Chapter 6:

The Answer

The Melancholy of a Whimsical Half-Elph

There was a strange feeling in the air. After staying in the room for most of the day, Enne left at dusk. Left with his faint memories of what Alejandro had done, she wasn’t sure how to feel. His reluctance and sorrow left a powerful impression, making her wonder what drove him to be involved with Janus. The image left her with an uncharacteristic sadness few had seen as she walked with purpose, but internally, she was aimless. Enne stood out in her black dress, passing through the busy streets. Who they were and how they spoke distinguished the locales and visitors. Unlike this city, the community felt more closely-knit, despite their visitors. If Frederick and Gardenia were similar in their autonomy, why wasn’t her home under Ethoxian control?

“Just another question on my list,” she muttered under a noisy crowd.

“Can I interest you in our newest drink?”

“This new dress is a must-have in your collection?”

“Need a chakra realignment?”

Enne stopped to look at the holograms spread throughout the sidewalk. They all projected Alejandro’s image with styles related to what they offered. Each of them presented a younger-looking man than the one she knew. The bartender looked the most like him, while the retail salesmen posed a cleaner look than she was used to. The jewelry salesmen had a bohemian aesthetic, far from how Alejandro presented himself. Enne walked away.

“I prefer my Allie on the quiet side, it seems,” she thought aloud. “But my subconscious… I guess, disagrees?”

Like earlier, the feeling gradually intensified, pulsing upon her skin. It wasn’t painful or intrusive enough to cause concern. The real problem stemmed from an equally familiar noise. The nimble footsteps were followed by a small burst of some particular signal. Her ears perked gently to discern the source. While pinpointing them, she looked at her reflection. She was unrecognizable from who she was months ago. However, that change blossomed from within. She’d seen how the world was beyond her city. There was still hope.

A pair of cat ears sprouted from her head, and a dashing version of Alejandro walked around her.

“I think this would look lovely on you,” he said. Enne took a harder look at herself.

“You know,” she uttered. “I really look good in cat ears… Maybe later.”

Enne raised her head and looked around. She was close to an alley entrance, perhaps the only way she could get close. Enne took her time as she reached a widened segment. It served as delivery points for the stores on the strip. Her pursuers scrambled to get close. Enne kicked a can to the other end, awaiting as they took their positions.

“Might as well make yourselves known,” she said. She surveyed the rooftop from where she stood. Had it not been for the lively streets, silence would’ve ensued. “All right, we can have it your way.”

Enne sprinted at the wall, using the tips of her toe to propel her to the ledge above. With seamless strength, she sprung to the rooftop’s edge with enough clearance to meet a masked bandit looking through his rifle’s scope.

“It’s the half-elf!” he panicked.

Enne flipped over him, digging her finger into his flesh before flinging him at his comrade. She stumbled on her landing but grabbed the mounted rifle. Hearing the footsteps close in, she threw it in their direction, breaking the arm of one. Enne ducked the proceeding gunfire, swiftly traversing the vents sprawling along the gravel surface.

They stopped. Enne noticed the atmosphere changing like before. She wondered what triggered this sensation. While they fanned out, Enne stalked alongside cover. Her first takedown involved a quick pivot against the air duct and a dropkick into the brick wall. The bandit collapsed, but the other quickly converged. Instead of running, she awaited them. Enne dodged their gunfire with ease until she lost her footing on the grounds.

“Crap,” she said, absorbing their bullets.

“Eh, shit,” one of them said. “How—the hell is she still moving?”

Enne wasn’t phased. Her skin was too tough for any bullet to pierce. She paced ahead, nearly grabbing the one that shot her by the collar. The other raised his double-barrel shotgun, pulling the trigger without hesitation. The thunderous shot was nothing but an annoyance as the half-elf turned her attention to him. While the one she was going to go for watched, she grabbed the shotgunner by the throat, lifting him by a few inches.

Her anger simmered. Strange energy emitted from her body, sending the surviving bandits into agony. Surprised, she dropped them as the interference she heard slowly faded. They begged for it to stop until one fell unconscious. The other sat tiredly against the vent. It wasn’t long before she realized it was her doing.

“Can—you hear me?” he asked. Enne winced, kneeling down across him. “The hell happened?”

“Implants?” she questioned. “Some sort of communications device? Why are you following me?”

“O—orders, miss. We only ever engage when given permission.”

“With all these guns? Right. Janus sent you?”

He didn’t answer. The half-elf glimpsed the high-rise building a few blocks away and smirked.

“Fine… I’ll just pay him a visit myself.”

Not too long after…

We’ve lost the target. Janus listened to the internal communications. He glared from the balcony, glimpsing the bright lights that stretched the strip. A storm was brewing, and he knew things were set in motion. Whether he could pull through was a separate question. He didn’t notice the reflection of a woman standing in the darkness until he looked up. His widening grin replaced his scowl.

“Seems like you waste little time,” Enne said. Janus cackled. “You’ve got a weak perimeter. The way your men were synchronized wasn’t bad. It could use some improvements.”

“We get the leftovers, after all. Those implants are older.”

“You boys on the train had them too?”

“Most, yes. Humans can be—very uncomfortable putting things that don’t quite belong. Let it be physical or something more.”

Enne chuckled lightly, emerging into the light. She carried with her a small black bag.

“You don’t strike me as much of a philosopher.”

“Call it what you’d like, Miss Bouvire. We just get the job done.”

“To what end?”

Janus shook his head as he lit a cigar. He couldn’t communicate for backup due to a peculiar interference. Enne waited for his response. Her patience couldn’t have been more saintly. Her attention shifted to their surroundings. It was reminiscent of what Alejandro had seen. Seeing the melancholy expressed, he said:

“Alejandro wouldn’t be in his predicament had he taken the augmentations like I suggested.”

“Is there—any way to fix that?”

“He’s lucky to be alive after all these years. Wanderers aren’t met with much hospitality. Elves and wanderers have that thing in common, albeit for different reasons. Even considering your interesting circumstance—”

“Yeah, I’m not here to discuss what we do.”

“Of course. I just find it amusing. You’re a half-elph. Your existence alone should sicken me, but you look no different from us. You’re more powerful and admittedly frightening.”

“You’ve been onto us.” Enne narrowed her eyes. “Long before we met, I imagine.”

“When you have a threat coming to town, you gotta stay alert,” he replied. “But our source is from within the city, mostly. After all, you Bouvires always have a thing for justice.”

Janus leaned his back against the granite railing. Enne’s scowl didn’t intimidate him. She understood his threat to Alejandro, but she needed him alive until she got her answers. The bandit leader realized as much. Enne’s presence reminded him much of her aunt, the unmistakable reflection of the woman he worked beside.

“I wasn’t lying when I said you look so much like her,” he said.

“And who was she?” she asked.

“A revolutionary.”

“I’d imagine she was part of the Ethoxian—”

“It’s interesting how much a powerful entity could cover up. History is easily forgotten, especially in an era defined by information. People like me are just their lapdogs. We know what we know. Those darker secrets are within those who have real power. I am… Just the arbiter with little power. You? Are just a consequence of loose ends.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Come on, Enne. You’re no fool. You’ve got her intelligence and good looks!”

“I typically would accept that flattery, but—”

“Your existence is a threat, like, uh—”

“Like threads not properly tied in a bracelet? Its contents… Fall apart.”

Enne glimpsed her bracelet before looking back. Janus was awed at her well-timed words as he leaned back slightly into the pool table. He walked forward but kept a distance from Enne. Her eyes narrowed as she took a step back.

“Now you’re getting it,” he said. “Your father made a deal with the Ethoxians to allow passage into this world. They granted it, under one condition.”

“And that is?”

“He never really told me. Didn’t care. I was a host for a few days before he traveled south.”

“And what of my aunt?”

“I only heard they knew each other but never saw them together. Your father always sounded sad whenever he brought her up, but when she brought him up, she seemed… nostalgic? Those two were weird. Maybe something was going on….”

Enne shoved him against the railing, sending small debris down. His henchmen burst through the door moments later, armed with rifles. She ignored them as they approached. Janus kept his cool and smiled back.

“Easy there, boys,” he said. Janus gestured his hands slightly. Everyone lowered their weapons. His eyes trailed back toward her. “I’m just telling you what I know. It just seemed to be that way.”

“Then stop dancing around the fucking answers.”

“Those two weren’t from the Ethoxian Republic, either. Ain’t gonna be a woman that looks anywhere close to you. But I know as much as they told me. Your aunt woulda had more answers since your pops kept a tight lip.”

Her grip loosened before nudging him onto it. The table bent slightly, forcing the balls to the center. She clenched her hands as she took a few steps away. Enne took a deep, agitated breath. She crossed her arms as she paced toward the window. Janus was still hiding the information she desired. He arched his back before standing up straight.

“And… Alejandro?” she asked.

“He’s got blood on his hands,” he replied. “Of course, he hasn’t told you.”

“No… He hasn’t.”

“I see my boy is still keeping secrets.”

“Don’t we all?”

Enne averted her attention from Janus. He became wary when he glimpsed the hollow glint behind her lilac eye. It was just like her aunt when something nefarious clicked within.

“Don’t you lay a finger on him—”

“Or what? Those eyes… They tell me that truth is more important.”

Enne’s lips tightened.

“And those rebels? What do you need with them, hm? They don’t have answers.”

“Are you going to stop me?”

“Nah! No need. You can go about your merry way. Just know this: you have no idea what you’re messing with. Things can go to hell real quick.”

“Is that a bluff?”

“It’s reality, sweetheart. There are consequences.”

Before Enne walked away, she paused at the thought. There were still things that didn’t add up. The creature, the missing, and the young woman. Her troubled expression struck a chord. Although she wanted to meet with the rebels, she had to know the truth. She looked over as Janus brushed his shirt off.

“Where’s the girl?”

Janus thought until he finally remembered.

“The mute? She’s at the edge of the city for holding. By all means, you can pay her a visit.”

“She hasn’t spoken?”

“Maybe it’s cuz y’know, we’re guys.”

“I mean, you aren’t the nicest bunch I’ve seen. Do you want me to talk to her instead?”

“Heh! Thought you’d never ask. At this rate, she’s the lone survivor. We need to know what happened.”

“There was a creature of some sort flying by.”

“Probably just a bird.”

He answered that quick? She thought. Her ears perked to the background music playing. Janus noticed as she looked off fondly toward the source of the music. She was overcome with nostalgia, a distant one evoked from childhood memories.

“By the way,” Janus interrupted. “Do you know who sings this song?”

Enne nodded with a saddened smile.

“Of course. Creedence Clearwater Revival. My mother always liked singing to this after a storm passed. It was on a device full of music she owned. Took me a while to get it running since she hadn’t used it in so long. When I started listening after I left home, I finally realized where the song came from.”

“Oh? Okay then.”

“You didn’t know the band? You have it in a song rotation.”

“It’s not like my life depends on who sings it, right?”

Janus’s smile was unsettling. His henchmen exchanged glances toward one another. Enne raised an eyebrow before disappearing back into the shadows.

Well, he's got an answer to his question. The real question is: How good does Enne look in cat ears? Nya~ I'm rambling... I hope you enjoyed the chapter. Leave a comment/feedback and a like. I'd greatly appreciate it! ^^