Author Topic: Chapter 4  (Read 9478 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 4
« on: August 25, 2022, 04:41:08 AM »
Chapter 4

Meera took him back to the office building, to the basement training area, to get him familiar with the weapons down there. The club he’d tried to use was a variation of a kanabo, which was apparently a traditional Grimm weapon. While Meera approved of his choice, her first priority was to get his marksmanship up to her exacting standards.

Gil had never shot a gun before, much less a crossbow, but Meera insisted he learn. He started with handguns, probably military issue, and then moved up to the more powerful rifles. They seemed to have a wide selection, which suggested Tyler had connections within the US Military or Intelligence communities.

There was something thrilling in feeling the recoil, and watching the damage done to the target. They weren’t using paper cutouts, either. Meera had set up full-scale ballistic gel targets, and arranged them to simulate various shifters he might end up facing. He always aimed for the shoulder or side though, even in this practice. He hoped she would assume he was just a bad shot.

She caught on pretty quick, though. “You’re shooting off-center on purpose. Why?”

After he mentioned the Hippocratic Oath that even EMTs had to take, she shook her head. “It doesn’t apply here. These shifters will kill you if given the chance. Some of them are bullet-resistant, or even bulletproof in Stage Three! You can’t afford to be such an idealist!”

“Hey!” He countered. “I’m not a Grimm yet, remember? I’m a low-priority target to them, and I might always be that way. What I definitely am is a medic. I’ve never taken a life before, but I’ve seen a lot of people die over the years. I’m not adding to the pile, even if it’s someone who wants to throw me onto that pile.”

“Then you’re already dead,” she said fatalistically.

“Maybe so, but you have to train me anyway, right? Just give me the basics. If and when my Grimm comes in, I’ll consider learning more, but this is as far as I go for now. If it’s not safe to go back to Portugal yet, I’ll stay here and help with my medical skills. That’s my final offer.” He said it as if he was in a negotiation, but they both knew it wasn’t. She couldn’t force him to learn things he didn’t want to, short of killing him, anyway. Even that fight back at the house had been uncomfortably close to the ‘do no harm’ line, as far as he was concerned.

Despite obviously disagreeing with his choice, Meera did seem to respect him a little more after that. She probably valued people standing up for themselves.

After endurance and combat training, of which she assured him this was the first session of many, they went on to book learning. Or rather, he did. Blip came in to replace her at that point, as she was needed elsewhere. Blip led a sweating Gil over to the computer room and began to run through some of the most commonly-encountered shifters out there. And the most dangerous ones.

Gil realized he didn’t smell too good right now, and that shifters probably had enhanced noses, even in Stage One. He apologized about it, but Blip just smiled. “I’m used to it; don’t worry. Meera used to have the same concerns when she was new at this.”

Which for her was twelve years old, Gil remembered hearing. She’d been training as a child soldier. As necessary as they all obviously thought this was, child soldiers really shouldn’t be a thing at all.

As a distraction, he tried to focus on Blip himself. He told the shifter a little about his life before moving out to Lisbon, about his training and experience as an EMT. The younger man seemed interested. Gil got the impression that he didn’t have many friends outside Tyler’s circle of Grimms, however big or small that was. “So how did you end up here? I mean how does a shifter wind up being friends with a bunch of Grimms?”

Blip’s eyes opened a little wider at that. “Well, Meera for sure, but I don’t know many others who would call me a friend.”

“Meera and me,” Gil put in, and Blip smiled a little self-consciously.

“They’re more like family to me, actually. I was a foundling, like you. Only my parents weren’t killed. They just abandoned me, from what Mr. Harrington could find out. I was just left on a park bench in southern Jersey City.”

Gil winced. “I’m sorry. If it’s any consolation, I know exactly how you feel. Every time I saw that footage of my mom leaving me in that bus, I felt abandoned. Now that I know she did it for my protection, it helps a little, but the feeling remains.”

“It’s all right,” Blip said, his old cheer returning somewhat. “I can help new intakes like you, by testing to see if you’re Grimms. I helped scan all of these books into computer storage, for future reference. I can even fight, somewhat. Sorry again about shooting you, by the way.”

“Water under the bridge. By the way, what kind of shifter are you? I mean you kinda looked like an otter when I saw you earlier, but I haven’t had much time to look through the computer database.”

Blip looked over his shoulder, his smile slipping a bit. They were alone, but he lowered his voice anyway. “We’re called luisant-pêcheur, but don’t spread it around. As far as Mr. Harrington’s concerned, I’m an otter, ok? That’s a shifter word, and he doesn’t even like the word wesen itself.”

“Easier to remember anyway,” Gil said confidently, but he felt a little concerned. Blip considered these people to be family, but it was clear they didn’t feel the same. Meera was friendly with him, but what kid called his father-figure by his last name? There were probably others in this family unit as well, but Blip hadn’t thought of them as friends either. Some family this was.

Gil had seen cases of child abuse multiple times over the years, as part of his work. There were always warning signs, if you knew what to look for. Children who wouldn’t look you in the eyes, or always looked at parents when asked questions that should be easy to answer. Children who referred to their father as ‘sir’ was a common sign, though not a universal one.

Gil thought back to Tyler’s expression when Blip had been demonstrating Stages Two and Three. In retrospect, it was obvious that Tyler found the whole experience distasteful, or perhaps even sickening. He tolerated Blip, that was all. Probably only because Blip was a useful training tool. For a moment, Gil considered asking Blip if he’d ever met any other shifters, of his kind or otherwise, but decided against it. The answer was probably no.

-.-

After another training session with Meera, Gil was deemed to be ‘not entirely useless’. That was apparently enough for her, because afterwards he was going to be introduced to some of the other people working with her and Tyler. From what she said, none of them were Grimms, but they all knew about shifters. They were one group of many in the country and around the world. Grimms might be the cornerstone of this effort, but even they needed a support system.

He still wasn’t sure exactly what this effort was intended to do. Preserve themselves, apparently, given how many times the shifters had tried to wipe out all Grimms.

Strangely, it wasn’t Meera who picked him up that night after training to go and see the others. It was Tyler himself, and he was driving it himself. It wasn’t exactly a limo, but there was definite luxury involved. The drive out to their staging area would take an hour or so, and Gil was eager to learn more about his birth parents. Tyler seemed happy to answer, though he did look a little wistful as the memories came back to him.

“Maria was always very adventurous, even before she developed the sight. Dad was constantly having to tell her which outdoors areas to avoid, and which snakes were poisonous, and not to talk to strangers; that sort of thing. After she started fighting shifters, that trend died down a little. She and Dad would go out for whole days at a time, leaving me and Mom at home. When I finally developed the sight, I could join them, and it was not easy at first.” He shuddered a little. “I had nightmares for weeks at the beginning, but we both knew we were doing what had to be done. These creatures had to be stopped, and the one thing they all agreed on were that Grimms were their common enemy. If Dad hadn’t been there to help us through it…” he trailed off for a moment. “I would have ended up like Rubel.”

“The woman who saved me? She’s in Portland now, right?”

Tyler nodded. “She grew up in the foster care system, and didn’t have any family to help her through all this. She eventually met up with another Grimm, a Portland homicide detective named Burkhardt, and they’re working together now. He’s kind of an outlier, though. Most Grimms avoid him, and for good reason.”

Gil gave him an expectant look, and Tyler smiled. “Sorry, I keep forgetting you don’t already know all this. Burkhardt’s considered a radical, and he’s taught Rubel to act the same way. He’s ‘out and proud’, so to speak. The entire shifter population over there knows that there’s a detective and his, uh, ward I guess, who are both Grimms. Secrecy is one of our greatest advantages, and he just threw his away.” He shook his head slowly. “That was a stupid call on Burkhardt’s case, though it is possible he had no choice. Some shifter could have seen him and then gotten away. Either way, we have to keep our distance or the shifters might find out who we are as well. At least they’re fighting Black Claw over there, just like we do here.”

Gil nodded slowly. “So they’re related to you as well? Because they’re Grimms?”

“Only very distantly. Maybe cousins to the nth degree or something. Burkhardt’s mother, Kessler, was based in New York for a while, but I never met her either.”

“What about my father? Did you know him well? Was he a Grimm, too?”

Tyler smiled. “Dan was… very diligent. Brendan Williams was career Army, and spent twenty years in the Rangers. He served in like, six tours I think? He’d spent pretty much all his adult life in some of the most hellish places on earth, even before he met Maria. He was wounded twice, and got maybe a dozen of the Army’s most prestigious awards. He was one of a kind, that’s for sure. Nothing but the best for Maria.”

“How did they die?” Gil asked quietly, not entirely sure he wanted to know.

Tyler sighed. “For Dan, it was an IED. His patrol route was supposed to be secure, but of course there’s no way to guarantee that all the way over there. The Army’s investigation found it to be normal combat operations, but we knew better. Because, among other things, Maria was targeted at the exact same time. The shifters must have found out about her, and gone after both of them concurrently. After that she must have taken you and gone into hiding. She didn’t even tell me where she was going, for fear of exposing me as well.” A haunted look entered his eyes. “She was found dead, two days later. She didn’t tell anyone about you, me included. She was always protecting you, right up to the end. Good woman.”

Gil leaned back. From his tone, Tyler was truly sorrowful. He probably would have adopted Gil if he’d known he had a nephew out there. Gil wouldn’t be a Hartkins, and would probably never have even been to Portugal.

“Can I see their graves?”

Tyler hesitated. “Your father’s in Arlington National Cemetery. I can take you there if you want, but it will have to wait at least a day. As for your mother, her will stated that she should be cremated. I spread her ashes in the Potomac myself. I’m sorry.”

That was a blow, but not much of one given everything else. “Cremation… that’s a Grimm thing, then?” He asked after a moment and Tyler nodded.

“For our family, and a bunch of others. It started out cultural, but more recently it’s out of a desire for secrecy. If they can’t examine our bodies after we die, it’s less likely they’ll be able to figure out if we were Grimms or not, and therefore less likely that they’ll target our kids.”

“Makes sense,” Gil said softly. He was an organ donor, and had no intention of being cremated himself, but he wasn’t about to say as much. He didn’t want to offend his uncle.

Gil’s last name was Williams, apparently. His mother had been a Grimm, and hidden him away so he wouldn’t be killed. His dad had been Dan Williams. A war hero, or as near enough to it as people could get these days. “I must be a real disappointment to you. I’ve never served in any armed forces, here or in Portugal. I’d never even fired a gun before coming here.”

“Hey. None of that, you hear? Dan was brave and strong, yes, but he was no Grimm. You might end up surpassing anything he could ever do, someday. And even if you don’t, you’re still honoring your heritage in your own way. Your mother would be proud, and so would your father.”

That was comforting, in its own way. Gil had called his parents, giving them a vague description of finding his original family. They were happy for him, just like Sanders, but sad as well. They loved him, and he would always be their son, birth family or not. Still, he wanted to live up to this tradition he’d been born into. Shaking his head, he tried to focus on his mental list of questions. “So how did I end up in Iowa? Did your dad- my grandfather- used to live there?”

“No, our family has been based in Washington for generations now. Dad only moved us out to Iowa for those years because of his work. I moved back here after he died in a car crash. We have no real proof that it was shifters, but I think it was. All it would take is one of them finding out what he was, and he’d have a death mark.”

Gil grimaced. He’d have to get used to this new way of living. Maybe it would be better if he never did develop any special sight. “Were there a lot of shifters in Iowa, and that’s why he moved there? I mean, this was before Black Claw existed, but there were probably other groups like them, right?”

“Not exactly.” Tyler gave him a sidelong glance, and then smiled. “Dad’s work was morally questionable, especially to someone with medical training like you, but I suppose you have a right to know.” He leaned forward in his seat, interlacing his fingers. “Dad knew our line was dying out. He saw a lot of good friends die in World War 2, and some of them were Grimms. He knew that if we continued business as usual, we’d be gone within a century or so. He also knew that if we tried to gather all Grimms together in some kind of protected community, it would just be one big target to the shifters. They’d gather themselves and hit us with a whole damn army! So he settled on a new plan.”

He seemed to be evaluating Gil as he went on. “The very first sperm banks were built in Iowa and over in Tokyo. Dad was involved in funding them and then building them, though it was through a shell company. He didn’t want anyone to know he was part of the project. Then, when they got started, he got himself assigned to the Iowa facility. In the storage and records department.”

Feeling a sense of queasiness that had nothing to do with the car’s motion, Gil gaped at him. “Tell me he didn’t do what I’m thinking.”

Tyler nodded slowly. “He replaced some of the samples in storage with his own. In secret of course. We’ve been studying the records on the families in question for years now, and we still don’t know which ones exactly. He never told anyone, because if any shifters found out what he was up to, it would endanger those families and babies as well.”

The implications of this were staggering! Gil didn’t know much about sperm banks himself, other than the obvious, but millions of offspring had resulted from the samples over the years. How many of those infertile parents had been lied to? Morally questionable? That was something of an understatement. Then another thought occurred to him. “Meera? Is she… one of those babies?”

“She is. Her parents moved back to India with her as a child, to continue their… shipping business I think. By blood, she’s my half-sister, and your aunt. We’ve found a few others over the years, but they’re not based in the US.”

“Does she know?”

“Of course she knows. We tell all of them, at least those who have the sight. It wouldn’t be fair to do otherwise.”

At least they were open about it to the people themselves. “But if you don’t know which samples he switched out, then how do you know where to look for potential Grimms?”

Tyler smiled. “We keep a close eye on juvie facilities, mental health clinics, and the like. Any report of anyone seeing an ‘animal person’ is flagged automatically and sent to us. That’s how I found Meera. She saw a shifter go into Stage Two and it scared the hell out of her, understandably. When she told her parents, they had her evaluated, and the psych report ended up on my desk. After that I got in touch with her, secretly. I assured her she that wasn’t going crazy, but that she had to pretend she wasn’t seeing them. She could ask me anything, as long as she kept the secret. When she was old enough to live alone, she moved out here and has been helping me ever since.”

Gil felt a little relief that Meera hadn’t actually been fighting since she was twelve. She’d only gotten into this life after being old enough to be on her own. “What about the others? There’s gotta be thousands of them by now!”

“Thousands of children, yes, but only a handful of confirmed Grimms. Their stories are mostly like Meera’s; those we could find in time, that is. Some were killed by shifters before we could get to them,” he added sadly.

Gil was reminded of animals that laid hundreds of eggs and then abandoned them. Most of those eggs hatched, but only a few of the offspring survived to adulthood. What his grandfather had done was unthinkable! He’d obviously thought it necessary, and maybe he’d been right, but that didn’t make it moral in any way. Somehow, Gil felt like the lucky one here. His parents had been killed, but at least they’d made their own decisions. Those parents over the years hadn’t been so lucky.

Tyler was continuing. “One of my brothers is doing mostly the same thing I am, in Tokyo. He watches for any reports of mental instability and ‘visual hallucinations’ just like I do, and takes in his siblings when he finds them. We’ve had to be much more careful since Black Claw showed up, but we can’t abandon our family.”

The car was slowing down now, and Tyler looked out the window. “We’re here. I’ll introduce you to the others, but remember, they’re reliable allies, but they’re not family. They’re not Grimms.”

“Neither am I,” Gil reminded him.

They both got out of the car, and Gil looked around in the cold night. They were in a shipping yard of some kind, south of DC. It looked abandoned, but that was normal for Grimms, he was learning. Snow had fallen here, maybe an hour or so ago, but it wasn’t deep enough to impede them. Tyler’s phone rang, and he held up a hand. “Let me get this before going in. It’s Meera.”

Gil took the opportunity to look in through the nearby warehouse window. Judging by the other cars here, there were maybe a dozen people inside. Sure enough, he saw a collection of black-clad men in there, speaking quietly with each other. They were all armed; each with a bat like the one he’d used, as well as a pistol or rifle in reserve.

Tyler pocketed his phone, his eyes wide. “This is… unexpected. Come on in, I’ll tell them along with you.” Not sure what to think, Gil followed him through the warehouse door.

The people inside all immediately stood at attention, military-style, but they didn’t salute or anything. They obviously had a great respect for Tyler, and seemed to be willing to extend that over to Gil, at least provisionally. “Gil, meet our local area strike team. The tall one on the left is Jack Trager, the team leader. Then, there is Richa, Kim, Matt, Finn… he went on through all fifteen of them from left to right, but Gil wasn’t able to remember them all.

“Everyone, this is Gil Hartkins. He’s my nephew, but we don’t know if he’s a Grimm or not. Time will tell, I guess. At any rate, this was supposed to be an orientation for him, but I just got some very surprising news. Apparently Black Claw’s leadership… are all dead. As of about an hour ago, Bonaparte was neutralized in Portland, and the others over in Munich were killed at the same time. We just got confirmation. We lost a lot of our allies in the process, but it’s done now. Without their leaders, we have reports of infighting between many of their cells.”

The group all let out a spontaneous and surprised cheer. They clapped each other on the back and smiled broadly, as if some dark cloud over their head had just dissipated. Which it had, Gil supposed. He’d only found out about Black Claw a few days ago, and even that had been causing him anxiety. These people had been under that very same pressure for weeks or months!

Trager was the first to respond, stepping forward for his people. “Well, to hell with the normal patrol! If Black Claw’s really headless right now, then now’s the time to hit back!”

“I had the same thought,” Tyler said, nodding. “Leo and Detlef Aurel are only about fifteen minutes away from here. We’ll head there and surveil their operation. Once they get word of this, if they don’t know already, it’ll throw the whole group into chaos. Then we’ll take the opportunity to eliminate them. They’re a pair of hounds that run one of the Black Claw cells in the area,” he added for Gil’s benefit. Turning back to the strike team, he smiled. “Our allies all around the world are doing much the same, and it’s on us to handle our own back yard. Come on, people. Let’s get it done!”

There was another loud cheer, and people broke for their cars. Tyler led Gil back out to his own car. He seemed to notice that Gil was looking a little sick, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Gil. You won’t be expected to fight with us. I know you’re not fully trained yet. Still, we might need you to patch up some people. There’s a first aid kit and some weapons in the trunk in case you need them.”

-.-

Gil tried to keep his nausea from showing once they arrived. These people were all wearing Kevlar, armed with melee and ranged weapons, and practically itching for a fight. This was US soil for God’s sake, and they were about to turn it into a warzone!

Obviously, they viewed it differently. Gil supposed that they already felt as if they’d been fighting a war, and losing. Now they had the chance to get some payback, and they weren’t wasting it. They arrived at their destination, what looked like an apartment complex a little west of the shipping yard, and came to a stop a good distance away from it. They hadn’t taken the fifteen cars they’d come with, but had crammed into about four of them. It was less obvious that way, Gil guessed.

Jack led the group out, and they passed radios among them all before spreading out. Two of them ran up to the bottom of the fire escape in the alley, from Gil’s perspective. He had no idea where the others were taking up position.

Tyler’s radio crackled at him briefly, and Jack’s voice filtered through it. “Looks like they already know, sir. This place is a buzzing beehive.”

“Then let’s kill the queen. Team, move in on Jack’s signal.”

He grinned over at Gil, whose stomach did a somersault. “Exciting, isn’t it?”

“Among other things, yeah,” Gil managed.

Shooting erupted upstairs in the apartment building, followed by yells and screams. Gil started to move, but Tyler held him back. “Stay here with me. We can’t risk anything happening to you.”

“There are probably hundreds of people in that building, and some of them are being shot! I have to help if I can. Unless you’re saying they’re all shifters!”

Tyler shook his head. “No, Black Claw hides in plain sight, usually. There’s collateral damage every time we get in a fight with them, but trust me, it’s a lot better than just letting them get away with their plans. This is ugly, I know, especially for you, but it’s the lesser of two evils by a long shot.”

The radio crackled again, and another voice broke in. “Sir, we’ve got them cornered in one of the apartments and covered from the outside, but we’re going to need help breaking in!”

The older man grimaced and lifted the radio. “On my way. You stay here,” he added to Gil, handing him the radio. “If any of our people need medical attention, we’ll call you.” In another instant he was gone, running with surprising speed for his age across the light snow and up the fire escape.

What about other people who need medical attention? Gil wanted to yell after him, but didn’t. The shooting continued but seemed to spread out. It had started on the fourth floor, probably where the hound leaders were. Now it was down on the second as well. As Gil watched, shivering from more than just the cold, a figure smashed through one of the lower story windows, falling to the ground below. Gil couldn’t tell from this angle if he was still alive.

He'd gotten one of the pistols out of the trunk when he’d grabbed the first aid kit. Checking to make sure that it was unloaded, Gil moved out towards the fallen man. It was stupid, he knew, but required. The Hippocratic Oath didn’t take sides, and neither could he. He couldn’t kill anyone, but maybe he’d be able to scare someone off with it.

The man had apparently been shoved backwards through the window. Even before reaching his position, Gil could see that he was dead. His neck was bent at an extreme degree, and there was very little blood from the cuts on his arms and hands. He’d probably died on impact. There was a wound on his chest, but it wasn’t a gunshot. He’d been hit by one of those kanabo clubs. Looking up, Gil shook his head and ran for the fire escape.

A blinding flash of light lit up the fourth floor just as he got up one level, accompanied by a tremendous noise. Even at this distance, Gil’s head was ringing, and his eyes were shut tight. That had to be one of the flashbangs he’d seen on Jack’s belt. Short bursts of gunfire followed it, and then came wails and crying.

Gil sprinted up the remaining stairs, balancing the gun awkwardly. On the second floor, he saw one of the strike team, Matt maybe, standing over a fallen man. Or not quite a man. His head was covered in green scales, and a long red tongue was flicking in and out of the snout he had instead of a face. As Gil stared, the scales vanished into the man’s skin, melting away as if they’d never been. The snout retracted into a nose, and the eyes, which had been slitted, closed and were covered with eyelids instead.

For his part, Matt seemed utterly unperturbed by this. Either he hadn’t seen the man shift, or he didn’t care. He fired another round into the man’s chest, and turned away.

A scream emanated from the left side of the hall, and Matt’s gun was instantly raised again in its direction. A woman, maybe twenty-five, ran across the hall and knelt next to the body, weeping. Feeling sick, Gil climbed in through the window, and stepped out slowly. Matt’s gun swiveled to face him, but then his face brightened. “Hartkins! A little late to the party, I guess?”

“Something like that,” Gil managed, staring down at the fallen man and the weeping woman. “Where’s his weapon?”

Matt shook his head. “His fangs. He went into Stage Three and tried to bite me. It must have been before you showed up. This kind of snake is super-venomous. I would have died almost instantly. Did you see him shift back?”

“Uh, yeah.”

He must have still looked queasy, because Matt put on a sympathetic expression. “Right, this is all pretty new to you, isn’t it? Jack said you’d only been here a couple of days.”

The radio in his pack crackled at him, and Gil reached back to grab it. “Gil, are you there?” Tyler’s voice came at him.

“Here, uh, sir,” he improvised.

“We’ve got a few gunshot wounds on the fourth floor. It doesn’t look that serious, but could you get up here anyway?”

He acknowledged, looking back at the body again. A boy had crossed the hallway as well, joining the woman next to the body. He couldn’t have been more than ten. He stared up at Matt with hatred, and got only a sneer in response. The boy’s face twisted and scales erupted from it as well, with a similar but smaller snout, and a forked tongue. From his expression, Matt didn’t seem to notice. He just turned away again.

Gil was expected upstairs. As he passed Matt, the other man clapped him on the back. “Some baptism of fire, huh? Don’t worry, man. You’ll get used to it.”

Despite himself, Gil paused. “What if they go to the cops? After all this shooting, someone’s sure to have called 112. I mean 911,” he amended quickly. He was still used to the Portuguese system.

Matt just shrugged. “Most of us are cops. Besides, everyone here is too afraid to tell anyone what really happened. As far as the Precinct is concerned, this was just another drug-related shooting. You’ll keep your mouth shut, won’t you, sweetheart?” He said sardonically down at the woman.

She didn’t respond, but just kept crying into the man’s still form. Only when the child moved, did she respond. She grabbed his arm to keep him from going after Matt.

“Smart move,” Matt answered coldly. “They know that if they speak out, they’ll just sound crazy, or they’ll be next. You’re lucky you’re not a shifter, kid, or you’d be lying there with him.”

Gil gaped at him. He hadn’t seen the kid shift? The implications to that were clear, but he simply didn’t have time to think about it. Taking Matt by the arm, he moved him a few steps away and lowered his voice. “So, all shifters are fair game then? And any humans caught in the middle are… what? Acceptable losses?”

“This is war, Hartkins,” Matt said easily, as if it didn’t bother him in the slightest. “It’s us or them, and I choose us. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it soon enough. Now go on. Don’t you have some bullets to dig out?”

His head spinning from much, much more than the flashbang, Gil ran upstairs numbly.
« Last Edit: August 25, 2022, 04:55:43 AM by Daen »