A sole hunched figure lounged on a rather ornate throne, upon closer inspection you would see the smaller silhouette of a child in a gown sitting atop a coffin, her legs swaying back and forth. Despite the darkness that filled the hollow room, beams of light trickled through the cracks in the windows, revealing it to be day and giving enough of a hint to show the crouched man staring ahead at a giant painting. It seemed far too dark to make out even the slightest vestige of what the art depicted and yet the man gazed fervently.
"How many left?" The voice traced back to the silhouette of the girl, her twin tails swaying as she tilted her head to regard her partner.
"They are closed, each and every Red Door," the larger of the two replied, his tone weary.
"Then why are we still lingering here?" The girl responded except in another's voice, spoken in a callous monotone.
"Because I desire it so and so it shall be!" The hunched figure scoffed while sharply turning to regard the one who spoke with such audacity to one such as he. Even in this darkness his spectacles shimmered an eerie silver, reflecting the light from the fleeting rays of light. His expression eventually became one of shock, highlighted by his raised brow as he gazed upon the hurt that lay hidden behind his partner's face. He couldn't recall a time where he had ever behaved in such a way, at least not with her.
"I apologize little one," the figure returned to his hunched position, a hand shielding his face from the shame. "You should have stayed at A.M.R.O. as I am now....I am nothing more than a mons-"
"Do not presume to tell me where I should be," The girl interrupted, her tone still cold and yet possessing a diminutive quiver. "And do not presume to tell me what you are, you are Angel." The girl concluded, a strange duality present in her tone as she spoke as if two people spoke the same sentence, their voices overlapping each other.
Angel merely responded with a sigh followed by a weary groan as the towering Lost Number stood to face the Chrono, his expression a blank mask followed by a smile. "Ever since you were little you used to climb and sit there and then pretend to be too scared to get down. It took me a considerable time to finally realize it was just your coy way of getting a piggyback. Far too clever. Come now, I am sure Mr. Butler has returned with the panda cub I was intending to surprise you with, it should serve as a less dreary company for the mean time."
As Angel turned to walk away he felt the familiar arms of the tiny little girl that would pretend to cry while sitting on top of his coffin and beam with a bright smile when she would see him walking towards her, his hands often busy with one or the other chores required when raising a child hence always offering his back for the child to cling onto. And so the two made their way through the door leaving it wide open so the light could finally shine on the painting. A tall handsome man standing next to a white haired fragile looking woman with a child of four in their arms.
By the time Geko and Yin and entered the large room and taken a seat at the enormous round table, it was quite evident they were running a bit tardy.
"I told you the meeting time was 2 pm and not 3,” the woman scoffed at the older of the two."
From her features it was quite easy to place her ethnicity as Asian, leaning towards Chinese which was further stressed upon by her choice of cultural dressing. Her long hair bundled in a bun with a few loose strands shaping her face, an assortment of accessories and brooches adorning her hair. In regards to her clothing, she wore a red Cheongsam dress with gold embroidery that fell to her calves, a slit ensuring comfortable movement along with simple combat boots.
"What are you talking about kiddo, I was the one that said 2 and you said we have an hour so you went off to fix your hair, which if I may say is extremely impractical, it is attractive though." The older of the two replied his tone fluctuating from what began as defensive, then accusing and finally inviting, his leering gaze gifting him a firm kick to the shin.
"Allow me to introduce myself, I am Ying Laofeng and this old pervert is." She seemed to ponder his name until final clasping her hands at the remembrance. "Geko, I would warn the ladies here. He can be a nuisance." Despite Yin's insults, Geko remained silent aside from slight whimpering as he massaged his bruised shin. The old Lost Number appeared well above forty though anyone who had heard of the name Geko knew of his rather legendary status as the longest living Lost Number in A.M.R.O history, a man who had eliminated a Chrono that had bordered on going insane and finally the only Lost Number to operate without being partner to a Chrono, the thirteenth Lost Number.
"At least I ain't no virgin, girl. Never going to find yourself a decent man if you this violent." The old fellow commented, barely looking as the female Lost Number turned crimson and her gaze bordered on shame and murderous intent.
"Ummm this is the briefing room, yes? I was...umm...told to attend....and well...I...umm...this is the place?....I am sorry for being late...I got lost....would it be possible to...umm...start from the beginning? All I know is we are going to find…. someone?" The diminutive looking man that stood before the Asylums and Lost Numbers only seemed to shrink under their gaze.
"We are to locate Ante Mortem," Yin replied in a matter of fact-ly tone.
The frail looking fellow only gazed at the Lost Number, a look of gradual shock spreading as his gaze shifted to the banshees, the experimental team and SenDep. The look of shock turning to horror as he remembered all the rumors. The Banshees: blood crazed lunatics that slaughter at the command of Ante Mortem seeking to summon their Celtic Goddess of death who would become Angel’s bride, SenDep: Survivors of a demon cult that seek to bring ruin under Ante Mortem and resurrect their cult of demon worshippers. And finally the Experimental Team: Asylums that went insane, died and were resurrected by Ante Mortem hence immune to death alchemy such as the Death Drive. They had garnered a title known as the Devil's Horsemen.
"Oh..we are going with ‘them' to locate Ante Mortem?" The frail man replied with a hysterical smile and then vomited over the floor.
”No.” Maeve said flatly, distastefully eyeing the vomit. ”Not just no. Fuck no. I’m not going to go running after Angel and Reri when they’re in a mood like this. Gods only know what they’d try to do to us. In case you’ve forgotten, Kiara and I are the longest team to survive being sent on missions with them, and everyone else in the room represents the second longest teams. They’ve handily killed or injured, either through accidents or intention, everyone else. And you want to send us after them when they’re in a violent ‘leave us alone’ mood, with this guy to back us up? Fuck that, I like living. Send another Chrono team after them.”
Kiara sighed quietly, shaking her head. ”While crude, Maeve brings up a good point. Why are we being sent after them. We’re no stronger than the other teams that failed to retrieve them, and I’m sure Randoul and Terra would be delighted to go get Ante Mortem themselves. We’re just going to end up getting hurt or worse.”
”And that’s exactly the reason why we are being sent after them.” Lawrence set the now solved megaminx puzzle down on the table. He glanced over at the man who had just vomited on the floor. ”Well, that, and” he gestured towards the man.
”We ‘survived’ working alongside Ante Mortem longer than anyone else, and we’ve gained the rumors that come with it. Rumors that, regardless of the scale of truth behind them, have tainted our image amongst A.M.R.O. I think over time, we might start being blamed for things like what happened in Nep-”
”We don’t know that for certain.” Oliva interjected. She sang a melody under her breath and the vomit lifted itself off the ground and flew into the trashcan in the corner of the room. Better there than on the floor.
”It could be because we among anyone else have a closer connection to them. It could also be that they’re wanted back alive, and there’s less of a chance that we would kill them after working, and surviving, with them”.
Lawrence shrugged and picked up his puzzle again. He mixed up the pieces and went back to solving it.
Samad scoffed. He rose from his seat, his palms pressed into the table’s surface and his weight leaned into them. Usually, he rather remained silent in this situation, but his eyes glanced at Cade. It was enough to point out one cold, hard fact they knew existed. His eyes turned to glare at Alistair before he spoke his mind.
“I’m not eager about it either. The last encounter has left some of us in worse condition than others, leaving scars on all of us that I’m certain haven’t fully healed.”
He lowered himself back to this seat and asked the question he had managed the courage for, “Has someone high up in ARMO ordered us on this mission?”
“Yes,” Alistair confirmed in a serious tone.
It seemed the man was almost -if not more- patience as Samad himself. Samad sighed when he glanced once more at Cade. His partner sat at the table looking small as possible. There hadn’t even been a reaction to the discovery they would be going after Ante Mortem.
“Then it’s obvious we don’t really have a choice about accepting, so there’s no point in pretending we do. Unless someone wants to see what happens to Asylums that fight a superior’s decisions… I personally do not.”
He looked at the four others to note their reaction. He doubted they were willing to risk angering someone high on command’s food chain, unless they were stupid.
“The only ones that have a choice in this matter are Laofeng and Geko, the rest of us assigned do not.”
“Why is that you don’t have a choice? You’re an overseer, aren’t you?”
Samad’s voice asked in a suspicious tone, noting a fact that Alistair hadn’t made public yet.
The man inhaled softly then replied in an even tone.
“I see you’ve noticed Zak and me talking,” Alistair continued without waiting for an answer, “Yes, I’m an overseer. However, I’ve decided to join the mission regardless of the danger to ensure the rest of you make it back alive and in a decent condition.”
Alistair looked at Maeve then commented on her backing down from a challenge, “I’ll admit when I read your profile, I didn’t expect your last answer. Of course, reading is much different than actually meeting you in person.”
”I like a fight. I also like living. Reri’s nearly killed us before because she was in a bad mood or throwing a tantrum. I don’t want to find out what her actually trying to murder us would be like.”
He took a sip of coffee nearby before he continued to address each comment in order.
“Ante Mortem’s Reri critically wounded Terra’s partner, the Lost Number Silverfield. He attempted to intercept and prevent them from leaving. Any revival teams have been seriously wounded and barely managed to make it back so I understand your concern.”
”Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.” Maeve muttered, earning an elbow from Kiara.
His words were smoothly linked with genuine empathy when he turned to Olivia and Lawrence.
“ARMO hasn’t any issue with any of you. Someone felt having familiar faces approach the pair would increase chances of success,” He then pointed to Maeve, this time to address something she had said prior.
“As you kindly pointed out, you’re the longest surviving team followed by the rest of you. I’m not a strong believer in outrageous luck, but you all either have it or one of them placed value on your lives. According to Angel’s personality profile, he doesn’t strike me as a Lost Number that wastes his time on people he’s indifferent to. Reri views everyone of lesser power as a bug, while her other side idolizes her older ‘brother’.”
His hand reached for a folder sitting next to him.
“By the way, I’m just as ‘thrilled’ about this as you all are. Especially since I’m missing pieces of the puzzle. I feel you all could fill me in on what happened and explain their behavior, allowing us to remain safe.”
As Maeve descended into quiet sulking, Kiara spoke up. [color=darkgeen]”Since we have no choice in this matter, next question, what’s he doing with us.”[/color] She pointed at the man who had recently vomited, and still looked afraid of them. ”He looks like he’s almost as afraid of us as he is the Ante Mortem.”
“Mr. Andrew Dwight is more of a scientist when it comes to cases and will be assisting in the second part of the assignment.”
Alistair held up the folder then opened it, verbally informing them about the mission.
“If Ante Mortem comes along or not, we’ll be heading to investigate an island town off the coast of England. There’s some odd alchemy readings over the two weeks. Several investigation teams have been sent, but none have returned. Our goal is get in, collect whatever information or samples we can, and leave alive. We are going to be the last team sent in before they decide to remove the possible threat.”
Andrew who by now had stopped heaving stood pale and in silent observation, his downcast gaze stealing peeks at the individual members and ultimately resting on Alistair whom he viewed as the least intimidating and or murderous individual in the room. Overseers were largely viewed as passive bystanders by many and a nuisance by most. They were a loophole in the system which the Chrono Tabion had capitalized on. It is widely understood that A.M.R.O’s politics is governed by the twelve Chronos, each who has dominance over a region in the world, each possessing a personal army as well as the perk known as ‘Parle’. Parle was originally designed as a haven personally belonging to said Chrono and as such all had to respect it. If the parle is ever broken it would bring the wrath of all Chronos upon he who breaks it. The infamous club, Ourosboros is but one of the Parle locations and while there include many others Tabion was the single Chrono who deemed his Overseers as Parle and as such no Asylum, Lost Number or Chrono can kill an Overseer. This single attribute has made the Overseers a nuisance which is heightened only further by their purpose, to monitor the activities of other Chronos and Lost Numbers. The position however is anything but envious as several Overseers tend to find themselves the victim of unforeseen “accidents”.
“I...am..um..an alchemic researcher actually,” Andrew finally replied in a passive whisper. “As Mister Alistair pointed out...umm...there are strange alchemic drive patterns being observed. Normally we would dismiss it….but….but the initial data shows it to be spreading then entering a state of dormancy and then becoming active….so one could surmise...” The Asylum continued, shrinking under the gaze of his audience.
“Basically A.M.R.O fears the minute possibility it could be an Alchemic pandemic,” Yin interrupted while stifling a yawn. Her accent rich with her Chinese heritage.
“Angel isn’t the most reliable fellow,” Geko continued unable to resist a cough, trying to tactfully describe the Silver Reaper was quite the taxing task. “But we can’t dispute his Knowledge or the capabilities of little Reri. Now normally Ante Mortem would not behave the way the did, they avoid unwanted attention.” As Geko spoke his gaze flickered across the team of Asylums present, scrutinizing them as if contemplating the possibility they had a part to play. “We have to assume something happened and to avoid future casualties Yin and I will be accompanying you lot.”
“Really old man?” Yin scoffed, a grin spread across her face. “You were rambling on how this was not what you signed on for, did you change your mind because you realized there are four beautiful women on board?”
“I count three beautiful women and a child, why don’t you grow in the right places then we can add you to that list eh?” The old Lost Number crowed as he turned to face Yin who once again had turned red, whether from embarrassment or anger was debatable.
Andrew on the other hand was now clutching what appeared to be a tribal talisman, one akin to warding evil, while cautiously glancing between Maeve, Kiara, Olivia, Lawrence, Cade and Samad.
“You guys never really answered the Leech?” Yin finally replied, her anger subsiding to a simmering rage and her use of the derogatory term for the Overseers revealing what she thought of them. “What exactly caused Ante Mortem to….leave?”
”Our link disturbance coupled with our month’s stay on the Pods. I believe that Angel was attempting to take Samad and Cade to the void to work some things out, but he ended up bringing Reri, us, and Bean Sidhes into the void with them.”
Lawrence leaned forward in his chair. ”The extra people called to the void must have destabilized it. We each had to face our Red Door to escape, with the exception of Reri. Angel had given her a way out. I lingered to see how Angel faced his Door.”
Lawrence shifted in his seat. ”I wasn’t expecting the number of Doors he had to deal with. Our Doors were either a source of insight, something we already knew, or something scarring.” He glanced between Olivia, Samad, Maeve, and Cade as he spoke.
He looked back at Yin. “I couldn’t imagine what enough doors to surround someone would do to a person like Angel..
Politely, Alistair let the Lost Number and Chrono exchange insults during their conversation. His attention zoned in on Yin’s sudden anger followed by her insisting on the others answering the question. During the insult, he retained a cool and indifferent expression. In fact, it appeared this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for him.
Samad looked away from Lawrence when the elder man mentioned them. His arms crossed over his chest while he settled back into his chair, his legs straighten out underneath the table.
“Nothing good. We all have our own demons we rather forget and I’m sure he has a ton in his closet. It does explain what caused Ante Mortem’s bizarre behavior. This has become much more difficult than I wanted it to be,” Alistair sighed then projected his thoughts to Samad in private.
“I suppose you’re not going to share why Angel took it onto himself to take you both into the void?”
Samad just glared at him. That was an obvious no from him. It was the answer Alistair expected and simply took a breath, “I thought not, but I was hoping your profile might’ve been exaggerated Samad.”
“If any of you have additional questions, now is the time to ask them. Afterward, we’ll be heading out.”
The silence in the room seemed to say enough, all the Asylums knew what needed doing regardless of their opinions. A chaotic alchemic drive had been observed emanating from a village, the alchemic energy behaving in a manner akin to a virus and or epidemic. That alone was reason enough to realize the importance of this mission. Once an alchemic epidemic spreads and becomes fully active, the only means of stopping it via destroying every last source of it. Geko knew all this and also knew why they were ordered to find Ante Mortem. Reri’s destructive capabilities were widely known, almost as much as the horde of knowledge at Angel’s disposal.
“Well I suppose we might as well get going, porting to London will be taxing so I hope you lovely ladies haven’t eaten anything,” The oldest of the Lost Numbers chuckled as he casually walked up to Alistair’s earshot.
“I am assuming Angel has never shared the void with you, there are few who have seen it.” The man spoke, his gaze far off as if in recollection of an event. “He once told me that the mind is often synonymous to the soul and they are all indirectly connected via the void. He said that the Void is endless possibility for it represents the soul and or mind’s potential. It is all very confusing but I know Angel disliked going there and he never stayed there for long. We need to be careful, especially of Reri…..” With that Geko dropped his serious demeanour and quickly joined Kiara, Maeve and Olivia as they headed to the Teleportation Circle. “So ladies who wants to know the secret behind my handsome looks?”
Alistair said nothing. His eyes shifted to follow Geko, declining to show his surprise at the more friendly interaction. Already he had collected enough data for rough personality sketches of each individual. Enough to make this mission easier for all of them, including who to avoid. Silently he followed the group heading to the Teleportation Circle.