As he had been doing so far, Falk took the lead by talking first.
“What is your name?” Falk asked, “Thieving Magpie is too long to use.”
The girl looked at him, slightly nervous and hesitating.
“Ahm…Sam?” she replied, doubtfully.
A fake name, Falk thought, without betraying any reaction. “Fine, girl, this is the reality of the situation we find ourselves in. The Beasts charge on us with the full might of their power. However, we have the opportunity to strike at the very core of their civilization. But only one individual can take advantage of that opportunity…you.”
Magpie’s eyes opened, intimidated and perplexed.
“What?” Fake Sam asked.
“We found out how to get to where they came from,” Emery picked up the explanation, her voice a mix of tired and impatient, “but it’s essentially a canyon that leads into a network of tunnels, which is being defended by alien weapons that fire…well, bullets. Not our kind of bullets but they are essentially the same thing.”
“Wait,” Magpie said, with a flinch, “you wanna drop me?! Seriously, the big plan here is I just dive for it?”
“It’s not a big plan,” Falk said, purposefully with in a grave tone of voice. “It’s the only plan. Should we fail to take advantage of this opportunity…well, there really is nowhere else for us to run. Neyrk is it.”
“Falk’s saying the truth, dear,” Eliza interjected, “it’s dangerous. It’s very very dangerous, but no one else can do it.”
Fake Sam’s hands met behind her back as she looked down. Thinking.
“What…what would I do?” Magpie asked, after a long minute, “if I survive the fall?”
“Follow instructions,” Shu said, apparently wanting to contribute. “Find some kind of power source and attach a gadget to it. You’ll need to be stealthy while looking, that’s why it has to be you. Other people can dive but–”
“They’re not thieves…right,” Magpie acknowledged, not without a frown, “wow…and I thought my skill set was unlucky for the competition,” she added with a nervous chuckle. “I mean…how can I say no? I don’t want…I don’t want to die but if–I mean if it’s all we can do.”
“It definitely is,” Falk pressed.
“How do we get her out?”
All heads turned to the Shadow, who had posed the question.
Falk silently growled in annoyance.
“After she does what we’re sending her to do,” the Shadow continued, assuming, very erroneously, that they had not understood the question. “How do we get her out?”
Falk was impatient, he really wanted that topic to be done with. For fake Sam to be convinced and on her way so that line of thinking was as unhelpful as a thought could be.
“Many ways to do so,” Falk stated with certainty, “she only has to manage to come out into the canyon again. We can send her down with an extensible wire, for instance, one that’ll be practically impossible to see in the dark.”
“How will I see in the dark?” Fake Sam asked, her voice almost yelping in the middle.
“I’ll provide you goggles!” Falk said, almost yelling from how flustered he was. He groaned loudly with an impatient sigh. “We will figure out all details, we are not sending you to certain death, we’re only doing what we have to.”
The Thieving Magpie wobbled uncertainly, her frizzy hair waving to the sound of a thoughtful humming. “I reeaaallly don’t wanna die,” she stated.
“We all might if you don’t try to do this,” Falk argued.
The girl sighed. Fake Sam closed her eyes, then brought her hands around to cover them. “Ffff…tsk. Fine, we’re not leaving right now, right?” She asked, sliding her hands apart like a curtain, so she kept them on her face. “Tell me I got a few minutes to like, get used to it.”
“Of course,” Eliza said, “more than a few minutes, Sam. If you have people you want to talk to, please feel free, we will find you when it’s time.”
The girl nodded and stepped back, turning around as if with a dance move. She moaned in protest as she exited, shaking her head dissatisfied. “This freakin’ sucks,” she said to the ground.
The door closed and Falk wasted no time in changing subjects.
“Alright, now that that matter’s out of the way,” he was interrupted, however, by giggling.
He looked down and to the side, at the same familiar source of irritation. It was always the street brat.
“Something funny?” Falk asked.
“Haha, yes, well, yes,” Jamie said, recovering his posture. “It doesn’t matter, though, please. Go on.”
“Are you sure? We can all just wait for you to finish laughing at whatever doesn’t matter, we have time,” Falk talked, intent on chiding the child.
“Don’t be childish, Falk,” Jamie said, rolling his eyes.
Falk immediately stood up.
In all the commotion, it was easy to forget everyone had been sitting, but he stood up just then and turned to the little brat. He was so talented at reading people? Well, Falk wanted the boy to read him, to clearly read him like a book.
I will kill you, Falk thought, very nearly out loud. Falk found it cathartic, how the street brat opened his eyes and edged an inch back in intimidation. He liked how nobody felt the courage to speak up, afraid they would say the wrong thing and suffer his wrath.
“You should all focus on who the enemy is,” the Hunter said, proving to be the only one brave enough to face the tension.
“I think,” the Mad Genius looked around, “you should all care about what will happen after we deal…with the enemy.”
“I agree,” the Shadow said, shrewdly, “but I believe the Beasts take priority.”
“Of course,” Falk agreed, continuing to stand. He didn’t like sitting when talking to other people, it subdued him somewhat. “I want to screen the entire city.”
“How do you mean?” Eliza asked.
“I will use my aircraft and fly over the city, filling it with the same particles that worked in the House of Magni.”
“The whole island?” Eliza reacted, almost in disbelief. “How is that possible?”
“You want to know all the science? Do you have a few hours?” Falk condescendingly asked.
Eliza rolled her eyes. “How long? Because we will likely need the airship to get Sam to the canyon.”
Falk threw his head back and groaned.
“Fine. How far out is it?” Falk asked, feeling like he was really clawing at the limits of his patience. “Maybe there’s time to do both. Without the fumigation of Neyrk, we’re as good as dead. With it, they’re as good as dead.”
“Getting Sam to the canyon should take priority,” Emery pointed out, “striking at their source greatly outweighs fighting them head on here in the city.”
“No,” Falk argued, slamming his hands on the table, “no it doesn’t, not when we’re sure to win.”
“Sure?” That was the Bronze Alchemist, the ever-unimpressed Shu.
“Yes. If you were at Magni, you’d know,” Falk assured, while intoning a half-accusation at the fact she wasn’t there. “There is nothing the Beasts can do.”
“They were still slaughtering us,” the Hunter pointed out since she was there.
“No, they weren’t,” Falk protested. “We were slaughtering them! Just not without casualties. And we’ll finish it forever once they come at us with everything they have. Here. In this city.”
“Everything is sure to finish, just maybe not in the way you think,” said The Shadow. The girl, the other brat, the nuisance. Falk was now in uncharted territory as far as his patience was concerned, he was proud of himself for his self-control.
“Yes. Yes,” Falk said, shaking his head in determination, “it will end exactly in the way I think.”
“That is what the Don said,” the Shadow argued back.
Falk’s mechanic hand crushed the table in its grasp. He didn’t react like it was an accident, or like he hadn’t just pictured her scrawny thing of a neck had been in his grasp instead of the table.
However, with that outburst gone, Falk then stood up straight. With his monocles whirring while his hands met behind his back, grasping tightly in an attempt to retain self-control, he quietly and seriously stated, “I am not the Don.”
“Yes, but that would be because no one is,” a voice greeted from the entrance.
The new contender stepped up to the ring with a somewhat familiar but certainly forgotten, voice. Falk turned to catch sight of a slender old man of Mediterranean persuasion. He was massaging his own hands.
“Protos,” Eliza greeted, with a tone of surprise embedded in her call, “surely, you are not done yet?”
“I will be pressing him further, but I’ve gathered more than enough information,” he said, quite coldly. “Usually, I would be more patient, but as he’s partly responsible for Lazaros’s death, I was…less inclined to go through the application of soft measures.”
“You’re Lazaros’s aide, aren’t you?” Falk asked. “I think I remember you.”
“I was his Consiglieri,” Protos said, walking inside while being followed closely by two very similar men wearing differently colored trench coats, one dark red, the other brown. “And now his successor,” Protos added, “but there’s little for introductions, the…what should I call it? Little beast?”
“It would be helpful if you asked that,” Emery pointed out, “usually someone’s name is what you get first, isn’t that right?”
“Yes, well. Usually, I’m in a more patient and forgiving mood,” Protos said, coldly, while crossing his arms, “as I’ve just said. First and foremost, they were worried about the amulet of Jakaraiah because it can potentially corrupt their atmosphere. He didn’t seem to know the science or have the English to explain it, beyond saying that they are using its counterpart to transform our air, and we can use ours to transform theirs. The difference is we didn’t have the tools on the surface to do so.”
“The terraforming pillars,” Falk mumbled, “so they’re everywhere in their subterranean world? This doesn’t make sense, why would they make themselves so vulnerable?”
“Their vulnerability is arguable,” someone Falk didn’t know spoke out, some man in a classy brown suit with medals on his chest. “We ain’t supposed to know ‘bout their location. We ain’t supposed to be able to kill ‘em, let alone capture one o’ their own to get all the info. Plus, there are all the guns in place.”
Falk imagined that man was a representative of Neyrk in some fashion, it was weird he had not spoken so far. Despite the flair of his wear, the man could really blend into the background.
“Plus, they thought we were incapable of understanding the science,” Shu added.
“Well, they were wrong,” Falk grinned, “dead wrong.”
“With what happened to Magni, they certainly know that now,” Eliza pointed out, “we need to move fast if we are to take advantage of all of this. What else, Protos?”
“It seems everything revolves around a power source,” Protos said. “They have proxies in all their main ships which give power to all the much smaller proxies in their armors and vehicles. I’m not a science man either, so I’m afraid that’s all I have. I’m not even certain proxy is the right word, it’s the one he used.”
“We need to know how to revert the process,” Shu said.
“He’s just a soldier,” Protos reminded them. “He understands as much about it as he does about what it is that you did to him. It’s all magic to him. All he knew is that the core power source is the counterpart to Jakariah’s amulet.”
“So we just switch?” The General asked.
“Absolutely not,” Falk strongly protested, “we only have one of them, and we need it to mount our defense.”
“The defense will be useless if we don’t take ‘em out at the source,” Emery pointed out, a bit too patronizingly for Falk’s liking.
“Our chances of succeeding are higher with the defense than with this mad plan we have to…take them out at the source,” Falk argued.
“That depends on how highly you rate the defense plan,” Eliza pointed out.
They…they’re going to ruin everything! Falk thought, alarmed.
“We can build a proxy!” Falk suggested, madly, “we can build a proxy. That’s what you have is, right, Eliza? The underground ship’s engine that Griff stole?”
“Seems so,” Eliza said cautiously.
“So we build a proxy, Falk,” Shu allowed. “We power your fumigation with the proxy and bet the amulet on this plan.”
“Fine,” Falk tried not to growl but kind of failed, “we send the proxy with the girl and use the amulet for–”
“No,” Eliza said calmly, “what Shu has suggested seems like the way to go.”
“Grah!” Falk roared, unapologetically. He lifted his arms in frustration and slammed them on the table again, cracking it. “YOU. ARE DOOMING. US ALL!”
Eliza stared back at him unconcerned.
“Falk,” Eliza stated. “Settle down.”
“NO!” Falk yelled, waving his arm for good measure. “It’s very hard to guarantee our survival with you undermining what is our LAST and ONLY hope to do it. We need all we have. ALL. EVERYONE. In this defense!”
Uncomfortable silence was the reply, as well it should be. What else could brainless dolts who follow around an ancient hack’s skirts do in the presence of obviously true accusations? They should shut up.
“From the way he reacted when I showed him your map, Eliza,” Protos continued, surprisingly, “the power source is definitely there.”
Hey… Falk thought, not really coming to terms with the fact his outburst had been ignored.
“That means,” Eliza continued, and it was in fact as if Falk had said nothing, “everything we’re assuming is very likely true. There’s a connection between them, it is how Griff found it.”
“Hey…” Falk whispered, his head bowed down, trembling in indignation.
“Falk. I need you to figure this proxy business out as soon as poss–”
“Oh do you?” Falk asked in a loud voice while looking up with a mad grin, “that’s funny, because it doesn’t seem like any of you need me at all!”
Eliza frowned, a bit displeased, in a way that certainly made Falk think twice about taking his tantrum the whole way.
“Okay,” Eliza started. “I am aware you are…susceptible to being treated…below your expectations. It is clear, I think, that we do not value you as much as we should.”
Falk couldn’t argue with that. Maybe if he just walked away, then they would know exactly who they were shunning and ignoring. Maybe then they would learn who they should be listening to.
“Are you going to prove us right, or wrong?” Eliza asked.
His face opened. Falk’s grin went from annoyed to amused. She was right, of course, he would prove them wrong. Oh…yes he would.
Falk chuckled. He shook his head and stood up straight, suddenly relaxed.
“You know…I know you’re playing me…” Falk said, calmly, “but you’re right.”
I can play you, too… Falk thought to himself, before walking off.
“I’ll tend to it immediately,” Falk announced, “where is this room?”
“Thomas,” Eliza said, “take Falk to the laboratory.”
One of the mages that had remained, until then, a mere part of the background, unglued itself from the ill-lit back wall and met Falk at the entrance, gesturing at him to follow.
Why am I mad? Falk asked himself, in the privacy of his thoughts. This suits me just fine. We will see, Eliza…all of you will see.
Falk left them behind to get to work, content to gloat in the viciousness of the plans nobody could see coming. He could see them, even then, he could see them clear as water. He could see the inevitability of his intentions coming to fruition. Even when trying their hardest to shun and oppose him, all of them were still moving within the parameters necessary for his master plan to succeed.
Falk grinned. We will see who’s playing who