Sector 9 had been deserted for over ten years. An outbreak of low-level reavers had caused the city to be evacuated, never to be occupied again. The empty buildings still stood, walls cracked and covered in moss and other kinds of plants, some shards of broken glass remaining as remnants of windows in the few buildings that had suffered attacks. There were hospitals, schools, completely furnished, left untouched. A library, hotels, restaurants… everything was exactly as it should be, though completely void of people. As if everyone had simple got up one day, packed their bags and left. It was the perfect ghost town.
As well as the perfect training spot.
Due to its low risk of suffering an attack, no possible civilian damage and large ground area, along with different types of environment and terrain, Sector 9 had, since the exile, become part of ARK’s official training grounds, though due to its size available only to high-ranking agents or group training. Like all other training grounds, upon being categorized and secured from the outside, a VR system had been installed throughout the entire town to generate virtual targets of any kind, as long as relevant data was present in the system. It was the only training ground with a limitless VR, meaning the strongest opponents were available to fight, therefore it was forbidden to use it unsupervised.
Kael, obviously, had gone past the point of caring.
Being a Paladin Knight had many advantages besides admiration from peers and the general prestige from holding the highest title given to field agents. The perks included unlimited access to the best weapons, armour and vehicles and training grounds, among others. It was a privilege to be used with moderation and most of all discretion, but Kael had no interest in any. To be fair, he had his own weapon, his own armour and his own motorcycle and had no interest in using ARK’s. All he wanted was a place to unwind, to let it all out and fight. And if that meant bending the rules and using Sector 9 completely unsupervised then so be it.
From where he stood, in the middle of a crossroad, he could see the silver discs on the ground - VR generators that responded to vocal commands. There was one in almost every corner to guarantee utmost reliability in both performance and response. Kael sighed, smiling to himself. Akira’s pickiness, he thought.
The training suit he wore was all black, unlike his usual mostly-white battle regalia. It was comfortable in a strange way, sleeveless as usual and the gloves were thicker than his own, so as to aid in gripping his weapon. The longsword rested in its sheath across his back. He took a few seconds to survey his surroundings once more, though he knew Sector 9 by heart, then raised his bare arm and closed his hand around the hilt of his sword. His smile widened into a grin.
“Activate voice recognition system.” He spoke the words very clearly, not raising his voice in the slightest. The disc closest to him rose not more than two centimetres from the ground, a neon-blue glow coming out from beneath it. “This is Agent Kael Rimbauer requesting full access to VR Training System Sector 9, security limit lifted to level A. Access code 089137.”
The light flickered for a couple of seconds before an automated message sounded off the metal disc. “Access granted. Agent Kael Rimbauer successfully identified. Starting VR training simulation at level A in 5…4…3…2…1…”
As the sound disappeared, so did the tiny blue light and the disc lowered itself back into the ground, looking like a random metal plate on the dirt floor. Kael grinned still, his ears catching the faraway sound of rushed, heavy footsteps, like an enormous dog running wild. Slowly, he unsheathed his sword, as if taking some strange pleasure in doing so; once it was out, he twirled the weapon swiftly in his hand to hold it in a correct position with both hands. He could hear irregular breathing and panting getting nearer and nearer, the footsteps now close enough to make the ground tremble from underneath his feet. Allowing himself a single sadistic smile, Kael tightened the grip on his sword, his knuckles turning white inside the sturdy gloves.
“Well, here goes nothing.”
In a single, fluid movement, he turned on his heels, lifting one foot from the ground and holding the blade sideways. The gigantic creature leapt at him from the darkness, having attempted to get him from behind, one quick slash clean across the chest sending the demonic hound rolling across the dirt. As he stared at the immobile animal, Kael resumed his regular stand, watching as the creature’s image flickered for a second before disappearing. He smiled to himself and returned his other hand to the hilt of his sword.
Three shadows jumped at him from his sides, two from his right and one from his left. They came from above, from rooftops on opposite sides of the road, but they were smaller than the first hound, about the size of hyenas. Kael took a few steps backwards, holding his blade sideways once more as the reavers hit the ground. The first one jumped at him and he slashed its throat just as swiftly as he had before, finishing his movement with a clean stab through the other creature’s head just as it had jumped at him. The third one leapt directly at his head and he turned the sword in his hand, hitting the reaver on the head with the hilt, then stabbing it through the skull once it fell on the ground.
He wasn’t even sweating yet.
“Okay, time to walk around.”
He stepped cautiously into the old hospital. The building might have been left untouched, but there were some marks of previous training - fallen lockers, broken glass, upturned tables and chairs, drawers spilt onto the floor. There was no electricity inside, so Kael blinked a few times to activate the seal on his left eye, which then gave out a bright, flame-colored glow. He wasn’t going to count on his powers for battle purposes, though; all he needed was for the usual warm light to emanate from his body as it did whenever he activated his seal. It would allow him to see at least a little past his feet in the pitch-black halls of the hospital.
The further he advanced into the building, though, the stranger it got. Despite it being obviously forbidden, or at least frowned upon, Kael was used to training in Sector 9. He did it at least once every two weeks, so he knew the layout of the buildings as well as reaver appearance rate by heart. He’d been inside the hospital for over ten minutes, that should have already given him a fifteen to twenty body count. He’d gotten two.
“Something’s fishy here.” Kael whispered, standing in one of the medical labs. He looked around carefully, the faint glow of his skin just enough to allow him to see all the room’s limits, though not very clearly. It was an inner room so there was no moonlight to help him either. He frowned heavily, not sure himself if he was concerned or just weirded out. Sector 9 had been infused with standard ARK limitation technology, making it impossible to even set foot on the grounds without proper authorization, so no one could have simply entered the area and messed with the system.
“What makes you so sure?”
Kael turned around to face the voice coming from behind him. He was caught off-guard and his sword knocked over some glass vials on the counter which came crashing down on the floor. He didn’t even hear the sound of the shattering glass, his mind going blank at the sight before him.
A silver-haired man sat on one of the counters, though his body seemed to hover slightly above the surface itself, and a single crimson eye stared into his soul, as the other was covered by a black monocle.
A crimson eye.
Knowing far too well what that meant, Kael immediately assumed a fighting stance, holding his blade with both hands, eyebrows furrowed in a kind of anger that originated from his own confusion. The man found this incredibly amusing - this boy wanted to fight a battle he had no intention of getting himself into at all. He laughed, his soft, musical voice echoing throughout the small room and into the hallway beyond.
“I’m not here to fight you, Kael Rimbauer.” He smirked at the look on the boy’s face upon hearing his name spoken out loud by a complete stranger. “I am here to give you some…” he sighed, crossing his long, lean legs. “…advice.”
“I don’t want advice from a pure-blood.” His grip on the sword tightened out of disgust, his gaze still focused on the tell-tale crimson eye. The man raised a curious brow.
“Calm down, boy.” There was no use in even telling him to lower his weapon, as that would only make the young man try to strike him. “I wasn’t sent by anyone, I am here of my own accord to give you and your friends a warning.”
“Why the fuck would you do that?”
“Because I think it would be very interesting if you had a little extra knowledge.” He smiled brightly. “It would be amusing to see my friends be left without the element of surprise to their advantage.”
“What do you mean your friends?” His arms and neck stiffened at the words, as if his body expected a sudden attack from all sides. The man laughed and hopped off the counter, his body sliding slowly down though his feet never touched the ground, hovering above it still.
“Lady Starr is going to come for you.” He whispered. “As I and my other partner will come for the other two.” A gloved hand moved to Kael’s chin, holding it up so his face was absurdly close to the stranger’s. He wanted to move but his entire body was frozen, unresponsive, as if he’d suddenly lost control over it. He couldn’t even move a muscle on his face - if the man wanted to kill him then, Kael knew he would have been able to easily do it.
“My advice is that you take the necessary precautions. I assure you… you and her are more than easily matched.” The man smiled and stepped away from Kael, but the young man’s body was still frozen solid. “As for the other two… they may have a larger problem on their hands.” He shrugged, his body levitating slightly higher above the floor, gradually becoming transparent. “I must go now or else my… friends might find out I’ve been here. And we wouldn’t want that… would we?”
As he smiled, a bright, innocent smile like a child’s, his body vanished into thin air, leaving only a trace of his crimson eye hovering in Kael’s mind. Once the sound of the man’s voice stopped ringing off the walls, it was as if the strings holding his body had been cut at the exact same time and he suddenly regained full control of his limbs. This startled him as he tripped over himself and stumbled backwards, falling flat on his back, his sword rolling away from him. He cringed at the slight pain and raised his lower back just enough to rub it with one hand.
Whatever had just happened had left him way too confused to keep training; he’d probably just get mauled by the first little thing that jumped at his face.
“Access VR voice command system.” He allowed himself to rest on the floor, his eyes closed and a hand on his forehead. Now he was sweating and it wasn’t even from fighting.
“Agent Kael Rimbauer requesting authorization to end training VR training session in Sector 9. Code 089137.”