Well, since my beta reader's e-mail address doesn't seem to be working, I'm posting this un-betaed! So please forgive any mistakes until I can get everything straightened out. Enjoy Chapter 15!
"I mean and I still don't understand it, it's almost like he—What! What's wrong with you, you look like you've been to hell and back!" Doujima's tirade was cut off mid-sentence by Sakaki as she entered the STN-J building with Karasuma in tow, the older woman patiently listening as she ranted. "Excuse me, we're trying to get into work, in case you hadn't noticed." Annoyed now, Doujima tried to shove her way past the rookie Hunter.
Shaking his head firmly, Sakaki continued to block their path, his pale face grave. "Michael wants everyone in the meeting room stat. There's something new we need to discuss."
"A new lead?" the older of the two women asked, forgetting about Doujima's story entirely.
Pouting a little, the blonde girl crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Sakaki. "And just what's so important that Michael has to ruin my morning for it!"
"Yes, Miss Karasuma, there has been a new development, concerning Zaizen, but that's all I'm allowed to say." Without sparing Doujima another glance, the rookie proceeded to lead Karasuma towards the meeting room, not noticing the small smirk the crept across the other girl's face as he did.
Deciding her morning wasn't entirely shot after all, the blonde girl followed her two co-workers slowly, watching as their heads came together while they talked, voices lowered. Doujima's smirk widened.
"Cute, aren't they?"
Glancing over, Doujima saw the hacker looking at Karasuma and Sakaki with a wry grin on his face. She nodded, smothering a giggle with her hand. "But I don't think they realize it yet."
Robin and Amon stepped into the room at that point, ending the conversation between Doujima and Michael. Seeing Robin still wearing the pink coat she had lent her, Doujima grinned and said, "Pink suits you Robin, it really is your color."
Smiling back for what must have been the first time in several weeks, Robin replied, "I'm not so sure I agree with you Doujima, but thank you for letting me borrow it. Touko promised to take me shopping for a new one soon, so I'll be able to give it back in a few days."
"Come on," Michael cut in, getting up from his computer. "I need you all in the meeting room now, before we start any of the day's hunts. There's been a new development." His tone was grim as he said this, and Amon's face twitched slightly, taking this in.
"A new development?" he queried, deep voice betraying no emotion whatsoever. But the hacker had caught the telltale spark in his eyes when he mentioned a development and his astute mind took note and catalogued his reaction.
"Yes, something I think you all should see." He continued towards the meeting room, talking and continuing his story as they went. "I was doing a little bit more hacking last night after you all went home and early this morning, thinking there might be some new twist in the project after Nagira's death."
The group entered the room to find Karasuma and Sakaki already sitting down and waiting for them. The two still had their heads together, but they quickly moved apart as the rest of the STN-J team entered the room; Karasuma's cheeks were a delicate shade of pink as Doujima took a seat next to her with a grin that would have put the Cheshire Cat to shame.
Michael took his place at the head of the table, sitting down and typing at his computer for a few minutes, humming softly with the absence of his headphones. His fingers fairly flew over the keys as his eyes scanned the screen, finding what he needed and sending it to the other Hunters' computers when done. Sitting back, he let out a long breath and looked around the room at the expectant faces watching him.
"What I just sent you is the latest bit of information I could dig out of Solomon's computers. But what makes this piece so important is it came from one of the most heavily protected databases in the Solomon computers; which means, it was top-secret, something that the underlings probably don't even know."
Simultaneously, the screens around the table lit up as the information reached them, popping up on the display and drawing the attention of all the STN members save the hacker and Sakaki. Exchanging a dour look, they simply sat back and waited for the reaction they knew would be coming shortly.
Amon was the first to show any sign of a response, his one large hand slamming down flat on the table so hard it made the monitors jump. "Damn him!" he shouted, startling everyone else in the room. Never had they seen such a display from Amon…
"I think I'm going to be sick," Doujima whispered, sitting back and placing one hand over her mouth. "That's…"
"Disgusting…" Karasuma finished her sentence, eyes narrowed as she read the last little bit of information. "I didn't even think that was possible…"
"Well, apparently it is," Sakaki replied dryly.
Robin was the only one who hadn't said anything as of yet, and soon all eyes were drawn to her slight form as it sat, completely still, next to Amon. Green eyes stared at the screen in disbelief as her slim hands lay limp in her lap. Glancing over, Amon took a deep breath and removed his hand from the table, surreptitiously placing it over Robin's own. She immediately glanced towards him and nodded a little, as if to say she was trying her best to take it all in stride.
"So what exactly does this entail?" Karasuma finally managed to ask, her voice still faint. "What could this possibly mean?"
Michael immediately switched to information mode, his voice professional and his tone serious. "Basically, what Zaizen is doing, is using the very same Orbo we use here at the STN for himself. But he's not afraid of witches or their powers, he is a afraid of something even more frightening: death. So instead of using the Orbo to protect himself from the Craft, he uses it to protect himself from death."
"So that mean's he's…" Doujima trailed off as her pretty face twisted itself into a grimace.
The hacker nodded. "Zaizen is using the Orbo to prolong his life. You see, in my research last night, I happened to come across a document detailing the process of making Orbo. Apparently it's another piece of information Solomon wants to keep top-secret. The Orbo we use is actually created from the witches that are sent into the Factory that we hunt." His own face contorted a little as he said this, the basic instinct of disgust overriding all professionalism.
"What this means is Zaizen is putting Orbo into his body to keep himself alive longer so he can see the completion of his 'witch hunting army'." Sakaki picked up where the other boy left off. "Babies take a lifetime to grow up—obviously—which is an amount of time Zaizen definitely doesn't have. So he takes Orbo shots on a weekly basis to preserve his body and allow him to build his team and exterminate the race of witches."
Silence reigned supreme for the next several seconds as everyone sat lost in their own thoughts, their already overloaded minds trying to process this new development.
"That is so wrong…" Doujima shuddered. "And to think…all this time we've been sending the witches into the Factory thinking they were going to be treated or something…"
Karasuma's hand absently strayed to her neck, slender fingers stroking the spot where the Orbo cross usually hung from. "It's going to be hard to go out hunting now," she murmured. "Now that we know what is truly happening to those witches."
"Yes, but they're just witches," Sakaki interjected.
"True, they are Craft-users, but in a basic sense, they too are a species of man just like us." Michael's voice cut in softly, but with a steel undertone. "No matter what you are, the things Solomon does are cruel and perverse—I don't care if you're a witch, human, or something else. What they do to those witches shouldn't be done to anyone."
Taken aback a little, the rookie Hunter sat back in his chair and stared at the table, lost once more in deep thought.
Michael was once again scrolling through his pages of information and as he did so, something caught his eye, which made him stop with a wry grin. "Do you know what he's calling his little operation? Project Purgatory. Always a flair for the dramatic…"
He glanced over at Robin to find her hand, with Amon's still covering it, resting on her lower abdomen. Her face was set with a strength and determination that the Hacker hadn't seen there since before the days of the rape. A small smile touched his lips as he saw the way she seemed to draw strength not only from the dark man next to her, but from a secret source hidden deep within herself, from a place not even she knew that much about. It was a relief to have even this small fraction of the old Robin back.
"Well…what are we going to do?" Doujima's big mouth and ever-present curiosity got the better of her as she grew tired of the silence.
"That was the other purpose of this meeting," Michael replied. "We need to at least get an idea of what we want to do about all of this, before things get too out of hand. I came up with a few ideas last night, so let's run through them and see what you guys think…"
Chapter 15…wow…it's been a while since I last wrote and I want to thank you all for your patience. The reviews are wonderful and helpful as always and things are progressing now a little better then I had hoped.
So…what about Zaizen? Feedback on his little "scheme" and the position of him as such an evil character would be appreciated. Someone commented to me that I shouldn't be using him as the bad guy all the time as he is just a Solomon underling. Plus, they told me that someone has to play the bad guy, and that lot just happened to fall to poor Zaizen. What do you guys think?
Thanks again for all your continued support! Hopefully I'll be out with Chapter 16 a little quicker then this one…
Oh…and Golden-Sama…how could I ever say no to the puppy face?