The Shadow coughed once into a fist, regaining full composure, and then faced Griff as if to signal that she was done.
“I would like to experiment with both the amulet and what the Shadow retrieved,” the Mad Genius requested. “The next step would be to kidnap one of the beasts themselves.”
“What news have you of your investigation, Falk?” Eliza asked as Griff was again gazing murderously at the engineer.
“I had a run-in with some acquaintances from Led by Anarchy, I have officially parted from that organization. Burned whatever bridges there were.”
“Are we really going to trust him?”
Falk looked at Griff with an easy smile.
“As to the organization I was asked to uncover, I’m afraid to admit I have failed. I know they’re in direct competition with the Shadow Conclave, only with more…practical or…base goals.”
Griff shifted uneasily.
“If that is the case, it is no wonder you could not uncover their identity. That is unfortunate, one more ally would have been good.”
“I’m not so sure they’re really allies thou’,” the brat said. They all looked at the brat, who was smirking deviously. “Interesting thing about my mission? Someone tried to kill the Holy Lady.”
Eliza visibly shivered.
“What? The LBA?”
“No. They wanted the Chancellor to think it was them, but I actually found an accomplice.” Victoriously, the Street Rat produced a letter. “A high-profile countess. She was writing this letter.”
Eliza raised an eyebrow but it appeared only she found that interesting. The Hunter and Griff didn’t seem to care and the Shadow? Who knew what she was thinking? Falk, however, chuckled. He called attention to himself, Griff’s gaze became inflamed.
“Oh, we have proof from a third-party,” he waved at the brat, “in that case, never mind, I did uncover the identity of our enemies, they’re the tech guild.”
But…aren’t we in the Tech Guild?
“Indeed. Griff was there waiting for me, he captured and intended to kill me, that would be why he’s been trying to melt me with his stare.”
Eliza looked to the side at Griff who reacted by banging the floor with his cane.
In response, the room lit up completely, it seemed the ceiling was a collection of transparent panes with very strong lightbulbs behind them. The room was completely robbed of shadow and, at the same time, blinded everyone there.
Noises whirred and clasped into place in the time it took the Circus Freak’s vision to accommodate. With his hand over his eyes, he saw that some gadgets had sprouted from the floor, tiny little necks and square heads with gun barrels for mouths. The Shadow was a couple of feet closer to Griff and the Mad Genius was pointing his mechanic arm also at him, but both were frozen by the fact the old dog had a pistol to Eliza’s head.
A dagger had cut shallowly across Griff’s shoulder, Hugo guessed it had been thrown by either the Shadow or the Hunter.
“Nobody move!” He banged his cane again and the door opened behind him. Members of the Tech Guild ran in with their own guns and took aim. “I’d prefer to do this later, but I don’t mind doing it now.”
Everyone was already on the same page as to the betrayal that was happening, except for Eliza.
“What are you doing, Griff?!”
“Taking over,” he simply said.
“Is what I think is happening happening?” The phone asked, and Griff glanced at it as if remembering that the Don wasn’t even there.
“The Tech Guild will take care of the rest, the Shadow Conclave is no longer necessary.”
The phone grunted disappointingly.
“Yer seriously turnin’ against each other, unbelievable. I don’t have time for you nutcases, I got monsters to stop.”
The call disconnected. In reaction, Eliza spoke in an even more hurtful tone.
“What are you doing, Griff?”
“Like I said, I’m taking over. With the Kagekawa gone, with the Matriarch of the Magni under my control, with everything retrieved in my hands, I have every major organization and asset under my thumb. I’m going to win this war.”
“You don’t got the Scavengers,” the Street Rat pointed out.
“Scavengers aren’t an issue,” he didn’t look at the brat in response, “you can’t protect yourselves against the beasts on your own.”
“You’d be surprised by what we can do, wrinkle cheeks.”
“But we were working together,” Eliza said, seemingly still in denial, “we’ve been working together all this time, Griff. We made the Shadow Conclave, we strengthened it, all to face the beasts. You’d throw it all away?”
“You didn’t find it hard throwing me away, did you?”
“No…” she shook her head, “it can’t be about that.”
And the Circus Freak made the connection. The way they looked at each other, the concerned and worried mean-spiritedness.
Love hurts, she had said.
“HA!” He broke the moment brusquely. But he didn’t care. The pain in his chest was all but subsided now, and what he saw was he knew of people, the world was making sense again, people were making sense again. He chuckled, he giggled, he laughed, he cackled.
“Stop that,” Griff commanded, but he couldn’t.
It was who he was.
“This is amazing!” He screeched, “this is too much! This is so funny!”
“Someone knock out the clown, I’ve had more than enough of his lunacy.”
Three men walked across the others, who stood and watch to see what he’d do. They probably imagined he would beat the three men silly and start an escape. A high-action super-fun escape down the Tech Guild tower, filled with its traps and ambushes and hundreds of members.
And it’s not that he couldn’t, or didn’t want to. He was just laughing too hard to manage. He hugged his own belly as it contracted, his breathing was all over the place.
The world was ending and the only hope to save it was being undone by a lover’s spat.
He awoke in a cell, more by the complaint in his eyes than by some sort of natural behavior of the mind. He rolled to cover his face from the very bright light but, once fully in his wits, turned back around to see where he was.
“You should have stayed asleep.”
He was accompanied in the cell, and it wasn’t very big in the first place. One could perhaps fit a bathtub and a half in it, and it was completely empty. When he saw the source of the comment, he understood why.
“It will not be easy to go back to sleep with all this lighting,” she added.
He smiled at the Shadow, knowingly.
“If I want to sleep, I will.” He looked at the metallic door that was the way out of their jail cell. “It’s easy to pass out, I’ve done it a lot. You just stop breathing until it happens.”
She was standing. Whether she had been standing all along, he couldn’t tell. He, on the other hand, was in no hurry to stand up. The door had a small panel to see through, one way, however. It seemed to be made of very strong glass, it had markings of having been struck plus a drop of dry blood visible on its surface. Probably the result of her attempts at breaking it, it would explain why she had her hands behind her back.
“Pretty paranoid, this Griff, huh?” He looked around, there was no way out, not even for him. He knocked on the ground and checked that it was solid, even if it looked like it was made of plastic, it was truly solid iron.
“He knows what he is doing. Why he has placed you in my prison, however, I do not know.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t,” he covered his face with his hand, but it was still so bright. Too bright, he couldn’t relax his eyes.
“What do you mean by that?” She accused, seemingly offended, but the Circus Freak didn’t mind that. He looked up at her maintaining his grin.
“Well I think as much as you like efficiency, you’re not really down with cruelty, right? That’s why you can’t understand him.”
She stayed silent, but her head was looking at him. She looked like a completely different woman with her hair that thin and long, and in all black. The Light didn’t allow him to do better, it was reflecting from the ground frustratingly well. He squinted up to see it was coming from the same kind of panels Griff had surprised them with, in the meeting room.
“They are protected by the same kind of material they used for the tiny window on the door,” the Shadow explained casually. “I have tried.”
It didn’t matter.
“So, how does this work, I make a shadow for you and you’ll be able to get out?”
She shook her head.
“A shadow needs time to create…it doesn’t work.”
“Well I can’t make shadows anywho, too much light, right?”
“Indeed. We wait until they come and feed us.”
“They carried us in here, they can probably put some food in for us to eat.”
“We will wait and see.”
“You’re a lot more somber than I remember. What happened, your pet die?”
She looked away, upset, but that didn’t bother him.
“Hey, I had a pet die once, it was devastating. It’s what drove me crazy in the first place.”
She looked back at him, and he couldn’t see her face but he knew, from her movement, that she was raising a very vexed eyebrow.
“Of course not, ‘re you crazy?” He laughed as she “humpfed” and looked the other way. It was so easy to mess with her, he loved it.
“You are the crazy one.”
“Momma thought so, too. Or at least that’s what Pop always said,” he giggled, interrupted by the opening of the little window that was on the door. It seemed it opened to outside.
“Step away from the door!”
“Gonna need a bigger room for that, buddy.”
“Get on the wall! Where I can see you!”
He rolled his eyes and shook his head, doing as he said.
The door opened to reveal three men wielding revolvers and, behind them all, Griff himself.
“Well if it isn’t the head cannon himself. Griff, right?”
One of the three men had a tray with bread and water. He carefully leaned down and placed it just at the entrance. While he was doing that, Griff began to speak.
“Hugo, is it?”
“Nah, I like Circus Freak, actually,” he grinned, closing his eyes to show off his scary but funny crossed eye grin.
“You are aware I’ve washed your makeup off?”
He jolted “WHAT!?” he scratched his face and found it was, indeed, naked of ink and paint. “Why would you do that!?”
“I’ve disarmed everyone, Hugo. Your face is part of your armament.”
He sneered and, for the life of him, he had no idea what kind of face he was showing. It had been a very very long time since he had seen his real face in the mirror. He felt at his hair, it was curly and short, his hat was missing.
He couldn’t freak out anyone like that! Not easily, anyway.
“You are absolutely unaffiliated with anyone or anything, Hugo. I’ve come to offer you the opportunity to live and go on your way.”
The Circus Freak squinted suspiciously, he hoped.
“What will you do if I let you go?”
What kind of question was that?
“Same I always do, Griff,” he said the name with dislike, he couldn’t help it. “What I want.”
“And what do you want?”
“To leave here.”
Griff rolled his eyes in a slight exasperation.
“What will you want…once you leave?”
“How would I know,” he found himself smirking, “I haven’t left yet, have I? I sure wanna find out, though.”
“Okay, then you can stay in there.”
“What will you do with us?” That was the Shadow, the Circus Freak didn’t care to know, he wasn’t planning on letting Griff, or anyone else for that matter, do anything with him.
“I’m being honest here, Ayane, I don’t know. I planned to have you on my side until the end. The Shadow Conclave would disband and we’d just take over. But Falk’s ruined everything. I’ll think of something, given time.”
He nodded for the door to close.
“I always do.”
The door closed, and Hugo found himself leering, murderously. He didn’t have any sort of psychopathic relationship with his make-up. It was make-up, he took it off often, the problem was being seen out of it. By one of them, by Shadow. And probably by a lot more people by the time he found a way out.
“So…”He glanced sideways at her, The Shadow, at her expressionless mask. She was, after all, right next to him. She sighed and crossed her arms, giving him a view of her scraped hand. “Hugo. My name is Ayane, and it seems we have time to kill.”
“Know any good jokes?”
He smiled, his heart flaring. He could count on his fingers, his one hand fingers, the amount of times anyone anywhere had ever asked him for a joke.
“You want me to tell you my jokes?”
“You saved my life,” she reminded him, “and now you stick by me? Yes. Tell your jokes. If you have them.”
“Ooooohhh,” he giggled, the food and lack of make-up now completely lost to him. “Do I!!”