“No, not really,” Falk said. “I agree that your skills, and those of the Hunter, would be better suited for that task, yes. If you wish to survive the day, however, you will keep this with you.”
He handed her, and Zaniyah, a small box with a short and slim antenna on its stop. It had two buttons. He pulled out another and pressed the top button.
“My creation, the portable communication apparatus! Or talk box for short. Top button to talk, bottom one to mute.”
The Hunter reacted startled when his voice came out of the tiny box. The Shadow didn’t even look away from him as she pressed the bottom button.
“Wireless and proper communication,” Falk continued. “The individual range of these things isn’t something to write home about, but with the boosting transmitter I built and placed on the top floor, it should easily cover the entire mansion.”
“You will announce retreat through these machines,” the Hunter stated.
He nodded and pointed at a very tiny circuit that was outside of the box instead of protected inside it.
“This will jolt every time I give word, in case you have it muted. That way, you know you are being contacted. It won’t be too shocking,” he said with a smirk, “hopefully.”
“As always, you inspire nothing but confidence, Falk,” Shadow commented. She didn’t have anywhere comfortable to place the little talk box. She looked over to the Hunter and saw her using a string to tie it to her forearm.
Smart! Ayane thought.
Zaniyah noticed her gaze and promptly extended part of the metal string, which she thankfully took.
It didn’t look good on her, the talk box, but then again, she was missing a tooth, what was a small bulge on her forearm going to add? Not that the missing tooth was visible but still.
Falk waved his hand at them while walking by.
“Get going,” he said. “Find them and stop them, or my plans may yet be foiled.”
His plans… Ayane thought as he left them behind in the room.
“He has been given too much,” Ayane mentioned to Zaniyah, well after he left the room.
“Too much of what?” Zaniyah asked.
“Too much trust,” Ayane replied. “He leads us now?”
“Eliza left him in charge,” Zaniyah said.
Zaniyah grabbed her shoulder.
“I must go and tell Thunuk what is happening,” she said. “Be careful, do not underestimate our opponents.”
“Hidden halls, hidden rooms, they are all the same to one who traverses the shadows,” said the Shadow. “In fact, they should well wish for me to find them before the Darkness.”
Ayane took a dagger out to and held it, pausing for effect.
The Hunter gave her a hint of a smile and nodded.
“Succeed,” Zaniyah said.
The Shadow smiled from inside the mask.
“We will,” Ayane said.
She stepped back and hopped onto the wall, diving into its shadow. She transferred her body along on concentration alone, the talk box still feeling foreign to her touch. Due to her goal, she was unable to appreciate the void and isolation that the shadow realm provided. Instead, she did her best to focus her senses through the several springs, trying to find her quarries.
Delivering on her promise, however, would be harder than people assumed. Due to how she looked, and how she presented herself, it was easy to forget she was not a warrior. She had been trained to defend herself, exceptionally well, but she was still primarily a thief. Igtahlia had been the first time she had been remotely involved in someone’s death. With what she had experienced since the Beasts had begun their rampage, she was certain she did not want to kill anyone. Seeing people die already upset her so causing something like that…
How many lives were lost because of what I did back then? Ayane asked herself, bothered.
The stampede she had caused, people hurting each other to the point of death, all because her temper had gone wild, and she along with it. Sighing under a muted breath, she pulled her focus.
The Shadow popped her head out into the real world and caught sight of a few mages pushing around a cart. She then went back and navigated further. The Shadow popped out again when catching sight of more silhouettes and muffled voices, only to find more mages, standing guard by some other device while arguing about how much they disliked Falk.
Ayane instantly felt camaraderie for them but went back to continue searching.
It took a while, though considering how many hours the Architect and his people had avoided discovery, she was probably extremely fast at finding them.
The Shadow didn’t know who they were, and the three individuals couldn’t be all of them. They were standing over a workbench, looming over a spread-out sheet of paper. Alas, there was a big candle right above them which left no shadow from which to get a better view.
With Igtahlia still on her mind, she found it hard to find the will to simply attack. She decided to listen, instead, to the woman and the two men. The woman absolutely stood out, what with her top hat and colorful cape, she had a black and red thing going for her. While Ayane wasn’t a fan of the magician look, there was still a unique touch of style to her particular take on it. The two men were dusty and dirty, somewhat fat and muscular, and were both wearing what seemed to be flea-bitten shirts and pants that were perhaps weeks old.
The magician looked like she was fighting off a strong sense of misery, or fear, she was clearly not at all comfortable in their presence.
“What am I to make of this?!” She questioned. “I’m a show-woman, not a mechanic!”
The two grunted their desire to speak their thoughts before doing so as if it actually caused them a pain to do so.
“I think engineer’d be the right job, no?” One of them asked the other.
“Pfah, yer an idiot, ya gotta be a mathsmagician, not an engineer,” the other corrected. “What even is that?”
“I dunno, now do I?” the first asked in return. “I heard the boss call mad genie that, is all.”
The woman groaned, which was a good thing because it covered the light snort the Shadow couldn’t hold in. She crumpled the paper meanwhile.
Mad genie. Ayane thought to herself, giggling in her mind. Too perfect.
“Do we take this back?!” The Magician questioned again. “What do we do??”
That was odd. Very unexpected, to see the woman asking the thugs, for lack of a better word, about what to do. They seemed equally at a loss.
“We got it strict, right? No goin’ back. We strike out, and we sabotage anythin’ we find n’ we die tryin’,” one of them said, Ayane had already lost track. They both looked too alike, they were probably brothers.
The Magician shivered at his comment.
“You really wish to die?!” She asked.
“Well we’d rather not, ‘course,” he replied.
“But it’s the way ova it, right?” the other one asked, albeit rhetorically.
The woman clearly didn’t think so, but it seemed to Ayane, through slight gestures she unwittingly performed, that she was simply afraid to show it.
A possible ally, Ayane considered in her mind, although a bit doubtful.
It was a hard bet to make. She seemed to be the most dangerous of the three so she would be the one to put down first, but if she would help the Shadow against the other two…
It was a question Ayane wasn’t sure how to ask. But on the other hand, she wasn’t planning on killing any of them so…there was no need to answer it.
She submerged into the shadow stream and poised under the table, the workbench. She looked up at the exit there and prepared herself for the lunge.
Do not die, the Shadow thought to herself, as if it would help.
Her body sped up and flung itself out of the shadows.
Her hands thrust forward, clenched tight around two daggers, and hit against the woman’s upper chest, pushing her away violently with closed fists. The Shadow did a split in mid-air to kick the two men in the faces as well.
They didn’t flinch, however, and had recovered by the time she landed, after having spun to face the two.
“Oy,” he spat a tooth out.
They reached for her, but she parried one of them while spinning again to get out of their middle while pushing him towards the other. They bumped into each other with grunts of complaint. Then they turned and took fighting stances that were familiar to her.
What? Ayane asked in the quietness of her mind, but not quietly at all. It was otherworldly, to see people who otherwise looked like they willingly lived in trash cans, perfectly posing like the monks that had taught her to fight.
They stepped into her space, she threw the daggers at each one and charged, planning to use the ensuing flinch to knock them out, but again, the flinch didn’t come. They slapped the daggers away and seemingly ignored the gashes created in the process.
The Shadow halted, startled, and stepped back, defending their strikes while she rallied her mental fortitude. They, meanwhile, collaborated.
“Girl can fight,” one said.
“Surround‘er,” the other said.
Announcing tactics out loud wasn’t very smart. She kicked one of the legs as it tried to step around her, putting the man out of balance for long enough to land a flurry of blows in-between parrying the other.
There was no reaction whatsoever. The man didn’t fall or even stop his movement around her.
Her mind processed the order slower than it did the wave of heat coming from behind her. She leaned out of the way of an uppercut while lowering her torso below the waist line. Flames took over everything above her.
“Hey!” One said.
“What the?” The other said.
The Shadow transitioned into a roll and stood up to turn around while drawing two more throwing knives, to see the men, skin still burning, turn around to face the magician woman.
“Friendly fire, lady!” One complained.
“Nothing friendly about it, brutes!” The woman said while flipping the top-hat to let a bird out, a bird of prey, which instantly lunged for one of their faces.
The man frowned in impatience and indifference.
“Agh, so annoying,” One said before very disgustingly biting its head off.
“Oh, Light damn you,” the magician woman near-screeched, “why do you people keep doing that!?”
Ayane didn’t know exactly all of what was going on, but their attention had been diverted. She leaped and dove for them, grabbing their heads and bashing them together. They bounced off, but the bodies didn’t fall at all. Instead, they turned and punched her together.
It threw the Shadow back to land on her butt, rolling back to stand against the wall. Managing not to bounce off, she shook her head to regain composure.
What are they?! Ayane asked herself, utterly confused at how resilient and impervious to the attacks they were.
Her vision focused again to notice they were now struggling against some constraints. An assortment of tied-together pieces of cloth had enveloped their heads and was catching on fire as well. These strings of tied-up cloths were attached to the insides of the magician’s sleeves, which was impressive considering they looked pretty tight-fitting.
The magician threw the Shadow a frantic look.
“Try again!” she yelled, quite despaired.
Ayane didn’t need much convincing, but this time, she would do one better. Instead of sort of pushing the heads together, she bashed them by hitting them across the temple. The bodies finally dropped after that.
The woman sighed, exasperated, and somehow cut the cloth away from her arms with a flicker of the wrists. It really did look like magic.
The Shadow watched her carefully.
“Thank you,” the magician said, seemingly sincerely. “They’re like that clown freak, they’re impervious to pain.”
“Circus Freak,” Ayane corrected while realizing silently that there could be, in fact, such a thing as a person that was like the Circus Freak, even while being so far from his level skill. Not to mention good looks.
“Right. Him,” she confirmed, clearly not a fan. “I’m the Magnificent Magician. Jufeng.”
“You are Led by Anarchy,” Ayane said.
“No, not anymore,” she said in return, shaking her head. Her composure was fleeting and dissipating fast, even as her breathing normalized. “They’re crazy, I tell you.”
“You have been helping them,” Ayane stated.
“I was alone in the streets! I…got invited, years ago, I just wanted to belong somewhere,” Jufeng explained, amidst short breaths.
“I know,” the woman sounded desperate. “I know, I haven’t been the wisest person in the world, but it was a fun group of friends. Confident. Brilliant. Unique. Like me, see? But they’re very much insane, they really want the world destroyed and–” she interrupted herself to gesture at the two unconscious men. “And they really want to die. Look, I’ll assist you, in any way I can, just let me live. I’m led by survival, now, okay? I want to live.”
Jufeng stepped forward, sort of slumped, and brought her hands together.
“Please,” she pleaded. “I know, trusting someone changing sides—I know, but I was wrong, what else am I supposed to do, now? Stay wrong and die? Please, Shadow. Please. You’re my only hope, here.”
The Shadow looked down at the men, then back at her. Hers was a familiar face, her ethnicity was the same as Ayanes’, even if she was from a different country. Her mind raced, fully aware there were more members of the LBA trying to sabotage their efforts against the Beasts. Time was running out fast.
Really, however, Ayane didn’t need to think too hard about it. It might be a mistake, but it was one she was willing to make. She reached out to the talk box and took it off mute.
“This is the Shadow,” she said. “Hello?”
“Yes,” the response came instantly this time, “what is it? Did you find them?”
“They have split up. I am in some kind of workshop,” Ayane said. “The Magnificent Magician has helped me subdue a couple of them.”
“The magician woman?” Falk scoffed. “Is she not dead yet? She’s Led by Anarchy.”
“So are you,” Ayane said accusingly.
“No no, not in the slightest. I am led by vengeance, now,” Falk corrected.
“And she is led by survival,” Ayane said.
“Oh, she switches sides, does she? Fine, I remember her well enough, we can trust her cowardice,” he sounded like he was smiling. “Send her, she shall assist us against the beasts.”
The Shadow muted the talk box again.
“What? No, that is a death sentence,” Jufeng said.
The Shadow’s masked stare cut her off.
“You want to survive?” The Shadow asked.
The Magnificent Magician paused, not really answering out loud due to how obvious it was that she did.
“Then fight,” the Shadow said. “We are in the House of Magni, with the Beasts knocking at our doors and your colleagues trying to blow them wide open from the inside. How else do you expect to survive?”
Ayane walked out towards the shadow of a counter.
“Tell me where they are,” she said.
“They…I believe Pesach was already aware of my…” Jufeng sighed heavily. “I don’t know.”
“Stick to normal corridors and find a mage,” Ayane told her. “Tell him about these two, then do what Falk says.”
“Falk…you really shouldn’t trust him,” Jufeng said, gravely.
The Shadow paused to look back at her.
I know, she thought.
What choice was there, however? Things needed to be done. Enemies of mankind, and indeed the planet, needed to be stopped…and the Mad Genius wasn’t one at the moment. Neither was the Magnificent Magician, not anymore.
Without saying another word, the Shadow was sucked into the counter.