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Arc 2 of End War Online: Shattered Boundaries.

Chapter 7

November 26th

I had a difficult time getting to sleep last night. On top of that damn dream, I now had my father to worry about, as well as the fact that I could somehow see memories of other people through swords. I had no idea why he showed me that… what did all of it mean?

The dreams, my father, the sword… how did all of it connect?

But hopefully being in End War would help distract me. Surely there were more contracts to complete, more money to be earned, and more things to shoot. That always took my mind off things.

I slid down the stairs of HQ to find Rena and Lucy talking with each other.

Lucy was the first to notice me.

“Ah, Yamato! Good to see you!” She said.

“About damn time.” Rena said, looking to me.

Seems she was back to her usual self. I didn’t know if that was a good or a bad thing for me… I guess just the fact that she was a girl who hated my guts was enough to be a bad thing for me, but whatever.

“I got some info on the third Nephilim.” Rena said.

“Oh… right, forgot about that…” I said.

“How professional…” She muttered. “I got a friend up at Avalon-3 who I’ve been working with. She says she may have found something for us.”

“Avalon-3?” I ask. “A superweapon facility?”

“Yeah.” She answers. “But that’s beside the point.”

“And we have to go right now, I’m guessing…”

“Yes we do.”

“Can’t just relax a bit first?” I say.

“You’re getting paid, remember?” She says.

“Shit, you’re right…”

Across the room I hear a door open. I look over to see Jager and Blenheim walk through together. I could only assume by the look of Blenheim’s face that they had another drinking contest… and Jager won again, by the look of his face.

“I don’t know why you keep insisting on these competitions, tovarich.” Jager said. “You know I’ll just win every time.”

“HEY!” Blenheim said, almost losing his balance. “You don’t… ah… you don’t know that! I’ll beat you… one day…”

“Heh, that’ll be the day…” Jager then noticed me. “Ah, my friend! How are you today? Up for a bit of shooting at the range?”

“Right after a drinking contest?” I ask.

“Hey, you know me!” Jager smiles. “I can take enough vodka to kill great bear! Alcohol tolerance, you know how it goes.”

It was true. By now Jager had such a high tolerance to alcohol he could take whole bottles of whatever liquid fire he always drank and still be able to hit targets miles away with his sniper rifle. I couldn’t even count how many shots he took once just to get even a little tipsy.”

“Nyegh…” Blenheim walked over to me. “You!”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you!” His speech was slurred slightly. “You… you got something on your face…”

“What, where?”

“Right… no, hang on…”

He moved in closely to inspect my face.

“Oh… no… nevermind… I was mistaken.”

“Well you’re completely fucking inebriated.” I noted.

“You know, it’s really amazing, I find!” He says. “How… um… oh, yeah… how this is a game and all… but I still feel totally drunk like I would in real life! I even get hangovers! How cool is that?”

“I’ve never seen anyone so enthusiastic about hangovers.” I smirk.

“He keeps thinking he can beat me!” Jager said. “That kind of stubbornness is going to get him killed one day, just you wait.”

“Doesn’t know how to back out of a fight he can’t possibly win…” I say. “It’s an endearing character trait.”

“It’s also incredibly stupid.” Jager said, patting Blenheim’s head. “But that’s why we love him! More stubborn than the great bears I hunt back at home! And those things will still swipe at you with a face full of .50 calibers, let me tell you…”

“Well, I think I’ll have to pass on the range.” I say. “Duty calls again.”

“Ah, women, eh?” He says. “I understand, I understand.”

“It’s not like that, Jager.” I point out.

“Oh, of course not!” He puts his hands up. “I wasn’t implying!”

“Bullshit.” I say. “Better watch yourself. I won’t shoot you, but I don’t know about her.”

“Hah! I know all about that, believe me, my friend!” Jager says with a big smile. “I’ll take care of Michael. Some water and bread, he’ll be back up in no time.”

“C’mon, Yamato, we’re wasting time.” Rena said.

“Yeah, yeah, I hear you.” I say. “I’ll see you guys later.”

I walk with Rena outside to our vehicles. This time she brought her own bike so I wouldn’t get the pleasure of having her sit behind me this time around. I bet she brought her own bike just so she wouldn’t have to do that again… whatever.

---

It didn’t take us long to get to where we needed to go. It was easy to spot from a distance on the highway on account of the huge fucking gun there being visible from miles away.

Avalon-3 was where the superweapon Athenor was stationed. Athenor was a giant photonic railgun capable of launching projectiles at near light speeds to hit an enemy anywhere on the globe instantaneously. The power of the shot is more than enough to disintegrate anything it hits purely from the kinetic energy of the shot alone. It was mainly used to defend against the Colossi, which were giant near indestructible creatures serving either the Angels or Demons and served as their most powerful weapons of war against us or each other. Our response to this were the superweapons, of which there were seven. Personally, Athenor was my favorite out of all of them.

“That’s a big fucking gun!” I shout upwards towards the thing, eyes sparkling and a big grin on my face.

“Yamato, cut it out.” Rena scolded. “That’s not why we’re here.”

“This isn’t the image I had in my head about Maverick…” Rena’s friend smiled and shook her head.

“I want it, I want it, I want iiiiit…”

I ended up mumbling this over and over again while Rena and her friend – her name was Kimberly – talked about whatever it was they were talking about. I was a bit spaced out looking at the big fucking gun.

Big fucking guns = big fucking fun.

However, my attention was caught when I heard the words “unknown PMC” get said, and I look over to the two.

“Unknown PMC?” I say.

“Yeah.” Kimberly said.

“Wait, were you even listening?” Rena asked.

“Not at all. Fill me in.”

“Christ…” Rena put her face in her hand.

“To summarize, there’s a PMC of unknown origin that’s been going around looking for something. I’m thinking it’s this third Nephilim you’re so interested in.”

“Hang on a sec.” I say, pulling up the menus for my Universal Information Processor that had the picture I had taken of that unknown PMC patch, bringing it up and showing it to Kimberly. “This look familiar?”

“Hmm…” She looked closely at the photo. “Yeah… yeah, that looks like it. Our scouts have sometimes seen these guys during patrols.”

“What makes you think they’re looking for the third Nephilim?” I ask.

“Well, we’ve been able to get some encrypted info off of one of the guys from our spec-ops division, and it’s mentioned the third Nephilim. I didn’t even know there was a third Nephilim. I only know of the two.”

“Did it say what for?” Rena asked.

“Nope.” Kimberly replied. “Nothing on why. But these guys are packing some serious hardware. Top of the line armor and weapons, way outside the public sector. Having a group like this disrupting our business wouldn’t be good for anyone.”

“Any idea how we can find out more?” I ask.

“I wish I knew…” She said. “These guys have been sticking to the shadows. We’ve found no info on their whereabouts and any attempt to track them has proven useless.”

“Do they have any outside contacts that you may know of?” I ask.

“Like I said, they’re playing close to the vest here. The best bet we have is investigating places they’ve already been, looking for clues as to where they could’ve gone. We’ve got some teams doing that now but we haven’t been able to find anything useful. Whoever these guys are they’re well trained in covering their tracks.”

“Well nobody’s perfect.” I say. “I think I have just the person who can help out.”

“Who’s that?” Rena asked.

“Lucy Kaldwin.” I say “She’s another member of Maverick, probably the best tracker right next to Jager. She’s been trained by her father who’s in the British SAS. If anyone can pick up a cold trail, it’s her.”

“Sounds good. We could use the help.” Kimberly said. “Here, I’m transferring a list of locations that we’ve been investigating to your UIP. Hopefully she can work with what we’ve found.”

I bring up my UIP and take a look at the file she sent. It was a detailed map of all the areas that they’ve encountered these guys. I look it over before closing the menus and nodding.

“Alright, we’ll see what we can do with this.” I say. “C’mon, Rena.”

We both head back to our bikes and head back to HQ.

---

“Hm…” Lucy looked over the map I sent to her UIP. She looked like she was lost in thought, her eyes scanning over the thing a hundred times over.

“Um… Lucy?” I ask. “What’re you looking for?”

“Any sort of similarity between these locations…” She said. “Maybe some kind of pattern that can lead us to where they might go next.”

“You’d know more about that than I would.” I say.

Lucy continues to go over the map before speaking up after a few minutes.

“Strange…” She says.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“I can’t think of any way these locations are significant…” She answered. “Maybe we should investigate one of them.”

“What do you think we’ll find?” Rena asked.

“Hopefully something that indicates where they’re headed next. C’mon, we can go to this place right here.” She pointed to one of the spots on the map, the one that was closest to our location.

“Alright, let’s head out then.” I say. “The sooner we get this done the better.”

“Figured you’d want to lengthen this out for more cash.” Rena told me.

“I’m a mercenary, not a conman.” I said.

“What’s the difference?”

“Valid point.”

---

The place we went to was a military office building in downtown Halfen. It was one of the places that were broken into, but you wouldn’t have realized it going in the next day. Whoever it was came in and left without a trace. They had people investigating already by the time we got there. The woman at the front desk directed us to the lead investigator in the building.

“Hm…” The gruff man said, taking his attention away from the papers he was filing through. “The military must be getting pretty desperate if they’re hiring mercenaries now.”

Lucy stepped up.

“Do you know what was taken?” She asked.

“Something from the databases.” He said. “Not sure which one the broke into, we’re suspecting the military’s but whoever did it wiped out any trace that they were there.”

“No security footage?” Lucy questioned.

“Cameras were jacked beforehand.” The guy said. “We can’t figure out which way is up with this one… whoever these guys were they’re pros at this kind of thing.”

“Let me see a database terminal.” Lucy said. We were taken down into the main server rooms where Lucy was shown to a terminal that she accessed. Once there she started sifting through the data.

“Hey, Lucy?” I ask. “How are you going to pick up a trail if they didn’t leave any trail to begin with?”

“Wiping isn’t perfect, you know.” She said, typing on the keyboard and going through different windows. “There’s always a trace left. You just have to know where to look, and how far back to go.”

“How does that work?”

“If I can determine what route they took through the system I can find out where they went. To get to that point I’ll need to perform a system restore and…”

“We already did that, lady.” The guy said. “No matter how far back we went there weren’t any leads.”

“Well then I’ll just have to make one.” Lucy said.

“What now?” I ask.

She took another look at the map I had sent to her, typing on keys quickly as she did.

“I can connect to all the servers that they hit from here.” She said. “I can compile the data from all of them at once and determine which database was tampered with by cycling all the data through all the terminals multiple times and check each one with a special program I have on my UIP.”

She quickly uploaded whatever it was on her UIP to the terminal, and pressed a button on the keyboard.

“Right now I’m putting the program into every database they have so it can compile all the data and get it prepared for cycling.”

“Um… okay?” I pretended to know what she was talking about.

It took a few seconds for the program to cycle through, but after that was done she got to work on processing all the data in all the databases.

“Alright, it’s sorting through all the databases now.” Lucy said.

“Won’t that take a long time?” I ask. “There’s a lot of stuff in there.”

“Shouldn’t take too long.” She said. “I mean, we got processing speed in the petabytes per second by now. Processing all this data should only take but a minute or two.”

Now I’m no expert on computers, but I can remember my father telling me that processing speed used to be measured in gigabytes per second back in his day. Petabytes per second would be what the techie community would call “really fucking fast”.

“How are you supposed to find a lead anyway?” I ask.

“No matter what, it’s impossible to completely erase something from a computer.” She said. “You’re just taking out the routes that lead to it. It’s entirely possible to reestablish these routes after deleting them. You just have to have the right know-how and a certain program that can retrace those algorithms.”

Sure enough, it only took a minute and a half to compile all the data she needed. After that, she transferred what she needed back into her UIP, taking the program she used with it.

“Alright, let’s see what we got here…” Lucy opened up the data she had compiled and sifted through it, looking over it thoroughly. “Hm… now this is interesting…”

“You find something?” Rena looked over her shoulder at the data she assuredly couldn’t understand any more than I could.

“They didn’t hack into any database.” She said. “They hacked into the game files itself.”

“What?” I say. “The hell does that mean?”

“They accessed information on the game itself.” Lucy clarified. “Game files, player lists, account info, things like that.”

“If they’re doing something like that why’d they bother hitting up all these different places?” The investigator guy asked.

“If they dug too deep into one place it’d be easier to track them.” Lucy said. “They don’t want to leave too much of a trace for others to pick up at any single location so they spread their hacking out over an area to make it harder for others to pick up on their trail. No doubt the mods of the game aren’t too happy about this either. They probably already know about this and are looking for them.”

“Can’t we let them handle it?” I ask.

“Your job is to help me find the third Nephilim, Yamato.” Rena reminded me. “It just so happens our path is parallel to the mods right now. We can still do our work as long as we stay out of theirs.”

“Right, right…” I say, turning back to Lucy. “Is it really that easy to hack into Chronotek like that?”

“Easier than it ought to be.” Lucy told me. “It’s especially easy since we’re in the game itself, within the same server network as everything else. Account information is usually safe, though. They lock that up as tight as the Pentagon. Besides, I don’t think they’re after something so petty here. More than likely they’re looking for player rosters in order to identify who this third Nephilim actually is. And by the looks of it they’re getting close…”

“Can’t you just go in and get it?” I ask.

“I don’t want to get in trouble.” She said. “Besides, there are a few places that they haven’t hit up yet. We can probably get catch them at one of those places.”

“Alright, sounds good.” Rena said.

“We should probably hurry, though.” Lucy noted. “With the frequency of these attacks I’d say we don’t have a lot of time to catch them.”

“You know they’re probably going to try again even if we stop them here.” I say.

“Not so.” Lucy raised a finger and smiled. “No doubt these guys have a copy of the program they use to hack into the system. If I can get that and replicate it I can create a program that’ll stop it dead and cycle it through the entire system. That’ll block them out and force them to create a new program, which will probably take longer than it’s worth.”

“Well let’s get going, then.” I say.

We leave the building after Lucy was done sharing her findings with the rest of the investigation team, hopping on our vehicles and heading out. Rena and I followed Lucy to the next location.

---

The next place was a data hub. It was one of the buildings scattered around the world that helped process data to keep things like communicators, the internet, and UIPs up and running. Though UIPs ran on a completely separate system that combined all the others. Universal Information Processors were awesome and I’m glad Maverick had the budget to get them. Of course, I supplied a lot of that budget.

We were expected, and the people there let us through into the main server room. We decided that the three of us would split up and cover a section of the building. Lucy would take the top floors, as that was likely the place they’d enter the building from. Rena would take the middle floors to act as a barrier on the way to the server room, and I’d wait in the server room, as a last line of defense.

The server room was a huge as fuck room that was underground, so there was no way they’d be able to pass directly to the server room, which let me hide up on one of the tall stacks of electronics in the darkened room eyeing the main terminal for anyone. Good thing I wasn’t too bad at stealth ops.

“Everyone ready?” I hear Lucy say through my UIP.

“In position.” Rena says.

“Ready to go.” I say.

“Alright. We probably have a few hours before they come in.”

“Do you even know for sure that they’ll try tonight?” I ask.

“Better safe than sorry.” She said. “If they don’t come tonight we can try again tomorrow.”

“I do hope I’m not wasting my time up here for nothing.” I say. “I have school in the morning.”

---

It was 1 in the morning. I had been kicked back sitting up top on this server rack for the entire time before I hear a voice through my radio.

“Showtime, guys.” I hear Lucy say.

“About time.” I say, jumping up to a crouched position.

A few minutes later, I hear another communication.

“God a few but they’re on alert now.” Lucy says. “Rena, they’re heading down to you. About 8 of them.”

“I got it.” I hear Rena say.

Another couple minutes later, Rena voices back in.

“Got a few more. Yamato, the rest are on you. You got 5 on the way.”

“Only managed three?” I ask. “Thought you were better than that.”

“Shut the hell up and hold them there, Lucy and I are on our way.”

“Copy that.” I lie in wait, keeping my eye on the terminal at the far end of the room, keeping watch on the elevator at the other side. Sure enough, I see it come down, and from it, 5 gun-toting baddies walk out.

They were definitely the same group; same kind of gear, same coloration, same high-tech weaponry and equipment. My guns weren’t going to cut it here, so I slowly unsheathe my blade from my back, which definitely would cut it, and just about anything else as well.

I hopped across the server stacks toward the enemy as quietly as possible. I end up lining myself up with the fifth guy, tailing the group. The team was on alert, wary of a possible presence in the room. Wasn’t going to help them much.

I boost the electrostatic engine in the handle of my blade and launch forward at high speed, impaling the last guy before withdrawing and boosting back up onto a server stack across the room. They didn’t even know what hit them. I was hidden again by the time they noticed I had taken down one of them. I see the commander of the group signal for this team to stick back-to-back and leave no blind spots. That wouldn’t do them much good either. Grouped up like that it was even easier for me to move in and cut into them.

That’s what I did, boosting forward and cutting fast and hard, sliding along the ground after my strike and looking back to see three of the four drop down. I had killed two and injured one of them enough to ground him. The fourth, the commander, was hit, but it wasn’t anything major. He quickly took aim, quicker than I expected, and fired a laser bolt straight at me, I just barely manage to deflect the bolt with my blade before boosting forward and then up to dodge another shot, before coming down on him, cutting into him hard and fast, slicing his gun in half. It didn’t hit him, but I land a kick on his chest to get him distanced before casually walking over to the guy on the ground and stabbing him in the head, putting him down as well.

The commander was having none of that. I watch as he pulls a knife from behind his back and readies himself, activating the high frequency electric current through the blade that would make it stand against Armature, and give it incredible cutting power.

Of course, Armature was no ordinary blade. That plain HF knife he had would be able to stand against it, but not for very long.

I rush in as he does and strike off his blade. I quickly realize this guy wasn’t playing around. His skill with a knife surprised me. He was even able to keep up with my high speed attacks with my sword. Still, though, it wasn’t going to save him.

I block two swipes he sends my way before twisting and backing up from another slash and throwing my blade out towards his neck. He sees it coming and ducks under the swipe, but I activate Armature’s engine and use momentum to gain incredible speed in a spin that launches me up and sends my blade downwards onto him. He manages to hold his blade up against it, but he needs to back up before his blade breaks under the pressure of my attack. He resorts to taking out a laser pistol and firing at me while backing up. I dodge and deflect laser fire before rushing in and swiping at him, resulting in him blocking the first two blows and dodging a third. I rush in again and make a stab to him, but he dodges and grabs my arm and locks me in place, raising his knife up and bringing it down to the back of my neck. But the knife is thankfully shot out of his hand by Rena, who I notice across the room, her rifle trained on him. This distraction as he looked to Rena allowed Lucy to descend from one of the server racks, two HF blades drawn, and stab into the back of his shoulders, making him let go of me and allowing me to cut upwards through his chest, finishing him off as he falls to the ground.

“Woo…” I say, spinning my blade. “Nice save, Rena.”

“Think nothing of it.” She says.

“Nice work, guys.” Lucy says, walking over to the commander and pulling the hacking program from him and putting it into her UIP, getting to work on a counter-virus.

“Alright, this should only take a minute.” She says.

I dust my jacket off a bit before sticking my sword into the ground and leaning on it.

“You know you’d be dead if I hadn’t made that shot.” Rena told me.

“Nah, I would’ve been fine.” I say. “May have had a scrape, but nothing major.”

“You didn’t look like you were in the process of getting out of it.” She smirked.

“I’m good at close shaves.” I say. “See my face? Not a single hair on it.”

“Yeah, sure.” She smirks.

“Seriously, though, thanks for the backup.” I said. “You aren’t that bad a shot.”

“Well you aren’t too bad with a blade.” She says.

“Alright, I got it.” Lucy says, walking up to the terminal. “Now to get this thing into the system.”

“Hm…” I say. “Which begs the question, how are we going to find this guy?”

I turn to Rena.

“It’s not like we have any leads.”

“We’ll figure something out, I’m sure.” Rena replies. “Maybe we can look through the data these guys have.”

“Probably our best bet.” I note.

We’re both interrupted when we see Lucy suddenly stagger backwards, blood coming from her stomach, before she slumped down to the floor.

“LUCY!” I shout, making a run for her, which is stopped when Rena suddenly takes a slash to the back behind me and falls to the ground herself.

I just barely make out a figure jumping away… it was fast, but I was able to make out it was using optical camouflage.

“Shit!” I shout, managing to block two incoming blades with my own, before slicing away third and backing away.

The fuckers had backup… these guys were using high-tech camo systems to make themselves nearly completely invisible. The only thing that could be seen of them was the outlines of their bodies where the light refracted enough to be visible. These guys were not to be taken lightly. I wasn’t even certain of what their tech was capable of. Further, I didn’t even know how many of these guys there were… this wasn’t a good situation any way I looked at it.

I’m forced on the defensive as these guys came at me from every which way, giving me only split seconds to react in time to either dodge or block their blades. I stay beside Rena, blocking and dodging anything that came my way.

“Rena!” I shout in between. “You alright?”

“I’m… I’ll be fine…” She said, struggling to stand up. “Just get to Lucy…”

“Alright!” I rush forward, deflecting blows and evading others on my way to her. She was in worse shape than Rena and she wasn’t going to last much longer.

I’m stopped when of them stands in my way and locks blades with me, pushing me back a bit.

“Get the hell out of my way!” I shout, scraping my blade off of his and going in for a strike of my own. My blade is rebounded off another from behind and I’m forced to jump to the side before I get impaled from behind.

These guys weren’t going to let me help Lucy… I’d need to take them out first… but they were coming from everywhere. I wasn’t fast enough… I wasn’t going to make it at this rate…

That’s when I remembered… when I was with my father yesterday. The way I had felt the blade and let it guide me… I remembered how it felt to fight that way… I could remember my movements always being five steps ahead of the last, acting on instinct.

I felt Armature resonate in my hand.

I stop in my tracks.

Alright, let’s see if I can do it again…

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, closing my eyes and holding Armature in both hands. I can feel it coming to me… I could feel the enemies around me, moving around quickly, circling me. There were six of them, twin blades drawn and ready to strike. I could see them, even with my eyes closed. I didn’t know what the hell was happening, but I didn’t want to think about it in case doing so would mess me up.

I saw one of them jump from one of the server racks, straight towards me from behind. I’m faster than him, and I take a single step backwards and throw my blade out at incredible speed, slicing the guy clean in two before his blades met me. The next one came in immediately after from the other side, but I see it coming and push forward, managing to grab him right in the face and use his momentum to throw him into the ground, bouncing him up and allowing me to cut downwards, cutting him down instantly.

Two down, four to go.

I raise my blade skywards and launch myself up with the blade’s engine, putting myself above another who had moved in and allowing me to stab downwards, impaling him through the shoulder while simultaneously kicking another in the face. Balancing with a hand on my blade, I spin kick the second one upwards before twisting down to land on the ground, pulling the blade from the first one’s shoulder before spinning once and decapitating him, before bringing out my revolver, the Wolf 500, and putting a shot through the second guy who was still in the air.

The last two came at me simultaneously from different directions. I see it coming and launch myself towards the first, dodging his blades and impaling him through the chest, before boosting myself downwards and pushing the blade to the hilt while slamming into the ground. After that, I curve the blade back, throwing the corpse from it and cutting off the arm of the last guy, who staggered forward, holding onto the bleeding stump while I put the barrel of my gun to the back of his head, firing and blowing his brains out.

I stand there, still a bit in the zone, before I shake my head and bring myself back to the matter at hand. I put my gun away and rush over to Lucy, sliding down next to her and bringing her up.

“Damn…” I say, taking off her jacket and pulling up her shirt to get a look at her stomach. It had a hole in its side. Luckily it didn’t hit anything major, but it was still bleeding pretty bad.

“Alright…” I bring out my medkit, which Abigail had insisted we all have, and manage to clean up the wound a bit before wrapping gauze around her waist, afterwards I take out an injector and push it into her arm, pressing the button at the top to inject her with a painkiller and epinephrine compound, which took care of the pain and gave her an energy boost.

“Ngh…” Lucy moaned and woke up, shaking her head a bit and looking up to me. “Yamato…”

“You alright?” I ask, helping her to sit up.

She took a look at her waist to the treatment I had given her before nodding.

“Yeah… still hurts a bit, but… thanks.” I help her onto her feet as Rena came walking up to me, still hurt, but at least standing.

“Took a good hit to the back.” She said. “Hurts like hell…”

“You going to be okay?” I ask. “How bad is it?”

“Nothing to get worked up over.” I say. “I patched myself up enough.”

I walk over to one of the guys I killed and took a good look at their gear. White bodysuits with tiny octagonal fixtures all over it. This kind of suit was clearly designed to diffuse light as perfectly as possible… this kind of technology was in the prototype stages right now. How the hell did these guys get such an effective model?

“Okay… as I was saying…” Lucy said, going back to the console. “Let me get this thing uploaded…”

She got to work while I continue to inspect the body. Rena came to join me.

“These guys aren’t fucking around.” I say.

“No kidding.” She agrees. “This kind of tech doesn’t even exist yet.”

“It does now. Whoever these guys are they somehow have access to their own level of technology, probably built by them for them.”

“How are they getting funding for this?” Rena questions. “They can’t possibly be self-sustaining if they’re producing technology of this scale.”

“Exactly what I was thinking.” I say. “I think if we can find out whoever’s funding these bastards we can find out who these guys really are… and why they’re after the third Nephilim.”

“Let me see what the guy has on him.” Rena said, activating her own UIP and picking off data off the guy. She looked through some data, but it looks like she hadn’t found anything useful as she scoffed. “Nothing…”

“I doubt they’d give sensitive data out to people going out in the field.” I say. “Nothing that could be traced back to the guys behind this for sure.”

“Well at least we have a lead.” Rena said. “Find out whoever’s supplying these guys…”

A few second later, a thought hits Rena.

“The guys who were holding me hostage.” She said.

“Come again?”

“You know! The MTA! They’re a private military contractor that produces high-tech military-grade equipment! They must’ve taken me in when I was snooping around looking for info on the third Nephilim where I shouldn’t have…”

“The MTA…” I ponder the idea. “Well it’s a place to look for sure. Though I don’t know how they could get away with doing anything like that without he government stepping in.”

“That’s the thing; the MTA isn’t regulated by anything. They’re their own thing.”

“Hm… interesting.”

“Alright, I’m done.” Lucy says, walking slowly up to us. “We should probably let the military know what happened.”

“Yeah.” I get up on my feet. “We think we may have another lead to find out who these guys are.”

“What’s that?” Lucy asks.

“Someone has to be funding these guys if they’re able to make this kind of technology for their forces.” I explain. “We suspect the MTA is a likely suspect for this.”

“Aren’t they the ones who kidnapped Rena?” Lucy.

“Exactly.” I say. “We think that the nabbed her when she was sticking her nose in where they didn’t like.”

“Well… that would make sense considering they aren’t regulated by the government. They could be doing all sorts of things without anybody even suspecting.”

“We think the same.” Rena says. “We could head back to where Yamato rescued me and see what kind of info they have.”

“Alright… sounds good.” Lucy flinched a bit at the pain in her side, but shook it off. “I’ll tell the officials what we found. You two can head back if you want.”

“You’ll be alright?” I ask.

“I’m a tough girl.” She smiled. “Don’t need to worry so much about me.”

“Heh. Yeah you’re right.” I say, turning and gesturing for Rena to follow. “C’mon, we should head back.”

While in the elevator going back up to the main levels, we kept quiet for a bit, but Rena spoke up.

“Um… Yamato?” She says, grabbing my attention. “What… um… what happened?”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Well… I noticed when you were going to Lucy that… well… you stopped for a second. After that you… I don’t know, something about you changed. I… you know what, nevermind. It’s probably fine…”

“Yeah…” I say, looking away from her.

She wasn’t wrong. Something definitely had changed… as a matter of fact I think something about me was still changing… even now.

Chapter 8

November 27th

It was snowing again today. I didn’t know why we were still required to go to school when it was this cold. I could take the cold, sure, but it was the wind that really screwed me. It wasn’t a short walk to school, either. I had to go a pretty good while through snow and freezing winds just to get to school. I hated it.

But still… this weather always put me in a mood I liked… sort of a strange mix of being calm and energized at once… it was the same feeling I got with rain… though I liked rain more. Just before it rains, when it’s raining, and just after it rains are my favorite weather conditions. Seems kind of odd, but then again, I, myself, am odd.

I managed to catch Rena in the hallways of school during lunchtime and approached her.

“Hey, Rena.” I call out from behind her as she was walking, making her stop and turn to me.

“What is it?” She asks.

“We going online to take care of the MTA today?” I ask.

“Oh… um…” She looks away from me and out the window. “Sorry, not today. Tomorrow.”

“Something going on?” I ask, noticing the look on her face.

“It’s none of your concern.” She said, turning away from me to continue walking. “We’ll continue our business tomorrow.”

She walked off, leaving me standing in the hallway.

“Yeesh…” I wonder aloud. “What’s up with her?”

“Her father’s in the hospital, I heard.” I hear a male student say behind me.

I turn to look at him.

“What for?” I ask.

“Don’t know. Just what I heard.” He shrugged. “I kind of learned not to bother her with the subject… so has everyone else, really.”

“Hm…”

I kind of wanted to check in on her after school today… for some reason. I couldn’t tell why, and something told me it would probably be better if I didn’t… I knew how Rena was. Plus, I was pretty sure she didn’t think very highly of me to begin with…

Fuck it. I’ll visit her after school.

---

I walk down the third floor halls of the hospital, heading down to the room I was instructed to go to when I had asked where a girl named Rena went. Sure enough, further down the hall I see Rena sitting on a bench outside one of the rooms. She was looking down at her lap, looking pretty sad.

I walk up to her, but before I could say anything she notices me and stands up.

“What are you doing here?!” She shouted angrily at me.

“I… I just heard you were here.” I say, hands raised.

She calmed down a bit, but still looked a bit angry as she sat down, refusing to look at me.

Some moments of silence passed before she spoke.

“My father is in there…” She said.

“Hm?” I say. “Then why are you out here?”

She grits her teeth.

“I hate my father…”

“Huh? Why for?”

“It’s none of your business!” She looked back up at me angrily. “You wouldn’t understand anyway!”

I could’ve pressed it by saying she wasn’t giving me a chance to understand it, but I decide to fall back instead.

“You’re right.” I say instead. “I guess I wouldn’t.”

I decide not to bother her any longer, turning around and walking back where I came from. I momentarily stop to try to say something, but I decided not to on risk of getting yelled at again. I continue walking out of the hospital and head home.

---

“I’m home.” I say as I take off my shoes and set my school bag down.

“Welcome home!” I hear mom say from in the kitchen. “You’re a bit late today.”

“Had some stuff come up.” I say. “Where’s dad?”

“Living room!” I hear him call from said room.

“Ah.” I walk into the living room and see Claire there as well, along with her partner, Maggie.

“Oh, you two.” I say.

“Yes, us two, Yamato.” Claire smiled. “I know you just hate us so much.”

“Don’t hate you enough.” I say. “Having dinner over here tonight?”

“Yeah, we thought it’d be nice.” She said. “We don’t usually go anywhere anyway so we thought we might as well have a visit.”

“Hm…” I turn to dad. “Hey, dad. Do you mind if we train a bit?”

“You’re asking me?” He says, surprised. “That’s a change.”

“Dad.”

He saw the seriousness in my eyes then. He got serious as well, and stood up off his chair.

“Alright, then.” He said. “A bit before dinner.”

“You mind if Maggie and I watch?” Claire asked. “I’ve been meaning to show her how you two do it.”

“Sure.” Dad said. “Just… stay clear.”

He said that in a serious tone that denoted that something was going to happen. Claire picked up on that and seemed a bit confused, but shook it off.

We all head to the dojo. Claire and Maggie sit down on one side of the room while dad picked up the two katanas off the wall and tossed Amaterasu at me. I catch it in my left hand and take a stance as he walks back up onto the training floor.

“Woah, woah.” Maggie said. “Real swords? I thought you used practice swords.”

“Not this time.” Dad says, looking to me. “Alright, same as last time. You ready?”

I nod and unsheathe my blade, tossing the scabbard aside. The black metal and chrome edge shone in the light.

I let my mind go free. I could feel the blade, just like last time. It got lighter in my hands. I felt its voice, just like I had before, and just like I had in End War with Armature… it surprised me how easily it came back to me… as if I always knew how to do it. As if something inside me was born to do it…

My father came at me fast, but I catch him coming and slide my blade underneath his, ducking under a stab that would’ve killed me had it hit. I rush in under his guard and hit him hard in the stomach with the pommel of my sword, making him back up and allowing me to slash at him. He manages to brace his blade up to meet mine before it hit. Dad shakes off the blow as I rush inwards, my blade held in both hands, swinging fast and hard with momentum, striking off his blade with a resounding shock that shook my entire arm. It hurt… a lot, actually. I have to grip my blade tighter to force myself not to let go of it as the vibrations of the blow shook my body. Dad didn’t seem the least bit fazed by it. Either he was ignoring it, or he was so good that it didn’t happen to him at all.

Normally when I’m doing something wrong, dad is quick to correct me, but not this time. He used the opening I presented to move in and get a hit on me. I couldn’t brace my blade up to defend against it so I’m forced to instead lean back with the force from the previous blow, jumping backwards and planting my hand on the ground as I flip back up onto my feet a distance away from him. I take a second to check for any injuries on my face, only feeling the scar from the cut he gave me on my cheek from the time before.

I move in again, this time turning to my side and gaining spin before launching a momentum-fueled attack that once again took a number on my arm. Dad once again uses the opportunity to get a shot of his own. I have to dodge a slash before parrying two others and backing away. I have my arm hanging down with the blade in my hand, holding it with my other hand as numbness and pain went through it. How the hell was he not experiencing the same thing I was? Well I guess he’s had more time to perfect his art than I had…

I guess I’d have to adapt, otherwise I’m as good as dead.

I dodge three more extremely quick slashes from my father before he twists around and sends a wide swing my way, one I jump back from. I slide to a stop before rushing back in, throwing my blade outwards, striking into his.

This time… I didn’t feel the shock.

Somehow all the energy from the blow was mitigated. I felt the impact, but for some reason it didn’t hurt… I follow the attack up my striking twice more, before raising my blade up and bringing it down, locking blades with my father. We pushed into each other, trying to force each other back. My father was stronger than I was, of course, so I’m the one who’s forced back. I counter this by sidestepping and allowing both our blades to pass by my side, making him fall forward and allowing me to spin around and slash at his back.

I had him…

Or so I thought.

He continues to fall forward, planting his hand on the ground and displaying athleticism I had never seen before as he spun around on his hand, throwing his foot out to meet the flat of my blade, kicking it into the air, before spinning once more and sweeping his leg under mine, sending me falling backwards and landing on the floor. Instantly, he’s above me, the tip of his blade pointed to me. He plunges the sword downward, and I barely react in time to brace my blade up and redirect his into the ground right next to my head. I rear back and kick him off me with both my legs, sending him backwards and into the ground, but only for a second as he rolls back onto his feet, just as I do the same.

I was breathing heavy as we stared each other down from across the room. He wasn’t even breaking a sweat… it didn’t surprise me. My father was known as one of the most skilled kenjutsu masters in the world. He’s participated in 12 annual kenjutsu tournaments, and he’s one every single one of them. Not even the greatest masters of the world were able to beat him… so how was I supposed to?

I didn’t even know how I was keeping pace with him up until now.

“Hey, hey! Wait a second!” Claire stepped into the area. “What the hell are you two doing?!”

“We’re training.” My father responded, momentarily lowering his weapon. “This is how-”

I take the advantage, rushing in and jumping right past Claire, my blade barely cutting past her face as I’m immediately in my father’s face, tip of my blade pointed towards him.

This takes him by surprise, and he barely manages to move his head out of the way of the stab. He then grabs the collar of my shirt as I pass by him, lifting me up into the air. I raise my leg up and kick him back, landing on my feet and slashing at him as he did the same, the force of the blow putting us both back.

“Hah…” My father smiled. “That’s the way, Yamato. Don’t hesitate to use any opportunity you can get.”

We both ready ourselves again as Claire backs away from us. We stare each other down, ready to go again.

“Dinner’s ready!” I hear mom call from inside the house.

I look back to the door, and then back to my father.

He sheathed his blade, walking over to the scabbard of mine and tossing it to me. I catch it and sheath the blade inside, tossing it over to him as he put them back onto the weapon rack on the wall.

“Dinner time.” He said to Claire and Maggie as he passed them.

They both wore a look at complete disbelief at what they just witnessed.

Dinner tonight was an assortment of delicious looking dishes. The food mom made was always pretty great. She always knew how to make everything good for everyone.

“So, Claire.” My father says. “How are things?”

“Um…” Claire still looked pretty shaken after what she saw. “Um… it’s… things are fine.”

“Something the matter, Claire?” Mom asks. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Hang on, do you know what they do in there?” She asks. “They fought with real swords! Like they were going to kill each other!”

“What?” Mom asked. “That’s ridiculous! I mean, sure they maybe fought with real swords, Ishi does do that from time to time. But I doubt they’d try to kill each other. Ishi?”

“It’s a special way of training, Claire.” Dad said. “It’s-”

Dad put his fist to his mouth and coughed a few times, before clearing his throat and continuing.

“It’s alright.” He finished.

“I… just…” Claire stammers, but sighs. “Nevermind…”

“Sis, I’m alright.” I say. “I wanted to fight like that… I needed it.”

After what had happened in End War with Armature, I definitely did need it. I knew now I had some sort of unspoken connection to blades… I didn’t know what it was. I figured the only way to find out was through fights like those with my father… he knew the answers, but I knew him. He wasn’t going to just tell me. He was going to show me either way.

But even though it was difficult and pretty risky, it filled me with a feeling I didn’t know of before… a feeling of pure exhilaration. I loved the feeling. The feeling of fighting with a blade in my hands. Something about it was just… it felt like it filled something that was missing from me. I didn’t know what it was… I guess I’d just have to keep training with my father to find out.

---

November 28th

The next day, I logged into End War and met up with Rena. It was decided that we’d need more than the two of us to complete this mission, so we decided to bring Octavia along. She was just as skilled as any of us and she would be able to help us get what we needed. Further, I had Lucy transfer the hacking program those other guys used into my UIP so I could access any systems I needed to.

Our target was the MTA’s Intelligence Storage Device, or ISD. It was basically a small laptop that every guild had. It tracked everything the guild did, detailing combat logs, missions, and dealings with other guilds, which was what we were after. If they really were funding these guys, there would be records of transactions there.

Of course, this was also a high risk mission, so for some extra firepower I brought Vigilance, a modified Steyr AUG A3 assault rifle capable of laying down some serious firepower. Abigail also had us fitted with extra medical supplies just in case things turned a bad corner.

“Alright, I’m ready.” I say, strapping Vigilance to my back, just over Armature. “All set?”

“Ready.” Rena says.

“As am I.” Octavia confirmed.

“Alright, you three.” Vixen walked up to us. “I’ll be flying you to the LZ. I can land you in the area but you’ll have to make your way there on foot. Yamato you’re already familiar with this.”

“Yeah.” I say. “Let’s get going.”

The three of us head over to our VTOL on the roof, Rena, Octavia and I hopping into the passenger cabin while Vixen got into the cockpit, starting it up and closing the cabin doors as we took off, beading back to the mountain facility I first met Rena at.

---

It didn’t take long to get back to the MTA facility in the mountains. Unfortunately it was windy and snowy when we got there. Fortunately, we had gear for that. We outfitted ourselves with winter gear before we landed, putting on heavier fur-lined and hooded coats to help protect us from the cold.

“Alright, we’re 5 minutes to touchdown.” Vixen called from the cockpit.

I inspect Vigilance, making sure everything was in working condition, looking down the combination holographic and ACOG sight and flipping through the holographic and ACOG settings a few times to make sure the action was quick and smooth. It was fairly reliable so I was pretty sure it would be able to function well in the cold and snow. The most that would probably happen is that the action would require a bit more force to operate, but nothing that would get me killed… probably.

I looked over to Rena, who was attaching an optical sight to the rail system on her rifle. Her gun looked to be a modified M14 battle rifle. An altered rail system and iron sights as well as a short pull trigger and an increased magazine size it looked like. A rifle like that should be able to stand up to the cold.

Octavia herself was brandishing her customized FAMAS assault rifle, featuring custom optics, increased magazine size, and a custom recoil suppression stock among other things. Now, the FAMAS wasn’t really known to be terribly reliable, but with the modifications Octavia made to it, she fixed any problems it may have had in that area.

“You alright?” I ask Rena when I notice her solemn look.

“What?” She looked to me.

“Are you alright?” I repeat the question.

“I’m fine.” She said, looking back out the window.

“Hm…”

“Alright, we’re coming up on the drop point.” Vixen called, slowing down the aircraft a bit and switching to hover mode to slowly descend to the ground, not actually touching down completely so she could make a quick takeoff and come in when we needed her. We open the cabin doors and hop onto the snowy ground. Once we took a few steps away, Vixen closed the door and took back off, flying away to wait for us at a safe location.

“Alright, let’s get this done quick.” Rena said.

“We shouldn’t rush.” Octavia cautioned. “We don’t want to make a mess of things.”

“We’ll get it done.” I say. “C’mon, it’s just over this ridge.”

I lead the way as I walk past the ridge to the overlook where we could see the entire facility… well, we would be able to see it if it wasn’t snowing so much. We could, however, make out the lights coming from the facility, which indicated our target. We carefully navigate our way down the snow covered ridge and hit solid ground, and from there we quietly cross over towards the facility. I notice how they’ve made some security upgrades since last time. There was no longer a simple fence in the way. It was a full-on electron field barrier overlaying the fence. You can’t even touch those things without getting a nasty electric shock, along with the thing being able to deflect bullets and diffuse laser weaponry, as well as not being a physical barrier so I can’t just cut it with Armature.

Basically the only way through was under, over, or just through the front gate, which I don’t think would work.

I could get over, no problem. Armature’s internal engine could boost me up, but Rena and Octavia wouldn’t be able to take the same quick route.

“Alright, I can get over this thing.” I say, drawing Armature and boosting myself up and over the fence, landing softly on the snow beyond.

“Can you cut the power?” Rena asks.

“Not a good idea.” Octavia notes.

“Yeah, if we take out the power to the fence they’ll know we’re here.” I agree. “Maybe I can section off this part of the fence from the rest… they won’t notice just one section go out.”

I look at the fence. There were power rods going along the fence, with each section of the fence having two which projected the barrier. One on top and one on bottom. If I could disconnect the power rods it should disable the barrier just for this section of the fence while the rest of the fence keeps running.

I do just that, taking Armature and carefully cutting the ends of the rods where they linked to the rest of the grid, cutting the power for that section and that section only, allowing me to cut through the normal chain link fence it was protecting, allowing Rena and Octavia to come in.

After that, we needed to get inside. We head to the backyard and wait there. Octavia finds a cable on the outside of the building and I cut the metal cylinder around it off, allowing her to cut the rubber wire around the cable and integrate her UIP into all the wiring in the facility. It let her see what kind of security they had.

“Cameras… infrared, and thermal… motion trackers and sound sensors…” Octavia went over the kinds of systems they had. “Damn, how did you get through all this before, Yamato?”

“They didn’t have all this before.” I say. “They must’ve never thought they’d need it all the way up in the mountains. Blenheim and I proved them wrong.”

“Alright, hang on. I can map out the building through the wiring.”

Octavia got to work, hacking into the system and mapping out the entire building utilizing the wiring going all throughout the building. It took a few minutes and a few close calls with patrolling guards but she got it done.

“Right there.” She said, pointing at a room on the holographic display of her UIP. “That’s the security station. We get in there we can shut down security and get the ISD.”

“Top floor.” I note. “I can get there. I’m going to need you to disrupt security before I jump in so I can shut it down without being detected.”

“Alright, I think I can do that.” Octavia said. “Get up to the roof, I’ll wait for your word.”

I nod and quickly jump up onto a power box nearby before climbing up the wide cylindrical tube that held a bunch of wiring, using that to climb up to the roof. I quietly climb up over the edge of the roof and make my way to where the security station was. I was right on top of it. I could cut through the roof and cut down anyone in the station before they could trigger an alarm.

“Alright, I’m right on top of it.” I say in my communicator.

“Okay.” I hear Octavia say. “Now, I can only disrupt security momentarily from out here. You got about four seconds to get in, down whoever is inside, and shut off security.”

“Only four seconds?” I say. “Alright then…”

This was going to be close. Firstly, I didn’t even know how many guards would be in the room, and secondly I only had four seconds to mop them up and shut off the system before they raised an alarm. If I failed, we’d have to scrub the mission.

Welp. Here goes nothing.

“On my go, Octavia.” I say, plunging my blade into the ground and making three sides of a square through the roof, standing back up and raising my blade up, ready to slice out the last side.

“Ready?” I say.

“Ready.” She responds.

“Now.”

The instant the word leaves my mouth, I cut downwards, slicing a clean square through the roof that I fall through, landing into the security station just as security is disrupted. Almost as if time had slowed, I count four guys. They turned to me, and began drawing their weapons. I was way faster. I move in on the first, cutting him down, before rushing on the next to and slicing them down before they could get a shot on me. The last one had the keycard needed to shut down security. He had his weapon drawn and pointed at me. I move in quicker than he could fire and slice his arm off before decapitating him, allowing me to snatch the keycard which was hanging from his neck and run it through the system, allowing me to flip a switch and cut of all security just before Octavia’s distraction wore off.

I take a sigh of relief as that was done. Security was down and we were good to go.

“Got it.” I say.

“Alright, we’re moving in.” I hear Rena say. “They’ll have the ISD at the bottom levels most likely. Octavia and I are headed there. Try to meet up with us.”

“Alright.” I say, sheathing Armature and bringing Vigilance back out, attaching a silencer to the barrel before grabbing the security keycard and moving out of the room. I keep my rifle trained ahead of me, watching out for any guards I may encounter. We needed to make this quick and clean. Get the ISD and get out. That was our job. I quickly head to the stairs, silently making my way down to the lower levels.

I remembered the general layout of the building, and the sub-levels wouldn’t be different. There would be hallways with multiple rooms throughout. Unfortunately, we’d have to search each one individually. I’d be able to unlock any locked doors with the security pass I had, as well as access the ISD when we got to it. Rena and Octavia would have to open doors by hacking into them, but they had the program Lucy had, so it wouldn’t be too much of a problem for them, if a bit more time consuming and risky.

I reach the lower levels pretty quickly before beginning to search each room, using the keycard to gain access to each room. I knew that locked doors would most likely not have anyone in them, whereas the doors that were unlocked most likely had a few guards behind them. I come up onto the first room, which was locked, swiping the ID card and opening it up, looking around the room and only finding some weapons, but not the ISD.

I close the door and relock it before moving on to the next door. It was unlocked, so I knew there were guys there. The door slides open and I quickly nail two guys in the head, a few shots for each, putting them down quickly and silently. No ISD, though.

I move to through the next few doors, putting down a few guys in the process, before getting to a particular door that wouldn’t let me in, even with the keycard I had. Clearance level wasn’t high enough, it said.

“Oh…” I say quietly, pulling up the hacking program and hacking the door to open it up.

“Hey, look at that. I got clearance.” I smirk, looking around the room and seeing the ISD sitting on a table.

“Alright, here we are.” I say, hopping over to it and opening it up. It requested security clearance like the door, and I gave it the same clearance, allowing me access to the files.

Multiple menus came up. I cycled through them to get to what I wanted.

“Transactions…” I say, opening it up and going through it.

There were a whole bunch of logs in here. Mostly weapons dealings with other PMCs, things that I didn’t care about. Transferring weapons to other companies for profit. I cycled through the list but didn’t find what I was looking for.

What I was looking for were large sums of cash being transferred out to a different company. All I was finding were weapon exports, and the weapons and gear listed weren’t the kind of gear whoever these guys are were using.

“Dammit…” I say, flicking through the menus. “Where is it?”

For a second I thought that we had followed a false lead, and that the MTA weren’t funding these guys after all…

But then I caught it. The hacking program detected a subroutine in the system that led to another file location.

“What’s this, now?” I ask myself, deciding to go into it and investigate.

Lo and behold. Cash transfers.

Monthly cash transfers.

LARGE monthly cash transfers.

All going to a PMC simply labeled ‘AEP’

“AEP?” I wonder aloud.

I decide to investigate further, having the program look through all files for the keyword ‘AEP’. A document came up. It was named ‘External Affairs – AEP Entry No. 23’.

I open up the document.

External Affairs – AEP Entry No. 23

AEP director requests another increase in funds for his special device. We’ve authorized this increase on the promises of greatly returned profits if the project succeeds. We already know for a fact that there is a Third Nephilim, though we have not been disclosed his name as of yet. The science behind the project is sound. Opening a portal to Void and allowing the Third Nephilim to fall in will definitely awaken his latent abilities and allow us to make our next move… however, such a feat would be difficult to perform without the high risk of allowing Void to seep into our world and destroy it. The project director assures me that the risks are well in hand, and he will be able to keep it under control… but I remain skeptical.

As for luring the Nephilim in, he has stated he’s taken care of this as well. He claims he will be able to bring the Nephilim in himself to make him fall into Void. The portal is one way, but he says after the Nephilim falls into Void his newfound powers should be able to pull him back out through the process of awakening alone. If this works, we can continue with the project with greater returns.

As for Maverick, they have been working with the Renskr military to snuff out our operations. They’ve successfully stopped our efforts in hacking into the game’s central mainframe, but the AEP already gained the Nephilim’s name beforehand, so having complete control shouldn’t be necessary now. I am worried, however. Maverick is an elite group whose skills are on par with our own forces, and they have done much thus far to hinder us. It’s my understanding that they are also after the third Nephilim, specifically one operative within, Yamato Haseo, being assisted by Rena Asagami, who we had previously held at our facility, but was freed by Maverick earlier this month. I’m sure the AEP itself is safe from them and well beyond their reach, but the MTA is not, and if they bring us down then the AEP will need to find a new sponsor.

If we are to succeed, we’ll need to finish this up quickly. Once this step is finished, we’ll be well on our way to completing the true purpose of the AEP.

“AEP?” I say.

AEP? What was that? And this plan to lure in the third Nephilim and force him into Void? What was that all about?

I didn’t know too much about Void… I knew it was basically nothingness… the end of everything. It was a realm in between realms that basically meant death if you fell in. Opening a portal to Void on Eden would be bad news for sure… further, they knew about Maverick tampering with their operations. They also knew about me and Rena… the fact that they did troubled me greatly. It meant that they probably also knew where we were stationed, and that meant they could launch an attack on us at any moment. It didn’t occur to me that they could’ve also been looking into us while we were looking into them. That wasn’t good… that wasn’t good at all…

My thoughts are broken when I feel a sharp and intense pain in my right shoulder. I fall forward a bit but turn myself around to fire on my aggressor while dodging the next two laser bolts that flew my way. I drop him and quickly jump behind the table to take cover, grabbing the ISD along the way.

I grab my shoulder as pain shot through it.

“God dammit!” I say quietly, holding my shoulder. I peek over the table and notice it was just the one guy and not an entire fucking battalion like the last time I was caught here.

“Shit… that hurts…” I suck in air through my teeth and try to ignore the pain as I shake it off. “Rena, Octavia. I got it.”

“Where are you?” I hear Octavia ask.

“One of the rooms on the first sub-level.” I say.

“You okay?” She asked. “You don’t sound too good.”

“Got shot in the shoulder.” I reply. “Don’t worry, I took care of the guy… hurts like a mother fucker, though…”

“Alright, hang on. We’re coming.”

“Okay. See you soon.”

I hang out behind the table until Rena and Octavia find me. They step over the body of the guy who shot me and called out for me. I wave my hand over the table and they come over to me.

“You alright?” Rena said.

“Oh, no, yeah, I only got shot in the frickin shoulder.”

“He’s fine.” Octavia said.

“Here’s the whatever.” I say, passing the ISD up to Octavia. “Bunch of shit on there I don’t even know.”

“C’mon, you.” Octavia reached a hand down and pulled me up onto my feet.

Octavia opened up the ISD and looked through the file along with Rena.

“Woah…” Octavia said.

“They know about us?” Rena asked. “That’s… not good…”

“Alright, we should get out of here.” Octavia closed the ISD. “We can go through all this more when we get back.”

“Right…” I say.

“Shouldn’t you take a painkiller for that?” Rena asked.

“He won’t.” Octavia answered for me. “He’s stubborn like that. He’ll only take any kind of medication when he’s on the brink of death.”

“Wow, really?”

“I prefer to just walk it off.” I say.

“See what I mean?” Octavia smirks. “Anyway, we should get going before anybody else decides to shoot at Yamato.”

“Hey, you’re the ones in front of me.” I retort.

Luckily, our escape from the facility went off well enough. We had to shoot two guys but no alarms were raised. We managed to make our way out of the same fence we came in from and got back to the LZ, calling the VTOL in to pick us up.

A minute after we called her, we see Vixen fly around a mountain and head towards us, coming down and allowing us to jump into the aircraft, closing the doors before speeding away.

“I take it things went well?” Vixen asked as we flew back to HQ.

“Yeah.” Octavia said. “We’ll need to go into further detail about the contents of the ISD, though. There are some things Walker is going to want to look at.”

“I bet.”

I rubbed my shoulder a bit as the pain from being shot there was dulled down to being bearable.

Looks like things have escalated a bit. This third Nephilim guy was more important than I thought… no idea what these AEP guys were after him for… either way, they knew who and where he was. We’d have to find out what they know if we’re going to beat them to him before they can finish up whatever they were planning.

Chapter 9

November 29th

“Hm…” Walker went through the contents of the ISD we had brought in, flipping through everything I already got a look at. “Well this is troubling.”

“No shit.” I say.

Walker had called all of Maverick in to discuss the contents of the ISD. We were sitting on the circular couch with Walker at the main desk in front of us.

“They know about us.” He said. “Especially about you and Rena. They might be targeting you two.”

“I think if they were they would’ve done something about us already.” I note.

“Not quite…” Walker said. “We’ve close ties to the Gale Rangers, remember, and the Gale Rangers have close ties to the military. A PMC wouldn’t want to risk having to take on the military just to get back at us. I think we’re safe from a direct attack, but that won’t stop them from targeting us while we’re out on the field.”

“This thing about Void, too.” Lucy said. “That’s not good…”

“On top of that it seems this third Nephilim is still dormant.” Octavia added. “If this plan of theirs is to awaken the Nephilim’s abilities then I doubt whoever the Nephilim may be is even aware of his or her own abilities.”

“So, what now?” Blenheim asked. “We at another dead end?”

“Since when were you involved in this?” I look over to him.

“We’re all involved in this now, Yamato.” Walker said. “There’s a very clear threat to us from these AEP people, whoever they are. We’ll need to deal with them and whatever they’re plotting.”

“What do you think it is they’re actually plotting?” Blenheim asked.

“No clue…” Walker flipped through some menus in the ISD. “This document is the only thing here other than those transactions. They must delete prior documents before making new ones.”

“Or transfer them somewhere else.” Lucy noted. “They could just move the files elsewhere instead of keeping everything on the ISD. I’m thinking they’re pretty sensitive documents so they wouldn’t risk keeping everything all in one place.”

“Maybe…” Walker scratched his stubble. “We’ll have to see if the Rangers can help us with this. I have a feeling this whole operation of theirs is much larger than we’re aware of.”

“Why do you think this Nephilim character is so important, anyway?” Jager asked. “There are already two of them, why is the third one the one they’re after?”

“For one, this Nephilim isn’t even awakened yet.” Walker said. “But then this whole point of awakening the Nephilm’s abilities in the first place kind of defeats the point of that…”

“They probably wouldn’t want to go head-to-head with the Angels or Demons either.” Abigail pointed out. “Michael and Amanda belong to the Angels and Demons respectively. Getting at either would probably be impossible for them considering their positions.”

“Which means that this Nephilim must be on Eden!” Lucy deduced.

“I was thinking the same thing.” Walker agreed. “The third Nephilim must walk somewhere among us.”

“Heh!” Blenheim smirked. “Maybe I’m the third Nephilim and just don’t know it!”

“It’d be nice if you were.” I said. “Then you’d be the one they’re going after, and it seems like they’d have some plans for you.”

“Eh, I’d kick their asses any day!” Blenheim punched the air a few times. “I’d be super friggin powerful, you know!”

“Well if this is the case…” Vixen brought us back on topic. “How are we supposed to find this guy? I mean, he probably doesn’t even know he exists.”

“That’s the next thing we’ll have to figure out…” Walker said, sitting back in his chair. “Vixen, go inform the Rangers about this.”

“Yes, sir.” Vixen says.

“Lucy, I’ll need you to meet up with military intelligence to try to find out more from this ISD.”

“Got it.” Lucy responds.

“Dimitri, I’m uploading a list of their last known locations to your UIP. See what you can find there.”

“No trouble at all.” Jager smiles.

“Michael, you still sometimes work with Daryl, right?”

“Sometimes, yeah.” Blenheim responds. “You want me to see if he can help out a bit?”

“Yeah. His skills could help us out with this.” Walker said. “I’ll send you the same list I gave Dimitri, give it to him if he agrees to help.”

“Gotcha.”

“Everyone else I want you to stay here.” Walker says, gesturing for everyone he called to leave and get to work.

“Huh, what?” I say. “Shouldn’t I be out there helping out?”

“I especially don’t want you or Rena out there right now, Yamato.” Chris explains. “They mentioned you two by name. You two have attracted a lot of heat from these guys and I don’t feel safe in sending you right back out at the moment.”

“That’s super stupid.” I say.

“I don’t think you understand just how serious this is, Yamato.” Walker says, walking up to me. “These guys have tried to hack into the central mainframe of the entire game to get whatever it is they wanted. VR technology can still be dangerous if it’s being controlled by the wrong people. Remember the SAO Incident?”

“SAO Incident?” I say. “Yeah, I’ve heard about it.”

About twenty years ago, there was this whole debacle with a VRMMO called Sword Art Online. It was a pretty big thing back then. Not nearly as big as End War, as it was region locked to Japan whereas End War Online was released worldwide and has millions of players compared to the 10,000 that SAO had. I read up on the SAO Incident a few times before, some articles online about the inherent dangers of VR tech. Apparently the creator of the game trapped everyone in it for a whole two years while the players inside tried to complete the game. If you died in the game the NerveGear that was used would fry your brain with a microwave pulse. Whole bunch of people died because of that nutcase. Nowadays, however, the RiftGear we used was way more high-tech than the NerveGear of twenty years ago, and didn’t need to have a microwave emitter for whatever reason the NerveGear did.

“Then you know how dangerous this could be if they got their way.” Walker said.

“You think you might be just a little bit paranoid?” I ask.

“I lost my father to SAO.” Walker said, immediately shutting my mouth. “Was just a few months old and my parents took a trip to Japan. My father figured he’d give the thing a try and before we knew it he was stuck. He died a year into the game.”

I don’t say anything to that. I could understand why Walker was concerned about all this. I knew that the RiftGear operated on a special system called the Rift Nexus that literally separated consciousness from the mind and transported it into the game. That kind of system is locked pretty solid when it comes to security, but if someone got past all that, and they could given time, they could pretty much keep our minds from actually returning to our real selves… or worse, they could just wipe the entire Nexus with us in it, basically turn everyone playing at the time into a vegetable.

You know. Fun stuff.

“Okay…” I say. “So shouldn’t we consult the mods about this? If something like this is going on they’d be better suited to deal with it, wouldn’t they?”

“The mods have been after these guys since they tried to hack into the game’s systems.” Walker explained. “It’s more difficult to snuff out these guys outside the game than it is inside, as hard as that may be to believe. No doubt they’ve somehow erased themselves from the system so mods wouldn’t be able to just shut them down…”

“What makes you say that?”

“They would’ve done that already.”

Walker went back to the ISD, closing it and sinking back down into his chair, sighing.

“I have a really bad feeling about this…” Abigail said beside me.

“Me neither…” Octavia agreed. “I get the feeling this whole thing is more than we’re up to.”

“Why are we doing this anyway, Walker?” I ask. “Our only job is to find the Nephilim, not be the cleanup detail for the mods.”

“Just do what you’re told, Yamato.” He said sternly and with no emotion. “We’re going to find the Nephilim, no doubt. But as it is there are people that stand to stop us from doing so, among other things that we can’t allow.”

“Pfft…” I slouch back on the couch.

“Where is Rena anyway?” Octavia asks.

“Fuck if I know.” I say. “I don’t keep track of her.”

“I don’t know.” Abigail said in a playful tone. “You do have a habit of keeping your eye on her.”

“Just her ass.” I say nonchalantly.

Octavia giggled with her hand to her mouth.

“Better not let her catch you saying that.” She said. “You don’t know what she might do.”

“I think I have an idea…” I think about some brutal ways she could kick my ass… all of which I could totally see actually happening at some point.

“In the meantime, Yamato, I think you should take a break.” Walker said. “Rena too. You can tell her since you two go to the same high school and all.”

“Yeah, I’ll be sure to let her know.” I say reluctantly.

I hated the whole idea of me not being on the field. These guys were after me and Rena, and I had half a mind to go out and hit them first. But if Walker’s suspicions are on mark, it would probably not be worth the trouble in the end… I hated it, but I’d comply.

For now.

I guess.

“Aright, I guess I’ll check out early, then.” I say. “I’ll meet up with Rena at school tomorrow to tell her.”

“Alright, Yamato.” Walker said. “We’ll see you later, then.”

“See ya later.” Abigail said.

“Until tomorrow.” Octavia added.

I open up my menus and log out.

---

November 30th

Lunch time.

It was probably the only time during the school day I got to relax. All my classes were the same old bullshit I probably was never even going to need to know to get by in life. Don’t know why they forced us to know why the Egyptians wore eyeliner or what the greatest canyon in the Solar System was.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do for a living, but it sure as shit wouldn’t involve any of that.

I would’ve been hanging out on the roof like I normally am, but unfortunately it was snowing outside and I didn’t feel like becoming a snowman or getting my food wet, so I stayed in class for lunch. There were only a few people and I was sat in the row next to the window so nobody was going to bother me.

I munched down on the chicken and rice I had packed for lunch the day prior while going through my phone. I had an app that linked to End War Online and allowed me to access our ISD. I was going through the missions that the others had been sent on by Walker to see how they were going and what kind of info they uncovered. As it stood, Vixen had informed the military of the happenings and was working with the higher-ups there, Lucy was currently working with the Renskr military’s intelligence division to find out whatever she could, Dimitri was going through their last known locations to pick up any trail he could find, Michael was working with his old colleague, Daryl, to find out what they could.

Nothing that we could actually use, though… I didn’t like it. This whole thing about this AEP and this third Nephilim kind of seemed like it was bigger than just the game itself. If these guys were capable of replicating something like the SAO Incident on End War’s scale… that wasn’t good.

I took another bite of chicken and frowned, furrowing my brow as I worked from outside the game.

“You seem busy.” I hear a voice say, causing me to snap out of it and look up from my phone.

It was Rena.

“Oh, hey.” I say. “Right, I was meaning to tell you. Walker says we should take a break and stuff.”

“Take a break?” She asks.

“Yeah.” I say. “He says it’s dangerous for us to be out on the field right now considering these AEP guys know us by name and all.”

“Walker is your superior, Yamato.” Rena crossed her arms. “I’m not within his jurisdiction.”

“Look, Rena, I agree.” I say. “We’ve got the whole of Maverick working on this now. We can wait for them to come up with something for now.”

“Do you really think they can find anything?” She asks.

“They have a better chance than just us two.” I say, taking a few bites of rice. “Why are you so determined to find this guy anyway? Who put you up to this?”

“I already told you my reasons are my own.” She said.

“Right…” I take a sip of my water. “In any case we should still take it easy. These guys aren’t screwing around.”

“Neither am I.” She puts her hands on my desk.

“You sure take this shit seriously…” I finish up my chicken and move on to take care of the rice.

“It’d help if you did as well.” Rena commented.

“I don’t like to be stuck up all the time.” I retort. “It’s unhealthy to stress over everything.”

Rena scoffed and sat down in the chair next to me.

“We’ll get back to it sooner or later.” I say when I notice the look she was giving me. “We aren’t going to get anywhere with what we have right now anyway.”

“Since when are you one to think sensibly?” Rena asks.

“When my time is at risk of being wasted.” I answer, finishing up my lunch and stuffing the chopsticks into the box, closing it up and getting off my seat to throw it away.

“I got a bad feeling about all this.” I say when I return to Rena.

“Why’s that?”

“Been having these weird dreams lately…” I tell her. “They involve me, and… and I think End War… I think they may be things that are going to happen…”

“What, like seeing the future in your dreams?” Rena looks skeptical. “You know how crazy that sounds?”

“Yeah.” I say. “Either way, these guys are bad news. It’d be better if we waited for new information to show up, then we can jump on it.”

“Fine…” Rena said. “But it better not take too long.”

“Relax.” I smile. “You got Maverick.”

“Too bad you’re a part of it.” She says in a tone that wasn’t hurtful, before getting up and walking away.

I just smirk and relax in my seat, looking out the window to the snow drifting down.

---

“AGH!” I screamed and shot upright in my bed, finding myself panting and sweating all over my body.

I look over to the clock on my nightstand.

1:03 am.

“Fucking hell…” I pinch the bridge of my nose.

“Yamato?” I hear my dad come in. “Something wrong?”

“Ah…” I try to catch my breath and calm myself down. “Just… bad dream is all…”

“You having dreams?” He asks, stepping into the room.

“Yeah…” I say. “For a while now… it’s always the same. Just a bunch of stuff I can’t understand…”

“Hm…” Dad, turns around and motions me to follow. “C’mon.”

“Huh?” I say.

“Get dressed, let’s go.” He says, leaving the room.

“What…?” I sigh, but do as he says, getting dressed and going into the living room where I see him in the hakama he always wears in the dojo. Made me wonder why he would wear that when going out to town, especially at 1 in the morning.

“Where are we going?” I ask him.

“The shrine.” He says, stepping to the door.

“At this hour?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“You’ll see.”

“Can’t you just tell me?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“Why?”

It’s at this point that he grabs my arm and practically throws me out the door, letting me fly off the patio and barely manage to land on my feet.

“Gah!” I stagger to keep my balance. “Fucking fine! Yeesh…”

Dad smirks and shuts the door behind him, walking past me down the stone steps to the front gate of our house as I follow. I noticed he had Amaterasu held in his left hand.

“What’re you doing with that?” I ask.

“Come on.” He

It didn’t take long for us to get to the shrine. It was dark, but the moon provided enough light for us to be able to see where we were and where we were going. I expected to be brought to the actual temple, but instead we walk past it to a path on the side of the temple that I didn’t even know existed. We walked down a path that led down a hill and to a beach shore. I look out onto the water. I had never seen this before… the moonlight was perfectly reflected by the still water… it looked like a giant mirror reflecting the entire night sky.

“Wow…” I say as I stare out onto the water. “How long has this been here?”

“It’s always been here.” Dad told me. “The shrine itself isn’t where I go to relax. It’s here.”

He walked out onto the water. I was about to stop him but he didn’t sink into the water… he was walking on it. He stepped out onto the water, taking light steps that made smaller ripples than they realistically should, and stopped a ways out.

I stare in disbelief at the sight… my father was walking on water… how the hell did he do that?

He then got a confused look when he saw my expression.

“It’s just a really shallow pool.” He said. “It doesn’t even reach over my geta.”

“Oh…”

Boy do I feel stupid…

“Now, then.” Dad says, taking the katana in hand. “Watch closely.”

He rears back, readying himself to draw the blade in an iaido fashion. He stands perfectly still. There were no ripples in the water as he twisted himself around in preparation for the strike. He then slashes out, so fast I couldn’t even see the blade, to cut through the air. But it didn’t just cut the air… the water was slashed as well, mimicking the cut he made in the air within the glass-like pool with a sharp ripple in the shape of the cut. He then sheathed the blade silently without a single ripple more being made, before turning to look to me.

I didn’t know what to say about that… I couldn’t understand how the water reacted that way… it was like some sort of pressure wave was thrown out from the blade to make the water ripple with the arc of the blade through the air… but that would require a lot more force than could be accomplished by a human arm.

“Life is all about keeping composure.” He continues as he slices through the air again, once again cutting into the water with it. “It’s about never faltering to adversity. It’s about overcoming challenges and bettering yourself. It’s about refusing to lose no matter how long it takes.”

He makes three extremely quick slashes before sheathing the blade again.

“It’s about finding the one thing within you that keeps you going.” He said in a solemn tone. “It’s about holding onto that one thing, no matter what the cost.”

“Why are you telling me this, dad?” I ask.

“Because you don’t know who you are.” He answered plainly, looking up at the moon above. “And you don’t know who you will become.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

He tosses the sword to me, and I catch it in my left hand. He steps out of the water and to my side.

“Find out.”

I slowly step into the water, making much larger ripples than my father had in the pool. I stop when I get to where my father had been, looking down at my distorted reflection in the water, and at the moon above me. I look back to my father, who was silently watching me from the shore.

I sigh, and grasp the katana’s handle, feeling the same energetic feeling I did during our fierce training sessions… I lashed out fast and hard, swishing through the air. It didn’t have nearly the same effect as when dad did it though. It carved through the air instead of slicing through it. The strike didn’t create the ripple in the water, and the high pitched swish my father had achieved was a low toned whoosh when I did it. I let the blade fall to my side and look to my father.

“Focus yourself.” He told me. “Sheer power doesn’t accomplish much when there’s nothing controlling it. Let the blade guide you, but don’t be controlled by it.”

I didn’t know exactly what he was talking about, but I sheath the blade and decide to try again anyway. I take a deep breath and take the katana in hand again, instantly feeling a sensation I wasn’t completely familiar with… it was the same kind of feeling I had when I sparred with my father, but… it was different somehow. It felt calmer… it felt less combative and more… flowing? Would that be the word for it? It was a smooth sensation that washed over me, relaxing my nerves and focusing me… I didn’t know what was going on, but that fact wasn’t what my mind was on. My mind was elsewhere, somewhere it had never been before.

The act of drawing the blade felt like the water itself… the power behind the swing wasn’t out of control this time. It was directed along the blade, cutting the air clean in two as the water underneath the blade reflected the blade’s motion, rippling outwards as if I had released some kind of shockwave with the sword.

I look over to my father, who was only smiling.

Then I look down at my reflection in the water. I saw myself… but also not myself. I was me… the person staring back up at me was someone different; someone who looked like me, but… was something else. Something more or less, I couldn’t tell.

My head is then assaulted by a sharp pain as more foreign memories from the blade came to me. I shut my eyes tight and grit my teeth as the blade’s previous wielder called to me again, showing me these visions of his life that I didn’t understand… but somehow felt familiar with.

I realized it wasn’t that I was familiar with them… but I was going to be someday.

I shake it off and face my father.

“What the hell am I?!” I shout. “How am I able to see all these things?! I don’t understand!”

“What you are is up to you to decide.” My father answered, crossing his arms and closing his eyes.

“What are you, then?!” I say.

He doesn’t answer for a little bit, searching for the right words.

“I…” He starts, looking down at his open palm. “I am a Blade Master.”

“What?” I say.

I recalled years ago, when I was about six years old, my father began teaching me in the Kyosho Style Traditional Martial Art. He told me something about teaching me the ways of a Blade Master… I never put any thought into that until now. It never occurred to me that Blade Master may be an actual title instead of just a generalization.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I say, putting my arms out. “Do you even know what these dreams are?!”

“I do.” He says firmly.

“Wait… you mean you’ve had them too?” I ask.

“I have.” He answers, crossing his arms again. “I began experiencing the same kinds of dreams when I was around your age. They weren’t as vague as yours seem to be, though. They were clear… they told of a single event, and with each dream came another small detail. It was a vision of where I was going; of what was going to happen in the near future. I didn’t know when or how, or even why, but I knew it was coming. So I prepared myself for that day. I faced many hardships on the way… but when the day came, I managed to overcome the challenge, if just barely. After that I understood what it all meant.”

“Well what does it mean, then, huh?” I demand. “Tell me!”

“You’ll have to figure that out on your own, Yamato.” He said.

“Why can’t you just tell me?!”

“Because you won’t understand if I just told you.” He sighed. “You have to experience it in order to know.”

“How the hell do you know?!”

“I lived it.”

We stay silent for a few seconds after that, before I end up scoffing and looking away from him.

“What the hell are you, really?” I ask again.

My father doesn’t answer for a second, but then speaks.

“I’m definitely not who you think I am.”

I felt a rift forming between me and my father. Before this, he seemed like an ordinary father, a bit quirky at times, but nothing outside the ordinary. Now… now I felt like he was becoming a totally different person. Or maybe… I was just seeing a side of him he usually hid from the world… from me. I felt like I didn’t really know who he was… and it scared me.

Not only because I felt distanced from my own father… but because I felt like I was destined to become the same way as him.

Chapter 10

December 1st

“One, two, three, four, five, six…”

I shot all six shots of Wolf 500 downrange onto the target. All six connect in the same general area of the torso of the digital target a distance away down the firing range in HQ. I have my revolver pointed forward with one arm, my right side positioned slightly frontward to allow the recoil to properly be absorbed into my entire body instead of just my arm if I was facing straight forward.

I whip the gun to the side, sliding the cylinder out and pulling back, the six expended cartridges falling out and hitting the floor with multiple tings. I grab six individual bullets in one hand and slide them each into the cylinder, cycling it manually to fit each round in. Normally, I have a speed loader for the revolver for combat situations, but on the firing range I didn’t really need it. After I loaded all the rounds, I spin the cylinder and whip the gun back to the side to lock it back into the gun, taking aim again and firing two shots.

“Ah, tovarich!” I hear Jager say from behind me, seeing him enter the range with his two customized SVT-40 rifles in hand. “I was wondering who was in here.”

“Hey, Jager.” I say, firing off the rest of the cylinder, going to reload again.

Jager sets one of his rifles down and presses a button to the side of his area, spawning a digital target downrange. He shoulders his rifle, aiming down the modified iron sights, firing three shots, each of which hit the target square in the head, making the blue digital representation of a person blink red with each hit as well as throw out digital polygons from the point of impact, a digital shattering noise sounding along with.

“You find anything so far?” I ask him, loading up another six rounds and firing twice.

“Nothing so far, unfortunately.” He said. “Whoever these people are, they know how to cover their tracks well.”

“You think you may be onto anything at all.”

“I’m not sure…” He said. “I do know they’ve explored some old ruins from some lost civilization, most likely something relating to this third Nephilim, but other than that there isn’t much to go on.”

“Think you’ll check out those ruins?” I ask.

“I might… but I’m not too sure.” He said. “I’ve heard that there are sometimes things lurking inside those old ruins…”

“You don’t honestly believe that superstitious bullshit, do you?” I look to him.

“Don’t be so dismissive of the old times, my friend.” He warned.

“The hell does that mean?” I laugh, firing a few more shots.

“I think you need to read up on your lore, Yamato.” Jager smirked. “Those ruins are known danger areas. Dark, decrepit dungeons and the like. Filled with ancient terrors that you’ve never seen before.”

“Hm…” I say, reloading again and lowering the weapon. “Have you been to any of these ruins before?”

“Once.” He said, lowering his own weapon to look at me. “Only went down a few levels, however. There were things in there I’ve never seen before…”

We look at each other for a few seconds before resuming our target practice.

“After that…” He continued. “I decided to look into the lore of the world a bit, just to figure out what it was I saw down there…”

“And what did you find out?” I ask.

“That the legends of old still have their influences… even in today’s modern age.”

“You think one of these ruins could have something useful?” I ask.

“Probably.” He answered. “May be able to at least shed some light on the significance of this third Nephilim if nothing else.”

“When did you go into one of these ruins?” I question.

“Ah, that was when I was still a part of Hotel November.” He said. “You know that one sniper guild I used to run with. It was during a mission that our target was hiding out in an old ruing and we had to go in after him… turns out the poor bastard died to the things he woke up inside before we could get at him.”

“That bad?”

“Pretty much… we weren’t equipped or prepared to handle the things down there.”

“Still got paid at least?”

“Oh, well nothing was going to stop us from getting paid.” Jager smiles. “We still got the bounty from taking proof off his body… or what was left of it at least.”

“Sounds fantastic.” I say, firing off a few more shots.

“Well in any case, I don’t think that exploring those ruins would do any good.” Jager said. “Our goal is to find this guy, not to learn about history.”

“God, I hate history.” I say. “I mean, what’s the point of learning what a bunch of dead guys did hundreds of years ago?”

“History has many things to tell, Yamato.” Jager offered, smiling. “We can’t move forward without looking back first.”

I just stare at him for a bit.

“Heh.” I smirk. “Philosophical bastard.”

I reload my gun again after firing off the last few shots, before holstering it to my right leg.

I then remember how I also had a map of these areas, and how I liked going into deep, dark, and dangerous places for adventure and loot. I briefly considered going into one of these places to see what could be found before deciding to go into one of these places to see what could be found.

I must’ve been smiling because Jager caught me.

“You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking, are you?” He asks.

“What?” I look to him. “Nooo, no, no. Of course not.”

“You’re a liar, my friend!” He laughed, making me laugh along with him. “Well I definitely can’t stop you… but I really wouldn’t if I were you.”

“But you aren’t me, are you?”

“That I am not.”

---

“Alright… let’s see.” I had been tracking the location of one of the old ruins on the map for a while now. It took some time just to get to a place where I could set up my bike to go the rest of the way on foot. But now I was closing in on where I was going, according to the map on my UIP. This place was hidden pretty well, basically being in the middle of nowhere in a forest and nearby a cliff face. It didn’t take much longer to actually find it. It was a large ruin which looked to be a huge fortress that was now in complete ruins. Grass and trees had grown around the remains of the structure so it blended in pretty well with the rest of the forest. Nothing significant to most people, but to me there could be a whole bunch of things just waiting to be looted.

I step over a crumbled stone wall and make my way through the ruins, looking around. I doubted that there was going to be anything of value on the outside. What I was looking for was a way into the sublevels. No doubt a place like this would have dungeons and the like. If there was going to be anything of value to be found here, then it would be down below.

I scoured the ruins, looking for such an entrance, but couldn’t find anything after a while. I figured that it would be hard to find in between everything that has grown on top of this place. I’d have to search pretty well in order to find it…

---

It took me about an hour, but I finally came across what seemed to be an underground passage that was hidden by some ruined walls. I had to cut through some of the rubble to get at it, and when I did, it looked like it wasn’t actually a passage; it was just a hole going straight down.

“Hm.” I look down the dark hole, unable to see a bottom. I pick up a nearby rock and drop it down, waiting to hear it hit the ground below.

It took a good 15 seconds.

“Well, shit.” I say.

I briefly considered taking another look around to see if I could find some stairs or something, but figured that I might as well just take the entrance in front of me.

“Welp…” I smirk. “Here we go.”

I hop down, falling through complete darkness, unable to see a thing as I went. I counted the seconds of my fall up to ten before pointing Armature upwards and activating the booster in the handle to slow my fall the rest of the way, allowing me to land hard but safely on the ground.

Unfortunately, I still couldn’t see shit.

“Egh, alright…” I say while sheathing Armature to my back. My voice echoed in whatever room I was in. “Let me see…”

I searched through my inventory and brought out a flashlight, turning it on and looking around. The room I was in was a pretty big one… looked to be in complete ruins just like the rest of the place. The ground I stood on wasn’t a stone floor either. It was plain dirt, which led me to believe this place used to be outside at one point. I look around the room, noticing what looked to be a bulwark that was lying in pieces on its side, which further reinforced my suspicions that this place wasn’t always underground.

“Hm…” I say, looking up at the nonexistent ceiling and along the walls. I saw stalagmites on the floor lining the walls. They were taller than I was, suggesting this place had been like this for a pretty damn long time; longer than I could even imagine. My next order of business was to look around for an exit. Luckily, there was one. I noticed a mostly intact doorway leading out of the room. I walk towards it and walk through, minding my head as the archway was crumbled down a bit. I find myself in a long hallway that had seen better days than this. I also noticed a skeleton sitting up against the wall right next to me.

“Oh, hello.” I say when I notice it and it startles me a bit.

I shine my light back down the hallway and walk forward. Considering this place looked to have once been some kind of fortress, I was willing to bet that it would have an armory, and maybe a treasure stockpile depending on what it was used for. No doubt I’d be able to find at least something of value in either of those places. So my goal was to try to find either of these rooms and have at it. I didn’t really know how I was going to find my way around this place, and I might as well have been lost already, but that really didn’t bother me. The promise of loot overcame that.

Eventually, after wandering for about 15 minutes and taking some detours due to rubble, while just cutting through some others, I come across the armory, kicking open the rotted wood door and looking around for anything.

“Hm…” I look around at rusted blades and broken crossbows, searching the room top to bottom for anything that might be worth taking, or anything that was at least still in good enough condition to be taken back and sold for a good price to some collector.

I also notice more skeletons around the room, still clad in ancient battle armor, frozen in time. It occurred to me that something killed these men. Not only killed them… completely buried this entire fortress as well. There must’ve been a really big battle to have done this.

Either that… or something really big.

In the end, I didn’t find anything worth stealing in the armory, much to my dismay. I decide to leave the room to try to find anything else, maybe a treasure room or something. Disappointing. But there were still places I could look for neat things to take, so I leave the armory and keep going down the pitch dark halls.

I end up going down more levels after finding some stairs, heading down and almost breaking my neck when one of the stone steps decided to crumble underneath my foot. Luckily I was spared the embarrassment of being killed by stairs and went down as far as I could. In my mind, it seemed only logical that the stuff of most value would be stored deepest underground. Seemed reasonable to me. If not I could always just work my way up.

Lucky for me, the place started to get less and less completely wrecked as I went down, but it was still in a state of complete disrepair from being abandoned for who knows how many years. Thousands, if I had to guess.

I walk down the empty halls, my light still lighting the way. I started to get the creeps being this far down in a pitch dark area all alone with just a flashlight and about five guns and a sword. It only added to my sense of adventure, however, and just pushed me further and got me more excited for whatever was waiting for me.

Even if it was something that would want to kill me.

Hell, that would actually be super awesome.

I eventually come across a completely wrecked area down the hall, which surprised me considering the rest of the sublevels seemed fine for being abandoned for thousands of years. I was facing a large pile of stone and rubble that there wasn’t any way I was getting through. I also didn’t see any way I was going to get further down from here.

Well, the legitimate way, anyway.

I decided I’d just cut my way through the floor to hit the lower levels. I stuck my blade through the floor down to the hilt and by the feeling I got through the blade when I wiggled it I could tell that it had gone all the way through and was now poking out of the ceiling of the lower floor. I nod and cut a circle around myself, immediately falling through the floor. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the fact that there wasn’t a fucking floor underneath me when I did.

“Agh, shit!” I curse as I fall straight down, managing to catch the nearest wall with my blade to slow myself, but I eventually get torn off that and fall a bit more before hitting a slanted surface hard, rolling down and crashing through some light debris before finally falling down onto a solid surface.

I lie down on the ground for a few seconds, before slowly picking myself up off the ground.

“Owww…” I groan. “That sucked…”

I manage to get myself back on my feet and dust myself off, looking up with my flashlight and immediately setting my eyes on the huge fucking face that was staring at me.

“AH!” I shout, jumping backwards.

However, upon closer inspection I notice it seemed to just be a giant statue. It didn’t even have a human face… well, it was kind of humanoid… two eyes… but the nose and mouth were replaced by bits that looked to be made of stone, almost. The thing had two stone structures coming out from either side of its head. I take a look at the rest of its body, noticing that it was also mostly made of a stone-like material, with a sort of fur, like body underneath, like the stone was just armor around a huge furry body.

The thing was fucking massive, and it took up almost the entirety of the room that I fell into.

“Woah…” I say.

I actually knew what this thing was. It was a Colossus. A dead one, for sure. Probably been dead for however long this place had been abandoned. Looked to be… Angel, if I had a say in the matter. Must be why this place is completely buried.

So this is what I had stumbled upon… the remains of a great battle between some unknown force and a Colossus from long, long ago. I was probably the first person to come through here since this place was abandoned.

Damn… Jager was right. I did need to read up on my lore. I look across the room and notice, under the Colossus’s head, was a large circular structure on the wall. I walk up to it, and as I do I realize it was some sort of door. It was made of a bronze-colored metal, and looked to be probably the best looking thing in this ruin. It still held its shine in my light, and it looked to not even have a scratch on it.

Whatever metal it was made of, it was tough as hell.

I approach the door in excitement. Surely, thought I, this was the boon I was searching for. Behind this door surely lies the treasure I sought. I’d just have to cut through it and I’d be swimming in cash!

I bring my blade out and slice at the door.

The thing bounced right off.

“Gah!” I recoil in surprise when my blade fails to cut.

I test the door, placing the blade in the door and watching as sparks flew from the high-frequency oscillations in the blade. There were sparks, but it wasn’t cutting.

Yeah, this metal was really fucking tough. There were very few materials that can resist HF blades. This seemed to be one of them.

Well shit.

Looks like I’d have to actually try to open a door! That’s a first!

Upon closer inspection of the door, however, I see that there didn’t seem to be any actual mechanism on it. It was just a bunch of circles with one last protruding circular form on the center at around chest height.

Okay, so how the hell did this work, even? Was it even a door? Am I just stupid? I mean, yeah, obviously, but seriously, how the hell did this even work?

I reach out to the door, noticing how when my hand got close to the protruding bit, some sort of energy began to be pulled from my hand and flow into the door. I pull my hand back when I see this, staring at the door, then looking down to my hand.

“The fuck?” I mutter to myself, before reaching back out, slowly this time. I see the same blue dark energy being pulled from my hand, and I notice runic symbols around the door slowly starting to glow a dim white. I place my hand on it, and instantly the entire door illuminates the whole room. I back off the door as suddenly, the circles of the door began to twist and turn in multiple directions and push into the door, seemingly to unlock multiple locks within the door.

However, as the door cycled its locks, I notice the Colossus to my right suddenly shift. Its darkened eyes suddenly take a blue glow, and it groans in a deep and long tone. It reaches an arm out, forcing me to boost away with my blade to avoid the thing falling on top of me. The act of slamming its arm into the ground ended up destroying its own arm, most likely due to years of degradation, and it moaned once more, before falling silent once again, crashing to the ground with a thunderous boom. I stuck to the other wall, staring at the thing, making sure it didn’t move again. It looked like something had temporarily sparked it back to life somehow… whatever had done it only gave it enough to do what is just did before it died again. I didn’t even think that it was intentionally trying to hurt me either…

My thoughts were broken when I notice the door finally unlock completely, and it lowers into the ground, revealing a final chamber beyond.

“Yeesh…” I dust off my jacket. “About damn time…”

I walk over to the door and step through, looking around the new room I find myself in. It looked pretty busted up, but not nearly as much as the rest of the fortress. It was a large circular room that was lit up by white runes circling the walls, the same kind that was present on the door I had somehow opened. In the center of the room, I saw… I didn’t even know what it was. It was some sort of… shrine or something? It consisted of four pillars in a square around a central structure that was low to the ground, almost like a pedestal or something… The pillars were made of a black material that almost looked like obsidian with how they shined in the light. I had no clue what the hell I was looking at.

“Wow.” I say, looking around the room.

Whatever this place used to be, it looked to have been pretty important once upon a time. But those days are long gone now.

I took another few looks around the room before sighing.

There was still nothing worth taking here.

“God dammit…” I curse softly, scratching the back of my head.

I look to the pedestal in the center of the room, walking to it and hopping on top of it, bouncing from foot to foot as if something was about to happen. Nothing did, though. I look back to my hand, thinking about how the door had opened to my touch… I understood that these ancient things heavily incorporated the soul, the essence of all life and power in the universe… the fact that I was able to open up a door like that just by touching it led me to suspect that I had a soul that was stronger than average… and that got me to thinking about that Colossus. Could I have accidentally done that? Did I somehow transfer some of my energy into the Colossus to reactivate it somehow? I had no idea… but it got me thinking about other things I could possibly do.

I sigh and rub the back of my neck, stretching myself out a bit.

Well this whole venture was a waste of time… didn’t find anything to bring back. That totally sucked.

So… now how was I supposed to get out of here?

“Agh, shit…” I mutter.

I hadn’t thought of that. I pretty much fell into this room, and I couldn’t fly up to the hole I fell through. Unfortunately, Armature couldn’t take me up that far.

I wish I had a jetpack.

As far as I could see I was trapped in this area, super far underground with no way of escape other than maybe seppuku, but I wasn’t that much of a masochist.

I then got a really crazy idea… like, crazy even for me. I leave the room and head back to the dead Colossus, lying there on the ground. I walk up to it and carefully touch it.

Nothing happens.

“Hmm…” I scratch my chin, thinking of what I could do.

I wasn’t a practitioner of soulcraft, which was basically the manipulation of one’s Soul to perform feats of magic, so I wouldn’t know how to properly go about putting some of my energy into a Colossus. Hell, I didn’t even know how I managed to do it with a fucking door.

But I tried it anyway.

I closed my eyes, concentrating as hard as I could, trying to envision myself bringing the thing to life with the force of my Soul. But no matter how hard I tried, nothing happened. I open my eyes and sigh heavily, leaning my back against the thing’s head and crossing my arms, trying to think of something I could do about this… it was a crazy idea to begin with… trying to reanimate a dead Colossus to get out of here… I’d probably do better thinking of some other plan…

But then, I recalled my father… I remembered last night when I was in the water… the way I had made the blade flow so effortlessly through the air… the feeling of calm and patience that had come over me.

With this new mindset, I take a deep breath and try again, putting my hand on the Colossus’s head, focusing myself… letting it all come to me… pushing my energy into the creature. It took a few minutes to get it right, but then, it began to move. I open my eyes and jump back as the Colossus once again sparks to life, groaning and pulling itself over with its not-destroyed arm. I dragged itself across the entire room, coming to a stop when it ran into the far wall and was situated directly under the hole I had fallen through. With nowhere to go, it eventually ran out of energy and once again went cold. I take a good look at the result of my work, nodding approvingly.

“Nice…” I say, climbing up onto the large creature and giving me enough starting height to let Armature take me the rest of the way up, letting me grab onto the edge of the hole and pull myself up. After that, it didn’t take long for me to work my way out of the ruined fortress. I had to find another exit, since I could reach up to the hole I had entered from, but luckily, there was an entrance that I could actually use to leave the place.

Once again in the sunlight, I scratch my head, slightly ruffling my hair, and sheathe Armature onto my back, putting my hands on my hips and smiling widely up at the sky.

I had no idea what the hell I just did, but fucking hell, it was awesome!

I’d have to tell the others about this for sure.

---

I enter the front doors of HQ, stretching myself out and being greeted with a stern call from Walker.

“Yamato!” He said in an aggravated tone.

Oh, right, I wasn’t supposed to be out and about.

I walk up to the circle couch and lean on the back of it.

“Yes, honey?” I say in as cute a voice as I could put on.

“What did I tell you about going out?” He said.

“Oh, so you can go drinking with your friends, but I’m not allowed to spend one night with the girls?”

“Yamato!” He yelled this time.

“I can’t help myself.” I tell him, shrugging with a smirk on my face.

“Dammit, Yamato…” He closed his eyes. “Jager told me you went to one of the ruins that these AEP guys have searched.”

“Traitor.” I say plainly to Jager, who was sitting on the far end of the couch.

“Sorry…” He shrugs with a guilty smile.

“Yeah, that’s right.” I say to Walker. “I wanted to see if I could find some loot.”

Walker sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose.

“Of course you did…” He said. “Did you at least find anything?”

“Well…” I begin. “No… and yes.”

“The hell does that mean?”

“No, in the sense that I didn’t find any loot.” I explain. “Yes, in the fact that I can apparently open magic doors and control Colossi.”

“You… you what?” Walker went wide-eyed.

“Wait, what, now?” Jager joined him.

“Yeah, I ended up finding the deepest chamber of the place, and there was this door, and I opened it by touching it!” I smile. “And there was a dead Colossus in there, and I got it to wake up and help me get out after I got stuck!”

They both just stared at me.

“We need to get this checked out.” Walker finally said after the silence. “I knew you had a stronger than average Soul, but I didn’t think it was capable of something like that.”

“Hahah!” Jager raised his canteen of vodka. “Seems there’s more to you than meets the eye, Yamato!”

“Seems so.” I agree, crossing my arms.

“Yamato, I don’t think you understand.” Walker warned me. “If you can do something like that it’s just going to give this AEP more reasons to go after you.”

“Do you really think they know that much about me?” I ask.

“There’s no telling how much they know, Yamato.” He answered, sitting in his chair and taking a sip from a cup he had on the desk.

“Well either way…” I look at my hands. “If I could control this stuff… god, think of what I could do!”

“I thought you weren’t interested in soulcraft?” Jager mentioned.

It’s true; I wasn’t really interested in it. I much preferred the good old tried and true method of shooting something in the face or cutting it into pieces to solve my problems… but with what I managed to do… I found it hard not to be interested now.

“Well, I wasn’t before.” I tell him. “But now? God, I might be able to do some crazy shit!”

“Well, maybe you can have Michael teach you a thing or two.” Walker said. “He knows a thing or two about some practical soulcraft… and if you were able to move a Colossus, then I think you’d be able to pick it up pretty easily.”

Yeah, that’s a good point. Blenheim did know a few tricks with soulcraft that enhanced his combat ability. It wasn’t anything too flashy, but it was effective and practical, the two things I was all about. Further, Abigail knew some medical soulcraft, and I think Octavia may know some spells as well. On top of that, there was Callahan. Being an Angel Hybrid, I could probably have him teach me a few tricks if I ran into him again.

Honestly, I kind of wanted to learn on my own. Experiment and stuff, you know? It was strange how I had never known about this before… I guess my father’s teachings were starting to have their payoffs…

Whoever these AEP guys were, they were in for a surprise the next time we crossed paths.

Chapter 11

December 6th

It was just after school. The final bell had rung and everyone was backing up to leave. I had asked Rena if she was going to be on during lunch, but she said she had things to do. My guess was that she was going to the hospital again to see her father. I decided to go visit her again.

I walked to the hospital after school, entering the main building and heading up to where Rena’s father’s room was. I walked down the hall and once again saw Rena sitting on the bench outside the room, looking out the window. I walk up to her and she notices me, but just looks away, not saying anything.

I don’t say anything either. I just step over and sit down next to her, looking forward. She still remains silent, looking down at her lap. We stay in silence for a few minutes, before she finally speaks up.

“What’re you doing back here?” She asked.

“Just checking on you.” I say.

“Why?”

“No clue.” I shrug. “It’s not like I care about anything at all, or something like that.”

She sighs and looks back down to her lap, but looks back up to me before long.

“So… how’s that whole soulcraft training thing of yours going?” She asked.

“It’s hard…” I scratch the back of my neck. “Octavia’s been trying to teach me some things but I can’t get the hang of it… I think I need a new teacher or something.”

“I hear the Brotherhood of The Faithful can train others.” Rena said.

“Yeah but I’d probably have to put up with a bunch of religious shit I don’t care about.” I sigh.

“You don’t believe?”

“Not really.” I say. “I don’t like the thought that everything in my life is dictated by some big old guy in the sky. I like to think that the choices I make are my own… why? Do you?”

“No.”

“Well there you go.”

We stay silent for a bit longer, before I speak up again.

“I don’t know why you just sit out here when your father is in there.” I tell her.

“I already told you…” She said. “I hate him.”

“Then why do you bother coming at all?” I ask her.

She looks away from me.

“My mother comes here.” She explained. “For some reason she comes here and takes care of him… after he just left us.”

“Hrm…” I stare back out the window.

So her father left her and her mother… I’m assuming it happened when she was pretty young.

“Now after all these years he has the nerve to ask for forgiveness…” She grits her teeth in anger. “Like he even cares about me or my mother; about his own family. And yet my mother acts like he never left in the first place!”

“Must’ve been tough.” I say.

“I hate him…” She repeated. “My mother is worrying so much for him. How the hell does he deserve that?!”

“I don’t know.” I say plainly, keeping my gaze out the window.

I really wasn’t sure how to confront this situation. I couldn’t sympathize with her since I’ve never been in this situation… but I guess I could still be there for her. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel obligated to do anything for her, and I definitely don’t have any feelings for her. I just… I just don’t like it when people are sad is all. It gets to me.

I hate having a heart. It’s bullshit.

I don’t dare hold her hand or even wrap my arm around her even for the sake of comforting her, so the most I can do is just sit next to her as she works stuff out for herself.

I stayed with her for about ten minutes more before deciding to leave, standing up and walking away, leaving her on her own.

---

I slide down the stairs in my usual awesome fashion and land cleanly on the bottom floor, noticing Callahan sitting at the couch, sharing a drink with Jager and Blenheim.

“Oi, Callahan.” I say, jumping the back of the couch and sitting down. “What brings you here?”

“Dimitri here asked me.” He said. “We met up while he was sniffing around looking for these AEP guys or whatever.”

“Thought since he’s an Angel Hybrid he could help out.” Jager smiled. “Not only with these guys but with training you in soulcraft and all.”

“Yeah, he told me about that too.” He said, leaning back on the couch and taking a sip of his drink. “Heard you moved a Colossus. You have any idea how hard that is?”

“How hard?” I ask.

“I can’t do it.” He said.

That struck me. Callahan was an Angel Hybrid. Hybrids are known for having insane amounts of Anima, and he can’t even do something like that… what the hell did that make me? Was I something I wasn’t aware of?

“Did you feel tired afterwards?” Callahan asked. “Like, right after you did it.”

“Not at all…” I remember back to it. After I had moved it I remember feeling completely fine. I don’t remember feeling tired at all.

“Shit…” Callahan smirked. “You’re definitely something else, then…”

“Something else?” I ask. “What do you mean?”

“Well you definitely aren’t a normal Human, that’s for sure.” Callahan rubbed his chin. “Either you’re a Human with an insane amount of Anima, which isn’t completely unheard of, but is incredibly rare… or you aren’t a Human at all. You could even be a Hybrid and just don’t know it.”

“Heh, wouldn’t that be sweet?” I say, grabbing the bottle of whatever substance it was they were drinking, inspecting it and grimacing. “What is this stuff?”

“Vodka, of course.” Jager says. “What else? It’s good!”

I take a shot glass and pour myself a shot, downing it in one gulp. The stuff was fucking liquid fire going down my throat… the taste was so strong it burned, and I end up coughing up more than I had actually swallowed.

“GACK!” I hack up some of it, splattering it onto the table while everyone laughed at my expense. “Fucking hell! How does this shit not kill you?!”

“It’s an acquired taste, tovarich!” Jager laughs heartily. “Reminds me of a time I shared a drink with a friend in November Company! I gave her a particularly strong drink and she ended up spitting it out, heh…”

“Who’s that?” I ask.

“Well… she wasn’t a friend, per se… I don’t even really know if she liked me at all.” He grinned. “Always found fault with just about everything I did… honestly, I really think she just hated me. Don’t know if she even cared when I left the group for good.”

“What, you liked her?” I ask.

“Not even sure if she’d let me like her.” He pondered the thought. “But that was a long time ago… back when I was in the military.”

“Yeah, why did you leave the military anyway?” Blenheim asked. “Pay wasn’t good enough or what?”

“Oh, no, it didn’t have anything to do with money.” He replied, waving a hand. “There was plenty of that. But I don’t think any of us were really interested in that… it was more about the… the ideals behind it.”

Callahan closed his eyes and nodded once, as if he knew what he was talking about.

Blenheim and I, for two, did not.

“The hell does that mean?” Blenheim asked.

“Eh… you’ll understand when you’re older.” Jager smiled widely and took another sip from his drink.

“Shut up.” Blenheim said, taking his own drink.

“Well, if you want, Yamato, we can get started.” Callahan offered. “I know a few tricks of my own that you can totally perform if you can move a god damn Colossus without even being tired afterwards.”

“Ah… yeah, sure.” I say.

“You have a training yard, right?” He asks as we stand up.

“Yeah, it’s this way.”

I lead him through the halls and out to the training yard. The training yard we had was a pretty big courtyard, consisting of barricades, target dummies, small practice buildings… you know, the usual stuff you’d find. We step out into the center, and Callahan faces me.

“Alright.” He says, looking around. “See that building?”

He points to a building to his right; one of the small practice buildings.

“Yeah?”

“I want you to destroy it.”

“The fuck?”

“Destroy the building, Yamato!” He smiles wickedly. “Do it! Do it!”

“How the hell am I supposed to do that?” I ask.

He walks over to a target dummy and puts his hand on it, and instantly the thing explodes, sending pieces of it all over the place.

“Like that.” He said.

“You’re a shit teacher.” I comment.

“Alright, I’ll take it slow, then.” He smirks and walks over to another dummy, pointing to it. “Put your hand on it.”

I shrug but do as he says, placing my hand on its chest.

“Now…” He says. “If you concentrate, you should be able to feel your own Anima surrounding you.”

I concentrate as he says, and sure enough, I do manage to feel a certain energy around myself… I could feel it flowing around me, like some sort of foreign pressure around and throughout my body. It felt weird…

“Now, no doubt you felt this when you move a fucking Colossus.” He said. “I want you to do the same thing you did before, only this time, holding the energy at your palm.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” I ask.

“Just don’t let your energy transfer to anything else.” He explains. “Build it up, and then release it when you’ve got a good amount stored.”

“What’s a good amount?”

He shrugs.

“Whatever you feel, I guess.” He says.

I give him a skeptical look, but do as he says, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath as I poured my Anima outwards into my hand, managing to contain it in my palm… I build it up for several seconds, feeling the enormous pressure cumulate in my hand… then, when I’m ready, I let it forward.

Fucking thing sent me flying backwards and through one of the fucking practice buildings.

I slam my head against the far wall, shattering the glass window next to me. I slide down the wall, coughing a bit and rubbing the back of my head. When I manage to focus my sight, I see Callahan looking at me through the hole I made in the far wall.

“Hey.” He said. “You alive?”

“Barely…” I groan, slowly staggering painfully to my feet. “The hell did I do?”

“Um… blew up the training yard?”

“Huh?”

He points to where I had done the deed. There was an outwards crater there. Everything in the way of the blast was completely destroyed. There wasn’t even a trace of the dummy left as far as I could see… the far wall of the courtyard had a big cracked up crater in it now…

For fuck’s sake, man…

“Whatever I feel, huh?” I give him a look.

“Yeah… that’ll happen…” He says, scratching the back of his neck. “God, I am a shit teacher…”

“Hey!” Blenheim shouted when he entered the courtyard, no doubt to investigate the noise, with Jager following him. “The hell is… woah…”

The two stare wide-eyed at the carnage I unintentionally made.

“Chyort…” Jager said. “What the hell did you do?!”

“I have no fucking clue…” I say, rubbing my head and groaning.

“Yeah, you’re gonna need to learn to control that.” Callahan said.

“Well you’re not fucking helping!” I shout.

“Your Anima is a lot stronger than I thought…” Callahan says to himself, leaning up against a piece of the wreckage. “It’d probably be a lot harder for you to control than it was for me.”

“Well shit…” I stretch myself out and roll my shoulders.

“Alright… let’s try something that won’t blow us all up this time.” Callahan said. “I want you to try to use Soul Vision.”

“Soul Vision?” I say. “What’s that?”

“It allows you to alter your perspective of the world and see the energy that people give off, as well as the energy of the world around you.” He explains, a finger raised. “Like now…”

He closes his eyes momentarily then reopens them, a faint glow appearing in his eyes. He looks around, then to me, and furrows his brow.

“That’s strange…”

“What?” I ask.

“I… I can’t see your energy…” He said. “You’re just… blank.”

“What… does that mean?” I say.

“I don’t know…” He says. “But anyway… let’s see you give it a try.”

“How would I go about doing that?” I ask, shrugging. “Dare I ask you, the shit teacher.”

“Just focus.” He said. “It’s really just all about focus. Close your eyes and feel everything around yourself… let your own energy interact with the energies around you. When you open your eyes you should be able to pull it off.”

“Won’t just blow something up when I do?” I smirk.

“Hopefully not.” Callahan smiles and shrugs. “Give it a try.”

“Alright…”

I close my eyes as he instructed, and concentrated… on what, I couldn’t tell, so I actually just let myself wander. But sure enough, I could feel it… these forces around me and a force that I myself was exerting… it felt like some sort of pressure all around me, from many different points. It felt really weird…

And when I opened my eyes… woah…

Instantly, the world around me takes on a dark gray hue, and I could make out every detail of my surroundings with amazing precision… I could see the way the breeze kicked up dirt and swirled it into the air… I could make out individual leaves on a nearby tree. Most of all, everyone around me was lit up… like, actually lit up. Callahan was lit up with a gray glow, and Jager and Blenheim were glowing violet.

“Waow…” I look around. “What is this I am witnessing?”

“Soul Vision.” Callahan said. “It allows you to see the Anima that others emit as well as that of the environment around you. Pretty useful, especially since you can pick out individuals in a crowd and even see people through walls.”

“Huh…” I close my eyes tight and shake my head lightly, opening them again to have the world returned to normal. “Trippy stuff.”

“You’re new to Soulcraft.” Callahan smirked. “You don’t know the half of it.”

“Hrm…” I look at my hands and try it again. When I reopen my eyes, I notice I can’t see my own energy. I assumed that it didn’t exactly work that way… but Callahan couldn’t see it either… weird.

“Now, then…” Callahan smiles. “What say we put your new abilities to the test?”

“What do you mean?” I wonder, looking to him curiously.

“I’m requesting your help with a job of mine.” He said, putting a hand in his jeans pocket. “Interested?”

“You have a job?” I ask. “I thought you said you just wandered around.”

“I lied.” He said. “I actually work for a private contractor. Got a little problem that needs to be dealt with.”

“Will I get paid?” I ask first and foremost.

“Yeah, sure.” He said no problem.

“50/50.” I say.

“30/70.” He returns. “I’ve already done most of the work.”

“Deal.” I smile.

“Alright, then…” He says. “Let’s get going.”

“Hey, hey.” Blenheim stopped us as we walked back to HQ. “Who’s gonna clean all this up?”

“You, I reckon.” I patted his shoulder as we passed. “Have fun!”

“Hey!” He turned around, but we were already inside the building.

---

We headed into downtown Halfen, the smaller area of the city, where there weren’t as many high risers but more bars. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood, per se… just outside the main city.

Callahan had taken me to one of these bars and we stepped inside. No eyes were on us as we walked up to the bar and sat on the stools. A barmaid came up to us, washing off a glass.

“What can I get you two?” She asked.

You know what, I take it back. This is a bad neighborhood.

“Nothing for me.” I say. “I’m fine.”

“Just water.” Callahan said, not even paying attention to her, instead looking through the other patrons.

She went over with her glass to get water for Callahan as he continued to scan the crowd. I looked at him and noticed his eyes had a faint glow. He was looking for someone in particular it seemed, and when he fixed on one position, I knew he had found whoever it was.

He turned around and bent over the bar like he was minding his own business.

“Yamato.” He said. “Brown overcoat, back corner.”

I look over and see the guy he described, making sure to make it look like I wasn’t looking right at him so he wouldn’t get suspicious of anything.

“Who’s he?” I ask.

“He’s got something my contractor wants.” Callahan says. “Only problem is he knows I’m after him. If I try to approach he’ll run for it and it’ll take another month to track him down again.”

“You want me to get him, then?” I assume.

“Tail him first.” He says as the barmaid brings him his drink. “You can use your Soul Vision to track him.

“What’s he got that you need?”

“The location of a cult group I’ve been tasked with breaking up.” He took a sip of his water. “You’ll need to tail him to their hideout, then report back to me. We can take them on together, then.”

“Why can’t I just wipe them out for you?” I ask him.

“These guys are assassins.” He said. “Skilled assassins, too. You won’t be able to take them all on by yourself.”

I look back and notice the guy leaving the bar.

“Get on him.” Callahan said, taking another sip of his drink. “I’ll wait here. Contact me when you got him.”

I nod and he gives me his comm number as I spin in the booth and hop off, walking out the bar and activating my newly acquired ability to scan the crowd. I was worried that my target would be lost with all the people lit up like Christmas lights, but it seemed that when I was actually targeting someone, nobody else glowed. I easily picked out my target, who was glowing red. On the ground I saw a light red trail that he was so generously leaving behind him. I saw the guy sneak into an alleyway, and I followed.

I managed to tail the guy through several alleyways until we got to the really far ends of the city, which actually was the bad neighborhood. This was where several abandoned warehouses were, so it didn’t surprise me that some assassin cult would hole up here, outside the gaze of the rest of the city, and especially the Rangers. It was going through another alleyway that the guy stopped, and as did I the instant he did. He stood there for a few seconds, and I was afraid that I’d have to find cover really quick. I look around for possible hiding spots, but lucky me, it didn’t come to that. Unlucky me, the guy bolted to the right out of the alley.

“Shit…” I curse under my breath as I make for it, full sprint after him

I didn’t know how he sniffed me out, but it didn’t really matter. Catching this guy was now my priority. I turn the sharp corner, and see the guy a little bit ahead. I was way fast than this guy, so it shouldn’t take much for me to take him down. This guy was slower, but he wasn’t stupid either. He opened a nearby door to an abandoned business building and runs inside, shutting the door behind him.

“Gonna take more than that!” I smile as I bring out my sword, instantly cutting the door off its hinges and kicking it down, noticing the guy running up the stairs. I make after him and just fly up the stairs. Unfortunately, though, I lose him by the second flight, making my way up to the fifth floor of the building, which was also the top floor. I look around, and listen for any footsteps, but I don’t hear any… bastard lost me…

“Dammit…” I say quietly.

I then remembered how Callahan told me that I could also see people through walls… this chase might not be over just yet…

I once again close my eyes and activate Soul Vision, looking around. I don’t see him on my floor, but when I look down, I notice him. I run over to a nearby window to find that he had run into a warehouse right next to me. On top of that, he was running up the stairs of said warehouse.

Perfect. He was about to pass right under one of the large windows lining the upper walls.

I quickly make my way up to the roof of my building while tracking his movements. If I was quick enough, I’d be able to make it… I rush out onto the roof, breaking out in a full sprint and immediately jumping off the edge of the roof towards the other building, barreling towards the window. The window he was right underneath.

I focus my energy into my palm again as I bring out my blade, forcing my Anima forward and instantly shattering the window. I land on the guy put my sword through his chest as I used his body to break my fall, rolling to a stop and ending with him underneath my knee, impaled on my blade.

“Well, shit…” I say, realizing I had gone a bit overboard and killed the guy who was going to lead me to these assassin dudes… I was never really good at this kind of job. I just had a tendency to kill everything. Lucky me, I search through his coat pockets and find a note in one of them, telling him to meet up at another warehouse in about half an hour.

I call Callahan on my UIP.

“Callahan, I got the location.” I say.

“Great.” I hear him answer. “Where?”

“The old Ansco warehouse on the outskirts of the city.” I tell him. “This guy was going to meet with them in about half an hour.”

“You killed the guy, didn’t you?” He asked.

“He was running!” I say apologetically. “Doesn’t matter, I got you the location.”

“Right.” He said. “Good work. I’ll meet up with you later for your pay.”

He ends the call and I stand up to leave, but as I am I notice something on the guy’s wrist… it looked like some kind of weapon… I take it off the guy and inspect it.

Yep. It was a weapon.

Looked to be one of those rare wristbows I’ve heard about… great for assassinations as it’s easily concealable, is deadly lethal at range, and can even be used as a wrist mounted blade by extending a bolt out and locking it in place.

Eh… why not?

I fasten the thing to my left wrist and test it out, extending the blade and giving it a few touches to the tip. It was super sharp. I tested out the actual bow action by flicking my wrist out and shooting a bolt into the far wall, having it stick into it. I look at the new weapon on my wrist and nod approvingly. This should come in handy.

“Nice…” I smile, walking down the steps and out the front door after I pocketed the money the guy had on him.

This Soulcraft stuff was actually pretty cool… I’d have to have Callahan teach me some other tricks.

---

After I log out, I wake up to the sound of coughing coming from across the house. Sounded like my dad having another coughing fit. I walk out my room and see him in the living room, bent over and hacking up a storm. My mother was next to him.

“Honey, you alright?” She asked. “Need some medicine?”

“GAH!” He regains himself. “Neh… I’m fine… just catching something.”

“As I said, do you need medicine?” She asked.

“Hell no!” My father said. “I got an immune system for that!”

My mom just shook her head with a smile.

“Ishi Haseo. Always too stubborn for his own good.”

“Or anyone’s for that matter.” He smiled, kissing mom on the cheek.

“You dead yet?” I ask hopefully as I walk into the kitchen.

“Neh, not yet.” Dad said. “Sucks to be you.”

“No kidding.” I open the fridge and get myself a glass of milk.

“So.” Dad says, walking into the kitchen and leaning against the counter. “What’ve you been up to?”

“Why do you ask?” I say.

He shrugs and makes an ‘I don’t know’ sound.

“Been busy in End War.” I tell him. “Trying to find this one guy who’s probably more trouble than he’s worth.”

“Yeah?” He asks. “Why’s he so important?”

“Hell if I know…” I say. “I don’t even know if he exists.”

“How’s that?”

“He’s supposed to be a Nephilim.” I say. “There’s only two that we know of but there’s rumored to actually be three. Don’t know for sure, though… might just be chasing a myth.”

“Well, let me know how that goes.” He says, walking out of the kitchen and into the dojo to practice by himself. I thought about going in with him for another of our training sessions, but I decided not to for tonight. I was tired and had a feeling I was only going to get more and more work to get this guy before these AEP whackjobs did… I guess it didn’t matter if he existed or not. One way or another, this AEP needed to be shut down.

Chapter 12

December 7th

After school. I was out at the grocery store to pick up some stuff for my mother. Herbs and spices, a bit of meat and cheeses and vegetables and all that. I took a look at the list she gave me, going down the aisles with my cart and picking out whatever I needed, occasionally kicking off the ground and hopping onto the card for a quick ride down.

I stopped, however, when I noticed Rena was also in the store, also alone, picking out a few things and putting them into a handcart. I stroll over to her and casually bump her ass with the cart, causing her to jump forward, startled.

“God! Don’t do that!” She shouted at me.

“What’re you doing?” I ask her.

“Shopping, the hell does it look like?” She says, picking some bread off the shelf.

“You doing okay?”

She looked to me with a confused look, before her expression became softer at my concern.

“Fine…” She said, going down the aisle. I walk with her as she gathers her things, occasionally picking something up along the way.

“You don’t seem fine.” I say, trying not to be too intrusive and make it seem like I was only making a point.

To my surprise, she doesn’t get mad. She just sighs and stops.

“My mother is still in the hospital.” She said. “She’s been stressing herself over that man… worried sick day after day… it makes me worried for her.”

“Hrm…” I mumble, unsure of what to say.

“Why do you ask?” She said. “Worried about the mission in End War?”

“I’m worried about you.” I say truthfully.

She gave me a look of disbelief, but continued picking up things for herself.

“It’s so stupid…” She said all the while. “Why does she even care… why is she worrying so much for him? He doesn’t deserve it.”

“Maybe he really wants to reconcile with you.” I suggest.

“Yeah right…” She scoffed. “If he really cared he wouldn’t have left in the first place.”

“I guess not…” I say, still walking with her.

We ended up checking out together and we headed out, her with a single paper bag and me lugging two full bags under my arms. They weren’t too heavy, so it wasn’t a big deal. Mostly filled with stuff to fill the pantry and some for the fridge. I followed her when she went down a road, even though my home was in the opposite direction, and she looked back and seemed confused.

“What’re you following me for?” She says.

“Figured we could talk a bit more.” I say. “It’s not healthy to keep all that stuff to yourself, you know.”

She just scoffed and looked away, walking but letting me follow.

“So…” I say. “How’s school going?”

She doesn’t answer me. She keeps trudging through the snow as I keep pace with her, rounding a corner into a back street.

“You’re not letting all this affect your grades, are you?” I ask.

She still doesn’t answer.

“Rena, come on.” I say. “I’m just trying to-”

I’m interrupted when she quickly wheels around and slaps me across the face. Hard. I end up dropping my groceries into the snow and putting my foot down to stop me from falling backwards. I put a hand up to my cheek where she had hit me and look to her.

“Just shut the hell up!” She shouted angrily at me. “It’s not like you even care! You’re just another guy who’s only out for himself! Why are you even talking to me?! Why can’t you just leave me alone?!”

I sigh and put my hands down.

“I’m worried about you.” I say plainly.

“YOU’RE LYING!” She yells, dropping her own groceries, shutting her eyes tight and putting her arms to her sides. “You don’t care at all!”

“I don’t like seeing you sad.” I tell her. “It hurts.”

She opens her eyes in slight surprise at what I had said. She looks to me, but I was looking down at the ground.

“It hurts me to see you like this.” I say, looking back up to her. “That’s all there is to it.”

She just stands there and stares at me, trying to figure me out. But before long, she gets angry again and tries to slap me once more. I grab her arm before she hits me and she tries to go in with her other hand. I grab that too, holding her in place while she struggled against me. She didn’t struggle that long, and I silently embraced her as she held onto me, her anger turning to sadness as she cried into my chest, unable to hold it in anymore. I hold her close, letting her cry it out in my arms…

This was really the only thing I could do… I didn’t know why I was doing it. I knew I probably shouldn’t… all logic in me told me it wasn’t worth it… but even so, I felt compelled to comfort her. For whatever reason, it hurt me to see her like this, and whenever I saw her I wanted nothing more than to help her.

It went against everything I thought I knew about myself.

---

I ended up escorting her home, sticking close to her the entire way. We didn’t talk any. I figured there was nothing else that needed to be said for now. I walk with her down the path to her house and onto her front porch, where she stops and opens the door, turning around to face me. She was looking away with a bit of a blush on her cheeks.

“Yamato…” She started, her hands behind her back. “Thanks…”

I stare at her, and she looks to me. We stay like that for a few awkward seconds before I reply.

“No problem.”

I take my groceries and turn around, walking back down the path and out onto the street.

“I’ll be on tonight.” Rena called from inside her house.

I turn to her and nod before heading down the road and towards my house.

She wasn’t all that bad…

---

Sure enough, when I logged on, Rena was sitting at the couch in HQ waiting for me. She was with Jager and Blenheim, and while the two of them drank a few, Rena was just sitting there, refusing any drinks Jager offered and shooting down any advances Blenheim made. Callahan was also there, just sitting to the side.

“Hey, Yamato.” Callahan waves as I step down the stairs, drawing the attention of everyone else.

“Hey, get outta here.” Blenheim said. “We’re busy.”

“No we aren’t.” Callahan casually said, taking a sip of his drink.

“So… about that date…” Blenheim looked to Rena.

“Not happening.” She said. “And you should count yourself lucky I don’t shoot you in the face.”

“Come on!” Blenheim persisted. “Just one date! How about tonight?”

“I said no.” She repeated.

“Come on, please? I’ll let you pick where we go!”

Rena simply sighed and stood up from the couch, delivering a strong knee to Blenheim’s stomach, knocking the wind out of him and causing him to fall off the couch and roll around on the floor in pain. Rena casually sat back down.

“Well then…” Callahan smirked as Jager laughed.

“Heh… that’s about how it goes!” He said, taking a hearty sip from his bottle and looking up to me. “Privet, tovarich!”

“Hey guys.” I say, leaning over the back of the couch. “We got anything on these AEP guys yet?”

“As a matter of fact, we do.” Walker said as he walked into the room. “You think you’re ready?”

“Heh, I’m always ready!” I say.

“I’m good to go.” Rena also says.

“Good. Because you’re gonna have to go into Purgatory.” Walker says nonchalantly.

“Limbo?” I call it by its other name. “Why there?”

“We have reason to believe that these AEP guys are conducting experiments in Limbo instead of Eden.” He explains. “May be why they’ve been so hard to track down. You’ll be heading into the Heaven side of Purgatory.”

“Heaven side, huh?” I say.

Now, I’ve been to Limbo a few times. The Heaven side once and the Hell side twice. Limbo is basically a world between worlds. Picture a line. Now picture Hell on the far left, Hell Limbo next, Eden in the middle, Heaven Limbo after that, then Heaven on the far right. Limbo was a main battle ground in the End War against us and Angels and Demons, as it was basically a whole world to stage an unlimited defense in, as whatever happens in Limbo doesn’t affect our world.

Basically meant I could wreck shit all I wanted without having to pay for collateral. Awesome!

“Go see Abigail.” Walker said. “I’ll brief you fully after she’s outfitted you with the gear you’ll need.”

We head down the halls to the medical wing, where Abigail was busy doing whatever it was she did in here. She also had the gear we’d need to enter Limbo safely.

“Ah, hello, you two.” She said. “Your gear’s over there. I packed in a few extra syringes just in case you need them.”

Rena and I take a look at the gear. It consisted of the three extra adrenaphine syringes that she packed, as well as what we’d need for Limbo itself. It was a choker that fit around out neck and regulated our Anima levels in Limbo. Since Limbo was in between worlds, it had a lot more Anima going around than normal, and for people who aren’t experienced in controlling their own Anima flow, it can cause some problems when in Limbo, or Heaven or Hell. That was especially true for me, now that I was just fucking radiating Anima with my newfound abilities. The rings around our necks would automatically regulate it to make sure nothing bad happened to either of us.

“Alright, thanks Abigail.” I say as she waved us off.

I took a minute to head upstairs and get two different weapons for this mission. First was my Vigilance, of course, since it fit the ruined urban landscape we’d be venturing into, fitting it with specialized rounds that were more effective against Angels than standard cartridges, as well as the Challenger my single-shot powerhouse that was effective against damn near everything. I took these weapons, as well as keeping my sword, twin pistols, and revolver.

I head back downstairs with my loadout and sit down at the couch while Walker pulled up a map of Eden that was altered to reflect what Heaven’s Limbo looked like. It was basically like our world, only with an altered appearance to make it look a little bit like both Eden and Heaven, as well as the ruined buildings and all.

“So, here’s what you’ll need to know.” Walker said as Blenheim, recovered, Jager, and Callahan listened in. “You’ll be landing here.”

He pointed to a spot that was in Althern. It was north of Renskr, so it was nowhere we couldn’t get to quick with a VTOL.

“There are Althern troops stationed here.” He pointed to a base location some miles off the border of Althern and Renskr. “They’ll be expecting you. You’ll be joining a squad there and they can take you to where you need to go. No doubt there will be Angel resistance along the way. These guys are pretty well entrenched somehow. Managed to get well behind enemy lines and hide themselves well enough so that even the Angels can’t snuff them out.”

“How far is this place from the base?” I ask.

“Around 15 miles northeast.” He said. “It’ll be a walk.”

“Long fucking walk…” I say.

“Yeah, which is why you’ll have escort.” Walker told me. “Won’t want you getting capped before you even get there.”

“What kind of resistance should we expect?” Rena asked.

“Normal Angel infantry patrols start around 7 miles from the base.” Walker explained. “With any luck, that’ll be the most you encounter. But there have been reports of stronger units with these patrols. Nothing you shouldn’t be able to handle, but keep on your guard in any case.”

We both nod as Walker zooms in on our target location.

“What you’re looking for is the ruins of a military base.” He said. “Angels took it back a few months ago. No doubt these AEP guys are hiding somewhere here under the assumption that the Angels already think the place is cleared out. They’ll most likely be underground. You’ll go in with the special ops unit and infiltrate the underground bunker and flush them out. After that, gather whatever information you can. After that, get back here for debriefing.”

“You think they’ll expect us?” I ask. “They’ve been doing a good job at keeping tabs on us recently.”

“Out of the question.” Walker said. “We’ve been keeping a close eye on all our activities to make sure there are no data leaks. Also, with you and Rena laying low for this time, they most likely were focusing more on tracking you than keeping a watch for us.”

“Lucky us, huh?” I say.

“You’ll need to move now.” Walker told us. “We suspect they’re about to put their plan into motion soon, so you’ll need to be quick. Lucy will fly you there.”

“No problem.” I say.

“We’ll get it done.” Rena concurs.

“Knock ‘em dead!” Jager raises his glass.

“Good luck.” Callahan nods.

“Ow…” Blenheim puts a hand to his stomach.

We head up to the roof, where Lucy was sitting inside the open cabin door of our VTOL. When she noticed us, she stood up.

“Ready to go?” She asks.

“Let’s do it.” I say after Rena and I jump in and close the cabin door.

Lucy jumps to the cockpit and starts up the aircraft, taking off and hitting the button on the console that shifted us into Limbo, where the world was slightly blue shifted and our base was a pile of rubble beneath us. Hooray. The process of going into Limbo actually wasn’t that hard. It just took some tricky engineering to pull off. Luckily, the highest tech aircraft like ours had systems installed on them that would automatically take us to either Limbo at the flip of a switch. Couldn’t take us to Heaven or Hell, though. That’s just crazy talk.

Had something to do with… world polarity… or something? Allows a physical object to be shifted between worlds? I don’t know, it’s some techno mumbo jumbo I can’t understand.

Dammit, I’m a mercenary, not an engineer.

In any case, we entered Limbo and then began our flight towards Althern, which wouldn’t take us more than 30 minutes.

“So, you been here before?” Rena asked about 5 minutes into the flight.

“Yeah, once.” I say. “Been to Hell Limbo twice. Most of my missions take place on Eden, but some are a bit more… lucrative than others.”

“Pay was worth the effort?” She asks.

“Moreso than not.” I answer. “They had to be, otherwise I wouldn’t even take them.”

“What kinds of things did you do in Limbo?” She inquires.

“Eh, nothing special, really. Eliminate some dudes, get an item… normal stuff.”

“I see.”

“What about you? You been around here before?”

“A few times.” She says. “Doing just about the same stuff. Not much to really do here other than that.”

“Yeah, I hear ya.”

The next 20 minutes of the ride went with idle conversation between Rena and I, before Lucy caught our attention and informed us of our arrival at the Althern base. We touch down on the landing area and Rena and I hop out, being greeted by a squad commander followed by his squad of 10, fully geared in combat armor, high tech rifles, and UIPs.

“Welcome to base Juliet Seven.” He said. “I’m Commander Parker. We’ll be helping you clear out the AEP bunker.”

“Good.” Rena said.

I nod.

“Let’s not waste any time.” Parker said. “If we move quick we should be able to avoid most Angel patrols.”

“Sounds good, let’s get moving.” I say.

We head out with the squad, making us a company of 12 as we headed into the ruined streets of Limbo, keeping a tight formation with our eyes peeled for any Angel patrols. It was about 6 miles from the base when we started catching sight of Angels flying about, patrolling in squads of 5, flying overhead. I knew the condition in Limbo was pretty tight right now… the Angels have been stepping up their attacks to retake the territory we’ve gained within the past few months. Out target was one such base that fell due to this. We were managing to slow their advance a little bit, but it would be a while more before we could completely stop it and turn things around for our side.

Not that I really cared. I wasn’t a soldier, nor was I participating in the End War in any real sense. Sure, I kill Angels and Demons sometimes, took on a few Hybrids as well, but it was for the paycheck, not for the betterment of my kind. Didn’t really matter much to me who won; I was getting paid either which way.

“Eyes up, people.” Commander Parker said. “We’re getting into Angel territory now. Keep your heads low and watch for any patrols. Try to stay out of site, only shoot if you have to.”

We move carefully through the ruined streets, starting to stick to the alleyways and side routes to keep ourselves from being exposed out in the open as much as we could. We had to stop a few times and hide when Angel patrols got too close, hiding inside and around ruined buildings as well as in the occasional crater left behind by a bomb. We got a good 5 more miles in before the patrols got really heavy, and we were having a few close shaves. We were currently held up inside a building that still had most of its roof, providing cover from the Angels ahead.

“Patrol coverage is getting thick…” Parker said, peeking outside the door to the skies and at the Angels overhead.

“What do we do now?” A squad member asked.

“Wait it out.” Parker replied, stepping back to us. “Not much we can do.”

“Think we can take them?” I ask.

“Not without some casualties…” He said. “It would be best if all of us could make it to the bunker so we’ll be able to clear it out quickly.”

He turned to his regiment.

“Calvin, Hobbes, get upstairs and scout out the area.”

“Yes, sir.” The two said, brandishing their sniper rifles as they headed upstairs.

A few minutes later, the two reported into the Commander’s UIP.

“Sir.” I hear Calvin say. “We got heavy enemy patrols up ahead. Got command units leading them.”

“You see a way through to the objective?” Parker asks.

“There are some alleyways and side streets we may be able to cut through… there’s a building a few clicks out that we can take cover in if we use them. We’ll have to be quick, though. There’s an open street at the last run. Getting through that isn’t going to be easy.”

“Alright. Send us the route then get back down here.” Parker closed communications as we all received a map highlighting the route we’d take, and a few minutes later, both Calvin and Hobbes come down the stairs to rejoin us.

“Let’s get moving.” Parker says, carefully pushing the front door open. “Stay frosty.”

We follow as he leads us quickly across the street and into an alley, across some rubble and into the space in between the buildings. We quickly slipped through the alleyways and side roads, avoiding the enemy patrols as we went along our route, trying to be as quiet as possible as we approached the final road. The target building was in sight, but we’d have to cross a large open area to get there. There were some pieces of rubble around, but they weren’t that big and could probably provide cover for only one or two of us at a time.

This was going to be tricky. We’d have to time it just right in order to get across without being seen by the Angels.

“Alright…” Parker said. “Johnson, take point. We’ll wait for you to get across.”

A member of our squad moves up, putting his back against the corner and looking out into the streets. I saw some Angels just ahead of us, flying in their formations as they scanned the area for any intruders. He kept a careful watch as he jump out just as one group passed by, running quickly into the next bit of cover, sliding into it and making it without being seen. He times his runs properly and in time makes it across the street with no problems, jumping through the ruined doorway and into safety.

“Parker, there are stairs here.” I Johnson says into his UIP. “I can probably make it up to the roof.”

“Alright, get up top, we’ll wait.”

A few minutes later, we get another call.

“Johnson here.” He says. “I’m up on the roof, I got eyes on you. I can coordinate the rest of the team from here.”

“Good work, Johnson.” Parker says. “We’re counting on you.”

“Move one at a time.” Johnson says. “Get ready.”

I take point, pushing my back against the wall and waiting for Johnson’s signal. I peek around and see more Angels up ahead. Just as they clear out, I hear Johnson give the word.

“Go, now.”

I rush to the next bit of cover, diving into it quietly and crouching down to remain hidden.

“Hold point there.” I hear, keeping me low as I wait for the next run.

“Move.”

I quickly dash into the next bit of cover, making it without any trouble. The rest of the way went like that until I was safely inside the building, waving over to the rest of the squad as I stepped inside.

The rest of the squad followed, being coordinated by Johnson from the roof. It didn’t take too long to get everyone but the last inside, though we did have a few close calls. Soon enough, the last man was on the final run, and Johnson gave him the clear. He ran towards us, but in his haste managed to trip over a piece of rubble, causing him to fall to the ground. He recovered quickly and scrambled into the building, but I think it was too late.

“Shit…” The guy said.

“You think they saw you?” Another asked.

“Hope not…” He replied.

We stayed silent and listened in for anything. We could barely hear our own breathing as we stayed completely still… just waiting…

Soon enough.

“Angel patrol inbound!” I hear Johnson call from atop the stairs as he rushed down.

As soon as he said that, a bright flash burst through the roof, destroying it and blowing a hole through our cover. A squad of Angels descended through the hole in the roof, shooting down at us as we returned fire, taking cover wherever we could. Two of our guys ate it as the Angels hit the ground, razing us with their guns. I dove into cover behind a ruined desk and flipped the safety off my rifle, peeking around the corner and taking some shots at them, nailing one, but being forced back into cover as shots came my way.

With 10 on 5, however, it didn’t take long for the Angels to be gunned down by the elite regiment we had. Once the firefight was over, we begin to step out of cover, only to be besieged by more Angels firing through the roof. Looks like more of them caught wind of us and were coming down to take us out.

“Haseo!” Parker shouts to me. “Get upstairs to high ground!”

He points at a group of four. “You four join him! We’ll suppress from down here!”

“Got it!” I shout back, bolting towards the stairs with my small team and flying up them to the second floor, where we were now at even height with the hovering Angels firing below them at our team. I put a burst into one of them, downing him and grabbing their attention. We all take cover as we work to suppress them from upstairs to help cover our team downstairs. With the concentrated fire from all of us, we were able to thin them out enough for the rest to join us upstairs to help in the counterattack as more Angels came down on us.

I had my rifle set above cover as I fired in bursts, nailing targets left and right, as was Rena next to me, firing her powerful semi-automatic rifle into the Angels, nailing more than a few headshots in a row. She was a damn good shot, I’ll give her that. The gun she was using must’ve also had quite a kick to it, but she handled it well.

Pretty soon after, it looked like we weren’t really going to get anywhere from here, as the Angel assault kept getting fiercer and fiercer. We decided we needed to get out of the building, fighting our way out and to our objective if we had to. We kept off the Angel assault as we blew a hole through the opposite wall, opening up the alleyway behind the building for us to jump down to. We quickly escape through there and make our way out into the street, deciding the best we could do is try to lose them on our way to our objective. We made our way into the streets, taking cover behind rubble and returning fire on the Angels. We were at a disadvantage here, since the Angels could easily flank us and wipe us out with their powers of flight, so we had to move quickly into the next side street in order to limit their range of movement around us.

We managed to hold off the Angels as we made our way into the side street to safety, receiving no losses while crossing. Now in the side streets, it was significantly more difficult for the Angels to get around us, allowing us to pick off any that tried to get within our vertical field of view before they could even get a shot in. Angels may have guns, but they weren’t as skilled with them as Humans were. We made our way through, gunning down Angels as we went, managing to thin out their numbers as we went and slowly lose any others that may have been able to tail us. Soon enough, without suffering any losses on our part, we managed to escape the Angels’ pursuit, retreating inside a ruined office building to assess the situation.

“Alright… that was pretty bad…” I note.

“How many did we lose?” Parker asks.

“Samson and Daniels.” One of our team said. “During the initial attack. Other than that, we got some nicks, but we’re still good to proceed.”

“Alright… we still have ten.” Parker said. “Haseo, Asagami.”

We stepped up to the commander.

“I’m impressed.” He told us. “You know how to handle yourself.”

“We wouldn’t be here right now if we didn’t.” Rena put a hand on her hip.

“Clearly.” He smirks. “Alright, let’s keep moving! We’re a few mikes from target. Let’s get there and get this thing done.”

We made our way down the alleys, finally reaching the ruins of the military base, making sure there were no more Angels as we made our way to the bunker entrance, one of which was located within one of the ruined buildings. I had to cut through the hatch with my blade to open it up, and we all headed inside. When all ten of us were inside, we checked our corners, clearing the room before regrouping.

“Alright, so here’s the plan.” Parker said. “First objective is to clear this place of anyone and everyone. Second is to gather any information you can on this AEP. We’ll be sending it to our intelligence division to share with the Renskr military. We’ll split into two groups of five and clean out the place from both sides. Let’s go.”

We split up into our groups and separate, moving through the bunker to begin the mission. Rena and I lead one group with three soldiers behind us while Parker led the other group with the remaining four. My group moves down into the sublevels, checking rooms as we went until we started getting into the lower levels, when we started to find hostiles. We took them out room by room, easily cutting through the facility into the lowest levels without any losses to our teams. We finally cleared out all rooms but the last, which was the largest of all the rooms. Both our groups entered at the same time from two different entrances across from each other. The room we found ourselves in was a large and tall white room that was well lit, and looked like some lab of some kind. In the center of the room was housed a spinning apparatus with multiple rings that spun around each other, a black energy inside it.

Instantly the entire room was alerted to our presence, scientists in lab coats as well as soldiers. We take cover as a firefight broke out between us. We returned fire, easily taking out a good bit of them from being on both sides of the room. We mowed down both the scientists and the soldiers in a quick bit, once again suffering no losses. After all was said and done, we come out of cover and inspect the area.

“Alright.” Parker said. “Let’s get what we can off the ISD if they have one here. If not, get what you can off the computers.”

The team fans out as Rena and I approached Parker.

“Well, then.” Parker said. “Looks like we got this mission all wrapped up.”

“More or less.” I say, looking at the large device in front of us. “The hell is this thing?”

We all look up at it.

“Looks dangerous…” Rena says, keeping her distance.

“Hopefully we can find out what it is through the info contained here.” Parker noted. “I agree, though, it does look dangerous.”

“Yeah…” I say.

I didn’t know why, but… staring at that black energy in the middle of the spinning rings… I felt… somehow drawn to it. I felt something inside me reaching out to it… I shook my head and ignored the feeling, focusing on the situation at hand.

We needed to gather information. That was our goal right now.

“Sir.” A soldier says as he steps up to Parker, handing him the ISD.

“Ah, here we are.” He says, opening it up and searching it, more specifically trying to find out what this thing in front of us was and what it was used for.

“Hm…” He scanned the files. “Oh… oh, no…”

“What, what is it?” Rena looked over his shoulder.

“This thing…” He says. “It draws energy from Void.”

“From Void…?” I say, looking up at the black energy that seemed to destroy all the light that passed into it.

I was looking at Void, I realized… why was I drawn to it? What kind of force was pulling me towards it?

“That’s Void?” Rena looked up to it. “What’s it for?”

“They were apparently conducting experiments to harness and control Void…” Parker said, looking through the ISD. “They have one of these things stationed on Eden and in Hell Purgatory as well. The ones in Purgatory are seemingly closer to Void, so they get stronger readings here. They all work together to gather information. Looks like the one on Eden is the main one… they’re trying to open a portal into Void.”

“Woah, shit…” I say.

“That’s not good.” Rena remarks.

“Yeah, we should probably do something about that.” I point out.

“And fast…” Parker says. “They’re almost done compiling their research.”

“Dammit…” I mutter. “Got a location in there?”

“I got the exact location of the facility.” Parker said. “Better get going. We’ll finish up here and get this data to you soon. You better get going, quick.”

“Alright.” I nod. “C’mon, Rena, let’s hurry.”

“Yeah.”

Rena and I head out. We had to make the trip back to the base, but with it just being us two it wasn’t nearly as hard to get through as it was with the group of twelve. We make it back to base within two hours and head to our VTOL, jumping in and having Lucy take us back up and into our own world, before heading back to base. I check my UIP at the location of their main base. It was in Renskr… right under our noses.

We were about to finish this… but at the same time, something in the back of my mind told me that it was just beginning…

Chapter 13

“Lucy.” I say. “Take us to these coordinates.” I give her the coordinates of where we needed to go.

“Huh?” She looked over to me from the cockpit of the VTOL. “Shouldn’t we report back to base?”

“No time.” I say. “These guys are about to open up a portal to Void. We need to get there now.”

“You sure about this?” She asked. “Can just you and Rena take them?”

“Don’t worry about it.” I say. “We’ve already sent the info to Walker and I called Callahan for reinforcements. He should be meeting us in the area.”

“So just you three?” She asked. “That’s not much better.”

“He’s a Hybrid, don’t worry about it.” I assure her. “We’ll be fine.”

“Well… alright.” Lucy turns the VTOL around and in the direction of our target.

About five minutes in, Rena notices my expression and turns to me from looking out the window.

“You feeling alright?” She says, grabbing my attention.

“Oh… um… yeah.” I say. “Just… I don’t know… I don’t have a good feeling about this.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean…” She says. “I get the feeling this whole thing is a lot bigger than we bargained for.”

“We’re going to finish this, though.” I say. “We’re not gonna let these guys do whatever it is they’re trying to do.”

“Yeah. You’re right.” Rena agrees.

We reach an area outside our target area to see Callahan below us, waving up at us as we landed and jumped out.

“Hey, you’re quick.” I say.

“One of the advantages of being a Hybrid.” He smirks. “You sure it’s a good idea not to check in with Walker?”

“No time for that.” I say. “We need to take these guys out quick.”

“There’s probably a lot of them.” He notes. “Moreso than in any of the other places.”

“Well I guess we’re just gonna have to use up a bit more ammo than usual.” I smile, spinning Freedom and Justice in my hands.

We had been dropped off in downtown Trinden, which was a city about as big as Halfen in Renskr. We had made a slight commotion coming down, but I didn’t really care, we had a job to do. Our target was located right under the streets, which meant we’d need to go through the sewers to get to it… fun, fun.

We walk over to a storm drain, and Callahan materializes his scythe in his hand, using it as a crowbar to pry the cover off the drain, and let us look down into the sewer.

“This is gonna suck.” I say.

“Egh… gonna get my blazer all dirty…” Callahan whines.

“Put in your tampons and let’s go.” Rena scolds us both as she jumps down no problem.

Callahan and I look at each other and shrug as I jump down, and Callahan follows, putting the cover back onto the storm drain as he went. I hit the water to find that it wasn’t as bad as I had predicted. Nowadays the sewers were mainly used to drain rainwater from the main roads flow it down into purification plants for public use. Of course, the water was still dirty due to runoff and junk that people throw in and other pollutions because people are assholes, and seriously fuck people.

Callahan dropped down and slowed himself down with his Anima in order to not make too big of a splash and ruin his good clothes. His black work shoes and jeans were fine, but he was wearing a nice white dress shirt with a black tie and blazer to go with it. That would be a shame to get dirty.

“Alright…” I say. “There should be an entrance somewhere in these sewers.”

“It’s probably going to be well hidden.” Rena says. “And no doubt they’ll have some guys patrolling the area to make sure nobody gets too close.”

“Can’t believe these guys have been in-country this entire time…” Callahan mentioned. “The military has been looking for these guys this whole time and they’ve been here all along.”

“I know.” I say as we walk. “So, you mentioned you worked for someone?”

“Oh, yeah.” He responds. “It’s a… small private contractor. We’re tasked with eliminating abnormalities and all that.”

“What, like paranormal stuff?” I ask.

“Yeah, things like that.” He nodded.

“This part of a job?” Rena asks, looking back to him.

“More of a side-job for myself.” He shrugs. “I think it’s probably better to take care of these guys before they become an actual contract, you know?”

“Yeah, I get it.” I say.

We continue down the winding underground corridors for a few more minutes before I speak up again.

“So…” I begin. “You think we’ll find the third Nephilim?”

“We’ll at least find out who he is.” Rena said. “These guys have his information.”

“What do you think, Callahan?” I ask. “Who do you think the third is?”

“Well… I have my thoughts.” He puts his hands in his pockets as he walks.

“Care to share?” I turn around to face him, walking backwards.

“Eh… I’d rather keep them to myself.” He says. “We’ll find out if I’m right soon enough.”

I shrug and turn on a heel to walk forward again.

Soon enough, we began to hear voices, and we quickly hide behind a corner and look around. We notice two guards talking to each other. Looks like we were getting closer to their base… not really keeping it a secret if they’re keeping a bunch of armed guards standing around it.

I step out from around the corner and fire both my pistols simultaneously, nailing both of them in the head.

“Alright…” I say. “Looks like we’re getting closer.”

“There’s going to be more than just them.” Callahan tells us. “And it’s not just gonna be grunts like these either.”

“Well it wouldn’t be fun otherwise, right?” I smile. “C’mon, let’s keep going.”

I take a few steps forward before I get a call on my UIP. I open up the call and am presented with a holographic display of Walker in front of me.

“Yamato, really?” He says. “You could’ve at least come and talked to me before going back in.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t waste the time.” I told him. “Relax, I got Rena and Callahan with me. We’ll sort it out.”

“You sure just you three can handle it?” He asks.

“C’mon, Walker. It’s us.” I smile and hold my arms out.

Walker sighs with a smile, lightly shaking his head.

“Alright.” He looks back to me. “Call if you need any reinforcements. We can be there in 20 minutes most.”

“Gotcha.” I nod and close the display in front of me, looking back behind me to Rena and Callahan, who both nod.

The three of us head deeper into the sewers, keeping an eye out for any enemies patrolling down with us while simultaneously searching for any hidden entrances to any hidden laboratories. We eventually come across a large hole that led down to a lower level of the sewers. We look down it and see a group of seven guards underneath, unaware that we were looking down at them. I holster my guns and bring out my sword, nodding to both Rena and Callahan as we all jump down at the same time. I dug into the wall with my blade, Rena with a knife, and Callahan with one of his scythes. We scaled down the wall towards the group underneath us, and once we were close enough, detach from the wall and bear down on them. I extend the blade on my new wristbow and slam it into the neck of the first one I land on, killing him while also breaking my fall, and immediately jump for the one in front of me, slicing him down with my blade and impaling a third in the stomach before stabbing him in the face with my wrist blade. Rena had stabbed one of them in the head and shot another, and Callahan impaled one and threw a scythe at the last. After all that, we had killed all seven within seconds, without alerting any others that may have been around.

We were getting deeper into the sewers, which meant that we were definitely getting closer to our objective. Just then, when we’re just about to move ahead, we see multiple ripples in the water ahead of us, coming fast towards us. We dodge out of the way as the creators of the ripples uncloaked, revealing themselves to be tall, tripedal unmanned frames that hovered over the water. There were three of them.

“They have UFs?” Rena says.

“Of course they do, why wouldn’t they?” I say, drawing my guns.

The three unmanned frames shot at us with twin machine guns, forcing us to scatter and return fire, the shots glancing off their armor as their guns swiveled to track us. Figuring normal bullets wouldn’t get the job done, I bring out my Challenger while simultaneously drawing my blade in my right hand. The Zero Origin rounds Challenger used could punch through just about anything, added with my blade, which could cut through anything. I move in quickly on one of the UFs, dodging bullets and deflecting others with my blade before flying forward with my sword and cutting one of its legs off, causing it to fall without the support of its third leg, before I climb up and burst upwards, shooting down the Challenger and punching a hole clean through it, nailing its energy core and allowing me to come back down and stab through it, causing the thing to fall to the ground just as Rena and Callahan took down theirs.

I open the breach on Challenger and load in another round, flipping the barrel back into place and holstering it.

“Unmanned frames, huh?” I inspect the wreckage of the bots. “High tech too… cloaking modules included and everything. These guys definitely don’t cut corners.”

“I’m getting really tired of these guys.” Callahan notes. “Hopefully their base is nearby.”

We keep going, this time running, and keeping an eye out for any more guards as well as counting UFs in play. I activate my Soul Vision in order to see more clearly, as well as to be able to identify cloaked soldiers or UFs that we may encounter. I imagined Callahan would do the same. Sure enough, we encountered another trio of the same kinds of UFs. They were cloaked, and when they noticed us, they came straight at us. It didn’t matter much, as we all saw them. I dashed forward, ducking under one and raising my blade, slicing it clean in two before it could even decloak. Callahan jumped on his, cutting two of its legs off before combining his scythes and slamming the blade through the thing, and Rena managed to hit one of the hydraulics on the leg of hers by shooting it with one of her twin submachine guns before moving up and jumping on top of it, prying open the armor plating with the blades attached under the barrels before going full auto on its insides, turning it into Swiss cheese before it collapsed to the water.

The rest of our encounters in the sewers went as such, quickly engaging an enemy unit and tearing it apart before moving on. Some minutes after, we finally reach where we wanted to go. I was able to see an opening in the wall; a door hidden behind a holographic display that disguised it as part of the wall. I cut the door into pieces with my blade, allowing us entry. We stare down the long hallway therein, towards another door at the far end. I look to Rena and Callahan.

“You ready?” I ask.

They nod, and I nod back.

“Let’s do it.”

We all run through the hallway, full sprint, and I charged up my Anima into my hand and lashed out, blowing the far door apart and running into a huge and white-lit atrium. We stop when we hit the center. There was nobody around… I assumed this was some sort of docking bay for supplies, as there were some crates lining the walls, but it was mostly empty other than that and us.

“The hell?” Rena said, her voice echoing in the large room.

“Where is everyone…?” I wonder.

“H-hello?” I hear a voice come in on the intercom, the loud voice reverberating through the entire room. “Testing, testing. One, two, one two.”

“Who is this?” I shout.

“Hey! You’re here!” I hear the guy say. “You’re actually a bit early… kind of expected you to get here later, I’m not quite done with this… if you could give me a few more minutes, that’d be super cool.”

“Cut the bullshit!” I shout. “Are you coordinating this whole thing?”

“Yes.” He said. “Well… yes, and no. I’m one of the head scientists for the AEP, but I have bosses.”

I can hear electronic beeps in the background, as if he was working with some sort of device.

“So, yeah, I’m almost done with this! Give me a sec.”

We begin to rush to the door on the far side of the atrium, but we’re stopped when a huge garage door on the other end starts to open, revealing a giant mechanical UF emerging from within. It stood on two legs, had two large wing-like apparatuses on either side of its body, and possessed a sleek head and long tail. It made tremors in the ground as it walked towards us. The thing had to be at least 50 feet tall.

“This should keep you company while I get everything finalized.” The voice over the intercom said. “Don’t die, now! That would ruin the whole plan!”

“Hey, look, it’s the entertainment package!” Callahan smirked.

“Fucking hell!” I shout as the thing stared us down. “Why don’t we have anything like that?! That’s so fucking cool!”

The thing extended heavy tandem machine guns from its body and they swiveled to point at us. We were forced to scatter as the shots came down on us. I ran in towards the thing, so the heavy machine guns couldn’t fire underneath the thing to get me, while Rena and Callahan went left and right respectively to try to flank the thing. I didn’t know how we were going to take this thing down. I figured Callahan would have to do most of the work because of him being a Hybrid and all, though I could probably cut some things apart with my blade, and if we could section off some armor pieces it would allow Rena to put a bullet or two into some sensitive workings.

Now that I was positioned under the thing, I just had to find a good place to start hacking away. Unfortunately for me, the thing’s head looked down at me, and I noticed it also had machine guns mounted to either side of its head. I have to run behind it to its tail in order to dodge the bullets. I manage to get onto the things tail, but it seemed to take offense to that, as it began to shake it. I dug my blade into the metal tail as is lashed about, and with the distractions from Rena and Callahan, I managed to climb up to the base of the tail, making it easier for me to climb up onto its back.

“Careful, Yamato!” Rena called to me, taking shots at the leg joints to hopefully punch a bullet deep enough to at least temporarily cripple it.

“Easier said than done!” I shout back as I’m forced to dig into the thing’s metal hide again as is thrashed around, trying to both get me off its back as well as attack Callahan, who was running around it, launching bolts of Anima at the thing, which were actually managing to make a dent in the thing’s armor. I manage to climb onto the thing’s neck, and I’m just about to stab at the neck joint when it suddenly thrashes around, forcing me forward onto its head, making me drive my blade into its head to stay on. It thrashed around a bit, causing a bit of damage to itself with my blade driven in its head, but I lose my grip on the handle and fall off, forcing myself to use my Anima to fire off at the ground and launch myself back into the air for a softer landing which even then required a good sliding roll to recover from.

I stand up and spot my blade still lodged in its head. Unfortunately for me, the UF had a blade of its own. One of its wing weapon pylons suddenly transformed to take the shape of a monstrous blade that it raised up and swung downwards with enough force to rip a huge ash through the ceiling as it came down. There was no way I was dodging a blade that big without a few scrapes and possibly a lost limb, but luckily for me, Callahan jumped in front of me, and with a flick of his wrist, a visible field of clear energy, looking like a stationary shockwave, formed around him in a sphere, and when the blade collided with the field it instantly shattered, taking some of the weapon pylon, and the UF was repelled back by the force of his Soulcraft. I could only imagine how much power was in that thing, but Callahan seemed unfazed by the use of it, and looked back to me.

“You alright?” He asks.

“My sword is up there.” I point at the thing’s head.

“Hm… so it is.” He notes.

Just then, I notice Rena on top of the UF’s head, making her way to my blade. How she got up there, I didn’t know, but she managed to stagger her way to my sword and grabbed it, using the blade to carve open the cranial armor, exposing some circuitry that she immediately shot into, making the thing screech and whip its head back, causing Rena to fall, my blade in her hand. I rush forward, catching her before she hit the ground and setting her back onto her feet as she hands me my sword back.

“Thanks.” She said, as we both separate and reengage the target.

The thing redirected its focus on Callahan, opening up slides in the other pylon and launching missiles from it. Callahan easily dodged or destroyed the missiles, combining his scythes and throwing his single scythe towards the pylon joint, nailing it and causing electricity to spark from it as the pylon ceased functionality. I took the advantage and jump up to its leg joint, driving my blade into it and running it over half of the circumference of the joint, causing the thing to fall onto its knee. Rena ran up and managed to get back onto its head and shoot her rifle onto its neck joint, punching several powerful bullets into it, causing the thing to fall over onto its face, causing Rena to again fall forward, but this time she caught herself by digging her knife into its head to slow her fall and allow her to safely roll when she hit the ground.

The UF was just about finished. All that was left was the coup de grace.

I charge up my Anima into my fist as much as I could, about as much as I did the first time I tried it, and walked up, placing my palm on its head and instantly destroying it, pushing the several hundred ton mech back a few feet and finishing it for good, as well as sending me flying back once again from the force. I manage to flip back and land on my feet, sliding to a stop and looking up at our work.

“Yeah…” I say. “That’s not getting back up.”

“Nice work there, Yamato.” Callahan said.

“Yeah, you too.” I smile.

“Alright, I’ll admit.” Rena said. “That was fun… and you both are pretty good at what you do.”

“Agh…” The voice once again sounded in the intercom. “Did you destroy the UF? You destroyed the UF didn’t you… um… no matter, I’m about done now. You can come in whenever, I’m just going through final preparations. I’ll be good to go by the time you get here.”

The door on the far side of the atrium opened up after the intercom cut off.

“That guy seems awfully pleased to meet our acquaintance…” Callahan said.

“No shit.” I remark. “It’s pissing me off.”

“I wonder why he’s so confident…” Rena wondered.

“Well, we’re about to find out.” Callahan said. “Let’s go.”

We follow Callahan as we head through the next door, supposedly towards the guy who had spoken over the intercom… we were finally about to end this thing. This job had proven to be pretty troublesome at times, but once we got the identity of the third Nephilim from this guy and shut them down, it would finally be done. Not that I missed getting 100k monthly, but these guys really pissed me off, and I’d like to move on to something else now.

We burst through the final door, and we find ourselves in another lab, not unlike the one Rena and I had discovered in Heaven Limbo. Only this time, the device in question was bigger and had less rings. Also, it seemed to radiate more power than the other one… the black energy inside it was slightly bigger, and seemed to be being fed energy by the machine. Above it was a glass room on the far wall, and inside, I saw a man in a white lab coat, looking down at us. He waved.

“Hi!” He said cheerily.

“What the hell is this?!” I shout.

“You like it?” He asks. “It’s really cool! It’s a portal to Void, you see! Built it myself! I just press this button and that little black dot thing you see will expand and everything in that room that isn’t bolted to the floor will be sucked in! Theoretically anyway, we haven’t exactly tested it… could blow up right in our faces, but hey! No time like the present, right?”

“You have any idea what opening a portal to Void will do?!” Callahan shouted. “You’ll kill the entire world if you do that!”

“No I won’t!” He said in a voice that seemed to take offense to that remark. “You think I haven’t worked this out? I’ve spent MONTHS building this thing! Making calculations and studying the effects of Void! That’s what the suppression field around the portal is for! Everything will get sucked in but Void itself won’t be able to leak out into our world! Yeesh, I’m trying to awaken the third Nephilim, not destroy the universe.”

“The third Nephilim isn’t even here!” I shout. “What do you think you’re going to accomplish by activating it now?!”

“That’s where you’re wrong!” He chimed, raising a finger. “You see, the third Nephilim is here! In this very room! I’m looking right at him!”

Our eyes met. He was looking directly at me…

No way… I couldn’t be… could I?

“Anyway!” He said, raising his finger higher and eyeing the console in front of him. “LET’S MAKE SOME SCIENCE!”

He slammed his hand down and hit a button, and instantly the rings of the device spun faster and faster, becoming blurs, before locking together in a perfect ring, as the black energy in side it expanded into a pitch black circle of nothingness, and instantly, the three of us began to get pulled in. Rena and Callahan were lucky enough to be able to take cover behind some pieces of equipment, but I wasn’t so lucky. I’m dragged along the floor, and I stop myself by digging my blade into the ground. The grip I had on it began to weaken as the force of the portal began to pull with more intensity.

“Yamato!” I hear Rena shout, diving out of cover and sliding towards me, just as my hand slips. She managed to grab my arm as she planted her feet onto another piece of equipment, holding onto me. God, it felt like my arm was going to be ripped off from the force this thing was putting on me… I try to desperately hold on, but my grip on her loosened, and I let go, being pulled backwards and up into the portal. I watch as my field of view is encircled by black, and in an instant, I see nothing…

---

Date Unknown

Floating in the darkness… I had no senses. I had lost them a long time ago… I couldn’t figure out how long it had been since I had been in here…

Weeks? No, months, at least… I couldn’t even tell if time even existed here… my own perception of time was gone. One second could be a year and I wouldn’t even know it. The only thing I felt… was nothing… I felt absolutely nothing. No feeling, no breathing, no time, no sight or hearing… nothing. Pure nothingness…

The only thing in me that was still active was my subconscious… the back of my mind was the only thing keeping me tethered to myself. For I don’t know how long I had been trapped here, the back of my mind scrambling while I stayed motionless in the darkness, unable to comprehend my own thoughts as they raced around.

But then… I slowly came to myself. One by one, my senses began to return to me.

I began to hear sounds… people’s voices…

I began to feel… I felt cold, and like I was submerged in a thick, dense cloud…

I began to breathe again… I felt like I was breathing water…

My heart began to beat… it thumped quickly and loudly…

I open my eyes… instantly, thousands of images raced in front of me, in a split second that felt like an eternity. The voices grew louder, the images more vivid… it was just like my dream, only much more intense. I stared, eyes wide, as the events of my past, present, and future, were shown to me too quickly to even comprehend… my head began to hurt… a lot… I couldn’t handle all this information… it felt like my entire body was being compressed and expanded at the same time… and intense, unbearable pain shot through my entire body.

The voices grew louder and louder… the images became brighter and brighter…

I screamed…

---

The next thing I knew, I was in the air, launched forward, before slamming into the ground without a sound. I lay there motionless until my senses registered that I was back in a familiar world. I slowly look up, only one eye open, adjusting to the bright light, to see Rena and Callahan still there, looking at me with eyes wide. I slowly try to get up, the burning pain still remaining… my ears were ringing… I could barely feel the ground beneath me… I reach a hand out, and I notice black energy surrounding my periphery… almost like living flames, they reached outwards with me… I crawled forward just one pace, my voice straining in pain, before I finally collapse onto the ground completely, my senses once again leaving me.

The last thing I see are the black flames receding, as Rena and Callahan ran towards me.

Then I fell unconscious…

---

December 9th

I slowly come back to my senses… I open my eyes and my vision is blurry. I let my eyes adjust to the light and find that I’m staring up at the ceiling. White fluorescents were beaming down on me, lighting up the entire room. I find myself tucked into a white bed, but the blanket didn’t do too much to counter the extreme cold I was feeling… the room was at normal temperature, but I was still cold… I was cold, but I wasn’t shivering… so cold…

I sit up and look around the room. I notice I’m only in my pants, and my shoes as well as my coat and undershirt were not on me. I look around the room, and find that it was a room I recognized… it was the infirmary at Maverick HQ. With this knowledge, I relax a bit and lie back down, staring up at the ceiling. I then hear the door open, as well as footsteps accompanying it.

“Yamato!” I hear Abigail’s voice say, rushing over to me. “Yamato, are you okay?”

I turn my eyes to look at her, but don’t say anything.

“I… how are you feeling?” She asks.

“Cold…” I breathe. “I feel… really cold…”

“Well… the room’s fine.” She noted, putting a hand up to my forehead. “Your internal temperature is normal, too…”

“Cold…” I repeat. “I’m cold…”

I then hear more footsteps approach. I look turn my head and look over to see Callahan.

“He up yet?” He says plainly.

“Um… yes, but…” Abigail begins to say, but Callahan enters the room and ignores her, turning his attention to me.

“How are you feeling?” He asks the same question.

“Cold…” I repeat the answer.

“I’d imagine so.” He puts a hand on his hip. “One of the effects of falling into Void…”

“What… happened?” I ask. “That guy… who’s the third Nephilim?”

Callahan sighs, lighting a cigarette indoors, something I noticed he normally didn’t do.

“I should explain something.” He says. “I work for the Aozaki Organization. As I’ve said it’s a private contractor dealing with paranormal and abnormal occurrences on Eden. My current mission is to find the third Nephilim, which is why I tagged along with you. I was hoping I could find out who he was along with you.”

I blink slowly, staying silent.

“I told you in the sewers I had my thoughts on who the third was…” He continued, puffing smoke from his mouth. “I’m going to be honest. I think you’re the third Nephilim.”

“Third Nephilim…” I repeat the words as if I was in a catatonic state. “Me…”

“It comes together now that I think about it…” He says. “Your sudden ability to use soulcraft. Being able to move a Colossus without even getting winded. The fact that I couldn’t see your Anima with my vision… and the fact that you fell into Void and survived…”

I don’t say a word. I simply stare at him, taking it all in. I was the third all this time? And they knew… they were waiting for me… I walked right into their trap… but then what was the point of having me fall into Void? To awaken my powers? I didn’t understand… why would they want to awaken my powers?

“Now, I was supposed to report in when I found you.” Callahan said. “But… I haven’t. My superior doesn’t know I’ve found the third Nephilim, and she’s not going to know.”

“Why’s that…?” I wonder.

“Because this just got way bigger than a simple job.” He said. “Check your mail.”

I take a few seconds to register the command, but I slowly open up the menus and check my inbox. There were two messages there. I open the first one up.

ATTENTION!

This is a message from the End War Online Team to all players.

We have experienced a catastrophic glitch in our systems, and have disabled the log out button on your menus for this reason. There has been a fatal accident with the Rift Nexus Core, and the system is unable to disconnect your subconscious from the game and back into your minds. Logging out in this state will have your subconscious permanently trapped inside the Rift Nexus Core, and you will never be able to return to the real world as a result. Being killed in game will also have this effect, as respawning has been disabled due to this bug.

We are currently focusing all our efforts to repair the problem. We believe there will still be players that are exempt from this, and will be able to log out, but permanent death still applies to these players. We advise those who can to log out immediately until we can fix the problem, and those who cannot to stay safe. We do not know when we will be able to repair the system, but we will let you know when we have everything back to normal.

We have sent emails to your parents or guardians informing them of the situation, and advising them to take those who cannot log out to a hospital for the time being. Removing the RiftGear will also lead to the consciousness being trapped in the Rift Nexus Core, so we have advised them not to remove the headset at all costs.

We will send additional messages to those who can log out when we find out who can and who cannot. Thank you.

- EWO Team

Permanent death? Unable to log out? What the hell was going on? I didn’t get it… what did these AEP guys do? I closed that and checked the other message.

From the EWO Team

Yamato Haseo, you are one of the players that can successfully log out. We would suggest you do so immediately, and to stay offline for the remainder of the time it takes for us to solve this problem. Keep in mind, if you die in the game, you will still not be able to respawn, and your subconscious will be trapped in the Rift Nexus Core.

Please log out as soon as you can. Do not log back in. We will hopefully have this problem solved soon.

- EWO Team

“When did this happen…?” I look at the dates the messages were sent.

December 7th. Two days ago.

I had been out for two days.

“I’ve… been out for two days?” I say.

“You have.” Callahan confirmed, closing his eyes and crossing his arms.

“I can log out…”

“Hm…” I say. “These AEP guys are smart. They awaken you and then make sure you can’t leave by hacking into the Nexus Core… looks like they didn’t get you, though. Their plan didn’t quite work they way they had hoped.”

“But you’re stuck…” I mention. “Everyone else…”

“Rena can also log out.” Abigail mentioned. “But other than you two… I don’t know anyone else who can…”

I raise my hand up over myself and look at it.

“Yamato.” Callahan leans over my bed. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

“The last thing I remember…” I say. “I remember… nothingness… absolute nothingness… then when I woke up I… I saw this… black energy around myself… I don’t know what it was. Did you see it?”

Callahan nodded.

“I did.” He said. “It seems that Void has manifested within you. As a Nephilim, you are able to naturally attune yourself to Void and utilize its power…”

“How long was I in Void?” I ask.

“From the time you were in to the time you were shot out…” Callahan said. “About half a minute.”

Half a minute? No way… no way, it felt way longer than that… it had to be longer than that.

“Of course, time doesn’t exist in Void.” Callahan mentioned. “Your perception of time didn’t exist either. You may have been in there longer than we perceived you to be.”

“How do you know this, Callahan?” I asked.

“Because…” He said. “I’ve fallen into Void once as well.”

I put my hand down and look over to him.

“I too have a link with Void.” He continued. “It’s not as powerful as yours, though… I wasn’t pulled too deep into it as my Angel lineage kept me from being completely consumed… I imagine as a Nephilim, you were completely submerged.”

I sigh and close my eyes, trying to remember what I had felt when I was in Void… those voices… the visions… the feeling of numbing cold all around me…

I put a hand to my head as a thumping pain went through me, making me groan lightly.

“I gotta go…” I say. “I’ll… I’ll be back…”

“Alright, Yamato.” Callahan said. “We’ll be here. See you soon.”

I go through the menus and log out.

---

I wake up to find myself staring at another white ceiling with more fluorescents beaming down on me. I look around and find I was in a hospital. To my left, I saw my mother and father, who immediately took notice of me waking up.

“Yamato!” My mother cried, wrapping her arms around me as I slowly sat up. “Oh my god, we were so worried! Are you alright?”

I don’t answer her. I just sigh and drop my head.

“I don’t know…” I respond quietly. The whole trauma of what I went through hit me in the real world as well… my head still hurt just as it did in game.

“Did they fix whatever it was that went wrong?” Mom asked me. “They sent us an email…”

“No.” I say. “I was just lucky enough to be one of the ones who can log out.”

“Oh…” She sighs in relief for me, but in worry for everyone else.

“Yamato.” My father steps up to me. “What happened in there? You were out for two days, we had to take you to the hospital.”

I try to wrap my head around what happened… I was the third Nephilim, I knew that now… I was the third all along. Now millions of people were trapped in the game with no way out… despite the EWO team’s suggestions, I knew I had to go back in. I had to help my friends find a way out.

I had to… for whatever reason these events were revolving around me… I didn’t know why, but I knew I had to find out.

I was right… this was just beginning…

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