Chapter 05 – S
I let the shower pour down on my face and body. Mom said I was confined there for only a day but it felt like forever to me.
I just feel so dirty right now.
Who knows what happened to me while I was unconscious?
I rub my face heavily, shaking away any unspeakable thoughts that pop up in my mind. The horrible nightmare is over, and now I am showering in the bathroom inside my house. There is no need to worry any more.
In fact, maybe I should just pretend that none of that ever happened at all. That might have made my mind a little more at ease.
By the way, mom really came for me after all. I don’t want to say I doubt her, but I really did not expect her to find me. I mean, I don’t even know where I was.
So how did she find me?
I step out of the shower room, wearing nothing but a piece of towel, and walk over to mom’s room. Her room includes a bed where she sleeps, a closet, a make-up desk, her working table, and a small shelf where she keeps her teaching materials and documents. Her room is neat and clean since she always tidy up her stuffs whenever she returns home, even if it was only for a short period. Somehow, I pick up her habit of cleaning the place and always wipe off the dusts on her stuffs in her stead on occasions that she is away from home for a while.
“Oh hey. You’re done, sweetie?”
Mom notices me walking in, so she stops what she was doing and gives me a smile.
…That said, what is she doing?
All of our outfits and belongings are scattered all over the place and there are three travel suitcases lining next to her bed.
Why is she packing…?
“Um…Yeah. I already took my time long enough,” I said, trying to ignore the mess within the room.
“I see. That’s good. Now get dressed up.”
Mom picks up a set of outfit that was hanging in the closet and hands them to me. It is a pink slack dress with brown belt, a long sleeve denim jacket, and a pair of black stockings.
“Mom? What’s with this getup?” I asked her curiously after taking it from her.
“Oh, well, we’ll be leaving shortly, and it probably won’t be a short trip. So I prepared an outfit that I think would be comfortable for you in a long trip,” she explained, “Oh, you can choose your own undergarments.”
“N…No, wait mom. Where are we going? We just got home. Aren’t we gonna rest—-?”
“No no no. We have no time for that. I’ve already packed the supplies that we need, and we’ll be away from the house for a while.”
“But mom! Where are we going?! And how long?! And what about Roro? I haven’t even seen him since I got back home yet!”
“I already let Miss Magareth next door take care of Roro like how she always did when we go on a long trip, so don’t worry. Just get dressed up and see me downstairs in ten minutes,” mom said.
Just as she closed the closet door, something inside me snapped and I lost control of my lips as well as my conscience.
“So you expect me to just do everything you say without telling me what the hell is going on here!?”
Out of frustration and confusion, my lips just blurt out all of the emotions that have been stirring within my mind. Mom stops packing the stuffs and turns around to see me.
“I…I was kidnapped to a weird science fiction lab and electrocuted countless times! Now that I just got home, I don’t even get a minute to breathe!? And you know what’s the worst part about this!? You seem to fully understand what the hell is happening here and you’ve NEVER bothered to even give me a hint or warning!”
My lips just won’t stop. It just keeps going on as much as it wants. I know I really shouldn’t have said all that, but the brakes just aren’t there. I just…I just want some explanations about why all of this is happening. I just woke up from my nightmare, and now she’s telling me we can’t stay in this house where I grew up any more?
“…Oh, sweetie. Come here.”
Mom walks over and hugs me tightly. As a crybaby that I am, I start sobbing once again.
I feel pathetic…
“I’m sorry I made all of this seems like a big rush. But those men already know your whereabouts. We need to get out of this place before they come here.”
“Then…Where are we gonna go?” I asked her while still hugging her tightly, trying my best not to sob.
“Let’s go to my dorm at the Orion Observatory. It’s a town of public Astrology Scholars. Since it is seen as the property of public, those men won’t be able to create any trouble there easily,” mom said and looked at me straight into my eyes, “And I promise. I will explain everything to you after we get in the car.”
“…Okay.” I nodded slightly.
“Good girl. Now get dressed up and see me in the living room downstairs.”
Mom gives me a peck on my cheek and zips up all the suitcases.
“…Oh yeah, Sophia.”
“Don’t forget to put on that pendant, okay? I already left it on your table,” mom said while picking up the three suitcases.
“Okay. Got it.”
“Oh. And one more thing. Bring the Leonis Staff down stairs with you too.”
“…You mean the cat paw staff?”
“Yup. See you down stairs, sweetie.”
After that, mom leaves the room with all the suitcases, leaving me alone in her room.
I remove my bath towels and put on the outfit mom prepared for me. I remember this getup very well because mom used to have me wear it when we went on a trip to the lake once. The denim jack is thick enough to protect me from the cold weather, and the slack dress underneath is light and comfortable.
After that, I return to my room – my personal private area where I feel at ease the most. Mom said we would not be back home for a while. So I decide to sit down on my bed, covered with a kitty-pattern quilt, and reminisce for a while. I still remember those nights when I was sitting on my bed and mom would tell me the [Tales of Star Ocean]. After mom left, I would look out of the windows and pray to the stars, wishing to be a Zodiac Angel when I grew up. I already forgot exactly when I stopped doing that before I go to bed. Not that I don’t want to be an angel any more, but reality slowly takes precedence over my childhood dreams, so the practice of praying every night slowly disappears.
Now that I have finally become an angel, I close my eyes and briefly pray to the stars (even though it’s almost noon right now), thanking them for granting my wish.
Anyway, I got up from the bed picked up all of my personal belongings, such as my wallet, my cell phone, the pendant, and the staff as well. Before we left that lab, mom made a little detour and took me to the room where they kept this staff. She said she saw it being stored in a room while she was on the way to save me. But she could not lift it up since she is not the true owner of the staff. So she asked me to pick up the staff before we got into the car.
Holding the staff in my right hand, I carefully observe it in detail for the first time. The whole staff is just about the length of an iron baseball bat. The handle is patched with a piece of leather, making it comfortable to grip. The mace of the staff is carved into the shape of cat’s paw. Actually, ‘cartoon cat paw’ is more accurate, since there are only three digits on the paw.
It took three men to heave this staff into my prison cell, but now I am holding it single-handedly, which is kind of funny when you think about it. Mom told me that Zodiac Angels’ weapons have special mechanics that prevents the weapon from being used by another person. Some, such as my staff, simply becomes heavier when picked up by other people, while others have more fatal mechanics.
I thought about trying to swing the staff out of curiosity, but then I was reminded of how it can shoot fireballs out of the tip. Since I don’t really want to risk burning my bedroom, the idea was quickly scrapped.
With all my stuffs packed, I move down the stairs to the living room.
“I’m done,” I spoke to mom who is sitting comfortably on the couch. The suitcases are nowhere to be found, so I assume that she already put them in the car.
“You got everything you need, right?”
“What about your university texts?”
“…Mom, I thought we’re supposed to be on the run from a powerful organization. You expect me to bring my books with me?”
“Nah. I’m just kidding,” mom giggled and got up from the couch, “Okay then. Let’s get in the car.”
The two of us get out of the house and lock the door up tight. I look at the house for one last time before getting into mom’s deep blue saloon car.
“Sophia?” mom called to me when she notices me standing at the porch quietly for a while.
After one last glance, I get into mom’s car and let her drive out of the house into the city.
It’s definitely going to be a while before we get back to this house – I could just tell.
“…So…Can I ask you some questions now?” I look at mom after we took off from the house for a while.
“Wha? Mom! I thought you’re gonna—!?”
“Hahaha. I’m just messing with you, honey,” mom laughed.
“…I don’t know, mom. I’m not really in the mood to laugh at your jokes right now,” I sighed and looked out of the car.
“Sorry, honey. So, what do you want to know about first? No more jokes this time. I’ll tell you everything you want to know,” mom asked while her eyes are still looking to the front.
There are so many questions on my mind right now and I’m not sure where I want her to start.
“…Well. How about you begin with how you found me in that lab? That might be the question with the shortest answer among the pool of questions in my head right now.”
“Good call,” mom giggled, “Well, it’s thanks to that pendant.”
“This pendant?” I lift it up to see it clearly.
“Yeah. That pendant is called the ‘Connection Pendant’. It will strengthen the links between Zodiac Angels temporarily, allowing them to connect their thoughts. Only the wearer of that pendant can invoke its power, but I put a spell on that pendant to automatically invoke its power should the wearer fall in danger.”
“Uh…So basically if I get in danger, that pendant will send an emergency signal to you?”
“Well, it works a little more complex than that, but yeah, that’s the gist of it,” mom replied.
Now I get it. So this is why she wants me to always have this pendant on. It was not just some superstition; the pendant was indeed an emergency alarm to notify mom that I was in danger.
“So. What is the next question going to be?”
“Let’s see.” I pause to sort out the questions in my mind. “…So you’re…a Zodiac Angel?”
“Well, the ‘reincarnated host of the Zodiac Angel of Virgo’ would be more accurate.” Mom smiles, never letting her eyes off the road.
“How long have you been a Zodiac Angel?”
“Let’s see…I manifested my powers the first time when I was around your age.”
“My age…So that’s like more than 20 years ago, huh? That long?”
“Yeah. I ran into some trouble and accidentally triggered it. Needless to say, I was freaked out as much as you were.”
“Then what about me? Am I an Angel of Virgo too? Is it because I am your daughter that I have the powers that you do?”
“…Nope. Your powers are nothing like mine, and it’s not exactly because you are my daughter that you were chosen as a Zodiac Angel. The Zodiac Angels’ powers do not simply pass along the familial genetic inheritance.”
“…English please, mom.”
“Ahem. Sorry, I’ve been lecturing a class before I went to save you. As I was saying, it cannot be passed down along the bloodlines. There can only be one angel of that zodiac at a time,” she explained. This time in English. “The reason you were chosen as the reincarnated host of the Leo Angel was pure coincidence. From what I understand, Zodiac Angels’ souls choose their reincarnated host at random. Familial relationship plays only a small factor in determining the probability of one getting chosen at birth. One sibling might be an angel while the other is not.”
That was still English, but it was kind of overwhelming to digest.
“So…did you know that I am a Zodiac Angel since I was born?” I asked some more.
That’s kind of unexpected…
“A girl might be chosen as an angel from birth, but no one would be able to tell that she is an angel until her powers have matured to a certain point and fully manifested. There are a number of factors, such as age and amount of distress signal within the body, that seem to determine when the angel could manifest her powers. But in the end, everything is still purely random.”
“So you have me wear the pendant just in case one day I manifested my powers, huh?”
“That’s right. Even though there is no guarantee of you getting chosen, I decide that it is better to be safe than sorry. That’s why I force you to always have that pendant on. Of course, I can’t just tell you my intention, because if possible, I didn’t want you to get involved in this,” she explained, “I prayed so hard at night that the angels will not choose you as one of their successors after I gave birth to you…I probably don’t have to tell you how worried I was when you told me you wish to be an angel.”
I turn my face back to her in surprise. “…You remembered.”
Now I feel so bad for thinking that she forgot about it…
“Of course, I do. You are my daughter – my only remaining family,” mom smiled while still looking at the road.
While I am excited that I finally get to be what I prayed for since I was young, I am not very happy to be in this circumstance where I am chased by a group of mad scientists. But what she said earlier made me feel even more at ease. Her words reassured me that I have a close family member, who I can always rely on, even under this hopeless situation.
“So, I assume that at least by now, you know that there is an invisible hand trying to reach out to our powers, right?”
Since I remained quiet for a while, mom decides to continue before I could ask another question.
“…Yeah. Those men from the laboratory, right?”
“Not only them. That laboratory is only a small fraction of the Nebula Corporation,” mom explained.
“Seriously, the Nebula Corporation…? That monopoly of the energy market?” I muttered.
“This is unbelievable. I mean … In public, the Nebula Corp imaged themselves as the ‘New Hope’ of Athenia. Sure, in the world of business, they are deemed evil as a monopoly, but this…?” I muttered to myself in disbelief.
“The Nebula Corporation is a gigantic organization. Within the entity, there are several subsidiaries and divisions that are after our powers. I might have trashed that lab, but there is no guarantee that the rest of the organization would not come after us.”
“You mean the whole organization is after us!?”
“Yeah. And you know how much influence the Nebula Corporation has on our world. Everyone depends on the energy sold by that corporation. It is a huge organization with filthy power and wealth. They’ll do anything to get what they want, even if it means shedding blood on Athenia.”
“…I…see. So that’s why we have to leave the house,” I whispered, still trying to digest the inconvenient truth.
“I know. I can’t blame you. Back then I don’t buy all this as well,” mom sighed.
“…So…we’re gonna be safe once we get to Orion Observatory?”
“I’ll be honest with you, Sophia … Nowhere on Athenia is safe for Zodiac Angels like us.”
Mom’s reply quickly fills the car with hopelessness and despair.
‘No where on Athenia is safe for Zodiac Angels’?
You have to be kidding…
“I’ve raised you up for 20 years, fighting and hiding from the organization up until now,” mom continued, “Somehow, recently those people seem to have a way to detect our existence, so completely disappearing away is impossible.”
“So…Why didn’t they go after you? I mean…from what you said…they have some ways of telling our positions, right? So they must have known about you.”
“I’m sure they know about me. However, this whole time, I was able to shake off any pursuits that came for me and gave them quite a scar in return. After all, despite my looks, I’m actually a very tough mom,” mom said, chuckling.
“Haha, I see your point.” I agreed. I’ve always seen her as a very strong independent woman. After all, she raised me up all alone without any help of a father figure. “So they gave up pursuing you, and go for the younger Zodiac Angels who just newly manifest their powers, huh?”
“That’s right. They probably have their eyes on you for a long time now. It’s not 100% that you will be a Zodiac Angel. But like I said, familial relationship still plays a part in determining the chance. Small as it might be, those men probably think that 0.0000001% chance is better than chasing after thin air. That’s why Frederick said their efforts paid off.”
“…So, mom, what are we going to do after we get to Orion Observatory? Do we just hide there? I mean, it’s not like we’ll be completely safe there anyway, right?
“Actually, I have another news that is equally…no…perhaps even more worrisome,” mom replied.
Even more worrisome?
Is this not bad enough already?
“You saw those eclipses, right, Sophia?” she asked.
“Oh. Yeah. What’s up with that?”
“It’s a sign.”
“That’s right. It’s a sign…that Ophiucus is returning to Athenia.”
“The Ophiucus, the 13th Zodiac Angel!?” I cried.
“Yes. I’m afraid so.”
“How…How is that possible!? Wasn’t she grounded in the Celly Hall!?”
“Haha. You still call it by that name?” mom giggled.
“Oh come on, mom. It’s a hard name!”
To be honest, I have never been able to memorize the real name of that place after all this time. After all, isn’t it easier to call it the ‘Celly Hall’, since it’s really no different from a prison ‘cell’?
…Yes, I know. That was lame. Sorry…
“Well, anyway, yes, she’s probably going to descend to Athenia soon, or at the very least, her servants. The stars never lie.”
“How could you tell?” I asked curiously.
“It’s the arrangement of stars. 20 years ago, the stars lined up exactly the same way, and our world experienced those frequent eclipses just like we are experiencing it now.”
That sounds pretty stretched…
Then again, I know next to nothing about her field of studies, so I decide not to question her.
“Back then, Ophiucus’s servants descended from the Celestial Hall and wreaked havoc on Athenia,” mom explained.
“20 years ago? If something that big happened, shouldn’t it be on the news?” I asked.
“It was not a big invasion actually. Her minions only destroy some villages and small towns. I guess Ophiucus only wanted to scout our world, so she did not come down here herself. The truth was kept a secret and most of the damage was reported as natural disasters to the public. Guess who did the job.”
“…The Nebula Corp?”
“Knew it,” I sighed. At the same time, mom stops the car in front of a toll way machine. She slides the car’s window opened and inserts a coin into the machine, opening the gates for the toll way.
“20 years ago, the 11 other Zodiac Angels and I united and helped each other fight against Ophiucus’s minions’ invasion. It was during that struggle that we found that there was an invisible hand trying to reach out to our powers,” mom explained as she keeps driving forward, “While fighting against Ophiucus’s minions, each of us was slowly taken by the Nebula Corp. In the end, I was barely able to get myself out alive.”
“By the way mom, if Ophiucus is grounded, how could she send her servants down here? Shouldn’t her servants theoretically be grounded along with her?” I asked.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve been trying to find out how Ophiucus’s servants were able to descend to Athenia, but never found anything. Perhaps it has something to do with Ophiucus’s seal growing weaker. After all, who knows how long she has been sealed?”
“…So mom…if she is descending down from the halls, what’s gonna happen to our world?”
“…Well, you know the ending to that story pretty well, right, Sophia?”
The ending to the [Tales of Star Ocean]?
Back when I was younger, mom did not tell me the last part of the story because she did not want to see me feel depressed. But as I grew up, I looked for the ‘real’ ending of the story, and found out that it did not simply end with ‘Peace returns to Athenia’.
However, her hatred and wrath have never once faded away from history. So Ophiucus made a vow that whenever Athenia is once again filled with chaos and hurled into great upheaval, she will descend from the Celestial Hall and put all existences to an end.
“Yeah. Our world…all existences will be put to an end,” I muttered.
“That’s right. In fact, now that the stars have already lined up, Ophiucus’s servants will surely descend down to our world soon. Everything might begin faster than we expect,” mom added.
“If we let Ophiucus descends, then everything we know will perish…?”
“I’m afraid so,” mom said.
“This…This is unbelievable.”
I lie back against my seat. This is all a little too big for me to digest at once.
First, I am a Zodiac Angel being hunted down by the world’s biggest organization. And now, the legendary revelation of Ophiucus’s return is becoming true as well?
Our world is doomed…?