You Shall Not Die

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« More Cunning Than Any Beast

The hard part of running a Global Occult Coalition operation was usually not the termination of the KTE, since bullets almost always worked. The hard part was keeping the whole thing secret - they weren't called the "Occult" coalition without reason, and in the Fivefold Mission they followed, Concealment came above Destruction.

Which is why First Lieutenant Diwa Ramos, veteran GOC operative, was dressed as up as a member of the Philippine National Police. The whole of PHYSICS Strike Team 3016 "Huling Yugto" was wearing the outfits of the Special Action Force - camouflage, helmets, body armor, the works. This was nothing new to them. Most had been military before being recruited by the Coalition, but they'd spent plenty of time training with this gear and weapons. The uniforms, plus the evidence they'd brought with them to plant afterwards, would allow them to pass off everything that happened as a drug raid gone wrong.

This kind of urban operation was not Ramos's favorite - she preferred to be out hunting Manananggal, not trekking through the streets of a Manila shanty-town in search of Type Blues. She was a Babaylan of the Rajahnate of Mahari-Likha, and while they were a member of the Council of 108, Ramos was still uncomfortable with hunting her own people on GOC orders. But there were UN Resolutions on magic for a reason, and the old woman they were after had broken those rules, killing at least one man with magic. The safest way to bring in a Blue was to put a bullet between their eyes before they could say a word, and if Ramos ever went rogue she'd expect the same treatment.

The assault rifles they carried had made establishing a perimeter around the target's location relatively easy - none of the civilians were eager to stay too close. Once Ramos had used divination to pinpoint the Blue, they allowed the civilians in the area to file out. Once it was mostly clear, they went in closer, leaving several obvious paths apparently unguarded. The target didn't fall for it.

This would have to be done the hard way. Break in to the building, take out the target. She radioed the perimeter. "This is Alpha-Actual, report in." With the narrow streets, line-of-sight was limited.

"This is Bravo, North secured."

"This is Charlie, East secured."

"This is Delta, South secured."

Silence.

Ramos frowned. "Echo. Report in."

Silence.

"Foxtrot, check in on Echo at the West perimeter."

Foxtrot, the squad kept in reserve, headed over. It was most likely a simple communications issue.

It was not. "They're all down! Over!"

"What! Say again!" She heard him the first time. It just didn't make sense. She could sense their target hadn't moved.

"They're all… no, they're still breathing. Unconscious. Looks like… blunt force. Over."

There was a single gunshot to the north. Bravo Team. Foxtrot rushed over to check. Ramos remained in position, her squad suddenly on high alert.

"Bravo, Report in!"

No reply from Bravo.

One of the reserve radioed in. "Foxtrot to Alpha-Actual… It's the Red-Green."

Ramos would never say a day couldn't get any worse, that was tempting fate, but this was a new low. "Say again. The Red-Green?"

"KTE… Can't remember the number. But Bravo Team is out cold. And I saw him jump onto the roof. It's him."

Everyone was suddenly scanning the roofline for a sighting. No luck.

Ramos swallowed. Her heart was racing. "Area Command, we have a confirmed sighting of…" She paused, to get the number right. "KTE-5854-Red-Green. Eight men down. Requesting immediate reinforcements. Over."

The radio operator responded immediately. "Copy." There was then a long, tense wait.

Type Green: Reality Bender. Type Red: Regenerator. The combination of the two denoted reality warping directed inwards. A Red-Green's physical capabilities were limited only by their own mind. Strength and speed exceeded human limits. Lethal blows were shrugged off as mere flesh wounds, through a combination of adrenaline and wishful thinking. They were not the most dangerous reality-warpers, but they were very hard to terminate.

The best theory on the Red-Green in question, a Chinese national by the name of Zhang Wen, was that he had watched far too many action movies. From the way he moved he seemed to have some actual training in esoteric martial arts, although the Iron Monks on the Council of 108 denied responsibility.
Encountering him here in the Philippines was unexpected, but his interference with GOC operations was nothing new.

Command eventually got back to her. "Request denied. Over."

This was ridiculous. "Denied? This is the Red-Green! We need a Strike Team of White Suits and Battlemages if we're going to take him out! Over."

"Roger. But you're in a densely populated area. Request denied for Second and Third Mission Concerns."

He was right. The Red-Green would not go down quietly. Civilians would die, and somebody could get it on camera. Not a risk worth taking.

"Is that an order to retreat? Over."

"Lieutenant Ramos, assess the situation. Can you complete your mission?"

He was asking her if they could terminate the original target. They weren't here to kill the Red-Green. They were here to terminate a witch. The Red-Green wanted them to run.

"Yes, Sir!" She raised her voice. "Alpha Squad, prepare for entry! Terminate the original target. Eyes up for the hostile."

Let him come. He'd been picking them off at the periphery, with the element of surprise. But there were twelve in her squad, and one of him. If he tried to stop them, he'd die.

They approached the building Ramos knew the target was in, although she couldn't get her exact position unless the witch cast a spell. They'd have to breach the door and go room by room. If the Red-Green tried to intervene, they'd see him coming and open fire.

Before they could even get to the door, something dropped into their midst from overhead and cracked open, its contents instantly expanding into a thick cloud of white smoke. It spread out faster than should be possible for a smoke grenade, but complaining about impossibilities was a rookie error.

With VERITAS gear they'd be able to see right through it, but apparently that would have been far too conspicuous in the daytime, so their visibility was suddenly reduced to only a few metres. "Second Mission concerns" was every GOC operative's least favourite phrase to hear.

In the confusion, a man leapt down from the rooftop, kicked an armed gunman in the head just below the helmet, then landed in the middle of the squad, shrouded by the billowing smoke. He wore a t-shirt and loose trousers, and carried no weapon. In a sane world, he wouldn't stand a chance against them.

Diwa Ramos watched in disbelief as he slammed the heads of two men together, then ducked under a burst of gunfire, moving faster than the eye could follow. One moment he was kicking hard enough to break a man's knee, the next he was grabbing an assault rifle and using it to break another man's jaw. He was right in the middle of the group, so they couldn't shoot without risking hitting each other. Ramos fired anyway, sending a stream of fully automatic fire directly at the Red-Green. She still missed.

Suddenly, he was hitting her. Her kinetic wards dispersed the impact of the blow, forcing her back a few steps but leaving her unharmed.

He responded by kicking her with even greater force, hard enough to send her flying into the man behind her. She knocked him down and hit the ground hard, and then her wards propelled her away from it in a series of harmless but dizzying bounces.

It had been preferable to having her ribs broken, but the sudden movement left her nauseous. She looked back up to see the Red-Green breaking a man's arm over his shoulder, then throwing the man to the ground. Ramos couldn't see anyone else still up.

She'd dropped her assault rifle at some point in her fall, not that it seemed like it would help. She'd heard other people firing at the Red-Green before he'd stopped them, and he hadn't taken a scratch.

Lieutenant Ramos had studied Applied Thaumatology at the ICSUT, but while she was great at divination and warding, she was not a battlemage. She'd never saw the point, nine times out of ten a gun was faster and more effective than any fancy trick with fire or lightning. But as the Red-Green approached her, she knew her kinetic shielding wouldn't last long under a sustained assault.

She fell back on something older, something that she'd been taught just before she headed off to the GOC. Something the old woman had told her never to use "except in direst need".

Lieutenant Ramos looked the Red-Green in the eyes and commanded him. "Die."

Some would call it a lethal auditory cognitohazard with visual components. Others would simply call it a death-curse. It depended on your personal approach to magic.

His heart stopped. His lungs choked. He stopped approaching, and began to sway. Ramos didn't feel too good herself, the backlash leaving her with stabbing chest pains and a throat that felt like sandpaper. But she was a member of a PHYSICS Strike Team, and didn't believe in half-measures. In a smooth motion, she got up, unholstered her sidearm, gripped it in both hands, and fired directly at the Red-Green six times.

The Red-Green twisted out the way.

She'd been aiming her pistol center of mass, then bringing it up as she fired to finish him off. She'd still hit him in the gut, arm and shoulder, but had entirely missed his head. She tried to adjust her aim, but he was still moving unsteadily.

He thumped his own chest with his fist, hard, then took a deep breath.

Restarting his own heart was a thing he could do. That seemed unfair.

She tried to shoot him as he closed the distance to her, but he was back to his full speed, and she was aiming slightly too far to the left.

This time, she held tightly to her gun. He wouldn't disarm her again.

This time, he struck her arms, knocking the pistol upwards.

She hadn't cast wards to protect her own equipment. That would have made it impossible to pick it up. This meant there was nothing stopping her own pistol from striking her in the forehead.

It took a while to regain consciousness.

Although she probably had a concussion, Lieutenant Ramos insisted on a full report. It was not good. About half the Strike Team would need medical treatment, herself included, mostly for broken bones. A few of her men had been hit so hard in the head that there was a decent chance they'd have permanent brain damage. And the worst thing was that the Red-Green had gotten away before any of the support teams could get to her location. He'd been bleeding, but if the gunshot wounds hadn't killed him right away, it probably wouldn't occur to him to drop dead later.

"God, what was he even doing here?"

It was a rhetorical question, but she did eventually get an answer. Zhang Wen, KTE-5854-Red-Green, had recently been seen with members of the Serpent's Hand. They must have found out about the GOC operation, and sent him to interfere.

The old witch they'd been chasing would be long gone, into a Way and out of their reach. She was better connected than they'd thought. Team Charlie, out on the perimeter, had seen her escaping, but she must have cursed them with misfortune. All of their guns jammed, and then when they tried to pursue on foot they all fell flat on their faces.

Diwa Ramos would never say a day couldn't get any worse. That was tempting fate. But this was a new low.

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