Previous Chapter: 1.7 – Going Home
We arrived at the castle without incident, although it was less of a castle and more of an expansive hut with royal decorations. We made our way inside through the back entrance, with An and Sledg following suit. We followed Ace through the corridors until we reached a lavishly decorated room. It had bright red carpets with couches that looked as if they had never been used but we took a seat anyway. Ace summoned a domestic rental and had him retrieve the regent, Aga Dez, who had been serving while Ace was away.
“And bring a set of clothes for the boy,” he called after the rental, “Preferably covelt if we received the shipments!” Ace turned back to us, “So this is my home, I still barely know my way around it but we should be safe here while we determine our next course of action.”
“From the looks of it, we’ve got a lot left to do,” Hyde said, staring out of the window. The group followed suit, spotting a portion of what Gohama had warned us about. Many houses were now likely piles of ash watched by constant police patrols.
“We’ll wait until Aga Dez gets here – he’ll be able to give us a comprehensive update,” Ace said.
“What are the police even trying to accomplish?” I asked.
Ace began to pace, only shrugging in response. The rental soon returned with a stack of fresh clothes in hand, leading a short man, rotund with a cheery face into the room.
“Ah, there’s my favorite mustache,” Ace said as he approached the man, shaking his hand. “Everyone, this is Aga Dez, my finest political advisor and regent.” He introduced the portly man before asking him for an update on the city.
“Quite a lot has occurred, my Lord. I managed to procure complete citizenship for those of mixed parentage and reduced taxes to one-fourth of one’s worth. I couldn’t convince the group to integrate a jury of one’s peers, but a compromise of fair trials did pass. I can have a list of the tabled amendments brought to you as soon as possible,” Aga Dez said.
A smile spread across Acetate’s face, “Wonderful! Finally some good news – I knew I could count on you.”
“Unfortunately,” Aga Dez continued, “We have our work cut out for us. I’ve taken the time to narrow things still left to be down into three actionable tasks.”
Ace turned to the rest of the group, “This is why I like him.”
“Thank you, sir. We still need to stabilize the city and take it back from this unofficial martial law the police force has proclaimed. Lord Ace, I believe they have you on a lockout. It’s unlikely they’ll let you leave the castle now that you’ve returned.”
“That’s fine,” Ace nodded, “I’ve managed to round up a competent group, they’ll be my eyes and ears while I’m stuck here.”
“Great. Next, we will need to take down the remaining troublesome groups: the noblemen and the Trading Union.”
“The Union?” I perked up, “How?!”
Ace turned to me, “You’ll see soon enough. Continue Aga.”
“We will function best if we are able to cripple the groups standing in our way. Then, we can move to a more long-term solution.”
“The Night Shift,” Ace informed Aga Dez with a smile.
“Ah, yes, long-term Night Shift goals,” Aga finished. He then turned to me and whispered, “Is that going to be the name of our quaint rebellion group?” I gave him the thumbs up. “I’m sure you can imagine how hard it is to keep up with his names, thanks for the heads up!.” Aga gestured to Ace and winked at me.
“Very good. We have also completed our mission by recovering the lovely An,” Ace said with a suppressed smile, ignoring our whispering, “So now we need to evaluate what our next move will be…”
“For now, our long-term goals should be to continue collecting information on the reasoning behind Rayon’s acts,” Aga Dez expanded for the benefit of the new Night Shift members. “After we have gathered enough information, we’ll move to replacing those acts with more society-friendly solutions.”
“I’d like to add settlement fortification to our goals,” Ace said to Aga, “My visit to the north was enlightening.”
“Very well sir, I shall make the preparations,’ Aga Dez nodded to Ace as he took his leave from the room.
“Tonight we’ll rest because three-fourths of us don’t have use of our opposable thumbs during the night. In the morning, we’ll set off to stabilize the city. Follow me to your rooms for the night.” Ace began walking toward the door, “Oh, and Sledg, please put on your new clothes – you’ll look like a nice little lord.”
The next morning we were summoned to the same room.
“Good morning, I hope everyone slept well,” Ace asked.
“I forgot what a bed felt like,” Sledg said with a boyish grin.
“Good, good – I’m glad we could provide you with that luxury before we send you off to fight…” Ace looked around the room, “Surprise! Some of you will be getting your hands dirty today, fun right?”
He certainly seemed refreshed from a good night’s sleep…
“Aga and I stayed up last night to figure out how to best take back the city,” he continued, “Your assignments are as follows: Jochro and Sledg, you will work from a list of particularly influential officers among the police, taking out as many as you can.”
“You know I can’t fight, right?” I interrupted.
Ace seemingly ignored me, “An come, come,” he excitedly waved her over. “Do your thing with my scepter and try to dump it into Jochro.”
An touched the sphere on the top of the scepter and the glow wisped into her palm. She grabbed my wrist with her other hand and I could feel energy pulsing into my arm. It was different from Sledg’s energy. It made my limbs lighter, almost as if air was now flowing through my veins.
“Let me know when to stop,” An said to Ace. She continued to siphon the cloudlike vapors from the scepter’s head until Ace held up a hand, signaling her to stop.
“Whew! You better use that wisely, kid,” Ace said, looking suddenly exhausted. “I won’t be needing any energy today due to the lockdown. I’ll only be interviewing three potential captains for the police force. So I only need enough energy for the old flapper.” He pointed his thumb at his mouth. “Hopefully, one of them is sympathetic to our cause.”
I looked at my hands, nothing felt out of the ordinary.
“So what are you waiting for, Jojo? Try it out.”
I tried a variety of hand motions with no luck, “Uh…”
“Pretend you are peeing out your hands,” he gestured, “Push.”
I held up my palm mimicking his movement, attempting to push whatever borrowed energy was inside of me out. Suddenly, a brief recoil of my hand caused a glass of water across the room to shatter onto the floor.
Ace beamed, “That should last you throughout your mission.”
The weight of reluctance lifted from me and I was now eager to get out in the streets. I would now finally be able to pull my weight in a fight.
“I know I’m asking a lot of you two, of all of you, really,” Ace’s smile faded, “But it’s the only way for us to succeed. Sledg, you’ll pass in the public eye as my little lordling. Jochro, I’m sure you already know what to do…”
My six years experience of being enslaved would pay off.
“An, you’ll stay here and act as my new domestic rental. I’ll have one of the veterans give you a quick lesson,” Ace turned to Hyde, “Go see Aga Dez and make sure our informants can meet soon. Once the city is more stable, I want to be able to meet with them to gather their information. Good luck everyone.”
With the meeting now adjourned, Sledg and I began to make our way out of the door.
“Jochro, Sledg,” An called after us, “Let’s find someone we can give you two a little boost from,” she said with a smile.
An’s “boost” had essentially been a guard she’d drained until he had fallen unconscious. Sledg and I now pulsing with energy, made our way to the first of several targets on the list we’d be given after stopping by the armory. Sledg had picked up a small, tranquilizer-coated baton while I opted to choose two knives. Once outside the castle, we jogged toward our first target. I found that the boost we’d been given had increased my reflexes, balance, and strength. An’s powers were really paying off. We slid to a stop at the first officer outpost.
“Let’s try to sneak this first one, hopefully minimizing casualties to our target,” I suggested. Sledg nodded as we peered around the side alley of the building where our target was located. We noted two guards outside of the rear entrance, sitting and talking. Sledg motioned for me to stay while he walked over and approached them.
“Excuse me, I think I am…” Sledg paused, looking puzzled. I wasn’t sure if he had forgotten what he wanted to say or if this was for dramatic effect.
“Lost?” One of the guards finished for him.
“I think so, yes! That’s it,” Sledg nodded in agreement. Having caught the two off guard, he whipped out his baton, smacking the first in the face before turning to the other. The second guard was reaching for his saber but Sledg was too quick. He smacked the guard’s hand with his baton before bringing it up and crushing it into his face. Both men were unconscious before Sledg turned around to call me over.
“Well, look who’s showing off!” I chuckled, “Hyde says the tranquilizer is effective for about an hour, let’s move.”
The two of us walked through the door, entering a room filled with cubbyholes. Uniforms and other belongings were strewn across the floors.
“So, does the list say exactly where this guy is?” Sledg asked.
I shook my head. Ahead of us were two hallways. I randomly chose the one on the left and Sledg followed. We crept down the hallway until we reached two doors, one on either side. I stopped in the middle and closed my eyes, focusing in to see if I could pick up on any occupants of either of the rooms. I sensed there was one individual in the room to our right and two others having a conversation in the one to the left. I signaled Sledg to take the left room while I took the one on the right. I gave him two fingers to notify him of the occupants. I prepped myself with a deep breath before signaling to go. Turning into the room, I saw the individual leaning back in a chair; his feet propped on a table, his back to me. Unfortunately, my knives didn’t carry enough tranquilizer venom, so knocking him out wasn’t an option. As I ran toward the sitting guard, two options flashed through my head – kill him or improvise. New to the whole rebellion game, I chose option number two. I skidded to a stop beside the guard and held up both palms toward him. He turned with a confused look on his face as I pushed him out of his chair with some of Ace’s wind. He flew off of his seat with more force than planned, smashing his head into the nearby wall. He laid there, unmoving. Better this than a slit throat I thought as I ran into the hallway. Sledg was there waiting and we quickly continued down the hallway without a sound.
We rounded the corner, coming face to face with two more guards. They immediately began to change, readying themselves to attack. I cursed myself for still being distracted by my last encounter as I drew my knife, propelling it at the guard nearest to my right. The knife hit the man, now half-changed. I jumped onto him without a second thought, doing to him what I had feared to do to the previous guard. Next to me, Sledg had little problem taking his opponent down. I retrieved my knives and we continued.
“We’ll have to find this guy soon, someone’s going to discover the bodies eventually,” I panted as we came to another fork in the hallway. One led down a hallway that looked identical to the one we had just left while the other led to a stairwell. “The bad guy boss has to be on the top floor, right?” I suggested.
We began our cautious creep toward the steps as we heard voices coming from the floor above. I closed my eyes once again and focused. I noted to Sledg that there were 4 individuals total but I had to focus in more to get a better bearing on the location of each. I had Sledg make his hand into a circle, mimicking the floor pattern above so I could point, showing him where each person was located. Two were directly left of the stairwell landing and the other two were further away, toward the back of the adjoining room. I asked which pair Sledg wanted to pursue and he shrugged nonchalantly. I guess it made sense that planning wouldn’t be a ten-year old’s strong suit. However, I wasn’t much more useful in that department either. We eventually decided to send him after the ones directly to the left. I gave him the go signal.
We bounded up the steps and rounded the corner. I sprinted to the back of the room, seeing Sledg’s two targets in my periphery. They turned to look at me in confusion before one went down quickly. I brought my palms up and blasted towards my target’s feet from halfway across the room. Both lost their footing and smacked into the ground. One hit his head on the wall while the other stood up quickly, taking out his saber. He swung it down towards me and I surprised myself with the agility I was able to muster to avoid the blow. I then withdrew my knife as he reeled his arm back for another strike, slashing his exposed arm. I then ducked under his next strike and planted that same knife in his chest, blasting him with wind from my free hand.
The one who had bumped his head was now slowly getting up. I stepped to him, slashing wildly as he tumbled backward. I took out my other knife and tossed it into him with wind propellant. I heard more footsteps coming up the stairs.
I turned in time to see half a dozen men reach the top of the stairs and engage Sledg. One of the men turned to me and yelled out in shock, “They’ve killed the Captain!”
That was Sledg and I’s cue to get out of there as fast as possible – our job was done. Unfortunately, they were blocking the only exit. I blasted two men who were running for me and quickly began glancing around for another route of escape. I spotted a window on the side of the room. I called for Sledg as I blasted the wooden bars out of the window space. He began running and I focused my palm wind to slow the pursuers who were chasing after him. Sledg changed almost immediately and took out the window. I followed right behind him, hoping my legs didn’t shatter on impact. It was almost too late when I remembered I literally had wind in my blood. I flipped midair to position myself, imagining I was trying to empty my hand-bladder at a record pace. I felt every bit of power in my body leave through my hands, stopping myself briefly in mid-air, as if I had been suddenly yanked up by a string. I resumed falling a second later but hit the ground with a much more manageable thump. Sledg landed next to me, changing back to his human form.
“Only what, six more to go?”
I peeled myself off the ground and we sprinted (well, I hobbled) toward our next target. We ducked into the nearest alley, being sure to take a nonsensical route to ensure we weren’t being followed. A few minutes later we arrived at a building with a similar aesthetic to the first.
“Okay, so my borrowed powers are running on empty, I’m strictly the brains of this operation now; you’re the muscle,” I said to the stringy 10 year-old. “We’ll need a plan this time, we can’t take on a dozen guys again. Can you do a quick fly around the building?”
Without a word Sledg changed and took off, returning a few minutes later.
“There’s a similar backdoor entrance. Surrounding it is a cart being followed by people who are dressed similarly to you. There are also two ladies over there,” he pointed to the opposite side of the building, “and a guy selling something near the ladies.”
“Okay, how many guards are around the wagon?”
“Distract them. Give me three minutes minimum.”
Sledg nodded and was soon a crow wearing his little lordling covelt outfit, flapping towards the wagon. I followed shortly after. Once Sledg was able to pull the guards away from the wagon, I ran toward my former co-workers.
“What’s in this cart?”
“Uh, not sure – we just got back early from a dig.”
“Okay perfect, do you guys want to take down this guard outpost?”
The construction crew looked puzzled at first but smiles began to branch across their face as they soon realized I was serious.
“Help me push,” I said beginning to steer the cart towards the building. The group of slaves happily joined me and the cart began to pick up speed. I hopped in, searching for something flammable. I uncorked what I hoped was the cause of the explosion on the day I had met Patterson. I rolled off of the cart and came almost face to face with the two ladies, who were now rounding the corner. We exchanged stares until I heard a crash behind me. I turned to see small flames began to billow out of the hole created by the cart. It was time to go. I gave the two ladies a weak smile, hoping it conveyed an apology for the run in. I hurried back to the individuals, waving for them to follow me. There was no telling what the controllers would do to these construction rentals upon discovery of their assistance, maybe Ace could use them. I lead them down the nearest alley, getting them a couple of blocks away before turning and giving them directions to how they could reach the back of the castle with a direct message for Ace.
I continued down the next alley, turning the corner to find a bear looking in my direction. I retreated back the way I came until I reached the spot where I had just separated from the workers. One was pinned to the ground being torn to shreds by a lion – I was trapped. I hoped the others had at least fared better.
I looked between the two changed controllers stalking towards me. I grabbed ahold of one of the buildings I was trapped between and began to climb. The lion and bear picked up their pace once they realized I wasn’t a sitting duck. I made it halfway up the building when the lion had reached me. It stood on its hind legs and swiped a paw at me, ripping through my pants and taking off my shoe. I avoided looking down despite feeling like I lost a foot. I reached my hand up on the wall to move higher but it wasn’t a hand I recognized. It was now one with feathers sprouting from my shoulder down to my wrist. My fingers were replaced with the tips of wings and I began to fall backwards. I dropped half a second before I instinctively began flapping my wings. Being so close to the ground, I crashed through some rubbish before managing to push off the ground and become airborne.
I flew over the city, heading back towards the castle wondering what was happening. Approaching castle, I began to feel what I had dubbed the “sunset tingles”, which normally meant I’d be changing back to human shortly. I descended as quickly as possible, landing rather abruptly in more trash.
I sat up, wondering what had just happened. An hadn’t given me any of Sledg’s energy before the assignment. I stood up, peeling the garbage from my ripped clothes and began trotting toward the rendezvous point. I couldn’t figure out why I had changed for the first time in daylight.
Sledg was waiting when I arrived, no workers in sight. We headed inside and instructed the doorman to let any rentals in. When I arrived at the red room, I heard Ace speaking with another man. To be safe, I turned on my heels in an effort not to be recognized as the rental that destroyed an outpost.
Instead of heading straight for the meeting with Ace, Sledg and I went to our rooms and changed instead. An came up shortly after we were finished and brought us back to Ace.
“I would ask how it went, but… I think news of your deeds has already reached me,” Ace said while rubbing his temples with a contradictory grin.
“A lot of chaos for only two hit outposts. I ran out of wind…” I responded.
“No worries,” Ace waved, “I’m more worried about a rumor of some bird escaping a lion and bear…” he turned to Sledg.
“Oh, that was me,” I raised my hand.
Ace and Sledg turned to me, clearly puzzled. Anroma giggled from the back of the room. We all turned to face her.
“An… what did you do?”
She shrugged. “There was probably a little leftover Sledg in him after…” she imitated Sledg riding the horse and throwing up.
“Well, this is quite the development …” Ace said. He then looked out the window, “You all should get to sleep, we’ve got another big day tomorrow.”
The three of us began to leave when Ace called after me, “Jochro, I am thrilled with your progress today – there were at least two captains in the fire. So three out of seven ain’t bad,” he smiled.