Halloween 1916; outside Québec City, Canada
The night sky was clear and dark. A thin sliver of the moon was visible through the sparse foliage still stubbornly clinging onto the tree branches. It didn’t supply much for light, barely matching the stars.
Puffs of breath from three different people floated up in the chilly fall air, only visible if you were the one getting it in your face.
They walked in silence, eyes watching the darkness around them, feet crunching softly on the brittle icy leaves underfoot. Their masks barely reflected any of the light, thanks to the matte finish, though the light colors stood out from the darkness. Their paths could be traced in the shifting mist behind them, eddies of air currents stirring it up after each step.
The oldest of the lot, a young man with an omega symbol on his mask, glanced around the small clearing they’d stepped into, then nodded and came to a stop. He made a few quick gestures, and the three separated, venturing into the trees.
Ohmwrecker glanced around, scanning the area for any nearby guards, keeping the clearing firmly in mind. It would be all too easy to get lost in these woods, especially as dark as it was, and that was the last thing he wanted.
Movement tickled the edge of his vision, and he turned to look, training kicking in and holding him in place. If he hadn’t already been spotted, holding still would greatly decrease his chances of being seen.
He stood there for several minutes, listening hard, eyes straining to see into the darkness, before he decided it was safe. Whatever had been out there wasn’t now.
He just wished he knew what it was.
...It could have just been the shifting fog.
He turned back, only to freeze again as a shape seemed to flash in a nearby tree—a shape that was gone when he looked.
He swallowed. The trainers had warned that darkness played tricks on the mind, especially if you weren’t used to it.
He pushed the thought aside and made his way back to the clearing. With nods from the other two, he let out a sigh.
“We’re a mile and a half out, more or less,” Ohm murmured, forcing the others to step closer to hear him properly. “I’m worried the scouting team might have been wrong about how often the guards change out.” He glanced up at the stars, double-checking the time. “Their reinforcements shouldn’t have arrived yet, but let’s prepare for the worst.”
“‘Course,” Delirious murmured, huddling deeper into his coat. “I hope Vanoss knows what we’re going through for him.” He exhaled hard, and the lenses of his white and red mask fogged briefly. “I’m ready to kick some butt and get him back.”
“We don’t want to kick butt,” Ohm warned. “There’s well over fifty of them. If they figure out we’re there, they’re absolutely going to kill us, and Evan too.”
Delirious sighed and grumbled something, but nodded. “I’mma prep my weapons anyway.”
“That would be why we stopped.” Ohm shifted slightly, grimacing at the package of explosives sealed at his hip. He really hoped he didn’t have to use them. The last thing they needed was a stray spark burning down the entire forest.
The three worked quietly, quickly, readying their weapons and glancing around. More than once, Ohm could have sworn he saw something flitting through the distance, but he could never identify what it was.
“Any last instructions, Mr. Leader?” Del asked—and despite the slight edge of mockery in his tone, there was no mistaking the seriousness of the question.
“Not unless either of you have questions.”
Del shook his head. The third and youngest member, a young man with a completely white mask, just double-checked all eight of his knives.
“Cry?” Ohm asked.
Cryaotic looked up from the last dagger, then resecured the pack holding their medical supplies before saying, “I’m good.”
Ohm nodded, then rolled his shoulders.
“Let’s get going, then.”
Those were to be the last words spoken until either an emergency broke out or they had Vanoss to safety.
It was beyond time they had him back. He’d been held hostage for a solid 44 hours now. Sooner or later, the captors would get bored of him, or would get tired of dealing with his snark, and they’d kill him. They’d probably already figured out he wasn’t going to provide much in the way of information, assuming that was even the reason he’d been taken.
Ohm jumped a dip in the forest floor, landing solidly despite the frost making the leaves slip underfoot, the fog obscuring the ground. His mask clouded for just a moment at the heat of the air that escaped him on impact, and it took all his willpower to trust the mask would clear in just a moment.
The next stride he took was longer than it should have been. The leaves beneath his foot must have been slick with frost, because he lost his footing. Training immediately took over, and he rolled into the fall and jumped out of it, keeping most of his momentum—though his arm caught against the rough bark of a tree, scraping raw some skin on his wrist.
He hissed softly in pain, and a mumbled Italian curse was half out of his mouth before he cut it off and switched to English. A surge of irritation filled; it had been five years. Surely he could have suppressed those habits by now.
He glanced over at the other two (they’d slowed to match pace with him, and Cry was watching him with a hand hovering over the strap to the medical bag) and gave a curt nod before pushing himself back into a reasonable speed.
It was easy enough to tell when they were approaching the camp where Vanoss was being held hostage. Lanterns had been lit around the trees, casting glittering light on the frost now coating most surfaces, and giving the mist an eerie glow.
The three of them came to a stop, pressing themselves up behind a thick tree and a split boulder. The roots of the tree had forced it apart over the years, and Ohm was hoping the irregular shape would hide their silhouettes.
The barn was clearly well on its way to complete collapse and structurally unsound. Even if the recon team hadn’t found Vanoss’ exact location, Ohm seriously doubted he would have been in there. It wasn’t illuminated internally. They’d risk death every time they went inside. They risked killing Vanoss before he gave whatever information they thought he had.
Not that anyone would tell Vanoss anything important. He was seventeen. And Vanoss.
No, Vanoss was in the farmhouse. In the root cellar, specifically; though as Ohm looked at the number of guards near the farmhouse and the fires set up outside the stone fence in the front, he had no idea how recon got close enough to figure that out, let alone inside the house long enough to learn the root cellar actually had both the usual outside entrance, and access from the basement.
...Hopefully the large number of people meant reinforcements had arrived, and not that they had yet to arrive, because the thought of more people to get through was not an appealing one.
“How vital did they say stealth was in this?” Del asked softly. “Can I just- Ohm- lemme-”
Ohm pushed Del’s hand away from his explosives pouch, putting a finger to his mask in a shushing motion.
Del fell back into position, grumbling softly enough Ohm almost couldn’t hear him.
Ohm waited for several minutes, then quietly gestured for the next stage of their plan to begin. Delirious immediately darted to the next section of cover towards the middle of the camp, and Ohm headed around the outside circle. Cry headed directly for the house, skirting around to the back.
Ohm quietly ran up to the guard walking rounds, pulling out his knife—and with a swift movement, he held it to their throat.
“Dead,” he whispered.
They obediently crumpled to the ground in an undignified sprawl.
Ohm huffed softly, scooping his hands under their armpits and hauling them to a little ditch that had likely once been used for irrigation. It was empty now, and half-filled with icy dirt, but it would do.
He turned his attention back to the guards patrolling the camp. Time to take enough of them out to make escape possible.
Cry crouched behind the sagging wall of the mudroom, keeping his breath as quiet as he could. Soft footsteps of the guard walking the hall within creaked back and forth, and the distinct scent of cigarette smoke seeped out through the back door.
He shifted the bag of medical supplies to his front, holding it close. The recon team had said there were four rooms on the main floor of the house, with the hallway running down the middle. The staircase to the next floor up could be accessed from the front of the hallway, but he didn’t want to go up. Vanoss was down, in the root cellar, and the door to that set of stairs was just off the kitchen.
He could hear voices in the kitchen, and a fair amount of laughter. The faint smell of alcohol in the air suggested the guards had gotten bored and reached for the closest bottle, but he couldn’t depend on them being so drunk he could take them out with ease. He’d have to be careful about this. Systematic.
Cry withdrew one of his knives (a longer combat knife, with a remarkably comfortable grip) and, still low in a crouch, circled the house until he reached the front. He couldn’t risk going in the back; it was too crowded. He’d be caught in an instant.
The guards clustered around the fires were far enough away that Cry’s silhouette would be hidden by the thick mist. There were still some patrolling the front yard, though. Ohm hadn’t made it in this close, not yet.
He watched one guard turn their back on the front of the house, and with smooth quick movements Cry made it to the front door. He tried the door handle half-heartedly. It was locked.
If the recon team was right, and they usually were—and if the guard’s patterns hadn’t changed—he’d have just under a minute to get into the house before he’d be spotted. Maybe if he was really lucky, Delirious or Ohm would take down that guard.
He couldn’t count on luck.
It took him just over twenty seconds to pick the lock. Not his best time, but in his defence the thing was old and rusty. No one had lived in this place for years, after all. It had been a Faceless training ground long before he’d arrived. Probably been a few decades. It was a wonder the house still had a roof and four walls.
Cry softened his breathing and cracked the door open. The footsteps of the guard walking the hallway were getting louder.
The muffled thud of boots over threadbare carpet paused, then Cry heard the scuff of the sole against carpet. The guard had turned.
Carefully, and ever so slowly, Cry eased the front door open, glancing back over his shoulder in a last confirmation that he wasn’t being watched. The hinges barely complained, and he closed the door behind him with the faintest click.
He could easily see the silhouette of the guard, already halfway down the hall. The flickering lamplight from the kitchen outlined their form: short, but stocky; definitely not a fair match. It was a good thing this was a stealth mission.
He slipped over to the staircase going up and sat in the shadows against the wall, coiled and ready to pounce.
The guard’s footsteps were getting loud again.
They paused at the door, and turned on their heel- then halted, and stared at Cry.
Cry froze. He didn’t move a muscle.
Of course. His mask. It must be barely visible, suspended against the blackness of his clothing and the deep shadows.
He allowed the guard to softly whisper, “...A ghost?” before he darted forwards and pressed the tip of his knife up underneath their jaw.
“You’re dead,” he murmured, a smile curling his lips.
The guard bit off a curse and sighed quietly, then dropped their weight into Cry, who grunted with surprise. Rolling his eyes he pulled them into the open dining room right across the staircase, and dropped them in the nearest corner with a huff.
One down. Who knows how many to go.
He backtracked a little and stepped into a very short hallway, peeking into the empty sitting room before quietly opening a door. The old bedroom was dark. Two people were sprawled asleep on the bed (something Cry couldn’t imagine being very hygienic, but when you were exhausted, you were exhausted), and two more were curled up on sleeping rolls on the floor. Overall not too much space to move around, but he definitely needed to take care of them so he didn’t have them sneaking up behind him.
He slipped into the room and crouched over the first person on the floor, snaking his hand over their mouth. They jerked awake, and Cry mimed stabbing them. They narrowed their eyes at him, but nodded.
Cry did the same with the other person on the floor (who chose to flop dramatically, but almost immediately fell back asleep), then sidled up to the bed. He’d have to move quickly with this one, or he’d wake one when he ‘killed’ the other, and they’d raise the alarm.
He also didn’t trust the bed to support the weight of three adults, given how old it probably was.
Cry took a deep, silent breath, and leaned forward, putting his left forearm across the throat of the person closest to him, and poked the further one with his knife.
As expected, both woke, but after a moment of confused panic the one who’d been ‘stabbed’ just made a face and rolled over, apparently unconcerned about being dead. The other one grabbed at Cry’s arm, trying to pull it off their throat, but Cry mimed stabbing them, and they fell still.
They did definitely take a deep breath once he’d moved away, though Cry couldn’t blame them for that.
Okay. Five down. That was probably close to half the guards in here, based on how many had been outside.
There was one little problem, though, Cry acknowledged as he crept down the hall and peeked into the kitchen. Six adult-sized problems, actually. Four of them were sitting around the kitchen table, drinking freely and playing some card game. One was leaning on the counter, a bored expression on their face. One was watching out the kitchen window, casually sharpening a knife.
Well, his immediate concern was the bored one. They were likely to notice things much more quickly than the others.
Also, there were six of them.
Cry slid out of sight and crouched there for a minute, thinking. He couldn’t stealth the kitchen, but he couldn’t get caught either. If Delirious was nearby and not too busy—which was unlikely—then Cry could signal for help. Ohm, at the outside of the camp, would be too far away to be of much use here.
Cry made a wry face, reaching for his throwing knives. There was another solution. It would result in a few more headaches, but that’s what they got for volunteering for a training simulation.
He crept back to the door, first knife in hand and four others at the ready.
He stood, throwing the knives in rapid succession. All five hit their targets, slamming butt-first into foreheads and necks, and the guards all obediently slumped. Most of them didn’t need much convincing to play dead, but one of them kept rubbing his throat.
The guard at the window whirled at the sound of bodies slumping, only to find Cry’s combat knife at their throat.
“You’re going to open the cellar door for me,” Cry said simply, pressing the blade lightly against their throat.
There were noticeably fewer guards outside now, Ohm noted with a certain amount of satisfaction. The fires especially had been cleared out; Delirious was doing a good job on his end of things.
Not all of them were down, though, and if they wanted to ensure Vanoss’ rescue was going to be successful, that needed to change.
Ohm turned to the next closest guard, continuing his approach.
He had his knife out and ready to strike when a stick, buried under leaves and frost, snapped loudly.
The guard turned, weapon out and mouth open to raise the alarm- Ohm darted forward, pressing the tip of his knife against their chest-
Cartoonz sighed. “Now both of us are dead. That’s inconvenient.”
Ohm would have responded, except for the blade touching his throat.
“Well,” Cartoonz shrugged, “we gotta flop like dead bodies now.”
And with that, he stepped forward and tackled Ohm, sending them both sprawling on the icy ground, and then flopped on top of him. Ohm’s huff of breath clouded his mask lenses, then floated up into the air.
Ohm sighed. “Get off.”
“No.” Cartoonz’s voice was barely audible.
“Che cavolo,” Ohm cursed softly. “Such an idiot.”
“You know,” Cartoonz continued in that same soft tone of voice, “I still don’t know why you know Italian. Cry knows, but he’s never told me. And you always avoid the topic. Is it related to why you’re so old for a trainee?”
Ohm’s face twisted up at the memories, and he was glad for his mask covering his facial expressions.
“Shh. Dead people don’t talk,” he murmured back, and let his head drop in the mud.
“This dead person is keeping you warm,” Cartoonz shot back. “You could at least answer the question. You can’t avoid me, not when I’m pinning you to the ground.”
Ohm just raised an eyebrow.
“Look-” Cartoonz cut himself off, and sighed softly. “Look. I know Cry helped fish you out of a river. I know he’s the reason you’re Faceless now. But... what happened, man? Who did a sloppy job of trying to kill you and sink you to the bottom of a river? Why do you...” Cartoonz trailed off, something clearly occurring to him. He pushed himself up some, putting some space between the two of them. “Were you involved in another mob before us, Ohm?”
Ohm’s breath caught, but he said nothing. He’d tried so hard to put his days in the Liguori Family behind him. Sure, he was still involved in organized crime, but it wasn’t like he’d ever learned an honest profession. And the legitimate businesses that surrounded explosives did not lend themselves to a twenty-year-old already knowing so much about how to blow things up, and would have been more than a little suspicious of him.
Also, he really didn’t want to work underground.
“I see,” Cartoonz said softly, lowering himself back down on top of Ohm. “I won’t push. Just... know that we ain’t gonna abandon you if you get downed in a fight.”
Ohm nodded, slowly, as if his mind wasn’t reeling. So Cartoonz thought he’d ended up in the river in the middle of winter from a mob fight. It wasn’t unreasonable. It would explain the scar on his chest, and as to why nobody had looked for him… well, there had been ice on the riverbanks, nobody had expected him to be alive.
It didn’t explain how he’d even survived getting stabbed in the chest and floating in a freezing river for the Wolf and his Wolf Pup, and Cry, to find. He wasn’t sure anything could explain that.
He just turned his gaze to the house, to where Cry was rescuing Vanoss. The sooner they were out, the sooner he’d be allowed to stop being dead and get off the frozen ground.
Cry stepped over the ‘bodies’ of the two remaining guards and into the cellar, eyes scanning the dimly-lit room. It had been easy enough to take them out as soon as the door had been unlocked and opened, and there didn’t seem to be any more guards in here.
He let his gaze dip to the middle of the room, to the slumped form with his hands tied behind the back of a chair.
“Vanoss-” Cry hissed, walking up. “Vanoss.”
“Shh,” Vanoss mumbled, a smile flicking across his face. “I’m unconscious.”
Cry gave the ceiling a long-suffering look. Of course. He really should’ve added some smelling salts in the med pack. That would’ve been fun.
“I’m still going to talk to you. Hoping to wake you up and all,” Cry said, crouching to cut the ropes around Vanoss’ wrists. “Though knowing you, you’re going to make this as difficult as possible.”
Vanoss’ huff of laughter was all the proof Cry needed to know he was right.
Cry made quick work of the ropes tying down Vanoss, then gave him a quick lookover. If Vanoss had been cooperating and acknowledging his consciousness, then Cry could have just asked him where he’d been “hurt” during the simulation that needed “immediate attention,” but that wasn’t going to happen.
He poked Vanoss’ in the side. “Definitely a gash there. Gonna have to patch that up before we can get out of here.”
Vanoss cracked open an eye to glare at him, but said nothing.
Cry smirked, not caring that it was hidden by his mask, and reached into the bag he’d hauled all the way here for a roll of bandages. If Vanoss flopped more than was strictly necessary to make things more difficult, well, that was only to be expected.
It was Vanoss, after all.
That done, Cry slid the medical pack over his shoulder to his front, then gently slid Vanoss to the ground. It took a little bit of working, but he successfully got Vanoss slung across both his shoulders in a fireman’s carry.
Vanoss groaned softly, then cursed. “Cry- ow.”
“Unconscious people don’t talk,” Cry replied glibly.
“What if I wake up?”
“If I remember correctly,” Cry said, starting towards the stairs, “you volunteered for this because you have a sprained ankle. You miraculously gonna heal and walk?”
Vanoss sighed heavily. “Cry-y.” His voice was almost a whine as he buried his face into Cry’s shoulder.
“It’ll be more comfortable if you stop moving so much.” Cry started up the stairs. “And shh. We’re still stealthing. And you’re unconscious.”
Vanoss sighed again, but obediently went limp in Cry’s grasp.
Delirious had been waiting for Cry to emerge from the house, having taken out the remainder of the guards by himself, and Cry set Vanoss on the stairs to bundle him in a coat properly. They didn’t want him freezing to death, after all.
“I found Ohm,” Del said softly, as if the need for stealth was still there and they hadn’t “killed” all of the volunteer guards. “He’s not coming back with us.”
Cry looked up. “He ‘died’? How?”
“I dunno. Cartoonz’s ‘body’ is flopped on top of him, though. Looks like they took each other out.”
Vanoss laughed softly, but remained “unconscious.”
Cry sighed. The universe was not working to make this an easy mission.
“Here-” Del stepped forward as Cry finished fastening the last button on Vanoss’ coat. “I’ll carry him out. You’re faster, so you’re better to fight if we’re in trouble.”
Cry nodded, helping Del arrange Vanoss in his arms, and led the way out of the house.
It was beyond time to get home and drink something nice and warm—and tease Ohm about “dying.” They weren’t going to let him live that one down for months.