***

The desperate yells and hurried footsteps of people filled the whole building. The auction had been suspended due to the upheaval. I still felt bad for that child but I have to do my mission or else, her death would be meaningless.

"Naia, can you connect me to Yue?"

"She's currently assisting the agents. I'll relay your message."

"There are Erityian children and other creatures down here. Tell her to dispatch agents to free them."

"Roger."

"Let's go," I ordered to Cliff who was still displeased after Ebony escaped.

Napasulyap naman ako ulit sa room kung nasaan ang mga bata pati na rin ang iba pang mga hindi na-auction . . . at kay Coal. His body lay lifeless on the floor with Jett's bullet embedded on the middle of his skull.

Ebony managed to take flight but Cliff had inflicted him a critical blow on his chest. He's quite a monster for a human.

Lumabas kami ni Cliff mula ro'n gamit ang kabilang pintuan dahil paniguradong nasa auction hall ngayon ang Blacks para i-check ang mga pangyayari.

We went to the hallway but it was still crowded with people from the auction hall. Some were pushing each other out of their ways to save themselves while others were collapsing due to panic.

"This way!" sigaw ko.

Instead of going to the lobby and main entrance, we went to the upper floors which are restricted even to zweites, except Ebony. Only him and the zuersts were allowed to access the 2nd and 3rd floors and this might be because of the Navis.

Halos kakaakyat pa lang namin ng hagdan nang bigla na lang nawala ang steps at naging flat ang mga ito na parang naging inclined walkway. We were forced to run faster or else, the smooth surface would make us fall.

"Intruders! Chromes are here!"

Pagtingin namin sa baba ay nakatutok na ang mga baril ng Blacks sa amin.

"Jett," tawag ko.

"On it."

Before their bullets could reach us, Jett showered them with his own ammunition. Cliff and I ran away but we were welcomed with a bunch of traps along the way. I almost got beheaded when a huge scythe swiftly surfaced from the wall and slashed everything within its range.

"Dammit! This is like Nigel's house with all these annoying mechanisms!" reklamo ko habang patuloy pa rin kaming tumatakbo.

"Are you turning dull now?" he teased and I glared in return.

"As if, slowpoke!"

I was about to give him another nasty glare when I heard him laughing behind me but we both halted when we saw what was happening outside from the windows. This area is a lair for the underground community and criminals and it seemed like the locals already knew about that because nobody stayed in the civinity besides the viertes and quintes. However, surrounding them was a herd of agents and humdrum authorities—mainly from FBI and CIA.

FBI and CIA, huh. Those humdrums gave off an eerily similar aura to the Blacks yet it felt a bit different. They were dressed like us—suits, guns and advanced technological devices—and the only difference was the colors of our eyes. I didn't expect Dad would ask them for additional support.

"Special Unit Alpha and Bravo, subdue the criminals."

Mukhang connected na ang communication namin sa teams sa labas pero hindi ko alam kung one-way or hindi. Lumabas din ang positions ng lahat ng allies namin sa lenses na suot ko. Almost all S- and A-Class agents that were deployed here were fighting against the zweites and drittes below us.

"Are those . . ." Hindi ko nakita nang maayos pero malakas ang kutob ko na sila nga 'yon.

"Senshins and Huntres," Cliff verified.

"I see. So the alliance is still intact."

"Thankfully."

We switched up our pace and ran faster knowing that the situation below would be on the hands of our own agents and allies but we suddenly halted when we both felt a tremendous presence around us. We were already away from the chaos happening below so this kind of pressure and silence meant we already entered their realm.

'Someone's coming,' Cliff said. Our hands instinctively hovered around our weapons.

My heartbeat raced as soon as I heard footsteps. This vile and suffocating presence was kind of familiar and I cursed when I recalled that encounter.

'He's bad news,' I said. 'That's Onyx.'

Napatingin naman sa akin si Cliff. 'Onyx? You mean the Black in Nigel's logs?'

'Yeah. He's a Custos. A traitor.'

'I see,' Naia chimed in. 'That's why your latest log was accessing Arthur Moreau's profile.'

'You saw that?'

'Seriously?' she retorted and I could imagine her rolling her eyes because I sounded like I didn't expect her to find that out.

'You two can continue that later,' Cliff cut in. 'He's here.'

Pagkasabing-pagkasabi niya no'n ay lumabas si Onyx sa hallway mula sa right side. He was leisurely walking toward us with a deriding smile pasted on his face. On several occasion that I encountered him, I had never seen him that joyful. It seemed like he was pleased to see us here and maybe, he already expected this to happen.

"Onyx," I muttered.

"You really have infiltrated our organization, daughter of Lace."

I reached for my dagger and pointed it at his direction. Hearing my mother's name from his mouth was sickening.

"Don't you dare mention her name, traitor."

"You're following her footsteps, aren't you? Insinuating herself into a place where she shouldn't be and getting herself . . . nearly killed. I had to save her."

I suddenly remembered Ulysses' story about him. How he was sent to a faraway place because of his feelings toward my mother. How he faked his death in exchange of freedom as a Black. And how he lured Mom to her downfall.

"Do you want to see her?" he taunted.

"You . . ." I was seething at his audacity to talk like that and I had to clench my fists in anger as I struggled for control.

"I guess not since your futile attempt ends here, useless agent. Die and never bother us again."

"Nel, calm—"

"I am!" I said, cutting off Naia's statement.

'You've gotten better at controlling your emotions,' Cliff added and I knew he was getting ready since he's the only one who can keep me from attacking recklessly. 'Good job on keeping your cool.'

After saying that, he disappeared beside me and the next thing I knew, he was already in front of Onyx.

'I guess this time, I'm the first one who got pissed.'

Before I could say something, Cliff's fist had already landed on Onyx's face and sent him crashing against the wall several meters behind them.

"Threaten my captain again and you're good as dead."

It was rare to see him this pissed and it was an incredible yet frightening sight.

He caught Onyx off-guard but it seemed like that attack didn't even put a scratch on him. As expected, being a military commander and a part of Special Ops unit made him a tough fighter.

Naglakad ako papunta sa tabi ni Cliff habang tumayo naman si Onyx mula pader na nasira sa pagbagsak niya. He dusted off his cape and uniform and glared at our direction. The smile on his face disappeared and I felt a more stifling aura.

"The grace, huh?" he muttered while looking at Cliff and walking toward our direction.

Napatingin naman ako sa mga mata ni Cliff. He really used it. His eyes were burning bright red, a color that could only be observed when an S-class agent uses his or her grace—an ability that allows the user see the immediate future. However, it strains the eyes since it demands extreme concentration and it also consumes a lot of physical and mental energy so we only use it during emergency situations.

'You okay?' tanong ko at tumango naman siya.

According to Naia's data, Cliff could see 1.5 seconds in the immediate future and that was already a feat for an S-Class agent since even the  Executives could only achieve two to three seconds at most. It must be because of his ridiculously high stamina.

Despite its drawback, maybe this one would be the only effective method of going against Onyx, especially since he couldn't use it.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

'Ready?' Cliff asked.

It's been years since I last use my grace. I could feel the sharp, tingling sensation coursing through my eyes and brain, condensing all my attention into a single point. I was still in the same dimension yet my eyes could see his movements at each centisecond, creating numerous illusions of him.

'I am.'

"You brats," he growled and before he could make a move, we both lurched at his direction.

With our graces, we easily evaded his attacks. I could see where he would come. With these eyes, his movements were as slow as a snail.

"You're already cornered," I said as I punched him in the face with all the frustrations and anger I had kept inside and he got hurled back to the collapsed wall. "A-Class agent, Special Ops Division, Arthur Moreau."

My fist stung but it felt good. He stared at me with rage and I looked down on him in return. He must be exasperated after hearing what I said. Unlike us, someone like him could not use the grace simply because he would not be able to tap that kind of power.

"Know you place, A-Class agent," I added and he finally snapped.

For a moment, I could only see one image of him because he was too fast for my eyes but I managed to avoid his hand that desperately wanted to reach for my neck. Cliff kicked his chest, throwing him off-balance but he held his ground.

"I may not be able to use that but you are still brats who don't know how the world works," he said while wiping off the blood on his mouth.

Bigla naman akong kinilabutan. The look on his eyes turned into something dangerous . . . something feral.

One of the requirements of being an S-class agent is to possess the ability to activate one's grace. Even if someone is as strong or skillful as an S-class, without it, you would be assigned to to A-Class at most. All Special Ops units are like that—Ulysses, Liev and even this guy. And now I realized why they were assigned to that division even though all divisions under Dad require S-class agents—because they are strong enough even without their graces.

"I do not fight when it is unnecessary," he said and I immediately took a defensive stance when I felt the pressure in his words and presence.

"Cliff, Nel, be careful! So—"

We immediately lunged at Onyx's direction before he could overwhelm us when both Naia's and Jett's line got cut off. We couldn't hear anything from their side anymore. And out of the blue, something prevented us from getting close to Onyx. It easily blocked my dagger and held Cliff's neck in an instant.

No, it was someone.

I wasn't sure who it was at first because the smoke and dust from our previous attacks covered the whole pace but when we saw his eyes, we immediately knew who we were fighting.

He raised his hand, lifting Cliff midair who was struggling for air and threw him on the ground floor like, crashing against the pillar at the center that collapsed upon contact.

"No! Cliff—!"

Hindi naman ako agad nakakilos nang hawakan niya rin ang leeg ko. Our eyes met but I couldn't see the warmth from them anymore.

"N-N-Nigel . . ."

I saw Onyx walking toward our direction and his menacing smirk had returned to his face.

"Y-you . . . what have you done to him?!"

Instead of answering me, he just smiled and Nigel punched me in the chest. I collapsed on my knees and it felt like my whole body was stinging. My mouth tasted metal and I coughed blood.

Onyx pulled my hair and made me look at him.

"I do not fight when unnecessary," Onyx repeated. "I command."

I wanted to spit blood at his hateful face but my consciousness failed me. I blacked out.



***