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An Odd Couple Chp 5

nonanonymous Dec 31st, 2016 268 Never
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  1.     “Keep your breathing steady. And relax, the gun won’t fly out of your hands. Your grip’s too tight at the moment, you’re shaking.” Miltia said to a small boy holding a bright orange air rifle. She was crouched down and her talons were gently placed on the boy’s hands. “Stay calm and be patient.”
  2.  
  3.     “Dear, please stop training small children in military marksmanship.” Aidan said flatly as he tuned a violin. “Besides, if you persist, the shooting gallery will run out of prizes within the hour.”
  4.  
  5.     “Says the man who taught children how to conjure fireballs.” The wyvern looked at a small group of children near a fountain striking dramatic poses. Around them were small plumes of orange flames dancing in the air.
  6.  
  7.     “Only small ones. And most assuredly not hot enough to cause anything to burst into flames. Theoretically.”
  8.  
  9.     “Now you’ve got me worried.”
  10.  
  11.     “But you’re always worried about me. That’s why I love you.”
  12.  
  13.     “It’s less about you and more about the people you end up dragging into you inane schemes.” Miltia said as she rolled her eyes. She turned her head back to the boy she was consulting earlier, pleased to see that he had hit the bullseye of all the targets in the gallery. The proprietor seemed less than pleased as he handed the boy a small plushy. “You know, I’m half-tempted to try out all these stalls for fun. Care to join me?”
  14.  
  15.     “You are such a child sometimes. As if your admittedly hilarious adoration of Mister Pendleton last night wasn’t enough, you now wish to become the bane of every game master in this festival. Feel free to do so, I have other plans, for my muse is calling to me now.” Aidan said as he began playing a frantic melody on his violin. He had commandeered Miltia’s duffel bag, which festival goers were filling with spare change.
  16.  
  17.     “Suit yourself, you want anything?” Miltia said as she began to walk off.
  18.  
  19.     “If I requested anything, my room would be inundated with cheap stuffed animals, so I’ll have to decline.”
  20.  
  21.     As Miltia left, a familiar face began walking towards her lover. Black hair, pale skin, sly smile, Ana. Or perhaps Anne would be the appropriate name. Aidan glanced at her before putting on a carefree expression, focusing on his violin.
  22.  
  23.     “Hey, now that’s an odd sight to see.” She remarked as she walked up to him. “Aramis, wasn’t it? What are you doing all the way out here?”
  24.  
  25.     Aidan shrugged as he began playing a slower and simpler song. “It’s my day off and I see no reason to not brush up on my musical skills.”
  26.  
  27.     “You’re just full of surprises aren’t you?” she looked concerned and somewhat apologetic, although Aidan assumed both of those emotions were fake. “Oh, and uh, sorry about the whole Selene business. Didn’t really think she’d have that dark of a secret.”
  28.  
  29.     “No harm done. I’m just glad I managed to get out of that situation unscathed.”
  30.  
  31.     Anne sat down on the edge of the fountain. “Well, you might as well tell me how you did it. It’s not every day a pencil pusher fends off a hardened criminal.”
  32.  
  33.      “Oh, I did nothing of the sort, truly. I was leaning over her balcony and taking in the city from up high. After a brief period of time, I felt an odd sensation in my gut. And I’ve found that my instincts are often right.” He was quiet for a moment as he focused on a difficult rhythm. He had acquired an audience, although whether they were there for his music or his story was unknown to him. Regardless, he felt energized and his movements became more and more bombastic.
  34.  
  35.     “And as I turned around I saw the scheming satyr syringe in hand. In a moment of fortunate reflex, I deftly swatted it away as she charged me. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle.” Aidan stopped playing music for a moment as he skimmed over his crowd’s enraptured faces. “From the heavens above descended a golden haired maiden, pistol in hand and surrounded by dark silver wings. Shards of light pierced the dark heart of the satyr and stopped her there and then.”
  36.  
  37.     “You can stop babbling anytime, you know.” Asta loudly grumbled as she walked up to him. She was massaging the right side of her jaw. Some of the children in the audience seemed star struck while many of the adults were merely curious. “Seriously, if Miltia heard any of that, she’d rip your head off.”
  38.  
  39.     “Ah, speak of the devil.” Aidan retorted with a smug grin. He looked over at Anne who had a pleasant smile. Her eyes however seemed to have a hateful fire in them. “Do enlighten us with your exploits of that night.”
  40.  
  41.     The valkyrie sighed as she pulled out her police badge. “Detective Asta Dolfori, Versyl City Police Department. Might as well set the record straight before anyone gets any wild ideas. Our redheaded friend over here was asked to help take down a human trafficking circle. He served as bait and well, we got what we wanted. My timely rescue of him was part of the plan. Thanks to his lead, we managed to find and destroyed their stronghold. That’s all, so please enjoy the festival.”
  42.  
  43.     “A job well done.” Anne said with saccharine smile as the crowd dissipated. Aidan was putting away his violin and picking out spare change from Miltia’s duffel bag. “If I may inquire, has the VCPD made any discoveries regarding the murder of Noah Mason? He was a close family friend.”
  44.  
  45.     “Of course you would ask that. He was one of your own.” Asta thought to herself. She cleared her throat and said, “Going right for the hard question, aren’t you? The only answer is maybe. We have had a similar case develop about two days ago. The string of murders seem to be tied to the criminal organization we raided yesterday, although their exact ties are unknown. We have a vague description of a potential killer, but nothing useful for profiling or investigation.”
  46.  
  47.     “I see. It saddens my heart to know that such heinous acts are occurring in such a beautiful city.”
  48.  
  49.     “Twisting the knife, aren’t you?” Asta thought. She was struggling to maintain the professional façade she had on, her eyebrows and lips twitching every now and again. “With all due respect, miss, we are very much swamped with the current mayhem of the festival and the inevitable crime it usually brings. More importantly, whoever our perp is, he or she is far more skilled than the average thug, so finding any leads is proving to be rather difficult. I don’t even want to think about how to apprehend him or her.” She spat out.
  50.  
  51.     “Oh, I meant no offense, officer.” Anne said with her constant irritating cheerfulness. “Well, I suppose I’ve wasted enough of your time. Good luck, detective. And see you around Aramis.”
  52.  
  53.     As the two watched Anne walk away, Aidan chuckled. “I suppose this might be rude, but it something amiss with your face?”
  54.  
  55.     “What? Oh, ow.” Asta winced as she felt the pain in her jaw again. “No, I decided to take the morning off and go to my dentist. Turns out I had some cavities in the back teeth so I decided to just get fillings there and then. It took a lot of doses to numb me, but I’m just glad I can move the right side of my face again. Where’s Miltia? Figured you two were joined at the hip.”
  56.  
  57.     “Oh, she decided to run off and win every festival game present. She’ll be fine, assuming she doesn’t get accused of cheating. The last time someone said that to her she started a fight.”
  58.  
  59.     “She did? I thought she was the responsible one.”
  60.  
  61.     “Responsible as long as it doesn’t involve either military history or some form of competition. She was never popular in team sports. Not because she was bad per se, but because she was a bad sport.”
  62.  
  63.     “Haha, considering how she acted last night, I can actually see that. Hey, can we go somewhere private, I have something I need to discuss.”
  64.  
  65.     “Oh? And what was it you said about dear Miltia being jealous?” Aidan joked as he raised an eyebrow.
  66.  
  67.     “This is something that I think involves her and-wait.” Her eyes narrowed. “Get your mind out of the gutter, even I know to not hit on the taken.”
  68.  
  69. ----------
  70.  
  71.     A foam ball hit a stack of bottles, knocking all of them down. A bearded man smiled. “Well, that’s your win, miss. What prize do you want?”
  72.  
  73.     Miltia shook her head. “Nothing, I just wanted to see if I could win.”
  74.  
  75.     “Um, okay? Are you sure? You did pay money to do this.”
  76.  
  77.     She nodded. “It’s fine. Unless you want to give me my money back as a prize.”
  78.  
  79.     “Um, no. That’s…also fine. Well, have a good day then. I think.”
  80.  
  81.     Without pause, Miltia turned around and began walking through the aisle of stalls and booths again. There were the stock standard carnival games, but nothing really caught her eye. Her idle musings were interrupted by an apron-clad lizardgirl walking in front of her, brown eyes gleaming with excitement.
  82.  
  83.     “Excuse me, miss. You look like you could use our services.” The lizardgirl said. “Your claws look like they could use a good filing.”
  84.  
  85.     “Really now?” Miltia held her claws up. The five inch long claws followed the curve of her fingers well. She didn’t see any cracks or chips in them and the color was a uniform bone white. “They look fine to me.”
  86.  
  87.     “Oh, but they are a bit long, don’t you think. I’ve found that claws like mine are far more appealing to men.” The girl held out her hand. Her claws seemed like little nubs, barely longer than a guitar pick. They looked sharp, but upon closer inspection were smooth on the tip. They were less like claws and more like slightly elongated fingernails.
  88.  
  89.     “I think I’m fine with my talons at the moment. And I think my boyfriend is fine with it too.”
  90.  
  91.     The lizardgirl’s eyes widened in surprise. “But how do you write? Or avoid scratching him? Or cuddle with him or…”
  92.  
  93.     “Carefully. I appreciate your sentiment, but I think I’ll have to decline.”
  94.  
  95. ----------
  96.  
  97.     “So what do you wish to talk about?” Aidan asked. He and Asta were sitting opposite each other in a booth at a small café. The radio was blaring jazz and drowning out the ambient conversations around them.
  98.  
  99.     “Nothing related to the cabal, not exactly. But, well, I have some suspicions about our rogue element, about the one who killed both Mason and the cabal succubus.”
  100.  
  101.     “Oh? Do tell.”
  102.  
  103.     “Yes, the autopsy for the latter victim finally came in. Stabbed through the heart was an understatement. Whatever implement the killer used managed to break through the back ribs, puncture the heart, break through the fronts ribs, through the blood bag, and then finally break through the bones in the palm.”
  104.  
  105.     “That’s quite the wound.”
  106.  
  107.     “Mmhmm. I don’t think there is any implement to our knowledge that could cause such damage in one thrust. Reports say that the killer was pressed up against the victim, so the weapon couldn’t have been larger than say, a forearm’s length. Even if you had a knife made out of angelsteel, it’s going to chip, bend, or even crack under all that force, no matter how good the forging is.”
  108.  
  109.     “So you are suggesting that this mysterious killer did not use some conventional weapon?” Aidan mused.
  110.  
  111.     “More or less. The wound, when inspected from entry to exit, resembles that of a claw than a blade. And that’s when it hit me.” Asta looked around cautiously before continuing in a quieter and graver tone. “The killer had superb marksmanship, enough to shoot a man through the heart several stories above and in sync with the fireworks to mask the muzzle flash and sound. He or she utilized a Gerhild rifle to do so. The clock tower had no signs of entry by anyone unusual that night, so the only way the killer could have gotten up there was by climbing or flying. Disguise is out of the question, considering that the killer’s stature was reported as abnormally tall during the second killing. Further, the killer has in his or her possession some sharp curved object that he or she could use to completely puncture a succubus’ torso.”
  112.  
  113.     Asta took out a drama mask and set it on the table. It had the face of a smiling jack-o-lantern, and its eyes and mouth glowed yellow. “But most damning of all is that the killer is somehow in the possession of an IAT mask. We use it to ward off charm magic and see through illusions, along with hide our identities. I gave one to Miltia after our first case together as a parting gift. With all these traits together, Miltia seems like the likeliest subject for our vigilante.”
  114.  
  115.     Aidan smirked. “So you finally figured it out?”
  116.  
  117.     “Finally? How long have you known?” Asta glared at him, leaning back slightly to get away.
  118.  
  119.     Aidan put his hands up. “Nothing officially. The identities of specific Jester agents are known only to our queen. But if there’s anyone out there that knows dear Miltia better than I do, I’ve yet to meet them. Throughout our various missions together, I’ve managed to piece together a decent image of her true profession. She’s terrible at lying, but she is very adept at omitting truths, or parts of truths. And she is surprisingly adept at playing off of people’s assumptions. Tell me, what is your image of a Ranger?”
  120.  
  121.     “Huh? Well, before I met her, I usually pictured them as more pacifistic. Using dart rifles, subduing people and dragging them to the police. Tranquilizing animals and relocating them. Aside from that, I figured as an adventuring type, they’d be keener on doing menial tasks to help the public.”
  122.  
  123.     “An apt description of many Rangers. And then you have my dear wyvern. Equipped with a lethal rifle and knives-for-hands. And yet the vast majority of the time she acts like any other Ranger would, throwing herself headlong into danger to protect the people. And with no subtlety whatsoever, but that’s the linchpin of her plan. When you think assassin, you think someone secretive, someone quiet and careful.”
  124.  
  125.     “I see what you mean. With how Miltia usually acts, she seems like a poor fit for a secretive group of assassins. Hiding right under our noses too. Do you have any ideas what her mission is?”
  126.  
  127.     “Probably…’neutralization,’ of cabal leaders, as she put it when I confronted her. She probably has a personal vendetta against Anne in particular due to eluding capture the previous time. A bit of a conflict of interest between us and her, but it’s nothing that I haven’t negotiated before.”
  128.  
  129.     “Before? I take it the Intelligence Division and the Rangers don’t like each other.”
  130.  
  131.     “We mix like oil and water.” He laughed and shook his head. “On one hand, we have the Intelligence Division, obsessed with protocol and secrecy. Information is relayed on a need to know basis and nothing more, and everyone is clear where they lie in the hierarchy. On the other hand we have the Rangers, who are very fluid in nature. There is no formal command, that’s all based on seniority, and they have the burden of being the public outreach program of the military most of the time. It is quite fortuitous that Miltia and I knew each other prior to being recruited. I’m fairly certain we’re two of the few agents that manage to cooperate relatively well. But enough about us. What about you? What do you intend to do with this revelation?”
  132.  
  133.     Asta glanced aside. “Honestly, I’m not sure. If she does end up killing Anne or any other leader, my bosses aren’t going to be happy. Not to mention that people are still crying for the head of Mason’s killer. But in light of this new information, I’m worried it might cause an international incident. Truth be told, Internal Affairs is debating whether or not to release all information related to Noah Mason’s criminal activity, but I don’t think that’s going to help much. It might cause people’s trust in the government to plummet. From the standpoint of the police department and as my second duty as an officer of the law, Miltia will ultimately be recognized as a vigilante guilty of premeditated murder. So yeah, I have no clue how to proceed. Sorry, this was meant to be our day off. I didn’t want to burden you with all this.”
  134.  
  135.     Aidan flashed a warm smile. “Worry not, these are important questions to ask, and we don’t have much time to answer them. I myself have to work out our little interservice rivalry later in the day. Perhaps once she’s tuckered herself out with all those games. But that’s not going to be the problem, professional disputes like this occur just as frequently as romantic spats for us. The problem is going to be what you and Elizabeth choose to do. If you want my advice, I’d suggest talking to her as soon as possible. Make sure she doesn’t trample all over you, ok?”
  136.  
  137.     He stood up and apologized to an annoyed waitress, as the two of them didn’t order anything. “I ought to go now, there’s a stage production that I wish to observe out of morbid curiosity. Be sure to take my advice, lest I bear witness to a real tragedy.”
  138.  
  139. ----------
  140.  
  141.     “Huh, the flowers are starting to bloom.” Miltia apathetically commented. She caught a white petal in her claws and then let it go, idly watching as a breeze took it away.
  142.  
  143.     “Indeed.” Asta said tersely. She had stumbled upon Miltia soon after leaving the restaurant and the two of them were walking through a park. The vast majority of the other occupants around were busy playing with their children or pets, giving them ample opportunity for an honest conversation. “Sorry to disrupt your streak-“
  144.  
  145.     “It’s fine, I was about done anyways.” The wyvern shrugged. “Not as great a variety as the Savacion Independence Festival, but it’s good for a big city.”
  146.  
  147.     “I’m glad to hear. You were here in the fall last time, right?”
  148.  
  149.     Miltia nodded. “Hard to believe it’s already been four years. Never thought the rookie detective would turn out to be such an experienced officer of the law.”
  150.  
  151.     “Please, I think you’ve done far more growing than I have. Compared to that series of arsons we had to solve last time, this has been going far better, all things considered.”
  152.  
  153.     “No having to run out of burning buildings this time around.  And neither of us has been hospitalized yet. Still, I’m surprised you’re still single.”
  154.  
  155.     Asta’s eyes widened and her cheeks turned red. “I-I. Urr. Yeah. I’ve been married to my job for a while now. Haven’t much time to date.”
  156.  
  157.     Miltia put her hand on the valkyrie’s shoulders. “Don’t worry too much. It’ll come when it comes. Maybe you should get someone that’s as big a workaholic as you are. Or you can go my route and get a complete slacker to balance yourself out.”
  158.  
  159.     “Ahaha.” Asta sighed. “Maybe. I should probably start thinking about how I dress after this. I doubt most guys like polos and khakis or suits. I suppose my appearance hasn’t been that high on my priorities. I should pick up a hobby or two as well, something outside of work.”
  160.  
  161.     “Well, I somehow managed to get Aidan, so there’s that. Look at this, must be a stray.” Miltia said as she knelt down and petted a scruffy collarless dog. “Well, if you’re truly hopeless, I’m sure this little boy needs a home. Just make sure you don’t go overboard. Pets make good company, but they aren’t a substitute for other people. Oh, and you seem a bit apprehensive for some reason. Is something the matter?”
  162.  
  163.     “Saw right through me huh?” Asta said in a resigned tone. She knelt down and started playing with the stray as well. “You’re really perceptive sometimes. Then again, you did figure out my past as a knight within a week of knowing me. Haha. You know, my dad used to have a hunting dog back home.”
  164.  
  165.     “Considering who I grew up with and to whom I’m practically married, I have experience in these things. So tell me, why are you staring at me like I’m about to murder you.”
  166.  
  167.     The valkyrie sighed, her face darkening as she looked Miltia in the eyes. “Well, I still have my job as a detective, and I managed to find a lead on who our mysterious killer might be.”
  168.  
  169.     “You figured out that it might be me.” Miltia tersely interrupted.
  170.  
  171.     “And with the evidence I have, the most likely suspect is-wait, what? You knew?”
  172.  
  173.     The wyvern emitted a quiet chuckle, although her face remained in its usual dour expression. “I was honestly wondering when you would figure it out. I thought the mention of the mask two nights ago would have been a big red flag for you, but you didn’t even flinch.”
  174.  
  175.     “My first assumption was a rogue Internal Affairs agent. Anyways, let’s be quite clear, I have no intentions of fighting you. If I did, you’d probably rip me in half within seconds.”
  176.  
  177.     “Likewise. And you would probably last longer if you had your knight gear on you. I suppose you have a lot of questions. I’ll do my best to answer them, but bear in mind that parts of my mission are strictly top secret.” She rubbed the dog’s belly as she joked. “With this mutt as my witness, I’ll be as truthful as possible.”
  178.  
  179.     “Hah. Alright. First, what is your objective?”
  180.  
  181.     “I was assigned to neutralize Anne and any other high ranking cabal members. Killing Noah Mason and the succubus was merely to limit the cabal’s reach inside the city. Since the local government and the Sinstran consulate are now free of any significant infiltration, the remaining members have fewer places to hide and can no longer have their friends clean up their crimes.”
  182.  
  183.     “Makes sense. IAT did a little purge of the police department and our own ranks a while back, so we should be clean too. Next, what exactly do you mean by neutralize?”
  184.  
  185.     Miltia shrugged. “For the most part, Jesters have a wide degree of autonomy. While most of us prefer just killing our targets, so long as they’re rendered incapable, we consider our missions a success. She’s probably more valuable alive, but I’m not letting her slip through my grasp again. If she runs and the police are incapable of catching her, I will blow her brains out.”
  186.  
  187.     “Well, I can’t say no to that. Glad you’re being diplomatic at least. Can you tell me how you knew about Mason? Or the cabal in general?”
  188.  
  189.     “I think my sources would prefer to stay anonymous. And beyond our late friend, I don’t know much more than you guys do.”
  190.  
  191.     “So who gave you marching orders?
  192.  
  193.     “That’s technically classified, but anyone who’s heard rumors about Jester probably already know so there’s no point in hiding it. I answer directly to Queen Irina herself.”
  194.  
  195.     “The queen herself, huh? I know my orders come from the capitol, didn’t realize yours were just as high up too. Why has she taken an interest in this?”
  196.  
  197.     “That’s top secret, unfortunately. Consider my presence here an attempt at being proactive. The exact nature of my mission here would probably cause an international crisis.”
  198.  
  199.     “The events you’ve set in motion are already on the brink of causing an international crisis.” An unamused Asta retorted. “People want to lynch Mason’s killer, and we’re still debating whether or not we should release information on Sanguine infiltration.”
  200.  
  201.     “Lose-lose situation huh? Well you can’t keep quiet forever. Might as well come clean, although you can redact my and Aidan’s role in all this, better for us that way.”
  202.  
  203.     “Uh huh, and leave our government to shoulder the blame. Oh well, suppose it isn’t our place to decide what happens. That’s up to the politicians and our bosses.”
  204.  
  205.     “Suppose so. At the very least, we should focus on trying to catch the cabal first so the public doesn’t add incompetence to their list of greivances.”
  206.  
  207.     “Agreed.” Asta face lightened significantly as she smiled. “That’s enough question and answer for now, it’s our day off. We should be enjoying ourselves. Oh and one last thing. This might be completely off the mark, but it bears asking anyways. Do you have any personal involvement in this case? Your behavior is a bit different from last time. More heated and willing to charge into the thick of it.”
  208.  
  209.     Miltia sighed. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got my own stakes, but I won’t drag you or Aidan into them, no matter how nosy he is. As for why, well, let’s just say they’re called personal issues for a reason and leave it at that. You have them too, so don’t act all high and mighty! There’s probably things you aren’t telling me. Uh. Sorry about blowing up like that, I don’t feel comfortable talking about stuff like this, even to Aidan or my sister. Although they have a habit of bringing it up anytime we meet.”
  210.  
  211.     “Oh, you have a sister?”
  212.  
  213.     “Yeah, a younger one. Technically a half-sister, but that doesn’t matter much to me. Her name’s Aria.” Miltia took a photo out of her jacket pocket. In it were two wyverns with clay red scales and lilac hair, the shorter one had hair down to her shoulders and was smiling innocently. Her left eye was covered with an eyepatch and Miltia’s hand rested on top of her head, in between her horns. In a rare occasion, Miltia had a faint smile on her face.
  214.  
  215.     “Cute. Also, I think this is the only time I’ve ever seen your smile. But, um…” her eyes were focused on the eyepatch.
  216.  
  217.     “Yeah, everyone acts like that. Don’t worry, she’s not blind in it. Her father, my step-father, was a mage. Somehow, she ended up developing some form of enhanced vision in her left eye. She can ‘see’ magical energy so to speak. Everything, from natural to miraculous, even spirit energy if it’s in high quantities. Since we lived in a demonic realm, she had to get an enchanted eyepatch to avoid being blinded by all the demonic energy in the air.”
  218.  
  219.     “Huh. I can at the very least sense demonic and angelic energy if I concentrate, it was part of my training. The natural energies are completely invisible to me though. I’ve never heard of such an ability being innate however. Or being capable of detecting all kinds of magic.”
  220.  
  221.     “Trust me, even the matriarch was baffled. It wasn’t the only thing she inherited from her father, though. She has his aptitude with magic and unfortunately his archaeology addiction. She’s over in the Empire now, digging up some pre-Lilithian ruins.”
  222.  
  223.     “Interesting, maybe we’ll be hearing about her in the news someday. And as petty as this sounds, I have to do it since you sprung it on me. Does she have a boyfriend?”
  224.  
  225.     Miltia emitted another quiet chuckle. “Yeah, she does. She met him while in Ranger training. The guy’s ex-Dominion, his father was an Imperial hero that fell in love with a Dominion officer apparently. So, her boyfriend was kind of enchanted with the prospect of travelling outside the Dominion of Man and following in his father’s footsteps. Get this, his idea was to sign up for border patrol and then desert. A friend of mine down in Blackgate managed to convince him to join the Rangers before he could try something even crazier.”
  226.  
  227.     “That’s quite the story, what’s he like.”
  228.  
  229.     “Ugh, he’s just as energetic as Aria, but a different kind. Just looking after the two of them together can tire you out. Aria is openly excitable and flits around like an adorable and annoying gnat. Her boyfriend, Douglas, on the other hand, he has a quiet intensity about him. You know he’s got harebrained schemes, but he’s so calm and quiet that you never know what his schemes are.”
  230.  
  231.     “Almost like you, then.” Asta smirked.
  232.  
  233.     “I guess. Oh.” Miltia refocused her attention on the dog the two had been ignoring. He had fallen asleep on Asta’s lap and was snoring peacefully. “Guess he got bored with all our girl talk. So, what should we do with him?”
  234.  
  235.     “Well, I might stick around for a while and try to find out if he has an owner. Barring that, I might take him to a shelter. Or maybe I should adopt him, not like I have any hobbies to spend money on.”
  236.  
  237.     “Seems like you two have taken a liking to each other already. I’m gonna go see if I can find the others. Barring that, I think I have a good idea of where Aidan is, if worst comes to worst.” Miltia playfully said as she stood up and stretched her wings. “I’ll let you two spend some quality time together, see if you can stand living with each other 24/7. Remember, that’s the basis of all good relationships.”
  238.  
  239.     Asta blushed and stammered, before simmering quietly for a moment. “Now you’re just mocking me.”
  240.  
  241.     Miltia had her usual stoic visage, but Asta saw a mischievous fire in her eyes, which only reinforced the valkyrie’s assertion. Miltia said nothing in response as she jumped into the air and flew off.
  242.  
  243. ----------
  244.  
  245.     “It’s your kind that don’t know your place.” An angel spat out as she pointed a sword at a man’s throat. The man was tied up and forced to kneel before her. His armor had a plastic sheen to it and had multiple cheap lights attached to it. “We are longer lived, are magically superior, our culture by far more advanced, how could humans be anything but inferior? Be grateful that we have given you a place in our heavenly host at all.”
  246.  
  247.     “Oh, sure as your fucktoys.” The man replied in an overly gruff voice.
  248.  
  249.     “Please. Do not lump us in with those hedonistic demons. They who hold no wants beyond their own desires. We serve a higher purpose, a greater good.”
  250.  
  251.     In the audience, Elizabeth looked simultaneously bored and irritated, her eyes and ears were drooping. “You know, I had low expectations going into this, but…”
  252.  
  253.     “This somehow manages to reach new lows?” Aidan asked. “At least the actors make it bearable, in a comedic way. It seems to be the only part of this play they bothered spending money on.”
  254.  
  255.     “Yeah, at least they’re good enough to know how bad the script is. It’s entertaining to watch them have fun at least.”
  256.  
  257.     “A greater good? Rich coming from the people that invaded our world. Forced us to change our way of life. With how you’ve acted, I’d say you are anything but angels.” The man growled out, earning some quiet chuckles from the audience because of how histrionic he was. “But us lowly humans will have the last laugh.”
  258.  
  259.     “Oh, and how will you do so? Your armies have been destroyed. More and more cities are surrendering to us every day. Even now, the Human Union is the only free country left, and their borders are closing in like a noose around your neck.” The angel said as she pushed her sword closer to the man’s throat.
  260.  
  261.     “Go ahead, fuck your prize, I’m right here. If you have boys, they’ll be human. If you have girls, they’ll be human. Try to turn me into one of those fucking nephil, it’ll do nothing to fix this. We’ve finally set the human race free.”
  262.  
  263.     “What?! So you’re intention is to slowly commit the genocide of two races. I’ve no love for the demons, but to kill them in such as slow and insidious way is just, just-“
  264.  
  265.     “Monstrous, just like you!” The man smiled as he went off script, earning audible groans from the audience. The chuckles from his compatriot and the stagehands backstage were all the satisfaction he needed. That and the angry scowl of the scriptwriter sitting in the VIP section.
  266.  
  267.     “Humans are now in the minority, hairless ape. Do you intend to send this world crumbling down? And for what, to retain your so-called humanity? We offered you peace, purpose, and you would turn that down?” the angel said with exaggerated somberness.
  268.  
  269.     The man uttered an incredibly clichéd villainous laugh. “Oh we aren’t saving this world. There is no hope for this world, it is doomed. We’re doing this to give the next one a fighting chance. We never hated you monsters to begin with. In fact we thought that demons, angels, and humans could all live together. So long as we respected each other’s ways of life. The new world, they’ll be different. Not human, not angel, not demon, not monster either.” The man trailed off as even he got bored of his monologue.
  270.  
  271.     “And now they’re sermonizing. Terrific.” Elizabeth groaned.
  272.  
  273.     “It’s clear who was meant to hear this, and that makes all of this even worse. Generally, treating your audience like children is a horrid idea.” Aidan commented. “I don’t mind people making additions to Fall of Haven, it’s been around for millennia. That and good legends are inevitably added to over the span of generations. But this adds nothing of value. And the characters completely contradict the source material. And openly inconsistent within this work itself.”
  274.  
  275.     “I see you two are enjoying this tragedy in the making.” Miltia said as she sat down to the right of Aidan. “Did I miss anything?”
  276.  
  277.     “Oh we wouldn’t know, we stopped paying attention to the plot about fifteen minutes ago.” Elizabeth replied. “I think the actors stopped caring too.”
  278.  
  279.     “The visionaries behind this travesty don’t seem too pleased by it.” Aidan joked as he pointed to a balcony full of scowling men and women flanked by bodyguards. “I guess justice is punctual sometimes. Which reminds me, please tell me you didn’t sneak in dear.”
  280.  
  281.     Miltia scoffed. “I’m not like you. I actually pay on a consistent basis. Maybe you ought to stop flirting with every female clerk you encounter for discounts. Or offering to play music at every venue for free drinks.”
  282.  
  283.     “Well if I have talents, it’d be a shame to waste them, yes? Anyhow, let’s get back to watching this train wreck in motion. That’s even more fun than our bickering.”
  284.  
  285. ----------
  286.  
  287.     The hideout was located in an old projects tenement. Amidst the gamut of drug addicts, dealers, prostitutes, and other petty criminal, most honest folks learned quickly to stay away from anyone remotely suspicious. The old pastel yellow walls were cracked and every now and again a cockroach would skitter across the ground.
  288.  
  289. “The police have gotten rather tenacious lately.” A hooded figure said.
  290.  
  291.     “Well of course, there’s a festival.” Another hooded figure replied. “Their intensity is not the problem. Someone has been hunting down our infiltrators. Without that safety net, they can finally turn their guns on us.”
  292.  
  293.     “Quite.” Anne’s voice came out from behind her hood. “But do not concern yourselves with the police, with the exception of that one ex-military lieutenant and that elf. The rest are too incompetent to root us out even now. Our main concern should be avoiding contact with the Internal Affairs Taskforce and the Sinstran Intelligence Division.”
  294.  
  295.     “The IAT have eyes and ears everywhere, if we still had our plants we wouldn’t be operating blind.” The person pointed at a map. “This blood bank right here can provide us with more fuel should we need it. Assuming that they haven’t killed our infiltrators there yet. Aside from that, there’s no shortage of street gangs we can enthrall if we need dumb muscle. If we trigger some gang wars, I’m sure people won’t notice it if some beggars or prostitutes go missing.”
  296.  
  297.     “Be that as it may, my current disguise will only last so long. That damnable mayor’s wife is starting to catch on, not to mention that the Provincial Guard has the real Anastasia somewhere. I say we take our losses and move on. There’s no sense in staying in hostile territory, my time in the Dominion taught me that much.”
  298.  
  299.     “But where should we go then? The Empire is vast, but those knights of theirs are persistent and skilled. We go there, we’ll be hounded day and night by every order under the Seraph’s banner. After the disaster last winter, we don’t even have enough manpower to build a holding in there anyways. We can’t move to Sinstra, too small and militaristic. We already got driven out last winter, and to be quite honest I don’t really feel comfortable in a country that has more guns than people. The Dominion is a complete and utter pipedream, too much anti-magic tech out there.”
  300.  
  301.     “True, true. And mages like us wouldn’t survive in the west. Those monsters are too vicious and barbaric for most civilized folks.” Anne said. “So I proposed we move to the south, to the lands of the vampiric families. The ones that have rejected the Sinstran’s so-called mercy through abstinence. I imagine they would be rather sympathetic to our plight.”
  302.  
  303.     “That’s not going to be easy, Anne. First we have to make it out of this city with enough blood to last us the trip southwards. Then we have to either cross through Sinstra or the Empire, then through the Dominion-Imperial DMZ before we get that far south.”
  304.  
  305.     “And that’s why I’m in command of this cabal, yes? We’re not going to go by land, we’re taking boats. I’ve managed to make a deal with a certain school of shark mermaids, and they’re very willing to ferry us along the coast, past the Dominion’s anti-magic border systems.” She said as she trailed her index finger down along the coast of another map. “We’ll land at a port city, take a train west to another port, and then hire privateers to sail through the Atic Gulf.”
  306.  
  307.     “And how are we going to pay for all this?”
  308.  
  309.     “We still have some unharvested bloodbags around, and I know for a fact that those shark mermaids have a taste for human flesh. That will get us through the first leg of the journey. For train and privateer fare, we need to spend the next few days emptying and liquidating any assets we and our infiltrators and collaborators have. Barring that, we’re already criminals in the eyes of society, so I’m sure no one here is averse to looting our oppressors, yes?”
  310.  
  311.     “Well, I don’t have as much beef with Cognos as I do the Empire, self-righteous pricks, but I won’t deny that this string of humiliations is enraging to a degree. So-“ the figure quickly swiveled his head around. “Did anyone hear that?”
  312.  
  313.     “We’ve been compromised.” Anne replied as she sent a gust of freezing wind around a corner, peeling off the dried paint. A faint light shone from behind the corner as a figure clad in metal from head to toe charged wordlessly. A claymore scratched the torso of one mage, causing a small trickle of blood. “You’re that knight that’s been attacking of us lately. Why are you here? Go and crawl back to your false god, dog.”
  314.  
  315.     The knight offered no response. Instead she charged forwards as a mage erected a barrier to shield himself. The holy magic in the knight’s claymore shattered the barrier, the mage barely avoiding the blade as she swung it downwards.
  316.  
  317.     “Just a little food for thought, there is a Jester operating out here. Not to mention that one of your countrymen is working for the police and Internal Affairs, a valkyrie. Imagine what secrets have been leaked. Perhaps that’s more worthy of your attention than us.” Anne said slyly as she began backing up.
  318.  
  319.     The knight once again offered no response. Moving to slice at Anne’s throat. A gust of wind put a stop to that plan. “Oh, not too concerned are we? Perhaps you and that Jester are in cahoots then? That’s a novel concept, never thought the Empire and Sinstra would ever work together.” She chuckled. “What would your countrymen say about this?”
  320.  
  321.     The knight was unfazed by Anne’s taunts, but paused instead of charging this time. There was no way she could take on all those powerful mages at once, not without help. But at the same time, between her armor and magic and the cramped space, there was little hope that the mages could fight against her and emerge unscathed. She banked her hopes on the assumption that they would rather run than risk injury.
  322.  
  323.     “Hmm. My barbs aren’t working, so you clearly aren’t Imperial.” Anne interrupted her thoughts. “But it’s not important I suppose. When you finally reach your masters, whoever they are, we’ll be long gone.” A dense mist filled the air. “This is goodbye, little knight.”
  324.  
  325.     The knight blindly groped around the room before finding and opening a window. When the mist cleared, it was as if there was no one living here to begin with. Any sign of the cabal disappeared completely. She cursed to herself before taking out a radio.
  326.  
  327.     “Agent Dolfori here, did you guys hear all that? Yeah, you better give me something extra for this, I wasn’t supposed to be working today. No, I let them go, I’m fairly certain neither of us could win in that engagement. Why? They’re powerful with magic, no doubt. But in those close quarters, I get the feeling they had to hold back to avoid bringing down the building. Except for Anne of course, she was fairly prepared for a close quarter engagement. Yeah, it’s not that much of a loss, we know what they’re doing now at least. We probably don’t even need to hunt down their other hideouts. Tell the police about their plans in case they do start looting places. Right, thanks. Anyways, after that, I suppose we ought to set up a trap for them at the harbor. Of course it’s going to be at the harbor, you can’t board ships anywhere but there unless you want to jump off a cliff.”
  328.  
  329.     “Moving on, about the Mason case. Yes, I know it’s already resolved but this is for my day job. Consider it a conflict of interest, I’m friends with his killer. No, she’s not a vigilante, she’s a Jester. Well I sure hope you or someone in Luminis is working out a deal with the queen, otherwise this is an international controversy in the making. Yeah, well, you Cognos types value your neutrality, so you better work out something. My opinion? For what little it’s worth, I say we come clean about Mason, but that’s it. If people knew that we allowed Sinstran agents to operate freely within our borders, our friendship might be strained beyond repair. Right, now that’s all you’re getting out of me, I actually want to slack off today.”
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