Chapter 15:

Lab Rat

The Leigh Theory

It turned out that some LX guards had always been on our side.

Oppression had forced them to be Larry's pawns, obeying his every command for money and a little taste of life: a life on a thread.

After regrouping in the hideout, the guards joined us as we headed to Lusca and proceeded with the operation. Thanks to them, things had gone smoothly.

A few days later, Leo and I joined in an operation in Porifa City, northeast of Lusca. We arrived later than the others since we rode the last van.

As we unloaded the van, a sudden metal clang echoed from the city's center. We rushed toward the sound source as the townspeople panicked.

As we arrived at the scene, we saw Megan and Reese fighting a masked man, wearing the same Paradise Protector uniform, but was black and had a hint of purple. He was exceptionally skilled with two spears and was quick on his feet.

The thing that caught my attention was the exoskeleton suit on his lower body. I've heard about it before since it was one of the treatments offered to my brother.

It was the first time I observed up close how the two fought. Reese effortlessly swung the greatsword while, in coordination, Megan danced with the disc.

However, their teamwork wasn't enough as the masked man dodged and countered at an alarming rate. His speed and power exceeded that of a normal human being.

Eager to help Megan and Reese, I quickly activated my shield and wrist blade, then rushed towards the man.

I attacked his right side, thrusting my blade. He sprang backward and slashed his spear downwards, but I blocked it. I tossed his spears up in the air and attempted to retaliate but only managed to tear a bit of his uniform.

Standing face to face, the masked man froze and lowered his spears. Seeing the gesture as a bit of a taunt, I immediately pounced at him while thrusting the blade.

He dodged and retreated, but I didn’t stop as I kept on thrusting and slashing. Leo yelled at me to fall back as we slowly got away from Omen.

What irritated me the most was that he kept avoiding my attacks but never hit back. He turned, ran on the walls, and went up to a rooftop, forcing me to follow him. Little did I realize, we had already gotten near the city gates.

I turned my attention to the Omen members below, and as soon as I did, the masked man caught me off guard and hit me on the neck with the spear handle, making me lose consciousness.

I should’ve focused more.

The last thing I saw was that he carried me and made a massive leap to the southeast, flinging us over the city walls. I averted my gaze to his mask and caught him staring at me, and right after that, I passed out.

The Earth lost its beauty during the Great Decline. The once green lands have turned into a never-ending scenery of depression. I don’t even know if there were others besides us. All I knew was that we were the survivors of the great tragedy.

I slowly regained consciousness and woke up, realizing I had blacked out while fighting an enemy. I got up and saw that I was in a deep canyon.

I looked around and saw the masked man approaching me from behind. I got up and instinctively swung my wrist blade, but he dodged. I spun in the air and followed through with a kick. He was far less powerful and quick, and his exoskeleton suit was gone. Though it didn’t make that much of a change as he was still way better than me.

The man backed off and showed his palm, telling me to stop. He then removed his mask and threw it to the ground.

I couldn’t think as soon as I saw the person behind the mask. I deactivated my shield and blade, then slowly walked toward him.

The masked man was my long-lost brother, Van Leigh.

"Oliver, I finally found you!"

Van quickly ran up to me and gave me a big hug. I couldn't muster up the strength to speak as I felt a lot of things.

The situation finally sank in as I slowly gave in to my emotions. I bawled my eyes out and hugged my brother tightly because, at long last, I had finally reached the goal that pushed me to keep on living.

“I have a lot of things to tell you that I don’t even know where to begin!” I exclaimed as I backed up and fell to my knees.

“Me too, Oliver. Don’t worry; we will find time to share our stories soon!” Van said as he kneeled in front of me.

I had a lot of questions in mind, like, why he was in a Paradise Protector uniform and what happened to him after he got abducted. However, I asked him how he was able to walk, as that was the thing that caught my attention the most.

“I think I should start with mom and dad’s research on Arq Shards,” Van said as he sat down and crossed his legs.

As kids, we barely had any idea about things like research. We only knew that our parents went to work and filled our house with documents. I even once built a fortress with the stacks of paper I found in our father’s room.

“People from Paradise told me that the research could’ve saved lives, but our parents chose to keep it from the world…” Van paused, looked down, and continued.

“Paradise's Supreme Leader forcibly took the research from our house that night since mom and dad didn’t want to give it to them.”

The scene during that night replayed in my head. I was sure there was a reason why our parents tried to hide it from them.

“After getting abducted, they used me as a lab rat and conducted an experiment based on that research,” Van then turned around and lifted his shirt, showing a device attached to his lower back.

“They inserted a shard into my lumbar spine and connected it to some nerves. I didn’t quite understand the procedure, but after that, I was able to walk, and I felt stronger.”

Van and I used to do parkour and tricking back then. We learned flips and stunts and never skipped training. One day, he attempted a flip and landed awkwardly on his lower back. Since then, he had lost the ability to walk. The Paradise medical division offered many options to help with his condition, but everything was expensive.

“I then became one of Paradise’s agents and spent the past two years working for them like tearing down those so-called black markets,” Van said as he leaned backward, supported by his arms.

“I never enjoyed a single day as one of their pawns. At first, I felt quite invincible, and I thought following their orders was the right thing.”

I never thought my brother went through such inhumane things. I wanted to believe that our experiences were similar, but I didn’t as I realized that Paradise toyed with his body and took advantage of his condition. He was nothing more than a mere experiment to them.

“Months passed, and, little by little, I felt pain in my lower body. There were days where I couldn’t even take a single step,” Van explained while touching his right leg.

“It was also during that time that I understood the reality of this world; Paradise, the so-called ‘Savior of the World’, didn't care for people outside of their city. Everyone outside of their walls experienced oppression."

That was the best description of the current state of the world. From what I saw and experienced, I could say it was a harsh reality, but I believed that people from Omen were the real saviors.

"I badly wanted to escape and overthrow the government but lost the remaining hope in my heart," Van muttered as he clenched his fist.

"Now that I finally found you and learned about the existence of Omen, I feel like I now have a chance."

Omen needed more people who shared the same ideals and goals as us. If we wanted a chance, we needed to recruit people with the strength and ability to fight. With that, I suggested to Van that he must join us.

"Do you think they'll accept and trust me?" Van asked.

"Don't worry. I'll go and talk to our leaders. Omen has a lot of reasonable people, so I'm sure they're going to listen," I confidently said as I put my knuckles on Van's chest.

I couldn't fully express my happiness as I was finally able to reunite with my brother. The best part was that we both shared the same goal, and I couldn't be happier. I believed that the mere addition of my brother to the group would make Omen quite unstoppable.

While we talked and caught up, Van suddenly got serious. He panicked and immediately checked the holographic timepiece attached to his left wrist.

“Shit! I only have thirty minutes left! I think we must return quickly to Porifa!” Van exclaimed in a nervous tone as he stood up.

A sense of urgency and fear were evident on his face. I asked what the problem was since I had no idea what made him feel so anxious and jittery.

“We needed to finish the mission within a day, and if we don’t report immediately, they’re going to send another agent like me to help,” Van said as he checked on his timepiece.

I didn’t quite understand why that would make him scared. I thought he had a lot of time left since a day had twenty-four hours. Without a word, I stood up and checked my things as I went along.

“I wasn’t expecting to meet you today, but if I didn’t bring you here, I could’ve died back there, and worse things might've happened,” Van said as he checked his daggers.

“We need to hurry because no agent has gone for more than three hours before, and who knows what the reinforcement would do once they get there.”

The thought finally sank in, and I hurried as well. I tried climbing but made very little progress. As I returned to the ground, Van went beside me and unsheathed his daggers. The small device on his lower back suddenly transformed into the exoskeleton suit. He then made me hold the weapons and wrapped his arms around my waist. He then slowly bent his knees and held me tighter.

“Prepare yourself.”

Van made the deep canyon look like a little road bump. My heartbeat stopped for a second as he made a powerful jump and flew upwards.

“I know somebody got deployed already from the headquarters, which means all I can do right now is to hurry and stop the agent before they could wreak havoc in the city,” Van said as soon as we landed on the upper ground.

My heart stopped for another second as Van made another leap, heading northwest, flinging us into the sky. Thanks to him, I finally understood the feeling of flying in the air. Recognizing the situation, I prepared myself mentally for the incoming fight.

If there were someone who could save that city, it would be Van.