It has been well over a day before Anne receives the data cache from Nila. With the data cache finally in her hands, Anne opens it in anticipation but is promptly disappointed.
Anne: “This is it? This fertility program?”
Anne scans through the data files once more. She screens through data cache and pulls out the information she needs at this time. The list of participants in the program. Putting all of the names in view on a large window, Anne stares at it looking puzzled.
Anne: “778 participants total, 104 drop outs. That’s it? Akari, is this it?”
She waved her finger across and small windows displaying personal information of the each of the participants begin popping out.
Anne: [Akari, why did you draw me to this? I’ve would have come across this eventually anyway.]
The lights around Anne flickers off. The air around her becomes full of energy. Once more, Anne devote most of the energy resources and focuses them on the data cache. The windows glow blindingly bright as the energy surges through the data cache. The air starts to shake violently. She closes her eyes tight and put more focus on her other senses. As if searching for something.
Almost immediately after it started, the energy dissipated and the windows returned to normal. Anne scans through the data once more before showing a downcast, disappointed face.
Anne: [You’re not here. Even though I just found you…]
Struck by a wave of despair, Anne’s eyes glazed over and her mind is driven to a memory of her best friend.
Anne: “What?! After I go out of my way to play this stupid board game with you?!”
Annes retorts at her best friend from across the room. Her brown wavy hair that reaches past her shoulders is hidden by a red scarf loosely wrapped around her neck. The rest of her is hidden in a cardboard box with ‘Think Tank’ scribbled haphazardly on its side. Her head pokes out from under the covers to leer at Anne.
Akari: “It’s not stupid! This is battleship! My rule of changing the ships’ position every 3 turns makes it more realistic! A game fit for the wits of generals!”
Anne: “A general should not call another a cheat! Accept responsibility!”
Akari retreats back into the cardboard box. The cardboard box rustles and shakes for a bit before her heads pokes out from the box again.
Akari: “How vexing… How did you manage to sink my ships with a few shots without missing?”
Anne: “You’re easy to read.”
Akari: “Muu… You’re making fun of me.”
Anne: “I’m not. I have been watching you all this time. Since you’re unpredictable.”
Akari cast a doubtful gaze while tilting her head.
Akari: “Eh?~ Even though you’re winning the game.”
Anne: “It’s your fault for locking yourself down with the rules of this game. When you are free, you become… Whimsical.”
Akari ponders on Anne’s words and her face lights up with determination.
Akari: “Then I’ll be just as I am. Huhuhu~ Be prepared. I can get pretty mysterious.”
Anne: “Fine by me. Have you rearranged your ships? I mean ship?”
Akari: “Grr… You’re mean. I’ll sink your ship soon enough.”
Anne: “Okay, good luck. I’ve arranged all my ships on one side for you. I’m rooting for you.”
Akari: “Wha- Eeeh?~”
Anne: “Don’t hit the other three sides I’m not on, okay?”
Anne: “Hehe… Ah.”
Anne laughs softly before she realizes that her mind had wandered. Immediately after that, a feeling of shame washes over her.
Anne: [So childish. I can’t stay like this.]
The lights around Anne flickers on once more and return to their original path. Anne pinches herself and look at the list once more. Glancing at each of the names she brings up the corresponding genetic data from the data cache.
Anne: [Hmm… Most of the genetic data is sequenced properly. Should I run them through the simulation?]
She pulls all the genetic data along with their identities and puts them through the virtual simulation process. She then shifts the windows to her side and browses through her older databases.
Anne: [I have to look for the results on the experiment I did on hereditary mana. I don’t think my own genetic data or Helen’s will work. I might have to start from-]
Anne jolts in shock as a loud alarm sounds throughout her space. Anne looks around in confusion.
Anne: [Enemy attack? When did I-] “Ah!”
Anne flicks up a program window with her finger. The program is old, with a dated task window. This program is something that she made many years ago. Something so simple and insignificant that she never bothered to update it. Anne turns the program off and the loud alarm is silenced.
Anne: “Haa… Haa…”
Anne stares wide eyed at the program in front of her. It is a program that she has created on a whim. An alarm system that triggers on one thing. On the program window, the text flashes red and blue.
[VIP User Found.]
Anne is dazed. Breathing heavily, she slowly turns around to look at the cluster of windows at the side. The virtual simulation has yet to complete its task of processing hundreds of individual mothers to be. When her train of thought finally catches up to her, Anne’s dumbfounded look turns into a joyous one.
Anne: “Akari! You little schemer, you! You found her!”
She lunges forward at the program window and pulls out the comparison results. From the many mana signatures that were compared, the first one showed the first positive results ever since the search started.
Anne: “The first one?! Oh, bless you Akari! You’ve really help so much…”
She pulls out the personal information of the woman from the data cache.
Anne: “Ho~ She is pretty enthusiastic in the program. She has one of the most DNA checks in the program. No wonder her genetic data is first on the list. To think Rosetta will take the child away from her… Don’t worry; I’m on your side on this front!”
She scrolls through the data file while humming a happy tune. She then retrieves the mana signature results and takes a closer look at it.
Anne: “Hm~ Hm~” [I can do the hereditary test with this. But is there really a need-] “Hm?”
Her eyes widens again as she read through the data.
Anne: “Oh no. Nonononono!”
She sits upright and runs the simulation again with different parameters.
Anne: [This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening!]
It is midday but the sky is darkened by rain clouds. Light rain peppers the runways of an airbase.
The sound of jet engines and tires screeching on the tarmac alerts the hangar crew who were on standby. Donning bright orange jackets and bracing the cold air and the light rain, they get on the hangar equipment to move into position for the plane which is taxiing on the runway. The plane slowly parks following the aircraft marshal’s signals and pull to a stop. The door at the rear end of the plane descends and forms a ramp. Inside the cargo compartment are five large military cases along with thirty armed personnel.
As the hangar crew drives in with a forklift, one of the personnel marching off the plane abandons the group and jumps onto a puddle. He stomps on the puddle some more and throws his arms up in the air.
Alan: “AMERICAAA! I am back and it feels GREAT!”
Alan Moralles takes a deep breath and stretches his body. Heavy footstep approaches Alan from behind.
Woman: “Welcome back and congrats on the big haul.”
Alan turns around and sees a dark skinned Indian woman towering over him. At seven feet tall, she is a very tall woman. Her size is massive as well with her body size stretching over four feet across. Her big hands and feet are dwarfed by the sheer girth of her limbs. Her neck is hidden under a second chin of fat and her black hair is braided into a bun. She wears black clothes made with stretchable fabric that peeks from under armor panels that covers her front, back and limbs.
Alan: “Tammy Schuti. Ho. Ly. Shit. You packed the whole armory in you.”
Alan taps Tammy’s front armor panel gleefully. Tammy laughs and smiles widely.
Tammy: “Haha! Yup! I have to guard this big haul until it reaches HQ.”
Alan: “No shit. There is a whole army behind you.”
Alan side steps to see the black armored trucks ready to transport the military cases and military convoys on guard nearby. Alan turns back to look at Tammy before whispering a question.
Alan: *So, how much rocket fuel are you packing in your gut?*
Tammy: *Roughly a hundred pounds.*
Alan: “Impressive. Hey, Indiana! Tammy is here.”
Indiana shoots a glance at Alan and Tammy before putting on a raincoat handed to him by the hangar crew. He then jogs over to group looking sullen and tired.
Tammy: “You look under the weather.”
Indiana: “Yea… I need some rest. I did not sleep a wink since those things are packed in those cases. I can’t wait to crash in HQ…”
Tammy: “Where’s Johannes?”
Alan: “He’s dead tired and passed out. If I’m not wrong, out of mana? He used all of it during the battle in Vietnam.”
Indiana: “Well, there he is. He just woke up.”
Indiana points at Johannes who is hunched over and dragging his feet over to the trucks.
Tammy: “Johannes! Congrats on your good work.”
Johannes heard Tammy’s words and weakly nods. Alan the chimes in.
Alan: “Hey! Are you going to hug a missile while you sleep?!”
Johannes stops for a moment and raises his middle finger in Alan’s direction before climbing into the truck’s passenger seat.
Tammy: “You sure haven’t lost your energy, Alan. Compared to your team.”
Indiana: “That’s because he is wallowing in his food the whole time we are working. Where’s the rest of your team?”
Tammy points at the military convoy behind her.
Tammy: “Ron and Tabby are in there. And it’s not only us. Gibson sent out Clementine. She is sweeping the area as we speak.”
Indiana and Alan raise their eyebrows in surprise. To have Clementine Greeves roaming around to guard the cases, Agent Gibson will not spare any chance in losing those cases. Alan cracks an excited smile.
Alan: “That… That robot junkie?”
Indiana: “I was wondering who will have the balls to go up against Tammy and Gibson have to throw in Greeves? Good God…”
Tammy: “Hahahaha! Oh?”
Tammy receives a transmission from her ear piece. She tips the full helmet attached on her back over her head and locks it in place.
Tammy: “The cases are loaded into the trucks. We’re ready to leave. Let’s get going. My truck will lead.”
Tammy turns around and heads over to the last empty truck. Alan jogs to her side and keeps up with her wide strides. Indiana follows suit at a slow and tired pace.
Alan: “I’ll help you guard those cases.”
Tammy: “No problem with more security. Just don’t sweep allies up in your magic.”
Alan: “Oh, sure, sure. More importantly, you still have that fire stick?”
Tammy: “I always have it. It’s on my back. Packed and loaded.”
Tammy points at a two handed sword slung on her back. Despite its size, the sword looks ill-fitting for her broad back.
Alan: “Listen, when we reach HQ. How about letting that thing loose?”
Tammy: “Hah! Hahaha! A duel? Sorry, but I don’t want to get eaten.”
Tammy arrives to the back of the truck and hops on. The truck sinks to the sudden weight before recovering. Alan walks up to the truck to continue his conversation.
Alan: “Don’t have be a duel. If this trip is quiet, let’s fire that thing off in a field.”
Tammy smiles widely before letting out another guffaw.
Tammy: “Hahaha! We’ll see.”
The rear doors of the truck shuts and Alan climbs into the passenger seat as all the trucks rev their engines and leave the hangar.
The trucks have been driving for many hours already. The rainy midday has turned into the cold and dark night. The scenery has also changed. The grass fields that surround the airbase have turned into a mountainous region, the vehicles easily obscured by trees.
The trucks pull to a stop in front of a fenced area. Deeper into the area is a concrete tunnel built into the mountain and guardhouses set up next to it. Soldier guards emerge from the guardhouses and approach the truck. After a brief talk with the truck’s occupants, the guards rush to open the fence gate. The trucks drive into the tunnel which leads down under the mountain.
The tunnel opens up to a vehicle warehouse in an underground base. The trucks pull over to the side in line and the passengers exits the vehicle. Alan exits his truck and stretches his body. The truck jolts as Tammy drops from the rear.
Alan: “No one… All the way.”
Tammy: “Yeah… The route is completely secure. I can’t wait to deploy out of the states. Maybe join the national cause?”
Alan: “Not sure if Gibson would like it. I myself have been banned from any human conflicts.”
Tammy: “Hah! Haha! Well, your magic is pretty tenacious.”
Alan: “It’s not my magic that’s tenacious, it’s me.”
Alan looks at the people unloading the cases.
Alan: “I’m going to check on Indiana and Johannes. See you in a bit when you light that firestick.”
Alan jogs over Indiana and Johannes who are keeping a close eye on the military cases.
Indiana: “Hello, Alan. Have you finished your report?”
Alan: “Yea. Is Johannes rested?”
Johannes: “No. I tired and starving. Mana depletion is crippling.”
Indiana: “Well, everyone put on a tough front. Gibson is coming.”
Everyone straighten up as one of the founders of the organization enters the vehicle warehouse. Jeroth Gibson. A man in his mid-forties with his dark brown hair greying at the sides. He has a stern looking face and his eyes are worn with wisdom and experience. As he calmly walks over to them, the everyone feels the atmosphere becoming tense.
Jeroth: “At ease.”
He approaches the military cases and the armed men unlock the cases and pull them open. Floating in two rows of six on top of the case padding are the black spheres that were found in Vietnam. The man bends over for a closer look. The ghostly runes that shimmer on the spheres’ surface is reflected in his eyes.
Johannes: “We’ve recovered a total of 157, sir.”
Jeroth: “Did you make sure not to miss any?”
Jeroth straightens up and looks at the three agents. Johannes steps up and passes him a report.
Johannes: “Yes, sir. We’ve found 78 of them and excavated the rest. This is all of them.”
Jeroth scans through the document, carefully flipping through the pages.
Jeroth: “I understand that Alan Moralles have successfully assimilated a creature made by Rosetta?”
Alan: “Yes, sir. I’ve consolidated all the energy from the enemy into an egg. Since its size is too massive for transport, another agent was sent to manage-“
Man: “Damn straight. It is too massive.”
Everyone except Jeroth turn to the direction of the angry voice. A black man in a suit has entered and is walking towards them. He is in the mid-forties and sports a military crew cut and a moustache. He had a disapproving look as he stands beside Jeroth. He is the other founder of the organization, Devon Lance.
Devon: “Over two hundred tons. A giant egg four stories high. Too massive to take back to American soil without having the Vietnamese declaring war on us!”
Alan, realizing his mistake casts his gaze downwards and stays silent.
Devon: “I have already received the report from Miss Ginn. It may be a small drop compared to these black balls but that small drop registered energy levels of double the energy output of uranium of the same mass! The Vietnamese are drooling over that thing! Had you put them in smaller sizes, we would not be in negotiation talks with the Vietnamese! What do you have to say for yourself?!”
Alan: “…I apologize for my mistake… Should I return to Vietnam and fix the situation?”
Devon: “No need. They are not letting anyone near that thing. If any good news can be gleaned from this, I’d say it distracted them from a bigger prize right here.”
Devon places his hand on top of the foam padding holding the black spheres. Jeroth, who has finished reading the reports approaches Devon and pats him on the back.
Jeroth: “Thank you, Director Lance. I appreciate you being lenient over the mistakes of my men.”
Devon: “They are your men, Gibson. Any action taken on them are your responsibility. I’ll handle the negotiations with the Vietnamese. You continue the hunt.”
Jeroth: “Thank you, Director Lance.”
Devon turns away to leave to his awaiting staff waiting at the exit. Jeroth closes the reports and stands before Johannes, Alan and Indiana.
Jeroth: “Moralles, Scarl, Strauss. Well done. The mission is a failure but I am happy with the result.”
Johannes, Alan and Indiana: “Thank you, sir!”
Jeroth: “And Agent Strauss, I read that you have played a crucial roles in locating Rosetta’s position?”
Indiana: “Yes, sir. I’ve narrowed them down to two possible targets. It is unfortunate that the confrontation only resulted in one successful hit on Rosetta.”
Jeroth: “I’d say you’re pretty lucky. Rosetta is usually no this bold in looking for these ‘chosen ones’. It means that this one is very important. Important enough that we should pay attention. You’ve perform exceptionally to take advantage of that.”
Indiana: “…Thank you, sir.”
Jeroth turns around and walks over to the open cases.
Jeroth: “The situation has escalated due to that magician’s actions. From now on, more conflicts with Rosetta and his allies will be imminent and for that, we need to bolster our forces.”
Jeroth picks up one of the black spheres and holds it up for a closer look.
Jeroth: “Strauss, I am giving you access to your own magic. You will receive consultation on how to handle these spheres and create your own magic.”
He looks at the shocked face of Indiana and holds up his hand with the black sphere floating on his palm.
Jeroth: “Congratulations, Agent Strauss. Be sure to think hard on what magic you wish to create with this.”
The sun is seting over the horizon and the day is just about to end for the Shaanxi province of China. Deep within the forests far from any trace of human civilization a small rumble can be heard.
The ground swells and tears apart into a gaping hole. Then a black figure begins to crawl out of the hole. Or rather slide out of the hole. The entire figure is black. Extremely black. With no discernable volume and its constantly changing shape, it looks like a 2 dimensional black shape against the forest background. The figure keels over, its entire mass floating slightly above the ground. Its identity is finally revealed when Rosetta’s shattered mask emerges from within. The broken mask hangs off, revealing bleached and cracked bone underneath.
Black limbs form and cover the ram’s skull, as if cowering from shame.
His cry is ear splittingly loud. The surrounding forest shakes from the shockwave and the frightened cries of animals and birds echoes through the forest. The sun has already disappeared into the horizon and its rays could no longer reach the forest. Rosetta shakes and cowers as the darkness of night envelops him.
Rosetta: [I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… I failed.]
Rosetta reflects over his actions back in Vietnam. His hopeful gaze at the glass ball before the immediate terror as the missile tears through into his vicinity before exploding. His only option was too dive into the ground before another strike happens. Tunneling deeper and deeper without looking back.
Rosetta: “Grk… Kh!”
The glass ball. The one that contained that lock of hair. The countless runes that is carved into stone and wood. His worst fears has come true. His worst enemy now has a leg on the race to find the fated girl.
Rosetta: [Okay… I have no choice. This is… China… All your plants, earth and water… I’m going to claim it from you.]
-Kzzt Bzzt Kzzzz-
Rosetta’s black figure remains motionless for a moment. Then something large emerges from inside him and drops on the ground with a loud crash. The small sparks from inside it give enough light to discern that it is the large aluminum case that Rosetta frequently carries. Except that it is mangled and twisted beyond repair. Rosetta fumbles through the wreckage to take out the source of the sparks. It is the laptop computer as well as the encryption machine, now broken and sparking.
-KRZZZZZZZ PrAk KrAk-
Arcs of electricity forms between the laptop and the encryption machine, flooding the area with flickering bright light. Little by little the broken parts fuse together as they were before and new ones appear in places where they are missing. As if time reversed with a flashy show of electricity, the laptop and encryption machine return to their normal state.
Anne: “Rosetta! Are you there?!”
Anne’s voice echoes through the laptop speakers. It’s light illuminates the bleach and cracked ram skull. Rosetta responds weakly.
Rosetta: “Anne… I failed… They found-”
Anne: “Nevermind that! Rosetta! I found her!”
Anne’s words paralyzes Rosetta’s mind for a moment. Her next words jog his mind back to life.
Anne: “I found the girl!”
His mind is muddled with excitement and hundreds of questions. Rosetta squeezes a few questions out in a loud surprised voice.
Rosetta: “You found her?! Where?! What’s her name?!”
Anne: “Her name… Is Jiang Shuu Ren. She is a Chinese woman in her 40s living in Japan.”
Rosetta: “Jiang Shuu Ren…”
He repeats the name many times in his head and thinks of his next course of actions.
Rosetta: “I have to see her! Set up a conference with everybody!”
Rosetta’s figure twist and turns and his head bobs back and forth.
Anne: “… Rosetta…”
Rosetta: “We have to set up a protective network around her! Jiang Shuu Ren… She is the mother, isn’t she?”
Anne’s heavy tone stops Rosetta is his tracks. Paying full attention to her, Rosetta asks.
Rosetta: “What is it?”
Anne: “We’ve got a problem.”
- Mystical Forest
Hi there. I’m Q-ichi. I’m a mandrake. I write stories in clay and fire them into pottery slates.
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