“Bloody void!” One of the magicians screamed, unable to stay out of mind.
The Hunter tackled Falk almost immediately. He fell to the ground half a moment later than the king did. She tried to lock his mechanical arm behind his back, but she didn’t have the strength.
“I fear that won’t be budging anytime soon, Hunter.”
She locked his other arm instead, making him grunt in pain and regret not throwing her off while he had the chance.
“Why would you do that, Falk?” It was Eliza, of course. “Are you also showing your true colors?!”
“Woman, if I wanted to stop the Shadow Conclave, I would have done so in the very small room we were meeting.” He sighed. “I saw the king’s name in the Tech Guild’s ledgers. I saw a lot of names, I committed as many of them to memory as I managed to read out.”
They all looked at Afonso, bleeding on the floor.
“Now will you unhand me?”
He assumed the pause he felt was from the Hunter looking up at the leaders for a consensus. Eventually, he felt the grapple loosen.
He stood up, the wrist returning to idle form, and dusted himself off.
“I apologize for the lack of warning, but one never knows what he came prepared to do.”
Jaime, however, was already searching the man. Falk spotted him pocketing a gold watch.
“Time is short,” Eliza stated.
“Time has run out as far as we care,” Klavdiya complained, who made no attempt to hide the terrible mood she was in. “All our armies have been destroyed. All our territory is lost. The beasts have reached as far as Usuka, we’ve completely lost the East.”
“I can confirm this,” the suspicious voice of the Head of Mists reported, “we survive by moving west and keeping to the shadows…but our power base is lost.”
“The Wild Felids still can’t be much assistance,” the Zoo keeper reported, “we’re still trying to retrieve our leader from the LBA. We’re hunting down as many of them as we can meanwhile.”
“That’s assistance,” Shu pointed out, “taking out LBA agents is assistance enough.”
He nodded in respect.
“The Don has decided to abandon the collective effort, he plans to face the beasts by himself.”
“It will go as well for him as it went for Melor,” Klavdiya commented, anger in her voice, “I want to see these creatures obliterated. Trampled and dead.”
“First order of business,” Emery called to attention, “we need to get back what the Tech Guild took. The amulet and the crystal that the Shadow and the Hunter retrieved.”
“Also, I have already analyzed the dust,” the Bronze Alchemist commented.
There was nothing mystical about Shu, she was a chemist through and through, but so creative and successful in her inventions that she was thought to be a mystic. An alchemist.
“It does not seem to have terraforming properties in and out of itself, it’s simple dust from a rock much alike onyx, but not exactly. Something we don’t have up here, that I know of.”
“What does that mean for us?” Eliza asked.
“We need not only the engine, the crystal, but since we’re likely to not be able to get it to work and replicate the terraforming process in a controlled environment…we need the result of such process.”
“We only had the one chance,” the Head of Mists reported, “that is all the Shadow was able to retrieve.”
“And you? Weren’t you part of the mission?” Emery asked.
“I was not as fortunate in my route, I faced opposition too soon and could not retrieve anything.”
“The inexperienced lost little girl out-did you’s what yer saying,” Jaime commented, receiving no reply other than an uncomfortable twitch.
“We need something that has been affected,” the Bronze Alchemist said, “if we can’t get terrain, then we either need one of the beasts–”
“That’s crazy,” Jaime said.
“Or someone who survived. But it needs to be someone who was breathing these…particles for an extended period of time.”
“How long?” Falk asked, “I was victim to it for at least an hour. So was the Shadow and the Hunter. I assume that’s not long enough. A day, perhaps?”
“Yes. The longer, the better, though I’m not sure how long we can survive on that air in the first place.”
“Unbelievable,” the Head of Mists whispered. They all looked at him, it sounded promising. He, however, just kept looking down in thought.
Eliza tapped her staff on the floor. “What is it?”
“As you know, the Shadow has been banned from Kagekawa for shirking her duty.”
“What?” That was Jaime who had reacted, “man, that’s twice today. No way that happened, c’mon.”
“Kagekawa doesn’t ban Shadows, you assassinate them,” the Zoo Keeper commented.
“…my mists caught sight of her escaping the city with survivors. She rescued people instead of executing her mission, and for that, it was decided she was not a good Shadow after all.”
“Pff, I could have told you that.”
“But,” the Head of Mists turned to Falk. “It was a mistake. She risked her escape alone, not the mission, she retrieved the crystal, the pillar, and the pure dust the mechanism was spewing out. The judgment was made, however, and there was no turning back from that. So she was banished instead of extinguished.”
“You would banish the Shadow for rescuing innocent,” the Hunter stated, a bit judgmentally.
“You’re all missing the point he’s making,” Klavdiya said with an aggressive gesture, “it’s them. The people the Shadow rescued. They were there for a day.”
The Head of Mists nodded.
“If they still live…”
“It’s worth the attempt,” Shu agreed.
“We have the situations understood and the requirements laid out before us. Now we need to decide how to approach them, and we need to do so immediately.”
Klavdiya hummed in agreement.
“All the people are escaping west, past Don’s territory, where it’s still safe. They then either go north, towards here, or south, towards Iheria, or keep going west towards Neyrk.”
“I suggest I travel to Igtahlia,” the Mad Genius proposed, “with Shadow, she is the only one who will recognize the survivors.”
“I don’t think the Mad Genius is the person to take if you want these people to come willingly,” Emery brought up.
Jaime stood up from the corpse, he was literally the only one not ignoring it.
“Well, he had some kinda device on him,” he crushed it with a boot, “seemed to be beeping. Anyways, I’ll go with Falk, meet up with the Shadow, and head there to get the survivors. Between me and the face of the girl who rescued them, it should be easy to convince them.”
“Then I will go and offer the Don assistance,” Falk offered. “It will be a good testing ground for some of my ideas, and I do believe I won’t be any help otherwise, not until we retrieve the crystal and the amulet.”
“I agree,” Shu said.
“I say we send the Hunter to the Tech Guild to retrieve what we are missing,” the Zoo Keeper proposed, and the Hunter didn’t seem to like it.
“I should help with the search for Mother Superior.”
“No, you should help with this,” he simply said. He turned to Eliza. “She knows the amulet, and the crystal is easy to identify. She should travel with the Street Rat and the Mad Genius, to meet with Circus Freak and Shadow. Then they can continue with the Circus Freak. He should have some good knowledge of the tower from his escape.”
“Call me Falk, if you will. Or professor. Or sir or Goldschmidt or just genius. Don’t call me mad again.” The threat came out calmly and coldly, which was good, it made it sound like the demand that it was. The Zoo Keeper didn’t react all that much, but the hawk finally stirred. It shivered and stared back at him…murderously.
“I agree with everything,” the Head of Mists said, almost as if in ceremony.
“As do I,” Emery said.
Falk nodded and walked along.
“Yes yes, good, we hardly have time for this stupidity. Mages, move to purpose!”
Despite the commanding tone, none of them actually moved.
Instead, Eliza stepped forward.
“I will contact Shadow and the Circus Freak,” she told Falk and the others, “telling them to meet you near the Tech Guild. Hopefully, they haven’t gotten onto a train or something already. Albert.”
One of the mages stirred and walked out of the darkness.
“You will teleport these three to our safe house in Beermingbam, and then you will teleport Falk, The Shadow and Street Rat to Igtahlia. Leave the Hunter with the Circus Freak. Head of Mists, scrolls.”
He nodded and came up with them. Apparently, he had a satchel held up against the top of his back, it was part of his costume, but it was all so visually illusory and confusing to discern that it wasn’t really visible. He walked and handed the scrolls to each one of them, a bit too respectfully for comfort.
This man is definitely a spy king, there is not an inch of skin in my body that is not reeling in suspicion.
“Keep in contact and do not lose the scrolls. Communicate back every hour with the safe word ‘this shadow lives on’.”
Falk had to agree with Jaime’s sentiment, it was a bit too thematic for his tastes.
“One can guess at such a thematic password, why not a more difficult word? Like Osmium.”
“I need to remember it,” the Hunter pointed out.
“Ah, fair enough then. Maybe…grass?”
The Hunter squinted at him annoyed, but then looked back to Eliza.
“There is a friend I left in Beermingbam. I would like him to be taken to the Wild Felids.”
“You made a friend?” The Zoo Keeper seemed very surprised by that and the way he posed the question made her glance to the side in embarrassment.
“Yes. He comes from the jungles, I am worried about how he is faring.”
He took a pause. His stern face formed a kind and mysterious smile before he turned it to face Eliza.
“Yes,” she nodded, “go and see to your friend if you can, but as to the rest of you, focus on your tasks. I do believe that if we face any more setbacks, any one more… that will be the end of us.”
“And of the world,” Shu added, maming use of a dark, meaningful tone of voice.
They paused in order to digest it. Complications and difficulties had kept them away from any meaningful progress, despite their majorly successful tasks.
But Falk? He wasn’t worried at all.
“So dramatic. If anything will be the end of us, it is your lack of confidence. Your inability to handle failure.”
They all looked at him, even Shu was at a loss for words. He smiled, his superiority manifested.
“Now come along, Albert, let’s get going. Despite it all, you are both right in one respect. Success is only really assured if we get on with it.”