“Thank you,” Akane said genuinely. “For coming.”
I shrugged. “It’s no big deal. You’ve known her longer than I have.”
“I’m not sleeping with her.”
“If that’s what you need her help with, then I think we need to have a nice long talk about boundaries. How does meeting on a rooftop at dawn sound?”
The samurai rolled her eyes. “Not that. I just…” she looked away. “Ling is having a hard time.”
“With what? I can’t imagine anything Lily would be able to help with.”
Akane glared. “No way to talk about your girlfriend.”
“That’s not what I mean. Lily’s a pacifist, and one who’s too busy to watch any type of entertainment—sports, anime, whatever. I just don’t see any overlap between their skillsets.”
She thought for a moment. “Pacifists the ones who don’t fight?”
I sighed. This god-damned city… “Yeah, pacifists don’t fight. Sometimes they’re called ‘conscientious objectors.’”
“Whatever. We’re here.”
Oh, she was right. I hadn’t noticed, but we had arrived at Lily’s apartment while we were talking. I slipped past a maintenance man installing a speaker on the corner, pulled out my key, and unlocked the door, stepping inside before Akane.
She gave me a funny look. “You have a key?”
“She gave it to me yesterday,” I explained. “Maybe she knew she’d be unavailable the next few days? Not the best of signs.” I closed the door behind us, and locked it for good measure. “C’mon, let’s look around. Lily? You here?”
My girlfriend didn’t respond, not that I really expected her to. She hadn’t answered her phone, which meant…something. It was hard to tell what.
Her apartment was only about twice as big as my dorm room (plus a bathroom), and was completely filled with boxes. Cardboard boxes, plastic bins…even a few steel crates with a variety of warning labels plastered over them. They covered everything but the unkempt bed in the corner, and the chest of drawers against the wall. The bed, of course, because it had been used recently. The drawers because it was covered instead in old-fashioned pictures in frames, as well as a few devices.
There was no order or organization that I could discern; it would take weeks to find anything. Well, anything that would fit into a box.
“Not here,” Akane muttered. “You said she’d be here.”
“No, I said she might be. She has so many jobs, she barely even stops by.”
“Waste of time.”
“Not quite.” I walked over to something that looked like a radio, and tapped the large button on top. The response was immediate.
“What’s up?” MC’s cheerful tone crackled a little brokenly through the speakers. There was a loose wire or something, and Lily hadn’t gotten around to fixing it. “You never call me from your apartment any more.”
“Actually, it’s Adam,” I apologized. “I’m here with Akane. We’re looking for Lily, but she’s not answering her phone. Want to help us out?”
“Wait, when did you get a key to Lily’s apartment?”
I sighed. “Yesterday.”
“Right, okay…give me a couple minutes. Her phone seems to be switched off.”
Akane frowned. “Off?”
I understood what she meant. Lily never turned off her phone. She had too many people trying to get in touch with her at all times. I had assumed she had lost it.
This could be a very bad sign.
“Got her,” MC chirped after five minutes, before we could freak out too much. “She’s waiting tables at Nervi’s right now. Her phone broke earlier.”
I groaned loud enough for the hacker to hear. “Then we were worried for nothing.”
“Well, it did break while she was being chased by a superpowered angel.”
I did a double take. “Wait, what?”
“Uh…nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
“Nothing?” I grabbed the radio, and that loose wire made it briefly shriek with feedback. “One of the lasers was chasing her? Is she okay?”
“Yeah, she’s fine. Just had a fall, and apparently landed on her phone.”
That was a relief, but still… “Why was she being chased anyway?”
“Well, um, it was one of the ones we hadn’t captured yet, so…”
“But why was she even in the area? It should have all been evacuated.”
The hacker on the other end sighed. “This didn’t happen at the Heaven, Adam. The screamer was wandering around about a mile north, past the barricades, and she happened to run into him. But don’t worry. He’s captured and everything, so it’s all fine now.”
I took a step back and plopped onto the bed. For a second I had thought…she might get infected.
For a second I had imagined having to shoot Lily.
“How?” Akane asked.
I looked up. “What?”
“How did he get past the barricade? Necessarius is very good at defense.”
I could almost hear MC fidgeting nervously. “Um…we’re still not sure. I mean, we know the path he took and everything. We’re just…we think the Composer may have been piloting him. Personally.”
“Hm,” I muttered. “Like when she communicated with me through Zaphkiel?”
“Exactly like that.”
I laid back on the bed. “God dammit. I was hoping that was just a one-time thing.”
“She can’t do it easily,” Akane mused. “Otherwise that singer couldn’t have warned me.”
I rolled my eyes. “I still think that might have been a trap.”
The samurai shrugged.
She had a point. We had survived, which was enough for now. Now…
Now what? With the Composer captured, was everything over and done with? I mean, we had killed most of those renegade guys, the Blackguards. Maybe the rest would just go into some sort of sleeper mode, waiting for orders that would never come.
No sense worrying about it now. I jumped off the bed and headed towards the door, past a surprised Akane.
“C’mon,” I told her. “I don’t know how to get to Nervi’s from here.”
“Train,” she explained. “Few miles south-east.”
Thankfully, Domina’s trains have a pretty easy schedule, and we managed to get to the central city restaurant with an uneventful hour.
I suppose with anyone else, the silence would have been awkward and uncomfortable. But that’s one of the nice things about Akane. She doesn’t give off that need to fill the silence. It’s just there, and there’s nothing wrong with it.
So it was a bit surprising when we got off at our last stop, and she chose to strike up a conversation.
“You going to class today?”
I blinked, then shrugged. “Eh, probably not. I’ve been spending most of my time at the shooting range, practicing and testing out new loads for the Saint George. They’ve got some ridiculous stuff.”
“Not worried about skipping class?”
“Not really. I mean, turns out I have a marketable skillset already. In this city, I can go pretty far.”
“Well, it’s the same with you and Derek, right? You don’t really need to worry about getting degrees.”
She shrugged. “His mom insisted.”
I raised an eyebrow. “But aren’t you guys paying your own way?”
“Yeah, but she insisted.”
Oh, okay, Derek didn’t want to disappoint his mother. I guess I could understand that. Although… “I’m still not sure why she cares.”
“Not sure who cares about what?”
I turned to see Lily, holding a pad and an empty tray of drinks, standing a few feet away from the tables belonging to an outdoor restaurant. I hadn’t realized we had come this far already.
I kissed her on the cheek by way of greeting. “Derek’s mom making them go to college. With the money they’re making, it seems like a waste.”
My girlfriend shrugged, her tail twitching. “She wants them to hedge their bets. Otherwise if they get injured, that’s the end.”
“But they can still act as advisers and so on. I just—”
“Enough,” Akane interrupted. “Not why we’re here. Lily, I need your help with Ling.”
Lily looked bewildered. “What for?”
“She’s having trouble killing people.”
Blunt and to the point.
Lily looked pained. “I’m not…really the best person to talk to about that.”
“You are,” Akane insisted, taking a step forward. “You’re the only one who can give better advice than ‘get over it.’”
The demon rubbed her horns nervously. “Look, I’m the only waitress here right now, I don’t have time—”
“You only have three customers,” Akane pointed out.
Lily winced. “Yeah, but—”
“What’s the big deal?” I asked, genuinely confused. “You’re usually more than happy to help random people.”
“Yeah, but that’s before I found out she—” Suddenly her mouth snapped shut like a steel trap. “Nevermind. It’s not my place to say.”
Well, that certainly wasn’t odd. I put my hand on her shoulder. “Lil, whatever’s wrong, we can talk—”
She shrugged off my arm, surprising me. “Can’t Laura talk to her about it? I know Derek is one of the ‘get over it’ crowd, but Laura should be better.”
Akane shrugged. “Maybe. But we don’t know where she is.”
Lily looked at us both in turn with those big red eyes…before shaking her head firmly.
“No. I’m sorry, but…no.” I opened my mouth to protest, but she placed a finger on my lips. “Please, Adam, for me. Just…don’t ask any questions.” She kissed my cheek and sashayed away.
“That was weird,” I muttered.
“You want to grab something to eat?” Akane asked.
I turned to stare at the swordswoman. “That’s random.”
She shrugged. “Hungry.”
I shrugged too. “Sure, why not.”
“There are seats over here.”
As we sat down a thought occurred to me. “Say, its been bugging me…”
Akane looked up expectantly.
“Where is Laura, anyway?”
Behind the Scenes (scene 140)
Lily is a fixture of the city (especially the inner city), but she rarely talks about her personal life. Which is why Akane didn’t know where her apartment was.