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Attention! We are trying a last re-import in order to see if we can get all posts back. Allow us like 2 days more, and I'll be able to see if we could recuperate anything else that was lost.


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About Alezander

  • Rank
    Yaoi Supervisor


  • Location


  • Position


  • Favorite Manga
    Yaoi/BL: Hana no Mizo Shiru by Takarai Rihito. Killing Stalking by Koogi is a manwha so...
    Non Yaoi/BL: It's a tie between Akumetsu by Yuki Yogo and Kamisama no Iutoori/Kamisama no Iutoori Ni by Kaneshiro Muneyuki and Fujimura Akeji


  • Favorite Anime
    Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko
  1. Wanna Chetchat alezander?

  2. Thanks for adding me to your friends list ^^

    How sweet of you~

  3. Cute profile :3

    I like space **

  4. @LoneDigger sama !!

    Your inbox is still full so I can't respond about our plans~ (.@w@.)

  5. Hey~ your inbox is full so I can't reply


  6. Oh, we've all been there. Are there, right now. I'm glad I could make you feel better, that's very sweet of you to say. And I'm alright, regular uni deathing but for the most part pushing through. Thank you for asking!

  7. hi brinary! I feel like dying these days because of univ but your message made me feel better so... thanks! and how are you?

  8. Hey, I remembered you being quite kind to me, so thank you. I was thinking about it recently.So thanks. I hope you're doin' well!

  9. don't be sorry because your message made me really happy! thank you!

  10. hey! sorry for being random, but i like your writing :) you have such a good talent. keep it up! :D

  11. It took him a few moments to realize that it was the general and CHRC's chief investigator who had taken the trouble of visiting the colonel in such an hour, and to be accompanied by a number of men too. The general had come to say that daddy was putting his foot down and that little Adam shouldn't run around causing trouble anymore. But this is a rare chance, he thought. If I try petitioning here, this dismal man may just turn his head around. Although I highly doubt that would happen. "With all due respect, Sir, I never mentioned anything about a genocide. Who said that the locals would be defenseless? Do you underestimate the Neronians that much? Look at us humans, with our relatively clumsy physiques, unfamiliarity of the land, limited resources, territory and men. Do you really think that an entire planet's worth of inhabitants would be easily wiped out by a mere handful of humans? If so, I shudder at the thought that you and the CHRC plan to assimilate such weaklings with us humans. Declaring war against the natives, this is not the result of vain arrogance. The Neronians are magnificent people, in my opinion. The very idea that they are so similar yet very different from us makes me want to challenge them. I look at the Vintars and my blood boils at the thought of having my skull crushed by their powerful hands, or my throat ripped by their beautiful friend the amicus. I wonder about these things as I lay in bed to sleep. Don't you, General? Ah, but you probably think of which pair of socks to wear the next day before going to sleep." If Adam initially planned to politely explain his views about the colonization process to the general, then he could throw that intention away. The colonel was going all-out with his affront words and he was nowhere near finished. "General, you don't run a place if all you ever do is keep people in line. Classifying Neronians as humans in an attempt to protect them from your own fellowmen is what I'd call arrogance. You actually think you are in the position to protect a proud people? Besides, if I was a Neronian, why would I call myself the very thing that tried to steal my planet from me? If we make war on them right now, both humans and Neronians have a chance. Aren't sports meant to be that way? Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. If we lose, we leave and visit another planet. If we win, their resources are ours for the taking, gained fair and square, with a little extra of entertainment at the side. Or are you so worried about losing that you don't want to try fighting them in the first place?" The Colonel smirked and rolled his eyes, finding it ironic. Because if a party is strong and powerful enough to declare the other a subset of itself, then why should the former fear the latter? "They are very smart, you know, those natives and their scholars. And they learn frighteningly fast. So General, why don't you try giving those poor, helpless natives human rights and human technology in exchange for resources? Then we can start talking about genocide. Ours, that is." The Colonel took a breath, for once in his life finding a verbal battle very engaging. He felt himself getting aroused. War and Carlson. These are the two things that could excite Adam to no end. He was aware that he was a pervert for being that way but who cares? "And may I mention that we are assuming the role of colonizers here. We are not here merely to collect resources and bring them back to Earth. We are aiming to move, to live here. For goodness sake, how exactly do we transport the resources? You know on Luna, that is our very own moon, has only only one sixth of the Earth's gravity, that's why lunar rovers are so, so heavy because by the time they are on Luna, they become so light. Neron is the same, although the difference is not that much. But how about the time between planets? The stuff would be juggled here and there. Also, we don't know how stable the properties of these resources are once they are exposed to Earth's atmosphere and gravitational field. We could be unleashing a sort of radioactive virus, a biological catastrophe and then it's good bye for all homo sapiens. That's why it is important that we tame the people here because we'll become neighbors with them very soon. And by the way, a little bird told me that you communicated with the locals using a hologram sometime earlier today, and I think you said that once the Neronians are declared humans, the colonizers will withdraw from the planet completely? I find this contradictory to our purpose here, and impractical, after using up so much budget for this colonization project. But I guess we should protect these soon-to-be humans first before we accommodate the ones back on Earth." Adam knew he was probably digging his own grave here, talking back and being so sarcastic with the General who apparently 'ran the place', but to hell with it. He was used to all these CHRC people getting in the way. The CHRC was like that older brother of UNO, always telling UNO what to do and what not to do. The CHRC did not even bleed a single penny to sponsor the colonization project, and now they expect to have a say. They were just there to yap and complain like they always did. Amusing fellows, really. "But anyway, thank you for welcoming me personally sir. It is an honor to have spoken with you and have my things confiscated like this by you. I am being treated as a pesky threat and that means a lot to me. And I don't have a porn collection since that has been long banned on Earth, and Carlson is here. Have a good night as well, General." Added the Colonel in scripted but genuine humility before closing his door, his heart thrumming in his chest. Challenging someone who he knew was leagues above and more powerful than him, now that was a thrill! Adam found himself fuming and laughing at the same time, unable to get enough of the high he felt. It didn't matter if he was destroyed along the way, so long as he could enjoy more of the risk. "I should get Leeuwen in on this." Muttered Adam as he left his office to barge into Van's, which was on the other side of the Center since military offices and laboratories were on different sides of the building. "Hey Van, about your soldier-" But the Colonel was cut short of his speech when the researcher burst into uncontrolled laughter. Confused, Adam let Van laugh until his face was red as a tomato, clapping his hands like a seal and was hugging his own self, his sides probably hurting. "Are you done?" The military man asked but when the scientist choked out a 'no', Adam casually poured himself coffee, sat in front of his friend and waited. "Having your plans fall even before you've started. Now that is entertainment!" Van said when he had finished and was wiping away tears. "Sorry, I just can't help it when I see your face. Shame shame for Colonel Adam." Jeered the scientist, only showing such an immature side of himself to his friend. "You do realize that I'm not the only one whose plans are halted, right? All your studies are frozen and your fresh samples will spoil. It might be too late to restart your study by the time this glitch with the CHRC gets sorted out." Reminded the Colonel, effectively claiming a concerned twitch from the other. "And we all know how those old geezers up there like to trot around parading their power and prestige, arguing back and forth about a matter that is neither right nor wrong, before settling anything. They like to bask in the attention whenever they can, see. The Fukushiro boy is given four weeks to collect data but I wonder how many years the actual deliberation will take?" "Spit out what you want, Adam." Said Van with a grimace. "Turn off your foot soldier's signal so Gloomy Goldstein can't track her when I order her to rescue the Fukushiro boy. The comms captain, Tayori Kazuhito, you had him place his paper thin communication devices inside the soldier, right?" Van sipped his coffee. "So?" "I'm telling you to work with me here, geez. Turn her off!" Adam stood, his temper rising by the second. "There's nothing in it for me. If I turn her off while you set her loose, I can't monitor her and I get no data. It will be a waste of time for me and risking my name is not my idea of getting off. Lastly, what do you hope to accomplish by bringing Fukushiro here? Or wherever you want to rendezvous for that matter?" The scientist said this coolly although he himself was becoming agitated the longer they spoke. "He was there when the older Tayori... Tayori Shoumei was killed, right? Seriously these Japanese and their names will twist my tongue off one of these days." The colonel muttered under his breath before getting to his point. "We should get his testimony to counter, to disqualify the Neron locals as humans. Plus we have intel about various brutal killings of our volunteer citizens who have tried living among the natives. Like the pair killed in the Talavarian capital, the ones stripped and had their heads smashed in like watermelons. They even took your uncle-" "Alright. Shut the fuck up, Adam." The colonel stopped talking immediately. The scientist rarely cursed and more scarcely was he ever angry. Adam might have gone over the line with that one, mentioning the disappearance of Van's uncle. "I see your point. You want to glamorize these inhumane acts and put them on media and have Earth's citizenry protest against the CHRC to not allow the Neronians, those brutes, to be called humans and to enjoy human rights, unless they pay and change their ways. Correct?" "Yes." Adam answered meekly while the other stood and got to his computer. The military man watched as Van turned vision input off, auditory input off, vital monitors off, somatosensory monitors off, brain wave monitors off. After that, everything about the Egg was also turned off and the numerous pulses displayed on the scientist's monitor had all become flat lines. "You won't be able to control the Egg remotely. Your only connection left with her is the Morse messaging and the call function. Her ganglia implant will do the rest." Van turned his chair to face his friend. "Tell Kazuhito to give you your comm implants tomorrow." "Right." Adam only said, feeling slightly awkward since he sort of pushed the other to his position by mentioning his lost uncle. "Thank-" "Don't you gross me out by thanking me." The scientist interrupted, stretching as he stood. "Just get the hell out. I want to sleep." [Talavarian village] "He was angry. Did I want to die like his brother, he said." Answered Merlin when Kjartan asked about Kazu. It might have been the first time that Kjartan asked about the person on the other end of Merlin's communicating device and it felt weird, as if the world where Kazu and Kjartan lived should never collide. One was a colonizer and the other was... What was Kjartan again? A spy? A warrior? Would he one day walk among the Neronian soldiers and raise his weapon against the humans? Whatever he was, Merlin was the only thing between them. "I don't know what exactly the plans are. But I'm sure there will be an announcement of some sort. Neron won't be destroyed without you being able to defend it first. Our military wouldn't be so cruel." I think. Only then did Merlin become aware that Kjartan had his arms around him. Realizing this pained Merlin's heart, because Merlin had many things he held dear. One of them was Kjartan, no doubt. But the said Aeternumi was tight on his beliefs. His words came harsh and cynically bitter as he spoke about the Cheraki. In the past, he had spoken of the Cheraki's religious crimes and each time he does, he does so with fixed contempt. And yet he could wrap his arms around a person, stroke someone's hair, and smile gently when Merlin woke up. These two contradicting sides of Kjartan are both sincere and equally real. Like Janus. Someone with two faces. If it were some other time, if it were someone else, Merlin would have ignored his words, brushed them off as irrelevant. But this was Kjartan, and to Merlin, his opinion mattered a lot. With his face getting hot, the human's expression grew adamant. The human steeled himself. Today he would say what he truly felt. "About earlier, I'm sorry if I displease you or turn you off in any way, but I just need to get this off my chest. The Cheraki you talk about, the evil, self righteous ones, the ones strutting around with superior complexes? They are the Cheraki's priests, and they were chosen for the role they play because they qualify as the 'most despicable of Cheraki men to ever exist'. They serve as priests to better themselves until such time, when they have ripened and lost their blanket of selfishness, they retire and live in peace. The side that you have seen of these so-called elitist monsters you talk about is the worst of them. Have you seen their children, Kjartan? They are darlings, I tell you. Lovely little angels. Have you seen their farmers, their minstrels and artisans? Have you met their High Priestess? I don't mean to justify the heinous crimes they have committed to Lyars in the past or even now, but I think you like to pretend that you completely understand them just because you know how wicked their priests can get. Of course, if you think I'm a stubborn, nosy human for saying all this shit, go ahead and think of me that way all you want. If you like generalizing people so much, I won't stop you. Although I'll let you know that I'm disappointed. I know for myself that Kjartan the Aeternumi is a very kind person, even though I know you have done your share of bad. But you've saved me and helped me so many times. The part of you that is good and the part of you that is bad is both real. They are both sincere and true. But here," Merlin paused to stab an index finger in the part of Kjartan's chest where the local's heart would be. "Here lacks emotion, empathy, acceptance. Do you know what it feels like to be constantly bullied by your surroundings, Kjartan? I do. My mother used to do that to me all the time. She treated me like an object for my entire life just because she could and that she was my provider. My father who could have done better, chose to turn away and shut his mouth for god knows until when. He's was never harsh to me but he never helped me either. And you know what? I got so tired of all their shit that I ran away to here, to Neron. The Cheraki feel the same way, because their fellow Neronians always, always... always push them away. And they push back too. Then you push, then they push. Again and again. Until they've become strangers in their own planet. Aren't you guys tired of it? You may think me judgemental and naive for thinking this, but you aren't being very fair either, Kjartan." The human caught his breath, trying to regain his composure. Merlin did not know he was capable of feeling so much frustration until today. But now that he had started, he could not stop himself anymore. Perhaps the idea of not seeing eye to eye with someone he considered special ticked Merlin off. There was a bitter aftertaste in his mouth now that he had even talked about his wreckage of a relationship between him and his parents. Pulling his hand back, the human then spoke tiredly. "It was no brainer that the people you are so fond of calling religious maniacs turned to us when we humans landed. They got fed up with such a toxic environment. Such a shame. And Neron is so beautiful too. You Neronians are so lucky to have a lovely planet. Back on Earth, we destroyed most of everything until all that is left is a community of superficially happy people. The media call Earth the long awaited utopia, because we have enough usable energy due to trappings from the Casimir effect, but I have always thought of it as a tragedy. Everyone has grown so lethargic, just living happily until they die. Like livestock." "And, not to be rhetorical or anything, but how is it that even though Aeternum has already subjugated the Cheraki, these violent acts you talk about are still being performed? There are no warriors or fighters among the Cheraki. Surely it is an easy task for Aeternumi soldiers to lock them up to stop them, or punishing them such as imposing a higher tax rate or something. Blunter still, Aeternum could have forcefully stripped them of their religion already. Why have you not done this yet? Why has Aeternum allowed them to commit their acts then complain later only after the deed is done? I don't understand this." Merlin shook his head, aware that he was attacking the Aeternumi in front of him just to vent. Childish, but effective. The human felt the fire in his chest extinguish and he was left with a numb feeling inside, and he could not meet Kjartan's eyes anymore. Did I make sense? My voice cracked somewhere there. I wonder, does he even care? Then from a bedroom out burst a cyan haired Talavarian, one that Merlin easily recognized although he did not know his name. During the short time when he served as a teacher, the farmer would not let his eleven year old niece join classes and would never respond to Merlin's greetings. It's hard not to recognize someone like that. After him followed the Aeternumi that had been fighting with Kjartan when Merlin woke up. His intense gaze burned Merlin, but all the human could think was "Sure, I'm angry right now too. Bring it on and burn me all you want!" And Merlin glared at the Aeternumi soldier back. And how dare you kiss Kjartan, Merlin was pettily adding in his mind as an afterthought when a remote hologram equipped communicator broke its way inside through the window and there appeared General Goldstein who Merlin knew but saw his face for the first time today, his twin Dr. Goldstein, and Captain Carlson. They told the soldiers everything that Kazu already updated Merlin on, except for the part that actions to null UNO's plan to wage war were taken. And the part that the CHRC planned to declare Neronians as humans. And Merlin was the one responsible for making that happen. Oh boy. This role of investigator is way too heavy for me, Merlin thought later that evening when the soldiers had settled and he was left alone. Dinner was weird as always and was begrudgingly served by an awkward Talavarian soldier to the human. Night in the Talavarian village was virtually the same as before. The evening air was soothingly cold, the trees and their leaves whispered secrets among themselves and numerous Lumis wandered and floated about, looking like unbound spirits winking each other goodnight. During such a night, Shoumei would loaf around the back porch of his house while Merlin and Pretty worked to clean everything inside after they finished dinner. He would start whistling a tune as he started to carve something, an easy and contented smile on his face. Merlin felt a forgotten emptiness fill his chest as he remembered how the night blanketed Shoumei's carefree form as Merlin himself looked out from the window of the room where he was being kept by the burly soldiers that had driven the Cheraki away from the village. Because Kjartan had assured the human that he was not being kept as a bargaining tool with anyone, and earlier Neron based General Goldstein, that gloomy gaunt man, had given Merlin a direct order to serve as an investigator, gathering proof that Neronians were qualified to be considered 'human'. Merlin should have felt at ease with the position he was at, knowing that he was in no immediate danger at the moment. He had a purpose and was one that would not put the surrounding locals at a disadvantage. But a tiny voice at the back of his head nagged at him, so persistently that in time it grew louder and louder until it dominated there in his head. He did not agree with the CHRC. Try as he might, Merlin simply could not bring himself to agree with what they intended to do. Even on the first day he met Kjartan, Merlin had tried putting up an authoritative front just to emphasize that he wanted the local to use his own language, to act like himself, just as he did among his people. Perhaps this was not the conventional mindset for a human colonizer, but Merlin really believed that the Neronians are their own people and they should not be judged or evaluated in the standards of Earth humans. True, there is a certain satisfaction in obtaining results when the outcome is leaning towards one's preestablished bias, but the pleasure and wonder of studying something that is completely out of someone's grasp is an equally incomparable, indescribable feeling. Merlin wanted to understand Neron and its inhabitants in their own terms for they had an identity that they should preserve. Merlin felt this way not only towards the people inhabiting Neron, but generally towards Neron's entirety. It was just semantics anyway, but it mattered a great deal to the teal eyed human nevertheless. It was like the drama of the classification of light. Classically, light has been treated as a wave, however in modern physics the understanding surfaced that light was capable of displaying particle like properties. This duality was contradictory, but science grew to accept that light was neither wave nor particle. Light was just... light. The Neronians deserve a class of their own. This was Merlin's conclusion. He understood that the possibility of a war breaking out was at most riding on his ability to gather the needed proof to support the integration of Neronians in the Earth human populace. Despite his unwillingness, Merlin knew he had to do it. It was not like he could refuse orders, could he? What do they want me to do anyway? I'm just a scientist. From a biological standpoint, they do have humanoid frames, but their genetic coding is definitely different. Should I study their diet, their social interactions, behavioral tendencies? Psychology? I'm a frigging scientist! What sort of evidence do they want from me? Merlin let out a long, long sigh. The back of his eyes burned as if he had been exposing them too much. Maybe he was. "Let's take a walk." The human said to himself before climbing out directly from the window and landing on the bare soil, realizing that this was exactly where he had been hiding with Sephir when Kjartan and the others had just set foot in the village. Without really thinking where he was headed, Merlin started walking towards his house, the one that the villagers gifted to him. It was to the direction of the river and as his soft footsteps padded across beds of fallen leaves, Merlin felt the wind brush his face. The human met with some of the soldiers on patrol and after a twitch of instinctual panic, Merlin greeted them with a "good evening" and a smile on his face, remembering that he was no longer a captive or whatever he was, but rather an investigator of their qualifications. They were not so enthusiastic in their response but they did give a curt nod and carried past the human with somewhat discomfort on their faces, like finding themselves being evaluated by a human, and soon to assume the identity of a 'human' was not the most enjoyable experience. Well of course it wouldn't be. How would you feel if you were told to ditch the name your parents gave you and start calling yourself by the name of the person you hate the most? Nothing would really change, true. But the sentiment would. "Like stoic wolves... shaking paws for a truce." Commented Merlin into the night in a singsong, wondering just exactly where the colonization process on Neron was headed. If Merlin himself was a local, he would not be exactly pleased that aliens were strutting around like they owned the place. Curious and fascinated, yes, but not pleased. "It's amazing no revolt has broken out yet." The human said this as finally his house sprang into view, its state still pristine as it was made slightly separate from most of the other houses and hence protected it from the fire that spread during the night when Shoumei died. "You look just the same. Perhaps I will stay here tonight." Merlin was talking to the building like it was his friend as he took off his sandals and threw himself on the wooden porch and lay there with his limbs all spread out. "Oh, maybe Kjartan will get in trouble if I suddenly disappear from the village center. He's the one who brought me there after all." The human mumbled as he realized this and sat up, but then not a second later dropped his torso yet again to lie down. "Let him get in trouble. We don't get along well anyway. I don't care what happens to him anymore. I don't care who he kisses anymore." Merlin uttered the words carelessly to himself, knowing he did not really mean it. Of course he cared, but Kjartan didn't need his care anyway. That guy is so fixated on something else that having a weak human hate on him must be a load off his shoulders, Merlin thought. "I'll give up on him. Kjartan will never understand. He never tries and he never will." The evening was full of the night sounds of Neron and while Merlin lay there closing his eyes and listening to them, there was the sound of clawed feet scuffling on wood which stood out from the other sounds and when Merlin opened his eyes, there was his plysch. The sight of his furry friend distracted Merlin from his thoughts and he called out to the creature, but Yuuko the plysch only looked at the human. Chuckling to himself, the human took it upon himself to close the distance between them. "You are still the same. Minimizing energy use, are you. Making me do all the work, huh?" Muttered Merlin as he stroked the soft fur. "You're like Kjartan. You keep making me want to understand you even though you probably won't let me. So aloof. Dropping your cool once in a while won't hurt, you know?" The plysch's yawn was contagious as the human yawned himself, suddenly feeling so sleepy. Carefully, he picked up his furry friend and tucked himself beside the creature in his bed. Because Merlin was in a hurry to pack his things when he planned to evacuate with the Cheraki, he left his bed, his pillows and beddings as is, that even his curtains were still up. It was like nothing changed, like no one died or anything. That night, Merlin dreamed of Kjartan for the first time. The human could not possibly mistake those slanted, elongated ears for anyone else's, nor would he for those pair of disarming grey eyes and that familiar smirk on his lips. As he was vaguely aware that he was in a dream, Merlin stared at the other's handsome face for as long as until he could hear nothing else but the thundering of his heart in his ears. The dream-Kjartan stared back and gave Merlin a smile that was kind yet not devoid of his inherent Neronian cockiness. 'Do you hate me?' Merlin asked the other but the human was denied of an answer, so Merlin was compelled to ask another question. 'Then, do you like me?' When Merlin woke the next day, it was nearly noon as he could tell from the brightness outside, and from the noise of the Talavarian villagers doing their daily chores and work, and the sound of soldiers patrolling about here and there. Yuuko the plysch was already sitting on Merlin's face, suffocating the human. So although he did not feel like getting up, Merlin did so if he wanted to breathe again. "I should probably start gathering evidence just as I am ordered. Four weeks is hardly enough but I'll collect as much information as I can." He bathed and cleaned his teeth, raked fingers through his hair and changed his clothes. There were still some of Shoumei's hand-me-downs, but Merlin chose to wear the Cheraki clothes given to him by Kanta when he was still teaching the children with her. "Wait. What am I doing, provoking the very people I'll be studying like this." He shook his head and was about to strip the clothes off but then he paused. Why did he have to tiptoe around them for wearing the clothes that a friend gave him? It was like he was in first grade again, when Merlin had to hide from his mother the popsicle stick of the ice cream he had eaten with a friend on his way home from school. He hid it because he wanted to hold onto it, but his mother found it and broke it in half. The next day, he learned that his friend had moved three prefectures away. I had no control back then. That woman would always be pulling my strings without my knowing. Merlin thought as he decided to wear the Cheraki clothes and stepped out of his house with a flourish. "I should be proud I befriended those evil, self righteous, religious maniacs." The human said with a hint of sarcasm to no one in particular, making his way to the village center yet again. The researcher had decided to apologize to Kjartan for the things he said yesterday, although he had no intention of recanting just to make peace. Merlin had enough of trying to make the Aeternumi understand or at least open his mind. "I'm sorry for being so disrespectful towards you yesterday. You were just stating your opinion and I should have realized that you wouldn't have made such conclusions unless they were well found." Merlin said as soon as he found Kjartan, although the human could not quite meet the other's grey eyes yet. The differences between them was made clear the previous day, add to that the fact that Merlin had a rather perturbing dream about the other. Now that Merlin took care to act distant from Kjartan, he felt more alone than ever in the midst of the Neronians. "But... I'm not taking back what I said. I still think that..." Merlin paused, as he looked around the other soldiers' faces and realized that he was probably the only one who saw things differently just because he was treated well by the Cheraki. In a way, I am being unfair too. "To hell with it." Merlin muttered as he set back outside to interview some of the villagers, as he had planned to just gather whatever information he could before the soldiers travelled to the Talavarian capital with Merlin among them, as the researcher was instructed. But it was so uncomfortable, talking and asking questions to the very people who had rejected everything that Merlin loved about the village, for the Talavarian locals left in this particular village were the ones who refused the Cheraki and hated Shoumei and his seemingly biased beliefs. Merlin scribbled too much useless information in his notebook the entire time he worked just to avoid meeting their eyes. He knew they looked at him with distrust and buried disgust because he was a friend of the Cheraki. They looked at his clothes and muttered among themselves, often forgetting that Merlin was fluent with their language and that he could clearly understand every insult spat at him. It felt heavily like racial discrimination, and for the first time since being in Neron, Merlin felt burdened with the task he was given. Not bothering himself to breakfast came to bite at him by early afternoon, when the sun was high and the heat had eaten away his sweat. Merlin felt dizzy and lightheaded so he sat himself on the riverbank, its usually muddy clay edges now solid and cracked. Merlin found himself watching the other side of the river aimlessly, his mind a boring blank when he should be thrilled to be given such an important assignment, even though it was an assignment he did not want to do. Now as Merlin sat there he spied a momentary glint of light among the branches of the forest at the other side of the river. It was just for an instant, but the human thought he saw a hand. A human hand. Quickly he stood and crossed the river without thought, his teal eyes fixed on the spot where he had seen the pin of light. His sodden robes clung heavily to his skin and were reaching the ground once he was out of the water but Merlin did not notice this and only proceeded towards the thick of the trees. The roar of the river current shushed to a degree and Merlin strained his ears for any sound. Maybe the heat had finally gotten to his head and he had imagined seeing what he had seen, but the human combed the forest as diligently as he could before collapsing on the forest floor. It was as if whatever phantom he was chasing had taken pity on him as a figure stepped out of the shadows and walked up to Merlin's splayed form. "Hey there." Said the something that had just joined Merlin. The tired human looked up and tried focusing his eyes only to find a female's face: almond eyes, a dimple on one cheek, a little fang poking down her plump bottom lip. Merlin noticed she was tanned enough for her skin and eyes to have the same shade, and that her smile was as feisty as the color of her hair, which was the color of overly sweet watermelons harvested in the summer. It was a bright, obstinate red which caught the eyes of everyone who possibly happened to catch a glimpse of it. But more important than that, the researcher noticed that this female was human, an Earth human. Springing up, Merlin stood and dusted himself, only then aware that he was soaking wet and his robes needed more than just washing to be saved. It went without saying that Merlin was thrilled to meet a new face, and a human at that. It felt like a thousand yesterdays since he had seen another Earthling except for that weirdo Shoumei. With his face lightened up, Merlin introduced himself a bit too enthusiastically. "Hello, lady. My name is Merlin Fukushiro. I am an assistant researcher here on Neron. I came to this planet aboard the third colonizing ship, the Dairo. I'm-" "Hungry, I suppose?" Interrupted the woman as she offered her hand and Merlin took it for a handshake. "I have food with me if you'd like. Will you have some, Merlin?" Merlin's body was honest and his stomach growled in confession, but the woman was overly friendly and she just suddenly appeared on the grounds surrounding the village, plus she was human. This was not coincidence. No matter how Merlin was excited to become acquainted, prudence pulled him back. Even children understood not to follow or take candy from strangers. The situation was no different. The female read this on Merlin's face in about a second, and so she only gave the wary researcher an amused smirk which deepened her dimple and raised her eyebrows, and trudged away confidently as if she knew that Merlin would follow her no matter what. Whoever taught her how to deal with Merlin knew him well. The researcher could never resist his curiosity for long and his stomach was growling in shameless demand for food. So Merlin did as was expected of him and after walking so far downstream that only smoke coming out from the houses were left of the village, the woman stopped in front of a tree which bordered a small clearing. Merlin was no expert but he could somewhat recognize territorial markings on the bark shaped like the claws of a large animal. But Merlin saw no signs of heavy paw prints, bent leaves in the path or broken branches. "Mimicry. So that animals and locals won't disturb the place. You made those markings." Merlin said his observation aloud, earning a nod from his companion. "You have good eyes. I had to bury this large contraption here but then it would be a sitting duck and I could not afford losing my ride to those hotblooded natives." The female pressed a remote button which was hidden beneath the sleeve of her body suit which she wore. There responded a rumbling on the ground to their left and in precisely half a minute later, there was the full sized version of the Egg which had efficiently dug itself out of the soil from three feet below while barely disturbing the soil surrounding it. Merlin stared at the eight feet tall soldier carrier which he couldn't have not recognized. The researcher swallowed, because he had suspected who the lady was as soon as he saw her, but he hoped that she was not who he thought she was, because that would mean that there was trouble at the human's colonizing base. But now here was the Egg and there was no one else in this universe who should be able to use it. Which only meant one thing. "Yes, I am the neurologically altered Earth human, pilot of the first and most probably only Egg. Call me Mekhala." Announced the female soldier before she suddenly pulled Merlin by his wrist and pushed him inside the Egg. Merlin had been dazed in admiration of the carrier's construction that he could not react on time, and before he knew it, he was locked inside. He knew he was being locked because the inside of the Egg came to life and the computer's voice informed him that the Yolk will fill the chamber soon. Merlin panicked. He had the feeling that he was going to be taken away. By kidnapping the assigned investigator of the Neronian's qualifications to be called humans, those humans itching to wage war against the Neronians would basically be making a statement: that they were going against CHRC's wishes. Merlin would not allow it, because it would solidify the rift between UNO and CHRC. Merlin could not allow it. "M-Mekhala!" He shouted as his hands busily typed on the screen, attempting to unlock the Egg from inside. "The Yolk is coming! I'll drown!" Merlin made up the excuse but Mekhala only chuckled and knocked on the Egg separating them. "Calm down, Merlin. There's the helmet, right? Wear it." She instructed. But I want to be released, Merlin screamed in his head. "But-" "Wear it." Merlin fell silent, feeling cold all of a sudden when the female ordered him in a firm, indifferent tone. It almost reminded Merlin of how his mother used to talk to him. Without further protest, Merlin took the helmet and wore it just as the Yolk rose past his chin, and then he was completely submerged. A moment later tiny needles pushed themselves in his neck and started pumping nutritious fluids into his body. The empty pit in the researcher's stomach faded and he felt relaxed but completely awake. Narcotics and dopants, Merlin hypothesized as he tried figuring out what exactly comprised the Yolk. But constant intake of the drugs could ruin the soldier and cause her to fall into coma or shock from hypersensitivity. It was a soup too self destructive on the long run. Could the scientists back on Earth really be using something so dangerous? And to use it on the soldier carrier which was supposed to be mass produced and used by many foot soldiers? It was too ugly to think about that Merlin shook his head to will his thoughts away. "You were hungry, right? Sorry it's not real food." Mekhala gave Merlin a full smile once he was out. "Now you realize how much your expertise on hibernation fluids is needed. The Yolk is still in shit stage. But I won't have to worry about becoming a drug addict once you balance the whole thing out." But Merlin was not listening because suddenly he felt like the Earth he believed in was actually more sinister than he used to think. "Merlin?" The female soldier waved a hand in front of the researcher, looking sheepish. "Sorry for being so rough with you earlier. Actually I was given orders to rescue you, kidnap you if I must. I could, but I don't think that bringing you back to base does not exactly equal rescuing you." She sat with her back to the tree with a troubled look on her face and her lips tight on the corners. "I'm sure you already know that this is my supposed test run if the CHRC didn't intervene. I've never been set loose on Neron soil before and I can't figure out yet which things are mine to decide from those that were prearranged by Colonel Wyld. It's disorienting to say the least." Merlin watched her closely as she spoke. Sitting beside her and hugging his knees close to his chest, the researcher pointed out one thing. "Most of your fellow soldiers think that your rights as a person were violated the moment you had the artificial ganglia implant." Then Merlin paused because he was not sure how he would handle it if Mekhala turned out be unwilling and that the implant was done forcefully. It was Brenweilla's research after all. Merlin could not help but feel discomfort if his wife's research ruined someone's life. "No worries. Dr. Van gave me a choice. I have no family and my best friend was among those killed when a petty riot broke out with the locals. That was last year. I've been alone in this entire universe since last year. Merlin can you imagine?" Mekhala turned to face the researcher, her eyes rimming red as if she was nearly bursting in bottled anger. "I want to have an excuse to kill as many Neronians as I want. I want to watch their heads fall one by one. They say I was stripped of my rights? Hah! I was given the best previlege ever! But I can't act on my own since I am made to follow orders and to carry them out even if it costs me my life. Have you read about butlers, Merlin? Well, the practice of keeping butlers is obsolete on Earth for nearly two hundred years now, but that's just what I am. Right or wrong, I do as my master tells me or in my case, my colonel, without question. I'm just a butler who can fight and kill. Whoever said that butlers had their human rights violated in the past? I am willing and that's that." Then Mekhala gestured that Merlin lean close so she could whisper. "Plus there's this one bonus, Merlin, but it can only work once. If I ever committed a crime that is so, so wrong that the only punishment would have to be the death penalty, then at that moment, I could just blame the Colonel and get away with it. Since he's my master and all." Merlin's drew back and stared at her with so much conflicting feelings. When she started talking about herself, he tried empathizing with her, especially because Shoumei died so recently too. Then Merlin understood that she had the right to be angry and to seek revenge, but when she talked about killing the locals, Merlin shuddered, because she spoke like she meant to kill indiscriminately. Innocent or guilty, she'd kill a Neronian if she was given a chance. Then that part about betraying the colonel... She's crazy. Mekhala is crazy. "Crazy right? But that was just a thought, a little loophole I found. I would never do that, of course. I kill when I'm told, but that sort of order only comes when I am threatened." Mekhala giggled, now back to her cheery self. It was almost psychedelic, the way she seemed to change personalities so quickly. It was making Merlin dizzy. "I think I should go home now." Merlin said, stepping back and hoping that Mekhala would let him go. "Right. I'll walk you back." She said and wound her arm around Merlin's. He felt himself stiffen for a moment but Mekhala patted him soothingly. The walk back was silent and Merlin was left chanting "She's so abnormal but not at the same time" in his head again and again until at last the village was just at the other side of the river. "See you around, Merlin." The female soldier said, unwound her arm from Merlin's and disappeared into the shadows. Thankfully the river current had calmed by evening and the unusual shallowness made it easy to cross, sparing Merlin's robes from a second wetting. A Talavarian soldier was waiting for the human by his house, looking exhausted and out of breath. He explained that Merlin was to have dinner with the soldiers before abruptly leaving. Merlin watched his leaving back, wondering if he exhausted himself looking for Merlin. Just to invite him, a human, to dinner. "But that can't be." Merlin muttered as he removed his heavy sodden robes and left them to soak in soap. He took a quick bath and changed into a sweatshirt and jeans before going to the village center, where the soldiers' gazes burned holes into him. Merlin had a passing thought that if ever the Neronians were officially recognized as humans, would they wear jeans and shirts like Merlin did? Would Kjartan? He'd look good in form fitting jeans since he has ass. Merlin's mouth flooded with drool which he quickly swallowed as he took his seat, which happened to be between the hotheaded Aeternumi soldier who kept glaring at him, and the cyan haired Talavarian who was good at ignoring Merlin. Good grief. How did I end up here? Merlin's eyes instinctively searched for Kjartan for help but as soon as he spotted the grey eyed Aeternumi, the human hung his head. Dinner was very awkward in Merlin's part and the food was painfully unfamiliar as always, but it felt good to be eating with others, and not alone. Even with Heron's glares and Exan's tendency to pretend that Merlin was not there, as the researcher soon learned their names after having overheard, being with others felt nice. Alcohol was passed around and Merlin, in Japanese custom that it is seemingly rude to refuse, hesitantly had some then soon excused himself, but not after it was announced that the company would leave for the Talavarian capital in two days. "Two days, huh. I can finish profiling everyone here by noon tomorrow so I can prepare my things and say goodbye to Mekhala after that." Merlin planned aloud as he slightly wobbled his way back to his house. His throat demanded water and the human stumbled towards home a little faster, the fact that his plysch had greeted him and climbed to perch on his shoulder told him that he was almost to his house. Once inside, Yuuko insisted that Merlin feed him first and kept nipping on the researcher's ear. "Stop it. What, you're so lazy that you don't even get your own food anymore?" Merlin nagged his furry friend despite giving the animal exactly what it wanted. "I thought you were supposed to be self sufficient like Kjartan." The researcher mumbled nonchalantly as he fell himself to his bed after he had drunk some water. The human had been drifting nearly to sleep when his communication chip crackled alive and then came Kazu's voice. "Merle." There was a noticeable pause from the other end where Merlin could somewhat hear his friend breathing heavily. Merlin was immediately worried, but it seemed like Kazu was only sighing because he spoke not long after. "Merle, about last time, I'm sorry I raised my voice. I know you don't like that because it reminds you of your mother, but that time I was just so high strung and I vented it out on you." Merlin tapped, glad that they made up. They always did. But then a long silence followed with only Kazu's breathing filling it. "Yeah? Of course I am." He sounded out of breath which convinced Merlin that he was not telling the truth. Merlin thought this weird but decided not to pry if Kazu himself did not want Merlin to know. "Sorry again?" Kazu chuckled. "Don't worry about that idiot. His observation papers he sent to base before his kamikaze mission arrived yesterday and for all that valuable information, he got himself a hero's burial. Nice price for getting his head cut off, I guess. Although I haven't told Ma and Pa yet. UNO will probably do that for me at least." A hero's burial. Was that the consolation, the shining trophy behind living among locals for years before finally getting killed? Was it worth it? Merlin wondered, although he was certain that such a superficial celebration could not have been the reward that Shoumei was after. He was sowing seeds, Merlin liked to think. Seeds which would sprout and someday be reaped with careful attention. Seeds that would help the colonization or better, assimilation, in some way. "Course not." Came the automatic reply, followed by another silence which stretched longer than the first. More intrigued than earlier, Merlin closed his eyes and concentrated, filtering out Kazu's presently harsh breathing until he could make out a name being repeatedly mumbled. "Merlin." Merlin drew a sharp gasp at the utterance of his given name. He shivered uncontrollably, completely surprised because he would not have expected such a thing. Now that Merlin had figured out what his friend was doing, he could easily distinguish Kazu's soft whispers of Merlin's name in between harsh breaths and badly suppressed moans. With shaky fingers, Merlin tapped out a quick 'goodbye' before ending the call himself. Merlin had to toss and turn and ultimately strangle his pillow before he finally exhausted himself to sleep. For a second time Merlin dreamed of Kjartan, but instead of staring at each other like like last time, they were back in Meran's hut and Merlin had just woken up after his plysch bite. Meran was nowhere to be found and even though Merlin wanted to sit up from his bed of leaves, his dream would not allow him. So Merlin lay there while dream-Kjartan wordlessly took Merlin's hand and placed each of the human's fingers in his mouth, one by one while locking his grey eyes with teal ones. This was done so slowly and sensually that with each finger bitten, Merlin felt weirder and weirder until his body burned uncomfortably. The next morning Merlin shot awake with a throbbing head, his clothes drenched with his sweat and him feeling more exhausted than before he went to sleep. Repeatedly blaming Kazu under his breath for such a dream, Merlin slipped off his bed and went through his morning ablutions in absentminded autopilot. The day before taught him that not eating would interfere with his work and ruin his schedule so for breakfast Merlin picked fruits from a thicket which Kanta had once pointed out to him. His wandering thoughts led him to pick too many so Merlin decided to share the extra fruits to the soldiers at the village center after eating his portion. The human reluctantly chose a soldier who did not look too grumpy to see him and gave the buff man the shiny green globules. To the researcher's delight, the soldier actually shot the human a friendly smile as he took in his arms the picked fruits. Merlin beamed back, thinking how the day would probably be a good day when he spied Kjartan at the corner of his eye. He spared no attempt to greet the Aeternumi and instead rushed away from the village center, his face flushed red as he was reminded of his dream. When Merlin finished interviewing the last villager a little after noon, he went back to his house and proceeded to compiling the profiles and some write-ups he had written even before he was assigned his task, when the Cheraki were still occupying the village. Included were detailed descriptions of the village's water system, farming techniques, flora and fauna, local practices, clothing, diet, primitive laws and civil arrangements, religion and language. Merlin had written everything in English so that it would be easy for the CHRC to evaluate them later, when he had gathered a larger amount of information. But then when such a time came when he had to submit his report, Merlin had to have someone from the Neronians' side check the documents to make sure that they were made as objective and unbiased as possible. And Kjartan is the only Neronian who can speak and read English. Of course he had to be the only one. "But I don't want to talk to him." Merlin whined as he stretched and rested his neck after sitting down for hours preparing the first batch of reports. "It's so awkward." He mumbled, tracing circles on the wood of his desk. All little farther near the edge of the table sat his plysch, who after seeing that Merlin glanced his way, rolled onto his furry back and purred its familiar rattling. "Hey Kjartan, can you look at these files for me?" The human practiced, saying the words to the lazy creature. "If only it is so easy to talk to him without having to feel like I have to suppress my opinions. He has strong beliefs and that's really attractive, but since we don't agree, it's a pain." Merlin rested his head sideways on the table, his features forlorn and generally tired. Facing so many wary faces reminded him of how he himself was when his mother's colleagues poked and prodded at him in the past. "This cannot go on, especially when we arrive at the Talavarian capital. I'll need someone to show me around. I need Kjartan." The human closed his teal eyes and urgently searched for the Aeternumi's face behind his closed lids. Merlin pushed his hand mindlessly inside his pants, his breathing cut in shallows and a weird, hot feeling in his abdomen threatening to overflow. It's because of Kazu that I had that dream, and it's because of that dream that I became this way. Merlin reasoned with himself that that was all this was, but soon he could not even afford to think of things otherwise because all he could focus on was his undeniable boner and a pair of disarming grey eyes that Merlin couldn't seem to stop seeing everywhere. Hunched over with his sweating forehead against his desk, the human pushed his pants low enough to free his erect member, rubbing its stiffness with a fervor he did not expect to have. He felt like a relapsing addict set loose as pre-cum beaded at its tip. Merlin bit on his lip in a halfhearted attempt to hold his voice back. "Mnh... Kjartan..." He breathed the name, fantasizing that the owner of it was watching him that very moment as Merlin touched himself. It was slick enough to make embarrassing squelches which filled the room. He shut his eyes tighter and his brows met as his hand moved incessantly in desperate search of release. His dick throbbed painfully and his entire body tensed. "C-Cumming... Kjartan, I'm... cumming..." Merlin felt his face flush hotter than ever but he could not help it. In his mind, the Aeternumi had taken him in his mouth, a fantasy that just fucked the sense out of the human. A bit of drool escaped from Merlin's mouth when his entire body snapped rigid and he let out a groan that was a garble of Kjartan's name. His hand continued moving, milking out everything until he lay spent and catching his breath. When he had calmed down, the human stood, woozily cleaning himself and changing into a new set of clothes before slamming onto his bed in shameful remorse. "Holy shit. Ella, I'm so sorry." He muttered as he rolled onto his side, hugging his pillow and falling into a restful sleep. Merlin awoke later that evening to the sound of repeated knocking that grew slightly more impatient as time passed. Merlin pushed his plysch, who had been sleeping on his face again, aside and hugged the creature close to his chest as he made his way to the door. Merlin did not really know what to expect, but he was surprised all the same when the same awkward Talavarian soldier as the one who called him to dinner the previous night stood there in front of his house. "Good evening, um, Merlin sir." Sir? The human swallowed. "Yes?" Merlin paused, then added. "Just Merlin is fine." The soldier cleared his throat and spoke. "Merlin, I came here to invite you to sit with us for dinner. Although it's just the usual grub." Merlin heard the last part even though it was mumbled. "Is there a change in plans?" The human asked, wondering if there was some sort of intervention or something and that a new announcement was in order. It was perfectly possible, given that Mekhala was present somewhere in the woods nearby the village. "There isn't." The soldier appeared to be bashful as he was scratching his cheek when he spoke. "My friends and I want to eat with you as thanks for the fruits you gave us earlier today. And," Then he paused, seemingly hesitant. "And we also wanted to talk with a human. Except for the military leaders, most of us country bumpkins have never actually conversed or made contact with the aliens." Merlin actually felt his heart melt because here he saw that Neronians themselves were trying to be acquainted with the Earth humans. Maybe this humanizing process was not such a long shot after all. Maybe the idea of assimilation wasn't going to be just superficial after all. If that is so, how wonderful! Merlin liked this thought a lot that he beamed at the soldier, slipped on his sandals and skipped the way to the village center with the soldier warning him time and again that he might stumble on some loose rock and fall. Dinner was eaten in separate circles this time because there was no announcement to be made. Friends sat together and chatted relaxedly since they were off duty for an hour during dinner. The group that Merlin sat amongst was composed of young Talavarian soldiers, all coming from families of farmers. The human realized that if the colonizers never came and Neronians had no need to gather a larger army, these young men would still be helping their families prepare and harvest batches of crops back at their homes. "We have taken away your youth, haven't we?" Merlin unintentionally said aloud and there fell a silence in their circle. The human was immediately frantic to take his words back. "Th-That didn't mean anything. I was just remembering a line from a book I was reading. That's all." If they saw through Merlin's flimsy lie, they were kind enough to not point it out. With a round of cheers, they moved on to the next topic, asking Merlin loads of questions and telling stories of their own. For a moment Merlin remembered how the Talavarian brothers Klaproth, Torien, Frigor and Sephir invited Merlin and Shoumei to drink and talk, leading Merlin to conclude that perhaps Talavarian people were just innately big on welcoming parties. They are a very sociable people, these Talavarians, Merlin thought. That, or they really just needed any sort of excuse to gather and make merry. The rest of the evening went without much event and Merlin excused himself ahead of them, saying that he had to pack up whatever stuff he needed for the travelling they had to do to get to the Talavarian capital. Some of the young soldiers who had grown attached to the human offered to walk him to his house but Merlin vigorously refused them and was eventually left alone to himself. "Thank goodness. I can't exactly tell them I'm going to meet someone." Merlin whispered into the night, noticing how a bunch of Lumis silently followed him. "Mekhala. A fugitive among humans and a stranger among Neronians. Sounds like very lonely business, isn't it? Don't you guys think so?" The researcher asked the luminescent insects floating around his head before waving a hand to scatter them. "Don't follow me anymore or someone from the village might find out." He tried retracing the path he and Mekhala took deeper into the forest when they first met two days ago but he was guessing at best. The only thing keeping him from giving up was that as long as he could find the tree with the fake claw marks, he would find Mekhala. "You haven't told anyone about me, I'm sure." Merlin turned around and there was Mekhala, or at least her silhouetted figure was. She stepped closer until Merlin could see her face clearly, and that she had unzipped her pilot suit all the way down to expose her bellybutton. The researcher recoiled in surprise, making her laugh. "Some virgin's reaction you got there." "I'm not a virgin." Merlin said defensively, although his cheeks were a bit hot. "Yeah, sure." Came her offhand reply as she fixed her red mass of hair into a bun. "Are you hungry again or what? Have you decided to run away with me?" "I came to tell you that the soldiers will be leaving early tomorrow for the Talavarian capital, and I've been given orders to join them." The researcher sat with his back against the marked tree and gestured for her to do the same, which she did. "I wanted to say goodbye properly. I don't want to part with someone again without realizing that we will never meet again." He said, remembering the last time he saw Shoumei when he was still alive. "And I've always been curious how you got out of containment without help, and with so many guards watching you." "Ah, about that. I've always wanted someone to listen to the story of how I suavely pulled my ass out of there. But sorry to disappoint, I don't remember much of how I really did it. Just that some hours after I was confiscated, I heard Colonel Wyld's voice in my head, telling me to not ask, just get out and rescue the Fukushiro boy. Now I was bound from head to toe, my eyes were blindfolded and I had braces on my mouth to keep me from talking. I was strapped to a table like some heinous criminal but I could not blame those people who were keeping me. We all knew I was potentially dangerous and that I was literally a ticking bomb. One word from Wyld and I could destroy everyone on a rampage. So when he told me to get the fuck out, I did. See, what's cool about Dr. Van is that he puts these add-ons in your body without really telling you so I was surprised when I had a robot's pinky instead of my real one. Although I don't know how to operate it. My first implanted ganglia is the one who knows. My robotic pinky activated because I was given an order that was impossible for me to do if I used my bare hands and my implanted ganglia insisted that I could not not perform the order. After that, my memory is blurry, but probably because my brain is still not used to being overtaken by a mere mass of synthesized neurons. If I get more orders I might be able to integrate my memories more efficiently. The next thing I remember is that I was wearing this pilot suit and I had stolen the Egg from where it was kept and I was off. A few miles away from base the Colonel contacted me again, telling me to prioritize survival for now and that I did a good job. He hasn't contacted me since. I bet he's under questioning by Goldstein by now." "You weren't treated badly by the soldiers guarding you, right?" Merlin asked, disliking how Mekhala was accommodated. Even if she was the neurologically altered soldier everyone was wary of, she was still a woman first and foremost. Merlin did not like women being mistreated, although his mother was a different story. "No, they just made me into a human cocoon." Mekhala's tone was sarcastic and somehow that one sentence closed the topic. The two humans were silent for a moment when Mekhala faced Merlin. She seemed to purse her lips in a momentary hesitation but it was gone in a second. "Hey Merlin, have you made contact with Kazuhito lately? Tayori Kazuhito." "Kazu? Um." Yes, and last time we talked he was masturbating to my name, Merlin thought but did not say and instead nodded. "I'll probably never get to see that dork again." The pilot said wistfully with her chin perched on her palm, her gaze fixed somewhere faraway. The reseacher's eyes widened. Mekhala is...? "I plan to resupply and hibernate at one of the UNO safe houses near here, the one which the Tayori brothers promised to regroup at in case an emergency happened. The timing is good, since you are leaving and I need to hide somewhere." She said, pushing away from the tree and standing up. Merlin did the same. "Mekhala, are you really okay with this? Being a runaway is even more difficult than being a hermit. You are to be hunted by both sides and-" "Don't worry your pretty little head over it, Merlin. I'm a soldier. I'm tougher than I look." Mekhala interrupted and gave the researcher a dimpled smile, her fang poking on her lip. "Look, the night is almost over. You gotta have some rest before you set off." Then she gave Merlin a cruel smack on the butt which stung like a plysch's bite. "Go on, we'll see each other soon enough." So Merlin did. It took him less than ten minutes to get his things ready. After that he deliberated for about half an hour if he should sleep because he feared that if he did, the Kjartan in his dream might do something more compared to his dream last night. But his worry was all for nothing because he hardly slept peacefully enough to even dream. When he awoke a few hours later, a soldier was rapping constantly on his door, demanding that he step out. Merlin shivered as he stood in a hoodie and a pair of sweatpants at the village center, his plysch shivering and yawning as much as the human did. The soldiers were already alert and snappy with grim, fixed faces. These guys were probably not given breakfast to cheer them up, Merlin thought when his bag was yanked from his hand and strapped to a dizzlon and himself pushed, rather awkwardly, to sit on the hoofed creature. The human looked around, amazed that he could see much farther above and ahead yet still felt solidly connected to the ground. It was a feeling he only read about in accounts of humans riding Earth horses in the past when they were numerous and did not have to be kept in preservation. Still not getting enough, Merlin kept looking around until he belatedly realized that his dizzlon was right next another dizzlon where sat a certain grey eyed Aeternumi. The soldier who had taken his bag earlier came up to them and tied their dizzlons together. "Wait!" The human tried protesting but the soldier chose to ignore him and went on to straddle his own dizzlon. The researcher felt his former sleepiness leave him immediately and blood rush to his face. He could not keep calm, and he most certainly could not look at Kjartan and greet him a simple good morning, not after Merlin had the orgasm of his life yesterday. With his head bent, Merlin accepted his fate and hoped that whoever made the decision to let Kjartan watch over the human would get butt sores within the next hour of riding.
  12. "Shoot that bird." The command was issued by a voice worth competing with the sound of dripping rich chocolate. Deep, nasal and smooth. The speaker tucked his hands behind him as he stood by while his men calmly executed his order. When the shot was taken and the bird continued to fly, one stiff faced soldier approached the superior, saluted and made his report. "Colonel sir, tranquilizing bullets do not affect it. It's hide is too thick for the medicine to penetrate." The superior felt a little smirk form on the corner of his lips but he suppressed the maniacal urge to do so, and returned his face to the aloof mask it supposedly was. Ah, an excuse. "Then destroy it." He said simply, internally brimming with excitement when his men brought out a rocket-propelled grenade and shot it at the large black bird. The sound of the blast was muffled due to the bulletproof glass separating him and his men from the outside but the explosion shook the floor where he stood nonetheless. Down the bird fell, only a few inches of either of its outstretched wings remained. The colonel expected the captain down below should be confused by now. With the frustration of having a tank under his jurisdiction malfunctioning, Carlson should be more than agitated. He has always been a restless little thing, that Carl. The colonel chuckled silently to himself as he straightened his uniform and ran his hand through his slicked back hair. Along with instructions to collect the bird's carcass for later study, he informed his men that he would be going back to his office before stepping out and descending the stairs to where the fuming captain was. The soldiers who noticed his presence stiffened into salutes. Captain Carlson himself had his back still turned towards the approaching superior, who pressed a finger to his lips, gesturing the soldiers to keep shush. When he was close enough, the colonel spoke. "Pretty incompetent, I should say. Letting your machinery be defeated by insects like such." The colonel slung an arm around Carlson's shoulders, pressing the other man's solid yet shorter frame against his taller one, and whispering right next to his subordinate's ear. "Hey there, cutie. Haven't seen you in a while. Let's go to my office, yeah?" "Col Adam Wyld, sir. I didn't know you were already on Neron." A private with wide, starstruck eyes spoke energetically to the newly arrived superior, admiration evident in his eyes. "I was a tad delayed setting up at Iiorn. You guys should visit that satellite at least once. The ship Kalyptra has transformed from a huge bellied colonizing ship into a nice huge port housing a few thousand Squid fighter crafts and some hundred Jellyfish transport ships. Although tanks such as these" the colonel knocked on the broken tank's metal hide for emphasis, "will never be tossed aside as irrelevant soon, we humans should step up with our methods. We can't go on treating these Neron locals similarly as we treated each other in the past. We do not underestimate the Neronians. You get what I mean?" "Yes, sir! Totally!" The private responded. Quickly, before any other of the privates flocked to him, Adam steered the american captain towards the building, through the halls and into his office, only releasing the shorter man when it was just the two of them inside. "Relax Carl, I won't do anything yet." The colonel assured, instructing the the captain to sit while Adam himself made them coffee. "I wanted to apologize shooting the bird down, along with your letter to the locals. See, I couldn't have that and I'll tell you why." The superior sat himself on the seat in front of the other, a humble table between them, and so Adam began his explanation. "The year now is two thousand, two hundred and fifty. After stumbling around for a few million years, humanity has finally attained what we call utopia on Earth, or at least the closest definition of it. It took us all this time to set aside our differences and unite the many nations of our planet, with one agency governing our planet's entirety. The United Nations Organization, simply UNO. With UNO's guidance, we have assured satisfaction for everyone and maximized life expectancies. Even science is running out of stories to tell us. Looking at a different angle, life on Earth has been boring lately, don't you think so Carl?" Adam sipped on his coffee, watching the captain closely while relishing the bitterness in his mouth. "Men of action like us would not have found a more insipid place. That was when Leeuwen came to me saying how his colleagues had verified sentient life on an exo planet not so far away. Sentient, Carl, and multiple races at that. Humanoid races too. With our technology, travelling to the planet isn't just a fancy. And so we did under the guise of colonizing Neron, with the secondary objective of collecting samples and digging up resources. Well, we can do that too, that's why you're here, Captain Theodore Carlson. But that isn't our main purpose. You should know what I mean by now." The colonel partially submerged a sugar cube with his spoon and watched it slowly melt until its form broke and the sugar sank. "We're here for sport. It's all entertainment. We can't help it. People are savages after all." Adam said simply, putting his spoon down and raising the cup to his lips, downing all of his remaining coffee. "So declaring neutrality is not an option for us, because it's what we came here for. We should thank the beheaded researcher for allowing us to make our move without having to answer to the civilians back on Earth. Tayori Shoumei. I remember Leeuwen complaining about him being on the Esther, the first colonizing ship. Apparently he wasn't as gifted as his younger brother, but he fearlessly volunteered to study the locals up close. A brave man or a fool he was, I'm just grateful that we can start mobilizing as soon as I arrive." The colonel had set his cup down when he stood, only to sit next to the other man. He wasted no time grabbing Carlson's waist and closing the distance between them. "By the way, I heard you talking with your subordinates just a while before I joined you. Why did you have to come out the closet, today of all days? It will be troublesome for me when lots of men come after you." Adam spoke softly even as he was rubbing circles with his thumb on the captain's inner thigh. "I'll make you feel good, you won't be able to stand. Just promise you'll keep digging around for resources, just like you were told to, hm? I'm here, so leave the war to me." [The day prior] "Kazuhito sir, some armored locals stomped into the village where Merlin and your brother presently are. Seems like they just declared war against the Cheraki." "Seems like? Can't you do something about that uncertainty, Crista?" Kazu mildly scolded the girl named Crista. Ever since Merlin left the labs, Kazu could not help being so worried. He knew his friend was not a fighter, and that he would easily be led around if he was given the right bait, as in informational bait. With this in mind, Kazu remotely turned on Merlin's call chip for most of the time, even during instances when Merlin was not aware that Kazu was listening in, just to check if Merlin was doing well. Kazu reasoned with himself that he was doing this for his friend's sake, and that he was not eavesdropping or doing anything wrong or breaching his friend's privacy. Although there were times when his concern backfired on him, like when that time Merlin had to masturbate after he was drugged by a Vintar woman. Kazu had no idea what to feel or think but he did not turn the call off and instead listened until his friend finished touching himself. "S-Sorry, sir! It's just that the translating app is flawed and I can't say for sure what they're talking about." Crista explained in a shaky voice, her blue eyes which had been glued to the screen widening when one of the Cheraki priests was struck. "They're fighting! Three of those religious bums have fallen. Sir, I say we pull Merlin and Shoumei out of there, it's too dangerous for them!" Crista stood from her chair, her enthusiasm to act making up for her short height. Her shoulder length blonde hair shook as she closed her fists. In normal circumstances, Crista was a timid girl but since the matter involved Merlin, the upperclassman from college she had admired for a long time, she was fired up and her eyes flashed. "Oh, finally our turn? Man, I've been dying to try out these new weapons UNO issued us." Spoke a girl of wavy chestnut brown hair which she kept tidy in a tight pigtail. Popping the purple bubblegum she had been chewing for one last time, she spat the candy and threw it out while petting the rifle resting on her lap. "Maz, you ready to watch my back?" "Idiot, Reis. If sir Kazuhito could have done that from the start, he wouldn't have waited until things became this risky. Those armed natives are no joke." Warned a dark skinned guy named Maz who was playing with a dagger between his fingers. "So grim. If I knew better, I'd say you are scared, Maz. Don't worry, though. I'll help you out if the natives ever spotted you." Taunted Reis as she continued to clean her other weapons. Maz and her were gunners for their small unit and Reis, being the lead gunner, was used to being up front and risking her life for the team. She gets a certain high about being in danger which always gave the second gunner Maz a headache. "The problem is, they always spot you first, idiot Reis." Retorted Maz with a sigh, before turning to the other person in the room who sat by the door and had been silent all this time. "Hey Renard, you're twins with this chick, right? Tell her she's being rude to sir Kazuhito." "Don't pick on my sister, Maz." Was all the crow haired sniper named Renard said stoically before going back to his book. "Calm down, Maz. I'll figure something out, but I can't send you guys out on such a reason. Even the superiors have told me before to refrain from making actions that would turn the locals' attention to us." Kazu patted the stressed Maz on the shoulder before sitting down next to Crista who was back to observing Merlin and Shoumei. "Where's my brother right now?" "He's in the hut that the villagers prepared for him. Merlin is with him." She replied. "Okay. I'll talk to him for a bit so you guys go have lunch. I'll catch up with you later." "Yes sir." The four young human colonizers, Crista, Reis, Renard and Maz, filed out of the room until Kazu was left by himself. They have been very helpful, taking turns watching over Merlin and Shoumei through tiny remote controlled cameras that Kazu sent out after Merlin to monitor them, while Kazu himself rushed around the humans' base, working to expand their range of communications. Being the communications captain was a demanding job, and although Kazu initially had no idea what to do, his unit's support allowed him to focus on his work. UNO kept ordering to expand the base, and that meant more construction projects. Underground radio towers were placed in concentric circles from the base along with camouflaged shelters, where soldiers could rest and get first aid without having to return all the way to base. Kazu watched his brother and best friend through the cameras. The both of them looked thinner since they last met. Sometimes Kazu wondered if there was something he could do for them, but both would predictably get angry if Kazu offered to rescue them from the Talavarian village. Merlin and Shoumei were similar in the sense that they easily get attached to the people they interact with, whether or not they were treated fairly. Kazu thought that this attribute meant that they were kind, but it was self destructive at best. They could be betrayed and they would never know it. Since Shomei was using his laptop then, Kazu chatted him. Kazu rolled his eyes. Kazu's features hardened. He did not like the way his brother talked as if it was all predetermined because if it was, then as the younger brother he should have been told about it beforehand. Moreover, it was annoying how Shoumei was so flippant about his death. Sure enough, when Kazu checked the camera feed, he spotted his friend already outside and walking carefully in tiptoe while heading towards the village center. Shoumei explained. Kazu replied snarkily. Because fuck, Shoumei was being serious about dying. There must be a way to stop him, he thought. But with his inability to move and his brother's stubbornness, nothing came to mind. Perhaps he could warn Merlin? To hell with technology, he could not even protect his own brother. Kazu was frustrated. His chest felt tight and his throat felt dry. True, Shoumei was free to do whatever with his life, and it was not Kazu's place to intervene. Since childhood, Shoumei had been selfishly walking ahead and doing whatever he wanted, while Kazu cleaned up after him. Kazu idolized that part of his big brother and he still did today. But this, dying for a stupid reason? Kazu could not agree with it. There must be another way. But if he doesn't do as UNO says, he could be abandoned as a traitor... Wracking his brain for an answer yielded him nothing, and Kazu could only reply to his brother. Kazu childishly threatened, but his brother only replied with a silly emoticon before logging out. Gritting his teeth, Kazu slammed his fists on the table in silent apprehension. Just then, the door swung open and in came a military man that Kazu immediately recognized, prompting the researcher to stand at attention. "Col Adam Wyld sir." Kazu saluted while barely hiding the crack in his voice. He had not accepted his brother's decision yet and now he had to deal with the newly arrived superior. "Communications Captain, Tayori Kazuhito?" "Yes sir." Can't this happen later, I'm in the middle of something here. "Come with me." "Yes sir." Following the older, Kazu remained silent, his mind drifting away from questioning why he was told to join the colonel, and rather towards his brother. All he could think about was how selfish Shoumei was being, and while Kazu was spacing out, the colonel had led the two of them into a dimly lit conference room with a large oval table in the middle where three others sat, one of them a holographic projection. There was a shaved man with an elaborately impressive mustache dressed in a smart suit, while the black man in the hologram had a placid round face, his chin bristled with his trimmed beard and a pair of oddly triangular glasses perched on his nose. The third man was Professor Van Leeuwen. Kazu recognized him very well, what with his collected countenance and sharp eyes. His graying hair did nothing to suggest his age. In fact, its smooth strands that sometimes fringed his eyes gave him an alluring, mysterious air. He was eye catching, in short, and Kazu was predictably susceptible. And of course, because the man was practically a superstar among researchers. Above the table floated a three dimensional projection of a volleyball sized Neron and three baseball sized satellites. The Neron on the projection had been mapped. Landing sites and areas occupied by humans were colored red, significant geographic marks were yellow and the enemy bases were colored a menacing green. Off to a lonely spot was a patch of white which labelled the Cheraki. Lastly, a vast area of blue which meant water. Even in a planet not quite the same as Earth, water remained the life giving queen of all. Kazu sat down when he was instructed to and soon enough the older men in the room began discussion. The youngest of the five people in the room may have been summoned to the meeting without having been briefed first but he more or less guessed that they were going to talk about the colonization. How did he get himself a seat in that room, Kazu wasn't sure, but he was all ears. Especially since his brother's life was paving the way for it. The bald man stood, cleared his throat and introduced himself, then each of the others in the room. "Then, gentlemen. No need to know my name. Just call me Jack and we'll be fine. I am the Budget Manager as well as UNO's direct representative for the colonization process in planet Neron. The man in the hologram with the unshaved chin over there is Professor Rufus, head of Earth based scientists. And we have Col Adam, our Neron based military representative, Professor Leeuwen from R&D on Neron, and Captain Kazuhito from comms." The man clapped his hands as if calling attention to a bunch of toddlers at daycare. Kazu didn't mind it but it was sort of annoying. Just a little bit. "As everyone in this room is aware, we have sent a few of our volunteer civilians as pioneering units and for nearly three years now since the arrival of the first colonizing ship Esther, these civilians have been cohabiting with the locals, along with undercover military men and some researchers. Of course, they were rejected but after repeated efforts, some villages have opened their doors to the humans. Unfortunately, friction among us and the locals have escalated, particularly when word spread that the Cheraki have allied with us. The peoples of Vintar, Aeternum and Talavar have taken this as the Cheraki selling out their planet, and so have declared war against the religion fanatics. Additionally, a pair of our volunteers civilians were brutally murdered in Talavar. With this in mind, UNO has decided to pull out all humans, civilian, military and researchers, prior to attacking. Gentlemen, UNO has given us the green signal to begin this interplanetary sport. In the past, the Olympics always started with the torch lighting, right? This time let's make it more grand and set their farms on fire!" The man in the hologram Professor Rufus looked horrified, looking agitated as he started dabbing a handkerchief on his fleshy face. "H-How boorish! Is that how UNO wants to strike?" "Excuse me sir Jack, but don't we have to declare war first? Surely the locals have the right to prepare for whatever we give them. Evacuation of non combatants, preservation of heritage and the like. Joining in their war out of nowhere would be despicable." Maybe it was too soon, but Kazu had to speak up before the planning became too immoral and inhumane, and to stretch, unfair. For the humans, it was easy to neglect the locals' rights because they were not humans, but just blindly slaughtering them was not correct either. And if my moron of a brother found a fiancee among them, then there must be half decent locals at least. Kazu thought. "True! We of the armed forces are interested only in Neron because we want good rivalry. Observe the Vintar and their majority of able bodied warriors, the Aeternumi and their half baked technology, but notable weapons at least. These rivals are unpolished but if given the right chances, they are formidable. If the natives are uninformed, this whole war would turn into a hunt. We want to fight with men who burn with passion and courage, not startled rabbits who can only scatter in panic." Concurred the colonel. "I see. UNO shall respect your wishes, my good men. Then, Captain Kazuhito, I shall leave the dissemination of our declaration of war to you. Withdrawing our unarmed men shall be done within two weeks and then we shall join the fight. Please make the announcement by then." The five men in the room nodded in agreement. Then Professor Rufus spoke. "And the Cheraki?" "We coordinate with them, but we will act independently. They can't back out on the fight anyway, given that the other Neronians are after them. Though UNO says that, it's not like the Cheraki would be of much use to us. Unless they let us use their metal, that is." Replied the UNO representative. "That's right, their metal. I haven't seen the real thing for myself yet since I'm here on Earth, but according to the data Dr. Van gave me, the material increases its durability considerably when exposed in extremely cold conditions. And it allows partial conduction of electricity and heat without need for doping. It's basically a natural semiconductor. In room temperatures, imagine." Professor Rufus tattled excitedly. "The strength of Neron's gravitational field is slightly different from Earth's. Just from this, we know that using Earth metals and importing them from here for weapon making has more disadvantages than advantages. Cheraki metal will be priceless resource if we could just receive permission to use it." "Indeed, and UNO has been working on new soldier designs based on this metal. Professor Rufus, it's about time." Jack said as he regarded the man in the hologram. Professor Rufus nodded his head and said his quick goodbye to the others in the room before another person took his place in the hologram. Auburn hair and a shine in her eyes. It took him a moment until Kazu recognized her. "Hello gentlemen! I am Dr. Brenweilla Han, a neurologist working for UNO. Aside from sir Jack and Dr. Van, I was responsible for prepping you for travel in space without having to undergo intensive training on the same level as astronauts. If you did, you would never have gone to Neron in less than twenty years given your physical specs and mental fortitude." Her introduction was lengthy but it was refreshing to see a smiling face in the room. "I remember you clearly, Dr. Han. If I was not interested in someone else, I would have not missed the chance to ask you out for dinner." Flirted the colonel, an attempt she brushed off. "Oh please, Col Wyld. I'm married so I'll pass. Kazu, long time no see!" She greeted and waved cheerfully when the UNO representative cleared his throat, reminding her to do what she was supposed to do. "Dr. Han recently published her work on the implantation of artificial ganglia, nervous clumps, in the body, primarily outside the cranium, near the spine." Explained Jack. "Yes. Esther, Zeran, Dairo and Kalyptra. I have gathered brain data of everyone who has boarded these colonizing ships. By averaging the neural links of everyone, I have singled out the ganglia responsible for device adaptability. In other words, technological sense. I heard how UNO is designing new carriers for our soldiers. Adjusting to these new carriers, along with changes to battle tactics, will be a challenge to our soldiers, and will definitely take a minimum of three years to master enough to use during actual combat. The artificially implanted ganglia will increase affinity with the carriers and make our soldiers' jobs easier for them." "I see. So it's like gaining a new skill immediately without having to train. Like implanting the ganglia for riding a bicycle will allow the person to be able to ride the bike without having to waste time and effort practicing." The colonel summarized, looking impressed. "That is the gist. It's almost like self hypnosis, like convincing yourself you can eat the food you hate most without scrunching your face." The female scientist supplemented, nodding enthusiastically. "But implantation of the theory to do a particular thing is not necessarily enough. If the body is not physically prepared, then the person could overexert himself and injure his body." Dr. Van warned. It was the first time he spoke so Kazu sneaked a peak at him, but the superstar researcher had clamped his mouth shut yet again. "No problem. All my men are healthy and able bodied." Adam replied with a glint of excitement in his eyes. With the military man's demeanor, Kazu was brimming with the urge to ask the colonel if he was aware that Kazu's brother was preparing to die somewhere just so the colonel could have his fun. Unknowing of Kazu's anger, Brenweilla continued explaining. "On Earth, there are thirty six successful implantations so far, but these subjects are death row inmates, so they cannot be sent to Neron to help the colonization process. For now, they are helping to collect data for the improvement of the new soldier carrier design, or as UNO calls it, the Egg. Since I am on Earth, Dr. Van has taken charge of culturing artificial ganglia and implanting them in soldiers stationed in Neron." "I hear that not many of the cultured ganglia live for a long time after synthesis and so implantation has been difficult. How many have you implemented successfully so far, Dr. Van?" Asked the representative, prompting all of them to look at the senior researcher. Dr. Van sighed, clearly disliking the attention. And then he answered. "Just one." There was a long silence which followed. Not that anyone had the place to be judging the superstar researcher, but every person in the room thought that the low count was pretty disappointing, especially because this is the Dr. Van they were talking about. But Jack had a duty to preside the meeting so he took it upon himself to point it out. "I must have heard incorrectly. Only one, Dr. Van?" "You heard me well. Only one subject was successful." The senior scientist answered curtly with his eyes closed and his fingers intertwined in front of him, like he was trying to keep his patience. Another silence followed, but it was shorter and broken by Brenweilla in an attempt to lift the mood. "W-Well, since I have been working on this for nearly seven years now and have only produced a meager number so far, I think Dr. Van has performed better with the three months he was given." She said amiably, a holographic nervous smile on her face as her eyes watched the others in the room. "But fighting a war with a single foot soldier is boring." Complained the colonel, appearing to lose his interest and sitting back on his chair. "What, should I capture the local warriors one by one and make them fight with this one soldier until they run out?" "One on one fights as in during the time of the gladiators? When men fought to the death while thousands of people watched and cheered in a coliseum?" Kazu said, shuddering slightly because he disliked the thought. It was plain barbarism in his opinion. "That might actually be a good idea. Men of passion fighting to the death." Jack put his arms up in front of him as if picturing the words underlined and written in bold. "UNO shall consider it." But the colonel was not appeased and he showed this by slamming a hand on the table, making Brenweilla jump. "Such an arrangement would mean not utilizing the military. We take action under the guise of invasion and show a healthy rivalry through warfare. Man to man combat does not compare to battles fought between actual armies." The military man ranted but was silenced when Dr. Van spoke. "If you want your troops to survive at all, Adam, then stick to tanks and space war for now. Battling these natives without the Egg will only get your people killed. After all, only one subject was successfully implanted because I added a second ganglia." The scientist paused and there was a moment as the others in the room digested this. "A second one? You managed to synthesize another ganglia with different instructions?" Brenweilla asked, her expression now a cross between admiration for the star researcher, and of being offended that Dr. Van hijacked and modified her research without her permission. "Yes." Dr. Van answered, the corners of his mouth crinkling upwards to what Kazu thought was almost a smile. "The ganglia to execute orders as they were given no matter the odds." "But that is against basic human rights! Stripping a soldier's freedom to act on his own assessment..." Spluttered a belatedly surprised Jack. Beads of sweat clung to his forehead and he patted them quickly away with a handkerchief. "I merely created a ganglia that will allow the soldier to be convinced that the orders given were his or her own assessment to begin with, and will allow the body to fool itself to be able to perform regardless if it is equipped for the task or not." The star researcher answered drily, looking nonchalant. "So the soldier could die trying?" Brenweilla said the words gravely, only now realizing how wicked her research possibly was if warped. "More like, die already have done it since the body will be pushed to the utmost limit." Answered the dumbfounded Jack. The colonel looked disturbed as well and he turned to his friend in concern. "Leeuwen. What are you planning?" "You want to play a game, don't you Adam? So I gave you a soldier who would consider your orders absolute. But only one. If I made more, you could enter that crazed high of yours, requesting more of the budget for your weapons and war playthings and eventually turn out to be a hindrance to my research and to the future discoveries of the researchers under me, just like back in college." And then Dr. Van turned to the UNO representative who was still wearing a horrified look on his face. "Also, she gave me her full consent. She has no family on Earth and no one to care for." "She?" "The subject. The single foot soldier." Despite being good friends with Dr. Van, Adam looked almost about ready to combust as he opened his mouth, ready to start complaining again when Kazu, much to his own surprise, reached a hand to stop the colonel before a fight broke out. "Look, colonel, there will still be two weeks to sort out the declaration of war first. Dr. Van could still change his mind and create more soldiers for you. But this? This new breed of soldier combined with the Egg? Even I find it distasteful, to say the least. It's too... artificial. I'm sure the doctor feels the same. And going by where Dr. Van is coming from, I doubt he will create more soldiers without the second ganglia." All this the communications captain whispered to the military representative, making the colonel reconsider. "It's like he's put a curse on me." Muttered Adam, clicking his tongue. He looked discontented, but the colonel visibly withdrew and the moment was past. "So the Egg? Since these new carriers will be manufactured here on Neron, I'd like to see the design for myself." Kazu regarded Jack, who nodded his head to Brenweilla. The female researcher smiled and said her goodbyes to everyone in the room, and then her figure was gone. A man who had a buff frame replaced her, his bald head, slit eyes and overgrown beard reaching his chest the features dominating his form. "Rohani Urey, gentlemen." Came the man's short introduction, after which he then started reporting his business. "This is the Egg, conceptualized by my team under UNO's supervision." In his hands he held a foot long model of the carrier. It was shaped like a stretched egg, about six inches wide at the fattest part near the bottom which grew narrower as it sloped up to a round tip about two inches across. "The Egg is eight feet tall in actual size. It is designed to house a soldier for as long as two weeks when active and nearly two months if in hibernation mode. The key to its design is the soup which we call Yolk that the soldier will be immersed in. The Yolk is a mixture of nutritious dextrose and electrolytes, dissolved pharmaceuticals developed from the Lady Eire flower which Dr. Van here collected during the first year of colonization, and hibernation fluids for travel and emergency situations. Pilots are not expected to eat during operations so the dextrose shall supplement the pilot's nutritional needs through tubes that connect directly to the soldier's helmet. The drugs are present to ensure that the pilot's physical body is in top condition any time while inside the Egg, continuously healing should he suffer from any injuries. During travel, the Egg might be expected to hike for miles and so while it may be controlled remotely by base, the hibernation fluids allow the soldier to withdraw from activity and rest. Also, in the event of an emergency, the Egg is equipped to dig through three meters of soil and bury itself in the ground where it will await rescue. When this happens, the Egg automatically goes into hibernation mode after two days to conserve energy." "How does the pilot move around in active mode?" Jack inquired. "There are quasi limbs hidden inside the Egg. Two at each side and two that extend on the front and back. By moving around, the Yolk will analyze the movements made by the pilot through the fluid and will translate it to the limbs." Answered Rohani. Kazu knew the man well, being one of his advisees when Kazu was finishing up on his doctorate. So the comms captain decided to challenge his ex adviser a bit. "The pilot could lose his sense of balance if he stays too long in the soup, though. And he could enter shock if he realizes he cannot carry his own weight anymore the moment he steps outside to fight." Rohani's eyes flicked toward Kazu and after a long moment, he recognized his student. But he did not bother exchanging greetings. "We are still working on that." Rohani thumbed his beard which Kazu remembered was a habit he did whenever he was feeling bashful. "We were hoping that the researcher named Merlin Fukushiro could complete the puzzle for us. His work on hibernation fluids was, although stellar, never published in its entirety, but everyone knew about it anyway." "Oh, the Fukushiro's boy. The one they call the next Dr. Van." The colonel spoke, a spark reawakening in his gaze. "I heard he's in a Talavarian village right now. Since sir Urey's team needs him, why don't we send Dr. Van's new soldier to pick him up? In and out, no fighting involved. Treat it as a test run." Adam said the name almost sarcastically. Even as early s in the board room, the colonel was already picking fights. If UNO saw how efficient the new soldier was, they could pressure Dr. Van to make more, and the colonel would be happy. It was an obvious ploy but no one pointed it out. The star researcher rolled his eyes slightly at the military representative, hiding an amused smirk in the corner of one of his lips. "Go ahead." [Present] There was him and his black, blank eyes looking back, in a space that only consisted of darkness, cold and silence, where only the two of them existed. He stood in indifferent silence while the other talked, screamed, cried, begged for him to do or say something. But he was unresponsive, and Merlin's skin crawled, he felt the little hairs on his arms rise and his neck prickle when he realized how empty the other's gaze was. Water sloshed around his feet when Merlin tried to get closer. Looking around, the scenery crackled like bad signal on television and for a moment Merlin was back on the other side of the river, staring wide eyed at the burning village where a beheaded figure energetically waved a hand at Merlin as if in a farewell. Horrified, his feet gave out and down Merlin fell, now back to the black emptiness. And this time, he was alone. "Oh, that's right." His chuckle was hollow as Merlin remembered, his own voice echoing in the vast empty place. "You're dead." There was a lot of shouting when Merlin came to. Head throbbing and his consciousness floating, the human had to blink for numerous times before his teal eyes opened and he could focus. Kjartan and another Aeternumi. Or at least the human recognized Kjartan's voice and the language used. The human twisted his neck around, only to witness the two quarrelling men kissing, before given a heated, hateful glare from the Aeternumi who Merlin could not recognize. Then the stranger was gone and Kjartan was by his side. Kjartan spoke softly, like he cared for the human who he rescued from the forest. For just a second, Merlin allowed himself to believe that Kjartan truly cared, that he helped Merlin because he thought Merlin was worth helping and not because the human was to be used as a hostage or to be interrogated. For the moment it lasted, the human was surprised to learn that it felt good. It was a pleasing feeling, but it also hurt like a thorn in his chest because he knew that would be too good to be true, so Merlin mentally slapped himself to stop his weird delusions. "I always seem to wake up to the sounds of you fighting with someone else." Merlin replied, allowing himself to give Kjartan a smile just because of the silly reason of being unable to suppress it. "Brainwashed? I feel fine, I think. My head hurts a bit though." Merlin paused, thinking that that last sentence was probably irrelevant. He didn't ask if your head hurt, silly. "Also, the Cheraki aren't lunatics, Kjartan. Sure their priests are jerks but they are nice people and they took care of me well, and Shoumei..." Merlin trailed off, not looking at Kjartan even though Merlin was facing the local. Shoumei. "They have a goddess and I have my science. You have yourself. We need something to define us so we hold onto it. Do you think this is lunacy?" The human realized how patronizing he must have sounded, and quickly pinched the back of his hand to scold himself. But he could not have helped himself even if he wanted to. Merlin truly believed in this, and he was curious what Kjartan thought of it. As the spy he was, Kjartan must have been exposed to various types of people, all with differing beliefs. Merlin doubted that Kjartan was someone who would narrow mindedly believe in only a single thing so rigidly. And Shoumei had Pretty... This talk is turning sour. I must quickly talk about something else. "S-So you were kissed. Do you Aerternumi traditionally conclude a fight this way?" Merlin asked as a way to steer the conversation to a less bumpy direction only to find that the topic proved to be inconvenient for him when a slight pang pierced his chest again as soon as he said the words. He had a crush on Kjartan after all and it was not easy to see the Aeternumi spy being kissed. Merlin wished he could erase the memory from his mind. But he's comrades with the people who killed Shoumei... "Shut up." The human muttered quietly to himself. Discriminating against the Neronians, particularly the Lyars, would not bring Shoumei back. Also, Shoumei had purposefully intended to get himself killed, and he succeeded, for whatever reason he thought made his death necessary. There was no way the human was finished mourning for his friend yet but somehow, Merlin did not feel like crying. His eyes were dry and he felt calm despite the hollowness in his chest. He missed Shoumei terribly but he was far from the edge of hysteria. In fact, he did not feel hatred nor resentment towards Kjartan. That was when Merlin remembered he had not yet thanked Kjartan for picking him up from the forest. "Kjartan, thank you. Skell." The human said, held captive by the other's light grey eyes. Merlin wondered how this particular pair of eyes saw him as a person, if he was seen as an arrogant alien, a clumsy human who needed to be rescued all the time, or possibly, an equal? Did Kjartan think of him as a friend or as something else? "But you might be in trouble because you helped me. I'd hate to burden you." Then the human sheepishly smiled. "Although I might not be valuable as a hostage. I hardly know anything since I only came here thinking of gathering samples. I'm sorry." That and to run away from my mother. Merlin sat up from where he was lying on the table and looked around while mentally shaking his thoughts away. Kjartan probably thought of Merlin as a colonizer, nothing more. He was being so silly for hoping to become friends or something. He recognized the room and slowly slid off the table to stand on the floor. Carrying his own weight brought back the throbbing in his head and for a moment the room seemed to swirl in Merlin's vision. Shit. Get yourself together. "Merle. Merle, can you hear me?" Kazu. Merlin did nothing to respond. There was only Kjartan and him in the room. Tapping his fingers right now would be obvious and he'd have to explain. And Merlin did not want to talk to his friend yet, given how he failed to stop Shoumei from getting himself killed. There was no way Merlin could answer to Kazu yet. But Kazu was persistent. "Okay, let's do it this way. Tap your pinky once for yes, your thumb for no. Can you hear me? Are you okay? Does anywhere hurt?" I'll worry him more if I don't answer. Mlin thought. Glancing at Kjartan while hoping not to get caught, Merlin tapped his pinky, and again, then his thumb once. Yes, yes and no. From the other side of the call, Merlin could hear his friend exhale heavily, like Kazu had been keeping his breath for a long time. "Thank God. Listen, UNO needs you for the development of new carriers for our soldiers. They need your work on hibernation fluids so you have to be here to head the research since it was your thesis. UNO is serious. We're making our move. The humans are joining the fight and all non combatants are ordered to retreat to base. Do you understand, Merle? You're getting out of there. We'll rescue you soon, so sit tight. We'll come for you four days from now. By the time you're back at base, the attacks will start." "Kjartan!" Merlin screamed before jumping and throwing his arms around the other person in the room, embracing the other's taller figure and feeling the air leave his lungs when he crashed into Kjartan. Attacks? UNO? The conversation had turned into one that could not be settled with only a yes or no. Swiftly, Merlin tapped a message to Kazu. Because he was hugging him, Kjartan should be unable to see what Merlin was doing with his fingers. If the attacks start, Kjartan could get caught up in it. There was no way Merlin would let that happen. "This is not just my will, Merle. It's an order. We can't attack if there are humans aside from soldiers left outside base." Kazu sounded exasperated, and Merlin knew he was the one causing the communications captain to be stressed out so much. There was a deadly silence where Merlin could practically hear Kazu seethe from the other end. "Why the fuck are you being so stubborn, Merle?! Do you want to end up like my stupid brother?" Kazu finally burst out before cutting the call. Hearing his friend shout made Merlin flinch, and the human hugged Kjartan tighter, buried his face further into the other's torso. If Kjartan didn't feel Merlin's fingers tapping on his back, then he should feel the human's hands tremble now. Merlin's nose prickled and his chest felt tight, the back of his eyelids felt hot. He knew he was being selfish about staying. He was being so difficult when he knew Kazu just lost his brother. But as long as one human had yet to be evacuated, the attacks won't start. It was an UNO policy. But who knew what sort of promises were broken in a war? It was a naive deterrent, but it was all Merlin could think of right now. I'll stay here, the attacks won't start, and Kjartan will be safe. Merlin repeated this like a prayer in his head. Again and again, until he could fool himself. "I'm sorry for suddenly doing this, but please let me stay like this for a while longer." The human said tiredly, still latched to the Aeternumi. There was so much to think and so little time to act. Merlin didn't even know if he was willing to fight alongside the humans if time came that UNO required him, but it wasn't like was was going to fight with the Cheraki, the Vintar, or anyone. Merlin had no place in the war because he had no reason to fight. It was so difficult to be sure of anything. But Merlin did wish one thing. After failing Shoumei, Merlin realized something. I want to protect this person. Just one person.
  13. Hello happy holidays

  14. "What do you mean you didn't know? You were obviously making a fool out of me!" Merlin huffed into the screen and crossed his arms in front of his chest. He was not amused about Kazu teaching him the wrong translation of 'dreichschpklrafasschulplin' and was presently reprimanding him for it. "I wasn't, seriously. Look, I'm sorry, alright? I didn't think you could pronounce it and actually use it anyway. There is a simpler one, the real Aeternumi word for thanks, right? Skel. Skel. Just because you used a word I taught wrong does not mean I'm responsible for you saying it. You can't be a baby about that all the time, now can you Merle?" Kazu was clearly not sorry and that was annoying. Furthermore, he was pushing the blame on Merlin, like he was going to get out of being responsible if he did that. But what was more irritating was how Merlin could not think of a comeback, so instead the younger blurted whatever he thought. "You idiot! I hate you!" "Hey, that's so mean. If anything, I should be the one angry. You let your devices that I made for you get stolen and gave one of my chips to a native spy. And it had to be the call chip, too. Do you have any idea how much stress I had to deal with to stop the guys from going after your rescue? Not to mention, I was so worried-" "The guys? What guys, Kazu?" Merlin had to interrupt. If these guys Kazu was referring to meant other humans in the labs, that spelled big trouble. "Kazu, if other people knew I was with a local servant who turned out to be a native spy and yet I didn't report immediately, I'll be treated as a traitor. You said so yourself, remember?" "Relax, Merlin. It's just my unit. They are a bunch of greens dropped in our lab and were assigned to me the day after you were sent on your sample gathering mission. They're juniors from our university so they know all about you and are stumped that they're stuck with me. You guys are the same age, but seems like they're your fans, actually, ever since you did that research on hibernation fluids. So when they heard you didn't have the call function anymore, one of them said that you might not be able to communicate during extreme emergencies, causing everyone else to panic. But no worries, they don't know about you and that native spy." Kazu explained, but Merlin was already halfway done chewing on his nails in nervousness. He couldn't help being so restless after all. In such a time and in such a situation, there was just no guarantee for anything and that made Merlin antsy. But something was amiss. "Kazu, why do you have people assigned to you? And why is your hair cut like that?" Merlin pointed out. It was bothering him since earlier how short Kazu's hair was. Unlike his brother Shoumei who preferred to keep his Oriental black hair, Kazu usually kept his hair all spiked up and dyed into a blinding shade of orange. Now, the Kazu that Merlin could see in the monitor had his hair in a clean buzz cut. His features stood out and he looked younger. Merlin liked the fresh look, but it somehow made him uncomfortable. "Ah, this? The seniors said it was mandatory so I had it cut off." For a moment, Kazu looked away from the camera and in that instant, Merlin knew something was wrong. "Merle, I think it's best if you stay there with Shoumei for a while. Don't try to come back yet unless I tell you it's okay." Frowning now, Merlin demanded to know what his friend was talking about. "Why?" "Merle, I was only an assistant researcher just a month ago. Yet they gave me a bunch of young bloods, an office, my own laboratory, a pass to use the communications satellite and an aero craft of my own. Just two weeks ago, they ordered every man to cut his hair." Kazu looked dead serious now, as if he was saying whatever he needed to tell Merlin with his eyes. "You know what that means, right Merle?" Merlin unconsciously gulped and fidgeted in his seat. He knew, of course he did, but he did not want to acknowledge it, because it was frightening to think about. The senior human colonizers were slowly putting the men on their toes. Something big was coming and they were prepping everyone, including the reserve corps, the military scientists. Being given higher status during such a time didn't really equate to a good thing, and both Kazu and Merlin knew this. It was strange how so much dread could be exchanged between two people through a monitor, all because of looking at each other in the eye. So the situation on the planet had come to this. "So stay put right there, okay Merle? Listen to me for once." Kazu finished before he promptly ended the video call. Still biting his nails, Merlin let his head fall to the table where the laptop he had been using sat, his mind heavy with worry for the future. Due to his indecisiveness, Merlin ended up following Shoumei and Pretty, whose name he learned to be so secret that no one really knew her real name. The morning after Merlin joined Shoumei, the three of them made their way to the Talavarian village where Pretty and many other Cheraki lived as procedure to slowly convert the Talavarian locals, and the place where Shoumei was designated to teach elementary aged native children. Merlin shot the other human the most disapproving grimace he could manage when he learned this. The setup was basically nirvana for a pedophile such as Shoumei, and it had to be exotic children at that. Suddenly the door flew open and in came an overly passionate Shoumei yelling orders at the younger man. "Merle! Enough chitchat with my brother and come help me watch over the children! Grab your hat." "Yes, yes." Merlin stood and tucked Shoumei's laptop away in a cabinet before grabbing his baseball cap and going out, his plysch rushing after him to climb onto his shoulder. "That uncle over there is grossly enthusiastic to watch over children. Don't you think so Yuuko?" The human asked his animal friend when Pretty suddenly came over to talk to him for the first time in the two weeks he had been in the village. "Sh-Shoumei... k-kind and... nice." She stuttered, looking shy yet frowning and puffing her cheeks at Merlin. "He... n-not gross..." Merlin stared at Pretty, amazed that she spoke in Japanese. Hearing his country's language spoken by a young girl from another planet was a strange experience, but it somehow struck a pang of homesickness in Merlin. Not that he missed his parents or Brenweilla or anything. Just that he missed the feeling of not having to worry about war and the dire feelings it brought. On Earth, war and poverty was no longer an issue. Resources were allocated properly and political issues were rid of corruption. The present Earth guaranteed maximized life expectancy and general satisfaction for everyone. Social issues, education and wars were all solved. The problem was just that resources were dwindling too fast, and so Neron was the answer. At least, that was what the earth's most powerful leaders had the people believe. Merlin knew better than that though, and so did every other human researcher. For a while now, a group of scientists had been testing a new technology that was capable of containing the energy liberated during the combustion of matter, and around the year when the first colonizing ship, the ship Maria, was launched to Neron, it was confirmed that the technology managed to store ninety three percent of the expected energy from the combusted mass, with a loss of six percent when turned to mechanical energy. This bit of news was never publicized, though. If it was, then the colonization of Neron would never have pushed through. But none of the the researchers spoke up. Either they were threatened or scared, maybe bought with hush money, although most were too enticed with the prospect of investigating an actual living, breathing planet that almost none opposed. "I like... Shoumei!" Merlin was snapped back to reality when Pretty yelled, prompting the man to quickly kneel down and calm her, patting her shoulder and holding her hand. Merlin shushed to soothe her, all the while trying to ignore the looks passersby threw at him. They might have thought that he bullied her or something and he could not have that. Merlin knew he had to stay here if he wanted to survive, and that came with the obvious consequence that he had to keep the locals from seeing him badly. But even if it was easy to judge a man with a child crying in front of him, there was something different about how this particular young girl was treated. Pretty appeared to be everybody's sunshine that even the Talavarians acted as if they agreed so. "Okay, okay Pretty. Shoumei is kind and cool and nice. I'm sorry. Merlin likes Shoumei too, okay-" Merlin was saying, but he was interrupted by a shrieking Pretty. "No! I like Shoumei! Only me! Nobody else! Just me!" Good grief, so children could be this much of a headache, Merlin thought. He was running out of ideas, or rather, had no idea what to do with a little girl throwing a fit. Merlin could feel his face being all weird as he tried to figure out what sort of expression would appease her. "Oh, um. Sure, Pretty. Only you like Shoumei, alright? So please calm down, yeah?" That was when the damned person being mentioned stepped in between them. Gently, he lifted her up in his arms and she settled there snugly like they had done this a thousand times before. It was rather a sight one would cringe at, and Merlin could not find a single cell in his body that could reconcile with the relationship between them. Though who was he to judge them? "Pretty, that's enough. I love you too, so say sorry to Merlin." Shoumei was saying, and the girl obediently did as she was told, now back to being timid with Shoumei's presence. When she was done apologizing, Shoumei put her down again, but not before giving her a peck on her forehead. Merlin felt himself twitch. He did not need to see that. "Gee, you're bad at this, Merle. Get used to the kids fast or the villagers will toss you out for being a freeloader." Shoumei said as he handed the shorter male a large duffel bag full of metals clinking inside. Merlin was surprised that the bag could be so light, but he made no mention of it. Instead, he sighed at the way the other kept reminding him what would happen if he kept being unable to do anything useful in exchange for staying. Getting kicked out was a scary thought, so Merlin didn't like being told over and over. "I know, okay? Also, could you tone down the flirting? It's so... weird for me. At least don't do it when I'm watching please." The younger told the other male when they were left alone while a native woman, Shoumei's co teacher at the school, led the other children from the front. She was a beautiful woman, tall and full at the hips, her corn colored hair flowing down her back and reaching behind her knees. It w obvious at first glance how she was different from the other Cheraki. Her name was Kanta, and she was Pretty's mother. At the head of a little procession with around twenty children following and the two human researchers at the rear, Pretty and her mother Kanta led the way with a song as the little ones trudged their way further inland. Merlin soon fell silent as he walked after them. Although the children were mixed Talvarians and Cheraki, every child knew the song, which was in the native language of the Cherak. Merlin could not understand a thing, of course, so he was left guessing its meaning while he watched mother and daughter dance to the lyrics. The song included a lot of shrill notes and was sung pretty fast, but the overall effect was a happy beat. With the way they waved their arms and twirled and jumped around, if Merlin was to judge it, it sounded like an exhilaration of thanks. Soon, they arrived at a riverbank, one that stretched for some kilometers bare from trees and was just plain, pale mud at one side while on the other side, a few meters from the river shore began the forest. The singing stopped, and Kanta, after leaving her shoes with her daughter, tested the mud's firmness by tapping her pretty bare feet on it. The mud gave way, and started caking around her feet. Laughing, she spun around fast enough that her skirt lifted and bared her legs, prompting both Merlin and Shoumei to look away. It was because they were both looking away that they didn't notice when she suddenly turned up a foot away from them, the act surprising the two humans. She spoke and it was in the Aeternumi language. "The soil here is perfect and the weather is beautiful. Our divine Goddess has blessed this land and our duty beckons. Teacher Shoumei, please distribute the tools to the children." She instructed before attending to the children again while Merlin and Shoumei opened the bags they brought. The younger man saw that the metals he heard earlier were what appeared to be gardening tools. Soon the children were enthusiastically working while running and rolling around the sticky mud. Half of the class planted while the other half collected the mud, which Merlin now recognized to be very similar to clay. Watching them, Merlin had a silent debate with himself whether the class was simply having a field trip, or child labor was a thing among the locals. The way the children appeared to enjoy whatever they were doing, Merlin placed his bet on the first. But it was a wonderful sight, nevertheless. Regardless of the ethnicity, dialect, their varying eye, skin and hair color, the little ones energetically worked together gathering the mud and packing the lot into woven baskets while the slightly older and more built ones tilled the land on the other side of the river, where the forest was. Merlin saw that many of the children flocked to Pretty, helping her as she directed others on what to do. As young as she was, the human researcher could see that she was a natural born leader. "She really is pretty, isn't she?" Shoumei said with a sigh, his statement earning a look from Merlin. But the younger kept quiet and looked at her. The Cheraki were not very different from the Aeternumi when it came to their appearances, just that their eyes had greenish scleras and their irises had the color of red clay. They also had pointed ears though theirs did not reach as high as the forehead, like how the Aeternumi's ears are, and their eyes were farther apart. Because their goddess despised vanity, they generally kept their hair short, until around the shoulders. But Pretty's hair reached until her knees, just like her mother's, only hers was decorated with wisps of orange, lime green, and blue near the bottom, like tropical fishes against the backdrop of her fiery brown hair. Just like the other girls, she wore a simple one piece dress, but she looked especially beautiful in it, a thought which was surprising to Merlin. In fact, the longer he stared at Pretty, the lovelier she became, like she was pulling at him with invisible strings. It was a confounding experience so Merlin looked away. "Let me tell you why she is not like the others. She is their Seer. When she turns ten, the spirit of their Oracle will completely possess her and the previous High Priestess, the young lady who appointed me to be here, will lose her eyesight. Pretty will be the channel to their goddess until she's sixteen, speaking for the lady deity until she is replaced. Then the cycle goes on." The older human continued but Merlin was skeptical. "Shoumei, I understand that you're i-in... in love with Pretty, but you don't actually believe in this goddess stuff they're talking about, do you? I mean, look at it objectively. Religion on Earth has long since been abandoned because it hindered progress and there was no conclusive proof of a deity anyway. The Cherak's goddess is no different. She is simply the figurehead of a belief system they created to guide their lifestyles. No one's actually seen her-" "You mean, you haven't seen her." The older interrupted and looked at the younger human beside him. "Have you seen quarks and pulsars, Merle? Positrons and all that?" Merlin was not amused at the way Shoumei so testily asked him. "You did not have to put it that way." But if Shoumei was defending the Cherak and their religion, then there must be some truth to their goddess. Once again, Merlin's cynical side was overthrown by his curiosity. "Have you seen her?" He asked, but the older only chuckled. "You want to know, Merle?" That moment, Pretty walked up to them and was pulling on Shoumei's shirt with her clay clad hands to get attention. "Mother said that Shoumei and Merlin should have midday's meal with us." She said, speaking in the Aeternumi language so Merlin could understand. "Oh. Are you done collecting the clay?" Shoumei asked while he patted her head. "Yes! Zanier could not help much, but he collected three little baskets. Let's go sit with mother." She found Shoumei's hand and slipped hers in it so she could lead the way. Shoumei followed, with one confused Merlin trailing behind the two of them. "Who's Zanier?" The younger human whispered. "Pretty's little brother. He's sickly and he's usually not allowed to join class trips like this but today was an exception." Shoumei explained, but Merlin had one more question. "Why? What's happening today?" The older male only answered the question with a knowing grin. "You'll see." They crossed the river which was easy enough considering that its middle turned out to be only waist level for an adult. Merlin would have preferred to stay dry but no one else seemed to be bothered so the human decided to keep his mouth shut and go along. If the side they were on previously was sludgy with clay, the other side was solid, rich soil. Here, the ground was dry and so Kanta instructed the children to sit around a circle and take out their packed lunches. When that was done, the young ones placed their food about a feet away from them. Merlin watched in growing interest. That was when Kanta broke out in another song, this time slow and melodic, soothing and exuding humility and gratefulness. Merlin watched quietly from where he sat, realizing that they were praying to their goddess in thanks for the food. It was so strange. Who are they talking to? Merlin mentally asked. The food was something they prepared on their own, so why did someone else had to take the credit for their own hard work? The Cherak are a bizzare people, alright. "Our divine Mother has graced the food. Eat and be nourished, children. You have done work well for Her glory." Kanta was saying after the song ended, then she made her way to the smaller circle where Pretty, Merlin and Shoumei sat. "I reckoned that you gentlemen did not bring lunch with you so I took the liberty of preparing your portions." She said and with a graceful gesture, served the two humans food. As always, the food was odd compared to Earth food and Merlin thought he could never get used to it, but the feeling of a warm bowl in his hands filled Merlin with gratefulness nevertheless. For a moment, he remembered the breakfast he had with Kjartan and Meran in the faun's cozy house. The feeling was the same back then. "Skel, Kanta." He said, and she answered him with a smile equally warm as the soup she served. "Our Lady has graced your food also. Eat up, Teacher Merlin." Merlin was already slurping the broth when she said the last bit, making him stop. "T-Teacher?" His surprise was evident in his voice that even Kanta could notice it, and she chuckled. "Yes. Teacher Shoumei suggested it. The High Priestess has also allowed it. If you'd like, you can stay with us and teach the children the ways of humans just as how Teacher Shoumei does." Merlin wasn't sure about that, though. Kazu did say that he had requested for Merlin's sample gathering mission to be given to someone else so that meant that the higher ups were aware that Merlin was still outside the research labs, and that he was not doing anything particularly useful to the colonization process, and that he was with Shoumei. Are they abandoning me? Merlin wondered, since he wasn't exactly being asked to return either. If that's the case, then is Shoumei abandoned, too? What exactly is he doing here anyway? And if he was sent as a diplomat for Earth, then it should have been wiser to stay near the High Priestess' side, where influence was centered, not some small Talavarian village occupied by the Cherak. Many things did not add up properly now that Merlin thought about it. The meal ended after a while. Kanta had many stories to tell, especially about their goddess and the beginnings of the people of Cherak. If she was telling the story to slowly convert Merlin, it certainly did not feel that way. She spoke with such genuine passion and her green eyes would light up every now and then her hands would dance in the air. Admittedly, it was as interesting as a science lecture could get, which was a huge compliment from a science geek like Merlin. When she stopped so that the class could start the hike back to the village, Merlin was itching to hear more. "You know, you're like a child when you become so interested in something. You become such an adorable sponge." Shoumei commented as the two humans walked side by side at the rear again. Merlin scoffed, feeling embarrassed that he had been seen through. "That. I was just paying attention to be polite." The older didn't look like he was convinced but he didn't say anything anymore. Soon the village was in sight and what Merlin saw alarmed him. Although the children were all friends because of school, the adults in the villages weren't necessarily in good terms with each other. The Cherak had the tendency to be very pushy when it came to preaching and making converts, especially the elders and priests. This constant pressure did not sit well with some Talavarians but other than those unwilling, the others had peacefully accepted the Cherak's doctrines. Yet seeing all the adults crowded near the forest's edge to meet their group with such intent faces, Merlin had a bad feeling resting in his gut. Someone spoke and it was in the Cherak's language but Merlin caught an Aeternumi "Get him!" The children parted like the Red Sea and before Merlin could resist, two men held his arms and a third had blindfolded him. The human researcher could only stutter Shoumei's name before he was taken someplace he hoped wasn't back North to the Vintars. He wasn't taken far though, and soon he was released and the blindfold was removed. Merlin could not comprehend what was happening but when he saw the villagers' expectant faces, he knew they weren't going to hurt him. "Um, excuse me. What is..." "Teacher Merlin, we welcome you. You are now family." The Cherak man who had taken his right arm explained and raised his hand to gesture towards a humble hut that looked and smelled very new. "We built you this house to be your home. And with the clay that our divine Godess has blessed us, the children will craft utensils for your house, as well as a fireplace and a chimney to keep your place warm during harsh weather." The man smiled broadly, his pointed ears noticeably tilting back. Merlin was speechless, but he knew he had to express his thanks. "Skel. Skel. Oh, thank you for your hospitality." If only the Cherak used this kind of method, making converts would have been a lot easier. He wasn't sure about staying and living with them on the long run, but the fact that they had welcomed him as family gave Merlin the assurance that he could stay until he figured his next move. Although being accepted wasn't really something he deserved, since he didn't work hard for it. Merlin wasn't really into accepting gifts like this, but the circumstances demanded that he should stay with them for protection. Nevertheless, this sort and extent of kindness was unique to the locals, and if Merlin had a camera right now, he would have documented this moment of tenderness with the locals. "There will be a celebration tonight. Please be at the village center, for it will be at your honor." Kanta informed Merlin while the others dispersed to prepare for the festivities for later that evening, the children running after their parents, eager to help. Kanta left herself and the two humans were left to themselves. "Did they do all this to you too?" Merlin asked as they made their way inside the newly erected house. "Not at all. They gave me an old hut anyway." The older replied as the two humans entered the structure. "By the way, I had your things placed here, including your plysch's bed. And before I forget, here." Shoumei handed Merlin an opened envelope. "I found it with your clothes when we first met near the northern border. I must say, your spy Kjartan is an A grade hottie." What? Merlin snatched the letter from inside the envelope and read it in record speed. It was the letter for Dr. Van that Kjartan had passed onto Merlin when they were at Meran's house. The letter was from Captain Theodor Carlson and his impatience was evident in his words. Kjartan's profile was attached to the letter along with his picture. "I know Captain Carlson can be a brute sometimes, but he should have noticed at least that this guy is clearly not from the Talavar tribe. Goodness, this is why the natives loathe humans. Who would trust someone who can't even tell you apart from others? It was obvious right from the start that this dude Kjartan right here was faking his identity if only someone with enough knowledge just told the captain." Shoumei said with a look of pity for the captain. The captain wasn't the most agreeable man, even among humans. He was hot tempered and he liked to do things swiftly and efficiently. He was popular enough that not only soldiers hated to cross paths with him, even researchers feared him as well. But despite his harsh demeanor, he was admired for his continuing efforts for the colonization process. The captain is a passionate fighter, and every human is glad that he is on their side. Now that Merlin spent time with Talavarians, he realized that Kjartan was truly not of Talavarian blood. "He's an Aeternumi." Merlin was mumbling as he stared at Kjartan's picture. "That's why he's so tall... and cool..." Faltering, Merlin quickly turned to catch the other snickering. It did not take long for his face to grow hot. "Go away, lolicon. And don't read other people's letters again." The older wasn't threatened though and was already on his way out. "Who cares? Besides, you read the letter too, so we're both guilty." He pointed out before he left. "Laters." The children came by later that afternoon to present their gifts of pottery, many of which were crooked and mismatched. But Merlin thought they were all neat and accepted them with much thanks, making the little ones happy in return. One of the gifts looked questionable in shape, but Merlin flashed a smile at the Cheraki kid who gave it. Some hours more, and Merlin made his way to the village center, where a large fire was lit at the middle of a large circle that the villagers formed. He left his plysch at the house because the children seemed to fear it. He did not know what sort of festivities the locals would have so not knowing what to expect led him to opt for conservative wear, all articles of clothing borrowed from Shoumei though. "Merle, you're here." Shoumei showed up dressed like a Cheraki. Not like the priests, but like any of the working men of Cherak who wore excessive robes to prevent showing skin. Beside him holding his hand was Pretty, who wore the usual one piece white dress for the children but with her hair braided and pulled up into a bun at the back of her head. She looked pretty indeed and would have been more so if she placed flowers in her hair, in Merlin's honest opinion, but because of their religion, she was not allowed. With her hair out of the way, her greenish eyes stood out in the firelight. It was only for a moment but with the way they stood next to each other, Merlin almost approved of their relationship. Or rather, he was ticked that they could be together freely like this. Must be nice... Suddenly there was a succession of loud, sonorous drumming from the other side of the fire. Merlin could feel his very chest shake with the intense rhythm of the beats, reminding the human of a lost art of the Japanese called Taiko drumming. Although it was very rare nowadays, performers would visit prefectures in Japan and showcase nearly forgotten traditional pieces. Merlin considered himself fortunate enough to have been allowed by his mother to watch but because he was running late, he only managed to catch the finale, which was the Taiko drumming. He was only ten then, but Merlin felt a sort of Japanese pride swell inside him, one he dismissed immediately because useless pride like patriotism was heavily discouraged on Earth. "Merlin, please sit over here, with the children." Pretty grasped the human's hand and led him to a large, intricately woven mat of dimensions about four by three meter squared which was spread on the hearth. He saw how children removed their footwear and arranged them carefully before stepping onto the cloth. Merlin followed suit, slightly amused that such a practice was just like how Japanese take off their shoes before entering a house. The children were pleased to have him with them and so as soon as Merlin was seated, the children flocked to him, arguing among themselves who would sit on his lap. They argued in the Cherak language though, but Merlin could understand more or less, and not long after, the victor was chosen. A boy about three to four years old stepped up on wobbly legs, but in his greenish eyes was a sparkle that was so mesmerizing that Merlin unconsciously raised him by his armpits and placed him to sit on his lap. The little one let out an airy giggle before settling down. The drumming had stopped too. Everyone else had hushed when two figures, one small and slim the other tall and lean, rushed from two sides of the fire and suddenly, without warning, jumped through the fire. Landing with their feet widely spaced and their hips dropped much like the sumo stance, the two then stood at their full height. That was when the heavy bass drumming started again. The tempo was very slow, and the two figures lifted their knee one after the other much like how a crane would walk. Looking closely, Merlin noticed how the two were wearing masks that were simply carved out from wood. There were no faces on their masks, no eye holes and nose holes either, just one crescent shaped slit where the mouth was. They can't see? Merlin had no time to be bewildered when the dancers started circling the fire with their crane walking, gradually gaining speed as the drumming hastened too. The dancers' sweat became obvious in the firelight, their hair packed tightly into braided buns had some strands that escaped. Their plain white dresses followed them until they were a blur. Merlin watched breathless, wondering how they never crashed into each other or into the fire. Suddenly the taller one gave a shout and a beat after, the drumming stopped. The amount of breathing they had to do to catch their breath was amazing and before long, the taller one started singing, and her voice proved to Merlin that his guess about the older dancer being Kanta was correct. Unfortunately, she was singing in the Cherak language and Merlin could not understand a word. However the smaller one, who he guessed to be Pretty, was dancing, waving her arms and stomping her feet, leading Merlin to assume that she was acting out whatever her mother was singing. "So the woman lived in a dark box for as long as she remembered. She doesn't know how she got there but she knew she had to go out. When she did, the land was barren and the people had reduced to being animals. She spotted a single living flower but even that was killed by a beastly person. In rage, the woman took the remains of that flower and uses it to create new, untainted people. She orders them to kill the barbaric people, but this people are innocent and kind, and so it pained them to do as she said. In pity, the woman retracted her order and instead of killing the beastly people, the new people she created will cleanse the wicked people and teach them the principles of their creator, the woman." Merlin summarized after the song and some more choral singing where all Cherak in the village performed, and even a community dance of the Talavarians ended. "I'm amazed you understood all of that through the singing and dance alone. As expected, my Pretty's body language is perfect. Her creation story dance is flawless. By the way the woman is their goddess and the new people are the Cherak. The old people are the rest of the Neronians." Shoumei answered, himself out of breath also after partying hard with the Talavarians during the dance, which meant jumping around while holding hands with the people beside you. Such festivities were seldom permitted on Earth so it made sense to make up for all the other times he wanted to just dance and waste his energy. "Teacher Shoumei is correct, and Teacher Merlin's ability to observe is impressive." Kanta said. She was serving the two humans a thick yellowish soup each along with a large piece of dry bread when she heard their conversation. "Our Divine Goddess loves every Cherak very much, and so she does also for our planet Neron. She loves the dignified picture painted when Cherak and planet are in harmony. The other races do not understand dignity, nor principles or self respect, chastity, devotion and humility, the values we are entrusted by the divine goddess to teach them. Admittedly, Cheraki priests don't have that much patience, so whenever they preach, there is always shouting and beating involved. But their intentions are always to help the others become Cheraki so that they can receive the blessings of our divine goddess also." "Thank you." The two humans said when they were given food. Merlin was hesitant to ask especially because the Cheraki had been so hospitable to him and that he may come off as rude, but something did not make sense. "The Cheraki do not wish to hurt others, right? And yet the priests that preach the religion of the Cherak tend to resort to violence and verbal abuse when conversion becomes difficult. The Cheraki are being treated by the rest of the people of Neron as outcasts because of this. With all due respect, I think your singing and storytelling is more effective to earn converts, Kanta." "Hoh ho, the newcomer finally said it." A very old looking Cheraki man joined their group. He was stroking his beard which reached to his chest as he slowly bent to sit cross legged in front of the two humans. "Let me explain. It is the High Priestess who appoints the men to become priests. Now, the men chosen are the ones who are the most impatient, the most selfish, the most flawed. It is the divine Goddess' will that this men realize their imperfections as they teach the doctrines to the Lyars, the non Cherak people. I myself took ninety years in the ministry before I learned to humble myself. Hoh ho." "Ah, though Zanri is still a stubborn one if you ask me." Kanta said, her smile in full bloom and directed at the old man whose name Merlin supposed was Zanri. "Hoh ho. Only to my dearest wife, though. Hoh ho." He said, and the two Cheraki laughed. Merlin looked in confusion and Shoumei was kind enough to whisper an explanation. "These two are husband and wife. In other words, Zanri is Pretty's dad." Merlin's mouth dropped in disbelief. "Huh? But... compared to him, Kanta is still so... young." Merlin kept staring at the couple in front of him even though he knew it was rude. "Yeah. Cheraki women have a shorter life expectancy compared to Cheraki men so it makes sense that their women marry early, and to older dudes too. So age gap romances are a thing among Cheraki." Shoumei was flashing a big grin. "So Pretty and I are lit." "Hoh ho. Where has my little Zanier gone? Wasn't he here sitting with you, Teacher Merlin?" Zanri asked. Oh, so that kid was Zanier, Merlin thought. "He went away when the Talavarians started dancing. He looked dizzy so I left him with a Talavarian boy who said that he would take him home." Merlin replied while the old man looked very proud. "Hoh ho. Zanier has always been very sickly so the kids take turns taking care of him. Especially the Talavarians. My little Zanier does not have the spirit of the Oracle like his sister, but he has a certain charisma among the Talavar that makes them unable to leave him alone." Don't you think it's just because he's cute? Merlin wanted to say but he kept his mouth shut. "Well, my little Zanier is very cute so it makes sense." Zanri said as if reading Merlin's mind. "Hoh ho. The night is young, but the village must sleep. Sufficient sleep is needed to do our divine Godess' glorious work tomorrow. Kanta dear, please help me tell the others to wrap up the celebration. And help me get up, please." The old man said, and his wife eagerly complied. "Welcome to our family, Teacher Merlin. Indeed, your presence is a blessing given to us by our divine Goddess. May you rest well in the humble house we and our Talavarian brothers built for you." Zanri added before he walked on to the other side of the fire where the Cheraki priests sat among themselves. There was much hustling and bustling before the villagers slowly ebbed away from the village center, the ones leaving approaching and talking to Merlin first before going to their houses. Ultimately not a single Cheraki was left while four Talavarians and two humans were left. Merlin was prepared to hear the same welcoming words he had been hearing the entire evening from them but that did not happen. Instead, they presented a bottle of a liquid that looked very familiar and when they uncorked it, smelled like fermented grains. So it was a Talavarian drink that Merlin and Shoumei had a couple of weeks ago. One of them, a man who Merlin recognized as the Talavarian who took his left arm earlier that day, raised the bottle and spoke in the Aeternumi language. "Drink, human friends. I am Klaproth. Because of the Cheraki confiscating our produce, a bottle is all we can share, but my brothers and I welcome you both nonetheless." And another said, "Indeed, because if the Cherak find us with the women, their goddess will have a fit." And at that, all four of them laughed. As if in sync, the four of them sat and beckoned the two humans to do the same. "Sit, sit. What good is a welcoming party without a little drink?" One said, so Merlin and Shoumei sat. The drink was being served in cups and were handed to each one present. "Cheers!" And then they all drank. Merlin was thinking how these Talavarians had given no chances for Merlin and Shoumei to refuse, probably because they really just needed an excuse to drink, but the researcher made no comment and drank the portion he was given. He expected the drink to be the same as before, but the amount of alcohol in this particular bottle was no joke. Merlin's head felt heavy after one shot and that was that. He was not drinking another again. Shoumei looked stoned as well, but he was still doing fine enough to join the Talavarians on cheering Merlin on to drink more. After many failed refusals, Merlin drank three more until his very eyes burnt. The Talavarians looked happy. In their bliss, they started talking, specifically about the Cherak. "You know, all these Cheraki are so boring. They sleep early and wake up early. They work all day and when they eat, their prayers take so long, always yapping about their goddess. They don't even allow masturbation. Heck, what do they do when they're horny?" One of them, a redhead sporting a tomahawk ranted. "Oh, but their women are fine. So soft and gentle. If we ganged up one one-" "Shut your mouth, Frigor. You are drunk and unaware of what you are saying." The oldest brother Klaproth scolded his younger brother. "The Cherak might have taken away our habits of pleasure, but they have exchanged it by giving our lives meaning. In the past, every day was simply a day to work and prevent starvation, to just wake up only to breathe. But now, every morning is beautiful and we feel peace when we commune with nature. Isn't that right, Sephir?" "Yes, big brother Klaproth." The youngest brother answered. "Helping out with their farmers has taught me patience and humility in front of nature. In return, the crops grow healthily and are ready for harvest just in time before the village runs low on food. Also, the grateful faces of our consumers is always very rewarding. I could not ask for anything more." "Hey hey, but those Cherak priests were bullying you the other day, weren't they?" The last brother, the second eldest, spoke up. "If it hadn't been for me, your brother Torien, they would have seriously beaten you up. I swear those incompetent bastards don't know how to fight unless it's many against one." Merlin could only watch at this exchange between brothers. Just from this example alone, it was easy to see that the Talavarians were evenly divided between accepting the Cherak or despising them. In other words, they were halfway successfully converted. The argument went for about an hour more when Shoumei announced that they should all head for home now. The brothers perked up, said their goodbyes and made the humans promise to drink with them again before making their way home. They walked steadily enough, unlike Merlin whose feet kept slipping from beneath him no matter how much he tried to stand straight. Muttering, Shoumei helped the younger to his new home. Once inside, Shoumei sat Merlin on a chair and fetched him water which Merlin gratefully drank. Merlin had gotten so sleepy at this point that Shoumei had to prepare his beddings and carry him to his bed but the younger refused to release his hold on the other's neck that the two of them slumped onto the soft mattress together. "Alright, Merle. Let go so I can go home now. I have work tomorrow. Wait, actually we both have work tomorrow." Shoumei was saying, but Merlin, in his inhibited state, decided to be stubborn. "No." The younger said. "What do you mean no? Let go, Merle." The older was now pulling on the other's arms to free himself. "Shoumei, have you ever kissed Pretty?" Merlin asked, and even though he was drunk, he could feel the way Shomei's body grew hot because he was flustered. "Well, yeah." But his answer was not satisfactory to Merlin. "You know I don't mean her forehead, right?" The older noticeably flinched. "O-Of course not. She's nine! How could I do such a-" Shoumei burst out. "But have you ever wanted to kiss her?" Merlin pressed on. "Well, of course I want to. Wait, what is with this conversation about kissing? You shouldn't have forced yourself to drink so much." Shoumei sighed. "I want to kiss too. I've never felt this way with Brenweilla before." Merlin mumbled, making the other shake his head. "You drank too much, man. Sleep that kissing urge away." Then Shoumei was about to stand up when Merlin pulled on the older's neck again and yelled. "Hey Shoumei! I said I want to kiss too! I want to kiss!" "I heard you, I heard you! Goddamn, I can't believe you're throwing a tantrum. Hold on, I'll call Kazuhito." Shoumei said, but the younger was already pulling their faces closer. "Fuck it Merle, I'm not going to be Kjartan's substitute." Shoumei clutched Merlin's cheeks and pulled them until the pain made the younger release his hold. Quickly standing up, the older threw a blanket at Merlin's direction and made his way to leave. "You go ask him to kiss you the next time you meet. For now, go to sleep." Shoumei said before slamming the door. Merlin's first day as a teacher was not really disastrous, but it was nearly one. The children could not understand the Aeternumi language except for simple phrases, and Merlin didn't know a single word of Cherak. As a result, there was a lot of miscommunication and in the end, Merlin had to ask Kanta to teach him the language for half a week if he wanted to be helpful around the school. When he did learn the language, the children loved him and would invite him to sing with them in Kanta's class. One song went "I do not feel hungry, I do not thirst. I do not tire nor do I feel reject. But only with Her do I feel full, I feel satisfied. I feel rested and loved. Oh how great is She, our Mother divine." It was the children's favorite that even little Zanier would join the dance, prompting the hesitant Talavarians to sing as well. Sometimes they would go back to the riverbed and check up on the trees they planted then pick wild fruits on the way back. At every end of the day, the class would have a nice long prayer before going to their respective homes. Being a teacher in a simple village was energy depleting, but it kept Merlin from thinking about Kjartan and the war and all the bad things happening outside. "Merle. Old man Zanri told me to tell you to go to the forest. You know, the one across the river. I'll handle your class so take your time." Shoumei said over breakfast a week later. After working together, Merlin's impression of Shoumei had changed and he could feel his respect towards the older male grow. Truthfully, Merlin's previous discomfort towards Shoumei was only because the older had taken advantage of Merlin before. But that was long ago, and Shoumei had obviously changed over the years. He was still a brilliant researcher and a pedophile, but he didn't feel gross to Merlin anymore. "Okay. I'll go there now." Merlin stood and before he could leave, Shoumei added. "Merle, Pretty and the children want to play with your plysch so can you leave him here?" Merlin nodded. "Sure. Just don't stress him out or he'll bite. Later." Crossing the waist deep river was always a bummer, but Merlin had started to not mind so it was good. Just that the current had gotten stronger recently and crossing was becoming dangerous. Zanri, little Zanier and three Cheraki, one young man and two lean females were on the other side waiting for the human. "Hoh ho. Teacher Merlin, hello. I assume you have eaten breakfast? Well then let's go." Zanri said, gesturing towards the forest. Their little group trudged their way while one of the women introduced herself and the others. "Hello Teacher Merlin. I am Soliva. This is my sister Meenett and our cousin Arain." Merlin greeted them back but before they could talk much, their group stopped at the edge of a clearing and the three young Cheraki dispersed, Zanier staying behind and playing with his father's hand. Merlin saw how the little Cheraki was trying to make the old man pet his head, which was so adorable."Hoh ho. Teacher Merlin, do you fear great heights?" Zanri asked a question to which Merlin shook his head no. "Well then, hop on." Chuckling, the old man said as he made Merlin look behind him. To the human's surprise, there stood three Flrathis, possibly hidden in the forest prior to their appearance. They were large birds of obsidian gloss with six wings that allowed their big bodies flight. Each was six feet tall and their wingspans reached seven to eight meters. The Flrathis is a magnificent bird and although Merlin knew that human colonizers had been working hard to tame these creatures to be used for transportation in the future, he also knew that humans had yet to successfully mount one. Amazingly, Soliva, Meenett and Arain rested on each bird's rump comfortably like one would a horse, little Zanier silently joining to sit with the girl Meenett. Merlin was awestruck and Zanri had to pat his shoulder to wake him from his daze. "Beautiful birds, aren't they? Now hop on before they lose patience. Flrathis don't like to just stand around doing nothing, you see." The old man said and was pushing the human towards one. "W-Wait. I'm not sure about this. They might not like me." Merlin panicked, knowing how many humans got fatally wounded for not approaching a Flrathis properly. "Hoh ho. It'll be okay. Alright, I'll let Arain be your flight attendant." With unknown strength, Zanri lifted Merlin up until Arain could pull the human beside him and onto the bird's back. "Have a fun flight! Hoh ho!" Zanri beamed as he sat on a mat he spread out while the three young Cheraki clicked their tongues as a signal for the birds to start running. The Flrathis' leg power was amazing enough to allow each bird to go from rest to a speed of eighty kilometers per hour in mere seconds. The trees whizzed by and they were cutting through the air so fast that Merlin held onto Arain tightly before the other could instruct him so. Before long the river was in sight and as soon as they passed the tree line, the Flrathis opened its magnificent pairs of wings and flew. The bird caught a thermal and then they were soaring higher and higher up. For a long time they continued to gain altitude until old man Zanri was just an ant and the village was the size of a lego. Merlin expected to puke at this point but surprisingly enough, he did not feel the slightest bit dizzy or nervous. The bird let out a booming caw, making goosebumps run on the human's skin. With the wind pushing his hair back, his heart hammering in his chest and his hands sweating like crazy, Merlin felt alive more than ever. Saying that riding a Flrathis was thrilling would be an understatement. It was electrifying. "Teacher Merlin, are you feeling well?" Arain asked even as he was steering the bird to tilt to one side so that on their left was Neron and at their right was the sky. "Never better, Arain." Merlin was grinning as he answered and while he was wondering if he had a funny face on, the Cheraki had spoken again. "Then would Teacher Merlin not mind if I perform a few tricks?" Arain said, making Merlin ecstatic. "Bring it!" So the ride only got bumpier from then on. Arain and his Flrathis had an impressive repertoire of acrobatic tricks that they showed the human before Soliva and Meenett came over to tell them they should land soon. For a last time, the Flrathis climbed a thermal and once it was high enough, tucked its wings to swoop down, slowly gaining momentum as it let gravity pull it down. Merlin felt his insides turn to mush as the bird bulleted across the air and the ground rushed up to meet them. Just before they crashed, the Flrathis opened its wings again and glided towards the river, lowering its feet to use as brakes against the water until they completely stopped. Zanri was beside the human as soon as he was off the bird. "How was it?" He asked. "Glorious! Thank you for the experience, Zanri. Arain, skel!" Merlin answered energetically then turned to his pilot and shook the young Cheraki's hand. "Thank you, it was such an honor." Arain looked bashful, but he gave the human a smile in return. "Always welcome, Teacher Merlin. Also, it was our divine Goddess' blessing that the weather was fit for flying, and so has pleased the Flrathis." "Indeed. There are many other beasts that the Cherak have forged friendships with. In this village, we commune with the Flrathis. In other villages it is with the large land animal Umshahir, the swift legged Frenral, the slime Glytf, and many other beasts more. Our divine Goddess has granted us dominion over all the beasts of Neron, and the ability to move them to our will." Zanri explained. "The Lyars may put chain and collar on these animals, but only us Cherak can befriend the creatures. While the Lyars have turned us into outcasts, the planet Neron has casted them out as well. Unless our divine Goddess has blessed them, as She has blessed you, Teacher Merlin, the beasts of Neron shall not listen to their command. Although there is one special exception. The plysch is a stoic, friendless animal that has existed far longer than our divine Goddess. She does not have authority over the plysch and thus cannot bless it, meaning we Cherak are unable to communicate with it." The old man gave Merlin a curious smile, one that the human did not know the meaning of. "You are in a class of your own to have befriended one of the tabby creatures." "So... the animals respond to any Cherak and not to the Talavarian, the Vintar, the Aeternumi?" The human summarised. Just how real is their goddess, seriously? Merlin wondered. And is the plysch some kind of mystical animal or something? "Hoh ho. Correct, but if a Lyar is blessed, like the Talavarians here, then they may communicate with the animals also." Zanri answered, satisfied that Merlin was not afraid of the flight test earlier and that he understood quickly. "Now that you have tried, will you fly again, Teacher Merlin?" The human did not miss a beat. "Of course!" So began Merlin's flying lessons, his teacher mainly being Soliva who, in contrast to the stereotypical gentle demeanor that was common among Cherak women, was very strict. Often she would raise her voice while Merlin would try to avoid eye contact, especially because her skin and eyes would change color when she was in the middle of a fit. Her ash colored skin would turn reddish brown and her irises would flash gold against her black sclera which would normally be greenish. It was unnerving to look at, so Merlin made it his priority to follow her instructions properly so she would not fume at him anymore. Aside from learning to ride a Flrathis, Merlin had work as a teacher and more often than not, he would arrive home exhausted with little energy left to move. Because of this, Shoumei would come over and prepare dinner which the two humans ate together, though sometimes Pretty would join them while bringing food that her mother prepared. "How's the flight training?" Shoumei asked one night a week after Merlin had started flying. They had just eaten dinner and were lazing around the back porch of Merlin's hut. Merlin was combing his plysch's fur as it sat on his lap while Shoumei was sculpting something. "Well, I can dive now." Merlin answered then quickly added a question. "How is it possible that only the Cherak can control the animals of this planet? That's crazy." The older human looked up from his carving to reply. "I did some research. Apparently it's because of their sweat. There is a special bacteria living in the skin of Cherak that tampers with their sweat. As a result, the animals can identify with the Cherak." Merlin was not convinced. "So it's not because of their goddess stuff. But if it's because of sweat, then how is it that I can control a Flrathis too?" Shoumei shrugged. "They could have rubbed some of the bacteria on you. But when I tried that myself, the bacteria died in a few seconds. It's impossible for them to live anywhere that is not a Cherak's skin. Or... maybe their goddess really does exist and she has blessed you so you can communicate with beasts now." Melin pursed his lips, not liking that all explanations had to be about the supernatural. "Did they make you ride a Flrathis too?" When the younger asked that, Shoumei almost looked offended. "I can fly too, alright. I was the one who taught Arain. But have you ever wondered why they bother to teach us all this?" Merlin stared at the shavings that fell from Shoumei's hands as he worked. "Isn't it part of their hospitality?" The younger asked but Shoumei was shaking his head. "Nearly three weeks ago, ten Cheraki priests were beheaded in Aurora. The killer is Ansgar, one of the sons of Herald. You know, that monster dude up North. I think you've spoken to him. Anyway, the Cherak are not pleased, of course. This goes beyond the usual bullying most Cherak experience whenever they try to convert Lyars and the Lyars reject them. It was obviously display of power and he has effectively gotten his point across. The Cherak are not warriors nor do they have the technology for warfare, but they do have the planet on their side, assuming all the stuff about controlling beasts is true. It's admirable that the High Priestess has kept quiet all this time. The Cherak must be feeling cornered by now. All those flying lessons you've been getting must be their idea of an investment. By the way, I heard that cute little Zanier is a better pilot than you are. You should not underestimate your classmate, Merle." "Why do you talk as if this does not concern the humans too? I mean, if the Cherak did not ally with us in the first place, they wouldn't have to be treated like scum by the Lyars. Shouldn't the humans feel a bit pressured also?" Admittedly, Merlin had gotten a bit attached to the Cherak, especially because he had gotten to interact with and understand them for the month he was with them. He wasn't loyal enough to actually fight with them though, at least Merlin did not think so. He wasn't a fighter anyway. Still, it did not sit well with Merlin that the humans did not seem to be too concerned that their local allies were between a rock and a hard place. "Don't worry so much, Merle. It does not suit you." Shoumei was grinning when he saw Merlin purse his lips at what he said. "You know, the Kalyptra landed on Iiorn three days ago." Kalyptra was the fourth colonizing ship and was supposedly the one that Merlin should have been on if he didn't force his acceptance into the Dairo. To think that the humans had already taken Iiorn, the closest one of Neron's three moons. The dread that Merlin had so carefully buried the past three weeks was resurfacing again. "I think it'll take them two more days to completely occupy the satellite and set up base and communications. They're turning Iiorn into a spaceport for future colonizing ships. Kazuhito told me all about it. That guy's been busy since he was promoted. CAPCOM, huh? As always, the little brother is better than the older brother." Shoumei had a weird smile in his face that was half proud half empty. Merlin did not know what to make of it, so he kept quiet and let the sound of dried leaves dancing as the wind passed and the sound of Shoumei's carving fill the silence. "Pretty's Oracle transformation has been serious lately." Shoumei said a while later, his eyes still intent on carving. There was a different air around him while he spoke, one that made him appear like just any human who had problems. "She sometimes has blackouts, at times she would space out, and sometimes she doesn't recognize me. It's like she keeps seeing things far away and it's difficult for her to come back." Merlin had fallen silent, only watching the other's hands move while his plysch slept soundly on his lap. "As a scientist, it's easy for me to be skeptical about it but then I see her eyes fog out, like she has cataracts, so I can't deny their goddess stuff. She tells me she's anxious about letting the Oracle possess her but it's not like I can tell her not to worry." Merlin had no idea Shoumei could be this honest, and to see this side of him was pretty endearing. Just listening to him talk about Pretty, Merlin finally understood how Shoumei sincerely loved Pretty. "You care about her a lot." Merlin said. The older looked up, grinning and going back to his usual self. "I advise you look for something you really care about, too. You never know when you might need a reason to live." "Teachers, hello!" A pair of youngsters, a male Talavarian and a female Cheraki who were passing by greeted the two humans. Peering into the darkness, Merlin found that they were Frigor and Meenett. It was an odd sight at first glance, but when the human spotted the linked hands and their glowing, blushing faces, it wasn't hard to figure out why they were out together at such an hour. Merlin felt himself automatically support their relationship for a reason he did not know. "Yo, Frigor. So you do know how to be a gentleman when you need to be. Keep it up." Shoumei said as if approving a disciple. The young Talavarian looked embarrassed while Meenett looked left out. Merlin felt the same. "Thanks to Teacher Shoumei's tips, I now understand how it can be very rewarding to be gentle to ladies too." Frigor sheepishly said. Oh, so the lolicon has been teaching Frigor how to hit on girls, Merlin thought. "Have a nice night, you two. Off you go now, just don't stay out too late. And escort her home properly, okay?" Shoumei said, looking proud of himself. Frigor yelled back an okay before he and his partner disappeared into the darkness. A couple more hours passed, the stars and Neron's three moons stood out sharply against the inky backdrop of the night sky and painted a marvelous picture that could have taken anyone's breath away. With the calm night air and Yuuko's soft fur between his fingers, Merlin tricked himself again that nothing bad was happening, that everyone would be okay and that he would meet Kjartan someday soon and they would gather the samples like how things were supposed to be. All of it played out prettily behind Merlin's closed eyes. "I should go home. You go sleep too, Merle." Shoumei was saying as he blew on the piece of wood he was carving. He stood and left, leaving his wood litter on Merlin's porch. The younger spotted his mess and was immediately calling him back for it. "Clean up your mess, you lolicon!" But he never turned around so Merlin had to tidy it up himself after carefully tucking his plysch to sleep. Merlin was mumbling complaints when he found that Shoumei had left his carving in the middle of the litter. It was a king, as in a king chess piece. Merlin raised a brow in silent question. "Why a king?" Merlin did not get an answer until half a week later, when armored men entered the village around noon. Merlin was wrapping up his class so that the children could go home for lunch when they heard the collective stomping of twenty or so men, and the footsteps of peculiar creatures called dizzlon, as Shoumei told Merlin when they later met up at the village center. Everyone else had gathered, mostly curious and fearful, the Cheraki priests already appearing agitated, although the Talavarians looked perky at the sight of their Talavarian brothers from their country capital. Merlin noted how their armor was designed like how human armor looked in the past and that even though some wielded swords, a weapon that looked uncannily like a gun was present and in the hands of a masked Vintar. There was obvious hostility in the air, and when the newcomers gave the announcement that a Cheraki had murdered the former Talavarian king, a fight broke out, one that ended with a Cherak priest killed by a Talavarian. Just as the villagers could react, the wife of the fallen Cheraki priest had thrown herself upon the Talavarian and was wringing her hands around his neck. A noticeable flinch passed among the Cherak because they knew they should stop her but the shock of everything happening was stronger and so everyone else was paralysed. That was when the Vintar man pulled out the gun looking weapon and actually fired it, the sound horrifyingly familiar to the humans. The next thing Merlin knew, the woman was dead along with her daughter, his flying teacher Soliva weeping silently beside the three dead Cherak and Frigor standing next to her, frozen in shock. It took Merlin a moment to realize that it was Meenett right there on the ground and Soliva had just lost her entire family in mere minutes. Blood rushed to Merlin's head and he could not breathe. His hands shook and he was losing control over his facial muscles. He knew he was about to have a convulsive attack due to his Tourette's and he would have attracted attention right there if Pretty didn't squeeze his hand the way she did. "Merle, hold it in until they finish. You can't cause a scene now." Shoumei whispered, taking Merlin's other hand. "Fight it." The armed men were shouting and cheering for the glory of the new Talavarian king. Many of the Talavarian villagers went along but some of those who were converted, like Klaproth and his three brothers had fallen silent, blankly looking at the bloodied ground. On the other hand, the Cherak had silently made their way to their little church at the edge of the village where they would hold a meeting first, all the while carrying the bodies of their fellow Cheraki. Wordlessly, Pretty and Shoumei pulled Merlin along with them to the church. When they were about a meter away from the door, the angered voices of the Cherak could be heard mixed with the sound of harsh, undulated wailing. Merlin felt goosebumps race across his skin hearing the inhumane sound, and finally his control broke and his convulsions took over. Merlin himself cried while he uncontrollably muttered illegible sounds and made clumsy spasms, his body shook as his tears made a mess of his face. Pretty and Shoumei continued to hold his hands through it all until Merlin finally calmed down. "Merlin." Pretty called. "There was a man who knew you among the Lyars who came today. He was looking at you while hiding his face beneath his armor." She said simply before tugging on his hand. "Let's go." Pretty promptly said and then the three of them entered the church. The angry congregation inside immediately hushed when they saw Pretty, their pale grey complexions now turned a furious red, and their greenish scleras and clay red irises turned to a flashing gold against the black backdrop of their sclera. They appeared to be how Soliva would look like when she was impatient whenever Merlin would be mistaken during lessons, and so Merlin figured that this was generally how the Cherak's pigmentation would turn into whenever they were upset or in distress. Merlin had a feeling and so he checked Pretty's face who was beside him. Her eyes had turned milky white, just like how Shoumei described and like his fellow human, Merlin realized he could not simply brush off how he could see someone else inside Pretty that moment. They were in the presence of the Oracle, or so it seemed. Pretty opened her mouth to speak but her voice had turned from her usual girlish voice into a woman's rich voice that easily rang loud and bounced around the smooth cemented walls of their church. "My beloved children, prepare to leave. This village of heathens is not worth losing your lives over. My will shall be taught in another place and in another time. As for those who have today perished, be at peace and know that they are granted the rewards they so deserve for being my faithful children. Zanri, my child." She called, and the aged man humbly stepped forward, his head bowed down and his palms pressed together. "Yes, oh divine Goddess?" He spoke respectfully. Pretty strode towards where he stood, her little hand on his gray head as she spoke. "You have served me well during your years as a priest. Today I call you out of retirement to lead your brothers and sisters from hereon. Be strong and healthy for their sake." The Oracle finished, and there was a beat of silence until Pretty let her hand rest on her side, now back to her normal self. Looking up to her father's face, she hugged his waist to show her support, and then rushed back to where Shoumei and Merlin were. The meeting followed with more order than before it started, and because their goddess herself told them to leave without fighting, it was easily settled that they would hold a mass that evening to pray for themselves and those who died then leave at dawn the next day,all within the twenty our hour deadline. There were no fighters among the Cherak, which led Merlin to point out something that did not make sense. "Why would a Cheraki official murder the former Talavarian king? There are no killers among them, because their goddess discourages it, and it is also written in their book that whoever kills is not rewarded after death." Shoumei was packing his clothes into a duffel bag when he spoke. "That's true, but that's only if it's killing a fellow Cheraki. If it's for the service of their goddess, killing a Lyar is justified, along with other violent actions. It's just that generally, Cheraki themselves hate violence. Unfortunately their priests don't think so. Don't forget that the priests are the men that are the most despicable of Cheraki to ever exist." The older pulled out his laptop and was typing something in it. "Are you leaving with them?" The younger asked, but if Shoumei ever heard him, he chose to ignore the question as he was intent on his computer. Merlin leaned over to look at whatever the other was working on, and was appalled to find that Shoumei had been playing computer chess all this time. Not to mention, he sucked at it. "Aw, man. Merle, you shouldn't have peeked. A man has got to keep his honor during his final moments, you know." Shoumei whined when he lost as soon as Merlin was behind him. "Could you please be a little more serious? War has been proclaimed against the Cherak, you know? Shouldn't you be giving support to Pretty right now or something?" Merlin was losing his patience when Shoumei wordlessly clicked to play a new game. In five moves he was defeated. "Don't you just hate it when you lose?" Shoumei asked while starting another game. "People hate to lose, so they tend to start again, but with a new vengeance." He was saying even as he deliberately moved his pawn to expose his king. Merlin had to sigh. Shoumei was acting weird. Based on his personality, he should be the angriest, the first one to help the Cherak all in the name of his love for Pretty. But he wasn't doing any of that. Instead here he was in his hut, playing chess on his laptop while losing again and again while Merlin watched. "Who do you think I am, Merle? In this war, which chess piece am I?" Shoumei started, adding in a philosophical tone as he spoke that Merlin, in his impatience, chose to give up on him and return to his own hut to prepare. Merlin wasn't sure, but it seemed that joining the Cherak as they leave was safer than staying so he hurriedly packed what few things he had, stowed his bag along with his plysch at Shoumei's house, and proceeded to snoop around the previous village head's house, in other words, Soliva's house. Her family's house was largest among the village houses because as it stood with two floors near the village center, not only was it used as a mini clinic and meeting place for impromptu gatherings, it was also where Cheraki priests stored goods they had confiscated from the Talavarians, especially their prized alcohol. Now the armed men from before had made this their base while in the village and as they waited for twenty four hours, they gorged on themselves the liquor that would have aged well and by now would be superb in quality. The men were talking loudly among themselves, confident of the fact that they were more than enough to smoke the village. Merlin tiptoed as he approached the building from behind. If what Pretty said earlier was true, then Kjartan could be among them, or so Merlin thought. The human wasn't sure what he would do if he saw him though. "Those guys are badly drunk, huh? Well, as expected from our liquor." A voice said and in surprise, Merlin turned around quickly only to have a slender hand clamp on his mouth. "Teacher Merlin, hello. I'm Sephir, in case you forgot. My brother Klaptroth has sent me to observe the Lyars. We brothers are planning to join the Cherak but they won't let us, especially since sister Meenett has passed and there is no guarantee that our brother Frigor would stay loyal to the Cherak. So we thought that if we proved to be useful, the Cherak might just let us travel with them. What brings Teacher Merlin here?" "I, uh, I wanted to see someone. He's-" Merlin started but the young Talavarian's soft features suddenly turned hard with suspicion. "Are you a spy, Teacher Merlin? Have you come to report to your employer?" Suddenly a blade unforseen was against the human's throat. "I-I'm not." Merlin could only say as he stood frozen on his spot. There was a long pause until Sephir judged him to be telling the truth and lowered his blade. "Teacher, whatever you do from now on might bite at you later. Please be prepared to take responsibility of your actions." From the way he said it, it was like his own way of telling the human that seeing Kjartan was not a good idea, so Merlin decided to leave. "Thank you, Sephir. And be careful." Merlin whispered to the other before going to the church. It had grown dark while he was snooping around and by the time he arrived, the Cheraki were halfway through their mass. Everyone was still wearing their distressed colors of angry red, black and gold as they mourned the previous owners of three Cheraki bodies laid at the center, the place lit up by oil lamps. Unexpectedly, some Talavarians were allowed inside, and there was Frigor in his most presentable clothes, holding Meenett's hand tightly between his. Merlin saw old man Zanri leading the mass with his wife Kanta and Pretty on each of his sides. The human looked around but did not see his fellow human inside the church. It was such a crucial time, and yet Shoumei was nowhere to be found. Suddenly there was a loud crackle of thunder and a second later, a strong gust of wind from the opened windows blew all of the oil lamps off. The people mourning had fallen silent at this, which made the shrill cry that followed after all the more audible. Every person in the room pinpointed the source of the shout near the front and when a lamp was relit, they found Pretty convulsing violently as she lay curled on the floor. She grasped at her hair as if she was in great pain and when her mother tried to help her, she only screamed more. It was a terrible sight and except for Merlin and the converted Talavarians, everyone else had figured out what was happening. "Impossible. But she is still nine!" Merlin heard a Cheraki say, and another "The High Priestess! What happened to the High Priestess!" A long minute followed until Pretty stopped moving. When she opened her eyes, they were completely fogged white. Merlin thought she was just possessed like before but when she spoke, her voice was still Pretty's. "Mother, hurry! The Lyars! They're-" "They're coming!" Suddenly the door burst open and in came a panting Sephir, his eyes bloodshot and his tone urgent. "They're coming! Leave! Leave at once!" Most of the Cheraki were alarmed and wanted to move immediately but Zanri hushed his panicked brothers and sisters and asked the Talavarian what happened. "I was watching them as my brother instructed me to. A converted Talavarian went up to them and pleaded to not hurt the Cheraki. I could not stop him and when the argument got too heated, one of the Lyars cut him down. The Lyars are drunk. They're angry and they're on the move. Please, believe me and leave at once. Even as we speak, more of the converted Talavarians are being hunted down." The Cheraki were horrified and yet they were skeptical. "But they gave us twenty four hours to evacuate, right?" Many of them were displeased at this. That was when the Cheraki priests spoke up. "Those barbaric sodomites! Not only do they disrespect us, the believers of our divine Godess, they dishonor their own words, too! Truly, there is no limit to their shamelessness! Instead of running away, we should-" But the priests were silenced when Pretty raised her hand and lightning to struck the floor right beside the noisy men. That one act got Merlin's jaw dropping. So this is the power of their goddess? "Sephir speaks the truth, father Zanri." Pretty said. "The High Priestess sensed this danger and in order to aid us, she has forcibly passed the entirety of the Oracle's spirit to me." The entire congregation was shocked to hear this. "Forcibly? You mean to say-" At this, Pretty nodded, her expression grave. "She has passed, having taken her own life." If Pretty was in woe, she did not let it show in her face. She now turned to address the others. "Let us now leave, all of us and not a single one hurt or left behind. This is not the day we fight. We must not let the High Priestess's sacrifice go to waste." "Then let us go and hurry across the river." Soliva spoke calmly even as her eyes were still wet with her tears. "The Lyars may be inhibited by the alcohol, but they are stronger than us, nonetheless. Also, they have that freakish loud weapon that killed my mother and sister." And then in a loud voice she yelled. "All those trained to pilot the Flrathis, come to me!" When the pilots gathered, that sort of became the signal that meant they would start moving. Merlin was still dumbstruck at everything that happened and like the many other times that he was frightened or confused, the human stood frozen where he was. Merlin could see the fear in the Cheraki, he could see the way they rushed out the church in a near stampede. He could hear their panicked voices and their hurried footsteps. And he was in the midst of it, yet it all seemed so unreal. "Teacher! What are you spacing out for? Let's leave for the forest now!" It was Arain who snapped Merlin out of his daze. The human followed the young Cheraki wordlessly outside, where the wind had gotten strong and there was a slight drizzle. That was when the human remembered something very important. "Arain, please go on ahead. Yuuko, my plysch is still waiting for me at Shoumei's house." Merlin said, promising to join the others before turning back. Arain looked torn, but he knew he was needed as someone who could fly a Flrathis so with much reluctance, he let Merlin go and went after the others. Left alone by himself, the feeling of danger escalated. Merlin kept off the main streets in fear of being seen, crouching and creeping amidst the shadows. The light drizzle steadily turned to fervid rain and by the time Merlin reached Shoumei's porch, he was soaked. His plysch, who had been sleeping atop Merlins bag, had woken up and was stretching its tabby body. "Oh Yuuko! Thank goodness you're still here. Where is Shoumei?" He asked. As if on cue, the door opened and the older human was there, heavily dressed with a cloak and holding a gun with a silencer. "I'm here, Merle." The older said as he aimed at Merlin and pulled the trigger. Reflexively, Merlin fearfully closed his eyes, waited, then heard a thump right behind him. When he turned around, a Talavarian warrior lay unmoving on the wet ground, a bullet through his stomach. Shoumei stepped off his porch and shot the warrior two more times to make sure that the Talavarian would not report to the others that one of the humans also had a gun. "This gun's bullets melt in about fifteen seconds. It's made from Cheraki metal. Let's go, Merle." Shoumei only said, his eyes not meeting Merlin's, before rushing to the shadows. The younger human followed, unsure of what to make of Shoumei's unusual behavior but decided to make no comment of it until they were safely out the village. So the two humans crept behind houses, slowly making their way to the river where the Cheraki were. They saw at least three of the armed Lyars, all fearful to look at. With the rain hiding their scent and movements, the humans managed to pass without having to fight them. But even while having gotten away themselves, the damage that the Lyars inflicted on the village was still evident. The converted Talavarians proved to be very faithful after all. For the sake of their Cheraki friends, they dared to turn against their fellow Talavarians in hopes to buy the fleeing Cheraki time. Unlike the Cheraki, Talavarians had fighting capability and they had no moral issues about killing or violence. But the armed Lyars were overwhelmingly stronger and with the aid of the angered unconverted villagers, it did not take long before the converted Talavarians were brutally cut down one by one, their houses set on fire by their very neighbors. It was so horrible and unbearable to look at, with all the blood, the children crying and the way the dead bodies convulsed, belatedly realizing that they were dead. With clenched teeth, Merlin was about to rush out from his hiding place if Shoumei had not stopped him. "What are you going to do? Talk to them?" The older said sarcastically. "Look here, Merle. You have work to do, and that does not include dying here. You can't win against these natives in physical combat. Your fight is somewhere else." And with that, he pulled the younger along until they reached the river, easily crossing it with how shallow it became. Despite the crisis, that disjointed detail did not pass by Merlin unnoticed. The river's water level had been climbing recently, widening its girth also, and on rainy days, its current became too treacherous to cross. So how did the water suddenly fall to knee level, with the tumultuous rain around them? And just when the Cheraki needed to escape? It was too good to be true and when Merlin needed an explanation, he only had to look at Pretty. All this time Merlin had been stubbornly clinging onto scientific reason but he couldn't seem to deny their goddess anymore, not after he saw Pretty with her hands raised and her eyes literally flashing white light. Deity or not, the supernatural was at work here. "Alright. Divide into groups of three and mount the Flrathis. Quickly! We don't have much time." Soliva hissed as she passed and immediately everyone was on the move. Shoumei approached Pretty as soon as she released her hold on the river and they talked quietly. Merlin watched awestruck as the water rushed back in furious volumes when she lowered her hands. It was like the work of a man named Moses just as written on the most influential religious book on Earth in the past. All of a sudden, the rain lifted and the clouds cleared and in the dark expanse of the Neronian sky, the three moons hovering above shone blood red. The wind was as strong as ever and it kicked up the leaves into the air. The first five groups were already up, their Flrathis as dark as the night. Seeing their majestic figures, that was when Merlin remembered something important yet again. "Wait. Zanier. Has anyone seen Zanier?" The human asked the Cheraki and then the realization dawned that Zanier was indeed missing. "H-He was resting at the clinic. He was feeling sick with all his flying lessons recently that he could not move for the entire day." Answered Kanta, who now turned a flushed red with worry. "I can't believe I have forgotten my own son-" She sounded very heartbroken as she spoke that Merlin decided, in a split second, that he would go back and rescue the little Cheraki. But Shoumei beat him to it. "No worries, Kanta. I'll go get him." He said, an easy smile on his face, sounding and acting like how he always did. He appeared like his usual reliable self, but Merlin had a very bad feeling about it. "Go on the Flrathis. I'll send him up right away." Shoumei added just as another ten groups took flight. Kanta was reluctant and her worry not only for her son but also for the human showed on her tearful face. "Have faith in him, dear Kanta. Zanier will be fine." Zanri said as he led his wife to mount a Flrathis. "Her divine blessing is upon you, Teacher Shoumei the human." The old man said quietly as he tightly embraced a surprised Shoumei. The old man himself also had tears, but he did not need to shed them for Merlin to see. Without another word, Zanri and Kanta flew also. Now there was only three groups left and the other side of the river had gotten brighter as the fire spread and consumed more of the village. They had no more time to waste. Merlin held onto Shoumei's cloak before the older could leave. "I'll go with you. If you want to rescue Zanier on time, you have to use the main streets. Not only that, you have to run across the village square to get to the previous village head's house. There's no way the Lyars would not see you. And if they caught you-" "They will not capture me, Merle. They will kill me." Shoumei interrupted, clearly emphasizing the horrible word. He gave Pretty a long look which she returned with a sad smile. Merlin's bad feeling got worse. After quickly checking his reserve ammo, Shoumei flashed the younger human a full toothed smile, his Asian eyes disappearing. "Watch, Merle, and guess which chess piece I am!" He said with a thrill in his voice while his legs brought him to cross the yet again shallow river. His exit was so dramatic, that it took Merlin a long time coming to his senses. When Shoumei left, Merlin was holding onto his cloak so when it was pulled off, Merlin saw how Shoumei had been wearing borrowed Cheraki priest clothes all this time. Was Shoumei planning to... I have to help him, I have to help him, Merlin kept saying in his head. But just as he was about to cross the river himself, the water surged again to stop him. "What are you doing, Pretty? Let me cross so I can help him!" Alarms blared in Merlin's head as that night for the first time he experienced the panic that the Cheraki had been feeling all evening. "I need to help him! Please, Pretty!" The human shrieked. Merlin didn't know he could behave hysterically like he did, but he could not help it when all he could think about was helping Shoumei. Pretty was squeezing the human's hand just as she did earlier that day. "You must not go, Merlin." She said. "I'm sorry, Shoumei made me promise not to let you." "He made you promise? I don't understand. You mean he saw this coming?" Merlin searched the girl's face. "Well, not exactly. But Shoumei was always working hard for this day. He taught me a little about the Earth game called chess, see." Her grip was slightly stronger as her haze drifted to the brilliant blaze that was once a village. "The humans have been watching from the sidelines all this time, never minding the fact that all this civil scuffles are because of their arrival on this planet. He said that perhaps the humans needed a little encouragement to join the fight. An excuse even." She was saying as she raised her head to look at the blood red moons above. Looking at her, Merlin had to wonder how much she was forced to grow up in a single night when suddenly there was a voice. Squinting his eyes, Merlin saw that it was little Zanier running with all his might with his weak little legs. In his heart Merlin felt relieved but without Shoumei in sight, he could not rest easy. And as if in slow motion, Shoumei came to view just as an armed Talavarian nearly struck Zanier. His priestly robes flowed behind him as Shoumei raised the gun and shot the warrior to death. Zanier had crossed the river safely and Shoumei was about to do the same when one of the masked warriors came up behind him. The human turned and aimed, only to find that his barrel was empty. "Shoumei!" Merlin screamed. Everything had become sluggish in Merlin's vision. There was loud ringing and in the instant that their eyes met, Shoumei seemed to say in his usual tone, "You shouldn't have peeked." And then... "He's in shock. Get him on the Flrathis while he's not struggling. Hurry!" There was the feeling of being lifted up by multiple hands and when Merlin came to, he was up in the air between Zanier and Arain, the other two Flrathis carrying Pretty, Soliva and Torien, and Klaproth, Sephir and Frigor. His plysch was safely hugging Pretty's chest. "Where is Shoumei?" Merlin asked immediately, but when no one answered, Merlin became desperate. "Shoumei! He's still down there! We have to go back for him, we have to!" "Teacher Merlin, please don't move around so much. It's dangerous and you might fall off." Arain said, his words choked. But Merlin was not going anywhere without Shoumei. "No! Please, please! Pretty!" The human pleaded and to everyone's surprise, Pretty actually told the three groups to land on a clearing of the forest. They were not far from the village yet, only a few kilometers away from the river. "You will not go with us, Merlin." Pretty began when they all dismounted from the Flrathis. "From now on, the Cheraki are at war against the Lyars. With us, you will only be in danger. But alone, you will perish soon. So this is the answer that Shoumei and I compromised." And then the young Priestess strode closer to the human and caressed his hair. Her calm demeanor was not what Merlin wanted to see. He wanted to see Shoumei. "What about Shoumei? We should help him-" "Shoumei has passed, Merlin. Beheaded by a skilled masked Lyar." Her voice was stable, but down her cheeks fell the tears she had been hiding all this time. Seeing her cry, Merlin's heart went out for this girl and he held her small frame in his arms. Hugging her made Merlin remember that he wasn't the only one in pain. For now, he had to calm down. "Sorry Merlin. I promised him, so I must keep it." She said as she focused even as she continued to cry. "I cannot change your appearance, but I can cast an illusion that will allow those who do not personally know you to perceive you as a Talavarian local. This way you will be safe from the Lyars in case you are found. And, until the time is right, you shall have the consciousness of a plysch. You will forget you are human and live as a plysch, as much as your human body allows. All the knowledge, the languages that you wield, you will be unable to use. This is so that any attempt at torture will not get information out of you, in case you are captured. Your plysch shall be your brother and mentor from now on." "Sounds just like that lolicon to make such a plan." Merlin muttered in dry amusement, his chest seeming to be consumed by acid every time he thought of Shoumei. "So you're leaving me here?" "Yes. Shoumei insisted that you see more of this planet, more than any Lyar, any Cheraki, any human has ever seen. You have the ability to see through the skin and into the heart. If anyone could fix the mess that Neron has turned into, it would be you. You and a certain A grade hottie, as Shoumei worded it. Even with my Oracle powers, sometimes I don't understand him, that Shoumei." She sighed, looking nothing like the nine year old she actually was. "Go to sleep, Merlin. When you awake, you shall see the world through the eyes of a plysch." After his plysch was given to him, Merlin watched them mount the Flrathis again. The pilots clicked their tongues and in a flash, they were gone. Merlin watched them fly, their silhouettes against the blood red moon the last thing he saw as a conscious human for a time. Soon, he fell asleep.
  15. "Oh, look. I don't even have the care to hit you. Such lame excuses you make, I feel disappointed having clung onto memories of you the way I did." Eldritch flippantly said, lathering as much sarcasm as he could onto his words. The truth was he felt a slight sting in his chest when Samuel appeared to care so little for what they used to have, but Eldritch would rather suck dick than admit it. Anyway, why did he have to feel pain at this point? Their story was ancient history. Eldritch stepped away from the other, feeling so irritated. I should have fucked up his pretty face, he thought bitterly, but he had to show that he no longer gave a shit about Samuel. "So I survived. All thanks to you, though. If you didn't leave, I would never have known how stupid it is to actually believe in people. Later." Turning his back to the other, Eldritch stuffed his hands in his pockets and sauntered away. It was so frustrating, the way his fingers shook as he walked off. It was so frustrating because he felt like crying. Calm down. You're not a crybaby anymore. Eldritch reminded himself as he used the emergency stairs that were near the garden to climb three floors up. His room was in the fourth floor, which meant not many people wanted to live in it, given it's eerily cold atmosphere, and the fact that the floor number being four hinted misfortune. Eldritch did not care about any of that, and maintenance cost was cheaper anyway. He would have wanted to live in his house and commute to university everyday so he could look after his father. But his home was two hours away from the school and his father would not have Eldritch be late, especially since all of his courses started at seven in the morning. So Eldritch was convinced to stay in the dorm after his father insisted. His footsteps echoed loudly in the silence. Eldritch particularly loved that part about the floor. In such a place, he could study in peace and enjoy his privacy. That is, if only his roommate would stop bringing his girlfriend over, like how it was at the moment. Eldritch had gotten used to hearing passionate and fierce lovemaking from the other side of the door so he was not surprised. Just that sometimes his roommate would fuck the girl on Eldritch's bed, and he hated that. If he were his usual self, Eldritch would have been considerate and would come back later. Today, Eldritch felt like slugging someone really bad so without warning, he burst inside loud enough to wake any dormant ghosts in the room. The impassioned couple appeared to be in shock that Eldritch had barged in a crucial moment, and were frozen still, watching the newcomer cross his arms and look disapprovingly at them. "Well? Get out." Was all Eldritch had to say before the girl hurriedly took her clothes and left, still not dressed when she went out. His roommate put on a pair of sweatpants before standing right in front of Eldritch to glare at him. Eldritch glared back. "Eldritch, you've reached a whole new level of rude, huh? Want a fight?" So they did. Though it was only for a few twenty minutes, the both of them were thoroughly beat when they finished, Eldritch especially sporting a black eye, a bump on the back of his head and a swollen gash on his lip. There were other bruises here and there, but the pain made Eldritch feel better so he wasn't bothered. If anything, he was thankful towards his roommate for being childish enough to fight him seriously. "Picking a fight. You're weird as always, Ritch. But you're a good guy, I know that much." His roommate said. "You sound gross. I don't need compliments from a guy who can't even fuck properly." Eldritch replied. "I can't when you're all over the place!" His roommate sounded exasperated that Eldritch had to snigger. The other was not amused. "Anyway I might have told you this before. I'm moving out this afternoon. Marisse has always wanted to live together and I finally saved enough. Plus she's always spooked when you're around so it was only a matter of time." "Oh. Congrats, Nikola. Need help?" This is correct. This is how a good goodbye is supposed to be, Eldritch thought, his mind drifting back to Samuel. Seriously, how hard was it to tell him beforehand? Sammy is a coward. "Nah. My stuff's all boxed. We were just doing it here as some sort of finale sex. You know, when anticipating new beginnings?" Nikola explained with a grin on his beaten up face. "No, I don't understand what a finale sex is supposed to mean but I sure ruined yours." Eldritch was grinning back as he removed his glasses and climbed onto his bed. Thankfully they did not do it on his bed this time so it was dry and clean. "Hey, I'm going to sleep so I can't see you off. See you around Nikola." "Yeah." The other was already at the door when he stopped to add. "By the way, Ritch, the dorm manager asked me if you wanted to move to a room on the second floor. With all these unfurnished rooms here, only this one is usable. No one will be using the other rooms soon. You'll be alone in the entire floor if I'm not around." "No need. I like it here." Eldritch answered with his eyes closed, rolling on his side and facing the wall. He heard Nikola say an okay before there was the sound of the door closing. Left alone, Eldritch soon felt himself sinking to sleep.
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