Chapter 20 – V
Van parks the rented car near the entrance of the park. As mentioned before, this place used to be a renowned tourist attraction. A site was constructed around the areas of the falls, and fences were created to prevent people from accidentally falling of the steep cliff. However, it has been off limits to tourists for a couple of years. The entrance to the site was chained up and closed off from all visitors as we expected it to be. Of course, it is not a trouble for us. Van slices the iron chains off and easily opens the front gate.
“It’s a shame they closed off this place. I used to visit this park with my family before. The fall is a small distance into the park. The view on top of the falls is magnificent. You can almost see the sea from there. Oh, and the air is very nice too,” Sarin explained, “It’s such a wonderful place. I have no idea why it was closed off.”
“If the Nebula Corp is related, then perhaps they found something that could benefit them in that temple,” Van suggested, “These guys aren’t very hard to read when you think about it. They are practically every where.”
“Agreed!” Nat giggled.
“But if that’s the case, then it is possible that the NEF troops are waiting for us some where in there. Let’s all be careful,” I told everyone.
From the moment we entered this site, a familiar uneasy feeling had been overwhelming me. It is the same cold eerie sensation that crawled down my spine on the day that mom died and when I was at the laboratory. Out of instinct, my right hand reaches for the folded lance behind my hips and tightly grips it. Although the unsettling feeling is not as strong as back then, this undoubtedly means that Animus is somewhere nearby.
The four of us made it to the falls area. We are standing on one side of the huge river, approximately two kilometers wide. The strong current flushes down the 500-meters cliff, creating an elegant waterfall. Depending on the angle that you stand, you can see the rainbows reflected from the sunlight on the water surface down below.
Near the edge, there is a stairway made of stone leading us down the steep cliff. From the looks of the stairs, it is safe to say that it is not a modern architect, considering how it was just pieces of flat stones lying on one another. Contrary to the looks however, the stairs appear to be extremely sturdy. Perhaps there were some reinforcements made on its structure when a park was built over this place. There are metallic hand bars on the stairs, added to prevent tourists from falling down below.
We keep on moving down the stairs until we reach the mouth of a cavern. The path leads us deeper into the cool and damp cave where the sound of the waterfalls echoed from all direction. The edge near the white curtain of falling waters is slippery and covered with green moss. Fortunately, water does not sprinkle in too far from the edge and there is more than enough space for us to walk without worry of slipping.
After some trek, the four of us finally got into a huge dome-like area inside the cavern. The distance from ceiling to the floor is roughly 50 meters tall. A wide empty space fills the gap between the entrance of the dome area to the huge temple, settled on the other side. The temple is decorated with diamonds on its outer wall, creating an intricate pattern of the Pisces Zodiac Sign. A small hole on the ceiling allows sunlight from the outside to penetrate into this dark cavern. The light ray then hits the peculiar prism on top of the temple, which reflects the sunray to all corners of the room, lighting the whole dome up.
As we move deeper into the dome, my eyes spotted someone standing in front of the temple’s entrance. He is wearing a black coat, covering half of his face with a black hood.
Sarin and Van reach for their weapons hanging on their backs while Nat cracks her fists under her gauntlet.
“You’re finally here. You really did bring your friends with you. You are truly obedient,” Animus chuckled.
“Still hiding your face? Show me who you are already,” I spoke to him.
“Why should I? When you girls are not supposed to make it out of this place alive anyway.”
The hooded man snaps his fingers and suddenly, the NEF troops came out of their hiding place behind the stone pillars in the dome, each with an assault rifle in their hands. My eyes could not count their numbers in time, but this would roughly be enough to create a small army. They point their weapons at us, painting our outfits with red laser point pattern.
“ALL of this just to capture four girls? You guys must be really desperate,” Van taunted, revealing the blades on her chakram.
“I thought NEFs are not supposed to point their weapons at civilians,” Sarin said.
“It’s because you girls are not civilians,” the hooded man chuckled, “You are more than that. You are the hosts of the Zodiac Angels’ souls – The souls of the goddesses who created our world.”
“Oh cut the crap!!! Is this how you treat your goddess, huh!? By threatening to stuff bullets into her skull!?” Nat screamed.
“Your powers are the key to humanity’s eternal prosperity!!” the hooded man declared, “I must thank you again, Viola, for bring your friends right into our hands. I will be sure to give them a fast extraction so it doesn’t hurt them too much.”
Just the thought of having someone else experiencing that same pain makes my blood boils. No one else should suffer the pain I did. But before I could do or say anything, Van raises up her left arm, barring me from making any step further.
“Before we proceed to kick your dirty ass, there is something I want to tell you,” said Van, “Considering how you know so much about Zodiac Angels, you should know that you need A LOT more than this to capture us.”
“Oh please. Angels like you are nothing that special. Against a storm of bullets, all of you fall like flies. You might have flashy powers, but remember that your body is still that of a human girl! That was exactly how we captured Viola 20 years ago – overpowering her with number!” Animus chuckled.
Captured me 20 years ago?
“Oh yeah? My fists want a couple of words with you.” Nat chuckled.
“So you’re saying all you need is number and you’ll be able to do what you want? That’s nice…”
That moment, the Zodiac Mark on Van’s left arm gradually radiates a faint glow.
“Let’s see you try that again!”
A strong gust of wind bursts from around the green haired girl in a circular motion, staggering the troops back.
“What the hell are you idiots doing!? Shoot them!!!! BUT NO HEAD SHOTS! Got that!?” Animus ordered his troops while keeping his hood from being blown by the wind.
“Don’t make me laugh!!!!” Van hurls her chakram forward and commands the wind current to rapidly slice the assault rifle aimed at us. At the same time, the mark on her left arm glows brighter and an orb of light shoots out of her skin into the air.
“Whirl! I summon you! Al Tarf!!!!”
The gust of wind bursts off and suddenly, a huge creature emerges from behind, covering us with its thick hard shell. To accurately describe this Zodiac Beast, a gigantic shelled crab would best fit the description. He stands over three meters tall on six pointy legs. Two huge pinchers covered with solid shell snaps loudly, ready to grind anything in its path.
“…Holy hell. Vanny’s angry now,” Nat whispered to me with a pale face.
“That’s not good for them, right?” Sarin muttered.
“Hell no,” Nat replied.
The NEF troops panic from the sudden appearance of this creature. The troops that still have their weapons from the backline fire another batch, but none of them are able to put a single dent onto the giant crab’s shell at all. The green haired girl fetches the bladed ring as it safely returned to her hand.
“You cowards are gonna need more than numbers to beat us!” Van announced, “Come on! Is that all you got!? I’m sick and tired of your chicken tactics! Give me something that packs more punch!”
This is the first time I’ve seen Van yelling so loud. She seems really upset with these people.
The NEF troops are restless and intimidated by the huge armored beast that protects us from their weapons. Their formations start to fall and the chatter in the lines got louder and louder.
“No? Then it’s MY turn!”
Van flings her chakram forward at a barricade where some troops are hiding. The ring slices the barricade in a flash before releasing numerous wind blades that attack all the units hiding there. The metallic disc magically reappears back onto Van’s hand afterwards.
“DON’T BE AFRAID OF THAT BEAST! Remember!? We’ve defeated these things 20 years ago! They are not immortal! Take that beast down to the ground!!!!”
Animus announces out loud. Some NEF troops pull out a much stronger firearm – the Heat Bazooka – and begins charging its energy.
“You’re fighting us with flames!? Oh please!” Nat’s Zodiac Mark glows a crimson light before flames engulf her arm. “Scorch! I summon you! Hamal!”
The familiar crimson ram jumped out of the flame pillar and began his assault on the NEF troops. The ammunition from the Heat Bazooka scorched the ram’s wool. However, instead of creating a burn on it, the wools are set ablaze and the beast becomes even more aggressive.
“You play with fire, you’ll be burn!” Nat announced.
The tide has been turn. Hamal approaches the NEF troops and wreaks havoc on their formation. Each officer is slowly taken down one by one.
Seeing as how the situation has become more and more unfavorable, Animus quickly turns his tail and runs into the temple.
“He’s getting away!” I gritted my teeth when I saw him running.
“Don’t worry, Viola. He’s all yours!” Sarin takes out her axe, “I’ll clear the path to the temple. You cut through right away, got it!?”
“Yeah. I’m counting on you!”
“Here I GO!”
The silver haired girl slams the blunt side of her weapon onto the ground, creating a tremor that shatters the units lining in front of the temple. Their lines are broken and a straight path leading to the temple’s entrance is revealed.
Using her diversion, I immediately dashed off Al Tarf’s protection and headed straight for the temple.
“She’s running into the temple! Get her!”
I heard someone yelling from behind. The troops attempted to shoot me with their firearms. However, my reflex and agility are far superior to their aim. None of their bullets were able to catch me at all, just like that time in front of the Cancerian Laboratory.
“Quick! Follow her!”
The same voice ordered his men.
“Oh no you don’t!” Sarin screamed as the mark behind her right shin radiates, “Smash! I summon you! Aldebaran!!!!”
I took a brief glance over my shoulders to see Sarin’s servant for the first time. The ground behind me was torn asunder and a creature with the body of a human, and the head and legs of an ox covered in thick dark indigo iron armor emerges from within. The troops panick at the appearance of the beast and unload all of their clips onto his armor. Without the slightest hint of flinching, Aldebaran counters by smacking any nearby troops with his spiked club on his left hand and iron hatchet on the right. He stands his ground at the temple’s entrance, blocking any troops who attempt to follow me. Even though they have more numbers compared to us, the NEF are hopeless in face of our humbled servants.
Thanks to all of the diversions, I’ve made it safely into the inner sanctum without anyone following me. With the amount of havoc out there, I probably won’t have to worry about having unwelcomed guests coming from behind. The path inside the temple is straightforward. It is just a straight unlit path leading deeper into the dark sanctuary. The air is rather cool like the outside, albeit stagnant. This makes it slightly harder to breathe. The chilly and unsettling sensation gradually builds up as my body plunged deeper into the darkness.
After a while, I step into the center of the innermost sanctum – a wide vertical cylinder-shaped hall with the walls made from crystal. Surprisingly, the room is empty. The path into this sanctum is a straight path with no place to hide.
Where could Animus be?
While wondering about his whereabouts, I heard the sound of cloth swaying against one another from my left. My hand rapidly pulls out the white lance and blocks an incoming ambush slash from the left. After that, I swiftly take a few steps backward to gain some space as the hooded man swings his sword tauntingly.
“That was a dirty trick,” I hissed.
“Bravo. Your reflex has tremendously improved! To think that it was only a couple of days before that we last fought. Very impressive.”
“Thanks for the compliment, bastard,” I replied and tightly gripped my lance with two hands.
“Why talk to me like that, sweetie? That was a sincere compliment,” Animus shrugged, “Anyway, I can’t help but be amazed at how you’ve been doing exactly everything according to my plans up until now.”
“Oh yeah? How so?”
“I told you it’s a trap so that you would bring your friends with you. I know they are not going to let you come meet me alone, so I thought I’d take this chance as an opportunity to pick up your friends too. That’s four angels with one stone. Talk about efficient.”
“In case you didn’t notice, your lackeys are getting their asses kicked by my friends out there,” I notified him.
“Oh dear, you really need to know your limits! 20 years ago, you fell down to your knees from our overwhelming assault! It doesn’t matter how much power you possess. Your stamina won’t be able to keep up with the tremendous power within you,” Animus laughed, “But oh well. The past is over. Let’s get to business now, shall we? I know you’re not here for a chit chat!”