Chapter 27:

Interlude: Who was left Behind


The inquisitor pair and Louise’s aide left the meeting, and for some reason, no one seemed to be willing to stop them. Minako’s principles were telling her that she should bring them back since they were one of the pieces of the puzzle, but something in the back of her mind was telling her not to.

Luckily or not, this one was the shrine maiden's first time in this meeting, so she was unsure of what was the best. She had no reason to take a bigger risk than asking out though.

“Excuse me again, but...” The kitsune asked while staring at the closed door. "Is that fine?

“They’re inquisitors, Ms. Chiron.” Louise answered with a tone that seemed to not care. “There’s only so much we can do to make them cooperate. Better leave them be for now… Karim will keep an eye on them.”

“Is it safe to leave the little lady with them? She is not weak, but against two inquisitors…” The admiral added in a serious tone.

“From what I got, she’s somehow bonding with those girls and she said they would be fine. I’ll trust Karim’s judgment for now.”

“Then I shall too.” Moem conceded on his worries, for now at least.

“Well then, it’s not perfect but that group will end up acting semi-independently for now... Can you let it stay as is, Ms. Chiron? We can try to put a leash on them if you, or anyone else, feels it's necessary, but I don’t think it would be worth the effort.”

“If you feel it’s for the best, then I won’t go against it. You’re still the leader here.” The person that had brought the subject to the table wasn’t that sure, but she was unable to keep going now.

Minako was the younger of them all when the red-haired inquisitor wasn’t around, so she didn’t feel well if she had to go against their decision. It was, of course, as long as said decision had nothing to do with the Toori Administration or with the spiritual well-being of the Archipelago.

Letting soldiers and mariners have the last say in spiritual matters was a terrible idea, or that was what she was told by her teachers at least.

“Good then. Anyone else would have a problem with going on like this?” Louise asked while sweeping her gaze around the room, but no one else reacted.

In fact, most of the Bureau’s members would happily leave the troublesome redhead and her new companion out of any discussion. She seemed more like a liability than like an asset most of the time.

The temple's representative also thought the same, but she knew there was something more there. Minako also wanted a chance to talk with Annabeth without risking a premature death, which seemed possible now. She would have to work on it outside these meetings from now on though.

“Now that the matters related to our guest are out of the way then...” The boss lady continued while the black-haired fox was still lost in her thoughts. “We now have a map of where our enemies should attack, so the problem now is manpower. Even if we ignore the minor islands and trust the shrine maidens and priests with their temples, we still have too little personnel.”

“Bringing more soldiers inside the city will call attention... Even the extra ‘cops’ were already a pain to make work.” Aaron answered while trying to remember the number of reserves he managed to sneak around. “We could put guards on a third of the points, maybe, but it would be more of a first-warning force than something able to deal with an attack.”

“Spec-ops. Are ready.” The quiet stone man added his bit too.

“That’s a last resort, captain. We can manage to stay quiet in some places, but deploying the special forces in the middle of the city would cause too much chaos...” Louise answered, both thinking about the chances of success and the risk of making such a move while her pest hunters were yet to succeed.

“True. Still… Safer.”

“As I said, last resort… Can we get something with you, admiral?”

“More ships would be hard and bringing mariners to land would work poorly. My fleet is already understrength even, so I am unsure if we can manage much...” Admiral Moem also added with his aide nodding profusely as he talked. “Do you think we could spare a few scouts, ensign?”

He turned to the nodding white-haired officer and her eyes almost popped in surprise to the sudden urge of attention in her direction before she managed to answer something.

“I-I… I don’t t-think we can… More time flying would be dangerous.” Alya answered with as much confidence as she could muster, which wasn’t much but still brought her point. "T-the best we can do is change the routes..."

“Nothing from land or sea, and common cops barely have combat training, so getting more of them isn’t an option too... Having so few options is terrible.” The overseer sighed in resignation even though she didn’t seem to be that worried. “If we at least knew what exactly they’re looking for and could take it first…”

“The problem girl didn’t say anything about her stunt a few days ago? Maybe she found some clues that could help us.” Aaron asked even if in a tone devoid of expectation.

“If she found something, she didn’t report it. Karim arrived late too, so there were very few she had to say... We know they have a proper command structure and that they’re looking for something in these areas, but that’s all.”

At these words, and for reasons she couldn't disclose, Minako's attention went back to her nominal leader. She was, once again, feeling that Louise's words and actions were somewhat weird.

It was the same weird sixth sense that kept her alive during many less-than-ideal situations, but it was very vague. She couldn’t think of any reason for Louise to be lying to them, so it should be something else…

Thinking about it brought an idea of the five-tailed fox though.

“Whatever they’re looking for, it should have some spiritual reading, shouldn’t it?” Minako asked first as her idea wouldn’t work if it was wrong. "It shouldn't be too hard to find if we use the map in the search..."

“It would make sense, at least. It would be weird if this whole chaos was for some random object or a complex bank robbery.”

“What if we called some shrine maidens to investigate then? It should be possible to hide the movement if you start some kind of national festival and have us organize it.”

“Direct contact with the Tooris…” Louise answered in a pensive tone that was very hard to read. She didn't seem that fond of the idea, but it was a more positive reaction than when the option was a spec-ops assault.

“They’re less battle-crazy than the high command and the worst their hardliners want is to close the barrier. It’s probably the best of the non-existent options we have...” The colonel backed up the plan almost instantly. “The worst they can do is try to seal whatever we find, and even this should work in our favor.”

“I second this plan too.” Admiral Moem said after taking a few seconds to think it out. “We are too behind at the moment, so acting fast may be the best option, and the fastest of all out organizations is the Toori Administration.”

“Calling the high command would risk them interfering too much and calling the admiralty would take two hundred years of preparation, right?” Louise summarized the two points she had received and then sighed. “Sigh… Fine. Call the temples, Ms. Chiron. I’ll prepare the excuse and you prepare the goodies while everyone else stays on full alert, got it? If this leaks, then we may end with some trouble in hand…”

A variety of salutes and nods came in agreement to the new orders and Louise then got up from her chair.

“Good. You’re all dismissed now.” The overseer headed towards the door first this time. “Don’t forget to not let anyone know of what was said here, ok?”

And then she left, prompting the navy and army groups to follow suit and leaving Minako alone with her tsukumogami bodyguards.

“I’m sure this one was the right move, but still…” She said even though no one would answer. “This ominous feeling is terrible.”

The kitsune shook off her worries and the preoccupied eyes of her bodyguards and then got up.

She had some letters to write now.