Soldier Of Misfortune

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Every night he had the same dream. The men on his unit, his closest friends howling in pain and terror, blood and guts splattered everywhere. The creature feasted on the flesh of his brothers-at-arms… and his legs. Long past were the nights where he woke up screaming and sweating in terror. Now he just stared at the ceiling, dead eyes watching the darkness. Darkness and the sound of the CPAP machine that allowed his wife to breathe at night. Sleep apnea was an expensive mistress. Medical bills kept coming and the pension of a disabled veteran was just not doing it. For that reason, when he received the e-mail he did not think twice. Some random e-mail with a vague job offering and a picture of a crow? Surely some kind of joke or scam… but why not? He had nothing else to do.

That is how he ended up in that coffee shop, sharing a table with a strange-looking man. He was sharply dressed in a black suit and tie. The odd-looking man drank from his tea before he calmly spoke to him:

"Before anything else, I would like to thank, you on behalf of my organization, for taking the time to meet with us." He paused briefly… "Coffee or tea"?

"Coffee," said the crippled veteran. "I'm not sure I understand what this is about…"

"A job opportunity of course. Just as the mail said."

"What type of job?" asked the man as he drank the coffee.

"A military one of course. We have looked at your record. It was impressive, we could really use a man of your expertise and talents. Kosovo, Somalia, Fallujah, Syria… quite a resume."

"You are mercenaries…"

"We prefer the term Private Military Company. It looks better for the shareholders."

The veteran thought he was losing his mind. Just for one moment, instead of the black-dressed man, he saw a giant crow, opening its wings and descending towards him.

"I'm sorry, I think I should be going…"

"It was not an IED."

"Excuse me?"

"Your unit. It was not killed by an explosion. You did not lose your legs to something so… mundane. They tried to make you forget it. But I guess that didn't stop the nightmares, right? Anyways I took the liberty of putting a mnestic drug in your coffee. It should start taking effect…" The man took a small pocket watch from his vest. "Right now."

The memories pierced his mind like needles. The slaughter of his men by an impossible monstrosity. Something that should not be ripping them apart and feasting on their flesh. lt really happened. It was not just a dream.

"It was real. Everything was real. Eddie, Soni, Lopez…" His voice began to crumble. "They were devoured alive. I saw it. Then… my legs… that thing ate them…" He felt the acid on his stomach coming up through his throat.

"I guess you got lucky… in some sense. May I offer you a benzodiazepine?"

"That thing… something like that was not supposed to exist." cried the veteran. "What the hell is going on?" He gasped for air. He could barely breathe at this point.

"It was just… a demon born of war." He briefly paused as he scanned the distressed veteran with a scrutinizing gaze. "Nothing particularly important for us now. That's in the past and I'm here to talk about the future." He shifted in his seat. "Though I think you should really accept the benzo." The man in black took a small mint box from one of his pockets. He opened it to reveal a collection of pills and offer them to the veteran. "Is Xanax fine?"

The veteran grabbed two pills and dry swallowed them. He began feeling a comfortable numbness as his body began to calm down. He took one deep breath…

"Who the hell are you?"

"Me? I'm just HR. But we, as a whole, are the Valravn Corporation. Let me tell you a story. A long time ago there was a bloody battle. Details are irrelevant, the important thing is that both armies suffered heavy losses and many fierce warriors fell that day. So who really won the battle? The crows. The crows fed from the corpses and grew strong. They became warriors themselves. We like to think we are like those crows." He paused for a moment before adding: "It doesn't matter who wins the battle, we always win when there is war."

The veteran remained silent for a few minutes. Everything felt so dreamlike, yet it made sense in a twisted way. If the world had gone crazy, he may as well play along.

"You said they tried to make me forget. Who are they?"

"We will talk about them later. They are not important now. The important thing is that we can help you; we can pay your bills and we can treat your wife. You only have to join us and do what you do best."

"I… I don't have legs…"

The raven-like man laughed a little bit. He seemed genuinely amused by the situation.

"That was so unprofessional on my part. There is no need to worry." He smiled. "We will take care of that too."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that we can make you whole again. More than whole, actually."

"Will I walk again?"

"Walk? No, my friend. You will never have to walk again."

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