Announcements: Introducing INK, the Writer's Currency » RPG's New Design Team » Now Open: RPG Staff Applications » 10 Years of RPG: Share Your Story » Can't Send PMs? Need Your 10-Forum Posts NOW? » A (Friendly) Reminder to All Romance RPers. » The Newbie's Guide to RolePlayGateway: Read This First! »

0
followers
follow

Adam Valentine

"Corrupt leaders and marred lands are no longer worth fighting to protect. There's only one thing worth protecting now."

280 views · last seen in The End
a character in “The Last Age”, as played by Zero Reaper

Description

Image



Theme - The Call To Arms



Adam Valentine



Image



Personality



A cold, consummate killer, but not a murderer - Valentine is very clear about this distinction.

A complex, if not divided man, Valentine's motivations are difficult to derive. He is crisp, swift and polite, but never warm; his eyes carry a hardness, as do his words. He gives off a sense of detachedness, watching those around him as though he were not one of them. He is constantly-wary, ever-shifting, always preferring to stand instead of sit, eyes always flickering to the nearest exit. His speech is often sharp, clipped, and frequently allegorical; while well-spoken and elegant, he wastes little breath, only talking when he feels that he has something to gain from doing so.

Nevertheless, he is a gifted leader; when he stands before those who follow him, he becomes equal parts passionate demagogue, driven revolutionary and merciless warrior. He presently stands as commanding officer of an enigmatic group known as 'Childhood's End', a small armed group of perhaps five dozen highly-trained individuals from around the globe, collected by Valentine in his many years of travelling. He has an advanced grasp of military tactics; whether planning an assassination or coordinating an entire armoured division, he proves exceptionally capable. Around his men, he is a little warmer, albeit not much; he presents himself as an impenetrable figure, cold and detached. He is capable of a certain level of charisma when pushed, but finds doing so exhausting; he is generally followed for his competency, not his personality.

Valentine possesses an absolute concept of justice, and minimal regard for the idea of death. To him, death is merely a natural part of life; it is not something to be fled from, not in this day and age. In a world such as the one they live in, he has taken the view that to die is no worse than to live. He treats those who wrong others with a swift but unemotional hand; he intervenes where he feels he can to safeguard the weak, but refuses to lay down his life for them. For all his talk of selflessness and the importance of righteousness, he always turns away at the last moment - a profound internal flaw, and one he refuses to admit to anyone, even himself. Whether he acts as such out of fear, or because he believes his goal too important to let go, he himself is unsure.

He is extraordinarily driven, constantly moving to his next objective; he refuses to falter, and possesses an absolute ruthlessness in his quest to progress. While his ultimate goal remains obscured to all - perhaps even himself - he constantly seeks his next objective; at present, this is information, specifically referring to a man named 'Old King'. He claims that his work is of paramount importance, but refuses to explain his end goal to any, his group's goal remaining shrouded in mystery. His only words to outsiders on the topic are simple -

"You need only look to our name. Childhood's end must come eventually, and we take it upon ourselves to hasten it."

When in a better mood - which, admittedly, is rather rare - his behaviours become a little more human; he cracks a smile now and then, occasionally making a humorous or kind comment. The only thing that changes radically is his eyes; they are possessed by a distant, somehow light warmth, as opposed to their typical icy hardness. He could even be described as charismatic in such a state, demonstrating a fair bit of excitability if pushed (or if presented with sweet food - while he refuses to admit it, he has a distinct sweet tooth); nevertheless, this mood is rare, and seems to be becoming rarer and rarer. He considers his emotional state, in this regard, to merely be a mirror of its surrounds.

He is deeply philosophical, often musing on the nature of war and violence, even in the midst of battle. His views are difficult to analyse, often shrouded in reference and metaphor; however, a few things are immediately clear. He views mankind's present predicament not only as a situation of its own devising, but an inevitability; he takes the approach that humans are inherently cruel, selfish creatures, and has no belief whatsoever in altruism. He views the vast majority of humanity's defining traits - determination, love, god, justice, and so on - as merely self-serving delusions; yet he permits and encourages them, claiming delusion to be better than reality. He believes firmly in the concept of 'Noblesse Oblige', but as he puts it, he finds it self-aggrandising; insofar as he is concerned, his belief is purely a product of ego.

In the quietest moments, one can sometimes catch him with his face in his hands, or staring out into space, when he thinks no-one is looking. A glance into those eyes reveals only a distant loss; no longer missing what was taken, but merely the hate of having had something taken from him. Upon realising he is being watched, he will typically stand, brush himself off and leave without a word; attempting to question him about it will simply result in him acting as though you do not exist.

His romantic opinions are mysterious at best. He displays little to no interest in the subject; it's unclear whether he simply does not feel romantic attachment, or he chooses not to; he does, however, frequently voice the opinion that love is a profound weakness. He does occasionally refer to there being a female figure in his past, although he refuses to state the nature of their relationship, or even her name.

Finally, what little of his Human-PLUS dossier remains in the hands of public organisations mentions him to be 'empathically stunted', although the report was heavily-redacted, making it unclear if this was a consequence of the augmentations or a pre-existing condition. It emphasises the potential for developing "Mild sociopathic tendencies", and makes it explicit that caution is advised in all dealings.




Image



Appearance



Looming tall and close to six and a half feet and distinctly well-built, Valentine cuts an imposing figure. While thin due to limited nutrition - he prefers to keep his food consumption to a minimum, to avoid spending unnecessary money - he is muscular and strong, broad shoulders belying his strength beneath his clothing. He has a youthful face, appearing in his late twenties or so, occasionally with a light dusting of poorly-shaved stubble on his chin. He bears more than a few scars; one runs along his scalp and forehead from falling shrapnel, one on his neck from a narrowly-avoided knife, and dozens on his arms, legs and body from all manner of injuries.

His hair is dark and irreconcilable with the fundamental laws of physics, sticking up in all manner of directions, an utter mess by any account; the only time it falls down is when wet, and it swiftly adopts its normal shape soon after. Strands of it hang low around his forehead, sometimes obscuring his vision, frustrating him to no end. He is constantly vowing to shave the lot of it off in favour of a buzzcut, but has been swearing as such for countless years, and is unlikely to ever actually do it.

If the eyes are windows to the soul, then Valentine's windows are boarded-up; cold, detached and grey, near-constantly flickering around the room for exits and weapons, ever-wary. The vast majority of the time, they have the texture of ice, reflecting the cruel world back at itself - or, perhaps, it is merely the ruthlessness within him that reflects the unforgiving world around.

He typically wears a slightly tattered old-world suit, often concealed beneath a waterproof canvas coat for inclement weather. While suits have long since fallen out of vogue as the formal item of choice for men, he continues to wear it, and weathers the mockings - the suit is one of the few hints at his true age. He carries a weapon on him at all times, and smokes with some frequency, another rarity in this day and age. However, at the complaints of his subordinates, he is attempting to cease this habit, albeit failing to do so to some extent.




Image



History



Next to nothing is known of Valentine's past, and it is unclear how much he himself remembers - from what he is willing to reveal, however, it isn't as much as he'd like. His age is 'around three centuries, give or take fifty years'; he says that he has faint memories of a time before the world fell into chaos, but can recall no specifics, only flashes of sun and green and smiles. What little is known is the following -

He feels himself to have been a soldier in a national army, back when nations still existed. At some point in the distant past, he was a participant in a program known as 'Human-PLUS', aimed at creating Knights capable of mastering the inhuman power of the Reapers. He is tight-lipped about what, exactly, it entailed; he shows no external augmentations, save for a small network of ports along his spine to allow for interfacing with a Reaper.

It is unclear what effects the program had, but the fact that he has survived as a Knight for as long as he has indicates that, at the very least, it achieved its intended goals. It is unclear whether his cold, abstract demeanour was an effect of Human-PLUS, interfacing with a Reaper for such an extended time, or merely his own personality at work.

Since Human-PLUS, he has achieved significant things. The program's most notable side effect appears to have been a form of biological immortality; while he can be injured and presumably killed by standard means, and he heals at a standard rate, his body does not seem to age, still looking to be in roughly the same condition it was when he was first experimented on, give or take a few dozen combat scars. There is a full century afterhand which he simply refuses to speak of; it is presumable that at some point during this time, he became a Knight, and was paired with Abyss Walker. After this, he broke off from an organised armed group (which he claims to have subsequently been destroyed in battle) and began travelling and operating as a Knight independently, avoiding trouble wherever he could.

He claims to have settled down in a small, isolated village located in a high mountain pass at one point; however, after an unknown sequence of events (he considers their exact nature unimportant), he came to a mysterious philosophical conclusion, the exact nature of which he refuses to divulge. Upon leaving the village, he immediately began tracking down various individuals, typically the more-skilled; he built the armed group Childhood's End out of these individuals, all adherent to his ideology and bound under his leadership.

While compact, Childhood's End are extremely dangerous, largely due to their ability to field a fully-functional Reaper. The group largely consists of Abyss Walker's engineering support team (dedicated to keeping the monstrous weapon in operation) and a small group of Sentinel and Tracer pilots, who undertake missions where a little more finesse is required; most individuals in the organisation are multi-skilled, capable of intelligence-gathering or infantry combat as well as their primary role.

It is known that there is a significant bounty on his head, coalesced from the various factions whom he has made enemies of over the years; it currently numbers in the millions of COAM, and is constantly-climbing. For this reason, he typically avoids sight where he can, travelling at night or in less-populated areas. It should be noted, finally, that Valentine is the only known subject of the Human-PLUS program; he claims there to be others, but none have been observed thus far. Therefore, all claims he has made about his past should be taken with a grain of salt.



Image



Abyss Walker



That which is not dead can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons, even death may die.



Image



Among the first Reapers ever constructed, and certainly the oldest still in operation, Abyss Walker is nevertheless a sight to be feared on any battlefield. It looms at around a hundred feet in height, with a sleek, menacing, mechanised appearance, its design sharply angular to help deflect radar from its black-painted surface. Long loose piping hangs from the edges of its shoulders, giving it an almost unfinished appearance; in truth, they are coolant pipes, designed to help funnel the hot coolant away from the craft in the event that it overheats.

Constructed in an age long past, its technical designation is 'N-WG/IX'; however, it was christened 'Abyss Walker' by its first pilot, and the name has stuck ever since. It is considered a relic by the standards of modern Reapers, yet its power remains unquestionable. Protected by a powerful Shadow Field, it is all but invulnerable to conventional weaponry, its defences only capable of being breached by immense firepower.

Its primary conventional armament is its pair of high-powered dual-barrelled railguns, firing 155mm tungsten shells at over 1,500 meters per second; each round has enough destructive force to level most small buildings. It is also armed with a substantial array of high-velocity missiles, typically designed for use on other Reapers due to the difficulty of obtaining replacement parts. Its tertiary weapon is a simple two-handed greatsword, scaled up to the unit's size; while of little utility on its own, this blade swiftly becomes its deadliest weapon when the Abyss Field is applied. Additionally, the craft is extremely mobile, capable of sprinting well in excess of the speed of sound and using powerful thrusters to achieve limited flight capability, albeit only for extremely short periods due to its weight exceeding one thousand tonnes.



Image



This Reaper's most distinct and powerful ability, however, is its ability to generate an Abyss Field, the power for which it was named. A trait inherent to the Reaper's internal entity and power source, the Abyss Field consumes anything it comes into contact with instantaneously, phasing it out of existence. This power's utility is vast; able to be shaped to the pilot's will, to form anything from a blade to a shield to a region of space beneath an opponent's feet. Its primary disadvantage is its power draw; while strong, the entity within Abyss Walker is only so powerful while asleep, and this limits the area to which it can deploy the Abyss Field at one time. It also has the drawback that it typically requires a solid surface to be projected across; while it can be used upon a liquid or even a gas, the power draw is even greater.

However, Abyss Walker is not without its problems. Its heat consumption is immense; for this reason, it is ill-suited to fighting in urban environments, as it must either retreat or open its cooling vents - which themselves output in excess of a thousand degrees of heat and warp all nearby structures - for the remainder of the fight. These heating vents also render it vulnerable; were its Shadow Field breached, a single blow to one of the brightly-glowing vents would cause catastrophic damage. This also forbids it from using the Abyss Field as a full-body energy shield; without anywhere for its heat to escape to, the craft would overheat to devastating levels within seconds.



Image


So begins...

Adam Valentine's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Cocytus, 11.22 AM


The innermost circle of Hell felt colder than usual.

To Valentine, the cold hadn't bothered him much in a while. He'd gotten used to it - the unfortunate reality of their predicament. But today, of all days, it was starting to get to him. It had been a while since he'd seen the light of day - in the harsh white-blue light of an electric lantern, he saw his hands covered in dust and rust from the machinery.

Ironic, from a given perspective; all the power in the world stood before him, at his disposal. And yet he spent his days toiling away with his men moving cooling pipes and repairing autoloaders.

He checked his watch in the low light; it was still morning. He'd lost track of it - he worked, and slept when he could not work. Eating happened when he felt he could be bothered, which was not often. Nobody here much complained about such things - they all knew what lay outside, had all experienced the hellscape beyond.

They'd all gone days without food, hiding in the mud as abominations with a dozen eyes and arms stalked past, hunting for any trace of life life. They'd all watched friends have their souls ripped out of them by monstrous Reapers, convulsing and screaming for hours on end until someone put them out of their misery. They'd all known countless people they'd cared about to die.

No, they didn't care, and that was the way he preferred things.

"Atlas!" Valentine shouted, waving over a slim man wearing glasses from his position overseeing repairs to one of the cooling tanks. The man turned; he was young, probably about thirty, but looked twice that, years of struggle having taken its toll on him. Having taken its toll on all of them.

It was another of life's cruel ironies, Valentine supposed, that the oldest of them looked the youngest.

"How is Abyss Walker faring?" Valentine asked, catching himself too late that he'd referred to the machine as a living organism. Not 'what's the unit's status' - 'how is it'. As though it were alive.

No, the less alive it was, the safer everyone here was.

"The coolant stream is holding steady; internal temperature is about point-two above Absolute, which is well within our acceptable range," Atlas nodded, taking his glasses off and idly polishing them - a common gesture while talking to people. "The RELICS system is finally functional; we'll need to cannibalise a Reaper to get it back in proper order, but the core won't go causing any extinction events for the minute."

Valentine felt a tiny weight lift off his chest at that. The RELICS - Resonant Energy Locked Isolation and Containment System - was the heart of the unit, designed to keep the monstrosity that gave it life contained and asleep. Without it... well, Kyoto had proved what happened when RELICS failed. Knowing that it was still working gave Valentine a little hope, as Atlas continued.

"Conventional weaponry mechanisms are optimal, but we're running low on depleted uranium for the rifles; we'll need to procure some more before we're ready to go. Missile targeting hardware is solid, but software is still shot; whatever the hell coding language your people built that thing with, but it's practically Ancient Egyptian to me. Give me three, four weeks and I might have enough of a basic understanding to get them to track a bit. No promises."

The last few sentences came out a barrage of language, and Valentine's eyes narrowed a little at Atlas' anger. He hadn't expected it, but on the other hand, it was hardly unexpected - they'd all worked long hours to get Abyss Walker back in order, and the more they worked, the further it seemed they had to go.

"Will it fight?" Valentine asked, crisp voice cutting through the air, causing Atlas' eyes to spark up a little and remember to whom he spoke. He turned to attention a little.

"It'll walk," Atlas shrugged. "But trying to activate the Abyss Field for an extended period is probably going to wreak havoc with RELICS until we get a proper fix on it. Plus, you're out of ammo and have zero missile targeting. I mean, you could just try punching things really hard... you've done stupider things."

A tiny smile crossed Valentine's face at the mental image, and he nodded. At the very least, the thing wasn't dead - and it wasn't awake, either, so they were still in that narrow band where they could use it and it wouldn't try to wipe out half the planet when they started booting its systems.

"So, how's your little pet project going down there?" Atlas said, with a nod down to the twenty or so various Sentinels and Tracers locked into scaffolding, half of them in various states of disassembly.

Valentine nodded crisply, to pre-empt his statement and convey his satisfaction with the goings-on. "We've successfully cannibalised a Tracer for parts, and thus, the remainder are within mere days of being functional. The Sentinels a far greater problem; it stands a miracle that as many of them so much as walked here. We're looking into replacements now, but given how little COAM we have..."

Adam polished his glasses intently, as though thinking over the quandary; Valentine contemplated lighting up, but Atlas would complain to no end. So he just waited, feeling faintly impatient at the inconvenience; nevertheless, he trusted Atlas' counsel on such matters. The man had more guile than it first appeared, and often caught things that slipped Valentine had overlooked on his first pass.

"On one of my forays out from our little coven here," Atlas said cautiously, knowing full well that Valentine frowned upon anyone leaving unless on strictly necessary business, "I met the leader of a rebel group in the understreets; I was searching for some targeting components for the missiles. No dice on that trip, but I did learn that there's a contact up above who may be of use to us."

"The de Argentum girl?" Valentine raised an eyebrow, impressed. He frankly hadn't considered her an option - rumour had it that she was more sympathetic than her parents, even helping finance rebels, but he'd focused on her for other reasons. If the whispers between conspiracy theorists and gang leaders were true, the CEO of Argentum Armaments - her uncle - knew the actual identity of Old King, some even saying that the two were friends. As the de Argentum girl was the most likely to be able to be met, both due to her sympathies and her independence, he'd been considering her as a potential means of access.

"She's starting up her own corporation, or so they say," Atlas nodded. "She might just have access to some of the parts you need. Plus, if you can use her to get access to the CEO-"

"We could be out of here in a week," Valentine nodded. All things considered, he preferred outside to here - the air was a little less choked, at least in some places, and there were less people to bother him. Besides, leaving here meant another step along the route to their goal. "My thanks, Atlas. Your innovation truly knows no bounds."

"Hardly," Atlas cracked a grin. "It's just your innovation that's lacking."

Valentine made it obvious as his eyes flickered to the handgun on the table beside him, and Atlas laughed. "Well, I'll leave the rest of the complex plotting to you," the smaller of the two men nodded. "Good luck, and if you ask me, try to meet her in person. I hear she's a bit of a looker, mm?"

Valentine just shook his head, managing to hide the ghost of a bemused smile, and watched as Atlas waltzed away, swiftly bellowing orders to a couple of engineers below about the correct means of handling a coolant pipe. For his part, Valentine slumped back down in a chair at the table, heavier than he'd intended. He knew that biologically, he was still in his late twenties, but god, it didn't feel that way some days.

He pulled up a laptop - a rather outdated piece of equipment compared to the more modern dataslates, most of which were as thin as paper (paper itself having become something of a luxury in the past century or so with the extinction of trees), but rugged and reliable.

He accessed the city's Extranet network, and quickly ran a program (kindly provided by predecessor of the ever-helpful Atlas) to bypass the city's security monitoring (it would hardly do to be watched, now would it?). From there, he began writing a message, to be sent to the private email address of a certain CEO's niece - acquired for a hefty sum from a black market information dealer.

Lady Letitia Gazelle de Argentum,

I've no intentions of wasting your time, so I shall cut to the chase. I wish to meet with you at Nubes Café, Sky District Block 3-12, at 1PM today. Look for the man in Old World clothing; you'll find it rather difficult to miss me, I assure you.

I know of your sympathies, and your actions. I do not wish to blackmail you with this information. Rather, I wish for your assistance in a cause we can both believe in - that is, so to speak, the salvation and equality of all mankind. A noble goal, no? Such is why I choose to trust you.

It is my hope that you accept, if only out of your own curiosity. We both stand with a great deal to benefit, for rather a minimum of work if all goes as planned. Together, I've no doubt that we can achieve great things - indeed, perhaps, peace for all mankind.

Sincerest regards,
Valravn


He signed it with his familiar pseudonym, and smiled a little self-satisfactorily. Not a single lie told - countless half-truths, naturally, but no lies. There was a dignity in that, he deemed; and thus, hitting send, he stood, flexing his shoulders before pocketing the pistol on the table, and a pair of loaded magazines. An elegant weapon - internally recoil-compensated, with a capacity of thirty .21-calibre high-velocity bullets. Curious, in a way, that even in a world of walking iron monstrosities and dying hell-gods, the common pistol had changed little from a few centuries ago.

Comforting, in a way.

"Atlas, if you'd kindly!" he called, as he made his way over to the factory's restroom (which, thankfully, he'd persuaded a soldier to clean. Again, his long-suffering assistant was at his side.

"Next time, just throw a squeaky toy. It'll be easier," Atlas groaned, clearly feeling rather put-upon by circumstances.

Valentine ignored the jab and looked out over the various crews working down there. "Get me a dozen of our best shots; issue them with heavy coats over body armour, anti-materiel rifles and high explosives in some crates. We'll take that abandoned elevator that Ghost scouted up to the Sky District. I'll draw up positions and fields of fire and send them ASAP."

"You're going to talk to the de Argentum girl?" Atlas said, surprised. "That was quick. Did she reply?" Valentine shook his head, and Atlas sighed.

"That's not how dates work, dammit," Atlas said, exasperated.

"I've no doubt that she'll be there," Valentine said. "If not today, then tomorrow. No-one of her age can resist such a mysterious call. Her curiosity will get the better of her; I only need wait."

"You know she'll be under surveillance, right?" Atlas asked.

"Hence the explosives," Valentine smirked.

Atlas just sighed. "It's not my neck on the block. You die, I call dibs on your spare blankets, y'hear?"

Just before the man turned to leave, Valentine caught him on the shoulder. "I should prepare myself for meeting a noble of her calibre. Did you jury-rig the hot water system yet?"

A smug smile crossed Atlas' face. "Nope."

The grimace that only the prospect of a sub-zero shower can bring crossed Valentine's face as he continued heading for the restrooms, leaving Atlas to his own devices and beginning to map out the details of the combat zone in his head.

He wasn't about to lose now, after all.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Scene Music

While most noble young ladies spent their days flirting with young gentlemen and having cosmetic surgeries, one particular young noble stood out among her peers. Letitia Gazelle de Argentum; few of her age mates new much about her outside of the social functions she occasionally deemed worthy of her attention. It wasn't so much that she was anti-social as that it was she was busy. She was the heir chosen out of all of her cousins to take over the family corporation, only for her to sideline them and start up her own business venture. She had meetings to attend, production to oversee, and employees to monitor. No one realized her real intentions for the sudden interest in her new corporation.

Letitia was a politician by default; in this day and age business owner and politician were the same. The sweeter the honey you offered, the more likely you were to get the defense of the military behind you. Not that she needed that for herself. She just refused to let the de Argentum family have it for themselves, and would do whatever it took to keep them from getting the backing and protection that they wanted.

The new corporation was named SilverDeer, a spin off of her middle name and last name. While few realized Gazelle was an ancient dead language for Deer, everyone knew what Argentum meant. While few things survived the fallout of the war, science was one thing that had managed to keep its foothold to itself.

Yesterday was a particularly eventful day for the beautiful brunette. Three meetings with what departments were already being set up, hundreds of personal interviews with every potential hire, a lunch date with her uncle to argue about the stupidity of starting her own company, and miscellaneous planning of her new building.

Today, though, today was her day to herself, the one day a week she allowed herself to not be surrounded by idiots that had no clue what her motivations were.

Justice.

Perhaps she was too naive, like her uncles seemed to think, but she believed there had to be a way for everyone to live equally. It wasn't right that she got to live a life of luxury while others suffered with barely enough food to feed themselves much less their children. There was no glory in the modifications, the splurges on beauty and technology if she was the only one allowed to enjoy them. She felt no better than anyone below her status. At one time her family had prided themselves in keeping peace and justice amongst the lower class citizens of their home country... but after losing their country it seemed they lost their way and buried themselves in money, fame, and making technology. De Argentum Robotics had lead in development of technology for the last century. Her uncles believed she would fail and they would have their heir back within the month, but she knew she was destined for greatness.

Her dataslate out as it pinged her to another incoming email. She had about 200 sitting in her inbox with various levels of importance to them; approvals needed for structural changes to the new offices, family members requesting some of her time and energy (and most likely money), and acquaintances begging her to come out and "play." One email triggered her interest though, from an address she didn't recognize.

She read through it twice, the first time just a brief glance to see if it seemed important, and the second time after for the sake of curiosity. The third time she inspected it with better care, wondering who this Valravn person was. A quick search turned up nothing and part of her was truly curious as to what this person needed and who he or she was.

It didn't take long for her decide to go. She dressed herself in a casual blue kimono and threw on her favorite red jacket on, slipping her kodachi into her kimono and her simple black handgun that was customary for nobles to keep on them at all times. She frequented the cafe mentioned in the email, it was a favorite of hers.

"Is something wrong ma'am?" her butler, Berkley stood by her office door as she moved to leave.

Sometimes Letitia forgot her own security. The older man, a gift from her mother's family after her mother's death, was quite dedicated to her safety and happiness. He had known her mother as a child and now he treated her like his own. "No Berkley, I'm fine. I just decided to go out to lunch with a friend of mine," she stated with a small smile. "Don't worry about me. I'll just be gone for a few hours.

"Would you like me to accompany you?"

"That's unnecessary. Thank you for that thought... I'll be fine by myself though," she gave him a pointed look.

While the man was protective over her safety, he was the one person who knew of her dealings with rebel groups and the only one who knew how to keep her uncle's watchdogs off her for any bit of time...

She checked her weapons again before heading to the meeting place, taking the back paths to avoid being seen by people that knew her face too well.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Blue sky scared Valentine.

For most people, blue sky represented a range of things; freedom, warmth, light, perhaps a few fragmented childhood memories. 'Fear' was typically not one of them - 'fear' was associated with choking smog or looming grey stormclouds.

To Valentine, stormclouds were a gift. The lower and more heavily-pregnant, the better. Camouflaged drones couldn't fly in clouded conditions; magnetic interference from the vast volumes of aluminium and steel smoke belched into the atmosphere messed with their radar, and they typically didn't dare fly low enough to try to attack by visual. When the sky was blue, though, they'd be up there; optical camouflage concealing them until they attacked, high-explosive-tipped missiles annihilating countless lives instantly, even as they floated so serenely in the sky.

As long as the clouds were grey and overcast, the world was one threat safer.

But of course, the rational part of him knew that there were no drones here. Too imprecise for Aegis' tastes; the potential for damaging the factories that fed the city's lifeblood was far too great. Their means of killing was simply to use men; crueller, sharper, less efficient but also more personal. More relieving, in a way - to know that another human being would have to carry your life, instead of a machine.

He looked away from the blue sky as he strode along a narrow walkway within the Sky District, brushing past elegantly-dressed nobles and their uniformed guards. He moved with purpose, double-checking the map and time on his phone - it would hardly do to be late to his own party, after all.

"This is Ghost," a deep, harsh voice rumbled over his earpiece - outdated compared to the augmentations preferred for communication by most, but also easier for Valentine to use. "Strike team is ready to move to position. Over."

"Understood," Valentine said quietly, keeping his voice hushed, just as the many executives and politicians around him did. He glanced down at the small dataslate in his hand, sending the file - merely a crudely-drawn plan superimposed over a still of a tourist map of the Sky District - to Ghost, his unofficial muscle. Nobody knew the man's real name; most didn't ask. Those who did were met bluntly. Valentine elected not to judge - everyone had their secrets.

"Move to marked positions and set up shop. Stand by for orders. Over."

Ghost gave a swift affirmative, and killed the frequency. Meanwhile, Valentine kept striding; as he inhaled, he felt at once depressed and relieved. On one hand, watching how easy and smooth life here was pained him; mere minutes before, he'd been breathing in the choking fumes of the Understreets.

Yet on the other hand, the air in this place was a relief - the air tasted different to Cocytus. In Cocytus, you could always taste it - a sense of dread hanging in the air, weighing over them. An apathetic yet desperate stench - you didn't notice it at first, but it crept up on you, until it was all you could think about, preying on your mind every second of the day. He himself wasn't sure if it was the lighting, or if Abyss Walker was beginning to-

No, no use thinking like that. The thing was as dead as it was getting while still being usable. Even if RELICS wasn't complete, Abyss Walker was well and truly locked up tight. Instead, he focused on the air here - he doubted that this city had ever seen a single Reaper, what with their ban on supernatural research.

Well-advised ban, that.

The thought came unbidden into his mind as he strode into the white-fronted cafe, weapon still tucked comfortably inside his suit jacket. A waitress swiftly directed him to a seat, and he took it, checking his watch. 12:59pm.

He sat evenly at the table, pretending to read the menu as he considered the contents of the cafe. An assortment of children of wealthy businessmen - a reasonably casual, understated cafe was a difficult thing to find in these parts. Also a few taller figures, with the glint of steel plating beneath their clothes - augmented soldiers, likely elite security. As expected.

Two minutes passed and a woman entered; small, slim, with shortish hair and dark eyes. Her features were slim, refined, feminine; her clothes reinforced that impression, an elegant Japanese kimono. His eyes widened a little at that - he didn't even know that such clothes existed, although he should've expected nothing less, with the reputation of the de Argentum family. At her hip, he noticed the blade of a curved, masterfully-crafted shortsword; a little above it, the familiar bulge of a loaded lightweight handgun, not dissimilar to his own.

He recognised her in a heartbeat. The de Argentum girl. The one he was here for.

He had to profess, Atlas hadn't been kidding when he'd described her as 'beautiful'.

He looked at her; as her gaze swept the room, their eyes met, soft dark eyes meeting cold, shadowy ones. He nodded to her, subtly, imperceptibly to anyone who wasn't paying attention - yet the message was clear.

Sit.

For a second, nervousness flickered and died swiftly enough in his brain. This was it - his chance. If he failed to persuade her, there would be few second chances

But of course, there never is.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Letitia saw him immediately but took in a moment to check her surroundings, making note of who all was there and where there might be security. Finally, after a minute or two she wandered over to his table, sitting down across from him. She had a dataslate in her hand suddenly, looking at something. "There are seven agents of my uncle's sitting in various places in this cafe," she handed him a mapped out version of the cafe with 6 highlighted tables. "I doubt any of them can hear us, but I recommend relocating as soon as possible."

She said this quickly and quietly before taking her slate back and leaning back in the seat. Studying him for a moment, she entertained the thought of how handsome he was. There was no time for her to ogle at boys when she was growing up. She had much to learn and do in order to take over her family's company and as she got even older she had little interest in the high class men that tried to spoil her with trinkets and pretty clothes. The young woman had little interest in what she could easily buy herself.

"You know me already, obviously, but I know nothing of you," she was still speaking softly, making sure that they weren't overheard.

OOC: (Oh god sorry this is so short. I'm dead right now but at least everything is unpacked. I promise my next post will be so much better.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Valentine took the dataslate swiftly, brows furrowing slightly as he studied it. He'd spotted five - the lady was good, that was for certain. Four she'd marked, plus one extra she'd missed; but it was rare that he missed something, even if the operatives were undercover. He was thankful for her assistance. After a momentary glance around the cafe to locate any additional targets and finding none, he swiftly transferred the map to his own dataslate. From there, he sent it off to Ghost in a few brisk taps, with a short attached message -

Targets are marked. Contact me when you're in position.

With that done, he turned back to the de Argentum girl. The pair exchanged inspecting glances; while small, she was clearly fit, and armed to boot. He found this gratifying; after all, she knew how to handle herself well enough. While the possibility remained that she was nothing more than a pretty face, this this already seemed unlikely, given how efficiently she'd identified the agents in the building - and her reputation.

"Thank you for saving me the effort," Valentine inclined his head in thanks, voice crisp and businesslike. "It is a pleasure to at last make your acquaintance, Miss de Argentum. At the very least, stories do not do you justice."

"You know me already, obviously, but I know nothing of you," she said. Valentine almost breathed a sigh of relief; he had little patience for pleasantries. Adam nodded, and when he spoke, his voice was faintly distant, ethereal - he'd little intention of making anything apparent to her, at least for the moment. There'd be time enough for such things later.

"The 'Valravn'," he explained, "is a myth of the Old World. A three-legged raven; yet it possesses the intelligence and wisdom of a man. It hunted the young, and upon its consumption of the heart of a child, it would transform - into a noble knight, clad in shining armour." He paused for a moment, exhaled, before proceeding - "Macabre story - yet important. Nobility - righteousness - justice - they all have their prices, Faustian though they may be."

His earpiece rumbled with a heavy voice - Ghost's, reporting in. The explosives were rigged to detonate; soldiers were in position and ready to act. Well, with that, Valentine deemed that it was best that he wrapped this conversation up as fast as possible. The second he had her sufficiently interested in what he had to say that she wouldn't spook and run when things intensified, they were getting out of here with all possible haste.

He turned his attention back to her. "Nevertheless, ancient myths do this city's poor little good, now do they? Thus, I propose an exchange," he said, steepling his fingers. "I represent a small but rather advanced group. You wish for equality. We can offer it." The beginnings of a confident smirk crossed his face as he proceeded -

"For a price, naturally."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

OOC: So I was trying to get this up like hours ago, but the site was apparently down all damn day, or at least whenever I had the ability to be online. So yeah. grrrrrr.!!!!!!

Letitia nodded. "I'm familiar with some Old World mythology. I was a bit of a collector of Old World books as a child," she whispered and looked around casually. It was the one thing she had in common with her father. Most of her books were stored VERY safely away in a vault. "Call me Titi. Most people do."

"Obviously for a price. I wouldn't expect anything else.
I have some requests and requirements too, of course, for my own safety and security. I can't trust just anyone with my supplies and money," the girl leaned back in her seat, studying the handsome man across the table. She wasn't sure what to make of him and he wasn't quite readable to her.

Still, he had perked her interest, and she slid her dataslate into her jacket. "I'm going to make an assumption that something is going on right now, and that things are about to get hairy," her voice lowered to a whisper. She couldn't help but feel that something was about to happen.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Letitia - 'Titi' - was certainly perceptive, if nothing else, Valentine noted. Her mention of Old World mythology was fascinating - it was rather unusual for a woman of her status to take such an interest in mere stories. The few upper-class socialites who could be bothered with the Old World in the slightest were more interested in finding out what had happened to the world, to place it in such a grim state.

But this woman - girl? She could hardly be much older than one, whatever her intellect suggested - was something else. There was a kind of idealism to her, a lackadaisical lack of concern for the actual state of the world, in a way; seeing only her dream, not the reality. Not sheltered, nor ignorant - deluded, perhaps, in a way. Knowing all too well the truth, and yet fighting against it for its' own sake.

Perhaps the two of them had that much in common, from a given perspective.

"You're not wrong about that," Valentine nodded to her. Her requests were reasonable - she'd hardly want to get shot, after all. And he could afford whatever she required in that area - for as long as she was of use, naturally. He still wasn't quite sure what to make of her - just how seriously did she take this, and how far was she willing to go? An idealistic child, a mischievous manipulator, or a ruthless revolutionary?

Nevertheless, she'd already caught on to his plan, and so there was little point in postponing things further. And - by all indications - she had some idea of what was coming. Looking to his left, he saw one of the agents moving towards them with purpose - having spotted the two of them, evidently. Likely on orders to identify whom Letitia was negotiating with. Not a problem - he could almost feel the crosshairs levelled on the man's chest as he moved.

"Tell me, 'Titi'," he said, hand going to his concealed earpiece, ready to issue the order -

"Are you ready?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Titi had told no one about the secret behind her company yet. While most of the push behind it was funds for rebel groups and her dreams of justice and peace, which few people knew about, there was something much deeper to it. Her uncles seemed to know she was hiding something and were determined to find out what.

"Tell me, 'Titi'. Are you ready?" his hand traveled up to his ear, where she assumed there was an earpiece or something used to communicate with whoever else he had with him.

Ready for what? She wasn't sure, but she didn't really have much of a choice in this. Things were going to happen and she had already accepted that it was her lot in life to get caught up in whatever revolution might happen. "Well, 'Valravn', does being ready have any real affect on whether it happens or not?"

She knew she was getting herself into something deep here, but then again she knew she was getting herself in deep the moment she decided to meet him. There was no backing out now. "Let's just get on with it."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Valentine nodded to her, the faintest hints of an actionable smirk meeting his face as he felt the familiar rush of action move through him - the instinctual fight-or-flight response flooding his system with adrenaline in preparation for the next few instants. An affirmative was all he required from her - now that she was with him, or as 'with him' as she was going to be before he started revealing more cards than he was presently comfortable with, he could set about the business of leaving.

"Come to think of it," he mused, "it doesn't have that much influence at all."

He clicked his earpiece on. In the corner of his eye, he saw the undercover police officer approaching them going for his weapon - a precaution, likely. It would do him no good - he was a half-second too late for that.

"Engage," he said softly, and then everything happened at once.

He threw himself forward, grabbing the back of Titi's head and pulling her towards him over the table, before bending over, shielding her body with his own. An instant later, the familiar, faintly metallic simultaneous cracks! of high-powered electromagnetic sniper rifles echoed out; Valentine felt a fine mist of blood splatter over his back, like a momentary downpour of rain from the heavens.

An instant later, a rapid chain explosions slammed through the building; fragmentation shards impacted next to Valentine, a few making neat slices in his coat but deflected by the lightweight armoured vest he wore beneath his attire. Choking smoke filled Valentine's vision as he forced himself to his feet, sidearm in hand as the second wave of sniper shots took out the last stunned police officers.

He took Titi by the hand and sprinted for it, through the smoke; he vaulted over the ruins of the bar, checking around him. He saw no civilian corpses, although more than a few broken limbs and lacerations; it was hard to tell, given the ruinous and acrid state of the cafe. More importantly, a quick look at Titi indicated that she was unharmed, albeit possibly in shock from the sudden explosion of violence.

Behind him, he heard the high keening sound of an anti-tank missile; mere instants after the pair were out of range, it slammed into the very table they'd sat at, annihilating any evidence that it had ever existed - and any possible traces of their hypothetical corpses. Exactly as planned.

The pair dashed through the kitchen; as Valentine exited, he saw a police officer who'd been taking a smoke outside. Without breaking stride, his gun was up and firing, three of the low-calibre high-velocity rounds slotting themselves neatly into his skull, dropping him neatly.

Valentine made for one of the walkway a hundred metres ahead, seeing the package that Ghost's team had planted - a backpack containing a single parachute, with enough lift to support a tandem jump. It was a low-altitude drop, for certain - probably a six, seven hundred metre fall - but nothing that he hadn't done before.

Kneeling in front of the package and checking the chute, Valentine glanced behind him, towards the pillar of black smoke rising from the cafe into the flawless-blue sky. Sirens wailed in the distance; Valentine briefly mused over the nature of his actions. Minimal civilian casualties, nine potential hostiles cut down in not more than a few instants. It couldn't have been more than thirty seconds since they'd been sitting at that table.

Still, he'd just killed nine people in as many seconds, and he found himself very faintly alarmed at just how little that seemed to trouble him.

"If you should happen to be scared of heights," he said to Titi, glancing up at the slightly blood-splattered girl, "now would be an excellent time to get over it."

As he pulled the parachute over his back, he glanced behind him again, and a thought came unbidden into his mind.

This is getting a little too easy.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Everything became chaos for what was probably a span of a couple minutes but felt much longer. Explosions chained through the building and she covered her ears even as he sheilded her body with his. An instant, or maybe not so quickly, later, he grabbed her hand and all but dragged her through the smoke and ruins.

She only took a minute to glance around and wonder how many people were now wounded or dead because of all of this. Then the moment passed and she was over it. She'd find out later and send condolences and gifts to the families, if she had the chance to. With her free hand she grabbed her side arm and her brain went into fight mode.

The de Argentum family, not but a century ago, was known for somehow holding on to their traditions and intensive martial training. While most of the family today didn't bother with it, she was a fair shot and even better with a sword. While she was no stranger to death and killing, the fact that she had just seen the stranger kill a handful of people in what was more than likely no more than half a minute startled her.

There was spots of blood on her face and her jacket, and she couldn't bring herself to wipe it off. "If you should happen to be scared of heights,now would be an excellent time to get over it." She looked at him and grinned. "Love heights. Love flying. No problem here."

She barely heard the footsteps behind her before she reacted. A few armored guards were coming after them, telling them to stop and that he was going to be put under arrest for kidnapping her, but she didn't hear them. Even after centuries of development and evolution the armor they wore, while perfect against ammo, still had far too many weak spots to be able to escape a sword... and Letitia knew every single spot subconsciously.

Her eyes turned blue for a split second as she slid her sword out of its sheath. Before the men could react to one of their nobles pulling a weapon on them she had her sword launched firmly through the bottom of one's chin. She dodged a hand that grabbed at her and stabbed under his right armpit, disabling him before taking out the other two. Now her hands and face were splattered with even more blood and she wiped the blade off on her kimono.

For a moment she seemed in a daze before shaking herself out of it and turning to look at him. "Come on. Let's go before more come."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

"Less 'flying', more 'falling in a controlled fashion'," Valentine quipped, as he wrapped his arms around Titi; he had little intention of dropping her from this height. Having his sole route to Old King splattered across the Understreets pavement was hardly a desirable outcome.

Gunfire rang out from the snipers as he stepping up on the edge; his strength meant that he had little trouble carrying her, given her small frame. He slid his gun inside his coat and tightened his arms around her; very faintly, he could feel her warmth through her elegant kimono. Her skin was warmer than he'd expected - fast metabolism, swift healing. Strong will.

"Hold on tight," he muttered to her, and with a deep breath, stepped forward, nudging himself off the edge and into oblivion.

Weightlessness gripped him as he suddenly entered free-fall, coat fluttering out behind him. There was this odd moment of serenity, even as the air rushed past his ears; gunfire in the distant sounded like snapping twigs in a windy forest, and for a brief few seconds, there was only him, the sense of weightlessness and the faint warmth of the young woman against him.

But he had little time. He reached his head down to his shoulder, gripping the pull ring of the parachute in his teeth and tearing it with all his might, ignoring the pain and strain on his teeth.

It was like being punched by the fist of a god. He was suddenly wrenched to a near-halt, Titi almost slipping out of his grasp; he was violently winded at the impact, the pull ring flying off into the abyss. Thankfully, he managed to keep hold of her, and found himself falling away.

After a few seconds, he finally got his bearings, and found the two of them swiftly approaching a low rooftop, maybe ten stories above-ground; they must've already fallen hundreds of metres. He realised that he was almost crushing Titi, and loosened his grip a little on her, bracing himself for impact.

A few peaceful moments passed, and then they hit the ground. Valentine realised a moment too late that they were off-balance, and before he could correct, the pair tumbled; he managed to hit the chute release a second before it enveloped them, and freed of its burden, it soared away in an updraft. The world spun as he rolled violently, loosing grip of Titi in the process, pain jabbing at him as he tumbled along the stone rooftop.

Eventually, he came to a stop on one corner of the flat roof, feeling quite thoroughly beaten and bruised; he lay perhaps a few feet from Titi, and looked over at her, squinting with pain.

"Are you-" he coughed violently "-you okay?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum Character Portrait: Isabella de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Titi had parachuted before, but usually she was wearing a parachute and had complete control over herself. Now she was at the whim of a man who seemed unphased by death. She also knew that he needed her money and wouldn't drop her. Still it was just slightly less exhilirating than the time she had jumped off the top of the tallest building in the city. That was a thought for another time though.

There was a moment of anticipation as he stepped off the edge where she took stock of her situation; she herself had just killed some of her uncle's men, and most of the others were shooting at the man who was now holding her tightly in his arms and she was trusting him not to just drop her to the city below.

Her breath caught in her throat as she turned her head ever so slightly from being buried in his chest. She could hear the gunshots and just WAITED for them to get hit, but before they did they were falling down.

She felt the force of the parachute being released and braced herself against him for the hit she knew was coming. Her hands tangled up in his coat, not trusting the stranger to keep his hold on her. Gasping for air, she shuddered to actually let herself think of what would have happened had he not kept his grip on her.

As his grip lessened ever so slightly, she found herself breathing normally again before realizing that the landing was going to be rough. She enjoyed the brief moment of peace before they hit the ground.

She grunted as she lost her grip on his coat and he let go of her, tumbling for a meter or so before friction took over and she stopped. It took a moment for the pain to register, but when it did. "FUCK!" she cried out, her arm trapped underneathe her chest at an odd angle. She took deep breaths, trying to fight through the pain.

"I'm alive," it hurt to speak but she needed to confirm her state with him. With effort, she rolled over onto her back, cradling her now broken arm to her chest. "I've had worse, if I'm honest..."

----

A grin crossed the young girl's face as reports came in from the wreck that was the cafe. She never particularly liked that cafe anyways. "Ma'am, we couldn't find a body. The table they were sitting at was completely destroyed and there's no evidence of escape," one of her father's armored gaurds bowed to her.

Isabella shook her head. "Then you're not looking hard enough. I don't know who she was meeting with but I sure as hell know she's too well trained to get killed by something like that. My dear sweet cousin is always a girl with a plan... She's alive and you WILL find her... in the mean time I have some digging to do..."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Valentine forced himself to his feet with a grunt, checking around them; at the very least, they were alone here, and from what he could see, were unseen. He pinged Ghost with his radio to signal that they were clear, and a second later, another anti-tank rocket streamed towards the bridge they'd stood on - now high in the distance. Fragments of rubble crashed onto rooftops across the street from them; they wind had carried them some distance horizontally with the parachute.

Well, at the very least, they'd bought themselves a few hours of panic in the Sky District. The de Argentums would be up in arms about this, but even then, when they went to ground, they'd be safe. From here, his first priority was to find somewhere to eat, some medical supplies to treat her, and then explain the situation to her. Assuming all went as intended, he could then bring her to Cocytus.

"Can you walk?" he asked, offering her his left hand and pulling his gun with his right - while ambidextrous, as was considered a requirement for Human-PLUS candidacy, he was more practiced in shooting with his right.

A glance indicated a few things to him. The first was that her arm was definitely broken - he could see the jutting bend in her elbow joint. With luck, the joint damage would prove minimal; Sky District medical technology was more than enough to preserve her, if worst came to worst. He saw little blood on the kimono, which meant that at the very least, she wasn't suffering from blood loss. The fact that she wasn't overwhelmed by pain meant that she probably didn't have any serious internal bleeding, either.

For his part, he was fine; his ankle hurt more than it should've, maybe sprained, but nothing that wouldn't sort itself out in due course. His priority, for now, was to take care of her - and get themselves some food. He found himself momentarily reaching for a cigarette, but stopped himself. It would make a bad impression.

He took off his coat, shrugging it off his shoulders and holding it with his free hand. "Put this on. Kimono's too conspicuous down here. Need to keep a low profile."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Letitia breathed deep before taking his hand and standing up. It was a bit of a struggle to keep from passing out in pain, but she managed it. "I'll be fine. It's just a broken arm," she gritted out. This wasn't her first broken bone and it wouldn't be her last. During her years of training she had recieved many injuries.

"I've already prepared for clothes change," she shrugged her jacket off, barely getting it off of her broken arm. She quickly slipped out of the kimono, a tank top and skin tight leggings underneath. She always wore a layer underneath her kimono, typically saved for the possible need of running or fighting. She put her jacket over her shoulders. "Girl's got to be prepared right? That and try fighting in a kimono. It's not fun at all."

She kept up her breathing exercise, ignoring the shoot pains in her arm as she moved. "So where do we go from here, Valravn?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Valentine looked at her clothing; it fitted well enough, and looked comfortable to move and fight in. She'd blend in just fine; her beauty made her stand out some, but to no great extent. Based on the sword at her hip, he was confident that she could handle anyone who came her way.

He grabbed the kimono and stuffed it into a burning-hot exhaust vent on the roof; it would light on fire soon enough, and by the time it was found, it would be little more than a cinder. He shrugged his coat back on and stepped over to the edge of the roof; thankfully, there was a fire escape leading down from a balcony on the top floor.

"I'll procure some medical supplies, then we'll find somewhere to talk and treat your arm," he said, as he swung himself over the edge, dropping a few feet down onto the steel platform; it wobbled a little, but held well enough. "There's a restaurant, a few streets over from here. The people there know me. They won't ask questions."

He clicked on his radio, and heard the sound of gunfire cracking over it. It seemed that Ghost's group were still firing on the police; he was hardly surprised. The men hadn't had a good fight in a few weeks now.

"We're clear. Disengage," Valentine ordered, and upon hearing Ghost's affirmative, killed the line. From there, he turned back to Titi, who was looking down at him from the edge of the roof.

"Follow me."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Letitia thought back to just 20 minutes ago when she was on her way to meet a stranger who sent a random email... in such a short time she had killed people, witnessed destruction, parachuted off of a building and broke her arm. "Heh. And I thought it was going to be another boring day of production meetings and building reviews," she chuckled to herself as they hobbled off, watching him stuff her kimono into the exhaust vent. She could get a new kimono at a later time if she felt the need, it wasn't important. What was important was getting out.

"It's strange though," at this point she was talking herself through the pain. "I mean, the fact that there were that many guards and police in the area to begin with. That's not normal for that area of the city. Someone knew I was meeting you there..."

Her email was completely encrypted, and she had her own personal network that not even the military could have easily cracked... it would have taken someone highly skilled in order to be able to hack into that email and read it... that or there was a traitor within her own household, which meant there was only one person that could be... But would Berkeley do such a thing? He knew the consequence for betrayal and had known her since childhood. She wanted to believe she had one person in this world she could trust.

"I wonder... shit..." she growled suddenly. "I have to get to my underground lab as soon as possible. I think I know what happened... and if I'm right then everything is compromised... fuck me..."

She groaned as she jolted her arm a bit as she followed him down onto the steel platform. The pain was excruciating and it took all her strength not to collapse to her knees. This was not going as planned, not that she really had a plan for all of this to begin with. Every part of her just hoped this was all going to be worth it. And she hoped her lab was still in tact.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

"We need to treat you quickly," Valentine said matter-of-factly, appearance no less detached than a few moments ago; but inside, his mind was racing. Underground laboratory? What could have her this nervous? Surely, just business interests wouldn't quite manage it - she was smarter than that.

No, this was something bigger. She was working on something; he saw it in her eyes, in her movements, in the way she darted around and the way she remained so self-assured. She had a trump card, just as he did. And it looked like she wasn't going to show her hand until he showed his.

"What's the location of the underground lab?" he asked, as he quickly ran down the rickety fire escape, boots clanging against steel. As usual for the Understreets, all the windows were barred - preventing people from getting in was a far greater concern than being able to escape in this place. "I can have a squad of Tracers guarding there in fifteen minutes. Possibly along with a Sentinel or two, depending on how busy Atlas has been."

He had to admit, having spoken the last part, he didn't feel so confident.

"We'll settle down somewhere for fifteen minutes. Treat you, get some food into us both - it appears that our lunch was rather interrupted, after all," he said, as he swung off the bottom platform and rolled across a pile of dull-grey garbage bags on the alley roadway. They cushioned his impact, and he quickly pushed himself to his feet, ignoring the screaming in his shoulder blades from their earlier punishment during the drop. Realising that Titi was injured, he turned to face her where she stood on the platform, itself a good few metres above the ground. He held out his arms.

"Jump; I'll catch you. Try to keep your broken arm in close to you."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

She knew he was right; she needed treatment and that was a fact. Her thoughts were racing and she hoped everything was okay down below. If she most her lab then everything was for naught. She had spent too many years on this for it to fall through now. Paranoia was doing her body little good.

She cringed as she stepped down a bit too hard before realizing there was a much larger jump ahead of her. The young woman looked down at him with slight distrust in her eyes before doing as she was told. Outside of getting her arm broken he hasn't done anything to harm her and that was completely unintentional. She jumped down hoping he would actually catch her but waiting to hit the ground at the same time.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine saw that he'd misjudged the distance between them, and lunged at the last second, every synapse snapping into action. Small an action as this was, he needed her alive and functional - a compound fracture in her arm would be rather unconducive to such a goal.

She impacted in his arms harder than he'd anticipated, and overextended as they were, he struggled to support her weight. She plunged another few feet towards the ground, but he used his body to absorb the blow, moving into a crouch; eventually, he brought her to a halt a mere inch above the ground. After exhaling heavily, he helped her to her feet, glancing at her arm - it had moved a little, and looked painful, but wasn't much worse off than it had been.

He stood beside her and began moving towards the alleyway's exit; the street beyond was bustling, and he managed to slip into the stream. Thousands of people bustling, consuming, all with their own problems, all living their own lives. A woman with an abusive husband, a boy whose puppy had died; he looked into their eyes, knew not the tragedies, only their presence. The overbearing presence of tragedy, and acceptance of that tragedy.

Oddly enough, he felt kinship, and dirtiness through that kinship.

"Alright," he whispered, leaning over to Titi, "where is the lab located? We can have the site secured in fifteen, if you think it's under threat."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

The fall was a bit jarring on her arm and she cringed as she was suddenly in his arms. "Fuck this hurts," she stood on her feet and shook the pain off as best as she could. Slowly but surely she could feel her nausea growing from the massive amounts of pain in her arm. Still, she found herself stumbling after him, too stubborn to let her pain take the best of her. She slipped into the crowd, only drawing a few small glances from the people around her. She was quite used to being stared at though... even among the nobles her natural beauty was highly revered. She merely ignored the looks and paid attention to what was around her. There were people everywhere, looking like they needed more hope in their lives... Once as a young girl she wanted to be that hope. Now she knew that being the source of hope for anyone was a much larger task than she had ever warranted.

She looked at her companion, making the decision a leader needed to make; the split second decision on whether or not to trust him, and she chose to trust him. After all, this was all part of her bigger plan. "The lab is underneath the city... I'm talking the deepest pits of the ruins of what the city was in the Old World... There's an old warehouse..." She murmured, following him along the way. "There's only two ways in and only two people with access codes to get in there..."

Giving him the coordinates, she hoped that his team would be able to secure it before anything bad happened to it. "I have something in there that must stay protected at all cost," was her only other explanation.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine nodded as she gave him the coordinates, and within moments, had clicked on his earpiece. As usual, Atlas' eternally-chipper voice answered.

"So, how's your date going?"

Valentine groaned inwardly, eternally infuriated by Atlas. It was always a problem when one of the smartest individuals in the world - and one of the few with a solid handle on RELICS technology - was also a complete smartass. Still, it did brighten up his day from time to time, he granted the man that.

"Allow me to inform you," he said, voice assuming a brisk and mildly irritated tone, "that I will disembowel you with a rusty spoon if you refer to my military operations as 'dates'."

"Love you too, boss," Atlas said, and Valentine could practically see the broad grin on the young man's face. "What can I do for you?"

"Get me eight Tracers into the tunnels," Valentine said. "Send them to coordinates 3-4-6-8, 1-2-5. Level B12. Armed for heavy-duty combat. They'll find a pair of tunnels; split up. At the end of each, there's a locked door. Do not let anyone through those doors."

"Or we return to the disembowelling?"

This time, Valentine couldn't help but let a tiny smile crack his features. He confirmed Atlas' suspicions and killed the channel, wordlessly ducking into a pharmacy. He emerged with a wooden splint and a pile of bandages, and a few painkillers - rudimentary supplies to be sure, but the best that were available down here.

He took her another few streets, with the odd concerned glance in her direction. She was suffering, that was for certain; the sooner he got the painkillers into her, the better. Not to mention, it might loosen up her tongue a little, give him some explanation as to just what she was so desperate to hide from the world.

After what felt like hours, the pair arrived at a small, dingy restaurant. The lighting was dull, and he moved them through to an obscure alcove; he quickly ordered two bowls of noodles for them. As he sat in a chair in the alcove, facing her across a table, he let himself breathe properly at last.

"We're clear," he sighed, more to himself than to her. He gestured for her to hold out her arm as he pulled the bandages and splint from his pockets.

"Now, I suppose you're wondering who I am, aren't you?" he said, with a little trepidation. He had little indication that she was going to give him any secrets without him providing her with a few. As it was, she didn't even know his name.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

"Allow me to inform you, that I will disembowel you with a rusty spoon if you refer to my military operations as 'dates'."

She couldn't help but giggle a bit at his words. In what world was this even close to a date? She half wanted to meet the person on the other end of his line and ask them that. Explosions, death and a broken arm? Well it was most certainly the more interesting than any date she had ever been on. While she hadn't been particularly fond of pursuing romantic interests, her family had insisted on her at least attempting to find a man that would be useful to them.

Letitia listened to him give coordinates through his earpiece, wondering just how big of an operation this really was. The longer she was with him the more she realized she had no clue who she was really dealing with. It bothered her, yet at the same time she realized she had her own secrets to keep, secrets even her grandfather had held for years. That lab mattered more to her than even her own life. She glanced at him when he smiled and couldn't help but be a bit stunned. She really hadn't seen him smile now that she thought about it, and he was even more handsome even with the small smile on his face.

She had never been through this part of the city before and she stuck quite close to him, a bit nervous in large crowds. She even followed him into the pharmacy, though she didn't go much farther than the doorway. Her exhaustion was catching up to her and she was more than happy to sit down across from him in the chair. "Clear is good," she sighed to herself and let him fix up her arm.

"Well the question hasn't really crossed my mind with the explosions and arm breakage and everything else, but now that I have a few moments to actually think... yes I am a bit curious as to who you are... and where we are... and what's going on... I'm assuming a good portion of that wasn't a part of whatever plan you originally had," she spoke quickly and quietly, pulling her jacket off all the way so that he had easier access to her arm. Moving it hurt like hell. "And this was definitely not a part of any of my plans."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine laid the splint against her arm - watching her wince as he straightened the limb out - and began tightly wrapping the bandages against it, with the intention of wrapping it just loosely enough to permit bloodflow. He glanced up at her as he worked, watching her slim, delicate features contort with pain at his actions - for a second, almost the tiniest bit of sympathy struck through him.

She was beautiful, he realised; he'd seen the glances she'd gotten walking in here, but paid them little attention. He didn't think about beauty this much - insofar as he was concerned, there was little of it that remained in this world. Her shoulder-length hair dusted over dark eyes that shimmered in the dull light, her cheekbones high and refined. Her body was in surprisingly good condition for someone of her station - she'd taken good care of herself, the faintest traces of musculature betraying her strength and speed.

"I'll be honest," he said cautiously, not meeting her gaze, staring down at her arm as he wrapped it intently - why was he so nervous? - "things went a little more to plan than you might enjoy hearing. Admittedly, our landing was intended to be somewhat more dignified, but the explosions were entirely my doing." He reached the end of the roll of bandages, and began tying it up, to hold the splint in place - ideally, they'd put a solid cast on it at a later date.

"I do apologise for the rather... intense means of extracting you. However, insofar as the people of the Sky District are concerned, you just took an anti-tank missile to the face, and are quite thoroughly dead. Naturally, they'll discover the ruse eventually, but this gives us a few days up our sleeve to work out arrangements in peace."

He pulled his hands away, nodding at his handiwork. He'd tied thousands of bandages like it, on himself and on others; battlefield injuries, day after day, the sound of grunts and screams just melting into a cacophony of history. This one seemed no different, yet its wearer was very much so; she had neither the naïve indifference of a civilian, nor the terrified pragmatism of a soldier, nor the internalised emotional suicidality of a Cultivator. She was something different, and if nothing else, he couldn't help but be at least slightly interested in who she was.

"Now, to answer your questions," he said, and took a deep breath, knowing that he was about to plunge off the deep end of this arrangement between them. "My name - insofar as it exists - is Adam Valentine. I am twenty-nine years old-" - just been that way for rather a long while - "-and a Knight."

He let that sit, with all the implications it carried. Even in this city, the stories persisted; great warriors, nestled deep within terrible Reapers, upholding the abstract principles above all. Even he knew only the barest origins of its beginning - so it was said, the first Reaper subject, who went only by that name. A man of strength and nobility and skill, who fought to bring peace and order to the world, and was eventually betrayed and slain by that whom he held most dear. Yet his legacy lived on, the principles he upheld - honour, freedom, truth, justice and peace - carried in the hearts of every Knight, allowing them to brave the darkness within a Reaper.

So the stories said.

He'd met Knights. More than enough of them. Some of them still upheld the dream - younger ones, more idealistic ones. But the ones who lived? The ones who survived, as long as anyone survived piloting a Reaper - and for a given value of 'survival' - either broke those promises, or never made them at all.

Honour, freedom, truth and justice were all weaknesses; if you wanted to live, to win, you had to be willing to do anything. The Age of Knights - if it had ever existed - was long past. This war was no longer for glory - it was just hell,[i] an irrevocable hell on Earth, one that mankind had buried itself in and could not physically emerge from. Perhaps the Age of Knights had ended when humanity finally collectively realised that the world could never again know peace; that war was an irrevocable part of its existence.

Or perhaps, Valentine mused, the Age of Knights was nothing but an absurd myth, as was the First Knight, and the Dark Knight who slew him. Maybe they were all just stories, propaganda, made up to help bring a public more into line with the deployment of things that mankind [i]knew,
in their hearts, they should never have tried to touch.

A pause later, and he continued. "I am leader of Childhood's End, a combative group who seek an end to the endless conflicts that ravage the Earth. I have, at my disposal, a fully-functional Reaper - the Ninth, if that means anything to you." He doubted it would; almost everything about the original XK-REAPER program had been obliterated when Japan was wiped clean. Even then, though, it was worth testing the waters.

"I have contacted you, 'Titi', because I believe that we can assist each other in our mutual goals. You have technology, supplies and information - and I possess sufficient power to take this city in a day, with sufficient preparation."

An exaggeration, for certain - the meticulous planning required to disable the guns on the walls, and thus allow a Reaper to operate freely, would be extraordinarily difficult. Nevertheless, it remained apparent as a feasible statement under perfect circumstances.

Suddenly, a voice crackled over his earpiece; Valentine recognised it instantly as Atlas', and even more sharply, registered the rare tone of seriousness in his voice - and, rarer, fear.

"Commander, this is Atlas. We're in position. Tracers have split off and are setting up guard positions near the doors, but... Christ, we're getting readings."

"What kind of readings?" Valentine muttered under his breath, feeling rather irritated that his work here was being interrupted. Still, Atlas knew not to bother him over unimportant things.

"We're not sure," Atlas crackled. "But I'm down there with them, and... well, something's not right. I can't quite put my finger on it, and, well, y'know..."

Valentine nodded and swiftly killed the line. They both knew what those symptoms meant. Perhaps it was just Atlas getting paranoid in the dark; perhaps it was just Abyss Walker taking its toll on them.

Or perhaps the young woman before him held some very dark secrets in her hands.

"To answer your remaining questions," Valentine said briskly, "we are in a rather nice restaurant in the Understreets of Aegis. It doesn't look like much, but I assure you that their food is extraordinary. And as for what we are doing," The hint of a confident smirk returned to his features as he spoke next.

"Letitia Gazelle de Argentum, you and I are going to bring peace to this world."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia watched as he wrapped her arm, trying very hard not to show signs of pain. She knew it didn't really matter if she kept hiding it or not... everyone knew broken bones hurt very much, but she was stronger than that. Training had done her good; she knew the bone would heal fast and strong again. It was just the most inconvenient time for her to break it.

She listened to him explain his and his team's actions and found herself slightly incensed at the thought of them MEANING to hurt people. Then again she had been a part of the killing and there were still specks of blood on her red coat. Thankfully they blended in and no one took extra notice of her. Her stomach rumbled ever so lightly, reminding her she had been denied her lunch. She ignored it.

"An anti-tank missile most certainly would be an apt cause of death," she couldn't help but smile at how extreme that sounded. Admittedly though, that would buy them some time to lay out plans. Hell that would actually benefit her greatly in the scheme of things. Getting away to check on her lab was getting harder and harder the more responsibility she ended up with... This would make it much easier if only for a small amount of time. "You're doing me a bit of a favor here. If you hadn't killed me within the next few weeks I would have killed myself once my company was set up. You're just the first to get a hold of me for my... wares, so to speak."

It'd be a lie to say she was a normal girl. Her grandfather had trained her well in the art of combat and solitude. Her body was built to take a beating. It also helped that her mother had been highly trained in the military running Sentinels for the government, another main reason the de Argentum had kept military support for a while; the men had a habit of marrying women that would be of a benefit to them. Her mother was a General's daughter.

"-and a Knight."

That sparked her interest and she studied him for a moment. She had only heard stories of the Knights before but she knew the legends well. Within her labs were a plethora of Old World books and knowledge, her pride and joy. She had never met anyone strong or brave enough to be able to fight a Reaper, then again her contact with live Reapers was in the single digits.

She listened to his proposal, weighing her options. So far she was already pretty deep in trouble. Her family most likely thought she was dead, she herself wanted to be "dead" for the sake of her own projects, and they had a live Reaper in their clutches. Not only would that make her goals much easier to achieve... but perhaps just MAYBE they would be able to help her figure out what was wrong with her Reaper.

His final statement said in full confidence, smirk and all, surprised her and excited her greatly. Someone who might actually be able to help her dreams come to light, more than that someone who might be able to make her grandfather's dreams come to life? This was the chance of a lifetime.

"You chose very smartly when coming to me. I have a lot of resources at my fingertips that have been squirreled away over the years. My grandfather was a man that believed in causes such as these and also squirreled away years worth of fail research and money," she leaned forward a bit, her arm in less pain now that it was bound properly. It was true; she had money that was off the grid, a personal network that was nearly city wide and completely unable to be hacked into because of the ancient technology she had spent most of her teen years gathering, and even weapons and ammo stored in case of a revolution. "I'm going to assume that was your men confirming their position? I'm also going to assume they're getting strange readings and outputs from the labs... I think it's best we meet and I take you down there myself."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine was, once again, impressed by how perceptive she was of the nature of his operation. He was beginning to suspect that she'd been involved in more than a few military operations herself. He picked up a cunning, almost animal vibe from her - an eagerness for change, and a canniness to accomplish it.

The only remaining question was how much she'd be willing to sacrifice for the sake of that 'greater good' she believed in.

"Correct," Valentine said, as a waitress came to their table with two bowls of noodles. He picked up a pair of chopsticks, but struggled with the noodles for a few minutes - his skills were rather lacking. Nevertheless, pride barred him from asking for a fork, however great the embarrassment he suffered from being unable to effectively wield his chopsticks.

"Nevertheless, we should eat first. My men will be more than capable of securing the area. And perhaps unlike yours," he challenged, "we know how to deal with what you've got wrapped up in there."

A risky gamble, but if he was right - and if he'd caught her out - he'd be able to wring far more information out of her than she would have otherwise wanted to give him. Still, a part of him hoped he wasn't - because if he and Atlas were right, she was in much deeper than she knew.

He wondered if she'd conducted a contact experiment yet. Looking at her, he doubted it - he didn't see the telltale nubs of neural interfaces along her spine, and she still had some level of life, of naïveté in her. For a moment, he felt it his responsibility to care for her - to protect her from that abomination.

Nobody deserved what came with being a Knight.

Not even him.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia struggled to use her chopsticks with the hand she wasn't used to working with. It looked hilarious to an outsider as she fought with her chopsticks in order to eat. She relaxed against the booth letting herself chill out for a few seconds. "I know how to deal with everything I have wrapped up in there. A lot of REALLY old technology," she growled in frustration at her own inability to use her good hand and eat her food. "I found an entire mainframe system in the ruins of a compound when I was 15. It's the basis for my entire personal network. Too old for even new technology to hack into. You know, you'd figure with them growing technology over the years they would have figured out some of the basis of the older technology."

She knew that he was testing her. She could hear the challenge in his tone and she merely gave him a vague smile. She wasn't about to give her secret up yet though... She hadn't tried to contact with the Reaper yet. It had been firmly sleeping since she had found it 7 years ago. She found herself finishing her food quickly, her concern for her labs growing. "I need to get down there..." she murmured finally, ready to leave already. Her impatience was growing to know the status of her Reaper and her labs.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Hm. A guarded response, followed by attempting to redirect his concern to other matters. Whatever her relative level of prowess in battlefield leadership, she was certainly a crafty politician. In a way, it was gratifying to finally meet a politician who worked for the greater good, instead of for personal power.

Finishing his food - albeit somewhat ungracefully - Valentine let the chopsticks clatter into the bowl, gratified at having vanquished his meal without dropping anything on himself (although an errant noodle hanging off the edge of the table presented an alarming threat). As usual, it had been filling and savoury; simplistic in nature, but with enough different spices crammed in to make it an interesting meal.

"We're just walking through the scraps of the world now, grabbing whatever little we can and praying that we someday understand it," Valentine exhaled contemplatively. "Although speaking from experience, some of the things the Old World left behind are better left unknown."

He'd no doubt that she had something in there, something terrible - almost certainly a Reaper, but possibly something else. A naked Entity would certainly be a sight to see, albeit one only seen for the matter of instants before it awoke and annihilated every soul within thousands of miles. At any rate, he determined that it were better left unknown.

"First things first, my group needs supplies," Valentine said, pushing himself to his feet as Letitia finished. "We're running low on ammunition and need heavy repairs for our unit of Sentinels. Additionally, our Reaper is in need of some specialist equipment - mostly high-tech ammunition, although some more esoteric parts are also in order."

He contemplated the idea of cannibalising her Reaper, if it truly existed. On one hand, if it were unconscious for such a length of time, it might well have starved itself to death. On the other hand, cannibalising the RELICS system off a living Reaper... well, nobody was quite that stupid. He would have to inspect it himself to determine its nature. Regardless, however, he doubted that Letitia would allow her weapon to go quite so easily, whatever its status.

"As I was saying, we require your assistance. Assuming our aid in your cause, how quickly could we be provided with supplies? Theoretically, of course."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Letitia thought for a moment, slipping out her dataslate and running numbers. "I have massive stocks of ammo saved up in the storage at the labs. As for repairing Sentinels that'll take a day or two do procure parts for you, but I'd say 48 hours if I can get through my chains without being detected," she looked through some of her private logs of supplies she kept hidden in her labs. "As for high tech ammunition I believe that we have some stashed away somewhere I just have to figure out where that might be. My grandfather had a lot of things that I never was able to figure out what they were..."

"Theoretically you could have everything within less than three days, but the ammo I can easily get to you within the hour," she looked at him, tilting her head. "Would that be acceptable to you?"

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine nodded an affirmative to her statement, thankful for her offers. Childhood's End had spent years on the run, grabbing whatever scraps were left over in abandoned military bases and conducting improvised repairs in the field. It was good to finally have someone on their side who could get them some proper supplies - hell, by the time they left the city, they might finally be back in the condition they'd started in, or better.

About time we heard some goddamned good news.

"Can you lead me to your labs from here?" Valentine asked, leading her towards the street, dropping a fistful of coins into a waiter's hand as he left.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia grinned, finally feeling as if she actually had some importance in this. The closest way down to the lower depths of the city was nearby. She stood up and lead him out to the city, looking slightly more her confident self. She felt much better now with her arm patched up and she held it close to her body. "Follow me. It's not too far to get down there and then it's a pretty straight shot down there."

She stopped for a moment and gave a serious look, her face growing cold. "If you so much as tell a soul about what you see down there," she ended her threat short by pulling her blade out just an inch. Then she promptly turned around and heading to a back alley. She had all of these pathways memorised, and when she was young she used to stow away down these streets for an adventure. "I've known these tunnels since I was a child. My grandfather had his secrets and kept them well, and he taught me pretty well."

She was just making small conversation at this time, not really sure what else to say or do. Her social interactions were usually forced by her family and her circumstances, and she was rarely adept at casual conversation.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

"So, what was your family like?" Valentine said, both to make small talk and to gather intelligence. It was always easiest to learn things about someone when they'd tell you them those things freely; he never made small talk for its own sake, but could fake the appearance of small talk while working towards a favourable conclusion.

Still, he was lacking in how to deal with people. He'd never learned them in the first place - it wasn't in his nature. He was just designed to fight and kill. Learning to deal with people - it had been a long process, and given how long it had been since he'd had need of someone outside his unit, he had little concept of how to work with them.

Dark enveloped them as they ventured into the tunnel, burnished orange-yellow lighting the only sight in the shadows; far enough apart that in the meridian of the gaps, he could not see Letitia standing beside him. On habit, he drew his handgun - there was no way of knowing who or what was down here, and he had no intention of meeting them unarmed.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

"My father died when I was young, my mom stooped into a deep depression and now spends her days securely locked up in the hospital, and my uncles are all devious political assholes that want to control the world," sure the information was something everyone in the city knew who knew of the de Argentum family, but they were facts none the less. She and her mother had never particularly gotten along while she was growing up... her mother wanted a military life for her, as her family had dedicated generations to the military, but her father wanted her to have a life full of education and whatever real happiness she could manage to get. "I don't really know my parents that well to tell the truth. Neither of them were ever around growing up. My father was the one who always brought me back books and technology that he discovered in ruins and such. He felt it was an important part to being able to change the world and understand the world we came from."

She found it easy to talk about little things like that without passion. Despite the fact that it revolved around something she loved... she knew she needed to seem as distant as possible for her own peace of mind. She still had no idea what they were really up to or how much she could trust him with. She navigated the tunnels with ease; she had been through these pathways hundreds of times since her teen years and her eyes were quite adapted to the darkness surrounding her. "This way," she slipped next to a grate that was barely lit up. She opened the grate with a bit of a struggle only having her one arm to use, and slid into the gap, easily big enough to fit a full grown human. "Let your guys know not to be alarmed when the doors open up."

She jumped down off a short ledge and they appeared next to a small door that looked no different than one of the many brick wall with the exception of a small panel with numbers and letters on it and a pad for finger printing. She placed her hand on it, waiting for it to process everything before entering her code in. "And we're here."

The wall slid open to reveal a short hallway which opened up into a very large room filled with rows and rows of ancient servers and technology. In the center sat a console with five large screens all flickering with different images, all in a semi-circle. In between the doors and along the walls sat book cases that easily reached half way up the ceilings crammed with books that looked older than any of them were. Past that were many normal sized doors which lead to other rooms, and the two large doors that were now being carefully guarded by Valentine's men were also very obvious. Everything seemed calm and in place. Still the young woman took out her gun as she approached the console.

A small drone, about 2 feet in height came buzzing around to greet her. "Mistress! Welcome back! Those were some explosions in the sky district! That wasn't you was it?" It sounded overly cheerful and happy. Letitia shook her head.

"My associate was prepared for circumstances that arose. Has Berkley been down here?" she hit buttons on the console as she spoke, obviously aware of how to run her computers. They were obviously old and bulky, unlike the mainframes of today which barely took up any room at all. Titi had an affection for these computers; despite centuries of disuse they still operated efficiently, and with the many upgrades she had made over they years they were only just slightly slower than modern technology. That slowness benefited her; most computers were fast but with little encryption available, whereas these were so heavily guarded and encrypted they were nearly impenetrable. This place was a fortress, built to withstand age and time and a heavy beating.

The drone beeped for a minute. "Berkley was last down here 5 days ago at 11:05pm in the presence of Mistress," the drone confirmed. "Currently, Berkley is being detained as a suspect in your murder."

Letitia blinked and smiled. Her uncles were looking for someone to pin her "murder" on. "They... surely can't be that stupid to think I'm actually dead..." she shook her head and opened the two doors looking at Valentine. "The drone is safe. His technology is as old as the rest of this place, only with a few personal modifications."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine listened to Letitia speak so dispassionately of her family, and found himself caught off-guard by her. It seemed that the impression he had of her - a naive, idealistic young woman out to save the world - might be a little off. It reminded him a little more than he liked of himself, or the way some of his men, spoke of their pasts - as though it belonged to someone else, someone of little interest.

Still, a few more things made sense now - including her combat training, likely ordered by her mother. And her interest in the old world, sparked by her father. He knew that human beings were nothing more than products of their pasts, an inevitable conclusion marching through history.

Of course, by that explanation, what did that make him - he, who did not know his own history? Just a collection of medical reports and battlefield legends - the Abyss Walker, stalking across the landscape, bound to no army or ideology. Destroying for, That was what he was, to the world - nothing more than a Reaper, and a series of horror stories. To mankind, they were one and the same.

And when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you...

Shaking his head to clear it, Valentine continued forth into the dark, before ducking through the door behind Letitia. At her request, he clicked on his radio, and issued a quick stand-down order to his men. An instant later, and his eyes were flooded by harsh, blue light; doors lined the walls, and at the opposite end, two massive doors loomed, his men right behind them.

Valentine whirled suddenly, swearing that he saw something move behind him, gun snapping up to eye level; but all that were there was shadows, a little longer than what should be cast by the lighting. He exhaled heavily, slowly lowering his weapon. Atlas hadn't been kidding - there was definitely something in here. Letitia seemed unconcerned; either she was used to it, or she hadn't noticed. Neither was a good sign.

He turned back to Letitia, eyes scanning the room. He overheard her short conversation with the little drone; he checked it up and down. A compact type from a very, very long time ago - he remembered flashes of them, darting through cold steel hallways, bleeping incessantly. Still, he'd never heard one talk before - she must've modernised some of its software at some stage.

Wait a second. If she knew the coding languages of the Old World... maybe, just maybe, he could get her to try to fix up Abyss Walker's missile targeting system. It'd certainly beat having to wait months and months for Atlas to figure the whole thing out. He made a mental note to ask her about that.

Still, he wasn't comfortable here. At least with Abyss Walker, he knew what he was doing with - knew how it thought, knew how it acted, knew what it would do. It was subservient to him, in its own strange way; it knew him, and wouldn't act against him. But with a strange Reaper here... he had no control over it, no command, no rights. He had no way of knowing what it was capable of, and what it would do.

"I think it's about time you came clean with whatever's here, Letitia," Valentine said, voice heavy and serious, hand clenching a little tighter around his gun.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

The doors were slow to open; it wasn't often that they were actually used. As a matter of fact it had been a good two or three years since they had actually been used. "This is Bot. He's a... well robot, obviously. A little drone, apparently back in the day according to what I recovered of his memory chip, he was used to assist scientists in their labs," she gave an unneeded explanation while she waited.

"I think it's about time you came clean with whatever's here, Letitia."

Her eye twitched a bit. He knew something was in there, and she wasn't sure how he knew... but then again if he was a Knight perhaps that was a thing... She wasn't really sure. She had never dealt with any other Reaper before. She turned around and tilted her head before stepping down from a platform. "Very well then.. Since you already seem to know," she sighed and nodded him toward a door to the side, walking through it with ease. "She's... I almost want to say dead... I know she's NOT but she's been inactive since I found her back when I was 15..."

She flicked on a switched and a lot of lights came on, revealing the very Reaper that she had been hiding for ages. "I found her in the same ruins I found all of the servers and computers," she said, walking over to a console that turned even more lights on. "I think she's an older model. Everything I've ever tried to do to wake it up was in vain. No movement, nothing..."

She seemed fascinated with the thing before them, head tilted and eyes on it like a school girl in love. "I've been working with a lot of Old World coding in the past few years to try and figure out what's wrong but... nothing seems to get through. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. And she doesn't seem dangerous... at least the ghost of her that seems to have made its home in the lab doesn't seem dangerous..." she looked at him, probably thinking he found her insane.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine nodded at the drone - 'Bot' - and he had to admit, it was mildly endearing. That might explain where he'd seen it - working on one of the XK-series projects. Drones were preferred to human beings for physical labour there, to reduce the psychological damage that some of the things they'd been doing could inflict merely by being in their presence. Still, this one seemed harmless enough - almost endearing, in a way.

At the back of the room, eight Tracers filed in, accompanied by perhaps two dozen men wearing body armour and carrying infantry weapons of various descriptions - Valentine's soldiers. The heavy, bulky forms of the Tracers thudded around the floor, their movements decidedly ungainly and slow. They looked decidedly inhuman, with hulking legs and boxy upper bodies, massive autocannons held like rifles in hands attached to powerful hydraulic arms - more like a bipedal tank than a true humanoid weapon. Nevertheless, their movements were precise and deliberate; their pilots hardened by years of battle, the motions of combat familiar to them.

From the mass of soldiers on the ground, Atlas emerged, smoothing over his civilian clothing underneath a hastily-applied bulletproof vest. He nodded to Valentine as he approached, but then halted in place, and started issuing orders for the various Tracers and soldiers to fan out and secure the area.

Valentine spun as the lights went up, the vast chamber suddenly illuminated. Filling his vision, the massive, reclining figure of the very abomination Letitia had hidden. Humanoid and slim, almost feminine in form, its body all sharp angles, blade-like stability fins and razor-edged claws. It was much slimmer than Abyss Walker, its form almost skeletal, its upper body - where the beast's heart was contained - attached to its lower by what looked to be a simple mechanical spine, granted it a distorted hourglass-esque figure. Its large head had two massive burnt-orange sensors, dull and lifeless from decades of deactivation; from its skull, slender, reed-like antennae unfurled, likely an advanced avionics suite.

Gazing up at it, this one was new, different, a later model than he was familiar with. XK-REAPER had laid the groundwork, but its prototypes had been reverse-engineered all around the world, wholly unaware of what had become of the creators of this technology. The hardware was different; the lack of physical armour plating relative to Abyss Walker struck him as particularly odd. He saw nothing immediately in the way of external weaponry, which frankly, unnerved him more than if there had been.

He heard the swift clattering behind him of soldiers kneeling into firing positions, weapons being racked and loaded, all levelled at the monstrosity before them. It lay on its back, half-sitting, almost slouched - as though it were relaxing, taunting them to attack it, daring them to challenge its authority over this domain. Valentine realised that almost unconsciously, he'd snapped his own weapon up to face it, hilariously ineffectual as it would be.

As he gazed upon the beautiful, terrible monstrosity before him, words came to mind - the motto of the XK-REAPER project, a phrase from an Old World writer who said of things that should never, could never, have existed upon this earth.

That which is not dead can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons, even death may die.


He observed Letitia carefully as she gazed upon it with an almost religious reverence - no, not religious, more personal than that. Love. An empathic connection with what stood before them; an obsession, a driving desire to figure out how to awaken it. Fifteen years old - perfect time to imprint, when she'd found it. This thing was taking its toll on her, and she hadn't realised for a second. It was a miracle she hadn't figured out how to run a Contact Experiment yet.

"Definitely not dead," he breathed, stepping closer slowly, cautiously. Around him, shadows flickered, walls seemed to shift closer and then further away, individual steps on a flight of stairs changing position slightly. She hadn't noticed. This thing wasn't dead, that was for certain - and it was warping reality itself. He knew that as a Knight, he was more sensitive, but even then, everyone saw it. Letitia must've been hit hard to not see it - it had chosen its prey, and was trying to lure her in.

That, or it was trying to tell him to stay away.

He turned back from the piece of scaffolding he stood on, gazing out at the Tracers and soldiers before him, their weapons all levelled at the monstrosity. It wouldn't do them much good - they knew that, as well as he did. Killing it was out of the question - if they mishandled it, they might simply unbind the Entity inside it, and god knew what would happen then.

Valentine slowly walked back down the steps, having had a close enough look. As he made his way down the scaffolding - with a little more haste than was dignified - he felt an overwhelming sense of relief, and he stepped back beside Letitia. He realised that he'd unconsciously turned the safety off on his gun - or, at least, he hoped it had been him. He flicked it back on.

"Reapers aren't just hunks of metal," he explained, voice more shaken than he'd like. "They're alive. Inside them is bound - well, we're not quite sure. The reports I've read just call them 'Entities'. They can think, and feel - they're not of this world, nor should they be. We managed to keep them bound into the RELICS system - used them to power the 'body' of the Reaper, that massive mechanical entity you see over there. The problem... well, it's not so much that we lost control..." He exhaled heavily, trying to re-affirm his voice. "Our mistake was thinking that we were ever in control in the first place."

He took a few deep breaths, calming himself. He wasn't normally this panicked. Something was wrong - very wrong. He could feel it. "Anyway, they need a human soul to actuate their power - they can't properly affect the physical world unless they're bound to one of us. That's where the Knights come in - when you neurally interface with a Reaper, you control it, and it controls you. You move the Reaper - use the power of whatever's inside to your will."

He turned, staring back at the abomination, gazing into it.

"And in return, it slowly feeds off your soul, until there's nothing left."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia knew a lot about the world around her. She had made it her job to know ever since she had been a child; everything was worth learning, even the small things... however she could only learn what there was accurate information that was accessible to someone of her station... information on Reapers was not one of those things. They kept that under lock and key where even her brilliant mind couldn't hack into it. However she had a bit of information that most wouldn't know. As she had said, her grandfather had his secrets.

"Feeds on souls? Is that... their lifesource?" she wondered aloud, wandering closer to her monstrosity.

His words made sense though. He was a Knight, he should know these things after all... and it made things in her life make just a little more sense. "Ever heard of a project called Revolution? It wasn't a well known one, to tell the truth," she saw that all weapons were pointed at the Reaper and she wondered if they would have had any effect on it at all. Then again, she was still certain it couldn't move... She... felt it wasn't able to move yet.

"It was short lived... I think I know why, because it was a very inhumane project... I never understood what it was meant to do until now..." she turned to look at Valentine, the light hitting her just right so her face was in shadow. Staring down at her feet, she explained more. "A brilliant scientist about 25, maybe 30 years ago thought that perhaps... just maybe... it was possible to remove a human soul, if not completely, at least partially. Make them immune to Entities influence... a way to create better Knights, even maybe take further control of Reapers... The man realized he was foolish of course. Every case study ended in complete failure; all of his subjects died save one."

"The man was cruel enough to even experiment on his children... and his oldest son offered up his first born daughter for the experiment... she was really sick at the time. Only a few months old. They assumed she wouldn't survive... this was all for the sake of the greater good in their minds... part of the process worked though," she looked a bit flustered as she wandered over to the Reaper, touching it's leg as if it were an old friend. "They managed to displace part of her soul from her body... not knowing what affect it would have in the long run. They found a way to store it, and she grew up. But fate is cruel to those who try to shun her influence. Both men died, but not before the father could pass on his legacy to the half-souled granddaughter of his. He lived just long enough to see how it affected her. Greater focus, less impressionability, a bit ruthless but still caring enough to want something better for the world around her... intelligence, even a bit of advanced healing... It's actually amazing how much souls help and hinder the body and the mind at the same time..."

She looked down at her broken arm before glancing up at the Reaper. "She calls herself Eden, sometimes in the dark when I can hear her whisper..." she shook her head, sighing at her own crazy talk. "When my grandfather thought I knew enough about Revolution, he showed me what a soul looks like without its human body... I didn't find out until about two years ago, I finally figured out enough Old World code to hack into his hidden files that I found out it was mine."

A girl with half a soul? She knew it sounded preposterous but she had the research and files to prove it. "Before you can separate a soul from its body, it needs to be so broken and damaged that the soul is about to depart in the first place. I wasn't that broken though, they only got half of what they wanted out of it."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

"Feeds on souls? Is that... their lifesource?"

A question he himself had pondered often enough. Even after hundreds of years of their use, the fact remained that mankind understood next to nothing about the nature of that which lay at the heart of the Reapers. "To be quite honest, I almost hope so," he said quietly. "Given the other possible explanations, it's probably the most optimistic."

Then she continued, and everything stopped for him. His mind simply stopped processing information properly. None of what she was saying made sense - no, that wasn't it, it made perfect sense. It's just that it was impossible. None of it could've existed. He wondered if the Reaper was altering his perception of reality.

No, it couldn't alter his thoughts with such precision - Reapers were beings of emotion, not of rationale. What she said - she wasn't lying. It stood to reason, after all - the empathy of a human soul, combined with the detachedness and faintly unnerving nature of that which was soulless.

But... how? Human-PLUS was dead and buried, everything from XK was dead and buried. Phase II had never gotten off the ground - not an inch. Yet it all clicked - soullessness could, hypothetically, increase Reaper pilot duration far beyond the human norm, without the crippling Resurgence problems that plagued the last days of the Cultivator project.

A soul so broken that it's ready to be taken.

That would explain it - why the Reapers seemed to be so selective in who they took when in battle. Why some simply became hollow husks where they stood when one of the monstrosities stalked past, and others felt not a thing. After all, a Reaper at full capacity was something to be truly feared - it strained at the conceptual walls of reality, the pilot of its soul not enough to satiate its abominable hunger. So it fed off those around it. An acceptable sacrifice - that was how everyone justified it. That was how the Knights justified it to themselves.

And, most of all, her theory explained the averted, accepting gaze that every Knight dreaded.

The Valravn. The raven that consumes the heart of a child, to become a Knight.

"None of this is possible," Valentine said, stepping forward to face Letitia, her hand resting gently on the leg of the enormous, almost skeletal Reaper. "None of it. Human-PLUS died with Kyoto, Letitia. All the files - all the technology - that could possibly have allowed such a project to proceed - it's all gone."

But she was telling the truth - he knew it, felt it, the truth gnawing away at him. He wasn't great with people, but - a story so outlandish, she wouldn't dare tell it as fiction. But how? Kyoto, and everything within a thousand miles of it, wasn't even a crater - it was nothing, a broken world, reality shattering and shifting in ways he couldn't even begin to understand, a maelstrom of jagged quantum states where dreams and reality coalesced.

The Cultivators were gone. XK-REAPER was gone. The doctors and their mad experiments were gone. The world he'd known - everything he'd once wanted, everything he'd once been told - had been erased. He was subservient to nobody, not anymore. Yet it all broke, slowly, surely, things that he'd forgotten melding back into themselves. Becoming whole, yet reflecting, distorting light - changing mediums bending psychological wavelengths. Some older, denser - others far too new. Words, phrases, jumped through and disappeared. Phonological memories, just looping again and again.

"And so you abandoned mankind, to destroy it?"

Voices. Still there. History's claws, reaching back at him. Troyard. Or not - perhaps his? Or that of the relenting Abyss. The Abyss that gazed back, eyes forever glued to his. Topical anaesthesia for madness, numbing surfaces.

Names, faces, guns and needles. Shadows that shifted in the night, his back always to a wall, a wall he'd put there because - why? Answers that never came.

Selective-fire hearts, heat warping psychology, Ulysses, Leidenfrost emotions. Things he'd sacrificed, too many things. Knighthood, honour, belief, and then all taken again. "Vade Ultra Mortem."

Skin altogether too cold for life and too electric for death. Resurgence, redoing. Words that meant nothing, silences that fragmented and ricocheted. Things that were meant to be comfortable that neither were nor meant to.

Names. Words, traces. Verbal fire-for-effect. Cultivator - 'one who cultivates'. Cultivate - verb. Grow or maintain (living cells/tissue) in culture. 'Culture' (biology, science of that which died-will die); unnatural environment. Controlled conditions. Controlled consequences. Allows reproduction of results.

He spoke; it wasn't him, had too much conviction, too much bravery and self-righteousness and authority and concern. "You have no idea what you're talking to, do you?" Love, loss, yet both fragmented - too many at the table for the deck to handle, and nobody playing for keeps. A Dark (K)night's march. History, absurd myths.

"Walk away from this. Leave. You don't need to. You don't need to. Enough mistakes have been made for the two of us by now, have they not? Learn. Live. Decide what - or not, history, dictates, choiceless again. Who are you, who do not know your history? Learn. Stepping forward into nothing begets nothing."

Words not meant for anyone. Repeating. Consuming cycle. Relevant. Ravings of a madman, perhaps. Or an oracle.

More, a phrase, a sequence. His, yet not his, flashed through his mind as he stared her up and down - the half-soul girl. Didn't know if he spoke the next out loud, didn't know if he'd said it all out loud either. Past caring.

Gave up our bodies. Our minds.

Our souls.

I don't even remember why.


----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia stood there, her hand now off of Eden's leg and her mind buzzing with questions and wondering why her grandfather had never discussed any of this with her... of course she knew the real answer... what monster would she have thought him to be if he had told her about it while still living? The fact that he, the patriarch of the de Argentum family had once experimented on humans and Reapers was a terrifying aspect. What was worse was no one in the family knew aout it but her.

"My grandfather... his research was extensive... he was not the first in line to the de Argentum name, he had two older brothers... so he was allowed to choose his profession, and he chose science. It fascinated him greatly. He was good at it, as am I," Letitia had a feeling he was no longer listening in full, yet she felt the need to clarify more. "I don't know much about Revolution other than what his files show me. Assumedly it was the next phase in the Human-PLUS project, sort of a Project III that was being conducted on the side, long before II was even operational. Do you know much of the de Argentum family? In the family typically every male has at least two or three children; two potential heirs and one as a backup plan. My grandfather and my greatgrandfather were not potential heirs until their brothers died. But our origins are in Japan..."

There were so many mysteries she couldn't solve on her own and that frustrated the woman. She wanted to know it all and she wanted to know it all now.

As he spoke she found herself tilting her head to his words. "Walk away from this. Leave. You don't need to. You don't need to. Enough mistakes have been made for the two of us by now, have they not? Learn. Live. Decide what - or not, history, dictates, choiceless again. Who are you, who do not know your history? Learn. Stepping forward into nothing begets nothing."

"But from nothing everything grows. Once there was nothing, and then there was a world. Organism grew, evolved, changed, and when they die they become nothing again, only to reappear as something later in history," Letitia said softly, something her grandfather would often say. "And a soul is all that saves humans from being nothing, though many give up their souls to physical needs; sex, violence, vanity, money... They lose what was never theirs to give. Some give them to Entities. I give mine to no one, not even myself."

Suddenly she stood ever so slightly straighter and prouder. "I have naught to give. My soul was torn asunder before I was even old enough to realize, my body will deteriorate as my father and my grandfather's did, my mind is already warped by the experiments performed on me long before I formed conscious thought. I am what ought to be dead but still I live and breathe. I know not my purpose, what else am I do to but to let fate control me where it will?"

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Lucidity returned slowly to Valentine, the haze of the past washing away distantly, leaving him altogether a little colder than he'd been before. The safety on his gun was off again - or had he forgotten to enable it in the first place? The last few moments were just a torrent of feelings, thoughts, some his, some not.

He pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket, scribbling down a note - couldn't forget this. He needed all the data he could lay his hands on. Resurgence Event. 3:27pm. Duration - 30s?

If he understood this, perhaps he could stop what he felt was coming. Almost inevitably a vain hope - but hope, nevertheless. He turned his attention back to her, forcing himself back into reality, permitting her to finish speaking.

Origins in Japan.

No - the name didn't ring a bell, however much he wanted it to. 'De Argentum'. Before his time, or thereafter? Or had someone escaped - adopted the name as their own, abandoned what they once had, but kept what they once knew? There was little other explanation.

"We're both in the same business, then," he said, deciding now to place his handgun gingerly inside his coat. With that Reaper near them - he had no way of knowing what the consequences of another Resurgence Event could be here, and he didn't trust himself to have a gun in hand at the minute. "We're both hunting for answers, it would seem, more than anything else."

Still not quite the whole truth, he mused. He had answers enough. Just looking for different answers - evidence to deny the hypothesis. Talk about scientific bias, he mused, with a faintly bitter smile.

Confidence re-entered him, and he turned away from her, facing the line of his men, their weapons still ever-so-nervously levelled at the monster at the opposite end of the room, its sheer size dwarfing them a hundred times over. He gestured to them. Stand down and exit. We're done here.

"I've been on this earth for quite some time, Letitia," he called back to her. "'Purpose' is a question for you to answer, nobody else. If you want my best advice-"

It was at that moment that Valentine was quite promptly shot.

Blinding pain flashed past his eyes as he tumbled to the ground, one hand clutching his arm, the world spinning around him. Gunfire and screams slammed out from the open doors at the other end of the chamber, the haphazard echoes of soldiers shouting orders and diving to cover.

Valentine's vision blurred and refocused as he tried to stand, collapsing once before managing to make it to his knees. A quick glance downwards revealed a splatter of blood over his dark coat, but nothing else - agony pulsed through his arm, his heart hammering painfully, but he appeared to be largely uninjured. Crimson seeped through the fingers with which he clutched his arm.

Teeth grit, he forced himself back to his feet, staggering drunkenly before charging, tackling Letitia behind the massive leg of the Reaper. His gun appeared in his hand, and he gave her a stern look - stay down - before ducking around the corner, loosing a few shots at the doorway and assessing the situation.

Through the door, the familiar matte-grey armour of the Aegis Police's 'Special Division' forces flashed through, a squad of infantry charging through the haze of smoke grenades; Valentine loosed a few shots off, but missed his mark, his vision still fuzzy with pain. Valentine's men had assumed cover behind servers and crates; one Tracer was little more than a smoking wreck, and another was missing an arm. The remainder moved out from cover in unison, loosing a hail of 25mm high-explosive rounds from the autocannons in their hands, tearing apart the infantry that had moved through the smoke.

Then one disappeared, reduced to a smoking wreck in an instant - Valentine hadn't even seen what had fired upon it, the whole craft just shattered by some unseen force. Then, in the background, he spotted something - a human shape, nearly twice the height of the Tracers, a high-powered railgun in one hand and the blue-sparking glow of a plasma sword in the other. Behind it, more blue glows indicated that it wasn't alone. With a grunt, Valentine wrenched himself back inside cover, turning to face Letitia.

Sentinels.

"Okay," he forced out through clenched teeth, his clutched arm sending sharp bolts of pain through his body. "We... have a problem."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia was curious as to what was going on in Valentine's head. She couldn't understand or connect his words to his sudden lucidity, but she knew whatever he had been through must have been something. She had plenty of answers at her hands, she just had yet to decode their true meaning. It wasn't like her grandfather didn't leave everything right there for her to access he just didn't show her how to access it... almost as if it were another rite of passage to be able to figure out how to. If he would have followed family tradition and let one of her cousins take over the family business before she had a chance to be heir, she would have had plenty of time to figure it out... but he had chosen her instead.

Letitia felt the shift in the atmosphere minutes before her new found comrade was shot, and was shocked to see military men walking into her lab so casually. She gave a growl before she was tackled into cover behind one of Eden's large legs. "Fuck!" she cursed angrily, slipping her own pistol out. She felt every rumble of the gun fire and her brain went into automatic mode. There was nothing more important to her than her labs. She glanced around her cover to see the smoking wrecks that were some of their Tracers and one of her servers.

"Bastards," she was about to charge out before taking notice of the one thing she definitely didn't want wreaking havoc on her sanctuary. Just as she heard him about to speak she noticed his arm. "Wonderful. Now we both have a bum arm, my labs are being destroyed and they brought fucking Sentinels down here."

Her mind and her body stilled for a moment as she found something moving in the shadows. She knew exactly what it was; her 'ghost' was not happy at its home being threatened. Neither was she. "We have a lot of problems right now, Mr. Valentine. She," there was emphasis on the word, "is less than pleased at the sudden invasion. And if they get a hold of the supplies stores I'm suddenly VERY useless to you..."

She heard more bangs and clatters as the enemy sent off some very high powered ammunition.

"Mistress, we have guests! They seem to want to destroy us!" the overly cheerful Bot came flitting around to her. She rolled her eyes.

"Protocol 7. You know what to do," she said softly before sending the drone off. It had the ability to cloak itself for short amounts of time, and she needed to make sure it got her main hard drive out of the vicinity of the damage. Her options were few, and she found herself looking up at Eden. "Well, times up," she murmured before standing up, still easily hidden behind the leg. "How do I get into her?"

She had no clue how to do this. She just knew that she actually needed to. There were no other options. A bunch of men and a few tracers were no match for the handful of Sentinels filing into the labs. "No matter what the cost I HAVE to protect this place."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

So, this is your play, then, God. Most auspicious.

The thought concluded, Valentine loosed another barrage of shots downrange as he turned to face Letitia, knowing exactly the implications of her words. Under other circumstances, he'd consider this as mad as it was wrong - to become a Knight was no small undertaking, but he knew well enough that they had no other choice.

Half a dozen Tracers and some infantry were child's play for a squad of Sentinels. Even if they managed to get away, if they lost the lab, they lost their supplies - and with them, their chance of escaping this city. From there, it was only a matter of time until Cocytus was found - if it wasn't compromised already.

"Follow me," Valentine grunted, vision still swimming with pain from the bullet - Christ, had they been using hollow points or something? - and feeling decidedly unpleasant towards the world at large. Still, keeping low, he made his way up the scaffolding, sprinting up the hastily-erected flights of stairs; darkness flickered and lurched, and he loosed a haphazard bullet into it, forcing it to recede. Not so much a physical effect as a show of force - proof that he would not suffer its indignities now. If nothing else, it appeared duly informed of the gravity of the situation by his action.

For a second, he found himself pitying her. Whatever was inside this thing - and however much it claimed to like her - there was no turning back from being a Knight. That which was lost, stayed lost - even as a half-soul, there would be no denying the effects of piloting upon her. He mentally apologised as he made his way up the scaffolding. Necessary Sacrifices - that was the phrase he'd always used, now wasn't it?

Eventually, he reached the back edge of the scaffolding, and ducked back inside the shadow of the craft. A smooth black panel at the back of its head concealed the cockpit - an odd design choice - but he saw no mechanical entrance. This thing was far more modern than Abyss Walker, and likely lacked the mechanical auxiliaries that his own craft possessed. Nevertheless...

The second that Letitia caught up to him, Valentine grabbed her wrist with his good arm, and pressed it against the centre of the back panel with a good deal more force than was due. For a second, there was a pause and a pneumatic hiss, as though the monstrous craft were irritated at the touch, and trying to decide whether to permit them entry.

Then the back of the head slipped open, revealing a cockpit; its surfaces were elegant, smooth, the whole space dark. As Letitia stepped foot inside, dim lights went up, illuminating the spartan space - just a few basic control surfaces (touchscreen, not analogue, Valentine noted) and the neural harness in the centre. He followed her, gesturing for her to step in.

Thankfully, he saw none of the familiar neural injectors that the early-model units possessed - it was all done externally via electrodes, rendering null the need for cybernetic augmentations to pilot effectively. Thank God - they didn't exactly have time to issue Letitia cybernetics on the spot, now did they?

"Hook yourself up to that," Valentine ordered, gesturing to the harness, crowned by a menacing-looking headpiece covered in heavy-duty neural reception equipment. "Take it slow; weighing a few hundred tonnes will feel odd at first. Just focus on walking for the first few seconds. First step is to bring your Shadow Field online - that'll absorb inbound fire. From there, work out weapons systems, and open fire."

He stepped closer, to help her with hooking up. As he worked, he continued, "Stay careful of whatever's in here. It will want to talk to you. Do not let it. However friendly it might seem to want to be..." he sighed, shaking his head for a minute. "Just don't. Not if you want to step out that door again."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Every part of her knew there was no going back. While she had prepared for this eventuality, she never thought she would be in such dire situations as she had been in today. She thought she'd have more time, put in more research, maybe even have a fucking clue as to what she was doing. Now here she was thrusting her life into the hands of a Reaper that she had only vague contact with. There was no part of her that actually felt ready for this.

Fleeing up the stairs behind him, she found herself worrying about what would happen if she couldn't control Eden. At the same time though, a part of her felt like she was meant to control the monstrosity. She believed in fate. She believed that she was here to do something, and if this was the sacrifice she had to make to not only protect her technology, her legacy, but also the people that were now trying to help protect it... then she would do so.

Letitia gave a small yelp at the force of which he grabbed her arm and pulled her to the entrance. "I've check this spot a hundred times and-" she blinked when it opened, eyes wide with shock. How is it that for the last 7 years she had worked on the Reaper and had never been able to find the entrance or even get a glance on the inside? Had it really been inactive this whole time, or had Eden simply not wanted to cooperate?

She looked at Valentine as they entered, wondering what was going through his head. Was this anything like his Reaper? She didn't have time to question or even really care. Now she needed to focus on the goal at hand- protecting what was rightfully hers. "Well here goes our only real hope," she muttered, letting him help her hook it up. Vaguely she remembered something similar in her past, thought she couldn't recall where or when or why. Everything was so rushed right now.

"Got it, don't talk to the voices in my head," the human part of her tried human, despite the severity of the situation. She took a deep breath as finally everything was locked in place. "If I fuck up and everyone dies, I'm blaming God for this..."

She took a deep breath as everything was locked into place, hoping she would do everything right. She felt prickling in the back of her head before pain shot through her eyes. The pressure of it weighed down on her body and her mind and she tried hard to keep a steady breathing pattern. It wasn't as bad as she was expecting... but whatever it was that lay dormant inside the Reaper was powerful... it was only after a second of struggling did she realize that she was still standing and was able to function properly, even if she did feel heavier than normal.

A small caress on her mind reassured her she was fine, but otherwise she was left alone.

She realized that all the training, all the pressure on being stronger, better, faster than everyone was for this very moment.

With Project Revolution's inception, we aimed to make the best of the best Knights. Half-souled men and women that could withstand the pressure of piloting the Reaper without consuming the soul of said men and women.

A contract, an unreserved access the other half of the fighter's soul up front in order to maintain their life.

Passages from her grandfather's logs filtered through her mind, reminding her that yes, she was meant for this. Whether she liked it or not, she was built to be a Knight. But if a Reaper needed a soul to live, then just half her soul wouldn't sate it for long... Eventually it would wear away at the rest of her soul. They were not in control of these beings... and a half-souled human was a dangerous creature.

With shock she felt the entire world around her shift, shuddering when she realized it was Eden standing up. It took a moment to realize she had willed it so. Her brain was moving in so many different directions; she was no longer sure of herself anymore, of what or who she was, of if she was even capable of this, or what this was leading her to. So many memories and faces surrounding her mind's eye, and all she wanted to do was run.

No running.

She looked up, trying to find the source of the other voice, even though she knew what and who it was. She ignored it and tried taking a step forward, finding that it was quite easy to. Another step. And another. "Okay. I got this. How do I get the Shadow Field up?" she asked aloud, or at least she hoped it was aloud. Her voice belied how shaky and nervous she truly felt.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

The second Letitia was properly strapped-in, Valentine dashed out of the Reaper, by no means wanting to be inside once it started up. Inside was the domain of the Entity, inside which the pilot was an ornery guest; he had no place there, no right to challenge its authority where it dwelled. He dashed out of the monstrosity, and immediately took cover behind a few heavy steel crates on the scaffold behind the craft.

He swiftly grabbed his earpiece, flicking it on, praying that it worked. Gratifyingly, he heard the bleep that indicated functionality - whoever was on the other end had, at the very least, not been eviscerated yet.

"Atlas!" he shouted into the device, sounding a little more panicked than he'd intended. "Status report!"

"Pleasure to finally hear from you, Commander," Atlas' voice crackled over - a tiny bit broken with stress or pain, but otherwise, as chipper and sarcastic as usual. "Care to take over? This whole 'command' business isn't anywhere near as much fun as I'd imagined. Trust me, you can keep your job."

Valentine felt relieved at hearing his second-in-command's familiar voice; Atlas was one of the few living individuals with the knowledge to keep a Reaper in combat condition, and was functionally irreplaceable. Nevertheless, this wasn't exactly the time for pleasantries.

"I need you to patch me into that Reaper's comms system," Valentine ordered. "We're deploying it. The de Argentum girl is our pilot."

He heard Atlas pause for a second in shock, and swore that a sigh of acceptance resounded through the channel. "Copy, Commander. Give me thirty seconds, I'll route it through the facility's mainframe."

Valentine realised that there was a decent chance that he wouldn't see Atlas again after this. Hell, if this didn't work, there was no way any of them were walking out of here in one piece. And thus, he said something that he'd often been sufficiently frustrated as to refuse to say -

"Thank you, Atlas."

"Don't go letting me think you care, now, boss," Atlas said, with a slight laugh. Even through the laugh, though, his voice sounded pained. "But can I ask you something? About the de Argentum girl and all..."

"Of course," Valentine said, popping up over the crate and loosing a few shots downrange; the handgun's low-calibre armour-piercing rounds slipped through the armour of the Aegis infantry, dropping two of them.

"Are we still the good guys?"

Valentine was caught off-guard by the question, if only by its relevancy. How was he supposed to respond to that sort of thing? A question he'd asked himself often enough, but in more recent years, had come to ignore. Hope held no further place in his heart - only belief. The absolute belief in what they were doing. In winning.

"Alright, you're patched in," Atlas' voice crackled over. "Try not to flirt too much."

Valentine was about to respond with a reprimand, but before he could, the tone of the channel changed - the static on the line was gone, replaced only by an absolute, oppressive silence. For a second, he thought he'd lost the signal, before through came Letitia's slightly-frightened-sounding voice, somehow off-colour - the sound of someone speaking through their Reaper.

"-get the Shadow Field up?"

Valentine glanced up, watched the massive beast lurch to its feet, unsteady for a second as it tried to find its footing in the cramped space; cavernous as the ceiling of the laboratory was, the Reaper stood almost as tall. It dwarfed the Sentinels, easily triple their height, stabilising fins flickering and adjusting as it made its way to its full height, imposing its presence over the vast chamber.

"Just focus on it," he said; piloting a Reaper was being equal parts philosopher, mechanic and warrior, a difficult task to explain. Fortunately, as a product of Human-PLUS, she would likely possess some natural intuition from the task. "Go hunting through the neural circuits with your mind; ask for it to protect you, and it should guide you to the correct function. From there, just will it to be enabled."

He hoped that the thing was armed with close-quarters weaponry, or failing that, loaded with armour-piercing rounds. It if was packing high-explosive weaponry, this whole laboratory might come down on top of them. Not that the Reaper wouldn't survive -

Just that he wouldn't.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum Character Portrait: Isabella de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

It took a moment before she heard back from Valentine and his voice was a relief. Good, he wasn't dead. She couldn't say the same for a lot of the other people in the lab though. "I will make an effort at that," she sighed, closing her eyes for a moment to focus. Please protect this place. I don't care about myself, but this lab... If I'm dead who will protect this...?

If she didn't know better she would have sworn that the moment she mentioned protecting the lab, and therefore the technology and people inside it, Eden acted. She couldn't physically see the field from her point of view; she was still focusing her vision as it was, but she could feel it. She just... knew, somehow that it was there. Now she just needed weapons... She took a few more steps away from the scaffolding; she didn't want to be anywhere near where Valentine was working from when she let loose whatever this thing had to work with. Close range weapons?

Yes.

From the view of anyone on the outside they would see one long cable extending from its right hand with little grappling claws attached. With a quick hand movement she found herself using the right whip to crack at one of the sentinels. The range was amazing on these things, and it cut straight through one of the legs. There were no other noticeable weapons on the Reaper and it made her wonder if there were actually any other weapons to be used.

We are the weapon.

The voice echoed painfully throughout her mind. That would take some getting used to, but Eden didn't seem to care to actually talk right now, like Valentine said she might. Letitia could feel her determination; her sense of mission. With that push, that solid backing she found herself stepping forward even farther, hoping like hell the humans beneath her would get out of the way. With another swift movement, not clunky like some of the older modeled Sentinels and Tracers, a sword was pulled out of a hidden compartment in Eden's chest. Letitia couldn't help but smile at the familiarity of the weapon.

"Idiots. Should have known not to mess with a woman's private affairs," she smirked in confidence before taking two more steps forward and slicing at another Sentinel. They were her main focus; people were easier to deal with, but the Sentinels needed to go before they took out anything else. This was easy enough. Letitia still had little idea of what she was doing, but the Reaper seemed to have just enough power and free will of it's own to be able to carry out her half-finished thoughts. "My vision's still a bit blurry, Valentine. How many do I have left and point me in the right direction.

Her eyes wouldn't seem to clear up, as if this was too much of a strain on her mind for it to translate the light transfered from her eyes to her mind properly. She wouldn't have been surprised after all; it seemed like this entire thing was meant to exhaust her mind and body. She was sure if she hadn't been as well trained as she was, she might have failed entirely by now. Thank you, grandfather.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine watched as the craft was surrounded by the faint shimmer of a Shadow Field; down below, a Sentinel whirled and loosed a blue-tinged railgun blast at her. The only visible evidence was a spark against the shield, and dark ripples spreading from the impact as the high-velocity round ricocheted away and punched through a wall on the opposite side of the room.

The massive craft lurched away from the platform, its gait animalistic and ungainly as it moved - yet fluid, like a confused organic beast instead of the mechanical stomping of a Tracer or Sentinel. She was becoming more fluid vast, though, the movements no longer shaky; the stabiliser fins flickered and compensated for her every movement, helping to keep her on-balance. An excellent design decision.

He watched as a steel wire extracted from one hand, razor-sharp blades at its tip; he paused, confused as to its function, before it lashed out with a supersonic crack!, snapping through the legs of a Sentinel as though passing through air; the back edge of the whip struck it as it withdrew, caving in the cockpit and crushing the pilot instantly. The remaining Sentinels leapt backwards with significantly more grace than the Tracers around them, suddenly having gone from the battlefield supremacy weapons to mere toys in the face of an unrelenting monstrosity before them.

It drew a sword from its chest cavity - far slimmer and lighter than Abyss Walker's massive weapon, but in the hands of the nimble Reaper, no less deadly. The beast stepped forward, slashing swiftly, far more precisely than its other movements - Letitia's skill with a blade having already become apparent in the Sky District.

A Sentinel was cleaved neatly in half, both parts of it collapsing to the ground as the monster stepped over the wreckage; meaningless impacts flared off the Shadow Field surrounding the beast. Letitia's faintly inhuman-sounding voice came crystal-clear through his earpiece -

"My vision's still a little blurry. How many do I have left? Point me in the right direction."

Valentine checked over the battlefield; his own vision was still a little fuzzy with pain, although it was nothing compared to hers. The neural load of a Reaper took a lot of getting used to, and frankly, she was doing much better than any human should've - most struggled to even survive their first time piloting, let alone successfully drop a squad of Sentinels.

"Three to your right, closer to the exit," Valentine said, now able to stand with impunity, the enemy soldiers massacred as they tried to choose between fighting the Reaper and returning fire to Valentine's men. As he checked around, he saw that his Tracers had immediately retreated, well familiar with operating procedure from years of fighting alongside Abyss Walker. "Our forces are out of the way. Wipe them out, then set her down. I'll extract you."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Let's go.

Agreed.

It was effortless. She urged Eden forward with just a touch of her mind and she found the last of the enemy Sentinels. A few quick movements of the blade and two were mincemeat. They had no time to react; her battle instincts took over and she took them down without hesitation or remorse. The third Sentinel's pilot was trying desperately to retreat. Part of Letitia almost wanted to let it go so it could tell the horrors of what it had seen that day... but no. No one would be allowed to live after the destruction they had caused. Her whip shot forward and pierced right through the chest armor. The blades of her grappling hook were sharp and deadly. Like her blade, she'd make it a point to keep it that way. With great force she hauled it forward close enough so she could grab it. A moment of mercilessness struck her like lightning and with no further adieu she ripped the head of the Sentinel off and casually tossed it to the side.

Every bit of her hoped that whomever had sent the military down there would see some sort of evidence of all of this and would know not to mess with the lab again. "They'll send more. Especially if they find out there's a Reaper here. We best get the supplies out of here as soon as possible. I know a lot of your men are wounded, but there's medical supplies in room A3," she turned around in her Reaper body and moved back towards the scaffolding.

Not bad, human.

She ignored the voice. Valentine said it would want to talk and not to listen. She set Eden down back near the scaffolding and let out a breath of relief.

Do you have other weapons? Despite warnings she attempted to make another bit of contact. She needed to know what this thing was capable of.

The time will come when they are useful. For now, they are not.

Letitia found herself a bit disoriented when the lights flickered out and the Reaper settled itself in the sitting position it had been in not but moments before she had entered it, as if it were comfortable like this. What???

If she had been outside she might have noticed the dark shadow that descended over the place, as if it were surveying the damage, before disappearing again. Letitia felt alone in the dark, as if she was no longer linked to the Entity, despite still being harnessed in. That's when she realized it... The Reaper was never inactive... it was merely sleeping.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

With the last few units annihilated in the space of mere instants, the Reaper settled itself down, slumping against a wall lazily, as though bored by its brief exertion. Shadows flickered and moved around it, the Entity reinhabiting the laboratory with little fanfare.

Valentine breathed a sigh of relief, the echoes of battle fading from the chamber; only the crackling of flames around wrecked Sentinels. He picked himself up off the ground, lurching down the scaffolding, vision distorted with pain; he could see well enough, though, making his way over to the Reaper. The shadows left him alone as he moved, the monster perhaps sated for now - he refused to refer to it by name, refusing to give it that much credit.

Soldiers rushed around the floor, tending to wounded; one came up to him, bearing a bandage, insisting that he be assisted. Valentine just took the bandages and wrapped them tightly around his arm; his bloodsoaked right hand stained it with blood, but he managed it. He made a note to grab some proper painkillers before leaving the lab. He could function, though - he'd been shot more than enough times. He also requested a flare, and it was in his hand in a second. His men knew better than to question his orders.

He directed his men to room A3 for medical supplies, and after a few short moments, he'd reached the leg of the Reaper. With a burdened sigh, he grabbed one of the stabiliser fins, and began the long process of clambering up its body. Flare stuffed inside his bloodied coat, he forced himself up its leg, then its spine, then its chest, before swinging around the head. Grabbing one of the sensor antennae with his good hand, he managed to thud a solid boot into the smooth back panel, then a second, then a third.

On the fourth kick, it swung open; he offered a momentary thanks to the Reaper. It clearly understood his intent; whether it allowed him in to save its pilot, or as a trap, he knew not and cared not. He swung himself inside the back panel, thudding onto the metal floor, landing hard. His vision flashed with pain, but he forced himself to his feet - the longer he was in here, the more dangerous things were.

With his wounded arm, he grabbed the flare from his coat, breaking off the cap and flooding the interior of the Reaper in crimson light. Shadows shifted around the walls, illuminated red, like dripping blood; the corridor into the cockpit seemed longer this time, the angles more jagged. He saw shapes move at the edge of his vision, but didn't look at them, didn't acknowledge them - he knew that if he acknowledged them, they would become real.

He saw a humanoid shape move in front of him, feminine, offering a slender, shadowy hand; he brushed past it, and it vanished into dark smoke. Hands reached out from the walls, the floor; he just kept walking, shrugging them off him, still not acknowledging them. With his good hand, he drew his pistol, fired a few quick shots into the wall; they ricocheted off the hard titanium harmlessly, but the message was clear, and the hands receded at his gesture of dominance; it seemed to respect his willingness to stand up for Letitia's sake.

Well, at least it's a little less egotistical than Abyss Walker.

Eventually, he made his way into the cockpit, and found Letitia, hanging in her harness. Her eyes were wider, her body a little more limp; he swore he saw her trembling almost-imperceptibly. Still, she wasn't dead, and didn't appear particularly crazy. He put the flare on the ground, room still illuminated in blood-red.

"Are you okay?" he asked, stepping up to her, unclasping the harness, helping her down from where she hung.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia felt nothing. Her broken arm no longer hurt as much, her fears of failing had disappeared the moment she had taken down the last Sentinel, and her even greater fears of what this meant for her were already calming down.

She simply... breathed.

One intake. Stress was gone.

Two intake. Fear was gone.

Three intake. She was still alive.

Four intake. She had saved her labs.

It was completely silent in the cockpit, but not terrifyingly so. She was half sure that a lot of noise right now would have been worse for her recovering head. There was already a bit of a headache coming on and she was definitely tired. It was okay though. Now she knew that Eden was real, alive even. All of her research wasn't in vain, and maybe just maybe it wasn't in vain that her grandfather had trained her so well.

Fatigue reared it's horrible head and she found herself slouching a bit in the harness, too blind to even find how to unlock it. She heard noises finally; one tang, two tang, three tang and finally she heard the cockpit door open slowly. She remembered that she wasn't alone in the world.

You're ready.

Until that moment, she hadn't had time to think about that voice. There was no curiosity as to where it was coming from or if it really meant her harm or not. It didn't seem threatening, just... lazy, if Letitia had to put words to the echoing, deep yet feminine voice she heard, as if it didn't really care, as long as no one dared to lay waste to its territory. Letitia could feel the rage of the Entity inside her still, even though it was no longer as strong. It mirrored her own, and that terrified her more than anything.

"Are you okay?"

Valentine's voice startled her out of her reverie and she found just enough energy left in her to nod. As he unhooked her from the harness she realized just how wiped out she was. It was no easy feat doing this. She was almost glad she had never tried to until now; no, she was glad the Reaper hadn't let her until now. She knew that's what it had to be; no matter what her intentions, she felt as if Eden wouldn't have accepted her in any less than a situation that threatened its home and it. "I-I'm fine, just tired," she fell into his arms as the last of the harness was undone, unable to stay on her feet for long. She fought to stay awake, yet she knew there was no rest for her. "She's not going to move for a while."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine absorbed the impact of Letitia's body falling on top of him, wrapping his arms around her. He turned, grabbing her legs and bridal-carrying her from the craft - she weighed little, and his body was toned from years of combat. She posed little-

"It's okay," he whispered, brushing a hand through her hair as she fell into him, thin hands clutching his coat tightly. "We're safe now."

Her face buried into his chest, the darkness stepping away from them. The outside of the Reaper smouldered, exposed wiring and carbon-nanofibre musculature torn asunder by the carnage of battle. Beyond the shadowy walls of this place, only silence reigned, and the crackling of a thousand funeral pyres.

"We..." her voice cracked, and watery, bloodshot eyes looked up at him. She felt warmer than she should've; he tried to tell himself that it wasn't blood. He helped pull her away from the harness, stepping away from the craft. It left him alone as he left; perhaps it deemed he had suffered enough.

Perhaps it deemed that he would suffer enough.

"Did we win?"

Valentine laid her down on the soft grass, pulling bandages from his pack. He rolled her over, undressed her gingerly, an action that carried a rather different weight now. A small wound - shrapnel. She'd survive this one.

He wrapped her and tied the bandage. He was out of painkillers, so he just lay down beside her on the grass, watching the smouldering ruins of her Reaper lie where it would; whether it would live or die could be established come morning. He'd no desire to leave this place. He felt them move closer; whether by her volition or his, he didn't know.

A part of him wanted to talk to her. To comfort her. To tell her that he was there, that she'd never be alone. But he never would. Never could.

There were some things you couldn't take back, after all.


The memory faded as he emerged into the sunlight, and he glanced back down at Letitia - features softer, younger, more alive. After a moment's consideration, he simply leapt off the platform, soaring towards the ground; he didn't impact particularly hard, such falls familiar to him. The hatch closed behind him of its own volition. The message was clear enough - Letitia's assessment was correct. It was quite finished.

"We're safe now," he whispered soothingly, walking out from behind the Reaper; he laid gently her on the ground and checked briefly that she was uninjured (broken arm excepted). He strolled over to his men, who'd gathered all the wounded into a reasonably-large circle - all his wounded, of course. The enemy had been duly tended to using a bullet to the head. That was the reality of this war.

He saw Atlas, slumped against a crate; fear gripped his heart as he began jogging towards his comrade, and kneeled before him. The man looked up at him with heavy-lidded eyes, hands fumbling with a bandage around a bloodied abdomen.

"Mind handling the shooty bits next time, boss?" Atlas said, the ghost of a smile cracking his face. For his part, Valentine just grabbed the two ends of the bandage, affixing it properly around Atlas' wounded midsection.

"You're going to be okay, you hear me?" Valentine commanded, and Atlas just grinned a lopsided grin.

"Damn straight I am. Now if you don't mind, I need to complain at the medics about getting me some damn morphine."

Valentine just smiled, and for a moment, ruffled Atlas' hair - an oddly affectionate gesture, and one that caught both of them off-guard. He strode back over to Letitia, who was still laying where he's set her down - exhausted by her exertions, it seemed. He kneeled beside her, grabbing a water flask dropped by one of his men from on top of a nearby crate and pressing it to her lips.

"Drink," he ordered, the warmth of a moment ago gone now as it started to dawn on him that at least half of the men he'd come in here with were now dead.

Nevertheless, he realised, the woman had just piloted a Reaper, and saved his life - he owed her something. So when he spoke again, it was a little more softly, a little more concernedly. "You'll feel better if you drink. Trust me. I've no intention of letting someone who just saved my life suffer for it."

Any more than is necessary, of course.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

All she wanted to do was fade into the darkness. As he carried her away from the harness she buried her face into his chest and tried hard to calm her beating heart down. She ad never been so terrified in her life. Questions overwhelmed her tired mind, and for once she just wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep.

As he lay her down on the ground she took a moment to look around the wreckage that was her beautiful lab. At least half of the servers were on fire or sparking from exposed wires and general damage. There were dead men and women lying everywhere. There was quite a large circle of wounded gathering for medical supplies. Everything around her was falling to shambles.

She half sat up, forgetting her broken arm for a moment and using it to support her weight. These people had come to her for help and in the end had lost so many and she had lost so much in return... while technology were not human lives, these servers had been her only reliable companions for many years. This was the legacy her grandfather and father had left her with, and now she had to save it.

"Mistress! Mistress! Protocol 7 is in place. The main harddrives were backed up off location before too much was lost and the you-know-what is under lock down!" Bot appeared out of no where, reporting to her reliably. That was one last stress off her mind.

"Good. Make sure these men can find what they need. They're our new allies," she whispered before lying back down and closing her eyes for a few moments. Her vision was clearing up and she breathed deeply.

"Drink," the order came in the tone of a cold voice, and she opened her eyes, almost ready to cuss him out until he changed his tone.

She took a few sips of water before making an attempt to sit up again. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine," she tried to push him away once she managed to sit up fully. She didn't like being taken care of. She had managed so far by taking care of herself and fighting for what was hers. "Damage? Casualities? All the information off of the servers was backed up and stored safely elsewhere... I'm thinking it's about time I move bases anyways..."

----------

"Ma'am, we found the labs but..."

"I swear to God-"

"They had a Reaper. Whoever this group was had a fucking Reaper!"

Isa growled at his cursing and turned to look at him, her pristine ironed business suit looking impressive compared to what she typically wore. "Language. I don't care if they had a Reaper or not! Did you find her?"

"Well... not really, but how did they get a Reaper down there without us knowing?" the captain stood straighter, looking a bit indignant at having to report to the young girl. Her father was his boss though. "It had to have been down there for a long time and inactive... but there are no camera feeds we can hack into down there. Your cousin kept a lockdown on that place."

"Berkley?"

Letitia's right hand stepped forward and nodded. "The Reaper was down there for many years but... it was completely dead, or so we thought. Miss Titi tried all she could to find out it's state but... She's alive. She has to be. No one else could have gotten down there. Only two people have the ability to get in there, and my codes were marked invalid recently. That means she had to get in there and open the doors for those rebel troops," he explained, looking a bit thoughtful. "I never thought she would have worked with such a group though. Her research is too precious to her."

Isa smirked and shook her head. "And you, her faithful dog?"

"I am paid by the de Argentum family. While Miss Titi has been my charge for a long time, she is not responsible for my pay check," he seemed a bit reluctant to say it, but it was true. "And she's slowly been slipping away from everything that is normal and natural for her... I'm worried now. If she was the one who activated that Reaper..."

"Understood. Don't worry, we'll bring her back and bring her back to her senses." There was insincerity in her voice. She could care less if Letitia lived or died. She just wanted what was rightfully hers.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine moved to standing, checking around the now-silent laboratory, taking note of his situation. A decent chunk of Childhood's End's force capability was out of commission. Tracers could be replaced - and would, given that five were little more than smoking wrecks - but men were much harder to find. Good men, hard men, men who'd fight and kill for a lost cause - all were in short supply outside, to say nothing of within this city.

"A dozen dead," he said coldly, unemotionally, his observation of the ruins of the lab complete. "Eight wounded, not including ourselves. Five Tracers incapacitated, the remaining three heavily-damaged."

There it was. A full fifth of his force, wiped out in minutes - and close to half of his combative troops. They'd never been outfitted for defensive actions, and being forced into it had cost them, as it always had. While he had gained out of this affair the overwhelming offensive advantage of a second Reaper, it remained to be seen whether or not she'd be of any strategic use.

He'd lost the advantage he once held; things were no longer proceeding according to plan, and he had no choice but to be reactive now. All that remained was to seize this city as swiftly as possible, and replenish his forces; neither would be an easy task. Once he had both of those, he could track Old King, and then - finally - he would be free of this place.

"We're leaving," he said, offering a hand down to her. "They'll be cautious. When we return to Cocytus, I'll sort out a way to have your Reaper moved. When we've stripped this place bare, I suspect we'd do well to level it."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia accepted his hand up, looking at their surroundings. "There's never a balance in war. In the end everyone loses, and all we can hope is the results we achieve were worth it in the long haul," she said softly, staring at the wounded, the dead, the destroyed Sentinels and Tracers. "I can help with the repairs on the remaining Tracers. There are parts lying around here somewhere, and I see parts that are salvageable on the destroyed ones... What I need is safe and secure, thanks to Bot. But you're right, the sooner we leave the better."

She knew someday she would need to move everything; it was inevitable in order to keep everything safe. "I have a second hideout where there are more supplies and where the data is backed up, but we can retrieve that once we've healed. I think the supplies there will be more beneficial than what I have here," she was merely rambling in exhaustion at this point. So this was the cost of her justice? No, she would find another way. She would find a better way.

Despite how tired she was she helped load things up and get them in place for transport. They had to take everything they physically could with them as soon as possible. There wouldn't be much time for multiple trips, and she already suspected that the place would be watched. With every step she took she muttered something, almost a mantra of sorts, looking distracted. "Moving her won't actually be difficult. I've moved her before with fewer men than what we have now, when we brought her down here. I'll explain later though."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine find himself caught rather off-guard by Letitia's philosophical response to his information. She was more perceptive than he'd anticipated; yet, in his own way, he found himself slightly bitter at her statement. She'd only seen this city, maybe a little of what lay beyond it - never the vast conflicts that plagued the earth, never seen armies of hundreds of thousands laying into each other in battles that left the ground knee-deep in blood. Never seen the truth of just what it was like out there.

Perhaps, though, it were for the best that she hadn't seen it. Meant she still held hope; was willing to fight for the sake of the weak, when she had an easy life standing in front of her.

Futile as it was, the effort was nevertheless worthwhile.

"I daresay you're mistaken," he said, as he helped lift crates of ammunition onto the back of a truck - run down the tunnels from Cocytus the second the lab had been clear. "War's all about winning and losing. Whoever wins, gets to enact their vision; whoever loses has their vision selected out, and fades from memory."

He went through some piles of equipment, seeing a heavy crate labelled x4 Ferromagnetic Ammunition - 155mm Depleted Uranium, Armour Piercing. Checking inside, he spotted what he'd hoped for - long, dull-silver darts, each weighing in at around thirty kilos and capable of being accelerated to up to three thousand metres per second in an instant. A single round did as much damage as three quarters of a tonne of dynamite, and could comfortably punch through eight feet of steel plate. Each round was flawlessly-crafted to maintain the absolute maximal performance.

He gestured to his team to help lift it - even four rounds weighed a full hundred-twenty kilos. After a great deal of exertion, four men (with his help, although with his bad arm, it offered little) managed to lift the ammunition case onto the back of the truck. As he went back for the next case, he turned to Letitia, gesturing for her to follow him.

"Perhaps, indeed, the world was once perfect. But as long as man had a vision, he could not permit it to cease; and thus, we fought onwards. Destruction is not the aim of war - merely its effect. Unfortunately, the side effects became irreversible a long while ago, if you will. And yet mankind continues to fight on - why?"

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia couldn't have told you when she fell asleep, even if you had bothered to ask. All she knew was one minute she was riding in a truck thinking about the day she had had so far, and the next moment she was jerking awake as the truck came to a halt. She shook herself out of her groggy state, knowing it was overly dangerous for her to be sleeping around people she didn't know. She was so tired from her encounter with piloting a reaper though, that she couldn't seem to stay awake no matter how hard she tried.

She had no idea where they were. She wasn't even sure she knew what she was doing anymore. All she knew was that she needed a really long nap and maybe a shower. She didn't know how long it had been since she had eaten or slept, nor was she even sure she was hungry enough to eat anything if she was offered. All she knew was that she wouldn't be going back home any time soon... it was far too dangerous now.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

"Welcome home," Valentine said to the resting Letitia, as the truck they both sat in rumbled through the gates of Cocytus. He stepped out of the truck, gesturing for her to follow him; when she stood beside him (after some time - she looked completely exhausted) he gestured towards the stairs leading up to the network of gantries on the roof.

He pulled his coat a little tighter over his shoulders; it was a few degrees below zero in here, the cooling equipment pumping into Abyss Walker still humming away. He realised that he'd need to get Letitia some warmer clothes fast; he went over the female members of the organisation, trying to work out who was both in Letitia's size and, well, not dead.

Come to think of it, for a group numbering close to a hundred people with a 40% female substance, that was a pretty damned short list.

"One of the side-offices up there has a shower," he said, still pointing at the gantries. "Don't think that hot water's working yet, though, so keep it quick. I'll have some bedding set up somewhere of your choosing up there. A hot meal, maybe, if you're so inclined."

Come to think of it, it hadn't been four hours since they last ate - yet Valentine already felt starving. Combat did that to you - digestion slowed down during, but his body compensated immediately afterwards.

As they'd entered, another batch of heavy-duty trucks moved out with gear for hauling Letitia's Reaper - due to its lightweight construction, moving it was a much easier prospect than doing the same to Abyss Walker. And at any rate, maintaining, arming and moving a Reaper with little more than bubblegum and shoelaces was sort of Childhood's End's specialty by now.

It occurred to him that, at the very least, Letitia's Reaper hadn't been hooked up to cooling systems like Abyss Walker had - unsurprising, given its more recent construction. Abyss Walker, despite its abnormally high performance for its age, still had its fair share of disadvantages - for starters, it was absurdly high-maintenance, and was intended to be have a thousand-strong support battalion.

It had taken years of practice and training to manage to get it to run with this few people, and even then, 'run' was overstating matters most of the time - keeping the thing online was a matter of lurching from one mechanical disaster from the next.

"Gives it character," he muttered to himself, with a faintly bemused smile.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

"Home, huh? It's been a while since I called anything that," she shifted herself ever so slowly out of the truck. It was so cold, never in her life had she wanted to curl up in a ball and die. At the same time, the cold felt good on her stuff muscles and she wrapped her jacket around her tightly.

In her tired state she was barely taking anything in, she just wanted to sleep. "Shower's the least of my worries right now. I can barely stand for more than a few minutes," She was already leaning against the truck, legs still shaky. Part of her wondered if she was ever going to feel better. "Is it always this bad the first time? I haven't felt like this since I was 9 and went through my first round of boot camp with my grandfather..."

She wasn't sure she ever wanted to get back into Eden yet she knew she needed to in order to fight. It was no longer an option. This was her new reality, and it was a lot darker than she had ever imagined it. Still she tried to find some idle humor. "Well, already bringing me home after the first 'date'? You move fast sir," she teased, rubbing her temples a bit. The nap had done her more damage than good. She felt even more burnt out than she had while they were packing up and heading out. "Just show me where to sleep. It doesn't matter where at this point. Can I keep Bot with me though?"

She had brought her drone with her... it was the closest thing she had to a friend and she wanted it to stay with her if possible. Everything was changing so quickly and she wasn't sure how to handle it without some sort of stability.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Home.

Valentine realised that the concept had never really found any traction with him. He'd spent his whole life moving, running, fighting. Killing. Even back in Kyoto, he'd slept near Abyss Walker - it was, in a strange way, the only thing he could possibly trust there.

Perhaps that was his home. Abyss Walker - the monster that loomed over them, even now, its black, angular stealth panelling shining in the dark. Far less humanoid - far less human - than Letitia's; becoming more a part of him with each passing day. Perhaps he belonged with it.

But he could not admit such a defeat yet.

"Often worse," he said, looking back at her to answer her question. "Most don't survive. If you had not been a Human-PLUS graduate, you certainly wouldn't have. It takes years of training and partial syncing to be ready. You did well."

He began making his way over to the stairway up to the gantries that hovered above the vast space - as with most of this structure, it was simple, crudely-constructed, left over from the chamber's days as a factory floor. Nothing up there but a few beds and tables, along with the bathrooms left over from before (which, at least, had saved them the protracted and awkward effort of setting up some of their own). He gestured for her to follow him; he walked close enough to her to catch her if she fell, concerned for her exhaustion.

He couldn't help but smile a little at her joke. First Atlas, now her - accusing him of being in a relationship was starting to catch on. Amusing, endearing, in a faintly childish way. Still, it made him smile, and not many things could.

Eventually, they made their way onto the gantries; the steel grate flooring gave one the occasional impression when they looked down that they would plunge a hundred feet to their deaths. Although in their several months of being here, the floor hadn't even come close to giving way, thankfully. Not everything in this world was trying to kill them, it seemed.

He glanced around, spotting a mattress once occupied by one of the Tracer pilots, a few platforms across from the rest. She'd once slept with her husband, but after he'd been killed during a gang fight, she'd just slept apart from the rest of them out of habit. He recalled surprisingly little of her, save admiring her for continuing to fight after losing so much. Her cockpit had been cleaved in two by the plasma blade of a Sentinel; from appearances, she'd been vaporised instantly.

Had she remembered him?

"You can sleep there," he said. "It's a little apart from the rest of us, so you won't be bothered. I can have you left well enough alone. We're good people here."

Just like Atlas said.

The good guys.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

For Letitia everything was different here than what she was used to. It was so cold, and everyone seemed so on edge. It was like they were anticipating a fight that may or may not come anytime soon. The young woman found it a bit sad really. Her world was full of beautiful people that were always too busy having fun or gorging themselves on food to care about what was going on outside their own little worlds... A truck could have hit 15 people and everyone would have shrugged it off and kept walking.

The walk up he gantries was no easy feat, yet she took a bit of pride in him telling her that she did well. It was a fate she knew she had already resigned herself to. All of the information she had been loaded with, everything that had unfolded thus far was making far more sense than she liked it to. Bot followed her silently, and she often found herself using him as a balance whenever she needed it. She didn't want to rely on Valentine more than she had to; the man was injured as well and she knew he had to be exhausted after the long day they had had.

She took notice of Abyss Walker; it was hard not to. It was huge, only the second Reaper she had seen before. "So that's your Reaper?" she wasn't directly talking to him of course, but she was mildly curious. Despite her tired, she was filled with questions she knew would have to be answered later. "After some rest I'd like to take a look at whatever's left of your Tracers and see if I can help fix them."

Her help was all she could offer until they got a chance to check out her secret base and collect what she had there. She was fairly sure that the events that had lead up to this meant she would have limited access to her money and resources for the moment. She had a plan for that though; her family had no access to any of it... and she had put plenty of her money away in places that no one could access but her.

The mattress that was offered to her wasn't glamorous; it was just that, a mattress. It didn't matter though. She could have slept on the freezing ground at that point if she had to. She flopped down unceremoniously, at the end of her own rope. "We'll have to make a plan. The rest of my resources are pretty hard to get to, and if they figured out about my labs after nearly 20 years of them never even suspecting anything like that was underneath the city, I have no doubts they'll find a way to find my warehouse," she spoke quickly and quietly. "If they find that, we're both fucked. I have money stored there and a few other places I can easily access which will help keep our arrangement going."

She was starting to drift off as she spoke and she laid back in exhaustion. "I'm sorry. I thought that place was secure. I should have known something like that was going to happen. I shouldn't have asked your men to protect something that was my responsibility to protect all along."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine followed Letitia's gaze up to the Reaper, its small, angular head's crimson visor of visual sensors almost completely black in its inactivity. It looked completely different to hers; where Letitia's Reaper (still unworthy of a name, whatever the girl claimed) was slim, lithe and feminine, Abyss Walker was hulking, with impossibly broad shoulders and thick, streamlined legs. Four thin wing-like protrusions of its angular flight pack poking out at angles behind it, long coolant pipes draining out of the shoulders, hooked up to the network of life support around it. One of the earliest prototype Reapers - a fusion of the abominable, preternatural hatred of the Entities and the pinnacle of conventional human warfare.

"I wouldn't say that it's mine," he said, looking up at it, voice soft and contemplative. "Possession implies control. I'm not so arrogant as to presume that I can control it."

She flopped down on the mattress; scavenging that which was once another's. That was all this world was. Nothing new was made here. Just trying to get whatever use they could out of a secondhand planet.

"Your assistance with the Tracers would be most appreciated. We've also got some Sentinels in need of a serious overhaul before they're in combative condition," he said, thankful for her help. He knew the basics of mechanics, but most of his knowledge was in how to maintain a Reaper - skills that didn't exactly translate to the far less esoteric units.

After she was finished, he found himself sitting down, leaning against the railing on the gantry; he himself was exhausted, although by no means to the extent that she was. "We'll go looking for your laboratory tomorrow. I'll find a way to do so without getting half my men killed this time."

He caught himself then, realising how tactless he'd been - especially given her subsequent statement. It clicked - she wasn't used to this. He didn't know if she'd ever killed anyone before today. Thousands had fallen to him, either by his hands or acting on his orders. He'd watched countless men march to their deaths, sacrificed them universally and willingly.

He wanted to tell her that it wasn't her fault, but he didn't, because it wasn't true - not entirely, at least. If she'd been a little less confident of how well-hidden her lab was, his men would still be alive. But at the same time, they'd gone there in his orders - and that didn't bother him in the slightest.

"This is war," he sighed, voice cold; he wasn't angry, probably too tired for that, but couldn't keep the iciness from his tone. "People die. It's what happens. Get used to it."

He forced himself to his feet, looking out over the gigantic chamber; he momentarily hoped that the trucks didn't get caught out while transporting Letitia's Reaper. Dark eyes flickered over the men scurrying about, working coolant lines and treating wounded.

"Men lost friends today, Letitia," he exhaled, looking away from her. "I lost friends. If you want to make it up to us, then stand by our side. The second you woke that Reaper up, this war - this world - became your problem."

He turned back to her, staring into her, through her, voice bitter and detached - harsher than he knew he should have been, but unable to summon up the will to cease.

"Make sure it's worth the price we paid."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

The coldness should have upset her, but it didn't. She recalled him mentioning he had been around a long time; he was probably used to war and death and destruction. She stared at him tiredly and waited for him to end his monologue. She just wanted to sleep... the sooner she slept the sooner she could begin working on whatever she needed to work on. "I'm pretty adept in working on Sentinels. My mom was a pilot. She did a lot of the upkeep for it herself. Paranoia, didn't trust anyone else to touch it. She taught me pretty well despite being batshit crazy for most of my life."

She took a moment to fully take in her surroundings. Chill was just starting to settle in now that she had stopped moving, but she didn't even care. She knew this was a war. She knew people died. It didn't mean she had to like it when it was directly caused by her. She also knew she couldn't prevent it, no matter what her resources were... she just cared a lot more that her uncles had ever cared about their servants or military dogs. "I know what war is, Valentine. War is what made my mother lose her mind after watching her brother's Sentinel get cleaved in half when she was only the same age as me. I may not have lost a lot of people to this war, but that's because I don't have friends or much family that I give a shit about to lose. I never let myself get that close to anyone... I knew someday it was going to be taken away from me, whether it be because I threw myself into the fight or because my asshole of an uncle decided to take it from me."

The woman sat back up with effort and stared at him. "I swore I would do everything I could to put an end to this war, and if piloting that Reaper gets me any farther than what anyone else has gotten so far, then I'll do it until there's nothing left of me. I'm not all false hope and innocence. I know this will probably be the death of me, but I have a lot less to lose than most people and a hell of a lot more to give than some... Don't doubt my intentions or my alignment. I made an enemy out of my family today. I don't have anywhere else to go."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

She's cold. Again, interesting - a common effect of XK-CULTIVATOR had been a lack of ability to grow truly attached. He'd liked the men who'd died, for certain - he would've counted them as much friends as anyone he'd ever known. But he didn't care. He'd already accepted their deaths; his first thought had been how to replace them. He didn't connect, not with anyone.

And that suited him just fine.

And was she the same? That was the question at hand. Perhaps she could be, in time. A terrible, terrible thought - but a necessary one? Maybe. Another Reaper could be exactly the edge he'd been looking for in this quest. But a Reaper was only ever as good as its pilot.

He let her finish talking, taking careful note of her phrasing. So, she was one of them, then - that was her statement. She was on their side, by virtue of having no-where else to go. From a given perspective, this was his doing - his approaching of her being what started this chain of events.

Necessary sacrifices.

"Then you've shown me your answer," he stated, walking away; he'd check over the situation, debrief the fireteam from the Sky District, and then sleep. However, at the last second, he stopped, and turned back to her, his voice a paradoxical mixture of smirking and solemn.

"Welcome to Childhood's End."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adam Valentine Character Portrait: Letitia Gazelle de Argentum
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Sleep was restless for her that night. Worries plagued her young mind and more than once she startled awake from nightmares- no, not nightmares... shadows of nightmares, and was glad there was no one nearby to hear her cry out. It wasn't unusual for her to have troubled sleep, no far from it... So many things she had seen and had been told over the years had made her dreams less than pleasant. At least she was alive to dream- she thought.

The fourth time she awoke it was nearly dawn and she found herself sweating harder than she had in a while, getting up and actually pacing around the mattress. The cold didn't bother her in this state, she was glad for it and her arm ached like hell. She was still exhausted, then again she didn't intend on getting proper rest any time soon. This time around she had work to do. Pulling on her jacket once she cooled down enough, she found herself quietly wandering around. Her hair was matted to her face with sweat, and she was pale from her exhaustion and injuries. Anyone who hadn't met her before would have thought she was merely a ghost wandering down the gantry. She needed to do something, her hands needed to be occupied. Out of the corners of her eyes she saw shadows, heard whispers, but they were not real whispers. No one was currently awake on the platform she found herself on when she finally had to sit down and close her eyes to rest.

Darkness.

She was surrounded by it. The silence was deafening. She couldn't hear herself breathe,she didn't know if she was alone or if the men that had been with her when the ceiling collapsed were still there. The expedition had gone terribly so far. The ruins were in very bad condition.

Letitia searched for something, anything... her pack had been tossed quite a ways away from her, but in it there were matches, a flashlight, her water canteen among other things. She needed to find that pack... but she had no idea where it had fallen. For what seemed like hours she moved a few inches at a time, searching thoroughly for a strap or SOMETHING to help her. The 15-year-old was terrified for the first time in her life. Never before had she felt anything so strongly; not love nor hatred nor fear... She didn't know why, but she just didn't feel things the way others did.

Nor did she care to.

Her hand brushed against something, it felt like the strap of her pack. Attached to it was the canteen which she drank from.


"Someone get Valentine."

Letitia drank just enough to quench her thirst before digging for her flashlight or her matches.

I wouldn't do that.

The voice echoed in her head, causing her to jump. "Who's there?" she rasped out of her still-dry throat. There was no moisture in the desert and little oxygen to be had in here. There was no reply.


"She's burning up."

"Man did you see what she did? She jumped into that Reaper with another thought? Was she even trained to use that thing?"

"Just fucking get Valentine."

Letitia tried to stand, but her legs were weak from the shock of adrenaline she could feel leaving her body now.It was so hot and dry. Even her sweat felt like it was evaporating faster than she was producing it. She fumbled with a match, just hoping to get a view of what was down here.

You'll die.

The teenager squeaked as the voice pulsed through her body. It felt like a shock to her system and she was on her knees again.

I can help you live.

She was confused.


"She's blacked out. I can't wake her."

The source of the voice had to be in the chamber with her. She stumbled forward reaching out to stabilize herself on a wall. She walked forward with her hand in front o her until she hit something.

If you help me find peace, I can help you live.

She dropped her pack, grabbing the flashlight and turning it on. It flickered, the battery extremely low, but what she saw before her was unlike anything she had ever seen before. The machine, if that's what it was, was huge. It sat against the wall as if it were taking a nap.

I'll protect you if you protect me.

What are you?

The One With Half of a Soul. Do you want to live?

Yes.

Then help me find peace. That is your due to me.

I don't know how.

Then let us find it together.

She had woken up with sun in her eyes and the entire cavern exposed to the sky, cradled in the arm of the Reaper. The guys claimed there had been an explosion and they found the Reaper still sitting there, shielding her.


Wake up Letitia.

Letitia's eyes shot open and she sat up with a cry, a pounding headache and a shudder. She looked around, dazed and confused as to where she was, but feeling better rested than when she had sat down... wait, where was she? Why was she here? What had happened to the steps? She had only sat down to catch her breath...

----------------------------------------------------------------------

"Reaper surge; she ought to be fine," Valentine said, with barely a look at the woman lying on the ground; he'd just checked behind her eyelids, and then walked away, knowing full well the situation already. He'd been here often enough himself - it was why he had so many coolant pipes running into Abyss Walker all the time. He'd hoped that Letitia's Reaper was going to be a little quieter.

Apparently not.

"Is she dreaming?" Ghost said, looming next to Valentine, the blonde-haired soldier easily a head taller. His thick arms were folded; it was odd for Valentine to see his comrade unarmoured, in a way. The man had always seemed somehow more than human - a walking lump of steel with a full-auto battle rifle in hand, ready to follow out every order to the death. Always unflinching, no matter what the world threw at him; his eyes, always somewhere else.

In a way, he and Valentine got along for that reason - they both understood what it was to outlive one's use-by date. They were both temporally anomalic soldiers. Ghost old before time, Valentine young long after his.

"Hallucinations?" Ghost asked, looking down at her; he'd carried her here, what with Valentine's arm quite thoroughly out of commission. She now lay upon the table that they used for planning operations, the maps hastily swept away - all the stretchers were occupied by wounded.

"Far more than that," Valentine said, turning around on the gantry, staring out at Abyss Walker. He swore that in the dull line of sensors, he saw a singular flare of light; he glanced down and away, towards where Eden had been brought in on the back of a group of trucks, occupying the remaining floor space in front of the rows of coolant pumps.

What are you two up to?

"It's taken her soul out of time itself," he explained. "Back to a moment in her past, I'd suspect, although the future isn't unheard-of either. The Entities bend time and space to their will. Once linked, they can touch you, wherever you are. When the energies of Reapers surge, it can tear one's soul from their body. They always bring you back, though."

Ghost's eyes fogged over. Valentine knew why well enough - he'd seen enough things himself, fought things that should never have been fought. No Sentinels nor Reapers to protect him - just heavy combat armour and a brace of shotgun shells on hand. The two of them didn't talk about their pasts much; a mutual understanding. But he knew that whatever Ghost had seen, it had imbued him with an eternal hatred of the preternatural.

He heard a cry behind him, and spun, stepping towards Letitia swiftly. The momentary temptation to place a comforting hand on her shoulder grasped him, but he forced it aside, and looked her up and down; she appeared to have managed to avoid injuring herself in any way, thankfully, nor did she have any mysterious cuts (the mark of such surges). She was fine enough, for the minute.

"When were you?" he asked, his tone soft and understanding.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia took deep breaths, calming herself down the best way she knew how.

"When were you?" her eyes snapped to Valentine. Her suddenly bright blue eyes slowly faded back to their natural black color as her breathing evened out and she seemed to come to her senses.

"A promise," she breathed, sitting fully up and swinging her legs off the table. Carefully, she stood, trying to catch her balance. She had experienced this once before, but it had been a long time. "When we met, I was dying. Trapped in ruins that collapsed. I was stupid and young at the time and lit a match underground, eating up a good portion of my oxygen. Eden warned me not too, but I was hot, terrified and wounded."

Her voice was still distant, but as she seemed to finally settle back into her body. Her eyes deglazed and she was suddenly very focused. "We made a deal back then, if I help her find solitude and peace, she'd protect me. Without a pilot she blasted us out of the ruins. I don't remember much, I passed out due to lack of air just before it happened. They found me sheltered in her arms when they managed to get down the crater she created to investigate," She turned to Valentine, her voice strong and her posture full of purpose. "She protected me. In return I took her back with me and protected her. After that she never spoke to me again, until recently when she started to occasionally whisper her name or strings of code that I was struggling with. I think she used a lot of her power saving me back then, and has only just recovered recently... I forgot about all that..."

Back then she swore it was a dream; she hadn't told anyone about the large machine that spoke to her. They would have thought she was insane. Instead she kept their agreement to herself and eventually it faded into her subconscious. "I think she's trying to tell me it's time to keep my end of the bargain."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Solitude... peace...

Lies. Valentine felt it. Reapers only existed insofar as they were in motion - when there were no souls to claim, then they did not, could not, exist. Human suffering was the very air they breathed. War was their existence - and, perhaps,

What form of Reaper could want peace?

Still, at least it was a reasonably harmless memory. Abyss Walker appeared to have taken up the hobby of bringing Valentine back to things that he decidedly did not wish to recall. Not born of hatred, though - Abyss Walker was a creature of pure hatred, as were all Entities, but they did not hate those whom they fed off. Valentine was too much a part of it now for it to ever consider hate.

No, rather, it all seemed to be birthed of curiosity more than anything.

"Ignore what it demands," he said, nodding over at where Letitia's pet abomination lay, skeletal limbs haphazard upon the floor. "You owe it nothing. It'll collect its dues from you in time."

A sombre statement, but one that needed to be made. That was the reality of their position. The more you used a Reaper, the more it took from you.

Until it had nothing left to take. Valentine almost loosed a bitter laugh at the thought.

How profoundly human of them.

"If I were you, I'd try to get as much done before that happens as possible."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia was listening yet not listening. Her head was still very far away, though what part of her soul that was still in her body was in tact. She turned to him, understanding him completely. "She's not demanding it, that's the problem. Something's coming, even if she doesn't know what it is... I know as long as I'm a part of this the chances are I'm going to die an early age," she told him, finally able to stabalize herself in the here and now.

For a moment she blinked and then sighed. "Sorry about that... according to my notes it's a side effect of only having half of my soul in my body. A soul's natural state is being whole, so when she takes me out- and no this isn't the first time, the half that she takes tries to find its way back to its other half," she explained. "It takes a few minutes for me to gain back my ground. I've slept long enough. It's time to get to work. Show me where the Sentinels are, I'll start with those. Later we'll talk about the rest of what I've promised you in resources. As soon as I can get to those, the better chance I have of being to help you repair whatever else needs fixing."

The airiness was gone from her voice. She was ready to continue on. She had a war to fight after all.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine found himself impressed by Letitia's request to begin work. He frankly hadn't expected her to be so driven, especially so swiftly after what she'd been through.

"With me," he stated, beginning the walk towards the stairwell. Within a few moments, they'd reached ground level, standing among the forest of coolant pumps and half-scrapped Sentinels.

"Start with whichever you please. Anything you require, you only need ask."

As she set to work, he thought back over what she'd said. Something's coming... an ominous statement, if there ever was one. Valentine wasn't the type to believe in the premonitions of abominations, but on the other hand, he knew better than to ignore what could be a dire warning. He turned to Ghost, who was still dutifully following him.

"Arm your men," he ordered. "Put your team on guard, concealed out in the tunnels. I think something's coming for us."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia looked at what she was given with to work with and a sudden grin crossed her face. "You sure know how to get a girl excited," she said before nearly diving into the half scrapped Sentinels and the parts that were just lying around them as if no one could figure out where to start. A minute later she popped up besides Valentine, looking as if someone had just given her the greatest gift ever. "Three questions: how many are there supposed to be? What are the minimal number you need? And do you have any WHOLE Sentinels to begin with?"

She loved mechanics. It was something she had spent years studying, always up to date on the latest technology but just as effective with older technology as well. She was thrilled to be given a project she could easily accelerate at. If it hadn't been for the circumstances surrounding her upbringing, she might have been a mechanic or even followed in her mother's footsteps. She was happier around machines and computers than she was around people; people were volatile and very few people were the same as one another. Even the fake spoiled kids had held some things deeper than others. She was a prime example of that. So much of her life had been spent in a room full of computers putting together ancient robots and retrofitting new technology into things. For her, recreating a few Sentinels was child's play, yet she knew it was essential.

Knowing what she had to work with was the first step to succeeding. She had been genuine when saying her alliances lay with them; she had no where else to go, and even if she did she wasn't sure she could get there on her own. Not only had she no knowledge of a Reaper's capabilities, but despite her years of combat training, even she couldn't face a whole army alone. She needed to work with Childhood's End if she were to get even close to her end goals.

"I can scrap a couple of the really bad ones and rebuild at least two of them based off of what I see. This is a cakewalk," there was no ego in her words, just an innate understanding. It was like there was a computer in her head calculating how much time it would take to scrap and rebuild and which of the parts that lie at her feet were still usable. For the first time in years she felt even the slightest at ease and felt like she could make a place for herself here.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

"To be honest, I'm not quite sure myself," Valentine half-grinned, with a small chuckle at how excited Letitia seemed to be working on the Sentinels. It was endearing, in a way; watching her run around, digging through piles of scrap for anything that looked useful.

"I think we've got four and a half - I loosely remember one of them getting bisected and dragged back here. There's one that's sort of whole," he nodded at one which was only missing a single arm (he mused that 'only a single arm' was an odd thought indeed), "but other than that, we're more or less left with a pile of scrap. If you can get even two of them back into combative condition, you'll have the thanks of every man here."

He was certainly appreciative of her will to work. He gestured around, calling the various mechanics over - he'd selected them for their talent in operating a Reaper, not in repairing Sentinels. Given that the technology in Abyss Walker was a few centuries older than these Sentinels, they'd been struggling for a good while. He was thankful for Letitia's aid.

"Help Letitia with whatever she needs," he said. "She appears to know what she's doing, but her arm is injured. She will require assistance, I should think."

He turned to Letitia, nodding. "My arm is still injured, but I will do what I can to aid you. However, I fear I will be of little use in physical tasks." After that, a slight grin crossed his face.

"Tea or coffee?"

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia was already directing the mechanics before Valentine offered her tea or coffee. She was focused, determined. "You three start deconstructing the half Sentinel. We can repurpose the arm to fit the other one that' only missing an arm," She ordered, clearly knowing what she was doing.

Still, there's always a naysayer in every group. "Um... miss, that one is missing its left arm, and this other one only has a right arm and they're not even the same mode-"

"Then I guess I'll just have to reprogram it and adjust to make it function as a left arm. Models make no difference, if you know what you're doing. In the end wiring is all the same and all manageable. Let me handle that, you just work on pulling it apart," she said with a roll of her eyes. She had done it before, and had watched her mother do it a few times. As Sentinels got older it was hard to find replacement parts and Letitia had quickly learned that retrofitting parts was quite easy if you had to.

She turned to Valentine. "Tea would be nice. Don't worry about the physical aspect. There's enough people to help me with this. I should have the Sentinel up and running by tomorrow," she gave a rough estimate, but as long as the team worked with her it was an accurate estimate. "I need Bot. He's very efficient as an assistant. I think he's still where I left him by my mattress... He'll be able to test parts to see what's still functioning and what's unusuable.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine watched her issue orders swiftly and pragmatically; beautiful in her brutal efficiency. He began to wonder if there was more to this girl - she was, after all, Human-PLUS. Perhaps she was not merely a living being, but a weapon - bred not just to live, but to fight and lead and kill.

Yet... something just didn't add up. XK-CULTIVATOR, Shape Memory Effect, the Ulysses Report - it had all proved that any attempt to control a Knight was impossible. Not mechanically, but conceptually - fate itself conspired, by some unknown mechanism. Whoever had created her, whatever connection they'd had - the timing meant that they had to know what had happened to the original Human-PLUS program. Had to know the state Kyoto had been in leading up to the accident. Had to know the probabilities, the explanations for the Incident.

It didn't add up. Why was she built? Did they hope to, in stripping something of its soul, create a being that they could control? Nobody capable of creating Human-PLUS was a fool.

Unless, of course, they hadn't intended to control her...

He mused over this as he put the tea and coffee together in the small kitchenette they'd set up on one side of the gantry; a skill he'd practiced back at Golgotha Base, many years ago. A different time; more peaceful, in a way, living in a delusion, deciding to pick his vision of the future, instead of the inevitability. Knowing it would all come down on him, and ignoring it.

Eventually, he was settled; a half-dozen espressos for the team and himself, and a rather strong Japanese tea for Letitia. He handed out the drinks comfortably, leaning against a wall and taking a sip from his espresso - one of the old habits.

"I trust I'm not too rusty with the tea?" he asked, before deeming to move onto more serious matters. "You have my thanks for getting it operational. Once you're feeling a little more experienced, I might enlist your help in repairing Abyss Walker - assuming that it lets you near itself, of course."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

While Valentine made tea and coffee, Letitia found herself walking amongst the wreckage after someone located Bot and brought it to her.

"Well mistress we actually have a fair haul of workable parts. They're in shambles, but we have at least three functioning Sentinels here... If we count in that thing at the warehouse there's four..." Bot made about testing parts to make sure they worked. Despite it being a drone the personality chip she had discovered made it talk and seem like a human, and it even had a certain degree of free will.

"Good. We'll retrieve what's at the warehouse soon enough. We really need these working though," she replied, a wrench in her hand as she loosened parts up enough to pull the apart so they could be reassembled later. Already she had an organization system going and there seemed to be dedication piles of parts, weapons, and miscellaneous nuts and bolts. And it hadn't even been a half hour. The half Sentinel was being pulled apart, its arm being relocated over by the armless Sentinel and the rest of the parts all going to the respective piles.

"The good news; we have the parts for three functioning Sentinels here with plenty of spare parts for repairs," Letitia approached Valentine and took the proffered tea. She sips at the hot substance and nodded her approval. "Not too bad. Its drinkable."

She didn't mean to sound like it was disappointing. It was actually quite good, but she had spent so much of her life drinking tea the way her grandfather, and she, had made it that anything else was hard to swallow. However she enjoyed the taste and warmth. "I have another whole Sentinel in my warehouse. Its missing some things, but it just lucks out that those components we have extras of here that I can put in it. We'll have four whole functioning Sentinels at that point. Its a bit on the older side, but its pilot keeps it in good shape."

She turned to look at him, a wistful smile on her face. "Though I might have to fight her to relinquish control of it. Its my mother's..."

Officially her mother was dead. There had been news reports of her suicide all over the city a few years ago, an unfortunate casualty of war. No one had ever found her body, then again it was assumed that throwing your body off of one of the tallest buildings in the sky district to the world below didn't leave much to find.

In truth Letitia had kept her far away from the city as possible. Her mothers insanity and obsessive need to fight had driven the family to attempt to get rid of her, and the young girl wasn't anywhere near ready to be a true orphan. So she had hidden the woman away and the Sentinel she was dedicated to even more than she had ever been to her daughter and made sure they couldn't go anywhere. "Your people are efficient. I like this. Its the first time I haven't had to do EVERYTHING by myself just to get results," she commented as everyone took a few minutes to drink their coffee. Bot came floating around to her.

"All scraps have been separated from functionary parts Mistress! Plenty of scrap metal to play with if needed!" It chirped before scooting off to go help with reprogramming of the arm.

Letitia knew this feeling of calm wouldn't stay. She could feel the already familiar hum of Eden in the back of her mind, prodding curiously to see what was going on.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

An extra Sentinel... and her mother's, at that. Further conspiracy? Perhaps. Still didn't add up. He'd done the research - knew who her mother was. A battlefield legend, more or less; born outside the city, having slain thousands of enemies over a career as illustrious as it was bloody. Married into the wealthy de Argentum family, finally safe - a fairytale ending.

Hardly the truth. Valentine knew that well enough. You didn't just go home. Once you stepped foot in those wastelands, you were stuck there forever - under a searing sun, the ash-tasting wind in your lungs, the ground crumbling beneath your feet, looking up at a stained sky. Always asking - why?

No, she hadn't come home, any more than he had. Gone mad and ended her own life. Just another tragic casualty of a war that had already claimed so much from this world.

But it never quite added up. Why Letitia, of all people? It was almost too good. Daughter of a battlefield legend - a concept not dissimilar to a Cultivator. It fitted too neatly. Had it been arranged - her birth itself? Was she created to be a weapon, or was it coincidence?

He knew now that he needed to get to the bottom of it. He needed answers as to who she was, if he was going to trust her. It was all just a little too convenient. Something was off, even if she herself hadn't realised it.

And he was going to find out what it was.

"We should go and see your mother," he said, sipping the last of his coffee; his statement was matter-of-fact, absolute, more an order than a suggestion. "I'd like to speak with her. After that, we can obtain her Sentinel. Will you be capable of issuing instructions to the engineers here? We can leave your 'Bot' behind to guide them."

His decision to go to find her mother was more than just curiosity, and a desire for a new Sentinel. If anyone knew how to get to Old King, it would be her - from his research, she'd've arrived at around the same time as him. Given the weight of Old King's arrival, and how high-ranked she'd been in the family tree, she had to have some idea.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia watched him for a moment as he seemed to mull something over. She figured he was wondering how and why she had a Sentinel stored away. Honestly, at the time she couldn't explain her decision to remove it from existence; no one really noticed a missing Sentinel. Some whispers on the street put her mother's missing body together with the missing Sentinel and swore that Mora de Argentum had simply managed to fool the idiot doctors at the hospital into thinking she jumped and had taken her Sentinel back out to the battlefield she loved so much.

The young woman had very few fond memories of her mother. The woman was always trying to force her into combat classes she didn't want, or dragging her out by her hair from her books and her computers. Her mother had been strict, when she was around which was very rare. Neither of her parents were around a lot, but when Mora had been around she bordered on abusive to her own child.

She looked up at him as he suggest- no, it was in the tone of an order- that they go pay a visit to her mother and the Sentinel. "Well we don't really have a choice if we want to have another Sentinel on our side... Though like I said, my mother won't give it up easily. The only reason she isn't out running around with it is because I made sure it can't run without me there to supervise. My mother is a bit... destructive," she said softly, looking at her feet with a bit of sorrow. "I'm going to need a few more weapons. My mother has a tendency towards trying to kill me, especially when it's been a while since she's seen me and she doesn't recognize me. Not fond of strangers in her deranged state. She seems terrified of someone taking the Sentinel away from her. I think it's because she's been piloting for so much of her life she feels unprotected without it."

It wasn't easy to admit. No one liked having a homicidal mother. "Giving these guys instructions should be fairly easy, and I have a headset at the warehouse that lets me communicate through Bot, if need be," she said before quickly sketching out some plans in the dirt and explaining to one of the engineers what she needed the team to do. "If you can at least get this far, once I get back the rest will be easy. I'll have the rest of what I need then to retrofit what I have to and make the rest of it work for us."

"That sounds easy enough. We can have it done in a day or two, ma'am," The man nodded and started issuing directions to everyone else. Letitia was impressed by how efficient everyone was around here.

"We can head out now if you want. The sooner we get there, the sooner we get back... though if you don't mind I'd prefer we travel lightly and only take a small number with us if you're comfortable with that... Less noticeable, and less likely to aggravate my monster of a mother."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Valentine contemplated Letitia's request. On one hand, he was heavily disinclined to leave without a fully-armed guard; on the other, the young woman had a very good point about her mother. Letitia talked of the woman as one might a distant, faintly-disliked acquaintance; dispassionately, with the faintest tone of disdain. She was far less dangerous without a Sentinel to pilot, but could well be a threat - the mad were always unpredictable, especially one so well-trained as Letitia's mother. It would be a mistake to underestimate her.

"Then we go," he said, nodding firmly. He began assessing their proceedings of the situation - he'd need to get Abyss Walker repaired before offensive action was a possibility. Letitia's Reaper was powerful, but as-yet unproven in large-scale open battle against a foe that was prepared for its strength. And there remained the possibility of the city's guns having a wider range of turning than anticipated - even a craft so well-armoured as Abyss Walker would fall if slammed by enough high-powered rounds from those cannons. They'd need to disable them discreetly if they wanted to seize the Sky District.

Behind him, he heard Ghost move to fall in behind him, the heavy ceramic plates of the man's armour shifting as he walked. He raised a staying hand, turning to the man and shaking his head.

"Just her and I, this time," he commanded. He saw conflicting loyalties tear within Ghost; the man's desire for battle and his belief in his commanding officer colliding. Perhaps there was also a hint of protectiveness in there, although Valentine found himself doubting it. The man was a warrior - born and bred. He knew better than to form personal attachments that might put him at risk - or had he become so weak, so quickly?

The armoured veteran paused, considered his position, and then drew his handgun - a high-powered military-issued type, chambered for 8mm armour-piercing rounds capable of punching through a solid half-inch of ceramic plate. Valentine started a second, before the taller man flipped it around and offered the grip to him.

Valentine accepted it graciously; it slid inside his coat neatly enough, leaving only a small bulge in the loose garment. He'd already put on his bulletproof vest when he'd gotten dressed - a cautionary measure, in case Cocytus was compromised. It wouldn't do to die of a mere shrapnel wound to the chest, now would it?

"You need to start carrying around a proper gun, commander," Ghost nodded; beneath the grim visor of his helm, Valentine could almost feel the man's taunting smile. "That little five-millimetre is an embarrassment to our entire group."

"I'm not even going to bother making the 'compensating for something' joke here," Valentine smiled to the soldier; but in truth, he was grateful. Without a team at his back, it was best to be prepared, and Ghost's weapon was of a decent bit of sentimental value to boot. Where Ghost was from, the surrendering of one's weapon was a gesture of absolute trust.

The two men were not quite friends, even now, but Valentine knew that Ghost counted them as such, as so, returned every smile he could. He turned to Letitia, his voice returning to seriousness in contemplation of the task ahead.

"Do you require anything?" he asked, now feeling a little safer with the heavy weight of a loaded weapon inside his coat. "We should endeavour to leave as soon as possible."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia was still weaponless, her weapons laying where she had left them when she had passed out. Bot came floating over. "Mistress I have your sword, ma'am!" it said, pulling the sword out of a compartment in its abdomen before returning back to its job.

"Well apparently not," she said, looking a bit surprised yet not surprised at all. Bot was fully equipped to be able to 'think', per se. While he wasn't capable of human thought, he was programs to notice things like Letitia's weapons not being on her. That was a rare occurrence in itself. It could even activate its own 'Protocols' if she was absent. With her sword reattached to her hip she found herself a bit more at ease. "The sooner we leave the better. After yesterday I have little trust in my own security measures, though anyone trying to enter the warehouse through any of the normal entrances are in for a few nasty surprises. That place is very well sealed, for safety reasons."

The last time her mother had managed to escape had ended very badly for a few unfortunates that were a bit too close and curious. "My mother is highly trained in hand-to-hand combat as well. Last time she went 'adventuring' there were some incidents that took a lot of cleaning up on my part. Do you realize how easily blood cleans up and is hidden in a sandstorm? It's quite terrifying, really," she said, a tone of detachment in her voice. "Let's go. The sooner we go the sooner we get back."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

"I'll say this," Valentine said, leading them out of Cocytus; the side entrance to the chamber felt tiny compared to the gigantic double doors that encompassed on entire wall, "I've never much liked robots, but I'm starting to see the advantages."

He'd had enough bad experiences with machines; insofar as he was concerned, they removed a distinctly human element from war. An unusual prospect, given the extent to which he wished war itself to end, but he felt that any death should have a human touch - after all, a living, thinking human being could take responsibility for their actions, would have to live with the weight, even a little.

The only robots he'd ever met, aside from the most basic maintenance drones, were designed for combat. Still, it was nice to see one that had some modicum of capability, yet wasn't designed explicitly for killing things. He had to admit, Bot's design was rather endearing.

"Cleaning up blood's never been my responsibility," he said, a little unnerved by how detached she was - how was she maintaining this detachment? She sounded more like Ghost than anyone, saying things like that - and Ghost was a former child soldier, for crying out loud.

"But of course, I've never stayed in one place long enough for that sort of thing to matter anyway."

They emerged into the tunnels, and jumped a little as the armoured personnel entrance of Cocytus slammed closed behind him. The sound was bizarrely close to that of a gunshot, always had been; he didn't leave much, nor did anyone. Indeed, yesterday's foray to find Letitia had been his first in a few weeks; before that, he'd spent his time trying to repair Abyss Walker.

Eventually, they made their way to the surface; they emerged through a manhole onto a deserted street. It was still the low hours of the morning, and the night shift at the factories had not yet ended; the only sound that filled the streets was the booming of heavy machinery, like the sound of a vast monster thudding in the distance.

"Where to?" he asked, looking around warily - yet another soldier's habit. God, I'm getting jumpy in my old age...

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Letitia smiled. "Most Robots aren't as useful as Bot is. A lot of the 'lab assistants' are so... over programmed to do one job they can't do anything else. That and humans hate putting personality chips into anything that doesn't need it. I however, had a bit too much time on my hands and a spare personality chip and ended up with a very reliable assistant. He's also programmed for more than just one task. Multiple tools help him weld, scan and studying, plan out, and he's got a very advanced engineering program that I created when I was 12 and bored that helps him be able to assist me in retrofitting parts."

She looked around the empty street, trying to get her bearings for a moment. They were quite a ways away from where her warehouse was, but that was okay. She had quick ways to get there unnoticed. "Come on," she whispered, heading towards the north end of the city. "There's a relic of an underground exit to the outside of the north end of the city. I found it when I was younger. The warehouse is a bit of a drive outside of the city, but I was always prepared for the event of having to relocate everything there in case of emergency."

The walk didn't take half as long as she anticipated, but the uncovering the exit was much more difficult. She was still one-armed though she was happy that her arm had ceased hurting. "Stupid broken arm," she ground out as she shifted some junk, just enough that she could get the door open and they could slip through. Underground they went again. It was very dark until she flicked a switch and a trail of ancient lighting flickered to light. Half of the lights along the tunnel were broken or burnt out after so much time. "I hardly ever come down here. I left the city once a year in the last few years to check the warehouse and make sure my mother lay undisturbed... it's been a bit longer than a year this time around though."

After another 20 minutes of walking they popped out into another wider series of tunnels, though it was a fairly linear path and soon they were popping up pretty far outside the city. "This is an advantage point by the way. Not many people know about it, but not many people have access to the city's security plans," she pointed to the wall. "The guns aren't functioning on this side and they haven't bothered to fix them in the last two years. There's about a 5 kilometer span of wall that's protected only by a few armed guards who are too damn lazy to give a shit. The dumbasses we have for a 'city council' didn't see a need to pour money into it and instead upgraded the more frequently hit places with better guns and more troops. If we had a way to say... place some heavy weaponry or a Reaper here, it'd be a very weak spot to hit and we could gain the upper hand."

Letitia knew a lot about the security of the outer wall. For a short time she had been on the council, which had given her access to a lot of things that most people didn't have access to. "I have a lot of information about things like that... Rich people have too much time and not enough cares in the world. When a prodigy child comes along that awes them they tend to get too lax about it. No one ever noticed my paying attention to their conversations, or my stealing of security codes and cards. I honestly don't think anyone cared," she admitted, heading away from the city. "I have transportation hidden out here that's been here for two or three years and has never been touched. It took them 25 years to discover those underground labs.... they were there in my grandfather's time. Everyone believes my mother is dead or that she somehow escaped and took her Sentinel with her. No one ever suspected me of taking it. It's sort of pathetic really."

The day's heat was already quickly building and she found herself slipping her red coat off. She couldn't wait to get a change of clothes when she got to the warehouse; she was still covered in sweat and blood from the battle the day before. As they approached a sand dune it was quite obvious that something was hidden there; small turret guns turned on them until she pulled her dataslate out and typed in a code. This far outside the city it should have been inactive; most things didn't work unless they were connected to the city's network, yet the turrets stood down and they were safely passed them before they activated again, this time protecting them. "Thank you. Despite the complete fiasco most of this has been, you got me out of that city and gave me something to hope for. I'll make it worth your while as best as I can," she looked at him as she uncovered a truck hidden by a sand-colored tarp. No, it wasn't sand colored- it flickered as it moved reflecting the sky for a moment before it returned to looking like sand... she set it aside, pinning it down with rope and metal pins that seemed to be deeply embedded in the earth. The technology was rare but not unheard of: it used light sensors to reflect its background into the eye of the viewer, almost like glass. It was typically used in armor back in the older days, but after someone realized it could be used in a thin tarp-like sheet it had been used to hide troops or weapons in coups for years until it faded out of style.

"It's about half a day's drive from here. It should be midday by the time we get there, and hopefully if things go smoothly we can be back with the Sentinel by the middle of the night, when it's dark," she told him.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

In a word, the wasteland could only be described as 'desolate'.

This edge of it was sandy, like a vast beach that stretched thousands of miles inland. In the distance, he thought he could see the ocean, although he couldn't tell if the far-off shining was just desert haze. The wind that blowed should have been warm, but was just cold, and not fresh, either. It tasted ever-so-faintly of ash; there was no life, no cool sea breeze, because the ocean itself was so stained with blood and radiation as to no longer support life.

Not natural life, at least.

The optical camouflage flickered as she shifted it, the matrix eventually collapsing in on its own complexity as she folded it, revealing its nature. It had once been used for combat armour, and he'd been meaning to procure some cloaks of the material for Ghost's unit - unfortunately, these days, it was generally deemed too expensive to be worth issuing to soldiers. Weight of numbers tended to prevail over survivability, these days; the longer this war continued, the less human life meant.

Inside was a light truck, sand-camouflaged and frankly, about a thousand years old, by the looks of it. It wasn't badly-outfitted, and looked neatly enough preserved, but he had no goddamned clue where she'd found that sort of relic - its aesthetics were archaic and utilitarian, its panels solid metal instead of boron carbide plate or hard polymer.

Still, it looked like it would still run, and he walked over to this, tapping it on the hood a few times; the mere fact that the metal didn't crumble away into rust astounded him in and of itself. He nodded to her to get in, walking over to one of the sentry guns she'd set up.

A quick poke around it revealed it to be a standard-issue type, favoured by militaries worldwide; a pattern that had been used since the mid-21st century, little more than a servo, a simple fire control system, a laser sight and a belt-fed machine gun. After some investigation, he pulled his weapon from his coat, detached the slide and retrieved the firing pin from its mechanism. He used the edge of the slide to pry open the casing on the side of the servo, and a few solid taps of the pin caused a shuddering click and the whining of the unit powering down.

He grabbed the gun then; it wasn't hefty, an infantry-issue support weapon no different to the billions like it used around the globe. He quickly checked the action while reassembling his own substantial sidearm; it'd need some sand cleaned out of it, but otherwise, it looked perfectly functional. A surprise, after all these years of disuse.

"Old soldier's trick," he said, sliding his pistol back inside his coat and hefting the large machine gun. "Mechanism's terribly-built. Falls apart after just a few taps to the right places. Figured we could do with some backup firepower."

He was in the habit of grabbing weapons wherever he went; a little irrelevant, now that they had one of the wealthiest and best-prepared individuals in Aegis backing him, but it was still a comfort. If, for some reason, they ran into some bandits - or, god forbid, an actual military force - in these godforsaken wastes, a decent 7.62mm machine gun would go a long way towards keeping the both of them alive. Besides, tinkering with it would give him something to do in the long car trip.

He set himself inside the passenger seat; ordinarily, he'd prefer to drive, but he hadn't the first clue where they were going, so that much was best left to Letitia. He found himself looking around the car's interior when it struck him - why he'd recognised this thing so quickly.

"Hey, I think I used to have one of these!" he said to Letitia as she climbed in, a grin crossing his features. "Must have been ages ago. Watch the clutch, it's a little on the heavy side."

Wait, what? How? He realised that it was just a fragment - he just remembered the interior layout, nothing more. Yet it felt so familiar - from an older life? He'd lived a damned long time, but his memory span was only human. The early days were just fragments. He must've had an entire life that was lost to history by now.