Oct 17th, 2018
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  1. Tags: Lilim, Mystery, No smut
  2. Length: ~25k Words
  3. Commissioned by: Murloc
  4. Want something written? Check
  6. ---
  8. Squish.
  10. Squish.
  12. Each movement of her fingers created a sound in return, pushing and pulling with extreme caution and focus, a sight and noise those around her could hardly bear without grimaces of dread and disgust. Blood and flesh, all in its grotesque detail in the dead-silent room; over a table rested an unconscious man, and there and then from his chest was so meticulously pulled out a glass shard.
  14. Surgery. Messy, though controlled. The progress showed on her hands and clothing, smeared with the blood from the incisions she herself had cut. The distinct sound of metal on metal rang out as she dropped the bloodied princers and shard onto a plate of numerous other glass pieces, to then bring both her hands to the chest again. With her hands she guided the walls of the incision together, pushing in specific areas with calculated force; though those around her had witnessed their fair share of surgeries day after day, still none could hide the unnerved amazement at the cuts slowly healing back up through her magic. Amazement at her talents, disgust at the gory show, it mattered little anymore.
  16. In due time, it had healed, needing not even a stitch. With a pass from her arm to clear the sweat off her brow, the red-eyed then grabbed a cloth and cleaned the excess of blood over the body, before leaving it aside.
  18. "Done." She said as she pulled down the cloth which had covered her mouth, to which the ones present in the room immediately acknowledged by leaving in haste.
  20. Some, inevitably, had done so covering their mouth. At the same time, two of her assistants by the corner, succubi as they were, calmly stepped over to the wheel-bottomed table where the patient rested, put a blanket-like cloth over him, and guided it elsewhere, taking the patient out through the same door.
  22. Unamused at those who could hardly hold their breakfast, she reached for another cloth and cleaned her hands, at least as much as she could with the over-glorified rag that it was. A glass shard, she saw on the plate, surrounded by a few others. A bar fight, no doubt. That he had been taken all the way out of the wall dividing the city in two instead of left to die, from the inner segment to the outer where she resided, hinted that he must've been quite the wealthy man in either currency or contacts. May he reconsider his drunkenness, she thought; then again, with all the blood loss suffered, only incubization would save him, condemning him not to return to the inner city.
  24. Leaving the rag aside, she departed the room. Past the doors she entered a small hallway, to then end in the main room of the building. Though she had expected once more for it to be desolated save for the guard managing the big bad book of bureaucratic nightmares and notes, she found another person as well speaking with the former, one she had never seen before. Despite a longsword by his waist, he did not give off the impression of being yet another of the dozens of guards about. A person that glanced at her as she came out, only for his face to contort in disgust.
  26. No wonder, if her clothes still held the proof of what mess of a surgery she had been in, along with what the rag could not clean from her hands. That, or someone from the inner parts who had not gotten used to the sight of a monster, to meet face to face with a lilim of all things.
  28. Or both.
  30. "Can I help you?" She asked, only to receive nothing but blank blinking. Someone's first time in these places, no doubt.
  32. Breaking the awkward silence, the door opened as another man walked in. Elegant in regalia with a warm smile on his face, age reflected in his gray hair ever so slightly receding; the one she recognized as the authority of these parts, at least in civil management.
  34. "I suppose I was correct." He greeted as he approached the front desk. "All the witnesses leaving at the same time made me imagine that the surgery was over."
  36. "As ever." The one behind the desk replied, turning the book around and extending a quill to him while with the other he pointed at the page. "Today's surgery. We're gonna need another book soon."
  38. "I feel they keep sending people who had never even seen a paper cut, Secretary." Said the lilim, approaching them group that formed. "I fear I'll have to keep one of my girls with a bucket and mop at the ready."
  40. "Please, just Charles will do." Said the secretary, signing on the book. "Plus, it's hardly a surprise. Nobody wants to witness a surgery, but rules are rules... Say, one signature is missing."
  42. "What?" She asked, looking at the book.
  44. "One of the witnesses ran off without signing." Answered the one behind the desk. "He's probably emptying his stomach in a nearby alley."
  46. At the answer, the lilim groaned as she stepped away.
  48. "Why do I need to wait till everyone signed? Why do I even need to sign? Who makes these rules?!" She ranted, to then plop down onto a chair.
  50. "Pains me to see you going through this, when you're hardly involved in anything that demands it." The Secretary shook his head. "Maybe one day they'll trust monsters enough to drop all the brutal scrutiny and let you do your work. Say, have you met Mackenzie here?"
  52. "Eh?" She asked, to see Charles extend his hand towards the one she had seen upon coming out of the surgery room. At the same time, the man exchanged glances between Charles and the lilim, as if unknowing what he was expected to do at the moment.
  54. "Go on, introduce yourselves."
  56. Immediately, she looked at her own hands. To extend one for a handshake seemed stupid.
  58. "I'm Sana. I handle the surgeries," she said, for her voice to then turn into a mutter as she turned her eyes aside in frown, "although I hardly even do that with all this pencil-pushing I'm forced into."
  60. "...Mackenzie." He replied. "I was assigned to you for the time being."
  62. "To me? For what?"
  64. He merely shrugged. "'Keep an eye on her', they said."
  66. "So yet another guard...?"
  68. "He was one of the King's bodyguards before being sent here." Asked Charles, just to receive her confused stare. "The king arranged for an event that'll happen soon. A few select monsters will be allowed with the wall, as if the king was testing to see how much they could be trusted. Security will be hell on earth here, unfortunately."
  70. Her silence still remained as she let those words sink, thinking them over and over.
  72. "Do they still distrust me that much, that I'm given a warden?" She asked.
  74. "It may be a good while before the situation improves for you," answered Charles, "but it's still great news that the king approved of this idea. Things are changing for the better, no?"
  76. Sana clicked her tongue, to then stare off aimlessly around in thought.
  78. "So... We have to wait till that last guy comes back to sign?" She asked.
  80. "Regrettably." Answered Charles. "Unless... Mackenzie, I understand that the event has not started just yet. Are you available right now for hire, with the task to bring the last witness here to sign as quickly as possible? You'll be paid generously."
  82. "Say no more." Said Mackenzie, turning about and leaving the room without a second thought. Though Charles followed him with his eyes and a smile, Sana stared with quite the puzzled look.
  84. ---
  86. The day had arrived, and so it had ended. A single day event, as mundane as it could get to those not involved.
  88. Early dawn, of the next day. Luck favoured Mackenzie's path southward; had the lilim's hospital area been in a more unfortunate direction, the sun would shine on his face too much for comfort in these awfully early hours. The streets lay desolate, all its inhabitants either still asleep or just waking up, granting him a serene peace over what lack of monster activity he came across. Felt like a joke that he'd go from being one of the many bodyguards of the king himself to being assigned as a lilim's warden; he certainly suffered no shyness in letting his aversions known to the king, the one who ended up assigning him in the first place. Punishment for behaviour he had yet to recognize as mistaken? Perhaps. Who knew.
  90. The hospital. From the first time he had seen it, it seemed as anything but. As if it had been an act of re-purposing an abandoned building, its outer aesthetic contrasted with what care and dedication one would expect in surgery and its facilities; an abandoned school? A warehouse? Workshop? Only God knew. Hardly a surprise; the outskirts weren't the place one would expect a hospital in, when the inner city would not only fare better in resources but also in its reach, as nobody would willingly march a city's length to one. 'Makeshift' seemed the best description.
  92. For a miracle worker, it seemed contradictory. Or fitting, ironically.
  94. Crossing the door, he found the lilim sitting by the desk, palm over her cheek betraying the nap she broke out of at his entrance.
  96. "Mackenzie? I thought the event was already over." She said.
  98. "It is." He replied. "They told me to stay here for a while longer."
  100. "Really? What for?"
  102. "They've gotten paranoid. Last night they ended up finding--"
  104. The door abruptly swung open. A man in armor walked in, flanked by two spearmen; the clothing and ornaments in his armor alone gave away his identity, the Captain of the Guard himself, the ultimate authority concerning the parts the monsters inhabited. An almost clean-shaven man of moderate age, sporting an eternal frown as if he had been born both grumpy and old, sharp features of his skull standing out by the slim skin.
  106. "Mackenzie." He greeted, approaching him with no signs of friendliness.
  108. "Konrad." Said Mackenzie. He had nothing to fear, or at least he told such thing to himself. Both of them answered equally to the king himself. "What do you want?"
  110. With a nod to one of his guards, Konrad commander the one to step towards Mackenzie while rummaging one of his pouches. Out of it he took a vial with a clear liquid, along with a small dagger. A sight obvious enough for Mackenzie to grow a distasteful frown. Though the guard approached to carry out his task himself, Mackenzie robbed the vial and knife off him, to then roll up his sleeve and make a superficial cut on his arm where a wound would bother the least. He took the cork off the vial and placed it next to the wound, and waited till a drop of blood fell. It slid down the vial till it came into contact with the liquid, at which point he put the cork back and handed it to Konrad.
  112. Konrad looked on as the two substances mixed, shaking it ever so slightly in hints of impatience. Yet, nothing happened.
  114. "...You're clear." He said with almost a hint of disappointment, departing with his guards.
  116. When Mackenzie turned, he found Sana staring with an eyebrow raised.
  118. "Why would they suspect you of being an incubus now of all times?" She asked.
  120. "Because some of the monsters that were let into the city ended up turning a few people into incubi." He answered, causing no shortage of surprise in her. "Well, that's most likely what happened. They don't know who did it, but they found someone turned into an incubus, and everyone's paranoid that there are more they didn't find just yet."
  122. "And they sent you to me over thinking I did it?"
  124. "Don't know, don't care."
  126. "You... don't believe I did it?"
  128. "I've had my eye on you since before you even knew of the event. I'm not incompetent enough to miss if you did anything strange. Probably why Konrad suspected me, since I'm supposed to be the one watching over you."
  130. Sana could not hide what sigh of frustration escaped her lips.
  132. "They probably kept tabs on what the monsters did within the city." She said. "Even if they didn't, they must've been interrogating the monsters non-stop ever since these news got out. I find it hard to believe those monsters could've done anything, even if they had been given the chance."
  134. Thoughts remained in Mackenzie's head which he felt better not to speak. That she didn't personally do it is obvious, though still he felt skepticism over her having sent subordinates which answered to her. It was too early in the investigation to come to any conclusion, and by virtue of that, any possibility had the chance of being true.
  136. At that moment, the door creaked open. Though paranoia over Konrad's return led Mackenzie to fear the worst, it still only was the graying secretary who crossed the door.
  138. "Charles?" Greeted Sana. "Good timing, everything's a mess."
  140. "I feared as much." He said, approaching the group. "Mackenzie here must've told you already. I saw Konrad walking away as well, and I can only imagine what it was for."
  142. "He thought I turned into an incubus." Said Mackenzie with irritation in his voice.
  144. "Konrad..." He sighed. "I fear sometimes he's too unpredictable. If he decides to do his own investigation on the matter, it might make things even worse."
  146. "He's not part of it?" Asked Sana.
  148. "No. I'm the one in charge for the time being, seeing as it'd still be something that'd fall under the authority of my office. What has Mackenzie told you so far?"
  150. "They found someone turned into an incubus."
  152. "Then you're not missing much. All that we know for the time being is that the person in question was an incubus by the time we found him. Pure luck that someone was paranoid enough about his behaviour to report it, although maybe it's only paranoia when one is wrong. He has no recollection of ever interacting with a monster, much less that day, and after my men investigated his house, they found that something he drank had been... 'poisoned' with demonic energy. We have no idea who might've done it, unfortunately, and we can only imagine that there must be several more cases like this one that we have yet to discover, so the inner city is in the middle of a witch hunt, though luckily not as violent as one would imagine."
  154. Sana sighed out loud in agony at his words, letting her head fall into her crossed arms over the desk. It'd certainly be a long, long while before scrutiny got any less obstructive.
  156. "You certainly trust her quite a bit to give her so much information this early." Said Mackenzie.
  158. "Do I?" He asked, turning to face him. "How about you? Can you confirm will full certainty that she has been under your watch all this time?"
  160. "Yes, I can."
  162. At his words, Charles grew a warm smile. "Is that not proof enough that I can trust her? Even Konrad had proven you were not an incubus, earlier."
  164. "...Point taken."
  166. "Charles, is there anything I can do to help?" Asked Sana, raising her head to him.
  168. At the question, both Charles and Mackenzie turned to face her in wonder.
  170. "I... wish I could let you." He said, finding difficulty in getting the words out. "Even though I trust that you had nothing to do with it, to have someone considered a suspect get involved in the investigation will only invite disaster. It doesn't help that you're a lilim, there's not much you can't do if you put your mind to it, which is what frightens everyone the most; other than Mackenzie and I, there aren't many people that can trust your intentions."
  172. Though clearly in though in his expression, a silence ensued for all to bear.
  174. "Although..." He added, gaining the undivided attention of the two before turning his eyes to Mackenzie. "In the case there is an opportunity for the lilim to aid in the investigation, you'll still have to be with her just in case. Would you be fine with getting dragged further into this mess?"
  176. "If it gets me out of these parts."
  178. Charles then turned to Sana. "Give me a few days." He said, causing her to slowly grow a smile from ear to ear. "I'll see if I can do something, but I make no promises."
  180. "Whatever it is, I'll take it." She answered in joy.
  182. ---
  184. Several days later...
  186. The sound of rope grinding against itself rang out in the otherwise silent front room of the hospital, tying the lilim's hands together. Numerous guards stood vigilant as Mackenzie himself carried out the act, though guards of a certain aesthetic betraying their authority to someone else other than the Captain of the Guard.
  188. "Come on, walk." Ordered Mackenzie, the knots done and now leading Sana out the room as the guards followed.
  190. Outside, more guards of the same allegiance waited, as did the one whose authority they fell under: The Secretary.
  192. "It's regrettable that things have come to this, lilim." Said Charles with a sorrowful look as Mackenzie and Sana arrived to him. In return, Sana said nothing, returning only a scowl.
  194. At the same time, a ruckus formed up as dozens of men approached in haste. More guards, those accompanying the arrival of the Captain of the Guard.
  196. "Secretary, what's going on?" Asked Konrad, marching up to him. There, he caught glimpse of the occurrences, of the lilim's arrest. "Is there any reason why my troops were not tasked with this, despite it being within my area of responsibility?"
  198. "Yes, in fact." Answered Charles. "The investigation has concluded the lilim is too much of a suspect to be left here, and it's too urgent to wait for the orders to get through the bureaucracy. She'll be under my custody for an indefinite period of time."
  200. "Where?"
  202. Before an answer, Charles slowly turned his head to Konrad. "I'm sure you understand that we're going on a need-to-know basis here, Captain."
  204. Konrad's confusion soon turned to a skeptical frown. After a second, he turned and departed with a scoff, his guards following suit in abandoning the premises. Charles and Mackenzie followed with their eyes as they all left, till Charles turned back to Mackenzie.
  206. "Take her away." He ordered. "The rest of you, we're leaving."
  208. Turning back, Charles departed with half of the guards present, leaving Mackenzie and Sana with the other half to leave in the opposite direction to a carriage ready to drive off. Mackenzie and Sana boarded it, and the guards divided in two groups, one at the front and one at the back, to then all depart as one down the street, away from the hospital area.
  210. Within, Mackenzie and Sana sat on opposite ends. Both leaned forward to each other, Mackenzie quietly undoing the knots tying her hands together till it all came free, rope let loose and releasing her from its restraint. Now with nothing to do but wait till they reach their destination, both leaned back on their seats.
  212. "Are you sure you wanna do this?" Asked Sana out of the blue.
  214. In return, Mackenzie glanced back at her for a few seconds in silence.
  216. "I should be asking you that." He answered. "You should know what you've gotten yourself into."
  218. "I know I am responsible for what happens to me, good or bad, but you still got dragged along because of me."
  220. "I didn't. I chose it of my own accord."
  222. "May I ask, why?"
  224. "I felt that helping you and Charles solve this mess would mean I get to return quicker."
  226. More questions lingered in her mind. However, part of her felt like it'd be just nagging at that point, bothering someone for no benefit in return. In the silence, Mackenzie's eyes turned away from hers to the small window of the carriage, none saying a word from then on.
  228. In due time, the wheels came to a halt and signalled their arrival. Mackenzie opened the door and stepped out, followed by Sana, to come out to Charles' guards scattering throughout the perimeter. A watch, as witnesses would prove quite the hindrance. From the high spot of the carriage's rider seat, the guard had glanced around before turning and nodding at Mackenzie.
  230. "It's clear." Said Mackenzie to Sana.
  232. Acknowledging it in silence, Sana took a deep breath and concentrated, staring aimlessly into the void. Though nothing happened for a few seconds, Mackenzie and those guards closest to them came to witness her form altered; her horns, wings, and tail disappeared like ashes blown by the wind, her hair darkened to a jet black color, her eyes slowly turned from crystalline red to a striking gold, and her clothing shifted forms almost befitting of a lesser noblewoman.
  234. So it was that Sana became another person entirely in appearance, at least just enough to not be recognized.
  236. "How do I look?" She asked.
  238. But Mackenzie stood quiet for a second.
  240. "Like a human, and it isn't helping my paranoia."
  242. "I'll take it as compliment."
  244. "Your call. Last chance to turn back."
  246. "I'll pass."
  248. "Very well." He said, to then raise his voice. "My group, we're returning to Charles. Rest of you, take the carriage to the point."
  250. 'The point'; no more than a fake location as to where the lilim would've been held in custody in. Had to be thorough, per Charles' instructions. Half the guards returned to Mackenzie and Sana, while the remaining half escorted the now empty carriage elsewhere. Once all had gathered, they departed in another direction towards the inner city. Though the checkpoints tested each one who passed with paranoid zeal, it'd be Charles' men that'd allow them to cross it without the lilim be found out.
  252. A sound plan, and hopefully a good start.
  254. ---
  256. The double doors of the Secretary's great manor lay open for them, held as they were by those guarding the entrance. Mackenzie, Sana, and the rest of the guards entered, soon to split paths as the two headed onward to meet the one they were after.
  258. An office building, though hardly looking like one. Pleasing to the eye, lacking the cacophony of a hundred steps and voices to be expected from formal bureaucracy, replaced instead by so aesthetic an architecture, of gardens to be seen past the various windows littered about, of wide doorways in the walls letting the fresh air from outside sneak into even the deepest rooms. A place one would not find himself tired of being in; for the secretary's prison in all but name, the place he'd spend most of his waking hours in eternal work save for those few times it demanded his departure outside, it had to be.
  260. At the end of the main room, the took took the staircase. Up a floor, then another, walking higher and higher till they reached the one room they sought. Past the hallway the staircase had led to, adorned with portraits and potted plant life, they arrived to the secretary's office. Once they crossed the doorway, they saw Charles taking notice, turning around from the window overlooking the city to see who it was that arrived.
  262. Rather than a greeting, however, a frown in confusion formed over his unchanging smile.
  264. "...Sana?"
  266. "Yes. We're here as you said." She replied, her and Mackenzie arriving to him.
  268. "Well, the disguise must work quite a bit if it caught me by surprise for a second. Had Mackenzie not been with you, you'd have fooled me for a while."
  270. With a suppressed chuckle, Sana betrayed a hint of a smug smile.
  272. "Time isn't on our favour, I'm afraid." He continued, to then head off to his desk. There Sana and Mackenzie saw littered about a great many papers, gaining their curiosity as the two approached to the other end of the desk; papers he then pointed at. "I've had quite a bit of time to gauge the risks of this plan, and it's... not terribly motivational."
  274. "Picked a nice time to tell us." Said Mackenzie.
  276. "I assure you, had I known earlier I'd have let you two know."
  278. "So, what are we in for."
  280. "The first risk is the most obvious." He said, to then turn his eyes to Sana. "Me, my men, and Mackenzie are the only ones that know what you're doing. Everyone else believes you were arrested and taken elsewhere, and that includes the monsters. They'll see it as an unfair arrest, and truth to be told, it is indeed an unfair arrest. The more time we spend trying to solve this ordeal, the more we run the risks that the monsters who see you favourably start growing restless. I can't fault them, it's a noble thing to demand your release, but you and I know why we can't do that. All in all, we may have some manner of time limit here."
  282. "I understand." Said Sana.
  284. "The other risk is more... tragic, so to speak."
  286. "Never thought I'd heard a risk described like that." Mentioned Mackenzie.
  288. "Nor have I. There is an obvious risk of being discovered. If it were to happen... Sana, you'll have to understand that I'll not be able to defend you. I'm already letting a monster within the wall as it is, a lilim no less. If it were to be discovered that someone in my position was aiding you, we'd be looking at very, very ugly times for this city. If you're discovered, everyone will end up coming to the conclusion that you escaped arrest and forced your way into the city. After how restless everyone is over these 'poisonings', it could be the tipping point to make the radical elements within the city take action en masse against the monsters.'
  290. "Poisonings?" He asked. "Plural?"
  292. "Regrettably, my fears were true." He answered, to then shuffle through the paper and set aside a few. "My men found more victims turned in the same manner. Zero interaction with monsters, and out of the blue ended up showing symptoms. Knowing that monsters can alter their appearance, perhaps that lack of interaction with monsters is redundant, though at least the checkpoint reported the exact same number of monsters the way out as there were on their way in during the event. Well, other than pure speculation, we have nothing; could've been anything, and the victims don't show a pattern just yet."
  294. Sana couldn't help but let out a sigh in disappointment.
  296. "I know what you're thinking." Continued Charles. "It's gonna take a while to get any results. That's why I've booked an inn close for you to spend your time in during this investigation."
  298. "Eh?" Wondered Mackenzie, with Sana sharing the same surprise.
  300. "I'll cover all your expenses. Lodging, three meals a day, a bit more for you to spend about in the city since staying twenty-four-seven in there till you're called would be suspicious at best, and so on."
  302. "Wait, seriously?" Asked Sana.
  304. "What?" He chuckled. "Think I'm gonna leave you stranded out there without a penny after dragging both of you into this mess?"
  306. "I... I don't know what to say. Having this much done for me..."
  308. "Consider it a gift in good faith. I know you must've gone through hardships down there in the hospital, working out miracles only to be treated with suspicion in return. Should be quite the motivator to do your best here, no?"
  310. "Yes, absolutely. I'll do my best!"
  312. "That's the spirit."
  314. But still Mackenzie remained in his state of confusion.
  316. "My paycheck can more than cover it, you know." He said.
  318. "Do you really want to spend your paycheck on that, though?" Asked Charles.
  320. "...No, I do not."
  322. Lightly laughing to himself, Charles nodded his way. "I'll let you two know when I find something. Get yourself acquainted with the place for the time being. Don't get too carried away though, I trust that you two will keep an eye out for anything that could happen on the streets."
  324. "Right. See you around, then." He said, to then turn about and walk away.
  326. "Good luck to both of you."
  328. "To you as well." Said Sana, following suit.
  330. ---
  332. Noon marked their arrival to their new residence, temporary on paper yet who knew if it'd be almost permanent should the investigation drag on. A somewhat high-class place yet still remarkably rustic; Mackenzie raised an eyebrow at the sight, surprised that Charles' choice coincided with what he'd have gone for. Lodging for nobility with so obstructive an etiquette be damned, his taste better preferred relaxation and lazy evenings over any semblance of formality. He had more than enough of it whenever he accompanied the king, either way.
  334. Two rooms had been booked. Directions led them to the upper floor, to find said rooms to be opposite to each other.
  336. Seemed a blessing that Charles wasn't a cheapskate to book one room for the two of them to share.
  338. A thought snuck into his mind. When he turned his head, he already found Sana in her room looking about in wonder. In earlier days when he had to watch over her, at the end of the day he still departed back to the inner city to rest. Though he still would be in the inner city, now a monster would sleep just a room away from him for Lord knows how long.
  340. Better lock the door, just in case.
  342. ---
  344. A few days later...
  346. "Charles, we got here as soon as we got word." Greeted Mackenzie, with him and Sana arriving to Charles' office.
  348. "I'd have imagined you'd take your time in coming here, seeing as it's not terribly urgent." Said Charles, sitting at his desk shuffling his papers about to then take out a few put together. Afterwards, he turned them and left them for Mackenzie and Sana to see as they arrived to the desk. "We found more victims during this time, and I feel like there's a pattern at last."
  350. "Is this another one?" Asked Sana as Mackenzie took the papers.
  352. A profile of a person, even with a somewhat detailed drawing of the one in question. Grumpy in frown as Konrad, yet far, far younger in looks, with somewhat lengthy hair neatly combed aside.
  354. "No, that's our first suspect. Maxwell Allerton He's the head of one of the trading companies based on this city, so quite a powerful person. As it turns out, he benefited quite a bit from these poisonings, by coincidence or not. Rivals mainly. It's too early to tell, but we can't discard the possibility that he may have ordered those poisonings and also targeted a few other random people to throw off the investigation."
  356. "So, what do you need us to do?" Asked Mackenzie, who handed the papers to Sana for her to look at.
  358. "My men have already interrogated him with predictable results. We're keeping an eye on him, and you two should as well; perhaps you'll be able to find something that my men missed. Get acquainted with the area, look around, can't hurt to even just stroll about. To everyone else, you're just two random civilians if many don't recognize you as the king's bodyguard, so they won't suspect you if they see you there."
  360. "Right..."
  362. "So, just go around and see if we come across anything?" Asked Sana, returning the papers to the desk. "I'm a surgeon, not an investigator, I have no experience with this."
  364. "Yes, it's as you say. If nothing else, you can trust Mackenzie to know what to do."
  366. ---
  368. Couldn't miss the place even if one wanted to. Big, both in width and in height, adorned with the insignia of the trading company itself; not a single coin had been spared in its construction if the architecture was anything to go by, elegant and pompous reflecting what insane fortune the enterprise could bring. Even from a few streets away, Mackenzie and Sana could very well tell.
  370. But as they approached further, they came to see a few armoured men by the entrance.
  372. Konrad's.
  374. "They aren't meant to be there, are they?" Asked Sana.
  376. "I don't know. Probably not. Charles already had him interrogated."
  378. And still he kept on walking.
  380. "Are we really gonna just show up to check?" She asked.
  382. "Yes. Is there an issue?"
  384. "I don't know, I'd imagine getting seen by Konrad wouldn't do well."
  386. "They won't recognize you, and he's in no position to do anything about it. Charles leads the investigation, not him."
  388. Soon enough the guards spotted them approach, though they hardly did anything other than stare. As the two got closer, however, a certain noise came to be heard from inside. Loud voices.
  390. Yet, when they almost arrived to the door to peek inside, one of the guards stood in their way.
  392. "We're under orders not to let anyone through for the time being." He said.
  394. "Really?" Said Mackenzie. "The Secretary isn't gonna like that you're fiddling about in places that don't concern you."
  396. A troubled expression grew on the two guards, shifting stares at each other till the one who had blocked them now stepped aside.
  398. "Could frankly not give less of a damn about your questions."
  400. Such was the first thing Mackenzie and Sana could properly comprehend, peeking through the door to find a certain man arguing with Konrad. A man fitting the drawing of the profile down to the smallest details, though with composure almost contrary to that which Sana had imagined. Glass in hand and bottle over the main desk, he argued with tonality of utmost irritation as if it was a shout out on the street.
  402. "I've had enough of talking with the guys Charles sent, so you can kindly fuck off with yours."
  404. "So you won't talk, then?" Asked Konrad in equal annoyance, arms crossed. "Even though a great number of victims specifically benefited you to get rid of?"
  406. "I've been asked that a dozen times already before you got here. There's nothing you can ask me that I haven't answered. Go nag that old man instead of nagging me, will you?"
  408. Sana felt a nudge on her shoulder, to then notice Mackenzie departed. Though curious as to how the argument would continue, she departed with him, walking away from the building.
  410. ---
  412. "Charles, we found something." Said Mackenzie, returning with Sana to the office.
  414. "That was... quick. Very quick." Remarked Charles behind his desk, confusion and worry showing in his expression. "What happened?"
  416. "It was Konrad. We found him trying to interrogate the suspect. His men were guarding the entrance."
  418. "...It's as I feared, then." He said, sinking back into his seat. "He's investigating on his own."
  420. "So he's not part of this at all? How did he know who to go for?"
  422. "He's on his own, though he still gets news on who the victims are from the same sources as I do. He must've put it all together himself, or saw my men heading there first."
  424. "Why would he investigate on his own, if you're already doing that yourself?" Asked Sana.
  426. "That, I don't know. Unless..."
  428. Though Mackenzie and Sana kept quiet as they saw Charles in deep though, they soon came to notice a peculiar rumbling from below.
  430. "...What's that?" Asked Charles, confirming to the two that something unusual occurred.
  432. Charles stood up from his seat, to then walk towards the great window at the end of the room. Sana and Mackenzie followed, to then find the source of the ruckus. Down below on the streets, great multitudes marched in one particular direction. At that moment Charles took out a watch from his pocket.
  434. "Church." He said. "The congregation's hardly a tenth of this most days, though..."
  436. "Something to do with the poisonings, then?" Asked Sana.
  438. "Most likely. Sana, Mackenzie, I want you to check what's going on down there. The last thing we need is the population also getting restless about this whole ordeal."
  440. ---
  442. Following the crowds, they found themselves at the cathedral. Cramped, full to capacity, seats all taken with a great many condemned to stand during sermon.
  444. "For how long have we told ourselves it'd all go right?" Shouted out loud a person up ahead, though Mackenzie and Sana found it difficult to see who it was through all the crowds. "Since the first monster had set foot in our city, we were told there was hardly a risk. From the first day, we were made to believe it was too small an issue to even consider, even as their numbers grew and grew!"
  446. Past the multitude, they finally found the opportunity to see who it was that spoke out for all to hear. A priest, his regalia unmistakable.
  448. "For how long have we lived behind a wall? For how long have we been told that they meant no harm? 'One opportunity', they asked, and what do they do? Poison our kin as soon as they had the chance!"
  450. Mackenzie knew it well who the priest referred to. Looking aside to Sana from the corner of his eyes, he found her no doubt knowing as well, if her slight frown was anything to go by.
  452. But this was no random priest on the street. It was one of those within the cathedral, and all they spoke of would have to be approved by higher authorities within the building. Someone had enabled him.
  454. "Is this what they all talk about?" Mackenzie heard her ask, a tone betraying disbelief and indignation, though sorrow most of all.
  456. "No." He replied, to then depart aside through the crowd with her following suit. "This is new."
  458. In due time, they left the masses, reaching the side of the cathedral. From there, they marched along the wall towards the back.
  460. "If that's new, then what did they use to say?" She asked as they walked.
  462. "Well, this city isn't as anti-monster as something like Lescatie was. The people here couldn't have given a damn, other than just not wanting them to mess with the inner city. The priests preaching that sort of thing would've fallen on deaf ears, so all that was left was to be a man of morals and virtue and whatever else. Part of me is surprised that it suddenly made a one-eighty into preaching against monsters this quick, but another part of me just isn't."
  464. They reached a staircase, and walked above to the upper floor. A cathedral bigger than even the Secretary's building, the pride of the city, though their legs thanked the Lord that a certain man's place only was two flights of stairs above ground. Now, they entered a hallway with the stained glass of a massive window covering one side.
  466. "If it happened this quick, then some must've been waiting for the opportunity." Said Sana. "Right?"
  468. "Right."
  470. "Who are we looking for, then?"
  472. "The bishop."
  474. They arrived to an elegant wooden door, which Mackenzie knocked thrice.
  476. "Come in." Answered a voice from within, prompting him to open the door and cross it with Sana. Within, they found a man in priestly robes with a quill in his hand and a cup in the other, sitting behind a desk with a paper before him. Old as Charles yet with his hair still retaining its chestnut color combed back, with a welcoming smile receiving the two. "Ah, Mackenzie. Fancy seeing you here."
  478. "I'm surprised you even know my name." He replied, just as the bishop gestured towards a pair of chairs by the opposite end of the desk. In silent acknowledgement, both sat down.
  480. "You've been in the King's service long enough for me to recognize you. I fear the feeling isn't mutual."
  482. "Unfortunately."
  484. "You're not a man of formalities, I imagine, so you can just call me Jeremy. Say," he turned to Sana, "who might you be?"
  486. "I'm Sa..." she had begun saying, only to halt herself ever so slowly, receiving a terrified glare from Mackenzie by the corner of his eyes. "...rah. I'm with him for the time being for... mentoring. Long story."
  488. Jeremy remained silent momentarily.
  490. "Pleased to meet you, Sarah." He then said, making Mackenzie almost audibly let out a sigh in relief. Then, he turned again to Mackenzie. "What can I do for you today?"
  492. "I want answers to a few things." Said Mackenzie, placing his elbows over the table as he leaned further in. "That this many people gathered here caught many by surprise, me included, but it's only logical that it'd happen after the poisonings. What strikes me as curious is that the priests seemed to be joining in regarding the fears about the monsters doing it, rather than trying to calm everyone. I imagine you had something to do with it."
  494. He remained quiet, staring at Mackenzie with a certain expression that gave it away he hid nothing, lacking any surprise at his thought process. He gently left his cup on its coaster over the table, letting out a quiet sigh at the same time.
  496. "The priests themselves had the idea, but you're correct in your assumption. I approved of it."
  498. "You know what would happen if everyone is riled up."
  500. "Should push come to shove, the people may even start heading south on their own and attempt to drive the monsters out, correct?"
  502. "Why, then?" Asked Sana.
  504. Jeremy quietly turned his head aside, to hear the muffled preaching of his own priests afar for a few seconds.
  506. "Did you know that I approved of the event as well?" He asked.
  508. "...No." She answered.
  510. "I trusted the monsters, before." He said, turning to her. "Well, 'wanted to' would be better said, since I always had doubts about them. I thought that my fears could've been just paranoia, that if I gave them an actual chance I'd happily find myself wrong, and so I begrudgingly agreed with the king's idea for the event. I kept quiet... and some got poisoned for that, turned into incubi without themselves even knowing. Rather than proven wrong, I was proven right. Now, I just want the monsters gone. I don't hate them, but this is not the place for them to live in."
  512. "So you believe that monsters did it?" Asked Mackenzie.
  514. "Without a doubt. It's too convenient that the day they were let in, some people suddenly turned into incubi. Humans have other means to get rid of their peers as well, ones involving making the other never wake up again."
  516. Pursing his lips and exhaling out his nose, Mackenzie sunk back in his chair and crossed his arms.
  518. "The king was the one who put forth the idea." He said. "It's not too difficult to figure out that he might want to look for their integration, even if through minuscule means. Don't you think that changing the sermon to this topic in such manner would go against his wishes?"
  520. "I'm sure the poisonings themselves have gone against his wishes." Answered the bishop. "I'm only spreading the word. I have not ordered nor will ordered the people to do anything, they'll be the ones to decide. You have to remember, Mackenzie... Many people share these thoughts, but have kept silent for the same reason as I have. You only need to look at how many people arrived to this cathedral today to see a glimpse of the extent."
  522. ---
  524. Tap. Tap. Tap. Charles' fingers incessantly tapped against the desk, his eyes unfocused as he pondered over and over what he had heard from Mackenzie and Sana in front of him. Soon enough, he pursed his lips and shook his head at the complexity of the situation.
  526. "First Konrad, and now Jeremy?" He remarked. "This is one fine mess..."
  528. "I feel Jeremy is taking advantage of the situation." Said Sana.
  530. "Only advantage? The paranoid side of me tells me he could've instigated it in the first place."
  532. "...How?" Asked Mackenzie.
  534. "It's no secret he's been aversive to monsters ever since the start. Even as the idea of the event was being thrown around, it shocked me that he agreed with it; I'd have imagined he'd get overruled due to majority vote. Certainly a great coincidence that the event backfired this bad and he has the people paranoid about monsters enough to flock to him and his priests."
  536. "Are you saying he could've carried out the poisonings?"
  538. "I'm not saying he did, but I'm also not saying there's anything to disprove it. He certainly has the motivations. Konrad, on the other hand... I don't know about him. I can't see the motivation, but I can now imagine his methods. When you imagine he carried out the poisonings, it starts making sense that he'd be so zealous to take over the investigation himself, or at least be viewed as the one investigating as well. Do you know how, Mackenzie?"
  540. "No."
  542. "How about you, Sana?"
  544. Though she kept quiet as she thought his words over, nothing came to her mind.
  546. "...No." She said.
  548. "I thought not. There's certainly an aura that surrounds someone tasked with investigating someone, leaving him almost immune to suspicion to most people. One can't really imagine him having carried out the crime, can he? If Konrad had been the culprit, he'd have certainly fooled me till now. Even though I can't think of a motive, I can still see him and his troops going around under the guise of 'investigating' to eliminate evidence, or even plant it against others."
  550. Mackenzie crossed his arms, conflicted. "Is there a chance that Konrad and Jeremy are cooperating?"
  552. "Very unlikely. It only makes things more complicated, since even if one is the culprit, the other is being honest in his actions. Or perhaps both are, and we're being misled. Well, at least in terms of the poisonings, both could be meddling with things they're better off staying away from."
  554. With a sigh, he sunk back in his chair as he brought his palms to his face, running them down in tired stress.
  556. "We'll do this." He continued. "I'll try to predict a pattern on who the next victim may be, or where the next point of interest that we'd do well to search will be in. Inevitably, I can't really send my men to search or interrogate, that'd be a breach of protocol. You two, on the other hand, can do what I can not. I'm gonna need you to be ready to set out at any time in the following days in case I do find something that Konrad will most likely pay a visit to, even if I find it in the dead of the night--"
  558. "Way to tempt fate." Snickered Mackenzie.
  560. "Then you're all too ready for it now, are you not?" Replied Charles with a quiet laugh. "Point stands. When I call you, you can't waste a single second. You come to me, no matter the time. That'll be all. Understood?"
  562. "Understood." Said both Mackenzie and Sana, to then turn around and depart.
  564. But as they arrived to the doorway of the room, Sana halted in place, several thoughts crossing her mind. A frown grew in her expression, that of confusion and conflicting ideas, a look Mackenzie soon noticed to halt.
  566. "Something wrong?" He asked.
  568. "It's... strange. Wasn't Charles almost describing himself, just now?"
  570. "Hm? How come?"
  572. "He's the investigator, is he not? Has the idea of him being a suspect crossed our minds even once?"
  574. "I don't like what you're implying."
  576. "I'm not implying anything. He's done more than enough for me these last few years. I just find it eerie how much what he said about Konrad also applies to him."
  578. "Has something happened over there?" Asked Charles afar, concern undeniable. No wonder, if they had suddenly halted in such manner.
  580. Mackenzie glances at Charles, then returned his eyes to Sana, who stared at him with such conflicted gaze. He pondered his next move on and on for those few seconds, then decided to go back to the desk. Surprised entirely at his decision, Sana followed him with her eyes from the doorway.
  582. "There may be an issue." Said Mackenzie, arriving to the desk. "Konrad is carrying out his own private investigation about the poisonings, as far as we know. There may be the chance that he's just pretending, and could be running around eliminating evidence and dealing with victims and witnesses, banking on that aura of 'investigator' to make nobody suspect him, right?"
  584. "Right."
  586. "The issue is that... the logic of what you said can also apply to you."
  588. Dead silence. Enough to make a chill run down Sana's spine, as if the point of no return had been crossed and only hardships awaited her for having dared to imply such a thing. Mackenzie had been the one to say it, but she had been the one to suggest such a thing, leaving her with the guilt of causing it all.
  590. "You are aware of what those words mean, Mackenzie."
  592. "I am."
  594. A lengthy pause followed, for Charles to then take a deep breath.
  596. "Is there really anything I could say in my position? The honest man will deny accusations of wrongdoing, and the liar will deny it as well. The difference between me and Konrad is that I'm carrying out the duty of my office by the will of the King after so many years of service, although you and I know of tales of treason and deceit that invalidate that as absolute proof. I'm afraid I'm at the mercy of your judgement here, as well as Sana's."
  598. Silence began anew, this time with Mackenzie unknowing how to respond. So did Sana face the same difficulty, leaving the room without a voice to be heard.
  600. "I know you want to find the truth, regardless of what motivates you." Added Charles, growing a warm smile. "You don't have to fear consequences over what has been implied here. In fact, I'd go so far as to commend you for your courage. Few people would put the truth so high in the list of priorities as to do what you did; there are too many cowards around, I'm afraid. Because of that, I'm sure that you'll be a great aid to us all. For now, you should go and rest. We find many victims in the late hours when the symptoms show up the hardest, so chances are that you'll be waken up terribly early."
  602. "...I understand."
  604. With a nod in farewell from Charles, Mackenzie turned and departed, Sana joining him as the two left Charles' presence.
  606. ---
  608. Not too hot, and not too cold. Rather than a comfortable range in temperature, it seemed a curse instead, overheating with the blanket and freezing without it. What an eldritch manner of sleeping he needed, blanket covering random parts of his body while leaving others exposed, be it arm or leg.
  610. At least, his attempt to sleep, as loud banging on the door woke him up fully.
  612. "Oi, what...?" He asked out loud, barely regaining full consciousness, dozing off once more.
  614. "Mister Mackenzie?" Said a voice past the door. "Please get up. It's urgent."
  616. Urgency. He remembered well, of what event might surprise him. Damned Charles for having tempted fate in such manner, though hardly a thing he could do about it anymore. Mackenzie quickly fought off the temptation to fall asleep again and lifted himself out of bed, to hastily put on his trousers. Hardly time for anything else, and so he headed for the door as he was. He turned the door handle, only to find it locked; how sleepy was he still, to forget he had it locked every night? Shaking his head to regain what last bits of proper mind he lacked, he turned the key and opened the door, to find one of Charles' men behind it as he imagined.
  618. "For you." He said, to then extend a letter.
  620. Curious, Mackenzie took it. Extremely crude, lacking even an envelope, a mere folded note. Unfolding it, he began reading just to find that which he had suspected: Charles' words, instructing him of what place to look for clues in. Seemed that time was against them, as even lamentation over the inability to afford a proper meeting with Charles had been written on the note. 'Be safe', it ended.
  622. "Tell him I'm on the task." He said to the man, who nodded before rushing off.
  624. With him gone, Mackenzie walked over to the door on the opposite side and knocked with just as much strength.
  626. "Sa..." He was about to call, to realize he might be heard by others. "Sarah, get up."
  628. But he received no response.
  630. "Sarah!" He called once more, knocking even harder.
  632. "Comin', comin'..." Answered a muffled voice, approaching. "How early is it?"
  634. "Pretty damn fucking ear--" He attempted to say, only for the door to creak open. Behind it stood Sana rubbing her eyes, though her appearance made his eyes shoot wide open. White hair, red eyes, horns and wings, and tail to match. Her true image, as much of a calamity it'd cause for anyone to see her here.
  636. And not least, the fact that her body laid bare for him to see, only with underwear to block the most critical spots.
  638. The sight left him petrified, speechless, staring like a deer caught in headlights. Sana soon lowered her hand, revealing her tired eyes staring puzzled at he who had decided to stand still and silent after interrupting himself, to then lock eyes with him in that instant.
  640. An instant which turned into an awkward silence as her mental faculties returned to her in full.
  642. Her eyes shot wide open as well, letting out a loud gasp right before slamming the door shut. The act snapped him out of his trance, though still with an aghast expression he stepped back to his room.
  644. Her body seemed hypnotizing. Too much for comfort, sparking dread and terror within him rather than embarrassment as he held his head. Temptation and seduction, a succubus' craft, and there and then he had experienced it himself just by a glimpse at her bare skin; she wasn't even doing anything, not even meaning to seduce, even hiding herself after realizing her mistake, leaving him in horror at what the true potential of not only a succubus, but a lilim, could be. Few times had he seen a succubus, and even fully clothed he had grown wary of how an aura of unreal beauty surrounded them; a beauty and elegance one would hardly fine in one out of thousands of women, found in almost all of them. Perhaps locking his door was the right decision, as who knew what would happen if he fell to the temptation, be it intentional ones or not.
  646. But at that moment he came to realize. What if he had already been tempted without him knowing? Certainly he had done nothing with her, but how could he tell if her passive seduction had been involve in his acceptance to aid her in the investigation? Why did he even put himself through such a mess next to someone so dangerous? He could've simply refused Charles' proposal before the faked arrest.
  648. ...
  650. No time to fear. He was still only in his trousers, and knowing a task needed to be done without delay, he shook off said fears and dressed up. Unofficial work seemed anything but safe, but his skill as bodyguard and weapon of office, a longsword he tied to his waist along with his dagger, would keep him relatively safe.
  652. Replacing his fears, determination through one single objective remained. End this mess quick, and get out.
  654. Done. All dressed up and polymorphed into her black haired-image. He headed out and, as he crossed his doorway, found Sana coming out all ready as well. However, there he noticed how her eyes seemed avoiding his, along with a noticeable blush on her expression.
  656. "We... received a task from Charles, right?" She asked, embarrassment lingering.
  658. Too cute, for him. Dangerously so. Had he not been aware of her traits as a lilim, desire to calm her or even bully her over it would've flooded him, though still he kept his composure and discipline. To give in would spell his eternal doom, not to mention the dangers of turning into an incubus now of all times.
  660. "Yeah." He made himself answered. "He thinks he might know where the next one in the pattern is."
  662. "Alright. Let's go." She said, to then depart in haste. Not terribly usual for her, he noticed; attempting to fight the embarrassment by focusing on something else, no doubt. And so, he left as well.
  664. ---
  666. Uneventful march, too much for comfort; the streets lay dead, barely lit with the light of the moon and without a soul to be seen, let alone make a noise. Each of their steps seemed to echo painfully loud in comparison to the eerie silence engulfing them. Boots on cobblestone certainly didn't pass as terribly quiet.
  668. Their mutual unwillingness to say a word only made it worse, condemning minutes to feel like hours.
  670. As if by miracle, however, Mackenzie could see already the manor up ahead. An entire block dedicated for it, standing out enough for Sana to notice as well. No wonder it'd be targeted, if one had to choose between the common rabble and someone whose home alone betrayed importance.
  672. A garden divided the sidewalk from the building, carved stone road creating a similar yet still distinct noise with each other their steps, till they reached the few marble steps leading up to the porch and its doors.
  674. Mackenzie knocked the door. Once, twice; no response. Thrice, and still nobody answered. Turning the door handle, he faced no surprise in finding it locked.
  676. "Asleep?" Asked Sana.
  678. "Maybe the owners, but it's pretty rare for a place this big to not have a servant or two on night shift..."
  680. Mackenzie stepped back in silence, bringing his hands to his waist in wonder. At the same time, Sana kept on staring at the door, till soon enough she took a step forward, much to Mac's puzzlement. Without a word, she gently placed her palm on the door, and remained immobile for a few seconds.
  682. "There's nobody inside."
  684. "...What?" Asked Mackenzie, turning with an eyebrow raised at her. "How can you tell?"
  686. "I can find life signs whenever a patient arrives to me. I just... applied it to this manor. Either there's nobody in, or the ones who are in are... Well..."
  688. "I see. So nobody would mind if the lock gets damaged?"
  690. "No need."
  692. Sana lowered her palm, covering the keyhole of the door. Again she stood immobile, but this time rather than silence ensuing, a frenetic sound of its inner mechanisms came to be heard, a chorus of clicks reminiscent of a hundred keys turning. Then, a final one rang out before all subsided, to which Sana pushed the door leading it to creak open. At the sight, Mackenzie stood dumbfounded in his entirety, petrified still with his hands in place and with a look betraying his amazement.
  694. "How did..."
  696. "It's a great skill to have." She said with a smile, walking in. "Sometimes, you end up in a situation where a locked door stands between you and someone just minutes from death."
  698. "Aaah, so it was for doctor thingies..." He remarked, closing the door behind them.
  700. "What did you imagine I learned it for?" She asked in confusion, turning her head to him with confused eyes. There and then, however, the realization struck her, leaving her with a frown in surprise and indignation. "You weren't thinking I'd go around stealing from homes and coffers, were you?"
  702. "No, no. Of course not."
  704. With a good glance about, they found the manor eerily desolated. Many possibilities existed to the absence of those within, but signs pointed to a fairly recent departure. It all seemed clean, very much so to discard even a day or two of inactivity as a theory. Coincidental vacations landing on the same day he and Sana arrived? Too mundane for him to believe, as Charles' hunch had gotten him suspicious enough already of the place. Still, the great entry room had greeted them.
  706. "Are you sure there's nobody here?" He asked. "No chances that you made a mistake or something?"
  708. "I don't know how big the manor is. I could've... well, misjudged the distance too short I suppose. For all I know there may be someone at the far back. "
  710. An indecisive sigh escaped Maverick, looking about once more before departing further within. Sana quickly caught up, and walked with him.
  712. First room to the side, they found the bedroom. Clean, free of dust, but all details felt secondary to that which the two saw first:
  714. The bed lay undone.
  716. Dead giveaway of activity, or at least of a set time for disappearance. The two slowly entered the room and walked to the bed, inspecting it along with all other corners of the room for any hints as to what might've happen, confused and puzzled.
  718. Sana then stepped forward, and placed her hand over where the person had rested. After a few seconds, she took a step back. However, at that moment Mackenzie noticed on her a dumbfounded frown.
  720. "Found something?" He asked.
  722. "Traces of demonic energy."
  724. "Incubus? Or a monster's visit?"
  726. "Incubus, but... The traces are faint. Even I had difficulty picking it up."
  728. "I'm no doctor to know what that means. What's in your mind?"
  730. "The man must've been exposed recently. Zero chance that he had been poisoned at the time the monsters were let in."
  732. Mackenzie's gaze shifted from Sana to the bed and back, letting her words sink in fully.
  734. "Not too keen on the implications." He said.
  736. "Should we return to Charles and tell him?"
  738. "Not saying we shouldn't, but I imagine it'd be better if we returned with concrete proof of it. Charles will want something that doesn't rest on the word of a lilim when it involves the inner city."
  740. "Figured... So, looking for the thing that was poisoned, then?"
  742. "Yes. We find one, and we get out of here before Konrad can catch whiff of this."
  744. They walked out the room and departed to another. Crossing the doorway, luck favoured them in great part, for Mackenzie found the room he had in mind: The kitchen. Counters and cupboards lined the walls, drawers and cabinets and all kinds of items in display, all pristine clean without a hint of dust. More evidence to the recent departure, rather than a long absence.
  746. Immediately, he spotted it. A hatch on the floor, which he hurriedly stepped towards and opened to peek inside.
  748. "This is it." He said, to then jump down.
  750. The cellar, she guessed; what other purpose could a cold room under a kitchen serve? She stepped towards it and jumped down as he had done, reaching a dimly lit room which coldness came to be felt immediately. Shelves upon shelves littered the walls, lined up with all manner of jars and containers, one of which she saw Maverick take. After inspecting it for a second, he walked over and handed it to her.
  752. "No clue what he ate, so you're gonna have to look for it one by one." He said, prompting annoyance and frustration from her as she saw just how much there was to search through. "I'm gonna have a look around to see if I can find something else."
  754. "Fine."
  756. "Say, think you can check further back if there's anyone there? I'd rather not bump into surprises."
  758. "Yeah, sure."
  760. Still with the jar in hand, she lowered her sight and focused in mind. Momentarily she remained silent and still, but within an instant her eyes shot wide open.
  762. "I don't like that look." He said upon notice, taking the jar from her and placing it onto the shelf. "What did you find?"
  764. "A group by the entrance--"
  766. Before she could even finish her sentence, furious knocking by the front door interrupted her.
  768. "Has to be Konrad." He muttered, rushing to the little ladder by the hatch and climbing out. "No time to find that evidence. We have to go."
  770. "There's another group at the far back as well." She said as she followed followed behind, stepping on the ladder and taking Mackenzie's extended hand, lifted upwards to ground floor.
  772. "So there were people here after all?"
  774. "No, these ones are new."
  776. Another series of furious knocking followed, to which Mackenzie and Sana rushed out the kitchen, knowing they'd get tired of waiting before long.
  778. Had to be a way out elsewhere. The back of the manor would've been an obvious choice, had they not faced a pincer by two groups, condemning them to take a door further into the building for any hopes of finding some alternative; a mess of a situation, stuck in a manor they hardly knew the architecture of.
  780. They found themselves in a hallway, ending in an open courtyard where a waist-high wall separated the stone floor from the grass. Too open a place for comfort. At each side of the courtyard, a flight of stairs stood, leading higher into the manor's upper floors.
  782. "How far were the guys at the back?" He asked.
  784. "Too close for comfort."
  786. "Then we'll each go for one staircase and regroup upstairs. I'll make some noise my way if they're too close."
  788. "What the hell are you smoking?"
  790. "Better if they catch a human than a lilim. I'll be fine, I've gotten through worse in the past."
  792. Not even allowing her the luxury of answering, he rushed aside. Too little time remained to complain, with front and back closing in upon them, prompting the disguised lilim to run off in the opposite direction.
  794. She reached the staircase immediately without any obstacle to halt her, though once she ran up halfway through, the sound of shattering glass pierced through the relatively quiet night. Her heart skipped a beat, knowing it came from the other end of the courtyard, of Mackenzie's end. Implications were clear.
  796. Arriving to the upper floor, she began walking around in haste. Had to regroup with him and escape, but the architecture did not help her in the slightest. Too big a house, too many rooms and hallways, almost labyrinthine for her to traverse for the first time.
  798. A dead end signalled the already too obvious. She had gotten lost. Was the manor really that big and convoluted in design? Or was the stressful situation limiting her mental faculties? But there was no time for wallowing. Turning around, she walked back the way she came from, just to hear a few footsteps approaching; a few too many.
  800. She backed off a little into the various hallways once more, but just as she crossed a room, a heavy hand pulled her inside; immediately it covered her mouth muffling a scream, and the person immobilized her against him. But as much as she struggled, the person did nothing, not even say a word, leaving her to only slightly calm down in absolute confusion till her struggling ended.
  802. The footsteps then drew closer and closer, not those of a walk in leisure but of a rushed jog. Almost right next to the doorway, they then halted. However, As quickly as the footsteps arrived, they then departed.
  804. The hand pressing against her mouth released her, as did the other arm. Too shocked to immediately ask who it was that saved her from being found out, she kept quiet for a second, though his weight soon began pressing against her from behind. More and more, till it felt as if he was pushing her with his body, until she stepped aside just for the person to fall forward to the ground with a great thud.
  806. "...Mac!" She gasped. Only then did she find out who it had been, and more importantly, his state. Mackenzie, grievously wounded with a crossbow bolt sticking out his side.
  808. "Did you hear that?" She caught a distant voice hear. Faint footsteps soon began to follow.
  810. Cursing between her teeth, she rushed to the door and closed it shut before placing her palm over the lock. The mechanism gave out a cacophony of metal, till it abruptly ended signalling it closed for good.
  812. No time to even move him. Kneeling beside him, he found him already having lost consciousness, most likely over the blood loss. Treatment had to be quick, and thorough.
  814. Anaesthetize. A palm over the wound and the other over his mouth, she took a few seconds in focus before the act had been done. With a palm still on the bolt, she brought the other and slowly pulled it out; didn't matter if the head detached, she'd get to it later, and her magic would deal with the negative effects of pulling it out anyway. Disinfect, cauterize, stopping the bleeding that'd have otherwise occurred by the pulled bolt, even if temporarily. Without the obstruction, she lifted his clothes, revealing the gaping wound. With a flick of her hand, the blood exposed evaporated partly, leaving it as clean as she'd need it to be.
  816. The footsteps outside grew ever closer. Directly towards her in fact, killing what hope she had that they'd take a while to search for the source first.
  818. From her pocket, she took a lengthy scissor-shaped implement ending in a pincer. For all the emergencies she had come across outside the wall, it felt as if her initial paranoia over leaving without her pocket tools to within the wall had paid off. Kneeling further down, with a palm still over the injury, she took extreme care in inserting the pincer; telekinesis and light from her palm aided in guiding her, as well as the detection of where the bolt-head exactly was, to reach it in an instant through flesh and blood. Gently she pulled, slowly extracting it till the bloodied implement had been taken out, to then drop the pincer and bolt to the ground and reach over with both hands on the wound, firmly pressing with her palms.
  820. But at that moment, the handle of the door turned. Her heart skipped a beat, the handle turning more violently as those behind it attempted to enter.
  822. "Go tell Konrad we found a blood trail to here." Said a voice behind the door, till a set of footsteps departed. A few seconds later, a loud kick struck against the door, yet failed to do much.
  824. Little time left. If they even saw her, it was all over, but she couldn't leave Mackenzie as she was. Couldn't even speed up the healing process, as slow as it was. All she could do was to keep her palms onto the wound, slowly but surely aiding in its recovery. Improvement had turned clear, no longer bleeding as much yet still needing quite a bit more healing.
  826. Turning her head around, she attempted to decipher an escape path. The room she had been pulled into turned out to be a library of sorts, bookcases lining up the walls and a desk by a corner elsewhere, but most importantly, windows leading outside into the night.
  828. More and more steps arrived, a sizeable group by the locked door. The attempts strengthened and turned more violent, kick after kick mixing in with the noise of Lord knows what implements as they tried to open the door through any means necessary. Kick down, pry, destroy, anything.
  830. The healing process had been complete. A forced recovery hastened by her power, though still a small detail remained: Mackenzie's body would not survive it, as the energy to sustain healing of that magnitude simply did not exist in available quantities. It had to be syphoned from the rest of the body, be it fat, tissue, organs; the process did not discriminate, as long as it received what it needed. Much like all of her patients to receive this treatment, there was no saving him, except by granting him all the energy his body needed to survive.
  832. Inevitably, the process involved turning him into an incubus.
  834. She took pride in granting the choice to all who came to her. To receive the treatment, or leave as they were; all patients were unique, and so it extended to their view on how they valued many different things. Some accepted, some declined, but Mackenzie here, she could not tell. Perhaps he would want it, perhaps not, but she could not even give him the choice at all in his state. It was for her to decide whether he lived or died, rather than him.
  836. The door creaked. Clear signs of weakening structure. It was about to open. In panic, Sana extended her palm to one of the bookcases, using her telekinesis to slam it against the door as makeshift barricade. The act itself had marked it as undeniable that someone was inside. Konrad's men would grow zealous in tearing it down.
  838. But as for the luxury of choice, there simply was no time. Swallowing the stress, she brought her hand to his heart, and focused. Her power had shifted, from the healing properties her touch had to the radiation of demonic energy towards him. The point of no return had been crossed from the very first second, condemning him to incubization, and now merely hastening the process so as to allow his body to recovering from the energy the healing process had syphoned.
  840. After a few seconds, she figured it enough. Not optimal, but still past minimum, enough for her to pick him up and attempt her escape. Just then, a loud cracking noise rang out, and the bookcase shook. Her heart beating faster and faster, she found that the door had been forced open.
  842. No time for caution. With him in her arms, she rushed to the window and with her telekinesis opened it as much as she could. One leg out, then the other, till she sat on the window sill leading outside; a fall that, even though she'd only face minor insignificant injuries against, Mackenzie would hardly fare as well against. Needed to cushion it. Without a moment of hesitation, knowing that nobody watched, she materialized her wings and spread them outwards, then jumped down.
  844. A soft landing, before she had her wings dissipate again. There and then, she heard the bookcase fall. They had broken through. Couldn't relax just yet, as they'd realize the one in the room had escaped through the window and give chase, and so without rest ran away as fast as she could.
  846. ---
  848. A solemn peace greeted him as his consciousness returned, even if partly. Felt like waking up from a bad sleep, a nightmare as if, with a pounding headache and sore throat already plaguing him.
  850. Last he remembered, be it real or not, had been the manor. Wounded, bleeding, passing out by blood loss and trauma. Opening his eyes, however, the scenery seemed anything but; lying face up, he saw the starry night sky. Strange, he figured, as it'd be pretty weird for him to have fallen asleep outside somewhere.
  852. He caught glimpse of Sana, leaning closer in her disguise of black hair and golden eyes. Stressed, anxious, tired, signs which sparked Mackenzie's suspicion of the circumstances further.
  854. "You're awake." She said in relief. "Finally."
  856. "What happened...?" He asked, bringing his hand to his head upon the migraine intensifying.
  858. "You were injured by a crossbow bolt. Konrad's men found us, so I had to barricade the door. Had to... treat your wounds, then I escaped through the window before they broke through. They didn't see us."
  860. His mind returned to him in full within a split second, his heart skipping a beat. He brought his hand to the side of his waist; though once it sported a grievous injury that had marked him for death, now it felt as if nothing had occurred. No wound, no pain, not even stitches, or the slightest sensation of damage having ever happened. In the blink of an eye, the mixture of circumstances had all struck together:
  862. A deadly injury. A surgeon lilim.
  864. A 'miracle', saving his life.
  866. But nothing in life was free, miracles least of all. There was a price to pay...
  868. ...and the price was forced incubization.
  870. 'It can't be', he thought. To turn into an incubus would mark his end. Little did he want to have anything to do with monsters, caring not one bit about them and only aiding out of specific circumstances, but incubization would've been the one thing he'd have wanted to avoid entirely.
  872. Lord knew what it involved. The monsters and the converted humans spoke positively of it, but why wouldn't they? Why would they talk negatively about that which they wished to spread? Could they be trusted? If they could not, incubization could involve anything. Was he clear of mind? Was he himself anymore, as ridiculous as the question sounded to himself? How could he tell? If it altered his mind, would it not alter his judgement as well, his perception, his values, his views of right and wrong?
  874. Regardless, he'd be condemned to end outside the walls. If found, that is. He'd have to hide, as ending another victim would spell doom to him, one who prided himself with being among those select few to protect the King with his own life if he had to. But that only lead to another grim thought:
  876. If he hid this from all, would he not eventually have to return to the king as an incubus? Fear and paranoia plagued his mind, growing in each passing second. An afflicted person, so close to the king. It seemed the worst possible scenario, but at the same time, so convenient for an entity that wished to take over. A little lapse in judgement, a little excuse as 'for his own good', a poisoning, and the king would turn into an incubus as well. Then, monster take-over.
  878. Too convenient. Too perfect a plan.
  880. Jumping upright, he took his sword and stumbled back, aiming it at the now petrified disguised lilim.
  882. "...Mac?" She asked, still kneeling where she was with an aghast look.
  884. More and more, he came to connect dots. Things he had overlooked, falling in place.
  886. Wait for the day monsters visit the inner wall, and have them carry out the poisonings. Have them incriminate others far more than it would incriminate her. Pretend innocence, and seek to aid in the investigation. Gain access to the inner wall. Find an excuse to turn the king's bodyguard into an incubus by mere chance, and soon enough the rest will take care of itself. For all he knew, she could've alerted Konrad. Somehow. He didn't know how, but it certainly seemed convenient that just at a secluded place in the middle of the night he'd end up in a situation that mortally wounded her.
  888. Or what if Konrad was cooperating? What if he had been turned far, far earlier, and arranged the ambush in that manor with her?
  890. Dread grew on and on, heart already by his throat, fearing worse and worse scenarios as a flurry of thoughts bombarded his mind.
  892. "Mac, are you alright?"
  894. That act. Once believing it honest, it only angered him to know it to be fake. A little innocent surgeon on the outside, Lord knowing if something akin to Druella hid underneath.
  896. "You turned me into one of those damned things..." He muttered.
  898. "I had to! It was either that or letting you die!"
  900. "Maybe it'd have been better that way."
  902. "...What?"
  904. Couldn't stay. He couldn't let the possibility of his mind be eroded by proximity to her; uncertain if such a thing would even happen, but he could not take risks. It was no longer a matter of choosing between known choices, it had turned into a matter of staying out of unknown risks. Immediately, he turned and ran away, out of the alley.
  906. "Mac, wait!" He heard Sana plead, but he did not turn back. "Don't leave, please! Let me explain!"
  908. But his steps never slowed down.
  910. ---
  912. Run.
  914. That's all he did.
  916. To where, he knew not. 'Anywhere but there', he only thought, till he ended in streets unknown, aimlessly walking about. The migraine turned worse, paranoia intensifying and the awful 'sleep' only making it ache more. Frustration, anger, guilt, his own stupidity costing him dearly and perhaps making it all worse for everyone involved. Exiling himself to the outer wall would be the lesser evil, and yet he still so dearly wished to believe it didn't actually happen.
  918. Perhaps it'd be best to return to Charles. Might as well tell him what happened. The risk existed that things could go wrong in his current state, but it certainly beats the lilim getting there before he could warn him.
  920. "Mackenzie." He heard someone call in friendly surprise. "Fancy seeing you around here."
  922. Though at first he couldn't tell who the man who had walked down the same street was, he finally recognized him. The head of the trade company, as baffling as it'd be to see him this late in a place like this.
  924. "You." Said Mackenzie, slowly bringing his hand towards the handle of his sword. The man's smile certainly didn't help in easing Mackenzie's suspicions. Thought he was tempted to ask what he was doing out here, chances were he'd not get any concrete answer.
  926. "I understand that you still see me as a suspect of the poisonings." Said Maxwell, before returning to his walk.
  928. As he headed in the same direction Mackenzie would need to take to reach Charles, he caught up and followed beside him.
  930. "You're going to tell me you didn't do it."
  932. "Oh come on, do you really think there'd be someone else who'd say they did it?" Replied Maxwell. "Someone not trying to take the fall, at least. I'm better off keeping silent till the investigation runs its course."
  934. "Keeping silent isn't what I saw you doing when Konrad visited."
  936. "I'm sure you'd have done the same. Or at least wished to. But..." He paused his walk, prompting Mackenzie to halt with him. "Tell me. Is Konrad a suspect, now?"
  938. "What do you mean?"
  940. "You know very well what I mean. You think Konrad could've done it, or is at least involved."
  942. No answer from Mackenzie, just a frown in greater suspicion and confusion.
  944. "It's quite convenient that all the suspects have something in common, no?" He asked with a smile, before departing once more as Mackenzie followed.
  946. "What is that something?"
  948. "Something to incriminate them. Some of it is a little too convenient as well. It really surprises me that the poisoning of my rival was found out so quickly. It'd take months if not years for the change to be noticeable for the person himself from so little as a bit of 'poison', let alone be found out."
  950. A pause in silence ensued, in which Mackenzie pondered over his words.
  952. "How do you know all of this?"
  954. "Ah, it's just a hunch. Guess you'll have to take my word for it."
  956. There and then Maxwell took a turn, Mackenzie finding it to be the entrance to the trading company building. He stood there, looking at the façade of the building absent-mindedly, surprised that he had been out of his mind enough to not recognize how much he had walked already. He really needed a rest, though chances are he wasn't gonna get one in a long, long while.
  958. ---
  960. "Good to see you're back. Did you two find anything?" Welcomed Charles, only to frown in confusion and worry just to spot only him arriving. "...Where is Sana?"
  962. "She..." He attempted to explain, only to have second thoughts. Couldn't tell him the absolute truth. Giving away his state as an incubus was out of the question, if only for now. "Konrad showed up. We managed to escape without getting caught, but had to split paths. Since I couldn't find her, I got here as soon as I could."
  964. Charles' eyes shot wide open, immediately standing up from his chair. "What?!" He asked in full panic, approaching Mackenzie. "Mac, you need to find her! If Konrad or Jeremy find out that a lilim is within the wall, it'd be a catastrophe! Even if she's disguised, we can't risk her getting lost!"
  966. Pause. He let himself fall back on his chair, taking a deep breath to regain his composure as he combed his hair back with his hands.
  968. "My men have been seeing some men around the prison, every now and then." He sighed, demeanour calm and collected unlike seconds ago. "Doesn't take a genius to figure it's Konrad's men monitoring the place. He's been getting restless over not being able to question the lilim, or even see her. I fear it won't be long before he gets impatient and forces himself into the prison, just to find the obvious. I had imagined we could try having Sana go there and pretend to be imprisoned so that Konrad sees her and calms down, but now that we don't even know where she is..."
  970. "...Secretary." Called Mackenzie, to receive his wondering gaze. "I'm starting to believe the lilim isn't trying to help us."
  972. "What's in your mind, Mac?"
  974. "She could've been the one behind the poisonings."
  976. Charles paused in surprise as he raised an eyebrow. "How come? Have you not been with her all along before she even knew of the event?"
  978. "Maybe she sent someone to do the poisonings. Maybe she was pretending not to know, pretending to want to help. Maybe she used this entire mess to go past the wall, and now there's a lilim running around out there of which we have no clue what she could be doing."
  980. A few seconds of stillness followed, till Charles raised his hand to rub his tired eyes.
  982. "...Regardless of whether she's with us or not, you have to find her. I'll keep my men on high alert in case they see her as well. Go, we can't waste any time. Lord almighty..."
  984. His legs already ached, though slowly Mackenzie took a few steps back. Go back to the damn thing he ran away from, as if he was able to do anything about it. Maybe his mind had played tricks on him and his paranoia had deceived him about the lilim's malevolence, though it'd only be paranoia if he was wrong. He turned about and rushed away, out of the room the way he came from.
  986. ---
  988. Zero ideas on what to do. Find her, sure, but then, what? If she truly was the culprit, chances were he'd not be able to do anything anyway. Not like it mattered; the worst case scenario would occur regardless if he chose to do nothing. If it wasn't through him, the lilim would find someone else. The Captain, the Secretary, the Bishop, who knew. Might as well ride it out till the end, and seek her out.
  990. In the manor's surroundings, he could not find her. Not by the front, not around it, and within as he entered he saw no signs of life. Konrad's men had departed long ago.
  992. Walking out, his mind had begun pounding him once more. The migraine had fully healed, no doubt a short term secondary effect of the miracle healing. Pain was the least of his concerns, but rather hints of guilt beginning to haunt him.
  994. He had not taken kindly to the revelation of his incubization. Barely keeping himself from lashing out at the lilim, though still telling her he'd have rather died. Even to run away without a mere goodbye, leaving her like that, abandoning her as she pleaded for him to not go. Certainly there was the chance that it was all an act, but the possibility of it being a true and honest reaction had started to eat him inside out.
  996. He had been enough of an asshole to a great many people. The task of a bodyguard left little room for niceties, so why was he feeling the guilt of such a little thing? Was it because he was someone she trusted? Was it because she was the one he was meant to protect and guide in that which she didn't know about? Abandoning the one he was meant to never abandon, at least for the duration of the task. Worse yet, doing that to the one who had wanted to save his life.
  998. Lord knew. Though not a true headache, it had turned into something just as bad. Heart, instead of head.
  1000. Had to keep moving. Inactivity would only worsen it.
  1002. ---
  1004. The inn. Still booked for two, though inevitably, he did not find her in her room. There was hardly anywhere else to look around in, at least on this side of the wall. Dead tired, exhausted, his room barely a few steps away. He needed to sleep. Perhaps it was time to call it quits, to report to Charles that there was nothing else he could do and return to his room.
  1006. 'Nothing else he could do', he wanted to say, though he knew very well that there was one more place to look in. Sana's hospital. Still, it'd involve crossing the wall. The checkpoint guards cared not who left, he could just walk out at his leisure, but returning inside would be impossible without being discovered. There was no guarantee that she'd be there either; if she wasn't, then he just locked himself out of the wall for good.
  1008. But as he marched out the inn, the guilt returned once more. What if she was there? The chance certainly existed. If she wasn't the culprit, then who knew what could be going through her mind. Perhaps guilt as well, if that expression of worry and heartbreak in their last interaction had been anything to go by.
  1010. That expression. It seemed too honest to be an act. The tone in her voice as she pleaded to him, he could not bring himself to truly consider them lies. Something refused to believe it.
  1012. There was no helping it. The risk was too great. It wasn't even a risk anymore, it was a certainty, to be locked out of the wall unable to even report back to Charles if he even found her. Out on the street, he slow began walking away northward, but after a few steps, he came to a halt. Looking back in the opposite direction southward, his guilt led him to another grim thought. After abandoning her once, did he really want to abandon her again?
  1014. Taking a deep breath and rubbing his eyes, he muttered to himself the stupidity of his thoughts that the mental exhaustion surely have brought now; after a pause, he turned and marched south.
  1016. ---
  1018. Crossing the checkpoint, an easy feat. Just walked through it, nobody even caring to acknowledge his existence on the way out; on the way in, however, it'd be absolute hell on earth. He had crossed the point of no return, perhaps too literally for comfort. From there, he needed only a calm stroll through the streets where hardly enough people to be counted with one hand could be seen at any given time. Despite the times he had come here, he still could hardly get used to the absolute contrast of a human inner wall to the abrupt difference in traits some inhabitants had, such and wings, horns, and tail. At least they didn't bother him, much as he held his hand tightly around the handle of his sword.
  1020. As expected, the surroundings of her hospital lied mostly deserted. Hardly any reason for anyone to go, with her absence.
  1022. He arrived to her house, to find it locked. Knowing she'd probably not answer if she was there, he walked aside towards the window; the curtains remained open, allowing him as much sight of the interior as the night would allow, but she was nowhere to be seen. To another window, and then another, all he found were empty rooms. The whole place must've remained in stasis ever since Sana had been taken away, without even the curtains to close.
  1024. Stepping away, he headed to the main building, the hospital itself. The door certainly would be locked, but opening it with a simple push already set alarms in his mind. He stood there in slight shock at the chance that he may have found what he sought, and crossed the door to then close it behind him. Almost too dark to see, with the moonlight sneaking through the few windows aiding his sight.
  1026. "Sana." He called, to receive no response. "It's me, Mackenzie." He added, to face the same result. Not anything to be surprised about. From her perspective, he most likely was the only person in the entire city that'd not ruin it all by finding her here, when she was meant to be in the place Konrad's men had stormed. To be seen as escaping arrest would only worsen it all.
  1028. Slow steps echoed in the silent building, leading to the surgery room's door. It creaked in astounding clarity without even a quiet breeze to drown out its noise, before he took a step inside.
  1030. There she was, sitting by the corner of the room and staring into nothing without even glance thrown his way. No reaction, no surprise, nothing. No reaction from him either, as this alone seemed to cast away any ideas regarding her potential malevolence. Creaking again, Mackenzie closed the door and calmly walked up to her.
  1032. "...What a big mess this is, isn't it?" She said, letting out a defeated smile.
  1034. Mackenzie then remained silent, letting out a quiet sigh from his nose before walking to her side and sitting down, leaning against the same wall.
  1036. "So it would seem." He said.
  1038. "I wonder, though... Maybe it'd have been better if I hadn't come to this city, back then."
  1040. "What makes you say that?"
  1042. "This all started because of me. The monsters, the wall, people being at each others' throats... The greatest intentions don't count for anything when things fail. I've probably given you a fate worse than death, as well."
  1044. "Perhaps I was overreacting, back then. The stress of being in a life or death situation can get the best out of anyone."
  1046. "Mac, I turned you into an incubus. You'll have to live in hiding, and one day you'll be found out. Your whole career is over, you'll not be allowed to be close to anyone deemed important, let alone the king himself. You're here as well, so you're not going back in without getting checked and discovered, and it was all because of me. This whole mess, the reason you ended up shot, because of me."
  1048. He couldn't deny it. She certainly had a point, with him knowing that the situation was based entirely on the investigation relating to the poisonings, something that'd never happened had she not arrived and the city remained one hundred percent human. Still, he came to notice her lack of mention to her own situation; if he was found out, the suspicions would certainly fall on her.
  1050. She cared so much about the others, that she forgot to care about herself.
  1052. "Maybe things would be better if I was gone." She continued. "I've done nothing but mess things up."
  1054. "You've saved countless of lives."
  1056. "And it was still not enough. The city's divided."
  1058. "You're still a miracle worker. Just because some don't want you doesn't mean you're not needed."
  1060. "Needed by who? The city's been doing fine before I came here..."
  1062. "I needed you, back in that manor."
  1064. Without words escaping her mouth, Sana blinked blankly before turning her gaze to Mackenzie.
  1066. "But... Back then, when I told you--"
  1068. "It was getting told that I should've been dead had it not been for you. I was out of my mind. I went crazy and paranoid thinking I was set up to be turned into an incubus since the start. All of a sudden having to choose between what being an incubus would get me or outright death would make anyone go nuts."
  1070. "I couldn't even give you that choice."
  1072. "Doesn't matter, I'd have chosen what I got now, had I been given time to consider it."
  1074. "...Really?" She asked, tone of wonder, confusion, and disbelief seeping through.
  1076. "Life throws very bad things at people. All we can do is cope with them, and it's easier to cope while alive rather than dead. Life threw a bolt at me, but as for you, it threw you this whole mess both of us are stuck in. All we can do is keep moving forward without giving up, even if we want to. Hell, I chose to cross the checkpoint just for the chance that you might be here. I haven't given up despite the situation I'm in. All I can ask for is that you do the same, and not give up on us that need you, or those that will should you go."
  1078. Speechless. Couldn't speak, couldn't react, at least till her eyes fell elsewhere as aimless as they once were, now pondering over his words. Past a few seconds, however, Mackenzie stood back up.
  1080. "Look. I'm not an orator, I've never done a speech in my life, and we're on a time limit here to make things worse. I know I might be killing the atmosphere, but if we're going, it better be now. I met up with Charles after we split, and he told me Konrad's men are getting restless about the place you're supposed to be arrested in. Give it a wild guess how it's gonna play out if he gets tired of waiting."
  1082. A loud sigh escaped her, rough and frustrated, to then force herself to stand up as slow as her lack of motivation dictated. "I hate this... I hate this, I hate this, I hate this..."
  1084. "I hate this too."
  1086. "Say, Mac?"
  1088. "Hm?"
  1090. Shocking him to the core, she abruptly embraced him in a tight hug. Thought startled entirely, after a few seconds of shock, he slowly returned the embrace.
  1092. "I'm sorry. For everything."
  1094. 'Don't be', he wanted to say, but he could not tell whether silence would be a better response. Sorry, for what? For his wound? For the situation? For the city's state after she had arrived, or at least what she thought of it? Couldn't tell. It was not the time to ask, either. The best answer in his mind was thus to simply remain quiet, hugging her in return.
  1096. "I'm telling you, I saw someone going in."
  1098. The muffled voice from outside, heard only thanks to the dead silence within, made their eyes shoot wide open.
  1100. "I swear to God if you woke me up for nothing--" Another voice muttered from outside, just as the front door creaked open. "...You, stay here. Rest of you, don't split up." Steps approached, that of a group of men.
  1102. "Shit." He whispered, letting go just as she did. "Any way out?"
  1104. "No, only a door leading to them." Answered Sana, stressed the same.
  1106. "Ah, crap..."
  1108. Unsheathing his sword, he took light steps towards the door as he turned it around and held it by the blade.
  1110. "Please don't hurt them too much."
  1112. "Of all the things I hear you ask, in a situation like this..."
  1114. "I don't like seeing people get hurt, if I can do anything to avoid it."
  1116. Pursing his lips, he pondered over what he could do. Not much, as even the guards catching glimpse of her and him within would spell ruin; even if he knocked them out, once they woke up they'd spread the word that someone had been in the hospital.
  1118. However, violent noises broke through the silence on the other side of the door. Grunts, impact, struggle, loud as it could be to then abruptly end with a series of thuds, all in the span of just a few seconds.
  1120. Dead silence, of which Mackenzie saw Sana faced the same absolute confusion at.
  1122. Ever so slowly, Mackenzie reached for the door and peeked through as he pulled it open. Behind it, four guards lied on the ground unconscious, though five other men stood about with maces in their hands. A familiar sight, though hardly one he could discern in the darkness; though he was certain they knew of his and her presence, they still did nothing, confusing him further though showing their lack of hostility to them in particular. With a nod to Sana, the two slowly stepped out.
  1124. "Mackenzie. Fancy seeing you here."
  1126. Confusion grew further, to recognize the voice in an instant.
  1128. "Maxwell?" He asked, identifying him properly. Now with the hint, he glanced at the others around, noticing their outfits characteristic of the trading company under Maxwell. "What the hell are you doing here?"
  1130. "Had a hunch that you might want a way back through the wall."
  1132. ---
  1134. Through the last place on earth they imagined themselves in, Mackenzie and Sana followed as Maxwell and the others led the way, down in the dark tunnel. Crude, recent, narrow, and claustrophobic, certainly purpose-built in a hurry.
  1136. "Then when I saw you walking back a while ago..." Asked Mackenzie.
  1138. "Caught me on the way back, yes. Surely you have more than enough reasons to keep this passage a secret. If word got out, it'd be quite the trouble to everyone involved, and that includes you two."
  1140. "What were you doing outside the wall, then?" Asked Sana. "And why would you need to be sneaking about in the first place?"
  1142. "I have my reasons, same as I have my reasons for listening to my gut feeling and going back for you two."
  1144. "You knew we were going to be there?" Asked Mackenzie.
  1146. "I put it together after one of my guys saw you suddenly going south. You of all people out in the dead of the night, looking like you saw a ghost, deciding to go outside the wall for seemingly no reason without Sana by your side... Hard to imagine anything else."
  1148. "Wait, you knew?!" She asked. "Was my disguise not working?! Oh no, if the others realized as well but were only pretending to not know..."
  1150. "Don't worry, I'm sure they're none the wiser."
  1152. "Then how could you tell?"
  1154. "I had a hunch."
  1156. "Where do you keep getting these hunches from?" Said Mackenzie.
  1158. At that very moment, Maxwell halted in place as did those with him, prompting Mackenzie and Sana to do the same. Still with a smile on his face, Maxwell turned, the light of the torch illuminating him as he glanced at the two, though did not speak a word.
  1160. Mackenzie grew unnerved, surrounded by them as they stared almost smugly without a word to tell, though when he glanced at Sana, he found her staring not just as Maxwell, but shifting glances to all of those around her as well, sporting an expression of shock and disbelief.
  1162. "Sana?"
  1164. "...They're all incubi." She said, making him frown in equal surprise. "I was too distracted to tell at first glance. Maxwell, you're an incubus, as are your men. Were you poisoned along with the others?"
  1166. "We've been incubi for a long, long while, miss Sana." Answered Maxwell.
  1168. "And you're going to tell me something that'll make my suspicions of you being the one spreading it to the others go away, right?" Said Mackenzie.
  1170. "Let me answer that with another question. If it was me, why did I not just leave you in that hospital to get caught and labelled the perpetrators?"
  1172. Sana and Mackenzie remained silent. Though he had no answer to the question, he still felt great skepticism, worsened by the uncomfortable place they had gathered in.
  1174. "There's tension growing on both sides of the wall. Were push come to shove, I'd lose quite a bit, and I really wouldn't want that happening. It's not just the trading company that I risk losing if paranoia leads to me getting discovered as almost happened when Konrad paid me a visit, but you have to realize that there's a reason why I'm an incubus, and why I've been sneaking out in many nights."
  1176. "If this was a story, I'd immediately think you have someone you're fond of on the other side. Is my 'hunch' correct?"
  1178. "You're a smart guy, Mackenzie. Yes, I have a... well, I can't call her 'wife' if a marriage ceremony can't realistically happen in these circumstances. So do these men who have helped me save you, and why I trust them enough with the existence of this tunnel in the first place. I'm confident that the monsters were not involved in the poisonings, but it doesn't matter what happened, it matters what the people think, and what they think right now doesn't help us. The moment tensions break into conflict is the moment it'll be exceptionally difficult for me to meet with her to say the least, and to avoid that I need you two safe and sound to go through with the investigation. There are too many people counting on you two to just end up caught in the wrong place at the wrong time."
  1180. After a pause, Maxwell turned forward and walked once more. Mackenzie and Sana caught up, still disoriented partly by the abrupt turn of events, and Maxwell's men followed at the rear.
  1182. "Do you know who might've done it?" Asked Sana.
  1184. "Ran out of hunches there, sorry." He answered. "Konrad and Jeremy seem like likely suspects with what they're doing nowadays, but the same way I got set up with my rival getting poisoned, I feel like those two are also being set up by circumstances."
  1186. "Can you elaborate?" Asked Mackenzie.
  1188. "Konrad's the type of guy to keep grudges after several lifetimes, isn't he? With how the monsters are what he's meant to be keeping security on, he'd take the poisonings as personal affront, as well as anything trying to undermine his authority. Jeremy on the other hand is an old-timer, stuck in the times before Sana even got here to suddenly save that dying woman that ended up turning her into a succubus as well. Can't blame him, his duties keep him within the wall so much that the only news that he hears seem to be the bad ones about monsters, and with all the religious doctrines it's only natural he'll imagine the monsterization and incubization as faustian bargains."
  1190. "You think someone started the poisonings knowing the two would end up being suspects?"
  1192. "Yes. Three of us in total, at least the prominent ones. Drag the investigation long enough for more poisonings to take place, and maybe the people will start taking matters into their own hands. That's as far as I can figure it out, though."
  1194. At that moment, Maxwell extinguished his torch, soon followed by his men, leaving them all in pitch black darkness. Without a light to judge the distance left, surprise befell Mackenzie and Sana as they reached the end of the tunneL: a crude staircase leading above, ending in a decaying alley.
  1196. "Go five blocks straight, then turn right." Said Maxwell. "Keep going from there, and you'll eventually come across my place. That oughta give you a good sense of direction. We'll take another path from here. Try not to get yourself in trouble again, alright?"
  1198. "Right." Answered Mackenzie.
  1200. Nodding with a smile, Maxwell departed. Each of them waving a goodbye, his men followed suit, leaving Sana and Mackenzie to their own devices.
  1202. "I suppose I owe Charles an apology." Said Sana. "Must've given him the fright of his life if he heard of my disappearance."
  1204. "He was about to pull his hair off." Chuckled Mackenzie, to then depart with her.
  1206. ---
  1208. "...Mac?" She said, breaking the silence of their walk through the inner city to Charles' building.
  1210. "Hm?"
  1212. "How are you feeling, lately? After... what happened in the manor."
  1214. "What kind answer are you looking for?"
  1216. "Just a check-up. Konrad's men were breaking through the door while I was healing you, so I was rushing the process. I want to make sure I didn't mess up."
  1218. "Well..." He said, bringing his hand to where his wound would've been. "Tired, aching, not much else. Must be what little I slept, though."
  1220. "I see. That's a relief. Having to concentrate in a situation like that..."
  1222. "I can imagine. You did well, though. Guess that's something you can brag about, since that must've been one of your hardest days."
  1224. "Bragging about something we'll have to pretend never happened...?" She chuckled, causing him to do the same.
  1226. "Alright, you got me. Shame... These things would make for a great story to tell--"
  1228. Interruption, through choking. An arm wrapped itself around his neck from behind, immediately pulling while tripping his feet, sending him down to the ground. Before he could even react, someone's knee pinned him to the ground as it pressed against his back. He was not the only one on the receiving end of hostile intent, as he found Sana held immobilized by an armoured man locking his arm around her neck. A few more men gathered around them, and as if the armour itself had not been enough hint, Mackenzie saw the man himself.
  1230. Konrad, calmly approaching with his hands together behind him.
  1232. "I've been looking for you for a while, Mackenzie." He greeted, cold and distant. "You have answers."
  1234. "Ah, shit..." Muttered Mackenzie from his relatively uncomfortable position.
  1236. "Now. Where is the lilim?"
  1238. "Detained. Where else?"
  1240. "I'm fairly confident she's not where I've been told she is."
  1242. "I don't know what you want me to tell you. That's all I know."
  1244. "That's all you know..." Repeated Konrad, to then nod at one of his men.
  1246. The one in question approached, holding a bag he rummaged through to then reveal an implement covered in now dried blood. Handle like scissors, and end like pincers. Mackenzie's eye twitched; though he had no memory of the events in the manor after passing out, he knew for certain where he might've found that tool. He didn't want to look at Sana's reaction, he didn't want to let Konrad see his eyes turning to her, incriminating her, but he knew for certain that she must've been applying a titanic amount of effort in not letting her aghast reaction to give her away.
  1248. "I found these in a certain manor close by. When my men came across it, the blood seemed fresh. Not just that; there was a sizeable pool of blood close by as well, but no corpse around despite the blood loss being enough to seem lethal. What's more, there also was a crossbow bolt on the ground implying it was extracted, something I can't imagine going terribly well with what tools a surgeon might randomly have at hand, unless it was someone like the lilim who just happened to be around for some reason."
  1250. "I'd be more concerned about that if you hadn't decided to suspect of me enough to throw me to the ground."
  1252. "Believe me, I have my reasons." He said, to then calmly approach Sana. "The blood loss would've knocked anyone unconscious, making the idea that the person in the manor we came across was treating herself not really plausible. Chances are, there was another person she was tending the wounds of. Next thing I see," he turned his eyes to Mackenzie, "you and this woman are walking about this late in the night for no apparent reason." He turned back to Sana. "A woman my men could find no records of. Nothing. It's as if... you didn't exist, till after I last saw the lilim."
  1254. "You're doing all this out of a hunch?" Asked Mackenzie, gaining Konrad's gaze once more.
  1256. "Do you need me to test the two of you before you drop the act?" He retorted. "You're close enough to the investigation as well that it'd make a lot of sense that you were with the lilim there for the same reason as I."
  1258. Mackenzie could not reply, only stare with frustration and anger. Not even a taunt for him to do it, as if to pretend he had nothing to hide; he'd not have Maxwell's luck. In the silent pause, Konrad glanced over at Sana one more time, before approaching Mackenzie again.
  1260. "How did the lilim end up here, Mackenzie?"
  1262. "She..." He said, as if trying to delay the inevitable. He couldn't tell him the truth. To bring Charles into the equation would be the ruin of it all, to incriminate the institution itself. If it were to come to light, the entire city would be split apart more than it already is, and luckily they'd avoid a witch hunt once the discovery of sympathizers of such magnitude were found within the wall. So polarized the poisonings have turned the population, that the possibility of a civil war, even if it was half a percent, seemed far too great to play with.
  1264. He was as good as dead anyway.
  1266. "I dragged him here." Interrupted Sana, gaining the attention of all. With a gesture of Konrad's hand, the guard immobilizing her let go and stepped back.
  1268. "Go on." Said Konrad. At the same time, Mackenzie stared in absolute indignation, seeing her attempt to take the blame. Still, to stop her, as much as he wanted to, would only worsen it all.
  1270. "I wanted to find the culprit of the poisonings and not have people think it was the monsters that did it." She continued.
  1272. "How did you recruit Mackenzie here, then?"
  1274. "I needed him. He knew the inner city more than I did, so I got him to help me saying I'd get found out if he didn't, and I wouldn't back down from finding whoever did the poisonings."
  1276. "And how did you escape arrest without Charles' men noticing?"
  1278. "That's--" She said, only to interrupt herself with dead silence. Mackenzie could tell well, her sudden halt, her expression, her petrified body. She had been driven to a corner. Silently waving his future goodbye, he closed his eyes and rested his head against his forearm. "I... Wait, why are you suddenly so interrogative after trying to kill us?"
  1280. "I never gave the order to kill. Whatever group did that escaped before my men could find them."
  1282. "...Eh?" Asked Mackenzie, raising his head to find Sana sporting the same perplexed look.
  1284. "My men were not even equipped with crossbows, as you can see right now." He said, turning his head to Mackenzie. "The bolt my men found certainly implies that someone was in there with the intent to shoot."
  1286. "Wait, so... it wasn't your men? It was someone else?"
  1288. "I have a fair few ideas on what might be going on, Mackenzie," he said, stern and cold, approaching him, "but for that I need the truth and only the truth from you. For Sana to interrupt you like that already tells me there's something you two would feel is better to take the fall for than disclose, and I expect you to tell me what it is. Ever since the poisonings, I've spent countless nights gathering as many clues as I could without rest to solve this mess, even paid certain people for their services out of my own pocket, so do not attempt to lie to me like Sana just did. I will know, and I do not like being toyed with."
  1290. Gritting his teeth, Mackenzie found himself as cornered as Sana just seconds ago. With a gesture of Konrad's hand, however, the one pinning him down to the ground stepped off, allowing him to step up past his aching back and dust himself off, rising to Konrad's height. Still, his thoughts remained clouded; despite being told of Konrad's men storming the prison, he had heard from the man himself that it had not happened at all. Even more, those out to kill him had not been Konrad's men at all, but rather a third group of which he had no clue about. He was lost.
  1292. "One of my fears is that you two were set up to be found by my men, be it alive or dead." Added Konrad. "It'd incriminate you and the lilim, the same way the other suspects have been incriminated."
  1294. "'Incriminate the lilim'... You say that so lightly after finding her within the wall."
  1296. "Nobody blames the knife for a mugger killing a bystander. It was a tool, the same way I suspect you two could've been tools as well. Now, I don't have all fucking night, so tell me what I need to hear."
  1298. Letting out a rough sigh, Mackenzie readied his spirit. It was all up to luck on how Konrad would take it, in his eyes.
  1300. "...Charles faked the arrest." He said, making Konrad raise an eyebrow and Sana to raise her hand to cover her face. "He saw that the lilim wanted to help in the investigation and figured her skills would be useful to have to find whoever did it."
  1302. "Then the prison set up for the lilim was a bluff from the start?"
  1304. "Yes. Charles then sent us to check around where he wouldn't want his men to be seen for too long. Checking on suspects, walking around the city to see what we could find, then sent us to the manor thinking it'd be the the next place the poisonings would happen in."
  1306. Upon Mackenzie's words finished, Konrad brought his hand to his jaw and stared aside.
  1308. The silence turned deafening. The expectation of his reaction asphyxiating Mackenzie and Sana, what thoughts crossed his mind, doubts and certainties, and what fate he'd chose for the two.
  1310. "Who else knew that you would be heading to the manor?" He asked.
  1312. "As far as I know, nobody." Answered Mackenzie.
  1314. "Charles told you, and you immediately went?"
  1316. "Yes."
  1318. A frown grew in Konrad's expression, a sign pointing to anything but good in Mackenzie's eyes. With a gesture of his hand he brought one of the guards over, speaking orders too low for Mackenzie to properly hear. With a nod, the man then departed southward in haste.
  1320. "On me!" Said Konrad out loud, before turning to Mackenzie. "You two are coming with me."
  1322. Unable to object, knowing Sana to believe the same by her expression, Mackenzie walked along as the group departed, all in a specific direction.
  1324. Northward.
  1326. ---
  1328. Three sets of steps led the way, marching along the corridor with a fair few others following closely behind. They came to see Charles on his chair, back turned to them, and upon crossing the door, he slowly turned his head as he caught attention of their presence. Though at first wondrous, his expression sank into a frown of confusion and irritation, turning his chair about to face them and placing his coaster and teacup over the table.
  1330. "Secretary." Greeted Konrad as he arrived with the others. Mackenzie and Sana stood next to him with uncomfortable looks in their faces, all as his men quietly scattered throughout the room.
  1332. "Captain." Greeted Charles in kind. "It's strange to see you at these hours."
  1334. "Yes. I should be asleep, getting ready for another tedious day, but urgent matters brought me here to you."
  1336. "And what are those matters?"
  1338. "I have reasons to believe you are involved in the poisonings." He said, gaining the worrying gaze of Mackenzie and Sana, along with Charles' stern unchanging stare.
  1340. "These are serious allegations." Answered Charles. "What is your evidence?"
  1342. With a nod to one of his men, the one stepped forward and placed two small bags on the desk. It only took Charles a quick press on each to know what were within.
  1344. "My men searched the manor." Said Konrad. "They found a large pool of blood along with that implement and a crossbow bolt. They, though we found Mackenzie and Sana walking around, the latter in disguise. After a quick interrogation... It turns out that they were sent by you to the manor, only to be met by a group of men that attempted to kill them, injuring Mackenzie. Sana had to save him, though it turned him into an incubus."
  1346. Charles glanced at Mackenzie momentarily, an eyebrow raised in surprise and worry, before returning his eyes to Konrad.
  1348. "Have you found those men that attacked them?"
  1350. "No. The strange part is, according to Mackenzie and Sana, nobody should've known of where they were going. Nobody, but you."
  1352. "They could've been followed, though that'd be my mistake for not taking precautions. One of the king's bodyguards leaving this building while we're in the middle of an investigation would give the impression that he's aiding in it, and become a target."
  1354. "That bolt implies the group was armed enough to already be expecting them there. Hardly anyone would walk around with a dozen men armed with crossbows this late in the night for no reason."
  1356. "Are you implying I sent them?" He asked, scorn growing in his expression.
  1358. "There certainly is the possibility."
  1360. "This is still only speculation. I could accuse you of having sent them after waiting till they left this building and the theory would hold just as much water."
  1362. "It would not, because I wasn't the one to outright break the prohibition." Retorted Konrad, stepping forward and placing his hands on the desk, staring Charles down with just as much scorn. "You faked the arrest and brought the lilim within the wall despite no monster being allowed within, on top of not even knowing for sure whether she's innocent or not. She could've been the one behind it all, and you'd have unknowingly given her free rein here in the inner city."
  1364. "Her skills were deemed necessary, and I've known her enough to know she's innocent."
  1366. "And how do you know? Just a hunch?"
  1368. "I have my reasons."
  1370. "Either you know, and you specifically avoided putting those reasons forward to aid the investigation in proving her innocent, or you don't know and just followed your gut feeling. Neither of these are plausible, since I know you're not that incompetent. Somehow, you know with full certainty that she's innocent, yet never disclosed why in public. Call me paranoid, but after this whole mess, I'm starting to suspect you know of her innocence because you know who carried out the poisonings."
  1372. "If I knew, this investigation would've been closed the moment the lilim would've been allowed to step within the wall." Retorted Charles. "Why would I want to drag the investigation even more?!"
  1374. "I don't know, but absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence." He said, to then step back once more. "That you broke the prohibition already puts everything you say or do in question. Poisonings occur the day monsters are allowed in, certain targets are picked, I'm sure you've even gotten more than a few to suspect me over running my own investigation as well. Everyone is a suspect in this damn city... everyone but the one carrying out the investigation."
  1376. "Are you really suspecting me over not being a suspect? You've been interrogating suspects despite it not being within your authority to do so. You enter the wall to look into a manor that, even though by chance you might've saved Mackenzie and Sana, it still was outside the area you were meant to keep an eye on the monsters outside the wall if only to calm the people. You even interrogated Mackenzie and Sana, something I can only assume wasn't terribly peaceful. You break into my building with your men to interrogate me like you own the place, and now you have the audacity to accuse me of being the culprit?"
  1378. Letting out a tired sigh, Charles sank back into his chair.
  1380. "It seems both of us have been doing things we'd rather not have the king know about." He added, calm and collected. "I understand that you want to find the culprit by any means, as much as breaking into my office is... questionable. I can pretend this never happened and let you run your private investigation rather than order your detainment, but in return, I want your full cooperation."
  1382. "How do I know you won't lead me to my death, like almost happened with Mackenzie?"
  1384. "Fine, have it your way. Do as you must. I won't say a thing, but you won't say a thing either. The last thing this mess needs is for the people to figure out I've allowed the lilim in."
  1386. Silence. Uncomfortable, awkward silence, with Charles expecting an answer hopefully in approval, and Konrad unwilling to give one as he clenched his fist. Seemed like torture, what Sana and Mackenzie had to go through and what it'd spell for their future.
  1388. Through the silence, however, all came to hear a pair of footsteps approaching in haste. As all turned their eyes to the corridor, they found it to be one of Konrad's men, arriving to him.
  1390. "We stormed the prison as you ordered." He said, gaining the surprised frown Mackenzie, Sana, and most of all, Charles. "We subdued the guards and found several people within. Turns out they're the inhabitants of the manor that we checked time ago."
  1392. Eyes widened for Sana and Mackenzie, just as Konrad's narrowed before turning to Charles, who did not react.
  1394. "Your men were in the manor." Said Konrad. "So that's why it was suddenly so empty. Not only that, you sent Mackenzie and Sana to investigate a manor you already sent your men to, a manor in which they were almost killed. It seems you have a lot to tell us."
  1396. Though cold in expression, stern and defiant, Charles gave out a deep, defeated sigh as he calmly stood up. Those of Konrad's men nearby took caution, moving their hands to their weapons as Charles stepped aside, just to see him open a cabinet and take a bottle and a glass before returning to his desk, removing the cork and pouring that old violet drink for himself.
  1398. "I have a responsibility greater than I'm given credit for." He said, tired as his last sigh. "I was assigned to keep the situation in check, when Sana's first 'miracle' turned a human into a succubus. The position was hardly anything more than keeping order and control, but the truth is, the smallest decisions would have an immeasurable impact this city's future decades down the line."
  1400. He gave a lengthy look at the bottle's label, betraying a melancholic gaze to those present, to then place it on the desk, take his glass, and quietly turn his chair to see the scenery of the city from so high out the window behind him.
  1402. "From the day I saw a lilim arrive to the city, I knew the quantity of monsters would only increase. Seeing with my own eyes how many there are now compared to back then, even with infinite bureaucracy and tedium... I suppose I was correct in that assessment. For all the fear the people had about the poisonings, my fears were what would happen when the monsters started outnumbering the humans here. When the wall would be the symbol of the city split in two far greater than it currently is."
  1404. "Were you the one behind the poisonings?"
  1406. "Regrettably." He answered, taking a sip off his wine. The answer alone left Sana and Mackenzie silent, petrified, unable to process the words with what calm demeanour he had said it.
  1408. "You were the one most eager for that position. You were even the first one to formally greet the lilim." Said Konrad. "She was even ready to take the fall for you, just minutes ago. Did you send the men to kill her along with Mackenzie?"
  1410. "Do they look they dead?" Asked Charles in return, turning his head to look at him from the corner of his eyes for a second before turning forward once more. "They didn't touch Sana, only Mackenzie, and I knew Sana would save his life anyway. The goal was to have Mackenzie turn into an incubus. The problem is... you weren't meant to show up to that manor, let alone find the two and interrogate them."
  1412. "You..." Muttered Mackenzie, stepping closer. "You set me up to be turned into this thing?!" He asked out loud, fury undeniable, only to be halted by Konrad intercepting him with his hand over his chest.
  1414. "I did not derive any enjoyment out of it. If anything, having to use the King's own bodyguard like that... tore me apart inside, but I still felt it necessary to do so."
  1416. "Goddamn traitor..." He grunted between his teeth, clenching his fist, though Sana soon arrived to his side with her hand over his shoulder. His anger subsided partly, just enough for him to take a step back, knowing Sana to be just as shocked to the core as he was.
  1418. "I imagined Sana would not take too kindly to Mackenzie's reaction that he had been turned into an incubus," he continued, "and was correct that the two would go their own separate ways. There was nowhere for Sana to go to within the inner city; though I was prepared for the event that she'd simply be walking around to be found by Mackenzie, the time it took tells me she had gone to her hospital, correct?"
  1420. "Correct." Answered Mackenzie.
  1422. "The way out of the inner city is easy for an incubus. There's hardly any control, but whoever goes in always gets tested. I won't pretend to know how you got in again with the lilim, but it somehow happened. That was another event that shouldn't have happened."
  1424. "You'd have wanted Mackenzie to be found by the checkpoint?" Asked Konrad.
  1426. "By anyone, really. If people found out that the King's own bodyguard had been turned and even hid it, it'd rile the people up immensely. It'd have been yet another reason for everyone to wish the monsters out of this place."
  1428. "You want the monsters out of the city?" Asked Sana, unable to hide the heartbreak in her tone. "You were the one most friendly to us ever since I arrived. You helped me out so much, I felt indebted to you for life! Why?! The monsters are still the people I saved the lives of, why would you want them gone?!"
  1430. "You'll find that good intentions alone not always lead to good outcomes." He answered, just for his tone to lower further still. "Maybe I'm a great example of that, right now."
  1432. "That can't be all there is to it!"
  1434. Silent in pause, Charles took yet another sip.
  1436. "Maybe it really is all there is to it." He answered. "The future is uncertain. There will be a day when monsters outnumber us, and there will be a day when the last human in this city is gone, either by his own departure or by the change to a monster or incubus. We can't know for sure how it'll go. Maybe it'll bring an abrupt change in all aspects of our society, maybe even our own King may end up replaced, we could end up going through the worst that the Order has to say about Lescatie... or maybe nothing will change at all, other than the wall torn down. But for all the outcomes there are, all we can say about them starts with 'maybe'. I'm certain it is your belief that these changes maybe won't bring anything of notice to demand action against them, but I've acted with the belief that the number of outcomes where it threatens our way of living outweigh the number of outcomes where it's not, because I am not a man who likes to take chances like those."
  1438. "And that's why you made certain you were in charge of all that you could?" Asked Konrad. "Control to carry out all that you saw fit?"
  1440. "In essence."
  1442. Once more silence reigned in the seconds following, in which Charles took a deep breath.
  1444. "Maybe nothing will happen, after all." He sighed. "That's all I can count on now, realistically. When word gets out that it wasn't the monsters that did the poisonings, and the lilim herself helped in finding the culprit if said detail is allowed to get out, they'll all be proven innocent. They'll be trusted. What I've set out to prevent, I ended up hastening. Say, Sana?"
  1446. "What?" She asked, still with her sense of betrayal reflecting in her tone.
  1448. "I want you to do me a favour. In the coming years, or decades if you stay that long... Prove that my fears were unfounded. That it's all it was, just fears. I know I'm in no position to ask anything of you after all that happened... but I feel you're the only person I can ask that of, now."
  1450. No words to add. To say 'I promise' felt prohibitive, to commit to a favour to the one who had betrayed them all, despite it being her goal. Without her words, the room fell silent, an oppressive and asphyxiating atmosphere where none could break the silence. Such it was, that Konrad's movements as he crossed his arms could be heard in full clarity.
  1452. "There's no way out of this mess." Said Konrad. "The truth of the Secretary conspiring and poisoning his own people getting out would only make everyone question the current government, not to mention the lilim being within the wall at the same time, and Mackenzie turned into an incubus."
  1454. "Am I gonna get kicked out of the inner city for good?" Asked Mackenzie.
  1456. "Don't know. There's too many ways this can play out, and way too few are nice to think of. We need to tell the King, he'll know what to do."
  1458. "Won't he be upset that you were illegally carrying out your own investigation, even if you managed to solve it?"
  1460. "I've come to terms with losing my job if it meant catching whoever did it."
  1462. Steps silenced them both, turning to see Sana quietly walking up to Charles who still gazed outside.
  1464. "You... did this all for the city, right?" She asked, expressionless and melancholic. Charles's silence, in return, felt an answer as good as any. "Maybe we just ended up on different sides... but you cared about the people as much as I did. As much as I healed and saved lives as best as I could, you still wanted to stop bad things from happening to them. Right or wrong, you did this because of them, not because of yourself, right?"
  1466. No response. Hardly surprising, she imagined. Years of effort not only gone to waste, but backfiring and condemning him. It must've shattered him as a person.
  1468. "I wish we could go back to those days." She added. "When we were like friends. Even if it was fake... I'd still want to go back. When most we had to deal with, or at least as I saw it, was getting the others to sign after every surgery. But... I'm not justified in being upset. You sought to do good with what you had. Good intentions might not always lead to good outcomes, but they're still good intentions nonetheless. I'll work to prove you wrong, like you asked. I promise."
  1470. And despite it all, still she only received his silence.
  1472. "...Charles?" She asked, approaching him and gently touching his arm, only for her eyes to widen as her face grew pale. Few times had she felt such sensation, few times too many. A void, cold and unforgiving, not unlike those experienced only in the worst nightmares. She stepped back, only to stumble and fall sitting to the ground with her aghast look unchanging, just as the glass Charles once held shattered into a hundred pieces against the floor. "H...He's dead!" She shouted in panic and disbelief.
  1474. Konrad's arms fell down as if eyes reflected the absolute shock of the situation, a grimace shared by Mackenzie as well as all of those present.
  1476. "What the hell?!" Said Mackenzie, rushing to Charles' side.
  1478. "Nobody touch that liquid, and check that fucking cabinet!" Ordered Konrad, pointing at it as he moved forward in haste.
  1480. True to her statement, they found Charles in solemn peace, all muscles relaxed as if sleeping.
  1482. "Sana," added Konrad, "can you do anything about this?"
  1484. "I..." She attempted to answer, breathing heavily by the shock. "I can't revive the dead..."
  1486. "Shit." He cursed, to then turn his head to the others by the cabinet. "Have you found anything yet?!"
  1488. "It's all just bottles!" Answered one of his men as he and two others rummaged about.
  1490. "Wait." Said Mackenzie, to then approach Charles' body. By his hand, he noticed something, his sleeve pulled up strangely with hints to a peculiar object underneath; gently taking it, he pulled up the sleeve, just to reveal a small vial already empties. "You should see this."
  1492. At Mackenzie's words, Konrad approached, as did Sana after slowly standing up past her initial terror. The two caught glimpse of the small vial, tied tightly by a string to his arm.
  1494. "Poison." Muttered Konrad. "Actual poison, for once."
  1496. ---
  1498. With ankle over knee and knuckle over cheek, the King sat on his throne. Present before him, Konrad, Maxwell, Mackenzie, and Sana in her disguise stood. Hardly enough time had passed to afford a quick rest, leaving the meeting to take place at early dawn.
  1500. "I sincerely hope the tunnel you created wasn't also used to smuggle goods for your company." Said the King, voice authoritative and imposing.
  1502. "No." Answered Maxwell with a smile. "I don't think two people side by side even fit there. You can even have your men check."
  1504. "I'll take your word for it." He then turned to Mackenzie and Sana. "You two owe him your gratitude."
  1506. "He built a tunnel underneath the wall, and this is the first reaction?!" Complained Konrad, taking a step forward.
  1508. "I've been aware of it for a long while, Captain. Along with his state as incubus."
  1510. "What?!" He shouted, to then immediately fake a cough and take a step back. "Why was I not made known of this?"
  1512. "Matters of that magnitude are on a need-to-know basis. He works for me as something not unlike a part-time advisor, whenever I need insight into what an incubus or a monster might think of an idea."
  1514. A frown in confusion grew on the three, turning their heads to find Maxwell staring ever so smugly in return.
  1516. "Were he to attempt to double-cross me, not only would I know of the tunnel to shut it down and his state as incubus to immediately imprison him, but of who his wife is to incriminate as accomplice or even the one who turned him into one. The last part is already true enough, so it wouldn't be too tedious to ruin him and those around him. His company would disappear in the blink of an eye."
  1518. "I did say I had quite a lot to lose." Added Maxwell.
  1520. "I need to find a replacement on who will deal with the monsters, however. Konrad, you've cared enough about the law to even keep the lilim's presence within the wall from clouding your judgement, and you must've gotten used to being in that area as well. You're in charge of them now."
  1522. "...Eh?" Blinked Konrad, unable to process what he had heard.
  1524. Mackenzie raised his hand to his head, visibly pained and confused, gazing down before shifting stares between Maxwell and Konrad.
  1526. "What's going on anymore...?" He said.
  1528. "Things went pretty well, really." Added Maxwell.
  1530. "Charles being dead isn't something I'd call 'pretty well'." Replied Sana.
  1532. "Ah, right. None of you know."
  1534. "Know what?" Said Konrad, Mackenzie, and Sana in unison.
  1536. "Why do you believe the event was arranged, Mackenzie?" Asked the King, gaining the silent stare of the three. "I had believed one of my subordinates wasn't as loyal as I'd have expected from them, and it just so happened that some matters involving monsters seemed more difficult than others. That some monsters were allowed within the wall would've been the perfect time for someone to incriminate them with something. Regrettably, Charles turned out to be the one."
  1538. "Then, the reason you personally sent me to be with Sana..."
  1540. "You only need to look at all that happened to know the answer. Many things occurred that I wasn't expecting, but planned for just in case. One of the risks involved was the prospect of you turning into an incubus, since death would not find you with Sana beside you, a risk that ended up happening, but expectedly so. Now, let this be a lesson on what happens to disloyalty. I will know."
  1542. A silence ensued, uncomfortable to the three present before him, Charles' death looming over them in their thoughts.
  1544. "Enough of what has happened. As to what will happen... Sana."
  1546. "Y-yes!" She answered, panicking by the sudden call.
  1548. "It seems most of the bureaucracy obstructing your surgeries is obsolete, so I will remove as many as I can. I'm sure Konrad won't complain, considering that's something he won't have to deal with in his new position either."
  1550. "Thankfully." Answered Konrad under his breath.
  1552. "I will see how to release the information of Charles' conspiracy to the public, but I'm confident that I'll be able to spin it in a positive enough light to be justified in the eyes of the people to give your little hospital some funding. If able, I want you to start training what monsters you believe have talent in healing so that there's more than just you and a few others in this whole city that can treat what illness got one of my bodyguards sneezing non-stop since two days ago. Have I made myself clear?"
  1554. "Yes. May... May I ask a question?"
  1556. "Speak."
  1558. "You mentioned your bodyguard. Are you alright with monsters treating a person so close to you?"
  1560. "You're asking me while I'm sitting not ten meters away from a lilim?" He responded. "You've proven yourself trustworthy with what you've put yourself through. Mackenzie here is alive only because of you, as well. I'm sure I can trust you to cure simple sneezing."
  1562. "I understand. I'll do my best."
  1564. "Good."
  1566. "What will happen to me?" Asked Mackenzie.
  1568. "Do what you want."
  1570. "...What?"
  1572. "I mean it. You've done more than I'd ever ask of you, and as I said, had it not been for Sana here, you'd be six feet under. I can give you the option to retire with a good pay till the day death actually decides to find you, and with Maxwell's tunnel and Konrad's knowledge you'll be able to go in and out the wall at your leisure without danger of getting caught, or at least until the people are alright with incubi and monsters walking in. What you want to do from now on is your call."
  1574. "I... see..."
  1576. "This goes for you too, lilim. Your disguise seemed to fool enough people."
  1578. "I am thankful." Answered Sana.
  1580. "Konrad. Maxwell. Can I trust you to cooperate with the two in this matter?"
  1582. "Of course." Answered Maxwell.
  1584. But Konrad remained silent, twitching his eye.
  1586. "Letting them in, despite the prohibition..."
  1588. "You've broken enough laws yourself with your illegal investigation, even broken into the Secretary's building and subduing the guards. I have the means, should I see disloyalty within you."
  1590. "Very well." He sighed. "They have my full cooperation."
  1592. A set of steps approached, prompting all to turn eyes to the source. There they saw a peculiar suspect from time ago, arriving in full regalia to the throne room.
  1594. "I am terribly, terribly sorry about my delay." Said Jeremy, the bishop, walking in with his crosier while pulling on the collar of his clothes, before cleaning off the sweat of his forehead with a handkerchief. "My subordinates confused the messenger for yet another of those people swarming my cathedral and pretended there was no one inside. I hope I haven't missed much."
  1596. "You missed all of it." Responded the king with too cold a tone.
  1598. "I... I can only seek your forgiveness. I'll see that the ones who didn't attend the messenger are punished--"
  1600. "No need. Sana, show him."
  1602. "...'Sana'?" Asked Jeremy, taken by surprise and left perplexed, turning to see her who took a step forward. At the King's command, she focused and erased her disguise, revealing in ashes her wings, horns, and tail, along with her white hair and piercing red eyes. Though left petrified for a second, a loud almost intermittent shout escaped him, stumbling back while keeping his crosier in front as if to fend off any potential attack. "Demon! Begone!"
  1604. "Stop this nonsense." Commanded the King, petrifying the Bishop once more. "The lilim here aided in discovering a conspiracy within my subordinates."
  1606. "...Huh?" Asked Jeremy, shifting glances in quick succession to and from the King and Sana.
  1608. "You'll be given the full details later on. The poisonings were not caused by monsters, and one even aided in discovering the culprit."
  1610. "It... wasn't them?"
  1612. "For the time being, that's all you need to know. The people have been rallying around you, and we all know it's because they believe the monsters have been doing what they have not, and because of that you're the one that can calm them down."
  1614. Silent, hesitant, once more looking at Sana in the eyes, both sharing the same awkwardness and anxiousness.
  1616. "I'll need to know what's going on, before I can decide what the best course of action is."
  1618. "So be it. Konrad, Maxwell, you're staying with me to explain the situation. Mackenzie, Sana, you're not needed anymore, so you can go rest."
  1620. "I haven't slept for too long..." He sighed, to then salute and march off. Sana, in turn, awkwardly shifted her gaze from Mackenzie to the King, imitating the salute imagining it as the respectful thing to do, to then follow behind.
  1622. When the two escaped sight, the King snickered at her last action.
  1624. ---
  1626. Bath. Felt like freedom, of no longer feeling the layer of sweat after so difficult a day. Clean clothing, or at least as much as he'd have for sleeping. The cleanliness and welcoming comfort of the bed gave him a sensation of resurrection, though still in his mind he immediately came to remember the 'resurrection' Sana had granted him. Couldn't call it that, but it still seemed to fit enough.
  1628. Eerie. To be in the inn that still was booked for him and her by Charles. Couldn't even be bothered to walk the full way to their homes, to exhausted to do anything but drag themselves here, knowing her to be in the opposite room. At least, his room was placed in such a way that the sun of dawn would not shine through it, and with the curtains closed it created a dark enough room. With his eyes killing him, he made himself comfortable within the blankets and head on the pillow, bidding himself a good 'night' sleep.
  1630. But then, someone knocked on the door.
  1632. "Mac?" He heard Sana ask, the muffled voice he had grown so familiar to.
  1634. "Come in." He said out loud, caring not to move a finger.
  1636. The door then creaked open past the turn of the handle. Unlocked, as it was. What reason existed anymore to lock it? Old fears of her sneaking into his room and turning him into an incubus, even if proven wrong, now seemed redundant in his current state. A few steps made their way inside, and closed again; turning his head, he saw Sana in her usual disguise of black hair and golden eyes, dressed as if wearing pyjamas and with a pillow in her arms. Stood to reason she'd be that conservatively dressed, if she stepped out of her room in public to wait till he answered the door.
  1638. "I... don't want to be alone, after what happened." She said. Though she wished to speak more, and though her lips gave away her attempt, still no words came out.
  1640. He saw no need for her to do so, anyway. Her request was obvious. Turning to face her, he wiggled further to the end of the bed and then pulled the blanket on her end. A clear invitation as any.
  1642. And an invitation she took, despite her quiet blushing. She made her way to the bed, placing her pillow beside his and then climbing in, to then face awkwardness as she found it difficult to keep composure, getting under the blanket so close to him. Not waiting for her to do it herself, Mackenzie place the rest of the blanket over her, the two ending up in the same bed.
  1644. "Are you... feeling well, up to now?" She asked in whisper.
  1646. "About being an incubus?"
  1648. "Yes."
  1650. "Yeah, I'm fine. Not noticing that much of a difference, honestly."
  1652. "There won't be many. I'm glad, that you're taking it well so far."
  1654. "Even if I wasn't, it beats being dead."
  1656. "I'm... sorry that it came to that."
  1658. "Don't be. We shouldn't focus on things we lament. I guess I owe you my life."
  1660. "Haah, we're even. You saved me from getting caught by... the ones chasing us in the manor. Running around despite that wound to the point of collapsing... You almost killed yourself for my sake."
  1662. "I did what I was supposed to do."
  1664. "Really?"
  1666. "Really."
  1668. "Then..."
  1670. With a swift movement and not allowing him a second to react, she brought her head forward and stole a kiss from his lips, leaving him wide-eyed and petrified.
  1672. "...Thank you." She said, smiling, almost teary eyed.
  1674. Though left to only blink like deer caught in headlights, Mackenzie soon grew a smile, for a light laugh to himself to escape him. Contagious, Sana couldn't stop one from escaping her as well. At that moment, the two moved closer to each other, Mackenzie embracing her close for her to do the same. In due time, their laughter subsided, yet not their smiles.
  1676. "Time to sleep." He said, not letting go.
  1678. "Yes, sleep." She answered, her arms wrapped around him.
  1680. And so, the two closed their eyes.
  1683. THE END
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