Men and Women
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An anime is screened on the television mounted against the wall of the hospital ward, a bright cheerful adventure put on for the entertainment of viewers. Most of the patients in the ward stare indifferently at the show or doze off in spells of fitful slumber, but a pair of eyes drink in the spectacle with wordless passion. 

"Fall in the name of justice!" a young man whose hair completely obscures his face screams as he stabs a hooded giant dressed completely in black. With a dying moan, the giant collapses on to the floor and the camera pans out, displaying a completely wrecked throne room. Fires blaze out of control while corpses litter the place, but there remains a figure seated on the throne. Dressed in voluminous robes that obscures it's features and body line, the figure nevertheless possesses a pair of glowing eyes which glare venomously at the camera. 

 "Your mightiest servant has been defeated Tyrant." an angel knight with resplendent wings marches forward to confront the figure on the throne, "This battle is milady's victory."

"Surrender and make it easy for yourself." a cocky demon man steps up to the side of the knight and taunts their opponent, "Its going to end the same either way."

"We may be weak," the faceless man declares as he joins his fellows, "but love and friendship will give us the strength to prevail!"

"NEVER." the figure on the throne booms, "I WILL NEVER CONCEDE TO A PACK OF WHELPS AND THEIR MISERABLE PRINCESS."

"Do you still not understand the suffering you have caused, Emperor?" a cultured, gentle woman's voice eloquently cuts the deranged rambling from the Tyrant off. 

A fourth person, a veiled woman dressed in red joins the three heroes confronting their enemy. Her hands are demurely folded together and she gives a neat, formal bow to the Tyrant stewing in fury on his throne. 

"Anri!" the demon man shouts in objection, "There's no need to respect a loser like him!"

"Just so milady." agrees the knight, "The Tyrant's presence merely dirties you. Let us end this quickly."

"I do not like war. I never wanted to fight." Anri bunches her hands timidly at a mouth, "If the Emperor sincerely repents, I think everyone can live happily ever after?"

"REPENT? REPENT?" the Tyrant roars angrily, "IMPUDENCE! LET US SEE HOW YOU FARE AGAINST MY TRUE FORM!"

The Tyrant's body begins to writhe with furious energy and its body begins to grow in size, splitting the robes apart. The three heroes surround Anri protectively, their weapons at the ready as all the while, a growing shadow begins to loom over them. The background music rises to a crescendo, priming the scene for a massive confrontation. And all of a sudden, the footage stops. 

"Will the shadow plunge the land into eternal darkness?" the show's narrator rhetorically asks, "Or will love and justice prevail? Find out in the concluding episode of -"

"Why are you watching this rubbish, girl?" Gustav von Amsterg asks the only person in the ward paying attention to the show, "You know how the story ends."

Celeste pouts in annoyance, irritated by Gustav's jab at her and the show's cliffhanger. She nevertheless smooths out her expression and turns to answer Gustav's question seriously. 

"Its the journey, not the destination Uncle Gustav." Celeste says with a happy smile, "I know how the story ends, everybody does. But good beating evil is a story always worth telling."

Gustav simply shakes his head with a bemused smile at this familiarity the girl shows towards him. Since when did he allow Celeste to refer to him as her uncle? Gustav thinks back but once again cannot really remember. The only thing Gustav is certain about is that he must have allowed it, otherwise the girl would not be addressing him in this manner. Right? 

Right. 

"Anyway, you are in a remarkably good mood for someone who has been shot." Gustav continues, "I heard that ORPO is calling you a hero for helping them in a mission?"

"Mhm! Yes!" Celeste answers cheerfully, "I helped out in finding where the bad man who wrecked Tensei's wedding had been hiding. Did Uncle know that the bad man had an entire organization behind him? ORPO managed to take it all down."

"Entire organization?" Gustav repeats with an eyebrow raised. 

"The bad man had an underground base, complete with guns and explosives and everything." Celeste replies, "The former Commander of ORPO was also working with the bad man. But from now on everything is going be be OK!"

"You were very brave to go up against such dangerous people, Celeste." Gustav quietly says while chewing on his lip.

Celeste frowns, "It was scary, all the fighting and getting shot, but I knew that I was doing the right thing, so I just did it."

Gustav squeezes the girl's shoulder with a solemn expression on his face, remarking, "Well the least you could ask for would be a private ward at the hospital."

"I didn't want to cause trouble for anyone." Celeste explains, "Lots of ORPO officers helped out too and got themselves hurt. They are the real heroes, not me."

"How sensible." Gustav murmurs admiringly before letting out a long sigh as his mind drifts to his children, Rose and Nicholas. And Tensei. Was it the right thing to back Tensei's claim over the von Amsterg territory? Nicholas may have been a less than desirable heir, but backing Tensei had opened a rift within Gustav's own family. And worst still, there was a real possibility that Gustav would lose Nicholas as a son for real. Tensei had beaten Nicholas within an inch of his life during their last confrontation. If what Marshal St Clair had told Gustav was true, Nicholas is now bedridden from his injuries and battling for survival.

And all Rose can think about these days is Tensei and how to support him. She spends every waking hour with Tensei, helping him to prepare for the contest. No matter how this matter is resolved, Gustav had already lost both his children and would very likely lose his kingdom as well. How in the world could things degenerate to this level?  Could the contest be called off?

No. Things had already progressed too far for that. A sudden thought shakes Gustav to the core. The very real possibility of Nicholas dying in the dueling arena. Killed by either Tensei or his own sister. But whose fault would it really be? Nicholas was forced into this situation by Gustav. A father literally sentencing his own son to death.

"Is there a way out for me?" Gustav murmurs to himself. 

"Hey, hey. Uncle Gustav, is anything wrong?" Celeste asks, "If you share it maybe we can think of a solution together?" 

Should he burden this girl with his problems? Celeste may be surprisingly mature for her age, however a conundrum of this scale is something that is far outside of her league. But time is running out for Nicholas. If Gustav is going to save him, action needs to be taken soon. Before the window of opportunity closes completely. 

And there's no harm in having a conversation, right? 

..............

A man and woman trudge down the deactivated monorail line of the Sarcophagus, wheeling a large trolley. The pair keep moving in complete silence as the wheels of the trolley squeak in protest, the noise echoing down the deserted tunnel. Sweat gathers on the brow of the man who impatiently wipes it away with his sleeve. 

"Where in the world did you get this bloody coffin, Alley?" the man wheezes as he finally loses his patience, gesticulating at the black coffin loaded on the trolley.  

"I told you already," Alley grumbles back to Hernandez, "The coffin and the trolley was in the apartment at the Academy. I came back from work one day and found them there, with the instructions on where to find you and what we need to do."

"I am the Commander of ORPO damn it!" Hernandez complains in his hoarse voice, "I shouldn't be forced to hide in the sewer, or to work like a laborer. That escape route our mutual friend gave me was a load of bullshit." 

"I'm smelling shit alright." Alley sniffs with a disgusted expression on her face. Sure enough, Hernandez's clothes are stained all over with various unmentionable substances. 

"You're feeling pretty frisky today Alley." Hernandez scowls, "Not afraid of being hauled back in for questioning?"

"By The City's most wanted? Please." Alley rolls her eyes at Hernandez's posturing. Hernandez on his part visibly deflates at the reminder of his situation. 

"I better be getting a plane ticket out of this." Hernandez grumbles, "Better yet, an actual getaway plane. I heard that retiring in Panama IV is nice." Alley merely shrugs in silence and keeps pushing the trolley forward until the duo reach a darkened monorail station. 

"This is it. The Hub." Alleys says, "We need to bring the coffin to the control room."

"What are we going to do with a coffin there?" Hernandez asks as he wrangles the trolley up a flight of stairs. 

"The instructions said it should be obvious." Alley responds, "Guess we will see when we arrive at the control room."

The trolley is pushed into the control room and the pair take in the wreckage surrounding them. Hernandez and Alley being picking through what remains, clearing out the garbage and searching for whatever they came here for. 

"Here, help me with these monitors." Alley says to Hernandez as she begins attacking a tower of shattered monitors located in the corner of the control room. Hernandez nods wordlessly and the duo continue working in silence. The monitors are cleared away and the tag team stare at what, or rather who, had been buried underneath. 

"Well, well." Hernandez whistles, "So its the end of the road for Gallant."

"Look at his body." Alley whispers, "Is he alive?"

"No arm, no breathing and no heartbeat." Hernandez shoots back after a cursory check of the corpse, "Looks like we found who the coffin was meant for."

"Get him in the coffin quickly." Alley urges, "According to the instructions, the ORPO patrol should be returning here in around twenty minutes."

With Alley grabbing Gallant by the legs and Hernandez holding by the armpits, they swiftly toss the corpse into the coffin and quickly seal it shut once more. The coffin is then secured on to the trolley and pushed back towards the monorail line. squeaking as it goes. 

Squeaking as it disappears into the darkness. 

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