He left the ruined white kitchen, but before he could reach the door, his knees gave out again. The strength left him, and all he could muster were the tears that had been eluding him since Ellie's death.
Roy… It's going to be okay. No matter what happens, I'll be here, okay?
Even if you kill, I'll be on your side. You wouldn't need Aesthetics, then.
And even if you die, you'll reach Heaven, with Ellie, Mrs. Baranov, and…
The door opened, and Gabi's gentle voice peeked in before her face. When she saw him, no more words were needed, and for a while she held him where he sat like a wilted plant.
Finally, he stood up on his own, thanked her, and they rejoined the others outside. The woman Felix saved, Sora, had woken up and regained her blue eyes, and was receiving all of their attention until they noticed Roy.
"Roy! Is Mrs Baranov…" Felix said, his voice cowering as he saw Roy's disheveled appearance. "Oh… I'm sorry, Roy. Our coworkers all died, too. And there's no telling who else… Roy, we have to make Ken pay for this."
"As much as I want to put all the blame on him, I think I understand what he wanted," Bian said as she finished tying Sora's hair back for her. "He's exposing Aesthetica's ugliness for the world to see. It's the kind of people that would jump to sacrificing pearls and quartzes that we should blame the most."
"I agree with Felix," Roy muttered, garnering Bian's frown. "Ken's motives aside, he's directly caused hundreds, maybe thousands of deaths. He knew what would happen if he broadcasted his baptism and showed everyone The Truth. Unless you believe we all belong in Heaven with the navis, then what he did is unforgivable."
"You're so self righteous," Bian said, hardening her glare. "Can't you look past your robotic moral compass for a second? I agree that Ken deserves to burn for what he's done, but right now we should look at what caused all of this. It's the system driven by the founders, and the elites who do their bidding to gain their own power. It's the navi system that was created to keep us under their thumb before herding us to our deaths."
"So what are you suggesting we do?" Roy asked.
"Use this opportunity to take out the founders, and the elites… The type of people who would lead a suffering girl to her death."
"Ellie was in pain," Gabi said, her lips quivering. "No matter what they did with her aesthetics, she made her choice because she knew the aesthetics were never going to heal her for good… She had the strength to put on a brave face long enough to make sure we were all going to be safe. Don't take that away from her by saying she was manipulated to her death…"
Roy gripped Gabi's shoulder, and she looked up with a weak smile, fighting her tears. "She's right, Bian. We all have our own choices to make, despite our navis. Despite aesthetics, and Aesthetica itself. But I agree with you— Father Gregory and the other founders, and the people who gain their red eyes through manipulation tactics… They all need to pay, too."
Bian nodded slowly, her eyes fluttering between him and Gabi. They finally left the cabin village, and took to the alleys once more. The closer they grew to the gate, the more people they saw running through the roads. And even when they picked up their pace, several orange eyes spotted them, and made chase.
"We need to hide before more join them," Roy said, but just too late. The chasing group grew to a dozen, and focused their burning eyes on the youngest among them, Gabi and Sora.
"They aren't even worried about each other," Felix said, shielding Sora with his arm as he ran next to her. "That must mean they're starting to listen to the avatar on TV."
"They already were targeting the quartzes and pearls," Roy said, biting his lip as he nudged Gabi ahead of him. "But they were still turning on each other. Now they're almost fully following instructions, even though they're deranged…"
"We're pretty close to the Rathskeller, let's lose them and hide there," Felix said, quickening their pace.
"That underground bar?" Roy asked, following suit. Felix nodded, and led them around several alleys until the pursuit lost some steam.
"They're out of sight, Felix!" Bian cried, and Felix pumped his fist and broke out into a sprint. They all forced their legs to match his pace, and followed him down the narrow staircase of the quaint cellar bar.
Felix threw the door open, and gasped. Roy squeezed in beside him, only to find four pairs of red eyes looking back at them. One of them stood up, her jaw falling.
"Roy… Felix!" she cried, but before she could rush to the door, the man in gray fatigues at her table leapt up and blocked her with his arm.
"There's more behind them. They could be leading orange eyes here."
"Sable?" Roy muttered, wide eyed as he looked over the small room to see one more soldier, gun ready, sitting next to another red eye in a suit. "Are you… guarding the Chie— no, Aldheim?"
"Yeah, lucky assignment for me," Sable replied with a chuckle. "I guess I was wrong about you getting Ken to his baptism, huh? But I don't think this is what you were going for, was it?"
Roy looked down, before frowning at Aldheim. "Aren't you hiding here? Why leave the door unlocked?"
"We were expecting more red eyes," she said, sitting down and fixing her hair. "I'm glad you two made it here. But your eyes are still green… Did you miss the broadcast?"
"Yeah," Felix said, stepping in and waving the others in. Sable raised his gun, but Roy lined up next to Felix with his hands raised. "Can we hide with you for a bit? Just until it looks like the group chasing us has passed."
"Yes, of course," Aldheim said, waving Sable down. "Please, sit." They nodded, and let the three women take the table next to Aldheim's, while they took the last empty table just behind theirs. Sable fetched them each a pint of water as they pulled their chairs out.
"Bian, you're safe?" the red-eyed man at the table behind Aldheim, freezing Bian.
"Egen?" Felix cried. "I didn't even see you… Wait, you had blue eyes the last time I saw you. Did you…"
"Manipulate someone to their death, and get a promotion just like Aldheim?" Bian said, glaring at Aldheim.
The men at the other table set their pitchers down, and gulped.
"Everyone, please sit," Aldheim said with a curt smile. Everyone slowly took their seats, Sable the last to do so once everyone had a pitcher of water in front of them.
"I don't think we've met, Bian," Aldheim replied. "You've worked with Egen in the past, haven't you? He was promoted to an amethyst after Felix's little hiccup, and made it to ruby shortly after. But I'm curious. What exactly are you trying to say?"
"Don't play dumb," Bian said, showing Aldheim her teeth. "You got your red eyes because you believe you caused Ellie's death, isn't that right?"
Aldheim winced, before meeting Roy's frigid gaze and sighing. "You've been sticking your nose into places it doesn't belong, haven't you, Roy? I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, after you spent all that time with Ken and those quartzes."
"Why?" Roy asked, his eyes going dry as he glued them to Aldheim's. "You knew I was working hard to get her into Aesthetica. To get both of them here. And now Ken's gone this far because of what you did to Ellie…"
"It's just the way things are, Roy," Aldheim replied, crossing her arms. "I thought you were smart enough to get yourself to the top. But it looks like you were too self-righteous in the end, and couldn't learn to pick your battles. I overestimated you… What a disappointment."
"Roy's just kinder than you," Gabi said, her cheek twitching just slightly.
"You're a new citizen," Aldheim said, squinting at her, and then Sora. "Instructions were for those like you to have been killed. Your deaths could mean an amethyst gets their red eyes instead of being killed by someone else. Roy, I'm keeping them here with us when you leave."
"That's not going to happen," Roy muttered, fists clenched as he stared at the full pitcher of water in front of him.
"It wasn't a request, Roy," she said, the soldiers shifting in their seats as their hands caressed their pistols.
His fists shook so hard the table began to rattle underneath its silverware. But before he could decide what to do, Felix stood up, his white knuckles pressed against the table so hard the rattling stopped.
"You people make me sick…" he said, his face beet red as he paced around the table, drawing Sable to grip his holstered gun. However, Felix walked by Aldheim, and stared at the other man, whose accompanying soldier readied his gun without hesitation.
"Egen, you're the reason my aesthetics were taken away when I was in confinement, aren't you? You were hoping I'd kill myself, and you'd get your red eyes, like Aldheim did. But you got purple eyes because I came back, which made you look good."
"It was my idea, Felix," Aldheim said, not taking her eyes off the shaking Roy. "He was just a topaz, so he needed my guidance to succeed."
"And he caught on quickly. Everyone of you gets ahead by manipulating those you're supposed to be serving. It makes me sick. And you're going to pay."
"Don't make me shoot," the soldier next to Egen muttered, while Sable watched.
"I'm not afraid anymore," Felix said, his voice shaking harder than Roy's fists. "I don't care what happens to me, as long as all of you pay."
"Felix, don't do this," Aldheim cried, but Felix took a step closer.
He's sacrificing himself so that I can get Gabi out of here…
It's either Felix or Gabi, then…
No… I can't let either of them die.
Roy, you have to let Felix be brave. He made his choice.
No… I can't have his blood on my hands.
The only other way is to take out Aldheim, Roy!
But we can't fight these soldiers!
You either do something or do nothing and let him do this!
Felix turned his head, and with a slight smirk, winked at Roy.
Get Gabi and Sora out of here, Roy.
Before Felix could reach the metal rod strapped to the inside of his belt, a pitcher of water shattered on the hardwood floor. Bian doubled over, coughing as if possessed.
"What the hell?" Sable cried as he lunged to her aid. Felix looked at her for a second, before whipping his head back around. However, when he did, the other soldier whipped his pistol across Felix's head, sending him crashing into Aldheim's table..
Sable, who was bent over Bian, turned at the commotion. When he did, Bian's cough disappeared, and she snatched the pistol from his holster.
The gunshot pierced the air with deafening force, making Roy's ears ring as he watched Aldheim's chair teeter over, her eyes as wide as the bullet hole in her chest.