Chapter 2:

High Rise

Code: Zero Defect

My eyes feel heavy, but I can't close them. Just a few more seconds, and...

Suddenly, the alarm clock next to me began blaring. With a smack, it was silenced immediately.

"Sol!" Mother called from downstairs. "Are you awake?"

"Yeah," I mumbled just enough for her to hear.

"Breakfast is almost ready."

I threw my sheets to the side and lifted myself up. How much sleep did I get last night? I came home at around three past midnight, and it is now seven in the morning. Four hours, huh? That's par for the course.

After brushing my teeth, I slipped on normal attire. Nothing special. Just a fur coat over a plain white buttoned shirt and a pair of black pants.

I then stood in front of a mirror. From a hidden compartment under the sink, I pulled out a rolled-up parchment. I untied the knot that held it together and stuck it on the wall.

It reads, "WANTED Alive: Strider. Bounty of one million credits."

So they did increase my bounty. By a whole million, at that. Looks like the High Order is starting to see me as a considerable threat now. How... gracious of them. But if that is so, then they could at least update my picture.

Strands of my black hair fell as low as to my nose. I took a look in the mirror and pulled down my bangs. It reaches all the way down to my lower lip now.

Has so much time passed already? I guess it gives merit to how shitty the coatsmen are when they haven't caught me yet.

In the poster, my eyes seem to be uncolored. Looks like they don't even know something as simple as my eye color, which is a dark shade of red. 'Strider' only works at night, so I don't blame them.

I lowered my hand beneath the sink faucet and ran water through it. I then brushed my fingers through my hair so that it wouldn't dangle in front of my eyes the whole day, but... that never seems to work since my right eye is basically covered at all times.

"Sol!" Mother called again.

"Coming!" I said.

I grabbed my school bag and rushed downstairs. Even though I've lived in this house my entire life, I can never get used to how... 'grand' it is. Compared to what I've seen in the undercity, this place is loaded with lavish furniture and decorations.

I suppose that's what happens when your father is a general of the Queen's Guards. Mother never cared for any of that. The only thing she has ever wanted was for our family to be together. That hasn't happened in almost a decade.

I stopped at the sight of a small frame that contained a family photo. There stood Mother and Father, and goofing around in front of them were me and my older siblings, Nelia and Caelus.

That's right... We were always together before, but now, It's impossible.

"Sol?" Mother called from the end of the hallway.

I tilted over to see her peeking past the wall with a worried look. She knows what I'm looking at. She knows how I feel. She knows everything about me... except for the fact that I'm a criminal wanted by the High Order.

She walked over and gently held onto me while looking at the family portrait.

"Sometimes, I just wanna forget everything," I said. "That way... I won't have to feel like this every time I pass this photo."

"But if you forget, then how will you look back on all the wonderful memories we've made?" Mother asked soothingly.

I wanted to answer with a snarky retort, but I know how Mother feels. Her pain goes far beyond my own. Of the five members of this household, only two remain: me and her. I'm the last person she has, so I need to do my best to make her happy.

"You're right," I chuckled. "Sorry, I've been a bit... out of it lately."

"It's fine, my dear," she smiled. "We all have our moments. Now, why don't you eat so you can head off to school on a full stomach?"


We sat down at the table in the dining room. Ah, the same old breakfast that I've been eating since the dawn of my time. It's nothing too crazy. Two waffles cooked to perfection, a fried egg, and fried potato bites. Never gets old.

"Any news from Caelus?" I asked as Mother was washing some dishes.

"Hm... Nothing worth noting," she answered. "He's far beyond the walls right now, but he says he misses you and he'll be back to visit soon."

"That's what he said with every letter since five years ago."

Mother answered with silence because she knew it was true. Caelus has been a member of the expedition squad for five years now. Of those many years, I only had the chance to see him for at most a couple of days.

The land beyond the walls of this city is dangerous, filled with sentient augmented armaments called Eidolons that kill humans on sight. Every day, I'm scared that we'll receive a letter from the army telling us of Caelus' passing.

Mother and I have already lost one person we love... I don't think we can handle another.

"Eight-thirty, Sol," Mother said. "Good luck in school."

"Yeah, cuz the gods know I'll need it," I chuckled.

With that, I ran out of the house and rushed out into the open street. I took a deep breath of the fresh air, but I knew all too well that this air wasn't fresh at all. The breeze that's wafting past my face is just another aspect of life that is artificially created by the city. Based on the letters that Caelus has sent home recently, nothing here could ever compare to the world outside.

Left and right, pedestrians of high-standing were passing by and going about their daily lives. Hovercars were passing along the road. Above me was a transparent highway with tons of transport ships. All the way in the distance, the massive tower known as the Spire was piercing through the sky.

A massive screen on the side of the Spire reads, 'Glory to New Olympos.'

How... irritating.