For those of you who don't know one of PTSD's many symptoms is Insomnia. Very rarely do I get a good night sleep between that and my recurring nightmares. So it didn't help when one the residents in my apartment were having a spat the entire apartment could hear. Since I wasn't exactly the most social person, I wanted to leave them alone. While I did not join in the gossip and rumors of my apartment a couple that was living together were almost always brought up. Jason Clyde and Bonnie Whir (Yes I get the joke). They've been having relationship issues for months and taken counseling, but it was ineffective. I've even seen them both in light bandages. They're yacking, and outbursts have been escalating in violence for months, but now it was starting to get asinine. I finally get up when I hear crashing and screaming.
My mind blazed like fire as it-generated whispers and flashes of a time long past. I swear I could hear Jasmine's voice as my body shook.
"Please, Sarah you need to help her. After all, you know what was like to be the victim and the victimizer. You should know better than anyone right. How do you think I would feel if I saw you now? To know that I gave my life to save a demon like you."
Her whispering fragments invaded my brain until I find myself in my pajamas with one of my sai in hand. I moved toward the door where the screams are coming over.
"Did you talk back me? How dare you little bitch! I am not the problem you are! I'm the best thing that's ever happened to you! Don't you forget that" Bonnie said with seething rage?
All I could hear was the useless pleads of Jason. I managed to dislodge doorknob and kick in the door. I tried to be civil as I could without escalating things further.
"Look, I'm nowhere near the best when it comes to relationships, but I think I speak for that man there when I say get the hell away from him."
Bonnie turned to me and was utterly livid.
"How did you get in here!? Do you have a knife! Are you trying to rob us?"
Bonnie was in her pajamas with her blond hair in the ponytail. I think I once heard offhand that she was also some self-defense instructor. Either way, she was agitated, so the battle was won before it began. Still, I wanted to diffuse the situation.
"I am not trying to steal anything. I am just trying to answer an obvious cry for help. So I'm asking you once time leave that man alone."
"You don't get the tell me what to do bitch. Mind your own business!"
"I'm not leaving until you do."
She ran to grab a steak knife from its holder and wields it with her right hand. And this is where I give you a brief lesson on the sai. Back in the day, it was a viral weapon that started in Japan but soon spread across Asia as a way to combat samurai. Its primary function was to use the prongs as a close-range defensive weapon. I achieve its function by going in close and pushing the knife away enough to give a sharp sweep. I use my momentum to put her in a hold that if carried out would dislocate her entire left arm. As she laid down on the ground seething with rage but I decided to let "Sarah" out of her little cage to finally end this.
"You better listen to my next instructions very carefully. You are going to admit everything you did in a court of law. And please go into great detail. And when all is said and done I don't want you to see, speak or even dare harm him. And if you even think of breaking any of these rules, I will know. And try as you might I will find you and break every in your body and stitch it back together again do I make myself clear," I said as my blood lust chilled everything to a crawl.
I then look to Jason to reassure him.
"Jason go on the National domestic violence hotline and call them. 1-800-799-7233 Tell them what happened here and what she did."
He meekly grabbed his phone, but his hand shook with fear as tears started to rain down.
"Look Jason despite what you to might have had she hurt you. She put you in a position where you were forced to be less than an equal. No one deserves that least of all you," I said with pure empathy for his well-being.
He called the hotline, and after Bonnie left, I consoled him until he asked me to go after saying thanks. I wasn't afraid of any legal shenanigans given my connections with Titan so I knew I wasn't expecting a rematch.
When I get back, I pour some food for Brutus. I brew a little tea for myself. But sadly the start of my morning came to a grinding halt as my phone beeped with a text from Morgan to go to Titan. Time to get to work I guess. Maybe I could get some actual sleep on the plane ride to whatever the hell I'm going.
In an hour I make it into Titan ready for anything. I head into Morgan's office, but for once James wasn't there. Morgan gave me a tired but relaxed look as he responded.
"Hello, Sarah today is a significant day for you. Because this is the first mission where we finally take our offensive in the Hidden Wars."
The claim did cause my body to tense. You see a week ago we declared war on what people say to be the greatest that Titan has ever faced: The Pantheon. We've eventually dubbed it the Hidden Wars (I swear it wouldn't surprise me if we had a naming department). But to be fair, the fear is warranted. For years Titan has stood unopposed for years, but now we finally have a nemesis that can match us pound for pound. The only mercy on our side was Ben Stan: a former member of the Pantheon that's been giving us only bite-sized info on the organization.
Just like Titan the Pantheon comes in many subdivisions. One of them being called the Trojans: a group of very wealthy business owners in allegiance with the Pantheon. The only known leaders of the Pantheon are three powerful people called the Trinity. Their names are Athena, Daedalus, and Odysseus and they've created the Pantheon. To achieve their goal they have been initiating hostile takeovers of multiple criminal groups. So we decided to shift efforts into tracking some of the major crime groups going around.
"Today you and only you will be heading to Tomsk, Russia to quell a bratva civil war. We have information that after its current head Viktor Federov has been killed. And 2 of his subordinates Abraham Federovhis cousin and his right-hand man Roman Popov have been fighting for control ever since. We've finally got confirmation by my sleepers that Roman works for the Pantheon while Abraham wants to turn the Bratva into a Your mission: to work with our sleeper to assimilate into Abraham's faction and decimate Roman's by any means necessary. If we fail in this, the Bratva is in the Pantheon's control, and I'm frankly sick and tired of being on the defensive. I wish you the best Sarah."
Instead of his signature, an utter coldness replaced fire. Like a part of him had died. I knew when I joined Titan with my tainted profile; it's not like I expected the best relationship. But over the past few months, they have shown me such compassion. So it was jarring that he wasn't as warm as usually is even if it's just a facade in the end. What was even more jarring was James. I haven't received contact from him since he went home from our last mission. I knew he was still injured, but I had gotten used to him contacting me every day. His butchering of modern slang was endearing in a confused puppy kind of way. In many ways, I guess you can say I miss him? Is that the word? Nevertheless, I'm both thankful and angry at myself for forming an actual relationship after... what happened because I know I don't deserve such kindness.
As my plane rode across the sky, I took a quiet rest. I wake up right before we were about to land and I quickly reviewed the information that has been given to me. I wasn't going to be working alone on this one. I may still not know a lot about Titan, but even I know about the Sleepers. It's a term used for any deep cover agents, but I would always hear gossip of this one person that better than all the rest. Persona: the agent of a 1000 faces. I walk around the airport with a weak but taut position. Jet lag can be a serious bitch sometimes. When entering the Tomsk Bogashevo airport, I survey my new environment. James would have probably had to search up everything he could about Russia. I just merely admired the beautiful buildings and caught a glimpse of some statues.
I was less interested as I headed the location set out for me. Persona had told me to wait at the museum of aviation, but I was still anxious. So far the Pantheon has thrown me with assassins, corrupt business and drones. Frankly, nothing surprises me anymore. However, before I could reach the museum, my adrenaline cranked up to 11in fear as I heard a voice speak in a hushed tone behind me.
"Hello, Sarah. Nice to make your acquaintance."
Before I could thrash the mystery person with my suitcase, she motioned in surrender.
"It's okay I'm an agent like you," she said raising her hands in surrender.
My heart shocks itself to normalcy as I got a look at the agent of a thousand faces. She was a couple of inches shorter than my 5'09; she had green eyes and light auburn hair. Her expression was unreadable, but it didn't underline the fact that she snuck up on me of all people. Maybe the jet lag was getting to me more than I thought.
"Never thought I would be able to scare you. Though sorry about that I came a little earlier than thought and since we were going to be working together I thought it wouldn't matter. You know first impressions is all that. Anyways without further ado, I'm Persona a.k.a Melissa Steph a.k.a. for this mission Sasha Ivanov."
I was flabbergasted by the minute-long speech, but I decided to keep it short and simple. I doubt we will be meeting again(Unless this chapter gets a lot of reads that is). I held out of my hand as I said.
"Sarah Walters a.k.a. The Paladin pleasure to be working with you."
As soon as we got acquainted with one another, we went to the base Abraham had been stashed. She explained that I would be posing as a hired hitman. Norman has numerous Pantheon soldiers at his beck and call including a more infamous one called Hermes. So I had to be on mu a game Beneath the bar we entered an underground fight club. We saw dozens of people go Macadamia nuts against to men beating the absolute crap and a half out of each other. However "Sasha" slipped through all of them as we made our way to a suite which had Abraham surrounded by four burly henchmen. Abraham himself was a skinny, 30 something man with spiky dark brown hair and brown eyes in a crimson business suit. I could tell just from looking at him he was trying to assert control before the conversation even began. In kind, I keep myself rigid but dominant.
"Hello, Sasha good to see you again. Have you brought me Roman's location? And Who is this?"
" I got something much better than that. Not only did I do that but I got someone who could end this civil war once and for all. You wanted me to hire an assassin? I hired the assassin or more accurately the Paladin," she said with a perfect Russian accent and shifty nature completely assuming a new role."
The room seemed to fill with tension as thick as cement. The silence got broken by Abraham as he skeptically looked at me.
"The Paladin has been inactive for nearly a year plus there are about a billion stories for people like her. How am I supposed to trust her?"
I then took control as I said an offer impossible to refuse.
"You want proof? What if I bring you the confirmation of the death of Roman. You can bring me the money after I give you his head. If I die no risk."
"Plus I've managed to do some recon and have secured the location of Roman. Cmon Roman trust me since when have I lead you wrong?"
"No, you haven't. But all this feels a little convenient don't you think? I haven't lived this long in the war without taking the necessary precautions. Tell me "Paladin" why have you come to help us. You must know I am fighting to bring honor to the Bratva. If you intend to betray us, I will not hesitate to talk you down."
"I only want to shift the scales a bit. But I mean you no harm."
I spend tomorrow performing a firsthand look at Roman's defenses. He had turned his entire base into a mini-fortress. His high rise was at least 20 stories high with round the clock security. Still by the time night fell we had managed to get a clear layout of a solid plan and even a new appreciation of Russian cuisine. I never knew cooked cabbage could taste so good in my mouth. But as I was laying in wait to pounce on my next victim, I can't help to think of what I did.
When I became the Paladin, I merely used it to mask the monster inside for something, anything better. I was never supposed to have any friends or allies. But I never expected Titan to show me such kindness. Despite all my guards I still found people that can stand by me, and I am thankful every day for that mercy. I wondered if it was possible for the Paladin to be something other than a mask and wall? Could I honestly do that after being buried in the dark for so very long?
I hit the base when the security is weakest, and when I know for sure, Roman had retired. I had a couple of close calls, but I break into Roman's room ready to strike. What was peculiar though was the room was empty. Wiz's scanners said that Roman was here. However, the entire plan went to absolute hell when all potential exits were locked and from the corner of the room turrets shaped like rifles burst out. Crap and a half.
Once again adrenaline makes my entire body pulse. I fired my grapple gun towards the bed rolling and flipping as fast as possible. With the luck of the gods, I manage to shoot two shots off of Gungnir that managed to destroy two turrets. I duck as I reach the end of the bed providing me for at least a little cover. I managed to use two glue bombs as I run to stop the turrets effectively.
I thought I would get a thick cut of slack, but just in case I decided to use the true power of Gungnir. You see I have two magazines with seven shots. However, I can consume one magazine for a shot comparable to a grenade. As soon as the door opens, I replaced my magazine and released the shot. A bright blue beam of light completely decimates the soldiers in a big explosion that makes my ears ring. After the ringing stops, I saw the aftermath of my carnage. Five soldiers dressed in black camo and red goggles were all decimated. I kneeled to gaze upon the face of a soldier who was at least in one piece. I decided to steal the intact headset he was wearing to understand my enemies plans.
"What the hell was that! Squad B go check on squad A."
In haste I managed to pick up the dead agent and use him as a shield as out of nowhere I am besieged by a volley of bullets from 3 soldiers. After the sound of bombardment was over both inched ever closer. So in haste, I used another handy tool.
"Voice command code: Brutus 669, "I whispered.
The entire hallway erupted in smoke as like a lioness I pounce straight to my next opponent struggling to get control of his rifle. The other men hesitated to draw fire which gave me the chance to gain power and trip him off of me into another soldier. In less than a second, I crouch down on the ground to avoid another mess of bullets as I empty the rest of the magazine on soldier behind and follow up by leaving the rest of my Gungnir clip into the rest of the soldiers. The beauty was I at least didn't have to worry about critical aim. Man, there really is no armor like plot armor.
With my eight assailants now dead I decided to execute a strategic withdraw. I grabbed one of the pistols off the body to fire the next available window. When I emptied the clip, I applied a bit of a running start as I crash through the window! I managed to fire my grapple gun into the wall effectively and my descent relatively swiftly. However, at the sound of frenzied gunfire, I was forced to crash onto to the beautiful hard ground. A blinding headache overtakes me as long with a bruised arm. When I recover from my fall, I saw two more soldiers about to approach. With an exasperated sigh, I communicate with Wiz.
"Wiz, can you please pull up right now."
Before the soldiers could even react a remote-controlled truck crashes into them. It then rolls up to me and opens the driver's seat.
"I better get 5 stars after this," she said dryly.
"Don't worry I will."
I struggled to get into the car as I started to call Melissa over and over, but all I got was static.
Half an hour passed but I finally get a call from Sasha.
"Paladin. It was Hermes he attacked us used some jamming weapon. Lead a short strike team to our main base. We moved into a safe house on the outskirts of Tomsk. I'll give you my location and please hurry."
Forty-five minutes later Wiz drives me towards the safe house. It was a large wooden cabin like one of those you find in a commercial I got out to meet Sasha. I thanked Wiz for the ride and promised to give her a glowing review. When I enter, Abraham had a gun aimed at me with serious intent. I was starting to get tired of that happening.
" You goddamn изменник (traitor) you ruined everything!"
" Calm down Abraham! There is nothing for her to reveal. Besides I think we can all tell just by looking at her she's been attacked," Sasha said pleadingly.
"I was attacked to Roman probably hide behind a secret backdoor or something. Nevertheless, I'm trying to help so please let me because I could be the edge you need from preventing Hermes from killing you, "I said.
Abraham dropped his gun as he decided to listen to reason.
"I want this entire war to end. If you can do that I promise to repay your debt."
I turned on my comms to ask Wiz a simple question.
"That entire truck is stocked with gadgets isn't it?"
"How did you know?"
"A simple guess."
The truck was filled with semi-automatics, night vision goggles, and enough weapons to restock me completely. In less than 30 minutes we had set up an effective perimeter, and we were ready for war. Mostly. As I was about to head through the door my head his again with painful ringing. Then still it's better than the voices.
"Do you honestly think you could get rid of me so quickly?
I saw that Melissa had appeared once again out of nowhere. Seriously what is with this jet lag?
"What are you talking about?"
"I mean both Abraham and I have decided that we weren't going to leave while everyone else risks their lives. Besides this isn't my first rodeo."
"You don't have to do this. I can still fight."
"I know you can, but that doesn't mean you get to fight alone."
Her phone started to buzz, and she instantly picked up texted on it for like a minute and then put it back.
"Sorry, that was my fiancé. I promised to answer him at specific times."
"Yes my for real future husband. And he is not a mob boss, drug dealer or trafficker. Just a normal guy with a 9 to 5 job. Isn't that amazing?"
"Well I mean I'm asexual, so I wouldn't know."
"I'm sorry it's just that before I met him, it took me 5 minutes to figure out my real name. Or sometimes I would talk with someone and come out speaking five languages at once. I was playing so many long cons that I had lost my sense of self along the way. So being with him gives me the chance to become more myself. Whoever that person might be."
My skin grew goosebumps as I fired a question at both her and myself.
"How do you know if the real you is someone worth being around."
"That's the beauty of life Sarah what you make of it, who you become is all up to you."
I thought about what she said and how much time I've lost through petty revenge. The time I could've spent so much better. I know forgiveness isn't what I deserve, but that still doesn't mean I want to waste my talents aimlessly anymore.
"Thank you, Melissa."
We ventured across the forest while I used my grapple gun to gain a mobility advantage. I knew that Hermes and his strike force when our comm links were completely disabled Still I found two opponents in signature black clothing and struck. Using the cover of smoke, I quickly gouge their throats by stabbing both of my sai into them. I repeated the repetition of guerrilla warfare until the body racked up to 7. That was until out of nowhere something; no someone blitzes me out of the air. I am barely able to kick him off as we both tumble onto the ground; it was only then that I got a good look at the man behind it all. You know they say that behind every great man was another great person. That quote indeed held up.
Hermes wore an army helmet with small almost adorable wings. His boots also had a winged design to sell the theme with various strong pads across his legs but what seriously caught my eye was his weapon of choice.
As a licensed medical practitioner, I recognized the caduceus when I see it, but he had somehow weaponized it. He turned the symbol of medicine into two golden weighted batons. We both stood up to measure each other. Which wasn't much as between the jet lag the fall and the previous killings I was dog tired.
"I was afraid I was never going to get a chance to get a crack at you," he said bluntly.
"So what do you guys draw out of some raffle kill me? If that's true, I'm honored."
"No, I wanted to take you out personally after what you did Arachne. He may have been overdramatic, but we were friends. I will make sure you pay dearly for getting in our way."
And I thought James and I were an odd pairing. But I didn't have much time to dwell as Hermes sprinted towards me with enough focus to cut diamond. I can tell at a glance that he may have been as fast as me. He spun both of his batons in a cyclone of fury that clash with my staff with such force that it gets thrown straight out of my hand.
Before he could close in and shatter my skull, I use the same code as before to envelop the forest in smoke. It gives me just the opening I needed to implement one of my most crushing techniques. Over my odyssey of pain, I learned many techniques in the art of violence. One of them I've learned was the shattering palm where all of my power gets condensed into one palm strike — combined that with the fact that the head is one of the most vulnerable parts of the body and the battle is now evened up. As Hermes backed up into a tree with only one baton, I attempted to capture him with a glue grenade. He naturally deflected them all, but he was much slower now. So in haste, I'm trying to end it with a pierce from my sai.
Sadly Hermes almost reflexively caught my sai and executed a perfect judo throw. Hermes fastly grabbed his baton and was about to end my life. Desperately I rolled out of the way and struggled to avoid more blows to pull out gungir, but it just ended up getting slapped away as my left hand erupted in pain. He raised his caduceus to finish the fight finally. I accepted death with open arms.
But before Hermes could do me in a hail of bullets forces Hermes to surrender in the form of a stun grenade. I turn to see Persona, no Melissa with a smoking rifle as she becomes known to me. All she does is give a thumbs up signifying a victory.
Tomorrow comes quickly with new changes. Both Roman and Hermes were both gone leaving the rest of the Pantheon bratva easy to convert. Abraham gave me about 50,00 dollars and paid for my medical expenses. And I thought Titan paid well. Sure I may have gotten two names of a very long list of foes to kill me, but at least we had ourselves a useful win over the Pantheon.
After a long plane ride back I see another surprise. James was there all healed up with a glorious chocolate cake. Lily had gotten a C on her last test and spent the past week getting her grades up. Can't say he isn't devoted. I decided to take a hot shower to close off such a busy few days, and as I wiped the steam off of the mirror, I didn't look at the monster brimming beneath the surface. But the version that I will probably spend the rest of my life striving to be. And I'm okay with that.