Chapter 4:

Lotus Dance 2


Milleia told him he's all over the news yesterday and the day before but now, it felt like she's lying. Of course she wouldn't do it even as a joke.

The holographic billboards flashed some gang disputes and some leaders surrendering. There's also one about a notorious criminal turning himself in, but what caught Blank's attention was something about the Madonna pushing for public assessment of their beauty. Until now, the criteria wasn't known, and only through participation at the entrance ceremony made possible the task of knowing one's chances of success. The immediate issues of her plan were being brought forward and she's answering some while taking note of the others for future adjustments. Unfortunately, it seemed her preparations fell short or it's simply her age catching up. Either way, the proposal was too young for implementation at the current level.

Milleia had been supportive of the Madonna and said it's a good thing she's finally appearing often as opposed to her silence before. Some were annoyed at her meddling though, thinking it's just a pathetic attempt at prolonging her term or some sort of legacy she'd be known for after she stepped down. Blank at least knew, through Milleia obviously, that the lady was doing everyone a favor, especially the next Madonna. It'd create some sort of awareness of the capabilities of the leader and help them further separate from the monopoly of Qu Co.

Unfortunately, Qu Co introduced fake competition on its side introducing unknown players into the market who's also another pawn for them to use. The goop was also replaced by the Qu Co initiative giving out expensive vitamins and medicine in exchange for manual labor—a program the masses dived in whenever available. Blank was guilty for taking part as it occurred around the time of the Fair to provide an illusion that everybody could be a Madonna regardless of the situation. Realistically speaking, it's still impossible.

He had important things to do than line up forever for a slot that's more probably full by now. The program usually filled up quick given the company behind and Blank knew it's already too late to sign up now.

“What were they building this time, I wonder. Heck, what did they build last time anyway?”

Due to his age, he's just assigned to pass food and water for the workers. Although the bottle of shampoo they got that time was halved since Milleia gave away the other half to another participant who wanted the shampoo but unfortunately the stock ran out. In the end, they got half a bar of soap for it to complete the set.

He navigated his mask interface to check if the beacon was there. It still moved at a confusing direction. Where in the world were they taking her?

Please be safe, Master.


He gave them some privacy as ordered, but he couldn't believe the princess would turn out like that.

After eluding them for a long time, Mao finally reappeared sabotaging gangs left and right. He thought she's still the same princess he served but when he saw her using it to train a naïve boy, that's when he got curious. He should've reported it to Jin first and foremost, but his curiosity got the better of him and he tried anticipating her movements then, trying to predict which clan would go down next.

Jin surely must've caught on, seeing that the number of new recruits grew. However, he let him do as he pleased, there's more manpower for wider operations meaning more to manage. Back then, he interpreted the gesture as his master giving him full approval of his plan. That's why, he continued looking over their little princess as some kind of detached force.

That boy couldn't be hers, he thought. But to be so attached to treat that boy like her own, he began digging deeper. That's when he understood.

Their beloved princess had changed.


Jin closed the sliding door before answering, “She's just tired.”

“Actually, I'd like to apologize.”

“Unnecessary,” Jin observed the koi he raised at his underground mansion. It took an incredible amount of influence, cunning, and Phi to realize this at the Commoner layer. In fact, he took pride that his clan's the only one capable of doing such things. Even if he couldn't, there wasn't anyone left for comparison anyway. “That wound prevented her from escaping, or so I'd like to say. It's self-inflicted.”

“I… agree…”

“She resolved to come to terms with this from the start.”

A maid came by informing of more work to stabilize the group after taking in every single gang in the Commoner layer. It never became easy even after all those years. Jin had prepared himself to be able to handle any matters anytime.

Fianchetto couldn't say anything that might sway either of them. He held nothing save for the gun on his hand. Those who lived by the sword, died by the sword. It's the same for any item. Once you harmed someone with it, it'd never be the same again.

“What am I even doing…”

Mao behaved this time and sat on the bed staring at nothing. Her patchwork clothes were replaced by an exquisite tourmaline hanfu. Apparently, her measurements didn't change much most probably due to her genetic structure. Her mid-length hair still had a strange color, yellow on top which gradually turned orange, then darkened to black, before becoming white at the tip. With her cloak on before, Fianchetto didn't give much attention to one of her defining features but when it's in full view, it's impossible not to stare.

“Aren't you gonna say something?” Mao said, or more accurately, her lips only moved. There wasn't any reason for her statement, she knew he was usually a man of few words.

And as expected, he only made a weird noise but refused to speak out his mind.

“Maybe I should've named you Gambit so you'd at least do something interesting other than stand there like an idiot.”


“Mao. I'm not your princess anymore… on second thought, you're kinda stubborn so call me whatever you like.”

“Pr-Princess… may I ask something?”

“Be my guest. I'm not obligated to answer though.”

“What were you… during those times…”

Mao scratched her head rather hard until her beautifully combed strands were disheveled. “Know what? I like nyaa better when there're other people. You're not some timid, stammering punk like you are now. Anyways, it's as you've already known, or not. Whatever. I'm raising a child.”


“Wasn't mine, of course. Know why we don't have human horses or human camels? That's the same thing.”


“I don't need your sympathy, but I do need your opinion. Say, what do you think of children?”

He sighed. Guess he'd just humor the girl and be honest. “A liability.”

“Fair enough. How about the parents that brought them to life?”

Fianchetto fell silent. Mao realized a tad late.

“That was irresponsible of me. Sorry.”

“Why ask though?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Beats me. Although, I'd say I disagree with you on the child part. They're… Children are hope, nya? I mean, they're totally a pain in the ass but… it's gentle. A feeling I could get used to.”

She might not realize it herself, but she's smiling. Mao seemed to have fond memories, but if only he took the time to observe closely then he'd notice. Something was off.

Since there's nothing she's allowed to do, for the time being, she took her sword and placed it on her lap.

“This thing was cursed,” she said. “I think I'll believe the myth.”

“Curses are unscientific.”

“And so is beauty, and ambition. The Arbiter may be the only person who could quantify beauty but it's still irrational. Concepts aren't constant.”

“As long as it's useful to society, it'll be made scientific one way or another.”

“So that's why religion was almost wiped out. But you know, if only religion was a bit useful, then perhaps I wouldn't… heh, now I'm just blaming everything on everything. Your failed princess is pathetic.”

“I'll be outside when you need me, princess,” he said and left her quarters. At that moment, he regretted being good with the gun was the only thing he could be proud of. He's useless at times like these.

Survive. Mind only yourself.

Even after living from a layer up for the most of his life now, he still couldn't shake off that bit of selfishness he got from the pits. Hex, as both the layer and residents were called. Hex… another word for curse. A place where having name was a luxury and another day to live a misery.

The reason why he couldn't sympathize enough nor connect with others lied primarily on the selfishness of the Hex within him. Fianchetto was something from chess as he was told. “You'd be developing from the queen's side. To me,” Mao declared she gave that silly name to him. It might be trivial for them but it felt like experiencing a brand-new world for him. That's why he devoted his life to be the best bishop ready to take on any and every opponent his princess… his queen had.

Unfortunately, he failed time and again. He couldn't even bring them together—

“Sir,” a group of men arrived. “The master needs your help.”

He eyed the one that spoke and nodded.

“The cargo had arrived.”


One forty-foot container arrived via air transport. Jin personally oversaw the opening and inspection of the goods inside. Shipped together with the leafy greens, the smuggled items including firearms and ammunition were the final pieces he needed.

“It's finally come,” Fianchetto came just in time.

One of the guys working chimed in. “First the gunpowder, then parts, then more shit, then finally these babies. I really can't believe I'm living to see this.”

“Hmph, you better live after this too,” Jin said. “Who, if not you lot would enjoy the new age first hand?”

“The master's right! We need to see this through!”

“Damn, I'm getting pumped up. We're going to war, aren't we? This is war, right?!”

“Not quite,” Fianchetto looked at the blinding lights above. “This isn't as barbaric as war, rather—”


The ground shook rather terribly in the middle of the exam. Some were terrified while most others, Milleia included, were completely absorbed to the questions that they didn't touch the food and water provided.

I have no time for a stupid earthquake, she thought.


“Woah! Woah! What the friggin hell is it this time?” Tori grumbled as she nursed her head after falling from the couch. She checked her terminal for some news but apparently, the bugged security cams and drones she had told the entire story.

Craters. Blasted pipes. Unmasked people firing at the dog masks. Bodies everywhere. Dead. The living either fighting or fleeing. Every camera showed the same scenario.

“A coup? This is a coup, right?”

“It is. That's why I'm also needed down there,” A huge man wearing a feral dog mask emerged from Tori's patient bed space. He seemed to be amicable but the imposing aura he gave off made him close to sinister than friendly. “Thank as always for the checkup, Doc.”

Tori shooed him off. “The raw mats and coin is enough thank you. Gah, I'm so tired!”

“Well, go back to sleep. My body seemed to have adjusted to the prosthetic already,” He moved his foot in circles testing the ankles.

“Good. Now, mister officer, kindly deal with those anarchists for us and preserve peace.”

He did an exaggerated bow. “Of course, esteemed civilian.”

She yawned a big one. Watching a policeman come and go from her place wasn't always a good idea. Tori hated the fact that those unmasked thugs wrecking havoc had more freedom than her who barely did anything. The law had always been a friend to those with beauty… value. In short, money. She possessed none of those that's why she's thankful for pacifists like him who did business with her in a proper manner. He might pay a little too much as indication for a future transaction, but Tori was more than happy to accept. After all, had it not for those spare parts, Blank would've already…

“Oh, and before you leave. Was it good? The sinamak, I mean.”

He tilted his head to one side, confused. Understanding what she might've meant though, he laughed. “Well, I haven't have time to buy one. A shame when today also happens to be the shipment day…” As if realizing something again, he dashed off.

Tori rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Damn, must be the sleep making me talk weird.”

She pulled out a drawer and looked at the three Phis he snagged from Blank.

So, it wasn't him, huh…


All of a sudden, the layer was thrown into chaos. Firefights between and angry mob of unmasked people assumed to be from the gangs that were disbanded broke out all over. Thousands were injured and even died. That was from the first day only.

Merkados closed down and the raw material supply ports were raided resulting to halt of products going down. Commerce died next. With the Elite layer closing its doors off, there's no other way to eat than to trade locally. Unfortunately, with everyone having around the same wealth, only Phis circulated. Thetas weren't relevant anymore.

As if to test the will of the people, a never-ending rain poured out. With no electricity nor heating, those who were getting by during normal times finally fell down. It also made the grim city look more dead than it already was; as if the makeup from a very battered woman was washed out all of a sudden, it was hopelessness incarnate. However, the attacks never ceased one bit. In fact, it only got stronger by the day.

For those taking the entrance ceremony however, time stood still. Day after day, questions after questions were shoved at their faces to be answered in ridiculous time constraints. Also, everyday, the contestants slowly dwindled but for some reason, there were also new ones taking part. Of course, those who took the barrage of tests would have higher ratings added to them should they pass but it's suspicious, if not unfair, that there's a sudden influx of participants in the middle of the testing period.

The Fair had been moved to an indefinite date.

Days later, the leader of the revolution was identified. Jin Rai, leader of the supposedly defunct Lotus clan. Apparently, all the surrendered and disbanded gangs' surviving members flocked under him, effectively making him the strongest force that ever tried fighting the government.

However, upon knowing this, the surrendered individuals became bargaining chips. Too bad Jin, who had planned this for years, anticipated the move that's why…

…he implanted bombs on all of them.

The resulting explosion blew the sturdy gates of the central pillar.

Jin looked at today's assault. Even after three weeks, the central pillar seemed to be sturdier than he thought.

“How was it?” he asked, his breath fogging up.

Fianchetto disengaged from his sights. He haven't fired it for a while, only using it as a telescope. “Still not good.”

“Using the participants to defend. Despicable.”

True, even Fianchetto was repulsed to see what the government resorted with. Taking random citizens as candidates then bringing them to the frontlines to get killed seconds after. It's the definition of cruelty.

“So this is the true nature of this city. It's no different than a civilized jungle, no matter then illusion of order they imposed, it's still a jungle nevertheless.”

“This is bad. Master, I'll provide support. This rain's messing with my aim. Need to get closer.”

Fianchetto left to reposition himself. He used to be able to shoot from this distance no problem before, but his trigger finger had been trembling due to the cold. If it had been prosthetic, then it might be as good as useless now.

Their police force had been divided due to civil unrest. People grew more desperate as the options for survival diminished. Potable water became an impossibility now, even for Commoner standards. And as alternatives were cut one by one, the cornered resorted to violence. The embers of encounters became shelter for the survivors who would later fight and the cycle continued.

Jin took everything in. It was his fault. Ultimately, the roots could be traced to him. The death toll rose by the hundreds everyday. Merchandise risking their lives there most probably had no Concierge to welcome them home. He took them away. All for his ambition.

The sound of water splashing was replaced by a blunt one. Rain hitting on plastic.

“It's not time yet,” he said. “Go back to the hideout. You'd get sick here.”

“No,” She stepped out of her umbrella, instantly getting soaked like the maid who held it for her. “This is also my responsibility.”

“Suit yourself then.”

Rain continued to fall.