Chapter 19:

Giant Fruit Tree

The Leigh Theory

It felt like I was in a horror movie, and I never liked horror movies.

The footsteps that resounded in the room got closer and closer. Van and Georgia had their hands on the handle of their sheathed weapons while I was ready to activate the wrist blade and the shield.

A muscular, tall man suddenly passed by the narrow aisle. He was reading a book which he then gently slammed on Van's chest as he walked by us and went to sit on the desk.

I could never forget that man's face.

I tried to run towards him, but Van and Georgia grabbed my arms and dragged me back. Anger took over me as I tried to escape their clutches, but Van hugged me tightly.

The man was the one who attacked our house that night, killed both of our parents, and abducted Van. The only thing in my mind was to kill that guy right at the moment and avenge our parents.

"Oliver, I know you're furious, but please calm down and don't make rash decisions!" Van yelled at me as he hugged me forcefully.

Van's arms were cold. The room wasn't air-conditioned, and the windows were even closed, but I could feel him slightly trembling as he persuaded me.

Why did Van feel scared at the mere presence of the man who ruined our lives? If I were him, I would've been wailing in anger.

"Th-That's Adam Surridge, codenamed Naja. He is the Supreme Leader of Paradise," Georgia explained as she panted heavily.

So what if he was the leader of Paradise? He was nothing more than a lowly scum and a murderer to me.

"Why are you in the Archives, Nyx?" Adam asked as he sat in a lax position.

"I could ask the same thing to you," Van replied while he let go of me.

Adam smiled as he got up and went to the chair behind. He then sat with his legs crossed on the desk and replied.

"Can't the leader go wherever he wants? If it weren’t for Aquila, I wouldn't have traveled this far just to read some books."

God, I wanted to punch that guy's face.

Van stood to my left and finally stopped trembling as he talked with Adam. Meanwhile, Georgia to my right slowly recovered her breathing and calmed herself down.

“Anyway, this is an unexpected reunion! Nyx, welcome back, and thank you for bringing Aquila with you!” Adam said with his arms wide open.

“Oh, and you’re finally reunited with your brother. Now I get to meet the other Leigh.”

I grabbed the book that Van was holding and immediately checked it. It was what we’ve been seeking.

"I'm not here to go back to you or to turn Georgia in. We're here to get information about the Leigh Theory and learn why you're so obsessed with it." Van responded.

"Ah yes, the Leigh Theory," Adam said as he lowered his legs and sat up straight with his arms on the desk.

While the two were discussing, Georgia and I scanned the book. We quickly read through it to know what the theory was all about.

"Your parents could've been heroes and helped a lot of people, but instead, they decided to hide it from the world," Adam said.

Our parents had a reason, and I needed to find it in the book.

"Take yourself and Georgia as examples. You were both nonfunctional humans, but look at yourselves right now."

Where was it?

"If they just gave me their work earlier, we could've helped more people sooner. Oh well, I still got their work in the end."

I finally found it.

The Leigh Theory states that the Arq Shards produce electric currents that can enhance physical prowess and accelerate cell regeneration through nerve connections. However, results show that such effects last only for a set of time and eventually cause nerve damage and cell degeneration. It is still unknown whether the adverse effects are chronic or acute.

I knew it. Something was wrong with the Arq Shard insertions in Van and Georgia.

I finally understood why our parents had to hide that research from Paradise. I knew our parents were never involved in shady transactions or illegal operations. They stuck to their principles in their line of work.

Unfortunately, this man simply tainted our parents' names.

After reading those lines from the book, I suddenly felt a strong sense of clarity. That was the only piece of information I needed. I then closed the book and muttered a few words.

"You're slowly killing them instead of helping them."

Adam might've heard me as he laughed while slamming the desk. Van took the book from me and also skimmed through it.

"Killing them? Oh please. I'm simply giving them the answer to life!" Adam responded and then laughed hysterically.

"You're amusing. Now that reminds me of something. A week from now, I will launch Project ArqL in Paradise to have the people avail of the one-time free shard insertions."

Adam planned to conduct a large-scale medical operation for everyone. He planned to give everyone a taste of power and temporarily remove their pain. However, like what the theory stated, it would still make them suffer in the end.

The harmful effects written in the book didn’t bother Adam at all. He simply said that the solution to such side effects was to pay for another operation. Project ArqL would only benefit the rich, but not those who couldn’t afford their lives. In the end, Adam was just aiming for the money. Or was he?

“People can find cures to diseases if Paradise would just be fair to everyone! We have the energy source, and people can just make new technology to discover a cure!” Georgia exclaimed.

“Make technology that will take years to perfect? Humans don’t need that. They need immediate solutions, and I’m giving them a quick answer to their problems. Plus, I’m being fair; you pay me money, I give you a shot at life,” Adam responded with a scoff and hid his arms under the desk.

I didn’t know much about medical stuff or research, but I did understand that Adam's plan was sure to bring about humanity’s demise or worse…

The end of the world.

“We will stop you at all costs,” I confidently said.

An alarm suddenly buzzed and rang in the entire building. The metal clanking resonated in the room as steel barricades slowly covered the facility.

“Well, since you two don’t plan on coming back, and the little dude plans to stop me, I guess you leave me no choice.”

Adam stood from his chair and cracked his neck. Electric sparks then appeared around his body as he shrugged his shoulders. Things were about to get serious.

“It’s funny that your parents made you clean up their mess.”

Alright. That was the last straw.

In a heartbeat, Van and I immediately lunged with rage drawn on our faces. We couldn't allow Adam to disrespect our parents just like that.

Van attacked from the left with a dagger while I thrust my wrist blade from the right. Adam effortlessly caught our weapons, stabbing his own hands. However, we couldn’t retract our blades as he firmly grasped our fists.

“It was you who created a mess out of our parents’ work,” I said as I glared at him while struggling to pull the blade.

Adam let out a condescending smile as he grabbed us towards him and kicked us one by one, sending us back to Georgia.

“Fine, I’ll let you have a taste of my powe–”

An explosion interrupted Adam and made a few pieces of debris fall from the ceiling. A few seconds passed, and another explosion followed that destroyed the entrance side of the room and probably also the steel barricade outside.

I looked below through the smoke and the massive hole in the wall, only to find Leo with Gustav. He waved his hands while Megan and the others told us to escape amidst the mess.

As Van and I were about to stand up, the wall behind Adam got destroyed, and as the dust settled, two figures stood in front of him. That day couldn’t have gotten any worse.

A man with the same build as Adam stood on his left side and had a thick exoskeleton with round shoulder pads and gauntlets. The petite woman to his right had an eerily similar suit as Georgia, and she had dual swords instead of a battleax.

We couldn't afford to waste time as we weren’t equipped and ready for a battle with two more members of the Exalted. I helped Van up and tried to drag Georgia, but she was frozen and shocked by what she saw.

“Miss Georgia, we should hurry and get out of here!” I yelled while forcefully dragging her arm.

Fortunately, Georgia snapped out of it and grabbed us by our waists. As she prepared to jump out of the hole, the winged Exalted attempted to go after us, but Adam stopped her. Even with the noise and the chaotic room, I still heard what he told the woman.

“Don’t worry. They’ll soon come after me.”

Oh, we certainly would come after you, you fucking bastard.

The three of us got out of the building and landed beside Leo, who shouted at me and said the weapon was incredible. Van and I got up, and Georgia ordered everyone to return to the vehicles.

Leo didn’t listen as he fired one more time, directly aiming at Adam and the two members of the Exalted. As Eli predicted, Leo handled the cannon pretty well. I then yelled at him to hurry, as he was the last person left near the Archives. He fired another one, aimed at the lower part of the building, and eventually turned his back to escape with me.

Adam stood at the hole in the building and stared at us from above. My eyesight wasn’t excellent, but I could tell he had the same condescending grin as he threw something up and down.

I was about to reach out to Leo’s arms when suddenly, a rock passed through his chest.

Blood gushed out of him as he fell to the ground. I kneeled and held him in my arms as he kept muttering about the weapon. Van saw us and turned back to help carry Leo and the cannon.

Everything happened in a blur.

We successfully escaped the Archives and got what we wanted. However, we faced a rather grave situation.

Leo suffered a fatal and life-threatening injury. We tried everything to stop the bleeding, but it didn’t make a difference. We thought of putting multiple Cell Repair devices on his wound, but it wasn’t fast enough to close the hole in his chest. I kept tapping his face as I let him rest on my lap to try and keep him awake.

“You’re not allowed to die, okay?! You still have to marry Mabel! And what about that giant tree with different fruits?! You still need to plant it, right?! Right?!” I exclaimed with my heart racing.

Leo smiled and lifted his bloody arm to touch my cheek. I couldn’t see his face clearly as tears welled in my eyes. I needed somebody to pinch me.

“I… I’m not stupid… I know that tree doesn’t exist…” Leo said as he struggled to speak.

I didn’t care if that tree didn’t exist or if I was talking nonsense. All I ever wanted at that moment was to turn back time to prevent that from happening. I just wanted Leo to survive and live for another day.

“I’m happy that I made something good with my life… I’m happy… that I met everyone… that I met you…”

The white bandage we wrapped around his body became red as blood dripped out of it. We still had to travel for more than a day before we could reach the hideout and have him properly treated.

“Please take care of Marvin and Mabel for me… Protect them with all your life… and tell her I’m sorry…”

I pressed Leo’s head on my chest and felt his breath slowly fading. With his remaining strength, he forced himself to say his last words.

“Thank you, Oliver.”

Just like that, the line snapped right before my eyes. No matter how precious human lives could be, they were still just as fragile as glass. For a second, I thought Adam might’ve had a point. If only…

No. Leo’s sacrifice shouldn’t go in vain.

I went silent as tears dropped on his lifeless body. Everyone in the van felt the same way as they didn’t mutter a single word. They understood that Leo was invaluable to the group. He was part of the family.

As we got far away from the Archives, we stopped under a dead tree to bury his body. I never thought the day would come that I had to dig a hole in the ground, but I wished it were apple seeds that I dropped into the pit instead.

Grasping the seed pouch I got from his pocket, everyone in Omen paused to pay respects to our fallen comrade. To my fallen brother.

As we continued to travel, I quietly sat in the corner of the vehicle while Van placed his arm on my back. With my hands across my face, I only thought of one thing. I firmed my resolve and muttered under my shaky breath.

“Adam will pay for his sins.”