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Chapter 7 - Tears & Promises

Three and Nine ducked into a mountain cave on the outskirts of Luzent. They had fled from the Emperor as fast as their legs could carry them and were now completely out of breath. As they sat there together, Nine told Three everything she had kept from him up till then. She told him about Ace, about herself, the details of her plan, and finally, what really happened in that cave three years ago.

At the start, Three occasionally chimed in or asked questions, but as the conversation went on, he fell silent. By the end, his head was hung so low that Nine couldn't see his expression.

He had been utterly convinced that his friend--his one true friend--had betrayed him, when in reality, Ace had sacrificed his life to ensure Three would survive. And as thanks for that incredibly selfless act, Three had not only killed him, but had spent the past three years despising his memory. Then came his sister, risking her life to save her brother's killer.

Three felt his chest tighten up as a wild mix of emotions ran through his head, threatening to overpower him. He was grateful for being fortunate enough to have two people in his life--Ace and Nine--who he could fully trust. At the same time, he felt a bottomless well of anger burst up. Anger at himself, the pathetic excuse for a human being that he was.

Battered by his storm of emotions, his breathing became increasingly ragged.

'S? Are you crying?'

Nine looked on in concern, having finished her story. She didn't need a response, however. Three's pained silence spoke volumes.

'I'm fine,' he said, returning to his usual blunt tone.

'Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?' Nine asked.

'I said I'm fine.'

Despite his words, Three's head still hung low.

'You're an awful actor, but you're an even worse liar when you're not performing, you know that?'

Three sunk down to his knees. Nine moved over to him, taking his head in her hands. She began gently ruffling his hair, like a mother comforting a child.

'Everything's okay now,' she murmured gently, 'It's all okay.'

'But I... I...' Three stammered, his voice growing weak and hoarse.

The last bits of Three's facade broke down, overwhelmed by Nine's kindness, and he relented at last. Nine was younger than Three and definitely looked the part, but in that moment, she showed an almost motherly level of understanding and compassion. For someone like Three, who grew up without that warmth, it was his first time being comforted by someone--his first time feeling the warmth of family.

'I know how strong you've had to be, S. I know how hard it's been. For so long... But it's okay now. I promise.'

No longer able to hold his emotions back, he finally broke down. A lifetime's worth of tears came flooding out of his eyes all at once.

'I'm... I'm such a wretched excuse for a--' he sobbed, no longer able to control his voice in the slightest.

Hot tears poured down his cheeks, staining the cool floor of the cave.

'That's not true. You know that's not true,' Nine said softly, continuing to run her fingers through his hair.

'Why am I still alive? Why isn't Ace here instead?'

He weakly slammed his fist against the ground in frustration.

'Not another word of that. I won't hear it. You're the one who's been there for me the past few years. You, S.'

'But it's because of me that Ace--'

'Listen. That just means you need to fight twice as hard. You're living for him, too, now.'

'I... I...'

Three's words failed him as he was overtaken by sobbing. His years of pain and suffering pouring out of him.

After some time, Three was able to calm himself down somewhat and regain his composure.

'I'm here for you, so you don't have to cry,' Nine told him, 'But if you ever want to, then that's okay, too.'

'So which is it, then?' Three retorted, his detached demeanor creeping back.

He suddenly became aware of the fact he was in her arms and hurriedly pulled away. He immediately turned the conversation back toward exchanging information in an attempt to mask his sudden embarrassment.

They finished catching up and turned their attention to their current predicament.

'So the Overseer had figured me out. He knew I was going to try to make a run for it. And that's why you moved to strike first--in order to outmaneuver him,' Three thought out loud.

'That's right. I've been watching the whole time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to take him down.'

'I wish you'd told me beforehand.'

'And let you spoil the element of surprise with your awful acting skills?' Nine gave a wry grin, 'Yeaaah, I don't think so.'

Three's face scrunched up a bit. Both Nine and the Emperor had caught on to his plan, so there was little room to defend himself in that regard.

'I chose the moment he'd be the most distracted,' Nine continued, switching to a serious expression, 'My timing was perfect, and my preparations were more than enough. Yet, despite all that...'

Despite everything, despite being buried under a pile of massive boulders, the Emperor was still very much alive. No matter how much she thought, Nine simply couldn't figure out how it was possible.

'It's likely his power at work,' Three said.

He had said the same thing earlier, right as they took off running.

'What exactly is his power?' Nine asked.

'I'm fairly certain he can control gravity somehow,' Three said, 'He did something similar three years ago, when Ace and I fought him.'

Three wrenched open a bitter, painful memory, and began relaying what he remembered to Nine. He and Ace had been able to fend off the first two pairs of assailants sent after them by the Organization. It was then that they faced the Emperor, however. Even with the element of surprise on their side, even when they coordinated their attacks perfectly, facing him proved exceptionally difficult. They found their bodies heavy and clumsy, and their movements lacking precision and skill. The Emperor, on the other hand, was nimble as could be, almost inhumanly so, and the two were quickly overpowered.

'So, what do you think?' Three looked at Nine, awaiting her input.

'There was no sign of him starting any cast or chargeup, so I doubt he's using arts,' she said, her brow furrowed in thought, 'As for a portable gravity manipulation device small enough for a single person to carry and conceal, well...given modern technology, it's seriously hard to imagine. He might have an artifact, or something like it. An avalanche couldn't kill him and he has enough precise control to be able to move individual stones and boulders...'

Nine scratched her head in frustration.

'Rrgh...dammit. We really don't have a lot to go on here.'

She paused, thinking a moment more, and then continued.

'In any case, unless something major changes, he's too powerful for us. Any attempt at a direct attack is going to result in our deaths.'

They fell silent for a time, until Three spoke up, a grave expression on his face.

'If the time comes when we have to choose, we're going to prioritize your life, Nine. You need to be the one to ki--'

'STOP IT!!!'

Nine silenced Three with an outburst of pure emotion, far more raw than her usual self.

'But then at least you'd be able to--'

'If you die, I'm going right after you!' she shouted, 'I'll do it myself, if I have to!'

The calm, motherly figure from before was nowhere to be seen. Nine was in a frenzy now, almost like a child throwing a tantrum. Regardless of her tone, however, her words were heartfelt and earnest.

'I can't go back to not being able to sleep,' her voice dropped to a whisper, 'I can't go back to being alone.'

The weight of her feelings was clear to Three. Seeing this, he let out a short sigh.

'Then you have my word. No matter what happens, I'll protect you.'

'That's not what I'm asking for!'

'Okay, you're right,' Three said, taking a deep breath, 'Then I promise that we'll survive this. We'll get through it together.'

Nine looked at Three with imploring, almost pleading eyes.

'You swear?'

'I swear,' he said. 'Now, if we're going to have any chance at all, we'll need to do everything perfectly.'

The rock slide was massive enough that despite the fact that he survived it, it was hard to imagine the Emperor was completely unscathed. If they tried to flee now, the Organization would quickly find them again, and they would have to contend with the Emperor at his full strength.

The pair knew if they were going to make a move, now was the time.

'Let's do it, then! We'll take him out!'

To be continued