"Welcome back Transmigrator." The Voice's signature rasp greets me as I tumble across the floor.
Groaning in annoyance I begin picking myself back up, noting the scattered chunks of wood all over the place. And the large shattered coffin that I most likely punched my way out of. What in the world happened? Where am I now anyway? Am I still trapped in the hub?
"I had you retrieved to the Academy's apartment for repairs." The Voice explains, "I had also taken the opportunity to prepare a fresh set of clothes for you. Some gratitude might be in order."
As I pick a few stray splinters out of my clothes, I note that all the blood and grime has been cleaned up. The black trench coat is absolutely pristine, as if it was fresh from the tailor. The left sleeve has been folded up and neatly sewn shut, preventing it from flopping about now that I am short of an arm. The stuffy black hood is gone, and now I am wearing an eye patch over the non-functioning left eye. Overall, its an improvement in my circumstances.
I can actually see my body. This is the first time ever since I transmigrated that this actually happened. I wave my remaining arm about in front of my face. One arm, check. There's none of that odd blind spot that manifests whenever I am supposed to see myself. My eye traces the shape of the arm and focuses down to the fibers of the coat. As excitement bubbles within me, I am about to ask The Voice about what is going on before I realize something else.
My heart is not beating. Neither am I breathing. In fact, there is zero involuntary action on my part. No random swaying, playing with my fingers and so on. If I am not making a conscious effort to move, my body is effectively as still as a statue.
"So yes, you are dead." The Voice rumbles, "Or rather Mr Gallant is dead. I was being completely serious when summoning you just now."
Dead. That one word blasts my mind into fragments. No way. If Gallant is dead what does that make me? How would it actually affect my future? Could I even return home like this? In my mounting panic I begin ramping up the artificial core's output. Could the core drive off a case of death? It'd better, it's the only solution I got left. As the core's power circulates through Gallant's cold, unfeeling body, I hear a pair of groans coming from the corner of the room.
"You may want to retract your presence, Transmigrator." The Voice drolly comments, "Without the mitigating effect of Mr Gallant's soul, the natives will experience the full impact of your alien nature. And I would rather our trusty assistants remain useful instead of being consigned to a lunatic asylum."
I quickly tamp down on the core's output and investigate where the groaning noises are coming from. And right at the partition between the apartment's living area and the kitchen are Alley and Hernandez, sprawled across the floor while foaming in their mouths. Their breathing is shallow and rapid, but swiftly quietens down as they drift off into a deep sleep.
"Will Alley and Hernandez be alright?" I ask. Not that I cared, but it would be a dick move to drive them to madness after they had rescued me from the Sarcophagus.
"I have sedated them." The Voice grunts, "They can recover in peace while we have our conversation."
I pull out a chair and slouch on to it, stretching my remaining limbs. "How long was I, well, dead?" I ask, reflecting how odd it is not to be even able to instinctive twitch.
The Voice laughs, "You are still dead, Transmigrator."
"You know what I mean." I huff.
"Close to a month." The Voice answers, "I had been working day and night to repair the body in preparation for your summoning. It was close, but I managed to do it just in time for your next deployment."
"Next deployment?" I jump from the chair, completely startled, "We just got our asses beat and you want me to go back out there? Anyway, how are we talking in the first place? My last memory was of Fate thrashing the hub."
"I had taken over a transmission base station before our defeat." The Voice explains, "This is not my first conflict, nor is it the first defeat I have tasted. Experience teaches one how to prepare and bounce back from such things."
"Fair enough." I retort, "But unless you have really upgraded this body, I don't think my next mission is going to end on a much happier note."
The Voice hums briefly before saying, "If you are worried about Fate, do not be. While I cannot sense its presence, analysis of the Crossroads definitively proves that Fate has left the boundary of The City. The Incarnate may still be active and blinding my sight, but she is a far easier proposition to handle than a god. Do you not agree?"
"I suppose." I grumble, "Where did Fate go then?"
"I have no idea." The Voice smirks over the earpiece, "No doubt our battle has expended much of Fate's strength and it has retreated to lick its wounds as well as savor recapturing the codex from the hub. Whatever the case, your mission will have nothing to do with Fate itself."
"What!" I scream in horror, "The codex is back in Fate's hands? We are all back on the doom clock?"
"Stop over reacting." The Voice gently reprimands, "The codex by itself is completely worthless without the required supporting infrastructure. We are safe for the time being."
"Want me to stop over reacting? Then stop trolling." I grumble unhappily.
I hear the laptop on the table begin booting up and my gaze shifts towards it. After a few seconds, a picture of a fight night poster pops up onscreen, reminding me of those old boxing adverts touts would plaster all over the neighborhood whenever the local gym was hosting a bout. The picture shows Hero man and Brocon posing next to each other on one side while glaring defiantly at Nicky and Loli Vampire who take up the opposite end of the poster.
'BATTLE FOR EUROPE - TAG TEAM ACTION!
TENSEI & ROSE VON AMSTERG VS YVONNE & NICHOLAS ST CLAIR
CITY INTERNATIONAL STADIUM SEATS FROM 200 NU-CREDITS!!
"Nicky doesn't look well from this picture." I observe, "In fact he looks as if he has one foot in the grave." That's no exaggeration. Nicky's eyes are completely bloodshot and his face is as white as a sheet. Nicky looks like he might drop dead from anemia at any moment. The Hero must have completely wrecked his shit during the running battle at the wedding.
"Nicholas has been adopted by Marshal St Clair." The Voice rasps, "Not only has he taken the St Clair name, Nicholas has also acquired other benefits from the association."
"Don't tell me ..." I snap, expecting the worst from this revelation.
"Vampirism." The Voice confirms, "Marshal St Clair has turned Nicholas into a vampire. This has not only allowed him to make a complete recovery, but also vastly increased Nicholas's fighting strength. My initial estimates of the Hero's chances are no longer valid."
"Damn it." I swear, "Its always something."
The Voice continues, ignoring my cursing, "The Hero and Heroine Von Amsterg are currently slightly stronger than Marshal St Clair and Nicholas. However, as vampires they have one crucial advantage. They heal quickly and will never tire. If the Hero's team cannot end the fight quickly then -"
"Then they're screwed." I conclude, "Yeah, I see the picture. The St Clairs are the problem you need me to resolve then?"
"Indeed." The Voice states, "Sabotaging the St Clairs or otherwise weakening them before the contest would be the optimal course of action. From my connection with ORPO's systems, I have noted several possible avenues of attack for you to use."
"Wait. Wait." I stop The Voice from talking further, "How am I going to evade ORPO anyway while going about the mission? And are you sure Fate is gone from the picture?"
"Yes Transmigrator, I am very sure Fate is gone from The City." The Voice sighs, "As for ORPO, they have become quiet recently, with only a skeleton staff on duty. Carrying out your mission under these circumstances will hardly be a challenge for you."
"Where did ORPO go anyway?" I ask, my curiosity piqued.
"No idea." The Voice shrugs verbally, "At any rate they are of little concern now. Focus on what is important."
"No." I insist, "You said you're connected to ORPO's system right? Call up their records. It will show why they've suddenly gone missing."
"Very well. If that will satisfy you." The Voice condescendingly states as the laptop's screen switches to a window packed with folders organized by date.
I ignore The Voice's sass and begin going through ORPO's records. Its nothing but patrol reports, crime statistics, boring police stuff. I merely scan through the headings for most of the documents to save time, but then my eyes catch something that's anything other than regular police business.
"Did you know about the attack on the P5 aircraft carrier two weeks ago?" I ask The Voice.
"No." The Voice says, "I have been blinded, remember? How is that relevant to our situation at any rate?"
Attack on the Narancha. Gustav, the Legion and the Matsui clan swarmed the carrier battle group while the P5 sailors were distracted by Loli Vampire pummeling their ships with her magic. And ORPO sat in the background and watched the whole thing. Something's wrong here. Matsui is now in Fate's pocket, meaning that if he's involved, Fate's hand has got to be somewhere in the background. I quickly click open the next report.
This one's a requisition form asking for the deployment of all ORPO patrol vessels and the seizure of several civilian steamers as well. And not for the purpose of taking back the carrier from the mismatched attackers. From the proposal attached, it seems that ORPO intends to use these ships to sail along with the carrier group? A bad feeling wells up in my still heart.
Next report. This one was filed by the ORPO coastguard. They escorted the carrier group out of The City's jurisdiction before turning back to port. And the last bearing the Narancha was seen heading off in?
"Can you see anything beyond the boundary of The City?" I urgently ask The Voice.
"Of course." comes the reply from The Voice.
"Track the Narancha. Where is it now?" I press, praying that my suspicions are for naught.
A moment of silence before The Voice responds, this time completely befuddled, "I cannot see the Narancha. That ship simply does not exist."
"That means either Fate or Celeste is on board, correct?" I quiz, tension racking my nerves.
"Most probably." The Voice concedes softly.
"The Narancha was last seen heading South." I tell The Voice.
"I fail to see -" The Voice begins but I have no patience for its tricks. Not when things have become so serious.
"South. Towards the missing continent." I bark, "Know anything about that?"
"What missing continent?" The Voice responds in mock innocence.
"X22344 Y72717." I snap, recalling the coordinates on the ancient map.
A long silence. And then The Voice speaks once more, "Very well then. No more lies Transmigrator."
"It is time for truth between us."