***

"I see. That's a critical information," Ulysses said.

I returned to our base since the zweites said they needed to attend to their personal commitments. Ebony said he'd just alert us once Midnight tells him what to do. Nagmadali akong umuwi at naabutan ko si Ulysses sa basement habang nakatingin sa malaking hologram sa harapan niya. I immediately told him what transpired and he looked perturbed after learning the real purpose of zuersts.

"We must not let them use those Erityians for wars," I said, still shaken by the fact that Mom might also be put into that kind of situation.

"I must inform Commander Priam about this, as well as this," sabay tingin niya sa hologram.

Hindi ko masyadong pinansin 'yon kanina pero ngayong nandoon na ang atensyon ko ay napanganga ako sa nakita ko.

"W-what are those?" I asked even though I already had an idea.

He flashed a subtle and calculated smile. "One of the keys to our success," he said.

The hologram flickered and hummed, expanding until it occupied half of the room. Hallways and closed doors were projected. It looked like a hotel or a luxury residence but I couldn't find any characters or signs indicating its name or location.

"This is probably where they will negotiate with the country's representatives," he said, verifying my suspicion. "I was ordered by Onyx to prepare for a 3-day journey and I came across this data by chance."

"Where did you get this?"

"At one of the zuerst's headquarters. The dritte tasked to copy some files dropped one of the memory cards and I looked into it. At first, it wasn't making any sense but I reconfigured it and this was the result."

"Wait, what if they noticed that there was a missing card?"

"This is just a copy, so don't worry."

Muli naming tiningnan ang hologram at malaki ang chance na dito nga gaganapin ang auction. Wala kaming ibang information tungkol doon pero sigurado akong hindi iyon magtatagal, lalo na't kumikilos na sila. They would auction those Navis and different countries would surely buy them since they would be a great asset in a war.

"All the pieces are slowly coming together," he said.

"Yes," I agreed. "The real goal of Nox is not just the domination in the underground community but the whole world. They will have the world at their mercy if the Navis are deployed."

Nagsimula kaming magplano sa mga dapat naming gawin. Ulysses had to leave an hour after that to update Dad and to devise a strategy in order to prevent the Nox from their schemes.

Naiwan ako sa basement at pinagmamasdan ko pa rin ang hologram. Nilabas ko rin ang restricted folders at journals ni Ulysses.

"This has become big," I murmured, thinking about how the Nox managed to establish itself while putting several intelligence agencies off their scent.

I tried analyzing the chain of events, starting from Mom's disappearance but there were too many unclear motives and discrepancies. First, according to Nigel's logs, they were tracking down a Black named Onyx but they got sidetracked. Besides that one entry, I couldn't find anything about Onyx anymore. Second, Mom and Zeno were together when they encountered the Blacks. Among the members, they were the strongest so it was a bit suspicious that we didn't hear anything from both of them. They disappeared without leaving any tracks. I mean, Blacks were mostly humdrums, unless it was the zuersts whom they had came up against.

"Intruder alert. Intruder alert."

Nagulat naman ako nang marinig ko ang warning alert at lumabas sa malaking screen ang radar. Two dots were walking toward this abandoned town and they were only 850 meters away from here.

I stood up and immediately activated the defense system so that no data and logs would be acquired in case the intruders made their way here.

"Show them," I ordered. The radar was replaced with a surveillance video and I almost cursed when I saw the familiar faces of Cliff and Jett.

All kinds of thoughts raced through my mind. They shouldn't be here. Ulysses activated a lot of traps that could kill someone who tried to get through the path leading here. At kung sakali mang makalusot sila ay makikita nila sina Ink at Jade sa mismong bahay. Malalaman nilang may nakatira rito at kung ano ang plano namin.

I wanted to contact Ulysses but he might be with the Blacks and any communication with him would surely cause suspicion.

“Damn it! What should I do?” I muttered as I paced back and forth, hoping that they would just turn back.

Lumabas ako sa basement at pumunta sa bahay kung nasaan sina Ink at Jade. Nigel put them inside a sleeping capsule that he brought here few days ago. He said he got it from Dr. Liev when he visited Area 008.

Nakita ko naman ang buttons sa gilid kaya binasa ko ang labels doon at napanganga ako nang makita ko ang nakalagay sa black na button.

“Hide?” I mumbled as my finger hovered on that particular button. When I heard the alert on my earpiece again, I pushed it and I stumbled back a step as the capsule disappeared. “W-what the heck?”

With careful steps, I approached the place where the capsules were a while ago and extended my hand. That was when I realized what was going on. They didn’t disappear. They just turned invisible. I could still feel the capsule’s surface.

“Intruder alert,” the voice from the system said. “Warning: There are intruders 500 meters away from here.”

“What?!” Lumabas ako mula sa kwarto. “Damn it. How did they evade those traps . . .” My voice trailed off when I realized what was going on. “Of course. Naia.”

What should I do? In a few minutes, they would be here. Pwede akong tumakas ngayon para hindi nila ako makita pero hindi ko rin pwedeng iwan ang lugar na ‘to habang nandito sila. They would definitely discover our plans and they might affect us in a negative way. They’d be a hindrance.

I have no choice—

“System overwritten. Reconfiguring . . .”

Napakunot ang noo ko nang marinig ko ‘yon mula sa earpiece. System overwritten? Someone had hacked the server! Who the heck—

“Hello.”

Napatigil ako nang may narinig akong boses sa server at hindi na ‘yon ang mismong OS. It was someone else. A human.

“Who are you?” I asked under my breath.

“Hmm, the best Keeper? Is that enough as an introduction?”

I gasped upon hearing that statement and hacking this system made by Nigel was already a proof.

“Y-Yue?” I called, still in disbelief that she was on the other line.

“Yes, Penelope. I’m glad you still know me.”

“B-but how—”

“Okay, kid, enough chatting. You need to get out of there. Your teammates are getting nearer,” she warned.

“But I can’t leave this house. Ulysses is—”

“Yes, you can. I already reconfigured the defensive measures and nobody can enter here except you and Ulysses.”

“Wow,” I muttered.

“I know. Now, get out of there but wear your disguise.”

“Disguise? You mean Jade?”

“Yes. Her. Go. I’ll lead you.”

“Okay.”

I changed into Jade once more and prepared my weapons and devices. I still couldn’t believe that Yue was guiding me. I mean, she’s the best Keeper and the only ones she guide are Dad and her fellow Executives. It was thrilling yet terrifying. Wala pa siyang strategy na natalo o nasira pero baka dahil sa akin ay magkaroon. Hindi naman ako kasinggaling nina Dad at Executives para maisagawa ang strategies na kadalasan ay para sa kanila.

“They are just 300 meters away. Be ready,” she ordered. “When they reached the post, run towards them, just enough distance for them to see you.”

Nang makarating na sina Cliff at Jett sa light post ay ginawa ko ang sinabi ni Yue. I ran outside the house and saw the both of them trying their best to evade and defend themselves against the traps. They sensed my presence and immediately looked at my direction. I smiled.

Cliff recognized Jade’s face and Jett must have remembered me from the hospital. Both of them were ready to lunge at me but they stayed at their position.

“Hooh. Your Keeper is good,” Yue commented.

“Well, of couse. She’s Naia,” I retorted, feeling proud that Naia was praised by Yue, though I didn’t understand why she said that.

“Shoot at their direction,” sabi naman niya kaya napatigil ako.

“What?”

“Just do it. They won’t die anyway. I know your shooting skill is below them.”

“Hey!”

“Do it.”

Wala na akong magawa kundi sundin ang gusto niya. After all, she’s a Keeper. Alam niya kung ano ang ginagawa niya at kung ano ang makakabuti sa akin.

I shot at their direction but they easily avoided it. As expected. But there wasn’t any time for me to be amazed. Jett was loading his gun. And no, I might not be able to avoid that.

“Now, run away from them,” she ordered and I immediately obliged. “Turn right. Cross that wall in front of you and shoot at them again. Don’t let them ignore your presence or else they’ll go in that house and there’s a high chance they’ll be fatally injured. Got it?”

“Yeah. Roger.”

With her guidance, I managed to get them away from the house but that meant bad news for me. Cliff was getting nearer and Jett was supporting him by shooting at me. One bullet almost hit me in the head. Goddamn that sniper!

“You’re slowly getting cornered, Kid. Run faster.”

“I can see that!” I said while catching my breath. She must be disappointed, seeing that I couldn’t even outrun these two. That was expected since she was used to work with the best agents.

“Turn left and follow the road—oh, God, a variable.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“Someone’s coming your way.”

“Yeah, Cliff is definitely coming my way.”

“No. Another one.”

“What?!”

“Hey, kid, stop talking. Don’t respond anymore and just follow my orders. She’s there.”

Hindi ko alam kung ano ang sinasabi niya pero nakita ko si Cliff na halos ilang metro na lang ang layo sa akin habang si Jett ay hindi ko na makita. Definitely not good.

I sprinted using all my energy but Cliff anticipated that and did the same thing. However, faster. He was almost beside me and I was ready to use my dagger against him but he suddenly stumbled and I heard a gunshot from somewhere.

Did Jett shoot inaccurately? No. That would be impossible. Then, who . . .

“Found you.”

I had to control my expression when I saw someone standing behind me. Hindi ko in-expect na makikita ko siya rito at lalong hindi ko inakala na tutulungan niya ako.

“Need a hand, Jade?” she asked but I already knew she was in her battle mode. “Silence means yes.”

Raven lunged at Cliff and I watched them engage in a close-range combat.

“Run. Now.” Nawala ang focus ko sa kanila nang marinig ko ang boses ni Yue.

“But . . .”

“Come, Penelope. None of them will die. They’ll be injured but not fatal. You need to get out of there and that Black is buying you some time. Use her to your advantage. Go.”

With a heavy heart, I ran away from them and I had to resist the urge to turn around or else, I’d be joining both of them. As I distanced myself from them, a lot of questions lingered in my mind.

That Raven . . . how did she find me? And why did she help me?



***