Without the Body (18.4) The Shadow

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PART 4

“We should still go,” Nergui suggested quite casually seeing as her foot was firmly set on a man’s throat, “me and Albert should be enough, right?”

“No.”

The Shadow turned around.

“We find Yana. We find the deserters.”

“They might already be dead,” Jaime pointed out. It was curious how Nergui’s friends really seemed to stay out of the conversations. As much as they all looked the same, in terms of rank, there was a definite deference there.

The adrenalin was pumping viciously through Ayane, however, as she tried not to let her breathing sound out. She wasn’t in a mood to concede, let alone defer, on anything.

“The Tech Guild gets nothing,” she stated. “Nergui stays here with Albert. Me and the Street Rat will find the others.”

“What? What if they find us, Shadow? You’re not thinking straight,” Nergui argued.

The Shadow considered her words. Indeed, they only had two scrolls, and leaving the Street Rat without one would be a bad idea.

The Tech Guild. She clenched her fists.

“We’ve got a lotta assets out there,” Jaime mentioned, “I’ll go by myself and find these shmucks. You stay here and protect everyone. Tell the mage to get in here, too.”

The Shadow looked his way.

“Trust me, this is what the Scavengers are best at.”

She had another thought, however.

“Go.”

Jaime nodded with a cunning smirk, pointing at Nergui’s friends.

“C’mon, yer comin’ with me, too.”

They didn’t falter and followed him out of the tunnel. Ayane watched them go while she pulled out her scroll.

“You’re riskin’ a lot, here, Shadow. We should take what we have and leave.”

The scroll was fine. It was cold but not wet or drenched in water.

“The Tech Guild have betrayed us. I will make them regret it.”

“You should make yourself sensible, that’s what you should do.”

S:

Two of the assets are retrieved. Looking for more.

A, we will need you at a moment’s instance. Return to us at once.

She rolled up the scroll and put it back. “They don’t deserve my sensibility.”

Ayane walked towards one of the bodies and ignored Nergui’s disagreeing scoff. She picked it up and started dragging it outside the tunnel.

“What’re you doing?”

“Setting a trap.”

“It’s very unlikely they’ll find us in the first place. You’re just helping them by doing that.”

Ayane stopped and looked back at her with the void that was her mask. For the first time, she really didn’t feel like saying anything back.

After a moment of silence, she turned away and dragged the body outside.

“Well.” Nergui crossed her arms, slightly peeved, quite unable to argue with silence.

Ayane left the body outside, in the open, in front of the entrance. Then she returned to the two, hand already half inside the shadows on the wall.

That tunnel was perfect. It had no interior lighting, but there was still light coming from the entrance. That meant that most of the darkness in there was not completely due to the lack of light, but just one big area of shadows through which she could move. Like a canal, appropriately.

“I will be watching. I will ambush whoever comes in.”

Nergui sighed.

“You look different,” Albert pointed out.

Ayane turned her fake emotionless face his direction, again, inquisitively. For some reason, he also got her meaning.

“Well, you’re wearing something different so, of course, but I guess I mean…you feel different. Did something happen? If I may ask?”

She considered what to say to that. For most of the five seconds she waited, she didn’t want to say anything. But then.

“I realized the world is ending.”

Nergui looked up at her, seemingly caught off guard. Albert slowly straightened up in response as well.

“I…” he looked away, “huh.”

Ayane disappeared into the darkness.

She was surprised how well she could communicate by not saying anything. It seemed people were a lot smarter than they thought they were and hardly seemed to need the back-and-forth of dialog sometimes. However, it was more surprising to her that silence was coming to her more and more naturally as she was more used to have to force it.

Albert was right, of course, she had changed. Watching Kagekawa fall was an obvious cause, but it seemed she wasn’t fully aware of all the symptoms of that change.

 She emerged her head half-way out of the tunnel, from the ceiling, to watch the entrance. She would be invisible to the two behind her as well as to whoever walked inside. There, she waited and watched.

Again, memories started to stir. Her disposition grew somber. Her heart became stark, as she remembered all she had lost, even down to the faith in her superiors. She really didn’t understand how she ended up in her position.

From the very start.

She should have become part of the Mist. She had been disobedient as a child, all of three times. She had been too attached to her tutor. She had mouthed off to her master twice.

In the end, however, it had been caused by her temper. Just like the Tech Guild had ignited it, pushing her to give them no quarter and prepare an ambush, future members of the Mist, her fellow pupils, had accused her of being incompetent. In response, she had disobeyed that fatal third time.

Ayane had snuck out and stolen from Kagekawa itself. The crowned ring of the Shogun, which had been kept safe and out of reach and sight for many many years, ever since retrieved. She showed it to those members of the Mist and then returned it.

Her master found out and, because of it, suggested she be sworn in as the new Shadow.

I simply do not know how to stay out of trouble.

Thankfully, her spiral of mental self-punishment was put to a stop with the appearance of two people. One of them knelt down to feel for a heartbeat on the body she had left outside. Breathing relieved, they looked inside the tunnel.

They pulled out gadgets, both of them. Cylindrical in shape, the side they were pointing broadened the width. She squinted in suspicion as they shook them. After a few seconds of that, they clicked a button on them, and light came on. A very bright artificial light that nonetheless influenced the environment just like a normal light would. It immediately showed the end of the tunnel, Nergui and Albert.

Hmm…

“Sirs?” Nergui’s voice, cowed and afraid, sounded out immediately. But no amount of acting would work, with the other two bodies also visible in front of her. The two drew pistols, and one of them started marching forward.

“Shut up and stay there. I dunno how you took out our friends, but you’re coming with us now.”

The Shadow looked up, which is to say down, and waited for the man to be directly above, which is to say below.

With her mind devoid of thoughts, blessedly, she dropped down.

She flipped in mid-air and landed right behind the man. Left arm around the throat, right arm pulling his gun arm behind his back.

“Whoah!” The one at the entrance reacted, probably steadying his aim but not quickly enough to get a good shot, as the Shadow quickly turned around to have the man she had in a stranglehold serve as a shield.

“Gahk.”

“Let ‘im go! I’ll shoot through him, I swear I will!”

It wouldn’t matter. Even if his arms and legs were mostly bare, the vest he had on could obviously take a shot or too. Maybe a very unlucky shot through the head would get her, but that was the kind of risk that, in her business, was referred to as calculated.

“You are here because I want you here,” she told him.

She squeezed her strangling hold.

“Guhk, no–“

“Stop! Let him go!” The desperate voice echoed across the tunnel, evident that it wouldn’t pull any kind of trigger. She strangled the man in front of his friend, who stood and watched, unable to decide on what to do.

“You betrayed us.”

The body went limp as he passed out. The pistol fell to the ground, and she relaxed, allowing the body to fall.

The one at the entrance still did not shoot.

“You will pay,” she stepped forward.

The man yelped and ran for it. Ayane breathed a sigh of relief, before running after.

That was stupid. I almost ruined everything.

The Shadow looked back at the two like everything had gone according to plan. It hadn’t, however, she did not expect the light devices.

Technology ruins everything.

“We are moving.”

“Aren’t you going to chase him?”

She shook her head, thinking in the moment for once.

“They will commit to here, which will allow us to hide somewhere else.”

“Wow,” Albert smiled, “nice thinking!”

“It’s not,” Nergui argued, annoyed. “She expected a proper ambush, but they brought out those light devices and didn’t stick together. If she chases him, she can’t stop him from taking shots, and the noise of that will bring way more people to us.”

The Shadow turned her head to Nergui, hoping she looked menacing. It didn’t work.

“Yeah yeah, you got a scary mask. It’s the lack of afterthought that’s behind it that really ruins it for me, ya know?”

Nergui sneered, clearly dissatisfied. The Shadow did the same, and then walked in and approached her.

“You are not the first to disapprove of me.” She leaned down. “You will not be the last. You should know it does not stop me.”

She couldn’t stop. The beasts, they would destroy everything. Ayane had misgivings, she knew, but she was there, dedicated and trying. She was doing her duty, which was more that could be said for the little girl.

“Maybe it should,” she said nonetheless.

The Shadow squinted her eyes behind the mask, pulling out and allowing aggressiveness to see through her mask.

These Scavengers never know to be silent.

“We will find out. Meanwhile, follow me.”

One cannot always make the right choice, she had been taught this. What one can do is not let it stop them from trying. She had recognized her mistake, she had let her temper get the better of her. The Shadow would do better.

She led them in the opposite direction the fleeing Tech Guild member had taken, assuming he had been heading towards the closest Tech Guild support.

“Go and find a new hiding place,” Ayane told them, “I will be watching.”

“As long as that’s all you’re doing,” Nergui again complained.

The Shadow abruptly turned and faced the little girl, crouching down to her level so she could see her mask closely.

“All due respect,” she harshly whispered, “quiet yourself.”

Ayane held the little girl’s stare for a long moment of, at last, silence. Nergui was looking scared but, of course, it could be fake.

“Nod if you understand,” the Shadow demanded, cementing their relationship. 

The little girl timidly nodded.

“Good. Albert, don’t lose sight of her and do everything she says.”

The Shadow motioned them on to the stairs, and they walked up onto the regular streets. She went back under the bridge and submerged into the shadows, only to emerge in the empty top floor of an already evacuated building.

Ayane didn’t have that much of an issue with that type of watching since it was a lot more active for her mind because she needed to be constantly focused on discern any possible threat amidst the crowd through which the two were moving. She dedicated herself to not lose sight of them, having to move every couple of minutes because of it. Due to all of that, her mind was better behaved and didn’t wander across the minefield that was her memory.

In-between, she took a look at the scroll, to see if there was any additional information.

H:

Hunter and Circus Freak still well. We have infiltrated the tower.

ST:

Found the dwarf lady. Looking for the deserters is tougher.

A:

S, how do I find you?

That was a good question. Ayane looked around to see if there was any recognizable landmark but it all looked the same, and yet different. The buildings were haphazardly built and styled, but formed rows around the canals.

S:

Where are you, A?

She rolled up the scroll, relocated, and checked again.

A:

Out of the city. I can meet you at the town’s hall?

S:

Go there and wait.

If the Scavengers could find Albert, they’d be even more capable of finding a mage.

S:

ST, get some people on finding A so we know where to go.

We are moving, meanwhile. The tunnel was compromised.

She rolled up the scroll and breathed out, managing assets and tactics was tiring. Looking down at the two, Ayane observed Nergui leading Albert into a square full of people. It was, she realized, right in front of what could only be the town’s hall.

Well. Good. She shrugged in her mind, can always do with a lucky break once in a while.

They were surrounded by soldiers and being watched by the Shadow. They would be safe from any Tech Guild force trying to get them. She opened the scroll again to see there had been no updates.

Tsk.

Idleness. Again.

With the safety of the situation, the crowd under her watchful gaze, it didn’t take long for her mind to start wandering and, consequentially, for her mood to plummet.

That is what the poets always talked about, she realized, when they mentioned “haunting past.” It wasn’t about the past memories themselves being so horrible you could not forget them but more about the present situation making them so…passed away. So part of another time. Of the past, really…dead and to never be experienced again.

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