Chapter 39: Chasing the Rabbit
The only sound in the room was that of Zenapharr’s pen as he hurriedly scrawled a letter using the desk in his room. His palms were clammy, and his heart yammered in his chest. There was a palpable internal struggle he fought against, so strong even his own hand scrawled words of some unknown language. Yet he pressed on, writing his message amidst the archaic runes on his paper. A dark voice in his head urged him to finish what he had found himself about to do only minutes earlier.
“No,” he protested as he struggled finishing the letter. Just before, he had awoken in a trance. He was more than aware of what was going on, but he felt next to helpless in controlling his own body movements. It was like waking to a very bad and realistic nightmare. Moving with the craftiness of a snake, he crept over to the hiding spot Sade had put the Seraphim’s sword and wielded it. His eyes danced over the blade, and the dark voice told him how beautiful it would look plunged in his friend’s heart.
This frightened him so that he fought with everything he had, and regained control of his motor functions. Breathing heavily, he stumbled through the patio door and leaned against the ledge. Sucking in mouthfuls of fresh air, he simply stared out into the night in shock. After he calmed down, he talked to the one person he wished for the most.
“Mother…I wish you were here. The last time we spoke, I wanted to end my life. I realize now that it was very foolish. I may have this curse , but it can be used for good. To eradicate evil men like Krane. Yet, something is taking over and I can’t control it. I can’t trust myself around my only friend who’s helping me. I need your guidance. I’m scared…scared of who I may harm along the way. This situation…I feel it’s much bigger than any of us. There’s more to it, and I fear my actions may bear repercussions I’m not ready for. I just….I feel so alone.”
Tears welled up and streamed down his trembling face.
“I—I can’t do this without you. Even though I was very young, I remember how you always had the right thing to say. How you taught me about life. Sadly, I believe many of those lessons were forgotten along the way. I don’t want to become who I’ve been…but how do I know how much of it is really me? I just feel so….so lost. I just nee something….some solace to give me strength to finish this. I feel so foolish, speaking to someone who isn’t here in front of me. If I could just know you’re here. Please…show me you’re with me. Give me a sign...anything at all.”
He gripped the balcony’s edge so hard his knuckles were white. The wind lightly blew, and he waited. The initial panic that seized him had passed, but he still felt the crushing weight of it all.
Again, he waited. It felt like forever. He had no idea how long he waited, but finally he gave up.
“Okay. I’ll go now.”
Zenapharr began to turn around, but a sensation stopped him. At first it felt like the wind, but when he focused it was definitely not. There was a pressure on the side of his face, and the touch felt as if a hand was lightly pressed against. He could even feel the impression of a palm. When he suddenly remembered this was something his mother did to calm him, he felt shivers travel down his spine.
“Mother…..is that really you?”
This was confirmed when he felt another touch, this time was like someone’s forehead leaning against his own. His tears streamed more now, and he closed his eyes and envisioned her standing there with him. The feeling of arms wrapped around him, tenderly embracing him.
“It’s going to be okay,” a sweet voice whispered. It was hers. Still sobbing, he nodded his head and soaked in the moment and the otherworldly peace that filled him. Once he was completely calm, the sensation dematerialized and he slowly opened his eyes. Again he was alone outside but he felt different. The other thing inside was far away, and he needed to move quick before it came back.
“Thank you,” he lingered on the words. “Your death was not the end, nor was it in vain. I’m going to make you proud.”
With a newly fulfilled sense of purpose, he crept back inside. Before exiting the suite, he lightly touched Sade’s shoulder.
“If I don’t see you in this life, I will in the next. Good luck, bro’ere.”
Downstairs, he found the innkeeper was still posted at the counter.
“You’re up late, or early…however you want to look at it,” he said and chuckled a bit.
Zenapharr instructed him to give the letter to Sade and left on horseback. It was a short amount of time to find the nearby caves where the facility apparently incinerated bodies. His keen sense of smell assisted him with the light smoke. Before long, he had tied up his horse and made his way inside.
The entrance to the cave seemed normal, an occasional eerie dripping of water resounding through the air. Thankfully for his eyesight, he maneuvered through the darkness with ease and without detection. Eventually he saw a split and chose the one where the most noise came from. His guess found correct as he continued until he came upon a small passageway with a metal wall and a door. It was locked as he suspected, but his strength made short work of it.
Inside, he found the hissing of smoke and gentle hum of machinery. The incinerator mentioned by Dran sat in the center of the room, with stairs on either side leading to a catwalk that no doubtedly led to the back entrance. Stealth was on his side, and he easily worked around the guard. Before he exited, he thought of Sade and casually disarmed the guard and knocked him unconscious. Using some nearby rope, he tied his hands and feet before throwing his weapon into the furnace.
“Too easy,” he thought as he exited the furnace room. While still being cautious, he also reminded himself that his presence was probably not expected. Krane had no reason to think he knew the whereabouts of his armor factory. Then again, he had to know Aegis was helping them considering the Shade had followed them to the cathedral. No solid proof linked the Shade to Krane, but it was too much of a coincidence.
The corridors he began traversing were all in white, reminiscent of a hospital. Passing through he saw various rooms with lab equipment, some with cots and sinks, others with reinforced walls. There seemed multiple uses for this. The most uncomfortable note he made was how empty the facility seemed. It was unnaturally quiet, putting him more on edge. Without a sound, he unsheathed his katana.
“Keeping patients, testing equipment. So where is the armor?” He said to himself. Weaving his way through, he felt he was going in circles and consulted a map. Not every room was labeled, but he saw one particularly large room and he was sure it had to be where they stored the Rune-Tech armor. Without approach from anyone, he made it right outside the door. His nerves were alive with anticipation. Nothing seemed right about this. Either way, he had to enter.
Upon opening the door, he saw just what he expected. A gigantic room with three levels holding rows and rows of armored suits. Blinking lights and tesla coils littered the room. The focal point was a center platform with a large control panel. Just like the rest of the facility, there was no one here.
Curious about the suits, he approached one to investigate. Just as Aegis had shown the parts, here they were all connected. Yet, there was one large difference from before. Inside the suit was a person, apparently in some stasis or sleep. He stepped back and noticed at each armored suit housed a person as well. They all donned shaved heads, and more disturbingly he found that some device was inserted into the back of their heads.
“They’re brainwashed…” was the first rationale he could think of.
“Do you like it?” A voice spoke overhead. He jumped and spun around to find no one there. It was emanating from speakers housed around the room. “They were all our faithful test subjects. You have that in common with them.”
“Who are you?” He shouted.
“I’m just someone who’s very interested in you, Zenapharr. You are quite remarkable. Quite possibly one fo the most powerful beings on this Earth. Sadly, you don’t realize your full potential. Let me help you with that.”
Before he could respond, an alarm repeatedly blasted and red lights flashed throughout the room. His ears sensed the sound of doors opening from multiple places. Soon, a large wave of armed guards began to swearm in and he was outnumbered at least twenty to one. He readied himself to dispatch all the soldiers, or die trying.
The woman’s voice spoke again through the speakers, but this time he didn’t understand what she was saying. It sounded like a ritual chant, vaguely Elvish but he still could not decipher it’s meaning. The last words that came after was.
“The color red. Hatred of all else. Eve of enlightenment. Seraphim is all. End of the beginning.
Call to arms. One and many. Never turn back. Deliver from impurity. Cleanse with fire. Oversee the reckoning. Mayhem ensures peace. Insight in dream. Nightfall . Grant me this.”
Immediately something inside Zenapharr went off. His eyes turned red, and from there his memory blacked out…
* * *
“I made it. I actually made it,” Sade said to himself. The cave tunnel ended to a metal wall and door. He noticed right away the doorknob was broken and he easily let himself in. Taking in his surroundings, he made his way through the furnace room and stopped at the sight of a tied-up security guard.
“Zenapharr, you’re here,” he said to himself in high hopes. The guard tried to call out through his gag, and Sade knelt down next to him.
“Scream, and you die,” he said coldly. The guard shook his head in reply, and Sade removed the gage. “Is this a manufacturing facility?”
The guard thought for a moment, and calmly said, “No.”
Sade held his blade up to the guard’s throat. “You sure about that?”
“Okay okay, yes it is.”
“What are you manufacturing here?”
“Armored suits. They can, can resist magic attacks. Krane was using them for some kinda war.”
“ ‘Was’ using?”
“You don’t know? Krane’s dead.”
“They said he hit his head on the bathtub, but if you ask me that’s a lie. We all think his wife did it.”
“Wife? Krane has a wife?”
“Yeah. It’s not public, everyone thinks she’s his assistant. Anyway, she’s in charge of things now. If you ask me, she’s crazier than him.”
“But it’s not just a manufacturing plant, it’s scientific research too. Scary stuff.”
“Brainwashing, messing with people’s memories.”
“Has Zenapharr ever been here before?”
“Him? No. They only experimented at that other place that was blown up. But his brother…he was here for a long time.”
“His brother?! Where can I get files on this.”
After the guard told him what he needed to know, Sade placed the gag back over his mouth and knocked him out.
“Bad day for him,” he thought. As urgent as it was that they find the Rune-Tech Armor, the guard’s comment about Zenapharr’s brother bothered him. Lies and deceit were a regular part of Zenapharr’s upbringing. If he could at least give his friend another piece of truth, it might help him.
“It’s more than that, Sade,” he strangely thought to himself. “It must be the dream I had.” The more he thought of it, the more he realized how true it was. Especially when the guard mentioned brainwashing, and how he reacted to the man in the chair at the mental hospital. Something just as strange was going on with his own past that he couldn’t describe.
As he made his way to the file room, he felt unsettled at how empty this place was. With the illegal activity gong on, there should be a guard at every entryway or room. On his way, he felt compelled to stop a particular room. His dream came crashing back with the sickening revelation that it was the same room.
“This can’t be…this is just in my head.” He thought, but couldn’t help but to satisfy his curiosity. The chair, the straps, everything was just as he remembered in his dream. Even the stained patterns on the floor matched. A wave of nausea hit him, and he threw up in the corner.
Wiping his mouth, the déjà vu overwhelmed him to the point that he couldn’t take it anymore and left. This strange sensation never left him as he entered the empty file room and began rifling through cabinets. It took a minute to find the right one, but eventually he did come to a file labeled “Skye Meridian.” It detailed his relation to Zenapharr and his time at the other facility. His heart skipped a beat as he read a particular page entitled “Memory Reset and Conditioning.”
Objective: As close to Zenapharr is to his brother, we have decided to remand Skye Meridian to this facility for mental conditioning. The purpose of this is to remove Zenapharr’s brother from his life to make Zenapharr more compliant, and explore any hidden talents attributed to someone with the same blood as him. We have since faked his brother’s death and kept him in our care for experimentation.
Actions Taken: As shown with other patients with hidden magical talents, we exposed Skye to extreme pain and torture in hopes to reveal any hidden abilities. We are sure something exists as the powerful Magi blood within Zenapharr also resides within Sade. We plan to use this same method along with cerebral injections to remove the memory of Skye’s past with Zenapharr and give him new memories. We want to see if giving Skye certain types of memories will motivate him to join the cause of Minerva as the most dutiful and loyal servant. If he is not compliant to join Minerva, we will apply conditioning that will force him to reply to our demands with the appropriate code word.
Results: Skye Meridian’s responses have shown no magical abilities, hidden or otherwise. Yet, our memory resets have proven successful. He has no memory of his previous life and has taken to his new memories quite fondly. Some residual effects of the conditioning have followed, but we have given him new memories to explain this. For instance, he has shown an adverse reaction to hospitals or other care facilities , but a memory of his mother’s death has made this seem normal. We have deemed this experiment a success and have given him the name of Sade Wingard. At this, we have sent him to a foster home with strict instructions to comply with his new memories. Case closed.
Sade stood in stunned disbelief at the file, reading it over and over again.
“This is how Zenapharr must feel,” he thought. Soon, his feelings of shock were replaced by anger. More than ever, he was going to take NOSRAD down. Whether it be during this mission or another, he would make sure they saw justice for their crimes. He put as much as he could into his satchel and found a map which lead him to a large holding room. The old familiar creeping feeling of deception stuck with him as he had no resistance getting to the room.
Close to the holding room, he stopped in his tracks to the sight of blood. Not just a puddle of blood, but smears of it as if multiple bodies had been dragged through. He hoped it was the victims of Zenapharr. More cautiously, he approached and entered the storage room.
Taking in the sight of the vast room, he noted the rows of Rune-Tech Armor placed in holding containers. To his closer inspection, he saw with horror that there were people trapped in the suits. He saw up ahead there was a control panel, and someone was behind it. To his complete surprise, a beautiful woman stood up and faced him.
“Greetings, Sade Wingard,” she finished with an edge of sardonic pleasure. The message implied she was well aware of who he truly was.
Before he could say anything in reply, another figure stood up beside her and faced him who he immediately recognized.