-Flashback-

16th of October, 1981

1146 Hours

Above Dolna Mitropoliya Air Base

Province of Pleven

Bulgaria

Seated on an Antonov An-26 transport plane, the new recruits of 68th Airborne Regiment of the Bulgarian People's Army eagerly await to jump from the skies for the first time. Among them, young Corporal Atanas Dyukandzhiev quietly adjusts his jump helmet, which awfully reminds of the helmets, used by the crewmen of tanks and other armoured vehicles. As he awaits for the jumpmaster to give the order, he takes a look at his fellow comrades. All of them, young men, almost in their twenties. But the harsh training they undertake has shaped them into hardened battle-ready soldiers. Ready to serve their homeland, ready to undertake any task given to them, ready to go there, where others can't. No matter if they have to swim icy oceans or walk scorching deserts, tall mountains or vast forests, point them the enemy and watch them work.

The jumpmaster steps outside to check for any obstacles obscuring th paratroopers. As he concludes that the terrain is suitable for the jump, he gives out the order to stand up.

"Stand up!"

Everybody stood up and turned towards the jumpmaster.

"Hook up!"

They started to insert their hooks on the line. The dull sound of metal parts clapping, obscured by the propeller engines and the wind fill the cabin.

"Set up for equipment check!"

Each paratrooper began checking the equipment of the comrade before him as the one behind him checks his. They began calling out that their equipment is ready and the jumpmaster gives the next order.

"Step forward!"

The paratroopers take few steps forward towards the door. The first one already standing next to the exit. The jumpmaster turn towards the red light behind him to see if the order is given to jump. After a few seconds, the light finally turns green.

"Go, go, go!" The jumpmaster shouted as they began pushing out the troops and collect the hooks.

Atanas was in the middle of the group. As they slowly stepped towards the door, he felt something pushing up through his stomach. Is it the adrenaline? Or perhaps he's nervous. It is his first jump after all. Maybe all this anxiety will disappear once he sets foot outside the plane and the strap snaps from his parachute bag, unleashing the folded parachute from inside as he falls down to the ground.

Here it comes. Almost at the door, ready to conduct his jump, the jumpmaster grabs his strap and pushes Atanas out. The warm sun of autumn blinds him as he steps out and gravity begins to pull him down towards the earth.

And all becomes clear...

...

25th of March, 2018

0312 Hours

Pirin Mountains

Bulgaria

Now old and gray, and with a full beard, Atanas reminisces that day of his first jump, as a reminder to always do everything by the book. To not let a single mistake slide by and end the mission before it begins. It's like a mantra to him, helping him set his head on the game. In his hand he clutches his cross given to him by his mother the day he was baptised, away from the eyes of his father, a sworn communist. As he clutches the tiny golden crucifix, he chants the Lord's prayer in his mind. As he concludes his prayer, he looks at the men before him. All dressed in black fatigues, balaclavas and Ops-Core FAST helmets, armed with AR-M4SFs, MP5s and Mossberg 590 pump action shotguns.

These six men inside this Eurocopter Cougar belong to the elite counter- terrorism unit of the Republic of Bulgaria. SOBT. Spetsyialen Otryad za Borba s Terorizma. Special Unit for Combating Terrorism. They fly off on an assignment inside the Pirin mountains, on home grounds on a terrorist hunt. Their squad leader begins to assess the situation to them once more.

"Alright, slushayte! (Listen up!) I'm gonna brief you again on our assignment for those who were snoozing during the briefing back at base. I'm looking at you, Kovatchev." He shot a stern look at Sergeant Valentin Kovatchev, who rolled his eyes and grinned through his mask as a response.

Atanas continued the briefing "DANS received intel from Interpol about a dangerous terrorist organization making moves in the territory of Bulgaria. Not much intel has been given to us as of the identity of the terrorists. Their only distinguishable feature is the white masks they wear. They believe that these stragglers are the same ones that are responsible for the attack on Bartlett university almost three years ago. For those of you who don't remember the attack, just know that we're dealing with a high priority treat and to not be taken lightly. If they plan on doing moves on the territory of Bulgaria, we have to make sure we stop them in their tracks. As you know, Lieutenant Arnaudov is inside the AO, providing recon on the target location, but he went silent two hours ago. "

"This must be the only time this asshole ever goes quiet." one of the men, Corporal Krasimir Manolov, known as the group's joker, inserted.

Atanas gave a piercing look at the man who broke the silence. The man immediately turned his gaze towards the ground in shame.

"Barring anymore interruptions, I'll go over the execution of the mission. The hostiles have set up an operation base in a lodge north west of the village of Belasitsa. We'll insert one click west of the lodge and round up on the overwatch's last known position. From there well attack the lodge and neutralize the cell. Our orders are to capture or kill. If all goes to shit, we have two units of the Gendarmerie on standby in the outskirts of the village. Remember your training, keep calm, stick by your battle buddies, maintain situational awareness and make it count. Razbrano? (Understood?)"

"Yes, sir!" Everyone answered back.

"Oh yeah! The Bogeyman gets to put some naughty kids in the bag!" Said in a excited tone the 195 cm tall mass of muscles, known as the Bogeyman. His real name is Sergeant Anton Rostislavov and he's handling the battering ram he calls Ivanka.

Everybody laughed at the Bogeyman's statement. Atanas grinned in amusement. As he concluded the briefing, he looked out the window with a look that people might get the impression that he's in a constant thought. The weather outside was cold, the ground was covered with snow but the sky was crystal clear with stars covering the sky and the moon was in a waxing gibbous.

"ETA thirty seconds to LZ!" the pilot's announcement snapped him back to reality.

Atanas began checking for a last time his new experimental gear. He pulled out a strange device out of his side pouches of his vest. The device unfolded its legs revealing its spider-like shape. After he made sure everything was in order, the spider-like device folded its legs back to its compact shape and put it back in his pouch.

The pilot landed the helicopter in a nearby field and the team began dismounting and setting up 360. After three seconds the helicopter lifted off the ground and the team began moving out into the nearby forest.

...

Five minutes of moving through the snowy forest and there was no sign of the scout. No signs of shifting through the snow, no equipment leftover, no signs of a firefight. Nothing.

"What are the odds that his cover's blown?" Corporal Trifon Petrov broke the silence by raising the question.

"He's a swift bastard." Kovatchev responded. "No way he would give up without a fight. Or better yet, he's hiding right under the enemy's noses and they have no idea."

"He may be dumb but not a maloumnik. (imbecile.) I'm gonna go with Valyo on that one." Rostislavov added.

"Don't worry." Manolov reassured. "We'll find him eventually. I bet at one point Torbalanlŭt (the Bogeyman) will step on him accidentally and he'll squeal like a rubber duck."'

"All of you shut up and keep your heads on a swivel." The team leader ordered.

One hundred meters left to reach the lodge and still no sign of the sniper's presence. The lodge was in full visual of them. As their combat boots step on the snow, they were suddenly spooked by a voice from behind them.

"What took you so long, guys?"

Everybody turned towards their six with weapons raised only to find nothing.

"What the fuck was that?" Whispered Private Andrei Simeonov.

"Hold your weapons guys. It's me." The same voice spoke again.

Suddenly infront of the team rose from the snow a figure clad in white winter gear, holding on his left hand a Dragunov SVD rifle with white duct tape on it as an improvised winter camouflage. On his right leg there is a drop leg holster holding an Arsenal Shipka SMG. The figure then removed the hood and lowered the white face mask on his face, revealing ice blue eyes and a scar that starts from his right brow and across the right side of his face next to the eye. All this time he was hiding behind his team and nobody batted an eye. A compliment to his skill in making camouflage. Now he stands before them, with a half smile printed on his face. This man was no other than Lieutenant Ivaylo Arnaudov, the sniper of the unit, and the assigned scout for this mission.

"You're such a fucking bellend." Kovatchev sighed as he lowered his weapon.

"Why the fuck weren't you answering your comms?" Questioned angrily the team leader.

"Hold on. I'm gonna explain everything." He reassured. "But first, unless you guys plan on doing a cliche super hero entry on those guys, I suggest you to hit the dirt."

Atanas nodded in agreement. "Start setting three-sixty." He ordered the team.

Everybody went prone and began setting a defensive perimeter. The Bogeyman was watching northwest and Petrov southwest. Kovatchev and Simeonov watching north and south. Manolov scanned directly west. Arnaudov gave his binocular to Atanas. He looked through the binoculars and began scanning the layout of the target building. It was a two story lodge. To the front there was a small porch at the front entrance. On the porch there was a man in a blue winter jacket with a chest rig over it. He was holding an AKMS with the stock folded. He had a white mask on his face as the intel suggested. On the second floor there was a balcony above the porch. Another man stood in a gray winter jacket, a white mask and a chest rig, holding a MP5. There was also a front garden surrounded by an iron fence with a guard at the front gate wielding an Uzi, walking back and forth. To the right of the lodge there was a garage.

"As soon as I set up my position," Ivaylo began explaining. "A van arrived here, parked inside the garage and started unloading some serious equipment."

"Weapons?" Questioned Atanas.

"No. Electronics. Real serious stuff by the looks of it. See those satellite dishes on the roof? I don't think they use them for some premium TV. I bet they're tracking comms. As soon as they turned them on, the signal emitting from them was so powerful, my phone signal dropped dead."

"Slava Bogu (Thank God) for the mobile phone network coverage in this country." Dyukandziev huffed in amusement. "You can even have a signal in the mountains."

"So. Do you have a plan?" Ivaylo turned towards his team leader.

"Not really. As soon as you went silent, we rushed to the chopper. We thought your cover's blown already. Didn't have time to study the architectural layout of the lodge."

"Well, I think it's time you use that new gizmo of yours."

"I thought the same thing." Atanas reached to his pouch and pulled out the spider-like device and placed it on the ground as it unfolded its legs. "Speaking of which. What about the "Paladin"?"

"I set it five hundred meters down the road south."The sniper began explaining. "The north road is pretty much a dead end so they have nowhere to run."

"I see..."

He pulled out a PDA from another pouch on his vest and booted it. After booting up is complete, the PDA showed a live image from the drone. He put it on the ground and sent it towards the lodge. The drone approached the iron fence surrounding the lodge. It slipped through the iron bars of the fence and continued to approach the lodge, leaving a trail on the snow. Atanas drove the drone around the left side of the lodge towards the back. The guard wielding the Uzi spotted the white trail forming on the ground and decided to investigate. He followed the trail, going to the back of the house. As he turned the corner, something jumped out of the garbage bins, spooking him. By a fluke, a squirrel appeared from the garbage bins. The guard chuckled in amusement as he gawked at the squirrel, climbing the oak tree behind the house.

At the back of the lodge there was a guard having a smoke next to a sliding door. Another man approached from the inside, opening the sliding door and calling over the guard inside. As the two men entered inside, Atanas managed to slip the drone through the sliding doors and between the legs of the stragglers. There was a coffee table surrounded by a couch and an armchair and a flatscreen on the wall. Opposite of the drone there was a fireplace and to the left is a stair that leads to the second floor. The main entrance was also there. The two men climbed to the second floor and Atanas followed them, revealing a hidden trick up the drone's sleeves. The drone had the ability to move on vertical surfaces, meaning he could climb it on walls. He climbed the drone on the wall and moved it up the second floor. The two men took a left on a corridor and entered a bedroom. Atanas was unable to sneak the drone through the door. But a glimpse revealed what was inside. There was a whiteboard with all sorts of notes and a map.

"Mamka mu. (Fuck.)" Atanas grumbled. "Looks like we're gonna find out what are they hiding in there the hard way."

"Will there ever be a day where a mission will go smoothly?" Moaned the sniper.

"Alright then. We'll prepare to breach. There should be a electrical panel at the garage. I'm gonna knock their light out first."

Atanas took control of the drone once more. He drove it back to the way he came. From the living room there was a door leading straight to the garage. A person was sitting on the couch, watching TV. The team leader snuck the drone under the couch. From the garage door, another person appeared and called out the person on the couch to come in. The person on the couch stood up and approached the garage with the spider-like drone following behind him. Inside the garage there was the white van, previously mentioned by Arnaudov. Atanas spotted the electrical panel and made haste for it, preparing to reveal another trick this drone possesses. On the PDA's touch screen display, on the right side of the screen there are two buttons named PROXIMITY and CONCENTRATED. Atanas pressed the CONCENTRATED option, highlighted in a green frame now. As the drone approached the panel, one of the men turned around and spotted the drone.

"What the fuck!" He screamed, diverting the attention of the other one.

They both looked at the drone which just reached the panel. One of them headed for their pistol holstered in their appendix carry holster, wondering for a brief moment at the sight of such an abnormally sized creature. As he pulled out his sidearm, the drone suddenly exploded in a giant lightning ball. The two hostiles got knocked out and dazed by the exploding mechanical spider. From the outside, the whole lodge went dark with the guards on the outside getting allerted.

"I guess this is our cue to move out." He proceeded to gesture at the fire team. "Team, we're Oscar Mike."

The team rallied up behind their team leader and began approaching the house.

"I'll see you at debrief, then." Ivaylo said, parting with the team. "Oh, and Nasko. Beers and the shkembe chorba are on you tonight."

The team leader raised his middle finger over his shoulder towards Arnaudov.

The team approached the gate. Kovatchev raised his MP5 at the guard at the gate, neutralizing him with a shot through his head with the loud hissing of the suppressed shot filling the air. "Tango down." he called out.

The guard at the front porch turned towards the sound and switched the safety off from his AKM. But Simeonov dealt with him with a quick burst from his AR-M4SF, scoring a centre mass shot. "Vrag neutraliziran. (Target neutralized.)" He reported.

From the second floor balcony, the third guard raised his MP5 at the approaching operators. But a 7.62x54mmR piercing his skull changed his mind, painting the wall behind him red. "One less to worry about." Called out the sniper.

The team stacked up at the front door, with Atanas at the front, Kovatchev second, Bogeyman the third in line and the rest behind him.

"Entry team to Sierra, we're ready to breach. Over." He reported to Arnaudov through the radio.

"Copy that. Continue mission. Out." The sniper answered back.

"Rostislavov, the ram. Kovatchev, prepare to flash." The team leader ordered.

Kovatchev set up on the right side of the door, preparing to throw a flashbang. The Bogeyman pulled out Ivanka and took point at the door. He slammed the door open with such strength, it almost came out of its hinges. Kovatchev threw the flashbang inside. The flashbang exploded and from inside there were screams of agony as the bright flashes of magnesium and the sudden loud noise disoriented them.

"Get on the ground!" They shouted as the team entered.

One of the disoriented men raised his AKMS to fire blindly, but only ended up killing his own in the confusion. Seeing he's a danger to everyone inside, The team leader fired his Mossberg at the shooter. Another man came out of the kitchen door, bumping onto the Bogeyman along the way. The Bogeyman turned around and knocked him out with the butt stock on his AR-M4SF. Judging by the crack he heard uppon the strike, the Bogeyman might have snapped his neck and killed him.

"Chisto! (It's clear!)" Kovatchev reported.

Atanas, Simeonov and Manolov went up the staircase, when two hostiles ran across the corridor. The one behind fired a burst from his Scorpion vz. 61 at the group, hitting Simeonov in the chest and pushing him onto Manolov. Atanas raised his shotgun at the enemy and fired two shells with the first one missing and the other one scraping the hip. The gunman recoiled from the impact of the buckshots but he continued down the corridor.

"We have a man down over here!" Krasimir reported the wounded teammate to the rest of the team.

"I'm fine." The young operator answered as he groaned in pain while in Krasimir's arms.

Atanas climbed up the stairs and went at the direction of the two runners. He saw the men he wounded with the buckshot dropping down a hatch. He approached the hatch and looked down. One of the men was aiming his AK at the ceiling. Atanas immediately backed out as the bullets began impacting the ceiling.

"We have hostiles at the garage!" He shouted to his team.

"They jammed the door!" Kovatchev answered back as the Bogeyman bashed the door with his battering ram.

The Bogeyman eventually broke half of the door down when the sound of tires burning off the ground filled his ears and the smoke from the exhaust port filling half the garage. The Bogeyman backed off, coughing, when the sound of a car crashing through a metal plate filled the room. Kovatchev looked over the door and saw that the rest of the stragglers were getting away in the white van, crashing open the metal door of the garage.

"They're getting away!" Kovatchev reported through the radio.

"Not for long." The sniper responded in a bold manner. "Activating the Paladin."

He pulled out a black Samsung Galaxy S7 out of his pocket and pressed an icon with a sniper reticle on it. The screen showed the view of a road and a long gun barrel on the right side. On the center of the screen is a reticle. To the left side there is a big button named FIRE, with an ammunition counter on top of it, plus two buttons used in zooming the camera in and out. To the right there are two other buttons. The one is for switching between normal view, night vision and FLIR, and the other one is named ZEROING. On top of the screen are digital indicators showing wind, distance and azimuth, and one for showing if the laser rangefinder is turned on. As Ivaylo switched the view to night vision the white van appeared down the road. Ivaylo pressed the ZEROING button. The icon for the laser rangefinder turned on in red and the top screen began displaying the data as from the phone he can hear the faint movement of mechanical parts, adjusting the rifle to follow the path of the moving vehicle. The following data is present; wind: 1,34 m/s SSW, azimuth: 263, distance: 367 m. The displayed value of the range decreases as the vehicle was closing in.

The sniper focused the reticle on the engine block. "I have visual on the vehicle. Taking the shot."

He pressed the button named FIRE and after one second he heard the thud of a high caliber rifle being fired in the distance. On the screen it showed the rifle firing at the van, hitting the engine block, right at the centre. Smoke and flames began appearing out of the bonnet as the van began slowing down.

"Runaway vehicle is disabled." Arnaudov called out on the radio.

"Affirmative." Atanas reported. "I've called the Gendarmerie team to intercept the runners. In the meantime, regroup with us and let's search the house for intel."


The four men from the van were getting out. The driver and the passenger at the front were coughing from the smoke. From down the road appeared two pairs of headlights. As they closed in the shape of an armoured car took form. The two armoured cars surrounded the van, with the word "Gendarmerie" written on the side, and men in black uniforms disembarked, pointing their guns at the stragglers.

"Nobody fucking move!" They shouted.

But the four men decided they would not give up without a fight. The wounded of the four raised his Scorpion vz. 61 at the Gendarmerie personnel, but was quickly put down with three shots centre mass. The second one raised his AK, only to be shot. The third one pulled out a grenade and threw it at the cordon, making the gendarmes scatter, but not without neutralizing him. The gendarmes took cover in the ditches, on both sides of the road as the last man standing made a run for it for the forest, not accounting for the other team on the other side. The grenade exploded, sending shrapnel everywhere, even hitting the armoured car. The blast shook the trees nearby, making the snow gathered on their branches to fall off. As the team who took cover began recovering themselves, the others went after the last straggler, shooting him in the back. The man fell on the ground and one gendarme approached the body to check his pulse. He couldn't find any and it was assumed he was fatally shot.


"Targets are neutralized." The gendarmes reported back to Dyukandziev.

"Copy that. I'm calling the EMT now. Out." Atanas responded as he stood outside the lodge, waiting for the sniper.

"Hey, can you tell them to go and retrieve my rifle?" Ivaylo called over as he approached.

"Be advised, there is hardware belonging to my team that needs to be retrieved. Expect instructions from callsign Sierra. Over."

"Roger that. Retrieving the hardware now. Out." the gendarmes responded.

"Andrei, how are you doing, man?" Manolov, who was crouched over his teammate, asked in a concerned tone.

"I'm fine. The plate took the hit. Worst I have is a bruise." The baby faced private with grey eyes, answered with a smile.

Krasimir chuckled and patted him on his arm.

Atanas and Ivaylo climbed upstairs, to the room where the two men entered. They stood at the door, ready to open it.

"Now let's see what they are hiding in there." Ivaylo said as he put his SVD on his back.

Atanas slowly opened the door and his nostrils filled with the smell of petrol. As he opened the door, the sniper felt the same smell, but a clicking sound made his hairs stand. He immediately dragged his team leader on the ground and jumped over his back to cover him. Suddenly the room combust in flames, almost escaping the corridor, charring the wall opposite of the door. Firefighters immediately climbed the stairs and helped out the two operators to evacuate the lodge. Everybody were outside, seeing the flames appearing out of the window, as the firefighters attached the hose to the water tank, preparing to extinguish.

"Well..." Ivaylo sighed as he watched the flames. "there goes the fucking intel." He pulled out a Rothmans Blue cigarette and lit it.

Atanas sighed as he angrily turned away from the building in disappointment. "Will there ever be a day where an assignment goes smoothly? Da mu eba pitchkata maychina da mu eba."

Listening to his comrade's cursing, Ivaylo couldn't help but chuckle as he did a long pull off his cigarette.

...

25th of March, 2018

0903 Hours

Vrana

Sofia, the capital of

Bulgaria

When you come to Sofia and hear the name Vrana, you think of the beautiful palace Vrana, which was the residence of the of the Saxe- Coburg- Gotha tzars of the third Bulgarian state, from Ferdinand the First, until Boris the Third and his son, Simeon the Second. The house that rulled from the begining of the 20th century until the rise of the communist regime in 1944. But for others, the name Vrana bears a different meaning. Opposite of the palace, across boulevard "Tsarigradsko Shose", is where the new recruits earn their place among the ranks of the SOBT.

"So..." The commander of the unit, Major Galin Mladenov, exhaled crestfallen as he listened to the debrief of Captain Dyukandzhiev about the last operation. "The terrorists booby trapped the room with an improvised incendiary bomb, the trap got triggered and much of, if not all, of the intel got destroyed." He facepalmed over his desk. "This is gonna present a problem. Let those pencilnecks from DANS to recover whatever can be recovered from those ashes." He looked over at Atanas. "In the meantime we have to prepare for the worst case scenario. We have to strengthen our defences."

"But how?" Objected Atanas. "All of our manpower is spread throughout the country. Anything that can be used as a target by the terrorists. Airports, huge reservoirs, the nuclear power plant at Kozloduy. The list goes on and on. What more can we do?"

"I understand that we have to do everything to protect Bulgaria, but we should maintain the perception that a terrorist attack is unlikely in a country such as ours. Fortunately no major terrorist organizations have a reason to attack us." Reassured Mladenov.

"Except these guys." the Captain pointed at a photo of two white masks during the assault on Bartlett. "It is a whole different ball game with these guys. And we know fuck all about them. And with all of the intel getting destroyed, we have no way of knowing where they plan to strike next. They could hit anywhere in Bulgaria. Hell, as far as I know, they may as well be planning a strike elsewhere and use Bulgaria as a hiding spot."

"Fortunately our government has come with a solution. Are you familiar with Team Rainbow?" Questioned the Major.

"I remember them from the events in 2007. I thought they were disbanded in 2012."

"Apparently they thought it was a good idea to reactivate the task force three years ago. They're gonna send a contingent in two days. So I want our guys to be on their best behaviour. Especially that wanker, Arnaudov."

"Yes, sir."

"You're dismissed."

Atanas saluted and headed out of the office.

At the front of the building, Ivaylo was leaned against a tree, having a smoke. He was wearing the signature black uniform of the unit with the signature black combat uniform and the red beret of the unit.

"How did the debrief go?" Ivaylo asked as he moved from the tree.

"Things are bound to change around here." Atanas began briefing him. "In two days, well be expecting visitors from abroad."

The two began walking back to the living quarters, under the warm sun.

"What? NATO?" He chuckled.

"Even bigger. Team Rainbow."

The grin on his face faded as he heard the response of his superior. He dragged from his cigarette once more. After inhaling and releasing the smoke, Ivaylo spoke again. "Things are that bad, huh? For us to have to call them here."

"Mladenov said it was a whole contingent." Atanas continued. "What they mean by that, it could be anyone's guess. Either way, I want you, especially, to be on your best behaviour when they come here."

"Don't worry, mate." Ivaylo reassured. "I'll put on my best smile."

The captain let out a brief laugh at Arnaudov's statement. "O bez sŭmnenie. (Oh without a doubt)"