Gundam Wing Fan Fiction / Outlaw Star Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction / Fan Fiction / Zoids Fan Fiction ❯ All Death's Children ❯ Chapter 6

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Note: I know I probably made this story sound action-centered in the summary, though it's more focused on Vega and his relationships with the other pilots. But there will be action from time to time, so don't lose hope just yet.

Summary: Zero stumbles onto one of Hotaru's secrets, and Vega must make a difficult choice.

Chapter 6

It was much earlier in the morning than Zero realized, but he'd figured out a long time ago that he wouldn't be getting any sleep. What he did while everyone else was asleep, though, could hardly pass for that.

It was always one vision after another: vague memories of home and his mother, faint flashes of life aboard G.O.A. (usually involving Kizna glaring at him and twitching her ears in that I-could-just-throttle-you sort of way), and even fainter pictures of some woman, waiting patiently for him, somewhere…

Not to say that Zero didn't sleep at all. He could often be found slumped over on his crate in classes. He was only able to rest during the day, for some reason. Hotaru and Washu were really the only teachers who took pity on Zero and allowed him to sleep. The others made him stand on his head or do push-ups.

At any rate, he'd decided to ask the queen (he refused to call her Death, it was just uncomfortable) about his visions. She'd been very interested the first few times, and talking to her always lifted his spirits.

But as he entered the throne room this morning, Zero's spirits were anything but lifted by what he saw.

Hotaru was kneeling before the queen, not out of respect or fear, but out of pain.

As near as Zero could tell, white lightning bolts were gathering in the queen's palm and then striking Hotaru mercilessly. The girl's mouth was frozen in something of a silent scream, and her eyes were shut tightly.

Everything about the scene told Zero to be absolutely quiet and to get out as fast as he could. But his legs were slow to obey that order.

"Very good, Firefly," he heard the queen say. "That's enough for now."

The lightning bolts vanished, and Hotaru collapsed face-first to the floor, landing in a large, spreading pool of red.

Zero might've been fine, if he hadn't seen the blood. A low, terrified moan left his lips.

The queen looked up slowly. "Hello, Zero," she said calmly. "Something I can do for you?"

"Gu….gu….gotta…go," Zero muttered at last, choking down the bile rising in his throat. He took a step back and collided with the wall, his face frozen in horror.

Duo was then kneeling next to Hotaru, carefully turning her over. "You shouldn't be here, Zero," he stated, not looking up.

Zero's mouth worked. "D-Duo…what…"

Duo's head jerked up. "GO!" he shouted angrily.

Zero blinked, then fled from the throne room, desperately wishing it had been a nightmare and knowing at once that he wasn't even fooling himself.

* * * * *

"What's with you today?" Vega asked as they walked to Cabbit Corner later that day. "You're almost as pale as you were in the Ingrid."

Zero shook his head. "I feel sick," he muttered. "It'll pass."

"Well, maybe getting your own cabbit will cheer you up. Hotaru will make sure you get a good one."

Zero's face looked stricken. "Hotaru?" he whispered.

"Yeah, she's in charge there, I guess. Why?'

"It…nothing," Zero replied after a second. "Let's get this over with."

Vega nodded slightly, wondering why Hotaru's name seemed to bother his friend.

Cabbit Corner was as energetic as ever, and Hotaru was right in the middle of it with a huge basket of carrots.

"It's a little risky at feeding time," she said to Vega as the cabbits bounced all over the place. "I just have to open all the cages and stand back. And don't even let them think you're hoarding carrots on you; you might never make it out." Then she noticed Zero standing a few feet away. "Hello, Zero. Ready for your cabbit?"

Zero shrank away from her. "Yeah. Sure," he mumbled.

Hotaru looked a bit hurt, but gestured to the cabbits. "Well, you can either try to grab one once it's done eating, or just wait until they go back to the cages…"

Zero looked at the basket, which was now completely hidden under the scurrying, quivering brown and off-white mass, and shrugged. "They all kinda look the same to me." Suddenly, he yelled and shook his hand wildly. There was a brown cabbit biting his finger. "Get if off! GET IT OFF!"

"Don't! You'll scare it!" Hotaru cried, trying to reach for the cabbit.

"It's trying to EAT me!" Zero snapped, flinging the cabbit into Hotaru's arms.

"It must've thought you were a carrot," Hotaru said hesitantly, stroking the cabbit's head.

Zero glared at her.

Vega cleared his throat. "Um…is there any particular reason why you two aren't getting along?"

"I was wondering myself," Hotaru murmured.

Zero grabbed Vega's arm and dragged him out of Cabbit Corner, not stopping until they were definitely out of earshot. "Look, Vega. I didn't want to have to tell you this, since you seem to like it here, and you seem to like Hotaru even more-"

"What?!" Vega interrupted, turning red. "I never-!"

Zero cut him off. "Shut up for a second! This is serious! Something's really wrong with this place, and something's really wrong with Hotaru!"

"What are you talking about, Zero?"

Zero reluctantly told Vega about everything he'd seen and heard in the throne room that morning.

Vega stared at him for a long moment. "And Hotaru hasn't said anything about it?"

Zero gave him a blank look. "You just saw her in there! It's like none of it never happened!"

"You're sure this wasn't one of your visions?"

"I've never seen anything like THAT in a vision! It was real, I swear it!"

"Zero, you have to admit that this is really hard to grasp…"

"I know, I know, but I also know what I saw." Zero leaned against the wall. "We can't trust that queen. She's…well…I don't know WHAT she is. But anyone who would do that to Hotaru…"

Vega shook his head. "Look, even if it is true, you just saw her. She's fine. Why would anyone believe us?"

"Well…Duo was there. He's a witness…but he'll probably side with that queen."

"Duo's practically obsessed with Hotaru, Zero. I don't think he'd let anyone hurt her."

Zero glared at him. "He did this morning! We can't just let her get away with this! Isn't there anyone we could tell?!"

"I might know someone," Vega said. "But I want to hear what the queen has to say about it first."

"Are you CRAZY?!" Zero cried. "Didn't you hear what I just told you about the lightning bolts?!"

"If she didn't want anyone to know, she would've stopped you, Zero. From what you said, it sounded as if she didn't care who saw. I don't think she'd try to deny it."

"And I'm supposed to let you face her alone?"

"You're going to get a cabbit from Hotaru and act as normal as possible. Follow her around, if it makes you feel better. Just don't mention anything, okay? She might think you're nuts. I know I did…"

* * * * *

The queen looked as pleasant as ever when Vega finally worked up the nerve to go see her. He was having a hard time picturing the scene Zero had described, but he'd never seen his friend so upset over anything.

The queen gestured to the armchair across from hers. "Have a seat, Vega. I had a feeling you'd come to me soon."

"Did you?" he asked, sitting.

She nodded. "You want to know about what Vega thinks he saw."

"Thinks he saw?"

She paused. "Looks can be deceiving. What he saw was accurate. What he described to you was not."

Vega frowned. "Were you hurting Hotaru?"

"Define hurting."

Vega's eyes narrowed. "Were you doing anything that would have a negative effect on her?"

"Yes and no," the queen said.

"Are you saying there's a good reason you were hitting her with lightning bolts?!"

"Yes." The queen held up a hand to stop him. "Vega, I know you're upset. You obviously care for Hotaru a great deal, and I admire that. I would like to explain my reasons to you, but I'm afraid I can't. The only one who can tell you everything…is Hotaru, and it has to be her choice."

"Zero said she had no memory of it."

She sighed. "She does. She's denying it because she didn't know Zero was there." The queen shook her head. "Vega, when you confront her, and I know you will, don't assume she's trying to deceive you or keep things from you. This is…very important to Hotaru. Don't force her to choose between you and loyalty to me. Because if you do, I'm afraid you'll just get hurt."

* * * * *

Washu wasn't used to having visitors in the middle of the night, but from the look on Vega's face, whatever it was couldn't wait.

"I'm worried about Hotaru," he said at once.

"Why's that?"

"I think the queen's hurting her."

Washu's expression remained neutral. "What are you going to do?"

"That's why I came to you, Washu. I…I need you to be honest with me."

"I will be honest with you," Washu said slowly. "As long as I think you need to know the truth."

Vega looked very disappointed, then sighed. "Is the queen hurting Hotaru?"


His eyes widened. "What? She said she was!"

"Did she actually say that, or did you just assume she meant that?"

Vega paused. "She said yes and no."

"I thought so."

"Wait. Why do YOU think she's not hurting Hotaru, but with her, it's both?"

Washu closed her eyes. "Vega, you're a Zoid warrior. How does one improve their skills?"

Vega looked confused. "They fight, of course."

"So they eventually get hurt, correct?"

He hesitated. "Most likely…"

"Then would you say that pain and defeat are a part of the training?"

"Yes, but…are you saying the queen was training Hotaru?"

Washu said nothing.

"I can accept that, but…for WHAT?"

"To make her stronger," Washu replied.

"For WHAT?!"

Washu shook her head. "I'm sorry, dear. Only Hotaru can tell you that. And I'm not so sure she will. At least, not yet."

"Why not?!"

"Because Hotaru wouldn't want you to worry about her like you are right now. But mainly because it's as much a part of her training as Duo beating you up is a part of yours."

"So why is Duo allowed in her training?"

Washu smiled. "It's not what you think, Vega. Duo and Hotaru are connected, whether they choose to be or not. Soul siblings, you might say, or kindred spirits. It's important for her to have a link back to consciousness. Someone to focus on beyond the pain. The training is very…intense. But it is necessary."

"Why?" Vega whispered.

"I'm truly sorry, Vega, but you'd have to ask Hotaru."

"Then I will."

Washu sighed. "I'd have to advise against that. She won't tell you, no matter how much you insist. And you being angry with her will hurt her more than the training ever could. If you care about Hotaru, just leave it alone."

"Washu, I can't leave it alone BECAUSE I care about her!" With that, he stormed out of the lab.

"I know," Washu said quietly. "That's why I can only hope it doesn't take something horrible to open your eyes, Vega Obscura…"

* * * * *

The next morning, Vega had a momentary distraction in the form of Zero's new choice of cabbit. For starters, the cabbit seemed rather energetic, even for a cabbit. Then there was a peculiar streak of pink, starting between its ears and running down to its tail. Vega could tell at once that the color was not natural. He was also fairly certain it was the same cabbit that had mistaken Zero's finger for a carrot.


Zero glanced up from his breakfast. "Yeah?"

"I see your, um…cabbit is…pink."


Considering that Zero looked slightly angry instead of surprised, Vega suspected this wasn't the first time someone had asked about the color. "Well, it's…a unique choice, is all."

"Look, pink inspires me, okay? It…reminds me of home." Zero's cheeks flushed a bit.

"I didn't mean to pry." Vega petted the cabbit's head gently, and was rewarded with a loud purring. Obscuro looked indifferent, as usual. "She's cute."

"Her name is Kizn-I mean, Kiz." Zero looked away. "Did you talk to the queen?"

"Yeah. All I know is she's supposedly training Hotaru for something."

"Like what?"

"I have to ask Hotaru about that."

Zero gave him a skeptical look. "She acts like she doesn't remember."

"Yes, she acts," Vega replied. "But it seems like she's the one with all the answers this time."

"If you say so." Zero lowered his voice. "Just…be careful, Vega. If Hotaru doesn't like your questions, she might whip out that thing we saw in class…"

* * * * *

That night, Vega made his way to Hotaru's room, trying to convince himself that he was doing the right thing. He was focusing so hard on his thoughts that he almost ran into Duo, who was leaning next to Hotaru's door.

"What are you doing here?" Vega asked.

"Waiting for you to make a huge mistake, apparently," Duo replied. "You don't know what you're messing with here, Obscura."

Vega glared at him. "Then I guess we're both in denial, huh?"

Duo's eyes narrowed. "Look, I care about Hotaru. If you do, too, just go back to your room. You'll only make things worse by going in."

"That's your opinion. I'd rather hear Hotaru's."

Duo sighed. "Fine. But let's get one thing straight." He leaned down and looked Vega in the eye. "You hurt my Firefly, you'll regret it."

Vega wasn't the least bit intimidated. "You're Shinigami. Anything you own withers and dies."

"True," Duo said softly. "Very true." He poked a finger into Vega's chest. "You mess up, you're mine." With that, he turned and walked off.

Vega steeled himself and knocked on the door.

A short moment later, the door opened, and Hotaru's face lit up as she saw him. "Vega! What are you doing here?"

He did his best not to smile "I need to talk to you about something."

Hotaru didn't seem to notice his lack of expression as she closed the door behind him.

"How are you feeling, Hotaru?" he asked, turning to look at her.

She blinked. "Fine, I guess."

"Are you sure?" He came closer and raised a hand to her cheek. "You're always so pale…"

Hotaru's cheeks flushed noticeably. "I was very sickly in my former life," she murmured. "But I'm fine, Vega. You don't have to worry."

"I think I do." He took a deep breath. "Is the queen hurting you, Hotaru?"

"Hurting me?" she repeated, as if in disbelief. "What gave you that idea?"

"Zero walked in on one of your training sessions. You were lying in a pool of blood."

Hotaru's face became paler. "And you believe him?" she asked quietly.

Vega's expression remained impassive. "I choose to believe that some people wouldn't…or couldn't…lie to me. You're on that list, Hotaru. Should you stay there?"

Hotaru pulled away, as if he'd struck her. "Vega…you don't understand…" she began.

"Then make me understand," he replied, closing the distance between them. "Make me understand why everyone expects me to sit back while my dearest friend is constantly being push to the brink of death."

"Because you have to," she said softly, lowering her head. "Because I have to."

"Have to WHAT?" he pressed, grabbing her shoulders.

She shook her head. "I can't tell you that. Not now."


"Vega, please…! I can't know when I'll be able to tell you…"

"You're able to tell me right now. But you won't, will you? You choose not to."

"I want to tell you," Hotaru whispered. "I really do. But it's not…I can't…"

"This isn't one of those things I'm willing to put behind me or work past, Hotaru," he said in a warning tone. "Either you tell me right now, or our friendship ends here."

Tears welled up in Hotaru's eyes, and she turned away from him. "Goodbye, Vega." Then she added, "I'm so sorry…"

"So am I," Vega muttered before he walked out.

* * * * *

For the second time, life changed very drastically around the base for Vega. Everyone seemed to have something against him now. Totally strangers glared at him, seemingly for no reason. It was as if everyone had suddenly become empathic and was attuned only to Hotaru.

Although Hotaru didn't exactly appear to hate Vega. If anything, she was shyer than she'd ever been. She almost never spoke, and all of her appearances outside her room were as brief as possible. Somehow, she managed to avoid getting within twenty feet of Vega at all times. Usually, she was with Duo or Washu, as they seemed to be her confidantes. But when she was alone, Hotaru was visibly depressed and withdrawn.

Vega wasn't sure how to feel about her any longer. He cared for her without question, but the fact that she couldn't (or wouldn't) trust him with a secret that she did trust Duo with bothered him a great deal. It upset him to see her so sad, and he was also angry at himself for making her that way. Still, he reasoned, it was her fault. Hotaru was the one with the crush on him. If she liked him so much, why wouldn't she trust him? He certainly hadn't done anything to prove he might be dishonest.

Zero maintained that he had no opinion on the matter, but eventually admitted that he did miss hanging out with Hotaru. "She laughed at all my jokes," he recalled. "Even the really bad ones."

To keep his mind off Hotaru, Vega busied himself with building his spirit energy. He'd stopped going to Hotaru's class, and so had Zero…but for a different reason. According to Hotaru, he was naturally gifted and didn't need her help. Which turned out to be true: Zero was so advanced that he couldn't teach Vega anything. He did, however, start having sessions with Washu, and encouraged Vega to do the same.

Washu was a strict teacher, but even more so with Vega. She made no secret about the fact that she hated having to split her time between consoling Hotaru and teaching Vega, especially when he was the cause of her depression. All the same, she was an excellent teacher, and Vega learned quickly enough to keep up…just barely, though.

And despite the fact that Vega was steadily becoming a more formidable Pilot, he was haunted. When he wasn't thinking of Hotaru, he was thinking of how he'd failed to stop her from training with the queen. And now that she supposedly didn't care about deceiving anyone, signs of Hotaru's sessions were becoming more and more obvious. Her eyes had gone from a brilliant violet to a cloudy indigo. Vega even once caught a glimpse of a nasty burn on her left hand.

Perhaps the only good thing about this was Duo. Though Vega was still very jealous of him, the Gundam pilot had become completely devoted to Hotaru, though she hardly seemed aware of it…or anything else, for that matter. Duo was always with her, guiding her through the base with a hand on her shoulder. Hotaru had already proven that if left on her own, she would simply wander around aimlessly until someone did something with her. Vega now saw what he once thought of Duo being overprotective as Duo merely being very concerned for someone he considered to be closer than family. He even went as far as to feed Hotaru at meals; she never really ate anymore unless he told her to.

The worse Hotaru became, the more Vega focused on his training. It was the only way to keep himself from breaking down at the sight of her. She was little more than a shadow of her former self now, and Vega often forced himself to look away the instant he felt warm prickling behind his eyes. Sometimes he spent entire days in Washu's lab, sharpening his fighting skills and meditating to increase his power. He even took to sparring with Ryoko, who always beat him, but was finding it harder (not to mention increasingly infuriating) to do so lately.

Oscuro even helped with Vega's training. Washu had explained that most cabbits had varying amounts of spirit energy, but Oscuro had it in excess (which made him even more stuck up). According to her, once a Pilot and a cabbit could synchronize their auras, they would become ten times as effective. But for some reason, Oscuro's aura kept changing, and Vega was forced to try and keep up with him. Although as time went on, Vega realized that Oscuro was willing his aura to change on purpose. Not to be annoying, but because he wanted Vega to improve.

"You both have to want the exact same thing," Washu told him. "Only you've got to want it at the exact same moment, and your cabbit is extremely unstable. You've got to learn to read him at any given second."

Vega didn't exactly catch on, but he did manage to read Oscuro's body language and expressions. Although since most of Oscuro's ideas seemed to be limited to "You're stupid/annoying/boring", "I'm superior/perfect/lethal", and "Fight/Speak/Ignore…NOW!" it wasn't all that hard.

* * * * *

Vega awoke one morning to find Zero shaking him. "What?" he muttered.

"Get dressed!" Zero ordered, sounding very excited about something.

Vega nodded dumbly and reached for his clothes. "What time is it?"

"Early. Who cares? C'mon, hurry! We've got a mission!"

Vega was fully awake then. "Both of us? Together?"

"Yeah! It'll be great, you'll see! …well, if you get dressed in time."

"I'm not naked," Vega pointed out grumpily, pulling on a shirt.

"I wouldn't be any kind of friend if I let you fight evil in your underwear."

"So you want me to fight evil without any underwear?"

Zero rolled his eyes. "Shut up and hurry already!"

The boys finished dressing and rushed to the throne room (Vega realized that Hotaru wouldn't be able to train today, and felt a bit better) for the briefing. Fortunately, they weren't the last to arrive; they were actually the first. Heero and Wynn slipped in just behind them, taking their usual places near the "throne" (actually the queen's favorite armchair, which looked beat-up and comfortable at the same time), looking almost painfully serious.

Vega knew the only other person present (people appearing out of thin air no longer surprised him or Zero): Yugi, who was reportedly the queen's preferred Seeker on missions. It was his job to identify any and all threats to the goal, and in rare cases (here his added distinction as Summoner helped greatly), to stop them. The latter was generally left up to the Fighters.

The queen suddenly appeared, flanked by Duo and, to Vega's shock, Hotaru.

"Today will be…different," Death said, looking around at them all. "But first, I'll assign the positions." She paused and closed her eyes. "Head Seeker will be…"

Vega automatically looked at Yugi, but the boy was frowning, as if he knew he wouldn't be picked this time. Perhaps it was just his mental abilities warning him in advance.

"…Zero Enna."

Zero's head snapped up, and Vega gaped at him.

"Is something wrong, Zero?" the queen asked, opening her eyes.

Zero shook his head slowly.

"Then can I count on you?"

"Yes," Zero said firmly, though he was trembling with something Vega suspected was excitement.

"Good. Head Fighter, as well as Mission Leader, will be…"

Vega glanced at Heero, and then at Duo, who was squeezing Hotaru's hand gently. The queen usually chose one of them.

"…Vega Obscura."

Vega's heart actually stopped for a brief second before it went into hyperactivity.

Zero let out a whoop of joy and pounded him on the back.

But Vega was not excited or even remotely happy. Being Head Fighter meant he would tell the other Fighters what to do. That he could handle, on a good day. But being Mission Leader meant he told everyone what to do, and was responsible if anything went wrong. At any rate, he'd never been held responsible for another life, especially not Hotaru's…

To his knowledge, Hotaru was the only person that didn't have a classification. She looked more like a Seeker than a Fighter, but had never been addressed as either. It only added to her mystery, but Vega was more concerned about her life (not to mention all the others) being in his hands now. He was almost glad this was only a seven-man mission.

The queen usually announced the mission specifics herself, with occasional assistance from Hotaru, Duo, and Yugi. But today, the floor was given totally to Hotaru, who couldn't have looked less interested in existing, much less speaking publicly, if she'd tried. All the same, she was loyal almost to a fault.

"Our target is an entity known only as the Mourning Rose," she said in a near-silent, dead voice. "There is very little that we know for certain about it. Upon death, it supposedly gains an enormous amount of pink spirit energy and should be immediately recognizable. However, we've only been able to narrow the list to three suspects, all of which are a part of the pirate group known as the Anten Seven of the Hundred and Eight Sons."

Vega wracked his brain for anything he could recall on the Anten Seven. He knew they were generally associated with assassinations, as well as lots and lots of dead people. That alone told him enough.

There was a flicker of movement on the edge of Vega's field of view, and he turned to see a glossy card hovering above Yugi's hand, growing as it spun faster and faster. Soon it was the size of a large door. Yugi nodded to Hotaru, who continued.

"First on the list is Hanmushi. Her energy signatures are nearly always pink, red, or crimson. She is classified solely as a Fighter, Assassin and Mage Classes. Engage with extreme caution."

Yugi's eyes narrowed with some effort, and an image of the beautiful assassin leaped from the card. She did a few turns and smiled behind her fan, blowing a kiss at Zero.

"Next is Hitorega. Initially, his being male discouraged suspicion. However, he is most definitely a shape shifter, though he rarely uses this ability. Also, the Mourning Rose feeds on disaster, grief, and pain, becoming stronger with each feeding. Hitorega's bloody path has been riddled with all three. He is classified as a Fighter; Assassin, Swordsman, and Mage Classes. He may also be a Summoner. Do not engage unless specifically instructed."

A masked man with tattered, brown robes and a long sword emerged from the card.

"Last is Hanmyo. She dresses almost exclusively in pink and white. She is the youngest of the Anten, and the other two may be fiercely protective of her if she is threatened, though it is hardly necessary. She is classified as a Fighter, Pilot Class. She is also alarmingly aware of her surroundings, and has invented her own martial arts style known only as the Bouncing Kanga. Engage with caution."

A young girl slightly shorter than Hotaru flew from the card like a bird. Apparently unaware of anyone else, she began an elaborate dance, bounding and leaping around the room, as if she were born in a tutu. Her motions were fluid and graceful, every movement executed with startling precision and speed.

For some reason, Vega couldn't look away. He'd never seen anything human move like that. But then, Hotaru had never said they were in the first place.

"We have confirmed the presence of all three on Symka 5," Hotaru said. "The rest of the Anten are away, dealing with…other matters. This is the best time to strike."

"What is our mission?" Heero asked bluntly.

Hotaru seemed to appreciate his impatience. "It is in our best interest to secure the Mourning Rose now, before it grows too powerful. If allowed to grow unmonitored, it could be hazardous to millions, living, dead and undead."

"But it only reveals itself upon death," Duo murmured. "So we'd have to kill all three?"

"Not necessarily. The instant we discover the Mourning Rose, the others cease to matter."

"But they won't cease to exist," Vega heard himself saying. "They'll be vengeful."

"They'll be up to you to handle," Duo pointed out with a smirk. "Mission Leader."

"Just do what I tell you," Vega snapped, grinning savagely. "Subordinate."

Duo's smirk vanished.

"Enough," said the queen. "You have your orders. Go to Symka 5 and bring me the Mourning Rose. And don't even THINK about being late for dinner; we're having vegetarian lasagna. And get that look off your face, mister. You'll eat what's put in front of you."

Heero grunted and looked away.

* * * * *

The Berserk Fury and the Ernn Laties stood side by side, each unable to look anymore dissimilar from the other.

Vega thought they were alike in some ways, though. Neither really NEEDED a Pilot, it was just tradition, he supposed, combined with man's need to be forever locked in battle. While Fury represented the ultimate evolution of Zoids, the White Goddess was just that. Even so, they both seemed to radiate sheer power in its purest forms: the thrill of the hunt and an overwhelming thirst for balance and order.

"I've never flown her without my Repairer," Zero said absently. He stroked Kiz's head, looking wistful. "It'll be so…weird. It's like a part of me is missing."

Kiz yowled happily and leaped into his brown, bushy hair.

Zero smiled. "Guess she'll just have to be there in spirit."

"Are you sure we're ready for this?" Vega asked.

"Nope, that's half the fun!"

"You've got a weird definition of fun, Zero."

"After the Victim and Hiead, everything else is simple by comparison."

"Who's Hiead?"

"Don't ask me so I won't have to tell you. Trust me."

* * * * *

Continued in Chapter 7

Vega's hesitation costs him dearly, Hotaru makes a dangerous decision, and the Anten Seven are reduced by one…but so is Team Vega…