Author's Note: Ladies and gentleman, readers of all ages, I present to you chapter 11, the pinnacle of the story (and my longest chapter to date, ever, just for you!). There's a lot going on, and I really wanted to publish this before I left tonight for the next two weeks, so I hope that this will tide you over until I return. Hopefully, by the end, you'll be reading with baited breath, barely contained as the scenes roll on. Please enjoy.
To really immerse yourself, I suggest listening to EPR, Go Dark, Mizu to Densen, and finally Super Kuro, in that order, from the DtB / DtB 2 OST.
- Chapter 11 -
Let us so live that when we die even the undertaker will be sorry. - Mark Twain
Hei paced the cell anxiously. This was it. When the guard- Johnathon, he absentmindedly reminded himself- had last walked away, Hei noticed a set of keys dangling on a small ring from his waist. The idea was to simply lull him over, fool him into turning around, and then knock him out. When he was younger, he had played a video game with the same scenario…
While he waited, Hei's mind drifted to how awkward it was being without his cloak, or any shirt for that matter, for so long. His body had grown accustomed to the tight white bindings, compressing to their contours. His breathing was almost normal again. His arms and legs could bend fairly well. But it still felt weird. He felt… naked, without the cloak. Without some kind of shirt.
Hei dropped to his arms, straightening his back and dipping for a push-up. One. Two. Three. Four.
There was much to do. First, he would have to drag the guy away. He had scanned the halls but found there to be no cameras. Strange for a cell block. Perhaps it was because the base was outdated. There probably wouldn't be much of a need for prisoners in this corner of Germany.
Then, he would strip the man of his clothes. Weapons and ammo, too. If he was lucky he would find something to bind him with. Tape over his mouth, tie up his hands and legs.
Really, he felt a little bad about doing all that to the gua- Johnathon. He seemed nice enough, just doing his job.
At thirty, he lost count.
He would have to leave him some compensation. Perhaps a note of apology. Surely he would be reprimanded severely for being knocked out by an unarmed prisoner… So maybe he would leave his- no, no, that wouldn't do. There was no way he was getting through without a uniform and weapons.
And then came the decisive moment. The last time he would hear heavy boots thumping down the hallway with a tray of food for him.
He stopped his exercise and sat down on the floor cross-legged until Johnathon appea- wait, that wasn't him. A different guard had come up to Hei's cell this time, and he set the plate down with a bang.
Hei pushed himself up, gripping the bars, half a scowl threatening to crawl onto his mouth.
"W-where's the… other guard?" He hoped he sounded innocent enough to not jeopardize the plan.
"None of your business." The man snapped coldly.
Damnit, think faster.
And then, a brilliant plan came to fruition.
Hei craned his neck past the man, eyes widening in a clumsy confusion. "Isn't that him right there?"
The man turned around for the one moment he needed to. Hei's hands lashed out through the bars, grabbing the guard's unsuspecting shoulders and whipping him back against the bars. He grunted, dazed, but still conscious. Hei clamped his hands around the man's neck, squeezing as hard as he could possibly muster in that moment to suck the air right out of him. The guard struggled, until a swift kick found its way through the metal poles and into the back of his leg, ending his effort.
The guard dropped limp, a set of keys jingling reassuringly as he hit the floor. A smile crept onto Hei's face as he bent down to pull the keys closer, working swiftly to detach his freedom from the man's hip.
Now came the hard part. The keyhole wasn't out of reach, but slipping his arms through and bending them in just the right way to insert the key proved laborious. He fumbled with one key, struggling to see if it worked. It didn't. He tried a second key.
In this way, one tense minute of perked ears and a jumpy heart passed. Then two. Then three. Hei was beginning to nervously consider that none of the keys would work. He had already gone through ten. Finally, on the eleventh key, he heard a click. It was a joyous sound, but he spared no time reveling in the fact he was free. Nothing was assured until he exited the cell block and sneaked out of the base.
Hei stretched as he stepped out of the cell, a new found energy quickly infusing his body to work, and fast. He dragged the unconscious body straight down the hall his cell was facing, then around a corner. Just as he had hoped, there was a small room. He shouldered the door.
A closet. Even better. It locked from the outside. He wasted no time in unzipping and pulling off the man's pants, thankful this was the only time in his life he would have to do such a thing. He regrettably removed his own and tossed them into the closet, turning next to remove the jacket, and then the shirt. It was a little small on him, not just because of the bindings, but it would do. Finally, the balaclava.
Within two minutes Hei was completely redressed. He wasted no time with the boots; his were of a similar style but colored black and designed to fit much more comfortably. It was a small detail most would probably overlook. Holstering the stolen pistol, he pulled the blond man into the closet, inspecting his face one last time before shutting the door and locking it.
Hei casually strode down the hall to the exit, the thought of his equipment next bothering him.
The trees passed by blurrily, a single endless stretch of black shadows and leaves branching out into the darkening night sky where a red half-moon hung. Misaki loved the forest.
There was a simple solitude, a quiet emptiness that pervaded the air and awoke a buried instinct within her heart, one that called out to a realm unseen, beyond the reach of the physical world. When she closed her eyes among the stillness of this unassuming life, she felt the forest around her, senses connected to it. It was surreal. And when she opened her eyes, it all fluttered away.
"We're approaching." Misaki blinked away the dream, focusing forward again. In the distance down the dark road, the glow of spotlights illuminated a military base. Concrete walls at least three meters high encompassed it from all sides, a cold barrier between the soldiers and the outside world. She couldn't be sure, but somewhere inside BK-201 might be imprisoned. It was the closest encampment around the Gate from what the operatives stationed nearby had reported.
The car slowed to a halt, lights cut, engine silent. Their presence went undetected, and all of the team but one Contractor and Doll would stay behind to watch over their vehicles and passengers. Kenji and Alice were in the back of the convoy, caring for Yin. Misaki had decided it would be too cumbersome to simply leave them alone and hope they would be compliant. They were instead under her watch.
She stepped out from the van, boots crunching on the gravel road. Only the quiet snap of closing doors disturbed the night before they all began to shuffle forward. For the second time in a week, Misaki was holding a rifle, hoping to not have to use it.
One hundred meters to go. Then ninety five.
She was anxious. She had never performed an extraction mission before, let alone from a heavily armed military base. She glanced to her side, taking in the comforting sight of Clifton. Contractors or not, they were on her side. When Kenji had told her earlier about Yin, she had been speechless, but over the hours she began to appreciate her team more and more. They were people, too, just burdened with something more than silly day to day problems.
Eighty five meters to go. Tenashi radioed in to give a few more encouraging words before they would maintain radio silence.
"Misaki…" She focused on her breathing.
It just occurred to her that he still had a fiancé. One that was alive, no less.
"Good luck, okay? I… hope everything goes alright. Don't get shot or anything." She smiled inwardly. "That would break my heart." Surprise choked her, needless questions arising, but he cut the line.
"Tenashi?" No answer. She cursed quietly, making a note to interrogate him when she came back. If… she came back.
Sixty five meters. The fine details and outlines of the base were becoming apparent.
Misaki sucked in a deep breath, torn between two men. It was a highly inappropriate time to be comparing Li Shengshun to Tenashi Hibino- and the latter was engaged, if that still mattered- but there she was, thinking about both while she went to capture a dangerous Contractor. Like a young girl in school, chastising her best friend for smoking, gossiping giddily about the cute new love interest of the moment. Misaki shook her head, but that never worked to do anything but give her a headache.
And then, they were in front of the base. One of her teammates- Nathan- began to glow blue, casting an illusive field around them. His ability was to distort light, allowing for easy invisibility among other things. Of course, the larger the field, the more of him it drained. He was an older man, reaching the age where his hair would begin to grey, but he still had decades' worth of stamina. While they were on the flight to Munich, he told her he had served in a large conflict once, pointing to a deep scar along his neck.
They slipped by a fortified barrier adjacent to a guard booth, the man stationed inside never even looking up from his newspaper. Barely ten steps in, and alarmed German shouts filled the air.
It had been going so perfectly. Hei had slipped outside inconspicuously, calm and not drawing any attention. The fresh air, though chilly, was a welcome change from the stale air inside the block. The two guards he passed didn't even look at him. When they were out of sight, Hei stepped behind a concrete building, realigning his bearings. He didn't know the layout of base, so retrieving his equipment would be made more difficult. For now, it might have been best to simply escape and trudge on foot back to the main roads where he could find a ride back to the city. But that was a long way off…
That's when things went wrong.
In his lapse of focus, one of the soldiers patrolling had noticed him and walked over. He began to speak in German, and it was obvious his cover would be blown in seconds. Hei whipped out his pistol and shot the man's leg, dashing forward to grab his rifle and slam it back against his head. It was too late- even with his incredible speed, the soldier still cried out, and the gunshot would not go unnoticed.
Already he heard more shouts nearby, the crunching snow underfoot an indicator of reinforcements closing in. Hei dashed away, putting distance between himself and the body. It didn't occur to him that foot imprints could be tracked; at least, not in that moment while he searched desperately for the way out.
Gunfire erupted behind him, biting at his retreating figure. They were on to him now, probably waking up and alerting the whole- here Hei chose a colorful string of words- base that an imposter was running around in their uniform.
Things were just not working out tonight. If trigger happy infantry wasn't enough, Hei bumped into another one. A Captain, from the fleeting glance he stole at the officer's shoulder. Unfortunately, Hei wasn't fast enough in pulling out his pistol again, element of surprise gone with his disguise. The man jumped onto him, wrestling to gain control of the gun. Hei aimed a swift kick upwards, managing to knock him off, but he held onto Hei's leg. Within seconds, they would catch up and it would be over.
A single hand gently landed on his shoulder, a soft voice speaking into his ear.
"You're coming with me."
And then he lost consciousness.
Suou kicked the pebbles from the sidewalk aimlessly, not quite present to the world around her.
It had been a fun week, spending time with July after school and sharing in some enthusiastic photography and painting. He was still shaky with his composition, and she wasn't exactly good with her color blending or strokes, but it was pleasant to try. He had said earlier he would be away today, so now she was walking the streets alone, the sun setting at her back.
She missed him already. He felt like such an important staple of her life, one that she was amazed she could go without earlier. And despite being about three years younger- she had been right about him being ten years old- she was affectionate towards him. He was like a little brother… but perhaps a little more.
She was too young to love. She had feelings sometimes, strange stirrings in her chest that made her blush, but she didn't want to consider intimate, long lasting relationships, or the serious commitment and problems that came with them.
The word love… She rolled it off her tongue, sounding it out letter by letter. It sounded tender, easy to pronounce but impossible to understand unless you experienced it. And sometimes, it made people do things they wouldn't normally do. Love was intangible, as fragile as a strand of hair, but stronger than chains of steel. Sometimes, you could smell it in the air. It touched your heart in a way a hand never could… but what made Suou smile was that anyone could show it. It was such a common, basic thing that everyone could enjoy it. And no one could ever take it away.
She stopped, reading the street sign above to make sure she wasn't wandering too far from home, then turned the corner. She had the inexplicable urge to walk tonight, drawn by the alluring scent of mystery pulsing deep within her being, hoping that whatever instinct was calling her wasn't a delusion.
Hei gasped for air, clutching his chest, on his knees. He was no longer in the base, surrounded and cornered like a wild animal. He was… Where was he?
The Gate? How the hell?
The flickering, colored mists were unmistakable. From them emanated a soothing aura, a sense of belonging, and it healed his injured body.
"They're pretty, aren't they?" A young girl walked up beside him. Hei looked up at her shoulder length blonde hair, and instantly the memory of his partner returned.
"Amber…" He barely breathed out. "How are you here..?"
She smiled, amused by his ignorance. Her delicate reached out to stroke his head lovingly, and she bent down, pulling off his mask.
"This outfit doesn't suit you, Hei." He was speechless, so she clutched his jacket and pulled him in, planting a supple kiss on his weathered lips, feeling his unshaven and ragged cheeks.
"You'll understand everything soon enough…" She whispered, holding her head close. From within her own jacket, she pulled out a necklace. On it hung a small glass.
"The final meteor fragment… Amber-"
She put a finger between their lips, standing up again. "You've got to wake her up, Hei." She stepped aside, motioning with her hand to the body of Yin that was lying in the snow only a few feet away.
It was all so baffling, so soon and without explanation. But Hei had already learned to take things as they came and ask questions later. Amber hadn't led him astray before; in fact, she had sacrificed everything so the world could have a second chance. He wouldn't let it go to waste.
"Thank you." He turned to her, but she was already gone.
Hei calmly bent over to Yin, scooping up her small body, pressing her close to give her some warmth. As he carried her into the Gate, that familiar quiet descending upon them. The meteor fragment in his hand began to glow faintly, resonating with the light in the center of the Gate.
He was at peace, no longer controlled by the influences of the strange mists around them. Everything felt clear and simple. Within moments, Yin would awake and everything would be okay.
They had tensed, believing their disguise to be sundered, but it was impossible. Nathan shrugged, unsure of what to make of the situation, knowing his light bending was flawless even if he felt his energy being drained.
The source of the commotion, from what they could assess, was an intruder. Somewhere in the far reaches of her mind, she felt it was him. She knew it was BK-201. The chances were slim, but she had to take them.
But how? How would they capture a man that was being chased without making their presence known?
"Nathan, we've got to move forward, see if it's BK-201!"
He nodded, understanding time was slipping through their gloved fingers. The group ran forward, Claire's voice calling out.
"It's him. BK-201. He's being chased."
That was all the reassurance they needed. Misaki stole a single forlorn glance at the sky, pinpointing the Contractor's brightly glowing star. They were close- he was just out of their grasp. As they turned a corner, Misaki caught sight of a short bob of blonde hair next a uniformed man and an officer clutching at his leg. They disappeared instantaneously, present just long enough to grab a glimpse and then wonder if they really existed.
Misaki was left staring at the spot where a disguised BK-201 had just been standing, empty imprints still evident in the snow. As other soldiers ran up, they were befuddled to find tracks in the snow that abruptly ended.
"Nathan- how much of light can you bend?" She turned to him, an idea forming quickly in her mind.
"All of it; what are you thinking?" He was curious as to what his abilities could offer.
"…Invisible as well?"
"Yes. But what are you getting at?"
"Try to shoot us to the Gate from here by bending our photons."
"You've got to be kidding." He eyed her skeptically. "I've never tried something like that."
"Have you ever shot a light beam?"
"Well- yes, but…"
"You condensed it into projectile. You can do the same for us, can't you?"
"That would be dangerous. If I mess up, our bodies will… well, they'll stop existing." He gulped, not willing to take such a risk.
"You have to try! We're running out of time to reach BK-201, and we're out of leads here!" She raised her tone to get the point across, half angry that she was losing him again.
He sighed, defeated. They retreated out of sight and he removed the field that cloaked them.
"What makes you so sure he's at the Gate?" He tried one final time to protest.
Misaki gazed up at BK-201's star, glowing fiercely, and then at the red moon hanging close to it in the sky. It had a pale light around it as well. It seemed to be in a trance, as if activating.
"Call it a feeling."
Suou stopped, raising her hand to wave it through the air. It felt tingly, and she felt… lightweight. As she looked around in awe, the air seemed to fluctuate, bending with an unnatural pressure and distortion. This was where she had been drawn to.
Just moments ago, a flash had erupted through the air, blinding her. And now this. She realized she should have felt afraid, but didn't. She belonged here, walking further into this field and stopping only when another presence entered the field. It wasn't a sound, or a sight, or even a smell. It was an indescribable knowing, a connection of sorts, that it was July. They turned towards each other, an understanding passing between them wordlessly.
"What is this place, July?"
"I don't know, but it feels familiar. Do you feel memories coming back, long gone and dusty from a day past?"
"…Yes, I do, actually. They feel right, like something I've been missing. That sensation that someone was watching over me; it's stronger now. Do we go deeper in?"
He nodded, smiling. "Let's."
Around them, the air thickened. The street, the city and sunset, were replaced by an unfamiliar cold. Just ahead, there was… snow, and trees. A man was walking towards them, holding a girl in his arms. The nearer they came, the stronger her memories returned. A single name rang out through her thoughts with an unstoppable fury and warmth.
Misaki resisted the urge to throw up, landscape spinning around her uselessly. The jump had been successful, albeit incomparably jarring. Desperate times called for desperate actions. Next she would play the lottery.
But now, the important part was to stand. Regain control of her body, grip the rifle, and look up. BK-201.
He was here, right in front of her.
BK-201 is finally within my sights.
The silky black hair, long and jagged. The sturdy hunch of his shoulders as he carried something in his arms. Even in the way he placed his feet, one step after another, confident and unafraid. There was no questioning it. BK-201 was inside the Gate, just within her grasp.
She tried to yell out, to tell him to halt, but her voice seized up. She couldn't bring herself to stop him, so she ran. She paid no heed to the world around her as she ran headlong to BK-201, set on doing the one thing she had wanted to do for two years.
The bubble of the gate was warm. Pleasant. An escape from the world. Exactly as a bubble should be.
…He was so close now, just a few more strides.
The center of the Gate began to glow. She couldn't stop now, she couldn't let him get away. Not again.
Oh please, dear God, don't let me lose him a third time.
"BK-201!" A rough scream clawed its way out of her throat, her own voice foreign, and she was unsure if the hot streams dripping down her face were tears or her cheeks were simply flushed.
He stopped, turning ever so slowly. His face… his face was one of calm.
Li… Shengshun. It really is you.
So too was that of Yin's. In fact, she radiated a warmth, as if… As if there was life in her once more.
The knowledge that the man she may have fallen for and the criminal she had been chasing were one in the same escaped her. Time slowed. Her long strides, carrying her so quickly to touch the man she knew as a foreign exchange student, to stare once more into his eyes, were now eternally short and useless.
The gap between them she could never cross, no matter how long she ran and how badly she wanted to. There was now only one more disturbance behind him. The young boy, pale skin and hair silver like Yin's, the one she had seen one week ago had entered the Gate as well.
Misaki wanted to call out again, willing herself to alert him to the danger, but no sound escaped. She could only watch helplessly as Izanagi, the real Izanagi, approached from behind.
Misaki swore she was in a dream. Everything was surreal, lucid, but seemed oh so distant and unreal. Izanagi glowed with a burning blue, the aura flowing off him in lapping waves. His eyes, a crimson red, burning with the heat of Hell, focused on Yin.
She reached out, trying one last time to grab onto something tangible, to hold something dearly against her chest, perhaps even protect Yin or Li from what was to come. And then, she did. Her hand closed around Yin's wrist, and she felt herself being pulled up, pulled closer. The Gate pulsed one final time, shuddering in fear, agony, joy and peace, and everything ended.
The dreamscape faded to a color darker than black.
Author's Note: I would appreciate nothing more than a simple, honest review for possibly one of the best and satisfying chapters I have ever had the pleasure of writing. Please, it's all I ask.