Chapter 20:

Setting the Table - Part 1

Gloudhaus


The next meeting of the Bureau had arrived and all members timely arrived at their places.

Most of them, at least.

Their overseer wasn't there at all and Anna seemed to be somewhere else in spirit due to how tired she looked. She had black bags under her eyes and was barely focusing on anything, although the reason for such was beyond everyone.

It was obvious that she was spending her last few nights doing something, but she hadn't left the apartment, or at least, she wasn't seen leaving. Even Colette who had to live with the duo for now due to the lack of open lodges was unsure of what had happened though.

Some smugglers were found dead through the last night though, so it wasn't hard to get a theory.

Either way, very little changed other than Annabeth's complexion.

The buff soldier and the familiars following the fox-girl were still glaring at the tired inquisitor. Both the fox-girl herself and the white-haired aide were trying to stay away from her gaze. And everyone else was waiting as if nothing was happening.

After some more minutes stuck in that situation though, the door of the meeting room finally opened.

Louise had arrived, and she was carrying a huge bundle of recently printed papers.

“Everyone is already here, eh? Even the new inquisitor is very punctual… That’s very good.” She commented so and started to walk around the table, leaving some of the papers in front of every representative.

When she got between Anna and Col though, she tried to give the papers to the older girl, but they were swept to Annabeth’s side. Their intelligence chief smiled in interest and then gave the last of the papers to her own aide before taking a seat too.

“Ok! This is our first strategy meeting, so I’ll start briefing you all on what we’ll be doing.” She started while getting comfortable in her chair. “The papers in front of you have all information my people managed to collect. I’m sure you can understand that we have to ‘deal’ with them before you leave, of course…”

Everyone who had received a file opened it and went through its contents as they understood what was implied there. Each member's reaction to it was slightly different though.

One was focused on reading the papers and sharing the information with his aide.

Another one was so focused on it that it was weird how diligent he could be.

And another one had her bodyguards do the reading while she got only the important data.

The only abnormality was the inquisitor who was lazily scanning the document without much attention.

“As you can all see, it wasn’t easy to connect the dots, but we managed to find some patterns in the weird occurrences happening lately. We failed to infer an overall objective even with a list of the likely targets though.” Louise went on while the other members were focused on their files.

Annabeth was half-hearing and half-checking the document, but Louise’s words were matching the keywords she was glancing at. The redhead was more interested in the printing errors and badly worded sentences still.

“A question, please.” The five-tailed fox, Minako if Anna remembered right, rose her hand with a question.

“Just ask out, Ms. Chiron.”

“This document mentions ley lines, but that theory was long disproven...” She softly said with her archive half-open still.

“Even if it’s a disproven theory, it still matched way too well with the locations of most occurrences. The only ones that don’t match are usually related to sea monsters and outbreaks, but the consensus was that those weren't their origin. Both of them can move around in the end...” Louise answered without changing her tone much. “In fact, all localized cases of terrorism can be traced in ley maps if you have the patience for it.”

“Still, saying that spiritual energy can flow without a medium and create ‘rivers’ is wholly wrong. This whole concept is nothing but a misguided old view on spirits.”

Minako’s words finally drew Anna’s attention outside of wanting to sleep a little soon, and for two reasons even. For one, she was sure that fox dem... She was sure that kitsune was unable to be assertive like she was trying to, but somehow her soft voice and calm demeanor showed the opposite.

Maybe keeping a small voice and somehow showing authority was some kind of princess thing.

And two, she would never expect to see a member of a race known for their priests and theologians arguing against religious dogma. Well, a religious dogma on the continent, but still...

Annabeth knew that the Archipelago was much softer on religion, of course, but it was still weird. The arguments against the power lines where spirit energy flow and its beneficial properties were very sound though.

Sounder than what they had in favor of it, at least, and even an inquisitor like Anna knew that.

“I think you’re getting me wrong here…” Louise tried to argue back as her point had nothing to do with this argument. “All we found was that the attacks match the ley lines. It doesn’t mean they’re real or we trust them, but the map doesn’t lie. We would love to have another theory even…”

“But here…”

“Read it calmly, Ms. Chiron. I’m sure you’ll see that I never meant to prove or disprove any concepts here.” The boss lady cut in before Minako could say anything more and the fox girl turned her eyes back to the document for a while.

A few seconds later, her expression changed and she seemed to have understood the whole idea.

“Sorry. I spoke out of turn there. I understand your point now...” She excused herself and then returned to her seat still with a pensive look.

“That’s not a problem. In this situation, talking out is better... Either way, as everyone heard now, we have a rough map of all possible locations for attacks. Actually, three different maps were needed to reach this one...”

Louise took one of the papers held by Karim while saying so and then went to the whiteboard on the wall, pinning it close to the low-quality photo.

As it was happening though, the pointy-eared girl, Alya or something, Anna thought, was whispering with the lizard admiral. Admiral Moem nodded at her words and when Louise had turned back after the new pins, he rose his own hand.

“If I may…”

“Just speak up, admiral. We don’t need that many formalities here.”

“Formalities are important, lady Louise, but this is beyond the point...” He started with the same dandy voice of ever. “Either way, it was pointed out to me that many of the locations in this map are random civilian facilities. Are those related to more important places on the old maps?”

“Pretty much so,” Louise answered right away. “At first, we were trying to find out which cases were related and which weren’t, but the map’s definition is too large. The areas that can be considered as inside the coordinates are messed up, so the best we could do was clean the smaller cases and leave it as it’s now.”

“And is it accurate then? It seems too much like guesswork to me.”

“I can vouch for its efficiency, but there’s something more...” Louise looked a little suspiciously around and then decided on disclosing her information. “This should stay here, but we already used these maps to predict some cases. In fact, we managed to reach our inquisitor over there in time due to them.”

“Is that true?” The admiral asked Karim with a hard-to-read expression.

“Very much so.”

“Wait! Are you all saying what I’m thinking you’re saying?” Aaron got up from his chair while exclaiming his question, his papers falling across the table as he did so. “If you are, then what I read here…”

“Aham!” Louise interrupted the colonel and gave a small glance to the two inquisitors, one of which was barely paying attention and the other who was just confused. “Yes, colonel, it’s exactly as you think… We should now be able to predict where the next attacks will be.”

Her last phrase sent the whole room to a prolonged silence as this news was way too good to be true. While everyone was digesting the new information though, the code Annabeth was so focused on finally cracked.

"Let me be real with y'all 'ere, 'kay?" She started with a heavy tone. "Yer bullshittin' me 'ere, ain't ya?"

And as suddenly as it had been broken, the silence in the room started again.
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