Chapter 29: Set Stage
“The slaves are coming out. Get the show ready!” Demanded James’ right hand man, Nolan, taking charge of the situation ever since walking out the building. “The crime scene units are up around the corner. Everything has been cleared for them.”
Jensen wasn’t particularly knowledgeable in the districts of the Undercity, but this felt like the most active this area has been since ever. The lights had been turned on to max potency, which, for a power grid that hadn’t been put to good work in a while, was causing strenuous flicker. The surroundings seemed to transform themselves quite easily with just the added light. From there on, Jensen could spot some of the non criminal tenants bringing themselves to look out the windows to spy on the events with an air of success. Having been accosted by the slavers clan for quite some time, they were more than eager to provide any testimonies on the matter.
The true victims, in this case, were the slaves. Mistreated victims on the Sunner’s doctrine, were being escorted down the front gates, herded by some proper guardians. Many of them visibly scarred by the events, looking gaunt and afraid, yet at the same time joyous. None of them looked particularly malnourished (since they were merchandise to those orcs) but some were having trouble walking straight. Many reveled on their own situation as they walked out the porch and felt the freshness of the seaside breeze. Skins were exposed where clothes were torn just enough to reveal the cuts that could only be done by lashes of the whip and thin knives.
Jensen just had to count himself lucky that Joanne didn’t spend any more time in their captivity. A debt of gratitude had been earned, and, fortunately, it wouldn’t be with Mirko. He just wished he could say his thanks to Camilla and Petra right then and now. So many things he wished to talk that had to be placed aside to feign ignorance on the matter.
He just had to focus on taking in the moment and counting his current blessings while pretending to know nothing at all. His sister was back in his arms and that was all that mattered. Ever since the guardians arrived to the spot, Jensen’s fingers were edging closer to the texting app of his phone to asking Petra or Joanne about the status of the rescue. He was kept off the loop the entire time, mentally preparing for the worst scenario and the tough choices they would entail. Things became much worse the moment the guardians began to break in and things began to explode. Jensen played the role of safeguarding the front door with strength and muscle, as best as he could, but there wasn’t much to do, fortunately, as his mind kept correcting.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before he spotted Joanne coming off from around the building. His nose picked her scent before his eyes could, allowing him to stop the other guardian patrolling the area from noticing and even opening fire. She was disheveled and scared but safe. The moment she met his gaze, she quickly broke into a run to wrap her arms around Jensen with a lone scream of his name and a soft weeping.
“Jensen, can we get going?” she whispered with a quiver in her voice. Having been wanting to leave this place since they met.
“It’s okay. Just wait a little bit more,” Jensen muttered quietly as he heard the sound of the precinct’s ambulances entering the perimeter and settling up the area. Things would soon be picking up and the guardians would be going into heavy damage control on the situation. If he wanted to avoid getting wrapped up in the situation and sneak out as quietly, now, it would be a good time that wouldn’t weaken his cover.
“Jensen,” Mirko’s booming voice echoed from one of the SUV’s that just parked within in the perimeter. From the passenger’s seat emerged Captain Kolina, bearing a toothy smile over the events of the night, as he looked at the ruin of a building, which sported a good couple of gaping holes with a fleeting trail of smoke pouring out that just weren’t there when they arrived. He did all that with an air of success about him. The smugness of someone who just won an argument.
“Captain Kolina… Sir,” Jensen answered, standing a brief salute. The men in the area did so as well, even the scribe just as he finished taking in Joanne’s testimony. “I believe James is still in the building pursuing the remnants of the Sunners,” he stated as he approached their way.
Jensen’s immediate reaction was to staunchly stand between Mirko and his sister as if to shield her from him. Something like that might’ve come across as aggressive in a werewolf clan, but the captain was still basking in his victory that the subtle meaning of his actions eluded him. “I know. I don’t need someone to provide a report to know the operation is a success, though. Very fine job done, Jensen. Your nose is what made all this possible.”
“Yeah, indeed it is,” Jensen muttered, making an effort to sound confident rather than frustrated.
It was then, with just a lean to the side that the large captain set his eyes on Joanne, who reacted with a startled shudder. “Miss Dein, is it? I’m regretful of the experience. Hope you don’t consider this unfortunate incident as a sign of all this city has to offer.” Despite her reaction, he tried to act with a surprising amount of respect and politeness that just contrasted his rough appearance or everything else he knew of the captain.
Her quivering hand on Jensen’s back and the way she insisted they would leave the scene made it apparent she might be well aware as to his superior’s dealings, which added something to be wary off. “She’s been through a lot. She just wants to go home and sleep this off, if it’s possible. Right, Joanne?” Jensen asked, nudging her to his side.
“Y-Yeah…” Joanne agreed.
“I can’t say I blame you. I’m sure some rest will be as good as the knowledge that the people who did this have paid the ultimate price.” Mirko said with a small frown.
“Uh hm. The experience was q-quite straining, but I’m glad they’re dead.” Joanne managed to utter. Being more used to her, Jensen could tell she wasn’t entirely truthful in that last part.
“Understandable,” Mirko said with a small nod while glancing around the area. His eyes going from the ambulance that was tending and taking care of each of the rescued slaves while at the same time, patching the injured guardians. The moment he saw the three body bags on the floor, the sides of his lips curdled in frustration, but again he made an effort in Joanne’s presence, that was apparent. “I would gladly escort you back to your brother’s place. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I have to stay behind and ensure the proper process is carried with the crime scene investigation unit. Can you take her, Jensen?”
Probably to tamper evidence, Jensen thought. “At once, sir. If that’ll be all, we’ll be on our way.”
“Oh… and, Jensen. Take the rest of the day off. I believe you’ve earned it.”
There was a small relief in both siblings as the nightmare just seemed to be over and they could reclaim a semblance of peace now. Jensen’s body was being sustained by the wolf’s spirit and he was looking forward to crashing down onto the couch for the remainder of the day.
Yet the moment they took a couple of steps towards the exit of the derelict harbor. “Jensen! Miss Dein! I need you two to hold up,” It was James, seemingly having emerged from the side of the street, rather than the front of the building, carrying a piece of paper in hand that could be recognized as Joanne’s testimony.
“What is it, James?” Jensen said warily, taking notice that, not far, Mirko had stopped in his tracks, looking at the situation, disregarding the pressing looks of the CSI team awaiting at the entrance for his demanded order.
“I wish for a chance to inquire as to her account. With her being one of my teams objectives, you can understand how puzzling, if not upsetting, it was to discover she wasn’t held captive at the time we broke in.” James explaining as he looked down the testimony and began to read through it. “I just wish to understand how. Not everyone escapes Sunner custody just like that.”
“Weren’t there news of a massive arrest from a Sunner base in the alternate? Victims claim that a lone woman escaped custody and brought the entire guardian force back in to make the arrest?” Jensen’s comment was promptly ignored by James who just raised up the paper he was reading even further.
After a couple of seconds, Jensen hoped to interject that they could go through his sister’s statement later at the precinct, but James spoke up. “You claimed that you broke free on your own, escaping by singlehandedly breaking a hole through the wall?”
“T-that is correct.” Joanne answered.
“You said you manage to slip your hand off the restraints. That is interesting.”
James tone was nothing if not telling as he made no effort to hide the suspicion in his eyes, a piercing glare that just forced Joanne to balk. She felt even more vulnerable now that her connection with the wolf spirit was obstructed. “What’s wrong about that?” Jensen said.
“It’s just that, as we checked the room where she was supposedly held and, well, the holding blocks, I believe they are called, were lined one next to each other. All looking rather sturdy and resistant… except for the first one of the set. The manacles of one were broken, bent in an odd way.”
“That’s how I managed to slip off.” Joanne jumped. “The irons were week. All I needed was to wiggle them enough to break them.”
“That’s incredibly convenient. Feels like a massive oversight from the two present orcs. One would assume one of them was bound to notice there was a malfunction with their equipment.”
“Yeah, they… I mean. No wait, there was just one orc handling me. The one in armor who captured me. It was just me and him there, and he failed to notice my hand broke free.”
“And left the branding iron just within your reach while he… What was he doing right before you broke free?”
“He was… picking a gag.” Joanne muttered bitterly, almost sniffling. “He probably wasn’t particularly smart or just thought I wouldn’t be able to fight back.”
“Theorizing a possibility when it just feels incredibly unlikely is not a good way to file a report. Afterall, from what I understand, as an asset, you have a higher value than the average stock. There should, have been, at the very least, two men into the room.”
“How would you know?” Joanne said, regaining some of her courage, mostly out of the frustration that stemmed from this condescending talk.
“It’s standard policy in the guardian rulebook to have, at the very least, two guardians overlooking the transport of a single prisoner, even more so if the individual is known to be dangerous. Isn’t that right, Jensen?” And with that, he casted a look at him that almost spelled ‘I’ll handle this, get back’. Of course, he knew he wouldn’t let it stand for long before his sister. “There might be a lot of things one can repudiate the Sunners for, but having grown to become efficient slave traders is a proof that they have this sort of policies in place.”
“But that’s the truth and it’s what happened.” Joanne said, planting herself behind her argument.
“James, what’s the point of these questions?” Jensen asked taking a step closer, with his eyes making an effort to convey the fact that James should stop badgering the victim, higher rank or not. “We don’t feel like dragging this matter.”
“I’m just making sure we’re not overlooking anything… Like someone else playing their hand in their escape attempt. That is the simplest answer.”
“I didn’t receive any help,” Joanne was quick to answer to answer. “I took down the guard and then barred the door. I locked myself in and, thinking there was no way I would make it down through the front door, I grabbed the biggest piece of metal I could find and began to hammer a hole on the wall.”
“And yet, the walls of the place were made sturdy enough to contain whatever was put in those frames. How were you even capable of smashing a hole there? Could you even access your werewolf strength even after they poured wolfsbane extract down your throat?”
Jensen stepped forth. “The buildings are old. The place could’ve been weak-”
“James!” Captain Kolina’s voice boomed through the room as the man walked back into the fray of the conversation. “A word with you?”
“At once, sir. Just let me ask a couple more questions,” James muttered, inwardly cursing under his breath as he tried to fumble through the testimony.
“James! Now.” Captain Kolina snapped, almost with a realistic snarl.
And with that, he was defeated. At least, it put an end to the argument. Jensen’s fellow guardian didn’t enjoy the feeling of someone stomping over his head, reminding him of the worst aspects of the authority that prompted him to seek the betrayer’s alliance. Not wishing to incur the wrath of the werewolf, he was bound to obey, lest he wanted to make up a scene that might end up casting things to the light that would eventually put the long term plan at risk.
Jensen and Joanne took this as a their queue to leave the premises, as he expected. With the entire storm of events that was going on: in between the still ringing sounds of the ambulances; the hysteric screams of some of the victims that were demanding to contact their relatives and the orders relayed by the team leaders as they dealt with every aspect, from collection evidence to dealing the the corpse; they were all lost in chaos. With all that was going on, the two were capable of slide away without anyone giving them much attention.
The only exception, perhaps, was the news channels that were just given the scoop of the week. The slave network bust would be the talk of both New Kent’s undercover populace and the Undercity. Though, fortunately for the two of them, at the time, there was just a couple of reporters kept at bay by the cordon of officers. They tried to walk up to Jensen to pop out some questions, not recognizing him as an officer. Fortunately, it just took some ignoring to be left alone.
After a long couple of days and forcing themselves to be awake, neither sibling felt like they would be able to keep up a coherent story during a long interview.
“Great… they left,” James muttered frustrated as he spotted Jensen and Joanne turning to show their backs to him before they began to take their steps. Still, it would be rather unbecoming of himself if he were just to chase after them in order to ask some questions. All for a wasted opportunity. “What is it, Mirko?”
“When we’re out here, it’s captain,” Captain Kolina snorted as he made a gesture to the CSI team, ordering them to go ahead with the inspection. Not that James had anything to worry about, given the lengths he took to make sure the executions looked justified. And in the span of fifteen minutes. A personal record he would’ve capitalized for pride if there weren’t some more pressing matters he wished to clarify.
“Very well… what is wrong, captain?” James voice bore an incredible amount of frustration and smugness that none of his peers would ever dare to use against the big man. Mirko tolerated it, on account that they were discussing this matter in an alley.
“What were you trying to do? Facing a victim as if you were a prosecutor? When there are more pressing matters to deal with.” Mirko’s voice was stern reeking from the need to discipline him.
“I’m pursuing a clue… that is all.” James answered as he showed up the testimony. “Don’t you believe it’s a little convenient? Her account of the events, while sensible at first glance, presents many problems that fall apart when faced with logic. There is little doubt that she would’ve been given the wolfsbane formula and yet, are we expected to believe she just broke from her bonds and took down a large orc with just a single hand and a branding iron?”
“Yes, I heard enough of the conversation to get the gist of the problem.” Mirko conceded.
“Are we expected to know that she succeeded this escape on her own. Even going as far as to break through a reinforced wall with just a piece of metal?”
“I believe you might be underestimating the connection between my kin and the spirits that reside within. Growing up with them changes your body for the better. Makes you stronger.”
“You have too much faith in your werewolf kin. So much so that it’s almost painful to watch when logic would dictate something else. No. There was some third party in the scene, someone who helped liberate Joanne just as we came by.”
Mirko scowled. “Do you have a name or any evidence to prove that is the case?”
James thought for a moment, casting his mind just about twenty minutes ago, to the moment he reached the ground from his climb off the hole within the special holding cell. The place was as dark, even for his flashlight which was starting to lose power, yet not impossible to navigate.
It did take some times before James could orient himself, partly thanks to the street lights that were turned on at the time. And it wasn’t till shortly after that he happened to stumble into man in the perimeter that had been reported missing. He’d passed out, knocked unconscious by some strange assailant. Someone got him but didn’t kill him.
“Do you have evidence?” Mirko repeated, now more frustrated. “Because I don’t have the time to worry about a loose end that stemmed from your job.”
That comment got James’ blood to boil. “I haven’t slept in twenty four hours, by now. I took this job because you basically begged for my help. Do you have any idea how much work I’ve placed on this enterprise to half ass an operation?”
“And you’ll have to put more into it. We’re in the final stretch and no errors can be allowed. It goes double for you.”
“As long as I make the most within our organization… excluding you.” There was almost a grudge in his words as he finished the sentence.
“No, I mean it, because you’re going to be facing the media and need to be on point with the deception.”
“Media? I could be of more use doing so many more things, such as resting.” James frowned. “Why not send Jensen or someone else?”
“You were the man leading the operation. That makes you the face of the organization for this event. You get to spin the media into all we want in about an hour. Be sure to make it good.” Mirko laughed. “Besides, I sent Jensen home to spend some time with his sister. A rather appealing young lass, wouldn’t you say?”
“Of course he’s getting the day off,” James said, biting his lip almost feeling the saltiness of the blood seep in, parched from all the salt in the air. “I believe that my time could be put to a much better use. I think there might be another player in town that we just overlooked.”
“There is always players in town. They just never make it past their first game.” Mirko snorted, unceremoniously walking away “Do you really want me to believe that somehow, someone got to Joanne Dein right before you made it there and just set her free down the alley for her to escape?
“Sir, the perimeter was broken. Someone knocked out one of our men.”
“Did he see who it was?” Mirko added, almost cuttingly to the border of frustration. “A name.”
“Couldn’t it be possible that it was one of the members of the Sunners? A lone orc or half orc making a desperate escape from the masacre that went on inside?”
“It… it’s a possibility.”
“Then if that’s the case, such individual might be too scared to raise a finger against us. We should consider ourselves lucky that the man is alive, isn’t he?” Mirko asked, though his words bearing no sympathy, more like the promise of a punishment for being taken out for the poor guardian.
“He’s okay. But doesn’t feel correct.”
“You have to learn when to pursue a lead. I won’t have the planning stage get derailed just because you imagine there was a third party at play. Must I remind you that this op came to be but an hour before we made the actual raid?”
“There could’ve been a leak.” James suggested, though immediately regretted it.
“Again with that. There were no leaks from my end, at the office.” Mirko snorted, tauntingly pushing James against the wall. “Do not implicate me as a careless person. And do not bother me with anything less than facts.”
“Not careless… blind,” James was close to saying but held his tongue. “What harm is it to follow a lead? If I find something, I can just report it to you.”
“Do it in your free time. Don’t let the obsession get in the way,” was all captain Kolina said as he walked away.
“Fine, Captain,” James muttered. Within his head, the part that focused on the mission and it’s execution was chastising him for not bring up the full theory. The idea that the third party might have some ties to Captain Sominos or be the captain himself. After all, Edward was unaccounted most of the times and no matter how many times he followed the man, he would manage to disappear six out of ten times… with the other four just being a waste of time.
It never bothered James, though. All this time, he considered his proximity to Edward as the defining factor he needed to determine if he knew something, making him feel certain that things were marching as they should be. The times the captain gave him a slip were now chalked as his own lack of effort. No one wanted to follow their superior after hours. But now, with this mystery, the certainties began to crack, and possibilities became risks.
And if this were the case, confirmed true. If the leak were consequences of his own negligence. His head would be the first to roll.
But that’s just speculation… I need evidence. I must know.
James steps took him to the medical station built up around the nearby ambulance, where paramedics tended both victims and guardians. And the place where he expected to find his next assistant.
“Oscar!” James called out at the guardian that had just been allowed out of the healer’s care, with a sling to hold his arm around his neck.
The spineless guardian reacted as he imagined, with a startled jump. “Sir… I’m not being dramatic or wasteful. The paramedic said I could’ve lost the arm if the bullet wasn’t removed.”
“That’s good. You can make it your badge of honor among the pencil pushers within the intelligence department.”
“Analyst.” Oscar meekly corrected.
“Right. Analyst department. Hopefully that should be the last you see of action. For my sake and yours.” That line was punctuated with a small laugh to lighten the man’s discomfort though they both knew that he was meaning it in every sense of the word. “I’m certain there is a reason Mirko chose to have you within our group. You are smart and skilled in magic, right?”
“I’m the top analyst.” Oscar answered shameless pride, something James had to make an effort not to call him out on. “I do have quite some skills in magic, more specifically, in the study and usage of magical tools.”
“Good, because I need your help,” James muttered leading, grabbing the office mouse’s good arm and leading him to the side of an empty guardian transport away from the crowd. Oscar barely tried to object, much less make a scene refusing.
“Sir…” He finally said once he was released. “The operation is over, isn’t it?”
“Think of my request as overtime. I need you to investigate me tracking spells or artifacts that might point me to a specific person.” James muttered.
“Those can be easy,” Oscar was somewhat relieved. “I know one that can be done by drawing a seal using ink containing the person’s own blood. It lasts about a month… though the last two weeks, the spell gets a bit loopy.”
“I don’t have the person. I need the spell to find them.”
“Then that would be a dowsing spell.” Oscar meekly answered. “Those are rather complex spells. Usually reserved for higher level mages and inquisitors. From what I understand, for the more efficient ones, you still need a phylactery filled with the person’s blood that must be kept frozen.”
“But you and I know that there can be multiple spells to do something. Do you believe you can find a substitute?”
“I could ask the academy for help.”
“No.” James cut in. “This conversation and assignment can’t leave us. And much less be bring the mages of the academy involved.” A sigh escaped him as he reconsidered that, perhaps, he might’ve overestimated this man. “Do what you believe. Ask the mages, if needed. But they can’t know more than what you already know right now. You know what we do with snitches, don’t you?”
Oscar hesitated, though one look at his leader’s eyes got him to speak up. “But if I can’t explain why I’m looking for a dowsing spell, getting the information is complicated. Both Guardians and Academy frown at the idea of using that kind of magic. If I ask, they will know or they might suspect.” The man was speaking his words truthfully and there was a lot of those. Fortunately, he was picking up on James exasperation. “I can make an effort and inquire though… Maybe you could inquire with Mirko’s black market contacts?”
“If we must,” James muttered holding his forehead just to avoid groaning at the idea of asking something from the werewolf. Sure, the black market of magic was a decent option for forbidden spells or even artifacts. Although, after what just happened tonight, cooperation from them might be a bit of a stretch. “I have it. Do you recall Mirko’s story?”
“The one he tells to every new member of the team?”
“That one. In my version, he claimed that the noble had some uncanny way of tracking him down the moment he got a good clump of his fur. Either Mirko embellished his bad luck or was there a supernatural mean to it. Is there a spell or a magical tool that could do that?”
“I-I guess it could make sense. Werewolves have a sort of magical signature because of their curse. Using a bit of fur, which is something the curse generates, one could be pointed in the direction of it’s vein. Probably not a particular person but would be close enough. There might be theories that this is how the wolf curse was hunted during the times of the first incursion…” He muttered before bringing his mind back on track with a shook of his head. “What are you tracking? A werewolf?”
“I have my suspicion, but I need you to find me the way. Can you do it?” James muttered, channeling his more approachable side, the supportive buddy and the guys guy his colleagues often related to. And it seemed to work.
“If it’s not a familiar spell or some sort of hunter’s secret, I might discover something. But it’ll take time.”
“Excellent,” James said with a small smirk as he patted the man’s back. “You have twenty four hours to get me the spell, enchantment or gizmo that will help me track.”
“Twenty four hours? That’s not enough,” Oscar protested.
“Listen,” James muttered, his friendly tone slipping off. “There is a massive event coming up this Friday. And everyone is working on preparations for it. I, in particular, have it the toughest because I have to pull extra shifts at the snap of that mutts fingers. I led his unsanctioned death squad and yet, I don’t get the proper recognition I deserve. I don’t care if you have to spend the night in the library, consider yourself lucky you have a day to find what I ask for. Understood?”
“Y-Yes, sir,” Oscar stuttered as he stepped back.
“Good,” James took a time to breathe out the bad mood. “Now, if you excuse me. I want to finish closing up this operation and rounding up the remaining guardians before the media circus gets here. See if I can catch some sleep in the precinct’s break room.”
It felt odd to emerge into New Kent after spending the whole night underground. Memory of him going down into the set of stairs to the Undercity happened in the dead of the night, at two in the morning. Lights were on, streets were desolated and the air was cold. Yet now, as they walked up, it was about seven in the morning, with the sun well up into the sky and the whole city bursting with the life of the worst hours of the day. The air was clogged with the smoke and the honking of cars; people moved like rivers ebbing and flowing, almost to the point of annoyance as they tried to move against it; and the light of the day was stinging contrast to the dark.
A part of Jensen couldn’t understand how people could live down like that, though he guessed it was a matter of growing used to. The sunlight certainly became a chore to put up with in his exhausted mind. If it weren’t for the curse, he would’ve fallen asleep where he stood. It would just be a couple more of blocks to walk until reaching his place, and fortunately, the crowd of people began to thin itself.
It felt odd to focus on this sort of things, but it was as much as he could as, for the past half an hour of walking, the two siblings have remained tight-lipped on the whole matter of affairs. Joanne, still scared from the experience walked alongside her older brother. When asked, she would just say that she’s never had this much of an aggressive dose of wolfsbane before. She couldn’t even feel her wolf’s connection, let alone the confidence it seemed to bring her.
“It’ll wear off, Joanne. Don’t worry,” Jensen reassured.
The rest of the way carried sparse conversations here and there, evidently wanting to avoid bringing up the attention upon themselves once they began to walk among the crowd of people unaware of the bust that happened just a couple of hours ago. Arriving to the apartment got the two to let out a deep sigh as the facades and barriers fell off.
“Joanne… It’s okay, we’re safe here-,” Jensen said as he locked the door to the room, only to be welcomed by a hug from his sister. A strong hug. As a matter of fact, Jensen felt rather dumb for not picking up on what kept her sister looking over her shoulder earlier. “We weren’t followed. You don’t have to worry.”
“Of course I worry, Jensen,” she managed to say once she pulled away, her eyes looking around as if it’d been a stranger’s apartment. “But not for myself. But you… I-I. Is it safe to even talk?”
“They aren’t listening, Joanne. My nose would’ve warned me someone had been in my place while I wasn’t listening.”
“What about magic?” Joanne said in a whisper.
“Camilla has come over a couple of times, ran a magical scan on the place on the lookout for any spell, enchantment or device. The place is clean… Besides, Mirko has many men under his service. Even if a good number of those find themselves within a suspicion list, Mirko can’t afford the manpower or time to spy on every co-conspirator.”
“Then how does he keep them at bay? Keep them from betraying.”
“He just supposes none of them will try anything on account of enjoying the idea or because they fear that Mirko will find out the moment they reach for the conventional channels to report him.”
“Are you certain of that?” Joanne asked.
“I’m not… but if it weren’t the case, I would’ve been found out long ago.” Jensen acknowledged with a smirk.
“Jensen, that’s not funny.” Joanne said with a sigh as she let herself fall down on the couch.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound reckless… But, listen, I have to believe and trust that the plan will work. I’m not sure how much Camilla has told you of this… but it’s apparent that you know there is some crooked people in the guardian.”
“It’s more than just ‘some’,” Joanne sighed. “Why didn’t you tell me? No, that’s a dumb question. I really shouldn’t know of this. I shouldn’t even have found out.”
“Unfortunately, you did. I didn’t want you worrying about me.”
“Because it’s dangerous. Don’t you see? This internal cabal within the guardians can get rid of you at any time and make it look like an accident.”
“That was always a risk when I was brought into the secret. That can always happen as a member of the guardians. No matter how strong you are, luck can run out.”
“But it’s different. Whenever you go off for a mission, you know who you’re up to or have an idea of what to expect. You can be stabbed in the back and I wouldn’t know. W-What happens if I don’t see you again? What will I tell mom and Mirna? Little Rina will… Oh god,” she said covering her eyes just before tears could start welling out.
“It’ll be okay, Joanne. It’ll be okay. You won’t have to tell them anything because I’ll be making it back home alive.” Jensen reassured as he took a seat next to her, letting out an exhausted sigh. “There is a plan… I’m not sure if Camilla has told you as much, but we’re keeping track of Mirko’s movement, biding our time to strike.”
“Promise. Promise that you’ll keep each other safe.”
Camilla’s inclusion came out of nowhere for Jensen, but he had but to agree. “As best as we can.”
“It’s just… why did it had to be you? You are sticking your neck out for problems that are just worlds away.” Joanne said, calming herself down.
Jensen sighed as he threw his head back. Yeah, why did it had to be me, he thought, unsure on whether to consider this some sort of luck or just a string of fateful stars that aligned. It had to be a werewolf so Mirko would consider him an ally. It had to be a guardian so that a transfer could be issued. It had to be someone who’d have a strong moral compass, at the very least, someone that wouldn’t be talked into the conspiring. And that’s when Roland came into play.
It must’ve been the fight between Roland, Ogre, Silas and himself that drew the attention. It was short of astonishing to think these matters were connected. Now with Forest being revealed as having been sealed within the monster that killed his mentor and, setting off to the alternate, there was a bit of a feeling that history would repeat itself, and the three players will be drawn together.
“Because I was the only one that could get close to Mirko. The only one he wouldn’t outright distrust from the start. And, if I don’t do anything, everyone loses. Good men will be put under the the beast’s paw while a whole city will be taken captive. It’s important, Joanne.”
“I know… and it doesn’t make it easier. Camilla said as much.”
There was a small silence. “You know, once this is over, I was considering quitting the force. Probably going back to the clan’s fort.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Joanne said with a small smile. “You seem happy enough at this whole policing business. I just hope you’re doing it for the right reasons, right?”
Jensen opened his mouth to answer, but didn’t say a sound. Heartfelt words brought up many of the things that could be said, from the reassertion that it was for the best to the desire to move up the chain in a more familiar environment. Yet all that time, he just couldn’t help but bring his thoughts back to Camilla. Of how Edward and her used him for this plan without even bringing him into the fold first. But more importantly, he feared what would happen if they remained together. Would she be willing to sacrifice things to be with him? Risk her magic? Will this be something she won’t regret on the long run?
So many questions that Jensen was almost regretting bringing up the plans for after the mission was over. Something good that’s come off this isolation, is that it’s given him a chance to avoid these thoughts.
Fortunately, before he could stumble up in his own words, Joanne got up from her couch and began to move to the back of the hallway. “I’m exhausted, big brother. Is it okay if I go to sleep?”
“Sure. I might fall for a good night sleep where I stand.” Jensen answered, with a bit of thanks in his voice for interrupting her own question. “Joanne? Sorry about the visit. I know it’s nothing like you expected it.”
“It wasn’t,” she said on his back. “But it wasn’t your fault, it was mine… I should be the one thanking you for all you’ve done for me.” And with that, she wrapped her arms around his neck for the warmest and sweetest hug he’d felt from her. For a brief instance before stepping back and moving over to her room. “Rest well.”
“You’re going back home tomorrow, right? If it’s okay, I could take you around town and show you some other places in the city.”
“Oh! I love the idea. I would prefer to have a nice time before going back. You know how mom can pick up in one’s mood.” There was a small pause in which Jensen’s ears told him Joanne stood in the hallway for a couple of seconds. “And, Jensen?”
“Camilla wants me to tell you that, she misses you and would like to go off a trip with you once this is over.” Joanne’s voice bore some motherly candor. “You two better take good care of each other… alright?
“Thanks. I will.” At least that brought a smile, a smile that wasn’t attached to the concerns that had plagued him not just minutes ago.
Jensen picked up his sister moving around to the bathroom before settling down in the bedroom, just like it was all supposed to be when the night began. A whole cavalcade of events that just caused him to question if things could go back to how they were supposed to be. It was a relief they did.
“Finally,” Jensen sighed in relief as he allowed himself to fall off onto the side of the couch, stretching in a way a cat would while letting his wolf spirit know that it was now time for a good nap. Its imaginary tail wagged as he closed his eyes and allowed all the stress and tension from the day to melt away for a needed sleep.
The guardian headquarter was experiencing a huge surge of work. The need for this world’s energy drink, coffee, and food were far above the average as many, if not all, members of the staff were tending to the aftermath of last night and this morning’s operation. Restless hours that started with the formation of Captain Kolina’s taskforce two nights ago and had reached it’s climax with the Sunner’s bust.
Now, there were reports to be filed, evidence to be classified and freed slaves that needed to be identified, fed, and tended. Things were rather extreme and hectic around, but for someone like Edward, it was perhaps the most tranquil that it’s been. Mirko had been quite adamant on having full authority of this investigation from the start, from before things expanded out of his control.
The underground streets were packed and the whole focus of the organization seemed to be just tend to the aftermath of whatever happened. Most of which, Edward was already aware of thanks to Petra and Camilla. Needless to say, they would be busy for a while, at least for the remainder of the day… or would at least try to look busy. With the date for PortSec’s commitment coming up at the end of the week, there wouldn’t be much point to the paperwork other than looking busy.
Edward’s steps carried him over to an empty instance at the fourth floor of the building. The place was primed to be a meeting room, at least it’s how it was sold to the guardians: A simple long table, glass walls on one side that overlooked the open concept of the office, and a wide board to be drawn on. It felt a bit of a pity since since, as mentioned, the guardians tended to avoid anything above the second floor of the building, out of fear of being exposed, which was even worse as this level had larger windows that overlooked the street.
A part of Edward wondered why they’d decided on this, but then again, the building was bought back when it was mostly a human garrison. It was a pity, he thought as he ran his finger across the table, collecting a good chunk of dust and dirt.
But for now, the current neglect of this place served in his purpose, as judging by the desolation, it could easily be assumed that no one had been here recently, much less bug the place. And the empty vacuum would bring any sound to their ears.
“Aren’t you worried that they might be suspecting you might be up to something up here?” Said a voice from the other end of the hallway, a whisper that was magnified by the rebounding echo. “It’s very odd for a Captain to flee their work environment.”
“I told people that I was going to check out the state of the upper floors, see if we can move some operations up here. And, for what it’s worth, I think it’s possible. We can place a couple of enchantments on the windows, make sure they are made opaque or just have them covered.”
“Edward, the place is a dump. Reminds me of those condemned buildings downtown… only this one is right over the office.” Captain Talia said as she entered the small area, closing the glass door behind her and could only bring herself to scowl, making a face of disgust when she saw her hand coated in dust and her nose itch from the dust in the air. “I hope I don’t get a sneezing fit,” she mumbled.
“It’s still a valid point. We have these floors that haven’t been put to use out of concern that someone will do something that will risk exposing the rest of the world to the hidden world. Feels like a needless fear,” Captain Sominos said looking at the glass before turning to face his peer. “How about you, Talia. Did you make it up here without raising any suspicion?”
“I did. Everyone is busy going back and forth. The offices are just filled with the sound of keyboard keys being clattered to the annoyance of anyone not consumed by the tasks at hand. Reports are being filed here and there, the hostages are undergoing treatment with Joanna while men are trying to find their next of kin at the hospital and many teams are still researching the entire apartment complex in the harbor and… it’s bad.”
“Petra and Camilla told me about what they saw as well,” Edward sighed.
“It was a massacre. An exercises of brutality disguised as a righteous arrest.” Camilla sighed. “And yet, I can’t help but, at the very least, admire the results he got. A whole cell of the Sunners that was festering in the Undercity taken down by him. And, I know, I know. It’s because of Mirko that their crimes went unnoticed. But it feels good to know that people like those won’t be hurting anyone ever again.”
“That’s the vigilante paradox.” Edward muttered. “You want to tither between the law and the criminal side just to carry out the justice. To be able to cross the line just to break the rule once or twice. Be a on the criminal side but remain morally better.”
“Wouldn’t you?” Talia asked.
“I’m sure there are some people I would love to put an end to for the misery they caused. But I know I’m better than that… and so should be you. Because, in the end, killing is always the easy way but it’s no atonement.” Edward took another deep breath. “That being said, once this is over… I’m paying a visit to Nestor Rodeter, a.k.a. Elliot. To tell him how his empire has crumbled to dust and half of his allies have fallen…”
“I see your point,” Talia said with small nod. “So, should we list the seventeen men he took over with him as part of the crew?”
“I’ve already been keeping a list of the potential traitors. The list has grown significantly since Jensen got accepted into their organization.”
“Would you mind sharing it with me?”
“I’ll have Camilla send it over the course of the evening. At the moment, she’s taking care of Eddie while Petra sleeps.”
“That’s something in common. Mirko has left the precinct about an hour ago, probably to get some sleep. He did seem pretty tired and irascible back then.”
“I thought as much,” Edward said.
“I do, however take an issue on how you risked things to save Jensen’s sister. The guardians were storming the castle and would’ve saved her in the end, just like they did with the others. It would’ve been over if Petra or Camilla had been captured.”
“It was a huge risk. But it never hurts to be sure.”
“In the end of the day, the debt of saving a sister won’t be enough to betray his believes, won’t it? I’m, however, glad that Jensen’s sister and your two ladies made it out safely.”
“That’s right,” Edward said as he moved around the bare table, with his eyes looking around the room, seeing through glass walls and reflections that they were indeed truly alone. Alone to discuss the meat and bones of this meeting. “So, should we talk about the plan of action, now that you’re all caught up?”
“Might as well,” Talia says now more reassured. “You already have a plan for this, don’t you?”
“Hints of it.” Edward muttered. “And it might be somewhat aggressive when push comes to shove, but It’s perhaps the best option without breaking into an all out fight.”
“Does this have to do with the meeting with the Sub-commander of the guardians that you’ve scheduled for Thursday?” Edward nodded. “I take it that’s when it’ll go down. Thursday at four p.m? In the middle of the afternoon shift?
“No, It’ll happen at the end of the meeting, which I believe is at five thirty.” Edward muttered. “The moment we begin, we’ll signal people we trust to, discreetly put the precinct on lockdown before rounding up those that are confirmed turncoats.”
“And then, the door is locked and Mirko’s backup will be gone,” Talia completed. “We’ll need a very good lie and I’m sure I can arrange something in three days. But, alright, while this is happening outside the conference room, what happens inside?”
“Once we know that things are set, we’ll start presenting the facts to the captain, bringing our witnesses.”
“Witnesses? You mean Eddie and Jensen?” Talia said.
“Actually, we have another surprise witness. Don’t take this the wrong way, only Camilla and I know about him.”
“Then, the testimonies are presented, might be as good if we don’t have any evidence. Can it be denied?”
“It could be denied if Mirko were a smart speaker. Unlikely, but I have to assume, in the worst case scenario, that he has a silver tongue, which is why I’m viewing multiple alternatives… From getting more testimonies from men and women that had been put to jail to ransacking Mirko’s hideout.”
“I can do that… just give me the directions and I’ll be back on the field,” Talia said, somewhat eagerly.
“I guess it’s for the best.” Edward conceded as all the pieces of the plan had been addressed. Yet there was insecurity brewing.
“This is… a very risky plan, Edward,” Talia muttered. “You realize that we only need one of Mirko’s men to sniff out the plan to break things apart? If we pick we group the wrong guardian, he could be taken hostage by the traitors. And the moment Mirko realizes he’s being set up… he won’t go down easily. Protecting the sub-commander must become our priority then.”
“I’m aware of that,” Edward conceded.
“But… it seems like the most efficient plan we have. I just wish you’d place some counter measures.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Unfortunately, we only have three days and I’m under surveillance more often than through out my average day. If I act out of the ordinary, I’m concerned they might suspect something and act brashly”
“But I’m not. My assignments and tasks always has me going in and out of the station at irregular intervals. So I suppose it is up to me to run the last stretch of the preparations,” Captain Talia said with some excitement.
“Besides, I don’t think Mirko has personnel assigned on you, as much as Jensen knows.”
Captain Talia sighed, feigning a bit of despondence but in the politest of ways. “I guess Mirko didn’t think much of me to keep me posted.”
“It’s also because a good number of your men were under his thumb. So they had you covered.”
“Oh, right,” Talia cracked a small smile. “I guess that’s it. We have a plan and we’re right in time to head back to the lower floors before our absence is noted. I’ll coordinate with your private eye later.”
“Excellent,” Edward said with a small sigh of relief as Talia turned on her heel and walked to the exit, her footsteps letting out muffled echoes as she walked in, leaving Edward to admire the peace and quiet before he decided to head back.