1The Darkened Sanctum
XV: "And Yet We Walk..."
Warm blood rolled off the gleaming point, dripping heavily onto the floor.
Do you see, Mother?
When the drop connected with the solidifying surface, it spread up a little plume of crimson and then evened back out on the floor.
How unlucky I am!
Her arm was drenched in blood, drying into brown, flaky patterns across her skin. She breathed deeply, trembling, unsure of what she had done.
All day I sit indoors...
The paling body of the noblewoman lied across the stained floor, white dress stained crimson over her right breast. Beside her lay her spouse, both silenced forever, the dripping echoing over them.
I am never allowed outside!
Warm blood rolled off her forehead, her limbs, down across her back, dripping into a bloody mass on the damp cement floors.
I'm not allowed to open the door...
Every inch of her skin was on fire, the pain she felt equaling what she had delivered upon the two beautifully molded adults that still lied on the floor of her memory.
So I cannot see the sun...
"Cheryl," Lin came through the hallway door and let out a loud gasp, staring down at the girl who was entirely glistening with thick blood. It rolled endlessly from her skin, though no wounds visible. "Oh my GOD- We'll get you cleaned up, hang in there, sweetie!"
With all due speed, Lin shot off in the direction she had come, foot sliding slightly in the pool of blood. She ran past Ryu and Nina, straight to the bed; ripping off the sheets and knocking the curtain down, she turned tail once more. Through the door, she threw the sheet on Cheryl, then collapsed to her knees beside the girl and began to rub the white sheet over her. It became a deep red almost instantly. Using the only clean corner, Lin wiped off the girl's face, then pulled away the sheet.
Dry smears were visible all over her exposed skin; her skin under her plastic frock and undergarments were still fresh and red, but the blood seemed to have stop. Carefully removing the heavy, damp sheet, Lin spoke with deep concern: "Are you okay?"
"No... I..." Cheryl winced. Something had moved inside of her, shifting in the limited space it had. It pressed hard against her rib cage and made her stomach ache violently, and caused her heart to beat a mile a minute. She could feel it move under her skin before it finally came to a rest, pressing heavily against her insides, "There's... something..."
"Don't... don't talk..." Lin picked Cheryl out of the thin, drying pool, "Just rest... we'll take care of everything, okay?"
Cheryl lied limply in Lin's arms as the woman headed through the doorway back into the trashed room, gazing over Ryu and Nina. Though he wasn't bleeding, Ryu looked to Lin as if he felt just as good as Cheryl did, and all she could do was to let out a sigh. Nina, sitting beside Ryu, was tugging a bit at that tube down her nose, but decided not to mess with it as she feared she could hurt herself with it.
"Lin... could you take that out for her?"
"...You'll have to take Cheryl for me..."
"Yeah..." Ryu shakily rose, then walked over, taking Cheryl from Lin. He watched as she walked to Nina, but looked away as she began removing that tube which couldn't have been a pleasant experience for the little one. That's when he noticed footsteps coming down the hall. "Not another..."
Mebeth stopped before the bloody sheet and pool, staring with an expressionless face. He shook his head, then stepped into the room, facing Ryu. He nodded. "Good evening."
"Why...?" Ryu stared, hard, his eyes tinting...
"Why did you hurt them?"
"..." Mebeth looked to Lin who had stood up. She had Nina's hand in her own, and was staring with the same expression that Ryu had on. Letting out a sigh, he looked back at Ryu, "Because we could have used your service."
"You..." Lin's eyes narrowed, "You were going to use Nina... to make him join..."
"Yes... but..." He folded his arms around behind his back, "I didn't intend it to happen this way. My orders were taken out of proportion, as usual. I don't want to hurt any of you... but there are those above you who wish for your journey to end."
Everyone kept an eye on the man as he walked to the middle of the room. He gazed upon the scattered machinery and crooked bed, staring at the patterns the bent-over mesh made upon itself. "I know you'll never forgive me, none of you... I apologize to you, especially, Lin."
"Nina, Cheryl, and Ryu deserve your pity, not me!"
"You won't understand when you're upset. You don't understand much when you are; your ears go deaf and your eyes become blind. You know that, don't you? The same thing happens when you are depressed... but it takes a lot to get you that far. Mmm..." He sighed, "I suppose I'm rambling. Now, Ryu... do you truly wish to reach the Sky?"
"...Yes..." Ryu sighed, glancing down at Nina for a moment, before returning his gaze to Mebeth. "I think we all do..."
"Then I have something you will need." Walking to Ryu, Mebeth pulled an odd, glass object. It had a deeply carved impression, the pattern colored orange. The glass piece was topped with a black, metal handle, a metal loop threaded through a hole. He held it out to the young man, the orange patterns almost seeming to glow in the dark, "This... is a key. It will open the way to the seal, but you need the other keys to go with it. Every regent you will encounter further up will have a key. I cannot imagine them giving them to you, though..."
"..." Ryu took it, "Why... do you...?"
"Heh." Mebeth started off through the doorway, "An old ally gave it to me. He figured nobody would ever look for such a thing in Trinity. Now that you've wiped out half of the organization, I fear it will just become a loose band of fallouts again. Oh well. It'll give me something to do. Lin, though you are still angry with me, you should show him the pathway up. You... are free to go if you want, I'll understand."
"..." She stared, silent, still glaring.
"As I assumed."
Ryu sighed a bit. "Thank you."
"You're quite welcome. I can't wait for the moment I hear all of you reach the Sky..." He smiled faintly, looking over his shoulder, "Not everyone is against you in this world. Just keep that in mind and you can do anything you set your mind to. Take care of those two…"
"We will." Ryu waited until Mebeth had left, the sounds of his steps faded from his hearing. Looking at Lin, who still looked rather ticked, he asked, "Lin? When you're ready..."
"Yeah, yeah... this way."
Past the bunk room she led them, through a Gigantis/Genic containment room to a ladder heading up. She climbed up first and listened close to the plate covering the hole, as if she thought someone would be there.
"I thought I heard someone walk past up there."
"..." Everyone was deathly silent.
"...Maybe not. I could've sworn..." She pushed the lid off, which matched the concrete floor above. "This leads through Lifeline to the TopSector Borough."
"Topsector!" Cheryl suddenly became animated, "I can't go through there!"
"B-because I can't! They'll arrest me!"
Lin and Ryu looked at each other for a moment.
"I don't think they will, honestly." Ryu shifted her a bit. He also made a point of making sure he was holding Nina's hand in case somebody became jealous, "But if anyone's arrested, it'll probably be me, first."
"Followed by me," Lin smirked, climbing up and turning around. She reached down and took Cheryl when she was handed up. Pulling the girl up, she stood her on the cement floor beside her, then reached down again, "Then maybe you, but they've got two adults to go through first."
"If we all get arrested, Nina will be lonely..." Cheryl rubbed the side of her head lightly, watching Lin pull Nina up. Nina nodded several times in response when she was placed beside Cheryl.
"I bet she would, so let's avoid being arrested," Ryu let out a half-laugh, climbing up. He slid the cover back on for Lin which so perfectly matched the floor nobody could've known it was there if they hadn't been shown.
The Lifeline was a grungy, rusted area; every inch of metal seemed to be coated red-orange, but none of the massive pipes running through seemed weak. The sound of water rushing through the huge pipes echoed across the cement walls. This fed (relatively) clean water to the lower levels, but nobody could be entirely sure where the pipes ended or began. In effect, it was cool, as it was very cold spring water running through those pipes.
"We're in the mid-point," Lin explained as she started walking, Cheryl following beside her. Ryu followed, and Nina took position beside him. "We saved a ton of walking distance, you know, going through there. Now who was it who didn't want to-"
"Heh. Well, whence we get to the TopSector, I suppose we head through... PowerOne. Yeah. There's actually three 'Powers', you know, one in the Midsector."
"...I actually didn't know that."
"Boring place. It barely works, too." Walking down the extremely long corridor, almost snuggled up against the huge, cool pipe, it seemed Lin was back in her usual, perky mood. "But hey, who cares? Not like people with low numbers need electricity, no-pe."
"...Then... above the TopSector Boroughs... is the Centre..."
"Where all the Regents live. I bet they'll wave us in and drink punch with us. Balloons and presents, not to mention cake and those cool little drink umbrellas-"
"Really?" Cheryl's eyes had a glimmer of excitement in them.
"That's called sarcasm, wriggle worm," Lin rubbed the girl's head, mussing up her hair, "As long as you have it, you can laugh at this pathetic game called Life."
"Oh... I see!"
Lin and Ryu had to laugh at this as they continued through the door into a grungy room. Nina just shook her head, however, as they did, sighing. It was still a struggle for her to draw in air, though, and her poor heart worked as hard as it could to keep her upright. But she knew Ryu would make sure she'd see the Sky, whatever it was, before she'd collapse.
The rest of the trip through Lifeline was the same over and over again; long halls with cold pipes, the sound of water rushing through them. When they got to the upper areas, it seemed to be mostly the control rooms for the pressure and such. By this time, though, they were laughing again over odd things Cheryl would spit out; heading out the last door, the laughter echoed around the dusty cavern, until everyone heard someone else laugh.
It was a 'hah', a single laugh that seemed to boom across the room. All four came to a halt on the metal grating that stood above the bare earth, leading to a larger metal platform. At the end of this platform was an open pit, leading to the depths below. Standing on the platform, back facing them, he had his blade rested across his shoulder, barely touching his blonde hair.
"Bosch!" Ryu was slightly surprised, but was suddenly disgusted as Bosch turned.
His single blue eye connecting with Ryu's, Bosch had a sick smile on his face. His left side of his face was entirely black with orange, glowing veins running up and down his skin. His eye, wide open, was a glowing, dead yellow. But more disgustingly, his left arm was so thin the tendons on the bones stuck out very visibly and would move under the tight skin when his muscles merely twitched. The hand of that arm was more like a claw, the fingers abnormally long with glowing red, sharply pointed tips. How much farther the pattern continued down his body was unknown, but it seemed something at ripped off the left sleeve of his jacket violently as strings and fabric loosely hung off it in tufts. The hand twitched of it's own accord when he faced them, his voice loosely connected: "I have this partner with a low number... he thinks he's hot stuff..."
The entire party stared, unsure of what to make of this specter. Ryu, however, looked extremely close to losing his lunch right then and there.
"Him... he will die..." The hand curled tightly, then released itself, "Let me show you how!"
The hand seemingly came flying as the party dodged aside; it latched tightly around Ryu's face, who was struggling to get it loose. It seemed to have the force of an alligator's bite, almost enough to crush his cheekbones; with a backward sweep, Bosch tossed Ryu halfway across the platform, and then readied his blade.
"Ryu!" Lin shouted to him, since he was lying across the floor, not moving, "Ryu, are you okay?"
"...Ungh..." He slowly stumbled up, just in time to see Bosch come running. Whipping out Zeno's blade, he moved to block the attack. Just as he reached Ryu, Bosch's D-form arm grabbed the blade without injuring itself, wrangled it out of Ryu's arms, and then tossed it aside. At the same time, he was able to thrust his blade, held in his normal hand, straight through Ryu's stomach- when he bent forward, the dragon arm slapped him hard, forcing him off the blade and back to the ground.
Nina almost let out a scream as she came running, despite Lin's protest; swinging her staff up, she brought down a bolt of lighting on Bosch- angry at having his initial fight interrupted, he came charging at the little one who didn't have time to move. He caught her up and simply tossed her at Cheryl, then refocused on Ryu. He lurched forward a bit as a bullet hit his shoulder; looking back, he was about to charge for Lin when Ryu shouted: "Don't attack him! Let him focus on me!"
"Kitty kitty…" He was about to charge after her when Ryu brought his blade down across his back, finally getting his one-tracked brain back onto his original fight plan, he turned to face Ryu and thrust his sword forward, missing. Ryu responded by rolling past his own sword and picking it back up, avoiding a rake of that hand as well. Back on his feet, he swung in an effort to sever that sickly arm, but missed, only grazing Bosch's side. Blades sung and the arm swept across the air in a tedious fight, but neither made much progress. After a time, however, Bosch was facing everyone, back to the open pit.
"I'll gut them like a fish… gut him like a fish…" The arm violently twitched, swinging back behind Bosch; he started moving backward as if it was pulling him. "They'll all die!"
"Bosch!" Ryu watched, as he grew closer, faster, to the edge; realizing he wasn't about to stop, he suddenly shot forward, dropping his blade. Reaching his arm out, he saw Bosch tip backward over the edge- pushing himself as fast as he could go, Ryu barely came to a halt before the edge, only able to watch Bosch fall in vain. He watched until his former comrade was swallowed by the dark, and then winced when a loud 'thud' echoed from below.
Slowly standing upright, staring down, he could barely keep himself from shaking.
Nina peeled herself from the sore Cheryl's arms (who was trying to keep her held so she wouldn't try and fight again) then ran to Ryu's side. Coming to a quick stop, she looked over the edge, and then shuddered a bit. Leaning back, she looked up at Ryu's empty expression and frowned a bit.
Lin came up, slowly, Cheryl following behind her. She stopped behind Ryu, letting out a faint sigh. Slowly moving her arm up to his shoulder, she gave a sympathetic look when he glanced at her, then let her arm fall.
"…That's always the worst, when you are close enough to hear the sound they make when they finally fall."
"…W…what?" Ryu barely spoke, looking back.
"When Madame and Sir fell… that was the worst sound I had ever heard."
"…" He looked back at the pit for a moment, and then let out a painful sigh. "…Let's… let's go…"
All four silently started off, Nina coming last, only pausing to gaze back at the pit a final time. As she left, she had no idea that below them, a heart still beat slowly.
Can it… can it hate?
Bosch was lying across the cement floor, which had cracked under him, his left leg, right foot, and right arm all on backwards. Blood seeped out around him, his skin becoming cold as it left. Still staring up with his single blue eye and the lidless, yellow one, he could still see Ryu reaching out to him. Closing his eyes, he tried to rid his vision of the sight.
It can hate…?
He let out a sigh; the angry, gnawing emotion filled his mind.
Good. I'll choose you.
Bosch suddenly jerked as his D-linked arm swung over and imbedded its claws into his throat, instantly slaying the young man as it went straight through his windpipe and vertebrae.