“Turgay?” I cried incredulously. “Tezuka, what are you doing here?”
‘Here’ was a random street in South Central, a couple miles from AU. There wasn’t really anyone around, but I still wouldn’t have expected to see him just walking about like nothing was wrong. Necessarius was still after him over the toy box.
The ave glanced at the other people—what few of them there were—on the street. “Let’s find somewhere to talk.” He led me down an alley, looking around nervously the whole time. Once we were out of earshot of a surprised maintenance man installing speakers under an eave, I decided we had gone far enough.
“I haven’t seen you in almost two weeks,” I hissed. “Where have you been?”
“I’ve been busy,” he muttered. “Working on that stupid box.” He shook his feathered head. “I’m the only one who can get near the damn thing, because of the damn pheromones. It’s slow going.”
I nodded with false sympathy. “I can imagine. Not to mention hiding from Necessarius, because you practically started a war with them.”
He held up his claws, trying to placate me. “Hey, that’s not my fault! I’m just a researcher!”
“You said you were one of the ones who stole the toy box.”
He rubbed his beak nervously. “I was…on the team. Mostly, I was an adviser. We needed to make sure we grabbed the right thing—”
“I don’t care,” I cut him off. “Guy, with everything that’s going on—the fey, Elizabeth—this isn’t time to be fighting.”
He blinked his big eagle eyes. “Hey, wait, I thought the Composer was captured. And the fey are keeping to themselves for the moment, right?”
I snorted. “Did you watch any of the shows I gave you? The Composer will escape, and the fey are just waiting for the most dramatic moment to strike. It’s just common sense.”
The ave sighed. “That’s not how the universe works, Ling.”
“It is in my experience.”
“Okay, I guess…whatever. I don’t care. Ling, the reason I begged for the afternoon off was because I needed to talk to you.”
That was a bit surprising. Sure, he was one of my best friends, but that was mostly because he hadn’t abandoned me after my sons were born and that whole crapfest. He tended to keep to himself.
“Must be important,” I admitted, even though I wanted to chew him out over the toy box and so on more. “Spill it.”
He rubbed his forehead. “Ling, you need to take a trip.”
I blinked in surprise. “What?”
“Take a trip to the outer city,” he reiterated. “You were born in South Outer, right? Go there. Visit the hospital where you were born. Go fishing. Hook up with a Dagonite. I don’t care. Just get out of here for a while.”
I narrowed my eyes. I knew how this story went. “Turgay, what are the aves planning?”
“Don’t lie to me—”
He held up his claws in a placating gesture. “Not…nothing, but nothing to do with you, or the reason you need to leave.” He sighed again. “You need to leave because of Mitchel.”
Well. That made sense.
I felt my face become a stone-cold mask. “He burned down our orphanage, Turgay.”
He closed his eyes. “I know. I know.”
“Killed pretty much everyone we know.”
“I understand that, but—”
“What you want me to just let him live?”
“Of course not!” he snapped. “But he’s one of the Composer’s Blackguards! You can’t fight him!”
I yelled right back. “That’s just another reason to fight him! I’m a Paladin, that’s my job.”
“No,” he shook his head. “That’s Huntsman’s job, that’s Akiyama’s job. You are not a fighter. If you go up against these people, you will die.”
“Excuse me? I’ll have you know I was instrumental to capturing the Composer last week!”
“Really?” He eyed me skeptically. “I saw your fight on the Ring, remember. She took you out in under a minute.”
I bit back a retort. Okay, so maybe he had a point. But when I had fought the Blackguards, I had killed—
That’s when it hit me.
I had killed one of the renegades who had ambushed me in the alley. I hadn’t had much time to think about it at the time, with the Composer popping up less than five minutes later, but…
I had killed someone.
Yeah, it had been a podbrain, one of those brainwashed slaves who thought they were part of a hive mind. But she was still a person. And unlike the screamers, I couldn’t pretend she had some incurable disease that made it okay.
I lay my head against the wall of the alley, the cool concrete calming me.
“…Ling?” Turgay said slowly. “Are you feeling all right?”
“No,” I muttered. “No, I am not.” I leaned back, looking up at the blue sky far above, a mere sliver peeking through the skyscrapers that dominated the city.
By Osamu Tezuka’s last words, how had it come to this?
I had been one of the lucky ones. In a city of murderers, my hands were clean of blood. Human blood, anyway, which had been more than enough for me. And yet…
When I had been given the opportunity to kill, I had taken it. gladly. Jumped at it.
Part of it had been duty, responsibility, but…
How much of it, really?
Because the same thing was happening again. And this time I couldn’t claim ignorance, or pretend I was burning out a disease or whatever. For the last few days, I had been hunting a man down in order to murder him. There was no way around that.
“I’ll take you up on your offer,” I said finally. “I’ll leave. Soon. I just…”
Turgay waited a moment before responding. “You just…what?”
“I just have to do a few things first. It won’t take long. And also…” I didn’t look at him. “Can you come with me? I mean, I just…I’ll need a friendly face, and…”
“Ling,” he whispered. He put his hand on my shoulder.
No. Not his hand. His claws.
I turned to face him, and saw sadness in his bright golden eyes, in the way his feathers drooped, and the set of his beak.
“I can’t come with you,” he admonished gently. “You know that. Soaring Eagle needs me, and…” he gave me a melancholy smile. “If I run, it won’t take her too long to find me.”
Yeah. He was right about that. And he was right that I should have known that, too.
Looked like I was going to be on my own.
Behind the Scenes (scene 159)
Too many short ones, but I need to replenish my buffer somehow.