Chapter 25: Remorse
By now, at least half of the city was sleeping, safely snug in their beds as they gathered their strength for the new day to come. Even the commercial district, which earlier had been alive with activity, was now winding down as store owners closed for the night and went on home. Indeed, with the exception of those working the graveyard shift, and those few sleepless souls who would party on into the wee hours of the morning, it was safe to say the day had ended for most people.
However, she was not most people.
Indeed, she thought as she gazed down at the city from atop a skyscraper, her mission had just begun. There were certain persons she was to find and kill; it was the reason she was created, the purpose behind the endless hours she'd been made to spend hooked up to that machine, sharpening her skills against all kinds of opponents. At one point, as part of her training, she had more than a hundred of them at a time hunting her down in a huge virtual cityscape. She usually, but not always, won.
And even when she lost, she'd always manage to wreak utter havoc before she herself went down.
Such a record on her part was to be expected, considering that her primary target was every bit as dangerous as her – probably even more. The target in question was her shadow in every way, and even possessed abilities that were on par with her own. It was enough to make her nervous as to whether or not she could accomplish the task that had been set to her.
She quashed that thought. Of course she would. It was the reason why she had been created at all.
Without it, she was nothing.
Which is why I must not fail.
The sensuous, feminine lips that could be seen under the pitch black cowl curved upwards into a smirk.
Because unlike her, I'm not a failure.
With that final thought, she jumped off the edge of the skyscraper, arms spread wide as she leapt, gracefully, to land on the ground below.
That just about summed up the situation Demeter was in, she thought as she bent over backwards at the waist to dodge the frontal stab that sought to run her cleanly through the stomach. She recovered almost instantly, leaping forward to drive her dagger into her enemy's left temple – where the CPU for most persocoms usually was – but this attempt was met by a well-timed block from her adversary's right hand katar.
The persocom Assassin didn't have long to react, though, as she saw something flash by the corner of her right eye.
Demeter kicked her enemy in the side, knocking her into the blade's path just in time for it to strike, impaling the platinum-haired persocom in the back of the head. It stared up at her briefly, almost sadly, as if unable to comprehend what had just happened.
And despite herself, Demeter couldn't help but feel diminished as she looked back at it.
A moment passed. When the blade was withdrawn, the eerie glow in the persocom's bright eyes flickered and died, leaving it to fall limply to its knees like a ragdoll. Seeing her chance, Demeter somersaulted forward, over the heads of their enemies, before landing in front of Nanako and again settling into a fighting stance.
As one, her five remaining adversaries went rigid as flashes of light streaked across their eyes, a clear indication that they were being accessed somehow. Just as abruptly, they snapped back to reality, replacing their weapons in their sheaths, before leaping out of sight.
Nanako, who had huddled into a ball on a nearby bench, chanced a peek at the now-deserted street.
"…Is it over? Demi?"
Demeter didn't answer, still staring ahead at the space where her enemies had been mere moments ago. She'd always thought she and her sister were the only persocoms specifically created for combat; indeed, such an assumption on her part had always been supported by the information she went out of her way to gather on a regular basis. But after she'd found out about Abstergo's so-called Platinum Angel, and then those things…
Demeter's eyes fell on the one enemy she'd manage to defeat among them, still on her knees with that forlorn look on her face.
It couldn't be…?
She had a feeling she knew where this was going, but she hoped against hope she was wrong. Nevertheless, she faked a smile as she turned to face her sister's beloved.
"Yeah, pretty much. C'mon, let's not keep Ceres waiting."
"They're coming back."
In his office, Yoshiyuki Kojima looked up from his desk at Abstergo Japan as his main persocom gave him that update, later that night.
"Thanks, Kotoko. Anything happen?"
Kotoko was the first persocom he'd ever built by himself. She'd always been his favourite, even though he had at least 24 other full-sized persocoms at home. She started out life as a laptop-sized unit, albeit one with performance and specs placing her on par with most full-size models, which justified his fondness for her to a certain extent.
But though he was loath to admit it, the reason for that fondness lay in more than just her unusually high specifications, and was actually sentimental in some places as well. Whether or not he knew it, it was that sense of sentimentality that motivated his decision not to upgrade her for so long – though he told himself that Kotoko was powerful enough already, he knew in his heart that that wasn't the real reason.
He'd even gone out of his way to ask Motosuwa to give Kotoko back, some time following 'that' incident. Hell, he'd even bowed before him and asked him for forgiveness!
Given the increasing demands of his work, however – his recent project focusing on the creation of a line of combat-capable persocoms – he'd decided it was way past time that Kotoko was upgraded. He handled the internals for her new body, while she herself designed its appearance. Looking at her now, Kojima thought that she possessed a keen sense of aesthetics he was sure he'd never programmed her with.
Indeed, it had only been a week since the upgrade, but he'd yet been able to get over it. Kotoko's new body had already been the cause of straight males tripping over themselves in the street, and as a matter of fact, he himself –
Really, Yoshiyuki Kojima. Since when have you sunk so low?
"Koji-kun?" Kotoko prompted, recalling him to his surroundings. "Have you been spacing out again?"
She pouted; again, Kojima didn't remember ever programming her with such… personality. He realized, much to his confusion, that the way Kotoko now acted toward him wasn't that far removed from how a real girl would act around her boyfriend –
Alright, idiot. What kind of smoke have you been inhaling –?
Kotoko flicked her master on the forehead; she was starting to feel rather irritated that she wasn't getting his attention. He hadn't always been like this; usually Kojima was very alert, but he'd been randomly spacing out rather frequently as of late.
"Anyway," she went on, glaring reproachfully at Kojima as she spoke, "One of them got destroyed. I lost her signal a while back."
"It seems they'd encountered another combat model…"
The first thing Rei had done upon arrival at the compound, was to access the Animus located in his room.
"Well, well. Not bad for a newbie."
And the first thing he heard as he got out of there was Daniel's voice, praising him on how quickly he'd taken to the Animus Virtual Training Program.
The older man had been monitoring his progress as he went through a regimen Mancini and Pinocchio had gone out of their way to design for him: a training mode called Wanted, which pitted him against 11 computer-controlled adversaries, in a digital recreation of Renaissance-era Rome. Whoever had the highest score, obtained via the difference between kills and deaths, would be the victor.
"Oh, really, Daniel?" he tilted his head, puzzled. "You think so?"
Rei's performance, specifically his kill-death ratio, was nothing to write home about – 5 kills, 2 deaths – but it wasn't at all shabby, especially not for a first-timer. As the name itself implied, the object of Wanted Mode was to amass as many kills as possible on one's bounty, while at the same time eluding would-be pursuers.
For a training regimen meant to mold him into some badass SOB of an Assassin, thought Rei, it was rather fun and addicting.
"Of course!" Daniel laughed at the youth, patting him on the shoulder. "Give it time, kid, I'll tell you right now you could very well become the best we'll ever have."
The multiple personas available for him to adopt weren't bad, either. By far, Rei's favourite had been the one called Vali cel Tradat, otherwise known as The Sentinel; there was something about his tragic backstory, and consequently his status as a tragic villain, that appealed to him. His backstory described him as having deserted and betrayed the Assassin Order, but only because he himself felt betrayed by their execution of his idol Vlad the Impaler, and then the subsequent truce with the Ottoman Empire.
And… hell, he thought that The Sentinel was, for lack of a better term, a badass motherfucker.
It was amazing, actually, thought Rei; while in the Animus, he could move his virtual body just as easily as he did his actual one, maybe even more so. For one thing, he'd never imagined he could climb up a building, or jump from rooftop to rooftop – or for that matter, commit all sorts of twistedly awesome assassinations – but in the Animus, he'd been done all that and more.
Your favorite persona was someone who betrayed his comrades, huh…? Isn't that interesting?
I happen to know someone who betrayed the girl who quite obviously loved him.
Rei ignored his 'inner troll', albeit with difficulty. The fact of his betrayal of Freya, and his subsequent remorse, still hounded him, a knife in the guts that only coming home to her and begging for her forgiveness would cure.
And in his fixation on the pain he'd inadvertently caused the one he loved, Rei didn't notice as his stomach let out a low growl, much to Daniel's mild amusement. The older man roared with laughter, recalling him to the present – and allowing him, mercifully, to shut out his guilty conscience, at least for now.
"Oh, yeah, wanna eat?" Daniel asked as he made to open the door and exit the room, "I don't know about you, but I for one can't be in there for that long and not be hungry."
With that, he left the room, leaving Rei to his thoughts.
Please, Freya, wait for me.
I'm doing this for you.
And even as he thought that, Rei wondered how she was doing right now.
Freya stood by herself on the rooftop, staring up at the full moon as she thought of him.
By now, Rei's abrupt departure had sunk in, leaving Freya to ponder what was going through his head when he decided to go through with it. If Ceres was right, it all began when he met his 'accident'; not long after, he met Daniel Cross, who offered to train him if he joined them. He'd guessed, correctly, that Rei was probably feeling more than a little frustrated at himself, and played on that frustration – and, less forgivably, his love for her – to sway him to their side.
Try to see it from his point of view, said the voice of Ceres in her head, though Freya knew perfectly well she sat in the living room, caring for her charge. You of all people should know it's normal to want to protect the one you love. There's no doubt he knows just how deadly you are, but still…
The other girl was right. Freya's attempt to rationalize herself fell flat on its face, especially considering she herself knew she would have felt the same way in his shoes. Nor did it help for her to tell herself that she was probably the deadliest persocom in the world right now, and that she could protect herself and Rei quite well, because he knew that just as well as she did.
He knows that, Freya, and so do I.
But even then, I can't entirely blame him for feeling the way he did.
Ceres was right, then.
Thank you, Ceres.
Freya now knew what she wanted – no, needed – to do.