Chapter 17: My Soul
"Well, Motosuwa?" Freya prompted, utterly calm despite the suspicions she was certain Hideki had about her. "What's on your mind?"
Hideki hesitated, at a loss for words. He wasn't entirely happy with the 'gift' Freya had given Chii, but even he knew that Freya's intentions were good. And as he struggled to voice out his thoughts clearly yet politely, the look on his face was one that suggested that he had something stuck in his throat.
In the meantime, the tension that had permeated the air had become all but palpable. At least, Rei thought so, given how even Ueda and that girl with him were looking on. He reflected how it was a good thing that they'd arrived just as the shop was about to close, and that no one else was there to witness the confrontation.
Rei just hoped that it'd end well for all of them.
"Freya," Hideki began, having finally recovered his voice, "Do tell me. What exactly did you give Chii, and why?"
Freya snorted, laying Oyuki down in her stroller before turning back to face him. She bowed her head as she crossed both her arms above her chest and, clenching her fists, extended both her hidden blades. After a moment had passed, in which she took in Ueda and Yumi both flinching at what she had done, she retracted them both.
"What did I give Chii?" Freya echoed aloud, trying to maintain civility even as she felt a ripple of anger at what Hideki was insinuating, "You could say I gave her my soul – part of it, anyway. She is my sister, after all."
This she said as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Isn't the elder sibling supposed to look out for her younger sibling?"
Hideki's eyes narrowed as he tried to digest what Freya meant. Her soul? He remembered how, in another time, another Freya had told her about how she'd done the same thing before she died.
But given how this Freya was still in the process of recovering her memories…
Freya was one step ahead of him, though, as she proceeded to answer the question he'd yet to ask.
"I gave her part of my own self, to awaken if and only if she ended up being attacked by the ones coming after me. I didn't want it to happen, but right after you'd left her to go to school this morning, they showed up."
Freya trailed off, partly to gather herself, but also to give Hideki some room to take it all in. No doubt he'd have some vehement objections with respect to her gift to her sister, which she expected. But if he had any violent reactions, he at least deserved to know the whole story before voicing them out.
"Chii was attacked on her way here, by the same guys who took me and changed me. In case you haven't noticed, dear Hideki, Chii and I are twins. Even I can't blame them for mistaking her for me; they'd have to be blind not to look at her and see me instead."
Her little reminder came off a little more acerbically than she'd intended, but Freya wasn't sure she cared just now. She understood perfectly well that Hideki, too, cared about her sister, but she didn't like what he seemed to be implying. To his credit, though, he didn't answer, simply looking down at his shoes as she said that.
Yumi and Ueda, too, were listening intently, the looks on their faces torn between shock and fascination. Rei's face was carefully neutral as he looked on, not wanting to intervene where he wasn't needed. He hadn't known about Freya gifting her sister with anything, but it was her business, after all, and she did have a point about it being her duty to protect her sister.
Though he still couldn't entirely blame Hideki if he wasn't down with it.
Both Hideki and Rei felt a surge of shock and alarm at this. Despite Freya still gazing hard into Hideki's eyes as she resumed her spot beside Rei and Oyuki, the sound of her voice came from behind him – from Chii, who at the moment was acting nothing at all like herself. For one thing, the grim expression worn by Freya-in-Chii was one Hideki never thought he'd ever see on Chii's face.
"My fragment in Chii only awakens when she's attacked, or, like right now, when I awaken it myself. The fact that she exists is already an excuse for them to come after her, so I thought I'd make it so that I could protect her wherever she goes. The good news is that this fragment retains all the skills they programmed me with, so if anyone wants to capture Chii, they'll need to work for it."
Still Hideki said nothing as he did his utmost to make sense of it all. He still didn't like the idea of Chii doing the kind of things he'd seen her sister do in that video, but neither could he argue with what Freya had said.
The simplest way of interpreting Freya's explanation was that her gift allowed her to 'possess' Chii – which, come to think of it, was nothing new. But…
'Good news', huh?
If there's good news, then…
The next words that came out of the possessed Chii's mouth confirmed what he was thinking even before he could finish it.
There's bad news, too?
"The problem is, even if I can still pull off the same moves while possessing Chii, she was never enhanced the way I was. She can fight them off this way, but she can't take much damage, and if things become drawn-out she'll eventually run out of power. If that happens…"
Freya didn't need to finish her sentence; from the look on Hideki's face, he could figure out exactly what would happen then. If Chii were to run out of power in such a scenario, it'd be the 'Kojima incident' all over again… only this time, the odds of getting her back would be much, much smaller.
"Do remember, Motosuwa," she reminded him, her voice having lost much of its tension, "They gave me a perpetual power generator to support all my enhancements. Chii doesn't have them, which at least means she'll be able to hold out for a while, but even then, normal persocoms were never meant for those kinds of tasks."
Save for Rei, who already had at least some idea of what was going on, everyone was stunned at what Freya had told them. It seemed that Freya was even more different from Chii than she had already become, having been turned, both body and soul, into a killing machine.
"Believe me, Motosuwa, I don't like this any more than you do," Freya told him truthfully, this time using her own body. "If nothing else, it's probably a mercy that Chii won't be able to see or remember what happens whenever I take over her."
No sooner had she said this than the grim expression on Chii's face became one of confusion and befuddlement, indicating that Freya's fragment finally relinquished her control over her sister's body. She looked from Freya to Hideki, before joyfully glomping the latter.
"That was quite a fascinating bit of exposition," said an unfamiliar male voice as the door opened.
Hideki gasped in shock; he knew these two. Rei and Freya likewise turned towards the newcomers, the latter notably tensing as if preparing to release her hidden blades.
One was a tall male with a headpiece worn over his eyes, while the other was a female with untidy, spiky hair and piercing red eyes. Both of them were clad in black, which to Rei meant that they were probably aligned with some shady doomsday organization.
"Abstergo's Platinum Angel," greeted Zima, a thin smile on his face as Freya hissed in outrage at this stranger's use of her unwanted sobriquet. "I'm Zima. It's nice to finally meet you."
Back at St. Benedict's Academy, Ceres waited for Nanako to come out.
The sun was already setting, and still the girl hadn't come out yet. At least three hours had passed since Rei and Freya had come out of the gate, the blond persocom taking her cute little ward with them. Just so she wouldn't be too bored while she waited, she'd bought a light graphic novel at the bookstore just in front of the school, then read it as she sat at one of the many benches in the school's waiting area. It was a pretty good one, too, thought Ceres; yuri manga did happen to be a guilty pleasure of hers.
But by the time Ceres had finished reading, Nanako was still nowhere to be found.
At this point, Ceres was beginning to understand why Nanako had wanted to be walked home in the first place. She seemed to have had the rather unfortunate luck of having gotten night classes, which explained why she still hadn't come out even as Ceres' internal clock struck 6:30 PM.
The incident last night had no doubt served as a painful lesson for Nanako, which was why she asked her to accompany her home. Luckily for her, neither Lorenzo nor Sayuri had programmed Ceres with restrictions when it came to these things.
Her main task was to serve as Oyuki's nanny while safeguarding the Mikage family against threats, but beyond that, Ceres was pretty much free to do whatever she liked. For instance, there hadn't been a command barring her from helping Rei out with his schoolwork. More to the point, there was nothing stopping her from doing a favour to a girl who had possibly become her newest close friend. In effect, Ceres was already part of the Mikage family.
Their first meeting was rather outrageous, and there was no point denying it. Armed persocoms weren't exactly common in today's society, nor was it a common occurrence that a persocom saved a young girl from an attempted rape. Demeter would no doubt have something witty to tell her if she was here right now.
But however morbidly their friendship began, mused Ceres as she continued to wait, it wasn't any less a friendship than had they met under more mundane circumstances, and what complaints she did have about it weren't all that serious. If nothing else, neither Demeter nor her master would be able to call her out on it.
After all, helping people in need was something members of her master's Order did on a regular basis.
Ceres didn't even have time to look up as Nanako wrapped her arms around her in a tight embrace, just as her internal clock hit 7 PM. She made a mental note to suggest to the girl hugging her to get a better schedule as soon as possible.
"I'm so happy to see you, Ceres," Nanako beamed at the persocom as she let go, "Were you here long?"
"No, not really. C'mon, let's get you home."
Minoru sat back in his chair as he found a new message in his email, from one Dragonfly.
What could this be?
Yoshiyuki Kojima, also known among custom persocom forums as Dragonfly, was a friend of his, but in this case the word 'friend' was used very loosely. They argued a lot on the forums on all kinds of things when it came to custom persocoms, and of course, it had been him who'd kidnapped Chii that one time.
"What is it, L – Minoru?" asked Yuzuki as she came to his side. She was still fumbling with the name thing after Minoru had asked her to drop the honorifics when addressing him, though she was steadily getting better at it. He looked up at her, smiled, then pointed at his email.
Together they read through it, Minoru's face falling slowly but surely as he read each line. Finally, by the time they'd finish it, it was a grave look that adorned his youthful visage.
"'Project Nephilim'?" Yuzuki read aloud. "What could that be?"
Minoru didn't answer as he reread a certain part of Kojima's message: I'll inform you when I find out more. Project Nephilim… didn't that sound like…?
He had a very bad feeling about what he'd just read.