Infiltrating the Restricted Area
One dependable thing about Tyson was his ability to fall sound asleep the moment his head hit the pillow. It made it so that Che could easily make his preparations a few feet away from him without suspicion.
After all, he certainly wasn’t packing any textbooks in his bag. He was planning to leave for good tonight.
He didn’t have much to take with him anyway, nothing that was truly his. His side of the dorm room, the uniforms, books, it all belonged to Rowan. Tomorrow, everyone would probably know the truth, that Che was an imposter all along. He sighed, feeling his shoulders relax after what felt like days of being tense. Tonight he would finally put an end to all of this. He had to.
As he slipped out of the room and made his way downstairs with an empty backpack, Che thought about how he still hadn’t seen Nikki all day. He tried to push down the growing panic inside of him, but it was useless. He had to face the possibility that Yokan might have kidnapped her along with the other students and act accordingly.
As he exited the dorms, two guards flanked him on either side as they accompanied him to the maglev cab. Che sighed. How on earth was he going to get away when he was constantly being escorted everywhere?
Two more guards were waiting for him on the maglev cab, and he was certain there’d be more at the Astronomy tower. All he could do was hope he spotted Lorenzo, who also had class at this period.
Realizing he had to keep in step with the guards so he wouldn’t look suspicious, Che climbed onto the maglev cab platform, taking in a deep breath as it hummed to life. Within seconds, he was speeding toward the Astronomy tower, his anticipation growing each passing second.
He had to make the most of this ride as he scanned the entire campus. Naturally, the restricted area was nestled toward the back of campus, hidden behind high concrete walls and watchtowers. Getting in there undetected seemed almost impossible, but he had to try.
Che shut his eyes and said a silent prayer as the cab neared the tower. What was he going to do? Would he have to wait until after class to explore the facility? He wished he could momentarily become a Spirit type like Professor Lelele so he could turn himself invisible or something. At least then he wouldn’t be so exposed.
He was just about to resign himself to that fate when he spotted a small figure several yards away. She was walking away from the tower and toward the path that led to the restricted area. He squinted his eyes to get a better look, and as she turned around, he realized it was none other than Nikki.
She raised her hand, the small globe of fire appearing instantly. She then doused it by balling up her fist, and that’s when the guard to Che’s right noticed her.
“Hey!” he called out. “You there! What are you doing?”
The guard didn’t have time to chase after her as the first explosion knocked them all off of the maglev cab. Che rolled onto the ground before stopping himself. He looked over toward the guards only to find them both unconscious, and he quickly scrambled to his feet. What in the world had she done?
That’s when he heard more booming sounds in the distance. He looked up and saw several more explosions dotting the surrounding area, and within seconds alarms were blaring all around him. As he tried to orient himself to his surroundings, he heard a voice yelling over the intercom.
“Attention all students and personnel, we are under code red conditions! Assemble in the nearest safe area immediately! I repeat, all students and personnel, we are under code red condition! Assemble in the nearest safe area immediately!”
A chill ran down Che’s spine as he began to understand what Nikki had done. She was creating a diversion, but for what? Nikki had already started sprinting away, and Che saw his chance to chase after her. He knew the guards would soon be after them, and there was no telling how many more explosions were coming.
He ran faster than he ever thought possible as the explosions nearly knocked him off his feet along the way. Still, he had to get across campus while personnel was distracted by the chaos that Nikki had caused. Che had just made it past the Astronomy tower when Nikki appeared before him, preparing an attack before realizing who he was.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded, surprise etched on her face.
Che stumbled back, momentarily caught off guard. “What do you mean? I’ve been planning to do this since last week! What are YOU doing here?”
Nikki bowed her head, nervously clutching her arm. “I…I thought he wasn’t bringing you.”
Che’s brow furrowed as he took in her words. “How do you know about that?”
Nikki hesitated before continuing. “There’s no time! Look, you can follow me, but we have to hurry!”
With that, she turned and took off again, and Che followed quickly as more explosions sounded in the distance.
“What’s with all the explosions?” Che shouted as they ran.
“It wasn’t supposed to be that many!” Nikki called back, not missing a beat. “I figured out how to time my Fire Orb attack to only ignite when I needed it to! I set several of them near spots that would trigger reactions that slowly moved away from the restricted area!”
Che was astonished. He had no idea Nikki was so talented with her Fire Orb attacks! The sirens continued to blare all around them, that same voice issuing its warning over and over. By then, they had already passed Legaros Tower and were now in a wooded area. Instinctively, they picked up the pace, not wanting to draw anyone’s attention.
Still, Che was surprised at how easy it all seemed as they neared the restricted area. How was it that no one had noticed them yet? As he watched Nikki push on ahead of him, he realized that she had to have been planning this for some time.
“Did you and Lorenzo plan this?”
Nikki didn’t answer at first, continuing to sprint in front of him. Finally, she spoke up. “Yes, but there’s no time to explain!”
Che shook his head. So, that’s where she’d been all this time. They’d both been planning all of this without him. He couldn’t help but feel betrayed, but he didn’t have time to dwell on it as they neared a clearing. Nikki hid behind a tree, gesturing for Che to do the same.
“It’s up ahead,” she whispered as she peeked around at the massive, concrete wall that surrounded the restricted area. Straight ahead of where Che and Nikki were standing was the iron gate flanked by two watchtowers. There were two guards stationed on either side of the gate, and Che could make out more in the watchtowers.
They had made it. Now, all they had to do was find a way inside.
“Wait a minute,” Nikki leaned forward. “Isn’t that…”
Che followed her gaze to where a figure was strolling toward the gate. He didn’t appear to be in a hurry or alarmed by the sirens blaring all around him. It was as if he was on a casual midnight stroll.
Che squinted his eyes, barely able to make out long, black wavy hair, and gasped, recognizing the figure instantly. “Lorenzo!”
“What is he doing?” Nikki’s eyes widened as dread set in. “He was supposed to meet me right here at this spot! We went over it yesterday!”
“Yeah, without me,” Che muttered.
Nikki hesitated before responding. “Chetachi, it’s not like that. This isn’t just about Yokan.”
Che frowned. “What are you talking about?”
Nikki sighed. “Chetachi…I think I know why you don’t remember how you got here.”
Che was taken aback. “What do you mean?”
Nikki looked away, avoiding Che’s gaze. “I can’t explain right now.”
Che was about to press further when he noticed Lorenzo walking right past the guards. One of them entered a code into a nearby console, which triggered the gate to slowly slide open. Lorenzo nodded to them both before continuing inside.
“They’re just letting him walk in?” Che asked, incredulous.
Nikki was equally shocked, but she quickly recovered. “He said I could trust him. He said he’d wait for me, and we’d go in together.”
“Well, it looks like we both put our trust in the wrong people,” Che’s voice was dripping with bitterness.
“Chetachi, enough already!” Nikki snapped. “I know you’re mad, but I can’t do anything about it right now! Let’s go!”
Che looked a Nikki, and the silence stretched between them. He knew that she was just being her usual self and probably had a good reason for being here without telling him, but he still couldn’t believe that Lorenzo had left them both behind. Why would they both not tell him they were going to sneak into the restricted area?
He understood Lorenzo didn’t trust him, but Nikki? Why hadn’t she said anything, and what was this about her knowing why he couldn’t remember how he got to Eden? He finally broke the silence and nodded. What else could he do? He had to get inside the gate, and Nikki was his only chance at doing that.
They were just about to step out from behind their respective trees when a familiar pair of voices rang out in the darkness.
“Throw your worries over the deep end!” Reagan dropped down from above, assuming his usual martial arts pose.
“Into new dimensions you can’t comprehend!” Vista was next, gracefully landing next to Reagan and sliding into her usual mystical, spellcaster stance.
“Let the sheep and followers sleep in!”
“Hustle as if you have three bands!”
“We hold it down for Legaros!” Reagan kicked his leg out in a triumphant flourish, his words echoing in the darkness. “Reagan!”
“Give up now and leave behind your sorrows!” Vista finished, her voice ringing with confidence. “Vista!”
“Wait, where’d they go?” Reagan scratched his head in confusion, while Che watched from behind the tree, having ducked behind it again during their speech.
“The trees,” Vista pointed to the area where Che and Nikki were standing. “They hide.”
“Be for real! Y’all really think we can’t see you?” Reagan called out.
Che sighed as he glanced over at Nikki, who looked back with a resigned expression. This night couldn’t possibly get any worse. Now they had to deal with these two.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Che groaned as he stepped from behind the tree. “What are you two even doing out here right now?”
Reagan shrugged. “We saw the explosions and decided to check it out! Plus, curfew’s lame anyway.”
“Extremely,” Vista monotoned.
“Besides…” Reagan grinned as he pointed at Che. “We had a feeling you’d show up here eventually, so we decided to bring invite a little friend of yours.”
Che thought his blood would turn to ice as another figure slowly descended from above, his sinister brown eyes seeming to glow in the darkness. Yokan stopped descending just before his feet could touch the ground, hovering between Reagan and Vista.
Nikki wasted no time in igniting her Flame Orb, ready to attack, but Che was nearly paralyzed with fear. This was it. It was now over never. Yokan looked down at Che and smiled, his eyes burning with hatred.
“I see…” he said in a low voice. “I suppose this means your time is up.”