We stood in the darkness, Kuzu pressed up against me as though fearful of what might lurk nearby. There was a slight hum that sounded from machinery in the distance, and the door we had passed through closed silently.
Air began to flow as fans whirred to life, and two straight lines of light blue illumination stretched out in front of us. The parallel lines ran up to another doorway made of a dark wood. Confidently I walked up to the door and opened it, while Kuzu followed reluctantly.
The room on the other side of the door was wide, although pitch black. Our presence caused lights to flicker on far above our heads, revealing the contents of the room. It was made of that same black metal as the exterior, while a dark blue rug covered the floor. A long wooden table was center, a flowerpot that held nothing on top of it. Staircases at the back curved up and allowed access to the higher floors.
Near the right side staircase was the entrance to the armory, what I had come here for. The left side had a sofa pressed up against the wall, along with a large mirror. The mirror allowed one to view the other floors. The means to access that had been known only to Lute, though she would sometimes let me watch alongside her.
When we walked into the room there was a flicker in front of us, and then a small girl wearing a cute black dress with a fluffy hem appeared. Her white hair was long and whirled out as she twirled around, her happy laughter filling the quiet place.
“A ghost!” Kuzu screamed as she backed away from the girl.
“It’s a hologram, not a ghost.” I rubbed at my eyes and sighed deeply. “She’s not dangerous.”
“It’s been so long!” the little girl declared, her hands going to her hips while a wide grin spread over her face.
"That it has Lisa, apparently a thousand years?" I asked.
"One thousand two hundred and seven years since you were last here." Lisa snapped a finger which generated an image beside her. It was a still image of my previous body, one that she had taken when I left her behind. “You’ve changed a lot, daddy, is that why you’re late coming back?”
"Your mother did this to me," I explained as I walked over to the armory door. "Record my new biometrics for entrance, please. Oh, and add a guest login for Kuzu. She might need to come here at some point when I'm not here."
"Registering user Kuzu as guest zero one, expiration of one hundred years, biometrics being scanned right now. Do you wish for an audible password?"
"Don't bother. It’d take too long for her to memorize." I opened the door to the armory and strode into it.
Kuzu scrambled after me, although she didn't look altogether happy with what I had said. “I could memorize it!"
"Do you remember what I said to open the door?" I asked her while we waited for the lighting to turn on.
“Exactly, we’re not staying for long and I doubt you have a twin sister in this city, so it’d be a waste of time,” I told her, “Lisa, what’s the status for the house?”
The hologram appeared in the center of the dark room, while lights started to flicker on. A large amount of them were either dim or completely burnt out. The room itself was nothing more than a giant cube made of a dark material similar to, but not the same, as the rest of the house.
“All of the combat suits are gone, and most of the firearms.” Lisa sat down in the air on her knees. “I had to salvage most of the higher tech for parts and energy packs.”
“You survived, and that’s what matters.” I reached out and tightly grabbed hold of Kuzu’s head. “Don’t move. Lisa, open it.”
Kuzu struggled initially against my hold on her, but when the walls ripped apart and slid open she went still. Some of the newly revealed shelves even came up about an inch away from Kuzu and I, while a few only emerged halfway from the wall. Metal objects fell off of the shelves, no longer held in place by stasis fields that Lisa had long since given up on.
As I walked past the shelves I felt a pang of sadness at how many of the objects had fallen into disrepair. Exoskeletons, plasma shield projectors, camouflage suits, miniaturized automatons, holography weaponry, the amount of absurd items I had once used could make a mockery of anything in the labyrinth.
I paused in front of a large section of one shelf, the faux glass panels on the front allowing for easy viewing of the inside. Parts of dark green material that had been made out of smart textiles hybridized with nano-carbon weaves had been turned to tattered remnants due to time. A long time ago it would have allowed me to fight on par with Lute, but now it was nothing more than scrap.
“You owned all of these?” Kuzu poked at the various items on the shelves, before she finally picked up a claw glove with diamond tips built into it. “What is this?”
“I tried to emulate the nyanko.” I started to pull gear off of the shelves, picking the best I could out of what remained. “Markov helped me with the design.”
“Nyanko?” Kuzu questioned as her head tilted to one side.
“They live on the fiftieth floor, they’re a feline type similar to you kitsune. Lisa, what about Mika?”
“I haven’t heard from her in six hundred years,” Lisa said in a quiet voice, “the last thing she told me was she needed to do a full lockdown.”
It was news that bothered me, since it meant my other daughter was in a dangerous position. I paused in my gathering to stare at Lisa, hoping her solitude hadn’t caused anything irreparable. “Has anything else happened to either of you since I left?”
“Markov came by about fifty years after you went away. He told me to focus on maintenance, because you were coming back eventually.”
Everything Lisa had thrown at me had been a bit of a surprise, but out of it all this was the biggest one. Markov would’ve known my lifespan wouldn’t let me live that long, so he must’ve known that I was going to be reincarnated. I thought on the new question in my mind, before I finally tossed it aside. I’d worry about it when it actually mattered.
I hefted the sword I’d picked up from the shelf, the weight making it seem like an illusion. The blade of it was able to slice through steel with ease, and I’d probably find nothing that it couldn’t cut until the latter half of the labyrinth.
“You’ve done well, Lisa,” I praised my daughter, “did you have anything you wanted to ask me?”
Lisa floated down toward the ground and sat on it, even though she was a hologram. “When’s mom coming back?”
“Lisa,” I said, before I turned my face away from my own daughter, “she’s...not coming back. Lute’s dead.”
A moment of silence filled the room, even Kuzu had gone quiet as she watched our exchange. The lights dimmed while the machinery that had hummed consistently went still. When I managed to gird myself for what I might see on Lisa’s face I turned to look at her, only to discover she had vanished.
I let out a long sigh, and then I grabbed all of the gear I’d gathered. “Kuzu, grab whatever you like and meet me on the second floor,” I told her as I walked out the door.
A few moments later and I had gone up the staircase and into a side room, one that I left open so that Kuzu would find it without a problem. As I set about putting on a new set of clothing, along with the gear I’d gathered, I thought about Lisa.
Lute and I had been unable to have children due to Lute’s biology, so after a few years of being together she decided to solve that problem a different way. I’d pointed out that she’d outlive any child, so she chose to make immortal children. Lisa and Mika were computer programs, and their cores were housed in the two different houses we had.
So long as the houses remained standing they would survive, although since Lisa had to cannibalize Markov’s creations it meant that time had deteriorated her hardware. Mika should be better off in that aspect, with a smaller building to maintain along with higher technology. However once again the fact that she’d gone into a lockdown bothered me.
I stepped in front of a full body mirror in order to make sure everything was on right. While I adjusted the belt Lisa flickered into life behind me, her gaze aimed down toward the floor.
“How’d mom die?” Lisa asked.
“I killed her,” I replied, not wishing to lie to my daughter. “She explained why she made the labyrinth to you, right?”
Lisa gave a slight nod, and then shook her head. “She said there were two reasons she made it and wouldn’t explain the second.”
“Two?” I turned to face Lisa, before I laughed and rubbed at my eyes. “She would keep a secret from me to the end.”
“Why’d you have to trigger the system, dad?”
"Justice, vengeance, stupidity, take your pick.” I slipped on a pair of sunglasses. "Right now I'm working on getting back to her, so I can bury her."
When I stepped out of the bedroom I felt like a new man. I wore a set of dark black combat boots, laced with a metal string. The leather used for the boots was from a rather tough type of crocodile deep in the labyrinth, and was for the most part impervious to iron and steel.
My pants were soft and dark green, they had pockets on the sides which could contain ammunition or supplies. The material was similar to cotton and yet had a stronger durability, as well as water resistance.
The belt around my waist was designed from the same black leather of the boots, while the hip holster on my left was from a regular type of cow. Opposite of the hip was a scabbard that housed the sword I’d picked up earlier.
My shirt was of the same material as the pants, dark green in color. I wore a black vest on top which had pockets sewn into it. My right arm was left bare, although my hands had some weighted-knuckle gloves. My left arm had a black armguard on it which also served as a holder.
The sunglasses I’d put on allowed access to a HUD, which contained basic information. Ambient temperature, wind speed, a built in zoom which enhanced my already heightened Elf vision were all accessible to me. I slipped a watch onto my left wrist.
Kuzu had walked up the staircase, a few items in her hands which included the claw gloves from before. She stared at my face with a confused look. “What’s that?”
“They’re called sunglasses,” I told her while I reached up and tied my white hair into a ponytail. I’d thought of cutting it short but Lute had given me the hair.
“I’ve never seen those before.”
“Obviously, otherwise you wouldn’t ask what they are.” I motioned toward the door behind me. “Go in there and pick out some new clothing, that robe the kitsune gave you won’t work well for combat.”
Kuzu's tail bristled momentarily and she looked ready to argue, but instead she did as I asked. When she went into the room she slammed the door behind her, and then locked it.
While she changed her clothing I double checked all of my weapons. In my holster I had a firearm named the Flagra, which was able to fire regular and hollow point bullets. I had three magazines of each type of bullet stowed away in my various pockets.
The extremely light sword had been sheathed. A crystal was situated on the guard that could channel magic and generate an aura around the blade.
Scattered into the pockets of my vests were a total of four throwing knives, each made of the same material as the sword on my hip. A steel stiletto had been hidden in the armguard on my left.
Lisa appeared atop the railing of the second floor, her holographic legs dangling over the edge. "So you're going to leave again?" she asked with a sad tinge to her voice.
"I can’t leave her like she is," I told Lisa as I leaned against the railing. I lifted my sunglasses up so they rested on top of my forehead, since there was no reason to wear them indoors.
For a while there was silence between us, while Lisa stared at nothing and I tried my best to not look at her. We both knew that what I’d done had been horrible, but also necessary, and now we had to wrestle with the aftermath.
Lisa finally looked at me and, in asked in a quiet voice, “Can you take me with you? I don’t want to be alone again.”
"All you had to do was ask.” I lifted my wrist up and with my other hand motioned to the watch. "Load yourself into this, but don’t break your link to the house. I don’t want anything happening to you if the watch gets broken."
"Thanks daddy!" she said, and then her holographic projection vanished.
Behind me the door opened and Kuzu emerged, no longer wearing the robe of the kitsune. Instead she had a blouse over a white undershirt. The large sword was still on her back, and she had the claws on her hands with the tips exposed. Her pants were similar to mine, although she’d gone for a white pair. At her hip she’d stowed a long dagger. She’d upgraded her footwear to some of those crocodile leather boots.
"Make sure you retract the claws,” I told her, “simply focus your magic on it and the crystal lattice inside will react to what you want.”
Kuzu blinked at that, and then lifted her hands up and stared at them. Her eyes narrowed as she put all of her focus onto that task.
"Where are you planning to go next?" Lisa asked from within the watch.
"This new body of mine is still a bit too fresh, and Kuzu is a rookie, so we'll need training," I told her. "We can find a good training place on the seventeenth floor."
“That sounds a bit dangerous though,” Lisa said, “isn’t that an orc nest?”