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K21 - Prayer

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This article belongs to NecrusIV. Please do not edit this article without their permission.

Jacinta Hansen · Alison Katsura · Eric Lysander · Miki Albraun · Mathieu Dalton · Laurence Valentine · Elder Duma · Li-Pau Nao

I

Structure and Destructure

0002 HOURS UNTIL MISSION WILL COMMENCE

Automated speech droned itself tirelessly through the hallways at uniformly intervals. The entire facility was angled at full pace towards supplying the mission. The plan was compiling together into its final stages. However, in the eyes of Mathieu, there was no such thing as a finished plan.

"Now, most people would say this is impossible. I'd say we'd still have a fair shot at this." Mathieu broadcasted to the team as he focused directly on the map of the Sanctuary, studying every square centimetre of it's layout so that he could be able to redraw a rough sketch by hand alone. "The facility has been built into a series of networked tunnels. With the structural foundations being strong enough to withstand up to category five eolith up drifts, it's fairly obvious that Laurence will be unable to render this structure unstable…"

Laurence mumbled in agreement, as he held his chin in his hand, observing intimately.

"Because of that, destroying the building from the outside is not an option." Continued Mathieu. "However, due to Duma's ascension there is a ceremonial parade being held in his honour."

Miki joined in. "So we infiltrate posing as part of the concession?" Speaking neutrally as she sat at the edge of the table.

Eric leaned on the wall at the back of the room, however It appeared as though he was actually listening for once in his mundane career. Alison couldn't stop thinking to herself as she sat on Miki's far right, keeping a view of him peripherally, "what on earth is up with this kid today?".

She quickly pushed the thought away, realising there were more important matters at hand.

"This would have been the default, however that's exactly what Duma will be expecting. Because of that, we have no choice but to take on a riskier manoeuvre. But: Luckily, due to his early arrival, the citizens are still uneasy. " Responded Mathieu. "And this is where he'll fall short." He said, even with a smirk.

"Cracked the puzzle have you? Though it did come late..." Mocked Miki in an encouraging tone

"Because of this, we could quite easily provoke a riot, then employ misdirection tactics by immediately entering the building disguised as security guards amongst the teams of others securing the interior from the outside onslaught. I'm certain this would get us in."

"Hah, well that's certainly a blatant violation of the laws and customs of war." Laughed Laurence. "Though I guess in this day and age, tradition has been going out of fashion anyway."

Miki giggled ever so quietly.

"Since Duma is a very manipulative person, no doubt he will assign a body double to watch from his royal cell's balcony in his place. We'll merely have to fake his assassination. Doing so will most certainly stir up the crowds below." Mathieu Lectured.

"Brilliant." Came Laurence. "With the crowd in chaos, and a hole in their defences…"

"The momentous security will fall into disorganisation with panic seeded into their ranks. After all, the crowds outnumber them tremendously" Smiled Mathieu. "And biggest obstacle - entering - will have been worked around."

"Right. So once we've entered the building, we'll have to split up to cover as much ground as possible." Observed Laurence.

"Yes, however just us won't be enough. We'll need to block off the canopy so that Duma doesn't escape via the upper levels," Included Mathieu with a slight hand gesture of acknowledgement to Laurence's opinion.

"I'd recommend explosives for that. Artillery, missiles and such." Alison suggested.

"Very well then, Alison." Agreed Mathieu. "I trust that you'd happily take care of that."

"Well, other than that, we'll have the bastard trapped." Smirked Laurence.

"We'll have to act extremely quickly before Duma has any chance to leave the building. As well as this, it's bound that the state police will be alarmed," Continued Mathieu. "We should have at least thirty minutes before that happens due to Sector VII's very poorly organised infrastructure, as well as the sanctuary being the most structurally safe building in all of upper Africa. I can at least guess that he shouldn't be expecting a visit from us any time soon, especially with the large numbers of guards and news teams."

"What will be amusing is that we'll be using his body double against him, which he would have originally intended to work in his favour. Assassinating the him would create a window for us to evade the cameras, as they'd either be cut off, or overrun by the rioting." Added Miki. "As long as it doesn't get abnormally cloudy, I'll have satellite track any unusual activity around the building that may indicate his departure before we arrive. Then we can then lock down any movement within the building and slowly track him down."

"Sounds fun." Laughed Alison, as an encouraging smile blossomed up on her face. Her warm-heartedness was contagious, and even Eric found that a smile and crept up onto his face.

"God dammit…" He cursed neutrally.

"I'll take our security android with me as an aid, I'm sure having an autonomous body guard will come in handy whilst I'm distracted with managing our communications. I guess that means we'll have two robots on the top level... " Miki laughed casually.

"Not that that's a bad thing!" Cut in Alison cheerfully, holding her hand outward and gesturing her to be quiet. She smiled again.

Mathieu allowed a slight laugh for the sake of politeness, before commanding "Very well then, let's please focus on the mission now. Station yourselves at the combat exit immediately and await further orders. We must follow every detail of this plan diligently."

"Yes sir!" Acknowledged Alison, along with a slightly less jumpy agreement with everyone else. She began to grow confident once the possibility of a victory was finally within her view.

Such a simple state of mind was something Eric viewed as despicable, but now...

"Is that how easy it is…?" Eric began to think. For once, he took the time to fully analyse Alison for who she was.

He was looking at everything differently. It was Jacinta, she did this to him. Simply seeing somebody worse off gave him an indescribable feeling of self hatred. He felt like Alison's and everyone else's own disposition for him was flowing through his own veins. Such an archaic, sad feeling.

The memory of Alison so infuriatingly hiding her compassionate tears slipped itself into his mind. He knew he needed to get rid of this... shame.

To think the world itself was falling apart around him would be an understatement. Everyone around him was falling apart too. And he was simply a stake pushed into the very core of their crumbling hearts.

They may be gifted with unmatched elemental power, but angels cannot take flight when their wings are stapled down to Man's land of sin.

"I'm through with this!!" He stressed mentally, almost on the very brink of screaming it at the top of his lungs.

Eric knew exactly what he had to do now. He wanted his rage to seethe through his veins like a satanic disease. He wanted to prove himself. Even if he died today, it was still one step closer to something everyone would be proud of.

...

An Elder stood welcomely on his assigned podium, grasping the ledge of the balcony confidently as he watched the grand parade down below billowing with colour and sound in his honour. Such splendour, such a fanfare to behold, squeezed out of this dying nation generously as if it were a first breath, when in truth such a breath was amongst its very last. His earpiece chimed. Quickly and efficiently he pressed it down, waiting for orders. Something seemed different about this elder. His body language was too showy.

Such a detail turned out to be one of direct truth, for on the other end lay the true Duma himself, vested safely away from the events of the surface; perhaps even enjoying a glass of newly cracked open champagne. With a few words, the true Duma ensured his body double to retain his current place, and ensure the parade were to run smoothly.

The body double resumed his plastic stereotypical features, all too resemblant to the nation's beloved new heir. At this distance, an artificial face argumentation was as seamless as true flesh itself.

The security was perfect . Everything was welding together like cogs in a master crafted machine. The double laughed internally at the success of such an operation. Only a fool would even try to challenge a tactical mastermind like that of Duma.

II

The chamber was strangely silent. Laurence was fiddling with the pre-set restraints of his elemental conductor, as Alison appeared to be doing the same with her sword. Mathieu was deep within a veil of thick thinking. Miki was reading a book.

"A book. Really?" Observed Laurence mentally, basically glaring at her.

She looked up at him. The notion startled him. Sometimes he was certain the damn girl could read minds.

"How out of place... Huh." She mused with an imposing smile, tilting her head slightly.

"There's a time and place for everything… and that crosses the line." He criticised, before looking down back at his conductor, "you should be making sure all of your equipment is in check."

"I have already done that... so I may as well relax," Miki quickly retorted, before drawing her eyes up and down him, "and by the look of things I strongly advise you do the same."

Laurence just stared at her open mouthed, completely dumbfounded, unsure how to respond.

Eric was completely detached for any association with the emotional climate of the room. He felt dread, a personal isolation. He couldn't believe that of all times he'd be remembering now. Long away from the lower levels of Block 441.

"Jacinta."

She said she wanted to run away, and all he could think of was the fragility that was held in her eyes when she said that, it was reminding himself countless times since then of this uncannily familiar fear she was cornered into. Time was such a cruel, emotionless thing. To think there was somebody out there just like himself, ushered him to a single momentous realisation; this pain... was a cycle.

"If they won't do it… I'll stop this god forsaken cycle myself." He murmured, sitting up. He caught the attention of Alison, who sat directly opposite him.

"What's up?" She asked with mild tone of interest.

"Ever get the feeling that you're abandoning something?" He stated lazily, catching her gaze locked eye contact.

She sighed, as she impatiently rested the side of her head in her hand, crossing her legs. That distinct look of his was once again planted upon his young face. Whatever message she had tried to get through of that thick skull of his, didn't seem to have fully sunk in.

"This isn't another one of your naïve lectures about some self-proclaimed view of justice and karma again is it…" She assumed with a mocking sarcasm.

"And what makes you think it truly constitutes otherwise? I apologise, okay? I understand the gravity of this situation... But I've got to do something!" He spoke, standing up with crossed arms.

"Easy, tiger, I know you're ready and raring to go, but we're still waiting for the window of opportunity," joked Laurence, not fully realising the Ice Elemental's intent. He seemed quite impressed by Eric's new sense of audacity.

"That's not what I meant. I'm not talking about the mission," Back chatted Eric, glaring at him. He placed his hand firmly on the emergency exit activation lever, edging himself to pull.

"Eric... please don't do something you may come to regret later," Replied Laurence, with a sudden sense of concern.

"Eric, you will do your duty. Now sit down. Immediately." Ordered Mathieu. All glints of reason were washed clean from his voice. He was stern and cold as the barren earth itself.

"Gah. Hypocrites!" He spat, audible enough for everyone to hear. He knew they were right in many aspects, but once again the whole stupidity with where they fell short caused him to feel so infuriated.

He'd had enough.

"You're so caught up in your own views of justice that you just forget about people like myself! Now there's somebody else, and you're just neglecting her!"

Alison interrupted calmly.

"Eric. I'm sure she's…"

"...Lucky to be alive! If I wasn't ordered to pay her a visit she would be dead already due to elemental depletion!"

"Huh?" Came Alison, surprised.

Miki laughed with her inner voice. What a charismatic man. It was a shame he had not a grain of perception of when to stop. Then again, neither did anyone else within here; all this fuss was distracting her from her book.

"I'm sure Mathieu has made plans of what to do without me, anyway." Continued Eric, calming down.

He pulled the exit open, and was met with a furious gush of air that echoed through the chamber.

"Eric! Don’t! For Christ's sake!" Yelled Alison. She had finally let herself snap.

"Good luck with the mission. I'll be seeing you." He concluded concisely.

And with that, he left, jumping out of the elevator without a single hesitation. He descended, free falling down the long, decayed corridor, before latching onto the chute wall with both hands and feet. They welded to its surface in a flash under a sheet of super compressed ice, cushioning the back-breaking impact as its broken fragments fell further downward. In that split second, it was his instinct which caused a layer of networked veins of ice to build up instantly between him and the wall, absorbing a force that would have been certain to amputate both arms.

A silence prevailed in the elevator upon Eric's departure, as its now holed metallic body continually ascended to the surface. Laurence was the first to speak.

"I'm quite worried that boy is going to get himself killed if he keeps that up. I should probably go and stop him before it's too late."

"Laurence. Just shut up. You're not helping. It's my duty to parent him… not, not yours." Replied Alison. She began to sound sad again, remembering how she'd once endangered the child's life before.

Laurence just sighed, shaking his head as he stopped tapping at his conductor and motioned to sit next to Alison. Realising that to his comments were failing to achieve anything constructive while she was like this, he moved towards the only other logical action he could think of, and wrapped his unburdened arm around her affectionately.

"S...Sorry. Laurence." He heard her mumble.

"Has an attitude, though I congratulate his sudden charisma. We'll be perfectly fine without him, if anything, there's a chance he'd just have ended up as dead weight. You guys can really get caught up in everything." Miki stated as calmly as ever, smiling at the dejected duo.

"He's not a dead weight! He's just… misunderstood..." Defended Alison, before realising that she was still upset and letting her feelings do the talking for her.

Mathieu sighed.

"I'm aware, Miki, but it's still a virtue to teach the boy some discipline." Observing her comment with palm rested in hand.

...

The lift was out of service. It was dilapidated.

All this effort to get to the surface before the others was now taken from right in front of her, and pressing the button for the eleventh time in a hysteric frenzy proved to do nothing to quell what was building up inside of her so strongly.

Nothing but a singular, dominant emotion filled Jacinta's heart and mind: defeat. It overpowered her, and soon she found herself crouched up tightly against the wall, helplessly sobbing. Too many things had gone wrong today, and the intense sadness that she was confined to live with since the vanishing of her parents had now escalated to the point where it was too much for her to handle. She was drowning in it, broken like the very elevator itself, consisting of a bare form of nothing but a uselessness that was beyond repair.

A noise broke the silence that draped itself over the room, startling her.

The shock caused her to grab her knees tighter together, and she weakly scanned the room. Once again it was quiet, however this time it was too silent, too unnerving. Even a breath of hers was a beacon that broadcasted her presence to any listener nearby, and she felt confined to this emptiness like a prison.

Her anxiety began to tug at her inner gut uncomfortably.

"Jacinta!" A determined, boyish voice broke the silence. The tone was instantly recognisable, and she froze, praying desperately that he would not find her, however such silent whims to the emptiness ignored her, and he stepped into the room almost simultaneously.

He halted, met again with uncertainty. He was surprised to find her still here, and any plans he'd improvised beforehand had simply fluttered away.

Now he had no clue as to what step to take next.

"Jacinta…" He whispered, about to edge himself towards her.

"Stop saying my name." She cut in. Her anxiety assumed control, and she was acting blindly.

"Uh.." He exhaled, retaliating in total confusion. He felt like the words had literally stabbed through him.

"You won't stop intruding my space…" She whimpered inaudibly, clasping her bag closer to her body, wanting to apologise immediately for what she had said, but at the same moment feeling certain that he'd probably yell at her.

She felt minuscule, clasping onto a self-imposed truth that she was only the wrong person in the wrong place. She knew that she wasn't fit to be a guardian, and the only logical thing she could think of was distancing herself from them so that they wouldn't want her here.

"Go away!" She continued. It turned out to be the only least hurtful thing that she had managed to think of.

Jacinta's words soon began to sink right through Eric like glue dripping slowly down a tube, and immediately, his intentions began to fade, losing touch with their warmth and purpose like a lost memory. It seemed that his compassion was meaningless after all. He was right; all along.

"Good deeds couldn't exist purely for their own sake… How stupid…"

"Well this was a complete waste of time." He cursed, looking away. He felt a strong, enraged annoyance.

Jacinta began to lose control of what she was saying.

"And how you held my hand…" She continued, clenching her eyes shut painfully, sick on a swirling concoction of bitterness and denied feelings of what previously felt like hope, twisting every affectionate feeling that she could find into hate, as she built a wall around her heart to prevent any further pain.

"Taking advantage of a weak girl like that... You.. You're sickening!"

Eric let every word of hers hit his emotions head on, welcoming the pain as if it were a self-inflicted punishment. It was that final phrase that pushed him inches within being crushed. He felt like he was choking, trying to stay calm despite this maelstrom that raged beneath his skin.

He buried his hands into his pockets, turning away, however in the last minute something caught his eye: His bag was clasped firmly in her hands. He moved instantaneously without a single moment of hesitation, as something lay inside it that was irreplaceably precious to him.

"I'd thank you to not steal my bag... brat." He said, grasping its strap nastily as he tried to yank it from her grip, trying hard not to let an upset tone enter his words even at the cost of irrationally insulting her.

He pulled at it, and she slid towards him slightly, breaking free of her curled position on the floor. She tightened her grip on the bag with both hands, standing wide to regain balance as she wrung it desperately towards herself in the opposite direction.

"No!" She whimpered. She found herself hit with a wave of bitter self hatred in response to her own weakness. She had let her sadness shine through so easily.

"What is wrong with you!? Give me the bag!" Eric spat.

The whole situation had become a crude resemblance of a child's game of tug of war. Both sides emotionally charged over a rivalry of laughable stupidity, yet the conflict failed to simply fall apart of its own accord. With one final tug, Eric led to the stringy fabric of the bag to finally give way. With a loud tear, both were thrown back, as the broken bag dropped onto the floor.

At its zipper end lay a photo, cleanly seen by both of them. What lay upon it was a younger Eric, accompanied by two adults on either side.

They both resembled him.

Eric shot at it with the speed of instinct, snatching up the photo up into his hands with a single swipe. He quickly tucked it into his jacket pocket, standing up sprightly as he readjusted his uniform, once again crossing his arms in bitter uncertainty.

"Jesus… this is ridiculous…"

He felt a cold feeling creep up. All of a sudden he was shocked with the realisation that had he let her slip past, would have lost it.

Jacinta was slowly cooling down, assuming control of her angst as every detail on the photo still lay fresh within her memory. This boy's actions were so familiar: the way he was wound up so tightly, acting immediately and upon pure emotions. Then there was the photo, something which he worked upon as angrily and quickly as he possibly could in order to protect it. It as if he were hanging on desperately the very last shattered fragment of a broken heart.

He was just like her. And of all possibly things to follow, she felt warmth inside.

Eric started to breath more calmly, as he cleared his throat, trying to cover up this awkwardness he felt with some words.

"There you go… you saw it..." He stressed rudely.

Jacinta remained in silence, however, very slowly she proceeded to quietly stand up in front of him, wiping the tears from her eyes. Tentatively, she opened her handbag, reaching deeply inside in a sore, but empathetic manner. The feeling of paper had met her fingers on the other end, and she drew out what she held delicately.

She walked over to Eric, holding the strip of card in both hands, before opening them out, exposing the coloured surface of the photo before him. She looked away, biting her lip with reluctance.

Eric glanced at it for a second, first at her own face in mockery, but upon the second time the message came through clear, and he realised what she had done. The scowl on his face washed away as his eyes widened, he placed a hand over his mouth in shock, dumbstruck.

"Oh… oh wow..." He repeated to himself.

It turned out that she too had a lovingly kept photo of her parents. It looked so worn and fragile, edges made sore and ragged through age, but it was nevertheless protected like a lone fragment of a tenderer past.

Jacinta slipped the photo into her bag, clasping her hands behind her hips nervously. She couldn’t force herself to make any further eye contact, but what words she was keeping felt stronger.

"I really miss them." She came honestly.

Eric mumbled with a mix of sadness and a newly sprung hope, stuttering as he stumbled over these new thoughts weakly, "Mm. I'm… certain that both of mine have long passed away. Without me even… even knowing."

She noticed that he was shaking in shock, and she gasped slightly, feeling regretful. She forced her feelings to keep flowing as words, hoping to make him feel better.

"Oh. That's so sad..."

"Mhm." Eric replied.

Jacinta mumbled supportively in response, however couldn't think of what to say next.

"Um.. w-what happened to your parents?" Included Eric, trying to push the conversation forward.

Jacinta sighed sadly, she didn't feel like bringing up this subject, but she felt Eric place a hand on her shoulder, and she looked up, feeling a little more encouraged.

"It's… I have…" She quivered.

There was a long pause, and on the moment Eric opened his mouth to apologise, she let it free.

"I don’t remember a thing. They were just… stolen from me. And all I can remember Is waking up one day on the cold streets… sopping wet from the rain, shivering. Freezing..." She whispered.

Eric frowned, saddened at her sudden despondency.

“And I can’t help but think, that, it’s my fault…”

Eric sighed sympathetically, as he grabbed her hand softly, briefly holding it with both hands reassuringly to emphasise a single statement before letting them go,

"Well, you're not alone, I know exactly how you feel. This is such a horrible pain, isn't it? And yet… we have no choice but to accept it. It's cruel."

"Mm." Jacinta whimpered.

"I really do feel sorry for you."

Warmth once again flickered up within her. The feeling of his hands reminded her of something so very recent, and she was hit with an impulse of sorrow.

"Ohh Eric… Please forgive me. I didn't mean to say such mean things to you."

Eric glanced at her, surprised, before nervously divorcing her from eye contact.

"Um, Y… you're forgiven." He replied gruffly, finding himself rubbing the back of his neck anxiously.

"To be honest, I wasn't really treating you any better." He finished.

Jacinta sighed slightly, controlling her breathing as she felt relieved. She never realised how much she actually didn't want to let go of this boy, even if he was just a mere acquaintance. He was so easy to understand; so easy to open up to.

"Haha." Eric laughed nervously, imposing a tone of reassurance from any kind of cheerfulness that he could muster up within this short time. "We're both emotional wrecks aren't we."

Jacinta smiled a little. But this time she ignored her nervousness, and looked at him directly in the eyes, showing him the brighter look on her face as best she could, saying, "I want to get to know you better, Eric."

She noticed his eyes lighten up. He savoured the feeling for a second, before reluctantly pushing it aside with a glance away,

"We have to go. They need us." He mentioned flatly.

"But…" She interrupted.

"I'll protect you. Okay?" He cut in.

"W-Why are you doing this?" Jacinta asked weakly, flattered by his generosity.

"I…"

"Mm?"

"I don't like seeing you like this. Your sadness. I've lived with so much of the same thing and… I can't bear to see somebody else just like me."

Jacinta blushed, as she turned away to hide it from him. Nobody had ever said something like that before.

"Mm. Okay. I'll try." Replied Jacinta warmly, as she placed her hands upon her heart to feel its beating.

Eric put his hand on her shoulder encouragingly, with the final words "I'll make sure nothing bad will happen to you."

...

An ever-present crack of electricity broke the air in all directions as all eyes within the crowd locked upon the limp body of Duma's body double tumbling from its balcony. A single bolt of lightning was enough to finish off this puppet. The uniformity of the parade concession broke, losing its coherence as a panicked, fearful rage spread seamlessly throughout them and the crowds on either side. Some fled, determined for self-preservation, whilst others simply stood where they were, stricken with disbelief. Such a destruction of order was in no way an uncommon event in their lives, and seeing the worst of their hopes unfold once again just before them was more than enough to make even the most timid of man to reach a dull state of insanity.

The riot escalated into a brand new, separate phase of aggression a fraction of a second later. The sound of crumbling concrete and warping metal girders rang through the air in a cacophony of deafening explosive charges. By way of pre-placed bombing, The Sanctuary was wholly cut off from the upper canopy. The signs of a full-scale riot were undeniable, escalating the already heated mob mentality of violence within the crowds. To them, the explosions only further heightened their shared sense of desperation and will for revolution.

Naturally, such despicable allegiances were not treated with any leeway whatsoever by the armed guards controlling the parameters, and their neutral efforts in keeping the crowds at bay bled into full anger-ridden violence against them.

It was hardly long before concealed weapons were revealed, and the once conformed mass of civilians began assaulting whoever they deemed a threat in a blinding frenzy of terror: security guards, sanctuary officials, even other civilians they deemed as against their beloved guardians.

"Go! Second phase now!" barked Mathieu over his intercom bead.

With the four of them clothed within as sanctuary security guards, identities protected by polarised visors, the active guardians had soon entered the building and secured the inner perimeter from civilian trespassers, all the while syncing in with their stolen security IDs with the rest of the platooned formations with experienced efficiency.

Infiltration was a success, and they had found themselves free from potential sniping within the tightly wound corridors of the archaic building. Sticking closely together amongst the formation of other guards, they found themselves to be welcomed by nothing other than warning alarms. The facility had been vacated instantly.

Now the third phase was about to commence. As predicted, their very squad was called upon to secure the lower levels of the building. Using this abnormally rash order as evidence, the location of Duma's place of safeguard was narrowed down.

"Disperse immediately." Ordered Mathieu "Spread out and cover as much ground as possible."

Miki detached herself from the team to find herself ascending upwards in an elevator, as the remaining three worked their way towards securing every exit from the central forum of the complex towards the outer catacombs.

With clockwork efficiency, the complex was locked down. The building was organised into a formation of rings encircling a central elaborate elevator, which connected the tip of the spire to the lowest levels. With all other exits blocked off and destroyed, securing that would greatly narrow down Duma's chance of escaping undetected.

"Pathetic security..." Came a comment from Alison.

"Don't lose your guard." Replied Laurence tonelessly.

The ornate doors from around them slammed open, and they found themselves surrounded by armed guards. They appeared startled.

There was an awkward pause of mutual confusion. Before a second's hesitation, their CUO stepped forward.

This was not planned.

"Unit twelve! What is the meaning of this? You are exceeding your ordered positions!"

"Apologies sir!" Came Alison immediately.

The officer stopped in his tracks. Slowly, he stood began to stand more upright. It was almost as if he was shocked.

"Your ID codes are not matching your voice code, woman." He whipped out his belt-hoisted pistol and signalled it towards them.

"Take off your helmets immediately and put your hands on the ground. It seems we have managed to funnel out a band of opportunistic terrorists. You are under arrest for high treason!"

Laurence groaned from under his breath. He slipped off his rifle from off his back as he worked towards laying it upon the ground. Reassuringly, he edged the others to do the same.

The squad of guardians put their hands behind their heads, letting their oppressors know that any implicit threat of death must have been behind them. The CUO relaxed slightly. The man made a hurried signal with his hand, refusing to refrain from making a glaring eye contact.

A private amongst the squadron stepped forward, activating a back-mounted elemental suppressor as it saturated the entire area in a blurred fuzz of mysterious energy. With a moment's pause and from what could be assumed to be a positive reading from his head-up display, he gave the signal to secure them.

With a single flick, Laurence forced the fluids out from the officer's body, obliterating his material form as organs exploded out from every orifice in a grotesque implosion. The suppressors: useless. Such a piece of junk was in no way capable of suppressing some the highest Keidis ratings on the planet.

They were hailed in a frightened gunfire. The team of guardians scattered, dispersing themselves to the corners of the room. Alison activated her elemental ability angrily, directing the sparks back within the barrels guns and causing them to backfire. A window of opportunity was torn open. Nao unexpectedly jumped fourth, accessing the synaptic links of the weak psychic minds of the militia with the intentions of causing as many as he could to lose consciousness and black out.

With an outward splay of fingers, with weight placed down on a crouched knee, he strained himself to the edge of his ability, as the dozens of men around him fell to the ground like feeble dolls. In the final moment, he broke free of his elemental balance and exhaled.

Coughing for breath, he glanced back at his surprised companions, with the words "Sheesh. I haven't had this much fun on the front lines in ages… ha ha."

"Christ. If Miki saw that she'd have a heart attack…" Commented Alison, with a sly cheekiness, making an effort to double check that she was not accidentally pressing down on her radio receiver by accident.

"Miki? Huh, why her?" Cut in Nao, baffled, however there came no answer to follow it up.

"I guess you could say that you literally are a 'bright spark', Nao." Came Laurence with a laugh.

Alison placed her head in her right hand and shook her head, laughing to herself as she said with an annoyance, "Bloody hell Laurence… that was so lame."

Mathieu interrupted their moment of insubordination sternly, just moments away from making a dash across the hall.

"This is no time for fooling around! Nothing less than Imbeciles. All of you! Did the cabin fever go to your heads?!"

"Very well sir." Agreed Laurence, making a gesture to the rest for them to brush it out of their systems.

Mathieu still wasn't finished with him,

"Ranting on about gender and class at such a time. Pathetic, utterly pathetic. You're not sixteen, Valentine." He then diverted his attention, "Li-Pau, update. Now."

"The structural plans indicate that Duma's cell is located somewhere on level Delta, with the elevator being the only link to the lowest level. Excellent." Relayed Nao as he rechecked a holo-slate.

"Excellent? Where's the rest of the interior guard? Didn't you notice that they were only a basic patrolling unit? I know you're very skilled and obviously have faith in your ability… but sub machine guns don't cut it with a celestial palace kiddo." Laurence criticised.

"What, you're assuming the guy has been expecting us the entire time? It's plausible; Mathieu, What's your thoughts on this?" Cut in Nao.

Mathieu sighed, before clearing his head of the issue and instructing clearly, "Never mind, Laurence, Alison, Nao, initiate the third phase. Search for the target immediately, I will secure the ground floor, as does Miki with the canopy exits. Please, for once in your lives don’t get distracted from the plan."

He decided to take a chance, scrapping further improvised planning to save time. A deadly move, but in such a situation time was a valuable resource.

"Sir." Confirmed Laurence, trusting in his judgement unquestionably. He gestured towards Alison with the motion of a gloved hand, as they quickly stepped into the elevator.

Laurence slammed down the button marked Central Chamber, however was met with a fuzzy dialogue box opening projecting out on the screen demanding password verification.

"Dammit…" Cursed Laurence.

"Leave it to me." Sighed Nao, pushing him out of the way politely as he crouched down. "I'd say Duma's staff would use this elevator against us if anything. I'll just unload an encrypted termination code into this thing so they won’t order it into lockdown." He said, as he flicked open a concealed hatch and swiftly plugged in a flash drive, accessing it wirelessly with a pocket terminal.

"Yeah whatever… I knew that." Commented Laurence, stepping back as he placed both hands on the back of his head, fresh out of any clever comments to follow up.

A cheeky smile crept up Alison's face subtly, finding Laurence's clumsy yet determined behaviour amusing. She simply drew out her sword, expanding it's blade with a single click, and trusted it into the ornate safety glass that encapsulated them.

"There's a way around everything" Mocked Alison playfully as she leapt out, rebounding off the wall with a single jump and leaping onto the roof of the lift.

"Haha, it appears there's too much on my mind." replied Laurence, even with a quick laugh, as he followed Alison upwards.

"We'll have to cover all ground. You stay down here." He continued as he shot at the ceiling high above with a grappling hook, clipping the carbon-coloured chord to his belt. "Though we managed to hack ourselves some structural plans, we have no real clue as to where Duma is. I'll just double-check the top floors myself and message back to you. Look for any signs for his presence… "

"Sure thing!" Replied Alison as she climbed back into the lift.

Immediately following, he abseiled his way up winding shaft above with a trained efficiency, powering up his elemental conductor mid-ascension as it illuminated the chute in an eerie blue glow.

"Well, the lift is freely ours now." Said Nao as he got up off the floor, "And the only thing that'll tell them that is the command history, I don't expect them to be able to retrieve a hacking software from a simple string of code that rewrote itself to resemble a correct password being entered - hah."

He entered a command into his handheld terminal, attentively entering in further specifications with a keen skill, and soon the elevator descended downwards.

Alison began to feel a little uneasy. Where on earth where the guards? Why were they so easily walking about this complex like nothing happened?

As soon as view of the ground floor dropped out of view, the alarms dropped away, and the room fell into darkness with the loud bang of a cut circuit. The elevator froze. Dead.

The sound of monolithic metal doors heaving shut was heard from directly above them from every angle. Mathieu's voice emanated, however it only came out as a muffled series of loud echoes. Their intercom beads chimed, as his voice followed through.

"They have us locked inside." He spoke calmly across the secure line.

"...The bastards." Cut in a transmission from Laurence.

"Says the guy who took off his helmet and revealed his identity to everybody." Came a sudden left-field cold comment from Nao.

Alison began to feel slightly panicky, however she was making a great effort to control it. She knew this was a very risky mission. She cut herself angrily into the conversation,

"God… This was a stupid idea!"

"It was the most efficient option we had, Alison. Don't let yourself get defeated so easily." Replied Mathieu.

There was a crackle of radio transmission, before Miki's voice was heard.

"Satellite hasn't picked up anything. He's definitely still in the building. I'm unsure how deeply nested he is within there…. but it's still a fact." She added coolly.

"Great to hear." Replied Mathieu. "Laurence, Alison, Nao, the mission has not changed. Continue your search immediately, I will follow through."

"I'll see you downstairs. There's basically nothing up here, just a few bare conference rooms." Came a final transmission from Laurence.

Nao was detached for the entire conversation, instead heavily occupied on the roof of the lift. All of a sudden, the vessel shuddered, before descending downwards.

"...What? How are you doing that?" Asked Alison.

"Mhm?" He mumbled "Oh, it's just a simple clamp. It's functioning the same was as a brake. I mean, we don't even need power."

"Gosh, you work around everything, don't you." Replied Alison, impressed. Nao laughed to himself in response, taking some pride in his skill. Mathieu joined them on the roof of the elevator, landing upon its surface with a safe landing provided by a belt-mounted grappling hook, and they soon found themselves reaching the lowest floor.

Exiting the lift, Mathieu cautioned "Wait for everyone to regroup. Unfortunately Miki has been locked out on the top, so we can't read the air currents…."

Laurence eventually joined them, landing on the potion of the elevator roof behind them with a grace provided by his belt-mounted cable. He looked worried.

Mathieu began to think. Something didn't feel right, this was getting far too easy for them, especially with all the prior fooling around. He contacted their rooftop-bound deputy information officer in haste, "Miki, any updates?"

There was no response. Yet just a second ago she was eager to reply. This didn't make sense. He waited a minute, before speaking his mind, "Something isn’t…"

But his trail of words was broken from right out of the blue. An interception broke into their intercom beads, speaking clearly.

"Well done, Mathieu. It seems that you've trained your little companions well." Spoke a silvered, aged, intelligent voice.

"He's hacked the secure line? What the… ff…" Commented Nao, running his fingers though his hair bewilderedly. Mathieu's eyes narrowed, crossing his arms impatiently. It was most certainly a trap after all.

"Though I must commend you on your efforts on getting in this far. African military can really be overwhelming in their numbers." The voice continued. "Anyone would think it's the Red army all over again."

"Rather unimpressive of you to combat me with an army that I've trained with, Elder Duma. Or should I say… "Reginald". What in the world ever happened to respect and honour? You were the one who taught me those very concepts. Despicable." Mathieu replied.

"Chivalry is an artefact of royalty that I only taught you out of duty. This world has no room for compassion, Mathieu. And look at where you are now because of your flimsy beliefs... Scum of the earth it seems. The entire world loathes your kind."

"Well, it's only fair that way." Joked Laurence, in a clever, sarcastic tone.

Duma laughed condescendingly. "Aha ha ha haha… Of course, how 'foolish' of me. I'd almost forgot about this so called 'cycle of destiny' that you are supposedly blessed by. Well then, why don’t we see if those young companions of yours agree with this… hmm?"

"What?" Came Alison.

The whitewashed walls around them flickered on into life, displaying crystal clear LCD images of a tied up Miki flanked on both sides by both Eric and Jacinta, gagged, beat up and tortured into submission.

"Dear… lord." Came Laurence, shocked.

"How… h.. Eric and Jacinta… uh… I…." Stuttered Alison.

A shattered look took hold of her face, and Laurence acted immediately, quietly standing by her side as he clenched her hand supportively. Once again, it seemed that her ability as a parent proved fruitless in protecting Eric, and now even the frail Jacinta was thrown into the fray.

Alison stared at her feet, forcing herself not to cry as she grabbed Laurence's arm lovingly, wrecked with emotional pain.

"You fell right into my trap Mathieu. My subordinates had overwhelmed the minuscule belligerents you supplied on the surface levels whilst you were all distracted down here. Aha...my my, It's a touch little too cruel to press children into service, isn't it my young cousin? ...Or are you still too young and naïve at heart to understand yourself?" He continued, mocking them sadistically.

"You've stooped far too low you bastard!! Torturing children… that's just sickening!" Snapped Laurence defensively, continually clutching Alison's hand in his own.

"You are a weak man, Reginald." Spoke Mathieu coldly. "And a weak man dies cold and alone."

"Ahaha.... No." He laughed, ending the sentence with an equal chilling tone.

"If anything, feel free to keep speaking for yourself. We're going to make this simple. I've wired a lie detection device to my audio monitoring systems. It's an expensive, heavy thing, inherited straight from my days as an aristocrat. I'm sure it'll crack the ice of this fine evening."

The feeling of disbelief shook everyone right through to the core. They had walked right into a trap that was baited out in front of them so invitingly, but not even for a single second did the sheer magnitude of such actually pass them by.

"Here's the rules of the game I'd like to play. One: you cannot move, doing so will have the corridors flooded with synapse-halting neurotoxin, and it'd be game over. Two: You will answer my questions correctly. Each wrong answer gets a child put out of their misery."

Nao gritted his teeth as he looked away, sickened by this foul "game" of his.

"However If you answer all questions right, I'll let you live. Seems like an fair agreement, don't you think?" Replied Duma conclusively.

Mathieu sighed, placing a hand upon his brow as he strained for ideas.

"Very well, I'll take that as a 'contract signed'. Well there's no use in waiting any further… Where is your base of operations located!? I need the exact location - now!"

Mathieu trailed quickly through his thoughts, thinking through every conceivable option, every plan that could possibly wring him free from this situation, however nothing came.

"Sweet mother…" He cursed from under his breath.

III

A tense silence prevailed, with not a word coming from any of them. Duma snapped, and made a signal with his right hand. A suited man stepped into view of the camera and ripped the duct tape of Jacinta's face.

"Nnghh!" She winced. The man kicked the back of her chair as she fell face-first onto the ground with a painful shout.

"Answer the question now! I'm no mood for waiting!" Demanded Duma, soon to sound enraged.

"Must he start with the child..." Mathieu thought, taking into mind the fact that it was regrettably his duty to protect all guardians, even if they were mere children. Nothing but a nuisance at the best of times.

"Well lets give that device of yours a run for its money." Stated Mathieu humbly. He rashly forged a lie. "I have no clue as to who she is."

Jacinta spoke, breaking the tension loudly and painfully "No! ...Mathieu! I know you!!"

Miki lifted up her head from where she previously stooped and glared at her, utterly shocked at how oblivious she was to Mathieu's defence. The same reaction was to be followed by everyone, including Duma himself.

"What's this?" Duma snapped. "Something I didn't foresee? Amusing."

He finally stepped into view of the camera, to have his right foot land straight into the side of the girl's head in a ruthless kick. She squealed in writhing pain, as he drew out a pistol from within his robes. With a piercing bang, he fired a round into her spine, as the back of her chair splintered into pieces. A second shot followed clean though the neck, finishing her off.

The girl screamed, gargling and choking as she was slowly drowning in her very own blood, the red liquid clotting inside her throat and gagging it shut. Duma repeatedly kicked her flat in the face, agitated that things weren't going efficiently as planned.

Miki started to yell at the top of her lungs, clenching her eyes together painfully, screaming for mercy, but her gagged mouth shut it tight in a cacophony of muffled noise.

The swift descent into inescapable violence caused her to break.

"Silence!" Spat Duma.

He then aimed his gun straight at Miki, shooting her in the neck as the flung sideways, writhing as tightly as her bound body allowed. Blood soaked the floor from where the two victims now lay dead.

"And that marks the end of that unfortunate lineage. It's almost like a piece of fiction, rampant with cliché phrases. 'Oh the humanity' screams the crowd! What will our dear protagonists do next?" Duma mocked, no longer concealing his rage.

"...It's as pathetic as noble virtues are themselves."

Alison dug her face into Laurence's chest as she muffled a terrified wail, face wet with gushing, unbridled tears. As with her new legal guardian, Jacinta too was broken. She felt indescribably vulnerable and helpless, she wanted to protect everyone, but got so worked up in thinking how that soon she found herself stepping upon the vestiges of half-madness.

Eric was merely veiled in acceptance. In a sense, he even wanted to die.

"It's time you realised that heroes don't exist in reality Dalton!! So answer me! Where do your headquarters lie!? WHERE IS BLOCK 441!" Commanded Duma at the top of his lungs. Another suited associate knocked over Eric's chair with a sly kick, as his face slammed side-on to the concrete floor with a grunt.

"DUMA YOU RUNT!!" Roared Mathieu, immediately spitting a curse from under his breath; this was well and truly checkmate, yet he could not fully accept the fact that he had been defeated so easily,

He looked away from the screen, sucked completely dry of all possible ideas. He felt like a corpse that had willingly chosen to remain standing, and it would only be a matter of time before the grave would be calling him and everyone else that stood by his side.

Amongst the chaos, images of Alison flashed through Jacinta's memories delicately. She remembered the faint image of the young woman carrying her wounded body to safety. How she endangered her life through a horrible miscalculation, got angry about it, and had been distraughtly trying to make up for it ever since.

Then there was Eric. The boy who had so willingly endangered his own life for her. Not once, but twice, simply to protect her. The first a mere eighteen days ago, taking a bullet in the name of keeping her safe, and the second was on this very day, trying his absolute best to fend back the hundreds of soldiers surrounding them on the surface, dropping off a fleet of hover-freighters in ruthlessly efficient formation.

She couldn't bear the fact of losing them; all her sadness, all her rage cumulated deep to the centre of her heart as if it were a raging flame.

"Enough of this." Her insides screamed.

Tears fell from her cheeks, as the ground from both above and beneath her slowly cracked in parallel with her churning stomach.

Duma aimed the cold steel of his pistol straight at Eric's temple, and upon the pulling of the trigger, the gun fell to pieces, exploding as if some arcane force had ripped it apart.

"What!?" Screamed Duma, commanding his retinue in panic, "Fetch me another, quickly!" Only to have them both swallowed up by the walls themselves, warping and splintering like a living organism, crushing them with the splatter of blood.

Every mechanical device within the room exploded with in a shower of debris, as everyone's hearing was temporarily blanked out by a metallic screech. The room fell into moderate darkness with the absence of all light sources, and a muffled, daemonic scream could be heard from Jacinta's stooped body. She was shaking, as if in the throes of an epileptic seizure, tears now flowing as a blackened fluid across her cheeks.

"WHAT HAVE YOU FLUNG ME INTO DALTON?!" Screamed Duma, as he sprinted out of view of the screens.

Mathieu recollected his thoughts immediately, jumping for the window of opportunity the moment it opened up.

"Quickly! Now's our chance! We must find the room from where he was broadcasting!"

"R… right away!" Responded Laurence, freeing himself from Alison's grip. The team of four got themselves together, throwing themselves as fast as humanly possible through the building, blasting open every door they came across with their elemental abilities.

They found the corridors around them warp suddenly, breathing in and out like a lung of concrete, and the floor beneath them gave away it's physical form, crumbling into pieces as it moulded itself into the derelict form of a rubble-strewn tunnel, exposing the very room they sought three floors below them. Every single one of them stood back in awe, facing a tide of sheer terrified confusion and strangely sprung relief.

"What in the world is happening!!" Alison yelled, barely audible above the deafening screeches of warping metal and rubble.

"God knows.." Came a hasty reply from Laurence.

The intercom fuzzed into life, as the terrified sounds of a struggling Duma broadcasted itself accompanied by the separate voice of a perfect stranger's, willingly taking centre stage,

"...Despite my best efforts, this wheezing behemoth just couldn't find death."

"NO! STOP! STOP THE ILLUSIONS, S...STOP THE TERROR…" Duma's voice screamed across the transmission in a primeval terror.

"J..Jesus Christ.. Is...is that who I fucking think it is?!" Came Laurence, stumbling upon his words in fear, almost loosing his footing as he ran down the crumbing tunnel provided before them.

"God be damned… Q..Quick! Rescue them!" Ordered Mathieu. "And initiate a tactical retreat! We're dealing with events far beyond our comprehension!!" His voice, for the first time it had ever been heard, was edged with the sound of terror.

"I may be out of line.. but.. who is this??" Came an inquisitive Alison.

"You will follow orders!" the Plant Elemental commanded.

"Even when thrown into turmoil," The mysterious voice continued uninterrupted "scum like yourself have kept the embers flickering. Such dedication must be rewarded."

The sound of gunfire echoed though the halls as it beamed out of the intercom, before crackling out into dissolution.

Jacinta was found on the floor, free from the shackles that bound her, shivering. The last thing she could remember, was the sensation of being lifted up, and she was soon to find herself falling out of consciousness.

IV

An empty room, sparse, cold. Two men, two associates in secluded discussion.

“...all that I'm seeing is that this entire insurgence had been set up all along by the Vallarie-”

“That has to be the case. The phenomenon that had occurred was at least something within the Theta range of elemental power. I'm still surprised he didn't kill us then and now. He could have just shot at us like rats in a barrel. “

“Hmm... but… there's more. Jacinta. What's the story on her?"

"You tell me.” He forced a controlled laughed. “How long has it been?"

"Fifteen days. Still nothing."

"This…. is concerning."

"Tell me about it. Now listen to this. Her seizure? Total mystery. She hadn’t suffered from any external cerebral shock, she isn't diabetic, her medical analysis came back with a negative for epilepsy, and yet, there I was, performing mid-seizure precautions… laying her body in recovery position to prevent her from choking. You get the idea.”

“Mm. Falling into unconsciousness is a certain sign of exceeding mental capacity, but the seizure is another matter entirely. I've had several ideas pass me by which may help to dust it up with logical deductions, though they're faint at best, especially with an undiagnosed seizure thrown into the batch. Perhaps, deliberate mental interference?”

“…Suspecting Duma?”

“No, It would not have been Duma, he was a neutral all his life, though a plausible theory is that It may have been the girl herself, a defence mechanism maybe? But…"

"Now that's a touch far-fetched.'

"Yes, yes, an apt observation. I can agree. It's common sense to see that something like that is ridiculous. In any case, our only remaining lead narrows down to it being the work of Lasi-faité; after all, nobody else within the area had the power to do such a thing. But again, I haven't the faintest clue as to why he would only target her.”

“She has a Keidis reading of only two hundred. There's no way she could have caused it.”

“Do not dismiss power so rashly, it could have been a raw outburst. When she was recovered she emitted a surprisingly powerful burst of energy. Perhaps you should be more diligent when you read personnel reports.” the man speaking chuckled.

“Yes... well... “ the voice stumbled before replying profusely, “this is all just hypothetical, Mathieu.”

“No, mostly logical,” the Ghost_K Commander laughed, “Although I will concede that probability dictates it was likely our old friend. The fact he seems to have gone out of his way to target Jacinta is cause for concern.”

“That remains to be confirmed.”

“Exactly, but I am quite sure these events happened for a specific reason. If it is who we suspected, then we must find answers sooner rather than later. I hate to think what twisted plan has somehow led him to helping us... “

...


Index

  • Holo-slate: A miniature device that usually is worn as a watch, as a clip-on device onto shirt pockets or collars, or on belts. Used as an information processor and recorder, projecting its information as holograms onto any flat vertical surface, which can be interacted with using hand detection technology.


K21LOGOpunk
Chronology
K21 - Dusty Blinds · K21 - I'm With You · K21 - Prayer · K21 - Kindred · K21 - Degenerate · ...
Prequels & Stand Alone Stories
Vallarian Trilogy · Ortus Continuity · Antecedence Double Trilogy · Artificial Elemental Trilogy · K21 - Broken Faith · K21 - Substantial Illusions · K21 - Judgement In Duty · K21 - Aces High · K21 - Limitless Sun · K21 - Distorted Closure · K21 - Loose Ends · K21 - Attache Case

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