"The 'Les enfants Terribles' project was a government-funded operation to produce the perfect soldier. I was under the impression it was ended after the creation of Solidus snake, but it seems that the Snakes were too valuable a resource to waste. They reactivated the program to create the current Snake, no 7, that serves on the league. One must wonder if this was an ethical, or even necessary move. Regardless, the current Snake is an undeniable asset, although his mannerisms seem to differ from the original prototype. I've requested that I be allowed to profile him, but Arbiter has denied my requests. I'll have to discuss this matter with Eleanor."
Bowerstone Castle was eerily dark and silent at night. The elaborately decorated halls of the ancient house of royalty seemed to lose all their majesty and beauty once the moon went down. There was something else as well…a strange feeling of hidden darkness and fear. As if a great evil was lurking just underneath the surface, waiting to strike. Or perhaps it was just the lack of night sounds. Whatever it was, something oppressive in the air chilled the night guards for some odd reason. They almost wished the gargoyles could speak to them, if only to break this silence.
The entire castle was well-secured. Cameras and night-vision goggles saw to it no burglar would take advantage of the cover of night. Locked doors and lasers made sure any intruders wouldn't get far. And the patrolling guards would investigate anything the machines couldn't pick up. A common thief would stand no chance.
Snake was not a common thief.
A side door and one of Lara's lockpick tools would get him inside the grounds, but the castle was smarter than to allow any door to go unwatched. Snake's special goggles enabled him to see a security camera on the other side, rotating in a predictable pattern. There was no breathing guard in sight, and also a handy crate on one side of the door. After silently unlocking the lock, Snake patiently waited until the camera was looking away before making his move.
With only seconds to spare, Snake slipped through the door and clicked it shut behind him just as the camera started to pan back to his direction. The operative ducked behind the crate, labelled 'Westcliff Arena: food' just as the camera looked back at the door. All it saw was a closed door next to crate. Not an intruder in sight.
Snake would've chuckled if he hadn't known better. Now he was inside. His objective was to get to the control centre and shut down the security field. This had been the entrance closest to the centre, but it still wouldn't be an easy route to the security centre.
Then again, where was the fun in easy?
Snake smiled, and as soon as the camera was looking away he darted into the darkened halls of Bowerstone Castle.
"The legacy of Sight Readers comes to a close tonight at the Las Venturas Contest Hall. From it's humble beginnings as live entertainment at pubs and bars to one of the most popular bands on the planet, Sight Readers has had a truly unique history. Although the disappearance of guitarist Casey Lynch and several controversial decisions made by the band have recently tainted their reputation, they are expecting a full house of fans tonight to say farewell to the musical phenomenon."
Link felt like he was in the middle of a rather pushy whirlwind. Casey hadn't allowed the young man to argue in the slightest about their new priority. As soon as a toque had been provided to cover up his ears, Casey and Jimi had literally dragged him to Mindy's car and shoved him into the passenger seat. Before Link could protest or bring up Aven, the two had left Green Pipes point and were on their way to the Las Venturas contest hall.
By the time Link got his bearings back, they were already halfway to the concert.
Looking at Casey's furious and determined expression told Link that arguing would be completely futile, so with some reluctance he just sat back and took in Las Venturas as it sped past him.
To say this place was different from Hyrule was a monumental understatement. Here, everything was at it's absolute brightest and loudest. Neon signs advertising everything from hamburgers to call girls seemed to dominate the actual buildings – in fact, there seemed to be no buildings at all sometimes. Just neon. And there was always something to hear – music played at top volume, someone shouting at someone else, car horns, talking advertisements – Link was very grateful for the ear covering toque, otherwise he might've gone deaf.
Still, Link had to admit that this place had a sense of vibrancy and life. As if the circus was year-round and never stopped growing. Link found himself wondering if this is what Rapture had been like in it's heyday. This life was far from the peaceful existence of Ordon or the quiet community of Castle town. But there was something enjoyable about it all, and Link could understand why Casey liked it.
He was in the middle of pontificating this when the car abruptly stopped. Link looked up to see a huge red-and-white dome covered in graffiti and posters. Most of the posters were advertisements for the concert or propaganda for something called 'PETP'. The graffiti spoke about both, in less-than-polite terms. Link could hear loud music mixed with rude obscenities coming from inside.
Casey popped out of the car and bade Link to do the same. A little overwhelmed by his surroundings and the girl's forcefulness, the boy obeyed quickly. The two marched up to the door, where a rather bulky cat Therianth was standing guard.
"Got a tick- WOAH!" The cat did a double take on seeing Casey and Jimi. "I though you was…"
"It don't matter. Can you get my date a good seat for my final performance?" Casey motioned to Link. The lad was surprised Casey was referring to him as her date, but said nothing.
The cat smiled. "Gladly."
Casey turned to wink at Link. "You're gonna love this. Just…don't listen to what they're saying so much." She added as an afterthought.
Link simply nodded and blinked. Whatever the case, this was going to be interesting…
"Ya can't blame the band for wanting a new guitarist now that Casey's gone. It's not that we're mad that she's replaced, exactly. But really, the bassist's chick? I'm sorry, but she just can't measure up to Casey. Not only that, but the fact that this band is pretending nothing's happened even though one of theirs is GONE, not to mention that they're selling out to fucking Eric Sparrow when Casey told that reporter she'd never pull that…that is just bullshit! What a bunch of assholes!"
Aven didn't know what this 'Todd Snap' was talking about and frankly, he didn't care. Still, the talking head on the screen had mentioned Casey Lynch, and that was enough to warrant the elite's attention.
The Sangheili called himself every kind of fool once he realized Casey and Link had left while he had been checking his arsenal. He never should have taken his eyes off those damned humans for a second! Casey was a fool for abandoning the assignment for some selfish errand, and Link was weak to let himself be dragged along. Ultimately though, Aven was just as much to blame as they were.
What could possibly be so damned important to that chronicler that she'd deviate from the plan? Even if this assignment was a waste of time, she had no right to abandon it, or leave a…fellow operative behind.
By the time the elite had checked back into the house, the two operatives were already gone. When he had tried to interrogate Mindy, the girl's pet had blasted him out of the house and out of the park with that Aura attack. Aven landed on his back, surprised that a single blast could throw him that far and cursing that beast. Then again, maybe threatening the girl with his plasma rifle wasn't the best way to question her.
Whatever the case, Aven had been forced outside the park with no knowledge of where Casey and Link could have run off to. When he tried the commlinks, all he got was a loud noise that made him wince. He wasn't sure if that was static interference or just the noise of the city. His first thought was to return to the park to interrogate Mindy as well as get the carrier ship, but a talking box in a nearby store had mentioned Casey by name and shown her image, and he decided to watch.
Apparently, Casey was something of a celebrity here for her music, though why Aven couldn't understand. All he knew of her music was that irritating din from the hotel, and the noise clips the talking box had were hardly music to his ears. A lot of screeching and yelling and humans complaining about the band 'insulting her, selling out, disgracing their legacy, blah blah blah'. Aven had decided he was wasting his time with this box when something else came up.
"Well, whatever the case, it has been universally decided that Casey's band, Sight Readers, is playing their final performance tonight. The concert is being held at Las Venturas Contest Hall, which we will now go live to…"
An image of a red-and-white dome flashed on the TV screen. Aven decided to stick around for a little longer. Maybe this would actually be relevant.
The screen cut to a preppy looking human standing in the middle of a crowd of humans and Therianths. Their expressions were far from pleased. A loud screeching combined with the shouted obscenities of the audience almost drowned out the reporter as she tried to yell out her 'news'.
"Fans are still angry about the bands recent actions, and the performance of replacement guitarist Judy Nails has not satisfied them." The camera switched to the stage, and Aven got a look at the band Casey belonged to.
He was not impressed. All the humans on stage looked ridiculous. For some reason the three men on the stage had long hair that covered their eyes, which Aven simply shook his head at. What was the benefit of blocking your vision? The singer had a sleeveless shirt and jeans with holes that Aven thought about shooting into. The one with the large guitar had a long beard to go with his long hair, resulting in his face being completely covered. The one behind the drum set was heavier than the other two, but otherwise unremarkable.
The female was… odd. Her hair was bright pink and she seemed to have wrapped a pink skull-flag around her chest. Looking at her made Aven think of the bright targets of the shooting gallery. Maybe that was why the audience kept throwing things at her. From what the TV had said earlier, the 'fans' considered her music inferior to Casey's. His lack of respect for Casey's din notwithstanding, Aven could understand why. The screeching her instrument was producing was simply atrocious, not even synching with the noises of the other 'musicians'.
Then, something unexpected happened. The lights suddenly dimmed as an electric crackling filled the contest hall, causing everyone – band, fans and reporter – to become quiet. Then everything went dark…all except for the light on the female guitarist. The female (Judy, Aven guessed) looked around for a minute, confused. Apparently, this wasn't part of the show.
Then she was suddenly yanked into the shadows. The scene on the screen became completely silent.
And then someone very familiar stepped into the spotlight. Aven recognized her immediately, as did every other human in the contest hall. A loud roar of approval replaced the obscenities as the female human brought out her instrument and started playing.
Aven snorted. Was this important enough to abandon a mission? Even though it was probably a waste of time…no matter. Now he knew where to look. The elite turned and ran back to the carrier ship. Time to get this assignment back on track.
"C'mon Max, I'm just as good as that entitled bitch Casey! Think she's so high and mighty with her guitar playing. I can play too! You oughta know that better than anybody Max. You've heard me play. Look, I'm sick of playing second fiddle for that bunch of nobodies back home. Get me into Sight Readers or we. Are. Over."
The security inside Bowerstone castle was tight, but not unmanageable. Snake was able to evade the cameras by moving quickly through the shadows. Security cameras were painfully predictable sometimes. All one needed to do was memorize their patterns and duck under them.
The human security was a different story. The guards were well-trained, and wary of small noises or odd shadows. Snake had to frequently stay stock still for what seemed like hours before they passed and he could proceed. Fortunately, most of them didn't notice anything unusual and no one found him.
Snake glanced around a corner to find what he was looking for. Down the hall was a thick iron door guarded by two soldiers, their backs to the wall. They were carrying pistols and …Snake blinked. Sabres? He had heard Albion was old-fashioned, but this was still quite odd. No matter. He needed to get through the door. He could see a keycard lock on it, something that Lara's tool wouldn't be able to work on. He'd need to get the key from the guards.
As a plan was formulating in his mind, unexpected footsteps suddenly came close to his position. "Wha – "
Before the guard could react, Snake had gagged his mouth and struck like lightning. A single punch in the right place knocked out the patroller, and Snake set him down silently. Not a single noise had been made.
Snake's first though was to take the guard's uniform, but that idea was tossed out quickly. He still wouldn't be able to get past the door without someone noticing, and it would still look suspicious. Besides, the uniform was too large for him. However, he could still use this situation to his advantage…
The two guards at the door had been standing there for several hours with nothing happening. Then, they both heard a thump and saw a gloved hand hit the floor just a few feet away, around the corner to another hallway. Because the body was close by to their post, they saw no reason not to investigate it themselves. The two guards ran over to check on the fallen patroller.
Their eyes were on the ground and the unconscious patroller as they rounded the corner. If they had looked up, they might've noticed the stealthy operative clinging to the ceiling like a spider waiting to strike.
And in a heartbeat, he did strike. Before the guards could turn around to see what made that quiet thump, their heads were grabbed and smashed together by strong hands. The two soldiers blacked out and fell to the floor, joining their comrade. Snake smirked and took the keycard off one of them.
Swiping the card, Snake opened the door to see another man watching the security screens. He was taken out before he even turned around. Snake began to press a few buttons on the security console, and several doors and security measures were opened. A few words in to intercom system made the remaining guards move to a specific location, and a few buttons sealed the guards in that room. The guards all cursed angrily at the cameras, but Snake only chuckled.
"We own this place now, Arbiter." He said into his commlink.
"Then let us begin. Lara, Rtas, you are with me. The rest of you, investigate the rest of the mansion. Lara and I will check the vault, but it is possible that the owners have chosen to hide this Prognosticus in plain sight. Be thorough, and take nothing else. Move out."
Snake noticed a flash of color on a screen out of the corner of his eye. When he turned to look at it, the screen only showed a dark hallway. Snake shook his head clear. Now that the security was offline, things should proceed normally.
"Hey baby, it's Eric. Been a while, hasn't it? Ya haven't forgotten Eric. Well, listen babe, I got a business proposal for ya. I need some music for my latest skate video, and I want Sight Readers. I got you hooked up with those guys, I got you hooked up with a record deal, I let you hook up with ME, now it's time you did something for me. Think about it, girl. You owe me."
At first, Link was a bit too overwhelmed by the noise of the concert to really enjoy the spectacle. Everyone in the huge room just kept shouting louder and louder, regardless of whether they were yelling obscenities or cheers. He could barely tell the difference between the shouting before Casey retook the stage and after Casey retook the stage. What more, the lights were almost headache inducing and the smell was…not too pleasant.
But as Link managed to tune out the crowd's roars and focus on the music itself, he found himself enjoying this as much as he enjoyed Casey's song at Fort Frolic. Casey was every bit as skilled a musician as the fans claimed she was. In fact, the band playing beside her made the music…fuller, for lack of a better word. However, Casey was right about the lyrics…the singer yelled about stuff Link didn't understand and somehow didn't want to understand.
It didn't matter. He still liked this experience. The time went by with him barely noticing when a familiar voice came up next to him.
"I'M DISAPPOINTED, LINK! I WOULD'VE EXPECTED BETTER FROM ARBITER'S PET!" Aven had snuck into the concert with his camouflage armour and had come up beside Link. He was as frustrated as ever, considering he had to shout out in order for Link to hear him. He would've protested, but then he realized Aven had every right to be angry.
The hidden elite glanced up at the stage. "LET US GO. WE ARE WASTING TIME HERE. GET THE CHRONICLER AND…"
Link shook his head. "WE'LL ATTRACT TOO MUCH ATTENTION, JUST WAIT UNTIL IT ENDS!"
"THEY'LL NOTICE IF WE TAKE HER NOW, JUST WAIT A LITTLE LONGER!"
Aven blinked, and then rattled off several Sangheili curse words under his breath as he realized what Link meant. Casey was the centre of attention here, and if they dragged her off the stage now they'd have this mob to contend with. It'd be better to wait until the concert ended and they could slip Casey out the back door.
More wasted time, Aven groaned as he covered his ears. He hated this noise, but there was no way he was letting these two out of his sight again.
"In response to your oh-so-generous offer, Eric? I owe ya nothing! Zip. I repaid you for the record deal night after night and I am DONE with you! We don't need your sponsorship, we got enough money as it is. And do you really think we'll associate with you? You're a grade-A sleazeball and everyone knows it! You really think that fake tapes a secret? Bottom line: SCRAM, SPARROW!"
The concert finally ended late into the night, and Casey went backstage to have a reunion with her band. They all looked surprised to see her, but not exactly pleased.
"Casey! What…happened to you?" The singer asked, trying to sound concerned.
"I was abducted by aliens." Casey responded, rolling her eyes. "But enough about me, let's talk about you guys! How you been holding up?"
Jimi ran up to her just then. The Pikachu (who had been responsible for the light show earlier) hopped onto her shoulder, much to the guitarist's glee. "Good boy, Jimi."
"Uhhh…we…" The bassist, Max, tried to come up with the right words. "It's been hard! Nobody seemed to come to our concerts anymore."
"Wonder why." Casey cast a rather dismissive glance at the pink punk on Max's arm. Judy simply glared back, not saying anything. "When did they sign you on, Judy?"
"Just after you ran off!" Judy retorted before anyone could stop her.
Max tried to cover for her. "Well, we needed a guitarist…"
"Fair enough, but you even LOOK for me? Acknowledge that I was missing?"
"It doesn't matter!" Spyde, the singer, hurriedly interrupted. "You're back now! Sight Readers is gonna be big again!"
"Wait…didn't you say this would be the last-ever concert?" Casey pointed out.
Spyde was stuck for words for a few minutes. "Uh…well…y'see..."
"Lemme guess. It was the only way you'd draw another crowd." Casey's frown deepened.
Casey shook her head vigorously. "Unbelievable. Just…I can't believe this. You keep it up without even acknowledging I'm gone, you piss off the fans with a lousy replacement, and now you pull this cheap trick just to get a buck? And you've signed on with fucking SPARROW?"
"Speak of the devil." Casey groaned as the aforementioned skateboarder strode into the room. "Hello, Eric."
"Hello, Casey! It's so good that you're back! I take it you heard your band has more sense than you?"
The other members shook their heads vigorously, trying to silently silence the man. Casey, however, kept up the inquiry. "Yeah, I hear they sold out to you. How much?"
"$1500 for the background music to my latest video. Had to use recorded footage of your playing though. You're replacement's lousy." He made an incredibly dismissive gesture at Judy, who would've cheerfully strangled the bastard if Max hadn't held her back.
"Buuut now that you're back…"
"I ain't back. You said this was a final concert? This is my final concert. You jerks do whatever the hell you want. I've done my grand finale now. I'm going."
"WHAT?!" They all yelled. "Where are you going?"
"Let's just say the aliens gave me a job offer."
Just then, a young man wearing a toque and a military jacket walked in. "Casey? We need to leave now."
Sparrow looked at the boy with scorn. "This is your better offer? This poser?" The man walked right up to the youth and spat at him. "You think you got Casey? Bitch's mine. She's been mine since the beginning. So why don't you just run off and…"
Link's fist promptly connected with Eric's face, and almost everyone felt like cheering. As Eric lay on the floor with a bloody nose, Casey stepped over the sleazeball and linked arms with the youth.
She allowed herself to smile and gave one last goodbye to the band. "It's been fun, boys. See ya." Turning around, she and Link walked away from the band formerly known as Sight Readers.
Eric wiped his nose clean and started to yell again, calling Link and Casey every obscenity know to humanity at the top of his voice. He was suddenly silenced when he attempted to give them the finger and some invisible weight crushed his hand. Eric screamed for several minutes before sobbing in a fetal position, cradling his hand.
The rest of the band just watched as Casey and the young stranger strode out the back door, the door closing behind them. They blinked when the door opened and closed again with nobody there. After shaking their heads, they all left the contest hall.
Sight Readers was over.
"Dimentio wants to use my castle for his little plan. He won't tell me anything, and neither will Wesker or Robotnik. What do they want? They tell me I'll be able to what I wish with the castle once they're finished. Unfortunately, knowing Wesker, he won't brook any arguments or delays. Fine. But I better learn more soon. I hate being kept in the dark."
Back in Bowerstone Castle, the search had begun. The soldiers were searching every bookshelf, every corner, every nook and cranny in the castle to find the hidden prognosticus. Snake could see them all from the security office. He could also see Lara and Arbiter, working their way into the large vault in the basement. More than likely the Prognosticus was there, but Lara felt that the book could be hidden in plain sight.
And there were certainly a lot of places to hide. The soldiers kept reporting more crates, hidden passages, and locked chests every minute. There seemed to be more treasures hidden in the castle than could be held in the vault. Maybe Lara had a point to investigate the entire castle, Snake thought to himself.
Suddenly, all the screens went black. Snake blinked, and then tapped the keyboard and buttons in front of him. No response. Did the power go out? Whatever it was, he couldn't see any of the operatives. This might be a problem.
"Arbiter? Lara? Come in. The cameras are out." There was no response on his commlink. "Arbiter?" Still nothing.
In fact, none of the operatives were responding, even though they were fine seconds ago. The commlinks were down. This was not good.
Snake quickly vacated the security office. He'd have to contact his superiors the old-fashioned way. Something was very wrong here.
Sergeant Taylor didn't think that an ancient evil book would be shoved into the library bookcase, but orders were orders. She was halfway through investigating the shelves of Albion's fiction when she heard an odd noise behind her. It was hard to describe…the best she could think of was whatever instrument they used to make magic sounds in children's movies.
Before she could turn around however, something happened. In a flash, the bookshelves disappeared and the floor under her feet was gone. The sergeant found herself falling through space, screaming in shock and surprise.
She landed hard on something metal. Taylor quickly got herself to her feet and looked around. Slowly but steadily her vision cleared and she could get a good look at her surroundings.
What happened? Where am I? This was not Bowerstone Castle. What was this place? The walls were grey steel, and their seemed to be elaborate circuitry imbedded in the floor and ceiling. Taylor tried to steady herself and found her hand was touching glass. She was inside a glass case. To her left and right were fellow soldiers dropping into similar glass tubes. What the hell's going on?
She looked in another direction and gasped. Sitting in front of her with a sadistic grin on his face was someone she recognized. Ivo Robotnik.
The mad doctor pulled a lever beside him, and the glass tube came alive with painful electricity. Taylor and the other soldiers screamed in agony, nearly drowning out Robotnik's crazed laughter.
The last thing sergeant Taylor heard was a different voice's maniacal laughter, and then everything went black…