It took a few minutes of running along the wall before I felt my reservoir was replenished enough for another jump. It wasn’t a big one—I just leaped about ten feet to the nearest ‘scraper—but I was still leery. Jumping to the top of the wall had strained my reserves, and I had nearly fallen. I needed to practice that more. Later, and from lower altitudes.
Now, I had to be quick. Lizzy was already out of sight, and I could barely keep an eye on her demonic follower. I think the only reason I was able to follow as closely as I did was because he was relatively new; he had to rest more often than me to let his reservoir fill.
Luckily, Domina was still Domina, and I was able to keep out of his sight pretty easily without even trying, simply because of all the different building heights. He didn’t seem to understand how my power worked, either. He certainly wasn’t acting like he knew I could follow him.
He made another jump, this time across an entire street and up a couple stories to land on another skyscraper. It wasn’t a leap any normal person could make, and his destination building didn’t have the built-in handholds to make climbing easier. It was the tallest ‘scraper around, too, so merely jumping to it from a nearby one would normally be impossible.
Of course, I wasn’t normal.
I could have jumped straight to the top, but that would have resulted in me facing at least one guy with powers, and with a drained reservoir to boot. So instead, I leapt straight across to the building itself, about ten floors below the roof.
When I said it wasn’t designed for climbing, I wasn’t kidding. It didn’t even have windowsills. The only place to grab onto was the tiny recesses the windows themselves sat in. It was less than half an inch, and even a kemo with full climbing claws might have trouble hanging on.
But once again, my power proved its worth. Physics got a little…bendy when I used my power, which was one of the reasons I could jump so far. It was like it took gravity a few seconds to catch up to me.
I didn’t have my speed cranked up anywhere near as high as it would go, but it was enough to give me the leeway I needed to use the windows as handholds. I steadied myself on the miniscule ledge and jumped up to the next one, gripping the edge of the next floor’s window with my fingertips. Then I scrambled to my feet and repeated the process, until I was finally at the roof.
I didn’t pull myself up, though. I didn’t want to give myself away. Instead, I let go of my speed and just dangled from the roof by my fingers, waiting for my reservoir to replenish. It was difficult, but years of training gave me the strength to keep from falling even without the help of my power.
The second my reservoir was full, I cranked my power up as high as it would go, peeked over the edge of the roof, and saw…
No, wait, there was the demon, flying north to another building.
Dammit. I let my speed go and scrambled onto the roof, making sure I kept Lizzy’s demon in sight. He was jumping farther than before; using the height of this building and his wings, he could glide halfway across the district. It would be hard for me to follow.
That gave me pause. It was the exact sort of tactic he would use if he knew he was being tailed.
I shook my head. No, he was probably just being paranoid. He knew we would want to follow him, so he made sure to be careful, just in case. He wasn’t actually certain.
Not important right now. I could lose him if I wasn’t paying attention.
I waited for him to waft to the ground—and it definitely was the ground, I watched him drift between two buildings—and leapt after him, using my speed for a brief moment on takeoff to improve my distance. Unlike the demon, I aimed for a ‘scraper about three or four buildings away from his destination.
I made sure to activate my speed at full power a split second before I landed. I threw up a huge cloud of dust and grit and dented the roof a little, but nothing (including me) broke, so it came out all right. I didn’t know how exactly I was able to use super speed to pull of tricks like that, and I didn’t really want to know. I just did what felt right, and somehow managed to absorb the impact or outrun inertia or whatever.
I brushed off my pants and scanned the alley below me, confirming that it was empty of any hostiles—or anyone at all, really. It was perpendicular to the one Lizzy’s demon had gone into, and hopefully far enough away so that he wouldn’t hear me. I dropped down the ten stories carefully, glanced around again to confirm I was alone, and stalked towards the corner of the alley, where I should be able to see the demon and his destination.
I could hear raised voices, not far from where I was. I pressed my back against the brick wall, edged towards the corner, and…
A hand covered my mouth from behind and pulled me back.
“Shh!” a woman hissed, as I started to struggle. “The Blackguards will hear you.”
I slowly stopped thrashing, realizing this wasn’t an attack, but the woman didn’t remove her hand.
“Something wrong?” the voice came from the other alley, perhaps ten feet in front of us. I hadn’t realized they were so close.
“I thought Akiyama was tailing me,” a smooth, cultured voice I recognized as the demon’s replied. There was a pause. “I suppose I was mistaken. Let’s go.”
I heard the grunt of someone moving something heavy, then the metallic scraping and thump of a manhole cover being moved aside. Then the sound of boots on a metal ladder, and the sound of the manhole cover being slid back into place.
Only then did the woman who had ambushed me remove her hand.
I whirled on her, hand on my sword. “Explain. Now.”
If I was forced to describe her, I would simply have said average. But in all fairness, all I could see of her was a pale face and thin mouth framed by short-cropped black hair; the rest of her was covered by a large hooded cloak. Not the most inconspicuous of disguises, but it would conceal her identity well enough.
“Apologies, Honored Paladin,” the woman whispered. “There was no time to explain.” She pointed a slender hand at the alley I had been about to walk into. “The Lady Greene has sensors in the ground. You would have set off the alarm.”
I frowned. This wasn’t looking good. “Here?”
The woman shook her head. “Only the one alley, closest to the entrance of the Endkeep.” She smiled slightly. “I suspect she tried a wider sensor net at her old lair, and ended up with more information than she knew what to do with.”
Sensor overload. Yeah, that happened. Especially since she seemed to like the sewers; she’d just end up knowing the migratory patterns of a bunch of monsters. Our approach had probably gotten buried under all that.
But I didn’t take my hand off the hilt of my sword. “How did you know?”
She shrugged. “I’ve lived here a long time. And I was watching when she moved in this morning. I just paid attention, that’s all.”
I weighed my options carefully. It didn’t seem like the strange woman was lying, but she was still far too mysterious for my tastes.
I shook my head. It didn’t matter who she was.
“Thank you…for the help,” I said with some difficulty. “Bye.” I turned back to the alley, ready to jump into the sewer and attack.
“There are at least a dozen Blackguards down there, Honored Paladin,” the woman noted. “And they will know you are coming. I don’t recommend going alone. Or at all.”
I turned back to her, struggling to keep my face under control, and waited for her to elaborate.
She shrugged again. “The five of you could probably take them out. But by yourself, you’d just get killed. And that’s assuming Elizabeth hasn’t made any more of the Blackguards since I last checked.”
I cocked my head. “Blackguards.”
She chuckled a little. “Of course. The opposite of the Paladins, the Blackguards. What else would they be?”
I sighed. I didn’t have time for this. I walked past her, towards the street and away from the lair.
“They’ll be gone by the time you’re back with your friends,” she noted. “They suspect you followed Nabassu, and they won’t risk it. They’ll pack up and find a new lair.”
I turned and glared at her.
The cloaked woman grinned. “And even if you were willing to throw a few dozen lives away by calling in Necessarius—which you’re not—the only ‘sarians nearby are completely green. They wouldn’t even scratch the bad guys before getting slaughtered.”
“You know too much,” I said quietly.
She smiled a little sadly. “That’s the truth.”
I eyed her carefully, but as far as I could tell, she was completely baseline. Of course, she could have had eight arms hidden under that cloak and I wouldn’t have noticed.
I met her gaze. “Who are you?”
Her smile returned, sadder than before. “No one important, Akane Akiyama.” She turned away. “Go back to your master. He needs you, as always.”
I considered attacking her while her back was turned. Even just tackling her to the ground and ripping the cloak off her would give me something to work with, some idea of who she was.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I walked away, towards the Necessarius post across the street, to requisition a car to get back to my friends.
Behind the Scenes (scene 117)
A bit more about Akane’s powers, and the city itself.
Oh, and about creepy cloak lady: She’s going to be explained in the next scene. One less mystery to worry about.