***

Doomed.

That was the first thing that came into my mind. However, everything happened so fast that I ended up gawking at the body sprawled on the floor.

"W-what t-the . . ."

Napabagsak na lang rin ako sa sahig habang nawalan naman siya ng malay. When he appeared right in front of me a while ago, my instinct took over and threw the dagger at his direction. It hit his right shoulder but before he could react, a trap was suddenly activated—several spikes appeared on the floor, piercing his foot, and darts shot from the opposite wall towards his direction. He was helplessly cornered and suffered critical injuries that made him fell to the floor unconscious.

"What the hell?" bulong ko habang nakatingin sa paligid at bigla akong naging alert dahil sa nangyari. I didn't know that there were traps lying everywhere and one wrong move could kill someone.

Just like what happened to Ink.

With my remaining dagger on hand, I carefully trod toward the desk, grabbed the listening device as well as the folders, and fled outside. Dumiretso ako sa trapdoor at pumunta sa basement kung saan kami nanatili dati. Wala na ang karamihan ng mga gamit pero nandoon pa rin ang ilang device pati na rin ang malaking monitor na nakalutang lang sa ere. When I pressed the control button, Ink appeared on the screen, still unconscious. At least, I could monitor his movement from down here.

That freaking humdrum. I never thought that he could trace me here. Pero dahil drittes ang naghanap dati sa hideout na 'to ni Nigel, hindi rin nakapagtataka na isipin niyang may nakatira pa rin dito. Well, at least all the valuable drittes are now in our hands. Luckily, this one was stupid enough to attack the hideout by himself.

"Speaking of Chromes, that Crow killed a Red."

Napatigil naman ako sa pag-iisip nang bigla ko 'yong narinig mula sa listening device. That was Raven's voice and they were talking about us. About me.

"Hoh. So he's not a mole, huh?" one of the guys said.
"We're still not sure. I really don't trust those Chromes," the other guy commented.
"But remember, the zuersts are Chromes, too."
"Those guys are different. They loathe their own race."
"Have any of you seen them?"
"Once," Raven replied. "I saw two of them and I almost died. It was amusing," she said, chuckling.

Their clear voices were masked by another wave of statics and I couldn’t hear them anymore. I looked at the monitor and Ink was still there so I decided to check on the other feeds. For a second, I was tempted to listen to my team’s bug but in the end, I couldn’t. I might lose my rationality the moment I hear their voices and that could cost us a lot, especially now that I am assumed dead.

Mukhang dito rin inilagay ni Ulysses ang ilang importanteng gamit kaya naman kinuha ko ang laptop na nakalagay sa desk doon at tinignan ang ilang updates tungkol sa Nox Organization. According to their Death Index, they already killed a lot of their targets except the Erityians, especially the remaining three leaders of the tribes, which I think they wouldn’t be able to even touch. Ngayong wala na si Rin, hindi ko alam kung sino na ang namumuno sa Shinigami tribe. Maybe another Royal from her bloodline?

I wanted to know more about the inner circles—the zweites and zuersts—but their activities weren't recorded on their site. If only I could disguise and infiltrate again . . .

Bigla naman akong napatingin sa screen kung saan ko nakikita si Ink at agad pumasok ang ideyang 'yon sa isip ko. I must tell my plan to Ulysses.

***

"Hoh. So it was, indeed, effective."

Ulysses was staring at the unconscious body of Ink while an amused expression lingered on his face. I went back here when he said he was coming and he immediately bound Ink.

"What the heck were those?" I asked while staring at the signs of traps everywhere.
"Those traps were set up by Nigel himself. I just tweaked them and made them more fatal to prevent," sabay tingin niya kay Ink, "unwanted visitors."
"But how was it activated?"
"Above the doorway and windows, as well as on the roof, there are sensors. If it doesn't detect the designated colors of our irises, the traps would be activated and directed to the trespasser," he explained. That was why I wasn't affected.

Sinabi niya sa akin na nag-iwan pala ng code si Nigel bago umalis doon na tanging Erityian lang ang makakaalam para ma-utilize ang buong bahay. I already knew that Nigel was a sharp and careful man but I didn’t think it would reach the point wherein he had to convert his whole house into a lair of traps.

Pareho naman kaming pumunta sa basement at sinabi ko sa kanya ang balak kong gawin.

“First, let’s organize all the information we have obtained,” sabi niya at nilapag niya sa sahig ang isang device na naglabas naman agad ng holographic board sa harapan namin. With a high-tech pen, he started writing on it. “In the eyes of both your allies and enemies, you’re already dead. That gives us a lot of opportunities and troubles.”
“Trouble?” tanong ko naman.
“Yes, especially from your team.”

May nag-play na video at nakita ko kung ano ang kalagayan ng Optimus. They were searching hard for clues about me yet they couldn’t find anything. I felt worse when I saw Naia’s weary expression. As a Keeper, she must be blaming herself for what happened.

“Your Keeper is persistent and quite skilled,” he said.
“Of course. I take pride in my comrades’ capabilities,” sabi ko naman. “But what do you mean by that?”
“She managed to track your whereabouts when you disappeared before I could totally destroy the three bugs attached on you. She ordered the other two to search the place where the signal suddenly disappeared and I don’t know if it was a lucky situation but they were suddenly summoned by the Executives.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Area 008 was attacked.”

Halos napatigil ako sa paghinga pagkarinig ko no’n. Paano nangyari ‘yon? Dahil ba nandoon si Ansel Choi?

“By Blacks?” tanong ko ulit.
“Yes and they got Ansel back.”
“But how? Aside from being a research facility, that place is also a stronghold. How could that happen?”
“I know but according to the report I got, it seems like it was attacked during their weakest time. As if they knew the agents’ schedules, allowing them to attack easily. Liev tried her best to defend her fort and agents but she couldn’t do it alone.”
“But Nigel is also there—”

I stopped midway and looked at Ulysses’ eyes. His expression turned serious and even though I couldn’t read his mind, I already knew what he wanted to say.

“He disappeared together with Ansel,” he confirmed and I had to bit my lower lip so hard to keep myself from screaming and cursing.

‘Nigel, I trust you.’
‘I know.’

Huminga ako nang malalim at pilit na inalis sa isip ko ang huli naming pagkikita at pag-uusap. Why? Why would he do that?

“Do you feel betrayed?” biglang tanong ni Ulysses kaya muli akong napatingin sa kanya.
“Who wouldn’t?” mahina kong sagot. I trusted him even though I already had suspicions. I believed in his words because we were on the same boat.
“I told you that personal attachment and feelings could affect one’s judgement,” he said and that made me feel worse. “But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t rely to them.”

Pagkasabi niya no’n ay agad akong tinignan ko siya sa mga mata. His expression seemed softer compared to earlier and his eyes glinted with sorrow.

“I have known Nigel for a long time and he has always been a man of righteousness. The death of his comrades might have changed him but I still believe that he has his reasons why he chose to go with Ansel. I understood that when I saw how your Keeper tried her damn best. Maybe all Keepers are like that, especially that man.”

Hindi ko alam kung bakit pero may tumulong luha mula sa mga mata ko pagkatapos niyang sabihin ‘yon. Nigel had been searching for the people responsible for his comrades’ death for years and even with a small and vague lead, he was ready to gamble his life. He was waiting for a chance to get back to those murderers and maybe that desire made him impatient and emotional. But what if that desire turned into something else? What if he decided to be with his team even if it meant betraying us?

“He didn’t betray us, right?” tanong ko at pinigilan ko ang luha ko. I had to stay calm.
“It’s hard to say but let his actions speak for himself. Soon, we will be able to see his true intentions.”

Pagkatapos niyang sabihin ‘yon ay katahimikan ang namagitan sa amin. Sinubukan kong kalmahin ang sarili ko pero naaalala ko naman ang pinagsamahan namin ni Nigel at kung paano niya kami tinulungan sa missions namin pati na rin sa iba pang mga bagay.

“Anyway, we still have a lot of concerns,” Ulysses’ said, breaking the silence. “Did you already read my journals?”
“Yes,” sagot ko naman.
“Did you find strange entries?”

Inaalala ko naman ang mga nabasa ko at bigla kong naisip ang ilang alphanumeric entries na nabasa ko sa ilang entries.

“Yes. S1H1 and C3,” sabi ko. “What do you mean by that?”
“The zuersts,” he answered and I was caught off-guard. “Did you get it?”

A chill went down my spine when I realized what he meant by that. Ni hindi ko ‘yon naisip noong binabasa ko ang entries pero ngayon ay hindi ko na alam ang dapat maramdaman.

“One Senshin, one Huntres and three Custos,” I responded, taking out the possibility of having a Shinigami since they already openly associated themselves with Nox.
“Correct.”
“If Ansel is one of the three Custos, that means there are still two,” sabi ko naman at bigla akong natakot. “D-does that mean, the other two are Zeno and my mother?”
“No,” he replied and that confused me more.
“Why?”
“Actually, the exact words of Ebony are: A Green, a Blue and three Reds are currently active in their tribes.”
“W-what?” My mouth hung open and my head was throbbing from all the information he just dropped. “T-then, you mean to say . . .”
“Yes. Zuersts aren’t just consist of robot-like Erityians but some are even voluntarily betraying their own tribes.”

Napapikit ako sa sinabi niya kahit na inaasahan ko na ‘yon. Huminga ako nang malalim at kanina ko pa sinusubukang pakalmahin ang sarili ko pero lalo lang akong nagpa-panic at naguguluhan. This Nox Organization was driving me crazy.

“If we exclude the three members of Team Magnus, that means there are three Custos who are spying us in the name of Nox,” he continued and his expression turned grim. “If, in any case, Nigel is one of them, then that means there are still two moles within the tribe.”

Two spies working against a tribe of spies, huh? How ironic. Everything seemed absurd but taking the events that happened these past few months, Ulysses’ judgment made sense. However, it was still hard to believe.

“Say, do you really want to do that?” he suddenly asked and I realized he was talking about the plan I suggested.

I wanted to disguise as Ink, the highest official of the drittes but after thinking about it, I realized it might not be worth it. The zweites are just one level above him yet it was like heaven and earth.

“How about posing as someone else?” he suggested.
“Who?” Hindi naman niya ako sinagot at nagsimula siyang magligpit ng gamit.
“Let’s go,” sabi niya kaya nagulat ako.
“Where?” Lumingon naman siya sa akin at napahinto ako nang nakita ko siya ngumiti.
“To the one you’re going to impersonate.”



***