The depths of her irritation knew no limit. At that time? No limit at all.
After all the sacrifices she had made, that Kagekawa had made, the Shadow Conclave turned out to not even be unified, let alone actually capable of anything. Not only had they wasted a whole day incarcerated, but on top of that, the Tech Guild was now an enemy.
Ayane had half a mind to ignore Eliza’s messages and instead strike out on her own. Or perhaps Griff would prove the better ally. The final goal was to stop the beasts, after all, what did anything else matter? Why did he have to be an enemy?
Ignoble traitor. Huu, if I ever manage to…
The Circus Freak was managing to stay quiet. Fair enough, she had asked him to, but the Shadow was pretty sure he would ignore it. He didn’t, surprisingly.
“There is no more need to stay quiet, Hugo.”
They were heading towards a warehouse that belonged to the House of Magni, or an ally of them at least. Hopefully, someone would be waiting for them. Otherwise, she really might go on her own to try and stop the beasts.
She was wearing a light brown cloak and hood, to hide her uniform from the populace. They were walking amongst the bustling industrious city, through busy streets and well-populated squares so some measure of caution was warranted.
They were mostly ignored.
“I was curious how you’d do it. It’s not very fun, right?”
She looked back at him. The Circus Freak looked really odd without his make-up. Looking nothing like his true persona, he wasn’t hiding inside a hood as she was. In a way, he reminded her of Darkness, he had a skinny and short body type that was nonetheless imposing in its muscle definitions. The difference was he had a slightly more tanned skin, and the hair was curly instead of silky straight, and short instead of long.
“How I would do what?”
“Escape. It took way longer, huh? And you had to stay quiet the whole time, nobody even saw us!”
“That is the point. Not being seen.”
Which was remarkably easy amidst the populace. These people, who were very apt at ignoring rampaging beasts who were unstoppable and had already stampeded across entire countries, seemed to have even less of an issue with two suspicious individuals walking around amidst them.
“Not even heard?”
“Boring,” he glanced to the side, “it’s so funny to see them running out of breath trying to chase you. Throwing weak curses when there’s nothin’ else they can do,” he chuckled, and she did too, for some reason.
“I have been taught to seek success first of all. I would never think to derive amusement out of a task.”
“Well, but ya need to. What else is there?”
“Success,” she said, quite matter-of-factly.
“Success is kind o’ tasteless if it’s too easy and no fun! Make things harder for yourself. Challenging! You’ll see, you’ll like it.”
Ayane chuckled again.
“How you keep finding success will forever be beyond me, Hugo.”
“Why do you keep calling me by my name? That’s weird.”
“I apologize. Griff did so, and Circus Freak seems like an insult. Falk does not appreciate being called by his title.”
“Because he’s crazy,” he shrugged, “we should own what we are. Like the brat.”
“The Street Rat?”
He nodded enthusiastically.
“I’m from the circus, right? And I’m damn sure I’m a freak,” he grinned in a way it showed he was, even though he actually forgot, again, that he wasn’t wearing his makeup, and thus would look more weird than freaky.
Ayane felt bad reminding him so she didn’t.
“I will call you by whatever name you prefer, Circus Freak.”
“Oh no, Hugo’s fine, I don’t care that much. It’s also me.” He looked to the side suddenly and, following the gaze, she found a man watching them with interest. A second later, he waved at someone else to his side using a negative gesture.
Thieves who had changed their minds about going after the two.
“You are more aware of your surroundings than I had expected.”
He smiled wide.
“’m always lookin’ for people to freak out.”
Ayane rolled her eyes with a faint smile, none of which he could see. They ran into the warehouse in the middle of a busy street. The door opened almost immediately, showing the Mad Genius.
“Finally. Get inside, already, we need to get moving.”
She was a little disappointed. Now, trusting the Shadow Conclave would be her decision, and it might prove to be a bad one. Had there not been anyone there, she wouldn’t have to make a decision.
He went inside and let the door close. Ayane was offended by that but, as usually, couldn’t really react in a dignified manner. Because of that, she simply opened it again and went inside, followed by Hugo.
Inside were the others, the Hunter and the Street Rat and what seemed to be a mage. All but the Don, who had also abandoned them to their fate.
As she was brought up to speed, she grew even more irritated.
The Head of Mists? A double agent?
Of course, he wasn’t exactly that, but at the same time, she was sure no one in the Kagekawa was aware of his affiliation. It was a betrayal. The fact that her saving survivors were turning out to have been exactly the thing they needed did very little to assuage the trembling in her nerves.
“I should help in the Tech Guild.”
“Don’t be daft, we’ve already agreed,” Falk dismissively argued, “nobody else will recognize the survivors you rescued. If they’re even still alive. You will go with the Street Rat.”
“I should go alone,” the Hunter mentioned, eyeing Hugo uncomfortably, “the Circus Freak is…not a fan of stealth.”
“He allowed for it in our escape,” the Shadow spoke, a bit too defensively. They eyed her. “I mean…he did, it is possible.”
“There is no room for further argument, I refuse to waste any more time. Good luck Hunter and Freak, let us go, Shadow and Trash.”
He waved the mage and the man stepped forward, small staff in hand.
Ayane sighed and grabbed the man’s shoulder. She looked down at the Street Rat to gauge his feelings, but he seemed to have none. Or rather, to want to show none. He was quiet, looking ahead, a faint vague smile on his face as if his thoughts were far and wide outside of that building and them. And unconcerned, of course, the Street Rat was never worried.
“Good luck, there. Shadow.”
She looked to the side, finding Hugo waving at her while holding a silly grin. Again, forgetting he didn’t have the make-up, he didn’t seem all that scary. She was really thankful he had not used her name. Much like his, Griff had revealed it to him before. It had worried her, but she was starting to believe he hadn’t even noticed.
“And to you. May we meet again.”
“Oh, we will.”
There was that chilling growl to his voice, concocted to make one think of what exactly was meant by it and why was it scary.
Ayane wasn’t affected, however.
“Remember you are lacking make-up and costume.”
His expression turned scared, almost embarrassed, as he looked down at himself.
“Oh damn! I forgot!”
The Shadow held in a chuckle, not wanting to do so in the presence of others, and looked grimly ahead at her future.
Indeed, Ayane had seen her home crushed, so how could anything affect her after that?
Knowing my luck? She sighed as she felt her body being transformed into something else, I’m about to find out.
Venetizia. The city where they had held the second match of the Shadow Conclave.
Seeing it again brought back a time when her life was scary interesting instead of scary horrible. And how she could have enjoyed it more.
It was different now, however. Crowds of people filled the street, half on the move, half laying about trying not to be sad and depressed about the homes they had abandoned. It was a stark contrast to Brithan where society was still functioning with many things in mind that had nothing to do with the beasts.
It was a city filled with people who understood the actual danger that was coming for them.
“Well then. Shadow, Trash, get on with it. Albert, you will come with me, I have use of your ability.”
“What? What use?”
They all turned to the mage, surprised at the fact he actually had a will of his own. Not because he was a mage, but some people have a posture that leads one to believe that won’t really happen, and Albert was one of them.
“In the fight. I will aid the Don, whether he likes it or not.”
“Oh I don’t fight, I’m a pacifist.”
“What?” Jaime laughed. “For real? A pacifist?”
“You do realize the world is ending? Pacifism isn’t going to help anyone.”
“Of course not, I’m not an idiot, am I?” The way he said it made it seem like a direct contradiction.
“What are you, then?”
“I’m your method of transportation, right? Come look for me when you’re ready to go, please. And do remember to use the scrolls.”
“My good man, you will need to get involved.”
I’m already involved, sir, but I can’t very well participate in violence, now can I? It’s just not civil.”
The Mad Genius seemed legitimately befuddled as Albert gave him a respectful nod, followed by a wave, followed by casually walking away. Apparently, he said all that needed to be said.
“Well that’s pretty funny,” the Street Rat conceded, giving another small giggle.
“Uselessness is not funny. It’s infuriating. It’s belittling. It’s–”
“A darn shame,” he nodded in agreement, kind of disarming the master engineer, “but nothing we can do about. C’mon, Shadow, let’s look fer these people you saved.”
The Shadow didn’t feel up to contributing to any of the antics. She had been looking around the whole time, trying to stop any of the people she had saved back in Pelindrad. She searched for her names…
“So you have any names? Descriptions?”
She turned to the child.
“Yana…an old dwarf woman. Nestor, pretty young, brown hair. There was also three soldiers…deserters. I will know them if I see them.”
“Hum, soldiers, right, so just…muscular and non-descript. But still, strong men should be easy enough to track down…but our best bet’s Yana.”
She agreed, the old woman would stand out more. Just then, Ayane remembered there had been another survivor.
“Oh, there was also a little girl.”
Jaime looked up at Ayane.
“Cannot exactly remember what she looked like, apologies. I would say she was a street child, however.”
“Oh?” He smiled knowingly.
“I may be wrong,” she conceded, realizing what Jaime was thinking, that she might have been one of his, “I did find her in a destroyed city.”
“Oka, let’s find ourselves someone from the Scavengers so we can track down these people. Follow me.”
“The Scavengers? Your guild…you had someone put here as a contact?”
“Well no, not exactly,” Jaime smirked, “we’re just everywhere. That will include a lot of the refugees. Hello, d’you have any scraps to spare?”
The parent next to the child Jaime had spoken to reacted in her place.
“Scraps? As in food, boy? I’m sorry, but we haven’t enough as it is, not to spare.”
Jaime smiled and nodded in understanding.
“Best of luck, mam.”
Used to be, walking in such a crowd was the last thing the Shadow would like, and indeed, she was not enjoying the experience at all. It was impossible to get around without bumping into other people, brushing shoulders, being pushed or having to push. The streets were so filled with people standing idly and open to close contact, it was bothersome.
The Street Rat looked at home, however. And there was nothing to it, she had to do it, there was a chance they would spot her instead of the other way around. In the past, she wouldn’t have stood out that much in the midst of so many different people from so many different corners of the eastern world…but she was not wearing any kind of cloak or hood. She donned her black uniform and her Kagekawa mask unflinchingly. If anything, it helped motivate people to give her some space as she walked.
Not enough, however, there simply wasn’t enough space.
“Ey there, you got any scraps to spare?”
This time, the adult sitting next to the child who had, until that moment, had its head sunk in folding arms, did not react. The child did, however.
“Yeh,” the dusty and dirty child said, “I have scraps, all the scraps I want, but I ain’t sharin’.”
“Joke’s on you,” Jaime crouched down in mild excitement, “I’ve also got all the scraps I want, just wanted to gloat.”
The boy smirked, “well you won’t get anywhere wit me. All o’ mine’re right o’er there.” He pointed back and right, towards an alleyway that was standing in-between buildings. “If ya wanna look. Dun get all sad, though, if it’s more than ya have.”
“We’ll just see about that.”
The Shadow understood it as some kind of code talk. She silently followed Jaime in the direction of the alley. They went in, literally stepping over a small group of children who looked tired, hungry, dirty, sick, and had huddled around the entrance of the alley.
“Don’t worry, Shadow, just follow me.”
It was, she had to admit, a very efficient guard wall. Nobody would want to cross those poor children and make them move, and that was if they could get past the worry that whatever they were sick with wasn’t contagious.
At the end of the alley, a few feet over, there was a row of garbage cans covering most of what was really at the end of the alley. There, they found the first of the survivors.
Sitting on a stool, reading a map, and somewhat surrounded by five other children who seemed to be doing other miscellaneous tasks, was the curly blonde little girl. She was also eating a piece of bread.
“Nergui,” Jaime greeted. The girl didn’t look away from what she was doing, but all the other kids couldn’t help it. They looked right at him.
“Jaime,” she greeted, unfazed.
That was it, that was her name, Ayane realized. Nergui.
So she is a member of the Scavengers.