ToKyotchi Chapter 57
For the first time, Nikki noticed slight deformities in the boulders next to her, the cracks not lining up how she remembered. The sky, while still red and menacing, seemed almost too solid, as if she could reach up and touch it.
Even when she sniffed the air, it no longer held the trace of sulfur and smoke that reminded her of that day. The wind, which had threatened to permanently chap her face, wasn’t blowing either. She looked around hoping to catch a glimpse of Avis, but the professor was still nowhere to be seen.
Where could she be? Was she preparing a final attack against the three of them? Nikki shook her head. No, it was something else. Before Chetachi and Lorenzo arrived, Avis had been hard at work chipping away at Nikki’s memories while trying to put her to sleep. Now, it was almost as if she’d been forced to pause everything and form a new strategy.
That was when Nikki knew for certain that Chetachi and Lorenzo’s presence wasn’t just disrupting the illusion. It was putting a strain on Avis’ power.
“How did you both get in here?” Nikki asked them, still trying to understand the situation.
Chetachi and Lorenzo exchanged glances before Chetachi spoke up. “Well, I wasn’t sure at first. We jumped into the ring and got caught up in whatever this illusion thing is.”
Lorenzo nodded in agreement. “Had to bust this one out of his cell and get him here.”
This caused Chetachi to wince, though he smiled good-naturedly. “Yeah…we don’t have to talk about that.”
Still, Nikki couldn’t believe what she was hearing. They had both truly come for her, risking their own safety to save her from Avis’ grasp. She felt a surge of gratitude, one that she couldn’t hide no matter how hard she tried.
Chetachi slowly surveyed the area, taking in all the boulders and cracks that didn’t seem to match. “I take back what I said before. This isn’t just an illusion. It’s a memory, isn’t it?”
Nikki nodded, afraid that if she answered aloud, everything would somehow reset and come flooding back too quickly. She didn’t think she could face it all again.
Chetachi noticed her hesitation and sighed, his eyes trailing to the ground. “I’m sorry, Nikki. I’m sorry all of this ever happened to you.”
Nikki’s vision began to blur, and she quickly shut her eyes, not wanting to start crying again. “I…thank you, Chetachi.”
“It’s…it’s him, isn’t it? This was the day.”
Nikki and Chetachi turned to face Lorenzo, who was standing over the young soldier’s body. Chetachi glanced at the young soldier for a few seconds before realization dawned on his face. He then moved to stand next to Lorenzo, rubbing his shoulder in a comforting gesture.
Nikki’s brow furrowed in confusion at the sight. It was almost as if the two of them knew who the young soldier was, but that wasn’t possible. Neither of them were there that day. Chetachi turned to face her, his expression solemn.
“This is the day you escaped the laboratory, isn’t it?” he asked softly.
Nikki froze, the memories rushing back to her in a blur of pain and fear. She held her head in her hands, trying to keep it all together. Taking a deep breath, she looked up at her two friends.
“Yes, it is,” she swallowed hard before continuing. “He was trying to get us away safely.”
Lorenzo nodded but didn’t turn around. “I know. He always did things like that, always looking out for everyone…”
Nikki felt a chill run down her spine. She’d never seen Lorenzo be this somber before. It seemed like he knew who the young soldier was after all, but how was that possible?
“Lorenzo, did you know him?” Nikki asked, feeling a sense of dread wash over her. She looked at Chetachi, whose eyes trailed back down to the ground, before returning her attention to Lorenzo.
Lorenzo took a deep breath, looking up toward the sky, before relaxing his shoulders. “Yes. This was my brother, Rowan.”
Nikki felt as if she would sink into the ground, her eyes widening in shock and fear as she looked down at the body of the young man. She had never known Lorenzo had a brother, let alone one who’d served in the military.
Her mind flashed back to all the times she’d spoken to Lorenzo, how he always seemed to have some sort of mission of his own. Not only did he know Chetachi was an imposter, but Rowan wasn’t just a random missing student. He was Lorenzo’s brother.
And Nikki had been helping Chetachi impersonate him all this time.
“Lorenzo, I…” Nikki began, but she couldn’t find the words. She was at a loss, her mind racing with guilt and regret. “I didn’t know he was your brother. I…I just wanted to get away. I thought he could help me.”
She gazed up at Lorenzo, who didn’t say anything for what felt like an eternity. Finally, he spoke in a low voice.
“I know, Nikki,” Lorenzo said, his eyes full of sadness. “The thing about him…he would have wanted all this to happen. He would have wanted you to get away, would have let Chetachi use his student ID, all of it. That’s how he always was.”
Nikki’s hands were trembling now, and she could feel tears starting to form in her eyes. She didn’t think it was possible to feel more guilty than she’d always felt, yet here she was. Lorenzo was so calm about it all, but she knew she didn’t deserve it. Why wasn’t he screaming at her, telling her how worthless and cowardly she was?
“If…” Nikki started, her voice shaking. “If I had just done what the officer had told me, if I had warned them all that Eminal might still be alive…”
Lorenzo simply shook his head. “Don’t do that. I’ve already done it enough for all three of us. It’s not your fault.”
Chetachi opened his mouth to speak before closing it again, his eyes still trained on the ground. Nikki was beginning to understand what must have happened before they got here. Lorenzo must have told Chetachi the truth before helping him escape.
So, what was Lorenzo’s true goal, then? Did it have something to do with Rowan, or was it something more? Did he want revenge on Legaros just like she did? One of the boulders in her peripheral caught her attention, reminding her of the current predicament.
“Lorenzo!” Nikki called out. “Professor Eminal, he’s here! He’s the one who…”
Nikki couldn’t finish her sentence, but Lorenzo nodded in understanding. “I know. He was the one who took control of the soldier who shot my brother. I came to this academy to learn the truth about his death. I also know Professor Avis isn’t who she says she is.”
“It’s all connected somehow,” Chetachi added, finally looking up from the ground. “The day Nikki and I met and first encountered Yokan, he gave me Rowan’s student ID. Then, he told me to find him here in the academy. Professor Eminal, Yokan, Professor Avis, what are they planning?”
“Well, we certainly have time to find out, don’t we?” Lorenzo’s expression morphed into his trademark smirk. Nikki, realizing she now stood a chance against Avis’ illusion, finally stood up, dusting herself off.
“Let’s do it,” Nikki said, nodding confidently. “For Rowan.”
Lorenzo’s smirk twitched slightly as if he was keeping himself from allowing it to spread, while Chetachi nodded silently.
“I used to be so angry at him,” Lorenzo let out a sad chuckle. “Thinking about how he risked his life for complete strangers, how he always had to be such a hero…”
He began to shake, tears streaming down his face as he fell to his knees. Chetachi immediately rushed over to him, but Lorenzo held up a hand, motioning for him to stay back.
“It’s alright. I…” Lorenzo’s voice cracked as he stood back up, and he took a deep breath before continuing. “I’m not done here yet. I still have a mission of my own, you know.”
Chetachi sighed, rolling his eyes but smiling. “Of course you do, and you won’t tell us, right?”
Lorenzo chuckled softly and winked in response, and Chetachi reached over and ruffled his hair before turning to face Nikki.
“Well, Nikki…” Chetachi held up a fist as his body began to glow with a silver light. “Will you let me help you now?”
Nikki would have normally protested immediately, not believing anyone else should get involved, but she couldn’t help but feel touched by Chetachi’s sincerity and determination. She nodded, giving him a thumbs up as she turned to face the red horizon.
Chetachi followed her gaze, the flames of his Silver Aura Mark covering his body. “Then let’s try this again, shall we?”