Chapter 15 – Tears for Ma Su
Breaker walked with dread toward the hospital boardroom on the top floor, and not only because it was now the wee hours of the morning. He took the stairs to give himself a few extra seconds to think about the situation at hand. It was not like he did not already know exactly the conversation that was about to take place. The only variables were particulars of circumstance. But it did not matter. He was sick to his stomach, and he did not want to have this discussion.
The boardroom had been unlocked for Breaker a few minutes before, and the general area was immediately vacated afterward upon his order. After a momentary pause and a necessary deep breath, Breaker entered the empty boardroom and locked the door behind him. After walking around to perform a check to make sure he was really alone and not having any sort of surveillance on him, he sat down at the head of the table inside the meeting area. He then placed his face in his hands and reflected for another moment, trying to make some sort of meager procrastination, but knowing this was a problem he could not flee from without dire consequences, he finally set up the secure line to Steel.
On the big screen, Steel's face popped up, and then Wrecker, Doppelganger, and Trauma immediately popped up, too, along with basic diagnostics. Before any of the Chebacht officers could speak, Breaker quickly started the conversation, saying, "Alright, don't mess with me here. Don't talk to me like I'm some idiot lieutenant who has to get his hands dirty for the first time. I have some sneaking suspicions, and you'd all be best served to not play around."
While showing video footage and a map on the screen, Steel replied, "About twenty minutes ago, the town of Nonrut was attacked. We're still getting in video feeds as this is going on, because this is a volatile situation."
Breaker replied, "Who are the attackers? What's the situation?"
"I'll answer the second question, first. As far as we know, although the destruction is seemingly indiscriminate, the attackers aren't really trying to hurt anyone. Although these numbers can change at any moment, as far as we know, nobody has been killed, but there are a number of injured. But a number of buildings have been leveled with magic. As far as we know, much of the marina area has taken heavy damage, and the small commercial district has also taken a hit. The local police first tried to get the situation under control, but in less than five minutes, they realized they were grossly outmatched, and they're now focusing on trying to evacuate the town."
"Since you obviously know who it is, I want to know."
Steel removed everyone's faces from the screen and simply showed video stills, along with the map. The stills captured who was obviously Brown Whisper in combat armor, wielding an AIR-5 and casting numerous spells.
Gritting his teeth, Breaker said, "Whisper isn't capable of tearing into a town like that. She isn't that powerful. Where's Metal Angel?"
"I need to warn you- ," Steel replied.
Breaker angrily interrupted, "I don't need you to warn me of anything! Where is Angel?"
Steel placed more video stills on the screen. Breaker gasped as he saw the majesty of a luminous, entirely metal-clad angel, armored head to toe and with a wide wingspan, razing the town of Nonrut. He watched clips of a seemingly haphazard Angel ignoring the rounds fired from local cops as if the bullets were balled-up paper tossed by small children. In one clip, in what seemed to be a message instructing the cops to run while they could, Angel used a holy smiting spell of some sort to tear multiple police cars to shreds with a beam of white light. Not once did she deem it necessary to draw a weapon; she completely tore everything apart with magic, alone.
Breaker, almost in awe, said, "This is Metal Angel's final form. My augmented form was awakened at Tiishao due to the severe damage I suffered in battle, and Steel, you should know just as well about that kind of thing."
Steel replied, "I intend to send a company of crack troops to control the situation."
"You will do no such thing!" Breaker snapped, "I told you before that if it came to this, that I would be the one to handle this."
"I can't let you put yourself at risk just for the sake of pride."
"Pride? Do you think this is about pride? This is about boundaries, boundaries that you are crossing by sticking your nose in where it doesn't belong. Angel is my business on a very personal level. Furthermore, you have never supported my relations with her, and I find myself apprehensive about your motivations for wanting to take her on."
"I don't trust her, Breaker. This kind of thing always happens when you get involved with her. It happened at Osaka. It happened at Bach Dang. It happened at Kadesh. How many times does it have to happen before you realize that she's bad news for you?"
"You're not my keeper! I know fully well how to handle my own life. I've done a perfectly good job of it, already!"
"Have you? Do you even know who you are in the Spindle? Do you know who I am? I don't even know who I am when I'm not on these crazy excursions through time! Who is she, really? Who am I? Who are you? Who is anyone?"
"Why does it matter to you? Our lives are separate entities with shared memories. It's not like what happens in this life should have any effect on our physical status in the next. We use the memories we've gained over time to create advantage."
"You don't find it weird in the slightest that we're commanders once again? Why wasn't Storm the big boss? Why am I not kowtowing to one of my current subordinates?"
"We retain our power level."
"Power level! That's another messed up thing, particularly in regard to this place. Why does the indigenous population even have a power level? Why do we integrate our Spindle authority inside the inner workings of this world? The regular people on Otherworld didn't even touch our magic. When we attacked the Yuan fleet with our wind magic at Koan , we didn't have to worry about the rank and file Yuan soldiers shooting lightning bolts and fireballs back at us. We didn't have the luxury of magical abilities within the Kamakura forces, either. The people were people, and they just sat back and watched us do awesome stuff. "
"What are you trying to say? Are you trying to imply we're living in some sort of artificial construct of the Spindle? What purpose would that serve? The purpose of our ascension at Zero Hour was to initiate the prophecy timeline."
"What do we even know about this prophecy? All we know is that you are to unify our existence within the Spindle with our Timeless reincarnation loop. What else do we really know?"
Exasperated, Wrecker interrupted this exchange, saying, "Um, easily distracted world leader genius prodigy guys, I hate to break it to you, but we kind of have more immediate concerns at the moment. I think we should probably get back around to the original discussion."
Breaker regained his composure and began speaking again, "Steel, do not send spec-ops to Nonrut. We don't need a possible massacre on our hands. If Angel is intentionally trying not to hurt anyone, I think she's trying to present a challenge. It's almost as if she's calling to me."
"This is exceptionally dangerous," Steel retorted, "Why should I risk your life to settle a score with someone who has clearly decided against the best interests of Academy?"
"This has nothing to do with Academy," Breaker said, "This is entirely personal. She's not herself, and something has gone woefully wrong. I'm the only person who can fix this."
Steel squarely smacked his face into his palm and groaned at this.
Breaker continued, "I wouldn't expect you to understand, Steel. This is just something I have to do. It may be my only chance at peace in regard to this saga."
Steel snapped back, "What are you going to do about reaching Kojiro Garrison? What about the administration of Romgur? You can't just leave everything behind to settle a personal conflict. This is insane!"
"This is my choice. I'm going to do this, regardless of what you think. And you're not going to stop me."
"I don't like this, but I know I'm not going to stop you. This conversation is futile."
Breaker ended the call without any parting expression. He swiftly exited the conference room and hurried out of the hospital to the makeshift command post at city hall. With a bare minimum of conversation, he made right for his gear cache and put on his flame suit and full body armor. He attached to him his FASG-1, TN-9c-k, two AI's, and swords from his previous engagements, but he also took a standard AIR-5, because he figured adding some range to his capabilities would be useful.
Once he equipped all the weapons and armor he wanted for the task, Breaker called his assistant on his mobile device and said, "Sergeant, I need you to drive me to Nonrut. Do not tell anyone where you're going. I need you to load up some combat gear into a civilian SUV as quickly as possible and meet me in front of the command post in ten minutes."
This drive was going to take all morning. Assuming a steady pace of 90 C-k per hour, it was still going to take until midday to get to the insertion point. As such, Breaker needed to make sure the people were safe, because Angel could very well level the town by the time he gets there. Breaker hopped on the line and called Zukreuk's command office.
"This is General Meyer," Breaker said groggily, "I need to talk to Colonel Ni-satie . This is urgent."
The operator replied, "Yes, general."
After about a minute of waiting, Ignition, equally as sleepy as Breaker, spoke, "You know I need my beauty sleep. I'm guessing this is important?"
Breaker rolled his eyes and replied, "I'm guessing you have no idea that the town of Nonrut has been attacked?"
Ignition suddenly perked up, "Wait, what? I haven't heard anything about this."
"Nothing at all?"
"No, really, nothing at all."
"Well, I guess you should probably turn on the news. You mean to tell me you got absolutely no bulletin or alert about the situation?"
"I'm checking all my forms of communication. I haven't heard anything. It's been completely quiet."
"I guess Karzay really wanted to keep mum on this situation, then."
"I'm looking at the news, right now. It looks like Lung created some sort of robot and attacked the town. Why hasn't anyone come to take this thing down? What's going on here?"
"Oh, you're going to love this. I'm sending you some classified information, as we speak. Once you take a glance at it, let me know what you think."
After about thirty seconds of taking a gander at the information Breaker sent, Ignition became aggravated, saying,
"Lieutenant Hawkins is Metal Angel, and Sergeant Jeremiah is Brown Whisper?"
"I guess it makes sense that we're getting this kind of report on the news. It's mutually beneficial. You all get to have your cover-up, and Lung gets to beat her chest, even if it's a complete lie."
"You're catching on."
"Steel was going to send spec-ops down to Nonrut, but you told him you were going to go out there, instead?"
"That is correct."
"So you're going to go off and kill Metal Angel — again!"
"Do you really see another way out of this?" Breaker asked, "Do you have any idea how messed up this situation is getting?"
"This is insane. I can't even wrap my head around this. You're trying to tell me that Metal Angel's mind has suffered some sort of fragmentation as a result of a mix between technology failure and improper magic tethering? Before we even get to that, she had technology that made her brain not go completely haywire that stayed in place due to continuous tethering?"
"She must have suffered greatly. Now, she must be in incredible pain. She got annihilated at the Battle of Tiishao, and this must have been the eventual product that came out of saving her life."
"I don't know exactly what happened to her between the events of Stuyevic's attack at Tiishao and now. Hawkins and Jeremiah went missing after the battle, and we never found a body or any remains at all. My assumption was that they went missing somewhere, possibly getting separated from us behind enemy lines. I figured they didn't get captured, because I know Stuyevic would have been more than happy to use Hawkins as leverage. But I couldn't get in contact with Hawkins or Jeremiah, and the war quickly escalated. So I had to put that on the back burner."
"Don't you love Angel? Don't you have reservations about what's going on?"
Breaker paused for a few seconds, trying to think of a properly measured response. After careful thought, allowing the immediate surge of emotion pass, he replied, "I'm not sure how I feel. I feel like everything is a shoddy patchwork. I keep having these feelings toward her, yet I'm also destined to fight her over and over again. This can't be a matter of mere circumstance or coincidence. I don't feel like the Spindle would play such a horrifying trick on me as a push of their will. There's no purpose. I feel like I'm fighting against some sort of natural order, almost as if I'm bringing about a status quo by removing her as a distraction."
Ignition, highly disturbed, replied, "No offense, but that might have been the creepiest thing I've ever heard you say."
"You are free to feel disturbed, but know that you are in an existence where you know nothing about a significant portion of it. We know we have sentience inside the Spindle, but in what form. Just what are we, really? We hop across time, but why? So what if we can theoretically live forever? What is our purpose? We fight each other all the time, but there has to be a reason for it. I feel like we are here for a reason, and I need to know what it is. Nothing that's going on here is random."
"I admit that I think about these things, and I do want some level of resolution. Much of why I allowed you to have such command over my military was to bring that resolution that you want. But it's not like I cannot enjoy the life that's given to me. Yes, things get kind of old when we end up going through what seems to be the same stories again and again, but there is nothing wrong with living. Life is a beautiful gift, and I feel lucky to experience every minute of it."
"Angel and I are not meant to be. I have to cauterize the timeline's wound."
"Are you even listening to what you're saying? Do you really believe everything that is going on is predestined? Do you really think everything is merely a matter of fate?"
"Nothing is a matter of fate! Can't you see it? There is a very conscious force out there that moves us around like pieces on a board. We are being actively manipulated. There is nothing as passive and self-defeating as destiny out there herding us like cattle. Everything we do serves some sort of purpose that we have yet to understand. When we fight the purposes for which we are actively moved, we cause a rift. Don't you find it really odd that we all manage to pretty much find our ways to the same general design over any era, given any situation? Something as weak as fate would merely draw us together with weak coincidences and seemingly dumb luck. Whatever this is isn't even trying to be subtle about it. No, this isn't fate. This is something way, way stronger than fate at work."
"I don't even know what to say at this point. I would say you've gone completely off the deep end, but considering the inherent level of insanity in our current situation, I might end up eating my words if I become too convinced in your quackery. Honestly, I don't even know which way is up, anymore. I think part of why everyone has gone completely out of their tree is because people don't even understand the fundamentals of their identity, anymore. How can you even function on a basic level, let alone rule, if you don't even know who or what you are?"
"We have to make this final push. We have to get to the bottom of this. What we do makes no sense to us, and we have to find out who is pulling the strings and why."
"As much as it would probably prove therapeutic to debate the philosophy of our situation one day, we have a situation right now that needs to be handled. Although the current situation is something of note, I need to know why your call was necessary."
"I need you to deploy two infantry companies to assist in the efforts to keep the citizens safe, and I need to see if you can provide a barrier around the town when I get there."
"Do you want me to get my soldiers slaughtered out there? I'm reading in your information here that she's ascended to her final form. She'll shred my men and women like a grater does to food."
"No, I'm not going to use your soldiers to contain her. I'm going to try to drive her out of the town and fight her one-on-one."
"What are you going to do about Whisper?"
"I'm going to have to play that one by ear. I don't think she's going to let her position down lightly, and I might have to fight her in town."
"I'm guessing there's no way you can just contain them and try to make peace? Is there nothing you've overlooked? Have you looked at every possible loophole?"
"You were always the skeptic."
"You love her! How can you do this? Don't you feel bothered by this at all?"
"It doesn't matter! What part of that do you not understand? Not only does that not matter, but nothing matters! None of this that is within our realm of existence matters! Every life we lead is just a game of pretend. At the end of the day, we pick up whatever we brought with us and go home. It's just our games are considerably more vivid than those that children play."
"Why bother then? If our existence doesn't even matter, why bother living? Why do we even possess a survival instinct or care for the welfare of others? If we see each other again, anyway, then why should we care?"
"I don't know! All I know is that I have to fulfill this prophecy, and maybe, just maybe, we'll actually find out."
"This is making my head hurt. We need to focus on what's going on right now. You say you need two infantry companies. Can I trust you to not get them slaughtered?"
"I can't make any promises in a state of war, but I'll try my best."
"I guess that's the best I can reasonably expect out of you. I'll send them with Administrator Yarrins, immediately."
"Administrator Yarrins? Isn't she a bit of a bookworm? Does she even know how to fight?"
"She's not the best duelist, but she's reasonably competent in a firefight if she's forced into it. Also, she knows a fair bit of sorcery, so she's not completely defenseless. But don't you really need someone with good leadership, anyway? She excels at that."
"As long as I don't have to worry about her getting in the way, I'll be fine."
"One more thing you should know about her: She's Black Focus."
Breaker was taken aback, "Huh? I thought you two didn't get along."
"I don't really want to get into the details, since it's the early morning, and I'm about to fall asleep while chatting here," Ignition said, "She was originally an instructor at the command post, but she revealed herself to me and volunteered to take on extra duties when she found out that you were taking an active role in our command."
"I won't delve any further, right now. Our conversation has gone on way too long, as it is. Just make sure you mobilize the units and have them in Nonrut before I get there."
"I think you should worry more about there being a Nonrut when you get there."
"Perhaps, but my gut tells me otherwise. Meyer, over and out."
Although Breaker had much to think about, he had to rest. His body was not only forcing this upon him, but he also knew this was necessary if he was going to be worth anything when he needed everything to count. So, he pushed himself out of the back seat and lay down in the open area next to him. Even though sleeping in body armor was not exactly going to be the most fulfilling sleep he ever experienced, it would not only have to do, but come easy.
"Where am I?" Breaker asked, as he stood in what seemed like a void.
Breaker looked around, seeing nothing. He felt the ground, but he saw no light. He could see nothing in any given direction, and he felt no texture of any sort. He moved his hands and body around, and felt no air resistance. This was confusing to him, because he was going through the motions of breathing. Yet when he started paying attention to his breathing, he noticed he was not transferring any air. If this was a total vacuum, why was he not dead? All the magic in the world could not prevent him from suffocating. Any mage would have problems in an environment without matter or energy to manipulate, and an air mage is no exception.
This was some sort of illusion. So, Breaker kept walking, wanting to figure out the purpose. He walked and walked, finding no light or sense of progress. Although he was not getting fatigued, he was becoming annoyed, not understanding the reason why he was suddenly placed within a void with all his gear.
"I want to say I'm in a dream," Breaker said out loud, even more suspicious of his surroundings, since he realized he should not have been able to make noise without the presence of air, "This feels like a dream, but it also doesn't feel like one. Something has gone truly awry."
So, he continued what seemed like an endless, pointless walk on this painfully nondescript ground. But then he saw a tiny point of light on the horizon, and he began to jog. This jog felt like forever, yet Breaker did not feel physically exhausted, although whether or not his psyche felt the same way was up for debate.
After much more of this endless jogging, Breaker began to see a figure that gradually became more discernible. This figure showed a regal stature, viciously feminine, and most certainly a beacon of power. As Breaker got closer, he could see a shimmering, spiked crown of platinum, with glowing sapphires, diamonds, and crystal, pregnant with the energy of high sorcery. The lady's thin bangles and dangling earrings, both loaded with diamonds, and her pendant, heavy with a large sapphire, gave a striking signature, showing auras of extraordinary power which were merely focused on, not derived from, these items. Her long, white robes and dress appeared to be fit for only the highest of royalty. The only darkness on her was the dark brunette hair that partially coiled around the base of her crown for added support, with the rest cascading to a point near the middle of her back. Even with all the power Breaker knew he had within him, by the time he had approached this lady in the light, he felt like he was merely an infant at the mercy of his mother.
When the two were finally face-to-face, Breaker immediately froze and then, almost by instinct, knelt.
The lady simply said, "Rise."
When Breaker stood up, even though he stood taller than the woman and angled his head downward to look into her eyes, he knew he was vastly the inferior.
"You're the lady I've been seeing in my dreams. You're my apparition," Breaker whispered.
The woman did not reply, and her right hand simply began to brightly illuminate. While looking into Breaker's eyes, she pressed her hand through Breaker's chest, causing his armor and his body to create ripples like a stone being thrown into water. Breaker felt not only a higher form of power, but an exalted sense of enlightenment coursing through the very core of his being. He felt like he was under anesthesia, and his deepest, innermost self was being operated upon by a world-class surgeon. Even though he could see what was going on, he had no illusions of control or authority in the matter.
"Remember-," the woman said, "all of this is part of your journey. When approaching your destination, you must not lose sight of who you are."
Breaker retorted, "But what if I don't know who I am?"
The lady removed her hand from Breaker's chest and simply looked at him as he stood there in his continuously catatonic state. After a pause, she smirked slightly and said, "You know more than you are allowing yourself to accept."
And then, Breaker collapsed.
1. The 1281 Battle of Koan was the Mongols' second attempt at conquering Japan. The Japanese held down the numerically superior Yuan Dynasty army by keeping them from securing a position on the beach in the first place. Many Yuan troops died when a large typhoon destroyed most of the ships that were off the coast. The Japanese refer to this wind as the divine wind or kamikaze.
2. The given name for Black Ignition.
Other note: Ma Su was a subordinate officer to Zhuge Liang, Shu's strategist during the Three Kingdoms Era of China. When Ma Su was given the task of holding the region of Jieting during Zhuge Liang's first Northern Expedition, Ma Su ignored sound military advice given to him by his colleague, Wang Ping, and instead relied on book knowledge to decide battle tactics. As a result, the enemy Wei army was able to soundly defeat the Shu forces and forced Zhuge Liang to retreat. In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Luo Guanzhong's epic novel about the era, Luo included a scene in which Zhuge Liang showed devastation over the fact he had to execute Ma Su, because he favored Ma Su and, but Zhuge Liang could not justify not carrying out the necessary military punishment for such a catastrophic failure. The phrase "tears for Ma Su" refers to this need to perform justice, regardless of personal ties.