It wasn’t hard to infiltrate the Tech Guild’s home base, the impressive metallic tower that was still wide enough to be considered a square. He assumed it was because he was expected and given free reign around the base.
Finding her was also easy.
“Hey!” Queue scared person wearing little in the way of clothing while still finding the need for a gas mask, “where’s the witch?”
“The magic lady! Robe? Old?”
She would never be able to walk around inconspicuous, not any more than he could, and she would have no reason to. He was pointed towards the right direction and quickly came to find the room where she was.
He found her sitting down at a desk. Well, more like a stool she had convinced to be a desk due to it being taller than the metallic box she was sitting on. She was facing the door, which he understood, he also didn’t like having his back to entrances.
Lady didn’t look comfortable at all.
She didn’t particularly react, which surprised him. He moved out of the way of the entrance and waved his hand at her. She seemed to be engrossed in writing something.
“Yes, I see you, Hugo,” she casually stated, “I need a minute.”
“You didn’t react when I shouted.”
“Have you not noticed noise is particularly loud and constant in this place?” She didn’t look away from the piece of paper she seemed to be writing on. “I need a minute.”
“Why’re you here, then? Why not do your disappeary thing from home?”
“It’s impossible for me to cover such a distance without multiple castings, and that would exhaust me too much.”
“Really? The Sorcerer woman did it a lot, I saw it.”
“She was younger and much more powerful,” she stated in a bit of impatience, “no one will ever know how much easier this war would have gone if she was alive to help us.”
“Yeah, super serious loss,” he said in an attempt to sound like he meant it, “look, I need your help.”
“It’s been a minute!” He sounded a lot more impatient than he was, or at least, that he thought he was. She finally looked up at him.
“I did not know you were capable of a rational exchange.”
“Me neither,” he complained, “fix it, please!”
“Fix what? Your newfound capacity for normal discourse? Doesn’t seem like a bad development.”
“It hurts, okay?” He grabbed at his chest, glancing at the door in hesitation, maybe someone could hear?
“Hurts? How? I thought you were—”
“I know, I know what I am, I know nothing’s supposed to hurt, that’s the point!”
She raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t know—“ the opened entrance was freaking him out. He grabbed the door and flung it shut. “Sorry, I just.”
“You want privacy,” she set the quiver down on the paper and straightened up, apparently coming to terms she had to deal with him immediately. “I understand. Relax and tell me what’s going on.”. Her hair was long and voluptuous, arrayed behind her like a cape now that the hood was out. Most of the hair near the actual head was grayed but it gained its blue hue as it got to the end. She had kind eyes, eyes that were easy to fool, he knew, but he wasn’t interested in doing that. Not then.
“I got a ride from a merchant. This old lady, she’s got almost as many wrinkles as you do.”
She frowned, and he twisted his face, grabbing at it in a small demonstration of the lack of control he was experiencing. “Sorry! Anyways, we were talking, I dunno how it happened, we talked the whole trip here.”
“How long was the trip?”
“Three days, give or take,” he shrugged, “I think, I dunno. Anyways, that crazy lady kissed me, that’s when it happened. I think she poisoned me.”
“She kissed you? And you started hurting?”
“Yeah, inside,” he pointed at the chest again, roundabout the left side, “this is freakin’…I’ve never been poisoned! Well, not since the one time but I was a kid, I didn’t have a choice. Anyways, you have any idea what it could be?”
She watched him with a rather perplexing expression.
“I have a thought.”
A considerable amount of relief washed over him.
“Yeah? Great! What is it?!”
“Have you ever…felt? For someone?”
“Felt? What? Like bad? No, not really. I’ve felt excited and fun, that’s why I’m the Circus Freak!” He wiggled his arms in the air, “I love what I do.”
“But have you ehh…ok, you love what you do, have you ever loved… a person?”
“What?” He frowned. He wasn’t completely clueless to what she was alluding to, however, but that couldn’t be it. “No, of course, I haven’t, look at me. I don’t go around looking or waiting to love or to be loved or…whatever! I’m here to have fun!”
“Funny enough, I first fell in love because that’s what he did, he made it fun.”
That struck a nerve. He had enjoyed talking to Minali. He looked down in thought.
It can’t be. That’s a…a book thing, something that’s in stories…like revenge. Like jealousy. Like suicide.
He knew people did those things in actual fact but then, people were crazy. They had no identity of their own most of the times, and it drove them nuts, it led them to emulate behaviors or take up identities. He didn’t do that, he knew who he was, had known for so long.
“Alright, fine, it’s a good guess, I guess? But can ya like, scan me or somethin’?”
“It does not work like that. Plus, my power has waned over the years…I could maybe detect or even heal poisoning if it was something…explicit. But anything discreet needs specialized attention.”
“Where can I find that?”
She smiled compassionately.
“You cannot. Sorry but everyone that can do that is doing more important things.”
“Lady,” he moved towards her and was half-surprised not to see her afraid. People usually reacted when he abruptly stepped towards them, but she didn’t. “I’m hurtin’ here, it’s not something that stupid, I promise.”
“You have never loved, Hugo. And probably, you have never been loved.”
“What’s your point?”
“You know not how it feels,” she smiled in understanding, “I do. Believe me, ‘love hurts’ is not poetic or romantic. It is the bitter truth.”
His lips curved disapprovingly, finding a lack for words to give in response. He stepped back, disappointed.
“Did you say old? She’s your elder?”
“I guess mother’s older,” he commented without thinking, his mind was otherwise preoccupied. “Maybe.”
“Interesting. Men are usually not quick to fall in love with…well.”
“I’m not usual, in case you didn’t notice.” He sighed. “It’s gotta be poisoning.”
“That is irrational, Hugo. You have feelings for the woman, that is it.” She picked up her quill again and looked down from him again, at the parchment. “If you are so against such feelings, simply cast her out of your mind, and allow time to do away with them.”
He grunted, very much displeased. He grabbed at his chest. It worried him very much that part of him didn’t that to happen. Like it enjoyed the pain.
I can’t believe this is happening to me.
He was really in no mood for games, for messing around, for quipping and mocking. That had to be a first.
He was still annoyed by the time the meeting got underway. He wasn’t completely paying attention, it seemed Griff and the Mad Genius hated each other for reasons nobody would explain, just like last time. The Hunter was apparently late, she had let them know, because of an attempted attack by the LBA on her train.
The Shadow was there as well. it seemed like every time he saw her, she looked more like her namesake. This time, her uniform covered even more of her skin and her hair no longer framed her head, it was tied into a very tight ponytail that went up and back for a few inches before draping down in an arc-like curtain of hair that reached down to her back. It was also no longer red, her clothes, but black. Not that he could tell through the mask but she seemed to be in a bad mood, not that it made her look any less good.
His chest bulged.
Ugh. It’s gotta be poison…right?
The Street Rat was there. The kid, boy or girl, Hugo wasn’t yet sure, seemed to be pretty proud of himself. Or herself. Themselves?
Argh, I can’t think like this.
“Hey, Street Trash.”
The kid looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Right right,” he waved his hand, “I’m having a hard time thinking about you without knowing what pronouns to use, ‘re you a boy or a girl?”
They all looked at him in different levels of perplexed suprise.
“Use ‘it’,” the Street Rat told him without much hesitation, “that’ll work either way, right?”
“’S weird using that on people, though. No?”
The brat shrugged.
“I don’t really care what you use, Circus Bummer.”
He frowned. That was fair, the brat could get his name wrong, in a revenge of sorts. He didn’t care.
“Are we still waiting on the Hunter?”
“Yes.” Griff stated. He looked to be in a really really bad mood. If eyes could shoot bullets, the Mad Genius would have thousands of bullet holes by now. Yet, the crazy engineer didn’t seem all that bothered, but rather amused.
The Don wasn’t actually there, he was being phoned in through a land-line to a device that was a phone but not really. The speaker was loud rather than private.
“Can we maybe meet tomorrow then?” The Don asked. “I’m sorta too busy to be layin’ around doin’ nothin’, see?”
“We could try meeting in a few hours from now,” Eliza suggested, sounding a bit awkward.
“The Hunter said her train already arrived, it’ll be a waste of time if we lost a day instead of a few minutes.”
“It’s been thirty,” the Don’s voice sounded out in annoyance, “that’s not a few, see?”
He wasn’t in the room so he couldn’t know how tense the atmosphere was.
“We could start without her?” Eliza suggested. “It’ll be less of a waste to catch her up on–”
A figure at the entrance interrupted the Shadow Conclave leader. They all looked as Hunter stopped, feeling noticed and on the spot.
“Oh great, she’s there, finally!” The Don’s voice exasperated, “arright, I’ll start. Whole freakin’ country’s in my pocket, told ya I had this handled.”
“Our information is that the beasts will be on western borders before the week is over.”
“I know, why’d you think I’m annoyed at waitin’ around? I got a lot to prepare, see?”
“What do you mean?” Eliza was the one asking.
It didn’t surprise Hugo if she and Griff were the only ones moving the meeting along. The Hunter seemed to worship silence. The Shadow seemed to be fully giving Hunter’s religion a shot as a way to handle whatever grief she was wrestling with, which for some reason annoyed him. The Mad Genius as well as himself both seemed to have their thoughts otherwise preoccupied. Only the Street Rat seemed to be in a mood for chit chat.
“Just tell your president he’s gotta fight, lettim’ take care of it.”
“Nah, it’s my people. It’s my place, see? I’ll take care of it. Besides, not like I’m really much use for anythin’ else now.”
“Actually. We could use you to convince the northern-eastern gangs to fight these beasts.”
“I’m already in talks with everyone I know, ‘m tryin’ to convince ‘em to join me here so we can take a proper stand. One that ya know, doesn’t just roll over and die in a matter o’ hours, see?”
“Don, there is no way you can stop these things with ordinary–”
“Yeah yeah, weapons are useless. There’s a lot more a man can do in a fight than throw a punch and shoot a gun. Trust me, I’ll stop ‘em.”
“No, we’ll stop them,” Griff argued, “like we agreed.”
“All due respect there, Griff, I agreed so I’d have your support. I don’t need your support anymore, see? I’m handlin’ this now, you wanta go ahead and steal things, sure, that’ll help. But there’s not anythin’ else I can do in that regard.”
Griff frowned disgruntled, and Eliza seemed disappointed. Sad. Not that the Circus Freak cared, he only cared about the pain in his chest and his unwillingness to goof off and mock the whole situation. He just wanted to be quiet, to adhere to Hunter’s religion of silence, it was a really weird feeling. He hated it.
“If you’re mobilizing the other criminal families around the world, that is more than enough.”
“That’s what I’m sayin’, see?”
“Circus Freak acquired the diary, and the Hunter retrieved the amulet. Did anything special occur with you two?”
Eliza glanced at the Circus Freak to either see if he would talk first or to encourage him to.
Did anything special happen? Yeah, he was hurting for the second time in his life. Hurting like he’d never hurt before.
“Those anarchist wannabes attacked, but what else is new? They were after the king’s diary, too.”
“Good job on retrieving it yourself, Circus Freak.”
He shrugged. He was outside of the circle, leaning against the wall. Isolating himself.
“A beast was there,” the Hunter pointed out. “It arrived soon after. It was trying to crush it, or retrieve it.”
They all seemed to notice her wounds then. Hugo had to admit, he was impressed, not that he hadn’t been through much worse, but she could actually feel the wounds. Light bandages were over the meat of her leg, and the wide wound was still fresh, albeit dry, on her back. That would be a very notable scar soon enough.
“You succeeded where anyone else would have failed,” Griff nodded respectfully, “good job. Shadow, I want to hear from you.”
He had expected her to flinch, quickly attempting to steel herself to play a quiet scary part instead of the fidgety emotional girl he had seen and saved and appreciate.
She didn’t. Her mask looked back at the Shadow Conclave leader without a hint of nervousness.
“You received the items I recovered. What else is there to hear?”
“I would like a personal account. Of what you saw, and I’d like to know what has become of the Kagekawa.”
She stood in silence for a few moments, longer than it was normal, even for someone wanting to pass on a brooding stance. That meant it was for real, she really was brooding.
It pulled his focus, for some reason.
“I said all I will say about my clan,” she stated. “The city was in the same state as we saw Prusnia. Only there were the pillars in place and a lot more bodies. The air was much thicker. Uncertain as to if it was as thick as it gets.”
The Circus Freak snorted, calling upon looks at himself. He giggled, he didn’t care it ruined the mood, it was like him, and it was honest, he felt a little bit like himself because of it.
“Gotta stay on it longer to see how thick it can get, eh?”
They all took a moment to catch on to his very childish joke, and then rolled their eyes in unison. The Mad Genius groaned, the Street Rat snickered, and the speaker phone flared to remind them the Don was still listening.
“Who keeps inviting that clown?!”