Yep, it has been a pretty long time, but well... that's it. It's been a pretty damn long time. Anyway, to try and even out the distribution of my stories, I have set up a little cycle. I put out one chapter a week, minimum, in this order; Conscription of Fate, Beautiful Chaos, Exeter Project, and then After the End. (Those are all stories of mine by the way, so fans of Queen's Blade, Soulcalibur, and Agarest War should check those out.) With this system, you'll get at least one chapter every four weeks. FOUR WEEKS!? Yes, four weeks. If you don't like that, then read the other stories too, so that you can get one a week instead. Logic dictates that you should do this. And so do I.

Well, that was certainly not how I intended my first impression to go.

The neutrality of Cerberus' synthesized voice was slightly irritating as it responded to Church's inner thoughts.

Plans are rarely worth making, Operator-Epsilon. The sheer number of almost infinite factors that can affect the outcome of a well-laid plan are enough to dissuade most organic life-forms from even planning in the first place. It is a good approach to take.

Church mentally sighed as he followed a green-haired teacher down one of the Academy's many halls on the 147th floor. Conversation with Cerberus may have been educational, but it sure as hell wasn't entertaining. What made it even worse was that as long as Church's nervous system was attached to Exeter, the insufferable machine could speak inside his head. Church merely had to think his words and Cerberus would hear him. He wasn't sure if the machine could read his mind or not, but the possibility of such a thing scared him.

"And here we are!"

Church was mercifully distracted from his mental conversation as his guide stopped in front of dull wooden door, far down at the end of the hall. Wooden? Wasn't this place supposed to be all high-tech and futuristic? This didn't quite fit the bill.

Church decided to ask about it. "Why is this one... different? It's kinda... unnerving."

Miss Yamada smiled apologetically. "W-well... It's kind of the only room that isn't already being used by one of the students. It's been empty for a few years..."

Church cocked an eyebrow at her. "I thought Miss Orimura said that the vacancy was recent?"

The bespectacled woman smiled again, much in the same way as she had just a few moments ago. "Well we did, technically. There was an opossum living in there a little while ago, until we ran it out a few days earlier."

Church eyed her incredulously. "An opossum!? That... that's some kind of weird joke right? A hazing for the new people, right?"

Yamada giggled. "Oh no, the hazing for new students is much worse than that! Right after we tar and feather them, we move onto the whips and chains..."

Cerberus quipped up in Church's mind. This place was not so perfect as it seemed, Operator-Epsilon.

Church backed a few steps away from the woman. "'re not... serious, are you?"

She took a step forward and eyed him menacingly. "Am I?"

Church scrambled for an answer, trying to determine if the woman was serious or not. "U-uh..."

After a few awkward moments, Miss Yamada returned to her normal self, and began smiling apologetically once more. "I'm sorry... it's just that Orimura-kun said I should try to lighten up sometimes, and so I've tried making jokes every once in awhile. But I'm not very good at it... we would never do anything like that to our students. But I was serious about the opossum. The room may be a little, er... disheveled."

Church walked past her and pushed the ancient looking door open. Dust fell from the ceiling as he did so. Cerberus quipped up once more.

Hmm... is this what humans refer to as irony? Such a decrepit door in a technologically advanced school?

Church nodded, despite the fact that such a motion held no meaning for the A.I. who could not see him in it's current standby state.

Yeah, I guess this qualifies as ironic. But it isn't really-!


That last part had been uttered vocally, as Church laid eyes on the 'room' he was supposed to stay in for the next couple of weeks. It... was... a nightmare. Dust was falling from the ceiling, half of the walls were covered in mold, some of it a sickly shade of blue, and the dim light-bulb in the ceiling was cracked down the middle. Besides that, Church could've sworn he saw a cockroach retreating from the light that had invaded the darkness.

After recovering from his shock, he turned to his guide and muttered, "A-are you serious? I mean... why does this room even exist here!?"

The buxom woman bowed and put on that same apologetic grin that Church could tell was her response to everything that wasn't necessarily her fault. "L-like I said, this is the only vacant room in the school. I apologize, but there is nothing I can do."

Church sighed and sagged his shoulders. "I'm not on probation or anything right? Can I go tour the grounds or something? I'm not sure I want to go in there yet..."

Yamada smiled. It seemed to be her normal facial expression for every situation. "Of course! Would you like directions to a certain place in particular? The cafeteria, perhaps? Or..."

Thinking back to the girl he had rescued earlier, it was not hard for Church to decide on a location. "Could you please direct me to the infirmary?"

The painkillers were starting to wear off.

Rin could tell because she was regaining feeling in her left leg, starting at her toes and working its way painstakingly upwards. To say it was unpleasant was... a drastic understatement.

The Chinese girl lay on her bruised back on one of the infirmary's beds, a stark white curtain separating her from the rest of the room. She could barely move, not only because of the cast that holding her fractured arm together, but also because the mere thought of moving made shivers run up her spine. She had already tried that once, and the sheer pain had almost knocked her out. It was surprising actually that she was awake at all, but apparently the medical staff had decided that injecting her with anesthesia was a bad idea, so long as whatever substances her mysterious rescuer had injected her with were still present withing her body. For that reason, she had to suffer awake until said substances dissipated.

Her dismal thoughts were interrupted by the sound of conversation on the opposite side of the curtain that cut her off from the rest of the room. It was a brief distraction, as she didn't really care what was being talked about, but the sound of a distinctly male voice caught her attention. She wondered if Ichika had come to see her? That would be have been unusually thoughtful of him, since Ichika was usually as dense as a rock.

Her heartbeat quickened as she heard footsteps approaching. Who knew a terrible accident like this one would actually have a positive side to it?

But as the curtain was pulled back, she was filled with disappointment. Sure, it was a guy, but not the guy she had been hoping for. In the place of what she wanted to be Ichika was a brown-haired boy of similar age and height in a red jacket and jeans.

She let her eyes roam over this stranger, seeing as how the only male who should've been in the building was Ichika. He was a pretty handsome guy, though not as good-looking to her as Ichika was, of course. But his facial features were at the very least desirable, and he had very dark blue eyes that were very captivating.

As she took note of his eyes, she noticed that this stranger was doing the same thing to her; although his examination of the girl on the cot was more analytical than intrigued. He seemed to take special notice of all of her injuries, specifically her right arm.

"So I take it you're doing better then? I mean, you don't seem to be dying or anything..."

The sudden speech threw Rin off, as she was so busy thinking that she wasn't focused on actually talking to her visitor.

"H-huh? Oh, yeah... uh...sure, I guess if you can call this better, I am. Who wants to know, anyway?"

The boy shrugged. "Just a worried student, y'know?"

Rin could easily detect a distinct American accent in the boy's speech. "Uh-huh, sure you are. I'm not even going to get into why it's obvious that you're not."

The boy smiled in a way that could best be described as charming. "Well in all humility, I'm the one who saved you from a very messy and unfortunate death. You're welcome, by the way."

Rin figured this must have been the guy Cecilia was talking about a few hours ago when the obnoxious British girl had brought Rin to the infirmary. Although her description of him had been anything but 'savior'.

"So you're the guy who stripped me in the park, yeah? I really appreciated that."

The boy blushed and waved his hands in front of him, aiming to make his denial more evident. "N-no! It wasn't like that! I was just checking you out..."

The infirm girl cocked an eyebrow at him. "Just checking me out, huh?"

The redness on the boy's cheeks grew even more intense as Rin pointed out his poor choice of words. "That's not what I meant! I mean, I was just, er... I had to check for damage, OK!? You could've died if I hadn't!"

Rin snickered, although the pain it sent through her chest stopped it short. "Ouch... calm down, I'm just kidding, y'know? No hard feelings."

A look of concern spread across the boy's countenance as he beheld the grimace on Rin's face. "Hey, are you sure you're okay? Don't the nurses have you on painkillers or something?"

Rin frowned. "Ugh, they wore off a little while ago. My arms, legs, chest... everything is killing me."

"And soon we will be too."

Rin cast a shocked look at the boy. Did he really just say that? It didn't sound quite like his voice, but nobody else was in the room.

"E-excuse me?"

The red-jacketed boy faltered in his response. "Oh, uh, something wrong? You look a"

"Repeat what you just said."

The boy scratched the back of his head before replying. "I said soon you'll feel better too! Did you hear something else?"

Rin squinted at the boy, suspecting a lie, but then again, she wasn't in the best mental state right now, so maybe she really had misheard him.

"Yeah, I guess I did. My bad. I have a splitting headache. Makes it hard to focus."

The boy smiled sympathetically. "I had something similar to that once. Although mine was caused by an accident not quite as severe as being flung into a tree at high speed."

Of course Rin's headache had not been caused by her miraculous and risky rescue, although it had definitely intensified its severity. But she said nothing to set the facts straight; she still didn't want anyone to know about her head until after the tournament, although participating in it now was an unlikely prospect at best.

She decided to change the subject, uncomfortable with the topic of her injuries. "So I guess you're the new exchange student, yeah?"

The American shook his head. "No, I'm not here to be a student. All of that high-tech gizmo stuff confounds me."

Rin was a bit annoyed with the her visitor for using a word she didn't know. "Uh...confounds?"


She frowned. "Oh. Wait, so then why are you the one piloting a high-tech armor suit then? Shouldn't they use someone smarter to pilot it?"

Now it was the boy's turn to frown. "Are you saying I'm not smart enough to use it?"

Rin grinned slightly. "No, but I mean, you did say that it "confounds" you. So..."

"Do you understand everything about your I.S.? All of its processing algorithms and whatnot?"

Another advanced word."A-algo...rithms? Um, yeah, sure I do. Don't you?"

"No. And I know you don't either. Your profile said something about you being below average intelligence. Apparently that's an official fact."

Rin was appalled. "No way! That can't be in my profile! Hey wait, when did you read that anyway? You a stalker or something?"

The boy laughed cheerily. "No, definitely not a stalker, at least since the last time I checked. Besides, I read all of the Representative Candidate's profiles. It was a requirement before coming. And even though it does say that thing about lower intelligence, you're pretty cute, so it evens out, right?"

Rin blushed just a little. Even Ichika rarely ever complimented her looks. And even though this boy was saying it as a form of consolation, it still made her happy. " thanks, I guess?"

"You seem awfully bothered. Don't tell me no one has ever said that before? That would be hard to believe."

Rin frowned dejectedly, not at all happy that it was so obvious, even to a stranger. "Well, actually..."

She was interrupted by one of the white clad nurses pulling aside the curtain. "Excuse me you two, but it's time to administer some more pain medication."

The boy turned towards her. "Ah, well then, I'll get going. I ran into Miss Orimura on the way here, and apparently I have to fix that wall I busted. Although I'm not sure if she even has the authority to order me around like that..."

Rin smiled. "She doesn't need someone else's authority, she makes her own."

The boy smiled too. "Good point. Well, I'll be seeing you around then. Not in class, but around, nevertheless."

As he turned to leave, Rin called out to him. "Hey, wait!"

He turned to face her, a questioning look evident on his face. "Yeah?"

"You didn't tell me your name. Pretty rude, don't you think?"

He grinned. "Whoops, my bad. My name's Church: yes, like a congregation, but it's a family name, so what am I gonna do?"

Rin smirked at him. "Last name only? Kinda formal, yeah?"

Church tilted his head comically as he answered. "Yes. Yes it is. But really, everyone calls me that, so it's pretty casual."

Rin closed her eyes and leaned her head back as the nurse inserted a syringe into the only exposed part of her left arm. "Well then, I guess you can call me Rinin. The shortened version is for friendlier guys."

Church answered her after a brief chuckle. "What, still mad about the scene under the tree? I thought it was pretty romantic, if I do say so myself."

Rin was not as amused as he by this, but tried not to let it show in her voice too much. "Yeah, I don't think so. Look, I'm getting kinda sleepy here, so... I'll see you around."

She could hear her new acquaintance recede a few steps from her bedside as he headed for the door. "Right. Well then, maybe later."

It was the last thing she heard before drifting off into a drug-induced sleep, for which she was extremely grateful.

An hour later, having not found a way to accomplish any of his objectives yet, Church found himself with nothing to do. So for now, he settled with berating his A.I. for being stupid.

"What the hell was that, Cerberus!?"

Church was flying circles around the Academy's central tower, scanning the campus as he did so in case he needed the data later, likely in his attack He didn't actually plan on fixing that wall he had destroyed anyway. The ends justify the means. So while he utilized his time here, he questioned Cerberus' outburst back in the infirmary.

"I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific, Operator-Epsilon. There are many things you could be referring to in the brief span of time you are mentioning."

Church addressed the machine sarcastically. "I say and I quote; 'And soon we will be too.' What the hell? Why would you say that to her?"

Cerberus replied without emotion or hesitation. "I do not understand your anger, Operator-Epsilon. I was merely stating a fact. We will indeed be killing her in due time. That is why we are here, yes?"

Church sighed as he rocketed around another curve in the tower's architecture. "Yes, but that doesn't mean... that doesn't mean you have to tell her about it! Don't you know about the element of surprise? It's kinda ruined when you mention it to the people you are going to try and surprise."

Cerberus switched to a more calming side of itself. "I apologize, Operator-Epsilon. I did not intend to reveal our motives to the enemy."

Church answered with what was left of his dissipating anger. "For crying out loud, stop calling me that. I have a name you know."

"I see. I will now address you as Operator-Church. Is this acceptable?"

Church cut the fuel supply from his jet-pack and landed on the side of the tower, using the magnetic mesh on his gauntlets and boots to effortlessly stick to the surface.

"Acceptable if you drop the Operator."

Cerberus answered in its neutral tone once more. "Apologies Operator-Church, but I cannot remove Operator from your title. It is a written algorithm in my processor. Creator-Sir-Awesomeness made it so."

Even though he was still a little miffed, Church laughed as he heard that. "Creator-Sir-Awesomeness? Let me guess, Marcus programmed 'that' into your algorithms as well? A little stuck up, isn't he?"

Cerberus replied in an aggressive, insulted tone. "Certainly not, Meat-bag! Creator-Sir-Awesomeness made me, a perfect marvel of ingenious engineering. That is enough to ensure his title."

Church cocked an eyebrow, since Cerberus could see his face as long as his helmet was on. "Meat-bag? What is that supposed to be?"

Cerberus returned to its positive side. "Oh, excuse my language, Operator-Church. It's just that you humans have so much water and meat sloshing around inside of you. The sight of it through my X-ray is...unpleasant."

Church just nodded. Guess it was true; that was pretty much what humans are made of.

"Operator-Church, direct your attention 49.8 degrees southward, and increase magnification to 3.5x. I believe you will see something of interest.

Church did as he was told, and he did indeed find something of interest. A zoomed view of a certain silver-haired Representative Candidate, looking none-too pleased as she yelled something into a headset.

"Hmm... interesting indeed. Shall we?"

Remember what I said above! Check out other stories of mine! So that you don't have to settle with one chapter a week! And sorry that the characters are a little OOC. But I think the humor it provides is worth it. Read on Comrades!