Ace's Wolves found a convoluted mess of corridors below, but after nearly twenty minutes of bounding along them, he discovered that they all led to one large room. It was sealed with heavy doors, similar to what would be seen at a bank. Ace made his way down to it, feeling uncomfortable as he noticed how there seemed to be almost no occupants. Noone continued to defend the property.
It was seemingly deserted now.
Maybe the defenses were automated? He thought, coming and putting a hand on the cold metal of one of the doors. There were no controls anywhere nearby, and even his Wolves had been unable to find any hidden passages or doors. Forming a koukaku lance, Ace poised it over one of the vaults doors. Well, let's see what's on the other side.
As he was about to plunge the lance through, however, the door slid smoothly inwards, revealing a massive circular room, at least several hundred feet in diameter, on the other side.
"Welcome to my humble abode, King." A female voice purred, seeming to come from all directions at once. The voice tugged at his memories for a moment, sounding familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. "Please, step forward."
Ace snorted in amusement, sending his Wolves bounding forward in pairs with one walking beside him as he began to walk towards the center of the vault.
Movement from his left sent him rolling out of the way of a red blur, as bright red rinkaku speared towards his chest. Coming to his feet, he met the next attack with his own rinkaku, sending his guardian Wolf charging towards the target. It leapt to attack, but was sent tumbling away as more rinkaku appeared.
Another blur of movement caught Ace off guard, and he was smashed twenty feet through the air, coming to rest in the inky darkness that pervaded the vaults edge. Coughing and trying to force air back into his lungs, Ace wasn't ready as a figure appeared from above and sent him reeling with a kick to the face that would have decapitated a weaker Ghoul.
"Bastards…" He growled, beginning to trigger his transformation into Hellhound, but a voice stopped him.
"Is that any way to talk to us, boy?"
Several lights flickered on and revealed three figures.
Confusion reigned in Ace's mind as his mother, sister and another woman with long red hair and a face obscured in shadow laughed. Looking at them, he saw that all three war tight fitting combat gear, battlesuits. Red kakuja armor covered his mothers shoulder and chest, and her face was partly obscured by the same armor. Silver armor, the same shade as their father's, covered Dione, and a pair of blades extended downwards from her arm. Dione's kakuja, which Ace had never known she had reached, emulated their father's in every way, minus the skull mask.
"I'm not your mother, little king," His mother, her kakugan covering her angry eyes, "Never have been and never will be."
Ace took a step back, calling his Wolves to him while he tried to take stock of the situation.
"What… What are you doing here?" Ace said, surreptitiously flicking a switch on his belt. "Dione… I saw your body!"
Dione laughed, the sound brittle and cold.
"A clone, little brother. Easy enough to procure when you have the proper backing," She looked to her right at the woman whose face was stilled obscured. "Isn't that right, Veronica?"
The woman stepped forward, and Ace let out a guttural growl as the spitting image of Itori appeared, a wide smile upon her face.
"Nice to meet you, Your Majesty," Veronica sketched a bow, before returning to her previous position, "My daughter has told me so much about you!"
"Fuck you." Ace cursed, flicking his eyes to the side as his Wolves reappeared, without taking his eyes off of his three… opponents, he reabsorbed the Wolves, and thereby renewed his strength for what he guessed was about to happen. "Tell me what this is all about? Now."
His mother and Dione began to circle to the left and right respectively, as Veronia remained rooted in place and began to speak.
"We have been leading you here for ages, Aeneas. You are the culmination of nearly a century and a half of dedicated breeding and research," Her smile, already wide, seemed to grow even wider as she spoke, "And now… You have returned to your birthplace! And now you can finally meet your real mother! Now, come here and meet her," She beckoned him to come forward, but Ace warily flicked an eye towards his sister and… his ex-mother? Seeing his hesitation, Veronica waggled her fingers at Dione and Lucretia, "Let's give him some room, shan't we? Now, come here."
Ace let out a sigh and stepped forward slowly, ready to burst into his kakuja and attack without the slightest hesitation. But Veronica just kept beckoning him forward, until he stood near a massive column sticking out of the floor, with a large piece of drape covering a portion of it. Veronica went to the edge of it, and pulled on a rope hidden behind it, causing the drape to fall and reveal…
"What in the hell…"
"Meet the Progenitor, your true mother."
A large piece of quarried stone sat in front of Ace, who let out a breath he didn't know he had been holding, as he beheld what was locked in the stone. A mummified creature lay poised to attack within the stones embrace, with long rinkaku tentacles streaming behind it. If he looked closely, he could almost see the halo of dark hair around the Progenitor's head.
"This is, forgive me, going to have to be a quicker explanation than I'd like," Veronica said, smile undiminished in the face of Ace's horror. "But… This is one of seven ancient Ghouls that we have found, and used to create… well, you." She paused for a moment, before her smile lessened slightly, "Our competitors have other samples… And have created Kings and Queens of their own. But you… You are special, the RC cells that we found in the womb we grew from the Progenitors DNA are highly unique. Replacing your Mother's womb with that was a tricky bit of surgery, but it worked!"
"Why are you telling me this?" Ace said, staring into the face of the horrifying creature encased in front of him. "Why are you doing any of this?"
"Because, we wish to destroy most humans… And repopulate the world with Ghouls."
There it was… The reason that everything had happened the way they had. The reason that Ace was apparently alive, that he had grown up thinking that Lucretia didn't like him, that his Father…
"What happened to my Father?"
Veronica's smile disappeared and Dione and Lucretia looked at each other suspiciously, and Ace knew immediately that Eto had not mislead him at all. He only needed to know the truth.
"Abe was an obstacle that had to be put out of the way," Ace ground his teeth together audibly as Veronica spoke, and she held up her hands as a sign of surrender, "He would never have let you grow in the way that you have. That damned man, a seventh generation member of the Kroffen Plan, refused to follow orders."
Kroffen. Ace knew that name. Adonis Kroffen had been the Ghoul that negotiated the integration of his kind into American society. If Ace remembered correctly, however, he had had strong opinions about eugenics and crossbreeding.
"From who?" Ace said, glaring at her, "And what is the Progenitor?"
"From me." Veronica said, turning slightly, so she could look up at the Progenitor, "And this… she was one of the first Ghoul's, first to receive the parasite. And she was the one who… donated some of her genetic material for the final portion of the Kroffen Plan. To create a generation of Ghoul's so powerful that we could usher in a new age."
"All of this… My life has been a lie? I'm just some thoroughbred horse, bred for a purpose?" Gareth asked, relaxing his shoulders. He had so many questions still left to ask, but he knew that he didn't have the time. Looking at Lucretia, he asked, "So… Agent Lucretia, what happened to my father?"
"We gave him to the Doves, of course." She said, huskily. "None of us liked it but-"
The rage that had been bubbling up in Ace's subconscious exploded out as her words hit him, and events began to quickly slide out of control. The Wolf that Ace had commanded to sit silently in the darkness exploded onto Veronica's back, it's jaws already locked around her neck.
Even as that happened, Ace was spinning, his Hellhound armor forming within seconds. He feinted towards Dione, before reversing and sending a dozen rinkaku slashing in towards Lucretia. His mother shrieked with rage and leapt backwards, her kakuja mask seeming to slither into place, looking like a featureless shell that covered her from chin to her temples. Ace charged after her, trying to close the distance, but was caught by a slash from his sister. Viper-quick, Ace dropped and kicked out, Hellhound sending Dione flipping through the air with the chest plate of her armor crumpled inwards. Seeing his moment of confusion, Lucretia had turned around, her rinkaku being used as extra limbs to increase her mobility and attacked.
Lunging towards Ace, her rinkaku poised to skewer through the joints of his armor, Ace heard her let out a grunt as lightning crackled over Ace's shoulder and slammed into her. Lucretia's armor seemed to melt away from the impact point as Ace watched her body flop across the ground.
"There are a few helicopters coming in," Touka said in Japanese through her kakuja mask as she landed beside Ace, lazily kicking Dione away as she attacked. When Ace gave her a serious look, she shrugged, adding, "You were the one that turned your mic back on. I thought you needed help."
"Whatever, let's just finish this and get on our way. I'm tired of chasing this bullshit."
Dione, now healed, charged him once again. Silvery lances sprouted from her shoulder blades, and he was forced to split his arms to counter her.
"Dione… What the hell is going on… Why are you doing this?" Ace asked as they were momentarily locked together.
"We underestimated you, little brother." Dione said, twisting suddenly and slicing off one of his lower arms, before leaping backwards. Touka slashed by, taking off one of Dione's arms in payment, but Lucretia recovered and sent Touka slamming into a wall. Then she leapt down upon Touka's back, grabbing her head and beginning to try to twist it off.
Ace sent his rinkaku streaking towards Lucretia. Several pierced her back, and Ace sent them slicing through her body. With a look of pain across his face, he cut the woman he thought was his mother in half.
Dione screamed, and a strange fire blazed in the eye sockets of her kakuja mask. Ace barely had time to expand a koukaku shield in front of him before molten material sprayed out of Dione's mouth. His koukaku melted, but in the explosion of steam, he was able to slip another rinkaku through. It spiraled around the stream of fire and stabbed straight through his sisters chest. The stream tapered off, as his rinkaku began to divide within her body. He avoided her vital organs, but continued to force the rinkaku down her extremities, until he had full control of her body. Taking a moment, he split that rinkaku off into a Wolf, which stood threateningly near Dione as Ace leapt towards Touka.
He had just reached her, gently touching her and finding that Lucretia had shattered her kakuja mask and knocked her unconscious. Ace turned to see the Wolf that had been attacking Veronica turned into jelly as a giant bikaku smashed it into the ceiling, when a massive explosion rocked the entire room and the large set of doors that he had entered through blew inwards.
"Freeze!" A voice yelled, as dozens of Agents breached the room.
Ace moved to attack Veronica, but she leapt over the heads of the oncoming Agents, disappearing in to the darkness beyond.
It's over. Ace relaxed, releasing his kakuja armor. Whatever this is.
More and more Agent's flooded into the room, weapons drawn. Four high ranking agents approached Ace in their kakuja forms as well.
"Agent Lincoln. You are under arrest." One of them, Ace guessed it was the Northern Branch director Ulysses Jackson, the older brother of Angela Jackson, said. "Someone cuff him."
Ace turned, his kakugan flaring a bright red, looking directly at the kakuja who had spoken.
"No." He said after a few moments. Touka began to stir on the ground below him, "I'm done playing the Agency's games. I'm done being a pawn."
He gestured towards where his sister was still struggling against his Wolf, and then to where Lucretia's body lay.
"I'm tired of people hiding things from me." He continued, as several of the Agent's lowered their weapons, eyes widening. "I'm tired of all of this."
There was a moment of silence, and then the voice of the Director spoke again.
"Did I stutter?" He said, and Ace turned his eyes upon him once again. "Someone put handcuffs on him now, before I-"
Director Jackson didn't complete his sentence, as Ace sent a rinkaku slashing through his throat. He leapt forward, not even bothering with his Hellhound form. Koukaku and rinkaku ripped from his body, stabbing into Jackson, and then Ace was on him, his armored arms pummeling the much larger kakuja into the ground. In seconds, he ripped Jackson from his armor, slicing off the man's arms and legs.
"Anyone who threatens me dies. I truly don't care who."
"Ace, what are you doing?"
He turned, finding Touka standing shakily on her own feet. Seeing her, something sparked within him. A fire that he hadn't felt before. The need to expand, to build…
"Apparently, what I was born to do." Ace said, dragging his hand across his face. Then he looked up into the eyes of nearly one hundred Ghouls.
"Listen to me." He called out, his voice carrying through the massive chamber. "Change is coming. Great change. For Ghouls and for Humans. I am going to Japan for a time," Touka breathed in heavily next to him, "And will accept the invitation of the King known as Arthur. I do this to figure out who I am, what I am. No one will stop me from that."
Two of the Directors attacked as Ace stopped speaking, each of the grotesque looking monsters stabbing in at him, seeing their chance to stop him.
Ace triggered his kakuja transformation, and shining silver armor slid into place, back by bloodred rinkaku that acted as muscles. Four arms sprouted from his rapidly growing form, followed by three long tails. It took him a moment to notice, but he found that his armor and joints glowed with a dull red light, as if molten metal was swirling below the surface.
With a massive hit, he sent one of the kakuja sprawling backwards, then turned and stabbed into the other with his tails.
An unlucky Agent fell in a kakuja's path, and was crushed into paste, and several others began to fire their rifles and ukaku at him.
I wonder if I can copy that trick Dione pulled…
Flames leapt from the jaws of his kakuja, and he bathed several nearby Agents in it. What was left was bones and ashes. The two Director's, having recovered, came at him in a concerted effort, but Ace had finished playing. One of his four arms formed a lance, and he stabbed through the center of one kakuja's chest, his rinkaku burrowing into the hole he had created even before he ripped the lance out. He parried the blow of the other kakuja, then grabbed the massive set of jaws as the kakuja tried to swallow him.
He breathed fire into the mouth and didn't stop until the kakuja began to disintegrate.
A single kakuja remained, but it took one look at Ace and turned and fled. Most of the rest of the Agent's fled as well, dragging Director Jackson's unconscious body with them. However, a small group remained behind, watching Ace and Touka warily.
"Touka, watch them." Ace said under his breath, before heading towards his sister.
"Well, Dione. I think you have some explaining to do."
Her eyes were full of loathing as he slowly retracted his rinkaku from around her mouth.
"You always were Dad's favorite, Aeneas." She said, still straining against her bonds. "I always resented you for that. Now I understand." A choking laugh escaped her lips. "I don't think I could deal with the decisions you're about to have to make."
The room began to flash red, and an alarm sounded. Behind them, thick blast doors began to close over their only escape routes. Noone made a move to escape.
"Operation Genesis commencing." A robotic voice announced, even as a shadow moved towards Ace. "Stand by. All participants have checked in. One hundred percent readiness."
Lucretia steaked past him, cutting the rinkaku that connected Dione to his Wolf. Then she grabbed her daughter and slid under one of the doors just before it sealed closed.
"Well, that was something." Ace said under his breath, before recalling his Wolf and bringing it back into himself.
All around them, projectors popped online and information began to scrawl across the walls.
"Missiles entering final entry phase."
Ace's eyes widened, and one of the Agents let out a wail of fear as they realized what they were seeing.
Icons representing missiles were sleeting across a representation of the world. They were marked with Chinese, American, Russian, French, Indian, Pakistani and British flags, and their tracks revealed where they had originated from.
"This has been their plan the entire time." Touka said as she came towards him, resting a hand on his shoulder. "Everyone affiliated with the Clowns…"
"What has been who's plan?" One of the other Agents said as he approached. The man was short, and Ace realized that he knew the other man. They had gone through the Academy together.
"Yeah, it's me, Anus." The other man said, using his old derogatory nickname. "Now, can you tell us what the hell is going on?"
"Who are the others?" Ace asked, looking towards the fifteen other Agents, all of them young.
"We're the 77th Independent," One of the others said, a tall girl with auburn hair cut short. "The Geek Squad."
Oh yeah. I've heard of them.
They were the weakest of the Independent Units, small platoon sized groups meant for high value missions, and had a large list of fuckups to their names.
Ace let his kakugan flair, eyes glowing, and began walking slowly towards the group. They moved backwards, and a few even let their kagune form, fear staining their expressions.
"Let's get one thing straight," He dropped his voice to a growl, "I am Aeneas Lincoln, the Hellhound, and apparently I'm supposed to be some kind of King of Ghouls. Do what I say, or what Touka says, or I'll kill every… last… one of you."
Heads bobbed in affirmation all around, and people relaxed as Ace turned to look at Touka, who nodded as well.
"Now, let's see what the hell is happening in the outside world."
Washington, D.C . was a crater.
One of the Geeks had been able to jury rig the control console to allow them to watch what was happening in the outside world. By the time the Ghoul was done, every major capital in the world had been destroyed.
London, Moscow, Beijing, Berlin… The list went on and on. All the newscasters could talk about was what had caused it.
Reports were coming in that men and women across the globe had, as if controlled by a single source, set into motion the nuclear annihilation of billions of people. These seemingly random people had fired enough warheads to make great swaths of the Earth uninhabitable for centuries to come.
For the Geeks, Touka and himself, the bunker they were trapped in was likely their salvation. After a few hours, they'd been able to hack open several doors, finding several passageways that led to storerooms full of freeze dried meat. Human meat.
Ace sat in the main room and watched the reports, seeing the years of planning, feeling his anger rising as he knew that part that he had been forced to play in all of this. His mind churned, feeding on this anger, even as Touka did her best to comfort him. The Geek Squad didn't know quite what to make of her, as she either stayed by Ace's side or went off on her own, and their only meetings had been
"Ace… It isn't your fault."
"It is. Even if I didn't know what would happen when I kicked these events into motion." He responded after a moment, watching news report of catastrophic flooding as someone destroyed the Hoover Dam. "I am the endgame of this. They expect me to rule what comes after this, as far as I can understand."
Touka, sitting with her legs cross and her back against the wall, leaned forward slightly so she could look up at Ace.
"And will you rule what's left?"
Her question hit him with a force. He had been so busy reacting to what people wanted him to do, he hadn't truly given much thought to what he wanted to do. Ace took several moments to ponder, to go over what had happened in his life, everything that had led up to this point.
Then, he thought of Hinami, of Ken, of all his other friends… Who had died, just as they had nearly been able to taste true freedom. Ace knew, then, why he had to rule.
"Yes. I will."
"Well, that went poorly."
Veronica Lang leaned against a tree, trying unsuccessfully to use her tattered clothes to cover herself. Lucretia and Dione stood nearby, both looking like they had aged a decade.
"You never told us how powerful he would become, Joker." Dione said, rubbing a hand across recently healed wounds. "And now, we're stuck outside while Genesis kicks off."
"We never planned for anything to land near us, anyways." She said, turning back towards the site. "And, I'm pretty sure we can find a ride if we want to. So, the question is… Which King do we want to go to? I have a feeling Itori will be almost as unhappy to see us as Arthur or Aeneas, after what we had Uta and Crown do to her."
"What you had Uta and Crown do to her, you mean." Lucretia corrected, "And I don't know if she'll be that angry about what they did, so much as what Kanou did to her. That creepy bastard…"
Veronica snorted and Dione made a face.
"Then maybe we head toward New York? Leviathan should be in control there by the time we can reach the city." Dione added after a moment.
"Nope, Leviathan is one of the independent Kings. There's no way he wouldn't have us strung up without a moment's hesitation. Now that the First King has forsaken us… We really only have one choice."
Lucretia sighed audibly.
"Damn. The Laughing King."
After nine days of watching the world crumble around them, the doors opened up and allowed Ace and his new compatriots to exit the underground bunker. Outside, little seemed different, but a new smell permeated the air.
"Hey! This helicopter has fuel and looks operational!" Sandra, the Geek who had hacked the bunkers system called. "Can anyone fly one of these things?"
It was a large transport helicopter, with twin rotors and a wicked looking minigun on the tail.
"Yeah, I can." Ace said, looking at the big machine.
"No, he can't." Touka countered, and Ace chuckled.
As Touka looked at him, she saw that so much had changed in him. It was a difference that seemed so similar to what had occurred within Kaneki. She remembered first laying eyes upon the young, scared man as he scrambled up a rooftop, fleeing the site of his Father's last stand.
Now, a ruler stood before her, wearing a borrowed Battlesuit as she did. His hair had grown longer, and his eyes glowed with a golden color which seemed to brighten whenever he looked at her. He stood head and shoulders taller than her and had thickened in the shoulders and arms. But beyond that, there was just a sense of power that exuded from him. It filled the air around him, like a pleasant aroma.
The others had noticed it as well, and after awhile they had seemingly fallen in line.
"Well, is there anyone rated to fly one?" Ace asked the Geek Squad, before sticking his tongue out at Touka. "This would definitely make it easier to get where we're going."
"I'm rated to fly a Chinook," A chunky redheaded Ghoul said, "Where are we going, though? That thing is only rated to fly about 400 miles or so on a full tank, and I doubt it has a full tank."
Agent Ben Claudowitz. Ace thought to himself, finally placing the young mans name.
"My plan is to head for the West Coast offices in San Francisco to see if it's still standing. Then from there, figure out how I'm going to get to Japan."
"Alright." Ben said quietly, heading into the helicopter. "We can siphon some fuel from the other helicopters and I'll check to see if I can find an airfield near here where we can… buy some fuel."
"Or take it." Nicky said as he approached with a few of the other Agents, carrying a dirty submachinegun. "We found signs of a short battle at the main rally point. Looks like everyone who escaped broke down into two separate groups and fought it out." He held up the gun as evidence, "According to the footprints, only a handful of people got away."
Ace whistled softly. The breakdown shouldn't have happened so fast within society. Behind them, the helicopter coughed to life, its rotors momentarily spinning up to speed before Ben shut the engines down. All eyes turned to Ben as he strolled slowly out of the Chinook.
"It's got about two-thirds of a tank. I say we scavenge what we can, and then head to an airfield about fifty miles from here. They've got a helicopter service station there, so they'll definitely have fuel."
Ace nodded, then waited as the Geek Squad went to work, plundering the dozens of other vehicles. Several hours later, most of the Geek Squad and Aeneas were kitted out with small arms, and their Chinook was nearly full of fuel. They lifted into the night air, with Ace sitting with his feet hanging off the open rear hatch.
"Coming up on two hundred feet, and… leveling off," Ben's quiet voice spoke from the comm system Ace wore. "We've got multiple fires on the horizon… Looks like Monett is smoking."
Damn. I brought that on them. Ace thought, before shaking his head to clear that thought. It wasn't his fault.
"Take us over Monett," Ace ordered, "Let's see if there's anything we can do."
"You sure that's a good idea?" Nick responded from where he sat.
"Probably not, but we might as-"
"Movement. Looks like a convoy of vehicles coming from the north." Ben's voice cut in on the comm channel."
"Roger." Ace said, turning to look towards the North. Sure enough, a line of vehicles, probably ten or so, were making their way down the road. "Sending a few Wolves to scout out the area."
Ace created three Wolves, sending them leaping out of the Chinook. His mind immediately split, and he was momentarily bombarded by images, smells and a sense of falling, until he wrestled the images into the back of his thoughts.
The Wolves hit the ground, using their rinkaku to slow them, and went bounding off, each taking a different route. Two of them headed towards the convoy, and the other headed into Monett.
Let 's see…
The wolf in Monett found something of interest first. A pile of partially consumed human bodies, several feet high and made up of hundreds of corpses spread across one corner of a park. He could smell dozens of Ghouls in the city, and it took him a few moments of rooftop running to find them.