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Merciless

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Merciless

 

January 9, 1993

Present-day Bosnia (formerly Yugoslavia)

 

“Another day, another body,”  a gruff-voiced man in mismatched Eastern bloc camo stated in Russian. A lifeless body was tossed to a pile beside him, summing the total to well over 3 dozen. They all lost count about 15 bodies ago. The rain only made the smell worse; they tightened their gas masks onto their heads. It wasn’t just for the smell of the bodies.

 

“It’s not everyday you see this many, though,” replied another man, dressed similarly. His left arm was adorned a patch of a shield with two crossed AK-model rifles, the Cyrillic initials “АоБ” etched underneath it: Bastion Defense Agency.

 

For the former members of the Yugoslavian state, the name sent shudders down their spines.

 

“The killing part is fun. The burning? Not so much,” the gruff voice responded back to his partner in crime. He gripped the cherrywood handguard of his AK-74 tighter as a mother escorted her two children down the muddied road, the hood of her overcoat covering much of her face. Colorful umbrellas protected the children from the rain. They didn’t protect from anything meaningful.

 

“Keep moving, go!” He called out to them from behind his mask in Russian. Most wouldn’t speak Russian, rather a dialect of another Serb language. He didn’t speak those, though; they would have to work with it.

 

The mother called out, meekly, from behind her hood. She held a bag of groceries close to her chest, trying to protect the already molding bread and few canned goods she could afford from the local market from the downpour. Another body was tossed onto the pile; it was reaching over the hole in the ground they had dug for them. “I-I’m sorry, I do not understand,” she meekly replied in Croatian. Her next words were in broken Russian. “Speak… little.”
 

“I said get fucking moving!” The barrel of his gun sent his message better than his words. She nearly jumped out of her skin, quickly hurrying her now frantically whimpering children.

 

“Come children, they are the bad men… here to “cleanse” us.”

 

For her sake, it was a good thing he didn’t speak Croatian.

 

One of the men tossing bodies into the pile doused a long plank of wood with an old women’s blouse roughly tied around the end with his vodka, briefly pulling his mask up to his hair to take a heavy swig, then wildly pouring more of the liquid onto the bodies. He immediately dropped his mask back to his face, tightening the straps once again.

 

“Jesus Christ, they stink! Fucking Serbs,” he verbally spat on the bodies of the dead before flicking his lighter open, setting the doused torch ablaze and tossing it onto the pile. Almost immediately, they began to be cleansed of their identity.

 

“Hey, be nice to them, Vie! They smell better dead anyway!”

 

The group chortled together, watching the bodies catch alight, stepping back from the inferno which ensued in front of them.

 

“That’s all the Bosniaks rounded up here, right?” Asked the man with the patch.

 

“As far as I know,” replied the gruff man. “Thank God, too. Hope Dario gets his way.”

 

The ragtag unit of borderless soldiers moved out from the village, pulling the hoods of their jackets over their heads as they returned to their Ural, packing into the back with the rough nylon tarp protecting them from the rain. The stared at each other through their masks, awaiting a potential chemical strike at any moment. When you think your enemy is a monster, you prepare for anything.

 

“Makes me wonder sometimes…” The man with the patch spoke up in Chernarussian. There was only one person he could be speaking to. “If something like this could make our country a better place. You think, Kaz?”

 

The gruff voice chuckled under his mask. “What, round up the Ruskies and throw them in a pit? Maybe… maybe.”

 

He wasn’t entirely sure if he believed that. But, at the time, he was certainly willing to give it a thought.

 

 

 

 

 

August 14, 2015

Berezino, Chernarus

 

 

The house was barely large enough to support one person. Sitting all by itself on the side of the only highway to the west from Berezino, it guarded the curve of the road. The first drunk driver that forgot to make a turn would plummet right into the tiny house with nary a chance of being stopped by anything, save his brakes.

 

                The owner sat at his desk in silence. A small gas lamp illuminated the surface of his desk, and that was it. A small wall clock ticking seconds away was the only sound emanating from the house, save for the old, tired breaths of the occupant of the chair.

 

                His hands flipped through an old photo album. Sometimes referred to as “memory banks,” they never really specify if the memories are supposed to be good or bad.

 

                For the author of the album, they looked worse as he went.

 

                What was I thinking? He asked himself. His finger stopped on a photo of him in a makeshift ghillie suit, smiling behind a small pile of bodies gathered up in a forest, an AKM in his hand, his other arm invisible behind his partner in crime. Three other men stood beside him, each of them looking more proud of their work than the last.

 

                Mementos of their accomplishments. A book a UN investigator would kill to get their hands on.

 

                Just two pages over, the same man stood smiling beside a pretty woman. She seemed so proud to stand beside this man--arms gleefully wrapped around his chest, smiling so innocently at the camera, her eyes glinting with barely held back tears of joy and so much life.

 

                The man’s eyes were painfully empty.

 

                Money can do so much… A lot of fucking good it does me now.

 

                His fingers ripped at the corner of the photo, frantically trying to rip it out of the album. His fingernails weren’t long enough to grab at the corner of the glued-in photo--he bit at them far too much. He pulled a pocket knife from his desk, flipping a 6cm blade out and digging it into the lower right corner of the photo, aggressively ripping it off the page with his other hand. The glue caused it to tear in half, ripping right down the middle in a curved shape. It eliminated the happy woman from the photo completely, leaving just the smiling man.

 

                Much better, he thought to himself, setting the other half on fire with his lighter, letting the ashes fall to the floor before shortly stomping out the cinders with his boot. He kept his lighter open to place a cigarette in his mouth, puffing on it indiscriminately.

 

The gas in the lamp was beginning to run out. It flickered wildly and randomly, sending wavy shadows across the floor and wall. He reached forward and shut it off, closing the album on his desk and placing it back in the lower compartment. He leaned back in the creaky wooden chair, staring up to the nearly pitch black ceiling.

 

                If I could go back in time, I’d do it all over again… Change this timeline completely. Kill Borz. Kill Erik. Kill Katya. Kill my father.

 

He spent the next hour thinking of all the people he would have to kill to make his life just a little bit better now.

 

 

 

February 9, 1977

Soviet Prison Camp Perm-36

 

 

Their faces were to be covered at all times. They were never to show weakness, always standing as strong as the Soviet Union herself.

 

The Alpha Group soldiers moved in a uniform line, their PSH-77 helmet visors turned down, giving each of them a small rectangle to see the snow-covered world around them. The heavy grey coats over their uniforms were barely enough to protect them from the cold.

 

It was all a part of their training--physical and psychological. Acting as guards of political prisoners was beneath their skill and pay grade. Watching the prisoners was below neither.

 

“Observe closely, gentlemen, the enemies of the State.” The Commander spoke loudly and briskly to his recruits through their helmets, which grew freezing cold on their heads. “And you all observe even more closely!” He spoke to the prisoners inside the camp walls, who were forced to stand in temperatures well below 0 degrees in nothing but a simple white jumpsuit. Each of them looked seconds away from hypothermia.

 

“These men in front of you, are true members of the great Soviet empire! They have risked life and limb simply to have the honor of wearing the uniforms they do. Behind each of those helmets lies a head stronger than any Western head, a brain smarter than that of any who oppose us, and bodies strong enough to tear down any obstacle in our path.”

 

Each of the prisoners which they were displayed for were political and social prisoners to the Soviet Union. People considered dangerous not necessarily for their criminal skill or violent tendencies, but for their words. Dissent against Stalin (before his untimely death), dissent against the State, dissent against communism. None were allowed--all were punished severely.

 

“Konstatinovich!” The Commander called out. The man in the middle of the helmeted men immediately stood to attention, saluting sharply, keeping his AK-74 in his left hand.

 

“Sir!”

 

“Shoot one of these prisoners.”

 

His hand dropped to his rifle, the barrel instantaneously aiming at the middle of the crowd. Before most of the nearly hypothermic prisoners could even register what they heard, one of them fell to the snowy ground, painting it red. The others were too cold to even register what happened again, but their frail, freezing bodies instinctually jumped at the crack of the rifle and the flash of the muzzle.

 

The Commander clapped his gloved hands together slowly. The soldier dropped his rifle back to standby position.

 

“That is how you act when you are given an order! The brave men of the Kremlin are a beacon to how one should always act. You all, clean up the body. Every piece of his head should be picked up and deposited, his body delivered to the infirmary so we can pack it up. If I see so much as one piece of this piece of shit’s body still laying in the snow when I come back, I will ensure each of you sleep in the snow tonight. Am I clear?”

Each of the prisoners meekly replied.

 

“Yes, Commander Mydyylvich.”

 

“Spetsgruppa, on me!”

 

The Kremlin supersoldiers followed the Commander through the remainder of the compound, learning every detail of what would be subjected to them should they ever fail in their missions or consider forfeiting their duty.

 

 

 

 

Date Unknown

Western South Zagoria

 

Another day, another body, Kazamir thought to himself as yet another undead monster dropped in front of him and he harshly flicked the machete to the ground to flick the excess blood off of it. He slid it back into its sheath on his hip, pulling a modular AK-103 off his back.

 

It was nearing nightfall by now, and the dead trees of the western borders of South Zagoria were allowing just the tiniest slivers of sunlight to pass through them, collectively blocking much of the sun’s light. The old military checkpoint south of Myshkino’s once-profitable lumber mill stood silent, the spoils of war ready to be taken.

 

Unfortunately, nothing really rested at night anymore. If nothing else, things became even more active. Scavengers and bandits alike made their moves in the cover of night, quickly losing all semblances of civility or humanity.

 

For Kaz, the fall of civilization and subsequent undeath of most of humanity didn’t mean the end of the world--it was just the next chapter. Day in, day out, people killed each other just for a few scraps of food or a shiny new gun. Rivalries existed for the most trivial of things, with conniving cutthroats and simple-minded psychopaths creating hostilities between individuals and groups for the sole purpose of satisfying some innate desire for bloodshed. A simple conversation could easily turn into a month-long bloodbath simply because one person decided that today, they would hear what they wanted to hear.

 

For Kaz, that was a Tuesday.

 

So when he heard the bolt of a rifle cycle several feet behind him, he already knew what was about to happen.

 

“I want your gun on the ground and your hands on your head or you’re not gonna have one,” a voice shouted firmly in English.

 

Kaz’s eyes shut, a low groan escaping from his throat.

 

Male, far, bolt-action rifle. Sounds heavy. Hunting rifle--Mosin? Most likely. One shot and I’m dead. Move quick and use the darkness. Cover 5 meters to the right. Only pussies die on their knees.

 

In a swift motion, Kaz dived for the military barricade to his right, wildly spraying in the distance behind him. He could practically feel the air split in half beside his ear as soon as he made a move, crashing into the ground behind hard cover.

 

“Ah, motherfuc--!” Kaz heard the bolt cycle once, and took no time to wait around for him to reposition. He pulled a smoke grenade from his hunting jacket, popping the pin out and quickly hurling it over the tent in the direction of the voice. In the darkness, it was impossible to tell just what kind of grenade it was--just that it was shaped like a grenade, sounded like a grenade, and had the danger of a grenade.

 

The sniper bolted away from the sound of a thud near him as quick as he could, audibly angered by the decoy grenade as the bright red smoke began to plume wildly from the canister. Kaz fired wildly into the trees in the direction he could hear the leaves and twigs rustling, one bullet ricocheting dangerously close off the heavy oak the sniper took cover behind. He slung his rifle over his back once again, pulling a revolver from a leg holster and firing wildly into his potential victim’s direction, one .357 slug grazing him dangerously close to the shoulder--just enough to draw blood and give Kaz a slight ringing in his ear.

 

Their shots would have attracted just about anyone--but most of all, it attracted the dead, those who remained dormant in the forest behind the checkpoint. His assailant chased after him as Kaz rushed through the checkpoint’s various tents and barracks, rushing off into the forest to the south. Both of them ran faster than the dead could follow.

 

It was hard enough to shoot accurately with one hand--it was nearly impossible to shoot accurately whilst sprinting through a dark, tree-crammed forest. His assailant was considerably faster than him, likely due to just age alone. The closer the revolver-slinging bandit got to him, the faster his mind began to race to a contingency plan--his own revolver tucked in the back of his waist, the machete on his hip, another grenade decoy. He couldn’t run forever.

 

His assailant caught up, clicking the trigger of his revolver only to receive the disappointing metallic click of the hammer. He dropped the magnum into its holster, pulling his hatchet off his belt and hurling it at the runner with a laborious grunt. It pummelled into Kaz’s back, digging almost an inch into him and causing him to flail to the ground with a pained grimace, his rifle flying out of his hands, several feet away. Upon impact with the ground, the blade ejected itself from his body, falling to the ground just beside him.

 

The man came rushing forward, his bolt-action rifle in hand.

 

Winchester. I was almost right.

 

“Give me a fuckin’ reason,” he panted out, shaking somewhat from the wild sprint.

 

Kaz’s finger pointed off to the left, deeper into the forest.

 

“Them.”

 

Their skirmish had awoken a small horde, which now furiously and awkwardly wobbled and clamored their way toward the two living beings. Kaz moved across the forest floor, grabbing his rifle to the chagrin of the hatchet-hurler.

 

“Don’t even think ab--”

 

“Do you want to live tonight?!” His old, damaged voice shouted back at him. “Because you can’t fight them alone.”

 

It was getting hard to even hear his own thoughts with the sound of the leaves rustling and the gurgling yells of the dead coming their way. He slung the Winchester over his back, quickly pushing a speedloader into his magnum, spinning the chamber with a vibrating whir and flicking it shut. Kaz gripped his rifle in hand and checked his magazine as his new companion grabbed the bloodied hatchet from the ground.

 

The shots began ringing out, one at a time from each of them. As they shot, they slowly scaled their steps back to keep their distance, multiple of the dead charging at them in a frenzied state, just to be cut down. Kaz hoisted his rifle’s stock against his shoulder, shooting it into the crowd as he pulled a full magazine from his vest pocket, keeping it in his left hand. As soon as he heard the click of the trigger, he clicked the mag release with the new one, cycling the bolt underneath the gun. Neither of them had enough ammo they wanted to waste on this.

 

                They had no choice but to sling their guns and begin hacking away at them. As soon as one rushed, they’d receive a quick machete jab to the throat or a swift axe to the skull. Yet no matter how many they cut down, another took its place. They were running out of forest to back up on.

 

                Kaz’s assailant-turned-partner misstepped and tripped his boot on an upheaved root of a tree, plummeting to the ground, cursing under his breath as he fell.

 

                Kaz saw his moment. An infected rushed him, ready to claw his eyes out; he slammed his fist into it to the right, throwing its stunned body on top of the man, shortly pinning him. He sprinted off behind, reaching into his pockets and pulling the pin on a Zarya flashbang, tossing it into the crowd behind him. It popped in the sky, spooking multiple of the dozen or so infected left and catching the attention of the few which followed Kaz’s blood scent.

 

“Oh you piece of shi--” He shouted under the shrieks as he began to slam the head of his axe into the infected on top of him, rushing away from the bodies which slowly began to pile up.

 

Kaz never knew if that man lived. He never saw him again. Perhaps it was for the best. It’s not like he cared either way.

 

 

 

July 8, 1994

Pustoshka First Orthodox Church

 

“Do you, Kazamir Yaroslav Konstatinovich, take Katya Vylliglo Bystri, to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

 

“I do,” responded a quiet, gruff, yet content voice.

 

“Do you, Katya Vylliglo Bystri, take Kazamir Yaroslav Konstatinovich to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

 

“I do,” responded a quiet, innocent, tear-laced voice.

 

“May God always watch over your struggles, your accomplishments, your displeasures and pleasures, your trials and successes. By the power vested in me by the State of Chernarus and God Himself, I pronounce you husband and wife.”

 

The ceremony consisted of only a dozen people, including the newly-donned husband and wife and the priest which allowed it. A few friends from each side, the mother of each side, and a reporter for the South Zagoria Times, documenting the “continued excellence of traditional marriage” in Chernarus.

 

Of course, the reporter may not wish to follow up on this marriage, if his wish is to document “excellent” marriages. The union of Konstatinovich and Bystri was far from anything excellent.

 

The young Katya, born of a factory family--father working in a plant in Vybor, mother working at the clinic just a few hundred meters away--remained sheltered from the hardships of Soviet life (and life in general) as much as possible. Her defensive, intrusive father never allowed the young girl to date anyone without his explicit approval. Of his many prerequisites for a potential boyfriend, of those including being of Chernarussian heritage, having stable employment, and being a weekly churchgoer, the lighthearted Katya never quite got her way when it came to relationships. Her family did everything they could to provide her with an at least somewhat stable household and enough food to eat everyday to where she wouldn’t go hungry (but wouldn’t become, as her father said, “fat and ugly and undesirable”).

 

Once she was of age, Katya took an internship at Vybor’s local clinic, following in her mother’s footsteps to become a nurse. Her life was simple and easy, with occasional hardships caused by living under volatile Soviet rule in a developing country.

 

After the fall of the USSR and Chernarus’ subsequent independence, the hardened war criminal and mercenary Kazamir returned home to a rather luxurious home in the hills of the Central Kopek, funded by his blood money. Sudden illness while traveling brought him quickly to Vybor’s clinic for medication, where Katya--then in her early 30s--first laid eyes on the sickly yet hardened man, who barely accepted any help whatsoever. Hopeless romantics would call it “love at first sight” for the still young woman that took an attraction to the “dark mystery” he was; realistic people would more accurately notice how quickly Kaz pulled a wallet flushed with Rubles to pay for the medicine and care. With a slip of paper, the nurse silently asked the man to call her some day if he ever wanted to share a drink or meal together.

 

2 years later, they stood together in Pustoshka’s church, vaguely surrounded by a few friends and family.

 

                “Congratulations, my man,” Dimar, one of Kaz’s longtime wartime partners said with a brisk handshake and a smile to him.

 

                “Thanks, thanks,” Kaz said with perhaps one of the first genuine smiles he had ever given in his life. “She’s… the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

 

                “Looking like that, I can see why you’d say that,” Dimar joked coyly. Kaz gave him a sly, somewhat apprehensive look.

 

                “Hands off, Dima, or I’ll chop ‘em off!” The two shared a quiet chuckle together, a gruesome inside joke between the two.

 

                The newest member of the Konstatinovich family came up to her new husband, wrapping her arms around his chest.

 

                “Kazamir, let’s not hang around too long, okay? I want to enjoy our honeymoon as long as possible before we have to get back to work.”

 

                Back to work, Kaz thought to himself. If only you knew. He reassuringly patted her hand, running a finger across the luxurious silver and diamond ring which rest on her finger now.

 

                Perhaps it would have been best if he more truthfully explained to her how he became so wealthy.

 

 

 

October 8, 2001

Blackwater Headquarters, North Carolina, U.S.

 

The two men sat across from each other--one defended by a dark mahogany desk, the other in the open on a plush, black leather chair. The neutral wood color of the spacious office left much to be desired in aesthetics, if one was not a fan of wood. The man behind the desk peered through a 3-inch thick portfolio, flipping page after page of conscription documents, discharge notices, international criminal indictments waived or signed off by curious judges and international security consulate members of the United Nations. His crisp tan suit matched the short, military buzzcut style he donned on his wide, stocky face. The middle-aged Chernarussian which sat across from him donned an equally as impressive dark brown suit with a well-dimpled black tie.

 

                The nameplate on the desk read in bold, capital letters:

 

 

ERIK PRINCE

CEO

 

                “Soviet Special Forces… Spetsnaz, Alpha Group. Bastion Defense Agency. Trident Security Services. Safe Sea? A lot of interesting holes in your timeline here, Mr… Kon-stan-tino-vic?” His pronunciation was off. If it wasn’t a job interview--or an American--he would have been summarily offended.

 

“Konstatinovich,” he corrected, with a brisk smile. Erik smiled back, nodded in affirmation before returning to the dossier.

 

                “I must admit, Kazamir, your record is pretty impressive. I’m a little worried about some of these holes, however. For almost 4 years after you were dishonorably discharged from Special Forces, you had no reported income or occupation. Must be hard to make a living in Soviet Russia with no money?” The question and tone was almost condescending, obviously a jab at “communist” Russia and his livelihood in general.

 

                Kazamir remained calm on the outside. “I worked odd jobs for my family and city. Small Chernarussian village, so I kept myself busy with home repair, car repair, general stuff.” It was only half a lie.

 

                Erik nodded, giving that curved-lip expression that one gave when moderately impressed. “And eventually, it couldn’t maintain a lifestyle? That’s when you sought out Bastion?”

 

                “The Soviet Union collapsed,” Kaz added. “That’s when Bastion sought me out. I guess I wasn’t… special. They sent letters to every male between 18 and 35, asking if they wanted to ‘see the world’ and ‘help fight for freedom in a post-Soviet world.’ I guess I got… dragged in by it.”

 

                “Seeing the world or fighting for freedom?”

 

                “A bit of both,” he replied with a soft exhale of a chuckle. Erik chuckled back.

 

                “That’s what we can offer you here at Blackwater. You will certainly see the world. And you will most certainly be fighting for freedom. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that our great nation was just attacked.”

 

                Kaz nodded. “By Muslim terrorists. I’ve seen the news. That’s why I mailed you. I need work, and I hate terrorists.”

 

                Erik actually laughed at that one. “Wonderful, Mr. Konstan--K… can I just call you Kazamir?”

 

                “Call me Kaz,” he told Erik, sitting back a little more comfortably in his chair. “Only my wife calls me Kazamir.”

 

                “Can I be up front with you then, Kaz?” Erik closed the portfolio of his potential employee. Kaz nodded a silent ‘yes.’ “You’re no stranger to this line of work, as I can see. Every time you left, you left on your own accord. Not once has there been an employee that fired you for… negligence. Breach of protocol. Nary even an infraction! It’s quite impressive, honestly.”

 

                “Thank you,” Kaz mumbled just audibly enough to be heard.

 

                “Now, Russian security companies probably have different standards than Western ones as well, so don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I don’t think you may have, at some point, done something… euurrr… ‘questionable.’ Would I be right, Kaz?”

 

                They stared at each other for a brief, silent second. “You’d be right,” Kaz answered emotionlessly.

 

                “When you get over to Afghanistan, it’s going to be rough, hot, and dirty. You’ll be supporting U.S. troops with logistics and, when necessary, fire support. We abide by international law and U.S. law; ‘questionable’ or immoral actions that put American lives or innocent lives at risk are absolutely unacceptable. Is that clear?”

 

                Kaz nodded, knowing he was lying through his teeth. “Completely.”

 

                Erik stood up with a smile, and Kaz did the same. The two locked hands in a firm, partnership-bearing handshake.

 

                “Welcome to Blackwater.”

 

 

August 21, 2016

Berezino, Chernarus

 

                The radio chatter simply would not stop over the past few weeks. Word is the world is ending, Kazamir thought to himself. Incredible it took this long.

 

                “We survived a 50-year cold war and a civil war just to be taken out by some infestation…” the hardened veteran of half a dozen conflicts chuckled to himself.

                The constant transmissions and television news updates of the infection which was currently ravaging most of the world made the mercenary veteran metaphorically pat himself on the back for having a plan in the event of something like this happening--or any event which would require him to pack up his life and run. He clicked the radio off just as another Chedaki announcement, pleading to their fellow Chernarussian brothers and sisters, asked for them to grab their rifles and join them to fight off the infected invaders.

 

                I’d rather be mauled by those undead freaks than join communists, Kaz griped to himself as he ripped a hardwood floorboard from the ground, tossing it aside, and wrenching up another one beside the first, revealing the receiver and barrel of a hidden AK-103. The polymer finish and brushed frame easily shed the dust and splintered wood which rest on it as he blew the residue off. He pulled the bolt back, checking to ensure there was no bullet chambered, then felt the weight of the attached magazine and clicked the safety to “fire.” As he hurled the sling across his body, his mind and eyes both turned back to his desk. Silently, he stared at the top drawer.

 

                Memories of the past. Hidden away for no one to know but him.

 

                He stood up slowly and took careful steps across the living room to the desk, slowly pulling open the desk drawer where the brown pleather-lined photo album still rest.

                For some reason, his body froze up. He was unable to move--unable to look away. His entire life, he lived with the memories and consequences of his actions. For a long time, he was proud of them. As the world around him fell apart, the slicing sound of a military helicopter flying over his house and continuing west, he wasn’t so sure anymore. Those memories--those actions--they remained with him, in his mind, in that scrapbook. Now he had to choose--take them or abandon them.

 

                The end of the world is the end of the lives in that world, he thought as his fingers scraped across the top of the completely unmarked album. A clean slate, until that slate is splattered with blood.

 

                Entire countries were falling by the day. It wouldn’t be long before the entire world crumbled. Survival was not only not guaranteed, it was likely unattainable.

 

                He pulled the album from its home in his desk and flipped it open to a random page. The one it happened to fall on was the one with the half-torn photo of he and his former wife. Immediately, he slammed it shut, pivoting on his heels and tossing the album into the hole in the floorboards. Grabbing the planks he ripped up and tossed aside, he thrust them back into their place as best as they could, going to his bedroom and opening a chest of drawers to grab a hammer and some nails.

 

                Several pounding bangs to the floor and 8 nails later, his past was hidden away in his past. The cartridge of nails and the hammer remaining on the table, he walked to his bed, crouched down, and pulled a long, dark blue and black duffle bag from underneath. Inside was several cans of long-lasting canned meats, dried fruits and nuts, a canteen of water, several boxes of Aquatabs, a box of matches, a multitool with built-in handle compass, and multiple 7.62 AK-model magazines and boxes of loose ammunition. The weighty, clanky bag was nothing he wasn’t used to.

 

Where he would go or how long he would stay there, he didn’t know. What he did know is that any "safe zone" was an oxymoronic death trap. He would be better off on his own, in his own country, surviving in the land he was born in and loved yet had ran away from for so long.

 

                Rustling and groaning outside snapped Kaz back to reality. Outside, a visitor dragged a half-torn leg across the ground, hobbling its way to Kazamir’s tiny, dilapidating house on the corner of Berezino’s highway. Its blackened mouth lay agape, sludgy, dark blood pooling out of its mouth. Kaz was unphased.

 

                He chambered his rifle and pointed it through the window at his target.

                Here we go…

 

April 14, 1977

Moscow, Russia

 

“Good afternoon, Mr. Konstatinovich!” A burly, unhappy-looking (despite the feigned excitement in his voice) man in a thick black ushanka and heavy grey overcoat called out as he entered, with 2 other similarly dressed men, into Kazamir’s living quarters in the uniform, baroque Lubyanka building. Moonlight was barely able to make its way into the conveniently empty barracks. Kaz was in nothing but tucked-in fatigues with cargo pants--he knew who they were though.

 

“Is it?” Kaz coyly replied as he lurched up from his bed to stand before them in between the lines of double bunk cots.

 

“Yes, yes, I hope it is. That largely depends on what your answer to my next question is.” There was a short pause as his two henchmen crossed their hands in front of their waists. As if that was supposed to intimidate him, the man that stood several inches taller and several kilograms heavier than each of them. “Do you have our equipment?”

 

“I can’t just walk into the fucking armory and start pulling Kalashnikovs off the damn rack, now can I?”

 

“Oh, but… that’s exactly what you should do.” The man gave a fake, almost indignant smile. “We’re paying you, no? Your connections here… they are very helpful. You are KGB! Spetsgruppa! What can’t you do? Our connections here? They go far. They do not go forever, but they go far. How do you think we walked through this building? How do you think we smuggled these in here?”

 

On these words, his henchmen slid their hands across the brim of their coats, pulling Stechkins from their waist and cocking the slides back. Kaz was evidently still supposed to feel intimidated by this.

 

                As usual, he barely felt a thing.

 

                “I know you’re paying me, dammit,” Kaz spat out as he started back for his bunk. He opened the dresser, pulling a small nametag out. The KGB’s logo stamped on the top right, a designation number, unit number, and security clearance level code adorned the tag along with Kazamir’s full name and a somewhat unflattering greyscale photo of him smacked onto the middle of it. He returned to the three, flashing the tag in front of them. “Do you see what that says? Alpha Group. I’m nothing more than the government’s fucking personal lapdog here. They chalk it up as a ‘great honor,’ a ‘privilege to join,’ and something to be eternally proud of. Sure, they train you well. They tell you how to strip a rifle apart, clean it, and put it back together in less than 5 minutes. They teach you how to kill a man barehanded in 6 different ways, all the rumors? They’re true. You know what they don’t teach you?” He stuffed the tag into his front right pocket.

 

                “What’s that?” The talker of their group asked with a now permanent coy smile. He seemed unmoved by Kaz’s miniature speech.

 

                “How to think for yourself.”

 

                He heartily laughed. His two guards chuckled to themselves too; the one on the left gave his APS a once over.

 

                Kaz didn’t share in their laughter. “Deviation from what is asked is not tolerated. I’m lucky they don’t force me to shower with the others at night. Shit, I’m amazed they let me go to the fucking toilet on my own! So if you think I can just waltz into the armory of one of the most secure buildings in the Soviet Union, jerk off, bag up a couple dozen rifles, then waltz out and give the guards a wave as I do, you’re as fucking stupid as I think you are.”

 

                The man to the left of Kaz reached out to slam the grip of his pistol into Kaz’s head. Kaz grasped at his wrist, pulling down, then forcefully slamming his fist upward toward his attacker’s elbow. A vicious crack was heard as the man released his grip on his pistol and fell to the floor, holding his backwards-bending arm in shrieking pain. The other guard and the main fellow appeared aggressive and anxious, respectively; Kaz hit the mag release and pulled the slide back quickly, the ammo ejecting from the gun and clunking onto the ground, before tossing the gun aside.

 

                “Mory, shut up! You’ll alert the officials!” He snapped at his subordinate, giving him a brief kick in the abdomen. Mory attempted to shut off his throat, suppressing his shrieks with wincing, agonizing facial expressions and looking at his grotesquely bent arm in horror, sitting on the edge of a bed.

 

                “Should not have rushed me like that,” Kaz said with a shrug. The head man had lost his coy smile.

 

                “Listen, Kaz… I know you think you’re tough… but you’re nothing to the underbelly of Moscow.” He approached him, the two coming dangerously close to each other for men of their violent tendencies. “You will obtain those guns. 20 Kalashnikovs and 5,000 rounds of ammunition, before the end of the week, or I will have a bone broken for every gun and a cut from a razor for every bullet we don’t have. I will make your life so miserable you will wish we never picked you up from your scummy little village and brought you here and that you were still there, wiping shit off your feet and begging for your next Kopek. Do not--” He planted his finger on Kaz’s chest, pushing him back slightly. He barely budged. “--Fail me, Kazamir. Do you get me?”

 

Kaz’s eyes narrowed, cold and unrelenting. He was staring Death in the face at the time, and he couldn’t even recognize it.

 

                “Absolutely, Borz.”

 

 

October 18, 2013

Several Kilometers Outside Sukhnah, Syria

 

                The unmarked uniforms drove along a dusty, sandy road down rebel-controlled Syrian land as they continued, for their third hour from base in Lattakia, their objective: providing support to pro-Syrian forces in the area from attacks by Islamist, anti-Assad forces. Their dingy, hand-armoured Jeeps and vans, a marked step down from the T-72 tanks and BMPs they were initially promised, violently bumped left, right, back, and forth across the rocky road to their rendezvous point with their allies.

 

                The Slavonic Corps were given no orders as to how they would regroup with their allies on the field, only that they were to travel well over two hundred kilometers to a town known as Sukhnah to provide pincering support to pinned down Syrian forces.

 

                “What the fuck are we even doing?” One of the mercenaries in the backseat of the steel plated Hyundai van. “We just got trapped out in this fucking hellhole, didn’t we? This was fake from the start!”

 

                “Quit whining,” sniped back the gruff Chernarussian--in Russian. “We all signed up for the same reason--to get paid. We’re doing what we do best--kill. Deal with it.”

 

                “You sound pretty confident there, Konstantinovich,” answered back the voice in the front seat. Ivan Vysilovich was the force commander of Cossack company, one of two groups of the Slavonic Corps’ 200-man private contractor group--the polite way of saying “mercenary army.” Ivan turned his head back to face Kazamir more directly, whose aging face stood out from the much younger faces in the group. “You some kind of soldier of fortune?”

 

                Kazamir blurted out a laugh. “Yeah! Fortune! Let’s say that,” he chuckled with a few others in the van with him chortling along.

 

                It was impossible to see outside their armoured windows, save for the tiny slits they were provided to stick the barrels of their rifles out of in the event of an ambush. The convoy vehicles  loaded with makeshift steel plates, folded tin, and other ragtag combinations made their convoy look like a traditional rebel convoy. With Syrian flags flapping along the sides to signify their “allegiance,” the outside of the vehicles completely looked the part.

 

                Of course, what didn’t look the part were the dozens of white men in NATO-inspired desert camouflage uniforms with MOLLE and ALICE-inspired ballistic tactical vests, backpacks and helmets manufactured by Western military armament companies, and weapons provided to Russian and NATO troops--AK-74s, AK-101s, M4-models, Heckler & Koch weaponry, and to top it off, a Syrian SPG.

 

                “I’ve done this shit all my life,” Kazamir bluntly stated. “I just… came out of a divorce, I’ve got nothing. The bitch took everything of mine, fucking slut! So here I am, now. Hoping to claw my way back to something successful at age 57.  For ₽250,000 a month? You’re goddamn right I’ll come to this hellhole.”

 

                A reminder of what they were to be paid elicited a few shouts and calls from members of their faction. Kazamir smirked, adjusting the chin strap on his unmarked tan ULACH helmet.

 

                The driver slowed the van to a stall as the convoy had stopped. Ahead of them was a relatively impressively large city with multiple buildings that were burning, black and grey smoke pluming from the wreckage in multiple areas across the city.

 

                “Shit,” uttered the driver. “Okay boys, I guess we’re here now. Stay frosty, don--”

 

                His words were cut off from a sudden RPG hurling itself with a blazing plume behind it, flying through the sky and exploding several meters away from the truck in front of them.

                “RPG!”

 

                The mercenaries on the left side of the van fitted the barrels of their rifles through the slits in the metal and began to return short bursts of fire at the direction the plume of smoke came from.

 

“FALL OUT, FALL OUT! SPREAD OUT AND RETURN FIRE, WE’RE SITTING DUCKS IN THESE THINGS!”

 

                “MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!”

 

                “Get behind the rocks, 9 o’clock, get me suppressing fire!!”

 

                “FUUUUUCK!”

 

                The chaos of war ensued. The members of the van funneled out of the doors as fast as they could. Bullets began to fly past them as they rushed for rocky cover. Another RPG was launched from over 200 meters away in the hills overlooking the road, which scraped the top of the van and ricocheted off into the air, swirling and exploding in a firework of shrapnel.

 

                Kazamir remained close to his blood money brothers, keeping his AK-74 up and returning fire at the heads he saw popping up far away in the distance. Overlooking them on both sides were rocky outcrops and plateaus; a deep valley cut into the rocks to their left, about 400 meters away. They were in an awful defensive position--the attackers had the high ground and the element of surprise.

 

                Their vehicles circled around and parked in front of detachments of soldiers that were still open. Fortunately, from the distance they were being engaged, it was difficult for the relatively untrained rebels to pinpoint accurate fire on the spread out, erratically-moving mercenaries.

 

                The Slavonic Corps’ SPG lined up and aimed its howitzer in the direction of the direction of the two previous RPGs, using a large boulder as cover for the frame of the vehicle. The howitzer’s cannon fired, with such a force that those without protective headsets on could feel their ears ringing. The explosion from the 120mm shell fractured the very rocks themselves, sending a massive plume of black and sandy red smoke in the air.

 

                “GOOD HIT, GOOD HIT!” An engineer shouted from far away as he remained close to the SPG, ready to work on any external problems as well as keeping an outside eye. The second company had begun to work its way up into the hills on the right, using the covering fire Cossack company was giving to aid their unhindered advance.

 

                “We can’t stay in one place!” Kazamir shouted to Ivan. “They’re going to bead down our positions here! We need to use the vehicles and push their locations!”

 

                “Negative, Kaz!! Wait for the SPG to eliminate their rockets!”

 

                “SPGs can’t stop bullets piercing us!”

 

                Prophetically, Kaz’s words rang true as a soldier a few meters down that rose up to lay down rounds at a small squad of rebels that began to move through the rocks took a round to the right shoulder, causing him to gasp and plummet to the ground in a circle.

 

                “FUCK! CASUALTY!” Ivan shouted over the gunfire. “MEDIC!!!”

 

                A medic heard the shout over the radio and started toward the chaos. Kaz didn’t care to watch over the wounded man while enemies were putting them all in danger. He rose his rifle to his shoulder and placed his eye in the eyecup of his PSO, mounted on the dovetail; despite his racing heart and his adrenaline-fueled body, he was surprisingly stable-handed. He saw a masked head pop up, an RPG-7 on his shoulder. He was aiming down at the SPG, which was still loading its second round of ordinance.

 

                Kaz tapped the trigger twice and watched as the rebel’s body fell out of visibility. “Scratch one,” he emotionlessly said at a volume no one heard.

 

                The chaos amplified as the wind began to pick up, just as the SPG’s second shell was fired into the rocks. It was such a destabilizing shot that multiple large boulders came crumbling down, loud enough to cause a rumbling across the battlefield. Several of the mercenaries “whooped” and shouted as the bodies of a few insurgents could be seen tumbling down with the rocks.

 

                The gunfire around them became heavier, and the group constantly remained moving around, using crevices in rocks, large boulders, and the Hyundai as cover, which was beginning to take so many shots that the armour was literally in pieces. Eventually, they were forced to spread even thinner, as mortar shells began to fall close to them. A noxious, yellowish gas dispersed from the shells as they exploded, causing members of their company to spread even thinner.

 

                “We need to retreat!” A soldier shouted to Ivan, who was still helping the medic finish up his treatment of the wounded man.

 

                So no one’s going to try to stop them? Fine… only pussies die on their knees.

 

                Kaz didn’t hear Ivan’s response to the man, because he took the mortar loading opportunity to move up the rocks. In his isolation, a mortar shell exploded dangerously close to him; the noxious, bleach-like odor caused Kaz to begin coughing violently and phlegmatically. He grabbed the top of his uniform and tried to use it as a makeshift mask as he kept his eyes closed and pushed up the hill. The changing, gusting winds had blown the exploded cartridge and gaseous fumes behind him, forcing him to continue up the outcrop.

 

His eyes and throat singed. He blinked rapidly and heavily, instinctually rubbing his eyes with his gloves. The gas made his throat and upper esophagus feel like he was swallowing jagged fire, making him cough, which exasperated the irritation. Separated from the group with nowhere else to go, he continued forward, fighting through his watery eyes and burning throat.

 

 He was on top of the far-side of the rock face, close enough to hear the sonic pops of the rifles of the enemy. The wind grew stronger--sand and dust began to blow through the air. Kaz cycled his eyes between watching in front of him and watching the ground for IEDs and other traps, barely able to differentiate one object from the next, while retaining his footing on the thin rock face.

 

                As he worked his way across and up the plateau, he could hear Arabic shouts to his right; a detachment of them had began to retreat due to the sandstorm, and spotted him on the rock face. He climbed over a low, natural wall and ducked his head as he heard multiple rounds pierce the rock beside him. One round penetrated through the hole a different round had made, with enough force to lodge into the side of his armoured vest, thrusting him to the ground.

               

                “Fuck!” Instinctually he cried out, as he crawled along the ground away from his last known position. He continued crawling as he heard less and less rounds being pelted against the rocks from where he crawled over. The Arabic shouting dissipated for a short time--that, or the sandstorm was becoming so loud that he could no longer hear it.

 

                He crawled to the top of the plateau and dragged his body to a long rock on the top, resting against it. The sandstorm had become so strong that he could barely see 10 meters in front of him; his irritated eyes helped nothing. He reached for his side and pulled his canteen off its belt, opening it and pouring a small amount of water over his eyes, blinking rapidly as it touched his eyes. Pulling his gloves off and suppressing another violent cough, he poured a small amount of water into the cap and, using one hand to keep his eyelids separated, poured the water into his right eye to flush it. He repeated this process with his left eye, and did this 2 more times with each eye. He took a swig of water and tried to hold it in the back of his throat to calm the burning feeling, but nothing seemed to help. It hurt to even swallow the water. Fortunately, his eyes were beginning to clear--still blurry, but usable.

 

                He collected himself and his equipment, beginning to crawl back down the narrow plateau, keeping his eyes down to watch his footing and using the cliffside to retain his balance in the heavy wind and sand. He was constantly having to blink, and he tried to use the top of his helmet as a pseudo-shield from the sand. By the time he reached the bottom of the rocks, the chlorine gas had dissipated, and the Slavonic Corps had retreated. Shell casings galore could be spotted along the rocks where they attempted to hold their position while other units flanked. No bodies could be seen in the massive storm.

 

A four hour drive… how long a walk that must be.

 

For the next 3 days, the soldier of fortune trekked his way back, using the roads and landmarks to locate his way back. Cacti served to keep him hydrated, and he was lucky enough to have 2 MREs in his backpack, which gave him barely enough strength to continue his trek through rebel-controlled territory. He used the rocks, hills, and valleys along the long, desolate way to stay as hidden as he could walking along the hellscape he voluntarily placed himself in.

 

Is this all worth it…? What am I really doing here? Escaping Chernarus. Escaping my past. Escaping all my problems.

 

His thoughts continued as he kept walking, even into the night. He refused to stop.

 

I came here to earn a living again after everything was taken from me by that bitch.

 

I came here to kill.

 

I came here to redeem my life again. To not drown myself in alcohol like my father did.

 

I came here to kill.

 

I came here to claw my way back to success.

 

I came here to kill.

 

I…

Dead, beige desert had begun to open up into calm, green grasslands and rivers. Ponds and farmland expanded forward in front of him. Miles away, the government-controlled city and Slavonic Corps designated base of Latakia was visible from the tops of the hills.

 

                Stumbling from fatigue and starvation, Kaz stopped by a pond to slurp up water for well over a minute, splashing the cool liquid across his sandy face and in his matted, dirty short hair. He filled his canteen and continued, barely able to stand by this point. He refused to stop.

 

                He limped all the way back into Latakia. His uniform was recognized by people in the city, who jeered and shouted at him. Some gave him snide looks, underhanded Arabic comments, or crossed-arms as he tiredly limped through the city’s bustling streets. He walked all the way through the city, back to Slavonic Corps rendezvous, where he was greeted with utmost surprise by the many members of the Slavonic Corps, awaiting their plane back to Moscow. The owner of their band of brothers had been arrested back in Russia for violating Russian mercenary law, and all of them were to be extradited back to Moscow.

 

                “Kazamir?! How--holy shit! We thought you--we marked you KIA!”

 

                “Gonna take more than a desert to kill me.”  His voice had markedly changed. The chlorine gas had permanently damaged his vocal cords. His low, gloomy, perhaps ominous voice had become gravelly, scratchy, and difficult to understand, like the voice of a lifelong smoker.

 

                “Maybe you’d’ve been better off out there,” joked one of them as they brought him in to the barracks, getting him some stew and a bottle of locally brewed beer. “Gusev got snagged up on some bullshit ‘anti-mercenary’ laws. They’re flying us all outta here before the month’s end.. All this bullshit for nothing! Dmitri took a bullet in the ribcage. Vot had shrapnel slice his arm open, and you--what the fuck happened to your voice?”

 

                “Gas,” bluntly stated Kaz as he wolfed down the stew in front of him. A few of them nodded in sympathy.

 

                “Eat up, brother,” Ivan said as he patted Kaz reassuredly on the shoulder. “We’re gonna get out of here and get our money. Put all this behind us.”

 

                Neither of those ever happened.

 

December 24, 2012

Rural Hills of Central Kopec, Chernarus

 

                The peaceful house on a hill, surrounded by nothing but more land and roads. Two stories, plus attic and basement, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, indoor pool & sauna, bar, and personal weapon maintenance workshop--it was the Konstatinovich household for over ten years.

 

                Not anymore.

 

                “Kazamir… what is this?” His dear wife Katya shakily asked. In her hand she held a letter, directed to him, from a man named “Vie.” Various things that should not have been mentioned out loud were written in that letter--including the actions of Bastion Defence Agency in the 1990s, as Kaz and his gang of what can only be described by an objective onlooker as ethnic cleansers ravaged Eastern Europe during the Yugoslav Wars. “The things he says… this cannot be true?”

 

                “Katya…” Kaz dismissively said.

 

                “No! Don’t you ‘Katya’ me!” Her rosy-red cheeks were turning rosier by the second. It was very difficult to make Katya angry; her heart was as pure as spring water. Perhaps the opposite of her husband. “First the call from a paramilitary group asking for you to help them in some shady things, then the police questioning you about some mercenary group in Syria, now this?! W-what is all this?!”

 

                “Katya, please stop.” His voice lowered. Angrily.

 

                “I will not stop, Kazamir! Who are you? Really?!”

 

                “You don’t want to know the answer to that question.”

 

                “I thought I had the answer 18 years ago. But every year since then, I’ve questioned if it was the right one. But this?!” She angrily shook the letter at him, tossing it onto the floor. “This is not the man I married!”

 

                “No, Goddammit, it is!” Kaz’s voice rose to shake the house and Katya’s core. She had seen him angry before--they argued quite often. Sometimes, even daily. But he was never like this.

 

                “Kazamir--”

 

                “I am a fucking murderer, does that make you happy to hear?!”

 

                “No!”

 

                “I have massacred dozens! Burned men alive! Let men rape wives and children! All for a paycheck! The paychecks that give you that blouse and those earrings and that diamond ring and those little trips to that masseuse every week! All of this?!” Kaz’s arms outstretched to bring to light the rather spacious living room they currently occupied, adorned with many accoutrements that were worth tens of thousands of Roubles. “This is all bought with money soaked in blood.”

 

Katya cowered back, physically sick from what she heard.

 

“Let’s be honest, Kati, you lied from the start. You never cared for me. You saw my wallet; you saw the hunks of cash I doled out and suddenly, I became a very attractive man. Suddenly, you wanted to fuck me every day, because you knew I’d give you a few thousand to go spend after you were done! You never cared--about me! Because there’s not a Goddamn thing to care about!”

 

“I ALWAYS CARED!” Katya screamed at her husband, stomping her foot onto the ground in anguish.

 

“BULLSHIT!” Kaz’s outstretched hand pummeled into Katya’s rosy cheek, sending the 115 pound woman plummeting to the floor. She did not move once she hit the soft white carpet.

 

Kaz’s clenched fists rest by his side, a deep, frustrated sigh exiting his throat very slowly.

 

“You never gave a fuck.”

 

Kaz grabbed a Makarov from his desk drawer and exited the house.

 

He never stepped foot in it again.

 

Date Unknown

Wilderness of South Zagoria

 

            There were no sounds to be heard, for once, other than the sounds of the forest. Crickets singing to each other; birds calling to each other; squirrels, foxes, rabbits, and voles scurrying and burrowing for this and that. The rising sun lit the sky with hints of orange and pink as daylight returned for another passing day. A peaceful, steady wind rustled leaves and bushes alike, making the serene wilderness a lulling place of virtually no cares, no worries, no concerns.

 

                Dragging himself out from a makeshift tent, crafted from sticks, bark, tree sap, and tied together leafy branches was a rugged, wrinkled old man, his hunting clothes--a brown jacket and a pair of BDU pants--cut and scuffed, bloodstained, wracked with dirt and mud, and smelling like something from a overflowing landfill. His beard reached down to his upper chest, gray with streaks of blonde; his hair fell even further, matted with dirt and sweat.

 

                Perhaps the only possession he had that wasn’t dirtied and damaged--the AK-74 which adorned his back on a nylon sling. He pulled it from his back and wrapped his hands snugly around it, fingers gripping the handguard and grip tight, finger wrapped dangerously secure around the trigger.

 

                The sounds of the forest seemed to have dimmed. There was something approaching. The man pulled the bolt back quietly to check the loaded round, before quickly scrambling up to the nearest oak tree and taking cover beside it. He heard the footsteps coming closer--they were light, as if someone was sneaking close.

 

                “Stop moving, toss your guns aside, or die!” A rough, gravelly voice called to the steps in Russian.

 

                A feminine shriek replied. “W-what?!” A rather young woman’s voice replied.

 

                “I said--” He stopped himself from continuing in Russian. “I said, stop moving, toss your guns aside, or die! Do I sound like I’m fucking kidding?!” He blindly shot a round beside the tree in her direction. A second shriek followed.

 

                “I-I--okay! I-I-I’ll do it! J-just… please don’t shoot again!”

 

                After a short pause, the sound of something heavy could be heard thudding against the ground.

 

                “Now put your hands on your head and turn around.” The rustling of leaves could be heard, a soft whimper overriding it.

 

                The old man rose his stock to his shoulder and turned the tree expecting an ambush. All he received was what he heard--a fairly young woman, facing away, her fingers interlocked on top of her head. A CZ-550 lay on the ground with its sling thrown hastily on top of it. She was wearing a blue bomber jacket, unzipped, a blue and grey school backpack, and a pair of ripped grey jeans. An unseen grey t-shirt was underneath the jacket. Kaz moved forward, resting his rifle on his forearm as he moved up, before jamming his foot into the back of her knee to force her to the ground. She immediately shrieked again and lost her balance, falling to the forest floor, her hands coming loose. She rose her hands toward him, her eyes bulging out in the purest of fear.

 

                “No-no-no-no-no, wait, please, don’t! Don’t! I--”

 

                “Will you shut the fuck up?” The voice replied almost carelessly. It was hard for her to stop her nearly uncontrollable fearful shaking and whimpering, but she certainly stopped talking. “Get up.”

 

                She did as said, although barely able to maintain her footing as her nerves overtook her. She kept her hands up, clearly away from any potential weapon. Kaz moved forward and ran his hand across her waist, which prompted another fearful whimper from her. Upon feeling no pistol on her belt, he moved back again. The barrel of the rifle never left her direction.

 

                “What are you doing out here?” He curtly asked. “And be quick. Less crying, more talking.”

 

                Him bringing to light that a tear was beginning to trickle down her dirt-speckled cheek made her begin to cry even more. “I was… I was going to hunt… For my-m-my brother and I… H-he-he’s sick, he c-can’t do anything by himself. So I-I-I took his rifle and was going to ca-catch som--”

 

                “That’s not your rifle?” He interrupted as he peered down at the bolt-action hunting rifle equipped with nothing other than the sling wrapped around it. The woman, her relatively short blond hair wrapped up in a ponytail, rapidly shook her head, causing her ponytail to whip back and forth behind her. She sniffled and tried her best to maintain eye contact, dark blue on a cold grey.

 

                “You’re pretty fucking stupid coming out here on your own like this. No protection, a gun you don’t own, crashing through forest--”

 

                “I’m sorry!” She practically shouted it at him. “I promise I don’t w-a-want to hur-hurt you, or-or your family, or anyone, I promise, pleas--”

 

                “I have no family,” he interrupted again.

 

                “You, then! I don’t want to hurt you. Please, I just want… to help my brother.”

 

                Her accent, her complexion, her English, it was obvious she was American. The man quickly deduced that the two must have been out here on their own, since she took the initiative to help her brother instead of a parent doing so; no self-respecting parent would let their daughter go unprotected into an apocalyptic, unknown land in search of food with nothing but a bolt-action rifle and a backpack of probably meager supplies.

 

                “How old are you?”

 

                “S-seventeen, sir,” she responded as meekly as ever. The girl was either an incredibly good actor, or a genuinely helpless woman with no hope of surviving out here. It had been perhaps only 3 months since the world fell into chaos, the country and the world plummeting into an infected chaos.

 

                “Ridiculous,” was all the man responded with. “Follow me,” he said with a twitch of his rifle’s barrel to the right. She nodded, beginning to walk toward the tiny makeshift tent he had been spending the night in.

 

                “Keep going,” he raspily ordered her deeper into the forest. She continued to walk, her hands risen in the air, taking slow, measured steps as to not fall over from the fear she was in.

 

                They continued for several minutes, in almost complete silence. The girl was doing a good job of stifling her cries and tears as she walked, knowing that whoever this man was, he probably didn’t like to hear that sort of thing. They crossed many trees, a few small hills, and a tiny stream. They reached a clearing with a few small rocks spread about it.

 

                “You can stop now.”

 

                The girl began to turn to face her captor. “Sir, can I please ha--”

 

                A 5.45 round pierced her throat, severing her spinal cord as it exited. A gurgle which was probably meant to be a final shriek attempted to exit the bloody hole in her neck as her almost immediately lifeless body tumbled to the ground.

 

                The forest fell silent.

 

                The man walked forward, running his hand over her still gaping open eyes to close them, pulling the backpack off her body and setting his still smoking rifle aside to open it and search its contents. Nothing but a can of ravioli, a half-empty water bottle, and a diary. He tossed the diary aside, drained the water from the bottle, and placed the can of ravioli back into the backpack, tossing it onto his back.

 

                Another day, another body.

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