Chapter 19: Slivered Hope

Dallas rolled to his right dodging an incoming swing. He watched the heat of Grif's sword burn through the ground as it hinged into the rock formation. Grif looked at Dallas from his left side blood shot and consumed in rage. "You will die!"

He retrieved the sword and kicked Dallas away. Bitters stood up with all his might and slowly walked, then ran and finally sprinted towards his their target. He tackled the General down and began to punch him senseless. This is for you Matthews. He punched and punched until Dallas was finally strong enough to overpower the Chorus soldier. He head butted Bitters, kicked him off and stood up in time to jump back from Grif's wild swings. But even his efforts were not nearly enough to establish his sense of dominance that he once had. One of Grif's swings managed to scar his armor and damage the underlying equipment that helped to transport the nano-bots to his body. He held the cut stumbling backwards. This isn't good. He looked to his right and jumped to hide behind some debris.

Grif helped Bitters up and ordered for him to go in from the other side. The two decided to get him from both sides at the same time. As they neared, Dallas focused his hearing to create a blurred picture of the situation. He was aware of the approaching individuals as well as their direction. Bitters took out a knife as he neared the other side of the debris. Grif held the sword tightly and raised it a little in the air as if ready to strike. Dallas threw two rocks, one towards Bitters causing him to react by falling down to the ground. The other was aimed at distracting the orange soldier. Dallas ran out towards Bitters and kneed him in the visor. He held him in a tight grip lock by the neck as he slowly moved around Grif. "Drop the sword, kick it away and I will let your comrade go."

Grif watched back and forth from the sword to Bitters. The young Chorus soldier shook his head in denial that Grif would even consider this a choice. The orange soldier took his sword and raised it towards Bitters' stomach. He saw Grif slowly walk forwards further reinforcing his confidence in Grif. Bitters understood that it was only perhaps Grif with the ability to overcome and defeat their enemies. Grif aimed the sword at Bitters' chest who took in a deep breath. I guess this will be it. Dallas felt his heart race. Do they not care about what happens to them all?

Grif quickly unpinned a smoke grenade from his pouch and dropped it to the ground. By the time Dallas noticed, it was too late and Grif was shrouded in smoke. Even his shadow was no longer describable. The three men were now in a covered battlefield. Grif however had the advantage with his freedom of mobility, and Gamma to help pin point Dallas' exact location on his mini-map. As if a spirit of vengeance, Grif jumped into Dallas' vision from the white smoke with sword raised high, and managed to make a large slash on his back!

Dallas lost his grip on Bitters and fell to the ground with a loud grunt. He felt it. He felt that the swing managed to make a deep cut into him, but thankfully missed his spine. His whole body shivered with pain, he stood up raising his fists high but before he could even do anything, he was forced to fall back upon Grif's aggressive swings. Bitters came in from the back following Grif's instructions as presented by Gamma. The two managed to throw him into a tight squeeze. But Dallas was not about to be discouraged. He bent down to avoid Bitters' punch, elbowed Grif in the groin who almost squealed like a mice. Dallas spun on the ground and kicked Bitters' legs with his shin bringing down the other soldier. He jumped atop Grif and stopped him from swinging his sword. He held him with one hand on his chest armor and head butted until they were both dizzy. Dallas finally started feeling the effects of his nano-bots wear out. He knew that the damage to his back was enough to sever a major flow supply, without it he would now be forced to rely on his own natural strength.

Bitters stood up and elbowed Dallas on the helmet. In his already dizzy spell, he easily fell over into an even dizzier world. The Chorus soldier helped Grif up and watched his leader slowly walk toward the enemy. He swung multiple times until Dallas was left bleeding from all over his body. Grif raised his sword to pierce through Dallas' body but stopped. "You don't deserve to die the same way he did. You will die more painfully."

This is Grif? Bitters pondered shocked at the vengeful tone his voice carried. Dallas tried to stand back up, but the injuries were too much for his now normal body to take. He fell back down with a loud scream. The soldiers on the battlefield all looked towards Grif's fighting grounds with uncertainty and anxiety. Their General was screaming in pain right now. Grif's squad took this as an opportunity to fight back against their enemies and further discourage them through their smaller victories. Dallas tried lifting an arm, but even that would not respond. He breathed heavily and cursed silently at these turn of events. "To think that I would be defeated long before being able to see the world she had envisioned is simply a tragedy."

Grif stared at the dying General and noticed his chest rising slower with every breath. Your time has finally come. Go pay for your crimes in hell you fucker. He holstered the sword and instructed Bitters to make the announcement. "Attention! Your General is now dead, surrender!"

The other soldiers looked at Bitters with wary gazes. To prove this to them, Grif took off Dallas' helmet who slowly closed his eyes as the light from his mind disappeared. He held up the damaged equipment proclaiming victory. The reds and the blues screamed excitedly. The Cradle of Hope soldiers were less than pleased with the outcome. As with Tucker's group, Grif's group met some suicidal attacks as well in order to try and cut down their numbers one last time. Those that were left over were quickly disarmed and arrested.

Bitters fell to his knees by Matthews' dead corpse and rested his hand atop his. "This wasn't supposed to happen."

Grif watched Bitters quietly from close by. Bitters gritted his teeth as he felt a silent tear roll down. "Fucking hell…"

Grif bent down beside Bitters and wondered the same things. He looked at his sword and to the dead General. Did you feel like this when you destroyed Edwards' killer back then as well Simmons' or was it some other feeling? He took up his sword and wondered just what it was he could do now that he chose to willingly and directly kill someone. What is there exactly left for me, will I even still be considered a soldier or am I just a monster now? No longer human…what would I be even considered now?

Kabira kicked Sarge in the chest and kneed him in the stomach as he backed away. Washington appeared from the back and swung hard narrowly missing her. With a huge smirk, she turned around, punched him in the visor and kicked him in the knee. He fell to the ground and met Kabira's foot hard into the stomach. Sarge stood up and stretched his neck. Well she certainly does have a few screws loose. He watched her become alert and run towards cover upon his gun fire. Kabira eyed the grey soldier standing back up while rubbing his stomach. He activated the sword once again and slowly walked closer with Sarge following. Sarge opened fire a couple of times to help suppress her, but that was not enough to instill fear in her. She peeked out and quickly threw the rock at his visor disorientating him. She then rolled out from cover and dodged a sword swing, she swung around to face him and took his sword arm in between her armpit and arm and applied pressure to the wrist. As Wash's grip loosened, she elbowed his chest and kicked him in the side of his knee.

Sarge threw his rifle away in frustration and took out his trusted partner. He reloaded it and ran forward with a warrior's scream. Kabira turned around in time to stop him head on but noticed his shotgun's barrel aimed right at her chest. He opened fire shooting five rounds point blank. None of these shots bothered her armor in the slightest. Kabira grinned underneath her helmet while uttering. "What's wrong little man, out of ideas already that you need to resort to such brute methods?"

Wash took this opportunity and made another slash on her back. She screamed in pain as blood escaped this time covering her armor in crimson. Sarge knocked her away and pointed his shotgun at her. "What's that you were saying there missy?"

Tch, annoying pests, she glared up the barrel and balled her hands into fists. It looks like I need to even the playing field. She struggled through the pain and the lack of support from her armor. She stood up, turned around and punched Washington hard in his visor. It sent him tumbling down to the ground. She set one knee on his arm and loosened his fingers around the sword. As it deactivated, she threw it to the side while kicking him in the ribs for good measure. Kabira turned around and dodged a shotgun blast. She hit the bottom of Sarge's chin with her palm, took his shotgun and blasted his energy shield to zero. She readied to open fire again but was stopped upon his quick reaction much to her surprise. So the old man can still move.

Washington stood up and kicked the barrel of the shotgun away from Sarge and punched her in the stomach. This time his hit seemed to have an effect. It seems that whatever your suit did for you before is no longer cutting it. He smiled underneath the helmet and released a barrage of punches. Sarge scurried for his shotgun, Kabira noticed. In her fast reaction, she sucked up the pain and head butted Wash away. She reached the shotgun first just as Sarge was about to reclaim it, but instead he was kicked away in the head. She reached down for a piece of sharp rod and slowly inched closer. "I think we should stop this little dance routine."

As she inched closer, Washington watched with increasing worry. He crawled towards his sword and stood up with all his strength. Sarge raised his hands upon hitting his back against a large rock. Washington ran towards the two. Kabira raised her arm in the air. Suddenly the time was still! She stood feeling the pain and heat all mixed together piercing through her chest. Kabira looked down to find the grey ex-freelancer having pierced his sword through her. Her life ended in that one instant as the brain could not handle the pain. Her body weakened as her grip on the metal bar loosened and she fell forwards. It was only when he deactivated the sword, that she hit the ground with a loud thud. Washington looked at the ground with regret. You never had to die…why does your kind always choose death?

He turned back to Sarge and found him to be completely paralyzed with shock, and understandably so. "It's alright Sarge, you are safe now. This fight is over."

In the other states, as news of their Generals falling one by one travelled fast, the Cradle of Hope soldiers lost their morale. This opened a window of opportunity for the military, cops, reds and blues, and the ATSG. Switching tactics to go on the aggressive assault, they began to push back the enemy forces until they could finally once again see the bright and radiant light of victory.

Siris aided by two other individuals sat near a long range radio. He listened to the words of his military contact very carefully. "Good news, we have talked to other countries. They have just finished mobilizing their forces and sent them on their way to help us."

Siris hummed deep in thought. The military man was compelled to then ask. "What's wrong?"

"I was just thinking about how long it took for them to respond."

"Hey, I will take them being late over never showing up," his conversationalist replied and Siris quickly agreed. "You are right. They should be quite a big help with the clean up as well."

He cancelled the call and called over his two aides. They helped him up and as he hobbled and limped his way to the manhole with their help, he motioned for a team. The leader of the team looked intently from the manhole to Siris. "I need you and your squad to go down there. Go, help provide support for Alex and finally put an end to this fight."

"Yes sir!"

Irene studied the condition of her armor with a keen eye while hiding behind cover. Donut and Lopez opened fire from the back and Caboose cheered his comrades on. Strangely enough, he also kept on asking for her to come out as he meant well. Mean well my ass, thought Irene while studying the diagnostics report. Her nano-bot supply was completely cut off. As the rock she hid behind whittled away, she looked at the equipment she carried in person. Only four flash bang grenades, really, these are my options? She took one and threw it over the rock. As the canister exploded releasing a blinding light, the BGC covered their eyes and screamed like annoyed little kids. Irene jumped over the rock, but her arm nearly fell under her body's weight. The nano-bots have worn off? Tch, I need to end this quick. She ran up to Donut and threw an uppercut. With hard contact he went flying down to the ground. She turned to Caboose who ran with his sword swinging wildly. She dodged nearly every swing. The ones that made contact were very shallow. She planted a firm hand onto the ground and kicked his rib in.

Lopez appeared from the back and kicked her down. He punched her hard in her rib cracking it. He then took one of her arms and broke nearly every bone from the frightening and odd twist he forced onto it. Irene screamed as she pushed the Spanish robot away. She stood up with a huff and watched her broken arm dangle about. Donut gave a thumb up to his robot friend. "That's great Lopez. Let's keep on giving it to her!"

"[I know you don't mean to make it sound weird but it does. Please stop or else I might have to let her keep on punching you in the groin until you can no longer talk.]"

"Yes, let's help her some more for I'm the mighty Caboose with my universe destroyer sword!"

Donut jumped with the help of his jets and landed atop Irene and proceeded to punch her repeatedly. It was only when Irene saw an opportunity to exploit that she stopped one of his punches and turned it on itself. She rolled him off of herself and stood up too late to notice the alien sword. It made a clean and strong cut deep into her broken arm further intensifying the pain. She kicked him away and met the metal fist of Lopez into her chest. She felt something crack, perhaps a few more ribs or worse. Her breathing deepened. She knew there was trouble brewing within her body. Irene took every flash bang grenade she had and threw them down in random directions towards the BGC members. As the grenades went off, she covered her eyes to avoid their effects. Irene reacted fast to take advantage of the disorientated enemies. She kicked Donut once again in the groin, and as he squealed she moved to her next target. Caboose was disarmed by the twist of his arm, and kicked down to the ground. She stomped on the back of his helmet. "Just go to sleep!"

As she was busy with constantly stomping on his helmet, she failed to notice the danger approaching from the back. A danger that tasted like metal as she soon found out from the heavy impact. Lopez sent her flying and tumble down to the ground. She gritted her teeth as she felt something loosen in her body. God dammit, this is not how this should have worked out. She did her best to stand up, but was quickly pinned down by Lopez. He took his fist and jabbed it into her legs breaking the bone in her thighs. He punched her remaining arm and broke those bones as well. He turned her around and nearly broke every one of her ribs. Donut stood up holding his groin and jumping about closer to the action. "Wow, savage."

In the end, as Lopez delivered the final blow, she lied completely broken and bleeding from every cut. Lopez stood up brushing off the dust from his hands. "[That felt good, it was very therapeutic. I should go bat shit crazy more often.]"

"Oh my god we helped her so good!" Caboose exclaimed unfazed by any of Irene's hits. She eyed the blue soldier and cursed his innocence. If only I had that monstrous strength, then our roles would be reversed. She turned to look up at the skies and breathed out a fatigued sigh. I only wanted to sleep, eat and repeat. I guess it's my own damn fault for getting involved in this mess in the first place and following her orders blindly. But if there is any silver lining to this, then I suppose it's that I can finally rest now.

In the underground base, the sound of metal blades clinked and clashed against Aria's armor. Alex swung his arm only to be repelled by the unwavering strength of the protective suit. He dodged a strong punch, bent down and went in for a jab with the blade. It simply bounced off once again. Not even a sign of scratching. Just what is your armor made out of? He kicked her in the shin while rolling backwards. He pressed a few buttons in haste on his gauntlet and activated the heat feature from deep within the blades. As the circuitry fired up, the blades began to glow a vibrant red.

Aria stood still at the sight and quickly raised her guard. I don't like this. She slowly moved around Alex, circling him like a hawk hunting its prey. She moved in for the kill. But he countered and stabbed his knife deep into her waist. She gasped at the sudden pain, and the unwelcomed foreign heat. He moved to the back and slash through to the tubes providing her with the nano-bots. But this was not enough to stop her. Before he could get another stab in, she stopped him mid-jab and smashed her fist into his stomach. He lost all strength in his knees, and he fell holding his stomach with breathless lungs. Aria kicked him over and berated. "So weak, that's what the organization you have become a dog for is. You are weak, disgustingly so!"

Alex got up on all four limbs and glared upwards. She leaned closer and held him up by his hair now. "If you had joined me, I would have granted you unlimited resources to better yourself with. We could have been a family again."

Alex gritted his teeth and swung the blade towards her shoulder. In her fast reaction, she backed off and narrowly avoided a fatal hit. Alex took in a deep breath studying the condition of his blades. "I already have a family…"

"Then I will be sure to deal with them once I know of their identities," she announced alerting Alex. His blood began to boil. Aria raised a finger as if an idea occurred to her. "Maybe I will take my sweet time dealing with them. I think I may go the torture route with them. You know, go for a limb to limb dissection method."

Hearing this angered him beyond his own limits. He let out a warm and ominous breath from his mouth. He rushed towards her while screaming. "You psycho, I won't let you!"

In a fit of rage, he swung his blades wide, but in a very controlled manner. She dodged most, but some dug themselves deep into her skin. The pain was becoming prevalent. I can't take many more deep cuts. Just as that thought finished, Alex dug the knife deeply into her leg. She stopped him from retreating and slammed his forearm until the blade was broken. Without hesitation she released the blade from deep within its entanglement. Aria felt her body weakening by the second. The nano-bots had completely worn off and her base body could not keep up with Alex's superior speed under the stress. He bent down and made another strong cut. Aria managed to find the strength within herself to counter one of his swings, and followed up with a hard right to his lower jaw. As Alex fell to the ground, she made way for the exit. His eyes opened wide at the limping figure, slowly escaping him. No, I won't let you go. He forced himself up and chased.

Aria ran from hall to hall, from tunnel to tunnel. She ran for her very life. That was until she came to a dead end, and faced a concrete wall sucking any hope of survival out of her. Behind her stood Alex at the entrance ensuring that there was no escape for her. Knowing her options were extremely limited, she took out a detonator. Alex stopped as fast as a speeding car hitting the brakes immediately. "What are you planning?"

"If I can't kill you," she activated the detonator and placed her thumb on one of the switches. "Then I will kill everyone down here starting with destroying the exits to the surface."

Alex ran for the device. She nearly pressed the button, but he managed to kick it away in time. Aria stared at the detonator with nearly dead eyes, drained of any and all motivation. He took his remaining blade and pierced her wrist and against her protests he pushed her back towards the wall. "No, stop it please!"

"You think you can really beg for mercy?" asked the ATSG assassin as he retrieved his blade back into the gauntlet. He forcibly removed her helmet and glared deep into her eyes as if piercing into her mind itself. He held her by the chin and she knew that this was the end of their dance. She leaned back against the wall and closed shut her eyes. This is it then. I didn't think you would be this strong Alex, to think that the little brother has surpassed his older sister. She softened her gaze and towards him and with whatever strength was left in her being, she smiled one last time for him. His eyes widened in shock. The crystal clear picture of the sister he once knew broke out from the depths of his memories. She raised an arm and gently smothered his cheek against his wishes. But soon even he came to accept it for he saw no harm in her intent. Aria's mouth quivered struggling to say a few words. "I think our family was dealt a really…really bad deal. So many things happened. I just…wanted for our family to be whole again, for us to be together again."

Alex's eyes softened with pity. He tightened his grip on her and slowly slid his hand down to her throat. "Nothing can bring us back to the way things were before sis."

He raised his arm and placed it below her jugular. "Goodbye, sister."

With a quick motion, the blade pierced the bottom of her jaw, the crimson red liquid spilt out and stabbed all the way through her brain to the top. Aria reached for his hands as the brain struggled to live, to survive. But there was nothing in this world that could ever heal such an injury. Her arms fell to her sides in an instant. Her body weakened with numbness. She started falling to the ground under her own weight guided by Alex. He set her down and stared into her eyes now turning grey. Her face seemed peaceful, and her world now erased forever. The young assassin reached out for her and gently closed shut her eyes. Sweet dreams, Aria.

Alex walked towards the detonator and picked it up. Church appeared beside him. "Oh look who decided to show up."

"Hey, I was busy trying to help sis," Church argued. "Don't get on my case bro."

He noticed Carolina's limping form and waved over to Aria's body and then to the detonator. "It's over. You two should get out of here now, you will need the head start."

"What about you?" asked the orange haired woman. Alex stared at the detonator stating. "I will follow you, but you need to get out of here safe and sound."

"Alright," she turned to leave meeting Siris' soldiers along the way. She quickly explained the situation and they all made an effort to escape.

The explosions and the sounds of the gun fire finally stopped. Iowa looked up above at the small hole of light piercing through with the skies now turned into a vermillion shade. Has the fighting stopped? He stood up to focus his hearing. There were no noises, just complete silence. He shook his head and wondered. Is this real, did it finally end?

He shook his head once again and stepped towards the rocky wall. This is no time to hesitate. I have to climb. He reached for the rocks and began to transverse the terrain. While he came across a few slippery rocks, it was nothing he could not handle with a little help from his suit's jetpack. Slowly, ever so slowly he saw the hole get closer. His arm extended from the crater and he lifted himself up with all his strength. He fell onto his back and breathed a sigh of relief accompanied by much needed laughter. All of his fatigue just seemed to flutter away. However this was not meant to last as he looked to his right and nearly gasped. He slowly stood up and felt that once joyous state of mind degrade.

Andersmith lifted out from a couple of rubble while rubbing his back. He looked at Iowa and followed his gaze. Before he could take a step forward, he was shocked to see at what lied before him. Iowa stumbled slowly past the bodies until he finally fell at the two before him. He shook his head without words. His mind was in disarray and his heart broken in two pieces. He lowered his head towards the ground in the sudden powerlessness he felt. The force from within built up until it reached a breaking point, and he finally let it all go with a cry. "Uuuwaaaahhhh! Ahhhh!"

Andersmith lowered his head as a sign of respect. Caboose, Donut and Lopez heard Iowa all the way to where Irene lied defeated. They all rushed towards the commotion. As they neared the scene, all of them froze with Donut resting his hand over his mouth piece. "This is horrible…"

The three saw Idaho's body nearly mutilated from impalement. Several sharp rods were driven through his torso and chest, almost as if it was the work of a mad man. Caboose neared Iowa, but had no idea what to say. Tucker's group approached Caboose's group but stopped at the massacre that this battlefield was. Tucker looked at Simmons who shook his shoulders. Both of them were just as lost and wanted answers. They continued until finally coming across Caboose. Tucker approached to see the dead bodies of Iowa's family and comrades. Any and all complaints he had about their outcome all vanished in that instant. Everyone silently lowered their heads as a sign of respect. They also gave a proud salute to their dearly departed friends. Caboose especially added his gratitude for letting him make new friends. They all wondered why it was Iowa's family that had to experience this fate as they saw Ohio and Sherry, dead with hands held together to the end.

Carolina climbed out from the manhole with help from her comrades. Siris rushed over with his two aides eager to question. "What happened down there?"

It was then that he saw every soldier he sent down coming back out. "Is it over?"

Carolina limped to the side of the road and sat down. She breathed a sigh of relief at the dulled pain thanks to the healing unit. She nodded her head with happiness. "Yes…it's finally over."

Siris let out a much needed smile and laughter. Carolina however was not as optimistic as Alex had yet to come back up. "Get everyone off the roads."

"Why? What is going on?"

"Their underground base will soon collapse."

"Wait, Alex and Chloe are still down there!" stated Siris looking towards the manhole. There were no signs of anyone coming back out just yet. Carolina closed shut her eyes and noted. "They will be fine. They are far more capable than I am right now anyways."

Siris asked to be brought to the communicator connected to a direct military line. "This is Siris. I have some much needed good news. The leader of the terrorists is dead, I repeat, she is dead."

Siris in the background could hear the cheers of many like a noisy flock of birds. He too was happy not to just having heard but be able to deliver the news to others. The military forces in other cities wasted no time in conveying this news to their enemies. "Stand down, your leader is now dead. You have no more reasons or orders to carry out this fighting!"

In the growing disarray amidst the enemy, and their pride as well as their beliefs at risk, some opted to take more extreme actions. While some surrendered, to the horrors of others some decided to die in a blazing glory of fires and explosions. They attached C4s to their chest armor and ran towards the enemy, as well towards their own who surrendered. With no hesitation in their mind, they blew themselves up screaming. "May the afterlife be a more worthy land than those of the living!"

The fighting however after the smoke cleared died down quickly. While initially shocked, the Generals of the military quickly got a bearing on their surroundings and ordered for the troops to move in. "Quickly detain the terrorists, I want to avoid any more surprises like the one we just got."

In the underground base, Alex stood by the exit and gazed upon his sister's body one last time. It is time that I bury our broken family and start anew. Church appeared to his side with urgency. "I don't know what the holdup is dude but we need to leave, now!"

He activated the detonator as a red light blinked. He pressed one switch and sent a signal throughout the underground area. The area around the manholes shook and cracked violently. Everyone on the surface looked in confusion. Siris fell to the ground at the trembling and saw the manhole collapse. As soon as it caved in on itself, he pointed to the area. "Dig out an exit from there, there are still people stuck down there!"

Alex pressed a second switch and the light on the detonator turned green. He quickly legged it out of there as the detonator this time sent a signal to every explosive in the base. One by one, successively they exploded. He ran from hall to hall with Church's directions. Upon entering an intersection he nearly bumped into a familiar figure. "Chloe?"

"You know, it would have been nice if you had told me your plan to do this earlier."

"Wait, how did you know?"

"Church told me. You are in so much trouble!"

"Wait a go have my back dude," Alex said in bad taste. "Bros gotta have one another's back man."

"Well she can be quite scary when she is super pissed or dominant, that can be kind of kinky to…oh god I'm starting to sound like Tucker, what a scary thought."

"Boys, explosions, need to run, now!"

As the two ran, he eyed her body and smiled towards her clearly red cheeks. "I'm glad to see that you are alright."

Her red cheeks only reddened, but grew a joyous smile. "Thank you. Now let's book it on out of here!"

On the surface, several footsteps ran towards their destination bewildered by the cracks forming on the road. The grey ex-freelancer waved his arm gaining the attention of many along the way. "Carolina!"

The red headed soldier looked up with a grunt. Her pain now greatly dulled, she was able to move on her own. A smile of a joyous five year old girl formed on her face as she saw her family running towards her. She jumped at the opportunity into Washington's arms and hugged him so tight that he nearly chocked comically so. "I'm so glad to see all of you."

"We are glad to see you to," said Sarge while moving besides Simmons. Palomo and Tucker both looked at the two ex-freelancers happily while letting out a rather perverse whistle. Tucker then squeezed his pinkie finger and noted. "So Wash, is there something you want to tell us by any chance? Bow-chicka-bow-wow!"

Carolina already felt her blood pressure rising at his antics. She cracked her knuckle alerting the perverted sword wielder. He backed up until he could no longer do so. "L-l-l- Let's just calm down Carolina, we can talk this out right?"

"Oh I think perverts only understand the language of fists."

"Sounds like fun," said Palomo egging her on. Tucker glared at his Chorus friend. Thanks for being a great friend Palomo, always appreciated. Carolina smirked underneath her helmet and said. "Don't worry, you are next."

Carolina stopped mid-swing and let out a little wince. Wash reached out for her as she lost her balance. Tucker leaned in close and asked. "Are you alright?"

"Well aside from her being a hard headed fool sometimes," Church appeared surprising the crew but happily so. "She will be just fine if she can learn to stay still for a couple of hours."

"Church, am I ever glad to see you dude," Tucker spoke swinging his arm in the air. Church let out a gentle laugh. "I didn't realize you missed me so much. I will be sure to take you on an Italian dinner date later then."

"Dude, no homo!"

"Haha! It's great to be talking to you guys again," said the AI. He was greeted by the other fragments currently present. They all took their time to catch up, learn new things from one another and in the mean time Carolina helped fill them all in on the situation. "By the way, where are the others?"

Tucker looked at Simmons worriedly and simply opted to keep quiet about the specifics for now. "They said they would catch up later when they are ready."

He ran, ran, and ran as fast as his legs would allow. In front of him, Chloe sprinted towards the previous entrance they used for the underground network of tunnels. He looked back and saw the ceiling give away. His eyes widened with taking a deep breath. They ran, they ran and ran. As they turned the corner, they saw the cave in but a small sliver of light. Chloe nearly shouted in anger, that this maybe their end. But Alex stopped her and pointed to their hope. The ATSG soldiers all motioned for them to run, run as fast as their bodies would allow, perhaps even faster. Their salvation was near. She sprinted, and he followed. She rushed out the hole and fell onto her chest with a happy smile. He stood at the hole and the blinding light that pierced his eyes. Alex looked back one last time at the collapsing tunnels and stepped out to the fresh air of the evening cool. Everywhere he looked, there were soldiers gathered, but not a weapon on them in sight. It was over, his fight was over. He looked down at his gauntlet with an appreciative stare, they served him well, but now it was the time to let go. With gratitude, he undid his straps and let gravity do the rest. The gauntlets were off, his arms breathed freely once again and the pressure of the soft inner pads was no more.

Alex took his first few steps outside with a lightened mind and heart. He watched the many reds and blues dancing around merrily in one another's arms. The mixture of red and blue made a good combo in his eyes. Several sat around raising their arms in victory, sharing stories and expressing their gratitude to one another as comrades. For without one another, they may not have made it back safe and sound to this moment. Many helped search for any trapped under the debris, and some they did find. As a group of unshakable will and bonds, they worked in unison to help their fellow comrades and people. Together they lifted up the debris, dragged their injured and let the purple medic cast his healing techniques upon them. Amidst this occasion of happiness, he stopped to notice a man that meant quite a bit to him in his life. Siris sat with a pathetic smile. No doubt he felt shameful to let his student see him in this state. But to Alex it mattered not, for he offered a relieved smile at seeing his mentor still alive and offered a hand. Surprised but thankful, Siris took it with gratitude. As the two walked towards the BGC, they observed the joy and relief together, and their minds to became cleansed of the stress from combat, their thoughts shifted from danger to happiness. Whatever is to come afterwards, they will think about it later. For now, they will just live in the moment.

Grif lifted one side of their make shift stretcher, while Bitters lifted the other. The two men looked at the body resting in peace. Sadness showed through their bodies as their muscles felt weak, but they could never afford to leave him here. Grif looked up with a nod and Bitters confirmed, it was time to move out. Andersmith, Donut, Caboose and Lopez all stood by Iowa's side as he continued to cry. His sadness was heard by all and felt. They all stared at their dead comrades with Caboose understanding the pain Iowa felt the most. They all once again lowered their head at the painful cries and to pay their respects. Sarge looked to the maroon soldier, and rested a hand on his shoulder to assess his condition. He nodded his head in the process and expressed his proud feelings towards Simmons' bravery and actions in this conflict.

Washington stood atop a hill of debris alongside Carolina and stared at his alien sword. She took off her helmet and watched with intrigue. He waved over to Tucker who attentively looked up. Wash smiled underneath his helmet and threw the sword towards the aqua soldier. Tucker looked up questioning this sudden action. He saw the grey ex-freelancer holding something small in his hands, it was his dog tags. He held them in the palm of his hands while caressing one of the surfaces where his name was engraved. This was it. It was time for him to finally put an end to it. He threw the dog tag down towards Tucker as well who instantly understood what the grey soldier was doing. As he looked up, he was surprised to find Wash take of his helmet for the first time ever in front of them all. Across Wash's pale face was a very wide smile painted. It was a smile taking in the delight of this moment, and peace. Carolina smiled alongside him, happy for him to see him smile so. She lifted her own helmet and stared for a moment. She also understood what needed to be done now for it was the natural course of events to take. She let the helmet rest to her side as her fingers slowly but eventually loosened their grip on it and it went rolling down the hill.

Church pixilated besides Tucker and the aqua soldier nodded his head. Everyone looked up at the sky with their hearts fluttering lightly and satisfaction in the choices they made to get to this moment. The horizon line was painted in a vibrant and a beautiful vermillion shade sending warm shivers down their spines. As the skies thundered, Pelicans from other nations finally arrived to help with the cleanup efforts.

A/N: We are very close to the ending now folks. I'm excited to finish this off in the next chapter!

A couple of musical recommendations this time around.

Recommendation 1: Assassin's Creed 3 Main Menu theme (play from break line 4 to 5 from when Alex fights Aria).

Recommendation 2: Birden from Zankyou no Terror OST (play from break line 5 to 6 when Iowa climbs out to see the aftermath).

Recommendation 3: Obstacles by Syd Matters (play from break line 9 to 10 when Alex and Chloe are escaping to see everyone gathered together in the end).

As I mentioned before, next chapter will be the final. I hope this has been quite the journey for you dear reader so far. Hopefully the ending will surprise you. Constructive feedback/criticism is always welcomed!

Thank you for taking the time to read and support the story! :)

~ Monty