Chapter 3:

Behind closed doors

The Last to Fall: First Drop

"We're back!" A shrill voice echoed through the annex announcing the arrival of a short pink haired figure and a black haired girl following behind her.

"Welcome back!" a young boy with dirty blond hair responded as he approached them. "Let me help with that." he offered, taking away one of the large bags in her hands.

"Thanks Thoma." Ania responded with a smile, "We can place these in the kitchen."

"Did you guys buy the whole market?" Rikka asked taking a bag from Hina who along with Ania had walked in half dragging a pair of bulging bags at her side. "These bags are nearly half your size. What is all this?"

"This one looks big enough to fit a large child." Thoma gestured to the bag he had brought in.

"The guild was running some sales I just could not resist." Ania began emptying the contents of the bag she had placed on the counter top, "Ruthelloe powder at 5kwa, unrefined ore at 2kwa, iron rings at 50ara and not to mention these." Her grin grew brighter as she pulled a pair of golden rings from the bag and slid them onto her wrists. Making her hands into fists she pounded them together and a bright spark could be seen emanating from her hands as golden gauntlets began to form around them.

"Sakura corps' rumin powered gauntlets." She stretched her hands forward showing off the intricately designed floral patterns on the metal that now run from her finger tips to half way past her elbows, "This is the limited edition Tsunade version so only 800 pairs exist; and thanks to an idiot merchant who didn't know their value I got these at only 300kwa."

"Didn't you get a new set of gloves for 200kwa last month?" A wide eyed Rikka examined her arm, "How could you buy new ones so soon?"

"These ones have better shielding so their field won't break easily and the elemental damage they deal on impact is pretty much doubled. Plus they have a less conspicuous design as bracelets compared to the glove design the others have."

"Yeah.... but.... 300kwa is... alot for something you already have."

"It's not like I took money from the team to get these. I bought them with my own money so it shouldn't be a problem for anyone."

"Okay, let's end this conversation here before it turns into an argument." Simon came to squeeze himself between the two and gaze into the open bag. "Did you get any crisps?" He asked shuffling through its contents.

"The purple bag." Ania elbowed him in the gut pushing him away. Simon's arms wrapped around his abdomen as his body came down in pain.

"Sorry I forgot I had these on." Ania deactivated her gauntlets to have them return to their bracelet state as she rushed to check on the man who had unintentionally received the honor of being the first victim of her new weapon.

"I just... wanted a snack." Simon whimpered. His voice cracking and coming out closer to a whisper.

Thoma, who had been watching everything from his end of the counter began to choke on his laughter at Simon's whimpers. The hand that covered his mouth to muffle his voice fell letting his glee be heard. Rikka refusing to hold back her own glee joined him in laughing at the boy whose attempt to prevent an argument had ended with him hunched over and taking deep breaths.

As Ania occupied herself with Simon and the others found amusement, the door came open to allow a new entrant into the kitchen.

“Looks like the groceries summoned the bat out of its cave.” Rikka laughed pointing out the tall boy who walked in. His black hair was a tousled bed head with a ring of white highlights revealing themselves beneath his crown. A fluffy brown blanket was wound around him, draping over his shoulders and falling down to sweep the ground behind him. He moved forward focusing on something ahead and gave no response to Rikka's teasing as he reached his target.

His already tall figure appeared elongated by the blanket as he came to stand before Hina. Her head which looked up to face him barely reached his chest. “You are late.” The boy finally spoke reaching a hand out that lightly flicked her forehead.

Hina rubbed her head looking at him with a baffled expression, "What was that for?"

"Byeol said you would be back in 30 minutes." He nonchalantly yawned, "I have been up here for an hour and a half."

"You were waiting for me?" her bewilderment grew.

"The crazy lady wants to waste our time so Byeol called me here to meet with you."

"What this Dalmatian means is that we need to go Byeol's workshop to talk about something." Rikka addressed Hina's confusion and came to stand beside them, "I have a request we need to discuss."

"Oh, what's it about?" asked Ania. Her interest peaked by their conversation.

"You two follow me." Mingi turned on his heel and walked back out the way he came.

"Sorry secret." Rikka threw Ania a wink and pushed Hina in the direction of the door.


The three made their way to the chrome box at the end of the west hall to find Byeol. The door slide open with a buzz to reveal the boy no longer behind the desk where Rikka had left him. He was instead closer to the door arranging some documents upon the metallic shelves at the end of the room.

"You're back." a smile played on Byeol's lips as the party made their way in.

"Y-yeah." Hina responded wearily not bothering to return his smile as her eyes did a quick survey of the room.

"Everything okay?" he furrowed his brow at the hesitance in her response, "You seem uneasy."

"I'm fine." she replied, "Are you done with your suit? I don't see it out anymore." she added stirring the conversation away from herself.

"No I just put everything away so we could use this." He lead the party to the desk upon which had previously nested his suit and tools. The equipment that had covered the 2m surface was now replaced by a large holographic model that stretched across it's ends. "It's a full map of the Teynut region. I thought it would help give some perspective of things as we discuss everything."

"You finally completed the model." Mingi swiped his hand through one of the mountain ranges as they gathered around the table, "Nice."

"Rikka, the floor is yours." Byeol gestured to her once they had all gathered around the table.

"Right." She began, "I found some intel on the whereabouts of the Euth project ..."

Rikka proceeded to reiterate the information she had acquired in full detail. Making sure to state everything she had discussed with Byeol as well as further details she had been hesitant to bring out earlier. All eyes were on her as she spoke but unlike the carefree smile she donned when she addressed Byeol, her look was more confident and determined as she came to the end of her briefing.

"What do you think?" Rikka asked waiting for their response. Her eyes darting expectantly from Hina to Mingi and back.

"Are you mad." Mingi who had been following across from her was the first to respond, "You really want to sneak into Dragnolar?"

"It is our best option if we want any information on what the empire is planning to do to us."

"And if we get there and find nothing? Or worse if we find a trap. You said that source of yours works for them what if she's sending us there on false information?"

"She was my agent even before I left the military. I know she can be trusted."

"She could have double crossed you if they offered her enough." Mingi stated as he enhanced the map stretching it to get a closer view of the area Rikka wished to take them to, "This isn't the type of area anyone would want to set up camp in let alone build a whole facility."

"Dragnolar is uninhabited making it a good place to keep things you wouldn't want anyone to see." Rikka responded, "What better place than a forest no human would enter to set up a lab experimenting on them?"

"You forget the reason for that dear. The air there is toxic to humans, thanks to the weapons used during the war. Twenty minutes of breathing it and pneumothorax sets in. Another three and permanent brain damage has occurred. May as well give up once that happens because you will be dead under sixty seconds. I don't know if you forgot this but you are a human."

"We can use oxygen masks to -"

"I'm not done." His dark eyes flared, "Oxygen masks. Great. That's one problem solved now what about the mutated wildlife roaming the area? Every creature in that area is capable of killing us and that's just the documented ones researchers have been able study and survive attacks from. Don't even get me started on the flora. To top it all off the province is a complete mountain range on it's eastern border which spreads into a forest stretching all the way across the north east. It also has one minor stream that drains into an artificial lake to the southwest. That leaves a limited number of entry points even if someone were to try and enter."

The room turned sour at Mingi's words and entered a pin drop silence. He had probably said what they were all thinking yet unready to point out. Rikka fumbled through her mind for a comeback that could turn things but was coming up blank. Everything he had said was true but there had to be a way for them to get there, do their mission and leave safely.

"What do you think?" Byeol brought their attention to Hina. She had been silently listening as the others spoke and was yet to voice any opinion.

"I think it's dangerous." She adjusted her glasses and looked up at him, "Everything Mingi said is true. This is would be no less than a suicide mission if we went in ill prepared and on such little information."

"So you agree that we should not go through with this?" Byeol asked.

"No, I think we should."

"What!?" Mingi interjected, "Did you not just agree that this would be too dangerous."

"It is dangerous but wouldn't it be a worse to miss this opportunity." She replied, "We don't know when we'll get another opportunity to one up the empire. We can procure oxygen masks to take care of our breathing and that should give us a good 10 hours of oxygen. So why not?"

"And the monsters?"

"We are all trained fighters. We go in armed but do what we can to avoid fighting unless we absolutely have to."

"You seriously think this is a good idea?" Byeol met her eyes hoping to see them waver.

"I don't." She responded calmly, "I dislike how risky it is but considering how long we have gone without being able to find out anything about the Euth project; I think it would be worth the risk if we do end up finding something."

Byeol gave a sigh as he shook his head, "I was hoping you would dissuade Rikka from this rather than join her." Despite having agreed to hear Rikka out he had kept the hope that the ever cautious Hina would be able to dissuade her. However, contrary to his hopes the two had seen eye to eye and were already spinning counter measures to the problems they expected to encounter. "How long would it take to traverse Dragnolar's diameter on a cruiser?" he added after a pause.

"At max speed? Approximately 8 hours." Mingi responded, "But granted the uneven terrain and thick vegetation it would realistically take over 20 hours. Assuming you could even fit a 4 wheeler into that forest."

"What of a sukima?"

"5 hours but you would be completely vulnerable to any attacks while it rises."

Byeol paused for a moment before squinting his eyes and pinching his nose, "What about a Hanban?" he gave another sigh.

"6 hours. 4 if you push it to max speed and somehow dodge every obstacle."

Reopening his eyes Byeol glanced towards Mingi. Who upon reading the look on his face began to protest.

"You cannot be serious." Mingi brought his palm over his face.

"Serious about what?" Rikka looked between them trying to understand the hidden message the two had exchanged.

"I still don't like it, but we shall go along with your request." Byeol redirected the conversation, "I have an idea we can try but it will be quite the risk."

"Thank you." Rikka celebrated hugging Hina's arm, "I just know we'll find something useful."

"Yes yes, but this shall be a voluntary mission." Byeol continued, "I don't like the idea of anyone besides Mingi being forced to risk their life when there's so much uncertainty around this."

"What!? Why am I excluded from that list?" Mingi bitterly approached Byeol.

"Gather everyone in the annex." Byeol instructed visibly ignoring the threatening presence that had come to stand besides him.

"Yes sir." Rikka replied hurrying through the door.

"Wait." Byeol called Hina back as she tried to follow Rikka out, "May I see you for a moment?"

Halting in her tracks she turned back to face him. Finding him dwarfed a little less than she had earlier been by Mingi, she let out a slight chuckle. At her mirth Byeol glanced up at the man towering over him menacingly and exchanged words only they could hear.

"Fine but we are not done with this yet." Mingi grumbled as he made his way out leaving Hina and Byeol alone.