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TAP Preview: Prologue

Prologue
The Plan


     One part of the position makes Krash uneasy.
     The man he plans to visit, the one they call Shadow Leader, has no office like Commander Fredrick Krash. No regular place to eat. No home. Krash’s only way to contact him is through military channels, and Shadow Leader’s meeting places tend to be abandoned buildings or other enclosed spaces. Tonight however, Shadow Leader’s choice is a solemn military graveyard just outside Vienna, the town nearest the border. Secluded enough for Krash, but knowing who the man is makes him scowl in uneasiness.
     Krash reaches the first of the graves, where his thick combat boots squish into the mud. The air is tainted by a thick black fog. It appears harmless enough, lingering like the haze of dry ice, whirling like fresh-blown cigar smoke, but it is something else completely. Cold. Alive. A stray chill makes goosebumps rise on Krash’s arms, something that otherwise never happens.
     Krash stops walking. He stands in place as though at attention, but searches the fog for a dark human figure. There’s no sign of him yet. He’s here, but where?
     “Commander.” Krash turns to his right. A man emerges from a thicker part of the fog. Long black hair hides most of his face, and a slick black coat over his body like a ghost covered in thick ink. “Probably wondering why the wide open space? Private places are harder to come by, and no one visits these graves. Shame, really, the dead have so much to say—”
     “Can it,” Krash interrupts. “The war’s getting harder to sell without results. Air support isn’t enough. Your people were supposed to solve all that. Where’s my results?”
     Shadow Leader laughs. Krash’s scowl deepens into his teeth as he swallows away the disrespect.
     “Results? My men have struck fear in your enemies’ hearts and done wooonderful things for you, not to mention all the murder. What more do you want of them?”
     “You mercenaries were hired to win battles, not poke and prod.”
     “Commander, there’s a difference between the men who do my bidding, and those I fight with. Have you ever heard of The All Powerful?”
     Krash’s mouth twitches at the thought of admitting the truth. “No.”
     “Not even at your rank? Just imagine! A group of elites nearly my strength, hand-chosen by me and training in MY fighting style. Not Alya’s. Not yours. TAP’s Shadows are simply… readying the world for its slaughterfest. Your war will be won, soon. My promise still stands.”
     “Fine, but if you want to keep your money source happy ‘til then, you need something more… immediate.”
     Shadow Leader pauses, then buries his chin in his hand. He glances at a grave and tilts his head a couple times. Krash tries to catch a name, but the stone is unmarked.
     “What about, our mutual friend?” Shadow Leader asks.
     “Master Sergeant Wyton?”
     “Uh—yes, him.”
     “He’s inactive at the moment. Twelve separate deployments in just a five years’ time, not including his time with you. We’re bringing him in for one more and then he’s guaranteed retirement.”
     Shadow Leader clasps his hands. His hair jolts out from his face, revealing his clammy pale cheeks, and eyes that are both wide open and dilated in excitement. “Well we HAVE to use that sometime! Let’s work towards getting him back in my ranks, where his ‘retirement’ doesn’t apply. His skill is too phenomenal to not be my truest Shadow.”
     Krash shakes his head. “He’s grown rebellious, untrusting and arrogant since you’ve last seen him. He won’t come willingly.”
     Shadow Leader’s cackle makes Krash shudder. Two voices seem to fight for dominance within the same laugh. “My specialty! Leave his coercing to me.” From within his cloak, he pulls what looks like a cloud of the thickest black fog, until it dissipates into a small note. It twirls around in his dancing fingers. “You may go now. I’ll deliver this message to your assistant, then things can begin.”
     Krash’s grip and teeth squeeze together. “You’re going… behind my back?”
     Shadow Leader walks up to Krash, taking him by the throat. His breath fades and heart quickens. The graveyard darkens from a haze to a blur. These effects do not happen by a simple choke. He struggles to break free, stumbling on his feet as the world spins around him, but Shadow Leader’s grip is solid.
     “Yes, Commander. Do you want your war won? Then cower away and pretend I’m not trampling across your face. You clearly want action, so things will be done,” Shadow Leader releases Krash, who gasps for breath through his teeth, “my way.”