Hey, James here and as much as I love continually getting shot at. Sometimes I wish I could have all the fun of the job without any of the hassles of nearly dying every other chapter. And three years ago Titan provided me with such an answer. The annual paintball tournament. Every year that begins and ends every June with 64 teams all gunning for the top. The grand prize is fame,a team photo and one wish to be granted from each team member and most important of all bragging rights. Now, most would ask why such a secret organization would have a huge social event. If you are, you're a stick in the mud like Sarah. Anyways our hands down worst leader was Baka Li despite her questionable choices like trying to did make many of the social events that Titan does to this day. You have to understand that Titan has stood unrivaled for years, so it was only natural we took little liberties now and again. After the death of the artillery, I felt like it was time to reach out again.
When I entered the paintball circuit, I started with the absolute worst team: The Dogs of War. Before I entered, they had a 10-year losing streak after the first round. When I was done with him, I turned them from last to first within a year, and I honestly gave our enemies a reason to cry havoc. And now with the threat of the Pantheon holding itself in the air, I think it's the appropriate time to let some of that stress go. And let go we did as almost routinely we demolished the competition with barely any effort. I didn't even bother to put it in the list. We even managed to get through the semi-final battle royal unscathed.
Due to that fact that we were on our best run yet and on the cusp of our 4th straight win we were naturally excited to go to the Range. The Range is a private vacation home to the injured and retired Titan agents can rest their heads. And it will be the canvas of our grand battlefield against our final opponents. The day we were supposed to be shipped off towards the Range I decided to pick up groceries from the store. And as I grabbed myself a box of hot pockets the hair on the back of my neck tingles. As someone who's best friends with the Paladin, I began to have some form of sense when it comes to the wrong type of followers. I rarely bring weapons when I'm not at work. So I grab the only potential weapon I could find. I raised a nearly stale baguette from my cart towards the mystery person.
"Bonjour mon cher James. I see your reflexes are as quick as ever," the woman said dramatically.
My mystery person was Alexandra Pella: leader of the Femme Fatales our main rivals. She is a little older than I was bright red dyed red hair blazing green eyes. I barely interacted with her outside the paintball tournament. Despite our bitter rivalry, Alexandra was by far one of the most intense women on earth. Though I'd lie if I'd say messing her wasn't fun.
"Well, well, well if it isn't you Alexandria. If you're going to ask me for a handicap after the year you've been having then you can forget it," I said with the same dramatic tone.
"Ah, I'm woundedJames. Can't I buy some milk and bump into an old friend."
"One, You live in Greece. Two, you have no cart and three this is the frozen food section."
"My someone's definitely on edge; your sharp wit is only managed by those piercing grey eyes of yours. Ugh, your wife is a lucky woman to have a true man like yourself," she said mockingly.
"It's more the other way around. But despite that, you still haven't answered my question or did you come hundreds of miles to flirt?"
"Now James I'm hurt I just wanted to wish you well. Just because we're rivals doesn't mean we can't be civil. I honestly hope that you play at your very best. Something tells me that this final match will be one to remember in Titan surely," she said with a venomous grin as she walked off.
I honestly didn't know what to make of that moment. Alexandra is the type of women that would pay you back a thousand fold for crossing her. Her flair for the competition is nearly unrivaled. And I've only seemed to fan that fire. She indeed is capable of anything. Thankfully if this job has taught me anything is how to brave the impossible.
And just like that when morning called the Dogs of War of this year had assembled. Jared, Trayne, Zoe, Madison, Joe, Matt, Grace April and May all arrived, and we talked strategy while on the plane.
"Okay, check it, pizza and wings at Mama's and some beer at Drunkenly Bunkley," said May excitably.
"I' can't believe we're at the finals and going to the Range," said Joe, the rookie who had joined Titan about five months ago.
"No way I say we get cupcakes from the Cupcake department," said May the older twin.
"I've never liked cupcakes personally. More of a cake guy and that's coming from a sweets connoisseur," said Matt analytically.
"You shut your mouth cupcakes are life man life I say!"
"I can't believe we're at the finals and going to the Range," said Joe.
"Honestly I want to know what we're doing for the group picture. Leaning towards Mafia style," said Trayne with one headphone on.
"Now I like that idea! Even got me a suit already. Nice fedora to finish off as well," Zoey one of my old artillery buddies who now teaches recruits said.
"I think in general we should all hang out maybe see a game any game honestly," said Madison shyly.
"No!" said the group collectively bringing silence to the plane.
"I' can't believe we're at the finals and going to the Range!" said Joe with his utter dumbfounded excitement.
"Yeah, Joe, we know, we were all kind of there, multiple times," said a deadpan Grace.
Jared watched on with silent interest.
We kept going on the plane ride and touch down on the famed base. We spend the rest of the day addressing our fans and answering questions they all wanted to hear about out. Questions that will shake you to your very core about what they unveil. A problem that opened up an old scar.
"Yes, that rumor is true. I did once have a small ship in a bottle making a career. I just needed something to build a hobby you know? I could remember I could spend hours just making those ships and building them in their little bottles. So one day I decided to try something innovative: multiple ships in one bottle. I thought it would truly test my beginning talents, but then I remember my tweezers slipped and I put a giant hole in the S.S. T. cruise, John Wick, Den. Washington and Jackie Chan. And so every time I win it gives me the chance to get one of my precious ships rebuilt. So if no when I win, I'm not only winning for my friends and family but also for the S.S John Wick."
The tears started raining down as I went to bed for tomorrow. When mid-morning arrives, the entire Range explodes into excitement as the official Titan archiver Streamer took to the stage. Today he wore a standard news anchorman outfit and customized optima glasses sparking with energy as he continued with his narration.
"And here they are the competitors that have been taking no prisoners for this entire year, the Dogs of War. Leading this all-star squadron we have James Cormac winner of the last year's Titan Awards for the Best shot and best waifu he will be the man to beat if their longtime rivals the Femme Fatales have any hope of defeating them. While they have been putting up a good fight they have not been having a good year. But if I learned anything from Alexandra is never to underestimate that woman because she scares the absolute Vishnu out of me! I might regret that last line but right now I'm looking at the present as we embed another great game into Titan's eternal history. But first a word from our leader: Morgan Daniels the mighty dragoon!"
Then we all stood silently as Morgan's very steps quaked the very landscape. He shows off an aura of majesty as the surveys are a grand contest. He then takes a microphone and proves just why he is the leader of Titan.
"Good morning agents it seems almost like yesterday that we were on the presence of such grand event once again, or I could justify getting old. I know of you have been worried over the past few months about the rise of the Hidden Wars. I know you are afraid that the Pantheon will destroy all that we've built. But for just one day this day, I ask you to perform a service for all the ones you've carried out for this agency over the decades. Enjoy every second of this event and make it worthwhile. Life is so full of struggle with many twists and many turns. We may wage war against evil but for once let us enjoy the peace that we make at this moment. Let us celebrate the very reason we all became Titan!"
The crowd erupted, and soon enough we dogs were ready for the show. That sounded way cooler in my head by the way. Now is probably a good time to explain the rules of our contest. To not accidentally reveal our positions we can't hear the announcer give the play by play, but we are allowed comms. Ten members of each team each must cover a good portion of the of the enemy in the team's signature colors. Through the use of paint grenades mini guns and launchers oh my. In the event, you do get covered you will automatically be out of the game. If all the team members get cloaked in the paint, the other team wins. Now here comes the fun part. Each side is required one out of 4 positions. Jared and I were snipers(Thanks for the hunting grandad), Joe, Trayne, and May were scouts that would give us details on the enemy and report back with mine or 2. April and Zoe were Dealers that had more offensive weaponry and dish out the damage. Matt, Grace, and Madison were both defenders who had riot shields to protect them. Besides that a small storage house of weapons, the world might as well had not existed, for we were the only things that mattered in this private place.
The first hour was by far the best in our group's history ending in 8 of the Fatales getting cloaked in our signature black paint. It was almost too easy, and it was. We were finally making our way towards Alexandria, but our leisurely conquest completely ended as we heard the screams. The scream chills us to our cores as it breaks through the silence. I frantically tell everyone to give me their status, and I realize that May and April weren't answering. Desperately I ask them to yell at them to call, and creeping horror gasped my throat as they weakly respond.
Screwing protocol I told Jared to stay ahead and reposition himself.
"Where were April and May last time they reported," said Joe.
"About the far end of the enemy team, defenders I need you in Roman tortoise formation. The rest of you stand back and remember to watch out for enemy mines. "
In minutes we all managed to mobilize as our defenders surrounded me as they circled me in tight formation. My greatest fear came true after seeing that May and April were covered in scarlet paint, the signature color of our rivals. Could tell thatmy team wanted to move, but I went in as they all expanded the circle. I grabbed May's twitching body. Tears welled up in my eyes with flashes of "that" mission as I struggled in vain to get her to at least answer at least one question.
"Who did this?"
May in vain tried to talk, but her breath was slowed down to a crawl. And she stopped moving.
"Noooooo!" I howled with such rage that the entire forest shook.
My mourning was stopped when it was interrupted by the sound of paintballs colliding with polycarbonate, and I realized that if it weren't for Madison, I would be out. With quiet fury, I borrowed her shield as I made my way towards my unseen opponent. It didn't feel like Alexandria; there was no flair no competition. This felt predatory and quiet yet familiar in a sense. I ran across the forest forgetting how light my body felt without the burden of armor still I lose track of the shadow. No one else saw her either as I return to my team to strategize. Morale had been shaken a bit with Joe looking the most squirrely of them all. I instead rally them and make our next move. It took me a couple of minutes, but I found out what.
"Okay, rally up the team I just figured out where Alexandra might be hiding. I want all of you to be on your A game now."
"There is only 2 of them left James; this was a lucky shot at best," Trayne.
I then looked at him with every nerve in my face pulsed.
"Need I remind you Trayne who we're dealing with a soldier! You think this is some lucky shot!?"
Jared quiet put his hand on mine, and I backed off as his silence spoke words more eloquent than Shakespeare.
"Sorry, Trayne it's just that. Alexandra went to me a couple of days ago saying this would be a game to remember and I'm afraid that might be the case today."
I don't know it feels like something fearful is coming towards us at any time. Still, as a combined unit, we ventured onto the most dramatic stronghold available: storage house.
We didn't suffer any more casualties, and my hypothesis on Alexandra's location prove true. We managed to avoid the traps that littered our expanse. Jared kept himself at the back to make sure we had another someone left in the game if we were to fail. We skipped across the mines that littered the field which made me wish I took dance classes like Trayne with the pose of an acrobatic Beyblade he twirled through the obstacles. He ended his grand ballet with a double backflip onto the front of the door. We were forced to give significant applause. It took us a while, but we did get to the door all in one piece. With our defenders at the door, they were meant with a literal barrage of paintball that forced Matt to land straight on Zoe grabs me just in time. With a silent thank you between the two we got ready for the battle of our lives. When we truly made our way inside our siege was met in kind as we heard the sound of a grenade being rolled into our favor. I use the butt of my rifle as a golf club, and with a perfect swing it explodes to the other end of the room turning it into a crimson red, but our defenders managed to guard against the splash zone.
Our dealers soon switched in next with a volley of bullets that cover some of the room in obsidian. I thought that we had won, but it seems that Alexandra finally turned herself into a literal one-woman army, Her riot shield guarded her body as she snickered with a sly smile.
"That's more like it. I was almost afraid that my assailant would have ended you all!"
She then puts out a submachine gun and starts emptying the paint rounds on us! Once again our defenders intercept the bullets, but she simply threw another grenade above them. They reformed again the guard us from the blast. We thought we had found our calm in the storm, but Alexandra used the opportunity to shower them with paintballs. In a single stroke, our defenders were all taken down.
You ever have those moments where the world just slows down, and you are just waiting for you to return to reality? Well, let's just say that I took advantage. I have a habit of being able to turn my anger into a single target. Using my pistol, I roll into the opening and then cleared my mind. Once again the world fades as like a video in slow motion as I plan the shot in my mind. Alexandra with deadly seriousness was midway through her next throw. What followed was the pulling of the trigger.
The grenade exploded in mid-air salting it in maroon hue. Taking advantage of the changing situation I ran towards a blinded Alexandra and carefully doing a judo throw that only envelops me in minute splotches of paint. I aimed my pistol right at her while the rest of the team comes in.
"James you always find new ways to impress me. It makes the game so much fun and even more irritating," she said with a smile.
"Who did you send against us?! I know it isn't one of your teammates. Might as well spill now since your game is over," I said laughing weakly.
Alexandria snapped back, "No this game of ours is never over! I stood unopposed in the light of achievement for oh so very long. But the game grew so boring so sad. From the very first time I saw you enter the ring I knew you would be my rival. Winning was never the same for me again. I could finally evolve, improve get stronger. Ever still the coppery sting of defeat was too strong stunk too much. It practically drove me crazy! So I got an edge. I got someone who could truly match you blow for blow. Someone who could finally make you feel defeat as you've had me! But just because I hired him doesn't mean I can't try with all my might to get the last laugh!"
The entire speech made me not spot a detonator that she had in her left hand! Luckily and unfortunately Trayne placed it and pushed me out of the way covering his body. The room erupts in ruby red dye. When my senses finally return to me all I hear is Trayne saying.
"Darn I wanted to get to the end this time around."
His body went limp signaling his departure from the game. My hands shook with rage as again I'm reminded of the mission that took away a group that was once considered my family a group that was picked off one by one and I was the lone survivor. History was a repeat- no no no. I'll be damned if I let history be repeated not when I stronger and now and certainly not again. We've come too far to give up now. I grab my pistol off the floor and use it to finish her off. I then give a rally check.
Zoe and Joe were still left. We made out of the house cabins with every weapon we could carry. We tried seeing if Jared was still on the lookout, but our "friend" had already cloaked him in red. Stress started to prickle my skin while Joe began to lose it he slowly simpered, and the only thing I heard next was Zoe saying.
"Joe, watch yourself!"
Shit went sideways as Joe stepped on the mine with his entire body just freezing and his face was pleading with despair, and for a second his face morphed into the pit. I quickly shake my head as it felt like it was getting scratched. And then an epiphany entered in my brain. What if maybe I joined the circuit not just for fun. What if I pushed the Dogs so hard not because I wanted them to win but perhaps in a messed up way of making sure something like "that" night never happened to the anyone else I cared about. And maybe it was my way of trying to relive the event and fixed what was broken.
I know it's pathetic, but you have to understand. Scars never really go away, but it's just what we do when tragedy takes place that makes us stronger than ever. And besides, aren't the purest joys in life the ones we take for granted the most. With renewed vigor, I dropped the gear I had and took out the shield and as I looked at Joe's terrified face, but I reassure him one thing. That everything will be alright. I backed up slowly. Once I realized a sufficient distance, I made a full-on the dash and leaped straight into Joe and managed to twist my body to make sure that the splash zone splattered across the shield. As we both ascended, Joe shouted.
"That's it. I'm done I've had it. This is way more than I bargained for."
He started to hyperventilate so I simply came up with the only solution I could come up with. I slapped him so hard that he rolled a couple of feet and spat out blood. He got back up entirely up, and I grabbed him.
"Listen up well and good! You didn't come so far to roll up and lose. We're here for all the people that didn't make it. Like Jared, April May and John Wick! Alexandra said she wants to make this a day to remember then let's give her a defeat she will never forget! Let's show them the real meaning of war! And I know I can do it now that I've got you guys."
We then came up with a plan. The good news was I think I knew who this person was so maybe I could predict my now enemy's next move. In about 15 minutes we went deep into the forest. With a camouflage tarp on top of a tree branch, I watched over Zoey walking with a paint minigun and Joe on support. I would send in Joe, but this was such a big lure that she couldn't refuse. She operated by dealing with the most apparent threat in the vicinity when cornered. But she was soon about to realize that we weren't champions by merely standing by. We're prepared for any contingency.
We wonder why she appeared, but it was answered when a grenade gets thrown straight at her! Using the minigun, she batted away with a strength that could only be replicated from a member of the Artillery. On the return stroke, she opens fires that blacken the trees in black(Okay I ran out of synonyms sue me). Even with the setup, we made I only got glimpses of here, but I already know who she was. Joe scanned the area to make where our predator laid, but through the scope, I could see that he was right now avoiding a flurry of paintballs. Considering I couldn't hear anything I assumed the shots were silenced. Still, this gave a Zoey a way to move forward based on the sound of the gunshots. Combined that with me on the lookout and this game would soon end.
As I looked at the scope of my sniper, I saw a terrifying sight. A loaded paint grenade launcher picked up and before I could even utter to get down all things went to hell for about half a minute as scarlet clouds cloaked the surrounding area. Dark thoughts entered my mind, but they got answered when my body was splattered by ebony pellets that make me fall from my vantage point and crash towards earth. Next time I open eyes out of the mist I see my maroon opponent which held a machine gun and riot shield as the bodies of my teammates landed with a chilling thud. I was now facing my friend and partner tied to the moniker of the greatest warrior ever to live. Sarah Walters the Paladin has entered the Femme Fatales and joined the fray.
"It was a good game James, but it's time for your surrender. Give up now, and I'll make it painless."
I frantically dived for cover and managed to grab my shield and pull out the Tommy gun stored behind the tree.
"Why? Why you goddamn bastard! We've eaten, battled and watched anime together! And yet you still fire at me? What did she promise you, Sarah? What the hell made you some whore for the enemy?
"Alexandra gave me an offer I could never refuse. She made me sign up as an understudy and saved me for the very bitter end. If I win here, not only will Brutus get a new bowl, but I will have chocolate cake beyond compare! I'm sorry James, but all the anime in the world can't make up for the ooey gooey chocolate cake of my dreams! So give it all up,"she said with a crazed expression of sugar withdraw.
I think about all the things that would happen if I really did give it all up every time things didn't go my way. In hindsight I probably would have missed out on so much tragedy. But In reality isn't that all why we enjoy life? So we can move through all the bad to appreciate to the good? Thinking over now I think the reason why I do all of this now is the same reason I became a soldier. Because as a human I think it's was a right to live on after so many had died. So as my return statement, I threw a grenade her way that she blocked and made my comment known for all the people watching including her.
"I'm sorry to say Sarah, but this victory is ours doggone it. And no one is taking this away from us. Besides you and I know I've never been the type to quit."
We both stood our ground bracing ourselves for the titanical battle ahead. And with us stating each other down I thought up a question. Can the immovable object stand up to the unstoppable force? I think it over as I tried to keep the range advantage, but I knew her speed surpasses mine. I was better at handling a shield better than her, so I think now the speed gap was almost even. Taking advantage, I fired again and again until the rest of her shield was covered in black. With her vision blurred in coal black, She ditched the shield and used a large amount of ammo to cover my shield in an onslaught of red. Next time I get room to attack she's gone. Her presence still lingered over though like a bad onion. My senses went into overdrive as I almost reflexively roll and guard my back as it gets cloaked in crimson yet again. However, this was where she made a critical error. I knew where she was now. Using her starting trajectory the world fades away again as I throw a grenade right where it came from.
An ebony explosion takes place as I run towards the sound. At first, I thought she had simply vanished, but then my hairs pricked. Sarah is an assassin through so in many ways she's predictable in how deadly she is. Like striking from behind. I raised my shield as Sarah crashed her boots against my shield from above a tree. As I push her off of me. She quickly recovered in the form of a backflip and a low sweep and tried to disarm me but to gain even further distance I unleashed a backspin blow with my shield. She didn't falter and use the rifle in hand to have an offense. Still, I soldiered on and forwent my defense in favor of a knee. She guarded against my tremendous knee. Sarah tries to pull a gun on me with her left arm, but I grab her arm and fling it over to my right side and twist her weapon out of her hand. I move on to end this with my pistol. Sarah with the glint of a killer in her eyes hit me with a palm strike so powerful my hand throbs in pain, and I drop the gun.
Nevertheless, I persisted tanking hit after hit and barely being able to block. With a feeling of finality overtaking us we both let out a primal roar that makes the forest itself quake!
Sarah finally pushes herself off me, and we look to see our guns had been kicked away in the struggle.
We both stared into the fire of each of our eyes with what felt like an eternity. The world slows to crawl as we made a desperate dash for our pistols and in seconds the ring of gunfire ran out. For a second I thought I was out, but then miraculously I realize that Sarah was covered in back paint and the ending bell rang out. In relief, I laid down the grass as one by one my team returned to me and lifted me signaling that the Dogs of war were the winners once again. My team carried me all the way back to the range where Streamer once again narrated over our victory.
"And once again the Dogs of War claim another victory thus ending another spectacular, amazingly punny, bombastic tournament! Now if you will excuse me, I need to get some affairs in order. Good night folks."
Two days later I am sitting with my wife on our bed as we relished in a pirated copy of the team photo, final match and repaired S.S John Wick. And as I laugh with her as we stuffed our faces with popcorn, I think of what I remembered during the game. And like I said before scars never really go away. Tragedy can leave you as a husk, but I chose to surround myself with my friends and family to survive. I took, new hobbies and new activities and made new memories and sometimes one day. I hope Sarah gets to experience that joy as well someday.