Mishio's Return, Chapter 4: The Reunion

Chapter 4: The Reunion

Mishio…? Did you find anybody else?

…I didn't.

No… No! This can't be! We're the only two foxes left?!

Quiet, Shiomi! The other families are probably still out there! I just can't travel to them, since I can't leave you behind, since you're bound to… your shrine…

I'm sorry! I'm so sorry for holding you back and… and being a hindrance!

Shiomi, please-No, no, please, please… Please don't cry again… Oh, oh Gods… Why is this happening?

"Help! I need help! My partner needs help!" Okuda staggers across the grassy field as a spotlight shines upon him. In response, another man's megaphone-blasted voice rings across the air.

"Halt, identify yourself-? Okuda! What the hell happened?"

"The URPC! The URPC became hostile and escaped! Our vehicle crashed. Agent Hikage is incapacitated and in danger. URPC is close to her and is hostile, repeat, URPC is hostile! Requesting… Requesting emergency aid and as many reinforcements as possible to be sent to the crash…"

"Damn! I understand." The security guard lowers his megaphone and raises a walkie-talkie. "Taiko to security. Code yellow. Response team required, send stretcher. Sit down, Okuda. The medical team will tend to your injuries shortly."

"No! I have to… Have to get in. The site is in danger, I have to let the others know!"

"Hey, Okuda! You really need to rest!" Despite saying that, Taiko remained at his station and focused on alerting the other perimeter guards to scan the area, allowing Okuda to continue limping in.

Okuda stumbles past the entry hall, observing as black-clad staff exited the elevators and rushed out. He looks left, and right, and curses under his breath. One of the other elevator doors opened and out came a new set of differently-garbed personnel, most of them following the black ones. Okuda gets approached by one in a white lab coat, trailed by two nurses carrying a stretcher.

"Agent! You are hurt! You should not be moving!"

"No! That's not what's important. I have to… have to get inside…" Several hands grab him carefully by the arms and drag him to lie upon the stretcher.

"Yes, we will take you in… Where is your ID?" Okuda freezes.

"…I must have lost it in the crash." Okuda briefly flinches as a nurse waves some sort of device up and across his body.

"Temperature fluctuations detected. Strange, I am seeing cold and hot areas…" The same nurse squints and re-reads the display. "Must be caused by injuries and temperature exposure."

"Understood. To the wards, nurses!" Okuda looks about as he is carried into the elevator. He stares as the doctor punches a button, causing it to glow and the tiny room to lurch. He carefully reads the list of wordings by the side of each button.

"Doctor, I cannot rest for now. I have to go to RPC-886! Where is she? I have an important message for her!" A nurse stares bluntly at the wounded agent.

"Okuda - you do not remember the directions to 886's cell?" Alarm crosses Okuda's expression as he rubs his head.

"I… I cannot. I think it's because hurt my head." Okuda wipes a trace of dried blood from his brow.

"If you have been injured to the point that you cannot remember the site layout, then it could be indicative of cerebral bleed. I'm scheduling an MRI for your brain, STAT!"

"But I-"

"No buts! RPC-886 can very well wait for your message." The doors open, and Okuda is brought into a very different place. Bright lights shining above as men and women in white coats walk to and fro, murmurs across the corridor, and the occasional blue-uniform escorting prisoners in orange jumpsuits… Okuda sweats, and tries to get up once more.

"Everyone - I appreciate the concern, but for now duty takes precendence over my wellbeing. I have to go to the containment area and… And reach RPC-886. Her wellbeing is threatened by the URPC. I… I have to warn her!" To Okuda's surprise, the stretcher is lowered as if in agreement. But, somehow, the feeling in the environment had gone very off.

The agent looks left and right as he notices several of the blue-uniformed staff surrounding both ends of the corridor, with several white-coats and an orange-suit peering on from behind. The nurses are now no longer looking at Okuda with concern, but threatening unamusement. The doctor has a walkie-talkie pressed to his ear, with Okuda being able to make out the words coming from it:

"…uda and Hikari located, possessing moderate to severe injuries! URPC is impersonating Agent Okuda! I repeat, URPC is impersonating Agent Okuda!"

The doctor adjusts his glasses, a menacing glint covering his eyes.

"Well! I see! That explains the interesting temperature readings." 'Okuda''s shoulders slumped as 'he' scowled.

"…Kuso.1"

"GET HER!"

Mishio bursts from her illusory disguise as the nurses lunge towards the stretcher, smashing facefirst into each other. While mid-air, Mishio stomps down on their heads, making them eat floor as she uses the momentum to vault over the tidal wave of blue uniforms surging towards the stretcher. The guards yelling and untangling from each other, Mishio races down the hallway towards a pair of metal doors slowly sliding shut, a voice squeaking from inside. She hurtles through the closing gap and rams into the elevator wall.

'Remember: Research safely, Protect safely, Contain safely! - The Directorate' were the words upon the poster behind the cracked glass that greeted Mishio's vision as she opened her eyes once more, alongside a sigil of a triangle presumably belonging to this organization. She turns around to behold the wiry little researcher trembling away at the corner of the elevator, below the buttons. She seizes him and holds him to the buttons.

"The floor where the other fox is. Now."

"B-b-b-but that's against pr-o-proto-protocol-"

"Push the right button right this instant or a century from now your great-great-great-great-grandchildren will wake up screaming in memory of what I do to you here, human!"

"Ieee! Don't curse me!" The scientist squeaks and slaps a button.

"Stand clear! URPC is in the elevator!" Armaments bristle as barricades are thrown up before the elevators. The atmosphere between Site-Sec becomes deadly silent as the elevator dings. And as soon as the door creaks open:

"Fire!" Two loud PHOOTs go off as a pair of grenades are launched straight through the crack of the elevator. In an instant, a blinding light bursts out from within the elevator, followed by a choking haze of gas. Out stumbles a figure, cloying and suffocating gas clinging to the hem of the clothing.

"Suspect URPC! Suppress! Suppress!" All hell breaks loose in a cacophony of gunfire as Site-Sec brings the rest of their armaments to bear, raining rubber bullets upon the shrieking intruder before finishing it off with a netgun.

"Stand down, stand down!" Site-Sec personnel approach the groaning scientist cautiously, before carefully inspecting the body and waving a thermal scanner upon him.

"Temperature readings normal… Damn it, false alarm! Collateral casualty."

"Hey! Over there! URPC sighted!" Mishio sprints down the corridor to the left of the elevator, coughing and wiping away at her tearing eyes as she throws aside the makeshift protection that was the scientist's labcoat.

"Sh-Shiomi, wait for me…"

"Grenadiers! End of corridor!" The launchers are aimed ahead of Mishio and their triggers pulled - only for the chambered grenades within to spontaneously go off, causing the crowd behind her to descend into chaos, yelling and gagging as a hellish display of blinding lights and gas erupt behind Mishio.

Mishio shrieks as the violent bursts from the stun grenades reverberate across her entire body, throbbing her eardrums into agony and causing her to stumble for a moment. Right there, one of the personnel that had broken into a sprint towards Mishio lunges straight through the gas, seizing her by the ankle.

"Got you!" Mishio gasps and hits the floor, turning around to see more ominous black silhouettes starting to exit the gas.

"Hanase2… HANASE!" Mishio frantically drives a foot back into the man's masked face repeatedly, but his grip remained tight as ever.

"Never!" That was when Mishio slipped back into her fox form, her ankle shrinking faster than his closing grip could keep up with. He misses grabbing her tails, and Mishio resumes sprinting as fast as she could. She reverts, barreling straight through a pair of doors into a massive dark room. Mishio falls to her knees and pants, pulling herself up by a table's edge.

She looks left and right, and finds herself to be in some sort of great hall. Tables are lined in rows, with chairs seated by their sides. In the distance appears to be an opening leading into a kitchen with the scent of food that was being cooked - she was in some sort of communal room where the humans would gather to eat their food. She swipes a water bottle off the table without a second thought, rinsing her eyes out of any remaining irritation and downing the rest.

As she begins exploring the hall, a sharp sound pierces the air as switches are flipped, casting an alarmed Mishio under spotlights. She holds a hand over her eyes, listening to the sound of clapping. She sees another white-coat; a balding old man whose height had been shrunken by age, his eyes obscured by thick, circular glasses, clapping his withered hands slowly… coldly… pitilessly.

"A very interesting display, Unregistered RPC! However. You will find that we will not fall for the same trick twice! You have the word of Senior Researcher Junichiro!" Right on cue, a massive net falls on - and through - Mishio, the illusion dissipating.

"A new trick! Very well, little fox! Keep showing us what you can do, so we'll learn how to lock you away by what you cannot do!" Bootsteps thump across the floors as men in black stalk the empty cafeteria. One of them raises a hand, gestures, and points towards a certain area of the room. The others round up and begin circling the area.

Damn it! How could they spot me in this much darkness?! They didn't even say anything to each other! Mishio's heart pounds madly as she sees the flickers of green light come from their visors - is this another trick of their technology?!

"Tasers to stun - low strength." The agents in the dark begin taking out small handheld tools.

"Oh!" At least two of them startle as their own taser goes off, one of theirs impacting the floor and the other bouncing off of a reinforced rubber boot.

The operatives look over their tasers. "Spontaneous equipment malfunction - suspect anomalous cause. Reloading." The rest continue aiming towards her.

Mishio bit her trembling lips in her fox form. Something worse than that was supposed to happen! It was there that the smell hits her; there is fresh protective power coming off the bodies of these humans. There's definitely another spirit in this site, aiding these humans!

Mishio gasps and leaps away as subtle unlatching sounds herald the whistling of needles striking her last position. Mishio sprints to the other side of the cafeteria, running under tables for cover, with needles either barely missing her position or harmlessly striking the fur of her tails. Making her enemies barely miss is all she can do to them right now, and she's running out of places to hide behind.

That's it! They're using these goggles to see in the dark. If it's anywhere similar to how bright light hurts my eyes when suddenly exiting the dark, then…

Mishio spies the scrawny old human standing by the side of an array of power switches. She lunges towards his position. Junichiro quickly realizes her intentions as he pulls off his goggles.

"Over here, you buffoons, it's-" Mishio turns back into her human form and slams her hands across all the switches, and shielding her eyes as the lights in the cafeteria turn on once more, bathing the room under a bright glow. Through a crack in her fingers, Mishio's adjusting sight shows the black operatives stumbling about as they curse, bringing their hands to their eyes and pulling off their goggles. That just leaves Mishio a few seconds to deal with the cocky old coot glaring at her.

Mishio opens up with a gesture she picked up from watching the behaviours of a few unsavoury residents back in Takachiho - showing the back of her hand towards the old man while tucking in all her fingers, save for the middle.

"Bite me, old man." Junichiro's mouth curls into a snarl.

"Why you little-oof!" Mishio didn't duck under the old man's swinging cane so much as she turns back into a fox, kicking Junichiro in his stomach and sending him to the floor. With the force of the kick, she propels herself to the waiting cafeteria doors, shifting back and slamming into its non-yielding stiffness. Mishio looks in alarm and rams the door again - it refuses to budge. Why?! It opened just fine earlier!

"Trying to go somewhere?" Junichiro dangles a plastic card in his hand. "Pass card locks, not that a backwards creature like you could compre-" Right at that moment, the card scanner bursts in a flash of light, followed by a small plume of smoke as the unpowered door hinges open. Mishio sticks her tongue at the flabbergasted Senior Researcher.

"Don't need it. Thanks for telling me how it works!" Mishio rams the doors open and runs out as a fresh salvo of electrified needles strike the walls, and if she had looked back she would have guffawed at the sight of Junichiro's face turning a vibrant shade of tomato. She does get to hear him fly off the handle, though, his voice gradually fading in the distance.

"This isn't over, fox!" The sound of a now-useless plastic card strikes the floor. "You jelly-armed nincompoops! What are all of you doing?! You're not being paid to miss! 'Suspect anomalous causes'? Why not I suspect your terrible aim?! Where are the CSU?! I wanted the CSU down here yesterday! All of them!"

Mishio continues running across the corridor, no longer going by memory of the maps she's seen on the walls. She can smell it. The other spirit. A scent so familiar, yet so far away… She runs in only the direction she knows will take her to her destination.

Her only other thought remaining on her mind - What is a CSU? - is answered as her body instinctively tightens with the sounds of baying in the distance. Mishio's chest seizes tight, her joints locking in place. She can hear howling and barking, their echoes freezing her in place.

"No! No…!" Mishio pants in shallow breaths as her feet tremble with each step. Fear weighs her down as she struggles before the shadow of sharp ears and wagging tails in the distance, held back by taut leashes.

"Why are there dogs in this placee-?!" Mishio slurs, an animalistic urge to flee threatening to dominate her mind. She can't even bring herself to hold her head in her hands as her movements grind to a halt, her tails wildly bristling. The shadows round the corner into dogs bigger than her fox's form - three blindly obedient and savage brutes bigger in body, teeth and ferocity. They bark and lunge, held back by taut leashes in the grip of their Site-Sec handler.

"URPC is pinned in place. Repeat, URPC is pinned in place."

No! I can't, I have to, got to… Got to move…

"This is your final warning! Submit for containment, or we will release the hounds!"

Mishio creaks her head slowly, hyperventilating, her desire for flight suppressed as the barking of dogs echo across the opposite end of the hallway.

Mishio!

Mishio grimaces as her knuckles clench so tight, they turn a bony shade of white.

Mishio!

Mishio spits a curse at herself for even thinking for the briefest moment to flee in the opposite direction, away from the scent.

Please don't leave me!

A sharp pain lances through Mishio's lips as she bites down hard, threatening to draw blood. Her overwhelming desire to reunite and save her sister begins thawing the terror from her bones, changing her stance from being frozen in fear, into making a stand.

"Just… what the hell… do you think you're telling me to do?" Mishio snarls and stammers, taking a wobbly step forward and another.

"Repeat! This is your final warning!" Mishio jerks a hand up, gesturing towards her final obstacle with all the spite and anger that she could muster.

"You… filthy humans… you think you can just… lock away… my sister?! KEEP ME FROM HER?!"

"URPC uncooperative. Permission to release CSU… Granted." The handler stoops down, fumbling to undo the latches.

Before he could finish however, the three hulks suddenly barrel ahead at full strength and savage eagerness. Two of the dogs had not yet been released, and are now slowed from dragging their yelling handler across the floor. His frantic orders for them to halt fall on deaf ears as he involuntarily clings on, the leashes snagged and tightened across his gloved hand.

That just leaves one mindless brute running towards Mishio at full power, jaws slavering away. Mishio tenses then bursts into a sprint, forgetting her fears. She rears a foot back, and brings it up with all her might.

"GET OUT OF MY WAY!"

"ARF?!" Yelps the surprised canine as Mishio's foot connects square into its chin, uppercutting it over and backwards, colliding back into its two other partners and causing all of them to total into the handler as he yells and covers his face, bracing for impact.

The three dogs howl and yelp as their quarry vaults above their tangled bodies, their leashes tangled all over each other and the handler. He manages to pull out a walkie-talkie, held away from his face by a foot's worth of dog.

"Attempt failure! CSU suppression… ineffective! URPC has attacked CSU! Repeat, URPC has attacked CSU! Oof-hey, stop pulling! Get off me! Sit! Sit! No, not on-mffh!" The handler slaps at dog hindquarters as he regrets his orders, frantically trying to get dog unmentionables off his face.

Caught in the rush of triumphing over the fear within the blood of the foxes Mishio continues to run, drawn ever closer towards the scent…

"Shiomi… Please, please hang on just a little bit longer… I'm coming for you!"

Shiomi… Please, sleep… I can't rest like this. You've been awake for the last day…

No! I refuse! If I sleep… You'll vanish, just like everyone else!

Don't be ridiculous, Shiomi! We've been together for the past few days without issue!

Mishio… Mishio! Please, don't leave me! Promise me you'll never stray from me! Not even five paces!

Don't worry, Shiomi. I'll be there for you. I won't leave or go too far from you. I promise, as your older sister! Even if it's by five minutes…

…Really?

I mean it, Shiomi. Now please, go sleep…

O-okay…

Never forget that above all, I will still be here for you when you wake up…

BANG! Bursts the sliding door's mechanism as Mishio throws it to the side, hurling herself past its malfunctioning frame. She throws her hands ahead and barely stops herself from hitting the ground, panting wildly as she rakes her hands across the flooring, watching her sweat drip and spatter across the… tatami?

This room has tatami mat flooring! Half of it, anyway. Her breathing beginning to calm, Mishio raises her head up, greeted by the sight of a small shrine built into the center of the room and raised on a small platform, a flat red cushion by its side with a tray of implements slid underneath it.

"Wait… If there's a shrine here…" Mishio double-takes back to the corridor she recently ran through.

"…Where are the the Torii gates?" How weird. Mishio looks about the room. For a prison cell, it seems fairly dignified and well-kept.

There's a column of shelves on one side. Mostly empty, with a few trinkets neatly lined across their lengths. Mishio rubs her chin at the sight of a porcelain bowl; shattered once, recast with golden lines filling its cracks. Kintsugi, it's called?

In the corner by the shelves is a plastic kennel with a plush cushion lining its bottom, a rolled-up futon propped against its side. Someone's spoilt for sleeping choices.

On the right side opposite of the shelves is a kneeling desk with scraps of colourful cloth and needles spread across its surface, a small corner cleared to make way for a little kettle and a teacup. There's a toolbox by the side that's been left open, with spools of thread and other sewing tools. So this is where the protective Omamori are created!

Right beside Mishio's left is a stool and an easel, propping up a strange half-finished painting. It's a… gigantic, glowing orange and yellow mushroom with a ring floating around its stem? It's towering before a flower field. There seems to be a single fox standing before the mushroom, behind it a barren path of dirt dividing the flower field in two. Bits of rubble seem to be sticking out of the path here and there.

There's a piece of paper bearing that triangle logo resting against the canvas. Mishio grabs it and takes a quick skim:

RPC-886,

As discussed and agreed-upon in our recent session, you have been enrolled for art therapy. You are hereby provided with the standard set of tools to draw and colour whatever you are compelled to express, and to explain the metaphors and symbolisms presented in next week's scheduled session-

Mishio tosses the paper aside. Too many complicated words. She looks about again and finally sees the other occupant of this room standing behind the shrine, her own back faced towards Mishio.

"Oh! Finally, another kitsune! But wait…" Too much about this other fox looked too different to be her sister. Her hair was light cream, but she was a good bit taller than Mishio. There was a palpable sense of grace about this other fox, her shrine robes slimly conforming to her body. And… seven tails. It can't be… It isn't…

"Shit!" The humans lied! Of course they would. There's definitely more than one fox in here!

"Hey… Hey, Oba-san3. Are you the one the humans keep calling 886? Can you tell me where the rest of the foxes are imprisoned in this site?" The seven-tailed fox remained still, as if she were a statue. Not even one of her tails moved. Was she listening intently, or-?

Mishio laughs nervously and looks to the side, gesturing towards her own body and face. She did just barge in unannounced, after all.

"I'm looking for someone around my height… A bit of a crybaby, yeah? Always nervous of strangers, always ready to apologize or sob even though I keep telling her to stop being so timid… She's got hair coloured just like yours, funnily enough, and four tails just like me, and looks similar to… me?" Mishio looks back towards the other fox lady, who had finally turned her own head to gaze at Mishio.

Even though she was still as a statue, the look in her trembling eyes said it all. That hollowed gaze of silent recognition, those shrunken pupils as if she just saw a ghost. With the very last escape of a shallow breath, a faint whisper could be made out…

M… Mishio? Where are you, Mishio?

…Mishio?

Mishio! Please! Please don't do this to me! Now isn't the time for pranks! Don't leave me on my own!

…You promised you wouldn't leave my side no matter what… Please…! Please, I don't want to be the very last fox!

…Mishio… Mishio! Mishioooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo…!

"…Mishio?"

"You know my name? …Wait, wait, of course you would!" Mishio continues her feeble-hearted laugh, starting to feel herself wither under the other fox's wide-eyed stare.

"I mean, I mean of course you would know! My sister, she-she would never stop talking about me! She'd never stray too far from me, and she'd always ask for me… Right?" Mishio dared to take a careful look at the other fox. The haunting gaze remains the same. Mishio's heart rises so far up her throat, it threatened to fall from her mouth.

"It can't be…" Mishio took a nervous step forward, then another. She slowly extends a hand towards the other fox, in disbelief at the realization slowly dawning against her wishes.

"Shiomi… Is that really you?" Shiomi begins shivering as she slowly steps backwards, pressing her back against the painted scroll hanging on the wall.

"Why do you, why look so different… Hey? S-seven tails? How…? Aren't you supposed to have four tails… Same as me?" Shiomi does not answer, covering her mouth and yet to blink.

"Hey, Shiomi… What are you giving me that look for… Why… Why do you look so… so much… older? Ha… haha… ha… aren't you supposed to be the younger sister, even if it's by five minutes…?" Her shivering sister remaining silent, Mishio clenches her teeth, hands balling into tight fists as shock gave way to anger.

"…Why the hell do you look so different? Answer me! Did those damn humans force you to change your appearance? Forced you to look older?! Add three fake tails?! You can take off the disguise now! I'm here!"

It was then that Shiomi finally resumed whispering.

"…Who are you? Why do you mock my sister's memory?" Mishio halted in her steps, each word lancing through her soul, her fox ears drooping onto her head. She re-clenches her hands and shakes off her emotional paralysis, perking her ears once more.

"…What are you talking about?! It's me, Mishio, damn it! Whatever - I'll worry about all this later. We have to go, now!" Mishio steps forwards, reaching to pull Shiomi by her wrist.

"This place isn't safe! These humans, they can't be trusted-" Shiomi slaps away her sister's hand, shattering the last of Mishio's resolve.

"DON'T TOUCH ME!"

Mishio stared dumbfoundedly as her throbbing hand hung limply. It was her turn to be frozen in place.

"Shiomi… Why? What are you doing? We have to go now. We don't have any more time-" Shiomi's scream cuts into Mishio's faltering words as she clenches at her own hair.

"You abandoned me for two centuries, Mishio! What is but a few more days in comparison?!" Mishio's jaw slowly dropped as her last shred of denial fades. All the times she purposely held off learning the passage of time… It all finally came crashing down with Mishio's knees hitting the floor.

"Two… two centuries? No… No way, that can't-I wouldn't-you were alone for that long? But I, I promised-"

"You promised you would never leave me, Mishio… I spent years, decades! Decades to accept that I would never see you or anyone else again! And yet here you are, running in so impulsively, same as you did so long ago… How could you do this to me?"

"No, no. I didn't escape the cave for this! Damn it, I didn't scrounge through human garbage and fight humans just for this!"

"It happened… It still happened…"

"No! I promised I would never do such a thing! Take my hand, Shiomi! Please!" Mishio extends her hand once more, pleadingly.

"URPC sighted…" In their bitter reunion, a lone agent had walked cautiously into the room, taser aimed towards the brown-haired fox's back. He listens to the garble of information coming from his earpiece warning him what not to do, and holsters his taser.

"I'm here for you now, Shiomi, everything will be all right now… We have to go now… Please… Please?" Mishio's hand limply dangles in the air, as the last of her hopes dashing against the sight of Shiomi's hand pointing towards the shrine. Her shrine.

"…Copy. Observing that URPC is in no capability to resist." The agent unclips his vest, carefully putting aside his inventory of gadgets, devices and ammunition that could 'spontaneously fail'. He pulls out a set of plain zip ties that could in no way, shape or form explode, backfire, fail, catch fire, turn on him, or fall apart.

"Detaining." He carefully moves over to grab one of Mishio's wrists. It took seconds for her to break out of her despair, finally noticing the human threading her arms through the first tie.

"Hanase… Hanase…" She puts up little to no effort to resist, trying to sluggishly move her arms out of the way. He seizes both of them and threads the ziptie through, pulling it tight, the cords digging sharply into her wrists. Her pupils shrink as a second tie is brought over her wrists.

"URPC resisting minimally." Her pupils shrink as she realizes that submitting would be to become another prisoner, locked away deep within this underground facility.

"HANASE!" Mishio struggles and collapses towards the floor as her tears and her snot splatters across tatami and concrete, the agent moving to prioritize tying her legs for now.

"Shiomi…" She pleadingly reaches her bound and open hands towards her sister, as Shiomi rests her own head down against the wall.

"Shiomi…!" Shiomi's hands tremble, rising up and clawing against the wall, chest heaving with ragged breaths…

"SHIOMI!" Right at that point the power to the room fails, plunging it into darkness. Before the agent can adjust the lights flicker on and off repeatedly, throwing him off-balance.

"Security, the cell is experiencing anomalous power failur-" The agent looks down as the lights stabilize. His own hands and legs have been zip-tied. "What? How?!"

Mishio pants and wipes the tears and the snot from her. She looks one last time towards her sister, hearing whispers repeated among the sobs:

"Please… Leave…" Mishio wipes her tears once more and sucks in her breath, stopping herself from crying. Even after everything, she was still the older sister, damn it, she had to set the example.

"This… This isn't over, Shiomi! I'll come back for you! I mean it! I promise!" Mishio breaks into a sprint out of the room, shortly-after pursued by a mob of officers and dogs. One of these officers instead turns to enter Shiomi's cell, gives the broken door a tug and curses. He walks into the room and pulls out a knife.

"Sec-head!" The agent sputters as Hiroji Nobihiro, Head of Security, cuts him loose.

"Damn it, Takeda! Stop wasting your time saluting me and join the hunt!" The agent startles, gives one last salute and runs out the room.

The head of security grumbles as he sheathes his knife. Hiroji pulls off his helmet and facemask, his hardened and battle-scarred countenance visibly softening as he turns towards the immobile fox before him, slowly extending a reassuring hand towards her.

"Hey, Shiomi… Are you all right?" He edges towards the wall, and sees the tears streaming wildly down Shiomi's face, from eyes that had thought the tears had finally stopped.

"But… But… You already came back for me… Didn't you…?"

Hiroji looks away and buries his face in his hands. "Oh, no… This is Hiroji. Call the psychiatrists. Call all of therapy. Get all of them here down here. Now!"

Shiomi finally collapses to her knees, hands seizing her head, and wails in renewed grief.


"Shiomi! Shiomi! I'm so sorry! I-I didn't mean to-" A flick of the switch, and the sound amplifer is silenced. Dr. Kawada Ippei squints towards the speck of brown wailing away amidst the trees in the distance.

"…She's just been sitting by the trees, crying away. For the last few days. Doesn't even seem to want to eat." Ippei scratches the back of his neck and holds a binocular to his eyes, observing the U-RPC rocking back and forth as she clings tightly to her knees. He turns the amplifier back on.

"-should have been me! It should have been me to have walked the world alone! I could have taken it! Instead…" Senior Researcher Junichiro's wiry finger turns off the amplifier, before being wagged before Ippei's face in a threateningly told-you-so manner.

"We're dealing with a threat and a- a nuisance! I told you, Ippei! I knew that continued reliance upon 886 as an asset would not last! Why, just one look at this URPC and she's gone off the rails!" Ippei sighs and scratches his belly. He looks at his watch and remembers that lunch time isn't quite the same now that a near-visible pall hangs over the cafeteria. He flicks the amplifier back on.

"-Aaaaaaaaah! But, but… I'm so proud of you, Shiomi… you know that? You managed to last… Snf, you managed to last so long without me! Do you even need me any more?! AAAAAAAAA-" Ippei turns off the amplifier. Even from this distance and without the amplifier he can hear the U-RPC's wailing just fine.

"I know she's made quite a bit of a mess, but this grief is genuine. Hard not to feel bad for her."

Junichiro sneers. "A mess? You call eight million yen4 in damages and medical treatments a mess?! Your unprofessional display of empathy is going to be the end of us all, Ippei! You hear me?!"

"Can you really blame both 886 and her sister? We just spent a year having 886 come to terms with everything that happened… Accepting the possible fate that she'll never again see any of her kind, and now look. Her sister just appears out of the blue. Up til now, 886 has displayed an exemplary record. Are you still not indebted for her saving your life?"

The short old man scowls and crosses his arms. "Oh, shut up."

Ippei sighs and pats his belly once more. "Alright then. I guess it can't be helped." He makes a move for the staircase leading down from the wall perimeter.

"Ippei! Ippei! Just where do you think you are going?"

"The URPC has until now evaded all attempts to capture her, right? As if in, actively flees groups and coordinated efforts?"

"Yes! And what does that have to do with what you're doing now?"

"I'm going out there to see the U-RPC on my own. I do not think she will flee at the sight of harmless and fat old me. Then, I'm going to do what is quite possibly the cruelest thing I've done in a while."

Junichiro adjusts his glasses in intrigue. "…And that is?"

"Giving a bit of hope."


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