30. Sphere

Chapter 30

Sphere

            Despite the team’s renewed determination to save their world, they ended up running into a slight hitch to their plans. The station security informed them that it was night and any businesses within the Lost City would be closed by now- including the Sphere Company. They were going to have to find a place to stay the night and try again in the morning.

“Argh! …I guess we have no choice,” Fayt muttered as he turned away from the employee.

“I’m very sorry for the inconvenience,” the man told him before heading back to his post.

“Might as well take advantage of the short rest, then,” Maria suggested as she glanced at one of the many signs. “Surely there’s an inn here somewhere- and we could probably look around a bit to see if they have any weapons or items we can use.”

“Good idea,” Sophia replied as Peppita cheered at the thought of sneaking off to play some games.

It didn’t take long to find some lodgings, but it wasn’t what they were used to. Instead of separate rooms with a bed and some limited furnishings, it was a single area with ‘pods’. To Nel, they looked like glass coffins, but they were actually some advanced bedding that catered to the whim of the sleeper. Inside the container, all sound was blocked out and the user could choose to have soothing ambient sounds or music play during the sleep cycle.

The material inside also adjusted to the body and had the ability to firm up or soften depending on user preferences. It also had a temperature setting that eliminated the need for blankets. But the transparent cover and the fact that the pods were grouped together made the spy feel anxious over sleeping in one. She felt like she would be exposed to everyone.

Once the arrangement was settled and pods were assigned, the party slowly headed out to explore the strange city. At first, Nel walked off while the Wicked One headed off in another direction, but after a while, he found her again. The spy tried to adjust to the strange world and sample the attractions, but she couldn’t allow herself to enjoy anything. She was sure everything was amusing in it’s own little way to the others, but some of the games were based on fighting or other elements from her world. How was the harsh life she led ‘fun’?

She ended up finding a wooden bench to sit on and watched everyone play from afar.

“Can’t find anything to do, either?” Albel queried as he stealthily appeared by her side and sat down next to her.

“This isn’t really the time for fun and games, but I suppose everyone needs a distraction,” she sighed as she kept her eyes to the shining city.

“Heh, funny hearing that from you, death seeker,” he commented wryly. Nel had to shake her head at that. She didn’t really live up to that nickname anymore and she had to wonder if he knew that.

But she understood what he was getting at- she had long since come to terms with the fact that she had been avoiding her emotions with work. Even with that acknowledgement, she didn’t think she could live any other way, but now she didn’t deny it. She had to have her distractions, too, otherwise she would be unable to function.

“What about you? I thought you would go off with Cliff and Fayt to the coliseum to play that fighting game,” she remarked, choosing to ignore his jab.

“War was never meant to be a game. I fail to see the entertainment value in turning a serious method of solving conflicts into something ‘fun’,” he replied with a sneer. Nel couldn’t help but chuckle a little.

“Careful Albel, you’re starting to sound like a hypocrite. I recall seeing you express sheer joy at the thought of slaughtering enemies,” she pointed out, successfully hiding the scorn from her tone. Honorable or not- he still had some delight in fighting her comrades so long as it was a fair battle.

“That’s different. The enemies I face fight me with the understanding that we are obstacles in the way of obtaining important goals. I’ve seen that ‘simulator’ they used in their little games- they only fight to gain prizes and no one really learns anything from it. What’s the point if you can’t gain any experiences through pain and a truly hard earned victory?”

Albel never ceased to amaze her. When she thought she had figured him out, he would always share some kind of philosophical outlook that overturned her gathered knowledge of him. But what was really scaring her was how she could easily understand his logic. He was saying that he enjoyed a good fight, but not for the promise of a trophy at the end. He wanted to gain experience and better himself through his opponent.

“Too bad there are no open or private areas around here. We could’ve had a real sparring match to pass the time,” the spy said with a dismissive shrug. She knew he would appreciate a sparring match since it involved practicing and improving the weak points in their techniques.

She caught the grin on his face as he leaned back on the bench. “I would like that. I never did get the chance to fight you one on one fairly- and you have improved since we’ve started traveling with the fool.”

She had forgotten about that- the first time they fought was before the Kirlsa Training Facility and she wasn’t in top form then. The second time was in Bequerel where she had Fayt and Cliff to back her up. Now that she knew the Wicked One better, she knew he wasn’t seeking to destroy her in some fashion. He just wanted to find a challenge- someone to keep up with him so that his skills wouldn’t get rusty.

Though she had to wonder what he would do should she ever win against him. Would he get upset over it? Or would he declare her his eternal rival and strive to defeat her someday? She had to suppress the grin before it could surface. She highly doubted he would react that way, but it was an amusing thought. At least it was possible for her to best him in battle now. There was no real way to tell until they had their chance.

“We’ll get our chance someday,” the spy promised after a while.

“I look forward to it.”

All they could do was sit in companionable silence after that. There wasn’t much for them to do since they were out of their element. After a while they ended up walking around together and looked through the wares at the weapons shop. If it was a date, then Nel had a surprisingly good time despite the lack of action. It was the first time she didn’t feel awkward with a man by her side, perhaps because she didn’t care if anything romantic happened between them.

They even kissed once or twice when they found themselves in a private enough area, but it was nothing too passionate. Something told the spy it was Albel’s way of reminding her of his feelings without saying it. She didn’t really mind the lack of vocalization, but not because she didn’t care about his feelings, of course.

If there was anything she discovered while spending time with Albel, it was the fact that they were both lousy at being romantic- or rather, it was the last thing either one would want to attempt. It didn’t matter to her that he would never flatter her with sweet words or bring her meaningless gifts, she didn’t like that kind of relationship anyway. With Albel, she had a companion and someone she could trust as much as she trusted Clair. In the end, Nel decided that was all she wanted. If that was ‘love’ then so be it- she was in love with Albel.

It probably should’ve been a more pronounced realization, but it was nothing more than a simple acceptance. She wondered if she needed to say anything to him, but then she supposed that he already knew. The fact that they were spending time together and were getting along should’ve been more than enough for him to figure it out.

But it didn’t really kill her to wrap her arm around his claw arm and let him lead her back to the strange 4D inn. Albel’s eyes trailed down to glance at her arm before a tiny grin appeared on his lips. Who knew what the future held after defeating the Creator? Nel was ready to plan ahead and work with him to make one possible. She knew she could trust him to place both their kingdoms before their own personal desires.

*********************************

It was hard getting to sleep at first since Nel wasn’t used to the idea of sleeping in a box-like structure. But once her body relaxed, she ended up sleeping rather peacefully. She wouldn’t put it past the device to release some kind of special gas or something that made her sleep.

Once everyone was ready to go, they headed to the Spacetime Station together. A new personnel was on duty and eagerly approached them to help out. After Fayt requested to go to the Lost City, the man appeared a little perplexed before he asked for everyone’s names. The spy wasn’t sure why names were needed, but she reluctantly gave hers after everyone else willingly shared. In hindsight, she wished she only gave her first name like Albel did.

Perhaps she was being paranoid, but who knew what control 4D space had over people? She once heard a story when she was younger of people being controlled after giving their names to someone. It was an old lesson to teach children not to trust strangers, but there could’ve been something to it. They certainly had the technology to accomplish almost anything.

“Okay. Please wait one moment,” the employee requested before he walked over to the machine and started typing into the console. Nel was a little impressed that he seemed to remember all of those names as he tried to input them. Not once did he ask for clarification. After a while, a frown came to his face before he shook his head and feigned disappointment.

“I’m terribly sorry, but you do not have the proper access privileges to travel to the Lost City. Do you have some business there?” he wondered, trying to act sympathetic to their plight. It was then the spy remembered hearing how people had programmed ‘access privileges’ that allowed them to travel from city to city and it was granted by the governing authority they had. Since they were outsiders, it wasn’t much of a surprise that they didn’t have any privileges to go to the Lost City.

“No. Thank you for your time,” Fayt said before he bowed to the man and dismissed him. The boy then cursed under his breath after the station personnel returned to his post.

Well… If we get the station guy out of the way and force our way in, I could try to rewrite our access privileges,” Maria suggested. Fayt blanched at that, worried about causing too much trouble. The employee there didn’t seem like a strong person and could easily be restrained, but it didn’t sit well with the boy to attack an innocent person.

Nel didn’t particularly like the idea either, but she had to agree with Maria’s plan. They needed to get to the Lost City and she was sure that between Maria and Sophia, they could get them there. But before she could verbally support the blue haired girl’s idea, the station personnel returned.

“Ah, there you are!” he called out excitedly with a real smile.

“Yes?” Fayt answered in a wary tone.

“I just got word from the Lost City. You’ve been given access privileges,” he announced. Nel couldn’t figure out why he was so cheerful and had to wonder if there was something special about getting the permission to go to that area. “Someone going by the name of ‘B’ at the Sphere Company contacted me.”

“‘B’” Sophia repeated in a confused tone.

After a few more hints from the employee, they were able to figure out that the new contact was a friend of that boy from Arkives- most likely that ‘Blair’ person he kept talking about. Nel could see how Flad might’ve pulled some strings to get Blair’s attention and have her invite them, but there was still a question of trust. Flad seemed harmless enough, but was Blair?

This was a person who worked for the company that created them. There was a likely chance that she could have some ulterior motive. It could be a trap to capture them for all they knew.

“It’s not like we have any other way of going to the Lost City. Even if it is a trap, we have little choice,” Maria replied, dismissing everyone’s concerns.

“You’re right,” Fayt agreed. “We should just be grateful to have a way in.”

“So you’re going then? That’s so awesome!” the station personnel commented with a look of awe. “Sphere developed the Eternal Sphere, you know. I’m such a fan of that game!”

Ah, so that’s why he was so thrilled. It must’ve been every fan’s dream to visit the place that created their favorite hobby. Though Nel wasn’t sure if she appreciated hearing someone who enjoyed playing around in her dimension.

“Okay, so we’re allowed to go to the Lost City now?” Fayt inquired to confirm the sudden change of plans.

“Yes. Your access privilege codes have already been rewritten. When you go through the gate, you’ll be at Sphere,” he replied giddily, reminding the spy of the fan boys in Peterny that worshiped her and Clair. Pathetic adoration seemed to be universal…

“We can go directly there?” Sophia clarified, sounding stunned that they wouldn’t be transported to some other area of the city.

“That’s right. Travel is restricted in the Lost City to protect the companies from spies and the like.”

Huh, sounded like Nel’s worst nightmare. She would be out of a job if her planet had such tight security. This just proved how dangerous it was going to be- whoever was waiting for them could easily ambush them. Once they were through, all avenues of escape could be cut off. Unfortunately, it was a risk they were going to have to take- there was no other way to confront the Creator. Nel just hoped that this time there was a dungeon of some kind on the other side. She didn’t think she could take another disappointment like when they first arrived in Arkives.

**************************************

At least they walked into something expected. The moment they arrived, they were surrounded by several security men. Unlike the ones in Arkives, they seemed a little more disciplined and probably could put up more of a challenge. It almost sickened Nel to realize that she was craving a good fight. She must’ve spending too much time with Albel…

She couldn’t help but hope for some kind of challenge in facing the Creator. If everyone in 4D space were weak enough for them to shove to the side and order around, she would feel like a bully. Not only that- she would really have to question her existence and the life she could’ve wasted in worshiping them. The idea of weak people creating and tormenting them so they could feel powerful was just as disgusting as the thought of her people being made for their amusement.

“Grr! I knew it, a trap!” Cliff growled as he readied himself for a fight.

There was a lone man standing behind them who appeared to be in authority. He greeted them with an air of superiority and announced that he was head of security. He called himself Azazer and admitted that he reported directly to the ‘Owner’, meaning he was not the man they were after. This ‘Owner’ was most likely the Creator.

“I don’t know how you managed to outsmart station security, but nevertheless, I bid you welcome,” Azazer said, feigning some hospitality.

Unlike Flad, this man seemed to believe they were mindless entities that were only there because of ‘flawed programming’. He didn’t seem to believe that they were ‘real’ or that they had their own thoughts. Listening to him made Nel’s blood boil. It was hard enough to determine reality or if they had a right to live, but she wasn’t going to sit back and let some arrogant man dismiss her because he thought she was insignificant.

“Whaddya mean, outsmart? You’re the one who let us through,” Cliff questioned him, bringing on a good point.

It seemed Azazer wasn’t anticipating their arrival at all, but he was more than ready to defend the building. Apparently the true person behind the incident wasn’t working with the security. But at the same time, it didn’t mean that getting captured didn’t fall into the mastermind’s plan.

She got that indication when Azazer mentioned, “We won’t delete you if you agree to assist us. We find you extremely fascinating. Many of our developers over at the research division are deeply interested in studying you.”

It was also likely Blair, or whoever summoned them, was a researcher and wanted them solely for that purpose. But it seemed strange to the spy that they were so surprised at their ability to cross dimensions. True, no one really knew the mechanics behind it or how it was possible, but if the 4D beings really created them, then they should be aware of the possibility.

“If we agree to be your test subjects, will you stop the Executioners that you released into our galaxy?” Fayt inquired, hoping to compromise. Nel wasn’t sure if she liked the idea of submitting to them without a fight, but she was all for sacrificing herself if it meant that her galaxy would be spared.

“No, that’s simply not possible. The Milky Way has already been contaminated. That partition must be completely erased. You will be all that remains. There will be nothing left of your galaxy,” he replied calmly, sounding as if he couldn’t care less over the fate of their worlds.

It was the first time she heard from the enemy’s mouth what their intentions were. They weren’t just seeking to destroy and conquer- they wanted everything gone. Clair, Adray, Astor…all the people of Elicoor and the planet itself would disappear? Anger and determination filled the spy. There was no way she was letting that happen!

“Forget it then!” Fayt shouted without needed to think it over.

“You think we’d actually agree to that?” Cliff growled incredulously.

Azazer did seem that upset to hear that. He only shrugged before he asked, “Hmm… Do we have a problem here? What about your friends?”

“Yeah, we got a problem!” Sophia yelled in a spirited tone as she held her mage staff at the ready.

“That’s right!” Nel replied after her before Albel muttered, “Stupid question.”

“Then you leave me with no choice. I’ll have to apologize to the research section later. I suppose it’s only natural for dysfunctional entities such as yourselves to be deleted.”

Nel wasn’t sure if what he said was his personal belief or if he wanted to rile them up. She could see a grin play on his face, indicating that he wanted to fight. Then again, maybe he enjoyed seeing others get hurt. He stayed behind as his team rushed forward to take them down.

As the spy suspected, they were more skilled than what they faced before, but they were also not much of a challenge compared to the Executioners. Azazer was both shocked and displeased to see their failure. He soon stepped forward to challenge them while declaring that they were only data. If that was supposed to reassure him that they couldn’t do any damage to him, he was sorely mistaken.

But he was a tough opponent- the spy had to give him that. He was able to hold his own against all of them and damage them. It was a longer than usual battle, but it was soon over once Sophia knocked him to the air with an Earth Glaive and Cliff punched him in his midsection. The man flew across the room and landed behind an odd circular desk. The transparent screens flickered for a few moments after he passed through them before they returned to normal.

The party cautiously approached the area to see if he was truly down or if he was preparing for another attack. Azazer seemed to be badly injured as he slowly sat up.

“I’ll show you… Impudent bugs… Don’t…think you’ve…won!” he declared slowly. Everyone readied their weapons, thinking he was going to summon some new strength to fight them again, but he instead went for one of the screens. He quickly typed something down before sirens went off and he collapsed.

“The security system!” Cliff warned with a grimace. Now others knew of their presence and it was going to be even more difficult to move.

“There’s no turning back now,” Maria announced as she faced the only visible way out.

“Yeah. We’ve come this far. Let’s go to the research section he was talking about. Maybe we can find the terminal that controls the Eternal Sphere and find a way to stop them from accessing it,” Fayt suggested, earning nods of agreement from everyone.

***************************

Nel tried not to think of the confusing turns and the strange doorways that only appeared if you approached them. She only focused on fighting the enemy as they came and followed after Fayt and the others. She could almost swear that the halls and the guards were endless as they climbed up each level. She wasn’t even sure if they were going the right way or if they had any idea where to look. There were no signs anywhere that gave any information so she couldn’t figure anything out herself.

They only indication that they knew where they were was when the reached what must’ve been the fifth floor. On the wall was lettering that said ‘Research Division’. Every door was locked down, preventing them from getting anywhere. It must’ve part of the security system to protect the researchers from intruders.

By the tenth door, Fayt began to question if they needed to find a key somewhere that would enable them get through.

“No time for that, here comes trouble!” Maria warned as she heard the strange noise associated with the disappearing doors. Everyone tensed in preparation for battle. Nel could sense Albel move to stand beside her so that he could get a clear shot at the enemy with one of his battle techniques.

“Aaahhh! They’re behind us, too!” Sophia shouted when she caught sight of the security at the other entrance.

“What!” Fayt shouted in panic as he turned to face the other side. Suddenly Albel shifted, too, to help cover the back. The spy quickly realized that he was protecting her rear and moved to the point where their backs were nearly touching so she could do the same for him.

“Uh-oh. We might not be able to handle this many,” Maria commented in a worried tone. Actually, they might be able to pull it off if they had more space to fight in, but the hall was too narrow for any maneuvering. Nel had a hard time using her long range attacks when they were in spaces like this one.

“This way!” a new voice called out from the side. Nel had barely heard the door open, let alone acknowledge that there was a new escape route. No one thought twice about it and rushed in, with the Elicoorians heading in last. The door quickly shut just as security tried to chase after them.

“That was close,” the grey haired woman commented as she finished coding something on a nearby terminal.

Whoever she was, Nel could tell she was different from the other 4D beings she had encountered. The woman had more life in her and seemed to express real emotions. She also didn’t have any trace of superiority as she teasingly made it known that she knew everyone’s names.

“I’m Blair. Blair Lansfeld. I’m one of the researchers developing the Eternal Sphere here,” she replied to answer Fayt’s earlier question of who she was.

So this was the ‘friend’ of Flad’s who gave them access to the Sphere Company. The woman seemed rather old to be a friend of a child like Flad. The spy had to wonder how they’ve met and come to know each other on those terms.

Suddenly the grey haired woman stopped talked as she briefly glanced at the locked door behind her. “This is not the place to discuss such things. Follow me.”

“H-hey!” Cliff protested, wanting answers now.

“The locks here are quite strong, but they can be easily opened if management really puts its mind to it. There are rooms with even tighter security up ahead. That’s where the others are,” she responded as she walked past them and headed to the other end of the room where another door was.

“The others?” Sophia echoed curiously. Nel assumed she meant the other researchers, but at this point she couldn’t be sure of anything. All they could do was trail after the woman and hope that they could get some answers.

“Here we are,” Blair announced where they reached their destination. She then gestured to several people that stood up to greet them. “These are the others who are in charge of the Eternal Sphere.”

In other words, they were the gods that directly created their worlds. Nel wasn’t sure what to think- they didn’t seem like bad people and they appeared more dignified than the other 4D beings she had encountered in the other towns.

“Would you please explain to us what’s going on? What are you going to do to us?” Fayt inquired after remembering that Azazer mentioned something about the research department wanting to see them.

“I’ll get right to the point. We’d like to offer you our help.”

The spy wasn’t expecting that. It seemed that the researchers were completely opposed to what the Owner did and they believed that all interference with their world should stop. It brought her great relief to hear that, especially when they explained that her world was no longer the game they created. They viewed it as a parallel world to theirs now that the inhabitants had begun to think and act for themselves.

Blair and the others respected life- especially the life they created with their own hands. They truly were the benevolent gods that Nel envisioned, even though she grew up with the ideal that they were perfect, glowing beings.

“I get it now,” Sophia said after Blair finished explaining why she wanted to help them.

“It all makes sense in a way,” Cliff agreed before Maria stepped forward with a question of her own. “You were saying the Executioners must be dealt with. Do you have an actual plan for doing so?”

“Yes. We’ve already prepared an uninstaller to remove them,” a male researcher replied before he gave Sophia a small box-like device.

It took a while for the spy to understand, but the ‘uninstaller’ was something that could get rid of the Executioners without hurting anyone within the Eternal Sphere. The creatures were more or less a program like they were, but without the ability to exist as living beings. The only reason the researchers couldn’t use it themselves was because it had to be activated within their dimension and the Milky Way was blocked off to everyone else. Only Fayt and the others could access it and save their world now.

“Our goals are the same, so I’m sure you have no objections,” Blair said once the explanation was done.

The next issue was to decide if she was trustworthy enough. But after the effort she made to rescue them from the security and explain everything that had been happening, Nel didn’t see any reason not to trust her. There was nothing for her to gain by helping them and she seemed rather modest. Blair didn’t revel in the compliments her fellow researchers gave her when verifying the validity of their uninstaller.

“So how do we get back to the Eternal Sphere?” Cliff wondered as he glanced at his teammates. “Should we head back to Gemity?”

“It’s not possible to travel to Gemity right now from this building. The route to the station has already been sealed off. Most likely, to prevent your escape,” the male researcher explained after he shook his head.

“In that case, you’ll have to use a terminal within this building,” Blair replied, “But the ones here are…”

“What, is there a problem?” Sophia inquired after the woman trailed off.

“Its location…” she added before explaining that they were in the highest security block in the building. “It’s in the Owner’s office on the top floor.”

“Then we have nothing to worry about. We just need to get going,” Cliff stated, ignoring the warnings of danger from increased security. So long as there was nothing wrong with the terminals themselves, they would make do.

Fayt soon urged everyone on to find the terminals, but Blair stopped them before they could get far. “Wait a moment. I’m going with you.”

“You’re coming?” The blue haired boy sounded stunned. The others were surprised as well.

“Blair, what are you talking about?” the male researcher demanded, acting as if Blair was going crazy.

The programmer addressed Fayt and the others, rather than directly answering her subordinate. “I don’t think you could make it to the top floor by yourselves. Security measures will have likely been put in place to stop you. I might not be much help in the Eternal Sphere, but I can still help while you’re here. I won’t be much use in a fight, though.”

It was then Nel decided that she really liked Blair. Of all people she met in this strange world, she was the only one who went above and beyond to help with a cause she believed in. But the spy still didn’t approve of most 4D beings. In a way, it was similar to Albel’s view of Aquarians- he disliked nearly everyone because they prayed, but he liked the few who actually did something to make a difference.

“Why not? We could use her help,” Maria suggested when Fayt tried to politely decline.

“Yeah,” the Klausian agreed as the boy stopped to think about it. “There’s too much we don’t understand. We shouldn’t turn down help when it’s needed.”

They were both right- Blair seemed to know her way around and had some kind of access to codes that enabled her to open and lock doors. Even if she couldn’t fight, she still had enough to offer that would be very useful.

“Okay. Thanks for offering,” Fayt said as he relented. Blair let out a small smile and nodded.

“You can count on me. This way,” she gestured to another door at the back of the room. “Let’s use the large elevator beyond that door. It should take us close to our destination.”

But it seemed Blair’s route was no good. The moment they reached the room with the elevator. A disembodied voice was heard.

“That voice… Is that the Owner?” Blair muttered before she glanced up at the ceiling. “Owner! Please listen to me!”

“I hate to lose you, but that cannot be helped now.”

He then tried to explain why his way was the correct one, referring to them as a ‘contamination’. The Owner also refused to believe that they were more than just fabrications. Clearly he and Blair were on completely opposite sides of the issue.

“Blair, what’s going on?” Fayt inquired as the woman paced around in agitation.

“It’s seems the Owner, Luther, has gotten wind of our plan. I fear he intends to delete you, and me as well, now that he knows about my complicity,” she muttered worriedly. Nel thought it was strange that they referred to death as ‘deletion’. Now that she understood the term and how it applied to programming, it made sense as to why she could be ‘deleted’, but the 4D beings seemed to use it on themselves, too. Were it not for the fact that she, Albel, and Blair seemed to speak the same language, she would’ve dismissed it as a translation error.

“Something’s coming!” Peppita shouted as a noise emitted from the fortified door. Soon an explosion forced it open and two men stepped through. Blair seemed to know them- calling them Berial and Belzeber. Apparently they had come to not only stop Fayt and the others, but to also eliminate Blair as well.

Belzeber did most of the talking, his voice seemed to be full of scorn and sarcasm. Berial was mostly quiet, but when he did speak, it was to Blair and he seemed upset that he had to silence her. He promised to make her death as painless as possible, before he and Belzeber rushed at them.

It was another difficult battle, but one they managed to win. Nel was exhausted after that, but she still managed to stay standing. After taking on the security all the way up to this point and then facing those two, she was nearing her limit. Surely they would get a chance to rest soon…

“Heh, heh, heh. Your’ precious little uninstaller…” Belzeber muttered with a smug grin as he struggled to remain conscious, “It’s completely useless… the Owner has…already…”

He couldn’t finish his sentence as his wounds caught up to him and he slumped over. Fayt tried to get him to continue talking, but it was no use- he was unconscious. Nel wasn’t sure what the man’s last words meant. It could’ve been a threat to warn them that the Owner was onto them- or he was simply blowing hot air in hopes that it would deter them from using the device.

Blair wasn’t as calm and collected anymore as everyone put away their weapons. Her eyes were a little wide as if she couldn’t believe what she had witnessed. “…I thought I understood, but after seeing it myself, I find it hard to believe.”

“Believe what?” Sophia inquired, trying to get her to elaborate. The woman was acting a little strangely compared to what they’ve witnessed before. If Nel didn’t know any better, she would guess that the programmer was a little startled.

“The power you all possess,” Blair eventually explained once she composed herself. “To think you could defeat these two… And I’m really astonished to see you are able to invoke symbology in this dimension. How is that possible?”

When she put it that way, her reaction made a little sense. The powers they possessed only existed in the world she helped create. Runology- or rather ‘symbology’ wasn’t possible to 4D beings. It was natural to fear something that possessed unexplained power.

“Does it frighten you?” Maria asked in a wary tone, thinking she knew where Blair’s thoughts were leading. “You haven’t changed your mind, have you? You don’t…think we should be erased?”

“Don’t misjudge me,” the grey haired woman scolded her in a stern tone.

“…I’m sorry,” she said in a regretful tone. She didn’t want to accuse the only help they had, but it was hard to maintain trust in a place like this.

Blair seemed to understand what she was going through and quickly forgave her. Cliff was glad that Blair’s opinions were settled, but he couldn’t forget that they were currently stuck in a dead end. The elevator wasn’t responding anymore.

“What are we gonna do now? Is there any other way to the top floor?”

“There is another way, but I’m afraid it will be swarming with enemies,” the woman cautioned with an apologetic look.

“If it’s the only way, then we have no choice but to take it,” Fayt said to reassure her that it was fine.

“Alright, we’ll head there soon, but first- you all look rather exhausted. Let us return to the research area and rest. I will refortify the security and see if I can find anything for you to eat,” she offered kindly.

Fayt hesitated for a moment. They didn’t really have time to rest because the enemy could regroup and strengthen their defenses even more, but… The boy turned to look at his party. They had traveled a long way with barely any rest between the many battles. Everyone did have a weary look to their face. Even the ever energetic Peppita way swaying on her feet.

“Right, we do need the rest. Thank you very much,” he said to Blair with a deep bow.

An almost motherly smile came to the woman’s face before she gestured to the destroyed door. “No need to thank me- I just want to help. Come this way.”

Nel watched as everyone followed after the programmer back through the only exit. Her body wasn’t the only thing that was tired- her mind was starting to strain. She had so many questions about her world in the research department, but she had to hold back because they needed to press on. She was trying very hard not to think about it or reflect that she had most likely been in the same room as her god.

She soon felt a hand on her lower back and noticed Albel was at her side, looking rather concerned. “You’re starting to slow down, woman. Are you feeling well?”

“Just tired,” she replied instantly, “I could use some rest right about now.”

Suddenly she felt a push and grunted with Albel as they were both propelled forward. There was a small hand on both their backs that continued to apply pressure to get them moving.

“Come on! Hurry up you two!” Peppita demanded as she continued pushing. Albel quickly moved to the side to get away.

“Don’t touch me, maggot,” he growled in warning, but it didn’t faze the circus girl.

“But Nel touches you all the time! I’ve seen it!” she pointed out, earning a blush from the spy. Exactly what kind of touching has the girl seen? Nel prayed (to whom, she wasn’t sure anymore) that the only ‘touching’ Peppita witnessed was of her healing the dark swordsman.

Albel let out a wide grin as he shrugged, “She’s an exception.”

“Oh, whatever!” The girl scowled before she reached over and grabbed his hair wrap. She then grabbed the end of Nel’s scarf with her free hand. “There, I’m not touching. Now go! Hyah!”

She started shaking the ‘reins’ to get them to move, which they did reluctantly. Nel felt like a lum leading a cart.

The only thing the spy could look forward to with the rest was the chance to speak with the researchers and finally have her questions answered. But would the knowledge be worth it? Perhaps it was better if she didn’t know and continued to live her life blissfully unaware. Or she could find irrefutable proof that her religion was true and that it worshiped real gods. In the end, her reasons didn’t matter. She wanted her peace of mind- to know that her life wasn’t wasted in the name of Apris. The truth was bound to change her life- for better or worse.

To the Next Chapter

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