The bistro was easy to spot. It was a rather humbly decorated, quaint building. Farah was sipping on some tea and speaking with Thol. The lilac-haired Yujin looked like he was only half-listening to her, leaning with his head against his arm.
“Farah, we’re so glad to see that you’re okay,” Lucy said, walking over. She turned to Thol. “And you must be the young man we were sent to find. I’m sure you’re eager to go home, so let’s get you all packed up, okay?”
“I’m not going,” Thol said. “All they’ve got back there is more fighting and, eventually, a death they’ll call glorious.”
“And you have so much better prospects here?” Kat asked. “I’ll grant that it’s lovely, but it’s also artificial. Eventually, this little paradise will come crashing down and you’ll be dragged back to reality.”
“It won’t come crashing down!” Thol declared. “The Himestrix safeguards this place. It will endure.” He looked down for a moment. “Even if it does, at least I’ll be free from all of that until the crashing happens.”
“Is it worth leaving behind everyone you know and love?” Kat asked. “Or do you think they’ll wander in here like you did?”
Thol shrugged. “Most of my friends are already dead. All my family cares about is keeping their precious honour and gaining accolades in this war. Let them fight if it means so much. Me, I’m done.”
“So that’s it?” Leon snapped. “You’re just going to sit in your crystalline tower like a coward?”
“Call me a coward if you want,” Thol said. “What exactly do you know? Have you been entrenched with bombs getting tossed at your position? Have you been standing next to your best friend when blaster fire filled her with holes? Have you seen entire cities full of civilians razed? I have. And for what? So we can expand our position by a few metres until the enemy strikes back to try and reclaim it. Honour? Glory?” Thol scoffed when saying the last few words. “We lost our chance at those long ago. I’ll tell you three the same thing I’ve been telling your friend, you aren’t getting me out of this city. You can waste as much time as you like trying, but it’s not happening.”
“How nice of you to let us know,” Lucy said. “If you’ll please excuse us for a moment, we four need to confer.”
“Suit yourselves,” Thol said.
Lucy gathered the others together. “Any thoughts?”
“I don’t think he’ll come with us,” Kat said. “You were using your full persuasive abilities back there and he didn’t hesitate to shoot the idea down.”
“Yuri and I have tried every argument we could think of,” Farah said. “It hasn’t done us any good either.”
“It is good to see that you’re okay,” Leon said. “Do we drag this arsehole back?”
“I have the distinct feeling that we couldn’t if we wanted to,” Lucy said.
“Lunais?” Kat asked. Lucy nodded.
“Do we really need to bring him back?” Farah asked. “He seems happy here and the mission wasn’t really to retrieve him so much as finding out what happened to him, right?”
“That is a point,” Leon said.
“We’ll need proof that we found him and he’s alive,” Kat said. “But I don’t see any problem with it.”
“There’s one big problem,” Lucy stated. “His family will demand something really irrefutable. Without them actually seeing him or his remains, they’ll try to contest it.”
“That’s true,” Kat conceded. “His staying here will be an embarrassment for them.”
“So we give them something irrefutable,” Leon said.
“The question is ‘what?'” Kat stated. “If we take a picture, holo or video they’ll claim it was altered or faked, assuming the equipment will even work in here. We can’t have him do a live transmission because we know that equipment doesn’t work.”
“We could take one of his fingers and a holo-message,” Leon stated. “The finger’ll prove we saw him and help confirm the message.”
“While that might work, I don’t think he’d give us his finger,” Kat said.
“You guys are really tying my hands here,” Leon muttered.
“You can tell Paul all about how put-upon you are later,” Kat said. “For now, we need other ideas.”
Allison and Yuri reached the garden’s border. They’d made good time. In fact, it seemed like they’d made it too quickly.
“Something is wrong,” Yuri stated. “We have not traversed the entire distance.”
“We brought you here.” The pair turned, Lunais had appeared behind them, floating. “You wish to contact your comrades, correct? We transported you to our borders to permit you to do so.”
“Thank you,” Allison said. “I was getting tired of walking.”
“Through what method did you transport us?” Yuri inquired. “I detected no anomalies.”
“We are not an anomaly!” Lunais declared. “We are a force of nature. Once you have finished your transmission, we will take you back to your friends, should you wish to return to our home.” She vanished into mid-air.
“Did you happen to see how she did that?” Allison asked.
“Negative,” Yuri answered. “Her abilities do not seem to conform to any natural laws.”
“I’m just glad that she’s pretty benevolent,” Allison said. “I’d hate to have to fight her.”
The two walked out of the garden. Instantly, the acrid stench of burnt flesh assaulted them.
“Let’s get this over with,” Allison stated. “Allison to Cerberus.”
“You’re late!” Ophelia’s voice declared.
“Sorry,” Allison said. “Turns out the anomaly is bigger than we thought.”
“I know,” Ophelia said. “We have the area for it. I’m sending it now. Anything to report?”
“We’ve found Farah and Yuri,” Allison said. “They’re both okay. The two of them found the target. I guess that Farah’s trying to convince him to come with us.”
“Captain,” Yuri stated. “I am concerned with a woman we met within the anomaly. Her abilities appear to be without limit.”
“I know the one you mean,” Ophelia said. “We were told all about her. The good news is that Grace managed to find the main power source behind the anomaly. I sent that data along with the map.”
“Thank you,” Yuri stated. “We will investigate.” She examined the data.
“Don’t bother unless you have to,” Ophelia ordered. “There’s no need to antagonise this woman.”
“Understood,” Allison said. “We’ll return to the others now.”