The trees formed a blur of green as I ran through the forest. I could hear the others as they followed behind me, some having an easier time keeping up than others. I reached my objective and skidded to a halt, standing there and panting, as the others continued forward, blowing past me. In mere seconds they had disappeared from my awareness completely. “Map.” I commanded and the clear glass over my right eye sparked to life, showing me a map of the surrounding terrain. “Show team locations.” Immediately, small red dots littered my screen, showing the location of each and every one of my team members, about fifty of them total. They steadily approached the area where it was thought the enemy was hiding. The movement of the dots slowed, as the team waited for my orders. I nodded to myself before speaking into my headset. “Okay Inali, I want you to split the scouts into two teams. You lead one group to the north and the other will head south.” I ordered the lead scout in my team. “I want you to get a count on how many adversaries we’re up against and single out any leaders for us to target. Take no risks. I’d rather have an unconfirmed number than be discovered early.”
“10/4 Gin we’re moving out.” Inali’s voice came through the headset, making her sound much more masculine than the female usually was. I sat and watched as two small groups of four each split off and moved in towards the enemy.
“Keep an eye out and get ready Baki. We’ll be sending your assassins in first.”
“Roger that Gin.” Came the reply, but not from Baki. Instead, it came from Caine, the Assassin who was second-in-command of his group for the operation. His reply was immediately followed by an ‘oomph’ sound and a muffled “Understood” from Baki. I made a mental note to smack some sense into Caine after the mission was over and then focused back in on where the scouts were.
A dot moved off from the northern group and the voice came over the headset the moment she was out of hearing range of the enemy. “There’s about forty of them Gin, all armed. Mostly non-human but the leaders are all human.” Came the report from the scout. “We’ve been able to single out three who are clearly in charge, looking like one commander and two lieutenants, but as expected they’re staying to the middle of the group. It’ll be difficult to pick them off without alerting the others.”
I thought about it for a few seconds before modifying my plan. “Okay, you can return to Inali now. We’ll do this instead.” I started. “Caine, Baki, and Senna, you three will join the northern scout group. Signal me when you join them and I’ll give you the rest of your instructions. The other two assassins will join the soldiers for the main attack. Everyone else, move in closer but stay out of detection range. You’ll be needed soon.” Each assassin gave an affirmative and three dots moved off from the main group towards the north while the scout’s dot showed her safely reuniting with the team. I took the extra time while they moved to actually come up with a concrete plan from the half-formed idea I had. By the time Baki’s dot flashed signaling his arrival, I knew what I was going to have them do. “Baki, you and the other assassins need to get your sights on the three leaders. Use your ranged weapons so you can kill from a distance. Warriors, move to circle the enemy and keep watch for any that may try to run. Inali, once they’re in position they will signal you. Make a little noise to get the enemy’s attention and once their backs are turned I want them picked off with clean one-hit kills. Don’t let them have any chance to give orders. The moment they go down, all hell will break loose. Warriors move in and corral them so none can escape. At that point take as many captive as you can and kill any that resist.” The affirmative came through from each of the three group leaders and I sat back with a sigh, preparing to wait. This was always the hardest part of any mission for me. My orders had been given, and now I had to wait quietly while my comrades put their lives on the line in battle. It was harder than usual this time because we had been forced to come without medics since they were all occupied. I watched as their dots surged forward, indicating the battle had started. Suddenly from out of nowhere I felt that something wasn’t right and I ducked down just in time for an unknown enemy to fly over my head. He turned, anger in his eyes and I scrambled for my weapon. Sliding it out of its holster, I barely managed to touch him as he slashed at me, but a single touch was all it took. His eyes rolled back as the electricity coursing through my blade shocked him into oblivion, stunning him for only a few seconds. Leaping forward, I slit his throat before he could come back to his senses. He tried to block me, but his attempt was futile. I sat back, panting and scanned the surrounding brush. I fought the urge to switch my eyepiece to thermal imaging to search for any more adversaries, since that would require me to take the map down. Hoping that was the only assassin, I turned my back on the dead body behind me, not wanting to dwell on the kill. My job was to strategize, not fight. War is war, and you can’t avoid killing when you’re a soldier, but I still didn’t like taking lives when I could avoid it. Shortly after, Baki’s voice came through the headset, reporting that the enemy had been defeated. “Wait for me there.” I ordered and then took off running, leaving the dead body behind me. I didn’t bother looting it. Others would see to that. Soon I found myself in a small clearing that had been dyed red. The three group leaders sat in the middle, waiting for my arrival. There was only one enemy still standing, and she was off to the side tied to a tree so she couldn’t escape. “What’s the official count?” I asked Inali, removing my eyepiece so I could see better.
“Thirty-eight total.” She reported. “Twenty-four male and fourteen female. All trained fighters. Unfortunately, we were forced to kill them in order to subdue them. The female over there was the last one standing. She surrendered when we offered her the choice. It seems she’s willing to trade information for her life.”
“It’s only worth sparing her if it’s information we don’t already have.” The comment came from the lead warrior who I’d come to realize over time was a bit more bloodthirsty than necessary.
“That’s not your decision Valor.” I cautioned him before turning back to Inali. “Add one more male to that report. I was ambushed during the battle and was forced to kill him so I could focus on what was happening here.”
Inali nodded and updated the information on her tablet before rising. “I’m going to take this report back.” She told the rest of us.
I nodded in agreement. “We should all be headed back. We’ve been out in the open long enough. We don’t want to be spotted here or we risk being attacked ourselves. I doubt this fight will go unnoticed for long. Debriefing will be at 1900 hours.” The others murmured their agreement and immediately dispersed to take command of their units and lead them home. “Senna, Long, Mimi, and Forrest. Come help me please.” I called out and the four immediately left their groups and came over to me.
“Yes Gin?” Senna asked, being the first to reach me.
“I would like you four to escort the prisoner back with me.” I told them and they immediately straightened when they realized they weren’t in trouble and nodded. I walked over to the female and she shrank back, scared. “Do not be afraid, I’m merely here to escort you. As of this moment your life is not in danger but try to escape and you can expect a sharp and fatal pain from behind.” I told her as I motioned for the others to retrieve her. Mimi chuckled darkly and nodded towards her weapons to accent my words. She was one of the assassins that had fought with the warriors and I could tell by the way the small female gasped that she had seen exactly what Mimi could do. She was smaller and weaker physically than the other assassins, but she made up for it by being the best shot. I hadn’t seen her miss in the last six months, either throwing or shooting. They complied, two taking the ropes and standing at each shoulder while the other two stood behind, one of those two being Mimi as she pulled out a throwing knife, prepared in case the prisoner tried to escape. The small female couldn’t help peeking back at Mimi who met her gaze without emotion. She squeaked in fear and turned back forward, but kept glancing over her shoulder at the assassin from time to time. It was better for her to be afraid and obey than comfortable and try to escape, so I ignored the confrontation and told them to follow as I started walking home. The other groups had already gone on ahead and I turned on my eyepiece, setting it to thermal imaging so any living creatures would show up before we could see them with our bare eyes. The trip back to base was uneventful .
As the four who had come with me escorted the prisoner to the holding cells, I headed back to my barracks to catch a short nap before meeting back with the group leaders for their debriefing. I paused as I reached the door to my personal barracks and looked up at the mark taking up a majority of the upper half. A swirling x-shaped mark that matched the mark that started at my shoulders and went halfway down my back. It was the same hue of purple as the mark on the door, indicating that I was a strategist. I entered the room and above my bed was the mark of the clan I worked for, a swirling tribal mark that gave the impression of a hedgehog in my opinion. Maybe a porcupine, indicating impenetrable defenses. It would make sense but I never asked so I wasn’t completely sure. It had been emblazoned on my right arm from the elbow all the way down to my wrist to mark my loyalties. I took off the vest that I had worn for the mission and replaced it with my holster, which held the blade I used in the battle. I transferred the weapon from the vest to the holster and walked over towards the bed. I had been lying down for just a moment before hearing a knock on my door. “So much for a nap.” I muttered before walking over and opening the door. I was greeted by a white lab coat and looked up to see one of the scientists at the door.
“Good evening Gin.” He said with a smile. “I wanted to hear your report firsthand. The commanders are getting antsy and want to know how much longer before you are ready to move out.”
“And they sent you because they can’t be bothered to learn our language themselves.” I finished the scientists’ unsaid sentence for him. “Come on in Evan. I’ll tell you what I know.” I turned and walked over to the desk in the corner, brushing some papers to the side to neaten things up a little. I tended to live in a state of organized chaos. I knew where everything was, but most others couldn’t find anything in my room. It made it difficult for someone to come into my room and take something I needed, so I never made an effort to change. We both sat, and I waited for him to begin.
Evan nodded before meeting my eyes. “You know what I’m going to say Gin. The commanders are getting tired of waiting. You can’t delay much longer. The battles here are mild compared to what the main troops are facing in the south. You and your soldiers were created in our labs to be the ultimate soldiers, and the longer we delay the more humans fall in battle. They’re expecting you to be able to end the war in our part of the world. It’s time for you to fight for real, not just little skirmishes within our perimeter. We have the forces to defend this territory without you.”
Even though I knew this was coming, it was still difficult. Much as I hated the fact though, my superiors had the ultimate say and if that meant we had to go then that’s what it meant. “Please try to get me just one more month.” I pleaded. “Most of the older soldiers are ready, but some of the younger ones like Caine just don’t have the maturity. He proved that during today’s battle when he tried to push in on Baki.”
“You’re turning them into civilians with your softness Gin. Sending them into battle with force them to pull themselves together.”
“So what you’re saying is take them into battle, let half of them die, and then the remaining half will be stronger for it? Do you really value your own creation so little?” I accused him. It was harsh, and I knew he was just telling me what he had been ordered to, but his words angered me.
Evan looked at me like he had just been slapped. “That was out of line Gin.”
“How else am I supposed to take it?” I asked him, smacking the table to emphasize my words. “I don’t want to leave a third of my troops behind when we march but the younger ones just aren’t ready yet. What am I supposed to do in this situation? Our numbers are low enough as it is.”
Evan sighed and shook his head. He could pull rank on me but he didn’t like to. Even though the others had no problem with it, Evan saw myself and the other leaders as being the same rank as him. At least, that’s what he told me a few months back when I asked him. “One month, Gin. That’s the maximum I can get you. I will tell the commanders that your troops will be marching at the end of the next month. Prepare your soldiers. There will be no more extensions.”
He rose and I followed suit, escorting him to the door. “Understood.” I said a little tersely.
He nodded and left. Once the door closed I turned and looked at the clock on my wall. 18:40. Debriefing was in twenty minutes. Evan had taken away my rest time. I hurried to my desk and started pulling together the materials I would need for the debriefing. Exactly at 1900 hours I was pulling up a small chair so I could sit at the head of the table when I heard a knock at my door. “Enter.” I called and the door opened, permitting the three other leaders from today’s mission to enter. I was surprised to see Tia, the lead healer with them and was glad I pulled up an extra chair after all. They took their seats at my table. Baki sat directly to my right, with Valor next to him. To my left sat Inali, with Tia next to her. This surprised me since Tia outranked Inali but when I paused for a second to think, it actually made sense since Tia didn’t go with us in today’s battle. They looked to me, waiting for me to begin.
I pulled out a map of our clan’s territory and spread it on the table, but I didn’t start with it. Instead I turned to Tia, since she had come along. “Any serious injuries from today’s battles?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “A few scrapes but the injured will all heal quickly. The worst injury happened during the regular patrols. He lost a decent chunk from the back of his neck during an enemy ambush but he should be able to train again in a few days. It will take approximately two weeks for him to heal completely. The others should be able to train again starting tomorrow.”
“They got injured because of their own incompetence and should be required to attend tonight’s training sessions despite their injuries.” Valor cut in.
“Not your decision, Valor.” I reminded him, not for the first time today. “If Tia says they need to rest then they need to rest. Do I need to remind you where your place is? My word is final. The injured will not train tonight.” Valor visibly winced at my words. He knew from experience what happened when he tried to contest the decisions of higher ranked soldiers. It wasn’t pretty. He opted to glare at the table instead of me, which was a smart decision on his part. I didn’t make threats unless I intended to follow through, and he knew that as well from past experience. “Back to the matter at hand.” I continued, nodding to the map. It showed the terrain around our area. There was one on my wall that showed elevation, but we didn’t need that one right now. There were eight names on it. In the center was a single word in black ink; Kage. There were eight other names on the map, three in red, and five in black. “The Dovhic Clan keeps pushing further and further into our borders. Today they got here, within two kilometers of our base which is the closest they’ve ever made it. Not only that, but a lone assassin was able to sneak past our main forces undetected to try and kill me while I was watching the battle, here. The last three battles have also been within our borders, here, here and here.” I pointed to each location as I mentioned it, taking a zigzag pattern from our base towards the border marked ‘Dovhic’ on the map. It was one of the three names in red. “They’re pushing in on us.”
“Like they think we’re weak cowards who can’t do anything but wet ourselves and run for home!” Valor interrupted again. I fought back a sigh but when I met Baki’s gaze I saw him motion towards Valor and roll his eyes like he was saying the male was an immature idiot, which in some ways he was. I chuckled and Baki grinned at me. This was much to the confusion of Tia and Inali who had missed our private joke. They didn’t ask what they had missed though. They were used to it by that point. I shook my head at them slightly and turned back to Valor. I just gazed at him without saying a word while the others watched the two of us silently. Baki had a grin on his face, having already figured out what I was doing. Inali and Tia were emotionless. Valor started to fidget visibly and after a minute he just couldn’t take it anymore. “What?” He asked me indignantly. I said nothing, just kept watching his every twitch. He was clearly uncomfortable, much to the amusement of the other three, although Inali was fighting to remain composed and Tia looked as emotionless as ever. He looked around at the others for help and found none. “What did I do?” He asked again while Baki couldn’t help it anymore and started laughing, which only added to Valor’s discomfort. He started to get up but under my gaze he couldn’t bring himself to leave the table without being dismissed, which would have been rude and could get him in trouble for insubordination. His rear end hit the bench once more as he let out a huff and he looked at me sorrowfully. Soon Inali was chuckling too. Baki’s mirth was contagious, but I managed to keep a straight face with a bit of difficulty.
“I think you’ve tormented him enough, Gin.” Tia finally cut in after about five minutes, but when I turned to her I could see that she was barely able to keep from laughing as well and knew she just didn’t want to stoop to the same level as the rest of us.
I chuckled and turned back to Valor. “That’s called keeping your mouth shut Valor. I’d suggest you try it sometime.” He nodded seriously, just relieved that it was over. We all knew he could never learn that lesson for more than 24 hours. By this time tomorrow he would be just like he was before and he sometimes forgot within an hour. He just didn’t know how to hold his tongue and listen no matter how many times he got in trouble for interrupting or saying things that were out of line. I cleared my throat to get their attention and spoke once more. “As I was saying before I got interrupted…” Valor winced. “The Dovhic are pushing in on us, quite aggressively I might add. Three invasions in less than a week. We need to show them we’re not just a bunch of pushovers. Valor, I want you to increase patrols. How you do it is at your discretion but I don’t want the Dovhic Clan to get within three meters of this place. We need to stop them at the border. Each patrol should also have one assassin and one scout every time for backup and flexibility.” Baki and Inali nodded, first to me and then to Valor. They would collaborate on that later. “We need to strike back. I’ll talk to the other strategists later to plan a counterattack, but until then we need to keep them from crossing our borders.” There was a murmur of assent from the other three and they moved to rise. “One more thing.” I said quickly before they could leave, and they sat back down uneasily.
“What is it Gin?” Asked Tia, who was technically the highest ranked there besides myself.
“Evan spoke to me before you arrived.” I told them, gauging their reactions. They knew when I started with that sentence that it usually wasn’t good news. Evan was the one the commanders liked to send to spank us since he knew us best.
“What’s that whitecoat want now?” Valor blurted out before flinching back. Whitecoat was a derogatory name for scientists and he really didn’t want to get in trouble for speaking out of line when he just dodged a bullet a few minutes earlier.
Inali nodded. “For once I agree with something Valor said.” She added, causing him to perk up a little.
I sighed. “This next advance against the Dovhic Clan will be our last.” I told them. “We march to defend our allies in one month.”