The Envy was a bastard, that much was certain. The opinion had fully developed in Saboten’s mind without a truly good reason. Well, there was good reason but was it good enough to condemn a man – once human – to death? He was part of Project Sin; the agency in their way, and he had stolen control of powers he had no business having. To top it all off it was all for the sake of Atticus Kazuhiko.
They had been walking for a few hours in a row, slow paced and well armed like a battalion. Eventually they were ordered to stop by Leyim. They had reached a pivotal point in their journey; the Citadel was in sight. It was incredible, overwhelming even. There was still a trek ahead of them but the castle loomed above them as though it tore into the sky with great force. The thoughts racing through Saboten’s head were thoughts of fear, fear and anticipation.
“We’re nearing the end,” she told them. Her voice was wrapped in a veil of intensity, it was unusual but it fit the situation. Every word was thick in the air and heavy on the ears. She, unlike many of her comrades, was ready for anything The Envy wanted to throw her way. “Is everybody ready?”
There were silent nods all around but nobody seemed sure. Even the air, thickened by the clogging fumes of the compact civilization, seemed to be edging its way further from the Citadel. “Do we wait for Siegfried?’
Saboten couldn’t quite make out who had said it.
“We don’t have any more time to rest or wait. This is it.” She continued mournfully, “I’ve considered all of the options, I really have, but there’s nothing I can do. Siegfried is a good soldier, I know he’ll be fine.”
“I don’t know about that. Don’t you have a way to contact him?”
“No.” She made herself very clear, shaking her head as she kept speaking. Repeated words dribbled from her lips, “I’ve considered all of the options,” she said, “we should keep going ahead. The gates to the Citadel will be wide open and unprotected.”
“You’re starting to test my faith, Hunter.” Shinji spoke out. It seemed he too believed something was the matter. Saboten had noticed before that Leyim was strange. “How are we supposed to trust you like this; when you seem to believe this will be so simple?”
“You can doubt me all you like,” she told him, “I can see when it might be a little strange. I know it seems I’m one of them, but I’m not. I just want my Hunters back, okay? We’ve already come this far, why not continue?”
“Because I don’t want to die.”
“If you leave now, you will.”
Shinji grit his teeth and clenched his entire body. It forced the blood to his face as if to emphasize his rage. The veins in his neck looked fit to burst, but he said nothing.
Alfsol pushed ahead, clearly demonstrating she would have none of their nonsense. "Listen,” she said. There was something Saboten liked about her, something Leyim didn’t have. She was able to control them. Her fierce attitude commanded respect, while Leyim was more relaxed. He didn’t now who he really preferred. “This area is going to be littered with traps and, without Siegfried, it’s going to be a lot harder to navigate. Be careful, I’m not saving your asses.”
It was under the command of Verentine Rothschild; the original Captain of The Hunters, that Siegfried placed the traps. It was his idea, Leyim remembered. It was what drew her to appointing him to her own personal squadron. Without him, she had no idea how to navigate.
He was the best navigator they had. If she was going that far, he was a bloody good soldier too, one she would miss greatly. That said, Leyim very much believed Siegfried would return in the nick of time; swooping from the ceiling simply to make a dramatic entrance.
It appeared his duties would not go undone. Alfsol had wandered ahead to begin scouting the ground for a sign of disturbance. Siegfried always told them “where nature was disturbed, man has been”.
It never really made sense.
Alfsol was a little slower than him, but no mistake had been made yet. Like a bloodhound, her eyes were glued to the dirt track. It was a coping technique, perhaps. That was the conclusion Leyim Rossi had come to; something Alfsol could do to take her mind off of what had happened to them.
It was sad, but soon this would all be over and Atticus Kazuhiko would be one lackey further away from having the world to himself.
When they reached the security booth, there wasn’t a soul around. It was a simple wooden shack hardly big enough for the bar stool and notepad it housed. It puzzled Saboten to no end; why would such an important place have such a small amount of security?
“If there was more security, people would think it was more important.”
Leyim could read him like a book, but her answer was nonsense. “That doesn’t mean anything.”
She shook her head at his objection and reminded him of the firepower lying inside of the tower. “It wouldn’t matter if somebody did take interest. If they could get past the watchman, they’d be dead in seconds.”
“Has it ever happened?” Saboten asked with genuine curiosity. He didn’t get an answer right away, Leyim had to ponder first it seemed. He never would’ve asked if he knew there was history behind the answer in fear of waking up a past of nightmares. She spoke eventually, but didn’t stop walking to do so.
It wasn’t the answer he was looking for, but it would do. Instead, he switched the focus of the conversation to their fates. “Are they waiting for us?” It was an innocent question, one asked in a tone of voice he didn’t know he was capable of. There were two possible outcomes now:
1. Leyim could be a traitor.
2. The Envy could be expecting them.
In the climax of both situations, they die.
“Give it five minutes, we’ll see.”
“It’s snowing now.” Saboten muttered, now realizing his mistake. It’s winter; he and Ayame should’ve chosen warmer clothes. It was irritating and now Saboten needed a cigarette. Unfortunately, their bags were nowhere to be seen. It was weird, he didn’t remember putting them down anywhere. They were lost forever now though. He was almost tempted to as Shinji again for a smoke, but now was not the time.
When thinking about the bags, he realized he couldn’t even recall the inside of the shopping mall. The bump and shock he received from Siegfried must’ve burnt out some wires. “What even was that?” he asked himself, trying as hard as he could to remember what the man had actually said.
Did he mention a reaction? Like, a chemical reaction between the two of them? What did that mean? Before these questions were given answers it was too late. Something tugged at his leg, and the ground shook. His eyes closed.
“Saboten, you idiot!”
That was Alfsol’s voice.
Somehow, drifting in his own thoughts, Saboten had wandered in front of the group, resulting in walking straight into a trip wire. He had set off a trap that, in turn, caused the actual earth below them to crumble
They hit the floor hard, landing on segments of fake soil and Astroturf. The ground was cold and metallic. The only visible aspect of the world was moon beaming through the trees above. Slowly, it was closed off as a roof stretched from one of the sides, and darkness surrounded them.
The snow stopped falling and - for the first time in years - Leyim Rossi was fearful.
Lights flickered. The world became so bright around her that it burned her eyes. It took a while to adjust to the room as each wall reflected the light back. They were trapped in a large silver bunker. It was obviously part of the Citadel, but Leyim had never seen it before.
Her training and experience gave Leyim a list of things to check off. Exits? None, not a single door or window in sight. Perhaps one of the 10 x 12 silver panels were removable but it would take hours to find the correct one. Quick escape? Already covered. Significant features? Two extraordinarily large televisions; flat screens mounted on the wall with a camera embedded into the sound bar beneath.
Whoever was heading this plan wanted to be able to communicate.
Leyim had to retake control of the situation. She couldn’t stand the anticipation. It was a phobia of sorts, not being able to take full command of something. “Who’s there? Answer me,”
Static burst through the sound bar, loud enough to knock Ayame to her knees. With this, the televisions switched on. A white screen faded in with an unusual symbol: an upside-down Y shape in a circle. Silence followed the static, and laughter followed silence.
It was The Envy.
Only a psychopath could muster such an inhumane laugh.
Then he spoke, the PA system crackled with each inhale. “The Citadel is under my control,” he exclaimed.
“What do you want?” Saboten asked blindly, much to the amusement of The Envy.
“I can’t have you running around with that eye now, can I?” He said, seemingly pleased that his plan came together. His voice was too relaxed for the situation and, although she tried to ignore it, the cockiness got to Leyim intensely. The were in the palm of his hand. “Now that I have The Hunters…” He paused and crunching could be heard through the microphone. Crunching and the slapping of wet lips.
He was eating, and Leyim could no longer hold back.
“You bastard, come down here!” She took a deep breath, “this is my Citadel. What have you done to it?”
“Me?” He laughed again, spitting half-chewed food onto the microphone. He took a second enormous bite, tearing chunks out of what sounded like hard fruit. “I haven’t even had time to scope out this place, let alone rebuild it to my satisfaction.”
“Show yourself!” Alfsol ordered bravely from behind her captain. Doing so, she stepped out in front, heading the charge. She intended on being the first to fight The Envy. Leyim could say nothing to change her mind and she knew it.
“Don’t worry about me,” she said, “just find a way out.”
Then Leyim knew, if she was to fall, Alfsol could lead The Hunters in her place.
There was no response from The Envy, just grunts as though he did not want to move from his control room. It was excess effort. After a few seconds, however. Leyim heard a loud hiss of air.
Gas? It was a possibility, but why? The Envy was a prideful man from what she had heard, it wasn’t his style. It wasn’t gas. It was the sound of air escaping. Two panels, situated near the ground between the screens, were pulled into the floor. Standing there, armour and all, was Siegfried.
He looked tired, so tired his huge broadsword tipped him sideways. Uneven and bloodied. His lips were chapped and his face dipped in drying blood. He must’ve been tortured.
He stumbled, barely able to move his legs. His eyes were shut and his breathing was shallow. Eventually, he limped towards Alfsol who held him upright. He looked as though he could die in her arms.
He reached upwards, a single finger pointed to show them where he was, but his hand fell backwards and he flinched.
In an instant, he drew his sword and severed his friend in two.
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