The past few days had gone by just about the same. The classroom sessions involved learning about the Nephilim, such as what the colors of their uniforms meant, and how to combat the various types of enemies that we’d face. Some of the students had a difficult time with this, but it seemed pretty easy to me.
The physical training didn’t vary too much, including conditioning, martial arts, and free exercise time. I was falling into the routine and structure of the organization.
Over this time, I had grown closer to Takeji and Trinity. They continued to bounce ideas off me. These notions of “Grace” and “Free Will” seemed dangerous at first, but the more I heard of them, the more they made sense. It didn’t take long for me to think of them as my good friends. They were the only ones that I felt I could really talk to. There was always Dani, but she was…a little off. I had noticed her watching me a number of times, and determined that it was her who had been spying on me when I was outside that first night.
Today, I met the young couple again after dinner. They had traded a day’s worth of A-block meals to get out of the day’s evening debriefing seminar that all agents were expected to attend. Trinity had said:
“If I wanted to get put to sleep, I’d learn self-hypnosis. Sticking a whole bunch of people in a dark room for two hours right after dinner is inhumane!”
Also, they had said there was something important they needed to talk about. I agreed, although I wasn’t sure if I agreed with everything they were saying about God and the way things worked. Sometimes, what they said sounded right, other times, Tsalderek’s theology made more sense. Right or wrong, I just enjoyed being around them. Trinity’s sense of humor, and Takeji’s matter-of-fact reactions made them very entertaining on their own, but together, they were hilarious.
After everyone had cleared out of the cafeteria following dinner, Takeji, Trinity and I found a place in the corner to sit. Naturally, Dani was with us as well.
“Glad you could make it, guys. I’ve got some important stuff to share.” Trinity said, then handed us each a frozen ice pop. “But this isn’t it. I just wanted to give you a popsicle.”
“Oh boy! I LOVE popsicles!” Dani exclaimed, accepting the gift. “Wow! Blue raspberry! That’s the best kind!”
“You know, there’s really no such thing as blue raspberry.” Takeji pointed out.
“Whaddaya mean, there’s no such thing? I’m eating it right now!” Dani laughed.
“No, I mean, there aren’t actually real blue raspberries. It’s just an invention of the company.”
“But, it’s blue, and it tastes like raspberries…”
“Yeah, I know, but they just used artificial colors to make it look different from cherry and strawberry.”
“Wh-what?! Blue raspberry is my favorite! I’ve always wanted to find a blue raspberry bush, and eat them until my tongue turns blue!”
“Well, that’s impossible, because they don’t exist.”
“Oh.” Dani looked at the frozen treat in her hand. “…Oh well! Still my favorite!” She proclaimed, and started to eat it.
I shook my head, and took the popsicle offered to me.
“No problem. Well, a little problem. It wasn’t easy to lift these from the kitchen. They have tighter security than an exhibit of Christopher Reeves’ original Superman costume.”
After we each had our ice pop, Trinity started to explain what they wanted to talk about.
“I think we’re on to something, Milo. Like white girls on a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.”
“Yeah.” Takeji added. “Dangerously close.”
“Dangerous? How?” I wondered how anything from the Bible could ever be dangerous.
“Well, we were physically threatened to stop reading the Bible, and they told us to never talk about what we had learned to anyone again.”
“I don’t want to name any names. I mean, they’re just doing what they’re told. Unfortunately, the things we’ve been learning have been deemed a threat to the well-being of the organization.”
“I don’t understand. Why would they think that the truth is a threat?”
Takeji crossed his arms. “Tsalderek has always operated on the principle of earning your worth and salvation by working hard and obeying the rules. That’s how they keep order, and motivate people to work for the good of the organization.”
“The last thing I read before they took my copy of the Bible was a real game-changer. It said: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast’.”
There was a moment of silence, as I thought about what that meant.
“I’m really not that great with religion and stuff. I don’t know exactly what everything means, but I think I know why it might be dangerous.”
“Yeah. Basically, if what I read is true, it means ‘oh, you don’t really need to do all of that hard work and obey all of the rules to be saved. Just trust God. He’ll take care of it’.” Trinity elaborated.
“Tsalderek has told people not to bother reading the Bible for years, so they’ve been able to keep people from knowing about that. But my rebellious girl here;” Takeji put his arm around Trinity. “had to try reading it for herself, and drag me along for the ride.”
“Shut up, Takeji.” She replied playfully. “We both know you’d take the red pill any day, given the choice.”
“Yeah, so I would. I’m not complaining. I want to know the truth.”
“Um, guys?” Dani broke in. “Weren’t you not supposed to talk to anyone else about this?”
“Yes, but how could we keep this to ourselves? Everyone should know how God really wants us to live.” The determined young woman explained. “No matter what it costs us, we want people to know. We’re starting with you, because you care, and you won’t tell anyone before we’ve made a plan to tell everyone. It’s just good to talk about it to get our own thoughts straight.”
“OK. I get it. Well, I hope everything goes well for you.” I said honestly.
I still wasn’t sure what to believe. Everything had moved so fast, that I wasn’t sure who was manipulating who anymore.
Dani had finished her popsicle, and had a pleased look on her face.
“I’m sure everything will be alright. You’re smart. It’ll all turn out good!”
“I hope you’re right, Dani.” Trinity smiled. “I really hope you’re right.”
Suddenly, an explosion rocked the factory. The lights flickered, and then died. Always prepared, the two agents produced flashlights from the equipment pouches on the harness of their uniform, and illuminated the room.
“What happened?” I asked, feeling quite afraid.
“I’m not sure,” Takeji stated. “but I’m going to find out.” He pulled two miniature flashlights out, and handed them to Dani and me. “Stay here, where it’s safe. We’ll go check it out.”
“OK! Have fun!” Dani chirped.
He gave her a weird look, then motioned for Trinity to follow.
“What? Where’s the: ‘This is going to be too dangerous. I don’t want to risk you, the love of my life. Stay here, and I’ll take care of it.’?” Trinity pretended to be hurt.
Takeji answered very seriously.
“Trinity, if anything is really wrong, there’s no one I’d rather have by my side. That, and I know that you’d come anyway, even if I told you not to.”
She giggled, and the two exited the eating room, toward the sound of the crash. In a moment, Dani and I were left alone. We sat in silence, the only break from the darkness being our two small pocket flashlights.
“It’s probably nothing.” I told myself, trying to ease my fear. “I’m sure the power just went out, and they’ll have it back up in no time.”
Dani wasn’t worried at all, as evidenced by her singing the intro to “The Eye of the Tiger”, and flicking her light on and off to the beat.
“Dani! Cut that out!” I reprimanded. “This might be really serious! We can’t be messing around!”
“Sorry!” She whispered loudly.
The girl sat still for a few seconds, before very quietly singing again and clicking her light on and off. I shook my head and tried to ignore her.
Some time passed, and the lights still had not come back on. That was making me nervous. What if something was really wrong? I had to find out if everything was OK.
Without a word, I stood up, and started walking in the direction that Takeji and Trinity had gone earlier. Dani immediately started following.
“Hey, where’re you going?”
“I’m going to go see what happened.” I briskly responded.
“OK! I’m right behind you!”
I rolled my eyes.
“Whatever. You can do what you want.”
We made our way through the dark halls for several minutes, without seeing a soul. There were a lot of closed doors, so the people must be hiding inside some rooms. The thought to run and hide never crossed my mind. There was something that needed to be done, and I would do it, no matter what.
When we here halfway between the cafeteria and what I figured was the north end of the building, the eerie silence was shattered by a sharp staccato noise. Gunfire!
The sound of automatic weapons was soon followed by that of running feet, screams, and loud crashing. We were under attack!
Instead of fleeing, I immediately started running toward the source of the sound. Dani quickly followed me.
“What’re you doing?!” She shouted.
“I’m going to see if I can help! You don’t have to come!”
“I’m coming! Maybe I can help too!”
I ignored her, and looked for an elevator. The sounds of battle were coming from beneath us, and I had to get down there. Ah ha! Elevator! It was when I pressed the button that I realized they wouldn’t work with the power out. There had to be stairs nearby. After a quick look, Dani’s flashlight illuminated a door depicting a flight of stairs.
“Here we go!” She exclaimed.
I pushed past her and threw open the door. We descended to the first floor as fast as we could. The noise grew louder, and it sounded worse and worse. When we opened the door at the bottom of the stairwell, it sounded like a full battle. The hallway where we stood was filled with pandemonium, with people from Tsalderek screaming and running away from the north end of the headquarters.
We pressed against the wall to allow them to pass, then carefully crept in the direction that they came from. Suddenly, a bloody hand reached out from a meeting room, grabbed my arm, and yanked me inside. My heart felt like it was shot from a slingshot as I tumbled into a chair by a presentation table. I turned to face my attacker, to see a Tsalderek agent holding his finger to his lips.
Just then Dani jumped into the room, and kicked the man in the shins.
“Ya- ur- mph!!” He bellowed, trying to keep from making noise. “What are you trying to do?! Get us all killed?!”
“Whoops. Hi!” the girl cheerfully greeted.
The agent put his hand to his own face, and leaned up against the wall. “We’re all going to die, anyway.”
“What happened?” I asked with a shaky voice.
“What happened?!” he repeated in a harsh whisper. “It’s a bloody massacre! We don’t have a chance!”
“Massacre? Who did it? Was it Nahalore?”
He shook his head. “No way. These guys aren’t Nephilim, I don’t think. Nahalore never used tactics, or weapons like this. All the agents were in the seminar room, when we were hit by some kind of seismic attack. Part of the factory collapsed on us, and some of the agents were killed. Then, while we were trying to recover, these commando-looking guys came in, and started mowing us down!”
The agent shuddered, and attempted to continue. “A few agents stayed to hold them back, while the rest of us tried to run. After they dealt with our men who tried to fight them, they’ve been coming to hunt us down, killing and destroying everywhere they go!”
I felt sick with terror, but I couldn’t show it. Maybe this was what I was supposed to do, as the Shadowy One.
“OK. Thank you.” I said, and started to leave the room.
The man grabbed my arm again. “What are you doing?! You can’t go out there! You’re just a kid!”
“Well, I have to do something. I can’t just hide.” My voice quivered.
I was terrified, but something in me kept me from cowering somewhere. I knew there was nothing I could do to help, but I had to be there.
The agent cocked his head to listen.
“Ugh. It sounds like we still have people fighting back. Fine, let’s go. I won’t let you die out there.”
He cautiously looked out of the door, then signaled for me to follow. Dani and I came after the man, as he slowly moved down the hallway. The sound of the gunshots grew louder, until the corridor ended into a large open area. This huge expanse had been converted into a manufacturing center for our weapons and devices, but now served as a battlefield.
The enemy was dressed in black combat uniforms, and looked very similar to the Resident Evil Umbrella Corps. They fired with automatic weapons at the agents of Tsalderek, who were taking cover behind support pillars of the multi-level manufacturing area. There were bodies from both sides littering the ground, but the Tsalderek resistance was outnumbered. These men and women fought with swords and other ancient weapons, in addition to advanced technology.
I watched as an agent moved with incredible speed to the cover of a pillar, and reached around to cut down an enemy with his katana-like sword. It was then that I recognized who it was. Takeji! He was still alive and fighting! After this move, the troopers turned their attention on him, and opened fire.
As he retreated toward a side room, I started to panic.
“He’ll never make it!” I shouted.
Before I knew what I was doing, I dashed out of the cover of the hallway, and around the perimeter of the factory area. Dani tried to follow, but our escort caught her.
“No! You’ll get killed for sure! Stay there!”
With that, he pulled out two automatic pistols, and charged into the room. Shouting a battle cry, the agent laid down suppressive fire to keep the enemy’s attention away from Takeji and me. He took out three intruders, before a bullet to the chest ended his life.
I didn’t even know the man’s name, but he had just died to protect Takeji and me. I cried a little bit, but forced my legs to keep running. I reached the side room just after my friend. As soon as I made it inside, Takeji picked me up by my shirt, and shook me hard.
“What are you doing out here!?” He scolded. “You’ll get yourself killed!”
“Cool it, Takeji!” Trinity was also in the room. “He’s just trying to help!”
The young man set me gently to the floor, and apologized.
“Sorry, Milo. We’re just in a lot of danger here.”
I nodded, but was too out of breath to speak. My eyes darted around the room. It looked like we were in some kind of product testing room. It was about 20 feet by 30 feet, with a number of devices on a central table, and a closet on the opposite side from the door to the open manufacturing area.
“What are we gonna do, Trinity?” Takeji asked, peeking out the door. “We don’t have many men left out there, and they’re closing in.”
“I have an idea, but it will only work if there are none of us left out there at all.”
Takeji turned away from the door to stare at her.
“Wait…you don’t mean-“
Suddenly, his body twisted and fell. A stray bullet had caught his leg. He limped away from the door, to the far side of the room. Trinity rushed over to him.
“Are you alright?” She moved to tend to him, when he forced through gritted teeth:
“Look- out- behind!”
She whipped around, to see one of the enemy soldiers in the room with us, machine gun raised. The intruder targeted the injured Takeji, and squeezed the trigger. In a flash, Trinity drew her katana, and deflected the first round of bullets. My eyes widened. That’s impossible!
Moving forward while defending herself, she reached the attacker, and plunged her sword into his chest. More gunfire started to enter the room. Pausing, Trinity looked Takeji in the eye.
“I have to do it, or you’ll all die here.”
With that, she grabbed some kind of large remote control-shaped device off of the table, and rushed out into the warzone.
“Trin! Wait! No!” Takeji shouted, but she was gone.
He turned to me.
“Stay here. I mean it.”
Then he hobbled out after her.
I immediately moved over to the doorway, and observed. I couldn’t not watch. What was she doing? Trinity took cover behind a support pillar, but the troopers were closing in. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then stepped out from behind the pillar. In an instant, she hurled the device into the middle of the enemy formation, and fired her pistol at it as rapidly as she could.
After the second shot hit it, a green pulse of energy erupted from the projectile, and a colossal explosion rocked the entire huge room. Just as she fired, Takeji had reached her, and tackled her to the ground, shielding her with his own body. He screamed in pain as the blast ripped into his back, but he held her tightly until the energy storm had subsided.
There was deadly silence following the detonation, and several pieces of debris clattered to the floor. After several seconds, Takeji rolled off of Trinity, and half chuckled.
“That was the only prototype of the thermal argon-fission bomb…nice…you did it.”
“Yeah, I was expecting to die there. Thanks.” She half-laughed as well. “I think they’re all gone.”
Out of nowhere, a hand grabbed Trinity by the shirt, and tossed her several feet away.
Takeji struggled to stand, but the newcomer put his foot on his shoulder, pinning him down. Trinity was injured, and tried to resist, but another man wearing a trooper uniform and mask lifted her into the air by her neck.
“Let her go!” Takeji screamed.
The man who had him under submission only pushed harder with his boot.
“It’s nothing personal,” the soldier holding Trinity sneered. “but your arrogant organization makes me sick. I’m going to enjoy watching you suffer for your pathetic philosophies.”
With that, he discharged an electric shock into the young woman. She screamed in pain, and he let off the current.
“Nephilim!” Takeji growled.
It was impossible to see the man’s facial expression, but the inflection in his voice belied his cruel, merciless grin. “How does it feel? No matter how strongly you believe something, it can’t help you. It means nothing!”
“TAKEJIIIIIIII!” Trinity shrieked again as he fired his electricity again.
“I SWEAR I’LL FRICKIN’ KILL YOU ALL!! I’LL SEND YOUR ASS STRAIGHT TO HELL!! I PROMISE!! YOU’RE DEAD!!”
The tormentor stopped, just to shout:
“You’re powerless! So close to being able to save her, but so far from being able to do anything!”
Takeji thrashed against the fiend holding him down, but was too injured from the gunshot and explosion to avail anything. I couldn’t rip my eyes away, as they electrocuted her again and again. My body was frozen, numb. I could barely hear her screams, like they were in a distant world. Takeji’s violent threats and writhing shouts also were muffled. How could this be happening?
After several minutes of torture, Trinity’s heart stopped beating.
“Aw…you’re no fun anymore!” The sadist laughed as he tossed her lifeless body to the ground.
Takeji thrashed even more, but his movements were still hindered by pain.
“YOU BASTARDS!! HOW COULD YOU DO THAT?! I’LL RIP YOUR FRICKIN’ HEADS OFF!”
The enemy standing over Takeji only laughed and stepped on him again. Suddenly, there was a gunshot, and this dominating man stumbled backward. The crack of the weapon snapped me out of my daze, and I turned to see who had fired the round.
Sagar was walking slowly and methodically into the area, a pistol in each hand. He repeatedly fired at the twin maniacs. The injured one and the killer both made a retreat, laughing as they ran from the headquarters into the night.
Immediately, Takeji crawled over to Trinity’s side, and tried to get her to respond.
“Trinity?! Trinity! Wake up! Come on! I know you’re there! Don’t leave me!”
He slapped her face, as if to wake her up from a deep sleep, but to no end.
Sagar solemnly looked at her.
“Takeji…she’s gone. There’s nothing we can do.”
Hot, vicious tears flowed from the younger man’s eyes.
“Where were you, five minutes ago, huh?! Why couldn’t you have come when she was still alive?!”
“I’m sorry. I was engaged defending the retreating agents, and I couldn’t get away. I wish I could have done more.”
The master turned away from the grieving Takeji, and walked toward me.
“I’m sorry you had to see this, Milo.” He said, sighing deeply. “I had no idea this was coming.”
“Wh-what happened?” I asked, trying not to cry.
“This has happened before.” He stated. “The last time was almost three hundred years ago, back when our base was still in the Mesopotamian area, our history shows we were attacked like this. Everything was destroyed, and our ancestors began to rebuild Tsalderek here in America.”
“It isn’t…Nahalore, is it?”
“I don’t think so. It’s someone else. A third party that we thought was long gone. They go by Teklos, an anarchist organization that hates what we stand for, and wants to see us completely destroyed. We’ve lost at least 150 people tonight, and the majority of our agents were killed.” He looked around the ruined building. “I don’t know how long it’ll take us to recover from this, but we will. We always have.”
We both looked at Takeji, still weeping bitterly over the body of his soulmate. The two of us were thinking the same thing. “Well, we can recover some things, but not everything.”
I tried as hard as I could to keep from crying. My head ached from trying to force back the tears, but I could still barely speak due to the sorrow.
“Sagar…is this…my fault?”
Sagar looked back at me. “No. None of this is your fault. There are things going on beyond what you, or even I can understand. Just don’t give up.”
Looking at the destruction, the death, the sorrow, I clenched my small fists. I promised to myself; I wouldn’t give up. I would be the best I could be. Nothing would stop me from growing stronger, and fixing everything that was wrong with this world.
“How long has it been?”
“You know you can never heal from this. Your mind, your body… neither can ever function properly again.
“I’m offering you another chance.”
“We can give you a procedure that will restore your body, but in the process, your memory will be erased. You will be unable to remember anything of your past life.”
“…Do it. I want to forget. I want to forget…everything.”