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.