Chapter 85 – Hunting Time

“What?!” Sophia gasped out loud. Micheal smiled slightly at the reaction, though the smile quickly fell from his face as he continued, completely serious.

“Well, murder may sound a bit harsh. And like I said, we won’t kill all of them.” He equivocated,

“But a number of them are targets we have to take out.” He held up a hand as she sputtered, giving her pause.

“There is no ostensible villain or evil power in the Main Cluster. Humanity, at its core, doesn’t want to appear evil, after all. Only the insane wish for that. People want to believe in something good. It’s human nature.” He nodded,

“However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people doing great wrongs in the background or hidden away from the spotlight.” He sighed,

“The Nightrunners are like that.”

“What do they do?” Sophia stared at him, still full of questions.

“Well, let me explain who they are first.” Micheal began,

“The Nightrunners motto claims they are the ‘Saviors of the night.’ They heavily patrol their own area, offering aid to those that get badly injured, making sure everyone in their territory is fed, offering free training seminars and their own version of a closed-off network.” His voice echoed quietly in the luxurious suite,

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“They came into existence a full year after the Godfather Organization and Angels Arcadia did, around the time the Second Wave was kicking into high gear. Despite starting from so far behind, they managed to catch up and are now considered equal.”

“That doesn’t sound evil. That sounds pretty good.” Sophia returned, doubtfully.

“It is good. On the face of it, they do almost as much good as the Godfather Organization.” They did indeed do a lot of good deeds. Even Micheal had experienced some of their goodwill in the past. He faintly recalled one of their patrols helping them out when he had gotten swarmed by Morenkai, long ago.

“However… with the good they do also comes the bad.” His eyes narrowed as he continued,

“There are 4 Permanent Nests in the Main Cluster. One is controlled by the Godfather Organization, one is controlled by the Angels Arcadia, and two are controlled by the Nightrunners.”

“Okay…” Sophia replied, not understanding the relation yet.

“Permanent Nests differ greatly from the Temporary Nest we encountered. These Nests are more reliable, easy to control, predictable. And, most of all… they all have a special function.” His mouth twisted as he remembered the history he’d read about the First Layer,

“The Permanent Nests operate as Point factories, churning out Morenkai, Abnormals, and Golden Morenkai. Through large amounts of experimentation and testing, the Nightrunners found a way to make Golden Morenkai appear at higher rates.” He had never personally seen this, but read historical accounts from others.

Sophia’s eyes stayed trained on him as she listened attentively, a frown appearing on her face.

“And that way is to kill large numbers of humans within the vicinity of the Permanent Nest.” He sighed,

“From what I can see in the future, the reason Morenkai attack humans is because of the latent life energy in our body or Souls, or something along those lines. It’s tied to how we can get Points from killing fellow humans. They absorb that energy, just like we absorb Points.”

“The energy from dead humans gets absorbed completely by the Nest. This then greatly increases the rate at which Golden Morenkai appear, turning the Nest into a veritable goldmine of Points.” He finished speaking, his words somber.

Sophia’s eyes had opened wide in horror as she realized the impact of what Micheal had said.

“They’re… sending humans off to be slaughtered, like pigs?”

“Yes.” He rubbed his chin, doing some quick math.

“Around 111,000,000 people arrived in the First Layer before us, in the three separate Waves over the last 3 years. I’d guess around 40,000,000 people have already moved up to the Second Layer, with more leaving every day as the people from our Wave move forward.” He nodded his head,

“Roughly 1 billion people came with the Fourth Wave.” His eyes flashed,

“That means the Main Cluster will soon be inundated with hundreds of millions of new people. While not everyone will cross the various Great Bridges that appear and disappear every couple months, many will. This Layer is about to experience some tumultuous changes.” His words were convincing, the confidence in his voice unmistakable,

“Currently, the Nightrunners have been somewhat restrained in their actions. They have only killed a small number of humans, most of them criminals, using them for testing.” He went on,

“When the Main Cluster gets flooded with millions and millions of new people, however…”

“Hundreds of thousands of innocent people will be killed, maybe even millions.” The vision of the future he painted was grim. It was also a reality, everything he said had happened.

In order to grow nightmarishly strong, the Nightrunners leadership pulled out all holds. They trained an elite, shadow army that grew to towering heights, stronger than both the Angels Arcadia and the Godfather Organization combined, despite their slow start.

In the end, when their schemes became public, the entire human race turned against them and they were eventually vanquished, all of the perpetrators killed. But not before there were hundreds of thousands of lives lost.

It was a tragic and horrific event in human history. And it was one that he fully intended to stop before it could happen.

“Oh my god! That’s awful! How incredibly vile!” Sophia reacted as expected, horrified.

“Yeah. They may appear good, but at the core, they are a vile…” His words gradually trailed off as he realized something.

This event had never been attributed to the Vile King, not in any of the records he’d read.

The Great Disaster of the Second Layer had been proven to be caused by him, as had a few other major incidents, but this particular tragedy was seen as an organic twist from the power-hungry leadership of the Nightrunners.

However… now that he thought about it… it seemed like something that perfectly matched the modus operandi of that infamous, insane mastermind.

‘There was never any evidence that he had a hand in any of this… But that might just be because no one was able to recognize his antics or powers down here. If this incident was caused by him… Then I can’t afford to be anything other than extremely careful.’ He made the realization, his heart dropping slightly.

A single misstep could get him killed when it came to that man. The Vile King was incredibly intelligent, Micheal willingly acknowledged that the man was smarter than him. The best thing Micheal had going for him was his knowledge of the future.

He might not be able to outplay the Vile King in a fair fight, but Micheal had no intentions of being fair. He would absolutely shamelessly cheat.

‘There’s only a chance he’s behind this. But if he is, I’ll need to make a few more preparations.’ He made a silent note.

“We will handle it one step at a time, right?” He gave Sophia a reassuring smile as he snapped back to the conversation,

“All you need to do is go find Shin and convince the Brigadier General of the Old Airwing Military Alliance to join us temporarily. I’ve got the rest.” He didn’t want to give her too much pressure.

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They talked for a few more minutes as Micheal outlined their plans, talking over some ideas and how she should go forward.

Finally, as they were finishing up their morning meeting, she asked a few last questions.

“Can’t we just take out the Nightrunners like you beat the Black Flag Pirates?” She queried, curious. Behind her, sunlight gleamed in from a shuttered window, filtering into the room.

“It’s not that easy. The leader of the Nightrunners is an S Ranker.” Micheal shook his head.

“Do you know how many S Rankers there currently are in the Main Cluster?” He asked a leading question, knowing she didn’t know.

Sophia shook her head.

“From the information I’ve gathered,” Micheal began, motioning with his hands, “From my visions and from talking with others, I’ve found that there are a total of just 6.”

“Only 6?” She blinked, surprised.

“Only 6. There are more than 10,000 A Rankers… But only 6 S Rankers.” His eyes flashed.

“The dividing line between an A Ranker and an S Ranker is huge. It is not a gap that can be jumped easily.” He shook his head,

“Each and every S Ranker is a freakish monster that would be able to face up against many of the elites of the Second Layer, let alone the First. They are the true leaders of the First Layer, each one capable of incredible feats. Even 100 A Rankers together might not be their equal.”

“They’re really that strong?” Sophia muttered, frowning.

“Yes. For example, the leader of the Nightrunners has an incredibly rare limited Type Ability, the World Matrix Type Ability.” He explained.

“When he uses that Type Ability…” Micheal continued,

“He can stop time.”

“What?!” Sophia sputtered out loud.

“Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that and it’s not as strong as it sounds. In fact, it’s actually a Type Ability that most people see as rather middling due to its limitations. But in the hands of the leader of the Nightrunners, it has become an Ability of such lethal power that, when combined with his powerful physique and other Abilities, he has become a veritable monster.” He nodded as he saw her listen attentively,

“In terms of survivability, he is one of the hardest humans to kill in the entire Layer. If we want a chance against him… well, it’ll take a lot of work.”

Sophia looked back at him mutely, not replying. Micheal smiled slightly.

“But in the end, it’s fine. As long as we work together, it will be a cinch to take him out. All you need to do is follow my lead, Sofa.” He gave her a thumbs up.

She stuck her tongue out at him, rolling her eyes.

“Alright. I think I’ve got it. I’ll head north, on my own mission.” She replied, her eyes filling with fierce determination as the humor in them faded.

“With your Fairy Eyes and the new Wind Sweeper Ability you picked up, only A Rankers will be able to threaten you, and even then, you should be able to get away from most with ease.” He gave her a charming smile, commenting on a recent purchase she had made.

“But what about you? What are you going to do while I’m up north?” She asked.

“Me? Well, I’ll be taking down one of the precursors to this mess. A woman that defects from the Angels Arcadia and helps jumpstart the Nightrunner’s plans to kill swathes of innocents. That’s half the reason we are disguised as members of Arcadia, actually.”

“Who?” Sophia replied, her curiosity stoked.

“The Black Witch, Leila Almawt. One of the 10 Supreme A Rankers currently in Arcadia. Don’t fret, I have a plan to handle her.” He patted her on the shoulder as he stood up, giving her a reassuring smile as he saw her face tighten.

“You handle your mission, I’ll handle mine. We’ll meet up at the place I told you about earlier.” He nodded, referencing the several minutes of planning they’d had.

“Yeah.” Sophia stood up as well, her movements confident and sure.

“We got this.” She turned to look at him, holding out a hand.

“Be safe.” She spoke aloud, her eyes unwavering.

“You too shorty.” He returned, taking her hand and shaking it firmly.

“If everything goes as planned, we’ll see each other in a couple weeks at worst.” He picked his mask up, sliding it back onto his face. It attached comfortably, feeling like a second layer of skin.

She gave him a fierce smile as she began putting her own mask on, replying,

“Don’t be late!”

.. .. .. .. .. ..

“Emissary Heron, sir! We are heading back to the regional headquarters to report in. Will you be joining us, sir?” Enforcer Ayer’s voice echoed out loud.

Micheal smiled beneath his mask as he waltzed into the main supply room of the re-supply station, an extra large lounge that had sets of weapons stacked onto tables in the back, with various collections of gear spaced out. Several guards from Arcadia were standing around talking, while the Enforcers from the Enforcer Team that they’d followed were picking up new sets of gear.

“Actually, yes, I think I will, Ayer.” Micheal replied, giving the man a smooth nod.

“It’s been too long since I reported back in.”

Sophia had already left, headed north on her mission. He was on his own again.

His eyes were cold as he looked around the room.

It was time to hunt.

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