“I’m not sure if I’m in the mood for Wenapaj food,” Teria said skeptically as they sat down at one of the cafe tables.
One shook his head, looking a bit winded. “I just need a sec to rest.”
“Nocturnes, you really are tired, aren’t you?” Teria tutted at him. “That’s what you get for goofing off in the Elsewhere Mansion for so long.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” One admitted. “I keep meaning to get some exercise, but ...”
One stopped talking as a serving lady wearing a royal purple robe and an obviously fake red mustache approached them. “Can I help you?”
“Sure.” Teria fished out a few shards and handed them to the waitress. “A couple of Iggy-colas?”
The serving lady stuck the shards in her mustache, which quickly absorbed them. “I’ll be back in a moment.”
Once the lady was gone, Teria suggested, “I could try to hotwire a floater.”
One waved her off. “The last thing we need is more attention.”
“You make it sound like I was gonna screw up.” Teria pouted.
The server returned with their drinks. “If you want anything else, just give a shout, okay?”
As she walked away, Teria and One sat on the bench, their eyes on the street as they sipped and gulped at their drinks respectively.
“Y’know,” She commented, leaning back and kicking out her legs, “This place ain’t as bad as I thought it’d be.”
“How so?” One asked.
“I dunno. I guess I grew up thinking that Ronisgald was nothing but technology. I thought the whole nation would be just like the Hub, but just look at this place. It just seems so peaceful.” Teria took another sip of her drink and let out a sigh.
One abruptly straightened, his eyes catching on something. “Maybe not.”
Teria set down her drink. “What is it?”
“Straight across the road, third alley to the right.”
Teria’s eyes darted to the street he had indicated. A kid no older than thirteen was walking toward an alleyway, unaware that within waited two shady men who looked ready to pounce.
One stood up, calling out, “Hey, kid!”
The kid stopped, mere feet away from the alleyway.
“Yeah, you! Come here a sec!”
The boy immediately bolted down the street, the two shady men following moments later.
“Son of a …” One readied Headache and rose to his feet.
Teria grabbed his arm, hissing, “What are you doing?”
“I can’t just sit here while that kid gets jumped,” One replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
She started to argue, but One was already running after the boy and the muggers. Sighing, she muttered, “Great.”
Teria quickly caught up with One as they continued closing the distance between themselves and the shady men chasing the boy. As the boy and the men ducked into an alley, Teria knew they didn’t have much time to waste and sprinted past One.
She turned the corner just in time to see the larger thug grab the kid by the throat and lift him off the ground.
“Sorry, kid,” The other thug said, grinning, “Our orders were quite specific about what to do if we found anyone poking around. No hard feelings.”
Teria’s foot caught the thug in the back of the head, startling him enough to make him drop the boy. Before the thug could recover, Teria slammed a fist into his solar plexus with enough force to raise the poor fellow off of the ground. As he gasped for air, the other thug approached Teria from behind, brandishing a knife.
Teria caught the thug’s hand and gave it a sharp twist. With a cry of pain, the thug dropped the knife to the ground. The thug tore away from Teria’s grasp and came about swinging. Teria batted his flailing fists aside with ease and countered with a solid punch that sent the thug flying into a nearby garbage can.
The first thug was back on his feet. Roaring like a wounded lion, he rushed at Teria with murder in his eyes.
Teria leapt over the man’s hulking form, pausing only to kick off of the fellow’s head. By the time he turned around, Teria was already airborne. Her foot smashed into the man’s face with a painful-sounding crunch that sent the thug reeling backwards. With a final, well-aimed jab to the chin, the large thug fell to the ground in a daze.
Something hit the wall behind her with enough force to send bits of plaster flying. She turned to see One with his Headache-clad arm aimed at the second thug, who was still looking at his hand confusedly. A small energy pistol was pinned to the nearby wall with a thick metal rivet.
“Now, now,” One said, his eyes glinting dangerously. “Let’s keep this civil, shall we?”
The man reached into his coat pocket, but soon found Teria’s claws at his throat.
“I wouldn’t try that if I were you,” She hissed in his ear.
“This don’t concern you,” The thug said, his eyes darting to the prone body of his partner.
“Yeah, I get that a lot.” One approached the remaining thug, Headache still at the ready. “Now are you going to take your friend here and get lost, or am I gonna have to do some persuading here?”
“You’re bluffing!” despite his words, there was a definite note of panic in the thug’s voice.
Almost lazily, One ripped a brick from the nearby wall and crumbled it to dust with one metallic hand. He flicked the remaining thumbnail-sized piece at the thug, hitting the fellow square in the nose.
“I have orders!” The thug said, clearly shaken.
“Orders?” Teria asked, surprised, “Who orders a thug around?”
“A bigger thug,” One’s narrowed. “You’re with the Revs, aren’t you?”
“I ain’t no Rev!” the thug squealed, “I just work for ‘em!”
“Yeah, I know a goon when I see one.” One continued to approach the thug until he was mere inches away. Resting the exposed muzzle of the rivet driver on the thug’s head, One said, “I’m gonna give you some advice: the Revs are nothing but trouble. Stay far away or you’ll get crushed with them. Understand?”
The thug nodded quickly, though he probably would have nodded if One had asked him if he were Cleftan.
“Good. Now take your friend and get lost.”
Teria released the thug, who quickly grabbed the arm of his dazed friend and pulled the stumbling fellow out of the alleyway.
“By the Creator, you hammed that up.” Snorting, Teria turned to One. “Overacting much?”
“Just trying to give him a good scare. It worked, didn’t it?”
Shaking her head, Teria walked over to where the boy had been hiding during the fight and hauled him to his feet. “You okay, kid?”
He tore away from her grasp, not surprising considering what had happened to the last person Teria touched. “Who in Noxturnes are you people?”
“I’m Narra-” One stopped abruptly as Teria’s elbow dug into his right side. “Er, Glen. I’m Glen. This is my sister, Tia.”
Staring at the guy, he asked, “Your sister's tigreth?”
One and Teria exchanged glances.
“Would you believe I’m adopted?” One asked, a sheepish grin on his face.
His fear fading fast, the kid replied, “Not really.”
Letting out a sigh, One said, “I’m a Dreamer of the Elsewhere Incorporate, and this is Daughter Teria Myssohn of Longshore.”
The kid looked at the both of them for a long moment before bursting out into laughter.
“Hey!” One and Teria objected immediately.
The kid shook his head, still laughing. “Next time, just stick with the adoption thing.”
Rolling his eyes, Teria said, “We don’t have time for this, One. The kid’s safe. Let’s get back on track.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Turning back to the kid, the man said, “Take it easy and avoid alleyways, kid.”
The kid grabbed One’s metal hand. “Hang on! You knew about the Revs! How?”
One raised his eyebrows at the kid. “It’s a long story. Then again, I’m a Dreamer; it’s always a long story with me. Question is, how do you know about the Revs?”
“Look, my name’s Cid Hacker. I’m a tech by trade, but I specialize in debugging software and cleaning up computer networks.”
“You found out about the Revs while troubleshooting computers?” Teria asked, raising an eyebrow at the boy.
“No. Sorry; in my free time, I’m a freelance hacker.”
‘Cid Hacker the hacker,” One said, shaking his head. “Cute.”
Cid continued, “I’ve been doing some digging for a buddy of mine. Someone's been stealing from every bank and credit union in the district. It's always small amounts; a few shards here, a couple there … most people thought they were careless with their finances. Well, I did a trace on all the funds, and found they were being funnelled to one of the accounts held by the-”
“Let me guess,” Teria said wryly, “The Celestial Cathedral.”
Cid looked at the Teria suspiciously. “How in Nocturnes do you know that?”
“Did a little digging myself.” Teria turned her head, revealing a shiny datajack on the back of her neck.
“Oh, you’re a hacker too!” Cid said with obvious relief. “Well, I dug around in the Church servers for a bit, and that’s when I found-”
“-that a mysterious group of off-worlders calling themselves ‘Revs’ are masquerading as monks and priests of the Celestial Cathedral,” One said matter-of-factly.
Cid’s mouth fell open.
One chuckled and clapped Cid on the back. “Relax, kid; they’re why we’re here.”
“But how do you know about them?” Cid asked, “I’ve got a first class avatar on the weave, and I was barely able to hack the church’s server!”
“I have my sources,” One said mysteriously.
Snorting, Teria said, “Don’t mind him; he’s a Dreamer. We know about the Revs because the dolt who tried to pilot that dragon-mech in Ircandesta was wearing a Rev insignia pin.”
“The dragon-mech?” Cid asked, still looking a little suspicious. “You mean the Breath of Fire, right?”
“Yeah, the Breath of Fire,” One said. “We’re here to find some definite proof that the Revs are behind the accident in Ircandesta.”
“Proof? What kind of proof?” Cid asked, suddenly excited.
One shrugged, “Validated video files, a few snapshots of the jerks dressed as monks, that sort of thing. We need proof that the Revs are here before the Council can do anything.”
Cid looked at the two of them for a long moment before finally nodding. “They have another dreadnaught.”
One stared at Cid. “Another one? And you’ve seen it?”
“I found a few pictures in the database; it looks like a big white wolf.”
“With flame markings, right?” When Cid nodded, One let out a sharp laugh. “Hot damn, it’s the Okami!”
Without waiting for a response, One turned to Teria. “This is perfect, Teria! If we grab the Okami and bring it back to Muonsol, I can prove it’s from Earth-”
“-and the Council will have proof it needs to act!” Teria finished excitedly. “It’s perfect, but what about the portal and Mikaen?”
“Damn. I forgot about that.” Glancing at Cid, One asked, “Have you found anything about how the Revs got here in the first place?”
Cid shook his head.
“Cyber-cripes,” One muttered, scratching his head. “I can’t be in two places at once.”
He looked at Teria. “What do you think? The proof or the portal?”
To say Teria seemed surprised would be an understatement. “Wha … me? You’re the Dreamer!”
“You wanted me to involve you more. Well, consider yourself involved.”
Teria appeared to think about it. “We don’t have any idea where the portal is or where to look for it, other than the Headquarters of the Security Force. Of course, we don’t know where the Okami is either.”
She glanced curiously at Cid. “Do we?”
Perking up, Cid said, “I didn’t have a chance to finish decrypting the information yet, but if I had access to the computer core in the Security Force HQ, I think I’d be able to break through the encrypted data.”
One and Teria exchanged glances.
“It’s too convenient,” he said, shaking his head.
She punched him playfully in the arm, saying, “Oh, come on! We were gonna sneak in anyway. This way we can get the info we need and still have time to snatch up the Okami. Hey, it couldn't be any harder than the time we snuck into the Junkyard.”
“I guess not, but I doubt Riike'll just look the other way after what happened last time.” A sharp pang in his head made One stop short. “Rikke, galden living in Ronisgald, had a weird thing about spoons.”
“You remember?” Teria asked, tentatively touching his arm.
“We built a glider for the Glyche Circuit,” One said as old memories slid back into place. “But we never got to race; we used the glider to save …”
“Yes?” Teria pressed.
Sighing, One shook his head. “I'm sorry.”
Cid looked between the two of them with a cautious expression. “Is everything okay?”
“It's fine.” Shaking his head, One asked, “So you need the Security Force's mainframe. Do you have a way into their headquarters?”
“You kidding?” replied Cid, “Who do you think they get to run maintenance on their systems every week?”
One, Teria, and their new friend Cid started toward the Galden Security Force Headquarters just as Mikaen and Jade passed from the Hub into the Central Core corridors.
Every now and then, a skriever or two would pass them, chittering softly. Jade assured Mikaen that they were harmless, but Mikaen couldn’t help but be apprehensive; the sound of the pincers running across the metal floor was unsettling.
He knew it wasn’t the skrievers that had him on edge; he was anxious about meeting Angela. Back on Earth, the idea of a fully intelligent artificial life form was just a pipe dream, the leftover whisperings of pre-Devastation technology. The most advanced A.I. he had ever encountered had been in an old video game. The way both Alex and Jade spoke of Angela sounded almost reverent. Mikaen wonderedjust what kind of a machine … no, what kind of a person she would be.
Jade glanced back at him. “You’ve been awfully quiet.”
“Just thinking,” Mikaen replied, smiling at her. “All this advanced technology almost makes me wish for the good old days.”
She chuckled. “Yeah, right. Running from the Revs, fighting off creatures from the Rips, Jyle chasing a new girl every week, and you and Maria fighting one minute and acting like a pair of love-birds the next … er, no offense.”
“The good old days.” She breathed wistfully. “I miss it too sometimes. Ronisgald is nice, but I miss Nevada.”
“I miss Syrin too,” Mikaen said, understanding what she meant. “I hope she’s doing okay.”
Shaking his head, Mikaen chuckled. “Can you imagine how she’d react to what’s become of all of us? I mean, me a sentient, Jyle the leader of an entire country. Heck, all three of us happily married or close to it.”
She didn’t respond.
Feeling awkward, Mikaen let out an awkward cough. “I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s okay.” Jade let out a sigh. “I just wish he’d be a little more serious.”
“You want to talk about it?” Mikaen asked gently.
She waved it off. “It’s nothing. I just …”
Mikaen waited patiently for her to continue.
Letting out a frustrated sigh, Jade turned around to face Mikaen. “I mean, he disappears from Ronisgald for weeks, then just shows up out of the blue as though nothing happened. I asked him about it, but all he tells me is that some dragon went on a rampage. I know Kevin’s a child at heart; that’s part of why I married him. Still, he’s always worrying me like that ... okay, well maybe not exactly like that, but you get the idea.”
“This Kevin,” Mikaen began, a sinking feeling growing in his chest, “He wouldn’t happen to be part of the Security Force, would he?”
“Yeah, he’s a sergeant. You’d think that’d make him a bit more responsible. I mean, seriously … a dragon? This isn’t Earth! There aren’t dragons flying all over the place.”
“Oh, lord,” Mikaen muttered.
Given the chaos surrounding the incident with the Breath of Fire, it was unlikely that Kevin would recognize Tirinia … at least, Mikaen hoped it was unlikely. Kevin had seemed a nice enough guy, but he was still a member of the Galden Security Force.
He was still thinking about it as they turned a corner and walked straight into a small detachment of the Security Force.
For a long moment, both groups looked at each other in silence. Mikaen had just enough time to wonder if he could attempt some kind of deception before one of the soldiers shouted, “There he is! Get him!”
“Uh, Jade?” Mikaen glanced aside only to find her gone.
His hand inching toward Truth, he muttered, “Figures.”
Two of the soldiers heads were suddenly smacked together hard enough to make Mikaen wince.
As they fell to the ground, the third soldier whirled around and shouted, “Halt!”
Mikaen clubbed him in the head with the flat of Truth. As the soldier fell to the ground with his compatriots, Jade reappeared in front of Mikaen, hands on her hips.
“Figures?” She asked, giving him a sharp look.
Mikaen shook his head. “Sorry. Too many Dreamers in my life.”
“Dreamers?” She shook her head. “Nevermind; let’s hurry to Angela before we run into another patrol. We’re not far now.”
They hurried down the corridors. The Security Force patrol hadn’t presented much of a problem, but there were plenty more out there.
Jade stopped abruptly in the middle of a corridor. “We’re here.”
As Mikaen opened his mouth to ask where ‘here’ was, the wall began to move. What was once a perfectly smooth wall began reshaping itself into a massive door. It wasn’t like the lifting of illusion from the Seed’s office; this was literally the wall becoming a door.
“Jade,” Mikaen asked, watching as a long crack appeared in the center of the door, “Just how advanced is Angela?”
The door slid open. Jade stepped aside, saying, “Why don’t you ask her yourself?”
Mikaen’s jaw dropped as he stepped into the room. He now stood in a massive chamber, much larger than even the Cygros’s throne room; ten Breath of Fires could fit in the room easily and still have room left for a Final Fantasy or two.
It wasn’t the size of the room that stunned him; rather, it was what was floating in the center of the room: a massive orb of shining metal and glowing leylines. At least ten rings of increasing size spun around the orb, some moving so fast they were little more than a blur, others barely moving at all.
The core was surrounded by a glowing blue platform that extended straight from several outer points, presumably more possible doors. Beneath the translucent platform, Mikaen could see the sloping metal floor of the room leading to a large hole directly beneath the Core.
Mikaen tapped his foot on the glowing platform hesitantly; he wasn’t sure what was beneath that hole, but he definitely didn’t want to find out the hard way.
Jade brushed by him. “Quit being a baby, Mikaen.”
Shaking his head, Mikaen followed Jade across the platform. To his immense relief, the platform was solid.
“Angela,” said Jade when they were standing on the edge of the platform directly in front of the core, “This is Sir Mikaen of the Knights of the Star.”
A beam of light shot from the core and engulfed Mikaen. He tried to grab Truth, but his body moved at a snail’s pace.
“Interesting.” A woman’s voice whispered in his ear, “You’ve a strong will, my new friend. Your alarm is unwarranted; I mean no harm.”
“Then … why?”Mikaen managed, his mouth moving as slowly as the rest of him.
“I have to take precautions. I watch over millions of lives, not unlike this ‘Syrin’ you regard so highly. Relax your mind, and I promise to make this as brief as possible.”
“It’s okay, Mikaen,” Jade told him. “She can be trusted.”
Jade’s trust was not won easily, that much Mikaen knew first hand. With a mental sigh, he stopped resisting. Images began flashing across his mind: his adventures on Vinta, his time with the Knights (a brief image of Maria brought with it a pang of remembered loss), and those first confused moments after he woke up in bridges.
The memories didn’t stop, however; a jumble of images rushed over him: a city beneath the ocean, a sentient couple that he had never seen before standing over him, a woman in a black cloak picking him up.
As Angela’s beam released him, he let out a gasp, his mind awash with pain.
Jade was at his side in an instant. “Mikaen! What’s wrong?”
“I-I don’t …” He clutched his head. “I saw something from before Bridges.”
“You mean before the Devastation?” Jade’s eyes went wide.
“I don’t know.” Mikaen slowly stood, his head still throbbing but at least manageable. “Nelva told me there was nothing to remember, but … I think I just saw my parents.”
He tried to picture their faces again, but the images had already slipped from his mind.
A glowing hand touched Mikaen shoulder, distracting him from his thoughts. Mikaen looked up to see a pretty woman in her mid-thirties smiling kindly at him. Her entire body was as translucent as the floor, though tinted purple instead of blue.
“Hello, Mikaen. It’s nice to finally meet you. I’m Angela.”