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ToKyotchi Chapter 48

The Real Lorenzo

Perhaps there would be a time when Legaros Academy wasn’t on the brink of destruction. Yokan would become nothing more than a distant, unpleasant memory, and Che’s existence as a student would be all but forgotten.

Che held on to the hope that, even if he failed to stop Yokan, it would all eventually work itself out. It had to. Otherwise, what was it all for?

As he stepped outside of the boys’ dormitory, he looked over to the girls’ side, scanning the ground and roof for any sign of Nikki. After concluding that she, in fact, wasn’t going to tail him, he let out a sigh of relief. She had to stay away.

Of course, he felt like a hypocrite all the same. After all, he’d just pleaded with her to allow him to help her, to stop thinking she had to do this all on her own. He only hoped that, after he was gone, she could find a sense of community here without the looming threat of Yokan.

Then again, he’d learned that Nikki had a mission of her own. She didn’t come here just to attend classes. She wanted to get strong enough to get revenge on Legaros, and Che wouldn’t pretend like he didn’t understand that sentiment. In fact, he agreed.

If only she would let him help her.

Lorenzo stood in front of an empty maglev cab, its low whirring the only sound in the otherwise deserted courtyard. Lorenzo regarded Che with that ever-present hint of amusement, as if every action Che took was a source of entertainment.

“Well?” Lorenzo called with a smirk. “Got everything you need?”

Che nodded, taking one last look around the courtyard before he made his way toward the maglev cab. It was best not to linger. After all, Tyson had made it very clear he’d be on his way to alert the headmaster shortly.

As he stepped onto the maglev cab, he noticed something didn’t feel quite right, besides the fact that he was once again trying to get into a restricted area. Lorenzo turned to face him as the maglev hummed to life, his amusement now mixed with determination.

“I noticed we don’t have an escort,” Che observed, looking at the empty cab. “I’m guessing that’s your doing.”

“If it makes you feel better,” Lorenzo turned to look at the horizon. “You have me at least, don’t you?”

Che shook his head. “Whatever you say.”

With a lurch, they were off, and Che looked all around them, noticing the guards weren’t paying them any attention. Was it really going to be this easy?

Within what felt like seconds, they’d already zoomed past the Astronomy tower heading down the road that led to the gates of the restricted area. Che could make out the grouping of trees he and Nikki had hidden behind while waiting for an opportunity to get past the gates and shook his head. So much had gone wrong last night.

The sun was preparing to finally disappear under the horizon when Lorenzo and Che finally arrived at the gates. Just as before, two guards flanked either side and regarded the two of them with suspicion.

Che held his breath as Lorenzo hopped off of the maglev cab, not missing a beat. He offered a polite but firm greeting before entering a code into a nearby wall console. The gates slide open with a loud clank, and Lorenzo quickly dashed back onto the maglev cab.

Che could have laughed if he weren’t so tired. He was finally going to enter the most heavily guarded area of Legaros Academy, the place he’d been trying to get to since he woke up in Eden. Finally, he could at least see what was inside! Maybe it would answer more questions than it would create.

The inside of the restricted area was nothing like Che had expected. It seemed oddly mundane, almost ordinary. The buildings were very stale, rectangular, and unremarkable save for an enormous, white, multi-story building at the center of it all.

Its design reminded Che of what he thought apartment buildings would look like in the future as a child. Its windows seemed to be made of some kind of black material likely meant to mute sunlight.

Several metal cylinders dotted its perimeter, each with a glowing light at the top. Like the Astronomy tower, it had a small section that was higher than the rest and capped off into a dome with a large telescope peeking out of it.

Che was certain this had to be the Marbot Research Facility. After all, it was the only structure in the entire area that looked like an out-of-place mad scientist laboratory.

But as they approached closer and closer, Che couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. He could almost feel a presence coming from within it. It felt alive somehow like something was watching him.

“Looks nice doesn’t it?” Lorenzo gestured ahead as if sensing Che’s anticipation. “The maglev will take us straight there. No need to walk yet.”

Once again, the cab hummed to life, and they sped off, rapidly approaching the Marbot Research Facility. Thankfully, Che was able to gain a brief sense of relief when they finally arrived at their destination. He didn’t know why it still felt like they’d never make it inside, but he was glad he didn’t have to run from explosions this time.

Lorenzo stepped off of the maglev first with Che following behind. Lorenzo walked up to the doors of the research facility and once again entered his passcode on another wall console. The doors slid open with a hiss, revealing a massive lobby that was nearly identical to the one in Legaros Tower.

The room seemed to go on forever, the light gray floor polished so exquisitely Che could see his reflection in it. He sniffed the air, noting the strong scent of antibacterial soap and unspecified chemicals. The walls were lined with monitors, each one displaying a different set of data related to various research projects, or at least that’s how it appeared to Che. It could have meant basketball stats for all he knew.

In the center of the lobby was an enormous hologram that rotated on its axis, displaying a 3D model of what appeared to be an aircraft of sorts. It was surrounded by a circular receptionist’s desk, where a young woman with dark hair sat typing away on a tablet.

Che slowly spun around, taking in his surroundings and noting the glass corridors that went up multiple floors. People in white lab coats glided through these hallways, stepping onto escalators that took them up and down each level.

They were also tapping away at tablets, most of them not even looking up to see where they were going. Che didn’t like it. Everything was too synchronized, too coordinated and perfect. It was unsettling.

To the right of the receptionist’s desk and the 3D hologram was a colossal aluminum and concrete door that expanded the full height of the building’s interior. It was just sliding shut as three women in lab coats walked out of it before making their way to one of the escalators. Two Legaros soldiers flanked either side of it, though Che was certain even if someone managed to get past them the door was likely blast-resistant.

Lorenzo grabbed Che’s arm, snapping him out of his daze. “Come on. Let’s go.”

He led the way to the receptionist, who looked up with a polite smile. “Good Evening! Welcome to the Marbot Research Facility! How can I be of help?”

“Lorenzo,” Lorenzo bowed gracefully before brandishing a gigawatt smile, “with a guest. I have clearance.”

The receptionist smiled brightly, clearly charmed by Lorenzo’s performance, before nodding and tapping something underneath her desk. “Of course!”

Lorenzo started toward the massive door, not giving the receptionist another glance. Che followed, nodding to the receptionist as the two left her to return to her tablet.

Che felt a chill run down his spine as they crossed the threshold. He knew this was where his journey would finally come to an end. Whatever awaited him beyond these doors could either be a dead-end or the answer he was searching for. He just had to hope it was the latter.

They were greeted by a massive corridor, its walls covered in metallic vents and yellow arrows denoting the facility’s layout. Large windows allowed them to peek into various laboratories, each one filled with more scientists scurrying around various machinery and contraptions. The rooms shimmered with monitors, holograms, and machines that Che couldn’t even begin to guess the purpose of.

The corridor ended at a smaller door labeled “M-10.” Che came to an abrupt halt just as Lorenzo continued to stroll ahead of him. The latter stopped and turned to face Che, his expression unreadable.

“Well?” Lorenzo asked, gesturing toward the door.

Che wanted to take a step forward, to steel himself against what he was about to discover, but he thought about Tyson. About Nikki. He had to use this moment to get as many answers as he could. This was likely his last chance.

“Lorenzo, I know I can’t really count on you to tell me anything,” Che’s voice was low. “But there’s something I need to ask you.”

Lorenzo simply stared at him, one eyebrow raised as if he expected Che to get to the point. Che took a deep breath before continuing. “What happened between you, Tyson, and a girl named Serena?”

Lorenzo slowly turned his head away from Che, his eyes focused on the door at the end of the corridor. “I knew Tyson would eventually bring her up.”

Che waited, but Lorenzo didn’t say anything else. Of course, Che knew it wouldn’t be that easy. He sighed as he folded his arms in front of him. “So you aren’t going to tell me?”

“Serena lived in our neighborhood,” Lorenzo replied quickly, his voice was a low murmur. “Many guys had a crush on her, most notably Tyson. Myself? I…well, let’s just say I didn’t have the best reputation. I’ve always been a bit of a black sheep, but for some reason, she wanted to be my friend. I didn’t have any at the time, so who was I to turn that down?”

Che’s eyes widened. That wasn’t exactly the response he’d been expecting, but he stayed silent, letting Lorenzo continue.

“Of course, when Tyson found out, he was furious,” Lorenzo went on. “He would always keep an eye on us, but he would never tell Serena how he felt. I wish he had, though. Maybe things would have turned out differently. Still, one day, she flat-out told me she was in love with me, and it broke his heart.”

Che wanted to roll his eyes and sigh. He hoped this wasn’t what the drama was all about, but they were teenagers after all. Still, he wanted to at least hear Lorenzo’s side of the story, since he wasn’t sure he’d ever get Tyson’s.

“But the thing about it was…” Lorenzo’s eyes fell to the floor, something Che had never seen happen before. “It didn’t mean anything to me. I liked her, sure, but she was never more than a friend in my eyes. In fact, she was the first friend I ever had. In just a few weeks, we knew just about everything there was to know about each other. She knew about my Mark, and I knew how much she actually hated the royal family.”

Lorenzo looked up at Che, his gaze intense. “So, when she told me she wanted to sneak into the royal palace and take down one of the guards, I should have taken her more seriously. I thought she was just blowing off steam, but she had already mapped out a way to get inside the palace.”

Che felt a chill run down his spine, but he didn’t want to interrupt.

“I begged her not to do it,” Lorenzo shook his head, looking off to the side. “I told her it was crazy for the two of us to sneak into the royal palace, so she told me she’d do it without me if I felt that way. I couldn’t just let her go alone, so I followed her.”

Che was beginning to piece it all together now. He’d misjudged the situation, and he couldn’t help but feel a little empathy for Lorenzo as he continued to tell his story.

“The whole way there, I tried to think of a way to stop her,” Lorenzo’s eyes fell to the ground again, as if he was contemplating the plan he’d put together that day, “but by the time we’d managed to make it inside it was too late. She truly thought nothing would go wrong.”

Che watched in shock as Lorenzo blinked away tears in his eyes. The usual mask of ambivalence was finally fading. “Tyson had been carefully trailing behind us from the moment we’d left our houses. My worst-case scenario was one of the guards catching us and locking us up. I should have known my bad luck would follow her that day. Not a single guard found us, but someone far worse did: Prince Simon.”

Che noticed he’d been holding his breath for the entire time Lorenzo had been speaking. He felt an odd wave of relief wash over him as he finally exhaled. It was a name he’d heard before.

He remembered Professor Stufford’s lecture about how Prince Simon competed in the annual ToKyotchi tournament every fifth year. He always won, which meant he had to be incredibly powerful.

“I’m not sure how familiar you are with the royal family since you’re not…from here…or whatever,” Lorenzo sighed. “Out of the royal family, King Saul and Prince Syd would have simply imprisoned us or killed us on the spot…”

Che felt the air in the corridor turn cold. Were they really that ruthless?

Lorenzo scoffed as if reading Che’s mind. “But Prince Simon is like a spoiled, cruel, hateful child. We’re nothing more than playthings in a toy box to him.”

“Lorenzo, I…” Che began, but Lorenzo cut him off with a wave of his hand.

“He…he took her away,” Lorenzo’s voice trembled slightly as he clenched both of his fists. “Right in front of me. Every night, I can still hear her screaming as that monster drags her away from me. And I turned and ran. I ran away, and Tyson watched me. He saw the whole thing.”

Lorenzo took in a deep breath before turning away from Che to approach the door labeled “M-10,” which slid open automatically with a hiss that reverberated through the corridor. As he stepped across the threshold, he turned to give Che one last look, his expression stoic and full of sorrow.

“So, you see, Tyson has every reason to hate me, and so do most people, even my parents.”