Chapter 1:

The Soul Settler

Burned Out Heroes

“, please... up.”
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“...Hm?”Bookmark here

01’s eyes finally opened. It had taken several persistent calls to get this far, but he was wide awake in an instant.Bookmark here

“...You haven’t slept that soundly in ages.”Bookmark here

“I clearly underestimated this chair.”Bookmark here

Wiping his eyes in disbelief, 01 slowly climbed to his feet. The Neoclassical style chair had been built so well that even mechanical bodies like his could feel serenity in its embrace.Bookmark here

He couldn’t fathom what their hotel-sized room cost as a whole when a simple chair was that good. Picturing that much money coming out of his own pocket sent a twinge of pain through his head.Bookmark here

The room had two occupants, 01 and his partner.Bookmark here

“How long ‘til we land?”Bookmark here

“About 10 minutes. You asked me to wake you up when we get close, remember?”Bookmark here

“I did?”Bookmark here

Responded 01, feigning ignorance as his partner gave him an annoyed stare. She wasn’t interested in playing along with his usual song and dance, especially not when she was losing precious reading time to do it.Bookmark here

“How’s your first time in the sky, Karen?”Bookmark here

“...No complaints. I got to read at my own pace.”Bookmark here

01 didn’t seem all that interested in her response, but the girl called Karen gave him a curt answer anyway.Bookmark here

Both she and 01 hailed from the Far Eastern town of “Karen,” a name that literally meant “beauty.” She more than lived up to her namesake.Bookmark here

Long, white hair reminiscent of snow framed her perfectly symmetrical face. The maturity of a woman beyond her years resided within the visage of a girl who seemed flawlessly beyond human.Bookmark here

Indeed, human she was not. The golden glint in her eyes identified her for what she was, an arbiter with the ability to manipulate anamensis at will.Bookmark here

On the other hand, the only memorable aspects of 01 were his imposing build and the resolute air about him. His black hair and black eyes were identical to that of others from the Far East. His gait and posture identified him as ex-military, but nothing else could be gleaned from his appearance.Bookmark here

“As long as we’re here, you might as well take in the view outside. Can’t call it scenery, but it’s something special.”Bookmark here

“Oceans of clouds are visible any time on the net. Finding out who the Orphan Island Killer is more important to me right now.”Bookmark here

“Ah, well, if it’s bugging you that much, it’s... Kidding.”Bookmark here

01 was that close to spoiling the story when a sharp glare made him think better of it. No matter how much fun it was to tease the girl, angering her would do more harm than good.Bookmark here

“Right, then. I’m going to have a look. Nothing else to do.”Bookmark here

“10 minutes until we get there. If you don’t have anything to do... No, no poker. You can never tell a winning hand from a losing one.”Bookmark here

“Hey now, I did pretty darn well last time, didn’t I? Probably would’ve taken that pot, too, if I’d kept going.”Bookmark here

Boasted 01 with a grin full of confidence, both of which were tells that he was lying through his teeth.Bookmark here

“Not according to my calculations. Trying to bluff your way through with a hand of rags is reckless.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, it’s reckless, but so what?”Bookmark here

“...Remember what would’ve happened last week if I hadn’t been there?”Bookmark here

“...Fine. I’ll give up poker, cold turkey.”Bookmark here

Take her warning to heart, 01 awardly readjusted himself in the chair. He wasn’t the best liar to begin with, but he was downright horrible when Karen was involved.Bookmark here

“Put on some news, will you? It’d be nice to know what’s been happening on the island before we land.”Bookmark here

“... ‘Access - Start’...”Bookmark here

Karen gave the ruminative but unapologetic 01 a sideways glance before activating the room’s hologram screen.Bookmark here

“The Federation Army is making great strides preparing Memorial Park to host the ceremony marking five full years since the end of the Anamnesisian Conflict. In a public statement, Unification Minister Ohmura, who is in charge of security for the event, said that state of the art defenses will be in place on the day of the ceremony. This announcement is likely in response to the recent string of terrorist bombings...”Bookmark here

A holographic newscaster was explaining the security measures in place to protect an upcoming event that celebrated the official end of the war. The scope of the operation and units set to be deployed were all too familiar to 01. Bookmark here

“Welp, it was about time they got around to it.”Bookmark here

“...Nostalgic?”Bookmark here

“A bit, yeah...”Bookmark here

“......Do you miss it? The army.”Bookmark here

“Nah, not a bit. I’m not about to run back to them with my tail between my legs at this point. Missions were cut and dry in the army, but all the formality got old damn quick.”Bookmark here

“I see... I, for one, like the way things are now better...”Bookmark here

Acknowledging 01’s answer with a nod, Karen went back to the mystery novel in her hands without another word. She knew better than to pry when 01 used that tone.Bookmark here

“Yes... Things are better now. No question.”Bookmark here

Those words didn’t reflect the regret in 01’s eyes. Though, the pain wasn’t so great that he couldn’t have hidden it if he tried.Bookmark here

The past was like a scar. It would throb if given the chance. For 01, life was a series of chances like that.Bookmark here

“The Federation is looking for leads on ‘Number 10,’ the terrorist they think is behind the bombings. Anyone with information is requested to–.”Bookmark here

“...Seems nowhere is safe these days.”Bookmark here

“These days? Has anywhere been safe for the past 50 years?”Bookmark here

“Doubt it.”Bookmark here

Although the war ended five years ago, true peace only existed in memories. As far as 01 was concerned, the word “peace” was synonymous with an unattainable dream.Bookmark here

“Speaking of which, what are you going to do with your hair and eyes today? Please don’t go with pink like last time.”Bookmark here

“...Black, for both. I’d rather not stand out.”Bookmark here

01 grew bored of the news and changed the subject.Bookmark here

Though it didn’t matter one way or another while inside their room, it would behoove her to hide the fact she was an arbiter while on the island. Only a few thousand of her kind had ever been born since the first arbiter appeared some 50 years ago, making them a rare sight indeed. Not only their blood, but fingernails and hair would fetch a high price. Flaunting her identity was an open invitation to be attacked.Bookmark here

Five minutes until arrival. 01 was set, but Karen had preparations to make.Bookmark here

Of course, there was no need for her to re-dye her hair. It was easy enough to make a passable disguise by tinkering with the amansesis within her body.Bookmark here

“Though, green does look nice...”Bookmark here

“Stick with black... I’m gonna go take in the view. Comm me if something comes up.”Bookmark here

“Okay. Go enjoy yourself, Dad.”Bookmark here

Said Karen as 01 left the room. While he still wasn’t used to her calling him “Dad,” it was starting to grow on him.Bookmark here

01 and Karen started working together three years ago. They had reached the point they could sense what the other was thinking instantaneously.Bookmark here

The hallway within their flight vessel was quiet. No passengers other than 01 enjoyed looking at the blue sky so much that they would leave their rooms so close to arrival.Bookmark here

Only the loud beats of his heart reached his ears. 01 never would never have thought the vessel was airborne if he hadn't already known it was currently flying in the clouds 8000 m above sea level.Bookmark here

“...Air seems a bit thick.”Bookmark here

Passing through a heavily reinforced door, 01 stepped out onto a balcony protected by a transparent barrier. The balcony had been designed to provide a place for passengers to enjoy the scenery in mid flight, but 01 found it unnerving to see the top of the clouds but feel no wind on his face.Bookmark here

Then again, only the massive underbelly of the gigantic bird carrying them was visible overhead. The once mythical beasts known as Roc had been artificially brought to life and now were the backbone of aviation in this world.Bookmark here

Seeing such creatures was commonplace, especially for 01 who had seen his fair share over the course of his time fighting in the Anamnesisian Conflict.Bookmark here

“Just as bleak as it always was...”Bookmark here

01 spoke his mind as he looked down over the horizon.Bookmark here

New colors were starting to break through the white clouds as they began their descent, but he’d rather they didn’t.Bookmark here

A still-blue ocean, rare for the world as it was now, and an ashen gray island. Built from special alloys, the artificial structure had once been a massive military outpost.Bookmark here

The sixth iteration of “Noah’s Float” measured 40 km from end to end and had been dubbed the “Soul Settler.” This floating monument to the dead in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was their destination.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.