Captain Leyim’s words melted from the atmosphere taking any and all sound with it. The mall fell so quiet after her announcement, painfully so, like the very air from her audience’s lungs had been stolen. The silence wasn’t the response Leyim was expecting, but it was a start. She had hoped Hideki would’ve been excited to get back into action, like he did once upon a time, but it would appear not. She decided to break the silence herself; “you understand what I’m asking, right?”
“Do you? Leyim, you’re asking us to kill innocent people.” Hideki was the first to respond, although it didn’t feel like it was him talking. It was like an older sibling telling their younger sister she was wrong. “Not Shinigami, not Kanzen, human beings.”
“I’m not asking you to kill them,” she replied debating whether her statement was true or not as it left her lips. “I’d rather you didn’t.”
“We shouldn’t kill them if we can help it. If we can regain control of the Citadel… If we could kill The Envy we could bring together an army of Hunters.” Siegfried announce in between bites of the remnants of Alfsol’s burger. He had a point - Leyim thought - but would it even work? “An army, backed by Captain Rossi and you lot, would be a Godsend against the…” He halted like a faulty robot, as if the term ‘Kanzen’ was a racial slur that only they could use. He struggled for a synonym, but failed to find one, and stopped talking entirely. A valiant effort.
“What makes you think that they won’t just attack us?” Shinji asked, “Hell. What’s to make us think that you won’t attack us.”
“Because you’re the good guys.” Siegfried spoke innocently, it was that simple to him and who could argue with that. It shut Shinji up, that was for sure. But that statement obviously bothered Saboten. “We’re not the good guys though,” Leyim could see it on his face. He was conflicted.
“Are we?” Saboten asked himself, he had thought about it once before but the question remained unanswered. “We’re just like Project Sin though. Identical even.” He decided he would speak, there was no reason to dwell on it alone. Even if somebody agreed, it was off his chest. “We… We’re not.” He stuttered, and made the conscious decision to start again; “we’re not the ‘good guys’ at all. The good guys are never built like the ‘bad guys’. Not like we are.” Saboten told him, “in this situation, it’s not black and white like that. We’re all gray.”
There was another unholy silence after that bold statement. Saboten’s words landed on fearful ears and did nothing to settle anybody down. His eyes stayed focused on the young guard, almost angry at him. But Siegfried just stared back innocently, he had done nothing wrong. He was trying to not let his vision fade to the Jigoku eye and Saboten made sure he wouldn’t catch the boy’s eye, just in case. He looked past his face, focusing on the white headphone tucked behind the back of his ear, hidden from his superior’s eagle eyes. The boy finally looked up, deep into the demonic eye and chose his words carefully.
“It’s not how the weapon is built. It’s what you do with it afterwards.”
“He’s right. If he wanted to, The Envy could’ve become what you’ve become.”
“You could’ve sought destruction. You could’ve bowed to the feet of Atticus Kazuhiko, but you didn’t.” Siegfried continued, “you fought back. You’re conquering your demons, and forcing them to kneel before you. And that, my friend, is why you are the heroes. You are the good guys. Not us.”
Saboten didn’t have a response, Siegfried had given him a lot to think about. He just backed off, allowing Ayame to wrap her arms around his shoulder as Leyim thanked her subordinate.
“At least help me get to the Citadel. I don’t care if you just leave me there when you’re done, but I need your help.” Hideki shot Saboten a look of distrust, but it was ignored immediately, and then it was decided.
The next morning, Team Karasu left the mall with three additional members and headed towards the branching paths, shooting straight for the stretch of road that led far, far away from where they had already been. The road hadn’t changed that much since they had last looked at it, which felt like a long time ago but it honestly wasn’t. The abandoned cars still sat in the road without hope for better days.
The eight of them were mostly silent for the journey, although Saboten could hear the faint sounds of Alfsol chatting to her Captain. He didn’t hear too much of the preliminary chat, but from what he could gather; the town they had stayed in was unnamed (for unheard reasons), Alfsol once lived there as an orphan in a small church across the way. “A lot of the community based their lives around that church, it was important to us all.” She said, “we were all members.”
“So, it’s a cult, hey?” Shinji asked without a hint of censorship.
“Yeah,” she replied solemnly, “well, not a ‘real’ one.” Saboten didn’t know the differences between a real cult and a fake one, but nobody asked so he didn’t much care. “We… I was too young to really understand it all, I suppose. I left when I was sixteen and wound up in the army.”
“Then The Hunters picked you up?”
“Then The Hunters picked me up.” She repeated. It was odd to Saboten, that she had so randomly decided to open herself up like that. It was happening constantly now. Everybody seemed to follow Hideki’s example. The impending doom of life as they knew it brought the story out of everybody. Everybody but Saboten. His story was still hiding.
It didn’t take Leyim too long to become suspicious of the area. She could taste the trouble in the concrete-thick air and so could Siegfried. The two of them led the charge, Hideki plodded along behind, ready to strike be it necessary. They had been moving for a while and the road was becoming dirt. The forest was ahead, they could all see it. But second thoughts began to swarm. Perhaps she should have waited an extra day, surely there would still be Hunters in the oak tundra. “Maybe I’m really not fit to be Captain anymore,” she joked at her mistake, taking a little of the stress away from it.
She couldn’t let her stupidity show, not after talking Saboten’s group into helping her. Instead, she beckoned her glamorous assistant Alfsol - she’d never say that out loud - and asked her; “where’s that church you were talking about?”
It wasn’t too far away, Alfsol pointed westward and even led her Captain for a short while. The passed through as little forest as possible, staving off danger, but it wasn’t long before the path less traveled ran them right into the natural labyrinth. The church itself was quite anti-climatic, small and entirely built of wood. Over the years, the wooden panels had become a home for moss, insects and all sorts of life. A few had decayed and a couple had fallen off completely, too far out of reach to reveal what was inside waiting.
A few minutes were taken by the team to survey the area, making sure there were no Hunters around. They had either moved on, or given up entirely because there was no sign of disturbance. No footprints, no broken twigs, no bodies. Leyim stood and watched as Alfsol took it upon herself to approach the dirtied front door. She brushed off a clump of mud, picking the chunks with her fingers and tossing them into the wild, wasting time. It was obvious a part of her didn’t want to do it. She didn’t want to have to go back in there. A bad memory? It didn’t matter. Now was a good time to get over it, Leyim thought.
“Ready Lieutenant Olandar?” She asked, Leyim would only ever use a high ranking officer’s last name if they were in trouble. It told them to beware. Alfsol took it to heart.
"Ready,” she replied as she gripped the doorknob. With only a simple push, the door fell from it’s frame, broken at the hinges, and revealed the horror waiting behind.
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