Chapter 14:

Final Confrontation

The Underwriters

Imagine falling off of a tree or cliff. The initial stumble while desperately trying to regain balance before gravity wins the battle. Fear and dread settle in as the sensation of falling begins. It feels as though the fall lasts for an eternity, but the ground rushes ever closer way too quickly.

For a brief moment, there is a pause. A reprieve as the person falling has a few branches or rocks right within their flailing grasp. Salvation is close at hand. In that space of time, the entire earth seems to hold its breath as it waits to see if the person can fight against fate. It waits to see if the falling individual will grasp onto safety or if they will soon lose the battle. Hope and despair are pitted against each other in that brief second, trying to be the final victor in a short-lived battle.

Hibiki felt that she was stuck frozen in time in a similar pause with two options before her. Either Minear would hold the key to salvation or it would be the final desperate struggle before the fall continues.

Unlike the little whispers of life still remaining in the most decrepit parts of Wellington, the only whisper audible in Minear were the gasps of those who had long since given up. Cobwebs, tumbleweeds, and the stench of despair were everywhere Hibiki looked. Luckily, the trio did not have to stay in town for long before reaching the forest.

"I don't like it here. I don't like it here at all, Yui."

"I know, little bird. I know. The sooner we can find this shed, the better. Tomoe is also trying to find any traces of a ReBilt Industries factory in town."

Shivers seemed to leak from Hibiki's bones as goosebumps dotted her dark skin. She felt like a prey animal, keenly aware of her predator's eyes watching her closely. This entire area just felt off. Even Maya was startlingly quiet.

Branches crackled underneath their feet as they got closer to the 'ghost voices' from the article. Hearing some mumbles close by, Hibiki brought her hearing close to the max before looking in Yui's direction.

"I can hear voices. I didn't think they were ghosts, but I didn't expect it to be more of Mr. West's men, either. It sounds like there are only two of them, though."

Yui bit the tip of her thumb while coming up with a plan in her head. Seeing Maya's plump body coming into view, she called to her.

"Maya? Do you think you can go lure those two away while Hibiki and I do some searching?"

"Maya can help! I'll go now." With a joyful flutter at being useful, Maya assimilated into the woods.

Hibiki strained her ears and waited before she heard two pairs of feet chasing after a mysterious intruder. Once the coast was clear, she grabbed Yui's arm and pulled her to where she had heard the guards standing.

Nestled behind a row of obviously fake trees came a rotting old building. Unlike the shining metal and wire of the surrounding vegetation, the warehouse in front of them was clearly made of wood and rusted metal. Since real wood had long ago become extremely rare, it was obvious just how ancient the building truly was.

"Do you think Mr. West built this? It can't be, right? Wood has been too rare to build with for centuries."

Reading Hibiki's latest message, Yui continued walking to the warehouse entrance before responding. "It has probably been here for centuries and he just repurposed it. A smart decision since no one would expect such valuable materials to be here."

There was a brand new electric lock on the door in stark contrast to the rest of the building's appearance, but Yui paid it no mind at all. Instead, she grabbed the entire device in her fist and squeezed it once. Crumbs and dust were all that was left when she opened her fist. The two moved quickly since there was no telling when the guards would return.

Inside of the building was a cramped series of shelves and cabinets. Splitting up, Yui took care of searching the left side of the room while Hibiki went over to the right. To save on time, Hibiki looked for any file names or newspaper headlines that seemed important.

Time was ticking as Hibiki could just barely begin to hear the guards start to walk back in their direction. She guessed that they still had less than 20 minutes before they got caught, but she still increased her pace. Skimming page after page, a wilted newspaper clipping fell out of one dusty folder and fell to the floor.

Hibiki bent down and picked up the clip before stopping. Her entire body felt cold as her very veins seemed to drip with ice upon reading the words before her. Silently, she turned to the other side of the room to walk over to Yui.

"Fatal Accident at ReBilt Factory! Ten Killed by Crazed Bot! Factory To Be Closed Permanently."

Taking the yellowed piece of paper, Yui clenched a fist. The article itself was rather short, despite the pointed headline. Only a few brief sentences were needed to explain what had happened after all.

The workers worked overtime under the direction of their boss, Mr. Van DerBilt West, as he worked to corner the market on generic robotic replacement parts. They were rushed to begin production on a new line of accessory parts and a security bot was sent to oversee the work under Mr. West's direction.

A faulty bot bought refurbished by a cheapskate boss. Failed systems overriding all safety mechanisms allowing for a massacre. The deaths of many, including a man with a young son, Shane Wilder.

Feeling a pull on her arm, Yui allowed Hibiki to pull her outside of the building. She ignored Hibiki's confusion as she pulled a replacement lock out of her pocket and placed it on the door behind her.

They retreated into the woods right before the guards caught them where she finally explained.

"I figured if we were going to explore a warehouse or shed that we might run into some troubles with locks."

Keys were smashed one after the other as Hibiki began to send Yui another message. Her fingers trembled while thinking about what they had found out. Hibiki kept typing over and over but kept making typos in her rage. Just as she got frustrated and was about to give up, a large hand covered hers.

Yui leaned over to read what Hibiki had tried to write and understood her feelings exactly.

"I understand why Tri is so angry now. He wanted to get revenge for what happened to his dad. Since Mr. West took his dad away, he wanted to take Mr. West's daughter away. It's sick. So many people hurt, and for what?"

"I know, but Seela is innocent in all of this. We need to focus on finding her. I don't think Tri would have been satisfied just killing her and not saying anything. It would have been all over the internet by now."

Walking to a tree sculpture, Hibiki leaned against the cool metallic bark and thought about Yui's words. Although she could feel anger making her body tremble at the injustice, she also felt her stomach twist at the reminder of the innocent Seela caught up in her father's wrongdoings.

Steps traced her path before a pair of boots stopped in front of her sneakers. Yui didn't rush Hibiki to hurry on and get over her emotions. Instead, she waited by the tree for her to take the time she needed before they moved on.

It was Maya's return that prompted Hibiki into action. She moved away from the tree and took a deep breath. Blowing out all of the air in her lungs released the remaining tension in her body and gave her the clarity she needed.

"They're at the factory, aren't they?"


"Why hasn't Mr. West done anything yet? He must have figured it out way before us."

"Honestly? He was probably hoping that Tri would take out Seela before his men eliminated Tri."

Maya rubbed her head against Hibiki's neck as the girl opened and closed her fists. Hibiki pulled her pigtails to the side before confirming, "But she's his daughter? Is he really that committed to no one finding out about the factory that he would sacrifice her?"

"I think you already know the answer to that Hibiki. Tri has definitely told Seela everything by now and Van DerBilt West can't take the risk of anything being revealed."

"We need to stop them. Both."

"And we will. Are you ready?"

"Yes. Let's end this. For Seela. And for Shane Wilder." Hibiki knew Yui was taken aback by her last sentence, but she felt it was true. Shane was a hardworking man just trying to take care of his son. No doubt, he wouldn't want an innocent girl younger than his precious child to get hurt.


The trio wandered around town one last time while waiting for the factory location from Tomoe. Now that the truth was out, the atmosphere of loss and decay made more sense. Grief was palpable in every corner of the area. Heaven's answer to this grief began to fall from the sky as the grey clouds that had been building up for hours erupted. Soaked by the rain, Hibiki and Yui sought out the closest nearby cover. It just so happened that they walked into the back of the factory right when Tomoe pinged them with the location.

A certain bird was screeching at having her beautiful feathers ruined by water while Hibiki consoled her. Bird and owner alike waited for Commander Yui to finish typing out a message. Satisfied with the received response, she began the charge into the factory. Crates of outdated elbows, knees, and arms were further ruined by the avalanche of water. Yet, everything was quiet. The rain made it hard for Hibiki to completely keep an ear out for any enemies, so the two were completely caught off guard when Mr. West's hired hitman surrounded them.

"You certainly didn't make it easy for us. That's for damn sure. I'm gonna have fun breaking that little fighting spirit of yours." Huge muscles larger than Hibiki's head walked before the pair. These muscles were accompanied by the smirk of a man whose head definitely was far too small for his enormous body.

Hibiki looked back and forth between the man and Yui, waiting for her commander to kick his ass. But Yui did the exact opposite and made no move. Right when the man thought he had them scared and began to swing, a not as huge but still very large fist caught the muscle head off guard.

Standing over the now crumbled wall of beef stood an equally impressive woman with large muscles. Her height exceeded that of even Yui. With a mohawk’d head and statuesque build, she seemed the epitome of brawn. Just like Mayumi, the warrior woman's image also collapsed once she saw something worth fangirling over. And that something was Hibiki.

"Oh, my gosh. Look at that little cutie! She's even smaller than Mayumi. How can someone be so small and cute? Hello, little one. My name's Jun."

Jun was mid-ramble when Yui stopped her and gestured towards the now paralyzed group of mercenaries.

"I'll do introductions later, Jun. Just keep these guys off of us."

"No problem! I look forward to talking to you more tiny one."

Yui redirected Hibiki's attention as the sound of fist meeting flesh began to clutter the soundscape. Hibiki did her best to ignore the pleas for mercy behind her as they finally made their way to the factory door.

"You ready?"

There was no need to look in Yui's direction. Behind that door, Hibiki could feel time ready to restart. This was their chance to grasp hold of safety and stop the fall in its tracks. And nothing was going to get in Hibiki's way.

"It's time."