Chapter 08 – V
I see a scene of a laboratory from behind a glassy window. My whole body is soaked in a mysterious liquid. An old man who seems like a scientist in a white gown approaches the glassy window. He made an awful smirk before mumbling something.
The liquid and the glass window is an extremely effective soundproof material. As a result, I cannot really make out what he was saying.
What was he trying to tell me?
After the old man left, three more scientist passed by the window, looking at me as well. The only female scientist among those three looked at me with an extremely troubled face.
Was she crying…?
One male scientist pats on her shoulder, as if trying to comfort her, but it makes her sob even harder. The last scientist simply places his hand onto the glass window, whispering something I cannot hear.
What were they discussing about?
What are they about to do with me?
Suddenly, numbness from some sort of electric shock spreads through my whole body. My mouth opens up wide, trying to scream for help. However, my voice sinks down my throat along with the tremendous water pressure from all around. The pain from both the shock and the suffocation are excruciating.
My vision starts to blur and darkened.
However, the nightmare has just started. All of the sudden that bastard appears in the midst of darkness.
A creepy chuckle echoes from all direction as his hands reached out for me.
“N…No…Get away!!!!” I heard my voice screaming.
“You think you can get away from me? You can run but you cannot hide from me. I will chase you down and you shall become one with me!”
Startled, I quickly open up my eyes. My whole body is not only drenched in sweat like usual, but this time, it is also trembling in fear. I was quickly reminded of the humiliation that man did to me earlier. The taste of his saliva and tongue is still lingering on my lips. I quickly wipe my lips repeatedly with my sleeve and spit my saliva out several times, trying to remove the lingering taste. After that, my eyes caught a glimpse of a bottle of mineral water next to me. Reaching for the bottle, I immediately twist the cap opened and wash my mouth repeatedly with it.
Everything was just so horrible. What he did only fuels the rage within me and made me hate him even more.
…By the way, where am I?
How did I end up here?
And how long have I been sleeping?
After calming down, I carefully observe my surrounding. Everything is pretty dark. My eyes can only vaguely describe my surroundings thanks to a certain pale light source from some where nearby. I am lying on the back seat of a small car with my bare feet pointing to its left side. I can hear crickets chirping outside of the car, so it is safe to assume that it is late into the night.
…That being said, I completely wet the whole seat behind the driver’s seat with the water I washed my mouth earlier. The owner of this car is so not going to like this…
Anyway, after having a clearer picture of my current surrounding, I turn my attention to my attires. I am still wearing the light cream dress I have been wearing since I left my house. My sweater and waist purse is lying on the front seat. My white leather boots are settled nicely under the car’s back seat. There is no trace of wrinkles or forceful tearing on my dress and my undergarments are still in the same places. So I assumed nothing bad happened to me while I was asleep.
That’s a relief…
The view behind the car is covered up with several trees, so it is pretty obvious that this car is parked some where in the woods. My guess is that this is the ‘Tauran Forest’ since it is the forest closest to Cancer City – only a couple of kilometers away. The smell of burnt woods seeps into the car. There is a small campfire burning about five meters away from the front of the car. The campfire is apparently the pale source of light that allows me to see my surroundings. Two girls are sitting on a log right next to the campfire.
They must be my saviors.
After stretching up, I put on my boots and step down from the car.
“Ah. You’re finally awake. I thought you’d never wake up,” said the long green-haired girl.
“I heard you screamed a while back. Is everything okay?” the girl with red shoulder-length hair asked.
“Y…Yeah. I’m fine. I just had a little nightmare.”
Not really ‘little’ if you ask me, but I’m too lazy to explain to them right now.
“Who are you girls? Why were you there? And why did you help me?” I shoot out several questions when I had the chance.
“Wow. Straight to the point now, aren’t we? Not even a thank you,” the green-haired girl chuckled.
…She’s right. It has only been four days, but I was so obsessed with revenge that I’ve probably forgot all of my manners.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. Thank you for saving me.” I politely bow to them.
“Woah! Vanny was just teasing you! Don’t take it too personally!” The red-haired girl laughed nervously. “Come on! Have a seat!”
There is a log settled right next to my feet. So I took her invitation and sit down on it. The air in the woods at night is rather cold, so sitting around the campfire isn’t bad at all.
“Well. Anyway. Let me introduce myself. I’m Vanessa Sabres. Call me Van,” the green-haired girl introduced herself and turned to the other girl, “And this is my younger sister.”
“The name’s Natalie! Just call me Nat,” the red-haired girl said with a cheeky confident smile.
“Nice to meet you girls. I’m Viola,” I introduced myself. With all the formalities over, I guess it is okay to get into business now. “So who are you girls? And what were you doing at that laboratory?”
“Well. One question at a time, okay?” Van giggles at my frankness. “Our powers are slightly different, but we are Zodiac Angels – Just like you.”
Did I really hear them right?
“You mean like the ‘Zodiac Angels’ from the [Tales of Star Ocean]?” I asked to make sure we are on the same page.
“Yup! This should be enough proof.”
Nat raises her right arm up, showing a weird symbol engraved on it.
“…What’s that?” I asked.
Nat and Van looked at each other puzzlingly before turning back to me.
“You have one too, don’t you? The mark of a Zodiac Angel like this.”
Van lifts up her left arm. There is a weird symbol engraved on it as well, but the pattern is different from Nat’s. Out of curiosity, I slide up my sleeve and thoroughly examine my arms.
“You’re not gonna find your mark on the your arms, silly. Each angel has it on a different location.” Nat giggles.
…Why didn’t say that before?
“Have you ever experienced a strange sunburn pain somewhere on your body before? The mark should be somewhere around there,” said Van.
Out of instinct, my left hand immediately reaches for the area above my right breast. There was, indeed, several times where a mysterious sunburn pain emerges from this spot. There was once on the day with the solar eclipse, and a couple of times at the laboratory.
But how did she know about it?
“Oh. There? Lemme see!” Nat excitedly jumps over to me. From the looks on her face, I knew right away what she is trying to do.
“What the?! Are you nuts?!” I move away from her, tightly holding the buttons on my dress.
“Oh come on, silly! I’m a girl too! I’m not gonna molest you for crying out loud.” Nat shakes her head before reaching out to me again. Considering how she cracked a huge hole on a concrete wall with a single punch back at the laboratory, resistance is obviously futile. Nat unbuttons my dress and slightly slides my dress down from my right shoulder.
“Wha…? When…did this happen?!”
My eyes opened up wide and my jaws drop to the floor. There is indeed a symbol planted slightly above my bra. Although the pattern is different from Van’s and Nat’s, it is no doubt the same type. But what made me surprised even more is when and how it got there. I don’t recall seeing it while bathing at the lodge on the night before visiting the laboratory.
“Well. That mark will appear only if another Zodiac Angel is nearby. Don’t ask me how that work though.” Van said and shrugs.
“Um, Vanny. I think there’s something wrong with her mark,” said Nat, poking onto my mark a couple of times. A slight electric shock sparkles up every time she poked it.
“Hmmm…A Zodiac Seal?” Van moves closer to me, closely inspecting my mark. Upon a more careful look, I notice a small red ring hovering slightly above my mark. Weird symbols are engraved all over the ring.
“Someone sealed your Zodiac Beast,” Van explained.
A Zodiac Beast?
Now that she mentioned it, that bastard did say something about a ‘Zodiac Beast’ back at the laboratory too.
“Zodiac Beast? You mean Zubenes?”
“Ha. So you’ve summoned your beast before,” Van muttered, placing her right index and middle fingers onto my mark, mumbling something.
“…But isn’t that strange? Who on Athenia did this? I thought a Zodiac Seal is supposed to be a technique known only to Zodiac Angels.” Nat crosses her arms.
“Um…I’m a little lost here. How did all this have anything to do with that bedtime story?” I asked since I totally have no idea what is going on now.
“There. It’s done. The seal is gone and you should be able to summon your beast again,” Van sighed in relief before removing her fingers off my mark.
“Well then. Let’s start by telling you about what we know,” Van said as she went back to her seat on the other side of the camp fire.
That’s a good start.
“Nat and I made a living as waitress at a small coffee shop in Grand Central. Both of us lost our parents when we finished intermediate school, so we never really got our high school degree,” Van started.
“You girls own the shop?” I asked out of curiosity.
“Well, yeah. After our parents died, we only have a small amount of money left. So we just continue managing mom’s coffee shop,” said Nat.
“In any case, one day after we closed our shop, those men in black suits came,” Van continued.
“The men in black suits? The same ones that are lying outside of the laboratory?”
“Yes. They busted into our shop at night and attempted to take us some where with them. That was when we manifested our powers,” Van explained, “I guess it’s some sort of a defense mechanism activated for self-defense when that angel was cornered or something. Of course, we don’t really know that our powers are the power of a Zodiac Angel back then.”
“But everything didn’t go smoothly though. Hamal, my Zodiac Beast, went haywire and blew up our shop, along with a couple of buildings nearby,” said Nat.
“…I think I remember that news. The police chalked it up as an act of arson, wasn’t it?” I asked just to be sure.
“Yeah. Nowadays almost every single thing is under Nebula Corporation’s control, so they always have good excuses for all their acts,” said Van.
“……Wait…Are you saying those men work for the Nebula Corporation?”
I am not sure I heard her right. Nebula Corporation is the biggest energy company on Athenia. It is well known for its mysterious new power source, which is extremely more efficient than any form of energy humanity has been using. Because no one else was able to offer the same amount of energy Nebula Corp did, it quickly grew into the sole provider of new form of energy and monopolized the energy market. Every single household on Athenia uses energy from Nebula Corp. However, to make up for its monopoly status, Nebula Corp also engaged in several CSRs (Corporate Social Responsibility) such as providing new and highly advanced transportation systems to cities like Galaxia, Grand Central, and Great Constella. Because of its good image and deeds, all economists usually overlooked the fact that it is a monopoly.
“Yes, you heard me right. Nebula Corporation is behind all this,” said Nat.
“Well, it’s not that I don’t believe you girls, but where’s your proof? And why would they want to kidnap you girls…and me?”
And if that is true, does this mean that the bastard is also working for Nebula Corp?
“Let me explain. After we managed to get out of the mess in one piece, Nat and I have been searching for answers of our powers ever since,” said Van. Apparently, they started with even less clue than me. At least I had a heading.
“Long story short, we managed to get one of our pursuits to spill the beans and found out that Nebula Corp was after our powers,” Van continued, “From then on, Nat and I broke into several Nebula Corp research centers and found out about how the corporation was after a group of girls with supernatural powers. They labeled those girls ‘Zodiac Angels’, which are apparently us. We don’t really know how we are related to that bedtime story or how we came to possess this power. But there is no doubt that we possess something that Nebula Corp wanted.”
At this point, she pauses to take a sip from her canteen. Among the three of us, she has been speaking the most, so she really deserves a break.
“However, among all the data we’ve infiltrated, there is an interesting project the corporation has been conducting for over 20 years; The Reunion Project,” Van continued.
Reunion Project? Wasn’t that the name of the project file that has my face and name on it?
“What was it about?” I could just wait until I have the chance to open that data file on a computer somewhere, but it would not hurt to have a brief overview of it now.
“We only know that they conducted an experiment on a Zodiac Angel like us in that project. Aside from that, I don’t know. There is not many detailed data about it in other research centers. So we changed our approach and went after the researchers that are responsible for this project instead,” Van explained.
Experiment on another Zodiac Angel?
My skin crawls upon the thought.
Is it possible that I was the test subject?
The ‘20 years ago’ part kind of disagrees. If that is the case then everything does not make sense at all. I mean, how did I have a vision of the experiment that took place before I was even born?
“The project was started by the head of the applied science department, Albert Gregory. He has three close subordinates who are also a part of this project: Rokishi Vossler, Kraine Wesker, and Lyra Hikari,” Van continues.
All of my thoughts stopped when I heard mom’s name.
“…Mom…” I uttered unintentionally.
“Yeah. Like Vanny said, we planned on going after the four of them. But…well…guess what happened,” Nat shrugged.
“………All of them are already dead?” I guessed.
“The record reported Albert Gregory and Rokishi Vossler as dead since they went missing and their bodies were never found. Kraine Wesker was found murdered mysteriously several years ago. And actually, we are kind of hoping you can tell us what the heck happened to Lyra Hikari and why you went missing,” said Van.
“She was murdered right before my eyes by that man,” I told them about that fateful day, “I just came home and saw him overlooking mom’s body. And then—-.”
I halt when I realized that I haven’t seen my white lance at all since I’ve woke up. Before I could say anything else, Van lifts up something from behind the log she was sitting and tosses it to me. Since I was not ready for it, I fumbled and dropped it to the ground. It was that lance. I am sure of it since its blade is extremely unique. What surprises me is how it is ‘folded’ into three parts. I carefully pick it up and examine it. The lance is interlinked by an iron chain hidden inside the shaft. The tip of each shaft has a small magnet-like connector that joins each part together into a single lance. The connector is extremely subtle, and unless you actually look at it really closely, you would never know that it could be disjoined like this.
If I have known about this, I wouldn’t have to mess with those punks in the alley a few days ago…
“With all of the researchers gone, our only choice is to go to where that project was conducted – The Cancerian Laboratory,” said Van, “And honestly speaking, we were not expecting to see you there.”
“So yeah. That’s our story up so far. What about you, Viola? What were you doing there? And who is that man?” Nat asked.
“Well, one question at a time, okay?” I chuckled when I realized that I just repeated the exact same thing Van said to me a while ago, “Like I said earlier, I came home that day and saw him standing over mom’s body. Out of nowhere, this lance appeared onto my hand and I managed to chase him away. Under her dying breath, mom told me not to trust the cops and that I should go to the Cancerian Laboratory because my answers are there.”
…And she also told me that she is not my real mother. But I guess it’s not really relevant to our current discussion right now.
“Not to trust the cops huh? Considering how she used to be a researcher for Nebula Corp, I guess she knew how much influence Nebula has on the cops … Actually, cross that out. Nebula had influence on every single thing on Athenia now,” Nat rolled her eyes.
“If the cops get to you, they’ll probably send you straight to Nebula Corp,” Van muttered.
“I guess.” It does not matter any more since I’m already here.
“Say, did you get anything out of that laboratory?” Nat asked.
“Well, not really. At least not yet. But I copied out some data about the Reunion Project onto my MP3 player to read it later,” I replied.
“Woah, really? That’s awesome. We’ve been looking for those data for ages now!” Nat laughs.
“So what’s next for you, Viola?” Van asked.
What’s next for me?
As in my next heading?
Now that she mentioned it, I haven’t really thought about it. My mind was so fixated on getting to the laboratory that I never really planned about what to do after I got my answers. Well, aside from hunting down that bastard that is.
“I’m not so sure. For now, I think I’ll just look for a computer terminal to open the files I have. Then I’ll think about my next heading later,” I replied.
“In that case, can we tag along?”
My eyes widened in surprised at Van’s request.
“Huh? Tag along with me? Why?”
“Well, why not? As fellow Zodiac Angels, we are on the same boat now, aren’t we? Besides, we were originally going after the Reunion Project data like Nat said earlier, so basically you have what we are looking for,” said Van.
It’s not that I don’t want her to tag along; I am at lost for words. After traveling alone for a few days, there is nothing better than having someone on the same boat to talk to.
“Thank you. I really appreciate it. I am getting rather lonely traveling alone too,” I replied to them.
“Haha! Awesome! We finally have more traveling companion, Vanny!” Nat hugs her sister.
“Well Viola. You should probably rest up. You were in a really bad shape when we found you,” Van suggested, patting her sister’s head, “Get a full rest in the car. We’ll stay up and guard the area.”
“Thank you. I really owe you big time.” I stand up and bow to them.
“Nah, don’t mention it! Just get your rest!” Nat laughs again.
“Okay then. Good night.”
I left the camp fire and get onto the back seat of the car where I woke up earlier. I fell asleep almost instantly.
Is it too early for me to trust these girls?
They are completely strangers to me after all, even though we share something in common. But they just saved my life earlier. At least I think I can trust them to an extent.
In any case, I guess this will be the first night after I started my journey where I can finally close my eyes without having to worry about my back.