Chapter 1: Arrival
The low, heavy thrum of active engines drifted slowly into Kazuya Aoi's ears. It was something he was used to. The T-155 Blackbird was not exactly a discreet aircraft. Dense and bulky, its reinforced belly could hold dozens of armored passengers as well as various payloads of different armaments. Created hastily in the wake of the Third Nova Incursion, the Blackbird was an amalgamation of humanity's direst needs. Durability and expendability. Humanity needed a mass produced vehicle that was both reliable and affordable to serve as a transport for its foot soldiers as well as carry out the war against the aliens as a mobile weapons platform. The Blackbird functioned nobly in this dual purpose, and was gradually phased into nearly every branch in the post-Nova invasion military. This led to a plethora of nicknames for the aircraft, most notably Vultures, coined by ground pounders for the way flotillas of them would hover around the site of a recent Nova incursion to pick up the dead and wounded. To Kazuya though, the Blackbird was a sense of familiarity, a comfort almost. He had been riding in them since his first mission years ago, and even had several shot down while inside them by Nova particle beams.
The boy leaned back into his seat and winced when the back of his skull tapped against the steel bulkhead. Blackbirds. Not known for their comfort either. But then again, Kazuya was no stranger to discomfort. Life in the military was not a luxurious affair by any definition, and that suited Kazuya just fine. Ever since the loss of his sister, his entire focus had been on combating the Nova. It was a form of revenge, a way to let go of the grief, and perhaps even a little bit of closure. He simply didn't have the time or heart to do anything else.
He had been lucky, in a way. Dr. Thompson was by no means a replacement of Kazuha, but he was fair and understanding to a certain degree. More so, he was realistic in his approach, guiding the young boy through the fog of sorrow that had surrounded him. Lessons had been held, sessions where the two would pour over research notes from decades of Nova observation. Lectures had been had, and Kazuya had listened intently as the jaded, once important scientist went over in volume the most up to date theories regarding the aliens. These same theories had been tested out, hypothesizes that while not always successful, allowed the boy to strengthen and maintain his Freezing field for longer periods of time. He had coached the young Limiter from an impressionable youth to the hardened veteran he was today. And for that, Kazuya was immensely grateful. He had no doubt that were it not for Dr. Thompson's stabilizing influence, he would have become a vastly different person.
The boy glanced down and flexed his left hand. In response, his fingers began twitching erratically. Kazuya frowned. Here was another lesson, though far more painful than anything Dr. Thompson could come up with. The hand had been damaged by a wounded Nova. He had been too lax in watching his surroundings and had allowed the Freezing field to dissipate earlier than he should have. The Nova had risen from amongst the corpses of its brethren and launched itself upon him before he could react. Kazuya had instinctively raised his left arm, and that was what ultimately saved him in the end. The spike had driven deep into his palm and exploded out the back of his hand. The pain had been unreal. The strength behind the alien even more so. Were it not for the false muscles contained within his armored suit, the Nova would have surely overpowered him and ended his life then and there. As it stood, he was able to drive the alien back and dispatch it with a second Freezing field. Still, the hand had never fully recovered. The medics had told him the nerve endings had been irrevocably damaged, and the uncontrollable twitching in his fingers would be something he would have to live with for the rest of the life. Others might have taken this to be a bad omen, a portent of things to come. Not Kazuya. This was just another lesson, one that could not be taught in a lecture hall or through Dr. Thompson's detailed explanations. Always be vigilant. Always be cautious. Expect the unexpected.
And now, that lesson had come back to haunt him.
Attending a Genetics academy? A bad joke, is what it was. At no point in his life did donning the uniform of a Genetics student ever cross his mind. It was a matter of differences, really. They had their methods of combating the Nova, and he had his. And that suited him just fine. Honestly, he preferred it this way, hunting the aliens by his lonesome. The reliance of Pandoras upon their Limiter partners and vice versa was just not something he wanted to deal with. That was not to say he hated Pandoras. Quite the contrary, Kazuya respected them a great deal. As Dr. Thompson said, they were humanity's last line of defense. That fact alone afforded them the reverence and admiration Kazuya was loathe to give anyone else. Still, Kazuha had died while wearing the title of Chevalier. She had graduated from the Pandora program that eventually sent her to her death, and Kazuya sincerely believed he would never get over that. The black cloud of grief that had hung over him since her death had colored his views for a long time. Even now, the bitterness still stung, and Kazuya freely admitted that. Unlike others, who based their views on ignorance, Kazuya acknowledged that he was biased, and unfairly so at that. But it was his way of dealing with the grief. Sadly, Kazuha's death would not be the last reminder of that particular emotion.
Anne had been his first pilot. Young, brash, and devastatingly beautiful, she was the opposite of Kazuha in every way. Whereas Kazuha was conservative and tender in expressing her feelings, Anne was direct and confrontational. The way she would grin lopsidedly when something pleased her. The way she cocked her head to one side in moments of confusion. The way she would get in his face if he put himself in unnecessary danger. Kazuya had liked her from the start, and in a time when he needed a strong female presence to fill in for the absence of his sister, Anne had been there for him. And if he was honest with himself, he might have even loved her, if only a little bit. He would never know. Anne died eight months later, killed in action when Novas brought down her craft while she was en route to pick him up from a successful mission. That was perhaps the most difficult lesson for Kazuya to learn. That in the war against the Nova, not even your loved ones were guaranteed to survive. So Kazuya learned to keep his distance from those around him, in case they too were killed by the Nova. Then, he wouldn't have to go through Anne's death a second time.
Just another lesson. And he learned well. Every pilot after Anne, he was courteous and polite to, but never close. He had even stopped remembering their names. Ultimately, his choice of distancing himself would prove to be correct. Some of them didn't last a week.
As if on cue, the aircraft's intercom suddenly blared to life, laced with static.
"We are nearing the destination," the voice was unmistakably female and unmistakably one that he did not recognize, "Calculated arrival time in fifteen minutes."
Kazuya nodded to himself. Another pilot then, and from the stern and business-like tone, one fresh from training. They were all like that. The newer ones were always strict and eager to impress. The veterans like him were far more lax. They knew that death could come at any moment, and enjoying another sunrise was far more important than protocol.
It was an outlook on life that he found hard to fault, even if it clashed with some of his own, more serious ideals.
"Thank you," he said, not really meaning the words, and waited for those fifteen minutes to pass.
Chiffon Fairchild watched in silence as the Blackbird ambled slowly into view, its twin propeller engines spinning in tandem. Beside her, Ticy Phenyl pursed her lips and glanced disapprovingly at the approaching aircraft. Chiffon didn't blame her. It was unusual for fresh Limiters to be transported in such a way. New Pandoras and Limiters alike attended the opening ceremony together. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. In other schools, family and prestige may decide your ranking on the social ladder. Not so at a Genetics academy. Here, your rank was based on the merits of your character and the depth of your strength, nothing else. Some may say only the depth of your strength, but Chiffon liked to think that character was just as important. The fact that this Limiter came alone, skipping the opening ceremony altogether, reeked of favoritism, and that was something she disapproved of. Had it not been for the headmistress's request, Chiffon doubted she would be here, waiting to give him a tour of the academy's facilities.
Still, Chiffon understood the headmistress's request. This Limiter was special, if not by ability, then certainly by heredity. He was the brother of Kazuha Aoi, heroine of the Eighth Nova Clash, and if reports were to be believed, possessed the same Stigmata body that made his sister so formidable. It was an intriguing prospect. Kazuha's fighting abilities were extraordinary. The unique properties of her body meant she could stay in Pandora Mode longer, charge her Volt Weapons at incredible power levels, and engage some of the larger Nova forms by herself and succeed. Chiffon wondered idly what those properties could do in the body of a Limiter.
These thoughts were brushed aside as the Blackbird finally descended onto the landing bay. Chiffon raised a hand to block the growing onrush of wind from the vehicle's propellers. The wheels appeared, sliding into view from compartments hidden within the Blackbird's belly. A skidding sound escaped as the same wheels hit the ground, leaving black marks on the once immaculate pavement. The propellers gradually stilled, followed by a sputtering growl as the engine died.
Chiffon lowered her arm and regarded the grounded aircraft with interest. Missile pods were slung under the wings, cylindrical cases that housed dozens of payload heavy rockets. The stubby, multi-chambered barrel of a minigun poked out of the vehicle's nose, making it appear even more ungainly. White chevrons were painted on its tail, the only discerning features on an otherwise blank body. Chiffon understood what those chevrons meant. Black Ops. Military elite. Specialized task forces that were far more competent in combating the Nova than regular army units.
The third year raised an inquisitive eyebrow. How very curious.
The Blackbird's compartment doors opened with a hiss, whirring hydraulics lowering the heavy slab of metal until it became a ramp. A figure emerged from the hatchway, his frame radiating caution, and Chiffon was afforded her first view of Kazuya Aoi.
He was… average. That would be the best way to describe him. There were simply no discerning features about him. His face was neither handsome nor ugly. His hair was cut short, the style simple and modest. Even his eyes looked blank. He was just a fifteen year old boy, dressed in a freshly pressed Genetics uniform, just like any other Limiter.
Chiffon let out the breath she had inadvertently been holding. To be honest, she was a little disappointed. Whilst she knew that appearances were not the sole factor someone should be judged on, she still had expected something more. The boy was Kazuha's brother after all.
Kazuya saw them waiting for him near the bottom of the ramp. He nodded, and adjusted the duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Brisk footwork soon brought him down from the Blackbird's passenger bay, the ramp echoing with a dull, clanking sound for every step taken.
Chiffon smiled when the boy stopped in front of them.
"Hello, Kazuya-san. I am Chiffon Fairchild, and behind me is Ticy Phenyl," she extended a hand towards him, "We are both members of the Student Council, and we will be the ones guiding you around the academy today."
Kazuya stared at the offered hand. He slowly reached out with his own and grasped Chiffon's in a firm grip.
"It's a pleasure, Chiffon. Ticy."
Behind her, Ticy's eyes narrowed. A faint glower appeared on her face. Chiffon shared her reservations, though none of her anger. The lack of respect merely surprised her.
The air around them grew tense. To his credit, the boy seemed to sense something was wrong. Chiffon could almost see the gears turning in his head, and the problem soon presented itself.
"I apologize, Chiffon-san," he said neutrally, his features remarkably blank, "It has been a while since I've lived in Japan. The use of honorifics is something I will have to acclimate myself to."
"It's alright," Chiffon replied warmly and slipped her hand from his grip, "I understand. Shall we begin?"
"Yes," was his curt answer.
Chiffon smiled again and waited. They stood there for a few seconds in uncomfortable silence. It was Ticy that finally broke it.
"Well?" the Vice-President stared disapprovingly at the duffel bag hanging from Kazuya's shoulder, "Aren't you going to bring out the rest of your luggage?"
The boy looked confused.
"This is my luggage," he replied.
"Yes, but where's the rest of it?" Ticy gestured to the idling Blackbird, "Or did you need help moving it?"
Kazuya blinked at her.
"This is my luggage," he repeated, "All of it."
"Kazuya-san", she said gently, "West Genetics will be your home for the next three years. You will need change of clothes. Commodities that you cannot purchase on academy grounds. Maybe some close possessions that you want to keep near you. We are quite lax on those rules. Whatever you want to bring, we will allow it, as long as it's of no danger to your fellow students."
Kazuya shifted the load he was carrying to his other shoulder.
"Everything that is important to me is within this bag," he said quietly, "I don't require anything else."
"I see," Chiffon nodded stiffly, well aware that the air had grown awkward once more, "Shall we begin then?"
"Yes," again the curt and to the point response.
"Follow me then," Chiffon turned on her heel and began to make her way out of the landing bay. Kazuya followed, keeping at a respectable distance, with Ticy bringing up the rear. They continued in this formation for quite some time, travelling through the winding roads that lead to the center of the sprawling campus. Chiffon talked along the way; describing in detail the various sites they passed. Kazuya, for his part, kept silent throughout the tour, nodding occasionally to her words and responding only when courtesy demanded it. It was a far cry from the rowdy bunch of first years Chiffon was used to dealing with. If anything, her sole guest seemed bored, as though if he didn't want to be here. The only visible sign of interest he showed was when they passed the Genetics training facilities, halfway into the tour. Their small group had stopped, and Chiffon explained patiently that only second years and above were allowed to use the arenas without supervision. This was due to the academy's curriculum. Under the Chevalier's program, first years underwent very little combat training. Most of their lessons were focused on the theoretical part of war. Battle simulations would come later, when the mind had been sufficiently prepared. Besides the year limitation, the only other requirement to use the facilities was a partner. A Limiter if you were a Pandora, and vice versa. Kazuya's face had shown a flash of annoyance once told that, but he said nothing in protest. Chiffon had chalked it up as simple enthusiasm, and they continued on.
They were near the dormitories now, the buildings many and varied. Chiffon turned and waved a hand in their direction.
"You will be staying in one of those halls, Kazuya-san, though I am not sure which. You will have to ask your class representative for that."
Her charge nodded, then frowned when he saw a group of second years walk by.
"The dormitories aren't gender separated?"
Chiffon let out a small smile.
"The partnership between a Pandora and a Limiter is essential to defeating the Nova. West Genetics encourages these relationships to foster. The sooner you become partnered, the more time you will have to learn about your partner's abilities. And the more you know about one another, the better you will fight as a unit. Some of our best students became exactly that because they partnered early and used the three years at the academy to grow and develop their relationship."
"And will I be forced into such a partnership?"
Chiffon raised an eyebrow at his choice of words. "Forced" would probably be the furthest notion from the truth. She was about to answer the strange question when Ticy did it for her.
"No," the Vice-President said in clipped tones, "No one will force you into a partnership if you do not want one. If a Pandora approaches you with the intention of asking you to be her Limiter, you are free to refuse her. However, as Chiffon-sama mentioned, it would be wise for you to select a compatible partner as soon as possible."
Kazuya inclined his head in acknowledgment, seemingly satisfied. Chiffon was about to suggest they continue the tour when sudden cries of alarm rent the air. The third year jerked her head towards the direction of the noise and was greeted with the sight of a stream of younger students running towards her, confusion written on their features. They were shepherded by their older peers, and Chiffon breathed a sigh of relief when she saw familiar faces wearing stern expressions directing the first years away from the dormitories. One of them, a girl with chestnut hair saw her and started jogging in her direction.
"What's going on Jeanne-san?" Chiffon demanded when the girl reached them, concern laced in her voice.
"They're at it again," Jeanne rubbed her forehead wearily. Chiffon noted that her tone was more annoyed than worried, which was a good sign, "Illegal match at the second year dormitories. We tried putting a stop to it but they didn't listen."
"Who are the ones responsible?" Chiffon asked, though she had a sneaking suspicion she already knew the answer.
Jeanne gave them a dark look.
"Who else? The Untouchable Queen and her latest challenger."
The Student Council President shook her head in frustration. And everything had been going so well.
Illegal matches were a peculiar tradition at West Genetics, stretching back to the first few Nova Incursions. The Chevalier project had been in its infancy at that stage, and the procedures that would eventually define it had not yet been developed. The students that were enrolled in the first few academies needed a way to rank themselves in terms of power and in the chaos that followed after humanity's first encounters with the Nova, crude matches were the order of the day. A Pandora and her Limiter partner would challenge another Pandora and Limiter pair to a trial of arms, and whoever won would become more respected and esteemed in the eyes of their peers. While this certainly established a hierarchy, it also brought disorder and suffering. Factions arose, several within each academy, and they waged all-out war on one another for dominance over their school. In fear of losing their hard-fought ranks, students began purposely inflicting grave injuries on their opponents with the aim of putting them out of the fight permanently. In retrospect, it was a harsh mirror of mankind's darkest days, a reflection of a time when humanity faced the very real threat of extinction.
Chevalier had eventually put a stop to it. Once the project managed to organize itself, its founders began to realize the true extents of damage the students were inflicting upon themselves. Many promising Pandoras and Limiters were forced to leave from crippling injuries, or dropped out voluntarily in fear for their lives. That was unacceptable. Those that attended a Genetics academy were vital resources in the war against the Novas, and they were to be carefully stored and cultivated until the time was right to unleash them. Losing them in a fruitless war amongst themselves was a heinous waste of manpower. So Chevalier had come down hard on those matches. The factions were dissolved, their leaders expelled as punishment. Those who purposefully injured others were sealed away in solitary confinement, and gradually school life had returned to normal. In lieu of the challenge system, Chevalier had incorporated Carnivals, regulated contests that were far safer. Now, students competed with and against one another in carefully observed environments, where close scrutiny was paid to each tournament to prevent potentially fatal injuries. It had worked, for the most part. Illegal matches were a rarity these days, but that did not mean they disappeared altogether. And thus, it fell to the student council at each academy to prevent these matches from occurring and deal out punishments for those that had already occurred.
A duty that the student council of West Genetics had trouble dealing within the past few months.
Chiffon felt the beginning of a headache coming on. It must have shown on her face, for Jeanne's expression softened.
"I'm sorry, Chiffon-sama. We tried, but they wouldn't listen."
"It's not your fault," Chiffon said gravelly, "Are they heading this way?" at the girl's hesitant nod, she smiled reassuringly, "At least this saves us the trouble of finding them. See to the first years, Jeanne-san, we will handle the rest."
"Be careful, Chiffon-sama," the girl warned, then hurried to join the exodus of students that was gradually moving out of sight.
The Student President turned to regard her charge, whose face had remained stoically neutral in the ensuing chaos.
"I'm sorry, Kazuya-san," she sighed, "It looks like we're going to have to cut our tour short. I would appreciate it if you joined the rest of the students in vacating the dormitory grounds. Ticy and I will deal with the troublemakers."
The boy nodded and was about to move when the sounds of combat suddenly erupted within their vicinity. Chiffon cursed inwardly. They couldn't have chosen a worse time.
Two figures sped into view, their motions enchantingly acrobatic. Even at a distance, Chiffon knew who they were. Their fighting styles and choice of weaponry gave everything away. The first wielded a massive, two-handed blade in powerful, yet graceful swings. The second responded to every blow with long, whip-like chains, stabbing at vulnerable spots in sudden bursts of speed.
"Satellizer and Ganessa," Ticy spoke with a frown, then widened her eyes in surprise as a third figure emerged from the silhouettes of dormitory buildings, "and Crypton-san?"
Chiffon bit her lips. This complicated things considerably. In the past, when the two fought, there had been an unspoken agreement between them to keep the match between themselves. This time, Ganessa had brought her Limiter along, which could only mean she was tired of the losses she had suffered at Satellizer's hand and was keen to avenge them. It also explained why Satellizer was currently retreating when she clearly was the stronger Pandora. As though if reinforcing the fact, Arthur extended his arm and launched a Freezing field directly at the blonde Pandora's feet, his normally docile features scrunched up in concentration, forcing Satellizer to leap back to prevent from being trapped. They were trying to corner her, Chiffon realized, place her in a position where the natural agility of a Pandora was negated. It was a commendable tactic. The two were working almost flawlessly to bring down a stronger, faster opponent. Had Chiffon been in Ganessa's shoes, she would have probably tried the same thing.
Unfortunately, their tactic was driving Satellizer directly towards them.
Chiffon turned hurriedly to Kazuya, intent on sending him off before they were embroiled in the melee. She stopped when she saw the look on his face. Gone was the neutral mask he wore throughout the tour, the taciturn gaze he would send their way, the almost drone-like way he responded to their inquiring questions.
For a split second, he thought it was her. The long hair. The tall, elegant body. Even the facial features. The resemblance was uncanny. For that split second, Kazuya wanted to desperately believe, that somehow, some way, it really was her. Then the soldier within him took over. Pragmatic. Logical. Ruthless. Kazuha was dead. There was no ignoring that simple fact. The girl he was watching was not her. It was a foolish notion to believe that she was.
The feelings of longing subsided. Hope faded. Kazuya had allowed the boy within him to break free. The boy that had loved his sister and worshipped her just as any younger sibling would. Now he shoved that away, stored it deep within his core.
The haze of memories lifted. Clarity returned, tinged with regret. Kazuya noticed that his arm was outstretched, reaching for the girl that looked so much like Kazuha. He let it fall with a grimace.
The clarity let him focus, and the details that had been diluted by lingering memories and false hope came back in full. She wasn't her. That couldn't be clearer now. The girl's hair was blond, free-flowing, almost wrathful in the way it was draped over her back. Blue eyes that should have been black stared at the Pandora and Limiter duo, smoldering in fury. And the face that Kazuya had almost let himself believe was his sister's wore an ugly scowl that Kazuha would never in her life be able to form. It was a distortion. A lie. And Kazuya found himself hating the girl for that. For wearing his sister's face while distorting it to appear so unlike Kazuha.
It was mismatch, this fight. One Pandora had brought her Limiter. The other hadn't. It was that simple. Already the Freezing's effects were setting in. Kazuya watched mutely as the girl with blonde hair fought tenuously to keep her limbs moving, but it was a futile effort. Without her own Limiter to nullify the Freezing field, she had no defense against the artificial chill that even now was slowing her movements and dulling her reflexes.
The Pandora called Ganessa used this to her full advantage. Her volt weapons, writhing, coiling chains ending in bladed flails, lashed out, each one in a different direction. Through sheer willpower her target managed to uproot herself from the Freezing field, enough to stumble back a few steps. But it was enough. The chains that would have torn deep lacerations into her body passed by a hairsbreadth away from her flesh, hissing like enraged serpents as they swung by.
Kazuya turned away. This wasn't his fight.
Ganessa leapt forward to close the distance, her volt weapons already drawing back for another strike. This time, they drew blood. Rooted firmly to the ground, the girl with blonde hair was helpless as the chained flails descended upon her. Sprays of blood followed as each dug a cruel cut into her body, shredding her uniform, flaying her skin. She cried out. It was a jarring sound, and Kazuya snarled when he was suddenly assailed by images of his sister, alone, surrounded by menacing Nova forms, their bladed limbs raised high to slash and impale. But she was not Kazuha. And yet…
The chains swung back to strike again. Damn it all.
Kazuya found himself moving automatically, involuntarily. His steps, brisk and efficient, took him in between the girl and her assailants. Dimly, he was aware of Chiffon calling out his name in alarm.
"Hey," a subconscious command activated his own Freezing field, and like a rolling wave he sent that surging over the field that held the girl in place, neutralizing it, "Don't you think this is a little too much?" he directed that question towards Ganessa, who had withdrawn her flails in surprise at the sheer audacity of his move.
"And who the Hell are you?" the Pandora snarled back, venom apparent in her voice.
Kazuya was disinclined to answer. His attention was now on the girl, who had fallen to her knees in the wake of Ganessa's attack. He offered a helping hand. She drew back. He mistook that for a sign of needed assistance. Perhaps she was injured too gravely to support herself? He reached out before the girl could respond and took her wrist in a firm grip.
"Wait Kazuya!" he heard Chiffon cry out at the same time Ticy let out a loud gasp, "Don't-"
He turned to stare at the duo. Their faces betrayed a mixture of fear and alarm, then slowly transformed into astonishment and disbelief as the seconds wore on. Kazuya frowned. Strange. He shifted his attention back to the girl, and nearly dropped her arm out of pure reflex.
Her face had turned a spectacular shade of crimson in the time it took for him to divert his attention. Her gaze was locked solely on his hand, and the digits that surrounded her wrist. There was something unspeakable in that stare. Wonder? Surprise? Hope? Kazuya couldn't place a finger on it.
"Ah…" she managed to say when their eyes finally met. Then her face turned an even redder shade of crimson, if that was at all possible, "Ah…"
Kazuya met her gaze for a few seconds, then pulled her up to her feet when it became clear she wasn't going to move on her own. In the meantime, her eyes never left his face. She looked almost disappointed when he let her arm slip from his grasp. Kazuya turned, and was greeted with the most dumbstruck stares he had ever received in his short fifteen year life. Ticy had covered her mouth with both of her hands, her eyes wide as saucer plates. Chiffon's eyebrows twitched erratically, as though if she found the whole scene in front of her utterly impossible. Even Ganessa and her Limiter were staring at him, the latter alternating between looking awestruck and horrified.
Had Kazuya not been entirely perturbed by their reactions, then he would have found the whole situation rather humorous.
"How…" surprisingly, it was Ganessa who broke the silence that had settled in, "How are you still alive?"
The question wasn't even angry. Just curious.
The Pandora shook her head, as though if clearing something from her mind.
"Forget it," she resumed her combat stance, "Get out of the way, or I'll take you down as well."
"You will do no such thing!" Chiffon's voice rang out, "Stop this match immediately! Save whatever matters you have between one another for the Carnival field!"
He could sense that she was weighing her options. From the way her eyes narrowed and the way her body tensed, he knew she had selected the wrong option.
Time seemed to slow.
Kazuya saw the flails coil like serpents on Ganessa's back, rearing back to strike. Instincts took over, bred from battle and hardened by war. It was as though an inner switch had been flipped. Priorities shifted. Perspectives changed. He threw out a hand, the mental command already formed. The Freezing field materialized. It was a physical chill, a lingering manifestation that turned the flesh bitter with cold. He flung that in Ganessa's direction, forcing her to recoil.
The fighting instincts rose within him, dominating him, controlling his mind and body. Perception changed in an instant. Chiffon. Ticy. The girl that looked like his sister. They were no longer people to talk and socialize with. They were objects now. Inert. Lifeless. Disposable. They were blurs in his vision, secondary participants that were to be disregarded in a battle that was his and his alone.
Along with the instincts rose something far more primal. An urge to destroy. A desire to kill. If Kazuha's death taught him to hate, then the years he spent hunting the Nova in vengeance taught him the meaning of savagery. Adrenaline coursed through him, the rush akin to wildfire, spreading through his veins and seeping into his muscles. It was almost painful, the sensation, his body tensing like a coiled spring, eager to be released. His brain understood these changes, and hastened to assist. Avenues of attack were calculated, tactics formed and discarded in flashes of thought. Like a feral wolf, he mentally circled the foe, looking for weaknesses, probing for lapses in defense.
There. The Limiter. It was almost logical, in a way. The Pandora was the sword, the tip of the blade, the thrust that was aimed at the heart of the enemy. The Limiter was meant to be the shield, the bulwark that a Pandora could fall back upon until a new opportunity arose to strike again. But for a shield, they were incredibly fragile. They wore no armor. They could not rely on Accel Turns to outmaneuver their foes. They were flesh and bone, meat and bristle, and besides the Freezing field they generated, had no other forms of protection. Which left them so, so vulnerable.
Cut off the head and the rest of the body will fall. That applied to the Nova. Kill their leader type, and the whole pack would lose their cohesion. A similar tenet existed for Pandoras. Eliminate their Limiters, and they would be far less effective.
Kazuya was moving before the thought process was even completed. Three long strides and he was already in a full sprint. His speed could not match a Pandora's, but it was adequate for the task at hand. Hunting the Nova and being hunt in return had acclimated his body to the strain of sudden bursts of activity. Accelerating from rest took no more than a thought now.
His quarry took a step back in surprise. No. That won't do. Stay still.
A quick mental command cancelled the Freezing field. A second one was already on its way, erupting from his body like a surging wave. He sent it crashing into his target, at such speed that the field had already enveloped the Limiter before the first could fully dissipate. And unlike the first, a mild blast in comparison to confuse and daze, the second was forged with the sole purpose to immobilize.
The Limiter's eyes grew wide when he realized he couldn't move. The Freezing's effect was so strong that he was literally embedded into the ground. His eyes grew wider when it became apparent that he had been the sole target all along.
Kazuya ignored the growing signs of fear. The feelings of his enemies were of no relevance to him. His steps had already taken him past the stumbling form of Ganessa, still reeling from the lingering aftereffects of the first field.
A problem presented itself. His mind registered it in an instant and worked fervently to solve it. Pandoras were quick to recover. And no doubt this one would come to the aid of her Limiter once she regained her footing. Unacceptable. She must be dealt with. Put out of the fight until her partner was defeated.
The second field was cancelled as quickly as the first. A third one was formed, stronger, denser. He sent that barreling into Ganessa, smashing her aside and forcing her to her knees. The Field immediately claimed her, the chilling cold sapping her will to fight, draining her of her reserves of stamina, weighing her down as though it was a physical thing. The Pandora made a grunting, choking sound as she felt the strength leaving her body, siphoned away by some irresistible force.
Her Limiter tried to help her, attempting to dispel the Freezing field by emanating his own. It didn't work. Kazuya's second field had not yet fully dissipated, and he was still sluggish from its ethereal touch. He simply did not have the speed to counter. By the time he regained his senses, Kazuya was already upon him.
Fool. Help yourself before you help anybody else.
The boy let out an audible oomph as Kazuya's shoulder ploughed into his stomach. The force of the impact was enough to send both of them to the ground in a jumble of limbs. Kazuya came out on top. He seized the boy's collar and pulled his face up. His other hand formed a fist and he drew that back, ready to launch a heavy punch. The instincts that had guided him this far now reached a crescendo in pitch. They were akin to a pounding in his head, a force in his mind, demanding he crush this opponent here and now.
This was how he fought the Nova. Kill them and kill them again until they stopped coming. The aliens were ruthless on the attack, merciless when they held the advantage, and relentless in their pursuit. Concepts such as mercy or pity held no sway over them. They did not run when defeat reared its ugly head. They did not retreat in the face of superior opposition. They would fight to the bitter end, and one had to destroy them utterly to claim victory. This was the nature of humanity's enemies, and the foes that Kazuya had been locked into a life or death struggle for much of his life. To defeat the Nova, cruelty was a necessity. Brutality, even more so. This had been ingrained in Kazuya's mind for so long that it had become almost rudimentary.
The boy whose terrified face was now just inches from his own was just like any other foe. Undeserving of mercy and compassion. In his combat-driven state, Kazuya didn't even classify him as human. He was just another enemy in a long history filled with them, and Kazuya would see that he was vanquished like the rest.
The fist rose higher, fingers clutched tight in anticipation.
"Stop!" the sudden cry pierced his reverie, spearing through the veil that had settled over him. Kazuya blinked in surprise. Novas didn't talk.
"Please!" it took a second cry to draw him fully into reality. Concentration was difficult, but it eventually came, along with the rest of his senses.
Ganessa was looking at him. Desperation shone in her eyes. The Freezing field still held her in place, locked in a kneeling position, helpless to do anything but watch as the events unfolded before her. The haughtiness that had once shone on her face was noticeably absent now. The confidence as well. The fight was gone from her.
"Don't hurt him!" she begged when his gaze met hers. It took a second for Kazuya to realize what she meant. With a grimace, he looked down, to where Ganessa's Limiter lay prone beneath him, arms crossed over his face to shield himself from the incoming blow. His shoulders shook in fear. Not an enemy. Just a weak, little boy. Slowly, almost reluctantly, Kazuya allowed his fingers to relax, and the fist that had once been so ready to bludgeon and smash gradually became a hand once more.
The feeling of letting an opponent go was a strange one. Kazuya was not sure he liked it.
He shook his head. The battle haze gradually dissipated, clearing from his mind in throbbing waves. When it finally vanished completely, he rose to see that everyone was staring at him.
Author's Note: Hey everyone, I know it's been a long while for this update. Honestly, I had about two-thirds of this chapter already done and recently finished it while gaining a fresh spurt of motivation. If there's interest for this fic to continue, I'll definitely take some spare time to add more chapters.