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Soldiers // Prepare // Kill

Chapter Text

 Chapter 1: Act 1, Part 1 



 “Shit!” 

 An explosion blasted overhead, but they kept running. The dark circular tunnel was only faintly illuminated by two white stripes of lights on the edges of the walkway. The rushing water was at their ankles, tide going against them, but they pressed on. 

 “Keep going!” Yamaguchi said as he came to a stop, fumbling with the wires in his pocket. “I need to tighten this valve.” 

 Kageyama spun around, looking through his visor to identify what Yamaguchi was doing. “We need to get to the main valve, now!” 

 Yamaguchi pulled out his datapad and got down to his knees despite the water. “That’s why you keep going! If they bomb the main valve, it’s all over! We’ll all be thrown to the bottom of the sea…” His datapad fizzled, crackling with the audio reports of what was going on above ground. “If I can tighten this valve, it’ll strengthen the main one. Even if it’s just a bit.” His head snapped up. “Kageyama, I know what I’m doing!—Just go!” 

 Kageyama turned around and ran. 

 His footsteps were heavy against the water, large splashes. He followed the glowing lines until they reached what seemed to be a circular gateway. He paused below it and looked up. His eyes narrowed. He tapped his earpiece and his helmet popped from his suit and locked against his visor, empowering it. 

This has got to be it. Kageyama nodded as he moved around the circle. If I can find a way to— 

 Kageyama faced forward. 

 Footsteps. 

 Kageyama pulled out his rifle, swiping his arm to the side with enough force that the back of the rifle snapped open and spun over the barrel, switching modes. A faint, deep blue line glowed along the new barrel. He aimed it forward. “Stop!” His grip tensed. “I have a ninety percent accuracy rate with a Titanium Brutaliser. This is your last warning.” 

 The footsteps ahead of him paused. 

 Kageyama could barely see the silhouette of the figure ahead of him. “I know what I’m doing,” he spoke over the rushing water, “I will fire!” 

 “God,” murmured the other person, just barely audible. He spoke louder when he said, “You think you’re some hot shot, ne? With your big toys.” There was a gush of fluid moving through the person’s suit, and his joints began to glow glimmering orange. “I’ve got a Mark III, dumbass! That’s not going to do shit to me!” 

 Orange from his suit lit up the tunnel, letting Kageyama see the figure. The head was covered by a helmet, but that— 

 The other person took a step forward. 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened, and he lowered his gun. “Hinata.” 

 The other person paused. 

 Kageyama closed his eyes and focused. A gush of fluid moved under his own suit, joints beginning to glow a deep ocean blue. He tapped his neck and his helmet disassembled, visor moving away. His eyes softened and he took a shaky breath. “Hinata… is that…?” 

 “K-Kags?” The helmet moved, and the unmistakable orange hair could only belong to— 

 “Hinata.” 

 “Kageyama!” Hinata’s eyes widened. 

 “You’re…” There was a rush, an urge—to run over, to kiss him, to grab him, pull him close, but… His hand tightened on his gun and he pointed it forward. The gun switched modes, top flipping back over to its original blaster position. “What are you doing here?” 

 Hinata’s eyes had been filled with worry and happiness; but, in one moment, that died. His eyes hardened. He was a soldier, after all. “I told you, didn’t I?” Hinata wasn’t fazed by the gun pointed at him. “The war won’t end this way… as long as the Emperor sits on his fucking throne, peace will never happen.” 

 “You’re…” Kageyama already knew, but it was hard; it was hard to let the words slip from his mouth. “You’re on the other side?” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata nodded. “I’m here to blow up this tunnel.” 

 “Hinata…” Kageyama bit his lip. “Shouyou…” 

 Hinata made a slight movement, right hand moving towards the holster of his weapon. 

 A crackle in Kageyama’s ear piece, “Kageyama!” 

 Kageyama stared at Hinata. 

 Hinata’s eyes narrowed. 

“Kageyama,” Yamaguchi said over their private channel, “Sergeant Takeda—” 

 Kageyama clicked his ear piece. “I’m here.” 

“What’s the situation?” 

 “It’s complicated. It’s—” 

 Hinata pulled his gun and fired—a plasma bullet shot right between Kageyama’s ear and finger. 

 Kageyama glanced to the side, seeing the earpiece shatter, metal shards flying in the air before they fell to the ground. Kageyama’s eyes went back to Hinata, and he couldn’t stop the tremors that began shaking his body. 

 “I was wrong, Kageyama.” Hinata’s gun was aimed right at him. “We were fighting on the wrong side. Everything we did was wrong.” 

 Kageyama took a step back. 

 “You know me,” Hinata said softly. “I don’t like admitting my mistakes, neither do you, but this one… this is a big one… Come on, Kags.” He grinned and offered his hand. “Work with me.” It was the grin that made Kageyama’s heart beat fast, the one that filled him with life. “We’ll free this world, from hate, from war… That’s what we promised to do, together.” 

 Kageyama’s spine went straight. His jaw tightened. 

 “Let’s do this, Kageyama. Together.” 






People often talk about terms as if they’re military, but that’s not really the case. The term ‘Final Battle’ is really a pseudo-military term to describe the last battle, the one that decides the ending. ‘Decisive Battle’ is a term for battles that massively tip the balance of power, but won’t end the war themselves. At times, after a decisive battle, the final battle can be one-sided and quick. 

 Decisive. 

 If I had to pick one word to describe that moment between Kageyama and Hinata, I would describe it as decisive. It was a moment that sunk into the roots of the world, and changed everything we know. 

 I will be honest with you, I am not really a writer. I don’t even know why I’m doing this. 

 “Come on, Koushi,” Daichi had pleaded. “Someone needs to write history, as it really happened. It will be changed later otherwise.” 

 So I guess that’s why I – Koushi Sugawara, former Second Lord of Shira – am anthologising these events. Well, that and Daichi did offer me a backrub for every day I work on this book – and Daichi gives very good backrubs. My editor’s probably going to remove that line… Fine by me. It should probably be cut out… But it makes me wonder, you know? If I am allowed to free-write – what else will get changed? I know names will get changed, events, politics will influence this book when I try to publish it. 

 But this version… I will write the truth. I cannot guarantee the version of this book that ends up on bookshelves will hold the “Truth”, but I know this version, this draft, will. 

 So, I guess that puts me at odds end. 

 Where to begin the story? Would it be better to start when Kageyama first met me? Or when I first met Kageyama? Or should I leave that for another time? I’m not sure. I suppose Kageyama’s meeting with Hinata is the one that changed the world, so let’s start just before that. Maybe the best place to start would be…
 



 “Can we get some beers?” 

 “Hah?” 

 “Oh come on.” Kunimi offered one of his rare smiles. “It’s my birthday in two weeks.” 

 “Sorry, kid. You’re still nineteen.” Their server scoffed. “No alcohol until twenty.” 

 Kageyama glanced at Kunimi. “Alcohol?” 

 Kindaichi nudged Kageyama in the elbow. “Why is he in such a good mood?” 

 Kageyama glanced at Kunimi, then to Kindaichi. “I don’t know.” 

 There was a laugh from the side as Oohira was cleaning a glass behind the bar. “You’re usually never smiling, at least not like this, Akira.” 

 Kunimi let out a little laugh, not denying it. 

 Kageyama shared a look with Kindaichi: Fear. They were afraid. Maybe the sky would fall next. 

 “Well.” Kunimi’s eyes fluttered before he leaned on the table, glancing at Kageyama and Kindaichi. “I have some good news to share. I guess we’ll just order our regular drinks.” 

 Kawanishi, their server, nodded at that and snapped his finger at Oohira before walking away. 

 Kageyama tilted his head. “Good news?” 

 “I got accepted.” Kunimi’s grin grew feral. “To the Mark III program.” 

 Kindaichi jolted up, spine going straight. 

 “Why,” Kageyama whispered. He slammed his hands on the table. “Why didn’t you tell us?” 

 Kindaichi split into a wide smile. “Holy shit! Kunimi!” 

 There was a whistle from the bar. Oohira began pouring some non-alcoholic drinks. “The amount of soldiers who’ve drunk themselves under when they got rejected has been a bit too good for business.” 

 “Well.” Kunimi grabbed his glass of water and fumbled with it in his hands. “Unlike these two, I wasn’t on the first pick list… so I doubt I will get the Mark III myself. But, still, we’ll be under Commander Hinata, who is prospect for Third Lord. It’ll open all kinds of doors for my military career.” 

 “Not just that!” Kindaichi was practically bouncing in his seat. “Even if we don’t make Mark III, we’ll get fitted with Mark II. And, that means.” He took a deep breath. “The, uh. The three of us…” 

 Kunimi nodded. “We’ll all be together.” 

 “Aww right!” Kindaichi fist pumped the air, and then quickly brought his hand down, embarrassment flushing red on his cheeks. 

 “Well.” Oohira poured a fizzy drink in three glasses. “Not supposed to serve minors… but this is an exception, got it? Don’t tell anyone.” 

 Kunimi laughed, smiling wide. “Thank you.” 

 Kindaichi grinned. “This is awesome!” 

 When their food came as well, they all noticed a few extra side dishes they hadn’t ordered. 

 Kindaichi swallowed a mouthful of food before he said, “You should have told us sooner!” 

 Kageyama nodded slowly. “We would have celebrated.” 

 “Eh.” Kunimi gave a playful shrug. “We’re celebrating now, aren’t we?” 

 Kindaichi frowned. “But!” 

 Kageyama smiled, softly. “I’m… glad.” He frowned a bit, but it melted away. “It was hard, to be happy, when only two of us got into the program. I wanted you to get in too.” 

 Kindaichi nodded twice. “We both did.” 

 “Yeah…” Kunimi sighed. “I’m kind of bummed out, though. I don’t have a chance for the Mark III.” 

 “Well…” Kindaichi pursed his lips. “I mean, uh, no one does? We’re the fourth regiment to get into the Mark III program… every other soldier has failed so far. I mean, overall, we’ve got a pretty good average…” He punched Kageyama’s arm. “Because of someone!” 

 “I have ten percent compatibility,” Kageyama murmured. “That’s not very high.” 

 “Well…” Kunimi sipped his beer. “Apparently it’s pretty high, probably in the top five of everyone who’s showed up.” 

 “Still.” Kageyama stared at him. “That means if there were ten of me, nine of them would fail.” 

 “Ugh.” Kindaichi frowned. “Imagine ten Kageyamas.” He went silent for a minute, then shook his head like a dog trying to shake off rain. “No, no, no, no, no!” 

 Kunimi laughed. He went to sip his beer again, but paused. “What?” They were both staring at him. 

 “N-Nothing.” Kindaichi’s cheeks were tinged pink. “It’s just been a while since I’ve heard you laugh…. It’s kind of, cute.” 

 Kunimi gave a small smile before he sipped his drink. 

 Kageyama hid a smile as well, eating. 






 A week later, they were lined up – not just them, but their whole regiment – lined up in perfect order, at attention. Chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in—eyes forward. Their legs firmly planted together, breaths stilled. Military precision. 

 They stood before a large metal door; it was a wide oval shape, like a pill on its side. 

 When it opened, they all saluted – though the salute was shaky, stunned. 

 They had expected Commander Hinata, of course, that didn’t disturb them—it was the person walking in front of him. 

 Marked by the white cloth that hung like a cape over his black suit, Iwaizumi Hajime saluted them in return before dropping his stance. He rested his hand on his hip, eyeing the crowd of soldiers in front of him. “At ease.” 

 They were hardly at ease. 

 “You’ll make introductions with the Commander soon. I’m sure you don’t need to be told who I am, I can see it on your faces.” He seemed mildly amused, judging by the way the corner of his lip tugged up into a small smile. “But I am Second Lord of all of Shira, Iwaizumi Hajime. Left hand of the Emperor. Listen up, because I have a message from the Emperor himself.” 

 They straightened up. 

 Iwaizumi’s amusement never faded, but neither did the dead serious look in his eyes. “Now… there’s no nice way of saying this. But Commander Hinata Shouyou, is by far, one of the oddest we have.” 

 “G-Geh?” Hinata jumped back into a squat, staring at Iwaizumi. 

 “No disrespect, ‘Nata.” Iwaizumi smirked. “But, listen up. He’s not as… serious, as people expect him to be. He’s good at cracking jokes, even in the thick of battle. Something that will send our beloved Emperor to an early grave is how he’s convinced sound effect files are acceptable in military reports. He’s not your traditional commanding officer.” 

 “Oi.” Hinata crossed his arms and huffed. “Get to the good things about me already!” 

 “That being said.” Iwaizumi took a step forward and moved his arms behind his back. “Commander Hinata has led a number of battles to victory. Although Regent Lord Oikawa has unleashed several plans that would have wiped us out, the Commander has single-handedly stopped the majority of those attacks. Not including the Iron Wall, Commander Hinata is the heart of our offense, and our strongest defense. More than just his Mark III which enhances his combat ability, ‘Nata’s worth to this nation is second only to Emperor Ushijima’s.” 

 The soldiers stood still. 

 Hinata also said nothing, did not even react. 

 “Commander Hinata is the right hand of the Emperor. So, I’ll say this… When he is training you, when he is commanding you, when he is wasting his time on you mongrels – you waste the time and resources of all of Shira.” Iwaizumi’s eyes darkened. “The Mark III program is dangerous to the security of our nation. If we can get another person accepted by the Mark III system, the rewards will outweigh any loses… but, if we can’t – and I understand, that some people are biologically unable to be accepted by the program, no matter how much they wish they could – then you better not be wasting Hinata’s time. He is Ushijima’s sword, that which the Emperor drives into the heart of his enemies.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes drifted to Hinata. 

 “Do not be fooled by his foolish behaviour,” Iwaizumi continued. “Take this seriously. That’s all. Godspeed, soldiers.” He saluted once. 

 They saluted in return. 

 Iwaizumi turned, his cape fluttering as he walked towards the door that opened for him to leave. 

 Hinata turned, slouching as he watched Iwaizumi go. He pursed his lips and then glanced at the soldiers. “I’m betting a round of drinks something crawled up his ass and died. That’s why he acts like that all the time.” 

 Kageyama’s jaw dropped. 

 The other soldiers stared, eyes wide. 

 Hinata stretched up to the sky and then relaxed. “Okay, so. First order: Forget all that crap.” He planted his feet and put his hands on his hips. “Hi! I’m Shouyou Hinata, and I’m going to be your commanding officer!” 

 They blinked. 

 “If you bring up my height, I’ll punch you in the dick – or equivalent. But don’t worry! I’m pretty laid back. The first few days are going to be pretty standard, actually. Just physical exams, strategy tests. Stuff you’ve done before.” 

 Tiles on the floor pulled apart, revealing a panel that lifted a data pad towards Hinata. 

 Hinata took it and tapped on the blue screen a few times. “Remember, though.” The room began to change, creating training fields at the touch of his button. “We’ll be doing this for a long time, so don’t try to impress me by blasting through it just to run out of stamina in four hours.” 

 “F-Four hours?” asked one of the soldiers. 

 “Oh yeah.” Hinata grinned. “We’ll be doing this for a while.” 






 The training was intense. Within an hour, Kageyama was drenched in sweat, but he refused to give up. Kunimi’s pestering for him to rest was returned with glares, but he did rest frequently – and he used that time to analyse the next part of the track. The training rooms were modified by grey blocks to simulate different environments, landscapes, and terrains. Kageyama hated it, but he was good at routine things. 

 Work, take a break; work, take a break. 

 “Ho.” Hinata walked over to Kageyama. His visor, which was orange (unlike the standard baby blue of Shira) hovered over his eyes in a semicircle. “You’re pretty good. Name, soldier?” 

 “Kageyama.” 

 “Huh?” Hinata’s visor flicked, and it was clear he was scrolling through names. “Legal name?” 

 “Tobio Takeda.” Kageyama stood up, squirting water from his bottle into his mouth before swallowing. “I go by my middle name. Kageyama.” 

 “Tobio Kageyama Takeda,” Hinata finally found him. “Then I’ll edit my files, Private Kageyama—Oh!” The visor flicked off and his eyes moved to Kageyama. “You’re the one with ten percent, huh?” 

 “Yes, Sir.” 

 “Hmmm.” Hinata leaned in, inspecting him. “It’s not often we get someone with over one percent, let alone ten…” He put his hands on his hips and leaned back, squinting. “How much do you know about the Mark III?” 

 “Well…” Kageyama cleared his throat, turning to face his commander. “In the year 274 Ø̈TA, the Metropolitan Forces, under House Nekomata, designed the first mechas, which stood roughly twice as high as the average human. By 342—” 

 “Ooookay buddy.” Hinata waved his hand. “I didn’t ask for a history lesson. I failed history. And you also brought up height—so! Bad!” He grinned. “But I’m talking specifics. The Mark III. What do you know about it?” 

 “Oh.” Kageyama glanced away, but his eyes drifted back to Hinata. “It utilises a voice feature.” 

 “Huh?” 

 “That’s what I’ve heard.” Kageyama stiffened. “I understand it’s… classified data, but the word of mouth among lower ranked units say that there is a voice… a voice that speaks in your head. Us recruits and grunts refer to it as ‘The Voice’.” 

 Hinata stared at him, directly, for about a minute until he burst out laughing. 

 Kageyama stiffened again, frowning. 

 “Oh, God!” Hinata cackled. “Wait until I tell Main Command about this!” 

 “M-Main C-Command?” Kageyama bristled and shook his head. “That’s the seat of power, the Emperor’s throne, the central command of—” 

 Hinata kept laughing to the point where other soldiers turned to look at them. 

 Kageyama growled in the back of his throat. “Stop laughing!” 

 Hinata jumped back, grinning. There were still little giggles that fell from his lips, but he sobered up. “Okay, okay! I’m done I,” he laughed, “I promise! I’m just…” He took a step forward, eyes focusing on Kageyama. “Well. How do I put this? You’re right, it’s… entirely classified. Shira’s closest kept secret. So, uh, I can’t exactly give things away… but you’re, uh. Not exactly wrong. This suit.” He tapped his head. “Is matched around the neuronal ability to turn information into a sensory experience, and vice versa.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “What.” 

 “I can’t give away the juicy bits, but yeah… Sometimes binary data will come to me in the form of auditory sounds. That’s also why you’ll see me talking to myself a lot. I’m not crazy, I promise!” His smile was as bright as the sun, and Kageyama hated it. Hinata didn’t seem to mind, just kept smiling. “Is that all you know?” 

 “Yes.” 

 “Hm…” Hinata’s smile fell. 

 Kageyama frowned. “Is something wrong, Commander?” 

 “Nope. Not really… I got kind of hopeful for a bit, but that’s my mistake.” Hinata put a hand on his hip again. “People don’t usually make it past one percent without a certain… uh, requirement. Since the amount of people who have that is going down and down… I was kind of hoping you would have it. Looks like you don’t, though.” 

 “I…” Kageyama scowled. “Apologise. Sir.” 

 “Huh? Nah!” Hinata threw his hands in the air and rested them behind his head. “Don’t worry about that, okay? I’m the one that got my hopes up. You’ve got the highest chance here, so… good luck, okay? I really want someone from this regiment to get accepted.” 

 Kageyama nodded. 






Chapter 1: Infodex 01, Mark Suits 



 The year 274 Ø̈TA marked the first functional mechas, under House Nekomata of Metropolis – the fallen city. They were twice the height of an average human, and roughly six times the weight. They were designed with simple automatic pistols protected by heavy armour. Compared to modern mechas, they could be taken down in seconds. 

 Within seventy years, in 345 Ø̈TA, mechas evolved and became the primary weapon of warfare. Due to the arms race, their construction had become significantly more complex and complicated. Some reached ten times the height of a human. They also became specialised: Some were made for defense, others for power, or speed. 

 Rare mechas were even built with distinguishable features, such as the LT 13-4 , which – using electro-polarization – increased static pressure in clouds and directed lightning bolts down on the enemy. The FR 18-2.1 was the first to cause spontaneous combustion (rapid oxidation) at a range. The original Nohebi (not to be confused with Shira’s aircraft model, which runs under the same name) was crafted with a heavy scorpion tail that could shatter other mechas due to the heavy spinning of inner gears creating extreme mechanical energy to be discharged in each swipe of its tail. 

 But the reign of mechas soon ended in 352 Ø̈TA – when the Mark I arrived on the battlefield. 

 Invented by Shira, these bodysuits gave infantry a way to fight back against looming mechanical giants. Despite lacking in firepower or specialisations, teams of Mark I could outmaneuver and destroy mechas with ease. A Mark I was capable of giving a single human the power of ten people. A group of eight or nine could easily match an army of a hundred. 

 Due to financial cost and resource demands, mechas were no more. Mark Is became the norm, but the arms race didn’t end there. 

 Year 371 Ø̈TA labelled the entry of the Mark II. 

 While Mark I made a single person ten – the Mark II made a single person into a hundred. But the arms race ended, for a while. The Mark II was improved upon, with minor tweaks and technicalities, but there was no way to make someone more than a hundred. Mechas began regaining ground in the sciences. 

 Shira’s new rival enemy, Aoba, used a mix of mechas and Mark IIs to turn the tide of war. They almost won the war in year 388 Ø̈TA, under the reign of the newly crowned Regent Lord Tooru Oikawa. Although Aoba was only a small city state compared to the empire of Shira, Oikawa’s advance made its way close to the capital. Then, of course came the Mark III. 

 The strength of a thousand in one suit. 

 Those who survived the first battle described it as a bloody fairytale. A God of War. A blade that pierced an enemy in the heart. The Mark III is the first suit not to be replicated by any other nation, as there are limitations on who can be chosen, and it is a government secret that Shira protects with its life. Besides Emperor Wakatoshi Ushijima himself, only two others were ever accepted by the Mark III system. Only three suits have ever been made. 






Chapter 1: Act 1, Part II 



Kageyama’s first memory of me was when he was seven. I had, rather recently, become the Second Lord – the left hand and shield of the Emperor; the face, and voice, of Ushijima – and it was my inauguration speech. I had been elected to power, and I was addressing the people. He was a little boy, watching on television with his parents, not understanding as much as they did. 

 I’m not sure how much the government will change by the time this is actually published, but the best way to put it is… The Emperor of Shira, the First Lord, is always by bloodline. It’s the very same archaic feudal system that monarchies of the past were built on, but this monarchy made its way to the era of the greatest technological advances. 

 Between the people and the Emperor is the Second Lord: He is chosen by the Emperor, and he deals with the public. Third Lords, the last rank of sovereignty, are chosen by democratic vote amongst the citizens. This system represents both stability and change: While the crown above stays the same, the ones below change under the will of the people… or so they often believe. As with Kuroo and Hinata, some elections were… modified, for the best interests of the war effort. Despite the Emperor never stepping down, the people believe themselves to have a strong say in the government. 

 They believe themselves to be democratic. 

 I was chosen by Ushijima. I was already a war hero, my efforts well recognised by the public. My popularity, with sovereignty, soldiers, and citizens, was even greater than Hinata’s now in this stage of the story. My speech was broadcasted around the world. I spoke of peace and war, and their duality and contradictions. I think I did well, actually. I hope so, anyway, since everybody saw me. 

 Kageyama saw me. 

 Tobio “Kageyama” Takeda – adopted son of Keishin Ukai and Ittetsu Takeda – was only seven. We didn’t have our first meeting until a couple years later— 

 “Koushi!” Hinata, only eight at the time, bounced up and down as he pointed upwards. 

 I wanted to reprimand him, tell him not to use my name in public, but my eyes caught what he was staring at. 

 In the worn out slums, in a plaza, a thin black rope hung between two long poles. Kageyama, nine, was walking across. He was a street performer, getting money for his daily bread. It was the poorest part of town. His steps were even, eyes focused, arms stretched out as he – step by step – walked across the rope. 

 Hinata’s eyes were wide. “Koushi,” he whispered. “What if he falls?” 

 I remember looking up, feeling a sense of dread, panic, and wonder. “I don’t know.” 

 If he fell, he wouldn’t survive. 

 He fell. 

 The crowd screamed. 

 I still remember it to this day, though… Only nine, he twisted his body midair, caught the rope by two fingers. The cord dipped, pulled down by Kageyama’s weight, before it sprung up. Kageyama let go of the rope, eyes focused, and moved upwards by the momentum. He landed on the rope. He wiggled as he balanced himself, but then he straightened his back, and stood still. 

 There was silence. 

 And then applause. 

 The crowd was cheering, applauding, some were crying. 

 Kageyama just took another step forward on the tightrope. 

 Hinata’s eyes were burning with wonder. “That’s so cool!” 



 I wonder if Hinata, on an unconscious level, recognised him when they met again, ten years later. 

 I can only speculate.
 






 “Oh c’mon!” Hinata laughed as he looked at his crew. “This is nothing!” 

 The soldiers were on the floor, unable to stand, sweating, panting, breathing hard. 

 “Is that all you guys got?” Hinata huffed. “I could do ten times this!” 

 “Yeah?” Kageyama snapped, “Let’s see you do that without your suit.” 

 Silence. 

 “Hoo,” Hinata squawked. “Is that a challenge, Private Kayayaya?” 

 “It’s Kageyama.” Kageyama forced himself up. “Sir.” 

 Hinata snickered. 

 Kageyama frowned. 

 “Alright.” Hinata closed his eyes. His suit was constructed of an obsidian black alloy, made of segments that could fold and unfold. Piece by piece, the suit began to fold in on itself, until it was just a black cube with an orange light at the top. Hinata was left in athletic underclothes, something akin to yoga pants and a tight shirt. “I know I can do this track better than all of you, maybe half the best time here.” 

 “Yeah?” Kageyama’s eye twitched. “That’s probably because you already know this track. Randomise it.” 

 “Ah.” Hinata thought about it for a second and smiled. “Actually there’s only a hundred sets for the tracks. I’ve done them all, and I hold all the best times on all of them.” 

 “Fine. Forget the tracks.” Kageyama glared. “Let’s race.” 

 Hinata’s smile grew feral. “Where?” 

 “Kageyama,” hissed Kunimi. 

 “Dude.” Kindaichi tugged his pants, near the ankle. “Shut up.” 

 “No, no, no!” Hinata bounced on his feet. “This is fun! I like this! I’ll tell you what, Private. If you win… I’ll give you a secret for getting accepted by the Mark III program.” His eyes narrowed. “If you lose… you’re doing triple tomorrow. And if you don’t meet that goal, you’re expelled from the program.” His smile showed teeth. “Still game?” 

 Kunimi sighed. “Of course he isn’t, just ignore him Commander, he’s—” 

 “Yes.” Kageyama felt a thrill burn inside him. “I’m still game.” 

 “Yeeeess!” Hinata did a little fist pump in the air. “That’s one thing that sucks about being Commander – no one challenges you anymore. Kageyama, how about we race to the fountain?” 

 “Which fountain?” 

 “The fountain,” Hinata said simply. 

 “You mean…” Kageyama’s hand twitched. “The one in the Imperial Plaza?” 

 Hinata nodded twice. “Uhuh! That’s the one!” 

 “That’s…” Kageyama mentally ran through the route. 

 “Chickening out?” 

 “No.” He grimaced. “Fine. I suppose the civilians will be our obstacles…” 

 “Yep! Obstacle race.” Hinata turned to the crowd. “Yo, Turnip!” 

 Kunimi nudged Kindaichi. “He’s talking to you.” 

 Kindaichi blinked. “Huh?” 

 “You call go when we’re ready.” Hinata gave him a thumbs up. He grabbed his gun and it flickered orange; when he swiped his hand, he shot a red line of plasma that seared a shallow mark into the ground in front of him. “And this.” He dropped his gun at his side, now officially unarmed. “Is our starting line, Private.” 

 Kageyama walked up to the line, eyeing Hinata. 

 Hinata grinned. “Don’t cheat and run before he says go, okay?” 

 Kageyama’s eyes focused forward, ignoring his commander. He heard Kindaichi shuffling to get up, so he figured he still had some moments before he would say go. 

 “Tell me,” Hinata said, in a lower voice so no one else could hear, “Why are you so hell bent on this?” 

 “I need the Mark III.” Kageyama kept staring forward; even so, he could feel the heat radiating from Hinata’s gaze. “We’re just grunts… infantry fodder. We’re nothing. I’m nothing, without that suit. I can’t change the tide of war… I can’t save anyone.” 

 Hinata’s eyes glanced away from Kageyama, and he said nothing. His expression was impossible for Kageyama to read by glancing sidelong at him. 

 “A-Alright.” Kindaichi looked at the two of them. “You two ready?” 

 Kageyama tensed, putting one foot in front of the other, taking a running stance. 

 Hinata smiled, dropping low, almost kneeling. 

 “Then…” Kindaichi took a deep breath. “Go!” 






 “Coming through!” Hinata yelled between the scream that ripped out of his lungs as he ran at full speed. Although he knew better, whenever Kageyama pulled ahead – with that focused, angry, serious expression – Hinata couldn’t stand it. As opposed to pacing himself, and keeping a view of the track, he became narrow-sighted and dove-in, headfirst. 

 How long had it been? Since he had been so— 

 Kageyama turned the corner and sped up. 

 Hinata gave chase. 

 The Imperial Palace was hardly a palace, or a castle, as it had once been hundreds of years ago. No, now it stood as the government building, a technological powerhouse, and covered in security. Many of the arms guards flinched and aimed guns at them, but none fired—when they saw the thrash of orange hair yelling, screaming… smiling… they paused. 

 How long had it been? Since Hinata had been so— 

 They moved from the East Wing, the military wing, of the palace to the main entrance on the second floor. The palace was, technically, open to the public (the main entrance, anyway). The crowd of people that appeared before them seemed to spill forever. The massive sets of stairs and escalators that suddenly dropped in front of them only complicated matters. 

 Hinata didn’t care. 

 He jumped, shoes landing on the railings. “Coming through!” he yelled again, and watched as people took their hands off. He surged downwards, feeling the wind in his face. He balanced his body, giggling to himself, and then jumped off at the end, but— 

 Kageyama was in front of him. 

 “Huh?” Hinata paused, midair, eyes wide with wonder. 

 Kageyama landed from a jump, and kept running. 

Ah, so he took the shortcut too? 

 A voice, soft and comforting, answered him, He did… You might lose this one, Commander. 

 “Hah!” Hinata landed and surged forward. “As if!” 

 The crowd was thicker here, and they weren’t going to listen to him yelling. He scowled and ducked between people, sidestepping accidents, clashes, and kept running. His eyes caught sight of something and he almost stopped. “Are you fucking kidding me?” 

 To the side, and high above the ground, Kageyama had found another way through the crowd. 

 “Telephone wires?” Hinata gawked. “That crazy motherf—” he dodged what seemed to be a carriage and he scowled. “Commander Hinata Shouyou coming through!” he yelled. That got people’s attention. “Clear a path!” 

 Some people parted, and he dove through the archway provided for him. 

 The fountain was just there

 Running, running. 

 He had to keep running. 

 He glanced up to Kageyama, finding he was technically ahead. But he wasn’t able to run at top speed like Hinata, and Hinata eyed the distance of the plaza. He would make it. Maybe. His eyes caught sight of a carriage—one of the old world ones, a tourist attraction, some historic bullshit attraction. 

 A carriage, drawn by horses. 

 Hinata surged towards it, grabbing on the back. He reached higher, grabbing the top. Kicking up, he climbed it with grunts. He stood at the top, ignoring the shocked look of the carriage driver. Hinata kicked off, throwing himself at the fountain. His hand flew towards it. 

 Kageyama. 

 Kageyama was on the other side, reaching for it. 

 “As if!” Hinata roared, slamming his hand on the fountain. 

 A moment later, Kageyama’s hand clasped the cool metal surface, eyes wide with realisation. 

 Realisation of defeat. 

 Hinata let another laugh leave his lips, and he stood straight, spine straight, eyes shining. “Close one, Private.” 

 Kageyama seemed to be holding his body back from crumpling as he took a firm stance. “C-Commander… Knuf-Knif-Nice…ly done.” 

 Hinata was breathing heavier than he expected, but that didn’t matter. “You put up a good fight. Did you really run along telephone lines?” 

 Kageyama tilted his head. “No?” He glanced back. “They’re atomia lines.” He looked again at Hinata. “Telephone lines were removed five years ago. Atomia lines are thicker, more durable. Easier to walk on. And they’re usually inactive, so the chance of being electrocuted is much less.” 

 “Heh.” Hinata put his hands on his hips. “Well, guess your athletic and acrobatic abilities must be pretty good.” 

 “I slipped on them,” Kageyama murmured. “If I hadn’t…” 

 “You woulda won, huh?” 

 Kageyama’s frown deepened into a scowl. 

 “Well… since you did pretty good.” Hinata crossed his arms. “I’ll give you double the workload tomorrow, not triple.” 

 “I’ll do three times the workload.” 

 Hinata blinked. “Heh?” 

 “I said I would.” Kageyama turned around and walked back to the plaza. “So I will.” 

 Hinata’s eyes narrowed, watching him walk away. 






To this day, I wonder what Hinata was thinking when he saw Kageyama disappear into the crowd. Hinata, who… never really had a choice, was somewhat forced into enlisting into the military, who had begun to hate everything about war, who would do anything to get out of doing more work for the military than he had to… When he wore his Mark III suit later, and his brain activity was measured, it was easy for us to see his stunned affect, his stunned state of emotion. 

 But even if we could see the neuronal activity of the brain, we couldn’t read his mind. 

 So my wonders still stand, of course. 

 To this day, I wonder what Hinata was thinking when he saw Kageyama disappear into the crowd. What did he think of Kageyama, then? To see his opposite… to see someone who chose this life, who wanted this, who wanted to do as much as he could… 

 Daichi believes that day awakened something in Hinata, something that changed him. I’m not entirely sure about that. Maybe, maybe it did awaken something in him, maybe this is where the story really begins. But… I’m kind of reluctant to believe what Daichi thinks of this. He is, after all, a true romantic… not like the rest of us – not a soldier.
 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 2: Act 1, Part III 



I don’t like the way I ended the first chapter… To say Daichi isn’t a soldier is, well. I wouldn’t say wrong, but it doesn’t encompass everything about him. The sacrifices he has given for our beautiful country, Shira, rivals that which Ushijima or Kageyama have given, surpassed only by what I – myself – have given. 

 Daichi is a soldier. Although the technical skills, leadership skills, charisma, and mind for strategy he uses in Main Command outweighs his usefulness on the frontlines, he is a soldier – and always has been. But, I think, there is a difference between those who actually fight, who see the blood, the carnage, who are forced to take in the scent and molecules of burning hair and flesh… 

 Daichi started on the battlefield. 

 It was his ability to lead, to direct multiple forces, and to inspire that landed him the position of Shira’s top strategist. 

 But there is distance, there. Distance that… although we see each other as an “us”, as “the same team”… there is a distance that can’t be ignored. That while we are littered with bullets, and while we watch our soldiers die, he is only seeing footage, Xs and Os on 3D holograms of maps. For us, who are forced to breathe the air of the battlefield, who take it home with us, who are haunted by it… 

 There is a distance.
 






 Hinata’s eyes were shut. He didn’t want to do this. Not that today was going to be particularly difficult, but life itself was getting particularly difficult. He took a deep breath, and let the air fill him. His head snapped up, eyes open, and he stepped forward. 

 The large, oval, metallic interlocked hangar doors opened as he approached. 

 The soldiers all lined up. 

 They were only privates, the lowest rank amongst all of the military. 

 Hinata faked a yawn and threw his arms up, letting them rest behind his head. “Yo!” He smiled at them. 

 “Y-” Kageyama was standing front and center. “Yo?” 

 Kindaichi cleared his throat. “Don’t do it, man.” 

 Hinata blinked. 

 Kageyama took a step forward. “You’re forty-five minutes late!” 

 “Oh.” Kunimi’s eyes softened. “He did it.” 

 “Um.” Hinata frowned. “That’s forty-five minutes late, Commander. Thanks.” He sighed and let his arms fall. “Well, yeah… you try telling a five year old she can’t have a cat.” 

 Kageyama’s jaw tightened. “You…” He tilted his head. “Have a kid?” 

 “Eh?” Hinata squinted. “No!” He laughed. “My sister!” He grabbed his phone and clicked a button. It was reminiscent of the older flip phone models, except the top half was holographic. “Look at her!” He ran over to Kageyama, throwing his arm around Kageyama’s neck and yanking him down. “Isn’t she the most adorable thing ever!? She’s my little princess, look at her! She takes after her mother, but her eyes are totally from Dad!” 

 Kageyama stared at the three dozen photos Hinata was forcing him to look at. “She’s… very cute, Commander.” 

 “Isn’t she!? Natsu’s totally adorable!” Hinata laughed. “Right?” 

 “Uh, sure.” Kageyama tried moving away, but the grip of Hinata’s suit was painful to work against. “She, um. Looks a lot like you.” 

 “Oh?” Hinata snapped his phone closed. “Does that mean you think I’m adorable too?” 

 Kageyama’s eyes went wide. “Hah!?” 

 The other soldiers snickered and chuckled. 

 “Awww.” Hinata smiled softly. “Do you want a kiss, Kageyama?” 

 “Wh-What!?” 

 “What? You’ve never kissed anyone before, Private?” 

 Kunimi coughed. “He hasn’t.” 

 “H-Hey!” Kageyama glanced at Kunimi, betrayed. “I have!” He glared back at Hinata, about to yell, but found that he was a lot closer than he had been. 

 Hinata was leaning in. 

 Oh. 

 Kageyama’s eyes went wide. 

 A hand moved through the air—a silver arc, thrashing, sending the tuft of orange hair flying across the room. The arm, metallic, made of heavy wires and coils, made a small clicking sound as the hand rotated back into its ‘normal’ place. A blond with glasses stood tall, glaring at Hinata. “Moron.” He wore black shoulder pads and a matching thin cape that signified him as a Third Lord. 

 Hinata rolled onto his ass and sat up. “Kei!” 

 “Tsukishima,” the Third Lord corrected. “We’re not on a first name basis.” 

 “But Kei!” Hinata stood up. 

 Tsukishima adjusted his hand, each joint and finger, before securing it again with a little pop and lock. “You missed the meeting this morning, Commander. I was sent to knock some sense into you by Ushijima.” 

 “Um,” Kageyama began, pausing only when Kindaichi grabbed his arm. 

 Kindaichi shook his head. “Don’t do it, man.” 

 Kageyama frowned and glared at Tsukishima. “That should be Emperor Ushijima.” 

 “Oh,” Kunumi whispered. “He’s a dead man.” 

 Tsukishima eyed him, glaring. The lenses of his right eye twitched and moved; they, like his right arm and left leg, were also robotic. 

 “Bwahaha,” came the ugliest laugh in existence from Hinata as he walked over. “I like this one!” He pointed at Kageyama. “He’s a total idiot, isn’t he?” 

 “No. He’s just socially stunted.” Tsukishima’s eye kept analysing Kageyama before the gears and lenses inside stopped moving. With a blink it was impossible to tell which eye was the mechanical one. “He’s not missing core components of intellect.” He looked at Hinata. “Like you.” 

 Hinata winced. “Ouch!” He smiled nonetheless. “Laying it on thick, huh?” 

 “Check the meeting notes later,” Tsukishima lowered his voice as he walked closer to Hinata. “Iwaizumi… was right.” 

 Hinata’s smile faded, expression blank, eyes unfocused. 

 Tsukishima left the room through the hangar doors, footsteps echoing, with one foot resounding heavier than the other. 

 Hinata’s eyes moved from one nonexistent point to another. He glanced to the soldiers. “At ease.” His hands formed fists and he stared at the closed hangar doors where Tsukishima had just left. “Tanaka,” was all he said. He turned back to the soldiers, and his smile appeared again. “That douchebag was Third Lord Kei Tsukishima. You might have noticed his suit is similar to mine. While it took them a super long time to build the Mark III, several prototypes were made in the meantime. They’re pretty powerful, but they’re not like the real Mark IIIs.” 

 The soldiers almost seemed to lean in. 

 Hinata smirked, knowing that had gotten their attention. “Kei has one of those prototypes. He’s kind of a dick, but he’s not all bad. But, yeah, if you get chosen for the Mark III program – you’re going to have to work pretty closely with Tsukki. Tsukishima’s the one who will be helping you adjust to your suit. He’s a dick, and doesn’t have a lot of patience, but he’s a pretty good teacher if Ushimushi pushes him around.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “That’s Emper—” 

 Kindaichi grabbed his arm. 

 Kunimi murmured, “Let it go.” 

 “Anyway!” Hinata put his hands on his hips again. “Today we’ll be working on visual simulations!” He brought his left hand forward and used his right hand to tap on a hologram. 

 The room began to change into several different sections. Some were barricaded buildings, others were flying platforms, and others yet were more obstacle courses. 

 “The simulations are pretty much like hyper-realistic video games, which is fun – because who doesn’t like video games? But, hey! Don’t think just ‘cause they’re games that you can go easy, okay?” 

 The lighting in certain areas of the massive hanger began to change, some darker, some lighter, some taking on a plasma-blue hue. 

 “Unlike yesterday, it’s not that you’re being observed by just me. These simulations are going to calculate your accuracy rating and note millisecond delays before firing. These are some of the higher military training regimens that you guys – as privates – would have no way of accessing without being chosen for this program. They kinda made it fun, though. Each challenge gives you a rating out of five stars. Each star is like a mastery point. Your goal is to get a hundred stars today. Kageyama!” 

 Kageyama flinched. 

 “Because you were dumb enough to challenge me to a race, your goal is three hundred.” 

 “Yes, Sir!” 

 “If you fail—you’re kicked out of the program.” 

 “Yes, Sir!” 

 Hinata smiled, and his attention drifted back to them as a whole. “Each course has about twenty five levels, so it’s up to you if you want to try to beat all the challenges of one weapon, or try them all. If you find something’s not working, though, I recommend to just switch gears. Any questions?” 



 Hinata was by himself, sitting on a high ledge where he could watch the privates squander. For now, though, he was reading the meeting notes that Tsukishima had mentioned. It was suffocating, to see that what he had feared was now a reality. He’d had a feeling, though… As soon as Nishinoya had… Hinata shook his head. “Ryu, Saeko… why?” 

 A voice resounded in his mind, Behind you. 

 Hinata glanced over his shoulder. 

 Kageyama was looming over him. 

 Hinata screamed, almost falling off the ledge; despite that, he shot out two cords to stabilise himself. “What—What do you want?” 

 Kageyama stared. “I’m done.” 

 “Oh.” Hinata blinked. “Huh?” 

 Kageyama lifted his left arm, bracelet glowing with plasma, transferring data. 

 Hinata glanced at his datapad and began scrolling. “Wow.” He whistled. “Exactly three hundred stars… Blasters, grenades, hey you even tried the brutaliser. Nice.” He kept scrolling. “You’re not half bad, better than average in your times too. I’m pretty impressed.” 

 “And,” Kageyama pointed out, “I have the highest accuracy rating of this regiment.” 

 Hinata giggled. 

 Kageyama scowled. 

 “Sorry, sorry! It’s just, ah, that’s cute Kageyama! Look!” He pointed at the number that said 81%. 

 “That includes every weapon, even brutalisers.” 

 “Yeah, yeah… Those things have an average of forty percent for even the seasoned vets. But, you know…” Hinata’s wristband began to glow orange as he transferred data. “My accuracy rating…” 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. 

 Hinata smirked. 

 “Was this…” Kageyama almost took a step back. “Before or after the Mark III?” 

 “Technically it’s after.” 

 Kageyama relaxed. “Oh. That makes sense.” 

 “But the suit only increased my accuracy rating by three percent.” Hinata’s smirk didn’t falter. “When you’ve already got ninety-seven percent… there’s not much more to go up.” 

 Kageyama stared at Hinata’s rating, which was listed as 99.98%. “That’s…” 

 “Awesome, right?” 

 Kageyama frowned, his frown deepened into a scowl, which seemed to consume all the chaos of hell as it created something that made Hinata pale. 

 “Wh-What?” 

 “Nothing! Shut up!” 

 “Hah?” 

 Kageyama turned to look over the ledge. “What do I do now?” 

 “Nothing.” Hinata shrugged. “You’re done.” 

 “Done?” 

 “I’m just collecting data on you guys right now.” 

 “This kind of data—” Kageyama huffed angrily. “The military has already gathered this kind of data on our files!” 

 “Yeah,” Hinata agreed. “But it’s different when the Mark III system is the one collecting it.” 

 Kageyama’s expression faded and he stared at Hinata for a long while. 

 Hinata’s head turned and he glanced behind Kageyama. Kageyama turned as well, to see Kindaichi and Kunimi walking towards them. 

 “We’re done,” Kindaichi said simply. “We just wanted to let you know, Commander.” 

 “If.” Kunimi smiled. “We’re not… interrupting, anything.” 

 Kageyama blinked, tilting his head. 

 Hinata snorted and checked his datapad. “Wow.” He whistled as he scrolled. “I haven’t seen anyone get seventy-five stars in sniper rifles for a while.” 

 “I…” Kunimi frowned. “Couldn’t get past Stage 16.” 

 Hinata looked up. “The one with the moving platforms?” 

 “Yes…” 

 “Ah… They get so much worse from there.” Hinata laughed. “But still, the fact you even unlocked that stage is pretty amazing, Private Kunimi… uh, did I pronounce that right?” 

 “Yeah.” He nodded. “It’s Kunimi.” 

 “Right. And it seems like you like grenades too.” Hinata swiped the screen. “And you, Private Kindaichi, got all one hundred stars on plasma blades huh?” 

 “Uh y-yeah.” Kindaichi’s shoulders stiffened. “I’m good with them… I don’t know, I find them easy to work with, but they’re not really that useful.” 

 Hinata blinked. “Not useful?” 

 “Uh… It’s just, like. The battlefield nowadays is everyone shooting at each other – who’s going to actually pick a sword? I mean, yeah, they can deflect plasma bullets, but actual bullets are going to kill you, right?” 

 “True.” Hinata nodded. “But if they weren’t a good idea, they wouldn’t be given out.” 

 “I know that, but it’s just kind of suicide running out there with a sword!” 

 “Yeah, kinda – I mean, that’s the point, ne? All those guys with guns are out there, behind cover, aiming at the other side. The last thing you’d expect is someone to charge at you with something that can cut through a heavy-weight mecha. In the right time, right place, plasma blades can turn the tide of a battle. Snipers are the same,” Hinata said as he turned to Kunimi. He got up and glanced to Kageyama. “Anyway, you three are done for the day. Go have fun or something.” 






 The hot water blasted through the communal showers of their barracks. Kageyama doubted the hot water would last once everyone else finished their tracks, so he was more than happy to enjoy it now. Kageyama always kept himself meticulously clean. He always showered after training, even if he didn’t sweat much. 

 (Kindaichi had sweat buckets, with all the running around the plasma sword training required.) 

 “Kageyama,” murmured Kunimi, who was showering next to him. “What do you think of the Commander so far?” 

 Kageyama, instinctually, glanced over at Kunimi – seeing his utterly hairless body. His head snapped back at the water, which blasted into his eyes and caused him to stumble back. “Fuck!” He held his hands up to protect himself. 

 “Fuck,” repeated Kunimi as he lathered himself with soap. “You want to fuck him?” 

 “N-” Kageyama screamed, “No!” 

 Kindaichi’s worried voice came from the other side of Kunimi, “Do you really think he was going to, uh, kiss you?” 

 Kunimi smiled. “He seemed like the type that would.” 

 “That’s annoying.” Kageyama turned off the water and grabbed his towel. “He should take this more seriously!” But he paused for a moment, remembering the digital 99.98% that was written on the datapad. “I don’t like people like him.” He left the shower, walking to the attached changing room. He began to dry himself off. 

 Kindaichi walked out as well. “Why not, man?” 

 “I have my reasons.” Kageyama wrapped the towel around his waist as he grabbed his clothes. 

 “Hey,” called out Kunimi, still showering. “Did you hear about his compatibility with the Mark III? It was a hundredpercent.” 

 Kindaichi almost slipped as he looked back. “Wh-What?” 

 Kageyama was staring at his open locker. Words echoed in his mind. People don’t usually make it past one percent without a certain… uh, requirement. Kageyama frowned. Since the amount of people who have that is going down and down… I was kind of hoping you would have it. Looks like you don’t, though… Kageyama slammed the locker door closed. 

 Kunimi stepped out as well. “Are you okay?” 

 Kageyama huffed. 

 Kunimi still stared. “You’ve been acting weird lately. I thought you would be happy when we started this program, but it’s day two and you’re already—” 

 “I’m fine,” Kageyama insisted. “I just…” He opened his locker again, frowning. “I wonder what it could be.” 

 Kindaichi tilted his head. 

 Kunimi stared. 

 Kageyama glanced back at them. “I’m hungry. Let’s get something to eat.” 






 Hinata sat on the rooftop, looking at his phone, a picture that he didn’t often look at. It was a picture of himself, when he was five, getting a piggyback ride from Sugawara, who was much older. They were both smiling, as if nothing would ever happen to them, as if they would never be apart. Hinata closed his eyes, clutching his phone tighter. 

 “Do you miss him?” 

 Hinata jumped, glancing up. 

 Daichi offered a sad smile. 

 Hinata thought about the question. “Yeah.” 

 “Me too.” Daichi glanced on over to the sunset. “We used to come up here a lot, actually. Me and Koushi, I mean.” 

 Hinata blinked. “You did? He never told me.” 

 “Oh, you thought this was your secret place?” 

 “Well, yeah! There’s no camera surveillance! Koushi told me to come here if I want to escape… I didn’t know it was your place first.” 

 “Well.” Daichi grinned. “We did things up here that he probably didn’t feel comfortable telling his, uh.” Daichi patted the tuft of orange hair. “Little brother about.” 

 “Oh?” Hinata smiled. “Dirty things?” 

 Daichi laughed, loud. “Yes.” 

 “Now you have to spill the beans!” 

 “Mm.” Daichi smiled at the memories, still looking at the sunset. “It started at the battle for Metropolis.” 

 “Before or after the miasma?” 

 “It was the one that caused it,” Daichi explained. “It was our first massive battle with Aoba after Oikawa took power. Even before the miasma burst, Oikawa was decimating our forces, completely eradicating all of us… It was one of the few fights the Emperor himself took to the battlefield, as did Oikawa of course. Almost everyone came out wounded… Suga managed to be okay, though, thanks to his Mark II. A helicopter dropped him off right here, and…” 

 Hinata blinked, listening. 

 “I was so worried… I was just, so, worried. I hated it. I hated being behind a desk, at the control centre, thousands and thousands of kilometers away, having to watch, unable to do anything… When he got dropped off, I ran up here to meet him. He tackled me, I kissed him… and, well. The rest.” Daichi grinned. “I don’t think he’d want me to tell you what happened next.” 

 “Oh?” Hinata grinned. “You two were madly in love, weren’t you?” 

 “Oh… yeah, we were.” Daichi’s smile faded, and like light shining through broken glass the sadness and despair began to bleed through. “How’s Natsu?” 

 “She’s—” Hinata nodded. “She’s doing good! She’s still in preschool now, but um…” He looked forward. “I know the age difference isn’t quite the same but, it’s like… Suga practically raised me. So now it’s my turn to do that for Natsu! So, um… Daichi… if anything were to ever happen to me…” 

 Daichi nodded. 

 Hinata’s shoulders relaxed. 

 “Shouyou.” Daichi glanced at him. “How’s… Koushi, doing?” 

 “He’s, uh.” Hinata took a deep breath. “He’s doing the same as always. I’m still waiting for the day we can meet again, properly.” 

 “Me too,” Daichi admitted. He closed his eyes. “If that day even comes.” 

 “It will.” 

 “We’ll see.” 

 Hinata’s eyes softened and he glanced down to the picture on his phone, of him getting a piggyback ride from Suga. 

 “Your squad’s leaving soon,” Daichi pointed out, “Right?” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata nodded and looked up. “To the mountains.” 



I’m not going to lie… I mean, I know where they stood at that moment, but it feels kind of weird to write about myself as if I’m dead?? Yeah, the editor’s probably going to remove that line, isn’t he? Ah well. 






 Though all the other privates had gone home, Kageyama stayed at the firing range. The mastery stars meant nothing to him. He was more focused on the accuracy tests. Kageyama liked numbers; they made things quantifiable, attainable. It wasn’t enough to say he was getting better with a weapon – he needed proof. He needed proof, so he could get into programs, like this one, that would help him be more than just a Private. 

 His accuracy rating was barely in the 80s. That was at least a 20% failure rate. He wanted to push it up to at least the 90s but it wasn’t that easy. 

 Accuracy rating was calculated from one’s top 20 weapons. Kageyama now had 13 weapons in the 95% range, 4 in the 70% range, and 3 under 50% – including the brutaliser. 

 That was giving him the largest drop, percentage-wise. He knew, realistically, he should strengthen the weakest leg. 

 He grabbed his titanium blaster and swiped his arm, flicking the top over to reveal a needle-point attached to a cord. 

 The simulation began. 

 Someone with a knife was charging at him. 

 Kageyama followed the steps he had mentally laid out for himself; he parried the knife with the length of his gun to push the simulated person off balance, then he stepped back – and aimed his gun. 

 The cord fired like a snake, hissing through the air before it latched on. 

 Kageyama pressed the trigger, releasing volts of thunder that spiraled through the cord. 

 His eyes narrowed. 

 He had to get the timing right—the release. 

Now. 

 Kageyama yanked his gun, snapping the cord. 

 The body in front of him burst into blood, simulating disassociating organs that splattered on the floor in front of him. 

 Kageyama glanced at his gun, then looked up. “Next.” 

 The next simulation played. 






Chapter 2: Infodex 2, Titanium Series 



 True to its name, Titanium handguns do contain some titanium (although a rather small, negligible amount). Modern titanium handguns use a combination of bullets (physical metal projectiles) and plasma (filamentation of dissociated molecular ionic bonds in the magnosphere), but are more known for the latter. Their modes, in alphabetical order, include: 

 Bullet, Semi-Automatic: Known as the “Pistol Mode”, it uses the energy from one shot to reload the next shot. It can fire in quick succession until the clip is empty. 

 Bullet, Machine-Continuous: Similar to machine guns, continuous fire can be achieved by holding down the trigger. Due to the smaller size of clips, it doesn’t last as long. 

 Plasma, Semi-Automatic: Fires three light shots in quick succession without any limitation. Mostly used against humans. 

 Plasma, Single-Shot: Maximising heat, the Titanium handgun will fire a heavy blast of plasma. The explosive effect can be equated to a grenade launcher. This will overheat the gun and cause it to be unusable for up to a minute. Mostly used against heavy mechas or aircrafts. 

 Plasma, Revolver: Contains a ‘chamber’ of six bullets, roughly one-sixth of the power of the Single-Shot. Mostly used against light mechas. 

 Plasma-Bullet Mixed, Brutaliser: Fires a cord out of the bullet chamber which then latches on to its victim. Plasma currents run through the cord and attempt to disassociate and denature the proteins holding human cells together. It can go through almost all armour except Mark II and above. Due to its devastating effects, as well as the accidents that occur from its tricky use, some members of the public in both Shira and Aoba request that it be banned from warfare. 






Chapter 2: Act 1, Part IV 



 “Second Lord Iwaizumi.” 

 “Don’t do that.” 

 Hinata blinked, his serious expression washing away. He looked up at Iwaizumi and tilted his head. 

 Iwaizumi offered the world’s smallest smile, unable to completely hide it. “Nothing scares me worse, Commander, than when you start addressing people properly.” He turned to face Hinata and his smile faded. “Makes me wonder if the sky’s falling, maybe Tsukishima’s going to be nice today, or Oikawa’s going to admit defeat soon.” 

 “Har har,” Hinata said with a small snort. “Funny, dickbag.” 

 “That’s better.” Iwaizumi smiled, absentmindedly reaching up to tug at his necklace. It was a fang-shaped amulet, black obsidian in colour. It was an amulet that was supposed to be worn in a pair. “Anyway.” He examined Hinata, noting the way he held himself upright for once, not slouching. “What can I help you with, Commander? Your squad is leaving soon, so I imagine it must be important.” 

 “Well, yeah. Kind of.” Hinata nodded. “I want you to know… even if the Tanakas are our enemy now, I’ll destroy them. I’ll destroy them both. Don’t keep me away from the battle because you think I’m going to get sentimental with them. I don’t mind leaving my squad in the mountains if it means chasing after Ryu or Saeko. My squad is just a bunch of runts. They’re beginners. They’re not worth a battle that can crush an enemy officer.” 

 “Hm.” Iwaizumi let go of his fang necklace and put his hands behind his back. “We expect nothing less of you, Commander. Though I will admit, I personally have doubts these… insurgents, will act anytime soon.” 

 “Hm? Yeah?” Hinata gave a silly salute, with his signature grin. “I’ll leave the thinking to you guys, then! I got a squad to manage!” 

 “Alright.” Iwaizumi couldn’t help but laugh. “Go. You have your mission, I have mine.” 

 Hinata nodded. 






 Hinata walked down the hall; as soon as he turned the corner, his smile faded. He was good at that now, faking smiles. He was a little too good at it. A part of him wanted someone to see through them, see through his lies, reach out and grab the real him, but that didn’t matter. 

You seem down. 

 I am.
 Hinata sighed. Just. Let me be, okay? 

Okay. 

 Sorry.
 Hinata paused his walk, closing his eyes. I’m not trying to take my anger out on you, it’s just… 

I understand, Commander. Sometimes it’s easier if your mind is entirely your own. That’s a normal human reaction. I’m here if you need me; otherwise, I’ll focus on other processes for now. 

 “I know,” he said out loud. “Thank you.” 

 “You know what?” 

 Hinata jolted, jumping back and crouching in a crab-like attack mode. “W-Wanna fight?” 

 Kageyama stared at him. “No.” 

 “H-Huh?” Hinata moved back. “Are you following me?” 

 “Yes.” 

 “Why!?” 

 “Um.” Kageyama pointed behind him. “The hangar is that way… I went to the bathroom, and I saw you going the wrong way when I was on my way back.” He lowered his hand and stared at Hinata. “You looked like you were more thinking than walking.” 

 “Uh. Well.” Hinata slowly relaxed, standing straight again. “Yeah, that’s a nice way to put it. I’ve got a lot on my mind.” 

 “I see.” Kageyama scowled. “Do you want to. Talk about it?” 

 “Hah!?” Hinata’s face dropped. He tilted his head—before he burst out laughing. 

 “H-Hey!” Kageyama yelled, “I was trying to be nice!” 

 “I know! That’s the funny part!” Hinata giggled and he clasped Kageyama’s arm. “You’re kind of a nice guy, when you’re not yelling! I’d like to talk about it, but it’s all classified. Come on. Let’s go meet the rest of the squad.” 






 [i]So, he’s the one? With ten percent compatibility with me?
 

 Hinata glanced to Kageyama, who was currently getting teased by the other soldiers for walking in with him. Yeah. 

I see,
 the voice said simply. There was a low hum in the back of Hinata’s mind, as if the voice was thinking. What do you make of him? 

 I’m not too sure. What about you? Think he’s got a chance? 

I’m not sure. 

 You’re not sure? 

My compatibility ratings are… hard to understand, even for myself. My inner-workings are based mostly on old Metropolitan technologies that we excavated… Nekomata was a secretive man. There’s a lot I don’t understand about myself. My compatibility ratings don’t make sense to me most of the time. 

 Why does he have ten percent?
 Hinata wondered, more to himself than the system. He kept watching Kageyama, who was currently yelling at Kindaichi, who was hiding behind an amused looking Kunimi. What could it be? He looked up, not hearing the footsteps approaching. “I have no idea.” 

 “Now you have no idea of what?” 

 Hinata jumped again, suddenly seeing a raging Kageyama looming over him again. “Ack!” 

 Kageyama frowned, but he lowered his voice as he whispered, “Is that… the Voice, you’re talking to?” 

The Voice… Couldn’t he have chosen a less… notorious and evil sounding name? 

 Hinata snorted, looking away from Kageyama. He smiled and glanced again, noting how deep blue Kageyama’s eyes were. “The system doesn’t like being called ‘The Voice’. But I don’t think we have any other name for it that’s not classified.” 

 “I see.” Kageyama was still frowning. Hinata quietly wondered if his face would get stuck that way one day. “Commander, Private Kindaichi asked me to inform you that the supplies have been loaded.” 

 Hinata nodded and walked past him. He clapped his hands twice, getting the attention of all the soldiers. He glanced to the ship they would be using – it was a big, ugly, bulky ship. An aerial transport vehicle. Nothing fancy. “Alright, listen up! It’s a four hour flight at top speed. Remember to get everything you need. We’ll be heading to a high altitude, so if you get sick easily we’ve got some G-Meds. Other than that, you guys know the drill. I don’t need to baby you. We leave in thirty – I’m not doing a roll call. That’s too much work.” 

 “Um,” Kunimi murmured. “Sir?” 

 Hinata glanced over to him. 

 Kunimi pointed at one of the overhead catwalks. “There’s someone trying to get your attention.” 

 Hinata turned, and suddenly smiled. 

 Equipped with a Mark II, waving frantically, a redhead yelled, “Yoooooo, Shouyou! My little monster-man!” 

 Hinata bounced on his feet. “Tendou!” He waved back. “Okay! You guys get ready – he’s from Main Command, so it’s probably important!” 



 “The Second Lord wasn’t kidding,” Kunimi murmured. “He’s not a usual Commander.” 

 “I feel, uh…” Kindaichi rubbed the back of his neck. “A little uneasy about being under his command?” 

 Kageyama remembered Hinata’s accuracy rating and he frowned. It was haunting him. He frowned deeper. 

 “So?” Kunimi nudged him. 

 Kageyama kept frowning, looking at where he was shoved. 

 “You know,” Kunimi continued, “At first I was mostly kidding, but now everyone’s talking about you two. I mean, sure, the almost-kiss was funny, but it’s almost like you guys have some chemistry.” 

 “Chemistry,” Kageyama repeated. “What?” 

 Kindaichi sighed loudly. “He’s so clueless it hurts. Look, man. Do you have the hots for him?” 

 Kageyama tilted his head. “For who?” 

 Kunimi shut his eyes. 

 “I…” Kindaichi gave another exhausted sigh. “Commander Hinata.” 

 “Oh.” Kageyama blinked. “What? Why? Why would I be hot for him? Or, hots. Why is hot plural?” 

 Kunimi laughed, actually laughed, so much so he had to turn away and cover his face. 

 Kindaichi just pinched the bridge of his nose, not saying anything else. 



 When they boarded, they boarded last – which meant they were in the front row. There were two rows of four seats on either side of the aisle, and Kageyama, Kindaichi, and Kunimi all sat together. Kindaichi sat next to the aisle, because that’s where he felt less nauseous, Kunimi in the middle, and Kageyama next to him. 

 Kageyama considered moving one seat over, to the window seat, mostly because he figured Kunimi would kick him one over so he could have two seats – one to stretch his legs. 

 “Oh!” Hinata perked up. “Window seat!” He crashed on the chair and stretched. “Oh. Ew.” He looked at Kageyama. “I’m next to you,” he said in a teasing voice. 

 Kageyama frowned. “Ew… you.” 

 Kunimi murmured, “Good one.” 

 Kindaichi snorted. 

 Kageyama bit back a sharp, “Shut up.” 

 Hinata snorted and stretched his legs; there were no seats in front of them so he had more room for his legs. He pulled out a datapad and began typing something on the holographic keyboard. 

 The plane soon lifted off and began flying towards its destination. 

 Kunimi nudged Kageyama. When Kageyama stared at him, confused, Kunimi leaned back so Kageyama could see Kindaichi. 

 Kindaichi said, “Strike up conversation.” 

 “Okay.” Kageyama looked at him. “How’s the flight?” 

 Kindaichi choked back a yell; instead, he hissed, “Not with me!” 

 Hinata snorted. 

 “Huh?” Kageyama looked at him, confused. 

 Hinata glanced up to him, warm brown eyes lit up. “Hi.” 

 “Hello.” Kageyama was still confused. 

 “It hurts to watch,” Hinata admitted, “So I’m stepping in.” 

 Kageyama looked back at Kindaichi, while pointing at Hinata. “You meant with him?” 

 Kindaichi looked up to the sky, asking the gods, “Why are we friends with him?” 

 Kunimi, still leaning back in his chair, murmured, “Entertainment.” 

 Kageyama frowned at them and looked back to Hinata. “Um… Hello.” His throat tightened. He glanced at the datapad. “What are you doing, if I can ask?” 

 “I’m just going over what we’re doing when we land.” He closed a few tabs, file reports, meeting notes, but hesitated when a picture came up. He closed it quick, frowning. 

 “What was that?” 

 “Huh?” 

 “The picture.” 

 “Private, do you have any tact?” 

 “No.” Kageyama frowned. “At least I’ve been told I don’t.” 

 “Well.” Hinata stared. “It’s hard to be mad at you when you’re so honest.” He brought the picture back up and his eyes softened. 

 Kageyama glanced at the image. 

 He recognised Hinata instantly, in casual clothes instead of a suit (and he had to admit, he liked the way Hinata looked in a loose black button-down shirt and jeans). He saw another orange tuft of hair, recognising it as Hinata’s little sister, though he didn’t remember her first name. Naggy? Nagu? There was the cyborg Third Lord, Tsukishima. There was another person that looked like him, as well as two others that he did in fact recognise. Tanaka. 

 “That’s me!” Hinata pointed at himself, ignoring Kageyama’s glare. “My sister! That’s Kei – he punched me when I tried to kiss you. That’s Akiteru, Kei’s brother, and these two… Ryuunosuke and Saeko.” 

 “Tanaka,” Kageyama supplied. 

 “Yeah.” Hinata nodded, glancing at him. “You know them?” 

 “They’re known as the most formidable fighters with Mark IIs, mainly for their martial arts.” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata huffed. “If I were to fight one of them on the battlefield, I could take them down, but if it was close quarters… They’d have the upper hand. They both have a strong build, strength, speed, you name it. They have stamina as well, hard to take down. You know, the Mark II is designed to make a single person into a hundred. But if someone is twice as strong as a regular person, the suit will make them two hundred. Right?” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 “When Saeko kicks… I’ve seen her slice a heavy mecha’s arm right off. Her foot is like a knife. Speed, power, precision. Ryu’s more blunt with his punches, but they’re equally as dangerous. The problem is…” 

 “Problem?” 

 “Well. For a while it was just a rumour, and I know the rumour’s been going around for a while… I probably shouldn’t say anything, since it’s classified… But it’s going to be public information soon enough.” Hinata looked at him. “You know about the insurgent group, right?” 

 “The rebel forces in the east, trying to take down Shira from the inside?” 

 “They’ve been, generally, not much of a problem lately.” He bit his lip. “Compared to Aoba, they’re nothing. But there’s been a few turncoats. They got Nishinoya, who was also a Commander… but he’s been, um. Mentally, unstable… lately. He kind of, uh… dove off the deep end.” Hinata frowned. “I had a feeling where Noya went, Ryu would follow… The Tanaka twins went missing, and it’s now believed they’ve switched sides.” 

 “Oh.” Kageyama looked at the picture. “You’ll be, fighting your friends.” 

 “We’re soldiers, Kageyama.” Hinata glanced up at him, unfazed. “We know war is war. I’d kill my sister if she was on the other side.” 

 Kageyama’s mouth went dry. 

 “They would too.” He looked back at the picture. “If they’re betraying Shira… We… no, I’ll take them down. Myself.” 

 Kageyama glanced at him, looking at the little way his eyebrows trembled. “You seem to have your, uh. Reservations about it.” 

 “Hah.” Hinata smiled. “You’re supposed to be bad at social cues.” 

 “No, I just have no tact.” Kageyama glanced at him. “I’m known for seeing some, subtle things. Or in this case, not so subtle.” 

 “Hah.” Hinata looked at him again. “Am I that obvious?” 

 Kageyama shrugged. 

 “Well, you’re right.” Hinata nodded. “I’m not a separatist, and I will never leave Emperor Ushijima’s side. It’s not taking them down that makes me nervous – I’ll kill them. I’ll do it. I just… I have to wonder, you know…” He closed the image, then turned off his datapad. “What it was.” He looked out the window. “What made them change sides?” 

 Kageyama said nothing. 

 “It’s not like Ryu or Sae to just ditch. Not their friends, not the battle they’re fighting for… It’s not like them. So what made them change sides? Did they learn something? Get bribed? What could it be?” 

 Kageyama, again, remained silent. 

 “Sorry.” Hinata looked at him and smiled. “I’m rambling, about sensitive information no less. The ‘voice’ is getting mad at me.” 

 “It’s… fine.” Kageyama tensed. “I’ve heard these rebel forces don’t have any real firepower… so I’m assuming the addition of two top Mark II officers is a big addition.” 

 “They have no one to lead them,” Hinata explained. “No one who would yell a battle roar to turn the tides. But both Tanakas aren’t leaders. They’re good officers, second-in-command maybe, but not leaders. They’re not going to be much of a problem… If they were in cahoots with Oikawa and Aoba, that would be a bit tricky… but I doubt that’s the case.” 

 “Hm. Still.” Kageyama thought about it. “Historically… there always comes a time, a change on the battlefield. Mechas, Mark I, Mark II, so on. This could be one of those.” 

 “Oh. That’s coming.” Hinata’s grin was feral. “But it’s not going to be from Aoba or these insurgents.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “You mean, something related to the Mark III?” 

 “Well. We haven’t built a new Mark III in years, we don’t have the resources to make a new one. So… let’s say someone in this program gets accepted by the Mark III, where will his suit come from?” 

 “You mean…” Kageyama’s eyes widened. “Someone will have to give up their suit.” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata nodded. “It’s not me, though. Someone will have to give theirs up… or, rather.” His eyes burned with knowing. “I suppose the better word is upgrading.” 

 “Upgrading…” 

 “Oh yeah.” 

 Kageyama shivered. “You mean…” 

 Hinata leaned in to whisper in Kageyama’s ear— 

 Kageyama froze. 

 Mark IV. 

 Hinata backed away, amused by the reaction he’d gotten. “Did you hear what I had to say, or were you thinking about me getting close?” 

 “Neither,” Kageyama said, “I mean. Both. I mean…” 

 Hinata laughed. “You’re cute, Kags.” 

 “K—What?” 

 “Kags.” Hinata smiled happily. “Kageyama is too long.” 

 Kageyama scowled. 

 Hinata just kept smiling, a real smile this time. A real smile, for once. 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 3: Act 1, Part V 



“Koushi!” Hinata, only eight at the time, bounced up and down as he pointed upwards. 

 I wanted to reprimand him, tell him not to use my name in public, but my eyes caught what he was staring at. 

 In the worn out slums, a plaza, a thin black rope hung between two long poles. Kageyama, nine, was walking across. He was a street performer, getting money for his daily bread. It was the poorest part of town. His steps were even, eyes focused, arms stretched out as he – step by step – walked across the rope. 

 Hinata’s eyes were wide. “Koushi,” he whispered. “What if he falls?” 

 I remember looking up, feeling a sense of dread, panic, and wonder. “I don’t know.” 

 If he fell, he wouldn’t survive. 

 He fell. 

 The crowd screamed. 

 I still remember it to this day, though… Only nine, he twisted his body midair and caught the rope by two fingers. The cord dipped, pulled down by Kageyama’s weight, before it sprung up. Kageyama let go of the rope, eyes focused, and landed on the rope. He wiggled as he balanced himself, but then he straightened his back, and stood still. 

 There was silence. 

 And then applause. 

 The crowd was cheering, applauding, some were crying. 

 Kageyama simply took another step forward on the tightrope. 

 Hinata’s eyes were burning with wonder. “That’s so cool!” 

 Afterwards, Kageyama was putting his things away and thanking people who were leaving tips. 

 “That was!” Hinata bounced as he ran up to Kageyama. “Super cool! It was bwa! Wha! Gwa!” 

 Kageyama blinked a couple times. “Th-Thanks…” 

 Hinata tugged on my sleeve. “Give him some money!” 

 I laughed as I opened my wallet, slipping a couple bills into the little bin. “Here you go.” 

 “Th-Thank you.” Kageyama gave a small bow. “Um.” He looked up at me. “Are you… the Second Lord?” 

 “Yeah, but.” I put a finger to my lips. “Shhh, okay? It’s our secret.” 

 Kageyama smiled, a happy wiggly smile. “Okay.” 

 “He’s my big brother too!” Hinata bounced, tugging on my sleeve. 

 “Oh.” Kageyama looked between us. “You don’t… look like brothers.” 

 “I’m adopted,” I explained. 

 “Oh. Me too.” 

 “Um!” Hinata kept bouncing. “Can you teach me to walk on tightropes?” 

 “I’m not good enough to teach others.” 

 “But!” Hinata let go of me and took Kageyama’s hands, both of them, and pulled on them. “But you were so good!” 

 Kageyama looked at where their hands met, his cheeks warmed, and his eyes went big. 

 Hinata looked into his deep blue eyes, thinking they were like the ocean and the sky and everything blue that the small boy could think of. 

 “Shouyou,” I said in a teasing tone. “Don’t bother him. Okay?” 

 Hinata tugged his hands again. “What’s your name?” 

 “T-Tobio…” Kageyama felt warm in places he didn’t know he could feel warm in. It was like looking right at the sun, direct sunlight. “I’m here every weekend.” 

 “Okay! I’m Shouyou! I’ll come back! I promise!” 

 Another voice called, “Tobio! Oh, uh…” 

 I looked up, glancing to a man I recognised with ease. “Ukai.” 

 Keishin Ukai froze for a moment, glancing at me. He recognised me, of course; not just because I was Second Lord, but because of the training he had given me years and years ago. There was a glimmer of pride in Ukai’s eyes, even if there was also hesitation. 

 After all, Keishin Ukai hated the military and anything to do with us. 

 I dipped my head in a little nod, which hid me a little under my beret. It wasn’t much of a disguise, but it seemed to work for making other people not realise who I was. “Come on, Shouyou.” I offered my hand. “Your aunt’s making your favourite for lunch, remember? You don’t want everyone to eat it first, do you?” 

 “Oh!” Hinata clasped my hand and waved. “Bye Tobio!” 

 “B-Bye.” Kageyama’s cheeks flushed. “Sh-Shouy-you.”
 



 Hinata’s eyes opened, slowly. He was leaning on something, something warm. A memory? 

Yes. 

 Was that… my dream, or? 

I believe your brain was primed by Private Takeda, since he was activating both your neocortex as well as the left posterior temporal lobe of your brain.
 

 “Mm.” Hinata closed his eyes for a moment, and then glanced over to what he was leaning on. 

 Kageyama sat straight, face distorted, leaning away from him. 

 Hinata blinked. 

 Kindaichi and Kunimi both snickered. 

 “Oh.” Hinata backed away a bit. “I fell asleep.” 

 “Y-Yes.” Kageyama cleared his throat. “Hello.” 

 “Wow, Kageyama. You look like someone shoved something up your ass.” 

 Kageyama scowled. “I stayed still so you could sleep easier.” 

 “Awww.” Hinata’s expression softened. “Thanks, cutie.” 

 Kageyama frowned. 

 “Mm, how we met.” 

 “Hah?” 

 “I was… dreaming. Thinking. I mean, um.” Hinata looked at Kageyama and squinted. “We met, before. A long time ago.” 

 “Yes.” Kageyama just stared at him. “I know.” 

 “Oh.” Hinata blinked. “You knew?” 

 “I… figured it was you.” Kageyama cleared his throat. “Your hair colour is. Bright orange.” 

 “Oh, yeah? Well. That’s one good thing about this hair… I don’t mind it, but I kind of hate it when snipers know who to shoot for when I’ve basically marked myself as a big massive mandarin.” 

 “Don’t you wear a helmet on the field?” 

 “Mm.” Hinata stretched out a hand. He closed his eyes. There was a gush of fluids in his suit. Orange. His joints lit up, but the lines also traced down to his hands, curling around the space between his fingers. “My suit is coloured.” 

Commander, don’t light a fire in the plane please. 

 Kageyama eyed his suit, eyes bright with seeing a Mark III up close. “Why are the lights coloured?” 

 “It’s not light. It’s fluid.” Hinata brought his hand back and flexed his fingers. “This is the secret of the Mark III. That’s not a super hidden fact… this fluid contains some of my blood, actually. It takes from my body, and adapts it into my suit. Along with it are proteins and pigments… Mine ended up being orange.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “What does it… do?” 

Commander— 

 “I would show you, but I can’t do it here. That would be way too dangerous. I’ll show you later.” He yawned. “Are we almost there?” 

 “Yes.” 

 “Hmm.” Hinata grabbed his datapad, eyes lighting up at the icon that said there was a new message. He clicked it twice to open it up and he squealed. “Oh look. Loooook!” He shoved Kageyama. 

 Kageyama looked. 

 It was a picture of Natsu, holding up a sign. 

 “That’s so cute…” Hinata sniffled. “She’s so cute, I love her. She’s my little sister, my princess. She’s the best thing ever.” 

 Kageyama read the sign, something that was supposed to say good luck Shouyou but, “She misspelled your name.” 

 It was written Shoyo. 

 “Nah.” Hinata laughed. “She’s in a place in her life where she doesn’t like the letter ‘u’ for some reason.” 

 “Why?” 

 “Fuck if I know,” he said with a shrug, smiling. “Kids are so weird.” 

 “Mm.” Kageyama stared at the sign. “That’s not a bad thing.” 

 “Yeah, I did the exact same thing actually – except I avoided the hard ‘g’ sound. Maybe it’s genetics.” 

 “Hm.” Kageyama leaned back in his chair. “Bad genetics.” 

 “Hey!” Hinata snapped. 

 Kageyama smiled. 

 Hinata gasped. “Wait, did you just tease me?” 

 “Maybe.” 

 “Hey,” murmured Kunimi, “He’s not hopeless.” 

 “Stop eavesdropping!” Hinata leaned forward to see Kunimi past Kageyama. “That’s an order.” 

 “Uh, Sir.” Kindaichi looked at him. “There’s not much of a choice with how close these seats are.” 






 The supplies were loaded into the facility by the soldiers; the building was large, wide, but flat. It seemed to look like an outpost, but it didn’t bear any of the markings that most Shira buildings did. It looked barren, lost, and out of place amidst the grass, trees, and nature that flourished around it. 

 “Um, Commander Sir!” A recruit with black hair in a bowl cut bounced in step. “What exactly is this place?” 

 “It’s a training camp, kinda. Not really.” Hinata ran over to the cliff’s edge and pointed down. “That’s Shira!” 

 The other soldiers carefully walked over to the edge of the cliff and gasped. 

 The capital of Shira was a city that was originally built of white stone. It was eventually replaced with silver metals and skyscrapers, but it remained a city of white with purple banners lining it. While it was close by it was, however, tiny, at this distance. 

 “We’re pretty high up,” Hinata said as he turned towards them. “We didn’t move that far, but the ship needed to move slowly to adjust our bodies to the altitude. Oxygen is thinner up here, okay? So if you start feeling tired: Stop. That’s an order, got it?” 

 They chorused, “Yes, Sir!” 

 “Great!” He clasped his hands together. “The facility is online, so you guys can head in. I’ll be right behind you guys after I report in and talk to our drop-off team.” 

 “Yes, Sir!” 

 Kageyama stayed behind for a moment, glancing into the woods that seemed to cover the rest of the area. “Who owns this plateau?” 

 “Hm?” Hinata stepped away from the cliff’s edge and glanced at the forest. “Technically us, but we only have one base. We don’t use it frequently, though. This place is kinda off the radar…” 

 “So.” Kageyama glanced around. “No one owns this place?” 

 “I guess.” 

 “Nature owns it?” 

 “That’s one way to look at it.” He glanced to Kageyama. “I’ll explain more when we get inside. But.” He tapped his earpiece—a circular black disc that covered his right ear. “Listen up,” he spoke to all of them over the radio. “If your body can get accustomed to this environment, and you can pass all the trials on this plateau, you’ll get suited up with a Mark II. Even if you don’t get accepted by the Mark III, the Mark II will be yours for keeps.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes lit up. 

 “We’re going to be here for two weeks. You’re going to be tested, but unlike back home – this isn’t gonna be some simulation of danger. There’s no computers here to rate your skills. You only have to survive.” He glanced to the forest again. “Humans aren’t the only ones who have an arms race goin’ on. Evolution, survival of the fittest, has given the predators here more than enough to wreck us to shit. Living in these woods are animals that are more dangerous than some of Aoba’s mechas. They attack in groups, too.” 

 Kageyama stiffened. 

 “Now now, it’s not all bad news,” Hinata laughed. “Our facility here has warding systems, which detect incoming animal life. It’ll shoo them away. With guns. Most animals know to stay away from here, but if one is chasing you – this base is kind of a sanctuary.” 

“S-Sir,” a soldier’s voice crackled over the airway, “What if we get shot?” 

 “You might!” Hinata grinned. He knew they couldn’t see him smile, but he was sure they could hear it in his voice. “Running away is a good tactic in some scenarios, but sometimes you’re not lucky. It’s not fair, but none of you have participated in real battles against Aoba. The soldiers of Aoba don’t play fair, and we’re not going to play fair with them. Simulations are awesome, but they’re only the first step, especially,” he said as he glanced to Kageyama, “If you want to get hooked up to a Mark III. It’s not enough to expect the unexpected – you need to be able to react against the unexpected.” 

“Commander,” it was Kunimi’s voice this time, “What weapons is this facility loaded with?” 

 “All the ones we had in the training gala. Literally everything that’s approved by Shira for war. Brutalisers, grenades, and rocket launchers – you name it. Don’t fuck with them! If you want to use one, great, but don’t be an idiot. This isn’t a simulation, and we don’t have human medics – only robotics. We won’t be able to perform complicated surgeries up here. Oh! And also!” 

 Kageyama bit his lip. “What now?” 

 Hinata pretended not to hear it. “If you’re afraid of spiders, I gotta give you a warning. I don’t really like giving tips or warnings to my squad during training, but considering it is one of the most common phobias in Shira… If you don’t like spiders, stay the fuck away from the south of the plateau. They’re big. Real big. But the problem is their venom. We’ve developed an anti-venom which can neutralise it with a direct injection… but the spider’s venom often works too fast, even with immediate injection. We can’t really neutralise it in time.” 

 Kageyama rubbed his jaw. 

 “If you get bit… you die. But! For what it’s worth! Everyone’s going to get two white packets. They’re one dose of the anti-venom each. So, yeah, I’d probably advise you to stay away. Ah, and! They’re nocturnal, they own the forest at night. I highly recommend you use the forest for training during the day, and the facility at night. Don’t get lost, though. If your GPS malfunctions or gets damaged, retrace your steps right away. We have lost a ton of soldiers up here. Any questions?” 

 There was silence. 

 “Don’t worry!” Hinata laughed again. “It’ll be fun!” 






 “I am Private Tsutomu Goshiki!” the dark haired man with the bowlcut yelled, “Nice to meet all of you!” 

 “Um.” Kunimi nodded. “Hi.” 

 Kageyama just stared at him. 

 “Yo, nice to meet you.” Kindaichi offered his hand. “Private Yuutarou Kindaichi.” 

 Goshiki shook his hand excessively. “And you two?” 

 “Akira,” Kunimi murmured. “Akira Kunimi. Private.” 

 “Private Kageyama.” 

 “Nice to meet all of you!” Goshiki smiled bright. “I hope we will all get along!” 

 “Yeah.” Kindaichi nodded. 

 The rooms had two bunk-beds each, meaning four people per room. They were instructed to bring only one duffel bag of things and they now had to decide who slept where. 

 “I’m going on top if that’s okay?” Kindaichi asked. 

 Goshiki nodded. 

 Kunimi hummed playfully. 

 Kindaichi glanced at him. “What?” 

 “Nothing.” Kunimi tossed his bag on the other upper bed bunk. “I’ll take top as well, if that’s fine.” 

 “I guess we’re on bottom,” Kageyama murmured as he sat on the bed. 

 Kunimi laughed. “Bottom.” 

 Kageyama frowned. 

 Kindaichi snickered. 

 Kageyama frowned. “Are we talking about sex?” 

 “Ah!” Goshiki nodded twice. “Yes! That was a sex joke!” 

 Kunimi seemed equally amused by Kageyama’s confusion and Goshiki’s assertion. 

 “Hm.” Kageyama thought about it. “I don’t think I am a bottom,” he admitted. 

 “Well.” Kindaichi cleared his throat. “You’re going to find out soon, right?” 

 Kageyama frowned. “Why?” 

 Kunimi sighed. 

 Goshiki looked him dead in the eye. “The Commander.” 

 Kageyama stared at him. “What?” 

 Kunimi turned around and huffed. “Okay. This is too much. We’re going to have a talk.” 

 Kageyama opened his mouth, but his phone pinged. As did Kindaichi’s, Kunimi’s, and Goshiki’s. 

 “Ah.” Kindaichi laughed. “Food’s up! Let’s grab some!” 






 The dining hall was pretty standard, as far as the military went. A wide open room with many long tables and benches. There were no cooks; instead, machines dispensed the food in a processed manner. It was fast and seconds were allowed, so no one complained despite the strange tastelessness to it. 

 “Gross,” Kindaichi murmured as he poked the food with his fork. 

 “It’s standard,” murmured Kunimi. 

 “I don’t mind it!” Goshiki said with a smile as he cut the questionable meat. 

 Kageyama gave a little grunt to agree with Goshiki. “It’s better than what I was raised with.” 

 Kunimi glanced at him. “You grew up in the slums, right?” 

 “Yeah.” 

 Goshiki turned to him. “Is it true you eat rats?” 

 “No,” Kageyama said simply. He wasn’t even offended by the question. He continued eating the slop of what was supposed to be mashed potatoes and drank his water. 

 “So,” Kunimi said between bites, “When are you going to make your move on Commander Orange?” 

 Kageyama looked up. “What.” 

 “He likes you,” Kindaichi said. “Why else would he be so close to you all the time?” 

 “Mm. We met, before.” Kageyama kind of wished they’d let him eat. He was hungry. “When we were kids.” 

 “Wait.” Kunimi’s eyes widened. “What? You never told us that part.” 

 Kindaichi leaned in. “Spill the beans, man!” 

 “I am also interested!” Goshiki smiled brightly. “The two of you seem to be working well together!” 

 Kageyama just shrugged. 

 Kunimi sighed, defeated. “Well…” His eyes glimmered for a moment. “You should flirt with him.” 

 “There’s no point.” 

 “You know, if you flirt with him, maybe he’ll be more likely to recommend you for promotion.” 

 Goshiki added, “Or the Mark III.” 

 Kageyama paused, looking at Goshiki. “Commander Hinata isn’t the one who decides who gets accepted by the Mark III system,” he reminded them. “I don’t want to flirt with him. I don’t want to flirt in general.” 

 “Well…” Kunimi thought about it. “Let’s say you don’t get the Mark III, even if you flunk, he could put you in a good position, right?” 

 “I… suppose.” 

 “We should play a game.” Kunimi held up three fingers. “You should flirt with Commander Hinata three times a day while you’re here.” 

 “Uh.” Kindaichi paled. “Don’t set him up for failure… Once a day, for the first week. The second week you can do three times a day.” 

 Kageyama shrugged. 

 Goshiki thought about it. “I don’t think you will need to flirt with the Commander for him to take interest in you. He has already done so.” 

 Kageyama thought about that statement and nodded. “I guess he has. I’m not here to flirt. I’m here to be a better soldier.” 

 Goshiki nodded twice. “Indeed!” 

 “Well, look.” Kunimi glanced between Kageyama and Goshiki. “Guess you got your first fanboy.” 

 “Second,” Kindaichi murmured, “If you count the Commander.” 

 Kunimi snorted. 






Chapter 3: Infodex 3: The Slums 

 Roughly 250 years prior, the Kingdom of Shira was founded in the year 102 Ø̈TA. The castle was built atop a high incline compared to the surrounding plains. Those of nobility wanted to be on the higher area, for the higher class, finding it a very literal metaphor for higher ground over the commoners. The middle class lived in a circle around the higher class, but the lower class had to get down on the level of the plains. 

 It would take half a day’s travel to climb the stairs that circled the high ground. It was a perilous journey that many lost their lives to, due to the crumbling stairs and rocky crags of the mountain path. 

 With the advances of technology, large elevators now operate to transport people from the two different levels. Only three are in operation—one reserved for the military, one reserved for the Sovereigns, and only one allowed to transport civilians up and down. Without much access to fresh food, trade, or the upper level, this area has become known as the slums, where resentment of the upper class is everburning. 






Chapter 3: Act 1, Part VI 

 Kageyama spent most of the next couple of hours walking around the facility, exploring. He found the weapon’s room, a few training rooms, an observatory, the command centre, and was now making his way to what looked like an arena. It was a large open space, a circular room, but what caught his eye the most was— 

 Hinata laughed, staring at his datapad. He had his back to Kageyama. 

 Kageyama walked behind him, glancing to the datapad to see a tuft of orange hair on the screen. 

 It was Hinata’s little sister, though he couldn’t remember her first name. She was wearing her pyjamas, making silly faces at Hinata, but her face distorted and she jumped back. “Monster!” 

 “A monster!” Hinata grinned. “Where?” 

 “Behind you! Watch out!” 

 “I’m gonna fight it!” Hinata turned around, smile fading for a moment when he made eye contact with Kageyama, but the smile returned. He looked back at the screen. “Oh, no that’s just one of my recruits.” 

 “He’s scary!” 

 “No he’s not!” 

 “Yes he is! He’s ugly! His face is scary!” Natsu stared at Kageyama. “You’re scary!” 

 “I’m not,” Kageyama murmured with a frown. 

 “You are!” 

 “I’m not!” 

 “Scary scary scary, ugly spoiled dairy!” 

 Hinata giggled, throwing his head back to look at Kageyama. “She called you spoiled dairy!” 

 “Shut up!” Kageyama snapped at Hinata. He glared at Natsu. “I’m not scary!” 

 “Shouyou,” Natsu whined, “Beat him up!” 

 “I can’t do that, Natsu! He’s a good guy.” 

 “Fight him! Burn him!” 

 “I can’t!” 

 “Fire fire fire, put him in the washer and dryer!” 

 Hinata cackled and looked back again at Kageyama. “We’re gonna put you in the dryer, Private!” 

 “Wha—” Kageyama scowled. “I don’t want to go in a dryer!” 

 Natsu threw her fist in the air. “Put him in!” 

 Hinata grinned. “That’s an order, Private! Go in the dryer!” 

 “No! I refuse!” Kageyama took a step back. “My face isn’t scary…” 

 Natsu yelled, “It is!” 

 Kageyama yelled back, “It’s not!” 

 “It is!” 

 “It’s not!” 

 “It is!” 

 “It’s not!” 

 “It is!” 

 “It’s—” 

 “Nah,” Hinata cut in. “He’s got a pretty cute face when he smiles.” 

 Natsu paused, eyes narrowing. “He can smile?” She looked at Kageyama. “Smile!” 

 Like a sharp broken rift of a piano, Kageyama forced a smile. 

 Natsu screamed, throwing her arms in the air, flailing, as she started crying. She sobbed uncontrollably as she smacked her datapad repeatedly, until she ended the call. The screen of Hinata’s datapad went blank. 

 Hinata just kept laughing. 

 Kageyama looked away, eyebrows coming together, but anger softening as he asked, “Am I… that scary?” 

 “Nah.” Hinata leaned back on his hands, head thrown back, looking at Kageyama. “You’ve got a cute smile… You can’t fake one for shit, but your real smile is kind of pretty.” 

 “Um.” Kageyama felt a strange heat inside him. “You too… I mean, yours…” 

 Hinata grinned. 

 Kageyama awkwardly looked away. “So. Um. What are you doing here?” 

 “Killing time. Everything starts tomorrow, right?” Hinata’s warm brown eyes never left Kageyama. “What about you? Did you come here to bug me?” 

 “No.” Kageyama’s attention snapped to the arena they were in. “This is the duel room, right? For plasma sabers?” 

 “Mhm.” 

 “Kindaichi wanted to spar a bit.” Kageyama stepped towards the centre of the room. His eyes narrowed as he tried to understand what the blue blocks on the side of the room were for. “Said he wanted to get some exercise before bed.” 

 “Well.” Hinata put his datapad away and stood up. “That’ll be fun to watch.” 

 “He’ll be free in half an hour,” Kageyama murmured. “I’m just scouting for now.” 

 “Hmm…” Hinata deflated at that. He tilted his head, though. “Hey!” He began stretching. “Why not spar with me?” 

 Kageyama looked at him; no, rather, he looked at the black weaving alloys of Hinata’s power suit. “With your Mark III?” 

 “What? Is this like the race? You want to watch me strip for you again?” 

 “Shut up!” Kageyama’s cheeks warmed. There was heat; but, interestingly, he wasn’t angry? He was, but wasn’t. Fuck. “Keep your suit on. I’ll beat you anyway.” 

 “Ohhh, there’s that overconfidence again.” 

 “If I win,” Kageyama snapped, “You have to give me the secret.” 

 Hinata tilted his head. “The secret?” 

 “When we raced… you said you’d give me a secret about who gets chosen for the Mark III, if I won.” 

 “Fine. And if I win…” Hinata thought about it, but his face scrunched up. “I can’t think of anything.” He tapped his arm, though, and meshing grey blocks began to build a coliseum around them. The blue blocks at the side of the room came together and opened, revealing an array of plasma sabers to choose from. “Dual wielding or single?” 

 “Either.” 

 “Then, let’s do single.” 

 “No, I meant.” Kageyama walked towards the sabers and chose one – a thin-blade model. As soon as he clasped the handle, the blade turned off. “You can do what you want. I’ll do what I want.” 

 Hinata grabbed two blades. “Cocky.” He attached one to his hip and tossed the other into his right hand. “Alright.” 

 The blue block closed off the array of sabers and it split in half, moving back to the sides of the room. 

 Kageyama twirled the handle of the blade, letting it fire out its hot white beam. There was a hum and a whirling noise as the plasma swirled in a constant vortex. He looked at his white blade, appreciating how thin it was. Though most plasma blades were baby blue, as that was the colour of plasma (though Aoba’s made theirs with a slightly greener tint for aesthetics), white was often the colour of training blades. Their energy transference was focused more on light than heat, and thus were less dangerous but brighter. 

 Hinata turned around and walked a short distance away. He turned around and stared at Kageyama. 

 Kageyama tensed. 

 There was a gush of fluid moving through Hinata’s suit, and his joints began to glow glimmering orange. The orange was bright and shimmering, lining the suit like veins, though far less numerous. “It’s about time you start respecting the difference between us, Kags.” 

 “What.” 

 “Kags! Kageyama is too long.” 

 “Don’t call me that.” 

 “Well, how about this!” Hinata smiled. “If I win, I’m going to keep calling you Kags.” 

 “That.” Kageyama growled. “That’s what you’re betting against the Mark III’s secrets?!” 

 “I won’t lose, kiddo.” 

 “I’m older than you!” 

 “Wait.” Hinata blinked, stance dropping. “Really?” 

 “Yes! I’m nineteen—you’re eighteen!” 

 “What the fuck.” Hinata pouted. “That’s not fair! Stop being older!” 

 “I can’t change that!” 

 “Ah well.” Hinata planted his feet firmly and gave a small, feral smile. “I’m going to kick your ass anyway.” 

 Kageyama twirled his blade. “Come kick it.” 

 “Oh?” The orange lining Hinata’s suit seemed to beat twice, like a heartbeat. “You just want me on your ass don’t you?” 

 “I don’t consider myself a bottom.” 

 “Are you flirting with me?” 

 Kageyama swiped his blade. “Are we going to begin or what?” 

 “Sure.” Hinata whipped his hand to the side, releasing the plasma of his blade but— 

 Kageyama’s eyed widened. 

 Though most plasma blades were baby blue, as that was the colour of plasma (though Aoba’s made theirs with a slightly greener tint for aesthetics), white was often the colour of training blades. But this— 

 Kageyama tensed. 

 Hinata’s blade burned orange, the same colour as the fluid moving under his armour; it felt almost as though it was an extension of his suit. 

 But Kageyama shook that thought out of his head because, obviously, Hinata had taken a plasma saber from the armory, not a specifically designed Mark III plasma saber. After all, if Aoba could make theirs a little greener, then it made sense that Hinata could make his orange. 

 Maybe. 

 Hinata moved to the left like a blur, and charged forward. His form dropped low to the ground and he surged upwards, in an uppercut. 

 Kageyama had lowered his stance when he saw Hinata had; but, when the uppercut came, he backflipped to dodge it. 

 “Ohhh…” Hinata cooed. “So you can jump pretty high even without a suit.” 

 But Kageyama drowned out the noise; landing, he whipped blade from the side in a violent arc. 

 Hinata held his blade vertical as he was pushed back despite his block. Analyse— he commanded. 

 Kageyama grabbed his blade with two hands, raising his hands up for another violent swing. 

It’s as you expected: He put the force of his backflip into the strike. Given how plasma absorbs force, I would predict it was entirely intentional, Commander. 

 Hinata swung back— 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. 

 Hinata parried the strike—he swung against Kageyama’s blade to deflect the attack, and it knocked Kageyama back. 

 Kageyama let go of his saber as he was thrown back, flying, crashing onto the ground with a bounce. He forced himself up and snatched his plasma blade from the floor. “What the fuck was that…?” 

 “Oi.” Hinata pouted. “Don’t underestimate me. This suit makes me a hell of a lot stronger. Three hits – that’s all I need, Kags.” He smirked before charging again. 

 Kageyama threw himself back, barely dodging a horizontal strike. 

 Hinata swung and swung—horizontal, vertical, horizontal, diagonal. 

 Kageyama’s eyes were wide. His feet moved as he dodged and dodged, knowing a parry or a block would destroy him. He could barely keep up. He twisted on his foot, kicking off the ground to get distance between them. 

 “Your speed’s pretty good!” Hinata leapt forward again. 

 Kageyama couldn’t retort. He dodged another incoming strike. Clasping both hands on his blade, Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. Now. He swung. 

 Hinata’s eyes were deathly calm. He used two hands to block the strike. He held his ground, despite the way wind blasted from the attack. 

It’s interesting. The way Private Kageyama moves to dodge, it’s like he’s dancing… but really he’s building up force in his plasma blade. He’s good. 

 But Hinata knew, when it came to building up force… 

 Kageyama suddenly understood what it was like, to be a small animal who suddenly noticed a large stalking predator. 

 Hinata’s suit began to glow. The base of Hinata’s plasma saber began to suck up wind. 

 Kageyama murmured, “An explosive?” 

 Hinata swung— 

 Kageyama threw himself back out of instinct, barely dodging the flash of fire that ripped the space between them apart. 

 “You’re quick on your feet! I like that!” 

 Kageyama skid on the ground as he landed, body shaking. “Did you… Did you just, blow something up?” 

 The flashbang of smoke faded into nothing, revealing Hinata’s glowing suit through grey mist. “Nah, nah.” He held up his free hand, revealing fire in his palm. “My Mark III is capable of oxidation. It absorbs oxygen to burn the material of my suit, which rapidly reconstructs.” 

 “You’re…” Kageyama took a step back. “Fucking kidding, right?” 

 “I can keep this ever burning,” Hinata said in a little sing-song. “The Mark III’s changed the battlefield for a reason.” He flicked his other wrist, setting his plasma blade aflame. “Can you fight fire, Kags? I can reach temperatures hot enough to melt mechas, I can create walls of fire to divide ground troops, cloud the skies to set back aerial units.” He swiped his hand and his arms set themselves on fire. “When they say this suit is a thousand times one person… they mean it.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. What was once fear, though, was now hunger. “And I’m guessing that is just one of the capabilities of your suit.” 

 “Mhm. People call the Mark III a fairy tale, because even when you see it in action you can’t believe it’s real.” His suit dampened, only his blade remaining aflame. “We’re manipulating the forces of nature with science at such a level that no one can keep up.” Hinata grinned. “Can you?” 

 Kageyama braced himself. 

 Hinata launched forward. His blade created a trail of fire with each strike. 

 Kageyama backed up again, knowing he was getting closer to the wall behind him. Knowing if he got hit, he would be burned alive—that wasn’t a training saber anymore—he dove just under the trail of fire of Hinata’s horizontal swing. 

 Hinata spun on his feet and turned around. 

 Now Hinata was closer to the wall, and Kageyama had more space to back up and dodge. 

 Hinata smirked, giving a little appreciative nod, but he didn’t relent his attack; he surged forward again and began another string of strikes—horizontal, vertical, horizontal, diagonal, uppercut—diagonal. 

 Kageyama could barely breathe as he struggled to dodge each strike in its turn. It was the last one, a downward diagonal, that he knew he couldn’t dodge. He clenched on his saber and swung. He knew his blade had absorbed enough force from the movement to deflect most of Hinata’s attack if he could just parry— 

 “Not a chance!” Hinata roared as he deepened the strike. 

 Kageyama was thrown back but he didn’t realise it until he was falling from being thrown upwards. He landed on his back, and cried out. 

 A see-through orange plasma semicircle appeared over Hinata’s eyes, his visor. 

 Kageyama forced himself up and growled as he did. 

 “You’re pretty good.” Hinata smirked. “I don’t see people who can keep up without a suit. I’m kind of afraid to see you in a Mark II.” 

 “Then imagine me in a Mark III,” Kageyama bit back. 

 “You’re planning on getting it, huh?”* 

 Kageyama scowled. He ran, blade in hand. He swung in a violent smash. 

 Hinata did a small double-step as he hopped back and blocked. 

 “If I win this!” Kageyama pushed his blade against Hinata’s, not caring about the fire that was swirling so close to him. “I’ll get a secret for the Mark III!” 

 “You’re planning on winning,” Hinata pointed out, “Still?” 

 “I will!” Kageyama broke the deadlock by shoving Hinata back and swung again. 

 “Hate to break it to you.” Hinata’s eyes narrowed. He swung for a parry and— 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened; his plasma blade… 

 Hinata smirked. 

 His plasma blade shattered. 

 The blade itself spiraled outwards until it lost form while the handle crackled with electricity, frying itself. 

 “Your blade can’t do anything to me!” Hinata tossed his own plasma saber into his left hand and snatched the second one holstered on his hip. He tossed that one to Kageyama. “This suit makes me invincible.” 

 Kageyama dropped his broken plasma blade and caught the new one mid-air—and then he charged, aiming to spear Hinata’s face. 

 Hinata’s eyes widened. He dodged to the side; his helmet formed over his visor and he cursed. “Close one! Nice!” He moved to strike Kageyama’s side. 

 Kageyama blocked it; wincing from the impossible force that a single strike held. 

 “You shouldn’t challenge a Mark III,” Hinata’s voice was only slightly muffled from the helmet. “You can’t win, Kags—I’m a thousand men here!” 

 Kageyama fought, still. Each strike was a thousand, but Kageyama was growing used to their impossible force. He was learning how to hold his ground (even if blocking the strikes made his every muscle cry out for him to quit). He returned Hinata’s strikes with his own. 

 In Hinata’s mind, though… 

He’s persistent. 

 Do you like him? 

He seems brash… if he gets accepted, he’ll have a hard time. He’s rough around the edges. He needs to learn when to quit… I hate to ask this of you, but could you teach him, please? This is… hard to watch. 

 You got it.
 Hinata planted his feet despite Kageyama moving in to strike. He swung once—and decided to end it there. The ripfire blasted outwards in a ring; Kageyama’s scream was drowned out in the explosion. 

 Kageyama’s smoldering form rolled against the cold floor, smoke rising. 

 Hinata stared at him. 

 Kageyama could barely look up, blood falling from his forehead and dripping over his closed left eye. “What the hell are you!?” 

 “I’m not a soldier, Kageyama.” Hinata stood the victor, suited, helmet on, blade aflame. “I’m a god of war.” 

 “K-Kageyama!” came another voice. 

 Hinata glanced over, as did Kageyama, to see Kindaichi running towards them. 

 Hinata swiped his hand, creating a wall of fire between Kindaichi and them. 

 “What the fuck is—” Kunimi’s voice trembled as he froze, cut off. 

 Hinata glanced back to Kageyama. 

 Kageyama tried to force himself up, but he slipped, falling. “Fuck!” It was like he had been slashed with a rake everywhere. Tears formed in the corner of his eyes. The pain was beyond anything he’d ever understood before. “Fuck…” 

 Hinata’s helmet disassembled and his visor blinked out of existence. The wall of fire faded and he glanced to the other two. “Take him to the medical lab, Private.” 

 Kindaichi stiffened. “Wh-What?” 

 “Sorry for the firewall.” Hinata offered a smile. “I was checking for damages. Luckily he doesn’t have any broken bones or fractures—I was checking in for those before you guys rushed in and tried to help him up. He’s pretty lucky… I kind of overdid it by accident. I’m not used to holding back.” 

 “Why…” Kindaichi eyed Kageyama, then Hinata, eyes dropping to the burning plasma blade. “Why were you guys, uh, fighting? A spar, or…?” 

 “Well.” Hinata dismissed his plasma blade. “He challenged me.” 

 Kunimi sighed. “Hoe, you didn’t…” 

 Kageyama just glared at him. 

 “Come on.” Kindaichi rushed over to Kageyama. “Let’s get you to the medical lab.” 






 The medical lab was whirring with robots and AIs that were looking after him. They had hooked him up to salves and supplements. Kageyama hated it, but when he saw ERA: 10 on the side he figured it wasn’t that bad. That meant his Estimated Recovery Time was ten hours. He figured he would be fine after one good night’s rest. 

 “Okay, but.” Kunimi sat on a stool next to the hospital bed. “Why the hell did you challenge the Commander?” 

 “Why else?” Kageyama answered honestly. “I want one of those suits. I need one.” 

 Kindaichi shared a look with Kunimi before sighing. “You’re a real mess, you know. You’re going to miss the first day of practice because of this.” 

 “I’ll be ready,” Kageyama corrected. “I’ll be fine in ten hours.” 

 “Did you forget about the lower oxygen levels?” Kunimi’s eyes narrowed. “You’re wounded. You’re not going to go through vigorous activity right after recovery.” 

 Kageyama opened his mouth to retort, but. 

 “I agree,” came a voice from the open doorway. 

 They turned. 

 Hinata stepped in, watching them all stiffen a bit to his presence. The silent question of why was on their faces. “I’m the one who put Mister Ten Percent in the hospital, so of course I’m going to stop by.” 

 “I’m fine,” hissed Kageyama. “I’ll be ready for tomorrow’s training, Commander.” 

 “You will be.” Hinata stretched. “But why don’t you take tomorrow off anyway? Just to be safe. At least the morning in the woods.” 

 Kageyama scowled. “Why?” 

 “Well, I won’t be joining them in the woods, so I’m gonna be bored.” Hinata perked up. “Want to help me with paperwork?” 

 “Of course not!” 

 Hinata put his hands together. “Please! I hate paperwork! It suuucks! Bwaaaah!” 

 Kageyama’s eyes softened. “Give me the secret to the Mark III and I will.” 

 “No way!” 

 “Then no, dumbass!” 

 “That’s Commander Dumbass!” 

 “Then no, Commander Dumbass!” 

 “Don’t call your Commander a dumbass!” 

 “Don’t try to rope your subordinates into doing your paperwork!” 

 “Well!” Hinata’s shoulders relaxed. “I guess that’s kind of fair. But okay, how’s this—if you do twice as much paperwork as me tomorrow… I’ll give you a hint about the Mark III’s secret, okay? Not the secret itself. Just a hint!” 

 Kageyama scowled. “I should have just won that race.” 

 “But you didn’t.” Hinata grinned. “Do we have a deal?” 

 “Fine.” 

 “Awesome!” He looked at Kindaichi and Kunimi. “You two make sure he’s not so grumpy, okay? He’s going to get wrinkles, man. Like deep, deep wrinkles if he keeps up those faces.” 

 Kunimi snorted. Kindaichi grinned. 

 Hinata gave a small salute before he left. 

 They returned his salute—Kindaichi and Kunimi getting up to so, Kageyama still in his hospital bed for it. 

 After he walked away, Kindaichi sat back down. “Sometimes I forget he’s five ranks higher than us.” 

 “Six soon,” Kageyama murmured. “He’s in line for Third Lord.” 

 “Third Lord,” Kunimi said with a small whistle. “That’s a Sovereignty rank.” 

 Sovereignty. Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. 






 Hinata left them behind and his mind wandered to more serious matters. He walked down the hall and turned the corner, heading to his own room. It was actually quite nice. Most bases had basic sleeping arrangements for even the highest of ranking officers. This facility, however, seemed to pamper him a little. 

 He stepped through the doorway. 

 He had made the walls a warm colour; it wasn’t that hard, given he could choose a colour scheme and the atomia in the walls would react to what he wanted. 

 Now the room had a warm orange glow, mostly coming from the lamp on the desk. The bed was a single bed, but it was soft, and the room had a large monitor. Hinata assumed it was because those who led training in this region needed to analyse large sheets of data, but he mostly just used it to watch comedy shows. 

Captain-specialised is trying to contact you. 

 “Patch him through,” Hinata said outloud. 

 The monitor on the wall turned on. 

 “Hey Yamaguchi,” Hinata said without looking at the screen. “I’m stripping, don’t get all weird about it.” 

 “Ah, it’s fine. I’m past that phase.” Yamaguchi was sitting at his desk at Main Command, though it was clear the rest of the room was mostly empty. “Thanks for taking my call. I know you’re busy.” 

 “Don’t worry about it.” The suit began to disassemble around him. “What’s up?” 

 “We’ve found some weird activity with Aoba… They’re, uh.” Yamaguchi looked down at his datapad. “They’re shipping all kinds of fuel sources, but we don’t have the slightest idea as to why.” 

 “Fuel?” Hinata perked up. 

 “Here.” Yamaguchi sent the graph over. 

 Hinata glanced at the graph as the suit disassembled, leaving him only in tight athletic underclothes. “They don’t have enough mechas to use all those electroids.” 

 “Yeah.” Yamaguchi nodded. “They have the Inarizaki, but that doesn’t need all these kinds of fuels…” 

 “Where did we get this information?” 

 “The black market.” 

 Hinata eyed Yamaguchi. “And you’re sure it’s true?” 

 “It’s verified.” Yamaguchi nodded. “Daichi did it himself.” 

 “Hmm.” Hinata eyed the graphs again. “Oikawa, what are you up to…?” 

 “I… wish I knew, Hinata. We all wish we knew what the Regent Lord is up to…” 

 “So.” Hinata looked at him. “What does this have to do with me?” 

 Yamaguchi blinked. 

 “Don’t get me wrong—I know people give me this kind of information… but I’m all the way out in butt fuck nowhere. Why specifically me?” 

 “Well.” Yamaguchi fumbled his hands together. “I was hoping you could be a lookout.” 

 Hinata tilted his head. 

 “Well, I mean… I’m not sure. But they’re importing fossil fuels, hydro energy, electroids, atomia, nitrogen caliber crystals… even diamgen.” Yamaguchi looked up in time to see Hinata stiffen. “The list goes on. Oikawa is smart… he won’t put these transactions where we can see them, and won’t transport them in our sights either. He’s got to be hiding them from Shira. But he doesn’t know about your outpost… A mountain plateau like yours provides a good vantage point.” 

 “Hmmm.” Hinata nodded appreciatively. “Yeah.” 

 “Also. Um.” He swiped his datapad and the monitor in Hinata’s room changed to a map of the region. “This plateau also creates a blindside for Shira’s main forces, see.” The west side of the graph was illuminated purple. Another region began to glow yellow. “Since Kara is on the east, we don’t have much to go on in terms of what Aoba does in this region.” 

 Hinata’s eyes narrowed. “Kara?” 

 “Ah. That’s the name of the… insurgents. The rebel group… the one that Saeko and Ryuunosuke Tanaka have joined.” 

 “Oh.” Hinata rubbed his jaw. “They have a name now?” 

 “Yes… A-Anyway, um. Looking at this map, I think it’s likely Oikawa would know that our vision is very limited to the East, as well as to the North East…” The top half of the map began to glow a turquoise green. “The north, of course, belongs to the countries of the Fuku Circle… but it’s safe to say Aoba’s forces own this section.” 

 “So.” Hinata nodded. “This plateau is exactly where Oikawa would want the shipping routes for all these resources.” 

 “Exactly!” 

 “Nice. Did Daichi think this up?” 

 “Uh, n-no! I did!” Yamaguchi beamed a smile. “Lieutenant-Specialised Sawamura liked it and said I should get you in on it right away.” 

 Hinata nodded. “He likes you a lot, Yamaguchi. You’re a good student.” 

 Yamaguchi’s smile widened, and his cheeks flushed pink. “A-Anyway… It sounds like a good idea, but to be honest that’s all the information I have. But, I’m also noticing some strange waves from your outpost’s detection system. Diamgen.” 

 “E-Eh?” Hinata tensed. “Here?” 

 “Unlikely.” Yamaguchi looked at his datapad. “Although the ecosystem is quite varied, it’s tiny. Even a small amount of active diamgen would be enough to completely overhaul nature. But it might be that Aoba is transporting diamgen in these skies.” 

 “Right.” Hinata nodded. “I’ll set up some cameras and stuff. Try to get visuals.” 

 “Great!” Yamaguchi nodded twice. “There’s uh… something else too… the codes analysed for these diamgen…” 

 Another window opened on the screen, “Commander.” 

 Hinata jolted. 

 The window was an audio visualiser, a line that moved with the different peaks of the Mark III voice. “I’ve analysed the diamgen codes.” 

 Hinata stiffened; he always found it weird when the Mark III spoke normally, and not in his head; but, he supposed Yamaguchi was part of the conversation too, so it had to be as part of the video conference. “And?” 

 “The codes link to a very old profile from Metropolis…” 

 “Who?” 

 “Nekomata.” 

 Hinata’s eyes widened, before they narrowed. “What does that mean?” 

 “We have no idea,” the Mark III voice continued, “But. Diamgen releases frequencies, and there’s only a limited number of them, so it’s not the first time we’ve seen this. We’ll keep this in the back of our mind, but it’s likely a red herring.” 

 The visualizer disappeared. 

 Yamaguchi forced a smile. “S-So, uh… How’s the new group of trainees?” 

 “Hmm.” He shrugged. “They’re kind of odd this time around… There’s one guy I like… I think he might have it for the Mark III.” 

 Yamaguchi’s eyes widened. 

 “I mean, it’s just a feeling I get.” Hinata tapped his chest. “It’s not enough to make an official report to Ushimushi, but maybe. It depends how he connects to the modified Mark IIs we’re going to give them. Anything else new on your end?” 

 “Ah… No, actually.” Yamaguchi gave a sad smile. “It’s actually kind of depressing without you here. You and Ryuunosuke used to liven up this place… it’s kind of dreary now. But I guess that’s normal – we’re just reacting to the betrayal of the Tanaka twins.” 

 “Ah, yeah.” Hinata nodded. “Well, I’ll be back in two weeks.” 

 “We’ll be waiting, Commander.” 

 Hinata grinned. “Talk to you later, okay?” 

 “Okay! Good luck.” 






 Kageyama thought he knew darkness, knew evil. But he was wrong, for there was one thing that could easily block out the sun… It was, simply… 

 “Rest is very important!” Goshiki explained, enthusiastically, using enough hand movements to pleasure six or seven people. “You should indeed focus on recovering! Especially due to the altitude and—” 

 “I can at least walk around,” Kageyama murmured. “You don’t have to pester me!” 

 Kunimi smiled. “Don’t be mean to him. He’s just concerned.” 

 “Indeed,” Goshiki continued. “I am quite concerned for your health as you were recently hospitalised and—” 

 “Hey man,” Kindaichi stepped in, “Why don’t we go spar for a bit?” 

 “Me?” Goshiki’s eyes lit up. “Yes! I would greatly enjoy it! Let us go!” 

 Kageyama waited until they were long gone before he let out an exhausted sigh. 

 Kunimi smiled. “Now you know what it’s like to deal with you.” 

 “Hah!?” 

 Kunimi laughed. “You haven’t had breakfast yet, right?” 

 “No.” 

 “Let’s get something to eat.” 

 Kageyama didn’t mind the fake-looking eggs the machine dispensed. Kunimi had already eaten, but he opted for one of the small yogurt cups. The dining hall was empty, though there were a few people either getting a late breakfast or an early lunch. 

 “So.” Kunimi’s eyes had a dangerous shine to them. “This is a perfect opportunity for you to get closer to the Commander.” 

 “You know,” Kageyama murmured as he poked his eggs, “We could be exiled for taking rank so lightly.” 

 “True, but then I would just say I was influenced by Commander Hinata’s carefree attitude.” 

 “Kunimi.” 

 “Yes?” 

 “You have thought about this too much.” 

 “Hm.” Kunimi tilted his head. “Someone has to think in your stead.” 

 “I think.” 

 “In a way different than most…” Kunimi’s smile faded. “Kageyama. Can I ask you something?” 

 Kageyama looked up. 

 “Do you like him?” Kunimi had no smile. “The Commander, I mean.” 

 Kageyama’s jaw tightened a little. He looked down. 

 “Just be honest with me, do you have feelings for him?” 

 “I… am, uh.” His jaw tensed again, but he willed his mouth to speak. “I think I might be interested in him,” he admitted. “But I wouldn’t say I have feelings for him, I’ve only known him for a few days after all.” 

 “Then, can I ask you something else? Something more personal?” 

 “More personal than that?” 

 “About me.” 

 Kageyama sucked in sharply. 

 Kunimi leaned in a little. “Can we just, drop this act? Entirely? You know I like you, right? You know I have a crush on you… I always have.” 

 Kageyama glanced away. 

 “Kageyama.” 

 He took a deep breath and looked Kunimi in the eyes. “Yes. I know.” 

 “Good. And, you… I know you like me.” Kunimi couldn’t bring himself to smile. “I see the way you act when you catch glimpses of me in the shower.” 

 Kageyama’s face burned. 

 “So, why…? Why… nothing? There’s nothing, nothing between us, and then Hinata walks in—” 

 “—Commander, Hinata—” 

 “—Commander Hinata walks in, and suddenly you’re all over him. I get it. He’s a hot shot. I’ve read his file as well… his achievements, they’re… Even before he got a Mark suit, he did more than we have done now. And he’s younger than us. By a year. Is that it? Is that why you like him…? Is that why you’re so focused on him, and not me?” 

 “No.” 

 “Am I just not interesting enough…? Is it because I don’t have the Mark III secrets?” 

 Kageyama swallowed hard. He didn’t like this. He never liked this. He knew this side of Kunimi, the snide side, the jealous side; it almost never came out, but when it did… Kunimi knew how to hurt with words. “No,” he said, needing to cut this off before it went further, “That’s not it either.” 

 “Then what the hell is it…?” 

 Kageyama stared him in the eye, willing himself to speak. “I…” He sighed, shutting his eyes. “You’re… It’s because…” He shook his head twice. “I don’t like you as much, as…” 

 “You don’t like me as much as you like someone else?” 

 “No, it’s that I don’t like you as much as someone else likes you.” 

 Kunimi squinted. “What?” 

 “Kunimi, come on…” Kageyama squirmed. “You’re, all… Kindaichi talks about.” 

 Kunimi’s jaw tightened. He lifted his head a little. 

 “Look.” The silence was like nails scratching on a blackboard. “Let’s be honest, I’m fucking awful when it comes to social things, or romantic things… I’m a soldier, not much else. But I can tell this much. Don’t take this the wrong way, it’s just…” 

 “Kageyama,” Kunimi’s voice was dangerously low. “Coming from you, that sounds like you’re opening a box you shouldn’t.” 

 “Don’t take this the wrong way,” Kageyama repeated, “I like you, but I can easily go a day or two without thinking about you.” 

 “So? Is that suddenly a requirement?” 

 “No, but… If Kindaichi can’t, maybe you would be better with him.” 

 “I don’t want him.” Kunimi’s eyes were firm. “I want you.” 

 Kageyama shook his head. “And, I’m not interested in the Commander that way, I couldn’t… go through with it, okay?” 

 “Oh really?” Kunimi whispered, “Why not?” 

 “I’m sure many people have relationships where they’re different ranks, right?” 

 “Yeah. As long as it doesn’t bother their professional lives, or the relationships.” 

 “You’d have to keep those things separate.” Kageyama shook his head. “I don’t think I could do that. All I see is rank. Commander. No, that’s not true… All I see is his suit.” His eyes unfocused. “He can create fire. It’s like right out of a fantasy world or something. Fire, out of thin air.” 

 “That’s how oxidation works,” Kunimi reminded. 

 “But he’s… actually doing it,” Kageyama pointed out, “Causing it. Making it happen, at will.” 

 “I let out my feelings for you and you’re talking about his suit.” 

 Kageyama closed his eyes, letting out his sigh. “Kunimi…” 

 “You’re right, sorry, Kageyama.” Kunimi laughed, a sad but honest laugh. “I shouldn’t have expected anything else from you. You’ve got your eyes on his suit. But… you’re right.” He glanced to his yogurt cup. “I wouldn’t have believed it unless I saw it myself. Fire, out of thin air. On command.” 

 Kageyama awkwardly nodded. 

 “Well.” Kunimi glanced up. “The argument of nature versus nurture is inherently flawed, and was solved many years ago.” His eyes fell to Kageyama. “Neurons in the brain reach their initial stage due to the nature aspect of genetics, but where they move after that – and the connections they make – are based on the nurturing aspect of living daily life. That mix, of where we start and where we move, is what makes us all different from each other. Even identical twins, like the Miyas.” 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 “From what I understand,” Kunimi went on, noticing he was losing Kageyama, “The Mark III uses that originality, that distinctiveness, from person to person. So every individual who uses the Mark III would have their own set of… I guess, powers.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. 

 “So, hypothetically speaking, if you or I got a Mark III… it doesn’t mean we can play with fire the way the Commander does.” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 “So, that begs the question – what would we get instead?” 

 “Maybe,” Kageyama murmured, “We would get something even more powerful.” 

 Kunimi smiled. “If, we get it.” 

 “And,” Kageyama asked, “The Mark IV?” 

 Kunimi blinked and laughed. “There’s no such thing, Kageyama.” 

 Kageyama pursed his lips. 

 “Focus on getting a Mark III before you try to get the Mark IV!” 

 “Right,” Kageyama murmured as he glanced to his food. Oh, it had gotten cold. 






I suppose I might as well say a little something more about the main character, ne? Feels so weird calling him a character, when I’ve known him in flesh and blood. But I guess that it’s important too… To humanise him. He’s seen as a war hero now. People expect Kageyama to be some smart, elegant, political figure. Honestly, he’s a brat! He’s a million headaches… but he’s worth it. 

 Kageyama was raised by Ittetsu Takeda and Keishin Ukai. Ittetsu was a teacher at a local school, while Keishin was a martial arts master. The two of them made a decent amount of money. With their skills, they could have easily moved to a more wealthy part of Shira’s capital city, but they decided to live in the slums – where their skills would benefit society the most. 

 But the name Ukai meant something. 

 Ukai was the name of a long line of war heroes, who stood for and defended Shira. In fact, their line dates all the way back to the wars against Metropolis – the city of ruins. That country once had a bloodline known as Nekomata. The two families were rivals. When Metropolis fell, the Ukais instead found honour in battling Aoba. 

 Keishin Ukai, too, was among those who became a war hero in youth. 

 Though he turned his back on the military for good. 

 He gave his adopted son, Tobio, the last name of his husband instead. 

 That’s how Kageyama came to be known as Tobio Kageyama Takeda. 

 But the name Ukai meant something to Kageyama. When he was six, after starting a hobby as a street performer, one of the kids made fun of him for being adopted, and Kageyama felt a hurt he had never felt before. It was upon discovery that the “bloodline” of Ukai often adopted rather than had their own kids – the reason being that they (who had seen war) took the war orphans and gave them food, water, shelter. Love. 

 Kageyama began as a street performer when he was five. He found a little group of them, adults. None of them expected him to stick around, but they had no problem training him in a few acts. They all knew his parents, so they were happy to take care of him. 

 By seven, he was starting to make a notable sum of money for his age. It wasn’t anywhere near a paycheck, but Kageyama took pride in what he was able to do. 

 The perfect family broke apart, though, at thirteen – when Kageyama said he would be joining the military, as he had always dreamed. 

 After all, he was Ukai. 

 Keishin yelled no, and Takeda begged him not to, but Kageyama said he wanted to. 

 “You’ll die,” Keishin yelled, “Just like my grandpa, like my mom, my brother – now my son too!” 

 I won’t die, Kageyama said simply. I promise. 

 Maybe they believed him, maybe they didn’t. They refused, but in Shira – for those who live in the slums – it’s possible to sign up for the military academy at thirteen without parental consent. In the academy, Kageyama was smart and his teachers noted it, though he never was able to score as high as they expected him to. 

 That changed when he found Akira Kunimi, hunched over a little handmade grenade, at the age of fourteen. Kunimi was known for scoring the highest on every test. But his hobbies limited his friends. Not long after, Yuutarou Kindaichi joined their crew. He was known for being a physical powerhouse, but his direct aloof way of talking annoyed many. The three of them had often found themselves isolated from others, but together – they found solace. 

 The trio stayed together. They were seventeen when the Mark III program was announced, though the legal age to join was twenty. 

 Four groups had gone through the training regimen, none succeeded in being accepted by the Mark III, two of them were wiped out entirely. Not a single survivor. 

 When Kageyama turned nineteen, that was the first year they allowed those between the age of eighteen and nineteen to enlist. Kageyama and Kindaichi were chosen on the first selection, Kunimi on the second.
 






 “You’re being quiet,” Kindaichi murmured. 

 Kunimi gave him a glance, with a raised eyebrow. 

 According to their devices, the sun wouldn’t set for another hour, though the sky had yet to change from its bright blue. They were in the forest, stalking a creature. Kindaichi had a plasma blade in his right hand, and a titanium handgun in his left. 

 He was ambidextrous, and Kunimi hated that. Kunimi on the other hand, used a two-handed rifle. Although it had different modes, Kunimi hesitated to switch too often… He had made certain, adjustments to some modes, on his own, so he didn’t want the gun to break from the moving parts of switching modes. 

 Kunimi blinked. 

 Kindaichi was waving at him. 

 Kunimi stared. 

 Using hand signals, Kindaichi pointed at his eyes, then the panther they were stalking. He made a motion that was a hand up and a fist down. 

 Kunimi nodded. He crouched behind a tree. The panther was massive, longer than they were tall. It was stalking something, though, all its focus on sneaking, not defending. It was stalking a boar, that was also massive, and littered with spikes. The plan was simple: Attack the panther when the panther attacked the boar. 

 They were ready. 

 Kindaichi, however, heard a rustle and turned around. 

 Kunimi did too, seeing a second panther staring at them. 

 The panther roared. 

 The boar squealed and ran, the first panther giving chase—birds rustled out of the trees and Kunimi froze for a moment. 

 “Akira!” Kindaichi yelled. 

 The panther pounced, shoving Kunimi against the tree. 

 Kindaichi fired a concentrated plasma shot; it pushed the panther back, burning its side. It cried out but quickly tried to pounce again. 

 Kunimi rolled out of the way and spun, sliding on the grass as he used a different mode to fire a shotgun blast at the panther. 

 Kindaichi charged in with his plasma blade, swiping once at the panther’s side to make it move away. 

 The panther kept its distance, but its eyes were burning. It wanted to kill. 

 Kunimi switched the modes of his gun again; there was a pink hue to the barrel of the gun as more, smaller barrels lined up along the length of it. Spiker mode. He cocked his gun and aimed it. “Just like we practiced.” 

 Kindaichi put his handgun away and grabbed a triangle that slid onto his arm. By tensing his muscles, the triangle widened like a disk, creating a plasma shield. He tightened his grip on his blade and nodded. 

 The panther roared and leapt at Kunimi again. 

 Kindaichi moved in front of it, thrashing under the pressure of the panther’s fangs and claws. The panther’s mouth burned as it bit into the plasma, but it seemed to understand it could break it if it kept it up. 

 Kunimi on the other hand moved around Kindaichi, firing specialised plasma that had a purple-blue hue. The bullets had no impact, no effect, and he assumed the panther didn’t even notice. No, Kunimi assured himself, the panther wouldn’t know – not until it was too late. 

 Kindaichi tensed his muscles again, breaking his plasma shield on purpose in a blast that threw the panther back. 

 The panther growled, screaming, and landed a few paces away; however, when it tried to leap again, its body was heavy. It looked at itself, noticing purple-blue plasma crystallisations holding its limbs in place. 

 Kindaichi charged, yelling as he swung—ending the panther’s existence. 

 Kunimi watched its head fly and he relaxed. 

 Kindaichi eyed the fallen panther and then turned around. “Are we done? Can we go home now?” 

 Kunimi smiled, though it was lopsided. “Aren’t we just supposed to walk around?” 

 “Yeah…” Kindaichi nodded. “We don’t have much of an objective. Well, except these cameras we have to set up.” 

 “I don’t think we’re in a good area for them.” Kunimi checked his GPS. “We’re pretty close to the centre of the flat terrain. It would be better to get aerial footage from the sides of the plateau.” 

 “True…” Kindaichi looked up. “Or maybe the top of some really high trees.” 

 “If you want to climb one, go ahead.” Kunimi looked bored. “But I’m not going up there.” 

 “No worries, I’ll do it!” 

 Kunimi nodded, looking away. It was only then he noticed shadows dancing on the ground. He looked up, barely in time to whisper, “Oh shit.” 






 Kageyama was filling out forms. Some of them he didn’t understand or didn’t have the authority to do—those he put in a pile for the Commander. A lot of them were inventory, though. He took care to count and transfer the data. He was sitting on one of the dining tables now, opposite of Hinata. 

 Hinata squirmed. “You’re so good at paperwork.” 

 “You’re just slow.” 

 “I am!” Hinata squirmed again. “I said double, but you’ve already done triple the amount of paperwork I’ve done! Gwah! That’s not fair!” 

 Kageyama said nothing, just filled another form on squad data. 

 Hinata huffed, but soon his head perked up. 

You have a call from the Third Lord. 

 Hinata tapped his wrist, lighting up a hologram screen above his arm. “Hi Kei!” 

 “Tsukishima,” he corrected plainly. 

 “Tsukki!” 

 “Tsukishima.” 

 “Fine, fine.” Hinata smiled. “What’s up, buttercup?” 

 Tsukishima’s face seemed to age impossibly as he closed his eyes for a moment. “It’s concerning Metropolis.” 

 “What about it?” 

 “As you probably know, the miasma is thinning out, finally to the point it might be possible for a Mark III suit to enter. Lieutenant-Specialised Sawamura has said that we’re sending you as soon as the Mark III program is finished up, with or without the backup of a second Mark III.” 

 Hinata’s smile dropped. “Understood. Aoba?” 

 “No. Kara.” Tsukishima’s eyes darkened. “The rebel faction has certain robots that are capable of withstanding the miasma. Normally that’s impossible, given the acidity of the mist and the corrosive effects on metals… They must be working with alloys composed with fibres similar to the Mark Suits, and resistant metals. Possibly gold. That’s your next mission after this… ordeal.” 

 “Understood.” Hinata’s eyes darkened for a moment. “So the highlight of this is…” 

 “You’ll be going alone, if no one else can take a Mark III in time.” For a moment, Tsukishima’s face distorted from a small static on the screen. He looked away. “The miasma will destroy my body… We said…” 

 “We said we’d go together,” Hinata whispered. “Oh well.” He gave a bright smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll take pictures.” 

 “Hm.” Tsukishima seemed amused. “Please do.” 

 Hinata blinked as the phone call ended, but he didn’t seem surprised; rather, by the way his eyes crinkled at the corners, it seemed like he had expected it and it amused him. “Can you believe him?” He glanced to Kageyama. “He didn’t even say goodbye. Rude.” 

 “Do you do that often?” Kageyama glanced up at him for a moment. “Putting on fake smiles.” 

 Hinata’s eyes widened. 

 Kageyama just stared, face blank. 

 Oh, Hinata realised. It’s probably an honest question. He shrugged, squirming a bit in his seat. 

 Kageyama glanced back to his papers, then up again. “Metropolis. You’re going there?” 

 “Yep, looks like.” Hinata nodded. “I like it there.” 

 “You’ve… been there before?” 

 “Mm, yeah. A couple times. It’s… quiet.” Hinata tensed. “Both, without and within.” 

 Kageyama frowned at that. “What… is it like?” 

 “Well… the architecture is beautiful. Because of the blast, all the buildings are like a soft coppery colour, and the miasma covers everything.” Hinata grinned. “It’s… I mean, Metropolis was where the first mechas were built. They were at war with Shira for years, even before Aoba was on the map! Heck, it was even before my parents were born… or, uh. I think my mom was born, but not my dad yet. But she was like, what? Three?” 

 “What.” Kageyama tensed. “What is Metropolis like… besides miasma? That’s all people describe it as. Miasma.” 

 “Oh, well…” Hinata’s face scrunched up like a used napkin. “Have you ever seen pictures of like… ghost towns?” 

 “Yeah.” Kageyama nodded. “I’ve been to one myself.” 

 “Yeah, everything is just… as it was. It’s like the people disappeared, suddenly. Sometimes you can look into houses, and you’ll see like forks and knives and plates still on the table, as if they were just having dinner, and then just boom – gone.” 

 “Yeah… That’s how I would describe it.” 

 “So think about that, except…” Hinata took in a deep breath. “But on a massive scale.” He tapped his arm, pressing buttons. “Metropolis is the biggest human city in all of history – Shira’s capital doesn’t even come close!” 

 A map displayed in front of them, showing the region that was Metropolis. 

 “It was a city-state, like Aoba,” Hinata explained. “Meaning, like… the country is only one city, that’s self-governing. Not like Shira—we have more territory, because we have multiple regions and cities, but they’re different municipalities. That includes our farmland and stuff. Metropolis was…” 

 “They didn’t have much farmland,” murmured Kageyama. “Did they import food like Aoba?” 

 “No.” Hinata shook his head. “They were able to form enough agriculture without land through engineering and science.” 

 Kageyama tilted his head. “The perfect city.” 

 “Yep… They got bigger and bigger, their technology became richer and richer, mechas became stronger and stronger… until Shira won the war. And then everyone…” Hinata’s eyes became unfocused. “Disappeared.” 

 Kageyama stared at him. 

 “That’s what they say anyway.” 

 “Hm.” Kageyama looked at the map. “And the miasma… that’s the thick red fog around it.” 

 Hinata nodded, tapping his arm and making images of aerial photography light up on the table. “Hey Kags, do you know about diamgen?” 

 Kageyama shook his head. 

 “Figured you wouldn’t. Diamgen is a resource that we are always fighting over. It’s made mostly of carbon atoms, from what I understand, which gives it a diamond like appearance, but there’s some fluoride and oxygen as well. Basically, it’s what made Metropolis so great. Their biggest secret is how they could make this substance.” 

 “What does it do?” 

 “Diamgen is… everything. It stabilises plasma, far better than what we use for our weapons, but it’s also an enhancer. There’s diamgen in this suit.” He reached over his shoulder and patted himself on the back. “It’s basically the military material. It’s the super rare material that, once rediscovered, ignited the war between Aoba and Shira. We have been fighting over it, endlessly. We didn’t know where it was from, at first.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “You didn’t discover it in Metropolis?” 

 “Metropolis was a city-state, but they had many outposts. Most of them were research outposts, but they had military outposts too. They hid their outposts, though, and they stored diamgen in unique locations. We excavated it without realising it was from Metropolis, and when we did…” 

 “You went to Metropolis,” Kageyama answered. “This was before the miasma.” 

 “This is what caused the miasma.” Hinata’s eyes were firm. “This was before I was in the military… The war was fought mostly by tanks and mechas at this point, but the big bads came out too. Datekou was part of that fight.” 

 “You mean the Second Lord went to battle?” 

 “At the time, Iwaizumi was only Third Lord,” Hinata corrected. “But Second Lord Sugawara Koushi took to the battle too, as did the Emperor himself.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. 

 “Even Oikawa was on the field,” Hinata explained. “It was supposed to be the final battle—the big showdown, you know? The winner would get enough diamgen to destroy the world ten thousand times over.” 

 Kageyama clenched his jaw. 

 “Most of it’s been covered up, though… since it ended in such… horror.” Hinata glanced to the images of the red mist swimming around the ghost city. “The miasma… With a mix of air bombing and tanks, the gas routes that provided electricity to the city exploded. The whole city broke loose. The science facilities had detonation facilities—they took their diamgen with them. Most of them had radioactive and corrosive chemicals that they were housing… That, with the effects of diamgen… created the miasma.” 

 “So…” Kageyama nodded carefully. “That’s why we don’t know how to recreate diamgen.” 

 “If blueprints exist, it’s in those facilities—and that’s where miasma is the thickest. Even if I wore ten Mark III suits, I would have to wait a few dozen years until I could even take a peek in those facilities.” Hinata looked at his suit. “But there are parts of Metropolis I can see. Only those with the Mark III can go in there.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “But you have to go alone.” 

 “Yeah.” 

 “How many people have a Mark III suit?” 

 “Officially—and yeah, that’s all I can tell you—two people: Emperor Ushijima and myself.” Hinata shrugged. “Unofficially, some people like Kei Tsukishima have prototypes and modified versions. Aoba stole one of our strongest prototypes, which is arguably more powerful than mine, but it was missing the core components. If they were able to make use of it, we would have seen it in battle. They would have brought it out by now.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “Is it possible we just don’t know the user?” 

 “You have to wear the Mark III suit. From head to toe. You can’t really hide it.” 

 “You said it was stronger than yours… What about the Emperor’s?” 

 “Technically, yes.” Hinata leaned back a bit, putting his hands behind his head. “But, you know… a suit isn’t guaranteed a win. The suit amplifies. It turns one into a thousand—it turns five into five thousand. If you’re a garbage can in a fight, then you’re just a suited up garbage can. If you’ve got a high ninety accuracy rating, the suit takes you up to a hundred.” 

 Kageyama stiffened. 

“Sir!” yelled a crackle over the communication channel. 

 Hinata stood up immediately, pushing a finger to his earpiece. “Commander speaking—what’s the situation?” 

“Birds! There’s—thousands of them!” 

 Hinata’s visor appeared over his eyes. He gasped sharply, as images poured into him. “Details, Private!” 

“We’re done for! They’re massive, they’re—augh!” 

 “Address them all!” 

 Kageyama blinked, wondering who Hinata was talking to. 

 “This is Commander Shouyou Hinata speaking: All units return to the base immediately. All defense turrets will be online and aiming for aerial units! Getting to safety is your top priority, after that—treat the wounded!” 

 Kageyama got to his feet. 

 Hinata ran towards the entrance. 

 Kageyama checked to make sure he had his gun, then also ran. 






 Bird was not the best way to describe themit. While these forms definitely had wings, their wings were leathery and wide—closer to a bat’s wings than a bird’s. Their main body was long and leathered, like a snake. A snake that had growngrew wings. Their heads waswere that of a viper’s, but wider. Their fangs were long and sharp, yellowed, and dripping with a black venom. Their hiss was horrible, sounding like a strangled bird. 

 And there were thousands. 

 Around the base, metal panels amongst the grass slid away, revealing a depth. From the depth rose horizontal tubes of metal held up by a thick steel whirring. The machine guns came online and began firing immediately—drowning out the noise of the viper’s hisses with their own. 

 But not all soldiers were close enough to be under the protection of the machine guns. 

 Kunimi ran despite the wound to his thigh—his rifle was on his back. He now used his handgun, in a plasma three-shot mode. He was missing more often than not, but they were cutting their way through. 

 Kindaichi spun, slicing two more and firing with his free hand. “Which way do we go?” 

 “Cover me!” Kunimi got down, yanking out his phone to check his GPS. “This way!” 

 Kindaichi saw two more leaping down from the trees and he aimed upwards—firing a constant round of bullets. 

 The two wyverns screamed as their wings were torn open. 

 Kunimi charged forward, firing. “There!” 

 Kindaichi’s eyes widened as he followed. 

 A machine gun pointed towards them and began firing—above them. 

 Bodies littered down all around them, and neither of them dared look back. They understood. They were being chased by a swarm. 

 Kindaichi sliced through two more. “How many of these things are there!?” 

 “Just a bit more!” Kunimi yelled back. Ahead of them was the clearing; it seemed the wyverns couldn’t encroach on the land the machine guns were defending. He smirked. “We’re safe! We’re—” 

 Kindaichi screamed. 

 Kunimi spun around. 

 A wyvern had thrashed at Kindaichi with its tail, sending him back. Kunimi pulled out his gun, but the wyvern turned to Kunimi and dove in an arc, low to the ground, before zooming upwards. 

 Kunimi’s eyes widened. 

 The thick, leathery tail swirled around Kunimi before it constricted. 

 Kunimi’s whole body shook from the sudden lack ofcut off from oxygen. He dropped his gun from the shock—he felt the beast squeeze his throat, hoping to crush it. Kunimi, at first, figured he had time—because his throat wasn’t crushed yet. Surely this beast was going to kill him by choking him. 

 He was wrong. 

 The wyvern barred its fangs—and went in for a bite.

Chapter Text

 Chapter 4: Act 1, Part III 

 Kunimi saw the light – a warm, burning, blinding light. It wasn’t a peaceful, godsent light—it was vicious and lethal, smelling of burning leather, blazing with red and orange hues, coming with a blast wave, a riptide of sound. It flared with sizzled ozone, rapid oxidation. 

“Ignite!” 

 The tail loosened around Kunimi’s bruised neck, and Kunimi fell to the floor with a thud along the moist wet grass. 

 Akira. 

 Someone was calling his name. 

“Akira.” 

 Odd. Kunimi couldn’t understand the world quite yet; his vision was still blurred, and there was a ringing in his ears. On top of it all, he didn’t quite understand the position he was laying on the floor in. 

 “Akira!” Kindaichi roared, yanking his arm, pulling him up. 

 The machine guns were still firing. 

 The wyverns were dropping dead all around them. 

 Kunimi’s head snapped up and he grabbed his gun, turning to fire into the crowd. 

 “Akira,” Kindaichi panted, shaking, eyes wide. Tears? 

 Kunimi looked at him and nodded. “Let’s go!” 

 They ran, ran towards safety. Kunimi was reeling. He was still disoriented, still tasted delirium, and the running was only making it worse, but he understood he needed to get inside the safety zone. His mind vaguely wondered about Kindaichi yelling his first name. Only a few times had Kindaichi ever uttered it, and yet it sounded like Kindaichi had used it so many times before. His mind, again, wandered to the light he’d seen.. 

 He looked back. 

 The corpse of the wyvern that had almost killed him lay charred amongst burned grass. 

 Kunimi looked forward, and understood where it had come from. 



 Across the battlefield, Hinata’s suit was whirring to life. Fire whirled around him like a hurricane and – with that call – “Ignite!” A blaze ripped through a crowd of wyverns, scattering them and making them turn away. His helmet was fully equipped, muffling his voice only slightly. Hinata was standing outside the safety zone, and remained even when Kindaichi and Kunimi passed him. 

 Kageyama stood next to him, holding two titanium handguns in machine gun mode. He fired into the crowd as a few more soldiers crossed their way to safety. “Commander!” 

 Hinata didn’t even turn as he aimed his gun to his right and fired a burning plasma shot at a wyvern. “We move back, Private. All our units are behind the lines.” 

 “Understood.” 



 Kageyama was no stranger to following orders; since thirteen, that tone of voice they used commanded his body. It was strange, however, that now the voice was the same as the boy who Kageyama wanted to call a dumbass, now he was looking to Hinata for guidance and orders. He moved back, immediately, and retreated behind one of the machine guns. 

 Hinata did the same and then pulled his rifle from his back. 

“I’m sure many people have relationships where they’re different ranks, right?” 

 “Yeah. As long as it doesn’t bother their professional lives, or the relationships.” 

 “You’d have to keep those things separate.” Kageyama shook his head. “I don’t think I could do that. All I see is rank. Commander. No, that’s not true… All I see is his suit.” His eyes unfocused. “He can create fire. It’s like right out of a fantasy world or something. Fire, out of thin air.
 

 A wyvern moved, latching onto Hinata’s arm. 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. He dropped one of his guns and whipped the other one to the side—the force caused the top to flip over, revealing a sharp, pointed tip. He fired his brutaliser. The cord pierced flesh and shot out volts of plasma. Waiting for the exact moment, Kageyama yanked the gun – and snapped the cord. 

 The wyvern dissolved in an electric break, bursting into disembodied blood and flesh. 

 “Nice shot,” Hinata said in a neutral tone. 

 “Sir.” Kageyama scowled. “We should retreat further.” 

 Hinata glared at the crowd of wyverns flying ahead. With his expression masked by his helmet, it was impossible to know what he was thinking. 

 “Sir!?” 

 His gun changed to a sniper mode and he stood up. “Alright! We’re moving behind all the turrets. Let’s go!” 

 Kageyama ran, and Hinata did too. It wasn’t until Kageyama noticed he was a step ahead of Hinata that Hinata sped up. Annoyed, Kageyama sped up as well—and soon they were charging through the landscape. “Are you racing me!?” 

 “Last one there is a rotten egg!” 

 “Are you fucking kidding me!?” 

 “No!” Hinata jumped up and his suit gave a burst of heat that blasted him forward, causing him to land just behind the last line of machine guns. He spun from the force and faced forward. He raised his sniper rifle with only one hand and his helmet dissolved, as did the orange visor. Eyes twitching, he fired. 

 Kageyama looked back, too stunned to get mad about losing the race. He noticed some wyverns that were bigger than others dropping from the skies. He looked back to Hinata, noticing he wasn’t even using the scope on his sniper rifle. 



Hinata. The call’s been connected. 

 “Lieutenant!” Hinata called out. 

“Ah, Commander—” 

 “Where’s Daichi?” Hinata yelled as he fired another shot. “I need him—now!” 

“He’s not here,” Yamaguchi’s voice shook a little. He was struggling to keep calm, Hinata noted. “I can help.” 

 “I’m sending images of these snakes. Their numbers are far too numerous. This is beyond normal, Captain. I need them analysed immediately!” 

“I’ll do it immediately. Can you hold on for a sec?” 

 “Not really!” Hinata fired again. “We’re kind of in a fight.” 

“Okay, I’ll communicate with the Mark III system. You’ll have the information relayed via your suit.” 

 “Got it! Talk to you later!” Hinata grabbed his rifle with two hands, and—finally using the scope—began firing properly. “Another lifeform scan!” 

 Kageyama blinked. “What?” 

 Hinata glanced at him, glaring. “I’m not talking to you!” 

 “Right.” Kageyama tensed. “Commander, what should we do?” 

 “The Mark III was enhancing my sight so I could use the sniper rifle quicker. I’m giving it more tasks, so I gotta do this myself now. I’m firing at the bigger ones. They’re like the alphas. They’re the ones egging on the others.” 

 Kageyama grabbed a rifle that had been lying on the ground. It had blood on it but Kageyama didn’t mind. “The ones that are slightly bigger, and a little redder in colour?” 

 “Those are the ones! Give me a hand, Private.” 

 “Understood, Commander.” 

 In truth, Hinata saw it as no different than taking out enemy officers. But he couldn’t just shoot his gun. He had more duties. He let go of his gun to click his ear piece. “I want a report on all our wounded, now.” 

 A voice he didn’t recognise spoke up, “We have seven wounded, two dead, three missing, Sir.” 

 “Negative. There are no human life signs outside the base. The missing are dead. The wounded are our priority!” 

“Sir,” another voice he didn’t recognise, “Sir, What are these things?” 

 “I’m not.” Hinata’s visor crackled with information. 

 Kageyama blinked. “Sir?” 

 “I’m receiving data files as we speak,” Hinata explained, to both the communication channel and Kageyama. “I’ll inform you soon.” He clicked off his audio and went back to firing. 

 Kageyama fired another shot. “Why not tell us now?” 

 “I have a theory.” He held his breath. Run a dia scan for carbon concentrations. 

I can’t multitask— 

 It’s priority. 

Understood, Commander.
 

 Within seconds, Hinata’s eyes widened. “Holy shit… I was right.” 

 Kageyama perked up, looking at him expectantly. 

 “Keep firing, Private!” Hinata didn’t even look at him. “The snakes look like they’re retreating. We should get inside… The machine guns will hold them for now. Who’s our strongest sniper?” 

 Kageyama blinked. “Our strongest—” 

 “Not you,” Hinata cut in. “Akira Kunimi? But he’s wounded, right?” 

Yes. The second best would be— 

 Hinata glanced to Kageyama for a moment then nodded. “Alright. Private, let’s go back and rejoin the others.” 

 “Yes, Sir.” 






When I told Shouyou about this book, he laughed and tackled me. I still remember it. “Suga!” he was practically yelling, “Koushi! That’s a great idea! It’s going to be a best seller—who wouldn’t want to read a book about me! There’ll be a movie about me!” 

 The look of disappointment on his face when I told him the main character was going to be Kageyama… 

 “No one’s gonna buy that!” 

 This book is, or I suppose was planned to be, for the most part from Kageyama’s point of view. I’m not really sure how to do that, considering how many things happen all over the world at the same time… and everything all needs to be recorded here. Kageyama only sees parts of it. But it’s Kageyama’s hunger, his drive, and his determination that set the whole world on fire. 

 So, sorry Shouyou, you’re not the main character. The editor is definitely going to cut that line out. Why don’t we call these editor lines for now. That way the editor can just search editor lines and it’ll be clean! It’ll save him time. Perfect. 

 Shouyou… or Hinata, as I should maybe call him for consistency, had said it mostly as a joke, but I’ve always thought that was the funny part. Hinata could be serious, but he was mostly joking, light-hearted, and made silly faces all the time (which were especially cute when he was grumpy, and it was one of my favourite things about raising him). But, when it came to combat… Hinata knew what he was doing. 

 He immediately set out two squads to fix some of the broken machine guns. One had been damaged, two had been jammed, and one of them had been destroyed. The group was, needless to say, unnerved by everything going on. 

 Even seasoned soldiers would’ve been spooked, I think. Fighting other humans, as horrible as that is, is what soldiers are for. Animals, especially these creatures, were not quite the same. When the defences were secured, he called a strategy meeting in the battle conference room. Everyone who lived came, including the wounded.
 






 Hinata put his hand on the table, activating the holographic screen. A three-dimensional map of the plateau formed. Within the very centre, and appearing to be slightly underground, was a blinding white crystal. Unlike everything else, which was only outlines and see-through, this was a block of white light. 

 “Um.” Goshiki blinked. “What is that?” 

 “Hold your horses for ten seconds, Kiddo.” Hinata glared. “Let me talk.” 

 Kageyama murmured, “He’s older than you.” 

 “Did I ask your opinion, Private?” 

 “No, Sir.” 

 “That’s what I thought.” Hinata’s eyes flicked up to each of them. It wasn’t a large group—the Mark III program only had twenty or so soldiers. Five dead. Including himself, only sixteen. Seven wounded. Not good numbers. The wounded would have to fight. There was no question. “Alright. Remember when we got here, I mentioned spiders? They were badass motherfuckers, and they owned the plateau at night. Their nest was right…” He pointed at the white dot. “Here.”

 The block almost looked like a crystal. 

 “But what we’re looking at is no longer a spider’s den. Now it’s a viper’s den… or a flying, viper’s, nest, thing.” He swung his hand and the map zoomed in on the spot. It was layered with loose textures and showed grey blocks lining the green cliff, where the white crystal lay. 

 Kunimi tilted his head. “Is that a wreckage, Sir?” 

 “Yep.” Hinata nodded. “It’s currently believed to be an Aoba aircraft. It’s not very big, but it was carrying something big… and dangerous. This crystal here… It’s a massive block of diamgen. Not only that, it’s in a crystalline solid form. Its current molecular arrangement makes this very, very precious thing all the more precious.” 

 “Mm.” Kunimi’s eyes narrowed. “Sir, if the aircraft crashed near the spider’s den, would it be safe to say the crew was killed by these things? And… would it be safe to assume the diamgen is what caused the mutation of the snakes?” 

 Hinata looked at Kunimi and smirked. “You know a lot about diamgen for a Private.” 

 Kunimi stiffened, looking away. “I may have glanced on some… files I shouldn’t have, at some point.” 

 “Ha!” Hinata grinned. “But, yeah. You’re right. That’s the theory Main Command is giving me.” 

 “M-Main..” Goshiki’s eyes widened. “Main Command is getting involved in this operation, Commander?” 

 “Oh yeah.” Hinata nodded. “Whenever diamgen is involved, so is the Emperor himself.” 

 Goshiki’s eyes lit up. “Emperor Ushijima himself!” 

 “This is a good chance for you guys.” Hinata put his hands on his hips. “Put this mission on your dossier and your promotion chances are going to skyrocket. But! It’s possible we might not be able to pull this off. Our camera footage is limited, but here are videos from a couple weeks ago.” 

 Rectangles formed above the table, pointing outwards. They showed the forest, undisturbed, until there was a flash of red, and the grilling noise of fire. 

 “Main Command assumes this is the Aoba crash. It would have taken them about a week to get another ship here… That means they’re definitely in the area, searching for this plateau.” 

 “So…” Kindaichi stiffened as soon as he spoke up. “Why can’t we just scan the area and find out where they are?” 

 “Well… this plateau is a funny place right now. See, we have limited sensors in this area, but…” He waved his hand, and the map zoomed out. The plateau stood tall while everything else flattened. “This area here, to the east, is where the rebel group Kara is rising. Shira is here. And to the north is old Metropolis area, where Aoba has no doubt set up hundreds of outposts. We’re at the intersection of three military forces right now. This base is most likely going to get terminated.” 

 They blinked and stared. 

 “But!” Hinata pointed at the white crystal that was still shining and visible despite being scaled down a hundred times over. “Before that happens. That diamgen… we need that. That’s the kind of shit that turns the tides of war. I’m gonna talk out loud here, stuff I shouldn’t be saying in front of you guys, but Kara isn’t a real big threat. But they could occupy us and accidentally give Aoba a perfect chance to strike. That’s our biggest worry right now.” 

 “But…” Kunimi frowned. “Does Aoba have enough firepower to take on even a distracted Shira?” 

 “Probably not.” Hinata looked at him. “Aoba can’t attack us, because Shira has the ultimate unit playing on defense.” 

 Kageyama asked, “Datekou? The Iron Wall?” 

 “Nope.” Hinata shook his head. “A Mark III.” 

 “But.” Kindaichi frowned. “You’re here…” 

 Kunimi smiled. “He’s not the only one with a Mark III.” 

 “You mean!” Goshiki bounced on his feet. “Emperor Ushijima!” 

 “Right…” Hinata frowned. “But, if Aoba is able to get a huge chunk of diamgen…” 

 “Commander,” Kageyama asked quietly, “What would this diamgen be used for? Another Mark III?” 

 “Possibly.” Hinata shrugged. “But it’s more likely going to power the goliath mecha, the one you mentioned before. The Iron Wall.” 

 “The Datekou.” 

 Kunimi hummed. “This may be off topic, but… why?” 

 “Well. To put it bluntly, I might be our most powerful ground troop. Another Mark III will help change those tides further… but when it comes to Aoba, we can’t fight with more firepower.” Hinata shook his head. “They use strings of multiplicative tactics that are too difficult and too complex to counter, for most people. The only person that understands how Oikawa and his strategists think is the Second Lord, Iwaizumi. If we want to crush Aoba, we need to strengthen his mecha. Iwaizumi will be the one who crushes Oikawa.” Hinata’s eyes drifted towards the east coast. “And… they’ll probably assign me to Kara.” 

You’re thinking out loud, Commander. 

 Shit.
 Hinata’s eyes snapped up. “But that’s neither here nor there! We won’t see Shira win any war if we can’t make it out of this battle, got it?” He waved his hand and the map zoomed again, hoping that zoomed their interests again too. “This area used to be a spider’s den, as you know. Spiders, those nasty things, can walk on walls and all that kind of gross shit. Considering our cameras haven’t seen any spiders since the crash, it’s probably safe to say the impact of the diamgen killed them.” 

 Another soldier asked, “All of them?” 

 “The diamgen is relatively stable, now…” Hinata eyed the crystal. “But given the force of the crash, well… It probably had the same effect of a brutaliser, and radiation as well. We’re not in danger. Diamgen is only dangerous when it is active, and if it was active we would have detected it hours before we landed. It activated, then went dormant. We can probably safely take it out and load it into an aircraft.” 

 “Probably?” 

 “Anything can happen,” he reminded them. “So, we’re probably going to need everyone here in this operation. We rest, recover, lick our wounds, count our numbers, devise strategies… then…” Hinata’s eyes lit up and he smirked. “We counterattack.” 






Chapter 4: Infodex 04, Military Ranks – Enlisted 



Enlisted 
Private 
Corporal 
Sergeant 

Officer 
Captain 
Lieutenant 
Commander 

Sovereignty 
Third Lord 
Second Lord 
First Lord 

 The Enlisted rank is similar to Aoba’s NCM (Non-Commissioned Member) system, with one exception. While in Aoba units can go directly into officer training programs (Officer Cadets), all military personnel in Shira must begin at the Enlisted rank. Enlisted members have more freedom over their choice of duty and their pay is based on missions taken and hours completed for patrols and supply runs. The Specialised subtitle is most common in the Enlisted rank. Enlisted members are ranked by neon white chevrons (upside-down V-shaped stripes to show rank) on their shoulderguards. 

 The Enlisted account for 84% of Shira’s military. 

Private – a single chevron with a grey glow – is a member who has completed either the military academy (a stream for secondary school students to move into the military) or military training regimes (for adults). They have mandated patrols which are scheduled for them. They have limits on the amount of missions, extra patrols, and supply runs they can sign up for. They are the lowest rank in Shira’s military, making up 73% of the Enlisted rank, 61% of the military. 

Corporal – two chevrons with a grey glow – is a Private who has shown exceptional skill. They gain access to more weapons, supplies, and equipment. Patrols are not scheduled for Corporals, and the limit on missions taken is reduced. Only about 17% of the Enlisted rank are Corporals, 14% of the military. 

Sergeant – three chevrons with a white glow – are members of the Enlisted rank who have proven themselves further. Sergeants are expected to not simply sign up for missions, but to lead them. Their experience and skill must be reflected in both mission performance and mission reports. There are no limits and all their scheduling is done themselves. Only about 11% of the Enlisted rank are sergeants, 9% of the military. 

 For more information on the Officer rank, see Infodex 12. 

 For more information on the Sovereignty rank, see Infodex 25. 






Chapter 4: Act 1, Part VIII 



 “Well. Looks like it’s your turn to be in the hospital.” 

 Kunimi shot him a dark look. 

 Kageyama noticed, but it didn’t change the way he acted. They were in the medical bay, a small room made for one person. The whirring of machines and the beeps of AI were around them. Kageyama stood on one side of Kunimi’s hospital bed, while Kindaichi stood on the other. 

 Kunimi sighed. “I’ll be on the field in time for the mission.” 

 Kindaichi slapped him on the back. 

 “Ow.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “Don’t do that.” 

 “A-Ah.” Kindaichi nodded. “Sorry.” 

 Kunimi smiled, a forced smile, refusing to look Kindaichi in the eye. But, to be fair, he was giving the same treatment to Kageyama. 

 Kageyama glanced away for only a moment, wondering if he had made things weird between them. It had been, after all, the first time Kunimi had said something about his feelings, and the first time Kageyama had mentioned Kindaichi’s. It wasn’t entirely new. He assumed all three of them knew where they stood, but no one had acknowledged it. Until then. Well, Kageyama glanced to a confused looking Kindaichi. Kindaichi still didn’t know why the mood was offset by so much. 

 Instead, Kindaichi perked up a bit. “Man! The Commander’s pretty cool in an actual battle.” 

 “Mm.” Kunimi nodded slowly, hand ghosting to where the bruise was fading around his neck. “Did he… burn that thing off of me?” 

 “Yes,” Kageyama said. “Aimed for the spine.” 

 Kindaichi frowned. “Do snakes have spines?” 

 “Yes.” 

 “Oh. Okay.” 

 “Hm.” Kunimi was lost in thought for a moment. “I mean… I’ve heard about it. About the Mark III… but it really… It’s something else, you know, to see it in action. It’s almost… almost like, magic?” 

 “Sorry to disappoint,” came a new voice, punctuated by the hissing slide of a closing electric door. 

 They turned. 

 “But it’s not magic.” Hinata walked towards them. “They made me memorise so many chemical equations and stuff like that.” He tapped his head twice. “How are you doing, Private?” 

 Kunimi stiffened and sat up. “Not bad, Sir.” 

 “Your bruises healing?” 

 “Yes.” Kunimi nodded. “What brings you here, Commander?” 

 “What? I can check on my boyfriend whenever I want, no?” 

 Kageyama frowned, a deeper furrow of his brows than usual, slightly shakier. He didn’t know why, but something cold and electric moved through him. His mouth tasted bitter. “You have a boyfriend?” 

 They all paused, looking at him. 

 Kageyama kept frowning, growing self-conscious for a moment. 

 “Wow,” was all Hinata had to say. 

 Kunimi murmured, “Useless.” 

 “Not useless,” Kindaichi said with less tact. “Just, er. Clueless?” 

 Kageyama frowned even more, looking away. Why was he jealous about that anyway? It wasn’t as if he— 

 “Anyway,” Hinata said with a small smile. “Private Kunimi.” He turned his gaze to the soldier in question. “You’re ranked highest in tactics and you seem to have a certain… skill, in building, uh. Weaponised accessories.” 

 Kunimi coughed once, twice. “I uh, may have picked up a habit of making some makeshift grenades when I was younger.” 

 “That’s extremely worrying,” Hinata said with a grin, “But also not entirely a bad thing. It is noted on your file, in case you’re wondering.” He watched Kunimi’s eyes widen, and he laughed. “Don’t worry! It’s a tale to your analytical mind, if anything.” 

 “I… uh, see.” Kunimi rubbed the back of his head. “And, um. Why are you telling me this, Sir? Not to be rude, but—” 

 “Nah, it’s cool. Basically—if you’re up for it—I’m going to patch you with Captain-Specialised Tadashi Yamaguchi. He’s training under Lieutenant-Specialised Daichi Sawamura… who, I don’t know if you know, is the Emperor’s tactician and strategist.” 

 Kunimi straightened his back even more. 

 “The plan we’ve come up with is, uh, decently complicated. It’s not that bad, but things can go awry. I’ll need someone to lead the second squad… someone who understands both strategy and tactics, and is able to think on their feet when it all goes to shit. So, buddy. You up for it?” 

 Kunimi’s mouth hung ajar for a moment before he sputtered, “Yes Sir! I… I would be honoured.” 

 “Cool buns.” Hinata bounced on his feet, beaming like a small child. “Patch him through!” 

 A screen appeared at the feet of Kunimi’s bed. There was a small dial tone before a face appeared on the screen. 

 “Hi Yamaguchi!” Hinata waved at him. 

 On the other side, Yamaguchi brightened immediately upon seeing Hinata. “Hi, Commander.” His eyes drifted to Kunimi. “Hello, Private… I’m sorry to bother you while you’re recovering from your injuries.” 

 “It’s not a problem, Sir.” Kunimi dipped his head. “I’m happy to help any way I can.” 

 Yamaguchi opened his mouth to speak, but Hinata shoved himself between them. “Yamaguchi! I’m gonna head out, okay? Let you two be nerds without me.” 

 Yamaguchi laughed. “Alright, Commander. You get some rest too, okay? You’ve been working on the maps nonstop.” 

 “Yeah, yeah. Whatever.” Hinata grinned and waved him off. He turned around and headed out. 

 Kageyama glanced to Kindaichi. “We should head out too.” 

 Kindaichi nodded. 






 Hinata walked away from the medical wing, lost in thought, though not entirely: He expected what was going to come next, and he drifted back to the present when Kageyama walked up next to him, matching his pace perfectly—one step behind, though. Good. As long as Kageyama didn’t forget their difference in rank, he would tolerate this. For now. 

 “Why Kunimi, Sir?” 

 Hinata glanced over his shoulder. “He seems like he’s got a good head on his shoulders, could support the team well.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “But.” He didn’t elaborate. 

 Hinata paused his walking and turned to Kageyama. 

 Kageyama stiffened. 

 Hinata’s eyes focused on him, like a predator closing in on his prey. “Say what you came here to say, Private.” 

 “I.” Kageyama stiffened again. “I didn’t come here to say anything, just to ask…” He swallowed hard. “Why him?” He waited a moment—a long moment, of strenuous eye contact that made him feel like a tunnel collapsing in on itself. Finally, he clarified, “Why not me?” 

 “Are you questioning an officer’s command?” 

 “If… you’re willing to answer…?” 

 Hinata snorted; his posture broke its stiffness, like an ancient statue coming to life. He threw his hands in the air and then rested them behind his back. “I’m not, buddy.” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 Hinata gave a little click of his tongue and then walked off. 

 Kageyama saluted, even if Hinata didn’t see it. 



You don’t seem, bothered by him. 

 Should I be? 

You often are. After all, you may act the opposite of an officer… but you hate it when people disrespect your rank. 

 True… I guess I just expected it. 

Expected it? 

 He’s hungry. Kageyama is hungry for anything that’ll promote him. I know what you’re going to say… those kinds of people are dangerous. And, yeah. They are. Those people will do anything for a promotion… It’s true I like Kageyama’s military ability for now, but he’s not the only one. 

Akira Kunimi has a very low chance of getting the Mark III. I will not likely sync with him. 

 No. You won’t. 

Then? 

 Then? 

Then why? 

 You’re getting hungry too! You’re looking for another brain to dive into. Don’t forget my job is more than you… I have to do a formal report on every unit, not just those who are likely for the Mark III. Even then, we don’t know who you’re going to pick. Even someone with less than one percent is still a possibility. 

I suppose that’s true. However—
 

 Hinata halted his walking, returning to reality. Although his visor wasn’t equipped, bits of information were appearing before his eyes. His eyes, in return, seemed to be vibrating wildly as he took it all in. He was still for a moment—then he blinked. 

Orders, Hinata? 

 Hinata’s eyes narrowed. You heard the Emperor. 

Understood.
 

 Hinata turned around abruptly, going the way he came, but this time he wore his helmet, so no one could see his expression underneath. 






Days passed. Kageyama trained in the facilities, as the outside was marked off limits. Only a few people were granted permission to leave the site. Goshiki and Kindaichi were on a scouting mission to gather visuals with some others, Kunimi was going over the plans endlessly, while Hinata mostly oversaw everything. It left Kageyama isolated enough that he could focus solely on improving his skills. 

 The closer it got to the operation, the less Hinata spoke. It scared Kageyama, on some level. He had warmed up to that loudmouth, had gotten used to it – so much so that when Hinata went silent… Oh. I guess finishing that sentence would be the whole ‘hitting the reader over the head’ thing. I guess whoever reads this can figure out what I’m trying to say. 

 Editor line. 

 Seriously, Daichi owes me another backrub or two for this. 

 But the day of duty came. Their clips were stocked up, explosives equipped, and they were ready to go. Hinata had made it clear that they could drain the entire facility of its resources if they wanted. When the operation moved into place, they separated into two teams to flank from left and right. The left team, which was led by at-the-time-Private Akira Kunimi had the job of sneaking to higher ground that overlooked the entrance. They would provide support for the ground team that would be led by Commander Shouyou Hinata.
 






 “Holy crap.” Hinata practically vibrated in delight. His breathing became slightly erratic, so much so that the others in his squad looked at him with worry. He didn’t notice, of course. “It’s bigger in person.” 

 Their gazes flicked forward. 

 A crystal glimmering a translucent white was shining in the rising sun. 

 It was larger than the aircraft that had transported them there. 

 Hinata mused they would need an even bigger aircraft to transport it back. 

 The ground team was split into several squads, most of whom were hiding behind trees as they moved en masse towards where the snakes lay dormant. 

 Some of the snakes were awake, flying in circles and loops in the sky with each other, almost as if they were— 

 “Random question,” Hinata asked his squad, “Do snakes play?” 

 Kageyama glanced sidelong at him before looking forward. “I played with my snake.” 

 Hinata snorted. “Did you now, Private?” 

 Kageyama’s face heated and he growled, “My pet snake. Damnit, Commander…” 

 Hinata was still giggling. “Is that what you call it now?” 

 “Commander, we’re minutes away from this operation.” 

 “Hey, I’m not the only one in the squad laughing.” 

 Kageyama glanced back and sighed. “Shira will lose this war if this is our army’s state…” 

 “Okay, okay.” Hinata’s visor flickered off as his helmet assembled like a hood over his face. “Let’s get to this.” He tapped the side of his helmet. “Private Kunimi, ground squad is in position. Awaiting status report.” 

“U-Understood, Commander. We’re quickly approaching the target location. We encountered some snakes on the way up… we disposed of them silently, with plasma blades, so we’re undetected… but if any snake finds their fallen brethren… there’ll be a firefight a lot sooner than expected.” 

 “Cool beans.” Hinata smiled. “But you don’t have to be so wordy. Just say what you need to.” 

“Understood. Apologies.” 

 “You could have just said understood.” 

“Understood.” 

 “There ya go!” Hinata checked the calibres of his guns and nodded. “My squad,” he said over the communication channel, “Make sure everyone’s ready to go. Remember, do not hit that crystal… You will not like what happens when that thing mutates you from the inside out.” 

“Private Kunimi reporting: Team is in position.” 

 Hinata glanced to the ridge that Kunimi was standing on, though he was a small dot in the distance. Orange fluid gushed into his joints. His eyes twitched and his vision zoomed in. He saw Kunimi’s squad in high detail—four rifles, mostly in sniper mode, as well as two titanium handguns and a plasma blade to defend the snipers. 

 It was a solid setup. Mostly. 

 Hinata just hoped it was solid enough. 

 Kageyama stiffened next to him. 

 “Alright.” Hinata smirked. “On my mark…” 

 Everyone in the ground team held up their guns, clicking their safeties off. 

 Hinata’s titanium handgun began to glow orange. 

 Kageyama stared at it. 

 Hinata pretending not to notice. “Now!” He threw himself forward—diving into the fray. The charged shot he released exploded outwards, incinerating a good number of the sleeping snakes. The rest definitely woke up. 

 But the fire burned and oxidised, disappearing as suddenly as it had appeared, giving it not enough time to spread to the forest’s foliage, though the burn marks it left on the wyvern’s leather was enough to kill. 

 Some of the ground squad paused, stunned by the display. 

 Kageyama was not one of them—he fired in machine gun mode, using his string of bullets to take down masses out of the sky. 

 And the snipers began—both bullets and plasma beans rained down to take down the bigger snakes, which were more red in colour. 

 Kageyama tensed. “They’re heading this way!” 

 “Break formation!” Hinata yelled, “Shields!” 

 A group of soldiers moved up, opening plasma shields that electrocuted the army of snakes that bashed against it. 

 “Swords!” 

 Another group of soldiers moved through the shields, while some like Kindaichi jumped over them. Wielding two plasma sabers, he was able to slice through several snakes with each swing of his arms before they could wrap their long tails around him. 

 “Guns!” 

 Kindaichi moved back behind the shields. 

 Kageyama sent a concentrated plasma shot into the crowd, as did others. 

 Hinata stiffened, slamming his wrists together as he aimed his palms outwards. “Ignite: Plasma!” 

 The concentrated shots burst into flame, exploding like bombs outwards into the ranks of the wyverns. Several hundred of them fell dead, charred. 

 Hinata smirked; the lure and bait was working well, now if only— 

Hinata! The amount of lifeforms— 

“Commander!” That was Kunimi’s voice. “More coming up from the tunnel! Fast!” 

Their numbers are beyond possible! 

 “Keep taking out the red ones!” Hinata commanded to Kunimi. Fifty more wyverns, fresh for blood, surged through the cloud of the ones they were already fighting. “Hold your ground! Shields!” 

 The shields locked together again. 

 Some wyverns flew above. 

 Kageyama went back to machine gun mode as he fired. 

 Hinata pulled out two handguns and did the same. 

 The wyverns dropped from the sky. 

 “Blades!—Attack behind the shield!” 

 Kindaichi moved between the gunners and the shielders. 

Hinata, they’re reacting to you. Your suit colouring may be marking you as an officer, as their redness marks them. 

 Hinata didn’t think. “Coming through!” He passed Kageyama, Kindaichi, and jumped over the shields with a burst of air from his boots. The crowd of wyverns retreated instantly and then moved back in like a swarm of bees. 

 With a flick of his wrists, two plasma blades shot out from his wrists into his hands. He turned them on and a whirlwind of firetrails burned a sphere into the sky, causing the wyverns to disperse once again. 

“Commander!” 

 Hinata’s suit directed his attention to a swarm of fifty or so going upwards towards Kunimi’s team. 

 Hinata swiped his arm, sending out a wave of fire from his plasma blade. 

 The blazing red arc curved in the air, moving down before swooping up—slicing at a tree’s trunk. The angle was perfect. The tree snapped and fell, crushing the onslaught of wyverns instantly. 

 Hinata landed and spun, slashing three more with both blades. His nose twitched. The stench of burning leather was only mildly moderated by his helmet. “Four units!” he called to his team, “Move towards the crystal! We can excavate it now!” 

 Kageyama saw Goshiki and three others move towards the white gem. Several wyverns seemed to want to chase, but when they got close to the white crystal the wyverns hissed and moved away. 

 Hinata called out, “Shields switch to guns!” 

 The shields disappeared and more bullets and plasma raked the skies. 

 Hinata could tell the red wyverns were mostly dead. The rest of these ones seemed directionless, in panic. It was turning into a slaughter, but they were still dangerous and Hinata wasn’t willing to take his eyes off of them just yet. His eyes narrowed and he moved forward. “Let’s gain ground! Fast!” 

“Commander, Sir!” Goshiki’s voice crackled, “It does not look as if we are able to remove the stone! It’s almost as if it’s sinking below the ground.” 

 “Below ground?” Hinata’s visor flickered. “Right—this used to be a spider’s den. We have to go below ground!” 

“Sir,” Kunimi’s voice was strained, “That isn’t possible. From the scans I’ve seen… it’s not exactly possible for a human to maneuver in that kind of… cavern.” 

 Hinata frowned as he switched back to his guns, sending burning bullets into the sky. “I see.” His eyes twitched twice within his helmet. “I’ll be able to maneuver with my suit—the rest of you guard this crystal! Private Kunimi! I’m leaving you in charge. I’m going down.” 

 Kageyama spun towards him. “Alone?” 

 “Yes,” Hinata said off the radio, only to Kageyama. “Alone.” 

 “But you’re just one!” 

 “No,” Hinata corrected. “I’m a thousand.” 






 The wandering paths were twisting and turning, covered in a sickly substance that smelled noxious. Hinata moved lower and lower in the brown earthen cave, until the Mark III yelled at him to stop. He did, just before a cliff drop. He peered down. It looked as though it could go to the center of the planet. He swallowed hard and looked out, eyes darting around for a way to cross. 

 There were white wires that hung across. 

 Web. 

 Hinata looked around and saw some platforms, some places to stand, though he doubted a normal human could make their way across. But. 

 He took a few steps back. 

 He stretched his legs. 

I’m with you. 

 Hinata nodded. 

 He took in a deep breath. 

 He ran—he jumped. 

 At the same time that his boots released pressurised air, vaulting him across the distance, a cord shot out from his hand—a harpoon, an anchor. He hit the ceiling with it and swung across the distance, pulling it back as he rolled to absorb the impact. 

 He glanced up, seeing more platforms ahead. He looked around for more vipers or spiders or something, but he saw none. He wasn’t foolish enough to believe that that was true though. 

 He would’ve asked the Mark III to do a scan for lifeforms, but it was obviously processing too many tasks to take on a huge radius scan. He ran again, mimicking his earlier movements and landed on another platform. He repeated this, in succession, until he could see the bottom peak of the white crystal in the distance. 

 As he got to one of the closer platforms, he spun around, slicing with his hand a stealthy serpent that had almost bitten him. 

 It fell to the darkness below. 

 Hinata turned. “God, I wish we were just fighting people.” 

 When he got to the last platform, he saw something huge looming in the shadow of the white peak. He tensed. It was at least ten times his height, and Hinata wasn’t sure if it was alive or just a rock structure. He could make out no detail. His helmet unequipped itself and his visor spread along his eyes. As his eyes widened— 

Hinata, the scans! Behind you— 

 Hinata spun around, whirling himself in a firestorm, but— 

 A wyvern bit into his neck, black bile spilling into the wound as it also sprayed outwards. 

 It tore into skin. 






 Kageyama continued to fire against the wyverns. The fight was turning in their favour. They were winning. He grimaced as Kindaichi slashed through four with a single plasma blade, and then two more with his other. Goshiki was also finally making progress on lifting up the stone, and was the only one out of four that was. Kunimi’s commands were leading them to victory. 

 Kageyama knew it. His teammates were all outshining him. 

 There was a static, a crackle in his earpiece. 

 Kageyama asked, “Commander?” 

“Negative.” 

 Kageyama noticed the shift in every unit. So it wasn’t just him who didn’t recognise the voice. “Who is this?” 

“This is the Mark III system – The Voice, as you call me.” 

 Kageyama froze, but spun into action as a wyvern dove at him. He threw himself back and shot it in the head with a single pistol bullet. 

“Commander Hinata is down. I repeat: Commander Hinata is down.” 

 Kunimi’s voice spoke next, “He’s down? Then what? What do we…?” 

 Kageyama had no such hesitation. He launched himself towards the cave. 






 The winding earthen tunnels were oddly shaped, clearly not made for a human. Kageyama had no problem dodging the fluids and sticky substances that (he assumed from the smell) would burn his clothes. He was about to turn right when— 

“Not that way! Left!” 

 The Voice, huh?
 Kageyama surmised that he would’ve been brimming with happiness at any other time. He paused right before a sudden drop, where the ground in front of him faded into a sea of darkness. He paused, noticing the ichor on the walls gave the cavern a strange, black-brown light. He could see platforms, but there was no way he could make it to one of them. He looked around, looking for— 

 His eyes narrowed. 

 Web. 

 Kageyama jumped, landing on a cord that wiggled severely from his weight. He raised his feet to find the web wasn’t sticky. Maybe it was supposed to trap other prey. He looked forward and saw another white thread. 

 He landed on it. 

 The consistency was more like thick silk, if anything. 

 He jumped from thread to thread, a few almost snapping under his weight. A few were like elastic bands, dipping down and then throwing him up. He kept moving, gaining speed. It wasn’t until his vision wavered and— 

B-ehin-d y- 

 Kageyama landed on a platform and ducked, seeing a wyvern diving in front of him, moving through the space where his head had been. He pulled out his gun and fired a single shot, burning its skull with plasma. 

 Its body dropped to the cavern below. 

 He continued to move forward, until he landed on a platform and looked ahead. 

 “Commander!” 

 Hinata lay on the floor, black fluid around him. His helmet was off. There lay the corpses of two burned wyverns next to him. 

 Kageyama closed the distance and pulled something from his pocket. It had a needle-tip. He dropped in front of Hinata, quickly finding a suitable safe space and pierced it into his neck. 

 Hinata had said—for what it was worth, they all got two white packets. 

 Hinata gasped instantly, eyes widening. 

 One dose of the anti-venom each. 

 Kageyama pulled the packet out and spun, slicing through two more wyverns with a plasma blade. “Commander.” 

 Hinata got up, eyes twitching horribly as he glanced to Kageyama. “The… spider anti-venom? You… Mark III?” 

 “I understood the black liquid was what took you down. I had no other anti-venom, so I used this.” 

 “Well.” Hinata closed his eyes. “Glad you did.” 

 “I had no idea if it would work, Commander.” 

 Hinata glanced over his shoulder. “Take a look, Private.” 

 Kageyama spun around. He glanced to what lay in front of them and his eyes narrowed. “This… What the fuck is…? This?” 

 “I guess you could call it the broodmother.” Hinata stood up slowly, rolling his shoulder. He patted the bite where his skin had been torn. There was a puff of steam, then the suit pressed metal firm against it. Hinata squirmed in pain, closing his eyes, before opening them again. “Diamgen has the power to mutate… We know spiders were here, and the snakes… Well, they didn’t have wings or venom, but the snakes… were their food.” 

 Kageyama glanced up, seeing the top of the diamgen. He looked down and frowned. “This thing… it’s keeping the others from taking the diamgen out?” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata stepped forward. “The broodmother…” 

 What lay before them had eight, furry brown legs firmly planted. Its body was also furred, and it had mandibles and teeth that could tear anything apart, dripping with the black venom. This venom, though impossible, seemed almost darker and thicker than what the wyverns had. Its heavy body had a large sac at the end. That, of course, was the same sac from where spiders released their web. 

 A spider, except— 

 A snake head was firmly planted where the spider’s eyes should have been. Its wide, thick form was unlike the wyvern’s, and resembled a cobra. 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t understand, Commander. What… am I looking at? How…” 

 “How is this possible?” Hinata glanced at him, then back at the broodmother. “How do brutalisers break a living person into a pile of meat and blood? It’s simple. They break the molecular bonds of proteins – of collagen – that bind cells together. They break the extracellular matrix and release the fluids… Diamgen, when active…” His suit glowed orange and fluid pumped into his joints, glowing brighter than before. “Has a similar effect.” 

 “And this diamgen,” Kageyama murmured, “Is our greatest weapon against Aoba?” 

 “Oh yeah.” Hinata smirked. “It can do anything, Kageyama.” 

 “Just what the hell is diamgen?” 

 “I can’t answer that, Private. But could you tell me how the fuck you managed to get down here?” 

 “I walked across the spider thread, Sir.” 

 “Hah?” 

 “I supposed if it was able to hold the weight of massive spiders, then it should’ve been able to hold my weight as well.” Kageyama pulled out his handgun. “I was counting on it not being corrosive. It wasn’t.” 

 Hinata snorted. “Then how are you getting back up?” 

 “I did not think ahead, Commander.” 

 Hinata laughed. “Alright, well. I can drag your ass up there if you want, but you better protect me, Prince Charming.” 

 “Commander, I highly doubt now is the time.” Kageyama winced; betrayal stabbed at him like a knife. “And you have a boyfriend. Apparently.” 

 Hinata equipped his helmet, but that barely muted how hard he laughed. 

 Kageyama frowned. Why the fuck was that so funny? 

 “Private!” Hinata bounced on his feet and crouched low, getting into a battle stance. “Remember how I said, if you help me do the paperwork I’ll give you a hint about the secret? The secret to the Mark III?” 

 “I haven’t forgotten. At all. You owe me that hint.” 

 “Help me take this thing down, Kags, and the secret is yours. Entirely.” 

 “Hm.” Kageyama’s lips wibbled into a smile. He aimed his gun forward. 

 “Wow.” Hinata glanced sidelong at him. “You’re easy to motivate.” 

 “I am.” 

 “Tell me something, Kags… Why do you want the Mark III?” 

 “I’m…” Kageyama’s grip loosened for a second. “I’m a grunt, infantry fodder… Nothing I do and nothing about me can influence the world or the war around me. I can’t do anything… not the way you can. But with a Mark III…” His throat tightened. “Do you know Ukai?” 

 “Ukai?” Hinata blinked. “The bloodline of Shira’s strongest fighters?” 

 “Mm.” His eyes narrowed. “That’s… my father’s last name. They gave me my papa’s last name instead, so I wouldn’t have to bear the burden of it. But I am Ukai. I will bear it.” 

 Hinata raised both eyebrows. 

 Kageyama assumed it wasn’t in his file, then. “I… I want to make a difference. I want this war to end… My father, he… He was Ukai. He lost so many people to war. His own grandfather, his mother, his uncle, his brother… I live in the slums, Commander, I see the war-torn. I see how the war uses the resources of the country. I see how badly things need to change, to stop. They can’t continue. Shira cannot continue… I don’t know if I can make a difference in this world, even with the Mark III but…” His grip tightened on his gun. “With you at my side, I feel…” He took a deep breath. “Together, we’ll change this world.” 

 Hinata’s eyes widened and his gaze flicked back to the arachnid-serpent beast in front of him. “That’s kind of a nice dream. I like it, Kags. You’re kind of in luck.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes flicked sidelong. 

 Hinata smirked, though he kept his gaze forward. “My suit is barely managing to get signal in here, but… Nah. I’ll tell you later. We can have this talk after this big juicy mama is dead.” 

 “Never.” Kageyama looked forward. “Never say that again.” 

 “Yeah yeah… Let’s go!” 

 Kageyama sputtered. 

 Hinata was already several meters in front of him, plasma blade aflame in hand. 

 Kageyama realised, quickly, Hinata was aiming for the legs. He shifted his gun to a power shot and fired at the thing’s face. 

 The broodmother screamed horribly and its sac lifted, revealing two snake-like tails that shot down towards the ground, cracking the earth with the amount of force it stabbed with. 

 Hinata sliced a leg and dodged by spinning sideways. He landed and sliced at another leg. He brought up his other hand and fired from his gun—a charged shot that set the underside ablaze. 

 The broodmother screeched. 

 Kageyama closed in, moving to the left side as Hinata moved right. He wasn’t fully ambidextrous but he managed to slice a leg while using his machine gun to litter bullet wounds into the beast. 

 The broodmother jumped forward, away from the two of them. 

 They both charged forward. 

 The spider sac shot out black venom, and the tails did sweeping strikes. 

 Hinata jumped and spun, dodging each attack—vaguely noting Kageyama had gotten hit by one of the tails. He growled and slashed one of the snake-tails off before backing away. 

 The broodmother spun around and spat venom at him. 

 “Ignite!” 

 The bolt of venom burst into flame, blasting in every direction before fading. 

 Kageyama got up and fired plasma shots at the beast’s snake head. 

 That made the broodmother step back a bit, shaking its head. 

 Hinata dove in and struck sideways at the neck, slicing off the snake head… 

 …revealing a spider head underneath. 

 A spew of black venom shot out. 

 Hinata dropped his plasma saber to move his hands forward. “Ignite!” He blasted himself backwards, barely dodging the trajectory of the venom. 

 But that gave Kageyama enough time to move in, slicing another leg and then a second. 

 The broodmother collapsed, unable to support its weight on its remaining legs. 

 “Above!” Hinata yelled as he ran forward, “We have to hit him from above!” 

 Kageyama looked at Hinata for a moment. 

 Hinata’s eyes widened. 

 The broodmother forced itself up on its crippled legs and slammed Kageyama into a wall. 

 “Kags!” Hinata saw the beast about to do it again and held his hand up. “Ignite: Wall!” 

 Kageyama vaguely understood there was a wall of flame that ripped between him and the broodmother. He got to his feet, wincing as he was sure some bone somewhere had been broken, but he wasn’t sure where. He stayed behind the wall of fire, shooting plasma through it in rapid succession, until his handgun popped the lid, hissing as it released steam from overheating. 

 But his shots drew its attention long enough. 

 Hinata blasted up into the air from pressurised air in his boots. “Hey fucker!” Hinata yelled, “Stay away from my boyfriend!” 

Ignite: Spear. 

 Lances of fire shot out, aiming for the joints until the broodmother crashed down. 

 Hinata pulled out his other plasma blade and aimed it down, landing on top of the beast’s brain—plasma burning completely through it. 

 The broodmother wailed and screamed. 

 Hinata put his hand to the wound and— 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 An explosion inside the beast’s head was the final blow. 

 The broodmother collapsed. 

 The wall of fire faded. 

 Hinata jumped off the thing and his helmet disassembled. 

 Kageyama almost dropped his gun and fell to the floor. “Wait.” 

 Hinata turned to face him, breathing hard. “What? What’s wrong? Another threat?” 

 “When…” Kageyama looked up at him, also breathing hard. “When you said you were seeing your boyfriend. You…” He tensed. “Meant me?” 

 Hinata stared—and, whether it was actual affection, or just the adrenaline pumping through his veins—he yanked Kageyama up and pulled him into a kiss. 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 5: Act 1, Part IX 



 Kageyama was not particularly happy with their current arrangement. 

 Hinata carrying him bridal style was not how he had wanted to celebrate his victory, but alas there was no other way up. Hinata’s boots gave him power jumps and the two of them moved through the unmanageable terrain with relative ease. Despite not being happy with it, Hinata was amused that Kageyama didn’t make a fuss about being carried this way… until a couple comments later when Kageyama threatened to hit him. 

 “Your jumps,” Kageyama murmured, changing the subject as he glanced down to Hinata’s boots. “Are they anti-gravity?” 

 “Huh? Maybe!” Hinata paused for a moment, eyes twitching. “No wait, it’s not.” 

 “Is that…” Kageyama eyed Hinata’s face. “The Voice?” 

 “Yeah, it says it’s not anti-gravity. It’s um… an electromagnetic field generated by… electro… Wait, slow down!” Hinata laughed as he landed on a platform. He focused on a nonexistent point. “Electro-hydro-dynamics.” He ran forward and jumped again. “He says anti-gravity is impossible because of general relativity… except in certain unique situations. Apparently. Oh, and anti-gravity has been dismissed by all the major military forces for weapons and combat.” 

 “Oh.” Kageyama stared at him. “Thanks.” 

 “He says you’re welcome!” 

 “He?” 

 Hinata flinched. “Oops. Well, um.” He landed again. “We’re here. You can get off unless you want the team to see me carrying you.” 

 “Shut up.” Kageyama dropped off of Hinata and began walking towards the cavern’s entrance. 

 When they stepped through, the sun was blinding. 

 They put their hands over their faces. 

 “Commander!” 

 Kageyama winced. 

 Kunimi ran over, saluting as soon as he got close. “You’re alive and well.” He glanced to Kageyama. “Both of you.” 

 “Yep!” Hinata smirked. “Kageyama’s little rescue operation was a success.” 

 Kunimi smiled at Kageyama, but glanced to Hinata. “Commander, the snakes are all dead.” 

 “Great news! We’re clear.” 

 “I’m sorry, Sir.” Kunimi shook his head. “We’ve begun excavating the crystal as per instructions from Main Command. However.” He began tapping his wrist, lighting up buttons that lay hidden in his suit. “Take a look.” 

 Hinata opened his palm, opening up a hologram screen in front of him. 

 Kageyama leaned over, looking at camera footage of aerial vehicles that were nearby. “They have no flag but…” 

 “Aoba.” Hinata closed his hand, closing the hologram. His face distorted into a scowl. “Oikawa I am not letting you have this.” He glanced to the crystal that was slowly rising out of the ground. “Private Kunimi.” 

 “Sir.” He saluted again. “If I recall, moving diamgen causes ripples. They haven’t detected our location based on satellite information from Main Command, but… they’re going to detect our location eventually. I’ve ordered shock absorbers to be deployed around the area to buy us more time.” 

 “Good call.” Hinata whistled. “Alright!” He smiled brightly and clapped his hands together. “We’ll need to take out that aircraft.” 

 “It’s not just one.” Kunimi tapped his wrist again. “We’ve detected at least three, but there may be more.” 

 Hinata sighed. “Damn… this mission just never ends, does it? Out of the frying pan… and into the oven.” He tapped his helmet. “Addressing all units – this is Commander Hinata. We’ll set up a small squad to guard the crystal. The rest of us will split up and deal with the aircrafts. I’m informed they’re only two Vine-7 types and one Vine-8. They’re mini assault aircrafts, they’re quick, and they only have a single pilot and no passengers, but they’ll be able to tear us to shit. Even in my Mark III, those things can gun me down with ease. We’ll have to use the element of surprise.” 

 Kageyama stiffened because suddenly— 

 Hinata smiled dangerously. “So let’s bring out some rocket launchers, snipers, and whatever the hell you want to use! Our biggest weapon is surprise, after all.” 

“But Sir,” came a voice, “Doesn’t that mean we can only surprise them once? There are three ships.” 

 Goshiki cut in, “That is why we’re dividing into groups! Yes? Each to attack a different target!” 

 “Yep.” Hinata nodded. “Timing is going to be tough, but we’ll manage… If there’s a fourth aircraft out there, we’ll get slaughtered, but that’s just what it is. I’ll be dividing up the teams fast. Let’s get to work.” He moved his hand away, sighing as soon as the airway was closed. “Private. You’re leading Beta team. Get ready. Tell Kindaichi he’s leading Gamma.” 

 Kunimi saluted firmly. “Yes Sir!” 

 Hinata watched him go. “Kageyama.” 

 “I will lead Delta team, if you want.” 

 “Nope. You’re on Alpha. And you’re not leading it.” Hinata grinned. “I am.” 

 Kageyama frowned at that. “Yes, Sir. Um.” His frown softened. “I suppose this plateau… it will be terminated, right? If we destroy the aircrafts they’ll gather the coordinates for the facility. Aoba… they’ll destroy it soon.” 

 “They won’t destroy it.” Hinata glanced at him. “We will. I already have clearance. This whole plateau will be burned when our mission is complete.” 

 “Understood.” 






 Kunimi stiffened for a moment, unsure what to say or do. He was with others in the facility, checking their rifles for jams, plasma fragments, and reload bullets. Kunimi was going with a sniper rifle, of course. He was the unit’s best marksman. A part of him hoped it would be his bullet that finished it, but it didn’t matter whose did. As long as the aircraft went down. 

 “Um, Sir,” another private addressed him. 

 Kunimi stiffened again. He had just managed to relax. “Yes?” 

 “I can let the Commander know our squad is standing by.” 

 “That would be appreciated, thank you.” Kunimi glanced away. 

 The other private started speaking over their communication channel, announcing his full name for some reason. 

 Well, Kunimi knew the reason – after all, only days ago Kunimi had been a no one… now he had been placed in charge of a squad twice under Hinata. He knew some people already looked at him with awe, others with contempt. Envy. He supposed he should be happy, especially since he was hungry for a promotion… but instead he just felt a sense of dread. Their lives, Kunimi had realised, would end if he called the wrong shots. If he— 

 “Akira.” 

 Kunimi stiffened. He glanced over. 

 Kindaichi was walking towards him. His expression was sober, serious, almost melancholy. 

 They didn’t need to say anything. 

 They felt the same way. 

 The weight of responsibility. 

 “So.” Kunimi needed the silence to end. His own thoughts were far too loud. “Your team is going with rocket launchers?” 

 “Well.” Kindaichi smiled. “I think it’s on purpose. Everyone in your team has scores in sniping. Everyone in my group has scores in some kind of explosive… Well, you have both, technically.” 

 “My homemade grenades aren’t the same as a rocket launcher.” 

 Kindaichi forced a smile. “No, guess not…” 

 Kunimi swallowed hard. “So… Kageyama’s with the Commander?” 

 “Yeah.” 

 “Goshiki?” 






 Goshiki’s squad was pretty sure Aoba would be able to find them with how Goshiki seemed to be bouncing through the trees. Tsutomu Goshiki was Squad Leader of the Delta Squad. He held up his hands firmly, brimming with happiness. He watched as the crystal began to rise more and more out of the ground. 

 The devices they used emanated a fuzzy blue beam that stabilised the crystal. They excavated the crystal by hand and the beams held it in place so it wouldn’t sink back down. 






Aoba was not always the tactical nation that it was. When Oikawa took the throne, the entire country changed. As opposed to the old Aoba that mainly used firepower and explosives, the new Aoba was one that used highly complicated attack patterns and unit formations. I don’t think it was intentional, per se, but when Oikawa began designing his complex patterns it became a source of pride in the nation. Soon, it seeped down to the lower ranking units. It’s said that even townspeople organised gardens with patterns that required a great deal of care, calculation, and intellect. 

 Intellect and strategy are weapons, and Oikawa wielded them with vigor. 

 I admit… I was not a Second Lord for very long against the new Aoba, so I’ve only participated in a few battles against them myself, but it’s something even I am afraid of. Aoba is definitely something to fear. 

 As I mentioned before, the old Aoba used firepower and tried to hit with raw strength. This is what Shira does—by aiming hard and precise, with enough force to shatter, we break even the most complex of attacks. But Oikawa’s cunning is sharp, and his mind sees more than most would. It isn’t about more firepower: It’s about maximising what he can do with that firepower. 

 It’s the same reason I taught Hinata martial arts. I, as I mentioned before, learned martial arts from Kageyama’s adopted father, Keishin Ukai. One thing he taught me is that martial arts was designed by the ‘little guys’ to take down the ‘big guys’. As opposed to brute, raw power (like a drunken bar fight, for example), martial artists use refined skill and observation in hand-to-hand combat. It’s brute force versus a more calculated strike. 

 Society has always praised intellect, calculation, because it makes us less barbaric, more civilised… but the truth is, in a fight, it’s raw power that usually wins. I’ve never really considered myself a smaller guy, since I’m around 5’8ish (that’s 173 cm, in the new measurement), but others have always seen me as small due to my weaker stature. I don’t have the muscles other guys do, and the black suits are slimming. 

 Hinata, on the other hand, is 5’4” (163 cm). I wanted to teach him how to win a fight, no matter how strong someone else was. 

 After all, with martial arts, there are even some moves—that even if you see them coming—there’s nothing you can do, because you’ve been put in a certain position by blocking a previous attack. 

 Ah, I kind of went off topic a little… The point of this is that I told Hinata this, and this was something he always remembered. I told him to think in these ways. Even when Aoba isn’t worried and doesn’t think they have an opponent, they still fall under patterns. In this case, search patterns. They want to cover as much ground in as little time as possible. A Kara raid to the north had gathered the attention of Main Command. Emperor Ushijima had called Second Lord Iwaizumi away, so it was up to Hinata, Yamaguchi, and the Mark III system to find these patterns. 

 Because the patterns are always there. 

 That is Oikawa’s greatest flaw. 

 Oikawa might be a conductor who can change his song at any time, but search parties that are unaware of an entire squad getting ready to take them down aren’t. 

 And so the teams got in position. 

 The Alpha team had Hinata as their lead. He and Kageyama were planning on taking down their ace ship, their biggest one. 

 The Beta team was a sniper team, led by Private Kunimi, were to eliminate the second patrol. 

 The Gamma team, led by Private Kindaichi, were to eliminate the third patrol. 

 The Delta team, led by Private Goshiki, were to stand by and assist as directed while also working on excavating the diamgen crystal. 



 Hinata’s plan worked, mostly.
 






 “Now!” Hinata yelled at one corner of the forest. 

 At another corner, Kindaichi roared as several rockets broke the ship’s hull, burning it to crisps. 

 At a third, Kunimi fired his rifle – as did the others. Bullets littered the glass, spearing the pilot, and the ship veered off downwards until it exploded against the plateau’s mountainside. 

 But, even though Hinata’s team had both snipers and rocketeers—they were not successful. The bullets and plasma flew through the air, until they reached a blue static bubble that seemed to appear out of nowhere around the ship. Wherever bullets or plasma hit, the bubble materialised, giving little spots of blue static, before the projectiles—even the rockets—were dismantled. 

 The ship turned towards them. 

 “Deflector shields!” Hinata realised his mistake only too late. “Damnit! Fall back, fall—” 

 It opened fire. 

 His squad scattered, spreading out, and Hinata cursed again. They had gone over the escape route, but it seemed like nobody could remember that in the heat of trying to get to safety. He supposed it was only fair; after all, they were only Privates. He pulled out two brutalisers and shifted them to power shot mode. Setting the plasma aflame, he fired two concentrated shots of plasma right at the aircraft’s cockpit. 

 It wouldn’t damage, but the small flash of red light would blind the pilots for a little while. 

 The shooting stopped. It would only buy them seconds but. 

 Hinata ran through the woods and dove feet first. He slid behind a tree and opened up a hologram above his forearm. 

 “Commander,” came Kageyama’s voice. 

 Hinata glanced over, seeing him behind a tree. At least this one listened to where to go if things went to shit. 

 “Sir.” Kageyama stared at him. “I offer myself.” 

 “What the fuck.” 

 “I meant!” Kageyama blushed despite the gunshots ripping through the foliage. “We need a bait!” 

 Hinata ignored the Mark III system agreeing with Kageyama and yelled, “Are you crazy?” 

 “Deflector shields are made of electric energy passing through fine wire at the tips,” Kageyama quoted, from a textbook probably. “As long as they are on, we can’t fire at it, but it can’t fire at us. It’s a two-way shield. Unless we can ground the electricity, we need to bait them into thinking it’s safe to fire at us, while another unit attacks from another location.” 

 Hinata’s eyes narrowed. He knew it was the truth but— 

 His earpiece crackled, “Sir! What’s the plan?” 

 “Fuck, he’s right.” He looked at Kageyama. 

 Kageyama nodded. “I’ll be bait. Give me the signal. I can lure him out with charged shots.” 

 “You’re the bait? Good. You’re kinda ugly.” 

 “I am not.” 

 “You are too.” 

 “Am not.” 

 “Are too.” 

 “Am not.” 

 “No, you’re not.” Hinata couldn’t help but smile. “Shit!” He got to his feet. “It’s heading our way, Kags! It’s probably got thermal sensors—it’s searching for my suit! I’ll be bait…” He looked at Kageyama. “Organise Alpha squad and get ready. Don’t take too long.” 

 “I won’t. Promise.” 

 “You won’t promise?” 

 “That’s!” Kageyama scowled. “Not what I said!” 

 Hinata threw his head back in an honest laugh before his helmet appeared over his head. He threw himself to the left, because there weren’t any soldiers in that direction. He charged two more charged shots and fired at the aircraft’s side. It rocked the ship, warping the metal, but it was the same as if someone had kicked an elephant. All it would do was make it angry. 

 And that’s what Hinata wanted. 

 It turned towards him, and fired. 

 Hinata moved through the trees, watching as the sharp bullets snapped off massive branches. Hinata had to dodge those too. He kept running. 

There’s a clearing up ahead. Kageyama’s getting his squad ready for when you move through. 

 Ohh, you’re getting chatty with him again? 

Negative. Captain-Specialised Yamaguchi was the one—LEFT!
 

 Hinata dove to the side, barely dodging the blast of a missile that set the forest aflame. He figured the fire would negate their thermal sensors. Only for a moment. It was always only for a moment. He saw the clearing and used the moment to his advantage. A click in his vision signified Kageyama’s squad was ready. Hinata ran into the center of the clearing and turned around. 

 The aircraft lifted above the trees and leaned forward as it approached. The shield turned off—and it fired. 

 Hinata stayed still. 

 The aircraft had two machine guns below the cockpit. 

 Hinata knew, roughly, that in less than a second over seven hundred bullets would be zooming towards him. 

 Orange fluid gushed into his joints. 

 Hinata’s eyes went wide, blank. 

 His suit lit up. 

 Bullets fired at roughly 1000 meters per second, and there was no way to dodge. The sight of the bullets would be a blur. Sound, however, would travel. Sound only moved about 350 meters per second. By the time Hinata would hear the gunshots, they would have traveled through him three times. To dodge, he would have to move his body, but nerve conduction was only 120 meters per second. Given, the distance was less, but mathematically there was no way he could dodge… but… 

 Orange fluid gushed into his joints. 

 His vision wavered, becoming a flash of light. The bullets were moving slowly through the air; he could see them now. More than that, he vision modified, and he could predict their path. Streams of foggy white light showed him where they would go. But the most important thing wasn’t his sight, or his nerves, but the white crystal embedded deep inside his suit. 

 Diamgen. 

 Hinata’s body moved like a volt, twisting to the side to dodge the endless spray of bullets. His feet slid on the grass but his eyes never left his target. The gunfire moved to sweep towards him, and Hinata chose a moment to jump throughthe gunfire, dodging it with ease. He landed in another slide, and then kicked off, jumping backwards. 

 There were explosions—Kageyama’s team had begun their assault. 

 Hinata was lost in his new haze, and could not celebrate. He understood that a bullet was going to get him, and there was nothing he could do about it. He closed his eyes and the suit tensed, microfibres locking like a muscle forming its defense. The bullet ripped a section of metal off his shoulder, leaving the body underneath unharmed. 

 But Hinata screamed. 

 He saw only darkness. 

I’m disconnecting the Mark III system from your bloodstream! 

 He heard a heavy crash and cheering, and someone (Kageyama?) yelling his name. 

 He landed in a slide and opened his eyes. 

 “You’re bleeding,” Kageyama yelled, “You’re—” 

 Hinata glanced at the wound. 

 Kageyama paused, realising it wasn’t blood. 

 It wasn’t red. 

 Hinata squirmed in pain. 

 It was orange. 

 Kageyama looked at his suit. 

 The orange fluid that had collected in his joints was what had woven together to create a defense. 

 Kageyama kept staring. “You… look like you’re in pain.” 

 “No shit,” Hinata bit back in a yell, “This fucking hurts!” He clasped the suit, knowing it wouldn’t help seal the wound as if it were his actual body. “The suit is an extension of me… everything it feels… I feel…” His eyes burned as he looked up at Kageyama. “Trust me, you don’t want a Mark III.” 






Chapter 5: Infodex 05, Plasma Weapons 



 Plasma weapons make up about 35% of the weapons used in war. They mainly use filamentation of dissociated molecular ionic bonds in the magnosphere as projectiles. For ranged weapons, the main damage component comes from thermal and kinetic forces. The thermal force (heat) causes severe burns and can destroy organic lifeforms with ease. It is known to melt or break through structures as well. The kinetic force (motion) causes impact damage on the target from the momentum of the filamented molecules within the plasma shot. 

 Besides firearms, several other types of plasma weapons exist. 

 Plasma Blades – a melee weapon that emits a cylinder of plasma 3.2 feet (1 meter) as a blade. It can slice through most metals. Thermal heat is the main use, though kinetic energy is absorbed by the plasma and may be released for a stronger attack. 

 Plasma Shield – a triangular shaped object that is usually equipped on the forearm of one’s non-dominant hand. When one flexes, the triangular center releases plasma in a minorly-convex barrier. Kinetic energy is the main use, as it blocks impacts against the shield. The shields have low thermal usage. 

 Plasma Grenades – a small circular object that has two modes. The first is known as dazzler—the thermal heat is transferred into light, and the grenade temporarily blinds, disorients, and deafens those who are unprepared for it. The second mode is a strong concussive force released by thermal and kinetic energy. 

 Compared to firearm ammunition, plasma weapons are stronger, but less cost-effective. They also have lower range as filamentation momentum dissolves at a faster rate than bullets. The only exception is in space, where—outside of the Earth’s stratosphere—momentum is not diminished, and gravitational waves strengthen plasma bullets. 






Chapter 5: Act 1, Part X 



The loading of the diamgen into the large air carrier was done by the experts who arrived on scene shortly after Hinata was fixed up in the medical lab. His suit was patched up, loosely, and it was obvious it would need some repairs; but, he was walking and standing tall, smiling bright in a way that made most of the soldiers feel at ease, at home, even after the danger of the battle. 

 There were a few others wounded, but no more deaths. 

 The aircraft that loaded the diamgen also brought them home, directly into Docking Bay 4 of Shira’s capital city. However, before they left, they saw the air raid. Kageyama had gotten a window seat, and the sight horrified him. Five aircrafts moving in a V-shape zoomed over the plateau, dropping bombs that lit the forest aflame, and razed everything to ash. It horrified Kageyama, to understand that somewhere he had been no longer existed. Could never exist again. Would never exist again. 

 It was… gone. 

 Gone. 

 That was what war did, of course, but it was the first time Kageyama had seen it, understood it. He knew of it, of course; he’d read stories and heard tales, especially of those from the books and plays of the old city, Metropolis. But seeing it, and knowing how it changed everything… Only someone who experienced it could truly understand it, Kageyama thought to himself. That, was that. 

 When they landed, they didn’t move to a debriefing room – they used the docking bay as a place to line up in front of Commander Hinata Shouyou. Hinata had been serious, formal, and to the point. He still smiled, but Kageyama wondered if he had something else on his mind. This kind of directness was refreshing, but a bit too pointed for his taste. That all stopped, of course, when…
 






 A knife jammed into Kageyama’s foot. 

 “Ow!” Kageyama jerked his foot away. “What the fuck!?” 

 It wasn’t an actual knife, Kageyama realised, but it sure as fuck hurt like one. 

 There was a sudden scream, and a tuft of orange hair ran through the ranks before running to their commander. “Shouyou!” came a squeaky small voice, “Shouyou I killed him! I killed the monster!” 

 “Natsu!” Hinata picked her up and threw her in the air, catching her. He gave her lots of kisses. “What monster?” 

 “The monster!” Natsu pointed at Kageyama. “I killed the monster!” 

 “Wow!” Hinata’s eyes went wide in an exaggerated reaction. “What a good girl!” He kissed her cheek again. “Who’s the best little sister on the planet?” 

 Natsu threw both her hands in the air. “I am!” 

 “Who’s my princess?” 

 “I am!” 

 “That’s right!” He smooched her forehead. “You’re so smart, Natsu!” 

 “S-S-Sorry!” came an exhausted voice as someone ran towards them. “Natsu!” 

 Natsu looked at the newcomer, then back at Hinata. “Akiteru took me out today! He took me out to the shops!” 

 “He did!” 

 “Yup!” 

 Akiteru took several shaky breaths before giving a soft frown. “As soon as I got word you had landed, she bolted off to see you.” 

 “Hey…” Hinata frowned. “You can’t run away from adults.” 

 “But!” 

 “Nope!” Hinata shook his head. “Nuh uh! He took you out today, so you have to follow his rules, okay? No matter what. Promise?” 

 Natsu just pouted. 

 “Promise?” 

 “But!” Natsu whined. “Are you hurt?” 

 “Nope!” 

 “You have both your arms?” 

 Hinata nodded. “Yep.” 

 Natsu checked to make sure. “Both your legs?” 

 “Yep!” 

 “All your fingers?” 

 “And all my toes!” 

 “Okay, good.” Natsu nodded firmly. “I wanted to make sure!” 

 “Good girl.” He grinned and kissed her again. “But don’t run away from adults okay?” 

 “Okay…” 

 “And, don’t step on anyone’s foot anymore too.” 

 “But!” Natsu glared at Kageyama. “He’s ugly and scary!” 

 A few of the soldiers laughed—even Kunimi gave a sharp, kaw-like bark of laughter (which he muffled with his glove quickly). 

 Kageyama shot Kunimi a glare before looking at Natsu. “I am not.” 

 “You are!” Natsu puffed out her chest and put her hands into fists in front of her. “You’re ugly ugly, and you look like an evil blue-berry!” She stuck her tongue out at him. 

 Hinata giggled, but cut himself off when Kageyama shot him a glare. “Now, now…” 

 “Natsu…” Akiteru walked closer. “Please…” He looked at Hinata. “Oh, uh.” He saluted. “Commander.” 

 “You’re off duty,” Hinata pointed out, “So don’t bother.” He put Natsu down, and glanced up at Akiteru again. “Thanks for taking her out.” 

 “It’s a pleasure.” He smiled bright, taking Natsu’s hand in his own when she reached for him. “Kei’s been super busy lately, so I didn’t have much else to do today. Anyway, we should leave you guys to your debriefing, sorry about the – er. Interjection.” 

 Hinata laughed. 

 Natsu waved. “Bye Shouyou!” 

 “Bye Natsu!” Hinata gave her a little salute. 

 Natsu let go of Akiteru’s hand to salute back before taking Akiteru’s hand once more. They turned to leave, but not before she glanced at Kageyama and stuck her tongue out at him again. 

 Kageyama scowled. 

 Hinata grinned, watching her go. “Isn’t she so cute? Oh my God. She’s my little princess, light of my life, I swear. Everything I do is for her.” 

 Kageyama chewed out a, “Wonderful.” 

 A few soldiers chuckled. 

 Hinata smiled wide, but sobered at that thought. He turned towards them. He put his hands behind his back. “Let’s get back to the debriefing.” 

 They all saluted. 

 Hinata nodded, and they went at ease. “The task was to endure a high-risk task for two weeks. We only lasted a few days… but we saw more action than most. As promised, our survivors are all getting Mark IIs. Congratulations, all of you.” There was a sober note in the air, and Hinata figured he should address it. “But we did lose some people… Good men, good women… We’ll perform the burning rights, and I’ll be meeting with their families. You are welcome to attend the burning rights, but you’re not forced to. I will be there, but… please don’t talk about business matters with me.” 

 There were a few nods. 

 “You’re all continuing with the Mark III program. While some people have had their doors closed, yours have opened up.” Hinata’s eyes softened a little. “You’ll get data files in accordance to our next move, as a program and a squad, soon. Enjoy what time off you get in between. Dismissed.” 

 “Sir!” They saluted, as one. 

 Hinata returned the salute, then turned to leave. 

 A lot would be changing soon. 






The burning rights were an old tradition to honour the dead. Bodies were laid out on pyres, doused in sacred oil, and set ablaze by torches. Of course no one in the modern world believed that the oil was sacred, or that these fires were any different, but it was a soothing event nonetheless. It was always done outdoors, where the smoke would rise to the heavens. In the old days, people believed the spirit and the soul would rise with the smoke and join the heavens. 

 Some people still believed that, of course. 

 Hinata didn’t. He didn’t believe in a soul or a spirit. To him, we were just bags of cells. Once we died, anything we were died too. Our memories lived on, but we died. That was the truth, as far as he was concerned. But, a part of him… a small, quiet part of him, always entertained the thought… Entertained the thought of an afterlife. How many under his command had died? How many were killed by his orders? He knew everyone from the privates to the Emperor thought of him as a life-saver. 

 And, sure… 

 Statistically, he kept his units alive better than the other officers… But still. People died, under his command. Maybe it really was inevitable, but they still died under his command. As always, he used his Mark III to light the oil. He did this himself, for everyone who served under him. He had never gotten a rejection or complaint from the family (most lowered their head in respect, seeing it as a sign of him honouring the ones who served him). 

 The smell of burning herbs made the air thick and misty, warm. Comforting. The dead moved through them, but the dead left them. 

 I wish, back then, that someone had seen it… I wish, back then, that someone knew. 

 Hinata Shouyou had begun a descent, a descent into madness, loneliness, guilt, wrought… I wish I could have healed him, fixed him… My beautiful baby brother, questioning everything there was to question. I supposed… at the time, there weren’t quite the same warning signs. It’s easy to look back and understand, but in the moment… not so much. Most soldiers question war when they burn their comrades. 

 Ushijima had once told me that it was necessary. We must question why we do what we do – or else we won’t have a reason for doing it. 

 I just wish, in the end, Hinata had found a different answer.
 






 Kageyama had attended the burning rights, of course. As he watched the burning bodies, all he could think of was the forest set aflame by the air raid. It was a strange comparison, but he wondered – quietly – if from the ashes of that forest new life would foster and grow. Surely some seed or pollen or plant fibre had made its way up there once, so it could do it again no? 

 He had too many thoughts. 

 He dunked his head under hot water. 

 It wasn’t like the military barracks, or even his own dorm. Given that his parent’s house wasn’t particularly in a nice neighbourhood, one might be surprised that this was where Kageyama wanted to be—and they had running water, running hot water. 

 Kageyama, as he always did when he got time off, had visited his parents. They always had his room ready for him and waiting, and he thanked them for it (formally) even if they waved it off every single time. That’s just how it was. 

 He turned off the hot water and shook his head like a dog to get some water out. Stepping out, feeling the cool air on his heated skin, he began drying off before he wrapped his towel around his waist. 

 He stepped out of the bathroom. 

 “Oh.” Ittetsu glanced at him. “You’re getting dressed?” 

 “Yeah.” Kageyama nodded. 

 “Your boyfriend’s here. I asked him to wait in the living room, I’ll let him know you’ll be a few minutes more?” 

 “Sure.” Kageyama turned towards his room, then. “Boyfriend?” 

 Ittetsu’s eyes went wide with fear. “I-Is h-he, n-not your b-boyfriend? He said he’s your boyfriend! He has orange hair and—” 

 “He’s…” Kageyama scowled, but it softened. “He’s… um. A person.” 

 “I would…” Ittetsu grinned. “I would assume so, yes.” 

 Kageyama smiled – the kind of smile only his papa could get out of him (his dad was always envious of it). “I’ll be out soon.” He moved into his room and closed the door behind him. He dried off in a hurry and then grabbed some clothes. 

 Casual clothes. 

 He wore a pair of black jeans with a dark navy button up shirt (top button unbuttoned) and did his best to sweep his wet hair into fashion. He didn’t know much about fashion, but being around Kunimi and Kindaichi had taught him something. They were both fairly fashionable people. At least Kageyama thought so, because they got compliments. Not that it mattered. 

 He stepped out of his room, and moved to the living room. 

 Hinata was sitting on the couch, talking to Ittetsu. 

 Kageyama looked around. He knew his dad was home, but he wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t here. Ukai could probably sense the military vibe Hinata didn’t know he gave off and outed out of there. Kageyama shook that thought and walked closer. “Get out.” 

 “Gwah!” Hinata grinned. “That’s such a mean thing to say, especially after I came all this way to see you! I had to even abuse my rank to find out where your parents lived!” 

 Kageyama frowned. 

 Hinata stood up, smiling. “You… actually look pretty good.” 

 “Thanks.” Kageyama eyed him. Hinata wore black shorts and a white tank top, with a loose thin peach summer hoodie on top. “You’re not bad yourself.” Different from the Mark III for sure. Kageyama almost liked seeing him this way, seeing him human. The human Hinata; not the Commander Hinata. “Get out.” 

 “Hey! That’s not how you greet your boyfriend.” 

 “Tch.” Kageyama scowled, not wanting to admit his cheeks had warmed at those words. 

 Hinata chuckled and put his hands on his hips. “You always look so angry, Kags! You’re gonna get wrinkles!” 

 “I’m not angry.” Kageyama frowned. “And don’t call me Kags!” 

 “Hey, I won our sword fight.” Hinata leaned in. “I get to call you Kags!” 

 Kageyama scowled a scowl that made hell look like a safe place. 

 “Don’t look so angry, Kags!” 

 “I’m not angry!” 

 Hinata flattened his hair with his hands. “I’m Kageyama,” he said in an unnecessarily deep voice, “I’m not angry!” 

 “I swear to God I’ll kill you—” 

 “Hey! I’m your higher-ranking officer!” 

 “I’m pretty sure the Second Lord would take my side on this.” 

 Hinata laughed. “See!” He dropped his hands. “You’re always so serious and angry!” 

 Kageyama’s hand launched at Hinata. 

 Hinata ducked under it and moved towards the front entrance. “Kageyama!” He beamed. “Take me out.” 

 Kageyama stared at him, breathing through his nose. 

 “C’mon.” Hinata bounced on his feet, smiling… honestly, it was an innocent smile. 

 Maybe it was the way sunlight from the windows was hitting him, but Kageyama swore Hinata was kind of… cute. He knew a part of it was the casual clothing, but… He sighed. “Fine.” He glanced at his papa. “I’m going out.” 

 Ittetsu gave a small wave. “Okay. Have fun.” 

 Kageyama had to get his socks and shoes, double-checked to make sure he had his wallet, phone, keys, and other stuff, but eventually he took Hinata out. 






 Hinata walked a step or so behind him, walking around the short small buildings that were so square-like. It was pretty standard for the slums. He supposed the buildings weren’t that small… They were two floors each usually, but the ones in the other residential areas were about fifty or sixty floors each, so it felt very small to him. “So!” He glanced at Kageyama. “Where are you taking me?” 

 “A cafe.” 

 “A cafe!” Hinata bounced a bit. “That’s a pretty good first date!” 

 “First date?” Kageyama raised an eyebrow, still looking forward. “And killing a spider-viper doesn’t count as a date?” 

 “Hoho!” Hinata ran forward and crouched in a crab-like position. “So you admit we’re dating.” 

 “No!” Kageyama walked past him. “I don’t even know you! Get lost!” 

 “Bwaaaaaah!” 

 Kageyama smiled at that frustration. 

 Hinata ran ahead again and turned to look at him. “Rawr! I’m Kageyama! I can’t date anyone because I’m so ugly!” 

 Kageyama grabbed his head— 

 But Hinata grabbed his arm with both hands and spun, lifting him up, over his shoulder, and crashed him into the polished brick road they were walking on. 

 Kageyama glanced up at the sky, barely registering searing pain. 

 “I’m—” Hinata took a step back. “I’m sorry! My training kicked in! Oh shit! I’m sorry! Did you hit your head?” 

 “No.” Kageyama shrugged it off. He forced himself up. Pain. Ah, yes. Pain fucking everywhere. Mostly his back, but he could stand. He shook it off, remembering at once that this cute little Hinata in a hoodie was still Commander Hinata Shouyou, Mark III. Even without the suit. 

 Ah. 

 Kageyama huffed and kept walking. 

 “You sure you’re okay?” Hinata walked after him, eyeing him for signs of discomfort. 

 “Shush.” Kageyama grabbed Hinata’s arm, pulling him closer. “Say nothing.” 

 Hinata frowned, raising an eyebrow at that. He glanced around and soon understood. This was a… not-so-safe part of town. “I can defend myself, if anything happens,” he murmured quietly. 

 “I’d rather nothing happened,” Kageyama pointed out. “And. We’re unarmed.” 

 “You might be.” 

 Kageyama glanced at him. 

 “What?” Hinata looked back. “I have at least three knives on me at all times.” 

 Kageyama just pulled him along. 

 Hinata kept his voice low, “Looks like the slums have cleaned up since the last time I was here.” 

 “On the surface. There are still many problems.” 

 Hinata glanced at him sidelong. “Yeah? Like what?” 

 Kageyama hummed. “Is that why you’re here?” 

 “Ah, you’ve got a sharp eye, huh?” 

 “Ears.” 

 “Huh?” 

 “You sounded…” Kageyama moved his jaw a bit. “Like your Commander role, when you asked that.” 

 “Ah.” Hinata smiled. “Guess I gave it away, huh?” 

 “Mm.” 

 They passed the dangerous part of town and moved towards a much nicer one. It was still the slums, but it was nicer. The buildings had more signs and decorations, more life, and there was even a plaza with a wide water fountain. Kageyama let go of Hinata’s arm and opened the door to the cafe. 

 The owner looked up, offering Kageyama a smile. 

 Kageyama dipped his head. 

 Hinata looked around. 

 The cafe was empty, but Hinata figured that was to do more with the time of day than anything. Most of the sandwiches were sold out, so he figured the lunch rush must have hit pretty hard. The owner looked a little tired, and didn’t seem too concerned about taking their orders. He assumed that’s because he seemed to know Kageyama. He glanced up to the menu. 

 There weren’t any of the fancy items that the upper class cafes had, so Kageyama was slightly worried Hinata would find the place boring… but it was his favourite cafe. It was a quiet, homey place. Most people came in to get their stuff to-go, but Kageyama always stayed a little bit. He usually came here with Kindaichi and Kunimi, too. 

 The owner eventually came up to them, with a smile. 

 “Um!” Hinata stepped forward. “A medium cream frap!” 

 “Gross,” Kageyama murmured, for no other reason but to see Hinata scandalised (he wasn’t disappointed). “Large white mocha, yes whip.” 

 “White mocha?” Hinata seemed surprised. “Wow!” 

 The owner looked between them. “And this order is, together?” 

 “Yep.” Hinata pointed at Kageyama. “He’s paying!” 

 “Why am I paying? Your paycheck is probably five times mine.” 

 “Only four! And you’re paying because you’re taking me out. Fine! I’ll pay!” 

 “No!” Kageyama already tapped his wrist against the machine, making a beep, payment sent. 

 Hinata laughed. “You’re a loser.” 

 They took a seat by the window, relaxing as they took a simple moment to examine the area around them. It really was a quiet part of town. They said nothing for a while, enjoying the soft silence that was between them, as it was kind of a rarity. Kageyama had questions of course, so many questions for why Hinata was here – and he knew Hinata had many questions, business related questions he assumed. 

 This wasn’t a date. 

 Well, Kageyama assumed it also was a date… it just… it just wasn’t only a date. 

 Maybe. 

 There was more, so much more, under the surface. 

 Kageyama looked at him, expectantly, but it was clear Hinata was lost in thought, distracted. He was staring out the window with a soft smile, such a soft smile that Kageyama didn’t want to ruin Hinata’s peace. But. Still. “Why are you here?” 

 Hinata looked at him. “What? I can’t spend time with my boyfriend?” 

 “I don’t even know you,” Kageyama pointed out. “You’re not my boyfriend.” 

 “You could know me.” Hinata’s smile didn’t lose faith. “Do you want to?” 

 Kageyama’s cheeks burned. 

 Hinata laughed a little and leaned on the table, resting his chin in his hand as he looked at Kageyama, content, fulfilled. Happy. He tilted his head a little. “I know we don’t really know each other… I know one adrenaline-pumped kiss isn’t much, but… we seem to click. I think we’d make pretty good boyfriends, if we give it a shot.” 

 Kageyama frowned, willing his blush away. The sunlight looked damn good on Hinata. He wanted to take a picture, but wondered if it was one of those things that was so awe-filled it lost its depth in a photo. “You’re a terrible officer.” 

 “Thanks.” 

 Kageyama huffed, though it was an amused huff. 

 The owner of the cafe brought their drinks to their table. 

 “Thank you,” Kageyama murmured. 

 “Thanks!” Hinata told the owner, before turning to Kageyama. “Wow, you actually have manners!” 

 Kageyama kicked him hard. 

 “Ow!” 

 “You’re really a shitty officer… but, when you’re not all business. It’s different. You’re a soldier.” 

 Hinata sipped his ice-blended cream drink through a straw. “What’s your point?” 

 “Um.” Kageyama frowned. “I think… you’re coming to me, now, as an officer. A soldier. In disguise of… whatever the opposite is. An acquaintance.” 

 “A boyfriend?” 

 “Sure. Whatever.” 

 Hinata smiled at that, eyes growing soft. “You’re right.” Another tone took his voice as he said, “I need information, Kageyama.” 

 Kageyama lifted an eyebrow. 

 Hinata flicked his wrist and a small data chip shot out of his sleeve. He caught it between his pointer and middle finger. “Here.” He slid it across the table. 

 Kageyama eyed the data chip before taking it. “What is this, Commander?” 

 “It’s a bit of a double-whammy.” He threw his hands behind his head and rested them there. “There’s some info I need… I’ve tried every source I can think of, but you have a connection to the slums so.” He smirked. “You might be able to help. The double-whammy part is it’s the information I promised you.” 

 “The Mark III data.” 

 “Only your registry number and mine can open this file.” 

 “Hm.” Kageyama glanced at it. “I’m sure others could hack their way into the data.” 

 “Nope.” Hinata grinned wickedly. “Not even the Emperor or Oikawa could get into that mini little chip. It’s got a self-destruct feature.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. “You’re giving me a bomb.” 

 Hinata snorted, bursting into cackles. “No!” He remembered where he was and lowered his voice, though his grin didn’t disappear in the slightest. “The data’s just going to erase itself and corrupt the access codes if someone else tries. It’s not going to physically self-destruct. Kageyama, please… I don’t trust you with anything flashy.” 

 Kageyama scowled. 

 “I’m kidding.” He moved a hand forward and booped Kageyama’s nose, which made Kageyama blink several times. Hinata laughed. “You’re a good soldier. I trust you.” 

 Kageyama shook for a moment, and he was afraid he would snap the data chip so he put it down. He was blushing, he knew that; what he didn’t know, of course, was that his ears were bright red with his blush too – and Hinata found it adorable. Kageyama just sipped his drink and ignored Hinata’s existence. Until a question went through his mind, anyway. “What kind of information are you looking for?” 

 “Well…” Hinata gave the coffee shop a subtle glance-around. “Uh. General information, on the slums.” He rubbed his hands, a little nervously (Kageyama thought it was cute) and hummed. “Well…” 

 “How should I return the information?” 

 Hinata glanced back at him. “Next mission.” 

 “Ah.” Kageyama nodded. “When will that be?” 

 “I’m not sure…” Hinata bit his lip. “Usually they give a couple days’ notice… considering the group is a squad, they usually give more, but… Hmm.” Hinata seemed miffed. “We still have to get you set up with the tech guys, but they’ve been pretty busy… I hope we don’t have to move out before then…” 

 “We’re going to be…” Kageyama’s voice lowered, “Acting directly against Kara, aren’t we?” 

 Hinata’s eyes widened. “Not here,” was all he said. 

 Kageyama nodded silently. He knew, even if there was no one around, this place could be bugged. He doubted that, but he knew he couldn’t take chances at all. 

 Hinata reached out and took Kageyama’s drink (despite protest) and took a sip. “Mmm.” He put the cup down. “You’re a white chocolate mocha kind of guy? I never expected that.” 

 Kageyama scowled. “Why not? What’s wrong with liking a white mocha?” 

 “No I just… kinda assumed you would like dark, bitter things.” 

 “I like sweet… just not too sweet.” He looked at Hinata’s drink. “That is mostly just cream and sugar. That’s too sweet.” 

 Hinata smirked. “Yours is pretty sweet too.” He stuck his tongue out. 

 Kageyama’s scowl intensified. “How are you an officer?” 

 “Well, I—” His phone beeped and he took it out of his pocket. It beeped again, and again. He flicked it open and the hologram was his little sister’s face. “Natsu!” 

 “Come home!” she yelled, “Spend time with me! Now!” 

 “But!” Hinata pouted. “I’m on a date with my boyfriend…” 

 She gasped. “You have a boyfriend!? Can I meet him, Shouyou!? Can I!? Can I?” 

 “Sure!” 

 “Will he give me candies!?” 

 “Of course he will! Wanna see him now?” 

 “Yes! I wanna meet him, Shouyou! I wanna meet your boyfriend!” 

 Hinata swiped the hologram, making Natsu face Kageyama. 

 Natsu screamed. 

 Kageyama frowned. 

 The hologram flipped again and Natsu put her hands up to her chest. “Shouyou! No! He’s eww! He’s scary! He’s a monster, beat him up, hit him! Hit him! Give him a good whack, whack whack and a smack!” 

 “But.” Hinata gave a mock pout. “He’s my boyfriend.” 

 “No!” Natsu shook her head. “He looks bad! He smells bad! He sounds bad! He touches bad! He tastes bad! Just like caramel!” 

 “But.” Hinata gasped. “I love caramel!” 

 “No! It’s bad! It’s gross.” 

 “It’s delicious!” He glanced to Kageyama. “It’s the best, right?” 

 Kageyama’s scowl was darker than a black hole. “I… hate caramel.” 

 Hinata gawked. “What?” 

 “It’s gooey!” Kageyama shuddered. “And sticky!” 

 “And it’s gross,” Natsu yelled. 

 “It’s bad for you!” Kageyama yelled, “It’s basically just sugar!” 

 “It sticks to your teeth!” 

 “All in your mouth!” 

 “It’s the worst!” 

 “It’s the worst!” 

 Hinata pouted at Natsu. “You’re corrupting my boyfriend.” 

 “Good!” Natsu crossed her arms and nodded fiercely. “Now he has one good thing about him!” 

 Hinata burst out laughing, a laugh that filled the entire cafe with sunlight. “Oh my God, Natsu… Okay.” He laughed a little more. “I’ll see you soon, okay?” 

 “Okay!” 

 They hung up after that, and Hinata leaned forward. “I can’t believe you hate caramel.” 

 “I can’t believe your sister finally has one good thing about her.” 

 “Pffft.” Hinata dropped his head on the table as he laughed. “You two are the worst.” He looked up. “Kageyama… walk me home.” 

 Kageyama frowned, but he couldn’t entirely hide the smile on the corner of his lips as he said, “Okay.” 






 They finished their coffee along the way as they made their way to the elevator. The elevator connected the slums to the upper city, which was on elevated ground. It was a short ride up, about fifteen minutes. Kageyama heard in the old days it took people an hour to get up with their elevators, but the modern standard ones were fast. 

 They made their way through the upper city, and Kageyama looked around at all the people passing by. 

 Kageyama glanced at Hinata. “You live in a nice area.” 

 “Thanks.” Hinata hummed. “It’s not my place though, it’s my Aunt’s.” 

 “Your aunt?” 

 “Yeah. Well, uh. I guess we’ve got a bit of a weird family tree to tell you the truth.” He forced a smile. “My parents passed away, so Natsu and I live with my aunt. She and my older brother kind of raised us together. She’s… old, though. Kind of… She’s had a few, wounds in her lifetime. She, might not last much longer.” 

 Kageyama glanced away. “I’m… sorry to hear that.” 

 “Ah! Sorry!” Hinata glanced at him, biting his lower lip. “I didn’t mean to make it awkward.” 

 “It’s okay.” Kageyama stared at him. “I’m always awkward.” 

 Hinata snorted and threw his head back in a laugh. 

 Kageyama wasn’t sure why that made Hinata laugh, but he liked that laugh. Now that he thought about it, he wouldn’t mind it if Hinata laughed more often. 

 They walked towards a large house, about four floors, with a small gate around it. Kageyama knew it wasn’t particularly huge for an upper city house – but a house (as opposed to an apartment unit) was rare in itself in the upper city. Hinata beeped his phone against the gate, and the metal bars slid away. 

 Hinata glanced at him. “Wanna come in?” 

 “Um.” Kageyama felt a small pang, knowing this would be goodbye if he said no. “If it’s… okay. I guess.” 

 “Pfft.” Hinata smiled. “Come on.” He walked towards the front door, Kageyama following behind. When Hinata opened the front door he called out, “I’m home!” 

 “Finally!” came Natsu’s huffing voice. When she saw Kageyama behind him, she didn’t even look surprised, just annoyed. She ran back and yelled, “Kei can you kill the monster!” 

 Tsukishima walked in the front entrance as well from what seemed to be the kitchen. 

 Natsu pointed at Kageyama. 

 Tsukishima glanced at him, staring blankly. 

 Kageyama glanced at Tsukishima. 

 Hinata smiled. “Hi Kei!” 

 “Tsukishima,” he corrected. 

 “Kei!” Natsu yelled, “Up!” 

 Tsukishima lifted her up, letting her rest on his human arm. His other arm, robotic, made sure she was stable before it dropped to his side. “I made a pot of tea,” he told Hinata, “If you want some. It’s the spiced black tea I always make.” 

 “I want!” Hinata bounced a bit. “Kageyama!” He turned around. “Want?” 

 “Uh.” Kageyama blinked. “Sure.” 

 Tsukishima just nodded and took Natsu into the kitchen. 

 Kageyama watched him go and glanced to Hinata. “Does the Third Lord live here?” 

 “Third Lord?” Hinata laughed. “No ranks inside the home, Kags.” He grinned. “But nah! He doesn’t live here. He’s our neighbour, has been for years and years. He and his brother—that’s Akiteru, you met him kinda—they come by from time to time. It’s hard for my Auntie to take care of Natsu with her declining health, and I’m away on missions, so they come over and help lots. Come on.” He took Kageyama’s hand and pulled. 

 Kageyama let himself be pulled along, but froze when he laid eyes on a picture frame. 

 Hinata glanced at him curiously, then his gaze followed Kageyama’s line of sight. “Ah.” 

 The picture frame. 

 Hinata smiled as he looked at it as well. 

 “Is…” Kageyama glanced to Hinata. “That’s, um?” 

 “Yep. Previous Second Lord,” Hinata whispered with pride, “Koushi Sugawara.” 

 The picture was of Suga giving Hinata, who was fifteen at the time, a piggyback ride. 

 Kageyama had so many questions, but he remained silent. 

 Hinata seemed to appreciate that as he pulled them into the kitchen. Hinata sat Kageyama down on the table, across Tsukishima, diagonal of Natsu, and began pouring the tea. Natsu’s cup was mostly milk, with just a bit of tea. 

 Kageyama’s gaze fell on Tsukishima. 

 Tsukishima was sitting by himself, disinterested; sort of. He sipped his tea and hummed a little. 

 Natsu on the other hand was glaring at Kageyama. “Shouyou,” she whined. “You haven’t kissed him have you?” 

 Tsukishima looked over, but it was obvious he still wasn’t really interested. 

 “Well.” Hinata took his seat. “Maybe!” 

 “Gross!” Natsu pouted. “You should take a shower, Shouyou. You’ll get cooties. Boys have cooties!” 

 “But Natsu – I’m a boy!” 

 “But you take a shower every day!” 

 “Hey!” Kageyama frowned. “I shower!” 

 “It’s true,” Hinata added. “He just finished taking a shower when I saw him.” 

 Tsukishima snorted. 

 Hinata gave him a mock pout. “Not like that.” 

 “Well!” Natsu cut in, “Just because he showers once doesn’t mean he’s okay.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “I shower every day.” 

 “Yeah but you shower quickly—I bet you don’t scrub under your arms or wash behind your ears!” 

 “I do!” 

 “Well.” Hinata leaned over and nuzzled his cheek. “He seems clean to me.” 

 Kageyama blushed and looked away. “Of course I wash behind my ears.” 

 Hinata kissed his cheek. “He tastes clean too!” 

 Kageyama’s cheeks burned. 

 “Gross,” Tsukishima murmured. 

 “Gross!” Natsu repeated. She then looked at Tsukishima for approval. 

 Tsukki gave her a nod. 

 Natsu grinned and drank from her cup, holding it with two hands. 

 Hinata sat back in his chair, arm over Kageyama’s shoulders. “Where’s Auntie?” 

 “Mm.” Tsukishima grabbed his mug. “Sleeping.” 

 “Yep.” Natsu nodded twice. “We went on a long walk together, but she said she was tired when we got home.” 

 “Ah.” Hinata smiled. “That’s good. She got some exercise and she’s getting some rest.” 

 Kageyama felt a little awkward that there was a sleeping woman in the house somewhere and he didn’t know where, but he figured if he wasn’t awkward about this he’d be awkward about something else. He sipped his drink to give him something to do and he paused for a moment. “This tea… is really good. It’s, spiced?” 

 “Mm.” Tsukishima’s eyes fell on him. “Cardamom, cloves, ginger, peppercorn… a bit of cinnamon, not too much because Hinata’s allergic. But I still put some, because I don’t care.” 

 Hinata grinned. “It only makes my throat a little itchy!” 

 Natsu smiled. “The tea is so good! It’s Kei’s specialty!” 

 Kageyama half-expected Tsukishima to correct her with his last name, but he didn’t. 

 “I guess you could say,” Hinata paused for dramatic effect, “It’s his special-tea.” 

 Tsukishima glanced at him. “Get out.” 

 “Kei, this is my house!” 

 “Get out.” 







 Kageyama went home; and, later that night, he slipped the data chip into his laptop. He entered his registration number, and confirmed it was him with his phone and a face-scan. What he saw… made his eyes widen. 



Kageyama’s earlier assumption that their next move was against Kara was not just a lucky guess. It wasn’t cunning logic, either. Truthfully, anyone in his situation would have known. Hinata had come to the slums to gather information—which is the biggest clue that Hinata would be moving against Kara next. Kara and the slums went hand-in-hand, and for someone who was born and raised there… It would’ve been impossible for Kageyama not to have a suspicion. 

 While Kageyama did indeed spend most of his time in the upper city – in the military ward which was the centre of the capital – he often went to the slums on his time off. He had grown up around the everyday talk of rebellion and hatred, hatred for the upper class. The feud of Shira was pretty prototypical. The lower class hated the upper class; the upper class hated the lower class. These sentiments, however, were washed away under war. 

 In war, everyone gave. 

 In war, everyone had to step back from their luxuries. The lower class and upper class having enough time to hate each other was a luxury, after all. There had been only few instances of actual violence over the past thirty years; but, even so, the talk was every day. It was all talk, as far as Kageyama was concerned. All talk… all dry wood, just lying there… waiting… waiting for a spark. 

 Kara – was that spark. 

 Sure there were gangs and thugs in the lower city – the same way there were mafias and organised crimes in the upper city. But the hate and resentment was stronger with the have nots. If you wanted to start something, you would go to the slums. That much was obvious. 

 Hinata’s datafile had, at first, seemed to be a questionnaire. The questions eventually became more open ended with some like “Where would a good Kara outpost be in the slums?”, “Would the people in the slums have access to weaponry? Which ones?” Kageyama answered them all to the best of his abilities, leaving some blank when he honestly couldn’t even guess. When he was done, the data was encrypted and locked. He frowned, thinking that the datafile was complete and yet he hadn’t even gotten his hint yet. 

 Then something appeared on his screen. 

 There are two hints I’m going to give you, Kags. ;) 

    1. The Mark IIs you’re going to be given are not the standard Mark IIs. If you trust your suit, that’ll help you out in getting your Mark III. 

    2. I told you once, that there’s a special something that increases the chance that someone connects to the Mark III. I won’t tell you what it is, Tiger, but you already have it.
 






 Kageyama had been on guard shift when he got the beep. Shira’s military schedule system noted an update for him. As a Private, he technically chose his own times. Not often did he actually get assignments without notice. He glanced at it and his eyes widened. 

Meet in Hangar 5 at 15:00. -Mark III Program 

 Three hours later, he made his way there. Kunimi had noticed him a few steps ahead and had run to catch up to walk with him. They exchanged a few short words, but Kageyama wasn’t too interested about that. “It was sudden. I’m lucky my guard duty ended at fourteen-hundred hours.” 

 Kunimi glanced at him. “I should’ve been doing guard duty now, but I got a notification they got someone to replace me.” 

 Kageyama raised an eyebrow at that, though he wasn’t entirely surprised. 

 They made their way to the fifth hanger, where a lot of people he didn’t know were running around with wires. He didn’t know any of them, and by their loose clothing he assumed they weren’t soldiers. The soldiers, however, seemed to stand all together waiting. They noticed Kindaichi and walked towards him together. 

 “Hey,” he said with a smile. 

 “Hey,” Kunimi returned. 

 Kageyama glanced at the people dealing with wires. Engineers? Technicians. 

 Kunimi looked around. “Well, it’s everyone from our program… or, uh. We’re missing a few.” 

 Kindaichi raised his head. “Oh, there’s Goshiki.” 

 Goshiki entered the hangar and instantly noted them. Kindaichi waved him over and he smiled, and began walking towards them. He didn’t get a chance to say hello before they heard two sudden claps. 

 “Alright.” Hinata seemed brighter than usual as he took center stage on their attention. “So. Some people have decided to leave the Mark III program. That cleaved us to the top ten, almost. Everyone’s here.” 

 Kageyama glanced around. He counted eleven privates, not ten, but still. It was half of what they’d started with. He let that brim his confidence for a moment. 

 “So.” Hinata pointed behind him and a black box opened, revealing a line of mechanical gear that looked loosely like body armour. He could see the wonders and questions in their eyes. He only grinned. 

 “Are…” Kindaichi was the first to speak, “Are those…?” 

 “Yep. Your Mark IIs.” He smirked. “If your body accepts the suit, and the suit accepts your body… each of you, starting from today, will have the power of a hundred soldiers in your veins.” He let that sink in until they weren’t so shell-shocked. “Now these Mark IIs are modified for the Mark III program. If you survive the next mission, they will be changed back into regular Mark IIs. Each of you will be keeping your Mark suit… with one exception.” They all stiffened. Good. Hinata smiled. He liked that. “If one of you gets fully accepted by the modified Mark II… you’ll be getting a Mark III instead.” 

 Kageyama stiffened, sucking in a quick breath. His whole body was electric, vibrating. Happy. 

 Hinata didn’t let his eyes linger on Kageyama’s reaction, even if it was the most hopeful… and maybe it should be. His chance of success was ten times higher than the other soldiers. 

 “Commander,” came one of the men in black formal clothes. “We’ll be ready to connect your squad to the suits in fifteen minutes.” 

 “Alright.” Hinata nodded at him and turned back to the group. “Heard that? In fifteen minutes you’ll get hooked up to your new power suits. The tech guys are going to assist you guys with diagnostics and troubleshooting. You’ve got fifteen minutes, so… now’s probably a good time to check your emails or go to the bathroom. You can also read up on the Mark II manual if you want, but…” Hinata laughed. “You’ve all already done that, haven’t you?” 

 The smiles they gave signified yes: They probably all had it memorised. 

 Hinata glanced back to the tech team, then to his squad again. “Alright. Something’s holding up the tech team, but don’t take it out against them. These people are way too overworked. Be nice to ‘em, yeah?” 






Kageyama had a hard time containing his excitement. It wasn’t just Hinata or his friends who noticed. Every member saw how he was practically vibrating. To him, this was a step closer to his goal. Even if he didn’t get into the Mark III – a Mark II was still something that would change who he was on the battlefield. Even a Mark II would take him closer to his goal… and, honestly, I think it’s fair to say that this moment was his first step. 

 His first step closer to his goal. 

 Kageyama was ready… Kageyama was ready to finally make progress on his impossible dream, to start his story, to start the very reason that documenting this tale has importance. This wasn’t just any other war – this was the one that changed everything. It was Kageyama, who changed everything.
 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 6: Act 1, Part XI 



Unlike Hinata’s Mark III suit, which was a full-body armour, the Mark II’s only had minimal plates on the upper and lower regions. Electronic fibres connected the suit down the spinal column. The main parts of the power suit’s threads sat near joints. The upper chest was covered, but the midriff was exposed (though covered by their undershirts). Their hips were braced to absorb shock, as were their knees. There was also an alloy bar that glowed purple that moved down their outer thighs, connecting their hips and knees. 

 They were heavy, was the first thing Kageyama noted – but not as heavy as he expected. 

 As the soldiers walked around in them, they noticed the suit seemed to be taking the strain off their body, so much so that they could probably walk forever and never feel tired. The tech team worked with them, helping fit the suits to their measurements. The suit had to be tight in certain areas, and loose in others. Kageyama understood why. Each action was assisted by the suit. He assumed that this allowed soldiers to exert more force in each movement. 

 Hinata watched from above as they all worked it out, noticing that there was no one who was being rejected by the suits. 

 It was always heartbreaking to find out someone was rejected for no explainable reason. 

 The squad spend hours trying out the new features. Anti-recoil, strain absorption, stasis commands, muscle cooling—the list went on. But there was one thing in particular that caught Hinata’s eye…
 



 Kageyama kept staring at his right hand. He had been doing so for a while now. He had been stealing glimpses of it from time to time but now that he was assigned to rest until someone could tighten his shoulder pads, he took the time to analyse the glove he’d been wearing. 

 “Private?” 

 “Commander,” Kageyama replied without looking. He did, eventually, glance towards Hinata. 

 Hinata eyed Kageyama’s right hand, smiling. “Something up, buttercup?” 

 “Why does… this hand. Feel different than…” He lifted his left hand and stared at it. “This hand?” He glanced to Hinata again. “Is this a sign of being rejected? Should I have it checked out?” 

 “Nah.” Hinata grinned wide, putting his hands on his hips. “That’s normal for some people. Don’t worry about it, ne?” 

 Kageyama didn’t look so convinced. 






 “Alright!” Hinata clasped his hands together. They were in a briefing room now. “You’ve had your suits for about two or three days now. This is a good time for us to go over our next mission.” He waved his hand and a three-dimensional map appeared. He tapped a holographic button and the map zoomed in on an area to the east. “So.” He pointed at what looked like a ruined building. “Kara – the rebel force – has yet to be publicly acknowledged by Shira. We’re hoping to end this before that becomes a necessity. Kara is… a bit tricky, though.” 

 The soldiers listened. 

 “When it comes to force – Shira blows everyone out the water. No matter what. When it comes to complications and tactics, Aoba has that title. But if Shira is strength, and Aoba is intellect… then Kara is guile. Stealth, cunning, being sly… They’re a weaker force, and they know that. They can’t compete with us, not on our terms, so they find alternative ways.” He glanced around the room. “What we have figured out is that they do have some kind of command centre—a centre of operations, somewhere. We have no fucking clue where, but…” 

 “Take that out,” Kunimi murmured, “And Kara crumbles.” 

 “Mmm.” Hinata nodded with a smile. “Of course, they know that too. They’re not going to let us know where their command centre is. I mean… Shira’s is obviously in the capital of Shira. Aoba’s is in Aoba. But Kara… they gotta keep that hidden, or one air raid and they’re gone. We don’t know where it is, but we’re looking for it. Shira has been monitoring data transfers, so we have evidence that all their data is going to and from a central point… we just can’t locate where that is.” 

 Kindaichi frowned. 

 “So.” Hinata stared at the map. “That kind of brings us to this mission.” He looked up again. “Shira’s elite intelligence force has been dispatched to find that base, and we are going to be assisting them. We’re going to be a commando force that will assault one of their data centres. One of their outposts. This outpost.” He pointed at the building. “Our main job is to start shit, blow stuff up, and make it look like we’re wild and destructive. While we rustle their jimmies, the intelligence team is going to be watching data lines, tracking data movements via satellites.” 

 “Hm.” Kunimi looked up from the map to Hinata. “So, Commander. If I understand this right: This assault is going to help reveal their main base, or at least other outposts.” 

 “Exactly.” Hinata nodded. “We’ll start shit and go crazy, but we’re not going to be blowing up the outpost until the intelligence team gives us the go ahead. That’s the main overview right now. As we speak, we have spy agents infiltrating this base and getting us further details and blueprints of the building in question. I want all of you on standby, ready to depart at any moment. It could be in the middle of the night, so keep your weapons stocked, your stuff ready to go, and your new suits well-polished.” 

 Kageyama smirked. 

 Hinata couldn’t help but smirk back. 






 “Hinata.” 

 Hinata turned; he was just barely walking out of the debrief room when that voice made him bristle a bit. There was something about that tone he couldn’t say he particularly liked. It wasn’t good news. “Kei.” 

 “Tsukishima,” the Third Lord corrected. He adjusted his glasses. He walked closer, one footstep louder than the other. “My brother glanced at one of the reports that wasn’t submitted yet, but… I have some information that you will most likely want.” 

 “Oh?” Hinata tensed. “What’s that?” 

 “Ryuunosuke Tanaka,” Tsukishima murmured, “Is at the outpost you’re targeting for your next mission.” 

 Hinata’s mouth snapped shut; it dried, dying. 

 “Further.” Tsukishima glanced. “The miasma issue in Metropolis… Remember how I told you they’re sending you as soon as you’re done with the Mark III group?” 

 “Yeah?” 

 “It’ll have to be done after this mission. Immediately.” He opened his phone and sent a datafile. “My brother’s research cameras picked these up… Kara is sending robotics into the city.” 

 “I already know this,” Hinata pointed out. “They have alloys that are able to withstand the miasma, probably made of the same stuff as parts of my suit. .” 

 “Look at the design.” 

 Hinata pulled out his phone, grumbling. When he flipped it open, his eyes widened. “This…” 

 Tsukishima nodded. “This can only be Kinoshita’s.” 

 Hinata stared at his phone, processing. 

 “So for Kara, you’ll be fighting Ryuunosuke and Saeko on one front,” Tsukishima murmured, “Ennoshita and Kinoshita on the other… Are you sure you can handle this, Hinata?” 

 “I told you.” Hinata’s eyes snapped up. “I won’t stop at anything for Shira.” His eyes softened, only for a moment. “Thank you, though, for the uh… concern.” 

 Tsukishima nodded. 

 “And.” Hinata bit his lip. “And you? What about you? Can you fight them?” 

 “Hm.” Tsukishima glanced away. “I got along with Ennoshita, but we never spoke much. I never got to know Kinoshita. He did create my robotic eye… so I am thankful for his designs, but I don’t know him personally. As for Ryuunosuke… he was annoying.” He glanced to Hinata. “I’ll do what I have to with them. If… If I have to fight Saeko, I admit I might hesitate, but I might not. She was… a sister to me on one hand, but on the other hand she left my brother without a single explanation. He still wears their engagement ring. But. The truth of it is I know she won’t hesitate when it comes to killing me… so…” 

 Hinata’s eyes softened. 

 Tsuksihima glanced up. “It’s best I prepare myself, mentally. I’ve chosen which path I’m walking.” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata nodded firmly. “Me too. I stand with Shira.” 

 Tsukishima nodded. He glanced over to where some of Hinata’s squad were chatting. “What do you think of the Mark III program so far? Another bust?” 

 “No, I uh…” Hinata smiled; an honest, simple smile. Not a fake one. He glanced the way Tsukishima was looking. “We might have a lucky winner.” 

 Tsukishima raised an eyebrow. 

 “Kageyama detected the chip inside his right hand.” 

 “The Mark III chip?” 

 “Mhm!” 

 Tsukishima’s robotic eye adjusted its lens and flickered a red; he activated his thermal scans. He looked at his own hand. “I still can’t detect it. Not a trace of it. I would have thought it wasn’t there if I hadn’t seen it being taken out and put back in.” 

 “Yeah!” Hinata nodded. “And that’s pretty crazy because you—” 

 “I know,” Tsukishima hissed. “You don’t have to say it again and again!” 

 Hinata blinked. 

 Tsukishima glanced away. He murmured, “Sorry…” 

 “It’s okay.” Hinata forced a smile. “It’s a sour spot, I shouldn’t have…” 

 Tsukishima nodded. He began walking away, one foot making louder footsteps than the— 

 “Oh!” Hinata perked up. “Yamaguchi was looking for you!” 

 “Tadashi?” Tsukishima glanced over his shoulder, giving a light nod. 






But all this careful planning, all these test runs and projections… all these tactics were for nothing. Unbeknownst to them all, Oikawa had been planning a large scale advance. Oikawa was embarking on the first phase of a plan that would make Aoba into the fortress that it has gained its merit and name for. This would physically change the face of the planet, and change war – change everything. 

 Oikawa had already gleaned the information he needed… Oikawa had already gleaned Nekomata’s darkest secret. 

 Kenma. 

 Looking back, it might be easy to wonder why Oikawa and Kageyama both performed the actions they did so close together – why they sought to redefine war one after another. One could say timing, one could say chance… but truth was Kageyama had (despite being a Shira loyalist) always admired Oikawa. 

 Kageyama was a hungry moth, and Oikawa’s gambit was what set the whole world aflame. 

 The lands of Shira are on the southern tip of the north most continent. To the east is a great curve, a beachline, where the Fuku Circle run by Bokuto and Akaashi mediate the surrounding lands. Smaller countries, like Prince Terushima’s, or those led by their constitutional monarchs, Prince Daishou or Prince Shibayama, for example, also existed along this curve. 

 To the north, however – far, far north, where the snow is lidden and runs rampant – lay the citystate of Aoba. Aoba was reconstructed, actually, after Oikawa took throne. The damages Shira had made to the city of Aoba was an opportunity to Oikawa. 

 So Oikawa built the massive city on a grid system. The city itself was a perfect diamond. The southern tip of Aoba – the side that faced Shira – was their military quarter. 

 Fast forward to the fictive present, Aoba had launched their pre-emptive strike, taking many of Shira’s northern outposts in one fell swoop. Shira’s Main Command fell silent as the dread hit them at once. But they recovered quickly; Daichi did not even bother to consult the Emperor – he launched his counterattack and the whole city became a commotion of flurried movements at once. 

 Now, this part is actually by chance: This all happened just before Hinata’s group was ready to board.
 






 The red alarms flashing through the entire Emperial Palace was, by far, one of the most traumatising thing Kageyama had ever seen. He glanced to Goshiki, who seemed equally as stunned. No one was telling them why all of this was going on, except that everyone had gotten an order to move against Aoba – everyone except them. 

 Hinata ignored the blaring alarms and began walking towards them. “My squad! Attention!” 

 They saluted. 

 “At ease!” 

 They relaxed. 

 “We’re not joining the war up north,” Hinata explained simply. He could see their shock. He didn’t care for it, but they looked so lost he couldn’t help but say more than he needed to: “Kara might see this as a chance to attack us, but they’re not dumb and they’re not that fast. They’re going to be watching, watching to see how many aircrafts are heading north, and from which outposts we’re going to be bolstering our forces. While they’ve got their heads down, planning, that is our moment of opportunity.” 

 “And,” Kunimi said, before he realised he was speaking out of turn. He swallowed hard, but Hinata’s look told him to keep going. “If our mission is to help Shira monitor the data transfers, this is exactly the best time – because Kara’s higher ups are probably all communicating right now to update each other on what’s happening here.” 

 “Exactly, Private.” Hinata nodded firmly. “They probably don’t think they’re being monitored at all, is our guess. So – we’re going to use Aoba’s sweeping strike in our favour to take out Kara. Got it?” 

 “Yes Sir!” 

 “Good.” Hinata’s eyes twitched and he glanced upwards. “Stay here.” His boots seemed to tighten and he jumped – soaring high and catching the railing of a walkway high above them. 

 Kindaichi whistled. “I wish I could do that… Wait, we have suits now! Can we do that?” 

 “No.” Kageyama glanced up at Hinata. “We don’t have electro-hydrodynamics installed. And our suits aren’t attached to our feet or boots, just knees and thighs.” 

 “Ah.” Kindaichi pouted. “Well…” 

 “Is that,” murmured Kunimi to them, “The Second Lord?” 

 Goshiki blinked. “It is!” 

 Kageyama nodded. He had never taken his eyes off Hinata, and he had seen Iwaizumi’s approach. The two of them seemed to be exchanging words, but it didn’t seem to be anything ground-breaking. Not that he knew. He couldn’t hear it, of course, but he was good at judging Hinata’s reactions. Sort of. 

 Hinata gave Iwaizumi a light punch to his shoulder before he jumped off the railing; a puff of air slowed his descent and he landed on one knee, suit absorbing the shock with ease. He got up and walked towards his squad. “They’re sending out the Datekou.” 

 “The Datekou?” a soldier asked, “Then this must be serious!” 

 “Eh.” Hinata shrugged. “It’s not that big of a surprise, but… Listen up! We’re being delayed. When the goliath mecha, Datekou, launches from Hanger Five, that means Hanger Four and Six must be inactive. It’s a heavy, hulking thing, a powerhouse. We’re in Hanger Six right now, so that’s the delay.” 

 “Um!” Goshiki spoke up, “Question, Sir?” 

 “What’s up?” 

 “It’s just um… you’re in the Mark III, being sent to Kara… the Datekou to Aoba… These are the two cornerstones of Shira’s military might. Wouldn’t that leave… the capital, unprotected?” 

 “Ha.” Hinata smirked. “Private, you said it yourself. The Mark III is one of our cornerstones. Did you forget your favourite little Emperor has one too?” 

 “A-Ah!” Goshiki blushed, fumbling his hands together. “R-Right! Forgive me, Sir!” 

 “Don’t think because Ushijima’s a pretty boy that he’s not going down without one hell of a fight.” 

 “I wasn’t thinking that at all, Sir! Honest! Such a thought would be a disgrace, it would—” 

 Kindaichi put a hand on his shoulder. 

 Hinata grinned. “With Aoba’s main force engaged with the Datekou, they can’t really attack the capital. Kara doesn’t have the firepower to take on a Mark III.” 

 Hinata gave them all orders to double-check supplies and make sure the cargo they needed was nearby. They broke apart, began working on their tasks. All except one. 

 All except Kageyama. 

 “Private,” Hinata said as he glanced over to Kageyama. “You know, people are going to start thinking I’m giving you special favours if you’re not working like the rest of them.” 

 “I have a question.” 

 “You didn’t reply to what I said at all.” 

 “I still have a question, Commander.” 

 Hinata grinned wide. 

 His smile was like sunlight, Kageyama thought. The fact he thought such a stupid thought when their entire country was going to war didn’t escape him, but he figured he wouldn’t have the time for those kinds of thoughts later. Instead, he stood firm and lowered his voice, “You mentioned that Aoba doesn’t have enough firepower to take out a Mark III if their main force is engaged with the Datekou.” 

 “Yep.” Hinata’s smile fell, eyes narrowed, like a predator annoyed by the fact he might be someone’s prey. 

 “But.” Kageyama stared for a long moment. “Aoba does have a Mark III… it’s only a prototype, but—” 

 Hinata shook his head. “If that’s what you’re busy bothering yourself about, then get back to work Private.” 

 “Commander.” 

 “Kageyama,” Hinata lowered his voice warningly, though his voice was soft. He chewed his lip, eyes darting to the side as he was probably talking to that voice. He glanced back to Kageyama and sighed. “Look. This is my fault for giving you bits and pieces of information you’re not supposed to know… but what they stole was a preliminary version. Compared to mine or the Emperor’s it’s not that big of a deal. It’s missing the main component.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “The voice?” 

 Hinata tensed a little. “Well. It might have that. We’re not sure. But from a strategic point of view… taking out Ushijima or the capital isn’t going to end the war. The Fuku Circle, which has always been our ally, but hasn’t engaged combat, will work against Aoba. With the Datekou and their assistance, they’re done for. And.” Hinata gave a wry smile. “Kara is a resistance force that opposes not Shira…” 

 “But the Emperor.” 

 “Right.” Hinata nodded. “Kara is just a rebel force, a public uprising. Political drama, with guns. Aoba and Shira have had many during this long war. Iwaizumi and I came to the same conclusion: If Aoba strikes Ushijima, then Kara will rejoin Shira. It will makes us stronger. If Aoba wanted to use Kara to their advantage—” 

 “They would destroy the goliath mecha,” Kageyama realised. “Oikawa would aim to destroy Iwaizumi—the Datekou.” 

 “Losing the Datekou would be a blow to soldier morale that we would never come out of. Losing our Second Lord would be a blow to our people – as far as the public knows, we lost our last one without a single trace.” 

 “Your brother…” Kageyama’s eyes drifted off. Sugawara Koushi, the name never muttered, did not leave his lips. “So if we lose another Second Lord…” 

 “There are no Third Lord candidates ready for the Second Lord position,” Hinata pointed out. “Well.” He grinned. “That might change.” 

 Kageyama smiled at that. “You’re in line for promotion.” 

 “Yep.” Hinata grinned. “Sovereignty rank.” 

 “Good,” Kageyama said without thinking about it. 

 Hinata tilted his head, just a little. 

 “I would be bored if my commanding officer was comfortable with being just a Commander.” 

 Hinata gawked. “Says the Private!” 

 “I’ll ascend,” Kageyama promised. “You remember what I said, right? In that cave?” 

 Hinata grinned. “We’ll find a way, we’ll end this war. Together.” He lowered his voice again, “Pretty romantic, soldier.” 

 “As romantic as soldiers get.” Kageyama opened his mouth to say more— 

 The hanger began to shake as though an earthquake were running right underneath them. 

 All eyes moved to the side, where – in Hanger Five – the goliath mecha came to life. It’s big, hulking form, was humanoid in shape – but with thick limbs, thin joints, and a heavy circular core. The glass cockpit was lit Shira’s purple and Iwaizumi sat in his seat as if it was his throne. The goliath began to move. 

 Kageyama’s jaw dropped. 

 Its form almost touched the ceiling; even then, Kageyama realised, it must have been crouching to get through the doors. When it was free its spine straighten and it took its full height. 

 Kageyama tried to think of something to compare its height to—cathedrals, mountains, monuments—it was a monument, a monument of war. Kageyama compared it to a building in the distance, and swore it probably went up forty or fifty floors. Yet it walked fluidly down the street that led to Shira’s west gate. 

 Suddenly, Kageyama realised why that street was so wide. 

 Hinata clapped his hands twice. 

 Kageyama snapped back to reality. 

 “Alright! Hajime’s off!” Hinata glanced at all of them. “Let’s get these supplies loaded up! We’ve got lower priority than the soldiers heading to Aoba, so it might be a while before we lift off – but I want us ready to go the very second we’re clear. Got it?” 

 They chorused, “Yes Sir!” 






 This aircraft had several rows of three back to back on either side of the aisle. Kageyama thought it was stupid because they were only twelve people with the commander, and there were at least double the amount of seats. Kindaichi sat with Kunimi. Goshiki, Kageyama realised, was probably going to sit alone since he didn’t seem to be closely acquainted with anyone else in their squad. Kageyama sat on the other side of the aisle from Kindaichi and Kunimi, not at all surprised when Goshiki gave him a questioning look before taking the seat next to Kindaichi. 

 Hinata boarded last and sat next to Kageyama. 

 Kageyama tried to fake a frown, but he wasn’t that mad about it. 

 “Wanna call Natsu?” 

 “No.” Kageyama frowned. Now he was mad about it. 

 “Too bad.” Hinata eased himself in his seat, put on his seat belt, and then began dialing on his datapad. 

 Kageyama sighed. “She doesn’t like me.” 

 “Well.” Hinata smiled. “Not many people do.” 

 Kageyama shot him a hurt look. 

 Hinata looked him in the eye. “I do, though.” 

 Kageyama felt his fingers twitch and he looked away. 

 Hinata laughed. 

 A squeaky voice yelled, “Shouyou!” then a quieter, “And Monster.” 

 “Hi Natsu!” Hinata turned towards the screen and his eyes crinkled with how honest his smile was. “You didn’t scream this time.” 

 “Yeah… He’s okay I guess.” Natsu shrugged, arms crossed. “I don’t like him, though. He’s a bad boyfriend.” 

 Hinata laughed at that, but he sobered up. “I’m heading off soon, okay?” 

 “No…” Natsu’s lips wibbled. “When will you be back?” 

 “I don’t know yet, but not super long! Probably later today, or tomorrow. Depends. But—be good to Auntie for me, okay?” 

 “Okay…” 

 “And…” Hinata smiled again (it was fake this time, Kageyama noticed; forced). “If Auntie tells me you’re super good, I’ll buy you a present when I get back, okay?” 

 Natsu’s eyes lit up. “Really?” 

 “Yep!” 

 Kageyama noticed Hinata’s smile was real again. 

 The aircraft gave a soft beep above them. 

 “Ah.” Hinata looked up. “I gotta go, Natsu. We’re taking off soon. You be good okay?” 

 “Come back soon!” 

 “I will!” 

 “And if anyone wants to shoot you, you can throw your boyfriend between you and the bullet!” 

 Kageyama shot her a glare. 

 Natsu just giggled. 

 Oh. Kageyama smiled a little. He was being teased. 

 Hinata just said, “Will do!” He gave a little salute. 

 Natsu did the same. 

 Then the call ended. 

 Hinata’s smile faded and he stared at the blank screen, fingers clasped around the sides. 

 Kageyama looked at him for a long moment then glanced away. “It’s hard, leaving her.” 

 “Yeah,” Hinata whispered. “I have this fear that I’ll die out there… and that she’ll have to live without me.” 

 “Like you had to live without Sugawara?” 

 Hinata stiffened at that. “Shut up.” 

 Kageyama kept his eyes averted. “I’m, um. Sorry.” 

 “No it’s.” Hinata’s eyes softened and he closed them. “That’s exactly what it is. I just… don’t want to admit it.” 

 Kageyama warred with himself over whether he wanted to look at Hinata again, but he glanced over one more time. “Where did he go?” 

 Hinata opened his eyes. “What?” He glanced up. 

 “Um. Koushi Sugawara… If he died in battle, Shira would tell us. We would have mourned… but… he just, disappeared one day.” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata nodded. He looked forward and rolled his shoulders. “He was Second Lord, loved by all, until one day the public noted he was missing from official duties and speeches, and within a month he was replaced by Second Lord Iwaizumi Hajime. He disappeared. That’s what they all say.” 

 Kageyama bit the inside of his cheek. “I’m… um. Sorry. I’m bringing up… difficult things for you.” 

 “It’s fine.” 

 “It doesn’t look like its fine.” 

 “It’s fine,” Hinata admitted, “It’s not good, but it’s fine. Forget it. Drop it.” Hinata’s eyes squished closed. “He’s just… away… far away, on a mission. For Shira… A mission that is far more important than anything I’ve ever done in my life.”

 Kageyama said nothing at that. 

 Their flight was finally cleared for take-off. 






 The flight was going east; Kageyama could see from his window, though, the armada of forces that were going north. Aircrafts, tanks, mechas, and other mobile suits all were brimmed with at least one stripe of purple on their usually black metal frame. Kageyama took a long moment to wonder if they would be like that plateau – razed in fire, never to be the same again, never to exist again. He shook that thought from his mind. He knew if he kept wondering that, he’d wonder about himself too. 

 He didn’t want to go there. 

 “What the hell?” Hinata murmured to himself. 

 Kageyama glanced over. 

 Hinata had his datapad about an inch from his face, looking at graphs of something Kageyama couldn’t see because Hinata’s face was practically inside his datapad. 

 “That’s bad for your eyes.” 

 Hinata moved the datapad away and shot him a mock glare. 

 Kageyama didn’t know why the corners of his lips tugged into a smile. 

 Hinata smiled as well, though he was trying to suppress it. When his eyes moved back to his datapad, the smile fell though. 

 Kageyama glanced over. “Resources?” 

 “Mmmm.” Hinata nodded. “We’ve got some data that’s regarding, err. Aoba’s imports. This data is technically not classified, but… Look.” He swiped the screen to a simpler graph; it had less data, but more bars on the graph. “They’ve imported fossil fuels, hydro energy pylons, electroids, atomia, nitrogen, caliber crystals, diamgen… the list just goes on and on. It makes no sense. They’re going to go bankrupt.” 

 “They’re stocking up?” 

 “It’s the only possibility but.” Hinata frowned. “They don’t have enough means to use all of this… It’s like they’re preparing for a year-long war or something. It doesn’t add up with the assaults they’re sending. Look.” He swiped the screen diagonally and it was replaced by video camera footage and satellite imagery of the battle between ships, tanks, and mechas. 

 “This is live?” 

 “This one is,” he pointed at one of the panels. “The others are replays. Look at their numbers… They have a lot of mechas, yeah, but not enough for all of this.” 

 “It’s not…” Kageyama frowned. “Some kind of economic strike is it?” 

 “Well, that’s what we assume.” Hinata sighed. “Because Oikawa bought so much – discounted, since it was such a bulk – the prices to get what’s left have skyrocketed. Supply and demand. It’s possible they’re trying to spike prices, but that’s gotta be part of a larger scale plan than this because seriously… that’s not even going to hurt our gold reserves. But. It’s possible they’re going to do something else to couple with this, or maybe they’re limiting resources.” 

 “Or planning an attack.” 

 Hinata’s eyes cut sharp sidelong at Kageyama. “Yeah?” 

 Kageyama tensed, lips going tight. 

 “I’m thinking the same thing,” he admitted. “But I can’t figure it out. I want to hear your perspective, Private. You might be able to see something I don’t.” 

 “The diamgen,” Kageyama explained. “In the plateau… they were after it, Commander. Diamgen… I assume… has a lot of uses, but from what I understand… if Aoba or Shira were to get even a piece of diamgen, it would be going straight to the military force.” 

 “Right.” Hinata nodded. He glanced back to the screen. “Something’s coming, Kageyama.” 

 “Something’s happening now?” Kageyama rubbed his jaw. “This battle… or later?” 

 “Not yet.” Hinata pursed his lips. “Oikawa never reveals his climax before the second act. He likes that I think… It gives us time to think, to work against him, to predict… I think he likes that – he likes the fact we spend all our time and energy to figure out his grand scheme, and then fail. Often, it’s because we’ve got our heads down or working off some hunch, that we deliver ourselves right into his hand.” 

 Kageyama felt his hands stiffen. “Have you ever met him?” 

 “Oikawa?” Hinata blinked. He looked up at Kageyama, eyes dark. His face was calm, impassive. The face of a killer. “He wouldn’t be alive if I did.” 

 Kageyama’s breathing stopped, as if Hinata’s look was a hand tightening around his throat. 

 It was almost as if he could hear Hinata’s voice in his mind, read his thoughts: 

He took my brother from me. 

 Kageyama felt his mind rattle. 

 No. 

 He had not imagined that. 

 He heard Hinata’s— 

 Hinata’s gaze fell back on the screen. He looked at the graphs again. “But, we can’t get to Aoba unless we deal with this Kara mission first. The sooner we finish this, the sooner I can assist the Aoba warfront. I have a bad feeling about this.” 

 “I…” Kageyama frowned, not understanding how to word his thoughts, but he already began his sentence. “I think you’re… really untrustworthy as a person, Hinata.” 

 “Eh?” 

 “But… I trust you, as a Commander.” 

 “Aww.” Hinata’s whole expression softened. “I think that’s the first time you used my name.” Was it? Kageyama honestly didn’t know. Hinata just shoved his elbow. “Thanks for the attempt at a compliment, dickbag.” 

 Kageyama snorted. 

 Hinata smiled. 

 A real smile this time. 

 Kageyama looked away though, and his fake smile faded. 

 No. 

 He had not imagined that. 

 Kageyama had heard Hinata’s thoughts… in his own head. 






 “With all due respect, Sir,” Kunimi’s voice was firmer than usual, “Is this building going to come crashing down on us?” 

 “It’s possible.” Hinata didn’t hide his amusement. He turned to them and stood firm. “Alright, listen up! Kara has made their outpost in this region from one of the old ruins of Metropolan buildings. Our outpost is the same—a ruined building. They’ll notice us eventually from the thermal scans, so we don’t got time to get comfortable! The Intel team has estimated we have nine hours of invisibility. Only nine. I want the med bay set up within an hour, and same with the weapon’s bay!” 

 Kageyama stiffened. They’d have to move fast. Very fast. 

 “Squad 3!” Hinata glanced to the centre of the units. “You guys start on the Eagle’s Eye now. That’s the only way the satellites will be able to monitor us in real time. Move!” 

 The squad of five moved in a hurry to get it done. 

 Hinata glanced to the rest. “Private Kunimi!” 

 “Yes, Sir.” 

 “Shake off that anxiety – it’s only a two story building. If it crashes down on you, your new suit can absorb the force. Well, maybe.” Hinata grinned. “You’re my Second-in-Command, got it?” 

 Kunimi salutes. “Yes Sir!” 

 “Private Takeda!” 

 “Kageyama,” he corrected. 

 “I’m placing you as my aide de camp – the Commander’s assistant. Understood?” 

 “Yes, Commander.” 

 “Private Goshiki.” 

 “Yes! That is me! I am here!” 

 “You’re assigned to do the same for Private Kunimi. Understood?” 

 “Yes Sir! I shall do my best Sir! I will be the best—” 

 “Glad to hear it,” Hinata cut in. “The rest of you check your datapad for the rest of tasks we need to do.” He swiped his arm to the side. “Let’s get this place set up, people! This is war! Don’t just fucking stand there!” 






Say what you want about Hinata as a person, but it was clear he understood the role of Commander well. He wasn’t like the others, though. He got down and dirty and did the handwork of setting up their base of operations with the rest of their squad. This was also because the Mark III was able to monitor the camp, see if anybody needed help, while Hinata moved with much more speed and experience in setting up the different stations. 

 I remember back when I was the Second Lord, even Emperor Ushijima had taken an interest in Hinata. 

 Back then, of course, Hinata was still in the academy. He was part of an elite squad of younger recruits who earned their Private rank before they finished their studies. He had risen to Captain before anyone else in the elite squad came close to qualifying, and balanced his studies on the side. 

 Well. 

 He mostly asked my help for his studies. Except that was more because he didn’t want to read the books – he didn’t mind learning, didn’t mind getting into the military strategies… he just hated school and the structure of school. 

 But that’s not the point. 

 I remember, Emperor Ushijima had taken an interest in Hinata. Despite only being a Captain, he had this aura of getting things done and wasn’t afraid to take command if their officer was incompetent or froze. Ushijima had asked me, once, if I thought Hinata would make a good Second Lord… I remember being dumbfounded by the question, and then I brimmed with pride. 

 Hinata… it feels weird to call him that in this book, because he’s my Shouyou… but Hinata and I have different last names. When I was adopted, I chose to keep my Metropolan last name. It was an ancient bloodline of elites – kind of like Ukai – after all. It was my only connection to who I used to be, before they took me in. Sometimes, though, I wish I had taken Hinata. Shouyou was my baby brother. After mom died, I had to raise him alone. The explosion that took out mom and dad was the one that wounded Auntie to the point she has lived with repercussions. 

 I raised him alone at first. Eventually the Tsukishimas came to help, and then we met the Tanakas, and so on and so forth. And Daichi. When Ushijima had asked me if I thought Shouyou could be a Second Lord… It was a weird thought. That silly little beautiful boy I had raised, being in such a position of power. 

 The face of the Emperor. 

 Even with my pride, though, I told Ushijima what I thought honestly: That it would be best to wait until he was much older, an adult, someone who could control that fiery personality of his. 

 Ushijima had laughed—which had always been rare, especially on discussions of military future—and agreed with me. 

 There was also the fact that Hinata liked the moments where he took command from his officer. He was quick to judge his officer as incompetent, quick to judge when their officer froze… 

 While those actions led him to his promotion of Captain, years ago, and they may have saved lives in the short-term, in the long-term… disrespecting the chain of command cannot be accepted. Hinata began to learn that as time went on, of course. It’s a lesson all soldiers have to learn. Sometimes, even when your officer is wrong, you have to follow their orders. Because if you don’t follow the orders of your captain, you eventually start thinking you know better, you’re special, and you even begin to think you know better than everyone. 

 Maybe even the Emperor. 

 The chain of command can be constricting at times, and it limits people’s potential. But it keeps people within their role, doing their job, and it creates a war machine that runs effectively and efficiently. Everyone has their place in military society. The cracks in the systems begin when some people are hungry, hungry for promotions, hungry for power. Like Kageyama… so desperately hungry for more.
 






 Five hours later, Kageyama was ready to go. He was itching to get in there, to have an achievement under his belt. He wasn’t particularly surprised that his squad, led by Hinata, was Kindaichi, Kunimi, and himself. Goshiki had been assigned to the second squad. Hinata also gave two others the chance to lead squads. 

 “Alright.” Hinata kneeled in front of the low-table that was a digital map of the area. “Let’s go over this one more time. This is the command centre. As I said before, it has four floors above ground and three below ground. We’re not going below ground. Remember that.” 

 They nodded. 

 “The alpha group – the Commando group – will charge the front doors. Our job is to tear shit up.” He pointed at a purple dot on the map, a little further away. “Beta squad and,” he said as he tapped another purple dot that was on the either side, “Gamma squad are going to approach from East and West, through the side entrances. Your goal is to get to the fourth floor as fast as you can, and disable the data pylons. These are what disrupt our ability to track their information movements properly. You need to go as fast as you can.” 

 Goshiki nodded. 

 “Delta squad is going to consist of snipers, split into two groups. You’ll give us cover fire from afar. Any questions, comments? Anything?” 

 Nothing. 

 “Good.” Hinata looked up, eyes firm. “Now this part is new, so listen up. I have two new orders for everyone.” 

 They stiffened. 

 “In the event I am incapacitated or killed, command of the mission will be given to Private Kunimi. Listen to his words as if they are mine.” 

 Kunimi blinked. “But, Sir—” 

 “If I can no longer act as a Commander,” Hinata cut in, “For whatever reason, retreat at once. That’s an order. Leave me behind. You’ll be overlooking the retreat.” 

 “I see.” Kunimi nodded. “That’s why you made me look at escape routes.” 

 “Yup.” Hinata glanced back to the group as a whole. “Second thing: I have been informed there is a high ranking Kara officer that is stationed at this outpost. This guy is enough to even give me some trouble. No one is to engage him except me. You’ll be snapped in half. You know who he’ll be because he’s wearing a Mark II. In fact, you probably don’t want to engage any Mark IIs. You might have the same suits, but you’re not used to them. These guys have mastered their suits. If you’re getting a drop of water, they got the whole cup. Understood?” 

 Nothing. 

 “Understood!?” 

 “Yes Sir!” 

 “Good! Let’s move out!” 






“Delta squad, in position.” 

 “Gamma squad, in position.” 

 “Beta squad in position!”
 

 “Alright,” Hinata said over the radio. “Alpha squad is beginning opening assault in sixty seconds and counting. Delta squad, be ready to assist.” 

 Kageyama was crouched behind cover, staring at the entrance to the ruined building ahead. It was U-shaped, and they were facing the entrance that was deep in the crux of that U. He took a deep breath. His hand on his titanium brutaliser was firm, calm. He was ready. 

 A gush of fluid— 

 Kageyama glanced over. 

 Hinata’s suit lit up. His eyes were focused forward. 

 This sight, Kageyama realised, he liked this sight. He glanced forward. If he was going to change the world, it would be with Hinata by his side. He knew… he still knew… Realistically, he barely knew this person, but in a way he did. He knew Hinata valued a good laugh, a smile, a family, a spoiled little sister… He knew Hinata liked a good challenge, and had a sense of loyalty to Shira that rivaled his own. For now, that was enough. 

 Hinata glanced sidelong. “Give ‘em hell, Private.” 

 Kindaichi lifted himself up and aimed his rocket launcher. “Cover your ears!” He yanked the trigger—recoiling with shock as the glowing missile began a zooming trail of smoke towards their target. He dropped down quickly. 

 The explosion ripped the fortified doors wide open. 

 More rockets and sniper bullets rained down, breaking the walls and shattering the glass on both sides. 

 Hinata threw himself over the cover. “Let’s move!” 

 Kageyama charged. His limbs moved like whips, fluid and arcing through the air. A Mark II – so this was a Mark II. The distance seemed to blur towards him. He noticed startled guards covering their heads to protect themselves from the falling debris. He lifted his gun and began firing. 

 A squad of guards came running out of the entrance. 

 Hinata yanked a plasma grenade off his belt and surged it forward. 

 Unlike normal plasma grenades, this one didn’t glow baby blue. It glowed orange. 

 Flaming plasma ripped the squad apart. 

 A flashfire, charring flesh and leaving nothing in its wake. 

 Only burn marks, not even the smell of burning. 

 Hinata ran through the entrance, gun in hand. 

 “Commander!” Kindaichi called out. 

 Hinata stopped in his tracks. 

 From out of the ground, machine guns lifted and aimed. 

 “Ignite!” 

 They were no more. 

 Two squads were making their way towards them, from left and right. Kageyama spun, aiming a charged shot at the feet of one squad, dispersing them with the blastwave that knocked them over. 

 Kindaichi and Kunimi gunned down the other side. 

 “Move!” Hinata ran forward, and the others followed him without hesitation. 

 A door locked in front of them. 

 Kindaichi pulled out a plasma saber and sliced an X through the metal. The searing blue blade made streaks of orange-red, weakening the structure enough for a charged shot from Kunimi to blast the door into pieces. 

 Hinata glanced behind him and fired from two machine guns at the squad chasing them. “We gotta go up! Get to the stairs!” 

 Kageyama took lead. The minute he threw a grenade at another squad, a rocket blast shook the entire building – it distracted the squad enough to give his grenade enough time to get them in their blast wave. Kageyama saw the blood, broken limbs, screams, but he thought nothing of it. He walked over the crippled crowd and went towards the stairs. 

 Hinata soon rejoined them. “Why aren’t you advancing?” 

 Kunimi fired up the stairs. “Those robots, they’re—” 

 “Ah.” Hinata smirked. 

 At the top of the stairs were small, flat machines that held up shields. Their shields deflected bullets and plasma, and had little openings for their guns to fire. 

 Hinata ran up the stairs, dodging bullets with ease. He jumped high, soaring above them and spun in the air. upside-down, he aimed his machine guns at the backs of the robots and fired—causing them to explode. 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 Hinata landed and looked up. “All clear!” 

 Kageyama frowned. “You’re too happy about yourself, Commander.” 

 “Hey! At least be a little impressed!” 

 Kunimi ran up the stairs. “There’s more of them, Commander!” 

 Three more groups of them seemed to surround the opening to the second floor, keeping their backs to the wall. Their target was the third floor, and Kageyama suspected there would be more robots there. “How do we take them out? Their backs? A weak spot?” 

 Kindaichi swiped his plasma blade, deflecting a plasma bullet. “We can’t get behind them like this! We’re surrounded!” 

 Hinata smirked. “You guys can’t, but…” He took a deep breath. “Ignite: Wall!” A circle of blazing fire shot up from around them. It destroyed the robots around them then moved up the stairs to the third floor—except the ceiling caved at that, shattering their next stairway. Hinata winced. “Ah, oops. Too much.” 

 Kunimi tapped his helmet. “Gamma team is saying the other stairways have been locked down.” 

 Kageyama glanced over his shoulder. “Service stairs?” 

 “Uh.” Kindaichi pointed his blade forward. “Incoming!” 

 Kageyama turned and he— 

 A hulking form moved with speed and finesse, charging towards them; his suit glowed baby-blue, plasma. A Mark II. He passed Kageyama before Kageyama even recognised the face. 

 Hinata dodged the blow that grazed his suit—a fist arching right past him. He made eye contact with the enemy and spun to face him as the enemy commander did the same. 

 “Nice one, Tabby.” 

 Hinata’s eyes darkened. “Meow meow, motherfucker.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. “Ryuunosuke Tanaka.” 

 Tanaka didn’t hear him, eyes focused on Hinata. Tanaka had no guns on him, no blades, though he did have some grenades. His Mark II suit was a full-body suit, unlike Kageyama’s, and his eyes saw nothing but Hinata. 

 Hinata hopped a step back and raised his fists. 

 “Ah, Tabby!” Tanaka made a face. “You’re not surprised to see me? Awww! That’s messed up! You should be all, ‘fwaa, Ryuu is here!’ and then get shocked!” 

 “Shut up.” Hinata’s gaze was murderous. “And it’s bwah, not fwah you fucker.” 

 Kageyama looked between the two, reaching for his gun but— 

 Tanaka charged forward right fist coming in fast. 

 Hinata blurred to the side. “You asshole!” He did a high kick, with enough speed and force to shatter diamond. 

 Tanaka dodged it by crouching low. 

 “You betrayed Shira!” Hinata kicked low—it made a swiping sound through the air, and a shattering sound as it hit Tanaka’s arm. “You betrayed me!” 

 Tanaka was shoved back, but he caught himself and looked up. “Oy. Kid. We should talk about this.” 

 “I’m not talking to you!” Hinata’s suit charged with fire and he aimed forward. 

 Tanaka jumped to the side, narrowly dodging a flashfire. “Don’t you want to know why we changed sides, Tabby!?” 

 “No! Fuck off!” Hinata yelled, “Wall!” 

 A firewall separate the two of them. 

 “Private Kunimi!” Hinata glanced over his shoulder. “Find another route! Now!” 

 Kunimi yelled, “Understood!” before running in the opposite direction. 

 Kindaichi followed. 

 “Commander,” Kageyama began but— 

 “Go! Now!” 

 Kageyama spun and chased after Kunimi. 






 Within minutes they ended up in another firefight shortly and they took care of it with a few wounds. They kept running after finding out the service elevator was locked down as well. Now they were being chased. Bullets sailed around them. 

 “Okay,” Kunimi said as he ran, “I’ve got a crazy idea.” 

 Kindaichi kept up. “I’m all game!” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 “Look, just.” Kunimi flickered on his blue visor and tapped the screen to send a file quickly. 

 Kageyama’s visor appeared over his eyes and he blinked. Kunimi must have had this file ready, a Plan B. “These schematics, they’re…” 

 “The interfloors,” Kunimi said as he ducked into a small storage room. They followed him and they stayed silent. They heard the rush of footsteps pass them and Kunimi glanced at them. “It’s the schematics to the interfloors—a pathway between the walls, ceilings, and floors, lidded with microchips and wires. It’s why Metropolan buildings still stand—it’s a form of reinforcement. I’ve already found where the original owners of this outpost entered the interfloors, to perform repairs and diagnostics.” 

 Kageyama shook his head. “You’re trying to override the locks on the stairways. That’s not going to work.” 

 “I know, but.” Kunimi bit his lip. “Other than that we might be able to get Gamma squad to help, but…” 

 Kindaichi frowned. “I don’t know what interfloors are… but if they’re like between the second ceiling and third floor… can’t we just blow our way up?” 

 They paused for a moment, staring at him. 

 Kageyama murmured, “We’d be electrocuted to death.” 

 Kunimi looked at Kageyama. “Let’s do it.” 

 Kageyama nodded. “It’s our only chance.” 

 Kindaichi frowned. “Uh, didn’t you just say electrocuted to—” 

 But Kunimi was on the move again – Kageyama and Kindaichi following. They were lucky in not meeting more soldiers on their way to their destination. Kindaichi sliced up the door to the interfloor maintenance room. Its walls were black, with glowing green lines. It reminded Kunimi of an old game he used to play, of hacking computers, mainframes. It had been that game that led to his interest in technology, in bombs, makeshift grenades. He threw grabbed one and threw it at the thin ceiling. 

 The ceiling came crashing down, rubble of white marble against black walls and floors. 

 The wreckage piled together and Kageyama leapt up. He climbed from one chunk of marble to another and made his way to the third floor. 

 Kindaichi sighed. “He makes it look so easy.” 

 “Well, he was an acrobat,” Kunimi murmured. 

 They (much more slowly) made their way up. 

 Kageyama analysed the map on his visor before dismissing it. “Their command centre room is beyond this wall. There’s no doorway on this side, but we can destroy the wall with the same tactic.” 

 “Sure.” Kunimi tapped his earpiece though. “Alpha team is approaching destination. Other squads, report.” 

“Beta squad is struggling! We’re having difficulties clearing your exit! There’s too many of them! Gamma squad is moving to assist, but they’re caught up in a firefight!” 

 “Correct,”
 came Goshiki’s voice, ”We won’t make it in time to assist!” 

 “Both Delta squads are capable of assisting.”
 

 Right. Delta was split in two. Kunimi swallowed hard. “This is Second-in-Command Akira Kunumi speaking. East Delta squad assist the Beta squad.” 

”Understood, Sir.” 

 Kunimi grabbed his bombs. They weren’t approved for military use, but that only made using them all the more thrilling. “They’re doing their jobs, let’s do ours!” 



The explosion rocked the command centre, and the three of them poured in. Their explosion had taken out most of the soldiers positioned there, and their guns took out the rest. They began to upload the data-tracking file into the command centre, but Kageyama’s eyes left their mission. Instead, he saw the screens that were positioned overhead. Camera footage, of the battle. And on one of them… Well. When Kageyama’s eyes saw what he saw, his eyes narrowed. 



 “You’ve gotten pretty good, Tabby!” Tanaka threw another fist forward. 

 Hinata barely dodged in time with a sidestep. He knew that even with his suit—a single punch could be the end of him. His sidestep was a misstep, though, and he slipped. He landed on the floor. 

 Tanaka raised his foot, ready to smash him. 

 Hinata’s boost gave a surge of air and he moved away just in time— 

 Tanaka’s foot broke a crater into the floor. 

 Hinata got to his feet and the fluid began to glow. 

 Began to burn. 

 He felt his arms shake uncontrollably as he yelled, “Ignite!” 

 The burst of fires forced Tanaka back. 

You’re reaching you maximum. Your system is going to overheat. 

 Hinata lifted his head. What? So soon? But— 

It’s a psychological block. 

 I’m—
 

 Tanaka’s form ripped through the fire, a flying punch aimed for his head. 

 Hinata brought two arms up as a shield. The fist slammed into his suit, cleaving off chips of obsidian metal. 



 “Kageyama!” Kunimi yelled, “Tobio, damnit!” 

 Kageyama looked away from the camera footage. Good. He didn’t want to see Hinata getting beat like that anyway. 

 Kunimi looked him in the eye. “We got the signal! This whole room is going to go up in flames soon!” 

 “Am I done here?” 

 Kunimi paused, jaw hanging open. 

 “The Commander.” Kageyama stared at Kunimi. “He’ll die at this rate. Do I have permission to leave my post?” 

 Kindaichi looked up from the armed bomb. “Dude, the Commander said—” 

 “—If he’s killed or incapacitated,” Kageyama repeated. “He’s not there, yet.” 

 Kunimi squirmed for a moment. “Go! But only to help him retreat—do not engage the enemy officer!” 



 Tanaka’s upper hand only grew. He jumped through fire with a spin kick, sending Hinata squawking and flying down the hall, crashing, twirling over the floor, over flame, blood, and rubble. 

 Hinata looked up, eyes burning. His suit, too, was burning. 

 “Sorry Tabby!” Tanaka’s arm began to glow a baby blue and he punched the air—plasma followed his blast to the ceiling above Hinata. 

 Hinata kicked off the ground, barely dodging the crash of rubble. “Shit!” But his eyes had never left Tanaka’s form. The very second that dust moved between them—“Ignite!” 

 Tanaka screamed as he was thrown back. 

 Hinata’s suit jutted, sections opening up and steam released from the air pockets. He felt his body cool down, and he took a deep breath. 

 But Tanaka charged. 

 Hinata charged in return. His hand caught Tanaka’s shoulders and his boots activated a high-jump. Like a bull missing a red flag, Tanaka kept charging forward, Hinata on the other hand landed on the other side of the rubble. 

 “Shut up,” came another voice. 

 Tanaka spun. “Hah?” 

 Hinata gawked. “Kageya—” 

 “Shut up!” Kageyama yelled at him as he stood by his side. “You talk big, about how you don’t mind fighting your friends, but you’re not moving as quickly or as strongly as when we spared. You’re not even using your plasma blade! You dumbass!” 

 Hinata tensed, eyeing him with burning rage. 

 Tanaka looked between them. “Who the fuck is this?” He tilted his head, making a face. “You’re a punk, huh? Interrupting our fight, huh?” He ran forward. 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. He heard Hinata tell him to retreat, but—Kageyama charged. Handgun in one hand, plasma saber in the other, he watched the attack. 

 Tanaka’s right fist was fast. 

 No. He’d been wrong. 

 Kageyama had been wrong. 

 It wasn’t that Hinata was slow—in fact, Hinata must have been moving even faster than normal to be keeping up with Tanaka. It was Tanaka. Relative to Tanaka, Hinata only looked slow. 

 Kageyama barely dodged the punch from the right. 

 But the left hook— 

 Too high. 

 Kageyama felt a flicker in his vision. He saw images of all the training his dad had given him. Time seemed to pause as his vision distorted, eyes darting left and right unconsciously. He ducked under Tanaka’s left swing and pressed a charged shot against his stomach, where Hinata’s fire had torn at some of the Mark II material. He fired. 

 Tanaka went flying back, but he flipped midair and landed. He growled dangerously, head tilted, teeth sticking out as he made a face. 

 Hinata was about to shout something but— 

 The distance was crossed. 

 Tanaka’s fist slammed into Kageyama’s stomach. 

 Kageyama bent forward, coughing out blood. 

 Tanaka completed the swing, shoving Kageyama forward, sending him flying, sending him crashing through walls—shattering wires and microchips of the interwalls, and landing on the other side, cracked marble set on fire from the electric burst. 

 “Ha! Ha!” Tanaka yelled, “That’ll teach you to interfere with our fight, you little shit!” 

 Kageyama looked up, dizzy, disoriented. He could barely see straight. He could taste blood, though. 

 Tanaka grinned. “You’re dead meat, kiddo, you’re—” 

 Hinata. 

 Tanaka looked over his shoulder. 

 Plasma blade aflame, Hinata’s eyes were hollow. The murderous look took him over once again. 

 Tanaka moved away, barely, as four slashes were enough get him off balance. The afterimages of the plasma blade burned forward and charred at his suit. He screamed and dodged another slash. He dove in though. With an open palm strike, he hit the inside of Hinata’s wrist—sending the blade flying. At that moment, he caught Hinata’s wrist and spun, twisting it with a snap sound. 

 Hinata screamed. 

 Tanaka held his hands behind his back, like a cop arresting a criminal. “I don’t wanna do this to you Tabby, if you would just listen—” 

 “Fuck you!” His suit opened; he ejected steam. 

 Tanaka moved away quickly, knowing it would’ve killed him if he stood. 

 Hinata moved both hands forward and blasted himself backwards. He soared through the air and landed next to Tanaka. “You fucking idiot!” 

 Kageyama had gotten up to one knee. “I was trying—” 

 “Shut up! I wasn’t hesitating! You try to pull a blaster on Ryu, he’ll knock it away. You try to fight him with a plasma saber, he snaps your wrists. The Mark III is the only reason I haven’t lost my hand for good right now!” 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. He could say nothing. 

 Hinata, oddly, couldn’t find it in himself to hate him. “Kageyama, get out of here, you have to—” 

 Tanaka had ripped out a chunk of a wall and hurled it at them. 

 Hinata looked up. The fluid still gushed. As time slowed for him, he found fourteen points he could create small flashfires. Enough force to save them, but not enough force to shatter the wall. Enough force to not only deflect—but reflect. 

 The wall blast towards Tanaka. 

 Tanaka punched through it, growling. 

 Kageyama forced himself to his feet; but even his Mark II couldn’t absorb all the damage. His legs were shaking, wiggling, and with a sharp wince—he slipped, hitting the ground. 

 “Kags!” 

 Tanaka began charging. 

 “Commander!” came Kunimi’s voice. “Look away!” He threw something forward. 

 Kageyama shut his eyes, Hinata’s visor equipped immediately, but the blinding blast caught Tanaka for a moment, making him yelp. 

 Kindaichi pulled Kageyama to his feet. “Come on!” 

 Hinata looked at them. “Get Kageyama to—” 

 “—It’s going to blow!” Kunimi yelled, “We have less than four minutes before the third floor comes crashing down on us! The escape route is three minutes away, meaning—” 

 “Go!” Hinata yelled, “That’s an order! Take him!” 

 Kindaichi didn’t hesitate; he managed to stabilise Kageyama and he dragged him through. 

 Kunimi looked at Hinata. “Sir—” 

 “I’ll be right behind you. Promise.” 

 Kunimi nodded and turned, running. 

 Tanaka’s shadow was above them. 

 But Hinata knew Tanaka wouldn’t go for Kunimi—Tanaka would go for him. He spun, barely dodging a fist that could’ve ended his life. 

 Tanaka’s fists were glowing, empowered with plasma. Each strike held twice as much force, but Hinata’s suit was empowered with the fluid and he punched back. Their dance, of burning orange and frosty blue sent shockwaves through the air. 

Hinata, three minutes until detonation. 

 Tanaka moved for another left hook. 

 Hinata ducked under, as he had seen Kageyama had done earlier. He spun, so his back was against Tanaka’s chest. Grabbing his arm, he used the force of Tanaka’s punch to flip him over and throw him forward. 

 But Tanaka hit the ground in a fluid spin, like a breakdancer, and got to his feet. He charged. 

 They clashed again, exchanging blow after blow. 

Hinata! Two minutes until detonation! Shouyou are you even listening to— 

 But Hinata shut the voice out. All that mattered now was the battle in front of him. Even as the world ripped apart, ceilings collapsed, and the ground beneath them gave way, Hinata roared and ran forward, a fist ready to strike, aiming for that throat, ready to take Tanaka’s head. 





Chapter 6: Act 1, Infodex 06: Tanaka Twins - Part 1 



 Dossier File: Saeko Tanaka 


 Saeko Tanaka is the older twin, by exactly fourteen minutes and thirty two seconds. She never lets her ‘little brother’ forget it. While her brother specialises in power, Saeko specialises in speed. Her smaller frame and shorter height give way to a fierce agility. However, though she may have less strength than her brother, she is by no means weak. Her attacks have been known to shatter reinforced doors, walls, and cause significant damage to mechas – even without her Mark II Suit. 

 Her strength and agility mix into a combat style that is dominated by her roaring kicks. 

 She is known in the Fuku Circle for her mild rivalry with Osamu Miya. 






Chapter 6: Act 1, Part XII 



 “So,” came a distant voice. 

 Kageyama opened his eyes. 

 A dark hallway, with an open door at the end—the only source of light. 

 Kageyama squinted. “So?” 

 “So,” came the voice of a man standing by the open door. He was old and wry, with a dangerous smile, and barely open eyes. He wore a royal red clothing, with a family crest. Nekomata. His name was Nekomata. Kageyama wasn’t sure how or why he knew, but he knew. Nekomata spoke quietly, “So… funny, isn’t it? That you… are Ukai.” 

 The light began to shine brighter. 

 Kageyama grunted, bringing a hand in front of his face. “Ukai…?” 

 “Oh, Kageyama.” Nekomata laughed. “Finally… a vessel.” 






Hinata never returned. The explosives of the third floor destroyed the supports for the upper level. Meaning, the fourth floor crashed down on the third floor, the third and fourth floor crashed down on the second, and the entire building crashed on the first floor. The rubble seemed like it went even lower than that, as there were underground floors. 

 Where Hinata once stood, there was now nothing. 

 Like a plateau ablaze, soldiers never coming home. 

 There was nothing. 

 Kageyama had been hooked up to the medical bay, and the painkillers lulled his exhausted senses to a deep sleep. Although there was some internal damage to his body, nothing critical and nothing major. Surprisingly no concussion, given the distance a single punch threw him. The Mark II had absorbed much of Tanaka’s fistwork, and it doubled as a cooling pad for swelling, speeding up his recovery with the medication, electroids, and technology. 

 It’s a bit funny to say internal bruising isn’t troubling, actually. I’ve never thought about it until now. But the word major in military, especially when one is still on the battlefield, usually means life threatening at some point. Kageyama rested in a comatose-like sleep for a few hours, lost in fervent dreams that didn’t make sense to him, before he finally woke up.
 






 Kageyama had tried to remove the cool cloth that was on his head, but he found it was actually the medical bay’s arms. He waved them off and it got the message. He opened his eyes and looked around. For a moment, he had no idea where he was. 

 It was their camp, but it was nighttime. 

 They arrived during the day, attacked at sunset… now… 

 Kageyama blinked twice. 

 He heard the whirring of machinery, medical robots, plasma refillers, tapping on datapad. 

 He looked up. 

 The moon was a perfect crescent, not a cloud in the sky. 

 Mechanical white lights were littered everywhere. 

 Kageyama sat up, senses still dulled. He saw someone running to him. Goshiki. Goshiki had been the first to notice him, and he was telling others to let Kunimi know. Kageyama stared at him, confused. “Where… Where am I?” 

 Goshiki opened his mouth to speak but— 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened and darted around rapidly. 



Kageyama had heard of ‘life flashing before your eyes’ of course. We all have. But this felt too literal for him. Moreso, rather than just thinking about the memory, he relived every moment. It was stronger than a flashback, more invasive. He could remember each and every sense. It was all too… literal. But Kageyama didn’t question it, only because he knew he would be questioning his sanity if he did. First he heard Hinata’s voice in his head, now this. But what bothered him the most was that these memories, these flashbacks, were too technical. It was unnatural. They were orchestrated, by someone with a goal. 



 “Commander,” Kageyama blurted out. He blinked. 

 Kunimi was standing in front of him, Kindaichi and Goshiki behind. Kunimi cupped his face with both hands. “Did you even hear a word I said?” 

 “No.” Kageyama blinked twice. “I was reorienting myself.” It wasn’t wrong, technically; except, it wasn’t his brain that forced him to relive those senses. “I’m paying attention now. What happened?” 

 Kunimi examined him for a moment and then let go of his face. “You shouldn’t move.” 

 Kageyama denied him and stood up. He found himself able to walk without pain. He curled his fingers testingly. “The suit absorbed the shock. Except it’s.” He twitched. “It seems to be malfunctioning, slightly.” 

 Kunimi’s eyes were filled with worry. 

 Goshiki peeped in, “So you can walk, yes?” 

 Kageyama nodded and walked a few steps left and right. 

 “Move your body like this,” Goshiki said as he twisted his shoulders to stretch his torso. Kageyama did as he said and Goshiki hummed. “Your torso was bruised pretty bad…” 

 “Goshiki set you up,” Kindaichi said. “On the med’ bay.” 

 “Mm.” Kageyama lowered his head. “Thanks…” He glanced to Kindaichi. “You too.” 

 “Don’t sweat it man, just take it easy.” 

 “I’m…” Kunimi closed his eyes for a moment. “I’m glad you’re okay.” He looked up at Kageyama, no smile. “The intel team is arranging a pickup in an hour. We’re leaving soon.” 

 “And the Commander?” 

 Kunimi swallowed hard. 

 Goshiki’s face darkened. 

 Kindaichi looked away. 

 Kageyama stared at them. “And the Commander?” 

 “He.” Kunimi forced himself to stand up straight. “It is unlikely he made it out of the blast.” 

 Kageyama spun around, to the destruction of the building that once stood. The nothingness that consumed the existence of somethingness. “He was… crushed. Under the rubble.” 

 “The mission was a success,” Kunimi forced himself to say. “The Intel team said the data gathered was… worth the loss of a high-ranking officer.” 

 “Search parties,” Kageyama said. “We need search parties. We should grab groups of—” 

 “We can’t.” Kunimi stood his ground. “And we did send some… we found nothing. Not even with thermal scans. But we have no more resources to spare… You weren’t the only one wounded.” 

 Kageyama looked around, only noticing now that of the eleven of them – at least six had bullet wounds. Goshiki and Kindaichi both had medtape over their arms. Those weren’t from bullets, but those were wounds. 

 Kageyama’s hand twitched. He glanced to the palm of his right hand. It was pounding. “What can I do?” 

 Kunimi blinked. “What?” 

 “Are our supplies loaded? Everyone is ready?” 

 “Yeah. All’s taken care of…” Kunimi glanced to the flat surface Kageyama was laying on. “Only this med lab needs to be dismantled… Leave it to me, though. It’s fine. You go rest, clear your head.” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 “I’ll help,” Kindaichi offered. 

 Goshiki looked at Kageyama. He opened his mouth to say something, but there was nothing. 

 Kageyama walked away. 

 Kageyama needed to get away. 

 He walked to the edge of their camp. He looked up at the dark blue sky and his vision wavered. He squished his eyes shut, and under his eyelids it was clear his eyes were twitching left and right. When he opened his eyes again— 

 Fire. 

 Kageyama felt intense heat, a blaze, a burn. 

 Where the ruins lay, now was a series of explosions and fire. Fire everywhere. 

 Kageyama didn’t know how he understood, but this is what it looked like as it came crashing down. 

 Fire. 

 Kageyama didn’t know why he was seeing this, but fire…. Fire was Hinata. Not this fire, though. Hinata. Hinata… He couldn’t be… 

 Kageyama shook his head. “But what if he is?” 

 His glove crushed his hand. 

 He squirmed and grabbed his palm with his other hand. 

 He looked up and his vision wavered. 

Kageya 

 Kageyama’s eyes flickered and he heard a vague sound inside his brain. He saw…. sounds, physically. Letters appearing in his vision. He was hallucinating. No. This was… This was intentional. This was by design. He looked at his hand. 

 His eyes widened. 

“Why does… this hand. Feel different than…” Kageyama lifted his left hand and stared at it. “This hand?” He glanced to Hinata again. “Is this a sign of being rejected? Should I have it checked out?” 

 This… 

Hinata smiled. “Kageyama detected the chip inside his right hand.” 

 Me? 

Tsukishima replied, “The Mark III chip?” 

 They’re talking about me? 

“Mhm!” 

 But this isn’t my memory… how can I see— 

Tsukishima’s robotic eye adjusted its lens and flickered a red; he activated his thermal scans. He looked at his own hand. “I still can’t detect it. Not a trace of it. I would have thought it wasn’t there if I hadn’t seen it being taken out and put back in.” 

 Kageyama gasped for air as he returned to the present. White letters appeared on the fluid of his eyes. They had a digital edge, and were hard to see, but he looked up to the dark blue sky and he saw it written, as plain as day. 

H e ‘ s  n o t    d e a d. 






 Kunimi was almost done dismantling the last of the med bay when he glanced over his shoulder. He didn’t pretend to be surprised. 

 Kageyama didn’t expect him to. He had heard Kindaichi give a warning that he was coming this way. “Mission Leader Akira Kunimi.” He stood his ground. “Permission to act on my own.” 

 Kunimi blinked. “What?” 

 “Say yes.” 

 “No.” Kunimi shook his head, dropping the wrench he was holding with a clatter. “You look… I don’t know. Something’s wrong with you. You don’t seem like yourself… You didn’t hit your head, did you?” He bit his lip and turned, fully, to Kageyama. “What is it, Tobio?” 

 “Kunimi.” Kageyama’s eyes were transfixed on him. “I am leaving with or without your permission.” 

 Kunimi grabbed his gun. 

 Kindaichi got up and waved his hands defensively. “No way, wait. You’re not leaving.” 

I don’t know who you are, Kageyama thought to himself, But if you are what I think you are… I could use a hand here. 

Grab —s gu—
 

 It came as gibberish crackle in his ears that made him nauseating. What? 

Out of— ammo.
 

 His visor appeared over his eyes without him doing anything. Text scrolled on the screen and he understood: Kageyama’s gun was broken, the plasma chamber overheated when he fired against Tanaka’s stomach. “Thanks,” he said. 

 Kunimi blinked. “Huh?” 

 Kageyama spun, foot coming up fast enough to kick Kunimi aside. He turned to Kindaichi, knowing he was still in shock for his training to kick in. It wouldn’t last long. He snatched Kindaichi’s titanium handgun and murmured, “Sorry.” 

 “Oh that’s okay,” Kindaichi said reflexively. “Wait no! That’s not okay at all!” 

 Kageyama fired a charged shot with just enough force to send him hurling back. 

 It wouldn’t wound—at least Kageyama hoped not. He didn’t have time to figure that out. 






 Kageyama slid down the rock hill that gave them the overlook of the ruined base. He ran for a while. They issued an alert at the base, but that didn’t matter. They didn’t have the manpower to chase him, and he was going rogue without any vital order to stop him. But, Kara. Kara had Hinata. Maybe. Or maybe he was just swallowed under the rubble, the earth, the broken microchips and white marble. 

You’re in my head, then? 

Yes. I am. 

 You were clear that time, Voice. 

Voice? Ah, that’s— 

 I have no other name to call you. So that’s what we call you. Though I suppose Mark III system also works. 

Ah, well… We can figure that out later, Private Kageyama Takeda. I’m giving you the layout of the map. The underground floors are still active. Here.
 

 Kageyama’s visor popped up and the information, though it scrolled at an impossible rate, was easy to understand. It felt like the information as being projected into his brain, rather than understood by his eyes first. He reached the base and moved towards the centre. He had a plasma blade on his back, only one titanium handgun. He aimed and fired a charged shot. 

 The debris burst away. 

 There was where the stairway to the underground was if the building hadn’t crushed everything… but it still stood. Kageyama moved underground, leaving moonlight behind, and into the darkness. 

Thank you. 

I’m not doing this for you—just save him. Please. 

 I will.
 Kageyama ran down the hallway, following the map he somehow understood. The white marble floors were the style here too, but there was more darkness, only the rare white hanging lightbulb. 

They have patrols going, still. This is their real information relay centre. Right! 

 Kageyama turned and shot a single plasma bullet into a guard’s throat. 

 He fell dead. 

 Kageyama moved his way, noticing a green light. He looked around and saw a moving river underneath. Sewage, possibly? He looked around. He knew he had to go this way, but there was no pathway to go across. His eyes noticed something though. 

You need to cross this somehow, Private. 

 Kageyama jumped up to where there was a line of cords. He made his way atop one of them and stood, a balancing act, a single wire above his doom. Well, not yet. If he fell now he would fall in the platform, but if he began to walk over he would be walking over that river, and he would probably not survive. He took a step forward. 

The cord can hold your weight? 

 Yes. 

You seem confident. 

 I have enough expertise in this area to know. 

Very well. I am upgrading your titanium handgun with a silencer. 

 You can do that from here? 

Yes, and you’re going to need it. Look to the left.
 

 Kageyama pulled his gun out and saw a few patrols walking on the other platform. He steadied his hand and fired several three bullets in rapid succession, silenced, deadly. They hit their mark. Kageyama continued along the wire, moving at a careful but quick pace. 

So you really were an acrobat. 

 Kageyama landed on the platform and pulled out his gun. 

Hinata told you? 

You’ve got trouble—a large group is heading your way from the path ahead. It’s the only path ahead. Follow my instructions. Hold out your hand.
 

 Kageyama felt his vision being tugged by red lights towards a spinning fan. A tunnel, if he broke the fan. His gun wouldn’t be enough though. He held out his hand—a cackle of white moved forward and shattered the fan. It had a loud pang, though, and Kageyama heard footsteps approach. He launched himself up to the tunnel, but gunshots began. 

Hold out your hand again, towards the enemy! 

 A white crystalline shield appeared out of thin air, like a plasma shield, but made of a glass-like substance. 

 It deflected some bullets, but it wouldn’t last long. Kageyama ran down the tunnel and saw a pathway heading downwards. He jumped down, not knowing where it went, but he soon saw smaller oscillating fans below. He fired a charged shot and the fans broke, moving down. He moved down just after them, slipping into another room. 

Do you happen to have an escape route for me? 

Sort of. That’s not the point. You’re very close. He should be in the next room. You’re a lot higher than he is, coordinates wise. Closer to the surface, I mean.
 

 Kageyama didn’t question it. He had to fire another two guards before he pushed the door open and he felt a sudden rush of heat. 

 Of fire. 

 A large room, large enough to house even the goliath mecha, Datekou, was in front of him. He stood upon a high edge, centered against one wall. He looked down, and saw a circle of fire. 

 Tanaka was on the outside, and Hinata was in the centre—Hinata was alive. Wrists bound, tied up, but alive. 

 “Come on, Tabby!” Tanaka was saying, moving around the fire. “Let’s just talk, please!” 

 “I don’t want to talk!” Hinata roared the fires outward. 

 Tanaka jumped back, screaming like a child, flailing, then resumed his previous position. 

I can’t shoot Tanaka from here. 

No. And even if you could, there are guards. 

 Can I go around? Another entrance? 

Everywhere else is loaded with patrols. This is your safest bet. 

 Your suggestion then, Voice?
 

 Kageyama’s vision was tugged up to a ladder. There was some kind of pipe that was running above Tanaka and Hinata. Kageyama wanted to tell the system that walking along pipes and cords were not the same, but he had no choice. He began to climb, bit by bit, using the valves and rings of the pipe as steps until he got to the top. He moved slow, though, careful. He didn’t want to make any noise. 

 The flames roared loud, but a resonating metaling ting would give him away instantly. 

 “Tabby! You can’t hold that up forever, you’ll run out of juice!—Hey! Watch it! Are you trying to burn me!?” 

 “Asshole!” Hinata screamed, raw and throaty, “You left me! You left me behind! You promised you wouldn’t—you promised Auntie, Suga! Asahi!” 

 “Oi!” Tanaka yelled back, “I’m here now, aren’t I!?” 

 Kageyama began walking along the heavy pipe. He couldn’t quite get his footing right, but he took step after step, steady step after steady step. 

This doesn’t seem like a good idea up here anymore. 

 No, but there is no alternative. Can my Mark II absorb the shock of the fall? 

Most likely not… but with my help, yes.
 

 Instructions littered Kageyama’s vision and he nodded. He walked until he was directly above Hinata and Tanaka. After that he took a deep breath and paused. 

You’re sure I’ll survive the fall? 

Positive. I have you, Kageyama. 

 Thank you, Voice. 

Ah, please stop calling me that.
 

 Kageyama gave an amused huff. He straightened his spine and turned around. Then, do you have another name I can call you? He let himself fall backwards. 

 Fall to the abyss. 

Yes. My name is Koushi Sugawara. 






 Chapter 6: Act 1, Infodex 06: Tanaka Twins - Part 2
 



Dossier File: Ryuunosuke Tanaka 


 He is the younger twin, by fourteen minutes and thirteen seconds. While he is known for his great abilities in combat, he is better known for his facial expressions and crude jokes. Unlike his sister, he does not possess incredible speed, but he is known for the power of his punches. With his suit, his fists can leave dents in mechas large enough to disrupt internal machinery—-this has caused some mechas to explode. That is not to say he does not have speed: He is not only faster than the average unit, his reaction times are quicker as well. 

 He’s also well known for his unashamedly overdone rivalry with Atsumu Miya.
 






Chapter 6: Act 1, Part XIII 



 Kageyama had fallen into the realm of relativity. 

You’re sure I’ll survive the fall? 

Positive. I have you, Kageyama. 

 Thank you, Voice. 

Ah, please stop calling me that. 

 Then, do you have another name I can call you? 

Yes. My name is Koushi Sugawara. 

 Second Lord? 

Yes. Well, ex-Second Lord anyway.
 

 Kageyama had fallen into the realm of relativity. His eyes were a blur. He felt himself, upside-down, falling, but he was moving so slow that it was as if this moment existed forever. 

You… don’t seem disturbed, in the slightest by what is happening. 

 When I was a child… I had sleep paralysis. It’s when you open your eyes before your brain wakes up, and the world morphs and becomes deranged. It only lasts a short while, maybe a second or two at most… but it feels forever. This is the same, isn’t it? 

Yes, actually. That’s very close. 

 But… we’re talking… No. We’re not, are we? I’m perceiving this as language but— 

Neither the language comprehension centre nor the language producing centres of your brain are activated. Not even the neuronal pathways in between.
 

 Kageyama glanced down, seeing Hinata and the blazing fires. 

I don’t understand you being the Mark III Voice, Sugawara, but I have more important things to focus on right now. I’ll save him. 

Good. Don’t let me down, now.
 

 Kageyama smirked. 

 Time resumed its normal flow. 

 He twirled and landed with a blast—it sent a shockwave of force outwards, fire swirling in with it, knocking Tanaka and his guards over. Kageyama grabbed his plasma saber and slashed the chains. “Can you move?” 

 Hinata blinked. “Kageya—?” 

 “Can you move?” 

 Hinata shot up, nodding. 

 “Come on!” Kageyama tossed two grenades as Tanaka began getting up, who was still trying to understand just what happened. Kageyama didn’t wait to see what happened to his grenades. He yanked Hinata’s arm and pulled him along. The two of them were running as they made their way through a tunnel door Sugawara had highlighted for him. 

Two to the right. 

 “Got it!” Kageyama said as he spun, shooting down two panicked guards. 

 Hinata blinked. “Huh? You could—” 

 Kageyama yanked him harder. “Move faster!” He pulled him into the tunnel. “Move!” 

 “I can’t!” Hinata forced himself to walk, but he was shaking. “I can barely—” 

 “Complain when we’re safe!” 

 “But!” 

 “I want to save you!” 

 Hinata stared at him, gawking. 

 “I want to be the one that—” Kageyama growled angrily and threw Hinata into a wall and backed away to dodge plasma shots that would’ve hit them both. He spun and fired at the rebel soldiers, taking them down with ease. 

It’s clear. 

 Kageyama grabbed Hinata again and yanked. “Come on!” 

 “Wait!” Hinata shoved his arm away. His suit opened up and steam burst out. “My suit is at its limits!” He sobbed as he broke down, knees hitting the floor. “If I don’t cool it down now—” 

 “But!—” 

Hinata will burn with it if it doesn’t cool down, Kageyama. 

 “Understood,” Kageyama whispered. 

 Hinata looked up. “You can… you can hear it? You can hear him?” 

 Kageyama nodded once and looked around for signs of enemy soldiers. 

 The steam eventually subsided and Hinata’s breathing evened. “Okay. Should be enough to get out of here. Let’s go.” 

 Kageyama nodded and ran. Hinata kept up with him this time, though he lagged behind from obvious winces of pain. “We’ll be able to make it out of this! We’re almost there, Commander. We only have to—” 

 The wall shattered in front of them and Tanaka slid in. “You again!” 

 Kageyama launched three grenades. 

 “Ignite!” 

 The burst of fire and smoke filled their eyes and lungs, but they ran through it—coming out on the other side head to head. 

 “Two more!” Hinata yelled, “Ahead!” 

 Kageyama suddenly realised—”You don’t have a gun.” 

 “Nope!” 

 Kageyama saw a pipe running along the top of this tunnel and he took a chance; he shot it right above the two enemy soldiers. 

 Purple steam shot out and they screamed. 

 Hinata and Kageyama ran past them; Hinata snatching up one of their guns. 

 They heard Tanaka roar behind them. 

 “We better hurry up!” Hinata yelled, “He’s coming!” 

 Kageyama snapped, “We can’t stand and fight I’m guessing?” 

 “Not a fucking chance!” 

 Tanaka’s footsteps shattered the floor he walked on as he began gaining on them. 

 Hinata snarled and his hand squeezed his new gun. He threw it behind him and yelled, “Ignite!” 

 It burst outwards, and Tanaka yelled again. 

Hinata, stop! You’re at your limits! 

 Hinata ducked his head and kept running. “I have to!” 

Your body is already showing signs of deteriorating! If you continue there will be cell death all over your body! You’ve used up your fluid! 

 Kageyama glanced over, noticing Hinata’s suit wasn’t glowing despite using his ignite commands. 

 Hinata opened the sides of his suit and more steam jutted out. His walking became unstable. 

 Kageyama yanked his hand and pulled him along. “Rest when you’re dead!” 

 “Ah, you’re kinda hot when you’re in command, Kags.” 

 “I will fucking kill you, Commander!” 

 “Hey, Kags if we get out of this—” 

 “We are getting out of this!” 

 “Ha.” Hinata grinned. “Right—Oh, hey! The exit!” 

 They ran into the night air; the steam rising from Hinata’s suit was a thick white in the frosty winds. 

 Hinata cried out, possibly of relief. Possibly of pain. He opened more parts of his suit and the steam seemed almost like an aura around him. 

 Even Kageyama felt his hand burning. “How are you not cooking in there?” 

 “Honestly, I think I might be!” 

 Kageyama scowled and kept pulling him up a hill. 

 “Hey Kags.” 

 “What!?” 

 “We’re holding hands.” 

 Kageyama aimed his gun and fired. 

 Hinata ducked, barely dodging a plasma bullet, but laughing all the while. He broke his hand away from Kageyama and began running on his own. 

 Kageyama grabbed him and threw him forward. “You’re an idiot, you—” 

 But gunshots littered at their feet. 

 Kageyama glanced over his shoulder. 

 Tanaka was atop a scorpion-shaped mecha, unleashing machine gun fire at them and quickly gaining ground. 

 “Oh you’re fucking kidding me,” Hinata yelled, “Go home!” 

 “Yeah!” Kageyama yelled, “Go home!” 

 “What the fuck!?” Tanaka yelled back, momentarily stopping his shooting. “Why would I go home!?” 

 “We’re done,” Hinata whispered. “We can’t outrun that thing.” 

 Kageyama paused, turning around. He knew it was true. 

”Keep moving!” came a crackle on the audio channel. It was Kunimi’s voice. ”We’ve got you covered!” 

 Gunshots began again, but this time aimed at Tanaka. 

 An aircraft lowered from the sky, side door open wide. Kindaichi was manning a turret and firing, while some of the others were unleashing rifle fire from the open door. 

 Tanaka brought the mecha’s scorpion claws in front of him, deflecting the bullets that were ripping into his machine. He growled and began his retreat. 

 The aircraft descended with a gush of air. 

 Hinata and Kageyama jumped into the vehicle. 

 Kunimi shoved the door closed. “Go!” 

 Kageyama closed his eyes, crashing on the floor. He heard a scream and, for a moment, thought the gunfire was still happening, but it was Hinata. He was burning in his suit. Hinata was releasing steam faster now, but it wasn’t enough. He would die. Kageyama knew this, somehow. He didn’t know how, but he suspected— 

Move your hand to the control panel. Your right hand. 

 Kageyama did as he was told. 

 Wires from above moved and two electrical arms shot cold air at him, to the point where the ground around him frosted to ice… though that began to melt rather quickly. 

 Kageyama stared. 

Should I take the suit off of him? 

No. It’s helping his body cool at a safe rate.
 

 Hinata was still screaming. 

 Kageyama looked around, noting this was a much larger aircraft than the one they arrived in. The other soldiers were staring, wide-eyed. “The mission’s finished,” he told them. 

 Goshiki led most of them away, to the passenger area Kageyama assumed. 

 Kindaichi and Kunimi stayed, as did Kageyama. 

 Kageyama swallowed hard. “Commander…” 

 “Good work…” Hinata managed to calm his breathing enough for that. He wiped his eyes. “I must look pathetic…” 

 Kageyama frowned. “You’re not the first soldier to cry…” 

 “And, uh.” Kindaichi bit his lip. “You look like you’re in more pain than I’ve ever been…” 

 “Let’s go,” Kunimi whispered. 

 The two of them left. 

 Kageyama stood, staring. This crippled being was the oh-so-powerful Commander he had once idolised from afar. 

 Hinata eventually managed to calm his breathing from the pain, but then he began shaking. Then, he began sobbing. “Why?” he asked, voice wet. “Why did they leave me…?” 

 Kageyama’s eyes softened. 

 “We were a team… we were… Why am I just the after-thought…? Why does everyone leave me behind…?” 

 Kageyama kneeled down. “Commander—” 

 “Shut up!” Hinata whimpered, “Shut up…” He shoved his face against the floor. “I’m nothing…” 

 “Hinata.” 

 Hinata paused, but didn’t do anything else. 

 “I don’t know,” Kageyama whispered. “I couldn’t… I can’t understand why anyone would leave you.” 

 Hinata looked up, eyes wide – with disbelief. 

 “You’re… Honestly. Annoying. You’re a brat. But you’re… warm, and kind. Caring. Stupid, but funny… you make me… happy.” Kageyama frowned at himself. “I can’t imagine why anyone would ever leave you, because… all I want is to be with you. You’re wild, and crazy, and you’re fucked up… and I love it.” 

 Hinata’s tears stopped falling, his expression was blank, mouth slightly ajar. 

 “I don’t know why they left you, but I won’t.” Kageyama looked down. “I know that… doesn’t fix things. I know that doesn’t give you the answers you need… but I won’t. I won’t leave you.” 

 “Kags?” 

 Kageyama looked up. 

 They both knew, it wasn’t just adrenaline this time— 

 “You’re a fucking idiot,” Hinata said in a laugh, before he pulled Kageyama into a kiss. 



End of Act 1. 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 7: Act 2, Part I 



 His eyes opened to dim light, barely recognising the tuft of orange hair at his bedside. He blinked a few times, forgetting every worry. He didn’t know where he was, why he was here, or who he was supposed to be. A few moments of utter bliss—of not caring about anything—until his eyes descended on that mess of orange hair. 

 It all came rushing back. 

 Hinata took a deep breath and ruffled that hair, smiling. “Natsu, wake up.” 

 Natsu peeked one eye open, slowly, and then the other opened as well. She stared at Hinata for a moment before smiling. “Shouyou!” She lunged up at him from her high-stool. 

 Hinata felt a wince as he curled an arm around her. “Come here,” he whispered quietly. He nuzzled her hair and felt her squeeze him tight. “Where am I?” 

 “The hospital!” Natsu pulled away and frowned a frown that could compete with Kageyama’s. “Because you’re dumb and you let yourself get hurt!” 

 “Natsu…” 

 “You promised!” 

 Hinata’s eyes softened. “I’m sorry.” 

 “Okay.” Natsu huffed. “But don’t let it happen again.” 

 “Yes ma’am.” Hinata used his other hand to give a salute. 

 Natsu smiled softly. 

 Hinata blinked twice. “Where’s my suit?” 

 “It’s being repaired.” 

 “Ah.” Hinata felt a thrum at his wrist, and closed his eyes. 

Suga? 

 There was no response, except a little beep that didn’t exist. 

 Hinata opened his eyes. He knew that meant Sugawara was busy and couldn’t reply verbally just yet. He leaned back against the pillow of the hospital bed and looked up at sceptic white ceilings. He closed his eyes again, unfocused this time. 

 “We have to let the doctor’s know!” Natsu hopped off the bed and ran to the little button on the side to call for a nurse or doctor. “There!” 

 “Mm, Natsu you’re so responsible.” He yawned. “I could just fall asleep and let you take care of everything.” 

 “No! I don’t have an in-come.” Natsu pouted. “And Auntie’s pen-son isn’t enough.” 

 “Pension,” he corrected with a smile. 

 “Auntie came by!” Natsu grabbed the railings of the hospital bed. “So did Kei, and Akiteru, yesterday. Daichi came lots of times! The Second Lord came too… he said he’d buy me a colouring book!” 

 Hinata gave a little quiet snort. “Did he?” 

 “Yep! And even the Emperor stopped by!” 

 “Yeah?” Hinata frowned. “How long was I out?” 

 “Forever!” 

 Hinata snorted. “How long is forever?” 

 “I don’t know! It was really long!” 

 Hinata sat up and looked at Natsu. “Mm, you don’t happen to know what happened to my unit?” 

 Natsu shook her head for a moment, then blinked. “Oh um. Two people came to visit! Or tried to… they weren’t allowed to see you.” 

 Two? Hinata thought it over. “Was it Kageyama?” 

 “No! Your no-good boyfriend didn’t show up.” Natsu pouted. “But um. One of them started with a K. But it wasn’t Kageyama. It was another K-person.” 

 “Kunimi?” 

 She shook her head. 

 “Kindaichi?” 

 “Yeah!” She moved her hands to the top of her head. “His hair was like this!” 

 “And the other was probably Goshiki right? Bowl-cut?” 

 “Yeah! He had a bowl-cut!” 

 “Hm.” Hinata rubbed his arm. “If they weren’t allowed in, then probably the others weren’t either.” 

 “Nope.” Natsu shook her head. “But I told the lady at the front to tell me if Kageyama came to visit! So I could kick him! She said no… he never came.” 

 “Ah.” Hinata’s eyes softened. “Why didn’t he come?” 

 “I told you, it’s because he’s a bad boyfriend!” 

 “Hmm.” Hinata took a deep breath. “I’m scared he got hurt.” 

 Natsu went quiet at that, obviously having never even considered it. 

 Hinata couldn’t blame her. 

 The doors opened. 

 Hinata looked forward. 

 “Commander Hinata,” said the doctor, who saluted. 

 “Kazuhito,” Hinata said with a small smile, “Let’s skip the formalities, ne?” 

 Kazuhito Narita held his clipboard close to his chest with one arm as he matched that sad little smile. “Very well… You absolutely pushed your suits to the limits, but luckily you didn’t pass them. You have showed signs of cell death, but only microscopic dots scattered around your epidermis. Your insides are fine. You’ll recover fairly easily. Your left arm is rather fu—” His eyes darted to Natsu, “F-Fricked up.” 

 Hinata couldn’t hide his smile. 

 Narita blushed a bit. “Um. But yes. That’s my diagnostic report. With your suit—after it’s repaired—you’ll heal pretty quickly.” 

 “Ah.” Hinata’s eyes darted to Natsu, then back to Narita. “And the Mark III system?” 

 “Well, he’s…” Narita took a deep breath. “He’s overloaded with tasks at this current moment, from what I understand. He’s splitting his systems to shift around the owners of the Mark III, as well as helping us process the conclusions of our recent battles against Aoba and Kara. Both he and the Emperor are going to age overnight at the rate they’re working themselves…” 

 “Long-term, though?” 

 “He’ll be fine… but in the present, he has run out of subsystems to use for communication purposes. No one, not you, not Main Command, not even the Emperor himself can hold a direct conversation with him in real time. We see his activity logs, though, and he’s working very efficiently through a multitude of tasks.” 

 “Right.” Hinata nodded slowly. “Can I get out of bed, Doc?” 

 “Yes. Are you sure, though? It’s best you rest.” 

 “Kazuhito, you know I’ll feel better when I don’t feel like a coma patient.” 

 Narita laughed at that. “Yes, you’ve always been a lot more extroverted than I can understand. I would love a chance to lay down in the middle of the day… hopefully with a book and some tea.” 

 Hinata snorted at that. 

 Even Natsu laughed. 

 Narita glanced at her, then back to him. “Your sister was kind enough to bring you some clothes.” 

 “Loose fitting!” Natsu repeated, as if she had learned it somewhere. 

 “Aww.” Hinata reached for her and pulled her into a hug, despite the cold handlebars at the side of the bed. “Thank you, Princess.” He kissed the top of her head and then waited until she backed away to swing his legs off the side of the bed. “Well. I know I’m pretty, but can you two look away?” 

 They did as told. 

 Hinata threw off his hospital gown and grabbed pair of boxers, loose grey sweatpants, and a black sleeveless shirt. He assumed Auntie picked out the clothes, since it wasn’t bright pink like everything else Natsu usually suggested. Not that it mattered; it wouldn’t be the first time Hinata walked around the palace in a hot pink outfit because Natsu asked. But, now, his only accessory was his wristband—a white ring that seemed to glow ominous mix of hues. It looked almost otherworldly. But he never took that off, ever. 

 Hinata put on his shoes next. 

 They were comfortable converse. Much better than combat boots. “I’m guessing I got my duties stacked up?” 

 “Um… Yes.” 

 Hinata glanced at him. 

 Narita turned to him and his worry formed creases on his forehead. “The first matter of business you must attend—orders from the Emperor—is about the one who may have made contact with the Mark III system, Tobio Takeda.” 

 “Kageyama?” Hinata blinked. “That’s his middle name. He goes by that.” 

 “Ah, noted. He’s been with the Shira’s higher ups since then.” 

 “What do you mean?” 

 Narita rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. “It’s best you go figure it out yourself.” 

 “Natsu,” Hinata leaned down as he whispered, “Come here.” 

 Natsu reached up for him. “Aren’t you hurt?” 

 Hinata picked her up and let her rest on his right arm. “It’s this hand that hurts, don’t worry.” 

 Natsu smiled at that. “Okay, but if it hurts you have to let me know. That’s an order, Shouyou!” 

 “Yes ma’am!” 

 Narita smiled and nodded. “You had best head to Main Command immediately to get a complete picture of what happened.” 

 “Right.” Hinata left the hospital and walked down the hallway. Even if this was the medical ward, most people recognised him immediately. Only a few stopped him to say something, mostly other soldiers just saying “Sir!” with a salute. Hinata gave them each a deep nod as he continued to the elevator at the end of the hallway. 

 The elevator blasted forward, horizontally towards the Imperial Palace. 

 Natsu laid her head on his shoulder. “What happened to Kageyama on your mission?” 

 “It’s classified.” 

 She pouted. 

 “Ah, don’t worry. It’ll be okay.” 

 “I’m not worrying.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “He’s an ugly monster anyway!” 

 “Alright.” Hinata laughed. “If you say so.” 

 The elevator door opened. 

 Hinata stepped forward and walked towards the place that was the most well-defended in all of Shira, Main Command—the central hub and command centre of the entire nation. Main Command was shaped like a massive cockpit, with the central station being Ushijima’s throne. U-shaped tables were multitudes of desks, on two levels, and the windows (that doubled as screens when needed) showed a view of the beautiful city they spent every day protecting. 

 He entered from the side entrance and headed to the desk on the far side of the U. 

 Daichi was leaning over Yamaguchi’s desk, analysing data on his computer. He looked away for a moment, eyes wide. “Shouyou. You’re up.” 

 “Yep.” 

 Daichi saluted. “Commander.” 

 Hinata moved to salu—”Ow.” He winced. 

 Natsu cried out, “Your arm! It’s hurt! Don’t move it!” 

 “Aw, okay.” Hinata glanced at Daichi. “No salutes from me.” 

 Daichi had a small smile before it faded. “We have a situation that needs your attention immediately.” 

 Natsu gasped. “You’re sending him away! He just got up!” 

 “Ah.” Daichi rubbed the back of his head. “It’s a situation here in Shira. Don’t worry. It’s just, a… um… military-political thing.” 

 “Oh. Okay.” Natsu nodded. “So no danger?” 

 “No danger.” 

 Everyone in Main Command turned to see the little Hinata, awing a little. 

 “Daichi.” Hinata’s eyes were focused though. “What is the situation?” 

 “Well, it’s regarding Private Takeda—” 

 “Private Kageyama,” Hinata corrected. 

 Daichi looked at him. “Private Kageyama disobeyed the orders of your Second-in-Command, rescued you, and he has claimed to have done do it because he made contact with the Mark III system.” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata stared. “And?” 

 “Well.” Daichi blinked. “That’s what he said… and, there was no one to back him up.” 

 Hinata frowned. “What do you mean?” 

 “Well, Kou—The Mark III system has been busy since, he’s been—” 

 “That part’s covered, Daichi.” Hinata frowned. “So, you need me to confirm his… actions. Right. Where is he?” 

 “He’s in Block Y. A holding cell—” 

 “A holding cell?” Hinata’s head snapped to the side. “Are you fucking kidding—” 

 But the throne was empty. 

 “The Emperor is away at this time,” came an annoyed voice. 

 Hinata turned to see Shirabu Kenjirou—the Emperor’s aide. 

 Shirabu moved some hair of his slanted bangs out of his eyes, and merely said. “He’ll get back when he gets back. We put your little ruckus in a holding cell because that’s protocol. Nobody expected you to pass out for an entire week, Commander. We didn’t expect the Mark III system to take so long, either.” 

 Hinata blinked. “So, where’s the Emperor then?” 

 “He’s getting fitted.” Shirabu could barely suppress the grin. “For the Mark IV.” 

 “Mark IV,” Hinata repeated. His eyes widened. “So! You totally believe him! That Kageyama made contact with the system! That’s why you’re getting Ushimushi fitted for his next suit.” 

 “Do not refer to the Emperor that way.” 

 “Ah,” came Daichi’s voice. “Yes. But. Look—we just need someone to confirm what’s going on. Breaking the chain of command is, as you know, a high crime in the military. The Mark III system does rank higher than the Private you chose as your Second-in-Command, though.” 

 Hinata nodded. “Right. Send me the number of his holding cell and I’ll visit immediately. Daichi.” He glanced to his sister. “Can you make sure someone takes Natsu home?” 

 “Shouyou!” the squeaky voice cried out, “No!” 

 “It’s just for a bit, okay?” Hinata smiled softly at her. “I’ll be home for dinner. Promise!” 

 “Okay, okay…” She pouted. “I’ll tell Auntie.” 

 Hinata kissed her cheek. “That’s why you’re my favourite sister!” 

 “I’m your only sister!” 

 Footsteps; one heavier than the other. “Hinata.” 

 Hinata glanced over his shoulder. 

 Tsukishima stood behind him, most likely having entered only recently. “I’ll take her home.” 

 Hinata walked over to him and handed Natsu over. “Okay. Thanks bud.” 

 “The situation has changed more than everyone else here is letting on,” Tsukishima warned. “A lot more has happened… and a lot more is at risk. You should work quickly to resolve the issue between Kageyama and the chain of command.” 

 Hinata glanced around, and then he noticed what was missing. 

 Iwaizumi. 

 “Where’s the Second Lord?” Hinata’s eyes widened. The Datekou was sent out in the battle with Aoba, and— 

 “He’s alive,” Shirabu’s voice cut in. “The Datekou returned with the other ships.” 

 “Then. The big battle with Aoba is over?” 

 “Commander,” Shirabu’s voice was getting sharper. “Get to the damn holding cell and get your fucking debrief. Move it, soldier.” 

 “Right.” Hinata felt a cold chill. 

 Natsu frowned at Shirabu, but turned to Hinata. “Bye Shouyou!” 

 “Bye Natsu!” Hinata waved enthusiastically despite only being a step away. He glanced to Tsukishima and nodded. “Thank you, Tsukishima.” 

 Tsukishima paused, if only because it horrified him when Hinata addressed him properly. 






 Hinata made his way to Block Y. He had his ID card ready, but everyone let him pass. They knew who he was. This was a military zone, and his unmistakable orange hair was all the identification they needed. He felt his heart rate rise with every step. He had images of Kageyama being tortured, or denied food, water in exchange for information. He didn’t like those images. He doubted they were real, but if Shirabu’s dry tone was anything to go by… these were desperate times for Shira. 

 He finally used his ID card to slide it through the card reader, opening the door of the holding cell. 

 He blinked. 

 At a low table, Kageyama sat cross-legged, across from Iwaizumi. Hinata noted what looked like green tea and snacks, rice cakes, on the table before they both looked up at him. 

 Kageyama’s eyes filled with relief, and he looked like he was about to get up, but stopped himself. 

 Iwaizumi stood up. “You’re awake.” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata stepped in, letting the automatic door close behind him. “I’m good. What’s going on?” 

 Iwaizumi stared at him and sighed. “Where to start? Take a seat.” 

 Hinata did. 

 Iwaizumi did as well. “We’ll deal with… your side of the events first. Private Kageyama said he made contact with the Mark III system. Because of that, he denied the orders by your Second-in-Command and rescued you.” 

 “I’m aware of the situation,” Hinata said calmly. “Everything you’ve said is true so far.” 

 “Right.” Iwaizumi closed his eyes for a moment before opening again. “I need to have some kind of record, something signed. He rescued you, yes, but the ends do not justify the means in war. It’s still a break of the chain of command, something we can’t allow. If Kageyama is really compatible with the Mark III system, then doubly so—we can’t have high ranking units disrespecting the chain of command.” 

 “Sugawara,” Hinata said. “He stands above both Private Kunimi and myself in the chain of command.” 

 “I understand that,” Iwaizumi’s tone was even, though stressed. “I still need some kind of proof, something in writing. Koushi is beyond us, right now. His communication channels are offline.” 

 “So, you need me to fill out a report to get this guy out of here?” 

 “Private Kunimi provided us with a rough draft that you can edit.” Iwaizumi grabbed a datapad and offered it. 

 Hinata took it and sat down at the table as he began to scroll. He still hadn’t looked at Kageyama yet, but he could tell Kageyama was dying for his attention. Not entirely surprising, Hinata also wanted to jump and squish and hug that little blueberry moron with all his might. But. Now. Now, he was a soldier. Now, he was Commander. Personal relationships were not relevant. 

 Iwaizumi took a seat and looked at Hinata. “How does the report look?” 

 “Bless that kiddo, honestly,” Hinata whispered. “Private Kunimi has filled out the report flawlessly, including timestamps and everything else we need. Alright.” He tapped the screen and a keyboard lit up an inch above the datapad. He began typing, speaking out loud as well: “Private Kageyama gained an enhanced understanding of the situation due to his connection with the Mark III command system. He received orders from the Mark III which conflicted with previous orders by lower-ranking officers.” He scrolled a bit more. “The rest is fine.” He tapped the bottom and swiped his signature. “There. It’s in writing.” 

 Iwaizumi took the datapad and nodded. He glanced forward. “You’re a free man, Kageyama.” 

 Kageyama swallowed hard. “Thank you, my lord.” 

 Iwaizumi nodded. 

 Hinata glanced to Kageyama, who instantly made eye contact. Hinata’s face softened. “I’m sorry.” 

 “Don’t be,” Kageyama murmured awkwardly. 

 Hinata smiled. 

 Iwaizumi reviewed the report before submitting it. “We took the time to do some tests with him. He is compatible with the Mark III system.” 

 Hinata glanced at Iwaizumi. “He’s getting his own suit?” 

 “Yes.” 

 Kageyama bristled, smile becoming bright and wiggly. 

 “The hardware is the newest,” Iwaizumi said simply as he still looked over the report. “The suit was originally Ushijima’s, which was made before Hinata’s, but we’ve replaced most of the main components and fitted it with several upgrades to suit your combat style.” 

 “That’s…” Kageyama’s eyes widened. “Why you gathered data on us on the first day of the program? So the suit could find out our needs.” 

 “Yep!” Hinata grinned. 

 Iwaizumi nodded as well, sipping his tea. 

 Kageyama went on, “And the Emperor is being upgraded as well, to the Mark IV?” 

 “Yes. It’s a strong step forward to our military power… which is exactly what we need right now.” 

 Iwaizumi had said that in a tone that made Hinata wonder if there was more to the story. Judging by the look on Kageyama’s face, he seemed to understand. Hinata was going to ask when Iwaizumi tapped his gauntlet, causing holographic screens to appear across the table. Hinata knew what he was looking at. Aoba. He was looking at the enemy city state of Aoba. 

 But there were military vehicles in the image too. 

 It was a still-shot, with a slight motion blur. A video put on pause. 

 Hinata glanced to Iwaizumi. “This is the battle you were in?” 

 “You’re not going to like this,” Iwaizumi prefaced before he hit play. 

 The movie began to move forward; their army of mechas, land vehicles, aircrafts, soldiers, and more were all moving forward. Towards Aoba. 

 Hinata’s eyes widened. “You launched a full assault on their capital?” 

 “They baited us,” Iwaizumi whispered, “And we took it. It was a mistake.” 

 The battle began on screen; the sound of gunshots were muted slightly. 

 Kageyama was silent. 

 Hinata glanced at him. “You’ve seen this before?” 

 “Yes.” 

 Hinata looked back at the screen. 

 He knew this was the south side of Aoba. Aoba was diamond shape, designed on a perfect grid system. The southern tip (the side closest to Shira) was their military quarter. There were several screens though, not just the main one. Some were aerial views, others from the side. Different viewpoints of the same battle; all of them showed Shira’s overwhelming might, overwhelming army moving towards a weakly defended Aoba. 

 “They’re not sending any units out?” Hinata asked. 

 Iwaizumi rubbed his jaw. “That should have been our first warning.” 

 Hinata’s eyes narrowed. Aoba had more than enough mechas and aircraft to assure him their main army was indeed in Aoba – there wouldn’t be another force attacking from the rear. 

 Iwaizumi murmured, “Pay attention to the aerial cameras.” 

 Hinata looked – and then he saw it. “Cracks?” He saw them, lines breaking the ground and soil. “An earthquake? In a battle?” No. Impossible. “Oikawa caused it,” he realised. “No, he wouldn’t do that – that would destroy their rural lands and cut them off from supplies—” 

 But a wall of earth suddenly rose in front of the land vehicles. 

 And there were cannons inside the rising earth. 

 “What the f—” but before Hinata could say the epithet, the sound of explosions echoed in the holding cell. He watched as canon fire began obliterating Shira’s forces. 

 Iwaizumi tapped his gauntlet, highlighting a screen near the top-right. It grew and Iwaizumi explained, “That’s my viewpoint, from the Datekou.” It wasn’t an aerial viewpoint but its incredible height was showing what the other cameras couldn’t. 

 “You’re…” Hinata’s voice sounded faraway, “You’re telling me… an entire fucking city just… lifted itself off the ground?” 

 “It gets worse,” was all Iwaizumi added. 

 “All the minerals,” Kageyama whispered, “All the supplies they’ve been hoarding…” 

 Hinata couldn’t hear them. His eyes were transfixed on what he saw. Stationary canons always had more firepower than mobile units, and the fact that Aoba’s underside was lidded with canons, plasma rays, blasters, missile launchers— 

 The sky turned red, reflecting the explosions and fires everywhere, there was screaming over the radio. 

 Iwaizumi switched the main screen. 

 It was a camera further back, which let them see Shira’s forces as well as Aoba. They could see the Datekou charge in—ahead of the other units and spread its arms: Its massive wingspan was a barrier, a shield, for the other units as the explosions clouded the figure in whirling dark fires. 

 Iwaizumi stiffened as he felt Hinata look at him. “I thought I was going to die,” he admitted. “The Datekou is not broken… but it is damaged. It’s going to stay out of a fight for a while.” 

 The missile attack continued, with sweeping blue-green rays of plasma moving through the smoke, bullets and electric shocks being a part of the onslaught as well. 

 Hinata’s eyes were wide. 

 Kageyama frowned. “But that kind of missile attack means they won’t be able to have another huge blast like this anytime soon, right?” 

 “Yes.” Iwaizumi nodded. “Even with what they have been hoarding, it’s not possible for them to have such an assault anytime soon. Plus, they’re also adjusting their city to the sky life.” 

 “Wait.” Hinata blinked back into the focus. “You mean they’re still in the sky?” 

 “Yes.” Iwaizumi’s jaw tightened. “Oikawa turned Aoba into a sky fortress. It has cannons on all sides, sensors on all flanks, hatches for aerial crafts and God knows what else.” 

 Hinata looked back at the screen, hearing the screams for retreat over and over. “How many did we lose?” 

 “There’s too much to mention.” Iwaizumi sighed. “Financially, it was a disaster. Resource-wise, it was like a missile launch to our main base. The casualties…” 

 “How many hundreds?” 

 “It broke four digits. Halfway to five.” 

 Hinata paled. 

 Iwaizumi stopped the video. “So… Datekou’s gone, Aoba is off the ground, we’ve still got Kara running amid the underground, and our army is in shambles. To top it off, everyone’s favourite war hero, Commander Hinata Shouyou, has been hospitalised for over a week.” He turned to Hinata and his eyes were firm. “If resources, numbers, finance, and defenses all shattering isn’t enough… morale has dropped to the point it’s crippled our workforce. We’ve lost everything, and we won’t recover if our city is in shambles.” 

 Hinata understood, eyes locked with Iwaizumi. “The Mark IV.” 

 “It’s the only thing that can turn the tide, change the air suffocating this city. And.” Iwaizumi glanced to Kageyama. “A new Mark III.” Iwaizumi got a nod from Kageyama and addressed them both, “Oikawa might have turned Aoba into a skycity fortress, but even he will know fear from a Mark IV. Kara, too, will most likely back off. At least enough for us to get a hold over them.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. 

 Hinata glanced at him. “You don’t think so?” 

 Iwaizumi blinked at Kageyama. 

 “U-Um.” Kageyama swallowed hard. “Second Lord, Sir… I don’t know much about Kara… but if they’re the people of the slums, they get agitated easily. Skycities and Marks… it might be a catalyst for them to do something drastic, to make sure they’re not wiped off the map by the big guys.” He bit the inside of his cheek. “The people of the slums… I grew up around them. If they follow that mindset, then I’m pretty sure they’ll want to turn this into a three-way war… They want to be one of the big guys, not the lower class rabble they are.” 

 Iwaizumi smiled at that. “Exactly correct.” He nodded. “That’s most likely been their motivation so far. They’ve been moving into Metropolis lately, with robots that can withstand the miasma.” 

 “Kinoshita’s,” Hinata murmured. 

 Iwaizumi nodded again. “Yes, but Aoba has been moving in as well – not with robots, but with people. Mark IIs equipped with full suits.” 

 “But.” Hinata gawked. “They don’t have life support systems! Or filter systems!” 

 “It’s pretty pathetic,” Iwaizumi admitted, “But they’re trying.” 

 “Well, uh.” Hinata blinked. “The longest time they can be on the ground would be… maybe an hour? Little less?” 

 “Pretty close, Commander. Koushi estimated fifty-eight minutes. But the point is Aoba and Kara are both there, something is happening there, and we’re not there. I’ll also remind you both, that the Mark III and Mark IV are not our only saving grace, here. The two of you brought back an incredibly large chunk of diamgen from that plateau you were in.” 

 Hinata and Kageyama looked at each other, sharing a smirk. 

 Iwaizumi couldn’t help but smile as well. “We need to make an announcement of the new suits, and then when you’re rested… we’ll send you two out when we can.” 

 “I’ll go,” Hinata said. “Now.” 

 “You can’t,” Iwaizumi corrected. “Don’t try it. You’re wounded. Plus… Kageyama isn’t used to his Mark III yet, nor has Koushi even started to get used to Kageyama’s neuronal patterns. Worst of all, Koushi needs to get used to no longer talking to Ushijima while also learning how to best divide his systems between the two of you. This will be a lengthy process.” 

 Hinata bit his lip. 

 Kageyama looked between them. “Will… that be a problem? For… Sugawara.” 

 “Not exactly,” Iwaizumi explained, “It’s more a matter of time. He needs to get used to new teammates. It will take some time, possibly months, but if the two of you are nearby it shouldn’t be an issue. The two of you are used to each other, somewhat, so you should be able to help bridge the distance.” 

 “Um… Second Lord, Commander.” Kageyama frowned. “What… exactly is Sugawara?” 

 Hinata stared at him. 

 Iwaizumi did the same. 

 Kageyama looked between the both of them. 

 Finally, Hinata looked to Iwaizumi. 

 Iwaizumi took a deep breath. “It depends who you ask. Some people say he’s a human… some say he’s what’s left of one, just a husk, an empty body. Others, like myself, believe he’s the opposite—a human mind with no body. Koushi Sugawara is the Mark III system… but he wasn’t always that. The Koushi Sugawara you know, the Second Lord before me, was entirely human. To enhance the war efforts and to procure the missing piece of the Mark III system, he became a mix of biological and artificial intelligence. A robotic system empowered by the human brain… or, maybe it’s better to say he’s the system that expands the human brain, enabling it to become a synthesis of neural chemical-electric signals and binary code.” 

 Kageyama looked at Hinata. 

 Hinata just nodded slowly. 

 “Private.” Iwaizumi took another breath. “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but this is classified.” 

 “Your…” Kageyama was still looking at Hinata. “Your brother, is the system?” 

 “Yep. It’s why I had a hundred percent chance to connect with him. We know each other, we understand each other.” 

 “And.” Kageyama frowned. “My ten percent?” 

 “It’s because you met, we met, long time ago.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “Ten percent, from a single meeting?” 

 “Mm.” Hinata had a sad smile as he looked away. “I think it was probably because of Ukai, you know? He wouldn’t forget Ukai’s son. Your dad taught him martial arts. Other than that… I was kind of obsessed with you for a bit. I took acrobat courses after that.” 

 Kageyama wanted to smile, but what he understood as the truth was still elusive to him. “So the Mark III system, the voice, is a human?” 

 “Yes, that’s how it gives Hinata data in terms vision, audio, and tactile sensation.” Iwaizumi cupped his mug of tea but didn’t drink from it. “Its data is dual-coded, so that a computer or a brain can both understand it.” 

 “So will the… Mark III affect my brain?” 

 “It gives information directly to your brain,” Iwaizumi clarified. “If you’re wondering, both the Emperor and Shouyou have been using this for more than a few years and have showed no long-term behavioural or neuronal changes.” 

 “So.” Kageyama swallowed hard. “When will… Sugawara be… free?” 

 “He won’t, probably.” Hinata looked up at him. “Not until Mark IIIs are obsolete, or this damn war ends.” 

 Kageyama glanced to Iwaizumi. “And the Mark IV?” 

 “It does need, a sacrifice. But we are unsure of where it stands. Ushijima is still the test run before we can even think of manufacturing a second one.” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 “I’ll say this, though.” Iwaizumi tapped his gauntlet again. “The Mark III system is a dark secret for Shira, and nobody likes it. However.” 

 The screen changed, and it was Kageyama’s turn for his eyes to widen. 

 In a dark laboratory underground, Sugawara was there, shoulders raised, arms to the side, like a bird taking flight. Except he was unmoving, hanging supported by wires and mechanical arms. He was nude, save for undergarments, and cords were hooked into him from all sides. The only light in the area seemed to be coming from a platform he stood over, which emanated a blue plasma light aloft, guiding shadows upwards. 

 “But the Mark III,” Iwaizumi continued, “Is the reason we’re not dead yet.” 

 “I… understand, the necessity…” Kageyama stared, eyes wiggling slightly as he didn’t know where to focus. 

 Hinata looked away, only whispering one thing: “Don’t tell Natsu.” 

 Kageyama looked at him. 

 Hinata stared up, eyes burning. “Whatever you do, don’t fucking tell Natsu.” 

 Iwaizumi clenched his jaw. 

 Kageyama nodded slowly. “I won’t.” 

 “Promise me.” 

 “I promise.” 

 Hinata’s eyes softened ever so slightly. “Good.” 

 “Um.” Iwaizumi straightened his back. “The two of you—” 

Shouyou. 

 Hinata’s head snapped towards the screen. “Hey!” He forced a smile, a fake one; and, judging by the look Kageyama was giving him, he suspected Kageyama knew. I mean, hey. 

I’ve missed a lot it seems. 

 I did too. I’ll fill you in, okay?
 

 Iwaizumi stared at him. “You’ve made contact with him?” 

 Hinata nodded. “Yeah.” 

 Iwaizumi glanced to Kageyama. “And you?” 

 Kageyama held up the wristband—a white ring that seemed to glow ominous mix of hues. It looked almost otherworldly. “Yes.” 

 “Good.” Iwaizumi nodded. “That means Ushijima should have made contact as well.” 

Hinata, Kageyama—we have a lot to discuss. 






 The thing about the Mark Suits is once you feel the power, you rarely go back. Once enhanced, you feel weak without the suit—you long for your suit. The suit, and the complications that arise with it, are an offer that can’t be refused once you accept. I engaged in a few quiet discussions with Kageyama, asking him to stop, to turn back, before it was too late… but he was determined. 

 When Hinata was distracted by officer duties, I decided this was the best time. I forced him to see images that were too real to be just memories. I let the sensations flood him: The sound of gunfire, the smell of dust, sand in the air scratching skin, the smell of burning flesh, and millions of sights of war. 

 I showed him Hinata, getting shot, a single shot breaking a joint valve—I echoed the scream so it would be even more horrible than reality. 

 But Kageyama stood tall, undeterred. 

 I tried harder. I showed him an explosion of war, streams of images. I showed him that this suit meant pain. The suit was punishment. The suit made a person into a god of war, and Kageyama would have to pay the price for such an impossible existence every day of his life. 

 But Kageyama was Kageyama. 

 Stubborn to a fault—once he locked on to his target, he moved to execute without hesitation. Nothing would stand in his way; nothing would hinder his ascent to power. 

 He reminded me of Hinata in that regard. It scared me. But it also made me happy, in some way? I had been hooked up to Hinata’s brain for a long time, and I could see the dark tide that was swallowing and morphing his neuronal activity. Hinata was losing himself, and I wondered if someone like Kageyama – as hungry as Kageyama – could be something positive for him, an anchor in the storm. I knew then what I can tell you clearly now… 

 The “Romance” that was blossoming between Kageyama and Hinata was war-torn, unnatural, and born from desperation… not love. I had hoped it would give them each other, I had hoped that it would give Hinata someone to be himself with, and I had hoped it would help them for the better. But I was wrong.
 






Chapter 7: Infodex 07: Mark III Brace (MK3B) 



 The bracelet worn by Wakatoshi Ushijima, Shouyou Hinata, and Tobio Kageyama Takeda is known as a Mark III Brace, MK3B for short. It is the source of the primary connection between the Mark III System and the Mark III User. It creates the link that allows data transference between the two, regardless of distance between them. 

 The Mark III Suit greatly enhances the bracelet’s power by simulating its effects all over the user’s body. The strongest connection is the head, though it can feel overpowering at times. For this reason, Mark III users only adorn their helmets when necessary. This separates them from usual units who will often maximise protective gear as much as possible. 

 Aoba stole a Mark III from Shira, but they did not grab the suit’s corresponding MK3B. 

 That is the critical piece they left behind; and, due to that oversight on Kiyoko Shimizu’s part, they have not been able to utilise the Mark III they stole. 

 This, however, was still very costly to Shira who had to rebuild a Mark III suit. Shira instead to wait until the Mark IV was ready to begin finding another Mark III user. 

 The microchip planted in Mark III prototypes and the Modified Mark II Suits is made of MK3B. This allows those who are compatible to communicate with the Mark III System even without normal communication channels. 






Chapter 7: Act 2, Part II 



 Kageyama had never had an opinion on religion or gods. It was out of practicality, really: He never wondered if gods existed because they weren’t bugging him day to day. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t, but now… one thing was clear. If gods did exist, he understood what it was like to be one of them. 

 His suit brimmed to life around him. 

 He looked at his fingertips and saw everything, every microscopic detail he couldn’t even understand. A single movement of his hand through the air allowed him to understand which chemicals were in the air and what their ratios were. He clenched his hand into a fist, and felt power undeniable. 

 He was a god. 

 A god of war. 

 Hinata was eying him from the side, smiling. 

 Kageyama could feel the minute shift in Hinata’s body posture, and his head snapped to the side to inspect. 

 Hinata seemed more amused than anything by the response. 

 Kageyama had to plant both feet firmly on the metal flooring to ground himself. The sensations, the information, were almost overwhelming. “So. How does my Mark III look?” 

 Hinata’s lips curved into a smile. “Pretty snazzy.” 

 “What.” Kageyama blinked. 

Snazzy, adjective: It means stylish and attractive. 

 Kageyama nodded. “Oh, okay.” 

 Hinata laughed and then gave a thumbs up. “You look good.” 

 “So.” Kageyama closed his eyes and forced a thought. 

 Hinata tilted his head. “What are you trying to do?” 

 “The thought-commands.” 

 “Huh? Oh.” Hinata laughed. “Well they’re just like they say they are… Just think about your helmet going up, over your head.” 

 Kageyama thought about it than tried harder. 

Relax, Kageyama. Your suit isn’t your slave to order around: it’s you. Just think of it like I want to put on my helmet in the same way you would think ‘I want to move my arm’. It’s like opening or closing a hand. A new limb.

 Kageyama closed his eyes and felt his helmet tug, until something panged on his temple. “Ow!” 

 Hinata burst out into laughter. 

 Kageyama’s helmet had assembled about halfway before it stayed there. “Shut up!” 

It’s a very solid attempt for day one, Kageyama.
 

 Kageyama dismissed the helmet, and found that it at least went away with ease. 

 Hinata held up his gloved hand. Without even a thought, the glove disassembled, then reassembled but left the top of his fingers exposed; fingerless gloves. “It’s pretty nifty when you master it.” 

 “Well.” Kageyama frowned. “How long did it take you to master it?” 

 “Took me about a month. Ushimushi got it in a couple weeks, though.” 

 Kageyama simply thought about wanting to scan Hinata’s posture and a blue visor appeared over his eyes, already scanning. “This is effective.” 

 “Yeah! The Mark III mainly focuses on advancing normal human possibilities. Like, watch.” Hinata held up his titanium handgun and it flipped to brutaliser mode without a single action on Hinata’s part – except thought, Kageyama guessed.

 “So it can communicate with our equipment.” 

 “It makes us faster in every single way.” 

 “I hope it does more than just speed up the regular equipment.” 

 “Of course! You’ve seen how I modify my plasma shots to burn. But that’s not all – it also allows for endogenous and exogenous attention systems!” 

 “What does that mean?” 

 “I have no idea!” 

 There was a sigh and walking towards them was Lieutenant-Specialised Daichi Sawamura. “Commander, please. I’ve explained this to you a hundred times.” 

 “Sorry!” Hinata grinned. “I try not to remember more than I have to!” 

 “Commander,” Daichi chastised, but his lips formed a smile. He turned to Kageyama and nodded. “The suit is designed around the human brain, and the brain has different cognitive systems.” 

 “Cognitive systems?” 

 “Yes, a simple example is short-term memory and long-term memory. We know they are different systems because people who lose ability for long-term memory do not lose ability for short-term memory. Similarly, if you were put in an experiment that interrupted your ability to access your short-term memory, your long-term memory will still work properly.” 

 “We’re not talking brain structures,” Kageyama murmured, “Are we?” 

 “No, we’re talking mental systems. Rather than biological structures, we mean the neuronal activity patterns between structures. Going into full detail would be too long and complex for now, but essentially… different brain activity for different things, right? Understanding language and producing language, for example, are closely linked and work together – but they are two different systems.” 

 “Okay… How does this relate to my suit?” 

 “The Mark III essentially gives you more systems, and allows several of them to work together, even simultaneously, while otherwise humanly impossible.” 

 Kageyama frowned. 

 Hinata laughed. “I think you lost him.” 

 “An example, then.” Daichi kept his smile. “Imagine you have someone at gunpoint. You know they want to run away. Suddenly, a large explosion happens twenty meters away. Whether you want to or not, your mind will shift its attention to the explosion, even if it’s only for half a second.” 

 “Right.” Kageyama nodded. “Survival instinct will kick in.” 

 “And it’s a powerful one. That shift of attention is unexpected and involuntary, and will override any voluntary decision on where you should focus your attention. Back to the example: If the person you’re aiming your gun at knows the explosion is going to happen, he will run away while you’re distracted.” 

 “Right.” 

 “So, while your brain is overridden by the survival instinct, the Mark III system will also allow you to keep focused on the person in front of you.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. 

 Hinata piped up, “It’s kind of like having two brains! Two sets of eyes, you know? Two minds!” 

 “Along with the power ups and enhancements of your suit,” Daichi went on, “The Mark III’s finest weapon is creating a soldier that can see the entire battlefield and react to sudden changes, quicker than anyone else. You’ll exist in the immediate perspective as well as the greater picture at the same time.” 

 “And that…” Kageyama glanced at his hand again. “That’s what makes me a thousand times stronger?” 

 “When you sync with the system and get used to it, yes. You will become the fabled god of war.” 

 Kageyama kept staring at his suit. “How do I access the glow feature?” 

 “Glow?” 

 “When Hinata uses his ignite command, the orange fluid makes his body… shine. Like molten rock, almost.” 

 “Molten rock,” Hinata repeated with amusement. His hand began to glow orange, through obsidian cracks, and he smiled. The light was crystalline and shimmering. He nodded. “I never thought of it like that before.” 

 “The fluid…” Daichi hummed. “It’s best we get to that later. I just came to check up on your current progress, and hopefully to answer any questions I can answer.” 

 “I have one,” Kageyama said simply. “Other people seem fine, but when you came near Sugawara went silent.” 

 Daichi clenched his jaw. 

 Hinata awkwardly looked away. 

Kageyama… 

 “I see.” Daichi turned abruptly. “I’ll take my leave then.” 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 Hinata spun, “Wait, Daichi—” 

 “It’s fine,” Daichi replied before storming off. 

 Hinata watched him go. 

Oh Kageyama… I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to put you in that position. 

 What… did I do?
 

 Hinata glanced at him, it was obvious he hadn’t heard Sugawara as he said, “There’s a long story between Daichi and Suga.” 

 “I see… I’m sorry.” 

It’s my fault. The lieutenant and I haven’t… We were in a romantic relationship… we haven’t, talked much since I became… electronic. 

 That sounds.
 Kageyama bit his lip. Complicated. 

It is, and it gets worse. Daichi lost his position as a Third Lord because… I’m sorry. It’s a long story, and I don’t really want to talk about it right now. 

 Okay. It’s fine. Let’s focus on the suit.
 






The truth of the matter was that I only became Second Lord because of Daichi’s help. When we met, he was a Commander. He was Hinata’s current rank, which is the highest enlisted officer. Less than three percent of the army ever made it to Commander. We met on a mission, found a little chemistry between us during the mission briefing, and he saved me from being shredded by a mecha when the mission failed horribly. 

 I fell in love with my saviour. Of course, I think both he and I knew that a crush based on a deeply physiological rush of fight or flight hormones was probably not the best foundation for a relationship. 

 On our next mission together, months later, I was determined to return the favour. I executed his orders excellently. He took an interest in me because of my skills on the battlefield… at least that’s what he said. He asked if he could buy me a drink later. When Daichi rose to Third Lord, I rose from Captain to Lieutenant. 

 He didn’t hand me my promotions. 

 No, he didn’t. But what he did give me was opportunities, to prove my skill. I earned a promotion to Lieutenant, then Commander, and Third Lord by myself. 

 Then the previous Second Lord died. 

 Ushijima turned to Daichi, asking him to be his Second Lord, his left hand, his tactician, his mastermind. But Daichi refused. Daichi said he would feel safer, and felt Shira would be stronger, if I was the Second Lord. Out of only a few Third Lords, I may have been the least experienced, but I knew I was the next choice. Ushijima trusted Daichi’s judgement and my skill enough to make Second Lord. 

 Our relationship bloomed. 

 We found love, and life, and happiness among our war-torn traumatised minds. He was touched to see me raising Hinata and Natsu on my own, with only some help from Tsukishimas and my overworked aunt. He became part of the family that day, and he became a part of my heart. I loved him. I loved him more than I could ever describe. For once, I didn’t have to be a war-orphan, for once I didn’t have to be a soldier, didn’t have to be an older brother… 

 For once, I could sink myself into his arms and forget the world. 

 I loved him, and he loved me. 

 And then the Mark III program hit an unexpected error. The truth was, we had someone else who was originally going to be used as the Mark III’s conduit, the system, but a knife from Aoba ended that person’s life, and we were left with only a few who could actually access the system. I was capable. I offered myself. 

 It was either me or Kuroo—and I couldn’t let it be Kuroo. 

 It had to be me. 

 Daichi was my closest friend, confidant, love of my life, and the man who asked me to marry him a month before this all happened. When I offered myself, Daichi said no. He said it was ridiculous, that I have given enough for Shira, that we could find another. But I was a practical man, and Ushijima was the same. We knew the Mark III System had to be someone with a very specific biological makeup. We knew – besides the man who was just murdered – I was the only one who could be trusted with all the information I would have access to as the Mark III. 

 We went through with it. 

 Ushijima accepted Daichi’s criticism at first – for two reasons. One, criticism from his tactician often helped solidify his plans and make them better; two, because Daichi was a friend… and Ushijima could not dismiss the pain in his heart so easily. But soon enough was enough, and between Aoba’s sky raids and Shira’s losses, Ushijima needed the Mark III. It was clear Daichi was acting out of a place of emotion, and not for Shira. Daichi said he was acting for humanity, but if he wasn’t going to protect Shira then he was going to let the humanity of Shira die. 

 Personally, I remember thinking we didn’t particularly have a need for humanity. 

 Ushijima stripped Daichi of his sovereign status, demoting him to Commander. Then, eventually, Daichi fell further to Lieutenant, then Captain. Over time, he regained his rank as Lieutenant, but he never regained what we lost when the two of us chose different paths that day. The war was always an uphill battle, and we were all giving to give everything we were for it. Not a single one of us were willing to stop, to slow down, or to back down. Daichi, that day, was. Because of that… he and I… we… Well, I don’t want to give too much away too soon, do I? 

 Ha, I managed to go a few chapters without an editor line. Ah well, the editor will probably have to fix this part up. It wouldn’t do good to have a book of history lidded with all my emotions, but maybe that’s the reason for this first draft… 

 Anyway. 

 The day of the Mark announcements came.
 






 Kageyama was not used to brushes or dust in his face, but he sat through it like a soldier trained to sit through orders. To be fair, it wasn’t that bad, he just had a lot of questions and it was obvious neither the makeup team nor Sugawara wanted to answer them. He looked at himself in the mirror and saw the pale colouring of his face and frowned at it. “Am I supposed to look a little dead?” 

 Hinata cackled. “No!” He beamed a smile. “We use warm light when we go on the camera, so the foundation they use is one shade colder than our skin tone. It helps counter and makes us look good. This is how they did it in my brother’s days, too.” 

 “Oh. Okay.” 

 “Let’s go.” 

 Kageyama nodded and started for the door—but froze when the door opened. 

 Hinata saluted. 

 Kageyama saluted with such force that he smacked himself on the forehead; he bristled, but tried not to let it show. He did whisper a quiet, “Ow.” 

 Hinata snorted. 

 Kageyama hissed, “Shut up.” 

 Hinata laughed. 

 Kageyama went to step on his foot. 

 But Hinata danced away in time. “Ushimushi, Sir!” He saluted again. 

 And Kageyama froze again. 



Before then, the Emperor had always been a faraway figure, a television person, an idol, a king. Kageyama froze in the moment as First Lord, Emperor Wakatoshi Ushijima walked towards them. Because of the distance between First Lord and Private, Kageyama had never expected it to be possible, to meet in person. But seeing Ushijima in flesh and blood… his eyes lit up that moment. Ushijima’s form was tall, powerful. He had an air of royalty, a commanding aura. His eyes were bright purple—aftereffects of Diamgen radiation, brought out further by the Mark Suits—and they fell on Kageyama in that moment. 



 “E-Emperor, U-Ushijima, Sir!” 

 “You must be Kageyama.” Ushijima offered his hand. 

 Kageyama took it, letting the Mark III suit aid him in making sure his handshake was not too soft, but not too firm. 

 “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” Ushijima let go of his hand and studied him. “I’ve heard you’re adjusting well to the Mark III.” 

 “Yes, I am, Sir.” 

 Hinata pouted. “Better than me…” 

 “I heard you’re going even faster than I did,” Ushijima murmured with a hint of amusement. 

 “Sugawara has told me the more people he has connected to, the easier it is for him to connect. Erm. As in. He’s gotten better at connecting to people. I mean.” 

 “I understand.” Ushijima’s eyes said that he didn’t buy it though. He studied Kageyama a moment longer before saying, “I’m expecting things from you, Kageyama. Things I wouldn’t expect from myself or Hinata.” 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 Hinata tilted his head. 

 “Well.” Ushijima let out a sigh. “Let’s get this over with, I am… not a fan of the media.” 

 “Apologies, my lord,” came Iwaizumi’s voice. He was walking towards them, Shirabu walking behind. “We usually try to cover that front for you.” 

 “Yes, and a good job the two of you do.” Ushijima each gave them a deep nod (Iwaizumi returned it, Shirabu stood still). “But sadly this is an announcement I must make for myself.” 

 “You’ll do fine,” Shirabu said simply. “You always do.” 

 Ushijima nodded again. 

 Iwaizumi turned away from Ushijima and saluted. “Commander, Private.” 

 Hinata made a happy noise, glancing to Kageyama, then back to Iwaizumi. “Not Private for long.” 

 Kageyama blinked. “What?” 

 Iwaizumi smiled, and even Ushijima smiled as well. 

 Kageyama blinked again. 

 “You were already in line for promotion,” Shirabu explained. “That’s why you were chosen for the Mark III project on the first cycle. Your excellence during both missions, accompanied by your link to Sugawara, has earned you a promotion.” 

 Kageyama froze at sunk in. “I’m a Corporal?” 

 “Not yet,” Ushijima said in complete practicality, “Not until the announcement.” 

 Kageyama vibrated happily. 

 Hinata laughed, Iwaizumi did too, Ushijima smiled, and even Shirabu’s lips tugged at upwards at the very corner of his lips. 






The announcement was grand. Ushijima was more of a silent type; an introvert, contrary to common belief, who had been born in the spotlight. He was the kind of man who would observe and think long before he spoke, and he spoke little when he did. He was serious, perhaps to a fault, but he had been born into sovereignty. Being born as the son of the previous Emperor, that made Ushijima a Third Lord while he was still in the womb. 

 He was born with the tone and power to talk down to his mother and his father, but he used it sparingly. He spoke words of charisma, faith, bravery. He was the leader people had dreamed off, that they needed. At the end of his father’s chaotic reign, it had been Ushijima who had reforged Shira, united them, and brought meaning to the nationalism that had been forced down their throat. 

 The announcement, chronologically, started with Iwaizumi. 

 Iwaizumi had the honour of introducing Ushijima, which was a shock to the people. 

 Rarely did the Emperor speak. The backdrop behind him was Second Lord Hajime Iwaizumi and Third Lord Kenjirou Shirabu on his right, with Commander Shouyou Hinata and Kageyama on his left. 

 And then Ushijima announced the Mark IV. 

 The city fell silent, staring at the screens playing everywhere across their nation. Even further, Aoba, was frozen in fear. The world stood still. The Mark III was a game changer, but never before had any announcement around the Mark IV been hinted at. There were forums of course, conspiracy theories, the occasional leaked document. Ushijima didn’t mind them: He knew it only paved the way for his announcement. 

 Ushijima then introduced Hinata again, labelling him as a war hero once more. And then Kageyama— 

 Sergeant Tobio “Kageyama” Takeda. 

 Kageyama had skipped the Corporal rank entirely. 

 “Pay attention to him,” Ushijima had told them. “Even if he didn’t have a Mark III, he would be someone.” 

 Iwaizumi then took the stage again, making announcements about the war. He asked them to be brave, and for the people to continue on with their lives despite loss, for victory was closer than ever. He also asked for excellence of his soldiers, and thanked them for their service. 

 Ushijima spoke again, and publically acknowledged Kara. However, he down-talked them. Ushijima called them barbaric and ‘needlessly violent’. He listed off six instances in his reign that the public asked for severe change, and that he complied. He listed off three more that were in the works. He reminded everyone that Shira had a system that gave and wanted the voice of the public. Such violent side routes cannot be taken by those who care for the fellow humanity of others. He called Kara barbaric, one more time, and said the only reason he is publicly acknowledging them is to inform the public, as they have been known to go after troubled teens for recruitment. 

 The perfect plan, really. 

 In one move, he painted Kara as cradlerobbers who gave guns to teenagers, and divided Kara from the Slums. The lower class were more than aware of the number of missing youths, and had demanded the government to take action. This was pushing the lower class towards Kara—by attaching the idea of missing youths to Kara, he was pulling the lower class back in, and pulling them out of reach of Kara. 

 Ushijima spoke harshly, informing those who were being targeted that they were being used by others, and that it wasn’t “cool” to join rebel groups, reminding everyone that there were soldiers wounded, territory and resources lost. He said this was a time to stand together, to stand as one. Shira was a great country, a country that created the Mark IV, and a country that would thrive endlessly as long as they were one. 

 He left on that note. 

 The announcement was over.
 






 Kageyama walked behind the rest of them. Iwaizumi and Shirabu stood at Ushijima’s flank, Hinata some steps away, and Kageyama behind the rest. “Um. Emperor, Sir…” 

 Ushijima didn’t look back as he said, “Yes?” 

 “Why?” 

 “Why do you think, Sergeant?” 

 “I’ve been given the Mark suit… I started with a double-promotion, and am most likely to get further ones… I’ll go to officer rank soon… without the time or experience to back me up.” Kageyama looked down. “Simply put, because the Suga system accepted me, I’m—” 

 Hinata snorted. “Suga system.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “I apologise…” 

 Iwaizumi chuckled a little. 

 Ushijima didn’t. “You are correct. You have a good record, for a private. But nobody has any reasons to consider you worthy of the title Sergeant. You’re close, now, to Captain, to Lieutenant, maybe even Commander. You can earn them, possibly. The suit is the opportunity to breeze through the ranks.” Ushijima paused before the wide horizontal elevator and turned around. “But think, for a moment, of the soldiers you command. They may enjoy your success, but soon the bitterness will set in. They have worked long and hard hours on their own, and they too are hungry for those promotions. Unfair, it is, that you took it from them.” 

 Kageyama stiffened, lowering his head a little. 

 The elevator opened behind him. 

 Ushijima turned, leaving Kageyama and Hinata behind, and entering with Shirabu and Iwaizumi. He turned around once he was inside the elevator and looked at him. “I gave you compliments, on live television, so that they wouldn’t eat you alive.” 

 Kageyama’s mouth felt dry. “They?” 

 “Shira.” 

 Kageyama lowered his head. 

 “The last thing we need, Sergeant, is infighting.” He put his arms behind his back and stared into Kageyama’s eyes. “I believe you would have gotten to Sergeant eventually without the suit. That is why I allowed this, however… At this moment in time, I do not care about you or your ability. I have plans for you, if you are successful in your current trials, but you haven’t convinced me of that yet. Convince me, Kageyama. Convince me. It merely assisted my cause to pretend that, today, I did care.” 

 Shirabu seemed amused as he offered a smile. “We’ll stay in touch, Sergeant. Commander.” 

 Hinata saluted. 

 Iwaizumi and Shirabu did the same. 

 Ushijima didn’t, but Kageyama saluted as firmly as he could. 

 The door slammed close and the elevator blasted away. 

 Hinata let his salute go and he sighed. “Everything’s politics, Kags. It’s a game he has to play to keep it all together. 

And he fears he isn’t keeping it together, with the betrayal of the Tanakas. 

 “There is no need to assure me.” Kageyama’s eyes were firm as he continued to look at where Ushijima once stood. “I understand.” 

 Hinata blinked. “Yeah?” 

 “Yeah.” 

 “Really?” Hinata tilted his head. “Because he told me something similar and I cried for like, four hours.” 

 “If anything, I’m glad the Emperor is putting unity above everything else.” Kageyama turned to face Hinata. “He’s eased the way for my ascent.” 

 “Mmm.” Hinata put his hands on his hips and looked up, tilting his head. “What did he mean about, convincing him? That he has plans for you? Do you know, Suga?” 

 Silence. 

 “Ah.” Hinata chuckled. “Classified, huh? Ah well.” His eyes drifted back to Kageyama. “You’re, pretty dead-set on this, huh?” 

 Kageyama looked at him, blinking. 

 “Er, um. Changing the world, all that.” 

 “Yes.” 

 Hinata laughed. 

 Kageyama frowned. “What?” 

 “Nothing it’s just…” Hinata smiled, it was a soft smile. It reminded Kageyama of gentle morning sunlight. “When people talk about something as airy-fairy as changing the world, most people just don’t say it so seriously.” 

 “Oh. Well. I’m serious.” 

 “I know that.” Hinata walked over and went on his tippy-toes; he pulled Kageyama into a kiss. 

 And Kageyama pulled away, blushing. “Idiot!” 

 “See you later, Kags! Gotta go play with Natsu!” 

 Kageyama watched him leave, glaring. “What an idiot.” 

 He thought he heard Sugawara laugh. 

 “What?” 

Nothing. You should head to Hanger Three. There’s two people who want to see you. 






 “Sergeant!” Kindaichi practically yelled. 

 Kageyama stared at them. “Yes.” 

 Kunimi huffed. “And you didn’t tell us?” 

 “I didn’t know. Until today.” 

 “Well.” Kunimi frowned. “Good to know you’re alive.” 

 “We texted.” 

 “Yeah, but! Ah…” Kunimi gave up, shaking his head. 

 Kindaichi frowned. “He was worried about you.” 

 Kageyama tilted his head. “Why?” 

 “Wh-Why?” Kindaichi blinked. “You were in a holding cell? For like a week? Not to mention we were questioned on your actions, endlessly. I mean we tried to downplay that you assaulted us and stole my gun, but you know…” 

 “Oh.” Kageyama looked at the floor. “I’m sorry.” 

 “It’s okay,” Kunimi murmured. “You should have seen us earlier.” He hit Kageyama’s shoulder. 

 Kageyama rubbed the back of his neck. “Um. You two were assigned on a mission when I was first released, right?” 

 “We just got back.” Kunimi nodded. He took a deep breath, returning to his more normal posture. “Corporal Kunimi, it has a nice ring to it, no? But someone had to go and overshadow me.” 

 “I… Sorry.” 

 Kunimi’s eyes softened. “Hey, take a joke.” 

 “Sorry.” 

 Kindaichi frowned. “Are you okay, man?” 

 Kageyama looked down again, frowning. “I’m not sure. It just.” He looked at his suit. The sensations were rushing into him. “Feels like my every word is being listened to.” 

I can be turned off, if you wish. 

 “Off?” 

Well, not offline. But I can be put in a standby state. I will direct my attention elsewhere. 

 “That would be nice.” 

Understood. Also, Sergeant? You’re talking out loud. 

 Kageyama looked up, seeing Kindaichi and Kunimi staring at him. Thanks. 

 He hears Sugawara laugh, and it was warm, caring, but soon it fades. 

 The thrum around his wrist halted. The sensations halted. 

 Kageyama said nothing. 

 Kunimi tilted his head. “Is that… the voice?” 

 “Yes. I put it on standby.” 

 Kindaichi frowned at the suit. “Keep it that way.” 

 Kunimi nodded. “Yeah.” 

 “Why?” asked Kageyama. 

 “Well.” Kindaichi frowned. “It just feels weird, knowing some machine is listening in on us. But, anyway, forget about that. Why don’t we do something fun tonight?” 






 Kageyama welcomed the change of atmosphere. The bar didn’t serve alcohol to minors, those under twenty, but given recent promotions, Reon poured a few fizzy alcoholic drinks and Kawanishi served them with a bright smile, teasing them all. 

 Kindaichi sipped his drink, looking at Kageyama. “You know, I thought this suit would make you look happy… but you look, miserable.” 

 “Mastering the suit is difficult,” Kageyama admitted. “I want to do more, but I’m not good enough yet. The mental commands are annoying.” 

 Kunimi tilted his head. “Anyway to speed up the process?” 

 “Keeping the suit on is the best way,” Kageyama admitted. “Also, I’m wearing makeup to make me look paler, because the camera room has warm lights.” 

 “Oh,” Kindaichi said. “I didn’t notice.” 

 “I did,” Kunimi murmured, “Eyebrows are too perfect.” 

 Kawanishi came by again. “And here are the appies,” he said playfully as he put three appetizers down. There was more food than normal, and he had no doubt the bar was playing favourites. 

 Kageyama dipped his head and grabbed a fork, instantly feeling better when he started eating. “Do you guys remember that poem… we read it in the academy… It was on the final exam for our last year.” 

 Kunimi looked up. “The one about the guy’s wife? The painting?” 

 “Yeah.” 

 Kindaichi raised an eyebrow and looked between them. 

 “Um,” Kageyama murmured. “It was about this, duke. He had his wife killed, but he had a painting of her… It might’ve been the last painting of her? Or maybe I’m making that part up… but… He had this curtain over the painting, so when he pulled the curtain she existed… and when he covered her she was dead. He controlled who saw her, controlled whether she was in this world or not.” 

 “Yeah,” Kunimi said, squinting. It was obvious he was more interested in the fried squid than Kageyama’s spiel. 

 Kindaichi just stared, frowning. 

 “It’s just…” Kageyama looked at his hand. “If I turn off the Mark III system, am I doing the same?” 

 “Well, yeah,” Kindaichi said. “But like…” 

 “But what? What’s the difference?” 

 “The Mark III system’s just some fancy AI, Kageyama. It’s not a person. Computers go on and off. That’s what they do. That’s their programming.” 

 “Right.” Kageyama forced himself to eat. “Good point.” 






 Hanging from wires in a cold room, Sugawara’s head shifted slightly, lowering. Although he was focused on streaming data, he couldn’t help but feel a little colder. 






I wasn’t allowed to tell Kageyama, as I wasn’t allowed to tell Hinata… though Hinata did find out in the end. But I was never fully offline, or on standby. Truthfully, the word ‘unconscious’ is actually a very misleading word. The only time anyone is completely unconscious is when we’re dead. Even when we’re sleeping or passed out, we still have some semblance of consciousness. A lower level of consciousness maybe, but it’s still there. 

 The same was my connection with Kageyama. A part of me was always there, transmitting data, listening in, cataloguing. I heard the conversation, and I knew Kageyama was right. I was, after all, controlled by the Mark III users. I could technically communicate with others through other channels, but that required a great deal of energy and concentration. My existence was pitiful, and it was at the whims of the Mark III users. I could never be turned offline. 

 The only way, of course, was with an S-EMP. The S is for Suga, me. It was invented by Kara… but we’re not quite there yet. The timestamp for when Ennoshita finishes the blueprints for that isn’t for another few weeks. Don’t want to get too ahead of myself just yet.
 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 8: Act 2, Part III 



 “We have a mission soon,” Kageyama reminded him. “What are we doing here?” 

 Hinata slurped the last of his cream frap through the straw as he glanced to Kageyama. “We’re having a good time!” 

 “Says you,” Kageyama murmured. “I’m stuck with you, how is that good?” 

 “God, Kags, you’re a shitty boyfriend.” 

 “I never agreed to be your boyfriend.” 

 “You seemed to agree to shove your tongue down my throat last night.” 

 Kageyama’s cheeks burned and he angrily sipped his coffee. “Shut up.” 

 But Hinata smiled. 

 And Kageyama felt something when he saw that smile. 

 Hinata’s phone beeped and he glanced at it; it was on the table of the small cafe they had frequented before, in the slums. “We’re being deployed tomorrow.” 

 “Fourteen hundred hours.” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata sighed, eyes darkening for a moment as his eyes narrowed ever-so-slightly. He shook his head, like a dog shaking off rain, as if to shake off thoughts. He looked at Kageyama. “So. Honestly, how’s the suit? 

 “Good.” Kageyama glanced to his hands. He had his suit equip the fingerless gloves. He found he liked those best. “It’s not as overwhelming now that I’m used to it. I feel… strong. But it also feels like there’s someone in my head at all times… No offense.” 

None taken. 

 Kageyama looked at Hinata and squinted. “If we’re both connected to Suga in our heads, are you… in my head?” 

 Hinata frowned. “Don’t say his name out loud,” he warned quietly. The coffee shop was empty, but still. Kageyama murmured an apology and Hinata went on, “And no, not really. We’re like two computers being connected to the same network. Data sharing can be pretty fast between us, but we’re independent. The Mark III system can act like a middle man, but nine times out of ten we’ll have to order it to share information.” 

 “I see.” Kageyama frowned. “This is all… weird. But not. Not bad. Just. Hard to adjust to.” 

 Hinata nodded. 

 Kageyama could almost feel Sugawara give a nod as well. 

 “Um.” Kageyama frowned. “About your fire…” 

 “Not here, Kags.” 

 “Right.” Kageyama frowned. “Then what are we going to talk about?” 

 “What’s your favourite colour?” 

 “Green.” 

 Hinata raised an eyebrow. “Really? Not orange?” 

 “Absolutely not orange.” 

 Hinata stuck his tongue out. 

 Kageyama didn’t admit that he had recently come to enjoy seeing orange everywhere. “You?” 

 “Blue.” Hinata stared at Kageyama’s eyes. “Ocean blue.” 

 Kageyama hummed. “Okay.” 

 “You’re bad at small talk, Kageyama.” 

 “Yeah. I am.” 

 “Come on.” Hinata snorted. “Finish your coffee and let’s go.” 






 They walked, hand in hand. It was a bit weird, but nice. Kageyama disassembled his gloves entirely, so they were palm to palm, skin to skin. They walked through a quieter area, since people tended to recognise them and they didn’t want their relationship to be sudden gossip. That was the last thing Kageyama needed: Someone thinking he got the Mark III because of his relationship with Hinata. 

 Hinata led them up to the elevator to the upper city and they took another quiet side route. 

 Kageyama vaguely understood they were heading to Hinata’s home. 

 “Hey, Kags. What are you thinking about?” 

 “I’m holding hands with a god of war.” 

 “I’m human too, Kags.” 

 “I know.” Kageyama glanced up. “I like that part.” 

 “Aww, why?” Hinata smiled up at him. “So it means you can fall in love with me?” 

 “No.” 

 “Aww.” 

 “It means… If you’re human, and you can be a god of war. Then I can be a god of war too.” 

 Hinata looked at him with a disappointed sigh, but there was a small smile on the corner of his lips there as well. Kageyama noticed it. Kageyama wanted to remember that look, that little smile. 

 They eventually got to Hinata’s place, and Hinata opened the gate, then the front door. 

 Hinata stepped in. “Auntie?” 

 “Shh,” came Natsu’s voice. “She’s on the phone.” 

 Hinata nodded and stepped behind Kags to close the door behind them. 

 Kageyama stepped forward, staring at Natsu while pulling back a little. “Hi.” 

 “Hi.” Natsu stared up at him, and yet it looked like she was looking down on him. “Did you bring me a present?” 

 Kageyama blinked. “What.” 

 “Did you bring me a present?” 

 Kageyama pushed Hinata forward. “Your brother.” 

 “Shouyou!” Natsu opened her arms for a hug. 

 “Natsu!” Hinata moved down and picked her up, kissing her cheek. 

 Kageyama frowned. 

Wow, you’re actually jealous. 

 Kageyama ignored the voice entirely. 

 Hinata moved towards the kitchen, and Kageyama followed. 

 A woman with grey hair was on the phone when she glanced to Hinata. Offering a smile, she glanced back to the phone and said. “Yes, we’ll talk later. Thanks for calling, Tetsurou.” She waited to hear his reply, gave a laugh, then hung up. She turned to Hinata and crossed her arms. “Welcome home.” 

 Hinata gave a salute, smile bright. 

 Kageyama, confused, also saluted. 

 Hinata chuckled, Natsu chuckled, and even their aunt chuckled. Hinata dropped his salute and gave him a teasing look.

 Kageyama frowned, confused. 

 The woman stepped forward. “Kageyama?” 

 “Yes, ma’am.” Kageyama offered his hand. “You must be Hinata’s aunt.” 

 “Everyone just calls me Auntie now,” she said as she shook his head. “Come in. I’ll make tea for everyone… or do you prefer coffee?” 

 “Ah.” Hinata smiled. “We just had coffee.” 

 “Did you?” Auntie smiled. “How about lemonade? Do you like lemonade, Kageyama?” 

 Kageyama irked a bit. “Not, really. I’m not a fan.” 

 Auntie smirked. “Until you try mine.” She turned away with the same air of confidence Hinata always had about him. “I have forty years of experience.” 

 “It’s true!” Hinata nodded. “We have old pictures of her as a kid with her own lemonade stand.” 

 “I see.” Kageyama gave a little bit of a smile. 

 Natsu pouted. “He’s gross.” 

 “Nope!” Hinata grinned at her. “He’s cute.” 

 “Gross!” 

 “Cute!” 

 “Gross!” 

 “Cute!” 

 “Shut up!” Kageyama hissed. 

 Auntie laughed as she set a tray of muffins down. “I baked these this morning with Natsu. Have some.” 

 “No!” Natsu whined. “He doesn’t deserve any!” 

 “Aww, Natsu.” Hinata smiled bright. “Don’t you want him to know how good you are at baking? Way better than him, I bet.” 

 Natsu thought about it and closed her eyes. “I guess… but only if he says please!” 

 “I’m not saying please!” 

 “You are!” 

 “Are not!” 

 “Are too!” 

 “Now now,” Auntie said in a little laugh as she began to slice lemons and other citrus fruits. “Natsu, weren’t you going to ask your brother’s help for homework?” 

 “Oh yeah!” Natsu smiled. “Shouyou can you help me?” 

 “Okay.” Hinata kissed the top of her head. “I’ll be back in a bit, Kags! Bye!” 

 “Er. Bye.” 

 And then Kageyama stood awkwardly, alone, in the kitchen. He watched Auntie make the lemonade and he cleared his throat. “Can I, um. Help?” 

 “It’s okay.” Auntie said with a little bit of strain in her voice. “It’s good for my hands. I have muscle damage, so got to work with them to keep them strong. Take a seat, have a muffin.” 

 Kageyama did as he was told. 

 “How’s Suga doing?” 

 Kageyama blinked. “Um.” 

 “Yes, yes. I know. How is he?” 

 “Good. I think?” 

 “Does he want to talk to me?” 

 Kageyama heard a silence, as if an ever present hum in the background suddenly stopped. “He’s…” 

 “It’s okay, I understand.” Auntie grabbed filtered water from the fridge and a pitcher for the lemonade. “It’s hard for him, sometimes, to see the everyday human life he left behind.” 

 “Um.” Kageyama frowned. “May I ask… how you know?” 

 “How I know? About Suga?” Auntie poured the freshly squeezed citrus juice in the pitcher then added the water, mixing with a wooden spoon. “I designed the dataneuro axis.” She continued to stir. “That’s what connects the conduit to the machinery, that which lets Suga be the Mark III system.” 

 “Oh.” Kageyama blinked, looking down. “Do you work on base?” 

 “No. I’m retired.” 

 “Not of age,” Kageyama pointed out. “Despite your appearance.” 

 There was a sudden pressure. 

 “Ow,” Kageyama winced. 

 “Suga!” Auntie warned. “It’s okay, leave him alone.” 

 The pressure subsided. 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 Auntie turned around and brought the pitcher of lemonade forward. It wasn’t as yellow as Kageyama had expected, warmer in colour. She put it down and began to pour it into cups. “No. I didn’t retire because of my age. I used to be a mid-combat technician. I was an engineer who wanted to be on the battlefield. When I survived enough wounds to leave my body in the state that it is, I decided to work at the Emperial Palace for a while. A regular engineer. I retired after the Mark III system was completed.” 

 Kageyama felt his jaw tighten. “Because, Suga…” 

 “Yes. Because seeing my nephew become that monstrosity of wires…” 

 “I’m, sorry.” 

 “It’s alright, I don’t mind. I had an apprentice, though.” She took a seat across him. “I had two, but one of them… After seeing what Suga had become, he… Well. He hung himself.” 

 Kageyama said nothing. 

 “You know, Shouyou talks a lot about you.” Auntie’s eyes gleamed a little. “You’re very forward, he says. Blunt. But you’re not unaware.” She took a glass of lemonade and sipped it. “Thanks for listening to this old bat’s story.” 

 “Um.” Kageyama reached for a glass as well. “Thank you for sharing it.” He sipped his drink and his eyebrows went up. 

 “Good?” 

 “It’s.” Kageyama nodded, sipping again. “Very good. Orange?” 

 “Mandarins, actually.” Auntie took a sip. “Got the idea when I stopped wanting to add sugar to my lemonade. I don’t particularly like sweet things, but I didn’t want to drink it without any sugar… so I got the idea of adding a couple oranges to it. I’m sure you know where I got the inspiration.” 

 Kageyama smiled. 

 “I started using the small mandarins, the ones that are very sweet. Citrus flavours work well together, you know? It only takes one or two mandarins to give enough sweetness, and it packs a punch flavour wise.” 

 Kageyama took another sip. The lemonade was still dry and sour, but only lightly. It tasted more of lemon than orange, but he was also surprised to see that only one or two little mandarins could change the colour of the lemonade so much. “I like it.” 

 “Good.” She grinned. “I make other lemonades from time to time, too. Sometimes I add a twist of lime and a sprig of basil. Or mint, sometimes. My sister used to want this disgusting spiced lemonade, was awful, but I made it for her.” 

 Kageyama tilted his head. “Hinata’s mother?” 

 “Yes, we were identical twins.” 

 Kageyama tensed. “Were?” 

 “She passed.” Auntie shrugged. “It was a long time ago, we’re used to it now. We were very close, though… We both dreamed of having kids, the same way our parents did. An injury left my reproductive functions, barren—an injury during a mission, I should say. Both my sister and I were in the army, like our boys.” 

 “Our?” 

 “We found Suga.” Auntie’s eyes softened as she glanced away. “I still remember him, just a child… screaming among rubble… We adopted him. My sister’s partner proposed to her after that, said we’d all start this family together. And then came Shouyou… he was an accident, actually.” She laughed, Kageyama smiled at her. “My sister wanted more kids, but we both said we wouldn’t have biological kids. One, because being pregnant was time off the battle, and we were at war, and two because… It’s hard. Hard for the adopted child when there’s a biological child in the family.” 

 “I can imagine,” Kageyama said. “I’m adopted myself.” 

 Auntie smiled at that. “Suga didn’t find it tough, though. He… apparently before his parents were…” She glanced away for a moment. “Before he ended up where he was, he had a family, and a little brother. When he found out my sister was pregnant, he said he was going to be a good big brother. Natsu was planned, and much later, Suga was older, and Hinata was too. After Natsu, though… Well, my sister. A mission went wrong. Her husband and I were on the rescue team, but neither of them made it out. I did, but I was… damaged.” 

 Kageyama only then noticed the lining of scar tissue that was hidden by grey bangs. It probably covered the whole back of her head. 

 “I told you I went back to work after that injury, retired after the Mark III. Since then I spend most of my days resting, now.” 

 Kageyama nodded solemnly. “Sounds like a long hard life.” 

 “But it wasn’t.” She brightened at that. “For every tragedy I faced, there were hundreds of moments of joy. With my sister, my brother-in-law, then Koushi, Shouyou, Natsu… We’re an army family. It sounds off-putting to those that don’t understand, but I know Natsu will join the war when she’s old enough. We’re people tempered through loss. We cherish each other, but we lose each other eventually. That’s just how we are. It must sound crazy.” 

 “No, it isn’t.” Kageyama nodded. “My dad—” 

 “We’re back!” Hinata walked into the room, Natsu marching in behind him. “Ooo, lemonade and muffins!” 

 Kageyama ignored them and went on, “I was adopted by two men, but they gave me my papa’s last name. My dad’s last name was Ukai. They didn’t want to burden me with the pressures of a military family.” 

 “Ukai.” Auntie raised an eyebrow. “Keishin?” 

 “Yes ma’am.” 

 “He’s still teaching martial arts?” 

 “Yes.” 

 “Ha.” Auntie winked at him. “Bet he’s not too happy with you being a soldier.” 

 “He… hasn’t really spoken to me since my promotion,” Kageyama admitted. 

 “That’s just like him.” She huffed. “Congratulations, by the way. We saw you on TV.” 

 Kageyama smiled, wiggly happy. “Thank you.” 

 Natsu, sitting next to Auntie, looked at Kageyama. “Do you live with your parents?” 

 “No. I live in the military dorms. I go back whenever I have long breaks, though… I might not have one in a while.” 

 “Never know.” Hinata grabbed a muffin and broke off the top. “Might get one after this mission.” He took a bite of it. 

 “Hopefully.” 

 “Hm.” Auntie sipped her drink. “Metropolis…” 

 Natsu blinked. “What’s that?” 

 “Just an old city,” she explained. 

 “We’re not seeing the city,” Hinata explained. “We’re just scouting the outskirts. There’s an old mine a distance from the city.” 

 “Shame.” Auntie’s eyes softened. “The city is beautiful… Even the ruins are gorgeous. You should see the heart of Metropolis one day, with your own eyes.” 

 Kageyama nodded. “I’d like to.” 






Auntie… It feels, weird, writing about her. I don’t like saying she was a second mom to me, as if she ranks lower than her sister. But she was always the cool aunt, sneaking chocolates, letting us get away with things, chugging shots with me on my twentieth birthday. When I became a Third Lord I looked up her military record, which was previously classified. She had a long list of injuries, longer list of successful missions, and an even longer list of reasons to feel guilty. 

 She suffers from nightmares, and sometimes wakes up screaming. But she spends her days doing things like this, baking muffins, making lemonade. She lives a day to day life, lives in the present, even if her trauma pulls her back to the past. Hell… I still remember her scream when I told her I was taking the place of the Mark III’s conduit. 

 And then, when I was finally hooked up, she saw me. 

 She screamed again, even more horrible than before. That scream… it still echoes in my brain. It gives me nightmares.







 Kageyama was getting used to being dragged around by Hinata by now. He was even starting to enjoy it. Hinata liked to stop by every weird store, every coffee shop, pastry shop, and sweets store. He had probably been to them all, but he liked going places, doing things, and Kageyama found himself falling into that rhythm, that flow. 

 They left Auntie and Natsu for today. Auntie needed to rest, and it was nap time for Natsu. 

 Kageyama asked, “Where are we going?” 

 “Hmmm. I don’t know! If you had one last day in the city, where would you go?” 

 “Home?” 

 “Then let’s go home! I want to meet your parents!” 

 “You already met them,” Kageyama murmured. “Well, my papa. Not sure it would be a good idea, though… my dad doesn’t exactly like you.” 

 “Ukai, huh?” 

 “Yeah.” 

 “Well.” Hinata smiled and clasped Kageyama’s wrist with his hand, pulling him along as he walked backwards. “That’s too bad, because you like me. Right?” 

 “Yeah,” Kageyama admitted. “I do.” 

 Hinata paused, blushing a little. 

 “What? You keep saying stupid things about how much I like you, then you go quiet when I confirm them.” 

 “Well! Shut up, Kageyama!” 

 Kageyama pulled his hand back, frowning. “Let’s… just do something quiet.” 

 “Quiet?” Hinata took a step back and hummed. “Wanna watch the sunset? From somewhere nice?” 

 “Okay.” 

 “Good! Because it’s pretty and I know what we’re going to do.” He pulled out his phone and sent Kageyama a location. “Go here, and order some takeout sandwiches, okay? We’re going to have a picnic. Then meet me back at the base, in Hangar Twenty.” 

 “Hangar Twenty is restricted.” 

 “Kageyama.” Hinata looked up. “I’m a Commander and a member of Main Command. I can give you access to probably anything in Shira.” 

 “Oh. Right.” 






 Kageyama rushed with a little basket in his hands. It was a woven basket, the picture perfect version of a picnic basket. He knew his dad had one laying around somewhere from childhood, so he grabbed it. He even grabbed a checkered cloth to go with it. A blue one. He had a red, green, and blue one to choose from, and he wanted green but… Blue was Hinata’s favourite colour, so… He also grabbed some sandwiches, and a few other things. He arrived at the hangar, surprised to see the guards stationed there seemed to know who he was and let him in without a word. 

 It was probably one tenth of what Hinata experienced, maybe a hundredth of it, but Kageyama wondered what it would be like if everyone knew his face, let him through, didn’t hassle or bother him for anything. 

 He vaguely heard Hinata yell, “Yo!” 

 Kageyama glanced to the side. “I’m here. Where are we going?” 

 “Here!” Hinata pointed at an aircraft that looked like it was being repaired. “Suga!” he yelled, and the cockpit opened on command. 

 Kageyama blinked. “What?” 

 “Just come on!” Hinata used his high jump to land just outside the cockpit. He offered his hand. 

 Kageyama frowned, knowing his high jumps weren’t that effective yet. He offered the picnic basket first, and luckily Hinata handled it with care. Soon, the two of them climbed in. 

 The aircraft was of a sleek, stealth-like design, though Kageyama noted many, many missile launchers. These couldn’t be mass-produced, Kageyama figured, so he wondered if this vehicle was given a name. Like the Datekou, or Aoba’s Inarizaki—only certain were given grand names, rather than design number codes such as LT 13-4 or FR 18-2.1. 

 There were two seats, a pilot’s seat and a support seat behind. 

 Hinata took the pilot’s seat and began tapping buttons along the keyboard. “We could get so fired for doing this.” 

 Kageyama tilted his head. “What?” Realisation sunk in. “Wait! What do you mean!?” 

 “Buckle up!” Hinata laughed. “I don’t really know how to fly this thing!” 

 “Hinata—” 

 “You honestly should buckle up!” 

 The cockpit closed. 

 Kageyama yanked his seatbelt and fumbled with it. 

 “Alright…” Hinata typed along the holographic keyboard and the lights changed to a darker hue. “Do we have parachutes?” 

 From the communication channel inside the aircraft, Sugawara’s voice said, “I don’t think so.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. 

 “Alright, Suga! Let’s do this. Velocity terminals look good, depressurise is solid. Adjust turbulence ratio to compensate for the incomplete craft.” 

 “In-” Kageyama launched forward, grabbing Hinata’s chair. “Incomplete aircraft!?” 

 “Fuel, check. Recoillers… missing, alright. That’s not good! Can still fly, though. Diamgen, check. Oxygen masks, check.” He continued to click buttons, flicking switches before he hummed. “Koushi,” he said as cutely as he could. 

 The cockpit, including both the glass and metal supports, became completely see-through from their end. 

 “Love you!” Hinata pulled his seatbelt and clicked it in. 

“Kageyama?” Sugawara said from the interface, There is another strap you need to equip for your seat belt.” 

 Kageyama pulled back and added that one as well, securing the picnic basket in his lap. 

 “Alright, we’re good to go!” Hinata clicked a button and the hangar gate began to open. 

“Nohebi! Do not fly!” came a serious voice, “This is the Shira Main Control Tower! You do not have the authority to leave the terminal! Stay in hangar twenty! We are closing the main gates if you do not—” 

 “Commander Shouyou Hinata speaking,” Hinata said aloud, “I hereby grant myself access to the Nohebi aircraft as well as grant access for Nohebi to leave hangar twenty.” 

“U-Uh… o-oh. Okay. But, Sir… the Nohebi is still missing components before it is allowed to—” 

 “I’m aware! Thanks!” Hinata clicked a button and hung up on them. “Alright. Let’s fly!” 

 Kageyama yelled, “Hinata!” 

 “What?” 

 “This aircraft is incomplete!” 

 “So?” Hinata laughed. “Let’s fly!” 

 He yanked a shift stick back, and the aircraft blasted forward. 

 Kageyama smashed his head back against his seat, yelling. 

 “Wah!” Hinata screamed, “Too much speed!” 

 The aircraft shot through the air, becoming a blur as it skidded between buildings. 

 “Holy crap!” Hinata grinned. “This thing is awesome! Look how fast we’re going Kageyama! We’re going to break the sound barrier soon!” 

 Kageyama clutched the picnic basket tightly as he couldn’t even understand what was beyond the cockpit. 

 Hinata veered quickly, spinning clockwise once to dodge a skyscraper. Clouds seemed to swirl around them, a blur, a ripple—and then they broke through the sound barrier. Hinata let go of the controls to clap excitedly. 

 “Hands on the wheel!” Kageyama yelled. 

 Hinata looked over his shoulder at Kageyama. “But there’s no steering wheel!” 

 “BUILDING!” 

 Hinata grabbed the gear stick and cocked it right. He took the aircraft upwards, above the skyscrapers and the sunset broke into the cockpit. He smiled, free, and then the aircraft did a backflip maneuver to face forward again. 

 Kageyama clutched the picnic basket. 

 A screen appeared to the top right of Hinata’s vision, it was a face. 

“Commander Hinata.” 

 “Huh?” Hinata glanced up. “Hey Ushimushi!” 

 Ushijima’s face broke into a frown. 

 “It’s probably not a good idea to talk to me while I’m flying! This is a prototype!” 

“An incomplete prototype, Hinata.” 

 “An incomplete prototype scheduled for a test run,” Hinata countered. “So it’s good to fly!” 

“Commander.” 

 “You need data from a test, run, right? Suga’s gathering now.” Hinata’s eyes flicked up to Ushijima again. “Don’t worry, I’m not stupid, you’ll have this ship back. I know, you love it, it’s supposed to be as strong as the Datekou, ne?” 

 Ushijima’s frown deepened to a scowl. “Yes, however—” 

 Hinata tapped the screen, closing the window. 

 Kageyama’s eyes distorted. “You just hung up on the Emperor!” 

 “Ah, it’s cool! I do it all the time!” 

 “I’m.” Kageyama sunk back in his seat. “I’m going to die.” 

 Hinata began flicking switches and spoke aloud again, “Suga! Lower ignition, disable S-B flight. Enable Hover Mode.” He undid his seatbelt, which got a scream from Kageyama. Hinata just laughed. “Look!” 

 The aircraft stood still, and leaned forward, so it’s nose was pointing slightly down. 

 It let the two of them see the view. 

 Mountains of lush green were broken, rocks hanging in the sky, waterfalls spilling between them, dissolving into rain below. The sunset was crisp, clear, giving everything a red tint. The clouds seemed to swirl just above them, but some of them moved lower, becoming faded white hands reaching for things. 

 Kageyama’s lips parted, but he said nothing. 

 Hinata looked around. “Gonna find a place to land.” 

 The aircraft drifted towards one of the floating islands and landed upon a perch of soft green grass. 

 The cockpit opened. 

 Hinata hopped out and grabbed the picnic basket before he jumped onto the grass. 

 Kageyama stayed in his seat for a while before he undid his seatbelts and climbed out slowly. He looked around, just taking in where they were. 

 “I stole the prototype, yeah yeah yeah,” Hinata sang a song to himself as he began setting up, “I’m so cool, yeah yeah yeah.” He put the checkered cloth down. “Gonna have an awesome date with my boyfriend, yeah yeah yeah.” He danced as he took the food out. “My boyfriend’s super awesome, yeah yeah yeah. And he’s.” Hinata paused. He took out what looked like two wine glasses in one hand, then a bottle of wine in the other. He looked at Kageyama. 

 “Shut up.” Kageyama frowned, blushing as he looked away. “I searched online what to bring.” 

 Hinata’s lips split to a feral grin. “Kageyama! You’re romantic!” 

 “I’m not! Shut up!” 

 “You are!” 

 “Shut up!” 

 Hinata laughed and began taking everything out. “And here I thought you’d be against drinking since we’re underage. That’s good, though. You gotta be a little underhanded to rise in rank sometimes.” He took out sandwiches, a couple salads, plates, forks, knives, paper cups, bottles of water, a thermos that was probably coffee, and creamer that didn’t need to be refrigerated. 

 “I’m turning twenty this year,” Kageyama pointed out. “And you’re turning nineteen. You’re only a year away from the drinking age. I, um. I don’t know much about wine,” he pointed out. “Suga helped me decide the bottle.” 

 “I know.” Hinata grinned. “It’s my favourite red!” 

 Kageyama felt his cheeks burn and he frowned. 

 “Relax. It’s fine. Suga doesn’t care.” Hinata popped the top and began pouring. “You should’ve seen Suga when he was my age, apparently he was wild. Plus, I’ve seen enough war to earn me a drink. One or two glasses never hurt anyone.” 

 “Aren’t you flying us back?” 

 “Kageyama don’t get so hung up on details and unwind a little!” 

 Kageyama let his muscles slacken and he walked over to the picnic blanket. He took a seat, frowning. 

 “Suga says he’s worried about you.” Hinata winced a bit, probably because Suga chastised him for it. “Apparently you haven’t really done anything fun or really unwound since you got the suit.” 

 Kageyama looked at his suit and nodded. “I guess.” 

There is an exception though. 

Is there? 

 Ah.
 Kageyama stiffened. I… uh. 

Forgot I was here? 

 Yes… Apologies. 

That’s okay. I’m sorry for talking to Hinata about you. I was just worried. 

 I understand… Um. Thank. You. But there has been an exception though… 

You unwind when you’re with him, with Hinata. 

 Yes.
 Kageyama looked up, to see Hinata staring at him. 

 “Is that what I look like when I talk to myself?” 

 “I wouldn’t know, dumbass.” 

 Hinata laughed. He paused for a moment, glancing to the side. “Suga says yes!” 

 Kageyama frowned, but cracked a smile. 

 Hinata offered one of the wine glasses. 

 Kageyama liked the way the red wine looked with the sunset light, his eyes drifted up and he liked how Hinata’s paler complexion and orange hair looked in the red light too. 

And you say you’re not a romantic. 

 Go on standby.
 

 Sugawara laughed, rather loudly, but did not go on standby. His presence did, however, pull back a bit. 

 He gave them this moment. 

Thank you, Kageyama thought before he blinked, focusing on reality again. He sipped the wine and let its bitter notes dance on his tongue. It was a bit sweeter than he expected, easier to swallow. 

 “I like this stuff.” Hinata drank a sip himself. “It’s kind of basic bitch flavoured, you know? Watered down, slightly sweetened with other berries. It’s baby bitch boy wine, but I feel fancy drinking it.” 

 Kageyama’s lips tugged into a smile. “Kunimi likes his drinks hard and bitter, Kindaichi prefers as sweet as could be.” 

 “Really?” 

 “He gets embarrassed when he orders a fruity drink, so sometimes I order one too.” Kageyama glanced at his wine glass before taking another sip. “I prefer something in between, something like this. Not sweet, not bitter.” 

 “Me too!” Hinata beamed, and then he swirled his wine in his glass, humming. “You’re supposed to air the wine a bit, first? I think? I don’t know.” 

 “Oh.” Kageyama followed. “Well. I know oxygen makes alcohol less effective.” 

 “Really?” 

 “I think so… We had dorm parties, in the academy… We would drink through a straw, so even one drink could get us drunk. At least that was the idea. I never really understood it… Actually I don’t even know if that’s true, about the oxygen part.” 

 Hinata laughed. “You must’ve been so popular, at all the dorm parties.” 

 Kageyama shrugged. “I mostly went because Kindaichi and Kunimi went.” 

 “Mmm. I never got to go those parties…” Hinata sighed a little. “Actually, I don’t really know anyone around my age.” 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 “Ah, that sounds kind of dumb.” Hinata looked down, smiling. “I mean, Tsukki’s pretty close, but he’s twenty-four. His brother is twenty-seven. Yamaguchi’s twenty-one, but him and I don’t really talk much outside of work.” 

 “Sounds.” Kageyama looked down as well. “Tough.” 

 “Ah! Nah!” Hinata smiled, his fake smile. “But that’s okay, because like, for most of my life most people have been older than me? I mean there was Koushi, and Daichi, and Kei, and Akiteru, Ryunosuke, Saeko, Satori, Issei, Noya, and of course Natsu was younger – but she’s a wee little thing.” 

 “It’s nice you’re surrounded by people…” Kageyama looked at him. “But it’s probably hard, not to have people around you, that are… like you? You… were part of a fast-track promotion system, in the academy, right?” 

 Hinata nodded. “With Yuu,” he said quietly. “He and I were… always together. We were the same height too—well I was taller!” 

 “Really?” 

 “Hey! But he, uh…” 

 Kageyama swallowed hard. 

 “He’s alive,” Hinata murmured. “Wish he wasn’t…” His eyes fell again. “He went, with the Tanakas. To Kara.” 

 “I see.” Kageyama said nothing else. Even Sugawara seemed a distant hum. Kageyama swallowed hard. “It must be hard, to—” 

 “Soldiers are prepared to kill, Kageyama.” Hinata looked up. “Humans naturally fear what they don’t know, and when you’re in the military they tell you that you don’t need to know. You trust the higher ups. You no longer fear what you don’t know, you gain faith and admiration instead. Without that fear, you can do anything. Burn a village, hunt down soldiers, kill a friend.” 

 “You make it sound simple.” 

 “It is.” 

 The sunset’s light glimmered. 

 “It is,” Kageyama agreed. He thought back to the Kara soldiers he wiped out on his previous mission. He had never thought of them until now. Now, he realised they were people. They had parents, maybe children, dreams, futures. Well, no future anymore. It had been his first kill, Kageyama realised. The first time he had killed another human, and he didn’t even think about it. 

 Hinata began eating his sandwich. 

 Kageyama did the same. He was over halfway through his sandwich when he said, “It’s pretty. This place. How…?” 

 “Diamgen.” Hinata smiled. “Metropolis experimented with diamgen and ecosystems, they activated a large chunk, and it tore the mountainside apart. Now the magnetic waves in the air keep the rocks afloat, forever. After I saw Aoba turn into a sky fortress… I wondered if this is where Oikawa got the inspiration.” 

 Kageyama nodded. “And the ship we came here on?” 

 “Nohebi?” Hinata glanced at him. He smirked. “When that thing is finished, it’s going to be a beast. It’s going to have enough destructive power to be on par with the Datekou, but it’s sleek. It’s smaller. It can get to and inside places the Datekou can’t, and it’s faster. Much, much faster. Check your map!” 

 Kageyama’s visor appeared over his face, and his eyes widened. 

 They had sailed away from the main continent, to an island that was about one-third the distance of going around the entire planet once. “And we were only flying for a couple minutes.” 

 “Oh yeah.” Hinata nodded twice. “It takes a great deal of diamgen to stabilise it, but it can break the sound barrier. But, agh! Enough of this military stuff. We’re on our mission tomorrow…” He scooted closer and leaned on Kageyama. “So, at least right now…” 

 Kageyama nodded. “You don’t want to be a soldier.” 

 “Mm.” Hinata closed his eyes, resting his head on Kageyama’s shoulder. “Yeah.” 

 Kageyama pulled him close and took a moment just to take in the image of the world one more time. During sunset, they had a small picnic on a floating island, with a prototype aircraft off to the side. The view was vast, encompassing thousands of little sky islands. A memory he wouldn’t forget. 






I don’t think I have to tell you, but when they got back… they got yelled at. Pretty bad. 






 But the blame was entirely taken by Hinata, who walked away without more than a warning. A warning that was one amongst thousands, he confided in Kageyama. The day turned to night, and night to day. The day of the mission. 

 Kunimi stood just before the hangar. He gave them a small little salute as they approached. 

 Hinata beamed a smile. “Corporal.” 

 “Commander.” Kunimi dipped his head and turned to Kageyama. “Sergeant.” 

 Kageyama nodded once. “Are you here to see us off?” 

 “Yep.” Kunimi looked at him. “You look good, all suited up.” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 Hinata stepped past them, causing the automatic doors of the hangar to open with a hiss. “I’ll go up ahead! Give you two a moment to chat!” 

 “We won’t be that long,” assured Kunimi. “Also, Commander?” 

 “Yep?” 

 “Your sister’s waiting for you in the hangar. I don’t know how she got access to the restricted area, but…” 

 Hinata snorted and shook his head, walking forward with a big smile. 

 Kageyama couldn’t help but smile as well. He turned to Kunimi. “Thanks for seeing me off.” 

 “I was going to get Kindaichi and Goshiki to come, but Kindaichi’s got a mission, Goshiki’s on patrol.” He tossed Kageyama a small bag. “Here. Little good luck charm.” 

 Kageyama caught the bag, knowing instantly what they were. “We can walk and talk.” 

 Kunimi nodded. 

 The two of them made their way towards the hangar and saw Hinata talking to Natsu. Hinata glanced over to Kageyama and saw the small bag. “What’s that?” 

 “Candies,” Kageyama admitted. 

 He didn’t admit they were intensely sour, and banned. They weren’t particularly hard to find, if you knew where to look in the slums. They also weren’t particularly dangerous, unless someone had five at once. 

 “Candies!” Natsu yelled. “I want them!” 

 “Aw, Natsu, they’re Kags’ candies!” 

 “Ah,” came another voice. “I’m sure Kageyama will share if you ask.” 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 Ittetsu was smiling, standing behind Natsu. 

 “Papa?” 

 “Hi.” Itettsu smiled brightly. “I wanted to see you off. I managed to get in the hangar with these guys.” 

 Akiteru gave a small wave. 

 Tsukishima just crossed his arms, looking like he didn’t want to be there. 

 Kageyama lowered his head. “Thank you.” 

 Akiteru smiled. “No worries. I’ve spoken with the system, regarding certain things I hope you can get a sample of.” 

 Kunimi asked, “Sample?” 

 “Ah!” Akiteru tensed. “Akiteru Tsukishima, lead researcher in Metropolan technologies. Well… it’s more like Metropolis in general, but the army pays me mostly to uncover their old tech since it was quite advanced. Actually it’s not even Metropolan—Metropolis is just the name of their city, not their nation. It would be like—” 

 “Akiteru,” Tsukishima cut in. 

 “Ah! Sorry.” 

 Kageyama nodded slowly. “I’d like to know more about Metropolis, at some point.” 

 Akiteru brightened at that. He bounced on his feet. “Sure! Whenever you’re not busy.” 

 Kageyama glanced at Tsukishima, who had nothing to say to him, and then to his papa again. “Thanks for coming.” 

 “Yeah!” Hinata smiled. “It’s nice seeing you again, Mister Takeda.” 

 “Itettsu is fine,” he assured. “And it was no worries. Your dad wanted to come too, but you know how he is.” He offered a small old-world flash drive. “Here. Your dad managed to uncover some data from Metropolis. It was his uncle’s. I admit I don’t know much about what’s on it… but Keishin says it’ll help you on your mission.” 

 Kageyama took the flash drive, feeling Akiteru’s eyes looming over it. “You can have it afterwards,” he assured. 

 “A-Ah.” Akiteru took a step back. “S-Sorry, it’s just…” 

 “It’s fine.” Ittetsu laughed. “We were going to donate it to research. Keishin just didn’t know where it was until Tobio said he’s going to Metropolis for a mission.” 

 Kageyama whispered, “Thank you.” 

 “Just come home safe.” 

 “I will.” 

 “Yep!” Hinata said, “I’ll take care of him! I’ve been to Metropolis a few times already!” 

 “Mm.” Tsukishima nodded. “Good luck, Commander.” 

 Hinata raised his fist and Tsukishima offered him a fist bump, and what seemed to be the traces of a small smile. Hinata nodded deeply. 

 “Um!” Natsu frowned. “That’s good and all but I still want candy…” 

 Kunimi seemed more amused than he should be. 

 Kageyama took out one of the small spheres and kneeled down. “Open your mouth.” 

 Natsu, confused, opened her mouth, eyes looking unfocused. 

 Kageyama dropped the sour ball into her mouth. 

 Natsu screamed, started crying, as her mouth watered. 

 Kageyama snorted and stood up. 

 Ittetsu, Akiteru, and Tsukishima all looked horrified—but Hinata laughed. 

 “Let’s go,” Kageyama said as he turned around. 

 Hinata grinned and waved. “Bye!” He ran to catch up with Kageyama. “Suga says those were the illegal sour candies, right? They’re Suga’s favourite. I want one!” 

 Kageyama offered the bag, letting him take two. Hinata only took one, but paused. 

 Two soldiers walked up to them and saluted. 

 Hinata returned the salute, despite the candy in his hand. “Hey guys! This is Sergeant Takeda, you can call him Serge’ Kageyama. It’s his middle name. Kags! This is Sergeant-Specialised Hanamaki and Private-Specialised Matsukawa.” 

 Kageyama glanced to Matsukawa. A private? He technically ranked higher, but… 

 Matsukawa gave him a look that basically yelled, Underestimate me, I dare you. 

 Kageyama returned the salute. 

 Hanamaki dropped his salute and said, “We’ll be taking you on the Black Hawk.” 

 Matsukawa glanced to Hinata. “You’re not surprised to see us anymore, Shrimpy.” 

 “Ha.” Hinata snickered. “Well yeah, it’s the Black Hawk… Nobody else gets to touch that babe.” 

 Kageyama glanced to the aircraft in front of them. It was large, black, and wide. It could house several soldiers inside. He looked back at the two in front of them. “Is it a special ship?” 

 “Special ship?” Hinata grinned. “It’s Ushijima’s personal jet.” 

 “It’s used for battle and diplomatic reasons,” Hanamaki explained. “The Emperor has another jet for recreational activities. The jet is fueled up and ready to go.” He offered a peace sign. “You guys load up in the hangar. Apologies but it’s going to be a hard drop.” 

 Hinata bounced on his feet. “Fine by me!” 

 Matsukawa glanced to Kageyama, his lazy face seemed to pierce into him. “It’s his first drop, isn’t it?” 

 Kageyama blinked. “Drop?” 

 “You’re new with your suit, right?” 

 “Yes.” 

 “You had best run a diagnostic check on it. If it’s not attuned right, you’ll shatter to pieces when you hit the ground. Wouldn’t want that.” 

 Kageyama murmured quietly, “Run a diagnostic check.” 

Affirmative. 

 “Hey.” Hinata laughed. “Don’t spook him!” 

 Matsukawa turned to go but paused. “Oh, and let Koushi take over for the drop.” 

 Hanamaki nudged him. “Don’t say Suga’s name out loud.” 

 “Ehh, Makki. You just did.” 

 “Ah, you’re right Mattsun. I did.” 

 Hinata laughed. “Come on!” He took Kageyama’s arm and led them to the back of the aircraft. It opened and they stepped inside. 

 The room was a square, with seats lining the walls. The center held a table with a holographic screen, which Kageyama assumed was most likely used for mission briefings. 

 The door closed behind them. 

 Kageyama glanced to Hinata. “Question. Matsukawa. He was a private… but he knew about the Mark III, about Suga?”

 “Yeah.” Hinata walked over to the table and waved his arm over it to make it come alive with a crystalline hum. “The Black Hawk is the name of this ship… but that’s not entirely right. Um. The Black Hawks were a special operations task force, back when Kou—” He paused. “When Sugawara, was. You know, still around.” 

 Kageyama frowned. 

 “I don’t know much about it, but it’s kind of like… Shira’s super-secret high-level agents group, they did a lot of secret stuff. It’s how Sugawara made a name for himself amongst the Third Lords. Makki and Mattsun were in there too. The idea behind the Mark III was also from the Black Hawks.” 

 A crackle came over the speakers. “More than that,” Hanamaki explained, “You’ve seen Suga, haven’t you?” 

 A screen near the front of the ship flickered on, showing a camera of Sugawara hanging from cords. 

 Kageyama stiffened. 

“Well,” Matsukawa’s voice spoke next, “I’m the one who put all those wires inside him. I hooked him up.” 

 Kageyama hissed, “Monster.” 

Kageyama. 

 “Don’t misunderstand me, kid. Just because I did it doesn’t mean I liked it. Suga and I were close.”
 

 Hanamaki spoke next, “Mattsun and I both dropped to the enlisted rank, for personal reasons. Matsukawa and I used to both be Third Lords.” 

 “Mmm, Makki’s right. Oh… Commander, I see no one’s told you the good news.”
 

 Sugawara went silent. 

 Hinata blinked. “Huh?” 

“There’s a notice from the Emperor that went around to sovereignty. We were sent it too. A spot for a new Third Lord has opened up. They asked us to come back, but we said no. It’s pretty clear who’s next in line, though.” 

 Hinata’s eyes widened. 

“Looks like you’re not the only one hungry for promotions, Kageyama.” 

 “Issei,”
 Hanamaki interrupted. “Stop talking. Get ready for takeoff.” 

 The communication channel shut down after that. 

 “Congrats,” Kageyama said. 

 Hinata bounced up and down. “Yeah!” He paused. “What?” He tilted his head. “What’s wrong…? You’re not happy I’m going to be a Third Lord?” 

 “No. I mean, yes! I mean.” Kageyama scowled. “I’m happy for you. I’m just… worried about you.” 

 “Why? The drop? Suga will take over.” Hinata smiled. “Suga took over my first two drops too, actually.” 

 “Not that.” Kageyama looked at him. “It’s just… First it was Lieutenant Sawamura, now Private Matsukawa and Sergeant Hanamaki… and I guess you could even include Sugawara. It seems like, to me, everyone who hits Third Lord…” He frowned. “They lose their fire, they become, less. I don’t want that to happen to you.” 

 Hinata looked at him, eyes softening. 

 “I’m sorry, that was out of line, Commander, I—” 

 “Drop the rank,” Hinata said. “And, Kageyama…?” 

 “Yes?” 

 “That’s, actually really… sweet.” Hinata smiled. “Not the whole bullshit about people losing their fire, but the fact you care. You’re forgetting that for every person who’s dropped to Third Lord, another person’s risen up. Tsukki and Shirabu are both people who are thriving and happy in their roles. I’m gonna be there too. I won’t lose my fire. I promise. Don’t worry.” 

 “But.” Kageyama frowned. “How can I not… worry?” 

 “Because, I’m making a promise.” Hinata puffed out his chest. “Whether I hit Third Lord or not, Kageyama, I promise I won’t ever lose my fire.” 



 And Kageyama, honestly, believed him. 






Chapter 8: Infodex 08, Bows, Quivers, and Arrows 



 Bows: Long-favoured weapons of war, bows and arrows became obsolete with the endless rise of guns and missiles. However, few units specialise in technologically advanced bows which provide an incredible piercing strike. Composite bows, enhanced with trace amounts of diamgen, are able to pierce through cockpit glass of mechas and vehicles. For that reason, specialised units are highly sought after if they have a high accuracy rate. 

 Quivers: The holsters for the arrows are specifically designed to hold a high amount of dangerous arrows in a safe and accessible way. By different shoulder movements, archers can choose which type of arrow they want to pull out of the quiver. 

 Arrows: Several different kinds of arrows exist. 

 Steel-cut, Wide Shot – A steel arrow with a wide, flared head and a heavy point. This is designed to break the glass of vehicles with a strong piercing strike. 

 Steel-cut, Slim Shot – A steel arrow that has a wide but flat arrowhead. These are designed to work against humans, as their shape can slip in between the ribcage, where they do the most damage. 

 Plasma, Explosive – A metal arrow with a plasma bolt arrowhead. When contact is made, the plasma explodes outwards in a wide radius. This is useful to damage or slow down vehicles, or to disperse a crowd of enemy soldiers. 

 Plasma, Cryonisis – A prototypal arrow that uses the effect of coolant and plasma to instantly reduce the temperature of its target, covering it in ice. This is used mostly for machinery or large vehicles, though at times the arrows fail. 

 Plasma, Corrosive – A prototypal arrow that uses explosive chemicals, stabilised by plasma, to release a much more effective explosion which also releases toxic gas. It is a mix of an explosive arrow and a chemical weapon. It is effective against humans who do not have air filters, and can wear down the metals of machinery over time. 






Chapter 8: Act 2, Part IV 



 When Kageyama opened his eyes, he saw something he should not have seen. He saw sight that was not his. He recognised the place, at least. It was Hinata’s home. It was from a higher vantage point, and he assumed the person who was watching the scene was coming down the stairs. 

 He saw Daichi, who looked several years younger. Daichi was talking to someone. 

 “Uncle Daichi!” Hinata, just a young teenager, looked up from whatever he was fiddling with on the floor. It looked like some kind of mechanical device. 

 Daichi was about to speak to the person coming down the stairs when he turned to Hinata. “Uncle?” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata smiled wide. “You’re like an uncle!” 

 The person whose vision Kageyama was borrowing laughed, and he recognised it immediately. 

 Sugawara. 

 Kageyama realised he was seeing through Sugawara’s eyes. 

 “Uncle, huh?” Daichi scratched the back of his head. “What’s up, Shouyou?” 

 “Do you have any brothers?” 

 “No, I don’t.” Daichi looked away. “I don’t have any family.” 

 “Yes you do! You have me.” 

 Sugawara laughed again and walked down the stairs. 

 Daichi’s cheeks tinged pink. “Is that so? And why am I called Uncle?” 

 “Well.” Hinata thought about it. “I already have a mom, and a dad, and I have Auntie, and I have a brother, and a sister… but I don’t have an uncle. Plus, Auntie jokes that Koushi used to play mom when he was a kid. Right?” He looked at Kageyama—or, Sugawara. 

 Sugawara nodded, which shifted Kageyama’s vision. “Which makes sense, because I do call you Daddy.” 

 “S-Suga!” Daichi’s cheeks burned to red. 

 Sugawara laughed. “Sorry!” He wasn’t sorry. He walked over to Daichi and took his arm, grinning. “Please,” he whispered, “It’s not like Shouyou understands… yet, anyway.” 

 Daichi’s face was still red. 

 “Daddy?” Hinata perked up. “Can I call you Daddy too?” 

 “Nope!” Sugawara said in a laugh. “That’s just for me.” 

 “Awww…” 

 “But you get uncle! Nobody else will, okay?” 

 “Hmm.” Hinata looked at the mechanical thing in his hands. “What about Natsu? She’s not born yet, but…” 

 “Well, it’ll be a while before she can talk.” 

 “But when she can!” Hinata perked up. “I’ll let her share uncle when it comes to Daichi.” 

 Sugawara grinned. “That sounds great.” 

 Daichi’s blush was subsiding. “Uncle, huh?” 

 Sugawara grinned. “Still Daddy to me.” 

 “Koushi,” Daichi whined. 

 Sugawara just laughed. “I like your reaction more than I like saying it.” 

 Daichi nudged him hard. 

 Sugawara just laughed louder. It was loud, warm, it filled the air; Kageyama had never heard it like that before. When he was being pulled away from the room, he almost missed the sound of Sugawara’s laugh. 






 His eyes opened. 

 “Oh hey, you’re up.” 

 Kageyama looked around the Black Hawk and he felt a chill race down his spine. “What was that…?” 

 Hinata leaned on him a little. “What was what?” 

 “I had a dream about you.” 

 “Oooo…” 

 “Not like that.” He elbowed Hinata lightly, eliciting a little laugh. He smiled, but the smile became tense. “I dreamed about you… and Daichi… and Sugawara.” He frowned. “But I saw the dream through Sugawara’s eyes.” 

 “Oh.” Hinata’s smile faded. “Yeah… that happens sometimes.” 

 Kageyama glanced at him, tilting his head. “What happens sometimes?” 

 “Sometimes… Suga sleeps.” 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 Hinata opened his phone and looked at the background picture: It was a picture of himself, when he was five, getting a piggyback ride from Sugawara, who was much older. They were both smiling, as if nothing would ever happen to them, as if they would never be apart 

Hello. 

 They both jumped. 

 Kageyama frowned. There you are… Did you, fall asleep? 

Yes. I did. I’m sorry.
 

Sorry? 

 I’m a machine. I have no need for food, water, or sleep… but sometimes I fall asleep. I have no control over that, or showing you my dreams.
 

That… was a dream? It felt very… 

Linear?

 Kageyama nodded. 

Yes, as I’m hooked up to circuitry… most of my dreams are quite, linear. There’s a beginning, middle, and end. They make sense. Usually it’s a memory… and sometimes it’s… ones I’ve forgotten. 

 I see… 

Please don’t pity me, Kageyama. 

 I won’t.
 

 Hinata turned to him. “Suga’s online.” 

 Kageyama glanced to his side. “I know.” 

 “Right… I forgot you can talk to him now.” 

 “Hm.” Kageyama closed his eyes. “Can he have… two conversations, at once?” 

 “Yep!” Hinata nodded. “To him it’s just like, a computer running two softwares. It’s fine, usually, but too many and the computer slows down and has issues. But… yeah, Suga’s hardware is… built for it, I guess.” 

 “Right.” 

 The table at the center of the table lit up. 

“It’s me,” came Sugawara’s voice, “Speaking through the speakers is easier for this function, since there’s two of you. Let me show you the caves we’re looking at. I can only show the outside, but I’ll show you in reference to the drop point. You’ll have to walk the distance.” 

 The cave was a small point on the map, on the edge of a massive city that was just beyond the hologram. There was a line that dropped from the sky into a faraway lake. 

“The situation has changed, slightly, as Aoba and Kara units have started to get worked up in the hour or two we’ve been flying.” 

 The map showed several clusters of yellow and green dots. 

 Kageyama frowned. 

 Hinata raised an eyebrow. “That’s not a problem, Suga. What’s really going on?” 

 The map showed a hologram. 

 Kageyama didn’t know who it was, but Hinata tensed suddenly. 

 The person was hooded and had a bow in his hand, quiver on his back. 

 Hinata got up from his seat, slowly. 

 Kageyama frowned as he stared at the figure. He assumed it was more than just someone with a superhero get-up going on. 

“You have orders from Main Command, Commander. You are advised not to engage.” 

 “What!?” Hinata ran over to the table and slammed his hands on the rim, shaking the hologram. “But that’s—” 

“Commander,” Suga’s voice was tenser than usual, “You and I both know Nishinoya is just looking for a way to counter the Mark III. He’s gathered data from your fight with Tanaka. I’m not saying he can fight your suit right now, but if he survives – which he will – you’ll provide him the data he needs to perfect his new arrows.” 

 Hinata scowled at the screen. “New arrows?” 

 The hologram changed to a slim silver arrow with plasma rings around the head, and a dark pink tip. 

 “What are these?” 

“Ennoshita’s newest invention. The arrows use nitrogen tri-iodine.” 

 “Impossible.” Kageyama walked over to imagine the hologram. “The slums tried to use these against the upper city twenty years ago… I was just a kid, but I read the reports. It’s a good explosive, but it explodes when it dries… and it dries out on its own.” 

 Hinata squinted. “Nitrogin, try-my-died?” 

 Text appeared over his visor. 

“One nitrogen, three iodine. It’s a relatively easy explosive to make, but like Kageyema said. It’s a black smear that’s moist – when dried, it explodes. I’m not sure how Ennoshita’s managed to keep it in the proper state. I would assume stabilised by plasma, but you couldn’t get an effect like that with plasma alone.” 

 “Alright.” Hinata scanned the scrolling text. “Tell me about it.” 

“The goal is mostly to take down mechas, we believe… but it’s also going to be deeply effective against humanoid units. I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at, Commander.” 

 Hinata’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah. I get it.” 

 Kageyama blinked. “What does that mean?” 

 “Effective against humanoids means it has to be a fast weapon that can hit precisely. But, if its made to tear through mecha metal…” He raised his hand and looked at it. “They’re designing it to break our suits.” He clenched his fist. “It’s designed against us, Kageyama.” 

 Kageyama stiffened. 

“Remember. It has a purple smoke cloud upon explosion, and the smoke will become more violet-red as it disperses. Avoid it, and avoid anyone firing it. Even a small amount of data of how it affects your suit will help them perfect the weapon. Avoid it.” 

 Hinata nodded. “Got it.” 

 Kageyama grit his teeth. “Yes, Sir.” 






 As the ship moved closer to the drop location, the hangar opened. Hanamaki gave a little teasing speech about how it was not too late to call off the mission, if Kageyama was scared, but Kageyama just ignored him. 

 “Okay.” Hinata looked outside the hangar door. “We’re gonna drop soon.” 

 “H-Here!?” Kageyama looked down at the flat earth, hundreds of miles below him. “Are you sure?” 

 “Yep.” Hinata laughed. “We’re jumping.” 

 Kageyama glared. “What?” 

 Hinata just grinned. 

Sergeant, allow me to take over. 

 Please!
 

 Hinata closed his eyes and his helmet formed over his head. Kageyama did the same, under Sugawara’s control. The very moment the ground below them changed blue, the lake, Hinata ran and jumped. Kageyama felt his vision blackout and he felt his limbs moving on their own. He had an instinctive urge to pull back, but he stopped himself. He knew it was Suga, and he had to tell himself repeatedly it was just Suga. 

 Soon enough he felt himself falling, and then he knew he was facing downwards. 

 With barely any senses still going, Kageyama felt as though his suit was his coffin – and he was heading right down to his death. 

 He hit water. 

 The break of pressure and the feeling of the waves came to him as his vision flickered. He took a deep breath and looked around. 

 “Oh fuck!” Hinata said, muffled by his suit and the water. “Looks like this guy wants to play!” 

 Kageyama glanced over. 

 A massive squid was moving towards Hinata. 

 Hinata pushed a hand forward. “Ignite!” 

 The water all around the squid boiled. 

 The squid made a noise and darted away. 

 Kageyama blinked. “Quick thinking.” 

 Hinata turned to him, grinning. “Not my first underwater rodeo.” He spun to face the surface and began swimming. “Come on.” 

 Kageyama swam as well. He expected it to be tough with the heaviness of their suit, but the strength it provided easily made up for the weight and soon they broke the surface. 

 Hinata shook his head, letting his helmet disassemble. He sighed loudly and opened up several holes in his chest piece and his gloves. “Let it open, so we can dry our suits. Water and plasma aren’t bad friends, but they aren’t best friends.” 

 Kageyama did as he was told. 

 Hinata clicked his earpiece. “Commander Hinata speaking: Drop off was a success.” 

“Understood,” came Hanamaki’s voice. “Black Hawk is moving out of range. We will pick you up at the estimated time, as long as there aren’t any… interferences.” 

 “Got it! Thanks!” 

 Kageyama looked around. “Where are we going?” 

 Hinata turned a bit to the side and pointed. 

 Kageyama stared, frowning… then… slowly… his eyes widened. 

 For a long distance, there was rolling green hill after rolling green hill, but past that… coming up like a mountain was the city of Metropolis. It was hard to see the details of the buildings, as the red cloud of miasma seemed to cover many of their details, but through the haze he could see the shadows of structure after structure, and it seemed to go on forever. 

 Kageyama felt a sense of… longing. 

 Hinata frowned, putting a hand on his hip. “Look at ‘em, already riling each other up.” 

 Kageyama blinked. His eyes dropped from the city in the distance to closer near the outskirts. His Mark III suit plugged in and he felt his vision zoom in. He could hear the sound of distant gunfire, and aircrafts moving ahead. He saw what seemed to be soldiers, Kara and Aoba, having a couple skirmishes here and there. 

 “Tobio!” Hinata pointed up. 

 Kageyama followed the direction. 

 An aircraft had just been shot out of the sky, and a strange purple haze seemed to hang in the midair, and as it dispersed— 

 “Noya,” Hinata growled. “Yuu…” 

 Kageyama glanced at Hinata. “We should get moving.” 

 “Right.” Hinata’s visor flickered with data, though, and he did not take a step forward. 

 Kageyama frowned. “What is it?” 

 “I’m looking at your dad’s data… it’s coming in handy.” 

 “Is it?” 

 “Looks like your uncle… the one who fell in battle when the miasma burst… he had a habit of recording his point of view when they send him into battle. Suga’s using it to make a map of the area… it might not do too much for us right now, but he thinks if he can contrast the map from a couple years ago, he can see if there’s any major differences.” 

 Kageyama hummed. “Okay. But the cave is on the outskirts of the city.” 

 “Still.” Hinata grinned. “We might be able to find out what Kara and Aoba are after, as they’ve been going in the city. Anyway. It’s just important we don’t get spotted when we get closer.” 

 “Then we probably shouldn’t just be standing like this.” 

 “Nope!” 






 As they got moving, they found a shortcut through the city as Aoba soldiers made them need to avoid the expected route. Making sure every single hole was closed up, Kageyama felt a sudden stagnant feeling now, a staleness. He never realised there must have been hidden pockets in the suit that were open for minor breezes. He continually checked the levels of his oxygen tanks, even though they were completely full. He frowned and kept walking. He didn’t even know his suit had oxygen tanks until now. 

 Four days’ worth. 

 It was condensed, from what Sugawara told him. 

 He didn’t know air could be that condensed. Pressurised, yes, to an extent, but where was he hiding four days’ worth of air? 

 Hinata held up a hand. 

 Kageyama crouched down behind him. 

 The area they were walking through now was mostly rubble, but Kageyama could admire the architecture of the taller buildings from here. Everything in Metropolis had a sleek look, despite being round buildings, and they mostly had a pure white colour, that must have looked pristine before it was covered in dust and toxicity. 

 The sound of heavy footsteps made them both reach for their guns. 

 A larger mech was moving through the city, with large shoulder pads that were the signature mark of Aoba. 

 Hinata let it pass and then signalled for them to keep going. 

 They moved through a few more alleyways, until they ended up just behind a group of three Aoba soldiers. 

 Kageyama glanced at Hinata. “Do we take them out…?” 

 “Hm.” Hinata was probably smiling under that helmet. “I wanna follow them. Let’s see where they’re going.” 

 “Oh.” Kageyama nodded. “Okay. Are they heading to the cave…?” 

 “Looks like.” Hinata grabbed his gun. “Let’s just hope we don’t get caught.” 






 The two of them followed the Aoba soldiers to what seemed like a hidden side-entrance into the cave. They looked at each other and Hinata did a little happy dance, despite Kageyama telling him to stop. The side entrance was by an enemy base camp, though. There seemed to be some strange mist – different than the miasma – and Kageyama frowned. 

 “There.” 

Hinata can’t see it, one sec. 

 Kageyama glanced over. “You can’t see it?” 

 “It must be from your head,” Hinata murmured. 

 “What?” 

 “Those rods.” Hinata was staring at them now. “I mean I saw them, but I didn’t know what they were.” 

 “Oh.” Kageyama nodded. “Kunimi has a knack for gadgets… he plays with them sometime. What does that have to do with it?” 

 “The scanning system is both biological and electronic. Meaning if you know what something is, as in like, seeing it triggers neurons in your brain, then your scanning system will pick up on it easier.” Hinata grabbed his snipper and aimed. “But now that you saw it – Suga uploaded the details of that machine to me.” He pulled the trigger, and the rods shattered. 

 Soon enough, the mist seemed to disperse. 

 “But.” Kageyama frowned. “They’ll find out we did that.” 

 “It’s fine.” Hinata put his gun back. “Aoba will think its Kara. As long as no one knows we’re here, we just gotta be sneaky. Let’s go.” 

 The two of them advanced through the passage, no longer worrying about the sensors. They had to jump down into the cave, but when they got down the coast was clear. They moved through a side path, dodging some Aoba soldiers, and Hinata scanned the area. 

 Kageyama frowned. “Is this a mining operation?” 

 “Yeah.” 

 They moved from stalagmite to stalagmite, making their way to what seemed to be the core of the mining operation. Kinoshita’s machines were whirring all over the place, and the two of them had a couple close encounters with the little guys. 

 Kageyama frowned. Sugawara, Sir? 

No need for Sir, Kageyama. What’s up? 

 The thick metal wires… can you hack into that?
 

 Hinata dropped down and put his hand against the wire. 

 Kageyama assumed Sugawara asked him to do that. 

 Hinata looked up. “He said he can’t hack into it. He needs to get the… secondary… thing, down.” 

 “What?” 

 “He said… the secondary thing… down.” 

 “Never mind.” 

I need you get me to the secondary module, and if we take it down I can upload myself ad-hoc onto it. Also, Hinata is pouting behind his helmet. 

 Kageyama glanced at Hinata. “Cute.” 

 “Huh?” 

 “You’re pouting.” 

 “Am not!” 

 “Are too.” 

 “Shut up!” 

 “Be quiet, dumbass!” Kageyama hissed. 

 They stared at each other; and, when Hinata chuckled, Kageyama couldn’t help but do the same. 

Mission! 

 “Ah.” Kageyama blushed. “Right.” 

I’m going to highlight the wires I need you to follow. Please move quickly. 

 Kageyama looked down, seeing one of the thick silver coils suddenly turn baby blue. Hinata moved quickly, and Kageyama followed – until he saw an Aoba soldier up ahead. He was holding a device that his mind told him was an explosive, and he was opening it from its package. 

 “Ignite!” 

 The soldier went flying; the explosive hit the ground, but did nothing. 

 All around them, machines whirred to life, moving towards the area. 

 Hinata yanked Kageyama and ducked behind a rock formation. 

 Kageyama glared. “Did you just, explode someone holding an explosive?” 

 “It’s fine,” Hinata murmured. “I know those Aoba type of explosives. They won’t do anything unless they get direct contact with a lot of oxygen. If it’s still in the packet, it won’t go boom.” 

 “But all the machines—” 

 “If we lost that console,” Hinata warned, “We would’ve been screwed. The robots are going crazy, but don’t worry about them… once they calm down, they’ll confiscate the soldier and the explosive, and the area should clear up…” 

 Kageyama waited. 

 And waited. 

 And waited. 

 Hinata smiled behind his mask. “Not the patient type, are you?” 

 “I…” 

 “It’s okay.” Hinata was still crouched behind the rock. “I wasn’t either, when I started… but we need patience. As much as I don’t want to admit it, you know?” 

 Kageyama nodded slowly. 

 Eventually, the area was clear, and Hinata gave the signal for them to move. 

 Hinata ran towards the console and slipped some kind of chip into the machine. “Hide.” 

 Kageyama did as told. “What was that?” 

 “Suga’s analysing the secondary console… He’ll give us our orders based on what we find.” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

It’s been analysed, Sugawara said with no humour. There is critical data regarding what seems to be a Metropolitan weapon. It’s pretty far away, but we need the data from the main console… the main console is going to be well guarded. Or, at least when hacked, it’s going send every one of Kinoshita’s pets after you guys. 

 “So.” Hinata took a deep breath. “It’s going to be a firefight.” 

 Kageyama saw a glimpse of what the main console looked like on his visor and frowned. “Something that big, that complex…” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata nodded. “It’s gonna take time to hack that system, even for an AI like Suga.” 

 Kageyama scoffed. “Well, let’s get moving.” 

 The two of them kept moving, deeper into the cave. They eventually found the main console. In a circular platform, amidst a cavernous drop, the main console was a large circular computer with screens all around it hanging from the ceilings above. There was a bridge connecting the rest of the cave to the main console, but it was heavily guarded. 

 Hinata huffed. “Of course they chose the best strategic spot… I hate them sometimes.” 

 Kageyama nodded. “We can’t fight our way in, can we?” 

 “Nah.” He shook his head. “I mean, we could… but we want to give Suga as much time as we can before we give ourselves up. If they see us fighting our way there, they’re gonna put the data on lockdown ASAP.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. He looked around, but felt Suga pull his attention upwards. “Wires.” 

 Hinata looked at him, mouthing what the fuck before he followed Kageyama’s eyes and understood. 

 Hanging from high along the walls were several thick atomia lines, which were most likely feeding energy to the main console in the island pillar. 

 Hinata looked at Kageyama again. “Are you sure you can do it?” 

 “Boost me up.” 

 Hinata blinked. “But, are you sure?” 

 “Just do it.” 

 Hinata sighed. “Okay, geez…” 

 With Hinata’s help, Kageyama was boosted up on the rocks and climbed his way up to the atomia lines. He sighed as he got on and stabilised himself on all fours for a moment. 

 “Is now really the time for you circus tricks?” 

 “Hinata?” 

 “Yeah?” 

 “Shut up.” 

 Hinata chuckled. 

Kageyama. When you get to the main console, put your hand on the glowing socket. You have microchips inside your suit that will allow me to connect with machines. Your glove will automatically shoot a microchip inside, but be careful. 

 Kageyama nodded. He stood up, raising his back. He took another moment to keep himself steady and then began walking towards the main console. 

 Hinata took a sharp gasp below. 

Aoba soldiers are heading your way. Hinata’s taking care of them with snipers. 

 Understood.
 Kageyama frowned as he walked along the rope, keeping his balance. I thought the suit was supposed to help in situations like this. 

Ah, you’re just not used to it yet – that’s all. 

 Kageyama frowned, hearing the silenced shots of Hinata’s fun. 

You’re doing great, Kageyama. 

 Thanks mom. 

What. 

 It was a joke – because of the memory – ugh.
 Kageyama frowned. Never mind. 

Oh… Haha. 

 You don’t have to pretend to laugh. 

Thank god. 

 Tch.
 Kageyama smiled. He felt something, in his mind, like a sudden pressure and he spun around; his footing was flawless, despite not focusing on it, and he heard the sound of a gunshot. He swiped his hand, catching the bullet. 

 The Aoba soldier looked up, eyes wide. 

 A second later, Hinata shot him in the head. 

Aoba’s found you – it’s only moments before Kara does too! 

 Kageyama spun around again and moved quicker. He was halfway over the chasm, but he needed speed more than caution right now. 

 More bullets whizzed over his head, plasma shots too. 

 “Ignite!” 

 Kageyama looked over his shoulder, for a quarter of a second, before looking forward again. That was all he needed to process the sight of Hinata taking on Kinoshita’s droids. He bit his lip and moved faster. More shots were flying overhead, and he could analyse the trajectory to understand they were from the droids. Kara? 

They’re going to try to lockdown the data soon. Move! 

 Got it.
 

 “Ignite!” 

 Kageyama leapt off the cord, landing on the rock and running to the main console. He slammed his hand on the glowing port and a chip slipped out of his wrist and into the device. “Got it!” He looked over at Hinata and saw him surrounded by soldiers and droids. 

 Hinata spun with two guns, firing flaming bullets and dodging two plasma shots. He glanced back, for a quarter of a second and— 

 Kageyama scowled. “Are you fucking kidding me…?” 

 Hinata yelled ignite, and from his feet an explosion knocked the enemies back – he swung backwards, vaulting himself over the cavernous drop and landing in the centre of the island platform, next to Kageyama. “Suga’s hacking some of the droids to make them on our side, but everything in this cave is about to come charging right towards us! Can you give me cover fire?” 

 Kageyama pulled out his gun. “Yes.” 

 Hinata moved to the console and began typing. “Suga! It’s gonna be easier if you’ve got a set of hands here too – take over!” 

 “Well.” Kageyama pulled out a second pistol. “My turn to have your back.” 

 “Aww, how cute.” 

Plasma single shot, he told one gun, and it responded, before telling the other, Bullets, semi-automatic. 

 His guns changed shapes. 

 Aoba soldiers were yelling something about Shira as they ran across the bridge. 

 Kageyama held up both guns and fired. 

 Some dodged, some retreated, others kept the charge until they were shot. 

 Kageyama would let none of them pass. 

 The droids came next. 

 Kageyama could detect the weak points and fire incredibly precise shots to the chinks between their armour, causing them to explode. 

 The screens roared to life all around them. 

 “Hey!” came the voice from the screen, “Tabby!” 

 “Asshole!” Hinata yelled, “Don’t talk to me!” 

 “But Shou!” Tanaka pouted on four different screens. “Listen… I know we’re not on good terms… but come on. Join us.”

 “Fuck you!” 

 “You can bring that cute boy of yours… We’ll free Suga, together!” 

 Hinata’s hand paused, for just a moment, before they typed again. “Not interested.” 

 “Liar!” 

 Hinata growled. The moment Sugawara said he was done, Hinata spun around and shot each screen with a plasma bullet, shattering them all. 

 Alarms started going off. 

 “Oh fuck.” Hinata turned to Kageyama. “Whelp, it’s about to get a whole lot worse!” 

 Kageyama opened his mouth but— 

 Hinata’s eyes focused. There was a gush of fluid moving under suit, and his joints began to glow magmous orange. “Ignite: Scatter!” He shot a blast of fire upwards that split off into thirteen different blasts. It rained down on the robots that were charging their way towards them. “Let’s go!” He grabbed his plasma blades and set them aflame before diving into the crowd. 

 Kageyama followed after, keeping his guns. He fired at them as they crossed the bridge. 

 Sugawara guided them out of the cave, telling them which turns to take. One other thing that Suga was doing, without really thinking about it, was keeping track of the kill count. Kageyama had taken down thirty-two, while Hinata had taken down fifty-eight. 

 Kageyama couldn’t deny that thirty-two was still good… but He’s on a whole other level. 

You’ll get there one day too.
 

 “Ignite: Wall!” 

 A wall of fire erupted around Hinata and he thrust his hand – sending it forward. 

 Several droids caught in the wave exploded on contact. 

 Kageyama kept shooting them down, watching the difference in their kill counts expand and expand. “There’s so many droids!” 

 “Every one of these fuckers we kill is another one they have to replace!” Hinata sliced through three more. “They don’t have the same resources Aoba or Shira does – so this is pretty bad for them! Kara’s weak!” 

 “Hinata!” Kageyama yelled. “At least forty coming from the west!” 

 Hinata spun his head. “Ignite!” His suit roared to life. “Spear!” 

 Several spears shot out, arching upwards. They hit the stalactites above and they fell, coming crashing down on the enemies. 

 The cave rocked with force. 

 “Hey!” Kageyama yelled, “Don’t be reckless, Dumbass!” 

 “That’s Commander Dumbass, Tobio! Respect the chain of command!” 

 A sudden mechanical cry caught their attention. 

 Flying towards them were mechanical birds the size of half a human. 

 Kageyama scowled. “What the hell is—” 

 “Kinoshita,” Hinata spoke in a dangerous voice, “This isn’t what Asahi would have wanted!” 

 The birds paused. 

Did… the birds respond to their creator’s name…? 

 Hinata didn’t wait; he summoned a wall of fire that took them all out. More were coming from behind. He snapped the pin off a grenade and tossed it far. 

 Kageyama glared. “Don’t overdo it again!” 

 “I’m fine!” 

 “You’re not! You’re being reckless!” 

 “I got to Commander because I’m reckless!” Hinata fired another plasma shot at the ceiling, making more rocks fall on the robots. “Don’t fucking disrespect me, Sergeant. Know your place! Also – let’s go!” 

 Kageyama followed, gritting his teeth. 

 Aoba soldiers were at the opening and they began shooting. 

Kageyama – a plasma grenade! Now! 

 Kageyama tossed it, finding the arc was perfect. 

Explode! 

 The grenade responded, bursting far earlier than the soldiers expected, and dust filled the air. 

 Kageyama and Hinata ran through it. 

 “We’re free!” Hinata yelled, laughing loud. 

Bad news. 

 “Aww fuck! Now what, Koushi?” 

I spoke with Hanamaki and Matsukawa – there’s too many aerial patrols for them to get to the pickup location. I’m going to have to relocate it. Both Aoba and Kara know you’re here – and they’re both going after you. 

 “Well, shit!” Hinata kept running. “We make our way to the hills!” 

 “The hills?” 

 “The droids have a harder time walking on hills, especially the ones with wheels.” 

 “Got it.” 

No – not that way! 

 Before the two of them realised it, they were running right through an enemy camp. 

 The soldiers looked like they were getting ready to go in the cave and they blinked as two people ran right through. 

 Gunshots ensued. 

 “Great idea, Commander Dumbass!” 

 “Shut up! You didn’t notice either!” 

 Hinata looked over his shoulder. “We just gotta keep running. We’ll be fine!” 

 Kageyama scowled. “Fine.” 






The two of them kept running, at their max speed, for ten or twenty minutes. Kageyama felt powerful, in a new way. It was the first time he felt how easy excellence was when the Mark III suit was supporting his every movement. He felt like he could run for hours, without pacing himself. He felt invincible. 

 Aoba claimed the airspace, knowing they couldn’t make it to Shira on foot, though Kageyama didn’t see why he couldn’t. 

 It was only until they stopped that the pain set it. Kageyama screamed, feeling his muscles finally take on the pain. He fell to the floor, cradling his body. Hinata just watched, remembering when he felt the same way. Kageyama hated it, but Hinata suggested he get some rest. Kageyama didn’t know how he could sleep with the pain, but it ended up being the pain that made him pass out.
 






 Kageyama opened his eyes, waking up after a rest. He raised his back and swallowed hard. “How long…?” 

 Hinata was sitting on a rock in some cave they had found. “About an hour and a half?” 

 “Transport?” 

 “No word.” 

 “What?” 

 “It didn’t get shot down, we know that much… but it has some invisibility maneuvers. It stays hidden… sadly, hidden from enemies and allies alike.” He shrugged. “They’d tell us if they were in an emergency, though, and they know our coordinates.” 

 “What if they betrayed us,” Kageyama murmured, “Like the Tanaka twins?” 

 Hinata stood up and grabbed Kageyama by the collar, yanking upwards. “Don’t!” 

 “I…” Kageyama felt small, weak. “S-Sorry…” 

 Hinata dropped him. 

 Kageyama lowered his head. 

 Hinata took a deep breath and walked away. “How are your legs?” 

 “Better.” Kageyama stood up. “I can walk fine.” 

 “I’m hungry.” 

 “Me too.” 

 “We’ve got a snack pack thing, but it’s just pills.” 

 “Hm.” Kageyama frowned. 

 “Maybe we can go in the forest, find some berries or some shit.” 

 “Do you know which berries are poisonous?” 

 “Nope.” Hinata smiled. “But Suga can figure that out for us.” 

 They walked into the woods together. 

 Kageyama glanced over. “Talk to me.” 

 Hinata tilted his head. “Hm?” 

 “I usually like silence, but…” Kageyama shrugged. “Just. Talk.” 

 Hinata laughed. “I don’t know what to talk about.” 

 “Who’s Asahi?” 

 Hinata’s eyes widened and he slowly looked away. He shook his head. 

 Kageyama distracted himself by checking the air levels. The toxicity was near zero. He took his helmet off. “I won’t ask about him.” He looked down. “What are you thinking about?” 

 “I…” Hinata took off his helmet as well. “I don’t really want to talk, sorry.” 

 Kageyama bit his lip. 

 Hinata turned around and leaned on a nearby tree. He opened his palm and a hologram emitted from his glove. 

 Kageyama looked at it, tilting his head. 

 “It’s the uh, data that Suga’s been analysing.” 

 “Anything good?” 

 “Fantastic.” Hinata nodded. “It’s several designs of Ennoshita’s weapons and Kinoshita’s machines. Also, there’s reports on the miasma… and apparently diamgen waves but…” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. 

 “Well, apparently they looked for six months, after the Metropolitan battle that caused the miasma to burst.” Hinata frowned. “They looked for six months, not a stone… the idea of diamgen waves in Metropolis doesn’t make sense, but it makes all of us stop and think you know? But I don’t know. Diamgen would need oxygen to form, so it would have to be an aerated place. Apparently the mining facility is a failure search, so they have plans on pulling out.” 

 “Any info on Kara’s home base?” 

 “Well… yes. They labelled four places as their home base, but all of them have been deserted.” Hinata scowled. “They’re a nomadic army, I guess… but how do you hide all that equipment.” 

 Kageyama crossed his arms. “They would need a warehouse somewhere.” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata rubbed his neck. “It doesn’t make much sense.” 

 “So… Aoba has a flying fortress, and Kara is a bunch of mystery nomads.” 

 “Yeah, but.” Hinata grinned. “Shira has us, the Mark III.” 

 Kageyama smirked. “But.” His smile fell. “There’s a third suit out there…” 

 “Tobio, how many times are we going to go over this?” Hinata sighed. “It’s not a Mark III like us, so—” 

 Both of them paused, eyes going wide. 

 Kageyama felt time freeze and he saw the arrow heading right towards them. 

 At the same time, they jumped away, donning their helmets, pulling out their guns—as an explosive arrow forced the tree they were standing by to burst open. 

 Kageyama hit the ground and rolled. 

 Hinata caught himself on his feet and glared through his visor. 

 “Nah! Shouyou! That was my warning shot!” 

 Hinata dove behind a tree. 

 Kageyama behind a bush. He glanced to the explosion, seeing a violet-red smoke. “Nishinoya?” 

 “Eh?” the archer called out, “That’s my name. Who’s that with you, Shouyou? Where are you guys hiding? Is that the boyfriend everyone keeps talking about?” 

Don’t fight him. 

 We don’t have much of a choice, do we?
 

 Hinata closed his eyes. “Asahi…” 

 Nishinoya pulled an arrow from his quiver. “Asahi,” he said with wide eyes. “You’ve got some nerve saying that name to me.” 

 “Noya,” Hinata clasped his hand over his heart. “Asahi wouldn’t want this!” 

 Nishinoya pulled his arrow back and fired – shooting through a tree. 

 Hinata dodged, just in time. 

 “Ahhh.” Nishinoya’s gaze never left Hinata’s general position. “Suga’s still got it, I see.” 

 “Shut up!” 

 “Did you forget…? Suga’s chained up, with cords sticking into his skin. Would Asahi want that? Oh wait!” Noya raised his voice, “Because of what they did to Suga, Asahi hung himself!” 

 “Shut up!” Hinata roared back, “You think I don’t know that!?” 

 “I don’t know what goes through that stupid nationalistic head of yours, Shouyou! It’s clear who the real enemy is!” 

 “Noya!” 

 Nishinoya fired again. 

 Hinata lunged out of his spot from behind a tree and tackled Nishinoya. 

 The two of them rolled on the grass. 

 Kageyama readied his gun, but. 

 Hinata was on top of Noya and he brought his fist down – his Mark III suit shattered pieces of Noya’s Mark II off. “Shut up!” he roared, tears in his eyes. “Shut up!” Another punch, another punch. “You have no idea what kind of nightmares Suga has because of—” 

 Noya spun quick—pulling himself back and back-flipping. Arrow already notched in his bow, he fired. 

 A corrosive shot. 

 Kageyama aimed his gun and fired. 

 It shot the arrow away from both of them before it burst open, exploding in purple hues. 

 “Oi.” Noya glared. “You stay out of this, you—” 

 Gunfire from above. 

 Noya looked up and dove into the trees. 

“Sergeant Hanamaki here – sorry for the delay.” 

 A black aircraft formed overhead and ropes dropped down. 

“Get on.” 






 The two of them sat in the hangar area of the aircraft, in their spots from before. Kageyama swallowed hard. Hinata was sitting next to him, leaning down, and Kageyama felt a pang in his chest. “Do you have any wounds…?” 

 “No.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes softened as he murmured, “Not physical ones, anyway.” 

 “Shut up.” 

 “Sorry.” 

 Hinata said nothing. 

 Kageyama reached over, slipping an arm around Hinata. 

 Hinata raised his back, a confused and hurt look in his eyes. 

 Kageyama pulled him close. 

 Hinata dove into Kageyama’s neck, and took in a deep breath. “Thanks.” 

 “You’re welcome.” 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 9: Act 2, Part V 



 “I think I figured out the Mark III system,” Kageyama muttered quietly. 

 Hinata did a double-take. “What.” He squinted. “You just… figured it out. As if it was like, what, a one-week puzzle, and not something it took the army years and years and years to put together and uncover.” 

 Kageyama paused. “Uncover?” 

 The virtual reality displayed a training room. 

 “Ah.” Hinata stared at Kageyama, then glanced away. “It’s technically classified… but, you’ll figure it out sooner or later. A lot of the Mark III system was designed by Metropolis.” 

 “The fallen city…?” 

 “Yeah. That being said, it wasn’t functional when we found it.” Hinata rubbed his arm. “It took a great deal of time and energy on Shira’s part to put it together, to make it work. Our engineers and scientists worked night and day for months, so it’s not that simple okay? What did you even figure out?” 

 “Oh.” Kageyama looked down at the ground. “I think… it’s based on emotions…? Like, when I feel angry at you, I feel my whole suit responding. It’s the uh… mental state.” 

 “Yes and no.” Hinata shrugged as he sat on the floor of the training facility. He sighed and looked up. “It has to do with that… kind of. See, all humans, we’ve all got the same brain sequences and stuff for simple things, but it’s very individual too? You know? Nobody’s neurons are in the same place, even if the brain structures are pretty identical. When emotions flare up, we get that fight or flight system kicking in. We can use that power, and the other traits of our individual brains.” 

 Kageyama crossed his arms, eyes narrowing. 

 “It’s like, I don’t know… What our suits do – they follow scientific rules. Chemical equations, we manipulate force… your suit is going to be able to do something that only your suit is able to do.” Hinata sighed again. “Hey Kageyama, can we turn this off?” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 The blue room around them dissolved. 

 They were in the hangar of the Black Hawk. Hanamaki and Matsukawa were still flying them towards the capital, only moments after their last mission with Nishinoya. 

 “Hm.” Hinata leaned back on his hands, sitting on the hangar floor. His eyes softened. “Suga’s still busy, communicating with the Emperor… I want to go home.” 

 “We’re on our way.” Kageyama walked over, offering a hand. 

 Hinata took it. “I know.” He pulled himself up with Kageyama’s help, and then pushed his forehead against Kageyama’s chestpiece. “Why?” 

 Kageyama pulled him close, biting the inside of his cheek. 

 “Why do they always leave me…?” Hinata softened a bit against Kageyama. “But… we’ll be together, right?” 

 “Yeah.” 

 “Until the end?” 

 “Until we change the world.” 

 Hinata laughed. 

 Kageyama scowled. 

 “It’s just.” Hinata looked up at him, eyes looking worn and tired. “I like that about you, how easily you say things like that… like it’s just fact.” 

 “Is it.” 

 “Exactly.” Hinata smiled. “Those airy-fairy words, they’re going to be hard to prove you know.” 

 “Yeah.” Kageyama frowned. “But it doesn’t mean they’re not true.” 

 “I know.” Hinata backed away just a little, putting his hands behind his back, having a bit of a spring in his step as he bounced on his feet. “But you say it with such determination… I mean, like. You say it like you mean it, you know? So a part of me believes you.” 

 “Well.” Kageyama crossed his arms. “I do mean it.” 

 Hinata just stared at him. 

 “Hinata.” Kageyama’s voice was firm as he said, “You don’t like how things are now, right? You want them to change. So do I. That’s all there is to it.” 

 Hinata stepped forward again and reached up; he pulled Kageyama down, and pressed their lips together. 

 Kageyama made a little squeak into the unexpected kiss. He knew he was blushing and he hated it. What made it worse was Hinata muffled a noise into the kiss that sounded like a laugh. 

 Hinata pulled away, keeping his hands on Kageyama’s face. “You know, we… never really talked about. Us. Have we?” 

 “Us? What about us?” 

 “Just, us. Dating.” 

 “You decided we were dating,” Kageyama reminded, “And that was that.” 

 Hinata’s eyes softened. “I didn’t force you into this… did I?” 

 Kageyama shrugged. 

 Hinata let go of his face. “Kageyama. Is that really your answer?” 

 Kageyama frowned. “Hinata.” He felt his hands tingle. “If I didn’t want it, I would be doing more than just.” He shrugged again. “Right?” 

 “Fair enough, I guess…” 

 “That means I like you, okay?” 

 Hinata squinted. “Yeah?” 

 “Look.” Kageyama glanced at the ceiling. “I like being with you.” 

 Hinata tilted his head. 

 “I’m. Not good with people.” Kageyama closed his eyes. “And if I can avoid them, I avoid them because… I’m not. Good. At talking to people, or making them understand me. Sometimes you can’t avoid people, and I don’t mind it in a military setting but you’re… you’re something else.” 

 “Why?” 

 “Because!” Kageyama opened his eyes and shoved Hinata’s shoulder. “You’re a shitty commanding officer!” 

 “Hey!” 

 “No, but…” Kageyama hid the urge to smile. “I like being with you… you’re… I don’t know. You don’t bullshit, or beat around the bush. You’re not exactly no-nonsense, but… I can understand you. Most of the time. I really like being with you.” He pouted a bit. “Okay?” 

 Hinata’s smile returned, softer than Kageyama had ever seen before. “Why, though?” 

 “I.” Kageyama crossed his arms for a third time. He swallowed hard. “Fun. You’re… fun. Okay? You’re… I don’t know… you make me feel like the world can change. You’re energetic, and alive… and stupid, and always up for a fight or a race. I mean my first memory of you, being with you, was racing to the fountain.” 

 Hinata laughed, and his cheeks had a soft pink tinge. 

 Kageyama felt his heartbeat in his ears. 

 “I like you too, Kageyama.” Hinata grinned. “I like being with you too.” 

 “Why?” 

 “Eh?” 

 “You asked me! Why can’t I ask you!?” 

 Hinata pouted. 

 “Don’t give me that!” 

 “Fine!” Hinata threw his arms behind his head. “Hold your horses, Blueberry.” 

 Kageyama frowned. 

 “There’s lots of reasons I like you.” Hinata grinned. “It’s going to be pretty hard to just pick out the best ones.” 

 “What.” Kageyama frowned. “What do you mean lots of reasons…?” 

 “You don’t mind telling me to shut up, or correcting me. You don’t mind challenging me, racing me, calling me out on my shit… you know?” Hinata moved forward and pushed his face into Kageyama’s chest again, arms wrapping around him. His voice was quieter as he said, “You don’t mind going along with my stupid plans or ideas, but you’re also totally going to tell me when I’m being a brat or a little shit.” 

 Kageyama tensed. 

 “You’re… someone who likes me, who appreciates me, is in awe of me, but not someone who’s going to worship me.” 

 “Do you… get that often? Because of the suit.” 

 “Yeah…” Hinata’s eyes softened. “People are nice to me all the time, you know…? But it’s the kind of fake nice that you don’t really feel is… you know, nice. There’s so many people who think they’ll get a promotion or into the Mark III program if they’re buddy-buddy with me. It shows. I hate it… all that fake shit.” 

 Kageyama nodded slowly. 

 “But not you.” 

 “I.” Kageyama frowned. “But I wanted to know the secret… and I… Kunimi and Kindaichi told me to be close to you, for a promotion…” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata laughed. “But that’s not all it was, right?” 

 Kageyama frowned. “What do you mean?” 

 “I mean.” Hinata looked up at him. “You didn’t see me as a means to an end… you didn’t kiss the ground I walked on.” 

 “No.” Kageyama put a hand on Hinata’s head, pushing him into his chest. “I hated you… for being better than me.” 

 “You hated me,” Hinata mused with a smile, “But you didn’t hate me as a person.” 

 “No.” 

 “And that’s the thing… I felt… like I was human around you, I guess.” Hinata closed his eyes. “It’s kind of a juxtaposition, I guess? Or, I don’t know. I dichotomy of difference or some shit… it’s just… It’s complicated, and there was layers to it… that’s what makes it real. Not just a blanketing slate.” 

 “Thanks, I think.” 

 “It’s a compliment.” Hinata looked up, peeking one eye open. “You probably don’t get many of those, neh?” 

 “Is.” Kageyama frowned. “That a compliment?” 

 “I don’t know.” Hinata laughed. “I’m teasing, I think. I don’t know what I’m saying.” 

 Kageyama glanced to his hand and his glove pulled away to reveal his fingers. He ran a hand through Hinata’s hair. 

 Hinata perked up a bit, pink tinge returning to his cheeks. “Hey, you managed the mental commands.” 

 “Yeah.” Kageyama frowned. “The Suga System is mostly talking to the Emperor, but it seems I can still do things like this.” 

 “Well, yeah. There’s basic systems and emergency systems that are always running for us.” 

 “So he’s got… a lot of sub-systems.” 

 “Remember cognitive systems? Short term memory being different from long term…? Suga’s new mind was created around that perspective. The idea that he can compartmentalise systems – they could interact with each other, but they were inherently independent systems. They can connect or separate at his command.” 

 “That…” Kageyama frowned. “How much of that was Shira, and how much of that was Metropolitan data?” 

 “Well, a lot of the core pieces were Metropolitan. Nekomata, the last reigning ruler of Metropolis, apparently made his workers slave over every detail… but it wasn’t good enough to run. Ushijima did the same, and made our scientists and engineers work day and night for it. They were well paid, of course, and earned lots of vacation time, but it was very intensive.” 

 “Mm… it must have cost a lot.” 

 “Oh yeah.” Hinata’s eyes softened. “More than money… Hanamaki and Matsukawa dropped Third Lord status, Daichi too… Auntie’s never been the same… and Asahi…” 

 Kageyama’s eyes softened. 

 “For a lot of people, it was their breaking point, Kags… it was the one thing that they said ‘No further’, you know? The line had to be drawn here, no further…” 

 “But not you.” 

 “Of course not!” Hinata shoved Kageyama away. “Of course—” His suit was flooded with red lines. His eyes burned. He took a breath, and his suit cooled. “I’m… s—” 

 “It’s—” 

 “I shouldn’t have…” Hinata looked away. “Sorry. I…” 

 “You’re angry at them.” Kageyama looked away. “All of them.” 

 “Not Asahi,” Hinata assured. “But the rest of them… You wouldn’t understand.” 

 “I think I do.” 

 Hinata looked up, as if challenging him. The annoyed look in his eyes pierced a dagger into Kageyama’s chest. 

 Kageyama just swallowed hard. “You hate them, don’t you? Because… ending the war means freeing Suga… so when they don’t work at their most optimal level for the military… they’re delaying the war effort. Maybe one person alone can’t change the war, but we’re talking three Third Lords, researchers… everyone.” 

 Hinata’s eyes brimmed with tears for a moment and he turned around. “I drive myself into the ground every day on the battlefield! To get Suga home, to protect Natsu, to further Ushijima’s causes…” 

 Kageyama’s eyes softened. 

 “If they want him home, if they want Suga back… they should swallow their pride and do their job!” 

 “I agree.” 

 Hinata turned around. 

 “The war needs to end.” Kageyama nodded slowly. “It can’t go on any longer…” 

 “Kags…” Hinata laughed, despite the tears in his eyes. “Why are you so determined…? Where do you get that strength… to keep yourself keeping on?” 

 “I have… memories. Vague ones.” Kageyama looked at his hands. “Of an old cabin, by the shores… in the middle of a wasteland. I was a child, a baby, back then… I was scared, I think… When I moved to the capital Shira, I tried asking my Dad and Papa about where I was, or why I was there… but all they’ve told me is I was a war orphan. War destroyed my home, my biological family…” 

 Hinata stared at him, letting a tear fall. 

 “But it wasn’t just the people.” Kageyama looked up. “It was the wastelands that scared me. Everything broken… nothing grew… It felt like the world itself was dying.” 

 Hinata laughed. “What are you, an environmentalist?” 

 “No?” Kageyama frowned. “Environmentalism is inherently selfish and short-sighted.” 

 “I.” Hinata tilted his head. He scrunched up his nose. “What?” 

 “In a hundred, thousand years… the planet will still be here. Even if all life ends and the world freezes over, microscopic bacterium in the ocean will rise up, and life will restart. There is little we can do that will actually destroy this planet in the long run.” Kageyama looked at Hinata. “But humanity will die, all the animals will die, trees… everything. For us, for you and me, for this age… it’ll all end if we keep this up. Shira and Aoba, and now Kara… If this war keeps going, everything we know will cease to exist.” 

 Hinata tilted his head even more. 

 “What I’m trying to say, is.” Kageyama frowned. “If this keeps up, we’re all doomed. So, for selfish reasons, to preserve humanity… I want the war to end.” 

 “That’s.” Hinata laughed. “That’s why you want the suit?” 

 “That’s why I want the suit.” Kageyama nodded. “To bring an end to the war… so no more of the world is like the wastelands I’ve seen in my memories.” 

 “Well.” Hinata put his fist in his hand. “The end is with Emperor Ushijima. Oikawa won’t bow to him, not unless we make him, and we will.” 

 “And Kara?” 

 “I don’t know.” Hinata looked at his hands. “I was hoping we could talk this out, but.” 

 “You’ve never talked with them.” Kageyama looked at him. “Ryuunosuke Tanaka requested that you talk with him, twice, and you denied him.” 

 “Kageyama…” He closed his eyes. “I’m scared.” 

 “Scared…?” 

 “I’m scared!” Hinata gripped his other hand and began crushing it. “Ryuu, and Yuu… they’ve never been the smartest, but they would never turn their back on Suga, on me, on their friends and family… not for nothing. Saeko, she’s a smart girl… Ennoshita, Kinnoshita… What is it? What could possibly make them turn sides?” 

 “Well.” Kageyama frowned. “If your goal is to free Suga as soon as possible, you need to decide.” 

 “That’s heresy!” Hinata frowned. “Don’t talk like I’m going to change sides too!” 

 “I’m just saying, I know what Ryuunosuke said, but their goal might not be to free Suga…” 

 “Yeah, but. They said…” 

 “I don’t know.” Kageyama turned off to the side. “We have the Mark III suits… the easiest way to neutralise us as a threat would be to take down Suga. Right? They know what your goal is, and they’ll probably use it to manipulate you.” 

 “Manipulate me…?” Hinata shook his head. “They’re my friends, Kageyama.” 

 “Are they?” Kageyama frowned. “If Aoba is intellect, and Shira is strength… then Kara is cunning. Those were your words. We are strength: We are power. The power to do what must be done. The power to wipe out towns, to create those wastelands.” 

 “And you’re okay with that?” 

 “If that brings an end to the war, then yes. That’s why Suga is where he is now, right?” 

 Hinata let it sink in. “You’re right…” 

 A silence hung between them, holding only the whirring sound of the ship they were in. 

 “But…” Hinata frowned. “What if they were trying to free Suga, really?” 

 “With the Mark IV, the Suga System isn’t necessary anymore.” Kageyama crossed his arm. “It’s still in the prototypal stages… and it’ll be years before we can mass produce them… But. Why would they fight Suga to free him?” 

 “Doesn’t make any sense.” Hinata sat down on one of the side seats and put his hands in his lap. “I wonder what it could be…” 

 “Me too.” 

 “But you’re right… even if we do talk… I have to remember that they’ll try to manipulate me.” Hinata closed his eyes. “Besides Natsu, I was always the youngest out of everyone… I’ve been underestimated by them all, a lot.” 

 “Equip yourself with whatever it takes to listen, but don’t be swayed too easily.” 

 “Ukai,” Hinata murmured. He looked up. “That was your grandpa, right…? He said that during the Furu War.” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 “Right.” He slapped his face with both hands. “God, I feel so dumb.” 

 “You’re not dumb…” Kageyama walked over and sat next to him. “We just… there’s a lot of emotions out there. And there’s pressure, too… of wearing the suit. It’s a lot on your shoulders.” 

 Hinata sighed. “It is…” He dropped his head into his hands. “Are we there yet?” 

 “Twenty minutes until drop off.” 

 “Right… We’re reporting to Emperor Ushijima directly when we’re done. I can fill out the paperwork later, so we just need to be screened by the medical team and then we’re done… Wanna come over to my place?” 

 “I…” Kageyama hummed. “I was going to ask you if you wanted to come to mine…” 

 Hinata thought about it for a moment before he nodded. “Yeah, let’s do that… I think I need some time before, seeing everyone again… I just want to put my head down.” 

 Kageyama put an arm around him, and he felt Hinata shift over to lean on him again. 

 Hinata smiled. “You’re cute, you know that?” 

 “Shut up.” 

 Hinata moved up to kiss him, and Kageyama kissed back. 



 “Cuties, aren’t they?” Matsukawa had a blank and tired look as he glanced up to the camera above the cockpit glass. 

 Hanamaki hummed. “Mmm… I feel bad for eavesdropping on them.” 

 “Yeah. But it’s our job.” 






 Ushijima was waiting for them, sitting on his throne in Main Command. 

 For Kageyama, it was his first time in the room, and he was sweating as he nervously looked everywhere. He felt his heart racing and he was sure his throat wasn’t going to work. 

 Hinata yawned next to him. 

 Ushijima glanced at them. 

 Kageyama saluted firm and strong, with his whole body. 

 Hinata barely brought up a hand to do the salute. “Yo.” 

 “The two of you have returned.” 

 “Really?” Hinata grinned. “I couldn’t tell.” 

 Ushijima frowned. 

 Iwaizumi hid his laugh in a cough. 

 Kageyama glanced aside, seeing Daichi and Yamaguchi (who he recognised from the video call with Kunimi). 

 “To summarise,” Ushijima spoke plainly, “We have been given a report from Sugawara. It should be sending to the two of you now. Is there anything the two of you could add?” 

 The report opened as a hologram in front of both of them and Hinata scrolled it quickly. “Nope, looks good. I’m sure you’ve revised the data given to us by Ukai?” 

 “Yes. Sugawara has gone through it several times.” 

 “Okay.” Hinata swiped the hologram away. “Besides that, nothing. The report covered all grounds. Sergeant Kageyama is adjusting to his suit well. I suggest he begins the process with Third Lord Tsukishima to draw out his fluidity.” 

 Kageyama looked at Hinata. 

 Ushijima’s face creased into a frown. “Isn’t it… rather soon?” 

 Iwaizumi glanced to Kageyama appraisingly. 

 Kageyama swallowed hard. 

 A screen with a simple soundwave bar popped up behind Ushijima. Sugawara spoke from the screen, saying, “I agree with the Commander’s assessment. Compared to how I’ve bound myself to multiple people in the past, I think I’m finding it easier to bind with Kageyama.” 

 “Very well.” Ushijima nodded. “You have my approval – as long as the Third Lord deems him ready for the training. If that is all, you are dismissed after the medical screening.” 

 Hinata saluted. 

 Kageyama did as well. 

 When Hinata left the room, Kageyama followed like a puppy not knowing where to go or what to look at, just knowing he had to follow. He glanced at Daichi, whose eyes were firm on his screen, and a sense of cold ran down Kageyama’s spine. 






 When they got to the medical ward, they began another routine examination. Kageyama learned that most of this was data for the Mark III system, but also that they were testing toxicity levels since the two of them had moved through the miasma in the city. While waiting, Kageyama turned his head at the sound of someone walking towards them – one footstep louder than the other. 

 Tsukishima’s robotic eye was making a whirring noise as he was obviously scanning Kageyama. He crossed his arms, human arm over his robotic one. “Iwaizumi updated me. You think he’s ready?” 

 Hinata nodded. “What do you think?” 

 “I don’t know.” Tsukishima examined Kageyama, mechanical lens still moving. “And, to be honest, I don’t care. If you and the Mark III system both say he is, then he probably is. If we find out he isn’t, then he isn’t. Sergeant Takeda.” 

 “Sergeant Kageyama,” he corrected, quietly. 

 “I’ll call you whatever I want.” 

 Kageyama opened his mouth, but— 

 Hinata put a hand on Kageyama’s arm. “Yeah, you will, but don’t be a dick, Kei.” 

 “Tsukishima,” he corrected. 

 Kageyama swallowed hard. His last memory of this guy was him getting along with Natsu, but he was a dick. It made sense because Natsu was a brat. He was starting to not like either of them. 

 “Either way.” Tsukishima stared at Kageyama. “I don’t know if we’ve been properly introduced. Third Lord Kei Tsukishima. I oversee all the Mark III progress, as well as prototypes and modifications to Mark II suits.” 

 “I see.” Kageyama nodded. “And you’re going to help me… bring out the fluid? Which is…?” 

 “Ah.” Hinata smiled. “That’s what gives me the Ignite command.” 

 Kageyama nodded. “So. Third Lord, Sir… you can help bring it out?” 

 Tsukishima pointed to his robotic eye. “I have attuned one of my lenses to specialise in the process. By gathering data in this highly specialised lens, the Mark III system can gain insight on your biorhythms.” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata smiled. “In-sight.” 

 “Get out.” 

 “Like, with his eye! It’s a pun!” 

 Tsukishima glared. “Get out.” 

 Kageyama just sighed. “Shut up, Hinata.” 

 Tsukishima glanced to Kageyama, a small sliver of approval in his eyes. “I like him.” He adjusted his glasses. “We’ll need to work daily. Two hours a day, roughly five days a week, somewhat spread out to give you enough time to rest.” He grabbed his datapad and opened up his calendar. He tapped another button and a hologram of Kageyama’s schedule also came up. “Looks like evenings will be best.” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 “I’m putting it in.” Tsukishima tapped the screen. “You should count these as mission hours. I will give you the code to do so. It will ensure that you are given adequate breaks—it is rather intensive training.” 

 “I see.” 

 “We will start tomorrow. I will send you several files to read up on before we begin.” Tsukishima glared. “Do not skip out on the academics, or you will be wasting my time.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “Why would I do that?” 

 Hinata yelled, “That was only once, Kei!” 

 Tsukishima shot him a glare. “I’m leaving.” 






 Tsukishima walked out of the medical wing with a certain unfocus that wasn’t like him. He was in a deep scowl, and he moved like an angry child stomping through the day. His usual refined walk was shattered, and the soldiers that recognised him were steering clear of him – more than usual. 

 All except one. 

 Someone walking behind him, tall and lanky, with messy black hair. 

 Tsukishima’s scowl didn’t waver. “Don’t follow me, idiot.” 

 “Aw, come on Tsnook’ms.” 

 “I could remove you from the army.” Tsukishima stopped in his place. “For harassment.” 

 “You’re going to remove a Commander?” Kuroo crossed his arms, smirking. “Especially someone with my lineage? I mean, I’m almost Third Lord at this point.” 

 “Third Lord Tetsurou Kuroo,” Tsukishima murmured. “Has a nice ring to it.” 

 Kuroo smirked, putting a hand on his hip. “Sounds better than Emperor, ne?” 

 “Emperor Kuroo,” Tsukishima said in the same tone. “I prefer Third Lord… but do you really think you have a chance?” 

 “Against the orange furball? Nah, nope. Not a chance.” Kuroo smiled. “But besides Hinata, I don’t have anybody contesting me. His promotion will just ease my ascent later on. Third Lord… I’ve been working at it for years. Then you can’t use rank against me, Kei.” 

 “Tsukishima,” he corrected. “You’re annoying me. Get out of my face.” 

 “What?” Kuroo tilted his head. “Aren’t I treating you to dinner tonight?” 

 “… Are you?” 

 “Because you got them to repair the Jackal before the Datekou.” Kuroo stared. “Remember?” 

 Tsukishima glanced away. He remembered now, but it wasn’t like him to forget. “I didn’t do it for you,” he assured. “The Jackal is a much smaller mech, and wouldn’t take long to repair. If it was caught behind the Datekou, it wouldn’t go out into field for months. We couldn’t afford that.” 

 “Yeah.” Kuroo grinned. “I’m pretty useful.” 

 “I didn’t say that.” 

 “Kei—” 

 “Tsukishima.” 

 “Tsukishima,” Kuroo repeated quieter. “Are you okay…?” 

 Tsukishima bristled, keeping his eyes averted. 

 “You’re being ice cold.” 

 “Yes, well.” Tsukishima adjusted his glasses. “I am a bitch.” 

 “Nah, you always push me away, but it’s usually a playful give and take…” Kuroo crossed his arms. “I haven’t heard you be this dry with me since we first met. It’s not fun to pick on you if we’re not having fun.” 

 “I’m.” Tsukishima turned to face him. “I’m sorry.” 

 “Shit.” Kuroo took a step back. “Did you just apologise?” 

 “Fuck off, Kuroo.” 

 Kuroo laughed. “Sorry.” 

 Tsukishima cracked a smile, but it looked pained. “Things with Akiteru are… rough right now.” 

 Kuroo frowned. “Why?” 

 “We…” Tsukishima glanced left and right to make sure nobody was in earshot. When Kuroo took the hint and stepped forward, Tsukishima was grateful. “We got contacted… by some of our old friends.” 

 Kuroo’s eyes narrowed. “Kara?” 

 “Well—” 

 “Tsukki!” 

 Tsukishima turned away. 

 Yamaguchi was running towards him, hugging two datapads. “I have the files you were asking for—and I analysed the Mark III data. It’s exactly what you said, but there’s two new variables. Do you want to go through them with me, Tsukki?” 

 Kuroo looked between them. “He called you Tsukki, and he’s not dead.” 

 Tsukishima shot him a glare and waved Kuroo away. He turned to Yamaguchi. “Yes. The sooner we get that second Mark III at its fullest, the better.” 

 Yamaguchi smiled. “Okay, Tsukki. I’ll be in your office.” He looked at Kuroo and gave a little nod before running off. 

 Kuroo watched him go and raised an eyebrow. “Who’s that?” 

 “Captain-Specialised.” Tsukishima avoided eye contact. “Daichi’s protégé.” 

 “Uhuh.” Kuroo grinned. “He’s cute.” 

 Tsukishima shot him a glare, but his cheeks tinged pink. 

 “Maybe the three of us could,” he completed his sentence with a wink. 

 Tsukishima raised his metallic arm. “You are aware I can turn this into a plasma canon and destroy you whenever I want, right?” 

 Kuroo raised his hands defensively. “I didn’t say anything.” 

 “But you are aware I can kill you, right?” 

 “I didn’t say anything!” 

 “Are you aware I can—” 

 “Yes!” 

 “Good.” 






 Kageyama was walking home, Hinata at his side. It was… nice… to take the suits off. They were being repaired and inspected for miasma samples. From what Kageyama understood, the remnants of miasma weren’t concentrated enough to be toxic, but it could be analysed to see how the miasma was changing over time. 

 Kageyama didn’t care much about that. 

 It was nice to wear loose clothes, and sandals. 

 It was a rather sunny day in Shira, and the two of them were walking around the slums. 

 Hinata laughed, suddenly. “You don’t talk much.” 

 “No.” 

 “I don’t mind.” Hinata smiled. “I talk a lot.” 

 “I listen a lot, I guess?” 

 Hinata laughed again. “Then, we’re a pair. Right?” 

 Kageyama smiled a little, giving a nod. 

 Hinata hummed. “Hey, Kageyama? You seem really cool.” 

 Kageyama frowned at him, raising an eyebrow. “Are you trying to get something from me?” 

 “No!” 

 “Brat.” 

 “Hey! I’ll take it back!” 

 “Take it! It’s probably a deceitful compliment anyway!” 

 “I’m!” Hinata paused. “Kageyama, shut up oh my God!” 

 “You shut up!” 

 “You—” 

 Another voice cried, “Yaku!” 

 They both paused. 

 “Yaku, come down from there! It’s okay! It’s just me!” 

 They both looked over. 

 A small boy was talking to a tree. 

 Hinata tilted his head. 

 Kageyama noticed the small brown cat in the tree and he walked over. 

 The boy was calling the cat down. 

 Kageyama examined the situation. “He’s stuck.” 

 The boy looked at him. “Huh? Whoa!” He blinked. “You’re the guy that was on the news!” 

 “Me too!” Hinata yelled as he ran over. “I was on the news too! I was on the news more than him!” 

 “You’re Shouyou Hinata!” 

 “Yep!” Hinata put his hands on his hips. “At your service! What’s your name, kiddo?” 

 “Inouka!” he explained. He must have been ten years old. “My cat went up the tree… I thought he was hiding, but your friend said he’s stuck.” 

 “Oi. Kageyama.” Hinata looked at him. “What do you mean he’s stuck?” 

 Kageyama frowned at Hinata. “He’s a cat. Stuck in a tree. That’s it.” 

 Inouka looked between them. “I got a new cat, recently! Two new ones, they were strays… but Yaku’s not comfortable with them yet, so he’s been like not really close with them? But today he just ran up the tree, and now he’s not coming down.” 

 Kageyama looked up at the tree. It wasn’t particularly tall and he walked closer. Slowly, he offered his hands to the cat and made a little noise. 

 Yaku looked at him and tilted his head. 

 Kageyama kept offering himself, making a small noise again. 

 Yaku jumped. 

 Kageyama caught him. 

 Inouka gasped. “That’s!” He put his hands on his head and messed up his hair. “Wow! He usually hates new people!” 

 Kageyama cradled the cat close to him, not saying anything. 

 Hinata walked over to pet the cat, but Yaku hissed, so he backed away. “Okay fine…” He moved to hide behind Inouka, who was shorter than him. 

 “Um.” Kageyama looked at Inouka. “It’s… important to make sure the cats are comfortable with each other… you need to make a safe environment, and supervise them… there’s things you can do, like letting them be in the same room with a little fence between them? So they can see each other but not interact… You can search online, ways to introduce a new cat into the home. Here.” 

 Inouka took Yaku from Kageyama and nodded. “I’m going to do a lot of research!” 

 Yaku seemed to relax in Inouka’s arms. 

 “Good.” Kageyama smiled. “Take care of them.” 

 “Will do! Ah.” Inouka blinked. “I never got your name!” 

 “Kageyama.” He gave a light salute. “Sergeant Kageyama.” 

 “That’s right!” Inouka smiled. “That’s what the Emperor said on the news. Kageyama! Nice to meet you, Sergeant. Thank you!” 

 “You’re.” Kageyama felt his lips wibble into a smile. “Well-Wel-Welcome.” 

 Inouka smiled. “Bye guys!” 

 Hinata watched him go and smiled. “You’re an animal guy, huh?” 

 “They’re.” Kageyama frowned. “Easier than people.” 

 “Kageyama the cat whisperer.” 

 “Hinata, the tree whisperer.” 

 “Tree?” 

 Kageyama kicked him into the tree. 






 Kageyama decided whether he wanted to bring Hinata over to his small dorm, or if he wanted to bring him to his family again. He wanted to see his parents (and promised them he’d see them as soon as he was free), so he went with that option. When they were home at last, Kageyama made a pot of coffee and put some snacks on the table. 

 Hinata munched away happily. 

 Ittetsu walked over with a smile. “How was the mission?” 

 Ukai was grabbing the milk from the fridge as he asked, “You guys went to Metropolis?” 

 “Yes.” Kageyama nodded. “It went well. It was, cut short, because we found the data we were looking for very quickly.” 

 “Yep!” Hinata smiled. “Thank you for the old data, by the way.” 

 “Uh, yeah whatever…” Ukai shrugged. “I wasn’t even sure what was on it. Glad it helped, though.” 

 Ittetsu and Ukai eventually came over and sat around chairs in the living room. Ukai gave Hinata a couple glares, until Ittetsu shoved him hard to make him stop. 

 Ukai coughed. “Nice to finally meet you, Hinata.” 

 “Yeah, same.” Hinata grinned. “So, you still teach martial arts, right?” 

 “Yeah.” Ukai shrugged. “It’s fulfilling.” 

 “Yeah? Is it because you get to kick stuff.” 

 “No, it’s…” Ukai sighed. “In the slums, there’s a lot of poor kids, with pent up anger… They think violence is cool, so they sign up to kick people. I teach them it’s about respect, and martial arts as a form of art, you know? It’s a new way to see the world. You bow to your opponent, because they are worthy of respect… Most of these kids, I get to see them change for the better.” 

 “That’s cool.” Hinata’s smile softened. “That’s how Suga used to teach me how to fight. To bow first, before we sparred.” 

 Ukai’s eyes softened. “Koushi was a damn good student…” He took a deep breath. “Except, no one knows where he is now.” 

 Kageyama looked away. 

 Ukai didn’t miss it. 

 “The slums are changing,” Hinata murmured, “But not fast enough.” 

 “Nah, not even close.” Ukai crossed his arms. “That’s why there’s all this Kara talk. I don’t know anybody who’s related to them, but it seems everybody assumes they’re from the slums, the people that are acting up and starting this. They assume the slums are at the front of it. But…” He shrugged. “No other group hates the rich that much to start a war except them.” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata’s eyes softened. “But that doesn’t explain why some of our higher ups switched sides. The Tanaka twins, for example. They were both set for Commander rank.” 

 “The twins?” Ukai laughed. “Ryuu and Saeko? They were students of mine. They started here, in the slums, and moved up. They always advocated for rights here.” 

 Hinata blinked, looking up. “They were from the slums?” 

 “People don’t like admitting they’re from here.” Ukai scoffed. “And if they have a high rank now, nobody questions where they were from. When Tobio breaks into the Officer rank, it’ll be the same.” 

 Kageyama hummed. “Ryuunosuke’s left hook is still too high. Easy to dodge.” 

 “Is it?” Ukai frowned. “Damn kid, never listened to me…” 

 “The rest of his form is flawless, though.” Kageyama thought back to it. “I think he could win in a fistfight with his Mark II against my Mark III.” 

 Ukai clicked his tongue. “He excels in lots of things, but it’s the same drawbacks, looks like…” 

 “Hinata,” Ittetsu spoke up, “Are you okay?” 

 Hinata perked up. “S-Sorry.” 

 Kageyama looked over. 

 “I guess…” Hinata sighed. “I guess you’re right. No one ever tells you they’re from the slums… even after all the years we knew each other…” 






 “So this is your room?” Hinata looked around. “You grew up here.” 

 Kageyama nodded. He walked over to his bed and took a seat. 

 “Pretty roomy, for a room.” He spun. “Pretty big, I mean.” 

 “It used to be two rooms.” Kageyama pointed at the small scuff marks on the wall. “They knocked down the wall that was there, because the other room was too small to be used for anything…” 

 “It’s nice.” Hinata sat on the bed next to him. “There’s not a lot of anything, though… it’s pretty minimalistic, but. It still feels cozy.” 

 “Is that… bad?” 

 “No. I like it.” He leaned on Kageyama a bit. “It’s like you, I guess. No clutter.” 

 Kageyama suddenly yawned. 

 “Mmm.” Hinata yawned as well. “Wanna take a nap?” 

 Kageyama moved onto the bed, feeling the mattress dip as Hinata followed. 

 Hinata whispered, “I want to know why they switched sides.” 

 Kageyama snored softly. 

 Hinata stared at him, then laughed. “Stupid.” He nuzzled Kageyama’s nose and closed his eyes. “Sleep does sound good though…” 






Chapter 9: Infodex 09, Fluidity 



 The fluid which pumps through the suit lights up the joints and limbs of the suit. When the glow is activated, the colour pigments are created from the proteins of the host. Because of biological differences between protein structures, each reflecting light differently, as well as conduction and ionic effects, the fluid takes on a different colour for different people. 

 It is known that Ushijima’s fluid was often a radiant purple, while Hinata’s had a volcanic orange. 

 The charges within the suit are filled with diamgen, and thus have the power to manipulate the world around them within the constraints of scientific laws. Hinata’s Ignite command creates oxidation at the exact point in space that is targeted. 

 The full capabilities of the Mark III suit are unknown at this time. 






Chapter 9: Act 2, Part VI 



Impatient. That’s what Hinata was becoming. It was digging into him… the urge to know, and the urge to understand. A desire, burning and swirling, like magma breaking out the side of a volcano, dripping over the hardened earth, swallowing everything in its wake. 

 Hinata was born in a family that was endlessly torn by tragedy, but mended by company. There was a sense of stability, of comfort, love, that had followed him his entire life. What was once warmth in his chest, circulating with every heartbeat, was changing. What was the warmth of another’s hand in his own, the feeling of being hugged and held close, laughter and smiles… What was once warmth, true warmth was now burning. 

 Anger. 

 It was something new. Every morning Hinata woke up, tasting the ash of a graveyard in his mouth, regret and tar. In the past, when he remembered his family… What did he even feel? He was forgetting those thoughts, those comforts, those homes. Now, when he remembered that his older brother was a machination, that his older brother’s fiancé was no longer part of the family, that his parents were dead, that his aunt retired and was no longer able to stay awake for more than six hours… 

 When he thought of the friends he lost – some to war, others to betrayal… 

 How many had he lost? 

 Friends, family, his extended family… 

 His “extended family” he called them, but… Ryuunosukle Tanaka, Saeko Tanaka, Yuu Nishinoya—they were more like siblings to him. 

 The fear also began to settle in, bubbling and broiling… 

 It was the fear of losing more. 

 It was the fear of losing himself. 

 Kageyama’s words were in his ear, and the unspoken were louder: Would he have to kill Sugawara if he turned sides? As long as that was true, he wouldn’t change sides – he couldn’t. Who would care for Auntie? Natsu? The ones that mattered most to him, he held them close. 

 But he knew what he was: Shouyou Hinata was a ticking time bomb. It was hidden fairly well, the inner turmoil that sloshed his mind left and right. We all knew, though. I knew. Ushijima knew. Even Iwaizumi knew. His sense of self was deteriorating. His comforts were disappearing. His social circle and support structures were collapsing. On the battle, his emotions were running wild – he chose tactics that were too dangerous. 

 Not that Hinata ever played safe, but this was a recklessness akin to something other than his usual quirky flare. 

 Kageyama had seen these bursts of recklessness, of anger, hatred. Kageyama didn’t completely understand… and how could he, really? Kageyama assumed the emotions were related to the Mark III’s power, which was true, but there was something deeper that was setting Hinata aflame. Hinata had never played it safe, but no one that loud or that angry could ever become Commander. Even if Hinata was irregular, there were certain things he wouldn’t do. 

 Impatience was always Hinata’s fatal flaw, and it would eventually become his doom. 

 Hinata was nearing the end, going to be dragged into hell – he just didn’t realise he was taking Kageyama with him.
 






 Yamaguchi sat on one of the mesh cubes that formed the virtual reality room. He was focused on his datapad, mixing all the variables on an interface that looked like a music mixing board. Once he adjusted everything to the amount he thought was right, he looked up. “Okay.” He smiled. “The simulations are all ready. I’m going to start them now.” 

 Kageyama tensed as he looked around. 

 The room blurred. 

 Hinata glanced around. “Forest again, Tadashi?” 

 “Sorry!” Yamaguchi laughed. “I like forests…” 

 Kageyama knew this one – or so he thought. The murky and swampy earth was different, but the dispersal of willow trees all around him were semi-familiar. 

 “Is this good, Tsukki?” 

 “Yes.” Tsukishima faced Hinata and Kageyama. “Thank you, Tadashi.” 

 “You’re welcome, Tsukki! I’m going to log out of the virtual reality. Ping me if you need me!” 

 They heard his line cut out. 

 Kageyama glanced to Tsukishima. “Is he your fanboy, or something…?” 

 “He’s.” Tsukishima shrugged. “Something like that, I guess…” He frowned. “He’s useful, though. That’s what matters.” 

 “Being useful?” 

 “Results.” Tsukishima adjusted his glasses. “If you get results, you’re worth my respect. If not, then you’re shit.” He put a hand on his hip. “Sergeant. You saved Commander Hinata on two occasions, now, and your newest mission was a strong success. You’ve been bonding with the Mark III system, and you’ve been leaning on it, but you have your own abilities as well. You are worth my time.” 

 Kageyama smirked. 

 “For now.” 

 Kageyama stiffened. 

 “Become stagnant and I will leave. I have other things I can be doing.” 

 “Understood, Sir.” 

 “Good.” Tsukishima crossed his arms. “Did you do your assigned readings?” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 Hinata smirked. 

 “Then you understand the fluid? It’s in your suits now, and will pour into the joints and sockets in your suit. The needles within your suit will inject them into your own joints as well. We will need the nerve conduction of the peripheral system to work it.” 

 “So.” Kageyama frowned. “The suit is connected to Suga, and Suga is connected to my brain. My brain is connected to my spine, and body… but the suit isn’t connected to my brain?” 

 “More or less.” Tsukishima cocked his head. “When we tried to inject needles into the brain, the participants had seizures and died. So the needles only penetrate your joints.” 

 Kageyama shuddered. 

 Tsukishima grinned. “Scared?” 

 Hinata murmured, “Sadist…” 

 Kageyama scoffed. “I understand it. I just don’t know how to activate it!” 

 Tsukishima gave an amused noise before his expression became serious once more. “A part of it is connecting to Suga on a stronger level. You need to connect more deeply with yourself, as well. The readings use the fancy word self-searching, which I think is moronic, but that’s what it is.” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 “Good. Then let’s begin.” Tsukishima took a deep breath. “Relax your mind. We are beginning with a meditation.” 

 “Meditation…?” 

 “It’s proven to help with focusing consciousness,” Tsukishima cut in. “Now do as I say. Sit and meditate.” 

 Kageyama moved his feet, feeling the virtual slime of the swamp squelch under him. He sighed and got down, reminding himself it wasn’t real. He crossed his legs and closed his eyes. “What do I do?” 

 “The goal is to clear your mind. Focus on your breathing. When you find your mind wandering, just acknowledge where it has gone, and bring it back to nothing. Focus on your breathing. Physical sensations will help ground you.” 

 Kageyama took a deep breath. 

 He did as told. 

 It took a long while, but he eventually felt something inside him. Within the shadows of his eyes, he saw a blue light. A blue fire, maybe…? 

 He felt Sugawara’s presence move in his mind. 

 Kageyama focused on the light there. 

That blue… 

 Yes? 

That blue… You see it, right? That beautiful blue? 

 What of it? 

That blue is you, Kageyama.
 

 He almost pulled away, but kept himself steady. 

You’re… connecting very well. 

 Am I? 

Yes. Keep breathing. You’re connecting.
 

 He felt the blue and it was like he was looking at himself. The only times he had seen himself was in photos, videos, or in a mirror – but this wasn’t a moment’s capture of himself, or a reflection of himself. 

 For the first time… he was seeing himself. 

 Fluid gushed into his joints. 

 It crawled under the skin, blue little lines. He could visualise them growing, spreading. It felt like he was opening a new limb, or as if growing wings and stretching them. 

Kageyama! 

 He pushed it further, further— 

Kageyama! Open your eyes! 

 He stood in the midst of a swamp. 

 He stood. 

 He was standing? 

 When did he? 

 Tsukishima was moving backwards, arms raised to protect himself. 

 “Kageyama!” Hinata yelled, “You have to discharge the enemy somehow!” 

 Kageyama looked at his hands, noticing his whole suit was vibrating. 

Oh fuck! Kageyama! Too much! You’ve got too much! 

 “Kageyama!” Hinata moved back. “Do something!” 

 Kageyama felt a crackle in the air around him, and the blue fire seemed to be spreading in his mind, blinding him. 

 “Sergeant!” Tsukishima planted his feet firmly. “Tadashi! Cut off the virtual reality!” 

 “I can’t, Tsukki!” Yamaguchi’s voice echoed, “There’s electromagnetic waves coming from the Sergeant, I can’t do anything!” 

 Kageyama spun around and thrust his hand out. 

 His body surged. 

 His vision went black. 

 He felt something leaving him, and his suit collapsed around him. 

 He hit the floor hard; unable to see, and losing consciousness, Kageyama swore he was going to die in the confines of the suit. 






The problem with when we created the Mark III is that, at the time, we didn’t fully understand anything. Every time we thought we had it pinned down, a new user would unlock new features. If I am being honest… trying to understand my own processes, as the system, was insane. 

 With Kageyama’s new ability, it seemed that I – too – became stronger. 

 The connection between Kageyama and I… it was easy. Uneasily easy. It sent shivers down my spine how fast we clicked. We clicked too fast, and too much. I was trying to hypothesise why we were falling into rhythm, and it almost felt like we were being pulled along. Kageyama was getting swept up in my storm, while I was getting dragged into the water in his undertow. 

 When Kageyama woke, he woke up in a dream. He woke up in my dream… when I wasn’t dreaming.
 






 Kageyama opened his eyes and looked around. For a while, he was nowhere, then there was light. Blinding white. Shifting images flashed all around him, and people moved in hurried blurs. Soon enough, he recognised the place, though he didn’t know the time. 

 The room darkened. 

 Emperor Wakatoshi Ushijima sat on his throne, in Main Command. 

 Kageyama stared, eyes wide. 

 The lights were all turned off, and the only illumination came from the city through the glass windows at the front of the room. 

 Ushijima was exhausted, eyes with dark circles under them. His expression was hidden by the lack of light, but he stared at Kageyama. “Do you think… this really is the best choice, Suga?” 

 Kageyama stiffened. 

 Ushijima had spoken so informally, so unlike him. 

 “I do.” 

 Kageyama turned around. 

 Sugawara stood only steps behind Kageyama, staring at Ushijima. The ceremonial blade of the Second Lord was clasped to his side, and his hand rested on the hilt, squeezing tight enough that his knuckles went white. 

 “I do,” Sugawara repeated. “I’ll become the Mark III system.” 

 “No,” came a broken voice. 

 Kageyama glanced to the right. 

 Daichi was resting on the chair as if gravity was ten times as strong. “No, Koushi… please.” He forced himself to raise his head. “Think about what you’re saying.” 

 “This will end the war.” 

 “No it won’t!” Daichi squished his eyes shut. “Every time we have a new weapon, we say the same thing… this will end the war, this will end the war…. Even if it’s up and running, and functional, who will be the first user? What if it doesn’t work, Koushi?” Daichi’s eyes opened slowly, and his dark brown eyes glistened with tears. “What if this isn’t reversible?” 

 Sugawara took a silent, sharp breath. 

 But Kageyama had seen it. 

 “Suga,” came Iwaizumi’s voice. He was wearing the clothes of a Third Lord, and his head was downcast. “This is… crazy. But… But I think this is our best chance.” He looked up. “I hate to say this, and I don’t think I’m worthy, but… If you think you, as the Mark III system, and me… as Second Lord… is the way to go… then I think you’re crazy. But, I trust your judgement.” 

 “Hajime,” Sugawara said in a chuckle. “The people will love you. Don’t worry about that.” He faced forward, eyes growing serious in a way that made Kageyama’s heart stop. “I’ll do it, Your Majesty.” 

 “Then…” Ushijima took a deep breath. “We’ll do it.” 

 “No!” Daichi threw himself off the chair. “Please, God no!” 

 “Daichi.” Ushijima glanced sidelong at him. “There is no God in this world.” 

 “Not if you’re going to let Koushi go through with this!” 

 “Maybe there is a God,” Sugawara mused, “But if there is – I’ll be the one that kills him.” 

 Daichi shook his head, throat failing to make words. 

 “I have to do this.” Sugawara gripped his blade tighter. “I have to do absolutely everything in my power to stop this war… before it’s too late. We all know.” He looked down. “It’s only going to get worse from here.” 






 When Kageyama opened his eyes again, he noticed he was in the hospital. Nowhere else was so sceptic or so pristine. He crushed his eyes closed, making a loud pained noise. Suga…? 

Kageyama! 

 Ngh.
 Kageyama winced. “Ow…” 

I’m sorry… How are you? 

 I’m fine… I think… I slept well.
 He looked around the hospital room. “What happened?” 

You slept for three days – three days, Kageyama. 

 Kageyama frowned. 

I’m sorry, I… I don’t know what happened… 

 Did I… do it? Did I get the fluid in my suit? 

You… you definitely did. But right now, a Doctor is on his way. He’s going to do some tests on you.
 

 The door opened. 

 Narita Kazuhito – Sugawara informed him – was walking towards him in a hurried pace. “Suga told me you’re awake.” 

 “Barely.” 

 “Can you sit up?” 

 It took more time than Kageyama wanted, but Narita went through a series of tests, checks, and balances before being released from the hospital. Sugawara had one of the Privates bring a change of clothes for Kageyama, and he soon headed out of the hospital. 

 There were several messages on his phone. 

 Several missed texts and calls from Kindaichi and Kunimi – he vaguely remembered telling them he was going to training, and assumed they must have been worried. He skimmed them and replied with a simple hey to say he was alive, but it wasn’t anything urgent so he went to the next. 

 Hinata sent a lot of messages too, all in capital letters. 

 Kageyama ignored them. 

 Yamaguchi texted him, wishing him well. 

 Tsukishima sent a long and detailed report on the events. 

So… I did it? 

Yes… 

 Obviously I lost control… but, I managed to do it. I just have to worry about controlling it. 

Kageyama… you worry me. 

 I…? 

I’m sorry. I just—I shouldn’t have said that. I guess, it’s just… You will control it, I know that. You’re impressive, but you scare me? 

 How? 

Understandably, you have nothing to compare this to… but you’re moving too quickly. 

 Why? 

I don’t know. I can’t find a logical reason for it. Is it unconscious? Am I doing it? Perhaps I’m giving you too much power? Perhaps, I’ll be the reason you’ll hurt yourself. 

 Better too much power than not enough, if I’m in danger. 

I’m sorry, Kageyama… but I don’t agree. 

 Hmmm.
 His phone went off several times. Did you tell Hinata I’m awake? 

I have informed Hinata you are awake (sorry; he made me promise I would), and now he is running down the halls to see you. 

 Okay.
 Kageyama sighed. I could use some company. 

 Less than a minute later, Hinata in his civilian clothes turned the corner and bolted towards Kageyama. “Bwah! Gwa!” He flew forwards, aiming to tackle-hug Kageyama. 

 Kageyama dodged. 

 Hinata landed in a roll, got up, and tackled him again. 

 Kageyama felt Hinata collide against him, but he stood his ground. 

 Warm. 

 Kageyama’s eyes softened as he nuzzled Hinata’s neck. 

 Hinata squeezed him tight. Eventually gravity took over, and he brought Kageyama down with him, but refused to let go. 

 Kageyama didn’t mind. He closed his eyes. It was his first hug in a long time, his first full hug. He took in Hinata’s familiar smell and it felt like home. He nuzzled Hinata’s cheek before kissing it. “Hey.” 

 Hinata pulled away, frowning. “I was worried as fuck.” 

 Kageyama lowered his head. “Sorry.” 

 Hinata shook his head. “No, it’s okay.” He took Kageyama’s hand. “Were you given rest orders?” 

 “Yes.” 

 “Well, good. We have a small mission in a week, just you and me.” 

 “In a week…?” 

 “Yeah.” He nodded. “A group of soldiers are going up against an Aoba outpost, to distract them while we sneak some resources past them. We’ll be assisting in phase three of the plan. We’re going to give Aoba as much trouble as we can, until Shira can repair the Datekou.” 

 Kageyama nodded, more focused on the fact that Hinata’s hand slipped so effortlessly into his. 

 Hinata pulled him along and began walking to another wing of the palace. “Are you gonna be ready by then?” 

 “Yes.” 

 “Good!” Hinata smiled. “Kei thinks you’re gonna be able to master fluidity with some smaller missions before anything big.” 

 “Anything big?” 

 “Nothing planned yet.” Hinata scrunched up his mouth. “But you never know when the next big thing is going to happen when you’re up against Oikawa. Aoba is keeping back a bit after uprooting itself… hecking sky fortress. You know – the original designs of Aoba – nothing there would have even supported that! It makes you think how did Oikawa just, do that!” 

 Kageyama hummed. 

 “He just lifted a whole city up – he must have needed to massively redo the infrastructure, and the undergrounds and everything.” 

 “And, he kept it a secret, no less…” 

 “Yeah. Damn.” Hinata sighed. “He’s a crazy motherfucker. We’ve got some Intel now that most of the society knew about it, but it was a pretty well-kept secret. Oh, but. It wasn’t perfect. Apparently, some of it wasn’t totally clean; like, buildings broke and stuff, like an earthquake. They’ve got repairs going on, but no one got hurt, and apparently the repairs are almost done.” 

 “Which means they’re almost ready to start shooting us again.” 

 Hinata pouted. “Yep.” 

 “Yeah, so another big bad can happen at any moment.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “Kara…?” 

 “Well.” Hinata smirked. “Having us steal a bunch of their data was a huge setback for them. We also learned a lot about their machines and designs. The Mark III also corrupted a bunch of files on their end before booting out.” His smirk tensed and then his eyes narrowed. “And then there’s the whole… Kenma, thing.” 

 Kageyama glanced over. “Kenma?” 

 “Well.” Hinata took a deep breath and glanced around to make sure no one was listening in the hallway they were walking. “We learned something about a super weapon.” 

 “Super… weapon?” 

 “Does Kenma mean anything to you?” 

 “No.” 

 “Me neither.” Hinata shook his head. “Diplomats from Aoba seem equally perplexed about the Kenma thing. We even tried asking the Furu circle, since they know a lot more about Metropolan technology than we do. But, yeah. It’s a super weapon, whatever that means. It could be hot air, you know? Just horse shit. But we’ll see.” 

 Kageyama nodded slowly. “But it’s still a setback for them.” 

 “Yeah. They’re mostly pulling out of Metropolis…” Hinata bit his lip. “They’ve also installed some machines to cleanse the miasma, though.” 

 “That’s good for the environment, I guess.” 

 “Yeah… It’s still going to take a long ass time, though… but anyway… I think we have a small breather.” Hinata smiled. “Shira’s repairing Datekou, Aoba is repairing their city, and Kara is recovering.” 

 “This is.” Kageyama squeezed Hinata’s hand. “The perfect time for an attack.” 

 “That’s what Daichi’s thinking. Which is why we’ve got the job in a week – we gotta strike to keep ‘em busy.” 

 “A week is too late.” 

 “Neh, Kageyama. We’re not the only ones on the battlefield.” Hinata smiled. “Phase one is already starting.” 

 “Right.” Kageyama nodded. 

 Hinata smiled. He tugged Kageyama’s arm. “Kiss me.” 

 “Oh.” Kageyama leaned down, giving a small peck. 

 “I like it when you do that.” 

 “Me too.” Kageyama felt his head feel hot. “So. The results of my training… with the fluid.” 

 “If I’m being honest,” Hinata said in a tired sigh, “I have no idea what it means. Good, I guess. You managed to get energy out of you but… I’m not sure what it was.” 

 “It wasn’t fire?” 

 “Kageyama, this isn’t a video game.” He frowned. “The suit creates energy. Mine is mostly heat, like thermal energy, but some of it is given off as light and sound. Ushijima’s suit had it mainly as mechanical energy, movement… not that he has a Mark III anymore, but his Mark IV probably has that.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “So… what would mine be?” 

 “Well, it’s not that simple. It’s not like you can have just magnetic energy, or mechanical energy… it has multiple facets. I’m not one of those super scientist guys, but yeah. Once you’re all rested up, we’ll head to the field and maybe we’ll find out. But!” Hinata paused and gave Kageyama a stern look. “Until then, you’ve got to rest – gotta take care of yourself, okay?” 

 “Okay.” Kageyama nodded. “Promise.” 






 Tsukishima sat in his office, as his eyes was replaying the visuals he got, allowing Sugawara to scan the data again and again. The voice bar by his table moved and he heard Sugawara’s voice. 

 “It’s… interesting, isn’t it?” 

 “I suppose.” Tsukishima squinted. “Tadashi’s theory is pretty sound…” 

 “It’s scary, though… He scares me.” 

 “So you’ve said.” 

 “I’m sorry,” Sugawara’s voice became quieter, “It’s just…” 

 “I understand.” Tsukishima leaned back in his chair. “He is an anomaly within your entire system. Of course he’ll scare you, but even if he is more dangerous…. More dangerous means more useful. That’s war.” 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 10: Act 2, Part VII 



 Kageyama’s heartbeat was like a drum. Each double-beat in his chest, echoing like a lubb-dubb, lubb-dubb, lubb-dubb, forced him to breathe in slow, deep breaths to calm himself. Rationally, he knew it wasn’t that big of a deal, and he knew he was doing it to himself—there probably wouldn’t be any issues, or problems, and yet… and yet his mind swirled like a typhoon trying to swallow everything whole. 

 Kageyama forced himself to breathe. 

 It was a rainy day, and he heard the sound of rain hitting the glass windows of his small apartment softly. It was a comforting sound, and Kageyama focused on it, as he cut a thin slice of ginger before adding it to the mix of things in a small teapot. He added boiling hot water, and set a timer. 

 The rain continued to hit the glass. 

 Kageyama’s military dorm was by no means spacious, but he always found it small and comforting. Cozy. He had his own kitchen (which was too small to make anything fancy, really) and a small den where he had a screen ready to play movies. 

 The rain hit the window in the den, and he could hear it from the kitchen. 

 The timer went off. 

 He pulled the mesh bag out of the teapot and placed it aside on a big metal spoon. 

 The doorbell rang. 

 Kageyama put the lid on the teapot before walking away from it, towards the front door. He opened it, and a gust of cold air hit him. 

 “Yo.” Kunimi stepped in, giving a small shiver. His hair was soaked, and the jacket he was wearing was clearly not made for rain. 

 Kageyama closed the door and moved to his bathroom. He didn’t even think about it as he grabbed a small towel and offered it. 

 Kunimi took it and dried his face. “Storm picked up pretty fast.” 

 Kageyama nodded. “Do you want tea?” 

 “…Tea?” 

 “Yeah.” 

 Kunimi laughed. “Sure. You’ve never offered me tea before.” 

 Kageyama felt his cheeks warm and he moved to the kitchen. He heard Kunimi following him, making himself at home, as he often did in the past when he and Kindaichi had visited. Kindaichi. Kageyama poured two cups of tea. They had never talked about it much, Kindaichi, Kunimi, him… He tried not to think about it, and hoped it wouldn’t come up. “Here.” 

 Kunimi took the steaming cup by the handle and brought it close to his face. “Smells nice.” 

 The kitchen was only illuminated by the small orange light over the stove. 

 “Thanks…” Kageyama grabbed his own mug. “I tried, blending something… a spiced tea.” 

 “You? Making a spiced tea?” 

 “W-Well.” Kageyama’s cheeks still felt warm. “I had it… and liked it a lot. So. I decided to try making it myself.” 

 Kunimi blew on his tea before taking a sip. He made an appreciative sound. “It’s a bit strong.” 

 “Yeah.” Kageyama coughed, feeling the ginger and cinnamon in the back of his throat. “I can add more hot water, or milk.” 

 “Milk might be good.” Kunimi nodded. “That’s how they usually serve it, right? As a latte?” 

 “Sometimes.” Kageyama put his mug down and grabbed the milk from his fridge. He poured a heaping amount for himself, and a moderate amount for Kunimi. He put the milk back and hummed as he grabbed his drink. 

 Kunimi sipped it again, and gave a nod. “This is better. I like it.” 

 “Yeah.” Kageyama tasted it again. “Not as good as Tsukishima’s, though…” 

 “Who?” 

 “Oh. Uh.” Kageyama put his mug down. “Third Lord Kei Tsukishima.” 

 “The robot guy?” Kunimi smiled. “The one who punched Hinata to stop him from kissing you on the first day we met him?” 

 “Second day we met him,” Kageyama corrected. “But yeah, him. We should sit.” 

 Kunimi took his mug and walked over to the small den, taking the couch and bringing his knees up. “Was it the second day? I can’t remember. It hasn’t been that long, either.” 

 Kageyama sat on the sofa chair made for one. “How long has it been. Couple of weeks?” 

 “No. At least a month.” 

 “Oh.” 

 Neither of them bothered to turn on the lights, having the city of Shira right outside was enough, the towers and skyscrapers showing off deep blue and purples, coming muted through the storm-fogged windows. 

 Rain continued to fall. 

 “Mmm… only a month ago, maybe more actually? But we were all happy, the three of us, all together…” Kunimi sipped. “But we didn’t have Kara, didn’t have a lot of experience under our belt. We’re actually signing up for missions daily now… well, Kindaichi and I are. You’re doing other things, but it’s the same.” 

 “Yeah.” Kageyama nodded. “Time is… really flying by. It feels like it, anyway.” 

 Kunimi watched as Kageyama glanced to the side. “Are you okay?” 

 “Yeah.” Kageyama put his mug down. “I’m just… worried, I think.” 

 “Why?” 

 Kageyama’s focus moved to the multicoloured ring around his wrist. Suga… could you give me some privacy? 

Understood. 

 Sorry. 

There’s no need to apologise. Everyone needs privacy from time to time. 

 Kageyama felt Sugawara’s smile before it pulled back. 

 “Are you talking to The Voice?” 

 “Um.” Kageyama glanced back, returning to reality. “Yes. I’ve turned it off… Well, on standby.” 

 Kunimi put his feet on the ground and leaned closer. “Why are you worried?” 

 “Um… Hinata.” 

 Kunimi wasn’t surprised, but he offered a small smile. “Talk to me.” 

 Kageyama felt a pang in his chest. It was less than a month ago Kunimi admitted his feelings for Kageyama, and now Kageyama was asking for relationship advice…? He swallowed hard and squeezed the mug in his hand. “I’m sorry… I just, I don’t know who to talk to about these things…” 

 “Shut up, it’s fine.” Kunimi’s smile grew a little. “Talk to me.” 

 Kageyama took a deep breath. 

 The rain continued to hit the glass. 

 “I want to help him,” Kageyama explained, “But I don’t know how… I got the general idea of what’s going on, but I feel like there’s so many layers, so many things he’s not telling me… so… I’m not sure what would help.” 

 “Have you thought about asking him?” 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 “Tobio,” Kunimi said in a little laugh. “It’s okay to be direct. You don’t have to have all the answers. You’re allowed to just, ask him. Ask him how you can help.” 

 “But.” Kageyama frowned, looking into his mug. 

 “Everyone’s different, and everybody needs different kind of support, right? Sometimes people need something specific, sometimes they need a lot, sometimes they need a little… It’s not your job to magically know what other people need. Nobody knows for sure. It’s okay to admit you don’t know, and ask.” 

 “You’re.” Kageyama took a long breath. “You’re right, I guess.” 

 Kunimi nodded. 

 “I guess… I don’t know. I wish I could… magically know what he wants, make it all better, but… That’s not realistic. And, as much as I like him, and as much as we get along… like you said… it’s only been a month.” A month. Only a month. Kageyama frowned. “What if…” He frowned. “What if—” 

 “Tobio.” Kunimi caught his attention and made eye contact. “Look. Whatever you feel, however connected you feel… it’s okay. Whether it’s been a month or ten months… there’s no right or wrong answer for it. Plus, you’ve spent a lot of time with him. It’s okay if you feel like you love him.” 

 “I—!” Kageyama’s cheeks flared red and he raised his voice, “I didn’t! I didn’t say that!” 

 Kunimi threw his head back in a sharp laugh. 

 “I!” Kageyama glared, cheeks burning. “I wouldn’t! I wouldn’t go that far yet!” 

 Kunimi leaned back on the couch and brought his feet up again. He sipped his drink to hide the sadistic smile. “Fine. But stop worrying about me, okay? Just relax.” 

 Kageyama [i]tried.
 

 Kunimi laughed again. 

 Kageyama frowned, but eventually it melted away. “I just…” He shook his head. “I worry about a lot of things. Hinata. You. Kindaichi…” 

 “Me? Kindaichi?” 

 “I just… we don’t get to see each other as often anymore.” Kageyama looked up. “I don’t know what’s going on for you guys.” 

 “Well.” Kunimi looked at the windows, watching the rain hit it in little dots, watching those dots stream down, then merge with other drops of water. “Kindaichi’s getting sent east; he’s being deployed in a couple days. I’m getting sent east too… but.” Kunimi’s eyes softened. “Kindaichi’s going to deal with Kara. I’m getting sent to deal with the Furu Council.” He looked at Kageyama. “I’m going to play guard for a diplomat, or something.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “Who?” 

 “I probably shouldn’t say, but you are my Sergeant…” Kunimi grinned. “Commander Tetsurou Kuroo. Apparently the guy’s in line for Third Lord, but they say he won’t get a promotion before your Mandarin will. But, yeah. He’ll be dealing with the Furu Council… apparently he’s long-time friends with the heads of the council, Koutarou Bokuto and Keiji Akaashi.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “The Furu Council is important for Shira… most of our resources come from our connections there. If the Commander has ties with the Yin and Yang of the Council, it’s an important mission to guard him.” 

 “I did some research,” Kunimi murmured. 

 “Research…?” 

 “Yes…” 

 “As in… hacking?” 

 “I can neither confirm nor deny—” Kunimi glanced at Kageyama’s stern expression and barked a sharp laugh. He almost spilled his drink and sat up a bit. He took a long sip and smiled. “Well. Apparently Kuroo, Bokuto, and Akaashi all come from the same hometown… which is classified… but Kuroo moved here when he was pretty young. There’s no exact dates, and a lot of firewalls.” Kunimi bit his lip. “I think there’s a lot more to this Kuroo guy than he seems… Like, even the Second Lord doesn’t have as many firewalls on his files.” 

 “Akira!” 

 “Hey.” Kunimi shrugged. “I’m only identifying firewalls – I have no interest in dismantling them.” 

 Kageyama sighed. “Maybe I should hurry up and get into the Officer rank so I can bail you out…” 

 “Always ready to support your friends,” Kunimi said with a catlike smile. 

 Kageyama just sighed again. 

 “But, yeah.” Kunimi’s expression changed as he glanced out the window again. “The three of them are pretty tight knit… But I am worried. The Furu Circle… we’re going to discuss the status of Kara.” He bit his lip for a moment. “The Emperor publicly acknowledged Kara, which means Kara can eventually start working with the Furu Council, so we need to keep the label of cradle robbers and rebel force on them.” 

 “Right.” Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “The Furu Council deals with keeping peace in the region… it’s helped back us up against Aoba. But if Kara can find a way to appeal to them…” 

 Kunimi glanced sidelong at Kageyama. “You think Kara might get a spot on the Council?” 

 “No, but.” Kageyama glanced down at his mug again. “That’s a goal Kara will be working towards… If they get stronger, have more presence, acquire trade routes… They’ll be invited as a guest to the council, right? They do that, right?” Kageyama looked up. “They won’t get a permanent spot, but it could provide a huge advantage to them. Maybe not on a military level, but there are some nations in the council that would love a chance to take a stab at Shira.” 

 Kunimi raised an eyebrow. “You’ve changed, Kageyama.” 

 “No.” Kageyama frowned. “I haven’t.” 

 “No, you haven’t…” Kunimi’s eyes narrowed. “But it looks like you’re on your way to being changed… or, rather… you’re in the process of changing. I kind of like it.” 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 “I want to see how far you’ll go. Shira needs more people like you.” 

 Kageyama just stared. 

 “Anyway.” Kunimi smiled as he finished his tea. He put the mug down on the table. “I just wanted to say hi to you before I got deployed. The three of us have our missions, but we should keep in touch.” 

 “You’re right.” Kageyama nodded slowly. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to you or Kindaichi much…” 

 “You.” Kunimi stood up and kicked Kageyama in the shin. “Should say hi to Kindaichi sometime!” 

 “Ow!” 

 “You know he gets anxious.” Kunimi sighed. “Go talk to him sometime.” 

 “I will.” Kageyama frowned. “I promise.” 






 It didn’t take long for Kageyama to keep his promise. Only later that day, Kageyama found himself in the cafeteria in the barracks of Shira. He didn’t care much about the quality of the food, but the person sitting across from him was poking it and complaining. Kageyama didn’t mind, though, because this was routine – and, sometimes, routine was comforting.

 “Ah.” Kindaichi sighed. “I just wish we got more… you know?” 

 “Hm.” Kageyama scooped some of the slushy mashed potatoes into his mouth and swallowed. 

 Kindaichi just whispered, “Brave man.” 

 “What?” 

 “Nothing.” 

 “Okay.” Kageyama sipped his water. “I heard you’re getting sent east, to deal with Kara.” 

 “Yeah… our entire purpose honestly is just to like, I don’t know… keep them busy?” Kindaichi shrugged. “That’s it.” 

 “Yeah. My mission is basically the same, but with Aoba instead of Kara.” 

 “Hmm.” Kindaichi frowned. “Is that really the right thing to do?” 

 “Yes.” 

 “Are you sure?” 

 “I’ve had the tactics and strategy explained to me.” 

 “Well, lucky you.” Kindaichi smiled. “Mister Sergeant over there… meanwhile I’m still a Private.” 

 “You’ll earn your rank.” 

 “I know.” Kindaichi nodded. “I’m happy for you two, though…” His eyes went out of focus as he glanced away. “Hey, man, do you ever like…” He took a deep breath. “Do you ever worry about, like, um… not coming home?” 

 “No.” Kageyama ate more of his food. “I’ll come home.” 

 Kindaichi glanced at him and smiled. “You seem pretty sure about that.” 

 “Why wouldn’t I be?” 

 Kindaichi laughed, pretty loud. “That’s Tobio Takeda for you…” His lips tugged up into a smile. “Do you ever, like… I don’t know. Wonder what you would be doing, right now, if you weren’t in the military?” 

 “I’d be a street performer.” 

 “Right. I forgot you used to be an acrobat. You always have answers to everything.” 

 “Well.” Kageyama paused. “Right now… I’d be having lunch,” he corrected, “But after I gave myself time to digest I’d try to find the afternoon crowd for street performance.” 

 Kindaichi just stared. 

 Kageyama ate more of his food. 

 “Well.” Kindaichi closed his eyes. “I don’t know. I’ve just been thinking a lot.” His smile seemed tense as he opened his eyes to half-mast. “We could lose people on these missions.” 

 “We already have.” Kageyama paused. “We lost a few on our missions so far.” 

 “Right.” 

 “No one we’ve known, though.” 

 “Yeah.” 

 Kageyama stared at his food and frowned. “I don’t want. To lose anyone I know. So.” He looked at Kindaichi. “Don’t die.” 

 “Yeah, I know that.” Kindaichi offered another crooked smile. “You too, okay?” 

 “You don’t need to worry about me.” 

 “God, you’re such a nutcase.” 

 Kageyama tilted his head. 

 Kindaichi laughed. “Nothing, sorry. Just keep being you.” 

 “Who else would I be…?” 

 Kindaichi took another deep breath. “Anyway! I wanted to ask you something… the thing about the Third Lord position.”

 “Yeah.” Kageyama nodded. “There’s an opening. It’s already been offered to previous members of Sovereignty, but it’s been turned down.” 

 Kindaichi whistled. “Well. You know everything, don’t you?” 

 “No, I don’t.” 

 “Think your Orange Commander’s got a chance at it?” 

 “Yes.” Kageyama nodded. “He’s next in line. He will get the promotion.” 

 “He must be pretty happy about it.” Kindaichi smiled. “Wouldn’t it be cool to get to Third Lord one day?” 

 Kageyama thought about Daichi, Matsukawa, Hanamaki… Sugawara… He blinked and glanced to Kindaichi. “I don’t know if it would be.” 

 Kindaichi blinked. “Ha…?” 

 “Nothing.” Kageyama frowned. “I’ve got to get going… but good luck on your mission.” 

 “Yeah, you too…” 

 “Come home.” 

 “Yeah.” Kindaichi nodded. “You too.” 

 “I will.” 






There was no denying the truth: Kageyama began to fear. He began to fear the truth. Or, rather… No, not the truth… he began to fear the secrets, I think. He began to fear that there were truths out there that he didn’t know, that would shift his view, that would change him, that would change his world if he were ever to discover them. 

 The idea that Third Lord was an unlucky rank was starting to form in his mind, and it was only confirmed by the fact that Second Lords weren’t much better. I, of course, was hooked up to machinations underground, and Iwaizumi was almost lost in the damages to the Datekou. It was well-known that Oikawa personally played Iwaizumi like a toy. 

 But Kageyama didn’t believe in “unlucky”. 

 He was a logical person, and wondered what it was about the Sovereignty Ranks that pushed people past their limit, that drove them into crashing and burning. For the first time, Kageyama began to fear promotions. 

 For himself, and… well… for Hinata. 

 But even if Kageyama feared promotions, that wasn’t enough to stop the endless hunger inside him for them. Kageyama felt odd, as he came to a point where all soldiers must come to: When he was afraid, but he wouldn’t let the fear stop him. That, really, is when someone becomes the perfect soldier.
 






 Kageyama got the message on his system only a few days later, asking him to meet up with Commander Hinata in Block Q for a mission briefing. The mission was to start no less than two hours after the briefing. Kageyama ran several diagnostic checks on his suit and made his way there. 

All your systems are fine – your biorhythms are doing well. You’re good to go. 

 Thank you, Suga. 

… You’re welcome.
 

 Kageyama swiped his ID, opening the door to the room he was requested at. 

 Hinata was inside, suited up, and glanced to the door. “Hey.” 

 “Hey.” Kageyama stepped inside, moving to stand besides Hinata. 

 “It’s just you and me for this mission.” Hinata grinned. “We’ll be joining another unit when we’re done, but we’re going solo.” 

 Kageyama nodded. “What’s the plan?” He glanced to the side. 

 Tapping away on a datapad, Yamaguchi looked up from his seat and offered a shy smile. “I’ll be going over the mission briefing if you two are ready.” He looked at their expressions and laughed. “Of course you two are already ready. Well. Okay.” He put his datapad down and stood up. “I’ve been informed the two of you already understand the context and purpose of this mission, but to review: Aoba, Kara, and Shira are all on downtime, so to speak. To keep away any preemptives, ambushes, or quick attacks, we need to keep a substantial amount of their military busy.” 

 A map opened up behind him, spanning the entire wall. Several points were glowing mint green for Aoba, and vibrant purple for Shira. 

 “We’re at a deadlock in a ravine on the west coast of the island. Basically, the ecosystem can be split in two. The higher ground—owned by Shira—is mostly rocks and earth. The lower ground, several dozen feet down—in the control of Aoba—is a lush forest. We have the higher ground, which is a critical advantage, but they have cover. So far, it’s a standstill.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the map. 

 “Neither army is giving their hundred percent,” Yamaguchi admitted. “To be honest, neither can afford to lose this area, but the resources just aren’t there to lead an assault forward. It’s still a firefight, though, with injuries and casualties daily. Daichi’s given me the opportunity to tip the scales, so to speak, and my only resource was – well – you two.” 

 Hinata smirked. 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 “You will be travelling by car – well, a military land vehicle.” Yamaguchi waved his hand and the map zoomed out. “We left a vehicle behind in a previous mission, and it should still be there. But, basically, you can do a stealth mission into the forest. Your job is not destruction or kills. You don’t want them on high alert, and you don’t want to trigger a counterattack. So your job is… pretty much… be annoying.” 

 Kageyama blinked. “A-Annoying?” 

 “Y-Yeah.” Yamaguchi looked down, cheeks tinging pink. “Find small ways to sabotage their resources, take out a couple soldiers, make them feel… spooked.” He looked up and fumbled his hands together. “I got the idea from an old Aoba legend… the jungle is apparently haunted, or so they say. So this mission is more act than action, but I think it’ll keep Aoba’s main force preoccupied.” 

 Kageyama crossed his arms and thought about it. He heard the door open and he glanced to the side, seeing Third Lord Tsukishima enter. Tsukishima looked like he wasn’t part of the conversation, so Kageyama glanced back to Yamaguchi. “Question.” 

 “Yes?” 

 “You mentioned main force. What about Aoba’s side forces?” 

 “Well, we’ll be reviewing footage that we can get from you guys.” Yamaguchi nodded. “We need to reassess Aoba’s resources. We know for a fact Oikawa can’t spare more than what he’s given unless he puts Aoba at risk – if he does end up doing that, that would be an opportunity for us too.” 

 “Okay!” Hinata clasped his hands together. “I like it! We can manage this.” 

 Yamaguchi smiled, but looked down again. “I, uh… I know this is kind of a, not very… um. I don’t know—I feel like not a lot of people would offer a mission like this… I think it’s kind of, silly? But it’s all I could come up with.” 

 “It’s fine,” came Tsukishima’s voice. He was leaning against the wall behind them, arms and legs crossed. “We need something unorthodox right now. If our goal is to distract or ‘spook’ them, then we can’t do anything by the books.” 

 Hinata nodded. “Daichi approved the mission, Tadashi, so don’t put yourself down!” 

 “Ah.” Yamaguchi’s smile widened. “You’re right.” 

 “I like it,” Kageyama added. “There’s not too much danger.” 

 Tsukishima scoffed. “You don’t like danger, Sergeant?” 

 “There’s no need for it right now,” Kageyama explained without looking back, “So there’s no need to put either of us in danger. Both Hinata and I have been hospitalised recently. Whenever the next big thing happens in this war, I want both of us ready for it.” 

 Hinata nodded. “A lot of the time people use the Mark III resource mainly for big-army combat, so the fact you’ve used the resources for something else is probably why Daichi liked it so much, Tadashi. This is simple enough to do while we wait, without exposing our Mark III units to danger.” 

 Yamaguchi shifted a bit uncomfortably at the praise. “O-One more thing.” He waved his hand and the map showed several dotted lines. “You will be starting your operation from the north. You’ll essentially be attacking from the rear… which means you’ll be pretty disconnected from allies, in case you needed medical assistance or transport, so it’s important to memorise Aoba’s three bases. You can slip past them pretty easily in the jungle, but if you don’t take extra care with your positioning, you can get sandwiched between two of their forces.” 

 Hinata nodded twice. 

 Kageyama frowned. “What about the vehicle?” 

 “In a perfect world, we can bring it back… but that’s not terribly important.” 

 “Right.” 

 “Sergeant,” Tsukishima raised his voice, “A tip: Don’t let Hinata drive if you want to live.” 

 Hinata turned around. “Hey!” 

 “Don’t worry,” Kageyama assured, “I didn’t plan on it.” 

 “Hey! That’s mean!” 






Chapter 10: Infodex 10, The Furu Council 



 Also known as the “Furu Circle”, the Furu Council is a union of over eight nations that inhabit the southern half of the continent. Although Shira is the only superpower nation in the region, and a member of this council, the Furu Council is considered the second superpower in the region, though not in terms of military might. The nations that comprise the Furu Council are varied. 

 Shira, the military faction, provides security and defense to all members of the Furu Circle, though it is often criticized as getting the most out of the union. It is considered a dominant force on the council, though it also has the majority of the population. Johen, led by Prince Terushima, is responsible for the majority of food production in the region. Suguru, a nation run by the elected leader Daishou Suguru, is known for its mastermind intel and its buying and sellings of secrets. Ubugu and Shin are two nations that oversee the political stability of the region. Sei is an illusive nation of nomads, co-ruled by Atsumu Miya and Osamu Miya. Shikuna, the island nation, is also secretive, and run by King Shibayama – though they are often seen as a kind and giving nation. 

 The other faction of the Furu Council is the Furu Council’s host leaders themselves: Keiji Akaashi and Koutarou Bokuto are the rulers of the great tower that hosts the meetings every year. Although they are only two people, they have a vote each on all issues brought forward. Though it is criticised that a single person should have the same vote as an entire country, both Akaashi and Bokuto have important bloodline lineages that trace back to the earliest days of the Furu Council, back when Metropolis and Shira were at war. 

 All members of the Furu Council support Shira in its war against Aoba. 






Chapter 10: Act 2, Part VIII 



 Kageyama was driving through the wasteland. When he was told he would be sneaking into a jungle, he assumed the starting point of the mission would also be in the jungle; but, upon review, he realised they were starting quite north – in Aoba territory. 

 They drove through a wasteland. 

 The military vehicle was black and had a minor camouflage effect as it drove. Its wheels were large and kicked dust into the air. Although it had no open windows, the walls transmitted the scene around him so Kageyama could see in all directions as he was driving. 

 His vision flickered. 

 Once. 

 Twice. 

 Kageyama winced. 

Sugawara, he realised, Sugawara was here— 

 Hinata glanced over. “Kageyama.” 

 Kageyama winced. 

 “Kageyama, pull over. Let me drive.” 

 Kageyama didn’t think twice. He slowed down and then shifted to park. He opened the door and felt the dank hot air hit him. He walked around the car, switching places with Hinata, and got in the passenger seat. Closing the door, the air conditioning started again and he relaxed in his seat. He closed his eyes, putting a hand over his face. 

 Hinata started driving. He kept glancing over to Kageyama. He said something, but Kageyama couldn’t hear it. 






 In a land full of green, Sugawara stood atop a high cliff. A screen to his right displayed Ushijima and Sugawara glanced. “Your Majesty.” 

 “Do it.” 

 Sugawara nodded. He swiped his arm. “Now!” 

 Fourteen aircrafts soared overhead, dropping bomb after bomb. 

 The explosions began; in every crook and cranny of the jungle, fire spread like lava, burning everything to ash. The echoed sound of explosion after explosion never ended. It was all consumed by flame. 

 Everything, consumed by flame. 






 Kageyama opened his eyes, gasping, shoving his head back against the headrest. He took a deep breath and frowned. Why do you keep doing this to me? 

There you are! 

 What’s that supposed to mean!? 

I lost connection with you!
 

 Kageyama took another deep breath. Why did you—How did you show that to me? 

It’s not my intention to show anything to you, Kageyama. 

 Isn’t that… dangerous? Can you stop doing that? 

Kageyama, listen. It’s not me doing it to you. It’s… it’s you.
 

 Kageyama froze. 

It’s… You’re the only one who’s been able to be so. Invasive. It’s… ironic… I’m poking your brains, that’s my job, but… it feels like you’re poking back. We have a deeper connection than we should. 

 What does… that even mean? 

I don’t know. I want you to be well monitored, more than others. This deeper connection… it could have adverse effects. 

 Okay. I’ll make sure I get medical examinations often. 

Thank you. Also. Hinata’s worried about you.
 

 Kageyama glanced over to the side. 

 Hinata was giving him quick glances as he kept his eyes on the road. 

 “Sorry.” 

 “What the fuck was that?” Hinata looked forward. “You just. Fell asleep. Then woke up like you weren’t able to breathe.”

 “The…” Kageyama didn’t know where to begin. “You know how you said – sometimes – Suga sleeps? And we see his dreams?” 

 “Yeah?” 

 “I get them, when he’s awake too.” Kageyama slumped in his seat. “They’re usually small memories… much shorter.” 

 “So.” Hinata frowned. “What did you see?” 

 “Here.” Kageyama looked out the see-through walls of the vehicle. “I saw… Sugawara, when he was a Second Lord… he ordered an air raid here. I saw it all. The bombing… I saw it from inside the jungle… But. But Suga wasn’t inside the bombing…” 

That was my imagination, Sugawara told both of them, At the time… I looked away, closed my eyes… but I could imagine it… the carnage, the fire… That’s what I was thinking, way back then. 

 They drove in silence. 

 Kageyama cleared his throat. “How much longer until we get there?” 

 “It’s on the pad.” 

 Kageyama grabbed the datapad between the two of them. “Another thirty-five minutes.” 

 “Kags.” Hinata moved the steering wheel a bit to dodge an upcoming rock. “Are you okay?” 

 “Yeah.” Kageyama nodded. “It just… it was a lot.” 

 “Right.” 






 When they got to their drop-off point, it was just outside the wasteland, where the jungle began to takeover. They got off and equipped their helmets. Their suit temperature was modified to adjust to the heat, and it was rather comfortable. 

 Kageyama looked around. “Don’t burn anything.” 

 Hinata gawked behind his helmet. “It’s a forest, duh! Plus, I’m really good at being accurate with that fire. You remember my accuracy rate, right? Right?” 

 Kageyama nodded. “But you can’t cool down as fast here.” 

 “My suit only needs to cool down when I go to extremes.” 

 “Well then don’t go to extremes!” 

 “I won’t!” Hinata threw his hands behind his head. “Stop worrying!” 

 Kageyama glanced at him. “Promise me.” 

 Hinata held out his hand. “Do you want to pinky swear.” 

 Kageyama pinky swore; and, from the minor shift in Hinata’s body, he could tell Hinata was smiling. 

 They began walking. 

 Their suits changed, providing camouflage. 

 Kageyama looked at his arms. “Why didn’t we do this last time?” 

 “It’s honestly not as effective as it could be,” Hinata admitted, “And it works better in some environments than others. But we can’t use it around Metropolis – the Miasma reacts to the camouflage, and that’s a really bad time.” 

 “Right.” 

 They walked in silence, through the damp foliage. 

 Hinata shifted a bit. “We’re nearing their camp. I’ll take point – you take rear.” 

 Kageyama slowed down, letting Hinata pass him. 

 “Ha.” Hinata shook his ass a bit. “Rear.” 

 “Shut up.” 

 Hinata laughed and skipped ahead for a bit. 

 They kept going, eventually finding the outskirts of one of the bases. Hinata crouched down, and Kageyama did as well. 

 Hinata glanced at him. “Got the datapad?” 

 Kageyama pulled it out and opened it up. The satellites were giving all the thermal scans, showing a main camp in the middle, with two other camps on the outskirts. They were labelled Camp A, Camp B, and Camp C – with Camp B being the main camp. 

 Hinata hummed. “Okay! Which one will be the best to fuck with first…?” 

 “Peripheral camps would be less likely to get freaked out, but they would cause an alarm easier.” 

 “Hm.” Hinata glanced at him. “Wanna split up, or stay together?” 

 “I’d rather stay together.” Kageyama analysed the maps. “If something goes wrong, it’s best we’re together. Also, we can’t judge how much or how little we’re doing as a team if we’re apart.” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata nodded. “I was just thinking that. Well… we should wait for nightfall. We have three hours of daylight… or, actually about two and a half. With all these mountains, sunset won’t give much light. Let’s make a little battle plan.” 






 In the first camp, an Aoba soldier was whistling along after returning from patrol. He pulled his titanium handgun from its holster and went to put it on the weapon rack when he paused. “Huh…?” 

 In front of him, the weapon rack was completely empty. 

 “Uh.” The soldier turned around. “S-Sir? Is this supposed to be like this…?” 






 In the third camp, two tents fell at the same time. Miniature flash-fires had snapped the cords keeping them in place. Upon inspection, they knew the cords were burned, but they couldn’t figure out how. 

 “Damn low-quality tents,” one of the soldiers said. 

 “Yeah,” another agreed, “Low-quality tents…” 






 In the main camp, Shigeru Yahaba stormed out of his own tent and looked around. He scanned the crowd and felt a strange tightness in his chest. He grabbed a nearby soldier. “Where’s the messenger I sent for? He was supposed to be here thirty minutes ago…” He looked up. “He was supposed to be here before sunset.” 

 “I-I don’t know!” 

 “Find him. Now.” Yahaba let go of the soldier. “The Regent Lord won’t like this.” 

 “Y-Yes, Sir!” 

 Yahaba bit his lip. 






 Thirty minutes later, that soldier was also labelled missing. 






 In the first camp, one of the soldiers started yelling, “What’s that tapping noise!? Who’s tapping! Stop it! Stop it!” 

 But the tapping noise kept going. 






 Yahaba stormed around the main camp. “Where was the soldier I sent after the messenger!?” 

 Another soldier came up to him. “H-He hasn’t returned… Maybe Shira got him?” 

 “Then where’s the body?” Yahaba snapped, “Come on! Think, people! Where did they go?” 

 “Maybe…” another soldier whispered, “The spirits got him…” 

 Yahaba’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t you start with me.” 






 In the third camp, all the tents had fallen; and, after every attempt to put more tents up, the cords snapped again. They decided they didn’t need tents. The soldiers slept on the hard earth, under the stars. It seemed that was the last of the strangeness, but the natural sounds of the night started keeping them awake, and each click made their eyes snap open. 






 Yahaba had his head in his hands before he took a deep breath. “Listen!” He got the attention of everyone. “I want to figure out what’s going on now! I want thermal scans! Nitrogen sensors! I want communications channels open – I want it all, stat!” 

 “Yes Sir!” 

 Yahaba finally got the sense things were being put back together when a shaking soldier was walking towards him. 

 “S-Sir.” He offered a rolled up scroll. “I found this missive… on the edge of the camp.” 

 Yahaba tore it opened and glanced at it. He didn’t recognise the handwriting, but it read: The ghosts have me. The ghosts have me. The ghosts have me. Yahaba made the mistake of reading out loud for, not even a full second after he finished read it, it spontaneously combusted, bursting to ash. 

 The soldiers looked at Yahaba, eyes wide. 

 And Yahaba yelled. 





 Kageyama moved away from the main camp, hiding the smile on his lips. “That last one was too much.” 

 “Yeah, probably.” Hinata laughed. “Well, they’ll spook themselves out now. I wonder how Aoba will react to their reports of what’s going on here.” 

 “Let’s go.” 

 “Awww, it’s over already?” 

 “We don’t want to draw too much attention,” Kageyama reminded. 

 “Yeah.” Hinata disassembled his helmet and looked at Kageyama. 

 Kageyama did the same, and soon felt his head being pulled down and Hinata’s lips on his. He backed away, giving a confused look. 

 Hinata smiled. “Sorry. I just wanted to do that.” 

Sorry to interrupt – but I’m opening a channel between you two and Main Command. 

 “Hello,”
 came Daichi’s voice. “How’s the mission?” 

 “Successful.” Hinata smiled. “We’re making our way to Shira’s camp now.” 

“Good. We managed to get another unit to retrieve the vehicle. Enjoy some refreshments and some sleep. Sorry, but we won’t be able to pick you up before morning.” 

 “That’s fine,” Hinata assured. “I want to see what happens in the morning anyway.” 

“Understood. Sawamura out, then.” 

 Hinata nodded, despite Daichi not being able to see it. 





They went up the path to Shira’s forces, and – to be honest – it was a moral boost for the camp to see two Mark III units walking up. Hinata was proud, telling everyone of how they spooked them, how they’re not going to get much sleep tonight. Kageyama and Hinata shared a quick conversation, about how people loved them, trusted them, wanted them around. Hinata explained that’s what it meant to be a war hero: To inspire others. 

 Kageyama would remember that, for a long time. 

 When they were offered two tents, Hinata said they’d just take one, and two bedrolls.
 





 It was a cool night, but still a bit too hot to go under the covers. They took their suits aside, and the suits assembled into small cube-like boxes. They both wore minimal clothing, Hinata in only his boxers, while Kageyama kept his shirt on too. They laid on their back, bedrolls overlapping a little bit. 

 Kageyama was on his back, hands resting at his sides. 

 Hinata was on his side, facing Kageyama. Soon enough, he took Kageyama’s hand in his. 

 Kageyama glanced over. 

 They made eye contact, and Hinata smiled. 

 Kageyama swore his chest was about to burst. It was a true smile, a real smile… not the fake ones Hinata so often displayed. Kageyama almost wished he had his suit on, so he could capture this moment forever. 

 Hinata began to move closer. 

 “Hinata—” 

 “Shh.” Hinata pressed their lips together. 

 Kageyama turned to face him as well, and wrapped an arm around Hinata, pulling him a bit closer. 

 Hinata’s body relaxed, and he pushed himself even more against Kageyama. 

 Kageyama broke the kiss and glanced to Hinata. 

 Hinata swallowed hard. 

 There was an understanding between them. 

 Still, Hinata asked, “Is it…” He traced a hand down Kageyama’s shirt, feeling the muscle beneath. “Is it okay if we…?” 

 “Yeah.” 

 “Okay.” 

 They kissed again, more heated this time. 

 And Kageyama rolled over, moving Hinata beneath him. 

 Hinata tugged at Kageyama’s shirt, breaking the kiss as he pulled it over Kageyama’s head and tossed it aside. Hinata parted his legs a bit more. 

 Kageyama pressed himself against Hinata, blushing as he realised Hinata was as hard as he was. 

 Hinata rocked his hips, stroking the underside of Kageyama’s cock with the head of his. “Wow.” Hinata grinned with a blush. “No wonder you’re confident, if you’re that big.” 

 Kageyama inhaled sharply, cheeks burning. “Shut up.” 

 Hinata laughed and reached up to hook an arm around Kageyama, before pulling him down to give a small quick kiss. “This… this okay, right?” 

 “Yes.” Kageyama frowned. “Why?” 

 “I just…” Hinata blushed. “I’m your Commander, so… I don’t want you to feel… obliga—” 

 “No.” Kageyama kissed him on the lips, on the cheek, on the shoulder. “I want this. I want you.” 

 “Kageyama—” 

 “I would tell you,” he assured. “Trust me.” 

 Hinata looked up at him, eyes looking strangely… soft, vulnerable. “Okay.” 

 “And.” Kageyama kissed the corner of his mouth. “You tell me… if, if you don’t want anything.” 

 “Okay.” Hinata nodded. He looked down, to where their cocks were pressed against each other, and he couldn’t help but wiggle his hips just a bit. “Can I…?” 

 “Yeah.” 

 Hinata grabbed them both, through their boxers, and squeezed them together. 

 Kageyama made a noise that gave Hinata goosebumps. 

 “Kageyama…” Hinata looked away. “Do you have any, lube or anything?” 

 “Um.” Kageyama swallowed hard. “No. You?” 

 Hinata shook his head. 

 “Then.” Kageyama kissed him. “This is enough for now, right?” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata squeezed them together again, making a whining noise. “Yeah.” 

 Kageyama grabbed the waistband of Hinata’s boxers and began tugging. 

 Hinata lifted his legs, letting Kageyama pull them off, and he grinned as Kageyama carelessly threw his underwear aside. He opened his legs again and grinned. He was hard, and his cock was throbbing. He grabbed himself and smirked. Hinata was just over five inches, and he pulled back the hood to reveal the bright pink head, precum dripping down the shaft. 

 Kageyama took in the sight, of the trimmed orange hair at the base. He glanced up Hinata’s body, admiring him. Despite being short, and having a thinner frame, Hinata still had muscle. Not as much as Kageyama expected? But he reminded himself that Hinata could only move mountains because of the suit. 

 Hinata threw his arms behind his head and arched his back, as if showing off. “What do you think?” 

 “I want to see you… in sunlight.” 

 Hinata blinked. “Hm?” 

 “Your hair, is so pretty,” Kageyama said as he kissed the side of Hinata’s head, just above his ear. Hinata’s skin was a pale, milky colour, a contrast to Kageyama’s tanned tone. Hinata’s body also didn’t have much hair, though he did have some under his arms, and the trimmed patch above his cock. “I want to see you naked, in sunlight, at least once.” 

 Hinata grinned. “You wanna fuck me in the sun?” 

 Kageyama said, “Yeah,” in a hot, breathy moan. 

 “I’m not as picky,” Hinata teased, “I just wanna see you naked, Kageyama, here.” 

 Kageyama gave another kiss, rougher this time, just above Hinata’s ear. “Then what are you waiting for?” 

 Hinata grabbed Kageyama’s boxers and bit his lip. Unlike Hinata, Kageyama had a treasure trail of short black hair starting at his tummy and moving down under his waistband. He tugged slowly, first revealing the patch of dark hair above his cock, that made Hinata lick his lips, and then seeing just the base of his cock. The thickness was impressive and as he tugged further – Hinata felt his own cock twitch. 

 Kageyama smirked. 

 Hinata could see the outline of Kageyama’s cockhead through the fabric, and assumed he was cut – unlike Hinata. It was rare in Shira, and so a sudden curiosity to know the difference filled him. 

 Kageyama’s cock sprung out, wagging a few times before it stayed still. 

 Hinata licked his lips. 

 There was a faint circular scar about two-thirds up the shaft, and there was redness leading up to the head. The head itself was more purple-pink than Hinata’s, and Hinata took in a sharp breath at the sight of it all. He pulled down the boxers to see his smoothly-shaved balls. Hinata couldn’t help but giggle. “So you shave something, at least.” 

 “I—” Kageyama’s cheeks burned again. “I like to do a little bit… of maintenance… Should I… shave more?” 

 “Nah.” Hinata shook his head. “You’re fucking hot, Kageyama.” 

 “I… am…?” Kageyama knew his cock, being about seven inches, was bigger than average, but the way Hinata was looking at his entire body, as if every inch of it was perfect… Kageyama couldn’t help but blush. 

 But. 

 Kageyama couldn’t deny he liked the attention either. 

 Hinata grabbed Kageyama’s cock with a loose grip, moving up down the shaft and up again. 

 Kageyama shivered and he traced a hand down Hinata’s chest, wanting to feel every inch of it under the pads of his fingertips, wanting to follow every ripple along his body. The smooth skin over toned muscle… He grasped Hinata’s length in return and gave it a squeeze. Hinata made a noise in his ear, and Kageyama shivered again. He began stroking him, a firmer grip pulling the foreskin back and over his head again. 

 Hinata’s skin prickled with goosebumps, and he kissed the underside of Kageyama’s jaw. He began stroking himself, moving the skin over the head up and down. 

 Kageyama looked down and let their lips meet. 

 Hinata used his left hand to cup Kageyama’s balls, moving his thumb over them in slow circles. His right hand moved up and down the shaft, hyper aware of every little shift in Kageyama’s body. 

 “God.” Kageyama looked down. “You’re fucking perfect.” 

 Hinata grinned wide, a feral grin, and gave another firm kiss. “I wanna feel you against me again.” 

 Kageyama pulled Hinata’s hood back and pressed them, head to head, and wrapped his hand around both of them to keep them close. He grinded the sweet spots on the undersides together. “You’ve got so much precum…” 

 Hinata’s grin didn’t falter. He moved his hand down and used his palm on both their heads. 

 Kageyama moaned. 

 Hinata’s cock definitely gave more precum, and he used it to rub the head of Kageyama’s cock. 

 Kageyama moaned louder. “Fuck.” 

 Hinata couldn’t keep still, and also began thrusting to rub their cocks together. “Mmm.” He closed his eyes. “Kageyama…” He let his eyes lid. “Kageyama… Kageyama…” 

 “Feels good?” 

 “Oh fuck yeah it does.” 

 Kageyama smirked. He raised his back, wanting to take in the sight of Hinata all at once. 

 Hinata grabbed their shafts with both hands, right over Kageyama’s scar, and squeezing them together. He let out another noise, throwing his head back. 

 Kageyama let go of them, and grabbed Hinata’s legs. Despite the toned muscles, the skin was so soft, and he couldn’t help but push his legs back to look at his ass. 

 “Hey, Kageyama,” Hinata said in his playful voice. 

 Kageyama glared. “What.” 

 “I’ll take point,” he said as he squeezed their cocks together, “You take rear.” 

 “I fucking hate you.” 

 Hinata laughed, loud. 

 And Kageyama couldn’t help the stupid laugh that left his lips. 

 “You’re definitely going to fuck me,” Hinata said, broken up by moans, “In the sunset one day.” 

 “Your cute little ass?” Kageyama pulled his cock away from Hinata’s, despite the protest, and moved back so he could get a better view at Hinata’s ass. “Fuck.” 

 “I bet you’re dying to fuck me.” Hinata smirked. “Aren’t you?” 

 “You have no idea.” Kageyama brushed his thumb against the pink hole, and heard Hinata gasped. 

 “We don’t have lube!” 

 “I know!” Kageyama scowled. “Still…” Kageyama’s cock was slightly slick from Hinata’s precum, but it was still dry as he rubbed it against Hinata’s hole. 

 Hinata gasped, feeling the warm sensation there. He grabbed his cock and started stroking himself. 

 Kageyama breathed hard, heavy – watching Hinata jerk off. He almost wanted to ask if this is how Hinata jerked off thinking of him, but he knew asking would be inviting another stupid response. He rubbed his cock against the hole again, hearing Hinata moan. Kageyama’s cock was so hard it almost hurt. He wanted to fuck that ass, and he could imagine sliding in—the sheer tightness. Still, just rubbing against the hole was amazing in its own right, and the sight it provided… 

 Hinata moved his hand faster, wiggling his knees mid-air. 

 Kageyama adjusted so he was rubbing the flat top of his cockhead against the hole and moved quicker. 

 Hinata squeezed on him, wrapping the cock between warm skin of his crevice. 

 The pressure made Kageyama moan. 

 Hinata gasped suddenly. “Kageyama, I’m—” He threw his head back, wrapping his legs around Kageyama’s waist, pulling him closer. He made another sharp noise and bit his lip. 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. 

 Hinata shot hot cum all over himself, coming out in a few shots, on his chest, and even a small amount hit himself in the cheek. 

 Kageyama murmured, “Fuck.” He grabbed Hinata’s hand and wrapped it around his cock. He moved Hinata’s hand a few times, setting the pace and roughness, but it didn’t take long for Hinata to take over. 

 Hinata stroked him quick and rough, despite still being in his haze, and a lazy but sensual smile tugged at the corner of his lips. He looked at Kageyama, knowing he probably looked hot, cum all over him, and he was determined to take Kageyama over the edge now. 

 And he did. 

 Kageyama came with a long drawn-out noise. He shot his load on top of Hinata’s, thick streams of hot white, and he stared in awe at the sight underneath him. 

 Hinata just smirked his usual playful smirk. 

 Kageyama wasn’t even mad. 

 Hinata closed his eyes, bathing in his afterglow. 

 Kageyama moved down, kissing him. 

 Hinata giggled into the kiss. 

 Kageyama blushed and looked down at Hinata. “Fuck… this is…” 

 “This is…?” 

 “A good view.” 

 “Are you telling me?” Hinata moved a hand up, running it over Kageyama’s chest. “Pretty sure I’ve got best seats in the house…” 

 Kageyama’s cheeks warmed again. 

 Hinata laughed, causing Kageyama to look away, and he instantly spilled out a, “Sorry! No! Don’t be embarrassed! I’m sorry I wasn’t laughing at you!” 

 Kageyama took a breath before he looked back at Hinata. 

 “Kiss me.” 

 Kageyama couldn’t refuse. The kiss was warm, and it felt… it felt more this time. He lifted his chest and murmured, “We should… get you cleaned up.” 

 “Right.” 

 It didn’t take them long, to clean up. 

 Soon enough they slipped their boxers back on and laid on the bedroll, side by side. 

 Hinata was smiling happily. 

 Kageyama was too. 

 Hinata rolled over and poked Kageyama’s chest. “Hey.” 

 Kageyama rolled over as well, pulling Hinata closer. “Hi.” 

 Hinata laughed, and Kageyama did too. Hinata moved for another short kiss. “You’re going to fuck me so hard.” 

 “Are those my orders, Commander?” 

 It was Hinata’s turn for his cheeks to burn. “St-Stop!” 

 Kageyama smirked. 

 “Psh.” Hinata rolled away, onto his tummy. He gave a little smile, though. “But you better let me fuck you too.” 

 “Of course.” Kageyama smiled. “Why wouldn’t I?” 

 “I don’t know…” Hinata shrugged. “Some people just, kind of think of me as a bottom, and think I don’t wanna top too. Maybe it’s my height or something. I don’t know.” 

 “Or maybe it’s the way you shake your ass at me mid-mission.” 

 “Hey!” 

 Kageyama smirked. “I like you the way you are… We can do whatever you want, we can do it all.” 

 “Good.” Hinata huffed. “Like, okay… I know I’m kind of a bottom, but I wanna fuck too. I may be small,” Hinata said, as if he was saying a catchphrase, “But I can hump!” 

 Kageyama slapped a hand over his own face. 

 “Hey!” 

 “Hinata.” Kageyama pulled him closer. “You’re perfect.” 

 “P-Perfect?” 

 “I just.” Kageyama nuzzled his hair. “I like you a lot. Everything… everything about you.” 

 Hinata pushed his head into Kageyama’s neck, trying in vain to hide his smile. “I like you too… I like being with you.” He felt Kageyama wrap his arms around him; and, for the first time, he felt like he was home. “I feel like I can, just be me… with you.” 

 “Good.” Kageyama pressed his head into Hinata’s hair. “I like who you are. I love who you are.” 

 Hinata’s eyes opened, despite not being able to see anything. “Kageyama…?” 

 “I love you.” 

 Hinata’s eyes twitched before they squished shut, threatening to brim with tears. “I love you too.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: Act 2, Part IX 



The mission, despite achieving its goals, did not provide Kageyama a chance to experiment with his fluidity, or his Mark III capabilities. Well, not yet, anyway. 






“Do you ever wonder if you really know someone…?” 

Kageyama had almost fallen asleep again, but his eyes opened. 

Hinata was laying on his back, shirtless, though now he was leaning into Kageyama a bit. Hinata hummed quietly, and he closed his eyes. It was still hot, and humid, but cool enough that the two of them relaxed. 

Early morning. 

Kageyama nuzzled the side of his head. “What do you mean?” 

“Like…” Hinata’s eyes slowly closed. “I keep thinking about what your dad said… I mean, like, um. The Ukai dad. Not the Takeda dad.” 

“Ukai is dad,” Kageyama mumbled, “Takeda is papa.” 

“Oh.” Hinata smiled. “That’s really cute, actually.” 

Kageyama nudged him. 

Hinata swallowed hard. “It’s just… I don’t know. He said Ryuunosuke and Saeko… they grew up in the slums. He said nobody ever tells you they’re from the slums… I mean, it’s not wrong… but I never knew.” 

Kageyama said nothing. 

“It makes you wonder… your best friends, your family… what do you not know about them?” Hinata rolled over, pushing his head into Kageyama’s chest. “What else don’t I know…? What… What did they hide from me? What didn’t I know…? Noya? Asahi…? Daichi…” He laughed. “Even Suga…” 

Kageyama blurted out, “He used to call Daichi daddy.” 

Hinata looked up. “What.” 

“I saw one of his dreams, you wanted to call him uncle and…” Kageyama bit his lip. “Sorry.” 

Hinata looked away a bit, laughing. “I guess… but there’s so much I don’t know. Even now. You’re totally right, I just… Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t know the Tanakas at all. I thought they cared for me—loved me—they always paid attention to me, they even gave me their own little pet name.” 

“Tabby.” 

“Yeah, like a tabby… an orange tabby cat, ‘cause of my hair?” Hinata smiled, but he looked like he was about to cry. “I figured if they considered me family… that they would never leave without me. They would never leave Suga, because he’s family. Yet they did, Kageyama. They left me behind.” 

Kageyama closed his eyes, pulling Hinata closer. 

“Who else is going to leave me behind…?” 

“Not me.” 

Hinata paused. 

Kageyama squeezed him tighter. “We’ll be together.” 

“Yeah.” Hinata kissed his chest. “We’ll be together… You’re right.” He sighed, loudly, “I should do more than just wallow in my own pity, God…” He sat up and hummed. 

Kageyama continued to lay on the bedrolls. From this vantage point, he saw the battle scars tracing Hinata’s skin. The sunlight, which bled a little through their tent, gave him the light to see what he couldn’t last night. 

Hinata looked up at the ceiling of their tent. “I wish I knew what made them switch.” 

“Mm.” Kageyama nodded. “Then ask them.” 

“But.” Hinata bit his lip. 

“I know… I said they might trick you, but…” Kageyama sat up as well and nudged him. “Find out what it is. You can’t move forward unless you find out, right…? I’m not saying leave Shira, and I’m not saying leave me… but we have to know what it is.” 

“We?” 

Kageyama frowned. “How else are we going to change the world?” 

Hinata laughed, loudly, and gave him a quick kiss. “Come on. Looks like the rest of the troops are eating. It would look bad if we slept in.” 






If I’m being honest, I don’t know how I feel about the last installment. The editor might well remove the sex in the last chapter, and I wouldn’t be against it? If anyone’s reading this… they’re probably wondering if its weird, for me, Koushi Sugawara, to be writing about my own little brother having sex. If I’m being honest… It’s a pretty vivid memory for me. It was weird, for sure, but as the Mark III system… 

The sensations, the feelings… they disturbed me at first, but the truth was I craved it. 

I craved the memories, and the feeling. As a mechanical system, it was actually very easy to disconnect myself from the situation of it being Kageyama and my brother; and, instead, I felt the sensations as though they were mine. I mean… I had experienced the sensation before, between a Mark III user and their partner, usually Ushijima if I’m being honest… but it was the first time I felt two Mark III users together. 

It was dangerous, almost. I was thrilled, but felt like my systems might shut down. 

If I’m being honest, a part of me felt like it was sick, and it was a twisted pleasure. It wasn’t my sex to enjoy—but it was the only thing I had. 

But I guess the easiest way to clear my conscious is also to be honest: I didn’t have a choice, either. I had to experience their sensations as my own, whether I wanted to or not. Realistically, I could have asked them to stop, I could have reminded them of my presence, ruin the mood – I did have a choice. But… I wanted my baby brother to experience life, in all its ups and downs, and I wanted him to have his moment. I guess I had a choice—and I chose Hinata’s wellbeing, over my own. 

In the morning, they got up and joined the rest of the unit. 

It was another morale boost, to see the soldiers again. 

Everyone wanted to see the Mark III.
 






“So how does it work?” 

“Can you take the suit off?” 

“Does the suit clean itself?” 

“Is it true you can set fire to things?” 

“Do you believe—” 

“Hold up!” Hinata said with a big laugh. He shovelled more of the breakfast into his mouth. It was nothing more than rations, but he was hungry. 

Kageyama let Hinata deal with the questions. Hinata indulged them, even teased them sometimes, and he bathed in the oooo’s and the aaaaa’s. Kageyama was more of a quiet type, and enjoyed his meal without much interruption. 

After their meal, Hinata told him, “Main Command says we’re free to go.” 

Kageyama nodded. “We should tell the Captain in charge.” 

Hinata smiled. “Okay!” 

But the Captain had other news, “There’s a couple mechas giving us trouble… do you think you guys could lend us a hand?” 

“Sure.” Hinata nodded. “We’ll strike hard and fast.” 

Kageyama looked at his hand. “I’ll do it.” 

Hinata blinked. “You mean we?” 

“No. I.” 

“What happened to the together part?” 

“I think.” Kageyama nodded. “I think I can try out the fluidity.” 

Hinata made an ‘o’ shape with his mouth, before yelling, “Bwa! Great idea!” 

The Captain looked between them and offered a sheepish smile. “It doesn’t matter to me how you do it, just take ‘em out.” 

“Yes Sir!” 






On the field, they moved quickly through the jungle. Apparently these mechas were the bodyguards of a person named Yahaba – one of Oikawa’s closest lieutenants. They quickly understood that the disrupted forces of Aoba brought out some of the big guns. Two of the camps had also traded some shots from getting too spooked. 

Kageyama moved behind cover. “Mechas approaching.” 

Hinata nodded. “Think you got this?” 

“More or less.” 

“Good luck, Tiger.” 

“Don’t.” Kageyama closed his eyes. Suga. There was a gush of fluid moving under suit, and his joints began to glow. It was strange cold feeling, not what he expected, but he knew he just had to get used to it. Kageyama opened his eyes, and looked at his suit. 

Hinata stared, eyes wide. 

Ocean blue. 

The lines that traced Kageyama’s suit. 

It was ocean blue. 

Kageyama looked at Hinata. 

Hinata gave a thumbs up. 

Kageyama smirked. 

The two mechas were patrolling, side by side, and they were coming their way. 

Kageyama took a deep breath. He could feel it. A pressure in his suit, like a storm rolling in. His hands especially felt tingly and it was almost like he was vibrating. When the two mechas were in range, Kageyama darted out of his cover and waved his hand. 

It discharged—streams of blue energy, hitting both mechas and shattering the glass. 

Both mechas pulled back. 

Kageyama smirked. 

Then both mechas turned to face him. 

“Oh fuck.” 

They fired. 

Kageyama ran behind the tree again. “It worked—but not enough!” 

“Yeah!” Hinata yelled, “Saw that!” He was changing his guns to plasma mode. “Let’s go out on three and take ‘em out.” 

Kageyama’s eyes narrowed behind his helmet. “Stay where you are.” 

Hinata glanced at him just as his helmet equipped. “Are you sure?” Gunshots were shooting all around him. His cover was nothing. “Kageyama?” 

“Just stay right there!” 

What do you think you’re doing!? 

What do – you – think you are doing!
 He shot back. He moved out of his cover again. Just like the shield – you remember, right? 

His mind replayed the sight. 

Of the shield he formed when he rescued Hinata, the first time he made full contact with the system— 

I see what you’re doing. You… you really are, dangerous. 

Fine by me!
 The static swirled around him violently and his suit began to give off cackles of fried ozone. He pulled both arms back before stomping and throwing his hands forward. 

Streams of blue lightning forked out from his body, crashing into the mechas, and causing them to explode. 

The air was filled with static, and the sound of sizzles continued even after the two mechas fell. 

There was nothing for a while. 

Then the sound of Hinata’s helmet being disassembled. He stepped out and just said, “Whoa.” 

Kageyama removed his helmet as well. “I figured out the Mark III system.” 

“Huh?” 

“We’ll talk later.” 






When they got back to the base, two people were waiting for them by an air carrier. One was Tadashi Yamaguchi, clutching his datapad tight, while the other was Kei Tsukishima who looked annoyed. Tsukishima’s mechanical eye was whirring as he was scanning them. “Did we come all this way for nothing?” 

Yamaguchi laughed. “I think we did.” 

Hinata and Kageyama blinked. 

Tsukishima sighed. “Well. Our reports is Kageyama went down, and then we saw a diamgen spike. We assumed the fluidity must have gone wrong… but maybe not.” 

“Opposite.” Hinata smiled. “Kageyama went boom boom!” Hinata mimicked the hand movements. “He uses electrostatic energy!” 

Kageyama nodded. 

Tsukishima sighed. “Even worse. You activated it without my eye to analyse it.” 

Kageyama frowned. “Did the Mark III system not tell you?” 

“Nope.” Yamaguchi shook his head. “He hasn’t talked to anyone since.” 

Hinata’s spine suddenly straightened. He glanced at Kageyama. “He wants to talk to you.” 

Kageyama frowned. “Why doesn’t he, then?” 

“No, it’s.” Hinata looked at the aircraft. “Let’s get you inside. You’ll need to sit down for this.” 

Kageyama did as he was told and sat in the carrier, buckling up as well. 


And then his visual system was disrupted. 


He felt himself pulled into another space and he almost yelled. 


Something was missing. 



Light seemed to morph into several shapes, and when he finally felt grounded, Kageyama looked around at the white space where he was. It looked like a city, almost, ruins maybe. There were several columns, and tiles forming walkways. The rest of the field behind him was green grass, but in front of him was a structure made of stone that overlooked a lake of pristine blue. 

Sugawara stood at the edge of the structure, looking out to the water, leaning on the railing. He wore casual clothes, a black button-down with the top two buttons open, and a pair of dark blue skinny jeans. 

Kageyama wanted to approach, then he realised what was missing. 

Sugawara hummed. 

Kageyama blurted out, “The sky.” 

Sugawara glanced over his shoulder. “This is a visualisation, really. A fake.” 

Kageyama blinked. 

“Everything inside my mind has been changed to zeros and one—binary code. But to make this place accessible for your human mind, it’s all been formulated into a visual space.” Sugawara turned away from the water and faced him. “The sky, above us, is the part of the code that relates to the third Mark III unit – the one that was stolen.” 

“But.” Kageyama frowned. “Your brain…” 

“Is intact,” Sugawara assured. “The neurons are intact, and the wires and machinery are all intact… The activity relating to that Mark III unit is monitored, and it is used, but most of the activity is hidden.” 

“Can we.” Kageyama stared. “Can we shut it down?” 

“It overlaps with the areas we use for your Mark III suits. We would knock you and Hinata out of commission, and kill me in the process.” 

Kageyama tensed. “Then… we can destroy the suit.” 

“Yes.” Sugawara nodded. “If we do that, then we can safely nullify the threat without harming me—which would be pretty great, as I don’t really want to be harmed, Kageyama.” 

Kageyama took another breath. “But. You… your body… your brain…” 

Sugawara stepped closer to Kageyama and sighed. “Yeah… I know. It’s possible I’ll be damaged for life, but I knew this. I knew this all before I chose to become the system… It’s what drove Asahi to do what he did.” 

Kageyama’s eyes softened. “Asahi…” 

“Auntie’s assistant.” Sugawara sighed. “He hung himself…” He raised his hand and the visual space changed. “That’s him, there.” 

Kageyama turned around. 

A three-dimensional image of Asahi, smiling, lifelike, was in front of him. 

Kageyama felt his chest hurt. His mind focused on Nishinoya next. 

“Yes,” Sugawara said, as if reading his mind. 

An image of Nishinoya, also smiling, formed next to Asahi. 

Sugawara’s eyes closed slowly. “Asahi was Nishinoya’s partner. They got along well… it devastated Nishinoya. Noya was, I know it might be hard to believe… but he was kinder once. He was warm, and full of life. He’s cold now… very cold.” 

Kageyama looked at the ground, and frowned. 

“You care about him,” Sugawara realised. “You have memories of him, from the dojo.” 

Kageyama nodded. 

“Well, if you must know…” Sugawara sighed. “He and Ryuunosuke are close now. I’m not sure if its a relationship or just very close friends, but he’s been helping him. I’m glad… it’s weird. They’re enemies, but… I’m glad they’re together, at least.” 

“It.” Kageyama bit his lip. “It must be hard, for you.” 

“You.” Sugawara had tears in his eyes. “You have no idea, Kageyama.” 

Kageyama swallowed hard. He let a breeze pass him by and he looked around. “Do you regret it… being hooked up?” 

“Every day.” Sugawara squished his eyes shut. “Every. Single. Day.” 

Kageyama took a deep breath. 

“I hoped it would be quick – a few years, no more. I lost my relationship with Daichi, I lost my family, even the Emperor sees me as a tool. Nobody can help me. I am malfunctioning more and more, becoming more unstable, more complicated… I’m going to die hooked up to these cords, Kageyama.” 

“I—” 

“Don’t pity me.” 

Kageyama huffed, frowning. “Stop saying that! We’ll end this war, and get you out of there.” 

“I hope so.” Sugawara turned back to the water and walked towards it. “But you and I have a lot to discuss. I don’t like what you did, Kageyama, and I don’t know how I feel about it.” 

Kageyama began walking as well. 

“But I think you did find out something critical.” Sugawara’s eyes narrowed. “It seems, unlike with Hinata or the Emperor, you only find the core of your power when our thoughts are in line. In the previous cases, to protect Hinata.” 

“Yes.” Kageyama nodded. “I put the Commander in danger, to force you to work with me.” 

“You did.” 

Kageyama looked away. “I’m sorry.” 

Sugawara took a deep breath. “You and I… I said this before. We’re bonding fast, very fast… And, like I said, no other Mark III user has required me to use their power. We find ourselves in a dangerous position, Kageyama.” He turned around and leaned against the railing, staring at him. “Your powers are more powerful because of it… but there are drawbacks, limitations, and I will fully admit – on my part – hesitations.” 

“I felt it.” Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “Your fear.” 

Sugawara’s chest tightened. 

And Kageyama felt it. 

“Sugawara.” Kageyama tensed. “I know I have no right to say this—not as a friend, a person, or a soldier—but you need to work with me.” 

Sugawara pushed himself off the railing and he stepped forward. “I can’t do that. I can’t trust you—I barely know you, Kageyama…” 

“I need you to trust me, unconditionally.” Kageyama glared. “Otherwise I’ll never be able to use the full extent of my Mark III!” 

“Kageyama—” 

“Do you think I want you here!?” Kageyama smacked his own head. “You think I want you in my brain!?” 

Sugawara stepped back. 

“You think I want to depend on you?” Kageyama stepped forward. “I can feel you, inside my head. I can feel your doubt. But you know I might die if you don’t trust me! And Hinata needs me!” 

“Shouyou doesn’t need you,” Sugawara cut back, “He doesn’t need you!” 

“I know that!” Kageyama yelled, “But I want him to!” 

Sugawara stared, holding eye contact, before they both looked at the floor. He took a sigh. “Trust is… something we have to work on, Kageyama. But we’ll manage it, okay?” He took a deep breath. “I’m not. I’m not like you. I have a lot of doubts, a lot of fears… I can’t push them aside like you do. If you want me to trust you, you have to understand me… If we have trust, we will have the synergy we need. But you have to understand me. I’m. I’m not just a machine…” 

“Then!” Kageyama growled. “You need to speak to me!” 

Sugawara blinked. 

“I can feel it.” Kageyama sighed. “Your… doubts, and concerns… but I don’t know what they mean. I can feel them swimming in my head. So. If you have concerns—I need to hear them!” 

Sugawara glanced down. 

“If you’re going to be quiet, that’s useless to me. I.” Kageyama bit his lip, hands forming fists. “I need people to be direct with me. I’m… I’m bad, at social… things. I can’t pick up on cues… I’m not. I’m not good with people… so…” 

“Kageyama.” Sugawara’s eyes softened. “You’re not as bad as you think. But… you’re right. I shouldn’t hold my reservations from you, not if we want to work together, and get you up those ranks.” 

Kageyama looked up, blinking. 

“We’ll work on it. Trust.” Sugawara nodded. “Together.” 

Kageyama nodded as well. “Together.” 






After they landed, Hinata led the way to Main Command, and Kageyama followed. Kageyama held his head high, chin up, and he seemed to be vibrating with his small but wiggly smile. Hinata commented on it, but Kageyama didn’t really reply. Yamaguchi and Tsukishima also noted it, but didn’t say anything. Kageyama knew they were probably wondering what he and Suga talked about, but he had a feeling Sugawara wanted to keep it between them. 

Ushijima sat on his throne. “Report.” 

Sugawara gave a quick report on the mission. 

Ushijima glanced at Hinata. “Do you have anything to add, Commander? Sergeant?” 

Hinata smiled. “No Sir.” 

“No Sir,” Kageyama said with a salute. He wondered about telling the Emperor about what he and Suga discussed… but he felt something warm in his mind. Appreciation? He had a feeling he and Sugawara were in sync on this at least. It was the start of something. “Are we dismissed?” 

“Not yet.” Ushijima glanced over to the side. “Private. Report your findings to the Commander.” 

Kageyama glanced to the side. 

Kindaichi stood, looking small and shaking. He was sweating bullets as he frantically glanced around Main Command. Eventually he made eye contact with Hinata, then Kageyama, and seemed to relax enough to talk. “E-Emperor, S-Sir. Commander. My team managed to overhear plans from Kara… they plan to hijack the Inarizaki.” 

Hinata’s eyes widened. “Aoba’s largest airship?” 

Kindaichi nodded firmly. “From what we know… they want to take the ship hostage. It’s related to the uh, superweapon, that I was told you two uncovered.” 

Hinata glanced to Ushijima. 

Iwaizumi, standing behind Ushijima and to the side nodded. “Private Kindaichi has informed us it’s going to happen in roughly two weeks’ time. We don’t know if they are aware that we have this information… but the Private’s team has managed to get its hands on some important intel regarding the operation. If Kara finds anything missing, they might change the day.” 

“Hm.” Ushijima rested his head on his hand and his eyes narrowed. “We know very little.” 

“S-Sorry, Sir!” Kindaichi straightened his spine. “We should have—” 

Ushijima simply glanced over at him, but it silenced Kindaichi completely. “Private, your team performed excellently to gather as much data as you have. It will be up to Sakusa from now on.” 

Iwaizumi’s eyes narrowed. “Sakusa…?” 

Ushijima gave a small sigh. “I know you are not fond of him, but he is the leader of our spy network.” 

Iwaizumi tensed at that, as did Daichi. 

Kageyama simply put his questioning feeling into his mind. 

Before my promotion to Second Lord, I was in charge of the spy network. Sakusa runs things differently than I do, but personally I think he’s doing a great job. 

I see. Thank you.
 Kageyama glanced to Ushijima. “Sir. What is Shira going to do?” 

“Well!” Hinata slammed his fists together, clinking the metal of his suit. “We need to get on that ship! If there’s action, we can’t let Aoba and Kara take all the glory. There’s probably some super sensitive information on it that Kara’s trying to get. We can’t let Ennoshita get his hands on it!” 

Kageyama opened his mouth to protest, but— 

“Yes.” Ushijima nodded. “I agree. Lieutenant Sawamura will be creating a strategy with his assistant.” He glanced to Yamaguchi and gave him a nod as well. “But we need someone to lead the mission.” His eyes fell on Kageyama. “Sergeants lead missions, Kageyama. You will be directing this mission. Understood?” 

The fire burned in his eyes as he saluted firmly. “Yes Sir!” 

Ushijima studied Kageyama for a moment before giving another smaller nod. 

Daichi took a step closer. “As the Emperor said, the tactics and strategy will be mostly to us. We still need you to develop your Mark III abilities for the fight, until we have a basic entry and exit planned. We’ll work together after Tadashi and I have laid down the foundation.” 

“Understood.” Kageyama glanced to the side. “Will the Commander be joining me on the mission?” 

Ushijima paused for a moment. “In a sense.” 

Hinata tilted his head. 

“We…” Daichi shared eye contact with Ushijima, before looking to the two Mark III suit users. “We have an idea. It’s kind of complicated, but given the sensitivity of the operation, the two of you will be assigned to separate tasks on the same mission. You will be working together for the most part, but will break off from each other.” 

Ushijima straightened his back. “Any questions?” 

Hinata shook his head. “No.” 

Kageyama bit his lip. “I have one… but it’s unrelated. And it may not be my place, at my rank, to know.” 

Ushijima raised an eyebrow. 

“Commander Kuroo went to the Furu Circle,” Kageyama murmured, “I was wondering on the status of that operation.” 

Ushijima smiled. 

Kageyama felt a chill run down his spine. 

Even Hinata backed away. 

Kageyama reminded himself to breathe. 

Your guess is as good as mine… 

“Commander Kuroo performed admirably. The Furu Circle will be supporting us in our battle against Kara.” He rubbed his jaw, as if to hide his smile. “He will be coming back soon. You are dismissed, Sergeant. As are you, Private.” The smile faded and his expression became even more grave than usual. “Shouyou… stay behind.” 

Hinata blinked at the use of his first name, but nodded slowly… 






Kageyama and Kindaichi left. Kindaichi had managed to walk for only a few minutes out of Main Command before his legs gave out and he crashed to the floor. Kageyama blinked a few times. 

“God!” Kindaichi took a deep breath. “That was so frickin’ scary!” 

Kageyama blinked again. 

“Sorry.” Kindaichi forced himself up and took a deep breath. “Sorry that’s so lame. But God. That was scary, man… especially when he smiled like that? I don’t know, it was weird!” 

“It’s…” Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “Something about the way he smiled… He doesn’t smile often, and I’ve seen him smile a few times from—” His suit stopped him from saying Suga’s memories, “I’ve seen him smile a few times… but not like that.” 

“Yeah… I don’t know. I just wanna go home.” Kindaichi sighed. “I gotta hand in this form to U Block first.” 

“It’s not far,” Kageyama murmured. “We can go together, then head home.” 

“Yeah that would be cool.” 

Kageyama opened his mouth but— 

Red— 

Burning red. 

Sharp. 

Bones breaking. 

Kageyama grabbed the wall as he slumped against it. Suga—His throat tightened. Suga! Control yourself! 

It’s! It’s not me—You—You shouldn’t be able to feel this!
 

Kageyama glanced to the source and his eyes widened. 

The hallway was on fire. 

Kindaichi stared at him. “What’s wrong, man?” 

“You’re not.” Kageyama watched the ground break, and magma bleed through. “You’re not seeing this?” 

Kindaichi looked around. “Seeing what?” 

Kageyama wanted to know the source of it, but soon he understood. 

Walking down the hall, completely unaware of him, Shouyou Hinata’s suit was shining bright orange. Each step he took was filled with rage, and it shook the world. He had an aura of flame around him that only Kageyama could see. His face was distorted into a scowl and he stormed passed them both. 

Kageyama took a few breaths, and his vision was returning. “Did you see that?” 

“Uh, the Commander?” Kindaichi was examining Kageyama. “Yeah, he seemed really upset.” 

Kageyama was breathing hard. What happened? 

He—Ah… He… didn’t get the Third Lord promotion. Someone else did.
 

Kageyama was finally able to relax and he watched the way Hinata went, and his heart began to squeeze on itself. He closed his eyes. 

Kageyama… I thought you would be happy? After all you said, about the Third Lord rank… 

Kageyama didn’t reply. 






Chapter 11: Infodex 11, Biorhythms 



Humans, like other lifeforms, exist in cycles and rhythms. Examples of this include daily cycles (circadian rhythm), sleep cycles (movement through the four stages), and hormonal cycles (for fertility). These cycles, as well as many other biological processes, come together to form what is known as a biorhythm. Biorhythm tracks all measurable sequences, including metabolic rate, blood pressure, and other biological variables. 

In times of distress, biorhythms spike and often become unstable. 

In times of resting, the biorhythm is seen as a flatline. That is not to say that biological processes have stopped—quite the opposite: When the body is resting, that is when many biological processes (such as digestion) begin. 

It is important for Mark II and Mark III users to take care of their biorhythms due to the effects of the power amplification. For that reason, it is requested that all Mark II check their biorhythm at least every fourteen days. For Mark III users, it is recommended they check their biorhythm every five days. 






Chapter 11: Act 2, Part X 



The announcement came as a shock to many people, not just the military, but many outside. The War Hero, Shouyou Hinata, did not get the Third Lord promotion. Instead the name that flashed on everyone’s devices was Third Lord: Tetsurou Kuroo. 

Even back then, it was well known that unlike Enlisted and Officer promotions, Sovereignty was governed mainly by the politics of the state. Emperor Ushijima, Second Lord Iwaizumi, as well as myself knew what was really going on with Kara and the Furu Circle. It was important to keep our hold on Bokuto and Akaashi, and keep Kara out of the council. If anything, Bokuto and Akaashi needed to embody our stronghold against Kara. 

It was the only reason Kuroo was given the promotion before Hinata. 

Kuroo… well, Kuroo is Kuroo. He apologised to Hinata, profusely, even a little too much, to the point where Hinata snapped and yelled, “Can it!” After a silence, Hinata apologised too. Kuroo ruffled his hair, even as Hinata whispered, “I deserved it.” 

Kuroo knew it. Hinata knew it. Ushijima knew it. I knew it too. 

Even without the Mark III, Shouyou Hinata’s record was flawless, and it beat mine when I earned my promotion. He would have been the youngest person ever to be promoted to Third Lord. Hinata came from a military family, and it was his dream to be a Third Lord – as his mother was. And, then, of course… Second Lord, as I was. Hinata’s true dream—the one he would never let himself admit out loud. 

The roadblock crushed him.
 






Kageyama by no means lacked empathy, but his patience was not his strongest point. Barging in to Hinata’s family home, unannounced, was his way of dealing with things. Natsu peeked out from the kitchen, hiding behind the wall, thinking she was invisible, and she said nothing. 

Hinata, by chance, had just been walking down the stairs, and it made him face to face with Kageyama. He merely said, “Oh.” 

Kageyama glared. 

Hinata walked to the bottom step. “Come in.” 

Kageyama stepped forward, not taking off his shoes. He yanked Hinata’s shirt. 

“H-Hey!” Hinata tried to pull away. Kageyama had his suit on, while Hinata didn’t, and the struggle very much felt like one against a hundred. 

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” 

Natsu hid behind the wall. 

Hinata glared, eyes ice cold. 

“You didn’t get your promotion…” Kageyama’s grip softened, only slightly. “So what?” 

Hinata gulped. 

“It’s not the last opportunity in the world!” 

“Shut up!” Hinata shoved against Kageyama’s suit. “What would you know!?” 

“Enough to know you’re a dumbass! Now you’re not showing up for work! And messing up my training too!?” 

“Shut up!” Hinata yanked at Kageyama’s wrist, knowing the slight weak point that let him escape the grip. He took a step back, glaring. “Shut up! I’m not a dumbass!” 

“You are!” Kageyama took a step forward. “You can’t change it—so don’t worry about it!” 

“What!” Hinata raised his voice, “What the heck is that even supposed to mean!?” 

“You should focus on what you can do!” Kageyama’s hands turned into fists, and a heavy metallic ring sounded in the room. “He’s not going to be the last Third Lord ever!” 

“I know that!” Hinata’s shoulders slumped. “I know that…” 

“If you want to be a little bitch about it, you’ll never get promoted. Hold your head high, Commander!” 

“That’s easy for you to say!” Hinata slammed a punch against the suit. 

Kageyama felt nothing. “Do you have any idea how amazing you are!?” 

Hinata paused. 

“Do you know what it’s like…?” Kageyama’s eyes softened. “To be on the field with you…? Always a trick up your sleeve, always a solution… always some stupid comment to go with it. You’re hardwired for this! You’ll earn that promotion eventually. There’s no question about it.” Kageyama crossed his arms. “You made it to Commander, didn’t you?” 

Hinata’s eyes fell to the floor. “Yeah…” 

“Then don’t be so worn out. You need to spend energy into thinking about what you can do, not what you can’t.” 

“It’s.” Hinata’s eyes watered. “It’s hard, though… I know you’re right… but I just… I want it.” The tears fell. “I wanted that promotion. So bad. It had my name on it!” 

Kageyama pulled him into a hug. “You deserved it.” 

“Yeah.” Hinata nodded. “I did.” 

Kageyama held him close. 






I remember thinking… well, not thinking. I remember feeling, odd about all of this. I didn’t really have the right to tell Shouyou who to date. He was eighteen, going on nineteen soon. He had the right to be with whoever he wanted, and he (despite what others might think) had a good sense of people. He could tell when people were trouble. Even when he was a teenager, he always brought home the nicest of people. 

But, I don’t know… I had my reservations about Kageyama. 

Hinata was the person who pushed Kageyama further, and Kageyama pushed Hinata even more. 

I kept wondering… what if now is not the time to push? 

What if you push now… would you break him? 

Kageyama… I wouldn’t say I disliked him at the time, but I didn’t by any chance like him either. I thought he was focused, too focused. He was narrow sighted, brash, bold, blunt (without realising). He was forward. He wasn’t good with people, didn’t catch jokes, and his worst trait was that he was ruled by his anger. 

But I was wrong. 

There was a softness to Kageyama, buried deep under his disguise of being a soldier. 

There was a part of him that was soft, and awkward, and full of… gentleness. Like the way he helped the cat out of the tree, or the way he worried about others. The flood of warmth in that one embrace sent me reeling, as though my systems would melt. 

Hinata… well. I love you, Hinata… I cared about him, worried about him. I already said this, but we’re a military family. We know we’ll send each other into trauma and warfare. But we support each other, we give love, and we’re here for each other when they need us. That’s what I wanted to give Hinata… but even if I was in his head… well… I wasn’t there for him. 

I wasn’t human. 

Or, rather… I didn’t let myself be the human he needed, the family he needed. 

There were so many barriers that I put between myself and the people I loved. I know that if Hinata hadn’t been accepted for the Mark III program… I would’ve probably treated him the same as I treated Daichi. 

At least I could give him his own choices, though, and he chose Kageyama. 

What Kageyama and I had in common – though in very different forms – was our love for Hinata. For Shouyou. 

The fact we cared about his safety, his well-being, his laugh, his smile, his jokes… Hinata doesn’t make my heart beat fast the way it does for Kageyama, but I think where Kageyama and I started getting along first was Hinata. And… well… of course… we both began to sense the descent he was going through, the descent into that feeling… the feeling of being lost in life, in madness. 

Ryuunosuke, Saeko, Nishinoya, Kinnoshita, Ennoshita… Asahi… 

These were just the most recent things Hinata had to bear. Hinata had seen many die. Like all commanding officers, Hinata had made decisions, called shots, that were mistakes, that cost human life. There were times his powers malfunctioned, times where he wasn’t enough, where Oikawa’s tactics were too sharp, too fast. Only eighteen, Hinata felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. 

Kageyama… well… Kageyama was convinced that he could become Atlas, that he too could help hold up the sky, keep it from crashing to the world below. Kageyama only saw the light, while Hinata only saw the dark. 

In the end… I guess the sky crushed them both. 

But, Kageyama trained during the day, with Hinata. At night, he consulted with Daichi and Yamaguchi over the plan with the ship. He gave team recommendations, no surprise that he offered Kindaichi, Kunimi, and Goshiki. Daichi said he would review their files, but he could make no promises at this time.
 






“I want…” Kageyama bit his lip. It was just after training, and they were both worn out. He still wasn’t able to keep up with Hinata, but he was no longer getting left behind in the dust. “I want to cook for you. Tonight.” 

“Huh.” Hinata blinked. He turned to Kageyama and tilted his head. 

“I mean. Dinner.” Kageyama glared. “Tonight.” 

“Dinner…?” Hinata’s lips tugged into a smile. “Tonight? Sure! That’s cool!” 

“Shut up.” Kageyama looked away. “Just. Come over to my place tonight, okay? I’ll give you the address…” 

“I’ve been to your house!” 

“No, that was my parent’s place.” Kageyama shuffled around in the change room. “I’m inviting you to my place.” 

“Oh!” Hinata perked up. “Okay!” 






And it was only a couple hours later, his doorbell rang. 

Kageyama had changed from his military outfit to a button-up black shirt and dark navy jeans. He walked over to the door and opened it. 

Hinata smiled, wearing a loose sleeveless shirt and a pair of sweatpants. “Oh!” He perked up. “You look nice! I feel kinda… underdressed.” 

“It’s fine.” Kageyama just pulled him in and slammed the door. “You should dress comfortably.” 

Hinata looked around as he took off his shoes. “So this is where most of the military live, huh? The dorms?” He smiled. “They’re actually just regular apartment buildings the military buys—and subsidises a part of the rent for those in service.” He smirked. “They actually just buy the ones close to the military base for emergency situations! Isn’t that sneaky?” 

Kageyama stared at him for a full minute before he aggressively messed up Hinata’s hair. 

“H-Hey!” Hinata moved out of the way. “What was that for?” 

“Nothing.” Kageyama stared. “I just missed you. Come in. Food’s ready, if you’re hungry.” 

“I’m always hungry!” 

Kageyama moved back and served two plates of food. Sugawara might have told him Hinata’s favourite food was curry that wasn’t spicy, so Kageyama had spent several hours slow cooking a coconut cream curry that was a rich sunset orange in colour. Apparently Hinata liked both tofu and chicken in his curry, so Kageyama had put both. He served it over warm slightly-toasted rice, and put it down on the table. 

Hinata gawked. “Bwa!” 

Kageyama hid his smile and served up a few more smaller bowls. One was a quick mix of chopped tomatoes, onions, and spicy peppers – to give him the kick he wanted – and the other was a tangy cream in case it was too spicy. 

Hinata looked up at Kageyama, smiling bright. 

Kageyama glared. “What!?” 

Hinata laughed and looked down at his plate, smile turning shy. “No one’s ever… made me a romantic dinner before.” 

Kageyama took a seat and he looked down. “I want you to. E-Enjoy it.” 

“I will!” Hinata chuckled. “I didn’t know you could cook… what brought this on?” 

“I want us to.” Kageyama squeezed his spoon. “Have normal dates… too.” 

Hinata looked up. “Is that… because of something I said?” 

“Yes, but.” Kageyama felt his throat tighten. “I want it too.” 

“Well… let’s eat then! It smells amazing!” 

Kageyama nodded. 

And from the first bite, Hinata made the happiest noise humanly possible. 

Kageyama let himself smile, but shoved food in his mouth so Hinata wouldn’t notice. 

“I love curry!” Hinata exclaimed, “I used to have it all the time! Auntie used to make it for my birthdays, you know?” 

Kageyama made a small noise to say he was listening. 

“That’s when I was really young, though. I forgot about it until now. What was growing up like for you? Did you have special birthday things?” 

“Hm.” Kageyama thought about it. “Papa made me ice cream and pancakes for breakfast, with three scoops of ice cream. It was good.” 

“Wow!” 

“Growing up…” Kageyama thought about it. “I just mostly spent time at the dojo or doing street performing. What was it like… growing up? For you?” 

“Oh. Hm.” Hinata thought about it. “Well, there was always a lot of people around I guess. Suga’s friends mostly. They loved me and Natsu a lot. Auntie was pretty busy back then, actually, so it was… I guess kind of like being raised by a village.” His spoon stopped. “Ryuu and Saeko were always around. They always told me not to get into trouble.” 

“Hypocrites,” Kageyama murmured. “They always got in trouble when they were kids.” 

Hinata laughed. “That doesn’t surprise me.” He added a scoop of the tangy cream to his curry and mixed it in. “Ryuunosuke… he didn’t recognise you when we met. But you recognised him.” 

“He was older,” Kageyama pointed out, “And loud. I never talked to him because he was too loud… he scared me. Saeko was nice, though. But Ryuunosuke was too loud… he’s the loudest. Noya tried to be louder than him, but Ryuu always won.” 

Hinata laughed. “Yeah! I’ve seen him get punishments from higher ups a lot, because he would take off his shirt and twirl it around.” 

Kageyama snorted. “He used to do that back then too… except he would run out of the dojo to do it, as a form of respect.” 

“Thank God he got a Mark II.” Hinata scooped a spoon into his mouth, chewing. He swallowed. “Ever since he got the suit, he can’t take his shirt off as quickly.” 

Kageyama laughed. 

Hinata did too. “So… are you good at hand to hand combat?” 

“Mm. Yeah.” 

“Wanna spar some time?” 

“We did spar, once.” 

“Huh?” Hinata thought about it. “Oh! But that was before you got your suit! We’ll be on equal footing now!” 

“You’ll still win,” Kageyama pointed out, “But it’ll be fun.” He smirked. “I’m looking forward to it.” 

Hinata grinned. 






After dinner, they moved onto the couch and snuggled up. Hinata was adamant about letting Kageyama rest his head on his chest, because he worked so hard in the kitchen, and Hinata wanted to squeeze him lots. Kageyama understood about none of that but didn’t mind resting on Hinata. Hinata was pretty warm, anyway. 

They were watching a movie, but not really paying attention. 

Kageyama looked up, resting his chin on Hinata’s chest. “Do you want to sleep over?” 

“We could have a sleepover!” 

Kageyama scowled. 

“I’m kidding!” Hinata pulled him up to kiss his forehead. “Yeah. I wanna sleep over. It was nice… sleeping next to you, on the mission, but I would prefer an actual bed this time.” 

Kageyama nodded. “Good.” He closed his eyes. “You’re warm.” 

“Warm?” 

“Very.” 

“But not too warm?” 

“No.” Kageyama shook his head. “Perfect.” 






Chapter 11: Infodex 12, Military Ranks – Officer 



Enlisted 
Private 
Corporal 
Sergeant 

Officer 
Captain 
Lieutenant 
Commander 

Sovereignty 
Third Lord 
Second Lord 
First Lord 

For more information on the Enlisted rank, see Infodex 4. 

In Shira, the Officer Rank is similar to Aoba’s CO (Commissioned Officer) rank. They are officers who’s position is confirmed by a strict government document (also known as a commission). Their pay is between Enlisted and Sovereignty. Their pay is based on a monthly salary (which is less than Sovereignty, who are salary-only), plus an additional hourly wage (which is less than Enlisted, who are hourly-only). Officers have less freedom over their duty, and are often given a specific category to work on. Examples include, but are not limited to, air fleet, ground soldier, mecha soldier, and technician. Some Officers have specialised roles for hyper-specific contributions to the war effort. All three Officer ranks are marked by three neon white chevrons (upside-down V-shaped stripes) on their shoulderguards adorned by additional symbols to show rank. 

The Officers account for 15% of Shira’s military. 

Captain – three chevrons, identical to Sergeant, but in a purple glow – is a member who has shown excellence in the role of commanding other troops. Soldiers who possess both tactical minds and physically ability higher than average are prime candidates for this rank. The duties of a Captain include signing up for missions, but also being assigned missions regularly. 53% of Officers are the Captains, 8% of the entire military. 

Lieutenant – three chevrons with a circle above, in a purple glow – is a Captain who has shown exceptional skill. The criteria for “exceptional skill” often means “calling the shots” quickly and effectively. While Lieutenant is the middle rank (the fifth in a list of nine) it is often considered the highest ranks achievable by a regular person, as it often requires a specialisation and public recognition to ascend to the Commander rank. 33% of Officers are the Lieutenants, 5% of the entire military. 

Commander – three chevrons with a circle above, as well as adorned by two wings, in a purple glow – is a fabled war hero, the Commander rank. While Lieutenant is the ceiling for a regular person, Commander is the ceiling for military promotions without the interference of politics. Commanders work closely with Main Command, and are expected to devise plans entirely on their own, as well as work closely with tacticians. There are very few limitations to what a Commander can do. However, keeping the Commander rank comes with a constant upkeep of successful missions. 13% of Officers are the Commanders, 2% of the entire military. 

For more information on the Sovereignty rank, see Infodex 25. 






Chapter 11: Act 2, Part XI 



“Can I give you guys a hand?” 

“Not really.” 

Yamaguchi, however, looked up and he suddenly brimmed a big smile. “Congratulations, Third Lord.” He put down his wrenches and stood up from what he was tinkering on. He gave a firm salute. 

Tetsurou Kuroo was quiet for a moment, before he scratched the back of his head. “I didn’t earn it.” 

Tsukishima paused for a moment. 

Yamaguchi blinked. 

“I got the promotion on a technicality,” Kuroo murmured, “Or so they say… Really, they just used the technicality to give it to me instead of the person who really deserved it.” 

“I disagree, Sir.” Yamaguchi blinked. “Your track record is fantastic, and it’s—” 

“—Not as impressive as other’s,” Kuroo cut in. 

Yamaguchi took a small breath. “Well, yeah…” He lowered his head a bit. “It’s true Hinata was first in line to get the promotion, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it. If two spots opened up, you would’ve been the second pick right away. You—” 

“Don’t waste your time on him, Tadashi.” Tsukishima adjusted the cords of a mech arm they were rebuilding. “Just leave it.” 

Kuroo made a small noise. “Harsh.” 

“Hm.” Tsukishima didn’t look away from his machine as a small smirk grew on his lips. “I thought you liked it that way.” 

Yamaguchi turned back to the machine and began again his repairs. 

Kuroo put his hands on his hips. “Well, can I lend you a hand anyway? I thought you were supposed to be revising plans for Daichi.” 

“Oh.” Yamaguchi looked up. “I already finished that.” 

Tsukishima scoffed. “Don’t you have duties to get to, Third Lord?” 

“Well.” Kuroo sighed. “No…? I mean. I’m going to get duties eventually, but nothing yet. It’s still transitioning. I haven’t even set up my new office yet. Can you believe that? I get an office. It’s weird as hell to think about? Like… I’ve been in the military all this time. I shouldn’t be excited about an office, but now I’ve got somewhere to like… put pictures and stuff.” 

Tsukishima glanced at him, frowning. 

Kuroo sighed. “Stop scanning my biorhythm.” 

Yamaguchi looked up. “Tsukki.” 

Tsukishima looked away, huffing. 

Yamaguchi went back to repairs. “I’m glad you’re happy, Third Lord.” 

Kuroo smiled at that. “At least one of you is nice.” 

“Hm.” Tsukishima smirked. “You should hear Tadashi when he stops his good boy act. He can get downright mean with some of his comments.” 

“Tsukki!” 

“Well, no wonder you keep him around!” Kuroo laughed. “I was wondering why you became friends with such a good kid.” 

“We’re not friends.” 

Yamaguchi smiled as he said, “Yes we are, Tsukki!” 

“Shut up, Tadashi.” 






When Hinata and Kageyama awoke, they had breakfast together – which consisted of a lot of yelling, as Kageyama’s usual calm and careful routine was shattered. Instead of delicately cracking the eggs on the side of the pan, Hinata liked to just throw it in the pan and pick out the eggshells. Instead of timing the black tea in the hot water, Hinata liked to repeatedly dunk it in and out, which ruined its flavour. Instead of using the stove properly, Hinata liked to yell, “Ignite!” 

Kageyama threw him back in the bedroom until breakfast was remade, properly this time. 

But after breakfast, and a few too many kisses, they eventually decided to spar.
 






Hinata’s punch hit Kageyama’s defensive stance once, twice. Hinata blurred backwards and kicked off the ground, spinning a whirling kick to break that annoying guard. 

Kageyama was pushed back, but he threw his arms up – he did a backwards handstand and flipped over, putting space between them, dodging the expected next strike in the process. 

They both raised their fists, eyeing each other. 

“You’re not bad,” Hinata said between heavy breaths. 

Kageyama smirked. “You too.” 

The students at the dojo watched, eyes wide. They had front row seats to see two suited up Mark III users spar—a battle that was so fierce and quick, it sometimes made them feel dizzy just to watch. 

Kageyama moved forward, going for a palm strike. 

Hinata blocked, but winced as the attack hit. “Ngnh.” He jumped back. “Your attacks are getting way more brutal!” 

Kageyama smirked. He followed his attack with another open palm strike, then a swift kick to break Hinata’s form, and he ended on a chop strike on Hinata’s midsection. 

“Agh!” Hinata glared. Tired of getting pushed around. His suit ejected a small jut of steam and he rushed forward, aiming to knee Kageyama in the chest. 

Kageyama brought up his block, but was pushed back from the sheer force. “You’re just raw power! You have no form!” 

“Well sorry I haven’t been at a dojo for twenty years!” Hinata followed it up with another spinning kick. 

Kageyama was sent flying—and he hit the ground with a roll, well past the ring-out line. 

“Raw power is good sometimes!” Hinata said in a laugh. He hopped around on his feet, hands still up. “You gotta learn how to block better!” 

“Ngh.” Kageyama forced himself up and glared at the floor. “It won’t be enough… either of us.” 

Hinata blinked. “Huh…?” 

“You have all the power I wish I had…” Kageyama looked up. “I have more skill and coordination, though… but the Tanakas… they have both. Even if we’re Mark IIIs, they’ll make quick work of us.” 

Hinata’s eyes narrowed and unfocused. He stopped bouncing. “Yeah…” 

“You should learn more martial arts,” Kageyama said simply, “They’re made for little people anyway.” 

“L-Little people!?” Hinata crouched low, in attack mode. “What did I say about making fun of my height!?” 

“I’m not making fun of your height!” Kageyama also took his stance. “Martial arts was made by the little guys, to take down the big guys!” His stance relaxed and he focused. “It’s not just power, it’s tactics… Ryuunosuke… when we saw him, I saw it… his fighting style is a lot more tactical than it looks.” 

Hinata lowered his guard. “Yeah?” 

Kageyama crossed the distance and kicked him hard. 

“Bwa!” 

Kageyama smirked. 

Hinata landed, just barely safe of the ring-out line. “Hey! If you wanna play dirty, then Igni—Ow!” 

Kageyama smirked, silently thanking Suga. 

Hinata pouted. “Well, maybe I need to get your dad to teach me stuff.” 

“Hm?” 

“With my paycheck, I can convince him!” Hinata clasped his hands together. “Even if he doesn’t like me!” 

Kageyama tilted his head. 

“I was, uh, thinking about what you said! To me. About focusing on what I can do.” Hinata smiled. “Who cares if I didn’t make it to Third Lord? I need to take down the Tanaka twins and Nishinoya. Them, and of course Kinoshita and Ennoshita, are the core of Kara. Once they’re down, the whole thing goes boom! So I’ll focus on this, and not other things.” 

Kageyama nodded. He opened his mouth, but paused when his phone began to ring. He took it out of his pocket and brought it to his ear. “Hello?” 

“Sergeant,” came Yamaguchi’s voice, “We’ll be finalising the plan really soon… We were wondering if you’d like to meet with us to go over it?” 

“Yeah.” Kageyama nodded, glancing to Hinata. “I’ll bring the Commander with me.” 






Kageyama ducked his head under the hot showers of the dojo. As much as he talked about the lack of money in the slums, Kageyama was thankful the dojo always seemed to have hot water – unlike the military barracks. But, then again, the amount of people who used the public military barracks were much much much higher. He didn’t think about it too much, though, as he was distracted by the feel of eyes on him. “Stop that!” 

Hinata, showering next to him, bumped his hip against Kageyama’s. “What? I can look! We’re boyfriends.” 

“Shut up!” 

“We did the diddly do,” Hinata said with a smile, “The rubbidy rub.” 

“Please.” Kageyama put his hands to the side of his head. “Stop.” 

Hinata pouted. “Is it making you uncomfortable?” 

Kageyama blushed. “No, I’m just.” He closed his eyes. “I’m trying to get into Sergeant mode,” he explained, “I was handed this promotion because of my suit… and I need to ascertain to the military that I can do it.” He focused and took a deep breath, hearing only the sound of the running water. 

Hinata smacked his ass. 

“Gya—!” 

The smack, and the yell, reverberated in the public showers. 

Kageyama shot Hinata a glare. 

Hinata giggled, overflowing with laughter, before he shut his shower off and ran away to dry off and get changed. 

Kageyama wanted to be filled with anger, but… His lips tugged into a smile. His ass stung, and he winced at that, but he was more focused on the way Hinata laughed, so… honest, so sincere. It wasn’t like Hinata’s usual fake smiles. Kageyama closed his eyes, knowing he should focus on getting into the Sergeant mindset, but what he did instead was visualise Hinata’s face, remember the sound of the laugh… 

He wanted to remember that forever. 






Kageyama met Daichi and Yamaguchi in Main Command, Hinata following just behind. Kageyama was finally starting to get comfortable in Main Command, kind of. He kept wanting to look over and see what people were doing—like Shirabu, or Iwaizumi, or Tsukishima—but he focused on other things. He focused on what was at hand. 

“Alright.” Daichi looked him right in the eye. “Kara’s operation is happening soon, very soon. We managed to tap into their radio control, a couple times.” 

“Hm.” Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “It could be trap.” 

“Absolutely,” Yamaguchi agreed. “That’s why it’s super important you do not launch your team until after it’s been boarded. Kara is going to infiltrate from below, the lower sectors. Those are less guarded. Your team is going to have to board from above the bridge. There is an entryway on the roof… the problem is that the roof is very well guarded.” 

“There are several turrets,” Daichi explained. “Whether it’s rocket launchers or Mark III abilities, you will need to take them out, and get your team onto that ship.” His eyes drifted to the side. “The Commander will have his own team… Including himself, we expect it to be either a squad of two or three. We haven’t finalised those details yet, but he has his own tasks. That needs to be confidential as of now.” 

Kageyama nodded. “Understood.” 

“We…” Daichi bit his lip. “We also believe they’re sending at least one officer. They’re using codenames, and they change the codenames often, but it may be either Ryuunosuke Tanaka or Yuu Nishinoya… I understand you’ve met them both already.” 

“Yes.” Kageyama nodded again. “They were both more interested in the Commander than me.” 

Hinata huffed. “It’s an important mission… we can’t expect anyone else besides Tanaka or Noya… maybe Saeko.” 

Yamaguchi nodded. “It’s important we find out their objective, their goal, and any other additional information. Sergeant, stealth is usually not easy when you’re destroying turrets from the sky, but if there’s a firefight already going on with Kara, you may be able to use the confusion to your advantage.” 

“Right.” Kageyama thought about it. “Stealth is possible… though I suppose we’ll have to move quickly—in case Kara wants to blow up the airship.” 

Daichi glanced at Yamaguchi. 

Yamaguchi met Daichi’s look and gave a nervous smile. 

Kageyama tilted his head. 

Hinata just whispered, “Oh my God…” 

Daichi took a deep breath. “Actually, Kageyama… you will be the one blowing up the ship.” 

Kageyama stiffened. 

“The Inarizaki is a huge asset to Aoba, and it will be an incredible loss. The ship has always been at the front of their military might, and now that Aoba is a sky fortress… warships are even more invaluable for their defense. On the other hand, we may take out many Kara units, and disrupt whatever they’re planning to do too. The last missing piece, really, is the escape route.” 

Yamaguchi nodded. “We’ve found four possible escape routes already… but the bomb and mix of Kara and Aoba soldiers may make some of them impossible due to circumstance, so, er. It’s important that all your troops memorise the blueprints of the ship, and have the escape routes well known. It’s… it’s definitely a complex ship.” 

Kageyama felt his phone ping and he opened it. A hologram of the ship in question made his eyes widen. “This is…” 

“A multi-layered, highly-functional flying warship.” Daichi’s eyes narrowed. “We can’t let Kara have it, and we can’t let Aoba keep it. It has to go down.” 

Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll study it down to the last detail.” 

Yamaguchi laughed. “If you can, that will be great.” 

“I’ll have it done.” Kageyama nodded. He closed his phone. “Is that all?” 

“Yes. Dismissed.” 






Hinata never liked walking around the military base after hours. Everything was dark, and the path to Main Command was difficult. He had authorisation to get to Main Command, and he even had the request that would signify him being allowed to enter at this time… but, still. If one wanted to keep something secret from their enemies, they had to keep it secret from allies too. 

Hinata slipped into Main Command, silently, and stepped forward. “Dai.” 

Daichi glanced over his shoulder. There was only the dim blue light of one computer on at this time. “Thanks for coming, at such a time.” 

Hinata nodded. “It’s fine. You know me – I always liked sneaking out.” 

Daichi laughed a little. His eyes softened and he glanced to the computer. “How’s Suga?” 

Hinata wondered how to word it, knowing Suga was definitely listening in. “He misses you.” 

“I know.” Daichi closed his eyes. “I miss him too.” 

“Daichi… if you talk to him—” 

“We need to go over your side of the mission.” Daichi glanced at Hinata and shifted in stance. “Remember, you have different orders, and your task is separate. You need to keep this information from Kageyama.” 

Hinata scrunched up his face like a used napkin. “I don’t like the sound of this…” 

“It’s not that bad,” Daichi assured, “And you’ll be working alongside your old partner, too.” 

Hinata’s face softened, and he actually smiled. “Okay, I’m suddenly more interested.” He stepped forward and put a hand on his hip. “What’s the plan? What am I doing?” 

Daichi huffed. “Well…” 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 12: Act 2, Part XII 



 It would have been weird to call her Hinata… because, mentally, that name was taken. Dumbass was another possibility, but that too had also been taken… by the same person, no less. So, Kageyama grit his teeth, and mumbled out, “Natsu.” 

 He was not sure how she would respond to him using her first name. 

 Natsu looked up at him, face scrunched up like a used napkin. 

 Kageyama felt the beginning of a never-ending staring contest, and Sugawara was not providing him with any input on how best to navigate it. Deciding to play it safe, he took a deep breath. “What are you doing here?” He crossed his arms. “This is a military zone—you shouldn’t be here without an adult.” 

 “Shut up, you ugly monster!” Natsu stomped her feet and crossed his arms, mirroring him. “And Shouyou’s in the other room! I just…” 

 Kageyama bristled. He offered his hand. “Come on.” 

 “No! You didn’t shower!” 

 “I did shower!” Kageyama snapped, “I showered twice today!” 

 “Twice!?” 

 “Because I worked out! So I was sweating a lot! I take care of myself!” 

 “Showering twice! That’s wasting water!” Natsu stomped her feet again, flailing her arms. “You’re gross!” 

 “Shut up and give me your stupid hand!” 

 “My hand isn’t stupid, monster!” 

 “Agh!” Kageyama raised his hands, shaking them at the heavens. “Fine!” He also stomped his feet. “What do you want!?” 

 “I wanted!” Natsu suddenly paused, eyes drifting to the side. “I wanted… to talk to you…” 

 Kageyama tilted his head. 

 “Stop making ugly faces!” 

 “You little—” 

 “I wanted!” Natsu puffed up her chest before whispering, “I wanted… to say!” She lowered her head. “Shouyou… was really sad… and it was scary… but… you talked to him, and you fixed him. He’s happy again now… so…” She lowered her head further. “Thank you.” 

 Kageyama felt his jaw tighten and a little noise barely escaped him. 

 Natsu kept her head down. 

 “It’s.” He swallowed hard. “It’s fine. He was being dumb.” 

 “He was.” Natsu rubbed her arm. “It was scary… he was… really sad.” 

 “People…” Kageyama looked away. “People have to be sad sometimes too.” 

 Natsu looked up at him. 

 “It’s not always about making people happy, it’s—” 

 “Natsu!” Hinata ran into the room and grabbed her, throwing her up and kissing her face. “Don’t run away from me! I was so scared!” 

 Natsu shoved her hands to push Hinata’s face away. 

 Kageyama grumbled, “Brats. Both of you.” 

 Hinata turned to face him, smiling bright. “Kageyama! You’re here too! Who are you calling a brat? Natsu? No!” He turned to her and smiled as he moved her to rest on his arm. “She’s my princess!” 

 Natsu smiled bright. 

 Hinata laughed. “But you are kind of a brat!” 

 Natsu threw her arms in the air, smiling. “I’m a brat!” 

 “Yes you are!” 

 “Yes I am!” 

 Kageyama let out a long sigh. “Commander.” 

 Hinata shifted at the title and glanced at him, eyes becoming serious. “What’s up?” 

 “What.” Kageyama shifted. “What are you doing here?” 

 “Huh? I’m going for a walk with Natsu.” He smiled bright. “They asked me to stop by for something or another. I wasn’t really paying attention. What are you up to?” 

 “Preparing.” Kageyama grit his teeth. “For our mission today.” 

 “Geez, you’re taking this seriously, huh?” 

 “Commander!” 

 Hinata laughed. “No, no, it’s good. It’s your first time leading, huh?” His eyes had a small glint. “And I bet you want to prove to everyone you’re capable, huh? Since I gave your friends their own squads when you were part of the program, but not you.” 

 Kageyama just glared. 

 Natsu looked between them, tilting her head after a while. 

 Hinata smiled. “Don’t stress! We’ve got our mission, yeah, but it won’t happen for another few hours. We have the morning off for a reason… It’s good to go over the mission, double-check your equipment, but you gotta relax too. If all you do is think about the mission, then you’re not really resting. You’re gonna wear out your mind, so. I don’t know. It’s good to do fun things and spend time with people on your time off.” 

 Kageyama frowned, but not at Hinata specifically. “I…” 

 Hinata tilted his head. 

 “I guess I didn’t think of it that way…” Kageyama’s shoulders tensed. “When I saw Kindaichi and Kunimi… we mostly talked about the war… so…” 

 “You gotta relax.” Hinata turned to Natsu. “It’s Kageyama’s first time leading a super important mission.” 

 Natsu gasp. “But he’s dumb! You could get hurt!” She snapped her head at him. “If you hurt Shouyou, I’m gonna hurt you!” 

 “I won’t hurt Shouyou!” 

 “Promise me!” 

 “I promise! You little—” Kageyama’s whole body twitched. “Brat!” 

 “Aww.” Hinata smiled. “I’ve got my two favourite people looking out for me.” 

 Kageyama blinked, looking at him. His eyes softened for a moment. 

 “Wait!” Natsu gasped even louder. “Monster is your fav’!?” 

 “Of course! He’s my boyfriend!” He moved to kiss her forehead. 

 Natsu shoved her fingers up his nose. 

 “Ow ow ow!” 

 “You’re both gross!” 






Kageyama – he felt nervous, but I think also… empowered? It kept going through his mind: This was his first time really doing something on this scale. If he were to mess up… well, that would damage his reputation and cause a huge setback. If he were to succeed, then he would be handed more opportunities, and each opportunity opened the doors for others like it. 

 If he succeeded, his ascent through the ranks would be solidified. 

 The time eventually came for Kageyama to meet his team… but, just before that… there was something I needed to show Kageyama. I asked him if I could pull him into my mind, and he… well… he hesitated of course, but he agreed firmly in the end. 

 So, I pulled him in…
 



 “Happy New Year!” 

 The sound of glasses clinking together echoed in the small room. 

 Kageyama blinked as he was forced to see the scene. 

 Daichi leaned over, kissed him on the mouth. 

This is your point of view, I assume? 

Yes.
 

 Daichi cupped his face. “Happy New Year, Koushi.” 

 Kageyama saw from Sugawara’s eyes as he took Daichi’s hands, interweaving their fingers. “Happy New Year.” 

 “Oi!” A woman kicked the big round table from the other side. “Daichi! When are you going to step up your game and stop drinking girly stuff?” She popped a beer open with her teeth. “Come get the good stuff.” 

 Daichi blushed a bit as he grabbed his drink – Sugawara’s memory telling Kageyama it was sweet, despite being alcoholic, and strawberry-melon flavoured. “This is what I like.” He shrugged. 

 “Let him drink what he wants!” Ryuunosuke Tanaka yelled at her, “Gender is a construct!” 

 “So the idiots understand philosophy now…” Tsukishima gave a long sigh. “Why am I here?” 

 Akiteru just laughed and nudged him. 

 There was a small, “Is my drink girly…?” 

 “Asahi!” Noya slammed his hands on the table, causing him to scream. “Everyone can drink what they want! Follow your heart! And add another shot!” 

 “U-Um!” Hinata spo— 

 Kageyama attention focused on Hinata. 

 He was younger, maybe fifteen, and he had a huge smile on his face as he said. “Can I have a drink?” 

 The woman grinned. “Sure Tabby!” 

 “Saeko,” Sugawara said in a sweet sing-song voice, “If you want to be the one to explain to Auntie tomorrow why Tabby came home drunk…” 

 Saeko visibly paled for a moment, as did most people at the table. “Maybe next year!” 

 Hinata gave a small, “Aww…” 

 Tsukishima pushed his glass – a bright green drink that was almost empty – towards him. “Auntie can take me out if she wants,” he murmured, “Then I won’t have to be here with the rest of you next year too.” 

 Akiteru yelled, “Kei!” 

 Hinata chugged the drink. 

 Daichi gasped. 

 Sugawara, on the other hand, just laughed. 

 “Shouyou!” Noya, suddenly on the other side of the table, messed up his hair in a tackle-hug from behind. “You’re a man now! I’m so proud of you!” 

 Asahi opened his mouth, making a questioning sound, before deciding to not say anything. He sipped his bright purple drink instead. 

 Sugawara laughed louder, as did Hinata. 



 Kageyama opened his eyes. 

 The stillness of the hallway resounded in a crystalline ring. 

 Kageyama looked around, looking at his hands to confirm he was back in his body. You… you were all friends. 

More. We were family. Do you understand? 

 I think so.
 






 Kageyama walked into the briefing room, finding himself the last to arrive. He asked Sugawara the time, and Suga assured him he wasn’t late—everyone else was just early. He saluted them, and they saluted him in return. He glanced at his team and fought back the urge to smirk. 

 Kunimi gave a small sly smile, while Kindaichi grinned wide. 

 Goshiki was bouncing on his feet. 

 Kageyama recognised the rest of the team members and glanced to Hinata. 

 “Well, we decided, your first mission… we should put the old team back together.” Hinata grinned. “Everyone here is from the Mark III program, and they will be under your lead.” 

 “With a few exceptions, and additions,” came a tired voice. Third Lord Tsukishima adjusted the wrist-lock of his cyborg arm and glanced up. “I will be joining you for the mission, Sergeant, but I will be on Hinata’s squad.” 

 “Kei!” Hinata jumped at him. “We’re working together again!” 

 “Get off me!” 

 “A-And,” came another voice, “I will also be joining you guys.” 

 Kageyama glanced over. 

 “I’m not sure if we’ve been properly introduced,” he told everyone, “But I’m Captain-Specialised Tadashi Yamaguchi. I work with Main Command, under Lieutenant-Specialised Daichi Sawamura—the Emperor’s tactician.” He hugged his datapad close to him and glanced at Kageyama. “I’ll be working with the Mark III system to advise you on the best route, and to keep everyone updated. Sergeant, should you need a leader for a second team, Lieutenant-Specialised asked you to use me for that purpose.” 

 Kageyama nodded. “It’s good to have you.” 

 Goshiki just squirmed as he mumbled, “Main Command…” 

 Kindaichi put his hands on his hips and looked up. “I’ve been there. Once.” 

 Goshiki spun and made an inhuman noise. “Y-You!” 

 Kunimi hummed. “Kageyama told me you almost pissed yourself…” 

 “H-Hey!” 

 “That is fair!” Goshiki assured, “The seat of the Emperor is a sight beyond our small Private minds! It is the greatest! The best! The most fantastic—” 

 “You’ve all read the briefing memo,” Kageyama cut in, “So I’ll keep this meeting short.” 

 They all turned to him, giving him their full attention. 

 “We’re all to be on standby for the next couple of hours. We have reason to believe, near sunset, Kara will attempt to hijack an Aoba airship. Our team is to get on that ship.” He crossed his arms. “Our goal at this moment is unclear, our methods are open, but time is limited. We need to quickly figure out what Kara is up to, how Aoba is retaliating, and in the midst of it all… we’re planting a bomb before we escape.” 

 A few people stiffened. 

 “You were all asked to revise the four escape routes,” Kageyama reminded, “I would do so again even if you have already. Be ready when needed. This mission… despite being big, will be using standard protocol. We have established a secure radio channel for us to use. Keep communicating. Nobody gets left behind, understand?” 

 There were several nods. 

 “We won’t have a way to locate each other, as we’re turning off all satellite and positioning systems to enhance our stealth abilities. If you need to blow our cover, let us know immediately.” He glanced to Hinata and Tsukishima. “The Commander and Third Lord are part of our mission, but they have been assigned their own objectives. We will be working with them and assisting them, but expect them to break away and rejoin us later. Any questions?” 

 “Uh.” Kindaichi’s shoulders locked when people glanced at him. “Um. How exactly are we going to be stealthy when we’re dropping on the roof of their ship? That thing has turrets, right?” 

 “We’re going to be… late to the party.” Kageyama cocked his head a bit. “The firefight will already have started between Kara and Aoba… it’s possible they’ll notice us, but it’s possible they won’t. We’re going to use the confusion to our advantage.” 

 “Right, so.” Kindaichi frowned. “On one hand, it’ll be easier to determine what Kara’s up to, because they’ll already be doing it… on the other hand, if they’re in for a quick job, we might get stuck.” 

 Kageyama nodded. “It is a relatively simple mission in theory… but a thousand things can go wrong. We need to be ready for everything. We need to be cautious, and vigilant.” 

 Tsukishima smirked. “Just think of it as another day in the Mark III program.” 

 Hinata gawked. “I wasn’t that bad!” 

 Kunimi just glanced at him. “You kind of were.” 

 “Hey!” 

 “Moving on,” Kageyama interrupted. “We’ll need snipers and rocket launchers. Inform me of your weapon loadouts as soon as possible, so I can see if we’re missing anything… but. We have been asked to… take care not to do unnecessary damage to the Inarizaki. Even if it’s going to blow up. The Emperor would not be pleased with a messy job on our part.” 

 Goshiki whispered, “The Emperor…” 

 “Be ready to take off at any moment.” Kageyama saluted them. “Hangar Four.” 






 Kageyama watched them leave one by one, going in their directions with the new information. He followed one of them and merely said, “Hinata,” as soon as they were in a quiet hallway. 

 Hinata glanced behind him. “Oh, hey Kags. What’s up?” 

 Kageyama walked up to him and paused for a moment. “Suga…” He bit his lip, looking away. “Suga showed me a memory… I just. Do.” He looked at him. “Do you think you can really fight against your old friends?” 

 Hinata turned to face him fully. “Yeah.” He nodded. “I’m prepared to. I’ve always been.” 

 “No. You’ve been holding back.” 

 Hinata bit his lip. “I…” 

 Kageyama stared at him, eyes firm. “As the mission lead—” 

 “I’ll do it.” Hinata nodded. “You’re right… all this time, I’ve been holding back. But that. Ends. Now. Kageyama… I have to do it. For Natsu, for Suga, for you.” 

 Kageyama’s cheeks burned and he murmured, “Idiot.” 

 “Ah! There we go.” Hinata burst into a smile and he put his hands on his hips. “You sounded all weird when you were talking about the mission.” 

 Kageyama blinked. “What does that mean?” 

 “I mean it was pretty good, it was all commanding officer tone like, but it didn’t sound like you.” 

 “What does that even mean!?” Kageyama frowned. “Was it good or not!?” 

 “It was!” Hinata laughed. “Don’t worry! It’s just…” He put his hands on Kageyama’s shoulders. “You’re nervous, aren’t you?” 

 Kageyama shut his eyes and took a shaky breath. “My stomach feels, all queasy…” 

 “It’s pretty scary, huh?” 

 “Yeah.” 

 Hinata grinned. “Do you want to take something?” 

 “I’ll be okay, I think.” Kageyama opened his eyes. “Just… pre-mission jitters. Or something.” 

 “I used to get them too.” 

 “Used to…?” 

 “Oh yeah! My tummy would hurt! I went to the bathroom a lot and my body felt all weak and wobbly! I don’t get them anymore, though, just got used to it.” 

 “No wonder,” Kageyama murmured, “You’re so relaxed all the time.” 

 Hinata nodded. “You’re doing great, Kags. Don’t worry, okay?” 

 Kageyama took a deep breath. “I’ll try not to.” 

 Hinata laughed again, and it sounded like music to Kageyama. 






I don’t think Kageyama appreciated how rare it was, for Hinata to laugh like that. I think… I think it was because Hinata was always laughing, always smiling, when Kageyama was around. To Kageyama… Hinata being happy was like the sun being warm. It was just a part of being, a regular part of existence. But for those who could see Hinata slowly dying… for me, who could see his neuronal activity reaching the point of no return… 

 To us, that would have been something divine. 

 To Kageyama… it was just normal. I didn’t have the heart to tell him. 

 But, eventually they were called in… and the mission began.
 






 The Black Hawk left Hangar Four at an alarming speed. Kageyama was surprised to see Matsukawa and Hanamaki, especially since the ship was Ushijima’s personal military ship, but they explained the stealth and speed of the Black Hawk was the only ship capable of such a wild mission. Several members of the team were sitting on the seats that lined the walls, while others were leaning over the display table at the centre of the ship’s loading bay. 

 Kageyama held the bomb in his hand. It was tiny, really… It fit in his palm with ease. 

 “Pretty scary, huh?” Yamaguchi smiled as he walked up. “It can be held by only a single person, and take the whole ship down.” 

 “Yeah.” Kageyama curled his palm around it. “But it needs to be put specifically in the main bridge.” 

 “Right.” Yamaguchi opened his mouth to speak, but— 

”We’re nearing the enemy airship,” Hanamaki spoke through the intercom, ”All units prepare yourselves. And also—hold on. They’re going to fire at us.” 

 Yamaguchi yelped as the ship spun to the side. 

 Tsukishima reached out, grabbing him. “Tadashi.” 

 “Sorry Tsukki!” 

 Kageyama spoke up, “Give us a visual.” 

 The table at the centre of the room shot up few holographic screens. 

 The Inarizaki was a long airship with a flared head, a thin neck, and a large rounded body. It had no wings or propellers, instead using the plasma jets on the rear and sides to gain altitude. The lowest point of the ship looked like it was on fire, while the turrets at the top of the ship all turned towards the Black Hawk. 

 “All units,” Kageyama ordered, “Get strapped in. Open the hangar! Get us in as close as you can!” 

”No problem.” 

 The door opened, and wind surged loud and bright into the room. The turrets were firing. 

 “Wrong!” Hinata yelled, “Big problem! There’s a static shield! Our missiles won’t hit the top of the ship!” 

”We’ll have to attack from a distance, anyway,” Hanamaki mumbled, ”Find a way to weaken it. We can dodge their gunfire, but too long and not even Kara can distract them from us.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. Suga— 

I’m with you.
 

 Kageyama nodded. “Get us in closer!” He kicked away from the table and began running down the hangar. With a flick of his wrists, several chords shot out, anchoring him to the walls on the left and right. The fluid gushed into his suit, shining ocean blue filled each joint. He took in a deep breath. 

 Electricity zapped at the walls, causing a few soldiers to yell in surprise. 

 It focused in Kageyama’s suit. 

 The ship began to rattle from the energy. 

 Lightning shot out from the hangar, blasting the shield and breaking it with enough force that several turrets exploded. 

 But more turrets kept shooting. 

 Kageyama pulled the chords away, save for one, bringing him close to a wall. 

 “That gave me an idea!” Hinata grinned. “Takehiro! You guys have a harpoon on this thing, right?” 

”Uh… do we, Mattsun?” 

 “I think we do, Maki…”
 

 “Shoot it!” 

 A harpoon shot out from the ship, piercing into the top of the Inarizaki. The chord was thick and made of twisting rope. 

 Hinata looked at Kageyama, “All we gotta do is—wait!” 

 Kageyama threw himself off the ship. He did a flip in the air as he surged downwards. Another two whips of lightning came blasting out of his suit, and he felt his systems lock up in defiance. He was pushing his limit already—however—he watched as two more turrets were taken out. 

 “Ignite!” 

 Kageyama spun, not watching to see which one Hinata took out. He angled his body perfectly, and his boots landed on the tethered rope of the harpoon, sparks shot out from the friction, but he lowered his knees and began racing towards the ship. 

 “Fucking acrobat!” 

 Kageyama just smirked. He jumped up and landed on the roof of the Inarizaki. He pulled out his plasma blade and cut the tethered cord, knowing it was lowering the Black Hawk’s mobility. Four turrets left. Suga— 

I’m with you, but you only have enough to take down three, but watch it: You need to keep yourself ready for the rest of the mission too.
 

 “Ignite!” 

 Two more turrets were taken out, and the smoke clouded the aiming systems of the last two. 

 The Black Hawk dropped down, hangar open, and Kindaichi fired a rocket launcher, as did another member. The two rockets sailed through the air and hit the last two turrets. 

 Everyone hopped out and the Black Hawk soared back in the sky. 

 “Alright!” Kageyama faced forward, but addressed them through their voice channel. “We’re in. Not a smooth entrance, but let’s get moving! Now!” 






 As soon as they entered the ship, a few grenades took out the frantic soldiers who didn’t even know the ship had been boarded from above. Yamaguchi pulled out his datapad and his visor scanned the area around him. He informed the team another squad was coming, but if they moved quickly they could slip past. 

 Kageyama ordered them to move. 

 And they did. 

 Kageyama scoffed. His worry about not being able to be stealthy was turning out to be a joke. “There’s chaos everywhere.” 

 “Kara hit them good,” Kunimi pointed out, “But that only helps us in this context.” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 Several parts of the ship went dark, only illuminated by accidental fires that had broken out during the fighting. 

 “Stay together!” Kageyama called out, “It would be too easy to lose people, we—” His suit reacted. 

 A cloaked figure dropped down, bow and arrow in hand. “Hey Shouyou!” 

 “Cover!” Kageyama yelled, and they scattered as an explosive arrow burst flame where they were once standing. Kageyama landed on his side, grunting, but forced himself to his feet. Can you augment my weapons? Like Hinata? With his fire bullets? 

Not at this time, no. It would take time to develop combinations that would work with the particles inside plasma filamentation or bullets.
 

 Kageyama heard another explosion. He closed his eyes. Using his ears, the Mark III displayed a wide radius of the battlefield around him. He listened, and listened. He could hear gunshots. Goshiki yelling out from surprise, Kindaichi’s rifle, Kunimi’s pistol… He heard a sound he didn’t recognise, but the system told him it was Tsukishima’s weapon. 

 But a new sound— 

 Metal rods, the tug of bowstring— 

 Kageyama spun around and lashed out a blue arc—it struck at the speed of light, but Kageyama was still able to see the glimpse of fear on Nishinoya’s face as his arrow exploded and sent him flying. “Let’s go!” He began running, and they all followed. After a few moments, his ears twitched. 

The Third Lord and the Commander have disengaged from your squad. 

 Noted.
 Kageyama kept running as the sound of gunfire and explosions roared around them. They were still mostly in the darkness, but he could see a group of Aoba soldiers up ahead. He gave the signal. 

 Goshiki and Kindaichi charged ahead, plasma swords in hands. 

 The unit was gone. 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “If we keep going this way, we’ll reach the main bridge in just a couple of minutes!” 

 “Sergeant!” Yamaguchi spoke up. His datapad was blinking. 

 Kageyama let Sugawara flood his mind. Thermal scans were showing a large amount of people ahead. His memory of the side routes became crystal clear for a moment and he said. “This way!” 

 They came across an empty room, which was directly to the side of the main bridge. A few people caught their breath, reloaded their weapons. 

 Kageyama looked around. “We need a distraction if we’re going to get in there.” 

 “Hm.” Kindaichi looked up. “Leave it to me, man.” 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 “I can cause an explosion on the east side. That’s where some of the generators are… if they think Kara’s trying to take out the generators…” 

 Kageyama thought about it. “You’ll need to blow something up to make it believable. Kunimi.” 

 “Right.” Kunimi smirked. “When someone wants something blown up… they always ask me.” 

 “This is not my place to assert my opinion,” Goshiki spoke up, “But that is not a great reputation to have…” 

 “Private Kindaichi,” Kageyama interrupted. “Corporal Kunimi will cause a distraction, I want you to guard him—keep him safe until his plan works.” 

 Kindaichi’s cheeks reddened. “Yes Sir!” 

 Kunimi said nothing. 

 Kageyama just murmured, “Go.” 

 They left. 

 Kageyama’s hand tightened around his titanium handgun. 

It’s scary, isn’t it…? Sending soldiers off to a mission… knowing they might not come back. 

 I’ve… never felt something so heavy. 

It doesn’t get easier… but you learn to expect it.
 

 Kageyama said nothing. 

 “Ah!” Yamaguchi yelped suddenly. “I got it!” 

 Kageyama glanced over. 

 “Only a bit, but. Some of the camera feed inside the sh—” Yamaguchi’s eyes widened. “Oh crap!” 

 Kageyama frowned. “Report, Captain.” 

 “I-I…” Yamaguchi looked up. “Kindaichi and Kunimi, the people they’re luring away isn’t Aoba, it’s Kara – and there’s an enemy officer.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “Tanaka?” 

 “Ryuunosuke Tanaka.” 

 “I figured…” Kageyama glanced down. “Tanaka and Nishinoya…” 

 “You sound like you know them.” 

 “Not really. We should—” 

 The ship rocked from an explosion. 

”Yo,” came a voice on their channel, ”This is Corporal Kunimi. We set off the explosion. You’re clear.” 

 “Kindaichi here! We might have caused ourselves some trouble though…”
 

 “Kara,” Kageyama spoke up, “I know. You should—” 

”Hinata is coming to assist you himself!” 

 “Moron,”
 Tsukishima’s voice cut in, ”Don’t refer to yourself in third person… Sergeant, we’re heading their direction. We will provide them assistance. You can continue your mission as is.” 

 Kageyama stood up. “The opposing force has an enemy commander, Ryuunosuke Tanaka. Our orders are not to engage.” 

”Yeah,” Hinata said, ”Got it. Loud and clear, now over and out ‘cause I got some shooting to do!” 

 “Don’t miss.” Kageyama asked his suit to turn off his microphone, and it did. “Let’s go!” 

 Yamaguchi put his datapad away, hooking it to his hip, and pulled out his handgun. He fired a few times as they advanced. “They left a few people by the bridge, but nobody important!” 

 Kageyama shot a soldier and frowned. He wondered what it was like, to be called not important to their face, before they were shot. He didn’t let himself go down that train of thought, and moved to the bridge. He took out the rest of the Aoba soldiers. Most of them were crew, pilots and ship engineers, not soldiers, but he couldn’t let himself be sympathetic now. They signed up to be on a war vessel, and war was what they got. 

 Yamaguchi grabbed the bomb and moved to the centre of the bridge. He pulled away one of the tiles and revealed a socket where a few orbs of pure plasma were powering the machines below. He used a plasma knife to slash at the orbs, making them burst like yolk over the wiring, causing minor sparks but nothing too dangerous. 

 “Set it up as fast as you can.” Kageyama turned around and faced the door. “There’s only one exit in this room, so all guns on the exit.” There were sounds of people running towards the bridge and Kageyama’s finger curled slowly around the trigger. His eyes widened. “Wait!” 

 Their units froze. 

 Bursting into the room, Hinata led the charge, followed by Kindaichi and Kunimi. “Hey! Don’t aim your guns at me!” 

 Kageyama frowned, lowering his gun. “You should have told us you were coming. Where’s the Third Lord?” 

 Hinata glanced behind him, as if just realising now. He bit his lip, eyes narrowing. “He was last seen fending off Tanaka and Noya…” 

 Yamaguchi’s hands paused for a moment, then he went back to work faster than before. 

 Kunimi ran over. “Can I give you a hand, Captain?” 

 Yamaguchi looked up. “Do you know about nitrogen enhanced electro radiation?” 

 Kunimi stared at him. 

 “Thought so.” Yamaguchi kept working. “Sorry, but—” 

 “No, I.” Kunimi dropped down. “It uses atomia wiring. I just didn’t know that part of the plan.” He began connecting the other side. 

 Yamaguchi kept his voice low as he murmured, “The less people who know the better.” 

 “But the fuses of the ship would have to—” 

 “I dealt with it,” Hinata assured. 

 Kageyama frowned. “What’s going on?” 

 “We’re not bombing the ship,” Hinata explained, “We’re hitting it with an EMP – an electromagnetic pulse pulse. It will short circuit the mechanical systems, including the escape hatches. The ship will sink to the bottom of the ocean… so it’ll kill everyone just the same, but it’s different.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “Shira is taking the Inarizaki?” 

 “Yep.” Hinata smirked. “We’ve got several squads ready to take the ship into Shira’s custody.” 

Ah… you’re admirable at times, Kageyama. 

 What’s that? 

Just… when I was a soldier, I hated when things were going on and I wasn’t told… especially during the missions I was leading. 

 That’s just the way things are. Chain of command. 

Your mind just thought of the food chain when you said that. 

 Food chain of command,
 Kageyama thought to himself. 

”Third Lord Kei Tsukishima speaking,” there was a wincing crackle from the speaker. 

 Kageyama felt his stomach clench. “Status and location, Third Lord?” 

”Status, fine. Location: Slightly problematic. I’ll be fine, though—nothing I can’t handle, Sergeant.” 

 Kageyama felt no malice in those words, possibly gratitude, but he didn’t want to think about that. “Call for assistance if you need.” 

 Tsukishima scoffed before asking, ”Status on the bomb?” 

 Yamaguchi clicked his earpiece. “Will be armed in three minutes – so eight minutes until it detonates.” 

”The escape pods in the lower port side of the vessel is our best bet… the main forces of both armies are clashing on the upper starboard side. It’s a damn firefight.” 

 “Goshiki,” Kageyama called out. 

 “Yes Sir! That is me! I am Private Goshi—” 

 “Take everyone and cut us a path to the lower portside of the Inarizaki. Commander, assist if you can.” 

 Hinata nodded. “Goshiki! Your time to shine!” 

 Goshiki swelled with pride as he yelled and began running down the halls. 

 The rest of the soldiers followed. 

 Kageyama glanced around, eyes softening for a moment. There were so many bodies littered around them, hanging limp off chairs and bleeding on the floor. He closed his eyes. 

 “Oh look!” came a voice he had never heard before, “I got a visual!” 

 Kageyama spun around. 

 All along the windows looking out into the ocean below, holographic screens showed the face of someone he didn’t recognise. He was hunched over, as if at a computer with his face only inches from the screen. 

 Kageyama frowned. “Who the fuck are you?” 

 Kunimi paused. 

 Yamaguchi raised his voice, “Keep working!” 

 Kunimi turned back to the bomb. 

 The person hesitated for a moment. “Huh? You can see me?” 

His name is— 

 Kageyama stepped forward. “NAME Kinoshita.” 

 Kinoshita yelped. “Uh!” He backed away from the screen. “They can see me! How do I turn off my camera!? How did you—Wait. That’s!” Kinoshita dove forward again. “Yamaguchi are you using an EMP bombs?” 

 Kageyama frowned. “You can identify it from there?” 

 “Well, I uh.” Kinoshita scratched the back of his head. “Actually I invented it.” 

 “It’s armed!” Yamaguchi looked up. “Let’s go!” 

 “Oh shit!” Kinoshita scrambled up. “They’ve armed an EMP on the ship!” 

 Kageyama shot the screens with plasma bolts, disrupting the holograms. “Yeah. Let’s go.” 






 Third Lord Kei Tsukishima moved with agility and precision that a human body alone could not master, even with the help of a Mark II. His arm shifted forms into a canon and it fired pure plasma, sending several Aoba soldiers to an early grave. 

 “Get to the escape pods!” someone from a distant hallway yelled, “The whole thing’s gonna blow up!” 

 Tsukishima slunk back into the shadows, hiding between two pillars as several soldiers ran by. He watched as Aoba and Kara forces disengaged, and instead spread the word of the ship’s impending doom. 

 They ran in a frantic rush. 

 Tsukishima’s eyes narrowed. “Now’s my chance!” 






 Hinata ran before crouching low. His boots released steam pressure and he throttled into the air, above the cover that Aoba soldiers were hiding behind. Upside-down, and directly overhead of the enemy soldiers, he released two charged plasma shots. 

 They hit the ground and erupted in flame, sending the soldiers and their cover toppling over. 

 Hinata flipped before he landed. “All clear!” 

 “We must advance!” Goshiki charged. 

 Hinata let Goshiki lead and he looked around. “Jackpot! The escape pods are right there!” 

 Goshiki and the others scrambled inside. “Commander! Shall we wait for you, or—” 

 “Hinata!” 

 Hinata glanced over. 

 Kageyama was running towards him, Yamaguchi and Kunimi just behind. 

 Hinata glanced sidelong. “Everyone’s here but Kei.” 

 Yamaguchi’s eyes widened. “Where’s Tsukki?” 

 “Get in,” Hinata told them. “He’ll be here soon.” 

 As everyone got inside, several escape pods firing with a loud gush of wind, Kageyama just nodded. “I’ll wait out here.” 

 “No,” Hinata corrected, “You’re going in.” 

 The lights of the last pod blinked, only having Kindaichi, Kunimi, and Yamaguchi in them. 

 Kageyama was scowling behind his helmet, Hinata could tell, and Kageyama stepped forward. “I’m in command of this mission, Commander.” 

 “And I have orders to overrule you if I think it’s necessary,” Hinata said sharply. He saw the minor shift in Kageyama’s stance. “This was your first mission, it could have gone wrong, so they made sure there were… precautions.” 

 Kageyama stepped forward, breathing in to yell before— 

”Third… Lord… speaking.” 

 Hinata’s spine straightened. “Kei! Where are you?” 

”Messed up… in… pain…” 

 Hinata didn’t think twice. “Tobio Kageyama Takeda.” 

 Kageyama paused, for a moment. 

 Psychological warfare – a simple way to make someone lower their guard. 

 “Sorry Tobes.” 

 “Hina—” 

 Hinata spun, kicked him violently—sending him flying into the escape pod. 

 Kageyama hit the back and scrambled to his feet, blurring forward. “Hinata!” 

 Hinata slammed his hand on the launch button. 

 The first barrier was clear fortified glass that formed between them. 

 Kageyama didn’t think twice about pulling an arm back and hitting it with all the force of his Mark III suit—cracking it. 

 But the second barrier was metal, and third ensured air pressure was correct before— 

 Hinata held his arms up as the surge of air threatened to take him. He lowered his hands and saw the escape pod flying away. He dismantled his helmet and turned – running. “Where are you, Kei!?” His suit was heavy against the metal walkways, ringing out loud metallic pangs with each step. “Kei!” 

”Lower starboard side…” 






 “No!” Kageyama slammed his fist against the escape pod. “No!” 

 Yamaguchi frantically yelled as he pulled Kageyama back. “Y-You h-have to sit before we hit the water!” 

 Kindaichi grabbed his as well. “Give it up, man! You gotta—” 

 “Tobio!” Kunimi tried to restrain him as well. 






For a soldier… death is scary, not knowing is scarier… but helplessness… that is the scariest. When you don’t know and you can’t do anything about it… that’s what breaks people. 






 Hinata was running but eventually paused. All the colour drained from his face as he yelled, “We’ve only got three minutes left, so don’t fuck with me Ryuu!” 

 Ryuunosuke Tanaka and Yuu Nishinoya. 

 Hinata tensed. 

 Tanaka held the knife to Tsukishima’s throat. “Tabby…” 

 Tsukishima whispered, “Run. Now.” 

 Tanaka gave a pained smile. “We just wanna talk.” 

 “I don’t wanna talk!” Hinata shook his head. “We only have three minutes!” 

 “Eh, sorry Shouyou.” Nishinoya lowered his head. “But this was a trap.” 

 Tanaka smiled. 

 Hinata didn’t know where to look… 

 And then it clicked. 

 “Kei…” 

 Tsukishima smirked. 


 Hinata breathed to release a yell, a scream, but a blur to his side caught his attention. He spun, quickly, just in time – to see Saeko’s kick knock him unconscious. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Act 2, Part XIII 



 The Inarizaki pulsed once, shining with electric stripes of blue for a single moment—before it shook the sky and cracked with thunder: It was bathed in radiant aqua lightning. It stood still in the air, thrusters off, before it fell. It hit the ocean’s surface with a resounding crash, surging riptides and waves in all directions. 

 As the escape pods hit the water, the sea was aflame. 

For a soldier… death is scary, not knowing is scarier… but helplessness… that is the scariest. When you don’t know and you can’t do anything about it… that’s what breaks people. 






 “Anybody injured?” Kageyama’s voice didn’t sound like his own, but he asked the question nonetheless. He tended to a few of the team’s minor wounds while he assigned Goshiki to get in contact with their pickup crew. Kageyama kept his movements methodical, and his mind blank. 

 A ship descended nearby. 

 They were on a small island in the middle of nowhere, and Kageyama turned to see Hanamaki running towards him. 

 Hanamaki moved with a completely neutral expression, eyes a little more wide than usual. He slowed to a stop and surveyed the group. He no doubt understood there were two missing. 

 Kageyama walked towards him, feeling the crunch of wet sand under the weight of his suit. 

 Hanamaki took a shaky breath. “The ship is ready to go…” 

 “Good.” Kageyama made firm eye contact. “The Black Hawk?” 

 Hanamaki swallowed hard and nodded. “Matsukawa’s in the cockpit… we’re ready to take you guys home. Orders from the Emperor say take off immediately.” 

 “Then, let’s get moving.” Kageyama’s eyes darkened. “Don’t want to keep him waiting…” 

 “No,” Hanamaki whispered. “No, we don’t…” 

 The soldiers got inside, one by one, in the hangar in the back. Kageyama sat a distance away from everyone else. He equipped his helmet and closed his eyes. He scowled and bit his lip, shaking as his hand formed a fist, clenching. 

 The ship took off. 





 When they arrived at Shira, Kageyama stepped out to see Second Lord Iwaizumi Hajime waiting for him with a firm expression. Kageyama saluted, murmuring Iwaizumi’s title. 

 “Sergeant.” Iwaizumi returned the salute. “The rest of you are dismissed. You’re urged to go to the medical stations, make sure none of the electromagnetic radiation affected you in any way. We would have detected it, so you all should be fine, but it is a required extra safety measure.” Iwaizumi took a deep breath. “Sergeant… Captain… the Emperor wants to speak to you in Main Command.” 

 “Understood,” Kageyama said firmly. 

 “Understood,” whispered Yamaguchi. 

 Kageyama turned around to his troops. “You all served admirably.” He saluted. “Thank you.” 

 They all saluted in returned, and began to walk away. 

 Kunimi looked back at Kageyama as he left, while Goshiki took a moment to leave Kageyama’s side—waiting until Kindaichi, head down, pulled him away. 

 Yamaguchi stood by Kageyama’s side, expressionless. 

 Kageyama turned to Iwaizumi, though his eyes drifted to Kunimi and Kindaichi looking back at how they seemed to become smaller and smaller with each passing moment. Once the soldiers were out of the room, he turned to Iwaizumi. “Alright… let’s go.” 






 There was a notable feeling of heaviness as Kageyama stepped into Main Command, as if a force was pressing down on the room. He walked through the side entrance and turned to face Emperor Ushijima on his throne. He gave a salute, and so did Yamaguchi. Iwaizumi, as well as Daichi, were about to salute too but Ushijima waved his hand. 

 “We don’t need formalities. Not now.” Ushijima’s eyes were solely on Kageyama. “I have been given a preliminary script from Sugawara. I want to hear what happened, from your point of view.” 

 “About the mission or about Commander Hinata?” 

 “Both.” Ushijima lowered his chin slightly. “The highlights, mainly.” 

 “We experienced some difficulty getting aboard, but I used my Mark III powers to break their defenses. I can’t really call it ‘stealth’, but we moved unnoticed through the chaos. We confronted Nishinoya’s squad, and I used the Mark III to buy us an escape route. At that point, Third Lord Kei Tsukishima and Commander Shouyou Hinata split up to take care of their own task.” 

 Yamaguchi’s shoulders shook once. 

 “We made our way to the bridge when a large group blocked our path… I sent Corporal Akira Kunimi and Private Yuutarou Kindaichi to create a diversion. It was effective, but gathered too much attention. The Commander and Third Lord said they were moving to assist. We moved to the bridge, planted the bomb, and had a brief meeting with Kinoshita. It alerted the Kara and Aoba forces, so I sent Private Tsutomu Goshiki to secure escape pods for us.” 

 Ushijima’s eyes narrowed. 

 “All were present except the Third Lord. When he did not come, he paged us and described being in a compromised position. The Commander said he was going alone. I refused, but he said he could override my decision and forced me into the escape pod.” 

 Ushijima raised one eyebrow. “Forced you?” 

 “He kicked me with the full force of his Mark III. By the time I recovered, he had already hit the button initiating the launch sequence.” Kageyama’s eyes were empty. “Communication was cut off shortly after, and we watched the ship crash into the ocean from the escape pods.” 

 Main Command was silent. 

 Daichi didn’t move, nor did Iwaizumi, or Yamaguchi. 

 Ushijima’s two royal guards, Tendou and Semi, stood uncomfortably at the flanks of the throne. 

 Even Shirabu pursed his lips, looking slightly pale. 

 “What you’ve said…” Ushijima closed his eyes and let out a sigh through his mouth. “Is fairly consistent with what I have been informed. Kinoshita revealing his face… that part seems odd, to me.” 

 “U-Um.” Yamaguchi’s shoulders shook as he tried to speak. He raised his hand, like a schoolkid in a classroom. 

 Ushijima glanced at him. 

 “It was probably an accidental two-way transmission.” Yamaguchi lowered his head. “The bridge most likely had some advanced defensive mechanisms for hackers. So, I imagined he triggered one of those spy traps by accident… He didn’t seem, like he intended or wanted us to see him.” 

 Ushijima nodded. 

 Yamaguchi looked down. 

 Kageyama continued to stare at Ushijima. “Y… Your Majesty…” 

 Ushijima closed his eyes for a moment before opening them and letting them drift to Kageyama. 

 “Do… do we know if… d-do…” Kageyama’s vision wavered. “Do you think…? Hinata is still…” 

 “It’s hard to tell, Sergeant.” Ushijima pursed his lips. “The Commander must have been hit by the EMP. This would most likely serve to take his Mark III system offline… hence, none of our scanning systems or location services are able to find him right now. His suit is most likely not damaged, just disconnected from the Artificial Intelligence component of the suit… That is one theory, anyway. The other is that he would have sunk with the ship, and died. He does have an oxygen tank, and swimming is possible from some depths… but it is unlikely. What we do with the Inarizaki is more important now.” 

 “More…” Kageyama blinked. “Important…?” 

 Ushijima gave him a blank look. 

 “C-” Kageyama stepped forward. “Commander Shouyou Hinata—” 

 “Is not a priority,” Ushijima said cooly. 

 “What.” Kageyama’s hands began shaking. “What do you mean he’s not a priority!?” 

 His yell echoed in the room. 

 Ushijima straightened his back and sat tall on his throne, looking down at Kageyama with a flash of anger. 

 Kageyama felt his stomach freeze. 

 “Hinata was helpful to the war machine, Kageyama. No more.” 

 “War…” His fingers twitched. “War machine…?” 

 “The War Machine,” Ushijima said simply. “The endless slaughter of soldiers, the explosives that destroy lands, plagues that erupt from the aftermath… The constant burning of resources, of people… the civilians tortured and killed. Aoba and Shira have thrown their war machines at one another, and now it seems Kara wants to add their numbers to it. The war machine is all we are: The military is nothing more. Shouyou, and you, are nothing but pawns to empower my war machine.” 

 Kageyama’s throat closed up. 

 “Tobio Kageyama Takeda.” Ushijima’s eyes burned. “What do you think my duty is, as Emperor, while my country is at war?” 

 Kageyama just stared. 

 “It is to keep the war machine away from my civilians.” 

 Kageyama felt his shoulders sink. 

 “Losses happen,” Ushijima murmured, “As a soldier, he knew the risk. If he’s dead, he’s dead. If not, he’s not. My priority is not Hinata – it is Shira’s next move. If Hinata is dead, it would be a shame, it would—” 

 “A shame!?” Kageyama took a step forward. “Wh-What about Suga?” 

 “What about Suga?” 

 “Certain physical and mental systems of Sugawara’s brain is given to certain suits. If one of the suits are destroyed, or crushed, or thrown to the bottom of the sea… it’s possible those parts of the brain won’t ever be responsive again!” 

 Ushijima just stared. “And?” 

 Kageyama choked. 

 “It is another…” Ushijima leaned back in his throne. “… Necessary…” He leaned his head on his hand. “… Sacrifice.” 

 Kageyama stared, and stared. He could hear his own breathing, loud, panting, like a wild animal. “Let me find Shouyou! I will find him! I—” 

 “No.” 

 Kageyama made a quiet noise. 

 “No you won’t.” Ushijima sighed. “Still you do not understand… You are Shira’s last Mark III. Your every move will be my choice.” 

 “But I want to—” 

 Ushijima roared, “I don’t care!” 

 Kageyama stepped back, while Shirabu and Yamaguchi jumped, Daichi gasped, and even Iwaizumi paled. 

 Ushijima lifted himself off his throne and stood at his full height. 

 Kageyama took another step back. 

 Looming over Kageyama, with the presence of a legion, Ushijima glared. “I will explain this simply: I do not care about you.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes were shaking. 

 “I do not care what you want, or what you think is best. I have never once asked for your opinion, and it is very well possible I never will. You are cattle fodder, infantry to burn in the war machine. You are a useless, worthless grunt. You have the Mark III suit, so you may be more useful than others, but brains will outweigh brawns, and you are just firepower that needs to be leashed. Do you understand? You are a drooling dog, not a unit of status. Don’t think because you have that suit that I care if you live or die—it will only change how I strategise the war machine.” 

 Kageyama’s hands fell limp at his side. 

 “War is dangerous, war takes lives… it is my job, Kageyama, to call the shots and minimise the risk. When a country is at war, it is the Emperor’s duty to send soldiers into danger. They may not come back. And I am the one must make that call. Not. You.” Ushijima turned away, returning to his throne. “You are dismissed, Sergeant.” 

 “Un…” Kageyama’s gaze dropped to the floor. “Under… understood.” 

 “Also.” Ushijima stopped at the foot of his throne, staring at his seat. “You would do well to never down talk Shouyou.” 

 Kageyama’s head snapped up. 

 “We, here at Main Command, have seen him come out of unimaginably awful situations, worse than this.” Ushijima closed his eyes. “Luckily for him… he’s very hard to kill.” 

 Kageyama felt his throat close up, and his eyes watered. 

 “This may have been my fault.” Ushijima turned to the side, as if deciding he no longer wanted to sit in his seat. He began walking to the exit near the back of the room. “I gave you two promotions at once, maybe it got to your head…” 

 “I—” Kageyama hated how weak his voice was. “Sir—” 

 “Do not think, Sergeant, that because you have that suit that you are above the rest.” Ushijima paused just short of the exit. “Do not forget your status when you speak to me. And, more importantly.” He looked Kageyama in the eye. “Do not forget my status when you speak to me.” 

 “Y-Yes.” Kageyama lowered his head in a bow. “Yes Sir! I am… sorry, Your Majesty…” 

 Ushijima closed his eyes and nodded slowly before he turned to the doorway and left the room. 






 Kageyama walked aimlessly, through halls and along walkways. Many different kinds of lights flashed around him, from the white lights of the palace, to the softer ones around the medical ward, to the orange-light of sunset. He found himself walking nowhere and everywhere, and eventually found a rooftop that he could stop and stare. The sunset was a shade of orange that was richer than he had ever seen. 

 No. 

 It was the second richest shade he had ever seen. 

 Nothing could beat Hinata’s smile, his laugh, that tuft of stupid hair, those kisses, those embraces, the way his suit turned molten orange, the way Kageyama’s life lit up like a radiant beacon when Hinata was around… 

 Kageyama hated his thoughts, and he hated how… numb… it all felt. 

Suga…? 

 Silence. 

Suga? 

Sorry Kageyama, most of my systems are busy now, I’m… I’m— 

 “It’s fine,” Kageyama murmured. He stayed where he was, staring out into the sun, watching it slowly drift lower and lower, watching the memoria of orange hues turn to a bloody red… His eyes softened and he lowered his head. 

 The elevator door at the far side of the elevator opened. 

 Kageyama turned around, knocked out of his haze. 

 “Yo!” A man was walking up to him, tall and lanky, with a shaky smile on his lips. “Sergeant Takeda?” 

 “Kageyama.” 

 “Oh, right. Supposed to call you that…” The man looked out to the fading sunset and bit his lip. “Figured I’d find you here, actually.” 

 Kageyama bristled. 

 “It was Shouyou’s favourite spot, but he only discovered it after getting hooked up to Koushi.” The man’s expression seemed exhausted, a thousand years old. “Suga used to come up here too, you know?” 

 Kageyama blinked. “You are…?” 

 “Ah, right. Sorry. I’m Tetsurou, Tetsurou Kuroo.” 

 “Third Lord.” Kageyama stared. “The one who stole the promotion from Hinata.” 

 Kuroo gave a sharp frown, and it morphed to a scowl. “Look, it’s not like I wanted to take it! I didn’t even deserve it, Hinata did. But that doesn’t matter.” 

 “Of course it doesn’t matter.” Kageyama scowled in return. “Not to you.” 

 “Look you little brat—” Kuroo bit his lip, and his expression softened. “Look, I just… I’m only hearing bits and pieces about what happened, and I just…” 

 “Kuroo,” Kageyama murmured. “That name’s familiar.” 

 “Are you even listening to…? Agh, okay. Yeah.” Kuroo put a hand on his forehead. “Kuroo is an old bloodline of the Metropolis lords. But that was years ago—they’re all dead now. When I was born, they were already gone—so forget that. Can we talk about Shou’? Can we talk about Kei?” 

 “Kei,” Kageyama whispered. “They’re dead. Probably.” 

 “Probably…” Kuroo’s eyes narrowed. “Tell me what happened… please.” 

 Kageyama felt his chest pound and he looked away. “We planted a bomb on the ship. An EMP… they didn’t get out in time.” 

 “Oh…” Kuroo’s eyes widened. “Oh shit… shit…” 

 “It’s possible they’re alive,” Kageyama murmured, “If they could swim to safety after that… there were many islands…” 

 “No.” Kuroo ran a hand through his hair. “You don’t get it… oh shit. Fuck.” He squished his eyes closed. “Kei’s half—” He fisted his hair. “Kei’s a cyborg… his arm, leg, one of his eyes… some of his organs… If he got hit by an EMP…” 

 Kageyama stiffened. 

 “Why would they even put him on an EMP mission, they—?” 

 Kageyama shook once. 

 “Dead…” Kuroo looked at the ground and his hand dropped from his head. “They’re both dead…” 






 Kageyama went home, unable to stick around the military zones anymore. He needed out. He needed to get out of there. He went home, holing himself up in his apartment. There was an echo of the laughter, just a couple days ago, of Hinata in his home, making breakfast together, serving him dinner, laying together, wrapped up in Hinata’s warmth, listening to his breathing… 

 Kageyama kept the lights off. 

 He curled up on the couch, head resting on his arms that hugged his knees. 

 Sugawara still couldn’t talk to him yet. 

 There were messages from Kindaichi, Kunimi, and Goshiki… but he couldn’t bring himself to read or respond to them. 

 “I hate this,” he whispered at last. 

 When he closed his eyes 



The Inarizaki pulsed once, shining with electric stripes of blue for a single moment—before it shook the sky and cracked with thunder: It was bathed in radiant aqua lightning. It stood still in the air, thrusters off, before it fell. It hit the ocean’s surface with a resounding crash, surging riptides and waves in all directions. 



 His phone beeped. 

 Kageyama grabbed it and saw the message, and felt it like a hornet’s sting to his gut. 

 It marked the mission as complete. His dossier was updated to say he lead the mission to success. 

 Salt on the wound. A vicious rub. 

 Kageyama suddenly felt suffocated by his suit and he took it off. He ripped his clothes off and threw himself in the shower. He scrubbed his skin violently, until it was burning red, and he was thankful the blaring sound of blasting hot water covered the few sobs that slipped out of his throat. 

 He dried off and wore new clothes, soft ones. 

 He threw himself on his bed and grabbed a pillow, hugging it instinctively and— 

 Oh… 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. 

 Faintly, but… 

 Kageyama’s eyes gleamed with moisture. 

 The pillow smelled like Hinata. 

 A tear fell from each eye and he shoved his face into the pillow, using it to muffle the scream that erupted from his throat. 






 Eventually Kageyama slept… 

 Eventually Kageyama dreamed— 

 The Second Lord was looking up at him. 

 They were in a dark laboratory, cold. Most likely underground, by several kilometers. 

 Through whoever’s eyes, Kageyama could scarcely see the wires that hung around him. 

 “Suga.” Iwaizumi said as he looked up. “The Datekou’s almost done repairs. I think we should inform Kageyama of the Mark III feature now that Hinata’s status is unknown.” 

 Sugawara—Kageyama was seeing through Sugawara’s eyes (and he was thankful, because he didn’t have to see the horror of wires from this point of view)—hummed. He didn’t use his lips to speak; but, instead, spoke through his systems. “We don’t know what’s going to happen moving forward, so it is best.” 

 “Yes.” Iwaizumi crossed his arms. “Do you think it’s possible… that Kara will try to steal the Mark III data?” 

 “It’s possible. Unlikely, but possible.” Sugawara closed his eyes. “I have already removed Hinata’s privileges, just in case they use his identification codes for the Datekou.” 

 “Right.” Iwaizumi nodded. “We can always put them back on later.” 

 “Good.” Sugawara’s systems moved through a thousand thoughts. “Are you sure this is a good feature to have on the Datekou?” 

 “Absolutely.” Iwaizumi nodded. “If the Datekou were to fall in the wrong hands, Shira would be doomed… especially without Hinata.” 

 “You’re right. Kageyama is… very worried about him right now. Distraught.” 

 “Obviously.” Iwaizumi put a hand to his hip. “Why bring it up now?” 

 “I think we should hold off on telling Kageyama about the Datekou’s Mark III feature.” 

 “Yeah.” Iwaizumi bit his lip for a moment. “We’ll tell him if he needs to know. If it is somehow stolen.” 

 “I agree. Should… we keep Kageyama’s privileges off as well, then? Until he needs to know?” 

 “I suppose. We don’t want him stealing the Datekou now, do we?” 

 “He can’t really… steal it, can he? The feature changes the allegiance codes of the mech to the allegiance of the Mark III suit. It would be under Shira’s control either way.” 

 “Unless Kageyama betrays us.” 

 “No. He wouldn’t.” 

 “You sound quite sure…? I don’t think he would, but you seem to have your doubts about him quite often.” Iwaizumi stepped forward. “Sugawara… what is it you fear about him?” 

 “He won’t betray Shira, Hajime.” Sugawara’s systems whirred and hummed. “He loves Shira too much. He would do anything to end the war… even if it means sacrifice. That… is what worries me.” 

 “I see. One of those types. Typical hero complex.” 

 “That’s one way to put it, yes.” 

 “Well, keep his privileges off.” Iwaizumi grit his teeth. “I don’t want a loose cannon like that in control of the Datekou.” 

 “Understood. Done. Are there any updates regarding the data file we gathered?” 

 “The superweapon?” Iwaizumi frowned. “Not really.” 

 “Do you think… it could exist beyond this world?” 

 Iwaizumi blinked. “Huh?” 

 “I just mean… the ship we EMP’d, the Inarizaki… it was, well. It looks like it is equipped to break through the atmosphere. It is equipped for space travel.” 

 “Sp—” Iwaizumi glared. “Space travel?” He glanced aside. “Oikawa… what the fuck are you thinking now…?” 

 “He is crazy, isn’t he?” 

 “Yeah. That’s for sure.” Iwaizumi sighed loudly. “But why would a superweapon be out there?” 

 “Well, it’s the only place we haven’t explored very much of. Just an idea. It could easily be a red herring.” 

 “I suppose.” Iwaizumi rubbed his jaw. “Knowing Oikawa, he might plant the idea of space travel in our heads just to throw us off.” 

 “He is an impossible opponent at times.” 

 Iwaizumi smirked. “The worst.” 






 When Kageyama opened his eyes, it was morning. Sun filtered through the blinds, brighter than he liked. He got up, and felt pain. His body was sore from all the running during the mission prior, and he hated everything about it. He sighed deeply and felt his body weight ten times as much as it did. 

 He rolled over onto the pillow and closed his eyes, drifting back to sleep. 

 When he awoke again, he noticed it was well past noon. 

 Kageyama frowned at himself. 

 He usually never slept past nine in the morning—the military academy was good at drilling them into a horrible routine. He got out of bed, shaking off his thoughts of his… “Dream”. 

 He made a cup of coffee and sipped it, after adding a notable amount of milk. 

 Kageyama stood in his kitchen, resting against the island counter, left hand holding the edge of it behind him. He brought his cup of lukewarm milky coffee to his lips and sipped it quietly. 



“Shut up!” Hinata shoved against Kageyama’s suit. “What would you know!?” 

 “Enough to know you’re a dumbass! Now you’re not showing up for work! And messing up my training too!?” 

 “Shut up!” Hinata yanked at Kageyama’s wrist, knowing the slight weak point that let him escape the grip. He took a step back, glaring. “Shut up! I’m not a dumbass!” 

 “You are!” Kageyama took a step forward. “You can’t change it—so don’t worry about it!” 

 “What!” Hinata raised his voice, “What the heck is that even supposed to mean!?” 

 Kageyama’s hands turned into fists, and a heavy metallic ring sounded in the room. “You should focus on what you can do!”
 



 Right. 

 It was his mantra. 

So, what can I do…? 

 Kageyama grabbed his phone and loaded the mission list. 

 Access Denied. 

 “What!” Kageyama yelled, “What the fuck is this?” 

I’m sorry, Kageyama, but it is locked. You have been deemed needing time to rest… 

 At least let me see what’s available! 

Sorry, Kageyama… but I have my orders. 

 But— 

Just take the day off.
 

 Kageyama growled at his phone before sighing. He knew he was being annoying to Sugawara, so he slumped his shoulders and accepted defeat. 






 He walked around the city a few times, walking with the general sense of being lost. He was swaying, and his mind went in and out, in and out. He tried to focus on the present, focus on his breathing. He wanted to ground himself in reality, instead of allowing his thoughts to go in vicious circles of what he should have done differently, or what he could have done, or what he might have done if— 

 No. 

 There was a playground, and kids were running around, playing, laughing, screaming, teasing one another. 

 Kageyama walked passed it and sighed. 

 There was an ice cream store, and he remembered that back when he was a kid it used to be such a treat when Papa would take him there. 

 Kageyama walked passed it and closed his eyes. 

 There was a cafe, where… 

 Kageyama stopped and stared at it. 

 A cafe where he had taken Hinata, where they had had a date. 

 Kageyama forced himself to walk past it. 

 There was a large tree where he used to read books when he was a kid, and he wondered if Hinata liked reading books. 

 Kageyama squished his eyes closed. 






 “Kageyama!” 

 Kageyama looked at the ground. “I’m—I didn’t…” 

 “That’s fine!” Ittetsu stood up with a smile. He had gardening gloves on, with a garden shovel, as he had finished planting the fourth of seven flowers he was working on. “You know you can come home whenever you want. I think your dad is making stew tonight if you want some!” 

 Kageyama continued to look at the ground. 

 “Oh, is this the new suit? Is this—” 

 Kageyama flinched and looked at his suit. He didn’t realise had put it on today. He sighed. 

 “What’s wrong?” 

 Kageyama looked up, eyes blurring. 

 “Tobio…” Ittetsu had taken off his gloves and rushed over. “What’s wrong…? Are you okay?” 

 “No.” Kageyama felt a sob shake his core. His eyes watered. “Not really…” 

 “Come in.” 






 Kageyama sat at the table. Ukai didn’t ask any questions. He just finished his stew and put three steaming bowls on the table. Kageyama took in the scent and felt his body soften. He had taken off the Mark III suit, and had put it in the other room. He grabbed a change of clothes from childhood room. 

 “Hey Champ,” Ukai said, finally. 

 Kageyama looked at him. “H-Hey…” 

 “It’s good you stopped by,” Ittetsu said with a smile. 

 Ukai nodded. “What’s up, Kiddo?” 

 “I…” Kageyama closed his eyes. “A friend of mine, has… gone missing… after a mission.” He bit his lip. “A mission… that… I was leading.” He looked down into his stew. “Maybe he’s dead, maybe not…” He looked up quickly, and saw their expressions, heartbroken, worried, full of love… “O-Others think. He might. They, um. They think he might… be alive. There’s… no proof of it, though…” 

 Ittetsu’s eyes softened. “Why would they think he’s… still, um. Okay?” 

 “He’s very capable,” Kageyama pushed out, “And he’s escaped death before.” 

 “And just who thinks he’ll be okay when he’s gone missing?” 

 “Uh, Emperor Ushijima.” 

 Ukai blinked. 

 Ittetsu made a small noise. 

 “U-Um.” Kageyama swallowed hard. “My friend is… high ranking. He knows Main Command very well… um… Lieutenant-Specialised Sawamura, Second Lord Iwaizumi… and some others… They’re higher ups, important people, and they… they have faith in him. I want to have faith in him too, but…” 

 “Well.” Ittetsu’s eyes softened. “You’ve never been good with trust, Tobio.” 

 Kageyama shook once. 

 “You should trust that this friend of yours is capable, that he did his best.” Ittetsu smiled. “You should be ready for him when he comes back, maybe?” 

 “But—” 

 “Look.” Ukai whistled. “This hotshot’s got the fucking Emperor vouching for him. Who the heck is he?” 

 “It’s…” Kageyama felt his shoulders shake twice. “Hinata.” 

 Ittetsu’s eyes widened. “Oh… Kageyama… that’s—” 

 Ukai slammed his fist on the table, clattering the bowls. “That’s exactly why you should put faith in him!” 

 Kageyama turned to him. 

 “Be ready to welcome him home, damnit!” 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. “Y-Yes…” 

 “Oh gosh…” Ittetsu put his head in his hands. “It must be hard for his family…” 

 Kageyama thought of his family, and— 

 It felt like his ribs cracked. 

 Of Auntie— 

 Natsu… 

 Kageyama felt his ribs shatter. 






Chapter 13: Infodex 13 



 An Electromagnetic Pulse, or EMP, is a short but powerful burst of electromagnetic energy. This energy interferes with electronic equipment and can be disruptive, destructive, or damaging. Weaponised EMPs are usually only capable of disrupting electronic signals and equipment for a short amount of time. Powerful EMPs are capable of rendering electronic systems offline completely, and would require a hard reset to bring them back. 

 The most powerful EMP ever recorded was by the mech LT 13-4, which – using electro-polarization – increased static pressure in clouds and directed lightning bolts down on the enemy. The EMP was capable of completely destroying structures and causing several mechas in the surrounding region of the blast to explode as well from electromagnetic waves that were dispersed after the initial strike. 

 It is theorised Tobio Kageyama Takeda’s Mark III works in the same way. 

 Further research needed. 






Chapter 13: Act 2, Part XIV 



Kageyama decided he didn’t want to talk to Natsu, or Auntie – not yet. He vowed to talk to them when Hinata was safe. He would put faith in Hinata, he would hold his head high, and he would believe in the day Hinata returned. Maybe… it seemed silly, and maybe to some it was false hope that would come with a heavy crash when reality set in… all of these things, they were true, but… 

 Faith itself didn’t make someone dead or alive, but to soldiers… faith is all we have sometimes. If the feeling of helplessness is the worst, then faith, hope, are guiding lights. 

 They lift our spirits, help us move forward, and help us keep moving amidst the sea of uncertainty, of painful and draining ambiguity. 

 Even if it breaks us later, we’ll hold on to hope, clutching it with our broken bleeding hands.
 






 Sergeant Tobio Kageyama Takeda entered Main Command, despite not being allowed in without specific cause or reason. But the guards let him pass, and some of the others did not question it. He walked in with his head held high, and his eyes focused. He looked as though he knew where he was going, and people just let him through. 

 When he stepped in, through the side entrance, his eyes instantly moved to the throne, but Ushijima was not there. Instead, his blue eyes drifted in front of him. 

 Ushijima was leaning over on Daichi’s desk, reading something on his screen. 

 It was Daichi who noticed him first and made a strange, gargled noise. 

 Ushijima glanced over his shoulder. Upon eye contact, Ushijima let out a sigh and turned to face Kageyama directly. “Sergeant.” 

 “Your Majesty.” He saluted firmly. “I apologise for my previous behaviour. I am ready to be deployed whenever you deem best.” 

 Ushijima hummed. He seemed… pleased? 

 Daichi tensed a bit. 

 Yamaguchi, standing just a bit to the side, somewhat hidden under the shadow of Ushijima, smiled awkwardly. “Well… we actually are going to put you on standby, possibly for a while. Like we said before… you are our last Mark III.” 

 “I will move at your command,” Kageyama assured, “And will wait otherwise.” 

 “Hmm.” Ushijima nodded slowly. “Very well. On an unrelated note… you wouldn’t happen to know anything about… Kenma, would you?” 

 “Data files were recovered about a superweapon by that name, but no additional details,” Kageyama murmured. “So, no.” 

 “Very well.” Ushijima nodded again. “The ship you captured… it has a feature we didn’t expect.” 

 “Space travel.” 

 Ushijima’s eyes narrowed. “How…?” 

 Even Daichi and Yamaguchi blinked a few times. 

 “I have a stronger connection to Sugawara than either you or Hinata ever did,” Kageyama explained, “There are times where information is unwillingly transferred between us.” 

 “Is that so?” Ushijima rubbed his jaw. 

 “Your Majesty, I vow silence to whatever I hear.” 

 Daichi looked at Ushijima. “If there’s nothing we can do about it…?” 

 “True…” Ushijima sighed. “Very well. You two have a strong connection… I am glad to see part of my… hypothesis was correct.” 

 “Hypothesis?” Kageyama cocked his head. 

 “It is only a hypothesis,” Ushijima reassured. “I would like to hear your reasoning behind the connection. I do not want to cloud the actual Mark III user with my hypotheses when you would be the best judge.” 

 “Well…” Kageyama bit his lip. “Sugawara and I have a minor theory… that, um… when we have the same goal in mind, the two of us work together at a stronger, deeper level. The downside is that my powers are limited if I disagree with Lord Sugawara on something.” 

 Ushijima rubbed his jaw again, seeming… unhappy but not unhappy? His frown wasn’t very firm, but it was there. “Interesting. We should have Third Lord—” He stopped rubbing his jaw. 

 Daichi looked away. “Tsukishima is still labelled as missing, my lord.” 

 Yamaguchi looked down, swallowing hard. 

 “Very well.” Ushijima sighed. “Stay on standby, Sergeant. Your cooperative attitude is noted, and assuring. Sugawara however is too busy to assist you in any missions at this time. If your powers rely heavily on him, then he will need to be free for you to become a useful unit in this war.” 

 “Understood.” Kageyama saluted. “I will take my leave, then.” 

 “Do so.” 






 Kageyama walked away from Main Command. He walked towards the exit of the palace, remembering here – after the first time they met – he and Hinata had challenged each other to a race, first to the fountain. Slowly, he walked through the crowd towards that fountain and he reached for it. 

 He remembered Hinata’s hand hitting the side, just a moment before his own did. 

 He placed his hand on the fountain. 

Sugawara… why does that happen? 

Why does what happen, Kageyama? 

 Ah…
 Kageyama stared at the fountain. The information spillover, the dreams… His Majesty seemed like he had a theory of sorts… 

He has a hypothesis,
 Sugawara corrected, Of which I don’t know. My own explanation for it is that it is probably an involuntary system malfunction caused by my… emotions. 

 Your emotions? 

As a Bio-Artificial Intelligence system, my emotions were left intact. One, they deemed it too cruel to rid me of them, and two… it has provided great power for you and Hinata, even though it is a hindrance for me. If I want to run at a hundred percent efficiency, it’s best I stamp out all my feelings.
 

 Kageyama thought about it as he watched the fountain spray the water like a mist with the wind blowing. “And you’re emotional now?” 

Kageyama… my baby brother is missing. 

 Kageyama swallowed hard. 

I’m sorry if that’s affecting me. 

 “No,” Kageyama whispered. “I’m sorry I… didn’t even think to ask you… How you were…” 

How I’m doing? Not great, but… honestly, not as bad as I thought I would be. Mostly… frustrated. I’ve been very testy lately… and I’m making mistakes often, which isn’t helping. 

 “Well.” Kageyama let go of the fountain. “Take deep breaths.” 

 There was a rhythmic, musical sound, like a long lost laugh. 

 Kageyama smiled. 

You’re right. I’ll start with that. 

 Suga… I’m glad, we’re on the same side. 

Me too.
 






 Kageyama dreamed again—but not when he was sleeping. He had been at a coffee shop, meeting Kindaichi and Kunimi on their mutual time off. Kageyama had gotten there early, and was sitting alone, waiting, with his cream frap, when his vision blurred and he saw something – somewhere else. 



 He saw a room, a comfortable looking room. It was a lounge room, and Kageyama figured it was one of those places for higher ups to relax in the Palace. There was a bar and two people sitting at the barstools, nobody else in the room. One of the people in the room was Third Lord Tetsurou Kuroo, who was smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of whiskey with ice. 

 Day drinking? 

 The other person was Sugawara, sitting on the barstool cross-legged. 

 They both had their backs to him. 

 Sugawara turned to Kuroo, and he moved his lips but no sound came out. 

 Kuroo took a large gulp of his drink and placed the glass down on the bar with a clang. “No!” He sighed. “Everything is all… Hinata this, Hinata that… I don’t want to be an asshole, but nobody’s asking any questions about Kei? Nobody talks about Kei…” 

 Sugawara’s mouth moved again. 

 Kuroo sighed. “I know, I know…” 

 Sugawara nudged him and spoke silently once more. 

 “Yeah. That.” Kuroo took a long drag of his cigarette and blew it up in a heavy ashen cloud. “Kei was about to tell me about that, apparently got contacted by Kara… If only I pushed for more information! Ugh… Did Akiteru say anything?” 

 Sugawara looked away. 

 Kuroo slammed his glass on the counter again. “Fuck!” He brought his hand to his face and sighed. “If Akiteru can’t crack the code then who can…?” 

 Suga replied. 

 Kuroo stayed still for a moment. “Or… someone with a robotic eye…?” 

 Sugawara said nothing. 

 Kuroo looked at his drink and ran his finger around the rim. “I’m not saying he went against us or something, but I don’t know… it’s possible they lured him into a trap or something. Kinoshita’s a tactical motherfucker, in his own way…” 

 Sugawara spoke. 

 “Yeah, but that’s nothing new.” Kuroo looked at his datapad intently. “Are you really going to ask me that? Like, now?” 

 Sugawara seemed to laugh. 

 “Well, then… yeah. I have feelings for Kei, alright? There. I said it.” Kuroo sighed and took another drag of his cigarette, the end lighting up flaring red. He let out another cloud of ash. “I broke all my rules with him… not supposed to have feelings for friends with benefits, you know? But these things happen, I guess… I always hovered around that wanting more, offering him invitations if he wanted to take it further, but I don’t know. He didn’t take it. And I was left wondering is it just Kei being Kei, pushing people away, or is he not interested?” 

 Sugawara said nothing. 

 “I mean he didn’t outright reject me, which I figured is pretty great, but I don’t want to assume he’s interested just because he didn’t outright reject me.” He sighed. “Then there’s that Yamaguchi kid, like… I don’t know. Kei is pretty, uh, territorial around him? Kei lets him get away with things that he’d kill another man for doing, you know? And I can’t tell if Kei is just friends with him, or there’s more… but honestly I can’t tell if Kei is just friends with me, or there’s more.” 

 Sugawara tilted his head as he spoke. 

 “That’s what I want to know!” Kuroo laughed. “Like Kei is actually nice to him. Kei? Being nice? Like, shit. I guess that’s my kink or something, because I’m all about that soft shit.” 

 Sugawara replied, but it seemed quieter – even if it didn’t make any noise. 

 “You…” Kuroo’s eyes hardened, as if hurt. “You think Kei was using him? Yamaguchi? Because, what… he’s been upgrading his cyborg body since Kinoshita left…? Shit.” He closed his eyes. “That would break Yamaguchi’s heart.” He lowered his head. “But—Huh?” 

 Sugawara looked behind him, directly at Kageyama. His lips moved, “This is private.” and it seemed like Kuroo couldn’t or didn’t hear him. Sugawara slipped off the barstool, and Kuroo didn’t even see it. Suga moved closer to Kageyama’s sight and opened a hand, as if trying to cover a camera. 






 Kageyama jolted in place. 

 Kunimi and Kindaichi were sitting across from him, having just gotten their drinks. They were staring intently at him. Kindaichi merely murmured, “Yo man… you okay?” 

 “One.” Kageyama breathed. “Give me a second.” His wrist twitched. Is—Is Kuroo a Mark III user? 

No. I was writing text onto his datapad. That’s one way I can easily communicate with others. 

 Oh… that’s why I couldn’t hear you? 

You couldn’t…? Oh. I see, you only got half? 

 Yes… Sorry, I didn’t mean to, I just… 

It’s fine. Forget it.
 

 Kageyama thought how to reply. What would Hinata say? Forgotten! 

Thank you.
 

 Kageyama blinked and looked at Kindaichi and Kunimi. 

 Kunimi was staring, with creases at the corner of his eyes. 

 “Sorry.” Kageyama drank some of his cream frap, finding the sweetness a good distraction. “I… saw something I shouldn’t.” 

 Kindaichi looked behind him, as if trying to see it. 

 “No, I.” Kageyama breathed. “I meant… in my head. It’s complicated, classified. The Mark III has its, secrets.” 

 “I see…” Kunimi bit his lip a bit. “How, um… how are you doing, Kageyama?” 

 Kageyama stayed silent for a moment, listening to the tick and tock of the little clock in the cafe. “Not too good,” he admitted, “But… better. Much better.” 

 Kindaichi smiled. “Good. It’s progress.” 

 Kageyama opened his mouth, but— 

Get up. It’s mission time. 

 Kageyama stood up. “It’s mission time,” he told them. 

 Kindaichi and Kunimi both blinked. 

 “Sorry.” He grabbed his drink. “I’ll… make it up to you. Dinner, on me. Sometime. When I get the chance. If that’s, okay?” 

 “Yeah,” Kunimi said with a smile. “Good luck out there.” 

 “Yeah man.” Kindaichi also smiled. “Give ‘em hell, okay?” 

 “Will do.” Kageyama smiled as he left the cafe. The door had a little ring as he left, and he turned to go down the street, heading towards the elevators that would take him towards the palace. 

Second Lord Hajime Iwaizumi will be meeting with you. Head to Block Z. You have been granted permission. 

 Understood.
 

 Kageyama knew better to ask questions. He entered the elevator and clicked the button for the most-restricted floor in all of Shira. He figured there was nowhere else more protected than Block Z. There were rumours, many rumours, amidst the cadets and privates as to what belonged there, but Kageyama knew, now, that only one thing would require that much security. Only one person would require that much security. 

 Koushi Sugawara. 

 Kageyama felt the elevator pause and the door opened. 

 Iwaizumi stepped through and looked forward. Kageyama had moved to salute, but Iwaizumi shut it down with a firm movement of his head. 

 Kageyama tensed. “What’s going on?” 

 “Not here,” Iwaizumi murmured. “It’s not safe.” 

 The elevator continued again, moving to Block Z. 

 The doors eventually opened and Kageyama saw Sugawara in the distance, hanging from cords, like a bird in flight, yet like a bird chained to its own demise. 

 Taxidermy, almost. 

 Iwaizumi stepped in and looked around. “Are we ready?” 

 There were several engineers and doctors in the room. They each gave several nods, some murmured affirmatives. 

 “Sergeant.” Iwaizumi motioned to a wide silver table. “Lie down here. We need to perform a reverse Mark III transfer.” 

 Kageyama blinked. “What?” 

 “Lie down. I’ll explain as they hook you up. We don’t have much time.” 

 Kageyama didn’t need to be told a third time. He moved and breathed heavily through his nose. 

 The engineers were connecting several cords to his suit, through small chinks and sockets in his armour. 

 Kageyama tensed. “What’s going on?” 

 “Long story short, Sergeant…” Iwaizumi hesitated for a moment. “We believe Hinata may be alive. His suit is intact… but it’s being, hacked, from what we understand.” 

 “Hacked?” 

 “They’re essentially trying to… steal parts of Suga’s mind, basically. They’re tapping into the Mark III. We’re not a hundred percent sure as to what’s going on… but… Hinata would have to be hooked up to the suit for them to use it. However. If I’m being honest, it only needs certain biorhythmic analyses… so… if Hinata were dead, they could still use his corpse to do this.” 

 Kageyama swallowed hard. “Whatever it takes, I’ll do it, Second Lord.” 

 “Good.” Iwaizumi monitored some files. “Instead of Sugawara’s presence going into your mind—you will be going inside Sugawara’s mind.” 

 Kageyama tensed. 

 On one of the screens a voice bar wavered as Sugawara spoke through it, “I’m sorry this is sudden. But this is necessary.” 

 “Suga told me that he told you about our stolen Mark III.” Iwaizumi grit his teeth. “Well, they stole some of his mind too. We didn’t know that was even possible at the time, but now we do.” 

 “Kageyama,” Sugawara continued to speak through the voice bar, “I’ll be combining all sectors of my brain for this. As I told you, our minds create visualisations for us to experience the world through a familiar understanding… This essentially a territory capturing mission. You and I will have to steal from the other Mark IIIs.” 

 Kageyama nodded tensely. “Okay.” 

 “It’s going to be a strange experience,” Iwaizumi warned. “The Mark III regions are designed around the human brain, but these territories will appear nothing like it. We’re not talking big things like lobes, but smaller things like nucleus—a cluster of neurons. The more we can capture, the stronger you’ll be as a Mark III user.” 

 “I see…” 

 “Hajime,” Sugawara spoke quietly, “There’s no point explaining it. He’ll just have to experience it himself.” 

 “You’re right.” Iwaizumi hummed. “Alright. You ready, Kageyama? We don’t have time to lose.” 

 “Ready.” 





 And he sunk into Sugawara’s mind. Columns and monuments tore from the ground and blurred his vision. Several skyscrapers broke through the earth, while others fell from the sky and crashed down. Trees and rivers also bloomed like springtime flowers all around him. It all seemed so… fake. 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 The trees blurred, like a hologram phasing in and out of existence. 

 The rivers existed one moment, and not another. 

 “My mind is a warzone,” Sugawara said as he approached. 

 Kageyama turned around. 

 Sugawara was wearing a Mark III suit, like his own, gun in hand, and he glanced around. “The best way to explain it is… remember last time you were here?” 

 “The sky…” Kageyama looked up. He blinked. It was there. This was… whole. 

 “The person who holds that part of my mind, the stolen Mark III,” Sugawara whispered, “He has his own version of me. Hinata and you shared this version of me, though, the strongest piece. Kara is trying to break me off to weaken both you and the rogue Mark III. They will be splitting me not in half, but in thirds. Unequal thirds.” 

 Kageyama stared, biting his lip. “But what would that do to you…?” 

 “I don’t know.” 

 “Can they even use you, without a Mark III suit?” 

 “Possibly.” Sugawara tensed. “I do more than just the Mark III. I help analyse data and communicate with Main Command. Ennoshita and Kinoshita would make violent use of me, even without a suit. Let’s begin.” 

 Kageyama nodded. “How?” 

 “It’ll start soon,” Suga explained. “When it starts… we’ll enter relativity. Everything will be the madness of my mind.” 

 “Madness… of your mind?” 

 “Did you know we have a blind spot, Kageyama?” Sugawara smiled. “In our eye. Where our optic nerve connects, we don’t have any cones or rods in our eyes. We’re blind, all of us, a little dot in our vision. Both eyes. But we never know it, our brain works around it. Our mind doesn’t allow us to see what we lack. Did you know we can’t see colour in our peripheral vision? Again, our mind covers that up. Our mind works very hard to let us make sense of everything we see.” 

 “So… here too.” Kageyama frowned. “What you’re seeing and what I’m seeing…” 

 “They’re going to be entirely different.” Sugawara nodded. “But if you want the power to save Hinata, it’s important we take as much ground as we can.” 

 “Understood.” 

 “Everything will be colour coded, luckily. With only you left registered on Shira, we will be represented by blue. Kara is making use of Hinata’s suit, so they will most likely be orange. The rogue Mark III will be an acid green. If you see any Sugawaras that are orange or green, you need to shoot it. One shot is all it will take, and that part of my mind will belong to Kara. Understood?” 

 “Shoot the Sugawaras. Colour coded. Yeah.” 

 “We’re going to split up, so we can cover more ground, but…” Suga hitched his breath. “If you see someone who isn’t me, who is wearing a Mark III suit… it’s important you avoid them. Even if a bullet nicks you, there’s no telling what damage it would do to your consciousness. There’s no telling what damage that would do to me.” 

 “Alright.” Kageyama frowned. If there was someone hacking Hinata’s suit, he wanted to shoot him several hundreds of times, but he knew it wouldn’t be worth it. “I’m ready.” 

 “Good, because it’s starting.” 






I hated the Mark III system from before I even signed up for it. When I heard about the idea, after we excavated some core components from Metropolis, I thought the whole thing was… horrible. The only reason I didn’t advocate against it was because I thought Daishou Suguru’s father deserved it. I thought he deserved to be chained, wired, and sculpted into that monstrosity. How ironic, then… when Daishou’s father died, I was the only one we could reliably trust to take his place and become the Mark III system. 

 If I had advocated against it, as I knew I should have, I wouldn’t have become the system I am. 

 If I trusted my humanity, I wouldn’t have lost it. 

 But… I could never deny, that being the system let me see my mind—and inside my mind was something fantastic and beautiful. It was a space that was altogether impossible to describe… all I can say is that it was like watching a sunset from a beach, not having a care in the world, being one with the world and the world being one with you. 

 I grew up in a bit of a harsher time. It wasn’t quite like it was now, where thoughts are more progressive around concepts of defining oneself. I always identified as neither gender, and I have never been attracted to one gender over another. I remember arguing with someone, and them telling me that such a thing was stupid. I wasn’t angry, I just replied, simply, 

 “Do you really think you understand everything about the human mind?” 

 It shut them up. 

 The brain of us humans, the minds of us humans… we are beautiful, and we are complex. It is possibly the most complex thing on this planet, and every single one of us has one. Being able to see into my mind is something only the Mark III has given me the ability to do. My mind seemed like an endless city, covered in a dense fog, warm, safe, and quiet – coloured by a sunset. 

 When it began, everything was a flux. It was a scary experience, but a beautiful one too. I think that makes sense, doesn’t it…? We humans… we are scary, but beautiful. We can be horrible, or we can be kind. We can be anything, and that is scary – and it’s also beautiful.
 






 Kageyama fired at another Sugawara, watching it burst into shards that spun wildly in the air. The shards recoloured to blue and formed another Sugawara, blue this time. 

 A building ripped out of the ground in front of him. 

 Kageyama leapt on it and let it take him to new heights. He fired at more and then gathered energy in his palm. Pulsing with electricity, he unleashed a wave of forked lightning, shattering several Sugawaras from his vantage point. He glanced over, seeing the real Suga, in action. 

 Sugawara’s Mark III suit was glowing white. From his back extended metallic wings that hovered behind his shoulders, not quite connected to his suit, hovering by magnetic energy. He shot several metallic feathers forward, layered with white hot crackling energy. 

 It was his Mark III power – if he could have a Mark III power. 

 He never had one, but here he did. 

 Kageyama turned around to face the other way, cover more ground, but something caught his eye. 

 A Mark III user in an orange suit. There was a lash of lava from his palm that hit several Sugawaras. 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. 

 The Mark III user seemed… slow. His movements were janky, clanky, not quite right. 

 Kageyama stared, feeling Sugawara drift closer to him. “Is that Hinata?” 

 “I don’t know,” Suga admitted. “He’s not moving as fast as we are… so maybe Hinata is being forced, or someone else is using the suit.” 

 “So many maybes!” Kageyama grit his teeth. “Why don’t we just have the answers for once!?” 

 “I agree.” Sugawara sighed. “Well, at least the there’s no sight of a third suit. We’ve been stealing many of those.” 

 “But that orange suit is following us… trying to steal all of our blues…” 

 “Let’s split up.” 

 “Right.” 







 When it was over, Kageyama began screaming. His eyes opened, but he couldn’t see. The engineers and doctors rushed over to disconnect him from the wires. Several people were telling him to hold still, and he tried, he tried but he was shaking so much. It felt like he was bleeding from everywhere as the needles were pulled out. He yelled, and yelled, but eventually his breathing calmed. 

 No, he wasn’t bleeding… 

 The wires were hooked up to his suit – they didn’t puncture his skin at all. 

 Kageyama sat up on the table, despite being told not to. He dismantled his helmet and gloves, looking at his hands, making sure there were no holes, before he felt his face and the back of his neck. He craned his head down and let out a sigh of relief. 

 Iwaizumi stared for a moment. “Are you alright?” 

 “Y-” Kageyama swallowed hard. “Yes… s-sorry…” 

 “As long as you’re alright.” Iwaizumi let out a sigh of relief. “Here.” He offered a datapad. “These are the old results.” 


   Previous 
    Orange/Blue: 60% 
    Green: 40% 


 Kageyama stared at it. “And the new ones?” 

 “The update will come soon,” Iwaizumi murmured. “We’re going to see soon…” 

 Kageyama bit his lip. 

 His screen flickered. 


   New 
    Blue: 50% 
    Orange: 25% 
    Green: 25% 


 Kageyama frowned. “We lost ten percent…” 

 “Well,” Sugawara’s voice came from the datapad (and, several paces away, Sugawara’s lips were moving though no sound was coming through), “Without you, we would have lost much more. Individually, you gained twenty percent.” 

 Kageyama blinked. “What?” 

 “The previous sixty percent, while good for Shira, was split between Hinata and Ushijima, and then Hinata and you, whenever we were in combat. You only had thirty percent of my system, and you have that fifty percent all to yourself. You’ve become stronger.” 

 Kageyama looked at the numbers. “And my powers… rely entirely on you, don’t they?” 

 Sugawara, chained up in wires, nodded, and his lips moved again, though he spoke through the datapad, “Yes. This is good news.” 

 “No.” Kageyama shook his head as he offered the datapad. “That part isn’t the good news.” 

 Iwaizumi took the datapad and raised an eyebrow. 

 “The good news…” Kageyama stepped towards Sugawara and looked up at him, face to face, “Is that we have a lead. Hinata’s Mark III suit is still active.” 

 “Yes.” Sugawara seemed to smile. “But now we’re going to have to find it. That will be a tough task.” 

 “We’ll find it,” Kageyama assured. “We will.” 

 Sugawara stared at him, eyes glowing solely blue. 

 “We’ll find him.” Kageyama smiled. “And we’ll bring him home.” 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 14: Act 2, Part XIV 



I’ve said before that for a soldier… hopelessness and helplessness is the scariest, while hope and faith are the strongest. We had no confirmation at that point that Hinata was alive, but it was a strong push that both of us needed. It was the push I needed. Kageyama always had a sense of strong direction, and he was more hopeful than I was, but he also benefited greatly from it. 

 We didn’t know where Hinata was, but being so close made Kageyama lose it. Forgetting his need to recover, forgetting to take time for himself, he used his time off in the way that he wanted. He trained and trained, trying to be better, trying to be stronger, trying to be more. 

 Main Command sent him missives, on several occasions, to take time off, to rest. 

 In a way, I understood. Seeing Kageyama’s biorhythms, the way his heart was pounding, the energy, the hope… it would have been difficult to keep him still. The new lead was what we needed. But I was also getting good at working with Kageyama, I was good at… redirecting him when he needed it. 

 So, of course, I made him hold Kindaichi and Kunimi on his offer for dinner.
 






 Kageyama sat at the round table, on high chairs. Kawanishi on Reon had served them some extra dishes than they ordered, and the three of them weren’t going to it go to waste. 

 Kindaichi smiled. “Yo, man, you’re… looking really good.” 

 “I feel good,” Kageyama admitted. 

 Kunimi’s eyes sparkled. “Something happen?” 

 “It’s. Classified.” Kageyama smiled. “But… you might know what it is soon.” 

 “So.” Kunimi grinned. “Got some news on your pumpkin boy, huh?” 

 Kindaichi nudged him. “You know Kageyama can’t say anything.” 

 “I can’t,” Kageyama said, but he was smiling and he felt that told them what they needed to know. He threw more of the nachos in his mouth and chewed happily. 

 “So.” Kindaichi frowned. “Uh, why are you… here? If you found a lead, I would’ve thought you would just like… run out the door and go chase it?” 

 “Well…” Kageyama paused for a moment. “It’s not a straight lead. Main Command is still searching, and I’m… forced off duty until then.” 

 “That’s stupid.” 

 “Hm.” Kunimi tilted his head. “Not really…. Remember what Iwaizumi said, on our first day? Hinata was the main offense, second only to the Emperor, or really the Datekou, but neither of those guys can move as fast as Hinata. Hinata was pretty big in the army. I’m sure the minute they find him, they’ll send you to get him.” 

 Kageyama nodded. “I hope so.” 

 “Ah.” Kindaichi sighed. “Guess they don’t wanna lose the other Mark III, huh?” 

 “Kageyama would be an obvious target.” 

 “Well.” Kageyama sighed. “We don’t know anything about Hinata… he could be dead, still.” 

 “Unlikely.” Kindaichi ate another nacho, and then blinked as both of them were staring at him. He chewed, and swallowed. “Well, like… Shira captured the ship. The body would be there… and like, the oceans are monitored and stuff. Sure, we can’t see every nook and cranny, but like… we could find a Mark III easily there.” 

 “Hm.” Kunimi thought about it. “Right… and we probably have already traced the trajectory of the escape pods. If Hinata did take an escape pod… he probably went the same direction that Kara did.” 

 Kageyama blinked. 

 “Yeah.” Kindaichi sighed. “So Kara probably has Hinata, right? Probably captured him. It’s either that or he drowned.” 

 “Or incapacitated,” Kunimi added. 

 Kageyama murmured, “Or killed.” 

 They said nothing. 

 “Ah.” Kindaichi laughed a bit. “Look, that kid is way too hard to kill. He’s probably around somewhere or another.” 

 “Mm.” Kunimi nodded. “I think he’s fine.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “You… do?” 

 “If Kara killed the great war hero, Shouyou Hinata, they would have broadcasted it by now.” Kunimi scratched his chin. “That’s what I think, anyway. Plus… you’ve got your lead, so we’re probably not far off. Right?” 

 Kageyama coughed. “Maybe, I… can’t…” 

 “Can’t say anything.” Kunimi smiled. “We know.” 

 “Yeah.” Kageyama looked at his empty plate and decided to finish his drink. “So, um… how… are you guys doing?” 

 “Well.” Kunimi nudged Kindaichi. “He’s up for a promotion soon.” 

 “Y-Yeah!” Kindaichi smiled bright. “Finally I won’t be a Private anymore. The Mark II is really helping me do some good out there. Got a pretty solid record of missions, now.” 

 “Though…” Kunimi sighed. “Our last mission, got some mixed results…” 

 Kindaichi winced. “Kinda botched that one.” 

 “Wasn’t our fault though.” Kunimi sighed. “That’s just how it is.” 

 Kageyama nodded. “Yeah. We can’t speculate on everything else… let’s just focus on what we can do. The more missions we complete, the higher our rank. We’ll be the ones calling the shots eventually.” 

Relatively simple way to see it. 

 Is that bad? 

No? But… it’s also about connections. It’s who you know, too. 

 I know the Emperor. 

Oh yeah? Does he like you?
 

 Kageyama frowned. “No.” 

 Kindaichi and Kunimi stared at him. 

 Kageyama blinked, making eye contact with them. 

 Kindaichi tilted his head. “How does that voice thing work?” 

 “Voice?” Oh. “It’s classified.” 

 “Figured,” Kunimi said in a sigh. He smiled. “Well, I gotta bail early.” 

 Kindaichi smiled. “Good luck.” 

 Kageyama blinked. “What’s up?” 

 “Nothing dangerous.” Kunimi shrugged. “Just a patrol on the border. There’s no real missions worth signing up for, since there’s less pressure on the warfronts, so I might as well rack some patrol missions. I basically do nothing and I can get a few more missions under my belt.” 

 “Hm.” Kageyama frowned. “I think you two have more missions completed than me…” 

 “Yeah, probably.” Kunimi shrugged. “They’re not worth much, but it’s better than nothing. I don’t know… I’m always trying to quantify things. Helps me think of goals, and makes me feel like I’m making progress.” 

It’s smart thinking, though. 

 “It’s smart thinking, though,” Kageyama repeated. 

 Kunimi smirked. “Yeah, well, gotta play smart. I’ll talk to you guys later.” 

 Kageyama nodded. 

 Kindaichi smiled and gave him a small wave. 

 Kunimi left. 

 And now he and Kindaichi were alone. 

 “Hey, man.” Kindaichi bit his lip. “Can I ask you for, um… advice?” 

 “Advice?” 

I did a scan. I think it’s a love doctor question. 

 What the fuck is a love doctor? 

I mean—He’s going to ask you for relationship advice. 

 Oh no.
 Kageyama swallowed hard. “Sure.” 

Why are you nervous? 

 I don’t know anything about this stuff. 

Oh boy. Okay. Just say what I tell you to, okay? 

 Okay.
 Kageyama went to drink his drink, but found it empty. “What’s up?” 

 “Uhhh…” Kindaichi bit his lip more and let out a strangled noise from his throat. “Okay, um… well… you know me and u-uh, A-Akira… um, K-Kunimi…” 

 Kageyama opened his mouth, but felt a pulse. 

Let him say it. 

 “It’s just… I mean, okay. I’m sure you’ve noticed…” 

 Kageyama said nothing. 

 “I’m just, um.” Kindaichi scratched the back of his head. “I’m not sure what to do, or how to take it from here…? Like, you know, we all go way back… the academy days… that’s like, a solid what? Eight? Years ago? Seven? I don’t know… I mean, isn’t it weird or creepy? To harbour a crush on someone that long? Like, hell… even when I think about a year ago, it feels so far away. Doesn’t it?” 

 Kageyama murmured, “It does.” 

 “Yeah! See? So, I just…” Kindaichi let out a deep sigh. “So, anyway… look, man… I know you’re the last person to ask about this, and I respect you probably… don’t wanna talk about this, but… I don’t know. What do I do?” 

Ask him to dinner. 

 “Ask him to a date—dinner. Ask him to. Dinner.” 

 “Yeah?” Kindaichi frowned. “But I always ask him to dinner, as like friends…” 

 “So don’t be a dumbass.” Kageyama stared at him. “Make sure he knows it’s a date.” 

 “Hey man, that’s easier said than done!” 

Breathe. 

 “Breathe.” 

Not him—you! 

 Oh. 

Okay, God, okay just… say this:
 

 “You should take a chance if you really want it,” Kageyama said, almost robotically. 

 Kindaichi frowned. “Yeah…?” 

 “Kindaichi,” Kageyama went off script, despite his wristband zapping him, “Kunimi’s not going to like a dumbass! So stop being stupid and just ask him out! You like him, don’t you?” 

 “W-Well, yeah! He’s… He’s so observant, and he pays attention to detail, and he’s… so cute, and funny, and he’s smart! And he’s fun to be around! And he—” 

 “Shut up!” Kageyama’s cheeks went red. “Just ask him out! I’m leaving!” 

 Kindaichi blinked. “I thought you were paying.” 

 Kageyama looked at Kawanishi. “Charge my card. You have it on file.” 

 Kawanishi just gave a lazy thumbs up. 

 Kageyama left the bar. 

 Kindaichi sulked a bit. 

 Kageyama stepped out, into the cold night air. 

Well done, Kageyama. 

 Thanks. 

That was sarcastic. 

 Oh.
 Kageyama walked towards his place, biting his lip. “Was it that bad?” 

When people are anxious, you should try to be more… understanding. 

 “I’ll try,” Kageyama murmured. 

 “Talking to yourself, Sergeant?” 

 Kageyama tensed, turning around. 

 Hanamaki had a little beret on his head, smirking. 

 Matsukawa was resting his head and arms on Hanamaki’s shoulder, with a happy but lazy look in his eyes. 

 Kageyama blinked. “Oh. You two… you look, different.” 

 “Well.” Hanamaki stretched a bit. “It’s nice to get out of uniform.” 

 “Nah.” Matsukawa yawned. “It’s Makkipuff’s attitude. He’s all business during work. He gets more playful when he’s off.”

 “Hmm? Do I?” Hanamaki looked over his shoulder and smiled. “Well, one of us has to be responsible at some time Mattsun.” 

 “Hmm.” Matsukawa smiled. “Well, I suppose so.” 

 Hanamaki turned back to Kageyama. “What are you doing out here?” 

 “Um. Dinner. With friends.” 

 “Hmm.” Matsukawa’s eyes bore into him. “You’re not charging out there, looking for your boyfriend?” 

 “He’s not my…” Kageyama thought about it. Wait. “Well, uh. Yes. He is my boyfriend.” 

 Hanamaki chuckled. 

 Kageyama blushed. “How’d you know?” 

 “Silly Sergeant,” Hanamaki murmured, “We’ve got cameras in the hangar, to check on our cargo. You were all kissy face with him back there.” 

 Kageyama’s face warmed up to a pink. 

 Matsukawa lost interest in the conversation and started kissing Hanamaki’s neck. 

 Hanamaki shrugged him off playfully. “Mattsun, I’m talking to someone.” 

 “I don’t care. I want some Makkipuff.” 

 “Mattsun.” Hanamaki glanced back to Kageyama. “So why are you still here?” 

 “Main Command is holding me back,” Kageyama murmured. 

 Hanamaki raised an eyebrow, and Matsukawa stopped kissing his neck. “See, Mattsun? I told you we weren’t the only ones they were holding back… Main Command’s probably cooking something up.” 

 “It’s always that way.” Matsukawa sighed. “Whenever it looks calm, that’s when the storms are brewing strongest. Something’s about to go down, Sergeant.” 

 “Hey, Suga,” Hanamaki spoke nonchalantly, “What do you think?” 

Tell them nothing is happening. 

 “Nothing is happening.” 

 “Buuuuullshit,” Matsukawa grit out. “Think about it, Silly Sergeant.” 

 Kageyama tensed. 

 “Hm.” Hanamaki smiled. “Kara was acting against Aoba. We interfered and messed them both up big time—they both hate us right now. Not sure which one’s going to strike, but I’m sure one of them will. There’s a good chance something’s gonna happen while the wounds are still fresh.” 

 “Yeah.” Matsukawa smirked. “It’s like throwing chemicals together. They might explode, they might mix, they might separate… Even if they do nothing and stay the same, they’re still in the same flask now. When you do certain actions in war, you learn to expect a pushback – a feedback. You can’t look into the void without the void looking at you.” 

 Kageyama felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand. 

 “Mattsun.” Hanamaki glanced over his shoulder. “The fuck are you talking about?” 

 “Nothing.” Matsukawa kissed his neck again. “I read it on the back of a cereal box once.” 

 “Mmm, I love cereal.” Hanamaki smirked. “Maybe your kisses are just as sugary.” 

 “Um.” Kageyama stared at them. “Bye.” 

 “Bye,” they said at the same time. 

 Kageyama turned around and began walking away. 

 The night was quiet, otherwise. 






 When Kageyama was home, he stripped and headed into the shower. His head, dunked under hot water, was filled with questions. Eventually, he decided it was best to ask. 

Suga…? 

Yes? 

 Why do you not… talk to Matsukawa and Hanamaki?
 

 The water continued to pound his ears. 

That’s my decision. 

 Weren’t they once… your teammates? 

Once.
 

 Kageyama opened his eyes and moved his head out of the stream of water. What does that mean? 

I’ve changed, since then. I’ve changed… since I’ve been hooked up to this machine. There are… certain ties that are more important than others. 

 Does it hurt, to talk to them?
 

 The water continued to pour. 

More than you’ll ever know. 

 Sorry. 

Don’t be.
 

 Kageyama lathered and rinsed. He eventually turned off the water and stood in the steam for a moment, hand still on the twisting knob. Do you push them away because it hurts, or because you don’t want them to point something out to me…? 

Both. 

 Why? 

Isn’t it obvious? Resting, Kageyama. You should be resting… They’re… they’re right. Something may be going down, but I don’t want to tell you everything. For multiple reason. Right now, you’re just a Sergeant… your rank doesn’t need to know… but… maybe 

 Maybe?
 Kageyama raised an eyebrow. What maybe? 

You’re too incessant. Resting doesn’t just mean physically resting… it means getting your mind off of it too. Ugh, what am I supposed to do? Telling you nothing makes you go crazy, but telling you too much makes you fly off the handle. You’re a tough nut to crack, Kageyama. 

 Are you making fun of me?
 

 There was a laugh. 

More or less, I’m analysing your negative points. My opinion and humour are not relevant. Are you going to stand in the shower all night? 

 Kageyama sighed and opened the door. He grabbed a towel and began drying off. “So why don’t you just tell me?” 

Your rank. 

 Does that matter between us? 

Maybe, maybe not… still I don’t want to get in trouble for messing up the chain of command.
 

 Kageyama sighed as he continued to dry off. 

Long story short, when you went into my mind… Hinata’s Mark III was being activated. So, it’s obvious they’re trying to use the Mark III… and now that they have secured a section of my mind for themselves, a part of Sugawara – me – is being devoted to them and their activity. The complexity of this bio-psycho-socio-techno system is… hard to spy on. They most likely know that. 

 How? Why? 

The previous Mark III, the stolen one, followed the same example. We were able to see minor activity, but we were never able to gather more information than that. They know that. They know that, and they’re hoping the same thing will happen to them as they use Hinata’s Mark III.
 

 “Right.” Kageyama put the towel back on the rack as he moved into his apartment, grabbing clothes, getting dressed slowly. 

Well, let’s just say… we can see there is major part of activity on all three Sugawaras. It’s doing some high level of activity… the acid green one I mean. It probably felt the loss of that fifteen percent, and is also brewing. As for Kara… we’re not entirely sure what’s going on, but we can tell that the Mark III is being used. 

 “So we have data…” Kageyama sighed. “We can’t… follow it? Track it? Correlate it? Anything?” 

Well, if you remember… Kara manages to keep themselves hidden from us. They bounce their data through proxies at a rate that we can’t dismantle. We have data… but none of it makes sense. In fact, I’m willing to bet they know we’re tracking them, and they’ve made a system that’s too complex for even me to decipher. We have no idea where their main base is, which is a major problem… 

 “But it’s high level of activity.” Kageyama slipped on a shirt as well, finally dressed in his pyjamas. “High level of activity means they’re up to something. They’re unhappy that we only lost ten percent, probably.” 

Yeah. It’s also important to realise… Kara is a force that directly opposes Shira, however… they have yet to unleash their first big strike against us. The army is probably hungry, ready, and growing impatient. 

 “The storm is brewing.” 

Exactly. I hope you don’t think I’m saying this to shut you up, but: You are our last Mark III. We need you on standby. You are a necessity… It’s probably driving the Emperor crazy to rely on a Sergeant, but this is how the cards have been played. 

 “I understand.” Kageyama stared out the window, to the bright lights of the city below, even amidst the night. He put a hand on the cool glass. “Hinata was more than just a unit, though… He was a Commander. He could rally the troops, think on his feet, and make judgement calls in ways that I never can… I can’t fill the hole he left behind… so I just… I want to be more. I want to get better. I need to improve, faster…” 

But if we were to send you out… 

 Kageyama sighed. “It would be to their advantage. I’m a weaker target to take down… and they managed to get Hinata down.” 

Exactly. Hm… no signs of aggression, no signs of decision making, or planning… Your frontal lobe activity is more or less stable. 

 What? 

I was scanning your brain. 

 The suits not on. 

Your bracelet is… and your connection with me is stronger, remember?
 

 Kageyama sighed. “Look.” He grit his teeth. “I know I’m not Hinata. I get angry, and I yell, and I have a poor temper… I don’t know how to laugh things off, but I don’t fly off the handle.” 

There have been recorded instances that would say otherwise. 

 “I think before I act!” He frowned. “I may be loud, but… I’m not impulsive. I’m not like him in that regard.” 

Impulsive, yes… but impulsive the way Hinata was? No. I’m… I’m still getting used to you, Kageyama. It may have felt like a long time you’ve been hooked up to me, but compared to the Emperor or the Commander, it’s just been a short while. Hinata… well, years, and Ushijima… well… years and years. I also knew them much more before the connection. 

 “Suga.” Kageyama turned away from the windows. “Tell me about the third Mark III, the stolen one.” 

I can’t. 

 “Tell me.” 

Do you want me to try…? 

 “Yes.” 

 He heard a sound, like Sugawara opening his mouth, breathing in, and— 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. 

 The room blared red, screaming. The walls tore out of the floor and crashed into each other. The couch warped and molted, catching fire, and the ceiling began to collapse. 

 “Stop!” 

 The room returned. 

 Kageyama fell to his knees, breathing hard. He grabbed his head. “What…” 

Access denied. I do not have permission to speak about that suit. 

 “But.” Kageyama breathed heavily. “Why…?” 

A big red pop-up that says access denied isn’t scary to you if you’re at a computer. But… if you are the computer… you’ll feel the full force of that defensive wall. 

 Kageyama swallowed hard. “That’s…” He sighed, closing his eyes. “So cruel…” 

I won’t do it again. 

 Not to me, Suga…. to you.
 

 Sugawara didn’t reply. 

 Kageyama relaxed. “I won’t ask again.” 

I am a person, but I am also now a machine… I have locks on my abilities, my communications, and other things when sensitive information is regarded. Don’t pity me, Kageyama—I chose this. 

 It’s not pity… but it is sad. 

That’s pity. 

 It’s not!
 

 He felt Sugawara probe deeper in his mind, and then he went quiet. Kageyama assumed Sugawara understood now, it wasn’t pity. He just… Kageyama frowned. Sugawara was still human, so how could anyone force someone to live through such… chains… Kageyama shook his head. “I want to help you,” he whispered, “I don’t know if you want my help, or if there’s anything I can do—but I want to help you.” 

I… see… 

 “So let me help you!” 

When this war ends… I’ll be released. 

 Is there no other way…? 

There is one, but I won’t go that route. Ever.
 

 “What is it?” 

 The room stood still. 

 Kageyama got on his feet and walked around. But there’s stuff we can do, even before releasing you. People you can talk to, reconnect with. 

I don’t know what you’re talking about. 

 You’re allowed to lie, if you want, but don’t talk to me as if I’m stupid. 

It’s not lying… just… strategic stretching of the truth.
 

 “Sawamura,” Kageyama murmured. “The Lieutenant-Specialised, the tactician… he used to call you Koushi?” 

 The room bristled around him. 

 “And you used to call him Daichi.” 

Yes… Daichi… 

 Why don’t you rekindle that? 

Oh Tobio… what do you even understand? It… wouldn’t be fair to him… to have this. To have me, as I am now… and it’s more than that. We disagreed, you know, on this… We disagreed and—
 

 “Excuses!” Kageyama stared at a mirror, trying to see Suga through it. “You’re just making excuses! If he means something to you, then do it! Is he with someone? Is that it?” 

No. 

 “Then! What more do you need? He’s waiting for you!” Kageyama glared at the mirror. “Honestly, you’re not biologically related to Hinata, but you’re just as much of a dumbass—there’s no doubt you two are brothers!” 

 He heard a small, sharp laugh. 

How long have you had this disagreement? 

It’s… gone on longer than you know. 

 So? You love him, don’t you? Doesn’t that matter more!? 

Tobio… I pray you never have to know. 

 Know what? 

Just how weak humanity and love, and all those things, are… in the face of war.
 






 Iwaizumi sighed as he left the palace. Another day of working into the endless hours of the night. He hadn’t been sleeping well, and it was starting to show. He was thankful that Third Lord Shirabu actually put some makeup on him to hide the heavy bags under his eyes. Iwaizumi had told himself he’d go to bed early tonight… but it seemed that wasn’t going to happen. 

 He looked up. 

 Though the skyscrapers and city light usually blinded him of it, near the back entrance of the palace he could see the stars. 

 All those stars, the moon, and all of space… 

 A distant voice of ages past whispered to him, 

“Doesn’t it make you feel alone, Iwa-chan?” 

 Anger flared through him for a moment, but he reached up and grabbed the black fang necklace that hung around his neck. His eyes softened. 

 The stars were so bright. 

 “Yeah,” he whispered… “It does.” 






 Kageyama raised his head, despite the dark hour of the night. He rubbed his face, tense despite the soft and clean sheets. He sat up and sighed. 

Can’t sleep…? 

 Not really. 

Wanna talk? 

 Sure. 

They say if you can’t sleep in twenty or so minutes of being in bed, you should get up and do something else.
 

 Kageyama hummed as he thought about it. He got out of bed and walked to his kitchen. He grabbed a glass and filled it slowly with cold water. Is Lord Ushijima a good emperor? 

Hm? Sorry? 

 I don’t know him, personally… I’ve never really seen him. The Second Lord usually does the public meetings… sometimes Ushijima is described as cold, very cold, but efficient. 

Well… I think it depends who you ask. He’s not nearly as cold or cruel as he comes off to be. He’s just… not very good at being warm. But… he’s kind. I think, anyway… Is he a good emperor…? Well… I think he’s the best one we could ask for as far as the war is concerned. 

 Just the war? 

He was inexperienced in warfare when he took over… but he learned. He’s a bit like you? Always focusing on getting better. He focuses on what he can do… When the war broke out, he took over. His battle strategies and his meetings are what kept Shira alive. Aoba would have crushed us years ago, and Oikawa taking the throne as Reagent Lord…
 

 Kageyama felt his own chest squeeze. 

We would be dead if we didn’t have a master strategist of our own at the helm. I can’t say overall if he is good or bad… because it’s a lot more complicated. His priority is, and always has been, protecting the civilians, and that’s important to me. So, for me, I think he’s a good emperor. 

 Kageyama nodded. He sipped his water and thought it over. He looked around his kitchen for a long moment. “Suga…? Does… does your family know, about Hinata? That he’s… missing?” 

Yes. I told Auntie myself. 

 How is she taking it? 

She might be frail, physically, but she’s a soldier at heart. She knows how to take heavy information and not let it affect her. 

 I like her. 

I do too. 

 And, um… Natsu…? 

She’s doing okay. I don’t… know if she completely understands the situation. She is young, but… all she really knows is Hinata’s in trouble, and the good guys are working very hard to get him back.
 

 Kageyama nodded firmly. “We are.” 

You actually missed quite the scene at Main Command today! Natsu came in, stomping her feet, and told Emperor Ushijima he needed to get his act together and find her brother. 

 Kageyama choked in his water. “She’s… got guts.” 

Yup! One of ours, through and through… Ushijima was really good about the whole thing. I swear, Shirabu looked like he was ready to grab her by the ankle and throw her out, but Ushijima was nice about it. He promised her he would do his best. 

 Kageyama’s eyes softened. 

I saved the video file. When she grows up, I’m going to remind her what a brat she was as a kid. 

 Kageyama snorted. “Good plan.” 






 Morning came sooner than expected. Kageyama had slept in a bit, but decided to stay away from the Emperial Palace. He was having breakfast at the same small cafe he was at, slurping on a cream frap, when Sugawara’s voice rang in his head. 

You have an incoming visitor: Akiteru Tsukishima. 

 Kageyama stopped slurping. 

He’s. He’s wondering about his brother, Kei Tsukishima… He… never reached a high rank. It’s on a need to know basis, and it’s been deemed he doesn’t need to know. 

 His own brother…? 

He knows the bare details. Just enough… not much else.
 

 Akiteru stormed into the cafe and looked around. Upon seeing Kageyama, he marched up to him. “Hey!” 

 “Do you…” Kageyama glanced at the seat in front of him. “Want to sit down?” 

 “Uh.” Akiteru blinked, looked at the seat, and then took it. “Listen! You’re probably wondering—” 

 “I know.” Kageyama stared at him. “I’ve got someone in my head, remember?” 

 “A-Ah.” Akiteru deflated a bit. “Right.” 

 “I’m not supposed to say anything…” Kageyama did a quick scan of the cafe and then sighed. “But…” He could feel his wristband getting tighter, Suga warning him not to go on. “But… long story short… the mission went sour near the end. Your brother had a separate mission from my group. It was my mission, but not my command.” 

 “I get it.” Akiteru breathed in and out through his nose. “I’m not blaming you or anything, it’s just…” 

 “The ship was hit with an EMP,” Kageyama went on. He could see in Akiteru’s eyes that nothing else needed to be said about that. “Just before it went off, Hinata disengaged to save your brother. He got… caught in a bad spot. Hinata forced me in an escape pod,” (how many times did he have to say this?) “And that was the last we heard of either of them.” 

 Akiteru’s shoulders went slack. He looked down for a bit. “Why… would they send Kei… on an EMP mission?” 

 “I don’t know.” 

 “Do you…” He looked up. “Do you think he’s… alive?” 

 “I think Hinata’s alive,” Kageyama said cautiously, “And I don’t think Hinata would let your brother die. Both of them knew there was an EMP on the mission, I didn’t, and I’m sure they both knew the risk going in… Knowing Hinata…” 

 Akiteru sighed. “Shouyou wouldn’t leave him behind.” 

 “We won’t know until we know,” Kageyama murmured. “If… I hear anything… I’ll let you know.” 

 “Even if it’s classified?” 

 “Even then.” 

 Akiteru made a noise and stood up. He hugged Kageyama tight. “Thank you!” He pulled away and left the cafe. 

 Kageyama stared, watching him leave. He then looked out the window and stared out for a while. 







Chapter 14: Infodex 14 



 Commander Shouyou Hinata’s special Mark III ability is known by his command word, Ignite. It is instant oxidation, also known as spontaneous combustion. He can cause his target to rapidly consume oxygen to produce a flash flame. His command word cause filaments in his suit, at the tips and palm of his gauntlet, to break off and burn, which requires his suit to rapidly rebuild the plasma material. His Ignite command can also be modified by secondary command words. 

 Ignite: Plasma – Plasma shots react to the oxidation and are coated in fire. 

 Ignite: Scatter – A burst of air sprays the flares in different directions before beginning the oxidation process. 

 Ignite Spear – Using plasma, it holds the flame in a shape before shooting off as a projectile. 

 Ignite: Wall – An upward stream of fire bursts from the ground, usually making use of thermal heat locked deep underground. 

 Other Ignite sub-commands have been tested, but are highly unstable. Only these four are deemed safe enough for live-combat use, as the risk of a failed Ignite may cause damage to Hinata’s Mark III suit. Two more Ignite commands are in the process of being refined: 

 Ignite: Shield – A defensive maneuver, similar to Ignite: Wall, that uses plasma to create a more practical shield for projectiles. 

 Ignite: Stream – A constant ray of fire between the Mark III’s gauntlets and a specific point. 

 Commander Shouyou Hinata has stated he will focus on improving these two abilities with time and experience. 






Chapter 14: Act 2, Part XVI 



 It was a quiet, soft, “Kageyama?” The tone had been laced with worry, concern. 

 Kageyama looked up. 

 Yamaguchi had just gotten lunch at the cafeteria on a tray and had even walking passed when he blinked. “Are you okay?” He put his tray down and sat in front of Kageyama. “You just look… like you’re thinking deeply.” He bit his lip. “Are you… thinking of him?” 

 “What?” Kageyama blinked. “Who?” 

 Yamaguchi blinked as well. 

 “I was just thinking… it’s ironic because… wouldn’t we all be more skinny, if we ripped off our skin?” 

 Yamaguchi stared. 

 His datapad spoke up, with Suga’s voice, “Can confirm, that is exactly what he was thinking about.” 

 “Oh.” Yamaguchi blinked twice. “Well… uh… I thought you were thinking about…” 

 Kageyama looked at Yamaguchi’s tray of food, and remembered his own. He grabbed his fork. “Hinata?” 

 “Y-Yeah…” Yamaguchi expected more and then looked away when he didn’t get anything. “I’m… I’m worried.” 

 “You were…” Kageyama looked at him. “Close, to Third Lord Tsukishima?” 

 Yamaguchi’s cheeks warmed up. “Y-Yeah, we were close… um. Well, when I met him, it was like, well… his arm and his leg, they were quite… dated? That’s the best way to put it. Because his modified Mark II suit was wrapped around his limbs, nobody really wanted to improve the physical structures. But technology had advanced so much in five years, that I uh… I offered to work on him.” 

 Kageyama hummed. “And he said yes.” 

 “Well, no. He actually said no. I realised it’s kind of weird, probably, to ask to touch someone’s… body…” Yamaguchi cleared his throat. “But Lieutenant Sawamura said it would be good for him if I did some minor touch-ups. So, I started with minor stuff, you know? He noticed a difference already, and then he let me work on his arms and his legs. I mean, with the exception of the core diamgen, I actually redesigned his entire inner and outer frames, of his leg and his arm. I worked some stuff on his eye, but not too much… I did do some upgrades to his internal organs too!” 

 Kageyama thought back. 


“You…” Kuroo’s eyes hardened, as if hurt. “You think Kei was using him? Yamaguchi? Because, what… he’s been upgrading his cyborg body since Kinoshita left…? Shit.” He closed his eyes. “That would break Yamaguchi’s heart.” He lowered his head. “But—“ 


 Kageyama’s eyes softened. “He must trust you a lot, to let you mess around with his organs.” 

 “W-Well, yeah. I’m… not a doctor… but Narita and I worked together on it. Narita’s actually built a lot of medical equipment, and he personally manages the maintenance of the… Mark III host.” 

 Kageyama nodded slowly. 

 “But, yeah.” Yamaguchi perked up. “With Tsukki’s eye, he could see what I was doing. He wanted to be awake during it, so he can make sure I didn’t mess up. I never did, but… I always felt bad. It was a lot of pain, honestly. But he was… encouraging, actually.” 

 “He.” Kageyama frowned. “Doesn’t seem like the type.” 

 “A lot of people don’t know him.” Yamaguchi laughed. “He’s really dry, but he can be kind of sweet sometime.” 

 “I know.” 

 “You… do?” 

 “He’s.” Kageyama thought back to Natsu. “He’s good with kids.” 

 “Ah.” Yamaguchi laughed. “Shouyou’s sister you mean?” 

 “Mhm.” 

 “Yeah, it’s adorable. Need me a man that can do both, right?” 

 “What?” 

 “N-Nothing!” 

 “Um.” Kageyama looked away. “He’s just, really good with kids. It surprised me.” 

 “He’s so much more than what people pretend he is – and that r-really makes me happy! You know? He’s… amazing, honestly, I… I uh.” Yamaguchi blushed. “N-Never mind. Forget I said anything.” 

 “Forgotten.” 

 “I, uh.” Yamaguchi straightened his back. “Sorry I came to check in on you, now I’m nervous and rambling…” 

 “It’s fine.” 

 “I um.” He took a small breath. “I’ve been… worried, about Akiteru, too. He’s… he told me he went to visit you. We talk a lot, you know, but I couldn’t tell him anything… I didn’t know you had the clearance to do that.” 

 “I didn’t.” Kageyama bit his lip. “But…” 

 “Yeah, I get it.” Yamaguchi smiled. “I wanted to do it myself, let Akiteru know everything, but…” 

 “But?” 

 “We’re going to do it, right?” Yamaguchi stared at him, eyes firm. “We’re going to bring them home. Both of them. Right?” 

 Kageyama felt his lips tug into a smile. “Yeah.” 

 Yamaguchi smiled bright. “Okay! I just… I wanted to tell you… um.” He ran a hand nervously through his hair. “You’re not alone in this. We’re working hard, at Main Command. If there’s activity of that Mark III… I’m going. I’m going on the field.” 

 Kageyama frowned. “Are you sure?” 

 “Yeah. Daichi has to remain in Main Command, since he’s the tactician, but… I’m his protégé, so I’ve got more wiggle room than he does. That’s the best way to put it.” Yamaguchi bit his lip. “I mean, like… If it’s a big mission, it’ll be good for someone like me to set up a base, communication channels, stuff like that. I’ll be on the field but…” Yamaguchi’s shoulders sulked. “Not really… in the front. Further away from the fighting.” 

 “It’s a critical job,” Kageyama countered, “I’ll feel better if you’re there, giving it your all.” 

 Yamaguchi smiled even brighter than before. “Then, y-yeah! I’m going to give it my all!” 

 “We’ll do it. We’ll bring them home.” Kageyama nodded. “Together.” 






 In their previous training regime, Tsukishima’s eye was used to analyse data that would help Sugawara. But now, Yamaguchi offered to do it. He wouldn’t be able to gather data as fast without Tsukki’s eye, but he was still doing what he could. 

 Sugawara spoke through the speakers, “I appreciate you doing this, Yamaguchi.” 

 “No! I’m happy to do it!” Yamaguchi smiled bright. “It’s Tsukki’s work, so… I don’t want it all to pile up while he’s gone!” 

 Kageyama smiled. Yamaguchi’s upbeat attitude put a little thrill in him, as if his dreams were several steps closer than he realised. He focused on the Mark III suit, the cold fluid moving under his joints. His lightning still needed work. His accuracy was poor, a pretty big problem, but it was destructive. It was hard to aim, though… It wasn’t quite like real lightning, that moved at the speed of light, but it’s extreme speed was hard to manage. 

 But not impossible. 

 “One more,” Kageyama murmured. “I’m going to master it…” 






 Kageyama was showering in the changing room when he felt his bracelet squeeze. He opened his eyes. 

What is it? 

I’m getting word of something… 

 Is it… Kara? 

It’s nothing quite yet. But I want you to equip your suit and remain on standby.
 

 Kageyama turned off the water and moved quickly to get dressed. “Aoba? Kara?” 

That’s the thing… we don’t know. There’s movements, but it’s strange… by the pattern of this movement, well… we’ve never seen it before, so our bet is on Kara. There could be an attack. It doesn’t look like a big one, but it’s moving fast. 

 So… forces are moving forward. 

More or less, yeah. Quickly. 

 But still avoiding detection? 

Rather masterfully. I need you to stop doing so much. I can’t train with you anymore – I need all my sub-systems to monitor this… whatever it is. 

 Got it. Good luck.
 






 At Main Command, Yamaguchi was typing away at a keyboard, running programs that were compiling the data. He called out a quick, “Sent!” 

 Third Lord Kiyoomi Sakusa hummed behind his faceguard. “Thank you,” he spoke muffled, “My team will take it from here. Your assistance has been invaluable.” 

 Yamaguchi smiled bright. “Glad to help!” 

 Daichi watched Sakusa leave and he glanced to Daichi. “Well done. I wouldn’t have caught that if I were you.” 

 “Ah.” Yamaguchi scratched his cheek. “I don’t know how I saw it… the pattern was strange, but it seemed to make sense after a while…” 

 Daichi sighed and took the seat next to him. “Well, looks like we don’t have any tasks quite yet. I’m sure something will come. Do you want coffee?” 

 “No thanks, but.” Yamaguchi tensed. “Um…” He bit his lip. “Lieutenant… can I…” He lowered his voice, “Can I ask a personal question?” 

 Daichi blinked. “I suppose… What is it?” 

 “Why is it, you always make me talk to the Mark III system?” Yamaguchi kept his eyes downcast. “You avoid any direct communication with it, and you tend to look away whenever it is giving us information. Why is that?” 

 “Uh.” Daichi looked away. “Well, the easiest way to say it is just… to be blunt… Koushi and I, we were…” He lifted his hand, showing off a metal band around it. “We were engaged. We didn’t have the chance to get married yet, but I’m wearing the wedding band we chose together.” 

 Yamaguchi looked up. “That’s…” 

 “Yes. The only accessory the Mark III is allowed to wear… he has a matching ring.” 

 Yamaguchi let a silence fall over all of them and he bit his lip. “Then… why…?” 

 Daichi sighed. “The relationship… went sour… when the whole… machine thing… But that’s more or less it, I guess.” 

 “But.” He frowned. “Isn’t it… worth…? Bridging?” 

 “Bridging?” Daichi sighed. “Tadashi…” 

 “I-I’m sorry, it’s not.” Yamaguchi bit his lip. “It’s not my place… I figured you hated each other or something, I just didn’t expect… I just…” He rubbed his hands together. “I don’t know, I’ve just been thinking, about lost chances lately? Like… if I had my chance, if I had one more chance to spill my heart out to the person I…” His throat tightened. “I would go for it now… I would go for it now that I can’t. You know?” 

 Daichi said nothing. 

 Yamaguchi ducked his head. “So… I don’t know… I think, if you lost the chance, to bridge it, or to fix it… wouldn’t you regret it?” 

 “It’s complicated, Tadashi,” Daichi’s voice was very quiet. “We’re both focused more on the war effort, right now… it’s more pressing.” 

 “But that’s an excuse.” 

 “E-Excuse me?” 

 “I-I, just…” Yamaguchi didn’t dare make eye contact. “You work ten or twelve, or sometimes fifteen hours a day… I know you barely get eight hours of sleep… but I’m sure you could find a few hours in a day to talk to each other. There’s… more to life than working endlessly.” 

 “Maybe.” Daichi frowned. “You sound naive, but I don’t know which one of us is really naive.” 

 “Maybe I am naive,” Yamaguchi whispered, “But I think it’s worth bridging.” 

 “Well.” Daichi sighed, closing his eyes. “I don’t.” 






 Kageyama was walking around when his vision went pure red. He was given a quick vision of Hanger 17, and he didn’t question it. As soon as he could see, he turned around and started running. He had only been running for a minute before every emergency light in the Palace began screaming a red alert. His phone was going off, requests for every available soldier were going out. 

 By the time he got to the hangar, he noticed a few people he recognised. 

 Kunimi was standing tall, talking with authority, already having a group to command. 

 Kindaichi was standing behind him, and a bit to the side. Second in command, maybe? Good for him. 

 Kageyama was instructed to stay close by, but not to join that squad. 

What’s going on? 

Just stay here for now. Busy.
 

 Kageyama didn’t push it. 



 And so he waited, and waited. 

 Finally, he felt it, as though Suga’s attention was turned towards him. 

What’s going on? 

Kara is moving. The trail we were following… it was a distraction. Their main force is already far ahead, zoning in their target. It’s a marine base. 

 A marine base? 

It’s where we’re holding the ship you captured. 

 The Inarizaki? They’re trying to take it back? 

With the amount of explosives they have, I think they’re going to make it burn.
 

 Kageyama nodded. Suga— 

You know I can’t tell you, but… I can make an exception. 

 There’s a Mark III? 

Yes. It’s signature…
 

 Kageyama felt his chest squeeze. 

It’s Hinata’s. 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 15: Act 2, Part XVII 



 Kageyama could feel their fear. 

 The communications channels had been cut. 

 Kageyama had his own fears, of course, but he chose not to think about it. The hangar at the back of the aircraft opened up, and the bright sunlight beamed into the dark ship. Several soldiers, all strapped in, stared in horror at Kageyama. He stood, in the middle walkway between the two rows of soldiers, not held down by everything. They all looked at him, as if to beg him not to, but he ignored it. He kept his helmet facing forward and he took a deep breath. 

 The communication channels had been cut, but Sugawara could still connect to him. 

 Only a little though—there was sharp static. 

Kageyama? 

 I’m ready, for the drop. 

This will be your first drop, and it’s quite a high altitude. I will give you instructions on how to adjust your body as you go. 

 Understood. 

Go when I give you the signal.
 

 Kageyama swallowed hard, and nodded. He waited, waited, and then it was time. He was given the signal. He ran and threw himself out of the ship. The surge of wind hit him full-on, and he was floating, aiming downwards, limbs hanging out as he forced himself to breathe. His helmet suddenly felt suffocating, and the sight of the battlefield below him was strangely breathtaking. 

 There were so many soldiers, mechas, explosions. He could see the expanse of the sea filling into the bay, and the greenery of the man-made basin that was created behind a dam. 

You have to narrow your body. 

 Kageyama pushed his arms and legs together, becoming an arrow that surged straight down. It was said that a perfect right angle drop was the best, and the safest. Even a few degrees could end up with massive rupturing of limbs or organs inside the Mark III suit. He felt plasma around him gather, and he forced himself to breathe deep. 

 Plasma absorbed the kinetic energy of movement. 

 Kageyama was to harness it, and use it. 

 At howling speeds, the wind roared passed him and Kageyama analysed the field. 

 It was his first real all-out fight, the numbers of units on both sides greatly exceeding any that Kageyama had taken part of. 

Before you hit the ground, you need to twist your body. You need to land on your feet, or your suit will collapse on itself. Understood? 

 Yes. 

Another thing—it’s important you use your powers when you land. It’s optional, and we usually don’t encourage it… but it’s going to be needed.
 

 Kageyama breathed deeply. The plasma is storing up power… you want me to use electricity now? 

Energy is energy, Kageyama. If you change the shape or its medium, it is still a form of energy. Just do what you think is best. If you fuck this up, it’s the end of you…. but this is a necessary danger. 

 Understood.
 

 Kageyama was racing to the ground and bit his lip. He could tell that Kara had the upper hand in this fight, and Shira wasn’t able to break past their first line. He tried to focus on the drop, though. His visor said 200. But he didn’t know what that meant. Meters? Seconds? Feet? All he knew is it started racing down and he took a deep breath. 

 Now or never— 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. There was a gush of fluid moving through his suit, and his joints began to glow an ocean blue. The blue was bright and shimmering, lining the suit like veins, though far less numerous. 

 Several mechas looked up, just in time— 

 Kageyama spun and hit the ground with a shockwave of blue. 

 Lightning blasted in spears all around him, while the concussive force of thunder erupted like a ring, and both elements shot out to the enemies around him. 

 Four mechas exploded and were shattered into chunks of metal that flew out, several soldiers were caught in the radius, yelling as they were seared from the inside out. 

 Kageyama was on one knee as he looked up. 

 Alive. 

Kageyama! You’ve landed behind enemy lines! We can use this to our advantage, but be careful! 

 Kageyama’s visor flickered with thermal scans and he saw several mechas hiding behind cover. They all moved, wanting to see what caused the explosions. Kageyama pulled out his gun and fired a concentrated plasma shot at one, bursting it wide open. He ducked behind cover, a large piece of rubble, and aimed again. 

 He saw another mecha, coming closer. 

 Kageyama concentrated another plasma blast and shot it in the knee, shattering the joint and making it fall over. 

 The pilot was angrily hitting his command console. 

 Kageyama released a volt of lightning, causing it to explode. Where is Kara getting this many mechas? 

I can’t say for sure. 

 They’re older models…
 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. The black market? 

That’s what I’m guessing, yes.
 

 Kageyama saw a crowd of six soldiers moving. He created a whip of lightning and thrashed at them, slicing lines of pure heat and thunder through them. He spun and threw the whip at another mecha, exploding it as well. 

The loss of seven mechas is going to drive them crazy… Even if they’re the cheaper kinds, they don’t have the funds to replace each vehicle as easily. You had best move, though, in case you get trapped here. 

 Kageyama scanned behind him and began moving towards Shira’s lines. His attacks had caused a break in Kara’s soldiers, and Shira’s troops took full advantage of it upon their advance. They had covered quite a bit of ground in a small amount of time, and Kageyama felt a sense of pride knowing he had done that. 

 He created another whip and took two more mechas down. 

Kageyama! 

 His senses whirred to life. 

 He could see several bullets from several mechas all aiming at him, moving in slow motion. 

Suga – follow my lead. 

I’m with you.
 

 Kageyama pulled his arms and legs in, hovering like a ball above the ground. Lightning gathered and condensed. He shot his limbs out and another circular ring blasted back. The lightning had a magnetic property this time, pulling the bullets back and littering them in the windows of mechas that electrocuted before bursting in flames. 

 The shear amount of smoke… 

Best to retreat East, Kageyama! 

 I’m not going to run away!
 He threw a few more whips at the Kara soldiers. Not here, not ever! 

Ka—Tobio! You’re going to overuse your Mark III system! 

 I have to take that chance! 

Tobio—Listen to me! This battle has just begun! What happens if you find a lead on Hinata? You’ll have to follow it and you’ll have to be at full power—don’t be selfish!
 

 Kageyama paused. He spun and moved behind cover. He bit his lip. 

I’m adjusting your visual system! 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. 

 The sight he saw before him— 


Amidst the heat of Hinata’s suit, and his screaming, Wires from the ceiling of the aircraft moved and two electrical arms shot cold air at him, to the point where the ground around him frosted to ice… though that began to melt rather quickly. 



 Kageyama scowled. Even without the image anymore, his mind remembered distant words. 


He began sobbing. “Why?” he asked, voice wet. “Why did they leave me…?” 


 Kageyama moved back, towards Shira’s army. 


“We were a team… we were… Why am I just the after-thought…? Why does everyone leave me behind…?” 


 Kageyama vaulted over a large chunk of rubble, twisting in the air upside-down, before he landed. You’re right. 

I know I am. Trust me… we do not want you to overuse it. Fall back.
 

 Kageyama moved back and fired at the few remaining Kara soldiers from behind. 

 “Holy shit!” Kindaichi was running towards him. “Kageyama, my man!” 

 “Nicely done, Sergeant.” Kunimi approached with a smirk. “It was like a light show.” 

 Kageyama approached them and nodded. “Are you Squad Delta?” 

 “Yep.” Kunimi smirked. “We have to get inside the marine facility.” 

 “Good.” Kageyama looked back. “I’m joining you guys.” 

 “Well, shit.” Kindaichi grinned. “Good to have you!” 

 “Yeah.” Kunimi smirked. “Morale’s way up. Thanks.” 

 Kageyama just smiled behind his mask. 






 Kageyama joined Squad Delta. The marine base was a large research facility that was normally staffed heavily, by both researchers and soldiers. They were, however, quickly taken out by the mass of Kara’s surprise force. Kunimi led the charge to recapture it. Kunimi had explained that they were supposed to join Squad Beta, which was led by Third Lord Tetsurou Kuroo, but the masses of Kara’s soldiers converged on him. Kunimi had asked if they should keep going. 

 “Yes,” Kageyama said firmly. “They diverted resources to take down the Third Lord, thinned their own ranks to bulk up around him. They are probably wanting to lower our morale if he is killed. If we go to help, we’ll delay our objective – which is what we want. If we knife our way through their thinned ranks now… we’ll complete our objective and take the pressure off the Third Lord.” His eyes were sharp. “They’ll call units back if we start breaking into the facility. They don’t want to give that up.” 

 “Right.” Kunimi nodded. “You’re right.” 

 “Shit.” Kindaichi laughed. “You’ve changed, Kageyama! I just hope the Third Lord’s okay—Goshiki’s in his squad, y’know?” 

 “Then.” Kageyama shot several soldiers with his titanium handgun. “Let’s apply more pressure!” 

 Two mechas suddenly charged towards them, but several grenades at their feet sent them flying sky-high. 

 Kunimi blinked. “What the—” 

 “Squad Lambda! Here to help!” Captain-Specialised Tadashi Yamaguchi and his few units quickly joined theirs. “Looks like Squad Beta got caught up in something. We’re done our objective, so I’m here to help. Who’s leading Delta?” 

 Kageyama motioned to Kunimi with a quick movement of his head. 

 “I am.” Kunimi took a deep breath. “Captain Yamaguchi.” 

 “Corporal,” Yamaguchi said as they ducked behind cover, bullets whizzing overhead. “We should make our way to the main console—if we can fight our way there, we can reactivate our radars and com channels. They’re most likely using the marine facility itself to jam our signals.” 

 “Good.” Kunimi smirked. “Then that’s what we’re doing. Once we get inside, do you know the way to the main console?” 

 “I… have a map… I’ve memorised the underground valves, but I don’t know the topside very well.” 

 “I do,” Kageyama said firmly. “The Mark III system is still connected to me.” 

 “Good.” Kunimi took a deep breath. “Then Kageyama, take point. Kindaichi, I want you on the rear. We’re moving with Captain-Specialised in the middle.” 

 “Me?” Yamaguchi blinked. “Shielded?” 

 “I’m good at blowing stuff up, but as far as getting things back online goes… you’re more suited for that, Captain. We need to make sure you make it there.” 

 “Right.” Yamaguchi glanced at Kageyama. “Sergeant can also do it, but I think it’s best he focuses on his own tasks. 






 They charged through the halls, a total of four firefights in close quarters, before they finally got to the main base. Yamaguchi had a visor over one eye as he tapped at the console, working through the system. 

Kageyama, request leave from the Corporal. You have a new assignment. 

 “Corporal,” Kageyama said out loud. “Permission to leave?—I’ve been given another objective.” 

 Kunimi blinked. “But the com channels… Right, the Mark III. Alright, good luck Sergeant. Give ‘em hell.” 

 Kageyama glanced to Kindaichi, sharing a nod. He looked at Yamaguchi. “Captain, call me if you need me.” 

 Yamaguchi smiled. “Understood!” 

 Kageyama ducked out, but not before he heard Kunimi’s next order. 

 “Guard the command centre! I want every opening identified and guarded. Activate your thermal scans and communicate!” 






 Kageyama found a long square stairway, with stairs going up in right angles along the walls. He kicked down the door and ran up the stairs, vaulting himself upwards with the power of his suit. He got to the top and kicked down that door as well. When he stepped out onto the roof, he frowned. 

 Then he heard it. 

 An aircraft had dropped it from several meters above—a black column the same height as him, and it crashed into the roof, digging a few inches into it. 

 Kageyama walked over and scanned his hand against the reader. 

 The weapon bay opened. 

 Kageyama pulled out a sniper rifle and loaded it with special rounds. He took off his helmet, opting for the smaller visor instead. The smell of ash and burnt hair, the sound of explosions, it ripped into him and he took a deep breath. 

 On the battlefield that spread before him, there were mechas on both sides fighting, as well as foot soldiers, and the cannonfire from Kara that was pushing down Shira’s air units. 

Welcome to hell, Soldier. Ready to act as a God of War? 

 Kageyama opted not to crouch, but stood instead. He pointed the sniper up before bringing it down slowly, eye moving to the scope. 

My objective, Lord Sugawara? 

I’ll help you locate them by modifying your vision. 

 Understood.
 

 The stream of information surged into his brain. 

 He could see several explosives all over the battlefield suddenly light up. 

 Kageyama frowned. “What are they doing with so many…?” 

I don’t know… 

 “It doesn’t matter.” Kageyama scoped one before firing. It exploded and set several soldiers and mechas aflame. He fired at the next, an explosion, and then the next, another explosion. He was trigger happy as he located and fired. “It can’t be good, whatever it is…” 

No, it can’t. 

 He was about to reply when his earpiece suddenly crackled for the first time. 

“Sergeant Kageyama.” 

 Kageyama lowered his gun for just a moment. “Your Majesty, Emperor Ushijima?” 

“Communication is no longer being jammed. I heard you were a great assistance. Well done.” 

 “It was mostly Corporal Kunimi and Captain Yamaguchi.” 

“Hmm… either way, these… friends… of yours. Kindaichi, Kunimi… even Yamaguchi. Their lives are you in your hands, now. The marine facility, too, seemed to be a gimmick. Another ruse. It is not their main base, and now more soldiers are pouring out. I need cover fire for our troops. Am I understood?” 

 “Yes, Your Majesty.” 

 The communication channel closed. 

New objective. Here. 

 Kageyama switched to thermal scan for a moment and frowned. He couldn’t see anything new, so he flicked it off. He noticed several groups of Kara soldiers attempting something far away and he snipped them down. Several units were also trying to run into the marine facility, and he made sure that was their last mistake. 

Kageyama. 

 His vision lit up. He moved the rifle away and saw several mechas go flying. He frowned. “What the hell is that? 

 A yellow and red mecha was tearing through Kara ranks. It had six limbs, hands that could also serve as legs. It tackled two mechas and grappled them before throwing them at other mechas. It released a mechanical roar. It was strange in shape, looking altogether too flexible, but sturdy at the same time. Its head was that of a jackal. 

Third Lord Tetsurou Kuroo – he’s destroyed three times as many mechas as you have. He’s quite the capable pilot. 

 “Something is wrong.” Kageyama looked around. He knew he should be assisting Kuroo (his mind told him to focus, Goshiki was somewhere in that unit), but something just felt… wrong. “Suga—” 

Focus on your assignment. Keep Kara at bay until we figure it out. 

 Understood.
 






It gets like that sometimes, in war… It’s a mix of intuition and other things. The enemy movements stop making sense, you can no longer guess their objective, and the patterns don’t formulate to anything familiar or logical. It’s mainly when their actions are producing no result, and yet the pattern doesn’t change… as a soldier, you begin to realise: You’re being played. 

 Your victory is a shallow one, and just a willing sacrifice the enemy has made. 

 Your inflated ego will burst soon. I’ve felt it many times on the field, but for Kageyama it was his first time understanding what it meant when something ‘felt wrong’.
 






 Daichi was staring hard at his screen. Most people knew Hinata was the right hand, and Iwaizumi was the left… but as the tactician of the army, Daichi himself and Hinata made up Ushijima’s right hand, while Iwaizumi and Sugawara were his left hand. It was also a little well-known fact that Ushijima was left-handed. But… between Iwaizumi, himself, and Hinata… of course Sugawara, too… between them, they could do anything the Emperor asked. 

 An Elite Four. 

 A crumbling elite four. 

 Daichi bit his lip. “We’re making progress, pushing them back. We’ve reclaimed the main facility, as well as three outposts. Soon, we’ll have reclaimed the whole basin.” 

 Ushijima sat on his throne. 

 Daichi turned to him. 

 “You want me to confirm your suspicions,” Ushijima murmured. 

 Daichi looked away. “S-Sir…” 

 “There’s no need to say it.” Ushijima sighed. “This is too easy… we’re playing into their trap. But just what are they doing…?” 

 Daichi stared at his screen again. “I don’t know…?” 






 Kunimi didn’t really know why his chest was so tight, but he suddenly heard a rumbling sound… as if something… underground…? A rushing noise. An army? No… 

 Then there was shouting. 

 Kunimi’s heart leapt to his throat. 

 It was Kindaichi’s voice. 

 Kindaichi was yelling, “Run!” 

 Kunimi spun towards the yelling. 

 “They’re going to flood this whole place!” Kindaichi yelled as knee-deep water surged through the crowd. “They’re going to flood the marine centre!” 

 Kunimi was hit by the rush of water and he fell over. 

 “Akira,” Kindaichi called out, “Here.” 

 Kunimi spat out water and grabbed on to some piping. “We have to make an announcement!” He shook his head, dirty water stinging his eyes. “They’re not planning on flooding the marine centre! They’re going to flood the entire basin—and our army with it!” 






 Kageyama lowered his sniper and his eyes widened, mouth parted as he couldn’t even scream. 

 The metal dam was breaking open, torrents of water shooting in through the cracks. The man-made cliffside was also breaking in several places, and water surged in. 

 Beneath him, the marine facility blasted water out of its windows and his first thought was that everyone he knew still trapped inside. 

“They’re flooding the whole thing!” came a crackled cry on his com channel, Kindaichi’s voice, “They’re going to flood the whole basin! Get out of here!” 

 Kageyama spun around. 

 The line fizzled, crackled, and went dead. 

Kageyama! 

 “Suga!” Kageyama felt himself sob. All he could see was no way out, and everyone he knew trapped inside. “What do I— What do I do!?” 

I’ve lost all communication with Main Command, even my sub units! They’re jamming is… I don’t know what this is, but there’s only one way they can do jamming this hard. They’re utilising a Mark III! 

 Kageyama took in a sharp breath. 

I don’t know what we should do! We should— 

 “Suga?” Kageyama put his hand to his earpiece. “Suga!?” 

 Nothing. 

 Cut off. 

 Even the Mark III was— 

 Kageyama ran. 






 Yamaguchi choked on water and spat it out. He clutched to a pipe and gathered a few last pieces of code from a system. 

 “Captain!” 

 Yamaguchi threw his head back. “K-Kageyama!?” 

 Kageyama moved through the water with ease due to his suit. “Can we stop this? Is there anything we can do?” 

 “Yes!” Yamaguchi snatched his device out of the computer and put it in his pocket. He pulled something else out and tossed it at Kageyama. “Add this to your earpiece! We’ll have a local com channel!” The water roared all around him. “It has really shitty range, though! Follow me – I’ll explain as we move!” 

 “Got it!” 

 Yamaguchi fought through the rising water and he moved towards a door on the far side, after several hallways. “The basin was man-made! There’s a large lake, and a waterfall. They knew from the beginning a flood was possible! So Shira built several defense mechanism against this event. There are several pipes and valves underneath us that can rapidly expel excess water from the basin!” 

 Kageyama’s heart soared. 

 “But Kara are ex-Shira workers! They know that! Their target has to be the main valve!” 

 “We have to stop them at all cost.” 

 Yamaguchi struggled to open a metal door. 

 Kageyama punched it hard, sending it flying. It snapped the railing of the stairway, and water surged past them into the opening. 

 Yamaguchi moved down the stairs, hurrying down the steps. At least the steps weren’t wet. “Kageyama—for a flood to be possible, several pipes have to break. That’s what’s happening now. But as long as the main valve is okay, everything is okay… But even breaking the other pipes, it’s not an easy thing to do…” 

 “But!” Kageyama ran down the steps. “They’re doing it.” 

 “Exactly!” 

 The two of them ducked into a pipe, and moved into the darkness. 






 “Shit!” 

 An explosion blasted overhead, but they kept running. The dark circular tunnel was only faintly illuminated by two white stripes of lights on the edges of the walkway. The rushing water was at their ankles, tide going against them, but they pressed on. 

 “Keep going!” Yamaguchi said as he came to a stop, fumbling with the wires in his pocket. “I need to tighten this valve.” 

 Kageyama spun around, looking through his visor to identify what Yamaguchi was doing. “We need to get to the main valve, now!” 

 Yamaguchi pulled out his datapad and got down to his knees despite the water. “That’s why you keep going! If they bomb the main valve, it’s all over! We’ll all be thrown to the bottom of the sea…” His datapad fizzled, crackling with the audio reports of what was going on above ground. “If I can tighten this valve, it’ll strengthen the main one. Even if it’s just a bit.” His head snapped up. “Kageyama, I know what I’m doing!—Just go!” 

 Kageyama turned around and ran. 

 His footsteps were heavy against the water, large splashes. He followed the glowing lines until they reached what seemed to be a circular gateway. He paused below it and looked up. His eyes narrowed. He tapped his earpiece and his helmet popped from his suit and locked against his visor, empowering it. 

This has got to be it. Kageyama nodded as he moved around the circle. If I can find a way to— 

 Kageyama faced forward. 

 Footsteps. 

 Kageyama pulled out his rifle, swiping his arm to the side with enough force that the back of the rifle snapped open and spun over the barrel, switching modes. A faint, deep blue line glowed along the new barrel. He aimed it forward. “Stop!” His grip tensed. “I have a ninety percent accuracy rate with a Titanium Brutaliser. This is your last warning.” 

 The footsteps ahead of him paused. 

 Kageyama could barely see the silhouette of the figure ahead of him. “I know what I’m doing,” he spoke over the rushing water, “I will fire!” 

 “God,” murmured the other person, just barely audible. He spoke louder when he said, “You think you’re some hot shot, ne? With your big toys.” There was a gush of fluid moving through the person’s suit, and his joints began to glow glimmering orange. “I’ve got a Mark III, dumbass! That’s not going to do shit to me!” 

 Orange from his suit lit up the tunnel, letting Kageyama see the figure. The head was covered by a helmet, but that— 

 The other person took a step forward. 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened, and he lowered his gun. “Hinata.” 


Chapter 15: Infodex 15, Decisive Battle 


 The other person paused. 

 Kageyama closed his eyes and focused. A gush of fluid moved under his own suit, joints beginning to glow a deep ocean blue. He tapped his neck and his helmet disassembled, visor moving away. His eyes softened and he took a shaky breath. “Hinata… is that…?” 

 “K-Kags?” The helmet moved, and the unmistakable orange hair could only belong to— 

 “Hinata.” 

 “Kageyama!” Hinata’s eyes widened. 

 “You’re…” There was a rush, an urge—to run over, to kiss him, to grab him, pull him close, but… His hand tightened on his gun and he pointed it forward. The gun switched modes, top flipping back over to its original blaster position. “What are you doing here?” 


People often talk about terms as if they’re military, but that’s not really the case. The term ‘Final Battle’ is really a pseudo-military term to describe the last battle, the one that decides the ending. ‘Decisive Battle’ is a term for battles that massively tip the balance of power, but won’t end the war themselves. At times, after a decisive battle, the final battle can be one-sided and quick. 


 Kageyama could see Hinata’s eyes filling with worry and happiness; but, in one moment, that died. His eyes hardened. He was a soldier, after all. “I told you, didn’t I?” Hinata wasn’t fazed by the gun pointed at him. “The war won’t end this way… as long as the Emperor sits on his fucking throne, peace will never happen.” 

 “You’re…” Kageyama already knew, but it was hard; it was hard to let the words slip from his mouth. “You’re on the other side?” 

 “Yeah.” Hinata nodded. “I’m here to blow up this tunnel.” 

 “Hinata…” Kageyama bit his lip. “Shouyou…” 

 Hinata made a slight movement, right hand moving towards the holster of his weapon. 


Decisive. 


 A crackle in Kageyama’s earpiece, “Kageyama!” 

 Kageyama stared at Hinata. 

 Hinata’s eyes narrowed. 

“Kageyama,” Yamaguchi said over their private channel, “Sergeant Takeda—” 

 Kageyama clicked his ear piece. “I’m here.” 

“What’s the situation?” 

 “It’s complicated. It’s—” 

 Hinata pulled his gun and fired—a plasma bullet shot right between Kageyama’s ear and finger. 

 Kageyama glanced to the side, seeing the earpiece shatter, metal shards flying in the air before they fell to the ground. Kageyama’s eyes went back to Hinata, and he couldn’t stop the tremors that began shaking his body. 


If I had to pick one word to describe that moment between Kageyama and Hinata, I would describe it as decisive. It was a moment that sunk into the roots of the world, and changed everything we know. 


 “I was wrong, Kageyama.” Hinata’s gun was aimed right at him. “We were fighting on the wrong side. Everything we did was wrong.” 

 Kageyama took a step back. 

 “You know me,” Hinata said softly. “I don’t like admitting my mistakes, neither do you, but this one… this is a big one… Come on, Kags.” He grinned and offered his hand. “Work with me.” It was the grin that made Kageyama’s heart beat fast, the one that filled him with life. “We’ll free this world, from hate, from war… That’s what we promised to do, together.” 

 Kageyama’s spine went straight. His jaw tightened. 

 “Let’s do this, Kageyama. Together.” 

   
Technology has made warfare all the more tactical. With the three powerhouse nations locked in endless combat, the planet will be left in shambles and ruin by the combination of air bombing and heavily armored machines. There’s a time limit for how long this can go on. Kageyama knows he’s only a grunt, useless infantry fodder, but he’s come to believe that the only winner in any war is death. He holds this ideology close to his heart—until Hinata gives him the chance to twist and turn the world on its own head. And Kageyama… 



 “I refuse.” 


Denied him. 









Chapter 15: Act 2, Part XVIII 



 Kageyama watched Hinata’s face as he said, “I refuse.” 

 Hinata stared, eyes wide and blank. Water rushed under their feet, at their ankles, coming in surges of high and low tide. His shoulder twitched. Hinata cocked his head. “What?” 

 “I said, I refuse.” Kageyama held his head high. “I stay with Shira.” 

 Hinata’s brow tightened, and his face distorted into a frown, and then a scowl. He squished his face further with anger and took a deep breath. “What the hell, Kageyama!?” 

 Kageyama shook his head. “Nothing you say will make me change my allegiance, and that’s that. This isn’t about anything else. I am a soldier of Shira, and I am powered by Shira’s technology and resources. If there is something integrally wrong with Shira, I will focus on what I can change – focus on what I can do – not on what worries me. If I can focus on getting promoted, then I will. If I get promoted, my circle of influence will grow.” 

 Hinata stared. 

 “If there really is a problem that’s deep running in Shira, if there really is something that’s made you change sides… then I will find it.” His grip on his weapon tightened. “I will find it, and I will change it from the inside. I will not attack my own soldiers, Hinata.” His eyes darkened. “I will not attack these people, this nation. If you really want to change Shira, you’re doing it the wrong way. That’s what I believe… Shouyou.” 

 Hinata took a slow, even breath. “You couldn’t possibly understand how dark these secrets run. There are real issues, with Ushijima, with Shira, and as long as the war machine continues to spin—” 

 “Then stop feeding the war machine!” 

 “It’s more complicated than that!” Hinata took a step forward, splashing the running water. “Look, I… I know it’s not easy to swallow. I was the same way, Tobio. I was the same. I didn’t believe it at first, but…” 

 “But?” 

 “Listen, when I took the time… when they made me hear what they were saying, when I had to wake up and smell the coffee – when I had to face the music…” Hinata’s eyes darkened. “I began to understand… Shira is not a nation that can keep perpetuating itself. It must be stopped immediately.” 

 “Then from the inside—not the outside—I will change it!” 

 “Kageyama, you… fucking idiot!” Hinata growled. “What I’m saying is we don’t have time to raise in rank – we need to strike hard and fast! You’re being a stupid, idealistic bastard! You don’t understand war the way I do!” 

 “No! No I don’t understand anything the way you do!” Kageyama raised his voice, “I promised you!” His grip on his weapon almost crushed the handle. “I promised you I would never leave you!” 

 Hinata paused. 

 “I never expected you to be the one to leave me!” 

 “I…” Hinata looked away, sharply. His eyes softened and he took a small breath. “I told you, didn’t I…? They must have had their reasons. I told you!” His gaze snapped back to Kageyama. “Well, I heard them… I see them. There are reasons out there, and we can’t just stand and wait for things to magically get better. There are secrets about the Mark II’s origins, secrets about the Mark III… and worse… the Mark IV.” 

 Kageyama felt a chill run down his spine. 

 “Secrets that need to be… addressed.” Hinata stepped forward, splashing again in the stream of water. “The Mark III used Suga, well, guess what—the Mark IV isn’t some new healthy menu option! It’s worse! It’s, it’s so much…” He took a cautious breath. “It’s so much worse.” 

 Kageyama swallowed hard. 

 “Tobio, listen, I… I know this isn’t the greatest idea, I know there’s casualties, but I need to get Suga out of there too! Look, I know—” 

 “You don’t know.” Kageyama shook his head slowly. “Nothing makes sense, Hinata. You would do what? Borrow the people of the slums and send them into a war against their own country?” He grit his teeth, tasting ash and blood in his mouth. His brain pounded in his skull. “You would do what. Hinata!? Try to attack the nation when it’s already under attack!?” 

 “This is our only chance, Kageyama! Aoba is keeping Ushijima busy, and if we usurp the throne—and end the Ushijima bloodline—” 

 “Heresy!” Kageyama yelled, “Absolute heresy!” 

 “Yeah, well it’s about damn time we move to a real system!” 

 “Ushijima!” Kageyama shook his head. “He’s! He’s a good emperor…” 

 “Well.” Hinata scoffed. “It’s obvious you’re not going to listen. Whatever the upper class says, you eat it up and buy it without thinking twice.” 

 “You were raised by them—” 

 “And I see how stupid they are!” Hinata swiped his arm to the side. “They think they’re voting! They think they’re choosing Third Lords! They think they have a say in the status of a Second Lord! They have nothing! They’re absolute useless people, who feed on the suffering of the lower class! It’s a disgusting self-perpetuating system that they pridethemselves on!” 

 “And you think the people of the slums are any better?” Kageyama stepped forward, against the rushing tide. “They’re too fucking proud to take the handouts! They tell each other not to trust the defense forces, and keep information from them! No matter what aid Shira gives the slums, it’s always met with absolute resistance! You think I don’t know, Hinata? I lived there! They would send back anything—food, clothing, textbooks—claiming it’s all a trick! Claiming there’s some way to manipulate them!” 

 “It’s true!” Hinata yelled, “The textbooks all have history edited with bias!” 

 “Textbooks about math! Textbooks about things that aren’t even connected! And then they cry about the lack of education standards! They’re stupid dumbasses who only know how to distrust! They want a hand extended to them but they’re too proud to take it! They want to have it both ways! They’re perpetuating their own system!” 

 “Tobio!” Hinata roared, “It’s only because you lived among the lower class that you hate them!” 

 Kageyama pulled his gun up. “And it’s only because you lived among the upper class that you hate them!” 

 Hinata pulled his gun up, finger ghosting over the trigger. He released a yell as he— 

 Footsteps. 

 Kageyama flinched, cocking his head to the side, not quite glancing behind him. 

 “Sergeant!” Yamaguchi cried, “I couldn’t contact you, I—” He paused, as if his legs had become ice. His eyes moved, slowly, over to— “C-Commander…?” 

 Kageyama’s eyes never left Hinata’s. 

 Hinata looked between Yamaguchi and Kageyama, and finally his eyes settled on Kageyama’s ocean blue eyes. “I hereby renounce my rank and all connections to Shira. I join Kara.” 

 Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “You… idiot.” His other hand moved up to grab his gun. “You fucking idiot!”“ 

 “Don’t!” Yamaguchi grabbed his arm. “If this valve blows up, we’re all going to die!” 

 “Maybe!” Hinata yelled, “Maybe I’ll do it anyway!” 

 Yamaguchi screamed, “Think of Natsu!” 

 Hinata faltered. 

 “She already lost one brother! Please… please don’t make her lose two!” 

 Hinata’s gun lowered, slightly. 

 A sigh came from behind them, a fourth voice. 

 Kageyama watched as Hinata’s posture stiffened. 

 “You’re too soft-hearted, Hinata…” 

 Yamaguchi took in a sharp breath. 

 Footsteps, one louder than the other. 

 Yamaguchi’s shoulders slumped. “Ts-Tsu—” 

 “Tadashi has a point,” Kei Tsukishima murmured as he stepped out of the shadow, looming just behind Hinata, “There is no point risking your life carelessly, but… if you want to change the word, you should be risking everything. That includes your own life, at all times. We promised, to do what it takes—do whatever it takes.” 

 Yamaguchi shook his head slowly. “Tsukki…” 

 “You too.” Tsukishima’s eyes pierced into Yamaguchi like a volley of knives. “You’re too weak. Weak, and disgusting… just a worm, used by everyone.” 

 Yamaguchi took a step back, almost slipping in the rushing water. 

 Kageyama felt his chest squeeze and he glared at Tsukishima. “How could you—after everything, after—” 

 “Ah.” Tsukishima’s eyes turned to him. “I don’t think you quite understand, Kageyama. I have a goal, and I am willing to use anyone to get it. Whether that’s Tadashi’s upgrades on my body, or Hinata’s deteriorating mental health, or your mission on the Inarizaki… I will use whatever it takes, do whatever it takes… Ushijima? My brother? Kuroo? They’re no different.” 

 “But.” Kageyama took a sharp breath. “But they—they cared! They thought you were dead! They mourned!” 

 “Let them.” Tsukishima’s cybernetic eye adjusted its lenses, a light whirring sound. “There are bigger things at play. Thousands of lives in danger – as long as I am working to save those, I have no regrets of making scraps out of the garbage morons who are dumb enough to trust me.” 

 Yamaguchi took in a trembling breath. “But, Tsukki… Tsukki…” 

 “Enough of that.” Tsukishima rolled his mechanical shoulder. “Tsukki this, Tsukki that… it’s annoying. I used to wait patiently for you to shut the fuck up.” 

 Hinata’s gaze was lowered as he shifted. “Kei…” 

 Tsukishima glanced at him. 

 “Don’t take it too far, there’s no need…” Hinata looked down. “There’s no need to be like that…” 

 Tsukishima looked at him for a moment, as if considering something. Of what? Kageyama had no idea, but Tsukishima eventually sighed. “Well.” His mechanical arm whirred once. “We have our orders, Hinata. If you’re not going to blow up this tunnel, I will.” 

 Yamaguchi pulled his gun and aimed. “Stop! I—I w-won’t!” He took in a deep breath. “I won’t let you set up a bomb!” 

 “No, you won’t.” Tsukishima adjusted his glasses slightly. “You won’t get the chance to.” His hand shot to his opposite hip, where a small sphere began to glow green. 

 Kageyama’s eyes widened. 

 A grenade? 

 Yamaguchi yelled, “Tsukki!” 

 Tsukishima pulled the pin and tossed it in the air. 

 Kageyama spun, grabbing Yamaguchi’s arm and pulling. “Run!” 

 “Kei!” Hinata screamed, and moved to retreat. 

 Tsukishima made eye contact with Yamaguchi a moment longer before he also spun and ran. 

 The grenade hit the ground once, a loud echo ringing down the pipe. 

 Kageyama’s heart was beating fast as he ran with the flow of the drain, splashes shooting globes of water in the air. 

 The grenade hit the ground a second time, a loud echo ringing. 

 Yamaguchi yelled, “On the third hit it will—” 

 The explosion was a burst of light, a loud eruption that was almost like a sonic wave in Kageyama’s ear drums. It felt like a wind on his back, and a roar of movement. He didn’t dare look behind him, but Kageyama knew he only had seconds before a wall of pure water would crash into him and force the air out of his lungs. 

 Yamaguchi pulled against Kageyama. “This way!” 

 Kageyama didn’t question it. He saw a side door and wondered if the water, from the pressure, would move further down the pipe or if this side path would be destroyed first. He almost wished Suga was with him—Suga could’ve figured it out, helped him made the right choice. 

 But he didn’t have Suga. 

 He didn’t have time. 

 And he didn’t have a choice. 

 He shoved the door with enough force to bend it open. 

 A staircase moving up. 

 Yamaguchi began running up the stairs, and Kageyama followed. 

 Water blast