29th of November, 2017

1032 Hours

The countryside of Sofia Province


A better day couldn't have been chosen for the new recruit to be trained in long range marksmanship. 10 degrees Celsius below zero, with snow reaching up to the shins, and a mild snowfall making sure the ground was covered in this cold white velvet cloth. Ivaylo couldn't help, but feel sorry for the new recruit laying on the shooting mat behind the Blaser R93 Tactical, trying his best not to let sound from his shivers. But he knows it's for the best. A sniper must endure in all condition for hours, even days. That's why they're revered as harbingers of death throughout the history of men and their wars. Atanas was beside the new recruit, acting as a spotter, while Ivaylo made sure the shooter maintained proper technique. Even the commander of the unit, Major Mladenov was there to oversee the recruit's training. He was standing under the snow covered roof of the open shooting range

"Target, bearing zero, eight, four, range six, five, zero, behind the red van." Atanas relayed the information to the shooter, who began adjusting his aim to the target. "Wind five knots." Atanas looked at the Kestrel wind meter. "On scope."

Taking the information into account, the shooter began adjusting his scope's measurement for the accurate shot. The target was behind the side windows of the van. Only its head visible. He placed the crosshairs over the target and was now ready to pull the trigger. "On target." He called out.

"Fire when ready." Atanas called out.

The recruit then pulled the trigger and let the 7,62x51mm round flying. After a second, Atanas spots the bullet hitting the pillar of the van. "Miss." He called out.

"Don't pull the trigger too quick." Ivaylo advised. "Squeeze it a little bit slowly than that."

"Yes, sir." The recruit responded.

"New target," The spotter called out. "bearing zero, niner, two, range five, zero, zero, behind the barrels. Wind six knots. On scope."

As the recruit adjusted his scope, Ivaylo's eyes turned towards the major. He was approached by two people wearing winter coats, a woman and a man. One was a woman with a tan complexion and an arm's length black hair tied in a ponytail. From her body language, she carried herself with some authority. The other was a black man with short hair. Ivaylo deduced he was acting as her body guard. As they were chatting with his superior, the woman then turned and glanced over Ivaylo.

"On target." The recruit called out. This made Ivaylo turn away his attention back on the shooter.

"Fire when ready." Atanas again called out.

The recruit once more squeezed the trigger, firing another shot. The round nearly hit the target before it landed on a snow covered dirt mound, lifting some of the snow and dirt in the air.

"Miss." Atanas said.

"You're jerking the trigger." Ivaylo pointed out. "Keep maintaining pressure on it after you fired."

The training went on for another three minutes. All the while the two strangers were glancing in their general direction. After spending a couple of more rounds, Atanas and Ivaylo then decided to call off the exercise.

"I say we call it off for today." Ivaylo suggested.

"It's up to you. You're the marksmanship instructor for this after all." Atanas answered.

"Yeah, we've done enough shooting. Alright, remove the magazine and unchamber the round." Ivaylo ordered the recruit. The recruit detached the magazine from the rifle and pulled the bolt back, ejecting a round. Ivaylo then picked up and inspected the rifle to make sure it's truly unloaded. "Okay. That's it for today. I think everyone here much rather be inside where it's warm."

As the two spoke, the two strangers and Major Mladenov were approaching them.

"I guess that'll have to wait for now." Atanas noted as he spotted them.

"Gospoda. (Gentlemen.)" The major spoke. "I don't intend us to stay here any longer, freezing our balls off, but I want to introduce you to Mrs-"

"Jaimini Shah." The woman completed Mladenov's sentence. She spoke with an Indian accent. "I am the founder and leader of Nighthaven Special Intervention Group."

Nighthaven. The most notorious private military company, consisting of the most professional contractors of the world. All of which come from various military and civilian law enforcement background. And their leader, known as Kali, named after the Hindu goddess of time and death. For a person to wield such a name does not possess it without an apparent reason. Kali is known as an uncompromising leader for those serving under her, an ambitious entrepreneur for those dealing with her, and a ruthless foe for those who dare to cross her. And now, that Kali is here, standing in the flesh,for whatever reason the operators of SOBT will soon find out.

"You must be Lieutenant Ivaylo Arnaudov." She looked at Ivaylo. "I'm actually looking for you. If you please, Major, can we take with the lieutenant in private." Kali then turned towards Mladenov.

Mladenov and Atanas both looked at Ivaylo, who shook his head in approval. "By the way, kid." He turned towards the recruit. "Tomorrow we'll hit the range hard. But not before having a class on camouflage."

"Roger that, sir." The recruit approved, picking up the rifle and shooting mat off the ground and joining with the two superiors.

Ivaylo and Kali then began walking. This whole arrangement seemed shady to him. He began feeling himself going defensive. "How the hell did you track me down?"

"You can say I'm a rather resourceful businesswoman." Kali answered vaguely.

"Yeah, that's some excellent rationale on your part, Mrs. Kali." Ivaylo chuckled sarcastically.

Kali smirked slightly when she heard Ivaylo use the name she's known for. "I've been reading your file. Quite the interesting story." Hearing those words felt like a foreboding omen to Ivaylo, and that made him increasingly irritated. "And I've heard the rumours of the White Shaitan of Karbala. I'm genuinely impressed with your work. Your actions in that part of Iraq are still spoken to this day."

It was apparent that Kali was cajoling him. And he strengthened his sarcasm more. "Oh, yes! Work the shaft! Please, stroke my ego!" Ivaylo moaned vulgarly and sarcastically. "Fuck you! If you're here to tell me about stuff I already know, I suggest you to kindly fuck off!"

Kali huffed in amusement. "So the file was correct, indeed. It stated you'd be belligerent."

"Let me tell you a little secret. The prick who wrote this file knows jack shit about me."

"Still, you don't have to be so hostile."

"I don't have to. I need to. Because people who start reading me my life story and all the great shit I've done usually want to sell me something. But go ahead. Entertain me. I won't stop you."

"If you want to be so upfront, I'd be happy to oblige." Kali shrugged. "But before we get straight to business, I want to show you something first. Wamai!" She called out to her bodyguard. "Bring it here."

The black bodyguard then walked over to the armoured Mercedes G-class and pulled a polymer gun case bearing the logo of Nighthaven. He then brought the case to the range and put it on a bench. Kali walked over with Ivaylo and opened the case, revealing a rather peculiar disassembled rifle. The like Ivaylo have never seen before.

His eyes widened and let out a surprised whistle. "Fancy- schmancy."

Kali began assembling the rifle. "This is the CSRX 300. Courtesy of Nighthaven's research and development unit. Chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum, straight pull bolt action, custom made muzzle brake and a hydraulic recoil reduction system in the stock." She then handed the rifle to Ivaylo. "But those are not the most important features." She pointed at the rifle's integrated scope. Ivaylo then turned on the scope and looked through it downrange. "The integrated scope of the CSRX 300 has a variable zoom between five times and twelve times, night and thermal vision, rangefinder and a digital level bubble." She took the five round magazine from the case and began loading it with cartridges. "I'd like to hear your opinion on it." She handed the magazine to Ivaylo.

He then walked towards the shooting positions. He sat on the ground, taking a sniper cradle position and loaded the rifle. He aimed through the scope and pressed a button. It lazed the target he had his crosshairs on and the distance it indicated was five hundred and forty-seven meters. He adjusted the scope and took a feeling for the wind, having forgotten his Kestrel wind meter when packing. He then slowly squeezed the trigger and let a round flying. He knew he'd hit the target, but he was more impressed with the hydraulic recoil reducer. .300 Win Mag is a strong round, but the recoil reducer did a very excellent job with mitigating the recoil by a significant amount. He pulled the bolt to ejected the spent cartridge and moved his aim at another further target. He lazed once more and the distance shown was now six hundred and sixty- nine meters. He squeezed the trigger and once more hit the bullseye. He was really impressed with the rifle.

"I must say, this is a rather neat rifle. Kudos to the guy, who designed it." Ivaylo pulled the bolt and ejected the spent casing before removing the magazine.

"I'm glad you liked it. This rifle sees a limited use in our organization. Only those with a very high skill set can use it." She explained. "That's why I'm offering you a position in Nighthaven."

Ivaylo hummed before answering. "Nah." He answered laconically.

Kali was shocked. "I beg you pardon?"

"It's just not my thing." He said simply as he returned the rifle.

"Nighthaven is the best and most well paid fighting force in the private sector. We provide benefits you can't find elsewhere. Not even in the unit you're currently serving." Kali began negotiating.

"Look, it's gonna sound corny, but for me it's not about the money. It's about ideals. And my ideal is not money. For someone to fight for his own personal gain is to abandon his principles. And my principle is duty to my country, to my men and to my loved ones. My allegiance is clear. And no amount of money can change that."

"Shame." Kali looked down. "I was hoping you'd see the world my way. I thought we were alike."

"No, we're not fucking alike." Ivaylo opened up. "Not even remotely. No matter how many fancy stuff you buy, no matter how much you earn per contract, in the end of the day, you're not a soldier." Hearing the last part, it was visible that Kali withheld her face twisting into a scowl. "And it fucking shows on your face. I read you like a fucking letter. You don't have the look of a soldier. No. You have the look of an entrepreneur."

"I don't see that as a negative." Kali smirked.

"And that's exactly your problem." Ivaylo continued. 'Tell me something. How does it feel like to have a no clear ideals, no clear allegiance, no clear boundaries, no clear morals? Does getting rid of such principles in favour of profit makes it easier on your conscience?Or do you abandon it as a whole? And that's exactly the problem with you, mercs. You sell yourselves to the highest bidder. Doesn't matter who they are, as long as they pay good. When you step into the battle, it is not a fight for you. But rather a transaction. You exchange the blood of your employer's enemies for profit."

Kali smirked once more and huffed in amusement. "I see that you're a man firm in your convictions. But I see that they led you to such a..." She then began turning her head left and right with her gaze aimed at the horizon. "content life." Her tone turned to a more patronizing one.

"Well shit. I'm content with my life as it is." Ivaylo shrugged.

"Are you now?"

"Of course I'm fucking not. But I rather quench my thirst with the water from the puddle than to be offered to drink from the stream of the devil. You need to understand there are some things in life that you just can't buy with money."

Kali chuckled as she disassembled her rifle. "As long as there are people who surround themselves on a commonly agreed medium of exchange, I'll keep finding plenty of acquaintances there. And trust me, Mr. Arnaudov." She then placed the parts in the case. "There is no shortage of acquaintances. It's a shame, really. I thought you'd be a very ambitious person. I guess there are some limits to ambition."

"Yeah. Woe is I." Ivaylo remarked sarcastically.

"Well, I guess there is nothing left to discuss. However, if you do have a change of heart..." Kali reached into the inner pocket of her winter coat and passed on to Ivaylo a business card.

Kali closed the gun case and picked it up. "I'll take my leave now. It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Arnaudov. Perhaps one day we'll meet in the field." She entered the armoured G-class and left the shooting range.

Ivaylo took a look at the business card Kali gave him. He pulled a lighter from his pocket and set the card on fire. "Da ne dava Gospod. (God forbid.)" He muttered. Something tells Ivaylo deep down he will never heard the end of it.