Chapter 29: Homecoming

Jim had grown tired of running across rooftops ever since he nearly drowned by crashing through the top of a water tower. Yet, there he was, moving from building to building while trying to avoid the inevitable. After his mad dash towards Faust's last known location, he had been unfortunate enough to get the attention of many of the soldiers in the area who were now hot on his trail.

It was a few buildings back that he had lost the squad consisting of two separate fire teams. Unfortunately, he had also lost any sense of where Colonel Alexander might have gone. Despite the risk of being shot from any direction, trying to move through the building interiors would pose even greater risks then the rooftops since it would limit his escape routes in the event of an ambush.

He hugged whatever cover he could find whether it was the ventilation systems for the building he was on, or entrance to its staircase. So far, Faust had only taken to shots at him throughout the entire day. The first shot had been avoided by sheer luck since the cover he had taken was reinforced steel; the bullet did not penetrate to take his life. The second time, he had been fortunate enough to have Katherine there to warn him of the impending attack.

He considered his options. The smart thing to have done would have been to move to a secure area and take a sniping position. By doing this, he'd not only protect himself but buy himself the time needed for the promised backup to arrive. Had survival been his only objective, it was likely to be his next move.

Jim may not have been lying when he said that the mission was more important than his life. But his true motive wasn't anywhere near as noble as sacrificing himself for the greater good. Garrick had been as interested in Faust as Faust had been interested in him. Considered the world's top gunman, the Colonel had caught Jim's attention since their first meeting. He would never be satisfied leaving the challenge unanswered.

There had been something lying dormant in his body for a long time. Jim had felt it there his entire life; deep down in his chest, not knowing what it was. Six months ago, his life had been without meaning or cause. He wandered aimless without goals or dreams; asking if each day would be his last.

Natalie. I bet you'd be ashamed to see me now. I haven't changed at all from that boy who would pick fights with the other kids. I've only become more cynical of the world around me. And now, this high that I get in combat is the only time I feel truly free.

You begged me to stop fighting all those times. I never did. I became angry and violent. I began to hate everyone and everything. For years, I'd simply walk the streets, looking for whatever gangs or thugs I could find. No one ever taught me how to fight, I learned it the hard way, through nights of blood and sweat, without rules or referees; I wouldn't have it any other way.

I'd wake up in the mornings, covered in my own blood and I'd wonder how many more nights I could survive. Over time, I noticed that my skin became leathery, my hands as rough as stone and my body as hard as iron. I found myself waking up less and less in pools of my own blood. But to this day, I question how I survived those brutal years of back alley fighting.

There was one time in particular where I could count eighteen people that had me surrounded. I was certain that I wouldn't see the sun come up. Yet, when I awoke the next morning, the only pain I felt were those of a few broken ribs. Was I feared? Was I pitied? Was I respected? I'll never know. Whatever the reason, it made no impact on my life whatsoever. I was back to brawling the next day.

"Bravo, this is Alpha!" The radio for the fire team came alive with the transmission. "We are being engaged by the target. Repeat, target is engaging at our location. Get your asses over here now!"

The squad had been pursuing Jim for the past ten minutes under the impression that their target was choosing to evade rather than attack. Despite their readiness, they had been flanked by precise firing that had instantly killed half the fire team via a forty millimeter grenade. Bravo was a floor down and would take roughly thirty seconds to make it to the next level.

Jim watched the soldiers make their way up to the floor he was on. Their formations and equipment wasn't as similar to those of military personnel as it was to that of a SWAT team. Their weapons were of the close quarters variety; consisting of MP5s, MP5Ks, USPs, Glocks and Berettas as well as a SPAS 12 shotgun. They were also carrying several flash bangs and, as an extra touch, a few high explosive grenades. These men were trained with close quarters urban combat in mind. But their tight formations, which worked like a turtle shell that protected them from all sides, also had clear disadvantages.

"Alpha, this is Bravo. Confirm your location. Over!" The team leader whispered into the radio but received no response.

Stack of lumber, concrete and sheet rock littered the floor which was another of the many buildings in the city under construction. With a roof over their heads and only a few windows that weren't blocked, the room was only dimly lit despite the sun shining across the city. Bravo moved through the dark halls of building material while scoping every possible nook for a possible ambush.

A split second after hearing the sound of a grenade being lobbed, the team was thrown into disarray as they scrambled for cover and opened fire in the general direction of the attack. One of their own had been hit in the chest by the ordinance which had torn away part of his body. Constant gunfire by the remaining four soldiers caused gun smoke to fill the air as they emptied their weapons on a pile of cinder blocks that were used as cover.

Just as the team leader had reloaded his sub-machinegun and readied himself to open fire again, Jim had grabbed hold of the barrel and pushed it down to his feet. The sudden jerk caused the MP5 to discharge and fire a burst into the man's foot. He didn't allow him to fall and instead quickly spun him around and placed the tip of his M9 to his neck. His initial attack had attracted their attention enough for him to move around and flank from the side before anyone even realized he was there.

"Back off!" The Exile shouted at the three soldiers who took aim but couldn't get a clear shot. "You morons keep chasing after me; trying to kill me. Do you know who you're fucking with?"

With his arm wrapped powerfully around the soldier's chest, he moved forward. With every step, his own confidence grew while to the crew's diminished. Jim hadn't taken a hostage, merely a human shield. With the men concentrating on him, they failed to realize that their steps back had actually pushed them against a wall.

It was already too late to do anything about it. Jim threw his victim forward while moving in himself. He pulled out his knife. Though his Berretta wasn't enough to punch through the Kevlar they were wearing, it wasn't particularly resistant to knives. His thrust pierced the chest of the man closest to him and with the knife still inside, he pushed closer towards the remaining two who began to fire for their own sake. Despite being shot at several times, the fact that he was still being covered by the body helped to reduce the risk of wounds as he moved closer. A few bullets grazed him before he was close enough to smash his fist into one of the men's faces. A second later, he avoided a swing from the second man who tried hitting him with the butt of his weapon. He wrapped his arm around the man's neck and pulled up hard enough to almost lift him off the ground. The injured team leader, who had fallen to the floor a few seconds ago, tried to reach for a nearby pistol. But by the time he had grabbed hold of it and turned to fire, Jim had already caught wind and shot the man in the back of the head. Despite his helmet, it would be a fatal shot. All life had been choked out of the man he was holding by the time the smoke settled. Jim was surprised at himself. The man he had caught with a haymaker was dead; the cartilage in his nose had been pushed into his brain and had killed him almost instantly.

He took deep breaths as he checked each man for vital signs and found none. The situation had called for ruthless aggression. There was no room for sympathy or kindness.

"This'll have to do." He mumbled as he wiped a spatter of blood from underneath his eye while scoping the room.

Something had felt wrong for Jim throughout the entire day. Combat and killing weren't foreign to the Marine who had seen it all before. Yet despite that, for reasons he himself couldn't explain and could not control, those memories he had tried to keep locked away for so long were flooding back into his mind. The harder he tried to think about the task at hand, the more difficult it was to put it out of his mind.

This is what I was born for. It's in my veins. You knew that and tried to stop it. You wanted me to be a good person. You thought you could protect me. How many people have I killed today? How many families will mourn the death of their loved ones because of me? The sad part is, I just don't care.

By then, Jim could figure that Faust had zeroed in on his position. The likelihood of being shot once he stepped out into the open was high. He had discarded his M4 which had run out of ammunition and instead picked up his Boeing which he had laid down before having his firefight. He double checked the weapon which was prone lock up at crucial moments. Earlier in the day, he might have managed with the issue, but there was no room left for error.

He took the stairs down two floors and walked through a long corridor before reaching a utility room. While making his way into the building, he had noticed a ventilation shaft that extended through to a sister building next to it. Busting open the grating, he tossed his rifle in and crawled after it.

Faust lied in waiting almost a quart of a mile away. His twenty millimeter rifle was cocked, loaded and aimed towards the building in which the military squad had been silenced. Though he detected no movements, he carefully observed every possible exit for a chance to take down his prey. His body remained completely rigid despite the fact that his weapon was being cradled in his arms instead of being placed down.

The soldiers hadn't been deployed to neutralize the young man. The colonel was more than aware of his great skill in dispatching UPG forces. But in the city so vast, it would be difficult, even for someone with his keen talents, to track down a single man. Patience was a virtue that Alexander had much of. Unfortunately, he was fully aware that overextending his hunts would risk his prey falling victim to others.

"Faust!" A sound came on his radio. "Are you there you walking skeleton? Don't say anything if you're not there." After a second a silence, Jim continued his talking. "Just wanted to tell you that I'm no longer in the building you're scoping out." It wasn't a complete surprise for him to hear the news; he could only cover so many of the building exits. "I'm actually on the roof of the building half a klick west of it."

If Faust's eyes weren't covered by the sensor-like device, they would have popped open upon hearing the announcement. He wasted no time in remaneuvering his weapon towards the new destination before looking through the scope. Just as the boy had told him, he was on the roof of a building; speaking into a hands free radio.

"Do you see me?" Jim waived in all directions.

Sweat dripped from the Colonels dry shriveled face as he grabbed his radio with one hand while keeping his finger on the trigger. "What the hell are you doing?"

"What? It wouldn't be any fun if you lost me in all this commotion."

"You can't do that. This is not how it works!"

"Oh!" Jim replied sarcastically. "So you're supposed to track me down yourself using all your resources as a Colonel huh? But where's the sport if I just tell you where I am."

"I could kill you right now."

"And what would that accomplish?" The Lieutenant grinned. "You picked me because I was good sport. All this time and effort would be wasted if you killed me right now." His voice became cold and irritated. "Do I look like a fucking deer? Shoot me Faust. Give away your position so I can blow your head off."

"I've killed all my prey without exception. You're no different."

"You think you can kill me?" Garrick chuckled. "You think you're the first to try? Shoot me and see what happens!"

"I'm not playing your game!"

"Shoot me you coward!"

A squeeze of the trigger released the firing pin which caused the shell to explode and expel the round. The shockwave created from the canon caused all the nearby windows to either crack or shatter as it fired. Faust had positioned himself at the top floor of an office complex which gave him clear sight over the district. Like all aspects of his hunt, he had given deep thought about his location and line of sight.

Jim wasn't amused as he turned momentarily to see one of the stone tiles on the floor which had shattered due to the bullet that should have hit him. He turned back towards the direction of the attack and paused momentarily before pulling up his Boeing and instantly firing it. The superheating laser melted a hole through the concrete that Alexander had been using for cover before punching a hole in the ceiling.

"I'll tell you right now," The Colonel spoke into the radio. "I missed on purpose. You don't want a hunt? Fine. Starting now, this is a duel between men. No more games."

He then reached for one of his pockets and pulled out a small blade. It was as though he were contemplating his next move as he stared and the knife for a moment. One by one, he cut away at the stitches that held the visor against his face. There was a great deal of them as they went around his entire eye sockets. Finally, cutting away the last of them, he let the sensor drop to the floor before picking up his rifle once more.

No. I've never enjoyed the killing. But I love the fighting. Every punch, every kick made my blood boil. Even if I couldn't feel their jaws breaking against my fists, gunshots and explosions always made the hairs on my arms stand up. I think violence has and always will be a part of me. What better than to embrace it? No. I think these moments are the only time I ever truly feel alive; as if I'm always telling myself, "If I make it through today, I'll have earned my right to live."

Jim wasted trying to close the distance between them. Despite having the upper hand momentarily, he was fully aware that he would need to constantly outthink his opponent in order to remain alive. His first priority was to actually get a fix on Faust's position; without it, he could get shot despite taking cover.

He leaped across rooftops while keeping his eyes on his target's location. Jim understood well the difference between a hunter and a solider. Hunting and sniping both require timing and precision as well as patience in order to kill the target with a single shot. Soldiers, on the other hand, must often times fire despite fully aware that they won't hit a thing.

Two rapidly aimed shots barely missed the Marine who was shuffling side to side to reduce the risk of being hit. Faust had been much quicker than expected in changing positions; already one building over and another two hundred feet from his present position. Jim's own shots with his Boeing may have been more destructive, but not nearly as accurate as they barely hit the ten foot area around the Colonel.

I'm not brave or fearless. I just can't stand the thought of being a coward. I'd rather die than run away. I'd rather suffer through immeasurable pain than surrender. I never wanted to be a hero, and I know I'm not one right now. I'm not risking my life for any grand reasons that would make you proud of me. I'm not doing this for Axel or the crew or anyone else for that matter. This world can burn for all I care. I just want these moments of levity that are so rare in my life.

If I'm selfish, then so is everyone else. They all look out for their own interests, their own damn benefits. No one gives a shit about the world or the people. They're just cowards who want to live to see another day. It's all pride and self-righteousness.

A constant exchange of fire between the two snipers continued as the circled around the buildings counter-clockwise. After several minutes of trying to evade each others attacks, both men lost sight of each other and found themselves blindly exploring to see if they could spot their target first. Faust had taken careful aim at the Exile who was still trying to feel his way around the rooftops.

He was known to have the best gun hand throughout the entire continent; a title he had earned through blood. His anatomy was unlike any other person's in the world. Though it heightened his reflexes and strength and even slowed his aging to a crawl, it also increased his sense of smell and hearing which made him an exceptional tracker.

Alexander Faust had been with the government for as long as he could remember. Aside from General Dekker and Colonel Gauss, he was the only person still in service since the founding of the UPG. Long years of combat had made him a perfect sharpshooter and an even better gunslinger. Being a rare hybrid between several different mutants had made him a precious commodity within the Government that made him into a Colonel. Faust would come across men like Garrick every ten years during his lifetime; talented soldiers who he considered not only worthy prey, but worthy adversaries. His ability to eliminate each of these famed gunmen had earned him the title of best in the Wastelands.

A blast from Jim's Boeing melted through the concrete barrier that the Colonel had used for cover. The attack came a tenth of a second before he had fired his own shot which would have ended the duel. Unfortunately, his aim was thrown off and the bullet missed its target my several inches. After displacing to a new location, Alexander took aim once more and waited patiently for his target to step into area.

Avoiding the shot, Garrick had taken cover behind a thin concrete wall that, while wouldn't supply much protection against the anti-tank rounds, hid him from sight while the Colonel wasn't looking.

Why do I fight? What possible reason would I have to feel this way? I'd like to think that I do it for myself. That somehow it's what I've always wanted.

But that's not true…

Jim aimed his rifle up where he knew Faust would be waiting for him. Their lines of sights were matched perfectly as the Lieutenant realized he had been found out. His reflexes took over as he lifted both hands in some weak attempt to shield himself. The round from Alexander's canon pierced one of the cylinders on the side of his Boeing, causing the weapon to explode in his hands. Jim fell back into his cover; minus one laser rifle.

He was lucky his face hadn't been charred off from the blast. His hands had taken most of the punishment and were blacked due to the residue. After a moment of screaming in agony, he lifted his hands to his face made sure everything was still there; ten digits with muscles and skin attached. A nasty piece of shrapnel had embedded itself into his left palm which was bleeding profusely.

Another round punched a hole through the thin concrete and almost tore off one of his legs as he proceeded with his operation. He pulled out his trusty knife and jammed it into his skin before applying enough torque to remove the piece of metal.

"You're finished." The Colonel thought to himself in all seriousness.

What he saw next was not only surprising, but also unsettling. Garrick leaped from the cover and began to run opposite his direction. He found himself extremely vexed by the man's attempt to run away. In all his previous duels, his opponents would accept their defeat with great honor and respect; choosing to accept death at the hands of a superior gunman.

His irritation quickly grew to anger as he lifted his weapon and pursued the man who had once again become his prey.

I didn't start brawling with every punk I met because I felt like it.

With both men in full motion, even Faust had great difficulty hitting Jim who jumped and ran with great speed as bullets rained down on top of him.

I did it… Because of you!

Falling almost twenty feet down to his next platform, the Marine rolled across the floor before picking up speed once against and making his way through another series of obstacles.

I took me a long time to admit it but it's the damn truth. Of all the people I was angry at, I hated you the most. I still hate you!

You thought you did something noble and great; killing yourself and letting your little Jim find you like that. You thought you were protecting me but you couldn't even see five minutes ahead. You were afraid so you ran away and left me there.

You coward!

You bitch!

I wanted you to feel it I wanted it to hurt. You said you hated watching me fight. So I fought every chance I could. You pretended everything was all right and lied to me every day of your pathetic life. You were a weak little child and you tried to make me just as weak. Is that what love is? Lies and Deceit? You knew what I was! What I'd become. What I am.

Jim had run out of road. The building he was on was the last in a series in which he could leap across. Running back the way he came would not be possible either since Faust had already blocked him off. All he could do was wait behind the rooftop entrance of the stairwell which would supply him cover at least until the Colonel didn't choose to flank him.

I am what you made me Natalie; a killer, a cynic, a terrible human being. If you wanted your boy to be a decent man then you should've been there for him. You should have known that anything would have been better than leaving me alone. I hope you're ashamed of me.

Jim was seventeen and working in a steel mill halfway across the country from where his home used to be when he received a package in the mail. It wouldn't have been unusual at all for the young man had he received any mail before, much less a package. There was a letter attached, written by hand.

Dear Mr. Garrick

You don't know me. But I'm the proprietor of what used to be your old home. It was difficult to track you down and I do hope this letter reaches you.

Attached to this is a journal written by a Natalie Garrick. We found it hidden inside one of the walls after renovating the house. We're not sure of your exact relation, but given that you seem to be her only living relative, we thought you would like to have it.

Natalie had spent her entire life living in constant fear which made it all the more surprising that she had actually risked having a journal despite the risks. Her paranoia had enabled her to properly hide to book during all the years without it being discovered.

It seemed to document her years between the ages of nine to fifteen. After reading the initial few pages, Jim had quickly had his fill; it was page after page of abuse and pain that she had been forced to keep bottled up inside. He had learned of it through small hints over the years; he didn't want to hear the details.

At a certain point, the journal jumped ahead three full months. It made perfect sense once he pinpointed the date and her age at the time. Her following entry told of an all too familiar story:

My stomach's kept growing more and more each day. I thought it would be okay, but it was only wishful thinking.

Having a child is supposed to be the greatest feeling in the world. Then why I am disgusted? Why do I hate this thing so much?

If this baby is a boy, I'll have given that man exactly what he's always wanted.

If it's a girl, won't she have to suffer like me?

Either way, wouldn't it be better if both our lives ended right now?

Her next entry came over a month later:

It's strange. I was so determined to end this. I thought I could. If I had done it while taking a bath, they wouldn't notice until long after I was dead.

I want to be free from this.

But this child I had tried my best to hate… I just can't stand the idea of hurting it.

I find myself smiling whenever I feel a kick and wondering if this child will be the only good thing to come out of all this.

Another leap forward by almost six months:

It's a boy.

I'm both relieved and frightened of his future now.

It's amazing how I've never met this little person, yet every part of me screams out in a single voice; telling me how much I love this person. And I do. And I'm glad he's here with me now.

The change in the tone had taken a complete turn. Replaced were the stories of violence with tales of Jim's first laugh, his first words, his first steps. She was… Happy. It was an answer to a question he had been asking himself since he had found out the truth of their relation.

You loved me unconditionally. I don't think I'll ever understand that. After all, I'm the reason why you went through all that pain for all those years.

You weren't selfish or cowardly. I was.

It must have been hard, all those years without anyone to talk to or listen. You were always alone; more than me. I never considered your feelings. I really am a bastard.

But it's too late to say I'm sorry. It wouldn't mean a damn thing. The only thing left for me… Is to move forward.

Apart from his hand, the Exile wasn't severely injured. He wiped the charcoal like substance from his face before unzipping and removing his combat vest. He then removed the ammo belt from his waist and whatever gear he had in his pockets. He then kneeled down and tied his boots in a tight double knot to ensure they wouldn't come loose under any circumstances. Finally, he took out his M9 and loaded a single magazine into the chamber.

Faust saw the man step out of his cover and move into the open. He had already compensated for the wind and distance as he looked down at the man through his sight.

A grin finally formed on his rotten teeth. "You finally found the courage to face your destiny." He saw the gun in the man's hand. "Are you planning on taking your own life? Or is this an invitation?"

Jim's expression was blank and serious as he looked back toward the Colonel. He knew where he was but it would make no difference; at that range, his semi-automatic was useless. His heart was racing before he stepped out into the open yet had slowed to a crawl by the time he had come to complete stop. He could feel the cool breeze brush past his bare chest as he momentarily closed his eyes to appreciate the moment.

Looking at his behavior and constant disregard for his own well-being, one would believe that Garrick had a death wish. In a single day, he had risked his own life over a dozen times over nothing more than trivial pursuits. Yet, his desire to live was perhaps stronger than anyone's. Perhaps it was the reason he could live through such ordeals. Maybe it was just dumb luck.

His expression was the same as when Alexander had first caught him from behind. It was also the same as when he stepped out into the open for the first time and dared him to fire. It may have been a blank stare, but Faust knew that deep down, the man was looking down on him.

"This duel is over!" He shrieked as he pulled the trigger.

He couldn't quite explain it. It didn't make any sense. He wondered if the boy had precognitive senses or if he had heightened reflexes. There wasn't much possible to explain it. The truth was, even if he had asked Jim personally as to how he had dodged the bullet, he likely wouldn't have an answer.

The high caliber round had missed him completely as Garrick had tilted hiss head to one side and let it pass. Upon which he quickly moved towards the opposite direction from which the attack had come.

Alexander's blood had finally begun to boil. "Coward!" He shouted as he fired in rapid succession which reduced his accuracy.

Two shots from his M9 weakened the window of the neighboring sky scraper enough for Jim to leap through it and enter its seventeenth floor. The marine didn't stop though. Sprinting through the office corridors before firing another shot to create an exit out the other end.

Faust pursued him from the side while lugging with him his massive rifle. If his prey refused to die like a warrior, then he'd be hunted like a dog. By the time he run to a better vantage point, Jim had already leaped off another rooftop and through a window of another complex. Given his speed and distance, the Colonel timed it carefully and fired single shots that punched holes through the walls; narrowly hitting Jim who leaped out another window and slammed against the fire escape to the next building.

Jumping halfway up the ladder before climbing the rest of the way to the next floor, a single round from his chaser tore through the steel that held up the balcony. The Lieutenant immediately leaped in through the floor window as the whole thing crashed fourteen stories down to the street below.

"You're not running away from this." Alexander's voice echoed over to Jim.

He switched his aim to the other end of the building and waited for Jim to leap out. Unfortunately, Jim had taken a right halfway through the corridor and had exited out an unmonitored window before landing on yet another rooftop. His tenacity irritated Faust to no end as he tried as hard as he could to end the chase but failed at every turn. The Colonel quickened his pace further; figuring his best chance to kill him would come by cutting him off and forcing him into a corner.

The Exile was about to leap towards the rooftop when he saw the mutant moving to intercept. Taking a left, he fired a set of shots through a building window before crashing through it. Blood began to drip from his arms. At the cost of protecting his face and eyes from getting cut by the glass, his limbs had been taking most of the trauma. But, despite evading a confrontation a moment ago, Faust was moving faster than him and moving once more to cut off his escape. Garrick was forced again to change his direction. His muscles ached and he pushed himself to continue running at full speed. His lungs felt as though they were about to explode. His knees were mere seconds away from buckling under his own weight. Yet still, when he reached a window that led to a neighboring office, he smashed through it without stopping for a second. He was airborne when he fired another shot that cracked the window to the next building before jumping through it.

Alexander knew he was getting closer when he had cut off the Marine as he was getting ready to jump only to find himself facing down his enemy. The Colonel was now accurately predicting Jim's exit point and narrowly missing as he fired at him. Every jump he made was being matched by the mutant who gave chase.

Faust was now completely ahead of his prey who was headed straight for him. A few more leaps and he would be pushed into a corner with nowhere to run. He kicked down a door before taking position inside the dark room from which he would easily pick his shots from. A chill went up his spine suddenly as he saw Jim running towards his position, but he shook it off as excitement. He squeezed off a round that narrowly missed the man before picking up his weapon and preparing to move to the next building; only Jim didn't change directions.

Confused, the hunter picked up his weapon and fired again only to miss once more and again; his target did not alter his course. It's when he realized the significance of that chill up his spine. His heart had tried to tell him but his mind was too focused on the chase. His target was now moving towards him like a freight train; nothing would stop him as his pace only quickened. With his gun already empty, he threw it full force towards the window before kicking through it.

The distance he had to cover to make the jump would have proven difficult if there weren't several towing cables dangling down the side of the next building; which were mainly used to bring up construction tools. Grabbing hold of one mid-air, he swung the rest of the way; his momentum carrying him the rest of the way to a newly placed window.

"Oh no… Faust whispered a split second before Jim exploded through with a loud crash.

Jim's entrance was less than stellar as he had used one side of his face to break the window and had tumbled through shards of glass before stopping on all fours. Alexander could only stare at the man who led him around the city only to return him to where their chase had begun.

Blood dripped all around the soldier who was taking fast breaths before moaning in pain. Yet, as he lifted his head, he managed a chuckle while looking up into the eyes of his aggressor; half his face shredded by glass and drenched in blood.

"What was it you told me before? About not seeing you again?" He grinned widely as he pushed his knees off the ground. It was then that he noticed Faust's eyes for the first time; green human eyes unlike every other part of his body that had been changed or altered. "I guess you're not as great as you thought you were."

"You…" The Colonel was startled by the turn of events but quickly regained his composure when he realized the situation. "You're acting as though you've won something. You're in my sights and as good as dead. You don't even have a weapon. You plan to fight me unarmed?"

"Right now… My adrenaline is pumping like crazy… I don't feel a freakin' thing. I figure I can put a bullet between your eyes before the pain kicks in."

"Bullet?" Faust grinned. The thought of the man with severe blood loss forgetting that he had just dropped his gun before jumping into the room was amusing to say the least. But the grin disappeared a few short seconds later when he realized what the second part of Jim's plan had been.

The Exile could have picked any place but, for some reason, had chosen that specific building for their duel. Jim puny M9 wouldn't have been enough for a drawn out duel with the Colonel. He would need large quantities of weapons and ammo which, lucky for him, had been thoughtfully delivered by a squad; the members of which were now scattered around the room with their weapons lying cocked, loaded, and waiting.

The two glared at each other viciously, knowing full-well what was about to happen. Each twitched as they prepared to make their move. There was a remarkable silence for several second and both men held their breathing and the only sound that could be heard were the drippings of blood and fell down Jim's face.

"I recognize those eyes now." Faust whispered, trying not to agitate his adversary. "I've seen them before. Something about them… If I don't kill you now, I'm sure you'll grow to become a terrifying individual."

Garrick listened to the man's words intently but never broke his focus. "I know."

Pushing himself to one side, he rolled across the floor until he found cover behind a stack of bricks. At the same time, Alexander had swiftly brought up his rifle to take the shot and, with precise aim, fired only to find that his trusty rifle was empty. In all the excitement of the chase, Faust had actually lost count of his shots. He didn't waste time reloading the weapon that wouldn't be of much use in the tight corners. Instead, he tossed it to the floor before reaching into his coat with both hands, pulling out a pair of single action revolvers. He readjusted the hat on his head before spinning the guns on his fingers.

"You think I was dangerous with a rifle?" He shouted for Jim to hear. "You better strap yourself in boy."

Jim was at his first checkpoint. He picked up a nice select-fire Glock and slid it into his holster before picking up the SPAS. As he lifted the shotgun into both hands, his grip on the weapon suddenly let loose and the barrel hit the floor. The Lieutenant put his hand over his eyes and nearly fell over. His vision was getting blurry and faint; the blood loss was taking its toll; his brave words to the Colonel were little more than a bluff.

"Come on. Pass out after you've killed this bastard." He said to himself with his eyes rolling around the room. Motivation through words seemed ineffective so he moved to something more physical; digging his fingers into the gash on his own face and pulling it open. He let loose a horrible scream that could've been heard five floors down, but soon after releasing the grip on his face, he began to laugh silently. "That's the way Jim."

He stuck his hand out the side of the cover and quickly unloaded the machine pistol into the open area where Alexander had been standing. The Colonel reacted by moving for cover while Jim dropped the Glock before leaving his cover and opening fire with the combat shotgun; tearing holes in the concrete and splintering the lumber.

The sound of shells bouncing off the floor could be heard as the room fell silent for a mere moment. Faust suddenly shot back from cover and fired precision shots even while not looking straight at him. The two were now exchanging bullets as they moved around the room counter-clockwise.

The Exile Lieutenant tossed away the empty shotgun as he reached his second checkpoint. He reached into a crevasse between two stacks of construction material and pulled out an MP5. He then grabbed hold of the only grenade, pulled the pin off and tossed it in Faust's direction before taking aim with his SMG.

The mutant had heard the sound of the pin being pulled and anticipated the throw; jumping away long before the grenade detonated. So far, he had only fired six shot and emptied each of his guns to half. Three rapid shots with one hand sent Jim reeling backwards at the surprising speed of the Colonels retaliation. He had to end up unloading the entire magazine of his weapon in order to suppress Faust's attack. Despite this, he was now far from his next checkpoint and without a weapon.

"Shit," he cursed himself. "'Knew I should have put something else here."

Alexander had already emptied the rounds from his empty revolver and placed six new ones. Jim swayed back and forth from behind the cover, trying to build up the steam to make a run for his next stash. But every time he readied himself to hop out and make a run for it, it became clear that he wouldn't make it a step out before being killed.

Despite the fact that it missed its main target, the earlier grenade blast proved useful as it weakened the integrity of a small corner of the building enough to cause part of the roof to collapse. It may have been dumb luck, but it filled the room with dust long enough for him to move from his cover. As it began to settle, Faust's human eyes started to make out the figure of his target moving in the distance and he opened fire; missing the marine by the skin of his teeth.

Jim ran full speed around the room and didn't stop as he picked up a pair of MP5-ks; a smaller variant of his earlier weapon and immediately began returning fire while remaining in motion. He sprayed the area around Faust with bullets as the two once again strafed around each other in an attempt to flank the other person.

By the time the SMGs clicked empty, Garrick was already at his next stop where he retrieved two M9s which he holstered and a pair of MP5s. He may have been wasting ammo, but he knew this fight wouldn't be won with careful shooting. He pulled the pin off another grenade and lobbed it into the air. Just as it went off, he leaned out the corner of his cover before unleashing fully-automatic weapons fire into the Colonel's.

The barrage of bullets from each of the two guns suppressed Faust and deterred him from shooting back until he heard the sound of them click empty. Upon which, he popped out only to end up in a trade of pistol fire.

Jim remained low to the ground and shot with his left while keeping his entire upper body horizontal. When one of his M9s was emptied rapidly pulled his second one and continued to do the same until he finally made it to his next point.

Three bodies had been laid down on a straight path ahead of him. Across their vest, Jim had hooked on the pins for the remaining high explosive grenades which were waiting for him.

Never taking his focus off the Colonel, he moved as fast as he could in his crouched position and using his right hand, shoveled the grenades towards him. The pins remained hooked onto the vests which made it possible to throw a large number of them simultaneously. When he tossed the last one, he grabbed hold of the last SMG and M9 Berretta and turned towards his target.

The grenades tumbled across the room until coming to a stop against the far wall behind Faust who moved forward to avoid the blast that would follow. It was now do or die for both men as they exchanged bullets while moving toward one another. Shooting someone while being shot was certainly being put into effect as neither man connected but continued to move forward.

Jim dropped the empty MP5-k that was in his left hand and brought up his semi-automatic when the grenades finally went off. The series of explosions rocked the building and tore open one of the walls; destroying the supports and causing the two floors over their heads to come crashing down around them.

The center of the room was the least constructed portion going all the way to the roof, letting the sun shine down on both men as they glared into each others eyes; guns pointed at their chests. Faust had slid onto the stack of lumber at the center of the room just as Jim and climbed on top of it as well. He now pointed his weapon up at the man while another was pointed down towards him. His hat had fallen off amidst the chaos which left his bald, disfigured skull exposed.

Despite their constant motion, neither man was breathing as they stared the other down. It was a standstill.

Alexander's serious expression suddenly turned to a grin before he began to chuckle and laugh. "Excellent!" He shouted with glee. "I never believed a human would match me so well. After all these years, I do think I've found my rival at last. Don't you think this meeting of ours was somehow destined? Doesn't this moment and conclusion to our duel seem perfect? I actually thought killing you would be my only satisfaction, but to find ourselves in a draw as close as this? I do thank you from the bottom of my shriveled heart."

His words didn't seem to reach Jim who glared at him with vicious intent.

"Don't ruin this boy." The Colonel's voice turned cold. "There's no point in both of us dying like this. You've done a great thing matching me today and you can accomplish more tomorrow. Are you going to throw away your life due to that thick-headedness?"

The Exiles glare became even deeper and filled with rage as Faust's eyes grew wide.

"WE'RE BOTH GOING TO DIE DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?-"

His sentence had reached its end when Jim reached for the man's gun wielding hand and pushed it up from his chest. A shot went off and at first seemed to have struck his face. But Alexander's eyes opened even wider as he saw that the bullet and only grazed his neck. He had officially missed someone at point-blank range.

"You shouldn't have treated this like a game Faust." Jim's eyes burned as he spoke to the man through his teeth. "'Should have killed me when you had the chance!"

A pull of the trigger blew the back of the Colonel's head off before Jim emptied his magazine into his corpse. The sun shined down over his head as he dropped the gun from his hand and fell to a knee. The pain instantly hit him across his entire body as he began to breathe heavily while coughing up blood. The bullet may have grazed him, but there was still blood seeping down which only made his situation worse. He lacked the strength to move and was barely keeping conscious when he heard the sound of people coming up the stairs.

"Freeze!" A man who he couldn't see shouted at him. "Don't you fucking make a move asshole. I'll drop you where you are."

Soldiers surrounded him, clearly alerted by the massive exchange of fire and explosions from a few minutes ago. He could barely make out the figures in room as he moved his head around slowly to look at them. He sighed at the thought of his work never being finished.

"Oh my God," He heard one of the men speak. "Is that Colonel Faust?"

"Oh my God," Another repeated the sentiment. "T-this guy killed Faust…"

It seemed strange to Jim; a near death man frightening a room full of heavily armed soldiers. But Colonels were considered the invincible soldiers of the UPG. It wasn't often that one would hear a story of how one fell in battle, much less seeing it happen in person. While they hesitated to approach him, he began to eye Alexander's revolver that might have still been holding a few shots

"What's going on here?" A woman's voice was heard from behind him. "Why aren't you retraining this man?"

The woman who had entered the room was the commanding officer. Unlike the soldiers who wore combat vests and black jackets, she wore a thick leather harness that went around her body leaving many pockets of skin, including her arms and legs exposed. Her fiery red hair had been left long enough to bunch up a tie at the back of her head.

"It's Colonel Faust Mam… He's… He's dead." One of the men replied.

She stepped forward to see it with her own eyes and stared momentarily in disbelief before looking at Jim who returned an exhausted expression. He wasn't in any shape to be fighting back; she was the first to realize this.

"Cuff him." She was clearly agitated by the sight.

By that time, Jim had already realized that she was the leader of the group. If he somehow managed to take her out; he had a feeling he could force himself up for an escape. That is, of course, if the other soldiers hesitate and don't unload all their bullets into him.

He found his opportunity to act when the woman reached up to an ear piece and averted her gaze momentarily. Garrick quickly backhanded the approaching soldier before reaching down and grabbing the single-action revolver.

"Do it now Jim!" He shouted to himself for motivation despite his body getting ready to call it quits.

He jumped forward off the stack of lumber and rolled closer to the woman who just noticed that the man had gotten free. By the time Jim had aimed his weapon she had been caught completely off-guard.

His body came to an abrupt stop a split second before he could fire. The female soldier's eyes were open wide as she looked back at him slightly panicked over his sudden attack. The gun slid off his bloody hand and hit the floor with a clank. Jim was certainly feeling something as he looked down to see a blade had pierced his chest near the right shoulder. He spent several seconds looking at his sound and the blade which was jagged and worn. When he followed the blade up to the person who wielded it, it surprised him that it was the same woman he was trying to kill. More surprising than that was the fact that the blade was actually protruding from the palm of her hand.

"Another Colonel…" Jim's eyes became teary as he realized he had severely miscalculated. "Stupid."

The blade was pulled from his body letting him fall over to the ground. The Colonel looked at the blood on her weapon momentarily before retracting it to its hiding place. The blade curved and twisted; regaining the shape of a bone in her palm before sliding back under the skin and muscles. She had already regained her composure by the time she reached for the radio in her ear and spoke.

"Room is secure sir!" She spoke while looking at life she had just claimed.

A few seconds later, the sounds of the soldiers speaking and moving around stopped instantly. Slow moving footsteps could be heard from two floors down; the clicking sound of nice shoes marking each approaching step. When the steps finally stopped, Valus was standing over Jim's body; observing it closely without speaking a word. He stared blankly at the boy who was lying in a puddle of his own blood with both eyes closed and no visible movement.

The squad spoke quietly about the required emergency vehicles that would have to be called in to take away to large number of bodies while trying their hardest not to disturb the General.

"Sonia," Valus continued to stare at Jim as he spoke to the Colonel. "I didn't think I could make myself any clearer in my order. I thought I told you to 'get him'. And then I come up to find him like this…"

Sweat formed on the woman's forehead as she thought of her next words carefully. "He reached for weapon and-"

"Honestly," Zherinth cut her off. "If you can't obey a simple order, perhaps you disobeyed it on purpose…" He casually reached for the broadsword at his waist and unsheathed it before bringing the tip of the weapon against the woman's left eye. The other men in the room wouldn't dare make a move against him. "Disobeying an order is an act worthy of court martial Colonel Parks. It's punishable by death…"

"It wasn't of my choosing." She spoke while looking down the sharp end of the sword that was only an inch from her eye. "He had already killed Faust."

"I knew that already." He winced at her ignorance. "Then maybe you're just too incompetent to be a Colonel. Should I relieve you of you position?" He brought the blade half an inch closer.

A cough startled everyone in the room at once save for Valus who slowly turned his head towards the injured, but still breathing, enemy who had just cough up the blood that was in his throat. His expression remained indifferent as he turned back towards the Colonel who was feeling extremely nervous.

"I guess you're off the hook for now." He swung the blade into its sheath at the bat of an eyelash before turning towards the stairs. "Put him in the back of the truck."

The room felt as though it was filled with air once more as he left. Everyone took a deep breath, including Colonel Parks who looked at the unconscious individual with an almost thankful expression.

"Let's get him out of here before we lose him."

* * *

I'm alive…

If this were Hell, I'd be hurting more. If it were Heaven, I wouldn't be feeling anything at all.

We're moving.

I feel the rumble under my feet. I'm sitting against the side of a truck. My feet and hands are chained.

It's dark.

Too dark. Maybe it's all the blood I lost but I wouldn't be able to see my own hand in front of my face right now.

A light.

I see a faint light shining through the small, rear window. It barely helps to illuminate the cabin.

Someone.

There's someone here with me.

"Do you feel it?" The dark figure speaks to me from the shadows. "Do you smell it? Do you hear it ringing in your ears?"

The words sound like gibberish. But I hear them well. Too well considering the amount of blood I've lost.

"I knew it when I saw you."

The voice was cold and morbid but I could hear the admiration.

"What a waste if you had died there. Someone like you…"

Wait.

"It's strange… Do I know you?"

Wait…

* * *

I saw it.

It was the same.

Valus.

General Valus Zherinth.

Dangerous.

Deadly.

Murderer.

But it's not what I saw.

No. What I saw brought my eyes into focus. What I saw made that faint light fell a hundred times brighter. What I saw made the pain in my flesh and bones become a distant memory; replaced by pain that ran much deeper. I wished I was in hell or that it was a sick joke but was faced with reality every time. I tried to make sense of it and somehow managed to consider that this… this was still home.

I could only see it now; in person. No picture would show me the truth. Only now did I see it. This feeling. This feeling of terror that I never imagined. The person whom I faced and who gazed into my eyes and could see me for the boy I was. No. It wasn't the man that made me feel this way. For as I looked upon his face and prayed It was a nightmare, I knew it was not. I recognized this face.

It was my father's.