Jamie walked into the room already expecting to be interrupting something. As such, the sudden jolts of movement from the Shadow and the Circus Freak didn’t surprise her at all. She didn’t much care, short as time was.
“Heh, I got this bastard riled up, alright,” Jamie said, looking down at the scroll as if to pretend she did not notice at all the two were having a moment.
Hugo sniffed inquisitively.
“What’d you tell him?”
Jamie looked up to notice the mages had left, there were only the two in there, and the Shadow was up, stretching her limbs.
“That he’s damn lucky the Shadow’s dead. She’d stop him.”
They glanced at her sort of perplexed, not getting it apparently. The Circus Freak was again the one to voice their impressions.
“Well, what’d you expect me to say? Hey, the Shadow’s about to go kick your butt, I bet you can’t defeat her.” She glanced aside in judgment of how bad that would have been. “He’s arrogant, not stupid. If he believes we don’t know about her, then far as he knows, she’s just showing up out of nowhere, on her own and without a plan. It’s then an ego thing that he’s gotta kill her since that’s all he’s telling me now, that he could easily do it. An ego that he’s sure hasn’t been manipulated.”
“But it has,” the Shadow pointed out.
“Well, yeah…” she rolled her eyes, patronizingly so, “that’s what I do.”
She looked down at the journal.
I sincerely thought better of you, street brat, but if you truly believe the Shadow had a sliver of a chance to stop my plans, you are all the more foolish for it. Far more than I thought.
The fact she has perished is also by my hand, after all, and that should indicate that…
“Look at this, he’s still writing,” Jamie said, shaking her head down at the parchment. “This guy’s got problems.”
“Yes,” the Shadow said flatly, “he is trying to kill us all.”
“Well, yeah, besides those. Street Brat, though,” Jamie said, tilting her head in respect. “that’s pretty clever.”
“Street Brat?” Hugo asked, with a voice far more normalized than Jamie was used to. It was his normal voice, unaltered and without effect, and yet it sounded so off. “Kinda disappointed I didn’t think of that.”
“I know, right?” Jamie looked away from the scroll and at the Shadow. “Okay, tell me the truth about what happened down there, in Beast city. You decided not to go ahead with the sabotage thing, didn’tcha?”
She froze, her face staring back at Jamie in hesitation. Jamie smirked and closed the door behind her.
“You said you fought their prince. Unless the guy was walking around with a name tag written in our language, someone had to tell you it was their prince. Someone being friendly.”
The Shadow cleared her throat, sounding dry.
“I will explain properly once we are out of this situation.”
Jamie crossed her arms, harshly standing against the Shadow.
“You should explain now, you might die,” she said.
Hugo reacted worse to that harshness than the Shadow did, and that was understandable. He still kept quiet, however, and his face stood unaltered. It was a tiny shift, a tiny shiver that Jamie perceived. The Shadow looked down in thought.
“Yes. The people were willing to help me destroy them, such was their will to oppose what their armed forces are doing. I was met with a choice, to either obliterate them, which I was sent to do–”
“Magpie was sent to do,” Jamie corrected. To say the Shadow was sent to do that would be to insult the decision makers. At least three people making the decision would know it would’ve ended up like that if they sent the Shadow on their own, Jamie being one of them.
“Yes, uh, yes. The other choice was to accept the chance of a future truce.”
“What?” Even Hugo agreed with Jamie on that.
“They were–” the Shadow scratched her head, looking like a bundle of self-doubt, but then shook herself and assumed a much more assured stance. “We will leave and escape. They will keep our lands. And centuries from today, when our peoples meet again, it will be peacefully. I hope.”
“…wait. So you’re assuming we actually find a place to escape to? Somewhere beyond the seas?”
“There are rumors of unexplored land masses.”
“Well yes but–” Jamie grabbed her mouth, her thoughts roaming inside her head. “Sorry, uh, please elaborate?! Why is this the best bet?”
The Shadow didn’t even shift in her place, she had given the matter thought.
“Killing them all does not seem to be a solution. While there are risks…I think they are worth taking, seeing as what the alternative would be.”
Jamie leaned to the side, turning her tone of voice accusatory.
“So basically, you didn’t have the stomach to commit genocide, so you took the one way out that presented itself.”
The Shadow looked back at Jamie, not pleased with her words, and she shouldn’t be. Jamie shifted her weight, leaning the other side to signal she would not be apologizing. “What if they lied to you?”
“They did not,” the Shadow immediately said, a bit too defensively.
“This is crazy.”
“Had I not made that decision, I would not have the stone with which to travel the shadow streams. I would not be able to stop Falk, and we would die.”
Jamie did not relent.
“Or maybe we’d use Cassandra to take care of Falk without you? She’d still be here if you couldn’t get here through the shadows.”
The Shadow flinched and leaned back, realizing the truth of Jamie’s what if scenario.
“It…would be wrong,” the Shadow stated, very matter-of-factly.
Jamie sighed with a smile.
“Yeah, maybe. And maybe we’d fail while you won’t. Who’s to say? We act on how things are now and let our grandchildren judge us, is what I say.”
“If we have them,” Hugo pointed out.
They both glanced at him with sadness, the Shadow even more so, but there was scarcely time to pity the Circus Freak. His survival had cost Eliza’s death, so as far as Jamie was concerned, he could just choke on a bit of sadness.
Jamie looked up at the Shadow, curious.
The Shadow flipped, surprised, making Jamie giggle.
“I knew it. You told me your real name the first time we met. I think that’s why I liked you, you know? Much as you try otherwise, you’re so frikkin’ sincere.”
The blue-haired ninja awkwardly titled her head to the side, trying to understand what Jamie was getting at.
“It’s like an addicted guy that loves to be sober, ya know? Being honest and good’s your fix, even though you know it’s stupid. I mean, it’s ridiculous to see what you’ve accomplished. You people usually die off pretty fast. I mean, look at this guy,” she gestured at the Circus Freak.
Ayane followed her gesture, and then looked back at her, again confused.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, he lost an arm when he saved you,” Jamie said. “He almost died when he saved that baby, I guess you never heard of that one, he got shot and almost bled to death. This was back in Brithan. And that’s what he gets for saving yours truly,” she pointed out the legs. “And he’s not even a proper hero, he’s just doing hero things like…like…well like he’s you.”
Hugo chuckled at the thought.
“That’s why the Warlock’s dead, he saved Eliza. That’s why Eliza’s dead, she saved all of us. It’s damn stupid, just doing the right thing, but you keep–”
“It is stupid to think like that!” Ayane interrupted, and quite harshly.
“Many people…we can go around the boat, I am certain we would find many people who have risked all for others, and did not…it does not work like that. Ill and good happens to everyone. Death comes for us all…but what we do and who we are, that is what matters. That is what remains with others, the shadow of ourselves that we leave behind.”
“This is about your saying? Kagekawa’s thing about shadows living on?”
“Yes.” She nodded without a sliver of hesitation. “That is exactly it.”
Jamie smiled at the sight of a full-bodied manifestation of determination and certainty, to replace that of hesitation and doubt.
She smiled at a job well done.
The door opened behind them.
“You should still try to immobilize him anyway,” a voice said, leading the speaker inside, which was Shu, the Bronze Alchemist. She walked into their conversation both oblivious and uninterested as to whether she was interrupting anything, shaking a vial of liquid in her hand. “He might well trigger the damn thing before the tranquilizer affects him enough. Here, drink this.”
The Shadow, defiant mood defused by Shu’s nonchalant demand, passively took the vial and drank it. Her face contorted in distaste.
“Yes, I know, but you’ll feel a lot better in a few minutes.” She took the vial back, “taste won’t go away anywhere near that soon, though. Anyways, as I was saying, I’m sure he tied the trigger to his heart beat, but if there’s a manual way to engage the explosion, he’ll need to use his hands. So immobilize him.”
Shu looked around and exchanged glances with Jaime.
“Your side of things?”
“Taken care of. He won’t pass up the chance to prove he can beat the Shadow.’
“Okay, good, where’s the jungle woman?”
“She’s up on the deck,” said a voice unusually tranquil, coming from the door yet again.
Jamie turned around towards the familiar voice of Amara Cronenberg, the Lady of Light. She had changed into a far more informal attire, probably due to a lack of alternatives. She was wearing a modest one-piece white dress that had seen better days, but she was wearing it nowhere near modestly. She still was who she was.
“Lady,” Ayane greeted, formally, with a head bow.
“Shadow,” Amara greeted back, smiling from the heart. “I do not believe we’ve met.”
“I do not believe we have time to,” the Shadow said, apologetically.
Amara turned, to give way, and gestured her on towards the door.
“Go. Know that all our hopes go with you. As does the Light.”
Ayane looked around at all of them and then nodded, not at them, but at herself. Her fists closed and opened along with her taking a breath, and then she walked past them all and left the room.
“I will not fail.”
And then she turned the corridor and was out of view, out to go take on the Mad Genius completely on her own, for the sake of their survival.
Jamie sighed and glared at the Holy Lady.
“The Hunter tell you this?”
Amara turned to Jamie.
“I met her in the corridor and got the sense she would like to talk to the Shadow alone. I offered to help.”
“This’s crazy,” Shu first said, “I can’t believe everything will be up to her.”
“She’ll make it,” the Circus Freak commented, lying his head down. “She has to.”
Jamie had not looked away from the Lady.
“No words of wisdom for her, Amara?”
The woman shrugged in a very divine way.
“What can I say to one who is shining so brightly? I gather she did not condemn the Beasts to death?”
All three of them looked back at the leader of the Church of Light, surprised at her guess. Jamie, however, reached the only conclusion possible.
“You listened on our conversation.”
“She didn’t,” Shu corrected, “she wasn’t there when I came in.”
“The Shadow is now our hope, yes, but if I’m not mistaken, we would have hope had she not returned anyways. We still had one mage that could teleport us into the tower.”
Okay… Jamie thought, following along. “Your point being?”
“Well, the prophecy spoke of the best of the Shadow Conclave pitching hope. Superficially, we were on the verge of destruction, but with one action, the Beasts were actually in that situation. And the–”
“Pfah!” Jamie pointed at the Lady of Light and couldn’t help but laugh. “You think the prophecy was about the Beasts?! Not us?”
“It’s just one interpretation,” Amara chuckled, as ever impervious to Jamie’s attempts at putting her on the defensive. “The other is that one way or another, she is our hope now. And that is all.”
“Not just ours,” Hugo pointed out. “She’s everyones’. I think that’s the point.”
“The prophecy is irrelevant,” Shuu pointed out. “The only reason we followed it was because it was still the better plan. We were faced with an enemy that could not be fought, the only viable strategy was subterfuge and reconnaissance. That’s the only reason why the Shadow Conclave was in place. To guarantee that approach had the best odds of success.”
That was interesting to Jamie.
“So even if there had been a winner?”
“I’m here, aren’t I?” Shuu pointed out. “Prophecy or not, we have done all we could the best we could.”
“Now, it’s up to our savior,” Amara put in, introducing a completely different tone that successfully made both Shu and Jamie uncomfortable. A tone of destiny. “May the Light guide her.”
People with faith bothered Jamie. It was nothing but irrational hope. An optimism that was largely unsubstantiated. But people like Amara, who seemed to never fall short of it, almost made it seem palpable.
“I will go and pray for her success. And keep the people faithful so that they may do the same with honest hearts. I invite you to join.”
She turned to walk away.
“After all…what else of worth is there to do?”
Jamie frowned. She still had to go talk to the other Teens, but outside of that, Amara was not wrong. There was nothing for them to do other than to wait and worry.
Amara left them behind, and the silence was telling. Both Shuu and Jamie were trying to think of what else they could do, in protest and rebellion, but they were coming up short.
“She’s got us there,” Hugo said, helpfully.
Jamie shook, well flustered.
“Oh, shut up.”
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