Disclaimer:I STILL don't own Juvenile Orion. Surprised? Yeah, me too.

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And the next thing he knew, he had sunk into one of the chairs. "Wh-What?"

She nodded almost uninterestedly. "I agree. It's too soon; when our predecessors locked them away, the creatures weren't meant to emerge for at least a thousand years." Her mouth pursed.

The Joshua Organisation rarely made mistakes like this when it came to sealing away ancient monsters. The Directors' positions were always precarious things; directing an operation like this could secure her job or rob it from her completely.

His mouth moved slightly. "But…Director, allow me a few moments to…" And he riffled a hand through his hair. "Gods! The Zodiac. It…they…" He paused, trying to put words together. "They're a legend. Not just in folk stories, but in here. In Joshua. Perhaps because it's been so long since we've had to deal with them. We always talk about them, and we've always been anticipating that they'll awaken someday, but now …it's…"

"That's the kind of novice reply I would have expected from an entry-agent, Kuro Sakaurai," she replied sharply.

He stiffened.

Her wall clock seemed louder. It tick-tocked and waggled its tongue in a sharp reprimand. Gold-inlaid face luminous.

Then an imperceptible almost embarrassed smile flitted across the director's face. She leaned slightly across the table and spoke quietly, almost secretively. "It does make one feel almost privileged, doesn't it? Privileged and terrified- to be alive in these times. To be sharing our era with them."

And for a moment, they were comrades, co-conspirators.

Then, she leaned back and clasped her hands again, and she was his director once more. "This is our top priority." She gave him a wane smile. "We've come up with something that could work against them. At least, it has worked before."

"Oh?"

"This is not a mission that requires strength in numbers. The Zodiac is an odd set. They aren't made like any other type of monster. I'm sure you've been required to do research on them."

Kuro nodded. All Joshua employees had to have rudimentary knowledge of the three hundred and twenty basic types of monsters.

She continued. "We would usually assemble several teams for something like this, but…I dislike saying this, but having too many people on this would harm us more than it would help us."

"If I may ask, why?"

"You're questioning me?"

He said nothing.

You never questioned your director.

She tilted her head and looked at him a few moments. Then smiled slightly, as if his boldness amused her. "You went to college, I suppose?"

"Lyrling-Souter."

"A good school. Foreign language?"

"Yes. Sinthek. The Beta form, not the Gamma."

"Beta…you would have translated parts of Datrev's books of strategy."

"Yes."

"Then do tell me." She took her cigarette case from a desk drawer. A light. She leaned back in her chair casually and crossed her legs. Smoke was on her breath; it encircled her hair. Cigarettes and black coffee. She would be dead before she reached her late forties. "Why did translating Datrev always become easier as you went along?"

"I…I suppose because I grew used to his style. The kinds of words he liked using. His sentence structures."

"Exactly." She gestured and left a loop of smoke behind. "If we sent out twelve teams for twelve monsters, we would be ordering twelve sets of body bags by the time the month was up." She leaned forward and his eyes fell involuntarily to her sardonic lipsticked mouth for a moment. She was unattainably older than he was, but he had been attracted to her once, when he had first started working for her- he supposed he still was, just a little bit.

Her voice was low, as if confiding in him. "But if we send out one team for all twelve Zodiac…well, it's like your Datrev. You learn how the Zodiac behave, how they live. What you can expect when you fight them. It's like blood-throat fever, Kuro. You survive it once and it can never come close to killing you again." Then, dryly, "That is, of course, if you can survive it in the first place."

"I see."

That smile again. It was almost patronising now. She was humouring him. "I'm sure." She ground her cigarette in one motion into the ashtray by her typewriter. "So, we've decided that you are most capable of the task."

A warning twinge in his stomach. "Task?"

Her eyes were flat, hard. "Why, recapturing the awakened Zodiac, of course."

Why, recapturing the awakened Zodiac, of course.

For a moment, it was as if she had never spoken. As if he had imagined it. "Me?" he demanded. "You mean my unit, of course."

"No. I mean you."

That was a blow. "Dir…Director, I-I've had no training for something like this."

"You've gone through training just like everyone else," she said lazily. "And surely you know that you are one of our best."

"I…I don't mean to be contrary," he said carefully. "But I…you're sending me alone. I only mean that…well, others of my rank have many more years on me. Nakaura."

"No, Kuro…"

"Yaksa," Kuro said desperately. "Kuga. Anyone! Director, I…" He slouched over and rubbed little concentric circles below his eyes. He took a breath. "Surely you know I'm the newest of anyone in my rank. I'm inexperienced."

"Hmm." She pulled out his folder. "One could argue that; your records are impressive."

"Records," he said disgustedly. "They mean nothing."

"The Chimera," she reminded him. "Does your help in that case mean nothing?"

"Oh, the whole business was a series of fortunate messes," he replied. "Surely, you can't wave that case in front of me and tell me that I'm competent."

She seemed suddenly tired of him. "Well, competent or not, you're assigned to the case." She threw the folder onto her desk and papers sprayed out of it. "So I suggest you start researching the Zodiac before you're deployed, hmm?"

He felt like shoving back his chair and kicking it straight into her desk. He couldn't…he couldn't believe this was happening. All these years working for Joshua, and he had thought…he had thought….

But the organisation was insane. Sending a single officer out on his own against the Zodiac- what were they thinking? It would be completely ineffective. Completely dangerous. What advantage did one body bag have against twelve sets? The task piled up high against him like a mountain.

A mountain. How ironic- a mountain he had been told to dismantle. How was he even to start?

She was looking at him watchfully, daring him to speak against her again. He knew that this time, she would not indulge him.

He swallowed. Swallowed again. "I understand, Director."

"Dismissed."

"Yes, ma'am."

And he felt a sudden rush of hatred towards her. He clenched his fist and tried to think of something else lest he strike her.

The Zodiac, he stubbornly ran it through his head, pulling out memories like reams of film. If he could hold them up to the light, he would see faint ghost images of books he had scanned, documents he had been required to put to memory.

If he could hit her once, just onc-

-Some of the more ancient monsters. They blend in very well, sometimes imprinting their own sense of reality on their surroundings.

For all the hell this was going to put him through, he could have at least had his unit come with him. Kuga, Nakaura. It would have been reassuring to know they were at his back. Even if they had assigned Tracer from Unit 4 to come along with them, for all that Tracer and Nakaura fought like chickens and roosters.

Gods, what would they do to him if he refused the assignme-

-Some are humanoid, some are not. Some are not clearly defined in the scope of regular monsters either. For all that they are part of the same set, none of the Zodiac exist close to each other after they awaken and scatter throughout parts of the world, a rare solitary habit that one does not often see. There is…the Capricorn, the Leo, the Gemini, the Pisces, the…the…

He opened the door and came face to face with a serious-looking man who had a hand upraised to knock on the door.

His thoughts fell away for a moment. An Erasi?

It could be said that the Erasi were Joshua allies, though their customs and lives were still mysterious, unstudied. They all seemed to look alike; slender of face and pale of hair. If they had names, they did not give them.

"Captain," the Director said from behind Kuro. "Welcome. Please, sit down."

Kuro got out of the way hurriedly and left.

"Please forgive the short notice," the Director's voice echoed down the hall.
"No, Director, it's nothi-"

And the door shut.

-


-So…tell me what you think so far…

And I'm sorry I haven't updated in such a long time. College applications and SAT II tests are a bigger pain than I thought.

LJ friends, I am still alive. Kasumi Sora, I got your note. I'll try to find time to get on and post something.

CF is still alive as well. I was so embarrassed about the fangirlness of the last chapter that I guess I kind of disappeared. Anyway, I've almost got that all sorted out. Itsuki's all bloodied up from the fight, so all is right with the world.

Got a new idea for Dark Priest, but I've got to have him kill some more stuff before Ch. 3 gets posted.

Anyway, QB Ch.3 is almost done too, and I dressed up as a ninja for school on Friday, so life is good.