“It was dangerous,” MC said breathlessly in my ear. “Illegal, too. If Artemis finds out what I did—”
“Don’t let him,” I suggested. “I guess.”
“Yeah, I figured as much, thanks,” she snapped back harshly.
I started. MC never snapped at me. “I—uh…”
She sighed. “Sorry. It’s been a long couple months.”
“Yeah.” That was the truth. Since…August what, the 24th? Yeah, that sounded right. That was when the first screamer appeared, and everything went all sideways.
Of course, my life had been a complete cluster since the moment I was born.
“Still,” I managed. “Thanks.”
“Hey, you’ve done enough for this city, even before the screamers.” She chuckled. “Of course, you’ve also caused a lot of property damage.”
I bristled. “Most weren’t my fault. It was just—”
“I’m just teasing, Red, no need to fuss.”
I closed my eyes, gripping my phone so hard I heard it start to creak. “Please…don’t call me that.”
“What? Oh…right. Elizabeth called you that. Sorry.”
Wait, she had? Well…thinking back, yeah, I guess she did. Usually, she went with ‘Ken-chan,’ but when she was talking about me in English (not to me, she always used Japanese for that), she did call me Red.
That wasn’t why I disliked the nickname, though. No need to tell MC that.
The woman continued quickly, trying to dodge the awkwardness. “I figured breaking a few privacy laws was the least I could do to return the favor.”
“Yeah, and I appreciate it.” I swallowed my anxiety as best as I could as I looked over the orphanage I was standing in front of. It was the same as any other orphanage in West Middle; fifteen stories tall, with walls covered in trellises and potato and tomato vines. “I-I’m going in.”
“Good luck,” MC said earnestly, and hung up.
I put my phone away slowly, still desperately searching for some way to delay this even a moment more. Musashi’s sword, I couldn’t possibly do this. Why had I ever thought this was a good idea?
I should go home. Turn around, get back on the train, and go back to the dorms. I had…training. And homework. Lots of homework. All sorts of things I needed to do other than—
“Who are you?”
I nearly jumped out of my skin at the quiet voice. I hadn’t even noticed the front door open, but a curious little demon girl, maybe nine or ten years old, was staring up at me with bright orange eyes.
Thankfully, I’m generally good with kids, otherwise with everything combined I probably wouldn’t have been able to speak. “I-I’m…” I coughed, and started again. “I’m here to see Yuuki. Is he in?”
“Oh, yeah!” she chirped cheerfully. “Come on in!” She stepped aside to let me pass.
“Thank you,” I said as I stepped over the threshold. “I hope he’s not busy…”
“No, he just got back from work.” Of course. He was…sixteen? Thereabouts. Of course he’d be working.
“Well, I don’t want to interrupt his leisure either…”
The demon waved her hand as she led me through the building. “It’s fine! What gang are you in?”
I blinked at the sudden change of subject, but managed to regain my bearings quickly enough. I had a lot of practice from Lizzy. “Uh, I’m not in a—”
“Sure you are! You’re wearing your colors!”
Oh, right. The ribbon in my hair. I guess I could see how someone could mistake that for a symbol of allegiance to one of the surviving gangs. “Well, you see—”
“Which gang is it? The Greenhearts? The Smiths? Or maybe the Ajellos?”
It wasn’t like when I was growing up, and the gangs were all bloodthirsty psychopaths in the middle of being exterminated by Necessarius. These days, the gangs were more like businesses and companies.
Which gave me an idea.
“I’m with Huntsman.” A perfectly true statement, if a tiny bit misleading. Two people wasn’t exactly a gang, but…
The little girl frowned. “I haven’t heard of them. What do they do?”
“We do mercenary and protection work. Monster slaying and the like.”
“Well, that’s nice. Matron says people like you are the only ones standing between the city and total annihilation.”
“Uh…” At her age, I’m not sure I could even pronounce ‘annihilation,’ let alone knew what it meant. “I think that might be going a bit too far, but thanks.”
The door in front of us opened, revealing a tall, gangly teenage boy with soft Asian features. His black hair was cropped short, and he was dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt, so there was really nothing to mark him as unique or special. If he had any toys, I didn’t see them.
He did, however, have bright green eyes, a color that was virtually impossible for a full-blooded Asian.
“What’s going too far?” He frowned at me, then turned to the girl guiding me. “Who’s this?”
She just shrugged. “Dunno. She said she was looking for you.”
The boy’s frown deepened, and he turned his attention back to me. I noticed his hand slip behind his back, likely to grip a weapon in case I turned hostile.
“Well?” he asked bluntly, after it became clear that I wasn’t going to volunteer anything. “What do you want?”
I licked my lips, trying desperately to find the words. I couldn’t just…
“If you don’t have anything to say, then get out. I have things to do today.” He started to close the door.
“Y-you’re Yuuki, right?”
He opened the door again, eyebrow raised. “Yeah, so what?”
“Son of Midori? And your little brother is Yuudai?”
His eyes narrowed, and I heard the very soft sound of a knife being drawn from a sheathe. “Yeah, what of it?”
I smiled shakily. “I’m Akane Akiyama. Midori was my older sister.”
Yuuki’s knife clattered to the floor as he stared at me in shock.
“I’m your aunt.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 150)
For the record, Yuuki is actually half Japanese and half Vietnamese.
Extra update Wednesday.