Without the Body (18.5) The Shadow

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FINALE

She was thankful when she saw someone shove the point of a knife on Nergui’s back. Ayane followed them with cunning eyes, disappointing to see Nergui handling it perfectly. She faked panicking and made most everyone around her pull the man away to what would probably be the beating of his life.

She then looked around to see if the Shadow was there, she didn’t seem pleased, not at all. But then, what did Ayane care?

“Hmpf.”

She looked at the scroll again.

ST:

Tech Guild’re all over the place, pretending to be refugees.

Be careful.

We’re with A, though.

S:

Any sign of the deserters?

ST:

No.

The speed with which he had replied was worrying. Was he not actually searching for those deserters?

ST:

I spotted them. They’re in the middle of the crowd like us.

The Tech Guild has them.

Do we still go for it?

The Shadow didn’t want to make a call like that, but she was also not inclined to let children make it. She browsed the crowd for a few seconds before realizing the Street Rat didn’t exactly say they were in that particular one.

In fact, most of the city was one big crowd anyways. Did she want to take the risk? Or call her losses? She found Nergui again, she was with Nestor and a few other kids.

Other scavengers…

S:

Tell me your location. Nergui is with your people, they will be fine.

I want the Tech Guild to have nothing.

ST:

If you say so.

We’re beyond the town’s hall and moving. Straight north.

S:

Try to go back to Nergui. And await me.

She almost wrote to teleport away if something happened but thought better of it. Nothing bad would happen, she wouldn’t allow it.

The Shadow put the scroll away and dove into the shadows. She was so relieved to be on the move again she could hardly believe it. She sure wouldn’t admit it.

She went around the very big square, following up with a street that went along another canal, beyond the big government building. Northwards.

She ran along and across the roofs and higher floors of buildings, stopping every two or three in order to browse the mass of people that were being forced to move along. Eventually, she saw the four members of the Tech Guild. It was clear from their attire: vests and shorts, dusty brown, and goggles on their heads. In-between them all were two of the three men she had rescued before: the deserters.

One of them must have perished.

The Shadow stalked from the top of a building, walking along at the same place.

On the next building, she was one floor lower. On the next, she was on the first floor, stepping onto an opened window.

You take nothing.

She had no way to do what she wanted to do, not in the middle of the crowd that was walking directly under the sun. There were no shadows to use and no other avenue of stealth for her to take advantage of. But that didn’t dissuade her at all.

Ayane took a deep breath and leaped. She landed and kicked off of one of them, hopping over the deserters to kick the face of another one of their armed escort. It was abrupt, it was surprising, and it was the catalyst for the biggest mess she had ever been the product of.

In one moment, a cattle of refugees turned into a tumultuous pack of panicked wil animas. The people, much more on edge than she had anticipated, did not react well to two bodies suddenly jumping at them. Those hit reacted, then those next to those reacted. Before Ayane could see one of the deserters turning and recognizing her, someone was being thrown against her.

One of the members of the Tech Guild cursed and tried to draw a pistol. She squeezed through two bodies to kick the barrel of the pistol.

The sound of the shot was the spark to the global frenzy. Immediately, screams and yells rose up as all the air inside her was pressured out of her by a mass of bodies. Her mind went emptier than she liked as it tried to over-analyze everything coming at her, there was a lot.

She diverted a fist while flexing her abdomen to take a kick while pushing someone out of the way. Then she was slapped weakly while she kicked one of the tech guild members away, only the mass of people was so thick she only gained one step of distance and indeed found her leg stuck in-between two torsos. Someone’s back was pushed into it and it almost broke as she winced thinking it would.

It was all out panic.

The Don’s men fired their own weapons into the air and yelled out threats but it didn’t help. Oddly, while everyone else was going insane, the Shadow’s mind landed upon reason.

What have I done?! I need to get out of here!

She had not told the others to teleport away and was now in a legitimately life-threatening situation. She had made a grave mistake.  

Ayane tried climbing over one of the deserters to jump away, but someone grabbed her clothes by the back and pulled her back down. She didn’t even fall because there was no room to fall, she kind of just settled in-between fighting bodies as they, in startled reaction, tried to fight her.

During the moment she had been up there, she had seen a veritable river of people in panicked combat.

All her confidence was squeezed out with as much voracity as her body was. In seconds, she no longer had eyes on the deserters.

By the occult!

What had been not even in her mind, the crowd’s reaction to her attack, was now fast presenting itself as very actually deadly. A serious potential was growing, as her feet were stepped on for the tenth time and a teeth was knocked out inside of her mouth by someone’s head wildly trying to keep itself safe, that she could actually die.

No! THIS IS REDICULOUS! NO!

She might have lost track of where she was in the crowd but Ayane still had a notion of direction.

“YAAA!”

Yelling, she desperately pushed and kicked and punched her way opposite to the buildings. Towards the canal.

“RAH! LET ME–! NO!”

Coughing and beyond bruised, at last, she heard the wailing voice of someone falling. With her energies renewed, she pushed and jumped, throwing her body out of the river of people as much as she could.

Suddenly, gravity took her, and the people around her, into a dive.

She splashed with someone grabbing onto her in the throes of hysteria. They didn’t let go, even as they were sinking, so she elbowed them in the face and then head-butted for good measure. Wildly, Ayane kicked herself to the surface to take a deep gasp of relief.

“By the…whoah.” She was so shocked by it all she couldn’t stay silent. Looking around, she saw the other people who had fallen were also looking around, suddenly calmer and reasonable. Someone splashed next to her, frightening her into kicking the water to get away from that particular wall.

Breathing heavily, her heart terrified at what had just transpired, she remember the person she had just hit to save herself. The man was floating face down.

“Tsk.” She moved to go grab him.

Damnation.

 She flipped him over, so that even unconscious he would be able to breathe, and dragged him to someone else who seemed capable enough to keep him afloat and alive. All the while, more people were falling into the canal.

She swam under a bridge nearby, and pulled her mask up to free her mouth.

“Ptiu.” She spat the tooth, and a bit of blood, and felt around her mouth, recognizing it had been one of her molars that had been knocked loose.

“My due rewards…”

She closed her eyes, pulling her mask down while hearing the worsening chaos up above. Defeated, and ugly, she dissolved herself into the bridge’s shadow.

Ayane emerged inside a room nearby she had known to be empty at which point she took her mask off completely so that she could breathe in peace.

Gasping and weaving, the Shadow tried to come to terms with the apparently limitless bounds of her stupidity.

Of course, the crowd would freak out. She smacked her own head. Idiot! What are you doing? You do not even care about the deserters, you already have everyone else. Just leave!

The mask barely offered any breathing difficulty, but psychologically, taking it off still helped a lot when she was in a panic. She felt around her missing tooth, a very physical consequence of her error.

She approached a window and watched as the crowd was beginning to settle. She saw a few bodies which Don’s men had shot down to force the people to settle down and more still that had been casualties of the sudden fighting. One of the deserters also seemed to be dead, she couldn’t find the other. That didn’t make her feel any better, however.

Ayane brought a hand up to her mouth, severely struck by how badly she had messed it up. People were dead.

Her mind had no comments to offer. Slowly, she came to terms with the mistake she had made. The Shadow shook her head and then, in acceptance and release, she pulled her mask back and dragged out the scroll.

ST:

Ey. Any word? Things are getting tense.

I’m with Nergui and that guy.

ST:

They started moving us. What’s going on on your end?

Her thoughts hit against a wall of melancholy. Brought on by self-doubt that she felt was fully justified by the current situation, and by the newfound empty spot in her denture. She had been wrong, and she had to admit it.

But she couldn’t, not completely.

S:

The deserters are not worth it.

She paused.

Ayane was about to tell them to leave immediately, she would stay and move on on her own. Perhaps she could help Don, her stubbornness was creeping in. Her temper. Her feelings of inadequacy that she knew were uncalled for, which she wanted to shut up by taking action and succeeding in it, and had only resulted in…

Kagekawa had scorned her. The Mists had scorned her, even the Darkness. She wanted to prove they were wrong. All that time, she had been going on as if she had some impassioned stake on the fate of the world, she was acting because there was no one else capable. But that was a lie.

Looking up at the crowd again, she knew it was a lie. She was trying very hard to prove to herself that she was not a failure, and that had taken precedence.

It is the fate of any man to fully realize their greatest fears. One’s efforts to avoid them will but guarantee that they take place.

She remembered the lesson in silent reverence. One of many she had received from the teachers at Kagekawa. They had taught one should not be motivated by selfishness, and that was only one of many examples why. By focusing on those fears, one made their actions revolve around them, thereby making it impossible for them not to happen. Eventually.

Instead, one should seek to ignore them and focus instead on wisdom and responsibility. And duty.

Ayane looked down at the scroll with a new perspective on things.

ST:

And?

And indeed.

It is all but time to admit I have failed the clan. And those dead people over there, to boot. I have failed. But that does not mean I have failed the world.

The peace that came with the acceptance, it was what she should have felt way back when she was watching Kagekawa fall. It was the attitude and state of mind and heart that she had thought to have all throughout those days, leading to that moment. However, at that moment, they were really her.

S:

I am moving to meet you.

We are leaving.

She put the scroll away, nodding to herself.

The Don and the Mad Genius would have to contend by themselves. The right thing to do, the wise decision to make, was to watch over the people she had come to collect, and make sure they were returned to the Shadow Conclave safely and unharmed. That was the best use for her.

That was the duty she had taken upon herself.

I will do my duty.

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