Thursday, May 5, 2011

Story: War In the South

There is a brutal civil war raging in the state of Olbia. However, not all wars are what they seem and local skirmishes might be more than just that. Especially when there are hidden players with ulterior motives. Oil? Power? Who knows...

Table of contents: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13

Chapter One

Maynard was enjoying his view on empty roads in the morning as he was being driven to an embassy. Sitting comfortably on the backseat of a taxi, his gaze was fixed on the side window closest to him.

He could see people sulking around, everyday men and women walking along the streets with whatever goals they had in mind. They were scarce in numbers though, as these were working hours. No quarrels, no shouting, no rushes. It was almost serene.

Aside from a limited number of civilians outside, he could also see soldiers on every corner. Those were on patrol, ordered by the self-styled Only Leader. Their mission was to enforce law and preserve peace. Uproot the very element of resistance that had been stirred across the entire country like a shockwave. There was a brutal civil war raging in the state of Olbia.

As the taxi was passing one of the armed men, Maynard looked at him, sensing an aura of inexplicable terror radiating out of his eyes. He was holding his automatic rifle very firmly, his finger on the trigger. It was apparent that he would welcome any kind of action to get his shot. Even if just one shot. It was bloodlust.

The car turned around the corner, leaving the soldier behind and forcing Maynard to abandon his contemplation. However, the city was enormously large and he was not even halfway where he wanted to be. With that knowledge, he knew he had to idle away the time somehow.

He recalled the beginning of the conflict. It had started with a demonstration, a response to an arrest of a human-rights activist. The sheer amount of protesters, along with the knowledge of unrest in neighbouring countries had shocked those in power, making them reply with oppressive power. Soon afterwards, the crowd had been dispersed by the police.

Many had thought that it was over, yet the event had only served as a fuel for the discontented. The fuse was lit and the government had been adding more fire.

In but a few days and after countless skirmishes, the entire nation had experienced a government-ordered blackout in hopes of depriving the rebellious citizens of their means of communication. However, the outcome had been far from it. It had plunged the land into chaos, paving way for an insurgency.

A month had passed since then and many things had changed. The civil war was still raging on and the rebels were marching from the east to the west, towards the Capital. Oea. It was still held by those loyal to the Only Leader, but judging as the opposing troops were said to have reached the birthplace of the Leader, it was questionable for how long. The outcome looked bleak for the government.

Maynard awoke from his thoughts in time. The taxi had stopped moments ago and the driver was yelling something in a mixture of Arabic and English. Maynard couldn't understand him but handed him some money. Thankfully, it made the man silent and Maynard left the car for a fresh air outside.

He was standing in front of an embassy. However, his plans changed as he saw the building was blocked and guarded by two soldiers. He realized his sources had been wrong. His only way out was sealed.

He cussed deep in his mind but he showed no hints of anger or anything that would have drawn attention to him. He knew his life was in danger. He was a foreigner to these parts, after all. They were watching him. It was a wonder he hadn't been arrested yet. It was a wonder he was still alive.

He had heard of reporters and journalists being apprehended and tortured. He had heard of prisoners being starved to death. He rightfully feared for his life.

As of that moment, he realized he was a man without friends. Without ties. Without known past. It would have been helpful under different circumstances, but now it made things worse. Especially when he was unwelcome inside and hunted outside. One could question what had he done to find himself in such an unfavourable situation, but that was an enigma that Maynard kept secret with great anxiety.

He turned away and went on to walk along the street slowly and confidently. He was aware of the fact that the soldiers were observing him. He concluded they had been ordered to watch anyone who showed interest in entering the building. It didn't take him too long to piece the facts together. His sources had betrayed him. Sold him to the enemy. The only thing he didn't know was which side as both were hostile to him.

As he was plodding along at snail speed, his thoughts were racing. Where to go? What to do? Was somebody after him? Some civilian?

Could that frail, limping man of untidy visage in torn clothes be an undercover agent sent to follow him? Or could that posh-looking lady with a wide hat be the one who was tasked with spying on him?

He couldn't tell and that fact added to his desperation.

There were few people in the streets, but there could have been others in windows. Or behind unspotted cameras. They could have been everywhere.

He was still thinking what to do next. He still couldn't find a solution to his trouble. He was desperate. Then, all of a sudden, two policemen emerged from a nearby alleyway, walking straight towards him.

They were looking him in the eye with a slight hint of dominance radiating out of their faces. Maynard was beginning to panic. Were they so confident and calm because they knew he had nowhere to run? Were they sure of their victory? That they had already caught him? Or was it just a coincidence?

The clock was ticking. His pulse was uncontrollably gaining pace with each passing second. His instincts were yelling, but his calmer side pleaded him to wait for but a little longer. He felt his heart pounding intensely. Just not to show his fear, he thought. Just not to give himself away.

They were ten metres away and their gazes were still fixed at him. One of them even began reaching for something behind his belt. Was he drawing a gun?

Do something! The echoes in his head were loud. Almost as if they belonged to a real person.

It was only five metres now and their eyes wouldn't let go of him. The hand of one of the policemen was slowly taking something out yet Maynard couldn't tell what it was. The suspense was overwhelming.

He could even hear footsteps behind him. He was so caught by the situation in front of him that he completely forgot to pay attention to what was happening behind him. How could he have done such a foolish mistake? He cursed at himself in his thoughts but there was no time to waste on blaming.

The time of decision was nigh. It was now or never. Do nothing and risk being arrested and tortured? Or run and risk being shot while fleeing?

He was about to turn around to see who was behind him, prepared to make a run for it, but then a thundering explosion went out. Everyone in the street immediately glued their eyes to the horizon, spotting a momentary outburst of flame followed by a rising smoke. Even the policemen.

It was not uncommon or unexpected, yet it took everybody by surprise each time it happened. Within seconds, life resumed back to normal, but there was somebody missing – Maynard.

Chapter Two

Although the streets of Oea were quiet, it was a deceptive shroud hiding a slumbering battleground. There were many rebels in disguise, awaiting the perfect moment to rise up and strike. And there were ten times more sympathisers with the movement who would very likely join the uprising should an opportunity present itself.

Nevertheless, the government was still holding a firm grip over the city and guarded all the ways in and out of the city.

It was a tense situation for Maynard, who found himself caught in a silent war between the government, rebels and other underlying forces both from the northwest and from the east. Only the rebels didn't really mind him being around but they were too disorganized and infiltrated by just about every enemy Maynard had. The autocratic regime, western spies and even terrorists, who happened to hate everyone foreign.

Although he had the option of entering the sewers, it was hazardous to do so. The Only Leader and his loyal weren't fools, after all. Neither were they merciful. Knowing that the opposition would use the underground as a gathering point, they had most entrances under guard and flooded the rest with deadly gasses.

The situation Maynard was in was indeed bleak. Seemingly without a place to go, he was ensnared in a hostile city.

He would love to exact revenge on those who had led him into such trouble. Corrupted informers working for some American agency. How foolish he was. Everybody had their price and it just happened that somebody had estimated theirs. How could he have been so stupid? How could he have believed two agents that were making a fortune by selling arms on the black market behind the back of their homeland?

He took a deep breath to clean his mind and promptly reminded himself that he had had no choice. It was either that or being slaughtered by incoming governmental forces.

Either way, he swore he would never repeat that mistake in the future. Thing was, would there be a future?

He was sitting between two large cardboard boxes turned upside down. They had been probably used as a shelter by very poor people. He was in the slums after all. There were no skyscrapers, no shiny buildings and no parks. Merely shabby houses. The locals had no money to afford anything serious, let alone anything worth defending.

In the distance between those scarcely spaced threadbare homes, he could see occasional fields of green between the vast and empty desert stretching further into the south. It was such a bizarre contrast to the clean city centre, albeit cramped with buildings.

From time to time, he could even hear the sound of jet planes above his head, signalling that western forces were going to strike the Only Leader's military hardware.

It was a strange feeling, he realized. The place seemed so quiet, so motionless. Yet there was a war raging out there. People living there seemed so peaceful. It was as if there wasn't a conflict for them. Or, more likely, the sight of loyalist soldiers pacified them. Their situation was just as hopeless as Maynard's.

He was so close to getting out. Ironically, he couldn't. Soldiers and mercenaries were everywhere. Prepared to shoot on sight.

They were not yet informed he was in the vicinity, but he couldn't tell when they would be. He couldn't know. Only anticipate and guess.

Suddenly, he heard somebody shout. It was a very pungent, angry voice.

His Arabic wasn't that good but he could translate a few words that he heard. Apparently, the embittered woman was dissatisfied with the shelling that Maynard had experienced earlier and that had allowed him to escape a dire situation.

What he hadn't known before, however, was the fact that government forces had shelled a street right in the middle of the Capital so as to disperse a potential uprising.

Nevertheless, he rightfully suspected the angry rant would have a bloody aftermath. The place was crawling with loyalist forces that were ordered to take down any hint of brewing insurgency.

Apparently, the spirit of commoners was already reaching its boiling point. Maynard could recognize that the woman had a friend amongst the victims of the bombardment. Anger was in the air and the presence of soldiers was only heating it. They were enemies, after all. Somebody to direct the hate at.

Maynard was still. He didn't want to draw any attention to himself and so he just observed the scene.

Within but a few moments, at least a dozen of discontented citizens gathered around the lamenting woman, sharing her upset attitude.

The mercenaries weren't slow to catch up to it, as was expected. Maynard believed that slaughter was inevitable. These people, they were very brave. Or extremely crazy. Or just fed up with it. He couldn't tell, but he was sure that he wouldn't be the one gather in open space, especially while armed men were drawing near, preparing to disperse them.

It was about to happen. He could see the trigger-happy soldiers raising their arms, preparing to shoot. An inevitable bloodshed.

He asked himself why. Why did he always find himself in the middle of a conflict? The answer didn't wait for long. Violence was common in the country and people experienced it more often than not.

He rose up and leaned against the wall, partially to tuck in and hide a little bit more and partially to have a better viewpoint.

Shooting came. But the soldiers' rifles were lowered. Those at gunpoint weren't the enraged civilians but the mercenaries. Chaos ensued.

It was the exact moment when Maynard figured. It was a trap staged by rebels!

He couldn't expose himself as he could hear continuous gunfire from both left and right. The gathered citizens had long since dispersed and merely three old men were standing there obliviously to the fuss happening around them.

Suddenly, the tip of an assault rifle poked out from a corner. Maynard's pulse rose up almost instantly. There was a mercenary standing in front of him.

"Man ant!" the weathered man yelled interrogatively, prompting Maynard to put his hands in the air in a sign of surrender.

"Man ant!" the soldier repeated, pointing his gun at Maynard's head.

"I'm not with the rebels!" he shouted so as to make his voice be heard amongst the din of gunfight.

"Men aina atait? Man ant?" the angry soldier continued to shower Maynard with questions. Unfortunately, he could only understand the latter, not to mention he didn't know the right words to answer with in Arabic.

Meanwhile, the rubble of fighting was slowly moving southwards. He concluded that most forces were diverted to that area and the rest would be very likely safe to traverse. If only he could figure out how to escape the mess he had got into.

"I'm not one of them! I'm not a rebel!" he desperately tried to convince the mercenary.

The situation was getting heated. Another soldier emerged from behind a corner and began shouting something at his comrade.

Maynard figured out they were talking about orders and the necessity to interrogate outsiders instead of executing them. It was apparent that he was one just by looking at his skin, which was pale in comparison to the locals.

At first, the closer one replied silently while still focusing on Maynard. However, the pestering soldier wouldn't let go and showered his comrade with questions, prompting him to shift his attention and engage in a quarrel with him.

Now was the moment. Maynard leapt towards the man, hitting him hard in the head and wringing the weapon from his hands, immediately turning it against him.

Both mercenaries were standing frozen, paralyzed by the sudden twist of events. Then, the formerly pestering one realized it was his fault and began screaming something in Arabic and waving his hands crazily.

"Don't move!" Maynard replied to the unintelligible stream of shouts, which shut the mouth of the mercenary.

"Sit there!" he ordered both men and pointed his left hand at the corner where he had sat. However, the soldiers didn't understand him and only gazed at him. They thought they would be executed the next moment.

The shooting was moving further to the south. Maynard knew there wasn't much time left as unexpected events could have occurred anytime.

"Come on!" he yelled angrily as he shook with his hand – a gesture both men understood. They moved into the corner although with slowness, which irritated Maynard. He knew they didn't want to die and therefore didn't do anything too fast to provoke him, but he had no time to spare. Thankfully, it didn't take them that long and in a moment, he was walking away from them while still eyeing them to ensure they weren't after him.

A sigh of relief finally came, he thought as he disappeared behind a nearby house. There were mostly empty plains opening before him. Surprisingly, there were occasional fields of budding green and even trees scattered all over the area. Farmlands. Much different than the usual stereotype of Africa being but a vast desert.

He was heading to the west, towards the borders. He was heading out of the hell hole. Supposedly, the area he was about to traverse was calm as there were no ongoing fights. No rebellion, no oppression, no need to worry about government or European troops. Not even a no-fly zone enforced by the UN, which had its boundaries above Oea.

Still, there were quite a few rebel-held towns in the southwest, but that wasn't Maynard's concern as he was going mostly to the west, keeping out of trouble.

Chapter Three

As a result of the uprising earlier that day, government forces had responded with artillery. The resistance that had mustered in the city slums had been forcefully suppressed. At least two hours had passed since then but Maynard could still see a smoke rising on the eastern horizon.

It reminded him that he wanted to get as far away from that place as possible. There was an airport to the southwest which had been stormed by air raids, but presence of military personnel was still undeniable. They were holding onto the place very fiercely. From time to time, Maynard could even notice army jeeps along the distant road to his left.

He knew those were loyalist troops heading towards rebelled cities and he wondered. Who would win this war? With neither side being the good one, it seemed bleak as there was no white in the spectrum of grey to black.

The loyalist forces? Restoring absolutism and oppression in the land and dealing a severe blow to the agenda of nations lying in the north and overseas? With the victory of the loyalist, anything could happen. Unpredictable events. Cease of oil exports.

The rebels? Reports were indicating they were slowly being infiltrated by militant terrorist cells and even without them, figures enticed by the possible power vacuum already began vying for power. Their victory would assure chaos.

He decided to abandon his thoughts as his head was beginning to fill with hopelessness. No matter who would win, the people would lose.

Soon enough, there was no green. Only desert. Vast and empty desert. He could see some buildings in the distance in front of him, but that was it.

He kept wandering around the sandy countryside, thinking he would die out of exhaustion, thirst or the combination of both. He wasn't that far off. He believed that visiting any of the villages was a certain death as they were sprawling with government troops. Although some locals would certainly aid him, there was also a fair share of those who would give him away to the regime. Not all were actually against it. In fact, most people were either scared, didn't care or were actually content.

Either way, Maynard had about half a hundred kilometres separating him from the borders in front of him. It was a journey that would take him ages. He cursed at himself that he didn't get a car, but he didn't want to risk being caught stealing one. He could have killed those two mercenaries back then and gain some time, but he was no murderer. Hidden eyes were watching him. Giving himself the label of a killer wouldn't do him any good.

He was starting to get drowsy. The desert seemed endless and he had walked only an insignificant portion if his journey. For a while, he thought of diverting from his original path and heading to a nearest town. Then, he reprimanded himself for such blasphemous imagination and convinced himself to carry on for a little longer only to arrive at the same dilemma in but fifteen minutes.

The battle within his head seemed to have gained in ferocity. He was slowly realizing it was a fight he couldn't win. Although he narrowly escaped death, he only got himself into trouble far worse.

A sound of chopper closing in resounded in his mind. He must have been hallucinating. There was no way a helicopter could be flying around these parts. He shuddered but the sound didn't go away. He even pinched himself in the arm so as to wake up from his illusions. However, the din was getting stronger.

Soon enough, Maynard could see a black dot on the horizon turning into a real chopper. He couldn't believe his eyes.

He found it impossible, yet it was happening. A helicopter was charging straight towards him.

There was no way to run, nowhere to hide and he was exhausted. On the verge of breaking. Whoever piloted the aircraft, Maynard was at their mercy.

He must have been watched. From the very beginning. Eliminate him in the middle of the Capital? Nonsense. Kill him in the middle of rebel rubble that would be scoured by humanitarian organizations days after? Against logic. Dispose of him in the middle of a barren desert? Nobody would ever discover his body. Nobody would ever search for him. He was as good as dead and none would even bother.

He raised his arms in a sign of surrender and hoped for salvation although he was more than fairly convinced that a salvo would follow. He even closed his eyes and braced for the inevitable.

However, his belief was wrong. The chopper stopped right above him. He couldn't see it though. He only heard the echoes of rotors resounding in his head and imagined a machinegun making a sieve out of his body.

"What are you waiting for?" a voice suddenly yelled.

Confused, he opened his eyes. A helicopter was hovering above him with a rope hanging out of it. It was an open invitation.

Maynard felt a rush of life coursing through his veins. He wasn't going to die that hour. He began climbing in as he recognized the voice. It belonged to one of the informants. The betrayers. But were they really betrayers? Why did they bother picking him up in the middle of a wasteland? It was irrational not to kill him or prevent him from dying of exhaustion if they wanted him to perish, making him believe his death was not their goal.

He didn't understand their motives, whatever they were, but he had a lot of questions to ask nevertheless.

Just as he crawled inside and sat on the cold metallic ground, he saw the informant observing him calmly, standing next to him while a pilot unknown to Maynard headed out to the east.

"Why are we going back into the warzone?" Maynard yelled. It was the only way to let the informant hear him amongst din of the loud chopper engine.

"The skies are clear," the informant responded as he tugged the rope back in. "At least in the no-fly zone. The same can't be said about the west where you were heading."

"Why did you bother rescuing me after you betrayed me?" Maynard let out his anger as he stood on the ground and the informant closed the door behind him.

"I didn't betray you. And you were lucky we found you before the others did."

"Stop that nonsense. You know well you slipped. But you can't get rid of me that easily. Where is your friend? I'd love to see his face when he realizes I'm still alive."

"My friend... is dead."

"Dead?" Maynard couldn't believe his ears.

"Botched dealing. Rebels were supposed to march further west but the advance was halted by an ambush of the loyalists. Ambush that Jake didn't survive."

"I thought you were fully in control..."

"You should remember that what we are doing is not really legal. We are in it by ourselves."

"Yeah, whatever..."

"I understand you're upset and maybe fed up with this little game everyone is playing, but I assure you we weren't trying to kill you. Situation changes, you see. We didn't expect the loyalists to ambush the rebel front right in the middle of a deal. How could we foresee that the embassy would be locked by the time of your arrival? We only have limitless resources, considering that we have to lay low in order to avoid authorities."

"You know what? I don't give a damn about your limitless resources bullshit! I've escaped death twice! Twice and only by chance during the little time since I last saw you. I thought I could rely on you after I had saved your life and pulled your sorry ass out of a death sentence!"

"Seems we're even."

"We're what? No, no, no, wait. We're not going to be even..."

"Jesus Christ, listen to yourself! It's a war down there! What do you want from me? If I was a bastard, I could have left you to die!"

"I didn't ask for your help. I would have made it myself."

"Made what? Huh? What? Exactly what would you have made?"

"Uh... isn't that obvious? Escaped to safety?"

"To safety? Ha. Don't make me laugh. Are you that naive? The tyrant has his forces everywhere. Especially at the borders. They are monitoring every vehicle and every man entering or leaving the country with an order to look out for foreigners. Especially the one with short brown hair, blue eyes and a pale, beard-covered skin."

Maynard realized what the informant was hinting at.

"I know I'm being hounded just about everywhere I turn, but why do they want me so bad?"

"I've been digging for that information and it seems that after you angered the Pentagon, they are doing all they can to get rid of you. They even erased you from all the national records. Back in the States, you don't exist anymore."

"That's great."

"Yes, I know. A fine mess."

"I suppose that since you picked me up, you've got a plan."

"Well I don't."

"You don't," Maynard laughed ironically. "Well I'm finished. I've got nowhere to go. You might as well hand me to those zealots. Now I don't know who would have got a worse treatment in store for me."

"You could lay low somewhere until the wind blows off. I can't get you out of the country but..."

"Can't? Well that's great!"

"Don't interrupt me. Besides, I really can't. If it wouldn't be the loyalists shooting us down then the Alliance would almost certainly track us due to our suspiciously odd course. The only way to ensure your safety is to drop you back in the Capital."

"In the Capital? Are you crazy? They're going to shoot us down if we close in! The loyalist military will tear us apart!"

"They're the least concern."

"Least concern? Just who do you think holds the Capital? And who has artillery in its arsenal?"

"Heck, and where should I take you then? The rebels are so inconsistent that they could start fighting it out among themselves and you never know when they get crushed. Anywhere where it's not held by loyalists is an unsafe place.

Forget about their army. The Alliance is the real player in here. It has its troops everywhere and if they wanted, they would have overrun the entire country within a day. They just can't.

You don't believe me? Yes, I knew what the news tell everyone but don't trust that bullshit. It is in the best interest of the west to ensure the Only Leader's downfall and they will resort to anything to see their goal through. UN troops are everywhere. Heck, they even have snipers in the mountains!"

"I've been to the Capital. It's not safe either. The spirit of unrest is undeniable and the situation is pretty unpredictable."

"That's a few unruly underclass idealists. Seriously. How many rebels do you think are there? In the entire country? Just a fraction. There are actually more supporters of the Only Leader than there are rebels. And then there is the equally as numerous group of people living their everyday life."

"Fine. But what should I do if something goes wrong again? And where can I find you should trouble follow?"

"I'll be around. There's a lot of static in the background – our hardware – and there might be even more agents on this one than there are soldiers. They've got the entire area covered and can monitor a significant portion of your movement.

Of course you have to show somewhere visible for them to spot you, otherwise you should remain unseen, but their power is quite limitless. They even know where the Only Leader is hiding."

"Jesus. Why don't they assassinate him then?"

"Despite the obviousness, they can't. There are so many eyes and everyone's checking everyone. Nobody would dare to make such a bold move. Nobody wants to risk other nations, or even inside naysayers to dig dirt on you. With his assassination, there would certainly be one.

You know how it goes in these realms. Such news could instigate a cascade of unpleasant effects. Terrorist attacks, burning of oil rigs. New the eleventh of September. Not the kind of things anybody would really want. No.

Instead, there are pawns to do the job. The rebels. It's actually a neat plan everybody has agreed on. Install a friendly government that would supply us with oil. It's simple yet elegant, isn't it? There would be no success for the uprising if our side wasn't supplying the rebels with weapons.

The kind of job that I do. On my own and behind my homeland's back, cutting the profit of my country. But I don't think myself evil, for we all have to make a living. And it's either somebody from the west or from the militant east, including Middle East and Africa. Not very surprising.

By this, I am doing my country a service even though they would disagree. Even though, things aren't going according to those greedy pigs' plans.

These insurgents, they're blinded by their ideals that had led them so far, but this blindness is also their greatest weakness. They've been infiltrated by at least three zealous factions, two of which are regarded as terrorist.

It's actually a wild bet whether their victory wouldn't mean an instalment of religious dictatorship in the country. Anyway, we're at the airport, prepare for landing. The time has flew by us so fast, hasn't it?"

"I still can't believe that we could get here so easily."

"Believe it or not, we're here. The ways of our diplomacy are incontestable, but it was actually a simple trick that allowed us to stay. A small amount of cash here and another there... you know what I mean. Money can break even the most determined although I have to admit that the people we bribed weren't really that loyal."

"I see, but where should I go now?"

"I don't know, you're the survivalist. You will find a place. I could only do this much. Oh and, you should leave your gun with us. Armed civilians don't get treated that good around here."

"Great. Well, thanks anyway."

Chapter Four

It was unbelievable. He was standing right in the middle of a small airstrip that was swarming with loyalist soldiers and mercenaries armed to teeth, yet nobody seemed to care about Maynard. Some men gave him a look on a scarce occasion but that was it. He couldn't believe it after all the chasing he had experienced.

However, he knew that his welcome wouldn't last for long. Lingering wasn't an option. He had to leave the place and find some hiding spot. Most likely a desolate, abandoned building.

He imagined that if all would go well, he could survive the entire civil war. After the settling of the dust, he would have disappeared. Just like he always did. But where? To Russia? Japan? South Africa? Definitely somewhere quiet. Someplace without those who would remember his deeds.

He exited the airfield and emerged on the outskirts of Oea with the sound of a helicopter disappearing in the distance ahead of him. He took in a deep breath so as to gather the will and strength to continue in his ordeal.

He had a bad feeling about the place. He had a bad feeling about everything. He felt that bad things would happen. That he wouldn't find peace in that wretched country. Unfortunately, he was right.

He saw a flash of blinding light up in the sky followed by a thundering explosion. Next, the helicopter was going down in smoke.

He couldn't believe his eyes. Was it some sort of a trick? A way of disappearing? Or was it real and had his only help just died?

The answer was simple, but he didn't get enough time to say it in his mind, for there were enemies surrounding him already.

"We meet again," a treacherously baleful voice echoed throughout the street, prompting Maynard to turn around and notice at least five people aiming at him from all sides. It was an ambush.

"I knew I would run into you sooner or later, Chester!" Maynard replied, seeing his archenemy face to face. He was a vile man through and through in his late fifties, always dressed in a neatly pressed suit no matter what the weather was.

"I am glad that you realize you were no match for me. No enemy can stand against our technology. Not Olbia, not the Only Leader and not even you."

"I am sorry to inform you that the war has reached a stalemate," Maynard replied in a sour tone, trying to embitter his rival.

"Oh really?" Chester laughed, not much to the expectations of Maynard. "And what do you think it means to us? To me specifically? Europe can go to hell for all I care. For all we care. They want to see the war end as soon as possible but that isn't what we want."

"What do you want then?" Maynard asked, noticing one of his soldier lackeys approach him.

"Sir," he said so as to gain Chester's attention, but he dismissed him with a raised palm, signalling him to be silent.

"We are pumping millions into this operation and are being criticised for it on every TV show possible, but what remains unseen is the other side. Powers that are trying to keep us in check while we do the same to them. Russia, for example. Do you know how much they spend just by sending aid to the loyalist forces? And to think that they believe are unaware of it. What a joke. It's an established strategy. It helped us win the Cold War, after all."

"Sir, we've received a report that a military convoy is en route to the airport," the soldier wouldn't give up. "We should disappear before it is too late."

"Okay," Chester replied to his lackey and then turned back to Maynard. "You heard the man. We don't have much time. When they arrive, they will find your corpse and tick one westerner dog off. Or not? You know, I am feeling extra generous today."

"What do you mean?" Maynard didn't understand the cryptic talk of his enemy playing with him.

"Do you like playing cat and mouse? There is nobody to save your sorry arse this time. Only your own abilities. So, what do you say? I would give you a nice advantage."

"Why don't you shoot me?" Maynard replied with a question. He couldn't understand the playful behaviour of his rival.

"And why don't you do what I offer you?" Chester responded in an annoyed tone this time.

"Just tell me why you are doing this."

"Because it's boring in here. The phony war going out there is just child's play. Besides, I want to make you suffer as much as possible for the mess you have caused back at home. Our best agents are still working hard at cleaning it and even despite that, we still don't know whether we are aware of all information leaks."

"I hope you rot."

"Yeah, I wish you nonetheless, but we've run out of time for our chitchat. Run, rabbit, run!"

"I'm not," Maynard tried to object, but Chester wouldn't take any talking back. He raised his hand and one of his soldiers shot into the ground a few inches next to Maynard, prompting him to run away.

"Sir, shouldn't we kill him?" the soldier next to Chester asked.

"No, let him escape. He's not going to run very far anyway."

Chapter Five

Maynard's pulse was rising uncontrollably high. He felt that his heart was about to jump. He was still out there in the open and weapons were aiming at his back. He didn't know whether they would shoot or not. Whether they would kill him.

However, dying was the last thing Maynard wanted. He was aware that he was standing against forces he would never defeat, but he at least wished to take down one or two of those corrupted men. He felt he was bound by some otherworldly duty.

In a desperate bid to survive, he ran along the desolate street and finally disappeared behind the nearest corner. It was indeed a mess he had got into. He knew they were after him. That they were hounding him and he couldn't tell when they would finally decide it was time to stop. To end the drama.

He didn't stop running. There wasn't any other option. Just evade the impending death. Just to escape.

He was heading towards the city blazingly fast that he didn't even look back. He feared that any second he would waste on anything else could mean the difference between life and death.

He couldn't tell where they were. Were they still after him? Had they been after him at all? The anxiety that was eating him away from inside was tempting him to turn his head, even if for an inconsiderable moment.

How much time would a single look take? Chester was a baleful man. He wanted to torture Maynard. To make his death the most painful. He had a reason, which only few people knew. A reason that everyone terribly wanted to keep secret.

No matter what the hidden truth was, it didn't change anything on the fact that Chester wanted him to suffer.

If he turned his head, the vile agent could take it for him having enough. A sign that he was having difficulties. A sign that would please the neatly dressed man. An awaited moment that would most likely mean being shot, but not yet killed. A next stage of torture would ensue and that wasn't the kind of follow-up that Maynard needed.

Tall, clean buildings were already drawing closer. However, there was no life whatsoever. There was only silence. Suspense.

Maynard could hear his own footsteps, his breath and even his heartbeat. Apart from that, he couldn't recognize any other sound. He was trying to figure out whether they were still behind him by listening to the sound surrounding him, but he was failing and stopping was not a considerable option. Were they still after him?

He realized that sooner or later, he had to pause. He wouldn't last forever. What was a regular operative's stamina compared to a pack of highly trained soldiers?

Even if he managed to shake them, there was no telling whether there were others following him. Hidden in manholes and windows. Behind desks and telescopes, perhaps sitting in the cosy confinements of an office. Was there a place he could hide in from the relentless all-seeing-eye of his enemies?

He knew their power, for he had once been one of them. He had used their instruments and tools so many times before. Amazing cutting-edge technologies that could spot a needle in a haystack.

Most of the world's criminals never stood a chance against it. Powerful kingpins hiding behind thick layers of concrete underground. People living under a low-profile that travel a lot. All behind bars now. How could he stand a chance when he hadn't got anything on his side?

He was still running, but the knowledge of the hopelessness of his desperate bid was wearing him down even faster than the exhaustion.

He could see a silhouette of a mercenary drawing up in the distance. Yet he was still alive. He had nowhere to turn and thus no way of avoiding him. If the loyalist troop spotted a man on the run, he could think him dangerous and shoot him. Or the soldier could be bribed. Were Chester's men behind him? Surely they wouldn't be that stupid to run after him into loyalists' posts. Unless the trooper was paid.

It was only a single glance back. But it could mean a difference. Death by being shot by a loyalist? A swift dispatch? Or by being tortured by his former colleague? For longer than enough?

What were the chances of the loyalist being bribed? They couldn't have bought everyone. It was a brief flash in his mind that made him look behind and realize they weren't there.

It was a sigh of relief for him, but he was aware that he couldn't ease off just yet. The fact that they weren't behind him reinforced that he was being watched from afar. Even though if he found a safe spot to hide, they would know where he entered it from.

However, he was merely a man. He had to eat and rest. He couldn't be on the run continuously for the rest of his life.

Despite loathing the idea at first, he realized that he had to find an abandoned house to hide in.

He was walking and recovering his breath while approaching the soldier. He couldn't have turned away ever since spotting him, for it could have sealed his fate. Instead, he had to walk past him and hope that he wouldn't get killed or arrested.

There were countless scenarios as to how things could evolve yet only one way to deal with it. Through the cleansing fire. Walking past the troop was the most unsure path he could chose yet the single one that meant death the least.

He could see him already. Eye to eye. He was passing him by. With the most firm and resolved look he could make. The soldier watched him with a face Maynard couldn't see behind. Were the thoughts inside quarrelling when to shoot?

He passed him by. He could no longer see his face. He could only imagine its puzzling look. He couldn't turn around now. He couldn't know whether he was being aimed at. He couldn't know if he was about to be shot.

Crash. It was a loud, barking sound deafening everything else. Yet, there was no blood. Maynard thought he was dead. However, his hands were clean and his chest wasn't pierced. In the heat of the moment, he heeded his instincts that told him to find out what was going on. He stopped and turned around.

The soldier was pointing his gun at him, but judging by the looks on his face Maynard ruled out that he was the culprit. He was just as puzzled as Maynard. Still, that didn't mean he thought the same about the westerner.

"Put that gun down, please," Maynard said quietly as he slowly raised his hands. It was a wild bet with those African people. Unlike in Europe, they didn't know English that well if at all. Maynard could only pray that he wouldn't somehow translate it into a sentence prompting him to shoot.

However, things were going from bad to worse. The soldier was very nervous and couldn't control his shaking hands. It was as if he expected the westerner to attack.

"I'm not armed." Maynard still believed in calmness being the solution.

The mercenary's finger was slowly curling around the trigger. It was apparent that he had never seen war before. That he had never spilled blood. That he had never slain a man. For him, it was new. It was enshrouded in fear.

"I won't harm you. I can't harm you. You see? My hands are in the air. I can't do anything to you."

"How can I trust you?" the man spoke English all of a sudden.

"You can speak English?"

"Yes, but..." the man said almost crying before he gathered enough will to try sounding imposingly. "I'm the one who asks questions!"

"Okay, don't shoot. I mean no harm. I'm just a civilian. You wouldn't kill a civilian, would you?

"I wouldn't."

"Good. Now put down that weapon. I mean no harm, remember? I will just leave you and disappear. No trouble. You will be okay, I will be okay. Everything will be fine. What do you say? Will you put that weapon down?"

For a moment, it looked as if the man was about to shoot. However, he lowered his weapon in another, much to the relief of Maynard.

"Thanks a lot, you're a good man," the westerner said and wanted to get out but then he realized that the craven mercenary could prove to be a valuable insider for the time being. "Do you think you could..."

The trooper was very anxious and interposed. "Just go. Go away. I don't want any trouble."

"Okay," Maynard replied so as to show that he was indeed leaving, but this time it was the mercenary who stopped him, surprisingly.

"Wait. Listen. I was told to scare you a little and wound you in the leg. But I can't. I simply can't."

"What? Who told you to..."

"Stay silent. There's no time. Two blocks away, there is a desolate house. Don't go there. Don't even look at it. They're waiting for you there. Just go now. Go before somebody sees us or... wait. I think you could use..." The mercenary was becoming inconsistent in his thoughts.

"Use what?"

"The nearby mosque. You can see it to the north of here. A little bit to the left from where this street is going. Hide there. They won't go after you. I think. They shouldn't. Lots of people will be praying there."

"What about other loyalist mercenaries?"

"I don't now. They shouldn't be after you. But I don't know for sure. Now go!"

Chapter Six

Maynard had already left the scared soldier to himself and lost him somewhere behind, though he couldn't resist to look back just for making sure it wasn't a trap or that he didn't reconsider. Thankfully, neither did happen.

He was nearing the mosque – a beautifully styled compound building made of domes and towers with outlined arches and pillars with every line and curve sculptured to the littlest detail. However, Maynard had no time to admire the architecture. He had to figure out what to do in order to survive.

It was almost unbelievable that he had the incredible amount of luck to survive, but it also reminded him that the arts of negotiation and bribing people weren't flawless. In addition, neither were morals.

However, he couldn't be sure whether it wasn't a trap. A trick to make a gullible fool think that he avoided a ruse yet was about to fall into a real one. Either way, he had no choice of finding out and the facts were playing for the credibility of what the scared mercenary had said.

Time was running short. There was a small parking lot with seven cars behind a fence to the left of the building, mostly in sad shape. Some people were leaving the place of faith and were going towards Maynard. They were silent and didn't seem to mind the westerner passing them by. He carefully observed them whether they weren't enemies in disguise, but they didn't seem to bother looking at him at all.

He was just entering the mosque when frostbite coursed all the way up his spine. His instincts were telling him that something was wrong. A large, lavishly decorated hall revealed itself to him along with at least twenty visitors silently going either further in or on their leave.

He took a turn to a side passage as soon as an opportunity presented itself. By doing so, he emerged in a small empty room leading into another narrow passage. Without hesitation, he entered while his mind was desperately trying to solve the dilemma and his eyes were scanning his surroundings to find anything of use.

However, he couldn't figure out anything at all no matter how hard he tried. Fully aware of his failure and the fact that time was running low, he was becoming nervous and began to sweat.

He realized that yet he couldn't force himself to calm down. His life was at stake after all. For the first time being, he really felt afraid. A state of mind that his enemies wanted. Just not to show it to them.

To think that he was in the heart of hostile territory yet the opponents standing against him were not the holders of the region. It was as if all the wars in the world were staged and played like chess by those few in power. Those, whose decision Maynard had contested. Those, who were now hunting him.

He managed to cool down a little as he constantly told himself he couldn't show his emotions to anybody.

Just as he entered a medium-sized room with palm trees decorating its corners, he heard a disturbing noise nearby. The fear he had been trying to keep at bay had broken free and ran rampant in his head.

He looked the way it came and noticed a crowd of three women and two men standing in a nearby hallway gazing at a broken vase.

While he stood there gazing at the pieces of ceramics scattered on the marble-paved ground, restless instincts began boiling in his head. The urge to be constantly on the run from his pursuers simply couldn't stay silent.

He went by the crowd and disappeared behind a corner, leading him to believe the mosque was an endless labyrinth.

It was as if his thoughts somehow reached the ears of those searching for him. Just as he was about to take a turn, he heard somebody yelling sharply, violating the holy silence within those sanctified halls. He couldn't tell a sentence from what he was hearing, let alone figure out a word.

His heartbeat was pulsing uncontrollably. Slowly, he crept up forward until he could see a glimpse of two dark skinned mercenaries with their assault rifles ready. They were questioning a random passerby, who was responding rather confusedly. It was apparent from the tone of his voice that he was shocked. Whether it was because of the soldiers or something they were telling him, Maynard didn't care and chose to go back.

Were they one of Chester's pawns or loyalist troops that were hunting for intruders? Either way, he didn't want to figure out the hard way and rather decided to retreat the way he came.

The crowd that had gathered around a shattered vase was still there and even more numerous than before. Maynard thought of evading them or covering his face, but that proved unnecessary as they didn't seem to notice there was anything else besides fragments of decorative porcelain lying scattered around. However, the inhuman screaming that ensued in but a minute assured him that those soldiers were sweeping the area and were heading his way.

It didn't take him long to realize that no organized force was enough stupid to leave main entrances uncovered. He found out he was right soon afterwards as he emerged back in the large hall and saw four men with firearms and angry countenances telling that they didn't arrive to fool around.

Silently, he sneaked into another narrow passage just few metres away and came upon a set of stairs.

Gunshot followed. He stopped for a while but continued to walk further until he descended into a small room that led him to a crossroad. Instinctively, he chose the path that was leading to a visible flight of ascending spiralling stairs. He realized that he was entering one of the towers.

Light that was coming inside was of natural origin, prompting him to realize salvation was at hand. He came upon a window in a moment and looked out to see that it was three metres above the roof of a dome connected to it. From there, it was an easy way to the parking lot with six cars still standing there.

He could hear voices that informed him somebody was drawing near. He swiftly crawled out and jumped onto the nearby roof. Then, he climbed down and, while standing covered by bushes and trees, eyed the vehicles in front of him.

All of those automobiles were empty and were so desolate-looking that some of them could actually be easily broken into and made to drive if he was lucky. However, he had to be fast because even though he didn't see any soldiers around, it didn't mean they weren't lurking nearby. Most likely, they were patrolling the entire place and would come out sooner or later.

Maynard was about to emerge from his hideout when he noticed that a mercenary left the mosque for a breath of fresh air. Thankfully, he went back inside within a minute which Maynard used to consider all the risks and plan his move a little bit more.

Just as he ensured nobody was looking outside, he came out of hiding and slowly walked towards the car. He believed there was no need to rush as nobody was able to tell who he was from the distance and thus there was no need to be hasty. It would only have drawn attention to him, after all.

He approached a modest car that had apparently seen an accident or two. He mimicked opening the doors with a key while trying to gain entry with a picklock but then he realized it was harder than he had expected. In a moment, he figured out it was beyond his abilities.

Worse still, he caught a glimpse of a soldier standing outside. He silently prayed that he wouldn't see him and if so, then at least not bother with him. Either way, he had to pretend it was his car and didn't have a chance to try another one, at least not while he might have been watched.

He pretended to be taking something out of his pocked and searching for keys while furtively observing the soldier. He noticed there was another one standing in the front entrance to the mosque, right next to the one he had been spying on. Apparently, they were talking about something. It actually seemed that he was pointing at Maynard!

Quickly, he punched the pick inside the lock and began wiggling with it so as to open the vehicle. To no avail.

Time was running short. They were most likely going to get him. When he looked to check whether he was still being watched, they were no longer there. He didn't wait any longer. He picked up a nearby stone and broke the window. He knew it would draw attention to him but he had no other option.

Quickly, he crawled inside and proceeded to hotwire the car. Thankfully, it obeyed and he heard a sound of starting engine soon enough. However, it wasn't the only thing he could hear.

Angry voices were literally barking all over the place, followed by gunshot. Maynard leaned towards the underside of the dashboard as much as he could without losing view on the outside as he drove out.

A bullet pierced his windshield and barely missed the passenger's seat, making him instinctively swerve. He hit the gas and emerged onto the road, torturing the car to reach speeds that it wasn't designed for. It showed resistance by shaking and making grinding noises, but it was all it could do. Not being shot was worth the risk for Maynard.

The voices fell silent within a while as he disappeared behind a nearest corner, slowing down and heading out of the city as fast as possible to the west, regardless of his now deceased informant's claims. He had to get out of Olbia!

Chapter Seven

The car broke down. In the middle of a desert. Maynard cursed and yelled as he tried to figure out what was the problem but seeing as he was being pushed by time, he decided to give up. He would cross the borders on foot sooner than by repairing the vehicle.

However, he was very tired. He had had difficulties with staying awake while driving. How much time would it take before he would fall asleep? He had been awake for nearly three days continuously without sleep. It was a wonder he could still walk, let alone think clearly.

He had been driving in the desert, which might have added to the breaking of the automobile, but he didn't want to risk meeting with loyalist tanks, being bombarded by fighter jets or both.

The borders were still far away and he was beginning to realize that he wouldn't make it on foot without having a proper rest. He was also feeling very thirsty. He needed to find civilization.

To the south where mountains were, he recalled there were villages and cities held by rebels. Or at least that was the latest information to him. It was an enigma whether those towns weren't recaptured by pro-governmental forces.

He had to risk going there anyway. It was either dropping dead of exhaustion or being killed violently, but with a chance of survival. Besides, Chester's people were most likely on his tail already and he needed to hide somewhere. Although his informant warned him against venturing into rebel-held places, he really had no other choice.

Chapter Eight

He arrived into an arid town ravaged by artillery shelling. Apart from a dozen of bodies scattered around, the town seemed abandoned.

Nevertheless, Maynard entered and began searching for a nearest house not devastated by mortar fire. He stumbled over one, which was a small windowless hut on the outskirts of the city.

He looked inside and saw at least six children sleeping under a shared eiderdown on the ground. Possibly their mother was sitting beside them.

Maynard didn't want to wake anybody up but he needed to drink and rest. Alliance forces could have been literally anywhere and so could be the loyalists, but he didn't care that much anymore. He wouldn't stand a chance against them without a decent rest.

He knocked on the wall and the woman quickly raised her head to see who the originator of the sound was.

"Water," Maynard stuck to the minimalistic means of stating his needs.

The woman carefully watched him without moving a limb and he realized that she didn't understand him. He mimicked drinking liquid from his hands, hoping that she would recognize his gesture.

She stood up and disappeared in the depths of her house before emerging a minute later with bottled water in her hands.

"Thank you," Maynard said as he opened the bottle and took a few enjoyable gulps.

He didn't want to look ungrateful, but he needed to lay down his head for an hour or two. Therefore, he mimicked sleeping on his hands, but this time the woman was reluctant to comply. Instead, he said something in her native language and a man, probably her husband or relative, came to her.

When he noticed Maynard, he slowly approached him and asked with notable suspicion: "Who are you? What do you want here?"

At first, Maynard was amazed to see that somebody else spoke English but realized he had to take advantage of it. "I'm on your side, I'm with UN," he lied a bit about his allegiance. "I was sent on a humanitarian mission but loyalists ambushed us and killed half of our unit. I managed to get all the way here but I'm exhausted and need help."

Upon hearing it, the formerly surmising Olbian became friendly. "You want shelter? Well come in, friends are always welcome."

"Thank you so much."

Chapter Nine

He didn't know how long he had been asleep, but it appeared that he must have been off for at least a day as the sun was exactly in the same position as before he had went to sleep. He stood up and came to the same window he had used to negotiate with the woman, noticing the children were playing outside on the road while at least five rebels were standing there guarding.

It was such a strange look, children playing near armed warriors. However, a sound of airplanes roared above his head before he could contemplate on the matter any further.

Was the Alliance searching for him? Had they tracked him down again? Why he hadn't been followed while on the run from Oea?

The aircrafts were still out there, circling around the area. It was becoming to get suspicious. Why were they doing so? Surely they can't have been tracking Maynard for so long.

"What's going on?" Maynard wondered aloud while thinking he was alone.

However, he was wrong. The man that had invited him was standing there right behind him.

"Your friends are patrolling the area for Only Leader's forces."

Maynard didn't reply but rather focused on his inner thoughts, for he felt something was terribly off.

If they had wanted to, they wouldn't have used such a clumsy way but would have sent undercover people instead. This conclusion had led him to believe that those fighter jets didn't belong to the UN but to the loyalists!

"No, they're not one of ours, those are pro-government jets about to bombard us," Maynard said in a grave voice before jumping through the window and shouting like mad.

"Hide everyone! Hide! An attack is imminent!"

He didn't mind that possibly nobody understood, because the man was following him and rephrasing his words of warning in Arabic.

Soon, everyone was heading towards a nearby school while Maynard was explained that it had a bunker underneath where they could hide before air raids. They were running as fast as they could until they finally broke inside and descended into the shelter, nearly closing behind themselves when the first thundering struck moderately far away.

At the same time, a woman began shouting. He didn't know what she was saying but he recognized her almost immediately. It was the woman that had given him water. He noticed she was missing a child and figured out she was lamenting that it would get killed. Some people responded in Arabic and although he couldn't understand, he saw everyone was hesitant to go out and look for the small child.

Maynard knew he owed it to the family. Before they could seal the entrance, Maynard rushed out, hearing somebody shout after him. He didn't dare to turn back now. He had to find and save the child.

Chapter Ten

Explosions were gaining strength as the planes circled around like vultures intending to pick off the entire city and reduce it to nothing but a dead carcass.

He ran past some already destroyed houses desperately trying to listen for the sound of a child amidst the din of explosions.

A deafening thunder hit the ground three blocks away. It was so loud that Maynard could hear a whistling sound in his head.

The explosion scared him to the bone. It even made him believe they were after him and the next bomb would kill him. It made him think the child was already lost. Torn to tiny little bits.

However, hope was not yet lost as he suddenly heard cries nearby. He rushed towards the sound, adrenaline entering his bloodstream. He believed it was about fifty metres away, just behind two buildings when an overwhelming explosion hit that place and tore down the house further away. The shockwave was so strong that it almost knocked Maynard to the ground, but the nearby house absorbed the most of it.

He recovered but no matter how hard he tried listening, he couldn't hear any voice. Was his cause lost? Had the child just died? Had he been beaten?

For a moment, he imagined himself returning with a worn down face, passing by the people like a beaten dog. The vision would have continued if it weren't for something almost impossible. Perhaps it was some higher power at work. Perhaps it was fate. Or perhaps it just was. Either way, the crying could be heard again from a nearby interjected street.

Not wanting to lose the child this time, he sprinted towards it, turning around the corner and finally emerging in the street, noticing a small child trying to get into a house. A small girl was helplessly bashing against the door as she couldn't reach the door handle and the nearby windows.

Maynard rushed to her and took her in his arms, trying to soothe her. However, his words were drowned in the rattle of fiery blasts. The only thing he could do was run towards the school.

He dashed past the street, running towards the designated building and finally reached it. He thought he had won but in a final act of defiance of his victory, a bomb had struck the school.

Maynard couldn't tell the exact place of impact but it must have been on the other end as the walls on the far end of the corridor he was in collapsed and the cracks were spreading towards him, hinting that it was probable the entire hallway would crumble. He didn't wait and exited the corridor, sprinting as fast as he could even though he was starting to run out of breath. Within a moment, he arrived at the sealed door.

"Please open! I'm here with the child!" Maynard yelled as much as he could.

He proceeded to bash against the door until it finally opened. Another thunder shook with the walls, this time very closely, but Maynard was already inside the bunker along with the stray child and two men sealed the entrance behind them.

The child happily reunited with its mother and the girl had turned silent for the first time since meanwhile her mother began crying of joy.

Maynard didn't know whether it was luck or not, but he thanked the heavens that he had survived his insane stunt. Now he had to wait before the storm was over.

Chapter Eleven

Maynard spent the whole time thinking. The air raid had ended at least an hour ago but the rebels were wary as to what to do next. They all agreed that they had to carefully plan their next steps as countless of outcomes were possible. Perhaps the loyalists had reclaimed the surface. Or perhaps the jets were pushed out by UN planes enforcing the no-fly zone.

Unfortunately, the rebels were caught off guard by the attack and most of them were now defenceless, having left their firearms back on the surface.

However, Maynard knew that with every second that passed by, the danger he was in increased. He couldn't linger on any longer. He had to go out.

He approached the only man he knew that spoke English, preparing to discuss his departure.

"Thank you for your hospitality, but I have to take my leave now."

"So soon? I advise you should stay until we figure out our next move."

"The situation has changed," Maynard realized that he had to talk his way out with reason. "I have witnessed the air raids and if there is an attack about to happen or is just happening, somebody should tell the outside world, beginning with my superiors."

"I understand you valiant intentions, but you should reconsider. What if the loyalists are crawling outside?"

"You would have to find out sooner or later. I will return and tell you whether the coast is clear."

"As you wish, but remember. You can change your mind while there is still time."

"I really need to go. Is there a vehicle I could use to get to my people fast?"

"Of course. There should be some jeeps in a firemen's garage on the city square. You can't miss the building. Well, provided that it stands."

"Okay then, thanks for your help."

"Not at all. We are thankful for your great deed here. You can't imagine what saving my niece means to me."

The English speaking rebel instructed his two comrades to open the door and just as they did so and Maynard was about to leave, he stopped him again. "Do you want a weapon for your safety? I believe we can spare one."

"Nay, that's okay. I think I have more chance of survival without it."

"As you wish. Good luck."

Chapter Twelve

He left the underground and, thankfully, found the insides of the school still standing. He carefully navigated his way out to the city that was devastated even more than before – a feat he didn't think possible. There was a smell of sulphur in the air yet there wasn't any sign of anything burning. Neither could he notice anyone in the city. It seemed that it was completely empty.

He sat down and took in a deep breath. It was so refreshing after hours spent in a bunker full of stale air. It was almost impossible to believe he had lived through all this. He laughed out loud while realizing this.

Either UN forces noticed that loyalist forces had violated the no-fly zone or the loyalists simply finished their carnage. No matter what was the case, both didn't rule out the possibility of a ground attack.

What he would never expect, however, was the voice of his archenemy greeting him into the ashes of the town.

"There you are," he said while standing in a victorious pose behind Maynard. It was a mystery where he had emerged from along with two troopers.

"I could have suspected as much," Maynard replied although he was taken aback as he would never have expected him there, of all places.

"I'm glad that you realize. And I hope that you realize our game is over as well. You managed to slip out once but that won't happen again. I underestimated you. Or should I say overestimated the reliability of crooked mercenaries? Well, never mind. Either way, it's really over now."

"You should spare me the talks. Loyalist soldiers are on their way here."

"Loyalist soldiers?" Chester sounded amused. "Now where would they come from?"

"They had bombed the city few hours ago."

"Oh, that thing you mean," he spoke as if he had realized something but Maynard quickly realized he was at his old theatrical tricks again. "Well, I proposed a clever trick to the High Command and they agreed on my plan."

"You sick bastard!"

"What, you don't think it's clever? Ingenious? Doesn't matter. Your opinion no longer plays any role here. You see, the rebels were advancing again. Prognosis was that the war would come to an end within a week. An unacceptable course of events. We had to... even the odds a bit. And with you spotted here... we thought we could take care of two problems at once."

"You and your evil plans. And I thought you wouldn't come up with anything else after our incident! But this time, you won't get away with this! People will surely notice! They will tell the world of your treachery!"

"What people? Just tell me. Do you see any people here? Yes? Show me those people. That's right. They're all dead. Unlike you but your survival doesn't really surprise me. You're like a cockroach. I believe that I have to kill you at least twice in order to really ensure you're dead."

The way Chester had gloated infuriated Maynard. He was so angry that he would take no more. In his outburst of hate, he rose up and leapt at his foe. However, the bodyguards were swift to act and positioned themselves in front of Chester, pushing Maynard back and making him fall.

"Nice try," Chester laughed as he watched Maynard rise up.

"You worthless bastard!"

Chester only grinned as a response, although Maynard couldn't see it as he was hidden behind his soldiers. "Step aside," he ordered his soldiers and they obeyed, revealing that he was holding a pistol. "It ends here."

"What's going on?" a rebel suddenly emerged from the left along with a whole bunch of them, realizing something was amiss.

"I am with the United States military and this man is a traitor," Chester was quick to respond."

"He is the one who orchestrated the attack on this city! They've helped the loyalists! He is a greedy, corrupted man."

"Don't trust him even a word! It was him all along. Else why would he be here with you?"

The rebels were raising their weapons, preparing to shoot, but they were undecided as to who should be the target. A man who had helped them that seemed to be a traitor? Or a man they had never seen before but appeared more legitimate?

"Who could have guided the enemy planes towards your location?" Chester continued. "He gave you away. Think. Why would I be standing here with soldiers while he is there completely alone? That is because he betrayed us all!"

"How could I have done that? You see my clothes are torn and I have nothing to warn anyone with. It's just me here. Me alone. Against an evil man and his lackeys that is covertly operating behind his own government's back."

"He is talking rubbish. It was his intention from the very beginning. He is a renegade. An outcast. I can contact my superiors. Even the president. I can contact him and within a minute, he will confirm what I am saying. No matter what bribes or lies he told you earlier, he deceived you just like he had us."

"Our very government is corrupt. They have been hounding me for the entire time I've been here. Bribing loyalist forces to chase me as well."

"Can you really believe him? Don't you get how unlikely he sounds? Us trafficking with loyalist troops? We are fighting with them, mind you!"

"Please," Maynard ran out of words.

"Oh," Chester laughed in turn. "That's the cornered animal. Ran out of arguments when the truth has been revealed. He is the traitor. I believe it is crystal clear now."

Just as he finished talking, he gave a signal to his soldiers to raise arms and kill Maynard. However, the rebels frowned upon the idea.

"This is our territory," the English speaking rebel said. "We will carry out executions here."

"As you wish," Chester said calmly and instructed his soldiers to stand down. In that very moment of decision, Maynard looked into the devil's eyes and saw blinding arrogance and triumph. Maynard had lost.

He closed his eyes and a salvo followed...

He wasn't dead. He was amongst the living. Somewhat confused, he opened his eyes and saw three dead men lying in front of him.

Chapter Thirteen

"Thank you so much for believing me," Maynard showed gratitude as he was positioned on the driver's seat in a jeep given to him.

"We just repaid you the favour. No betrayer would have saved us and risked life just like you did."

"Thank you again," Maynard said. "Anyway, I'd best be on my way before I start bringing bad luck to you."

"Are you sure you don't want a weapon this time? That man surely wasn't the only one they sent here."

"I know. Still, I think I have a better chance of survival without one. That way, I will look more like an authentic civilian."

"But what if there will be troops at the borders?"

"Well, I have to live with that risk."

"Fine then, I wish you good luck. May you journey be safe."

"And may you win the war."

"We will see to it."

Maynard hit the ignition and was about to drive away, but the rebel's sister rushed to them and quickly spoke something in Arabic while Maynard stopped, noticing it was concerning him.

"One last thing, my friend. My sister asks what you did so wrong that they so desperately want to see you dead?"

"I freed a child they had tortured," Maynard replied and with those words, he took his leave. The rebels waved him in a sign of goodbye and didn't stop until he was nothing but a small dot on the horizon.

Meanwhile over the seas, the news were airing.

"...terrorist attack in the middle of Paris stunned the traffic earlier this day. The explosion claimed over a hundred of lives. While many sources that wish not to be cited at this time report that suicide bombers hired by Olbian government were responsible, government remains tight-lipped as of whether it is true or not. Meanwhile, people have already began organizing protests against our engagement in Olbia. Stay tuned for more information, we will cover the story in the evening.

In other news, a scandal had blown loose after child activists uncovered an unbelievably cruel story about a small child being tortured by a government agency. The activists claim that they even acquired footage of the torture and released in on the internet.

They further state that the government was planning to stage it as an interrogation done by Olbian soldiers in order to influence the public opinion. We asked a number of government officials and they were reluctant to give out any press statement..."

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