Part Seven

    I am sitting on Nagi's desk, legs dangling over the side and hands planted behind me to prop me up. My head is tilted back as I gaze up at the stars overhead without really acknowledging their presence. Nagi is idly playing a game of internet MahJongg Solitaire. Farfarello is sprawled out on his side a short distance away, his back to us as he trails a knife tip along the nothingness that is the floor. Crawford is not here yet; he is off with Takatori somewhere. It isn't like we're waiting for him. There is no particular reason for us to be here besides Farfarello's peace of mind. He is twitchy outside of this room, utterly pissed at both the Council and himself. I'm not brave enough- or stupid enough- to try and figure out the reasons behind the latter. I brought him here to cool off and invited Nagi along on whim. He accepted and now the three of us sit in silence, thinking our own thoughts.

    I don't really have to be here, as Schwarz's new goal is not blocked within my mind. I'm aware of everything regardless of location, unlike my two teammates. I chose this spot simply because it's easier to move my thinking to Crawford this way. Rather than hold a mental conversation with him to share conclusions, I can simply shift my thoughts to the second room that is just between us, adding my whole line of thinking to his subconscious. Reason number 570 billion these rooms are so useful.

    My thoughts- like Nagi's- go to Schreient. On any other day they would not be worth my time. They're giftless and rather shallow minded, absolutely no threat to us. Today is not any other day, however. I think on them because they were carefully orchestrated to become available to Masafumi. They feel a clingy, possessive, unnatural love for him, and Chizuru is in charge. I think on them because they were put there by Rosenkreuz.

    The Council didn't mention them to us, didn't warn Chizuru that we would be here.


    Rozenkreuz handed Schreient to Masafumi. Greasy doesn't have a clue that he was meant to have the four under his control, and only Chizuru out of the four girls knows who is really pulling the strings here. What about Masafumi's studies are so important to Rozenkreuz that they would give him a group? And if he earned their protection, why give him Schreient? If he was worthy he would have received a lesser psychic group, one much like Schwarz but a couple levels down. Takatori supposedly is going to take up so much of our time that we would not be able to keep enough attention on Masafumi as well, I guess.

    Masafumi could not have been granted gifted, I decide. For one, he's mad. If he even thought his bodyguards had gifts he would try and twist that. Besides, Masafumi and Takatori are just barely restraining themselves from each other. To sic two of Rozenkreuz's groups on each other over immature clients is unthinkable. No, Takatori got us because if it came down to it, he is the one chosen to live.

    Note to self: Masafumi is expendable.

    As long as it's not us versus Schreient, the group might actually be of some use to Masafumi. The love and devotion they feel is a twisted affection- I can feel Hoffmann's taint in their minds. Women are emotional, sentimental beings. Hoffmann twisted them to the point that they would die for Masafumi with smiles on their faces, something more than ordinary bodyguards could offer. People in love will go to incredible depths to protect the ones they care about. It's retarded, really, and utterly laughable. But it will serve Masafumi well.

    But Tot doesn't make sense at all. She's the weak link I can't figure out. Why that scrap of a girl with a negative IQ and cotton candy for brains? She's just over Nagi's age. We were allowed Nagi because of his gift- the gifted bloom young. This girl has no gift, has no redeeming quality except that she makes rocks feel smart. Why would someone like her be chosen to be Masafumi's bodyguard?

    There has to be a reason behind her. Why would Rozenkreuz allow her on the team of four? Why would the other girls allow it? Rosenkreuz never moves without a purpose. The Council never explained it to us, never told us about Chizuru or Schreient.

    And Schreient is important because we weren't told.

    Hoffmann must know that I'm going to investigate. He knows me too well to think I'm just going to accept a faceful of unanswered questions. Chizuru may put her trust in the Council to know what they're doing- which is what she's doing now, trusting them about us even though we make her nervous- but I don't and I won't. The Council has never given me a reason to trust them, has never been able to beat that kind of nonsense into me. I do what they say because I have to, because I know what happens if I shrug off their answers. There's no trust involved.

    Now the question is...Am I supposed to investigate and figure out my answers regarding Tot or am I supposed to follow Chizuru's example and ask no questions?

    What a retarded question. One, there's no way I'd imitate that fluff. Two...If I want to know something, I'm going to find it out, and to hell with the consequences. Hoffmann didn't say to leave Schreient alone, after all.

    And currently, I don't give a rat's ass what that bastard wants.

    "Hey, Farf..."

    He rolls onto his back, fixing me with a calm stare. He still carries a small grudge against me for flattening his mind the other night, but he is trying to loosen it. He is very off balance from the Council's attention, and he needs Schwarz- especially me- more than ever to help him regain and keep his footing.

    "Let's go for a walk." I hop off the desk.

    "Where are you going?" Nagi asks, glancing up from his game.

    "Nowhere in particular." I bare my teeth at him in a smirk that is not at all reassuring.

    "Crawford doesn't want us leaving the house today."

    "He didn't actually say that, he just implied it, and he'll understand. Farfarello needs to get out, anyway." I pause for a moment, testing Crawford's mind to see what he is doing at the moment. He's busy right now, so I don't transfer my thoughts over yet. "You can join us or stay here, it's up to you."

    Nagi considers it, warring between boredom and hesitance over Crawford's suggestion that we stay around the house today. I'm truthful to Nagi- Crawford didn't exactly say that we weren't supposed to go anywhere. It's just the way that he worded the plans for the day included us staying here. I think about it, knowing that we have to be careful so that Crawford's visions aren't disturbed by us. But Schreient is a mess of questions that have to get answered. If they're attached to Masafumi, they'll be affecting us. We can't face them without filling in some of the blanks.

    "Tell me why we're going," Nagi insists.

    I shrug, deciding it won't hurt. He won't remember as soon as we break this bond, anyway. "Schreient," I say simply.

    "Information probe or assassination?"


    "Ah." He pauses just another moment, then closes his game and rises from his chair. As soon as he stands he is gone, and his desk vanishes with him. I let Farfarello drop from the bond and stretch before exiting it myself. I leave the den, heading for Farfarello's room first. He is ready when I open the door, and I release him from the bonds we are forced to keep him in due to his recent splurge of frantic self mutilation. He rises to his feet in a smooth movement, plucking up the same knife he was playing with in the space room. He knows we're going somewhere, though he doesn't know where. It doesn't matter to him- it rarely does. Out is out, and he wants that right now.

    Nagi joins us as we step out of Farfarello's room-turned-cell, a faint frown curving his lips. "Where are we going?"

    I give a careless shrug. "Out and about, kiddo. I'm bored of this place."

    "Crawford wanted us to stay here today."

    Reason number one the bonds are annoying: I find myself having to repeat the same conversations over and over. "He only implied it, chibi. We're not breaking any rules by heading out on the town. Maybe we'll even find Farfarello someone to kill. You'd like that, eh, Farf?"

    Farfarello doesn't answer; his gaze slides away from mine. His thoughts turn over to thoughts of red, images flickering in his mind at the pace of a hummingbird's wings. I give him just a moment to see if he has an answer for me, but he provides none. Ah well...Farfarello has never been a conversational little madman. I interlace my fingers and cup my hands to the back of my head, starting down the hall towards the stairwell. Farfarello stalks after me. Nagi hesitates, still concerned about leaving the mansion against Crawford's implied wishes, then moves to catch up.

    "Crawford won't be happy," he muses as he reaches the top of the stairwell.

    I look over my shoulder at him from a few steps down, cocking an eyebrow at him. "Since when is Crawford ever happy?" I ask.

    Nagi considers it- not because he's trying to think of an answer but because he isn't sure whether or not to say it. "He smiles for you," comes the response at last.

    I turn away, not wanting to delve into this conversation- especially not with my teammates. While I'm not uncomfortable with the topic, I am wary of it. Crawford has been back with us for just a short time and a lot has happened in that time, a lot that has changed the way the group acts. A lot has changed between him and me, and I'm not interesting in trying to dissect it. All I know is that it works and that I like it, and that's enough. "They aren't smiles," I reply loftily. "They're smirks, and he smirks at everyone."

    "Granted," Nagi says, recognizing that he's touched territory I don't want to stray into to, "he is also aggravated by you more frequently than Farfarello or me."

    "What can I say? I live to push people's buttons." Just then Takatori and Crawford move into view; crossing from one room to the other and passing the stairs as they go. Takatori pauses when he sees us, a frown curving his fat lips. I stuff my hands in my pockets and saunter down the rest of the stairs. It takes skills to be able to saunter on a stairwell. Skills and quite a bit of arrogance, and I have the perfect blend to make it flawless. I'm just that good.

    ~Where are you going?~ Crawford inquires.

    "Where are you going?" Takatori demands imperiously.

    /Reconnaissance./ I touch the bond between my lover and me and shift my thoughts to him. His eyes unfocus slightly under the transfer. I come to a stop at the base of the stairwell, and my teammates stop on the step right behind me. While Crawford thinks, I turn jade eyes on Takatori. His mind is right there, right where I can touch it, and the desire to grab it and tear it apart makes me have to pause before working. No matter what answer I give him it'll be an argument; he doesn't want us leaving unless he specifically gives us the order to, so I touch his mind and give it a slight pull. He doesn't even have to know we've left.

    It disorients him for just a moment, and I use that moment to stride past him towards the door. My teammates follow. The door is swinging shut behind us and I can hear Crawford speaking to Takatori, distracting him from the aftermath of my little mental tug.

    ~Tread carefully,~ his voice speaks, louder and more coherent in my mind. I can almost see an image of him dancing behind my eyelids because of our new bond; I can see an expression as well as hear a thought- can see the small furrow of his forehead as he thinks.

    Nagi pops the locks on the car and we climb in. I tug the keys from my pocket and start the engine before leaning over to pull the door shut. /Do you see something?/

    ~It's not defined, and it's very small. It could be nothing.~

    /And could be something,/ I conclude for him. /We're just going to go have a peek, and going to stop on the way back so Farf can kill something./ His response is a wordless assent. /Have fun entertaining fatty while we're gone./

    ~Of course,~ is the dry response.

    With Nagi sitting shotgun and Farfarello sprawled in the back, we head away from Takatori's place. I stretch out with my mind, searching for the four cotton candy brains we are going to observe. It doesn't take me long to find them and I turn the car in that direction. I feel a slight headache throbbing at the back of my skull; it's been a frequent visitor ever since my aborted return from Hoffmann. One hand finds the button for the radio and I let my thoughts slide where they will. Soon enough I won't be able to have the luxury of drifting where I may, as Crawford will need me fully alert and working with him to try and keep us all alive.

    So for now...I slide away, fading into the echoes of a thousand minds and feeling the shattered pieces of my mind pull themselves back together.


    Schreient can't see us. We're sitting on a hill near the spot they're sparring at, but they have no clue we're watching them. It's not that they're that retarded; my gift refuses to allow their minds to register that we're here. Chizuru's just a little uneasy- she senses she's being watched, but no matter how many times her eyes sweep to the hillside, she doesn't see us. Nagi is to my right, leaning forward and propping his arms on his knees. I'm sprawled on my back, kept up by my elbows. Farfarello sits somewhere off to my left. He's not interested in Schreient. Instead, his golden eye studies the blue sky far above.

    ~Why women?~ Nagi wonders. He's still a little confused as to why we're here. He doesn't see why I dragged him and Farfarello all the way out here just to watch a group that poses no threat to us. I just hope he's paying attention so when we reenter the bond he'll have some observations to make. ~Why would someone have a group of bodyguards made up only of women?~

    /Obviously, Masafumi's retarded,/ is all I say.

    Nagi's attention, like mine, settles on Tot.

    She's the kind of person you're not sure whether to gape at in some sort of disbelieving nausea or avert your eyes from to save yourself an anneurism. She's currently decked out in a pink sundress, with a yellow umbrella closed and resting on a shoulder. Her other arm is pumping in the air as she watches Chizuru and the one they call Neu fight. She's singing some sort of cheer and bobbing her hips from side to side, and her stuffed rabbit sits off to one side to watch. Grey-blue eyes glow in excitment and blue hair bobs on either side of her face.

    ~She doesn't fit,~ Nagi says simply. ~She doesn't make sense.~

    /She doesn't,/ I agree. /Age doesn't help her when she's got the mentality of a cotton swab./

    Nagi gives a slight sniff of amusement at that, and his lips quirk faintly. A cool breeze passes us. It's not strong enough to do more than displace a couple strands of my hair, but it casts Nagi's bangs into his eyes and he reaches up to push them away. Dark blue eyes are thoughtful as he studies the four women. He has no interest in the older women...while he spares them a glance as Chizuru gets Neu pinned against the ground, his eyes and thoughts immediately return to the blue-haired one.

    "Tot's turn!" she cries, bouncing forward now that Neu is done. "Tot wants to play!" in Tater Tot, I suppose.

    ~She refers to herself in third person?~ Nagi wonders.

    I make a note of that, a thoughtful frown tracing my lips. Even in her thoughts, she considers herself as "Tot" rather than "I" or "me". I touch her mind lightly, feeling the fluff and naivete. Gritting my teeth, I decide to just get it over with and lower myself deeper into her subconscious.

    Like foam on the water, her mind has two layers and abruptly changes once I've entered. Beneath the fragmented thoughts and her carefree retardness is just...blank space. It's black and empty in there, and not in the way someone stupid has a blank mind. It's blank in a way that I know she's been erased before and has not yet been rewritten. I touch the chill of her empty mind, hear the shadows skitter around beside me. If I reach towards them, I can see tiny pieces of her past. I lower myself further in, hear the bonds to Schwarz give a small creak as I try and figure out what's going on here.

    The upper level of Tot's mind is what allows her to interact with the others, something pieced together that is part of who she used to be and what someone messily put in place. This layer is empty, which means there is a third layer where Hoffmann has tied his strings between her and Masafumi. That's probably where I need to be, and also where I shouldn't go. If her mind is this divided, there's something on the third level that- while I might want to see it and it might answer a couple questions- will alert the Council to my trespassing. I consider whether or not to go ahead and enter, since Hoffmann's got to know I want the answers anyway, then decide that Crawford's orders for me to tread softly probably include pulling out now.

    I return myself to my own mind. My expression is smooth; my frown remains internal. Tot is only what Hoffmann has given her the urge to be: someone who will die for Masafumi. The life she used to lead has been almost completely wiped out, leaving her with just bits of memories of it. She has the skills to somewhat interact with other people, but she is not a real person.

    She was given to Masafumi as a blank mind, someone waiting for a real purpose and self. What is Masafumi supposed to write? Who is she supposed to become?

    I touch Chizuru, staring at the two as they fight without really seeing them. Later I'll have to try and swallow the fact that that yellow umbrella really is Tot's weapon of choice. Right now I'm seeing what Chizuru knows about Tot.

    The answer is simple: not much. She knows the Council wants Tot there, and she knows the Council will inform her when Tot is to be used. She will trust them until then; she will accept Tot on Schreient without knowing her purpose because she trusts the Council.

    Stupid woman.

    I pull away from her to realize that Farfarello's thoughts have a jagged edge to them. I glance towards him to see him staring past me at Nagi. I follow his gaze, studying the youngest of Schwarz in an attempt to see what Farfarello is so intently looking at. The boy notices my attention and looks towards me, a question in his eyes.

    /Farfarello?/ I ask, looking back towards the Irishman.

    Farfarello's eye narrows slightly and he looks away, ignoring me.

    I shrug and rise to my feet. /Let's go. They're boring./

    Nagi obediently stands, but Farfarello remains where he is- even when I've already started walking away. I stop about ten feet away and Nagi and I look back to see him still sitting there. He's watching Schreient, and the thoughts that flicker through his head are both cold and bitter. Hoffmann's in there somewhere, a faint trace of utter loathing and deeply burnt hatred. /Farfarello./

    For a while, he says nothing. Before I can make him follow us, however, he speaks. ~They should die,~ he answers. ~They are trouble.~

    ~They're just powerless girls,~ Nagi counters, more of a correction than an argument.

    ~They've been touched.~

    He means touched by Hoffmann, and I blink in mild surprise that he's picked up on that. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised...You'd think that several years of having Farfarello on the team would get me used to him just spouting out observations he shouldn't be able to make. Crawford had a Sensitive give Farfarello a long distance probe after our Irishman kept doing such a thing back when he was new to Schwarz. While the Sensitive said there was something wrong with Farfarello's soul, he could not identify a gift. Since then, we've waved it off as his sharp mind, edged by a madness that lets him see past the borders that usually stop others. The most likely explanation is that he's very faintly Sensitive, not enough to register to gifted but enough to act as a sort of sixth sense.

    And after a session with's believable that Farfarello would notice someone else who has been messed with.

    /We'll kill them when Crawford decides they're not useful anymore,/ I inform Farfarello. /Until then, they're to stay alive./

    ~That one...~ Farfarello murmurs, more a breath of a thought than an actual coherent message, ~dies first.~ His head tilts back as he seeks my gaze. Painted lips and blue hair flicker through his mind. ~That doll is the first to go.~

    Nagi frowns faintly, looking towards the girls. I watch him as he studies Tot, not because he's fascinating to look at but because Farfarello is giving Nagi that intent look again. ~What's the threat?~ he asks. ~She's just a kid.~

    /Farfarello, what is it?/

    He lifts one shoulder and drops it again in a shrug. ~Could be nothing,~ is his absent response. With that, he turns and starts off in the direction of the car. Nagi studies Tot for a moment longer before sending me a small shrug and following after Farfarello. I watch my teammates go. Farfarello has pushed thoughts of Nagi aside, focusing now on the fact that I'm going to take him killing. A frown tugs at my lips as I turn my attention back on the four sparring below. Chizuru knocks Tot's umbrella aside and the girl squeals, fleeing to her spot and snatching up her rabbit. She gives its ears a few frantic pats, wide eyes on her leader.

    'It could be nothing,' Crawford's voice echoes in my mind.

    "And could be something," I say aloud.

    Farfarello sends me a faint, impatient thought. I stuff my hands in my pockets, paste a smirk on my lips, and turn to join my teammates at the car. Crawford will find this very interesting. Maybe he'll be able to make some sense out of it with his gift. I keep my sigh to myself. Giving Crawford more work when his gift is already being strained means he'll have a migraine tonight...which means no sex. Damn.

    Well...At least _one_ person on my team can be happy today. Farfarello's knife is already out and he's playing with it in his hands, raking the razor edge along his fingertips to draw just a drop of blood to the skin. I glance towards him, a dryly amused look, and he returns the stare coolly as he lifts one finger to his lips to suck on it.

    "So, Farfarello," I ask as I turn the key in the ignition. "What's on the menu today?"

    "Suffer the little children to come unto me," is his whisper.

    I pause for just a moment at his response. While Farfarello has killed youths before, he has never actively sought one out to murder. It's a strange request from him. I send a glance towards him but he is looking out the window, his forehead pressed against the glass. His eye is closed and he drifts in his own thoughts. He has told me what he wants and he expects me to give it to him, so he is allowing himself to dwell on other things.

    I send a mental query out before putting the car in gear. There is a school not too far from Takatori's mansion, a high school that the older Takatori son is currently messing around with. Some students from there have been abducted by him for some human hunting game. No one will notice if one more disappears, and Takatori will write it off as being another one of his son's victims. It's not like Hirofumi keeps track of who his thugs bring in to keep his sport running.

    It does not take us long to reach the school. I park a block away and Farfarello slips out. I offer him a faint telepathic shield so he doesn't draw attention and he vanishes down a back alley, looping his way back to the school to avoid facing most of the midday crowd. The car is parked at a curb and I lean forward, folding my arms on the steering wheel. Nagi is silent in the back, thinking his own thoughts as usual. He feels no remorse or any sort of regret for the child Farfarello is currently hunting, even if Farfarello's prey is Nagi's age. This is life for him...He sees no reason to waste his sorrows on someone who isn't strong enough to survive, who wasn't adding anything meaningful to the world.

    In that way, Nagi is like Crawford.

    I find a cigarette- the last one from a very old pack in the glove compartment- and light up. The cigarette dangles between my teeth as I gaze past the steering wheel into my lap. The window is rolled down to let the breeze in, and it carries with it the sounds of a city. Traffic, people, music...It's a chaotic mess that, in the end, is much quieter than staying in my own mind.

    Farfarello has found a child.

    I listen to the mental screamings of a sixteen year old boy who suddenly finds himself hunted and tormented by a white demon. His mind is open, everything he ever hid from himself is loose as everything in his mind is thrown into panic mode. I let his thoughts wash through me, let myself see everything he is and everything he hoped to be. I see everything he loves about himself, everything he hates about himself, the girl that he is dating, the girl's face who he jacks off to in the restroom, his family...

    People can be brutally honest in their dying moments. Adults...tend to fall into denial. They've survived so long, they've got a foothold in the world, maybe they've hit where they want to be or maybe they're still trying. But adults are never ready to die. Living so long...makes it hard for them to understand and accept when their time is so harshly cut short.

    Children, on the other hand...Children are fresh...They have dreams and ambitions, but they have not yet had the chance to start acting out on such wishes. They have no guarantee, so self-reassurance that what they want will actually happen. Sometimes they are more jaded than their adults. Dealing with problems of growing up, facing critical parents and friends, finding themselves put down as the bad guys on the news... Youths have pretty much accepted that the world is not fair. While they tend to think of themselves as invincible, it is easy for them to believe that the world will fuck them over.

    Adults focus on cures, on ways out of death. Children...focus on everything they've just lost. Children watch their dreams slip away before they've even begun.

    And so this boy dies at Farfarello's hands, and in the background of his mental screaming the clouds give out beneath his castles and I'm the only one there to watch everything fall to the ground, the only one to see exactly what he wanted from life, where he wanted to go and what he wanted to achieve. In the end, he is not even aware of his own wishes, as he is too scared and in too much pain to actually look at everything he is when it is fully revealed for the first time. I watch the bricks fall alone.

    Tanaka Tarou wanted to be a doctor.

    I reach out, touch him in his last moments. /You'd have never made the grades to get into school for it,/ I tell him. The words are cruel to be the last thing he hears, but the voice is soft. Then he is gone, past the reaches of my gift. I flick my cigarette out the window and exhale smoke with a sigh. I sit up, tilting my head to the side and gazing out the window without really seeing anything.

    "Nagi, get the plastic out of the back."

Part 8