"Your drivin' sucks, shorty!" Was the first noise other than shouts and panicked prayers that was heard until the trio left the harbor. "You're overreacting. What can a car crash do to someone who can hold a fireball head-on?" The petite driver asked as she and Col left the car and looked around the venue.
How only the shortest of the girls could, legally, drive was a fun thing in the group. How the youngest of them had a full military arsenal but couldn't drive or drink was also fun, but that was beyond the point.
Lucky or not, even with their noisy arrival, nothing was happening. They either arrived way too late, which was unlikely, or early enough to warn the temple. Betting on time wasn't the best option still.
"A lot! I can do a lot." The redhead answered as she went to the closest festival prop and started to poke it with her rifle.
"I also don't like being squashed inside a metal box, you know?" Col added with her weapons also ready to go and eyes on the empty venue.
Tents, palanquins, and decorations, all ready for the upcoming holiday and waiting quietly on the night. And all of them were likely filled with hidden dolls ready to be activated.
The fact that they were there was a problem keeping the car going, so the last bit of their path had to be on foot. Even if they were in a hurry, though, one of the three girls didn't seem to be moving.
"Let's go, Annabeth. No time for playing..."
"You two go first and I follow later, 'kay? Yer faster and I want to thin 'em out while nothin' is happenin'"
"I don't think..." Karim tried to argue but was cut mid-sentence almost right away.
"No time fer discussions, shorty. Ya both can't sneak 'roun, but I can. Leaving this change 'ere would be too dumb."
Karim could see a weird focus in Anna's eyes as she answered. One she didn't remember seeing before and that she couldn't explain why was there.
Still, the red-haired inquisitor had a point. They were in a good position right now and she was the only one who could use it.
There were many dolls, but, until they were activated, these dolls were easy targets. Cutting their numbers would be very good in a situation where they expected to be overwhelmed with numbers, but it still didn't go well for Karim. Even Col didn't seem to feel that well about this plan, even if it could work.
"I'll linger 'round and move on fast, don't don't worry." She assured the other two while shooing them away. "No chance someone is findin' me, 'kay? Now move on already."
“Fine... We’ll warn them and get ready for a fight.” Karim complied with the sudden offer as she lacked the time to discuss it. “Don’t risk yourself too much and retreat right away, though. You're still the strongest attacker we have...”
The short girl gave some orders she didn't expect to have any worth, but that were worth the try. Maybe Annabeth would listen to that weird code from earlier and do it by the letter even.
"Don't overdo it, Anna. We just have to hold."
"I know, I know... Stop losing time."
The calmness on Annabeth's expression as she kept on preparing her weapons was somewhat soothing, though.
Either way, it was time to leave. They took off running right away, not in full speed but still going fast. It wouldn't be useful if they spent too much energy here or got further split, so it was the best for now.
“That’s a very complex venue...” The brunette armed with gauntlets commented as they moved through the street.
It was easy to notice that the deeper they went, the more decorated the place became, but the theme was pretty much the same all around.
Most changes were in the number of decorations increasing while the number of tents and stages decreased. The places that stored the food and goods that would be sold at the festival were also closer to the temple itself, so there was that too.
“There are only two things the Toori care about," Karim answered without ever stopping her feet. "Holy magic and festivals. They'll also try to keep some semblance of religious organization in the islands, but this part is quite loose. Magic is more important to them anyway.”
“Something related to them being a race of super-old women with more free time than anything?”
“That’s a very disrespectful way to say it, you know? You can’t go mocking the church like this...” The cop answered in a fake serious tone and a small chuckle. “We could even get fined for saying this much.”
It was fine to make fun of them in private, but one should never mock the Toori Association if they could hear. They were the more powerful of the four factions for a reason, of course.
A huge abnormality was needed to pick a fight with one of them, and only a bigger one would leave it without a wound.
“Very lenient of you. Back home, mocking the church it would be a one-way trip to the pyre…”
“I don’t think Annabeth wouldn’t be alive if you were serious.”
“Hahaha! That’s true, but it’s wrong still.” Colette laughed at the joke and then continued with her smile dying out for some reason. “Let’s just say that Anna is a special case... I’m not that sure of the why and I can’t tell you what I know for now, but she’s, in some cases, above the law.”
“Even if I understand the why, this whole secrecy thing we have to deal with is tiring me already... We should be allies here.”
“Don’t get me wrong, shorty. I don’t care about any of that and I’m a saint candidate, so I’m a little of a special case too.” The brawler inquisitor answered again in a somewhat serious tone, even if she was smirking by the end. “I’m not telling you because it’s something you should talk directly with Anna and not because I can’t tell you. As I said, I don’t know the whole history and it’s something personal.”
“Oh… Yes, that’s a point.” Karim said in an understanding tone, even if she didn’t expect anything of the kind to happen anytime soon. “I’ll probably never know then. Annabeth isn’t that fond of me in the end…”
Attacked during their first meeting, the chaos of their partnership, and the still missing items from her guest room. There was no good reason to believe that the red-haired girl would ever open up to Karim.
And that was without even considering her aversion to spirits.
“Don’t tell her I said this, but...” Colette approached a little as the two girls started to climb the temple’s front stairs and then continued with her secret talk. “I’m quite sure Anna’s a lot fonder of you than you think. To be honest, I never saw her playing around with anyone but me. She’s a loner, a weirdo, and a liar, so you’ll take a while to notice, but all you have to do is think a little about it…”
“Think about it…?”
“Yep. Think about your first meeting and now, and you’ll see that something changed… I'm not sure if you want to think too much about it, though.”
Karim could say that their partnership was much better now, but she didn’t know how much of it was due to Annabeth’s weirdness and how much was reality.
By now, they could play around and work quite well, and maybe it was all due to that weird knightly code. But thinking about it would only make the archipelean sad about the situation.
Her opinion about the knightly inquisitor had changed a lot during the last few days, so she couldn’t say it wouldn’t be good if they could get along. All of it was due to them being forcefully partnered still. Not the best starting point.
She would need to think about it later, though. They were entering the temple now.
There were guards just like before and a few armed men in suits too, even if both were in smaller numbers this time. As weird as it was, they seemed to be waiting for them.
"Get ready, everyone! We have trouble inbound." Karim ordered the moment the priest's eyes locked on her. And like she suspected, most of them followed her orders right away, forming up at the courtyard or running to the inside of the temple.
"Is it starting?" One of the few men in black, the tsukumogamis summoned to protect the temple, asked in a serious tone.
"Starting...? Did she...?" But before Karim could be sure of what was happening, the loud noise that signaled Anna's existence rang on the city before a barrage of explosions.
There was a single way to answer in this situation.
"Call Ms. Chiron. It's starting for
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