***

High-profile people filled the auction hall: some representing their respective countries, others for their personal desire for these collections, politicians, actors, actresses, and even leaders from the underground community.

"Woman in red dress," Raven reported through our earpiece. "Turkey representative."

"A sure buyer?" Coal asked.

"Yes. The Prime Minister has already set his eyes on the Navis."

"I can also see representatives from Middle Eastern and European countries. This auction will be interesting," Ebony added.

I could hear the excitement in their voices. People's eyes reflected thrill and greed. On the other hand, I felt fear. Setting the Navis loose all over the world meant chaos. They were bound to obey any order from their master and they couldn't do anything to fight back because they already lost their past selves.

The hall was also crowded with Nox members, from viertes to zweites, while the quintes guarded the outside. I took notice of their numbers and their assignments last night to it would be easier to plan my route.

“Are all the items prepared?”

Napahinto naman ako nang marinig ko ang boses ni Onyx sa earpiece. His voice made me remember what happened that night. He was supposed to be dead, according to his profile and to Ulysses, yet he was very much alive as a Black.

“Yes,” Ebony answered.

“Good. The auctioneer will start in a minute. Make sure this event will proceed smoothly.”

“Of course, Lord Onyx.”

Pagkatapos no’n ay hindi na siya muling nagsalita at nag-focus kami sa kani-kaniya naming assignments. I was tasked to observe the participants along with Raven and Coal, while Pitch and Ebony were entrusted with the artifacts and . . . and . . . people for auction.

I felt revolted after saying that. Trading innocent children, rare creatures, mutilated beings, slaves and Navis for money was too sickening. They would do anything to control everything even if that meant creating wars and empowering the underground community.

Napatigil naman ang lahat nang umilaw ang stage at lumabas ang auctioneer. Nagsiupuan naman ang mga nasa hall at hawak nila ang kani-kanilang bid device. The big screen on top of the auctioneer will flash the alias and number of the bidders, arranged by the amount of their bids and after a minute, the highest bidder will be the owner of the auctioned item.

“Let’s start with our first item—the 100-carat taaffeite!” he announced as he revealed a gemstone mineral. “This gem is one of the rarest mineral in the world. And this one, belonged to the late María Capovilla, who lived for almost 117 years. Strangely, when she was in possession of this stone, she was healthy until it was robbed from her. That’s why people believe that lengthens your lifespan, the modern elixir of life.”

After that brief introduction, actresses, socialites and even politicians showed interest in the item. I could hear their murmurs and hesitation if they should buy it or not.

“Let’s start with $300,000!”

Simultaneous beeps resonated inside the hall as they tried to win the gemstone until the screen displayed a single alias—Winter. She won the gem for $650,000.

The next items were even stranger and more mystifying. From the crowns, teeth and clothes of deceased heroes and kings to albino animals and supposedly extinct creatures, participants bid as if their lives depended on it. People booed and cheered when somebody won an item as they waited for the next, hoping that they would get one, too.

Unti-unti akong lumayo mula sa pwesto ko at lumabas sa hall. The hallways were guarded by viertes but they seemed more interested on what was happening inside so it was easy to slip away from them. I turned off the microphone on my device so that I could only listen to what was going on and placed another ear piece on my left ear to hear Ulysses and Yue.

“Where are you?” mahinang tanong ni Ulysses.

“Hang on,” sabi ko naman.

Agad akong pumunta sa comfort room at nakita kong kalalabas lang sa cubicle ng isang vierte. I immediately locked the door and forcefully injected a sedative on her leg. Her body slumped against the cubicle door and I had to drag her inside. Pinagpalit ko ang coat naming dalawa pati na ang slacks at sapatos. I changed my appearance into her, locked the cubicle and went casually went outside.

“Being a vierte,” I answered after a few minutes. “And you?”

“Inside the hall. You should find the room where the Navis are but don’t do anything. Inform me first so that I can relay it to our agents.”

“Roger. Are there agents inside?”

“A few.”

“Okay. Later.”

I navigated the corridors and hallways with caution, checking every room and every corner for any clues and information about the Navis. They were well-hidden and it seemed like they would only reveal themselves during the last part of the auction.

“Nel, a dritte is heading toward your way.” Saglit akong napahinto nang marinig ko ang boses ni Yue sa isang earpiece.

According to her, the agent inside had acquired the blueprint of the building and she was using it to observe everyone. She assigned agents to put different kinds of trackers to people according to their classes—Blacks, humdrums and Erityians. She could tell our every movement and decide what we should do in order to carry out our missions effectively.

“Who are the Blacks that you can track?” tanong ko sa kanya.

“Only the outer circles. Nobody could put a tracker on the zweites and zuerst,” she said.

Besides Onyx, I hadn’t encountered any zuerst yet. Unlike the Navis, these people act on their own judgment. In other words, traitors who betrayed their respective tribes.

I was about to go to the next floor when I suddenly heard static sounds from my right earpiece. It seemed like something was happening in the auction hall. The sound was faint and masked by the static but I could hear people shouting and hurried footsteps.

“What’s happening in the auction?” I asked, hoping that I was just hearing it wrong.

“The blacks are gathering there. I couldn’t contact the agents.”

“What about Ulysses?”

“I—”

Her line was cut off. Shit!

Nagmadali ako papunta sa auction hall at pagdating ko ro’n ay naglalabasan na ang mga tao. The doors were already closing so I ran toward them and managed to slip inside before they secured it completely.

The auction hall was in chaos. Everyone was desperately trying to get out but the exits were already sealed. Several tried contacting their associates and assistants outside but to no avail. There was no signal and communication through electronic devices wasn’t working.

I cursed under my breath. Our plan was already ruined.

Hinanap ko naman ang dahilan ng kaguluhan pero parang lumubog ang puso ko nang makita ko kung ano ang nangyari sa stage. One of the Erityian children was lying on the floor, bleeding from a wound in her chest.

“Let us out! There’s a freak in this hall!”

“Fucking kill that monster!”

“Damn it! You should have sedated her before presenting her as an item!”

I hurriedly went up the stage to check her. Amidst the commotion, the stage felt eerily silent and cold. I carefully examined her wound and I stifled a sob when I saw that it was already beyond saving. Her tiny hand reached mine and her dull green eyes met mine. She must have awakened her full potential as a Senshin or Shinigami to protect herself during her last moments for her eyes to manifest its last stage’s color.

“O-onegai . . . o-nee-s-san . . . i-ie made o-okutte kudasai,” (Please, older sister, take me home,) she weakly said and even if I wasn’t fluent in Japanese, I knew she wanted to get out of this place.

“I will,” I promised while clutching her hand.

She flashed a delicate smile. “A-arigatou. . .” (Thank you.)

Before I could say something, her expression already went still and her grip on mine had loosened. Her green eyes lost its gleam. I closed her eyes and prayed silently for her departure.

“What are you doing?! Help them control the crowd!”

Tumingin naman ako kung saan galing ang boses na ‘yon. Behind the podium, the auctioneer was giving orders to Blacks who were near him while holding a gun on his right hand. He was looking at me, expecting to follow his words, but I approached him instead.

“A vierte, aren’t you?” he asked, slowly pointing the gun at my direction. Based on his clothes, he must be a dritte. “Help the others!”

“Why did you shoot her?” I asked back, ignoring his question and order.

“She almost killed some people with that creepy power of hers—!” I didn’t let him finish his statement. With my hand on his neck, he couldn’t speak not breathe any longer.

“So you killed her instead? You killed an innocent child?”

I couldn’t quell my anger anymore. He cried in pain when I snapped his hand and took hold of his gun. I aimed it at his forehead and pulled the trigger. His blood splattered on my face as his body fell heavily on the ground but that didn’t feel enough as his punishment.

I felt bad for breaking my promise to my team. I didn’t want to kill someone but it served him right. He deserved it.

“Who are you?”

It was that moment that I realized I had to change plans. I felt the muzzle of the gun against the back of my head and his familiar voice.

“Why did you kill him?” he asked in a dangerous tone.

He must have been the reason for the lost of signal, given that he’s the CEO of a telecommunication corporation. Coal saw me killing the auctioneer.

“Walk,” he ordered, pushing me with his gun.

Naglakad ako habang nakasunod siya at bumaba kami sa stage papunta sa likod. My heart pounded painfully against my chest when I heard the cries of other children from their cages. We arrived at the room where they were held.

“Who is that?” tanong ni Ebony na nakabantay ro’n.

“She must be the mole,” Coal said, moving the tip of the gun from the back of my head to my temple. “She killed the auctioneer.”

Ebony’s face turned grim. For a moment, I thought my life would end here but when I saw the children, I decided not to get killed before saving them and destroying the Navis.

I was running out of time. Ebony already drew his sword while Coal was threatening me with the gun pointed at my head. I had no choice. Fighting them was the only way.

I was ready to attack them but I suddenly heard static from my left earpiece. Yue? She must have accessed some signal from other places!

“At the count of three, run to your right and fight the guy holding the sword. Ready?”

Hearing that voice stirred a mixture of emotions inside me and I wasn’t sure if I should be happy or feel guilty. I was taken aback but I was desperate. I did what she wanted me to do. When I heard her counting, I lurched to my right and pulled out my dagger to challenge Ebony.

“You—!”

Coal tried to chase me but before he could even turn to my direction, an ear-splitting sound stopped everyone from moving. The next thing I knew, his body had already crumpled down with a bullet impaled between his eyes. It penetrated the thick wall in front of us and after a second, the wall collapsed, revealing a familiar figure.

“One down. One to go,” she said and I could imagine her subtly smiling in front of her laptop.

“You mean, two down,” the guy behind Ebony said and he lunged at him without any hesitation.

“Team Optimus, reporting in. Currently battling zweites,” Naia stated and I had to bit my lip to prevent myself from crying.

‘Missed us?’ Cliff teased while exchanging blows with Ebony.

“You better explain everything later,” Jett added, who must be in another building.

“I’m going to kill you later,” sabi naman ni Naia.

Despite this mess and battle, I managed to let out a chuckle. I never thought I’d see them here and I realized how much I missed and needed them for the past few months.

“I missed you too, guys,” I said as I assisted Cliff against Ebony.

Team Optimus is finally together again.



***