"Are you sure that's where we are?"
"Absolutely. I'd managed to annoy one of the guards enough to tell me."
"Ha. Annoying people has always been your best talent."
"…Does it disturb you to return here, Ray?"
Ray heaved a sigh. He had never thought that he would once again return to Hell's Keep, a place that was all to familiar to him.
"A little. I don't hold on to what part of me used to rest here, but the thought of it…it's a bit unnerving."
"It'll be alright. I'm here with you."
"I'm sorry, Ashe. Don't take this personally, but I really wish you weren't."
Ashe closed her eyes. She knew the thought of her being imprisoned by an organization of thugs tore him apart from the inside. She thought back to the last thing she had remembered before waking up in an unknown place. The Magnum Chaos men were racing up a hill. Ashe managed to shoot a few of them, but unfortunately they didn't come unarmed themselves. They returned fire with stun guns, and she lost consciousness. If she could have gotten into melee range, Ashe could have potentially saved herself, and maybe even Ray. Ladon's men wouldn't stand a chance against a champion hand-to-hand combatant.
"I know you didn't want this. But at least we are together."
Ray cracked a smile. "Yeah. We are. To make it better, Rei is somewhere safe…at least I hope."
Ashe slowly reopened her eyes. "I suppose all we can do is hope. I want her to stay safe, but with her against the world right now there isn't much I can do."
"She can take care of herself. From what I understand, she shouldn't be alone. I know Ladon isn't trustworthy but he did say that she was with two other people. I'm hoping she didn't fall in with the wrong crowd…"
"At least she's made SOME kind of friends…being lonely can never be fun. I doubt she would be mentally stable without a concrete person to talk to."
"How does she feel?"
Ray closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. " I'm feeling…some kind of…hmm. It's complicated. Like she's got some sort of high hopes herself. Everything else has been dark or nothing at all. I'm curious as to what she's doing right now."
"That's good news. So you think she's alright, now? Yesterday you were nearly sweating bullets, and you couldn't even tell me what was going on in well-structured sentences."
Ray's expression was grim. He swallowed hard. "I'm still pretty shaken about that. I could feel something I felt before. And it's been more than two-hundred years since I'd ever had that same feeling."
Ashe looked puzzled. "I'm not sure what you mean. Can you explain?"
"For the first time, I could partially see through her eyes…what I saw was myself. Or what I used to be anyway, clad in black armor. At first I felt her struggling against it, like she was at war with it. I managed to actually see part of what was going on; Rei was fighting to keep control of her own body. I did the best I could to reach out to her mind, but I don't know if she heard me. I know telepathy is illogical, but I want to believe it worked for her sake."
Ashe struggled to find words. "How in the world? How is it even possible for her to encounter something like that, especially when you're right here?"
"As I've explained before, I was experimented on over two centuries ago. While I barely remember the processes, I do remember waking up in a strange lab and trying to kill people in white lab coats. Not to mention reading a monitor showing what I had gotten spliced with, then getting angry and blowing it up…" Ray cleared his throat. "My point is, I have alien DNA. Since I'm Rei's biological father, some of my own mutated genes likely passed on to her. So part of what I used to be was living inside of her. The bitter feelings of anger and hate likely allowed it to manifest into a soul of its own. Once it got big enough, it formed a separate consciousness, trying to convince her to do its evil bidding. If it kept growing, it would try to take over her own body and control it at will. For it to form outside and for her to have to physically battle it? It's strange to say why, even for me. It's possible she saw what was going on, and rejected it. It had probably already built up enough to be 'alive' per se, but rather than trying to suppress it, she rejected it from her mind. The thing might have then actively left her body and then try to take her over later when she least expected. From what I'm feeling now, she likely was able to overcome it."
A light smile lifted from Ashe's lips. "I'm thinking she takes more after you, save for the idiocy."
Ray smiled back. "Really, now? She was always a stubborn girl. I wonder who she picked that up from?"
She rolled her eyes. "I'm not stubborn. Well, not that much."
"Well she's your little girl."
Ashe sighed and looked down. "I always wanted to think of it that way. I did everything I could to stay close to her."
Ray lifted an eyebrow. "Why do sound like she never was? It's most unlike you to say something like that."
"The truth is, I always felt she had a special bond with you that I could never have. Look at you, able to feel her own emotions. She's your little girl, Ray. Not mine."
"When are you going to stop being so hard on yourself?" Ray snapped. "You know you're just as important to her as I am."
"I guess, but I never felt that way."
Ray sighed and tried to brighten up again. "Did you ever pay attention to how often Rei greeted you when you returned home, whether you were out working, grocery shopping or at a gym somewhere?"
"Maybe not as much as I should have…I remember when she was younger I could never get through the door without her knocking me over."
"Our place was a good drive from the city. When you left, sometimes she would sit by the front window and wait for you to get home. If I was out working in the shop, she would do the same thing. I remember asking her why she did that once."
"What did she say?"
Ray chuckled. "I told her that you were always going to come back. She said that she was going to wait. When I did ask why she wanted to simply wait, she said: 'Because if aliens come to our house, Mommy won't be here to scare them away.'"
Ashe burst into laughter. "She really said that?"
"Mhmm. Despite what you might think I share with Rei, there's no denying she has a sense of security around you. Because honestly, who can win in a fight against you?"
"Cuffs apparently." Ashe tugged at the cuffs that held her suspended in the air. The impulsing chains of plasma energy leading from them to the ceiling hardly moved. "These things are starting to hurt my wrists. A lot. Between them and whenever Ladon lets us eat again, I'm starting to get my ass kicked."
"As soon as I can get out of my own, I'll massage it for you."
"Dammit, Ray. If we were still wearing uniforms I'd kick YOUR ass. Unfortunately that's my property."
"Let me remind you that what's yours is mine."
Ashe sighed and looked up. "I'm not sure if that's for better or for worse."
The hiss of pressure locks disengaging sounded. Ladon walked in briskly, with three other guards following him. The large monitor clicked on, and a radar pulled up. A three-dimensional mode 7 image projected from the screen, taking the shape of a large airship. Ladon turned to his guards, who were both clad in Chaos armor.
"Secure all entry points. There is a strong possibility that we've been found. If they land and make an attempt to enter, release the Aparus in the Alpha and Delta chambers."
"What about Beta, sir?"
"They are showing some signs of resistance and aren't reliable. I don't need them turning on us. I also need a few guards to remain here and watch these two. Now off with you!"
The guards obeyed. Ladon walked toward Ray and Ashe.
"It seems you might have a rescue party on their way. If I lose you, I lose my bait. I'm going to the security room for now. I need to call my bounty hunter. I'll return shortly…"