enemy.

When we were sure that they had all left the trucks, we opened fire on them. The night was turned to day from all the bright tracers flying from every direction onto our driveway. When it was over, no one was standing and there were small wisps of smoke coming from the holes where the bullets buried themselves in the ground. We were about to celebrate when I heard more glass breaking downstairs. I made my way downstairs and expertly weaved my way through the halls, checking every room and every corridor until I turned a corridor and found one. I shot him center mass and heard my gun click empty.

"Crap," I cursed.

Then out stepped another intruder. But before he could raise his barrel to shoot, I let my rifle fall to my hip, grabbed his gun, took out my tomahawk and chopped deeply into his arm. Then I delivered a finishing blow to the neck. I then carefully moved around the corner to the front door that was now broken down. Disregarding that, I opened a smaller picture frame next to it and revealed 2 Colt M1911's. Steven Algof's old favorites. I loaded and racked them and pushed on around the house. I encountered a few more intruders inside the house before Hector said there were no more intruders inside.

"Another wave incoming from the west. ETA 3 minutes," informed Hector. That meant they would come from up the driveway. But this time, we had time to prepare.

Everyone gathered in the bunker, also out of ammo, and I closed the door behind us. I led us into the armory and we geared up. Unfortunately there was no time for battle dress uniforms or boots so we suited up in what we were wearing. For the Cooper Gang it was what they wore all the time. For me it was jeans and a black T-shirt. For Sierra, jeans and a grey plaid flannel. We put on body armor, loaded magazines full of ammunition and gathered weapons. At first tonight felt like a mere home invasion. Now, it was more of a ground war on our home soil. This whole thing was getting personal and hitting close to home. But I wont let what happened before happen again. Never again. (Reference: John Pullers Origins)

Ch.19

Sly

We could have just opened the main door and taken them head on. They were probably waiting. But instead John took us deeper into the bunker. Through the dark halls and down several dusty flights of stairs. For a time I thought we would keep going forever into the ever darkening abyss. But then we finally reached a heavy steel door. Faint lights shone from underneath it. John tried to budge it but couldn't get it to move. Just then we started to hear explosions from above. The Fangs must be trying to break through the main doors of the bunker. Finally Murray stepped forward and was able to make the locks turn. With a loud creak the door opened to the outside and the moonlight shone down on us. We stayed and admired the peace for a moment. The tall grass swaying to the gentle summer breeze over the vast field that led to the airfield at eye level. When I looked up I could see the stars, countless in the sky. You can almost even see the bright band of the milky way stretching from horizon to horizon. But the peace was interrupted by another explosion at the main door. John cocked his rifle.

"Let's get some," he said and led us up the hill.

I hated walking up this damn hill. It was so steep and there were muddy patches everywhere. We finally made it to the top though on the flank of the Fangs. They had barely made a dent in the bunker and were clearly getting desperate. Bentley said they were now putting 30 pounds of plastic explosives on the door. Just then John spoke up with an Idea.

"Get ready and open fire when the explosives go off. Leave one," he instructed. Then he put his hand to his earpiece, "Hector, I want Ghostrider in the air now."

"Yes Sir," said Hector.

Then we waited for the Fangs to finish packing the C4. But they just kept going. They finally settled with 60 pounds. They all stood back and so did we in anticipation of the explosion. We saw the AC-130 rise up into the sky off in the distance unnoticed as we waited. The anticipation was sending chills up my spine. I've been close to explosions before, but never a mere 100 feet away from a bomb of this size. But then it went off, the shockwave sending the closest truck only 50 feet away flying over the heads of the Fangs standing behind it. I was knocked to the ground just by the concussion of the blast pounding against my eardrums and sucking the air out of my lungs. I took a knee to regain myself and looked up to see most of the others also disoriented. Bentley was knocked out unconscious and Penelope seemed to be having trouble herself maintaining her bearings. Murray was now puking behind a nearby bush. John, Sierra and Carmelita however, were still on their feet and although clearly feeling the effects of the concussion wave, were still trying to take a steady aim. I pulled myself to my feet and propped myself against a nearby tree. From there, I stumbled forward until I collapsed at the edge of the treeline. I pulled my rifle in front of me and gathered myself into a prone firing stance. I let loose a small burst that completely missed and leapt off into the opposite edge of the driveway. The muzzleflash temporarily put me in a daze, but as I waited for my eyes to readjust, me hearing started to come back.

The first thing I heard over the ringing was John shouting at me from a short distance away behind me. I turned to see him stumbling over to my firing position and gathering himself to take aim as well. Then came Carmelita to kneel next to me at the edge of the treeline. She was cupping one of her ears, as though it hurt more than the other. She looked clearly injured but still grasped her rifle in her other hand. Then finally, I could make out voices. First came the arguing tones of the Fangs, but shortly after I turned back to John to have him clumsily grab me by my shirt front and yell into my face.

"Get yourself together and light em' up!" he stumbled backward and started shooting into the driveway, although missing more often than not.

Then we all joined in all at once in the firing squad. I was still disoriented and the muzzleflash wasn't helping but I was still able to land a few hits here and there. Originally there were nearly 40 Fangs in the driveway. Now, a mere 30 seconds later, here was only 3. John yelled at the top of his lungs to stop firing and walked forward, still unsteady, but at least walking in a straight line. Carmelita helped me to my feet and we walked out from the treeline as well.

John wasted no time and dragged the 3 survivors together against one of the bullet ridden pickup trucks. He knelt down on one knee in front of one of them and in a sudden twist of fate, shot the other two in the head. The last remaining Fang screamed in terror and John took out his tomahawk and buried it deep in his leg. Again, the last Fang screamed in pain but John slammed his fist into the poor rats throat to shut him up. The rat doubled over to the side and coughed up a little blood before John grabbed him by the neck and pulled him back to slam him against the door of the truck. John tugged on the tomahawk still buried in the rat's thigh and he whimpered in pain. I couldn't stomach anymore of it. I turned away and Carmelita led me to check on our other friends. Sierra followed and left John to his interrogation.

John

That was all I needed to do. The bastard was putty in my hands from there on and to him, I was the devil himself. I wasn't really going to do anything else and I'll admit, I didn't need to do what I did, but they invaded my property and destroyed a decent portion of my house. I didn't owe him any favors. But despite this, I got down to business and started asking questions.

"I don't think I need to ask who you are," I began, "so how many more of you are there?"

I tugged on the tomahawk again and he stuttered his answer through clinched teeth. "More. There's many more," he answered desperately, "a full battalion."

"And where are they?"

"They… They'll be here soon." he gave a weak grin. 'This little shit.'

I pried the tomahawk out of his thigh and brought it down in a broad stroke on his other leg, chopping it off. The rat howled in pain and I squeezed his neck tighter. Tears were starting to fall now as he whimpered. He put up his hand defensively signalling that he had had enough and I let go of his neck to wait for an answer.

"There… There is…," he was out of breath, likely about to pass out from shock and blood loss. I didn't have a lot of time. "There's a larger invasion force coming up the road. And another… on foot… in the woods." He went limp and I watched him slowly slide against the truck door and hit the wet dirt unconscious. He would probably die in his sleep from his wounds in only a few minutes. So I stood up, took out my rifle and shot him in the head to save him the trouble. I turned back to the treeline to warn everyone.

Sly

I tried not to pay attention to the gore that had occurred behind me as I walked away, but before I had reached Murray and the others, John was finished and had caught up to us.

"We need to get ready," he was looking much better already. I was still barely able to walk, "there's more coming. Get up." He helped me get to my feet fully and started talking over the radio to Hector. I couldn't make out everything he said but I heard him asking about heat signatures within a 5 mile radius. "Open fire on all targets."

Shortly after, the AC-130 guns could be seen firing continuous arcs of fire from the sky and pounding the earth off in the distance. The fireballs created from the impacts could be seen through the treeline and I could feel the reverberations through my feet. For 2 minutes, as the gunship bombarded the earth the night was turned to day as random shadows danced through the woods and cast themselves over the ground. Most of these shadows were of the trees, but there were some that looked alive. There were a lot of them, and they were moving towards us. Sierra must have seen it too as she signalled to John and they both readied their weapons. Carmelita did the same but when I tried to as well I found I was too weak to raise my barrel. I dropped to a knee and did my best to get into a firing position.

The bombardment stopped, and we waited. Our ever vigilant firing line scanning the forest looking for any sign of movement. Anything to shoot at. But then something did move, it darted through the trees as fast as the eyes could track off to my right and then, without warning, something pounced on me, knocking me off balance. A hooded figure with a shroud over their face had a knife over their head ready to deliver a killing blow. On the downward stroke, I was just able to block it only inches from my face. It was now a wrestling match between us, a challenge of strength, and I was losing. I could almost feel the tip of the cold steel of the blade against my face when suddenly, all the pressure was released. The figure had been pulled to its feet in a chokehold from behind and was now struggling to breathe and maintain a stance. He was thrown over my saviors shoulder and in a violent series of movements, was hacked to death with a tomahawk. It was Carmelita? I had never seen her do something like that. This absurd show of force was unlike anything I had ever seen from her. No, it couldn't be.

Then she got up and darted away, only to attack another target. Sierra was doing the same. Now the forest was full of dark silhouettes hiding behind the trees. But instead of an aggressive ambush, they seemed to simply trying to not get slaughtered by whatever was killing them. Some were even running away. I made myself useful and proceeded to shoot anyone who was out of range of the two berserkers that now haunted the forest. Bright arcs of light shot every which way through the trees for what felt like forever. I could just make out John making incremental advances toward Murray, Bentley and Penelope's position in the middle of the kill zone to give better protection. I kept a distanced position with oversight of the whole area.

I kept a steady pace. Shoot a few shots, take cover, shoot some more, move when my position became too dangerous and reload when necessary. This continued for 10 long minutes until there were only a few more in the middle of the field. I left my position to finally identify who had saved my life. There was only two figures left and there was one person who was alone, ripping them apart with only a tomahawk. But then in a single movement, she decapitated one and buried the tomahawk into the other's chest. She spun around quickly to pull it out and embed it in his skull. It was all over. Now all that remained was Carmelita standing over their dead bodies covered in the blood of an entire invasion force that she had killed with her bare hands.

She stumbled backwards, as though not knowing what she had done. She looked around at the forest coated in blood before finding me up higher on the hill. She mouthed something and fainted where she stood. I immediately dropped my gun in the dirt and raced down to her aid. I slid to my knees and picked her up to check her vitals. She was still breathing but she was just unconscious. I saw Sierra nearby lying against a tree also covered in streaks of blood and dirt with her arm gun deployed. John was at her side as well. He gave me a look through a clearing and no words were needed to exclaim what was on everyone's minds.

'What in the hell just happened?'

Part 5: Fire in the Mountain

Connor

It was just a summer afternoon in Hawaii and I could see the sun going down over the horizon. This was intended to be a last family vacation before my son was born. With the Cold War winding down, everywhere we went seemed to have a more peaceful feel, like we could let go of the fear of nuclear annihilation every day and roam the world freely. It’s nice knowing that the world Sly would be born into would be more peaceful than the one I grew up in. No fear, just live his life and continue the family name. Of course, all that mattered to me now was living my life with my beautiful wife.

When the sun finally set I volunteered to go out and retrieve lunch so we could eat in our hotel room. I made the walk to the market about a mile and a half inland to get some chinese food. Then while I was walking back down the street, food in hand, I noticed a fight going in a back alley between two of the buildings between a black labrador and four tall bulldogs. He was barely holding up against the bigger bulldogs. I thought about walking past the alley as though I had seen nothing, it could be a deal gone wrong or worse… But I could never look my wife in the eyes again if I let someone die who I could’ve helped. I put the bags of food on the ground gently around the corner and creeped up slowly behind one of the bulldogs and threw him over my shoulder, knocking him out. Drawing the others attention, the labrador used a quick series of moves on two of the other bulldogs and they were soon lying unconscious on the dirt beneath our feet. I punched the last one in the face so hard I knocked him out with a single punch. When the bulldogs were all neutralized I walked over to the labrador.

“Thanks for the help mate,”he said, “They had it in for me.”

“No problem,” I replied, “What did they want.” I nodded to the unconscious bulldogs.you got a name?”

He subdued a small chuckle. “it’s something I like to call a misunderstanding.”

“Misunderstanding?” it didn’t sound right. Misunderstandings end with two people in a fist fight, not a 3 on 1 beatdown.

    “More like,” he paused to think for a moment, “like they’re a sore loser at their own game.”

    “I’m familiar with that buddy. You have a name?”

“Steven, Algof,” he replied offering his hand which I accepted to shake firmly.

“Conner. I think we should move before your friends come to.”

“Agreed.”

I led us out of the alley and I picked up my food still waiting at the corner. I checked to make sure everything in the bag was still there and I tied the top off with a knot.

“Staying at the hotel?” Steven questioned, likely noticing my bag.

“Yeah. Are you?”

“Yep, just came down to get some grub for my lady before those blokes tried to mug me.”

“Well how bout that. I can wait up if you want.”

“Sure, I’ll be quick,” and he ordered two dishes from an italian restaurant nearby.

----------------

    We chatted for the whole walk back to the hotel where it just so happened that he was staying in the conjoining room next to ours. My wife welcomed the idea of inviting my new friend over and his girlfriend for dinner. It was a good night.

Steven

Later that night after dinner I made a quick radio call to our handlers temporarily stationed in Los Angeles. I was personally opposed to having to regularly report to someone who was a few thousand nautical miles away but it’s out of my hands. My coworker posing as my girlfriend never let me forget though. I certainly never had to deal with this problem while working for Australian SAS but the US wanted my skills and I didn’t really have a choice, so I did as I was told for now.

“India reporting to command. Field update.”

There was a brief pause over the radio before a reply was heard. “Command is receiving. Go ahead.”

“Intel has been confirmed on Oahu. The weapon is real and it’s ready to be used.”

“Copy that India. Anything else to report?”

“The target, Conner Cooper, has been located.”

There was another pause. “Roger that India. You know what you have to do.” And the transmission ended and the line went dead.

----------------

Conner

The night before Steven agreed to join me on a jog around the resort around sunrise. So now we were just leaving the hotel. We were going to be running on a trail around the perimeter of the resort. While we jogged we talked freely about our adventures. I talked about my life of crime and he talked about his life in the Australian special forces. The more we talked, the more we bonded through our unconventional paths of life. Then when we approached the far edge of the resort furthest from the ocean, I began to feel a rumble. Steven grew curious and so did I. We wandered into the jungle until we came across a machine mounted to the ground spouting flames as it slowly dug itself deeper into the earth. It was shaped like a drill and manned my 6 armed guards. At first glance it might seem to be a new commercial land development project, but then I saw the Soviet Hammer and Sickle stenciled onto the side of it.

Before I could have a second thought, the guards finished what they were doing and left the machine lodged deep in the ground but not before casting a large camouflage tarp over it. Me and Steven then creeped in to investigate the mysterious structure, careful not to alert the guards. There was a thin manual left behind on a console mounted to the machine. I picked it up to read only to find it written completely in Russian. There were a few pictures here and there but I wasn’t able to interpret them for the general structure of the machine having all the captions in an unfamiliar language. Steven offered to interpret the pages and I handed him the manual. He leaned against the machine for a few minutes while he read the small booklet.

“It’s a seismic weapon of mass destruction,” he said closing the manual and putting it down. “It’s meant to reactivate the volcano on this island to destroy the Pearl Harbor Naval base.”

“You’re serious?” I was surprised by how nonchalant he sounded over it, but then again, maybe he used to deal with things on this magnitude often.

“Deadly. We should follow those guards who just left. These machines are connected in a series around a central mechanism at the core of the island. Maybe they’ll take us there.”

“Steven,” he was about to head off into the jungle in pursuit but I stopped him. “Why does it have to be us? Why can’t we just call the police and go back to the resort?”

“Local law enforcement agencies aren’t equipped to handle a threat this serious. And if we called the Navy then then the Russians will see them coming. We need stealth more than we need a big gun.”

“I get that, but why does it have to be us?” I honestly just wanted to return to my vacation but the more we argued, the more I realized our hand was needed above all else.

“I need your help in this mate. I don’t know if I can do this alone.”

Alright. Fine, but I need my gear.” We found landmarks in the area we could use to find our way back and started the trek back through the jungle.

----------------

When I returned to the hotel, I told my wife the situation. Obviously she objected to me returning to any sort of suspicious activities but I told her to catch the next flight out of Hawaii and back to Paris.

“I’ll make it up to you.” I said, “I hear Mexico is nice this time of year.”

She was out of the country within the hour and me and Steven we suited up to go back into the jungle. I wore a blue shirt and had my army green backpack and cane while Steven had a military battle-dress uniform with jungle camouflage, a basic leg pouch, backpack, knife, and a suppressed M1911 with 4 extra magazines. When night fell again, we headed off into the jungle. We moved quickly but quietly, darting swiftly through the trees. We found the machine from that morning and continued on in the direction the 6 guards left by. We eventually found a wide dirt trail that led directly to the mountain to the middle of the island and we followed it until we encountered an entrance to a cavern big enough to drive a large truck through. There was noone there and it appeared to be abandoned so we entered and began our journey to heart of the mountain.

We walked for about ten minutes in darkness, feeling our way along the walls until we started to hear the noises of mining and construction activity. Then a light appeared around a corner and as we approached it the noise turned into audible voices. Unfortunately they were all in Russian, but fortunately Steven was fluent in Russian. When we came in view of the miners and workers inside the large cave, I could see their massive operation. They had a large drilling tower in the middle of the room aiming straight down into the earth surrounded by temporary housing structures. Steven said it looked like enough to accommodate a small Soviet operational detachment.

We moved stealthily along the edge of the cavern until we were able to come up with a plan of attack. The guards in here weren’t fully armed because they don’t expect anyone to attack them in their own base. Most of them were just armed with a pistol, no armor, no gear. It was obvious that they were alone though as they were alone without reinforcements or restocks though due to their deficit in supplies. Steven was able to listen in on conversations whenever he got close enough, and he found that this was the Soviet Union's final attempt to attack the US by crippling their naval assets in the Pacific based in Pearl Harbor, which would leave the Hawaiian islands vulnerable to invasion. Steven said the weapon would be ready for use in 3 days unless we stopped the drill. Thankfully, we only need to stop this one. There were other drills around the island but none of them were really capable of doing any significant damage other than causing a small earthquake.

Using my knowledge of how machines like this worked, I was able to determine that the best way to stop it would be to cut the supply of coolant so the drill would overheat and break and then to cut the power so the personnel couldn’t fix or use it. I told Steven my plan and he agreed. But before he left our hiding spot overlooking the cave, I held him back. There was something I did almost as a ritual before every job I did. I pulled out two cigars with a unique concoction to both ease my nerves and heighten my senses from my leg pocket and offered one to Steven.

Steven

“What are you doing?” I quietly lectured Connor, “they might smell it.”

“No they wont, its odorless,” he replied and I reluctantly took one and we both held our cigars in our mouths while Connor lit them both. I drew a breath and was surprised by the vanilla-like flavor mixed with something I couldn’t quite determine and let the smoke out of my lungs slowly. I had smoked cigars before while in undercover operations while working both for the US and SAS, this wasn’t a tobacco cigar. Then suddenly I felt my mind clear and my senses activate like they never had before. My heartbeat slowed down to where I could feel each powerful pulse and I could feel every molecule in my body.

“What exactly is this?” I asked, taking the cigar out of my mouth to examine it further.

“It’s a blend that uses a type of coffee ground that’s been modified to have a stronger effect on the brain and stay in the body for a longer period of time, but without the crash that comes with coffee. My tech specialist came up with it.”

“When we get out of here,” I put the cigar back in my mouth and drew another breath, “I’m going to have to look into this.”

“You got it. And by the way, you don’t need to use it long,” he took out his cigar and cut off the end with his cane before putting it back in his pouch. “It takes effect in a few seconds after exposure. Using it longer dosen’t do you any favors.”

“Alright then,” I pulled out my knife and cut off the end of my own cigar and put it in my own pouch. “Let’s get on with it.”

----------------

The plan went perfectly. I found the building that held all the machinery needed to keep the drill running and I began looking around for a coolant supply until I came across a large tank with pipes running through and around it. I hurriedly looked around for tools to start disassembling the machines various pieces until I was able to confirm that it was no longer pumping coolant to the drill outside. I snuck back outside and found a concealed position in front of the building by a stack of covered boxes. Then I waited for something to break and only 10 minutes later, there was a loud crack that came from the drilling hole. The machine operators quickly turned off the machine and started lifting out the drill for inspection. That’s when Connor cut the power lines from the generator behind the building on the opposite side of the cave. The drill was now stuck in a broken state in the drill hole with no hope of repair in the near future. The plan was working perfectly.

Then guards started coming out from the buildings in masses. Soon there were 50 men in the cavern. It was time for the final phase of the plan, the messy part. Now that everyone was out in the open, Conner cut the power to the rest of the cave, submerging the entire inside of the cavern in darkness accept for the occasional flashlight attached to the guns of the guards. Then we moved in and started killing them all. I didn't have the ammo for everyone so I used my knife. I gave Connor a knife as well and I could see a silhouette dancing through the light beams slitting throats. Soon there were only ten left, circled up near the base of the drill. We would need to take them head on. Connor and I attacked from the same side, being careful to avoid the random shots fired by the terrified guards. Connor must have dropped his knife at some point because now he was using his bare hands. He punched one so hard in the face that his neck snapped and incapacitated another guard by judo throwing another guard at him so they pinned eachother. I finished off 3 with a series of quick blows and shot them all with my M1911 when they were disoriented. Then I shot the two Conner had incapacitated. The other 4 had decided to try to make a run for the exit. Before they could, I was able to shoot two of them in the back but I had no more bullets in the gun to shoot the last two. Me and Connor chased after them into the night.

We caught up to them at the entrance to the tunnel and fought them in a fist fight. I heard a single gunshot from the guards but I quickly put one of them in an arm bar, forcing him to the ground. Getting on top of his back, I pulled out my knife and reached around to slit his throat. I got up to see Connor desperately beating down the last guard. He had broken one of the guards arms and it was now stuck in an unnatural angle. Then he used that arm to throw him over himself and broke his neck with his foot. I had never seen anything like it.

Then he fell backwards and put his hand over his abdomen. Blood trailed from between his fingers and stained his shirt and pants. I quickly went over to him and examined him. Lifting his hand, I saw that he had been shot. That guard that fired the bullet must have been lucky enough to shoot him before Connor got too close. I quickly dragged him off the path to a tree and pulled out some supplies. I didn’t have much but I took off my blouse from my battle dress uniform and put pressure on his wound to slow the bleeding. He winced in pain but put his hand on the torn cloth to help keep it there. The bullet must still be inside him. With the nearest hospital nearly 10 miles away at the hotel, I did the last thing I knew that I could do. I pulled out my multi tool, M1911 and another magazine.I pulled the bullet out of 6 of the 7 cartridges and poured the gunpowder inside onto Connors wound. And put the last bullet in the chamber of the M1911. I put the end of the barrel as close as I could to the wound without shooting him.

I looked at him and he held out his hand and I took it. He squeezed it with a white knuckle grip and gave me a nod. He leaned his head back against the tree and braced himself. I looked down at the gun, made sure my aim was just right, and pulled the trigger. The bullet went off into the woods somewhere, but the muzzle flash was enough to ignite all the gunpowder I had put into the wound. It flared and seared Connors skin and burned off the fur immediately around it. He screamed in pain as the sparking of the gunpowder continued but I held him against the tree until it subsided and the screaming stopped. He laid limp on the tree, passed out, and I reinspected the wound. It worked! The wound had stopped bleeding. But now there was the problem of getting Connor to a hospital. I pulled the unconscious racoon onto my back in a fireman's carry and started the 10 mile hike through the jungle. The son of a bitch was crazy enough to take a bullet and keep fighting. He was tough and determined, and for that Connor had my eternal respect.

----------------

When I arrived the sun was starting to rise over the horizon. I had hiked through the night without a second of sleep to save him. I told the hotel staff that we were hiking through the jungle and he had been shot from an unknown location. They believed it but they didn’t have the equipment to perform surgery on him. So they immediately had him airlifted to the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital. There he was put in a medically induced coma for the next week to prepare him for surgery. In that time, I informed my handlers that the mission was a success. I also mailed the cigar that Connor had given me to Raven, a younger friend of mine who was just graduating from college with 3 separate degrees at the age of 23. I didn’t want to give the government anything I didn’t need to so he was the only other person I trusted with it.

----------------

Connor

I woke a week later from that cave, at first thinking it was just a dream. Then I saw my wife by my side and Steven standing by the door wearing normal clothes. Then it all came back to me. The Soviets, the bullet, and passing out to the searing pain of the gunpowder burning into my flesh. Steven walked out so I could talk to my wife for a few minutes. She had been worried sick, saying that the doctors said I would have died from my injuries if I hadn’t been saved by Steven and I had been asleep for a full week under intense medical care. I looked around to notice that I had been attached to all sorts of medical machines and I had an IV in my arm. Then she said that in the time I had been gone, she found out that Sly would be due in 4 months. It was almost time. Tears of joy started to roll down my face and I pulled her in close with my free arm. We just stayed there like that for a while and for a moment, everything was alright. I did one last job and now I’m officially done. Nothing else mattered except my family.

The moment was broken by Steven reentering the room with a in a black suit.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Cooper,” the man said, “ would you might giving us a moment with your husband?” She complied and stepped out. Steven closed the door behind her and the badger continued. “Connor Cooper, your reputation precedes you.”

This obviously wasn’t a leisure visit out of goodwill. “Can I help you?”

“Well I was just wondering if you enjoyed your stay in the US,” he took a seat behind a table in the corner and Steven walked to stand behind him off to the side. His face was solemn, like he was trying to communicate to me that the badger didn’t mean well.”

“What do you want?” I pushed.

“Not much for small talk? Fine.” He pulled out a file, “My name is George Barkely. And you are in some deep trouble.” He looked though the contents of the file and read aloud its contents. My criminal record, everything. “You’re in some deep trouble Mr. Cooper. I could have have you arrested right now.”

“I’m guessing there’s an ‘and’,” I countered, “Let me ask again. What do you want?”

“Well to get to the point, after seeing your skills, I’d be willing to pardon all of this, if you’d be willing to, do some time in service for your country.”

“But I’m not a US citizen,” I replied, I was stalling, I needed to come up with a valid enough argument to escape the situation.

“Then call it having your name cleared. Your record in this country alone puts you on the 10 most wanted list. If you don’t take my offer then I have the power to put you away for the greater portion of the remainder of your life,” Behind him I caught a glimpse of Steven subtly shaking his head. He was giving me a warning. He didn’t want me to take his offer? “What’s it going to be?”

“Sorry I’ll pass.” I still needed a plan and I didn’t have one. I had no choice but to trust Steven.

“Alright then,” George looked across the room at the binds that made the room private from the hallway then looked back at me. He put his hands together in his lap. “We could also have your wife tried for aiding and being an accessory to your crimes. Her life would be destroyed because of you. Your unborn son is no exception.”

I was on the edge of tearing out the IV from my arm and beating him to death with everything in the room. I’ve taken insults and threats from men bigger and more threatening than the badger but this bastard was threatening the wellbeing of my family, something I could never tolerate. My calm expression was replaced by a cold glare. “Mr. Barkely, do you have a family?”

“Yes, I have a wife and 20 year old son named James, and I know I couldn’t live with myself if I missed the chance to save them.”

“Well, George, if you don’t let us go in peace, I will hunt you and your family down and kill them in front of your fat face. Then I would kill you. If you touch my family then I swear I will destroy you,” I meant every word. Steven suppressed a smirk and George raised his eyebrows and reeled backwards a little.

We just stayed there in silence for a minute, as though in a staring contest to the death. Finally the badger closed his file and stood up. “That’s how it’s going to be huh? Fine. You’ll change your mind.” And he stormed out, slamming the door behind him.

    Shortly after he left, Steven walked over and dropped a small object in a plastic bag into my lap.

    “The doctors dug that out of your abdomen. You’re lucky it didn’t hit any vital organs and you’re expected to make a full recovery,” he started. He sat down in a chair at my bedside before continuing, “That took some serious balls mate. But you’re not out of the woods yet,” a Turtle walked in and closed the door behind him, standing next to the doorway. “This is Oscar, you can call him Raven in the field. He’s in the same boat as you are, his family is at risk just like yours. There are six others but they can’t join us right now.” He looked at Oscar, “Would you like to introduce yourself?”

    The turtle stepped forward hesitantly. “Mister Cooper, I’ve heard alot about you,” he began.

    “Oscar, that’s not how you introduce yourself,” intervened Steven.

    “Right, sorry. I don’t talk to people in person a lot.” He shuffled nervously before regaining his composure. “I’m Oscar. It’s nice to meet you. I work with Steven and the other field operators regularly as a intel specialist in the field. I’m basically the brains of their operations.” He paused for a minute thinking of what else to say. “Look, I haven’t seen my family in 6 months and along with everyone else in our unit, we’re stuck doing what we do or George will make a move on them. I tried to do something about it on my own once but when I did he kidnapped my only son at the time before he hatched from his egg. I haven’t heard anything about him since. I think he might do the same to your family.”

    Steven put out his hand to stop Oscar from talking any further. They now had my full attention. “Connor, I personally don’t have any other family, but the others do and they’re in danger every day. Dragging you into this mess is the last thing I want to do, but please, we need your help.”

Oscar

We had Connor’s full cooperation. After recovering from his injuries a week later, we took him and his wife to our secret base in Idaho. I had bought it years ago before I started working for the government using funds acquired from various hacking jobs. I placed a GPS shroud over it so it could never be found by the prying eyes of the government's new spy satellite array. It didn’t look like much with its visually appealing house on a hill, but underneath the facade, there was a full fortress with a bunker, airfield, various vehicle hangars, hidden automated defenses and all the necessities to wage a war. I designed the layout to be virtually uncapturable and for us it was the only home the operators had left.

Once we made sure the thief and his wife were settled, I took Connor to the bunker and briefed him on everything we knew about George Barkley. He was known in the government as the Contractor, not officially under the responsibility to follow any sort of laws in his actions. This made him ruthless but effective as the chief of the US government’s Black Ops Division. He had a deceased wife and a 20 year old son named James Barkley. However, George had been known to be abusive to both his wife and his son, so when she died, James had no reason to stay near him.

    “He began studying law in Great Britain and filed a restraining order against his own father, so I doubt we can use the son as leverage,” I said before continuing with the slide show. “We had located his house only a few months ago where he stayed year round under heavy guard. It’s a 50 square acre estate on the Knik River near Anchorage Alaska. The house sits on the waterfront so after some subtle snooping I determined the best method of entry to be an amphibious assault.” I changed the slide to a blueprint for a new type of vehicle I had developed. “This is the Sentinel, an all terrain, bullet proof supercar capable of tested speeds up to 160mph and traversing water.”

    Steven, who was next to Connor, spoke up, “This is new to me too. Are you telling me that this ‘car’ can drive on water?”

    “Yes Stevie, keep up.” I changed the slide again. “We’ve had a plan for a while now to atack the house, using a multi-front assault from all sides to disorient and eliminate the 100 man team patrolling the estate. The only problem was until now, we were a man short.”

    “We can finish this, Connor, we can finally end this madness,” Steven added when I had finished.

    “Well you know I’m in, but do you guys have a name?” Me and Steven looked at each other baffled. “Wait, you’re telling me that after all this time, you don’t even have a name?”

    “Well we exist under the Black Ops Division which itself doesn’t officially exist,” I explained. “We used to run missions in the USSR. If we were found or killed in action the US didn’t want to be tied to our operations through a name.”

    “But you obviously don’t work for the Division anymore do you?” I countered. There was a brief pause before Steven spoke up.

    “Well the operators that work under the Black Ops Division have all worked for the military in some way at some point and most of us had fought in wars all around the world before joining.”

    “So the Warfighters then?” Connor suggested.

    There was a stillness as the name rang through the room, echoing off the concrete walls. Warfighters? It sounded catchy, a bit aggressive. I suddenly felt slightly out of place. Being the only member of the group without former military experience. Finally Steven broke the silence.

    “Hell yeah.”

----------------

Connor

We took a boat up the coast of North America on a 4 day voyage from Seattle, Washington to Alaska where we dropped anchor roughly 3 nautical miles from Anchorage. It was around 2am and foggy so we could barely make out the silhouette of the coast. We armed the 4 Sentinels we brought with us, making sure they and our own gear were fully functional. The cars were designed to be capable of deploying mounted weapons but they hadn’t been outfitted yet. Oscar said they were still in the prototype phase and didn’t have all the features they would have once finished. Once we finished our final inspection, Oscar dropped a door that led into the frigid Pacific water and the team, with the exception of Oscar, drove off the ramp and plowed into the ocean. Once everyone had driven into the ocean and confirmed that they were buoyant, we took off for the Knik River. Passing Anchorage, we could make out the lights of various container and fishing ships on the sea as we tore through the water with ease.

“Target building in 2 miles,” Oscar said over the radio, “good luck gentlemen.”

The three cars behind me increased speed and broke our formation. Two climbed onto shore the house would be on and tore through the woods with their lights off. The car to my right veered off to the beach on the opposite side of the river and made its way to a cliff overlooking the entire property. I drove the car Steven and I were in onward towards the house and turned my lights off. I could faity make out the houses lights through its glass walls. It was an impressive modern style house with glass surrounding the majority of the structures waterfront walls. I radioed to the team.

“Raven I have visual on the structure.” I turned off the engine and started coasting, careful not to make a sound.

“Copy that, are all units in position?” I heard 3 confirmations over the radio, one for each Sentinel driver. “Ok then here we go. Move on my mark.” I tensed up, this was the part that I was worried about. “10, 9, …” he continued the countdown and I gripped my gun. Of course I had my cane but for this job I opted to also carry a M1911 and a new experimental weapon called the XM4. I was going to find George and make him pay, “2, 1…”

The silence of the river was broken by loud bursts of automatic machinegun fire from M60s all around the property. It was part of the plan to soften up the security with heavy suppressive fire and cause chaos so Steven and I could move in with a more stealthy approach. The night was brought to life with the bright flashes of the bullets dancing in all different directions from both the Warfighters and security. I started the engine back up again and made my way to the base of the house. I fired a harpoon from the front of the Sentinel to anchor it to the submerged base of the building and we climbed out and up to the side where we smashed in a window and made our way inside.

The house seemed mostly deserted except for a TV with a cracked screen in one room playing CNN. Barkley must have been watching the news just before the attack. Then I heard the clamoring or guns and footsteps approaching from down a hallway. Steven didn’t hesitate as he shot through the walls and we saw a few guards fall from around the corner. We proceeded to quickly sweep through the rest of the house, gunshots still rattling off outside. We cleared the rest of the house without encountering anyone else. I started to think the old bastard might have gotten away until we went into the basement and there was a locked door. Barkley must’ve been inside. I quickly got to work picking the lock and opened the door.

There he was, shaking in his chair in front of a computer. Just then I heard a distorted voice over a speaker. “George Barkley, you got yourself into this mess. It’s far from our problem.” And the voice cut out. He slowly turned to face us, a petrified look on his face. I picked the fat badger out of his seat and threw him on the floor. He struggled to sit up and I put my gun in his face. He started to beg for his life.

“Please, I’m sorry.”

“Not good enough.” I pressed the barrel of my M1911 against his forehead.

“You can have anything you want. I have connections. I can make you rich. I can clear your record…”

“You threatened my family you son of a bitch.” I interrupted.

“Please just let me go,” he put his shaking hands up in surrender. “What do you want from me?”

I legitimately thought about it for a moment and pulled my gun away from his head a few inches. I was in the clear position of power here. I could probably have whatever I wanted. Money. Power. But there was only one thing that really mattered to me. “There actually is something you can do for me.”

Steven shuffled nervously behind me, “Yes! Anything!”

“Go to hell.” And I shot him twice in the head. His body hit the floor with a heavy thud and I put the blood covered gun away. I turned to Steven who still had his gun in a ready position. “Ready to go?” He nodded. “Alright then, let's light this place up.”

----------------

    We slipped silently back into the Sentinel. Disengaging and retracting the harpoon, we started to slip away by the current of the river. Steven got on the radio.

    “Raven this is India. Mission success. We’re clear.”

    “Copy that India,” said Oscar over the static of the radio, “payload inbound.”

    Suddenly the gunfire stopped. It only took a quick minute before the house was hit by a guided high explosive missile. The building splintered into a trillion little shards of wood, metal and glass. Then another one hit the debris, further scattering the remains so that there would be nothing left of the badger or his house. It was as though nothing had ever existed there.

    I turned on the engine and turned the car around to begin the trip downstream. Doing so I saw the other Sentinels diving into the river as well. They had countless paint chips but still barely looked dented. They started to talk over the radio, comparing notes and details. Then started to speculate as to what would happen to them next to them and their families whom some hadn’t seen in years. The debate continued until we arrived back at the boat. We boarded through the ramp which closed behind us and we started the 4 day trip back home.

Steven

Connor returned to Paris with his wife shortly after the mission. We informed his that he was welcome whenever he liked and he offered to be a part-time stealth consultant. He didn’t want to commit fully to the team and instead, focus his efforts on raising Sly. I couldn’t blame him. I would do the same in his position. He introduced the team to his gang back in France, Jim McSweeny and an intellectual mastermind who went by Dr. M. McSweeney was friendly enough but Dr. M was especially bitter and became increasingly more so as the years passed, likely in response with me working with Connor.

Sly Cooper was born a healthy racoon 3 months after Connor returned home. I posed as his uncle and was present for his first and second birthday, but I dared not jeopardize his family any further. After that, I only ever met Connor when he needed my help or the Warfighters needed his. For a while we were close.

But after the mission in Alaska Connor was hooked again. He felt the rush of action and he loved it. He jumped back into his life of crime and eventually got his son involved, something he said he didn’t want to do. But he couldn’t help it, he was addicted to being a thief. But one operation went bad. I was there with him when he encountered by a mysterious owl who Connor said went by the name of Clockwerk. I tried to kill the bird but conventional weapons had seemingly no effect on him, so he got away. A month later, in 1992, Connor Cooper and his wife were killed in their home. I was visiting and was just returning from the local store, getting food for dinner and upon coming into view of the house I saw Clockwerk soaring off into the night from the house. I raced over to find Connors dead body in the living room and his wife’s in the kitchen. After searching I found a young Sly Cooper, crying on the closet floor. He was physically unhurt but I could tell he would never fully recover from that night.

I took him from the house and to my car and started to think of what to do. I couldn’t adopt him or else he might end up being someone like me, or worse, he might join the Warfighters, and I could never forgive myself if that happened. I couldn’t just leave him on the streets to fend for himself, so I did the only thing I could think of. I drove to the countryside to a lesser-known orphanage known as the Happy Camper Orphanage. The boy was asleep by the time I got there which was likely for the best. Just in case, I gently injected a small amount of tranquilizer fluid into his arm and I carried him to the doorstep. I leaned him up against a porch post and rang the doorbell. Then I ran behind a nearby hedge and waited for someone to answer. Mrs. Puffin, the owner of the orphanage opened the door and after careful inspection, brought the unconscious racoon inside. I failed Connor by letting him die. But at least I can save his son. Connor had gone to war for his family, so maybe now his son can live in peace.

I returned to the car and looked at a flashdrive Connor had it in his pocket when I found him. I plugged it into the computer console built into the dashboard and opened its contents. There was a single video labeled “To Sly Cooper From Dad” I opened and watched the video. When it finished, I closed it and turned on a camera built into the dashboard to record my own message to Sly. I called it “For The Son of the Thief”.

9 years later, I would die in what would have been my final mission. If I had survived, I would have tasked myself in finding Sly again to deliver him the message.

Oscar

Years passed before I finally found my son by hacking into the French criminal database in 2002. He was doing well by the side of a racoon and a hippo. They were criminals for which I was disappointed, but I suppose the one I should really have been disappointed in was myself. I was never there for him and now he was off on his own. But although it was too late for me to be his dad, I still looked out for him. Whenever he seemed to be in trouble, I would set something into motion that he could use to his advantage. I was his guardian angel. I watched him over the years until the day I died. I was proud of him, he had my brains and his mother's heart. Before I died in 2007, I made a video message labeled “Bentley”. But before I could send it I was killed by a Scorpion assassin in a hotel in New York City. I was the last original member of the Warfighters to die. Then all that remained were John Puller and Sierra.


Part 4: Ground Zero

John

The plan was originally to strike all the bases in a series, one after the other, but I told Hector to take us home. We gained a lot of new information about the Scorpions that could greatly change our situation. But that wasn’t the only reason. The plan was an absolute disaster. The Cooper Gang didn’t think so but in my eyes everything went to hell and we barely made it out alive. This operation, even with all the unknown variables, should have been quick and clean. Me and Sierra would have been fine but I didn’t know how good Sly and Carmelita were at improvising a plan while in the heat of battle. But when I actually thought about it aside from my personal opinion, they did well. That trick Sly did with the grappling hook was clever. I told my thoughts to Sierra and she said although I had a point, I wasn’t being rational about it. Yes, we went into the field with a plan that was made in only a few hours and attacked with almost no preparation time at all but even so Sly and Carmelita performed spectacularly under pressure and they made it out mostly unharmed.

After an hour of over thinking and arguing over it we changed back into our casual clothes, my white T-shirt and jeans and her flannel and jeans. Then we joined everyone back in the bar area of the C-17 as they celebrated. Me and Sierra toasted with a stiff drink to ease the nerves.

----------------

When we made it back to Idaho the next morning I immediately went to one of the rooms in the back of the bunker and started uploading the stolen hard-drives into Hector's database so he could analyze them. According to the estimates the download would take 2 weeks. For two weeks I would need to find something to do. I let myself collapse into a swivel chair and looked up at the oversized computer monitor. The only thing on it was the unmoving progress bar that measured the time left to complete its download in hours and minutes. I watched it fluctuate, jumping hours at a time thinking of something to do. Then an idea came to mind. What about Paris? Sierra has wanted to go for the longest time and I’m sure Sly Murray and Bentley would be ok with it. Maybe I should ask Carmelita for the info on a decent hotel to stay at. I was fine sleeping on a couch but I was always more concerned about Sierras comfort than my own. If Sierra came to Paris then I would be just fine with renting a  nice appartment. I suppose it's my subconscious gentleman putting ideas in my head. It's a bit of a weakness I admit but I love my fiancé and she sure knows how to get me to do stuff.

I walked back to the house where Murray was just finishing making breakfast. While he started to serve everyone his signature eggs and waffles, I told Sierra my idea to go to Paris. She was a bit hesitant but I reminded her how she always told me about how she’s always wanted to go to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower and walk the streets of the”City of Love”.

“But what about the mission,” she reminded me, trying to act professional and keep her excitement in check.

“We have two weeks before we can even look at the new intel,” I informed her, “besides we could use the opportunity to decompress and work on your scrapbook.”

She put her hands on her hips and looked away when I mentioned her scrapbook. It was a lesser known hobby of hers to take pictures from around the world and preserve them. She even did it while we were in the Warfighters although she technically wasn’t allowed to. I was in most of them. In a few of them she was with her twin sister, Neyla. She’s never said what actually happened between the two of them. All I’ve ever gotten out of her was that she wanted nothing to do with her, yet without her she wouldn’t have been in the Warfighters. I always thought it had something to do with her special abilities but I could never say for sure.

“Screw it,” she finally spoke up and looked back at me, “two weeks in Paris and we get back to work. But until we get back,” she leaned in and whispered in my ear, “you’re mine.” she kissed me on the cheek and walked over to the table where the eggs and waffles were waiting. I stood there in a bit of a daze before I snapped myself out of it and joined the others at the table to tell them about our new plan.

----------------

Sly

All 6 of us left the following morning on the C-17 to go back to Europe, even Penelope. It was nice to see her and Bentley getting along again but I had to admit it was a little awkward, being that less than a year ago she was trying to kill me. Technically it was actually a few hundred years ago but that doesn't count. Other than that it was nice to finally be going back home after that mission. Everything just seems so different. We had put our lives on the line before but this was different. Instead of having Death lurking around every corner, during the mission it felt more like Death was frantically chasing us with a chainsaw. If you weren’t quick enough or if you made a wrong move then it would all be over in the blink of an eye. I was still in that mindset. I tried to look calm but just knowing that the Fangs were still out there making vampires by the hundreds was enough to keep me on edge. I was barely able to sleep last night or on the plane ride back to the US. Carmelita must have been noticing my anxiety and sat next to me on a couch in a small room closer to the front of the plane. My original intent in coming here was to be alone, but Carmelitas presence was always welcome.

“What’s wrong?” she crossed her legs and sat opposite from me. I looked up to see a worried look on her face.

“I just can’t relax.”

“Then tell me about it,” she put her hand on mine and I softened up.

“It’s just… I can’t believe what we saw in Russia was real,” I started.

“But we made it out alive.”

“That’s not the point. They turned millions of innocent people into vampires just to stage the end of the world. That’s the kind of thing you hear about in movies but this was right in front of us. I’ve seen alot but I could have never imagined evil like that.”

“There’ll always be evil out there Sly. And there’ll always be someone out there to stop it,” I suppose that helped a little but that wasn’t all that I was thinking about.

“What are we gonna do?”

“After we get back we train and we attack another base. Rinse and repeat until it's done,” she replied.

“That’s not what I meant,” I looked into her deep hazel eyes, hoping she could read my thoughts. “when this is all over, what are we gonna do?”

She looked down at the blue rug in the middle of the room for a moment before meeting my gaze once more. “I’m retiring from Interpol.”

“What?” I was shocked. Interpol was more than a job for her, it was part of her identity. As long as I could remember I had always known her as ‘Inspector Carmelita Fox’. The idea of her giving up her badge sounded as far fetched as the idea of aliens coming to earth just to collect cheese burgers.

“I’ve thought about it over and over in my head. No-one would buy the idea of you returning to interpol after a several month extended vacation. You would probably be court martialed and fired for desertion in the best case scenario. And if they found out we were together then they might use me to get to you. It’s the only way I could think of. Interpol would need to go, but I just don’t know what we would do afterwards.” There was a stillness in the air as we tried to read each other's thoughts. We couldn’t stay in Paris, sooner or later Interpol would get lucky and find us. With that said we probably need to leave Europe altogether because of Interpol's heavy presence on their home soil. But then an idea came to mind.

“What if we moved to the US?” I suggested.Carmelita sat up and cocked her head to the side, as though processing what I said. “We could stay with John for a while until we find our own place.”

A smile slowly crept across her face and she scooted closer to me.I layed back across the couch and she made herself comfortable resting herself on top of me. I loved cuddling with her. Carmelita radiated with warmth as she buried her face in my shirt.

“Sounds wonderful,” she whispered.

And that was all the comfort I needed. I wrapped my arms around Carmelita and suddenly all my nerves were at ease and I was finally able to let my eyelids fall. As I fell into a deep sleep all I could think about was if I should take the next step in our relationship. I felt a grin subtly crawling across my face as I thought of the life we could have together.

----------------

We arrived back in Paris around 5am on a Friday. Not seeing anything else non-thieving related we could do, we showed Sierra our safehouse and Carmelita said they could stay in her apartment while she stayed here with me at the safehouse.

“I hope you don’t mind but I hadn’t cleaned the place in a while.”

“It’s ok, it can’t be worse than John's garage when he’s got one of his clever ideas,” countered Sierra and they shared a laugh. I was glad Sierra and Carmelita were getting along. They went out to get coffee a few blocks away at a shop by the newly repaired fountain by Dimitris old nightclub. I stayed behind with John and we climbed to the roof of the safehouse. We looked out over the buildings that spread over the landscape with the Effel Tower dominating the skyline in the distance.

‘It’s a nice view,” said John leaning on the roof ledge

“Yeah,” I walked up from behind him and leaned on the ledge next to him, “It really never gets old.”

“I bet it doesn’t,” he turned around and sat on the ledge, “sorry to talk about work while we’re on vacation but I need to ask. How long have you been doing this kind of thing?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, being a thief. When did you start?” I wasn’t really prepared for that question. I looked out over the horizon at the rising sun trying to think back to when it all started. I threw myself into the world of crime when in 2002 when I was only 18, it was almost 2009 now. It had been 6 and a half years since I left the orphanage and set out with the gang. It’s hard to believe so much time had passed. So much had changed yet it still felt like everything stayed the same. I told him my story. How it started and we talked about our various adventures. I told him about Clockwerk, Neyla, the time traveling, even the Cooper Vault. John talked about his various travels and his missions that he said he technically wasn't supposed to talk about. He said the number of missions Bentley uncovered was only a third of his actual number, just what was put on record. He claimed to have completed 61 various missions. He talked about his trips around the world dealing with crime lords, rogue nations and supernatural threats alike. We would have spent whole morning up on that roof sharing stories if it hadn’t been for his phone ringing from a text.

“There’s a dance this evening at the local nightclub,”he said looking at a text from Sierra, “the girls want to go. Should we crash the party?”

“Heck yeah let’s do it,” I responded cheerily.

“Awsome. Just try not to steal anything from the club owner this time,” he chuckled, alluding back to when we stole the Clockwerk tail feathers from Dimitri.

“Hey, I’ll try my best,” I laughed along and we walked back inside to rejoin Murray in the kitchen who was already ordering pizza for lunch. John went to the couch where he began talking on the phone to Hector.

----------------

Bentley

Penelope has never been to the hideout in Paris before. I showed her around the immediate area surrounding Dimitris old nightclub and we opted to stay and have lunch at the pavilion behind the building. It was nice and the afternoon only got better when Sly told me over the binocucom that they had made plans to go to a dance at the nightclub. Penelope blushed when I extended the invitation to her, which she happily accepted.

We finished our lunch and started on our way home. We were just at the door when one of Johns supercars rolled up to the front door. I expected John to climb out but instead the passenger door swung open and there was a box in the seat. Unsure what It was I rolled back down the ramp and across the street to examine the box. I opened it to find a jumble of metal parts and a letter that read ‘I had been working on this for a few weeks. Thought it was the right time to give it to you, John.’

Not sure what to make of it yet, Penelope helped load the box onto my wheelchair and I took it inside where I dumped the contents onto my desk. It didn’t take me long before we figured out what the gift was and I looked at Penelope in disbelief. John had made me a set of exo-legs to help me walk again. I wouldn’t need to live in a wheelchair anymore! We set to work quickly putting the legs together and getting them fitted. A few hours later, I stood up from my chair and took my first steps in years. I almost cried with joy.

The rest of the evening was spent with Penelope as we picked out a suit and dress for the dance later that night.

John

We arrived fashionably late at the dance that evening. Murray said he didn’t want to go saying he would feel awkward being the only one in the room without a date, again. The other 6 of us went on ahead to the former nightclub. Bentley looked more confident than I had ever seen him with the prototype exo-legs I built for him on the plane out of surplus equipment. Sly was shocked to see his old friend on his feet again, and as for Penelope, I’m sure she was just appreciating the opportunity to share a first dance with her reunited boyfriend. Sly, Bentley and I wore matching tuxedos and Sierra, Penelope and Carmelita wore matching long black leg-slit dresses. It was like we were a big group of friends on a triple date. Then it occurred to me that I had never been to a dance before just for fun. I never went to any school dances or proms. It was like I was living the life I never had.

Bentley and Penelope tried to do a soft tango at first but Bentley only lasted two songs before going to a nearby table. I couldn’t blame him, he was probably still getting used to the legs. Sly and Carmelita naturally dominated the dance floor, moving with strong sweeping movements through the dim lights as though they were in an intense battle to the rhythm of the music. Me and Sierra on the other hand just tried to enjoy the night, trying to act like a normal couple. Whenever the DJ put a smooth jazz song on we swayed to the beat like we were dancing alone in our living room back in Idaho. I had to admit, despite the warm and fuzzy feeling I got while on the dance floor, I felt unmistakably out of place. And looking into Sierras eyes, I could tell she felt the same. We were out of our element. Being normal people in a normal setting of a normal nightclub was just so foreign to us. We had been to a nightclub before, but it was a lifetime ago, and we were on an assignment.

Suddenly Sierra pulled me out to a balcony beyond the rows of tables with a view of the river that ran along the side of the building. It was a nice view, only a few lights and reflections interrupted the perfect darkness.

    “What’s wrong?” I asked. She turned to me with a content look on her face, and I softly took her hands in mine

    “Nothing, I just wanted to step away for a bit. It’s just kind of overwhelming, you know?”

    “I know how you feel. Like a fish out of water,” we stood in silence for a moment, “are you enjoying yourself?”

    “Oh, yes of course!” she pulled her hands away and brushed a hair from her face and squeezed her arms as she turned to face the water front. “It’s just… ever since I was a little girl, I wondered what It would be like to dress up and go to a dance…”

    “With a handsome gentleman,” I interrupted jokingly. She suppressed a laugh and continued on.

    “It’s just strange after all this time, finally doing what I used to dream about every day. And now that it’s happening I can’t help but think about what life would be like if we were just, normal.”

    “Me too,”I hugged her from behind and gave her a soft kiss on the neck. She cocked her head to the side in acceptance and she kept talking.

    “I can’t wait for this whole operation to be over. Maybe then we can move away. Enjoy the world we worked so hard to make. Maybe then we can start a new life. Dig our own roots and have a family like how everyone does,” she turned around wrapping her arms around my neck and looked into my eyes, “ don’t want to be on the run anymore John.”

    I was touched. In a way, it was exactly what I wanted. Settle down and start a new life. We could have neighbors and start a family, maybe even have some kids along the way. Normal people stuff. We could tell them the stories of our adventures, but I hope to god they don’t follow in our footsteps. Everything was coming to an end and until now I had never really bothered to look beyond the immediate future. But now, that far off idea of leading a normal life suddenly seemed just within our grasp.

    “Soon, Sierra, very soon,” I pulled her in a little bit closer, just enough to close the gap between our lips. We just stood there, taking in the moment that may very well have been our last true feeling of peace.

----------------

    We told the others that we were going to head home soon and began to gather ourselves but then a familiar song came on. The same song that was playing the last time we were at a dance. It felt like so long ago. (Reference: Operation 13)

    “One more dance?” I held out my hand and she gently let hers fall into mine.

    “I don’t mind if I do.”

    I led her out onto the dancefloor and we swayed softly to the beat of the music. Just then I felt a slow rumble under our feet. It was almost unnoticeable at first but by the end of the song it started to shake the chandelier that was held above our heads.

    “You feel that?” I said over the increasing noise of the shaking. She nodded. Just then I felt a vibrating from the phone in my pocket. I pulled on a wire concealed within the lining of my suit connected to an earphone and placed it in my ear. It was a warning message from Hector.

    “Paris is under attack by vampires,” I said calmly.

    “Any ideas?” She sounded so calm, she knew what was about to happen.

    “Remember Rome?”

    “I wish I didn’t,” her hand reached down to a suppressed Glock 17 strapped to her leg hidden in the slit of her dress and I heard the clicking noise of the safety disengaging.

    I chuckled softly.”Yeah. Worst date ever,” there were the chirping noises of vampires and the screams of unfortunate civilians outside. There was a banging on the door and the other guests in the club backed away from the door. We stayed where we were but we stopped dancing. We just stood on the dance floor facing the door ready for what laid beyond. I took out my own Glock 17 from a concealed holster in my jacket and Sierra took out hers and we aimed for the door. The pounding getting more intense and the rumbling getting louder. The music still played clearly on the speakers as though this was all part of the event and I nonchalantly held her by the waist. The door broke down and vampires began to try to storm the room while we silently stopped them before they could take a step.

Sly

Vampires were definitely not part of the night plan. I was actually thinking of taking everyone out to the pavilion behind the nightclub for dinner but those plans are obviously scrapped for the time being. Vampires just broke down the front door to the ballroom and for a minute I thought we were totally screwed because I didn’t have my cane and Carmelita forgot to bring her shock pistol. We could have been in the fight of our lives if it hadn’t been for John and Sierra. They nonchalantly pulled out suppressed  pistols and started shooting the vampires as they entered without even leaving the dancefloor. Then when they finished off the small wave of vampires that broke the door down, they walked outside and started shooting more vampires in the streets as they ran every which way chasing civilians. We followed them out and made our way towards the safehouse. We met a worried Murray who boarded the door behind us.

“What is going on?” Murray exclaimed when the building was secured. Everyone looked at John and Sierra. They were ready for the vampires to come through the door before anyone knew what was happening.

“Hector sent me an emergency transmission while we were on the dancefloor,” he began. “He cracked the encryption ahead of schedule and started analyzing the data. It turns out we were wrong about the number of vampires. There are apparently more than one billion vampires in the world under the control of the Fangs and the vast majority of them are hidden among the population as sleeper cells. One of the cells was activated in Paris turning a tenth of the population into vampires.”

The room went silent. The base we almost died trying to destroy in Russia barely even meant anything. But with the vampire apocalypse starting there was only one question that remained.

“So what do we do now?” I asked.

“Vampires that are still inactive are harmless until they get activated but when they do, there's no way to reverse the process. The only option we have is to kill them all,” John explained solumnly. He turned away and started talking on his earpiece to Hector, likely giving orders.

So this was how the world was going to end? Not by a nation but by hoards of vampires controlled by psychopaths. Was there even anything that we could do? Everything that I imagined the future would be didn’t like it would be possible anymore. The world had changed forever. John finished talking on the earpiece.

“Here's the plan, Paris has almost totally been overrun. The local police has been overwhelmed and are held up at Interpol headquarters a mile away. we need to make sure they’re still alive for there to be any chance of saving Paris. Hector is bringing weapons with the cars but because of the number of civilians in the streets we would need to make the trip on foot.” John was cut off by a vampire banginh at the door and he shot him through the glass window. “This might be it for Paris, keep that in mind. The vampires are moving fast and killing off the non-vampire population. If this keeps up, we might need to resort to extreme measures.”

“How extreme are extreme measures?” Carmelita questioned. She had a tinge of fear in her voice.

“How extreme can measures get?”

----------------

It didn’t take long for two cars to come around the corner and park on the sidewalk. Me and John quickly took the gun crates out and threw them inside. There were the same guns we used for the last mission but with 10 magazines instead of the 5 we had last time. Bentley and Penelope each took a pistol. As the cars zipped off and we changed out of our formal attire into our functional clothes, it felt more like we were going to war than doing a simple mission. The city we called our home had suddenly turned into a nightmarish ghost town overrun with patrolling vampires. By the time we stepped outside we could make out the faint glow of fires starting around the city. The streets were lined with rubble, debris and bodies of the fleeing population. It was like I was looking at the city through a sick filter of my worst nightmares. Nothing was recognizable anymore.

----------------

Carmelita

We cautiously made our way to the police station only to find we were too late. The front doors had been broken down and the bodies of my fellow officers and vampires alike littered the ground. As we sweeped through the building, finding one survivor after another and encountering wave after wave of lingering vampires. We finally made it to Chief Barkley's office to find that he and 7 other cops had managed to escape the onslaught of the attack. 11 survived the attack, of the hundreds that were stationed here, only 11 survived. I went over to him to ask him what happened. Ignoring the fact that I was with the imfamous Cooper Gang, he told me everything in excruciating detail. They were able to hold their own for a while after their barricades were destroyed but soon they ran out of ammo and were overrun.

“It’s bad inspector,” he explained as he emptied his filing cabinets and tossed the classified contents into a small trashcan fire, “The French government has collapsed and we have no possibility of backup from the neighboring countries. We’re on our own.”

“Chief,” John walked over from across the room, “ have there been any reports outside the city?”

“No, not even in the neighboring towns,” he replied, “It’s like Paris was specifically targeted.”

John looked away as though connecting the dots. “We need to get out of here. Now.”

We finished sweeping the building and left for the safe house again and then to my apartment, collecting the bare essentials and loading the into Murray's van. It was strange looking at my little apartment for the last time. All the sweet memories flowing through my head at once as I grabbed the most important things in sight and threw them in the back of the van. At this point there were no more people in the streets, only hordes of vampires. The seven of us and the 11 remaining officers escorted the van back to the C-17 which was now waiting for take-off on the airstrip. Upon boarding, John received another emergency transmission.

“We need to go right now! The UN has just declared Code Red on Paris!” he shouted across the cargo bay.

“What does that mean?” one of the officers yelled over the sound of the jet engines starting to increase thrust.

“Great Britain has been called on to launch an ICBM! They’re going to nuke Paris!”

Without another word, all 18 of us scrambled aboard the plane and the C-17 started to roll down the runway and pick up speed. The cargo bay doors were only barely starting to close after we left the ground when there was a blinding flash of light turning the night into day. I looked back at the nearly closed door to see the bright light of the nuclear mushroom cloud slowly making its ascension to the sky. When the Door had just met the top of the cargo bay I knocked off my feet as the plane started to shake relentlessly to the shockwave.I was barely able to see Sly only a few feet from me and I reached out to hold his hand. He grabbed mine back and I squeezed my eyes shut as we held on for dear life with a white knuckle grip as the shaking continued for what felt like forever. Then suddenly it started to subside. Soon enough the only sound we could hear were the blaring alarms of the aircraft. I slowly opened my eyes and stood up. I stumbled over to the nearest window and looked back at the city I once called home. But all I could see was the mushroom cloud still rising above the cloud layer and below it was nothing more than a wasteland of broken concrete and twisted metal. Paris was gone.

John

If it weren’t for the layer of lead in the armor of the C-17 we would all be dead from the radiation of the nuclear blast. Hector announced over the loudspeakers that the thermonuclear warhead used had a blast yield equivalent of 5 megatons of TNT. Meaning it was small. Even so, the plane was barely holding together. Looking Out the window I could see the close engine on the left on fire and the far engine on the other side was completely gone. Bentley, Penelope, Sierra and I raced up to the control room near the cockpit and ran a full diagnosis of the plane's systems. We were lucky enough to not take any more damage to the vital systems but the stealth and main electrical power had been knocked out for most of the plane and we were now running off of a backup generator. We had started loosing fuel when one of the engines fell off and the fuselage took some damage and was now dumping fuel but besides that, everything was intact. We would have enough enough fuel to make it to Great Britain to refuel and drop off the police officers.

We spent the hour and a half running back and forth through the plane trying to re-establish and maintain power to the vital areas of the C-17. By the time we touched down in Heathrow airport, no one had even changed out of their combat gear and we were nearly out of fuel. We escorted the officers to the waiting medical personnel on the field and they began tending to their wounds. I let Carmelita talk to her old boss and I went over to the plane engines to examine the damage. The engine that was on fire had been extinguished by the airport staff and they were now doing their best to repair the damage done to the engine and fuselage so it would work. It just needed to get us back to the ranch in Idaho and there full repairs can be made.

I walked away from the plane and put my hands on my head to take a deep breath. Just then I noticed the lights of dozens of other commercial and recreational aircraft coming into the airport. Likely more survivors that followed us from the Paris area. The EMP from the nuke must have knocked out their navigation systems, and our flaming engine must have been their only means of direction in the darkness of the 3am night sky. Like a lighthouse guiding a fleet of ships to safety. We unintentionally saved all their lives by coming to Heathrow Airport. But then it sunk in why the vampires were unleashed onto Paris. The Fangs likely had been tracking us since we attacked their base in Russia and eventually followed us to Paris. And to get back at us they activated their sleeper-cells in the Paris area. We saved hundreds of lives in coming to Great Britain, but we killed millions by going to Paris. In all my time in the Warfighters, I had never been responsible for such destruction, either directly or indirectly. The Fangs had destroyed Paris, and now I swore, they would pay. I felt the viscous rage of my inner demon clawing at the cage where it's been kept dormant for all this time. But despite the temptation, I held myself together, barely changing my composure or facial expression. There will be a time, but that time is not now.

Carmelita

I spoke with my chief when we reached the ground, the irony of the situation sinking in. Next time I thought the next time I saw him I would be handing in my resignation, but that would be kind of redundant now.

“You know I was going to offer you a promotion before I retired at the end of the week,” he said.

“Well I certainly appreciate the gesture,” I looked back at the cargo plane. It was being operated on by numerous teams of mechanics. Sly was with the other officers at the end of the openned bay door, helping the doctors treat the patients in any way he knew how. Barkley must have followed my gaze.

“He’s still wanted you know,” I jumped a little, it was a talk i knew was inevitable, I suppose now was going to be the last chance to have it. “Every major agency in the world wants Sly captured. You know that right?”

“What are you implying sir?”

“I know what’s been going on with you two, how you to were together a few months ago. I thought you two had broken up a little less than a year ago when you disappeared but you ended up back together for whatever reason. You’ve been under surveillance ever since he was back. We were actually going to take him into custody when we built up enough evidence to get a search warrant. The only reason we never arrested you was because you were so productive in the field.”

I was speechless. I never knew that the agency that I had worked so hard for all these years was conspiring against me for so long. I was hurt a little but I also knew that no one in the police station would be able to take both me and Sly into custody. Most of them were rookies, which is why I was the one making all the major arrests and working all the major cases. But still it was unsettling that after all of that they were just going to stab me in the back.

“So what are you going to do now?” I questioned. There was a touch of bitterness in my voice but I kept myself calm, “Just arrest me? After all that I’ve done for my agency?”

“No. You aided a known international criminal, but no. I think I’m seeing Mr. Cooper in a less black-and-white sense now. He’s done alot that he can be arrested for, yes. But something’s going on, unlike anything I’ve ever seen on record,” he led me out to away from the others into the openness of the airfield runway before continuing. “Four hours before Paris was invaded, Interpol received an executive order to vacate the building and relocate to Versailles. They never gave us a reason but we couldn’t argue with them because the order came directly from the UN. We were only able to move half of the staff before we were attacked and even then, I’m not sure how many made it out of the city before everything happened. It’s almost like they knew what was about to happen.” There was a pause, the planes in the background decelerating and touching down filled our ears for minute. “I’m not arresting you or Sly because I think something is going on. Millions died today and now I think you're at the center of it.” He paused again for a moment, deep in thought. He hesitated before continuing, “The nearest interpol headquarters is in Great Britain. You need to go there and…” he pulled out a pen and piece of paper and began rapidly scribbling on it. “...and use these credentials on any computer there. It’ll give you unlimited access to their database. You’ll be free to see… or erase anything you must.”

“Sir, are you saying that you want me to…”

“I’m not saying anything.” he said cutting me off, “I’m merely stating what you now have access to and that you can… use this access to do whatever you need to do to. And whatever is changed in the database will be changed in every agency across the world.” he folded the piece of paper twice and handed it to me, “Keep in mind that you don’t need to use a computer in an Interpol station. It just needs to be a major police station with access to Interpol's database. The only problem is you’ll need a way to identify yourself as me.” Then he took out his badge and offered it to me. I took it hesitantly. Feeling the Chief's badge in my hands was something I had thought of for a long time but I never actually thought I would be given one. Especially under the given circumstances. “Officially, I lost my badge in Paris and we never had this conversation. Good luck.” And he walked back to the British police who were waiting at the terminal at the other end of the airfield.

I kept my eyes fixated with the cold metal of the badge in my hands. It’s golden finish starting to flake off, revealing the grey steel underneath. I snapped myself out of it and pocketed the paper and the badge discretely and jogged back over to the plane.

----------------

Sly

I did my best to help the battered officers but most of their injuries were beyond what I was used to. There were some broken bones of course but there were also severed ligaments, concussions and other life-altering or threatening injuries. Even if they survived treatment, which they probably would, most of them would be bound to a desk for the rest of their careers. But still, it was better than being dead. When I was done treating one of the officers with 3 broken ribs and a fractured radi I noticed Carmelita coming across the tarmac to the back of the plane. She had something in her pocket but before I could ask about it she pulled me inside the belly of the C-17 and we began searching for Bentley and Penelope. We found them in the lab where they were trying to restore power so they could reestablish communications with the outside world. Carmelita skipped introductions and immediately began asking Bentley when was the soonest he could access his resources.

    “Honestly there’s no chance we can access the internet until we return home,” he explained before elaborating all the details that only Penelope would be able to interpret.

    She was about to storm off when John entered the room, informing us that we would be taking off in 20 minutes. The engine that had been lost couldn’t be replaced at the moment but the engine that was on fire was now functional. “Stealth is still offline so to stay above radar, about 15,000 feet. So I highly suggest sleeping while we’re in the air. This may be uncomfortable.” and he walked out.

----------------

I tried to sleep on the plane but the shaking of the plane’s left wing made it feel like we were constantly flying through turbulence. When we finally touched down in Idaho the sun was still only barely rising. But I was too exhausted to do anything after receiving no sleep in 24 hours. I climbed into the packed van with the gang and Carmelita and Murray drove us up the dirt road up the hill to the house where I immediately walked into the bedroom I stayed in last and fell asleep as soon as my face hit the mattress.

Bentley

Now that we were on the ground Carmelita pulled me and Penelope aside to continue our conversation we started from London.

“I think something big is going on,” she began. She told us what Chief Barkley had told her about the UN. “I don’t know what to make of it but maybe you can find something. This whole thing doesn't feel right.”

I opened up the bunker and walked down the middle to the corner room where the big computer in the back room was still on. It was nearly complete downloading the information from all the hard drives John insisted they salvage from the Russian base. It had a mere 3 hours left but I could still look at the information that was already downloaded. I began browsing the contents as Penelope continued to chat with Carmelita.

“I agree it’s too great of a coincidence,” said Penelope, “It would make sense to have someone with power pulling the strings.”

“Penelope I think I need your help with this,” she walked over to another big monitor next to me. The  information that was recovered was so incredibly vast that I really did need her help in order to analyze all the data effectively and in a timely manner, but that wasn’t the only reason I wanted her help. Upon opening the files I immediately found information that was related to the nukes in the UN. Not only was there a plan to overthrow them but the Scorpions had made multiple plans to use and manipulate them. We discovered business connections to many high ranking individuals around the world. From presidents of small African countries to officers at law enforcement agencies, the Contessa happened to be one of them. But what I really needed Penelope for was the fact that not only had the Fangs been directly responsible for the nuke in Paris, but they also held the majority in the top UN committee. That meant that the biggest international military organization was controlled by the Fangs.

John

Over dinner later that night, Bentley shared his findings with all of us in front of the TB in the bunker. It shocked everyone else, even Sierra, but not me. I had always wondered where the Fangs got their resources and were able to hide around the world so well, and now we knew. I just never knew it could have been this bad. When I finished eating I went outside and drove out to the Hangar. Once there I opened up a door that lead into another large weapons room with equipment designated specifically for the nights to wield. There were everything from guns to experimental invisibility devices, but none of it interested me right now. I walked over to the back of the room where there was a large cabinet with steel grates and panels on all its faces. I opened it up and gazed at its contents. Every Warfighter had a sword to go with their knight armor. They were individually handcrafted with magical enchantments and immunities and forged with a hardened tungsten blade. Not only were the swords unenchantable, but the 100 pound blade could cut through the strongest metals with ease. The only consequence was the spells used to make the sword so dangerous had the side effect of breaking down the user's tolerance to their own wrath. It made the user succumb to their own rage and can eventually have long lasting effects.

I closed the closet and walked back outside to take a short walk. Me and Sierra swore that we would never use the knight's armor or their swords again because their side effects. They turn you into the worst version of yourself, even my resistance to supernatural influence has trouble tolerating it’s power. But to save the world, we might need to break that promise. It would be ironic bringing a demon to the battle to save the world. But after this, I don’t care if someone else threatens the world again, we’re done.


  • Watching: Calculus 2 'How-to' videos
Part 3: If there must be Violence...

Sly

We spent the next 5 days coming up with a plan and training for the mission. John made sure the gang was at least semi-proficient with a gun. Bentley, whenever he wasn’t helping John formulate a plan to infiltrate the Scorpions first mountain base, was either talking to or arguing with Penelope. Being forced onto the same side with the same girl who tried to erase Cooper lineage was probably the last thing he needed. I felt sorry for him, but I knew I had to focus on my training.

Bentley

This was absurd. Of all the people that I could meet in the US, Penelope just happened to be here. It was like she was mocking me with her memory. I yelled at her for all that she had done, trying to make sense of her logic, maybe find a way to forgive her for what had done. Only if she knew just how badly she had hurt me when I found out. Deep down, I wanted everything to go back to the way things were, back before she and I were more than just coworkers. Back when we were in love and life was so simple.

No matter which direction we took out our argument, it always ended at the same point. Me asking why she ever did it in the first place and Penelope saying she never meant to hurt me.

“So when did it start then?” I asked at one point.

She responded with a lengthy explanation. Referring back to Sly’s father's gang, how broken they had become, saying that she only wanted to protect me. I was touched, but she just wasn’t getting the message, that we were family, not just a band of thieves. Then she started to cry, and I lost my stern composure. I pulled her onto my wheelchair and gave her a hug.

“I didn’t want to see you end up like Dr. M,” she sobbed, “I remember how he had been driven insane by Sly’s dad. I’m sorry Bentley. I lost my family when I was young and being with you made me feel like I had a family again. I just didn’t want to lose you.”

She totally broke down, and I pulled her closer. I never thought of her family. Of all the time we were together and she never once mentioned her parents or her childhood. She was always looking to the future and now I saw why. I hurt her more than she ever hurt me in choosing to side with Sly. I needed to make it up to her.

----------------

It was around 8P.M. later that night and I asked John to do me a favor, which he happily obliged to. He led Penelope upstairs to a balcony with a few patio chairs and a small oak wood table where there sat a few candles and a small bouquet of flowers and I made something I knew she would like for dinner. I might not be Sly, but I still knew how to Google a good recipe. We talked and laughed like we're in our lab before the time travel incident. It was nice and I could tell that she loved it.

When we finished eating we kept talking for hours. Then at one point she stared off into the dark moonlit field, taking in the wonderful view. Then she turned towards me, the candlelight reflecting in her glasses.  “What are we gonna do when this is all over?” She asked. It was an inevitable question. The mission would eventually be over. If we succeeded, we would need to find something to do with our lives given that no-one wanted to do any more heists and Sly seemed to be pulling away from the gang in favor of time with Carmelita. There was no easy answer to this.

“I don’t know,” I paused for a moment, still deep in thought, “but the future can wait,” I reached across the small table and took her hand in mine, “for now, let’s just enjoy here and now.”

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The next morning, me and Penelope worked with incredible efficiency. Formulating a fully functioning plan and reliable backup plan in only a few hours. John was clearly impressed. The plan would involve three teams with me and Penelope in the C-17 relaying information to everyone and providing fire support and air-dropping resources if needed. It was simple but foolproof. We showed everyone the plan in a slideshow and went over all the little details in the bunker. The only problem was the mountain base was built under thousands of tons of rock and concrete, making radio communications impossible. We can’t piggyback on the Scorpions radio towers or they would be able to hear everything we say. So the teams that went into the base would be completely cut off from communications until they escaped. If I were a pessimist, I would call it a suicide mission.

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Murray

I learned as much as I could about the big guns in those 5 days before the job. I focused on the mounted machine guns and the portable railguns that John developed. He was more than happy to show me how it worked and it was actually very simple. It didn’t take me long before I was able to take apart, clean, and reassemble every one of them. My favorite was still the M240 from the shooting range a few days before. It was heavy but I was strong, like a match made in heaven. Sly didn’t seem to be doing as well as I was, almost refusing to touch the long guns all together saying that they were ‘too bulky’ and only trained with the pistols. He seemed to favor Johns FN Five Seven as it was light and shot accurately. Carmelita had a similar stance but was more willing to experiment with the smaller carbines. She eventually chose to train with a compact suppressed AR 15 and eventually convinced Sly to try one as well. John and Sierra did drills with them to adapt their quick reflexes to using a gun until they were acceptable for the mission. “We’ll train more when we get back,” John said.

The night before we left he told us to do something that caught us off guard. He told us to write our wills. It was something that was done in the military and the Warfighters did the same. It was an odd feeling, saying what you want done with your possessions after you died. We went off to different parts of the house to think about it individually. Even John stepped away, saying he needed to make changes to his own as well. I was halfway through writing very specific instructions on what I wanted to happen to the van when the feeling really sunk in that there was a very good chance that we weren’t going to come back alive.

I finished and waited for everyone else to come back to the family room to wait for the others to return. John and Sierra were already there. Next came Sly, then Bentley, then Penelope, then Carmelita. John collected our wills, put them into labeled blacked out sleeves and put them in a box on the mantle under the TV.

“Death is a strange beast,” John began, “it follows us wherever we go but we can never truly know when it will take us. You may chose to fear it if you wish but you must always respect it. This is the reality that the Warfighters faced and now it stands before you. Everything is ready for tomorrow and we leave at 6 am. There will be a 17 hour flight before we’re in enemy airspace.” He paused for a minute as though taking in the moment. “Until we arrive in foreign airspace it won’t be too late to back out. No-one will think any less of you if you do, but if you follow me then you can consider yourselves honorary Warfighters.”

We spent the rest of the night not as a group of thieves and soldiers, but as men and women, as friends and partners. There was a lively mix of feelings at the dinner table as we ate the feast John had prepared for us. Was it excitement? Anxiety? He took out a bottle of crisp red wine to ease the nerves. “Day-before anxiety” he called it and he recalled one of his old team members puked in the bathroom because he was so nervous for the upcoming mission. When we finished dinner we went to our rooms and tried to get some sleep but none was able to rest. We were going to war, how could you sleep knowing that? After hours of staring at the ceiling I was finally able to close my eyes. I dreamed of all our previous adventures together, all the way back to the Orphanage. I missed how it was before, everything just seemed so simple compared to now. And now we were deep in the complex underworld of covert international crime rings trying to save the world. Maybe when this is all over we can move on to return to a simpler life. Maybe John and Sierra can be there too, doing whatever they do. Who knows.

John

We would leave for Russia tomorrow but for now I just layed in bed thinking to myself. It was around midnight when I finally woke up Sierra. It’s never a good idea to wake up your fiancé but this was something that I couldn't let go with a clean conscience.  She rolled over surprisingly not grumpy..

“John? What's wrong? What time is it?” She yawned, stretching away from the bed to check the time.

“It’s about the mission,” she stopped reaching and turned her attention towards me, “and the others.”

“Well spill,” she rolled back over and scooted closer to me to lay out her arm so she could prop up her head and I could talk to her face to face, “what’s going on in that head of yours?” I looked into her emerald green eyes almost losing my train of thought, like I do every time. She was doing it intentionally, I could tell from her sleepy smile that she was trying to mess with me. But I wasn’t quite in the mood to play around tonight.

“Was it right asking them for help?” I started, “I mean we’re prepared to do it. We used to do this kind of thing for a living. But they’re just a bunch of amateurs, most of them can barely fire a gun. They’re a band of thieves and a cop, not soldiers.”

“We needed help and they took your offer. Where’s the grey area in that?” She responded, but I could tell she was just trying to simplify the situation to make me feel better.

“The grey area is that I don’t think they really know what they’re stepping into. They’re the best at what they do, sure. But this isn’t what they do. They’ve never done anything quite like this before.”

“Honey, you said it yourself, they are the best at what they do. And we’ve already seen them in action in China. If they could take down Tsao and a small horde of vampires then I’m sure they’ll be fine.”

“I hope so,” there was a pause. I recalled back to when we witnessed the encounter. It wasn’t actually the Cooper Gang that took on the vampires but actually a native known as the Panda King. I layed back on the bed and stared at the ceiling while Sierra examined my expression.

“You’re still guilty about Steven,” she always had the unique ability to figure out what I was thinking. I nodded. “It wasn’t your fault you know, he made the call.”

“But I didn’t say anything about it,” I propped myself up with my arm, “I had every opportunity to keep him from going off alone but I kept my mouth shut.”

“Then don’t make the same mistake again, keep them in check. And you know the plan, Sly is with you at all times,” I suppose that did make me feel better. I didn’t need another dead ally on my conscience, Especially this one. Sly wasn’t just another guy going on a mission, he had the potential to have a legitimate relationship with Carmelita. And the same with Bentley and Penelope, but they didn’t worry me as much.

“I suppose, but I need you to do something for me. We swore we wouldn’t do it again but I think the situation calls for it.”

“What?” she had a slight look of concern in her eyes. She knew what I was going to say but it was something that had to be said.

“Be ready to deploy the Knights.”

Sly

The next morning was rough. We were in the plane and off the ground within 2 hours of waking up but by then it was only barely 8. I know I’m a creature of the night but this didn’t count. Soon enough we were in the air on board the C-17. The gang tried to lighten the mood and play some games and watch some movies to pass the time but the tension remained in the air. We might not come back alive and that was the reality that we all lived with now. John advised us to get as much sleep as possible while in the air. He and Sierra played pool for the majority of the time when they weren’t taking small naps. I tried to sleep but I could never quite settle myself enough to go to sleep. There were too many worries going through my head all at once. I was concerned for the wellbeing of my friends far more than my own. And Carmelita. What would I do if anything happened to her? I tried to think of ways to keep her from leaving the plane to keep her safe but I knew she was too stubborn to back out and she never sits out a mission. Worst flight of my life.

----------------

It was finally go-time. The 15 and a half hours of walking around aimlessly were over as Hector notified us that we had entered Russian airspace. We suited up and did final checks to make sure our gear and gadgets were all functional. Me and Murray were going in with our standard gear and clothes but Carmelita opted to use a tactical sneaking suit, which Sierra gladly provided. Luckily she fit perfectly into Sierras spare set. Everyone was given an FN Five Seven with 4 magazines with 20 bullets each. Murray opted to take the M240 with plenty of extra ammo. I Took the foldable suppressed AR15 I shot at the firing range and Carmelita took one as well with 5 30-round magazines strapped diagonally across the chest and torso for easy access. John and Sierra wore a very similar tight black sneaking suit with the same magazine and pistol setup. They carried their own custom rifles from the range as well. They acted like it was just another Monday and they were about to go to work. I guess in a strange sense that’s exactly what it is. They were doing last minute system checks on the three cars we had taken with us from the bunker. The rest of us were sitting in the built in chairs that lined the cargobay, trying to calm ourselves before the big drop. It was 20 minutes till the jump.

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“Oxygen masks on!” yelled John as Thunderstruck by AC/DC began to play over the speakers and comm links. We did as we were told and he hit the button that opened the cargo bay doors to the wide expanse of the horizon. We were above the clouds so you could see everything, even how the earth curved at the end of the world. It was beautiful.

We stood in front of the cars that were ready to drop after us and John and Sierra took out cigars from a pocket on their thigh at the end of the cargo bay and lit them ceremoniously. They toasted silently and took a few puffs and just stood there before tossing them off the plane, putting their masks on and turning to us to speak.

“We all have our jobs. If everything goes according to planned, we’ll be back on the plane and out of here in 5 hours,” said John over the Comm link. There was a pause as if he was thinking of something to say, “There will always be a war to be fought to achieve peace. We do not look for the fight, because he who wishes for violence has no future.” He turned back around to face the expanse ahead, “But if there must be violence then let it be in our day so our children may live in peace.”

As if on cue Hector gave the signal to jump and we all made the leap of the back end of the flying beast and the cars shortly followed. It was a magical moment, like you were suspended in a space between heaven and earth as the wind tore at our gear and howled in our ears. Looking forward I could see the lensflare of the rising sun arc across the horizon as I fell closer and closer to the transparent canvas painting of the cloud layer moving gently over the earth. we stayed in a formation behind John and Sierra as we made our descent through the clouds down to the landing zone before he finally gave the order to release the parachutes. We glided for a while before coming to a hard landing on the cold ground. I quickly packed my parachute and took off my helmet and mask and looked up to see the cars floating to a spot nearby and the small dot of the C-17 sliding slowly across the sky. The journey through the clouds was over and the mission had begun.

----------------

It didn’t take us long to get to the cars. They landed only half a mile away giving us about 15 minutes to gather our senses in the snowy landscape. John said it snowed here year-round so this was about as warm as it ever got, but still, I was thankful I wore an extra layer or else I would be freezing my tail off. When we got to the cars we quickly loaded ourselves in and sped off through the snow. Despite the relatively uneven landscape they performed spectacularly, rarely dipping below 60 miles per hour yet making the ride smooth and effortless as can be. We drove about 20 miles until we came into view of the Scorpion mountain base. If we didn’t know ahead of time that it was here then we would have driven by without batting an eye. The only signs that there was anything significant there was the big front door built into the unnaturally round dome of snow and a large radio tower within a guard post positioned about halfway to the top. That tower was our first target.

I radioed Bentley and Penelope up in the plane that we were within view of the base and Murray began to retrofit one of the cars with a mounted heavy machine gun. Part of our Plan B if it were ever to come to it. We waited for Murray to finish mounting the gun before me and John started the extra half-mile hike through the open field separating the cars from the base. Not a word was said as we kept our profile as low as possible so we wouldn’t attract any attention. Of course, in case we were spotted, Sierra was watching our approach through the scope of a Falkor Petra .338 Lapua Magnum marksman rifle. It would likely compromise the mission to kill the guards who would have seen us but it would be more important to have a full team than to loose someone before the mission even started. It proved to be unneeded as me and John snuck effortlessly into the guard post and got to the base of the radio tower. While he planted bombs in concealed  locations around the base, I quietly climbed the tower to the very top to plant a bug. Now Bentley was able to listen into the Scorpions communications.

After that phase was complete, we snuck our way over to another part of the guard post where there were air shafts that led into the base and waited for Bentley to give us the “all clear”. Before that to happen, he needed to wait for Carmelita and Sierra to get to another entry point at the opposite end of the base and wait until Bentley can confirm that there would be no unwanted surprises during the mission. We stayed quiet for half an hour before Bentley finally said we were all clear. I followed John as he slid into the air shaft. Soon enough we lost radio contact with Bentley. We would still have contact with Sierra and Carmelita though, as they were entering the base at the same time. I kind of felt bad for not being with Carmelita in such a dangerous situation. But at the same time I knew she was in better hands with Sierra. In all honesty I just felt like I was only tagging alone in this whole adventure. I barely knew what was going on and John and Sierra were professionals. This was their art just as thieving was mine. I refocused on the task at hand as we crawled further into the endless darkness of the mountain base. But the thing was, the worst part about it wasn’t how dark it was or the imminent pressence of danger, but that damn horrible smell.

Carmelita

We had only just dropped down from the ceiling air vent we snuck in through when the stench hit me like a brick wall. It smelled like rotten eggs and fresh fertiliser. I remember smelling something like it in China when I was looking for Sly before he faked his amnesia but I never thought that it was coming from vampires. The thought of the ringtail crossing my mind distracted me for a moment until I snapped myself out of it. ‘Focus on the mission Carmelita. Life or death. End of the world damnit!’ I took out my pistol and made sure it was loaded before following Sierra down the poorly lit corridor. The walls and floor were dull concrete and the ceiling was covered in steel pipes and shafts leading down the never ending hallways. Far more dismal than what I was used to but still, it could be worse.

We creeped through the hallway, both of us with our long guns pointed forward ready to shoot anything that moves. It felt like forever, carefully checking every corner and making our way past every intersection all the while planting explosives all along our path, before we finally made our way to a large reinforced door. Sierra quickly got to work, taking out a device that could override the security and unlock the door. It took only a few minutes before we heard the bars that held the door shut slowly roll back into the door. As I nudged it, it swung outward easily, revealing a massive open room. Stepping in we found ourselves on a network of catwalks suspended high over a dimly lit floor covered in masses of circulating vampires. They moved about as if in a current, making unsettling patterns as the hopped across the concrete. Looking across to the other side of the expanse I could see Sly and John entering through a similar door but with more of a hurried pace. John began to talk over the radio.

“We need to speed this up. We encountered some guards on the way over here. It won’t be long before someone finds the bodies and puts the base on lockdown.”

“Copy that Delta. We’re in position,” replied Sierra. And we quickly made our way over the catwalk to another door leading into a large structure suspended above the horde of loud, chirping vampires. It was shaped like a glass half-bubble built into the ceiling and housed the higher ranking Scorpion officers according to Sierra. Our job was simple, we would enter in through one entrances while John and Sly would enter through the opposite side. Once inside, we would sweep the rooms in search of the puppet master. On the plane we learned from John that the vampires, although seeming mindless, were actually controlled by a single person. A puppet master. If that person were to die or lose control of his thoughts, all the vampires would frenzy as they quickly decay and die over the course of half an hour. And that’s what we were here to do. Find out where the puppet master was for the base and kill him. Then we would set off all the explosives to destroy the base.

“Killing the radio tower now,” whispered Sly over the radio.

We waited for 5 seconds and Sierra broke down the door with an impressive show of force. I was certain that someone heard it but that was part of the plan. If the guards knew that there was an intruder then that would break their force in half. The first half would go to investigate the noise and the others would scramble to guard their most important assets, which in this case would be the puppet master. The only problem with this plan was we first needed to get past the wave of guards that would soon arrive to welcome us. With no distinguishable opportunities for cover, or sneaking around the guards, we were only left with one option. We stepped back onto the catwalk and shot out the window about 10 feet to the left of the entrance. I was mortified as Sierra jumped across the void between the bridge and the full wall window frame, only barely making it. I prepared myself to make the leap of faith when I noticed the guards had arrived in the hallway of the main entrance and began to shoot at me. With no choice I lept from the platform only to instantly realize I was going to come up short. I was going to fall 300 feet to my death because of a stupid mistake. I reached out my arm in hopes of maybe grabbing the ledge but I was going to miss it by no less than a foot. There was no hope of making it. Then I felt the sudden yank of Sierra on her stomach catching me with one arm as the other gripped the side of the window frame. She pulled me up with ease into the room and I stayed for moment to gather myself. She immediately jumped to her feet and readied her weapon, ready to push on.

“How do you do this kind of thing for a living?” I panted

“Practice and persistence,” she responded casually, “you ready to go?”

I took a deep breath and picked up my own gun. “Yeah I’m ready. Let’s go” And we pushed on through the alternate route we created. Encountering few, we made our way through the hotel-like hallways but those we did come across were shot on sight. I hope the boys were having as good of luck as we were.

John

This could have gone better. The door we broke down led directly to a lounging area where a few dozen fully armed guards were about to set off to inspect the rumbling noise that echoed through the base when the radio tower was destroyed. Me and Sly barely made it to cover within the room before they began shooting at us with volleys of bullets flying over the marble counter we hid behind. With no other option, I grabbed a grenade from a pouch and threw it over the top to give the guards a reason to scramble. When I heard it go off me and Sly shoot everyone in the room with a silent maelstrom of hot lead. When the room was clear we pushed on through the corridors of the center of the base.

It was much nicer than I was expecting, decent lighting, red carpet and very well done crown molding, I could have mistaken it for a Las Vegas hotel if it weren’t for the given situation. We made our way through the halls encountering wave after wave of guards, each more aggressive than the last. At one point a bullet grazed Slys upper arm and I caught a bullet to the abdomen from a pistol. I felt the searing pain of the hot piece of metal as it was lodged in my oblique muscle but I mustered the strength to push on. We were getting close. It wasn’t long before we came across the last set of locked double door at the heart of the suspended structure. I radioed Sierra informing her on our status.

“Delta to Echo, we’re in position,” I awaited a response for about 10 seconds. Until I heard the echoing whisper of Sierra throught the other end of the microphone.

“Copy that Delta, Echo is in position. Breech in 20 seconds.”

So we waited, hearing in the other room the sound of a flashbang hitting the floor and smoke filling the room. ‘10… 9… 8…’ I could hear the countdown in my head. No matter how many times I do it, breeching always makes me the most nervous over all the other things that I’ve ever done as a marine and a Warfighter. You can never really know what lies on the other side of the door. There can be someone ready to blow you away with a touch of a button or there could be nothing. There’s no true way to predict it and it never gets easier. ‘5… 4… 3... ‘ me and Sly stepped in front of both doors, ready for whatever lies beyond. ‘2… 1’ We kicked in the doors at the same time and started maneuvering through the room, shooting anything that moved.

Sierra

It was like old times, back when were still a unit. I never loved it but I never hated it. Usually I would actually be the one breaching all the doors since I was so much stronger, but before the mission Sly asked me to keep Carmelita out of trouble. It was sweet of him but part of the plan was letting the boys take the door while we disoriented the platoon of guards inside with some flashbangs, so we wouldn’t have been in much danger anyways. I could see why Bentley and Penelope made the plan this way, they didn’t know what I was capable of, but I was fine with it. I don’t like to flaunt my abilities to others. Besides, John and Sly handled it all well enough on their own they might have caught a few rounds but they’ll live.

I punched out the ceiling vent that separated us in the air duct from the rest of the room when the boys finished sweeping the room and jumped down 15 feet from the high ceiling to land on a long table that spanned the room. It was a long meeting room with couches and chairs lining the walls and the big black marble table in the middle stretching down the length. At the opposite end of the table was a lone badger shaking in his seat. He wasn’t wearing the same clothes as everyone else and had a patch on his sleeve. The patch looked like a silhouetted snake head with its teeth bared. Kind of creepy but whatever. There’s a good chance he’s the puppet master, but we’ll find out soon enough.

Carmelita followed and immediately walked over to Sly but kept her gun up as though watching the door behind him. Makes me think back to the first mission I had with John when we first started dating. The thought brought a smile to my face, thinking back to when we first started out. It was a weird situation, not that I was the only female on the team, but in the team, you were brothers and sisters, so I was essentially dating my brother. Not that I was particularly redneck but I didn’t care at the time. I was in love and the ever present threat of death for either of us made every moment so much more valuable to me. And now here are Sly and Carmelita. It was like looking at a mirror.

    My trance was broken when John lightly pulled on my arm to pull me over to the badger sitting in the chair. He tried to pull out his pistol from a waistband but John already had his rifle in hand and shot him in the shoulder. He hunched over in pain but John forcibly pulled him back up in his chair. He held onto him by his collar and put his pistol in the poor badger’s face. I’d forgotten that John was also the best interrogator the team had.

“Who are you?” asked John in a creepily calm voice.

“J-Jeffery,” the Badger was shaking now whether it was more in terror or in pain, I didn’t know.

    “I don’t give a damn about your name. Who do you work for?” Awfully blunt of him. If he ever spoke to me like that, I’d burn the house down.

    “I… We-we’re the Fangs of the Vipers,” he straightened up in his chair slightly, regaining some small level of composure. Jeffery then went on a loud rant about how superior the Fangs were to the rest of the world and how we stood no chance. I’ve heard it all before. It’s not even really scary anymore as it was annoying. But we let him have his moment. When he finally finished his 5 minute rant there was a short awkward pause and he had a smirk on his face as though he had the upper hand in some way.

    “That’s the stupidest name I’ve ever heard,” John critiqued and Jeffery’s smirk dropped. Just then we started to feel the ground rumble, starting low but slowly intensifying. He turned to me and I leaned in. “The vampires. Buy me some time.” It had totally slipped my mind. While we were infiltrating the bubble, the puppet master must have begun to mobilize the vampire hordes in his defense. The rumbling was the vampires all coming up and crossing the catwalks at once to come to the puppet masters aid. I hate magic so much.

    I walked over to Sly and Carmelita. And told them the situation and their eyes widened.

    “We need to buy John some time. As soon as he’s done we can go.”

    “What’s he doing?” asked Sly. It was a good question but I didn’t have time to give a good answer.

    “Getting intel. Now let’s move,” and I pushed them out the door, closing it behind me.

    ‘Please hurry John.’ I whispered to myself. I wasn’t sure how long the 3 of us could hold a line against 10 million vampires. Not 5 minutes had past and I could hear the screams of the badger as John went to work.

Carmelita

It was good to know the ringtail wasn’t dead yet but the job definitely wasn’t over. Now instead of fighting against waves of guards fighting for the end of the world, we were holding the line against an unending horde of vampires. You could smell them as they got closer, almost like radar. We chose to destroy most of the hallways with small explosives to force them into the bottleneck of a single corridor. We started our defense all the way out to the catwalk entrance to give ourselves as much of an opportunity to fallback as we could.

At first it looked like we were holding them off, keeping them at about halfway across the catwalk. But every time we needed to reload they had the time to push further across the void, making significant progress each time. I went through 3 of my 5 magazines before we started to slowly retreat. We backed up to a corner in the hallway and let loose another magazine. We retreated again to another corner and I ran out of ammo with my long gun. Switching to my pistol it occurred to me that we were completely screwed. If we retreated again to the next bend then we would be only 20 feet from the door that led to the conference room. I was letting loose with the pistol and reloading as needed when the vampires had suddenly just stopped coming forward. They just stood there in the middle of the hallway not making a sound as though someone had found their off switch and for a moment the only thing that broke the silence was the sound of my own breath. I looked at Sly and Sierra to find that Sly was as mesmerized as I was at the now still horde of vampires but Sierra had a look of urgency. She pulled me and Sly along as we started to run towards the door. We entered the room and shut the door behind us to see John standing on the table underneath the air vent and the bloodied remains of Jeffery lying in the corner. Just as we heard the door close shut there was an ear piercing screech as the vampire horde roared to live once more. The frenzy had started, they’ll be dead in half an hour. But that wouldn’t help us if they only needed to come through a single door.

“Time to go!” John shouted at the top of his lungs. And he threw a grappling hook up to the air vent I entered through. Smart thinking, going around the vampire horde instead of through it. I went up the rope first followed by Sly. When Sly made it to the top the horde of vampires started to rattle the door. Sierra started to climb and John pulled out his gun ready to defend. When Sierra was only half way up the rope they broke through and John let loose with a silent volley of rapid fire bullets. It seemed to be effective but it wasn’t doing enough. The vampires weren’t hopping anymore, they were in a dead sprint, falling over and trampling each other. John had a very fast reload but it wasn’t enough to keep them at bay for long. When Sierra finally reached the top a short time later John immediately turned and jumped up the rope and furiously climbed it in record speed to get away from the swarm of frenzied vampires. He reached the top and we pulled him into the air duct and we began to crawl away from the room which was now totally swarmed with vampires ripping at the walls. We were almost out of the structure when John stopped us.

“Wait, we need to find the computer room,” he said.

“Are you crazy? This place was coming apart,” said Sly. it was true. We could see open air and the cavern ceiling was starting to come down in large chunks. What could possibly be worth staying behind any longer?

“Our intel was wrong. The Fangs are only the tip of the iceberg. We need to know more,” and John pushed forward to the end of the air shaft to the outside of the bubble but instead of jumping down to the catwalk below, he took out his grappling hook to break the window above the shaft  and clawed his way up. Not seeing a way to convince him to leave without the intel, we followed his lead.

He opened the door into a mostly abandoned hallway with only a few vampires here and there. John was the only one  left with enough ammo to spare so he shot them where they stood and they instantly began to rapidly decay, leaving an unforgiving smell of rotting flesh. We kept making our way quickly to the top floor of the bubble until we found signs leading to a server room. We followed them to a large room with bluish lighting filled with boxes and along one wall were a shelf filled with hard drives connected in a series. John and Sierra quickly took out two compressed duffel bags and Sly opened his backpack as they began ripping to hard drives from the cabinets and shoving them into the bags. I stood back and watched as the rumbling intensified from the vampires closing presence and the decreased stability of the bubble. They had only just finished and were zipping up their bags when I saw the masses of vampires charging around the corner and barreling down the hallway. We took off in a dead sprint towards the windows that lined the opposite wall.

“Drop one floor down!” yelled John at the top of his lungs as he shot out the windows. He took out his grappling hook and Sly took out his cane and grabbed me by the waist. I felt the intense G-forces as we swung downward, making me grab his neck for support. John shot out the window underneath as he swung so we didn’t just smack against it like bugs on a windshield. Sierra didn’t use any tools though as she just grabbed the glass covered ledge with her bare hand and swung under landing with a barrel roll. Despite the sharpness of the broken glass there was no blood coming from her gloved hand. But there was no time to be concerned with that. We were trapped in a collapsing cave and I couldn’t see a way out. But it didn’t take long before Sly spoke up with an idea.

“John I need your grapple hook,” he shouted and John handed it over. Sly then lept off the ledge and used his cane to swing onto a nearby support beam connected to the ceiling. After jumping on top he threw back the grapple hook and tied down the line when John attached the hook to the doorframe at the opposite end of the room. It was quick thinking, smart.

We made our way over the line that spanned the gap and climbed on top of the pole and briskly walked the 200 meters to the walls of the cavern. Just as we hopped down from the support piece we looked back to see the ceiling finally giving way and the bubble crashing to the hard floor below prompting the collapse of the rest of the cave. We ran at full speed down the corridors to the exit of the base with the vampire horde close in pursuit.

Bentley

We had no forms of reliable communication or way to send support to Sly, John, Sierra or Carmelita. We circled above the dome of the fake mountain in search of any signs of the two teams but all I could see that could indicate their progress is the fallen radio tower. The Scorpions were radio-blind but that didn’t make me feel any better because then not only could I not talk to my friends but I couldn’t even listen in on the guards radio frequencies. We were in a flying fortress full of complex equipment yet we were helpless. As the hours rolled on I talked to Penelope to pass the time and ease the stress. We talked about anything that came to mind while we kept a wary eye on the screens. I talked about our trip back to ancient Egypt and how he helped us by destroying a city to distract the population. The story surprised her. “He was always so nice,” she said. Maybe she had just never seen him in action before. Penelope talked about her adventures after her escape from prison. She just drifted from one place to another, bouncing around the world to evade capture from interpol, taking whatever job she could find to earn some money and stay alive. It was about 3 months before John came to the safehouse when she was hired by John to find the Scorpions. After about a month she had asked to live with John and Sierra and work almost for free. They agreed so she had been living in the bunker ever since. It was actually because of Penelope that John was able to find the safe-house in Paris to deliver the letter in glass. In a way, it was really Penelope that saved Sly.

“I felt horrible for turning on you. I knew that I could never make what I did right, but I could try to make up for it,” she said.

At some point she took out a bottle of champaign. Might not have been the best idea considering we were in the middle of a high stakes operation but it was helping sooth the anxiety.

Just then I saw movement on the screen. They had made it out! But something was wrong, they were being chased by a massive horde of vampires. I watched as Murray started shooting into the masses with his mounted machine gun. Just then I heard the radio spark to life once more.

“Bentley we need you to destroy the base entrance!” shouted Sly. Then I heard John cut him off.

“Hector, fire on the base!” suddenly the entire plane adjusted course and we felt the working of the planes weapon systems coming to life.

Sly

We were completely out of ammo and had no way to handle the vampires. All we could do is run as hard as we could and hope they didn’t catch us. We ran through the massive front doors and shot the guards who were still on post then waved to Murray who was waiting at the other end of the field separating the base from the treeline. Before long he was shooting a lasting arc of lightning over our heads and into the crowd of vampires who were surprisingly not hesitating before coming out into the noon sun. We made it to the tree line where Murray was still shooting from on top of one of the 3 cars. Then suddenly explosions shoot the entire valley. “The C-17 was using a rail-gun battery to fire shells on the base at Mach 7” John explained. John detonated the explosives we planted on our way in and the shells pounded the fake mountain until it finally gave out and sank into itself, trapping and killing all of the remaining vampires inside.

----------------

The C-17 adjusted course to meet us at an airfield about 20 miles away and we climbed into the cars and sped on ahead. When we got there Hector informed us that the plane would be incapable of landing on the small runway that was at the airfield. The best the plane could do was slow down to 100 miles an hour and drop the cargo bay door. When we arrived we found that the airbase actually belonged to the Fangs so we began to slow down to survey the area and look for a way in. John however sped on ahead and crashed straight through the chainlink fence and we followed. Upon entering the base we instantly began to take fire from positions along the runway but nothing went through the armor of the car. We just kept driving as we made our way to the airfield as the plane made an extremely low pass over the treeline behind us and touched down on the tarmac. It opened its cargo-bay door and it skid along the tarmac leaving a trail of sparks. We punched the gas to catch up to the flying goliath and we all boarded the tail of the C-17 as it roared down onto the runway at 100miles an hour all while shooting its rail-gun at the firing positions. When we all made it onboard, the plane violently sped back up and took off again, barely clearing the treeline on the opposite side of the airfield. We got out of our cars and looked back just as the cargo bay doors were closing up again blocking our view of the burning airfield surrounded by the snowy Russian landscape. The door met the top of the cargo bay and the roaring of the outside wind stopped. We made it. The base full of vampires was wiped from the face of the earth, we were safely back on board the plane and the Fangs were helpless to stop us. But still, it didn’t feel like anything was over.


  • Watching: Calculus 2 'How-to' videos

Part 2: Ghosts of the Warfighters
Murray

We spent the next 4 weeks together, like old times. John asked to stay as he said he could use some time off and we let him sleep on the couch. Carmelita was more than happy to submit a vacation request to Interpol and took the next month off so she could spend some quality time with Sly. She fit in well. John bonded well with Sly, being another light hearted stealth specialist, and I found myself talking a lot to him too. Apparently he liked weightlifting like me and we often did small competition in our little makeshift gym at the safehouse. I usually won but sometimes he surprised me with the more bodyweight oriented workouts. There wasn’t a doubt that I was stronger but for his body type he was impressive. Bentley was happy to have Sly back but he rarely associated with John. Whenever he came back from sightseeing he would enter a mode of silence, typing away at  his computer. I asked him what he was doing one night and he simply said he was “looking into our guest” He later complained to me in private about how while using all of his resources, he was barely able to find anything about him at all, as though he never existed in the first place. Whenever Bentley thought he was onto something, the trail went cold. I wouldn’t say that he didn’t like John but he was definitely suspicious of him. I couldn’t blame him whenever I really thought about it. He came out of nowhere and showed skills and resources unlike anything I had ever seen. Sure he had gotten Sly back but it just didn’t make sense why. What was in it for him. Who was he? Was he a thief who wanted a piece of the Cooper Vault treasure? Or maybe he just wanted Sly back so he could personally exact revenge for something we had done to wrong him. I doubted it though. If he was going to do something then he would have taken any of the many opportunities he has already been given.

John usually was out sight-seeing, enjoying the beautiful city of Paris, like any other tourist would. As the weeks went on, Sly and Carmelita started to spend more time alone with each other, going out on the town or whatever else they were up to, leaving me alone at the safehouse with Bentley and occasionally John. The feeling finally started to sink in that the Cooper gang was finally finished, we’ve had more than our fair share of adventures and we even started to have careers apart from each other and thieving. Bentley had been submitting applications to work as a theoretical physics professor at Cambridge and Oxford and I had a good gig going in professional wrestling despite my recent  elongated vacation. John I’m sure had his own life, Carmelita had her own job as a respected inspector at Interpol and as for Sly, I’m sure he’d be happy just being with Carmelita. We’d all be able to live on our own, sure, but that wasn’t what bothered me. All our life we had only had each other and we stuck together through our life of crime. But with the heists coming to an end, would that be the end of us? What about our family? Would our bond survive without being on the run or would it just fade away as we went our separate ways? The life of crime and being on the run was fun of course, but what I really thought of as the best part of my life was our family. We could have nothing and still have each other and that would be enough for us to get by. No, bonds like that don’t just fade away. We are family, and nothing, no amount of money or wealth in the world could change that.

----------------

I had just gotten back from the local market getting groceries. I was going to make a crab fettuccini alfredo feast for dinner, just because it had been so long since I had really let myself loose in the kitchen. Bentley had made the call to the others as to our plans earlier in the day for dinner and I was pleased to see Sly, Carmelita and John by the time I had arrived relaxing watching TV in the living room. I made dinner and we all ate and laughed and talked freely about all of our previous adventures. Even Bentley let his guard down for the night. We learned that John had a girlfriend in the US. He said that we should all come over to stay at his ranch house in central Idaho. Was it just a slip of the tongue or did he actually trust us? Whatever the reason, life was good. For the night were just a big happy family enjoying dinner together. No politics, no police, no backstabbing, just a family. And that’s all I really wanted all this time, just a family.

We finished our dinner and went back to the couch to watch more TV and talk. Soccer was playing and we laughed as John joked about how little he knew about the sport. “But why doesn't he just carry it?” “Is falling over in the middle of the field part of soccer?” “Just tackle him!!” Johns commentary was probably the best part of the night as we could barely watch the game through our tears of laughter.

    It was around 2 in the morning when we finally decided it was time to start going to bed. Sly convinced Carmelita to stay the night at the safehouse saying it was too late to drive. All of us under one roof. It was a good night.

    John went outside as though he had something on his mind and leaned against the wall on street level. I went out to talk to him. He was looking at the stars as though in a trance.

    “So that game was pretty awsome huh?” I remarked to get his attention.

    He jumped a little,”Yeah it was good. Nothing like a bunch of guys playing football wrong.” He chuckled to himself and there was a pause.

    “So what’s up?” I pressed. He took a moment to respond as he was in a mental conversation with the stars.

    “It’s just, been a while. Since I’ve just sat back and had a good time with a bunch of good people,” he was softening up. Maybe I should try to dig a little deeper, understand him better.

    “What do you mean?” There was another pause before he faced me to continue.

    “I had friends like you and your friends once. A family. We saw each other through thick and thin, life and death. They were my family and we looked out for each other.” His voice started to crack.

    “What happened to them?” I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but what I got shocked me.

    He looked at the ground for a moment before telling me the story. “I used to be in a special group called ‘The Warfighters’. It was our job to infiltrate hostile countries that posed an immediate threat to world peace and end their plans and, if it was seen as necessary, end their regime. There I met my friends, we served together for 5 years until we retired and started a business. 2 years later, they were almost all dead. The only people who lived were me and my girlfriend.” He pulled out a picture of him smiling standing hugging a girl in front of an open field. She looked familiar but I couldn’t put a name on the face. “I sold the company for a decent number and went to Idaho with her, and we’ve been there ever since. Been thinking about tying the knot for a while but after seeing Sly and Carmelita, I think it’s the right thing to do.”

He walked past me patting me on the shoulder. Before he opened the door he turned back to me, “Thanks for the talk man. I needed that,” and he walked inside.

Little did I know the secondary door camera above my head was listening in to our conversation and the turtle behind the controls was taking in every word.

----------------

Bentley

It was an interesting story I’ll admit, and it answered a few important questions, like where he was from and where he learned his skills and how he had access to such technology. It also explained why I was never able to find anything on the internet about his past. But it left even more urgent questions like who did he work for and how is he able to hide so well, but more importantly what happened to his old friends. So I dug deeper and began hacking the US government’s classified archives. I was up all night making a program that could hack in and find what I needed.

----------------

John

I wish I hadn’t told that story. It always brings back memories. That night I saw one of the bad ones. The night of our last mission and when the first Warfighter died.

It was 3 in the morning in southwest China and there wasn’t a soul in sight. We got word that there was someone raising an empire in the region and antagonizing the neighboring provinces. Normally we wouldn’t care about this as it happened all the time in other places in the world. What brought our attention was that this emperor had a mystical weapon of mass destruction in his possession. Our resource said that it had the ability to turn a population into vampire slaves. It seemed pretty convincing, given the neighboring tribes abnormally aggressive behavior. We found the worst case scenario when we finally arrived at an affected tribe. There were only vampires in sight. The streets were littered with the bodies and vehicles of tourists and former residents. We had to fight our way out of that town and ordered a napalm bombing of the village. We watched as the houses and buildings burned to the ground leaving no survivors. It was then that me and my partner, Steven (India) Algof, decided to change the mission objective from neutralize the threat to kill the regime leader.

From there we made the treck through the himalayan snow up to the palace of the rooster that went by the name General Tsao. From there everything went to hell. We split up to do recon of the area and an alarm was raised. Despite the entire area being under heavy lockdown, I was able to remain hidden from any of the hundreds of the guards patrolling the streets. I was in no position to fight off an entire empire but I could certainly give them the fight of their life as I had my custom combat rifle, an integrally suppressed, fluted AR-15 with an angled foregrip and Trijicon optic. It was light but could do whatever I needed it to do.

Hour passed before I heard Stevens pained voice over the communications link. He said he was in the city market where he was pinned down under heavy patrol and he wasn’t able to escape alone without raising another alarm. When I was getting close I was approached by a large patrol unit, I dealt with them and pressed on. As I went further and further into the depths of the city, I recognized that I wasn’t meant to come out of this alive. Steven had been captured and was forced to give me up. But that didn’t matter now, all that mattered was getting him out alive.

I finally found the city market and entered it with my gun ready but what I saw horrified me. As the exit was blocked off behind me I was met with 50 heavily armed guards, and 30 vampires and leading them was a turned vampire Steven Algof. General Tsao must have used the weapon on him and turned him into a vampire. As he stumbled towards me I did what I had to do and I let myself loose with all the fiery rage I possessed.

What happened next could have only been considered a slaughter as I soon ran out of ammo and had to use one of the bladed spears of the guards to kill the rest. In the end it wasn’t even worth it. The palace was a fake and no one else lived in miles, nor was there any sign of the weapon. I carried Stevens dead body through the streets lined with the bodies of the fallen guards to an evacuation helicopter I watched as we drifted away as the city was engulfed in the flames of a series of firebombs. I told them the mission was a failure and we had Stevens funeral later that month. His wife and the other 5 members of our team and I were all in attendance as well as some other close friends and relatives. I remember thinking to myself, ‘this was supposed to be his last mission. He was going to retire when we got back.’ Another month had passed when we finally found where the real General Tsao was on the opposite side of the mountain range. When we arrived to deal with the sonofabitch, we found that another group was laying waste to his empire. The Cooper Gang. We watched as Sly and his friends reduced his empire to rubble. It was a rather satisfying sight and we didn’t interfere with their operation and let them go but we followed Tsao to an interpol police station. When we knocked out the power I snuck in alone and shot him twice in the head and all the anger and rage went away. The mission was over.

Sly

That next morning was great, waking up and seeing Carmelitas beautiful face laying next to me with her blue hair flowing across the bed. She was cute when she’s angry, this was way better. But it wasn’t playing around, this was pure, and it was everything I could ask for. I got up being careful not to wake her, put a shirt on and walked over to the family room. I could see John still snoring on the couch in an awkward position and Murray was busy making waffles in the kitchen. I greeted him sleepily and grabbed something to drink out of the fridge. I leaned against the closed fridge door and chatted with my friend.

“Heck of a night huh?” I started.

“Yeah, it was nice to have a family dinner with everyone around again,” Murray replied. There was a small pause as I looked over the counter at John who was now starting to fall off the couch.

“Our guest seems to be sleeping well.”

“He’s a deep sleeper,” he replied, “I came in here and started at breakfast and he was out like a light.” Then he fell off the couch with a heavy thud and jumped into a sitting position looking around as if he got hit. We laughed out loud for a minute while he came to his senses and walked over.

“Not funny guys,” he complained and got something to drink as well. “Waffles? Sweet.” And he walked over to the bathroom to get himself together. He always seemed to like being in functional clothes than something that would be worn just out of comfort. He liked his plain white T-shirt and blue jeans.

When he came back a few minutes later he started talking again, this time a little bit more awake. “So I should probably head home today. It’s been fun don’t get me wrong but my girlfriend is probably worried I’ve done something stupid,” he started as he got some food and sat down. Carmelita had just woken up and entered the room.

“Good morning,” she said with a sleepy smile and kissed me on the cheek. She got some food as well and sat down to join the conversation.

“You should come to my place in Idaho,” he suggested, “ you’d love it. He have horses, guns,plenty of land, all the good stuff.”

We looked around the table as though waiting for someone to say something. It was sudden but we were basically on vacation anyways so…

Then Carmelita spoke up. “Sure we can go.”

“Awsome, I’ll make the call,” and he stepped out to make a call, leaving an empty plate by the sink.

----------------

We woke up Bentley who after protesting heavily, began to pack his things into the van. The rest of us did the same and we went to Carmelita's apartment to do the same. We then followed John who had been waiting to lead us to a hangar at the airport. There he showed us the private cargo plane he got to Paris on. It was a full size C-17 that fit the car and the van easily. There were 2 other cars identical to his own already in the cargo bay but even then, everything fit comfortably.

It was a long flight from Paris to Idaho, about 10 hours. Thankfully there was plenty to do on the plane. There was a room for a lab, a pool table, a bar area, even a miniature movie theater area. John didn’t even have to pilot the plane. He left that job to his automated computer assistant, Hector. For an AI, it was very impressive, able to maintain a conversation, but john confessed that he himself did not make the AI, and an old friend of his did. With all the amenities the flight hardly felt like it took more than a few hours.

We touched down on a private airstrip on John’s property and pulled into a hangar. From there we drove the van and one of John's cars a short distance up a nearby hill overlooking the tarmac. We drove up to a lone two story house that stood overlooking everything below. It was a nice house with a front porch lining the lower floor and a white cottage style exterior. John left his car and led us to the front door but before we got half way out stepped his girlfriend to greet him. She stood at the the top of the patio in a flannel and jeans. John kissed her and showed her over to introduce her to us but we stopped in our tracks. Her light purple fur was all too familiar to me. She bared a striking resemblance to Neyla, who had died almost 3 years ago in the body of Clockwerk. But now she looked better than she ever had with her braided hair falling down her pulled over her shoulder.

“Guys I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Sierra.”

She shook my hand with a smile, “It’s nice to meet you,” as though she had no idea who we were. I faked a smile to try and stem the awkwardness and Carmelita kind of did the same but none of the others shared my enthusiasm. Murray looked tense and Bentley just said, “forgive me if I don’t shake hands,” and kept to himself. The Neyla lookalike was passive about it and invited us inside. We left our things in the car and followed her up the steps. Sierra went off to do something upstairs and John proceeded to give us a short tour of the house. It was a decent size house capable of having the number of guests it now had and there was large family room with a TV covering half of a wall and a picturesque view over the airfield and a valley off in the distance. It was nice but being in the same house as Neyla was all that I was thinking about. How long till she tried to kill us in some convoluted way? I pulled John aside when I knew that Sierra was out of earshot.

“John who is Sierra?” I questioned.

“She’s my girlfriend, why?”

“Well,” I tried to think of a good way to bring the idea across without coming across as passive-aggressive, “have you ever heard of someone by the name of Neyla?”

His facial expression changed recognizing the name, like he was cringing at a bad memory. “ Yes, she was Sierra’s sister before she died. I’m guessing you had a run-in with her her doppelganger?” I nodded. “Well there’s nothing to worry about, I’ve met her myself and she’s a crafty one. I don’t know where she ended up but believe me, neither of us want anything to do with her. We don’t even know what she’s up to anymore.”

“She’s dead,” John raised an eyebrow, “ she joined the Klaw Gang and died… in when the airship she was on crashed near Paris.” I didn’t want to tell him about Clockwerk, the story as is sounded far-fetched. Throwing in the part about merging with Clockwerk’s mechanical body might make it sound like I was making fun of his dead sister-in-law.

“Okay then,” he said, nodding and trying to process what I was saying, “ well at least she won’t be doing any more harm.”

----------------

The next few days were relaxing as we spent time around the ranch. Although it felt inappropriate to just call it a ranch. John had built a shooting range, an offroad race course and even a hidden bunker that he used as a garage for all of his projects. You could tell by the amount of mechanical objects laying around that he liked to tinker. ‘He built the cars and the armor himself’ he said. We also got to know Sierra more as the days rolled by. She was sweet and caring for others but she reminded me of Carmelita in how she still had a layer of toughness whenever the situation called for it. She would spend the mornings taking her horse for a ride around the ranch and lighting her candles in the living room at night. She was far more relaxed than Neyla ever was and that I could appreciate. She talked to Carmelita a lot, eventually getting her to join her on her morning horseback rides and they quickly became very close despite Carmelita having never ridden a horse in her life. They told us we could stay as long as we wished.

John on the other hand took the rest of us out to have some ‘guy time.’ He introduced us to his vast gun collection and let us take them out to his shooting range. Murray gravitated to the bigger medium machine guns and picked up a M240. It was fairly heavy but he shot it from the hip like he was the big guy in an action movie. Whether he actually hit anything was another question. Bentley seemed to be attracted more to the marksman rifles as he picked up a bolt action SV98. The gun looked funny because it was bigger than he was but he surprised us all by immediately shooting a target a half-mile away 4 times in a row. As for me, I wasn’t much of a gun person but I tried some of the AR-15s anyways. I was shocked by how different they could be, their size and their overall feel were different with each one I picked up. I found myself at home with one with a shorter barrel and a suppressor, mostly for the noise. After a while of trying, I ended up getting hits every other shot but then John stepped up with a slightly longer gun with a suppressor inside a handguard with holes throughout and started hitting targets three times farther than the ones I was shooting at. We kept shooting at the firing line until the girls showed up and joined in. Sierra picked up a similar gun to Johns and they started competing for the best shot. Carmelita instinctively picked up a pistol and began hitting the closer targets. I noticed that she was good at hitting targets that were close but as soon as they went beyond 50 feet she couldn’t land a single shot. I gave her my gun saying maybe she’d have better luck. She gave me a face and proceeded to hit targets close to where I was shooting.

“I think I’m going to ask interpol if I can use on of these instead of a shock pistol,” she joked.

When it was time to go back to the house I opted to ride back with Carmelita. So Sierra hopped in a car with John and they sped on ahead. Finally I had a good chance to talk with Carmelita alone since we had been there.

“So what do you think of the place?” She asked.

“I’ll take it for like 200 grand if he throws in the cars,” I joked. We chatted and laughed as our horses slowly trotted away from the setting sun.

“When we get everything sorted out, we should get a place like this,” she chimed in at one point. Over the last few weeks our future had been one of the topics of conversation, but I hadn’t seriously thought about moving away yet. The safehouse in Paris was home to me and the rest of the gang, but the ranch was more than big enough for the whole gang to stay at. And we wouldn’t need to hide anymore, having the nearest people being several miles away.

“That sounds lovely.”

----------------

When we got back to the house the sun was fully set and the living room was alive with candlelight. The field around the house was lit up with the soft glow of fireflies and we saw John waiting for us leaning on a post on the front porch. Carmelita went inside and I went over to John to see what was on his mind.

“Its nothing,” he replied but then he asked out of nowhere, “how long have you and Carmelita known each other?”

It was so sudden, I recalled all the adventures we’ve had together. Kaine island, taking out Clockwerk, Clock-la, recovering the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus. I realized that it had been 6 years since I had first met Carmelita when he helped her catch the stage manager who tried to steal the Diva Diamond. I was 24 and she was 27.

“I met her around 6 years ago but we had only really been dating for around 3.Why?”

John took a moment to respond, “Seeing you two together has been an eye opener to me. I’ve known Sierra for around the same time and we had been dating a little longer.” He took another pause, gazing over the glowing field of bugs, “I need to ask you something, just one guy to another.”

“Sure, what’s up?” I didn’t know what to expect but I think I knew where his head was.

“Have you ever thought about  settling down and getting married with your girl? like hang up the hat and start a family?” It caught me off guard how direct he was being. I had thought about it, but not really in depth. I never really had a vision of what my future would be like. All I knew is that I wanted Carmelita and my friends to be in it.

“I suppose. It had crossed my mind.” I responded, I didn’t really have any experience that could directly help him but at least I could try, “are you?”

“Yeah,” he looked down at a little velvet box he pulled out of his jacket. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, since before I went to Paris.”

“Well it’s a nice night, and there’s no time like the present.”

“I suppose it is,” he looked back at me and pocketed the box, “ thanks for the talk mate. I needed that.” And we walked inside to join the conversation.

    He didn’t stay long though. No longer than ten minutes later John pulled Sierra outside just out of earshot. Then John pulled out the box and got down on one knee. Sierra put her hands over her mouth in surprise and tears started to roll down her face. It was romantic with the field behind them alive with the glow of countless insects in the night. As I pulled Carmelita closer on the couch, she shed a tear herself. Maybe that could be us one day. I didn’t even notice Bentley wheeling himself quietly out of the room.

Bentley

The scene of seeing the former Warfighters in love was touching, but for me it only brought back feelings of sadness. Penelope was my Carmelita, my Sierra, and now she’s gone. I didn’t know where and in a way I didn’t want to know. Maybe it was better this way, so I could start to remove the burned image of her face from the back of my mind. I rolled myself into my downstairs bedroom and closed the door to block out the sound of the others sharing a drink. It was then that I heard a beeping from my laptop. All this time since we arrived, I’ve had the program that I made chip away at the CIA’s firewall and 2 weeks later it must have finally gained full access to the nation's secret archives. I felt bad snooping into the past life of John after learning more about him as a family man, but the door was open.

As I poured over the classified information I was shocked by what I found. John told the truth about his past thus far but it was what he didn’t say about his mysterious past that pulled me in. He was born in north Georgia and lived a relatively normal life until his parents died when his house was looted after a hurricane. Left with no family and no home, he signed up for the US marines at age 17 to avoid going to an orphanage. He quickly went into Force Recon and stayed there for a year before he was injured in combat. To save his own life, he volunteered for an experimental procedure to modify his bone marrow that would boost his metabolism and energy levels. He was then assigned to the covert operations group known as the Warfighters and there he stayed for the next 4 years. While in the unit it was found that he had a unique natural ability to resist the effects of hypnosis, making him a huge asset in the field. His track record in the unit was phenomenal, completing 23 separate operations which varied from assassination to industrial sabotage. His unit unanimously retired 3 years ago when one of their members mysteriously died in enemy territory on a failed mission to assassinate General Tsao. ‘Tsao? He was there too?’ I put the idea out of my mind and kept reading. After they all retired they went on an alleged vigilante mission and broke into an interpol police station undetected and killed the former General in his temporary holding cell. No collateral damage was reported. The unit was allowed to keep all the equipment, gear and vehicles they used used as the Warfighters. After that, the retired Warfighters started a company called Hawken Enterprises, manufacturing and selling a new type of prototype railgun. The US Department of Defense actually signed a contract with them at some point to retrofit their new breed of navy warships and gunships with varying sizes of the railgun and reportedly had a functional portable prototype by the time the company was disbanded and its assets and intellectual property were sold off to multiple parties for a combined total of 50 billion US dollars. ‘So he’s rich too? Why does he live out here when he could live in a mansion somewhere?’ I regained my focus and continued to read. The stated reason for the sale of the company was unknown but since then John has been mostly off the grid. Another part of the report stated that besides John and Sierra, all the other Warfighters had died within a year of each other just before the company was sold.

It all sounded very far fetched that the tiger who only minutes ago proposed on the back porch was a biologically engineered soldier of the black ops world. And a billionaire. It was a lot to take in so I crawled into bed from my wheelchair and went to sleep. I just wish that I can leave Penelope's memory behind me and live my life.

John

That was probably the most nervous I had ever been. It took more guts than I had ever needed for anything else I had ever done in my life, but it was all worth it. Now instead of waking up with my girlfriend, this morning I woke up with my fiancé. It’s a feeling like no other and there isn’t a word that can describe. She saved my soul long ago when I thought I sold it to my inner demons, and showed me what it was to live a good life. And now here we were.

I got out of bed early and headed downstairs to make something to eat. ‘Maybe I’ll surprise her with breakfast in bed’ I thought to myself. I was almost done cooking when I noticed her walking down the hallway in her favorite her favorite nightgown. Sierra smiled and hugged me from behind.

“Good morning babe,” she said sleepily as she got on her toes to peek over my shoulder. I gave her a kiss and proceeded to finish what I was doing. I looked out the sliding glass doors at the scene as autumn began to take hold of the trees in the distance beyond the field of tall grass where butterflies and birds played in the wind. The beauty of the scene made me shed a tear of happiness. I’ve gone through life not really knowing what I wanted, but now I knew exactly what I wanted. And it was all right here,

----------------

An hour later the others had woken up to the scent of pancakes, eggs and bacon. I greeted them as they walked in and we all ate in peace. But the peace was short lived. Later that day I got a call from a recently hired intelligence asset. I answered it to receive a message from a female voice. The message would eventually seal my fate.

Five days later, I would find myself in the belly of the C-17, about to make my final high altitude jump at 2400 feet. When the Warfighters were still around, we fought to stop the end of the world from happening. But now, as I looked over the curved horizon at the rising sun I knew that this time we were too late. The end of the world had already begun.

----------------

Sly

It was an interesting night to say the least. But then again it’s always interesting when Carmelita takes out a pair of handcuffs. We just didn’t use them as they normally intended. I woke up that morning chained to the bed. Weird.

John was nice enough to make us all pancakes and after that he showed us outside to see ‘the bunker’. It was under a double sliding door that was camouflaged in the hillside only 100 feet from the front of the house. John said he used it as a garage now but it looked more like an epic man cave with sofas and a pool table in front of a massive flat screen TV covering half of the far wall. There was a single lane going down the length of the bunker that was lined with various vehicles, most of them being his unconventional cars but there were also trucks and other racks that held various weapons and gear that were being worked on. The perfect mancave. We sat around for a few hours playing pool and watching movies on the flat screen until he got a phone call. He took Sierra away and they began to talk just out of earshot. It looked serious despite the previously cheerful attitude. Then they walked back over with a serious look on their faces.

“Something has happened,” he started, “there’s a situation in Russia that we need to deal with. And we can’t deal with it alone.”

“Well what’s the situation?”I asked.

John was about to lay out the facts when Bentley cut them off. “Does it have anything to do with the mission you carried out 3 years ago?” There was a dead silence in the room. John was caught off guard but stared at Bentley with a level of shock I had yet to see from him. The air suddenly got dangerously hot as everyone in the room tensed..

“Bentley, what are you talking about?” I asked. He knew something about John. What happened 3 years ago? The Cooper Vault job?

“John’s got quite the story. He just chose not to tell,” He pressed.

Sierra was about to say something but John held her back and crossed his arms. “Well if you know so much about us then do tell.”

Bentley told us the whole story. Where John came from, his career, the company, his teammates, all of it. John just stood there, his predatory gaze asphyxiated with the turtle. Taking in every bit of his story as if reliving every moment. When Bentley finished there was a silence that hung heavily in the air. You could almost hear your own heartbeat. Then John broke the silence.

“It’s true, all of it,” he began. In the next ten minutes he went into depth in filling in the holes in Bentley's story, careful not to leave out a single detail. “The people who killed my team are still out there. For a while we didn’t even know their name. We sold the company and moved out here so they couldn’t find us. Ever since then we have been looking for them, using every resource in the world to find them so we can put a stop to them. They’re known by the locals as the Army of the Devil in northeast asia. The intelligence community officially doesn't know about them. We called them the Scorpions. They were inspired by the Aztecs, obsessed with the apocalypse. They thought the end of the world was the next stage in planetary evolution. When the Warfighters were around we encountered them often enough. There were never enough of them to pose a significant threat but there were enough to be a problem. The threat became more serious when they bought the spell for a recently discovered kind of black magic from General Tsao. I believe you encountered him and his vampires. The unfortunate reality is those vampires were once all normal civilians. The spell attacks a host and begins to physically and mentally change them into a vampire. They’re basically soulless shells at that point, controlled as a single hive mind. We thought we had found the source of the spell in that mission 3 years ago when we lost Steven. We were given bad information and failed our mission. Since then the Scorpions have been hunting us, picking us off one by one. We went off the grid to evade them and ever since then we had been searching for them,” John paused, his face stern but not angry.

The room went silent again and Bentley was sitting there starting to recede back into his shell. He had been suspicious of John for wanting something from us. Now I think I knew what it was.

“We finally found the Scorpions hidden in Russia,” he continued, “they’ve made 3 bases in the northern mountains where it snows all year round and they’ve been abducting thousands of civilians from around the world  and amassing an army of vampires. They’re stored underground but judging from the amount that enter every day we estimate there to be around 30 million vampires plus Scorpion staff. They are planning to kill off the world’s population by unleashing their vampire hordes onto the world.”

The room went dead and we were all in shock. We wasn’t just telling us the details on a target or a job location like were used to. He was talking about the end of the world. And I think he wanted us to help him.

Johns expression softened. “I can’t ask you to do this. I mean, I just met you all a few months ago. But Me and Sierra can’t do this on our own. I wouldn’t blame you if you just wanted to go back to Paris like you never knew about this mess. But we need your help.”

The prospect of going to a foreign country to do the impossible wasn’t totally new to us. We’ve done it before. But this was different, he was asking us to save the world from a mystical threat. Sure we had defeated Clockwerk who was a global threat in his own rite, but he was asking us to take on an army. If I went then my friends would likely follow in my footsteps. And I couldn’t bear the idea of putting my friends lives on the line. I was thinking of something to say when Murray stood up.

“I’ll go,” he said. Murray didn’t sound the least bit afraid. I always knew he had a big heart, but I never knew he was willing to put his life on the line on this big of a scale. Then Bentley volunteered.

“It needs to be done, and you’re gonna need all the help you can get.”

I couldn’t let the rest of the gang go into harm's way without me. Or else what kind of friend would I be. I stood up as well, “can’t let you have all the fun.”

“And ringtail isn't going anywhere without me,” I looked back to see Carmelita had also risen. I hoped this wouldn’t happen, but at the same time I knew she would never stand by as I put myself on the line.

Sierra had a look of surprise on her face as we all came forward to face the Warfighters and John let his arms drop to his hips. He had a tinge of sadness in his eyes. Or was it pride. “You are aware I can't guarantee you a ride home and if we succeed, no one will ever know what we’ve done.” We nodded. “Then welcome to the team.” We all just stood there, not yet fully grasping what we had just agreed to do. This was it, just one last job. “But before we get into planning, there's someone who you should meet. Without her we would have never found the Scorpions and we wouldn’t have found your safehouse in Paris.” he guided our attention to a doorway off to the corner of the room. Out stepped a girl in glasses with her blond hair tied back in a bandana who spoke with a shy voice. It was Penelope.

“Hey guys. It’s been a while.”

(A/N): Iwell that was quick for me to lag behind on releases lol. I've been busy irl on my end. I wont go into it but to make up for it I'll be releasing everything up to Part 4. Enjoy.

  • Watching: Calculus 2 'How-to' videos

(A/N): This is the first Part of my fic at the moment. I'm going to start uploading them on a weekly basis. And before anyone asks, no I wont be rushing content because I already have most of the story ready for release as of right now. I've made a few journal posts before about my fic but I never kept that going and eventually forgot about it. (my bad). So I thought it would be more effective to just post the finished parts here instead.I'm not going to explain what are in the parts anymore in separate posts either because IMO it's just not worth the time. But I will say this. It's built to resemble something that both takes advantage of all the physics of the Sly Cooper Universe but also stays true to realism and real life concepts. Everything about this story has been thoroughly researched and heavily thought out and 99% of the things in this story are either real or based off of plausible concepts with very few exceptions as to be considered 'canon compliant' with the mainstream Sly Cooper story line. Meaning that this could be considered canon in the main story-line of the series if need be. With that said, I welcome criticism and I do respond to questions. Occasionally I might write a post here and there explaining certain aspects of the story, logic, technology, and timeline. The reason being that this story gets incredibly complex with interweaving storylines and it can get confusing at times. But just for starters, to fill in a plot-hole left by Sinzaru Games in Sly 4, in this story, Sly 4 takes place 2 years after Sly 3 and this takes place 6 months after Sly 4.
So enjoy the introduction of Act 1: Family.



Act 1: Family

Ch.1

Bentley

It’s been 6 months since we lost Sly to that damn blimp. Alot has changed since then but at the same time it still felt like yesterday. Usually one would expect by this time that we would have been able to move on by now but no one really has. Me, Murray, especially Carmelita, we all still remembered the day like it was yesterday. I still expected him to show up at the door with his signature attitude and snarky remarks, but he never came. Carmelita kept up her crime busting spree on the job but when she was off she came to our Paris hideout just so she wasn’t alone. Recently she would even sleep here in Slys room. She acted tough around the clock but anyone who really knew her could tell that all the intimidation was just a cover up, a shell encasing her loneliness. She was hurt badly and it broke her heart to know that Sly was gone forever. Dimitri and the others from all of our previous adventures were throwing around the idea of having a funeral, to “put his memory to rest” they said. None of us really wanted to do it but we all knew that it was the right thing to do. Sly deserved that much. I made the call to everyone on a rainy night of June that we would start planning the funeral.

    It’s ironic that this was the night when my defensive surveillance instruments notified me that there was a very particular unconventional vehicle patrolling the streets near our Paris safehouse. It had no license plates or any other form of identification and looked like a cross between a sleek supercar and a dune-buggy lifted about a foot off the ground. This car would seem to be just driving randomly to any random observer but upon mapping all of its previous routs, it had been taking the same 3 routes on a 3 day rotation before starting over again over the last 3 weeks. This alone normally wouldn’t trigger my sensors but what did was every 45 minutes exactly it would pass by the safe house, each time on a perpendicular side. Whoever was controlling it was stalking us. We watched the cameras for about an hour and a half wondering what it was doing until it suddenly stopped in the middle of the street on the part of the road closest to the front door of the hideout. Everyone gathered around the computer monitor that had a live video of the car. We didn’t know what to think as it just idled there without any lights on and its blacked out windows. We could feel the low rumble of its powerful engine like it was waiting for something to move so it could pounce on the hideout. Then suddenly it tore off with the speed of no vehicle I had never seen before and the sound of a jet engine but no screeching tires on the pavement. It just vanished as though it was never there.

    We just stayed in place for a while, still feeling its lingering presence, half expecting it to barge in through the door. We waited for about an hour for it to return, silently moving about as not to give away our position. After about an hour and a half the tension finally lifted, letting it sink in that although that car was unusual, it was gone for now and there was no point stressing about it unless it came back. But then it did and this time it parked across the street from the hideout front door. I got back on the computer, Carmelita grabbed her shock pistol and Murray put on his gloves and got ready for what may end up being a fight. We waited in tension as the engine turned off and a tall man in a black rain jacket stepped out of the left side of the car. The car must have been from the West since all European vehicles had the drivers side on the right. He pulled a duffel bag out of the car and walked up the steps and to the door and knocked. No one dared move as he just stood there and waited in the pouring rain. We held our breath letting the air grow still with the mystery of who the man was.  The door had a camera on the side that was meant to be able to identify anyone at the door but his face was hidden by the hood as he just stood there like a ghost. And what was in the bag? Anyone who spent this much time looking for us must have a mission of some sort.

    Finally he broke the silence with a calm, but confident voice, “Bentley, Murray, I have something that can help you with Sly.”

    The mere mention of Sly’s name sent a shock through the air and made us look at each other as though trying to comprehend what had just been said through our thoughts. It sounded too good to be true. Part of me wanted to let him in to hear him out, another part suddenly got angry. ‘How dare he mock us with false hope of seeing our friend again.’

    As if on cue, Carmelita shot up and went to the door with smoke coming out of her ears. She tore the door open and aimed the pistol in the stranger's face.

    “What do you want?” she yelled in his face. The reaction left us in shock at her spontaneousness. But still, Sly meant a lot to her, and hearing his name again definitely triggered her and for that I wasn’t too surprised. Despite this, the man only barely shifted back in response and maintained his posture.

    The man shifted the bag to his back and put his hands up calmly and waited a moment to speak. “I have something that can help you find your friend Carmelita, I know where he is.”

    We all paused for a moment in disbelief at his statement, he not only knew who we all were, but he says he knew when Sly traveled to that night when the blimp disappeared. Carmelita let his guard down slightly, at the thought. But there was so much that wasn’t adding up. I came out from behind my computer and wheeled myself into the room behind Carmelita.

    “Who are you and why are you stalking us? And how do you know where Sly is?” I questioned.

    “I’d be happy to answer all your questions but there’s a lot to tell. A bit more than what’s appropriate on a doorstep,” he replied.

    “Ok then, sit at the table and don’t touch anything.” I ordered.

    He pulled off his hood revealing himself to be a Siberian tiger and did as he was told as we all sat around the table across from him. He gently pulled the bag off his back and placed it gently on the table. We all listened in suspense as he explained himself. His name was John Puller and his family had been passing along a letter for thousands of years. The letter originated in Egypt and was written in a language no one could read at the time. It was considered sacred and encased in glass and was passed along through the centuries until it was sold the the Greeks and from there sold on the Silk Road where it made its way to China. There it was traded around until it made its way to his family who at the time were wealthy Chinese merchants. It stayed in his family as an heirloom to this day but still, no one was ever able to read it. It wasn’t until his ancestors moved to the US in 1919 and they started to learn the English language that the letter was finally interpreted. It was a message from a man who was sent back in time. It told the future. Up till the night of the incident with the blimp that vanished over Paris and then the predictions stopped. Since then he had been trying to find the true Cooper Gang over all the false posers who took the name for themselves.

    “You;’re good at hiding. I’ll give you that.” He said, “but here we are.”

    Finally he unzipped his bag and pulled out a letter covered in writing, encased in glass and placed it on the table. “This is it.” John slid it over to me.

    I just looked at him with shock. The fact that his outrageous story actually had proof was incredible but most importantly, it gave me hope that we might see our friend again. Before I could get a good look at it, Carmelita took it and started aggressively reading it. She looked at me with a hopeful look of disbelief and handed me the block of glass. I read every line, front and back and I could see why. It was not only Slys handwriting but there was also a timeline of our adventures. Everything From the Orphanage to the day he disappeared. And after everything it gave specific instructions as to how to find the hideout.  At the bottom, it said ‘Bentley and Murray, I know you can do this, To Carmelita, I love you.’ I could see why Carmelita is freaking out now. It’s probably all she can do to keep herself from breaking down.

    It was definitely him. There was no doubt about it. I immediately brought it in my room and put it in a machine to scan every inch of it and find out when exactly Sly is. I felt bad for Murray, he wanted to see what was written as much as any of su did, but I couldn’t risk losing our only lead to him accidentally dropping it. I printed out a copy for him to read and returned to the other room. But there was still something missing. One factor that just didn’t quite settle right.

    “Why are you doing this?” I asked him. I didn’t know what I expected him to say. Maybe there was something in it for him or maybe we had done something to wrong him and he just wanted to taunt us with the prospect of seeing Sly again. He paused.

    “One of my ancestors met one of Sly Coopers’ ancestors. Rioichi I believe was his name. Rioichi saved his life at some point and the two became friends.” John explained, “he showed him the letter and upon seeing Slys name, he made my ancestor to promise to deliver the message when it was time. All this time later, we remembered that promise. So for me it’s a matter of fulfilling that promise.”

    I didn’t know what to make of his story but it was all we had. If we had any chance of seeing Sly again then we would need to trust him. But if he was lying, Carmelita would likely kill him. If she didn’t, then me or Murray would do it.

    That was a week ago. John had allow us access to his resources, which were quite impressive, and we were able to upgrade our gear and get outfitted for the ancient Egyptian time period so we could blend in seamlessly with the natives. John had volunteered to come along too saying ‘it would be cruel to give you a lead without the resources to pursue it.’ Had it been anyone else I might have refused, but John was a valuable asset in the field. John might not be Sly, but he was an experienced stealth tactician who specialized in covert operations. We needed his skills until we got Sly back.


    Sly

    It’s been 6 months, I think, since I crashed here in Egypt. Since I've been here I've been absolutely miserable in this barren, desolate wasteland. Of course that's a total exaggeration, it’s not that bad here. I mean the first few days really sucked but only because I was trudging through the desert in the hot sun with no food or water. After I found my way to a building near a pyramid I saw off in the distance when I first arrived with the blimp. The locals were friendly enough to give me food and water for a few days but I guess they called the authorities on me because it wasn’t long before four guards showed up at the door asking for me. I debated running but I was in no shape to do so and if I did then I would have a bounty on my head before I even knew why they wanted me. So they brought me to a palace before their pharaoh, Slytunkhamen Cooper. Apparently he himself had seen me in the desert and personally sent a patrol to look for me. When they didn’t find me they kept searching until they found me in that house I ended up at. He wanted me brought in about my cane because it resembled his so much. Apparently he had turned the cane into a symbol of his rule over ancient Egypt in this time period. So I handed it over to him and told him who I was, that I was his descendant from the future, and that I was stranded.

    I didn’t think he would buy the story, for very good reasons, but he did. And for the past 5 months I had been staying with him in his royal palace enjoying all the amenities of being the pharaohs favorite guest. The food looked strange at times but it was exotic nonetheless. We had been debating methods that I could use to communicate to my friends in the future and at one point I said jokingly, ‘why don’t I just write them a letter and say it was me.’ We shared a laugh for a moment but then he said it wasn’t such a bad idea. He recommended writing a letter in a way that whoever I was writing to would know that it was me and he would have his men encase it in a shell of sealed glass. So we did that and the pharaoh deemed it a ‘sacred object’ not to be disturbed. And as of now sits in my personal quarters sitting on a table as a decoration for now, but I knew that one day it could find its way to my friends. I pray that it would because despite all the luxury, I missed my friends, Murray and Bentley. I would lay in bed at night and think of the adventures that we had shared together. All the good, the bad, I missed them. But what really broke my heart was the thought of Carmelita, maybe never seeing her again. All those years of just messing around and having fun but I never realized just how much I wanted her to be in my life. I would give up everything just to see her again, thieving, living outside the law, all of it. Just to live a happy life with her is all I could ask for. It was on these nights that I would grab my cane and climb up to the top of the palace and just look over the horizon, across the city and imagine myself back in Paris with Carmelita in her apartment before all of this time travel ruined it all. Back when I was truly happy with the woman I loved. I never slept those nights.

    It was ironic that it was on one of those nights that I saw a familiar flash of the time vortex from the old van off in the distance. It was far away but it was a big blue van in the middle of ancient Egypt with its headlights on at night. It was hard to miss. My heart was doing somersaults in my chest. I couldn’t believe it worked that fast. After all, the letter was only made a few days ago. I could go back home? See my fiends? And Carmelita… I wondered how she handled me being gone, and my heart dropped at the thought that she might have moved on. I thought about it for a minute. ‘Why don’t you ask her yourself?’ I said to myself. I climbed down from the roof and started preparing my things to leave. But I could have never predicted what happened over the course of the next few days. A man came. Those who witnessed him dubbed him Apep, or Apophis, the Egyptian god of chaos and darkness.

Ch.2

John

We spent a week in preparation for the operation. If I were working with anyone I had in the past then I would call the plan out as sloppy and rushed but Bentley did an incredible job of coming up with a decent plan in only a short period. He was able to confirm my story about the letter being from ancient Egypt by carbon dating it, which is part of how their time machine worked. Bentley then came up with a plan to sneak in undetected, find Sly, and bring him home safely. The only problem was even with all of what we knew there was still too much we didn’t know and each factor had the potential to kill us, kill someone in that time period, cause a time paradox that could shatter reality in the future, or expose the gang in the past which probably would create other problems we would need to fix. So we went with what we had, made custom disguises and a story in case we were to be cause or questioned and loaded all our gear into the Coopers van. We would be travelers going from a neighboring village to visit our grandfather in the city. The only thing they lacked was a backup plan in case everything else failed which I happily provided. It was a weapon of sorts, using technology that baffled even Bentley. I used to use it to great effect to bring down entire organizations in years past, but it was far more versatile than any other conventional weapons in the world.

We piled into the van, and we leaded the large 7 foot case containing the weapon. I sat with Bentley in the back wearing my own tactical stealth suit that hugged like athletic clothing with sound cancelling boots and tactical pouches to carry the bare essentials. Bentley, Murray, and Carmelita carried their normal equipment. I carried only a few smoke grenades and flashbangs and an FN-Five-Seven pistol chambered in nonlethal ammo that Bentley provided. Hopefully it would be all I needed on this mission.

----------------

When we arrived in ancient Egypt I was awestruck by the vast desert. It was nice even though it was the middle night. I could see a pyramid in the distance towering over a nearby palace and a surrounding city. The ideal playground for a person with the skills of Sly. Murray came to a stop in front of a jagged piece of metal sticking out of the ground. I got out and uncovered it slightly more. Bentley recognized it as a piece of Le Paradox's’ time blimp.

Murray parked the van closer to the city behind a large rock and I helped him put a camouflaging tarp over it and they all hunkered down for the night. But not me, it was up to me before anyone were to be able to do anything to do some recon of the city. I turned on my recording contact lense and earpiece that was linked remotely to a binocu-comm that Bentley loaned me, put my cloak-like disguise into a compression bag and started on my way to the city.

----------------

It took a short 8 minutes to make my way across the mile stretch of desert separating the van from the city. Lucky for me i never really get tired doing things like this and I’m able to keep my breath under control. As I infiltrated the city, I snuck through the pitch black alley ways and made my way to the inner areas of the city. Thankfully, being a tiger, I could see at night without a problem. There, there would be something worth stealing but also the prisons in case he were to be caught.

    I made my way to the roof tops and started free-running from one roof to another, all the while consciously making an effort to keep my noise level down and keeping an eye out for Sly. I made my way to the big markets but found no traces of anyone doing any wrong doing. In fact, there were many stores still open in the dead of the night. Sly wasn’t dumb enough to steal something from a place that had witnesses. I made my way to the prisons on the opposite side of the pyramid, keeping an eye on my watch. I needed to be back before sunrise or my stealth would be compromised. I looked in all the cell at the poor souls that got thrown behind bars for one reason or another but again, no Sly. I left the prison without leaving a trace and reported in to Bentley. I couldn’t find him anywhere

    “Wizard, this is Delta. No sign of Sly anywhere.”

    “Roger that Delta, have you checked the palace? He might be sneaking around over there.”

    “Copy. Moving to main palace. Out,” and I started making my way again to the opposite side of the pyramid, still keeping a wary eye on the time. I had 2 hours left till sunrise and my chances of getting caught skyrocket.

    I made it with an hour and a half to spare. The sky wasn’t pitch black anymore but more so a brilliant dark blue canvas with streaks of grey clouds randomly streaking across the sky. I made my way into the torchlit palace with extreme caution. I began to silently creep across the tops of the hallways in a crouched position with my pistol ready to shoot anyone by reflex. I kept a mentally scanned the area with my radar like hearing, ducking for cover whenever someone gets to close. I made my way up to the fourth floor starting to loose hope when I saw him, but not how I expected. He was strolling down the middle of the hallway with another raccoon.

    I activated my contact lense and radioed Bentley. “Delta to Wizard, we may have a situation, are you seeing this?”

    It took him a while to respond. “This is Wizard, we have visual. Can you find out where he is staying?”

    I followed them until they crossed a bridge spanning the grand entrance to the palace. With no other choice, I dropped down from my elevated position and started to follow them but I hadn’t taken a step when a guard close to my left saw me. I immediately pounced on him so we were out of sight of the two raccoons and put my hand over his mouth. We struggled for a little while until I was able to finally reach for my pistol and shot him in the head. He quickly went limp with unconsciousness and I dragged him out of sight. I then continued in my pursuit of Sly. I had 10 minutes before the sleeping darts wore off and that guard regained consciousness to sound an alarm and 30 minutes before sunrise. The clock was ticking.

    I followed them at a distance to a room with a balcony overlooking the city. When I peeked inside the room I could see that it was nice, with a high ceiling and plenty of amenities that were likely reserved for royalty in this time period. It was now clear that Sly was not being held here against his will and he wasn’t in imminent danger so I picked a landmark in the distance that I could use as a reference point to find this room again. I could see past the balcony that there were two tall buildings aligned with the tip of the pyramid that were aligned so that if one were to draw a straight line through the tops of the landmarks, it would lead directly to this balcony. I now had 5 minutes before the sleeping dart wore off. It was time to leave. I crept away from the door and over the bridge to leave along the same route that I entered only to find that the guard I had put to sleep had been found by a palace guard patrol and was being woken up. When I saw that he was coming to I ducked back behind cover and lept off the bridge to land on the next level down under where the guards were. As I swiftly crept along the corridor looking for a dark spot to hide for a moment I radioed Bentley to tell him the situation.

    “Delta to Wizard, target secured. Escape route compromised. Falling back to exfil plan-B.”

    “Roger that Delta. Be careful,” he relied with a tinge of urgency in his voice. I wonder if he was always this concerned.

    Exfil Plan B was a backup plan in case I or any of the others’ stealth got compromised while still in the city. I pulled out my disguise from the compression bag and put it on. It was just a long cloak that went down to past my knees and a scarf to cover my face. No one would be able to tell me apart from any of the other merchants in the city and it was functional, protecting me from the blazing sun and occasional sandstorms.

    I finally had everything in order when I realized that I forgot something to cover my suit underneath the cloak and since it was gusty this morning, the breeze would be able to lift part of my cloak and reveal what I was wearing underneath, giving away my identity. I pinched it shut and began making my way around the palace to try to find an exit. I almost made it to the first floor when I saw a decent number of guards blockading the exit and patrolling the lower level and remembered that even if my disguise worked, I would be a merchant in a royal palace that I had no place in. If I were to be caught I would be captured and questioned, further complicating the operation. But my time was up and the sun had started to rise over the distant horizon and was now painting the sky with brilliant streaks of orange and gold.

    I was only one option. I made my way up to a second story window and looked down. There was a man in the middle of a road trying to sell fruit from a cart piled high with exotic desert produce. Not seeing any other options I leapt from the window letting my cloak flow in the wind and smashed down on the cart, letting the exploding fruit break my fall, yet still landing on my feet. I drew the attention of the whole block in breaking the wheels off the cart with the impact of my fall. Without even looking up I could feel the eyes of hundreds of spectators bearing down on me and the hot anger of the salesman boiling over. Normally this is when I would call the operation a bust and blow my cover but then I remembered something. To these people, science and magic are interchangeable and what they don’t know terrifies them.

    I let my scarf fall from my face and pulled the pin on one of my smoke grenades and let it cloud the area around me as I slowly stood up. As I surveyed the now terrified crowd I could see that I towered over everyone in view by no less than 6 inches. But I wasn’t here to put on a show. The smoke would only work for so long until they came back to their senses. So I pulled back my hood, bared my teeth and roared as loud as I could to drive them away in fear. The poor merchant fell backward and hit the ground and began to tremble in fear as he put his hand up to defend himself. I jumped down from the ruins on the fruit cart and walked as close as I could to him and paused for a moment beside him before continuing to silently walk away. The streets opened up before me. Where there were bustling business centers were now just a dusty road covered in footprints. I pulled the hood back over my head just for the extra effect.

----------------

I almost made it out of the city before it all caught up to me. Whether I was just too optimistic of the situation at hand or I was oblivious to the logical response of a civilization to an apparent threat. I found myself facing walls of guards blocking all the roads of the intersection I was in. I had to think of something fast or they would capture me and most likely execute me for whatever reason they might think of. I used the smoke. That worked against unarmed civilians but these were battle hardened guards and they wouldn’t scare easily. I needed something spontaneous. Then I had an idea that would either work or make me look like a fool. I hid my hands under my cloak and un-holstered my pistol and pulled the pin on a flashbang. I threw the flashbang in the air beyond my line of sight and at the same time shot five of the guards between me and the desert so they fell to the ground unconscious. When I heard the disorienting noise of the flashbang exploding over my head and the dazed looks of the guards falling over each other I made a mad dash for the desert. I didn/t look back as I ran back behind the nearest sanddune about 300 feet into the desert and looked back. They were still trying to gather themselves. When they finally had themselves in order they began to look around in panic from my disappearing act. It was far from perfect but I made it out of the city without getting captured, killing anyone, or dying myself. I radioed in to Bentley as I guided myself back to where the van was hidden.

“Delta to Wizard, Exfil successful. No one in pursuit. On my way back now.”

“It was far from perfect but at least you’re ok,” he responded sounding aggravated. “I’ll start coming up with a plan, just get back here.”

As I walked back I started to feel my adrenaline start to drop. That was the most excitement I’ve had in years. The kind of excitement that I promised myself I would never had again, and more importantly, to someone else very special to me. After all, I was supposed to be retired from this type of work. I turned off my communications equipment and enjoyed the walk in silence.


Carmelita

It was 15 minutes after he made his last call when he finally arrived. He looked slightly battered and dusty as he pulled off his disguise but other than that he looked as though could have just returned from an early morning jog. Even so, he walked over to the van and sat down against the rear wheel. He took out a piece of paper and just sat there with it in his hand. He let his legs straighten out on the ground and brought it up in front of him to his eye level, and stared at it contently before letting his hand drop down to his lap. Then he just sat there, staring off into the desert as though deep in thought. Or maybe it was guilt. I couldn’t tell.

I broke my train of thought and went over to Bentley. “So do you have a plan yet?” I asked

“Not really but I have most of a plan. John, you wanna hear this?” he called.

John barely moved his gaze. “I need a minute. I’ll be there in a bit.” He looked down at the paper again and back up at the horizon.

‘Seriously, what is wrong with him?’ I thought to myself, Then I remembered what it felt like when I lost Sly. ‘Had he lost someone?’

As if reading my mind he folded the paper and put it in a small slot in his shirt. He stood up and walked towards us with an energy I had yet seen from him.

“Ok whats up?” Acting as though nothing had happened. Well, nothing ‘had’ happened but that wasn’t the point.

“Well I don’t have a full plan but I have a general idea of what we need to do,” Bentley started, “but unfortunately I lack a full plan. You hardly gave me twenty minutes after all.”

“Then maybe I can help fill in the blanks,” countered John, “what do you have.”

What happened next could only be explained as a nerd debate. John was surprisingly intelligent that paired well with Bentley's thought process. I heard many ideas being thrown around. From sneaking in and escorting Sly from the palace to the van to just going up to the guards and asking the guards if one of us could see him. John even suggested going in and knocking everyone out to get to Sly in the quickest possible way. But there was so much we couldn’t do here. We couldn’t send out Bentley because he couldn’t walk and wheelchairs hadn’t been invented yet and Murray just didn’t have anything he could do. What they settled on in the end though was surprising, but but it was simple and I liked it.

“Why don’t we just have Carmelita go in and get Sly?” John suggested.

“But how would she get in the palace? She’s not exactly the best shot and she’s far from a stealth specialist,” Bentley said, “no offense Carmelita.”

I had to admit I was a little bit hurt by the statement but the turtle had a point. I was a cop, not a master of disguise, I’m not trained to sneak around and I admittedly not a marksman.

“She won’t need to be,” said John, “there’s something called psychological warfare. Something I learned... a while ago.” Again with that hesitation, what was he hiding?’ “The locals are on edge now with the amount of attention that I drew this morning. They have no idea how I was able to do what I did so they are afraid of me. I can use that fear to our advantage.”

“I suppose that could work. But then we would need to wait a few more days before we could make our final advance to get Sly,” Bentley countered. ‘I suppose this was all making more sense to him than it was to me.’ “And something else is concerning me.” ‘Of course there was’ “Every time you antagonize the public, they will come at you with more and more firepower. How do you intend to survive it?”

John thought for a moment then a grin slowly formed on his face. “On the night we make our final push, I break out the weapon.” and he patted the large black crate still sitting in the back of the van. I still didn’t know what was in it.

“But John, we can’t kill anyone,” reminded Bentley.

“I know, but unless we can think of a better plan, This is all we have to work with. And I promise I’ll be careful.”

Ch.3

Carmelita

The next few days felt like forever. Day in and day out just sitting by the van in anticipation of when she might see Sly again. ‘What would I say?’ she asked herself. After reading the letter, her mind was at war with her heart. I want to keep my job, butif anyone found out I was going steady with the infamous Sly Cooper, I would likely end up losing my job, or worse, I might be used as bait to get Sly arrested. I didn’t want to think about that idea but sitting out here with my only company being his lifelong partners in crime and an ocean of sand, it seemed inevitable. I tried to get some sleep whenever I could but whenever I tried I would go back to thinking of the time we spent together in Paris. No thieving, no chasing, no games, just us enjoying each other as couples should. That was no doubt the best time in my life. Then my mindset shifted. What would he say? Does he even want to go back to the future? To be together again? No, if he didn’t care then he wouldn’t have had the letter made with the sole intent of being delivered to us when the time is right. I sat back in the passenger seat of the van, hugging my arms. ‘I’ve been here for 3 nights and I have yet to have had a decent nights sleep. I can’t see Sly looking like a zombie.’ I chuckled to myself, I probably looked like hell. But I didn’t care, I was exhausted. I let my eyes gently close, trading the darkness of the Egyptian night for that of sleep. And almost immediately, I was sucked into a deep sleep.

----------------

I woke up and it was still dark, but slightly less dark than how I felt it should for the dead of night. I stretched in my seat letting out a yawn, feeling the soreness of my neck for the lack of support. I felt better though. For only having slept for what was probably only a few hours. It didn’t even look like dawn had begun,  starting the new day. I put on my boots, taking my time to make sure the laces were done right, and dropped out of the van and begun the search for Murray and Bentley.
I found them in their makeshift command center looking as though they had never moved from where I saw them last. Bentley instantly noticed my presence and instantly started asking questions. Why Bentley? At least give me a few minutes to wake up. I’m not entirely sure what he said because I was still so drowsy.

I put my hand up to stop him. “Bentley, can you at least wait till sunrise before today’s lecture?”

He was clearly not amused. “Sunrise? Do you know how long you were asleep?”

“I don’t know a few hours?” I drearily responded. Another yawn shortly followed.

“It’s been 20 hours! That’s not a sunrise, it’s a sunset!” I suddenly felt a rush of shock but at the same time I wasn’t surprised. I suppose it was to be expected from not sleeping in days. But nonetheless, now I was alert.

“Ok then so what’s changed,” I asked, trying to sound like I had myself together.

“John says the city is up in arms. The entire population was turned into an armed militia by the pharaoh. He says they call him Apophis on the streets. We’re ready for the final event.”

As if on cue. John dropped down from the top of the large rock the van was next to. He handed me a binocu-comm and brought me back up to the top to have a clear view of the city. Most of it looked untouched, despite a few defensive modifications. But what took my breath away was the sheer amount of destruction that was brought to random spots within and around the city. Buildings were burning, damaged and in some cases completely destroyed.

“I will make a move on the east side of the city near the prison,” he pointed to the car side of the city, away from the pyramid and palace. “You will need to enter the city through the market. You remember the route I took on my first day?” I nodded. Bentley showed me a picture of the city taken from one of his new aerial surveillance drones with a red line showing the route he took.It was hard to forget when that turtle was reminding you every thirty minutes. “Good, just take that route and you’ll find a second story window. Use that as your entry point and make your way to the fourth floor. Sly is in the east wing. After that, you’ll need to think of a way to bring him home.”

It seemed easy enough, follow a route down empty streets to a palace without any guards to a room that had no security. It seemed too easy, but maybe that’s just a sign of good planning.

    I followed him back down to the ground and we went and opened the crate. ‘The weapon’ wasn’t what I thought it was.

----------------

The plan worked flawlessly on my end. When I heard to horns of the guards call to arms I began my approach. I was able to make my way through the city without seeing a soul in sight. It felt kind of creepy, seeing these streets so empty, knowing that only days before it was a bustling business center. I jogged cautiously through the streets until I found the window that John had referenced. It looked too high to be a two story window. Maybe they remembered it wrong and it was actually a third. I looked around for something to help me get up there and spotted a ladder conveniently lying along the base of the building behind me. I picked it up and propped it up against the building and put some bags of spoiled goods against the feet so I could use it as a means of escape as well. As I walked through the halls I was again greeted with the shock of how deserted it was. No guards, no patrols, nothing. They must have been called to aid in the defense against their ‘god of chaos’.

    I made my way up to the fourth floor and walked across the bridge to the room that John had described with Sly. I could hear in a nearby room someone shouting orders as I made my way to Sly and mentally prepared myself to see him again.

    I turned the corner only to find an empty room. I walked in heavily disappointed in the missing raccoon and noticed the letter in glass on the desk. It looked pristine, as though only made yesterday. Then I heard a familiar voice at the doorway.

    “Carmelita?” His voice cracked as though he was starting to cry.

    I whipped around to see Sly in the same clothes I last saw him in Paris. I had no words as I ran into his arms in a full tackle. He pulled me close and wrapped his arms around me and I did the same. No words were spoken as we now stood with tears in our eyes in the middle of the hallway as we simply enjoyed each other's touch. We stood there for what felt like an eternity, wanting to say something but not wanting to let go until he whispered into my ear playfully.

    “What took you so long?”

    The moment was interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming from the room next door. Before we could hide there stepped out another raccoon and a frighteningly familiar owl stepped out behind him. It was Clockwerk. I tried to back away so I could shoot him but Sly kept me in place. Sly whispered in a shushed voice, “don’t shoot he’s on our side.” I stopped resisting but I didn’t let my eyes off of him out of fear that he would try to kill everyone in the room. He did look different from the nightmarish metal bird that I was familiar with though. He boasted a coat of brilliant feathers and walked upright with a sense of integrity.

    “The other raccoon must have seen my expression and turned to the giant bird. “Clockwerk, would you give us a minute please? I will continue to speak to you in the battle room. “

    “Of course sir,” he replied in a voice that I wasn’t familiar with. It almost made him seem likable. He bowed and walked past me and Sly and out to the bridge.

    When he was out of sight the raccoon began to talk again. “Is this the girl you spoke of?” Sly nodded still holding me tightly. “I see, then allow me to introduce myself.” He turned his attention towards me. “I am Slytunkhamen, author of the Thievius Raccoonus. Please excuse my chief of staff, he can appear intimidating at times but I assure you he’s as friendly as can be.”

    There were so many things that sounded wrong with that statement. Calling Clockwerk friendly was one of them. Perhaps Clockwerk hadn’t become evil yet. But Slytunkhamen seemed so nice, so what pushed him over the edge of insanity? There hung a still silence in the air as we stood in the hallway.

    “So I suppose you’ve come to claim the time traveller?” I nodded, and he smirked. “Very well then, I know not what awaits you in that world but I do wish you happy travels and good riddance.”

    Just then a ball of fire launched above the city and exploded in a brilliant display. I heard John over the radio shout through the link. “I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this up! The locals are getting more aggressive!” I forgot he was still laying waste to the prison and I was behind schedule.

    Slytunkhamen turned back to us. “You should go, I’m not sure how much longer my men can hold off the monster. When he breaks through the defensive lines the city will be laid to ruin.”

    “What about you?” asked Sly clearly concerned, but the pharaoh was stern showed no signs of fear.

    “If my time on this earth is up then so be it. I’ve lived a good life that I can be happy with and my sons and daughters will carry on my legacy. Just get out while you still can.” and he turned away and walked over the bridge.

    I turned back to Sly, “let’s go,” he picked up his cane from up against a wall and I led him out the front entrance.

    “John, Sly is secure. Get out of there now.”

    “Roger that, I’ll see you back at the van,” and the radio went dead. We sprinted through the streets of Egypt away from the soft glow of the palace and into the darkness of the city.

-----------------

It felt good, like our last adventure, as we arrived at the van. Maybe even too good to be true with Sly back in the picture. But he looked distraught. He stopped me in the desert as soon as we were out of the city.

“Walk with me,” he said and I gladly obliged. “I feel like I need to talk about something.”

“Sly you can tell me anything. What’s wrong?” This wasn’t like him. Sure I wanted to talk but he’s never actively pulled me aside to have a private conversation in the middle of a mission, but I turned off my radio anyways.

“It’s about Slytunkhamen. I found out how Clockwerk turned evil,” and he told me the whole twisted story as we walked. The pharaoh took Sly on multiple occasions to steal from the wealthy merchants in the markets. He would then stash a small amount of the stolen goods in a random citizens house and pin the blame on them. He would send in Clockwerk with a troop of guards to arrest the citizen, they got blamed for the heist and Slytunkhamen kept the treasure free of suspicion. I could only assume that eventually Clockwerk figured out the pharaoh was stealing from the public and got banished. And so we have Clockwerk as we know him now. It made me sick to know that Slys ancestor could be such a two-faced bastard. “I don’t want to do this anymore Carmelita. The heists, the missions, I’m done.”

I was shocked yet pleased by his response. No more heists means he could finally start to live a normal life with me. And no more missions means I won't need to worry about losing him again. I huddled against him as we walked and he put his arm around me. “So what now then?”

“I need to think of something to tell the gang.”

----------------

We walked appreciating the silence and each other's embrace for the rest of the stroll through the desert sands. When we came in view of the van, Sly broke away from me as he greeted his friends. Murray lifted him off the ground in a big bear hug and started to ramble on about how lonely it was back at the hideout without the whole gang around. Bentley punched him in the gut as he started to lecture Sly for leaving them that fateful night more than 6 months ago. Sly ignored the harsh words and gave him a hug. John still wasn’t back. He must have been caught up in all the chaos he had created at the prison. He was fine I’m sure.

Sly finally was able to escape Murray's spine-crushing hug and walked back to me. He took a deep breath, pulled me close and turned towards his friends. He hesitated. “It’s so good to see you all again. You have no idea how much I’ve missed you. When do we go home?”

“Soon,” answered Bentley, “ we’re just waiting on our other person.”

As if on cue, John dropped from the top of the rock be the van and landed behind me and Sly with a heavy thud sending sand flying in the air. Sly, startled, moved between me and him to defend me from the unknown threat.

“I believe this is when they say ‘mission accomplished.’” joked John in a different metallic voice. As he stood up Sly backed up defensively. You could see the shiny black steel of the weapon in its full glory. The weapon was a suit of nearly indestructible armor with a small machine pistol mounted to one arm and on the other was mounted a heavily modified suppressed precision barrel that could match the accuracy of a sniper rifle. But that wasn’t all. The suit itself was a 115 pound machine made to make the user stronger my assisting the major muscle groups, yet it was totally silent. No noise from motors, even the footsteps were silent. John custom built it himself.

“You don’t need to be afraid Sly, I’m on your side,” he said as he took off his helmet, “ we’ve been working for nearly a week to get you out of the city.” He didn’t look convinced as he stood his ground. “I suppose this isn’t the best introduction. But nonetheless,” the suit opened up in one big motion, the individual pieces separating as though its own organism peeling off of its host. John stepped out onto the sandy ground, “It’s time to go home.”

Sly finally began to lower his cane as the suit walked itself over to the crate and laid itself back down in it which then began to close back over the titanium beast like a coffin. Everyone else soon began to pack all the equipment in preparation for the ride home, leaving no traces. Like were never there.


So I just released Part 6 of my fanfic Sly 5: A Thief's Heart m.fanfiction.net/s/12653140/1/…
This new addition to the story is on the shorter side but I did everything I wanted to with it and I think it does it well. There's a referenced comic that I haven't finished yet called John Pullers Origins. I hope to have it up in full by the end of the week. It's inspired by the Sierras Origins story arc but will more so explore the Psychological trauma of Johns past. Those who read the story will see a clear connection between the two as soon as the comic is released
Since I'm not going to be putting out a new section in fanfic for my story, Sly 5: A Thief's Heart, I thought I'd make a brief declaration of purpose. 
First and most obvious is I love the series. I've been a fan of it longer than anything else and I still love it to this day. Also, after taking a college level writing class my teacher make it clear that he was impressed by my ability to make a complex story with added layers of depth and meaning. So when the idea to make Sly 5 came into my mind I just thought screw it why not and went for it. 
Second was to implement ideas into a cohesive story. I've seen plenty of interesting ideas around especially from the CooperNation amino and youtubers like VTNVIVI, MulatoSly and Sooper Cooper (he goes by Bassup now). I found a number of interesting concepts with high potential to work with and use to further deepen Sly and Sly's ancestors story. Among the ideas I've implemented so far include Clockwerks origins, Sly and Carmelitas relationship, Penelopes path after Sly 4 and a logical way for Sly to return home. of course I made some OC's to make the story more interesting and flow smoother (i.e. John Puller, Sierra) but I tried to stay as true to the source material as possible which brings me into my third reason. 
Third, Sly deserved a proper ending to his series and so does the fan-base. I wanted to find a way where the series can not only "end" but do so in an emotionally impactful and meaningful way. This isn't just some other Battlefield protagonist who you play as and a week later you cant remember their name, this is Sly Cooper. And he deserves a proper ending after Sly 4 and after all he's done in his world. With that said, everything in the story can be considered "potentially canon" based off the existing facts after Sly 4. I've done all the research I could and was as thorough as possible and all the events match up with the events in the canon Sly Cooper. Also, all assumptions made in the story are plausible according to existing facts and logical deduction. 
So Theoretically, Sly 5: A Thief's Heart can be used as a potential plot for a TV series. It wasn't made to fit the format of a video game but it could work as a game with some tweaking but it would never work properly as a movie. 
So anyways, have a good weekend and I'll post the next part next weekend. Cheers y'all!