The True Shadow Conclave (17.1) The Mad Genius

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PART 1

The room was small. Hardly big enough to fit a car, length-wise. It was well lit to allow good vision from outside, though it wasn’t the blinding all-light they had experienced before, that had been specifically tailored to keep the Shadow from using her arts.

It had been unexpected by Falk: how well Griff had prepared for the need to take them down. He assumed the old man was simply ready to declare Falk an enemy and a liar if he tried to tell the others the truth.

I should have stuck with what I had planned. This is what I get for improvising.

He looked over at his cell companion. The child. He kept looking over at the one-way glass window that was on the door. Falk could most likely break through it with his mechanical arm but that would help little against the three gunmen posted outside.

“Why do you keep staring at it? Do you have some kind of plan?”

He made that cocky grin of his.

“I can’t plan without them doing something. I’m waiting.”

“Hmpf,” Falk shook his head, “you should seek plans that are proactive. Having the need of other people’s cooperation is an extremely limited approach.”

“Do you have a way out of here?”

Falk shrugged.

“Not as of yet. I’m sure an opportunity will present itself eventually.”

“So we wait,” his smile turned innocent. “That’s the thing about people, Falk. They’re always collaborating. Even when they don’t know it. Even when they don’t want to. It’s our fault if we can’t see how to use their collaborative effort.”

Falk’s eyes whirred as his eyebrows raised.

“I see you’re actually capable of intelligent thought.”

“Why? ‘Cause I used those big smart words just now?” The child glanced at him not exactly dismissively but…not exactly not. “Don’t be such a victim to expectations, mister.”

He said that extra sentiment with a completely different disposition. He was suddenly a child, a real child, being respectful and polite as if he was apologizing and saying he was right, even though his statement contrasted that impression.

Hm…

The Street Rat was still watching when the window panel opened.

“Falk. Jaime.”

“Griff,” the Street Rat greeted without skipping a beat, clearly expecting the contact, and in a very friendly manner. “Sir, this is uncalled for, we’re all in this together against the beasts.”

“I don’t go for the common enemy thing. Enemy of my enemy…is still my enemy, unless they don’t know I’m their enemy. But you do now.”

“Come on—”

“You two are my enemies.” Griff wasn’t there to listen, it seemed. “As soon as I figure out how I can kill you, I will. Make your peace with that. Don’t spend your last hours figuring out how to escape it, I guarantee no opportunities will present themselves.”

“You’ll never take out the beasts without me,” Falk told him, not as an offer or a counter-proposal but as something for Griff to think back to when he utterly failed. A revenge.

“If anyone can do it, it’s us.” He had an old but confident voice. That was a man from a more chaotic age, a man that had faced the first beasts and helped turn them away. A man of ambition. In the end, that was why Falk couldn’t hate him so much. The things he had said to him about scientists had been dishonest, seeking to rile him up. He was an opponent, yes, but a worthy one.

He would die all the same, of course.

“Think about this,” the Street Rat tried, “the Scavengers have no ambition to rule anything, I can easily be useful to you in dealing with them.”

“The Scavengers can’t subsist in the world I envision. They need to be dismantled, just like the other guilds and clans and houses…and beasts.”

“You’re a thief,” Falk stated, “yet you would talk about bringing the entire world under your control?”

“I changed,” the eyes squinted and stared unflinchingly. “That’s what none of you can understand. Civilization has stagnated in the midst of all the chaos, there’s a need for order so that there can be a direction.”

“Your direction.”

The Street Rat spoke in a different voice now. He had dropped the pretense, no more a scared kid trying to serve, but a proud thief and heir to a legacy.

“It might not be the best, but it’s still a far cry better than none. Anyways, you’ve lost. I felt you deserved to hear it directly from me. Goodbye.”

He nodded to the side, and the window was closed.

Falk crossed his arms and sighed, almost in a chorus with the Street Rat. They both crossed glares in surprise.

“Heh,” they also both said.

“How many times have you heard that one?”

“More than there are stars,” Falk said in reply. “Metaphorically, obviously.”

“Obviously,” the kid sat down and leaned back.

He seemed pensive.

“You look like someone with an idea.”

“I have five, Falk,” the Street Rat smirked up at him. “I just needed direction.”

Falk scoffed in amusement.

This child is not that bad after all.

Despite his big talk, however, The Street Rat sat down and did nothing else. He crossed his arms, legs straight and relaxed. He started humming some classical tunes, and how a street urchin new classical music was beyond Falk.

After five minutes, it became clear he wasn’t going to do anything.

Falk didn’t see a point to comment. Making fun of a child for manifesting a disappointing lack of capacity seemed ludicrous. How could it be disappointing? That itself signified that expectations had not been met.

He did not have any expectations of the boy. Jaime was clearly a talker, a small walking bluff that played into people’s compassion, and that was it.

Falk had not exactly been disarmed, but everything in his considerable toolset was, alas, useless. He had more than enough gadgets to get through the door, but he knew the moment he attempted, he would be shot. There was no way to get through the door and, at the same time, engage all three soldiers outside, which would be positioned specifically to deal even with the most aggressive of breaches.

His only viable plan was to poison them beforehand, but the only way he could think to do that would be too visible. They would see it.

It had been near half an hour since Griff had left when Falk had to admit there was no way out. He would have to make some sort of sacrifice, perhaps if he hurt the child? Would they intercede?

No, they wanted them both dead. Perhaps Griff intended that. If the Mad Genius killed the child, Griff could hand the body back to the Scavengers and claim a lack of responsibility.

“Hey, what’re ya doin’?”

He looked down at the boy and found him chewing on the fingernails of his hand, looking far more neutral than his tone of voice seemed to indicate.

“Hey,” he bit down and silently blew it off, “hey stop!” His demeanor was casual, his facial expression perfectly natural, except for the moments in which he spoke. He sounded and   looked scared.

“Don’t touch me, what’re you–!” He leaned forward, interrupting himself before he shoved his back against the wall. “Ow!”

This is ridiculous. Neither will they care but who’s to say they can even hear us?

The boy breathed harshly, scraping the back up the wall as he stood. His face contorted and produced tears, it was…truly uncanny.

“Please don’t…”

Jaime shoved himself to the corner next to the door, where you couldn’t see from the window. Falk raised an eyebrow. The window hadn’t opened yet, of course, but it would?

Then, the child moaned.

It made him shiver. It was painful in a very specific way. Jaime held his hand to the wall right next to the door…and shoved. Moaning again in-between sobbing.

It finally occurred to Falk what the child was doing. And even with all the ignoble things Falk had done in the last years, all of the lives he had taken, the literal gore he had caused and been responsible for, the fact was that the hairs on his skin stood up. He had an adverse reaction to the display of what Jaime was sounding like.

Falk had never witnessed a violation so he wasn’t entirely certain the child was giving an accurate performance. Nevertheless, he utterly believed it just from his years, even when his eyes reported on the lie. What would the guards think?

The pained vocalization grew rhythmic, along with the wall shoving.

Revulsion took over Falk. The men outside would think he was doing something like that? Never. He didn’t care about getting out or if it could work, he cared about not having his name likened to such a thing, even in the minds of enemies.

“Stop that!” he yelled demandingly.

But the child? The damn vicious child just winked at him with an utterly whimpering face.

“But it huuurts…”

“I am not-”

“Ooow-ow-ow-ow”

He swallowed hard and marched towards the Street Rat, all but intent on putting a stop to it. Falk grabbed hold of the child by the collar and lifted him up to look at him face to face. He sneered.

“Stop it at once!”

In response, the little monster shoved one of his hands to cover his mouth and pulled his hair. He couldn’t help but grunt in pain which, because the mouth was closed, and due to the context the Street Rat had involved him in, sounded like something else. Almost with perfect timing, despite the precarious and tight hold he had on him, Jaime yelled out in pain. A spasm of crying that sounded like only one thing.

Falk, in a spasm of frustration, decided to next burn the child’s vocal cords to both stop that vicious display and to also never have to hear those moans again, but in Street Rat’s favor, the door flung open.

One man ran inside but didn’t have time to point his pistol as Falk spun to literally bludgeon him with the kid, since he had him in hand already.

They both complained about the hit but he was already engaging the silent counterpart of his mini-pistol. His mechanical fist whirred as he shot spinning little saw blades, from the top of his wrist, at the two men who, in the desperation to stop what they thought was happening, had huddled and were now in plain view.

Blood spilled as they hit their throats, and they fell down to quickly bleed to death. Falk rushed out to see if there were more, casually aiming down at the man he had hit with Jaime, to kill him too.

In his hurry to leave the room and get some spatial awareness, he also noticed the window had been pulled open. The Street Rat had made sure both of them were out of view without being completely out of view. The men had seen the back of Falk, oddly convulsing due to his hair being pulled, and had thus been convinced to make the decision tha led to their untimely end.  

Falk saw a large hallway, messy and mostly clean when compared to the rest of the tower he had seen, littered by gadgets and people building gadgets. It was a nice place, overall, his younger self would have liked it.

“Oww…” the more normal voice moaned, in a much more common way, “did you have to do that?”

“Consider yourself fortunate to be alive, boy,” he threatened in anger.

“What?” He got up and dusted himself off, “I just got us out.”

“By making others believe I was raping you.”

“Not like they’d care that you were hurtin’ me. Griff probably wanted you to try and kill me. This way, chances were they’d care.”

Falk sneered, looking down at the boy. They considered him monster, the Mad Genius, while beings such as that child were out and about?

This is why the world needed to burn.

“How did you know they could listen?”

“What? You kiddin’ me?” The Street Rat also exited and looked around, “Griff told us.”

“He did not.”

“He did. You told me you were waiting for an opportunity to present itself. He told us that wouldn’t happen, they were listening when we were talking.”

Falk’s eyes widened behind his spectacles. He thought back to earlier and recognized that yes, that was true. Griff had referenced the opportunity comment…

“That performance…”

“I know,” he smirked, “I’m good, Falk. You don’t wanna get screwed, don’t be like Griff. He disarmed you by putting you in a position where you couldn’t win with the arms he couldn’t take from you. Disarmed Shadow with light, took away Hunter’s weapons and Eliza’s stuff too, they’re prolly watching her more closely, I’d guess. But you can’t disarm the Street Rat.”

“Oh? Why is that?”

“Because my weapon is humanity, mister,” he leaned forward innocently and all Falk’s instincts told him he could think less of the boy, that he was just a stupid little child with no notion of how the world really worked. “And I mean as in people’s humanity, ’specially that of others. So you can’t disarm me, not without killing me.”

“So that’s the secret? Kill you?”

“Is it? Why would you need to?” He winked with an innocent smile, “nobody needs to do that, I’m just a kid. Push comes to shove, I can’t even open one of these doors by myself, right? Now come on.”

He gestured and started to walk away.

“I need you to open some doors.”

“Check yourself, child,” he relaxed his mechanical wrist, putting his saw blade mechanism back into idle. “I am not a pawn to command, and much less yours.”

But yet, he followed.

What most annoyed Falk was that he had been just that. He had been…manipulated, and very successfully. He was lured to where Jaime wanted him to be, and to say and do what had been required for the guards to believe what Jaime wanted them to believe.

It will not happen again, Street Rat. Proving yourself has only made me take notice. A fact you may very well regret.

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