The sound of the explosions, if they could even be heard at all, were quickly dwarfed by the sheer chaos they created. Cacophony is the right word, I think. People screaming, loudspeakers blaring, and animals roaring and howling as metal screeched like it was about to give way. The circus car rocked as the animals inside rampaged, knocking over their cages as they scrambled to get free. Every instinct they had was telling them to run, and when you set cages full of lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) loose in a crowded train station, pandemonium is all that can ensue.
“What was that?” Annie yelled. “Are there… are there animals loose in the station?!”
“Hmmm… sounds like it,” Marq said nonchalantly.
“You’re being way too calm about this!” Annie accused. “What did you do?!”
“Me? I didn’t do anything!”
“Boooooob!” Nayeli wailed.
Marq got up out of his seat and walked out of the diner. It looked like it was his time to gloat. Despite the last minute crunch, the plan had gone off without a hitch. Disable the train and cause some chaos by spooking the animals into escaping. Delay the departure of the Nimbus for as long as possible and force a reroute. The passengers would transfer over to the City of Cleveland, and we’d have the Yamadas right where we wanted them. It all worked too perfectly.
Marq walked up behind the Yamadas, who stood stock still, staring at the chaos unfolding on their train, dumbfounded. He put a hand on Kichirō’s shoulder.
“Wow, looks like your train broke down and all the animals escaped. That means they’re gonna have to wait until they round up all the animals and fix the train before they depart again. That’ll take like what, two days? Maybe three? That’s too bad, Kichirō ol’ buddy.”
“You… I know you had something to do with this!” Kichirō said.
“What, me? Come on Kichirō, let’s be practical. There’s no way anyone could sabotage those trains, they exist in their own separate space! Nothing can cause them to break down,” Marq said, feigning innocence. “Unless you had brought some kind of explosive charge designed to penetrate ateliers, of course. But then you’d have to prove such a thing existed in the first place, and what then?”
Marq smiled crookedly.
“How would you accuse us of using a weapon that doesn’t even exist yet?”
Kichirō stared at Marq, the agitation clearer than the frown lines on his face. Marq was right, and he knew it. Even assuming any court in the states would take the word of a visiting immigrant over the word of one of the five families, he couldn’t prove we had a weapon that wasn’t supposed to exist, because no one else had thought of it yet.
Marq backed off, giving Kichirō some space.
“Of course, you’re more than welcome to join us for a ride in my private car.”
“Absolutely not!” Kichirō yelled, the hand gripping the briefcase at his side whiter than a sheet.
“Aw come on Kichirō, don’t be like that,” Marq said. “They’re just gonna transfer you anyway. And don’t you have tickets for a boat in California to take you back to Japan? You stay here too long and you’ll miss it. You might not get another chance like this. Besides…”
Marq looked around at the chaos we’d created as a thunderbird flew overhead.
“If you don’t leave now, the birdies and the beasties may just gobble you right up.”
He pointed to Sostene’s eyes and I watched them constrict until they were slits so thin you’d swear he didn’t have pupils. The imminent sign of a vampire about to use some high-level illusion magic. The threat was as clear as it could be. If he didn’t agree and come quietly, we were more than capable of killing them and making it look like an accident.
Kichirō hesitated, then sighed. “Very well. I guess we have no choice except to dine with the devil.”
Annie looked at me uncomfortably as we walked down the aisle alongside the Yamadas, surrounding them on all sides.
“Al, who are these people?” she whispered. “They look dangerous.”
“Errrrm…” I responded half-heartedly. “They’re uh… they’re friends of Marq’s. Former business partners.”
Hey, technically it was the truth.
Marq walked with a spring in his step, happily explaining everything about his personal car, just to fuck with them.
“It’s a 1913 luxury passenger car they had refitted to be perfectly silent. Totally soundproof, it doesn’t rattle-”
“None of the leyrails rattle, Mr. Allesandri,” Kichirō said under his breath.
“-and it’s got all the amenities. I think you’ll love it. No, I know you’ll love it.”
Finally we stepped outside onto the connecting platform. I grabbed Annie’s hand. She frowned.
“This way, lady and gentlemen.”
Marq flourished as he opened the door. He was having way too much fun with this.
The Yamadas stopped at the entrance. Their hesitation was incredibly obvious, at least for Kichirō and Ren. If you watched closely, you could almost see the steam pouring out of their fucking ears. You couldn’t blame them. They were about to walk into enemy territory. However…
I turned my gaze towards the armored giant wearing a metal jockstrap on his face. Yoshirō was different. His face didn’t betray the slightest feeling of trepidation, like some kind of fucking stone man. He should have been going “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit” like everyone else. Was it the mask? The way it covered his mouth and his ears made it hard to tell what he was thinking, what with the way it covered his face.
“Well?” Nayeli asked impatiently. “Are you coming or what? Don’t make me ask nicely.”
She cracked her knuckles and I sighed. Subtle as always, Nayeli.
Reluctantly, the Yamadas walked into our car, the two faceless suits of armor keeping pace at least ten steps behind. Like I thought, they weren’t officially part of the group. Must’ve been hired help.
I kept pace with Yoshirō, examining his facemask. There were two carved hands laid over each other on his mouthpiece that looked like a ball gag. Two other hands decorated his ears, one covering each ear.
“Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil. The three wise monkeys. That’s what you’re getting at, isn’t it? That’s an old Buddhist saying about dealing with impropriety, right?” I said dryly. “It’s cute. But you’re missing a part.”
“Hrm,” he grunted.
“The eyes,” I said, pointing to mine.
He turned his head to look down at me, and for the first time I took notice of his eyes, and looked deep within them. Turns out he wasn’t missing anything. Well, except for maybe one thing.
He’s blind… I thought to myself.
And it’s true, he was. But you’re not supposed to be able to tell. True blindness, natural blindness was something invisible, something you were born with. This man was given his blindness by something, and it showed in the way the tissue in and around the eyeball was scarred, the way you couldn’t even see his pupils. There was a mist covering his eyes, like a veil someone had placed over his head.
As if he’d sensed I’d figured it out, Yoshirō immediately turned his head away from me, our brief moment of contact done, leaving me to wonder. How did he move? How did he fight? He should’ve been struggling to find his way around but he was having no problems at all.
“Alright, let’s begin!” Marq said, pulling up some chairs. “There’s a lot for us to talk about Kichirō, so… where would you like to begin?”
Kichirō looked around uncomfortably. “Is it really necessary for the woman and the girl to be here?”
“If you’re talking about Nayeli, I assure you she’ll be more than fine-”
“I wasn’t talking about her,” Kichirō said. “Your wife and the little girl. I don’t want them getting involved in this.”
“Wait, why? What’s that supposed to mean?” Annie asked.
“I don’t want them being hurt, understand? I gave up on my honor long ago, but I don’t plan on staining the Yamada group’s reputation with their blood.”
Annie’s eyes opened wide. “W-Wha-”
“Kichirō,” Marq said firmly. “Don’t say things you might regret. Family business should stay in the family, don’t you agree?”
Kichirō smiled nervously. “What? Afraid to expose yourself for what you really are?”
Marq grimaced. “Felicity darling, would you please escort Annie back to our compartment and wait for us there? There’s some business we need to discuss here with Mr. Yamada.”
She nodded curtly and grabbed Annie’s wrist. “Come with me.”
“What?” Annie said in surprise. “No! Let go of me!”
“Annie,” I said sternly. “Listen to her.”
She stopped, her eyes fearful. “Huh?”
“Don’t worry. Just go back to the compartment and wait there with Felicity,” I said. “We’ll see you soon.”
“Hey, I said don’t worry. It’s gonna be okay. And I promise, once this is all over, I’ll explain everything. I mean it.”
“Al,” she said. “What do you mean by that? Al? Al?! Aaaaaaal!”
I listened to her yell my name at the top of her lungs as Felicity dragged her out the door and shut it tight, sealing us inside.
“You have a lot to answer for, Kichirō,” Marq said. “You do realize that regardless of what you may say or do, we’re still honor-bound to hand you over to the family for… enhanced interrogation, right?”
“Heh. There is that word again. ‘Honor’,” Kichirō laughed. “Yes, Mr. Allesandri, I am well aware of the way your family does things. Ours operates somewhat similarly. We will be tortured, yes?”
“Of course,” Marq said, not trying to hide. “What did you expect? Don’t worry though, ours is one of the best. He’s quick and he’s clean, and above all else, he’s had a lot of practice.”
“I see,” Kichirō said. “I am glad to hear we will be in such capable hands. Now, is there anything you’d like to know before you begin torturing us? Pain has a way of exaggerating the truth, so if you want answers, I suggest you get them now.”
“Okay then,” Marq said. “Why did you renege on our deal?”
“Us? Renege? We did not renege on anything, Mr. Allesandri. You were the ones who overstepped your boundaries.”
“Ah yes, the philosopher’s stone. Tell me, what exactly is it you need that stone for? Wealth? Power? World domination?”
“None of the above.”
“And where does your little fake fit into it? The Cintamani stone, I mean.”
Kichirō frowned. He obviously didn’t expect Marq to know about that.
“It seems you’ve done your research, I’ll give you that much. Very well, you’ve earned an explanation of that much at least. We intend to trade it.”
Marq narrowed his eyes. “Trade it? To whom?”
“I cannot say.”
“The real philosopher’s stone.”
“Where did your buyer get it?”
“I cannot say.”
“Why would they trade it to you for an inferior imitation?”
“I cannot say.”
“You’re playing a dangerous game with me right now, Kichirō,” Marq warned.
“I cannot say because I do not know,” Kichirō said. “We were just as surprised as you are. However, we didn’t have the luxury of asking questions like you do.”
Marq stayed silent.
“… What are you here for, Kichirō?”
“To save my brother’s life.”
“In what way?”
Kichirō stood up. “If that is everything Mr. Allesandri, I think we will be going. Our buyer is waiting for us at the end of the Nimbus’ line, and I don’t intend to keep them waiting.”
“I don’t think you understand,” Marq said, laughing dangerously. “You’re not allowed to leave, Kichirō.”
“Oh, I understand perfectly.”
Marq frowned. “I take it this means negotiations have broken down, haven’t they?”
“Indeed they have. Although I would hardly call kidnapping us and threatening to torture us regardless of what we do ‘negotiations’.”
Nayeli looked up. “Hmm?”
“I need you to take Ren and open up the ceiling hatch so you two can fight outside.”
“What?!” the two of them said simultaneously. “Why?!”
“Because,” Kichirō said. “If the two of you were to fight in here, the shockwave would have nowhere to go and it would kill the rest of us.”
Marq smiled. “Do you really think your little oni friend is enough to match Nayeli?”
Kichirō smiled back at Marq unflinchingly. “More than enough.”
Marq flicked his wrist and the ceiling hatch swung open. Begrudgingly, Nayeli and Ren jumped out onto the roof.
“Oho,” Kichirō said. “I’m impressed. For you to acclimate so quickly to a rented atelier…”
“Don’t be. I can only do basic tricks with it. Besides, this car wasn’t built to be a magical workshop. My power remains unchanged.”
“Well that is certainly a relief. For a second I thought maybe you had given yourself another unfair advantage. Shall we begin then?”
I tensed. Both of them eyed each other’s guns. Kichirō had pocketed a semi-automatic Colt M1911 .45 ACP handgun, while Marq’s fingers curled around his huge .357 S&W Magnum revolver.