For four days, we just rowed and rowed until our hands got sore. Nel was grumbling at Cliff and Jett because they get hungry every hour and our supplies were getting depleted. She ordered them to catch some fish though I wasn’t sure how they would do that without any equipment.
She lay down beside me and heaved a deep sigh.
“Mentally draining, isn’t it?” I said while inspecting my sword.
“I can’t even imagine how I’m going to survive if I’m alone. How do you even do it?”
I shrugged. “I’m used to it.”
She looked tired and the bags under her eyes were getting more noticeable. I was about to tell her to rest since she was up all night but the hair on my nape bristled. The temperature suddenly dropped and the sky turned gray. A swirl of mist and thick fog enveloped our surroundings, obscuring our vision. Each of them assumed a defensive stance, their weapons ready.
“W-what’s happening?” she asked.
I stood at the front of the raft. “We’re here.”
As soon as I said those words, a smaller raft appeared and got wafted to our direction. I turned to them and smiled.
“Sorry. I’m the only one who can go inside.”
“It’s okay,” I said, reassuring them. “Just wait for me here.”
“How long should we wait?” asked Cliff.
“Until I return. Don’t do anything. Don’t look for me. Just stay here and wait.”
“And if we do something?”
I stared at Jett and smirked. “You’d be dead before you can do anything. This place is uncompromising so you better stay still. I don’t want my friends dying here with me.”
Before they could ask or complain, I hopped on the smaller raft and it pulled me to the thickest swirl of fog. I could feel the chills crawling onto my skin and I had to keep myself from shivering. The menacing aura was way more intense and blood-chilling than the last time.
The fog started to dissipate and I saw Farallon standing on the shore. I waded ashore and sighed in relief when I spotted Shira and Hyora a few meters behind him.
“Why are you here again?” asked Farallon who seemed displeased with my presence.
“I have a delivery,” I retorted. “Kind of grand prize material.”
That made him relax for a bit.
Shira and Hyora snuggled up against me. Hyora tugged my shirt with his fangs and turned to his back.
“You want me to ride you?” I asked and she purred in response.
Farallon huffed. “Why are they only friendly to you?”
I chuckled. “Jealous?”
“Shut your mouth, Naia.”
I hopped onto Hyora’s back while Shira and Farallon walked beside us. We treaded through the poisonous forest and the stone path until we reached the village. Kyo stood in the middle of the barren land with a scowl on his face. I winced when I saw his expression. He was already intimidating when he was smiling but his presence this time almost made me quiver.
“Why are you here, kid?” he asked in a disgruntled tone.
I had to choke back the creeping fear on my throat. “Uhh . . . more prisoners,” I responded. “Heads of the Nox Organization.”
He drew a deep breath and cracked his neck. He marched toward my direction as some Executioners followed behind him.
“Commander Priam acts fast,” he remarked. “I didn’t expect that.”
“Well, he wants to end this Nox problem as quick as possible.”
I still wasn’t sure why he looked irritated but I managed to tell him the details of the transport. He listened well despite grimacing every minute. When I was finished, he ordered an Executioner to call Lionel and Kiyoko. Farallon readied the place where the transport would take place.
“I’ll let my best fighters handle them,” he said.
After several minutes, Farallon, Lionel and Kiyoko stood before him, their scythes ready. He looked at me and commanded to transport the prisoners. I pushed the button and the air seemed to warp. A burst of light, along with shrapnel shells, exploded, wounding several Executioners but they didn’t even budge from where they stood. Two figures appeared; their headgears already destroyed. I drew my sword but before they could even check their surroundings, the curved blades of the scythes were already around their necks.
Kyo chuckled menacingly. “Welcome to my island, traitors.”
The transfer was a success. Lionel asked if I would want to accompany them in the Blood Chamber but I declined. That place wouldn’t be good for my state of mind right now. Besides, the place I wanted to visit was the armory. I had been wanting to visit that place but I didn’t have the courage when I got here the last time.
“I didn’t know you’re here again.”
I almost swung my sword when I heard a voice behind me. Fortunately, Aristus’ voice sounded familiar and I was able to restrain myself.
“You know, you almost lost your head,” I said as I got my hands off the sheath.
He sighed and adjusted his glasses. “I won’t be surprised. Everyone seems to be itching to kill somebody.”
“Speaking of that, why is everyone acting weird?”
Before I could hear his explanation, I felt something eerie. My skin tingled and I felt an unfamiliar presence. I turned around, hoping that it was just my instincts being oversensitive, but there he was. Someone was walking away from the direction of the Blood Chamber, his black cloak covering his face and body.
My fighting instincts took over. I unsheathed my sword and charged at his direction.
The Shinigami felt my presence and drew a dagger. We exchanged blows, trying to outmaneuver each other, but despite using a shorter blade, he was keeping up with my attacks and speed.
His green eyes gleamed under his hood and moved forward. Chills crawled under my skin and I took a step back before he could touch me with his free hand. I wasn’t sure what he wanted to do but I think I just avoided something dangerous.
“Who are you?” I grumbled, “and why are you here?”
“You’re a Custos,” he said. “Why—”
I thrust my sword and it gashed his right shoulder but he was quick to sidestep, avoiding a critical blow.
“I’m the one asking questions,” I retorted. “You have no right—”
It turned out his speed a while ago was still not his best. Before I could finish my sentence, he disappeared in front of me and felt his presence behind. I lurched forward but I felt his finger on my nape. The moment his skin touched mine, my vision turned dark and I had to will myself not to passed out. My knees buckled, as if my strength were being sucked out. Orbs danced before my eyes as I blinked hard.
Did he use his sixth sense?
“Stop. Both of you.”
It took a few seconds before my vision returned. Kiyoko was standing between me and the hooded Shinigami.
“H-he’s a Shinigami . . .” I muttered, still disoriented from that strange attack.
“I know,” she said.
“Then why . . .”
The Shinigami removed his hood and a guy who looked like a teenager came into view. His eyes were as intense as Kyo’s. However, despite being a Shinigami, his gaze was kind of . . . nice.
“I’m Darwin,” he greeted with a calm expression. “I’m here as the representative of the revolutionary faction of the Shinigami tribe.”
Darwin . . . where did I hear that name . . . ah.
“You’re the one who sent a message to Nel,” I mentioned. “The one she met in Romania?”
He seemed to recognize her name and his shoulders relaxed. I stood beside Kiyoko who just sighed in relief but I could also see the sadness in her eyes.
“Why is he here?” I asked.
“He’s looking for someone,” answered Kiyoko. “That’s why everyone is agitated.”
They explained to me what was going on and I couldn’t believe I would witness a day like this. A Shinigami roaming around Shima? Searching for someone who might be a prisoner? Wow. This day must be written in history books.
“Sorry for the distress I caused,” he told Kiyoko.
She smiled. “It’s alright. They just can’t believe a Shinigami can be different from what they are used to. Though I know a couple of Shinigamis like you.”
He, too, smiled upon hearing that. “I’m glad to hear that. But it seems like the person I’m searching for isn’t here. I need to go now.”
“Who’s the person you are looking for?” I chimed in.
They exchanged looks and he flashed a subtle smile. “Someone who can turn the tide in the fight between the Shinigami factions.”
I wanted to ask more questions but Kiyoko gestured at Aristus’ direction and he came running toward us.
“Aristus will escort you to the shore,” she said.
Darwin bowed at her. “Thank you.”
Aristus and Darwin started walking away from us while I watched their backs until they disappeared from my sight. I still couldn’t process what just happened and it felt like my chest would burst open from the swirl of emotions inside me.
“I know you’re mad,” said Kiyoko who was looking at the same direction. “I, too, despise the Shinigamis with all my heart.”
I stared at her multi-colored eyes. According to Nel, she was experimented by Shinigamis for years and almost died for a couple of times. Her hatred must have been what pushed her to survive.
I, too, wished I could kill every single one of them, especially those who caused Vince’s demise. I wanted to avenge him. To make them pay with their own lives. But even after doing that, I still wouldn’t be satisfied. Because I knew that that would not bring him back to life.
“But you know, maybe this time, the Shinigamis can finally redeem their tribe’s honor. After all, the leaders of the revolutionary seem wise enough to know what they have to fight for.”
Her youthful appearance made me forget that she was older than what she looked like. Hearing her words reminded me of what happened in Romania. Nel recognized the three representatives as her equal and they all declared a truce among the four Erityian tribes.
I heaved a sigh. Maybe it would be okay to trust her words.
“By the way, where is Kyo?” I asked.
“Oh, he must be questioning the Reapers Darwin just brought in exchange of his search.”
I see. So that was how it happened.
I glanced at the shack at the edge of the village but I resigned the thought of getting there after remembering what happened to Vince. Maybe this was still not the right time.
“Well, I guess I don’t need to tell him I’m leaving.”
She chuckled softly. “I will tell him. Good work on bringing the criminals here. Goodbye, Naia.”
She reached for her pocket and she held out the tip of a broken spear. She smiled at me but her eyes showed concern.
“Dad said you probably want this.”
My heart almost sank when I realized what it was. My hands started trembling and it felt like I was a child again.
“This was the spear that killed him,” she confirmed. “The Senshins gave it to Ise as a reminder that he died as a hero, but he just tossed it in the armory. They said a young girl searched for it before but she almost broke her mind at the slightest touch of the weapon.”
I winced upon hearing her story and remembered how it happened. I was knocked out cold for several days. Farallon said the memories held by the spear must have been too much for my mind, especially since it involved Vince’s death.
I drew a shaky breath and reached for the spear. The moment my finger touched its blade, a flash of memories flooded my mind.
A Shinigami annihilating a group of humdrums. Heads rolling on the ground. A dungeon where Shinigamis get tortured. A girl whose green eyes were seething with hatred . . .
. . . and then there was Vince with his chest pierced by this very spear while holding a baby in his arms.
I inhaled sharply as jarred back to the present. My hand was bleeding from clutching the blade tightly but that kept me grounded to the present and prevented me from going insane.
“Are you okay?” Kiyoko asked with a worried tone.
“Y-yes,” I weakly said. “I’m . . . I’m okay. Thank you for this.”
I put the broken spear on my waist band and smiled at her. I told her I’d be leaving and she nodded.
“Naia,” she called. “Say hello to Nel for me.”
Without looking back, I marched toward the island’s shore.
“Do you know how difficult it is to keep these two from entering the island?” Cliff complained the moment I got into our raft.
Nel and Jett were still holding their weapons but their restlessness had dissipated. She glared at me and said something under her breath.
“What?” I asked.
She ignored me and continued munching her snack while Jett started inspecting all his guns.
“What’s wrong with them?”
Cliff smirked. “They’re just worried about you. You spent almost three hours there.”
“Heh. When did you guys become so clingy?”
“I am not clingy,” Nel retorted. “It’s just that this place is giving me the creeps.”
“She’s right,” Jett added.
“I already told you that this place isn’t normal. Oh well, we’re leaving.”
Cliff started rowing until we got out of the fog. The sun was already setting, giving the sea and the sky an orange tinge. The waves helped us move faster and somehow, the silence and vastness of the water cleared the worries in my head.
My gaze drifted to the spear on my waist. For years, I was afraid of learning how he died, but after seeing it in my head, the hatred I kept for so long seemed to melt away. He died protecting someone. He died to save his son. As an Executioner, saving someone in exchange of his life wasn’t something he would do . . .
. . . but he did.
He stood there as a father, not a Senshin or an Executioner. He died in order for him to live.
Maybe, unconsciously, I had followed his footsteps. Instead of ruthlessly killing the enemies, I chose a life where I could protect the people I care for. And I would be more than willing to risk my life if that meant saving theirs. Just like what he did.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” Nel suddenly said, breaking the silence. “I . . . I really thought you’re not coming back to us.”
I looked at her, but she kept her gaze in front of her. Cliff and Jett had the same expression as her—a mixture of relief and perturbation.
A smile escaped my lips. “I’m a Keeper,” I said. “I need to stay alive and safe to keep my team from dying.”
They all looked at me and broke into a grin. Nel lunged at me and we collapsed on the raft.
“Whoa, careful!” Cliff cried as he tried to balance the raft.
“Nel, you’re crushing her,” Jett commented.
“Yeah. You’re a Keeper so please don’t do anything dangerous, or else, we’ll die,” she muttered, ignoring the guys’ comments.
I chuckled and patted her back. “Roger, Captain.”
The smile didn’t leave my face as we drifted farther away from the place that I once called home. Now, it’s time to return to the place where I am needed and where I want to be.
We watched from our respective rooms as Commander Priam addressed his people.
“Nox has created hatred toward humdrums and vilified their existence. Their organization was built believing our race were created to rule the world,” he stated. “I know many of you believe this, too. Maybe unconsciously, but we do think we are better than the normal people. After all, we have these abilities that could change the world.”
Some started nodding while others seemed to contemplate on his words. Commander was never the type to do this kind of thing, but he knew it was needed. He knew his silence would just bring more harm to the tribe. He had the power and influence to change our orthodox principles.
“And maybe that’s one of the reasons why our fellow agents fell into the wrong side,” he continued. “Our progenitor, Lord Edda, established the Custos tribe to be the guardian and protector of the people. We exist because we are needed. And we are needed because we have the power to fight. This world does not solely belong to us. Despite being hidden in their shadows, I hope we treat them as equals. Someone who needs us just how much we need them. And I hope the hatred, greed and pride the Nox had stirred up will end with their leaders’ arrest.”
After his speech, he informed them the Executives were currently resting due to the injuries they got. He also gave new missions to the teams present and said he would be counting on them.
The Navis kids we encountered in Romania were also turned over to the Parietal Department so that they could monitor them, hoping that they could still revert them back to normal.
I plopped on my bed as the holograph disappeared from the wall. Exhaustion had finally caught up and a wave of relief washed over my mind. For the first time in a long time, I relaxed my mind after putting up walls to protect my thoughts.
“Your Dad really has a way with words,” I said as I stared at the ceiling.
Nel snickered. “Yeah. And he’s got charisma.”
“A lot. Why can’t he be a normal leader?” she grumbled.
Silence filled the room. She must be also exhausted after our mission. When I turned to her direction, her eyes were already closed.
“Sleep well,” I muttered, and I also slumbered.
I was woken up by the sound of my device. When I looked at Nel’s bed, she was still asleep. I sat up groggily and pulled my device from my pocket and there was a message from the Commander.
Report to my office.
After preparing, I went to his office and saw Ulysses sitting on the couch. Commander Priam was leaning on his desk, a pile of papers behind him.
“Commander,” I greeted.
“I assume you already know why you’re here,” he said.
With what had transpired before the capture of Dale and Zeno, I already had an idea about what he wanted me to do. My expression hardened.
“Yes, Sir,” I answered.
He looked at me with his intense red eyes and it felt like seeing the Blood Chamber from them. A projection flickered between us and it showed Dale and Zeno inside two holding cells with their headgears still activated.
“Just like what you did before, these cells would be transported using a remote device. However, the structures are more volatile as the detainees are more powerful than the previous ones.” Commander’s face darkened. “The cells will disintegrate once it gets teleported. The headgears will weaken them, but I doubt it would stop them once they resist its effect.”
Ulysses stood right next to me and handed me the remote.
“Can you do it alone?” he asked.
Honestly, going back to Shima was the last thing I wanted to do. My job as a Keeper and my nature as an Executioner were too contrasting that my decisions and actions were getting affected.
“Yes,” I lied.
I marched back to my room and saw Nel preparing her things.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
She raised her eyebrow. “I thought we have a mission?”
As if on cue, Cliff and Jett appeared on the doorway with their weapons and supplies ready. They entered our room and started talking about the days it would take for them to travel. My mind was buzzing with questions, but I didn’t know what to ask first, until Cliff talked to me.
“Naia, would it be better if we go now? And how many days would we travel in the ocean?”
I must have looked really confused because they all started snickering at me.
“What the heck are you talking about?”
Jett stowed a pocket revolver on his tool belt. “We’re all going to Shima with you.”
My head was still pounding after finding out that the Commander had approved of this. According to Nel, they all insisted to accompany me despite knowing the risks.
“Slow down,” Cliff said with gritted teeth.
“This is already slow,” Nel retorted.
If I were on my right mind, I would have laughed, but Nel’s speed was just making me more distressed. We were already on our way to the airport where Matti was waiting.
“We’re going to die,” Jett muttered shakily, his face already pale with terror.
Nel sped up and both of them cursed as they cried for their lives.
We arrived at the airport twenty minutes earlier. Nel shrunk the car and shoved it into her bag. Matti greeted us and he had to drag Jett and Cliff since their legs were still wobbly from Nel’s torture.
Nel sat beside me while the two were behind us. She started fiddling her dagger. I could still see the scars on her arms and I remembered how she almost died during the fight against the Navis. She lost her mother for the second time and now she would lose Dale, too.
“Are you sure about this?”
She looked at me with wistful eyes. A subtle smile escaped her lips and she looked outside the window.
“I’m curious about your previous life,” she said. “You know, we’ve been teammates for so long yet I only know a few things about you.”
“My life’s not that interesting,” I retorted.
“It is,” Jett chimed in.
Cliff cleared his throat. “Yeah.”
My childhood in Shima was kept a secret and I was grateful that the Commander didn’t break his word. My parents were still considered traitors and I’m sure people wouldn’t see me any different if they learned about them.
The sin of the parents is not the sin of the child.
I remembered Vince’s words when I first heard what happened to my parents. I was a child back then so I didn’t fully understand what he meant. In times like this, I missed him to the point that it felt like I was back to being a child again.
“You’ll know soon,” I muttered, hoping they would lose interest sooner or later.
I changed the topic and talked about Dale and Zeno. They examined the remote and pondered the technology behind it.
My gaze drifted to the windows and saw the the plane’s wing slicing through the clouds. It felt like we were inside a thick layer of fog. I remembered Shima’s entrance and thought about the Executioners. They must be having a feast right now. The Custos and Senshins were hunting their enemies and the only place where they could send them was Shima.
After almost 17 hours of non-stop flying, we reached Japan and immediately went to Miyazaki City. Nel drove her car to Aoshima island where rafts that could be used to travel the ocean to Shima were hidden. Cliff and Jett hauled a bigger one while Nel made sure nobody could see us. We took shifts in rowing until the sun started to set.
“How long until we reach the island?” Jett asked.
I shrugged. “It depends. Since the weather’s quite good, I guess around three to four days. Or maybe a week.”
“Shima is a phantom island,” I explained. “You’re not supposed to find it. They will sense anyone near the island, and they will decide whether to let you feel you’re near or let you drift away.”
“So what will we do now?” Cliff asked.
“Nothing,” I answered.
“Yes. Nothing. We’ll just wait until the gatekeeper finds us.”
The look on their faces were a mixture of disbelief, confusion, and suspicion. Despite the darkness, I could tell that they were contemplating whether to believe me or not.
When I traveled here few weeks ago, I felt alone and restless, not knowing how long I would drift in the middle of nowhere. But this time, it was kind of calming knowing I had my comrades with me. They wouldn’t be probably allowed to enter the island but knowing that the three of them would be waiting for me outside was already reassuring enough.
I smiled at them and stole a snack from Jett’s supplies.
“You guys should sleep,” I said. “I’ll take first watch.”
And that night, the full moon illuminating a deep silver glow, the thousand stars scattered in the sky and the calming waves of the sea kept me company.
The flight back to Philadelphia was quite awkward.
After what had happened in Romania, they seemed to be more nervous around me. Well, I couldn’t blame them. I had been suppressing my Executioner instinct since I left the island a few days ago, vowing not to let my emotions control me, but I lost it during the mission.
I sat on the last row right beside the window while the three of them were several rows in front of me. My ears were still ringing from the sound of clashing swords and gunfire but I managed to hold my emotions down. My vision shifted to the Navis kids were still unconscious after we put them under sedation as a countermeasure. We also confiscated the girl’s weapon and placed a headgear on the boy to suppress his power. He seemed to have control over metals but we weren’t sure about its scope and limits.
Jett sat beside me as he fiddled with his old pistol, one of his favorite guns. I pulled the same type of pistol he gave me before I left the headquarters from my waist band. He smiled at the sight.
I winced as the memories and history of the pistol rushed in my head. Agents getting killed in action. Jett using it during missions. The pistol getting dyed red from its target’s blood. I had been seeing those flashes since I first held this gun, which was several years ago already, but they still bothered me every time. Fortunately, those events weren’t as bad as the other weapons I had touched.
“Are you going to retrieve this from me?” I asked. “Is it too dangerous in my hands?”
He raised an eyebrow. “You look dangerous even without any weapon. Don’t you know how scary you are?”
I failed to suppress a smile after hearing that from him. Those three feared me for reasons I couldn’t understand but he was brave enough to sit with me after what I did in Romania.
“So, you’re not for this,” I noted.
His expression darkened. I could feel the tension on his shoulders as he continued playing with his pistol. Nel and Cliff must be listening, too, since their heads were carefully craning in our direction.
“Was that your true ability?” he asked. “You can fight in the frontline with that kind of swordsmanship.”
At first, I thought he was mocking me, but his eyes were sincere. Well, Jett was pretty much a straightforward person, but I didn’t expect him to talk about this matter so easily.
“Aren’t you terrified after seeing that?” I returned. “And how about you two?”
Cliff and Nel flinched. They turned their heads reluctantly and a second later, sat on the seats in front of me.
“Well, of course!” Nel cried. “Even though I already saw a glimpse of your feral nature before, this one was on another level.”
“I think you’re stronger than Nel,” Cliff remarked which earned him a punch from Nel.
“Why did you even become a Keeper?” Jett added. “You belong in the frontline.”
They all looked at me expectantly. I never wanted to show anybody the skills I learned in Shima. That kind of fighting style was highly offensive and would leave your defenses down to zero. Your only goal was to attack and overpower your opponents by brute force and killing techniques. The Custos’ fighting style was never like that. You need to prioritize the missions and the safety of everyone in the team.
I heaved a sigh and smiled. “I was a wild kid back then. You know, when I arrived in our headquarters, the first thing I did was pick a fight with the Commander.”
They gasped in unison and Nel looked like she just heard an absurd story.
“Well, I was raised . . . differently, so I didn’t know how to act in front of people. Commander—!”
I couldn’t continue what I was going to say because of the sudden turbulence. A holograph flickered on the windows of the plane and Commander’s face appeared in front of us.
“Da—Commander,” Nel greeted.
“Team Optimus, well done,” he said, “but I have another mission for you and this takes priority.”
Commander Priam’s face had aged beyond his years, but he still wore the same stern expression.
“The Executives have apprehended Dale and Zeno in France but their vehicle was damaged beyond repair. I want you to pick them up. I believe you have enough space in your aircraft.”
The four of us exchanged looks and nodded. “Roger!”
“Very well. I expect your return in a few days.”
His face flickered and disappeared after sending the message. The air was suddenly filled with tension. Dale’s name was still a sensitive topic, especially for Nel, since she admired him and he was her mentor during our academy days.
Our pilot, Matti, changed course and announced that we were approaching France. We readied ourselves and equipped our weapons. It’s time to end this darkness.
We arrived in Marseille after Matti shrunk the plane into a bag-sized aircraft. Cliff was watching the radar, leading the way toward our target place—L’Estaque. In front of us, the Mediterranean Sea was glistening under the sun. The perfect arches of aqueducts stood impressively despite the time that passed. The village was dotted with red-tiled roof houses and buildings, roads were lined with trees, and the harbor was filled with boats.
“There,” Cliff said while looking at the port.
Jett and I stayed behind to watch their backs and observe the surroundings while Cliff and Nel walked toward a trawler boat marked with a Custos emblem.
‘Is that their vehicle?’ I asked. ‘I don’t think so,’ Jett replied. ‘They said it was destroyed. Maybe they just borrowed it from a humdrum and marked it so we would know how to find them.’ ‘Right.’
Jett shuffled his guns, getting ready in case a commotion breaks out. I watched as Nel and Cliff carefully approach the trawler boat. Few seconds later, Yue came out, blood trickling from her forehead. She looked at our direction despite being blocked by a house.
“She said you don’t need to keep a distance anymore,” Nel said from my earpiece.
Jett and I exchanged nervous looks. As Keeper and Specialist, we were used to keep an eye on things from afar until we were required to close the gap. We reluctantly walked toward their direction until we stood in front of the boat.
My mouth hung open when I saw two figures scrunched down the floor. Zeno and Dale were bloodied, just like the rest of the Executives. Von had visible gunshots on his shoulders and leg but he didn’t seem to mind them. Fenn had it worse. He had deep cuts on his hands and a long gash from his right to left cheek. But it was surprising that Yue, the best Keeper, received an injury from a fight. They must have given their all to subdue those two monsters.
“What are those?” Nel pointed at the headgears wore by Dale and Zeno.
“Oh, those would keep them unconscious,” Von answered. “Tranquilizers don’t work on them.”
Fenn sighed. “The gear slows down the brainwaves, much slower than the delta waves, so they appear to be in the state between sleep and death.”
“It’s still in the middle of testing,” Yue added, “but we had no choice. We had to use it or they would escape using their animus.”
That was a lot dangerous than the headgear invented by the Senshins. But to contain the Nox leaders, I guess they had to take risks, especially against their dangerous animus. Dale could turn invisible for a few seconds and Zeno could paralyze the nerves of a person using his blood.
“This marks the end of Nox,” Von said as he looked at Dale with a pained expression.
I’m sure they were still affected since they grew up with him. They were his team, his comrades, but he betrayed them because of his vision and beliefs. Fighting him must have been hard for them.
“Let’s go home,” Yue said.
Von and Fenn slid Dale and Zeno’s bodies in two black bags and carried them off the boat. We started leading them to our aircraft, our feet heavy with burden and responsibilities.
The sun was already setting but this time, the darkness seemed a little less frightening. Because the end of Nox meant the start of daylight.
Nel was too excited to tell me what happened during the meeting of the four tribes. I couldn’t remember when the last time was this kind of thing happened but seeing how representatives from each tribe meet and discuss the future was, indeed, a momentous time for our race.
They were descending the mountains and Nel seemed to forget her exhaustion because she couldn’t stop talking about what happened during their talk. She said she liked the other tribes’ representatives. When he mentioned Hiro, I asked her what she thinks of him.
“That guy?” she paused. “He seems responsible enough. Oh, and despite his cold demeanor, the way he stares at people was intense. Actually, he reminds me of you.”
“Is that so?”
“Why are you interested in him?”
I shrugged. “Not really.”
The three of them gave curious looks but before they could ask anything, I told her to continue her story. After several minutes, I learned about the current status of each tribe. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be successful because of the Shinigami tribe. I still don’t trust them but maybe, that Darwin, could make the changes necessary for the Shinigami tribe to be accepted by the other three.
“By the way, where are you?” Cliff asked.
I smirked. “Had to take a detour.”
“Where?” added Jett.
“That’s a secret. Oh well, talk to you guys later.”
I ended the call and their faces twitch for a few seconds and finally faded. A new holograph appeared, only it was a note about my next mission, along with a voice mail.
“Agent, obliterate Nox’s base in Romania,” the voice ordered.
The three of them were still in Romania and they would probably be surprised when they see me here. Commander Priam gave me a new order: to assist the three of them in eliminating the Nox’s base in Romania. An agent was waiting for me in the airport in Japan and he flew me to Romania using our own plane. In no time, I arrived in the country’s capital—Bucharest.
Neo-classical buildings, museums and monuments were scattered all over the city. It felt like I was pulled back in the medieval period because of the architecture and arts around me. According to the data, this was also where the base was, and it would be quite hard, because it was the most populated city.
From the south, I saw a building that looked like a palace—two rook-shaped towers on each side, with pillars adorning the front. I checked my device and confirmed the location. The palace glinted under the sunlight while tourists took pictures and lined at the restaurant in the terrace.
I parked my car on a nearby lot and observed every person around it. According to our sources, this became the base of Nox since nobody uses the building as the terrace was the only place open to the public. The officers and staffs maintaining the palace must be Nox members since they were the only ones who could come in and out of there.
I caught a glimpse of a guy wearing a suit. His hazel eyes gleamed with caution as he looked around, but I didn’t see any changes. That meant he wasn’t wearing any contact lenses. He was a humdrum. He went inside the building and vanished from my sight.
It was already 8:30 P.M. and the sun was about to set. Those three were on their way here but they might arrive later than I expected. I crept around the palace, waiting for the right time to sneak in without getting any attention.
When darkness loomed over the city, I moved toward the tower at the right and prowled inside to investigate.
I almost gasped when I got inside. The hall was lined with gold-plated pillars and the ceiling were decked with extravagant chandeliers. Every step I took echoed through the room. When I arrived at the central hall, I almost got decapitated.
“Who are you?” a seven-foot tall man demanded as he swung his sword.
I pulled mine from my sheath but before I could think of a way to sort it out, several more men in suits rushed into the room.
“A Chrome,” one of them hissed in disgust.
They all lunged at me, their weapons ranging from blades to blunt to guns. My skin tingled. I wanted to do it the Keeper way but my instincts took over. My mind was suddenly filled with angry and agonizing voices, as if I was back in Shima.
My hands moved on their own. I imagined myself in the middle of the Blood Chamber, along with heinous captives. Rage and thirst filled my head. The next thing I knew, the polished floor was already flooded with blood.
Within a minute, the only one left was the first guy who discovered me. His hands were trembling as he pointed his sword at my direction. I smiled at him as I shook off the blood from my sword. Before he could take a step backward, my sword had already pierced his throat.
About twenty bodies lay lifeless on the bloodied floor. I took a deep breath and continued walking. I was just on my third step when more Nox members came dashing to the commotion.
“Hi,” I greeted.
They didn’t greet me back. Instead, they seethed in rage as they saw the scarlet floor where their lifeless comrades were. I thought they would come at me but they stood from a distance as they continued glaring at my direction.
I was about to make the first move but I halted when I saw people coming behind them. My blood ran cold when I saw two children, a girl and a boy and maybe about seven to ten years old, stood in front of them, their eyes vacant of feelings. The girl had purple eyes while the boy had yellow.
Young Huntres and Custos children turned into Navis, I thought.
I drew a deep breath trying to calm myself but seeing those two made it difficult. A wave of fury stirred in my chest as they commanded the children to attack me.
The girl drew a stick from her back and in grew into a three-meter bamboo. She thrust it at my direction with unbelievable strength and speed, and if I was a second slower, the might already be a hole on my chest. On the other hand, the boy held his palm at my direction and my sword rattled. I had to grip it tight as it felt like something was pulling it toward him. Before I could understand his animus, the girl came to me with wooden spikes.
It took me a lot of effort not to kill them. Just like the other Navis, they weren’t in their right minds, and controlled by the zuersts. Most of the swords used by the first group who attacked me rattled on the floor and went flying toward the boy’s direction. Before they pierced him, the swords flipped over and pointed at me.
“These two weren’t like those defects,” one of the guys commented as he watched the children with an amused expression.
My heart tightened as both of them lurched at me.
Three seconds, I thought. Three seconds is all I need.
Just when I thought the mission was already doomed, something whizzed past my head. When I looked at the two kids, they crumbled down on their knees and collapsed.
“Wha—” ‘Sedative bullets.’
Hearing Jett’s voice cleared my confusion and before the Nox members could understand what was going on, I lunged at their direction.
I let my rage control me. The ruthlessness I was suppressing for quite some time stirred after spending nights in Shima. With my sword bathed in blood, I slashed everyone at every direction, cursing them inside my head after what they did to those children.
It took me a few seconds to calm down. When I looked around, a shiver went down my spine.
“N-Naia . . .”
I turned around and saw the three of them walking toward my direction. Nel looked horrified as he stared at the bloodbath but her expression softened when he saw the two kids lying unconscious on the floor.
“Y-you . . .” Cliff faltered while Jett stared curiously at me.
My hair was dyed in red; splatters of blood stained my clothes and face. The place was reeking with the smell of iron. I heaved a sigh as lifeless bodies in a pool of blood surrounded me.
A Keeper was supposed to be hiding, observing the situation and making sure his or her team would stay alive as they do the mission. Yet here I was, soaked in our enemy’s blood, just like how an Executioner would act.
I smiled at them. “Sorry, I can’t be a good Keeper.”
With my remaining strength, I walked at their direction. Finally, we were together again.
It felt strange to be alone in this still and silent ocean after staying for days in Shima.
After Nel informed me about the meeting of the next-generation leaders, I tried contacting them again but that girl was probably driving and I knew Cliff and Jett wouldn't risk their lives to answer my call.
An hour later, I received a holographic call from Cliff. His face flickered in front of me, and even though the quality wasn't good, I could see the horror on his expression.
"Save us," he pleaded. "From Nel again?" He drew a shaky breath and I realized he was still gripping the seatbelt tightly. "We're going to die." "Oh, c'mon, you cowards!"
I heard Nel's voice and a second later, the view expanded and I could see the three of them: Cliff was on the passenger's seat, horrified as the car seemed to accelerate; Nel looked thrilled after days of being confined; and there at the back seat was Jett, whose face was already as white as chalk.
I heaved a sigh. "Nel, stop tormenting their poor souls." She chuckled. "Hey, I'm not!"
Several minutes later, she sent me the message of that Shinigami that we saw during the fight. I forgot his name.
Yllka Shrine, huh?
I searched the location from our servers and found out that the Yllka Shrine that was located in the Transylvanian Alps was the intersection point of all the main bases of the four tribes. I tried calculating the distance from here to Romania and the time it would take me to go there. That Nel . . . she was asking for the impossible.
It turned out I needed at least three days to go there so in the end, I couldn't participate. Well, she said they could only bring two companions so I guess she really didn't need me to be there.
"Alright, don't worry, I'll keep you three alive." "I think I'll die before we can reach Romania—"
Before I could see his expression, the line went off. I was alone again in this vast ocean.
"Yeah, I have booked your flights," I said while checking the details from my other device. "Be careful. There are Shinigami and Nox bases in Europe."
No agents were available to take them to Romania using private planes so I was left with no choice. They would go to Romania the humdrum's way.
"Alright," Nel said. "How about you?" "Going back to CIA, I guess."
I was still in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and it would take me a day to reach Japan. Fortunately, my devices were working well. I could track their location and keep enemies away from them, if there were any.
Commander Priam also messaged me, asking my whereabouts, so I told him my current coordinates. I remembered our last conversation and how he agreed to turn Midnight and Obsidian over the Jikko clan once they captured them. According to him, the three Executives—Von, Fenn and Yue—were already following their tracks after Kyo and Lionel gave the details they had gathered from torturing the apprehended zuersts and zweites.
It must be hard for them to face Dale once again as he was their colleague, their co-Executive, before he revealed himself as Midnight, the figurehead of Nox.
I waited until I could see the three boarding the plane. Nel was wearing eyeglasses so everything that I was seeing was from her point of view. Of course, they were also in disguise and wearing contact lenses to hide their red eyes.
"Look around," I ordered and from Nel's eyes, I scanned everyone from the plane.
Fortunately, everyone seemed to be humdrums.
"It's safe," I concluded.
Jett heaved a sigh of relief. I'm sure he and Cliff were still lightheaded after what Nel did. My lips curved up, remembering their terrified expression a few hours ago.
"Keep the line connected," I said. "I want to know everything." "Roger," Nel responded. "Keep us alive." "Of course."
After that, their plane finally departed.
Almost 15 hours later, they had landed on Bucharest, Romania. They had to hike the Transylvanian Alps, which would probably take about a day.
Nel started grumbling along the way. She didn't like hiking that much and I'm sure her injuries weren't completely healed yet so it would be physically taxing for her.
"Want me to carry you?" Cliff asked, chuckling. "Kiddi—!"
Before he could even tell he was just joking, Nel was already climbing on his back.
"Hey!" "What?" she asked, feigning innocence. "You offered." "I didn't mean it—" "Ah, I'm tired."
Jett started walking, maybe afraid that Nel might do that to him, too. Cliff couldn't complain anymore and just followed Jett while carrying Nel on his back.
I thought she had matured after what happened but I guess it wouldn't be easy, especially when she's with those two.
I had been keeping an eye on them, telling the right path they should follow and avoiding places where wild animals and poisonous plants were sighted. A few hours ago, they had to run after crossing paths with a brown bear because they didn't hear what I was saying.
"See that yellow tree over there?" I said, raising my voice. "Yeah," Jett answered. "Go to that direction." "Roger."
Cliff was still carrying Nel and it looked like he didn't mind it anymore. Well, I'm sure that would be for the best since the bear might outrun her if she wasn't carried by him.
Almost an hour later, they reached the tree I was talking about and a boulder came into their view.
"Something's written here," Jett remarked and I told Nel to look at the boulder.
"The Yllka Shrine," Nel noted. "It's near," Cliff added.
They followed the direction but they halted when the path ended with a cave.
"Should we enter this?" asked Cliff. "Yes," I said. "Look at the side of the cave. There's an Erityian inscription."
The three of them approached the cave and nodded when they saw the inscription I was talking about. They went inside and I couldn't see anything anymore.
"Hey, you guys still okay?" "Yeah," Jett responded.
It took them thirty minutes to finally find the exit, but before I could see it, the connection was cut. I couldn't hear nor see anything.
"Hello? Nel? Cliff? Jett?"
Nothing. I tried calling them again but to no avail. They weren't responding.
For a second, I was worried, thinking that they got buried before they could leave the cave. But then, I thought maybe, the shrine would cut off any interferences from the outside world. I hope that would be the case.
I threw my device on the raft and heaved a sigh. I wanted to know what was going on but there were no ways to contact them anymore.