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Arc 5 of End War Online: Shattered Boundaries.


Chapter 23

After the incident, all three of us, my mother, my father, and myself, were taken to the hospital. There, the police had visited us to get a full report on the incident. My mother had to answer their questions, as my father was in the ICU… I wouldn’t say a word.

The official police report pretty much summed up what happened in detail… the brutality of how my father and I killed the four men was brought under question, but my mother was quick to claim self-defense, and as far as the law was concerned, we were well within our right to defend ourselves and our home in any manner we saw fit.

But self-defense… I wasn’t sure that was entirely it… but I wasn’t in any mood to be thinking about anything at the moment…

The police report also stated that the men were specifically targeting me… the reason for this was traced to End War Online pretty quickly from the information on the cell phones of the men. Messages on the phones indicated that the attacks were premeditated with the express purpose of killing me… the reasons for this were states as unknown in the police report, and was simply filed as another incident of gamer rage… but I knew the reason. All the events revolving around me in the game… I should’ve known that someone in real life could’ve found out where I was and targeted me… after all there were probably people who blamed me for everything happening… I thought outside the game was safe… I should’ve known better…

Now my mother and I were waiting to hear if my father was going to make it… he was still being treated for his wounds in the ICU… it didn’t look good…

As for me… I felt dead inside… I felt empty and hopeless and alone… I felt like I might as well just die. I had my head wrapped in bandages as I sat outside my room on the bench, staring at my lap… I couldn’t think… there were a lot of things for me to be upset about right now but… I just felt… I just felt numb to everything…

I was probably sitting at this one bench for a while before I heard footsteps down the hall, accompanied by someone calling my name.

“Yamato?” I hear her say. It was Naoto’s voice… “Yamato!”

She rushed over to me upon noticing the bandages on my head, getting on her knees to be on level with me.

“Yamato, what happened?” She asked, worry in her voice.

I don’t answer her… I couldn’t find my voice.

“Yamato?” She puts her hand on my shoulder. “Yamato, talk to me. What happened?”

“I…” I barely breathe out. “I killed him…”

“What…?” Naoto asks. “Killed who?”

“They broke into our house…” I say. “Dad got shot… I… I can’t…”

“Yamato…” Naoto wrapped her arms around me and held me close. “Yamato, it’s okay… it’ll all be okay…”

I can’t help but hug her back… I needed her right now… at the moment I felt so weak it took effort just to breathe.

“Are you a friend of his?” I hear my mother ask as she came from down the hall.

Naoto looked up to her and nodded.

“Yeah…” She said. “What happened? I’ve never seen him like this…”

“There were men who broke into our home last night.” She explained. “Yamato and I were both subdued… his father came and… he killed three of them with his personal katana… but he was shot from behind by the last one. He tossed his katana towards Yamato and he… killed the last one.”

“Oh, no…” Naoto turned back to me in her arms. “Yamato? Yamato, come on, it’s okay… you did what you had to do.”

I only shook my head and closed my eyes tight as I dug my face into her shoulder, clutching onto her tightly… it was really the only thing I could bring myself to do.

My mother sat down next to me and put her hand on my shoulder. She didn’t say anything, though. She knew that nothing she could say would help right now. All I could do was just hang onto Naoto for dear life… I needed her right now more than anything.

“Oh, sweetheart…” Naoto said softly, combing through my hair gently. “It’ll be okay. You’re alright…”

“Ah, there you are.” I hear a voice say.

I turn away from Naoto and to the voice and see two men standing there… in fact, they were men I recognized…

“You remember us?” He asks.

“You’re from the EWO Team…” I say, letting go of Naoto and facing them.

“Shinji Nakajima and Kou Shinden.” Nakajima reintroduces himself and his partner. “When we got word of what happened we needed to speak with you.”

“Why?” I ask, collecting myself.

“As you know, the men who assaulted your family were targeting you specifically.” Nakajima says. “We’re just as surprised as you probably are… we never expected people outside the game would try to kill you.”

“No shit…” I mutter.

“Can we talk?” Shinden asks. “It’s important.”

I turn to Naoto and my mother before standing up off the bench and walking with the two men, down the hall and downstairs, leaving the hospital to speak outside. We walked over to a nearby bench and sat down to talk.

“Yamato.” Nakajima begins. “We’ve been keeping track of your progress in the game as much as we can. I believe you’re starting to home in on the AEP, which is good… but it looks like things are getting much more serious now.”

“You think?” I say. “What is this about, really?”

“People even in real life are now targeting you, Yamato.” Shinden says. “People can find out where you live… you got lucky this time, but this could easily happen again. We can’t afford for you to be in danger in the real world with what’s going on in the game… things are picking up and you’re still our best chance of fixing this.”

“I know that, dammit.” I say. “But what do you want me to do? I’m doing all I can in the damn game and now people are out to hurt me and my family in the real world too.”

“We know.” Nakajima says. “Which is why we suggest that you go into hiding.”

“Go into hiding… what the hell do you mean?”

“Somewhere outside the country, if possible.” Shinden added. “We think you and your family will be much safer that way.”

“Out of the country…?” I ask, standing up from the bench. “What the hell are you saying? It’s not like I can just pack up and leave the damn country!”

“All travel expenses will be paid for by us.” Nakajima said quickly. “We can also pay for a hotel for you to stay in for as long as you need, as well as all living expenses. Food, clothes, anything. Your only responsibility will be to keep playing the game to find the AEP.”

“I can’t!” I say. “My father is in the ICU because of what happened! I can’t just leave!”

“Yamato, I know it’s hard, but you don’t have many options, here.” Shinden tells me frankly. “Your parents will be safe. People won’t target them if you aren’t around.”

“But… moving out of the country…?” I say. “I… I don’t know where I’d go.”

“We’ll figure that out with your mother.” Nakajima says. “We just need to know if you’ll do as we say.”

“Why the hell should I?”

“If you don’t, you’ll still be in danger.” Nakajima says. “Your family will still be in danger. They’ll start targeting your friends to get to you. You’ve already seen the damage they can do, you can’t let them do anything else.”

I stay silent for a brief period, before scoffing and looking the other way.

“Listen, Yamato.” Nakajima closes his hands together. “I know this is hard on you, and I really wish there was some sort of alternative… but this really is the only option you have right now. For your safety and for the safety of everyone you care about, you need to cooperate with us.”

“I… I don’t know about this…” I say.

“Yamato, please.” Nakajima persists. “We don’t want-”

“I can’t leave Naoto.” I suddenly say, surprising myself when I said it.

The three of us stay silent for a few brief seconds.

“Naoto?” Nakajima asks. “Your girlfriend?”

“I… no.” I stammer. “I mean… we’re friends, but… I don’t…”

I turn away, trying to collect my thoughts… I began to wonder just what position I was in with Naoto… I wondered just how I felt about her… how she felt about me… I didn’t exactly understand. I started feeling things I’d never felt before. I didn’t want to leave her of course because I wanted to be there for her… but… was it really just that? I felt like I was naturally supposed to be there for her; like it was my duty to do so. It made me feel strange…

“Yamato.” Nakajima snapped me out of it, grabbing my attention again. “We need you to do this. If we lose you we don’t have a lot of hope for fixing this.”

“I still don’t understand why it has to be me…” I say. “Of all the people it had to be me. I never asked for any of this, you know! I never wanted to be involved in shit like this! Especially now since now my fucking family is involved!”

“Like it or not, you’re stuck in this situation.” Shinden spoke up. “In order to prevent any further harm to you and your family we need you to do this. Do you understand?”

“I understand, I just don’t fucking like it!” I snap, before shaking my head, calming myself down. I stay silent for a few quick seconds and sigh deeply. “Fine…”

“Great.” Nakajima smiled, standing up. “Don’t worry, Yamato. Everything’s going to be fine.”

“I doubt that…” I say, walking back down the street towards the hospital. Nakajima and Shinden followed closely behind.

---

Back at home, my mother was in the kitchen on the phone, while I sat in the living room absent-mindedly watching TV… it seemed so empty without dad there. I listened in on mom’s conversation in the kitchen. She was talking to Octavia’s mother, Violette Victoria, about my situation. As our mothers knew each other, and Octavia and I were childhood friends, my mother decided to give them a call to ask to take care of me at their place.

“Yes…” I hear my mother say from the kitchen. “Uh-huh… no, I… I don’t know how long it’ll be for… yes… oh, no, I’m okay… no really, I’m fine… you know Ishi, he’ll be fine. He’s always fine.”

I sigh, turning off the TV and leaning back on the couch.

“Yamato’s, well… he’s pretty shaken up…” My mother continued her conversation. “This whole situation hasn’t been easy on either of us, but it’s hit him especially deep… I’m sure she will. She’s a good friend to him… okay… well I’ll have him start packing up. He’ll be leaving tomorrow at around 10 am our time, so he should arrive at around… um… flight should take around 10 hours or so, so… around 1 pm your time, give or take. Yes… alright, Violette, thank you so much. Alright… bye.”

My mother hung up and walked into the living room.

“You should start getting packed, honey.” She said quietly. “You’ll be leaving early tomorrow.”

“Yeah…” I mutter underneath my breath, standing up slowly and soundlessly heading for my room.

---

It took me a bit to pack up three suitcases worth of stuff. My laptop and my RiftGear set was last, which had its own special metal suitcase, specifically designed to hold my entire gaming rig. I was leaving my bedsheets and pillows and blankets as well as a few other things that Octavia’s family would provide for me. I pack up my rig and fasten the case shut, before shoving everything into one corner of the room, ready to be carried out the door tomorrow morning. It was at that point that I heard a knock at the door, followed shortly by my mother calling me from the front of the house.

“Yamato!” She called. “You have a visitor!”

I headed out of my room and down the hall towards the front door. I see Naoto there, standing in the doorway. I walk up to her.

“What do you want?” I say coldly.

“Can we go for a walk?” She asks.

“Why?”

“Just… please?”

I sigh and lower my head, shrugging lightly.

“Sure, I guess…” I mutter. “Mom, I’m heading out.”

“Okay.” She says from the living room. “Be back soon, okay?”

“Yeah.”

I quickly snatch my house keys off the key rack next to the door and head out with Naoto, shutting the door behind me as I left.

---

Naoto and I walked downtown together silently. The streetlights lit our way as the cool night breeze passed through the town. It wasn’t unbearably cold, however, as the air itself was still warm, so there wasn’t any need to bundle up. We headed down to the river bank at the floodplain. It was down the street a ways from the shrine in town that led to the bridge I crossed to get to my school. I followed Naoto down the steps to the river bank. Gray and black stones were the ground we walked on as Naoto led me down to a particular spot down the way; a dock that led out to the water. It was a common fishing spot, though it was unoccupied at the moment. We both headed down towards the end of the dock. Once there, Naoto sat down with her legs over the edge, the tips of her toes just above the water’s surface. I didn’t sit down. I stared out at the river; the calm stream reflecting the moonlight. It was easy enough to see with the moon out this way; it provided more than enough light for us, even without the city lights.

“You know, my dad used to take us here.” Naoto told me. “The three of us… him, mom, and I… this was our special spot. We’d come down to the river bank at least once a week to play.”

I stay silent, putting my hands in my pockets and staring quietly out at the reflection of the moon in the water.

“I remember… we used to be so happy.” She continued in a melancholy tone. “I remember when dad used to love mom… and me… we were the perfect family at one point.”

“I see…” I say, looking down to her, also staring out at the waterfront.

She sighed deeply, looking down at her reflection in the water.

“I wonder what happened…” She muttered almost too quiet for me to hear. “I don’t remember very well… I was so young it seemed like one moment he was there, and the next… he was gone.”

I look back out to the river… in contrast to what I’d been through recently, everything here was so calm and serene… the world was oblivious to my struggles, and it didn’t really care. It was quieting, really… to think that my life didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. My actions were only recognized by very few… life would go on normally for most if I suddenly stopped living, and those people wouldn’t have even known I existed.

“I heard you were leaving.” Naoto said, catching my attention. “You’re going to escape the country to France, right?”

“Yeah.” I say. “Octavia’s family over there is taking me in… I’m leaving tomorrow morning.”

She stays silent. I wondered what she was thinking…

“I promised your mother I’d take care of you.” I say suddenly, surprising her as she looked up to me. I keep looking out at the water.

“Did she ask you to?” She asked slowly.

“Yes.” I say. “But… it’s more complicated than that. It’s a promise I made to myself, too.”

I sigh and shake my head, trying to clear my thoughts as my mind began to get clouded up with foreign emotions that made me feel nauseous.

“I wish I could stay because of that… but I guess I really can’t after what happened. If I stayed my family would still be in danger. You’d probably be in danger too.”

“Are you really that worried about me…?” She asks, standing up to face me.

“Yes I am.” I say plainly.

I turn to look her in the eyes.

“I care about you, Naoto. I don’t know why… but I just do.”

Naoto looks downwards with a look of lament on her face before turning away from be to stare back at the water.

“I care about you too, Yamato…” She said quietly. “I don’t know if I should, but… I do. You’re the first person I’ve really been able to open up to…”

“What about your mother?”

Naoto shakes her head.

“Just you… I don’t know why I trust you as much as I do… but I do.” She starts to sniffle lightly. “And… it hurts… I can’t stand the thought of seeing you go.”

“I’ll still be around in the game, you know.” I say. “We’ll still see each other.”

“Right…” She turns away from me as she wipes her eyes with both her hands. “Right… we will…”

“I’ll be back home when this is all over.” I assure her, patting her shoulder. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

She then unexpectedly wheels around and wraps her arms around my chest, digging her face into my shoulder. I smile lightly and hold her by her waist. She sniffled lightly, but she wasn’t going to cry. She held me… affectionately.

“You’ll be careful, right?” She asks.

“Yeah.” I tell her, smiling down at her. “Always.”

“Okay…” She wiped her eyes, letting me go. “You better.”

“Of course.”

Naoto managed to put on a smile for me and chuckled.

“Who knew things would end up like this, huh?” She joked.

“Yeah…” I smile back. “Life is pretty strange, isn’t it?”

“Mhm.” She nods lightly.

I sigh and look up to the sky. The cool night breeze flowed softly down the river bank, and I breathe in the refreshing air… nights like this always managed to clear my thoughts… and I definitely needed that after everything that’s happened…

Being with Naoto here helped too…

“Anyway…” I say, after we had walked a ways. “I should probably get back home and get some sleep… got a long day tomorrow.”

“Oh… um, yeah…” Naoto stammered a little.

“See ya, then.” I say, turning around and walking back down the river bank towards home.

“Yamato?” I hear her call behind me.

I turn my head to look back to her.

“Hm?”

“Listen, I… um…” She looked down to her feet, fidgeting lightly. She seemed nervous about something…

“What is it?” I ask, rotating my whole body back to face her, putting a hand in my pocket.

“Erm…” She kicks the pebbles under her feet lightly and gyrates her body around for continuous movement… she was acting strange… I’d never seen her act out of her character before. She then shakes her head and regains her composure.

“You know what, nevermind.” She quickly says. “It’s… it’s not important… heh…”

“Hrm…” I shrug and dismiss her awkward behavior, turning back around and heading back home. I wave behind me as a final goodbye.

---

Morning came quicker than I would’ve liked. It took me a while to get to sleep due to being so anxious about leaving Japan, as well as the fact that my father was in the hospital… among other things… I only got around four hours before I was woken up by mom. It was a good thing I had already packed my things, so I was out the door pretty quickly. I decided to take my school uniform along with me, as it had come to be my style of clothing on account of me wearing it every school day. It just felt comfortable to me, and I guess I needed some sort of connection to home while I was on my way to France.

Mom took me to the airport. She had a hard time letting me go into the building when she dropped me off. She smothered me in hugs and kisses and told me she’d miss me over and over again, and to make sure that I called her every once in a while to check in. I eventually was able to escape from her and gave her a proper hug goodbye before heading into the airport. My ticket and other fees were already paid for by the EWO Team, as they had promised; as a matter of fact, I was able to skip all the lines. The security there was put on alert especially for me just in case some psychos had the idea to try to knife me in the back while I was boarding. My own personal guard escorted me through the usual baggage checks and all that with much more expedience and much less complications than if I had waited in all the lines. The suitcases which held my clothes and other items were stored in cargo, while I was allowed to bring my laptop and RiftGear with me into the plane, and I had also brought my headphones to hook up to my phone so I could listen to some music during the ten hour flight. I walked to my window seat, where I stored my belongings to my right side, up against the wall, sitting down in my seat and looking out the window. Lucky me I wasn’t put with a 500 lbs walrus of a man or a screaming baby, so I guess that was what quantified first class.

We weren’t delayed. The EWO Team really pulled out all the stops in order to get me out of the country, as we were the first plane to leave the tarmac, even though the schedule said otherwise. We pretty much left immediately after the last passenger boarded the plane. I half-expected to see a fighter escort flanking us on both sides after we had taken off, but I guess that would be unnecessary unless anyone with their own private air force had their sights on me. Either way, I felt much safer once we were off the ground, and I quickly decided I’d catch up on lost hours of sleep. I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes. Might as well have been knocked out just by blinking.

---

The rest of my flight was pretty uneventful. I napped through most of it, and the rest was spent listening to music or on my laptop. Nowadays planes had their own reliable wifi so anyone could easily work on their computers or update their social network or whatever the fuck bullshit everyone on the planet except me did now.

I was already getting fucked over by the time change by the time I landed in Toulouse. It was only around noon here but I was as tired as midnight back in Japan. That’s one of the crappy things I remember about going to France… it’d take me a day or two to get adjusted to the time zone. I had been in town a few times before, but this time around it had been long enough for a lot of things to fade from memory, since it had been maybe 5 years or so since my last visit. However, I instantly recognized Octavia’s mother waving me over after I had exited the plane, partially because I recognized Violette when I saw her, and also partially because Octavia looked so much like her, save the fact that Octavia’s hair was black, while her mother was blonde.

“Yamato, it’s good to see you again!” Violette smiled. “You grew quite a bit! You’re taller than I am now!”

“Yeah, that’ll happen over a few years.” I say.

“Let me get a good look at you.” Violette held my cheeks in both her hands, and since I had luggage occupying both of mine I couldn’t do much to stop her.

“My, oh, my…” She smiled warmly. “You look so much like your father did at your age. Such a handsome young man.”

My face darkened at the mentioning of my father… so did hers.

“Oh… I’m sorry…” She said quickly, letting me go. “I heard about what happened… it must be hard…”

I could tell just by looking at her that she herself was more than a little shaken up about my father’s situation. They’ve been friends for a long time, after all. But even so, she put on a brave face for me to make me feel welcome in her country.

“Well, we should head home.” She said, her cheery expression returning to her face. “Come, now.”

I heave my luggage with me and follow Violette to her car; a luxury sedan that you didn’t see anywhere in Japan. It had a shining black finish and a dark coffee colored interior with wood varnish details. Fancy stuff. Didn’t surprise me, though, since the Victorias were probably the wealthiest family in Toulouse. I packed my belongings in the trunk and got into the passenger seat, and with that we headed off towards my new temporary residence.

“Octavia’s excited to see you again.” Violette said with a smile as we drove down the road. “Even if it’s under these circumstances, she was looking forward to another visit from you for a while now.”

“I see…” I mumble, looking out the window at the scenery.

Going down the road brought back memories for sure. It had been a few years but I still recognized most of what I saw. Most of the shops and buildings were still around, and I saw quite a few new places as well. Toulouse was always a pretty lively town, always full of energy. The people were always bustling and they always had an air of happiness and well-being to them. It was an interesting contrast to what I was feeling… I was emotionally distraught and exhausted from all that had happened and everyone else here was just going about their daily lives regardless…

It didn’t take long for us to reach our destination. The Victoria estate was a mansion located on the far side of town. When I say mansion I literally mean mansion; it was two stories plus some towers that gave it at most an extra two floors, and took up about as much space as a city block, between the estate itself and the land surrounding it. Not a bad place to hang out… though I wasn’t really into the excessive lifestyle that the Victorias were accustomed to.

We pulled into the driveway and parked. Before we got out, however, Violette turned to me.

“Listen, Yamato.” She says quietly. “I understand what you must be going through right now… but please try to make yourself at home. You’re family here, you know?”

“Yeah…” I mutter, stepping out of the car. I retrieved my luggage from the trunk and headed up the small white staircase and into the house. The front door itself was pretty fancy looking, with intricate stained glass designs. You can imagine how fancy the inside looked. Opening the door lead you into a grand foyer. White and black marble floors and a large beautiful staircase leading to the second floor. A large golden crystal chandelier hung up above, illuminating the entire room. Violette accompanied me shortly after I entered, shutting the door behind her. Two maids shuffled into the room.

“Welcome home, Miss Violette.” They said. “Welcome back, Master Yamato.”

Master Yamato… I’d never get used to being addressed as that. I was pretty much part of the family, as Violette had said, therefore the house maids were at my service as much as the head of the household, being Octavia’s father, Alphonse.

“Shall we take your things, sir?” One maid asked me.

“I’m fine.” I say. I didn’t feel comfortable with other people carrying my things for me. I didn’t like it.

“Yamato!” I hear a voice say.

I look over and see Octavia rush up and hug me tightly.

“It’s so good to see you again!”

“Yeah.” I say, unable to return her affection on account of me holding all my things.

“I made some lunch for you!” She said excitedly. “Are you hungry any?”

“Egh…” I shrug, letting my shoulders drop.

I was more exhausted than anything… I kinda needed a nap between the time change and everything that’s happened.

“Oh… I’m sorry, you must be exhausted.” She said. “Sorry… I had a great lunch prepared I didn’t figure that you’d probably be tired after…”

“I’m fine, Octavia.” I say. “I just want to get to my room.”

“I can take you there.” She says, before turning to the maids. “Can you put the lunch I made in the fridge? We’ll probably eat it later, once Yamato’s settled in.”

“Yes, Miss.” The maids said in unison before shuffling off towards what I assumed was the kitchen.

“Come on, Yamato.” She said, leading me up the stairs and to the right at the second floor landing.

Octavia leads me down the halls and finally to my room. She opens it up for me and lets me in, flicking the light on. The room was… might as well be the size of my entire house. It had the standards for a bedroom; a bed, a dresser, two nightstands, a closet… only they were all bigger and fancier than what I’ve seen. It also had a huge ass TV, probably a 70 inch, as well as my own god damn sofa and coffee table. It was basically the living room back home only with a bed and still more space. It was France, of course. It wasn’t like Japan where we were running out of room so we have to compress everything into the size of a sugar cube.

“Well, this is it.” Octavia said as I put my things on the ground next to my bed. “Anything I can get for you?”

“I’m fine, thanks.” I say, planting my hands on the nightstand and leaning forward, deep in thought and just generally tired out.

“Yamato?” Octavia stepped up behind me. “You alright?”

“Not really…” I respond after a brief moment of hesitation. “Everything’s pretty fucked right now…”

Octavia turns me around and wraps her arms around me in a comforting hug, which I tiredly return.

“It’ll be alright, Yamato.” She assures me. “I know you’re hurting after everything that’s happened… but I’m here for you, okay? If you need to talk to someone I’m always here.”

“Yeah… okay…” I say, resting my head on her shoulder, sighing deeply in my exhaustion.

“You should get some rest, though.” She told me, letting me go. “We can talk later.”

“Yeah…” I yawn and slip out of my jacket, tossing it onto the couch and sitting down onto the bed, unbuttoning my shirt with one hand.

Octavia watched as I did so, occasionally taking glances at my chest and trying to act like she was doing something else, but tired as I was she wasn’t making much of an effort.

“I know I’m hot, Octavia, but you don’t need to stare so much.” I say.

“Oh!” A flush of red came to her cheeks and she quickly looked away. “I’m sorry, that was indecent of me… I’ll leave you alone.”

She quickly skittered to the door, stopping at the threshold and looking back to me.

“Try to make yourself at home, alright, Yamato?” She smiled. “I’ll see you later.”

She quietly shut the door, leaving me alone in my new room. I take off my shirt and toss it towards my jacket, kicking off my shoes and putting them next to my nightstand. I wasn’t going to bother taking off my slacks, deciding to just not bother and get to sleep. I lazily roll into bed and grab the sheets along the way, bundling up and lying down on my side. I yawn sleepily and close my eyes, drifting off quickly.

---

My eyes open and dart every which way. I sit up and look around… it was dark… complete blackness wherever I looked. I sigh.

“This place again…?” I mutter as I stand up slowly, looking around.

I was getting pretty tired of ending up here in my dreams. It wasn’t a nightmare, for sure, but it wasn’t that comfortable either. The strange part is, I was completey lucid right now, but I couldn’t seem to get a grip on the dream itself. Instead, I start walking, figuring that was the only thing I could really do, as always. It didn’t really matter which way I went, as every direction would eventually lead to the same thing… whatever it was.

I began to hear voices around the time I figured I should.

“Indeed, your Fate is unknown, even to yourself…” I hear Erebus’s voice say. “But this may change. How you hold on, without falter, to the falsehoods of life. To gaze into Void is to see Nothing and all… Young Voidborne. Knowing this, do you still wish to sever that which gives you meaning? To shatter the boundaries that hold you to this world, and to become something more?”

“The falsehoods of life…” I ponder on the words, harder than before.

Holding onto the falsehoods of life… to sever that which gives me meaning… to shatter the boundaries that hold me to this world… to become something more…

I had no idea what any of these words meant… but even so they resonated with me, refusing to leave my head… they stung in a sense… as if they hit a nerve that I didn’t know I had. At this point in my life I was lost… I was confused… I didn’t know where I was going. But even so, I was still going forward… wherever it may lead me, I’d get there one way or another.

To be honest… I was scared. Terrified, even… people assaulted my family to get to me… I killed a man… it couldn’t get any better from here, could it…? No… it was only going to get worse from here on…

This wasn’t just a game… not anymore.


Chapter 24

April 11th

I wake up to knocking at my door.

“Yamato?” I hear Violette’s voice call me as the door creaks open slowly. “Yamato, time to wake up, sweetheart. We have breakfast waiting.”

I wave an arm to let her know I was awake before she shut the door. I groan in my sleepiness as I roll through the covers and out of the bed, falling down onto the hardwood floor. I roll towards my bags and sit up, rummaging through them and taking out a fresh set of clothes, being a white button up shirt and black slacks. Pretty much the same thing I came in with. I get dressed and head out of my room and downstairs, being greeted by the delightful warm scent of breakfast. Dear god, it smelled good… I go down the stairs and head to the kitchen, where breakfast was waiting for me. I see Octavia munching away at her breakfast at a small table set up at the other side of the kitchen. They had a dining hall, of course, but it was probably a bit to extravagant for just a normal breakfast. Despite their wealth and huge ass house, they do make an attempt to live a normal standard living with some things. They probably wouldn’t be too affected if they ever had to skimp on certain fancy things.

“Morning, Yamato!” She says when I step into the room. “Hungry any?”

“Haven’t had a thing to eat since I got here.” I say, taking a plate and grabbing what looked good to me as well as a glass of milk before sitting down at the table with Octavia. The meal in front of me certainly wasn’t the cuisine I was used to back home, but the smell and taste were no less delightful to the taste. I got to work on my breakfast, which was more like a full dinner as I was hungrier than hell.

“Really wolfing it down, huh?” Octavia smiled, amused by my voraciousness with my meal.

I don’t bother answering her, letting my actions speak for themselves as I take a sip of my milk to assist with swallowing the huge mouthful I had scarfed down. I let out a sharp sigh as I let out my held breath.

“Good stuff…” I say.

“Our housemaids really know how to cook a meal.” She said. “My mother likes to help them out, too. She’s probably the best out of all of them.”

“I take pride in what I do.” Violette says as she enters the kitchen, fetching her own meal and sitting down with us.”

“You got school today?” I ask Octavia.

“Nope, it’s Wednesday so we have the day off.” She says, taking another bite of her meal.

“Right, I can never figure out how the school system is set up in this country.” I smile. “In Japan we only get Sundays off for the entire week.”

“I feel bad for you.” She jokes.

“Egh, I’m used to it.” I say. “It’d be nice if it was like in the United States, though, where you get both Saturday and Sunday off.”

“Well your education system is way ahead of theirs, don’t want to slack off.” Octavia takes a sip of her drink. “Then again, a lot of country’s educational systems are better than America’s.”

“Well I’ve heard that lately they’ve been catching up.” I note. “But who knows. I’ll have to ask Callahan sometime…”

“Well, Yamato.” Octavia claps her hands once and rubs them together, a scheming look on her face. “First thing’s first. Now that you’re here, you’re gonna have to change your look.”

“My look…?” I ask. “What’s wrong with my look?”

“Now that you’re here for the time being, it’d be nice if you got some more fitting clothes.” Violette explained. “Your Japanese school uniform is nice and all, but we think it’d be nice to get you fit with some real proper clothing.”

“Only the best of France fashion!” Octavia gave me a thumbs up.

“I’ve seen what passes for fashion in this country before…” I say, somewhat cynically.

“Oh, relax, Yamato.” Violette said. “We know what your sense of style is.”

“Is it really necessary…?” I ask. “I mean, I came here with clothes already.”

“Come on, Yamato!” Octavia smiled warmly. “It’ll be fun!”

“What’s up with girls and shopping…?” I say under my breath. I guess I could’ve argued against it, but I doubted that I’d get too far before being dragged into it either way. “Alright, fine.”

“Magnifique!” Violette clapped her hands. “Well after breakfast we can head downtown to see what the shops have! Do you know what your sizes are?”

“Um… no.” I say.

“Well, no worries, we can figure that out easy.” Octavia smiled. “We can even get you some clothes custom fit! How’s that sound?”

“I’m… not really too into fashion.” I admit. “Just… whatever works.”

“Nothing wrong with looking nice.” Violette pointed out. “Besides, you inherited your father’s good looks. I’m sure with the right outfit girls would fawn over you.”

“That’s not really something I’m after…” I say quietly.

“No matter!” Octavia smiled. “We’ll make you look stunning!”

“I’m sure you will…” I smile nervously.

I finished my hearty breakfast and cleaned up my dishes. The housemaids could’ve done it for me, but I prefer to clean up after myself. I didn’t want to fall into any bad habits by having other people do my work for me. After we finished up, we prepared to head out into town. Just before, however, I see someone pull up into the driveway outside. It was another black luxury car that looked impossibly expensive…

“Oh, dad’s home.” Octavia said. “You remember dad, right, Yamato?”

“Um… sorta?” I shrug. “I think he was gone most of the time whenever I was around.”

“His work takes him from his home most times.” Violette said. “But he just finished up with a business trip. I’m sure he’s looking forward to seeing how much you’ve grown.”

I wasn’t exactly sure about Octavia’s father, Alphonse Victoria… my memories of him were hazy at best. All I remember from him was a certain stern look that came with being a father, as well as with being a hard-working businessman… I never really got a dial in on his personality… I guess now was the chance.

The housemaids were quick to greet him when he entered the front door.

“Welcome home, Master Victoria.” They all said in unison.

He soundlessly put up his coat as Violette and Octavia walked up to him.

“Welcome home, darling.” Violette said.

“Welcome home, dad.” Octavia smiled.

“It’s good to be home.” He said, before noticing me across the room with my arms crossed.

“Ah, Haseo.” He says, walking towards me with his strong stride. “You’ve grown quite a bit since the last time we met.”

“Years do that to you.” I say.

“Indeed they do… you resemble your father more and more every time I see you.”

I turn away at the mention of my father. Alphonse must have been informed previously because he coughs strongly, covering his mouth with his fist.

“Of course, I heard word of the circumstances that brings you here…” He says. “Your father and I don’t see eye to eye on many things, but he is clearly a man with wisdom and strength far beyond his years. You have my sympathies.”

“Yeah…” I say in a dark tone.

“In any case, we were about to go out with Yamato to get him a new set of clothes.” Violette said.

“Hm… I see.” Alphonse said as he headed towards a side hall. “I’ll be in my study. I’ll see you when you get back.”

Violette nods before turning to me as her husband disappeared down the hall.

“Well, Yamato?” She says. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yeah, I guess.” I say, shrugging as I walked towards the two.

“Let’s have some fun, okay?” Octavia says as we head out the door.

I’d sure as hell try… but it’s only been two days… it’d take more than just one day of fun to recover from what I went through….

---

Most of the day was spent downtown at the shops. The girls were delighted to bring me out for clothes shopping, and took me to multiple placed to get more clothes than I’d ever need. They practically dragged me by the feet from shop to shop, picking out clothes I’d never wear, making me try on different outfits and buying whatever they thought would look good on me, regardless of what I thought of it. By the end of the day, though, I was able to pick out my own outfit that I was at least partial towards. I favored basically a French version of my standard look, with a white dress shirt, black blazer, black slacks, and black dress shoes. The dress shoes in particular felt off to me, and I just knew I was going to have a difficult time getting used to the feel of them on my feet. On top of that, the outfit in general just didn’t look right on me. I was Japanese, so I didn’t really match the look of French clothes. It was a problem with me, not the apparel. Either way, I still didn’t fit in, but at least I looked like I was making an effort.

After buying about four department stores worth of attire, the nightmare of girls shopping ended, and it was just in time for lunch.

Really, only lunch? It felt so much longer than that…

“Alright, I think that’s good enough for now.” Violette said as she packed the car full of the clothes she bought for me. “You look absolutely striking in that outfit, Yamato.”

I look down at the outfit I managed to choose for myself.

“Gonna take some getting used to…” I say.

“I’m sure it won’t take too long for that.” Violette said. “I’m going to take all these clothes back home. Why don’t you two walk around town for a bit, grab lunch?”

“Oh, thank god.” I groan. “I was worried I’d starve to death before we were done…”

“Come on, Yamato!” Octavia smiled, dismissing the comment. “I know a great place where we can eat. They have the loveliest croissants in Toulouse!”

“Yeah, sure…” I scratch the back of my neck, before being pulled by the arm along with Octavia down the street.

---

We headed to a nice place downtown. It was a cozy little restaurant called Adeline’s, a restaurant which I don’t think had been here the last time I visited. Octavia and I sat in our own little corner of the place. We had already received our meals and were digging in at that point. I got the salmon again, what else is new.

“Really, Yamato?” Octavia asked. “Salmon again?”

“I don’t complain about how you eat.” I point out.

“I’m not complaining or anything, I just think it’s cute.” She smiles.

“Cute is a strange word to use…” I say, taking another bite of the fish.

“You look really nice in that outfit.” Octavia commented. “Really classy… dashing.”

“Dashing?”

“Sharp.”

“Sharp?”

“Mhm.” She nods. “Really handsome… you know you were catching the attention of a few young ladies on the way here.”

“I find that hard to imagine…” I sigh.

“I’m serious, Yamato.” She said, leaning over the table a bit with a wide smile. “You may not notice these things but I do.”

“You look like you’re proud…” I say, looking out the window.

“Well I did help pick out the outfit for you.” She nodded approvingly.

“I think it was more my choice…” I point out.

My phone then vibrates in my pocket. I pull it out and see who messaged me. It was from EWO, actually. I open up the message.

Yamato

The Divine Council is requesting your presence in Heaven. It’s important. Please try to get on as soon as possible. There is something we need to address involving recent events. I’m sure you have an idea of what it’s about.

And don’t worry: we won’t try to kill you again. I promise.

Michael Christen

“Oh… looks like my presence is requested in Heaven…” I say.

“Why’s that?” Octavia asks.

“If I had to guess it has something to do with that Colossus that was targeting me.” I say. “We’ll have to finish up here, I shouldn’t keep them waiting.”

“No time to ourselves, huh?” Octavia crosses her arms and almost pouts.

“Not my fault shit’s hit the fan…” I say. “Come on, let’s hurry up with this. I’d like to get back as soon as possible. It’s the Divine Council itself requesting me.”

“Ohh, aren’t you Mr. Important.” Octavia jokes.

“I wish I wasn’t…” I sigh, taking another bite of salmon.

My phone then vibrates again. It wasn’t a message, however, and I fish the thing out of my pocket once again to see who was calling. It was Claire. Yeah, I figured she’d be calling me as soon as she could.

“Hey, listen.” I say to Octavia. “Can you box this stuff up? I gotta take this.”

“Oh, sure.” Octavia said as I stand up and step outside, answering the phone.

“Hey, Claire.” I say.

“Yamato!” I hear her worried voice say. “Are you alright?! Where are you right now?!”

“I… yeah, I’m fine, Claire, calm down.” I speak calmly. “I’m out at lunch with Octavia.”

“Oh my god… when I heard what happened I was so worried…” I could tell by her voice that she was on the verge of tears. “Ishi’s in the hospital and you had to leave the country… why’d this have to happen?!”

“I don’t… I don’t know, Claire.” I say, sighing. “But… look, dad’s gonna be alright, and I’m safe in France for the time being. Don’t worry so much.”

“How can I not worry?!” She shouted, making me hold the phone away from my ear. “My father is in the hospital in a coma and my little brother had to leave the country because people are trying to kill him!”

“Well there’s no point yelling at me about it.” I say. “I just need to lie low for a bit, it’ll be fine.”

“You’ll be playing End War Online still…?” Claire asks, calming down a bit.

“Well, yeah.”

“Don’t.” She says suddenly. “Don’t go back in.”

“What?” I ask.

“Stay out of the game, Yamato.” Her voice suddenly got dark and serious. “Don’t risk your life like that.”

“Claire, I have to go back in.” I try to explain. “I might be the only person who can stop this.”

“I don’t care!” She shouted again. “I don’t want my little brother to be killed!”

“Claire…”

“I was trapped in SAO! I know what it’s like fearing for my life! I almost died more times than I can count! I don’t want that for my little brother!”

“I know that, Claire!” I shout back. “But I can’t just put this down! People are still dying, I can’t just sit around and do nothing!”

“I lost my father to SAO, Yamato! Please don’t make me lose my little brother too!”

I sigh and stay silent, sitting down on a nearby bench, leaning down and resting my elbow on my thigh.

“Claire.”

“No, Yamato!” I could hear her voice tremble as she dredged up painful memories. “I love you, Yamato… I don’t want to lose you…”

“I know, Claire.” I say. “But it’s not like I have much of a choice. You really think I can just walk away from this after all that’s happened?”

“Yes, I do, Yamato!” She says. “These people are clearly after you. Why are you risking yourself like this? I’m sure if you just leave it the situation will resolve itself!”

“Oh, after a few hundred thousand more people die, Claire? Is that it?”

“I don’t care about them! I care about you!”

“You sound so selfish right now, Claire… what would you do, really?”

She stayed silent, long enough for me to suspect that she had hung up on me, but not long after I heard her sigh from the other end of the line.

“Dammit…” She curses. “Why again…?”

“Claire…” I say. “It’s not like I want to go back in… I really don’t. But I don’t want to abandon everyone in there if I can do something to help. If there’s any chance that I can fix this I have to take it.”

“I know.” She mutters. “I know… but I’m scared…”

“I know, Claire.” I tell her. “I am too. I never would’ve imagined any of this happening… but it’s not like they’d let me walk away even if I could either. I have to see this through.”

“Alright…” She says quietly. “Alright. But… please be careful, okay?”

“I will. I promise.”

“I love you.”

“Love you too, sis. I’ll talk to you later.”

With that, I hang up, sighing deeply as I lower my head and close my eyes. Octavia comes out moments later, two bags slung under either arm.

“Hey, Yamato?” She says, noticing my gloomy expression. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine…” I stand up slowly, stretching myself out and sighing deeply. “Claire’s just worried about me is all.”

“I’d expect so.” She said, standing in front of me, looking directly into my eyes.

An awkward silence ensues, before she clears her throat in an annoyed manner.

“What?” I hold my hands out.

“The bags.” She states.

“What about them?”

“You carry them!”

“What? Why?”

“You’re the man! You’re supposed to carry the bags for the lady!”

“Since when?”

“Since forever!”

“I didn’t sign up for that.”

“It was in the fine print.” She holds the bags out to me, and I reluctantly take them, smiling when I do. “There’s a fine gentleman.”

“The things I put up with…” I mutter under my breath in Japanese.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.”

She huffs, but lets it go and picks her own cell phone out of her pocket to call her mother to pick us up and head back home.

---

When we got back to the mansion, I dropped the bags off in the kitchen and headed upstairs, planning to jump right back into the game to address the matter Christen spoke of in his message to me. Octavia said she might join me later.

In the meantime, I quickly get my gaming rig set up and slip the RiftGear’s visor over my eyes, logging in and taking me from reality.

---

It honestly felt refreshing to be back in EWO. I adjusted the cuffs on my coat and swished the tails back to straighten them out as I make sure my weapons were fastened to me, my pistols in their hip holsters and my blade on my back. I message Christen telling me I’d logged on and he quickly responded, saying that he’d meet me outside the church belonging to the Brotherhood of The Faithful, the same place I had met Anderson Iscariot way back when. It didn’t take long for Christen to show up soon after I had.

“Yamato.” He said with a welcoming smile, coming up the steps to the church, the top row of which I was sitting on. “Good to see you. How are you?”

“Been better, honestly…” I say, standing up and stretching myself out. “I have business in Heaven?”

“Yes… I’ll explain in further detail once we get there.” He said. “Come. We shouldn’t keep the Council waiting.”

---

Christen and I traveled through Heavenside Limbo and crossed the gates to Heaven in short order. As I couldn’t access Heaven myself just yet, Michael still had to give me that permission. Michael strode down the white marble streets as I followed closely behind.

“Now, Yamato.” Christen began. “I’m sure you’re already aware. The Colossus that you encountered was in fact Angelic. Additionally it was specifically targeting you.”

“Yeah… I noticed that.” I said. “I figured someone from Heaven sent it after me… someone in a lofty position of power.”

“The Archon, you’d be correct.” Christen sighed. “Archon Daniel is a fool… I knew he had it out for you since your first visit to Heaven, but to go to these extremes…”

“What will the Council do?” I ask.

“The Council currently has the Archon on his knees and is awaiting trial.” Christen explained. “The Divine Council requested your presence, as you are the one he was targeting.”

“What do you think his punishment will be?”

Christen stops in his tracks and sighs, closing his eyes.

“The Archon is directly responsible for the unnecessary deaths of more than a hundred people due to his grudge against you… death would be the most fitting punishment.”

“You’re going to execute him?” I ask.

“That’s for the Council to decide.” Christen clarifies, once again resuming his walk, leading me towards the grand castle that towered above everything else in Heaven. “I’d prefer any other alternative… but I can’t say that it isn’t deserved, should the Council decide that.”

“Bastard almost killed me and my friends… can’t say I’d feel sorry for him.”

“The death of another is never anything to be taken lightly, Yamato.” Christen looks over to me. “Even one such as the Archon.”

“Well… we’re two different people, aren’t we?” I say.

The rest of our way was mostly silent as we finally approach the monolithic palace that dominated Heaven’s skyline. We walk up the steps and inside the building, the guards stationed out in front giving way for Christen’s authority and letting me in. Christen led me through the place, down the halls and up many flights of stairs before finally arriving at the main room, the same room I had my own trial in. Christen pushed open the doors and I stepped inside with him. Inside, many high ranking Angels as well as the Divine Council were seated around the room. The Archon was on his knees, tied up to a pole in the same fashion I had been my first time here. Everyone was discussing various things relating to the Archon before they fell silent at our arrival.

“Ah, Archangel Michael.” One of the Council spoke. “And the Void Avatar, Yamato Haseo… thank you for joining us. Please be seated and we will begin.”

Christen led me into the room and he instructed me to sit down at a seat that was just underneath the Divine Council’s large podium, while he himself stood beside me. I casually kick my feet up onto the table and relax, manners be damned. I caught a few glares for it, but I didn’t care. The Archon especially gave me a murderous look that I swiftly ignored.

“Now, then…” One of the Council announced. “The trial of Archon Daniel for his crimes against both Heaven and Mankind begins now.”

With that, the small bits of chatter previously present in the room were silenced.

“Defying the will of the Divine Council.” The same Council member said. “Unleashing the Colossus Exalt upon Earth unprovoked. Causing the deaths of several hundred people on Earth, as well as endangering the lives of thousands of others. Dismissing your duties as Archon of Heaven. You are charged with these crimes, Archon Daniel. Do you object to any of these allegations?”

“I was doing what must be done.” The Archon growled.

“Do you object to any allegations?” The Council asked once more.

“None…” The Archon mumbled after a brief pause.

“Very well… do you have any defense for yourself?”

“I did what I needed to do.” The Archon said.

“Yes, we heard that.” The Council said. “Elaborate.”

“Him…” The Archon glared towards me. “He is dangerous… he will cause much more calamity than I did.”

“Bullshit.” I mutter out of turn, still loud enough to hear.

“Out of line.” The Council told me.

“This bastard killed hundreds of people. Almost killed my friends and me.” I add.

“We will address your grievances when you have the floor.” The Council said. “Archon Daniel, continue.”

“I know every member of the Divine Council knows the story of the first Void Avatar…” The Archon said. “And many others know as well. The first Void Avatar brought Heaven to its knees… it was only after thousands of Angels lost that he was finally subdued. I have seen what this one is capable of… just look at how he destroyed Exalt. We’re lucky he hasn’t access to a Persona yet.”

“You are responsible for the damage caused on Eden, are you not?” The Council said.

“It was necessary!” The Archon spat. “We must wipe him out while we still have the chance! We cannot risk him gaining more power to use against us!”

“Heaven is under no threat from Yamato Haseo.” The Council said. “It is our understanding that Archangel Michael is also keeping an eye on him.”

They turn to Christen.

“Can you attest to this, Archangel Daniel?”

Christen stood from his seat and nodded.

“I can assure the safety of Heaven should the need arise for me to subdue Yamato.” Christen stated. “Though I am certain Yamato’s goals are purely altruistic. He is just as determined as all of us to see us all safe back in the real world.”

“Hah!” The Archon scoffed. “You really think he has no ulterior motives? Are you that naïve, Michael? Once he tastes the power Void has to offer he will surely turn on you! And by that time you will be unable to protect Heaven, much less yourself!”

“You doubt my abilities, Archon Daniel?” Christen said sternly. “My brothers are also more than able to keep Yamato under control as needed.”

“The three Archangels have access to the Trinity Weapons.” The Divine Council said. “The most powerful weapons at Heaven’s disposal. I doubt even a Void Avatar would be able to stand up to them.”

“Do you really want to take such a risk?” The Archon said. “It didn’t stop the first Void Avatar, have you forgotten?”

“Circumstances are different now.” The Council stated. “You know this. Things are not as they once were.”

“You’re just as sightless as Michael…” Archon Daniel muttered. “Look at everything that has happened since he awoke as a Nephilim. We’ve been trapped in this world, unable to leave and return to our normal lives. Does that not bother you in the slightest?”

“Our duty is to see to the safety of all Angels of Heaven.” The Council said. “You have proven to be detrimental to that task.”

My duty is to protect Heaven!” The Archon shouted. “And I have taken measures to ensure the safety of our kingdom! You are the ones who are detrimental to Heaven’s safety!”

“The Divine Council oversees all decisions made by the Archon.” The Council stated. “Our authority will not be undermined. You stepped out of line in your unprovoked attack on Eden. An attack like this by Heaven could result in the outbreak of war between Heaven and the kingdom of Man, resulting in the unnecessary loss of thousands of lives.”

“I did what had to be done…” Archon Daniel once again stated.

“We will now give the floor to Yamato Haseo and Archangel Michael.” The Council announced. “Haseo. Have you any opening statements?”

“Uh, yeah, here’s one.” I say, putting my feet down onto the floor and leaning forward in my chair towards the Archon. “Fuck you.”

“Wonderful.” The Council sighed. “Archangel Michael, what punishment do you suggest is fitting for the Archon?”

Christen stands up and clears his throat.

“The Archon is clearly guilty of great crimes against humanity and Heaven, that much is undisputed.” Christen stated. “He is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people on Eden. Damage control will definitely be necessary to avoid the outbreak of war against Eden. This kind of behavior is unacceptable for the ruler of Heaven. For the severity of crimes committed, I would suggest permanent banishment from Heaven, at the least.”

“And at the most?” The Council inquired.

“Death…” Christen spoke the word bitterly.

“Yes… the crimes committed by the Archon makes the death penalty justifiable indeed.”

“I would prefer it not to come to that, if it can be avoided.”

“Your respect for life is duly noted, Archangel Michael.” The Council said. “But it is our decision, and our word will be carried out. We will take the necessary measures to punish the Archon for the crimes committed.”

“I understand…” Michael sat down in his seat, clearly unhappy with the possibility of the Archon’s death… I couldn’t say I cared.

“Haseo.” The Council addressed me. “Would you agree with this sentiment?”

“Sure, kill the bastard.” I say casually.

“Yamato!” Christen turned to me.

“I’m being honest.” I shrug. “He almost killed me and my friends. I don’t take kindly to that. If I could kill him myself, I would.”

“Would you, Yamato?” Christen said. “Would you, really? I know you don’t have the heart to take a life.”

“I’ve done it before…” I say grimly.

“Very well.” The Council said. “If there is nothing else to address, we will make our decision. We will return with our final verdict.”

With that, the Council stepped down from their podium, and everyone began leaving the room, marking the break in the trial. I stand up and Christen approaches me.

“Let’s talk.” He says.

“What about?” I ask.

“Just come with me.” He says, leaving the room.

I shrug and follow him closely as he takes me out of the building and onto the front steps, stopping there as there weren’t as many people around, allowing us some room to speak amongst ourselves.

“You sure have a way with words, don’t you?” Christen says.

“I just don’t like dealing with bullshit.” I say.

“What did you mean back there?” Christen asks. “When you said you’d killed before?”

“I…” I hesitate, my voice darkening. “I’d rather not talk about it…”

“You’ve killed someone?”

“I’m in France right now.” I say.

“France? Why there?”

“I had to leave Japan… there were men who broke into my house at night… they hurt my mother and almost killed my father. I had to kill one of them…”

“When did this happen?”

“Just days ago…”

Christen was silent for a moment, before he sighs and looked away from me.

“I’m sorry you had to do that.” He said. “It must’ve been difficult.”

“Hardly matters now.” I say plainly. “I did it… I’d be dead if I didn’t, and so would my parents. I did what I needed to do.”

“Does that justify it for you?”

“Not at all.” I sigh. “But I can’t do anything about it.”

Christen remained silent after that. There was nothing else he could say… nothing was going to undo what I had done. I did what I had to in order to protect myself and my family… but it didn’t make me feel any less guilty. I mean… I took someone’s life… sure, he was trying to kill me… but it was still a life… I guess I was just talking out of my ass about killing the Archon myself. Christen was right… I probably couldn’t bring myself to do it. It made me feel better knowing someone else was going to do it for me… as terrible as that sounded.

I sigh and sit down on one of the steps, my head starting to hurt with all the thoughts invading my mind. Just remembering that night made me nauseous. I worried about my father, who was still in the hospital, and my mother who was home all alone, and Claire, who was probably taking this even harder than I was… I thought about Naoto… how she was faring without me… I hoped they’d be okay…

Christen sighed and stared out to the cityscape.

“I sometimes find it difficult to wrap my head around all that’s happened…” He sighed, putting a hand to his head. “I’m surprised the stress hasn’t gotten to me yet…”

“You’re doing better than me, that’s for sure.” I say.

“Well then again, I’m not the one in the center of all of this.” Christen noted. “Under the circumstances you’ve fared surprisingly well.”

“I don’t know about that.” I say. “I don’t think ‘well’ is the proper word for it.”

“Maybe not…” Christen spoke. “But still… if you weren’t around I’m sure we’d have lost many more people than we already have.”

“If I wasn’t around none of this would’ve happened in the first place.” I counter.

“You shouldn’t think like that, Yamato…”

“How can I not, Christen?”

“You’re here now, that’s what matters. And you’re doing everything you can to help.”

“Yeah…” I sigh, lowering my head. “But is that enough?”

“It’s all we can ask for.” Christen said.

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

Christen stays silent after that, unable to procure a satisfying answer for me. I doubted one even existed…

“So…” I say, changing the subject. “What do you think the Archon’s punishment will be?”

“The Divine Council holds no quarter when it comes to punishments, especially for crimes of this severity.” Christen said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they put him to death.”

“I see…” I mutter.

Christen sighs and scratches his head.

“Come on, we should probably head back in.” He said. “The Council is probably prepared to give their decision.”

“Yeah, alright…” I say, standing up from the step and following Christen back inside. Time to see the verdict…

---

Once everyone previously present had returned and the room had settled down, the Divine Council took their podium again. The Archon had remained in the same place he was in previously for the hour or so recess we had. Everyone was completely silent as the Council took the floor.

“We have reached a verdict.” They said. “Archon Daniel, for your crimes against humanity and Heaven, and for being directly responsible for the unnecessary deaths of hundreds on Eden, the Divine Council sentences you to death.”

The entire room sparked to life at that verdict, people talking amongst themselves in shock or denial. The Archon bowed his head in what looked to be a mixture of resentment and lament.

“Order.” The Council spoke, immediately silencing the entire room. “The execution will take place immediately. As for the Archon’s replacement, we have reached the unanimous decision that Archangel Michael Christen shall become the new ruler of Heaven.”

Christen stood up from his seat, standing up straight and proud.

“Archangel Michael. Do you accept?” The Council asked.

“I accept.” He responded.

“Very well. Archon Michael’s coronation will take place at a later date. Take Daniel to serve his sentence.”

With that, two Angelic guards came up to the former Archon, bringing him up to his feet and taking him away.

“Get your hands off me!” Daniel growled. “You are all traitors to Heaven! All of you will see soon enough! The Void Avatar will destroy you all!”

The doors to the room closed shut after that, but the former Archon’s ramblings could still be heard as he was carried away to be executed. Christen sighed and followed shortly after.

“Wait, where are you going?” I ask him.

“As the new Archon it is my duty to carry out sentences such as these.” Christen said. “I am to be Daniel’s executioner.”

“Are you serious?” I say. “Are you okay with that?”

“Hardly… but none defy what the Council decrees. I will perform my duty as Archon of Heaven.”

With that, Christen also left the room, his pace slow and cumbersome… I could tell that he wasn’t happy with the Council’s decision, but it probably hurt him even moreso knowing he was the one who had to carry it out.

“This court is adjourned.” The Council announced. “We appreciate your presence here today. You may dismiss yourselves.”

With that, the rest of the court stood up and began shuffling out of the room. I stayed seated for a bit, waiting for everyone else to leave before standing up and walking out myself. I leave the courtroom and then exit the building, walking down the steps and hitting the main street. I didn’t know what to make of this situation… on one hand, I suppose the Archon got what he deserved… but… I still didn’t feel too great about it. I sigh and sit down on the bottom step on the street, watching the people go by… I got some looks, as someone like me definitely didn’t fit in, and I’m assuming Heaven didn’t get too many tourists. I decide to take a quick look at my UIP to see if I got any messages in the two hours or so I was here. Turns out, I had. It was from Walker.

Thank fuck I could get messages even in Heaven. Game convenience and all that. It was one of the only things I could think of in this game that worked purely off the fact that we were in a video game.

I open up the message and take a read.

Yamato

We hope you’re doing well. Octavia filled us in on what happened… these past few days couldn’t have been easy for you.

However, there is something we need your presence for back on Eden. If you can get back here as soon as you can, that’d be appreciated. The Renskr Military has requested us for something. I’m assuming it has something to do with our integration into the Renskr Military under the Gale Rangers. However, our new associates also have something for you specifically, apparently. Don’t know what it is, but we should probably get on that as soon as we can.

See you soon,

Christ Walker

“Huh…” I say. “What do they want now…”

I sure hoped it wasn’t another priority mission, I’ve had enough of those. I guess I should get back to him… I’m sure if I asked around I could find someone who could take me back to Eden… ugh, asking for help… socializing… gross.

---

Lucky for me, I did indeed find someone to take me back to where I came from, and once back on my home turf I headed straight for HQ. It’d been a while since I’ve been able to just walk into HQ without anything crazy important to do or without about a thousand lives at stake. It was nice just to be able to stroll through the door without feeling like the entire weight of the world was on me. When I walked in, all eyes were immediately on me, being Jager, Octavia, Vixen, and Walker.

“Ah, Yamato.” Walker said. “Good to see you… are you doing alright?”

“Hm?” I look to him. “Yeah. Why?”

“Well, I…” He paused for a moment, before shaking his head. “Nevermind. I assume you got my message.”

“Yeah, I did.” I say. “Did they say what they wanted?”

“No.” Walker answered. “They just said they needed us.”

Tovarich!” Jager stood up from the couch and patted my shoulder. “It’s so good to see you again, my friend!”

“Yeah… hey, Jager.” I said with a half smile.

“Yamato, you sure you’re okay?” Vixen asked, causing the entire room to fall silent in waiting for my answer. “I mean, we heard about everything that happened… can’t be easy for you.”

I look to Octavia, who was barely looking at me… she looked sad…

“I’m fine, really.” I sigh, turning my attention back to Vixen. “I’m… I don’t want to think about it right now.”

“Fair enough…” Vixen said quietly. “In any case, the others will meet us at the Rangers HQ in about half an hour, so you got here just in time.”

“Alright…” I yawn and stretch myself out. “So we should probably get going then, huh?”

“Yeah, probably.” Walker said. “Shouldn’t take us too long to get there…”

“Mhm…”

We all decided to head out at once, and I follow after Walker, Jager, and Vixen as they head out the front door, but before I’m able to get out myself, Octavia grabs my arm and grabs my attention.

“Yamato.” She said sternly.

“Hm? What’s up?” I ask her.

“Listen… I, um…” She said slowly. “I’m really worried about you, Yamato…”

“Why?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” She stared right into my eyes. “After all that’s happened… I just… I feel like you’re not… reacting in the right way…”

“What the hell is the right way supposed to be?” I ask with a raised eyebrow.

“I… you just seem like you’re holding your emotions in…” Octavia tried to elaborate. “You’re… you seem way too relaxed about this…”

“I’m okay, Octavia.” I insist. “You worry too much.”

“You two coming or what?” I hear Jager call from outside, causing us both to turn to his voice before looking back to each other.

“Come on.” I say. “We don’t want to be late.”

“Mhm… right…” Octavia said quietly, walking past me slowly and shuffling out the door. I follow shortly after.

You know what? On second thought, I wouldn’t mind just a normal straightforward mission that let me use my guns again. Just a nice, by the books operation for the military… if that’s what they were calling us in for, count me the fuck in. It’d be nice to switch back to normalcy, even if it was just for a little bit…


Yeah… yeah, I could go for that.

Chapter 25


It didn’t take long for all of us to make it to the Rangers’ HQ. It was just a short ways away from our HQ in Halfen, being in the middle of a military base, being the main one for the city. It was a center station for the Renskr Military, as well as being the Rangers’ HQ, so it was a pretty important base of operations. Now that Maverick was integrated into the military through the Rangers, we’d probably be visiting this place a lot.

The guards stationed up front let us in no questions, opening up the gates for us. The place was a lot bigger than it looked from the outside. It was basically a large walled off section of the city, containing large buildings and barracks and armories. It was a militarized zone, basically. Most of the major cities in the country had at least one, and the capital of Adell had well over a dozen. Not that it was martial law constantly. They were all set up for city defense above all else. They were also separate from the police force, with the exception of the Rangers themselves, as well as some other groups, who acted as special forces units for critical operations.

Basically a SWAT team with gunships.

Anyway, we all entered the main building and headed up to where we needed to be. We entered the room and found none other than Sarah Graham herself sitting at a desk, waiting for us. Not like I was expecting anyone else, really… where else would the leader of the Rangers be? She looked up from her laptop once she saw us enter.

“Ah, good, you’re all here.” She said.

“Hello, Sarah.” Walker said as I closed the door behind us. “You have a mission for us?”

“That I do…” She said, swiveling the laptop she was working on to face us. “You know of the Crucible, right?”

Turns out, only half of us did, not including me.

“Well…” Sarah cleared her throat. “The Crucible was our first attempt at a superweapon. And by us I mean all of us. As in the planet. It was going to be the be all end all of weapons, operated by every country in the world with the set plan of having a completely invulnerable platform to launch counter strikes against the Angels or Demons from worldwide.”

“How come we haven’t heard of it?” Jager asked, referring to the half of us who didn’t know, being himself, me, Blenheim, and Lucy.

“Probably because it was only in operation for about a month before being completely destroyed.” Sarah stated. “We built the thing up in space. It was a massive space station capable of worldwide operations, but during weapons testing something went wrong… there wasn’t a single survivor. Now the Crucible is a shattered heap of scrap floating around in orbit.”

“Okay, so where do we come in?” Walker asked.

“We want you to go up there and collect some very sensitive data that no doubt the AEP would also want to get their hands on.” Sarah said. “We don’t know exactly what the info contains, but it’s definitely significant enough for someone with ill intent to cause some serious trouble. We want to make sure we get it before anyone else does.”

“Why haven’t you gone up there to get it before now?” I ask her.

“Radiation levels up there have only now decreased enough to allow for exploration of the station.” Sarah answered. “Before, we weren’t able to get deep enough into the site without having to withdraw so people don’t die of radiation. There was some serious firepower on that station…”

“How do you know the data hasn’t been destroyed?” Vixen questioned. “If the entire station went up, how can we know that we aren’t going in for no reason?”

“The data is definitely still there, without a doubt.” Sarah told her. “We’ve confirmed that what we need is still on the station somewhere. It doesn’t have power, of course, but you don’t lose your phone info when you shut it off.”

“Do you know where it is, then?” Octavia said.

“It doesn’t really matter where it is.” Sarah stated. “If you can find any terminal and hook yourself into the system, you should be able to find it. The data system going through the Crucible was segmented, so you should still be able to access individual systems and find out where things are, even if the thing is in pieces.”

“So… we’ll be going up into space, then?” I ask.

“Yes, you will.” She said. “We already have EVA suits ready for each of you. Once you’re up there, it’s up to you to find what we’re looking for. With an eight-man team it shouldn’t be too difficult.”

“That wreck is massive, Sarah.” Walker said. “Even with the eight-man team and the segmented systems it’s going to be a tough job finding what we’re looking for.”

“Well, that’s what you do, isn’t it?” Sarah said with a smile. “The tough jobs, right?”

“Alright…” Walker said. “Anything else we should know?”

“No.” Sarah said. “Oh, actually, that reminds me…”

Sarah then reached down below her desk, lugging up a large metal case and putting it on the table. The thing had to be like 60 plus inches across… I wondered what was in it.

“Yamato.” She addressed me, getting my attention. “This is for you.”

“For me?” I ask, stepping up and looking at the case. “What is it?”

“Open it up and find out.” She said.

“Okay.” I shrug, undoing the four latches the thing had and opening it up.

Inside I find some sort of weapon… it looked like a large rifle, but oddly enough had four arms attached to it… like, crossbow arms. The entire thing was a solid black color. On the side of it, I saw the designation ‘A-Type Experimental CB-01’.

“What the hell is this thing?” I ask, taking it out of the case. Damn thing was heavy… but I could still lift it easily.

“Vengeance is its name.” Sarah explained. “It’s a weapon reverse engineered from an Angelic crossbow. Only thing is, it has two bows instead of the normal one.”

Oh, I could see it now… those crossbow arm things were actual crossbow arms. I inspect the weapon and spot a latch that was labeled ‘Arm Release’. I knock it and the two bows spring outwards, locking in place in an X formation at the end of the weapon.

“Woah…” I say, holding the thing with two hands.

“It fires 30mm chromium carbon-reinforced bolts at approximately 1000 meters a second. Effective range is well beyond any distance you’d practically need. We figured you could use some armaments complementing your abilities… so we came up with this for you.”

“Oh wow…” I say, looking the weapon over again with a satisfied smile, before hitting the latch again and watching as the two bows once again folded back and locked into place on the sides of the weapon. “Thanks.”

“Just in case you don’t like something and want it gone.” Sarah smiled. “You won’t be needing it on this mission, though. Non-combat and all that. Should just be a simple data retrieval.”

“Right.” I say, putting the weapon back in its case and closing it up, taking it with me.

“In any case, we have everything set up for you to go up to the Crucible.” Sarah said. “EVA suits and proper transport, as well as devices for getting the data we need. Octavia here is handy with computers, from what I’ve heard, so I’m sure she can walk you through the process if you need. I know some of you are more specialized for other roles.”

“Right.” Octavia nods. “I can do that.”

“Great.” Sarah smiled. “Then if there are no further questions, you’ll all be heading up ASAP.”

I look to the case in my hand and raise it up.

“What about this?”

“Oh, we’ll keep your weapons here until you get back.” Sarah said. “Except for maybe HF blades. You might need those just in case you need to cut through some wreckage, and all that.”

I set the case down in front of Sarah’s desk.

“M’kay.” I say

“Alright, let’s get ready, then.” Walker said. “C’mon, team.”

“Good luck.” Sarah said as we turned to leave the room. Along the way I catch up to Blenheim.

“Hey, you still being a hardass?” I ask.

“I’d rather focus on the mission, Yamato.” He said plainly.

“What the hell is your problem, man?” I ask. “You’ve been completely cold to me ever since…”

“Leave it, Yamato. I’m fine.” He told me. “C’mon, let’s just do this.”

I sigh, irritated at his behavior, but I knew pushing it wouldn’t help anything, so I decided to drop it.

In any case, space should be fun, never been there. I hear it’s lovely this time of year.

---

It didn’t take long for us to get outfitted for the mission. We were all dressed up in EVA suits – Extra-Vehicular Activity suits – which were designed for three dimensional maneuverability in orbital environments. It came with small boosters attached to the legs and on the backs of the shoulders in order to facilitate travel in 3d space, as well as selectively magnetized boots to adhere to metallic surfaces. It was also built to protect against radiation and all that, but at the same time the suits were very flexible and light compared to space suits you see in real life, which was nice. Wouldn’t want to only be able to flail around randomly in a suit made of marshmallows and Styrofoam. The guys at the station where we were at took our weapons for safekeeping, save for our HF blades, which would supplement normal cutting tools that EVA workers would normally use.

With all that, we were ready to head up. Getting to space in EWO wasn’t quite like it was in real life. You didn’t have to get strapped to a rocket in order to get up into orbit. There were special drop craft that would take you up into space that operated as home platforms for EVA workers. We’d be taking one of these craft up to the Crucible, and the same one would be used to get us back down to earth. We were all also equipped with equipment that would allow us to get into the Crucible’s systems in order to get the data we needed, including portable power sources and hacking equipment. Though Octavia would probably have to walk me through how to do it… I’m not an expert at that like she is.

With all said and done, we all filed into the drop ship, the two open bay doors sliding shut and sealing up before the ship lifted off from its platform and began heading up. Despite not being a rocket, it might as well have been with how fast it went, though with the systems installed in the cabin, the effects of the forces were dramatically reduced, to the point where we didn’t even need to wear seatbelts, we could just hold onto the railings that were installed on the ceiling and on certain hardpoints on the walls.

“So have any of you been up in space before?” Abigail asked as we headed up, her voice perfectly clear in the comm systems installed in the helmets of the EVA suits.

“I have.” Vixen said. “Though it wasn’t quite like this.”

“What was it for?” Lucy asked her.

“It wasn’t with EVAs.” She explained. “We had Exo-Wings.”

“Exo-Wings?” Jager asked. “Those space combat things or whatever, right?”

“Three-dimensional combat platforms made to operate in microgravity environments.” Vixen said. “It was a job I had before I joined Maverick. Exo-Wings are… they’re amazing. The kind of performance you can get out of them is astounding.”

“Well they have to perform, don’t they?” Walker said. “They’re built for it.”

“Never seen one of those.” I commented. “Wouldn’t mind trying one out.”

“I don’t think we’d ever get a job like that.” Walker smirked. “Though I could see you having a lot of fun with one of those.”

“Too bad…” I say.

“We’re approaching orbital altitude.” We hear the pilot say. “Won’t be long until we reach the Crucible.”

A half minute of silence passes before Jager speaks up.

“So what does this thing look like now?” He asks.

“About what you’d think something that exploded catastrophically in orbit to look.” Vixen said. “It’s pretty much just a jumbled mess of scrap.”

“It’s expected to burn up in the atmosphere sometime within the next 5 to 10 years.” Walker added. “Won’t be much left of it after that.”

“Well hopefully we all won’t be stuck in this game for that long.” Abigail noted, painfully reminding us all of our true plight.

“Right…” I say, sighing.

“Alright, we’re here.” The pilot says, the craft slowing down, fluidly coming to a halt. “Opening up the bay door, get ready for depressurization.”

With that, the right door of the craft unsealed, immediately beginning to suck the air out of the bay even before the door opened completely. Within seconds, the entire passenger bay was depressurized, and the cold emptiness of space was revealed to us. Looking out the door, we saw the Crucible… or what was left of it, anyway. It was little more than a gigantic metal graveyard, debris floating freely all around the wreck, huge chunks of what was once a spacecraft scattered across the area. I couldn’t put all the pieces back together in my head and visualize what the thing used to look like as a whole with how completely ruined everything was. It was definitely catastrophic as Vixen said, the fate the Crucible suffered.

“Wow…” I say.

“God damn…” Blenheim said, as Jager let out a low whistle.

“How hard is it gonna be finding what we need in this mess?” Abigail wondered aloud.

“With an eight-man team, it shouldn’t be too terrible.” Vixen told us. “Hopefully… c’mon, let’s get to work.”

With that, Vixen let herself out of the ship, floating freely through space, activating her thruster systems to level herself out and spin to face us. By the way she moved, I could tell she’s had experience with these kinds of suits, even besides Exo-Wings. Walker and Octavia followed shortly after, and after her, Jager, Abigail, and Blenheim. Jager had a tough time getting his balance right, but finally managed to keep himself from boosting every which way and come to a standstill, and Abigail didn’t seem to have too much trouble with it, while Blenheim had a minor slip-up before managing to recover. Lucy was a bit nervous to jump but she did, tumbling a little bit in the air as she worked to stabilize herself.

I was left.

I jumped out of the passenger bay and into the free microgravity of space. It didn’t take long at all for me to get used to it… I quickly found that it felt quite like flying in Heaven. It was just a bit different in that I had to activate thrusters on the EVA suit instead of using my natural Anima to control myself. The main difference between the two was the sense of disconnect of the EVA suit compared to controlling it myself as a result of the automatic nature of the thrusters, even if they’re directly activated by me. Either way, it didn’t take long for me to get accustomed to it, and I come to a stop in front of my team.

“Alright, where’re we headed?” I ask.

“Well it looks like there are four major parts of the wreckage.” Walker said. “That’ll let us split up into groups of two for each. I’ll go with Vixen.”

“Of course…” Blenheim commented.

“Blenheim, you go with Jager.” Walker said, shooting him a look. “Lucy will go with Abigail, and Yamato will go with Octavia.”

“Alright.” I nod.

“Good enough for me.” Jager said. “Come, tovarich, let’s get going.”

Jager began to make his way towards a large wreck site, but suddenly found himself careening off course. He tried to correct himself but ended up over compensating and slamming himself into a large chunk of floating metal, stopping him.

“Ow… der’mo...” Jager groaned.

“Jager, did you have a few before we started?” Blenheim asked.

“Not this time…” Jager said, standing up on the metal, his magnetized boots holding him in place. “I’m not really one for the air, you see… and space is just taking it to a new level… I’ll get used to is, I promise!”

He gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up at us from below while Blenheim floats down to him.

“Don’t get yourself killed, you drunk.” He commented, to which Jager let out a hardy laugh.

“Alright, let’s get to work.” Walker said. “Choose your destination. Keep in contact. If you find anything let us know.”

Everyone agreed before splitting up into their respective groups. I, along with Octavia, decided to take the furthest chunk of space station, flying over as fast as the EVA suits would let us, which honestly wasn’t that slow. It wasn’t exactly a rocket, but it was pretty easy to gain and keep velocity with no atmosphere in the way. With that in mind, it didn’t take that long for us to reach our chosen spot. It was even easier to find a way into the thing, considering it was torn to shreds. The hard part would be with how big the damn thing was. Considering what it used to be, it may take a while to find what we need amidst the debris. Just the split chunks of the thing were bigger than… I don’t know what to compare it to. The black castle in Hell? The golden palace in Heaven? All of that just in orbit and falling. The thought occurred to me of how all of this would disintegrate in the atmosphere.

“Hey, Vixen.” I say in my comms. “This thing is massive, how is it going to burn up in the atmosphere?”

“Well, with the rate of decay it has, it’ll probably grind itself pretty well in the atmosphere.” Vixen said. “It’ll be spending a good time getting incinerated compared to other things with the orbit it’s got, so that’ll eliminate a lot of mass outright, while the remaining larger pieces will probably be shot down by either Cassuis or the Aurora System. Or, actually, more likely, the Aurora System will just cut it up into pieces once we’re done here so we don’t need to worry about intercepting any larger pieces.”

“The Aurora System…” I look around space, and sure enough, I see one of the satellite network, another one waaaaaay off in the distance from it. The Aurora System was a network of twelve  satellites in orbit around Eden designed to fire extremely powerful laser weaponry from orbit, far above any range they could be intercepted. The one I was looking at was way off in the distance, above the Crucible’s orbit, so there was no risk of collision. I could tell even with the distance that the satellite was huge. It had to be with the firepower it was carrying, though it was nowhere near the Crucible’s size. It looked to be maybe a bit smaller than Athenor, but not by much. It was just floating there. With my sharpened sense of sight I could make out the lettering on the side. ‘Aurora-03’. The third Aurora platform made and the third one launched into orbit.

From this altitude, I also made out another satellite in orbit from the other side, also close enough to see the lettering. ‘Solaris-07’. Solaris was another satellite superweapon, the twin system to Aurora. Instead of firing lasers, however, it fired pure ballistics. It was a huge kinetic bombardment system, meant to have 12 units, like Aurora, but production was stopped at just 8. It was meant to be the more wide ranged attack platform, compared to the precise lasers of Aurora. These were the two superweapons that were always up in space, always watching over the world, ready to hit anything in any location with incredible power and accuracy. Weapons designed to protect humanity from any Angel or Demon assault.

Yeah, they were super awesome.

“Yamato, c’mon.” Octavia said, catching me spacing out in the most literal use of the phrase.

I nod and float over to her, following her inside the wreck. The inside was dark as hell, so we resorted to using the flashlights on out EVA suits in order to see. Despite the outside’s appearance, a lot of the inside was still relatively intact. The long corridors were banged up, and some doors were blown apart, but it was certainly navigable. We could afford to walk through the corridors instead of floating through them.

Still, though… it looked pretty creepy looking down those long, dark, derelict hallways.

“Think you can take this?” I hear Octavia ask as I touch down on a platform that would lead me into one of the corridors. “I’m gonna go up higher and find another entrance.” She explained as I looked up at her, still free floating.

“Yeah, sure.” I say, staring back down the hall and getting a chill up my spine. “Would’ve been nice if I was packing some guns, though…”

“Oh, don’t worry, Yamato. Nothing can survive up here.” Octavia said. “Well… maybe space alien zombies…”

“Don’t freak me out!” I snap back up at her, to which she laughed, heading up to find another place to get inside.

“Tell me if you find anything interesting.”

“Oh, sure, I’ll bring you a souvenir.”

I sigh and begin to make my way down the hall, walking through the abandoned station. The magnetic boots were a bit trickier to walk in, as, of course, they were magnetic and your feet kinda stuck to surfaces in a way that made it more difficult to take steps, but it wasn’t deal-breaking awful. You could still move fairly easily, just a bit slower and more lumbering than normal. I slowly made my way down the hall, looking around at the broken floor panels and crumples and tears in the walls, as well as the lights of the ceiling, completely dark, broken, some hanging from wires and some others on the ground.

God, it was so fucking creepy!

“This place is in better shape than I thought it would be, honestly…” Vixen said through comms. “I was expecting much more extensive internal damage.”

“Well in all likelihood, there will be heavily damaged areas.” Lucy commented.

“I’m in one right now… this entire area is completely wrecked…” I hear Abigail say.

“These hallways are creeping me the hell out.” I say. “It’s like… I feel like some kind of alien monster is gonna jump out at me.”

“Well, you have an HF blade on you.” Octavia said. “You’re pretty handy with that.”

“Well sure, but still…” I sigh, the whole atmosphere making me feel really uneasy, even though I knew realistically there couldn’t be such thing as space zombies.

God, I hope there isn’t…

“Heh, hey, check me out, tovarich!” I hear Jager say to Blenheim. “I’m Space Russian! Hero of Space!”

“More like Space Drunk…” Blenheim says.

“Is there a difference?” I quip with a smirk.

“Hah!” Jager says before I hear a thump in the comm, before Jager’s groan of injury came again.

“Watch yourself, there, Jager.” Walker says. “Don’t want to damage the EVA suit.”

Da, right… I’m getting the hang of it.”

“So, will any console do?” I ask.

“Should.” Octavia said. “Once you find a suitable console just plug your EVA suit in and I can walk you through if you need.”

“I probably will.” I say, turning a corner in the hallway and finding myself in a slightly tilted corridor, in worse shape than the one behind me. Wasn’t a problem, however. I could be walking upside down and it’d feel the same as we were in space. I had actually lost my sense of up and down the instant I turned the corner, so it was a little jarring and kinda messed with me. I toughed through it, however, and continued on my way.

It didn’t take long for me to end up at my first roadblock; a large door that was crumbled and slightly out of its frame on both sides. It’s the kind of door that’s meant to segment into two and slide open from center outwards, but both halves of the door were crumbled and bent, a small opening between the two that would only allow a mouse through.

No problem. Nothing my HF blade couldn’t cut through. I draw Armature from my back and activate it, the blade vibrating at extremely frequent oscillations. It felt odd not to hear the normal buzzing sound it would make, but seeing as it was space, it made sense that it wouldn’t make any sound.

I move up to the obstacle and slice through it multiple times, cutting the door through and breaking it open wide enough for me to get through. I deactivate the blade and unequip it, floating through the door and making my way into another hallway, just as dark and decrepit as the last one… honestly, I could imagine what this may have looked like when it wasn’t completely destroyed, and even then I felt like it would be creepy.

“Dammit!” I hear Jager curse in my comms, followed by another thunk and a crash. “How do you do this?!”

“You stop being shit is how.” Blenheim said. “C’mon, it’s not too hard.”

“I can’t get the balancing right…” He says. “It’s like floating in a pool but with no resistance. It’s hard!”

“Get with it, Jager.” Walker says. “We got a job to do.”

Da, da…” He says with a sigh. “I’m trying, really.”

Of course, Jager totally screwing the pooch with the EVA suit lightened up the suspension I felt in this place. I can’t help but smirk as I continue going down the hall.

“I think I found a terminal.” I hear Lucy say. “Hang on, I’m gonna plug myself in and see if I can get the panel up.”

“Alright.” Walker says.

A few seconds later, Lucy comes in again.

“No good… the system is totally shot.” She says. “I can’t get any readouts.”

“Chances are a lot of them aren’t going to be operational, even with the power we put into them.” Vixen said. “We’ll just have to keep going until we can find one that we can recover data from.”

“Moving on.” Lucy says.

I round another crooked corner and end up reaching what looked like a clinic of some kind, sliding underneath a space in another door to get in. Of course, the place was totally destroyed, but chances are in a clinic there had to be a terminal. Just had to hope I could get somewhere with it.

“I’m in a clinic or infirmary of some kind.” I say. “I’m gonna look for a terminal around here.”

“Alright, Yamato.” Walker says. “Let us know if you find anything.”

I move through what seemed to be the waiting room and ended up behind a counter and in an adjacent room. Sure enough, there was a console there. I inspect it and I found that it looked to be for the most part in decent shape. I take my equipment, consisting of a power box and a cord, and set it down on the floor, taking a cord and finding an input jack, plugging it in and activating the box. Lucky me, the thing was actually receiving power. The readouts flickered and sparked, but it wasn’t completely trashed, which meant I could get something out of it.

“I got a terminal here.” I say. “It looks to be a least operational.”

“Great.” Octavia said. “Need me to walk you through the next step?”

I look at the UIP  integrated into the EVA suit, specialized for EVA missions and such. Currently it was programmed for this specific mission, carrying hacking equipment used to extract data from any system. Things I knew nothing about…

“Please.” I say.

“Alright, all you need to do is activate the hacking program, right?” Octavia said.

I find the program and hit it. The screen of the UIP then came up as ‘INITIALIZING’, before ‘AWAITING INPUT’.

“Alright.” I say.

“Alright, it should say ‘awaiting input’ now.” She says. “There’s a cord attached to the UIP which can be plugged in to the port on the console in order to connect with it.”

I see what she was talking about and grab the cord, pulling it and extending it from the UIP and looking for the input port on the console. Once found, I plug the thing in.

“Okay.”

“Alright, now all you have to do is activate the program and it’ll run a system check to see what it can find.”

“Alright, then.”

I activate the program, and the UIP displayed the words ‘PERFORMING SYSTEM SWEEP’, underneath which was ‘WORKING’, flashing on and off at regular intervals.

“It shouldn’t take too long to get into the system if everything is working enough.” Octavia explains. “It’s looking for a path to access the entire Crucible systems once it’s inside the console system.”

“Makes sense.” I say, able to understand what she was saying in order to grasp how the thing worked.

About half a minute later, the reading came up with something else.

‘CORRUPTED DATA FOUND’

‘RETRIEVING INFORMATION’

‘SYSTEM BACKDOOR DISCOVERED’

The ‘retreiving information’ bit was flashing.

“It’s saying it’s found corrupted data and it’s retrieving information.” I say.

“Does it say a system backdoor was found?” Octavia asked.

“Yeah.” I answer.

“Alright, that can lead us into the entire Crucible system, again if everything works well enough.” She said. “What it’s doing now is retrieving as much data as it can from the terminal. A lot of it will probably be corrupted but it’ll try to piece together what it can.”

“Do we need anything from a medical terminal?” I ask.

“Probably not.” She says. “But let it do its thing. Who knows, we might find something useful.”

A few seconds pass and ‘DATA RETREIVAL COMPLETE’ showed up, followed by ‘READY TO ACCESS SYSTEM BACKDOOR’.

“Okay, it’s saying it’s ready to access system backdoor?” I say, becoming a bit confused on all this.

“Alright, that’s going to take you into the Crucible’s central network.” She said. “Hit that.”

I do so, and ‘ACCESSING SYSTEM’ appeared, also blinking. A few seconds later, however, an error showed up.

‘ERROR: SYSTEM STABILITY COMPROMISED’

‘UNABLE TO ACCESS NETWORK’

“I think it didn’t work.” I say. “Said it was unable to access the network.”

“Damn.” Octavia said. “Looks like that console is unable to reach the main network. You’ll have to find another one.”

“Great.” I say. “What about the data the thing retrieved?”

“We can give that to the Rangers to look over once we’re done here.” Walker said. “Keep going, see if you can find another console.”

“Sure.” I say, unplugging everything from the system and securing my gear before moving on in the only direction I really could go. I went through the infirmary, being creeped out by all the hospital beds and medical equipment, finding myself picking up my pace to get out of the area as fast as I could.

I make it through the infirmary and end up going through more winding hallways before ending up at what looked like a tram platform. There was one long rail held up along a gigantic tunnel that most likely stretched across the entire station. I look down the tunnel and see nothing but pitch blackness, same as the other way.

“Guys, I hit a tram station.” I say.

“Is there a console there?” I hear Vixen ask.

“Uh, lemme check.” I say, looking around and finding a small room that looked to be some sort of security station. I head inside, cutting my way through the locked door, finding another console inside.

“Yeah, there is.” I say. “I’ll patch myself in.”

I do so, plugging in the generator and luckily having the console light up. Two in a row, how about that? I go through the whole process again, the UIP recovers the data on the console before trying to work its way into the network… which it again failed at.

“Dammit…” I say. “I couldn’t get into the network on this one either.”

“Alright, keep moving.” Walker told me.

I sigh and am about to pull out of the console before I noticed something on my UIP. It was a file that was named ‘Personal Log: Sgt. Kreiner – Experiments with Void’.

Something Void related… couldn’t be good. I opened it up to check it out.

Personal Log: Sgt. Kreiner

I’m becoming increasingly concerned with the experiments that the higher-ups are conducting with Void. I’ve seen some of the things they’re doing… trying to weaponize something like that seems way too dangerous. On top of that, I don’t know why the hell we’d need a weapon that uses something like that. It doesn’t make me feel comfortable, and I can’t help but feel like they aren’t doing something way worse than that underneath all that. It’s not my place to question the brass like that; it’d probably get me court-martialed, but I at least know right from wrong. I gotta do something… maybe if I could get some of my friends up there to help me out… maybe if I can get some evidence that they’re doing something, I could expose it. I’d be killing myself doing that, but… I have the feeling something is seriously wrong. I don’t like it at all.

“Weaponize Void…?” I say.

“What was that, Yamato?” I hear Walker ask.

“I found a personal log here… it’s from some guy who says that they were trying to weaponize Void and that they may have been doing something more with it.”

“Send it over.”

“Might as well send it to all of us.” Vixen added.

I do so, transferring the file from the UIP to everyone. A half minute later, Walker responds.

“This doesn’t look good…” He says.

“I know, it’s always Void, Void, Void, isn’t it?” I say.

“Could this have something to do with what we’re looking for?” Octavia asks.

“Hell if I know.” Blenheim says. “But if it is, we should probably get to where they were doing these experiments. We’d probably find what we need there.”

“You think Sarah knew that this involved Void?” Lucy asked. “Doesn’t seem like something she wouldn’t know about.”

“Let’s just focus on what we have to do.” Walker said. “Let’s try to find out where they were conducting these tests now.”

“Still have to patch into the whole system for that, most likely.” Octavia chipped in.

“Lovely.” I sigh.

“No problem!” Jager said. “I’m getting the hang of this whole zero-G thing!”

“Sure you are.” Blenheim remarks.

“No, really, I-”

“Son of a bitch!”

Pfft.

“Yamato, you might as well stay at the tram station and wait until we find out where we need to go.” Walker told me. “I mean, since you’re already there.”

“Sounds like a great fucking plan.” I say, letting go of the ground and free floating.

“Don’t get to complacent.” Vixen said.

“Sure.” I reply, relaxing while floating slowly around the large area, enjoying the zero-Gs.

I take the time to myself to practice maneuvering around, testing to see if I could perform some slick maneuvers, like a simultaneous 180 degree flip and spin, or performing quick side dodges while flying forward. It was pretty fun to just float and fly around in a gravity free environment like this; great way to pass the time. It didn’t take long afterwards for Vixen to come in on the comms.

“I got it.” She said. “I’m in the network, I can see every section on the station.”

“Nice work.” Walker said. “Did you find anything interesting?”

“As a matter of fact, I did.” She responded. “I found out that they were performing these experiments in a lower level of the station, near the weapons systems. No doubt they were taking place there to keep up the guise of weapons testing.”

“Great.” Abigail said. “So we should all head over there?”

“Yeah.” Vixen replied. “I’ll send a map of the station to all of you. You should be able to find your way to where we’re going, even if the entire place is in shambles.”

With that, I soon receive a ping on my UIP. I take a look and see the map layout of the entire station, or at least what it was before it was completely destroyed. Even with that fact, I should be able to get to where I need to go. It’d require me to get to a different chunk of the ship, but that’s not a bad storm to weather.

“Alright, I’m on my way.” I say, deciding to take the tram tunnel for a fast track out of my particular chunk of space station.

“En route.” Blenheim says.

“Yep! On our way!” Jager said.

I flip over right side up in relation to the environment around me and quickly thrust forward, barreling through the tram tunnel, following the monorail all the way to the outside, flying out of the tunnel and into open space. I take a look at the map Vixen send in my UIP and find out where I need to go. Looked to be the front end of the center piece. I quickly make my way over there, meeting up with Octavia halfway, and finding an entrance into the center section of the ship. Along the way, Maverick eventually regroups together, and we all head towards our objective together.

“So Void, huh?” Jager says as we walk through the dark corridor, flashlights on, Walker leading the way.

“Seems so.” Walker replies. “Seems everyone wants to control it…”

“Well Yamato is the only one who can, right?” Lucy asks.

“Don’t remind me…” I sigh.

“Hey, I don’t know.” Jager smiled. “I think being able to lift up and fire a railgun on your own would be pretty cool!”

“It’s not as great as you think, Jager…” I say. “It’s… I never asked for this.”

“Yeah… considering all you’ve been through…” Octavia said.

“Don’t worry, Yamato.” Walker said, looking back at me with a confident smile. “You’ve done more than enough. It’s about time we got off our asses and did something too.”

“I appreciate it, but…” I hesitate; wanting to say that they didn’t know what they were getting into… even I didn’t know. “Thanks.”

Not long after, we were nearing our location. It wasn’t in an easy to get section of the station, however, which we expected. It was the kind of area that you know was in lockdown outside of special personnel, requiring multiple security passes which we just walked through, considering there wasn’t anyone there to stop us. We had to float down a long elevator shaft, at the bottom of which was a crashed elevator, which I had to cut through with my HF blade to get into, then I had to cut through the elevator doors to allow us into the bottom section.

Jager pretty much just fell all the way down, bumping into the walls and tumbling all over. It was hilarious.

Eventually, though, we reached a large bulkhead door which we suspected was housing our objective behind it. It was the kind of door that survived even the destruction of the entire station without a dent. The kind of door meant to survive nukes.

You know, that kind.

“Yamato.” Vixen turned to me. “Care to make a few more cuts?”

“Sure.” I say, activating my blade again and attempting to stab into it. I’m surprised when the tip just glances off the door, only receiving a slight scratch. I try it again, receiving the same result.

“Aw, damn…”

“Resistant to HF blades, huh?” Blenheim said.

“Seems so.” Octavia replied.

“Hang on…” I say, releasing the limiter of the blade one level, the blade coated in bright blue plasma. I give it another go, this time easing the blade forward, allowing it to slowly soak into the door starting from the tip. Sparks flew as the tip barely began shredding its way into the door as I applied pressure from the other end, grunting with the effort. It was clear half a minute later, however, that I wasn’t going to get anywhere like that. I withdraw my blade and deactivate it, strapping it to my back.

“Well that’s not gonna work.” I say.

“Octavia, can you plug yourself in and run a bypass?” Walker asked.

“I don’t think so.” She said. “When I got the network track of the station from Vixen I saw that this section was entirely dark. I doubt we’d be able to get anything working here, and even if we did I don’t think I’d be able to crack into the system of a place this secure… at least in a practical amount of time.”

“Hang on, I got an idea…” I say, rubbing my right arm a bit and placing my hand on the door. “You guys might want to step back a bit.”

My team does so, and I begin my process. I figured if I couldn’t cut through it, I may be able to use Soul Force to punch through it. With how powerful my Anima was, I figured if I gave it my best shot, even this kind of door wouldn’t be able to stand up to it. I mean, worth a shot. I back up two steps, charging Anima into my hand and condensing it. In that moment when it was stabilized, I release it forward, the powerful blast slamming into the door, definitely impacting the thing hard, but not really making that much of a dent in it.

“Not quite…” Abigail says.

“Hang on, lemme try again…” I say, charging up for another go.

I condense more power into my palm this time, my hand shaking to contain the energy, requiring more time and concentration than the last one. I let it go again, more focused this time, a loud and thundering boom shaking the corridor and making a decent dent in the door, but unfortunately not creating any kind of opening.

“Shit…” I say, charging up again. “One more time…”

I give it one more go, charging up more and more power, charging it up for even longer to get more power into it, before finally letting it go, a powerful blast sending me a few paces back from the recoil and once again bending the heavily reinforced door, making a small crack at the center, but not enough for any of us to get through.

“Man, this is hard…” I say, shaking my hand a bit to shrug off the recoil that I took.

“We’ll have to find another way.” Walker said. “Let’s head back and-”

I then decide to give Void a shot at it, concentrating and calling upon my natural power, a small black shadow appearing around my arms, interrupting Walker as I send it forth with both hands, the shadow piercing straight through the door. My team watches silent and in awe as I wrench open the door with pure force, separating my hands, the shadow reacting by separating in time, splitting the door open with loud metal scraping and shearing, pulling open the door wide enough for all of us to get through in no time. I withdraw the shadow and suddenly feel lightheaded, my upper body tilting and falling over a little, while my feet were still fastened to the floor from the magnetized boots of the EVA suit.

“Yamato.” Walker says, catching me in my fall. “You okay?”

“Ah… yeah… I’m… I’m fine…” I say, regaining my composure and sighing. “Just not really used to doing that still…”

“Well, damn… you it open.” Jager said, impressed. “I reiterate, having powers like that must be awesome.”

“Well, let’s get going.” Walker said, walking through the door as the rest of us follow.

Inside was a familiar sight… it was a room set up much like the one where I first awakened as Nephilim… in the center there was a device with multiple rings, though only one of them actually remained attached to it, and it was skewed. The entire room was completely dark, dead computer monitors all over the place… the AEP was on the Crucible too…?

“What the hell…” I say.

“What is it?” Walker asks.

“This room is identical to the one… it’s the AEP. They were here.”

“What?” Vixen looks to me. “The AEP?”

“I was in a room like this…” I say, stepping up to the device. “This is a portal to Void… the same kind that I was first sucked into. It’s how I realized I wasn’t human…”

“So they were here as well, ah?” Jager said, crossing his arms. “They seem to be everywhere…”

“These guys have been active for much longer than we thought.” Walker said. “The data we need has to be here.”

Octavia walked over to a console and booted it up. She began the data recovery sequence on it.

“You think Sarah knew about this?” Vixen asked Walker. “That the AEP were here as well?”

“I don’t know.” He responded. “She knew there was some serious data, we know that… but I don’t think she knew it had to do with Void or the AEP.”

“Advanced Evolution Project.” Octavia suddenly said.

“Huh?” Jager says.

“Advanced Evolution Project.” She repeated. “AEP… that’s what it stands for.”

“You found something?” Walker said, going over to her.

“Yeah… I did…” She said slowly, going over what she had found.

“Well what is it?” Blenheim asked.

Octavia looked over to me, staring directly at me with a look in her eyes… something was wrong… whatever she read, it involved me.

“It’s something Sarah should see.” Octavia said, avoiding the question. “We have what we came for. We should go.”

“Alright.” Walker said. “Good job, everyone.”

Vixen opened her channels to communicate with the shuttle pilot that brought us here.

“This is Cunningham.” She said. “Mission complete, we’re heading back.”

“Copy that.” The pilot said. “Ready for extraction when you get here.”

She closes comms and nods.

“Let’s get out of here.”

“Aw…” Jager sighed. “I was just beginning to like this space thing.”

“Really?” Blenheim asked. “You didn’t seem like you were getting much better at it.”

“Ublyodok.”

We all head out the way we came, finally getting out of the wreck to meet up with the shuttle. The doors to the shuttle closed as the atmosphere recompressed, allowing us to take our helmets off. I sit down on one of the seats, staring at Octavia, though she was looking elsewhere. What was it she read… why was she keeping it from me?

---

I had logged out after I made it back to Maverick HQ. When we got back to the Ranger’s base, Walker instructed me to head back to HQ. I didn’t argue, I knew I wouldn’t win. I had simply given him a look and left without saying a word. I was sat on my bed in my room, my RiftGear on my nightstand, my arms crossed. It was night by now, and I knew Octavia would be logging out soon as well. I decided I wouldn’t confront her about it, though… I suspected I wouldn’t be getting any answers from her, either…

I couldn’t think of any reasons why she’d be keeping me in the dark if it wasn’t about me in some way… something important; something I think I should have a right to know. But… right now, I decided to let it go and get some sleep…

---

April 12th

Woke up, had some breakfast, logged in to EWO. Didn’t say a word to Octavia over the table at breakfast. She knew why, though her mother was certainly confused. I had simply told her not to worry about it and finished breakfast as quickly as I could. I went downstairs at HQ to find Walker, Jager, and Vixen, all speaking amongst themselves.

“Hey, guys.” I say, drawing attention to me. “What’s up?

“Got some bad news, Yamato.” Walker said straightly to me. “Drake Shaw is gone.”

“Gone?” I say, remembering that we had him locked up here. “What do you mean gone?”

“I mean, someone somehow busted him out.” He said.

“When did this happen?”

“Evidence suggests that it happened while we were all gone up in space.” Walker said. “Someone came in here and just went down and got him out.”

“What about security?”

“Nothing on cameras, infrared, motion…” Walker sighed. “No sign of anything forced. The cell was opened like it should be, with the command console. So my guess is that someone hacked it…”

“Who could hack our security systems here?” I ask. “We have the same security tech that the military does here.”

“Right…” Walker said. “But on top of that, Lucy scanned the system… there were absolutely no signs of any tampering with the systems, so… we couldn’t have been hacked.”

“So… what’s that mean?” Jager asked, chiming in. “I really don’t understand any of this…”

“It means, that this place was compromised by someone who knows it.” Vixen said. “Someone who has access to the systems.”

“What, like, one of us?” I ask. “You saying one of us is a turncoat?”

“I doubt it…” Vixen put her hand to her chin in thought. “Yamato, who else has had access to this place?”

“What?” I say, thinking on it. “Well… I guess, Naoto… wait, you don’t…”

“She’s the prime suspect.” Walker said. “She’s worked with us on multiple occasions, and has had access to this place. Not security access and all that, but someone with her repertoire of skills could probably slip a few things under our noses…”

“I… I doubt she’d do something like that.” I say in protest. “She’s not the type for that.”

“How well do you know her?” Walker questioned.

“Well enough to know she wouldn’t do that, that’s for sure.” I respond. “Look, I can vouch for her, she’s clean.”

“The fact remains that she’s the only person who could’ve done it.” Walker insisted. “I damn well know it wasn’t any of us, since we were all up in space.”

“Remote disabling of security is possible.” Vixen said to bring up a point. “But still, it’s a stretch that any of us was the culprit.”

“I still don’t think it was her.” I say, standing by my beliefs.

I truly, honestly didn’t believe it was her. No way. I knew her too well for that… it has to be the AEP, for sure. They’ve been known to pull off crazy things like this… I decided to bring that up.

“The AEP.” I say. “It was probably them. You know how they are, they somehow manage to pull things like this.”

“Not too much of a stretch…” Walker thought on it. “But I still want to keep a close eye on Rena. Since we can actually keep track of her, I think that’s what we should do, even if it’s just to rule her out of the list of suspects.”

“So…” I say slowly. “What should we do?”

“Well, the sensible thing to do would be to find out where Shaw went.” Walker said. “For that, I’d like you to team up with Jager. We’ll be calling Rena over and she’ll join in too, so we can keep an eye on her… as well as some extra help.”

“Extra help…?”

“That would be us.” I hear a thick, female German accent say from behind me.

I look back and see three individuals standing there. Fucking hell, didn’t even hear the door open. The girl who spoke had long silver hair and striking red eyes that could probably stab me. She wore the all black with red trim uniform for high ranking officers of the Renskr military, and a matching black cap and overcoat. To her right, someone who thankfully looked a lot less intimidating, with bright yellow eyes and jet black hair, wearing a less standard white and black hoodie, grey pants with knee pads, and what looked like parkour shoes, as well as black fingerless gloves. To her left, someone who was brooding and looking elsewhere. He wore all black, complimenting his same colored hair, and I couldn’t see his eyes from under his black hood. He wore a military jacket dark green cargo pants, and a dark blue scarf which covered his mouth. All in all, only his eyes peered out from under his cowl.

What a lovely trio we had, here.

“Who are these guys?” I ask.

“This is Hotel November.” Walker said. “The most elite sniper group in the entire Renskr military. They’re their own subsidiary, like us. Jager used to be a member before he joined Maverick.”

“These guys must mean business, then, huh…?” I say, just looking at Jager’s track record alone. Seriously, if Jager used to run with these guys, knowing his sniper skills, these guys were most likely no joke. And they definitely looked the part, as well…

“Jager.” The girl said, looking over to her former comrade. “It’s good to see you well… how have you been?”

“Oh, I’ve been fine enough.” He said, taking a heavy sip of his vodka bottle before capping it. “Nothing too special been happening in my life.”

“Other than the whole trapped in game thing, you mean?” The sprightlier of the bunch asked.

“Heh, other than that, right.” Jager smiled, pocketing his drink and sighing. “So, I guess the group is back together again, eh?”

“Just for this mission, anyway.” Walker stated.

“So, um… do we have any leads?” I ask.

“Not yet.” Walker said, pointing towards the brooding one. “He’s even better at hacking and security than Lucy is. He’ll be able to see anything that’s been done in the system, the tiniest bit. He’ll be able to find out exactly what happened.”

The girl nods and gestures to the brooding guy.

“Vincent? If you would.”

He doesn’t say a word, and simply goes over to the nearest computer console in the room, immediately beginning to tap away at the keyboard. Instantly he’s in the system, like he already knows the place top to bottom, accessing security systems I didn’t even know we had.

“Um…” Vixen said. “Don’t we need, like… a password to get into that…?”

“Yes…” Walker responded slowly.

Fuck, this guy was nuts.

“Hours between 2000 and 2300 hours… approximately…” He said in monotone, seemingly just to himself, but also sufficing to give us the info as well. “Security activity… cameras seeing nothing, infrared and motion detection all clear… camera footage was tampered with, looping the same footage of 2128 hours to 2129 hours and was looped for approximately 8 minutes and 23 seconds… it took at most 8 minutes and 23 seconds for this event to have occurred, starting at 1928 hours.”

“The fuck is this guy on about…?” I ask.

“He’s saying that the infiltration occurred around 2128 hours… 9:28 pm and lasted for at most 8 minutes and 23 seconds, to 9:36 pm.” The lady said in a condescending tone.

“So the break-in definitely happened when we were up in space…” Walker said. “And that mission took about three hours. From around 9:00 to midnight.”

“Someone was definitely in here.” Vixen said. “Can you find out who?”

“Not from this.” The guy, Vincent is his name, I guess, said. “More information is required to extrapolate…”

“This guy talks like a robot.” I note.

“Do we have any leads from what we do know?” Walker asks.

“I’ll require further inquiry…” Vincent said. “I’ll need details on the streets with events occurring within the designated timeframe.”

“What?” I ask.

“He needs information from the outside as well.” The lady said again, in the same dismissive tone that was right on the edge of me wanting to punch her in the teeth. “Vincent can get into the city’s mainframe and collect the data from streetlight cameras.”

“They’re all over the city.” The other one said. “Shouldn’t be too hard to track whoever was here and get a lead.”

“You can do that?” I ask.

“Vincent can.” He smiles confidently. “Guy can do just about anything. No hiding from him.”

“Logging in now.” He said, connecting to the entire city’s mainframe from the same computer console.”

“What the hell? How?!” Vixen was simply staggered by how deep this guy could go. Really, nothing could hide from him.

 “Analyzing data from 2127 hours onwards.” Vincent said. “Got them.”

“Already?!” Walker said. “Damn… I’m impressed.”

“Can you see who it is?” Vixen asked.

“No.” Vincent stated. “He’s disguised… but he went in and came out within the allotted timeframe. I tracked them to the outskirts of the city… heading westward.”

“Where could they be heading westward?” I ask.

“The nearest city west of here is Harlon.” Walker said.

“Right.” The lady said. “We’ll begin our search there, then.”

“Yamato, call Rena.” Walker said. “Keep a close eye on her throughout this mission.”

“Right, right…” I say, pulling up my UIP to message her.

Vincent closed the console and went back over to the lady, bringing up his UIP to share the data with everyone on the team. He apparently had my UIP logged into his, because I got the same data. How the fuck, even…

“Data logged and stored.” Vincent said. “Ready to move out.”

“Well, then.” The lady said. “Shall we be off, then?”

“Sure.” Jager said, sighing and standing up off his seat to join his former teammates.

So… I guess now we were headed to Harlon. Can’t say I’ve ever been, but I knew it wasn’t terribly far from Halfen, so it would be a pretty short trip.

Chapter 26


We were on the road headed to Harlon; we had taken one of our trucks that could seat all of it. Naoto and I were seated in the back with the one who had introduced himself as Ridley Scordato, while the lady Laura Schwarzerfeld drove and the one who was introduced for him as Vincent Kennedy was riding shotgun, busy on a laptop, fiddling with data I occasionally snuck a glance at but didn’t understand at all. Kennedy was, I can only assume, worming his way around the system of the entire god damn city while Laura drove around. Scordato, Naoto, Jager and I were in the backseat as backup, I suppose, though I didn’t think the AEP were the kind of guys to send a SWAT team after us so we’d be locked into a heavy firefight in the middle of the street.

“Find anything yet?” Scordato asked, leaning up towards Kennedy.

“Ridley, he said he’d tell us when he found something.” Laura said.

“It’s just that it’s taking a long time…”

“It’s been like 10 minutes.” Naoto said.

“That’s a long time for him.” Jager smiled. “It’s pretty creepy just how much info he has. He already knows more about everyone in this truck more than anyone else does.”

“Oh, yay.” I say. “Hope he doesn’t disapprove of my favorite masturbation material.”

Scordato snickered at that.

“Dear, lord…” Laura sighed. “You could at least try to be professional, here.”

“Yeah, sure.” I say, leaning to the side and looking out the window.

“Don’t worry, Laura.” Jager spoke on my behalf. “He’s real handy in a fight.”

“He’d better be, otherwise I don’t see his usefulness.”

“Gee, thanks.” I say.

Several moments of silence passed before Naoto spoke to me.

“So, Yamato.” She said. “How have you been, lately?”

“Hm?” I turn to her. “Oh… been fine enough, I guess.”

“How’s France.”

“It’s French.”

“Well, yeah, I figured that much…” She said with a small smile. “I mean, how are things there?”

“I got food and a place to stay, so as good as it can be.” I reply. “How about you?”

“Oh, I’ve been okay.”

“Your dad still hanging in there?”

“Um… yeah… he’s still around.”

“Alright…”

“How strange…” Kennedy said finally.

“What is?” Laura asked.

“Drake Shaw: former leader of the Mercenaries Guild based in Noslun.”

“Former?” I ask.

“Mercenaries Guild is gone, now.” Kennedy said. “They’ve just… disappeared. Around the same time this Shaw stepped down.”

“Why did he step down?” Scordato asked.

“He apparently was ‘made a very lucrative offer’.” Kennedy stated.

“The AEP.” Naoto said.

“Seems like it.” Scordato added.

“Have any leads on where he went?” Laura asked.

“I’m still tracing his sig-” He suddenly stopped. “It’s gone.”

“What?” Laura said.

“His signal disappeared.” He clarified. “Stop the truck.”

Laura hit the brakes, slowing down and pulling off to the side of the road, where we all got out. Kennedy quickly headed over to where he lost the signal and scanned around with his UIP, looking around for any traces of where Shaw went.

“Here.” He eventually stopped at one spot. “The signal dies here.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask. “People don’t just disappear.”

“But the trail goes cold here?” Jager asked. “So… he didn’t go to Harlon.”

“No, he did…” Kennedy said, going over readings on his UIP. “No doubt, he had to have gone there, it’s the only place he could’ve gone.”

“Then what?” I ask. “If he just vanished, where could he have gone?”

“He didn’t vanish.” Laura said, suddenly catching on to what Kennedy was saying. “He shifted.”

“Shifted?”

“Into Hellside Limbo.” Scordato said. “I can see the ripples where he left.”

“Yeah, so can I.” Laura said.

“What do you mean?”

“Use your Soul Vision.” Laura told me. “You do know how to use it, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I do…” I say, closing my eyes and activating Soul Vision, opening them again. I look to where the two were looking and, sure enough, I could see traces of energy floating in the air, small ripples, so tiny you could easily miss it… it was interfering with the natural flow of energy in the air… just subtly, but enough to see if you looked hard enough. I then looked over to Laura and Scordato, noticing the unique color of their auras. They were Hybrids.

“Hybrids, huh?” I ask.

“Yes.” Laura said as we all return our visions to normal. “I’m Demon, Ridley is Angel.”

“I see…”

“Unfortunately, Rena, Dimitri and Vincent cannot cross over to Hellside naturally like you all can.” Scordato said. “We’ll need to resume the search in Hellside without them for now.”

“So the three of us, then?” I ask.

“Correct.” Laura said. “We should move quickly, we barely managed to catch the trace here, so the trail is fading fast. We’ll need to keep going if we want to stay ahead of it.”

“Alright…” I say.

“Vincent, keep going to Harlon.” Laura said. “Keep looking around for anything AEP-related there.”

Kennedy simply nods then heads back over to the truck.

“Ridley, Yamato, let’s go.”

“Be careful, Yamato.” Naoto says.

I look over to her and nod with a smile, before we all make the shift to Hellside.

The landscape shifted, and I was once again brought to the red and ruined landscape of Hellside Limbo, joining me was Scordato and Laura, who phased in along with me.

“Agh…” Scordato said, placing his hands on his knees. “Dammit… I hate it here… everything just feels so… heavy.”

“Yeah… I guess Hellside would have that effect on an Angel Hybrid, huh?” I say.

“Yamato, you and I won’t have any problems, but Ridley won’t be at his peak performance here.” Laura told me. “He’ll still be able to provide sniper support should it come to that, but nothing more than that.”

“Sure.” I say.

“Egh… I’m alright, I’m alright…” Scordato straightens himself out and shudders a little. “Whoo… okay… let’s head out, we don’t want that trail disappearing on us.”

“Yamato, you should lead.” Laura told me.

“Heh?” I turn to her quizzically. “Why me?”

“We’re not as skilled close range as we are long.” She explained. “We’ll trail behind you, 15 meters. Also, Ridley’s Soul Vision is impaired in Hellside…”

I let my arms out to my side and shrug. “Sure…”

“Ridley and I will provide lookout for you.” She said further. “We’ll be heading into enemy territory, and they may have a defensive perimeter.”

“Wouldn’t be a good idea to just walk into it, then, would it?” I say.

“We’ll spot it long before they spot us.” Scordato assured with a smile. “Don’t worry. You just keep on that trail.”

“Hm… whatever you say.” I say, once again activating my Soul Vision, finding the trail to be much harder to pick up now that it blended into the natural Hellish anima around me… but even so, I could just barely make it out.

I head forward, Laura and Scordato following behind at a distance, their rifles drawn and their eyes peeled.

---

We had followed the trail for a good 10 or 15 minutes, and I could tell that we were closing in on where Shaw had gone… the anima trail was becoming stronger and fading slower, and we were nearing Harlon’s location in Hellside. I informed my party of this fact.

“The trail is slowing.” I say. “We’re getting close.”

“Eyes sharp, Ridley.” Laura said to her partner, shouldering her rifle to be ready to aim at a moment’s notice.

“Right.” Scordato responded and did the same, both of the snipers performing multiple 180 degree sweeps around us in the landscape, their eyes trained to identify any threat before we ended up in the line of fire.

I kept going, a bit slower than normal, keeping my own eyes out for any potential dangers, though the landscape around us was unremarkable in any way. There were no definitive landmarks or particularly interesting looking piles of rubble… nothing that would look like a base of operations or anything like that, though there were high spots at certain spots that could provide a sniper a decent position… no doubt the two snipers I had behind me were keeping a keen eye for those spots especially.

I didn’t catch the one lining up his sights on me… Laura did.

“Ridley, sniper, up, 1:12.”

“Dammit…” Scordato cursed, probably missing it due to his impeded abilities in Hellside, but nonetheless bringing his rifle up and aiming right at the spot she had designated, while I sidestepped and Laura quickly dodged to the right.

Ridley lined up his sights and fired his shot at the same time, nailing the guy that Laura had designated, while Laura, mid-slide, lined up a shot at another target to the left, taking her shot less than half a second after. I only had to dodge the one shot, which slammed into the ground a distance from me.

“Huh…” I say. “Two of them?”

“Of course, there were two.” Laura said. “No way they’d have one sniper on guard here… though they were expertly hidden…”

“Agh… dammit, I can’t see a thing!” Scordato said. “Man, this sucks.”

“Keep focused, Ridley.” Laura said. “We’re definitely in their territory now.”

“That shot wasn’t aimed at me.” I said, looking back to the bullet hole in the ground, seeing how it was positioned away from where I was.

“They were aiming for us.” Laura said. “They must’ve known that you’d have support, somehow…”

“Laura, we should trace a perimeter.” Scordato said.

“Right, I was thinking the same…” She said, before turning to me. “Yamato, Ridley and I are goung to separate for now. We’ll perform a full radial sweep of the area to locate any more hostiles and any places of activity.”

“What should I do?” I ask.

“Keep going. They won’t try to kill you outright… but you may still encounter some resistance, nonetheless. We’ll provide cover for you. Additionally, with those two preliminary snipers gone, they’ll most likely know something happened, so we’re working with a limited timeframe now.”

“Alright…” I nod, stretching myself out and cracking my knuckles. “Let’s do this thing.”

“We’ll keep radio contact.” Laura said. “Ridley, let’s go.”

Scordato nods as he breaks to the left, and Laura breaks to the right, leaving me alone to keep going right through the center… right into the heart of the enemy.

Not like I haven’t done that before…

I sigh and keep going, tracking the anima trail forward, stepping softly and keeping my eye out for anything that may want to shoot me, though it didn’t take long for me to hear Laura sound off on my comms.

“In position.” She said.

“I as well.” Scordato said shortly after. “Seeing multiple hostiles.”

“I see them, too… Yamato, can you see anything from down there?”

“Not right now.” I say.

“They have eyes on you, they could take the shot any time they wanted… why aren’t they…?”

“We can’t afford to snipe them from where we are.” Scordato said. “The noise from our guns will give us away.”

“Yamato, you’re going to have to take them yourself.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” I ask.

“We’ll guide you.” Laura said. “You have anything silent on you?”

I think for a moment then remember the wristbow I had acquired a while ago. I look down to my wrist and adjust it, extending the blade to test it out, making sure it was still in order.

“I do.”

“Alright. We’ll walk you through.” Laura said. You’ll need to be quick, quiet, and remain unseen. As you start taking them out, they may begin to suspect something is happening, so move as quick as you can, and make sure you don’t make too much noise or be spotted or else they’ll raise an alert for sure. We want to stay undetected for as long as possible, got it?”

“I got it.” I say.

Stealth wasn’t exactly one of my strongsuits… I could do it, sure, but I wasn’t as experienced in it as Octavia or even Blenheim was… I guess I’d have to wing it.

“Alright, let’s get started.” Laura said. “Scordato, keep scanning the area for any hostiles, mark them as you find them. I’ll guide Yamato along.”

“Roger.”

“First two target is up front to your right, past the debris. He’s coming towards you.” Laura instructed.

I look to my right and see the guy poke out from around the debris, though he didn’t see me as I quickly pinned myself to the right wall and snuck forward towards him, extending the blade of my wristbow and quickly grabbing the guy, slamming the blade into his neck and dragging him off out of the open.

“Good job.” Laura said. “Move into that ruined building, there’s another two inside, one is facing away from you.”

I peek around the corner of the doorway of the bombed out building, seeing two others inside talking to each other. I round the corner, keeping my body velcroed to the wall as I keep myself hidden, diving into the cover of a desk before the one facing me noticed me in between talking to his friend. I take a peek over and notice a set of stairs leading up and over to a collapsed second floor. I could easily get up and end up right on top of them. I decide to take that route, being quiet as I climb the stairs and crouched as I sneak right above them, I take aim with my wristbow at one, launching the blade right into the top of his head and descending on the second one immediately after, loading another bolt and stabbing it into his neck before he could push me off of him.

“Good work.” Laura said. “You may not be hopeless after all.”

“Ooh, take that with pride, Yamato.” Scordato said. “A compliment from Laura is rare.”

“Sure…” I say, looking down at my two victims, noticing their outfits and weaponry… I crouch down to get a good look at the one I jumped on from above and recognize the kind of combat gear they had, as well as the weapons.

“These are MTA troops.” I say.

“MTA, huh?” Scordato said. “They must be supplying the AEP with their manpower and weapons…”

“No wonder why they seem to have all the latest tech…” I say, picking up one of the laser rifles and looking it over. Damn, what a sexy gun. “It’d be easier if we could just kick the MTA out from under their feet.”

“It would, wouldn’t it?” Laura said. “But that’s not our objective at the moment. Besides, I doubt it would be easy with their close ties to the AEP… though this information will no doubt be valuable.”

“Mhm… where to next?”

“Out the back of the building, there’s another approaching you. Hide behind the doorway.”

I nod and put my back up to the doorway and look behind, noticing another soldier walking around on patrol. As he passes, I put my blade through his neck and drag him into the doorway, throwing him aside.

“There are three more in a group just past that rubble.” Laura advises. “Won’t be easy separating them… it would be better to move past them. Head left and stick to the building.”

I do so, rounding a corner of the building to the left and sneaking around a huge pile of debris, on the other side of which I could hear voices.

“Stop there!” I could hear Scordato say quickly, and I stop dead before heading out into the open.

“We have a sniper on overwatch.” He said. Laura, he’s to your 2 o’clock.”

“Ah… damn, I see him.” Laura said. “Yamato, you’re going to have to move very carefully, if that sniper gets eyes on you, he’ll raise an alert.”

“What do I do?” I ask.

“I’ll tell you when he’s looking away.” Scordato said. “When I give the word, follow Laura’s instructions.”

“Got it.” I say, nodding and preparing to move quickly.

“Yamato, you’ll need to cross open space and get to the other side of the path right ahead of you.” Laura said. “When Ridley gives the signal, head over to the cover forward and to your left, where the overhang is.

I see what she was talking about; a ruined overhang that looked like it was once a vehicle depot. There was even still a destroyed truck in it. I prepare myself to move, waiting for Scordato’s go ahead.

“Alright, go!” I hear Scordato command, and I quickly jump out and rush to the truck, taking cover behind it.

“Alright, you’re clear, he didn’t see you.” Scordato said.

“Yamato, there’s a patrol of four coming your way, hide in the truck, quick!”

I shuffle my feet a bit, before quickly moving to the back of the truck and diving in, hiding in the flatbed back covered by tarp as I hear voices and footsteps head my way. I keep my stomach on the bed of the truck, waiting for them to pass. I stayed as quiet as I possibly could as I could hear them right outside my hiding place. Eventually I can hear them move on, and Laura speaks into my comms.

“Alright, you’re safe, move out to the right and take cover behind the wall.”

I quickly jump out of the truck and move carefully to the right, seeing the bit of partially destroyed wall she was talking about and crouching behind it, noticing two soldiers together as I do.

“Alright, you see the two soldiers out in the open.” Laura said.

“Yeah.”

“Careful, Yamato.” Scordato says. “That sniper is still there and if you leave any bodies out in the open he’ll see them. You’ll have to take them out and quickly hide the bodies before he looks your way.”

“That’s gonna be tricky…” I say.

“I’ll tell you when he looks away.” Scordato says. “Take them out fast.”

I sigh and prepare myself to take them out. No doubt I’d have to move in a way that will get me noticed by the farther one, so I’d have to take out the first one closest and shoot a bolt into the next one. By my judgement it looked like I could stack both of them against pile of debris behind them and the sniper won’t see them… I’d have to move quick, though.

“Go for it.” Scordato said, and at that signal I launched myself over the wall, quickly running up and stabbing the first one in the back of the neck just as the other one noticed me. Before he could do anything, though, I quickly shoot a bolt that nails him in the shoulder… but not the neck like I had planned.

“Shit…” I curse, as the guy aims his rifle and fires a shot just as I rush in. The shot misses and I load another bolt and stab the guy in the neck proper, but that one shot wasn’t good. At all.

“Dammit…” Laura said. “Yamato, a few of them heard that shot, they’re coming over to investigate, get the first one into cover, quick.”

I do so, moving back to the first guy I killed and dragging into cover before the sniper gets eyes on me and the body, though I had to move fast to avoid the troops coming towards me.

“Got five of them, two coming from the left and three from the right.” Laura said.

“Dammit…” I say, taking the left as two are easier to take than three.

“They’re going to find the bodies, Laura.” Scordato said.

“I know that, we’ll have to go loud.” Laura said. “Yamato, take the two to the left, Ridley and I will provide sniper support, you just stay hidden in the fight, they may not know that you’re in the base if we can keep them distracted.”

“Got it…” I say, drawing my blade from my back and keeping my wristbow’s blade extended. As the two guys rounded the corner, guns drawn and aimed in front, I burst out and stab one in the neck with my wristbow, spinning around and tossing him aside, lashing out with Armature and cutting the other down before he knew what the fuck. At that, I hear the shots of two snipers fire out, and the cry of one of the guys to the right path going down.

“Sniper’s down.” Scordato said.

“I got one of the three to the right.” Laura responded. “Ridley, help me cover Yamato.”

“I got eyes.”

As the fight broke out and the base went on full alert, sniper shots sounding off at alarming frequency as bodies began to go down around me, my two allies keeping me covered, I switch to Soul Vision to locate the trail again, trying to find out where it went before my own cover was blown. I move out into the open, noticing three guys on their way down the center of the area. I quickly turn my sights to them, but they were all struck down by my two snipers before I could engage them. Perfect headshots… they meant business…

“Yamato, locate where Shaw went, now!” Laura shouted.

“Dammit, I gotta move!” Ridley said.

“Go, I’ll keep on Yamato, get repositioned quickly!”

“I’m going as fast as I can, here!”

“Yamato, hurry!”

Son of a bitch, this was hectic. I quickly scanned the area, relocating the trail and noticing it went around a corner into a ruined building on the far side of the area. I make my way over there, gunfire and sniper shots ringing all around, heading inside the building, and following the trail further downwards, heading underground and ending up in a large basement. That’s when the trail disappears again… it was gone… I couldn’t see it anywhere.

“Trail ends here.” I say.

“What do you- ah!” I hear Laura say, her comms going out.

“Laura?” I say. “Laura!”

“Ngh… I’m alright, I have to move.” She said.

“I’m in position again.” Scordato said, his own sniper shots soon after being heard. “What do you mean it’s gone?”

“It ends in this building.” I clarify. “I don’t see the trail leading anywhere anymore.”

“Did he go back to Eden?” Laura asked.

“Maybe? I-I don’t know!”

“Yamato, we need to get out of here!” Laura shouted. “Head into Eden where you are, we’ll catch up with you later!”

“You sure?” I ask, a little concerned.

“Hey, we’re Hotel November.” Scordato said, confidence in his voice. “We can- woah, shit! Heh… we can take care of ourselves. Go and find Shaw!”

I sigh and do so, preparing myself and making the shift back to Eden. I didn’t know where I was going to end up when I did, but it was probably better than the situation I was in now.

I had thought that… but it seems the AEP had other plans.

When I completed the shift, I found myself in the center of an open featureless room, a group of about 15 MTA soldiers in a circle around me, all their guns trained directly at me. They set this up from the beginning…

“Oh, wow, fuck me, then.” I say, looking around and estimating my odds.

Though, they didn’t fire at me, oddly enough… I look over to footsteps and I see a scientist looking guy in a white labcoat step up in between two soldiers, smiling at me.

“Hello, Yamato!” He said, cheerily. “Remember me?”

“Matter of fact, I don’t, asshole.” I say, staring the guy down.

“Ach, how rude!” He says, feigning heartbreak. “But… that’s alright. It seems that you’ve made quite a bit of progress in awakening your Void powers since we activated you! Definitely a far cry from what I saw come out of that portal all those months ago!”

Wait a minute… I knew that outrageously charismatic voice… that… it was.

“You’re the one who was there when I awakened these powers.” I said. “You activated that portal I was sucked into.”

“Ah, you remember!” He clapped. “Happy days! Oh, but I apologize, I never properly introduced myself! My name is Doctor Chance Cayden! I’m a scientist working with the AEP!”

“Yeah, I figured that, jackass.” I sneer. “The hell do you want?”

“Oh, me? Nah, it’s not what I want, it’s what my superiors want.” He said. “I’m not really in my right to tell you anything about our plans. But what we need is to capture you, so that’s what we’re doing.”

“Capture me, huh?” I say, drawing my pistols and pointing them both at him, to which the soldiers responded by preparing to fire, aiming down their sights right at me. “Where’s Shaw.”

“Oh, Mr. Shaw?” Cayden asked. “He’s somewhere… came through here, as you may have figured, since you’re here, though I’m not at liberty to say exactly where he is, either.”

God, this guy’s cheery demeanor really got on my nerves.

“How about we skip that, then?” I say. “I’ll just find him myself after I’ve fired a few bullets into that smug face of yours.”

“Now, now, Yamato.” Cayden said. “There’s no need for violence, here… though these nice men with guns will gladly resort to it…”

I look to my sides to the gunmen surrounding me… 15 to 1… I really didn’t know my odds against that…

“Come, now.” He said further. “Why don’t you make this easier on yourself. My superiors are eager to meet you!”

I bite my bottom lip, unsure of what to really do. I didn’t think I’d be able to take on all 15 of these guys at once, but I didn’t want them to get their hands on me, either… I wasn’t presented with very many choices, here… either try to fight them and get gunned down into submission, or just skip that and drop my weapons… before I could choose either option, though, the power suddenly went out, putting the room into complete darkness.

I instinctually moved, just as the lasers flew, missing the spot where I was and impacting onto the walls around, though the MTA guys here had the smarts to position themselves so even if their shots missed they wouldn’t hit any of their friends.

“Ooh!” I heard Cayden say. “Who turned out the lights?”

“Nightvision isn’t working.” I hear a soldier say.

“Mine isn’t either.” Another says.

“Dammit, find the target!” A third commanded.

Though before anyone could enact that order, I began to hear thuds and sometimes a gurgle or two around the room, along with small cracks I couldn’t identify. Within seconds, though, the sounds stopped just as I hear Cayden suddenly yelp out and hit the floor, struggling against something.

“Hostiles eliminated and target captured.” I hear a cold and emotionless voice say, before the lights came back on. My eyes readjust and I see Kennedy in the center of the room near me, a silenced pistol in his hand and a Boltac Wristbow, just like the one I had, blade extended. I notice Naoto over on the other side of the room, holding Cayden down on the ground, his arms behind his back.

“Yamato!” Naoto said. “Are you alright?”

“Uh…” I say, astounded by Kennedy’s quick work of the entire room. “Yeah… I’m okay…”

“Good thing we found this place when we did, eh, comrade?” I hear Jager say as he entered the room. “Vincent seems to have perfect timing with these things.”

“Vincent found this place after hacking his way into the city’s systems.” Naoto explained as she put cuffs on Cayden, making sure he stayed down even as he struggled. “We decided to make our way down here…”

“Did you know I was here?” I ask.

“Not at all, actually.” Jager said, patting me on the back a bit roughly. “Vincent had just found this place and we were making our way down here to investigate, so we were all surprised when Vincent saw you suddenly appear on the security monitors he’d hacked into.”

“That’s when we headed over here and he cut the power…” Naoto said. “We were lucky we were already in the facility when you ended up here, and Vincent’s quick thinking and smart tactics saved you.”

“God damn…” I say, looking over to Kennedy as he retracted his wrist blade, but kept his handgun drawn, looking at his UIP. “Thanks for that.”

He didn’t respond to that, not even with a nod, as he headed over to Cayden, Naoto stepping off him as Kennedy dragged him up and pinned him to the wall.

“Shaw.” He said plainly. “Where is he?”

“Heh…” Cayden smiled, a little nervously. “I don’t really know, honestly.”

In response, Vincent aimed down and shot him in the kneecap, causing Cayden to cry out in pain as he crumpled to the floor, lying down, unable to hold onto his bloody knee as his hands were tied behind his back. Judging from the damage, Kennedy’s silenced pistol was a .45 instead of the 9mm I thought it was… ouch.

“Um…” Naoto said, looking towards Cayden writhing on the ground in pain. “What do we do with him?”

Kennedy didn’t respond to her, instead tapping into his UIP and opening his comms. “Laura, are you there?”

“We’re here, Vincent.” I hear her respond. “Go ahead.”

“They’re okay?” I ask.

“We have an AEP scientist here in custody.” He said, ignoring me. “Advised we take him in for questioning.”

“Understood.” She said. “We’re on our way.”

Kennedy then closed his comms and started fiddling with other things on his UIP.

“What happened in Hellside, tovarich?” Jager asked, coming over to me. “Seems like it was rough.”

“Well… we found an encampment where the trail was leading.” I explained. “I tried to work my way through stealthily, but my cover got blown… Laura and Scordato covered me while I went and followed the trail further. It ended in some kind of basement in a ruined building and I shifted back and ended up in this room. I was worried Laura and Scordato wouldn’t make it…”

“Ah, you shouldn’t worry!” Jager smiled. “Laura’s as tough as a Russian bear! And like a Russian bear, you don’t want to be left alone in the same room as her for too long.”

It was then that Jager received a hard slap in the back of the head as Laura passed by him, startling me a little and making Jager tilt a bit forward as he froze in place at the slap, catching himself before he fell over completely and laughing as Scordato followed shortly after.

“Hey, Yamato!” He said, waving to me.

“Hey, how’d you get out?” I ask him. “And… how’d you get here so quickly?”

“Yeah, we managed to get away.” Scordato explained. “Almost got my ass shot off…”

“Alright, we’ll call to have him extracted.” Laura said, inspecting Cayden as Kennedy stood by her. “Good work here, Vincent.”

“Yamato.” Naoto says, walking up to me. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay, Naoto.” I say a second time. “Close call, but I’m alright.”

“Okay…” She said, sighing lightly. “I’m glad you’re alright.”

“Yeah…” I say, scratching my head.

“Jenson, this is Laura.” I hear Laura say into her comms. “Send an extraction squad to my coordinates. We have someone to be taken into custody, here.”

“Roger that.” I hear the voice of Jenson respond. “We’re on our way.”

“Alright…” Laura said. “We should wait here for the time being until the extraction team arrives to take this guy. We can handle questioning and we’ll let the military know we have him.”

“Great.” I say. “Maybe he’ll have some answers for once.”

Kennedy walked over to one of the guards he had taken out and inspected the body, noting the gear and equipment he had.

“Type N7 Special Operations Body Armor. Weapons are LB-171 Laser Rifle, sidearm of an M-11-G Spec-op, .45 caliber. UIPs are military grade. All MTA tech.”

“We noticed that in Hellside.” Laura said, stepping up to him. “Seems the MTA are directly supplying the AEP with their armed forces.”

“On top of that, they’re top of the line.” Scordato noted. “This kind of tech isn’t even available to our military, yet.”

“This tech is designed for the private sector.” Naoto contributed. “People with the money to pay up so they can have their own private army.”

“How much money you think trade hands with these sukas?” Jager questioned.

“Probably a lot.” I wagered, picking up one of their rifles and aiming down the sights. These things really were beyond space-age… they were lightweight, small, ergonomic… so beautiful.

“What’s the feasibility of striking the MTA?” I ask.

“Honestly, not likely.” Laura told me. “As I mentioned before, they’re dangerous since they’re working directly with the AEP, and they have installations all over the world. It would only be in our jurisdiction to strike at targets within Renskr, but any other country would need to have their own forces deal with them.”

“How is that different from the AEP?” I ask.

“They’re after you. They won’t be too far away.”

“Hm…”

It wasn’t long after that Laura’s team came in, a four man armed squad entered the room and retrieved Cayden, having to drag him out due to his blown-out knee, though they took the time to at least bandage it so he wouldn’t bleed out all over the floor.

“Alright, that’s taken care of…” Laura said, adjusting her coat and looking towards the end of the room, where there was an elevator. “I’m guessing our man went down there.”

“Or up.” Scordato said.

“It’s down.” I say. “It’s always down.”

“But what if it wasn’t?” Scordato pointed a finger out. “Oh, man, I don’t want to live in that ass-backwards world. Nothing would make sense anymore!”

“Heh… well, what’re we waiting for?” Jager said, making a confident stride towards the door.

“It would be best if we had a plan here, Jager.” Laura said, causing Jager to stop and spin on his heel.

“Oh, of course.” He smiled, unabated by his lack of direction. “By all means.”

“Vincent.” She gestured to the geek. “What’re we looking at?”

“Not much, actually.” Vincent said, looking at his UIP, no doubt working his way through every system around here.

“Maybe they didn’t expect us to get this far?” Jager suggested.

“You think an organization like this would have contingencies…” Naoto said.

“They might.” Laura said, putting a hand on her chin. “From what I’ve experienced, they always do, somewhere along the line…”

“Do you see Shaw anywhere?” I ask Kennedy as he shuffled through more and more data.

“I don’t.” He said. “Though there are systems below us that may be valuable.”

“More AEP goodies?” Scordato asked.

“Or maybe where Shaw is.” I add.

“Any number of things.” Laura said. “Either way, let’s head down. Keep your guard up.”

I nod as we all head over to the elevator, pressing the button and shuffling into the elevator once the doors opened. There was only an up and down button on the panel; looked to only connect two floors. I hit down and the elevator doors closed, and the descent began. I was actually surprised at how long we were in the elevator for… a solid 30 seconds before it stopped. We must be down really far below. The elevator doors opened and I’m greeted to a familiar room. Once again, a Void portal room; circular and with that multi-ringed device in the middle… though completely void of any people. Certain things were cobbled around the room, as well… documents and pens and other such things.

“Didn’t expect us to get this far, huh?” I say, looking around. “Seems like they all left in a hurry.”

“Vincent?” Laura said, though it was hardly necessary, since Kennedy was already booting up systems to hack into the instant we left the elevator. What a weirdo.

I step up to the ringed device, sighing lightly at the sight of it… just how many of these things did they have…? What were they doing with them? None of this made any sense… just what the hell were they planning? It had to be in that document Octavia found… the one she kept from me. It had to have something to do with me, there’s no doubt about that. She wouldn’t have kept it a secret from me if it didn’t… I had a right to know, dammit. I’d need to get my hands on it somehow… I didn’t like being kept in the dark about this. Not at all.

“Yamato?” I hear Naoto say as she came up to my side while I was lost in thought.

I look over to her and sigh lightly, rubbing the back of my neck.

“All of this worries me.” I say. “I don’t know what to do.”

“I don’t think any of us really do…” Naoto admitted. “But… I mean, we’re doing what we can.”

“I guess… but is that enough? No matter what we do they’re always one step ahead, and we still don’t know what they’re planning.”

“I’m sure we’ll figure it out.” She assured me.

“Vincent.” Laura said, going over to her team mate. “Got anything?”

“They cleaned everything out.” He said in his usual monotone voice. “They were expecting us here…”

“They most likely weren’t expecting Yamato, though.” Laura said. “Maybe us, but not him. They had sprung their trap and it failed.”

“Yeah?” I say. “Then where’s Shaw?”

“This room is a dead end, there’s nowhere else he could’ve gone.” Scordato stated as he milled around the room, looking at all the bells and whistles.

“No, it’s not a dead end.” I say, coming to a realization.

“What do you mean?” Laura asked.

“He went through this.” I explain, pointing to the device. “He went through the portal.”

“Portal?” Scordato said. “What are you talking about?”

“This thing here, it’s a portal that crosses over to Void.” I elaborate, flipping on the main console and going over the displays. “The AEP have things like this all over, even on the Crucible… if we can get this thing going, I could follow him in.”

“Into Void?” Naoto asked. “Are you sure?”

“I’m… egh…” I scratch my head, becoming confused by how this thing worked… I didn’t know how to turn it on. “Hey, egghead, turn this thing on, will you?”

Kennedy scoffed at the remark, but nonetheless came over and logged into the console.

“He went into Void?” Laura said. “You sure?”

“There’s nowhere else he could’ve gone.” I say. “This is a complete dead end, save for this. It’s the only place he could’ve escaped to.”

“Could he even survive in Void?” Scordato asked.

“Hell if I know, but I doubt they would’ve thrown him in there if they didn’t think he was going to make it back out. I myself aren’t really experienced in opening up my own way into Void, so this thing should do it for me…”

“You think you’ll end up in the same place as he did?” Jager questioned, crossing his arms.

“Only one way to find out.” I shrug. “I should be okay. I’ve been in there before.”

“Done.” Kennedy said as he pressed one final button on the console, activating the device in just a few seconds after. The rings began to revolve, spinning quicker and quicker until a small black hole began to appear in the center of them.

“Might want to hold onto something.” I advise everyone as I back up to something I could hold onto, just as the thing began to pull everything in towards it. Everyone else backed up as well, hiding behind the consoles that were bolted down onto the floor, as everything else scattered around was swept up and sucked into the expanding hole in the center of the room. Soon, though, the rings stopped revolving, lining up with themselves as a large open hole appeared in the center of them. The thing wobbled and expanded and contracted as it continued exerting its suction force on everything.

“That thing looks really dangerous!” Scordato yelled over the noise.

“Yep!” I yell back. “When I get out, I’ll ping you all so you know where I am!”

“Are you sure about this?!” Naoto asked.

“Not really!” I say, before vaulting over the cover and flying tumbling in the air towards the portal, letting out a small wavering yelp while immediately being sucked inside and being greeted by complete darkness.

---

I find myself waking up on cold ground. It felt like glass. I groan lightly and get myself up to my feet, looking around. It looked the same as it always did… just… black. Black everywhere. I rub the back of my neck.

“Still not used to that…” I sigh.

Though it did occur to me that I didn’t feel as… well… I don’t know how to put it. I felt more “attuned” to this place, I guess. Every time I went into Void, I seemed to become more and more adapted to it. I didn’t feel entirely lost this time… though it also occurred to me that I had no idea of how to track Shaw now that I’m in here.

“Agh… dammit…” I say. “Thinking things through… not one of my strongsuits.”

I shrug and figure that if this is where Shaw came in from, I may be able to just go forward and somehow end up where he left. Seemed a good a plan as any. So I began walking, more confidently than before. I wasn’t entirely afraid of this world anymore. I still didn’t completely get it… but I understood how significant I was with this. I was a Void Avatar. I didn’t have anything to be afraid of here. That’s a luxury Shaw didn’t have. It made me wonder if he even made it through here… I mean, I didn’t know how lethal this place would be for someone who isn’t like me, but… I’ve seen what it could do with Samael. And he wasn’t me. And I’ve heard the story about the Void Avatar before me… how Creation itself was almost completely destroyed… did I really have that kind of power? Did I really have the potential to cause something like that? Right now it didn’t feel like I had the means to do so, even if I did want to.

I find my thoughts further wandering about myself as I walk aimlessly, though a voice brings me out of my contemplation.

“Young Voidborne.” I hear the voice of Erebus echo around me again. “It has been some time.”

“Yeah… you speak as if we’re old friends.” I say.

“We are not entirely enemies, would you not say?” He said. “It seems you’ve made your own way into Void this time… though with some assistance.”

“Yeah, well… I still can’t enter it on my own, really.” I say. “I did it the one time with Samael… but even then, I don’t know how I did it.”

“Samael surely sowed the seeds of his own defeat.” Erebus commented. “The potential he instilled in you shone that day… and so soon after receiving it. You are still growing now, at a surprising rate.”

“Hrm…”

“Do not take your powers lightly, Young Voidborne… the power that allowed you to defeat a Colossus is not to be trifled with, even by you.”

“Well… I still don’t know how to control it.” I tell him.

“You will in time.” Erebus said. “You are already accustomed to Void itself. Even the first Void Avatar took years to hone his abilities.”

“I don’t think I have years to spare.”

“With how you are currently progressing, it won’t take years.” Erebus chuckled. He seemed to be enjoying himself, oddly enough… the thought occurred to me that I had begun to see him as… someone. Not just a thing residing in Void, but a being in and of himself. It… was a strange feeling, to say the least.

“Look, I’m trying to find someone.” I say.

“Is that so?” Erebus said. “Well. For someone like you, that should not be difficult in the slightest.”

“How do you figure?”

“Void is everywhere, Young Voidborne. It surrounds and resides in all things, living or no. You can feel it, can you not?”

“I… can feel it…?”

Now that he mentioned it… I sort of did. It was the same feeling that I get when I’m actually in Void, only… fainter. Much, much fainter, but it was still detectable. It was always all around me. Always.

“The one you are looking for cannot escape Void.” Erebus explained. “No one and nothing can. All you need to do is open your eyes…”

“Open my eyes?”

“Concentrate.” Erebus told me. “Feel Void. Tap into it. Feel Creation itself ripple around you. The one you seek is within your sight. Everything is.”

“Alright…”

I close my eyes, ironically, and concentrate, taking in a deep breath and releasing it slowly. I felt the Void around me… let it flow through me… sure enough, when I let go, I could feel everything. It was… as if I was a spider, and I was closely monitoring my web through feel alone.

“Yes, just like that.” Erebus said. “Now… reach out to the one you seek. He is there… all you must do is find him.”

I concentrate, trying to focus in on Shaw. My sense extended far… it was a little intimidating, having this kind of sight, and the feeling almost broke my concentration, but I kept my composure, and searched… I found him. There… the fly in my web. He was outside Void. I knew exactly where he was.

“Got him.” I say, opening my eyes.

“Well done.” Erebus said. “Now… be there. Be where he is. See him in your mind, and appear.”

“That’s gonna be hard…” I shrug and close my eyes again, locking on to his location and trying to be there… I feel the Void there… that presence that exists everywhere… it was a place I could be. I could move there on a whim. Wherever Void was, so too could I. And then, in that instant, I left Void… I disappeared from that world, and close in on Shaw.

Chapter 27


April 12th

Coming out of Void, I was greeted once again by cold… not, like, the Void kind of cold, as in the lack of temperature, I mean cold. Like, REALLY cold. I awake to find myself surrounded by white. Just… white everywhere. I also realized I was encased in something. I try to move my limbs, feeling the substance I’m in give a little bit. The substance was wet and cold and frosty… oh, it’s snow, I’m in snow.

I collect myself and try to get myself free, moving my arms and legs around and twisting my body to loosen the snow around me. It was a bit disorienting, and I couldn’t differentiate up and down by sight or anything, so I just had to go by which way I felt gravity acting on me. At least I wasn’t in water, that would be really bad.

I dig upwards, breaking the surface of the snow with a bit of digging. I shake my head to get the snow out of my hair, but it didn’t matter much since it was immediately replaced by the snow falling from the sky. It seems I was stuck in a blizzard.

Just where the hell did I end up?

I pop my arms out of the snow and check my UIP’s map. It didn’t know my exact position, obviously, but it did tell me I was in Althern.

Althern? For real? I don’t have the hang of this whole thing quite yet, it seems…

I check the time on my UIP as well… it was April 12th. I’d been here for two days. Christ…

I dig my whole body out of the snow. The cold was freezing, but not unbearable for me… I hated the cold, but I guess being a Nephilim gave me a certain resistance to it… thank God. If I wasn’t, I’d be dead by now, most likely. I check my messages, and many came up, from Naoto, mostly, and several from Octavia. Probably both worried sick of where I am. At the very bottom of the list, one was from Laura. I decide to open that one up.

Haseo,

Your girlfriends are worried sick about you, but Octavia has told me you’re still breathing in the real world, so I’m assuming you’re fine, wherever you are. I’ve had Vincent try to get a bead on your location, but you must be somewhere very, very, remote, as even he can’t find you, which is a first for me.

If you get this, I’ve disclosed the locations of multiple places you can go to in order to get back into contact with us. They’re old accomplices of mine and my team, and I’ve notified them all that you may come in. They’re all around the world, so no matter where you are, you should be able to find one. Just tell them that Laura sent you.

Hope to hear from you soon,

Captain Schwarzerfeld

Aww, she did care.

So… I guess the first order of business was to get out of this remote area so that my UIP will be able to tell where I am, then I can go to one of these accomplices Laura mentioned. But… walking in a random direction probably wouldn’t get me anywhere… and it’s not like I can fly. Can I…? I mean, I’ve done it in Heaven and Hell, but that’s where Anima is abundant, and I can pretty much just sail on it… it didn’t occur to me to try it on Eden. Maybe it just took a bit more energy to pull off, but… I could do it, maybe. Might as well try.

I focus myself and try it out, the same way I did in Heaven and Hell, only I put a bit more oomph into it this time. Surprisingly, I actually lift off the ground, though I wasn’t expecting to so soon, so I end up losing my balance and falling backwards, stuffing myself back into the snow, just my legs poking out, flailing around.

I manage to get myself out of that predicament and try again, this time ending up flying up, though a little uneasily. It was a bit tougher here, since I can’t just float in the Anima like in the Angel’s or Demon’s domains. The air here was heavier, and it put up much more resistance, not wanting me to leave the ground so easily. But the same principles applied; soon enough I was able to get off the ground and stay off it. Black energy swirled around my arms and legs, providing a sort of platform for me to sail on as I went up. The snow was still beating on me, and I don’t think I could go high enough to get over the clouds so I wouldn’t have to deal with it; it would probably be even colder that high up anyway. I decide, though, that any place would be better than here, so I start heading in a random direction, pushing forward and sailing on Void. It was kind of fun, actually… different than the way I’d do it in Heaven or Hell. In those places, I basically floated, but here, I’d sort of “skate” on Void I condense underneath me, and I came up with a method of sort of zigzagging to build up speed, not only allowing for surprisingly precise control, but allowing me to stop and turn on a dime. It also created a pretty cool-looking black streak across the sky wherever I went.

I could get used to this.

In any case, I move through the sky quickly. I’d have to periodically check my UIP for when it gets GPS back, but at the rate I was going, it shouldn’t take too terribly long.

---

It didn’t take long after heading in a random direction to get my GPS back, and from there I locked in on the coordinates that Laura had sent me to the nearest one of her “associates” in Althern. It was still in the snow, but at least the blizzard had moved elsewhere by the time I got there.

I touched down a bit outside town so as not to freak anyone out and headed through, looking around. It seemed to be a small, snowy little town; nothing terribly special about it one way or another. There were a few people around, looking busy with their own business, all of them in winter gear, which made me stand out a bit, since I wasn’t equipped for this cold, but nobody asked any questions, and I didn’t stick around in one place long enough for them to come up with any for me.

The place Laura had sent was a tavern called the “Polar Nights”, and soon enough, I found it. It was a small, two-story place, all wood construction, which made it appear old fashioned and homey. I stepped inside, and the inside looked exactly the same, only without snow everywhere. Where was a fireplace that was lit up on the other side of the large dining area, which warmed up the whole place. There were a few patrons eating and drinking here, but not that many. It seemed quiet, and I couldn’t tell if it was unusual, or if it was always like this with how small this town was.

In any case, I stepped up to the counter and the bartender there addressed me.

“What can I get you?” He said.

“Um…” I say, a little quietly. “Laura sent me.”

“Oh… so you were here, then.” The man said. “Yeah, she gave all of us a quick brief on the situation. I’ll let her know you’re here.”

“Alright.”

In a little bit later, the guy had called up Laura and told her and company where I had ended up. They would all head to Althern to meet up with me and resume the search. Seeing as I ended up in Althern coming out of Void after Shaw, no doubt that Shaw was here somewhere.

I had to wait a bit… a few hours. But eventually, Laura and the rest came filing in. I had just been sitting buying drinks from the bartender. Nothing alcoholic, of course. Had a good meal, too. Never had venison before, but it wasn’t bad.

“Oh, there you are.” I say. “Took you long enough.”

“It’s been two days for us.” Laura said. “But at least you’re alive.”

Tovarich!” Jager cheered, stepping out from behind Laura and his old team. “Good to see you!”

Naoto, by far, looked the most relieved to see me. She rushed over to me and hugged me. Like, actually hugged me. It was really weird. She apparently thought the same, because she quickly backed up once she realized what she was doing and cleared her throat.

“Um… err…” She ummed and erred. “I, ah… I’m glad to see you’re okay.”

“Ah… right, yeah…” I say, feeling a bit embarrassed about the whole thing.

“So, Shaw ended up in Althern, huh?” Laura asked, breaking up the awkward moment. “You ended up pretty far from your mark, but in the same country, at least.”

“Well, I’m not quite used to this whole… Void teleporting thing, or whatever.” I say. “Better than you could’ve done at the time.”

“Anyway.” Laura said, a bit sharply. Seems she didn’t like her and her team getting railed, or worse, bested. “I can call up some old friends we’ve made with the Althern military and see about getting a sweep of the region. If there are any anomalies where Shaw could’ve exited Void, we should be able to find it.”

“Think it’s still around after two days?” I ask.

“If it’s not, we’ve lost him until he shows up again.” Laura said. “So you better hope stuff like that stays awhile.”

“Yeah, I guess.” I say, noticing Jager ordering drinks from the bartender behind me, but not saying anything about it.

“You’ll be the best chance we got on that front.” Laura told me. “You’re the most in-tuned with Void, after all.”

“Well where would we even start?”

“Well, when Shaw came out of that portal, sensors in Althern actually picked up the disturbance.” Laura explained. “I’d arranged for some teams to investigate the area where the other portal could be when we saw the disturbance. They managed to find the place where he ended up but by that time it had been abandoned, though they’ve been working to track where he went from there.”

“Friends in high places, huh?” I say “You didn’t catch me the same way?”

“Well the methods were different.” She told me, as I noticed Jager ordering a drink at the bar. “We were able to pick up the disturbance from Shaw because of the massive energy those portals must require to operate. You, on the other hand, don’t require nearly as much to get the same result, so you were completely invisible.”

“Huh… good to know.”

Maybe if I got better at this thing I could just appear wherever I wanted without anyone even knowing… I could think of several ways that could be useful

“Jager!” Laura shouted towards Jager, just as he was about to take a drink, causing him to immediately slam the glass down onto the table and sit up perfectly straight.

“Y-yes ma’am!”

“Put the booze down, we’re on mission.” She said.

“O-oh… of course…” Disheartened, Jager pushed the alcohol aside and slouched a bit in his booth.

Wow. Literally nothing could keep Jager from his drink, and Laura did it on command. That was scary… I guess Jager’s time under her command really did have an effect on him.

“We should head out as soon as possible.” Kennedy said, busy on his UIP. “We don’t want Shaw getting away.”

“Agreed.” Scordato nodded. “This guy’s been a pain in the ass so far…”

“Yamato, I’ll brief you on the way.” Laura said. “We’ll be joining the current investigation team and taking over from there with the information they’ve been able to collect.”

“Alright.” I nod. “Sounds good.”

“Jager, we’re moving out.” Laura said.

Da, I know…” Jager sighed, slowly slinking off his booth, deprived of his alcohol fix. Poor guy.

With that, we left the building, heading to an arctic APC that was parked in front of the place. Laura’s team and Jager stepped in first, Naoto and I trailing behind.

“Damn, I hope we catch him soon.” I said as I entered the APC. “I got a bad feeling about all of this.”

“I’m sure we will.” Naoto assured me. “It’ll all be over soon.”

Scordato went to the driver’s seat and started up the APC, and with that, we were rolling out of the town.

---

Laura briefed me on the way to wherever we were going. She had arranged for an investigation team to follow the lead on Shaw’s location while I was MIA, and in that time they had found another AEP facility, but by the time they got there, it was abandoned and all data was taken with them, as well as the portal being sabotaged. The teams were now working on tracking down where Shaw and his company went, and were apparently hot on their heels, by the way Laura put it. It seems that the AEP weren’t expecting us to react so quickly. It was just a shame that I missed the mark on them, since I would’ve been able to keep them from leaving even there. I didn’t really help much in my venture into Void… I guess there’s always next time.

Also, Laura had taken the liberty of getting me a new set of clothes, geared for the arctic environments we’d be working in around here; a black military winter coat with a fur collar and gloves, as well as boots for traversing snow and protective pants.

It was actually quite snuggly.

Everyone else had also geared up for the cold weather, and before long we had reached our destination; a military outpost in the middle of fucking nowhere.

“Alright, we’re here.” Scordato said from the driver’s seat.

“Let’s go.” Laura said, the back hatch of the APC opening up and letting us all file out. We were expected, and were greeted by what looked like the base commander.

“Captain Schwarzerfeld.” He said. “Good to see you again.”

“Hello, Dresdin.” She nodded. “Where are we at?”

“We’ve been tracking Shaw for the last few days, as you know.” He said, walking towards the base as we all followed. “Weather has made it a bit difficult, but our scouting teams are experienced in this kind of climate, whereas the people we’re tracking certainly are not.”

“How can you tell?” Scordato asked.

“Attempts to cover their tracks have clearly been made, but it’s amateur work.” Dresdin said. “They’re mainly relying on the snow to keep up pace against us. Snowy terrain is usually difficult to track someone through, but there are a few telltale signs that we can pick up on.”

“It takes a while for new snow to actually cover up tracks well enough to completely hide them.” Kennedy said. “Additionally, snow that’s been pressed down takes even longer to disperse.”

“That’s correct.” Dresdin said. “Good to see you still know your stuff, Vincent.”

“If an attempt was made to cover up the tracks, it should be a dead giveaway.” He further added. “In the rush they were in, they most likely couldn’t afford to do a very good job, even if they knew how to.”

“Exactly. Now, what we do know for sure, is what direction they’re heading in, and the fact that they’re travelling by three vehicles, most likely larger snow runners, which makes them even easier to spot. One of them is trailing behind the other two, most likely with a plow or something to try to cover up the tracks from the first two to try to make it more difficult for us.”

“That won’t do much good against people trained in this environment.” Kennedy said.

“Which is why we’ve been keeping on them.” Dresdin nodded. “Now, weather, as I said, isn’t being that cooperative, so putting up drones in their path to actually get a visual on them is a no-go for most areas since we can’t risk having them fly in those conditions, and drones we do have up have been having trouble getting any visuals through the snow clouds.”

“Do we know where they’re headed?” Scordato asked.

“There’s a mountain range in their direction.” Dresdin replied. “We’ve already got a drone around that area, and we’ve dispatched a few teams to investigate, though the conditions around the mountains this time of year is exceptionally difficult and dangerous.”

“Think they have a facility there?” I ask.

“With these guys, I wouldn’t doubt it.” He said. “They’ve been popping up everywhere.”

“But the mountains are definitely where they’re headed?” Laura asked as we crossed the outpost’s courtyard and headed into the main building of probably four.

“Only place they could be headed.” The commander said. “They’ve boxed themselves in with this one. No way they’re getting out of this.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Kennedy remarked. “This group has been very resourceful so far and have always managed to keep at least three steps ahead of us. They must have some kind of contingency plan for this.”

“What are you thinking?” Dresdin asked.

“Are there any secluded routes through the mountains?” Laura asked. “Secret paths? Anything like that?”

“None that we know of.” He said. “There’s only one main route leading through into the mountains, with a valley through the whole range, which we’ve got on lockdown.”

“There are others, though?” Laura said.

“Only the suicidal ones.”

“Keep an eye on those as well.” Laura told him. “We can’t take any chances on this.”

“I can handle the drones.” Kennedy said. “I’ll be able to perform full sweeps at all times.”

“You got it.” Dresdin nodded. “We can get you set up in the main control room.”

“Alright.” Laura said. “Vincent will cover us with the drones overhead. Jager will take up sniper positions with Ridley along the ridge leading into the mountains. Yamato and Rena, you should provide backup for the main task force that will roll in when we’ve got them. I’ll be commanding from here.”

“Got it.” I nod.

“Alright.” Naoto says.

“Hey, you and me again, Jager.” Scordato said. “Hope you haven’t gotten rusty.”

“Hah! Not a chance!” Jager laughed. “But if you’d like to place bets, I’m free.”

“Heh, no thanks. I learned my lesson last time.”

The two shared laugh, assuredly recalling some memorable story from when they were a team.

“Alright, let’s get set up.” Laura said.

---

It took us a good hour to get completely set up in positions on the mountain. Naoto and I were stationed on a lower ridge, out of sight of the mouth of the valley, while Jager and Scordato were positioned on a ridge on the other side of the entrance into the valley and above us, along with other snipers, keeping an eye out for any contacts. We all had a direct comms to Kennedy and Laura back at the outpost, who were both keeping us posted on the surrounding area.

The plan was to have the main tracking force lead Shaw and his crew towards the valley, and when they’re there, our taskforce would sweep in and nail them. We had charges set to blow on either side of the valley entrance that would close off the valley and force the vehicles to stop, allowing us to go in and apprehend them. Simple enough plan… but I still had a bad feeling. Despite this, I held Vigilance firm in my hands, ready to head down the mountain path at a moment’s notice with the rest of my company.

“What’s the word?” I ask in my headset to Kennedy and Laura.

“Still monitoring.” Laura responded. “Though they should be here soon. Jager, have you got anything?”

“Not yet.” Jager said. “But we’re keeping our eyes out.”

“Wait, I got something.” Scordato quickly said. “Three vehicles coming up from the southeast.”

“I just got visual through the clouds.” Kennedy said. “Three vehicles coming towards you.”

“Blow the charges.” Laura said.

With that, explosions were heard, and a mass of rock and snow and ice came tumbling down either side of the valley wall, crashing into the ground and blocking the entrance, the vehicles coming to a stop and signaling our task force to move down. The vehicles tried to turn around, but the tracking team that was chasing them were right on top of them, boxing them in with their snow runners, the soldiers dismounting them and drawing their weapons. My company arrived down at the ground to join them just moments later. I had my rifle aimed at the trucks, while the snipers up on the ridge kept a close eye on all of us.

“Vehicles stopped and surrounded.” Laura said. “All teams move in.”

The troops, including myself and Naoto, slowly moved in on the transports, which were oddly silent. Their engines were still running, however, nobody was leaving the vehicles. Oh, man, did I have a bad feeling about this…

“You are completely surrounded!” A commander shouted to the vehicles. “Step out of the vehicles with your hands up!”

“Something doesn’t feel right…” I say to Naoto, who was right by my side.

“I know…” She said, keeping her own rifle drawn and steady.

“I repeat! Step out of the vehicles with your hands up!”

Still no response, and the feeling that something was really wrong only got worse with each passing second. Then, just as the forward teams reached the vehicles, everything did go wrong. All three vehicles immediately exploded violently. I was thrown back a bit as shrapnel headed for me. It didn’t take any action from myself for a black shield of Void to form ahead of me and block all the shrapnel and the shockwave effortlessly, protecting both myself and Naoto, who was close enough by. Others weren’t so lucky… when the dust cleared, everyone around the vehicles got completely torn apart, and the vehicles themselves were little more than hunks of scrap metal.

“Shit! What the hell happened?!” I heard Laura say in my comms.

I shake my head, looking at my hand, the Void around it fading away. Seems like it just… acted on its own… it wouldn’t be the first time, but it was a bit unsettling knowing how this incredible power I used could also act on its own accord. However, I shook the thought out of me, going back to the more pressing matter and answering Laura.

“They were rigged to blow.” I say. “Dammit… there was nobody in the vehicles, they were just filled with explosives!”

“What?! How?”

“I don’t know… shit, Naoto, are you okay?”

“I’m okay, yeah…” Naoto said, a little shaken up. “What happened? Where are they?”

“Nowhere here… dammit… I knew something was wrong.”

“This is Delta Team!” I hear in my comms. “Do you copy?!”

“Delta Team, report.” Laura said.

“We got hostiles on the westward mountain pass!” The man says amid gunfire and explosions. “They came out of nowhere! We need hel-”

The transmission went to static after that.

“Dammit!” Laura said. “Yamato! Rena! Get over to the westward pass, you aren’t far! Take a squad with you!”

“On it.” I say, motioning for 6 men to come with me. “Let’s go!”

I quickly head to the snow runners, which were still intact, and jump on one, starting it up and gunning it towards the westward path, which wasn’t far away. We’d be able to get there in 5 to 10 minutes at most if we hurried, though the path was a little treacherous. Naoto and my squad following, we made our way there as fast as we could.

With the speed of the snow runners, we managed to reach the path in short order, and then started to make our way up, not long after finding the remains of Delta Team. There wasn’t much to see, though… they were all gone. Every one of them.

“Shit…” One of my squadmates says, inspecting the bodies. “Poor bastards never stood a chance.”

“Secure this position.” I tell three of them. “The rest, on me, Shaw can’t be far off.”

We quickly hopped back on our runners and kept along the path. They were definitely on foot, so in our runners we’d be catching up to them pretty quickly, and sure enough, we did. However, of the 10 men that we had caught up to, I noticed none of them were Shaw. I quickly jumped off my runner and drew my rifle, pointing it at them along with the rest of my group.

“Leave one of them alive.” I said, before opening fire, not taking any chances. The rest of my team followed suit, and the enemy didn’t even have time to fire back before we downed all of them, save for one, who was shot but not killed. He was on the ground, writhing and bloodied, but still vital enough. I walk over to him and lean down.

“Where’s Shaw?” I ask plainly.

“Ngh… why should I tell you?” He asks, coughing a bit.

“I don’t have time to deal with bullshit, that’s why.” I say. “So you going to tell me or not?”

“Ngh… go to hell…”

“Sir.” One of my squadmates says after checking one of the bodies, coming up with a data unit in his hand. “We got something.”

“Lemme see.” I say, taking the data unit off of him and inspecting it. “Hey, Laura. I’m gonna send you something.”

“Alright.” She says.

I hook the unit into my UIP and transfer the files over. It took quite a bit to do, too. Must’ve been a lot to sort through. But in just a bit, it transferred over.

“Ooh.” Laura said. “You struck gold here.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. This looks like the data they took out from the site they left.” She said. “It’s got a lot of good information on it.”

“Yeah? So we know where Shaw is?”

“Not exactly, but with this it shouldn’t be too hard to find him.”

“Great.” I say, before heading back over to the wounded enemy and putting a kind bullet through his head.

“So we got what we need, then?” Naoto asks.

“We got all we’re going to get, looks like.” I say. “We should probably head back…”

After searching the bodies a bit further and coming up with nothing else interesting, we all got back on the snow runners and headed back down to the main force.

---

By the time we got back to the main force, reinforcements had already arrived via VTOL gunships. It was officially the Althern military, not just special forces that Laura had contact with. Seems like they were interested in stopping the AEP as well. I guess that was a good thing. Among the soldiers who had flown in was Laura and Kennedy themselves. Kennedy was helping with investigations, might as well be leading them with how good he was at it.

“Yamato.” Laura said, approaching me.

“What happened?” I ask her.

“Like you said, the transports were completely empty. They were set on computer guidance and filled with explosives. Seems like they knew about our plan all along.”

“How is that even possible?” I ask.

“I don’t know…” Laura sighed, shaking her head. “Seems like no matter what we do, they’re always one step ahead…”

“So… how do we pursue Shaw now?” Naoto asks.

“Don’t know yet. But we have to act soon, otherwise he’ll go to ground. It’ll take a while to track him after.”

“So what do we do?” I ask.

“I’ll have Vincent work on locating him.” Laura said. “Seems like he’s getting a bit annoyed with how they’ve been giving him the slip.”

“Oh, yeah?” I look over to Kennedy, who was inspecting the destroyed vehicles and working on his UIP. I could tell he was a bit more determined than normal about it…

“I’ll also see if we can have joint operations between Renskr and Althern to deal with this.” Laura said. “I have some friends in high places… and now that this has been brought to Althern, we got a good reason to join forces.”

“What about other countries?”

“No doubt the AEP is set up all over the world.” Laura sighed. “I’ll see if the Renskr military can advise the other countries to perform searches for any AEP installations.”

“So we aren’t playing around anymore, da?” Jager said, stepping up to join us with Scordato at his side.

“We’ve gone too easy on these guys for too long.” Laura nodded. “If we don’t put the pressure on them now, we may not be able to catch them before they cause some serious damage.”

“Like they haven’t already.” Scordato pointed out.

“Yamato, no doubt we’ll be needing you in the next operations.” Laura said. “I’ll contact Walker, I want you stationed in Althern for the time being.”

“Ooh, vacation time, huh?” I say. “Not the first place I would’ve chosen…”

“Don’t get too complacent. I doubt you want to leave until this is done, anyway.”

“Yeah, you’re right…”

“I’ll stay too.” Naoto said.

“Yeah, you probably should.” Laura agreed. “You and Yamato seem to make a pretty good team, anyway. Jager, are you up to work with the team again?”

“Ah, why not?” Jager smiled. “It’ll be nice to work together again.”

“Alright.” Laura nodded. “I’ll talk with some people, see what I can do. In the meantime, I got a place where we can stay for the time being. Most likely we’ll be working with the Althern military for future operations if joint operations between Renskr and Althern are approved, which no doubt the will be.”

“Alright, sounds good to me.” I say.

“I’m alright with that.” Naoto nodded.

“Good.” Laura said. “Time to get to work.”


Despite today’s overall loss, I felt like we were going to get somewhere now. We were close to Shaw, I knew that much, and now we were going to double down against the AEP. Eventually, they’d run out of places to hide. It was only a matter of time, now.

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