They appeared in some other enclosed space. A warehouse, it seemed, that was completely empty. Almost instantly, Eliza sat down and summoned up one of the Kagekawa scrolls. She wrote on it and then set it aside on the floor where she could still see it. So could he.
The Tech Guild have betrayed us. Lock them out.
And the ones given to our agents as well.
Then she placed her staff, a glistening blue thing, on her crossed legs, and straightened her back and head. She closed her eyes and focused.
“Boy, things’re really getting crazy, huh?”
Falk looked aside at the boy. Leave it to him to state the obvious. The brat seemed to sense his judgement.
“’m just sayin’. Like some underground invincible beasts from the void weren’t enough of a problem, there’s also Led By Anarchy biting at our heels and the Tech Guild stabbing us in the back.”
“Nowhere to go but up,” the Hunter offered, sort of reminding them she was there. “Or forward.”
“Ha,” Jaime reacted with a smirking crossing of arms. “Guess so.”
“Humpf.” Falk wasn’t appreciative of such useless buoyance. He regretted selling Griff out like that, it had been a gamble right at the first step of his plans, to speed up everything, and it had not paid off at all.
No more gambles. They will all pay in due time if I stick to the plan.
He had assumed Eliza had been ready to act, just as Griff had. He had severely overestimated the old woman.
Doves materialized out of the air, glowing slightly cyan if you looked attentively enough. She lifted her hands, and they left.
She turned back to the scroll and didn’t find a reply to her message. Then she looked up at them.
“Sorry. With Griff’s betrayal in the clear and us the only ones aware of it, there is little time to act. I haven’t a chance to explain things yet.”
“Do what you gotta do, grandma.”
Jaime didn’t seem to be impressed by her either, but she ignored his condescendence, or just didn’t have enough of an ego to care, which would be worse. She closed her eyes and focused again.
This time, an orb materialized in front of her. The air dried up and made it out of the water. A second later, it spoke in a smooth low echo, with a blink.
“We are betrayed.” Her voice also echoed. Just slightly, a half-second of delay, but it was discernible. “The Tech Guild is the enemy of the Shadow Conclave, the enemy of Magni, the enemy of us all.”
“Enemy of the beasts?”
“He has grown too ambitious. He seeks to make us fall all at the same time.”
“If he finds a way to beat the beasts, he will wait.”
“Yes. Either way, he has already delayed us. If we have a shot, I will be very surprised if we can enact any plan before the beasts reach you. Warn everyone, raise your defenses against the LBA. Against the Tech Guild. Against the Beasts.”
“We mobilize for war.”
It seemed the magic of House of Magni actually provided an alternative means of communication. They probably used the Kagekawa scrolls only because it was easier, and only on Shadow Conclave business.
“Your wisdom will be followed,” the orb said.
“Your performance will be observed,” the matriarch stated.
The orb dissipated into the air, in a small vapor, and her body relaxed again. Eliza reached for the scroll and reacted with a quirk of impatience, whispering “finally.”
She again wrote on it. The Mad Genius and Jaime both wandered around until they could get a good look of the scroll. The Hunter, it seemed, was uninterested. She kept looking out at a window, the only one in the whole entire room, like she was thinking of climbing out and leaving.
The Tech Guild have betrayed us. Lock them out.
And the ones given to our agents, they have them.
All scrolls but yours and ours, the ones accounted for, have been normalized.
What is going on?
The Tech Guild and the LBA are our enemies, though they will also fight each other. We underestimated Griff’s ambitions.
The status of the missions?
All successful. Griff has all the items, however.
We will meet. With the agents too.
Send your locations.
Agent. Falk would never consider himself an agent, it was too close of a word to pawn, but actually a mastermind. The fact they thought otherwise was a disservice to them and their position. Eliza was communicating not with Kagekawa, he had now realized, but with the other members of the Shadow Conclave.
Of course, it made sense, the Shadow Conclave could not have the standing and influence and resources that it does with only Griff and Eliza at the helm. It was an alliance of underworld leaders that had been started by the two. But it was bigger than them.
Things might be looking up after all.
“Okay, while we wait, I will explain what’s happening.”
“Please do, I’m sure these two are very confused,” Falk said, gesturing towards Jaime and the Hunter. The Hunter looked back as if she had not been paying attention and Jaime gave him a scornful look.
“The messenger birds were a carrying spell. They will find the Shadow and the Circus Freak once they are out of earshot from anyone else, and they will tell them where to find us.”
“Where are we?” The Hunter asked.
“Breigton,” she replied, “a ways away from the Tech Guild but still in Britthan. Couldn’t go much farther.”
“Because the other two might not be able to reach us then,” Falk put forth.
“Nah, look at ‘er,” Jaime pointed out, “she just can’t handle it.”
She again seemed unaffected by the belittling, although that might have just been because she was no longer looking as tall as usual in the first place. Griff’s betrayal had taken some kind of a toll.
“Contrary to what you may assume, we did not lose half our strength in Griff. I have contacted all the other leaders of the Shadow Conclave. They usually do not participate in meetings, to keep their status, but with the situation as it is, stealth pays them no service anymore.”
“Plus, it’s not like you intend to keep the Shadow Conclave running after we deal with the beasts.”
She nodded in compliance.
“Exactly. We will absolutely disband, so the need for secrecy has definitely reached rock bottom. They will join us so we can plan our next moves. Together, we will be able to outmaneuver the LBA and the Tech Guild, and continue undermining the Beasts.”
“Griff,” the Hunter voiced out, making Eliza twitch slightly.
“Yes.” She was unable to hide the sadness in her.
“It really caught you off-guard, huh?” Jaime questioned.
“We…we have known each other for a long time. We were close for a long time. More importantly…we made a vow. To Ka–…to him.”
“The Shadow,” Falk said, “the real one.”
“Now that’s not nice,” Jaime shook his head, in defense of the current girl posing as the real Shadow.
The conversation would not go on, however, as the first of teleportations occurred. A man dressed in gray, covering all his features, appeared before them. From his garments, he was definitely Kagekawa. The magician who had teleported with him promptly retreated to the back of the room, to get out of sight and out of mind.
So they aren’t really gone. That made sense, nobody else really controlled the scrolls.
He said nothing and merely looked around at all of them.
“The Shadow and the Circus Freak are making their way,” Eliza offered as an explanation, somehow guessing at the man’s wonder. “I couldn’t teleport them all.”
“I am the Head of Mists,” he announced in a quiet and subversive voice. A voice Falk could and would never trust.
Two more teleportations succeeded at almost the same time. The two people were familiar to Falk, both famous thieves and actual participants of the contest Falk had participated in. The magicians did like the one from before and immediately backed off.
The Bronze Alchemist, the first bearer of the title, was a masterful chemist of high regard. She was Eliza’s junior by what Falk guessed was a mere decade. Her blonde hair was graying even though she still kept it in a long braid over the characteristic bronze lab-coat. Those gloves, skin-tight and thin, were also part of her persona.
“Shu,” Falk’s eyes whirred instead of squinting.
“Makai,” the Hunter voiced in utter surprise. Falk could understand: he was equally surprised to see the Zoo Keeper there. Dark skinned and tattooed, he wore little else than shorts and a vest over his muscular body. The man was bald but had a thick beard which nearly covered his entire mouth. Finally, a hawk idly stood on the man’s shoulder, its claws sinking slightly into his skin though it didn’t seem to bother him.
“I don’t understand, they were thieves who participated in the Shadow Conclave,” Falk complained. “How are they also part of the leadership?”
“We were two short,” Shu explained with a shrug, “and having additional surveillance over what was happening didn’t hurt.”
“I saw how you caused the death of the Dark Runner,” Makai’s voice surged almost like ventriloquism. One could hardly see his mouth move.
Falk scowled at the man, but the Hunter seemed to be more bothered.
“You betray the Wild Felids, Makai? How?”
“Betrayal? How have I betrayed them?”
The Hunter’s complaints were interrupted by another teleportation. This was of another woman, one reaching the end of her youth, looking portly and motherly.
“Emery?” She looked at Jaime with an apparently satisfying look.
“Oh? Surprised to see me, Jaime?”
“I…” the Street Rat chuckled, “wow, this explains a lot. You weren’t against us assisting the Shadow Conclave, you were against us fighting the beasts directly, and you made that into the only real stance behind not standing against them!” the Street Rat sounded excited, but Falk didn’t know what he was talking about, or cared. “And you were so obviously bad at it that ya steered everyone else for it just to not be on your side. Wow, I gotta admit, you really had me.”
“Praises won’t work on me, Jaime,” she told him coldly.
“Nah nah,” he waved his hand, “I mean it.”
There seemed to be an understanding of their interaction that was only clear to both of them. Falk would be inclined not to believe Jaime but, on that one instance, it really was irrelevant. Meanwhile, Zookeeper talked down the Hunter.
“I work for the better of the guild, as you do. You also left to perform your tasks.”
“The only reason I’m here and you’re not, you know, is because I actually cooperate with people.”
Falk looked back at the Bronze Alchemist, Shu. She was an oddity, her people, from the east, usually had black hair. Her blonde hair made her chalk-like skin seem even brighter.
“You will notice, my dear, that I am here,” he pointed out.
“Indeed. I’m glad to see you up for cooperation.”
“I am not here to cooperate,” he quickly stated, “you are here to cooperate with me. Everyone is.”
She scoffed, making his scowl twist further.
“Oh, Falk, if only you could hear yourself through someone else’s brain.”
He was going to argue back, but two more teleportations occurred. A woman wearing a Runsshia military uniform, her hair neatly braided into a short bun, not a strand loose. She was around his own age he would guess. The man was actually wearing a crown and a cape made of fur over what seemed to be royal garments. He was older but still younger than Shu and Eliza. The magicians carrying them likewise retreated to join the others.
“And who are these two, then?” Falk asked in protest, annoyed at the interruption but mostly by the principle of being in the presence of authority figures.
“Klavdiya, you insolent man,” the woman replied, “intelligence officer in the Runsshia military.”
“Spies and thieves,” the king shook his head, “remind me, Don Afonso the second, king of all Iheria, why I even interact with you people.”
“Excuse me,” Falk was quick to interrupt, “did you say Afonso the second? Iheria?”
“Yes. I believe you are the one they call mad? You sure look the part, terrorist.”
Falk chuckled and promptly pointed his arm at him, making the wrist click and whir its gun barrel into position.
He shot the man in the face.