Disclaim or Die: Read Or Die (R.O.D) is copyrighted by and the property of Hideyuki Kurata, Akitaro Yamada, Studio Deen/SME, Sony, and currently licensed to Manga Entertainment. Noir is copyrighted by and the property of Ryoe Tsukimura, Bee Train, Victor Entertainment, Inc. and currently licensed to ADV Films.
Trekking across the mountains wasn't too difficult to accomplish. Yomiko had kept the plane intact until Noir's return, so it was convenient for them to save their strength on the flight over the mountain passes. The wine grove and grand stone house below indicated that this was The Manor that was treated with such reverence and respect from those within Soldats.
Landing before the rows of grape vines that had grown rampant and letting everybody off, The Paper looked around; now where to put all of this arsenal? Oh yes, she had left her suitcase behind on the Eiffel Tower; she lost many good suitcases that way. Flicking her wrist, all the sheets separated, fluttering around her. Grabbing hold of one, she directed all the others to fly up into the inside of her trench coat to settle neatly into all the pockets and paste themselves to the coat lining.
With everything packed up, the team forged ahead into the standing ancient ruin, entering its abandoned corridors. The dead bodies of the nuns in Altena's order were tastefully removed by now, no doubt by whatever secret service cleaned up after them, but the memories of them littered Kirika and Mireille's vision.
Guns drawn and ready, the dark pair led the library agents through the stone hallways while Miss Deep phased in and out of closed doors they passed, quickly checking if the book was in any of them. Soon, they were taken past the empty rooms and into a grand antechamber with stained glass windows and high glass windows, letting in plenty of light, but also casting many shadows. This was where they did battle with one of Altena's right hand women, who bore a broadsword and armor under her robes. Noir peered at the stone pillars around them, checking to see if there was some ambush awaiting them. The three armed women formed a circle, back to back, with The Paper in the middle of it.
"Where could the book be?" whispered Yomiko. "We've checked every room, and we have many more to look through!"
"We have to stop now. Keeping on like this would take too much time. By the time we finish, the I-jin and their flying base might be here by then... They could just level the entire Manor, thus eliminating us, and then search the wreckage for the book," Mireille whispered back.
"Altena adheres strictly to ceremony and significance; I believe she wouldn't keep it in just any room. It must be close to the center, close to where other rituals of Noir were held," Kirika said softly.
A skitter of movement alerted them. Mireille looked down to find a kabuto beetle crawling towards her booted foot. "Huh? A kabuto beetle? They're not from around here."
"Beetle?!" Miss Deep reflexively fired at the bug, a single bullet turning it into paste.
"What was that for?"
"The I-jin are near!"
Immediately, the sound of explosions and falling rock and debris told them that the I-jin were definitely near, and closing in fast, judging by the increased volume of that terrible row.
Bursting into the stone antechamber was a giant wasp, and riding on its back were the Tokyo Rose and Yomiko's clone.
"Fabre will not be happy about that," quipped the Paper Cut.
"We need help now!" Miss Deep tapped at her earring. "Joker? Joker?!" She was greeted with static. This was not good. "Something is jamming with our transmission!"
The Rose leapt off the back of the insectoid beast. "That would be me." She skillfully flipped the microphone in her hand, and touched a button on it. A low buzzing was emitted, to which the giant wasp responded. She nodded her head in the direction of her opponents, indicating to attack them.
Opening its maw, it successively spat out gobs of a strange and sticky white substance, immediately taking out Mireille and Yomiko and plastering them to the walls. Kirika dodged out of the way, and Miss Deep let the substance pass through her.
The Paper and the Corsican struggled against the rapidly drying paste. Soon they couldn't even more their bodies, only their heads, which were kept free of the substance.
"What is this?!"
"I don't know, Mireille-san!" She turned her head to look right at herself. The only noticeable difference between the two of them was that while the original had her forelocks braided, this one did not. "Why are you doing this? Why?"
"Because... I'm an I-jin woman, all the way," The Paper Cut said venomously. She touched the spatter meant for Miss Deep, which had adhered to a nearby stone pillar, and it flaked off in her hands. The flakes turned hard, and she hurled them like shuriken at her immobilized victims.
"Paper?!" Thinking quickly, Yomiko turned her restraint into a shield. Pushing through, two large circular pieces came apart at her hands. "Yah!" She held one up in front of her head and hurled the other in the line of fire, and it dropped as it stopped the shards aimed for Mireille's head.
Yomiko broke free from her shell, and ran up to Mireille. Laying hands on the restraint, she pulled it off her still intact, and held it up like a shield while she tended to her.
"Mireille-san! Are you all right?"
"I'm fine... You go get the book!"
"How do I do that?"
She pointed down a dark hall. "Follow it until you reach a grand door with the insignia of the two maidens. It will lead you to a room at the end of it, to your left, with two swords in it... Look behind the swords and follow the secret staircase. It'll take you to a white hall that's right beneath us. Be careful, there's a magma pit. Now go!"
"Don't worry about us. We are Noir, we've been through worse."
She handed the paper shield to her comrade and made a run for the hall. Her copy soon followed after her.
"Everyone! Stall them!" cried Mireille.
With the view piece still over his eye, Drake scanned his new surroundings. The ubiquitous crisscross of pipes and catwalks were very similar to that of the I-jin base at sea. Traveling through the dark and dank hallways, he made comparisons between the old base and new base. For one thing, this air-faring base was smaller (and rightfully so), and second of all, there weren't any steam trains or anything that remotely resembled a steam train.
"Joker? You got anything I can work with now? I've been walking around for nearly an hour, give or take a few minutes, and you haven't given me anything to work with!"
An exasperated sigh greeted him through the earpiece. That was a first from the man who always held a poker face. He was probably in the war room by now.
"I'm sorry, Mister Drake, but we lost contact with the others a few minutes ago. Something is jamming their signals."
"Don't worry, you know those girls can take care of themselves. You've still got me. Now, where do I go? Do I take out the main power source?"
There was a pause as Joker tried to direct information to him. "No, do not take out the main power source. I'm getting a slight radioactive signature. They're using nuclear energy. If you destroy it and send the the base crashing, it could lead to an environmental disaster."
"What about a control room? Any way I can commandeer that?"
"I'll give you the map right now. It's remarkable how similar the base design is."
"Yeah, I noticed. Makes it pretty convenient for us."
A three-dimensional schematic of the base appeared in his right eye's vision. A line darted from the red blip that represented him and connected it to a location deep within the base, right underneath the center tower. Drake couldn't help but roll his eyes; like all typical super villains, the very core of the secret base held the control room.
"Be careful, Mister Drake, the power source is there as well."
And the power source.
Drake readied the large rifle in his arms.
With that, he was on his way.
Mata Hari and the Tokyo Rose were already currently engaged in battle, and were quite evenly matched in hand-to-hand combat, but their skills for multi-tasking were impressive.
"What are your plans for Laputa?" questioned Miss Deep as she successively high kicked at the Rose.
Rose kept ducking and tumbling out of her reach. "Isn't it obvious? We plan on broadcasting Beethoven's suicide song to the world!"
"How can you do that?" Punch. Swipe.
Crouch. "We still have a recording of the man's symphony. We'll work with that!" She sprang up and took it as her turn to retaliate.
Miss Deep stood at the ready as her opponent tried to punch and kick, only to go have her attacks mean nothing. "But with a flying base?"
"A rocket is too obvious, don't you agree, Mata Hari?"
"Hai. Too obtuse. But the rocket was all Ikkyu's idea."
"Boys and their toys."
Faking forward then snapping back, Tokyo Rose backflipped and kicked off of Miss Deep's abdomen; she couldn't maintain the phasing for too long. The Rose lunged close, giving a cheeky grin before her hand snapped up, her palm butting into her opponent's forehead.
Recovering quickly, Miss Deep activated her power again. Just in time to have Rose's hand pass through her, and the rest of her body following after from the momentum.
Not caught off guard by all this, Tokyo Rose brandished her microphone baton and twirled it in her hand. She spun back to face Deep, and was lucky enough to get a kick to the back in, sending her reeling forward. She smiled at the damage she had done. As Miss Deep turned slightly and raised her head a little to look at her, Tokyo Rose charged forward and butted the microphone to her abdomen, attempting to knock the wind out of her. But she was unsuccessful when it was phase embedded into her stomach, not harming her at all.
Miss Deep smirked. "Hm. You can't use matter against me."
The Rose smirked back. "Hm. Radio waves and sound waves aren't matter."
Pressing a button, she struck out a note into the receiver, and it amplified.
Waves of sound and air slammed into Miss Deep, sending her flying back and slamming into the wall. She slumped over and clutched her stomach, feeling like all of her insides were painfully wrenched, but the pain was slowly receding. Out of commission for the time being, she looked up again to find that Mireille had taken her place in the fight against Tokyo Rose.
The Corsican rammed into the I-jin, broadsiding her with the paper shield. After tearing through the shield with her sound waves, the close quarters fighting began. Mireille was holding her own in the fight, exchanging punches and kicks, while trying to manage a decent shot at the clone with her Walther. But the Rose could easily deflect the shots as they bounced off sound waves she emitted. Mireille could feel the very air vibrate around them, making her a little uneasy, but she held tough.
Sleight of hand, the Rose moved her hands in and out of the folds of her robe. The I-jin woman's hands spread her arms out and came together, clapping together at Mireille's temples.
The blonde haired woman felt a sharp pain and the sting of cold metal on each side of her head; disoriented, she doubled over and stumbled around a bit.
Tokyo Rose held the microphone to her lips and opened them, creating high tone, some sort of refined shriek that rang in Mireille's ears - amplified feedback from the her earpiece. She had turned their own equipment against them. The discs that she had attached to Mireille's temples were sound activated, and crackles of green electricity arced and spewed from them, zapping the woman.
The blonde clutched at her head, the noise and pain getting to her. She cried out as her head was flooded with sensations and all her thoughts were scrambled. Losing all sense of direction, she backed into a pillar, her knees buckling out from under her.
"Mireille!" yelled Kirika, who was currently trying to dodge the Paper Cut's reach. She fired a few shots at the Yomiko clone, but she easily shielded herself with bits of the wasp paper on hand, which she, in turn, doubly used to slash at the girl.
Kirika glanced over to find her partner in a very vulnerable position. She looked back at her opponent then her partner, debating her choice. She immediately left the fight and ran to her partner's aid, giving the Paper Cut an opportunity catch up with herself.
Fishing around her pockets, Kirika found her ID card. She looked at it and back at the retreating Yomiko clone, who was making a good distance down the hall. She glanced around again to find Mireille cornered by her adversary, standing over her and ready for the kill with her weapon pointed forward.
Her legs were spread shoulder width for balance and she leant forward for the next strike, bracing herself for a sonic boom; a perfectly wide stance. Tumbling forward and underneath, Kirika's arm shot straight up and swiped, effectively slitting her throat with the card.
The Tokyo Rose gurgled and lurched forward, quite dead.
Mireille was momentarily shocked by her partner's ingenuity as her wits came back to her. She accepted the hand held out to her, bringing her back up.
"Thank you. But I still say your style..." She glanced at the bloody laminated card. "It lacks a certain finesse."
Going over to the now recovered Miss Deep, they helped her to her feet.
"We have to be quick. Hold my hands." The two women each took the bluenette's offered hands. "Show me, straightaway, where Yomiko is."
Mireille's free arm pointed at the wall to the left of the corridor, estimating where Altena's chamber would be. "There. In a room with two swords. She might be underground by now."
She squeezed their hands. "Run with me."
No reply as they were simply pulled ahead and phased together through the stone walls. Noir was astonished that they felt no impact as the bricks went rushing to their vision, and they re-emerged unscathed. This was cutting down on their chase time, but they didn't know how far ahead the clone was.
Kirika blinked as they phased out one more wall and now approached the iron doors with the relief of two maidens. In sheer massiveness, they resembled those doors that led to an underground auditorium entirely of white marble. Underground.
Squeezing Nancy's hand gently, the little girl banked left, taking the other two with her. No questions, they let the girl lead them; she obviously knew the way. When Kirika stopped, they stopped.
Following the command, the three of them fell through the floor. As soon as they felt heat pervading the matter, Kirika tensed up, and Nancy took it as a sign to stop. The three of them craned their necks forward, trying to get a view of their new surroundings. Apparently in the fall, they had ended upside down, and they were now hiding in the distorted, melted walls, safely between two pillars.
Silent observers to two Paper Masters trying to find the book. Both of them had taken to the opposite side of the ceremonial hall and scrambled atop the ornate vent boxes. They jumped up onto the walls, scaling the rectangular niches in them and peering inside; they were large enough to hide a book, and perfectly shaped so.
Pure instinct, or the silent call of any book, drove them closer and closer to one alcove. In tandem, they sprang upwards and reached inside, but the ersatz Yomiko was quicker. She jumped back, landing gracefully on the floor with The Grand Reader in arm.
She held it up like a trophy, displaying it. The red-hot glow of the magma glinted off the worn gold foil that tinged its edges.
"No!" The Paper cried in anguish, and leapt at her. Immediately in mid-air, Yomiko let loose a flurry of index cards, like hundreds of knives spewing forth and slashing.
Her copy danced under the guillotine rain, sidestepping each and every rapid-fire sheet that embedded itself into the ground.
Yomiko landed before herself, with one more card in hand. She attacked and in spades.
"I won't let you take that book!"
The Paper Cut continued to dodge. "How can you even fight for this polluted world?"
"Why do you even ask that question? You're me; you know the answer!"
"I thought I knew it, but I was wrong."
"No, you're not! There is still good in the world, and what you're doing is evil! Everyone has a choice to make, and though some people in the world make the wrong ones, you have no right to take it away! You can't bring order to this chaos, you must simply let things be!"
"How cute, how optimistic," she sardonically replied.
The three of them observed Yomiko in a fight with herself, and for the most part, it seemed that the original was winning! The Paper kept pushing forward, driving the clone to back step across the room to their side.
Nancy groaned softly. "I... I can't keep this phase any longer... Hold tightly..." Still grasping both of their hands, she slowly lowered them out of the ceiling by their arms, dangling them behind the coming fight.
The opposing forces were coming.
Yomiko raised her arm high to stab the deadly card down on her other self. But just as she brought it down, the Paper Cut caught the attack right in her hand. The two of them were locked in a battle of wills as they each tried to coerce the single sheet to do the bidding of the Paper Master. Yomiko still pushed them both back.
Finally, the stalemate broke, tearing the sheet in two. The Paper Cut acted quickly. Taking her ripped half, she turned the same trick on Yomiko, sharpening the serrated edge and aiming right for her throat.
Without hesitation, Noir leveled their guns right for the clone's head and fired at the same time.
The Paper Cut whimpered shortly, then collapsed on the floor, also quite dead. The Grand Reader tumbled out of her arms, falling right before Yomiko.
Letting Noir settle on the ground first, Nancy then followed, landing gracefully and catlike. She went over to her partner, who was paralyzed in shock at what had happened and tried to help her recover.
Kirika walked over and picked up The Grand Reader. She held the precious book in her hands. There was little to be said for its brilliance. Tiny, barely visible, colourful jewels lined the corners, embedded in the gold foil and leather that bound the fragile paper within. It was simply ornate, but the power that coursed through it was grand and tangible.
Her partner stood beside her, looking down on the book as well. They looked at the terribly awesome tome, wordlessly letting understanding pass between them.
"It's too dangerous to exist, Kirika. They can find and create more Noir from this book. The I-jin might not stop as well."
"Soldats mustn't get their hands on this. No one should. It'll only bring darkness..."
Yomiko and Miss Deep listened to their statements.
"Ano... there can be light brought out from this book too..." started The Paper.
Miss Deep placed a hand on her shoulder. "They're right. Soldats, the I-jin... anyone who wants to shape the world in their image will do anything to get a hold of that book."
"But it's a great discovery! It can help The Royal Library and... and... and I haven't read it yet!"
The blue-haired woman refused to shake her head at this moment. "Ie, The Paper. The Library may be made more vulnerable to attack if it were to possess the book, or become corrupted by its power. Something this great can only attract darkness. It may have the potential for the light... but for certain it will attract only darkness."
Clutching the book close, Kirika ran for the magma well, gaining as much momentum as she could. Gathering all her strength, she threw it from her arms, sending the Grand Reader hurtling down the chasm.
"No! You can't destroy it!" cried Yomiko, running after the girl.
Her blue eyes only widened in horror as she saw that precious book moving into the air. Without thinking, she ran after it, gaining enough momentum to spring up after it.
She went sailing after it... down, down the well.
"Yomiko!" Nancy screamed out in utter horror. She ran to the well's edge, in some futile effort to try and rescue her partner.
Miss Deep witnessed a shell of sheets mushroom out from under her partner's trench coat, spreading, expanding, covering her and shrinking into a protective ball.
Such a trick worked against Genjo Sanzo, his fire breath, and a torpedo, but it didn't last very long. What chance did she have against lava?
She hoped that she was wrong... She hoped that so strongly.
But she stopped when she saw the white ball sink into the fiery red sea.
Readying the heavy rucksack on his back, Drake considered what the next course of action was. He was getting near the control room, and none of the I-jin ran interference with him yet. This was suspiciously too easy. He looked all around the narrow area, the dark hall that would take him to his destination.
The skitterish rasping of insectoid limbs made the burly man whirl around with his gun at the ready. This was a sight he didn't expect to see: the larvae stage of Jean Henri Fabre riding on the back of a giant spider.
"This will be fun. Let's play!" the child taunted.
"Round two, bug boy!"
The arachnid reared back with a screech and grabbed forward with its arms at the appetizingly large prey. Drake immediately opened a round of fire, aiming right for the beast's head. He ducked as it retaliated by spitting webbing at him, then rolled away as the webbing turned into venom.
He stared as the green ooze ate right through the metal floor and walls. He would be cornered if he went further into the hall, and right now, he was trapped.
Drake Anderson may be a reckless man, but he did not go into these things unprepared. He pulled out a grenade from his pocket. Plucking out the pin with his teeth, he drop-kicked the projectile, letting it roll under the arachnid's swollen abdomen.*º
Hurtling himself clear of the explosion, he got satisfaction as he heard the beast's death cry among the rumble of the corridor's structure collapsing. Ducking and rolling into a safe corner, he checked his current location and how much further he had to go. Not far to go, just one more level.
Unaware of it, he rubbed his solar plexus. And to think, merely days ago, he almost got his insides ripped out. Good thing he was fully healed, or else that stunt he pulled would've been hindered.
Reloading his rifle with a full magazine, he needed to be prepared if he was going to use the element of surprise against the I-jin.
The Paper could only expect the unbearable heat and pain of death to come quickly, in a flash. She closed her eyes tightly, waiting for the quick gasp and the bright light of her end to come.
But there was nothing.
Wrapped up in her cocoon, she didn't feel the overbearing heat. In fact, it suddenly felt rather cool... and spacious. She noticed her legs were extended, touching the floor.
Yomiko cautiously, slowly, opened one eye, then the other and unwrapped her arms from her chest.
Eyes of sea blue scanned the hall of pale white marble. It looked exactly like the ceremonial hall she was in moments before, but more empty; there was no fire altar, no vent boxes, no slots cut into the walls. Pillars lined the hall, pillars etched with some familiarly ancient design. It was so starkly, beautifully white, she barely noticed the contrasting dark figure hunched over in the corner of the hall.
She slowly approached him, and saw he sat on another piece of white stone, a pedestal that was like a miniature of the columns around her, around them.
Black, short, semi-unruly hair was atop his head. The dark suit he wore shifted with each slight movement of his body as he was on his seat. There was something familiar in the dark charcoal grey of his jacket and pants, even in the hint of a brown vest underneath his jacket. He just sat there, completely harmless, he didn't give off the jittery tension that he would suddenly turn around and attack her.
Whoever he was, he seemed quite absorbed in what he was doing. It would be so rude to startle him.
"Ano... Hello?" Yomiko said clearly and softly as she edged near him.
"Hm?" a slight tenor tone absently, yet knowingly, replied. There wasn't a hint of annoyance in this syllable, nor was he startled either. His head began to turn to meet his visitor and Yomiko realized who this friendly face was.
"Donnie*¹...?" she could barely say. The name came out caught in a cross of a high sigh and an uttered cry. It was impossible to see his face now, at this moment, right here. "I... I missed you. I'm so... so happy to see you again..." she choked out.
"Yomiko, it's so good to see you," Donnie said genuinely, and a smile crossed his handsomely soft-spoken features.
The need to cry stopped as she frantically touched her glasses, ready to take them off, for she could see he didn't have any spectacles on his face. "Donnie, please, your glasses... I-"
"You should keep them. I gave them to you, remember?"
"But... you don't have any glasses... how can you see?"
"I can see just fine. Besides... they always looked better on you." He smiled again. "Won't you sit down and read this book with me?"
An even bigger smile began to cross her face. She was surging with happiness, for it would be just as before. Her idle days of love with Donnie, where they would revel in each other and in any books they could read together. Maybe she was in heaven now. "H...h-hai... I will!" She scrambled to her knees beside him and peered at the book on his lap.
He looked down affectionately at his love. "It's a very interesting book, Yomiko. I'm sure you would enjoy it. I've had a bit of trouble reading it, but it's because you aren't here. Please, keep my place on the page?"
"Of course, Donnie!" She looked down to put her hand on the blank page, but stopped as she could see no words were written in the tome. "Donnie?"
"Put your hand there, Yomiko. Don't worry. Remember, you always come alive when you're around books. Should it be any different that they come alive when they're around you?"
There was only a gentle warmth that pervaded his every word and slight action. His words rang with a truth that Yomiko could only trust wholeheartedly. With a slight nod, she brought her hand onto the paper and watched in amazement as the words, the darkest black of ink flowed and formed, bleeding onto the page.
She wanted to gasp, but held it back, only to release it when his hand moved over to lie on hers. It was so strong, so concrete, this moment. Like every moment with him that she cherished before, paid back in full and more, surpassing the strongest that she ever felt.
That was what her bond to him was like. So strong in their common bond to the paper and the word, they could love each other all the more as they partook of this sacred study.
Both of their eyes moved in tandem, both going at a pace that savoured every word, every sentence. They drank into the story that was being told to them. Living and reliving through each description dictated to them in that two-dimensional reality.
A synchronized sigh was exhaled from the lovers as they crossed the final sentence in the middle of the page.
"You've led a wonderful and interesting life so far, Yomiko."
Finally, the question that would wake her from this dream was asked. "D-Donnie... am... am I dead?"
Once again, he could only patiently, affectionately, look at her and smile again. "That's for you to decide. Look over that last sentence again."
"Read or die..." Yomiko quoted.
"Hai, Yomiko. You have a choice. You were asked this before, but now it is asked of you again. Do you understand what is being said? What you must choose? I know that you do."
She looked at him, letting her thoughts run, letting everything fall into place.
To read is to obtain knowledge. Wisdom, intelligence, genius - they are the same. But to become filled with a divine understanding of everything; true enlightenment, by the spiritual, the physical, the mental, it is complete harmony that can be found out of chaos. To know brings the power to create... or to destroy. To utilize it for the benefit of the entire world... or reap bitter waste upon all.
To die is to make life forfeit. Maybe even transcend to another plane, higher than what could ever by physically comprehended. But for the physical, it is complete loss. Void, null, nothing. Especially when you hold that ability. Cut down what is in your way. Trim the obstacles and make room for your destiny to grow. There is the power to hold a life, or many lives, in your hand... elevate them, or crush them.
But both are driven by power - to search for it, to obtain it, to harness it. It is an all-consuming passion that would refine one and raise them to their destiny... or bring them to perish within the flames of ambition.
Slowly, The Paper rose to her feet. She radiated with a new confidence, fueled only by the amplification of what emotions she had lived off of before. "Donnie... I want to read."
The former Paper Master closed the text with a resounding thud and stood up to meet his former protégé, never taking his gaze off of hers. He brought his arms up to hold onto each of hers. "It was as you said before Yomiko. True love is much more wonderful-" he started.
"-and although there may be painful things-"
"-no matter what kind of love it is..." The two paused as they found that their faces were gravitating to the other's and let their last tender words together echo and ring.
"You can be the heroine." Donnie finished.
They looked past half-lidded eyes as their lips breached the space between them, united again.
Yomiko closed her eyes, feeling the warmth and air surging through her body. She curled her body against his solid one, and let go when a wall of hot wind slammed against her cheeks.
"Haaah!" she gasped out. Her eyes shot open as her head craned upwards, seeing all above her.
A distant overhead of white marred by a lurid orange-red glow. Something... something was coming down for her.
A falling angel... dark as ebony, hair as blue as the night...
"Nancy!" The Paper cried out. Her hands peeled out from her rapidly incinerating paper cocoon, reaching high up for her rescuer. "Nancy-san!"
Immediately, cool and leather covered hands grabbed onto hers, clasping tight and pulling up with great strength.
"I got her! Help me get her up quickly!" yelled Miss Deep to the pair above them.
Mireille and Kirika both took a steady hold of the emergency cable and pulled their comrades back from the well of fire and into safety. They saw that The Paper had come up empty handed.
"Bakayaro!" cursed Mireille. "You stupid girl! Is any book worth more than your life?!"
Someone had already spoken out her anger at the situation, there was no need to reprimand her any more. "Did you get the book?" Nancy asked softly.
"No... I didn't."
"Because... because I decided that it was better to make myself the heroine of my story. I don't want to know anymore... You're right, Nancy-san, it's sometimes better to leave some things unread. There's no use if it'll bring us only darkness."
Nancy sighed, finally giving in to the urge to shake her head. "Yomiko..." she choked out with much affection. Moving close, Nancy wrapped her arms around Yomiko and kissed her.
They parted from each other, letting the warmth of the kiss evaporate in the air, like dissipating steam risen from a hot spring.*²
The moment was broken as they noticed their comrades politely trying to avert their eyes and give them some privacy. It was officially over when Joker's voice came on the comm system.
"Agents? Agents, respond."
"Right here, Joker," Kirika answered.
"Thank goodness! We were only able to re-establish contact with you minutes ago. And right after that, we had temporarily lost The Paper's signal. Are you all right?"
"Ah... Yes, we're fine, Joker," Nancy said hurriedly.
"Good, Miss Deep. Mister Drake wishes to speak. He'll explain everything."
One short communications blip later, and their support man was patched through. "After another rematch with the bug boy, I've managed to grab control of Laputa. I think I've got a hang of all the gears and buttons, and I'm looking to land this thing so the rest of the library force can handle this."
Mireille and Kirika looked to each other. It was time to destroy the role that The Manor had in the creation of more darkness, and to bring down another center of evil. They were two idealistic organizations, but they had lost sight of the truth of humanity, twisting and distorting that truth to their own perverted ambitions. Without words, they agreed that they knew what to do with Laputa.
"Mister Drake," Mireille started curtly, "drop Laputa right on top of us."
Puzzlement was evident in his voice. "What?!"
"Just do it!"
"Alright, but I'll bring her down nice and easy so you have time to get out of there."
"Just as long as you destroy The Manor."
A slight grumble of disapproval followed. "Hrn... Fine. Get out of there, fast, cause I'm almost right over you."
Taking their cue, the all female team scrambled and started running for the surface side. Up flights of stairs, and phased through anything in their way, by way of Miss Deep's assistance. Making good time, they found themselves back in the antechamber where the face off began. They looked past the gaping holes in the stone and saw that the entire area outside was covered by a growing shadow.
"Yomiko-san, do you have any more paper?" asked Kirika.
The Paper searched her coat. Nothing.
Nevermind. They had to keep running forward and hope for the best. Hurdling over the stone debris and clambering over the remnants of walls to reach the open area of the wine grove. There, they found the wayward paper wasp munching on the vine foliage. All four of them looked up; Laputa was becoming a growing dot, and the area of the approaching shadow was getting bigger. They had no choice.
"Get rid of your braids," said Mireille.
"We can redo them afterwards, Yomiko-chan," Nancy soothed her.
"Hai..." She ripped the paper ribbons out and shaking her head out, undid the braids. Her forelocks now loose and flowing, she approached the giant insect.
It reared back, ready to attack, but seemingly recognizing its rider, it calmed down. Yomiko shushed the paper wasp, distracting it while Mireille, Kirika, and Nancy mounted it. Joining them on the beast's back, The Paper tentatively tugged its antenna.
"Ah... Up! Fly! Please?"
Flapping its wings, emitting that droning buzz, it took to the sky and out of the crash radius, heading for home.
"Well, I left Laputa on autopilot; gravity can take care of the rest of the job. Joker, tell me those girls are out of there," Drake commented as he was heading for the edge of Laputa. Digging around his bag in hand, he had nothing left but a parachute inside it. His bag was now empty due to following further instructions: he planted every single remote mine and proximity bomb on hand at strategic points all over the base.
"Even better, Mister Drake."
"What do you mean by that?"
"They're right in front of you."
"Right in front of-" He saw the strangest sight in his life. His entire team was perched on the back of another mutated bug, parked and waiting for him to get on. The Paper was waving at him, giddy as a child.
"Drake-san! Drake-san! Hop on!"
"That woman is bad luck," he couldn't help but mutter.
"I think you really mean she is a blessing in disguise, Mister Drake."
"Yeah, yeah, Joker..." Pulling him up, he settled comfortably among the girls, straddling its already crowded thorax. Flying off into the horizon, they headed for the shelter of the mountains. "I'm telling you, after this, I never wanna see another bug. Ever."
"Did you manage to keep The Grand Reader out of the I-jin's clutches?" Joker asked.
"Of course, Joker!" replied Mireille.
"They wouldn't be here if they didn't," commented Drake. Pulling a remote from his vest pocket, he pressed a button. Secondary explosions went off in the background; he smiled as he observed his handiwork.
"Do you have it with you?"
"I'm... I'm afraid not," said Mireille.
"Would you care to explain?"
"The Paper and Miss Deep will tell you themselves-" Mireille stopped as Kirika tapped her shoulder and pointed at the two library agents.
"The Paper and Miss Deep will tell you in their official report," finished Kirika.
Sunset pink eyes met sky blue ones. They both looked so lovely, in the glow of the razing fires and background explosions, and in the luridly waning light of dusk. Faces gravitating towards each other's, the two of them kissed each other once again.
Giving the two forefront passengers their privacy, Noir looked behind them, watching as The Manor, its ruins, and its legacy were smashed off the face of the earth. Truly, it would now be forgotten by time and by the entire world. Facing forward into the mountain face and its carved foothills, they found the assembling forces of the British Royal Library Force waiting for their three top agents to return. And hopefully, they had obtained two more to join their ranks.
*0 - Borrowed this move from Spike Spiegel from that one Cowboy Bebop episode. Er... minus the giant insect creature blowing up. ^_^
*1 - I'll reiterate for those that don't know. Donnie Nakajima was the Paper Master before Yomiko; he held the agent title "The Paper" until his death. But in the meanwhile, he trained Yomiko to take his place until such an occasion did arise. He was Yomiko's teacher, her mentor, and her boyfriend. From what I read in the downloaded translations of the first volume of R.O.D manga (ah... I didn't even get the entire first volume, I'm still one chapter short), it was kept ambiguous how Donnie had died, so I thought I'd use him as some kind of guardian angel for our dear Yomiko.
*2 - Anyone who's gotten a chance to download the first volume, in the second chapter, Yomiko meets her favourite author Nenene Sumiregawa. Unfortunately, she met the author while she was at work, pressed for a deadline and trying to describe a kiss. So, in order to describe such a kiss for her book, she grabbed Yomiko and kissed her! I kinda borrowed description that came from such... inspiration. ^_^
Looking at the the way these chapters have been put together, it's kinda funny how they turned out. If you want to say that there are four chapters, it could work out to be a chapter for each heroine. But then there is one chapter made of two parts; Noir is one name made up of two parts. Funny how the arrangement of chapters mirrors the ladies of this dream team. Or am I the only one that gets it? ^_^