It has been ninety-five years, now, a scant drop in the stream of time. The kingdom fell within waking memory of its conquerers, who sit to this day on a stolen throne. Strange, that the Rebirth occurred so quickly this time. Perhaps this world sensed that it could yet be saved while its people still lived. The crystal stands, and so we must believe.
I have seen the guardians of this world reverted to children again. Angry, abandoned children with no memory of hope or peace. This world is wrong for them, and they itch with its wrongness without understanding why. They are weak, stripped of the power that made them what they were. We are all weak, now.
My voice was taken from me on the day the darkness fell. So I wait and I hope, always on the sidelines of history, just as I was in the days of old.
It was perfect. They moved like water. Together, they were the tempest, they were the storm, the tsunami, the first two drops of water seeping through the cracks of the Palace before the flood came crashing in.
He was deadly efficiency, she was surgical precision. Everything was perfect. Sliding down the halls between guards and surveillance technology was like a well-orchestrated dance. Scramble cameras, cut motion sensors, dampen heat sensors, six seconds to slip behind a guard's back and six minutes to embed the tiny, portable bomb in the Palace's own power supply like an electronic parasite. Then back out the door, down the hall, to the next goal, the next key location where their precious explosives were needed. They were water, they were dancers, they were dangerous and untouchable.
He knew the layout of the Palace better than he knew his own apartment, even though this was his first time seeing it with his own eyes. He had the map memorized. She knew codes, times, schedules, name and rank of every guard and what time they took their coffee breaks. They were moving about the perimeter of the Palace, two levels underground. The explosives were laced like beadwork around the asymmetrical base of the structure, focused most heavily on the towers. That was where previous attempts had gone wrong, in treating the Palace like any normal building. There were no supports or foundations to eliminate, not in a structure that had grown organically from the Earth itself. Not everybody knew that the crystal continued well below the Earth's surface, embedded deep in the ground where it had formed. They had to chip away at the edges before they could target the heart of it. The central tower would have to fall last, if they could make it that far.
He knew that Amaya had once lived in a crystal building, but this was Joji's first time inside the gilded walls, and even through the press of his mission, he could not help but be taken aback by the beauty of it. The walls had a creamy opalescent quality that shone all colors of the spectrum at different angles. It was like walking through the heart of a great seashell, mother-of-pearl glinting all around them, but the semitransparent, crystalline quality of the walls became apparent if he looked more closely. The natural fractures and impurities in its depths seemed only to heighten its beauty in the glow of the thin lamps that hung unobtrusively from the ceiling, which rose in a brilliant multifaceted archway that refracted millions of tiny bits of light back from the lamps. And that was just the hallway.
It reminded him of an immaculate porcelain dish that he had once seen in his wealthy auntie's house. The precious, delicate beauty of it made him feel that much more satisfied when he had smashed it on the floor.
Amaya seemed to dart like a water nymph before him, swift and graceful and deadly. Her ultrablue hair was a vibrant mess that streamed behind her as she ran. The heavy black utility belt around her waist looked far too bulky for her tiny frame, but she seemed completely unhindered by it as she slipped around a corner.
Neither of them said so, but they did not expect to make it out of this alive. When he had called in to work this morning, he had told his boss to fix the damn leak in the ceiling, and not to come by Joji's apartment. It was the closest thing to a goodbye that he was going to give.
He was not sure whether she had called anybody. She, like Joji, did not really have many people left to be calling. They were both, conveniently, without family ties to hold them back. It was as though their lives were preparing them for such a mission.
The two rounded a corner, and found the next targeted room empty, as expected. His tools were already out. It was a matter of seconds before the wires in the crystalline wall were exposed, and she was already stripping the proper ones to splice them into her homemade bomb. Joji thought, not for the first time, of what an electrician's nightmare crystal buildings were, and how much easier that made it for those who liked to exploit such things. Wires were easy to access.
Their hands moved deftly together in a practiced dance, barely touching but comfortably close. Energy practically hummed between their fingers. The wires knitted together as cleanly as a stitch on a finished seam. Amaya caught his eye. She was grinning breathlessly. They both were.
The little red light in the device flashed on, signaling that it was ready to go. Amaya nodded once, abruptly. Her eyes were sharp, splinters of ice honed to fine points, resolved. They continued to the next point without a word, knowing they had nearly reached the first of their goals: the Southeast Spire was almost completely lined with explosives. At the push of a little red button clipped to Amaya's belt, it would be lighting up like a Christmas tree. Perfect.
The snag came in the form of unexpected beauty.
When they entered their final room, and the lights automatically flickered to life in reaction to their body heat, the location was not filled with filing or makeshift storage, as the others had been. It was a small, circular room, the walls and floor glistening, empty except for a single structure at its center.
Joji stared at it. Was it a fountain? There were no devices to spray water, just a single wide stone bowl rising elegantly from its stem. Was it like those bird baths he had sometimes glimpsed in the gardens of the wealthy?
Suddenly Amaya was moving from his side, towards the bowl, and only then did Joji notice that his muscles had been straining towards it, as though something inside him was deeply attracted to it. There was something inside that bowl. Something that stirred some deep hunger that he had never known he had. He tried to call Amaya back, but his breath lost its will before it reached his throat, and no sound ever left him.
He could only stand, and watch, as the blue-haired girl approached the bowl, and everything was right and wrong at the same time. The girl in black, with the electric-blue hair, staring down at the strange runes and symbols carved around the rim. She was standing over it, now, and light was flickering and wavering over her pale face-a reflection shining up from the pool of water.
She reached out her hand. "Don't-" he began, too late. Her hand was on the water's edge.
That was when the world turned to light and song.
Dark. Was it supposed to be dark? He had a very distinct feeling that he had been sleeping for a while, but he could not, for the life of him, determine whether it was still nighttime or early morning or, more distressingly, the next evening.
Endou squinted out from under the comforter at the little green numbers glaring at him accusingly through the darkness. He fumbled for his reading glasses, as though hoping that some clarity would resolve them into entirely different shapes, but the indignant seven continued to glow brightly even after he had shoved ice-cold frames up the bridge of his nose.
"Rise and shine!" Moriko called from the doorway, much too cheerily for Endou's tastes at this hour... whatever this hour may be.
He groaned, clumsily yanking the glasses back off his face to plop them on the nightstand. "Please tell me there was an A.M. at the end of those numbers."
"Honey, you know how I feel about lying."
Life inside the Furuhata residence had once been like clockwork. Nobody could make it out the front door without Moriko feeding them first, and so it was a well-established fact that one made it out of bed in time for breakfast (which was at 7:45 sharp on weekdays), and with the smell of fresh cinnamon rolls, who could resist anyway? Meal times were communal affairs, their sanctity strongly enforced, and so all scheduling was ordered precisely around them.
For all he knew, though, it was still that way. He just seemed to be missing more of it.
Moriko shoved a ceramic mug into Endou's hand, an infallible way of dragging him out of sleep with the temptation of fresh-ground coffee beans brewed to perfection with two heaping scoops of brown sugar. The risk of dropping such a treasure if he were to nod off was unthinkable, and Endou promptly pushed himself up, clutching his liquid addiction close to himself like a sacred object. "Why in the world did you let me sleep all day? I should have been out of bed ten hours ago. Eight, at the very least."
Moriko smirked at him, or at least he suspected that she did, given her hands-on-hips matronly stance that said he was being silly and whiny. She was backlit by the hall light, her wavy hair catching auburn in the glow, her tall frame emitting a comforting warm presence regardless of how indignant he would have liked to be at her. "Because you were up all night-and don't you try to tell me otherwise, Mr. I-discretely-clean-up-my-own-dishes-but-forget-to-wipe-up-the-crumbs. You've been grinding yourself into the floor between clinic and your little voodoo thing, and if I remember correctly, you're under strict orders from Ozora to actually rest on your days off so you'll stop looking like the walking dead in front of patients."
"Ozora can bitch however he likes, but he is not my nurse, and you are certainly not my mother." Says the guy drinking the coffee she just brought him in bed. Oh, sweet Serenity, it was so good. How could Moriko create coffee like this?
"Uh-huh. Just get downstairs and eat your dinner before it goes cold. You're useless at meetings when you haven't eaten."
Another pained groan escaped Endou's throat despite a mouthful of blessedly sweet caffeinated beverage. "It's Tuesday."
"It's Tuesday. You've got twenty minutes to make yourself presentable. Please, at the very least, try to put on some pants. Everybody's already waiting downstairs."
"Can you honestly name one person down there who would be offended if I actually walked around sans pants, as you appear to be implying I may have done at some point in my life?"
"You would-because it would give me a chance to tell my favorite story from when you and Motoki were sixteen all over again. Something involving lawn sprinklers and a spoon?"
Endou took a long sip of his coffee. "You can threaten me all you like, Mrs. Furuhata, but I've got plenty of my own stories at my disposal. Had any bra malfunctions recently?"
The way that she bristled made Endou strongly suspect that she was blushing beneath that auburn hair. "Holy princesses, if you breathe a word of that to Harue, I WILL punch you in the jaw."
He took another swallow, savoring the sweet caffeinated goodness and the imagined revenge, knowing that Moriko was only half-joking about inflicting violence on his being. "I'll take that as a truce, Mrs. Furuhata. See you downstairs."
Endou was fully clothed when he descended the stairs, tragically empty coffee mug in hand, but his hair was a black rumpled mess, and he only had a vague notion of when he had last shaved. The animated conversation drifting out of the living room sounded like the sort of comfortable post-dinner party atmosphere that they were used to having on Tuesday nights, in the lull between food and business. In the kitchen, the bottle of red wine that Moriko had been slowly chipping away at sat uncorked beside two empty beer bottles, a mangled half of lime, and a pile of leftover dishes.
He found his own plate, still warm under a pot lid. It seemed dismal to sit alone at the wide oak table that was so clearly built for a crowd, so he leaned against the counter with his plate while listening in on snatches of conversation in the other room, contemplating whether he could get away with sneaking a second cup of coffee without either Moriko or Ozora threatening to beat him over the head with his own mug. He would have taken his chances, if the coffee maker were not already woefully empty.
A tiny head peeked around the doorframe, wide round eyes the color of oak leaves fixating on him. Endou smiled. This was another thing that he missed about his skipped mealtimes. "Hey Kameyo, how was school today?"
"Good," the petite girl answered shyly, taking that as an invitation to fully enter her own kitchen. She was tightly clutching a piece of paper, which she held out for him to see. "I made this for mommy."
Endou set down his plate to fully make a show of inspecting this new work of art. It was a slight marvel that the teacher had convinced her to sit still long enough to scribble anything onto the page, and so when she did, it was always a praiseworthy event. He was looking at a big, smiling cat with purple crayon scribbled liberally on its body. There were three jagged whiskers on either side of the face that were nearly as long as the tail, and a scratch of yellow on its forehead. "I made it for mommy," the girl affirmed again, gravely. "Her name is Pickle."
Endou raised his eyebrows at Moriko as she entered the kitchen, empty wine glass in hand. "We've named the cat Pickle. I thought we were calling it 'the cat.'"
"She's not an it, she's a she. And cats need a name, you know. It's bad luck not to name a cat."
"I thought that applied only to boats."
"She's Pickle," the girl told him authoritatively. She had a firm grasp on her bossy stage, and had no intension of relinquishing it any time soon. "And she's mine."
"Well I'm sure Pickle loves how well you drew her," Endou told the child affectionately. "Are you going to give mommy her drawing so she can put it somewhere safe?"
"No!" The girl shouted, snatching the paper away before Moriko could grab it and fleeing from the room.
"She's been carrying it around all afternoon," Moriko told him with amusement in her voice. "I'm sure I'll find it crumpled up in the toy box tomorrow."
"Just think of how much character it will add to your scrapbook."
"If by 'character' you mean 'wrinkles.'"
"Endou, you're actually walking among the living!" Harue punted him in the arm by way of greeting on her way to find another beer in the fridge. "I see that nobody ever taught you how to hold a razor."
"Not all of us are as naturally stubble-free as you are." It likely sounded like a strange thing to say, in context, but sometimes Endou suspected that Harue was more man than he was. Harue fixed cars for a living, and Endou checked his sleeve out of habit to see if she had left a black grease stain. She usually had the courtesy to wash up before touching anything in Moriko's house. Moriko discretely kept special grease-cutting soap in the guest bathroom just for her favorite mechanic.
"Yeah, well you can piss and moan about that only after I've seen you shave your legs enough to pull off a mini-skirt."
Endou paused. "When have YOU ever worn a mini-skirt?"
Harue retrieved the bottle opener from beside him, an undeniable smirk crossing her features. "Don't you wish you knew."
He tried to envision it, but found it to be a little like trying to picture the Incredible Hulk in a pink tutu, and he decided that some concepts were better left unimagined. At the risk of actual physical harm, he noted, "Actually, I'm not sure that I do."
He couldn't say that he did not deserve the dead arm he received for that.
Endou knew that he had no good reason to desire more testosterone in the house. Besides the fact that Harue knew more about cars than he ever would, and could probably benchpress him, Moriko was a former kickboxing champion who could heave bags of cement over one shoulder whenever she was re-landscaping yet another portion of her garden. They both thought that they could beat him at basketball, a blatant untruth that he regularly sought to cure them of. Moriko was also under the impression that she could treat him like a little brother, regardless of the fact that he had a year on her ("six months, if that," she liked to remind him).
And then, there was Ozora Khoklov.
In the living room, Ozora was lounging in one of Moriko's tastefully comfortable armchairs, and he had his sketchpad out. He usually did, if he had to be sitting still for more than five seconds at a time, and Endou knew him well enough to realize that it was more of an excuse to keep his hands busy than out of any artistic inspiration. His thick golden hair was piled at the back of his head in a manner that was simultaneously messy and aesthetically pleasing. That was Ozora for you: it took a lot of effort to look so casual.
On the floor, Kameyo was lining up Little People so that she could crash a model helicopter into them. No question about who she picked that scenario up from. Harue was perhaps not the most positive influence on small children, but she had long maintained her "fun uncle" status in Kameyo's life. Being "fun uncle" meant that Harue could spoil her and give her too much candy without consequence. Actually sharing a house with her meant that Endou got knocked down a rank to "responsible uncle who still makes Kameyo brush her teeth at night."
"You're actually standing," Ozora noted, without looking up. He had this way of making everything that came out of his mouth sound condescending. It used to drive Endou mad, but then he had decided that anybody who received regular noogies from Moriko, and yet still talked like that, probably deserved bonus points for trying so hard. Now he simply took it as one of the many lovable traits of his colleague.
"This may come as some shock to you, Khohklov, but I actually manage to stand on frequent occasions." Endou seated himself near Kameyo, who was sprawled on the carpet, crushing three Little People beneath the weight of her helicopter and cheerfully enacting their imagined screams.
"Didn't look like it yesterday. You almost had to be carried to the car."
"Incredible. You couldn't even wait to say hello before starting in on me, could you?" He swiveled his glass of orange juice (because it was too early in the morning or evening or whatever-the-fuck-ever this was right now to be cracking open a beer with Harue), more amused than annoyed. This conversation was standard procedure.
"Well, seeing as how you wouldn't have heard me if I did it last night, I've had to save it all up."
Endou could see that he was not going to be let off the hook quite yet. He gave Ozora a lazy grin, deciding to humor him. At his feet, Kameyo was making explosion noises. "What? You directed me to rest on my day off. Clearly I have rested."
Ozora's pencil was making small, precise movements. He was glaring at the sketchpad with an intensity that threatened to set it on fire. "After you were up all night. Don't think Moriko hasn't told me."
"I wouldn't say it was all night. Three, maybe four thirty at the latest."
"Five thirty," came the utterly unhelpful voice of Big Sister Moriko. She slid onto the couch beside Endou, placing herself between the two men. Harue hovered in the doorframe, leaning her shoulder against it with her half-drained glass in hand. "Your light was still on when I let the cat out."
Endou dodged the implication. "The cat wakes you up at five thirty? What kind of animal have you let into our house, Moriko?"
The brunette woman frowned, her eyes on her daughter. Endou could detect the hallmark signs of a parent attempting to express frustrations in the most delicate way possible. "A very... assertive one. With a loud voice."
"Well she's part of the family, then." Harue gave her a cheeky grin.
Moriko gave her a look which clearly stated that the only thing saving her from a punching was the child situated between them. "Thank you, Harue."
"Hey, you do what you gotta do, Moriko. Cat's gotta pee."
"I'll call you up and tell you about it every morning, then."
A challenger approached. Kameyo had flown a pink My Little Pony in from beneath the couch to rescue the remaining Little People from the helicopter. It was nice to see her retain some princess-like qualities, even if they came in the form of a pink plastic unicorn impaling a helicopter on its horn.
Moriko leaned over to peek at Ozora's sketchpad. "What are you drawing?"
There was barely a beat before his answer. "Dr. Tsuchinaga's fat head."
The girls both let out a low "ooooh" at the sudden drama unfolding before them. "Khoklov's pulling out the titles now, Endou. What did you do to piss off the Russian nurse?"
Endou decided that the only way to get out of this unscathed was to take the high road. He shrugged. "My job."
Ozora looked like Medusa when his slightly curled strawberry blond hair was backlit by the lamp, murderously turning the contents of his pages into little sketched-out statues. "Screw your job. That wasn't medicine. That was waving your hands around and making gold sparkles fall out of your ass."
Moriko turned to Endou, and suddenly nothing made him feel like a bigger jerk than the alarm flashing in her green eyes. "Another one?"
Ozora answered for him. "Guy comes in with a hole in his chest the size of a naval effing orange, and our friend Dr. Tsuchinaga over here doesn't think it's necessary to wait for the rest of us to work on him. I leave them both alone behind the curtain for five seconds, next thing I know the guy is perfectly fine and his doctor's in more need of the bed than he is."
Moriko was shaking her head worriedly, and Endou wondered whether he'd been wrong in claiming that she was not his mother. "I thought you were just tired, I didn't think-are you TRYING to kill yourself?"
Against his better reasoning, Endou felt affronted. He was a doctor; what did they expect him to do? "Would you prefer if I'd let him die?"
Ozora threw his pen down in exasperation. "Of course not! I wanted that guy to survive every bit as much as you did. Just-Endou, what part of 'don't push yourself too hard' don't you understand?"
"Mostly that first bit." He knew he was being difficult, and perhaps even slightly childish, but there were some things that Endou Tsuchinaga did not compromise on, and this was one of them.
"Obviously. I'd love to know what Kin would think of your self-destructive habits."
"Well we won't know, will we?" Endou looked hard at the blond man. "Because you're not going to tell him."
Moriko looked tense between them, and he could sense Harue shifting uncomfortably. Even Kameyo stopped terrorizing her dolls for a moment to glance up at the strange silence that had descended on the adults. Ozora threw him a spiteful glance that indicated exactly how he felt about that decision, but there was no rebellion in it. Orders came so rarely out of Endou's mouth that even he often forgot that he could give them. It was not a role that he took pride in.
Nobody felt more uncomfortable about it than he did. Muttering something about needing another drink, he snatched up his glass and stood. He barely glanced at Harue as he pushed past her into the kitchen.
It was not on purpose that he worked himself to death. He did not enjoy the long hours, the lost sleep, or the regular scolding from his friends. He had once been vaguely human in his sleeping schedule, or as human as any med student could possibly be. But that was before he could make healing light flow from his fingertips. That was before he found himself sitting up in the wee hours of the morning, searching for others. That was before a second life was thrust upon him.
Endou stood at the kitchen counter, staring down at the butter yellow tile, each painted with a single, tiny pink rose. It would have seemed like a dreadfully sentimental and old-fashioned combination, if not for Moriko's delicate hand at decor. He knew what all of them were thinking, but had yet to articulate to him. That it was not just that Endou was working too hard. It was that he was trying to live one life without giving up the other.
Being a doctor was more than a dream for Endou Tsuchinaga, and it was more than his livelihood, because for the entirety of his adult life, medicine was all he lived or breathed. It was everything he was, and everything he hoped to be, until one day, one fool of an Emperor's soldier was bleeding to death in Crystal Tokyo University Hospital's E.R., and he, a mere intern, had decided that this man, this single soldier, could not die. And then the light came, and the next thing he knew, the soldier was perfectly fine, and Endou had a head full of memories from a lifetime that was not his.
He had no reason to complain, because he was not even the one who had given up the most in this life for the sake of the previous one. That pleasure went to Kin, who Endou would have loved to speak with, if he did not think that Kin had too much to worry about already. If there was anybody among their cohorts who took on too much responsibility, it was not Endou; it was Kin.
There was another person who he would have loved to speak to, but that had been an impossibility for... goddess, was it going to be four years, already? If he had been here, Endou knew that Motoki would have nodded understandingly at all that he told him, then said, with all the confidence in his friend that Motoki always held, that he would get it figured out, and not to stress out so much.
The thought made him smile, but remembering Motoki made him think of Moriko, and he again felt a pang of regret at having caused her worry yet again. Goddess knew she already did enough for him.
He immediately began to run hot water into the sink. If the small domestic gesture of washing the dishes did not make up for the pained look she gave him tonight, at least it would make up for his having slept through dinner. Sometimes, Endou had to resign himself to the fact that he could not change the world with everything he did. Sometimes, the small things were all he was capable of.
It was not until he was loading glasses into the filled sink that it hit him. A flash, a shock, rushing though his system so sharply that he stumbled back as though physically punched in the chest. His senses crackled in alarm, and his mind, unbidden, fled from the warm yellow kitchen altogether, replacing it with an image that was immediately alien and familiar and haunting. He saw, he felt, he smelledthe palace, HIS palace, and in it, an ancient device of the Guardian of Wisdom. He did not know how he knew it was hers, or what its purpose was, but as if in a dream, he saw the object and the knowledge rose in his mind. The Pool of Mercury.
But that did not interest him nearly as much as the people beside it. The hot ball of light burning in his chest strained towards them as if in recognition.
The barest of whispers rose to his lips. "Who are you?"
He did not expect a response. Not from the blond man who was waving a pair of pliers around as though he intended to pinch someone to death with them. This intrigued Endou greatly. He concentrated through the hiss and crackle of his own protesting power, the pain mounting in his temples, as the auras of both figures began to flicker dimly, as might a well-hidden candle flame. He tried again.
"No, really, who are you, and what are you doing in my Palace?"
The answer nearly made him drop the glass in his hand.
He was still alive.
A dozen possibilities had run though Joji's head the moment the room flooded with light. The bombs had detonated early. An alarm had just gone off. It was the blast of a gun. He had just been shot. It was the prelude to unconsciousness. The prelude to death.
But he was still alive.
When the light dimmed, everything was still the same. Amaya stood by the bowl. There were no sirens, no soldiers, at least not yet.
But one thing was different. There was a voice rising to the front of his consciousness. And it was not his own.
Who are you?
Joji knew he should have been terrified to hear a foreign voice in his head. He should have, but against all reason, he was not. The voice was strong and commanding. It expected an answer. But he felt, bizarrely, like he was hearing the voice of an old friend.
"Forget that, who the fuck are you?" He shouted back at the walls, knowing how crazy it made him.
No, really, the voice continued, who are you, and what are you doing in my Palace?
The blond man stared wildly around the empty room. It could have been a trick. It had to be a trick. Why was he trusting this to be real? He gave the only answer that seemed reasonable under the circumstances. "Your mom."
He thought he heard a slight chuckle. Zing. You got me.
This moment had become so surreal, Joji had no choice but to assume that he had gone entirely over the deep end, and run with it. "No offence, Mr. Disembodied Voice? But what you're doing right now is creeping me the fuck out. Also, we're in the middle of something here." He looked at Ameya. Whatever she was doing with that bowl apparently had her far more engaged than listening to Joji insult the voices in his head.
I don't need to be disembodied to do that. Now, kindly get the fuck out, and save yourselves.
"Not a chance." Joji checked his watch, and spat a curse. They were cutting this too close.
I mean it. I'm asking you. Don't let them get you.
There was nothing else to do: they'd have to leave this room undone and move on. Joji pocketed the pliers he had been holding, and prepared to run. "No, thanks. Kindly get fucked, Voice. Amaya, let's go."
Suddenly the blue-haired girl was moving, but not how he had expected. She startled away from the bowl as though burned. "I'm sorry-I didn't-"
Joji had never seen his normally steady and level-headed partner-in-crime so flustered before, and that didfrighten him. Suddenly, whatever force had held him in place before dissolved, and he crossed the room in three steps to throw his arms around the tiny girl who believed she could tear down empires with someone so foolhardy as himself. She shivered in his arms, not seeming to notice the contact. She stared, wide-eyed, at the bowl, as though something horrible was slithering out of the pool of water. "Ama. Ama, it's okay..." He didn't even know what he was he was trying to protect her from. The light, the voice, or the soldiers who could come storming in at any second to kill them on sight.
The voice was suddenly urgent. Get out. They're coming. Get out!
That was when he heard it. The distant sound of shouting in the halls.
You need to get out. You need to get out now!
"Fuck off! Ama, we need to go. We need to keep moving." He began to drag her from the bowl, a frozen, petrified weight.
I'm sorry... I'm so sorry...
The banging footsteps of soldiers. The echo of shouts through the halls, far too close to hope for escape. Joji and Amaya shot each other a long, agonizing glance, but it was already too late.
I didn't know... I can't save you.
She had the controls in her pale, quivering hands. Her thumb was on the button.
She whispered something he could not hear.
Everything was perfect.