Chapter 55: No Regrets (Interlogue I) [Part I]
[One week prior to the events of Chapter 36...]
"We're just sabotaging a supply line… right?"
Hina's eyes darted among the many files laid out in front of her, with Eli sitting by her side. On the other side of the the table sat Uncle Darnell, Dutch, and Margaret - the infamous Briefing Room trio, stoic as sculptures.
"That's right, lass. I'll rehash the crucial parts to ya both one more time." Uncle Darnell slid a map of Nevada riddled with red markings back into view. "As Margaret said earlier, SatNet imaging confirmed that this path potentially leads to a warehouse located inside the Restricted Zone. They are heavily guarded, even by AAHW standards. Any chance of interception would have to happen right here."
He traced a finger in a small oval over the latter half of one of the red lines. "That's where the topology of the dunes is most suited for an ambush, so that's where you ought to strike. Of course, the enemy is aware of this too - they'll be on high alert. You'll have to strike quickly and decisively."
"Again, we don't expect you two to stop the entire operation," Dutch continued. "In fact, attempting to pursue such a suicidal endeavor is strictly prohibited. We only need the truck retrieved. Whatever resources it contains could provide us significant information."
"So it's a glorified scouting mission, basically," Eli commented.
"Not exactly," Uncle Darnell noted. "You will be ambushing a vehicle, taking out the drivers, and bringing whatever's inside to the rendezvous point. If anything, you're highwaymen, hijacking a stagecoach. Simple enough, right?"
The two gave him no answer. Unlike Eli, who remained motionless, Hina had no mask to hide her uncertainty. She looked down involuntarily, processing all the information they had to work with.
"Is something wrong, Operative?" Margaret asked.
Hina straightened. "Well, actually, it mostly has to do with the location of where we're heading. Isn't that area close to the…"
"The Restricted Zone. What of it?"
"Seeing as to how this is your first assignment outside of your trainee squad, I took the liberty of reading into both your files." Margaret looked at Hina. "You intend to become a sniper, correct?"
"A word of advice, then. There's a difference between calibrating your aim and hesitating. One makes your aim more accurate. The other curses you with unnecessary regret. You have a responsibility to your partner, young woman. You may calibrate, but you may never hesitate. Do you understand?"
"That is all." Margaret began organizing the scattered papers into neat little piles, passing one of them to Dutch. "Good luck."
Dutch stamped the sheet, ensuring the crimson ink would fully settle into the material with a solid push. He handed it back to Margaret, where it would join the rest of its family in their manila home.
"You're cleared. See you on the other side."
"You don't need to slump all the way into the back of your seat to hide yourself." Hina kept her eyes on the road as she drove. "Isn't that why you always have your mask on?"
"I look like a school shooter." Eli continued to keep his head just below the car window. He glanced at Hina. "And you know why."
Gray buildings stood guard over the streets, sparsely populated in the dead of the night. Lampposts carved flickering trails against the skin of their vehicle, reflecting subtle hints of disrepair from poor funding.
"Does it really matter in the dark?" Hina pressed a little.
"Rather not risk getting caught."
"And I'd rather not risk having you fly through the windshield if I have to suddenly stop. At least buckle your seatbelt or something."
No matter what time of the day it was, the most citified of areas now made the two feel the least safe - an ironic phenomenon Hina and Eli were all too familiar with, despite this being their first operation as a combat pair. Here, the only comfort they could find were in their words.
"It's been a while since we've gone around in public." Eli stared at the star-sprinkled void above. "Just the two of us."
"Yeah. I mean, we did get fresh air here and there just outside the base but… there's something different about actually being out and breathing in the city, you know?" She smiled. "I wonder what's trendy now? I just hope everyone's not wearing spacesuits and spandex once the War's over."
Eli looked at Hina as she chuckled. He slowly turned his head back to the sky, two fingers tracing the edge of his mask as his thoughts escaped in a whisper.
"It's my fault we can't check."
The conversation, and the mood that came with it, died then and there. It was awkward for Eli, but for Hina… what ran through her brain was as much of a mystery to him as his expressions were to her on a daily basis. This time, it did not take him long to find out.
"Speaking of checking, it's time we made a turn off Memory Lane." Hina gazed towards the rearview mirror. "We're being tailed."
Eli looked through his side view mirror. Above the "OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR," he could see two distinguishable black sedans keeping a safe distance. It wasn't hard to make out the driver and passenger through the sedans' tinted windows, both in suits wearing shades that reflected the streetlights.
"Had the feeling something was up when you looped same block twice. You're not the type to get lost easily." Eli straightened in his seat, tightening his seatbelt. "We slowing down?"
"I doubt this is a social call." Hina's foot pressed the pedal a little harder. "They're waiting for us to get out of the city, probably to avoid panic."
Eli's hand reached for the MP5 between their seats. "Looks like they're on the same page as us, then."
The tires rumbled against the rougher pavement branching out of civilization. As the urban area grew more and more distant, any chance of them being able to avoid a violent confrontation did too. Eli saw one of the Agents stick his head out, arm raised towards them.
She swerved to the left to ensure the projectiles missed their marks by a long shot. Eli twisted his body as far to the right as he could, doing his best to calm his breathing as he aimed out the side window. Bullets popped out of his weapon towards their pursuers in methodical bursts.
The Agent who fired earlier retreated back into his car. While he grabbed for his radio, the driver pushed down on the accelerator. More bullets whizzed by from the second sedan as Eli repositioned himself back on his seat.
"They're calling for backup."
"Then we better get rid of them before they serve us seconds!"
The first AAHW car closed the gap between themselves and their targets at a dangerous rate. Hina changed a glance at the rearview mirror.
"Remember what you said about slowing down?"
"Let's give 'em their friendly chat."
Just as the two opposing vehicles were only inches apart from each other, Hina pressed her foot against the brake, swerving the jeep to the driver's side of the sedan. Eli raised his submachine gun as the speed of the two cars shifted, rendering them parallel to each other for three precious, perfect seconds, and flicked the safety to full-auto.
The suit behind the wheel reacted too late, and Eli emptied the remainder of the magazine into his AAHW adversaries. Their heads set in a line, the bullets that pierced the driver's skull also travelled through the passenger's. The sedan slid to the right from the earlier evasive maneuver, plowing into a sand dune off the side of the road.
Their jeep, however, couldn't make up for the acceleration Hina sacrificed, costing them any space between the other sedan and themselves. The remaining pair of AAHW soldiers rammed into her side of the jeep. Rubber screeched in confusion as the two metal bodies pressed against each other. But this was a battle that couldn't be won.
Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the steering wheel. "Brace yourself!"
Hina and Eli too, were hurled into the sand. A disbalance caused by the sudden change in terrain and the jeep flipped onto its side, its rear facing the road.
It took a few seconds for the surviving sedan to come to a full stop. The AAHW suits stepped out to both sides of the vehicle, their sidearms drawn. One of them pointed two fingers to his right. The other nodded and they split up, sand crunching beneath two pairs of shoes with each careful step. A flat object flew a foot away from the right side of the disabled vehicle like a frisbee, grabbing the attention of the Agents for a life-changing moment.
Concealed, Eli fired another volley from his submachine gun, blasting one of the men twice in the chest and twice more in the stomach. Hina rose up from her own cover to shoot the other in the arm. A rogue round pinged against the jeep as the remaining Agent screamed, clutching at his injured limb and falling to his side. Hina kicked his pistol away before he could retrieve it, leading him to raise a bloodied hand against her in desperation.
She raised her nine-millimeter and put a round through his head.
Eli shook the sand out of his mask and approached the sedan. He plucked a small radio from one of the suits' bloody pockets, which was transmitting the sharp voice of an AAHW controller.
"... Unit 12, respond! What is your current status?!"
The static unclouded enough to make out language. Eli pressed the transmit button.
"Terrorists eliminated," Eli spoke into the walkie-talkie. "Reinforcements unnecessary."
That shut them up. Eli put his mask back on as Hina stepped towards him.
"You think they'll buy it?" She asked skeptically.
Eli slotted a fresh magazine into his submachine gun. "I'd rather not wait to find out."
Hina turned to the wreckage behind them. "Yeah… I think our ride's a lost cause."
Eli turned to look at the suits' transport, then back at Hina. "Can you drive stick?"
She flashed a grin.
"Only if you can keep your seatbelt on."
The desert stretched on for miles, with only a few green anomalies interrupting the landscape, surviving solely through trial and error. By day, sand would only worsen the heat blistering enough to boil sweat off the skin of lost travelers. By night, temperatures would freeze the maggots off of shriveled up corpses.
Eli and Hina were both quietly thankful that they had decided to swap for the heater-equipped sedan as they drove down to their destination. Past the ice-cold glass of their windshield, the moon and its stars were completely unrestrained from Nevada's light pollution. There would be no interference in this darkness, especially with headlights kept off. They were unnecessary, now.
The sedan stopped. Hina stepped out of their car.
"We're here, but..."
As soon as he heard her trail off, Eli pocketed the map his superiors had given him. They were still on schedule, thanks to Dutch's planning and the sedan's tuned engine. Yet...
"The truck isn't," Eli rescued her sentence from its limbo as he stepped outside.
"This doesn't make sense. We should have seen them behind us at least once, if they were somehow slower than us." Even under faint moonlight, Eli could see her quiver. "Oh God, Eli. What if it's because of those Agents from before?"
He shrugged. Hina grabbed at the sides of her hair.
"This is a disaster! How did we screw up even before the mission started?!" She pressed a palm against her forehead. "I shouldn't have taken such an obvious path through the city, damn it! Stupid, stupid, stupid!"
Eli pressing the button on his headset derailed her train of thought.
"HQ, there is a problem-"
"Wait!" Hina pulled at Eli's hand from the button on the device. "What are you doing?"
"Disregard the last message," Hina said through her own headset before cutting the feed. "Eli, this is our first mission! We can't just go back empty-handed like this!"
"Let's just wait a little. Maybe we were too quick to jump to conclusions. Like..." She looked past him, squinting her eyes. "What's that over there?"
She pointed behind him. "I'm serious! Look!"
Eli turned around to see a plume of dust rising from the road they had just driven on. A sigh escaped Hina's lips.
"Looks like we were just early. Come on, let's get back in the car and do this."
He returned to the sedan and after a few seconds of sifting through the glove compartment, the masked Operative found the binoculars from earlier. Hina started the car back up as he peered through the lens.
Hina's hand froze on the gear shift. "Here? Why here, specifically?"
Eli passed the piece of equipment to her, cocking his head towards their target. Two sedans escorted the truck. Neither had been part of the briefing.
"Fuck," she muttered.
"Added security would explain why the convoy was late. And I think we both know why."
"Then wouldn't that just be more reason to keep going with the mission?" Hina lowered the binoculars. "They know there's danger out here, but decided against rescheduling? It means they're carrying something really valuable, think about it!"
Before Eli could give a response, their headsets came to life.
"HQ to Field." An unfamiliar voice came from the other end. "What is the current status of your mission?"
"In progress," Hina answered for the both of them. Even with his mask on, she could feel how judgmental his stare was.
"You better have an idea," Eli said quietly.
"Of course I do. But this time, you're driving."
"Waited an extra hour for fuckin' nothing." The trucker maintained his frown. "I tell ya, every single goddamn time there's a delay! This is why I hate AAHW deliveries!"
"Hey, we got our own personal bodyguards. Around these parts, that means something, Bruce." His partner sitting shotgun laid back against his seat. "Don't you feel safer already?"
"Not unless they're coming home with me. Tonight's the night of my anniversary, and my marriage isn't exactly doing too great."
"Look at it this way. You can take the missus out with the bonus you're getting, right?"
"If we haven't filled out the divorce papers by next week. Didn't the Agency just pull this truck up without telling us what we're carrying?"
"Livestock, maybe? I heard from a friend, AAHW out there gets some pretty good grub."
"How would he know? And don't you think this entire thing is weird?"
"Bruce, I don't fucking know, okay? You wanna give up your bonus asking questions, or what?"
"I'd like to know what's so important in there that we couldn't just do this tomorrow, but fine." Bruce looked through his side mirror. "The hell?"
"Oh, what now?"
"Chris, how many sedans do you see on your side?"
Chris glanced at his own mirror. "Two. Why?"
"There's another one on my end. I counted two in total before, not three."
"Your bonus, Bruce."
"Well, fuck me for being curious, Chris! Nobody ever told us about more backup, okay?"
"We didn't call for backup." The Agent riding in the passenger seat of one of the sedans spoke through his radio. "Identify yourselves."
"We are Unit 12." A voice replied from the other end. "My partner and I engaged Antithesis terrorists earlier, he's wounded. We have been stranded here without medical supplies or additional fuel for the past hour and-"
"Your numbers, Agent. Not your vehicle code."
"Does that matter right now? I need you both to stop immediately, my partner is unconscious and requires immediate medical assistance. We should also abort the mission, else we will risk the terrorists getting their hands on the delivery."
"We are not stopping! Turn around and head to the city if you wish to desert!"
"We wouldn't even make it halfway there on the gas in the tank! If my partner dies, I'm reporting to our superiors as to how you could have prevented it, but didn't!"
The Agents looked at each other momentarily, trying to find reason to their doubts. Finding none, the Agent in the passenger's side raised his radio.
"Unit 5, stick with the convoy. Unit 12, stop and do not exit your vehicle."
The sedan radioing Unit 12 slowed, while the others continued on their path. Unit 12 came to a halt, the lone passenger inside lowering his head from view. The Agents approached him, guns braced.
Meters away on a cliffside, Hina heard Eli's voice come to her through static. She remained prone, one eye closed, the other peering down the scope of her Remington 700. Yet her line up was on two places. One half on her pinned partner and the other on the truck, swiftly vanishing off.
She aimed for one of the truck's tires.
She couldn't bring herself to fire; there was too much left to chance. The sniper turned back to her partner's position, cursing herself. She could see where the lead agent stood, illuminated by the headlights of the stolen car. Hina read his lips as he pointed at the windshield: "get out of the car."
A perfect target.
"Exit the vehicle slowly and with your hands raised. Any other action will be met with lethal force."
Eli remained hidden underneath the dashboard. Coming into sight at this range would spell certain death, even against the most incompetent of shooters. Not even the darkness could help him here.
"Hina," he subconsciously spoke into his headset.
Eli stared at the accelerator as every possible outcome of failure raced through his head. How Hina would factor into any of his conclusions remained uncertain.
"Exit the vehicle. You have five seconds!"
His grasp on his SMG tightened as he heard the Agent outside raised his voice. Certainty was a luxury he couldn't afford. Four.
Eli could feel the Agent's shadow loom over the hood of his car.
The Agent by the car had chunks of his flesh, brain, and skull scattered all over the windshield like an egg scrambled against concrete. Half a second later, a thunderous boom pierced the air. Eli's foot pressed against the accelerator just as the sound reached his ears, knocking the open-headed corpse over the hood.
The remaining Agent had his side clipped by the car. Adrenaline blasted through every vein in his body as he fell, but getting back up proved futile. His leg buckled under him, screaming that something was broken. The Agent crawled towards his gun, hastily aiming for his attacker.
Glass shattered behind Eli. Injured as he was, the suit had managed to fire a shot into the sedan's rear window. The second shot sailed off into the sunset.
Another sniper round ended the Agent's struggle in a plume of blood and gore. He flopped over, gun falling into the sand. Eli flipped on the wipers, smearing the human remains across his windshield. He shut them off once he realized they were doing more harm than good.
It didn't take long for the remaining pair of Agents to catch on. The passenger had already popped out of his vehicle, Desert Eagle in hand and at eye level. This time, Eli's blood-coated windshield received punishment. As he saw a massive hole in the head of the seat to his right, Eli felt at ease as he remembered Hina was still at the cliff. His comfort faded as another bullet destroyed the sedan's right headlight, as if to remind him that his luck was finite.
Eli saw Hina's third shot ricochet off the side of the AAHW car. Though it was a total miss, her attempt was enough to coerce the shooter back into his vehicle. Before he could come out of hiding, Hina shot again, blowing one of their back tires. Eli ducked as the other sedan swerved to its left–an angry triplet of bullets flew over his head. Two of the rounds perforated metal and glass, whereas a lucky third found its way into the sedan's remaining front headlight.
The Agents crashed into a sand dune nearby, airbags deploying into their faces. Hina's bullet easily pierced the safety measure, its victim, and the driver's seat like a hot knife through butter. Struggling through his own mess, the passenger was barely able to open his door before another shot snapped his spine in two.
Eli floored it, using the red glow of the truck's brake lights to guide him towards his objective. A couple of reckless seconds later, he felt the sedan's front bumper scrape against the rear of his target. Eli activated his headset.
"I'm jumping on."
Eli kicked the windshield with his steel-toed boot. Clambering onto his seat, Eli covered his head as he burst through the weakened glass. He reached out blindly and, for a terrifying instant, wondered if he had miscalculated his leap.
Relief flooded through his body as his fingers found purchase. He clung onto the back of the cargo container and pulled himself in, planting his feet on the truck's rear bumper. The driverless sedan drifted away from his reach.
With the sole opportunity of changing his mind gone, Eli continued his climb up to the roof. As he crawled his way to the front, Eli prayed the drivers wouldn't suddenly swerve, else he'd be tossed off like a doomed bull rider.
"They have their windows up, I can't get in."
Considering he had no other options, that's exactly what he did. With his MP5 lost, his pistol and knife would suffice.
Something whizzed just below him, eliciting yelps from the transporters. The truck's side-window had been pierced, giving Eli the signal he was waiting for.
"They nearly blew our heads off, Chris!" Eli heard the driver yell.
"I fucking noticed! No, don't raise your head up to look, ya idiot!" The passenger replied.
Eli hunched over the side of the truck, seeing the glass Hina punctured more clearly. It was only fractured, but he could work with this. Using the hilt of his pistol, he gave the damaged material two hard bashes. By the time the truckers turned to the noise, they were met with the sight of a muzzle.
"SHAKE 'EM OFF!"
Bruce jerked the steering wheel to the left. Eli jolted, causing him to fire into the air just before he slid off the cabin roof and dropped his pistol. With only a second to spare, he pulled the twist knife sheathed on his hip and impaled the blade against the windshield. After a short staring contest between Eli and the teamsters, Bruce activated the wipers, soaking the hijacker in washer fluid.
"The fuck are you doin', Bruce?!"
"What does it look like?! I'm trying to wash him off the-!"
Eli's powerful stabs against the windshield killed the rest of Bruce's sentence. The instance the duo remained frozen was all the time Eli needed. The barricade shattered well enough for Eli to stick the upper half of his body towards the front seats. Bruce grabbed towards Eli's stabbing arm, while Chris threw sloppy punches at the intruder's skull. Eli and Bruce's free hands battled over the steering wheel.
"Get your… dirty terrorist mitts out of my tru-GUH!"
Eli pulled at Bruce's hair, smashing his face against the helm. As the horn blared, Bruce pulled the wheel further left to the point of no return. Just like the sedans, the transport itself was now flung off the road and into a sand dune.
Hina saw Eli roll off the hood after the crash. She cringed.
"That's… not good."
By the time Hina had reached her partner, he was laid out in the sand, hands by his knees. Eli looked up.
"Why have all of your plans today involved a car crash with me in it?"
"To be fair, I was in one of them. So it's not that bad, right?"
His silence conveyed anything but agreement. Hina turned away, but not fast enough to hide her nervous grin.
"Er… in any case, where did our trucker friends go?"
Eli halfheartedly pointed the sharp end of his knife towards the shipment truck's cabin. There, Hina could see the two men, passed out.
"Can you handle the front?"
"I'm going to need your pistol, then."
"Huh? What happened to yours?"
"Dropped it somewhere. Had to let go when, you know, the truck crashed."
"Okay, I get it. I'm sorry." Hina turned over her sidearm. "No more suicidal plans. Promise."
He let the gun stay in her hand for a few seconds before taking it. Hina smiled as she helped Eli back onto his feet.
"What do you think's inside? Guns? Gold?"
"If it was anything fragile, then we're screwed." The sound of a truck door opening redirected Eli's words. "Speaking of fragile…"
Just as the driver was about to stumble out, Eli leveled Hina's pistol at his head. The color visibly faded from the new hostage's face.
"Stay down or stay dead," Eli said. "Your choice."
Bruce raised his arms in the air as far as they could go. As he got out of the vehicle, Bruce went to the ground on his knees, placing both hands behind his head. Eli yanked Chris out.
"They never said we had to bring the cargo in one piece," Hina said, reviving the earlier conversation as she walked towards the back.
"Just check what's inside so we can report back to HQ."
While Hina raised the tailgate, groans refocused Eli on his hostages. This time, the noise was coming from the other trucker, blood tracing his forehead. His and Eli's eyes met.
"Stay down or stay-"
The warning was cut short as the terrified teamster launched off the sand in a mad dash towards nowhere. It only took Eli a few seconds to aim. One gunshot later, the escapee grabbed at his right buttock before crumbling to the ground, filling the frigid air with profanities.
Bruce was barely able to stand before the Beretta's muzzle was on him again. He looked past his captor.
"Chris! Are you alright?!"
"DO I SOUND FUCKING ALRIGHT TO YOU?!"
"It's okay, Chris! I think he only got your ass!"
"SHUT THE FUCK UP, BRUCE!"
The display had made Eli forget what he was waiting for. Hina's voice reminded him.
"What is it?" He missed the shift in his partner's tone.
She cradled the cherubic face of an unconscious child. In speechless understanding, Eli pressed the sole of his boot against Bruce's back, forcing him lower into the ground.
"W-we didn't know! I swear to fucking God, we didn't know!" Eli cocking his pistol worsened the pinned trucker's panic. "They just sent us out to deliver a truck they pulled up to the warehouse! We didn't fucking know!"
Eli centered his aim on the back of Bruce's head. "That's real unfortunate."
"No, no, please! You can't kill me! I-I have a wife! I have a wife and our marriage was completely screwed when they sent us out here to do this shitty job we had no idea about, and, and-"
The rest of the driver's spiel decayed into an incoherent mess of sobbing and babbling. Though Eli's grip on his gun remained firm, his finger remained flat against the frame. Whether it was disgusted pity, twisted amusement, or a strange combination of both stopping him, even he himself wasn't sure.
"Don't move," Eli ordered. "I won't miss an organ if you make me shoot again."
Broken, soggy words spilled out of Bruce's mouth. Even without Eli's boot pushing against him, he remained as still as a rock. Eli walked over to Hina, peering into the haul. Half a dozen pale faces looked back at him, wearing ragged gray clothes and terrified expressions. Farther back, two boys and a girl hid, making themselves smaller than they already were. All of them suffered some noticeable bruises and cuts from the earlier disaster.
"Field to HQ," Hina's voice travelled through the headset. "We have immobilized the target vehicle."
"Acknowledged, Operative. And the cargo's contents?"
For the long moment of silence, Eli and Hina stared at each other. Then, their only link to home restored itself.
"Human beings," Hina repeated. "Children and adults. Men and women."
"Understood. Your mission parameters have changed. You are to maintain your position until reinforcements arrive. Further orders will follow."
"And what about the civilians?"
"Reinforcements will arrive," the Operator repeated. "Maintain your position."
The static died with the connection. Silence provided an opportunity for one of the male prisoners to intervene.
"Who are you people?"
Hina passed the child back to the man who just spoke. "Don't worry. We're not going to hurt-"
He took the boy in his arms. "I'm asking where you two are coming from. What organization do you represent?"
"Anti-AAHW," she replied.
Murmurs came from the others, but not with relief. Of the many indiscernible words, "AAHW" and "terrorists" were two Hina and Eli caught.
"Excuse us," Eli said before pulling Hina off to the side of the truck. Her expression softened.
"No." He knew there was more to Hina's sentence this time around and one glance at her eyes told him exactly what she was going to say. "We're staying here."
"You saw the map too, didn't you? There's probably other people out in the Restricted Zone."
"I know that. But I'm not changing my mind. Nor should you."
"Those are real people getting shipped off. God knows what's happening to them!"
"No." Eli's voice was supplemented with a flavor of alien sternness. "It was difficult enough stopping this truck. Infiltrating an outpost in the Restricted Zone is out of the picture."
"What if I was on one of those trucks, then?"
"That's different," Eli immediately said, as if he had seen the question coming from miles away. "You're a valuable asset."
Her jaw involuntarily dropped. He pointed at the back of the shipment, continuing before she could speak.
"That kid you were holding knows how to eat, shit, and make noise." Eli looked back at his partner. "You know where HQ is, who's inside, and how to get in. That kid's death would sadden a dozen people, at most. You get captured, hundreds die."
Hina's eyes narrowed. "Is that how you see people? Just in assets?"
"We are at war, Hina. There's no other way to see it if we want to survive."
"So when I joined the Anti with you, do you think I was worried about whether or not you were an 'asset' to me?"
Eli's next response didn't come as quickly. Hina felt a small tug from behind. She turned around, meeting the face of a young girl.
"Um… excuse me? Do you have a gun?"
Hina dropped to a knee. "Why would you need a gun?"
"Lonny says he needs one."
Hina's grin dropped. The prisoner that first addressed the duo hurried out of the haul, grabbing the girl away by the arm.
"Lisa, I told you to stay in the truck!"
"But Lonny! They said they won't hurt us!"
"Just get back inside."
With a shrug, Lisa jogged back to the overturned storage container, joining the other prisoners. The man turned to Eli and Hina.
"I can see that you're both on edge. Let me reassure you that we don't mean no trouble. We just need to defend ourselves for whatever is coming. And we all know something is coming."
Hina said nothing as she stood back up. Eli placed a hand on his partner's shoulder, whispering in her ear.
"What if when reinforcements reach us, the prisoners start attacking them? If they're this scared, us keeping an eye on them might save their lives."
Hina wasn't sure whether "their" referred to the reinforcements or the prisoners. She sighed.
Eli felt the weight leave his shoulders. He met the man's gaze.
"If you wanted a weapon, you could have asked… Lonny, right?"
"For you two, it's Loyd," the man corrected him. "And it wasn't my idea. Lisa's an enterprising gal with big dreams. Anyway there's plenty of guns laying around. I can arm myself just fine."
"Do you know how to shoot?" Eli asked.
"Believe me, you have no idea as to what I'm capable of. Ever heard of Tertia?"
Hina's blank expression and Eli's silence gave him his answer. Loyd nodded.
"I thought not. Simply put, your bunch aren't the only ones fighting the AAHW." Faraway streaks of sand under the moonlight caught his attention. "Speak of the devil."
"Wow. Reinforcements arrived sooner than expected," Hina said. "How did they pass through the city so quick?"
Eli's grip on his pistol tightened. "They didn't."
It wasn't until Hina saw what caused the trails that she understood Eli's caution. Anti-AAHW travelled in jeeps. AAHW travelled in sedans.
A rumbling, coal-black motorcycle matched neither of those things.
A/N: So first off, let me start by telling you all, happy Madness Day! Really glad I'm able to get at least the first part of this chapter up today and honestly, I think it would be a solid change to do so. One of the big changes you might begin to notice with Hank's Legacy is that each chapter will be compressed down to 6K words, max.
While that might seem like I'm limiting the content severely, don't worry. I plan on writing whole chapters (or at least most of them) and then dividing them later into parts (or just into new chapters, whichever may seem fit). It's kinda similar to what I did for the rewrite of Season I back in 2015 for Legacy, where monstrous chapters were divided into parts for the sake of readability.
Let's get into the reviews. Do keep in mind however, for the rest of the Interlogues, I will not be doing Reviewers' Credits. This is mostly just for convenience's sake; Reviewers' Credits will resume after the first chapter of Season IV, but will address reviews for all Interlogues. OC Credits however, will continue being acknowledged at the end of each chapter.
The Dark Madness Dragon: And this is exactly why you earned your place for a Special Thanks. It's been a pleasure being both your author and friend; the time we've spent talking on Discord while working on your fic has really been a blast.
I'm really happy you enjoyed how Season III ended. As you also mentioned you're looking forward to the lore building, I'm sure the Interlogues will be a fun experience for you to read as well (hopefully). Alias and Sacrom send their regards as well; we're glad to still have you on the ride and see you're producing your own content too. :)
Thanks for reviewing as always man. Happy Madness Day!
One Eyed Demon: Thanks man, your support is always well appreciated! Glad to hear you're having fun, and like I said, we're really striving to improve over here. No spoilers for Season IV, so I'm just gonna close off with a happy Madness Day. ;)
Irongole: You know it. And a belated thank you for the birthday wishes back! Now if only I can just get a little younger, haha…
Happy Madness Day!
And here's OC Credits (special thanks to Cethic for allowing me to use his characters again after his chapter in Never Forget):
Eli and Hina by Kagami13
Loyd by Cethic
Now, in regards to this most recent chapter. As most of you can probably tell by now, the next Season is focused on covering events tied to canon (aka, the animations themselves). Before then, there were a few loose ends that I wanted to cover. Stuff like characters that could be developed a bit more, missing information, or (and this is mostly the case) both.
This, is where I present the Interlogues.
The Interlogues, though filler chapters, will cover different aspects of important characters other than Hank J. Wimbleton himself. The goal is to help flesh out the universe a bit more by expanding the focus of the story to different characters, while presenting an interesting narrative.
Additionally, on a writing level, the Interlogues will introduce you to a new style of writing I have adopted with a lot of help from both my writing team and other close friends.
The Interlogues will only consist of four stories including this one (though there may be more than four chapters due to division of parts, similar to this story). So for those of you who might be worried that this filler will take up a lot of time, don't be. The first two Interlogues are mainly written by myself, with the third by Alias and the fourth by Sacrom (MaroonSharpie). What each chapter will be, you'll have to stick around to find out. ;)
As you may all know, I have constantly been increasing the bar for myself in regards to how I tell Hank's Legacy, which is why the story takes so long to update compared to how things were years ago. But (and this is really thanks to you guys and my team) I believe I've now adopted a style that I'm very comfortable with. All that's left is to establish a serious update schedule for you all, for not just Legacy, but for all stories/updates to come. My current goal for now, is to update every two weeks.
Beyond this, I have to add that Madness animations have been absolutely insane so far in quality. Seriously, go watch stuff like Jsoull's "Madness: Artifact" and the "White Hank 2 Collab." Regardless as to what you think about the contents of the animations themselves, there's no denying the standard for Madness animations has increased and it's definitely shown this year. And who can forget about Krinkels's Madness Combat 11 trailer? IT'S COMING BOYS, MASSIVE HYPE.
(Though I am privately praying it won't break my fanon, haha…)
Even in the fanfiction area, there's some new stuff coming out. Most notably, I can vouch for Deathdefier's "Tale of Two Hanks," The Dark Madness Dragon's "Return Tripping," and Quentin3655's "Madness Bloodlust." I'm not using "vouch" liberally by the way; I'm mentioning these stories upfront because these were the three Madness fanfics I've helped edit during my spare time with a lot of passion from the main writers, so I apologize if I didn't include anyone else in there. But yeah, go check out these fanfics as well as others too; anyone who makes a serious effort writing in this fandom deserves much love!
There's not much else to say and I'm only stalling myself from sharing this chapter with you guys. Things will be very different from here on out. Different, but I promise you, much better than before. And what better place than to start on Madness Day, in between Seasons III and the ultimate Season IV?
Thank you all for reading! We hope you've enjoyed this chapter and will enjoy the rest of the Interlogues! Here's to Madness Day, 2018!