((72 — You Hurt Me))
The tram-car room was still for a moment. The woven-wood walls seemed to soak up the ongoing screams from outside, muting the world around them.
Kasby had fallen to his knees, the wooden dartpistol having clattered to the floor a meter away from him. He was shaking.
Goat landed next to him. “We’d better go chase her, Captain. C’mon!”
Zebra came running in, Giraffe close behind.. “You think any of us, with the exception of you, as is fast enough?”
“I’m gonna follow her, then!” Goat said. Holding his spear tight, he jumped onto the tram, and then out, vanishing into the city.
Kasby stayed as he was for another minute or so before planting his first unsteady foot and standing.
Barret ran in, slipping her wide metal cutlass back into a sheath on her back as she did. "Where's that last assassin?"
"Gone,” Kasby rasped.
She cursed under her breath, and put a hand to her temple. “Fine, fine. You three go to the Inner Chamber. I’ll catch up with you shortly.” Her tone was sharp, curt, and to the point. Not waiting to see if they did so, she turned and went back outside, presumably to do damage control.
Kasby went without a word of protest, walking into the jammed tram.
“Is someone going to tell them what’s going on?” Giraffe whispered, pointing to the citizens outside as she followed Kasby into the tram.
“Do you know what’s going on?” Zebra asked Giraffe pointedly.
“Why thank you.”
A quiet moment later, Vojtek stumbled inside. He blinked at the tram car, then poked his head in. "Is there a reason you're all just sitting here?"
Kasby remained silent, staring off into space. Giraffe and Zebra could tell, having been around him so long—this was no blank stare, or one of pure sorrow. Lines of tragedy showed on his face, but Kasby's mind was racing with thought.
Vojtek grumbled unintelligibly, then flipped a large lever inside the tram car. The gears made half a turn and then crunched audibly. Vojtek rolled his eyes, "Ugh, jammed. Just be a minute." The large man stepped back out of the tram car, slipping a large wrench out of the pocket of his brown leather coat.
After a minute’s deliberation, Kasby pulled out his short-wave radio and clicked the talk button. “Goat, come in.”
Goat’s voice came back, along with the sound of rushing wind. “Aye, Captain?”
“Where are you?”
“In mid-air, sir!”
“Get back on track, Goat. Where is Jaz? Which was direction was she headed?”
There was a crunch from outside the tram, and Vojtek came back in. He coughed. “There, should be all fixed.”
A crashing sound echoed through Kasby’s transmitter, and he frowned at it. “Goat, come in. Where is she?” He wasn’t paying Vojtek a bit of attention.
The Transportation Secretary threw the lever again. This time, the gears did not catch on anything, and whirred to life, propelling the tram car up the cable. Vojtek grinned at his handiwork. "There, good as new!" He looked up at Kasby, and was immediately reminded of the situation. His face fell, and he let out a heavy breath.
"Goat, report!" Kasby raised his voice into the radio.
Goat's voice came back. "I'm over a large building with a roof that is flat!"
"Unhelpful, Goat. Landmarks? Streetnames?"
Vojtek sat heavily in a chair and turned to Giraffe and Zebra. “Sorry for the less-than-warm welcome…”
Zebra shrugged unconcernedly. Giraffe blinked at him, not impressed. The tram rolled on, back up towards the tower they had landed the Quinn on.
The radio crackled again. “I’ve lost her—” There was another crash. “—sir. But I think I know where she’s going! She’s heading for the crystal tower in the center of the city!”
“Meet us there, Goat. Kasby over and out.” The captain tucked the radio back in his coat and turned to Vojtek. "You might want to alert security that they have a storm coming their way," he suggested without any inflection.
"How do you mean, Captain? There's not much by way of weather in the Void."
"I mean they've got a murderous, skilled demonic assassin headed their way and they better be ready."
“…ah. Right.” Vojtek took a short-wave radio similar to Kasby's out of his pocket, and flipped it on. He mumbled into it for a moment, then tucked it back into the coat pocket it came from.
Kasby pulled the Warlock from its holster at his hip and checked the cartridge. "She's still better than me with the sword. I have to fight from a distance." Kasby said, once again in a neutral tone. He clicked the safety off of the magic-slinging monster of a pistol.
The uncomfortable silence finally ended as the tram car clicked into place in the dock at the crystal tower. Kasby stepped out of the door without giving any of the others a glance, his eyes focused and cold.
The inside of the room was a wild cordon of action. Half a dozen men and women in brown uniforms surrounded the door to the car, matching guns drawn.
Vojtek stepped out and gestured, and the soldiers put their weapons up, letting the five of them past. He spoke to their commander as he passed. "Any sign of the assassin?"
"None, sir," she replied curtly.
The large man let out an angry puff of air, and walked out onto the inner balcony of the tram station, gesturing for the crew to follow. "I'll take you to the Inner Chamber. Mercuria will be with us shortly."
Kasby followed, weapon still clenched in one hand, not making eye contact with anyone. Giraffe sighed and followed, with Zebra following considerably more casually. Goat leapt into step next to them.
The grand concourse below the balcony was a wild hustle of frenzied action, people rushing to and fro in a chaotic mess. Here and there, officers in uniform tried and failed to keep things in order.
Vojtek ducked into a waiting elevator, with the others close behind. He tapped a button, and the doors slid closed. There was a now-familiar sensation of vertical motion for a moment, and the doors opened again.
The hexagonal room they exited into was clearly at the top of the tower. A large C-shaped table filled most of the room, with six chairs arranged around the outside. The walls were large windows, looking out over the city below. The floor at the center of the room, in the middle of the table, was a map of the city cut from various colored metals.
Goat jumped out of the elevator and scanned the room for Jaz, twirling his spear.
Vojtek went and sat down halfway around the table. As Zebra sat down herself, he half stood again. “Wait, that’s Suraya’s…” His voice trailed off as his mind caught up to instinct, and he sat heavily back down.
Zebra looked away, and didn’t say anything.
After fumbling with his spear, Goat perched on a chair, crouching on his powerful legs. Kasby stood by one end of the table, Warlock still drawn, eyes unmoving.
After a minute, the uncomfortable silence was broken by the elevator's doors opening again. Mercuria Barret strode into the room, silver hair now tied up in a bun. She growled angrily and spun to Kasby. "What the hell is going on, Bellwood? I think you owe me an explanation.”
Kasby paused. “I at least owe you that much,” he said, maintaining the calm voice.
Barret’s eyes jumped from Goat to Zebra to Giraffe. "Give me one good reason I shouldn't shoot your entire crew right now for being demons."
“The girl who controls fire wouldn’t like it?” Zebra said calmly.
Barret whirled on her. “Yes. The girl who controls fire.”
Giraffe raised a hand halfway. “That’d be me.”
"If you hadn't killed those assassins, you'd have a bullet in your brain right now, little girl. Do I make myself clear?"
“Sure do,” replied Giraffe. “It’s clear we saved your bloody ass.”
“Don’t you dare threaten my crew.” Kasby responded in the same calm voice he had been maintaining, but it had an unmistakable edge. He was not one to push today.
The Councilor scoffed. "This is my city, Bellwood. You do not tell me what to do."
In response, Kasby set the Warlock down on the table and pulled a holodisc from his pocket, tossing it to Vojtek. "Play that on your holo projector. It's the last data I collected before I left Sector 7."
Vojtek just barely caught it, fumbling with it a moment. He slipped the disk into the table, calling up a screen built in to the table. After a moment, he gestured for Mercuria to look at the data on his screen. She walked into the middle of the table, and did so. As she looked through the data, she scowled.
Kasby slowly pulled a second disc from his pocket and slid it along the table. “From Sector Four.”
Vojtek slipped it into the table as well, and the two of them tapped through it. “Oh,” Vojtek murmured. “Oh… this is…”
Barret stood slowly, her back to the crew. “I don’t like you, Bellwood. I want to make that clear.”
“I don’t care,” he replied.
“I don’t like you either!” asserted Goat. Zebra grunted in agreement.
“Unfortunately,” Barret continued. “You and your crew are the only ones who’ve seriously dealt with these… things… and lived. That makes you useful to me.”
“And what happens after we stop being useful?” Giraffe asked acidly.
“Then I stop using you.” Barret turned to the crew, arching an eyebrow. “So. I’m enlisting all four of you. I’m going to need full disclosure here. Everything you know about these things, and how we can stop them. Sector One has repelled countless demon attacks before, but I'm not stupid. This is different. You four are going to make sure that this city does not fall."
“Is it just me, or does this sound familiar?” Giraffe said quietly to Goat and Zebra.
Zebra shrugged back. “And we know how it turned out last time.”
“We’ll do what we can.” Kasby picked the Warlock up off the table. “Right now, though, worry about keeping yourselves alive. There’s an assassin out for your blood, and she was headed here. I don't think your guards are going to be able to stop it, Barret."
“I can protect myself. I'm the Defense Secretary for a reason, Bellwood." She paused. “That assassin. All of you knew her. How?”
Kasby slid the Warlock into its holster. "Nothing but a familiar face, Barret."
“When Face fell, she saved us,” Goat said.
“I’m not interested in metaphors. Who is she?”
“She’s a demon,” Kasby said. He walked away from the conversation to the great windows, looking out at the city beneath.
“That was no metaphor," said Goat quietly.
She turned to him. “Then explain it, child. Face?”
“It was our home,” Giraffe interjected.
Goat nodded. “A city on the face of a cell.”
Barret frowned. “What Sector?”
The boy shrugged. “We didn’t know about Sectors until Face was destroyed.”
“We were told that Face was a holding cell for some kind of demon,” Giraffe said. “No one there knew until it was too late.”
“We didn’t have these big flying metal ships, or the knowledge of them,” Goat said. “We didn’t know about anything beyond the city, the cell, the void, and our imaginations.”
“All we knew was Face and our humble lives there,” Giraffe added. “This was before we had these demon powers.”
Barret stared for a moment, then called out to Kasby. “Bellwood, what the hell is your crew talking about?"
“If you want to know what the hell we’re talking,” Goat said, standing up to look Barret in the eyes. “Shut the fuck up and listen to us.”
The older woman calmly backhanded Goat sharply across the face. "If you want me to understand, then start making sense, child."
“I definitely don’t like you,” Goat said, glaring defiantly at her.
“They’re from the Templar, Barret,” said Kasby, not turning away from the window. “Descendants of survivors.”
Vojtek sat up. “That’s impossible!”
Barret shook her head at him. "Nothing's impossible. Just very unlikely."
“We’re here, aren’t we?” Giraffe asked Vojtek sarcastically.
He looked at her incredulously. “So you’re saying that the Templar… landed on one of the crystals? And the crew survived for eight hundred years?”
“Listen to the girl,” said Kasby. “My crew are living proof.”
“Yeah. We’re their descendants,” said Goat impetuously.
Kasby looked down at the intercom to downstairs on the table and activated it briefly. "Guards, report. Anything unusual?"
The intercom crackled. "Nothing unusual."
"Keep a tight perimeter. Nothing comes in or out from now on, understand? Watch the ventilation shafts. Report back if you notice anything odd."
The voice came through the intercom again. "Understood."
Kasby sat down at one of the seats. Laying the crystal sword in front of him, he closed his eyes and breathed quietly.
Barret slowly circled the room with her eyes, looking suspiciously at the crew. "So are all of the Templar descendants freaks like you, or did your powers come from somewhere else?"
“I’m not a freak,” Giraffe snapped.
“We weren’t born with powers, if that’s what you mean,” said Zebra slowly.
“If we had been, perhaps Face would still exist,” Goat mourned.
“So the Templar’s gone, then?” Barret crossed her arms. “What happened to it?”
“A demon was nesting in the center of Face,” replied Giraffe. “It was trying to worm its way out.”
Barret nodded. “And you got your powers on its way out.”
“They didn’t show up until a bit later, but yeah,” said Zebra.
“We were sent to figure out what was happening to Face,” Giraffe explained. “Cracks were forming and no one knew why. We made our way into the heart of Face through the cracks.”
“Jaz was as suspicious as you are about our powers.” Goat hadn’t stopped glaring at Barret. “But much nicer about it.”
Giraffe raised an eyebrow. “Lucky you. Kasby wanted to kill us over them.”
“Hmph.” Barret started pacing the center of the room. “So. I’m guessing the assassins were people who got… remade… by those things from your data.”
“Yes.” Kasby spoke without opening his eyes.
"Well, we're going to show those demons that what they did was entirely futile. This city will run perfectly fine without the Council. The infrastructure is solid and sound, we've seen to that."
"Yes, you've proven yourself strong enough to impose a fascist hold without much trouble."
"Captain Bellwood. You would do well to remember your place in this city. You are here to help defend it from an impending demonic invasion, NOT make snide comments about how it is run."
“Oh, I think we can do both,” Goat said quietly.
Kasby held his hands up in surrender. “Right. Outsider. Apologies.”
Giraffe wasn’t about to let it go so easily. “I think you would do well to remember that you need us. You can’t deal with these demons without our help.”
Mercuria's scowled deepened. "Coordinator Ammon was with the refugee fleet. I'm going to wake him up and talk to him. Secretary Vojtek will show you to your quarters. Good day."
Kasby’s eyes opened and he sat up. “Don’t leave the building—”
Not listening, she stormed into the elevator, and the doors slid shut behind her.
"...Fuck. She has no idea of the danger she's in." He turned to Vojtek. "Is there another elevator?"
Vojtek shook his head. "We've, um, prepared rooms for you in a private apartment right nearby in the Montoya Heights..."
Kasby paid him no mind, frantically hitting the return button on the elevator. It dinged, politely informing him that the elevator was in use.
Vojtek spoke quietly. "No one's going to hurt her, Captain. She was captain of the police force before she was Defense Secretary. Used to compete in martial arts tournaments and such. There's not a single person in the entire city who can match her. Even at her age."
Kasby turned to Vojtek. "Are you willing to take that chance? She is the one real leader this city has left—no offense. I'm not going to risk Sector One on her being in top physical form."
"I don't have much of a choice, Captain." He sighed. "You might've noticed that she's... not particularly good at listening to others' advice."
"Well I do have a choice. This isn't her battle to fight anyway. It's not like she can stop me from protecting her."
“She could hit you,” Zebra volunteered.
"Your funeral, I suppose. Am I going to be completely useless, or are some of you planning on following me to your quarters?" The large man's voice was slow and exasperated.
“Just tell me where they are, will you?” Goat said. “I need to blow off some steam. By leaping.”
“…I’ll show you on the map, I suppose.”
The elevator doors dinged and slid open. Not waiting for the others, Kasby stepped inside and turned around with an odd, sad little smile for the bigger man. "Sorry, Vojtek. I've got a tumultuous romance to finally put an end to. Hopefully I'll see you soon." He pushed the door-close button, and the elevator descended.