By Spinning Demon (Topman) and Gauntlet (Shadowman)
If one man's trash is another man's treasure, then it stands to reason that one man's treasure is another man's trove. Snake had to be on to something when he started looking into emerGEnesis CEO Adam Everett's financials - 2 million dollars cash doesn't get withdrawn to carry around as pocket change - but after the devastation of the lab compound, there was no way that Everett, whatever he was up to with all that money, could operate under the radar as easily anymore. He'd have somewhere he could operate out of, lots of somewheres maybe, that weren't as easy to link to him, and that's what I wanted to find. And as Snake already pointed out, the best way to find out about a person's secrets is to see where their money goes.
There was no way that Shadow or Crorq would have had the guts to push past the law for results, but I didn't have to worry about that anymore. Omni was right, I could do what I wanted now, and all thoughts of uninhibited freedom aside, what I most wanted was to stop the murders and catch the creep who was responsible. I just wanted to do it my way.
The First Bank of Monsteropolis was far from unguarded at night, but to be honest, most of the security was more of a deterrant to humans than robots. Maybe in the heyday of Wily, things were different, but robots rarely stole money for themselves nowadays - we just didn't have much use for it. So when three robots, robot masters mind you, decided to break into said bank, it really wasn't as hard as you'd think.
Omni took out the cameras pretty effortlessly, and few of the guards on duty even entertained the idea of trying to tussle with Golem, especially not after the first two fell quickly to the floor. I'd been very clear to specify he use nonlethal force only, and I was happy to note that as thickheaded as he was, he followed orders to a tee. I'd made sure to stay out of sight while they did their part, because we definitely didn't want to attract the attention of the Mechs on top of the regular response team. Once the coast was clear, the rest was up to me while Omni and Golem kept an eye out.
Fortunately for me, I didn't need Snake's hacking expertise to get to what I was after. After all the destruction during the War, the world had developed a renewed fondness for keeping hard copies of documents, and the bank had a great big archive chock full of 'em.
Adam Everett's file was sizeable - the guy sure loved to spend money - but all from within the past few years. There was nothing I could find of him or his fortune from before the War, but since then he'd invested in all sorts of companies, and always successfully increasing his capital. The guy was a genius at playing the market. I didn't care about how he'd become a Fortune 500 though, I wanted to find something odd or out of place. Something that could lead me to him, or at least what he was up to.
Like this. Everett was hardly altruistic - no records of donations to charities or important causes - but for some reason he made a sizeable contribution toward the restoration of an old dilapidated church. Somehow I got the feeling that 'historical significance' wasn't high on this guy's priorities.
I dashed back to the lobby where Omni and Golem were waiting. "Let's go," I said, racing past them without slowing.
"What?!" Omni shouted after me. "But you didn't even take any-"
"I got what I came for," I yelled to him over my shoulder. "Do you wanna get caught or not?"
He shook his head in disbelief and then punched Golem's arm to get his attention. "We're going."
Golem just nodded and lumbered toward the doors without a second guess.
I didn't tell Omni what I'd broken into the bank to look for. Somehow I doubted that he'd give me much leeway if I told him we'd just risked arrest because I was trying to solve a string of murders in the city on my own. So instead I told him that I'd destroyed some compromising evidence inside a safety deposit box. Pretty lame lie, but it got the job done.
Still, it made me wonder why I still cared so much about the murders. Maybe the Wily chip was still in the process of rewriting me. Or maybe I was acting more out of hurt pride than out of a genuine desire to stop the killer. I guess it didn't matter, as long as I was doing what I was doing. For the first time in a long time I felt like I had a handle on this. And I didn't have to ask anybody's permission anymore for what I was about to do next.
It took me a while to navigate around town without being able to take main streets or stay in sight of the public for long, but eventually I arrived at the address of the church that Everett had paid to "restore". My hunch felt vindicated instantly. The church was in shambles, boarded up, holes through windows and in the roof... the restoration was a sham, all right. The question is, what was it covering up?
I skated around the back to find the doors there were nailed shut too. I peered through the dusty windows to get a view of the inside, but it was too dark to see anything. Except... there was some light coming through a crack by the kitchen. It looked like it might be from a service entrance, one that I'd passed by the first time, it was boarded up. I went back to take a closer look, and I saw that the boards weren't nailed into the wall on one end. With a gentle pull, the door creaked open and I was inside.
If Everett had been using this church for anything, it wasn't out of comfort. There was no electricity in the building, and everything was coated in thick layers of dust and cobwebs. I could barely make out footprints in the dust, not well enough to know how many people had been here and how recently, but it was enough to validate that I was not the first.
A quick sweep of the downstairs area and I hadn't found anything, so I carefully made my way up the stairs to the chapel proper. The lighting was a bit better here, as the stained glass windows that ran the length of the hall were riddled with holes from rocks thrown by neighbourhood kids, no doubt. Dust swirled up into the air as I walked down the aisle, the wood of the pews cracked and rotting on either side of me. Something was on the altar, something that looked out of place, and I walked closer to get a better look.
It was an orb of some kind, and inside it some kind of billowing cloud of gas was furling and unfurling into different shapes and patterns. The glass of the orb was faded but the gas inside was brilliant, and the two cancelled each other out to create a pale sheen around the orb's surface.
I reached forward to pick it up, when I heard a scuffling sound behind me. I turned. Whoever it was was trying to hide, but not doing a very good job of it. I could see their silhouette framed against one of the pillars close to the front line of pews. I pretended not to notice, and turned my back on them again. I waited until I could hear them approaching, and when I thought they were close enough I wheeled around to deliver a kick...
...and was frozen in place midway through my roundhouse. I could feel my internal motors grinding to compensate, but my whole body was held in place by an unseen force. I couldn't even move enough to see who was there. It was several seconds before a face stooped down and to the side to meet my half-turned head's gaze.
It was that man, the man from the alley, the one with the ripped mouth and the sullen eyes! He stared into mine and I couldn't tell if he was smiling or if it was just the illusion of his mutilated cheeks.
"I've caught myself a fly," he said softly. He held up his right hand - all along it were etchings, runic symbols and intricate designs that looked arcane in nature. It almost resembled Gravity Man's self-mutilation, except this was methodical, more articulate. Some of the symbols were glowing, and I guessed it was a spell that was holding me in place.
"Ryuuuu..." I said, struggling to form the words with a jaw held tight. "Are you... Adam Everett?"
He tilted his head, as if he didn't understand the question. "I am the Harbinger," he said, as if that was all he needed to say to explain.
"Who... are you? What are you... doing here?"
He caressed one of the dirty stained glass windows, depicting an angel talking to the Virgin Mary. "Satan speaks to me through an angel," he said. Ooooookay, this guy's nuts. I tried to move again - still nothing.
"You're... a spellcaster," I said. It dawned on me. "You... you're the one killing all the..."
"They were merely judged," he said. "Just like I was." He touched the side of his mouth where his teeth showed through the open gash. "I was swallowed whole in Hell. But then, I was set free. Sent home. The day I woke back up here, I was so overjoyed, I smiled. And that first time I smiled, my face ripped open."
He was talking in ramblings, hallucinations, but something he said sounded too familiar to ignore.
"KADE," I tried to shout through my clenched mouth, "you were infected with KADE, you're..."
He lifted his other arm, and in the shimmering glow coming from the carvings on his right hand I could see him fully now. His face, determined, with the manic smile forced upon his mutilated mouth. His right hand, articulately deformed by the painstaking precision of an arcane master. And now, his left hand visible, a bloody mess of shredded flesh, far worse than any of the photos of KADE victims I'd seen. From the places where skin still clung, needle marks riddled the exterior. Clutched in his fingers was a small vial with a tiny needle at the end of it.
"It is your turn to face judgement," he said, and lifted both hands ceremoniously. "The old order of things has passed away. The good will be saved, and the guilty will be damned. I've been watching you, I've seen the violence you've caused... you've been a bad, bad boy." He brought his left hand forward and pressed it against my right arm. To a human, it would probably have gone largely unnoticed, but I could feel the small needle pierce my artificial flesh, and I could detect something being injected into my body. Reflexively, my internal systems shut down the circulation in that arm and rerouted the current away from that area, effectively cutting off the injection from spreading. If this was really KADE, my body would be unaffected, but it was still a helpful precaution.
"You have been judged," he whispered to me. "I'll be back to claim your soul for Satan soon." He spoke with finality - it was his death sentence to me. This guy must be so out of touch with reality that he doesn't even know I'm a robot.
He gingerly picked up the orb from the altar and swept past me out of view. His footsteps echoed in the large chapel until the echoes were all that was left. I started to regain movement in my limbs, and I made a final sweep of the church. There was nothing to find. However this guy was connected with Adam Everett, I wasn't going to find any more answers here. I made my way out onto the street. My systems were still sluggish, and my right arm was still not operational - I was going to keep it like that until I could find out exactly what it was he'd put inside me. But if it was the KADE virus, and I was pretty sure it was...
The Harbinger. This was our culprit. Responsible not just for KADE but for the mystical murders too, judging people 'good' or 'bad' and then killing them accordingly. Now we just needed to catch him.
Something bumped against the heel of my boot. I looked down. A Search Snake's red LED eyes blinked twice and then it scuttled away.
I tried to make a dash for it, but a shot that narrowly missed my shoulder told me I was too late. They'd found me.