Mercy Killing 6: Prisoner Of The Third

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I might have clung to the side of the sky-gouging tower, climbing its hide of steel and glass with my bare hands. I could have worn the guise of the enemy as I walked their halls by night. To do so, as I eventually realised when these methods failed, would be to insult the incubator and his formidable, if foul powers. Ultimately, I walked through the halls of the Third Officio under the cover of night and nothing more. Certainly, I made my best attempt at stealth, but it seemed unnecessary. The puella maga of the incubator's den passed me by entirely, completely unaware of my existence.

Once or twice, I was almost tempted to call out to them, feeling as though I had become nothing more than a product of my own imagination. Fortunately, I resisted. The time for talk would come soon enough.

Happily, even the security of the elevator seems to be fooled by whatever enchantment he has placed upon me. Without a single objection, it closes its doors and glides downward, into the Prediction Engine, the hall of the Third's oracle. Would the Vanus be expecting me? The other one, from the barrier mere days past, had eventually been able to detect me. No matter, I will announce myself, and that will be the end of that. What could a single Vanus in the most secluded part of the officio do?

...More than I could, most likely. Staggering out with weakness in my all-too-heavy limbs, bleeding from a few spots on my face and arms that had made the mistake of brushing against something rougher than empty air. I might have felt some shame at this, had anyone seen it. Instead, I wipe the blood away, the better to make myself presentable, before taking a few confident strides forward. The seer is there, seated by her precious, accursed river. Good.

It would be... easy, too easy, as unaware as she is. Almost a kindness, for one destined to a life of watching the nightmares of others until her soul gem burns out. And yet, I stay my hand. Not out of cruelty or mercy, but because there is something greater at stake here.

"Good evening, seer. Miss Masame, was it? I trust I am not intruding on some troubling vision?"


"Surely you have seen enough to answer that yourself?"

She turns around, and were it not for the stare she fixed upon me immediately, I would have thought her blind from her milky grey eyes. Nervous, fearful, slowly backing away without ever rising from her seat, leaning back on her arms. Shaking, asking the question that had been on my mind a moment ago.

"...Are you here to kill me? Is this it?"

Interesting. Either her visions do not show her everything, or she places little faith in them. Else she would have foreseen this, or taken its absence as proof that nothing of the sort can occur. I seat myself beside her, the very picture of leisurely calm. Truth be told, my trek up to this point had left me with no energy to stand with.

"Would that I could, this would be far simpler. No, I'm afraid I have come here - to the heart of the Third's power, against all sense - for... I suppose 'rescue' would be an apt term. I was hoping to have your cooperation in this."

"I-I don't need rescuing," she stammers out. Of course not, but she hardly realises that she could not be further from my goals. 'Rescue' is in itself disingenuous. Were I inclined to save her - if I had her best interests at heart - I would have buried a bolt in her soul gem some time ago. To spare her is to torture and sacrifice her, only heightening the risk that she might become a witch. And yet, it is necessary.

"Not you," I reply quickly. "I will need your help in saving one of your friends. In showing her the truth. One close to the incubator - the only one with whom I have any quarrel - and perhaps most snared by his lies, but I can see that the cruelty he practices has no home in her heart. I speak, of course, of Harumi Ryouno. An innocent in a position she does not deserve, as are you all, but she holds the incubator's ear and his secrets alike. The difference she could make is immeasurable."

"And why do you think I should believe any of-" Defiance I have no time for, and I brush it aside with one hand to indicate as much.

"Surely you have seen her in that river of yours before. Seen a witch in her future, perhaps, at the moment of her demise?" Ah, yes. The petrified expression on her face says more than she ever could. Really, it was the easiest guess in the world. Sanbey and his brothers make witches of all puella maga, in time, though to what end I neither know nor care. It would seem, however, that I have her attention. Good.

"That is her fate. That is the fate of many of our kind, as I have come to understand it. Chains that can be broken if Sanbey is dragged down from his throne. I will ask only that when the time comes, you will help me to save her. Can I expect this much from you?" A pause, the same fearful, faintly defiant look in her eyes as she rallies herself to speak up.

"...How can I trust you?"

"Neither of us can trust the other, and yet, I have come here to make my request. Make what you will of that; I am only here to save one who can, should fortune be on our side, save us all. Someone who deserves better than a life in this prison, then another harvest for the incubator, and her inevitable end as a witch." I stop for a moment, watching her nonplussed reaction.

"Surprised?" And incredulous, no doubt.

"What's your proof?"

"Precious little, regrettably. But to begin with... a look into my future, if you care for it. I am rather curious myself.

What we both see is heartening, and for her, deeply alarming, more than I expected. The scene in itself does not seem to frighten her greatly - perhaps she does not recognise the bodies, and I certainly do not from the brief glimpse I am afforded - but she appears to make some connection seconds later that leaves her deeply shaken. And yet, for me, the picture holds some hope.

A curious sensation of... strength? My pain vanishing, my magic greater than ever before. The corpses of my would-be enemies - through their insistence and my begrudging, frigid mercy - scattered about a barrier. Before me is the demon himself, Sanbey, the incubator that had stolen my sister from me and twisted her into a broken shell for a monster. He stands cornered, saying something I cannot make out, backed against a wall and completely alone. I cannot see my own face, but sense that I am looming over him, obscuring him under my shadow, and he is no doubt moments from his deserved end.

Somehow, I had expected a worse end to my crusade.

"...I admit, I expected a more dismal scene, though no doubt you see it as such. No matter. Another secret, then - one of which Sanbey is well aware. I invite you, should curiosity ever strike you, to look into my past. There, you will find every answer you need."

"You... you think I want to see more?" Of course not. Neither of us ever wanted to see as much as we did. Before I can say anything to that effect, she cuts me off with a loud sigh, pointing towards the elevator, her arm shaking ever so slightly. Fear has not left her, but she has no time for it now. Misplaced indignation has stolen its place.

"You can't afford to kill me, can you? Then leave. Go. I won't call anyone, not because I want you to be safe, but because I don't want them to get hurt fighting you. I listened to as much as I can for... for her, for everyone else, but that's it. Y-you shouldn't even be here. I have a knife, if it comes to that. Just... just leave. ...Please."

What could I say to that? I stagger to my feet, making my way to the door, albeit slower than either of us would have liked. I have made my plea. I have given her the tools to see for herself. I can but pray, now, that the guardian angel of the Third will be delivered from this prison.

"Thank you for your time, Miss Masame," I manage. Somehow, I keep myself standing for long enough until the doors of the elevator close, and it begins to hum while making its ascent. A split second later, I collapse on the floor, no doubt gaining a few more bruises and cuts for myself as I land. No matter, I have grown used to them by now. My soul gem will reknit the wounds eventually. Better that I do not appear weak, first and foremost.

Two and a half hours later, crawling much of the way, I finally make my escape from the offices of the third officio. Have I failed? It is a question I ask myself often, and at this point, I feel it is only a matter of degrees.