Chapter 9:

Killing Intent

Code: Zero Defect

My heart feels heavy. My breaths feel shallow. My hands... won't stop shaking.

I've faced countless coatsmen over the past two years. Even when a gun was held to my head, I was indifferent to the prospect of death. The reason is that I've studied the tactics normally used by coatsmen. I had first-hand experience with how they conduct their operations. As such, I knew that even though I was on the other end of a barrel, I would live.

However, this is different. It feels like no matter what I do, the probability of death stands against me. This woman's very presence... is enough to make me fear her.

It was a revelation of sorts—a chilling reminder that I am just a human. A human... who could die right this instant upon the tiniest misstep.

At last, the woman rose from the pile of corpses and stepped down like a king would from his throne. She walked out of the shadow, allowing the moonlight to reveal her entire face. To be honest, that made me feel worse.

The moment I saw her eyes, I completely froze. They were sharp yet elegant, and a pale glow of purple shined from her pupils. A hollowed diamond rested in the center of both eyes. With that sadistic smile, it's hard to tell what she's thinking.

In any case, I can't shake off the feeling that I've seen her somewhere before.

"A kid...?" she scoffed. "What's your name?"

As fearful as I was, I rebuked. "I asked you first."

Her seemingly relaxed expression lit up even more. She lifted her brows while that smile turned into a grin, stretching even wider than it already was. A small chuckle came from her mouth, then... the most ghastly cackle.

"How interesting!" she exclaimed. "Look at you. You're practically shaking in your boots, and you still have the courage to talk back to me?"

This is bad. Whoever this woman is, she is extremely dangerous. The fact that she's standing on a pile of coatsmen only serves to prove that point. I have to get out of here.

I quickly reached for a smoke bomb that hung from my belt. After pulling off the pin and throwing it on the ground, I ran out of the warehouse.

"Ah..." the woman's faint sigh could be heard before the smoke bomb went off.

I only made it halfway through the lot before I heard a whistle in the air. From the smoke, the chains of the sword emerged at an angle, curving through the sky while flinging itself directly at me. I quickly threw myself to the side before the tip of the blade left a flawless cut in the concrete.

Slowly, the woman emerged from the cloud, her eyes now glowing much brighter than before. Augmentation...

"Sorry, kid," she said. "You can't escape these eyes no matter where you go. Now, answer me."

That smoke bomb was designed specifically to counter augmented optical lenses. The fact that she can see past it is a problem, including that sword of hers. She must be incredibly skilled to utilize a weapon like that.

"Strider," I finally answered.

"I knew that much," she scoffed. "I'm asking you for your real name, because, call me crazy if you'd like, but I don't think you're a native of the undercity."

What...? How in the world did she figure that out? There's nothing about me that says I'm any different than the undercity dwellers.

"Aha," she then giggled. "Looks like I've hit the mark. So you really are from the Golden District. What's a kid like you doing down here?"

"I have no obligations to tell you anything."

"Unfortunately, you're in no position to decline. That is, unless you wanna die here."

I can't fight her, but I can't reveal my identity either. That's essentially the same thing as giving myself up to the coatsmen. No... I can't do that no matter what.

"Regardless, I refuse," I said confidently. "Exposing myself would be no different from incriminating myself as a defect."

And?" she scoffed. "Am I not defective as well? I thought those bodies back there gave it away."

"I'm aware. So why are you pressing me for irrelevant information?"

"Why? Heh... Cuz it's fun!"

With that, she swung her blade again, expanding it to a length that could reach me even from such a distance.

I quickly pulled out my dagger and parried the strike. Surprisingly, her sword bounced right off. The only downside is that my dagger feels extremely hot now from touching the plasma. Other than that, it's still intact despite my worries.

"Oh?" the woman muttered. "Not many objects can survive the touch of my sword. That dagger of yours must truly be something special. Speaking of which..."

Her entire demeanor shifted. She was no longer smiling. Instead, a malicious frown covered her face.

"Where did you get it?" she asked. "If you refuse to answer any of my prior questions, then at least give me that."

Why would that be important to her? Nelia gifted me this dagger in secrecy right before she left to join the Reclamation. After she died, it was the only thing I had left of her, and that is the only reason why I continue to use it to this day.

"You don't need to know," I replied.

The frown on her face only grew worse. Her eyes went wide as if she were going into a state of insanity.

"No, no, this won't do," she mumbled. "You dare... to steal her precious keepsake?!"

She sent forth a series of punishing blows. While I was able to parry most of them, I had to dodge and weave the rest. However, I couldn't keep up. One of the disconnected blades grazed my shin, and another one landed a decent cut on my arm.

I fell to the ground with indescribable pain irritating every corner of my body. Being cut is nothing. I've been cut many times in the past, but never have I been stricken by plasma. The skin around the wound felt like it was melting, and the dripping blood only made it worse.

"Hurts, doesn't it?" the woman giggled. "This is a special sword, you see. One cut could mean your immediate death. Ah... But you know that. After all, your eyes tell me just how much pain you're in. It's a surprise that you're still conscious."

Even if I wanted to say something, I couldn't. The only thing going in and out of my mouth was air. All the words that I tried to form were nothing but grunts.

"Well, I gave you a chance, and ya didn't take it," she said. "Sucks, but that's the reality."

She pointed her sword at me with eyes that showed no signs of hesitation.

Shit... I'm actually gonna die, huh? Mother will be alone for real this time around.

No, I can't let that happen. She doesn't deserve to suffer again. Despite the pain, I picked up my dagger and held it in front of me.

"Oh...?" the woman smiled. "Still got some fight in you, huh? That's good. Keep that with you in your next life. You might need it."

The sword expanded for the final time. Even though I saw it coming right at me, my arm wouldn't move no matter how hard I tried.

Mother... I'm sorry.

Suddenly, time froze as the tip of the sword was deflected away. Something flashed in front of my eyes, a blur of white.

It's... a person. Their cyan jacket fluttered in the wind, but there wasn't a breeze. Her foot slammed against the ground, but it made no sounds.

A massive katana waved right past my nose. The whip sword curved away, slamming into a nearby cargo container and utterly obliterating it.

There stood yet another young woman with her back facing towards me. Her flowing white hair was tied into a ponytail. A pair of goggles wrapped around her head, and in her hands, that giant katana was beaming with the same plasma that coated the other woman's sword.

"What do you think you're doing, Zephyr?" the magenta-haired woman asked.

"We're taking this kid back to the camp," responded the stranger. "Captain's order."


"Ze... Zephyr...?" I gasped, prompting her to turn around.

Her sharp teal eyes pierced through mine, and in them, I saw the familiar hollowed diamond shape. Zephyr... is one of the wanted defects of the Calypso squad.

I remember now. During the day of the citywide hijack, the five members were revealed. This woman here looks exactly like her.

And the other one... Crap... My vision is getting blurry. I've lost too much blood, but I knew immediately as soon as I saw her again.

"Lo... ki..." I managed to say before I fell to the ground.

As hard as I tried to stay awake, it proved to be much more difficult than I thought. My eyes shut, and I fell into darkness.