They could hardly believe their ears. The Gamma Squad was a family of voyagers from beyond The Yolk. They claim to have come from an alternate dimension where magic and monsters were nothing more than a fantasy. But that all changed when The Yolk appeared in their world as well.
Around fifteen years ago, they arrived in Terra, warning the Zorro Unit and the Crown of the incoming yōma invasion which ultimately came to pass. Banding together with the world’s strongest, they helped thwart the yōma and have since been revered as heroes. Today, most of them reside in this realm, acting as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the nations of Taqora should something like that ever transpire again.
And of all people, Rick Gamma—the eldest son and current squad leader—was here in Marlia City.
Chiaki was practically hyperventilating. “Oooh, Gods…”
“This day’s just plain unreal…” marveled Daytona, pacing back and forth. “This is real, innit? I’m not dreaming?!”
“Huh. Y’know, now that I get a good look at ‘im…” said Will, examining the man more carefully. “Mm. Yeah, it’s him, alright.”
“I-I-I-Inspector Gamma, sir! I-I-I-It is such an honor to meet you!” A big fan of heroic figures, the Gamma Squad especially, Goldie—always cocksure and poised—was reduced to a stuttering buffoon in mere seconds.
“S-Same here, sir! I have all of your merch!” Hotaru, also a big fan, stiffened and her face turned beet red. How careless of her for not recognizing the man sooner. Granted, most of the images she’d seen of him were when he was no older than sixteen, but still!
The noble boy and common girl bowed deeply before one of their many idols. Rick, however, chuckled nervously and raised a hand to quell them.
“Whoa, whoa, take it easy, you two,” he said. “I’m just a humble voyager and civil servant. Not nearly as big of a deal as, say, Lord Blûd Payne, Dante Leerex, or what have you.”
Rick paused. He gave the kids a once over and pursed his lips. “Hmm.” he cupped his chin. “Y’know…there was a bit of a…situation in an alleyway downtown. Some thugs we apprehended mentioned getting into a scrap with a group of kids, and said they were pretty strong.” He then pointed to the dead chimera. “But then I picked up this thing’s mana signature and it brought me here. And it’s here…where I find a dead monster… near a group of kids…who seem to have done quite a number on it.”
“Now, you bunch wouldn’t happen to be the kids in question, now…would you?”
This was a bad look. Saving Daytona was considered an act of vigilantism, and they could face serious consequences. It was one thing to fend off a monster in self-defense, but when it came to subduing common thugs, the MPF really didn't like the idea of a bunch of students stealing their thunder. As a result, Rule #3 of the Terra Edict was created. With that in mind, the teenagers did what anyone their age would do in this situation: they lied their asses off.
“N-Not at all, sir!”
“Uh-uh! Haven’t a clue, sir!”
All eyes shifted to Chiaki. She was the only one who hadn’t responded to the inspector’s question.
Hotaru could see that her best friend was visibly shaking. This isn’t good, she thought. Chiaki struggled immensely in these sorts of situations with her being raised by strict parents. Sure, she could tell small fibs every now and then, but lying to an authority figure this high up the totem pole about their involvement with the Monarchs? Hotaru imagined her nerves were going into overdrive.
Despite her stammering fit, Chiaki finally managed to get a word out. Rick wordlessly stared at them for what seemed like ages, until finally, he sighed and shrugged his shoulders.
“Hm. Well, it’s not fair of me to just jump to conclusions without any proper evidence,” he said. “And I didn’t exactly stick around to hear them give any physical descriptions, so there really isn’t much I can do. That said, I guess you kids are free to go.”
The five teens exchanged looks, then gave a slight bow to the detective and turned on their heels.
“Phew! Hot damn, that was close!” Hotaru exclaimed, taking care to lower her voice as she did so.
“You can say that again, luv,” Daytona said, clutching her chest. “Whoo, mah poor heart! I thought we were done for!”
“Aye,” Goldie nodded. “Being apprehended by someone of Inspector Gamma’s caliber wouldn’t reflect well on our school records.”
Will wiped a bit of sweat off his forehead. “Ain’t that the truth? Thank Mother for Chiaki coming in clutch.”
“Yeah, nice goin’, Chi-Chi!” Hotaru smiled at her best friend and clapped her on the back. “I knew you had it in you!”
“Y-You, guys…” Chiaki pulled the brim of her hat in an attempt to cover her blushing face. “It’s not like I’m proud of this or anything…”
“Ah, hold on a sec! One more thing!!”
They froze in place upon hearing Gamma’s voice bellowing after them. What else could he possibly want?
Hotaru was the first to turn back to him. “Y-Yes, sir?” she asked.
“Now, this is really important,” he said, bringing his attention back to the chimera carcass. “This thing didn’t wound any of you by any chance, did it?”
Now it was Hotaru’s turn to be tongue-tied.
“You see, while it's most definitely a creature of artificial origin and not a true yōma, it does, however, possess the yōma gene.” His gaze flicked over to Hotaru and stayed there. “That said, if any of you were wounded by this thing, let me know immediately so it can be dealt with accordingly.”
Hotaru’s eyes widened and the others inhaled sharply at this development, but not nearly loud enough to arouse any suspicion.
The yōma gene? If that’s in my system, then that… That would explain my healing, but…
Dealt with? Accordingly? She didn’t like the sound of that. What exactly did they do to innocent people exposed to the yōma gene? Hotaru wasn’t sure, and she’d be damned if she were to confess and find out.
Despite her admiration for Rick Gamma, she was averse to getting involved with the government in any way shape, or form. And now that she knew for sure what had happened to her, she very much preferred taking this to Mr. Pete instead. She racked her brain for a bit. Chiaki had done an excellent job of fixing everyone up, restoring their wounds and ripped clothing to their original state with her chrono-spell.
With that, they could just lie again and be on their merry way. Just then, from her peripheral vision, she spotted the others glancing back at her from the corners of their eyes, silently deciding that their answer to the detective’s question was entirely up to Hotaru.
It’s my call, eh? She nodded. It only made sense for her to answer, given that she was the only one to be wounded by the creature.
“Er…N-No, sir,” Hotaru finally said. “We had a few scratches when it knocked us down from the sky, but, no, it didn’t touch any of us.”
“Our friend here is quite right about that, sir!” Goldie added.
“Ugh, I’m not your friend…” Hotaru groused to herself.
The other three nodded assuredly at the man, who squinted his eyes, studying them all rather intently.
“Hm. Well, you kids don’t appear to be injured.” He still seemed dubious, but he finally heaved a sigh. “Alright, you all best start heading to school, now. I still have this thing to deal with. Just…don’t tell anyone about this conversation, okay?”
Hotaru and the others nodded. She turned to Chiaki.
“Hey, Chi-Chi, what time is it?”
The young witch checked her watch and her eyes nearly bulged out of her sockets. “Oh, snap, it’s 8:20!” She turned to Daytona. “We need to hurry and drop off Will at PMA if we want to make it to Requiem on time!”
“On it!” Daytona quickly turned around and whistled for Max. In a few short seconds, the sentient cumulus drifted down toward the fivesome.
“Max! C’mere, luv! You must’ve been terrified.” She reached out and patted the cumulus on what Hotaru could only guess was his head. “So much so that you’d gone and left us for dead, eh?”
“Hey, now. S’okay, I’m only joshin’. There wasn’t much you could do, anyhow. Welp, we’re ready to split when you are.”
Max expanded his mass and the original four took up their seats. Goldie stared at the cumulus for a moment before shifting his gaze to Daytona who laughed at the boy’s uneasy expression.
“It’s fine, John,” she assured him, “you're not going to slip through. I mean, look, we all made it safely aboard, didn't we?”
With that, the boy nodded and jumped onto the soft surface of the cumulus, bouncing slightly.
Daytona raised a fist into the air. “Alright, Max. Set a course for Phoenix Military Academy! For real this time!”
With everyone safely aboard, Max lifted up, carrying his master and her four new friends into the sky. They turned and waved at Inspector Gamma before the cumulus picked up speed and soared into the distance.
Rick watched as the cloud carrying the five kids drifted away until it was completely out of sight. He then returned his attention to the dead chimera, pulled out his phone, and dialed Sergeant Shepherd.
After a few seconds, a woman picked up. “Gamma!”
“Hey, Val. You might wanna grab your squad and get over here, pronto. I found something—”
“WHERE ARE YOU? Who in the hell just sods off in the middle of patrol without telling anybody?! I swear, when I find you, I’m gonna take that fancy fedora of yours, roll it up, dust it off, turn it sideways, and stick STRAIGHT UP YOUR—”
Rick held the phone away from his ear as Valeria blew up at him. Despite this, he could still hear her loud and clear. Quoting wrestling promos when she's angry again, he thought, shaking his head. After letting her get it all out of her system, her tirade finally ceased and he brought the phone back to his ear.
“Look, Val,” he said. “I didn’t just wander off for shits and giggles, okay?” His expression darkened. “I sensed a powerful mana signature that led me to Hullington Park. There, I found a few kids and saved them from a chimera.”
“A chimera? And wait, did you say a few kids?! What did they look like?!”
“Huh? What does that matter?” Rick scrunched his face in confusion. “I dunno, there were about five of ‘em. Five more faces than I’m capable of recalling.”
“Five of them? And you let them go without taking their statements?!”
“Hey, hey. While it may not be in my job description—technically speaking—I can assure you I’ve done my due diligence, alright? So relax.” He heaved a sigh. “Before I got there, they’d actually managed to incapacitate the thing. None of ‘em appeared to be hurt, so I sent ‘em on their way. Now, can we get back on topic?”
“That is not how ‘taking a statement’ works!”
“Not. In my. Job description.”
“Ugh! Gods, if you were anything like your—” Valeria stopped herself before she strayed too far. She let out a sigh of her own and cleared her throat before speaking again. “You know what? Don’t even worry about it. I’ll deal with it myself. You were saying, Inspector?”
“Okay, so,” Rick continued, “I examined the chimera’s carcass, and…well…its entire body was made up of the yōma gene.”
“Yōma gene?!” Valeria inhaled sharply. “You can’t be serious! No one’s seen one in over a decade. Besides, it couldn’t have come in through The Yolk. Not without the Zorro Unit noticing…” She trailed off. Rick waited while she pieced together what he was saying. Thankfully, it only took a split second for it to sink in. “Unless it was already here on Terra!”
“Holy shit! But wait, that can only mean…”
“The Scourge of Thornheart is back,” he stated, a note of bitterness in his voice. “There isn’t a single doubt in my mind.”
He looked up at the red moon-like sphere that was shining through the now cloud-dappled sky.
“Things just got a whole lot busier.”
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