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[Fanfic]: Meiou Shojo ZEORYMER (Hades Maiden ZEORYMER)

Mares Guyver

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Synopsis: ["Magical Girl" AU] Masato Akitsu was an average teenage boy until his encounter with a mysterious girl named Miku Himuro. His peaceful life then ended as Masato was thrown into a battle for the fate of the world against the nefarious Hau Dragon. His only defense - a pair of special bracelets that allow Masato to transform into the lovely warrior, Zeorymer of the Heavens!

Standard Disclaimer: “Meiou Keikaku Zeorymer" (aka “Hades Project Zeorymer") is the creative property of Moriwo Chimi (aka Yoshiki Takaya), Lemon People/Monthly Comic Ryu, and AIC/Artmic. Any other references not otherwise specified (NOS) are the property of their respective creators, and not owned by me whatsoever. Original characters and situations though, are mine and mine alone.

Other Standard Disclaimer: This fanfic is rated PG-13 (or T) for violence, swearing, adult situations, and mild sexual references.

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Prologue: In the Age of Gods…

…there lived a colossal black dragon. He had a head made of iron, a mane of flaming red, and his swimming body provided the currents to the world’s rivers and seas. Proud of his size and strength, Iron-Headed Dragon arrogantly challenged the Gods to battle over the Throne of Heaven; but the Gods, whose dominion over the world was granted by Divine Right, refused his request.

Enraged at the Gods, Iron-Headed Dragon smashed his skull against one the Heavenly Pillars holding up the sky. The blow caused the world to tilt sideways, tearing open holes in both the Earth and the Heavens. Through these cracks, torrents of water poured forth, smoldering forests burned, and diseased famine ravaged the land. In addition, unspeakable Horrors from Beyond emerged, spreading terror across the Kingdoms of Man.

The Gods, whose power had waned as mankind flourished, were unable to stop Iron-headed Dragon or the devastation he had unleashed. In desperation, they searched among the Kingdoms of Man for a champion worthy of their blessing. Eventually, they discovered one young boy and one young girl whose hearts were brave and pure. To aid this chosen pair, the gods gifted them a set of Celestial Armor. These vestments were forged from the Eight Universal Elements: Wind, Fire, Water, Moon, Earth, Mountain, Thunder, and Heaven. Lastly, the armor was imbued with the remaining Cosmic Power of the Gods. Donning the Celestial Armor, the boy and girl joined to become the mighty Great Hero. As one, they set out to challenge Iron-Headed Dragon to a duel.

The battle between Great Hero and Iron-Headed Dragon waged night and day. Their blows caused mountains to shatter, thunderbolts to tear across the sky, and tornados to sweep over the land. Unable to kill Iron-Headed Dragon, Great Hero devised a cunning plan to lure him into a trap. Gathering treasures from across the Kingdoms of Man, Great Hero dug a pit in the deepest corner of the Underworld. They then placed the treasures within the pit, knowing that—being as greedy as he was prideful—Iron-Headed Dragon could not resist such a massive hoard. Tempted by these riches, Iron-Headed Dragon entered the pit without thought or care. As soon as Iron-Headed Dragon was asleep in his treasure, Great Hero used the last of their powers to turn their armored body into a massive lid. The metal lid covered the pit, sealing Iron-Headed Dragon away for all eternity.

Time passed, and with the help of the Gods the Heavenly Pillars were repaired; however, the world remained tilted, causing Eternal Summer to wax and wane through the four seasons we now know. Eventually, the Kingdoms of Man and their descendants forgot about both Iron-Headed Dragon and Great Hero. As with all things, their story faded into the realm of myth and legend… 

…however, prophecy foretells that when the evils of man reach their zenith, Iron-Headed Dragon will awaken from his slumber. He will then rise from the depths of the Underworld, seeking revenge for his imprisonment by laying waste to the Kingdoms of Man. On that day, it is also said that a new Great Hero will emerge to battle once more over the fate of the world. But with the Gods long departed and the hearts of man clouded by hate and despair, a vital question remains: Will the next Great Hero be a Savior, or a Devil Incarnate?    

Edited by Mares Guyver
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(Hades Maiden ZEORYMER)

A “Magical Girl” AU

By: Mares Guyver

 Episode 1: Awakening, Part I – Masato Akitsu, Age 15

In a residential district of Fuji City in Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture, the sun was just starting to set as the first stars of night twinkled in the lightly clouded twilight sky. As streetlamps began snapping to life and illuminating the streets and sidewalks below, a lone teenage boy could be seen trudging between the shadows of the townhomes and apartment buildings around him, shoulders slumped, and head bowed. The boy was of average height and build, with a mop of short but unruly black hair, and dressed in a pair of cream-colored slacks, a matching short-sleeved shirt, and a dark-colored, tunic-style vest with tags on the breast and collar. [1]

The teen eventually stopped at the front gate of a modest, two-story residence, unlocked the latch, and walked up to the front door. He shifted a satchel bag on his shoulder as he rummaged one hand inside a pants pocket before eventually dragging out a reinforced keycard. After sliding the card through the front door’s electronic reader, the boy entered the house, snapped his fingers to turn on the first-floor lights, and kicked off his street shoes. [2]

“I’m home!” Masato Akitsu called out, his voice echoing down the hallway and up the stairs. When nothing but silence answered him, Masato sighed, closed his eyes, and smiled ruefully.

“Right…” he said with a half-hearted chuckle, “Not like there’s anyone who can answer me now…”

Opening his eyes, Masato’s gaze settled on a row of framed pictures set on a side table just past the entry to the house. Dropping his satchel on the floor, Masato walked over to the table, then slowly picked up one framed photo that showed him when he was about 5-years old. In the photo, Masato was giving a gap-toothed smile while holding up a smallmouth bass hooked on a fishing line. His father, Shigeharu Akitsu was crouched beside him, one hand on young Masato’s shoulder and grinning just as enthusiastically.

“Dad…” Masato choked out, his vision blurring as tears filled his eyes… 

Masato looked over his father’s body, shriveled and sunken into a hospital bed, with various tubes sticking out of him as machines beeped and buzzed on shelves above his head. The teen slowly approached Professor Akitsu, the sound causing the older man to tilt his head and smile blearily at his son.

“Dad…?” Masato began, only to stop when his father shook his head.

“I’m sorry, Masato,” Professor Akitsu wheezed, lightly waving a hand at the metal chair next to his bed. After Masato sat, his father spoke again: “I wish … we had more time. There are ... things that need to happen. Things that need … need to be said.”

“Dad don’t—” Masato tried to interject, only to be cut-off by another furious headshake from his father. This action also seemed to bring on a round of coughing from the older man, and Masato immediately leaned over to help support his father until the flurry of coughs subsided. 

“Destiny … is a funny thing…” Professor Akitsu uttered after he had settled back on his pillow, his words slightly slurring as he spoke. “No matter how hard we try to … to change our fate, something still sle… sleeps inside, and wakes when we least… least expect…”

As his father trailed off, closing his eyes as his breathing slowed, Masato began feeling of a rising mix of panic and sadness deep in his chest—only to have that swelling emotion burst apart when his father’s arm shot out and clasped Masato’s wrist like a lamprey, shocking Masato with its strength. Professor Akitsu’s eyes then popped open, bugging out with visible arteries as he turned and met Masato’s gaze.

“The sleeping dragon must not wake!” Professor Akitsu cried out, the machines around him blaring out alarms and flashing lights. “His wrath will be swift and terrible—but it is That Man’s hubris that will destroy us all!!”

“Dad! Stop it! Just relax!” Masato said, tears in his eyes as he tried to console the crazed man who was his father; however, Professor Akitsu held firm and refused to let Masato go.

“I thought I could spare you the fate He chose for you, Masato…” Professor Akitsu continued, “But the web of destiny that binds the hero and the dragon has too many threads!”

Eventually, the alarms from the machines attached to the older man summoned a trio of medical staff to his hospital room, one burly orderly stepping forward to restrain Professor Akitsu while two nurses gently but firmly pulled Masato away from his father’s grasp. As one of the nurses beside him cooed soothing platitudes, Masato’s eyes never left Professor Akitsu’s seemingly desperate gaze as his father thrashed against the orderly’s grasp, arm still outstretched towards the teen.

“The key to mankind’s future is in your hand, my son!” Professor Akitsu exclaimed, “Remember, the hero and the dragon must not awaken! ZEORYMER must not awaken!!” 

Later that evening, after Masato had finished his dinner and was working on homework in his bedroom, the teen reflected on how good a day he had been having, until everything had suddenly gone so wrong…

While at school, Masato had aced his Advanced Physics test, he had managed to snag an extra dessert at lunch, and the cute transfer student in Masato’s homeroom had even asked him to meet her after school! So understandably, up until the very last period of the day, Masato had felt like he was finally enjoying the springtime of his youth; however, he then was pulled out of class and told that he had a call waiting for him in the principal’s office. After Masato had arrived, the principal sat him down, placed a hand on his shoulder, and told the teen kindly but matter-of-factly that his father had been rushed to the hospital.

As soon as he was given the news, Masato had dashed out of the office, hopped on the nearest bus outside his school, and rode all the way to the city hospital where his father had been taken. A tense twenty minutes later, Masato had arrived, checked-in with the hospital reception desk, and was escorted by a nurse up to his father’s room. Shortly afterwards, he and Professor Akitsu had their final conversation, before his father’s body finally gave out and he passed away.

Pausing from typing calculations into his desk computer, Masato leaned back in his chair and folded his arms behind his head. As his eyes stared past the ceiling above, Masato let his mind drift through the myriad of problems he would have to sort through moving forward. Doing so kept him from sinking back into the well of grief he was otherwise feeling deep inside…

‘I guess I’ll have to either sell or sublet the house now,’ Masato mused. ‘I’m pretty sure Dad had a little money tucked away, but I doubt even his savings or insurance will let me stay here long-term. If I’m able to get a part-time job, maybe the school dorms will allow me to board there full-time…’

For as long as Masato could remember, it had only been his father and he, as Masato’s mother had died when he was very young. By the time he had entered junior high, Masato had grown accustomed to fending for himself, as his father was often gone on work trips as part of his job as a professional researcher and scientific consultant. After moving up to senior high school on scholarship earlier that year, Masato had started living part-time in the dormitories on-campus, returning home on weekends, and spending them with his father during those rare occasions that their schedules managed to overlap.

Unfortunately, Masato’s father had grown progressively ill over the last year, leading Masato to take increasingly more time away from school, despite his father’s protests. From his perspective, Masato didn’t feel he had any other choice, as – despite being a man of science – his father had perplexedly been against seeing a doctor or receiving any kind of dedicated medical care at a public hospital, seemingly growing more paranoid and reclusive the weaker his body became. So, to give his father time to rest and recover, Masato had taken over most of the homecare responsibilities, from paying bills to purchasing groceries and doing the laundry.

But now his father was gone, and with no other family that he knew of to turn to, Masato’s future was more uncertain and clouded than he could ever recall. However, despite recent events, Masato couldn’t bring himself to feel angry towards his father, though Masato still puzzled over the last words Professor Akitsu had cried out only hours earlier.

‘“The hero and the dragon must not awaken,” huh? That’s definitely what he said…’

Sighing, Masato stood up and stretched his arms above his head. Rolling his shoulders to get the kinks out, Masato slowly made his way to the hall bathroom.

‘And Zeorymer … What the hell is a “Zeorymer”? Why’d the last thing Dad said have to be so cryptic?’ Masato pondered further as he poured a cup of water. Just as he was readying to brush his teeth, the lights in the bathroom and the hall outside went out, causing the teen to groan in the sudden darkness.

Again, with the blackouts?! I must be cursed!’ Masato thought. ‘And Dad really shouldn’t have skimped on having an electrician check the wiring in the house – it’s probably decades out of code…’ Masato grumbled internally as he made his way out into the hall and down the staircase to the first floor.

‘Well, hopefully clearing the fuse box will fix things for tonight – I swear, this house will probably be the death … of … me?’

Masato’s mind and body came to a halt mid-way on the staircase, as his view was met by the sunglasses-covered stares of three, black-suited men gathered just inside the entry to the house. Like the rooms above, the first floor was shrouded in darkness, though illumination from streetlamps still shone through various windows, casting the encounter in a harsh contrast of light and shadow. Faint shimmers from the cold, oiled metal of semi-automatic handguns, held at the ready by at least two of the intruders, added a final punctuation of danger to the scene. 

One of the men, closest to Masato at the bottom of the stairs, grabbed onto the banister with one hand while using his other to reach for the teen. Masato yelped, stumbled, and fell backwards onto the staircase as he pulled back away from the sudden assault. Twisting around, Masato flailed his arms and legs as he half-crawled, half-shoved his body back up the stairs in a desperate rush to escape. However, just as he was nearing the top, he felt a rush of air over his head right before a pair of polished shoes slammed down on the landing above. Looking up, Masato saw another of the black-suited men looming over him, the intruder having seemingly leapt all the way up from the first floor below.

As a shocked Masato paused his uphill climb, the man who had lunged at him earlier finally reached and latched onto one of Masato’s legs. Masato cried out as he was then yanked back and up over the banister, crashing into the far wall of the entry hallway before sliding to the floor, knocking over the end table and photos atop it in the process. Wincing in pain, Masato slowly and shakily rose on his hands and knees, but before he could stand a strong hand gripped him by the collar, pulled him upright, and then slammed him back against the wall, his legs dangling limply below him. Masato cried out again at the impact, but then sobered as he heard the telltale sound of a gun being ****ed, his eyes opening to find the business end of a pistol millimeters from his nose.

“Identify yourself,” said the man holding Masato aloft.

Quaking with fear, Masato raised his hands up in what he hoped was a placating gesture. “I’m Ma-Masato … Masato Ak-Akitsu!” he stammered. “This is m-my house—I live here!”

The man holding Masato remained inscrutable, with his eyes hidden by his sunglasses and his facial expression flat. At the approach of one of the other black-suited men, the first tilted his head slightly to acknowledge his seeming colleague, his one-armed grip on Masato never once wavering.

“Instructions?” asked the man holding Masato.

The second man looked Masato over before his gaze drifted down to the broken picture frames on the floor below. Kneeling, the second man picked up the same photo of Masato and his father that the boy had been looking at earlier. As he stood back up, the second intruder seemed to study the photo briefly, and then turned back to his companion. Behind both, the third of the intruders slowly made his way back down the stairs to the first floor.

“Nothing in the mission parameters mentions him,” the second man finally stated. “And we cannot leave any witnesses.”

“I’m telling the truth, I swear!” Masato cried desperately. “I’m Masato Akitsu, the son of Shigeharu Akitsu!”

The two black-suited men looked at one another, then at their third member who had finally joined them. The second man held out the photo of Masato and his father to the newcomer, which the third man took and scrutinized for a moment before crumpling it in his gloved hand and dropping it on the floor. Stepping forward, the third man reached into his breast pocket, and pulled out another photograph which he then held out for Masato to see.

“Are you familiar with this relic?” the third intruder asked. “If you are, and you can tell us where Professor Akitsu hid it, then we might spare your life.”

Quivering at the gun still held up to his face, Masato nonetheless managed to tilt his eyes down and glance at the photograph. The glossy picture showed an ornate, open-faced helmet, bejeweled and with odd, circuit-like patterns inlaid into the metalwork. Gulping, Masato looked back up at the expectant faces of the three black-suited men.

“I-I don-don’t know wh-what that is,” Masato admitted. “Bu-but if it’s mo-money you’re af-after, there’s a stash hi-hidden under my futon…”

The third man frowned, then placed the photo back in his jacket.

“Eliminate him,” the second man ordered, and the first man nodded before turning back to a wide-eyed Masato. The teen gulped, but then closed his eyes as he awaited the inevitable.

Several shots rang out, but rather than feel the punch of metal tearing holes through his body, instead the grip on Masato’s collar loosened before letting go entirely, causing Masato to fall back down to the floor in a sprawl. Three other loud thudding sounds echoed around him, and after a brief pause Masato tentatively cracked one eye open. Though obscured by the darkness, he could make out the still, prone forms of the three intruders face down on the ground. Smoke trails trailed lazily into the air through holes in their bodies, and beneath each a dark fluid could be seen slowly pooling out onto the floor.

Unable to hold back, Masato felt tears well up in his eyes as he took in the carnage around him. Folding his legs up so that his head was buried in his knees, the teen then began to shake from a wave of released tension. Caught-up in the fallout of raw terror, Masato didn’t even register the sound of footsteps as a figure gingerly made its way through the still-open doorway, carefully stepping around the prone forms in the entry and towards Masato, before slowly crouching down to his level.

“Masato … Masato Akitsu…” a gentle voice said, “Are you alright?”

Startled, Masato’s head snapped up, and his panicked, dark gray eyes met a more concerned, violet-hued gaze, set in a feminine face framed by wavy, light brown hair. The face belonged to a young girl about Masato’s age, squatting at his level with gloved hands placed atop her knees. Masato’s eyes widened with recognition.

“You-you’re that girl…” he uttered with wonder, “The-the girl from class today—Himuro-san.” The young woman smiled and nodded her head. 

“That’s right, I’m Miku Himuro,” she confirmed, pushing against her knees as she stood up. “But feel free to call me Miku, okay Masato-kun?” she added with a wink, holding her gloved hand out.

Masato just gaped, eyes wide and mouth ajar as he looked up at the (highly attractive) young woman above him. After a momentary pause, Masato came to his senses, blushing lightly as he shook his head to clear it.

“O-okay…” he finally replied, reaching up to grasp Miku’s outstretched arm…and yelped as he was jerked upright with surprising speed. ‘She’s strong!’ he thought, wavering dizzily on his feet as the blood from his head still gathered down in his legs and feet.

Beside him, Miku giggled, drawing Masato’s attention back to the young woman. Looking her over, Masato noted that Miku was dressed in a lightly padded dark-blue and turquoise, open-collared, full-body jumpsuit, with white armor pieces strapped to the shoulders, chest, stomach, upper thighs, and lower legs. He also noticed that his hand was still being lightly held in her gloved grasp, causing him to blush anew; however, when Masato tried to pull away, Miku’s grip on his hand just tightened further. [3]

“There’s no need to be shy, Masato-kun,” Miku said, as she began slowly walking Masato out of the front entry and deeper into the house. “Although I am sorry that this is the way our date ended up going.”

“Huh?” Masato uttered intelligently, prompting another giggle from Miku.

“We were supposed to meet up after school today, remember?” she asked as she led Masato into the dining area beside the kitchen. Still holding onto his hand, Miku gently guided Masato into one of the chairs beside the dining table, then sat down herself in a chair adjacent him.

“When you didn’t show up at the school gate like we had talked about, I made some inquiries and learned you had left school early to go to the hospital,” Miku added, then paused as her expression grew more somber. Bringing up her other hand, Miku clasped Masato’s hand between the both of hers. “I’m very sorry for your loss, Masato-kun—losing your caretaker must be very hard.”

Masato ****ed an eyebrow at Miku’s choice of phrase.

‘My “caretaker”?’ he thought, but before he could ponder the matter further, he noticed Miku’s curious stare, and realized he had been silent too long.

“Um, yeah, it…it’s been quite a shock. Thank you…” he finally said, his eyes trailing away from Miku’s gaze momentarily before he frowned and looked back up. “Wait … how do you know that my father died? I haven’t even had a chance to submit an obituary yet…”

Miku’s eyes widened, and she tried to reach out to touch Masato in a comforting gesture, but upon loosening his hand Masato pulled away, standing up and backing away from the table.

“And how are you here, at my home?! I never told you where I lived – we were supposed to go to your house!” Masato continued, his voice rising in pitch along with his panic. “I was just nearly killed by people I don’t even know, and then you show up after they were all shot to death! Was it you?! Did you kill them?!”

“Masato-kun, I…" Miku began, also standing up and reaching one hand out, only to have it slapped away.

“Get away from me! Leave me alone!” Masato yelled as he continued to back away from Miku. In response, Miku slowly lowered her arm to her side, her expression sad as Masato continued to step backwards. A twinge of guilt lanced through Masato’s heart, but he ignored the feeling and turned to flee … only to run into the armored chest of a man standing behind him.

“Heck of a way to show gratitude, kid,” the man said, gripping Masato’s upper arms in gloved hands and roughly shoving the teen back into the chair he had just vacated. As Miku moved to attend to Masato, the man continued: “A beautiful girl saves your sorry butt, and that’s the thanks you give to her?”

Masato looked up from his slouched over position, his tired gaze meeting that of a helmeted, athletically built older man dressed in an all dark-blue version of the same jumpsuit Miku wore, though with additional armor on the thighs and forearms. Said forearms were currently raised, cradling a sleek, black assault rifle loosely strapped around his shoulder as the man looked down at Masato with a contemptuous, goggle-covered stare. A nametag on his breastplate read “Oki” in kanji. [4] 

After locking gazes briefly, Masato eventually broke his eyes away, tilting his head down and looking at the floor.  

“What, no reply? No snarky repartee?” “Oki” questioned with a sneer. “You’re not even going to defend yourself? What kind of man are you?”

In response, Masato slumped further in his seat, leading Miku to frown and glare up at her seeming companion.

Sensing the girl’s ire, Oki raised his arms up in a mock surrender gesture, chuckling to himself as he stepped back and glanced into the entry hall. The sounds of stomping boots and voices whispering to one another could be heard as a small group of similarly armored individuals filtered into the house—some moving upstairs, others spreading out into the other rooms on the first floor, and another making his way down into the basement. After a moment, various cries of “All clear!” could be heard ringing throughout the house, resulting in a sigh of relief from Oki before he lowered his rifle and leaned back against the nearest wall. 

“In answer to your questions, Masato-kun—” Miku began, causing Masato to look up at her, “I was informed about your care … your father’s death by a contact we have at the hospital. Unfortunately, it seems like the enemy was informed at roughly the same time, and they were able to mobilize faster than we could. It’s a small miracle that we got here when we did.”

Masato frowned. “To do what?” he asked, and Miku blinked in confusion

“To save you, of course!” she replied earnestly, which elicited a snort of amusement from Oki. Miku shot another quick glare at the other man before turning back to Masato. “These … gentlemen and I belong to an organization called ‘Last Guardian’—a special task force founded by my adoptive father, Professor Ryozo Himuro, and funded by the Japanese government.” Masato blinked as he digested this new information.

“I see…” he eventually replied, then looked at Miku with a curious gaze. “You mentioned an ‘enemy’? Do you mean those … those people out there? Who are you talking about?” Miku pursued her lips, then glanced at Oki uncertainly.

“Hau Dragon,” Oki stated bluntly, and after breathing a sigh, Miku nodded in confirmation.

“Those men were agents from an organization called ‘Tekkoryu’ or ‘Hau Dragon.’ They came here looking for an artifact that your … father had taken possession of some time ago,” Miku elaborated. “Your father and mine are … were colleagues at one point, and for years they have been working independently on a project they hoped would stop Hau Dragon and their evil ambitions. They called it: ‘Project—'”


Miku’s eyes widened while Oki turned sharply towards Masato. If the boy registered their movement, he didn’t show it as he continued to look out with a glazed, unfocused stare.

“That’s what Dad said … the last thing he spoke about … was something called ‘Zeorymer’…” Masato voiced. He tilted his head up, glancing between Miku and Oki before speaking again: “Who … what … is Zeorymer?”

Miku glanced at Oki, whose expression was hard and grim, but after a pause the man nodded. Miku mirrored the gesture, then turned back to Masato.

“Well…” she began, but then paused when the overhead lights suddenly sprang to life, causing the three to look up at the ceiling.

“Huh? Guess Takaya-kun found the circuit break—urk!!” Oki gasped, his body falling forward after being cuffed by a massive arm from behind.

The arm in question belonged to one of the black-suited men from the hallway, the same who had held Masato at gunpoint previously. As Oki cried out from a heel pressing down against the small of his back, the Hau Dragon agent slowly emerged from the shadows of the hallway … with the overhead lighting glinting off shiny metal now exposed beneath the half-torn skin of the man’s face. One glowing red eye irised narrower behind the shattered frames of his sunglasses, and he slowly raised one arm and pointed a gun straight at Masato.

“Look out!” Miku yelled as she leaped at the other teen, tackling him to the floor as several gunshots rang out above them. Hugging Masato against her body, she rolled them underneath the dining table, then reached up to push against it until the table tilted over on its side. Crouching on one knee behind the makeshift cover, Miku quickly unholstered a handgun from behind her back. Beside her, Masato was shaking, knees raised, and arms folded protectively over his head as bullets slammed in the thick wood of the dining table.

‘This is crazy!’ Masato thought. ‘First, I’m in a spy thriller, and now it’s sci-fi?! What’s next—this girl’s going to say: “Follow me if you don’t want to die”?!’

Unaware of Masato’s distress next to her, Miku continued to wait with her gun drawn and held tightly in both of her hands. When the enemy gunfire paused, Miku took the opportunity to slowly poke her head around the side of the upturned table, and her eyes widened as she took in the sight before her.

Somehow, Oki had managed to free himself from his assailant’s foot, stand, and use his rifle to wedge the Hau Dragon agent against the wall of the dining area. Oki’s muscles strained as the newly revealed cyborg thrashed its arms, screeching and grasping at Oki, who continuously bobbed his head away from the other’s reach. For a moment, the human soldier managed to turn his head and briefly catch Miku’s gaze.             

“Go!!” Oki barked out between gritted teeth, before turning back to his captive. “Get going—finish the mission!”

In response, Miku quickly nodded and stood, taking her gun in one hand, and using her other to clasp Masato’s arm and drag the boy to his feet. Leading the way, Miku (with Masato in tow) dashed past the still struggling pair, Masato briefly managing to lock eyes with Oki as they passed. Despite the beads of sweat dripping down his face, the older man managed to cast a ****y grin to Masato … right before the Hau Dragon agent’s hands clasped both sides of Oki’s helmet.

A crackling snap muffled by a light squish was the last sound the pair heard as they exited.

Thankfully, the entry hallway was empty, save for debris and the still drying puddles of dark fluid where the black-suited agents had previously lain. From unseen places around the house, faint shouts and scuffling struggles could be heard, along with the occasional report of a gun being fired; however, rather than head out the front door, Miku pulled Masato along to the open door to the basement adjacent to the hallway. Pausing briefly at the landing, Miku grasped her gun with both hands and pointed it down the stairwell, eyes focused, and head tilted sideways to listen.

Masato opened his mouth to speak, but Miku raised one hand to silence him. After a moment, she again gripped one of the boy’s hands and slowly crossed through the open doorway, tiptoeing her way down the stairs. Not knowing what else to do, Masato mirrored the girl’s actions as the two slowly descended into the lower level of the house. As the pair reached the space between the floorboards above and the open stairwell, Miku paused and crouched down, motioning for Masato to do the same. Carefully, gingerly, she peeked through the gap between the basement ceiling and the stairwell wall into the room proper.

The basement itself was not very large - roughly the combined size of the hallway and dining area above it. Its existence was a curiosity to most outsiders, as basements were an uncommon feature in most Japanese households, due to Japan being an island nation prone to earthquakes and generally unstable terrain. While growing up, Masato honestly hadn’t given it much thought—the basement was simply an extra storage area for all the junk a home typically accumulates over the years. The bright glow of the sole ceiling light cast these various odds and ends into harsh relief … along with a Last Guardian soldier being strangled and held aloft by yet another black-suited Hau Dragon agent. 

Masato nearly cried out at the sight, but Miku had already covered his mouth with one gloved hand, her other pointing her gun straight at the agent’s back. The pair watched as the cyborg completed executing his victim with one last crackling snap, Masato’s eyes wide with horror and Miku’s hard as the human soldier’s body went limp. Letting the fresh corpse drop to the ground like a sack of dirty laundry, the Hau Dragon agent then curiously began feeling along the blank surface of the basement wall, probing, and tapping each of the individual cinder blocks as if looking for something.

Glancing at Masato until she caught his gaze, Miku pointed at his eyes with two fingers on her free hand, and then up towards the door at the top of the stairs. Clasping one of Masato’s hands in her own gloved grip, Miku then quietly placed her gun in Masato’s open palm and gently curled his fingers around the handle.

Masato looked down at the gun in his grasp, then back up at Miku, mouth agape and trembling. Miku smiled briefly in a seemingly reassuring manner, before turning back to face the still unaware Hau Dragon agent. Carefully, she reached up and gripped the banister tightly with both hands while remaining in a crouch behind it.

“Increase output thirty percent…”

In response to her murmured words, Masato’s attention was briefly drawn from looking up the stairs back to Miku, but her gaze remained focused on the black-suited cyborg at the opposite wall. Masato’s curiosity grew all the greater as lines of light started to glow under Miku’s skin, the air around them shimmering faintly with a radiating heat. Silently and suddenly, Miku leapt upwards from her crouch, placing her feet against the wall of the stairwell behind her. Briefly, she pushed herself backwards with her arms while curling her legs against the wall, and then exploded outward as she launched herself with shocking speed towards the only just-now turning Hau Dragon agent. Twisting her body around midair, Miku slammed both of her feet into the cyborg’s exposed skull, crushing it against the concrete of the basement wall in an ever-expanding web of cracks and dust.

Pushing off from the Hau Dragon agent, Miku performed a quick somersault in the close quarters of the basement before landing on the ground, one arm outstretched while her other braced along with her feet on the unfinished floor. She was breathing hard, visibly perspiring as the mysterious lines of light slowly faded away.

Masato quickly made his way down the remaining stairs and over to Miku’s side. He briefly glanced at the limp body of the Last Guardian soldier (whose nametag read “Chimi”) and then over to the Hau Dragon agent, whose head and upper torso were now partially embedded into the concrete wall. Crouching down, Masato lightly grasped Miku’s outstretched arm, the girl casting a somewhat strained but grateful smile to the teen as he helped her up.

“That … that was incredible, Miku-san!” Masato enthused as he lightly held onto a seemingly unsteady Miku. “How were you able to—?"

“Ma … Masato-kun, please…” Miku uttered between labored breaths, “I promise you … there will be answers … to all of your questions, but not now. We don’t … we don’t have time.”

Masato blinked, his grin fading, but slowly he nodded his head in affirmation.

“Can I at least ask why we’re down here?” Masato ventured, his gaze drifting between the bodies and other bits of clutter strewn around the small room. “There’s no way out other than the staircase, and I doubt we’ll be alone for long once this … thing’s friends notice it’s missing.”

Miku nodded in response, shakily walking up to the wall on the side of the room furthest from the stairway landing. She briefly looked over the various cardboard boxes and plastic containers stacked up against the wall before pulling them down and placing them out of the way. 

“We have to retrieve something…” Miku finally stated as Masato moved to her side and began helping. “Something important that … that your father left behind. His legacy, or your inheritance, as it were…”

Masato’s eyebrows furrowed, but before he could ponder her words further, he was dragged out of his musings when Miku paused and turned again to him.

“I need you to cover me until we’re done here,” she said. Her gaze drifted down to the gun still being held gingerly in Masato’s grip, then back up to the boy’s stunned face.

Masato gulped, curling, and uncurling his fingers around the pistol, and twisting it back and forth to test its weight in his palm. “I’ve never ... shot anyone before…” he muttered.

Miku pursed her lips in a tight line, but then turned away from the teen and looked back at the nearly bare wall. Like the Hau Dragon agent before her, she began feeling and probing along the wall’s surface with one hand.

“You needn’t worry, Masato-kun. Those ‘agents’ are just … lifeless machines, posing as human beings,” Miku uttered softly as she continued to probe every crack and bump along the concrete wall. “They’re androids following preset directives and priorities. They’re not living things … not really…”

Masato stared at Miku for a long moment before tilting his gaze over to the still motionless agent driven into the adjacent wall, then back down at the gun in his hand. His face took on a determined grimace, and he slowly turned around to face the stairway, training the gun’s sights with both hands on the gap between the basement ceiling and the open stairwell.

‘Ok, Masato, just think of it like you’re playing one of those shooter games you’ve seen your classmates playing at the arcade,’ Masato thought to himself, ‘All you have to do is aim and squeeze the trigger.’

Even as he tried to pump himself up, Masato couldn’t quite ignore the fact that his forearms were quaking slightly, or that his view was being slightly blurred by sweat dripping down his face. As Masato wiped his forehead with his shirt sleeve, he briefly glanced back at Miku as she repeatedly probed the far wall behind him.

Moreover,’ he thought, ‘I have to protect Miku-san, just as she’s been doing for me this whole time…’

Unaware of Masato’s silent musings, Miku continued to rub her hands across the seemingly blank surface of the basement back wall. Eventually, her gloved fingers found their way inside a seemingly innocuous crack between two concrete cinder blocks, wiggling inwards until they hit a hidden switch with an audible ‘click.’ With the faint whirring of gears, a panel disguised as one of the cinder blocks slid away, revealing a hidden keypad.

Smiling with relief, Miku reached up and typed in a rapid sequence of numbers, only to blink in confusion when the pad buzzed and flashed a red light at her. Frowning, Miku repeated the same sequence of numbers, only to get the same buzzing rejection from the keypad. “What the…?”

Hearing Miku, Masato partially turned his head while keeping his body facing the stairwell. “Did you say something, Miku-san? What’s happening?” he asked.

Sweat now dripping down her forehead, Miku slowly turned around towards Masato with a strained smile; however, before any words of reassurance could leave her lips, Miku’s eyes ballooned open, and she quickly pointed behind Masato: “Look out!!”

Masato whipped his head around, his eyes likewise bugging out as they landed on the Hau Dragon agent nearly at the bottom of the stairs.

“Oh drenn!” Masato exclaimed, quickly taking aim, and firing two shots off.

The recoil from the gun sent both shots and Masato flying wide, but the bullets came close enough to the android that it bent backwards at the waist to dodge them. The Hau Dragon agent then proceeded to scramble back up the stairs and under cover in a grotesque upside-down scurry of its hands and feet.

“Masato-kun, are you alright?!” Miku cried.

Groaning, the teen in question sat and pulled himself out from the pile of half-filled boxes and containers he had fallen back into. Rubbing his rear end and wincing slightly, Masato grinned rather sheepishly at Miku.

“It’s fine, I’m totally fine,” Masato said reassuringly. “I just forgot about Newton’s Third Law, that’s all…” he added, trailing off and tensing along with Miku as the pair heard multiple sets of heavy footsteps overhead and from up the stairwell – far more than just two Hau Dragon agents should be able to create!

Crouching on one knee to better brace himself, Masato pointed the handgun back to the stair landing in a two-handed grip. “Whatever you’re doing, Miku-san, you’d better hurry and get to it!”

“R-right!” Miku replied, hurriedly turning back to the keypad, and dialing in yet another sequence, groaning as she was met with yet another buzzing rejection.

Behind her, Masato took aim and fired as another Hau Dragon agent appeared in the gap in the stairwell. This time he was prepared for the recoil, and though the shot still missed it came close enough to bring the android to a pause. Gritting his teeth, Masato adjusted his aim and fired again, and his shot pierced the agent’s head, causing it to fall and tumble its way down the rest of the stairs.

“I got one…” Masato voiced, then he grinned and turned briefly to Miku. “Hey, I got one!”

“Great, Masato-kun!” Miku replied without turning, as she continued to punch sequences into the keypad to no avail. Stifling several unladylike curses she had heard from various Last Guardian soldiers, Miku paused in her efforts and took a quick breath before looking intently at the keypad.

“Masato-kun…” Miku finally uttered, “Just to verify, what’s your full date of birth?”

“Huh? My birthday?” Masato asked, firing another shot at two more Hau Dragon agents peeking down the stairs before glancing back behind him. “It’s March 6th, 1984. Why?” [5]

Behind the boy, Miku blinked once, blinked again, and then shook her head.

“Never you mind…” Miku said aloud, punching a new sequence into the keypad as she spoke. This time, Miku’s entry was met with a flashing green light, and then a rumble of hidden mechanics as a whole section of the concrete wall slid away to reveal a brightly lit room just beyond.

“Masato-kun, hurry!” Miku exclaimed as she reached out to Masato, who had already turned towards her in response to the new sounds behind him. Reaching out, Masato grabbed onto Miku’s hand, allowing himself to be pulled up by her already demonstrated strength.

The pair then dashed through the newly revealed entryway, Miku pausing briefly to slam her fist into the keypad, shattering it in a flurry of sparks and twisted metal. As the door rumbled shut behind them, Miku and Masato both briefly paused to catch their breaths, glancing at one another with matching grins on their faces. After the two finally composed themselves, they finally looked up and took in the hidden space they now found themselves within.

Compared with the dim and dusty features of the basement they had left, the hidden room they had entered was cleaner, sleeker, and far more upkept. A rectangular ring of fluorescent lights in the ceiling shone off metal cabinets and work surfaces against one of the room’s walls, as well from a series of shelves filled with a variety of precision scientific instruments, glass beakers, plastic-coated binders, scrolls, and large reference texts. A desk set against the wall of the room opposite the entry was flanked on either side by twin computer mainframes, while the desk itself was topped with a monitor and built-in keyboard. The last wall had a threadbare, beat-up couch set against it, a rumpled blanket loosely pooling from its cushions onto the floor. In the center of the room, a raised metal platform stood beneath sets of robotic arms and probes dangling down from a module set in the ceiling above.

Masato’s eyes were wide as he slowly looked over the laboratory that until now had laid hidden beneath his home.

“I…I never knew this was here…” Masato uttered, his hand resting on one of the work surfaces as he slowly made his way around the perimeter of the room. Miku followed silently a step behind.  “Why…why wouldn’t my dad have…told me about all this?”

“Likely, to protect you,” Miku answered softly, her eyes making their own slow orbit around the room as she continued to trail behind Masato. “The work that your … father and mine were conducting was … is of interest to many in positions of power and influence.”

Masato nodded his head slowly in response. ‘Right, tonight’s events are evidence enough of that…’

Masato was then pulled from his reflection by a banging thud which reverberated along the walls of the lab, rattling glassware, and causing the overhead lighting to flicker. The sound came again, and both Masato and Miku briefly locked eyes before jointly looking at the reinforced door they had come through, which now had a small outward dent in its surface. Another bang, and the indentation grew larger as dust shook loose from the door’s frame, causing Masato and Miku to turn to one another again.

“How long do you think that door will hold them?” Masato asked, jumping slightly as another bang rattled the room.

“Not long, especially—” Miku began, only to pause as several faster, smaller blows joined the larger strikes in a dissonant percussive medley, causing both teens to cover their ears against the noise.

“Especially if more than one of them joins in!” Miku continued over the cacophony.

Masato bit his lip and glanced at the door, wincing as the larger indentation was met by several smaller but quickly growing blisters in its metal surface. While Masato was distracted, Miku made her way around the lab’s central table to the desk on the side of the room opposite the door. She quickly studied the control panel built into the desk’s surface, but then spied a palm reader on the sidewall of one of the computer cabinets beside the desk.

“Masato-kun, over here!” Miku beckoned, and Masato quickly joined her at the desk. Miku indicated the palm reader with a nod of her head, and then looked intently at Masato. The teen blinked, then gulped and looked down at his right hand, flexing his fingers in-and-out…

“The key to mankind’s future is in your hand, my son!”

Remembering his father’s words, Masato reached out and placed his palm against the reader. A green line of light traced its way up and down the glass surface, scanning the imprint of Masato’s palm and fingerprints. After a pause, a small chime sounded, and in the wall behind the desk a panel slid aside, revealing a sealed metal and glass cylindrical container held in place by a pair of thick claw arms. With a faint mechanical whirring, the arms extended out from the hidden compartment towards the pair of teens, stopping just past the edge of the computer screen.

Gazing at the newly revealed treasure, Masato turned to hand Miku back her gun before he cautiously stepped forward towards the outstretched container. As Miku holstered her weapon, Masato reached up, took hold of the cylinder with both hands, and gave a light tug. The motion caused the claw arms to open, releasing the container and almost causing Masato to stumble had Miku not been there to steady him. Masato cast a quick smile of gratitude towards Miku, and then both teens looked down into the container Masato now held. Through the glass top, they could see that the canister held a pair of metallic bracers –of a similar material and design to the relic Masato had been shown in picture-form at gunpoint only minutes before.

“So…” Masato said, and the flat tone of his voice caused Miku to look at him with concern. Masato met her gaze, his eyes hard and sunken. Holding the container up, he continued: “This is what this is all about, huh? Those ‘agents’, the dead soldiers, your ‘mission’? It was all about getting your hands on whatever these things are that Dad had!” Masato then shoved the cylinder at Miku, his eyes never leaving her face, daring her to answer him. 

As she cradled the container against her chest, Miku didn’t immediately respond, her face staying neutral and giving nothing away. Despite Masato’s unwavering gaze and the continued percussion against the lab’s reinforced door, Miku slowly and calmly turned around, walking to the couch on the far side of the room. She then grasped and shook out the dusty blanket that had been laying on it.

“Recovering these artifacts was Last Guardian’s mission, as well as the primary objective my father tasked me with when he sent me along…” Miku began as she folded the blanket around the canister, then tied the ends together to create a makeshift sling. After securing the straps of the carryall around her torso, she turned back and faced the still fuming Masato with an equally determined look.

“However, my primary objective is, and always has been, to find and protect you, Masato-kun.”

Masato grimaced and banged his fist on the metal table in the center of the room in frustration.

“That makes no sense!” Masato yelled. “You don’t even know me! We just met today! How could I … why would I be so important to you, Miku-san?!”

Miku’s lips quirked up in a small, enigmatic smile. Holding up the pinky finger of her left hand, she asked: “Would you believe me if I said that you and I are joined by the Red String of Fate?”

Before Masato could respond, the door to the lab shuddered, groaned, and then with a shriek of tearing metal ripped clear from the bolts and hinges holding it in place. As the door collapsed on the floor of the lab, a cloud of dust erupted into the air, partially obscuring the now-exposed passage back into the basement. Through the haze, multiple pairs of glowing red lights could be seen just past the threshold, the bulky humanoid forms they belonged to becoming clearer as the dust cleared.

Shoving Masato behind her, Miku drew her gun and fired off a series of rapid shots towards the newly exposed entrance to the lab. In-between her bursts of gunfire, she kicked and tipped over the metal table between the pair and the entry, creating a makeshift barricade that Miku crouched behind, pulling Masato down along with her. Taking a deep breath and with her skin once again glowing, Miku then punched the underside of the metal table, forcefully shoving it towards the intruders that were just starting to shuffle into the laboratory. Skidding along the ground and throwing up sparks, the heavy table quickly and forcefully slammed into the open doorway, creating a temporary barrier as the metal twisted and wedged itself into place.

As the lines of light beneath her skin once again faded away, Miku’s eyes closed as her body went limp and slumped against Masato. Cradling the prostrate girl in his arms while taking her gun in his hand, Masato's eyes danced desperately around the laboratory as multiple sets of fingers and arms began reaching around and pushing against the table blocking the doorway.

‘There’s got to be another way out of here!’ Masato thought as he continued to scan the lab’s interior. ‘Dad wouldn’t have been stupid enough to trap himself with only one way in and out…’

Masato’s thoughts trailed off as his gaze fell on a brightly colored red box mounted into the far wall, adjacent to him and Miku, and the rubber-handled lever locked in place at its side. Draping Miku’s arm over his shoulders and propping her on his back, Masato hurriedly scooted across the length of the room, increasing his speed as he heard the metal table squeal behind him as it was pushed back away from the doorway. He reached the wall just as the entry to the lab was cleared, and with a lunge Masato grasped and pulled down the handle as several Hau Dragon agents began clambering over one another into the room.

As the lever clicked into place, a bell alarm sounded shrilly, and the overhead lights dimmed and were replaced by several smaller lights recessed into various alcoves around the room. While the bell continued its buzzing ring, sprinkler heads mounted throughout the room sprang into action, coating the entirety of the laboratory in a steady torrent of falling water. Several of the Hau Dragon agents that had managed to enter the room screamed, their exposed metalwork and circuitry shorting with visible arcs of electricity and shooting sparks before they eventually collapsed on the ground and once again blocked the entrance to the lab.

The sudden downpour of freezing water caused Miku to stir, and after shaking her head and blinking her eyes she looked up at Masato blearily. The boy smiled cheekily in response.

“All good labs need emergency fire suppression!” Masato declared, and after a moment Miku smiled in return.

Behind the pair, a panel in the wall next to the sprinkler box slid away, revealing a vertical concrete shaft with several metal rungs mounted on one side. Masato and Miku briefly shared a look, and then quickly moved towards the apparent exit. Masato stood aside to let Miku ascend first, firing wildly back into the laboratory with her gun before turning back to the shaft to climb after her.

The pair emerged from a hatch which had ratcheted up and out of the ground, cleverly concealed by a patch of concrete underneath a canopy alongside Masato’s house. Miku climbed out first, after quickly scanning the immediate surroundings to ensure their exit wouldn’t come to a premature end. Masato quickly followed, and together the two pushed the hatchway back into place, grimacing at the whine of its mechanical hinges, and then huddled alongside the wall of the house. From inside the house and unseen places outside, various shouts and the pounding of heavy footsteps could still be heard.

“So, what now?” Masato asked in a whisper, lightly brushing his hands against his pants. Beside him, Miku was tapping commands into a wristwatch-like device. “Dad didn’t have a car, and I don’t think we’re going to get very far on my bicycle.”

Miku nodded, still tapping buttons on her wrist device. After a moment, she smiled—seemingly satisfied—and looked up at Masato.

“Don’t worry…” she whispered back, and a low roar could be heard starting up and growing louder in the background. “We’ll take mine.”

As the words left Miku’s lips, a sleek, red, armored, and riderless motorcycle broke through the fence surrounding the house, turned, and skidded to a halt in front of the pair, engine rumbling in a low idle. Miku quickly climbed on in the lead rider’s position, checking gauges and flipping several switches. With a bemused shake of his head Masato followed, sitting behind Miku and gripping the girl tentatively around her waist.

“Here we go!” Miku exclaimed as she revved the engine, put the motorcycle in gear, and dashed out through the same hole in the fence the bike had made. As they emerged in an access path between properties, a pair of Hau Dragon agents—attracted by the sound of the motorcycle—yelled out and drew their guns; however, before they could fire, Miku popped a wheelie, then slammed the motorcycle back down on top of the two androids. Holding the brakes, she briefly allowed the wheels to spin and grind the two agents into the pavement, before finally peeling away down the access path and back to the street alongside Masato’s house.     

Racing along the mostly deserted, dimly lit streets, Miku quickly found her way to the central expressway surrounding Fuji City. Gunning the bike’s engine to maximum speed, she maneuvered alongside the elevated freeway on city roads below, weaving across various bridges and through dark underpasses to shake off any potential pursuers. Once she was satisfied that they weren’t being followed, Miku merged onto a highway heading north out of the city, settling into a more comfortable cruising speed as she passed the city limits from the coastal Fuji City to the more inland town of Fujinomiya.

Sitting behind Miku on the back of the motorcycle, Masato’s body slumped as a sudden wave of fatigue hit him. With the lights of the highway lamps above strobing over the pair in a steady rhythm, Masato eyelids began drooping as all the stress, tension, and terror from the last several hours caught-up with him and the last vestiges of adrenaline started wearing off. Leaning forward, he laid his head against Miku’s armored back, letting her billowing hair swirl around and cushion him like a strawberry-scented silk sheet. As the teen settled and drifted away into sleep, his grip around Miku’s midsection never loosened, and though her focus was squarely on the road and controls in front of her, the gentle smile of Miku’s lips showed that the sensation was not unpleasant or unwelcome.

The pair had been driving along the road for roughly half an hour and were just passing starting to leave the lights of Fujinomiya’s city center behind them when a droning buzz started up and rapidly grew in volume. Seconds later, the road alongside the motorcycle erupted in a massive fireball, startling Masato awake and nearly causing Miku to lose her grip on the pavement. Stabilizing the motorcycle’s course, Miku gunned the engine and raced forward at increased speed just as two more explosions tore up the pavement behind them.

“Wha-what’s going on?!” Masato yelled over the wind.

“Missile strikes!” Miku answered back, checking various digital readout displays in her instrument cluster. “We’re being followed by remote aerial drones—I count at least three of them!” Gulping, Masato turned his head and hazarded a glance behind them. 

Though he had to squint to see in the dark of the night sky, he eventually spotted three shining objects that were moving rather than staying still like stars. Suddenly, one of the glinting lights rapidly dropped down from the sky and took a position several meters behind and just above the fleeing motorcycle, giving Masato a clearer look. The machine chasing them had a slim, aerodynamic main body that was vaguely hawklike in appearance, with short wings ending in circular rotors and a dual-finned tail.

‘Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!’ Masato thought. ‘Let’s go, go, go!!’

While Masato’s mind was still reeling and processing this new development, a rocket mounted along the drone’s side lit-up and began flying towards them. As Masato screamed, Miku cast a quick glance behind, then leaned heavily to one side, allowing the missile to pass them by and explode on a separate patch of roadway. The bike rightened, and then leaned over again to let another missile pass by and impact harmlessly against the road.

‘This isn’t good—we’re totally exposed here!’ Miku thought, her eyes dancing around the flat terrain and open sky which surrounded the mostly deserted section of highway they were racing along. She then spied an upcoming exit onto an access road which wound up a set of hills overlooking the valley where Fujinomiya was nestled.

Dropping a gear and cranking the motorcycle to full throttle, Miku raced ahead in her lane, eyeing the drone in her rearview mirror as it lined up for another shot. Just as the aerial unit fired its rocket, Miku suddenly swerved the motorcycle left and onto the exit ramp from the freeway, as once again the missile impacted the pavement behind them. The pursuing drone briefly overshot the exit before banking sharply and following the motorcycle’s new path, its compatriots doing likewise up above. As Miku guided the motorcycle along the winding, hillside roadway, she continued to weave and dodge as more missiles were fired from the machine pursuing them, occasionally glancing behind her while Masato clung to her desperately.

Eventually, the drone was joined by its other brethren descending from the sky above. The three gleaming raptors then formed a deadly, arrowhead-shaped phalanx and began closing the distance between them and the motorcycle. Sweat beaded Miku’s head as she took in the news on her instrument readout, her gaze shifting between the radar signature of the drones, a GPS display on their current location, and a 3D rendering of the roadway just ahead of them. Noticing that they were about to hit a sudden curve overlooking the valley below, Miku’s mouth tightened into a thin line, and she once again cranked the throttle to full tilt.

“Hang on, Masato-kun!” Miku cried out.

The urgency of the girl’s yell roused Masato, causing him to look up. What he saw was that the two of them were rapidly approaching a guard railing which blocked the road from the sheer cliff-face just beyond, and with no signs of either slowing or stopping. Accepting his fate, Masato gulped and whimpered slightly before burying his head in Miku’s back and tightening his grip around her waist.

The motorcycle hit and burst through the guard railing like it was made of tinfoil, sailing off the roadway and into the open air just beyond. For a moment the bike hung suspended in the sky, but then gravity went to work as the motorcycle tipped downward and plummeted towards the ground at a rapidly increasing speed.

Despite their circumstances (and the fact that Masato was screaming and wailing just behind her), Miku’s face remained calm as she deftly hit a sequence of buttons and switches on her handlebars. In response to her input, the wheels of the motorcycle rolled along the longitudinal axis of the bike until they were perpendicular to the frame and fenders. Inside the hubs of both wheels, miniature turbines quickly spooled up before unleashing a burst of compressed air downwards, slowing and then stopping the motorcycle’s descent.

“Uugh!” Masato groaned, clutching his stomach slightly due to the sudden halt from freefall giving him butterflies. “Couldn’t you have told me that this thing can fly before we jumped off a cliff?!

Giggling lightly, Miku winked at a scowling Masato over her shoulder: “A girl has to have some secrets, Masato-kun…”

Laughing once more at Masato’s exasperated sigh, Miku then turned and twisted the handlebars - one more so than the other – altering the thrust vectors and differential outputs of the flying motorcycle’s twin turbines, and thrusting them rapidly forward into the open, starlit sky. The ground itself was aglow with the accumulated illuminance of streetlamps, houses, vehicles, and various industrial buildings that dotted the outer suburbs of Fujinomiya, before plunging into darkness as the populated areas gave way to rural pastures, untamed forest, and mountain ridges.

Shivering in the colder air at elevation, Masato clung a little tighter to Miku – partly for the warmth, and partly since he had no other way to secure himself against the floating saddle upon which he sat.

Just as the pair were beginning to settle into a comfortable cruise, a warning light on Miku’s instrument cluster flared to life with an urgent blinking … followed shortly by a rocket whistling just past their heads and exploding in the air ahead of them.

Miku pulled the nose of the hoverbike up to avoid the smoldering fireball before them, then just as quickly leaned into a hard left bank and barely dodged two more missiles shooting through the space they had vacated. Glancing in her rearview mirrors, Miku grimaced as she spotted the same three automated aerial aggressors that had been after them earlier … then just as quickly pushed the yoke of the handlebars down to duck away from another set of missiles racing towards her and her passenger.

For his part, Masato was doing his best to hang on and not empty the contents of his stomach as Miku relentlessly rolled, pitched, and yawed the hoverbike through the air in a desperate bid to dodge the continued barrage. During a moment where they found themselves rightened and perpendicular to the ground, Masato leaned forward towards Miku’s ear, yelling to be heard over the rushing wind: “Why can’t we get away from those things?!”

Miku tilted her head back towards Masato. “This machine was built to hover and perform limited aerial maneuvers,” she replied. “But it’s not a fighter jet!”

While Miku’s attention was diverted, one missile snaked its way through the air and veered right before slamming into the frame of the motorcycle just behind Masato’s right leg. The boy screamed in pain, letting go of his grip on Miku, and then sliding off the seat of the hoverbike and falling into the open air.


Without a word, Miku didn’t so much push as she shoved the hoverbike downwards, cranking the wheel turbines to full thrust as she raced to catch-up with the falling teen boy. Multiple alarms on Miku’s control panel blared out warnings and flashed lights in increasing urgency as the bike was rapidly pushed beyond its tolerances; however, Miku paid them no mind, instead keeping her eyes focused on the fluttering pant legs and shirtsleeves just ahead of her. As Miku drew closer, she could see that Masato’s eyes were closed – his body limp as he continued to plunge headfirst towards the ground below while leaving a trail of red from his injured right leg like a macabre parachute string. Pulling vertically alongside Masato’s form, Miku matched her descent speed to his, killed the throttle, and then reached out to grab onto one of Masato’s arms. Carefully but firmly, Miku one-arm guided Masato’s body back behind hers, and with her other hand slowly began spooling one of the turbines back up, causing the nose of the hoverbike to slowly pitch upwards and reduce speed even as they continued to plummet downwards. As the motorcycle rightened, gravity helped Masato’s body to settle back onto the rear saddle behind Miku, which in turn allowed her to let go, grasp the other handlebar, and stir the other turbine back into action.

Even though the hoverbike was now upright and no longer in freefall, alarms continued to blare on Miku’s control panel, singing a symphony of catastrophe as multiple systems on the hoverbike began failing. Sweat beaded Miku’s brow as she struggled to maintain altitude or, at the very least, slow their descent, but she was fighting a losing battle as the turbines began sputtering on and off, spitting sparks into the air and coughing up a trail of smoke behind them to mark their passing. As the machine drunkenly wobbled through the sky, Miku scanned ahead desperately for a place to land, eventually spying a seemingly deserted warehouse just outside of a small town.

“I don’t know if you can hear me but try to brace yourself Masato-kun!” she yelled out, aiming the hoverbike squarely at one of the dilapidated building’s boarded-over windows. The flying motorcycle easily broke through the wooden planks covering the broken windowpane, gliding into the warehouse proper before crashing into the ground and sending both of its passengers flying off as it broke apart on impact.

Time passed, but eventually Miku groaned and pushed herself up from the ground, wincing at the likely bruises starting to form on her body beneath her armor. Eyes closed, she grasped at the blanket still tied and wrapped around her torso, her hand eventually falling on the sealed and remarkably still intact container bundled therein. Sighing, Miku then shook her head to clear the fog clouding it, blinking her eyes to clear them as she looked around to try and get her bearings. As her gaze trailed over the dust-covered floor, piles of broken boxes, and small fires created by the smoldering debris of the motorcycle, her eyes eventually settled on the prone form of Masato, face down on the concrete just a few yards away.

“Ma…Masato-kun!” Miku cried, tears dotting her eyes as she saw the teen briefly stir in response to her call.

Taking a deep breath, Miku slowly stood up, clutching at her side, and flinching in pain as she did so. Gingerly, but still as rapidly as she could, Miku shuffled her way over to Masato, pausing before carefully lowering herself to kneel beside his body. She reached out a hand to try to rouse the teen, but before she could he himself groaned and began squirming on the ground. With visible effort and strain, Masato then rolled over onto his back, his face tight with pain and his breathing shallow. After a moment, Masato’s eyes fluttered open, and they briefly took in the unfamiliar, rusted, industrial-looking aluminum ceiling far above him before being drawn to a quivering motion in his periphery. As he slowly tilted his head sideways, Masato’s semi-blurred vision sharpened as it was filled with the unprecedented sight of a sorrowful Miku Himuro.

“Mi … ku … -san?” Masato gasped out between labored breaths. In response, Miku let out a strangled cry, covering her mouth with one hand as tears began flowing down her cheeks in earnest.

“You’re alive!” Miku whimpered in-between sobs. ‘Thank goodness … thank goodness…’

“Yeah … somehow …” Masato muttered, still breathing hard as he spoke. The boy then tried to rise into a seated position by pushing himself up by his elbows and feet; however, as soon as he tried bending his right leg a wave of electric pain coursed through him, causing him to gasp and fall back to the ground.

“Masato-kun!” Miku exclaimed. Sobering up, she quickly wiped the tears from her eyes, then shimmied over behind Masato and supported his back as he again tried to sit up, this time keeping his legs outstretched and supporting himself with his forearms.

“It’s … my leg,” Masato said in a strained voice. “I think … I think it’s broken.” ‘I really must be cursed!’ 

Miku grimaced—unlike Masato she had already gotten a clear view of the leg in question…

Thanks to the missile strike they had received earlier; Masato’s right leg had been badly burned and gouged by debris from the explosion that had occurred right next to it. While blood loss had been limited due to the burns charring and cauterizing his skin, some blood was still seeping through open wounds and pooling on the concrete floor. Though she thankfully had not seen any signs of a compound injury, Miku was sure that the proximity to the explosion combined with their rough landing resulted in several breaks and fractures.

“Stay here, Masato-kun,” Miku stated. She then let go of Masato’s shoulders and, shakily, rose to her feet.

“I’m … not going anywhere,” Masato grumbled. His eyes followed Miku as she stepped away and, still clutching at her side, began shuffling back towards the largely intact central frame of the motorcycle. “But Miku-san, aren’t you hurt too?”

Miku’s stride paused, but after a moment she then continued her slow march towards the downed motorcycle. Once she reached the bike, she bent over and opened a compartment beneath the saddle, reached down and pulled out a plastic carrying case with a large red cross symbol on it. After flipping a series of switches in the hidden compartment, she closed it up and, first-aid kit in hand, turned and made her way back to Masato. Kneeling alongside him and placing the carrying case on the ground. Miku then opened the kit and pulled out an assortment of vials, gauze, and other assorted medical tools which she placed neatly on the floor.

“My armor absorbed most of the impact,” she said absently, focusing instead on using a pair of scissors to cut away at Masato’s pants around his injuries. “Plus, I … I heal quicker than most.”

“Oh,” Masato said in response, blushing lightly as Miku attended to him. He then hissed and tilted his head upwards Miku began cleaning the remaining wounds in his leg with cotton pads soaked in rubbing alcohol. After applying an antibiotic cream and topical analgesic, Miku then began slowly and gently wrapping Masato’s leg with gauze and medical tape.

‘We can’t stay here long,’ Miku thought as she continued to secure the field dressing on Masato’s leg. ‘Last Guardian will send reinforcements in response to the distress beacon I just sent, but they’re at least twenty-five minutes away by ground or air from Aokigahara. If Tekkoryu was actively tracking our path with those remote units earlier, then they likely already have agents deployed to retrieve the bracers and kill any survivors…’


Stirred from her silent musings, Miku tilted her head up and looked at Masato in response to his quiet statement of her name. The boy’s head was bowed, his eyes hard and at first not meeting Miku’s gaze, though eventually he looked up.

“I … I think you should go on without me,” Masato finally said, causing Miku’s eyes to widen as her mouth gawked.

“What … what are you saying, Masato-kun?” she asked in a croaking whisper. Masato sighed and bowed his head.

“You’ve probably already thought about this,” Masato stated, “But I can’t imagine after everything that’s happened that those Hau Dragon people are going to just presume we died in the crash. They’ll be coming here eventually, and I’m in no condition to go anywhere quickly right now. If anything, I’ll just be a burden slowing us down.”

“But—!” Miku uttered but paused as Masato held out his hand.

“I’ve been thinking about this,” Masato continued. “I still don’t understand everything that’s been going on; however, I do know that my dad took every precaution to safeguard those artifacts those Hau Dragon goons likely came looking for tonight. They were willing to kill me for it, and they’ve been trying to kill the both of us, just to get to them…”

“Masato-kun…” Miku breathed, but the boy just shook his head at her.

“I also don’t know anything about this ‘Last Guardian’ organization you’re with, nor do I necessarily trust them either,” Masato stated. “But you told me that Dad and your father were partners … that they were working together to stop this Hau Dragon, and whatever it is they plan to do, I never had reason to distrust my dad, and so if he was willing to work with your father and Last Guardian, to the point of building a secret lab under our house to study those artifacts, then I guess I can extend my trust to them as well. That’s why…”

Masato paused, breathing in and out, then grit his teeth and tilted his head to meet Miku’s gaze: “That’s why … why you should go now, Miku-san. Get yourself and those artifacts to safety! Just leave me here!!”

Miku froze, her eyes wide and her mouth open as Masato’s words hit her like a sudden dousing from an ice bucket. Once again, tears began forming as her eyes quivered and her mouth briefly hinged up and down … but then her lips set into a thin, firm line.


“Miku-san, be reasonable…”

“I won’t.”

“It’s fine, I’m totally fine with it, Miku-san…”

“But I’m not! And I won’t! I won’t just leave you here! Not after I finally found and met you!” Miku cried, shaking her head side to side vigorously. “I’m not complete without you, Masato-kun!!”

Now it was Masato’s turn to gape in shock, his eyes wide as he tried to digest Miku’s proclamation. “Hu … huh … huh?!” he managed to squawk out.

Seemingly spent, Miku’s body seemed to deflate as she slumped back, folding in on itself as her head bowed and covered her eyes with her bangs. “I … I wish I had … more time to explain,” she said. “I know it probably … doesn’t make sense to you, but … to me … you’re a very special person, Masato-kun.”

Miku paused briefly, tilting her head, and gazing skyward with shimmering, unfocused eyes. “I believe … that we all have a destiny we’re born to follow…” she continued. “And you … you’re my … my other half! Or maybe … my missing piece – the one I was meant to find or else remain incomplete …” Miku then took a deep breath, turning and locking eyes with Masato.

“In other words, you are my destiny, Masato Akitsu,” Miku declared, her eyes aglow, cheeks flushed, and face softly set with a small, gentle smile. The beauty of Miku’s appearance, and the earnestness of her words, resonated deep in Masato’s core as a warm swelling filled his chest.

“Miku-san…” Masato uttered, his cheeks similarly tinted, and so in awe of what Miku had just shared that he could not find the words to say more.

The pair fell into an awkward silence, with Miku continuing to finish her bandaging and bracing of Masato’s broken leg. The boy in question merely watched the young woman beside him work, as he himself struggled to sort through the bevy of emotions churning through his heart and mind. As she secured the ends of the bandages around a makeshift split, Miku herself contemplated the next steps she and Masato could reasonably take.

I suppose there’s no other choice,’ Miku thought, glancing at Masato out of the corner of her eye. ‘Even though he might hate me for it, if it will save Masato’s life, we’re going to have to do “that.”’ Closing her eyes, she slowly breathed in-and-out, then nodded to herself in resolution.

"Masato … do you trust me?” [6]

Miku’s sudden question roused Masato to full attention, both from the break in the previous silence as well as her more familiar use of his name. In response to Masato’s questioning gaze, Miku continued: “There is … one option we haven’t tried yet … something that might save us both. It may even heal your leg…”

Masato’s face brightened and, leaning forward, he began opening his mouth to speak—only to be cut off by Miku interjecting.

“However, it … it carries some risks, and I can’t guarantee it will work, so…” she finished lamely, her voice trailing off and she again bowed her head, her hands twitching in her lap from a sudden bout of timidity. In the face of Miku’s unexpected insecurity, Masato likewise sat back and settled into a contemplative quiet.

Tilting his head and gazing at the broken skylights above, Masato thought about all the events that had occurred over the last few hours—from returning home after watching his father pass away, to being held and questioned at gunpoint by black-suited assassins, and then getting rescued by the same girl who’d asked him out in class hours earlier that day. He’d been shoved around, shot at, been given a gun to shoot back with, fought and defended the same person who had saved him, and then discovered a hidden laboratory that had been beneath his feet for who knows how long. Along with Miku, he had then escaped his house, fled town on the back of a motorcycle, flown and engaged in a midair dogfight on that same motorcycle, crash-landed, and got a broken leg for his troubles. All told, the very fact that he was still alive was likely a minor miracle…

‘No,’ Misato thought, as his gaze tilted down to the still fretting girl by his side. ‘The fact that I’m still alive … is all thanks to her.’

Through all the danger, fear, and terror Masato had felt that evening, Miku Himuro had been a rock of stability and reassurance throughout. Though it was obvious that both the agents from Hau Dragon and soldiers from Last Guardian had seemed to have their own agendas to complete at Masato’s house, Miku had been unwavering in her commitment and expressed desire to rescue and protect him above all other considerations. Not only had Miku protected him—she had comforted him, encouraged, and praised him, been patient with him, showed care and concern, and even cried over him. It wasn’t a question of whether he trusted Miku—that had already been decided by the circumstances. No, what Masato needed to determine was how much he wanted to place his faith and believe in the girl who only moments before had laid her heart bare.

His decision made, Masato reached over and clutched Miku’s hand with his own. The sudden contact startled the girl, causing her to look up at Masato with wide, wavering eyes. Matching her gaze, Masato issued his verdict:

“I trust you, Miku.”

Taken aback, Miku covered her mouth as her eyes again teared up, her cheeks flushing a rosy hue. Masato crookedly smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner, gently squeezing her hand even as spots of red bloomed on his own cheeks as well.

“Oh! Oh …” Miku uttered. She sniffed a few times, then wiped her eyes and nose with her free hand before finally looking at Masato with a grateful smile. Laughing gently, Masato scratched the side of his face to hide his embarrassment but continued to hold onto Miku’s hand as she did the same, eyes locked on one another.

Soon the moment passed, and after giving Masato’s hand a final squeeze Miku let go and began unbundling the capsule still wrapped up in the makeshift carryall around her torso. Setting the container on the ground, she grasped the metallic caps on both ends of the glass cylinder, then twisted in opposing directions. The action caused overlapping layers of plastic and glass in the container to rotate around each other, leaving one side of the cylinder open so that its contents were exposed. Reaching into the capsule, Miku pulled out the pair of bejeweled bracers that had caused the pair so much trouble that evening.

“Okay, so first off … put these on,” Miku said, carefully depositing the bracers in Masato’s open hands.

Masato blinked, looked down at the bracers, and then back up to Miku. After Miku gave an encouraging nod, Masato unclipped the arm accessories and slid them into place over both of his wrists and forearms. As he snapped the bracers shut again, Masato felt a sudden pinch as if he’d been stuck with a needle.

“Ouch!” Masato hissed, shaking both of his arms in sudden pain; however, he grew quiet again as the circuit-like inlays in the bracers began glowing with a faint, golden-white light. Suddenly, a rapidly paced, slightly digitized voice began speaking, and Masato realized with shock that it was coming from the bracers he now wore:


Masato looked at Miku with wide eyes, asking a silent question, and after a moment she again nodded her head. Gulping, Masato turned to face the glowing bands on both of his wrists, pronouncing: “Masato Akitsu.”

A chime sounded, and then the digitized voice spoke again:


Masato blanched and sweat began beading up and running down his forehead. Closing his eyes, he concentrated and tried to think of something … anything that might fit the bill for an access code for a pair of technologically advanced, ancient artifacts that somehow recognized him as an authorized user…but came up blank. Face strained and one eye twitching, he turned to Miku.

“I don’t know what the access code is!” Masato said desperately, sotto voce. Across from him, Miku folded her arms and nodded sagely.

“The access code could be anything … a word, a phrase, a significant date…” Miku replied, matching Masato’s quiet tone with her own murmur. Miku’s face then brightened, and she turned to Masato, saying: “Ah! Your father probably knew the code because of his work with the artifact … perhaps he told it to you without your knowing? What is the last thing you can remember him saying?”

Masato blinked, then sat back, his face growing dark and downcast. In response to the boy’s change in demeanor, Miku reached over and put one hand on his shoulder, eliciting a small, sad smile from Masato.

“Dad wasn’t exactly … coherent during our last talk,” Masato finally stated. “He was … crazed, rambling—hopped up on painkillers and spouting nonsense…” Shaking his head, he gave a quick, half-hearted laugh.

“The last thing he told me was: ‘The hero and the dragon must not awaken … Zeorymer must not awaken…’”

Once more a chime sounded, and as the digitized voice began speaking, the lines of light in the bracers began glowing brighter as a low humming started up:


The low humming suddenly escalated into a screeching whine, and the intensity of the light being emitted from the bracers likewise intensified and became blinding. Through the haze of the glaring light, Masato could vaguely see Miku’s mouth moving as if she were trying to say something, but he couldn’t make it out over the increased noise roaring into both of his ears. Soon, his vision was similarly clouded over as everything disappeared in a blaze of golden-white… 



“Umm …  aren’t magical girls supposed to be cute?”

“It’s fine if you want to attack just me … but threatening the lives of innocent people? That … is unforgivable!”

[MEI ~ OU].

“…now all the pieces are in play, and the game to crown Ruler of the Underworld can finally begin…”

COMING UP IN EPISODE 2:Awakening, Part 2 – Zeorymer of the Heavens”


[1]: [1]: A decent picture of Masato (https://cdn.anime-planet.com/characters/primary/masato-akitsu-1.jpg?t=1625827254). 

[2]: As stated in the first episode (“Project I: Separation”) of the Hades Project Zeorymer OAV, Masato’s exact address is: “Shizuoka-ken, Fuji 3-ku, 2-8,” which as an address doesn’t actually seem to exist. Go figure

[3]: A decent picture of Miku in her armor (https://static.wikia.nocookie.net/ironsaga/images/4/49/Himuro_Miku_Render.png/revision/latest?cb=20201225185243).

[4]: The male armor described here was later worn by Masato in the original OAV (https://static.wikia.nocookie.net/ironsaga/images/b/bb/Akitsu_Masato_Render.png/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/1200?cb=20201225185201), and oddly enough is not too dissimilar from the jumpsuits and armor worn by soldiers of the evil Chronos Corporation in Yoshiki Takaya’s more famous work – Bio-booster Armor Guyver (https://static.wikia.nocookie.net/multifanon/images/b/b3/ChronosTroops1.png/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/278?cb=20110804013446). Kinda makes you think, don’t it?

[5]: As stated in the first episode (“Project I: Separation”) of the Hades Project Zeorymer OAV, meaning that both this fanfic and the OAV likely take place in the magical, far-off year of 1999.

[6]: How would you respond if you were being looked at like this: (https://cdn.wiki.dengekionline.com/theme/dengekionline/srw-x/images/support/miku_himuro_0001.jpg?1546176223)?

[7]: “Awaken, Zeorymer” (or “Kakusei, Zeorymer”) is also the name of the theme from the Hades Project Zeorymer OST that starts playing whenever this sequence is started … (https://youtu.be/r6kDprOb3Vc)

Edited by Mares Guyver
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Welcome all to my newest venture into fanfiction – the (seemingly) only exclusively Zeorymer-based fanfic in the whole of the English-speaking sector of the internet!

That's not to say that this is the first story to feature characters or plot elements from this anime/manga series – a brief Google search brings up various crossover fics between Zeorymer and other properties, at least one story where the characters are swapped out with the cast of Martian Successor Nadesico, several miscategorized Harry Potter fanfics, and a few stories based on the Super Robot Wars/Taisen videogames (in which Zeorymer featured for a few entries). Plus, given how old the original property is (with the manga originally running from 1983-84 and the anime OAV releasing from 1988-90), who knows what sort of works have been lost to time due to the expiration/dissolution of older fan websites and forums, or exist primarily in Japan and other Asian countries--whether they be electronically based publications, paper and print-based stories in old-school fanzines, or various unofficial doujinshi that simply are not accessible internationally.

Nonetheless, the idea for this story germinated sometime last year, after slowly getting back into the world of anime and manga after taking something of a break from it. I had been aware of Hades Project Zeorymer for a while due to its connection to Yoshiki Takaya, the creator of my favorite anime/manga series Bio-booster Armor Guyver. I had seen the OAV, watched a few videos of Zeorymer’s appearance in the Super Robot Wars franchise, and eventually even read the original manga (which I was initially shocked to realize was a hentai). While nothing about any version of the series stood out as being significantly good or great (aside from how OP the titular Super Robot was), there still seemed to be untapped potential within the property as it stood. After coming across some MS Gundam Girls and other mecha musume artwork online, I began wondering what would happen if I were to take the plot and characters from Zeorymer and cast them in a different genre—more specifically, that of a “magical girl warrior”-style story. This idea was further strengthened by watching mecha-inspired magical girl shows like Senki Zesshou Symphogear and Lyrical Nanoha, various tokusatsu shows and anime, and other genre-blending mashups both official and fan-created. Thus, the basic idea for what you are now reading grew until I had to put it in writing.

Without giving too much away or spoiling anything, I can tell you that this story will draw from both the original manga and its later OAV adaptation for its characters, story beats, and plot elements; however, don’t expect this to a one-to-one recounting of either of the original works. My hope is, thanks to the change in setting, genre, and overall tone, some unpredictability will be thrown into directions this story may be headed. I likewise hope that this shakeup to the original story will offer an opportunity to further explore and give depth to many of the characters who were, at best, underdeveloped (outside of stock character archetypes and one or two personality quirks) and, at worst, morally repugnant and/or irredeemable (I’m looking at you, Manga!Masato/Masaki!). Expect to see influences and references to various other properties as this story comes together, and perhaps even some cameos of characters from other works, though this story will remain primary a Zeorymer story and not a crossover of any kind. I also plan to keep this story a hard “T” in terms of content overall; however, I will try to post warnings/disclaimers on chapters that delve into more mature content as seems necessary.

Comments and feedback are always appreciated, so I hope you will leave a note after reading this all the way through as reviews strengthen my motivation to keep on writing. That said, I would appreciate if commenters would refrain from asking things like “When’s the next chapter coming out?”  as such questions will be ignored. Fanfiction is something I do strictly as a hobby and coping activity when I have moments away from my full-time occupation as a clinical psychologist, and as such will always take a back-seat to real-life obligations and concerns. Thus, I would appreciate your understanding and consideration—thank you!

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  • 5 months later...

Episode 2: Awakening, Part II – Zeorymer of the Heavens

The interior of the abandoned warehouse was suffused in a cloud of dust and floating bits of debris. Moonlight shone down through a charred hole of twisted metal blasted out of the roof of the building—the seemingly solid beam of light spotlighting a prone figure splayed out on the concrete floor below. Aside from the whistling of the air outside and the creaks and moans of rusted steel beams, silence filled the mostly empty interior … until it was broken a series of hacking coughs.

“Ugh!” Masato groaned as he sat up, eyes clenched shut and grasping at both sides of his head. ‘So much for fixing the pain … First it was my leg that was hurt, but now my everything hurts something fierce…’

<Are you okay, Masato-kun?> a voice asked.

Unleashing another groan, Masato nodded his head as he rolled onto his side, then pushed himself upright on his hands and knees before gradually rising to his feet. Coughing again, he blinked and wiped his eyes due to the high level of dust still floating in the air.

“Mik … Miku-chan, is that you?” Masato called out between intermittent hacks as he rubbed his eyes. “I can’t see a thing, and … I think something’s … straining my throat…” He briefly clutched his neck with one hand, then started at the feel of cold metal against his skin.

Yanking his hand away, Masato looked down at his open palm, which was covered in a gloss black, segmented metal gauntlet—the fingers ending in sharpened, claw-like tips. Turning his hand around, Masato saw that a golden-yellow crystal half-sphere was mounted against the flat of his hand, with a protruding, flaplike, white cowl partially enclosing the translucent orb. The black gauntlet terminated at the wrist, where it was mounted into a larger, bulky, white armor piece enclosing his forearm, highlighted by a band of crimson red around its center, and thick, blade-like protrusions set backwards near his elbow.

“Wh-wh-what … is this?!” Masato stammered, his hands outstretched and shaking as his gaze trailed up and down his arms, then down the rest of his body where he spied additional armored vestments. He then grasped again at his throat. “And … why does my voice sound so … shrill? What’s happened to me?!”

<Calm down, Masato-kun!> Masato heard a voice—which he now recognized as Miku’s—exclaim, the sound seemingly coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

“Miku-chan?” Masato uttered as he turned his head side-to-side, looking around at the slowly clearing air of the warehouse. Cautiously, he began shuffling forward, continuing to glance around the moonlit interior of the building “Seriously, where are you? I can hear you, but I can’t see you…”

<That’s … a difficult question to answer,> Miku’s voice replied, resulting in a frustrated grunt from Masato.

“Well, I’d appreciate if you’d try,” he stated with an added huff, “Because I’m really starting to … freak … out…?”

Masato’s voice trailed off as he spied a glint of light in the corner of his vision. Hobbling over to a pile of twisted rubble, his gaze fell on a clear patch of moonlight reflecting off from the surface of one of the dust-covered metal pieces. After pulling the plate free and propping it upright, Masato proceeded to wipe it down with a strip of cloth he found on the concrete floor, eventually revealing the lightly mirrored surface beneath.

“Wha … what the actual hell?” Masato breathed out, slowly taking in the image before him. “Is that … me?!

The reflected figure staring back at Masato had wide, amber eyes and a long, wild mane of crimson hair, topped by an open-framed headpiece consisting of a jewel-rimmed horn jutting outwards at the forehead, two triangular pieces covering both ears, and an intake-like crest running from the crown to the rear of the head. Compared to his normally average build and frame, the body shown in the mirror was slim and toned, with bare skin showing on the neck, upper arms, and thighs. In addition to the gauntlets he had already spied, Masato could now see that he wore similarly thick, knee-length, armored white boots decorated by red, band-like spats, black striping and trim, and golden-yellow crystalline structures along the sides of both calves. Shimmery, black, skintight material with white striping extended out from beneath the gauntlets and boots, with the former being capped by rings of white armor around each bicep. Further up each arm, large, white, boxy pauldrons sat atop structured, pale, bubble-like sleeves covering each shoulder—protruding outwards horizontally from the reflected body before gradually curving up in angled spurts like a polygon representation of bullhorns. 

In addition, Masato saw that his upper torso was now encased by a white, armored cuirass, with a thick, collar-like band rimming the neckline, and a glowing, hexagon-shaped casing mounted in the center of his chest. The outer sides of the sculpted breastplate were framed by protruding, hook-like flanges with upturned tips, while along the top of the backpiece sat two finned intakes which (when Masato turned sideways) descended into curved, layered structures jutting outwards, like a pair of folded, featherless wings. The bottom and outer sides of the breastplate were connected by thick, black clasps to a flattened, disc-shaped armor piece covering the abdomen, beneath which a layer of white, textured cloth concealed the midriff. A multi-slit short-skirt of the same glimmering fabric flared out at the hip and ran down to mid-thigh. The skirt itself lay beneath various armor plates, mounted at the waist, and covering the groin, front of each upper leg, sides of each hip, and rear end. [1]

Masato’s gaze slowly trailed up and down his reflected image, taking in all the details of the new body he now apparently bore. His mouth hung ajar, and his hands lightly shook as he struggled to reconcile the appearance he saw displayed, what he could physically sense of his physique beneath the armored suit, and his own kinesthetic memory of what his body should feel like. Masato’s distress was further compounded in the wake of at least two very clear changes which stood out in the reflection before him…    

“WHY DOES MY BODY HAVE THINGS IT DIDN’T AND NOT HAVE THINGS IT SHOULD?!?!” Masato shrieked, his fingers twitching above the prominent chest of his now, evidently, female armored form.

<It’s all right, Masato-kun! Everything is just fine!> Miku’s voice said reassuringly, causing Masato to pause for a beat before he roughly shook his head.

“Even so—Why. Am I. A girl?!” Masato pronounced. “And why am I dressed like a bad Magic Knight/Mecha Suit Girl cosplay?!” he added, gesturing up and down the length of his armored body.

<The physical transformation is the result of our cross-dimensional coupling,> Miku’s voice replied evenly. <It was a necessary change to ensure optimal compatibility and power output from this specialized armor system—‘Zeorymer of the Heavens’—which is the true form of the artifact your father had been safekeeping until now.>

“Okay, okay, slow down a bit—I’m having trouble keeping up with what you’re saying…” Masato said, turning away from the metal slab and taking a few deep breaths to slow his thudding heart. After he felt a bit calmer, Masato began looking around the warehouse again. “First off, where are you, Miku-chan? I can hear your voice, but I can’t pinpoint where it’s coming from.”

<Turn around Masato-kun,> Miku’s voice said. After Masato had turned back to face the mirrored piece of metal, she continued: <Do you see the housing in the middle of your chest?>

Masato nodded, and in response to his motion, Miku stated, <That is where I could be said to be existing right now. Or where my consciousness is located, at least.>

Masato blinked. “What.”

Miku’s voice seemed to sigh. <When you initiated the cross-dimensional coupling, our bodies were combined at a subatomic level, transmuting into the physical form you now see,> she recited, <However, only a single consciousness—a ‘pilot’—can be in primary control of this body while transformed. That’s you, Masato-kun.>

Masato gulped as he slowly processed Miku’s words. Looking more closely at his reflected appearance, and so long as he ignored the different colored hair and eyes, Masato found he could indeed see traces of both his and Miku’s features in the face staring back at him.

“I see…” he said, still bewildered and unsure. His hand gently touched the glowing orb over his heart. “But what about you, Miku-chan?” 

<I currently exist incorporeally within our shared body,> Miku replied. <I can communicate to you mentally—as I’m doing now. I can also manipulate the distribution and flow of energy from the Dimensional Coupler—the main power source for this armor.> Masato’s brows rose at the last part of Miku’s statement.

‘A … “Dimensional Coupler”? As in … “Ultra-Dimensional Systems” theory?’ he pondered.

Seemingly unaware of Masato’s internal musings, Miku continued: <While I can provide some support by altering the operation of supplemental functions, I can’t directly control what we physically do while we are merged. That’s where you come in, Masato-kun.>

“All right, I think I follow…” Masato said. “But … we can turn back, right? This ‘coupling’ … it can be reversed, can’t it? I mean, I … we won’t be stuck like this forever … will we?”

Miku was silent for a moment, causing Masato’s nerves to ratchet up in anticipation.

<Yes … theoretically speaking, that should be possible,> Miku finally answered, leading Masato to droop with relief. <However, given that this is the first successful activation of Zeorymer, I can’t say with absolute certainty what will happen moving forward…>

In response, Masato sighed once again and ruefully shook his head. “Well, you did say that there would be risks involved with using those bracers—I can’t say you didn’t warn me,” he eventually said with a small, lopsided smile, scratching at one cheek with his finger.

Masato’s smile then fell as he sobered, his shoulders drooping as he turned his gaze back to the mirror, and the armored girl staring back at him. “Though I certainly can’t say that I expected something like this as a potential outcome,” he added softly. ‘I really must be cursed…’

<I personally think we look rather cute, Masato-kun!> Miku’s voice chirped back at him, drawing a snort and brief laugh from the boy-turned-girl.

“Well, don’t get used to it…” Masato said. “As soon as we get out of here, I’m going to figure out how to undo this crazy transforma—”

Masato’s words were cut short as he suddenly felt a sharp, tingling sensation at the back of his skull, followed a moment later by the gradually increasing sound of whirling rotor blades pounding in his eardrums.

<Proximity alert! Masato-kun, we have incoming!> Miku exclaimed. <I’m going to try and send you the telemetry directly…>

As Miku’s voice trailed off, Masato’s vision briefly flashed, and then was suddenly filled with an overlay of words, numbers, symbols, and status indicators for (what he assumed) were various subsystems of the armor, and thus completely foreign to Masato. When his eyes shifted left and right, small labels popped up displaying information about the strength and composition of various objects scattered around the interior of the warehouse. Looking up, Masato found that this augmented vision could look through the corrugated metal roof, allowing him to ‘see’ the small, neon-outlined shapes of two helicopters in the distance. As Masato watched, the two aircraft grew larger as they rapidly approached the warehouse, their speed, distance, and other tactical information laid out in real-time in separate popup windows.

“Miku…” Masato exhaled. “How am I seeing all of this?”

<The frontal horn on your headpiece and ear coverings aren’t just there for decoration, Masato-kun,> Miku replied. <They’re part of a three-dimensional sensory array whose information I can transpose into information sent to you through your optic nerves.> Almost as an afterthought, she added: <Your hearing and other senses have been similarly heightened in this way.>

“Okay, got it…” Masato said slowly, watching as the helicopters settled into a hovering position above the warehouse. “So, are these friends of yours … or someone I should be worried about?”

<Unknown … there’s no transponder or radio signal being broadcast, and I’m not able to gauge anything visually without our having a direct line of sight,> Miku stated. <But it’s best to be on your guard, just in case—>

The sudden sound of shearing metal and shattering glass cut Miku’s words short as, from the ceiling above, multiple armored figures dropped down from holes smashed through the warehouse roof. Clouds of dust sprang up as the unit landed in a cluster before Masato, before slowly rising upright as the dust settled, brandishing assault rifles and other projectile weapons. The seeming assembly of men were clad in black coveralls covered in plates of smooth, lacquered armor on the arms, shoulders, torso, and lower legs, with matching helmets and thick glassware covering their eyes.

Fearfully, Masato took a step backwards. “Miku-chan…?”

<No question—they’re Hau Dragon androids, like the ones we encountered earlier,> Miku confirmed as biometric information about the intruders and their weaponry filled Masato’s augmented vision.  

One of the Hau Dragon soldiers (whose armor had more ornamentation across its surface as well as spikey protrusions on the forearm guards and shoulder pauldrons), raised its rifle and aimed at Masato.

“I have visual confirmation—the relic has been awakened,” the soldier stated, speaking into a microphone mounted on its helmet. “Proceeding with target suppression.”

The other troopers likewise raised their weapons in a one fluid, synchronized motion, leading Masato’s body to be illuminated by multiple red pinpoints from laser sights pointed his way.

Masato slowly and shakily raised his arms up, desperately waving his hands as he uttered with a cracking voice: “Wait, wait, don’t shoo—!”

His words were for naught, as the Hau Dragon troopers immediately began firing en masse, kicking up yet another cloud of dust with their barrage of gunfire. The assault continued for nearly a minute before the soldier who had spoken earlier raised an arm. In response, the other troopers stopped their fire, though they kept their weapons raised and ready.

A moment passed, and gradually the dust settled and cleared … revealing a perfectly intact Masato. After a beat, the teen cautiously opened one eye, blinked, and then lowered the arms which had been braced protectively in front of his head.

‘H-how? How am I okay?’ Masato wondered, then flinched and raised his arms again as the more decorated Hau Dragon soldier fired several more rounds off from its rifle. However, the shots simply ricocheted off Masato’s armored body, leaving the teen unharmed.

After a pause, the apparent leader of the group lowered its rifle, then let it drop to the floor as it pulled a long knife from a sheath strapped to its thigh. The android then tilted its head back to look at the cluster of more uniform troopers behind it. “Prepare for hand-to-hand combat.”

In response to the order, the other Hau Dragon troopers nodded and proceeded to similarly holster or drop their firearms in favor of blades, batons, and other melee weapons they had mounted on their bodies. As the troopers rearmed, their leader turned back to Masato, raising its arm to brandish its knife at chin-level.

“Hold fast for now, but follow my lead and give no quarter,” the soldier stated. “Our mission is to retrieve HKS-01A, not its current wielder.”

Without another word, the android lunged towards Masato, clearing the distance between them with unnatural speed. Masato yelped and tried to back away, but the Hau Dragon soldier was already upon him, slashing its knife in a curved arc towards Masato’s neck. Just before the blade made contact, plumes of blue flame erupted from concealed exhaust ports on Masato’s legs, the bottoms of his feet, and the winglike structures on his back, propelling him backwards and away from immediate harm. Undaunted, the soldier quickly pivoted and lunged again, continuing to pursue and slice at Masato as the transformed boy shakily evaded.

<Masato-kun! You need to fight back!> Miku pleaded. <I have just enough influence to nudge our reflexes, but you’re still the one in primary control of this body!>

“I can’t—this is impossible!” Masato shouted back. “I don’t know how to fight like you do, Miku-chan!

<I know!> Miku’s voice responded. <And I know you’re scared, Masato-kun—I can feel it! But I believe in you, so believe in yourself! Also … believe in our power—our power as Zeorymer!>

As he continued to desperately dodge the flurry of slashes and jabs from the Hau Dragon soldier, Masato suddenly felt a shuttering wave of despair ripple through his core.

<Masato-kunplease!> Miku’s voice cried, issuing another swelling of woe that the teen felt rather than heard.

‘That’s right…’ Masato thought, ‘It’s not just my life at stake here, but Miku’s too! If I don’t do something, then she’ll—’

The boy’s reverie abruptly ended as a scorching pain lanced through his right arm, one of the android’s furious cuts having finally hit their mark. Screaming, Masato instinctively leapt backwards, eyes closed and clutching at his wounded arm with his free hand. His focus blinded by the pain, Masato landed off balance, stumbling briefly as he tried to regain his footing before his legs gave out and he fell to the ground on his rear.

The Hau Dragon soldier smirked for a moment, then leapt high into the air, knife pointed downward and clasped in both hands above its head. Diving like a bird-of-prey, the android fell towards Masato, with the pointed tip of the blade aimed squarely at the middle of Masato’s face.

Masato’s eyes widened—his gaze locked on the armored figure descending from above like a Grim Reaper with its scythe raised to strike. Time seemed to slow, and with his eyes still resting on the descending soldier, Masato gradually released his injured arm and curled his blood-soaked hand into a fist. Languidly, the teen raised and extended his left arm to point his fist (and the gold sphere atop it) at the falling android. Just as the Hau Dragon soldier reached striking distance, the sphere flashed, and a translucent, gleaming, golden shockwave erupted outward, briefly stopping the descending soldier midair … before pushing straight through it, the artificial being screaming as it vanished in a burst of ash and ozone.

‘Good … good …’

Masato blinked several times and then shook his head. “Wh-what?” he uttered, his eyes wide and locked on his still outstretched fist. “Did I … how did I … do that?”

<Yes, just like that!> Miku’s voice praised. <Well done, Masato-kun!>

Masato grunted in response, lowered his hand, and then slowly climbed back up onto his feet. Across the warehouse, the group of Hau Dragon troopers stood in silence, their weapons still raised but held in loosened grips. The two sides engaged in a quiet stare-off with one another, neither one willing to make the first move, as blood slowly dripped from the wound on Masato’s right arm.

“Miku-chan…” Masato said. What … what was that attack I just did? Is that … is that one of Zeorymer’s powers?”

<Yes,> Miku replied, <From what I can determine, the spheres on your gauntlets allow you to direct energy from the Dimensional Coupler psychokinetically. The attack you just used was just one of multiple possible forms that energy can take.>

Masato looked down with a furrowed brow at the golden spheres atop both of his hands, his fingers spread wide and lightly twitching. “And … and what are the limits of these … of our abilities?”

<Hypothetically?> Miku’s voice queried, and Masato nodded in response. <With the Dimensional Coupler operating at full capacitance, we are likely only restricted by your will … and the strength of our body to endure the resulting output.>

“I … see …” Masato replied in a slow drawl, his eyelids drooping slightly as his irises glazed over. “Just as I thought…”

‘Power … unlimited power …’

<Masato-kun?> Miku’s voice asked tentatively, causing the boy to rapidly blink and refocus.

Setting his mouth in a thin, determined line, Masato looked up at the still silent group of Hau Dragon troopers, lowering his hands to his sides before slowly curling them into fists. In response to Masato’s change in stance, the collective of androids once again raised their weapons, bracing their arms and legs and assuming an attack-ready formation, pinpricks of glowing red showing where their eyes lay behind their tinted eyewear.

‘I don’t want to, but there’re no other options—I have to fight,’ Masato thought as he braced himself, though he could still feel sweat beading and rolling down his neck, his muscles twitching, and his fists shaking. ‘And when in this kind of situation … the first thing to do is…’


The sudden, unexpected cry from the crimson-haired, armor-clad “girl” had the desired effect of startling the group of troopers, throwing them off-balance, and into a state of mild confusion as they lowered their weapons and the light faded from behind their eyewear. Not wasting the opportunity, Masato blasted forward towards the armed mass of androids with the aid of his armor’s thrusters—quickly closing the distance—and punching through one of the robotic troopers with one of his glowing fists.

The AURORA of light shines on your body…

Lowering his arm, Masato turned away from the crumbling ash cloud where the Hau Dragon trooper once stood, and the remaining androids seemed to return to their senses, raising their weapons and collectively rushing towards the teen. Masato ducked away from a horizontal slash from a trooper wielding a large machete, rising back up to give his assailant a glowing uppercut, and sending the trooper briefly airborne before it likewise dissolved into dust.

You, who became a person of fighting.

Two of the Hau Dragon troopers tried to flank Masato by rushing at him from both sides, but the boy responded by stretching out both arms and unleashing dual psychokinetic bursts from his closed fists, stopping both androids mid-stride before they collapsed to the ground in a heap of sparks and broken body parts. A tingling pulse at the base of Masato’s head along with a silent shout from Miku caused the teen to look up, then leap backwards—just before an extendable metal staff slashed down through the space he had just vacated and smashed into the concrete floor.

Don't be afraid of the pain that it brings,

Thrusters still firing, Masato briefly hovered in the air before dropping heavily back to the ground. He raised his arms protectively to cover his head as the metal rod again came slamming down, the impact against his armor causing an echoing ring with each glancing blow. Slowly, and with arms still raised, Masato began stepping backwards as the attacking Hau Dragon trooper continued to press forward, using its longer reach to keep Masato well outside of striking distance.

For evil has emerged on the Earth…

As his assailant’s staff once again came crashing down, Masato suddenly shifted to his side, catching the rod in his metal-covered hands before roughly yanking it (and the Hau Dragon trooper still holding it) towards him. Releasing the staff, Masato stepped forward, then leaped towards the unbalanced android and punched through its torso with his blazing fist, unleashing a point-blank psychokinetic burst. As his attacker evaporated behind him, Masato slowly turned towards the remaining cadre of troopers, hands raised, and eyes glowing gold along with the orbs on his palms and his hexagonal chest piece.

WAKE UP! THE HERO! Burning brightly!

With furious intent, Masato dashed towards the group of androids, both of his arms raised to strike. Now it was the Hau Dragon troopers who were on the defensive, weaving and dodging to stay out of reach of Masato’s fists and the glowing, psychokinetic attacks they issued forth. Those that couldn’t move fast enough suffered partial damage to their bodies, as limbs, clothing, and pieces of armor were blasted away, revealing the bio-mechanical joints and framework previously hidden beneath their false flesh.

To the never-ending BATTLE between the light and the dark.

Caught-up in the moment, Masato failed to notice as braided-metal chains shot out from behind a pair of steel support beams, held in the grips of two, partially damaged Hau Dragon troopers hiding behind them. The chains quickly wound around and ensnarled the armored teen, binding his arms tightly against his sides, and holding him rigidly in place. As Masato flexed and struggled against the grasp of the chains, all of the remaining, still functional Hau Dragon androids swarmed and dog-piled him, beating Masato down the ground with an overwhelming percussion of blunt force and flailing limbs.    

WAKE UP! THE HERO! Oh, shining sun!

Blue flames spewed out from beneath the pile of Hau Dragon troopers, and then with a roar the crowd of androids scattered as the still-bound Masato blasted out from beneath them, dragging the two hapless troopers still holding onto his chains along with him. Pausing briefly in mid-air, Masato began spinning in place, slowly at first but then with rapidly increased speed. The two troopers trailing along tried valiantly to hold onto the chains with their artificially boosted grips, but eventually gave into the pull of centrifugal force, flying off and smashing into opposing walls of the warehouse.      

You, who are blessed with love and courage!

Briefly reversing his rotation, Masato quickly shucked the chains entangling his arms and body, then hovered in the air above the recovering group of Hau Dragon troopers below. Extending both arms out, Masato slowly rotated around, the half-spheres on his palms flashing bursts of golden light that were then matched by explosions rocking each of the androids’ bodies—blasting some to ash, and shattering others into broken piles of cybernetic scrap and smoldering fluids as they fell to the ground. After a few revolutions, Masato paused—looking around the interior of the warehouse with eyes aglow, and a small, superior smirk on his lips—before suddenly groaning, palming his head, and gently lowering back down to the concrete floor.

‘Well done … well done …’

Bent over, panting, and clutching both knees as his body trembled and shook, Masato managed to ask between labored breaths: “Mik … Miku-chan, did … did you … say something?”

<I said, ‘Well done, Masato-kun!’> Miku replied. <That … that was an incredible display! I thought you said you hadn’t received any combat training … how were you able to fight like that?>

“I wish … I wish I knew myself…” Masato said unsurely, still bent over, but his breathing slowly becoming more regular and even. Eventually, Masato straightened and stood upright, his eyes slowly trailing across the carnage strewn throughout the interior of the warehouse.

‘Sure, when I was little, I used to try and mimic the kind of fighting I saw on TV … but that wasn’t anything like this…’ Masato thought to himself, glancing down at his open palms, which were lightly shaking. ‘It’s almost … like my body knew how to move on its own. Like … like someone else was fighting those androids … instead of me…’

Masato shook his head, and then began taking stock of the mass of charred, broken, and still-lightly sparking biomechanical bodies strewn around the interior of the warehouse. “So, what do we do about all of this?” he asked, waving one arm in a sweeping motion in front of him.

<Last Guardian will likely want to collect the remains for study once they arrive to retrieve us,> Miku replied. <In particular, I imagine that my father will be quite interested to examine how far Hau Dragon technology has progressed up to now.>

Masato nodded, seeing the logic in Miku’s words from what he knew of the mysterious organization Miku was associated with—which (if Masato was being completely honest with himself) was still worryingly little. Shaking himself from such pessimistic thoughts, Masato turned his head towards the ceiling.

“Speaking of Hau Dragon … what happened to those helicopters from before?” Masato asked.

<They departed shortly after those combat androids dropped into the warehouse> Miku’s voice answered. <It’s likely they didn’t want to draw unnecessary attention to their activity from the local civilians. Neither of them seems to be in the immediate area—I’m not picking anything up through our sensors.>

“Yeah, I noticed that too,” Masato murmured, his gaze still tilted upward and locked on one of the several holes punched through the warehouse ceiling. “Still … just to be on the safe side—!”

Masato bent his knees and leapt upward … but then quickly fell back to Earth, landing roughly on his feet and stumbling briefly before he regained his footing. Letting loose a frustrated grunt, Masato braced his feet with bent knees, crouched down, and then once more stretched and leapt upwards. This time, he nearly reached one of the holes in the warehouse ceiling … before his ascent slowed, stopped, and he again returned to ground with a thudding impact and cloud of dust.

“Crap!” Masato grumbled in between coughs and hacks. “I was practically flying earlier—why can’t I make this work now?!”

Bending down yet again, Masato curled his body as tightly as he could with his bulky armor, held that position for several seconds, and then exploded outwards with a shout—arms, hands, and fingers fully outstretched. This time, the thrusters on Masato’s back and legs kicked in, and with a yelp he blasted up towards the ceiling of the warehouse, quickly flying through one of the holes in the roof and up into the open night sky. Once he was clear of the immediate obstacle, Masato lowered the arms that had been protectively covering his head, looked around, and let out a hoot of triumph … just as the propulsion from his armor sputtered and went out.

Masato briefly hung in the air before he started rapidly falling back to Earth, arms flailing, body tumbling end over end, and thrusters firing randomly in quick bursts in a seeming effort to slow his descent. Eventually, he slammed back into the roof of the warehouse with a resounding bang, bounced briefly, and then began rolling down the roof’s incline, his hands and feet desperately scrambling to grip onto something and slow him down. Just as his body rolled over the end of the roof, Masato’s hands curled tightly around its edge, leading him to hang with both arms fully outstretched and legs swinging freely.    

With quivering arms, Masato pulled his head and shoulders up over the roof’s edge, until he could finally reach out and dig into the roof’s surface with the clawed tips of one his gauntlets. Slowly, laboriously, Masato pulled his way forward, gradually hauling his armored body over the edge of the roof and dragging himself across its surface until his feet and legs finally cleared the precipice. Rolling over, he briefly rested on the rooftop, breathing heavily as his heart continued thudding and threatening to burst from his chest.

<Masato-kun!> Miku exclaimed. <Are you okay? Is anything hurt?>

In response, Masato groaned and blew an errant tuft of hair away from his eyes with an annoyed huff.

“Just my pride…” he finally grumbled, before gradually pushing himself upright by his elbows. Wincing, he rose back onto his feet, then proceeded to brush dust and debris off his arms, legs, and torso. After shaking out his skirt, Masato began manually inspecting his armor for damage.

“Everything looks intact…” he murmured as he continued to examine himself, then paused as his hand passed over his previously injured right arm—now healed and without mark or blemish. “What the—? When did that happen?”   

<Cellular regeneration and other structural repairs can readily be carried out by siphoning matter from higher dimensions using the Dimensional Coupler,> Miku stated matter-of-factly. <Like your leg when we first transformed, the regeneration process on your arm was completed shortly after you atomized the first Hau Dragon soldier—you just didn’t notice at the time.> Masato could only shake his head in amazement.

‘Right in line with the postulations of “Ultra-Dimensional Systems Theory” …’ Masato mused. ‘Based on thatand what I’ve observed already … the full capability of this armor … of Zeorymer … is downright terrifying…’   

Pulling himself from his thoughts, Masato looked up and finally took in the view from the top of the warehouse. Despite it being the middle of the night, with the aid of the moon’s glow and his enhanced vision, Masato could see the surrounding countryside almost as clearly as if it were day. The warehouse itself sat on a series of low hills that rose upward into a larger mountain range, while several clusters of single-family homes rested in the valley below, followed by a handful of businesses and other nondescript buildings straddling a single, broad, country road. With the shadows of the mountain range looming behind him, the dots of light from the homes below acted like a runway towards the dimly lit, snowcapped peak of Mount Fuji in the distance. [2]

<How pretty…> Miku cooed in the back of Masato’s mind, and the boy-turned-girl nodded in agreement.

“It really is…” Masato said aloud, slowly casting his gaze across the vista before him. ‘And thankfully, I don’t see head or tail of either of those helicopters from before.’

A quiet moment passed on the rooftop, as Masato slowly breathed in the night air, allowing the adrenaline rush of the last several minutes to quietly ebb away. As the muscles of the teen’s body went warm and limp, he began to feel a gradually tickling ember grow in the center of his chest.

<Masato-kun…?> Miku asked—the lilting cadence of her voice causing Masato to pop an eyebrow. <Out of curiosity … what was that song you were singing while you were fighting earlier?> [3]

In response to Miku’s question, both of Masato’s cheeks quickly flushed a rosy hue. “Oh, um … hehe, you … you heard that, huh?” he replied, scratching one cheek as sweat beaded on his forehead.

<Mmm-hmmm…> Miku’s voice murmured sweetly, <It was rather hard not to…>

“Ah,” Masato said as he sheepishly rubbed the back of his skull, his entire face now as bright red as his transformed body’s mane. “Well, it’s … it’s kind of embarrassing actually…”


Realizing that Miku wasn’t likely to give up without an answer, Masato let loose a sigh, then tilted his head up. For a moment, he just gazed at the moon and the stars twinkling in the night sky above 

“So, you see…” Masato finally said, “When I was little, my parents and I used to watch this cheesy superhero show on TV every night after dinner. It’s one the last things I can remember the three of us all doing before … before Mom died, Dad got busy with his work, and I got more involved with my studies at school…”

<Oh…> Miku’s said, her voice having lost its previous playfulness. <Masato-kun, I’m sorry, I—>

“It’s okay…” Masato said quickly, shaking his hands placatingly in front of him. “Really, it’s okay, Miku-chan.” Looking down, his face settled into a small, sad smile.

“Anyway, back then the main character of the show was kind of my hero. So, like a dork I memorized the show’s theme song, practiced the main character’s fighting moves, and even dressed up in the hero’s costume so I could go and take down evildoers!” Masato continued, chuckling lightly at the memory. “I guess you could say that, back then, I … I wanted to grow up and become a Great Hero for Justice too…”

Masato laughed, abashed, and once again rubbed the back of his head. “Or something like that!” he said. “Pretty silly, huh?”

Miku didn’t answer right away, leading yet more sweat to form on Masato’s forehead.

<So, that song … it’s a source of strength?> Miku’s voice eventually asked, her tone strangely distant. When Masato nodded in reply, she added: <If … if it’s not too much trouble, I … I think I’d like … to watch that show with you sometime, Masato-kun. To learn more about … the sorts of things that … that lie in Masato-kun’s heart.>

Masato exhaled sharply through his teeth, his cheeks flushing, and tears unexpectedly forming in the corners of his eyes—touched once more by the sincerity he felt radiating from Miku’s words. 

“Yeah, sure … let’s do that,” Masato replied softly, as he quickly wiped at his eyes to clear them. Once he was sure his eyes were dry, Masato looked out again at the moonlit landscape before him, a light but genuine smile on his lips. He opened his mouth to speak, but then paused as the insides of his ears began resonating, softly at first, but then with gradually increasing volume.

“Miku-chan… do you … hear that…?” he asked.

From the valley below, amidst the whistling of tree branches and the low thrum of insects chirping, a faint, high-pitched wailing could be heard, carried on the wind. Tilting his head, Masato instinctively cupped one hand against an armor-covered ear before noticing the act, blushing, and again facing forward.

<I’m homing in on the sound…> Miku’s voice stated, and a targeting reticle appeared in Masato’s vision. The glowing crosshair drifted about, blinking at a steady rhythm until it settled over a shrouded area along a tree-lined, dirt road, leading down from the warehouse towards the residences and village below. <Scanning … Amplifying…>

The sound, once faint and wavery, boomed with sudden volume and fidelity against Masato’s eardrums. Instantly recognizable, Masato unconsciously raised one hand to his heart as his chest tightened with a shuddering wave of empathy, for the sound was the unmistakable crying of a child in distress.

“Miku-chan…” Masato said, his voice raspy and shaken. “I know you said earlier we should stay here, but…”

<It can’t be helped,> Miku replied simply. <Let’s go, Masato-kun!>

Nodding, Masato braced himself and then lightly bounded up into the night sky. Rather than flying in a more traditional fashion, Masato instead stayed upright—seemingly hanging suspended in the air as he floated in a gentle, parabolic arc from the roof of the warehouse, over treetops, and towards the access road he had spied previously. With his thrusters glowing a soft blue, Masato slowly descended to the cracked, gravel surface of the road, coming to rest beside a slightly dilapidated looking wooden shed. The shed was open on one side, and moonlight shining through its rusted, hole-ridden, metal roof helped to reveal its sole occupant.

Huddled in the center of the shed, with knees folded up and head buried in her legs as she sobbed, was a young girl who looked no more than six or seven years old. The child was wearing a yellow, sleeveless, sailor-collared dress caked with splotches of mud, as well as pink shoes and a matching bow tying the girl’s long brown hair back in a high ponytail. A small pug sat on the ground beside the girl, whimpering and occasionally tapping at the girl’s leg with one forepaw, while a leash running from the dog’s collar was tightly clutched in the girl’s hands.

At the sound of Masato’s approach, the pug turned, growled, and then jumped in front of the child before letting out a series of high-pitched barks. Feeling the tug on the leash and hearing the dog’s barks, the little girl looked up with watery, olive eyes and a confused pout on her small face. Catching sight of the armored form of Masato looming above her in the dark, the child’s eyes widened, and her mouth opened to let in a massive inhalation as she seemingly prepared to scream…

“Wait—it’s okay!” Masato quickly exclaimed, bending over, and waving both hands in front of him. “I know I might look a little strange, but I’m not going to hurt you!”

The young girl paused with her mouth still ajar, blinking in response to Masato’s hurried words and actions. After a moment, she hid behind her folded legs, her eyes still wide as she looked at Masato over her knees. Beside her, the pug continued to growl and let loose the occasional yip of warning.

Wanting to seem less imposing, Masato gradually lowered himself into a crouch (as much as his armor would allow) and rested his hands on his legs. “What’s your name?” he asked in (what he hoped) was a soft and reassuring tone.

The little girl blinked again, then slowly raised her head so that her mouth was visible.

“Sa-Sa-Sachiko,” she stuttered in a small and shaky voice. [4]

“Sachiko … that’s a cute name,” Masato said with a smile, and he was pleased to see a similar, smaller smile alight the other girl’s face. “So, Sachiko-chan, what’re you doing out here so late at night?”

Sachiko opened her mouth to reply, but then paused, her smile fading before she once again hid her mouth behind her legs. “My Daddy says that I’m not supposed to talk to strangers…” she mumbled shyly, resulting in a silent coo from Miku as Masato nodded sagely.

“Oh! Well, if that’s the case, then I’m—” Masato began.

<Masato-kun!> Miku’s voice interjected, causing Masato to wince while Sachiko tilted her head in confusion. <It wouldn’t be wise to use your actual name. That knowledge might put this little girl in danger from Hau Dragon!>

Masato blinked, slowly mulling over Miku’s hurried words, then gave a quick nod in understanding. After all, it was a common trope for the “bad guys” in many a story to use the protagonist’s friends, family, or unlucky bystanders as a means of getting to them. Episode-long plots based around that very concept had happened all the time in the old superhero show Masato had spoken of to Miku…

Masato’s eyebrows rose, and his lips twitched into a small grin—thinking about his favorite TV show (and similar shows he had watched when he was younger) had given him an idea! With Sachiko looking at him quizzically. Masato leaned forward, pushed against his knees, and stood fully upright. As the little girl stared on with wide eyes, the teen placed one hand on his hip, raised the other, and then pointed one outstretched finger up towards the sky

“I’m actually the Lovely Warrior, Zeorymer of the Heavens!” Masato proclaimed, raising the pitch of his (already high) voice as he continued: “Child of the Skies Above, and Protector of all on Earth Below!”

Both Sachiko and her dog blinked, then blinked again, with both tilting their heads slightly to one side as they simply stared up at Masato. Sweat began beading on Masato’s brow, but he kept his pose and confident smile, though the latter was slowly becoming more strained.

“You’re … you’re a magical girl?” Sachiko finally asked, and with relief Masato nodded.

“That’s right—I’m a magical warrior fighting for love and justice!” Masato said, winking as he made a two-fingered salute against his brow. Lowering himself back down to Sachiko’s level, he added: “And that’s why you can trust me, Sachiko-chan!” In response, Sachiko just tilted her head again.

“Umm …  aren’t magical girls supposed to be cute?” she asked after a beat, and the corner of Masato’s eye twitched, his smile faltering ever so slightly.

‘I know I’m not really a girl…’ Masato thought to himself, paying no heed to Miku’s silent fuming in the background, ‘But for some reason that still stings a little bit.’

“Wellllll … despite what you might see on TV, fighting evil by moonlight doesn’t go so well if you’re just wearing a tiara, leotard, and a miniskirt,” Masato replied with a somewhat toothy smile. “It doesn’t matter how strong your magical powers are—you can still get hurt without more practical protection; you know?”

Sachiko only blinked in reply, causing even more sweat to form on Masato’s forehead as he struggled to think of something he could say that might win the little girl over. Unfortunately, nothing immediately came to mind, resulting in a silent stare off between the two of them.

Meanwhile, during the brief impasse and unbeknownst to either human, Sachiko’s dog had slowly made its way up to Masato’s kneeling form. The pug briefly sniffed at the exposed skin beneath the folds of Masato’s skirt, paused, and then licked at the teen’s leg with its tongue. In response to the unexpectedly strong sensation of damp sandpaper against his skin, a shiver ran from the bottom of Masato’s spine all the way up to the top of his head, leaving every one of his hairs standing on end. He quickly bit down on his lip to prevent letting out an involuntary squeal.

“Aww, Pugi likes you!” Sachiko cooed, her eyes bright and smile wide, and paying no heed to Masato’s silent distress. “You must be a good person! He doesn’t like anyone who isn’t nice!”     

“Y-you don’t s-say…” Masato said shakily, his smile again strained as (the aptly named) Pugi continued to lick sloppily at his leg. Warily, Masato lowered one hand down, then used the sharpened tips of his fingers to gently scratch behind the pug’s ears. After a few seconds, the pug’s eyes rolled up, and with tongue hanging out Pugi slumped against Masato’s hand in clear ecstasy. Masato and Sachiko shared a look, and the latter giggled while the former gave her a quick wink.

“So,” Masato ventured, “Now do you want to tell me what you’re doing out here?”

Sachiko’s smile fell a little, but after a moment she nodded. As if sensing his owner’s distress, Pugi whined slightly, but calmed as soon as Sachiko started scratching him under his chin.

“I was getting ready for bed at Daddy’s house. Pugi was waiting for me in my bedroom while I was brushing my teeth,” Sachiko said. “Then, there was this bright flash, and then some loud noises going ‘whump, whump, whump’ outside. Pugi started barking, so I went to go look and see. The window was open ‘cause it was hot, and Pugi jumped off the bed and went right through it!”

Sachiko paused, looking down at the pug, who stared back with his own big brown eyes.

“Daddy wasn’t home yet, so I got scared … I got Pugi’s leash and went outside to find him … I could hear Pugi barking, so I followed where I heard, but I didn’t look where I was going…” she continued, sniffing lightly as she bowed her head. “I … I caught up to Pugi he-here and got his le-leash on him. But then I … I di-didn’t know how to g-get back h-home! E-even though I c-called for help, no-no-nobody came…”

Reaching out, Masato softly placed one hand on Sachiko’s head, causing her to start and look up at him. The older “girl” smiled down at the younger one with gentle compassion.

“You’re very brave, Sachiko-chan,” Masato said. “Pugi is lucky to have such a caring owner like you.” 

Sachiko sniffed again, wiping her eyes and her nose with the back of her hand.

“He’s my friend,” she said sincerely, and Masato nodded his head at the innocent wisdom.

“Of course … and we can’t abandon our friends, can we Sachiko-chan?” he confirmed, and then stood upright, extending one open palm down to Sachiko. “And since you called out for help, here I am! So how about we get you home, hmm?”

In response, Sachiko’s smile widened and grew bright. Reaching up, she took Masato’s outstretched hand, and began to rise … only to wince and stumble as soon as she stood, though Masato’s light grip on her arm prevented her from falling. At both of their feet, Pugi whimpered and whined with concern.

“Sachiko-chan?” Masato asked, still holding onto the smaller girl’s hand as he again knelt to her level.

“My knee …” Sachiko said with a sniffle. “I … I tripped and hurt it when … when I was looking for Pugi.”

Reaching down, Sachiko pulled up the hem of her dress, revealing that one of her knees was scraped, bruised, and lightly bleeding. Masato winced sympathetically as he took in the injury, hissing through his teeth as he examined it.

‘I’ll bet that does hurt something fierce…’ Masato thought. ‘It doesn’t look like anything’s broken, but it would be nice if I could patch it up or even heal it like I did my own injuries…’

Masato frowned, pausing in his examination of Sachiko as his last thought rolled over and over in his mind. After a brief internal debate, his lips pursed as he settled on a course of action. Taking the younger girl’s hands in his own, he turned back to Sachiko, who met his now grinning visage with naive confusion.

“Sachiko-chan…” Masato said with measured glee. “Would you like for me to show you some of my magic?”

Sachiko’s widened, and after a beat she began nodding her head vigorously, causing her ponytail to bob up and down like a windsock in a typhoon. Masato snorted but held back a full laugh at the young girl’s enthusiasm so not to dampen her renewed cheer.

“Alright, then close your eyes …” Masato indicated, watching as Sachiko followed his instructions. “Fold your hands together … and say these magic words: ‘Heiki, hecchara.’”

Heiki, hecchara…” Sachiko repeated, brows furrowed, and small face scrunched up in concentration.

“Keep saying the magic words … I’ll let you know when to open your eyes,” Masato said. Carefully, he moved both of his hands so that they hovered just above Sachiko’s injured knee. While Sachiko continued her recitation, Masato murmured as quietly as he could: “Miku-chan, I’m going to need your help here…”

The teen could almost feel the teasing smirk from Miku as her voice replied, <I believe I know what it is you’re trying to do, Masato-kun. What you’re thinking should be possible.>

Masato issued a quiet sigh of relief, allowing his mouth to twitch into the shadow of a smile.

<Envision what you want to occur as clearly as you can—I’ll do my part to manage the flow of matter and energy from the Dimensional Coupler…> Miku directed, and Masato nodded in confirmation. Closing his own eyes and taking a deep breath, Masato focused all his attention on Sachiko’s injured knee. All the while, Sachiko herself continued to obliviously repeat the so-called “magic words” with utmost seriousness.

“The pain is flying away…” Masato uttered, and after a moment both half-spheres atop his hands began emitting a gentle glow, the orb mounted in his chest doing the same in equal measure. Delicately, Masato touched Sachiko’s injury with one of his gauntlets, lowering the other to rest against his own leg. Gradually, the glow from his gauntlets spread out and encompassed both body parts in a soft, waving light.

A minute passed between the pair, but eventually the light faded from Masato’s palms. Letting out a held breath, Masato took a quick peak downwards, and then smiled with satisfaction. “You can open your eyes now, Sachiko-chan.

Still reciting the so-called “magic words” as instructed, Sachiko paused at hearing Masato’s voice, then opened her eyes, blinking with befuddlement at Masato’s somewhat dopey smile. The teen briefly flicked his eyes down, and then looked back up to meet the child’s gaze. After a moment, Sachiko likewise glanced down … to her completely healed and uninjured knee. Sachiko’s brown eyes widened to the size of tea saucers, and with an open jaw she stared back up at Masato with amazement. [5]   

“You are a magical girl!” Sachiko squealed. The younger girl then lunged forward, hugging the teen around the neck shamelessly as she bounced up and down with excitement. Unprepared for the sudden tackle, Masato was briefly taken aback, his body stiff as Sachiko continued her affectionate glomp; however, after a beat he relaxed—his muscles loosening as Masato shifted position and hugged the smaller girl back.

Separating from the embrace and pulling away, Masato held Sachiko loosely by her arms and looked straight in her eyes. His face took on a more serious and solemn cast.

“Now, I need for you to promise me that you’ll keep what I just did a secret,” he said, extending and holding out one of his pinky fingers as he spoke. “Can you do that for me, Sachiko-chan?”

“Of course, Ze … Ze … Zeo-neesan!” Sachiko said eagerly, reaching out and shaking Masato’s hand with her own extended digit. Masato blinked, blushing at the sudden title the younger girl had unabashedly bestowed on him. [6]

Unaware of Masato’s bemusement, Sachiko continued: “You don’t want bad guys to know about your magic, right? Then they might try to steal it!”

“Right … you’re absolutely right!” Masato replied with a matching grin. Letting the girl go, he then lowered himself further, and then held out both of his arms, palms facing upward. “Come on, Sachiko-chan—let’s get both you and Pugi home.”

The little girl’s eyes widened, but then she nodded her head in understanding. Bending down, she scooped up the pug—clutching him lightly against her chest—then stepped up between Masato’s outstretched arms. Gently, Sachiko lowered herself into a cradle atop Masato’s armored gauntlets, and once she was in place, Masato slowly began rising back upright. He paused briefly mid-climb, wincing and groaning slightly as one of his knees buckled beneath him.

“Are you okay, Zeo-neesan?” Sachiko asked, her small face scrunched up with concern. Masato took a quick breath in-and-out, shifted slightly to take pressure off the offending appendage, and then forced a somewhat strained smile on his face.

“I’m fine, everything is okay!” Masato said with as much cheer as he could muster. Taking another breath, he pushed himself the rest of the way up until he was fully standing, Sachiko and Pugi both cradled securely in his arms. Closing his eyes, Masato focused, squatted down with his hips, and then leapt upward towards the night sky. As before, his thrusters fired and helped the three to quickly ascend above the treetops, then continued to hold them aloft as they lightly drifted in the direction of the village at the base of the mountain range.

Within minutes, the trio had cleared the remaining forest and sparsely populated outskirts of the town, settling into a hover in the sky above the modestly lit residential streets and businesses at the village’s core. From her position in Masato’s arms, Sachiko goggled at the sight of twinkling lights both above and below, her eyes wide and her mouth hanging open as her gaze drifted over the scattered homes and buildings beneath them

“Does anything look familiar, Sachiko-chan?” Masato asked softly, frowning when the younger girl slowly shook her head.

“I’m sorry…” Sachiko responded unhappily. “I don’t know what Daddy’s house looks like from up high like this.”

Masato nodded sympathetically, and in Sachiko’s arms Pugi whimpered and curled up against his owner’s chest, offering his own form of support.

The armored teen began opening his mouth to offer some reassurance, but then paused as a sound from the ground below drifted up and tickled against his enhanced hearing. Furrowing his eyebrows, Masato concentrated and worked to hone on the quiet tone over the howl of the night air. Once he heard the sound again and was able to register it clearly, a smile slowly spread across Masato’s face.

“Hey, Sachiko-chan …” Masato said, his bright tone drawing a curious stare from the little girl and dog in her arms. “Do you hear that?”

Sachiko screwed her eyes shut, scrunching her face as she worked to listen with all her might. In her arms, Pugi mirrored the girl’s actions, tilting his head and lightly ****ing one floppy ear.   

“Sachiko—! Sa-chi-ko—!”

The younger girl’s eyes shot open, and mouth wide she quickly turned to meet Masato’s smiling gaze, saying, “That’s Daddy! That’s Daddy calling me!” Masato had to hold back a laugh at Sachiko’s open wonderment.

“Well, let’s take you to him then!” he said with a wink, issuing a chortle as Sachiko rapidly nodded her head up and down. Holding the small girl tight, Masato gently descended back down to earth, deliberately aiming for an empty backlot next to a darkened alleyway between two commercial buildings. As they descended, the voice calling Sachiko’s name grew louder, more distinct, and more desperate in its tone.

Once they were securely on the ground, Sachiko hopped down from Masato’s embrace, placed Pugi on the ground, and would have bolted down the alleyway towards the voice calling her name had Masato not lightly but firmly grabbed her by the wrist. Confused, Sachiko looked up at her rescuer, who met the younger girl’s wide eyes with a serious expression.

“Sachiko-chan…” Masato said slowly. “Let’s go check before you run out there, okay?”

Sachiko blinked rapidly, her flushed face showing the conflict between her desire to run to her Daddy and to listen to the Magical Girl. Eventually though, she nodded her head, letting Masato take her by the hand and walking at a more sedate pace (with Pugi trotting beside her) towards the other side of the alley. Pausing at the threshold, Masato flattened himself against one of the buildings, then poked his head out to look around—Sachiko and Pugi doing likewise beneath him.

Being as late in the night as it was, few of the storefronts were still open, though their signage and other forms of exterior lighting still managed to illuminate much of the street that they faced. While the area was generally deserted (save for the occasional figure wobbling along the sidewalk), a man dressed in causal garb could be seen racing up and down the street, both hands cupped to his mouth as he continually cried out: “Sachiko! Sachiko!”

Masato looked down at the child in question, who met the boy’s gaze with a pout as she squirmed and wriggled anxiously at his hip. ****ing an eyebrow, Masato nodded his head towards the man racing along the road in silent questioning, which was answered by a furious series of nods by Sachiko. Answer received, Masato smiled, let go of the little girl’s hand, and likewise nodded his head to her. Eyes wide, Sachiko turned to run, paused, gave Masato another quick hug, and then dashed out of the alley (with Pugi galloping along at her heals) towards the man who was still calling her name—his voice hoarse and warbling from the repetition.

“Daddy! Daaadddddyyyyyy!” Sachiko exclaimed.

Her voice drew the attention of the man in the road, causing him to pause and whip his head around towards the little girl’s call. As he turned, the man’s eyes enlarged as he spied Sachiko running towards him, her arms spread wide as Pugi ran alongside her. Bending down, the man likewise stretched his arms out and then pulled Sachiko close as the young girl leapt into her father’s embrace. Standing up with Sachiko held tight, father and daughter cried, laughed, and twirled around—Pugi jumping up and down with equal excitement at the man’s feet.

Meanwhile, safe from the shadows of the alleyway, Masato smiled with quiet satisfaction as he took in the heartwarming scene. While he continued to peer around the corner of the building, Masato began feeling a similar warmth emanate from the hexagonal enclosure on his chest.

<Well Masato-kun, you got to be a hero … just like you always wanted,> Miku’s voice stated brightly, and Masato nodded.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he said with equal pride. Once again, he felt a tickling resonance from the orb on his chest.      

<I have to say, you make for a very convincing magical girl…> Miku said teasingly. <Were those also shows you happened to watch when you were younger, or—?>

“Well, I think we’re about done here, don’t you, Miku-chan?!” Masato quickly interjected, his cheeks blooming red as sweat beaded on his forehead. Turning around, he began quickly shuffling back down the alley to the backlot where he had previously landed with Sachiko, limping slightly as he did so. “We should probably leave and find those here are find your Last Guardian friends—where were we supposed to meet them again?!” He could hear Miku chortling in response to his lame attempt at evasion.

<There’s no need to feel ashamed, Masato-kun,> Miku’s voice said reassuringly. <I thought it was very clever and endearing how you acted the part of a hero that a cute little girl like Sachiko-chan would identify with…> A small flicker of irritation briefly flared in Masato’s chest before she added: <Though who is she to say that we aren’t cute?!>

Now it was Masato’s turn to laugh at his intangible partner’s continued indignation.

“I doubt Sachiko meant anything by it, Miku-chan—aside from the fact that we don’t exactly look like your classical magical girl,” Masato said with a chuckle. Pausing in his stride, Masato looked at the ground with a small smile. “In all honesty, I did watch a lot of magical girl shows when I was little… but that’s only because my best friend back then was a huge fan, so I played along and watched because it made her happy…”

<Your … best friend?> Miku’s voice inquired.

“Yeah, a little girl I sometimes spent time with…” Masato replied. “Her name was Yu—"

Masato speech cut short, and his eyes widened as a very familiar tingling pulse resonated against the base of his skull. Swinging his body around, Masato’s vision quickly found the black military helicopter that he was only just now starting to hear, flanked on both sides by the three drone units from earlier that evening. Moreover, he saw that—in the time he had taken to turn—they had already launched a barrage of missiles in his direction!

Not wasting a second, Masato jumped and took off into the air—hoping he could rise fast enough to draw his pursuers away from the village. As a result of his sudden ascent, the missiles targeting Masato whooshed past him—slamming instead into the deserted backlot and exploding on impact. The smoke and dust thrown up from the blast quickly rose into the air, causing Masato to cough and close his eyes as his climb slowed. Though it was just for a moment, taking his gaze away from his attackers gave them the opening they needed, as the helicopter issued a hail of gunfire with its minigun and twin cannons while the drones likewise released a new salvo of micro missiles.

Unprepared for the massive onslaught, Masato was quickly pushed back by the barrage of bullets, then screamed as the micro missiles found and hit their mark. Stunned, concussed, and with his armor singed and smoking, Masato rapidly fell from the sky—landing in a heap on the country road running through the village, not far from the area he had just recently been observing.


Masato looked up groggily from his position on the ground—his ears ringing, blood dripping down his face, and blinking as his eyes struggled to focus. His tilted, double-visioned gaze settled on a small, blurry blob nearing him from down the road. As his vision cleared, the small figure resolved into the now recognizable form of Sachiko— hurrying towards him as quickly as her little legs would move, with Pugi nipping along at her heels. The man from earlier—Sachiko’s father—was likewise running in his direction, once again frantically yelling his daughter’s name.

“Sa-Sachiko … r-run…” Masato struggled to say, his voice raspy and warbling. He reached one hand out towards the girl still scampering towards him. “D-don’t … don’t c-come near…”

Masato’s voice caught in his throat, and his eyes widened as he saw the Hau Dragon helicopter and trio of drones slowly angle into the sky behind Sachiko, Pugi, and Sachiko’s father. The sounds of multiple propeller blades caused Sachiko to pause in her stride and turn around, her face scrunched and confused as she took in the sight of the sudden aerial intruders. The little girl’s abrupt stop gave her father time to catch up, reach down, and scoop his daughter back up in his arms. Holding the child tight against his chest, Sachiko’s father shifted his attention back-and-forth between the prostrate Masato, struggling to raise himself up from the ground, and the mechanized, heavily armed quartet in the air above.

Settling into a hover, the helicopter and drones brought their weapons to bear on Masato and the trio standing just in front of him. A moment passed, and then all four aircraft unleased their full gamut of weaponry at their targets below. Sachiko cried out in terror, Pugi barked, and with grit teeth Sachiko’s father knelt and huddled against the pavement, doing his best to shield his daughter and her dog with his own body as the three awaited the inevitable. Within seconds, the missiles and gunfire exploded against the ground, once again sending dust and debris skyward as a cloud of smoke obscured the streets and sidewalk.         

Gradually the dust settled and cleared … revealing a shimmering, translucent, spherical bubble of energy, sitting within a surrounding pile of broken asphalt and pavement from the previous assault. Masato stood at the sphere’s center—one arm outstretched, and fingers splayed wide—while his eyes, the half-spheres on his gauntlets, and the matching orb on his chest mutually glowed with shining gold light. Just behind Masato, Sachiko’s father was still curled on the ground with Sachiko and Pugi huddled against him—the three unharmed and the older man blinking up at the gleaming white, armored savior now looming over him.

After a moment, the sphere dissolved, and the light likewise faded from Masato’s palms and chest piece. Lowering his arm, Masato shifted his position so that he was now fully facing the four aircraft, his body now acting as a shield for the crouching family behind him. As both Masato and the four aerial aggressors squared off and held their positions, it seemed that the boy-turned-girl and his pursuers were at an impasse.

Meanwhile, up and down the main road of the village, lights began turning on inside homes, windows were opened, and people in various stages of undress began slowly drifting out onto the sidewalk, drawn by the increased and very audible commotion just outside. Very quickly, a large crowd of onlookers flanked both sides of the road—whispering among themselves as they gawked at the standoff that would not have out of place from some sci-fi/action movie.

Still held tight in her father’s grip, Sachiko wriggled and squirmed to better see what was happening. As soon as her eyes landed on Masato, her eyes ballooned out, and her face broke into a wide smile. She opened her mouth to speak, but then paused, the cheer in her face fading into one of uncertainty as she noticed the hard set of Masato’s features. His brow was narrowed, teeth gritted, and lips pulled back in a snarling grimace as he glared up at the helicopter and trio of drones with eyes aglow.

Masato … was furious!            

‘Let the hate flow…’

“I still don’t understand anything that’s happening…” Masato said, the words tense and hissing with as much venom as a viper. “Everything about this night has been pure insanity—I’m getting sick of it!”

‘Give in to your anger…’

“E-even so…” Masato continued, his fists clenched tight and lightly shaking at his sides, “It’s fine, if you want to attack just me…”

Use your aggressive feelings…’

“…but threatening the lives of innocent people?” he said, with his breathing becoming more rapid and heavy with each passing word. Gradually, Masato’s fists rose until they were chest high and facing out—the half-spheres on his palms pulsing at a slowly increasing pace. “That…”

‘Fulfill your destiny…’                                                                                                                                       


‘Become the Hades Maiden, Zeorymer…’ [7]

“That…is unforgivable!” Masato screamed, slamming both his fists together in front of his chest, as the orbs on his gauntlets and chest piece ignited with burning white light.   

‘—and tear open the gates of the Underworld!’

Time stopped, and all sound in the immediate area—the mechanical whomping of propeller blades, the soft murmurs of the townspeople, and even the gentle rustle of the night breeze—seemed to fade away as a heavy, smothering, silence settled over the area. As the trinity of orbs on Masato’s armor continued to blaze with blinding intensity—slowly, gradually, a new mysterious sound could be heard. It started as a low rumble, seemingly emanating from the very air itself, and its deep resonance caused shivers and gooseflesh to spread among the gathered populace. The baritone pulse quickly grew louder and more booming in its timbre, with the air and ground beginning to quake at a progressively more intense pace. After reaching a thunderous level of volume, the sound paused, and then a new intonation was issued, with the twin roars combining to form a single, uttered word:            


As the bellowing vocalization faded, it was replaced by the roar of rushing wind and a vision of blinding light—both radiating outward from the white armored “magical girl” standing in the middle of the road. Travelling as a translucent, spherical wall of kinetic force, the glowing wave of energy rapidly spread out and upward—seemingly growing stronger and faster the further it moved—as people were knocked off their feet, fissures sprouted in the concrete and pavement, and windows and light fixtures shattered with the tinkling of glass and bursts of ozone. Still hovering above the town, the attacking helicopter and three aerial drones gallantly tried to maintain their positions against the unyielding swell of destructive energy, but eventually gave way as they were pushed past their tolerances—crumpling against themselves with a screech of shearing metal before exploding in successive airborne fireballs when their onboard fuel ignited. A cloud of smoke filled the sky over the town, and as small bits of smoldering ash and metal rained down from above, gradually the air was filled by the sounds of moans, grunts, and various cries for help as the town’s residents slowly came back to their senses.

Still standing atop an intact, circular patch of pavement in the now devastated town road, the burning light slowly faded away from Masato’s eyes and gauntlets, with the orb in his chest piece likewise settling into a gentler glow. As his arms gradually lowered and settled at his sides, Masato blinked multiple times, his face wrinkled up in a combination of confusion and horror as he slowly took in the scale of the ruin around him. When his gaze eventually met the angry, frightened, or pained looks of the various townspeople, the teen couldn’t help but flinch, averting his eyes as his face flushed with shame.

Turning his body, Masato’s gaze fell on the three figures he had been aiming to protect, still huddled against the intact patch of roadway behind him. Sachiko and her father were looking up at Masato with wide, trembling stares, though Sachiko’s look seemed mostly confused, while the furrowed, trembling brows of her father screamed of agitation and anxiety. Bending down, Masato reached out a hand to offer help, only to have Sachiko’s father flinch away from his claw-tipped grasp and tighten his protective embrace around his daughter and her dog—the latter two whimpering lightly beneath the older man’s grasp. Startled, Masato stood upright with both arms raised and palms open in a pacifying gesture. His eyes began growing moist as he slowly backed away from the cowering trio.

“I-I’m s-sorry…” Masato uttered chokingly. His eyes drifted upwards, then travelled back-and-forth across the townspeople lining both sides of the road. Their angry glares and hateful murmurs bore into him like a thousand needles pricking his skin. “I’m so sorry … I … I d-didn’t mean to…”

Unable to say more, Masato spun around and leapt upwards—his thrusters kicking in and quickly carrying him off into the night sky. As he ascended, Masato could still feel the gazes of the people below following him as he fled the scene. One set of eyes in particular were engraved in the forefront of his consciousness—a pair of olive-brown set in a small, innocent face, whose hesitant expression asked more questions than Masato could rightly answer…    

Elsewhere, in a dim room lined with control panels and lit by the glow of multiple video screens, a seated figure slammed his fist down on the thick metal armrest of his cushioned chair.   

“What happened?! What’s going on?!” the man demanded. Ahead of him, multiple seated figures in uniform jumpsuits typed away furiously at their respective keyboards.

“Unknown—Alfa-1 isn’t responding, and all three drone units are offline,” one of the technicians eventually responded, the screens in front of him crackling with static as he continued to rapidly type commands into his console in vain.

“Satellite units are still tracking HKS-01A,” another technician chimed in, his fingers dancing with equal ferocity across his keyboard. “The wielder has left the town center and is currently travelling east towards the Inokashira mountain range. Plotting her current course suggests that she’s returning to the warehouse where Alfa-1 and Alfa-2 first made contact.”

“As ordered, Alfa-2 is holding 10 klicks north on the opposite side of Mount Kenashi,” yet another technician relayed, swiveling around in her chair to face her superior while holding a headset against her ear. “They’re awaiting instructions, General.”

General Kozo Golshid, leader of the Hau Dragon Operations Division, grimaced as he pondered the various status updates, considering his available options. Leaning forward, he steepled his hands in front of his mouth as his gaze drifted over the numerous digital maps and readout projections.

“Mobilize Alfa-2 and have them move to intercept HKS-01A,” Golshid eventually ordered. “If the gods are willing, we’ll catch the relic wielder by surprise and incapacitate her before she can launch another counterattack.”

“Sir, what about the JSDF mobile units we’ve been tracking out of Narusawa?” one of the technicians asked. “If they maintain their current ground speed, they’ll likely arrive at the AO at roughly the same time as Alfa-2.”

“It doesn’t matter—our priority is the retrieval of the stolen baguayi,” Golshid stated with a furious shake of his head. “Everything else is of no consequen—”

“General, I’m sorry, but we just lost the signal from HKS-01A!” one of the technicians exclaimed. “Our tracking satellites had a clear lock on the relic’s UDS signature, but then it just vanished!

“Damn it all!” Golshid howled, once again slamming his fist down on his armrest. “The wielder must have unequipped the baguayi!” He paused a moment, seemingly considering his options as he leaned and rested one hand on his cheek. “Well, she won’t get far … scramble Alfa-2 and have them—"

“Sir, Alfa-2 is disengaging from its holding area and plotting a return to base!” one of the technicians interjected. Turning to the visibly incensed Golshid, the man’s voice seemed uncertain as he added: “They … they’re saying that they received a recall order … Priority One.”

A chill ran down Golshid’s spine as the implications of that statement set in; however, before he could open his mouth to reply, another technician turned around to face him, holding a handset against one ear.

“General, it’s … it’s the President,” the technician said, her voice wavering. “They … they want a status report as soon as possible.”

Gulping, but doing his best to keep his composure, Golshid gave a curt nod to the technician. Standing up from his chair, he smoothed out the ceremonial robes of office he bore, draping down from a massive, ornamented mantle encasing his neck and shoulders. His motion caused all the technicians in the room to pause their activity, turn, and give General Golshid their full attention. 

“Please inform the President that I’m on my way—their Excellency deserves to hear about tonight’s operation in-person,” he stated to the technician who had spoken to him. Stepping away from his chair, Golshid turned and began to leave, but then paused in his gait. Swirling back around, Golshid pointed at the still-active monitors and readouts with a gloved hand. “Keep monitoring that inbound JSDF unit—I want a detailed report of their every movement to and from the area of operations!”            

“Yessir!” the technicians chorused, swiveling back around in their chairs to carry out the General’s orders. Satisfied with the response, Golshid allowed himself a small smirk before he again turned around and purposely strode out of the monitoring room, his mantle swirling around him like a velvety pair of wings.

As the pneumatic doors closed behind him, Golshid allowed his confident demeanor to wane as he walked down the brightly lit corridor to the nearest lift, thoughts swirling around his mind like errant bumblebees. He paid no heed to the various uniformed staff members and subordinates he passed along the way, answering their respectful greetings with a combination of quick nods and grunts, and broadcasting a clear message that he was not to be bothered.

Entering a vacant lift, Golshid pressed a button for the desired floor, and then swiped a reinforced keycard through a reader, as his destination was restricted to invitation only. As the lift began its ascent, Golshid turned and looked through the smoked glass walls of the cylinder to the nighttime vista beyond. For the first time that evening, he allowed his body to sag as he released a long-held sigh. 

‘What a colossal mess…’ Golshid thought with irritation. ‘This was supposed to be a simple recovery mission—but nothing about what happened tonight was detailed in any of the intelligence briefings! How did the JSDF get involved? Why were they at Professor Akitsu’s house at the same time as we were? And how did they have another candidate compatible with “Heaven”? Only Tekkoryu should have access to candidates with the necessary qualifications to wield a baguayi!

A chime sounded as the lift reached its destination on the top floor of the building, pulling Golshid from his thoughts. Turning around, he exited the lift into a less utilitarian and more ornately decorated hallway, with alternating tiles of marble flooring, walls decorated in rich tones of crimson and gold, and soft artificial lighting reminiscent of candles or torches illuminating from hidden sconces. Various pieces of art and antiquities, including painted scrollwork, armored suits, and decorative pottery lined the walls along the passage, though Golshid paid these priceless artifacts no mind as he strode down the hallway.

‘More to the point…’ Golshid continued to ponder, ‘How was a likely untrained wielder able to dispatch the bioroids we sent so easily? Those combat models were supposed to be the latest spec, according to those fossils down in the Science Division…’

Golshid stopped as he reached a tall pair of engraved wood doors at the end of the hallway. He reached up to knock, only to have the door slowly swing away from his fist and open on its own accord. Beyond the open entry, Golshid could hear the crackling of a fireplace and the faint smell of something sweet.

“Come in, General Golshid,” a voice from inside the room uttered smoothly.

Gulping, Golshid took a moment to gather himself—straightening his posture, smoothing out his cloak, and adopting as professional a demeanor as he could muster. After taking a deep breath, Golshid then confidently crossed the threshold and entered the inner sanctum of the Hau Dragon President.

Compared to the hallway outside, the circular room he now entered was simpler and almost austere in its design, with unadorned stone walls and a plain, low-pile, carpeted floor. Just off one wall sat a thick, wooden desk with a built-in monitor and keyboard, as well as a thickly bolstered leather chair placed just behind it. Multiple bookshelves filled with various portfolios, scrolls, and leather-bound volumes were built into recessed alcoves lining the perimeter of the room. The wall opposite the desk held an inset, brightly lit fireplace, with two large, high-backed, winged armchairs facing it and sitting atop a colorful, worn, Persian-style rug. The far wall, directly across from Golshid, had the room’s sole decoration—a massive, circular tableau depicting the snarling head of a dragon, in harsh relief and almost lifelike detail.

Spying a side table with glassware and an open bottle of wine atop it beside one of the armchairs, Golshid quickly moved towards the seating area, fell to one knee, and placed one outstretched fist on the ground. “Your Excellency,” he said with head bowed.

A slender hand with long, manicured fingers, brandishing a glass of blood-red wine, peaked out from behind the wings of the armchair.

“Report, General,” the same voice from earlier spoke, its inflection still rich and smooth— evidently belonging to the Hau Dragon President.

“We … we lost ‘Heaven,’ your G-Grace,” Golshid said, struggling not to stammer. “I … I take full responsibility for this blunder. It was my operational plan from the start, and though there were many unforeseen variables which hampered the execution, it ultimately rests on me to—”

“Oh, stop that, Kozo,” the President cut in, another hand emerging from inside the chair and waving back-and-forth in a dismissive manner. “Enough with the self-effacement—it’s unbecoming of our organization’s greatest tactical mind.”

“B-but your Excellency, I—”

“We both know that the data assembled for your operation did not account for the presence of a fully awakened relic” the President continued, pausing briefly to audibly sip from the wine glass. “Once ‘Heaven’ was active and in play, the troopers you sent to retrieve it had no chance of success. Our current generation of agents and combat bioroids can barely offer a challenge to our own baguayi wielders … how then could they hope to defeat a wielder of a baguayi powered by a true Dimensional Coupler?”       

The hand holding the wine glass reemerged, and slowly set the fluted chalice down on the side table. “Still, by all accounts tonight’s events proved a good demonstration of ‘Heaven’s’ potential, wouldn’t you agree?” the President remarked, causing Golshid to blanch as various implications from that statement flitted through his mind.

“Th-that may be t-true, your Grace…” Golshid said carefully, keeping his head bowed to hide his distemper. ‘B-but if you knew this might happen, why was I not briefed on…?” His question died off as laughter suddenly emerged from behind the armchair.

“Oh Kozo, you give me too much credit!” the President chortled with amusement. “Regardless, while the awakening of ‘Heaven’ may have accelerated some of the timetables for our scenario, our primary objective—the completion of the “Hades Project”—will continue as scheduled…” Golshid could almost feel the smirk on the President’s face as the hidden voice stated, “All is proceeding as I have foreseen.”

“Your wisdom is overwhelming as usual, your Excellency,” Golshid commented with almost genuine sincerity. “And what of the civilians who saw ‘Heaven’ in action? Or the JSDF units currently enroute to the wielder’s last location?”

“They are of no concern,” the President replied, once again waving a hand dismissingly. “While it is … unfortunate that our forces put in such a visible showing tonight—”

Golshid winced, but kept his head bowed low.

“—it is likely that the JSDF, or moreover whoever or whatever opposing force is backing them, will do our work for us by silencing any witnesses to tonight’s activities,” the President continued. “True, their methods will probably not be as … permanent, as what you or I might prefer, but I suppose we will just have to make do…”

Golshid gulped, struggling to think of something he could do to save face and salvage some of his likely diminished status after tonight’s proceedings. Caught up in his thoughts, Golshid did not notice as a hand reached out from the armchair and pressed a button imbedded in a console on the side table. A moment later, a hidden doorway set into one of the room’s walls opened. The scraping sound of sliding stone and grinding mechanics led Golshid to glance over in confusion … before he quickly turned away to hide his furious scowl.

‘Lingam! What’s that bootlick doing here?!’ Golshid screamed internally. Behind him, a mustached man dressed in similar robes stepped out of the hidden doorway, gliding smoothly over to the pair of armchairs before kneeling alongside Golshid. 

“Your Excellency,” General Lugius Lingam crooned, casting a slanted look over to a seething Golshid, who kept his own gaze downward with teeth gritted. “What do you command of me?” [8]

“General Lingam, take charge of briefing the Hakkeshu on the latest developments concerning ‘Heaven.’ Have them deployed on rotating patrols in anticipation of ‘Heaven’s’ eventual reemergence—neither the Hero nor the Dragon will be able to resist one another’s call for long…” the President ordered, “And if nothing else, tonight’s events have shown that the only power that likely has a chance of successfully challenging an awakened baguayi … is another baguayi.”

“As you command, your Grace, it will be done at once,” Lingam said oily. Casting another glance at Golshid and catching the latter’s eye, he added with a sneer, “I’ll be sure to instruct the Hakkeshu to remain circumspect—I imagine you don’t want any more attention drawn to us than has been already…”  

“Your Excellency! I must protest!” Golshid proclaimed, leaping to his feet as he spoke. Taking one step towards the armchair, he placed one hand against his chest, saying, “As the head of the Operations Division, it should be my responsibility to coordinate any tactical plans—”

“Need I remind you, General Golshid, the activities of the Hakkeshu do not fall under your privy,” the President calmly interjected, waving one finger in a ‘tut-tut’ motion from behind the chair. “Beyond the … personal conflict of interest you have, the Hakkeshu are by design their own separate administrative unit—outside the direct authority of any other organizational division. As co-lead of the Command Group and head of the Logistics Division, General Lingam is a better fit to function as their overseer.”

Chastened, Golshid grimaced and bowed his head, his face flushed as resumed his kneeling stance on the floor. Beside his fellow general, Lingam hid a leer behind his mustache.

“For the time being, I believe your skills and knowledge would best be served working alongside the Science Division towards the development of the next generation of combat bioroids,” the President stated. “Take whatever data you managed to acquire from the encounter this evening—I’m sure that Professor Lurahn and his fellow scientists are just itching to get their hands on it.”

Head still bowed, Golshid clenched his teeth and nearly had to bite down on his tongue to keep from screaming at the disgrace he was receiving.      

“A-as always, I am y-yours to command, your Grace,” Golshid said shakily, growling slightly as he heard a muffled s****** from beside him.

“Excellent! Then you both are dismissed…” the President said airily, reaching out to again grasp the wine glass before disappearing behind the armchair once more.

In tandem, Golshid and Lingam stood, bowed towards the back of the armchair, and then turned around to walk towards the main exit to the chamber. As they marched shoulder-to-shoulder, the two men locked eyes with one another—sparks seeming to fly between their gazes.

“This isn’t over Lingam! I won’t suffer such indignities for long!” Golshid muttered sotto voce between clenched teeth, resulting in a toothy grin from his companion.

“Enjoy your visit with those museum pieces down in the basement…” Lingam replied, his smile spreading the curved tips of his mustache. “Do be sure to dust away the cobwebs while you’re down there!”

Any further exchanges between the pair were cut off as they swiftly made their way out of the room. As the heavy wood and metal door latched close, a gentle quiet settled over the spartan chamber—interrupted only by the crackling of burning wood in the fireplace and the occasional sound of liquid being swallowed. A few minutes passed by before the calm was broken by a dulcet chuckle from behind the armchair.   

Placing the wine glass back down the side table, the Hau Dragon President slowly rose with the rustling of silk and the tinkling jingle of various pieces of jewelry. Stepping away from the fireplace, the President sauntered over to one of the bookcases lining the room, studying the volumes briefly before selecting and pulling out a leather-bound notebook. Rapidly flipping through the volume, the President paused on a particular page, then reached in and pulled out a photograph from a plastic casing inside. Lidded eyes beneath heavy lashes scrutinized the picture, which showed a baby lying in a plastic bassinet, swaddled in a blue blanket, with the faintest whisps of black hair growing on its head. Thick lips spread wide as they silently recited the child’s name, written in ink at the bottom of the photograph: ‘Masato (6/3/84).’

“La vie est drôle…”

The President had not been lying earlier when speaking with Golshid—the fact that Professor Akitsu had kept not only the unawakened ‘Heaven’ relic, but also one of its potential wielders in the same location for so long was not something the President had accounted for in any plan or scenario. It was beyond the President’s comprehension what would have motivated that “upstart” Akitsu to risk housing both together where they could be so easily recovered by Tekkoryu, as opposed to mitigating that possibility by separating the two as much as possible…

‘A fool to the end … I suppose you always were the sentimental type, Shigeharu…’  

Chuckling again, the Hau Dragon President carefully placed the photo back in the album and closed the book. Holding the volume under one arm, the President slowly glided over to the metal disc hanging on the far wall of the room. Reaching out to the snarling visage depicted in the relief, the President placed one lightly wrinkled hand on the dragon’s snout and began gently rubbing its cold, pitted surface. Slim fingers with long, painted nails lovingly caressed the scaly visage, slowly tracing over the various ridges and creases molded into its raised features, and pausing only briefly to probe at a seemingly fresh crack in the weathered and aged façade of the sculpture.

"At long last …” the President purred, “Now all the pieces are in play, and the game to crown Ruler of the Underworld can finally begin…”


“Why … why did you do this to me, Miku-chan…?”

“In essence, you are the key to either saving our world … or destroying it.”

“When I look at you, boy … all that I see … is the bastard spawn of a man that I hate.

“…Welcome to Last Guardian.”

COMING UP IN EPISODE 3:First Steps, Part 1: Last Guardian” 


[1]: When trying to envision the design for Zeorymer for use in this story, I wanted to have something that straddled the line between the “Traditional Magical Girl” w/mecha-inspired and/or armored aesthetic as seen in the likes of Lyrical Nanoha, Vividread Operation, or even Strike Witches!; and the more stripperific, leotard and/or spandex bodysuit w/powered armor, mecha musume look championed by the MS Girls, Symphogear, or Gonna Be the Twin-Tail! In other words, I wanted a design somewhere in-between [THIS] and [THIS]. Hopefully this all comes through in my description… 

[2]: The setting for most of this chapter is slightly based on the district of Inokashira, located on the northern edge of Fujinomiya in Shizuoka Prefecture. While there is a small village or town located there, I have no idea if it’s anything like what I’ve described since I only have Google Maps satellite images and street views to go from. If anyone from the area takes offense with my depiction, then I sincerely apologize.

[3]: I’m not going to say what song Masato was singing to himself just yet. The only hint that I’ll give is that it was composed by the same man who created the OST for the Hades Project Zeorymer OAV—Eiji Kawamura.

[4]: In truth, Sachiko is a character stolen, borrowed, adapted from, based on a similar character of the same name from Yoshiki Takaya’s more well-known work: Bio-Booster Armor Guyver. More specifically, she’s a character who appears in Volume 5, Chapter 34 of the manga, Episode 10 (“Haunted Village”) of the 1992 OVA, and Episode 17 (“The Nightmare Encircling Net”) of the 2005 TV series.

[5]: If it’s not clear what Masato did here, please rest assured that all will be explained later. I wanted to try and balance my “showing not telling” without being too obvious at this point.

[6]: For those unfamiliar with Japanese honorifics, Sachiko’s nickname for Masato translates more-or-less to “Big Sister Zeo[rymer].”

[7]: TITLE DROP! Seriously though, quite a bit of thought actually went into the creation of the title for MS Zeorymer. Too much for me to explain in a footnote, so I’ll expand on it elsewhere for anyone who’s interested in my creative process.

[8]: For those more familiar with the Hades Project Zeorymer OAV (and/or the inclusion of that version of the story in various Super Robot Wars/Taisen video games), Golshid, Lingam, and the President are characters from the original manga Project Zeorymer. Which is a hentai. Therefore, being NSFW, I will not include any links to images from said manga here.

Edited by Mares Guyver
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Episode 3: Awakening, Part III: Last Guardian

<Masato-kun… Masato-kun…>       

Flashes from rotating lights and the wailing of sirens issued up from the town in the valley below. In the abandoned warehouse at the base of the nearby mountain range, all was quiet save for a soft weeping emerging from its interior. Within the warehouse’s dusty confines, the still-armored form of Masato knelt on the cold, concrete floor, highlighted by beams of moonlight shining through the hole-ridden roof. His face was covered with both hands as he continued to sob despondently.

<Masato-kun, it’s okay!> Miku’s voice attempted to soothe. <Sachiko-chan … Pugi … all the people in that village—they’re all just fine!>  

“Y-you can’t be s-sure of that, M-Miku-chan!” Masato replied in a muffled blubber. Lowering his palms, the transformed teen sniffed and wiped furiously at his eyes. As tears continued rolling down his cheeks, he continued: “Wh-whatever that l-last th-thing I d-did was, it ne-nearly leveled the entire t-town!” 

<But it didn’t!> Miku countered. <I was able to channel the flow of extra-dimensional energy so that it propagated upwards towards the enemy, and away from the ground below!>

“And w-what if you hadn’t d-done that?!” Masato shot back. “W-what would have h-happened if you hadn’t r-redirected that attack—if a-all of that energy h-had been allowed to g-go off at full force from where we were standing?!” 

Miku’s silence was all the answer that Masato needed. Bowing his head, the boy-turned-girl looked down at his metal-encased, claw-tipped fingers. Gritting his teeth, he curled both of his hands into fists.     

“A-and… and th-that’s not even the w-worst of it…” Masato added, scrunching his eyes shut as he spoke, “W-when… when all was s-said and d-done… rather than s-stay and help, I ran away like a c-coward as soon as s-someone gave me a n-nasty look! S-some hero I turned out to be…”

<Oh, Masato…> Miku uttered sympathetically, but her words did not seem to register. Instead, Masato’s clenched hands began shaking, his arms quivered, and tears continued to fall from his eyes.   

“I don’t want this…” Masato muttered. He began tugging at the various layers of armor and fabric covering him. “I don’t want any of this! Get me out of this stupid outfit! Give me back my normal body!”


Masato blinked at the unexpected intrusion of the digitized voice from his armor. With everything which had happened since he transformed, he had almost forgotten about it until now.

<Masato-kun, wait—> Miku started to say.

“Yes, I want to ‘undo’!” Masato interjected with a yell, looking skyward, and throwing his arms out in the air. “I want to undo all of it right now!”


Once again Masato was consumed by a blazing gold light and rushing roar of noise. Miku’s voice quickly faded away as every nerve ending in his body suddenly lit on fire. Overwhelmed by the raw, unfiltered wave of sensation coursing through his being, Masato lost track of time as his consciousness dissolved into nothingness. He didn’t even realize that he had passed out until his eyes eventually opened. His view slowly focused, revealing that he was face-down on the dirty floor of the warehouse. 


Coughing out a mouthful of dust, Masato barely heard the words of the mechanical voice in his slowly emerging consciousness; however, his ears twitched as they took in the next sound to reach them:

“Masato… kun?”

Turning his head towards the hesitant voice, Masato’s eyes met the concerned, violet-hued gaze of Miku—once again corporeal and standing above him in her armored jumpsuit. Groaning, he unsteadily forced himself up on his hands and knees. Every single muscle ached as though he had just run a marathon. When Miku reached down and offered a gloved hand, Masato smiled and gratefully accepted the assist. He allowed himself to be pulled up until he was resting on both feet, held tightly in Miku’s arms, and braced supportingly against the body of the taller girl…


Sweat began beading on Masato’s forehead as he slowly pushed himself away from Miku. His anxiety rose as he realized that, even though he was now fully standing, he still had to tilt his view up a few inches to look into the girl’s eyes. He could clearly remember it having been the opposite before… 

Stepping backward, Masato nearly tripped as the heels of his now oversized shoes got caught in the cuffs of his pant legs—pooling up in multiple folds around the bottoms of his feet. Just as he was steadying himself, the waist of Masato’s pants began slipping down past his hips. He found himself letting out a panicked squeak as he quickly reached down to grab at his beltline. Grasping his too-loose trousers around his thighs, Masato then noticed that the sleeves of his shirt—which had previously just covered his upper arms—now reached well past his elbows.

With quivering, frightened eyes, Masato looked up desperately at Miku. The chestnut-haired girl’s own eyes were round and wide. She held up one shaking hand to cover her mouth in apparent shock.

“Masato…” Miku uttered waveringly. “You … you’re…”

Breathing heavily, Masato reached up with a free hand and clumsily unfastened the collar of his shirt. Yanking his top open, Masato looked down at the exposed neck hole to the only portion of the garment that had become tighter rather than looser. When Masato’s eyes fell on the two prominent bulges atop his chest, his mouth opened wide. He let loose a piercing scream—!

Gasping for air, Masato bolted upright from the bed on which he had been sleeping. His face was flushed and dripping with sweat as he struggled to catch his breath. Resting his forehead on raised knees, Masato waited until his heart rate and breathing both slowed. His shoulders slowly slumped as the tension gradually eased away. Once he felt slightly more settled, Masato looked up blankly— sluggishly taking in his new, unfamiliar surroundings.

The space was dark and barely illuminated; however, thanks to the soft glow of monitoring instruments, the various hums and beeps of machinery, and the mild, sterile odor of antiseptic, Masato was quickly able to deduce that he was in a hospital room of some sort. Looking down revealed that he was seated atop a standard diagnostic bed, He was clothed in a short-sleeved, robe-like gown, while a thin sheet and blanket covered his legs.

Masato scowled—he hated hospitals, having spent time in them far too often as a child. Additionally, he couldn’t remember how he had arrived in this room or who had changed his clothes. These facts, along with the lingering sense of unease from his recent nightmare, worked to spool a new coil of anxiety and rising panic at his core. As Masato began to hyperventilate, he rested a hand against his chest to calm himself … and jolted when his fingers pressed down against an unusually firm but pliant surface.

Swallowing a nervous gulp, Masato raised his hand back up. He used a finger to pull the neckline of his gown away from his body, and then (just like in his earlier dream) glanced down at the opening. Grimacing and ashen faced, he slowly released the gown, allowing the cloth to settle against the noticeable, weighty swells beneath it. Struggling to maintain his composure, Masato slowly trailed one of his arms down the length of his body. He then extended a hand above the space between his legs—giving his lower region a series of tentative pats with an open palm.

He felt nothing.

Choking back a rising lump in his throat, Masato wrapped both arms around his legs as he curled into a ball. He softly whimpered as he buried his head into the quickly dampening bed sheets atop his thighs. After a minute or two of quiet lamenting, Masato finally raised his head, sniffing and brushing away a thin trail of snot with the back of one hand. As Masato reached up to rub away at the moisture clouding his sight, a movement in the corner of his vision caught his attention. Warily, he turned and looked to his side—his eyes now having adjusted to the darkness and seeing the room’s interior more clearly.

On the opposite side of the room from Masato, sitting up in an identical bed, was a girl roughly the same age as him. The girl was likewise dressed in a pale medical gown, with wide eyes and a messy mop of auburn hair which fell just past her shoulders. Based on her raised palms, puffy eyes, and twin trails of moisture on both cheeks, it seemed like she had just finished a lengthy crying spell of her own. Her eyes gleamed in the room’s low lighting, as she stared back at Masato with a matching level of uncertainty and trepidation.

Gulping again, Masato raised his bedclothes away from his legs. Languidly swiveling around, he gently lowered both of his feet to the floor beside his bed—cautiously testing his weight against the ground.  

The girl across the room did the same, moving at an equal time and pace as he.

Keeping his eyes locked on his seeming roommate, Masato pushed himself off and away from the bed until he was standing upright. He took a tentative step … and nearly face-planted before catching himself on a metal standing table positioned next to his bed. Masato leaned against the table to steady himself—his legs quivering beneath him with an unexpected amount of weakness.

Opposite him, Masato could see that the girl had similarly lost her balance. Her legs wobbled as she too rested against a rolling tray table, seemingly also struggling to hold herself upright.

Closing his eyes, Masato took a few deep breaths, then pushed himself back to his full height … and nearly fell again, but this time he was able to catch himself and remain standing. Holding both arms out away from his body, Masato labored to maintain a sense of equilibrium as his weight shifted unfamiliarly beneath his waist. In all, it felt like a series of pins had been removed from his torso, leaving his hips free to sway and gyrate around his lower back like a spinning top. Hesitantly, and with arms still outstretched and slightly shaking, Masato slowly placed one trembling foot directly in front of the other. He then took a cautious step forward.

The girl across the room did the same, her raised arms also waving as she stared apprehensively at Masato.

Swallowing, Masato took another step … then another … and another … shuffling forward to the other side of the room like he was walking up high on a tightrope. Drawing closer to the girl (who was moving at a similarly measured stride), Masato could more clearly make out aspects which were harder to see at a distance and in the dim lighting of the room… 

For instance, the girl’s eyes—big and round, and colored a similar shade of rust brown as her hair. Or the girl’s figure, which though obscured by her gown, Masato could see was slender but well-proportioned. He was drawn out of these observations as the approaching girl sluggishly extended her open palm towards him, just as Masato was beginning to do the same. For a moment, Masato and the girl hesitated, each swaying unsteadily on their feet. Then they both breathed in, took one more step, and leaned forward until their fingertips touched…

…and Masato’s palm flattened against the cool, polished surface of a full-length mirror. All the while, he stared agape at his apparent, now undeniable reflection.

For the umpteenth time in recent memory, moisture built-up around Masato’s eyes as he gradually took in the image before him. Overall, this new, feminine form possessed softer, more rounded features than his formally sharper, more angular self. Poking and probing at his altered visage, Masato noted how his nose was now smaller and more upturned. His eyebrows were likewise thinner, while his eyelashes were thicker and more plentiful. 

However, despite these (and other obvious) physical differences, Masato could still see the cast of his old appearance in this different face he now wore. While thinner, the eyebrows had a similar overall shape to what he formally remembered lining his brow. Though longer and a different color, his head of auburn tresses retained the same overall texture and thickness as his previous mess of black locks. Even the eyes, now larger and more expressive, took the same angled tilt along their top edge that they had before above his hitherto narrower orbs. [1]

As Masato continued to examine his reflection, he saw a door behind him in the adjacent wall slide open. He then observed as Miku tentatively stepped through the opening— her body silhouetted against the harsh, fluorescent lights of the corridor outside, and carrying a covered tray with both hands. Rather than her combat jumpsuit or even the school uniform she had worn to Masato’s class, Miku was now dressed in a flowing, white blouse with a violet kerchief tied around her neck; a blue below-knee skirt; dark stockings; and ankle-length leather booties. When Miku turned towards the unoccupied medical bed, Masato noticed that she had pulled back two lengths of her hair behind her ears—tying them together in a thick braid which lay along the back of her otherwise loose curls. [2]

On not finding Masato in bed, Miku’s head whirled around, her eyes wide and frantic. She quickly scanned the rest of the room, nearly dropping the tray she was holding in the process. When she spotted Masato standing in front of the mirror on the far wall, the girl’s posture visibly relaxed.

“You’re awake! Thank goodness…” Miku said happily, a relieved smile on her face. “I was getting worried … you’ve been asleep for almost two days. The nursing staff only just took out your IV line an hour ago…”

Balancing the tray on one hand, Miku raised her free arm and snapped her fingers together. In response to the gesture, recessed lighting along the walls lit up and illuminated the room’s interior. As the room slowly brightened, Miku turned and stepped towards the bed, carefully placing the tray down on the table Masato had previously used to prop himself up. The girl paused, casting a momentary glance back towards Masato; however, he continued to stand with his back to her, silently staring at himself in the mirror. Miku’s smile wavered but she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and turned back to the bed.  

“I thought you might be hungry, so I made you some food,” Miku continued with a somewhat more forced level of cheer. She raised the cover on the tray, revealing a steaming bowl and utensils atop a plate. “It’s just rice porridge, so I’m sure it should be edible. Admittedly, my sense of taste is somewhat … unconventional.

Setting the tray cover on the bed, Miku again looked back at Masato. The transformed boy was still facing away from her, seemingly oblivious to her words and actions. Miku’s brows furrowed as a mix of emotions flashed across her face, and her lips tightened into a light frown. Huffing once sharply through her nostrils, Miku turned back to the bed, channeling her seeming turmoil into action as she forcefully straightened and folded the bed linens. After fluffing and resetting the bed’s pillows, she paused and cast another glance back over her shoulder. Masato remained standing and staring at his reflection. With a growing level of concern, Miku turned, her hands clasped below her waist and lightly fidgeting with her skirt.       

“Masato-kun…?” she uttered hesitantly. At the sound of his name Masato flinched, seemingly woken from his reverie. He briefly tilted his head towards Miku, but then just as quickly turned away. He began hugging himself with both arms as his body began to shake.

“Masato? There’s n-no Masato h-here…” he replied in a quiet and quaking tone of voice. “I’m … I’m just s-some girl, w-who h-has the memories of Masato Akitsu, b-but … who d-doesn’t recognize h-her own face … or … or even know … h-her own name…”

Miku’s eyes widened. She slowly began making her way across the room, walking with soft steps so as not to startle the obviously distraught teen. As Miku approached, Masato bent over as if in pain. Reaching up, he grabbed both sides of his head, tightly clutching stray hairs between his fingertips as his eyes trembled in their sockets. 

“Or … or is it, t-that I r-really am Masato Akitsu … who’s c-changed from a boy into a girl?” Masato continued, his voice gradually increasing in volume and pitch as he spoke. “But … but t-that can’t happen, r-right? I mean, heh … that’s the k-kind of thing t-that only happens in-in anime! Or, hehe … or in a s-stupid light novel!”

“Masato-kun, it’s…” Miku began to say. She reached out one hand in a comforting gesture, only to have him jerk away from her hold. 

“This can’t be happening! This … this can’t be real!” Masato shouted, his tone becoming more frantic and unhinged with each word. “That’s it—this is a dream! Yeah, this is all … just some really, really, bad dream … and I just need to wake up!”

“Masato-kun, this isn’t—!” Miku tried to interject; however, she was once again ignored by the increasingly manic and agitated Masato.

“Yeah, I just need to wake up!” Masato cried out before he forcefully slammed his forehead against the reflective surface of the mirror. A spider’s web of cracks splintered outward from the point of impact. Staggering backward, Masato wobbled on his feet, and a trickle of blood trailed down between his bugged-out, unfocused eyes. “This kind of thing always works in the movies—I’ll just keep going until I’m back at home and in my real body!”

“MASATO!!” Miku exclaimed. She rushed forward, hugging Masato from behind before he could once again dash his head against the broken surface of the mirror. 

Masato’s body stiffened in response to the sudden contact. His eyes shifted rapidly, his nostrils flared, and his teeth ground together as saliva bubbled at the corners of his lips. The teen briefly wrestled against the iron-like hold around his trunk, but Miku held firm—burying her face into the back of Masato’s head and clutching against him tightly. After a moment, the tension in Masato’s body slackened. His eyes then cleared and focused as he gradually emerged from his brief bout of hysteria. Staring blankly at the mirror, he blinked with confusion at his cracked image, before finally noticing Miku behind him in the splintered reflection. As Masato took in the sight of Miku’s body—fully visible behind his slighter frame—and as he likewise became aware of the feeling of her larger form bearing down on him, the full magnitude of his new reality finally set in.

The pair’s broken image blurred as tears rapidly clouded Masato’s vision. Covering his face with his hands, he let out a high-pitched keening as he bent over, crumpling like tissue paper as Miku continued to hug him firmly from behind. The pair remained that way for a time, with Miku holding Masato as he cried in a wordless mix of despair and anguish. Eventually, Masato’s sobs slowed and then eventually stopped. Leadenly, his arms dropped to his sides—his head and body hanging limp in Miku’s arms.

“Why…?” Masato finally said in a hoarse and rasping voice. “Why d-did you d-do this to me, Miku? I thought … I thought you said that … I’d be able to c-change back. That … that if we were able to undo our transformation, we … we’d both go back to being … ourselves again.”

Miku didn’t answer right away. Her grip tightened around Masato’s midsection and her face pressed down more firmly against his scalp. Despite his current melancholy, Masato’s cheeks still blushed from the sensation. After a moment, Miku exhaled … and then tilted her face up and looked over the top of Masato’s crown. She caught his downcast gaze in the mirror—her own eyes now equally red and puffy. 

“I’m sorry, Masato,” Miku uttered sorrowfully. “Truly … I’m so, so sorry. I wish … I wish that I had answers … that I could give to you. Something … that I could say which would somehow … provide you some peace of mind … but I can’t.

Masato broke their shared look. Tilting his head down, he gazed at his hands, absently curling his fingers in and out.

“You keep calling me, ‘Masato’…” he croaked out, sniffing a few times as he continued: “B-but, how c-can you be sure that’s w-who I am? That … that I’m r-really Masato Akitsu, and not someone else? E-ever since I’ve woken up … n-nothing about this body … about me … has felt right!”

Once again, Miku didn’t immediately answer; instead, she slowly turned Masato around inside her arms until he was facing her instead of their shattered reflection. Reaching up, she untied the kerchief around her neck, gathered it in one hand, and began softly dabbing away the line of blood still running down Masato’s face. As she continued her ministrations, Miku rested her other palm lightly against the side of Masato’s face. These gentle acts drew yet another furious blush from the transformed boy. [3]

“Because I know you, Masato Akitsu,” Miku finally said with quiet confidence, still softly patting at the wound on his head. She paused, lowered the hand holding the kerchief, then used her free hand to tilt Masato’s head up until they again met each other’s gaze. Masato’s watery, reddish-brown eyes stared up warily into Miku’s glimmering, violet orbs. “I know you better than anyone—better than maybe even you know yourself. I’d recognize you no matter what shape your outside takes, because … to me … Masato is Masato.”

“How…?” Masato breathed, his eyes questioning and unsure. “We’ve only known each other … for a few hours at the most!”

“Because in that time you and I have been closer than any two people in recorded history,” Miku replied unabashedly. She began gently stroking the side of Masato’s face with her fingers. “We literally became one being—heart, mind, and … and everything else that matters!” Closing her eyes, Miku touched her forehead against his, saying: “While we were combined, I became privy to everything about you—everything that you felt and experienced, I did as well. I felt your fears, your joys, your resolve and sense of justice, and your care for the well-being of others…” Her eyes opened, shimmering with undisguised affection. “With all of that, how could I not know you, Masato?”

Embarrassed by this revelation from the taller girl, Masato cast his gaze down. However, Miku gently cupped his chin with her hand, slowly tilting his blushing face up until his eyes once again locked on hers.

“What’s more … even before you activated that artifact and we became Zeorymer, I tried to learn everything I could about you from the few communications that our … fathers exchanged over time,” Miku said, her lips curved up in a gentle smile. “I know that your favorite color is black … that your astrological sign is Gemini … that you prefer fried tofu over grilled fish…” Her eyes took on a mischievous twinkle. “Academically, I know that you love science, but that you hate language arts…” 

Despite everything, Masato found himself snorting briefly, and Miku’s smile widened at this display of mirth given his previous state of despair. Slowly, she began brushing the back of Masato’s head with her fingertips. “I learned all these things, so that when we finally found and met one another, I could be the best partner to you that I could possibly be,” she uttered tenderly, all the while continuing her gentle caress.

“Why?” Masato questioned softly, unconsciously leaning into Miku’s touch. “Why would you … do all of that, Mi-Miku?” In response, Miku hesitantly pulled back, and then tilted Masato’s head up with both hands.

“Didn’t I tell you before, Masato?” Miku asked with a gentle quirk of her lips. “You are my destiny—the one I’m fated to be with so that I can be made complete. I’ll never leave you, and I’ll never abandon you.” Bending forward, Miku once more wrapped her arms around Masato’s body, embracing him tenderly as she rested his head on her shoulder. “So, if you can’t trust in yourself … then trust in me, Masato,” she whispered into his ear, causing a shiver to run down his spine.

For a moment, Masato stood rigidly in Miku’s embrace—frozen by the waves of unfamiliar feelings rippling through his altered physical form. Then he raised his own arms, curled them around Miku’s frame, and hugged the other girl back. His grip was tepid at first, but gradually–eventually–increased in strength and force.

As much as his pride would have had him try to deny it, Masato admitted it felt … nice… to be held like this. It certainly had been a while, as Masato’s father had been sparse in physical displays of affection—particularly once Masato had reached a certain age. No, the last time Masato could recall being held like this … was in foggy, disjointed memories … of his mother, before she had died. 

The pair continued hugging each other for some time—Miku softly stroking Masato’s head, while Masato clung to Miku with an almost desperate abandon. 

“Are you feeling better now?” Miku eventually asked. She smiled as felt Masato’s head nod from its position deep in the crook of her neck. Issuing a light sigh of relief, she added, “That’s good to hear…” Taking a deep breath, Miku straightened her posture, held Masato lightly by his shoulders, and then spoke with a more business-like tone:

“Unfortunately, as enjoyable as this is, I’m afraid my father and other representatives of Last Guardian have been waiting so that they can debrief you. So, how about you eat a little food, and then you can change into some fresh clothing…” She tittered briefly, but then caught herself before saying somewhat sheepishly, “I’m sorry to say that your school uniform … is probably too big for you now, though I still made sure to have it cleaned and laundered. Fortunately, it turns out that our sizes are quite similar, so I’m happy to lend you some of my old clothes until we can go shopping together for some newer outfits…”

As her voice trailed off, Miku lowered her arms and began turning to step away. She paused when she felt Masato’s fingers dig into the back of her blouse, holding her in place. Twisting back, Miku looked down at the mess of auburn locks below her nose, as Masato buried his head deep into her collarbone.  

“Miku…” Masato whispered, with his voice muffled by the folds of her clothing. “Can … can we stay like this … for just a little while longer. Please?”  In response, Miku’s face softened, her eyes shining like jewels as she smiled fondly at the boy-turned-girl.

“Of course,” she replied, before leaning forward and once again wrapping Masato in her embrace. "Of course..." She repeated, sinking into his body, and closing her eyes.

After regaining his composure, Masato elected not to don any of the frilly, feminine garments which Miku provided in favor of some standard-issue hospital pajamas, a thick hanten jacket, clean boxer shorts, and a pair of indoor slippers.

He had also managed to eat most of the food Miku had made for him, since at first it had at least looked, smelled, and tasted like regular rice porridge: However, as soon as he swallowed his first bite, Masato had found himself feeling everything, everywhere all at once as his soul briefly ascended to a higher plane of existence.

Once he was resuscitated, and despite a lingering gastrointestinal upset, Masato had doggedly committed to finishing the rest of the meal. Throughout, it seemed like Miku was on the verge of bursting into tears (whether from joy or dismay, Masato couldn’t tell) as she watched him take each shaky bite.

Now Masato found himself slowly hobbling down a tiled, brightly lit hallway, holding tightly onto a guide rail mounted on the wall with one hand. Miku walked beside him, dutifully providing support by holding onto Masato’s other arm since he was still shaky and unsteady on his feet.

The pair walked in a companionable silence. Masato, bleary-eyed and blank-faced, was totally disoriented and lost in his thoughts.

Miku, for her own part, was singularly focused on acting as Masato’s crutch and protective shield against any random passersby they encountered in the hall. Regardless, though neither spoke a word, the pair’s tightly interlocked fingers, the gentle rubbing by Miku of Masato’s arm, and the telltale light touches of red on both their faces told all.

Eventually, the two paused in front of one of the many identical doors lining the hallway. Masato watched vacantly as Miku pulled out a key card from her skirt and held it against a reader beside the door, causing the entry to open with a brief pneumatic hiss. A light reverberation from overlapping conversations spilled out into the hallway, but quickly tapered off as Miku carefully escorted Masato into the room proper. 

Casting his eyes nervously around the new space, Masato saw that he and Miku had entered some sort of auditorium or lecture hall. Multiple rows of chairs and curved tables ran the length of the room, leading down to a raised dais and podium standing before a projection screen, opposite the door Masato and Miku had just entered.

Men and women clad in short-sleeved, military service uniforms looked back from their seats. They eyed the two newcomers with a mix of confusion and curiosity.

“Is that…?”

“Eh? Himuro’s do-daughter? Creeeee-py…” 

“Funny … I thought it was a boy that was recovered from…”

“Huh. Well, whoever the new girl is, she’s kind of cut—oof!

Feeling the weight of the assorted looks and hushed whispers from the room’s occupants, Masato shrank back towards Miku. The other girl stared back unwaveringly; one arm draped protectively over Masato’s shoulders as she drew him closer to her side.

On the dais, a tall, slender man donned in a dark business suit and sunglasses briefly raised an eyebrow before straightening some papers atop the podium. Beside the tall man, an older gentleman with slicked-back, white-streaked hair, wearing a white lab coat and wraparound visor, glowered up at the pair of teens.

“How nice of you to finally join us…” the older man pronounced, his raised voice oozing sarcasm and contempt. 

The comment elicited a series of soft chuckles from some of the others seated in the room. Chastised, a red-faced Masato sank even deeper against Miku, curling his arms around himself and trying to become as small as possible.

Next to the older gentleman, the man at the podium coughed once sharply into his fist. His action caused the other people gathered to turn back towards the front of the auditorium.      

“Alright, alright … let’s settle down…” the tall man said in an authoritative baritone. Looking up at the pair by the doorway, he gestured at them with a brief handwave. “You two—take a seat while we finish up here.”

“Yes, sir,” Miku replied. The pair gradually began making their way down the central aisle, before entering an empty row of seats near the back of the hall. Miku carefully guided Masato towards the second chair in the row, and then firmly held onto his upper arms as he shakily lowered himself down. Once she was sure Masato was secured, Miku sat in the chair next to him.

On the dais, the tall man once again straightened his papers before casting his covered gaze at the rest of the hall. Behind him on the screen, an overhead, satellite image of a cluster of small houses and buildings along a central road appeared.    

“Continuing from where we left off … as of 1100 hours all recovery and cleanup operations in the vicinity of Mount Kenashi were suspended. All told, there were at least 42 civilian casualties—mostly consisting of minor to moderate injuries not requiring hospitalization—and a significant but not irreparable level of property damage,” The man behind the podium paused, and briefly tilted his head in Masato’s direction. “No fatalities.”

Masato released a held-in breath, slumping forward with relief while a smiling Miku patted his back. The boy’s respite was short-lived however, as a voice from the assembly spoke up: 

“Sir, maybe there weren’t any civilians killed in the operation, but what about the squad that got sent into Fuji City? I heard that not one of them made it back alive!”

“That’s right!” another voice chimed in. “I had friends on that team—they were told it was going to be a routine extraction, not a suicide mission!”

“And for what?!” yet another voice added. “To retrieve a few trinkets and some brat? How is that supposed to be explained to their families?!”

As the clamor of angry voices rose, several members of the crowd stood up from their seats, pointing fingers and gesturing animatedly with their arms.

In contrast, Masato slumped further down in his chair, his face ashen and expression downcast as he hugged his own arms around himself. Beside him, Miku’s face was mostly neutral, though a twinge of worry peaked through every time she glanced over at the teen beside her. 

Standing behind the podium, the face of the tall man was inscrutable (thanks in part to his sunglasses) though his lips were pursed tightly together. Next to him, the older gentleman just ruefully shook his head.

A minute more of cacophonous grumbling passed, but then the tall man raised his hand to signal for silence. After a moment, he was obeyed as the voices of the crowd gradually faded away.  

“Our sympathies go out to the kin of our comrades killed in action—know that they will be well compensated for their losses by the federal government,” the tall man stated, “However, we are at war. All of you … everyone here working for Last Guardian … and particularly those in the Combat Division … have accepted the risks that come with being this country’s—perhaps the world’s—final line of defense.” 

Acknowledging mutters issued out from most of the crowd, though a few others remained standing with folded arms and angered looks. But before anyone could utter another word, the tall man again raised his hand. 

“Unless you have any statements or questions relevant to the current operation, please keep it to yourselves until after the conclusion of the briefing,” the tall man stated evenly. After another moment, those still standing returned to their seats. “Thank you.”

“While we are no longer performing cleanup work, the village is still being kept in communications blackout for the next 24 hours, after which phone lines will be continuously monitored,” he continued. “Most of the locals seem to have accepted our cover story of a test of prototype military combat gear having gone awry, though a few holdouts had to be offered payment for their silence. It’s unlikely that we’ll have to introduce amnesiacs into the local water supply, or take more drastic measures…” 

The tall man’s lips twitched slightly, conveying the barest hint of a smirk. “Some of the town’s elders have even begun gathering at their local shrine—making prayers and offerings to what they’re calling ‘Meiou Shojo’—the ‘Hades Maiden.’”

The last comment from the stage resulted in a few snorts, brief guffaws, or amused eyerolls from various members of the audience. In contrast, Masato’s face held a more pensive expression. With eyes unfocused, he absently rubbed his hands together while half-remembered words echoed in his mind: 

Become the Hades Maiden, Zeorymer … and tear open the gates of the Underworld!

Unaware of Masato’s silent agonizing, the tall man briefly shuffled and studied the packet of papers atop the podium. He then turned his sunglasses-covered view back towards the assembly.

“Alright, that concludes the main items for today’s briefing,” the tall man said. “Supplementary documentation and other operational updates will be available in your respective departments. Dismissed.”

In response to the man’s declaration, most of the audience stood, saluted, and then began slowly making their exits—speaking to one other in hushed, low tones. As the group of uniformed adults passed by the pair of teens, some threw furtive, inquisitive glances in Masato’s direction; however, they just as quickly looked away after locking eyes with Miku’s unblinking stare. Soon the room was empty, save for the two adolescents, a few stragglers chatting amongst themselves, and the pair of men atop the stage.

The tall man quickly stepped down from the platform and began striding up the aisle towards Miku and Masato. The older gentleman trailed just behind his younger companion—arms folded behind his back as he hobbled along at a more leisurely pace.

Stopping in front of the younger pair, the tall man nodded once at Miku, who gave a small, polite smile in return. He then looked down at the dazed, hunched-over figure sitting next to her. “Masato Akitsu?”

Once more, Masato winced and fidgeted at the sound of his own name, but eventually turned away from Miku and looked up with lidded, uncertain eyes. He blinked on finding a hand stretched out to him by the tall man.

“Greetings,” the man said in an unexpectedly genial tone. “I’m Isao Oki.” [4]

“Oki…?” Masato said hazily, distracted by the brief memory of a smirking, jump-suited soldier flashing through his mind. The transformed boy then blinked a few times, his eyes widening with a sudden lucidity. ‘Oh… oh!Reaching up, Masato shook the suited man’s hand, blushing and saying, “It’s, umm … it’s nice to meet you … Oki-san.” 

The corner of Oki’s lip twitched, and though his face remained largely unreadable behind his sunglasses. “We’ve actually met before, but we’ll talk more on that another time…” he said, seemingly amused at Masato’s open-faced bewilderment. “It’s good to see you’re finally up and about.”

“Took him long enough … one might think he was meant to be a woman all along, given how much time this boy kept all of us here waiting…” the elderly man grumbled as he caught up to the group. He gave Masato a quick once-over, briefly tilted his head to a sour-looking Miku and blank-faced Oki, and then turned back to Masato with a fresh scowl. “I’m Himuro.” [5]

Blinking rapidly, Masato struggled briefly to formulate a response to the gruff words from the elderly man—evidently Miku’s father. “Uhh … I’m sorry?” he offered lamely. “By the way, I’m—"

“I know who and, more importantly, what you are, boy,” Professor Himuro said sharply. As his visor-covered gaze drifted over Masato his scowl, if possible, deepened even further. “Good grief—what happened to your head?!”

“Oh, uhh …” Masato said awkwardly, reaching up and touching the purple kerchief tied around his scalp. “I had … a little bit of an accident … earlier in my room.” 

Hmph! You would do well to take better care of that brand-new body of yours, boy…” Professor Himuro harrumphed, before turning around and beginning to walk back to the front of the room. “A little extra meat in your diet would likely cure such womanly clumsiness,” the older man added as he shuffled away, then paused his stride, and glanced back over his shoulder. 

“Well? Bring him along now, girl!” the scientist barked at Miku, before turning aware and continuing his forward march. “Also, do try to make sure that our … little herbivore … doesn’t injure himself any further.”

Yes, sir…” Miku replied dryly. Her lips were pressed thin, and her voice carried the slightest hint of an edge to it. 

Confused at the flat tone of voice towards her (seeming) parent, Masato glanced at Miku. It seemed to take a moment before she registered Masato’s questioning look—caught up as she was glaring at the retreating scientist.

Once she caught on, Miku smiled back awkwardly, then gave Masato’s shoulder a light squeeze of (what she hoped came across as) reassurance.

Guiding the still-unsteady Masato by one arm, Miku and he began making their own gradual hike down the aisle, with Oki following just behind the slow-moving pair. The procession made their way down to the front of the hall, turned, rounded one side of the podium, and exited the auditorium through a side door into an identical corridor to the one Masato and Miku had previously trudged through.

After marching past several identical doorways, Professor Himuro paused, flashed a fob at the reader by one of the doors, and entered the chamber just beyond followed shortly by the others.

Crossing over the threshold, Masato briefly blinked at the change in lighting before looking up, finding that their group had entered a small conference room. The low-ceilinged space was primarily filled by a rectangular configuration of modular tables and rolling chairs. A ring of fluorescent lighting hung down from the ceiling, and a cluster of illuminated monitors and manned consoles lined one wall, while a series of built-in counters and storage units sat mounted on the other. 

Aside from uniformed personnel seated at the consoles, the room’s only other occupant was a statuesque, ginger-haired woman leaning against the conference table, reading an open file folder in one hand, The woman was dressed in a fitted, tri-colored blouse with a continental tie; a black, knee-length pencil skirt; and a pair of shiny, low-heeled black pumps. Seemingly unaware of the group’s entry, the professional-looking lady occasionally took bites from a red paste-filled sweet bun held with wrapping paper in her free hand.

“Valcuria?!” Professor Himuro exclaimed, causing the woman to glance up, mid-bite into her pastry. “What in the blazes are you doing here?” 

Quickly moving around Miku and Masato, Oki stepped forward, straightening his tie as he placed himself between Professor Himuro and the chagrined woman at the table. “Inspector Forsberg, this is an unexpected pleasure…” he began in English, only to be cut-off by a quick laugh from the female across from him.

“Charm will get you nowhere, Oki, but don’t let that stop you from trying…” the woman said with a smirk, her voice carrying a light accent despite her fluent speech. After closing her folder and placing it (and the half-eaten bun) on the table behind her, the woman faced the group, one hand resting on her hip. “I’ve been waiting for well over an hour…” she added with a pout, wiping crumbs from the corners of her mouth daintily with light-touches from her manicured and painted fingers. “I even had to skip my lunch.”

Gulping, Oki coughed once into his hand before speaking, once again in his previous diction. “I’m truly sorry, Inspector Forsberg,” he said carefully. “And I believe I speak for both Professor Himuro and myself when I say that we greatly appreciate your patience…” 

Behind Oki, Professor Himuro gave a quick snort of derision, but quieted after Oki briefly shot the older man a hard look over his shoulder.

“However, if we knew you were coming today, we could have rescheduled our planned briefings to give you the necessary time…” Oki continued, but trailed off as the blonde waggled a finger at him in a “tut-tut” motion. 

“Ahh … but you should have anticipated my arrival after your recent foray into the field…” the woman said airily, once again smirking as she flashed her emerald eyes at Oki. Reaching down, she picked up the folder on the table and held it up with one hand. “Or did you forget the terms of your charter with the United Nations?”

“Now just a minute, missy, you can’t just—!” Professor Himuro began to retort, only to be cut off by Oki throwing out one arm in a blocking motion.

“I’m well aware of our obligations for full and immediate disclosure of our operations, and all of us here are grateful to the UN’s continued support of our mission…” Oki replied evenly, throwing another warning glance at the elderly scientist behind him. “But now really isn’t the time to—"         

“Now is precisely the time for us to speak, Deputy Commander Oki,” the woman said firmly. She began thumbing through the folder with both hands. “Over the last week you have run through more capital and joint assets than the last two years combined. Your operations report and daily briefs certainly answered the who, what, where, and how, but you’ve failed to adequately explain or justify the why…” Closing the folder again, the woman cast her gaze over the top of the manilla file. “As such, gentlemen, in the interests of operational oversight…” she stated, turning her head, and looking straight at Masato: “I’ve come to inspect.”   

Under the pressure of the heavy-lashed stare, Masato once again shied away towards Miku. In turn, the taller girl moved in front of the shorter “boy” while glaring up at the older woman. 

“Girl, enough!” Professor Himuro hissed, causing the girl in question to quickly look at him. They held their gaze for a long moment, but eventually Miku looked away with a frown—taking a step back while remaining close to Masato.

Flashing a superior smirk, the strawberry-blonde sauntered forward until she stood before the pair of teens, arms folded loosely below her ample chest. “You are Masato Akitsu, I presume?” she asked, her smile widening after receiving a confirmatory head nod. “I’m Valkyria Forsburg—Last Guardian’s assigned UN liaison.” She held out one of her hands as her voice took a friendlier tone: “But you can feel free to call me ‘Valla’, okay Masse?” [6] [7]

“Umm, okay … it-it’s n-nice to m-meet you, V-Valla-san,” Masato said hesitantly, his eyes shifting between looking at the floor and glancing up at the buxom lady before him. He tentatively reached up to shake the woman’s outstretched hand, but then squeaked as Valkyria wrapped her hand around his and pulled his arm out towards her. A golden bangle with a single inset jewel bounced on Masato’s wrist due to the sudden jostling.

“Is this the artifact that the late Professor Akitsu was studying?” Valkyria asked casually, lightly caressing the thin band with the fingers of her free hand. Ignoring Masato’s furious blush, the taller woman reached down and grabbed Masato’s other arm. Raising the limb up revealed an identical bangle dangling from Masato’s wrist, which Valkyria touched and began rolling between her fingertips. “It’s smaller than I thought it’d be…” 

“We believe that the artifact converter is currently in some sort of energy conservation mode…” Oki chimed in, moving closer to the group. “It is likely a safety feature installed to make the overall device less conspicuous when not in use.”

“I actually didn’t even notice I was wearing them…” Masato added sheepishly. Sweat beaded on his forehead as his arms continued to be held in Valkyria’s grasp. 

Hmph! I suppose we’ll just have to add ‘lack of situational awareness’ to your running list of character flaws…” Professor Himuro groused from outside the impromptu huddle.

Masato blinked as he slowly processed the cantankerous remark from the elderly scientist. He started opening his mouth to reply, but quickly went silent as Valkyria suddenly cupped the underside of his chin with one of her hands. Squeezing the transformed boy’s cheeks between her fingers, the older woman tilted Masato’s head up, leaned in, and brought her face uncomfortably close to his.

Märkvärdig…” Valkyria exhaled in her native tongue. With shameless disregard, she slowly tilted Masato’s flushed and sweating face left and right, examining him as if he was a prime cut of beef at the butcher. “I can certainly see the resemblance to the photos in his dossier … but it is still an amazing physical transformation.” She glanced sideways towards the two grown men. “And you’re sure he has become completely female?” 

“Of course!” Professor Himuro barked with a fresh scowl. “We gave that boy a total physical examination as soon as he arrived. He’s not only become feminine in appearance, but also in terms of his complete internal biology. Even his chromosomal sequencing reflects a female genotype. By all counts, it’s as if ‘he’ was originally born a ‘she’.” 

“I see…” Valkyria remarked, turning back to her inspection of Masato—still held fast in her grasp. As Valkyria’s eyes met those of the furiously blushing teen, another teasing grin broke out on the older woman’s face. “Aww... vad bedårande,” she cooed, lightly licking her lips. “Maybe I should have you for lunch instead…”

A slender set of fingers smoothly wound their way around Valkyria’s wrist, before suddenly clamping down, hard. The tall woman let loose a pained gasp, before tilting her head to give a wincing look to her side. 

“You’re scaring him,” Miku said—her face hard-set, eyes aglow, and skin gleaming faintly with lines of light. 

“You, girl!” Professor Himuro yelled, stomping one foot for emphasis. “Stop this foolishness right now!” 

Miku’s expression briefly flickered, but just as quickly hardened again. Her grip then tightened even further around Valkyria’s wrist, with an audible crackling of tendons.

Det är okej, Professor—it’s all good,” Valkyria muttered through clenched teeth. She briefly glanced at the aged scientist before again locking eyes with Miku. The older woman still bore a smirk, though with an increasing amount of strain in her smile. “I’m simply being shown my place, is all.”

As the standoff continued, Oki quietly made his way behind Miku. Placing a hand on one of the brunette’s shoulders, he whispered, “Miku-kun, please…”  

Miku tilted her head back, briefly staring at Oki out the corners of her eyes before again locking eyes with Valkyria. A mix of emotions passed over her features, but after a moment she relaxed her grip on the older woman’s wrist. In turn, Valkyria released her hold on Masato’s face. rubbing at her wrist with her other hand.

“Kids these days…” Valkyria said with a nonchalant shake of her head, before turning to the elderly scientist. “It seems that your daughter could use some added programming on manners, Supreme Commander Himuro.”

The older man only answered with a grunt, shifting his gaze from Valkyria to Miku with a deep frown of disappointment. Miku held the look briefly, but then tilted her own head down with seeming shame. Beside the two teens, Oki looked on neutrally, while Masato took in the entire scene with a mix of confusion and befuddlement.

“This is starting to wear on my patience…” Professor Himuro finally said, shuffling over to a chair at the conference table and slumping down into it. He tilted his visored gaze over to Oki. “Well… let’s get this over with!”  

“Sir,” Oki said with a small nod of understanding. Looking at those assembled, he gestured at the table with one arm. After a beat, one-by-one Valkyria, Miku, and Masato took their own seats.  

Oki was the last to sit, and as he did so he signaled a pair of technicians seated at the consoles at the end of the room, who nodded and began inputting commands into their terminals. The lights throughout the conference room dimmed as a large projection screen on one wall lit up. A brief display of static eventually resolved into a male figure in a lab coat, standing next to an examination table in a familiar-looking laboratory.     

“Dad…” Masato exhaled, his eyes glistening as he sat up in his chair and took in the image on the screen. Miku gave the transformed boy a quick look of concern, but then shifted her eyes back to the recording.

Masato, if you’re watching this, then it means that my time’s run out, and the illness I’ve been fighting these last several months has taken me before I could complete my work,” Professor Akitsu’s image stated. “With all hope, you were safely delivered into the custody of my mentor, Professor Ryozo Himuro, and his colleagues at Last Guardian. Rest assured, for while Professor Himuro and I may have had … disagreements which led us to part ways, we were always aligned in our shared effort to stop any looming threats to mankind.” 

Professor Himuro scoffed once loudly, but after a brief glance from Oki, he quieted with an indignant huff.

“There’s far too much that needs to be said, Masato, and not nearly enough time to explain everything in a single recording…” Professor Akitsu continued. “What I can say, and what will likely be elaborated on by others, is that at this moment the world stands on the brink of calamity from an ancient and formidable evil. What’s more, in order to fight this evil, you have been chosen to be the bearer of a great and terrible power … one that has the potential for either limitless creation or relentless destruction. In other words, you are the key to either saving this world, or destroying it.”

Masato’s eyes widened, his mouth hanging slightly open as his mind digested this revelation—flashing back to the various feats he had performed after he and Miku had transformed into Zeorymer. He was pulled back from his reminiscing as the recording continued:

“Before I speak on these things further, there is something important I must share with you…” In the recording, Professor Akitsu paused, looking down and pinching the bridge of his nose. He then exhaled sharply before looking up again. “The truth is … I am not your father, Masato.”

“What?” Masato said in a small, strained voice, drawing yet another concerned glance from Miku. ‘I’m … I’m not … his son? That … that can’t…’

On the screen, a faded picture of a group of four people wearing matching lab coats and visors appeared, including visibly younger Professors Akitsu and Himuro.

“Well before you were born, I worked as an assistant to Professor Himuro, alongside your mother, Michiru, and … and your real father … Professor Himuro’s business partner, Masaki Kihara,” Professor Akitsu said. “At the time, the four of us were employed as researchers for an organization known as Nematoda. While Nematoda touted itself as a benevolent, humanitarian group, in truth it was a criminal cabal bent on nothing less than world domination.”

By this point, Masato had sunk back in his chair, his eyes wide and mouth open as he slowly shook his head side-to-side in disbelief, while Miku rubbed his shoulder in a comforting gesture. On the screen, the image of the group of four faded, then began shuffling between other pictures of various other scientists, buildings, and locations.

“Ten years ago, after realizing the true intentions of our employers, a group of scientists led by Professor Himuro concocted a plan to stop Nematoda before their schemes of world conquest could reach fruition.” Professor Akitsu’s voice expounded as his image returned. “Working from within, we planted the seeds for a chain of events designed to gradually bring about Nematoda’s destruction; however, just as our plans were to be set in motion, we were betrayed by Kihara, who ratted us out to Nematoda’s leadership. To avoid capture, Professor Himuro and a few of his collaborators chose to initiate our planned endgame early, after which we all quickly sought to make our escape; however, in the chaos, your mother … and your father … were both killed.”

Masato leaned forward, his hands clasped in front of his mouth and elbows resting on the conference table. 

“Professor Himuro and I managed to make it to safety, along with several artifacts which were crucial to Nematoda’s ultimate goals…” the recording continued. “Working separately, and with the assistance of the Japanese government and other interested world powers, we began development of a means of preventing an outfit like Nematoda from threatening global harmony ever again. We called this plan: Project—”


In response to Masato’s flat utterance, the other people around the table looked over at the boy-turned-girl. He paid them no mind though and continued to keep his eyes locked on the glowing screen.

“Unfortunately, before this work could be completed, a new menace emerged from the shadows, built from the remnants of Nematoda—a self-styled, feudal sovereignty calling itself ‘Hau Dragon’.” Professor Akitsu’s image stated. “Based on what little information we have, this Hau Dragon, or Tekkoryu, is not just Nematoda reborn … instead, it is likely a far greater threat. Rather than simply acquiring wealth and power, like their predecessor, Hau Dragon’s aspirations appear to be nothing less than the complete subjugation of all mankind.”  

A somber silence settled over the conference room. Various emotions played over the faces of the seated group as they continued to look at the glowing screen. 

“There’s much more to this story, Masato, much more … but I’m afraid—” Professor Akitsu said before the projected figure bent over, coughing into his closed fist several times before looking up again. “If nothing else, I want you to know … that I always—” 

“That’s enough of this drivel…” Professor Himuro grumbled, looking at the technicians and drawing a line across his throat. In response, the uniformed staff pushed a series of commands into their consoles, resulting in the video being cut off and the lights in the room rising as the projection screen dimmed. “I don’t think I can stomach another minute more.”  

Oki sent a pointed glance at Professor Himuro, but the elderly man only gazed back with equal stolidity. After a moment, Oki broke the shared look, coughing once into his hand. 

“Is … is it true?” Masato whispered, his small voice loud enough to bring all eyes on him. He shifted his eyes between an expressionless Oki, a scowling Professor Himuro, a neutral Valkyria, and a sympathetic Miku. “Was … was everything that my fat—that Professor Akitsu said, true?”

“That you’re the bastard of a bastard? Oh yes, that’s all very true…” Professor Himuro commented. His remark drew a hard stare from Miku and an equally significant head-tilt from Oki. Interestingly, even Valkyria cast a heavy-lidded glance at the elderly scientist, before turning away and taking another bite from her sweet bun. Masato just looked down at his folded hands on the table.

“It’s also true that Professor Himuro and his other associates were previously funded by the illegitimate activities of an international criminal syndicate,” Valkyria drawled out, drawing everyone’s eyes to her. Locking her gaze on Professor Himuro’s scowling visage, she added with a smirk, “Remind me again, Professor, what was the name of your little group? ‘The Caucus? ‘The Conglomerate’?” 

“The Council! We … we called ourselves, ‘The Council,’” Professor Himuro muttered as he continued to glare at Valkyria. Unexpectedly, his lips turned up in a mocking, pantomime of a smile. “But then, given your family background, you would know all about ‘illegitimate activities,’ wouldn’t you, Valcuria?” 

In response to Professor Himuro’s seeming barb, Valkyria gave a tight-lipped sneer of her own. “It’s not polite to talk about a woman’s private affairs, Professor…” she eventually said. “Didn’t your wife teach you at least that much before she—?”

“Don’t. You. Dare.” Professor Himuro hissed. “I don’t care what your title or status is, woman—that matter is out of bounds, even for you.”

“Of course, my apologies…” Valkyria replied irreverently, a light smirk still on her face as she held both hands up in mock-surrender.

As the air between the glaring pair became charged with tension, Oki coughed once into his hand, speaking after everyone turned to look at him.   

“Inspector Forsburg, if you wouldn’t mind…” Oki stated, locking gazes with Valkyria as she turned to him. “I realize this may be a… sensitive topic, but your knowledge on Nematoda is second-to-none.” 

In response to Oki’s request, Valkyria’s features briefly wavered, but then she shrugged and leaned forward, sitting her elbows on the table, and resting her chin atop folded hands.  

“Nematoda—the organization Professor Akitsu spoke of—was founded shortly after the Second World War by a conclave of former Nazis, fascist sympathizers, heads of organized crime, and representatives of various secret societies…” Valkyria explained, fingering a locket around her neck as she spoke. “Information gathered by international intelligence agencies suggests that these seemingly disparate groups were united by a mutual desire to maintain some semblance of power and influence in the changing post-war global landscape.” [8]

“To that end, in addition to setting up several legitimate businesses to mask their criminal activities, Nematoda also hired or funded scientists like Professor Himuro to conduct research across various scientific and theoretical disciplines,” Oki chimed in. He briefly locked eyes with Valkyria, and after she gave him an assenting head nod, he continued: “Research that, in turn, could either be weaponized or channeled into a means of gaining yet more wealth and power for themselves…”

“We thought we were saving the world,” Professor Himuro stated. His harsh features seemed to soften as his gaze tilted upward, looking off into some unseen distance. “A group of the world’s brightest minds—brought together with the hope of using our collective knowledge to save humanity from its own extinction…” Shaking his head, Professor Himuro’s scowl returned. “How young and foolishly naïve we were.”

“Through various front companies, several different scientific initiatives—under the veil of academic legitimacy offered by Professor Himuro and his colleagues—were launched worldwide,” Oki continued. He then turned his sunglasses-covered gaze at Masato. “It was actually during one of these excursions that the artifact you now possess was discovered.” 

Masato gaped at the sunglasses-wearing man in amazement. “What?! … How?! … Where?!”

Leaning forward, Professor Himuro looked at the amazed teen across the table. “Have you ever heard of the ‘Terracotta Army,’ boy?” he asked pointedly.

“Umm … yes, I’ve heard of it,” Masato answered with a quick nod. “It’s a collection of statues that were discovered in China, right? Guarding the tomb of one of the Chinese Emperors?”

“Hmph! At least it seems that modern schools haven’t grown too lax in teaching history…” Professor Himuro said with an approving nod of his own. “As you likely learned, in 1974 a group of farmers digging wells in rural China inadvertently uncovered a series of pits containing multiple, life-size terracotta figurines. It was later discovered that these statues lay to the east of a massive underground mausoleum—assumed to house the tomb of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang, based on descriptions in historical accounts and records. Sections of the surrounding necropolis were then excavated by archeologists under the employ of Nematoda, with the hopes of discovering gold, treasure, or other priceless artifacts the organization’s leadership could add to its coffers.” [9]

Leaning back in his chair, Professor Himuro added: “While the public was told that the collection of statues was created to protect the tomb of the First Emperor, this was in fact an elaborate lie,” Though his eyes were shrouded by his visor, the elderly scientist’s face still managed to darken. “What Nematoda’s archaeologists discovered when they finally reached the main burial chamber was that the figures were actually guarding something far, far more dangerous…”

Oki turned and signaled at the uniformed personnel manning the consoles on the other side of the room. After a brief flurry of clicking keys, the screen on the wall lit up again—this time showing a grainy image seemingly taken from inside a dimly lit cavern or enclosure. In the center of the picture, a group of dirt-covered men and women stood in front of a towering suit of golden armor. The oversized gold figure was kneeling with one arm lowered—its outstretched hand resting atop a raised disc embedded into the ground. Multiple, carved channels containing shimmering, metallic fluid extended out from the disc past the foreground of the projected image.  

The transformed boy openly gaped at the image on the viewscreen. “What… what is that?” he asked with astonishment.

That is what the supposed Mausoleum of the First Emperor was actually built to entomb—the final resting place of the legendary Great Hero,” Professor Himuro stated, gesturing at the picture with a brief handwave. “And the prison of his nemesis—the nefarious Iron-Headed Dragon.”

Masato blinked, then blinked again. “What.”

Frowning, Professor Himuro scowled and stared hard at the befuddled teen. “And here I was thinking that you actually had some acumen…” he quipped. “How woefully disappointing.”  

Oki coughed once into his hand, drawing Masato’s attention. “What Professor Himuro is referring to is an ancient legend. It states that, in a time before recorded history, a dragon challenged the gods for rule over the world. When he was denied his challenge, this dragon retaliated by unleashing calamity and disaster across the globe,” Oki expounded. “To stop the dragon’s rampage, the gods created the Great Hero—a champion imbued with all their divine power. The Great Hero and Iron-headed Dragon fought, and the Great Hero emerged victorious, but not without first sacrificing their life to defeat and entrap their foe in the bowels of the underworld.” [10]

‘“The hero and the dragon must not awaken…”’ With his father’s last words echoing in his mind, Masato hesitantly asked: “So … so then… that armor is…?”

“The armor of the Great Hero, which was recovered, broken down, and analyzed at the behest of Nematoda by the good Professor here…” Valkyria chimed in, smiling toothily at the scowling scientist across the table. “Isn’t that right, Supreme Commander?” In return, Professor Himuro quietly grumbled to himself. 

“But, even so … what does that all have to do with me? Or these bracelets?” Masato asked, his gaze shifting between the various adults in the room. “Or the reason I’m a girl now?!”

“Those ‘bracelets,’ that you refer to, were forged from the helmet of the Great Hero’s armor,” Professor Himuro elucidated. “Upon examination, my former colleagues and I discovered that different pieces of the armor suit were imbued with energy signatures roughly analogous to eight cosmological elements: Wind, Fire, Water, Moon, Earth, Mountain, Thunder, and Heaven. In addition to predating any known civilization capable of metallurgy more advanced than copper, the base material of the armor itself was made of an unknown alloy not yet recorded on the periodic table—one possessing unique, metamorphic, extra-dimensional qualities that, to this day, we still do not yet fully understand within our current framework of physical law.” 

“Extra-dimensional…” Masato murmured to himself. After a beat, he looked up at Professor Himuro. “Are you talking about Ultra-dimensional Systems Theory?” 

Professor Himuro’s face once again darkened, and his scowl deepened as set his visor-covered gaze squarely on Masato, “You know about UDS Theory, boy?” he growled out.

“I’ve read up on it in school,” Masato confirmed, seemingly unaware of the elderly scientist’s growing ire. “I actually wrote a paper about it for my Advanced Physics class project this semester.”

“How interesting…” Professor Himuro drawled. “Your sire, Kihara, was The Council’s resident expert on Ultra-dimensional Systems Theory.” The elderly scientist glared pointedly at an ashen-faced Masato. “It seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…”

With cheeks red with shame, Masato broke their shared gaze and looked down at his hands atop the table. Professor Himuro snorted once, and then—ignoring the looks he was receiving from the table’s other occupants—leaned back in his chair.

“Returning to the topic at hand, after breaking down the various pieces of armor, we began experimenting with means of harnessing their immense, otherworldly power for Nematoda,” Professor Himuro recited. “On their own, the separated armor pieces were almost completely inert, lacking any obvious means of being activated or amplifying the residual energies of their elemental cores. We tried everything—electromagnetic stimulation, radiation exposure, intense kinetic impact…” The elderly man shook his head in apparent dismay. “One of our female assistants even suggested using the ‘power of song,’ of all things…”

“The solution, as it turned out, was two-fold,” Professor Himuro continued. “Our first breakthrough came from our examination of the helmet containing ‘Heaven,’ which—as I said before—was later broken down and converted into the bracelets you’re wearing now,” he said, shooting a quick look at Masato. “In comparison to the other armor pieces, the helmet was unique in that it was composed of three distinct components—the core, containing the elemental energies of Heaven; a Dimensional Coupler, which we later discovered served as a power source to Heaven and the other seven elemental cores; and a Dimensional Joint, which coordinated power distribution and balancing between all eight cores and the Dimensional Coupler.” 

“Our second advance came about as a result of our studies of the various chambers surrounding the Great Hero’s tomb,” the elderly scientist stated. He gestured at the group of technicians, and after another rapid clicking of keys, a new series of grainy images were projected onto the viewscreen. While similarly low-lit, the pictures showed multiple streams of metallic liquid, glinting in the reflected lamplight, and flowing through recesses seemingly carved into the dusty stone floors of the chambers.   

“During their excavation work, Nematoda archaeologists found multiple basins and channels of liquid mercury running throughout the underground necropolis—beginning at the base beneath the Great Hero’s armor, and extending outward to all the outlying chambers,” Professor Himuro explained. “The purpose of this vast stockpile of mercury was originally a mystery, with some proposing that it was meant as a symbolic representation of the many rivers and seas under the province of the First Emperor, as the layout of the tomb itself was modeled on Xianyang, the capital of the Qin dynasty; however, that did not explain why so much of it was purposefully channeled into the chamber containing the Terracotta Army…” 

The scientist paused, then turned to Oki, who nodded and typed a few commands into a keyboard inset into the conference table. On the viewscreen, the collage of images changed to pictures showing multiple rows of dimly lit, life-sized warrior figurines. Some of the photos were elevated, taking in the full scope of the artificial army buried underground, while others were closer, revealing a grid-like series of channels running beneath the feet and hooves of the figurines, and likewise, shining from metallic liquid contained within.

“Upon examination, we discovered that a low-level current of unknown energy was running from the Great Hero’s armor throughout the necropolis through these streams of mercury. Even more fascinatingly, this energy was seemingly being directed into capacitive vessels stored within each figure of the Terracotta Army…” Professor Himuro intoned, before looking squarely at Masato. “This energy, as it turns out, was what we later dubbed ‘extra-dimensional energy,’ for which mercury was revealed to be both a perfect conductor and storage medium.”

“Why would extra-dimensional energy be sent into lifeless statues?” Masato queried, shaking his head in an irritated confusion. “What would be the point of such a thing?”

“Who knows?” Professor Himuro said with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. “Perhaps Emperor Qin Shi Huang thought that, should the Iron-Headed Dragon break free from the prison in which the Great Hero had sealed it, the energies released by its escape would be funneled into his Terracotta Army, bringing the lot of them to life. These awakened golems could then fight and kill the Iron-Headed Dragon before it had a chance to flee and wreak havoc on the land.”

Professor Himuro’s face briefly titled towards Miku. “If you believe in ancient myths and folktales, then it wouldn’t be the first time that mercury, or ‘quicksilver’ as it was known to the early Greeks, was used as the lifeblood of soulless automata…” he said slowly, snorting briefly when his adopted daughter broke eye contact and looked down with a troubled grimace.     

“In any case …” the scientist stated, turning back to look at Masato. “With this new knowledge, and once we had disassembled the Great Hero’s armor, my former colleagues and I were able to use mercury-based conductors and batteries to harness the extra-dimensional energies produced by the Dimensional Coupler and channel them into each of the elemental cores, thus finally awakening them. Using the primitive capacitors housed in the Terracotta Army statues as models, we then constructed technologically based amplification devices in which to house and modulate the energies of the awakened cores, which we dubbed “artifact converters.”  

“This is all well and good…” Masato uttered irritably. He then looked up from the table at the scowling professor with a narrow gaze of his own. “But nonetheless it doesn’t explain why I’m still currently a girl!”

Hmph! I was just getting to that, you impetuous brat!” Professor Himuro growled out, meeting Masato’s gaze until the latter looked away with a frown. Nodding with a slight sneer, the elderly man continued: “These breakthroughs led to our development and eventual testing of artifact converters for all eight elemental cores; however, while we were able to use the Dimensional Coupler to siphon extra-dimensional energy to power the artifact converters in small amounts, this power quickly dissipated unless the cores were directly connected to either the Coupler or Joint. Creating an artificial coupler also proved to be a dead-end, as—”

“—'as only one Dimensional Coupler, tethered to its mate in the extra-dimensional space, can exist on a singular dimensional plane at a given time.’” At this quiet utterance, all eyes turned to the boy-turned-girl, who in turn barely glanced up from looking down at the table. “That’s what the propositions of ‘Ultra-dimensional Systems Theory’ say, anyway…” Masato added, causing Professor Himuro to scoff while Valkyria smirked, and Oki covered his mouth as he coughed into his fist. 

Regardless…” Professor Himuro continued, “Besides this problem, we also discovered that—unlike the elemental cores—both the Dimensional Coupler and Joint could only be effectively operated by someone possessing a female body.” The elderly scientist paused, then said more quietly: “Several men tried to equip each device before we arrived at that conclusion…” 

“They tried and failed?” Masato asked petulantly, glaring up from the conference table above his folded hands.

"They tried and died,” Professor Himuro said flatly, eliciting a wince from the transformed boy as he once again averted his gaze. 

“After multiple experiments, we deduced that the life-nurturing aspects of womanhood allowed females, or those possessing untainted female biology, to contain the energies put out by the Dimensional Coupler or Joint without being atomized like their male counterparts; however, once so equipped, they could not also make use of any of the other elemental cores to empower them,” Professor Himuro continued. “With this knowledge and making use of the unique metamorphic qualities of the Great Hero’s armor, we focused our efforts on developing a process which would allow someone equipped with an artifact converter to merge with a woman equipped with either the Coupler or Joint at the molecular level. This process, which we dubbed “cross-dimensional combination,” would in turn result in an artificially forged, predominantly female, ‘perfect’ body capable of wielding both a core and a means of powering it.” He shot a pointed look at Masato. “As you likely gleaned, we eventually succeeded.”   

Masato gulped, looking down briefly at the two bangles on his wrists. He again thought back on everything he had experienced up to now, from the moment his home was invaded to the period he was transformed into Zeorymer. In particular, he thought back on the brief moments of extraordinary physical strength exhibited by Miku during their flight from Hau Dragon.

‘If I have the artifact converter containing ‘Heaven’, then … does that mean that Miku…’ Masato thought but was pulled from his musings as Professor Himuro continued speaking.  

“With each new success, it was as if we were slowly opening the lid on the secrets of the universe itself…” Professor Himuro stated. He sighed, shook his head as if to clear it, and the wrinkles on the scientist’s face seemed to deepen as his spoke again: “While Heaven’s artifact converter and the Dimensional Coupler were salvaged during our escape from Nematoda, the Dimensional Joint … and the other seven cores … were lost. Such a waste…”

“That’s not the entire story though, is it Professor?” Valkryia chimed in, eliciting a fresh scowl from the scientist. 

“When Professor Himuro and his cronies launched their little insurrection all those years ago, they meant to completely eradicate Nematoda’s entire infrastructure; however, due to their haste, they were only able to cripple Nematoda temporarily—long enough for a group of fanatical occultists to take over and rebuild it as Hau Dragon…” Valkyria’s features took on a more pensive expression, and once more she fingered the locket around her neck. “…but not after purging any opposition to their new order.” 

“You keep talking about this ‘Hau Dragon’…” Masato murmured, before looking up from the table. “But who or what is Hau Dragon? What is it that they want?”

“Ostensibly, followers of the Iron-Headed Dragon,” Oki answered, drawing all eyes back to him. “From what we have been able to uncover from historic accounts, there has been a minor cult devoted to the Iron-Headed Dragon on the fringes of Chinese society as early as the Xia dynasty—roughly 4,000 years ago. There is a smattering of mentions of them over time, but never in any great numbers or treated with any degree of serious scrutiny. How they were able to infiltrate Nematoda so thoroughly as to be able to pull off a complete coup remains a mystery.”   

Valkyria tapped several keys inlaid onto the table in front of her. The viewscreen lit up and quickly filled with a list of various names and company logos. “These are some of the companies that the international intelligence community suspects of having had some manner of ties to Nematoda in the past, and continue to do so now with Hau Dragon under their Tekkoryu public banner…”

Looking up hesitantly, Masato’s eyes widened as they trailed over the lengthy list of names on display, his mouth agape as he took them all in. Some of the companies—International Electronic Brains, MAX Pharmaceuticals, Yutani Industries, and the Genom Corporation—were organizations he readily recognized due to their support of the Japanese scientific community. Other names, such as ENCOM, Bartok Industries, or Omni Consumer Products were either less well-known or alien to the befuddled teen. [11]

“As far as what Hau Dragon wants, I think that my erstwhile assistant made their motive quite clear…” Professor Himuro stated tersely. “The resurrection of the Iron-Headed Dragon, the subjugation of all humanity, and the domination of the entire world.”

“That’s why Last Guardian exists…” Oki said. “As the ultimate bastion and defense for mankind against global threats like Hau Dragon.” Oki paused, then added: “It’s also why we need your help in this fight, Masato-kun.”

Me?” Masato asked incredulously. “Why me?! What’s so special about me?!”

Professor Himuro scowled, then stated: “Each artifact converter was biometrically encoded to work with a single bearer, who in turn, were genetically modified to make them compatible with their individual converter and element.” He looked pointedly at Masato. “And you, boy, were chosen from birth to be the bearer for ‘Heaven.’”

“F-from bi-birth?” Masato stammered, shifting his gaze between the others seated around the table. “Y-you mean … you mean I’m just…”

“Spare parts,” Professor Himuro said bluntly. “A necessary biological component to make the artifact converter for ‘Heaven’ function, seeing how my former assistant proved unable to change the unit’s base programming…” Frowning anew, the elderly scientist briefly cast his visored gaze over the others gathered around the table, before saying: “We’re done here.”

Before anyone else could utter a word, and with surprising speed, Professor Himuro pushed his chair away from the table, stood up, turned, and began shuffling his way out of the room. Oki was next to stand, and made to follow the scientist, but paused when he spied a manicured hand wave at him.

“You and I still need to have a chat, Oki,” Valkyria said as she also stood. She tilted her emerald gaze towards Masato, who was slumped over the table, his eyes glazed and unfocused, and mouth ajar.

Beside Masato, Miku rubbed at the transformed boy’s back, making soothing sounds to comfort him. She started as Professor Himuro’s voice rang out.

“You, girl!” the elderly man barked. “Stop your nonsense and get a move on—we’ve got work to do!”

For a moment, Miku just stared at the glaring visage of her adoptive father, then shifted her eyes across to linger on a smirking Valkyria, over to a blank-faced Oki, and finally back down to the still slumped-over Masato. The brunette bit her lip for a moment, but after swallowing once, bent over and quickly pecked Masato on the cheek, causing the latter’s eyes to dilate as his cheeks flushed crimson. Masato turned to look, but Miku was already gone, scampering away until she was beside Professor Himuro at the door. The pair of Himuro’s then exited the room, doors whooshing shut behind them.

Masato stared at the shut door briefly, a mix of different emotions playing across his more-feminine features before his mouth settled into a determined line. Pushing away from the conference table, Masato shakily stood and began taking wobbly steps towards the door, arms held out from his body for balance.

As the teen also left the room, Oki turned his sunglasses-covered eyes intently towards Valkyria, who matched his gaze for a moment before sighing, rolling her eyes, and jerking her head in the direction of the door. Nodding once, Oki turned and strode out of the room, followed more leisurely by Valkyria after she had gathered her belongings.

“Professor! Professor Himuro! Please, wait!” Masato called out as he stumbled awkwardly down the corridor, holding onto one of the guide rails for support.

Further up the hallway, Professor Himuro continued to shuffle forward, and only paused when Miku tugged sharply at the sleeve of his lab coat.

Sighing heavily, Professor Himuro turned to face the transformed adolescent. “What is it, boy? I have other matters requiring my attention today…”

Breathing heavily as he approached, Masato gulped down a large breath of air before replying: “I-I’m sorry, I k-know I’ve already t-taken a lot of your time already, b-but—” 

“But, what?!” Professor Himuro interjected with audible irritation. “Spit it out, lad!”

Wincing at the sharp rebuke, Masato swallowed again before continuing: “I-it’s just, I w-want to know, h-how do I change back? C-can I undo this tra-transformation, and return to … to being me?”

A moment passed, interrupted only by the sounds of Masato’s heavy breathing. While glowering down at the bent-over teen before him, Professor Himuro threw a brief side-glance to Miku, who met her elder’s gaze briefly before turning away, her eyes shadowed and downcast. After letting out a quick snort, the scientist turned back to Masato.  

“Who knows? That’s really none of my concern … you’ll have to figure it out on your own,” Professor Himuro stated airily, his visored face inscrutable as Masato just gaped up at him. The elder scientist tilted his head as Oki and Valkyria made their own approach from further down the hallway, then turned back to a still-stricken Masato. “Well, if that’s all then…” he said as he began to turn away. 

“B-but Professor Himuro…” Masato finally managed to voice. “I-I still ha-have so many questions…”

“I. Don’t. Care.” Professor Himuro pronounced tersely, once again causing Masato to fall silent. Turning back around, Professor Himuro quickly advanced on the stunned teen until there were only millimeters separating them. “Now then, let me make this very clear, boy—I don’t want you here. I never did. The only reason you are here is because my former assistant failed in his assigned task of removing you as the designated operator for the ‘Heaven’ artifact converter.”

“R-remove me?” Masato stammered. “My father was trying to…?”

“Shigeharu Akitsu is NOT your father!” Professor Himuro bellowed with sudden fury. He strode forward, forcing Masato to shakily back away as he continued: “Your real father, Masaki Kihara, was a traitorous, opportunistic, snake who would just as soon stab you in the back as shake your hand if it would give him an advantage!”

Masato attempted to get away from the furious scientist, but Professor Himuro kept closing the distance between them until the teen was backed up against the wall of the corridor. 

“Moreover, boy, your father was directly responsible for the greatest tragedy of my life!” Professor Himuro roared, ignoring furious tugs on his coat behind him or gestures from Oki ahead. “Your father, Kihara… seduced, sullied, and later slaughtered my … my beloved wife, Michiru…” The scientist paused, his hands tightening into fists and teeth gnashing together with anguish before he finally growled out: “…your mother.”

Masato’s eyes went wide, and he slumped to the floor as his legs gave way beneath him. He looked up, ashen-faced and bewildered at the elderly scientist looming above him.

“M-my m-mother…?” Masato squeaked out, his voice cracking and eyes wavering. “Y-you mean … you mean I’m…?”

“Exactly what I said earlier…” Professor Himuro uttered, glaring down at a quivering Masato. “So, when I look at you, boyall that I see … is the bastard spawn of a man that I hate.” He turned around and began making his way back down the hallway, then paused. “Be glad that you’re stuck in that female body … were you still in your original skin, I doubt I’d be able to be in the same room as you…” he added, before continuing his shuffling stride. “Come, girl!”

Miku jumped at being called, having seemingly been frozen in place. She glanced furtively at Masato—still slumped down on the floor—and then looked up pleadingly at Oki. When the sunglasses-wearing man nodded his head, Miku’s lips twitched into a grateful smile, before she twirled around and hurried after Professor Himuro.

Oki watched the pair’s departure, then looked down at the shell-shocked teen on the floor. Silently, he leaned down, grabbed Masato by his free arm, and gently but firmly brought him back to his feet. Still holding Masato with one arm, Oki began leading him in the opposite direction down the hallway. As the two passed by Valkyria, she eyeballed the two of them before shrugging and following along just behind.

The trio walked through a multitude of identical hallways in a heavy silence—Masato sullen and still reeling from the many revelations he had experienced over the last several hours, Oki stolid and implacable as he guided Masato along, and Valkyria staring imperceptibly at both as she followed a few steps behind, munching on the remains of her sweet bun.

Eventually, they stopped before one of many identical doors, which opened to reveal the hospital room in which Masato had originally awakened.

“Here we are…” Oki said, and his sudden words seemed to stir Masato, who looked up at Oki with a blank expression. “You should get some rest—there will be plenty for you to do before long.”

Masato just stared vacantly at Oki’s sunglasses-covered face, causing the latter to bird an eyebrow at the teen’s lack of response. An uncomfortable air of awkwardness settled over the three, but eventually Oki turned and guided the taciturn Masato into the room. Valkyria hovered at the open doorway, one arm folded beneath her chest and fingering her locket with her free hand as Oki led Masato over to the bed. 

After Masato sat down on the mattress, Oki turned and strode over to a multimedia stand mounted on one of the room’s walls. While Oki was busy manipulating the controls for the display screen, Valkyria took the opportunity to saunter over to Masato, who was slumped over, staring down at his folded hands in his lap. He jerked briefly as Valkyria sat beside him on the bed and placed one hand on his shoulder. With weary eyes, Masato looked up at the older woman, whose expression was softer than it was previously.

“Don’t let the words of that vresig gubbe get to you, Masse…” Valkyria stated gently with a small quirk of her lips. She leaned down until she was cheek-to-cheek with the now bright-red teen. Bringing her lips to the blushing Masato’s ear, she whispered: “Remember, it’s not the circumstances of your birth which define you, but what you choose to do with the life you’ve been given.” [12]

Masato blinked, his eyes clearing as tears dotted the corners of his eyes. “V-Valla-san…”

Valkyria gave Masato a light shoulder pat before standing and heading back towards the door. She passed Oki as she exited the room—the latter having finished whatever work he had been doing and now standing in the middle of the room facing Masato.

“I’ve cued the recording left by Professor Akitsu up to the point where we cut off earlier…” Oki stated, pressing the bridge of his sunglasses with one hand. “I would advise that you watch it, as well as the other recordings he left for you in our care. They may … be of some help to you.”

Masato gazed up at the straight-faced man, his face contorting through a mix of emotions, but eventually he nodded his head unenthusiastically. Oki nodded in turn, and made to leave the room, but paused as a quiet voice spoke up behind him.

“Th-thank you, Ok-ki-san,” Masato said hesitantly, his head bowed so that his auburn bangs covered his eyes. “An-and I-I’m sorry…”

Once again, Oki ****ed an eyebrow. “Sorry? For what?”

Masato gulped, and keeping his head bowed, stammered out: “T-t-there w-was another m-man named ‘Ok-ki’ on the t-team that c-came to my house the n-night b-b-before. H-he w-was r-related to y-you, w-wasn’t he?”

Oki was silent for a moment, then took a deep breath before saying: “Indeed, that man was my older brother, Kou. He is … he was the head of our Combat Division.” [13]

In response to Oki’s statement, Masato choked back a sob, his shoulders shaking and his body convulsing as he tried to maintain some semblance of composure. “I-I’m s-sorry! I-I’m s-s-so sorry that h-he d-died, saving s-some no-nobody li-like me!”

“Don’t be.” 

The blunt statement caused Masato to look up with shock, his red-brown eyes glistening with tears. Sighing once more, Oki brushed back his hair with one hand. reached up with the other and removed his sunglasses. 

“My older brother … was … a bit of a neanderthal, always quick to jump into the fray before thinking things through or considering the ramifications of his actions,” Oki said with a light shake of his head. Looking down, he lightly twisted his sunglasses in his hands as he added: “However, he was also a man thoroughly devoted to his duty—he would give his all to any mission he was assigned regardless of his own opinions or feelings.” Tilting his head over, Oki caught Masato’s wide-eyed gaze with his own steely stare. “My older brother chose to save you, Masato-kun, because the mission mattered more to him than his life,” he said. “If you wish to honor him and his sacrifice, then you would be wise to follow his example.”

Masato gulped once more, but after a moment, slowly nodded his head in understanding. In response, Oki put his sunglasses back on, turned, and walked towards the exit to the hospital room. As the door whooshed open at his approach, Oki briefly paused at the threshold, then looked back over his shoulder.

“Oh, and by the by…” Oki stated. “Welcome to Last Guardian.” He then turned away and walked forward, with the doorway closing behind him shortly after.

Masato stared at the closed portal for several minutes, thoughts racing through his mind with no discernible rhythm or reason. Eventually, his gaze shifted over to a remote-control unit mounted on a rail of the hospital bed. Lethargically, he reached over, grabbed the device, and pointed it at the display terminal Oki had previously been working on. After a few tries, he managed to turn the unit on, and as promised, the recording he had previously been watching in the briefing room with the others began playing:

“…before this work could be completed, a new menace emerged from the shadows, built from the remnants of Nematoda—a self-styled, feudal sovereignty calling itself ‘Hau Dragon.’ Based on what little information we have, this Hau Dragon, or Tekkoryu, is not just Nematoda reborn … instead, it is likely a far greater threat…”

Leaning forward, Masato gazed misty-eyed at the image of the man he had previously thought of as his father. Once again, his body began shaking as he struggled to hold back his tears. 

“If nothing else, I want you to know … that I always thought of you as my son,” the grainy picture of Professor Akitsu stated. “Even though we aren’t related by blood, please know that it has been my greatest privilege and joy to watch over you these last fifteen years. I have no doubt that you will find a way to escape the fate of the Great Hero and become the savior humanity needs on your own terms.”

Masato let loose a cry, his body shuttering and convulsing as he began sobbing anew. “Dad…”

Whatever happens to you, whatever you might learn, and however you might change from here on out, never forget that you are ‘Masato Akitsu’ … always.” Professor Akitsu said. The scientist paused, looking down as he seemed to gather himself, before facing forward again with a wan smile. “Take care, my son.”

As the recording faded away and shifted to snow and static, Masato finally let loose an open wail. Covering his face with both hands, the boy-turned-girl fell sideways onto the bed, then curled up into a fetal position as he continued to weep unrelentingly. His tears slowly dampened the pillow and sheets beneath him as he eventually cried himself to sleep.            


“I’m no hero … never was, never will be…”

“We’re partners, remember? Where you go, I go too…”

“That boy has to learn … there’s no turning back now.”


Child of the Skies Above! And Protector of All that Lives on Earth Below! The Lovely WarriorZeorymer of the HeavensIS HERE!!

COMING UP IN EPISODE 4:Awakening, Part IV: You Can [Not] Go Home Again” 


BETA READING PROVIDED BY: Twisted Eternal Wolvetta

[1]: I based Masato’s female appearance on the character Anice Farm from the anime Sonic Soldier Borgman. Both characters were designed for their respective anime series by mangaka Michitaka Kikuchi (aka Kia Asamiya), and (in addition to having a general resemblance in their designs, IMHO), there is plenty of art out there (official and unofficial) featuring both Miku and Anice together, which just seals the deal for me!

[2]: While I wasn’t able to find any decent screenshots, here’s someone’s fanart of Miku in the outfit as described.

[3]: At this point in the episode, I can imagine that Miku’s theme from the Hades Project Zeorymer OVA (appropriately enough, titled “Miku”) would start playing, and would continue to the very end of the scene.

[4]: For those who don’t remember or didn’t see the OVA, here’s a picture of Oki for reference.

[5]: Professor Ryozo Himuro was a supporting character in the original Project Zeorymer manga. I would provide reference pictures, but … you know … hentai.

[6]: Valkyria (or Valcuria) Forsberg-Lisker is another character lifted from Yoshiki Takaya’s more famous work, Bio-booster Armor Guyver. She originally made her debut in the 1986 OVA movie Guyver: Out of Control, where she was a red-head and voiced by seiyuu Keiko Toda. The character later migrated back into the original manga as a slightly different, blond-haired version of the character, which is also when her ethnicity was officially canonized as being “Scandinavian” (and which I’ve chosen to elaborate on by making her a resident of Sweden, as “Forsberg” is a Swedish surname). As such, I’ve taken elements from both versions of Valkyria/Valcuria for her appearance in this story.

[7] From what I've been able to read about Swedish naming conventions online, it's common practice to take a boy's given name, shorten it to the first syllable and an elongated consonant, and follow it with an "e” (pronounced “eh”) when creating a diminutive nickname. Hence, "Masato" becomes "Masse" (equivalent to “Masato-chan” or the like). If I’ve gotten this wrong, and if any native Swedish speakers wish to correct me on this matter, please feel free!

[8]: “Nematoda” was the name of the enemy organization in the original Project Zeorymer manga. It was replaced by “Hau Dragon”/”Tekkoryu” for the later Hades Project Zeorymer OVA.

[9]: The Terracotta Army is a real collection of life-size statues created in the 200s BC, and residing in a series of excavated pits outside Xi'an, Shaanxi, China. While the statues were reportedly built to guard the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (and protect him in the afterlife), there don’t appear to be any giant gold suits of armor atop disc-shaped effigies of dragons anywhere to be found (though admittedly most of the tomb and mausoleum surrounding it remain sealed for preservation reasons)..Likewise, there don’t seem to be any mummies who resemble Jet Li lying in wait for resurrection by hapless adventuring archeologists.

[10]: The myth of the Great Hero and the Iron-Headed Dragon as described here (as well as in the Prologue) is based on/inspired by the story of Gonggong (共工), a water god from Chinese mythology and folklore who is blamed with tilting the Earth’s axis off-center after losing a fight over the throne of Heaven, resulting in the directional flow of rivers and the movement of stars across the sky. In various stories, Gonggong is reportedly described as having a copper human head with an iron forehead, red hair, and the body of a serpent. As it turns out, “Hau Dragon,” or Tekkoryu ( 鉄甲龍), translates to “Iron Armored Dragon,” so linking the two seemed apropos.  

[11]: Can you name all the evil organization references? No points for cheating with a Google search!

[12]: Here are translations for all examples of gratuitous Swedish used in this chapter:

         Märkvärdig… – Remarkable…

         Aww … vad bedårande. – Aww … how adorable.

         Det är okej – It is okay/That’s all right.

         vresig gubbe – grouchy old man

As with my attempt at using Swedish nicknaming conventions, if there are more accurate or authentic Swedish expressions or wording that I can use here, please feel free to let me know!

[13]: Depending on the source, Oki’s personal name is either identified as “Isao” or “Kou,” so I decided to make them both into two separate characters for fun! It certainly wasn’t because I wanted to have a cheap “bait-and-switch” in the first chapter when a character named “Oki” got killed off!

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