Part Six

    I stare around me, admiring the room I have created. There is nothing here: no floor, no walls, no ceiling. All around are the swirling colors of stars and celestial gases, an interesting view if an odd one. I didn't want the room to look too realistic; with it so firmly embedded in our minds, it needs to have a strong distinction from reality. I figure the setting of some far off galaxy is different enough.

    I allow myself a few moments of satisfaction, pleased with the results of an hour's labor, before reaching out for my teammates. Farfarello is in his room, Nagi is at his computer, and Crawford is on his fifth mug of coffee in the kitchen. I turn that bit of knowledge over in my head. I know where Crawford is as well as what he is doing. It's an interesting new addition to the bond between us, and I think I like it. Most of his thoughts are still shielded enough that I will never have to worry about him intruding on what I can get of some mental peace, but I am now privy to bits of his mind. It's something I've never received from him- not without his permission, of course.

    I link him into the room first, giving him a warning before tugging him in. Our kitchen table appears in the room, its legs supported by a floor that isn't there. Crawford is sitting at the chair with his mug. He takes another sip, letting his golden brown eyes study his new location. In the physical world, he is studying his mug of coffee with an absent look upon his face, his body and mind briefly detached from each other. I wait to see if he has any complaints about the room. Instead he gives a slight nod, approving of it.

    /Nagi, Farfarello, we need to talk./ I reach out to my teammates, pulling them in.

    Nagi materializes first of the two, bringing his computer and desk with him. Farfarello appears just a breath later, a good distance away. He is sitting on the ground, one leg bent and pulled against him, the other stretched out. One hand is clenched on his collar tight enough that it's going to leave imprints on his palm and the other is holding a knife. Nagi casts a startled look around, whereas Farfarello gives the room a half-hearted glance over. He's probably dreamed up things stranger than this room, so it doesn't bother him.

    "Where are we?" Nagi asks, turning in his chair to send a questioning look on me. He understands that it's a mentally touched room, but he has never seen our physical selves make it to the bond. Schwarz hasn't had the need for such a private room since there were only two members. It's a new experience for our youngest.

    I realize my gaze is lingering on Farfarello and force myself to turn away. "Our new headquarters," I answer merrily, moving towards the table. I think myself up a chair and turn it around, sitting down in it backwards. It's turned at just the right angle to see all three of my teammates comfortably.

    "Crawford?" Nagi turns to him next, since my blithe answer tells him that I'm not the one to get answers from.

    Crawford lowers his mug to rest on the table. "As you know, Estet and Rosenkreuz have always had a close relationship with each other. Estet funds Rosenkreuz for its work with Talents: acquisition, research, training, and so forth. In turn, Rosenkreuz has been working to help Estet reach its goals by both the type of research it has done and by handing its units to the other organization." His gaze is on Nagi as he speaks, although he is saying things that we already know. "Right now, we are the most vital group to Estet's success. We are working towards the realization of a dream of many, many years. How we move and perform will directly contribute to Estet becoming The power of the world, with Rosenkreuz straight behind it."

    Nagi listens to this in silence. There is no trepidation to his thoughts; he's never been blind to Estet's desire for true power. Crawford's words are no surprise to them- he accepts the confirmation that Estet is close to its goal with mild disgust towards people who crave such power.

    Then Crawford lets the other shoe drop.

    "That is why we are going to make them fail." This is where Crawford turns his attention on Farfarello.

    Nagi sends a quick look towards me, startled. ~Is he serious?~ he asks, voice sharp with surprise.

    I let a slow smirk play on my lips but do not answer. Our resident Irishman meets Crawford's gaze intently. I study him absently. This is the same look Farfarello turned on Crawford years ago when he was first inducted into our group. He is searching for truth and lies; he is judging that Crawford is serious in his promise that the goals of Schwarz and Farfarello's personal goals have fallen directly together again. That promise is what helped cement Farfarello within Schwarz when Crawford and I first found him. I still don't know what about the Irishman made me demand so vehemently for Crawford to consider assimilating someone who had no Talent into our prestigious group. Whatever I heard from him, Crawford saw, and the American precognitive promised Farfarello freedom from those that would lock him away again. He promised him the liberty to kill as he wished. He gave Farfarello what he wanted, and the Irishman was quite content to make Crawford's path his own.

    Since then they have strayed and bounced off of each other at random times. Farfarello is allowed to kill, but the when and who is restricted. It's not much of a bend on Crawford's word, so generally there is no problem. This time, however, Farfarello assumed that his interests were going to clash fiercely with what Crawford demanded of him. Farfarello _hates_ the Council; I can hear his hatred lacing his every thought. He assumed that Crawford would try and make him ignore that hatred. Now Crawford has proved again that he has what it takes to control the psychotic assassin- he is saying that the Council _will_ fall; he is promising vengeance.

    "It has been decided that Rosenkreuz and Estet will not achieve their goals," Crawford says when he has decided he has Farfarello's full attention. "Schwarz's interests have strayed away from theirs. We do not intend on following their beck and call forever, and now we find ourselves at the perfect place to break away."

    "Is that possible?" Nagi demands.

    I wiggle my fingers, holding my forefinger and thumb a short distance away from each other. "We have a thread to work with," I say, "that will grow as we pull on it. We're strong enough to manipulate it how we wish. Estet thirsts for immortality and they are mere months away from it. We have to kill them. We _can_ kill them."

    "And the Council?" Nagi asks, leaning forward in his chair to fix an intent look on my face. He is worried that we are acting rashly out of our anger over Farfarello's treatment. He does not know how strong the Council is, but he knows that three of his teammates have been damaged by those four men. He just barely understands what they are capable of; seeing the aftermath of one of Hoffmann's games with me over a conflict with Adashi gave him a boost. The image of them he has started to cultivate for himself is one he doesn't like at all.

    I flick my hair over my shoulder. "We're on equal footing with almost all of the Council when it comes to rank of Talent," I say. "_Herr_ Hoffmann-" and I drawl the title out to show him that I'm not afraid of mocking that German devil, "-is a nine. You rank equal to Mosuli with telekinesis. Ahmed is just a short distance teleporter. If it weren't for his shields, his thoughts and my speed would make us an almost even fight. He isn't invulnerable."

    "And the fourth?" Nagi wants to know.

    "He's a pyrokinetic." No one has to be a telepath to know what the mention of that gift stirs up in Farfarello. There is a flicker across his mind- a woman's smile and laugh, burned hands trying to fasten bandages over self-inflicted and battle-induced wounds, a softly lilting voice speaking words I cannot understand.

    "We could lose everything in a fight against the Council," Nagi says. If I didn't know him to be such a realist I'd think he was purposefully trying to be pessimistic. He's not happy with the Council for what they've done to his team, but he can figure out the risks of taking on the Council. Once they realize our intentions, it will be a full-fledged war. There are no promises that our powers can save us this time. There are no promises that we'll all walk out alive. None of us are stupid enough to even consider such a promise.

    "We don't have much to lose," is Crawford's calm response.

    Nagi looks towards him, searching his face. There is a faint protesting thought running through Nagi's mind- there and gone again almost too quickly for me to catch. ~Except each other.~

    /We can do this,/ I tell him. He looks towards me and we study each other for a few moments in silence. For a moment, he seems really young. Then the illusion fades. He is not much reassured by my words, but he would follow Schwarz to the depths of hell if that is what Crawford wanted. This time, that might actually be where we're going, but we'll be damned if we end up there without taking anyone with us.

    At length, Nagi gives a nod. All eyes turn on Farfarello. He is staring at the ground, his eye gazing at his blade as he turns all of this over in his head. Slowly he lifts his head, meeting Crawford's gaze with a glare that says it all.

    The Council took a try at insuring that Farfarello would never want to cross them again. They screwed him up and beat him down, and any sane person would never want to defy them after living through their personal attentions.

    What they forgot is that Farfarello has a very well defined sense of revenge.


    Without my help, Farfarello will not get any sleep tonight. Due to the nature of the room in which Crawford promised him the death of the Council, he does not really remember it, and he won't remember it until the next time we gather there. Something deep inside of him offers up a dull reassurance that he will get a chance to pay them back for everything they've done, but the muted voice is not enough. He is in a black mood and has been in his room ever since he got out of the shower. His thoughts are vicious and cold, and what disturbs me the most is that they alternate between focusing on the Council and on himself. Farfarello rarely finds fault with himself. He knows what he is, he knows what he is capable of, and he knows what he does. He is satisfied with all of it. To hear half-coherent snarling directed towards himself as well as the four devils that run Rosenkreuz is not good news.

    In his mind I can see streaks of crimson red; he is breaking his own flesh in an attempt to stave off part of his violent mood. It's not enough, and unless I step in, he could be at it all night. We don't need Farfarello dying of blood loss. I offered to take him out to kill tonight, but he answered that with a cold glare. He is still feeling highly unwell. It's an emotional sickness, not a physical one, or it would not be bothering him as much or be contributing so well to his black state of mind.

    That leaves me with just one thing to do for him. I could get Nagi to press down in just the right places to knock Farfarello out for the night, but I have the feeling that knocking him unconscious could be one of the worst things to do for him right now.

    Instead, I can use my gift to smooth his thoughts. My telepathy can take the sharper, blacker edge off of his mind. I've done it before, usually to keep him from killing somebody when he was really agitated. I just kind of overlay our thoughts and let his angrier rants melt through me so that my telepathy is a blanket over him. I have a better control over my anger than he does, so it has been successful the times we have tried it before. Judging by what he's feeling tonight, however, I will need something of my own to distract me or I won't sleep, either.

    In this case, the distraction happens to be a tall American with raven hair and golden-brown eyes.

    I slip into my room, the last to turn in for the night. Crawford is sitting at his desk, his glasses off to one side. He is gazing into space as he thinks, his fingers idly rubbing circles on his temples. He has another headache; no surprise. There are some clairvoyants who can guide what they want to see- specific instance sensitives, also called SIS precognitives. Crawford has more of a general type of precognition that shows him smatterings of many things, mostly of those that are concerned to his own future. Rosenkreuz wrenched at it during his training to make sure he expanded that gift to Schwarz and their clients. His gift was never meant to work that way, but he had a strong enough Talent that it let them pull it like that. Since then, he has never tried to force his gift to do something it was not meant to do- until now. Now he is trying to focus his visions: to take what he sees and make his gift give him more if it isn't enough, to make visions come for what he wants to see. If we are stuck playing this game against the Council long enough, it will become easier for him. Until then, it'll hurt like a bitch and fight him every step of the way.

    He has not noticed me yet; my new insight to his senses tells me that he's too distracted to notice. He's too focused on a future to pay attention to the present. I cross the room towards him, leaning against the back of his chair and letting my hands fall to rest over where his fingers are touching his temples.

    It isn't enough to bring him back. /I want to see,/ I murmur into his mind, more placing the desire to know what he's looking at into his thoughts than actually intruding upon his concentration with words.

    Something gives and suddenly I'm watching the same thing he is. There are a flickering of colors and images, little scattered scenes that last anywhere from a blink to several seconds. I can only hold onto the five that last the longest; the rest are there and gone too quickly for me to remember.

    Four women standing behind Masafumi, Rosenkreuz's 'missing' Aoi Chizuru among them. The four girls taking on a monster that looks like it came out of a crack dream. Hirofumi and some kid who is looking utterly horrified. Same kid wandering around with Ouka at a party, and I can see Hirofumi and Takatori in the crowd. Same kid and three others wandering around all dressed up.

    They vanish and Crawford sags back slightly in his chair. He and I consider what he's seen. I know I only caught the tail end of whatever he was looking at, but it's enough for me to chew on. Crawford has been focusing on the sidelines, stretching his gift out bit by bit to see what outside of Takatori and Schwarz can be used and twisted or might present some sort of a problem for us.

    I start at the beginning of what I saw- Aoi Chizuru. She was here just a few days ago with that greasy haired Masafumi, and my, did she look surprised to see us. She belongs to Rosenkreuz, the only Talentless outside of Farfarello allowed within their ranks. Up until recently, that was the extent of what I knew about her. I know a little bit more now, thanks to our brush the other day where I could give her a quick mental rummage. She did some special work under Elizabeth, one of the Council's Five, and was transferred to Japan years ago. Apparently she did time with Japan's Special Defense Forces, and now she is in charge of Masafumi's new group of bodyguards. She's older than me by several years- I think she's either Crawford or Aine's age.

    I dimly recognize the three women beside her from what I picked up that same day. The most vivid is that retarded looking girl with the blue hair and stuffed animal. What a nauseating looking little twit. She looks like she has an IQ of a negative twelve, and I almost hope I never have to see her face to face and check to see if my estimate is correct.

    As for the monster- I'm going to assume it's Masafumi's. Crawford and I have been doing our own private little work while waiting for Farfarello to be returned, and Crawford has tinkered with the success of Takatori's second child in his experiments. Apparently Masafumi suffered some misfortune when one of his agents was killed a few days ago by our modern samurai and some buddies of his.

    That samurai of ours is a tad bit useful.

    On the other hand, if Chizuru is attached to Masafumi, that means Rosenkreuz or Estet has a hand in what he's meddling with. Tinkering with what he's doing could annoy them just as much as it's sure to annoy the greaseball. I cannot help but wonder why the Council failed to mention anything about it. I know Crawford can't be particularly happy about that little surprise, either. It's one more thing we have to figure out so we know how to work.

    As for the boy that plays constant in the next three visions- I recognize him. I saw his face in Ouka's thoughts earlier today. He is her "Omi-kun." The fact that he circles back into the next two visions is interesting; he's got his own role to play for us.

    I pass on the identity of the kid to Crawford. /A florist,/ I tell him, /that Takatori's littlest is infatuated with. Who's his gang?/

    ~The redhead is our samurai,~ Crawford answers. ~The other two are his companions…an assassin group of sorts.~

    Interesting. I make a mental note to investigate the group. I want to see the redhead for myself, since he seems to be so important in cleaving us a path to freedom. If he has connections with Ouka's precious Omi, it shouldn't be hard at all to locate him.

    ~Your turn.~ Crawford tilts his head back to look up at me, letting his hands fall to his lap. I leave my hands where they are, enjoying the feel of his warm skin against my palms. I can faintly feel his heartbeat in my fingertips.

    /Yes?/ I question, not offering anything until he's specified exactly what he wants.

    ~Why are you dragging Ouka so far into this?~

    I consider this. I must have missed more visions with her, ones that allowed him to see that I have an interest in her. I wonder exactly what he's seen. ~She's interesting,~ I answer. He does not respond; his eyes tell me he is waiting for a full answer. At any other time, I would bypass his questions. At any other time, I would feel that it isn't his business why I'm tangled up with her. But things are getting serious, and it's going to take compromise between his gift and mine. He showed me what he saw; I tell him how I screwed up.

    /She has something of mine,/ I tell him, lightly drumming my fingers on his forehead. I don't like thinking about it; I've come to accept the repeating chorus in my head enough that I only half-notice that they're there. Thinking about them makes them louder, makes my gift flinch away from them in disgust that they're not mine and they're stuck with me. /I didn't come back from Hoffmann the right way when I almost got stuck several days ago. She was in the way./ I lift one shoulder in a careless shrug, as if it doesn't bother me that pieces of my mind are scattered all over Tokyo.

    Crawford knows enough about my gift to understand what went wrong, and his lips pull in a faint frown. ~How many?~ he asks. ~How many did you touch?~

    /Not quite two dozen are left,/ I answer. /I found the others./

    Crawford gives an odd sort of sigh. ~I told you to stay away from him.~

    /Spare me the 'I told you so' speech. I think you're done talking for the night./ I move around him, letting my hands slide free. Crawford rises to his feet; I'm close enough that we're chest to chest as soon as he stands. I twine my fingers through his hair as we kiss, loving his taste, loving the feel of his hard body against mine, loving the feel of his hands on my hips. I've been waiting for this all day. I haven't been able to have him to myself like this since before Farfarello disappeared many days ago- I was too torn up by the absence of the loudest mind on the bond and Crawford was kept busy with Takatori's work.

    On our third kiss I reach out for Farfarello. He is carving little slits between his ribs, his thoughts as dark as ever. /Get some sleep, Farf,/ I tell him. It's the only warning I give him before I slide in deeper. It's much like allowing yourself to be dunked completely in ice cold water, but the ice quickly fades to a tangle of angry snarling. Farfarello's mind is instantly calmed.

    I can taste blood.

    I lean back from Crawford, startled by the taste of his blood on my tongue. I bit his lip hard enough to break the surface, and he touches the cut with the tip of his tongue as if confirming its presence. My eyes flick up from the wound to his eyes. His gaze is almost thoughtful- he's not terribly upset that I bit him, but he knows it's not something I would ordinarily do. He says nothing, merely watches me as I lower my gaze back to the drop of blood welling on his lip. I lean forward, mesmerized by the sight of it, and cover the cut on his lip with my own mouth. I suck at it lightly, needing the taste of blood, needing to know that it stings as I bite down on it again. I need to hurt _someone_...

    Crawford's hand touches my chin; his fingers curl over my cheek. He squeezes lightly. It's not enough to hurt, but a firm enough grip to distract me from what I'm doing. I break our kiss, reaching up to touch his cut with a finger. Fresh blood is welling up to replace what I've kissed away. The tear is bigger.

    "I covered Farfarello," I say simply, giving my teammate's temporarily kidnapped thoughts a fierce shove in an attempt to push them down. It takes a fight before they're subdued to more of a bitter murmur. My words are not an apology; more of an explanation. "If someone didn't stop him he'd be a bloodless corpse before dawn."

    "I suppose this is where I am supposed to thank you for your thoughtfulness," Crawford says dryly. A trickle of blood makes its way down his chin. It looks almost amusing to see blood on his face; wounds are just not a Crawford thing.

    I give Farfarello's thoughts another kick and slide my hands down from his hair to start working on the buttons of the shirt. "I thought I told you that you're done talking for the night," I remind him. His lips twitch in faint amusement. I reach up, using my thumb to wipe the blood from his chin, and he tilts his face down to catch my lips in another kiss.

    Kissing is definitely way better than carpeted bedrooms.

    So is sex.


    Crawford's first vision comes to pass the next day. The four of us are in the den with Takatori as he watches the morning news. He's seated in the chair directly across from the screen, with Crawford in the chair to his left and Nagi and me on the couch to his right. Farfarello is leaning against the wall by the window. He's not talking to me; he's furious about what I did last night. I knew he would be even before I did it. The Council invaded him God knows how many ways with their gifts, and he returned home for me to do the same thing. It doesn’t matter that I was actually acting with good intentions for once. I don't really care that he's giving me the cold shoulder. I know why I cloaked him, and none of his glaring can make me regret it.

    It's even easier to ignore his pissy mood because I woke in a very good mood this morning. The reasons for my good mood are obvious, the main one being a tall American seated across the room from me. I am sprawled languidly on the furniture Nagi and I commandeered, taking up two and a half out of the three cushions. If Nagi were any bigger he wouldn't be able to share the couch with me.

    Several minutes pass in relative peace as Takatori watches his news. We wouldn't be down here except that the Koala demanded our presence this morning. There isn't a real reason for us all to be here. He has a couple of things to say about upcoming events, but he generally saves such words for Crawford alone. He just likes the feeling of power, of having Rosenkreuz's top group at his beck and call. His greed for power is what made Estet choose him. It will also be a good thing to use against him, to make Estet see that he can only be used for so long before his greed overrides his duties to the ones that put him here in the first place.

    In a way, it's such a clichéd flaw. Power corrupts and all that good junk.

    I am drifting along in my thoughts contentedly when Takatori actually does something interesting for once- he chokes on his coffee and lurches forward in his chair. His coughs are thunderous and he beats a meaty fist against his chest, his eyes glued to the television as his face flushes an angry red.

    He looks so _retarded_. I choke back my laughter, hiding it under the pretense of clearing my throat, and look to see what has gotten him so worked up.

    The news reporter is babbling on about the top story of the morning. Apparently some people were murdered last night, and the survivors have been raving about a monster. She describes the bodies as having viciously torn flesh, ripped by no ordinary animal. She leaves us with her personal cliffhanger- monster or madman- to show more video clips. Eventually a boy's face pops up on the screen, and the lady identifies him as a college student.

    Takatori knows that boy's name, and he knows what has happened. He knows what the anchor woman can't even begin to imagine. This is Masafumi's doing; Takatori knows it. He is furious as he rushes to his feet. He makes a lot of noise getting there and I pretend his full weight hitting the ground has shaken the couch by giving a small pinwheel and grabbing at the cushion for balance. I am saved getting my ear bellowed off because Takatori is looking and Crawford and misses my mockery. Nagi's lips twitch and he sends me a sideways glance. Farfarello's not amused. He's still steadily ignoring me.

    "HIROKU!" Takatori bellows.

    The servant scrambles into the room, eyes wide in alarm. "S-sir?" he asks, executing a deep bow.

    "Get the car ready. We are going to KO now."

    "Sir!" Hiroku vanishes as quickly as he came. His feet beat a rapid retreat across the floor and I hear the main door open and close behind him.

    I root through Takatori's mind, curious. KO is Masafumi's corporation, a company known publicly as a pharmaceuticals research center while privately being used to do all kinds of strange research. This should be an interesting visit…Wherever Masafumi is, Chizuru should be. I wonder what kind of lovely things we'll hear from their minds today.

    Takatori gives a snap of his thick fingers and storms out of the room. 'Storm' isn't quite the right word…It's more like stomping, and he reminds me of a Sumo wrestler getting ready to fight. He's loud enough, anyway. Hasn't he heard of Xenadrine? Liposuction? Gastric bypass surgery? I'm still impressed that he can fit through one door, and that's with me letting it slide that he brushes the other on his way through. Crawford rises to his feet and we follow him out. Nagi lets the second double door glide open for us. As long as it's there, we might as well use it.

    The sun is bright tonight, and I half consider pushing my sunglasses down from my headband to the bridge of my nose. It's not like they'll do much to protect my eyes…The lenses are pink, after all. I bought them because they amused me and because I liked how they clashed so horridly with the rest of my outfit.

    We're all taking the limo, and we fill up four rows between us. Takatori has one row all to himself, and Crawford sits across from him. My chair faces the rear of the car and is built on the back of Crawford's. Nagi and Farfarello share a row across from me. I scroll through Takatori's thoughts, tilting my head backwards just enough that I can feel my hair brush Crawford's. Takatori seethes the whole way there, thoughts black. He is good at hiding it away, however- his face is calm by the time we step out of the car at KO.

    I tilt my head back, eyeing the red building with its strangely domed roof with a small bit of disgust. It's a hideous building; I'd be embarrassed to call it my own. Still, it has decent air conditioning and that's enough to make me willing to step through its glass doors with my team. Takatori's steps are measured as he approaches the elevator. Every worker we pass greets him politely before raking curious and uneasy eyes over Schwarz. I send them a sideways glance, my lips pulling into a wide smirk that causes many to decide that they just don't _want_ to know who we are. It does not take long to reach the floor Masafumi's office is on, and we set off down the hall as a group. If it weren't for my gift, I would think Takatori had cooled off.

    /He's seriously thinking of terminating his son,/ I send across the bond, amused. There is definitely no love lost between the Takatoris.

    ~They're typical clients,~ Nagi muses. That's true enough. Anyone other than scum like this wouldn't have what it takes to be useful to Rosenkreuz and Estet. Clients like these will make it easier for us to move the playing pieces how we want. The Takatoris could destroy each other and keep going without even slowing. This means that the Council is more likely to believe us if we say one – or all – of them turns out to be expendable.

    Nagi gets the doors for us, useful kid that he is. Someone at the front desk must have warned Masafumi that we arrived, because he is waiting for us. He is standing behind his desk, his arms crossed behind his back, and he watches his father approach with a smile twisted on his lips. I think it was supposed to be a reassuring expression, but it's marred by his ugly looks and his weird face so that it just comes across as a sickly sort of sneer. He's wearing the same thing he wore when he dropped by Takatori's place a week ago. I wonder idly if he's washed it or if he never takes it off. It's a gross thought.

    Behind him stand four women, the women out of Crawford's vision. Chizuru stands across from Farfarello, and although her expression remains calm, her thoughts are tinged with uneasiness. Her eyes slide down our line, her gaze coming to rest on Crawford. Beside her is the blue-haired thing, clutching a stuffed rabbit to her. Her eyes are big and bright as she stares at us, a ditzy little smile on her painted lips. Her mind is- ugh. It's just…She's mental, and in a much different way than Farfarello. The horrendously annoying mental as in I'm already wondering if she can be killed, if only to spare me the agony of listening to her idiot and cheerful thoughts. I overestimated her IQ by maybe thirty points. On the dingbat's other side is some blonde chic, a superior smirk curling her lips. The fourth is a dark haired girl wearing some massive sunglasses.

    Four on four, four men facing down four women. We're not really interested in the Takatori spat that is about to begin; we're sizing each other up.

    Well…They're sizing _us_ up. Schwarz takes one look at them- a group collectively known as Schreient, according to their thoughts- and dismisses them with disinterest. They don't realize that they've earned our indifference yet and seem intent on facing us down. I guess it makes them feel tough to stare so boldly at us.

    Takatori approaches the desk, his voice calm despite his dark thoughts. "How could you let this happen?" he demands of his second child, leaning forward to bang a fist on the table. All right, maybe he's not in total control of his anger. I spare him half a mind, digging around in Chizuru and Masafumi's minds to see what's going on with them. "The test subjects disappeared two days ago. I found out about it this morning because the media was going nuts." He straightens, half turning away, but keeps a cold glare on his child. "What were you doing? What are you going to do if this gets out?"

    "There's no need to worry, father." Masafumi's voice is as greasy as his complexion. His attempts at being reassuring fall short, and in his thoughts he's not really interested in making peace with his father. He is more concerned with getting the fat man out of his building and out of his hair. "They'll lose their ability to speak as they become mutated."

    Tot giggles at that. There's no reason I can see other than her "papa" – as she is referring to Masafumi mentally – has spoken for her squeaky laugh. I don't think anyone else finds what Masafumi said particularly amusing. I say again: mental.

    "You don't get it, do you, Masafumi?" Takatori asks, turning back to the man and closing the distance between them again. "I've let you have free reign over this company. But if you cannot manage this, and any of this should come back to me," his hand snaps out, grabbing Masafumi by the collar and yanking him forward so that their faces are a mere breath's width apart, "I will have to rethink how to handle you."

    Masafumi almost pales. He believes his father's threat, but he also has his own feelings of immortality. "I understand, father. I'll be more careful."

    /Well, I've got what I came for,/ I send towards Crawford as father and son stare each other down. I receive a distracted affirmative from him. Takatori turns and storms for the doors. Schwarz lingers a moment longer, studying our inverse group again. Chizuru is studying Crawford, her mouth pulled into a tight line. I dance through her thoughts, amused by everything I've discovered this morning.

    She looks towards me as Crawford turns to go. Nagi is following Crawford, and Farfarello trails along behind him. I am the last to leave, as Chizuru and I meet eyes across the room. She knows me, if only by reputation. We study each other for a few seconds before I bare my teeth at her in a wide smirk.

    /Eyes off him, lady,/ I send at her, a drawled warning about her attentiveness to Crawford. Apparently she used to fancy him. Now her thoughts mark her as completely devoted to Greasy. She does not like me using telepathy on her; her eyes narrow slightly even as she leans slightly back in protest. /Stick to those on your level./ With a slight tip of my head towards the psychotic scientist standing at his desk, I turn and leave the room. Chizuru sends a rude thought after me that I ignore, and the moment I am through the doors, Nagi pulls them closed.

    I have the distinct feeling that Chizuru is going to be useful to us, though whether that satisfied thought is from my own instincts or has slipped between the reinforced bond between me and my lover, I don't know. Right now, it doesn't matter. If it proves true, we'll twist and tear her apart until she can do nothing more for us. She's just one more person in between us and freedom, and no one will ever miss her.

Part Seven