Book 3: Chapter 5

Before the Storm

Twelve years ago...

The sun shone bright in the pale blue sky on the soft spring day. A young teenage boy wearing a light blue kimono knelt down to stare at a flower below. It had pink petals and yellow seeds at its center. The boy breathed fast and tore up blades of grass around the flower, making sure not to do it any harm. He took them into his fist and tore them in half several times over. He did this repeatedly until he could no longer tear apart the tiny fragments of blades between his fingers.

“Hey!” a young teenage girl wearing a light green kimono shouted to him, “It’s time! Come on!”

The boy glanced hastily towards the flower again and noted the barren patch of dirt around its stem. Then he turned around, dusted off his knees, then followed the girl away.

They came upon a courtyard surrounded by red pillars holding up an ornate shingled roof. The courtyard was decorated with cobblestone floors and had patches of grass growing from between its cracks. The pair walked further through the courtyard until they came upon the central tower connected to the courtyard’s walls. The tower stood about fifteen meters high, with a red winding staircase built along its center. A large older man in a red kimono stood tall beside its entrance. His face was hardened and weary, and held fistfuls of short lengths of rope in each hand.

“Are you two prepared for your training today?” The man growled.

The pair nodded eagerly.

“Are you sure?” he asked again.

The pair nodded again. The girl made firm eye contact with the man, while the boy looked towards the ground.

“Alright.” the man said. “Be ready then.” and turned to ascend the staircase.

The pair walked towards the back wall beneath the stairs and grabbed their respective katanas. Both swung their blades around to prepare, although the boy’s eyes couldn’t help but wander to the white fox mask adorned on the wall’s center.

“Ready?!” The man at the top of the staircase shouted from a balcony above.

The two teenagers dashed, clutching their swords, to the center of the room. They stood back-to-back and planted their feet in a wide stance. They each held back their swords and steadied their breath to gather their focus.

“Ready!” They both shouted in unison.

The man tossed a handful of disconnected strands of rope.

The boy and girl took in sharp breaths and felt the air shift around them.

The first strands of rope fell, and each sword thrust forward to meet them. Both children followed every piece of rope as it fell past their faces, and sliced them each perfectly in half. The split strands fell quickly to the floor, as both blades slashed through the air in rapid succession. They heard the sounds of each cut, the motion of the other against their back, and shifted their stances in perfect succession. After a minute of rapid movement, the strands of rope stopped falling, and they each took breaths to regain their composure.

The sounds of the man walking down the stairs echoed through the room. “You managed to cut every thread in two.” He reached the bottom of the stairs and placed his hand on the girl’s shoulder. “You can go.” The girl smiled and walked away from the building and towards the grass. The man turned to the boy and gestured to the scraps of rope on the floor. On his sister’s side, the scraps of rope had fallen in a perfect semi-circle on the floor, while on his side, they had fallen haphazardly across the ground.

“That attempt was pathetic.” the man said, “You should be better than that.” The boy looked past the man, and towards the girl who walked worry-free towards the grass. “You could learn a thing or two from your sister.” the man sneered.


Superior stared blankly ahead towards the Machin standing before him. It stood about seven feet tall. Its large mass and red-plated samurai armor constituted an imposing figure. It held a long katana in each hand, and had an image of a Kitsune mask on screen.

It felt too specific, too familiar. As if this Machin had been built for him, to taunt him. But as he watched it unsheath its blades, he couldn’t deny the temptation. He’d just cut down other robots like it without breaking a sweat. This one was different, but it couldn’t be that different. Besides, cutting down Kitsune ’s image would be immensely satisfying. Genji wouldn’t have approved of course, but this wasn’t about him. With a cut of his blade, he’d earn a symbolic victory, and for now, that would be enough. Superior stepped forward and stared down the large Machin.

The Machin stepped two steps forward and stopped in its tracks.

“What makes you think you’re a match for me?” Superior taunted. “I just fought a few just like you. They didn’t last very long.”

“That’s because I’m not like them.” It answered in a deep robotic voice. “I’ve fought against you in simulations while you were plugged in.” it paused. “And I’ve won eight thousand one hundred ninety two times.”

“How many have you lost?” Superior asked.

“Zero.” it declared.

“Well, welcome to the real world!” Superior readied his stance. “I think you’ll find it very different.”

Chem , Order , and Chaos arrived at the edge of the hill bordering the facility, with Design , Math , Heart , and Fear walking closely behind. They stared towards the intimidating building ahead. Hundreds of Machin were gathered in front, lazer-focused on the empty air in front of them. Chem looked over the Machin and considered their options.

“Even with Kitsune ,” he started, “What are our options for taking out Takahashi ?”

“We can infiltrate from above or behind, but they’re not very accessible, and we have no guarantee that they’re not guarded.” Order stated. “Does anyone else have any ideas?”

“Their screens are only loosely based on my design,” Design said, “So their blind spots might be different.”

“There’s no good angle of attack, or paths of circumvention.” Math stated.

“There’s always the direct approach.” Fear said.

“I’m afraid that might be our only option.” Chem dwelled.

Just then, Kasumi emerged from behind a building facing the south corner of the city.

Kasumi Chem smiled.

Chem ” she reached out to shake his hand, “It’s been some time. Were you attacked by the Machin too?”

“Yeah,” Chem answered. “They wanted to bring us back here, but we don’t know anything else.”

“The ones I fought said the same thing, and that they were from the Triangle Company.”

“Then it’s Takahashi .” Chem stated.

“It looks that way. Sorry I can’t be of much help.” Kasumi sighed.

“I’m glad you came anyway.” Chem said. “We’ll need all the help we can get.”

Kasumi looked towards the tall grassy hill where the Machin stood in a tight formation. “I wouldn’t feel right if I missed this.”

Miné heard a knock on the door, the separate times with a second of delay in between. She opened the door for Jiro , who quickly re-entered the apartment.

“Where have you been?” she asked. “There are robots outside the window. I locked the doors. Where’s Vault ?”

“The robots took her.” he exclaimed. “I’m going to go stop him, but I need some help.”

“Is it dangerous? Who’s … what are they doing?”

“Look,” he sighed, resting his hands on her shoulders. “It’s my brother. It’s Ichiro . This new start was his plan, and he’s using these Machin to take everything back. I hate that he’s affecting things like this, but I have to stop him now. I won’t let our world be his anymore.”

“But is it safe?” she asked.

“Their goal is to put us back to sleep. I don’t know how well they respond to being interfered with, but I should be alright. We’re going to try to hack them” he walked off towards the bedrooms.

Jiro opened another door to find Gamer and Inicio lying on the floor staring at trading cards arranged on the carpet.

Inicio Jiro directed. Both boys darted their heads up. “What did you say that tech of yours was?”

“It’s a cyclic energy conductor.” Inicio reached behind him and pulled out a mechanical device with gears shifting and lights flashing in constant rotation. “It’s not infinite energy, but it’s pretty self-sustaining.”

“Why don’t you come with me?” Jiro encouraged, “There’s a lot going on outside, and we could really use your help.”

Inicio looked towards Gamer , then back to Jiro and nodded.

“And why don’t you bring that ball with you,” he mentioned. “Maybe it’ll be useful.”

Superior stood firm in his stance and did not waver from his position. He remembered his fight with Kitsune , and how his aggressive fighting led to his defeat. He wouldn’t make that same mistake again. He had to be smarter, and more tactical, but traditional strategy wouldn’t work against it. Its red armor covered the exposed wiring that he’d used to cut down the others. Also, the dual-swords presented a challenge. Human opponents have trouble using two swords effectively because they’re not strong enough to apply pressure in two different directions at once. That wouldn’t be a problem for a machine this size.

Then there was the environment to consider. Behind him was a steep slope of dirt and trees - easy to defend, but impossible to escape through. Ahead of him, past the Machin was a long wall that spanned a hundred yards in either direction. It was high enough to climb over, but not without making himself vulnerable to attack. In short, fighting looked like his only available option.

Good, he thought.

The Machin flung back its arms and sprinted forward towards Superior with an aggressive yell. First, the Machin thrust hard diagonally with both blades. Superior ducked down to avoid the intersection of both blades. Then, the Machin slashed back with both blades horizontally. By hopping backwards, Superior avoided that attack as well. As the Machin stood with its arms stretched out to either side, Superior examined its armor more closely. The plated armor covered most of its weak spots. The only exception were two gaps across the lower part of its ribs. He couldn’t attack them from the sides because of its large arms. His only option was to attack from the front. With the Machin’s arms extended far outwards, this was the perfect opportunity. In a second it would regain its stance, and Superior would be at a disadvantage. But if he dove in to strike, he’d also be vulnerable, trapped between the Machin’s massive chest and its twin-blades. He’d cut down the Machin, but also be defeated himself. And as the moments between seconds passed, he became even more confident that this was its strategy, its feint, and that if he gave in to ego, he’d lose this fight. He had to be better. He’d wait.

Instead, he lept backwards. The Machin growled in anger and charged after him with both swords. Superior dodged to the left. The Machin slashed hard with its right arm. Superior barely avoided its attack. He managed to hit the Machin's armor with his katana, but it only grazed the top without doing any damage. The Machin immediately charged after him, swinging its swords in sharp succession.

Superior knew now that he couldn’t fight it in direct combat. Its speed, strength, and aggression was too much. It was heavy, massive with arms that looked indestructible. Superior watched how it moved and realized that it carried most of its weight in its upper-body.

That’s when he got an idea.

He darted backwards against the long wall. As expected, the Machin angrily impaled its sword into the wall behind. Superior hopped onto the Machin’s arm and before it slashed again, he jumped onto the top of the wall. He stood far above the Machin now. The Machin readied its stance and eyed Superior eagerly, ready to counter his next attack.

Instead, Superior turned to the side and started to walk away.

“You’re pathetic, you know that?!” It yelled angrily after him. “You want to know if you’re good enough to beat me?! You’re not! You’re weak! You’ve always been weak!!”

Superior turned back to face the raging Machin. He looked towards its screen that still displayed the pixelated mask of his sister. Its large mechanical arms punched against the wall in blind rage. Its loud, aggressive fighting style didn’t match the way she fought. It didn’t match her poise, elegance and composure. In fact, nothing about the raging Machin reminded him of her. The more he stared at it, the better he understood. It was a caricature of what he’d dreamed to face - an imaginary enemy he’d longed to defeat. The real Kitsune never called him pathetic. The real Kitsune never made him feel small, or foster his insecurity. She was never truly his enemy. The real enemy was always himself. And as he turned away from everything he’d convinced himself she was, he knew that it was time to walk away.

Gang and Hero trod hastily through the city while they each lugged pieces of heavy machinery from the stadium. They walked with heavy steps while Coder and Key led several feet ahead.

“Will you stop looking at me like that?” Gang barked.

“Looking at you like what?” Hero grunted.

“Like you're judging me.” Gang answered.

“Well what am I supposed to do?” Hero challenged. “You’ve done some messed up stuff. You’ve said so yourself.”

“I just feel like you’re writing me off. Like you’ve already decided who I am.”

“Honestly” Hero sighed, “You should be lucky you’re not locked up like Chaos was.”

They both looked forward at the sounds of voices ahead. Kasumi and Chem stood side by side, with Coder walking up to greet them. Chem placed his hand on Coder’s shoulder and offered him kind words that the pair couldn’t hear. Gang and Hero walked up and placed the equipment on the ground.

“So how did all of this happen?” Chem asked. “We know that it was the Triangle Company, but that’s it.”

“I had to build them.” Coder started, “I didn’t have a choice. This was his plan from the beginning, to give us a head start, then round us all up and plug us in again with the Machin.”

“Then why now?” Chem asked. “ Gang grabbed you after Chaos lost. How does that fit into all this?”

“Because I kicked this all off, alright?” Gang answered, “Is that what you all want to hear?! I’m the bad guy! That Witch woman promised me that if I woke him up, he’d take care of this problem-” he pointed towards Chaos , “ for good! So hate me all you want, I don’t care. I did it for all of your sakes.”

Jiro and Inicio quietly arrived, with Inicio clutching his glowing orb.

“That was stupid of you.” Chem argued. “You woke up a monster to handle something we were handling ourselves. After all this, I’m sure Chaos will be locked up again, and I’m not convinced you won’t be there with him.”

Chaos dashed to the right, yanked Inicio by the arm and held a switchblade to his throat. “About that-” Chaos sighed.

“What the hell are you doing?!” Jiro said.

“While I’m sure whatever you’re planning is … exciting,” Chaos started, “It seems if either side succeeds, I get locked up in a cage, and I don’t appreciate being locked up, so I’m going to walk away and you’re going to watch me-”

Suddenly Chaos felt his right arm twist behind him and a moment later he was pinned to the ground with his screen grinding against the dirt. He looked up to find Vine towering over him, forcing his hands behind his back. “ Vine ”, he grunted, “You’re stronger than I remember.”

Vine sighed and pulled him back up. She turned him to face the city streets. “Do you see that wide street up ahead?” she whispered. “The Machin have been patrolling that constantly. You’re going to walk over there for me.”

“And when I do, I’ll tell them where you all are.” Chaos threatened, “If I go down, I’ll take you all with me.”

“I don’t think you’ll do that.” Vine answered. “Because if we win, you’ll be locked up for a while. But if they win, you’ll be plugged in forever. I know you can do damage, but I also know you won’t destroy the only thing you really want” Vine shoved Chaos forwards. Chaos looked back, shook his head, and begrudgingly trudged forward towards the city streets.

Birdcage , standing next to Vine , snickered. “Where’d you learn to make threats like that?”

“Jiu-jitsu always had trash talk,” Vine answered, “and Team Chaos had its fair share of ominous speeches”. Birdcage smiled.

“What are you two doing here?” Kasumi exclaimed. “I thought you’d still be at the farm!”

“We’ve each got one more fight left in us.” Birdcage answered.

“Are you feeling better?” Kasumi asked Vine .

“Better enough.” she answered.

Kasumi noticed everyone’s else's heads turn to her right. Kasumi turned her head abruptly to notice Kitsune approaching the group.

“Sorry to be late.” Kitsune apologized, “I got held up. What are the rest of you doing here?”

“I’m going to try to stop the Machin” Coder stated.

“How?” Kitsune asked.

“All Machin are controlled by a robot called Bridge . If I can find the key, or the code phrase that controls it, I can take control away from Takahashi and stop the Machin. I’m working with strange machinery here,” Coder looked up, “but I think I can make it work.”

Kitsune nodded and looked through the crowd. She saw Coder , Chem , Design , Math , Hero , Gang , Jiro , Inicio , Key , Long, Senshi, Heart , Fear , Kasumi , Vine and Birdcage gathered together. She didn’t understand this technology, but maybe together they’d have a chance.

A moment later, a Prime Machin emerged from an ally and spotted Chaos walking down the street. Rather than apprehending him, it looked towards where he came from and saw a large crowd of Tamashi assembled around some machines.

“There you are.” Takahashi whispered at the Machin screen in front of him. It displayed video footage of several Tamashi standing around Coder and some machinery. “You made this too easy,” he said. “I’m almost disappointed.”

Vault , who sat frustrated on the floor, looked up towards him. In the dark, unfeeling facility, there was only her father , her mother , Noir , the three faceless Machin used as screens, and Bridge . Although Bridge was clearly a robot, he had certain human characteristics. His eyes moved around the room instead of staying in place, his hands would fidget sometimes. It was clear that he had more going on in his mind than the other Machin she’d seen.

“Hey” Vault whispered to him.

Bridge turned to her with a friendly expression. “Yes?” he asked nicely, “How can I help?”

“You can stop whatever he’s doing.” Vault gestured to her Dad. “Shut yourself off.”

Bridge smiled, confused, “I’m sorry, but I’ve been specifically told not to do that.”

“Don’t be naive,” Takahashi turned to face her. “He’s programmed to only listen to me.”

“And what about you?” Vault directed at Noir . “Are you ‘programmed’ to only listen to my father?”

“I appreciate your passion,” Takahashi kneeled down to her level. Vault saw the dark shimmer of the black diamonds adorned across his screen. “But there are limits to my patience.” he narrowed his gaze towards her. “ Noir is a man who knows his destiny. He’s not a player in the grand scheme of things. One hundred years from now, no one will even know he existed. His place is to serve. If you’re going to lead someday, you need to come to terms with yours.”

Noir kept staring straight ahead, and although his stance wavered, he remained in place.

“Now!” Takahashi stood back up excitedly, “Let's end this! I order all Machin to converge upon their position. Do not stop until they are all apprehended!”

Vault looked down in frustration.

Kitsune watched Coder wire together different pieces of machinery. She struggled to understand how it all worked. And in that struggle, the gears of her mind began turning. She became aware of the air around her and the Earth beneath her feet. Suddenly, she felt a shift, an imbalance. She turned around to the Machin that were spread across the grass in front of the facility were sprinting towards them at full speed.

“They found us!” Kitsune shouted. “How much longer do you need?”

“I don’t know!” Coder answered, frantically pressing buttons.

“I can hold off some of them, but not forever. It’s going to depend on all of us alright?”

Each Tamashi nodded, united in understanding. As they took deep breaths and readied their fists, Kitsune braced herself for the last battle she hoped to fight.