Chapter 34 - On the road to tragedy
“NOOOO!” Pixa flung out her hand in sorrowful shock, not believing what she had witnessed.
She observed as the transparent darkness receded back into the box, with tears in her eyes.
“YOU STUPID--” without thinking, she focused and shot out a light beam at Laevicus. Laevicus took it to the face, surprised, but wasn’t that affected. He just stepped a bit so not to lose balance, and then looked back to find the oncoming Pixa.
“YOU KILLED THEM!”
He dodged the other beam, and then three Jun guards just tackled Pixa in mid-air, pushing her onto the ground and locking her there.
“Calm down, girl,” one of them demanded, threateningly.
“Or what?! You’ll kill me too?!”
“They’re not dead,” Laevicus said, shutting her up. “Not for a lack of trying, mind you…but I was too late.”
“Too…” her teary eyes changed from despair to hope, “late?”
The first thing he noticed was he was still breathing. Kazuki then casually opened his eyes, looking around to see everyone was where they were just the previous second. The difference was they were either shivering, gasping or shuddering…and the surroundings had changed.
They were outside the city. Well outside the city, he could see its outskirts, and they were several hundred feet away.
“Agh…” Fiahra’s painful voice woke most from their dread, and everyone was quick to deduce what had happened when she said, “Even with the stone, that was…I didn’t have time to differentiate…”
It took about half a minute seconds, in total, for the all-out brawl to resume. What had happened was that Fiahra, pushed by the fear of Laevicus’s terrifyingly powerful ability, had not been able to teleport just her and the other three with her, but had teleported everyone within a radius…which basically covered everyone inside Agathon’s little arena.
It took half a second for most to get their bearings, but eventually, they did, and the shouting resumed, and the yelling sounded louder, and the fight raged on once again.
But neither Kazuki nor Arata entertained the possibility they could stop them from leaving now that they were in the open and out of an army.
Jomiko did, though. The teleportation had materialized them a bit above, in terms of height, so her punch had narrowly missed. But she was still there in front of her.
She twisted around and thrust her hand down, forcing Fiahra to face-plant the ground so hard she broke her nose.
“WHERE’S THE STONE?!” She crouched on top of her and searched her with her other hand, keeping her locked with her right, but then she unexpectedly got kicked.
It hit her kidney so her body just reacted, letting go, and tumble a couple of times to the side before it come to a stop. Jomiko stood quickly and turned to notice it was some random Jun, not even a friend of Fiahras’.
“You’re not getting the stone, you mercenary piece of Lan trash.”
Jomiko raised an eyebrow, infuriated beyond belief. She was so angry she couldn’t even find words as she power-walked towards him, ready to kill the guy.
“Oh I am going to--!!”
But she didn’t have to. An earth spike pierced the man through his mid-section, after which a platform rose into the air, vaulting Fiahra away. Jomiko jumped to grab at her, along with four other strangers, but all were grabbed not three feet off the ground, by soil-made lassos.
While Jomiko fell, after ripping the unnatural ground off her feet, she saw Agathon grabbing hold of Fiahra in his arms. The moment he grabbed her, he arched back, and a torrent of wind just blew them well away from the crowd.
Like the rest, she ran after them, but Fiahra moved her hands while being carried, having lost her staff, and promptly generated a mist behind Agathon. To make matters worst, Agathon cast speed.
Jomiko, losing sight of them, stopped. She allowed others the others to continue running, certain no one would be able to catch them, and instead looked to find her own comrades.
Shinyaki was struggling hard, with Danatcia skipping and leaping around him. She locked eyes and ran, but she didn’t even get half-way before Danatcia threw a stone at Shinyaki.
Shinyaki grabbed the stone, and in within three seconds, slashed open everyone around him with a flurry of spins, except for Kazuki who blocked the first strike and then grabbed a random Jun to use him as a meat shield.
Shinyaki turned and sprinted, after that spinning his scythes around him. A couple of mages tried to stop him, but he leaped over their spells and kept going.
Everyone turned eyes to find Danatcia, but she was nowhere to be seen, having easily vanished in the now unlit darkness of the night.
Jomiko walked into the crowd dumbfounded.
“I can’t belie…you useless bastards…” She was beside herself. She could not believe they had managed to escape. Another group ran off to catch up with Shinyaki, but again, it was clear they didn’t have a chance. He ran straight towards a large area of woods, where he would lose them.
Slowly, Arata and Kazuki walked to meet Jomiko, who was visibly shaking in anger. Persephonai was still in the air, pointing a beacon of light all over the place, trying to find Danatcia.
Jomiko was looking down, feeling like she was about to implode.
Slowly, Arata put a hand over her shoulder. She shivered one last time and then managed to stop.
“They won,” Arata said, apologetically, and she clenched her fists.
“I am so…angry.”
“We know,” Kazuki said, “but it’s over. They have all the stones and we’ve lost them. There is nothing to do now but to wait for the war to be unleashed.”
“I wouldn’t say that…” Arata said, “we need to talk again, and go meet with the twins.”
“THE TWINS!” Jomiko yelled, her eyes raging red. “THOSE IDIOTS!” And at that, she ran off.
“Uh oh,” Arata commented.
“Bad call, Arata,” Kazuki mentioned. “Go, I’ll wait for Persephonai to fully indulge his naivety.”
“Alright, thanks.” Arata ran off, leaving Kazuki to watch Persephonai as he clumsily and ineffectually searched the woods along with the others.
“Persephonai! They’re gone, come on.”
“No wait, I can still maybe catch her! Keep up!” He flew out, much slower than a run. Slow enough, in fact, that Kazuki just needed a light march to keep up.
“Persephonai…” Kazuki calmly and coldly called out, “stop being an idiot.”
His tone of voice carried such tired impatience that it lashed at Persephonai’s heart, ruthlessly killing any hope he had of getting Danatcia back right then. His shoulders slouched, and he stopped.
He looked on as his beacon of light slowly died, allowing darkness to swallow the surroundings.
He sighed and turned around, flying down to land next to Kazuki. Kazuki looked at Persephonai, and Persephonai at the ground, for a few awkward seconds. Then Kazuki turned around and started walking back and Persephonai followed.
They didn’t exchange words nor anything, they just walked away, to lead a whole crowd on a walk of shame back to the city, where the guards would register anyone who was still alive, put them through questioning and process them.
In fact, that turned out to be good since sitting down and answering questions really calmed Jomiko down. Arata watched over her the entire time, afraid she’d flip and attack a guard for being too noisy or annoying.
But her guard was remarkably complacent and patient, though he just seemed really tired. He was happy she didn’t get his interviewer, a Pan who’d just lost a brother in the interchange on the house of mirrors.
Eventually, Kazuki and Persephonai showed up, and at the sight of Persephonai, Laevicus called them over for a talk. The Xia was probably the only one of them Laevicus really recognized.
Pixa joined them, assaulting Kazuki with tears of relief and joy. As usual, he just brushed the kindness aside, politely thanking her for her concern.
Then they talked to Laevicus, forced to explain everything that had happened since Fairgriffen. At the end of it all, Laevicus just looked them over and stated:
“So in truth, you’ve nothing of worth to contribute anymore.”
That was when the depressing mood set in. Soon after, they were arrayed around a table at a tavern, looking depressed and defeated. Not even Persephonai was putting in the effort to smile, and even Aratas’ lacked any joy in it.
However, as usual, Arata was the one breaking the silence.
“This one wasn’t our fault.”
“Not that we could’ve beaten them on our own anyways.”
“We could of,” Jomiko argued in spite, “if these two idiots hadn’t gone in on their own!”
Sanpu and Fuun’na just stared into their glasses of water, in shameful silence.
“So…any ideas?” Pixa asked.
“I have the same one I’ve always had,” Kazuki mentioned, “we should all just give it a rest, give up the job.”
“That’ll mean all we did until now was for FREE. I don’t kick butt for free, and I especially don’t get my butt kicked for free, either,” Jomiko remarked, pissed off.
“Who cares?” Kazuki asked.
“I care,” Persephonai interjected, childishky, “there must be something we can still do.”
“Yeah,” Pixa nodded, hopeful, “we should do our best to stop this maniac from realizing his plan.”
“Well, we know it involves Bellhall, so we can make our way there,” Arata proposed, “meanwhile, we can pull our resources. We know a bunch of adventurers. They know a bunch of adventurers, and we’re always scattered all over the place. Someone may happen to see them?”
“Beats waiting around these up-tight oh-so-special-at-sucking Jun,” Jomiko shot, and she looked to see if the twins would raise an issue. But no, Sanpu took a drink and Fuun’na just managed to look up at her with a frail attempt at a glare.
“Alright, so who’re we leaving back here as a contact?”
“Who else?” Kazuki rhetorically asked, meaning the twins.
“We can’t spare the two, I think, despite their mistake,” Arata politely remarked.
“Their attitude is a mistake. There’s no fixing that,” Kazuki remarked.
“We’re sitting right here, ya know?” Fuun’na asked, angry about seeing her brother like that.
“Why stay?” Sanpu asked, to stop an argument from erupting, “Spellgate’s an isocracy, it’s impossible to know who we should inform. Whatever we find, informing Skullerbee and Bellhall’ll be enough, I think.”
Silence lasted for a few minutes as some people wanted to argue, but couldn’t. Nobody there was used to Sanpu, of all people, making a reasonable argument.
“Well, if anyone would know about the Jun city, it’d be you,” Arata again broke the silence, “alright, we keep the group tight, and we no longer split into teams. We fly towards Bellhall and hope someone contacts us back about something. Otherwise, well, we’ll be there to help the defenses, I guess…” Arata slouched a bit, “regardless of how Leaf will feel about that.”
“Fine,” Jomiko fisted the table, and then rose that hand “Bartender! Gimme something strong, here! Arata, start making calls already. Time’s a wastin’.”
“Yes mam,” he smiled, glad to see her uppity again.
Meanwhile, at the top of a tower, a small Pan over-viewed the reconstruction of the house of mirrors with an uncomfortable expression. Ramachandra was surrounded by five Jun, all of them athletic, slender, and looking intimidating in their dark uniforms. They belonged to one of the most famous and successful mercenary groups.
“Well…that backfired quite disgustingly…”
“The twins were less skilled than we thought.”
“No, it was the Sen who was more skilled than we thought,” Ramachandra said, squinting his eyes in thoughts full of grievance.
Then, he slowly sighed, “you’re certain this can’t be traced back to me?”
“Not unless the twins talk.”
“They won’t,” Ramachandra said, “it’s not in their nature. They’d more easily come and kill me than reveal me. Unless they’re captured and tortured, but someone would have to be confident they had the stone to begin with, to do something like that.” He glanced at the Jun, “and that is what I meant.”
“No one is that confident.”
“Good,” Ramachandra nodded and gazed back, “I must tend to the damages and make a few appearances, so I’ll be out of touch for the next couple of days. Meanwhile, disseminate the following order: I want these four thieves caught, killed, and their stones ripped from their corpses. And there’s no need to be…furtive, all may know you acted on my behalf.”
“Understood,” one of them said, and they all nodded before jumping away.
“I’m not out of this yet,” Ramachandra handed hands behind his back, looking down with a bit of anger, “not by a long shot.”