It had only been a few hours after Joy had finished her training. Simon had guided her to her proper sleeping quarters in the barracks, and she had crashed in bed. Still geared up in her outfit, all the caffeine of the previous night had faded from her system. Her scratches and cuts had all been disinfected and bandaged. Only the sound of a ticking wall clock could be heard as she snoozed softly. Unfortunately, Simon kicked open the door, cranking his microphone up.
“Joy, get up, it’s time to eat!”
She lurched up, tweaking her wound. She quickly placed her hand on the bandage.
“Gods Simon…” She let out a yawn, glancing at the clock. “Can’t you give me a few more hours? Ugh…” She stared down at her bandaged wound.
He shook his head. “First, you were the one who chose to take the test so late. Second, there could be numerous situations where you need to be up and active, regardless of sleep.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, hope that means I won’t need to bother changing.” She hopped out of bed onto her feet. “Hopefully ‘combat situations’ won’t mean there’s no painkillers or anything like that.”
Simon walked to the doorframe, turning back to her. “Just follow me and you can get something at the mess hall.”
She followed him down the silent halls of the fortress, all still as well lit as they were the previous night. There were no windows anywhere she could see, just a hall lined with doors to other sleeping quarters. Opening up a door at the end, she stepped outside to a small yard. Massive steel walls surrounded the area, and she could still hear the sound of bombs going off in the distance. To her left was a small door connected right into the wall, and a same one to her right. Across the dusty ground, Simon pointed to a smaller looking building in the center of the yard.
“Over there, just head on over and eat whatever you can, and socialize with the others. Now if you excuse me, I got business to attend to. I’ll be back in around thirty to begin your training.”
He walked off, to the left, entering the door. She marched forward, brazenly pushing open the doors to the mess hall. She froze as she saw the sight: There were quite a few other soldiers in here, way more than she expected to be in special operations. They all glared out of her, her showy outfit clearly feeling incredibly out of place to all these uniform geared soldiers. She slinked towards the food. So much for a small handful of oddjobs… Last time I’ll trust the internet for facts. The only other thing that broke her expectations was the quality of food: They weren’t MREs, but actual food. Eggs, bacon, sausages, assorted grain cereals, milk, and so on. She stacked a hefty plate for herself and turned around, the reality of her standing out hitting her once more. Most of the tables were full, and she was thinking of just muscling herself into one of them until somebody waved to her. The man was outfitted significantly different from the other soldiers, wearing what looked like equipment a pilot would wear. She shuffled on over as the tall man offered her a seat. She sat, placed her tray down, and the man sat across from her. A few others moved over to the table as well: A woman wearing a camo jacket similar to Simon’s, A woman wearing more simple looking kevlar but with a bizarre visor above her eyes, and a terrifying man who was wearing an equally terrifying exoskeleton. The man who invited her spoke up.
“Joy, yes?” He held his hand towards her. She shook it. “Good to see another oddjob here, my name is Paul.”
She sighed. “You’re all the oddjobs? Still doesn’t make me feel any more out of place.”
“Maybe a bit of proper armor would help?” Spoke the woman with the headset. “By the way, my name is Maria. Pleased to meet you.”
Joy nodded. “Yeah yeah, Simon already gave me that talk.”
The jacketed woman spoke. “First, my name is Annie. Second, take what little advice he gives to serious heart. Unless you got in here for having indestructible skin.” She chuckled to herself.
She moaned. “Little? He won’t stop yapping to me about everything I need to do.”
Paul chuckled. “I had a feeling you’d be a special case. By the way, him?” He motioned towards the man with the exoskeleton. “His name is Rex. He’s the most experienced of the bunch here, but he’s mute. Years of service taking its toll, you know.”
Rex observed her from across the table.
“Anyways…” Paul said, “How’d you get scouted out?”
She smiled. “Oh, you’re talking to somebody who’s pure of heart here!” She pointed to the insignia on her abdomen. “Worked hard and pledged to the God of Righteous Fury, beat that dumb test of Simon’s, and now I’m his partner!”
The table froze, staring wide-eyed at her. “Impressive, I know?”
“He what.” Was all that could come out of Paul’s mouth.
“How did you guys get past his test anyways. I mean, maybe Rex over there could probably force it-”
“Joy” spoke Maria. “That test is a farce to weed out lunatics who think they can just brute-force their way into the crusaders. We’re normally scouted out and hand-picked by him. And no, Rex can’t force it open with strength alone.”
Her smile melted away. “Wait, what?”
“Honestly, the more shocking part is that Simon actually stayed true to keep you as his partner.” Said Paul. “He’s been operating alone for as long as I’ve served here. Hell, we rarely even see him.”
Joy’s smile returned in full force and she began laughing uncontrollably. “HOO! So you just mean I was the only one worthy for him too? Figures!”
Annie laughed in turn. “Simon’s the one I’m more amused at, that he’d stay true to his word even for that farce of a test! How’d you do on the first exam anyways?”
Joy leaned back. “Yeah easy stuff, those demons were pretty easy to deal with.”
“How’d you do against the vanguard spawn though?” Annie asked.
Joy paused for a few moments. “Oh easy as well-”
The rest of the table burst into laughter, Joy’s smug smile slowly melting away. Even Rex bore a great smile. “What’s the deal?”
Paul snorted. “Vanguard spawn aren’t used in training. You’re full of shit Joy!”
Joy banged the table. “What’s the big deal, what are they? There was nothing about them in my guide!”
Marie sniffled before calming down. “Joy, just pray in your career as a crusader you NEVER have to see them. If they ever do show up, the spawn are the least of your worries.”
“If you all think I’m not qualified for this, hey I still managed to pass Simon’s challenge! That’s something I got above you all!”
Rex suddenly pushed everyone’s trays out of the way and put his mechanized arm on the table. He stared at her directly, setting up in an arm-wrestling position. She smirked.
“Tell you what, use both of those arms of yours. You’ll need em.” She smacked her elbow onto the table, grasping onto his. She heard gears whirring hard as he strained himself and his exoskeleton to try and budge her arm to no avail. The other oddjobs stared in amusement as Rex’s face turned red with effort. Joy used her free arm to smugly scoop a portion of her breakfast into her mouth. He suddenly stood up, taking his second arm and began pushing against Joy’s. She felt her arm budge somewhat, and she strained to fight against the force of Rex’s. Several seconds passed until Rex finally let go. He took a step back and nodded.
“I think you’ve somewhat impressed him Joy” Paul laughed.
She began wharfing down the rest of her meal as the others sat around the table once more.
“I’m also curious,” Asked Annie, “who’s your assigned trainer?“
“Assigned?” She swallowed a mouthful of food. “Didn’t you all train with Simon?”
“I guess it’s to be expected for his partner.” Responded Marie. “Didn’t you remember what we said about him barely interacting with us?”
Annie leaned over the table. “Just take my advice Joy. You’re getting a once-in-an-eternity deal to work with him one-on-one. Simon didn’t become the head of the special division for no reason.”
It’s because he founded it!” Interjected Maria. “He isn’t even pledged to the God of Crusades from what I understand. Not to any god either. He’s that good.”
Joy swallowed a mouthful of food. “If training is gonna be like that demon fighting stuff, it’s gonna be a cinch! A few scratches won’t kill me. Besides, what can you guys do that I can’t?”
Paul chucked. “You can stop overpraising yourself. Just take care, all right?”
“KEEP ON PUSHING, YOU STILL HAVE HALF A MILE TO GO!”
Every single muscle in Joy’s body throbbed and burned. Throughout the day Simon’s “training” almost classified as abuse, ranging from pushups with one-ton blocks of steel on her back, swimming with large weights strapped to her, to now working to push an APC uphill. For the entire push up-hill, Simon constantly barked at her over and over, having her blood boil along with the rest of her body. Half a mile later and she gave the APC one final shove, panting and soaked in sweat. She flexed her arm and smiled at it, at the very least something could provide her with good exercise. Her smile faded as Simon began walking over towards her. If only this exercise didn’t nearly kill her. She sat down onto the ground.
“Why are you taking a break? That thing has no fuel and it needs to get back to base, stat!”
“Hey, give me a break! Seriously, I’m already overqualified as it is! Send me after some of those demon-selling bastards or something already!”
“And what gave you that impression?”
“I already met the other oddjobs! I’m way out of their league!”
He paused for a few moments. “If you really feel that way, would you like me to move you to advanced combat training?”
Her eyes lit up. “YES! Yes please, just anything that can end with this mundane workout crap!”
Simon began marching away. “That APC still needs to get back to the base. Get pushing!”
Her body still burning from the earlier training, Joy could still barely contain herself as Simon lead her to a training arena. It was a large city-block sized room filled with small city buildings, roads, and even broken down cars scattered across them. Simon lead her through a door entering into the end of the arena.
“So this one is simple enough for even you to understand. Paint rounds will be used for this, and if you’re hit, you’re dead.” He pointed to a tall building off at the other end. “Over there in that building is your target. There’s civilians trapped in the basement guarded by a few cartel members. You need to get in there, kill every last cartel member and demon, and get the civilians out of there. You got it?”
“You got it. It’ll be a cinch, trust me!”
“I haven’t gotten that far with you yet Joy. Show me what you’ve got.”
The moment he left the arena, he yelled over the intercom: “START”.
She immediately bolted forward towards the building, bounding over the rubble and scrap that blocked the streets. She felt something peck at her forehead and a loud buzzer went off.
“You’re dead Joy.”
She skidded to a halt. She felt her head, and felt paint on it. “What? Where was he? How did he-”
She glanced around and looked up, and saw an all too familiar figure. Rex was standing atop one of the buildings with a rifle in hand. The intercom spoke up.
“Your enemy isn’t going to face you head on. You have to think and be resourceful Joy!’
“Fine, now I know! Give me a re-match!”
All day, Joy tried over and over to best Rex to no avail. Every single time she tried to get close to that building, he was always one step ahead of her. She tried taking cover, weaving through buildings, everything she could to get closer and closer. Each and every time, the moment she made it close to the building, she always got struck from where she least expected it. She was gasping for breath by the last attempt, and Simon spoke over the loudspeaker once more. “That’s enough training for today Joy. You need to get something to eat before you crash and burn.” She slogged her way back to the entrance of the arena, met by Simon. She glared daggers at him as he crossed his arms.
“So do you still think you’re overqualified Joy?”
She angrily shook her head.
“I will at least admit, your persistence is definitely a positive quality. Not sure if it’s because of stupidity or will, but it’s admirable. After dinner, meet me back here, I think I have a better way of training you with this.
Joy took her time eating dinner, taking time to rest her arm every time she ate a forkful of food. Her limbs felt totally deflated from the days’ activities, and she groaned to herself thinking of what else Simon still had in store. She stretched out her legs, and noticed Paul had sat across from her, still with a smile on your face.
“So what do you want? Care to rub in Rex’s victory over me a bit more?”
“Actually, I’m more asking how training went today.”
She poked at her food. “Being used as an overglorified tow truck for a few miles wasn’t fun at all, nor was being humiliated by Rex. I swear someday I’m going to get close enough to knock every tooth out of his head.”
“Quite the competitive spirit I see you have. A bit different from me when I first came.” He kicked his legs up on the table. “Joy, do you know where I came from before I was scouted for special operations?”
She glanced up from her food. “Dunno, why does it matter?”
“I used to work for search and rescue, a pretty big name in it too as well. That’s how I got these.” Suddenly two massive wings sprouted from his back. Joy jolted back, nearly falling out of her seat.
“What kind of rescue agency were you working for?”
The wings retracted into his back. “Several, actually. The wings are from the God of Guardian Angels. You do civil service, you get those wings in turn. Only downside is you have to commit your life to civil service. I’m still doing it here, to an extent.” He chuckled.
“So you got big fancy wings, what does that have to do with advice?”
“I managed to get scouted and selected to join the crusaders special ops because I was one of the best in my field, and my wings prove it. Being the best in my field wasn’t enough for special operations however, and and it ruined me for my first month here. Going from top of the class to utter garbage isn’t a fun feeling, but it was a necessary one.”
She huffed. “No shit it ain’t fun. So what?”
“What I’m saying is that it helped changed my perspective a bit. I’d be doing greater work, but I needed to understand that I wasn’t the best in order to adapt. Hell, how I go about my work hasn’t changed much, it’s just I learned how to better cope with gunfire, and became remarkably better at breaching locked rooms.” He laughed.
“Aaand?” She stared at him quizically.
“Sheesh you are dense… What I mean is that how you go about well… Brutally beating the crap out of whatever you find?”
“Yeah, uh… That. You can still keep what you know to best do that, but you need to be adaptive and resourceful to the new situations you’ll encounter.”
“Hold on… Simon said something like that once before now that you mention it.”
“Well, take it to Simon directly then. He IS your trainer, as brutal as he’s going to be.”
She stood up, stretching out.
“I think I should be good enough as long as he doesn’t force me to do heavy lifting. I’ll try giving your advice a shot.”
He waved goodbye. “There’s a lot of stuff only your trainer knows. Ask if you’re confused about anything!”
Joy returned to the arena, where he had a selection of submachine-guns and pistols out on a table. He turned to face her.
“Well, you’re here a bit sooner than I expected.”
She flinched. “Excuse me?”
“That’s not important anymore. Now as for a better way for training you we’re obviously going to return to basic combat scenarios, all while still working on your stubborness and endurance. For the time being, it’ll just be you and me, and I’m going to hammer in those points you need to know-”
“Sorry to interrupt, but I actually have a question.”
He paused, crossing his arms. “Go ahead then.”
“It’s my resourcefulness you want me to work on, right?”
He nodded. “Glad to see you’re becoming a bit more observant. It’s one of many issues, but one of the most important regarding your blessing. Your strength allows you to carry likely any weapon short of a tank’s cannon, and we could fit a hell of a lot of armor on you to little to no issue. Using-”
“Sheesh, slow down. And cut it with turning me into a walking tank thing, I don’t want to look like some kind of killer android. You saw against demons how well I can fare at the test, right?”
Simon grabbed one of the pistols from the table. “So how much faith do you have in your God then? To protect you from one of these?” He aimed it at her shoulder.
“Go ahead, try me!”
A crack echoed through the arena as he fired the pistol. The bullet crashed into her shoulder and she let out a yelp, flinching. The projectile, however, had flattened as it hit her shoulder, bouncing to the floor below. She stared down at it and grinned, rubbing her shoulder.
“See, armor be damned!”
“Not exactly. That was merely a 9mm, but it’s probably the most most grunts can afford. Now what would you do if a sniper had a scope trained on your head?”
“That’s what this training is for, is it not?”
He nodded. “Getting better Joy, getting better. It’s your decision on how you want to fight, but if you can make it work, I’ll accept it. As for the last of training tonight, you just need to disarm and capture me. And since you proved your durability, I’ll be using live ammunition, nothing lethal.”
She cracked her knuckles. “You shitting me? Piece of cake!”
He held up his hand to her. “You want to learn how to be resourceful, this is how you’re going to learn. When I sound the buzzer, you can begin.”
He grabbed a few pistols and a sub-machine gun from the table, tucking them in his coat. He strolled away into a building several meters away from where Joy stood. The buzzer sounded, and she dashed forward, crashing through the doors of the building. She paused and glanced around, before feeling a few cracks and stinging shots on her bandadged wound. She screamed.
“Never charge through a building like that Joy!” Yelled Simon from the opposite side of the building. She turned towards him as he disapperead around a doorway and she charged forward. She headed into the doorway and noticed it was a stairway. She began running up floor after floor. Coming around a corner, she saw him aiming the sub-machine gun down the stairwell, and he opened fire. Several bullets stung across her body, feeling like several pins crashed into her. She fell backwards, tumbling down the stairs.
“Charging head-first isn’t being resourceful Joy! Using your strength you could have just scaled the wall of the building you know!”
He disappeared further up and she heard a door open furher up. She dusted herself off and hurried up, now on top of the roof of the building. She noticed Simon aiming the sub-machine gun at her, and she quickly hid back in the doorway.
“Good, now think Joy! How are you going to approach me?”
She glanced around, and noticed something: The door. She appeared from the doorway, ripping the thing off the hinge, and tossed it towards him. He rolled out of the way, but noticed she had closed most of the distance between the two of them. She didn’t realize it, but from behind his mask he smiled. She ran forward to grab him, but he kicked backwards, unleashing another hail of bullets upon her. She stumbled backwards guarding her face with her arms.
“The nice thing about your strength is that you can use almost anything around you to your advantage Joy. Remember that!”
He ran to the edge of the roof and pulled out a grappling hook from his coat. Quickly hooking it to the edge of the roof, he repelled himself down, kicking throw a window to a lower floor of the building. She glanced over, almost ready to claw her way down, but paused, and smiled as a new idea hatched. She instead reared her fist back and slammed it into the ground, smashing a hole through the roof. She fell down a floor, and continued to do this until she landed in the same room, staring face to face with Simon. She smiled and charged forward.
“Smart, had I been anyone else that would have seriously thrown me off guard!”
He fired another spray of bullets until his magazine clicked empty. She was still charging forward, guarding her face.
“You’re getting used to this feeling fast, hm?”
He drew a pistol and fired several times at her legs. She stumbled at the pain and tripped as he slid out of the way. She crashed into the wall, dazed and stinging all over from the bullets. From the dust, she still stood back up, trying to ignore the constant stinging. Her body was red in multiple spots all over, and she was visibly grimacing.
“That’s quite the will you have Joy. But it’s a ballance of will, strategy, and technique that guarantees you a spot in special operations. Show me!”
This time, he charged forward towards her, drawing his boot knife. Before she could react, he swept her feet, knocking her to the ground, and sliced the knife accross her bandages. She screamed.
“What the fuck? That’s no fair at all!”
“There’s nothing unfair about exploiting obvious weakness Joy!”
Her body now burning all over from the bullets and holding a hand to her gash, she felt absolutely enraged. Simon had leapt out of a window, taking cover behind a car to reload his sub-machine gun. He stared back out the window, waiting for her.
“Shit…” He muttered to himself. “Joy, do you need medical attention? Joy?”
He waited, and still nothing. Pulled another grapple from his coat and threw it at the window. He quickly climbed up, finding her limp body.
“Gods…” He ran over and kneeled near her. “I need a medical-”
All of a sudden she rose to life, grabbing ahold of him in a bearhug. She sneered.
“I didn’t expect you to be the caring type, but you’re caught!”
She heard a slight chuckle. “Clever, but I wouldn’t recommend using that on any opponent Joy. They don’t have concern for your well being. Plus, they could still have an ace up their sleeve.”
She felt a prick in her arms, and looked over, she noticed he had lifted his arms and placed them near her’s. In just a few moments, they went completely numb, Simon effortlessly stepped out of her grip.
“Now it’d only be fair if I could use a trick only I could know, yes? I doubt any old grunt would know anesthetic would work on you. By the way, you’ll start feeling them within the hour, by the way.”
She groaned. “Dammit… And I was so close.”
“On the contrary Joy. With all the years of experience under my belt, I’m prepared for every situation the world can throw at me.”
“Well, looks like this method of training works well. You can return to your quarters. We’ll start off mornings with heavy endurance training, and finish afternoons with live fire combat training. Understood?”
“More of that APC pushing crap? At least I can get a bit of a kick out of this stuff. Why can’t we do more of this?”
“I said, do you understand Joy?”
“Understood” she grumbled.