Chapter 5:



The darkness in people's hearts. Digging to the Hex layer below. That must've been what it would feel like. Unpleasant.

A random thought suddenly crossed her mind. It's so unexpected that she thought she's going crazy. After all those tests, Milleia's mind slowly became mush.

She couldn't help it. Despite getting properly fed, the fatigue caught up. This must've been what they were aiming for, some sort of mental endurance. How many days had she been here now? Ten? A month? Everyday became indistinguishable from each other; wake up, eat answer everything, rest, answer again, eat, then finally sleep. That marked one day. The times she went to bed should be an indication to the number of days, but it came the point that the mundane task of sleeping was treated a part of the test.

That's the assumption. After all, what would one expect when they got thrown into a room and was forced down questions to answer?


Not ‘forced’.

They willed this.

“What's happening outside?” Milleia muttered during one of the tests and rather loudly due to the absolute silence. Nobody paid attention to her since it was after forever when she uttered it. Had it been any day in the beginning, her co-participants would've seen her as weird.

Despite having thousands of people in the room, she never actually felt that they're living together… or it slowly felt like that. Some friendly people became unresponsive and were later gone. The gray paper, gray walls, gray clothes they changed into, sometimes Milleia found herself seeing things that weren't there. No just her. People oftentimes open the eyes wide with shock for no reason, some even gasp during exam time. As usual, nobody bothered.

However, what was one of the questions on the test, which Milleia got stuck on:

‘In your own words, write what you think the definition of society is.’

I don't know.


A group of selfish people is called a ‘society’.

Aren't they the same? I don't care. They don't care. We just happen to be thrown in a box together. I am not an ant. They are not an ant. We only work towards a common goal but not an ant.

What is the element next to Boron? How many times have they put this in already? It's like every ten, twenty questions have Carbon as answer. Was Carbon even the correct answer?

My head hurts but it's clear.

What was it you dreamt of last night? I don't know. Do ants dream? Wait. I'm not an ant. They were. They are. They will.



It was the pain of losing someone. More like the mourning that came after.


It means oven-roasted in ancient Japanese. Do they have ovens there? In heaven.



Carbon. Carbon. Carbon. Carbon. Car. Carbon. Bon. Carbon.


The taste of iron. Drinking blood feels like drinking iron juice. Viscous iron juice.

Flashes of light. Then darkness again. 0522? What's the answer to that question?




A shockwave blew the moment he swung his buster sword. The rebels and the examiners were all crushed or simply flew a few meters back. Thanks to the dimness, the human art made of broken bodies and blood-painted debris weren't as visible.

“Yo,” a laid back man wearing a feral dog mask waved at him.

They're both huge, but the swordsman hadn't any signs of prosthetic on his heavily scarred arms and face. The dog mask scanned him but he appeared to just be a normal human. The strength needed to be able to wield such crude weapon however… it was a story of its own.

“Thanks for taking care of the rioters this time,” he said. “Oh, and for my boys back there too.”

The swordsman stood there, looking only at his direction but not to him.


“The hell?! The bullet didn't even go throu—” The one who shot didn't have time to either reaction nor finish his sentence as he was turned into a pulp as the greatsword crashed down on him as quickly as his shot.

The dog mask couldn't believe it. It's like watching something from a movie. No one should be allowed to move that fast. One frame he's there, then the other, he's there. Teleport? He heard things like those being employed above, but even during his short time there, he hadn't seen any technology like that.

Cheating. It felt like this guy was cheating at life in real-time.


This city… with your hands…

He whistled. “Damn. Add that guy to your tab.”

The man didn't respond.

“Not trained enough for chatter, I see. Why did you surrender if you could move like that? Making a mockery of the law?”

He only answered by assuming a stance.

“Heh, now that's a language I could get by.”

A nameless swordsman who only got named Nine. He was taking out the gangs for years now albeit with an unusual pattern, or a rather erratic one. He would strike one day and the next months after, there'd be nothing from him. The police intelligence went nuts trying to crack his rationale or the message he wanted to convey with all the appearances he did—‘appearances’ because he didn't kill all the time. There were times he just did rather pointless stuff like hijacking a supply container and leaving it open with all the security suffering a few bruises but no death. Even some gangs got the same treatment sometimes unfortunately, as fickle as his reasoning might be, the same group he spared one time would be brutally turned to a bloody pulp the next.

“Oh, by the way. Since I have manners and stuff, I'm Wahshiun. Could you at least tell me your name, Codename Nine?”

Nine responded with a direct blow. Wahshiun evaded in time, but his cloak got torn so he's already laying bare his weapons. Having no choice, he whipped out a police standard-issue baton. The gun was useless anyway, and he trusted this piece of metal more than anything… or perhaps one thing came close to that.

Nine didn't hesitate and closed in, giving no room for the dog mask to counter. With the distance though, it's impossible to swing the giant sword.

“What the—”

Nine's elbow barely connected to him but he felt he'd be dead if it did. Crushed sternum and a couple of ribs going by the angle. However, an awkward misstep also let him send a hit in. Unfortunately, it didn't do anything but tap his side.

Wahshiun felt that every millisecond of his experience was being called to every atom of his body. Two consecutive dodges of uncertainty if he'd be able to live to the next blow. He found himself smiling underneath the mask.

“How long has it been since the last I've felt this threatened? Ahh, and that pathetic strike. Sorry for that, but you're too strong anyone would feel happy just to be able to do that.”

Nine hoisted his greatsword at his back and indicated he'd prefer fighting barehanded instead.

“Giving handicaps now, huh,” Not when my limbs were already damaged by those dodges. “Thanks, and don't mind me if—I went all out!”

This time, he lunged straight at Nine who prepared for him. A left hook in. He ducked and thrust the baton to his chest. The thing about his weapon was he could push a button and it becomes electrically charged. And he did just that.

However, since he knew he's fighting someone stronger, Wahshiun followed it up with a couple of punches to the core now that Nine was unable to react for a few seconds. Apparently, shock still works on him.

Nine staggered three steps back. He smirked.

But Wahshiun was far from over. Having stabbed his neck by his trump card with one hand while firing some shots from his gun with the other, he then continued beating up the criminal before him. Any point his fist hit didn't matter to him. The head, the chest, the groin, as long as he could slip a hit in, he punched and kneed relentlessly.

Soon enough, his prosthetics got worn out and started chipping off.

“Not yet!!” He injected another dose. And another.

The one-sided brawl seemed no so true when taking into account the amount of drugs he took just to be able to visibly inflict damage. Also, his continued contact with an electrocuted body wore his machine limbs faster too.

A mixture of rain, sweat, blood, and machine oil pooled beneath the two. When Wahshiun's prosthetic arm finally got busted, he switched to punching literally single-handedly.

For this city, I—!!


I'll defeat anyone threatening order… the order the law—we maintained.

Soon enough, he got tired and the assault finally saw an end. Nine was brought on a knee but that's about the extent of his all-out attack.

“Huff… well I'll be damned… huff… huff…” Wahshiun had torn all the muscles on his body due to overdosing the Qu Co medicine. It didn't hurt though. It seemed his nervous system got done in too. Funny, since he warned one hoodlum a few weeks back that the effects of using the drug outside prescription was lethal but he overdid himself and used up the five shots he had with him before he realized. Naturally, the aftereffects would hit him sooner and with increased intensity. “Practice what you preach, huh…”

Nine stood up like nothing happened. Sure, he got beaten up quite badly, but some bruises and cuts were far from his definition of injury. He towered over the policeman.

The feral dog mask wasn't as imposing anymore. He just laid there, waiting for the death blow.

He just passed by the half-dead dog. It would be a waste of time to strike down someone who's at death's door anyway.


Nine stopped. It's just courtesy at this point.

“Can't… let… pass…”

He decided to leave. However, there's one problem: he couldn't move his foot. Apparently the officer gripped his leg with force he couldn't break free from.

Wahshiun gave a grin that could be mistaken as something weird the face made when all its muscles spasmed. Sorry pal, I have a duty to fulfill, that expression said it all.

Sure enough, no matter how hard he pulled, he wouldn't let go. Even when he ended up dragging the guy, he refused to let go.

Give up, if you know what's good for you. Of course, my answer would be no. The two conversed without words.

I have a city to protect, Wahshiun repeated in his head over and over as if some mantra. It had always been his oath even before he and his Merchandise gave up the Fair for a more stable city. There existed people like that. Those who knew from the get go they weren't cut out for the Madonna race.

His grip tightened. “Hey… can you at least tell me… why did he have to… die..?”


“Ten… years… ten years ago…”

Ah, he wouldn't remember. Of all the people he killed, he'd have no time remembering each and every one. One wouldn't remember all the mosquitoes they swatted, that's the same for heinous criminals.

As usual, Nine answered in actions. He tensed up his leg and, after building up all energy to it, released it in a powerful stride.

Wahshiun felt something ripping apart from his arm but lacked the necessary strength to even let out a scream. He couldn't protect the city. He'd just be seeing his trusted partner… his brother-in-arms in shame as he went out in the most pathetic way.

I guess this is it, buddy…

Why did you decide to enlist? They've been asked that question numerous times, even by their enemies, but the answer was so simple.

Because it had to be done, and not spoken.

Nine approached the lone survivor—a black-haired girl who watched them. Her gray uniform indicated she's one of the entrance ceremony's participants, and the demon mask she wore made clear who she was. In fact, if not for that item, Nine could've killed her already. He might've broken some of her bones though.

The girl seemed to look at him as he loomed over her, his figure enough to send ordinary people in shock. She held onto her injured arm but she appeared to be calm.

Nine removed the other item on his back. It was covered in dirty cloth but its size and shape were enough to determine what it was.

“Your mother wants you to inherit this,” His voice was low, like a rumbling, or a guttural murmur.


“Also, the favor. This is part of your test.”


Milleia's mind still was fuzzy with everything that happened. Her arm was screaming pain due to having it's first wound. Even the sting from injections weren't this bad.

She slowly reached out her hand to touch the pole. Cold.


It's cold.

Perhaps after getting soaked in the rain, the steel pole felt electric. No. It wasn't something like that. It felt familiar. Something she had longed for all her life. Something… even Blank—even Von wouldn't know.

For some reason, it smelled like…


Milleia found herself hugging it dearly as if a child that finally got what she wanted.

Are you satisfied now? Is this the end?


She thought the thing spoke. It must've been her head. Yes. It couldn't be. After all, she had no idea what her mother looked like.

Nine waited until Milleia had the strength to stand up. Her knees still trembled, but she should be fine now.

“Say,” she said, untying the linen and revealing a long sword. “I have to be able to use this katana, right? To pass the test.”

She tried unsheathing it but failed. Apparently, it's possibly stuck or its intended usage was sheathed, the latter was impractical of course. The sheath wasn't the standard tube, rather it's a rectangular prism. It's felt like carrying a sword stuck in a bulky bar of steel.

So, I needed to be the valiant knight who'd unsheathe this sword, huh.

“Know yourself first. That's most likely how she'd phrase it.”

“You seem to know Mom, huh. Where is she? I thought she died long ago? Or did you…”

He chucked the buster sword on his shoulder and beckoned her with a finger, as if saying to find out for herself.


Milleia resigned to the fact she couldn't pull it out so she used the sword as a blunt weapon. She needed to drive this guy back. She now understood if not for that favor thing he said, she might've been a goner already.

Still, for something long, this one sure is light. She could deliver strong attacks without her realizing it. Nine only held out his greatsword with the intention of parrying everything.

Pwing! Sparks flew as two blunt objects clashed. Despite having no actual combat experience, Milleia held her ground. True, Nine might've been holding back, but she did well to not get her strikes affected by the intimidating aura consuming her. One swing from Nine would end her. She didn't care.

One more hit and she fell back. The handle felt hot. It was heating up when she attacked but it's a little too hot to touch now. However, faintly… ever so faintly, Milleia could see it.

A figure.

She tried unsheathing it again, and much to her surprise, it still wouldn't budge.

Nine on the other hand, went ahead and closed in without warning. With his speed, Milleia had not time to get out of the way, but since she expected that, she lifted up the sword to block.

PIIINNNGG! The greatsword slid to the side after getting deflected.

She also felt it. Aside from the ringing of her bones, Milleia felt it again.

I think… I think I have an idea now.


“Do you want to take me seriously now?”

Fianchetto was worried about the situation near the central pillar, but this stubborn guy before him wouldn't go down even if he shoved a truckload of lead on him.

Due to an error, his dominant hand got injured because of this punk. However, he wasted an entire clip of his handgun yet he still wouldn't go down. What the hell is with this guy?

The masked entity with a lotus design pointed his dagger to him. “I'll ask again: where the hell did you take Lian Mao?”

Fianchetto gave a weak laugh. “If I told you, then what? No one could save her now.”

“Hah, you just think no one can because you never dared.”

“And? You could do it with holes in your body. You're almost dead, dude. When the adrenaline surge wanes you'd be dead before you know it.”

“Your point?”

Flash! Something whizzed past the masked man and before he knew it, his cover was blown.

“Figures,” Fianchetto looked at him with condescending eyes as he tried hiding his identity. “You're the very reason why she became like that,” He pulled the trigger in rapid succession, however, he didn't actually aim for him. The bullets ricocheted in a confusing manner.

The bullets grazed his arms, shoulder, thigh, everywhere. The bullets seemed to be immortal too; ricocheting into an infinite loop with Fianchetto firing a supplemental shot to replenish their energy every now and then.

“Oioioi, what's the matter? Cat got your tongue?” Fianchetto taunted. “Can't even try moving a muscle huh, Von?”

“Khh—!!” So he's that guy, he thought. He had a vague nagging at him before that they're being watched. Turned out he wasn't wrong. Well, the man gave off bodyguard vibes when he tailed them, and he also felt that he knew he was following them but for some reason let him go.

This time however, he had full intention on killing—no, torturing him. The bullet dance was so effective because of their position. Von cursed his impatience. If only he let him take up the vantage point then he wouldn't be able to setup this deadly gimmick. To be honest, even during that time he's been using that handgun, Von got hit a couple of times which could've been the end, but his intuitions were spot on every time that's why he didn't suffer too much damage. His chest still burned though.

Von gritted his teeth and endured. His mouth tasted blood. He wasn't finished yet. “As expected of the right-hand man of the Lotus clan. You sure liked torture.”

“I'll take that as a compliment,” He reloaded his pistol.


Despite the rain, the bullet dance never missed its mark and kept on grazing and grazing Von. A bar, a pipe, a barrel, some metal parts from previous settlements, everything a bullet might bounce off was used. Fianchetto learned this extraordinary feat in order to survive.

Help no one and expect none from them.

“Hey, big brother,” He remembered Mao tugging her brother's sleeve and pointing to him. “I need him.”

Then, I shall be of use to you until my last breath, princess.

“Ready to die now, punk—!?”

This time, it's his turn to see a flash of light. Something hit his hand that he involuntarily let go of the pistol. As if the spell was broken, the bullets also lost direction and got stuck through the concrete.


Von didn't let the chance slip by and charged straight to him and before Fianchetto could react—


—he was sent flying in the air.

Von's prosthetic arm was basically metal and despite the sharp pain shooting from his shoulder due to the cold, he managed to land a direct hit on the gunner. A straight to the face.

His dagger landed quite a ways and it was a pain to retrieve it. Besides, he still have to beat some sense into this guy.

“Stop being a dick and let me help Master.”

“Kill me.”

“What the—”


“Bastard!” He grabbed him by the collar and punched but this time, Von used his mortal hand. Soon enough, Fianchetto's swollen face was dyed crimson.

“You say that… cough… yet you barely know me…”

“Yeah, you're right. But I know enough to see you're a pussy who couldn't even save a person even if you could!”

A force from the left knocked Von over. Fianchetto fought back. “Well, if you lived on that hell long enough, you'd be as useless as me! You fucking Commoner wouldn't understand! The princess..! The princess was..!”

The one who's saving me.

All those years, she never once showed a sad face to Fianchetto. When he asked her, she just replied, “I want you to get used to happiness now until you could smile for yourself. That's why I needed you. So that I can try to be strong in the face of someone else.”

No, princess. You don't even need me. You're strong already.

“I said. I can't!”

Von stopped his punch. “That's why I will. Because no one would.”


Von crashed his head into Fianchetto's chin in a headbutt. With how weak the gunner was, he passed out.

After putting him to some shelter, Von snatched one item he always procured. Wearing the mask, he performed the hacking procedure once more.

“So that's where they took her,” He picked up his dagger and destroyed Fianchetto's mask with it. “I'm coming, Master.”


Her hands burned. Milleia got the general idea but she still couldn't get the timing right. Unfortunately, Nine was already serious and had been clear that he'd crush her that's why she was on the defensive.

Defend the central pillar was the second part of the test. In her fuzzy memory, she reckon the next part was a free-for-all against a mob of high-profile criminals. The participants' survival and tactical knowledge would be put to use in a life-or-death scenario. Who knew the Madonna survived one of these?

Perhaps she's just unfortunate enough to land on the age of the most dangerous guys. The good thing was Nine killed them all, but the fact that he still existed was a bad thing on a different scale.

Milleia got used to deflecting his swings while suffering minimal damage from it. Sure, she got flying from one place to another but with a weapon this light and obedient—or not so obedient—she could stab it to the ground to mitigate injury.

A few scrapes. She couldn't believe how a single piece of weaponry drastically changed the outcome. How did her mother get this sword anyway?

Whenever Nine tried a downward swing, she'd shift her weight and angle the weapon to redirect it sideways. For swings though, she'd let herself fly and use the sword as brakes. If she didn't resist, the shockwaves didn't hurt as much. The key was to try getting hit when there's no obstacle behind her. She avoided getting thrown in the air or getting grabbed because that's game over.


It heated up again, she thought. Maybe I'd try holding the tsuka when I parry. Maybe unsheathing it will be possible by then.

Nine went for an upward swing this time, spraying debris on her. When she's distracted, he was already high up in the air, ready to smash her like an insect.

Milleia's body froze. This was the moment, the perfect opportunity to test her hypothesis.

Her throat burned. No. Milleia felt she's burning up. However, her focus was on the tip of that buster sword, the moment it would connect with the sheath.

Here it comes!


What Milleia often heard as time slowing down during intense fights were true. It seemed time really did slow down by a noticeable scale. The spark of metals clashing, the greatsword sliding to one side as she redirected its course, the flames that appeared that were supposedly too quick for an eye to see, dust and droplets of rain, molecules of her breath as it fogged, everything was vividly seen by her naked eye.

The tsuka!

Right. She needed to try unsheathing the sword at that moment. When the heat was at its peak…


It felt like cutting through space itself. Perhaps due to her synapses firing full throttle, she actually saw a single line that divided the two halves of reality.

Milleia saw the world get sliced.

The worst part was, she actually did it.


The impact from the blow destroyed the already busted ground, creating a huge crater with them at the epicenter. The cloud of dust quickly dissipated due to the rain, but the two were unmoving; Nine still had his sword impaled to the ground while Milleia at her parrying stance.

“One flash,” she muttered, a line of clear liquid ran from her cheek. For the first time, she shed tear for someone she haven't even met.

Nine didn't move anymore after that.