Prime Respite (Part 7)


Chapter 7

And just when I thought this mission couldn’t get any worse. I hunker down in the bunk, my back against its door, with my combat gear strapped; A set of shoulder, knee, elbow guard, armlets, greaves, and a torso plating able to generate protective shield. Fortunately, the armor used for daily drills are heavier than this one. Hence, this should be convenient for me.

“Situation?” The Primus’ voice comes through my utilizer.

A moment ago I received a call from him, informing the presence of hostile forces in the island. Their objectives aren’t yet clear and their position isn’t yet known. Thus, he ordered me to stay on guard.

 I link up my utilizer to the surveillance cameras across the mansion and skim through their footages. He made this feature accessible to me just now. In fact, he made all the remote features of this mansion available for my use.

“Still no one, sir.”

“Hang tight, I’m heading there.” He says before cutting off the transmission.

I take a deep breath. We still don’t know how lethal this hostile force is. The Primus told me to expect the size of what a speedboat could contain. Regardless, I’m not sure I myself could mount a resistance to keep them at bay. I’ve also contacted Zen about this. He said that he and his colleagues are already on guard, per sir Microv’s warning. He promised me that we would rendezvous first before confronting this threat, as soon as they’re spotted.

I hope this mansion isn’t their objective. I thought, cowering even deeper. But I think that’s too much of an expectation. Even though I had combat training, I never wish to see the real one myself. Not ever since that evening. It is also the reason why I left Uncle Bark, who lives just behind the front and is a potential target for hostile raids, for the capital that’s safe behind all of her sons and defenses.

As my sweat trickles down my face, and my fist clenched to hold against the shivering, I wish so that this will be over as soon as possible. Why does things keep getting worse over time? I just wanted to accomplish my duties as a maid. Why does this incursion have to occur?

“Oi delinquent lass, it’s your Household Manager again.” I’m surprised to find sir Microv’s voice blaring through my utilizer. This time he speaks with a gentler tone, compared to the last time he talks to me. “As much as how my word pierced you that night, which it might did, I wanted to you to stay calm. You’re a combatant citizen, so stay calm and remain on watch. Depending on their strength, you might not need to participate in butting their arse.” He says.

“Where are you right now, sir?”

“Hustling for the place where your boyfriend settles.”

For a moment, I remark how he just mentioned that in a situation like this. I slap myself, trying to dismiss that. There is a greater concern.

“Excuse me sir but, do you really believe that you’d made it here in time?”

“We would if Microv modded his module.” That’s the Primus’ voice.

“What good does it do if you aren’t slapping in a synergized configuration?”

“You know you can just install those that shows a percentage of performance increase on their tags.”

“Hmmh,” Sir Microv chuckles. “You mean like how we could just throw all our armors to take the thralls’ fortified positions? Sure I can.”

These two people. They are aware that there are hostiles roaming this island without knowing their whereabouts. Yet they still able to throw leisure conversations. Was it a feature only available to the most powerful man in the world? And perhaps his direct subordinate?

“Anyway, maintain that alert stance.” The Primus says to me.

“Y-yes sir.”

I take a deep breath once again. And just as I do…

I hear gentle tapping on the floors outside. Footsteps. Steadily creeping across the mansion. When I skim through the surveillance footages, two of them shows armed men with crimson outlines on their combat gear. It’s them, the Vindicators. The people who razed my village. They’re here.

But how? How did I miss them? How could I not see them coming? There are surveillance cameras installed outside. Perhaps, my thoughts are too occupied, that I didn’t check the footages often. I quickly disable the transmission function of my utilizer and send a warning message to both Zen and the Primus. Please come quick…

In total there are six men on the mansion. Turns out not to be a large force. One of the footages however, ripped my heart out of my chest and tear the flesh to which my bottom jaw clings. It shows a girl with the same maid uniform as mine.

“Hana…”

Why? How long have you been scheming with them? Is this the reason why you left me? Most importantly, where are the others? Rina, Eri, Theo? Did you…?

No…

She strides to the stairs and climbs it. Her steps are gentle, almost devoid of noise. Is she coming for the Primus? Are they here to assassinate him? I guess it’s a fortune that he is not here for the moment. But still, he is in danger if he decides to come here.

I have to do something. But I can’t confront them all by myself.

It’s when I receive a message from Zen.

We’re mobilizing.

Yes please, come here as soon as possible. For the first time ever, I desperately want a boy to come over to my place.

Perhaps I could get the jump on Hana. I check the surveillance to see her breaching the door to the Primus’ room. That’s one property violation. She roams around the room, her sight constantly looking around. A moment later, she brings up her utilizer, perhaps contacting her units. Before long she thrusts her short sword through the Primus’ bed, perhaps out of a frustration of not finding the man here.

She then proceeds out of the room and head to the top floor, where the Primus’ personal office is.

As I notice that the armed men are scattered all around, I gently push the bunk door open. It creaks, but hopefully not enough to alert those men in the mansion. I slip out, taking one gentle step after another. I direct the energy of my combat gear to suppress the noise of my footsteps. Since this place is massive, I believe they won’t notice me unless I get near them.

There are two stairways and they are segmented by each story. I constantly shift to whichever would raise the bare minimum of their alertness. But as I reach the topmost story where the Primus’ office is, my shin crashes against the last step. It doesn’t hurt that much but it makes quite a noise. I quickly press my hand against my mouth as I hold my body with an arm.

I leer downstairs and sees a man turn his glance to my direction. There’s an obstruction of course, but I can see him paying attention to the noise that I made.

Damn it. Once he gets around the obstruction, he’ll spot me. I’ll be done for.

“Pavio!” A voice blares from the other side of the room. To my relief, that man’s attention turns to him. “Look! This man adored Julius Caesar!”

“So?”

“There’s a bit of me in him, and the other way around yeah?”

Whilst they are occupied with anything they find, I hastily foot it through the final step. I begin to prowl to the office room. From the distance, I can see Hana standing before the Primus’ personal computer. I gently pull out my short sword, the wakizashi, as I near her. I make up a rectangular object as I get closer. That looks like a hard-drive. She must be retrieving crucial informations.

Seems like I am the only one standing between her and the reality where those details are published widespread. I can’t let that happen. That hard-drive shall not go anywhere.

And also, this is for your betrayal…

Since her torso is as protected as mine, a sweep through her neck is probably the best option. But once my blade is going for that point, she casually turns around and meet my wakizashi mid-air with hers.

“Sweet Lena…” She says, with a smirk that obviously humiliates me. “I am no Maid Color Sergeant for nothing.”

She shoves my blade away and proceeds with a powerful kick to my stomach. I got thrusted back. Before long, my back crashed against the wall, breaking a picture and a plant decoration in the process. The injury isn’t serious thanks to the shield generated by my combat gear.

I quickly rise up and rolls to the side to avoid a slashing wave from Hana. It struck the wall where I crashed and left a slashing mark. The wall is too thick to cut through, the wave only made it just some tiny distance deep from the surface.

“So we really settling this with force?” She rotates her katana around. “I’ll drink to that.”

If it is down to this, I don’t think I have a problem handling it. As the maids of Creatio Genetrix, we both are trained under the same martial art. I only need to hold until help arrives.

Then I leer to the sides, toward the hard-drive sitting just before the monitor. At least I have to stop the transfer as soon as possible without damaging that computer.

I pull my katana and commit three slashing waves before hustling around Hana to reach the computer. But she beats me to it and meets me with a slash to the stomach. I’m fortunate to notice that and mounts my katana just before it to block Hana’s strike.

“This is the reason you left me? Because you’ve been working with them all along?” I say as I struggle keeping her blade at bay.

“The Primus must pay for his sins.” She exclaims.

She shoves me away but I’m able to launch a sweeping attack against her. But it appears that Maid Colour Sergeant is more than just a rank, as she successfully parries my next eight successive strikes.

Hana counterattacks with two nimble and strong blows. I slightly stagger away from her. But as soon as I recover my stance, she dives toward me with one powerful slash that drags my footing back. Just as I recover from the shock of her katana crashing against mine, Hana launches me to her flank with her kick.

I rise back to some distance between her and me. My stance is on, and the tip of my katana leans to her direction. She remains in place as I hear footsteps gathering behind me. I leer to find six men training their rifles at me.

This, is bad.

“Those men are trained to kill you know?” Hana says. “Make one move and you won’t see the next dawn. Surrender now and we’ll spare you.”

Damn it. Why does everything keep getting worse for me over times? Will this actually be my end?

“Hana, why are you doing this?”

“Five…”

What!? A countdown?

“Hana!”

“Four…”

“Hey, listen!”

“Three…”

“They’re going to shoot me anyway, might as well spare me the motive behind your merit.”

“Two…” She keeps on counting. Her smirk gaze turns into a glare. “One…”

Ah, I think this is it. This is my end. I close my eyes as they begin to well up. For a moment, I can see their faces zipping past me in the dark. My parents, Uncle Bark, Rina, Eri, Theo, Zen, sir Microv, and The Primus. I have, once again, failed them. Even if my gear is made to withstand projectile damage, it does no good under a barrage of one. They would still gun me to death even if I turn around and parries every bullet coming for me.

A gunshot. So that’s it…

But only one shot?

Not only that.

Its faint roar seems like it doesn’t come from anywhere inside the mansion. There must be someone else. I sigh a relief. It seems like they’re on time. Hana however, doesn’t seem to be amused anymore.

“They’re closing in, the militias.” A voice comes through her utilizer. A voice that somehow, I recognized. But I couldn’t remember.

“All of you get down there and hold our position.” She says to the six men. They then hustle downstairs with no second thought.

Whoever fired that shot, I’m in your debt too. And that makes me think for a moment, to grab a paper and lists everyone to whom I am indebted.

I reopen my eyes and directs a grin at Hana.

“Well, looks like it’s just us now.” I say to her.

“Not bad for a corporal.” She says. “Guess you really deserved to be one.”

“Hana.” I call her name again. “Why are you doing this!?”

Hana is silent as she gazes to her feet. Her arms are relaxed, she doesn’t have a stance on. But that doesn’t mean I have a chance. Based on the encounter just recently, she could mount her stance in a split second, deflects my strike and counterattacks like flipping a hand.

“Why am I doing this?” She says, her tone deepens. “How could I not? He took my parents from me!” She yells, extending her left arm, pointing toward The Primus’ seat.

“You’re not the only one who suffered such fate!” I yell back.

“But that is not the case!” Her left foot shifts slightly forward, her sight is sharp like a pike piercing through mine. “My father was a master of his domain. He led his people to resist against The Primus during his conquest. I was a child back then. I see him return home every night bloodied, filthy, all soaked in the odor of war. It’s so that our belief’s presence in this continent is preserved.

“But our resources are not as abundant as The Primus’, and our men aren’t as well armed as his. When it’s over, my father was forced to surrender so that his legacy remains intact, his people, our belief. Do you know what The Primus did next?”

I squint my eyes. Given his personality, his stance toward the believers, and the motive behind his hostilities to them, I think it’s obvious.

“Of course, we all know what he did. But how he did them…His men led my father and his people to a camp deep within the woods. When the lights went out, and everyone starts dozing off, he lobbed fire on those camps. My father, along with all of my people, perished in one night. The women are sold to slavery, my mother included. I was fortunate to be raised in an orphanage. But when I return for her with my prosperity as a color sergeant, she has already passed away, overworked to death. And that is long before I’ve even gained this rank.

“It’s true, that given one’s will, they could prosper under The Primus’ realm. But prosperity my crap! What good are gold and silver if the people that shared your compassion aren’t there for you!?” She yells at that last question; a tear comes trickling down her cheek.

Such atrocities…

Typical of The Primus’ will to erase the believers off of this world. But how wouldn’t he do them? The believers have sinned him, taking his daughters away two times. That should have been an equal trade.

In any case, that doesn’t mean the Vindicators are all-righteous guardians that protect their subjects from miseries.

“Do you think the Vindicators stick away from the wicked merit of The Primus?”

“They are the most powerful believers’ nation in this continent. They protect us all, and allow our belief to remain in this world, of course they are our savior.” She says, nodding in my direction.

“Well,” I take a deep breath. “Your wretched empress also burned my settlement and massacred everyone but me.”

Hana raises an eyebrow.

“My parents, their legacy, their wealth, all perished in one evening.” Heat is building up on my limbs’ end as I utter those words. As miserable as it is that evening. It is as if I want to surge forward and commits wide and quick slashes.

So, this is what it feels like. This is what anger feels like. This is what The Primus felt when he lost his wife, just so that a believer girl could stay under his roof. This is what he must have felt like when he lost his daughters two times to the same people.

“Heheh…” I hear Hana chuckles. That chuckles gradually turn into a wicked laughter. She takes a deep breath at its end. “I guess we really have a reason to murder each other, don’t we?” She flinches her head.

“Loud and clear, sarge.” I respond with a gentle tone. But my expression says otherwise. To Hana, I would seem to be no longer hesitant in committing to the fight. My sight is now all covered with a violent intention. I will not only stop her from extracting anything from The Primus’ personal computer.

I will kill her. Here, and now.

Our roars are silent, thanks to the maid discipline of maintaining our grace. Powerful shockwaves blast through under our greaves, propelling us forward against each other. Once more, our katana clashed with a might of an even greater magnitude. As our sight pierce each other, I realize. This will be a bloodbath.

–**–

The local militia breaches through the main gate and hastily assume a position around the first level of the mansion. Some open fire, suppressing the hostiles as a handful of theirs climb toward the fourth level. The mansion complex is too large for the militias to isolate, so there is a chance or space for the hostiles to escape.

“Push them up everyone! Step by step!” Fred yells out from a cover in one of the gazebos.

There are three hostiles opening fire to them. Meanwhile they split their forces in two platoons, each consists of fourteen men. And it’s divided further into two squads.

Still, those three men held firm. It seems like they’re part of an elite force. So far, the militias haven’t been able to take any of them down. Meanwhile Fred and Julia’s squad each have already lost two men.

“Julia,” Fred speaks through his utilizer. “We’ll flank them from the left. Give us covering fire.”

“Roger.” Julia responds. “All units, rise from cover and spray some lead.”

The remaining boys and girls that she is leading stands up and fire full auto toward the hostile position. One of the hostile men peeks out, fires a controlled shot and takes down one more of Julia’s squad.

“Two of you come with me!” Fred says to his squad.

The remaining two opens fire to cover them.

“Zen, Lennard, how are your progress?” Fred asks to the leader of the third and fourth squad.

“We’re taking heavy losses!” Lennard responds. “Zen is trying to enter that mansion, and my squad follows him up for cover. We’re down to three men!”

“How about you, Zen!?”

“Doing fine.” He replies gently through his utilizer.

“What do you mean fine?” Lennard grumbles. “That charge literally costs you five of your men!”

“At least we had one of them. Two more.”

“Damn it, hang in there I’ll reinforce you!” Fred says.

“You two, continue the flanking maneuver. I’ll head there and fire at them from behind.” He says to the two boys that follows him. They nod and commit to that order.

It is certain. These soldiers aren’t just regular soldiers. They must have been special forces. This is bad. Neither The Primus nor his right-hand man shows a sign of being nearby. Under this weight, they will be slaughtered very soon.

If only Vittoria is here. If only she is here to turn the tide and push those hostiles away from this place. Other than being a bloom in the kitchen, she has shown herself to be a prominent combatant. If she is here right now, they surely stand a chance against these forces.

Bullets fly, muzzles flash, and the noise of the rifles clashing against each other roar through the night. After a brief sprint, Fred suddenly halts in the presence of a shaded figure. But that figure has a prominent feature that makes them noticeable, even when being shaded by the darkness.

The golden hair.

“Vittoria…?” Fred utters her name.

“Yes, it is me.” She says stepping out of the darkness, revealing her strapped combat gear with crimson outlines.

It’s a sight that left Fred trembled.

“Wh-why?” He asks. “Have you…all this time…” His jaw left open. His figure remains sturdy on the ground, but the revelation shreds his will to nothing. Fred wishes that this is just a dream. That the golden haired-Android, to whom he shares a compassion with, in that crimson outlined armor is just his mind trying to mess up with him.

But it’s useless. As she walks closer to him, her presence becomes ever closer to reality.

“Vi-vittoria…”

Vittoria reaches for his right cheek. She strokes it gently, before turning her gaze down.

“I’m sorry, Fred.” She says. “But thank you, for everything.”

In a split second, she pulls out her thermal dagger and thrusts it against Fred’s chest, at the point where his heart is supposed to be.

Fred’s sight wavers. “Ah…so that’s it.” He says before collapsing.

Vittoria embraces him while getting on her knees. She strokes his back for a time before putting him down beside her. She places his hands on top of his stomach before pulling out her dagger.

“Fred! Fred!” A voice comes through his utilizer. “Fred, where the hell are you! Answer damn it!” That sounds like Lennard.

But it doesn’t matter.

He’s going to have a taste of her dagger too.

“I’m sorry everyone.” Vittoria says.

–**–

The sound of clashing blades echoes throughout the mansion. The slashing waves emitted by the blades flies here and there, wreaking havoc to the mansion’s interiors. Plenty of vases, shelves, tables, and sofas got sliced. The very least is that each got a slashing mark, which still counts as a property violation if the owner is concerned.

A shockwave topples me back. Thankfully, I land on my feet. But as soon as that, Hana charges again with incredible force. I pull back before swinging my katana forward, meeting hers. The gust that comes with her surges through me. But I held my ground.

I shove her katana away and make a sweep for her stomach. She steps back and pulls an uppercut, which I barely dodge by leaning back. I think I would be done for when she activates her emitters. It turns out, she didn’t. Perhaps all the energy reserves her gear can offer goes to enhance her mobility and strength. The slashing waves emitted by our weapon might be powerful, as it could slash enemies from a distance. But it drains a lot of energy to maintain the emitters.

And as my misfortune has it, Hana’s strikes are even more powerful than before.

Her blade sweeps for my head from left, then right. It’s a mighty strike that could sweep my head clean. I manage to parry them, but at the cost of my energy reserves since I have to enhance my strength against such powerful blows. She proceeds with her momentum after the right sweep, spinning once for another sweep with an even greater magnitude.

I don’t believe I could hold that one, so I crouch. Luckily, I see an opening. Hence, I swing my katana upward, against her left shin. But it only damages her greaves.

She then spins her katana, its tip aiming straight at me, and thrusts it. I dodge to the right and dashes through, slicing her left arm in the process.

“Agh!” She yelps as blood spurts out of it.

Hang on? Blood? I thought our combat gear have shields.

I’ve recovered my stance as that thought comes to mind, a slight realization. But the slight delay gives Hana an opportunity to launch a charged slashing wave to my direction.

“Hngh!” I grunt as the force throws me back. My back crashes against the wall. Thanks to my shield, I survived. But it’s gone now. I stand up to the fact that I’m no longer safe from her dangerous attacks.

But it seems that she doesn’t have her shield either.

“Impressive.” She says, leering to her wound. “The maid discipline really is formidable.”

Ah…

I pause as I catch my breath. Her attacks are truly devastating. The strain on my muscles are compensated slightly by my gear. But if I don’t have the air to move them, what purpose does it serve?

It seems like I should’ve died a few moments ago. Her violent moves are meant for a quick takedown of her adversaries. I assume no one have ever made it alive. That’s the reason she disables the shield feature of her gear, to conserve her energy reserves. But now she’s fighting me, another maid of Creatio Genetrix with the same training, the same drills, and the same gear. The card that she used to rely on couldn’t work on us.

“I guess a more careful approach is better.” As soon as she says that, azure light flashes around her, indicating an active shield feature.

Now this is trouble.

She now has a shield on, meanwhile I’m completely vulnerable. I absolutely couldn’t keep this up. Given her fierce melee prowess, she’s untouchable on a one versus one duel. I’ll be the one who would fall first.

“What’s wrong? Tired already?” Hana says, followed up by her smirk. “There’s more from where that came from.”

I can still hear gunshot from outside. Zen and the others must still be fighting against those men. If I let her defeat me, then she could reinforce her men and slaughter everyone.

No…

I can’t let that happen. I won’t allow her to touch Zen.

My glance turns to the railings. Beyond them is a gap that links directly to the ground floor. Most importantly, the living room which is close to the kitchen.

I think I know what should I do.

I take a deep breath.

“If you’re not coming for me, then don’t mind if I do.” Hana says, readying her stance.

This is it…

She surges forward just like what she did before. Her blade shines, indicating an incoming slashing wave, as she raises it over her right shoulder.

As she’s nearing the right point, I leap forward, thrusted even more by the shockwave that comes down my feet. I land on one foot on her left shoulder and use it as a step to propel me for the gap. Another shockwave that comes down my greave slams her face against the wall behind me. And with that, I begin my fall.

I use my remaining energy reserves to reinforce my feet.

The loud thud as my feet meet the ground floor trembles nearby properties. And with that, I ran out of my energy reserves. With no second thought, I hustle for the kitchen. The fact that Hana hasn’t followed up is a fortune. She probably takes the stairs for one or two stories before dropping down to ease the fall and conserve her energy.

She’s probably saving them to finish me off with the most powerful slashing wave she could come up with.

“You can not hide Lena!!” She yells.

I don’t respond.

In the next seconds, I finally reach the kitchen. As soon as I do, I slip on my long skirt. My face crashes against the floor. But it’s not as painful as when I am not wearing my combat gear. That, however, isn’t in my plan. As embarrassing as it is, it might be the distraction that I need. I crawl backward as I hear footsteps rushing in this direction. I hope it’s Hana. Then I grab on to the stove handle to help me up.

Sure enough, it’s her.

“You’re bold to come after me.” I say to her.

“Well, rank prerequisite.” She says.

“You know,” I gaze downwards, deliberately showing my weakness. “That was an excellent fight.”

“Do you think I’d back down?” She shakes her head. “You’ve missed your chance to surrender.”

“No.” I say. “I’m saying that this is your end.”

She strikes me with her malicious smile. “Said someone who is cornered to my mercy.” Hana takes a deep breath. “Fine,” she says raising her katana, its blade begins to shine again. “I’ll make this quick then. You won’t feel a thing once it is done. That is for being the first to wound me, physically.”

I nod.

Hana then charges. The same movement as before, presumably more powerful. In a split second, I jump, roll, and slide to my left, barely avoiding the vertically aligned slashing wave that was coming to my direction. At the end of my slide, I sweep kick a one legged-table. Its face is now to Hana’s direction.

And that’s it.

The gas compartment of the stove is split in two, along with the gas tank inside it. Our contempt gaze fell on each other as the gas bursting in Hana’s proximity. She doesn’t seem to care about it, as she ready her katana again. But this is the end.

The Primus provided me access to every remote-controlled system in the mansion. Including the stove. So, I raise my left arm and presses a button on my utilizer, within Hana’s sight.

Fortunately, the stoves are lit. And with all the burners active…

It’s as if time has stopped. As the mansion tremble under the thunderous swarm of the ember monarchs, I cower behind the table, concealing myself from their rage. A sudden glimpse of the past. That evening, when columns of them rain hell upon my home. The evening where I lost my parents. There is nothing but flames blazing here and there as far as the eye can see. I reach for my father as he returns inside the mansion for my mother. But the mansion collapses first before they make it.

The incredible heat is reminiscent of that time, when I try to find safety by myself, across the sea of flames that ready to pounce on me at ease. The dark smoke fills the scene, blinding my sight. I could only make up those that is really close to me. I couldn’t think of where to go, still consumed by the loss of my parents. When I failed to track my friends amidst the noise of crackling embers and adults’ screams, I trip and fall to the ground. It is when a flaming debris collapses on to me. I thought I was toast, meeting the same fate as my parents.

But now I remember…

I remember a monarch that comes to my aid. The largest of her kind. She braved the debris with her majestic ember wings that has a flash of crimson across them. The wings flutter as she pulls me tight in her embrace. The debris doesn’t scratch her by a bit. She doesn’t even flinch as it crashed on her back. The sole warmth that the lone monarch brought, so it is her. The empress herself, Tribhuwana the second.

Then the heat diminishes. I reopen my eyes as I realize it. I rise from cover, to a room filled with crackling fires. Since there’s no flammable materials around, these fires won’t last long.

On the other side of the kitchen, I found her. Her back is against the wall, and her head is tilting to one side. I thought she is dead, until I notice that her body is still pulsating gently. I approach her. She is all-bloodied from head to toe, shrapnel injury. There are two sizeable pieces of metal sticking out of her left thigh and her stomach. Burn marks are also visible on her arms, hands, and a bit of her face, defiling her beauty.

It doesn’t take too long for her to look up on me.

“Ghh…ghh…” She shut her eyes as tears streak down her cheeks. “I’m sorry…Mother. Father…” She whimpers.

I kneel down and land my finger on her lip.

Her eyes, glittering, turns to me.

“I’ll make this quick, for that chocolate cake.”

She sniffles at my statement. But it doesn’t take long for her to shut her eyes again and nod.

I move around her and kneel again. My left hand holds her chin up, pressing the back of her head to my stomach. Then I pull my wakizashi, putting it just on her throat.

“Do you have something to say?” I ask her.

“I hope…” She halts as she spits blood out of her mouth. “Your family’s wealth is restored in no time.” Hana then raises her sight to gaze on me, who is facing down on her. “And promise me Lena…by then, you will protect innocent families…so there won’t be, a second me. There won’t be…any more…broken houses.”

My teeth are clenching against each other, and it’s never been this hard. It takes another second for me to realize that my eyes are welling. It’s hard to believe she just said that at her last moment.

“There won’t be a second me as well.” I reply.

Hana gives her last smile. And that’s when I run my blade across her neck.

“Rest in peace, sarge.” I say, reclining her body on the ashen floor reeks of burnt ceramics, putting her hands gently on her stomach.

I place both palms of my hands on my face, taking a deep breath while running them across it.

How many more people like Hana out there? Those who are wounded by the conflict? Those who bled and lost under The Primus’ gruesome ambition? Who is at fault here? Who is to blame? Everyone has their reason for their deeds. Everyone has their loss that justifies their motives. If that’s the case, then will there ever be someone to blame?

Or maybe it’s never about finding the root where it began…

If two branches could speak, would they be concerned if one towers higher than the other because it used up the provisions that are meant for their shorter counterparts? Or would they just go along living side by side as if there has never been any conflict between them?

Then I realize that it is already silent out there. The gunshots are no longer heard. My nerve rises over the roof. Did Zen succeed? Or is it the other way around?

I…

I obviously couldn’t stand a chance against those men, especially in my current condition. If there’s one thing that I could do, is to destroy that hard-drive on the Primus’ desktop.

–**–

He was right to be suspicious of her since that night when she separated herself for stargazing. She has pretty much committed lethal takedowns to the remaining militia. Lennard is wounded and unconscious, presumably dead. Perhaps the same fate also befalls Fred and Julia since they’re not responding. He survived thanks to his superior melee skill. But it costs him a stab in his left shoulder and a slash through his left eye and his right thigh.

Still, surviving now won’t do anything. There are still four of those elite forces left. And with his wound, there’s no way he could take them all by himself.

Nevertheless, he still drags himself across and leans against something solid. That something might have been one of the railings before getting blasted away by the projectile exchanges.

He pulls out his pistol, aiming it at the four men who are cornering him, and opens fire. Of course, the bullets ricochet. These four men still have their shield active. That shield, projected by their combat gear, deflects the incoming bullets. Even if they don’t have their shields, the bullets would still bounce off or just sticks into their body with no significant outcome since they’re Androids.

“Hey, kid. Just give up. We’ll spare you.” One of them said.

“Yeah, promise.” The one next to him follows up.

“Never.” Zen says, reloading his pistol and opening fire again.

“You know, I feel bad for him.” The elite force says. “Let’s just end his suffering.”

As one of them trains his rifle at Zen, his colleague who stands at the rightmost points to the left.

“Uh…”

They all turn to that direction, and finds two men leisurely marching to them. They quickly form a line and aims their rifles at them. Zen also turns to the direction they are facing.

“Picking a fight with a wounded seventeen-year old? That’s some flogging for you blokes!” One of them says as he stands at some distance from them.

The other is still catching up. Once he is near the first one, he bends over with his hands on his knees.

“Goddamnit, you’re ruining my entrance.” The first man says to him.

“Your entrance shall accompany these thralls to whichever abyss you’re sending them to.”

“Fire!” One of the elite forces shouts out. In the next second, bullets are storming the two men’s direction.

“The Primus is here! Repeat, The Primus is here!” The other yells through his utilizer.

For a moment, Zen is shocked and tries to reach for the two men. But as soon as he does, he’s greeted by the sight of the first man leisurely extending his right arm to their direction. The bullets don’t go further than his right hand. It is as if they enter a sphere held by his hand, and keeps on bouncing inside the sphere with blue wiggly lines bounding them.

It is not long until the elite forces ran out of bullets. They turn down their rifles, astonished by the spectacle they are witnessing.

“So,” He says to The Primus beside him. “As usual?”

“As usual.”

Then the bullets are arrayed into a rectangle as wide as the elite forces’ line. Its sharp end points toward them. And all of a sudden, the bullets turn blue with electric sparks flying around them. In a split second, the bullets surges through the four men at blinding speed. They collapse thereafter.

It’s not the first time Zen witness such wonder. He saw it just few days ago with Lena on the same garden. But still his gaze filled with astonishment. How could one possess such power?

“Scientia, victrix!” The first man yells out. His loud voice blares through the night.

“Now take care of the wounded,” The Primus says “I’ll tend to the minor nuisance inside.” He then turns around and strides for his mansion.

“There’s someone else there?”

“There’s no way that one-person radio someone else beside him.”

“Rite…” He says before turning to Zen. “Now, hang in there. First aid coming through.” He reaches into his one of his mantle’s pockets.

“I’m twenty-one you know?” Zen says to him.

“Eh,” The man shrugs. “You all look the same. Somewhere around that year-olds.”

 Zen takes a deep breath. He wishes that Lena is doing fine.

–**–

I hustle back upstairs. I think the transfer should be done by now. But it doesn’t matter. I could just destroy that hard-drive.

As soon as I return to the office, I am surprised to find someone else there. And how petrified I become when I recognize that prominent feature of her.

The golden hair. The girl behind that vendor. She is now clad with that crimson outlined armor, the harness of the Vindicators. So, the one that warns Hana and her men of Zen’s arrival with the others, it’s her.

Noticing me, she puts the hard-drive inside one of her pockets. I take a step back. Her face remains indifferent just like when I met her that day. But that’s what menacing about her.

Then I realize something. The firefight outside has ended. Could it be…

No…

“Y-you…you killed them all?”

She turns to me and says, “I’m afraid that’s an improper way to initiate a conversation.”

“You killed them all.”

The girl raises her right hand. “The men are doing well. I am just easing their burden.”

That means…Zen.

No…No…No, no, no. It can’t be true right? He…he is still alive right? He can’t be killed that easily right? Right? Right?

She sighs. “Now excuse me, I shall take my leave.” She says as she begins to stride at the nearest office window to her. That window head straight outside. Presumably, this girl is going to jump through and hustle away.

I’m not going to let that happen. Not after what she did to Zen, Julia, and Lennard. She is going to pay.

“The Primus is here! Repeat, the Primus is here!” A voice, all soaked in the roars of more gunshot, blares through her utilizer.

This is my chance.

My body surges on its own. Before I realize it, I’m already standing between her and that window she is heading for.

She sighs again. “Do you really want to do this?”

“Over my dead body.” I say, raising my katana to her direction.

Without a warning, like a sudden jerking that allows me to react, she just shoves my katana away. And in a split second, her dagger pierces through my stomach.

“Agh!” I grunt as blood begin to spurt out of my mouth.

Her dagger somehow manages to penetrate my torso-plating and dive through my stomach.

Yet she doesn’t stop there.

As soon as she pulls out her dagger, she crouches and slashes my left thigh, followed by another one to my right shin. Both scores a hit as my blood streaks out. I haven’t even processed this hole in my stomach, yet I have to receive more?

Then a quick and strong blow to my right thigh with the butt of her dagger. That topples my balance. My sight is to the floor. As I’m about to fall to my knees, she uppercuts my face with her fist. A robust fist that indicates her synthetic nature. I lost her when she slips past me. That is when she stabs me again from behind, just some distance to the right of the previous stomach wound.

 “AHH!” I made no effort to suppress my loud yelp as that dagger pierces my stomach again, only from behind. My gaze turns to the ceilings, to the lightings installed there. They begin to blur as my head throbs harder.

As if I haven’t had enough already, she proceeds with a slash through my right arm before shifting back to my front. There she pauses and stabilizes me for some reason, making sure I’m still standing. With the last of my strength, I train my sight at her. And there it comes. A diagonal uppercut against my front torso.

My gaze once again turns to the ceilings as I see my blood droplets flies all around me.

Hah…huh.

The force of that swing pushes me slightly back. But that is when she commits a mighty kick against my chest, supported by a shockwave.

My body flies through the window pane, penetrating it. Yes, my body. Because I’m not sure that I’m alive anymore. That’s not even counting the fall. I heard something break as soon as my back hits the ground. They’re probably my bones.

“Ahhh…”

I’m not sure I could survive this wound. Even if I do, I’d probably be disabled for life. With my blurred vision, I make up the outlines of that golden-haired girl perching on the remains of the window pane, before finally blasting away. She disappears into the darkness, soon after.

Maybe I’ll see her there again.

In the darkness…

Because my sight is blacking out.

A breeze blows through the night. Those monarchs with their dazzling ember wings, they’re here again, circling above me. There’s a handful of them. The way they flutter around along curly trajectories, forming an ever-shifting pattern illuminated by a small garden torch, is such a relieving show. The radiant theatre with a background of the serene night sky makes an excellent anesthetic. For a moment, I forgot about my wounds.

“…Z-Zen…look. Beautiful…aren’t they?”

My hand then reaches out, hoping for more share of their warmth. To my sorrow, they begin to disperse. Fluttering away, leaving me alone amidst the shivering night.

Ah…so cold…

Feels like…sleep…


 Prime Respite

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