Present day - USA, Minnesota
The wind carried the ghost of music with it, a disruptive whisper in the otherwise silent night. The woods were eerily quiet; a predator was on the loose. An outcrop of rocks crowned the gentle slope of the hill. It was the perfect vantage point. Glaz adjusted his scope again, his movements slow and silent.
The modern house would better be labelled a chalet than a cabin, all polished wood and luxurious windows that made Glaz’s job so much easier. There was no one outside, but he had counted at least three people inside. He knew there were supposed to be five, yet just four of them were targets. A cold wind ruffled the leaves in the ground, some sticking to his face. He made no move to wipe them out of the way. He wished he could have better camouflage than the rather bulky winter jacket he wore, but at least he wasn’t shivering from the cold after spending so much time prone on the ground, looking through the scope of his rifle.
From what he could see, his targets had all gathered in a single room. Glaz flipped on the thermal scope, focused all his attention on the sight of his targets and took a deep breath. The first shot was clean and perfect, shattering the window’s glass and distracting his targets. The first guy dropped dead before the rest had time to process what had happened. The second shot pierced another man’s chest as he tried to hide, who then stumbled and collapsed. By now, his remaining target was fully aware of what was going on and had run out of sight. Glaz calculated a possible path of movement and waited. The exterior walls wouldn’t be easy to perforate at this distance, and he’d rather not waste bullets blindly. He waited.
Not one but two guys came out through the front door. The first one went down in a spray of blood and gore, the bullet going through his forehead. The last man standing retreated back inside, having deduced it was much safer than staying in plain view of an unknown shooter. Glaz could only imagine his panic, yet he felt no remorse. He’d been tasked to kill them all, and he would. It was an inherent risk in their line of work, they should have known there would be consequences for what they had done.
After what Glaz considered a long enough wait, it was clear the remaining man wasn’t coming out any time soon. Glaz would have to go in to finish the job. He got up with a resigned sigh; Glaz disliked fighting in close quarters. He un-holstered the pistol, knowing it was better suited for a closer range shootout than the sniper rifle. Sticking to the shadows and corners, he approached the house, the main door still ajar and jerking with the wind gusts. In moments like this Glaz missed not having rappelling equipment to climb to the roof and surprise the enemy from above. His only entrance points were the main door or one of the windows. He chose the main door.
The inside of the house was as empty as the outside. The music blasting from the living room made it difficult to know if someone else was moving around. Quickly surveying the area, Glaz moved forward. The bodies of his victims lay on the floor, their blood mixing in an already congealing pool on the carpet. One of them had knocked a glass coffee table, small shards of glass crunching underfoot with every step he took.
The hostage was hiding behind the couch, trembling in fear but without making noise. A barely noticeable movement by the corner of his eye was all the warning he got before the remaining man emerged from behind the bar counter, aiming his gun at him. Glaz ducked out of the way and shot his own pistol. Luckily, his reflexes were good and his aim even better. A bullet sailed dangerously close to his ear, but the other man made a gurgling noise, blood pouring out of his mouth and running down his chest before he fell down dead. Mission accomplished. Well, mostly.
Taking his phone from the pocket of his jacket, Glaz sent a simple text message to his contact, a person called Shrike.
He didn’t have to wait much for an answer from them.
“Drop the package at this location.” The message came with a link to a map, indicating a warehouse at the edge of town as the drop point.
Well, Glaz hoped the package was cooperative. Otherwise, he’d have to render it unconscious before picking it up. He strode to the hostage and roughly yanked him up. The young man trembled and made desperate noises, pleading for something it wasn’t in Glaz’s grasp to concede.
“Follow me, we’re taking a walk.”
The hostage nodded vigorously, and Glaz felt a pang of pity for the poor man. He looked so young and frightened, and while Glaz would not harm him, he was delivering him to someone who would. He gritted his teeth. Empathy was something he couldn’t afford in this job if he wanted not only to succeed but to survive. Young and scared or not, Shrike wanted him. Glaz had no idea of what the guy could have done, but he would ask no questions either. Questions were dangerous, a slippery slope to acting out of character, depending on the answers given.
He gave a last look to the house before leaving, dragging the hostage with him. The walk back to the main road was long and uneven, their path little more than a dirt road. The lack of light except for a waning moon made the journey difficult. Glaz’s keen eyes didn’t save him from stumbling on a wayward rock or two. At least it was much safer than going across the woods, as he did on his way up when the sun was still out. Once on the main road, the car waited for him where he had parked it. The vehicle was compact, worn and in a dull silvery colour; the perfectly forgettable car you could see anywhere.
Putting the guy on the car’s trunk made Glaz feel like a stereotypical movie villain, the type who twirl their moustaches and laughed derangedly, but it was the safest way to transport the asset without anyone seeing him. The man whimpered, trying to implore, and Glaz had to pretend it didn’t affect him in the slightest. He had never before treated a hostage with such complete disregard, but this wasn’t a normal job after all.
At these hours the roads were deserted. People were usually in their homes already, and the nearest town wasn’t important enough to warrant high affluence of traffic at all times. Glaz liked it better like this, no people to worry about, just him and the road. And maybe the occasional animal that would cross in front of him. The sun had vanished entirely, only the faintest hints of an angry red line low on the horizon remained, the sky quickly acquiring a dark ink colour. There was about an hour’s drive until he reached his destination. An hour’s worth of being alone with his thoughts. Glaz hoped this test was enough to get admitted into the organisation, as patient as he was, Glaz wanted to be done with this mission as fast as he could. Pretending to be someone he wasn’t was tiresome. He was itching to let out the tension, but he had nobody to spar with and picking up fights in bars was something he didn’t do even when he was drunk and angry. Glaz sighed. At least he had reasons to believe the operation so far was going swimmingly.
The rendezvous point was at the edge of the city, an abandoned warehouse, next to a factory that closed business a long time ago. Perfect place for an ambush, or to conduct an operation of dubious legality. He didn’t like this one bit, but there was no alternative.
Glaz parked the car in front of the gate. Getting the hostage out of the car’s trunk required some effort since the man took a look at the surroundings and refused to move on his own. Despite the guy’s muffled noises of protest, Glaz dragged him by force. He didn’t have to knock on the door more than once, since it immediately opened, revealing a woman wearing a butcher’s apron. This had to be the mysterious Shrike with whom he’d only had contact through the phone before.
“Well, look what the cat dragged in!” Shrike ushered them in and closed the door after them. She reminded Glaz somewhat of Twitch, at least physically. Character-wise, he suspected they couldn’t be more different. “Leave him on that chair, sweetcheeks. He has an appointment with the doctor.”
She laughed at her own joke, while Glaz set the hostage on the indicated chair. He secured the terrified and struggling guy with the handcuffs attached to the chair’s legs and arms. As soon as he clicked shut the first handcuff, the hostage started to cry, huge shuddering sobs that made Glaz doubt for a moment before snapping the other cuff around his ankle. Everything about this situation was fucked up. Even if the hostage was also a terrorist, handing him out to be tortured didn’t seem very ethical to Glaz, but he couldn’t falter now. A wrong move and he’d be the one handcuffed to that chair.
“You did well, russkie,” she commented with a smirk, putting on latex gloves as a surgeon would. “Did you trash the house or are you the tidy sort?”
Glaz shrugged. “I broke a window. The corpses left some blood too.”
“Look at that, you do talk after all.” Shrike barely paid attention to him as she spoke, selecting a knife from an extensive collection of blades, scalpels, and other sharp implements she had spread on top of a crate. “There’s a meeting this Wednesday, the boss wants to meet you face to face. Eight pm in the house you just assaulted. Now shoo, I have a date with Johnny boy back there.”
Her smile showed all her perfect teeth, the effect unsettling when coupled with her darkened eyes and the protective goggles she donned. Glaz was actually sorry for the hostage, Johnny. Shrike didn’t look like she had a shred of compassion or sympathy for her victim. No, she was all gleeful anticipation barely hidden under the surface, and sharp blades. Glaz left in silence, just as he had come, the weight of everything he didn’t say or do heavy on his shoulders. Being on a first response team was more comfortable than this. He had no idea how Bandit endured for so long undercover and with his sanity more or less in one piece. Glaz’s respect for Bandit grew as much as his apprehension for what still awaited him.
Outside, the night was quiet, deceptively peaceful. However, Glaz knew what kind of dangers lurked in the shadows in this remote place. Glaz hopped into the car but didn’t drive away yet, setting his arms on the wheel and looking at the dark shape of the warehouse. Wednesday night, that was in two days. And just in time for his scheduled meeting with Kapkan. God, how he missed seeing a known and friendly face. Glaz sighed. He should drive home and go to sleep if the cramped apartment where he’d lived these last weeks could be called home. He didn’t even know what was home for him. His parent’s house in Vladivostok was just a blurry memory at this point.
When Glaz arrived, the apartment was dark and cold, offering a silent welcome. It did not bring Glaz any comfort to be within those walls. He eyed the empty easel longingly, but as tempting as it was, he needed to sleep, his body screamed for it.
The bedroom had a wonderful double bed, the only good feature of the otherwise bland room. He undressed down to his boxers, leaving the clothes strewn around the floor, and flopped down on the bed. Glaz was tired and fell asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow, yet he slept fitfully. His night was plagued by dreams where delivered the hostage to Shrike, only the man he took out of the car’s trunk was Kapkan, looking at Glaz with shock and hurt in his eyes.
_ _ _
Two weeks earlier - Hereford
The brush glided smoothly across the canvas, blue and green mixing into a new unique hue that contrasted nicely with the brown motives crisscrossing the canvas. The painting wasn’t finished yet, he could feel it. It needed an extra touch of colour.
Glaz still wasn’t sure if the final result would be worth the effort, but painting abstract ideas was always a gamble. Or, as Fuze had once said, they were random splotches of colour that sometimes combined nicely. It was one of the best compliment the Uzbek has ever done about his works.
Speaking of the devil, Glaz could hear him arguing with Kapkan about who ate all the remaining halva overnight. Both were righteously angry about the accusations, and while the idea hadn’t occurred to them yet, Glaz was sure they are both innocent and the culprit was none other than Tachanka. Wouldn’t be the first time it happened. As entertaining as it was hearing them argue, he contemplated pointing that to them, and maybe then they’d stop arguing and Glaz could concentrate on his painting again. While he was still pondering that option, Ash poked her head over the door, whistling to get their attention.
“Has no one informed you yet? Urgent debrief in ten, stop yapping and move!”
The argument stopped, although judging by the dirty stare Fuze threw at Kapkan the issue was far from settled. They followed Ash like scolded children while Glaz carefully put away his paint and brushes, making sure everything was tidy before he trotted after them. Kapkan walked before him, hands on his pockets and seemingly at ease. However, Glaz could see he was tense, almost ready to fight. Kapkan often resembled a caged animal, trying to make himself look smaller than he was and yet also ready to strike. It sometimes seemed as if Kapkan expected to be attacked at any moment. Glaz had imagined more than once how it would be to see the hunter truly relaxed. However, since he had never found the occasion or the courage to offer Kapkan a massage, the knowledge would have to remain out of his reach.
The debrief room, on the ground floor, was a glorified classroom of sorts. At least that’s the impression it gave people upon first glance. A whiteboard and a couple of screens on one wall, with rows of chairs on the opposite end. Tachanka was waiting for them there, talking to Montagne, but he soon ditched the Frenchman to gravitate towards the rest of the Spetsnaz. While everyone was friendly with each other, teams still tended to cluster together most of the time. The Spetsnaz were a tightly knit group who usually kept to themselves, more so than any of other CTUs assembled. Even Finka, the youngest and most outgoing of them, came to sit next to Fuze, who wasted no time to complain about the missing halva while Kapkan defended himself from the slander. She shared an exasperated look with Glaz.
A man known as Harry, Six’s right hand, came into the room and turned off the lights and then on again, the signal Six was about to enter. Everyone still standing hurried to take a seat, the muttering of conversations and gossip quickly dying down. Despite not being a combatant herself, Six had an imposing presence that commanded respect. She strode into the room seemingly out of nowhere, loading the image of a United States’ map in the huge screen behind her.
“We have a latent situation that must be dealt with carefully.” No empty pleasantries, just efficiently straight to the point. That was something Glaz and the rest of the Spetsnaz admired. “We have information of a White Mask cell established in American soil, close the Canadian border, that is recruiting new members. Our intel is limited, but we know they’re planning a new attack, bigger even than the one leading to the reactivation of Rainbow.”
Glaz frowned hearing this, the horrors of the Bartlett siege popping in his memory even after all this time. Hushed murmurs arose amongst the operators, quickly rising in volume until Six raised a hand to make them stop. It worked, since everyone shut up like scolded children.
“The nature and scope of their plans are yet unknown, but we know they’re looking for a sharpshooter. Therefore Glaz will be deployed, with a fabricated identity that will allow him to gain their trust.” A sepulchral silence fell upon the room, all eyes suddenly on Glaz. He would not argue with Six, he'd do his job as he always did, but he was surprised by that decision. Their expert on undercover operations was Bandit, not him. Six continued, before anyone could interject, looking at him. “You will not go alone. As support and observator of the situation, Kapkan will be deployed too. We will discuss your cover story later, in my office.”
After that, Six carried on to review the training performances, but Glaz wasn’t paying much attention to it, still mulling over his new mission. Glaz had gone on missions alone before, they all did; however, going undercover was a whole different business. He hoped Six knew what she was doing.
_ _ _
Six’s office was best defined as austere. The walls displayed a select few framed photos, the immaculate desk and chairs looked taken out of some decoration magazine, and the closed cabinets spoke of hidden secrets and confidential information that few had the privilege to see. Everything combined to give the impression you were not welcome there, only tolerated. The only person who seemed at ease here, aside from Six herself, was Harry. As always, he sat on a corner of the table, fiddling with a stack of folders he carried around. Those seemed to almost be a permanent fixture of him.
“Gentlemen,” Six indicated them to sit on the chairs in front of her desk, and both Glaz and Kapkan obeyed her silent order. “You need to know I selected you both, not only for your aptitudes, but also because you’re the only ones with active ties with the Brotherhood.”
A dense, sepulchral silence fell over the office. Glaz had no idea how to react, or what to say, and most importantly, how to articulate the myriad of questions going through his mind. He took a peek at Kapkan, to see how he was reacting to that bombshell of a statement. The hunter looked tense and still as a statue, while Six patiently waited for them to say something. Harry kept scribbling in one of the reports, unfazed by the situation.
“The Brotherhood?” Glaz asked breezily, ignoring the way his heart hammered in his chest and the panic rising in him.
“Yes, the Assassin Order.” Six looked calm and composed, not particularly inclined for murder. Glaz dared to rule out she was working for the Templars, but it was still a possibility, he supposed. “I was under the impression you were aware of your family history, Mr. Glazkov.”
Kapkan laughed humorlessly. “He obviously doesn’t-”
“I do, I know it very well,” Glaz interrupted him, irked by the hunter’s condescending tone. Of course Glaz knew, his parents never shut up about it, he’d learnt about his heritage since he was a little kid. As he had learnt to lie and hide that part of his life.
He felt Kapkan’s gaze on him, surprised and calculating. The surprise was obviously mutual since Glaz would have never suspected Kapkan was also part of the Brotherhood. In hindsight, it made sense, those fighting moves he used for close quarters combat were oddly familiar. Perhaps that was why Glaz had picked them up with relative ease when they sparred together.
“The question here isn’t if we know about the Brotherhood, is how you know about it.” Kapkan’s question was vaguely accusing, but Six looked faintly amused.
“William Miles and Gavin Banks are not the only leaders, obviously,” she took out one of her rings and put it on the table. Kapkan snatched it first, inspecting it thoroughly before passing it to Glaz, his scowl softening into just a frown. Glaz saw it immediately, of course. He recognised the symbol, the same stylised letter A than the one he traced as a kid on his mother’s necklace. Not exactly a big surprise at this point, although he would have never in his life pegged Six for someone belonging to the Brotherhood, she was too much of a politician compared to the usual profiles. Six extended her hand and he gave the ring back. “Be it as members of the Brotherhood, as Rainbow operators, or both, this information is highly confidential: we believe the White Masks are funded by the Templar Order. Most of their attacks have been in some way an attack to the assassins and our projects. This cell you will infiltrate, we know the recruiter is someone called Shrike, and that they’re in contact with a high position from Abstergo Industries. Find as much as you can and report regularly to your observer. And above all, don't get caught.”
Impressive speech and worrying information, but it didn't help Glaz feel better about his upcoming mission.
“What's my role in the operation?” Kapkan asked, voice still dripping with repressed anger.
“You observe Glaz's progress, send me reports of whatever he finds, and remain ready to act in case your intervention is necessary.” Kapkan nodded, but Six did not fail to detect his sour expression. “Do you have any objection?”
“One of the reasons we selected you two is that we know you work well together,” Harry interjected, “as you showed during the operation in New Mexico. But if you’d prefer another partner…?”
“That’s fine. I just don't like being lied to,” Kapkan grumbled, “but I understand the logic behind it.”
“Subterfuge has always been the key to our survival,” Six answered. “And I needed to be sure of everyone’s allegiance before acting. Much depends on how we act and which information we reveal.”
The rest of the meeting was much less world tilting, and it consisted mainly of Harry and him discussing the identity Glaz would have to take for the next weeks: Ruslan Idrisov, ex-military with a grudge against the world. Slightly based on him, pretty easy to remember, and above all, with all the necessary fake paperwork forged. The only part Glaz needed to work on was to make his character believable, the whole operation depended on it.