“Xiang! Slow down! Why are we still running?” Lis demanded, panting hard as she ran after her.
“They’re after us,” Xiang replied, still clutching onto her hand and pulling her along the busy streets.
“Who? The guards!?” she asked, shooting a look over her shoulder as though expecting to see a horde of guards in red uniforms at their heels.
“No. Much worse,” Xiang told her, skidding to a halt, “Look- take this way back to your house and stay there. They’ll try to focus on me. So you go! I’ll lead them through the marketplace and hopefully lose them there.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll have an easier time losing them on my own,” she said, “Now go!”
Xiang glanced round again and took a breath.
There was a faint violet light again as she started running again.
The market was full as always.
She weaved through the crowd, purposely trying to use the smells of the crowd to throw them off a little.
The tactic would slow them down but she knew something that would put an end to the chase entirely.
Her eyes gleamed when she saw a waste tube on the street.
They had meant to repair the sewage ages ago but it was the Surface Tier. They never got round to it and the tube was sucking the sewage out to a tank.
There was a glow of violet in her hand allowing her to pull a dagger out of thin air.
She slashed the tube that was still pumping away, causing the waste to spew and splatter out, thankfully just missing her.
The smell was horrendous and she was more than glad to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible whilst the crowd reacted, recoiling away from the stench and mess.
Hopefully that would throw them off. But meanwhile, she wasn’t about to go home and run the risk of leading them there.
No, she’d visit a friend who’d take care of that for her.
There were screams of surprise and shock as Beast barelled through the crowded streets in her true form.
Her Beast form resembled one of a wolf, only monstrous inside with pitch black fur and four golden eyes.
She stopped at a crossroad, sniffing the ground, growling.
“What? Which way did she go?” Godfrey asked.
Tulio skidded to a halt next to Beast.
When Beast was in her real form, she couldn’t speak so her mind was often linked to her Masters through the connection they shared.
“Rogue went down one way but his companion took another route,” Tulio explained, pointing.
“We’ll deal with Rogue for now,” Merlin said.
Beast snorted and started running again.
It was a lot easier to make their way through the crowded market streets with Beast. Everyone was quick to practically throw themselves out of the way so all they needed to do was to run close behind her.
But quite suddenly, Beast skidded through some kind of muddy brown spill and started hacking. She ran away from it and started rolling around in the dirt, rubbing her nose frantically in the earth.
“Urgh! What the- this is waste!”
“Ew!” Siren said at once.
Pierce had managed to catch her and yank her back before she stepped into it, though he got his favourite boots in the muck instead.
Robin hurried to Beast’s side as she continued rolling about desperately to try and get the smell out of her nose whilst she shifted back to her human form.
Her clothes always ripped from the transformation but the Mage class had long ago created a black body suit that shifted with the Beast class so they wouldn’t be completely bare when they shifted back.
“You okay, Ayaka?” he asked worriedly.
Beast was swearing, furious. “Rogue did that on purpose!” she snarled.
“Damn,” Hua, Merlin’s Master said, “Have you lost the scent entirely?”
“I can’t even smell anything anymore!” Beast told her angrily as Robin helped her up.
“Well, why don’t we head back to the guard station and find out what Rogue was doing there in the first place?” she suggested, “It’s better than running around without a clue.”
“I’ll stay here with Aya until she recovers,” Robin said, “Indah?”
“I’ll stick with you guys,” she said, covering her nose.
Beast, Tulio, Robin and Indah remained behind as Beast tried to recover a little more. The others, meanwhile, headed back to the station.
“Godfrey,” Tara said suddenly, “Your hand is bleeding again.”
“Wha-? Oh,” he said scowling at the birthmark on his left palm.
It bled from time to time though he couldn’t remember why.
For the meanwhile, he found it a mild irritation.
Tara had a handkerchief with her so she used it to bind the birthmark to stop it from bleeding all over the place.
They got back to the station that was now in a state of confusion as well at the escape of two girls from the holding cell.
“Rogue’s behind it, no doubt,” Merlin said, shaking his head, “Do you have any information about them?”
“Well, Firstborn, they spent the night here. One of them were just underage and the other wouldn’t say anything so we needed contact with their families. But neither of them wanted to give that up either. We were going to wait to see if anyone came forward else we would have called the temples to collect the younger one,” the guard explained.
He led them to a room where his comrade stood, looking a little befuddled.
“Ji- you okay?”
“Yeah, just dozed off for some reason.”
The guard went to the computer and went through it for a moment before frowning, “Ji, where’s the details on the two girls from yesterday? The dark haired one and the tall one that cussed you out.”
“It’s filed in there.”
“They aren’t here.”
Godfrey sighed, annoyed at his own optimism, “Of course it isn’t. The Spy sub-class,” he said, “They deleted themselves out of the system.”
“She couldn’t have,” the guard, Ji said, sounding offended, “I was here all day.”
“They’re the Rogue; silent as a Thief. The Spy sub-class can create anaesthetics as part of their skill-set,” Merlin said, “They’re quite useless as a combat class but if you need to break in somewhere, they’re your fastest way in,” he explained, drawing a rune in the air with his finger before blowing the spell onto the confused guard.
It struck him and lit up purple.
“That’s the Spy anaesthetic alright,” he said.
“Well, at least know they’re in the city,” Siren said, “Can you describe how they looked?”
“Well… there were two of them,” the guard said, “I brought them in. One had hazel eyes and a screwed up nose. She kept cussing at us until her friend told her to shut up. She was pretty tall with brown hair. The other one had these green eyes and unnerving stare. Kept catching her smirking too. Dark hair, a little under six feet in height. She seemed to have been in charge of that little operation we tried to end but it’s hard to tell, especially considering how young she was.”
“Their age wouldn’t matter- they’ve done it hundreds of times in different lives,” Merlin said, “Of course they’d be up to their old tricks again.”
“At least now that we know they’re in Skydris, we’ll probably have an easier time tracking them down,” Godfrey said.
They thanked the guards and assured them that there wasn’t anything that they could have done to keep the Rogue locked away in the first place before leaving to regroup with the others.
Pierce frowned, folding his arms over his chest as he though things over, “Hey- how come you guys are chasing down Rogue like this?” he asked, “Who’d she murder?”
“What? No one- I mean- yes, they- well it’s just…” Godfrey gave up with a frustrated sigh.
Merlin petted his old friend on the back, “Very few people know the truth, least of all the general public,” he said with a sigh, “But Rogue… they haven’t been reborn for two lifetimes. Something happened- we don’t quite remember right now, but they just… stopped. In the final years of our past life, the effects of Rogue’s absence had started taking a toll on the world. The Spirit managed to force them to continue her cycle, but clearly, they’re reluctant to return to duty,” he explained.
“So? Just keep going then,” Pierce said, “If she really doesn’t want to come back, you can exactly force her.”
“You don’t understand. Reincarnates serve a higher purpose than simply keeping order amongst humanity- especially us Firstborns. We are meant to maintain the spiritual balance in the world and we do it together. With Rogue missing, not only has the Rogue class been growing a great deal more difficult to control but the world has been growing weary.”
“How does a world grow weary?”
“It’s the spirit of humanity. Battles keep breaking out, crime is on the rise… the darker side of humanity is surfacing without Rogue to keep it in check,” Godfrey explained.
“Wait- so all of that- even that war between Yunang and Greavis was because Rogue didn’t come back?”
Tara looked up at them, “Weren’t the Rogue class always like that though?” she asked softly.
“No,” Hua explained, “They used to get along more or less with their team and yes- most masters had trouble keeping them in check in the past. But they have never outright rebelled in this manner before.”
“We’ll regroup with the others and discuss our next course of action,” Siren said, holding onto Merlin’s arm.
“I hope you guys don’t mind missing out on more classes,” Godfrey told the Masters.
“No complaints here,” Pierce said with a grin.
Xiang stretched, smiling as she heard her back pop. Her muscles were relaxed and pleasantly languid.
A good bed was a great deal more comfortable than that cold bench she had to sleep on the night before.
She picked up her shirt and looked round.
Her large bedmate was missing so she assumed he had returned to his work. She got dressed and went to the messy office next to his bedroom.
“I must be losing my touch if you’re back to work already,” she commented, leaning against the doorframe.
Tooru looked round and grinned, “Hey, Xiang- sorry. Just had to deal with this new job,” he said, working on his system.
There was a single computer but the room was lit by the crystals, all connected by threads of light.
With the kind of resonance Tooru could replicate in that single room, he could easily hack into any other system in Skydris as well as any system in cities within a hundred-mile radius.
“And what is this new job?” she asked, keenly, sauntering over, “Money?”
“Nope- info. You should know more than anyone else that knowledge is more valuable than material wealth,” he said with a smile, “But shit, the temple security system is tight.”
Xiang frowned, “Temple security? What are you looking for?”
“Just some intel on the temple guards. They wanted a full list of their personal details as well as guard rotation and patrol.”
“Can’t you just beat that out of some poor guard?” Xiang asked, draping her arms around him.
“Easier not to leave traces this way.”
“If you do it right.”
“If I do it right,” he agreed, “Anyway- I’ll be done here in a little bit, I promise. How long are you going to be hiding in my bedroom?”
Because of his line of work, Tooru had the best security system Xiang had ever seen.
“Not sure. I have some of my people out there to find out for me,” she told him.
“I honestly don’t think the guards will be able to find you in your usual hideout,” Tooru commented absent mindedly whilst Xiang rested her hip against the edge of a table.
She sighed, “If it were only the guards. I could run rings around them without them even noticing,” she said.
“And yet you got arrested last night.”
“Ugh- I’m never going to hear the end of that,” she said with a scowl.
Tooru grinned, still focussed on his work, “So is Lis okay then?” he asked, “Did her mum give her any grief about being arrested?”
“Hopefully her ma just thinks she’s been out the whole night again or something. She did tell her ma she’d be with me and the others for the night anyway,” Xiang said.
“Her ma’s always worried about her.”
“You forget what happened the last time she disappeared without a word. Can you blame her?” Xiang said, checking her nails.
“Anyway, I’m going to go make something to eat. What do you have in your kitchen?”
“Um… soy sauce, ketchup and I think tinned tomatoes. You may find some cereal as well.”
“How long has that cereal been there?”
“Few months. I think.”
Xiang thought about it, “Hm,” she said, “Yeah, it’s probably still good. Don’t spend too long working. I’m going to get bored sitting around all day.”
Tooru looked over his shoulder with a grin, “Now you’re making it hard for me to concentrate on purpose,” he said.
“Good, you need a challenge,” she told him, leaving the room.
Xiang and Tooru had known each other since her arrival in the city when she helped him evade capture by the guards.
Tooru was very fond of her but wasn’t very interested in a committed relationship. And it was the same for Xiang so their arrangement worked just fine for them both.
In the messy kitchen, Xiang wandered over to the window. Just as she reached to lift the blinds with her right hand, she stopped.
There was a birthmark there that looked a scar.
And it was fading.
She ran a finger over the scar.
One day it was going to disappear.
And she was waiting for the day it did.
Forgetting about food, she went back to Tooru’s room. His bathroom was simply in the corner of the room, separated by a bamboo screen.
As she pulled off her shirt again and stepped into the shower, the door opened again, “Do you have some kind of sixth sense for when I’m naked or something?” she asked Tooru.
“No, I just have good timing,” he said with a grin.
As he joined her in the shower he frowned. “Is it me, or is this getting bigger?” he asked, touching the dark stain over Xiang’s chest, just over her heart.
“I rather not talk about it.”
“I can live with that,” he said, catching the tone of her voice.
“Won’t it be easier to find that friend of hers?” Tulio asked, helping himself to the salted nuts in the bowl.
The group of them were seating at the gazebo again, the area illuminated by the softly glowing crystals.
Siren had lent Beast an old potpourri bag. The scent on it had faded to the point where no one else could smell it. But she could still smell it and it smelt a lot better than sewage.
“The trail has probably already faded, but I’ll try again once I recover,” she said, sniffing the potpourri.
“Can’t you do anything?” Indah asked Robin.
Robin was helping himself liberally to the snacks, “If you’re talking about tracking- there are way too many people trampling about those slums for me to find the right path kid,” he told her.
Godfrey was present, looking distracted. He tugged the bandages away from the palm of his hand and looked at the mark.
“Is it getting better?” Tara asked him.
“Well, it stopped bleeding at least,” he said.
Hua looked over as well, recalling something she had read from one of her books.
“Is it a spite scar from one of your past lives?” she asked curiously.
“What’s a spite scar?” Pierce asked while Siren helping him tune his guitar.
“Exactly what is sounds like,” Merlin said, “It’s a scar that was inflicted with powerful emotions. Because of that, it will remain on the person throughout their life. And unfortunately for a Reincarnate, that means it follows us through the remainder of our lives. It will only disappear after the person who caused it makes peace with who they inflicted,” he explained.
“And it’s not a spite scar,” Godfrey said, “It’s nothing like that, I know that much. It’s something… more important.”
Godfrey tried to think back, but he couldn’t remember anything.
It felt like there was gaping hole in his memory.
As though someone had taken pieces out and hidden it away.
“I can’t remember,” he said quietly.
Beast was balancing the potpourri bag on her head as she watched the exchange. But she said nothing.
Instead, she got to her feet and tossed Robin’s coat back to him.
“Right- let’s go,” she told Tulio.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, “Beast. Activate.”
Xiang had called her to make sure she was okay and told her she was still staying over at Tooru’s until she knew it was safe.
She didn’t have a doubt in her mind that the two of them were probably going at it like rabbits.
Maybe tomorrow, they could go back to the Hole. The others would be there as well and she knew they’d probably try to stay low after the last attempted bust. But it was nice to be around the others again.
She went down the narrow, rickety stairs of her house, scowling to herself.
Her ma was out working and her pa was most definitely gambling and wasting every credit her mother earned at the rat races.
She went to the pantry and found it bare as usual, causing her to curse under her breath.
The guards had taken away the money they had made that night as she had kept it on her. But what else had she been supposed to do with it?
If she left it at home, her pa would have found it and used the money to gamble again.
She scowled and looked at the com crystal.
If she called Xiang, the older girl would help her out in a heartbeat.
But it feels like lately, she has been relying on Xiang far too much.
She heard a commotion outside and frowned, putting the call crystal down on the table.
She got a knife and went to the door to see just why everyone on the street were yelling.
But the moment she stepped out of the house, a terrifying monster lunged at her and knocked her to the ground, pinning her down.
It stood over her, fangs bared and snarling, it’s yellow eyes gleaming.
“Woah! Down girl- you’re scaring her!” a boy her age said, pushing the growling monster aside
“Are you okay?”
The speaker was a beautiful young woman with dark hair and brown skin and eyes. She knelt down next to Lis to try and help her up again, “I’m sorry- Beast got a bit carried away tracking you. Are you hurt?” she asked, looking concerned.
The woman spotted her scraped hands.
“Beast. Look what you did,” she said reproachfully.
The monster snarled, still being held back by the guy.
She shook her head and started singing. It was a soft song with words Lis didn’t understand.
But it was the most beautiful song she had ever heard.
She looked down at her bleeding hands and found that the dirt was gone and the cuts were closed.
Even the pain soon disappeared.
“There’s that’s better.”
“What’s your name?” a golden haired man asked, offering her a hand.
Lis didn’t trust those clean cut types like him and pulled away.
Instead, she watched as the monster changed and shifted back into a girl, probably around Xiang’s age.
A Beast class.
Oh Great Spirit- what did the Reincarnates want with her?
There was an annoying hum in the air that made Xiang wake with a scowl.
Tooru mumbled something in his sleep next to her.
Her com crystal was humming away and flashing. She grabbed it to answer the call.
“Xiang. Do you know where Lis is?”
“Oh, hello Lady Emma,” Xiang said, covering Tooru’s mouth as he tried to say something in response to the noise, “No, I haven’t seen her since yesterday. She called to say she got home safely.”
Emma, Lis’ mother made an odd noise, “The Reincarnate came for her this evening. The neighbours said they took her up to the First Tier,” he told her.
Xiang sat up at once, properly jolting Tooru out of his sleep.
“The Reincarnates? Are you sure?” she asked.
“That’s what the neighbours said,” Emma told her, “The two of you are always together, so I thought you would know something.”
“I’ll look into it, my lady. I’ll give you a call once I find her- or better yet, I’ll have Lis call you when I get her,” she said, already on her feet and trying to get dressed.
Emma sighed, “Alright, I don’t approve of your influence over Lis,” she said frankly, “But at least you look after her, unlike most of her other friends and her father.”
“Blunt as ever, my lady. Don’t worry about it- I’ll take care of everything. Lis will be fine,” she said.
She hung up and pulled on her tank top.
“What happened to Lis?” Tooru asked, sitting up in bed.
“The Reincarnates came after her and brought her to the First Tier. I’m going to go look for her- where the hell is my other boot!?”
“Over there, in the corner. Do you need help?”
“No, I’ll be fine. I know my way round up there.”
“Do I want to know why?”
“Not unless you want to be an accomplice.”
He nodded, getting up. He was used to these things.
“Be careful- or at least try not to get caught,” he told her, kissing her, “You know too much of my operation to get arrested.”
Xiang nodded, though her features were unnaturally solemn.
“Don’t worry about me.”