Disclaimer: See initial chapter


-V-


He was in a good mood.

It was a rare case for the Raven to be in such a mood, but given the paycheck he had just received, it couldn't be helped. After the abysmal credits he had been getting before, it was finally good to see a decent pay for his work. With it, he could actually afford to upgrade his AC; install it with that new generator he had his eye on to increase Havoc's performance.

It would certainly make for a bit more ease in the next mission.

Speaking of which, he should probably check his mission report. Normally, he wouldn't bother with it, but that last mission had him wondering a bit. What started as mere reconnaissance mission turned into a battle with a Raven, and a vicious one at that. He didn't know if that meant anything or not, but it wouldn't hurt to take a look. Settling down in his seat, Elijah accessed his recent log data on his computer from his operator.

-"The original plan was just to conduct reconnaissance, but as it turns out, this led to the capture of the facility. Since the Alliance is bent on destroying Vertex, this goes in their favor."-

-"Events are in motion. Stay on your guard."-

And just like that, his good mood went up in smoke. 'Stay on guard? Are you kidding me?' Elijah returned his attention to the second sentence. He knew the Alliance wasn't exactly fond of Vertex, viewing it as a nuisance, but bent on its destruction? That seemed to be a bit more that just a nuisance. If anything, those were fighting words.

Elijah shook his head. Maybe his operator was exaggerating things. He did seem overly concerned with regard to his last mission. But then again, that concern had been justified. And a moment ago, he was thinking along the same lines as well regarding the mission. Events are in motion… That comment alone made him worry; something he didn't do often. So engrossed in his thoughts, Elijah didn't notice the light beep that came up on his computer monitor at first. Blinking, he looked up to see a new mission request. 'So soon?' Upon opening it, he was then greeted with a new surprise.

"Evangel?"

As a Raven of the Alliance, Elijah was quite familiar with the Commander of the Alliance's Tactical Unit, at least by name and reputation. From what he had heard though, Evangel was indeed an ace Raven, completing many a mission with his AC, Oracle. So skilled was he that there were whispers that he may be a Dominant, a term used to describe a Raven who was…more than skilled.

It was said that a Dominant was one who has an unusually high aptitude for combat, some who, as the name indicates, dominates the battlefield. And this was not limited to Ravens. It is said that many of history's greatest warriors were Dominants. A Raven Dominant behind the controls of an Armored Core would be an awesome force on the battlefield indeed.

At least, those were the rumors.

There was a bit of trepidation on his part, but nevertheless, Elijah checked the mission request…

-"This is the Alliance Tactical Unit commander, Evangel. I'd like your help securing a vital transport route on the southern edge of Ruga Canyon. The transport route will be useless to us if it is damaged; please exercise caution when removing those defending it."-


A couple of hours later, Havoc was found stationed on one of the two bridges in high over Ruga Canyon. And by high, it meant really, really high. Elijah looked over and off the side of the bridge and down the chasm below. A fall from this height would do a great deal of damage to his AC if he wasn't careful. True, he had done and completed missions like this before, but he made it a fact to never take such a mission for granted. Possible damage notwithstanding, falling would take him out of the combat zone, causing an involuntary abort of a mission. And was something he didn't want (in addition to the falling down)

'No sweat. Just don't fall.'

Havoc's head turned slightly, eyeing the bridge support system on the second bridge. According to the mission, he was to eliminate the enemy while making sure not to damage the bridge; that piece in particular. It would have been problematic if 8the enemy was stationed near the supports, but luckily they weren't. His radar blinked, showing his first target coming from the opposite end of the bridge he was on.

A loose term since it was still incomplete

Weapons armed, he tried locking on to the target. But the distance was far too great, even for his grenade launcher; he would have to fly to the other side and meet it directly. That could be a problem since the distance was far enough to put a good drain on his fuel. And he would also be vulnerable to enemy attack while he approached as well.

'Not much choice' he thought as he gunned the boosters and Havoc soared off the edge of the bridge. Waiting for his target to come into lock, Elijah also kept a careful watch on his fuel gauge. It was halfway drained by the time the lock on his target came up; an MT. The MT fired upon him and Havoc veered off to the left while Elijah returned fire. The MT crumbled quickly under the machine gun storm and exploded.

But in veering off, Havoc had burned more of its fuel energy and it was now teetering close to the red zone. With a final thrust, Elijah threw Havoc in the right direction and the AC slid onto the opposite bridge edge. 'That was closer than I wanted'. Regardless, Havoc pressed on, entering the tunnel within the canyon-side and toward the next set of targets that appeared on his radar.

…that shot at him as soon as exited out on the other end.

Flying though the gunfire, Elijah caught sight of his attackers; three flying/hovering MTs that were stationed between the bridges. Apparently, they had no problems with staying airborne. Fortunately, the bridge Havoc raced across was complete, so he didn't have to worry about flying again. Racing past the last line of gunfire, Havoc swiftly wheeled about; its grenade launcher unfolding as Elijah already locked on to one.

KHHSSSSHHH!

The first MT practically disappeared in the explosion, and as an added bonus, the blaze shook up the second MT, which was too close to the first. Folding the launcher away, Havoc retraced its path, machine guns unleashing its usual destruction as it ripped through the damaged MT and continued on to the third. The third MT tried to move away, but it was far too slow and it soon joined the previous two in oblivion.

-"Mission complete."-


'Well, that mission sucked.'

Returning to his dorm, Elijah plopped himself into his seat once again, wondering just where his day went. It started well enough, with a high pay and a decent mission and it ended with another weak mission. Granted, the whole near-falling-down-the-canyon, but beyond that, the mission was pretty simple.

Too simple…

Also, oddly enough, he hadn't heard his operator's voice until the end to confirm his mission completion. And that had been very brief, even without hearing that dreaded nickname. At the very least, he would have thought to hear from him some extra information on his mission, like who were defending the bridge or why was it needed by Alliance.

'Or why do I even care?'

Grimacing, Elijah absent-mindedly clicked on his laptop and was surprised to discover two new messages on it. The first one was from Evangel, but he barely glanced at it. Rather, his attention was on the second message. For the second time, it wasn't from his operator, but from someone new.

"Zinaida."

Like Evangel, Zinaida was a name he had heard of as well. She was an independent warlord and one of the few more successful ones. Not only that but, combat-wise, she was probably one of the best Ravens around. 'Looks like I'm getting popular' he thought as he opened the message.

-"I've been hearing a lot of good things about you. It's time you and I squared off. Death comes to us all; don't let something so trivial dissuade you from accepting my challenge. Don't you think it's preferable to face one of your own rather than run errands like some corporate lackey? I await your decision."-

Finishing with the reading, the Raven had more than a few conflicting thoughts about the message. As he had thought before, he was getting popular. But from the sound of it, it wasn't exactly in the best way. 'And what's this talk about being a corporate lackey? Seriously?' It wasn't like he had much in the way of options. His thoughts then switched as he then realized that this could be the first time he had something akin to the arena battles. And he had to admit, the prospect of facing a Raven one-on-one appealed to him, especially considering that boring last mission he had been on.

"Alright, Zinaida. Let's see what you've got."


"Are you sure about him?"

"What do you mean?"

"You do know who he is, right?"

"Sure. His team has made quite a name for itself before Heavenfall."

"Not just that. You know his…story, right. He's dangerous; far more dangerous than most of the Ravens here; including you, Jack-O."

"…Perhaps. But our goals have the same path. And his aid will be of benefit for coming time."

"Alright. But don't be surprised if he suddenly turns on you."