Day 1: Anarchy in Heaven

"It began in 1519, the last year prior to the Aztec Progression. All history prior to that point is rendered meaningless, as the first event of modern significance is the initial battle of Tenochtitlan. The Spanish were sailing across the Atlantic intent on sucking this continent dry of all it possessed, and held that same attitude when their representative, Cortez, led his troops across these lands. Yet when they came to the entrance of the capital, our leader Moctezuma ordered all the warriors to make their travels end there. Under a guise of peaceful negotiation, Cortez and his soldiers were taken by surprise, and promptly slaughtered. The Aztecs repurposed the steel and gunpowder into their own weapons, finding new power in this equipment. The Spanish were assuredly planning an attack in retribution though, and Montezuma realized that the Aztecs were far too weak to stand up to a large onslaught. So he set his sights to the surrounding lands, and began the Progression."

"The surrounding tribes united under the common threat of invaders, their lands bearing the flag of the quetzal. The once-small empire expanded continually, encompassing more and more of the continent. Foreigners to these lands were assimilated swiftly for offspring resistant to their diseases, and due to poor communication efficiency across oceans, the Spanish retaliated far too late. By then the Aztecs spread from the northern plains to the southern jungles, and the technological knowledge of the settlers was integrated into the vast army. The invaders did not know these lands as well as the natives here, and battle after battle proved that they could not stand up to the Aztecs. The empire only grew further, unifying into a whole that outmatched the other nations of the world. By the time of the 59th Era of Progression year, the landmass that now houses the Aztec Empire was completed."

"With the future of the Spanish at severe risk, they launched often-paranoid attacks on friend and foe alike, expanding their country into the Iberian Empire. They were determined to make a sustainable nation, one that could stand up to the flourishing tribals they had seen in the "new world", and in many ways succeeded. Their technological advantage and considerably larger landmass was only hindered by their initial inability to manage the vast empire they had acquired so quickly. Nevertheless, by year 96, they had tied together their lands, and saw themselves fit to wage full-scale war on the Aztecs. In all those years, however, the Aztec military had created better firearms and more resilient armor, forming a collective of warriors far more powerful than the world had ever seen. They resisted the Iberians time and time again, launching the two into an arms race that led to a rapid increase in weaponry advancement."

"Yet despite the blazes of war, the planet was not marred. Quite the contrary. The verdant fertility was only restored and maintained by the warring powers, who cared just as much about the state of their land as they did defending it. Though crafts capable of escaping orbit were launched by 427, they were promptly used to establish the remnants of neutrality beyond the Earth. The scattered colonies and lunar stations declared that, were the Aztecs or Iberians to launch the offensive, they would launch all their stockpiled weaponry, spelling the demise of the planet along with its two empires. The Aztecs and Iberians agreed to this pact, and refrained from disturbing those who made their home beyond the atmosphere. The war continued methodically, each side pushing and pulling, the ancient advantage the Aztecs possessed no longer present. The technology of the Iberian Empire came to a near-perfect state in 604…eleven years ago. They created a weapon no longer merely ridden in, but now a new form for their infantry. A form that brought battles of humanoid forms to their renaissance. It was the new sword of the Iberian Empire…the Espada. They wreaked havoc upon the Aztecs with these weapons from out of the blue, destroying countless installations and cities with such deft ease that no other equipment could stand up to them. The empire centered itself around this Espada, let all who wished to be soldiers become these swords. Yet this enthrallment of machines designed with the human form turned itself on the empire, and an outcast fled to the Aztec Empire with a new vision for their military. An ascension from the Espada, elevated from its form to new heights…thus birthing the Ilivais Project. With this weapon, the Aztecs fought the Iberians off with impressive ease, and its lack of numbers was mitigated by its sheer strength. It has been ten years since the Ilivais emerged from the world's womb…"

"And now, we are its new visage."

At that last statement, the room these words echoed from grew silent, a state it was usually in. The four egg-like pods opened with the faintest hissing noise, revealing what very well could have been lithe marble statues, but no statue blinked as they did. Though normally lacking expression, the juvenile figures appeared suitably confused by the light.

"…That sounds about right. Truth to be told, you four are boring as hell to listen to, but you seemed to get everything correct. …not like it matters, I don't even know why they had me teach you history crap." At the head of the room, a tall woman with a complexion akin to the darkest coffee analyzed those inside the pods. The bright yellow eyes that cut and commanded her surroundings were framed by long translucent hair that appeared more like glittering crystal than anything organic. Though she was dressed in an ornate uniform of deep crimson and glittering gold, she hardly held herself of the position that apparel would imply. Instead she slouched and leaned back in her seat, obviously anticipating departure. "At any rate, you will proceed to unfasten yourselves and follow me."

This statement only seemed to confuse the four even more, and one spoke up at once. "Instructor Sycine, these are the simulation pods. If this is our final test, why are we leaving?"

Sycine shook her head, looking briefly to the sky as though the child's statement was a curse from the heavens. "…I swear, you never learn to just stop asking questions. They finished the Phonos Weapons, why else would you be having a cumulative test? There will be slight differences, yes, between the simulation and reality, but it's not my job to care. …So hurry up!"

Complying instantly with their instructor's statement, the four removed the bands from their limbs that affixed them to the center of the pods, and promptly stepped out. They followed their instructor single-file, through the familiar stark-white hallway they had traveled to and from a myriad of times, but passed their usual destination today, the room the four usually took unneeded respite in. It was a much larger door they were now entering, one which had been locked and forbidden for the entirety of their existence up until this day. A maze of similar hallways stretched in front of them, but Sycine was capable of following the sparse signs and organized corridors to their precise destination. The door they next approached held no similar passageways, but instead opened up into a vast hangar, housing on one side four immense humanoid machines affixed to a wall, and an enormous sliding launch door on the other. On the opposite end, a massive crowd of soldiers stood sentinel, donned in simple red uniforms and holding protective helmets at their side. A baker's dozen of people as varied as a kaleidoscope was at the forefront of the army, the only similarity among them being that the front line had more ornate suits of scarlet and gold similar to Sycine's, while the back wore white outfits with a color wheel emblem upon them.

"Alright. Stand on your respective letters, and let's get this over with. V, W, X, and Y respectively." With each letter, she pointed to one of her followers, and proceeded to hustle to the center of the hangar, tapping her collar to activate a microphone. "Soldiers of the Aztec Empire! We have struggled for centuries against the cold, heartless Iberians and their relentless drive for conquest!" As the snow-white figures clad in black apparel shuffled to the circular elevating platforms inlaid on the floor, Sycine grasped out towards the audience, clenching her hand into a fist as though it had held a throbbing heart. "The might of the Ilivais Project is as clear as the morning sun, yet until this day it has not held the soul, the body it requires to uphold that might. Now that comes to an end! Brave warriors, you fight tirelessly for the sake of your empire, and know it has not, nor will it ever be in vain. Today our new weapon of ascension is born- the Phonos Weapons!" As she presented the four imposing machines, she noticed with dismay a small discrepancy among their pilots, with one boy trying to approach the X, but for some reason being redirected to the V instead. A cloud of doubt entered Sycine's mind, as something was off there…but this was an incredibly important presentation, and surely the issue would be cleared up afterwards. "…that aside…Cast your eyes on the culmination of the Ilivais Project!"

She turned to the side and gestured towards the one labeled V, a heavy, well-armored machine with four pear-shaped shields on its hips and shoulders, and an additional one on each arm. Like the other four, it did not stand on the ground but was rather affixed to the wall, as the legs were simply sharp-tipped blades, though V's were far thicker than the others. Its rounded head was blank and smooth save for a line down the middle, and six thick bat-like wings sat atop its back. "Ilivais V is the shield of our empire, our invincible armor that shrugs off the blades and bullets of our opponents, striking fear into their hearts as they realize that they cannot destroy us!"

Sycine then presented W, which was nearly V's exact opposite. Its lithe, fragile profile appeared to be swallowed by the eight wings that gave it flight, yet the slender blades of its legs escaped that shroud. Thin rapiers were mounted to the forearms in place of V's shields, and in fact the only common feature between the two was the similar face, silvery and devoid of expression. "Ilivais W is the wings of our empire, with which we take flight across both oceans and swoop in to pluck each Espada from the sky, helpless as they realize that they cannot pursuit us!"

Next in the procession was X, something of a medium between all three. Its smooth and curved form was unmistakably feminine in figure, and it held far more of a simple elegance to it. Blades of much more sustenance than W's were affixed to the forearms and comprising the calves, extending well past the elbows and knees. The four wings were silvery wedges affixed to its back, yet what defined the machine were three long teardrop engines draping down from these wings, each with an ornate claw at its end. Two fins formed something of a collar around the head, which possessed a curved blade down the face's center. "Ilivais X is the heart of our empire, with which we live on and fight eternally, raining down death upon the Iberian Empire as they realize that they cannot outlast us!"

The final unit in Sycine's presentation was Y, with a far more sharp and dynamic shape. It was armored in sharp triangular plates which extended and protruded from the torso in multiple areas. The angular blades on the legs shot up to the midsection, and in lieu of proper arms with hands, Y simply had two massive swords. The wings were similarly sharp and jagged, and from the face sprouted a series of high pointed wedges, every inch of the unit practically begging to impale anything in range. "And Ilivais Y is the sword of our empire, with which we raze and annihilate the barren plains of Iberia, ripping any who dare to oppose the Aztec Empire to shreds, as they realize that they cannot resist us!"

By then the four elevators had risen up to the heads of the Ilivais units, their faces splitting open to reveal dark, cavernous interiors, harnesses swaying slightly from the walls just as in the simulation pods. Their pilots affixed themselves in as they had for ten years each and every day, the only difference being the far larger space they were in, and the rather precarious position they held more than twenty-five meters off the ground. The rallying cheer of excitement from the pilots sounded a world away, a rushing echo within the gigantic hangar. As they finished securing themselves, the same thought processes they had used before worked almost exactly as they remembered, and the four faces slid shut simultaneously. The roar from the crowd was drowned out to a whisper, yet they could hear Sycine's voice clearly as it motioned to silence them all, obviously intended for her to command them.

"Now observe as the future of the Aztec Empire takes flight!" The dim roar came to a crescendo, finally truncated by Sycine's commands. "Ilivais units V, W, X, Y, upon launch, fly one-thousand meters, and await further instructions at seven-fifty. Ten…nine…eight…seven…six…"

The countdown was sharp and distinct, and as it approached zero, the gateways outside slid open, the light of a thinly overcast sky spilling into the hangar. The instant it was fully open, the Phonos Weapons were launched off on their maiden flights, finally taking wing to the world outside.

The sparse, arid fields and tree-lined crags of the valley that defined the midsection of the Aztec Empire went uninterrupted even as the landscape approached the capital. The massive form of Tenochtitlan did not sprawl languidly over the lands, but rather floated elegantly, a hemisphere of pale gold levitating above the perfectly circular Lake Texoco. The city itself built up like a mountain on its island, with tiny, meek structures on the edge setting the base for soaring towers closer to the center, with the massive palatial pyramid like a spear through the clouds. From afar, the city had a particular silhouette that, at night, it became a massive drop of light frozen in place just above the lake, strung through with radial elevated tunnels that connected it to the rest of the world.

Though the stone outcroppings were not suitable for hiding, three machines that appeared like oversized wasps leaned against one, facing away from the city. A myriad of tiny drones tirelessly patrolled the area, but they passed right over the intruders hiding nearby with no notice. The small tower set up in front of the wasp robots generated a small field that encompassed the area, nullifying all forms of detection from the outside. At the peak of the stone stood a tall, burly man, his face a tad unkempt and slightly lined with age, short black hair resting on his head. He perched behind a ridge, the deep green of his uniform decorated more intricately than any common soldier's. Observing the city intently through the magnification of a small visor, his eyes widened as a large door in its underbelly opened up, four machines launching out that had all the unmistakable traits of the other Aztec units, yet far more imposing than the others before. He quickly hopped down to the insect-like machines, opening the cockpit hatch of the one in the center.

"…Hrm? …Oh. Sura. …What do you have to report?" Inside was a younger man, scarcely an adult, with slightly messy brown hair and deep maroon eyes. His uniform was similar to Sura's, but with far less decoration, indicative of a lower rank.

"Grab your visor, and get up on the rocks. It's just as we were informed, Essen." Sura aided the boy out of his cockpit, giving him a rough push up the crag once he was out. He promptly turned to the last unit and released its hatch as well. The diluted sun fell on a lightly plump, curvy-figured woman within. Her head was tilted backwards, eyes closed and navy blue hair draped across her seat. "…Ahem…Mille, rise and shine already! We found what we were looking for."

Mille jumped awake and rubbed her eyes, their irises the same color as her hair. She promptly slid out of the cockpit, only to stretch and yawn extensively once out. "…bleh…is it food? …kinda hungry." She rubbed her stomach as it gave a faint growl, and brushed her hair out of her face. "…Oh…right, the mission thingy. Lemme see." She quickly swiped Sura's visor, now with a vaguely playful expression. Sticking her tongue out, she clambered up the rock and dropped right next to Essen, casually bumping hips with him.

"Have a nice nap, Mille?" Essen patted Mille's shoulder, pointing her in the right direction. The Ilivais units were flying in a tight line, though they struggled to maintain that formation. "…What do you think? I get the general idea of what they're supposed to do, but they don't look as dangerous as intel implied they would be. I was thinking they'd be bristling with weaponry and demonstrating insane maneuvers, but…they seem pretty standard."

Observing the four with intrigue, Mille's response was given prologue in lightly poking the side of Essen's face. "Are you blind to the usual conventions? Whenever you say stuff like that, you're pretty much instantly proven wrong! Be grateful you said that now, and not if we engage in combat. …See, they're practicing combat as we speak, and they certainly seem effectual." Four Espadas had launched from the capital, captured and now piloted by those who clearly didn't know what they were doing. They were gray, utilitarian machines, but where the head should have been was an empty space with a handful of sensors ringing the top. The right arm held a slender sword, but the left had a massive black sphere for a shoulder, where the pilot was seated. Below was mounted a series of ranged weapons, sturdily affixed so the cockpit could eject and remain armed.

Essen observed intently as the four new units faced each Espada, floating still for a brief second before finally engaging, each in an entirely different manner. The large, bulky one made good use of its shields, deflecting machine fire and missiles like they were gusts of wind, slowly encroaching upon its opponent before catching it and crumpling the torso between mighty fists. The frail unit with powerful wings danced around the hapless Espada at speeds so fast it could cover any position in a blink, finally impaling the gray figure from below. The curvier machine with the large shaped engines floated nimbly about, then amassed energy within the hands, ruining the machine with an abrupt beam of light that stretched far into the sky, incinerating the cockpit unlike the other two. The sharper and more dynamic Ilivais wasted no time and instantly bisected the Espada, cutting cleanly through as though the Iberian unit was constructed of butter.

Mille gave an impressed whistle at this demonstration as the four units returned to a single line. "And that's just their first flight. Didn't look like much on paper, but it's obvious they have loads of potential. …The Iberians are so fucked it's not even funny!" Quickly contradicting that line, she giggled lightly, culminating in a surprised start as Sura finally dropped on her other side.

"…Whaat? It's over already? …Guess I'm gonna have to take Mille's word for it." He gave her another nudge, which swiftly turned into a game of friendly pushing back and forth, only stopped by a short yelp of surprise from Essen.

"Did that…yeah…! One of them…shot another…I think!" Sura and Mille quickly focused back on the scene beyond, and it was apparent the feminine Ilivais had pointed that same beam of destruction at the two units to its side. Its lighter sister took heavy amounts of damage, dropping like a stone to the grass below, while the armored one endured.

"Ooh! The intrigue! Go, dissenter, and put on a show for us!" Mille clapped joyfully as the rebellious machine turned towards its pointier sister, engaging in desperate combat while keeping out of range of the shielded unit. Though it gave chase insistently, it appeared far too slow to ever catch the target, and promptly turned to retrieve the swift, fallen Ilivais and carry it back towards the capital. The opposing machine seemed more desperate to depart than to destroy the others, but its speed was matched fairly evenly by the one it fought against. It dove to evade the swings of those massive swords, and saw an opportunity after a double slash, quickly driving a blade of its arm inside the angular Ilivais' chest. It promptly followed this up with a burst of light from the hand, creating a massive hole right in the middle of its target. Quickly falling back, it glanced around, ensuring that none of the other three could give chase, and quickly departed the area.

"…is it…It's coming over here!" Sura gaped for a brief moment as the runaway Ilivais began flying in their direction.

Essen gave a brief hum, and lightly clapped his hands. "…Get in your Avespias. Quickly. And follow my lead. We've got a hell of an opportunity here, so…just trust me on this one." He nimbly jumped back down into the open cockpit of his Avespia, leaving the other two for a few moments.

"…Well he has proved himself in the past. And I like where this is going. Soooooo…race you to the cockpit!" Mille cheered happily and leaped into her own unit, and though Sura gave a brief sigh at the developments, he really had no choice but to follow suit.

The Avespias lifted into the air, their black and gold bee-like shapes were quite similar, but with notable differences. Sura's was equipped with an armor shroud and a large broadsword, with a machine gun on the abdomen. Essen's, on the other hand, was a stripped-down stock model, making up for the light mass with a huge sniper rifle, with a small assault knife attached almost as an afterthought. And Mille's had a larger abdomen for storage, alongside repair tools in the forearms and a rail rifle on the shoulder. All three carried a distinctive blade stinger at the tip of the abdomen, retracted out in case this situation became combat.

Sura activated the communication link, bringing his teammate's faces to his screen. "Alright, Essen, what are you u-"

"Mille, you have the…the net with you, right? You and Sura secure it. I'll tell you where to go."

Mille's eyes widened, and with an eager laugh, she drew a large, sturdy net from her Avespia's abdomen, and threw one end over to Sura. "…You thinking what I think you're thinking? Heh heh…"

Essen looked back to the hastily arriving Ilivais, and nodded his head. "Knowing you, exactly. …Now. Get the net in line with the runaway, and-"

"Wait, WHAT? We're…capturing it? What the hell's gotten into you? We were ordered just to do recon, and here you are making up new plans and ordering around superiors…wait till I-"

"Oy! Kid's got a plan to take a secret project we've had our eyes on for months. And he's taken charge before. I think it's freaking perfect! Now get that stick out of your ass, and let's do this!" With a wide grin, Mille examined the oncoming target, lifting the net slowly up, making minor adjustments all the while. All three pilots grew silent and held their breath, and the quiet brought to their ears a soft noise…a high choral humming of sorts, one that grew quickly louder in the drawn-out seconds of the Phonos Weapon's approach. It was not enough to distract the pilots, just an afterthought in the back of their minds…one that ceased as the sound abruptly went haywire and halted.

"…Holy crap, it actually worked!" Mille gave a quick shout of victory as their new captive squirmed about in the net, and hurriedly she and Sura secured it within, wrapping it in a coating of cables.

"We got it? Good. Now…we need to LEAVE. Surely it's suspicious that their new unit magically disappeared in this spot, so stay close to it. This thing barely fits in the Null Field as it is, and any of us poking out means we're done for." Essen fell back directly in front of the Ilivais, and directed Mille and Sura towards the Pacific, where they hastily flew off. All three of them took continual glances back at Tenochtitlan, watching nervously as a swarm of drones erupted from its base, but none of them were capable of locating the Avespias and their prisoner as they soared far and high from the Aztec capital. Soon the plains and mountains of Aztec land gave way to the glittering expanse of the ocean, where absolutely nothing lay to pursue them.

"…Hell yeah! We're home free, and with a pretty cool prize with us!" Mille dropped back in her seat, fanning herself a little in respite. "…And it's too bad the higher-ups are more likely to bitch at us than give you an award. …Eheheh…maybe I can take care of that, if you know what I mean, Essen…" With a smirk and a wink, Mille teasingly began undoing her fatigues, giggling madly the entire time. Just about as soon as she did so, however, Essen's face blinked out of her sight, leaving Sura simply shaking his head at her.

"…Mille…we talked about this. Universally, it concerns me, but that's beside the point. However, he's your subordinate. You can't just sleep with those under you." With a blink, Sura realized the implications of that, and motioned to silence Mille before she could comment on it. "…You know what I mean! Look, you'll be seeing him around basically every day. I don't want things to get strained just because you have trouble keeping your pants on, alright?"

Mille scoffed at Sura's statements, but followed it up with a soft laugh that eliminated any sense of seriousness. "…But come on, Sura! He's cute and smart and new and hasn't had a girl yet and hasn't heard people saying things about me! Besides, the hypocrisy of you in particular saying that is astonishing."

Sura ran his hand down his face, slowly shaking his head. "…Oh really? And how many times have you had a stand and kept being able to talk to them afterwards? Exactly. Look, everybody allows you to run around with everyone because it doesn't interfere with our operations. Up until now you've basically been running solo, but now you have someone under your command, and messing around with him, especially now that he's proven himself valuable to the squadron, would basically break down any sense of normalcy between all of us. Do you understand me?"

Mille stuck her tongue out, mocking distaste at her comrade, but with a light sigh she nodded in affirmation. "…Alright, fine. I'll keep my hands off the ensign, I promise. And the glorious Mille Chanteau, blazing star of the Gaia Forces, does not dare break promises!" She pumped her fist with a cheer, and promptly Sura reconnected Essen to the communication link.

"…Now why would you break communication protocol like that? …If anything would've went wrong, we couldn't-"

"Oh hush, Essen! We were just talking about how Sura doesn't want you to get some! Lighten up, silly! …besides, he's the one who closed the link."

Sura blinked at Mille, wishing he had a physical way to force her to shut it. "…We were just having a private talk, is all. …Uhh, did we capture that Aztec thing that way?" The three pilots turned to look at the entangled Ilivais, observing now that it was curled up into a ball within the net, with the four wings wrapped around the blades of its limbs. It had certainly not flown into them that way, but it was far easier to manage in its compacted state.

"…I wonder if whoever's in there is alright. …Could we possibly talk to them from here?" Mille stared insistently at the Ilivais, its blank face showing no expression or indication as to what was inside.

"Nope, no chance of that. We'd have to get in there, or the pilot would have to tell us. Either way requires making personal acquaintance, which isn't very rational to attempt now." Essen fidgeted with a variety of scanners and other buttons, wondering if they would reveal anything of the Ilivais' workings, but his attempts were to no avail.

Sura glanced behind him, the vast Aztec continent still in view on the horizon, the destination still many hours away. "Well…the sooner we land, the sooner we can check it out." As the ocean rolled by beneath them, the soldiers continued conversing, continually straying to the subject of their captured machine, their thoughts quite fixated on what might lay inside.

"…Wait, wait. We CAN'T bring it into Morask?" Mille looked longingly at the land before her, a place far less impressive than that of Tenochtitlan. It was a small, frozen military base with the only semblance of color being the attached city's facades at street level. The border of the forest was far from Morask's bounds, and it was far enough from the sea to leave a harsh, barren expanse of frozen ground on all sides. It did not rise impressively from the ground, but rather sat upon it like a gray patch in the pure white earth.

Currently, the Avespias were positioned on a flat plain of stone within the military sector, just outside a small building labeled "Command". Sura had gone in for several minutes, leaving the other two outside with the Aztec machine, ringed by cautious armed personnel. It hadn't moved at all within the net, still curled up in that ball position, and even here it could likely escape at any time. Yet it had only complied with all of their actions, having put up no resistance whatsoever.

"They're curious about obtaining this thing, yes, but they don't want it in the city itself. It'll be wide open until they could construct a space in the hangars for it, and that's just begging for an Aztec raid. We're to bring it well away from here, set up camp in the forest somewhere, and make observations of it on our own." Sura flicked his Avespia back to life, tugging the net upwards and urging Mille to do the same.

"But but we'll be cold and starving and bleh! We go from blazing hot to freezing cold, and I was so looking forward to room temperature…" Mille bundled herself up in a small gray blanket, reaching her hand towards the barracks as though that would bring her closer.

Essen retrieved the Null Field generators, now fully charged, and stowed a large metal box in the abdomen of Mille's unit. "We've been supplied with everything we need. Besides, you can adjust the temperature in the Avespia, unless you like sleeping outside."

Mille sighed, fidgeting in her seat. "…it's just that these things aren't that comfortable, is all…" Reluctantly, she and Sura lifted the Ilivais up once more, and the three flew off for another fifteen minutes, deep into the forest and well away from Morask. Upon finding a clearing, they began unraveling the net, still keeping the machine inside secured, but even once it was off it made no attempt to run away. The Ilivais was settled into something of a crouching position upon the ground, its bladed face easily accessible.

For a moment, the pilots remained silent within their Avespias, unsure of what exactly the Ilivais might do or how exactly to approach it. Finally, Sura took a deep breath and broke the cold quiet, staring intently at the other two. "Alright. Essen, you help me secure the unit, in case it makes a run for it. Mille, you try to get in there and establish contact with the pilot…if it even has one."

"…Wait, wait. Why do I have to be the one to do that? I don't even know what to say!"

Essen softly put his hand to his forehead at Mille's reply. "…We're the two holding down the highly destructive prototype weapon, and you're the one complaining? Just get in there."

With a shrug, Mille hopped out outside, shivering in the stagnant chill. She shuffled over to the massive bladed face resting against the ground, observing every detail of it. On either side of the blade appeared to be frayed lines that glowed ever so slightly, and its surface was overlaid with a large X. The faceless surface seemed alive in its own way, the lack of visage it contained just as distinctive as any true face. Gently, she laid a hand on those lines, and jumped back in surprise as the blade slid backwards and the face split in half with a loud hiss.

"Agh! It's attacking! We're all totally- …hm?" Mille opened her eyes, the Ilivais still unmoving, that singular motion having been the extent of its action. But the cavernous head now held a different sight, for within that dark space a young girl was suspended by her arms and legs. She was just as monochrome as the robot she piloted- her skin and hair ghostly white, the clothes on her person gray and black. She donned what appeared to be an ashen greatcoat, the large collar turned up and surrounding all but her face. The sides of the coat were splayed a bit upwards, showing a diamond of pallid midsection below the buttons. On her somewhat wide hips was a black layered skirt, the front pointing in an upwards chevron of fabric, but the top angled downwards as well to give the garment a vague sideways hourglass shape. And lower, just barely noticeable on her legs, were white stockings that started below the knee and ended above the ankle, not quite serving any purpose. A wavy mane of messy, shoulder-length hair draped over her round, childish face, her eyes squeezed shut. Mille studied the girl carefully, her lips curling in a small, uncertain smile as the suspended pilot's appearance endeared her a tiny bit. "…Hello? Are you…alright?"

"…yes…I am…f-fine…" The girl's words were breathed forth carefully and deliberately, in a low, whispering staccato, nearly inaudible to Mille standing inches away. She noticed that two small domes were affixed a little below her ribcage, glowing a soft pastel blue.

"…okay, then…Uhm…Hi there! My na-"

"Why…have you b-brought me here?" Slowly, the girl opened her eyes, and the lack of color on her person was well compensated by the dancing, prismatic swirl that played across her irises, every imaginable color shifting and floating in a ring around her pupils.

Mille shook her head, and offered a hand to the pilot before her. "Now now. It's rude to interrupt. Let's start with proper introductions so the narrative can refer to you by name. Ahem. I'm Lieutenant Mille Chanteau of the Gaia Forces. It's nice to meet you…I suppose!"

The girl stared at Mille's hand curiously but did not offer her own, instead slowly observing the woman up and down. "…the…Gaia Forces. …actually…r-rather fortunate…uhm…My name is Iriana Estchell. …so…why do you…s-speak to me…?"

"…hrm…Well, first I'd like to know this. You've been so…cooperative. I'm almost positive you could've broken out of the net at any time. It's a pretty tough thing, but surely not enough to stand up to super-awesome beams and all those blades. …Why didn't you escape?"

Iriana gave a short, quiet grumble, then shut her eyes again. "…using b-basic logic, the answer is s-simple. …I…was…I ran. …My only goal was to r-run away as far as possible. …We…are on the opposite side of the world from the Aztec c-capital, I believe…and there was…still is…a sensory nullification field around us. …You h-have prevented the entire Aztec military relentlessly chasing me down. …I r-realized that…had I broken out…I would be in f-far less desirable a position."

Mille listened quietly, nodding as Iriana explained. "…I understand. …I'm not sure if we can really keep you and your Ilivais around, though, but…seems like you don't have anywhere else to really go."

"…huh…my Ilivais…it…really is m-mine, is it not…?" Iriana looked around her cockpit, then with a sigh, she suddenly dropped to the floor like a doll, the harnesses swaying above her.

"What….are you alright?" Mille reached down to help Iriana upright, but jerked her hand backwards at the touch of her skin. She was so very cold, even through the gloves of her uniform.

"…I am fine. …worrying about me…h-how…intriguing." Iriana pulled herself up, seating herself at the lip of the cockpit."

"…So, Iriana…what do you plan to do…? …I don't really get why you ran away in the first place, so…I don't know what to tell you?"

Iriana continued staring at Mille, her blunt question confusing her, then shifted her gaze to the clearing, those colorful eyes flitting to each tree. "…I…would just l-like to…stay here for a while…I…c-can at least do that for now…right?" Though her face was mostly expressionless, she widened her eyes, their pupils shifting a slight teal color.

"…Ah…I'm positive they don't have any objections, but…I'll bring them out to meet you. …I'd personally be happy to help you out, though! They'll probably be like 'oh no Mille it's soooo dangerous to keep it around' but I prevail over all dangers! And I could not bear to leave a frail young girl to fend for herself with an empire giving pursuit to her!" Mille's voice dripped with sudden bravado, and with a laugh she strode off.

"…I…r-ran like you told me to…" Iriana spoke quietly to herself, her chest rising and falling with each breath. The frigid northern winter felt merely like a vague gust upon her skin as her toes brushed against the snow, making small circles below them. She focused her attention back up ahead of her, waiting quietly until Mille returned with her two comrades, gesturing towards Iriana.

"Okay! This is our new friend, Iriana Estchell! You two, introduce yourselves!"

Sura and Essen appeared intrigued by Iriana, carefully studying her. "…Well then. I'm Su-"

"I…could…p-please sit down…it would…be a common courtesy…?" Iriana stared the three down, her face still blank and her eyes a steely gray.

"Alright…" Sura slowly sat upon the snow with slight discomfort, urging the other two to do the same. "…As I said, I'm Sura Verandis, a lieutenant in the Gaia Forces."

"And my name is Essen Dywell, but I'm just an ensign. Nice to meet you, Iriana." Essen offered a hand to Iriana, but Mille brushed it away with a shake of the head.

"…Fair…enough. …Now…I asked M-Mille about…if it was p-possible for me to…stay…here…like this. …I…do…c-certainly there is a way…if you require a service I am c-capable of providing…essentially…use of my Ilivais…you can ask then…"

Essen sighed a little, motioning for the other two to let him think for a bit. "…I mean…we would be fine without anything in return, if…the Null Field weren't so resource-draining. Surprised they even gave us one. …So on the topic of your Ilivais…that depends on what use we could have for it. What can it do?"

Iriana closed her eyes, thinking deeply. "…This is the Aztec Dark Energy Phonos Weapon, AIP-024 Ilivais Prototype X…or Ilivais X for short. …Though the other Phonos Weapons have immense prowess in some battle capabilities while f-falling short in others, X is more of a balance between those, constructed similarly to mass-produced units. What d-distinguishes it is the Cyclic Engine, a three-section thrust generator and f-fuel source, powered by continually self-generated energy. …that was the terminal entry. …Effectively, it creates limitless amounts of power, and can manipulate that for any n-need."

"Ah. That's…not very plausible sounding. But hey, if you can power the Null Field generator, no problem for us. …There's only the matter of you stealing it, since it's obviously really expensive…but I get the impression you don't really have anywhere to go." Mille smirked a bit, but her expression briefly dropped to a frown at the thought. "…So how about this. You let us do whatever research we need on your unit, and in exchange we'll supply you with resources, a prefab shelter, and of course getting to hide out here."

Iriana shook her head lightly, glancing around her. "…All I need of those is…not having anyone c-capable of detecting me. No additional supplies are n-needed. …if…it is not…too much to ask…could as few as p-possible come here or…have…know about this l-location? …I…do not want to be…swarmed with people doing…tests… In fact…I wouldd really like some time to just…be alone…I need to g-gather my thoughts…figure out…what I shall to do now…where I'm going…"

Sura gave a deep smile, and roughly patted Iriana on the shoulder…but this had the effect of making her stiffen up and recoil, withdrawing farther back into the cockpit. "…huh. …Well. We promise you some privacy, if that's what you need. Unless the Aztecs come bearing down on us…which they really shouldn't, there's not anything urgent here. …So…we'll head on back to Morask and discuss the situation. I think it should work out, though." He stood back up, stretching out a little. "…So we'll get back to you on that soon. Until then, I trust you won't run off…hopefully you won't break that trust." With a nod to Mille and Essen, the three smiled at her, and slowly departed out of sight.

The sound of the Avespias' engines lifting off and the abrupt silence signaled Iriana's solitude, and with that she slipped out of the cockpit, her feet finding uneasy purchase on the rocky, cold ground. Her gaze flickered from tree to tree, a sight she hadn't seen in so long…that memory dim and blurred. Off to the side, in a darkened alcove, a small, fur-coated creature slept, one she couldn't even recall the name of. The sights overwhelmed her, nearly dizzied her perception. She was far too used to simply seeing it in simulated form, in the backdrop of an artificial base, through the brief indirect sight in the Ilivais…what fed directly into her eyes was many orders of magnitude farther than what she was used to. And the silence was different too. A fearful, tense noise now signaled solace with only the faintest difference. The little accents made it so: the slight rustling of the trees, the occasional soft wind, the echoing cry of some far-off bird, the light footsteps from-

With a start, Iriana turned off to the side, those idle stepping noises now evidently far closer than she'd thought. For a split second, she feared the worst, a feral creature, or possibly an Aztec soldier that quietly tracked her all this time. As it turned out, however, one Avespia hadn't left, and its cheerful pilot was approaching with a blanket in tow.

"…What…M-Mille? …Why…are you still here?" Despite the low near-whisper of her voice, it rang quite true in the quiet clearing.

Mille traipsed towards Iriana with a smile, offering her the thick comforter. "Well, unless you've got stuff in there already, I don't think you'd be very cozy in the Ilivais. …So I brought some of our supplies, and a few of my own things." She laid the large, soft sheet down inside the cockpit, revealing a plethora of objects under her arm: a collapsed rubber-coated box, folded-up clothes, colored thermoses, a few boxes of food, two tablet computers, and oddly, a plush lizard of some kind. "…Uhhh…the blue thermos is water, red is vegetable juice, purple's fruit juice…teal's if you're bold and willing to try a liquor I like that could knock you right out. Eheheh. …The gray computer's a blank slate, I think brand-new, you can keep it. The dark blue one's mine, has a decent amount of entertainment on there…including some…private…less tasteful sorts. Goes great with the teal drink! Aaaand the box is a portable shower." She pulled a latch on the box, and it expanded several times its size, the zippered entryway likely cramped for most adults, but perfectly fine for Iriana's small size. "…Not as good as the real deal, annoying to fold back up, and a bitch to clean out, but I sure as hell don't like to smell bad."

Iriana watched with wide eyes as all these objects were placed in her Ilivais, and she appeared unsure of what to do with them…aside from the blanket, which she promptly wrapped herself up in. "…I…am n-not sure what to…to say…"

In response, Mille simply laughed and ruffled the girl's hair. "Oh, I dunno. 'Mille, you are the most awesome and gorgeous person in the entire universe' would be pretty sweet, but a simple 'thank you' is enough for me. …I am a creature of humility, after all!" At that, she chuckled even more, only stopping upon feeling a frigid hand reach up to grasp Mille's own, which was still resting on Iriana's head.

"…Uhm…Mille, you are…the m-most awesome and gorgeous person in the entire universe…?" Iriana cleared her throat ever so slightly at the unsure intonation, and looked downwards awkwardly. "…Imaginative of m-me, I know…"

Mille stopped and blinked for a few seconds, before slowly falling to her knees in another fit of giggles. "…Gah…didn't expect that…! …Oh…ahaha…why the hell are we leaving you back here again, seriously?" She squeezed the frail, soft hand a bit, then draped her arm on Iriana's shoulders, inciting the girl to look back up at her. "I'm pretty sure you could like…autopilot the thing to charge the Null Field…and even if not, come on, the thing can last a day or two. Come on, Iriana, let's get you to Morask. Risks be damned, it seems silly to have you stay here all al-"

"…I c-cannot." Iriana shifted her gaze downwards once more, shaking her head. "…I…cannot come with…you."

A silence fell, Mille's expression falling with it. "…Oh. …yeah. …This happens. Again. …damn it…blew this chance to hell…" She grumbled slightly, then sighed, interrupted by Iriana softly leaning against her.

"…No…do not take it p-personally. I would certainly l-like to come…if I could. I'm…so glad you m-made that offer…it…means a lot, that someone has shown me such gratitude as you have. …for entirely technical reasons, I am…incapable of leaving. …I am…bound…to the Ilivais. I…must stay here. …The fact that you have brought these amenities…that is…the m-most wonderful thing you could've possibly done for me. …I will be f-fine here. …As I said, I just need some…t-time to myself…" A few quiet moments passed, when Iriana found herself warmly embraced, the hold a bit tight but comfortable regardless.

"Alright then…You better not go and get yourself captured, then. …After all, I still have some stuff on that computer I gotta watch, okay?" With a slow grin, Mille slipped away from Iriana, and her spirits returned with a giggle as the girl wrapped herself up in the blanket. "…I'll see you in the morning, then! Hope you have a good night…and…thank you, so much…!" A pleasant wave signaled her departure, and soon the Avespia's soft whine sounded, the noise ascending, then fading away.

Huddled up in the covering, Iriana looked down within, specifically at the pink light that shone from underneath her coat. Her breaths grew deep, her eyes widened, and a soft tremble turned into the slightest laughter, one of surprise, hope…and a bit of release. "…It…surely is not…the chances are incredibly s-slim. …I…was not even aware…would that even qualify as a fifth? The others…she was n-nothing like them. …An actual person…that heat proves it. …Still…this r-reaction…a defect, likely…of my own…but…no, there's that pull…Even given h-her nature…it likely worked the other way around…if anything, this is a chance that c-can easily become the path…do I have any choice but to f-follow? …yes…l-let that be where I am going…" With a soft sigh, she retreated further backwards, and the face of the Ilivais shifted shut. There, the silvery titan laid, curled up and in rest…its destiny dormant now, but soon to spring forth and be known to all...