Part 14

      Schuldig's job with Tremelle was the last one in this phase of their job. Everything they'd done for the last several weeks was leading up to Wednesday's massive job. Schuldig knew how important it was to get Tremelle's player into place, but he wasn't worried. He went with the electrokinetic to Higuchi's office first thing Monday morning. Higuchi was not happy to see Tremelle, less happy to see the tacky looking telepath on his heels, and tried immediately to send them back home. He looked at Tremelle as he argued. Schuldig didn't mind, because it gave him a chance to sink his gift deep in Higuchi's mind.

      What he wasn't quite expecting was for Tremelle to defer to him. "Obviously you need to speak to someone else," Tremelle said when it was obvious that Higuchi still wasn't going to give him a chance. "I've brought along one of my field superiors."

      "Him?" Higuchi looked at Schuldig again. "I don't care. I want you both out of here. Go!"

      "I think you should shut up before you dig yourself any deeper into that grave of yours," Schuldig said. Higuchi gaped at him, completely disbelieving that anyone would talk to him like that. Schuldig stuffed his hands in his black jacket's pockets and crossed the room towards the businessman's desk. His gift tangled a bit tighter, enough to give the man the beginning pulses of a migraine. "First you ignore my teammate's attempt at a civil negotiation, then you say you don't care enough to listen to us, and worst of all, you seem to think you have a say in any of this."

      "You insolent-"

      "I told you to shut up," Schuldig said, emphasizing it with a hard wrench of his gift. Higuchi jerked in his chair and grabbed at his head. He moved his mouth, but nothing came out. He kept trying, then flicked a horrified look at Schuldig. Schuldig stopped in front of his face and gazed down at him with hooded blue eyes. "Let's get a couple technicalities out of the way. You have absolutely no say in anything outside of what we've given you permission to think and do, and we have absolutely no patience for people who don't know their place."

      Higuchi's face was turning an interesting shade of purple, equal parts rage and a desperation to say something, anything. Schuldig offered him a pitiless smile and let him struggle. Hate turned to real fear after a full minute, and Schuldig still waited until the man had exhausted himself.

      "You have one last try to get this right," he said, loosening his grip on Higuchi's mind. "Let's take it from the top. Tremelle?"

      Tremelle knew his speech by heart after five days of arguing with Higuchi. The businessman had never let Tremelle finish before, but now he didn't have a say in the matter. Schuldig knew it was fear fueling that hostile attitude, since Higuchi didn't want to get involved with Takatori's people. He figured he was safe from Takatori and Takatori's enemies if he stayed quiet on the sidelines. What he needed to know was that there wasn't going to be such a thing as neutral territory when Schwarz was through with Tokyo.

      It took fifteen minutes to explain exactly what Schwarz expected from Higuchi. Tremelle had brought all of the appropriate slides and documents and he spread them out on Higuchi's desk. The businessman glared down at the papers as if he expected them to catch on fire. Now and then he sent a nasty look at Schuldig, but he couldn't keep eye contact for long when he saw his death in Schuldig's icy stare.

      After five minutes, Higuchi eased up on the glaring. Schuldig was steadily reworking his thoughts, twisting them the way Schwarz wanted them to go. He rearranged priorities and erased doubts. Whenever Tremelle mentioned something that would be good for Higuchi's company, Schuldig caught hold of it and emphasized it. At ten minutes, Higuchi was starting to wonder if it was worth the tremendous risk. By the time Tremelle finished his presentation, Higuchi was theirs.

      The businessman knew better than to jump at the chance to work with them and instead took several minutes to consider Tremelle's documents. He skimmed past sections Schuldig didn't want him to pay attention to and reread the positive sections.

      Finally he harrumphed. "It'll do," he said. His stamp was sitting on the edge of his desk. He picked it up and slammed it down in all the appropriate places. "I expect copies."

      "We'll have them sent over first thing in the morning," Schuldig said. "We appreciate your time."

      Tremelle didn't speak until they were stepping out the front door onto the sidewalk. "Maybe I should have brought you days ago."

      "Maybe not," Schuldig said absently. Tremelle glanced at him at that, but Schuldig ignored it. He mulled over everything he'd heard in Higuchi's thoughts. It was good having targets who simply did what Schwarz wanted them to, but Schuldig would be suspicious if everyone was willing to sign their lives away. Those that fought the hardest, like Touru Koujirou and Higuchi Ken'ichi, were just as important as the diehard loyalists. They showed Schwarz a broader range of what they were going up against in their goals to establish Takatori as Prime Minister.

      The others had the cars, so the two men took the train back to Mitaka and walked to Schwarz's houses from there. Tremelle detoured to the house on the right where the destructive gifts lived and Schuldig turned towards the mental psis house in the middle. "I'll file the report," he said, and Tremelle was fine with that.

      Schuldig flicked out his gift, trying to spot his housemates. The empaths were still gone, but Nagi was upstairs, which meant Crawford hadn't left yet. Schuldig collected a bottle of juice from the fridge and went up to his room. He couldn't hear anything from Crawford's room, not when the conversation was all mental, so he busied himself with digging through his paperwork. He made a mental note to get a desk at some point. The room was small, but he could fit it up against the doors between his and Ly Ly's room.

      He had to wait half an hour before Nagi finally left, which was more than enough time to write up his report and fill another page with notes and observations. He felt Nagi's gaze on him and flicked the child a bored look in response. Nagi considered him in silence for a few moments.

      "Do not look at me like that," Nagi said. "You do not know who I am."

      "Then I have no incentive to look at you any in other way," Schuldig said. He picked himself to his feet and gathered up his paperwork. He went to stand in front of Nagi, but ignored him in favor of looking over his head. Crawford was setting up his wall for Wednesday's run. It looked much less chaotic now that they'd finished all of their preliminary projects. "Crawford, a word with you."


      Schuldig looked down at Nagi. Nagi gazed back at him. For one moment, Schuldig thought he could see Nagi's power in his eyes, something too-sharp and vicious, a crackle of lightning against dark blue irises. Schuldig quirked an eyebrow at him, wondering if it was a threat or slipping self-control. Whichever it was, he wasn't intimidated, and he let Nagi see that in his expression.

      "Crawford," Nagi said, a quiet press for an explanation.

      Schuldig didn't know if Crawford ignored him, finished with whatever he needed from the youth, or if his answer was telepathic. He bet on the latter when Nagi sent the supposed precog a look over his shoulder. Nagi did not look particularly impressed by whatever answer he was given. Schuldig expected the boy to swallow his distaste and get moving, but Nagi lingered, and Schuldig realized a moment later that he was silently contesting Crawford's decision.

      Crawford would have hurt Schuldig for doing such a thing, but he sent Nagi a calm look along with his answer. Schuldig glanced between them and took a moment to study Crawford's face. The precognitive looked as collected and impenetrable as always, but his body betrayed him. Behind that control were physical signs of fatigue. Schuldig guessed he hadn't had much time to sleep these past couple days.

      Schuldig was distracted when he heard Farfarello's approach. It solidified his decision to stand in Nagi's way, because the four of Crawford's inner circle had never been alone in the house before. He was interested in seeing how it would play out.

      "I am leaving now," Nagi said, turning on Schuldig again.

      "Don't let me stop you," Schuldig sent back.

      Like the first time they'd crossed paths upstairs, Nagi took that at face value and moved Schuldig with his gift. He made it as far as Schuldig's bedroom door before he was stopped again, this time by Farfarello. The Irishman offered him a lazy smile when he realized he'd blocked Nagi's path.

      "Move," Nagi said.

      Last time, Farfarello had smiled and stepped aside. This time he stood his ground. The two stared each other down, one half-lidded gold eye against two dark blue. At length Farfarello held his hands out by Nagi's shoulders and splayed his fingers. "Poof," he murmured. "Your fur is all out of sorts."

      "Do not start with me," Nagi said quietly. "I outrank you."

      Farfarello's smile was positively dangerous. "By a technicality."

      "The only reason you have any rank at all is bias, and that is insubstantial."

      "Perhaps it is so. Yet you," Farfarello said, leaning in close to give Nagi a good look at his cruel smile, "are the one who will never hold rank, pet."

      Nagi lashed out with his gift, hitting Farfarello so hard the Irishman was thrown out of the room. Schuldig couldn't see Farfarello hit the far wall, not from where he was standing, but he definitely heard the vicious thud of impact. He was a little surprised Farfarello didn't break the wall- or every bone in his body, rather.

      Farfarello, of course, didn't feel either hit as more than a half-hearted punch. The impact knocked the breath out of him, but he came back to the doorway almost immediately. His smile was all teeth and vicious amusement.

      "Oh," he said. "It is still a sore spot."

      Schuldig thought he meant the rank issue, but Nagi proved him wrong a second later. "Do not ever," Nagi said, his normally calm voice twisted with anger, "ever call me that."

      Farfarello offered Schuldig a knowing look. "The child will have nightmares. Again."

      "Farfarello," Crawford said, moving up behind Schuldig. "Stop setting him off."

      Farfarello looked down at Nagi again, a half-smile playing on his lips. Finally he stepped aside, letting Nagi pass. The child stormed down the stairs and slammed the front door behind him in his wake. Schuldig warred between being entertained and being quietly impressed. At no time in his two months here had he ever seen Nagi act as if he had emotions. He'd started assuming it was a mental defect and that Nagi honestly didn't have any. Apparently it was just very good control, with very few buttons. The child was just shy of being seventeen and he'd been with Schwarz for six years. He'd spent most of his developmental years with Crawford as a role model of sorts. That was bound to mess anyone up.

      "That was unnecessary," Crawford said, fixing Farfarello with a look of cold disapproval. "We need him to be fully functional on Wednesday."

      "Ah, but it is never unnecessary to question one's humanity," Farfarello said, refusing to feel chastised. He pulled a couple vials out of his pocket and crossed the room to push them into Crawford's waiting hand. "Perhaps he is still a child after all."

      "I am well aware of his shortcomings. I do not need them pointed out to me, nor does he need any reminders."

      Farfarello said nothing to that. He simply turned and walked away. He didn't respond and didn't wait for a dismissal. As Farfarello reached the doorway, Schuldig realized Farfarello didn't need to do either. He wondered fleetingly if Farfarello had set that show up for him. The tension between Farfarello and Nagi was real, but Farfarello had pushed it further today than he had in all of their other quiet scuffles. Proving a point- to Schuldig? Farfarello had told him that Schuldig couldn't take the team without winning Nagi over.

      He was going to need time to think things through later, everything from Nagi's silent argument at the start to Farfarello's casual exit at the end. Either way, Schuldig was starting to think he'd underestimated the hierarchy.

      "They have no rank in Schwarz," Crawford said, cutting that thought off at the pass. "It is their influence and contacts that make them invaluable."

      "They have rank in Estet," Schuldig concluded. "Rosenkreuz would never place any importance on Farfarello's life." He turned that over in his head. "Naoe outranks Farfarello?"

      "In theory," Crawford said, carrying the vials over to his desk. He already had a stand ready for them and he slipped the tubes into their slots. Schuldig finally followed the invitation to enter and closed the door behind him. The room immediately felt smaller. "Nagi will never hold official rank, but he is a psychic."

      "I was under the impression that Estet valued their psychics and dead minds equally," Schuldig said. "I guess that just means Nagi has better connections."

      "Your report," Crawford said, turning and holding out his hand.

      Schuldig passed it over to him. He let Crawford read it over and went to inspect the wall. Crawford had pinned up a map of Tokyo. Push pins and red thread streaked across the city in a jagged line. Pictures indicated where certain companies and businessmen's homes were. Red circles indicated areas that needed to take the most damage. Green circles around areas and pictures showed those Schwarz could not afford to get caught in the crossfire.

      Takatori's enemies were starting to whisper conspiracies, were starting to harp convenience that Takatori's stronger opponents were falling. Schuldig would love to see them blame a "natural" disaster on Takatori.

      "I trust you will not make me regret bringing you along," Crawford said. "We can ill afford for you to be distracted by such high casualties."

      "You misunderstand my psychosis," Schuldig returned. "It's not death and destruction that's the drug." He heard papers rustle as the man set his report aside, followed by Crawford's quiet footsteps. He didn't turn to look at Crawford yet, but he could feel the man's gaze just the same. "It's the personal aspect of it. It's standing beside the most powerful man in the room and being the one who completely destroys everything he's living for, everything he's ever wanted to accomplish. It's watching him shatter in those moments before death: making the invincible man mortal and breaking the untouchable."

      He turned around to face Crawford and idly rethought that decision. He hadn't realized Crawford had stopped so close. "It's my inability to be the second-best man in the room," Schuldig said. "It's my refusal to be the second-most powerful."

      And that mental wiring was destroying his control just as much as Crawford's gift was.

      He could see it on Crawford's face when the older telepath realized just why he had such a blinding effect on Schuldig. Crawford's looks made him worth Schuldig's time. His gift made it hard to remember why Schuldig should say no, since it destroyed Schuldig's ability to think. But it was Schuldig's need to have and capture and ruin that which was stronger than him that made it so hard to turn Crawford down. Schuldig fought against it as desperately as he could because he knew he couldn't go toe-to-toe with Crawford. The man had more brute strength than Schuldig did, even if he had a hundredth the technique. Schuldig would get crushed before he ever landed a blow. That didn't stop him from looking, and he felt his control breaking every time his thoughts slipped Crawford's way. The more he had Crawford, the more he'd want to take, and Estet would kill him for it if Crawford somehow failed.

      "I blame this mess on you," Schuldig informed him. "If you were a precog, I wouldn't care."

      But Crawford was a telepath, and Schuldig couldn't be outdone. If Schuldig couldn't have Crawford's psychic gift, then he'd just have to take the rest of Crawford's power away.

      "I brought you to this team for a reason," Crawford said coldly.

      "I know." Schuldig offered him a hateful smile. "I'm multitasking."

      It wasn't the smartest thing to say, he knew. He'd already figured out that Crawford was tired, and he'd known that Crawford had to be stressed somewhere under that perfect mask. Wednesday was a make-or-break day for them and Takatori, which meant Crawford wasn't likely to get any real sleep until Saturday.

      Still, he couldn't quite help himself.

      He was immediately glad he did, because Crawford hit him. Not with his telepathy, but with his fist. It sent Schuldig crashing into the wall behind him. The map tore under his weight and he knocked a push pin free, but he barely noticed around the pounding pain in his jaw. Schuldig touched careful fingers to it, wondering if he'd broken anything.

      "Estet will not be amused to hear of your insolence," Crawford said when he thought he'd gotten himself under control again.

      Schuldig realized he was still smiling. "I'll exercise my right to contest it."

      Crawford said nothing immediately, and Schuldig knew he'd won this round. If psychics felt their leaders were out of line, there was a channel they could go through to request assistance. A telepath instructor would investigate the matter and report his findings to the cabinet. It wasn't used all that often, since the cabinet ruled in favor of the team leaders in ninety-nine percent of the cases.

      Schuldig was out of line in challenging Crawford, but they would both lose horrifically if Schuldig requested a ruling. This fight was all about the effect Crawford's gift had on Schuldig, which meant whichever telepath went past Schuldig's shields would find out Crawford wasn't a precognitive. Crawford would be executed for his deception and Schuldig would be executed for helping him hide it.

      Crawford caught Schuldig's chin in his hand and slammed Schuldig's head against the wall. He was in Schuldig's face in a heartbeat, his stare so cold that Schuldig could almost feel it. Maybe that was just the buzz of Crawford's gift flexing against his shields in icy fury.

      "This is not your team."

      "No," Schuldig agreed, because it wasn't yet.

      "Maybe you cannot appreciate just how precarious our position is," Crawford said, and Schuldig knew he meant 'our' as in the four of them, not Schwarz and Takatori. "If you continue to distract me with your childish games, you will cause us to misstep. We cannot afford to make a single mistake. I have already warned you that Estet is watching us. You are causing unnecessary problems. I did not expect such ingratitude and recklessness from one to whom I'd promised freedom."

      "With all due respect, you'd have a much easier time hiding without your rank," Schuldig said mildly.

      "Get out." Crawford wrenched his hand away from Schuldig.

      Schuldig inclined his head and excused himself from the room. He was smiling again before he reached the stairwell. He still had that self-satisfied look on his face when Nicole and Ly Ly returned home and found him with an ice pack on his face. They didn't need their gifts to see the venom in the expression, and neither of them was quite suicidal enough to ask what had caused it.

      Schuldig didn't think the courtesy would last, not when he knew his cheek would bruise.


      Three motorcycles were delivered on Tuesday morning. Farfarello and the dead minds disappeared with them almost immediately afterwards. All of Estet's ground forces were trained to drive any manner of vehicle, but that didn't mean they were all comfortable driving bikes big enough for two people. Schwarz needed the most confident three at the wheels for Wednesday to work, which meant the six were gone for hours to determine the drivers. They circled the city several times, then went down Wednesday's route over and over.

      In the end, they all knew that it wasn't the size of the bikes that would be a problem, or the traffic in the city, or the psychic passengers they'd be toting around. It was the fact that they were going to be riding on top of a manmade earthquake. The bikes were to follow the route Crawford had mapped out in his room with thread, and Nagi was going to tear the city apart in his wake. It meant all the usual chaos of the city, plus panic, plus the ground giving out underneath them. The six had to be brutally honest with themselves in figuring out which of them could handle it.

      When they came back that afternoon, Mariea had been named one of the drivers. It was a given that Farfarello would end up as one of the others, since nothing could faze him. Schuldig was only a little bit surprised that Tomoko ended up with the last set of keys. He guessed he should have expected it. If she was Farfarello's girl, she had to be ballsy enough to keep up with him. Farfarello wouldn't have any patience for her if she hadn't proved herself as more than a pretty face.

      The rest of the psychics were quite a bit more skeptical, and few of them saw any reason to be quiet about it. Kwan eyed Tomoko with a look that bordered on disgust. "You're joking," he said sourly. "You expect us to trust her on a bike?"

      Tomoko offered him a polite smile in the face of that rudeness. "I have the fastest time for the route."

      Nicole arched an eyebrow at Farfarello. "You trying to earn some brownie points?"

      "No need," was his bored response.

      Tomoko slid him a sideways look. Her smile twitched, threatening to turn into something a little less company-friendly. Schuldig was almost amused by how quickly her thoughts could derail into the gutter.

      "Oh my god," Ly Ly said, looking almost horrified. Schuldig guessed that meant she'd picked up on Tomoko's dip. Tomoko seemed completely unconcerned by that reaction, but it did help her get her expression back under control. Harriet sent Ly Ly a hard look, trying to figure out what she was missing.

      "You actually expect us to think she beat you?" Nicole asked Farfarello.

      "She was my navigator," Farfarello said, lifting one shoulder in a careless shrug. Schuldig stored that away, reminding himself to ask them about it later. "She is the one who taught me how to ride."

      "Don't remind me about that age gap," Nicole said, rubbing her forehead. "It gives me the willies."

      "He looked older," Tomoko said, unapologetic over her mistake.

      "Than?" Schuldig prompted her, indulging in a fit of nosiness.

      "Fourteen," was her dry response. Nicole buried her face in her hands.

      "Oh my god," Ly Ly said again. "You're fucking him?"

      "Have been for five years," Tomoko said mildly, and jaws dropped around the room.

      "Damn," Harriet said, staring at her. It was the first time Schuldig hadn't seen a sour look on her face, but he wondered if he'd go so far as to read that expression as grudging respect. The psychics knew exactly what Farfarello was capable of and that knowledge made them justifiably cautious. He'd been on the team three years and they still weren't comfortable anytime he was in the same room. For Tomoko to go out of her way to court the Berserker just blew their minds.

      "But he can't feel anything," Tremelle ventured.

      "I guess he can feel enough," Nicole drawled.

      "That's messed up," Eleodoro said at length, eyeing Farfarello. "If she's that good, can we borrow her?"

      Apparently it was a greater sin to be a sexist pig than a dead mind, because Harriet fixed Eleodoro with a scathing look. "What the hell sort of question is that? You shut your fucking mouth."

      "What?" Eleodoro demanded, looking more than a little defensive. Tomoko was staring at Harriet.

      "Your survival instincts seem to be running on empty today," Schuldig said, offering the telekinetic an arch look. "I don't know what's worse: making bids on Farfarello's girl when he's in the same room, or making bids on her when your female teammates are."

      "Bah," Kwan said.

      "Don't you 'bah' us," Nicole said, incensed. "Dog."

      "Trust the girls to stick together," Kwan said, but he was sneering at Schuldig when he said it. Schuldig smiled wide enough that his bruised cheek throbbed in protest, but the expression was more because Crawford had just appeared in the doorway than anything Kwan said. Schuldig hadn't heard him step through the front door, but he guessed Crawford had been careful on purpose. Kwan was unlucky enough to have his back to the door and he kept going. Schuldig thought it too telling that none of his teammates warned him to shut up. "You faggot. You get that shiner playing loves me loves me not with your boyfriend?"

      "Tomoko has earned the first bike," Crawford said smoothly, and Kwan whipped around so fast he stumbled. Crawford didn't say anything about Kwan's insult, but he didn't have to. The entire time he spoke, his cold stare was fixed on Kwan. Kwan had absolutely no problems interpreting his leader's disapproval. "Nagi will be riding with her. Tremelle will ride with Farfarello. Harriet, you will accompany Mariea."

      They murmured quiet agreements.

      "Dismissed," Crawford said. "Kwan, a moment."

      Farfarello turned to go. Tremelle and Eleodoro exchanged glances and moved to catch up with him, demanding details and specifics. Tatsuo and Hiroyuki went with them simply because they were all heading towards Estet's house. Ly Ly snapped her fingers at Tomoko in a clear command to go with her. The empaths managed to get Tomoko down the hall to Nicole's room, and Mariea and Chin invited themselves along for the gossip. Neither Ly Ly nor Nicole told them to get lost. Harriet lingered in the hall, curious but not willing to make the first step.

      Missed one, Schuldig sent at Nicole.

      He half-expected her to ignore him, since Harriet wasn't exactly popular with the women, but he heard Nicole's door bang open again. "Are you coming or not, Harriet?"

      Harriet bristled a little at that. Schuldig blamed it on her shoot-first-regret-later personality. She had her mouth open to snap something rude off, but Schuldig beat her to the punch. You really want to turn that down?

      "Shut up," Harriet sent at him savagely.

      "Schuldig, quit holding her up," Nicole called, annoyed.

      Harriet sent Schuldig a mean look and stomped off. Schuldig didn't care that she was copping an attitude, not when she was heading for Nicole's room instead of the front door. Schuldig allowed himself a small, victorious smirk as soon as Harriet was out of sight. That left Kwan, who was with Crawford, and Nagi. Everyone else was mingling.

      "There's no point," Nagi said, heading for the door.

      "What's a navigator?" Schuldig asked, following after him. Nagi glanced back at him when Schuldig slipped into his shoes but said nothing. Schuldig guessed he didn't need to say anything. When he got tired of having a tagalong, he'd simply toss Schuldig back the way they'd come.

      "The Berserkers are set up much like Schwarz is now," Nagi said, heading outside with Schuldig at his heels. "It is a bit more simplistic in that the Berserkers do nothing but infiltrate and assassinate, whereas Schwarz is heavily political. The navigators do what the dead minds do now. They research angles, analyze information, and tell the Berserkers where to go. Nishizaki worked with Farfarello's original team. When he was promoted to an independent, she was transferred with him at his request. All of the dead minds on Schwarz are former navigators."

      "You're pretty knowledgeable on how Estet works," Schuldig noted.

      "Yes," was all Nagi had to say to that, and he stopped the telepath at the front gate next door. Schuldig didn't press. He simply turned around and went on a walk, content to let his teammates deal with each other without his interference.


      Wednesday was a rush. All fifteen of Schwarz were in the city, scattered at their posts. Nagi was going to rip the ground up in an earthquake, with Harriet and Tremelle causing havoc to either side of him. Eleodoro was in charge of aftershocks and would be shaking foundations to pieces around those who wouldn't stand with Takatori. The empaths and remaining three dead minds would be with Takatori's most important allies, making sure the men stayed calm. Takatori's people couldn't leave the city or they'd arouse suspicion in the aftermath. None of the businessmen or politicians were happy about that.

      Crawford would be with Takatori. Schuldig was to keep an eye on the people this earthquake was supposed to destroy and make sure the appropriate men perished. Kwan was in place as a police officer, directing traffic at the most critical intersection to make sure the bikes could get through. The motorcycles could not afford to stop a single time on their four-minute ride. Tremelle would be turning all of the lights green, but they couldn't do much about the traffic. The bikes had had trouble at the same intersection on all of their runs yesterday, so Kwan was the answer to that.

      Even still, there was a very real chance that one or more bikes could crash en route. Nagi was going to be pouring all of his attention into the earthquake; he wouldn't have the time or energy to guard the bikes and their passengers.

      Schuldig watched the second hand on his watch slowly tick around towards the twelve. Ten seconds to go, then five, and then—time. Schuldig couldn't see the starting point from his perch on a rooftop, but he felt and heard it. Earth and asphalt being viciously ripped apart had distinctive noises, and Nagi was tearing deep enough that he was causing real tremors. The building Schuldig was standing on trembled under his feet and he held on to the railing, straining to see.

      Sirens, car alarms and horns, and screaming citizens were a jarring cacophony, punctuated with the roar and crumble of falling buildings. Schuldig was quietly impressed by Nagi's strength. It was one thing to be strong, and another thing to keep one's power at such a high level for so long.

      The three bikes were one street over, but he still saw a half-second of them as they streaked by two minutes later. More than that, he saw the building in between him and them shatter. A crack split the building in two from the ground up. Through the glass windows he had a perfect view of the panicked employees. They'd all ducked and covered like good little bugs, but that didn't help them when the floors started collapsing out from under them. He kept his gift on the men in the conference room on the top floor. They died one by one like dominoes.

      Schuldig flicked his gift down the street to his next target and listened to the men and women there die. Two didn't die fast enough, so Schuldig talked them into running out the closest windows in their panics. Human bodies weren't made to survive seventeen-storey drops; they were dead as soon as they hit the pavement.

      After the ride, Schwarz started heading back to the suburbs in straggling groups. Nagi and Eleodoro stayed behind to monitor the damage and destroy anything that hadn't fallen when they'd wanted it to. Kwan, Harriet, and Tremelle went home to wait. The babysitters stayed with Takatori's allies a half-hour longer, soothing nerves, and then started making their way west. The earthquake had stopped the trains and the traffic was a mess, but the bikes went back and forth to pick the psychics and dead minds up.

      Schuldig and Crawford were among the last in the city, since Crawford needed to monitor the news with Takatori and Schuldig needed to confirm deaths. Schuldig started on foot, but Farfarello picked him up forty minutes later and took him on a route parallel to the chasm Nagi had ripped in the ground. Schuldig did a head count of the dead that mattered and came up with the right number. As soon as he passed that along to Crawford, he was taken home.

      When Crawford finally returned five hours later, his verdict was simple: "Flawless."

      They'd spend the rest of the week watching the city react and taking stock of the damage. The financial damages were sure to be through the roof and they would have a giant mess to clean up. The deaths today would shift the balance of the playing field and bring new potential clients into the fray. They needed to be ready for whatever came of it.

      For tonight, though, there was nothing they had to do but collapse in their beds and sleep.

Part 15
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