Chapter 15: Worth Dying For
If at all possible, I sincerely hope you never find need for my… gift.
These words, spoken by Freya just the other night, now suddenly came back to haunt Yuzuki as she brought Minoru his breakfast. That her gift was compressed and encrypted was disturbing; its resistance to her attempts at decompressing and/or decrypting it, even more so. But quite possibly the most ominous thing about it was what Freya told her, just before severing their connection.
He's important to you, isn't he, Yuzuki?
She'd tried to deny it, but Freya saw right through her. Yuzuki felt only slightly annoyed as she recalled this, though it wasn't exactly something she worked hard to hide. She made no secret of the fact that she cared for Minoru, but admitting the true extent of her feelings was another matter entirely. She was a persocom, he was a human; for there to be anything between them was quite probably little more than wishful thinking on her part.
Still, Freya saw through her. Freya understood, having herself come to love a human, however oblivious the human in question happened to be. Yuzuki wanted Minoru to always be safe and sound, and was more than willing to put herself in harm's way for him – in fact, she'd already done so, once before, and nearly paid a heavy price for it.
Freya surely possessed the same desire, and in her case, she also had the power to see it through –
She stopped herself there. It couldn't be, could it…?
And overthinking it helps you… how, exactly?
A feeling of trepidation took hold of her as she realized what Freya's gift could possibly be.
Yuzuki wouldn't resent her, no matter what happened, but she prayed she'd never have to find out what it was she'd been given.
Freya barely noticed as Shana got down from the van, decked Rei, and then dragged the both of them into the van.
She hardly reacted when the guard turned her away at the gate as usual, her movements all but mechanical as she scaled the campus walls to get in.
And when she beat Rei and friends to their classroom and then took her usual seat beside him, she just sat there, her head bowed in deep thought at what she just learned.
Her mind was on the gift she'd given to Chii. Quite literally speaking, Freya had given part of herself to her sister, to awaken if and only if she should come under attack, so she could always be protected. Needless to say, it was a gift she very much hoped her sister would never need.
Sadly, fate seemed to have other ideas.
Freya replayed the events in her head, as witnessed and then relayed by the fragment of her inside Chii. She'd just separated from Hideki on the way to Tirol when she was ambushed by Abstergo Agents. It seemed they hadn't learned their lesson, either, judging from their demand that Freya returned with them to Abstergo.
Perhaps they mistook Chii for her – or, more likely, they wanted to do to Chii what they'd done to Freya. Either way, it was at that point that her fragment took over and explained to them – in a manner of speaking – why trying to get her to come back would be a bad idea, and why trying to capture her sister would be even worse.
She was lucky that none of the Agents carried firearms of any sort – either that, or they had been ordered to capture and not eliminate her. Because for all that Freya's fragment retained all the skills she herself had, Chii herself had never been enhanced, which meant that anything that managed to find its mark on her would be just as lethal as it were to another human being. If she'd been a second slower on the dodging…
Freya shuddered at the thought.
Finally, the professor arrived. Glad of a reason to ditch that particular train of thought, Freya stood up and did as Rei and his classmates did.
Lorenzo Auditore got up from what was possibly the most highly sophisticated chair in the world, and was unsurprised to see Demeter standing right before him.
"Oh hi, Demi, good morning. Were you able to meet your sister?"
He'd just finished exploring the memories of possibly his most famous ancestor: Ezio Auditore da Firenze, one of the Assassin Order's Grand Masters, responsible for almost singlehandedly ousting the Borgia family from their seat of power. It wasn't even his first time, either. Time and again he'd followed the exploits of his ancestor from the moment his father and brothers had been hanged in the town square of his native Florence, until his death, at age 65, in that same place.
Lorenzo's sessions in the Animus were a very important part of his day. Just as he did his morning runs and exercises as a way of keeping fit, his daily forays into the life of his illustrious forbear kept his Assassin skills sharp by means of the bleeding effect. At its simplest, this was a way for him to assimilate the skills and knowledge Ezio had possessed in his lifetime.
Beneficial as it was, though, it wasn't without its dangers.
The truth was that the bleeding effect wasn't that far removed from multiple personality disorder, among other things. The chief hazard associated with it was that one may not be able to separate his own memories with those of his ancestors, and thus end up going insane. It already happened to one of their own, once before: Clay Kaczmarek, otherwise known as Animus Subject No. 16, who eventually committed suicide.
Nevertheless, thought Lorenzo, some risks were worth taking.
He just hoped that, when his time came, his brother-in-law would be able to handle it as well.
"Master?" Demeter said suddenly just before Lorenzo completely spaced out.
"I managed to meet up with Ceres, last night," she began, cracking a small smile.
"We had quite a bit of catching up to do…"
"Did you follow me all this way, by any chance?"
Ceres was confused as to what her twin was doing here. As far as she knew, Demeter had remained with their master while she went to live with their mistress.
Ceres knew that her sister did visit the Mikage house from time to time, but only if it was important. And if she'd followed her all the way here, it must have been very important indeed. And now that Ceres looked at her sister properly, she saw that she had a backpack slung over her shoulder.
She deduced that, whatever it was her sister needed to see her for, it had something to do with the backpack's contents.
"Not quite, sister. You'd already left the house when I came across you." At this, Demeter's face split into a mischievous little smirk. "I gotta admit, that girl's kinda sweet on you. Don't tell me she's your–?"
"No she isn't, Demi," Ceres cut off her sister fiercely; that was probably the most outrageous thing she'd ever heard, and she'd heard a lot of crazy things over the course of her life. "And don't change the subject, either. It's something to do with that bag you've been carrying, right?"
Instead of answering, Demeter withdrew a small, rectangular box from inside the backpack, which she opened and then showed to Ceres. It was what their master called the hidden blade, the iconic weapon used by members of his Order. The one Demeter showed her sister was an exact copy of the one she and their master kept on them at all times.
And Freya had one exactly like it, too, she remembered, though she'd yet to confront the blond persocom about it.
"Gifts for you all, he said," Demeter explained. "His specific instructions were for you to take one and keep it on you from now on."
"But why?" Ceres questioned. She knew perfectly well that her function as Oyuki's nanny was merely a secondary directive, and that her main function in the Mikage household was to ensure the safety and protection of the Mikage family at all times. But the thing was, she already carried a weapon around for that purpose. It was lethal enough already, and she hadn't had to use it at all until last night.
"Is Rei gonna get one of these, too?"
"I'm sorry, sister," Demeter offered a placating, conciliatory smile. "He didn't explain why you needed one. But if you ask me, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to have just the gun to rely on. If you were to get arrested, we might not be able to get you out. I mean, sure, we have connections of our own, but we're not quite as well-connected as Abstergo," she reminded her.
"You wouldn't be able to see Oyuki, Rei, the mistress, or that girl, ever again," she smirked at Ceres at the emphasized word, ignoring the look of betrayal her sister gave her. "Is that what you want?"
"Oh, and as for Rei," she added, referring to their master's brother-in-law, cutting off Ceres' retort at that last crack about her and Nanako, "His exact words were that he had a feeling he'd need it before long."
"Can you believe it, master? Ceres seems to have gotten herself a girlfriend!"
Demeter giggled at the thought. Lorenzo, who'd gone for a drink of water in the meantime, began to cough and gag at that particular update. He'd always treated both Demeter and Ceres as more than just automatons, but that did little to blunt the shock of what he'd just heard. So, Ceres had found love of her own?
It'd be something to tease her about if and when he saw them again.
But right now…
"Anything else, Demi?" Lorenzo pressed on. He wished he didn't have to keep on asking, but the problem was that his own measures to protect his family forbade him to be with them physically. As such, he relied on his twins – he smiled at Demeter as he thought this – to keep him updated on the daily goings-on at his wife's house.
"Yes, sir," Demeter confirmed. She stood up straighter as she felt her master's gaze upon her.
Then, slowly, she regurgitated everything else her sister had shared, leaving no leaf unturned.
Daniel Cross seethed inwardly as he received his subordinate's report.
He'd gone back to headquarters just yesterday, feeling that the higher-ups deserved to hear straight from his mouth exactly what he thought of their so-called Project Nephilim. He took them to task quite thoroughly, too, reminding them exactly how many of their own had died at the hands of that persocom. Even if they were to create this new one from scratch, he said, there was still no guarantee they'd be able to keep her under control, and then they'd have a job explaining the ensuing casualties to their employees' families.
Unfortunately, as Daniel himself had put so crudely, they still had their heads stuck up their asses.
They told him that considering how his subordinates hat yet to move in on her, they figured a persocom would be more successful. Said persocom, they said, would be subservient to their will anyway, so what could possibly go wrong? He imagined Regenschirm had felt the same way, until his own creation taught him otherwise.
Well, on your own heads be it. Idiots.
And just when he thought it couldn't get any worse, his subordinate gave him this news.
Daniel Cross was head of Abstergo's Operations Division; as such, it followed that his handpicked Agents would be the cream of the crop, the best of the best to have graduated the Animus Virtual Training Program. In all of Abstergo, the men and women under his command were supposed to be the deadliest. The most talented. The remaining 10% that was worth dying for – or, as would generally be the case, at the hands of.
And then some persocom made them all look like a bunch of bumbling buffoons.
Daniel knew there wasn't much his second-in-command could do about how things turned out, and so refrained from berating him. He remembered all too well what that persocom had done to his subordinates the night she escaped. If anything, he felt just as much, if not more guilt and responsibility for what happened, given that he hadn't been there to personally lead the operation.
However, his acceptance and understanding of such an awful conclusion to his team's most recent operation did little to stop him being upset at this recent disaster. He was wondering why the safe flat his team had commandeered seemed to be missing ten people, only to find out, much to his disappointment and horror, that Mancini had returned from his operation with ten operatives too few.
Apart from Mancini, whose current look reminded Daniel of himself when he'd been having more of those prescription meds than was good for him, the only one who had survived the disaster was Pinocchio, the youngest and least experienced member of his personal retinue. And all they had to show for it were horror stories of how their other comrades had been killed in front of them.
It wasn't a question of whether his men hadn't been good enough. They were indeed the best to have come out of Abstergo's training program, and even trained regularly with each other to keep the rust off. The only problem was, their enemy knew every one of their moves and how to counter them. And on top of her enhancements…
He sighed. This latest loss wasn't altogether surprising.
And as he laid down on his bunk to take a well-deserved rest, Daniel swore that he himself would make her pay for all she had done.