MEIOU SHOJO ZEORYMER
(Hades Maiden ZEORYMER)
A “Magical Girl” AU
By: Mares Guyver
Episode 1: Awakening, Part 1 – 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. 
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. 
“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. 
“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. 
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?” 
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…”
“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?” 
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:
[BIOMETRIC PATTERN MATCH_CONFIRMED AGAINST GENETIC TEMPLATE. STATE USER_ID TO <REGISTER> VOCAL PATTERN AND COMPLETE LOGIN].
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:
[VOCAL PATTERN_REGISTERED FOR: USER_“Masato_Akitsu”. LOGGING IN… “BY_HKS-01A ‘ZEORYMER” ONLINE. SYSTEM STATUS: ALL GREEN_NORMAL OPERATION. STATE ACCESS_CODE].
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:
[ACCESS_CODE: “Awaken_Zeorymer” ACCEPTED. SETUP <CROSS-DIMENSIONAL COUPLING>. STANDBY… READY.]. 
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…
NEXT TIME ON MEIOU SHOJO ZEORYMER:
“WHY DOES MY BODY HAVE THINGS IT DIDN’T AND NOT HAVE THINGS IT SHOULD?!?!”
“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”
: A decent picture of Masato (https://img.photobucket.com/albums/v463/Goldgaigar/Videos/th_Zeorymer1.jpg).
: 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
: 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).
: 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?
: 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.
: 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)?
: “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)