Chapter 17:


Code: Zero Defect

Minerva and I ran across the abandoned dig site, taking out all the soldiers we ran into along the way. Eventually, we stumbled across Loki, who was sitting atop a pile of bloody corpses.

Just like when I first met her, she had blood splattered all over her, but of course, not a single drop of it was her own. The sight of it brought back some terrifying memories, and Loki knew exactly what it looked like.

"Eh?" she smiled devilishly. "What's wrong, sweetie? Why aren't you looking at me?"

I didn't even realize that I was facing away from her.

"I was covering our rear," I said.

"Is that really it?"

She leaped off the pile, landing right next to me. Trying to keep still proved to be difficult, especially when she kept inching closer. That threatening yet playful glare reminded me of Sigastiris. No... This is much more frightening.

"Hey. The great and beautiful Loki is standing right in front of you," she whispered. "Shouldn't you feel honored?"

"The 'great and beautiful Loki' is also the same person who tried to kill me a week ago," I muttered.

"Tsk, you're still on that? Come on, what's important is that I didn't kill ya. Lucky you, eh?"

I finally looked at her with an irritated expression. "What's that supposed to mean?"

She perked up and flicked my forehead, forcing a yelp out of me. Did she augment her fingers, too? Why did that hurt so much?

"It means, my dear Strider, you're lucky to be alive after fighting me," Loki said proudly. "I'm kind of a loose screw, ya see. Ain't that right, Minny?"

"Yup!" Minerva grinned. "Well, honestly, the same thing could be said about any of us."

"Huh... That's true. What else can I call myself, then? Something unique."

"Hm... Something unique..."

They both threw fingers under their chins and began thinking to themselves. It's like I can see their brains melding together, but not in a good way.

"Astrid to all stations, comms are back online," Astrid suddenly came through.

"How's it looking?" Holiday said right after her.

"The dig site is clear. However, multiple hostiles are converging on your current position from the west and south. Looks like the local coatsmen have been called into action."

"And Sigastiris?"

"Unknown. I'm not picking her up anywhere in the vicinity."

"Is that so...? Expect the worst, Calypso. She could be cloaked. Rendezvous towards the northern end of the dig site, and stay in the shadows. Keep us posted, Astrid."

"Copy that. Astrid, out."

The comms went silent after that. I was about to suggest that we start moving out until I saw the look on Loki's face. It wasn't the sadistic smile she always wore. It wasn't even an angry expression. Her face... was completely normal.

Her mouth was straight, and her emotionless eyes made it seem like her soul had been sucked right out.

"Loki?" I called out.

She blinked, and suddenly, a smile grew on her face once more. However, it was much weaker than usual.

"What's with that look?" she scoffed.

"I should be the one asking you that," I said. "Are you okay?"

After a short pause of disbelief, she let out a genuine laugh. She looks fine, but... I, of all people, should know that something is weighing heavily on her mind. After all, I'm guilty of the exact same thing.

"Saw right through me, eh?" she chuckled before tilting her head to face the sky. "Your sister... She's dead now, and that makes you sad, doesn't it?"

"What? Well... Of course it does."

"Ya see, I also have a sister. Only difference is that she's still alive, and that makes me sad. Funny how that works, huh?"

The first thing that came to my head was why Loki was telling me this now. We haven't known each other for that long, but I feel like she just dropped a big piece of her past to me. However, I couldn't overlook the obvious woe in her eyes.

"Different circumstances, same situation," I said. "Whatever the case, I hope it at least works out for you."

"Heh... Thanks, sweetie," she smiled before she propped up and stretched. "Alright, let's move out. Shouldn't keep the boss waiting."

With that, we successfully moved through the dig site with no further complications. Along the way, stacks of corpses littered the ground. Either blood or sparks, it seems that no one could escape the wrath of Calypso.

Underneath a collapsed section of a building, the other two were waiting for us.

"Hey, hey," Loki grinned. "Looks like you made it through in one piece, Zephy."

"Go to hell," Zephyr sighed.

"Bet you had to use your code."

"Are you telling me you didn't?"

"Nope! Didn't need it."

There it is again. 'Code.' Based on what I've seen so far, it gives Calypso these special powers. It's not just them. General Sigastiris had it too, but instead of diamonds in her eyes like these guys, she had stars. That was when I realized something that I had long since forgotten about.

My father... also had stars in his eyes. I first saw them after he came home from the Reclamation. I thought it was something like the fantasy shows I'd see on television. I never questioned it after that because I was only thirteen years old when I last saw him. It has been eight years since then.

If all of this lines up, then that means Father also has a code... one that matches Sigastiris in terms of prowess. This war of mine just got a whole lot harder.

"Strider," Holiday called out. "How are you feeling?"

"Leg stings a little," I answered. "Other than that, it's nothing I can't candle."

"Overconfidence is often the key to one's downfall, especially for someone who isn't augmented."

"It's not confidence. It's just my reality."

"Even so, you are a pure human fighting an army of augmented humans. That sounds pretty unrealistic, don't you think?"

"I won't argue with that, but no matter the case, I will never augment myself."

She kept those still eyes on me, stone-cold and unfazed. It's like any response I gave would've produced that very same reaction.

"Hate to interrupt, Boss, but we've got a situation," Astrid said.

"Copy," Holiday replied as she looked away. "Send traffic."

"A large group of hostiles are heading your way. Looks to be carrying enhanced weaponry and shrouded in black coats."

"Queen's Guards."

"Most likely. Combine them with the incoming army and coatsmen, and you're gonna have a lot to deal with."

"Understood. Strider, branch off from here and move as silently as you possibly can. We'll lead these guys away."

"Where am I heading?" I asked.


I figured as much. They're the legendary Calypso squad, augmented humans who were once the greatest combatants this city had ever seen. Why would they keep around a normal human like me? I had my hopes, but I won't claw at it.

"There is very little a normal human can do against the High Order," Holiday reiterated. "You faced total defeat against a general, and I hope that becomes a wake-up call for you."

"Don't feel bad, Strider," Loki smiled. "We all have our reasons for doing the things we do, but your reason and the outcome will only put you in danger."

"... Understood," I muttered.

I split from the group and ran off into the shadows, but not without looking back to see Minerva waving at me. This mission was nothing like any of the ones I've done in the past. I've almost died many times before, but none of them holds a candle to this.

Admittedly, it does hurt a little to know that they see me as nothing more than baggage. I suppose I can't get mad at them for it. My stubbornness is one of my strongest traits.

It won't stop me, though. I've already made the decision to fight against the High Order. This is just the beginning. No matter what comes next, I'll be prepared to face it.