It took them three hours to go from the thriving neighbourhood of Cafakla to greener covers of Renest which contained a manmade camping site where people also occasionally gathered for stargazing. The entire trip consisted of a silly conversation that ended in seconds, random laughs and seemingly lasting silence. The only state of permanence was achieved by Fleur ogling at Bastian whose mind was occupied with Quincy’s shocking revelation. Before he could investigate the matter further, both of them were whisked into the car in order to conform to Haruhi’s temper levels to the minimal range. When they finally reached their destination, the gang was surprised to know they weren’t the only ones wanting a glimpse of the night sky. Thousands had gathered with a blanket or tent wielding a telescope or binocular. A small establishment called Selene’s Tavern was present near this gathering which was visible due to its hugely italicized neon pink sign unlike its dimly lit interiors like it was a stop for takeout. It seemed to contain all sorts of professional equipment as well as basic amenities for uneducated idiots like themselves. They seemed like amateurs amongst these enthusiasts.
“I did not expect this,” Fyre said.
“Wow. I didn’t know Lessa gathered like this,” Haruhi said, surveying the mass.
“And it isn’t because you don’t leave Cafakla?” Quincy asked.
“I’m not in the mood for this, Quincy,” Haruhi said.
“What are we going to do now?” Erska asked, wary of unfamiliar surroundings yet the cool breeze and the open space were uplifting her mood.
“Maybe we’ll explore a bit first?” suggested Fleur, eager for some alone time with Bastian.
“Explore a bit? We aren’t in some forest where we go searching for different species,” retorted Erska at its ridiculousness.
“Take a hint, Erska. Maybe give us some alone time?” Fleur interrupted, already dragging Bastian in the opposite direction.
“Guess we’ll also do some exploring and then, meet up? Though I’m not sure if those love birds want to join us..” suggested Fyre.
“Whatever. I’m bloody exhausted. Let’s make this worthwhile,” said Haruhi, ready to dive straight into the crowd.
By the time Bastian was dragged in the opposite direction, he had tried signalling Quincy which ended up being useless.
“There are so many couples over there. That seems romantic, right?” Fleur asked.
“Ummm uhh..” Bastian stuttered, looking at the gathering on all sides before the sign of Selene’s Tavern caught his eye. “Why don’t we snack on something? I’ll be back. Maybe we could get comfy on that bench over there, yea?”
Fleur nodded her head heartily as she skipped towards the bench while Bastian almost ran for his life, trying to search Quincy. The past few hours were hard for him, so many questions unanswered like a volcano ready to erupt. When he caught sight of that familiar crop of blonde hair dancing amid a female crowd, he jogged towards it.
“Sorry ladies, my boyfriend likes to act straight from time to time. We often have those bets,” Bastian announced, taking the girls by surprise which lead to a slow dispersion. “Why you trying to be all lone wolf?” he asked.
“I am trying to enjoy life from time to time. Way to spoil it,” Quincy said, all bummed out. “Where’s your girlfriend?”
“Unfortunately, I’ve lost her in the crowd. So, tell me about your retirement.”
“You’re getting a lot crueller, man. Fleur’s going to hit you if she knew what you were doing,” reprimanded Quincy.
“Dude, I seriously think my head would start melting. Could you please put me at ease?” Bastian asked.
Quincy sighed, nervously laughing as looked away from his friend, staring at the endless space of darkness dotted by shiny balls of fire at irregular intervals like a phone wallpaper pattern.
“I started messing up my assignment. All of a sudden it’s like I got into depression, man. I couldn’t do anything. I started making trouble for everyone at the HQ. To take responsibility for my childishness, I told him I would retire.”
“Dude. Why the fuck do you sound so mature?” Bastian asked, shaking Quincy by the shoulder as he checked his eyes. “Where did my friend Quincy go? Did you eat him or something?”
“I’m still here, princess,” laughed Quincy, slightly slapping Bastian’s cheeks.
“Does Haruhi know?”
“Yea. I’ve already told her..”
“From the beginning, when I came to Lessa I-” Quincy facepalmed himself, zipping his mouth.
“What?! You retired so long ago? Is that why you were playing hooky along with me, no assignments and stuff??” Bastian enquired, questions blurting out of his mouth in one go.
“I’m sorry, Bastian. I was taking some time for me to adjust. After that, I was going to tell you. Like I had to deal with it myself. Right now, I can’t be that carefree as I was before. Haruhi helped me deal with it. I took some time to confront it myself. Stay mad at me, man but please understand that I did not do it on purpose,” he explained in all sincerity.
Bastian being the good friend he was couldn’t stay mad for long, specifically, when he had never seen Quincy sounding responsible and confused. “So, are you done with the initiation session?” he asked, putting his arm around Quincy and patting him.
“Yes, that’s why I went to the HQ recently. They welcomed us warmly and stuff. Explained to us all the positions available.”
“ Do you have an idea? Finally, settle down with all the money you’ve earned and chase girls?” snickered Bastian, tickling him.
“No, I wanted to be a reporting officer but Haruhi says that’s a desk job and that I would work directly under Orfer. So, maybe I should re-think..”
“An actual job?” Bastian asked shocked. “You’ve really changed, man. I kinda miss you,” he said as rested his head against Quincy’s shoulder.
“I’m still here,” Quincy replied, patting his chest.
“Show me your Draphacon! I want to confirm it!!” he said, getting all giddy.
Quincy took out his Draphacon from the pocket and handed it over to Bastian. The one undeniable factor that decided a Drapha’s status was the colour of the pearl in the Draphacon. There was no mistake. Quincy’s Draphacon contained a black pearl which had replaced the grey one.
“Woah. Does it really change colour when you retire?” Bastian asked, astonished.
“I wonder how this mechanism actually works,” questioned Bastian, handing it back to Quincy.
“Isn’t that everyone’s-”
“There you are!” exclaimed Fleur, clinging onto Bastian’s arm. “Do you know how long I was searching for you? Quincy, you guys can talk however long you want but for now, let me steal my boyfriend, can I?”
Without actually waiting for any response, she pulled Bastian in the opposite direction. While Bastian glanced back at him apologetically, Quincy simply winked at him in reassurance.
“Wait, Fleur. One minute,” Bastian said as he grasped onto Fleur’s hold. He who was being flung like a doll left and right, now, made Fleur feel as light as paper, unable to move under his watch. “Can we all be together today? Hear me out. We often go on dates. I know we weren’t able to do anything recently but this is a request.” He placed his fingers on Fleur’s chin, his eyes resolute as he looked into her frowning face. “Quincy’s not fine. He doesn’t say but he isn’t. I’d want him to feel better. Though he’d try to play jokester often, just all of us together would light up his mood a little bit. What do you say? Spare today for me, eh? I’ll promise I’ll do better next time.”
Fleur interlaced her fingers in his and clasped them tighter, slightly pecking his palm. “I understand. Here’s the deal though. Only when you promise to hug me throughout today?”
“Deal granted,” smiled Bastian as he placed the tip of his finger on her nose.
“Now, how do we find the rest?” Fleur asked.
“Let me call Haruhi. With Quincy trying to be a lone wolf, I don’t trust his instincts,” he said as he dialled the number and placed it against his ear as soon as it went through. “Ahh ok. Yea. I’ll watch for that.”
“We need to look for a flying red scarf in the air. That’s our signal. If we see it, we walk in that direction,” he said.
“You mean like that one?” Fleur asked as she started walking towards it, yanking Bastian like a rag doll but this time he had nothing to complain because the compass was taking him to the destination he wanted. As they reached closer, they could see Haruhi, Fyre and Erska sitting on a blanket with lanterns surrounding them.
“Having a nice little picnic to yourselves, I see,” commented Bastian as soon as tried settling onto the checked blanket that they had spread. Fleur snuggled under his arm as he embraced her.
“I’m sorry but do tell me where is the food?” Fyre asked. “Gone blind too, huh?”
“Love is blind,” commented Erska bitterly.
“You’re just jealous that I have an amazing boyfriend,” stated Fleur while Bastian caressed her head.
“Tune it down, guys. I’m not in the mood for lovey-doveyness now,” grumbled Haruhi. “Now, what do we do? Just sit like this?”
“I mean, we look at the stars…” suggested Fyre.
Haruhi placed her hand on his shoulder. “Fyre, my boy, if you are going to tell me that you have nothing unplanned, I’ll let Tamago go vicious on you,” threatened Haruhi as her grasp on Fyre’s shoulder got tightened.
“The original plan would be just me and Erska. You got here at your own risk, Haruhi,” managed Fyre, trying to move away from Haruhi.
“Erska, don’t tell me you are enjoying this..” Haruhi said.
“I am actually,” she said as she gazed at the night view until she looked at the couple in front of her. “There are other things that are making my time worthless..”
“Why does everyone have a problem with us?! Geez!” exclaimed Bastian.
“Don’t mind them, baby,” Fleur said as her fingers reached to pat Bastian’s cheeks.
“As you say, baby,” he replied, kissing her forehead lightly.
“Aaah you guys are making puke!” Fyre cried, infuriated.
“It’s making me lose my appetite, Fyre. We should have ditched these idiots,” said Erska to which Bastian stuck his tongue out.
“Looks like everyone is here! Snacks all around the year!” rejoiced Quincy as made snack packets rain.
“Stop pretending to be Santa, Quincy. Sit down before I hurt you badly,” warned Haruhi.
Obediently he sat down, passing drinks and various knick-knacks. “Did you guys know today’s gathering is because the comet Iselworth is supposed to pass today?”
“I-I didn’t know that..” Fyre stammered, his face reddening.
“A wonderful tour guide, you are. Very informative, Fyre,” commented Bastian.
“Most people stay the night, it seems. I was wondering if we could do that?” Quincy asked, looking at everyone’s faces for affirmation but majorly directed towards Haruhi, the unofficial mother duck.
“I’m dead tired anyway. I’m not driving y’all back and I could use a nap under the stars after all,” she said as she fell flat on her back.
“Staying the night it is,” Quincy stated, clapping his hands.
“Reassignment happens when your aptitude and skillset doesn’t match your assignments. All Draphas are skilled in different ways. Isn’t that why during your initial training you are trained with various simulations? After all that, you’ll be picked for the ones you’ll excel in.”
Alice had rewinded the recorder more than six times, unable to comprehend the situation.
“What the hell is this, Melvin?” she asked him who had taken the tough decision of turning in front of her with empty hands. Alice Saphine had been a long-time client of his who always rewarded handsomely when the job was completed but right now, he was hitting dead ends in every direction because nothing made sense. All he could do was lower his head in shame.
“That’s the owner of Solitarie’s voice. Haruhi Pierre.”
“Oh my. What on earth is she talking about? Training? Simulations?”
“It seems to me that she is talking about some kind of secret organization because if you listen carefully to the recording, you’ll hear the term Drapha. I’ve checked both on and off record. There is no trace of anything. It is almost as if these people had appeared out of nowhere.”
“Have you tried tracking their movements?” she asked, while her hands were clasped together in nervousness.
“Yes, we’re on watch 24/7. No suspicions have been aroused yet. They don’t go out a lot. They go back and forth inside the neighbourhood but stay in the motel most of the time.”
“I can’t wait until I’m sure about this now. Gather your best men. I’m dragging my daughter out of that place right now.”