I was still shaken by the fact that we just met Raven, a zweite. Her presence was too intimidating for a humdrum. That was why Ben Santos, her husband, could pocket public funds and embezzle money from private institutions—he has a connection to the underground market and people who could help and benefit him.

"Too easy," Cliff said when he finally cracked the code.
"Vigenère cipher, isn't it?" Naia commented since I sent her the same code.
"Yes. Didn't expect that the keyword would be that easy."
"So, what's the message?" tanong ko naman.

Vigenère cipher, huh? I heard that in our Cryptography class before but I didn’t pay any attention since I was not interested in cracking codes. Sinilip ko naman ang laptop ni Cliff at na-decipher na niya ang coded message.


Below those unreadable letters was the decrypted message.

Give the money to Raven.
Do not worry about your financial statement.
We will take care of it.

“Hooh, so that woman is really Raven, a Nox member,” sabi ko nang mabasa ko ang message.
“Yes and it seems like that congressman is pocketing money from his funds to sponsor a non-existing company,” dagdag ni Naia habang patuloy na nagta-type sa laptop niya.
“Non-existing company?”
“Yes but if my hunch is right . . .”
“It’s owned by Nox.”

The three of us simultaneously turned our heads to the right after hearing his voice. He was looking at us with his frowning face and all of us ran toward him.

"Jett!" I exclaimed, relieved that he finally regained his consciousness.
“Glad that you’re awake,” Cliff added and he helped him sit up.
“Well . . .” Jett glanced at Naia’s direction since she wasn’t saying anything. She had been worried about him since that accident. She said if she just discovered the bomb planted in the car earlier, our injuries would be prevented. As our Keeper, she felt guilty because we almost got killed.
“Stupid,” she suddenly muttered. “You should’ve called us instead of listening to our conversation. You stupid gun addict.”

She marched back to her table and the two guys were just staring at her, dumbfounded. Napangiti naman ako habang nakatingin lang sa kanila.

“What the heck is wrong with that woman?” mahinang tanong ni Jett.
“Well maybe it’s that time of the month?” sagot naman ni Cliff.
“You guys are really stupid.”

Napailing na lang ako habang naglalakad pabalik sa working area namin. I sat next to Naia and smiled. With her tensed shoulder and shaking hands, it was quite obvious that she was grateful that Jett was alright.

“What a tsundere,” sabi ko kaya napatingin siya sa akin.
“Tsundere? What’s that?”
“A perfect description for you,” I said and I gave her a wink.

Pagkatapos no’n ay bumalik kami sa pinag-uusapan namin kanina at ngayon ay kasama na namin si Jett. He could already walk with his right leg but his right arm was not yet healed.

“So, who texted him?” Jett asked after we told him the situation.
“I managed to track the number but it was weird,” sabi naman ni Cliff at hinarap niya sa amin ang laptop niya. “See? It gives signal to different locations and all of them move simultaneously whenever I try to focus on one.”
“That person must be really cautious,” I commented.
“Anyway, we need to inform Nigel—oh, Nigel just sent me a mail,” Naia said and we all looked at her screen to see his message.

We got an important clue about Nox’s boss.

Nagkatinginan naman kaming apat matapos naming mabasa ang mail. Hindi ko alam kung paano nakuha ni Nigel ang clue na ‘yon pero malaki ang hinala ko na galing ‘yon kay Ansel Choi.

“Cliff and Nel, you two should go to Area 008,” sabi ni Naia. “Jett, you’re not going anywhere.”
“Fine,” Jett muttered and he slumped on his bed.
“I’ll continue looking into this Ben Santos, as well as Raven. That case, we’ll have more information about Blacks,” dagdag ni Naia.
“Yeah. Then, we’ll be going.”


“You okay?” biglang tanong ni Cliff. “You’ve been sighing a lot.”

Observant as always.

‘Bit exhausted,’ I said using my patheia.
‘Why here?’
‘I can’t help but think that this car might be bugged.’

Natahimik naman si Cliff at mukhang pareho na kami ng iniisip. After that explosion, I couldn’t get if off my head—that someone from CIA, from our own tribe, has been acting as a spy for someone else. What made it worse was that someone might be close to me since he or she knew our movement and managed to put a bomb in the car.

‘Hey, what do you think about Nigel?’ he asked and just as I thought, we had the same person in mind.
‘He’s suspicious, especially since he’s the closest agent to us. I don’t want to doubt him because we have the same goal but his actions the past few days were odd.’

He was my mother’s colleague and friend and he wanted to know what happened to them, too. Nigel had helped us in many ways and I felt bad thinking about the possibility but he might be one of them. After all, Ansel, one of their members, became a zuerst. Even though unintentionally and against his will, he became a Black.

‘In the mean time, let’s observe him. Like you, I don’t want to believe that he’s with them,’ sabi naman niya at pagkatapos no’n ay tahimik lang kaming naghintay hanggang sa makarating kami sa lugar na ‘yon.

Area 008.

Just like before, we pressed the red button and the door opened. We were welcomed by agents and they brought us to Liev’s lab. She and Nigel were staring at the computer screen and it seemed like they didn’t even notice us.

“Hey,” I said and both of them looked at our direction.
“Oh, you’re here.”

Lumapit si Cliff sa kanila habang napatingin naman ako sa capsule kung nasaan si Ansel. His eyes were closed so maybe they put him to sleep.

“Nel, come here.”

Napatingin naman ako sa kanilang tatlo at lumapit na rin ako. Pagdating ko ro’n ay may video silang pinapanood. Liev and Nigel were talking when three agents came to them and reported something. However, Ansel suddenly banged the capsule and started looking around. After a few seconds, he stood still as if nothing happened.

“What was that?” tanong ko matapos naming panoorin ‘yon.
“Looks like he reacted to something,” Cliff said and Liev nodded.
“You’re right. Watch this.”

She played another video and this time, they were standing in front of Ansel’s capsule. They asked him questions but he didn’t respond. Live ordered the three agents to leave and they said yes in chorus. After that, Ansel did that again and this time, Nigel brought the three agents in front of him.

“Say something. One by one,” he ordered and the three agents followed him.

The first two said their names but Ansel didn’t respond until the third one talked. Ansel reacted the same way but just like what happened earlier, he stopped moving after several seconds.

“Did you get it?” tanong ni Nigel.
“He reacted to his voice?” I guessed and I realized what he meant by that.
“You mean . . .” Cliff’s voice trailed off after realizing the same thing.
“Yes. That agent’s voice must be similar to a Black,” Nigel explained. “And since Ansel has become a zuerst, that means they only receive orders from the highest person in the organization—their boss.”

I felt a chill down my spine after hearing that. The Nox is an elusive organization that even the greatest spies couldn’t penetrate and the one holding them all was that person. I don’t know who he is but he must be a powerful person that has a lot of connection, money and guts to even mess with the Erityians.

“Then, did you try giving Ansel an order using that agent’s voice?” biglang tanong ni Cliff.
“Yes but he just reacted the same way,” sagot ni Liev. “Therefore, he just recognize the voice. Maybe it’s similar but not enough for him to follow what he said.”
“Then that means . . .”
“Yes,” Nigel chimed in while looking at Ansel. “We think he’s using a set of words, keywords, for the zuersts to listen and follow his order. That bastard, he really turned them into his puppets. I will never forgive him.”

Nigel looked pissed and that was the first time I saw him furious and desperate. He stared at Ansel with a yearning expression, as if he was reminiscing his moments with him and I suddenly felt guilty for suspecting him. Out of the people who wanted to expose the Nox, he must be the one dying to do it. After all, his comrades were killed and used by them.

Pagkatapos no’n ay kinumusta naman nila ang nangyari sa amin. We told them about the war and they were impressed by Hideo’s strategy.

“I do not know how he managed to convince the Custos and Huntres tribes to help but by having that kind of alliance, there’ll be changes,” Liev said.
“So the Death Goddess is dead, huh?” sabi naman ni Nigel.
“You know her?” tanong ko.
“Of course. Infiltrating her base, that was our last mission together,” he said with a melancholic smile.

Naalala ko naman ang sinabi niya sa amin dati. Mom recovered the agents’ eyes from the Shinigami’s base to prevent them from examining and using those to dangerous and immoral experiments. They prevented the Shinigamis from using them but it turned out a group of humdrums were doing the same thing and they succeeded. They created the zuersts and used them against humdrums and their own race.

We stayed for a few more minutes until Naia told us that they found a crucial clue about Raven. Nagpaalam naman kami sa kanila at sinabi nilang ipapaalam kaagad nila sa amin kung may nalaman ulit sila tungkol kay Ansel. Bago kami umalis ay napahinto ako.

“Nigel,” I called and he looked at me. “I trust you,” I said after weighing all the possibilities. In the end, I chose to believe in him.
“I know,” he said with a smile that couldn’t even hide his grief and frustration.

Pagkalabas namin sa Area 008 ay dumiretso kami sa sasakyan pero bago ‘yon ay inispect muna namin. After thoroughly searching the car and making sure that there was no suspicious object, we headed back to our base.

‘Are you sure?’ Cliff suddenly asked. ‘Trusting him, I mean.’
‘No, but my instinct told me to,’ sagot ko naman.
‘But still . . .’
‘Don’t underestimate a woman’s instinct, Cliff. It’s a powerful tool,’ I jokingly said but he just sighed.
‘He’s still suspicious to me.’
‘Then, will you trust me?’ I asked, hoping that his response wouldn’t be yes.

I smiled after hearing that and it seemed like he was confused by that sudden question.

‘Nothing,’ I said and he looked at me with a baffled expression.
‘You’re acting weird.’
‘I’m just exhausted.’

I was glad that he didn’t bluntly say he trust me because I might lose my will to do the outrageous plan I thought earlier. I had enough of this waiting game. Those Blacks won’t get out of the shadows if we keep on pulling back. We need to lure them out.

It’s time to turn that organization upside down.