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Side-Chapter 2: Rise of Blood Money

Discussion in 'Stories' started by Maskerade, Nov 21, 2016.

  1. Maskerade

    Maskerade Member

    Blog Posts:
    Sep 16, 2012
    Likes Received:
    (Link to last Side-Chapter)

    Side-Chapter 2: Rise of Blood Money

    ~ ~ Admission ~ ~

    Heimlan Army’s East Division Headquarters. The building was as massive and awe-inspiring as he’d heard; imposing enough to make him question his resolve, however briefly. The gates themselves were two colossal stone doors with impeccable, life-size Regice gravures carved into each one – and reinforced with Aggron-plate steel beneath, as the flinching young man in front of them had learned in a book some time before. It was said that the only door in all of Heiml bigger than this one was the Altheim Gate, at the very top of Harald Falls – the entry way to Heiml’s Victory Road.

    Maybe I should… No. Hell no! I’m ready for this. Buildings like this stand on stone and tales.

    Nathan E. Hawke, eighteen-year-old man from Nibel Town, southwest Heiml, stood in front of the main gate of the Division’s HQ. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed youngster had prepared his entire life for this moment, but now that the time had come, he found himself hesitating for some reason. His breathing was much faster than usual, his heart was racing and his hands were trembling… After all those years of physical and mental preparation, why was he panicking like this all of a sudden?!

    “Door ain’t gettin’ any closer, y’know. Last I checked, ya still had to go through it, not the other way around.”

    The voice behind him was incredibly deep and low-pitched, like a bear’s growl. As Nathan turned, he was shocked to find the sound matched the beast that uttered it – the absolute largest human he’d ever seen towered above him, a veritable titan whose features seemed to belong to a relatively young man, just a bit older than himself. He wore a pale yellow camo-pattern uniform, no medals to speak of, and the plain black gloves Nathan was told every Heiml soldier owned. The man had very short brown hair, and little more than stubble on his cheeks rather than a full beard, which Nathan guessed was what the giant was aiming for down the line.

    “Lookin’ to enlist right?” His voice was booming, but strangely gentle, matching the man’s smile. “So was I two years ago. Stood there just like you for a good half hour before I grew a pair and walked in… trust me, it ain’t half as bad as you think if you’re half as good as you think.”

    The colossus paused for a minute, going over what he’d just said. When he decided he hadn’t messed up that line, he grinned proudly.

    “Uh… thanks, I guess. I mean, sir. Thank you sir” stammered Nathan, unsure of whether to feel awe or pity towards the giant whose intellect didn’t really seem to match his size.

    “Come on, none a’that. I’m the bottom of the barrel around these parts, no “sir” comin’ my way any time soon! Name’s Hanson Reed. The guys call me “Werebear” for some reason…”

    “Oh. Well in that case, thanks Reed. My name’s Nathan Hawke. Still looking for my pair, it seems…”

    “It’s down there somewhere, you’ll find it soon enough. See ya at lunch, Hawke.”

    “Werebear” patted him on the shoulder, nearly dislocating it, and walked inside merrily. Guys like him, they had no trouble handling army drills for sure, Nathan thought. But he was nothing like Hanson Reed.

    Still… do I have to be? I’ve never been strong, that’s not my selling point. But I’ve studied the entire history of the Heimlan Army: they’ve always employed a lot more than just muscle in their ranks. I’ll show them. If a knucklehead like that Reed guy has pulled it off, so can I!

    Nathan found himself walking forward with newfound determination, one confident step at a time. “Werebear” was right; it was down there somewhere after all.

    ~ ~ Recognition ~ ~

    “And… stop!”

    Sweat ran like a fountain down his face, he couldn’t remember the last time his heart pumped that fast, and why did the goddamn air insist on not filling his lungs properly? He could barely feel his legs, any actual pain long gone by the thirtieth or so lap around the drill field, and his hands had gone numb at some point near the fortieth. But for all his physical suffering, the newly-enlisted soldier was happy – he knew, even before the instructor announced his time, that this was the fastest he’d ever been.

    “Under seventeen minutes… It’s remarkable! Nathan Hawke, you’ve just set a new Division record!”

    I did what?

    He’d always been a quick runner, his athleticism being his greatest asset from a young age (or maybe he was just really good at running away from things, now that he gave it some thought). But he would never have imagined that his speed would be unmatched in the entire East Division, let alone without any sort of formal training… these were the physical aptitude tests, for Arceus’ sake!


    The rough, raspy voice made him turn around, and that was the first time Nathan Hawke laid eyes on Graham Ford. The man was dressed in a stern black uniform, and Nathan could easily identify his rank by the medals pinned to his jacket – having voraciously studied everything he could get his hands on regarding the army life, there was little doubt in his mind that the man was a Lieutenant. His skin was tanned, his black eyes piercing and unreadable, and the carefully-trimmed beard gave him an air of authority without the need for words. Good thing too, because Nathan could also tell right there and then that the Lieutenant wasn’t much of a talker.

    “Th…thank you, s-sir” he stammered, just like he had when meeting Reed for the first time, much to his annoyance.

    “Your name?” There was a weight to the man’s words that immediately caused Nathan to tense up and regain his composure; the Lieutenant’s tone of voice snapped him back to the reality of the matter – he was in the Army now, where there was no place for weakness.

    “Nathan Hawke. Sir.”

    “Keep an eye on your mail.”

    And with that, the Lieutenant left the drill field. It wasn’t until the instructor yelled his name, saying his physical tests were over, that a dumbfounded Nathan realized it was okay to leave as well. But something compelled him to stay: not only did he have no place to actually go, as he was unfamiliar with the building, he also wanted to the gauge the other prospects. After all, “every soldier is his comrade’s brother” according to the Heimlan motto, but neither he nor all the other applicants running around the yard were soldiers yet – they were all competition.

    It was funny how different the same thing looked depending on the circumstance. Before his name had been called out for evaluation, Nathan had been completely oblivious to the area’s size or any other characteristic. Now that his was starting to unwind from all the tension, he could finally see the drill field for what it was: a massive rectangular dirt course, surrounding a training “arena” comprised of multiple climbing walls, a high-jump bar setup, several spots for sit-ups and pull-ups and a simple, small-sized Pokémon battle area drawn on the ground with white paint. The course itself, routinely used for jogging and cardio, had been reserved for the physical try-outs.

    Most of the soldiers doing their usual workout at the centre of the field had stopped to see the newbies kill themselves in the aptitude tests. But instead of the jest and laughter Nathan expected, the men and women already working in the Division were evaluating the applicants’ performances with serious, interested expressions. It was as if they were making their own personal assessment of their comrades-to-be.

    Nathan remained around the drill field for over two hours after his test was finished, and none of the people who followed him could beat his time. When the try-outs were over, he lingered a bit longer, spectating a practice battle between the Pokémon of two Privates. His exam results were delivered to him later in the morning on a slip of paper delivered by a busy-looking Sergeant with a remarkable moustache. Somehow, he’d aced both his physical and mental aptitude tests.

    I’ve never aced anything before. Okay, so I can run fast; I’ve still never done anything remarkable, memorable or noteworthy… so how did I go from being average Joe my whole life to this? Did I always have this potential, or did Arceus just decide to look my way all of a sudden?

    Shortly afterwards, he found himself being summoned to the HQ front yard via loudspeakers, along with two other names – likely the only people that had been approved to join the Division in the current try-out.

    Retracing his steps back to the entrance was easy, no more than a ten-minute walk from the drill field, situated in the West Wing of the HQ building, through a long, straightforward hallway lined with portraits of several historical Army figures. At the end of the corridor, he reached the absolutely massive “Kyurem Hall” situated at the heart of the building, a wonder of construction built in pristine white marble, crystal and Never-Melt Ice; from there, all the had to do was exit through the reception gate (named the “Ragnar’s Door” after one of Heimlan Army’s most famous Generals of the past), and he finally reached the Front Yard. Shortly after he did, a superior officer he did not recognize, clad in black like the Lieutenant from before, began to speak loudly.

    “Welcome to the Heimlan Army, Privates Keith Aberdeen, John Abbott and Nathan Hawke. We expect a lot from you.”

    This was the greatest moment of his life, but the whole ceremony went by like a blur to Nathan, still exhausted and trying to come to terms with everything that had just happened. Somehow, a pair of black gloves wound up in his hands, but he had no recollection of accepting them from a young woman in uniform; he also heard none of the cheers from the officers around him, and only snapped back to reality once the Heimlan National Anthem started playing.

    No goddamn way... This is actually happening. I’m actually here, the nobody who read a bunch of army stuff and never really did much of anything.

    Up until that point, he’d been mostly oblivious about the people around him, so lost in thought and awe was he. But once he managed to focus, he finally got a good look at the eminent figures present at the ceremony – he couldn’t spot the Lieutenant that had approached him earlier, and nobody else seemed familiar though they all wore the black uniform and medals indicating their high rank within the Division. Until he saw him.

    Could… could that be?...

    From atop the first-floor balcony that overlooked the yard, a man watched over the procedures with his arms crossed, and a giant guardian by his side. Nathan, of course, had never met him in person, but his fame preceded him…


    General Roderick Tannhauser, Supreme Chief of the Heimlan Army!

    The military figure with absolute highest authority in the entire Region, General Tannhauser and his accomplishments were the stuff of legend. That the blue-haired hero would take time off his schedule to welcome him and the other recruits into the Division blew Nathan away. Even without speaking, the General’s mere presence was an inspiring sight, made all the more magnificent by the strangely-coloured colossus of a Golurk next to him.

    Under Tannhauser’s watchful eye, Aberdeen, Abbott and Nathan himself were the centre of attentions as the familiar, patriotic tune continued to echo across the sprawling front yard. They remained at attention, at the very middle of the wide, circular open space, standing right on the eye of the huge Articuno depicted on the yard’s pavement, a masterful work of art made entirely of black and white limestones, and the very symbol of the Heimlan Army. When the anthem stopped, they were issued further instructions.

    “Follow Private Reina. You will receive your uniforms, then join the rest of the troops in the canteen” said the same officer that had welcomed Nathan and the other two recruits at the beginning of the ceremony. “Routine exercises resume at two in the afternoon, and you will take part in them alongside your fellow soldiers. Your new life as men of the East Division begins now. Dismissed!”

    ~ ~ Consummation ~ ~

    Having read pretty much all there was to read about the Heimlan Army and military life in general prior to enlisting, Nathan had expected a very different kind of welcome. There were all sorts of stories about the hazing of newcomers, repeated displays of humiliation to “properly introduce” new recruits to the ranks, or rather, the figurative food chain. But as he found out, such mentality simply did not exist in the East Division.

    These are men of the North. All of us born in Heiml descend from proud warriors whose tales we’ve all heard countless times… maybe that’s why every single one of these soldiers takes their job so seriously as to never lay hands on greenhorns like us.

    If anything, the officers in the cafeteria glanced at him with curiosity, several of them going so far as to mutter quick, yet clearly sincere words of welcome. This was his new family now – a stoic, harsh, often cold one, but family nonetheless.

    “Kid. Good job back there.” The voice came from behind him, slow and monotonal, followed by a tap on his right shoulder. “We’ll be keeping an eye on you.”

    Nathan looked up to see a man taller than himself, with a rigid expression and distinctly strong jaw, wearing a black cap and gloves along with a dark-blue uniform – a colour of garments Nathan did not remember reading about in the Heimlan Army compendiums. Red was for Assault, Green for Intel, Yellow for Demolition, white for Support, black for all higher-ranking officers… why was this man’s uniform different?

    “Oh, definitely. Something tells me we’ll be running into each other some years down the line. Y’know, when you’re ready to run with the big dogs” said another soldier right next to the first, this one with striking green eyes and the exact same type of uniform, but flashing a coy smirk on his face whereas his companion was almost expressionless. “Who knows? If you don’t screw up and don’t slow down, you might get the chance to tag along with the elite. Please don’t turn out to be another disappointment, eh?”

    With that, the two men left, vanishing into the crowd populating the canteen. What was that all about?...

    His eyes shifted through the several tables across the area, and finally landed on a familiar face gobbling down his portion like it was his last meal. “Werebear” noticed him soon afterwards and invited Nathan to join him.

    “Took ya long enough! Nearly missed lunch. Strange for a dude as fast as you.”

    If Hanson Reed was in any way surprised to see him there, the giant did not convey it in the slightest. And by the way he gestured for Nathan to sit by his side, it was like “Werebear” regarded his agreement as a foregone conclusion.

    Nathan set his tray down on the table and joined Reed, finally taking a moment to catch his breath after all the commotion and excitement of the morning. As he quickly came to find out, “Werebear” wasn’t one for talking as long as he had food on the plate, but once that had been fully consumed (in record time, by Nathan’s standards at least), Reed became a lot more sociable. Conversation came easily afterwards, which was a nice change of pace from the silent obedience he’d forced on himself since entering the Division’s grounds, for fear of rubbing someone the wrong way. But talking to Reed, it seemed to be virtually impossible not to have a good time.

    “Go on, spill it. Why the army life?” Reed asked bluntly, between two large spoonfulls of stew.

    “Obviously because I enjoy the company of big men in uniforms.” For some reason, Nathan felt comfortable enough around the giant to employ his beloved sarcasm. He was mostly shy and reserved until he got to know someone, but if they clicked, Nathan was always willing to crack a joke.

    “Yeah well, you’re outta luck here. I ain’t a man, I’m a bear.” The reply came naturally, humorous and almost reflexive in its swiftness. Like Reed had said it to himself a million times before.

    “Do you even like being called that?” Nathan couldn’t stop himself from asking, detecting something in the soldier’s light-hearted answer that sounded… off.

    Hanson “Werebear” Reed… the whole thing put together did sound pretty badass, Nathan had to admit. But he was good at reading people – and he had the distinct feeling that Reed always referred to his given nickname with a hint of bitterness.

    “What can I say? It hurts at first, yeah; nobody called me a bear ‘cause it was cool, they did it because I looked like the actual thing. But when people have been callin’ you an animal for years, it’s hard not to get attached to the moniker, y’know? And heck, it could be worse. Fargo down at the Laundry’s known as Codfish.”

    Nathan couldn’t hold back a fit of laughter. Reed was a good man indeed; the least he could do was give him a straight answer after all that.

    “I… promised by grandfather I’d make it. That I’d become a soldier.” He hadn’t realized it until now, but talking about the matter out loud was a heck of a lot harder than he’d expected. “It’s why I came here. He was a Heimlan soldier in his youth too, and always told me the most amazing stories… Read up all his dusty old army books several times over when I was a kid.”

    “Oh, so you don’t dig men in uniforms after all? Sucks to be us then. All the chicks are taken.”

    Nathan smiled out of courtesy; memories of his grandfather’s funeral just a few months back were rushing to the forefront of his mind and bringing uninvited tears along, which took considerable effort to fight back before Hanson noticed. In the end, he never got to see me enlist.

    “Excuse me, Private? Private Nathan Hawke?”

    He failed to react at first, only turning his attention to the man standing next to him upon hearing his actual name spoken (it’d take a while to soak in that he was a “Private” now…). The courier smiled – rather annoyingly, in his opinion – at his obvious lack of adjustment and delivered him a letter, then went on his way without another word. Reed’s eyes glimmered with excitement.

    “Ooh, look at that. Internal correspondence!” The way the giant hunched over him to get a better look felt intimidating, even if Nathan was fully aware by now that Reed was entirely harmless.” Hurry up and read it, it’s usually from a big-shot who wants a word. Way to go man!”

    Nathan raised an eyebrow as he glanced at the mail. If someone within the Division wanted to speak to him, why not do so in person? Summon him through the loudspeakers, even? But a letter?...

    He slowly ripped open the envelope, doing his best to ignore the lumbering “Werebear” peering over his shoulder, and unfolded the piece of paper within. The contents were brief enough that Nathan was left with few doubts as to who’d sent it.

    ”7th Floor, Office 6, 2 pm. Alone.”

    Short and to the point, no seal, no signature. Nathan realized then that he liked it better this way – much as he’d always dreamt of joining the army, some of the bureaucracy and markedly hierarchal mind-set involved was admittedly off-putting… and he’d only been a Private for a few hours. He turned to Reed, who was staring at the much smaller man expectantly, and smiled.

    “Last word of the missive means you’re not coming. And, most likely, that I won’t be able to tell you what this was all about when I get back.”

    “Yeah, well, you’re gonna tell me anyways.” Hanson retorted, rather nonchalantly. “Not like anyone else needs to know you spilled the beans. Go on then, dude’s waiting, whoever he is!”

    Nathan knew exactly who “he” was; all he was yet to find out was the Lieutenant’s name. He got up from the table, leaving his lunch unfinished (much to Reed’s poorly-concealed disapproval) and went on his way, letter in hand, to find the nearest route to the man’s office.

    It “only” took him twenty seven minutes to find an elevator, and six more to find the right door. All in all, he was five minutes late, and that irritated him – he’d just established a new speed record in camp, and couldn’t even make it on time for a meeting with a superior officer.

    He knocked, and as soon as his knuckle left the wooden surface, the door swung open. The black uniform-clad Lieutenant motioned for Nathan to enter, then held out a glove-covered hand in an unexpected greeting.

    “Let’s pretend you’re not late and cut to the chase. Welcome to the Army, Hawke. I’m Graham Ford.”

    He’d expected to be called “kid” or “grunt”, but Lieutenant Ford addressed him by his surname; it was a heck of a lot more than he’d anticipated from such an obviously harsh officer. Graham Ford… Why did that name sound so familiar?

    “Thank you, sir. It’s an honour to meet you”, he replied. No point in elaborating his speech with a man clearly not inclined to chit-chat.

    “Ah, cut it. You don’t know jack about me other than I outrank you. That’s no reason to be “honoured”, or you’d have to admire every prick in a black uniform around here. Now, to the point.

    Lieutenant Ford walked over to his desk, a magnificent piece of furniture – a single block of mahogany sculpted into a heavy table, each leg carved in the shape of a coiling Gyarados. Now that he had time to look around, the entire office was decorated in beautiful taste, without being excessively ornamented. There were chest-high stone columns placed in all four corners of the room, each supporting a stone effigy of a previous General of the Heimlan Army. There were no fancy tapestries on the walls, only the occasional painting depicting historical war scenes; the dark red carpet on the ground covered most of the office’s floor, and was entirely unadorned. On the far wall from where he stood, a glass display case housed several medals, badges and other distinctions, and a single weapon rack on a simple pedestal directly beneath it was occupied, not by the usual rifle or handgun of the officer’s preference, but by a sabre with a golden handguard shaped like a Serperior.

    Graham Ford, an army officer with a sword… Wait! Could it be?!

    “Fancy the blade, eh? Most people thought it was just a corny accessory. Changed their minds overtime, I think. Now, get over here.”

    Nathan did as instructed. When he reached Graham’s desk, he saw several Pokéballs scattered along the polished surface.

    “Private Nathan Hawke, there’s a reason I called you here. I was watching your physical aptitude tests, and based on your performance, I’d like to make you an offer.”

    “Sir, if I may ask…” Where was Nathan getting the courage to cut off a superior officer from?

    The Lieutenant’s eyebrow rose at the interruption, but Ford nodded nonetheless.

    “That sword… Were you in the Blitz Unit? Are you the founder of…”

    “Yes.” The answer came as swiftly and bluntly as could be expected from Lieutenant Ford. “And since you know, it makes things a hell of a lot easier. I want you in that Unit, Hawke.”

    Nathan’s stunned silence didn’t seem to come as a surprise to Ford, who kept going.

    “You know what the Blitz Unit is about. The fastest soldiers and Pokémon working in tandem to carry out the most urgent missions. Extractions, chokepoint occupations, rescue operations and so on. You’re a perfect fit.”

    “S-sir, but I…” he mentally scolded himself for stuttering like a fool again, and continued. “I just enlisted! What kind of credibil…”

    “Bullshit. You’re better than just about any of the punks that call themselves Blitz Unit these days. I’ll vouch for you. Now, pick a partner. Someone that suits you; I’ll leave it up to your judgment.”

    This was actually happening… That was why Ford had sent him a letter. He couldn’t just announce such a controversial decision over the loudspeakers – he needed to attract as little attention as possible to this unorthodox, and likely unprecedented, promotion.

    Admittedly, he knew nothing of the current Blitz Unit, but he’d read everything about its beginnings. He still couldn’t believe he hadn’t recognized Graham Ford by name alone… But what would his future teammates think of an eighteen-year-old kid suddenly joining their ranks, with no accomplishments under his belt other than “running really fast”?...

    Still. Lieutenant Ford, the Graham Ford, is recruiting me in person for the legendary team he founded! I can’t turn him down. I won’t disappoint him! I… I’m doing this.

    He looked over each labelled Pokéball, and after a moment of thought, Private Nathan Hawke of the Blitz Unit reached for one of the spheres.

    “I’m taking this Treecko.”

    ~ ~ Dissention ~ ~

    It’d been precisely one year since Nathan had enlisted. And coincidentally, one year since he’d joined the famed Blitz Unit. As he’d expected, integration had been anything but smooth – a newbie, with nothing to his name besides a speed record in a morning drill, being promoted straight to one of the most elite groups within the Division… that episode had risen more than just a few eyebrows both in and out of the team itself. Though none dared to speak openly about it, almost everyone at HQ questioned Lieutenant Graham Ford’s decision… but overtime, most had come to accept Private Hawke for what he was: a damn good addition to an already excellent Unit – even if Nathan still thought very little of himself.

    And here I am now, about to witness the promotion of the same man that I owe it all to.

    On that day, Graham Ford would be rewarded with the rank of Colonel for his contributions to the Heimlan Army in times of war. Also to be promoted was his long-time friend, and direct superior, Garrett Wolfe – already a Colonel himself, he’d be receiving the rank of Brigadier General, which would make him second only to the legendary General Roderick Tannhauser. Nathan, along with every other member of the Blitz Unit, had been invited to the ceremony; after all, the Unit had been founded by Ford and Wolfe, among some other now-veterans, over twenty years back.

    The team wore special uniforms with a unique coloration, tinted dark blue to symbolize their belonging to an elite unit. Soldiers of Heiml were only allowed to change colours on two occasions: their dismissal from the Army, by either death of dishonour, or on the day of promotion to the rank of Lieutenant, when they would start donning black for their remaining years on active duty. It was the reason why neither Graham Ford nor Garrett Wolfe wore the colours of the Blitz Unit anymore, but to Nathan, that blue jacket now meant the world to him.

    He stood next to his five companions in a straight line, watching from afar as Colonel Wolfe stepped forward when his name was called. It was a Heimlan Army tradition that only a higher-ranked Officer could promote one below him, and since Garrett Wolfe had earned the title of Brigadier General, the only man who could pin the medal to his chest was the Heimlan General himself. As such Roderick Tannhauser, who resided at the Central HQ and only visited the peripheral Divisions on special events, was also present at the ceremony. He walked across the giant limestone Articuno on the pavement, each step resounding across the yard as if the colossal weight of his authority had become literal. When he reached Garrett Wolfe, Nathan noticed the two were of practically equal stature, the General ever-so-slightly taller than the man he was about to promote. When he spoke, his voice sounded calmer than Nathan had expected, more collected than he’d imagined for such a powerful figure - as if, in all his years on duty, Tannhauser never once had to raise his tone. Although that, too, could be interpreted as a sign of the General’s absolute rule.

    “Officer Garrett Wolfe, you are hereby awarded the rank of Brigadier General. You will serve as the highest authority of the East Division, answering directly to Central HQ and myself. Congratulations.”

    The insignia that was attached to Wolfe’s uniform was a golden piece of metal in the shape of a Regice, fairly simple in comparison to other medals he’d already been awarded, such as the Sargent’s steel Glalie, the Lieutenant’s bronze Walrein or the Colonel’s silver Cryogonal. But in the northernmost region of the Pokémon World, Regice was a state symbol which ranked only below Articuno - the official representation of the Heimlan Army, and whose platinum medal belonged only to the Supreme Commander of Heiml’s armed forces : Roderick Tannahuser himself.

    Brigadier General Garrett Wolfe remained motionless like a statue, as if made of stone despite the significance of the occasion and the weight of the achievement. Nathan got the distinct impression that, proud as he might feel, the veteran soldier only wanted to get this over with; in a way, he radiated a very similar aura of sternness as the no-nonsense Graham Ford, who was about to receive his own promotion next.

    “As long as guys like them exist in this Division, we ain’t ever getting promoted.”

    The insubordinate statement came from right next to Nathan. He turned his head slightly, glaring at the man who uttered those words: Rob Ryker, taller than Nathan, with short spiky jet-black hair and narrow, sharp green eyes filled with bitterness. Ryker had always had a huge chip on his shoulder, being one of the best in the Blitz Unit but being consistently scolded and often punished for his erratic, rebellious behaviour - reprimands which did nothing but further fuel the man’s ambition and frustration. That same cockiness and elitist mindset had become apparent to Nathan from the very first time he’d met Ryker, in the cafeteria on the day of his admission – though back then, he was far from imagining he’d be training and operating with the green-eyed man on a daily basis. He had to give credit where credit was due, Ryker was a phenomenal soldier, but he was also an insufferable prick.

    “The only reason this Unit exists in the first place, is because Wolfe and Ford put it together! We owe it to them to be where we are today!” Nathan, enraged at the blasphemous words, couldn’t fight back the urge to reply, even if he knew all too well how futile it was to argue against that man.

    Ryker’s emerald-like eyes flashed with anger, ever-so-briefly, but his voice remained a low-key whisper.

    “And where we’ll be for-goddamn-ever. They are allergic to progress, refuse to accept that we can live in an Army without their mouldy traditions and rules and hierarchies.” The resentment in Ryker’s voice was palpable, a mixture of disdain and grudge. “Sure, Ford may have helped you out way before you deserved it, but he’s been holding people like me back since I can remember.”

    The man to Nathan’s left, about as tall as him, with strands of blonde hair contrasting with the brown majority, and hazel eyes as sharp as Ryker’s, whispered his own thoughts on the ongoing discussion.

    “Wolfe and Garrett are the lingering old school that has no place here anymore.” Nathan would recognize that monotonal, emotionless tone of voice anywhere. “It’s men like us who need to be promoted and carry this Division forward; as long as we leave the war with Saigo in the hands of washed-up veterans, we’ll keep getting our asses handed to us.”

    Nathan didn’t know this man, Ray Talbot, as well as he’d grown to know the irritable Ryker, although in hindsight he did run into him quite some time before – on the day of his enrollment, in the busy canteen, next to the boasting Ryker. Talbot was usually more reserved and peaceful, which earned him slightly more of Nathan’s sympathy, but still no less progressive in his way of thinking - adamantly opposing the old laws of the military and wishing for an Army-wide dismissal of “has-beens” and “never-weres” in favour of the young elites. Elites such as themselves, the Blitz Unit, widely regarded as the cream of the crop…

    Alongside Ford’s Squad Six.

    It had been a while now since the war with Saigo had begun. In fact, it had been raging for almost two years, and in that amount of time Graham Ford’s team of specialists had been overwhelmingly successful – Squad Six’s accomplishments rivalled those of the Blitz Unit’s golden age, and Nathan could guess that was part of the reason why Ryker and Talbot were so bitter towards the newly-promoted Colonel and Brigadier General.

    They feed on glory. Squad Six has been claiming laurels they couldn’t nab, and it’s pissing them off. That “old-timers” like Wolfe and Ford can still put a team like that together and not include either of them. They feel abandoned.

    Both Ford and Wolfe, former Blitz soldiers, had moved on. And in their absence, the new recruits grew bolder and less disciplined, although no less skilled… The two higher-ups, despite having stepped away and integrated other teams of their own, could not condone or accept what their old Unit was growing into, and wanted nothing to do with it anymore. If anything, the minuscule spark of whatever ego still lingered within Nathan told him that Ford enlisting him for the modern-day Blitz Unit was another attempt at restoring some of the team’s old dignity… but truth be told, Nathan was having a hard time integrating, let alone changing anything from the inside.

    “Officer Graham Ford.”

    Nathan snapped back to reality and shifted his gaze back to the ongoing ceremony. This time, it was Brigadier General Wolfe who spoke. In an endearing little twist of fate, as Ford’s direct superior, it now fell on his best friend to promote the grumpy Lieutenant to the rank of Colonel.

    “You are hereby awarded…” started Wolfe, in a perfectly placed tone of formality.

    “A pretty Cryogonal medal, I know. Hand it over.”

    The whole yard burst out in laughter, and even Wolfe couldn’t fight back a smile, his stone mask cracking for a brief moment to reveal the human beneath. Ford’s complete disregard – disdain, even - for official ceremonies was widely known, and long believed to be a reason for which he’d never make it past Lieutenant. But the creation and success of his Squad Six were too important to ignore, and the promotion had come his way all the same.

    Nathan was as amused as he was baffled by Ford’s behaviour.

    He’s such a curious case. He lives by the Army rulebook, lashes out at any foolhardy youngster who steps out of line within earshot, is a patriot above all others in the Division… but can’t bring himself to behave in the most important day of his military career! What the hell, Graham Ford…

    He’d come to understand that the Colonel lived by a rulebook of his own, a mix of sacred military laws and a personal code of conduct. He valued some things way more than anyone else, and couldn’t care less for others that would make anyone else’s ego swell. The Army was his life, Heiml was his mistress, dedication was his right arm and honor his left – but give him a medal, a gift, or any other kind of award and he’ll toss it in the garbage when you leave the room; invite him to a ceremony and he’ll curse four times under his breath before politely accepting.

    “… awarded the rank of Colonel for your contributions to the Heimlan Army in times of war. Congratulations” concluded Ford’s superior officer, resuming his formal posture as if nothing had happened.

    Brigadier General Wolfe pinned the Cryogonal medal to Ford’s black uniform, directly above the silver Walrein he only wore when demanded, and after a salvo of cannons was fired and the national anthem played, the ceremony concluded. The soldiers invited to the event were dismissed, and as such the Blitz Unit prepared to return to the HQ building… but something drove Nathan to break away from the pack and head in a different direction.

    “Sir! Colonel Ford!” he shouted, looking to get the man’s attention however briefly.

    Graham and Garrett were exchanging a few words, likely the latter scolding the former for having made a mockery of the whole thing. When Nathan approached, the two black towers fell silent and glared down at him from the full height of their ranks.

    “I… I apologize for interrupting.” He still couldn’t drop the stuttering around his superiors, even after all this time. “I just… wanted to congratulate you. Both of you, naturally, but…”

    He was growing flustered under those oppressive stares, but mercifully an unexpected chuckle from the Brigadier General dispersed all the tension in an instant.

    “Private Nathan Hawke, right? Thank you for postponing your lunch to suck up to us a little. Word around camp is that doing so gets you pretty far in here.” The rarely-seen smile on Garrett Wolfe’s face told Nathan the man was joking – a side of the Brigadier General he’d never seen or considered. How could he be so different at ease from when he was on duty? “I’m guessing you want a word with our new Colonel in private, though. I’ll leave you two to it; got some official sucking up of my own to do, what with General Tannhauser in the building. Catch you later Ford. Private Hawke, all the best to you.”

    Colonel Ford didn’t answer, merely raising a hand in goodbye. When he turned to Nathan, he didn’t sound half as warm as Wolfe had, but that was just the way he was.

    “That guy could fake a severed leg with no pants on. But that means the right kind of people appreciate him, and that’s good for us.”

    “You mean people like General Tannhauser, sir?” It should have come as no surprise to him, but it did, that even the stoic Ford gave the General so much importance.

    “Who else? Squad Six wouldn’t exist if our new Brigadier General wasn’t as skilled at the negotiation table as he is, and Tannhauser was the only one who could pull enough strings to actually make it happen.” Ford answered, making no effort to conceal his admiration for his best friend. “Wolfe has to put up with a lot of crap in his position… I owe the guy more drinks than I can afford. Don’t tell him I said this.”

    Although no smile accompanied the words spoken in his low-pitched, raspy voice, Nathan had come to understand – and even enjoy - Graham’s sense of humour. Now that the bells and whistles were done, the Colonel’s mood had improved considerably.

    “But you didn’t come here just to give me props though, did you?”

    “I… I guess not. Sir. It’s just that… I’m learning a lot in the Blitz Unit.” Now that he thought about it, he’d never told Colonel Ford how much he appreciated what he’d done for him, the significance of his gesture. “I’ve grown more in one year running with them than I could have ever hoped to grow in ten! But I’m not up to par yet, and somehow… I feel like I should know things they won’t teach me there. Skills I might need soon enough...”

    “Something troubling you, then” retorted Ford, blunt and to the point as always.

    “Maybe. Or maybe I just need to learn to trust my teammates.” Nathan genuinely wasn’t sure which one it was, all he knew was he felt uncomfortable for some reason. “Either way, I’d like to ask you, if it’s not too much trouble… could I train with you for a while? Off-duty?”

    Graham wouldn’t come to understand the reason behind Nathan’s request until much later, nor would Nathan himself understand the importance of what he was asking until a certain operation took place years after. But thank Arceus he did.

    “Hawke, you coming or not?!” The question echoed across the almost deserted yard, shouted by a man Nathan had grown relatively close to over the years – Gavin King, a good man from Unova, whose brother Axel was the regional Champion after Dragon Master Iris had stepped down. Gavin had joined the Division one year prior to Nathan, and had been assigned a spot in the Demolition squad, learning under the same man as Reed: “Big Time” Jackson Brody, one of Ford’s men in Squad Six. Unbeknownst to Nathan, this would be one of the last times they had a meal together, and Gavin King wouldn’t see the war to its conclusion.

    ~ ~ Execution ~ ~

    Everything was quiet. In the dead of the night, a team of five soldiers dressed in dark grey moved silently like a pack of wolves. Each carried a knife in their left hand, a suppressor-fitted handgun in the right, and a single Ultra Ball strapped to their belt which blended almost perfectly with the uniform.

    “Move, move, move!!”

    The man at the front, the only one not wearing a black beret, motioned hastily for the others to pick up the pace as they dashed from the outside of one storage building to the next, clinging to the walls. That man, the appointed team leader for that operation, was Rob Ryker.

    We’re running out of time!

    The Blitz Unit moved as quickly and stealthily as they could, on a mission of critical importance. With data obtained from Squad Six’s three Espionage experts, the East Division had learned of a secret operation set in motion by undercover Saigo soldiers to occupy a lone military outpost in northeast Heiml, presently used more like a heavy artillery maintenance station than a full-fledged army camp. If Saigo gained possession of the weaponry within, they could do a lot of damage from the inside, rather than sticking to border wars and air strikes. For that purpose, they’d be sending some of their very best operatives, and it was the Blitz Unit’s assignment to catch them in the act and take those elite Saigo soldiers as invaluable hostages.

    Despite having been with the Unit for three years already, Nathan still had trouble working in tandem with some of them. Not that it was difficult for him to keep up with their pace – he was still the absolute fastest man on the team -, but he often didn’t agree with the chosen approach, namely when Ryker was in charge… which was the case. No doubt there was strength in numbers, and the designated team leader insisted they stick together, but without clear notion of enemy numbers or positioning, how wise was it to move as a pack rather than spread out? Nathan couldn’t fight off the fear that they’d be caught by surprise moving like this, but Ryker had been adamant about this strategy from the start, and he was in no position to argue.

    “Hold your ground”, growled Ryker. “Look over there.”

    The forced moment of pause allowed Nathan to calm down, catch his breath and take a proper look around. Looking back, breaching the, area was extremely easy – the fence was electrified (since, after all, the place was still being used for military purposes, despite not looking the part) but nothing Troy Sheppard’s Gastly couldn’t handle with ease, phasing through the wall of wires and blasting away the locks from inside. The derelict camp was a scary place, even for a full-fledged soldier carrying a weapon. Flickering spotlights scattered about the camp grounds allowed for intermittent glimpses of several of the warehouses around the perimeter, most of which long-abandoned buildings with brick walls sporting scarce patches of the white coat of paint which once covered them. The way these structures were placed allowed for air currents to run between them, creating eerie sounds akin to ghostly moans as the chilling breeze passed though the makeshift corridors. Perhaps intentionally, the warehouses still in working order were indistinguishable from the unused ones; it would be hard to guess for anyone not privy to that information that any kind of heavy weaponry was being stored here. All the more so since the base itself was located in one of the most inhospitable areas in all of Heiml – the north. Roaring gales of sub-zero temperature were commonplace, there were no settlements nearby and even wildlife was scarce in these conditions: trees could not thrive, only more resourceful low bushes and the occasional patch of frost-burned grass (the kind that gave birth to the saying that “in Heiml, even the grass is stubborn”), and only the occasional Cryogonal roamed about. All in all, the base should not exist by any accounts other than the Heimlan army’s – which made Saigo’s knowledge of the place all the more concerning.

    The next building within reach of the team was a considerable distance away, but Ryker ordered the team to stand instead. And with good reason, Nathan had to admit, as there seemed to be movement nearby. Talbot stepped ahead to stand next to Ryker, while Nathan and the other two members of the Unit – homeland prodigy Otis Glott and Unova-native Troy Sheppard – stood behind, their view blocked by the Blitz Unit veterans. Nathan moved to get a better look, but felt someone grip his arm hard.

    “Stay still. Let them be heroes; preserve yourself.”

    Otis Glott was a larger man than any other in the Unit, his muscular frame making it hard to believe he could ever catch up to his slimmer, athletic teammates. But Glott was a physical impossibility, quicker on his feet than anyone could guess while also strong as a bull. Still, neither trait was his best quality: the tranquillity of his light-blue eyes revealed a pondered, calm and extremely rational man in all circumstances, his practicality being his greatest asset. And to top it off, Nathan could tell he nurtured no sympathy for either Ryker or Talbot, just like him.

    “You’re right. Thanks.”

    The entire team stood in silence for a while, until Ryker raised two fingers and motioned for them to move out. In a straight line, moving like a serpent in the darkness of the night, the Unit approached the large building from the side. There was no light coming from the windows, but once they reached the only door in sight, they found it slightly open and with signs of forced entry. Their targets were inside.

    Ryker went in first, followed closely by Talbot, who made a signal to the remaining three to wait outside and keep watch. While the man wasn’t in charge of this operation, there was no arguing with a veteran – especially since Ray Talbot and Rob Ryker had been working as a two-man team in the Blitz Unit for years, and were practically considered one and the same as far as “authority” went, even if all five of them were just Privates.

    Silence reigned supreme on the almost-defunct outpost. Time seemed to slow down to a crawl as the three men waited like statues, scanning the dark perimeter as instructed, but objectively seeing very little to nothing – if anything or anyone jumped out to attack them, they probably wouldn’t react in time.

    Roughly five minutes later, Talbot returned to the door.

    “There’s only two of them” he announced, in his usual taciturn voice. Nathan might not be fond of the man, but there was no denying it was reassuring to work with someone that ice-cold during risky operations. “Ryker shot one down and has the other on his knees. It’s safe inside.”

    Breathing a sigh of relief, Nathan walked inside what turned out to be a large abandoned hangar, with three tanks stored inside, likely undergoing maintenance – this was what Saigo was after. Those were three impressive engines of destruction, there was no denying it; the pride of Heimlan war engineering, a trio of massive Aggron X-45 models known for their longer and wider than usual main barrel – aptly named the Flash Cannon -, which made them slower to manoeuvre but two times as destructive; the caterpillar tracks were made of Steelix metal, and were three times as wide as a grown man. The tanks were lined up at the far end of the hangar, parked next to each other and awaiting maintenance the following day; but if Saigo had their way, the vehicles wouldn’t be here at all come morning.

    Troy Sheppard followed Nathan inside, and lastly Otis, whose worried expression went unnoticed by either of the younger teammates. Sure enough, there was Ryker, with his handgun pointed straight at a foreign soldier clad in a black-and-dark blue camo pattern uniform, who was on his knees with hands behind his back, right in front of the middle Aggron X-45. Illuminated by the flashlight at the end of Ryker’s gun, the man’s features were clearly visible, and clearly foreign – slanted eyes, pasty skin, clean shaven as Saigonese law demanded of its soldiers. If the man was in any way distressed or ashamed for having been caught, he did not convey it – his features were rigid, focused, with no sign of defeat.

    The rifle’s add-on was the only source of light inside the otherwise pitch-black space, but provided enough lighting for the team to see no other enemies in close perimeter. Just as Nathan prepared to congratulate the operation’s leader, Otis grabbed him a second time. A quick whispered warning was all he could hear.

    “There’s no corpse on the ground. Ryker didn’t shoot anyone.”

    Glott’s words took only a fraction of a second to register before Nathan tackled his teammate to the ground, narrowly saving him from a bullet fired from Ryker’s gun. From there, all hell broke loose: Talbot shot Troy in the back of the head, dropping him instantly; the kneeling Saigo soldier rose to his feet unopposed, pulled out his own rifle and opened fire on Nathan and Otis, who barely escaped by taking cover behind one of the tanks; Ryker shouted for the lights to be turned on, and they did, ten other Saigo men revealed themselves on the rafters of the derelict hangar.

    Ryker and Talbot betrayed us.

    A storm of bullets ensued, forcing Otis and Nathan to split up. Nathan dashed towards the single Saigo soldier on the ground and delivered a low kick that caused the man to trip. He picked up the enemy’s rifle, but as he was about to fire back, a sharp pain in his right hand caused him to drop the weapon – Ryker’s shot was accurate, and Nathan could no longer retaliate, forcing him to seek cover once again. But bullets kept raining over him from every angle, and he knew it was only a matter of time before…

    No… no it’s not! I trained with Colonel Ford nearly every day past curfew, I mastered survival techniques neither Talbot nor Ryker have ever seen! Damn it Nathan, get your act together, you can do this!!

    Fighting back the pain coursing through his right palm, he grabbed the Ultra Ball in his belt and dropped it to his side. Upon contact with the floor, the device snapped open and unleashed its contents: iridescent plasma took the form of a large green lizard, who was quick to assess the severity of the situation and stood by for instructions.

    “Sauer, listen… we’re in deep, deep trouble. We have to start dropping them or they drop us. There are thirteen of them, and four of us at best; Otis should still be in the hangar with his own Pokémon. Anyone that isn’t them…”

    The Grovyle nodded in understanding; if the Grass-Type was in any way troubled by the orders issued, he did not convey it - or any other emotion for that matter. The Pokémon Nathan had received from Ford three years back had always proven itself loyal to a fault, and the peace of mind with which it carried out certain tasks frightened even its owner on occasion. He thought to himself, on more than one occasion: how Sauer would be a perfect match for the equally hyper-rational Otis instead… but Nathan could never really bring himself to part with the friend given to him by his superior officer and mentor. The Grovyle had never failed him, and had even endured Ford’s harsh, overtime training sessions alongside Nathan. Together, they’d become as one, adapted to fighting even in darkness, with odds stacked against them – a kind of specific preparation no other man or Pokémon on the Blitz Unit had received beyond the basics.

    The night is our ally. If they can’t see us, odds are they won’t hit us. Hopefully.

    Sauer too knew of that advantage, one he had to actively create before engaging his foes. Nathan suddenly caught a glimpse of Ryker turning around the corner, appearing from behind the tank’s caterpillar track with his pistol aimed… until Sauer caused a Leaf Storm to erupt from thin air, obstructing Ryker’s line of sight and causing the man to stagger! The razor-sharp foliage rose in the air, spiralling upwards towards the ceiling like a hurricane of green leaves, and caused every single lamp on the roof to shatter! The hangar was brought back to pitch-black darkness, save for the scarce moonlight that permeated through the windows, and that was the ace in the hole Nathan had been betting on.

    I’m sorry Glott. It’s the only way I can survive. I hope you make it too…

    Otis, like the rest of the Unit, was an excellent soldier, but had received only standard military training for a few months up until the day he was drafted to the Blitz Unit, from which point on his drills became focused almost exclusively on maintaining and improving speed, agility and close-quarters combat competence. He could not be expected to excel at survival techniques, despite being skilled at night combat since most of the Unit’s operations were forcibly carried out after dark. In that regard, he should be superior to Saigo’s soldiers, but would still be on equal footing with Ryker and Talbot… in the current setting, only Nathan and Sauer surpassed them all – thanks to Colonel Graham Ford.

    Cries above him, followed by the loud thud of bodies meeting solid ground, told Nathan that Sauer was already doing his thing, lunging at the men in the rafters with his uncanny ability to leap, climb and traverse heights impossible to any human. Making the most of the scarce lighting, the Grovyle made his way through the still-adjusting soldiers who could no longer see properly, let alone shoot straight… and how does one best an enemy he can’t see?

    Nathan, much like on the day of his physical admission test all that time ago, found himself running as fast as he could, almost purely on instinct, jolting towards Rob Ryker before the ally-turned-enemy could aim his flashlight (and subsequently his firearm) to shoot him down.

    Why? Why did it happen like this? Ryker, Talbot… this is an act of treason! What the hell are you doing?!

    He lunged at Ryker, spearing him to the ground and causing the man to lose his handgun, which went sliding across the floor and out of reach of either soldier. Nathan stood over the fallen traitor, pinning him to the ground, and stared straight into his green eyes as he struggled to break free. Whereas rage and sadness would likely have driven any other soldier to pummel Ryker to death, Nathan had learned under Colonel Ford that unchecked emotions were the main cause of mistakes on delicate operations, rather than lack of preparation. He’d been purposefully taunted, mocked and insulted repeatedly by Graham, until he’d developed a thick enough skin and a clear enough mind that he’d never crack under pressure again– and now, even as he stared down a man who’d betrayed him, the Division and all of Heiml, and orchestrated the death of Troy Sheppard and most likely Otis Glott at this point… he did not give in.

    I may not know why he did this, but I’ll find out, and I’ll even the score with him and Talbot one day… but if I stay here, I’m dead. I have to retreat. I’m so sorry Troy, Otis…

    He jumped off of Ryker and saw Sauer lunge from the rafters, at the same time that Talbot arrived and opened fire on him. The Grovyle landed on Talbot as soon as he fired, and Nathan yelled in pain as a bullet lodged itself on his left calf – though if Sauer hadn’t stepped in, it could’ve ended up in his skull. His partner kicked the weapon from Talbot’s hand, and looked at Nathan with concern.

    “I’m… fine! We gotta… move!...”

    It was at that moment that a silver flash of light erupted behind them, followed by a buzzing sound. Sauer’s leaves transformed into blades once he realized a new enemy had entered the fray: Ryker, still on the ground, had called out his partner to prevent Nathan from fleeing the hangar.

    A Scyther…

    “You put on a decent show, Hawke; now it’s my turn.” Ryker’s grin was nauseating. “I’ve had enough of you, your teacher Ford, your ass-kissing promotions and your blind, stupid patriotism! Scyther, rip’em apart!”

    The giant mantis locked eyes with Nathan’s Grovyle, who returned the glare fearlessly, and both lunged at one another simultaneously.

    Sword met sword in a dangerous dance for control, Sauer and Scyther battling on equal footing for the most part of the clash; whereas the mantis was faster, its movements were hampered by the darkness that Nathan’s Grovyle was used to. As such, the odds were evened, and each swordsman struck fast and fierce, looking for an opening that did not come.

    Sauer is putting his life on the line for me. He could’ve been shot when lunging on Talbot, and now he’s fighting that Scyther with a severe Type disadvantage… this isn’t an ordinary Pokémon battle; if Ryker’s Pokemon lands a hit, it’ll be with the intent to sever a limb!

    Still, Sauer was holding his own quite admirably, parrying each strike with his Leaf Blades and riposting swiftly, though to no avail. Until an unexpected leg sweep with Low Kick, mastered after months of sparring against Colonel Ford’s Ruger, caused Scyther to lose balance and drop its guard ever-so-briefly!

    “Now Sauer! Crush Claw!”

    Energy enveloped the Grovyle’s hand as he raised it; he then sent the shining claw crashing down towards his opponent’s chest… but found himself suddenly unable to move! Sauer’s muscles were cramping all over, spasms overwhelming him and rendering the lizard motionless. It took him and Nathan a while to realize what’d happened, but when Talbot approached, followed by his Jolteon, it all became clear.

    “Unlike Rob, I’ve never disliked you Hawke. You’re a good soldier of Heiml.” That ice-cold demeanour of Talbot’s that Nathan loved having around in combat suddenly became very scary, now that they were on opposite sides of the battlefield. “Unfortunately, in this particular instance, that virtue of yours means you have to go. Nationalists like you are the antithesis of progress. War doesn’t need patriotism.”

    It was all too much for Nathan to grasp - despite Talbot sounding sincere, he still couldn’t understand why he and Ryker were doing all that; all he knew was… they both wanted him dead.

    The Electric-Type fox alongside Talbot was glowing with electrical power, its cold black eyes firmly locked on the struggling Grovyle… fighting on par with Ryker’s best Pokémon was hard enough, what could he possibly hope to do after that Thunder Wave?!

    Sauer is paralyzed. There’s no way he can fend off a Scyther and a Jolteon at the same time…

    Talbot helped Ryker to his feet. The grin on their faces filled Nathan with apprehension, and a feeling of powerlessness he hadn’t felt in a very long time. At this point, it was inevitable: the two traitors would retrieve their guns, shoot him down, and let their Pokémon do as they’d please with Sauer. Instinctively, he reached for his helpless companion, who kept forcing his body to move an inch… Nathan hugged Sauer, as if bracing for what was to come. If that was the end for them, at least they’d fall together – dying alone was the worst way to go…

    “Sauer… thank you for everything. You were amazing.”

    Ryker dropped to one knee, wrapping his fingers around the firearm Nathan had deprived him of earlier. Talbot, too, was already clutching the handgun which Sauer had caused him to drop. The two men grinned, their agenda – whatever it was – seconds away from being fulfilled. Nathan watched as the guns barrels were raised in his direction…

    “Magmar, do it now!!”

    Suddenly, an intense heat surrounded Nathan and Sauer. Looking down, he was met with the serious expression of a very ugly Fire-Type – one he immediately identified as Otis Glott’s long-time partner Magmar. He barely caught a glimpse of the injured, bleeding Otis appearing from behind one of the tanks… before everything went white and, with the next blink of an eye, the entire landscape had changed.

    Wh…what happened? Why am I here?!

    He’d been in that same place before, countless times over the last few years in fact. Sauer, next to him, looked equally puzzled, an unusual expression for the usually aloof lizard warrior. The hangar was nowhere to be seen; instead, Nathan, his Grovyle and Glott’s Magmar stood in front of the East Division HQ gate!

    “Magmar, you… Teleported us out, didn’t you? Otis told you to save us…”

    The Fire-Type’s eyes glimmered with a hint of regret. Nathan could understand; he’d left his Trainer behind, alone in that building against an enemy regiment. But Magmar, like all of Glott’s Pokemon, were unquestionably obedient, even if it meant abandoning Otis to rescue someone else.

    “We owe you and Otis our lives. Thank you so much Magmar… now go, hurry back, you can still save him too! Hurry, please!” Nathan’s plea sounded desperate, because it was. He’d had little opportunity to properly get to know Otis Glott outside of strictly business, but he still owed him his life.

    Without a trace of hesitation, the salamander-like creature vanished into thin air, no doubt back to the hangar where Otis remained… trapped with Ryker, Talbot and their Pokémon, along with every Saigo soldier Sauer hadn’t cut down. Nathan knew, deep down, that his friend would be met with the same fate as Troy Sheppard, no matter how much his Magmar hoped otherwise…

    An elite team erased in one night by the traitorous hand of two rogue soldiers. Now that the adrenaline was beginning to wash out of his system, Nathan found himself breaking down in tears; he dropped to his knees and released all his pent up confusion, anger and sadness, sobbing uncontrollably even once Sauer approached to comfort him.

    They have to know… I have to tell them! I have to tell Ford… Blitz Unit’s gone!

    Hours later, the hangar had fallen silent. By the time all other Saigo soldiers had cleared the perimeter, one of the foreigners remained behind to wrap up procedures with the two former Blitz Unit soldiers. His accent was thick and he struggled to find the right words, but Ryker and Talbot understood him just fine. After all, they were speaking a universal language at that point.

    “Your payment. Agreement it has been honoured. We bring Blitz Unit death.”

    “It’s been a privilege to shoot down old friends by your side, believe us” replied a very satisfied Rob Ryker. “Unlike some people, you know how to motivate a soldier, if you know what we mean.”

    Despite Ryker’s obviously elated mood, the Saigonese officer didn’t return the smile. Saigo culture did not condone traitors of any kind, even when they fought as allies to the nation; if anything, this had been a necessary evil.

    “Your motivation, we of Saigo call “blood money”.”

    Talbot, usually aloof, smiled at the Saigonese man’s choice of words. Ryker, always the most outspoken of the pair, laughed audibly as he opened the metal suitcase filled with PokéDollars.

    Blood Money, eh? Yeah, that’ll do… that’ll do quite nicely.”

    ~ ~ Resolution ~ ~

    ”… and now it’s the younger brother, Levin, who is about to cross the Altheim Gate! Will he succeed where Ivan Sanders failed? Who can forget the terrible fate that befell the elder brother, who perished inside Kanto’s Victory Road when a tunnel collapsed? Levin Sanders of Saffron City has made a name for himself traveling the region of Fizzytopia, but has chosen Heiml as the final destination of his journey instead – he seeks to test his strength against the hardy folk, and he certainly has the credentials to leave a lasting impression! All we can say is, keep an eye on this Ace Trainer – he’s gunning for Champion Gottfried! Will he finally be the one to vanquish our “Norse God!?”

    Nathan stared blankly at the TV screen, oblivious to the news. There was too much on his mind to care about trivial things such as the Pokémon League.

    Disgrace had befallen the East Division. The war with Saigo had no end in sight, and neither country seemed to gain a considerable advantage, but the Heimaln Army had just suffered a severe blow after the disappearance of the legendary Squad Six - a team of assault, support, espionage and demolition experts led by Brigadier General Garrett Wolfe and Colonel Graham Ford, whose success had been overwhelming in countless missions of critical importance since its inception. One week back, everyone had gone MIA, save for Nathan’s mentor.

    Colonel Ford was the only one to return and doesn’t remember a damn thing… Now people look at him like they looked at me, over a year ago, when I was the sole survivor out of the entire Blitz Unit…

    Nathan had been through a rough period after Ryker and Talbot had betrayed Heiml and massacred their own team. Suspicions had fallen on the only man to return, and he was subjected to a great many deal of interrogations – some far more peaceful than others. The Army didn’t take kindly to traitors, especially when a full-blown war was in motion and they weren’t exactly winging.

    The pain I felt on the day Talbot shot me was nothing compared to what came next.

    Eli Crowe, the Division’s best medic, had had little trouble removing the bullet from his leg. But the wound had later become infected, and Nathan was bed-ridden for a week. Upon recovering, he was met with distrust from just about every higher-up, and even some of his peers, since Ryker and Talbot had yet to re-emerge. That he could recall, only “Werebear” Hanson Reed had vocally supported him the entire time… and the big man’s word accounted for very little. Being questioned by men he used to greet on the hallways, or even work out with, turned out to be one of the strangest experiences of his life, and to the present day he recalled every single one who went out their way to beat him up as they asked the questions. All of them outranked him, so complaining wasn’t really an option, but he gave them nothing more than the truth – that Rob Ryker and Ray Talbot were the traitors, working with Saigo, or perhaps independently, and that Otis Glott had been a hero that the East Division refused to acknowledge.

    “We do not honour failures!”, they said time and again. As if Otis staying behind to save him had meant nothing – which, by extension, meant his own life meant jack to the big names within the Division. There had been no rescue operations to retrieve Otis and Troy’s bodies, as if fallen soldiers did not deserve a proper send-off. Or rather, they only did if they died on the battlefield, fighting in the name of Heiml – not ingloriously shot in the back by someone they couldn’t even identify as an enemy to begin with. Nathan despised that mentality, but was in no position to make noise – now more than ever, when keeping a low profile was instrumental for the sake of another friend.

    Fortunately for him, it was only a matter of time until Blood Money resurfaced, actively operating against Heimlan troops, raiding their encampments at night and thwarting entire missions at the behest of the highest bidder. After that, nobody held Nathan accountable for the Blitz Unit’s demise anymore.

    They all forgave me eventually… but I’ve never forgiven myself. Otis died to save me, and I couldn’t even avenge my friends’ deaths. I have no way of reaching Ryker and Talbot, no idea where they even are or where they’ll strike next!

    All he could do now… was protect his mentor and help clear his name. He owed his life to Ford as much as he did Otis, because without his training, Nathan would never have survived long enough inside that hangar. Now, it was his turn to do something for his superior officer.

    Locked in his quarters, going over everything that had happened since the rise of Blood Money, Private Nathan Hawke had finally found a purpose in his unlikely survival.

    “Thank you for agreeing to this…

    In his hand was Sauer’s Pokéball. The Grovyle who’d served him so faithfully since day one… another friend to whom he owed his life. Now, he was needed elsewhere – it was the only contribution he could make to help the runaway Colonel in his journey of redemption.

    I’ll investigate what I can here, while keeping the upper brass of your back. But Ford, you have to find out what happened and return soon… innocent men can only stay on the run for so long before everyone thinks they’re guilty.

    He strapped Sauer’s Pokéball to the leg of a Pidove he’d borrowed from one of his friends over at Espionage. If everything went smoothly, and his calculations were correct, Graham should be headed to Edda City.

    He released the bird out the window and watched as it flew away. Hopefully it would find Graham, hopefully it wouldn’t be intercepted, hopefully it wouldn’t drop the Pokéball… it took a lot of hoping just help one man, it seemed.

    Sauer, please keep him safe. I will too, in what little way I can. And once this is over, I’ll find Blood Money and settle the score. One day soon…


    ((Like last time, any input is more than welcome, from grammar to plotholes or other inconsistencies; my spell-checker is set to UK English, in case you're wondering. The more tips I get, the easier it'll be for me to write in English going forward.

    Also, I'm posting this for money rather than a capture. Not sure where the character count falls, I kinda just... kept going :/

    Last edited: Dec 21, 2016
  2. Magikchicken

    Magikchicken Prince of All Blazikens!

    Blog Posts:
    Apr 17, 2010
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    Whoo, this was fun to read!

    I'll get right to it:

    Backstory and Character Development:
    The pacing and drama of your story's introduction, its "hook," was very good; I found myself immediately wanting to know more about Heiml, about the Heimlan Army, and about Nathan Hawke.

    The way that different segments took place in different stages of Hawke's career was effective in developing him as a person and as a protagonist: the reader gets to see "snapshots" of his progression from prospective recruit, to Private, to full-fledged member of Blitz Unit, to how he behaves when in action as a member of Blitz Unit. Well executed!

    While some of the characters who served as plot devices and motivations for Hawke were well developed— Graham Ford, Hanson Reed, even General Tannhauser— I think you may have missed an opportunity as far as the members of Blitz Unit were concerned. See below in the Plot Content/Flow section for a little more detail, but suffice it to say that I would have liked to have seen at least a scene or two wherein Hawke first meets the people who would later become his Unit.

    Plot Content, Plot Flow:
    This is a war drama for real, and it evokes the feeling perfectly; at times, I felt like I was watching a war drama movie, which is a very good sign.

    As mentioned above, the pacing was well-chosen; if anything, the only suggestion I would have is to see about foreshadowing and antagonist development more. The buildup from establishment of characters to the beginning of conflict and drama moved at the right pace, but the antagonists— Ryker and Talbot— are introduced rather late in the story. The narrative as a whole would have benefitted from a scene earlier on with Hawke either meeting all of Blitz Unit or just Ryker and Talbot.

    This would have yielded the benefit of establishing them as characters in advance of the scene where they are first introduced muttering about Ford and Wolfe; the fact that they weren't mentioned until they started muttering these things immediately told me as a reader, "these two characters exist to betray Blitz Unit." (This wouldn't have been a bad thing except that, given how suspenseful the rest of your story was, the blazing sirens in my mind of 'I know what's going to happen!' stuck out like a sore thumb!)

    Because of their late introduction and lack of development, the antagonists felt a little bit like they were shoehorned in at the last moment to act as plot devices; and the same was true of Otis Glott, who isn't mentioned at all until early in the same scene in which he was designed to serve as a martyr/saviour.

    Hawke having a "meet and greet" or bit of conflict/challenge with the characters of Blitz Unit before being formally included in the Unit would have sufficed to make these people feel more like, well, people, instead of being easily recognizable as narrative forces/plot devices.

    Grammar, Sentence Flow:
    I had no complaints about your grammar or spelling; perhaps there were mistakes here and there, but they definitely didn't stick out. If anything, I would recommend that you explore perhaps trying out signalling dialogue with the usual, conventional quotation marks. I suggest this not because it's wrong to do it your own way— stylistic decisions are always yours to make— but because it might prompt you to add extra details to the same sentence, such as the way the words were spoken, or the speaker's body language or simultaneous actions.

    As an example of what I mean by that:
    In your story, during long segments of dialogue like the above I felt almost like someone was covering my eyes and ears while was trying to "see" (imagine) what the characters look like, what they sound like. Your way of keeping dialogue all to its own line, with no room for any description except at the end of an exchange, seems to make it difficult for you to communicate your characters' tones of voice, body language, and other such things. If I had written the same exchange— and I'm not saying you need to copy my style, this is just to illustrate!— it'd have looked like this:
    You may notice that I played with two options: breaking up the quote into two parts, or keeping it whole. Both are fine; however, in both cases, I included some kind of description of how the line was said, or what the character was doing while speaking. (I also added one or two thoughts of Nathan's, helping him feel more like a person to the reader while also cutting down on the amount of stuff that needed to be stated outright later on.)

    Detail, Description:
    This, I think, was the part of your story which needed the most work. The need for more descriptions is very commonly the case, though, including for me! It wasn't that there was no description and detail; it was that you were rather selective about what merited description, and reader immersion suffered for it.

    Your characters were generally described well when they were introduced: I had a clear mental image of each one, with the exception of Ray Talbot, who didn't get a physical description.

    What was lacking was description of the environs. With only a few exceptions— the Articuno mural in the floor of the parade grounds is notable, as is the brief welcome by the officers in the cantina— details of the world and less-important characters surrounding Private Hawke were left entirely up to the reader's imagination. Keep in mind that your reader doesn't have the same clear mental image of your story's world as you do! In the first line of the story, we're told that the Heimlan Army's East Division HQ is massive and awe-inspiring, but despite Hawke standing in front of the gate, we aren't given details about the gate or the building itself: no doubt the gates are big, but are they made of metal, or are they huge imposing wooden monoliths?

    Same deal with the Recognition scene: description went from great ("Sweat ran like a fountain down his face, he couldn’t remember the last time his heart pumped that fast, and why did the goddamn air insist on not filling his lungs properly? He could barely feel his legs, any actual pain long gone by the thirtieth or so lap around the drill field, and his hands had gone numb at some time near the fortieth.") to nonexistent. We see no mention of the surroundings except for that he's on a "drill field" (later referred to as the "exam field.") What this means is that it's left entirely up to the reader to try and figure out, from no information, important details for a complete imagining of the scene: how many other applicants are there? Where is this drill field relative to other buildings? (Is it an empty field in the middle of nowhere, or is it boxed in by four buildings like a courtyard?) How large is it? What's going on in the environs: are there soldiers going by regularly in the usual hustle and bustle of an army headquarters, or are only prospective recruits permitted to enter this area for now?

    In the final scene: there are multiple buildings mentioned that Blitz Unit is moving between, but what's beyond them— forest? Barrens? Or more buildings, if this military base is part of a city/town? What exactly does the outside of the hangar look like? Once Blitz Unit gets inside, the interior of the hangar isn't described either, except for being dark and having three tanks in it. The darkness explains why nothing else is visible, but there's still a lot of opportunity to evoke a detailed (if small) picture in the reader's head: how are the tanks arranged? What's the texture of the ground, smooth or is the concrete pitted and crumbled? What does the "captured" enemy soldier look like?

    These kinds of details can do a lot to give a scene life in a reader's head; the lack of them can make it feel like the characters are standing on a barren plain or amidst a white expanse of nothingness, awkwardly interacting with each other in that vacuum. Sometimes, in a particularly tense scene, it can jar the reader quite badly as a character crashes through a wall or leaps over an obstacle that the reader had no idea even existed.

    As a general rule: try to describe the surroundings in enough detail that an artist would be able to draw your mental image fairly accurately with the description you gave. At first, this exercise will likely feel forced, and detailed descriptions of the surroundings might need to be awkwardly shoved into the beginning of every scene; as you practice, though, you'll find yourself learning ways to sneak these little details into other parts of the scene's beginning paragraphs, so that rather than slamming the scene's "set" down in a single unsubtle block of descriptive text, you end up painting the picture in equal detail with a few masterful strokes that flow well with your narrative.

    To illustrate, let me just give an example off the top of my head:

    Without the descriptions:
    Early on in this kind of exercise:
    After some practice:
    The extra detail adds a lot, even when it's kind of "forced," and can render a scene downright cinematic once the skill is mastered. =)

    Your way of indicating dialogue— with dashes instead of quotation marks— took some getting used to, but as soon as I acclimatized to it I found the dialogue fairly easy to follow.

    I enjoyed the way your characters interacted; the stutters of green Private Hawke in the beginning, the good-natured, un-self-conscious ramble of "Werebear" Hanson Reed, and the gruff, clipped sentences of Lieutenant (later Colonel) Graham Ford were all individual and evoked their personalities well!

    As said above, though, some more detail as to how the characters say what they say, and more in-depth description of their body language or what they're doing as they talk, would go a long way towards painting a clear picture in the reader's mind. =)

    I loved reading this. Just as a personal opinion, there was just the right amount of preamble to each moment of action. Explanations of why Hawke was doing the things he was doing were followed by him actually doing them. There was no formulaic, turn-based limit here: the characters were at war, with all the imbalance and real-time struggle that implies. Type advantages came up, but situational advantages trumped them in the end, satisfyingly so. Overall, the battle was a huge success as far as evoking excitement in the reader went, and also successfully invoked the same gritty, realistic ambience as the rest of your story.

    Character Count:
    I counted 56,338!

    This story was exceedingly well executed. In all cases, I try to give whatever advice I think will push the writer to be the most successful in the near future; this time, for every category except Detail/Description, I had to dig deep and really work to find ways that you could improve your writing skills! That's a very big deal, and I'm happy to say I think you'll prove to be a serious contender for winner of one or more of the Writing Contests, should you enter. I consider the quality of your writing an inspiration, and also a challenge to keep on getting better, myself!

    Your story met the requirements for a Demanding cash prize ([​IMG]40,000) in every way except for the description and detail: I found myself engaged and immersed by the interesting characters, good plot pacing, and well-conceptualized drama... only to have my immersion broken by the inescapable impression that the named characters were interacting with each other in a vacuum: their world colourless and insufficiently populated due to the lack of surroundings and other people. As such, I will be giving this story the Complex ranking, worth 25,000 Pokédollars.

    You're quite close to making that extra 15k, though, and I would greatly enjoy reading this story again with more detail added... So, as per the rules of the URPG story-writing system: if you want to, you can go back, edit, and request a re-grade!

    Cash Prize: Complex ([​IMG]25,000).
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2016
  3. Maskerade

    Maskerade Member

    Blog Posts:
    Sep 16, 2012
    Likes Received:
    Alright, updated this story with some more descriptions and revised dialogues. Elaborating environs was especially tough for me with the limited vocabulary I know, but I gave it my best shot!
    Intentionally, I did not develop Otis Glott any further in this chapter.
  4. Magikchicken

    Magikchicken Prince of All Blazikens!

    Blog Posts:
    Apr 17, 2010
    Likes Received:
    Having read through this story again with the updates, I think you did a really good job! There was more development to the antagonists (which is important!) and much, much more description of environs! You challenged yourself to make the descriptions evocative despite your vocabulary, and it's clear that you succeeded: I found the locations your story took place in much easier to imagine this time, and the descriptions were a pleasure to read.

    I'm very pleased to say, by way of a re-grade for this story, that:
    Cash Prize: Demanding ([​IMG]40,000)
  5. Maskerade

    Maskerade Member

    Blog Posts:
    Sep 16, 2012
    Likes Received:
    Thanks! :D I'll be honest, descriptions are something I still don't feel comfortable with, but I've taken a liking to seeing what I can pull off with the words I know. I hope I can put those skills to use in future chapters to see if things flow better with practice!

    Claiming: 40.000$
    Current total: 41.500$