Chapter 17:

You Had A Choice

The Leigh Theory

That wouldn’t be the last time we would encounter the Exalted.

Right after we beat Calu, Hannah and her medics treated our wounds. Leo and I weren’t that injured, while Van and Georgia’s wounds had already closed due to their regenerative abilities.

Megan, looking restless, hurried over to Van while he sat on the ground. She then got on one knee and looked him dead in the eye as she spoke with him.

I couldn't hear their conversation because of the chatter around me. The next thing I saw, Megan helped Van stand up and tapped his chest. My best guess was she kind of interrogated him and confirmed if he was a friend or a foe.

Don't worry Miss Megan as he was probably the best ally we could ever ask for.

I turned my attention to Georgia, who was acting a little strange. She tried to walk toward Van and Megan, but she suddenly collapsed.

The brief moment of calmness got cut short when the Omen members panicked. Hannah told everyone to get out of the way as she brought her to one of the vans and immediately left Porifa. Megan then ordered the rest of us to regroup back at the hideout.

As we arrived in the abandoned buildings, the division leaders immediately went to the Leaders' Hall while the rest of us gathered in the Communal Building. I overheard a few people saying it might be the end for Omen if the leader, herself, was gone.

I thought Georgia couldn't give up on the goals she shared with us. I had hoped her body could keep up with her willpower and ideals.

While talking with Van and Leo, Eli approached us and said Georgia was looking for me. I quickly stood up and went with him but then paused as I asked him if I could bring the two.

"She didn't say that only you should go, so I guess it doesn't matter," Eli said as he shrugged his shoulders.

The four of us hurried to the eastern building and entered Georgia's room. Inside, the other division leaders gathered with a few of Hannah's medical team. Georgia was on her bed and was wide awake but looking pale. She then told the medics to leave for a while as it seemed like she wanted to talk to us about something.

I was right as she asked me what my relation to Van was, or Nyx since she didn't know his name yet.

"Miss Georgia, this is my long-lost brother, Van Leigh," I proudly said.

Georgia nodded and went silent for a few seconds. Leo laughed as Eli immediately shook Van's hands. Hannah looked quite surprised behind Eli while Megan smiled and nodded. Reese, like his usual self, didn't react at all.

As they were getting acquainted with Van, Georgia suddenly interrupted and asked something confusing.

"Do you two know about the research called Leigh Theory?"

Van and I looked at each other in confusion as we had never encountered that in our entire life.

"A research with our surname in it? Our parents were scientists for Paradise before, so I guess it must be related to them," Van said as he looked to his upper left.

Still confused, I asked Georgia if she remembered the authors’ names. Fortunately, it was still clear as day for her.

"The authors were Vanessa and Orlando Leigh if that helps."

Those two authors turned out to be our mom and dad. Even with that information, Van and I still didn't know what the Leigh Theory was and what it was all about.

"I guess you don't have an idea. Well then, grab a seat, and let me tell you a little story."

Georgia was once a homeless person and had heart failure. One day, she suddenly collapsed, and during that time, Paradise took her, or ‘collected’ her, along with other homeless and dying people. She said that Paradise gathered anyone they could find as test subjects for an experiment.

Being one of the lab rats, they inserted a shard on her chest, curing her of her heart problem. She then felt better and more powerful, as Van also told me. She then became a member of Paradise’s Exalted and was assigned to the smaller cities. However, time passed, and her condition suddenly returned or got even worse.

Van then asked if she was Aquila, the second Exalted and the escapee whom Paradise was after.

"Oh yeah, I guess we never got the chance to talk before. Yes, I am or used to be, Aquila," Georgia replied, then Hannah and Megan assisted her as she tried to sit up.

"Nyx– I mean, Van, what did they do to your body?"

Van said they gave him the ability to walk again. He then turned around and showed her the Limiter on his lower back.

"I see. So, you also have one of those black mark things…" Georgia said, then went silent.

She unbuttoned her shirt, causing Megan to panic as she thought she was about to strip naked. Georgia just laughed at her and said that she got it wrong.

She then spread her shirt a little and exposed the Limiter on her chest. Surrounding the device was a black mark that looked like a bruise, similar to Van and Calu.

"During my Exalted days, my heart condition slowly deteriorated, then this black mark suddenly appeared, and right now, it has gotten wider."

Georgia added that one day, she secretly snuck into the Archives in the Paradise headquarters. It was a restricted area as only government officials were allowed to enter that room. She then stumbled across the book, with the title ‘Leigh Theory’ on the cover page.

“I read that your parents’ research was some kind of a medical breakthrough, though I didn’t finish reading the first page when I got caught.”

Paradise mobilized the Protectors to arrest her for entering restricted premises. A female Protector managed to slow her down, but she got past her. Luckily, she said that she and Van were the only members of the Exalted, and he wasn't around during that time.

“I was able to escape and hide in a small city, far away from Paradise. Having time for myself, I reflected and saw the injustice committed by Paradise to the world,” Georgia explained as she buttoned her shirt.

“Since I escaped from their shackles, I decided to create a resistance group that will reform this world’s system.”

I finally understood what kind of person Georgia was after hearing her story. At the same time, it also made me curious about our parents’ research. I knew my brother also thought of the same thing as I saw him staring at the ground for quite some time.

“I want to know what’s behind that research,” Van said as he looked up and stared at Georgia’s eyes.

Why was it a medical breakthrough? Why were Arq Shards involved with it? What caused the black marks on their bodies? What made our parents hide it from Paradise?

“I also want to know more about this research because it bothered me a lot why Paradise was so obsessed with it,” Georgia said.

“However, I can’t enter the Archives again, let alone the city itself.”

Everyone in the room went silent. Nobody knew how to gain information about the research or gain entry to Paradise except this one person.

“I happened to escort the transfer of the documents, and the Archives was moved to a more secluded location, east of Ropod City,” Van said, breaking the silence in the room as he awkwardly fidgeted while we stared at him with our surprised faces.

“Alright then! Gather everyone so we can discuss this!” Georgia happily exclaimed as she smiled and then hit her palm with her fist.

Megan called everyone to gather in the Leaders’ Hall. Everyone’s voices filled the hall as we waited for Georgia to appear. Moments later, she got out of her room while being assisted by Reese and Hannah. She then began the discussion by asking everyone to be silent.

So far, the stealth mission might be the most important in Omen’s history. I was thankful that everyone shared the same sentiments, as I think it could benefit many people if they knew about the research.

After the meeting, I planned to introduce Van to our room where he would be staying. Leo told us to go ahead as he smiled while showing me his small pouch full of seeds. He had been saving those seeds from the fruits he bought since we went to cities.

At sundown, one of the Omen cooks called everyone for supper. I told Van to go ahead as I needed to look for Leo, but he said he would wait for us instead. I thought it was reasonable, as it was his first day in the group.

I got out of the gates to look for Leo, and I saw him busy digging behind the northern building. I went to him and told him supper was ready. He said he would return inside once he planted half of the seeds.

Previously at the meeting, Georgia selected the division leaders and one of their members to go along with her. Van and I already got chosen since the mission mainly involved us, while the other members had a choice to go or not.

As the sun went down, I grabbed the opportunity and asked Leo one thing that bothered me.

“Why did you volunteer to be in the Archives mission?”

“What’s wrong with that? I’m part of the group, and I think my skills would be useful,” Leo replied as he continued digging.

Leo always seemed weird when he tried to lie. He knew that wasn’t what I meant when I asked him.

“Why are you willing to risk your life for something that doesn’t directly involve you? You know you had a choice.”

I waited for him to say something since he just went silent for a few seconds. He stabbed his shovel to the ground, picked a few seeds from his small pouch, and threw them into the hole as he answered.

“I was already involved with your life starting from the day you offered me the chance to escape.”

Those were the heaviest words I heard from Leo ever since we became friends. I didn’t know what to say as I recalled the things we had experienced. Right after he answered, he took his shovel and began to cover the hole as he continued.

“I get to be part of something big that could change the world. So yeah, don’t worry about me. Oh, and I just wanted to say that I’m very happy for you because you finally found your brothe–”

I quickly grabbed Leo and hugged him tightly as I interrupted him. He probably didn’t know how much he meant to me, but I owe my life to him. If he wasn’t around, I didn’t know if I could even get to this point of my life.

With all my heart, I wanted to say Leo was the one who kept me from losing my sanity.