I didn't know how I managed to drive after witnessing that but after almost an hour, we finally reached a small house near an abandoned lot facing the river. Who would have thought that Nigel Grand, once a Class S Keeper, had to live in a place like this? No wonder his own tribe and all the organizations interested in him didn't find him for the last couple of years.

"Welcome to my hideout," he said as he got inside his house.

My reaction? I was actually fascinated. The outside looked shabby and wornout, but once you stepped inside, one could easily say he’s a spy. Tons of electronic bugs, listening and tracking devices, photos of people, laptops, sensors, binoculars and telescopes were scattered in his house. I couldn't believe he had these devices even though he hadn’t contacted CIA for the past years.

Bigla namang nag-blink ang relo ko at nakita kong may message sa akin si Naia kaya naman umupo agad ako sa couch at binuksan ang laptop ko. Sumunod din sa akin sina Cliff at Jett.

Please see attached documents. I have retrieved old logs from Ansel Choi, the Specialist on your mother's team, and I think something had happened to them, kind of like a falling-out? Anyway, where are you? I can't find your coordinates.

After I read that, my eyes found Nigel grand and he was staring at us but I was surprised when he suddenly smiled.

"Is that your Keeper?" he asked and I could see a glint in his eyes. Nagkatinginan kaming tatlo at hindi namin alam kung dapat na ba namin siyang pagkatiwalaan.
'Let me handle this,' Cliff said through his inner voice.
"Yes," sabi ni Cliff at tumango naman si Nigel.

Tumalikod siya sa amin at umupo sa desk niya sa gilid kung saan nakabukas ang isang laptop at may separate namang keyboard sa gilid. He pressed several keys on the keyboard and a hologram appeared above it. When we saw what was written, the three of us were quite astounded.

Names and codenames were listed and all of them were either crossed out, struckthrough, encircled, or written in red color. According to CIA's standard protocol in listing our targets, those who were crossed out were already killed by the one who wrote them while names with lines through their center or struckthrough means they were killed by other person/s. In addition, encircled names denote that they are still alive and they are currently under observation while those written in red color indicate priority action since they usually have a big role in a community or an upcoming situation.  

"After more than a decade, I finally got these information," sabi ni Nigel at inikot niya ang upuan niya para maging kaharap niya kami.
"How did you get these information, Sir?" tanong naman ni Cliff at ngumiti ulit siya sa amin.
"I managed to infiltrate the outermost circle for two years, however, I didn't notice that one of the inner members was observing me. Since I can't use my animus after that tragedy, they don't have any proof that I'm an Erityian."

Wow. Mukhang naging blessing-in-disguise pa ang nangyari sa animus niya. But I was actually impressed when he said that he had infiltrated Nox. That organization is known for its secrecy and its members are also shrouded in mystery. There are rumors that even they do not have any idea who their comrades are and they only know each other through their codenames.

"My infiltration was going smoothly until Olive showed up."
"You mean, that Olive?" tanong ulit ni Cliff at tumango si Nigel.
"He was recently promoted as dritte and his first mission is to observe my movements. I wasn't aware of his existence and when I was putting my lenses, he confronted me. Luckily, I managed to escape from him and I went into hiding. However, I was caught on a photograph and they used that to track me."
"So that explains what happened earlier," dagdag ni Cliff.
"Yes. They found me but I willingly went with them."
"What?" Halos sabay-sabay kami ng reaksyon dahil sa sinabi niya. Sumama siya nang kusa sa kanila?
"I thought that if I go with Olive, who's a dritte, I can get more valuable information about Nox and their inner circles."
"But you could've died. You couldn't even use your animus until a while ago," I chided.
"But I might also uncover the secrets of that organization."

He stared at me with those intense eyes and I could feel the tension rising in the air. We were about to touch some sensitive topics and thinking about them suffocated me.

"Are you really after that?" seryoso kong tanong. "Or are you doing this for revenge after what had happened to your team?"

He answered me with silence. His eyes reflected his sadness and the anger he kept for years. I understood him but what he was doing could cause him his life.

"Even your words are the same," sabay ngiti niya pero napalitan 'yon ng nakakatakot na expression. "But I'm the only one who can save them."

Tumayo naman siya at pumunta sa isang kwarto. Nagtinginan naman kaming tatlo noong nawala siya sa sala dahil sa sinabi niya. Save them? Who? His team? But I thought they were already dead—

Cliff suddenly put his arm on my shoulders and I could feel his breath on my ears.

"Stop it," he whispered. "Calm down."

My crazy thoughts started to fade away and I realized I was about to follow Nigel. Cliff pushed me down to sit again, his hand tapping my shoulder and I adjusted my breathing to his rhythm. 

"Calm down," he repeated.

"I'm okay," sabi ko naman noong medyo kumalma na ako.

Sakto namang lumabas si Nigel mula sa kwarto at may hawak na siyang susi. Umupo ulit siya sa dati niyang pwesto at nilipat niya ang file na nakaproject.

"How's Commander Priam?" tanong niya sa amin.
"He's still in good shape," sabi naman ni Cliff at saglit na napangiti si Nigel.
"That's good."
"Why didn't you return to Cerebrum?"

Napatingin kaming tatlo kay Jett dahil ngayon lang siya nagsalita at seryoso siyang nakatingin kay Nigel. Of course, the three of us were curious about his reasons but I doubt he'd share it with us.

"Maybe because of guilt," he said and I was surprised that he was telling it to us without any hesitation. "I'm the Keeper yet I let them die. I didn't do my job properly and it cost me my comrades . . . my friends."

Bigla ko namang naalala si Naia dahil sa sinabi niya.

"Listen, Nel. A Keeper's job is to keep her team alive in every and any situation. That's why the three of you should always listen to me because your lives rest in my hands. Are we clear?"

I'd been listening to that line since our team was formed but I haven't been taking it seriously until today. Maybe because I know that Naia's a great tactician and she always guides us with the best possible ways. But hearing a Keeper who'd lost his comrades made me feel ashamed and sorry.

"I can't and I don't want to face the Commander because I let his wife and his agents die. I want to punish myself for being weak. For being alive. For being a survivor."

He looked down the floor and clenched the key on his hand. Every word he said felt heavy. Carrying the misery of losing someone alone must be so difficult and painful.

"Then, are you not yet done punishing yourself?" tanong ko at napatingin siya sa akin.

"Not yet. I still have something to do."

May pinindot ulit siya sa keyboard at may nag-flash na series of images sa harapan namin. Noong una ay hindi ko maintindihan ang nasa mga litrato, pero nang nakita ko ang mga mata nila . . .

"What the hell are those?" Jett asked and I could see the bewilderment on his face.
"This is worse than the works of the Shinigamis," dagdag naman ni Cliff.
"Before my cover blew up, I took these photos during one of their operations. I don't know if they got the idea from the studies of Shinigamis or they came up with this by themselves but this is the main reason I can't go back to the headquarters yet."

Nanginig ang buong katawan ko at umikot ang kalamnan ko nang nakita ko ang mga litrato. Humdrums were being taken and experimented. But what was bone-chilling was the fact that Erityian eyes were implanted on them and the results were horrible. Some looked like they had lost their mental stability but most of them died after the surgery.

"I'm sure they caught several Erityians and extracted their eyes off them that's why I'm going to get their eyes back. I won't let them use our eyes and I don't want humdrums to be involved." Pagkatapos niyang sabihin 'yon ay tumayo siya. "If you want to destroy the Nox Organization, you need to know about them first. Many Erityians fell in their hands because they underestimated them since they are just humdrums. However, they are strong," he said in a serious, almost grim, tone. "Maybe even stronger than us."

He started walking away so we trod behind him. He opened another door from the opposite side of the entrance and we ended up in his backyard. There was no hint of light so we could only see each other's eyes. I reached for my weapon, just in case something happens. 

"I built this place to study and observe the movements and researches of Nox Organization," he started. "With your current strength, you're as good as fighting with them until the level of zweites."

Zweites. If I remembered correctly, that was the second innermost circle.

"You mean we can't win over the zuerst?" Cliff asked, unconvinced of his statement.

Hindi naman siya sinagot ni Nigel. We marched in the dark and the only light we could see was coming from Nigel's watch. A few seconds after, he finally halted and knelt. I could only see the ground but he cleared the dirt in front of him, revealing an old trapdoor. Upon contact, the door opened by itself and a staircase came into view.

"The zuersts are on different level," sabi ni Nigel habang bumababa kami sa hagdan. "In the underground community, the zuersts are the most notorious Nox members and even their codenames aren't known. I think even the Senshins had an encounter with one but they didn't manage to get any information other than his black sun tattoo on his nape."

Huminto naman kami nang nakarating kami sa dulo at sumalubong sa amin ang isang pinto. Who would have thought that a basement exists in a place like this?

Pumunta siya sa gilid at may retina scanner na nakakabit doon.

"Besides their overwhelming strength, there's another reason why we can't fight with zuersts."

He scanned his retina and I heard some running mechanisms in the thick metal door. The three of us stood frozen as the door slowly revealed what was inside. A huge room with a lot of computers, advanced technological devices and machinery was in front of us but what surprised me the most was the young girl who marched to our direction.

"Nigel! Thank God, you're still alive! I told you not to be reckless, didn't I?" sabi ng babae habang nakatingin kay Nigel pero napatigil siya nang nakita niya kami. "Um, who are these people?"
"Ah," she said while walking toward her. "These are Custos agents like me."

At first, I thought the girl was Nigel's daughter but their features were too different. I think she was just on her early teenage years, maybe twelve or thirteen but somehow, she felt . . . older. I immediately noticed the huge scar that ran through her right temple down to her left ankle, as if she had been cut in half. But what bothered and mystified me the most were her eyes. The colors of her eyes.

Her right eye was red just like ours but the left was tinted with another color—green. Just like the eyes of a Senshin or Shinigami.

"The other reason is that zuersts are modified Erityians who survived the harsh experiments and surgeries," Nigel said and he tapped the girl's head. "Just like her."
"Oh, so they've come to help you," sabi ng babae. Tumingin siya sa amin at ngumiti. "Hi. I'm Kiyoko. It's an honor to meet the three of you."

She pulled us inside.