Chapter 21:

Setting the Table - Part 2


“Bein' direct 'ere... Why we losin' time with this?!” Anna asked with extra care to get her point across.

In turn, Louise gazed at her with an amused smile and then answered the loaded question right away.

“Because we need to. Going forward would be useless as is..." Their leader answered in a slightly awkward manner. "And it may be hard to believe, but all in these papers are things I’m sure about... Out intelligence wouldn’t mess up after all this.”

“I see…” The inquisitor continued while closing her file. “Can I look at one of the other files then? Mine seem to be missin' information, y'see? The number of pages doesn’t match too.”

Her eyes went to the papers scattered around the arch-demon, but Aaron soon noticed his blunder and collected them in a hurry. Anna smirked at him and then looked at the other members one by one just to be sure their reactions were all matched.

The lizard admiral was as composed as always, but his file was lowered in a way that made it hard to see.

Meanwhile, Minako seemed to take a little while to understand the situation, but even she made sure to not display the papers.

“Y’all know it ain't very pleasin' to work together when missin' information, ‘aight?”

“Oh? They’re hiding something already? That was faster than they told me…” Colette commented while still unsure of what was happening. “We have some words from the big-hat man for this situation. Do you want to get them, Anna?”

“It’s fine fer now, but…” She crumpled the papers with her gaze locked on their nominal boss. “Ya better have some explanation ‘ere, ay? At least a reason fer why we shouldn’t report this…”

“I don’t understand what you’re trying to imply, Ms. Solomon, but you have all information you need there. Accomplishing what you need to won’t be a problem like this.”

“Well, I disagree. Hidin’ info only makes everythin’ more troublesome to me.”

“Unless you can prove these claims, I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about... You have to understand that giving sensitive information to a volatile third party like you isn’t in our best interests.” Louise answered still with a smile on her face. “Causing trouble on your first day didn’t bode, you know?”

“Hey, lady, I know my friend here is a pain in the ass, but we have a deal. It’s not my job, but Anna always says we shouldn’t act with half-backed data... We’re not risking our fucking lives to help you if you don’t help us.” Colette interjected again in defense of her partner.

By this point though, almost every member seemed to be closing to their tipping point in some way. Their reactions varied from being ready to join a fight if it broke out to being confused or worried about the situation though.

Moem was an exception for this as he was only watching without reacting much.

“As I said, this is all you need." Louise continued with no signs of being intimidated. "Follow your orders alright and you won’t risk your lives too much. At least no more than we will.”

“And if it ain't enough?” Anna asked while maintaining her aggressive tone. "What if yer working with somethin' flawed or somethin' dangerous fer us?"

“If you need anything extra, then Karim here will solve the situation. She’s part of your group for a reason, you see?”

“That’s bullshit.”

“I don’t think so. As long as you two fulfill your roles, nothing bad will happen…”

“And what these roles would be, boss lady?”

“Support the operations from the other groups when they require you and help with brainstorming when we meet. Nothing more, nothing less…”

“You made us come here just to play support?!” Colette exclaimed from the sidelines of the discussion. "That's a fucking loss of time if I have ever seen one."

“Playing 'support' isn't the right way to put it... I would call it ‘guidance’ or maybe some ‘scouting’…”

There was something abnormal in Louise’s expression as she was answering, something only Anna seemed to notice. But she was expecting this much from the situation. It would also be very troublesome if she wasn't the only one noticing it too.

Be as it may, she had confirmed her points, so there was no reason to stay around anymore.

“Fine then. Since ya ain't willin' to play with us like equals, we’ll be ‘scoutin'’ whatever we want by ourselves.” Anna burst out of her chair and headed to the door. “I’ll leave now to spare y’all the effort of havin' another meetin' later.”

The red-haired inquisitor left the meeting room with her feet stomping and, right after she understood what had happened, Col followed her. Karim also gave a hurried bow to her aunt and rushed after the two foreigners since she had to keep an eye on them, but she was also a little confused.

Having left a few seconds late, the two had to push through a little of a headway Anna had made, but this much was easy. 

And the trio was together again when their hot-headed member passed through the exit. In her hands, the crumpled papers that caused this whole problem were still held tight and her expression was still pissed off.

As soon as the two remaining members of their so-called team joined her though, she instantly went back to normal. She signaled them both to stay quiet for a while and headed to the emptiest place she could see before stopping.

It was a slightly confusing situation and Karim was unable to react right away, but the toned brunette didn’t have the same problem.

“So…” Colette started while walking on Anna’s side. “What was all that? I played along since I was there, but still…”

Col saw Annabeth trying to start something in the meeting room and played along with her anger, but she didn't find it justifiable. Hiding some information from them was a very minor problem considering the situation.

Many would find it outrageous for sure and it could be used to call the church for a formal complaint, but Colette wasn’t an information-driven hunter. In fact, even Annabeth herself was more of getting her own data than of working with what she was given, and it only made the situation weirder.

“I needed an excuse to leave, just that… Hey, Karim!” She threw the ball of paper to her petite partner while explaining the situation to her big one. “Our job ‘ere ended bein' lotta funnier than I thought, ay? Playin' friends ain't mah' style too.”

“You wanted to roam by yourself? Aren’t you doing it all the fucking time already?”

“I was tryin’ to map the city. Huntin' across the whole Archipelago is insanity... Even this island ‘ere would be too much land to cover, ay?” She noted while pretending that was all she did during the night.

Cenfratia was the biggest of all islands in the Archipelago, but its absolute dimension wouldn't be more than a twentieth of the whole. Even counting only the main city, it was still too much space.

Annabeth wasn't focused on that anymore though.

“But it seems that we have a bettah’ reason to be playin’ with so few people…”

Karim was unsure of what was happening, but something was telling her to look at the papers in her hand. And it all made sense after a few moments of uncrumpling and scanning through them.

She wasn't the niece of the country’s intelligence leader for nothing.

Colette was different though.

“I don’t think I get it.”

“It’s easy, Col…” Anna stopped on the sidewalk and turned to her two companions. “In fact, would ya care to explain what ya see there, shorty?”

Two pairs of eyes focused on Karim as she was trying to take mental notes of all clues across the file. She knew the code already, so the message came even faster than what Anna ended up needing back in the meeting room.

“I don’t think it’s right…”

“No reason to reject reality, gal. Yer aunt sent this one, and you won’t find someone better to deal with shady business than the expendable foreigners.”

“Even so…”

“Can any of you fucking go to the point already?!” Colette blew up as she felt the discussion would go nowhere, which gained her a pair of rolling eyes and an exasperated sigh from Anna.

“Our job was in the file, y'see? And it's a very simple one...” Smirked the red-haired inquisitor as she took the papers from Karim’s hand and set them on fire with a small red crystal from her pocket. “There’s a rat there and we lookin’ fer it.”

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