“What the…” Dante’s face tightened the moment he caught sight of what should’ve been Micha’s face beneath the mask. He felt a chill grab hold of his body as his face became the personification of terror. He was left rooted in place completely baffled, unable to fathom what he was looking at. He could accept seeing a robot or even a cyborg behind the mask. If it were a human, he would just be curious to know how they were able to move so fast. But no matter how long he looked at this… thing’s face, he couldn’t find anything in his memory to compare it. Whatever it was, it was not from this world. “What the hell are you?” Dante said as he stood up.
It was at this time that Leah swiftly made her way to Micha’s side and was just in time to catch him before he hit the ground: “Micha, are you alright? She asked anxiously as she gently laid him on the ground. However, even after waiting for some time, there was still no response from him. Assuming the worst; Leah quickly checked his vitals to confirm whether or not he was dead. After a brief moment, she heaved a sigh of relief; he still had a pulse and he was still breathing, albeit lightly. It seemed he was rendered unconscious by the blow to his head. After confirming that Micha was not in any immediate danger of dying, Leah got up and turned her gaze towards Dante, a bewildered and complicated look in her eyes.
Once Leah rose to her feet after checking Micha’s condition, Dante’s attention locked onto her, waiting for her to make a move. As their eyes met, Dante could feel that there was something strangely familiar about them. Even though he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, he was sure there was something about her that he was familiar with. “I should’ve taken a better look at her face earlier, ah! How the hell did she even knock me out?” he thought while complaining to himself.
A loud shout rang out from the distance, breaking the silence between the two. Dante’s body jolted from the sudden shout and shifted his gaze towards the tunnel where the shout came from. As he listened closely, he could hear the sound of several footsteps rapidly approaching the area where they were.
“Time to leave!” Dante turned and quickly made his way towards another tunnel at the opposite end.
“Wait!” Leah cried the moment she saw where Dante was heading. But Dante continued to make his way towards the tunnel completely ignoring her.
Seeing Dante had no intention of stopping she continued: “You can’t go that way, if you do, you’ll die!”
Her second attempt caused Dante to pause for a moment, then questioningly looked back at her and asked: “Why should I believe you?” Inwardly, Dante was actually quite happy that she spoke up, this place was completely foreign to him and what he needed now more than anything was information. Walking around blindly would be far more dangerous than his earlier deathly experience. Next time, he might not be so lucky to fall into a hot spring.
Leah gave a light sigh of relief when she saw Dante slowed to a stop, then continued: “Earlier, if I wanted to kill you I could’ve done so while you were unconscious.”
Dante: “… touché.”
Leah looked down at Micha’s still unconscious face and made a quick decision. “The guards will be here soon, he’ll be fine. I’ll deal with him later after he wakes up.”
Dante was confused and baffled as to why this girl was perfectly calm around that thing she called Micha. Any normal human being wouldn't want to get within a 100 ft. of it, to say nothing of holding onto it. Thinking back to what just happened, he felt a chill run up his spine.
Leah walked in Dante’s direction then spoke, “That tunnel leads to a dangerous place if you’re not wearing a Morpheus suit or at the very least carry some anti-hallucination pellets you’ll be trapped in an illusion, get lost, and then die within a few minutes.
“Eh? What!? Such a place exists?” Dante blurted out with a skeptical look on his face.
Hearing his response and seeing the look on Dante’s face, Leah became even more certain that Dante was not from here. The only people that didn’t know about this place were those who were not born here. But today, in this world that number was pitifully low. Many questions were brewing inside Leah’s mind to ask him; who was he, where did he come from, how was he able to survive on the surface without a mask, but more importantly, how did he know Dr. Lambert and where was he? The longer she thought the more questions came. However, now was not the time to ask, they had to leave this place as quickly as possible before the guards arrive.
In response to Dante’s question, Leah tacitly replied: “Whether or not it exists is a question that you would have to risk your life to find out. If the guards catch us here it will spell even more trouble. It’s highly likely that if you continue that way the others won’t follow you, however, you will inevitably die not long afterward. If you want to live, then follow me.”
Leah quickly walked pass Dante, not sparing him another glance and headed towards the northern tunnel. During their earlier encounter and his response just now, she realized that Dante lacked knowledge of where he was. It was common knowledge to everyone that the path Dante was about to take would spell death for most and fortune for few.
As Leah walked by, Dante thought over her reply. “No one helps a complete stranger for free, there’s a cost to everything. It seems there’s something I have that she wants.” After thinking it over for a brief moment, Dante smiled to himself and followed suit, entering the tunnel with Leah. “Lead the way…”
Not long after the two left, several figures appeared in their place completely occupying the cavern. There were 20 guards uniformly dressed in red armors and black coats. In the lead, was a tall figure clad in a deep, blood red, vicious looking armor that seemed to embody a devil’s will. The words “fierce” and “ominous” would be an ideal fit to describe this person. The leader came to a stop next to Micha’s still unconscious body then spoke in a cold voice that could haunt ghosts.
“Useless trash, you couldn’t even detain a child for a few minutes.” His gaze shifted towards the impression of Micha’s body on the wall for a moment then gave a cold harrumph that sounded as if it came from a beast. “It seems we missed a rather interesting show just now. That outsider ran rather quickly. Scouts, fan out and search the area for his tracks and report anything suspicious.”
After the leader spoke, several figures from the group assented and quickly spread out to search the cavern for anyone that was still in the area or clues as to what happened.
Once the scouts departed the leader turned to face a young man who was following closely behind then spoke: “Vlad, you and your sister were the first ones to see this outsider, was there anything suspicious or worth noting about him?”
Upon hearing his name being called, Vlad knelt on one knee and bowed his head before replying: “Sire, the outsider arrived at the island by means of the sea, however, it was not by conventional means. We witnessed his body materialize out of thin air onto the shore. This is how we came to believe that it was an outsider. I instructed my sister to keep an eye on his whereabouts while I make the report. As per her description; the outsider was a young man appearing to be in his teens, he wore no mask and didn’t seem to be affected by the toxic atmosphere outside or even the poisonous black water surrounding the island.”
“Was he the only one that appeared?” the leader asked.
“Yes, in the area that we were observing along the coastline, this outsider was the only one that appeared. I was concerned about this point as well which is why I instructed my sister to keep a close watch on his movements to see if he was going to rendezvous with anyone else.” Vlad replied as he recounted the information his sister sent.
“Hmm, if this is one of their new scouts then this will be troublesome. If our location has been compromised then it will spell disaster for our people. You mentioned that he was not wearing a mask, so does that mean your sister has seen his face?” the leader questioned.
With his head slung low Vlad replied: “Forgive her sire, but due to the black water that the outsider emerged from his facial features were obscured and with the cover of the night…”
“That’s fine.” the leader spoke, cutting off Vlad’s next words. “The mere fact that you two were able to discover this outsider’s arrival is its own merit. If not, the repercussions would be too grave to imagine." The leader said as he shifted his gaze into the distance.
It was at this moment that one of the scouts quickly returned to make a report with a rather frantic voice.
“My lord, we discovered a shattered arm restraint used by the militia at the western side of the cavern. It seems there was another person here that captured the outsider but he managed to break free. We located two pairs of footprints leading into the northern tunnel. It would appear that the outsider is holding the person captive as their footprints are fairly close.”
As if a bomb went off near his ears, the leader’s eyes went wide and his voice boomed out in shock: “What!? The north!? Damn! They’re heading towards the city! Everyone, we’re moving out now, track them down and capture them alive! We cannot let them enter the city at any cost! If they resist, remove their limbs and bring them to me!”
As though an imperial decree had been issued, the guards streamed into the northern tunnel like raging waters in pursuit of Dante and Leah.
The leader turned to Vlad and gave him a specific set of orders: “Vlad, tell your sister to go to the outpost on the road leading towards city gates and look out for the outsider. Since she has seen him before it should be easier for her to identify him. Have the guards there detain him, and take that ‘thing’ back to HQ, it’s likely to have seen the outsider’s face. As a precaution, have the doctor do a neuro-scan and retrieve its most recent memories and send them to me. Now go!”
“Yes, sire!” Vlad quickly took a spare mask from his storage bag and covered Micha’s face then slung him over his shoulder and turned into a streak of dark light as he disappeared into the eastern tunnel.
After Vlad disappeared into the tunnel, the leader turned and faced the northern tunnel and spoke in a low voice; “Now for the hunt!”. As his final word fell, his body transformed into a streak of red light as he too disappeared into the tunnel in pursuit of Dante and Leah.