“Akane, Flynn,” I nodded as introduction to both of them. “Where are the others?”
“I haven’t seen Robyn,” she admitted, stepping back out of some fighting stance she had been showing Flynn. “Ling ran off, and I sent Adam after her.”
I looked at her curiously. “Why didn’t you just grab her?”
The swordswoman shrugged. “Adam was the reason she left. He brought some bad news.”
“But…” I sighed. “Fine, whatever. You two ready for lunch?”
“Yeah.” She picked up her sword bag and slipped it over her shoulder; behind her, Flynn mirrored the action. “Wasn’t Derek coming?”
“He’s still with the First Response Battalion.” At their blank looks, I elaborated. “A new crew Butler put together for us. A step up in size from the retinue, but a step below calling down the whole might of Necessarius. Anyway, we found a crime scene, and he wanted to keep an eye on them for now.”
That man couldn’t delegate to save his life. As long as there was a chance of danger, he wouldn’t let them out of his sight. But still, I figured it was better to let him go crazy for a little while. Give him a chance to see the battalion in action. Maybe they’d earn some confidence from him.
As we left, I forced a smile. “Where’d you two want to eat? Personally, I’m not really in the mood for Nervi’s today.” Too much red meat in my diet recently.
Akane thought about it as we passed through the checkpoint. “I dunno…there’s that cafe near the dorms. Maybe we’ll run into Ling and Adam, too.”
Flynn looked contemplative. “You mean that one we went to after the alley crawlers, right?”
Oh, I remembered that one.
It was one we had gone to with Elizabeth.
“Let’s try somewhere new,” I suggested. “There’s a pizza place on the south end of Acheron.”
“You mean the one that just opened up in Thuldanin?” Flynn asked, a cynical look on his face. “I heard about it, but I’m not sure I want to eat any food Laduguer had anything to do with.”
“Fair enough,” I said slowly. “How about Sweet Reason, over in Mercuria?”
Akane gave me a sideways look. “Really?”
Okay, she had a point. Going to a Heaven would be a bad idea for a few reasons.
“You’re over thinking this, ” Flynn suggested. “There’s a cafe right here.” He indicated a sparsely populated outdoor restaurant. It was designed to serve fifty or more people at a time, but there were only five or six.
Silver and gold, every time I thought the city was starting to recover, I turned around to find everyone still huddled down for the storm. It wasn’t because of this morning’s incident at the apartment, either, since we hadn’t released any news on that yet. It was just a general fear, a knowledge that more was wrong with the world than usual.
If Akane and Flynn noticed, they didn’t say anything, which was probably for the best. I didn’t feel like discussing the sociological ramifications of an entire city being under constant siege. Akane just gave her totally-not-boyfriend a sideways look.
“Here?” she asked. I wasn’t sure if her incredulity was due to the abandoned nature of the place or the fact that it served Japanese food.
Flynn just rolled his eyes at both of us. “I figured a familiar face would be the most important thing.”
That would be when we noticed Lily waiting tables.
“You’re still doing this?” I asked when we got close enough. “I assumed you were busy with other things.”
The small, horned girl just smiled guilelessly. “Most of the waiters at my jobs are calling in,” she explained. “Someone has to wait the tables.”
“Doesn’t have to be you,” Akane noted.
Lily just shrugged. “Maybe. But we can chat later. Why don’t you three just take a seat, and we’ll have you served in a minute, okay?”
I nodded, pulling the other two over to a nearby table. There was no arguing with Lily when she was in her ‘help anyone and everyone’ mode. Besides, I really was hungry.
“So what exactly is this thing Derek was keeping an eye on?” Flynn asked once we had secured seats sufficiently far from the other patrons. “Knowing him, it could be someone tripped and skinned their knee.”
That made me smile. He wasn’t that bad, but it certainly felt like it at times. “No, it’s actually pretty serious.” I sipped at the water Lily placed in front of me. “Someone attacked an apartment this morning. Derek and I were the ones to find it. Now he’s keeping an eye on the ‘sarians.”
Flynn frowned. “An apartment? What were you two doing in the middle city?”
“It was a central apartment,” I corrected. “Just a little one over by…” I tried to remember. “Arborea, I think. Still, it was pretty bad. A complete slaughter.”
“Ugh. Another Bloody Thirteen?”
I groaned. “I hadn’t even thought about that. There could be more massacres that we haven’t found.”
“Well,” the swordsman muttered, clearly a little perturbed that he had been the first one to think of the worst possibility. “We can still hope it’s just the one.”
“We can hope,” I agreed. I turned to the menu, scrolling down a little. “But for now, we should eat. I’m getting the white rice with steamed veggies. What about you guys?”
“Some bass for me,” Flynn said immediately. He was looking at the menu a bit hungrily. “They’ve got some in a teriyaki glaze.”
Akane shrugged. “Pojo. I guess.”
I rolled my eyes. “Just get the chicken. It costs half as much, and you won’t be able to tell the difference.”
“Chicken prices have gone up,” Lily said from behind me as she stepped into my field of vision. “With the blockades and everything.”
Akane blinked. “Blockades?”
“On Shaohao and the other space stations,” the waitress elaborated. “They’re not getting any food from the ground, which means they don’t have any of the good stuff to shoot down to us. Unless Butler decides to start trading by ship or plane, which I doubt will happen. The point is, for now at least, pojoes are cheaper than chickens.”
The swordswoman shrugged. “Then I’ll get the pojo, like I said.”
Lily tapped in her pad. “Teriyaki?”
“Okay…and striped bass in teriyaki for the teacher…” Flynn smiled a bit at being called a teacher. I had forgotten about that. I guess it was working out for him. “…and what did you want, Laura?”
“White rice and veggies.” I handed the menu back to her.
She grasped the device with her tail, wrapping around it a few times. “I’ll be right back—oh, sir!” There was another customer, a few tables away, sitting down. “Give me a minute, I’ll be right with you!”
The new guy was a vampire, though I couldn’t tell what specific culture. Other than the nighteyes hidden under daygoggles, he seemed baseline, if a bit pale.
It didn’t take long for Lily to come back with our food. Flynn and mine were common enough to be prepared ahead of time, and pojoes didn’t even need to be cooked if you killed them right.
“How have things been going?” Flynn asked as he flipped out one of his knives and started slicing into his fish. “With Lizzy—”
“Elizabeth,” Akane said firmly.
“Er…yeah. With Elizabeth and the renegade speakers and all that. The news has been kinda quiet.”
I pulled out my own knife—the only one I had—and started carefully eating rice. “Not good. Not quite…bad either, but definitely not good. We killed a few when we captured her—”
“I heard about that. Everyone was talking about it.” He took a small bite of fish. “Wasn’t it the first fight between the Paladins and the Blackguards?”
“Second,” Akane corrected. “The first was on the Ring.”
I nodded. “Right. We killed one there—” I had forgotten about that entire fight. “—and a handful more in the alley ambush, and then Akane got the flier on the roof on Monday.”
The swordsman looked contemplative. “Well, that’s not great, but it could be worse, right?”
“Probably,” I admitted. “But the big problem is that Elizabeth seems to be able to create new Blackguards whenever she wants, at least going by some of the things she’s said. We can’t.”
“Oh yeah, I was kinda wondering about that.” He grinned. “I guess that means I don’t get super speed? Unless I join the other side, I guess.” Akane glared at him, and he grinned wider, holding up his hands in a placating gesture. “Just joking, just joking.”
“Go easy on the death glare, Akane,” I advised. “You might scare him away.”
“So you ARE Akane?” I heard from behind me. “The swordswoman Akane?”
We all turned to see the drake who had sat down a few minutes ago staring at us.
“Yes,” Akane managed. “Why?”
The vampire pulled off his daygoggles, squinting in the morning light, to get a better look at her. “You’re Akane…Aki…moto? Akimoto?” He shook his head. “No, that’s not right.” He fished around in his pocket, presumably for a phone. “I have it written down, one second…”
“Akane Akiyama,” she said bluntly. “Why?”
“I’ve been looking for you,” he explained, a little hesitantly. “My name is Joshua Algol.”
The swordswoman just shook her head, the motion making the beads in her hair click again.
“My uncle was the ghoul Nathaniel Algol,” he elaborated. When Akane still didn’t react, he continued. “He died almost three months ago, in an alley off Abigail and Celestia.”
Suddenly, Akane leaped back, knocking over her chair and drawing her sword in a single motion. Flynn mimicked her, though a bit slower, and I at least had the presence of mind to get out of the way.
That’s also when I noticed the vampire was holding a grenade.
“You killed my uncle,” he said, a sad little smile on his face. “I guess that means now I have to kill you.”
I closed my eyes. Silver and gold, Akane. Why did she always attract the crazy ones?
Behind the Scenes (scene 177)
Might have taken a little too long to get to the point on this one.