Chapter 17:


Burned Out Heroes

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Karen whispered as if appealing to a higher power.Bookmark here

Her father was in combat on the surface. She knew exactly why: to rescue her. He was fighting to save her.Bookmark here

“...!”Bookmark here

Karen was alone in the base’s control room.Bookmark here

Panels old enough to be considered antiques lined the reinforced walls around her. The only way in or out was through a blast-proof door. Karen had been told to wait in here because it was “the safest place for her,” but it did not feel that way. In fact, Karen would have felt safer exposed to gunfire than hiding in this metallic box.Bookmark here

“No...”Bookmark here

She could not escape. Every violent shake made her gasp in fear the ceiling would come crashing down. Worse, her legs cramped up every time the thought of getting out of her chair crossed her mind.Bookmark here

Karen wanted to return to 01’s side this instant, but the knowledge that her presence would only hold him back anchored her to the spot.Bookmark here

“...This is all my fault.”Bookmark here

Her being in the facility not only forced her father and the soldiers into battle, there was no guarantee the refugees taking shelter here would make it through the ordeal.Bookmark here

Every death, every wound her father suffered, all of it was on her shoulders.Bookmark here

“...Another one is gone.”Bookmark here

As old as the surveillance system was, several aspects were still functional. With her arbiterial power restored, Karen was able to get a general idea of what was unfolding on the surface.Bookmark here

A three-sided brawl was taking place above ground.Bookmark here

The Ryusei-kai clashed with the Resistance, and 01. It seemed their latest humiliation at the hands of the Resistance was the last straw, but they could not have chosen a worse time to get retribution.Bookmark here

“-?!”Bookmark here

A shockwave rocked the control room as yet another heat signature disappeared.Bookmark here

The battle up top was reaching a climax. All sides possessed enough firepower to hold their own, but it was only a matter of time before the scales tipped beyond the point of no return.Bookmark here

The Ryusei-kai had unleashed their prized archetype weapons in an attempt to trample the Resistance underfoot. A damaged reputation severely weakened their influence Outside. Even if false rumors of the Ryusei-kai being betrayed and not settling the score managed to get out, they could not be ignored.Bookmark here

However, this scuffle was not without merits for the Resistance. Under the current circumstances, the Ryusei-kai’s ambush was the best thing that could have happened.Bookmark here

Reason being, they were moments away from having to face 01 by themselves. While Number 10 could have stood their ground, a great deal of soldiers would have met their end.Bookmark here

The Ryusei-kai was by no means their ally, but it was all the same to 01. They attacked and he followed suit. Attacking a powerful enemy in large groups was more efficient, and that was just what they intended to do.Bookmark here

“...I have to go. If I leave, Dad can fight at full strength.”Bookmark here

Fear would not solve anything. Those words in her heart, Karen convinced herself to get up.Bookmark here

Chances were 01 was fighting on two fronts. No matter how strong 01 was, he would never make any progress if he could only engage a limited number of enemies at the same time.Bookmark here

“If only I weren’t here...”Bookmark here

The solution was crystal clear. If 01 disabled his limiters, the battle would end.Bookmark here

It would already be over had he started the battle at maximum output. He left the limiters in place to ensure his daughter was not caught up in the carnage.Bookmark here

Thus, he could unleash his full power once he knew Karen was a safe distance away. That way, no one else would get mixed up in this mess.Bookmark here

“...First things first, I have to get out of here.”Bookmark here

“-Are you going somewhere?”Bookmark here

A voice echoed into the room just as she decided to get to her feet. It was a kind voice, one that had no place on a battlefield and one that Karen knew.Bookmark here

“”Bookmark here

“...You don’t seem all that surprised.”Bookmark here

The mask tucked under her arm belonged to Number 10, the leader of this Resistance. It had stood out like a sore thumb in the file of information they had received at the very beginning.Bookmark here

“I considered the possibility... I thought it was too risky for the senator to take on that kind of role himself...”Bookmark here

“Yes, and again, I’d expect nothing less from 01’s daughter. I’m sorry if you think I tricked you, but I didn’t want to put you on your guard...”Bookmark here

The regret in her voice was palpable, and genuine. Number 10’s zeal and fiery passion were completely concealed.Bookmark here

“...And, I’m sorry things worked out like this.”Bookmark here

“...Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be supporting your followers on the surface?”Bookmark here

The accusing tone in Karen’s voice was purely incidental. She did not intend to admonish Erde. However, something about her actions did not sit well with Karen.Bookmark here

“The invitation was rejected and we reached an impasse. We were going to abandon this place either way, so I came to collect you.”Bookmark here

“As a hostage...? Because you’re afraid of my father...?”Bookmark here

“Well, you’re not wrong. Besides, there’s still a chance and I’d like to keep it.”Bookmark here

Answered Erde with open honesty, acknowledging that yes, she was a hostage, and yes, Karen was only a tool to her. There was no animosity, this was simply the truth.Bookmark here

“Plus, I might convince you to join up even if your father doesn’t come around.”Bookmark here

“Why would I...?”Bookmark here

“Can you really say you won’t? You belong with us, actually.”Bookmark here

“Based on what...?”Bookmark here

“-You hate this world, don’t you?”Bookmark here

“-!”Bookmark here

She wanted to deny it, but the words would not come. The very inner workings of her mind were laid bare, a feeling of vulnerability like she had never felt before. Erde knew things she had kept buried deep to hide them from herself.Bookmark here

“I can tell just by looking at your eyes. They’ve seen horrid things, just like mine. So many things to hate.”Bookmark here

“I-I’m not like you! I-I’m-”Bookmark here

“What point is there in clinging? You’re disgusted by the vile people you’ve seen, the way this world works, repulsed by how it does whatever it pleases. That hate is never going away.”Bookmark here

Erde’s words snaked their way in Karen’s mind, constricting her ability to think logically. The kind empathy she had shown was now drowning out any resistance by force. Bookmark here

“Your father is exactly the same. He’s fighting on the wrong side right now, but it’s only a matter of time before it dawns on him. After all, right is on our side, not theirs.”Bookmark here

“...Right...”Bookmark here

“Which means that you should stand with us. For your father’s sake as well as your own.”Bookmark here

Karen could tell she was being deceived. Unfortunately, her constrained heart believed every word Erde spun.Bookmark here

“Oh, and I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for you. So, I’m taking you with me whether you like it or not.”Bookmark here

“-!”Bookmark here

Erde reached out and caressed Karen’s cheek. Even through her black gloves, Karen felt the anamnesis within their bodies resonate to the same hot pulse. However, she was helpless to stop it.Bookmark here

“I... I...”Bookmark here

“You don’t have to resist. Just let it happen. There’s nothing to worry about. Follow my orders and everything will solve itself.”Bookmark here

Her body would not budge. Fingertips, chilled to the bone as if overtaken with sleep paralysis. Every fiber of her being cried out to escape but no sound came.Bookmark here

A muddy stream of memories that were not her own flowed into the deepest corners of her mind.Bookmark here

Two corpses within a burning house, a hand offered in the middle of a dirty alleyway, the Soul Settler’s monument towering overhead.Bookmark here

Becoming less and less herself, Karen’s consciousness melted away like ice on a hot summer’s day. Erde’s was overwriting it.Bookmark here

A sudden tremor alerted what was left of her that the battle was drawing near. Either the Ryusei-kai had found a way into the underground base or 01 was looking for her. Whatever the case, they could not stay in this room much longer.Bookmark here

“-You’re mine now. You are me, and I am you.”Bookmark here

With those words, the implication was complete.Bookmark here

Consciousness pinned between the harmonic resonation of their anamnesis, Erde’s suggestive hypnosis had a stranglehold on Karen’s mind. The technique she had once honed for interrogations worked perfectly.Bookmark here

“Now, we should be on our way. Victory is close at hand.”Bookmark here

“”Bookmark here

Erde’s hand took hold of her wrist and pulled her to her feet. Those few sounds were the last resistance Karen could muster. What little cognition she still possessed activated her arbiterial power.Bookmark here

Digitizing every memory swirling around in her brain, Karen zipped them all into a message. There was no guarantee it would ever reach the recipient, but she sent it all the same and hoped for the best.Bookmark here

“-System: all green. Beginning transmission.”Bookmark here

The last sound she registered was the automated response from the comm. Then, as if in a far away dream, Karen could have sworn she heard the hum of an open warp portal.Bookmark here

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