Chapter 67:

For the Winners, the Spoils - Part 2


“That was… Not that bad.” Minako commented as the group left the underground parking lot that serviced this area of the city. “I was expecting more emotion from all Anna said…”

“I’ll be honest with ya… I was too. Shorty’s drivin’ skills were much worse last time.”

“Yes, that one was hells bumpier than this time.” Col agreed, all the while with everyone ignoring the driver who was trying to keep herself calm. “Is it because we mocked her too much?”

“It’d be a real stupid reason, but ain’t that far-fetched…”

There was yet a few meters between them and their destination, so some small talk was expected. Annabeth would always prefer to avoid serious topics, though, so she was happy to let it steer to uselessness.

“The reason isn’t even close to something stupid like that.” Karim cut the unruly trio as she opened the precinct’s door and led everyone in. “The police wagon is taller, and that's all. I can’t see the road well.”

The other three girls reacted with different expressions of realization. It made too much sense to dismiss it now, so they accepted it right away and kept going to the underground meeting room.

“Yer aunt’s always down ‘ere?”

“She’s either here or somewhere I can’t go.” The only relative of the secret service’s director answered in a plain tone as the four arrived at the door. “But I don’t think auntie will leave this room without a reason for now.”

With a meaningful line for everyone to digest, Karim went ahead and knocked on the door, hearing a short ‘come in’ from inside, and following it right after. And just like that, the four girls were back at Gloudhaus’ meeting room.

“Good morning, Karim. And you brought our missing members too.” The scant succubus answered from between her piles of documents. “Is it about why you didn't report for a week?”

As if the question hit a sore spot, the inquisitor’s partner bit her mouth and looked down before answering. What exactly had happened was beyond Anna’s knowledge, but she could infer enough from the information she had. Why Karim spent so long at the mansion was beyond her, though.

“Well… It’s a little…”

“Paper reports're a pain, y’know?” Anna interfered with the talk while also taking the seat opposite to Louise at the table. “Ya’ve so many papers it’d be hard to know ‘em all, ‘aight? We’re ‘ere to a friendly CHAT anyway, but only if it’s fine fer ya.”

Both the focus on the word ‘chat’ and the question of it being proper to have it were very meaningful in this situation. Even someone without a grasp on the situation would be able to grasp it.

More than that, even if it seemed as if Anna was trying to help her partner, it was all about not keeping tracks. She was almost sure that, even if not sure if she could deliver it, Karim should have a report ready about the whole ordeal either way.

Letting the boss lady know that much through a paper that could be copied or stolen was too risky.

“A friendly chat? Does it include Ms. Chiron then? I don’t remember you both working very much together before that day... Much less can I see the tooris acting with an inquisitor.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’m but a humble independent actor right now,” Mianko answered with a smile as she pulled a chair and sat by Anna’s right. “You can count me as an ally as long as you count Annabeth Solomon as one too.”

The boss lady gave a good look to the five-tailed girl and then to her niece for a few moments, nodding at some sign before sighing.

“I see…” She said shortly, calling Karim to her side as moments passed in silence. The two exchanged a few whispers and then the smaller blondie took her usual seat, leaving Col to go to hers by Annabeth’s left. “I believe my schedule is free enough for a chat, Ms. Solomon.”

“You three could make it easier for everyone and just say what you want, couldn’t you?” The muscle-brained brawler cut into the coded talk, somewhat ruining the mood for the three females engaging in it. “We already know this place is soundproof, don’t we? Even fucking bugs shouldn’t work this deep.”

“Well… Yeah, but… Y’know?” The redhead tried to complain but ended up unable to find a proper explanation or even finish a full phrase. “Fine… Minako's clear. She ain’t no rat, but I got some leads. Can’t disclose ‘em yet, though…”

“Is that so…” Louise stared at the inquisitor and her group, before nodding in acceptance and moving on. “So, what do we have to chat about?”

“What ‘bout some boastin’ fer our achievements back then? I wasn’t there all the time, so I’d like to know what happened after my ‘vacation’ and the gals ‘ere can tell ya what they got too.”

It was an easy-to-understand preposition and Anna wouldn’t even need to say anything. To be fair, out of what she wouldn’t disclose, like the meeting with the ghost, she was the one with the least to say here. She was either fighting with the ifrit or outside the temple during most of the battle.

Also, it wasn’t as if Louise hadn’t received a report about what had happened there already. It was likely that she was just worried about her niece ignoring her usual reports. And since this talk would help her the most, it was a chance to maybe loosen her grasp on the petite cop.

Also, and this was an even blinder guess, giving her information had a chance of being repaid with more information.

The next minutes were then spent recounting everything that happened during what was now being dubbed the Festival of Dolls. The first stages of the day, the preparations at the temple and Anna’s hunt around the city, the skirmish at the harbor and, finally, the fight per se, and then, about the delayed response of the cops and the reinforcements to the attackers.

Some things, like Minako's actions during the attack and the two cops at the harbor, only got stranger hearing about them again. And the fact that the captured one didn't show any signs of waking up didn't help it. But some others, like the statues Karim spotted, made some other things easier to understand. The oracle bits about the kitsune also made many things more reasonable now.

Still, it also wasn't as if Anna would explain any of her theories right now or talk about more secret matters. Minako was keeping secrets too either way, so it should be fine.

In conclusion, this briefing didn't help that much. The only information that really mattered was the number of recovered artifacts and the overall damage to the city. By the way, these values were the theoretical half of everything and a third of the temple's venue respectively.

This much was very far from enough to keep the city government from opening many official complaints, though. It was even likely that some would reach the continent, and then Annabeth would have to deal with the consequences too.

For now, though, the group was more focused on settling the information. And it was Louise's turn to bring some new information too, so the side effects would be left for later. Even more when the succubus had a theory about the most pressing mystery of this whole chaos.

“Our best theory is that they can control anything with the format of a living being, including anything actually alive." Louise explained, getting some papers to back her words while at it. “It would explain why our oracle lady suspected her priestesses and locked them, but brings other questions... We also lack any way to counter it right now.”

“Other than keeping everyone sealed and away from the commands, we indeed lack any countermeasure.” The shrine maiden agreed, but her expression darkened a little after saying so. “I’m still to find any way to cure them too.”

“Annabeth said that only an evil eye would work on another evil eye, and hers seems to not do much against it.” Karim added from her conversation many days ago and from what she saw during the battle. “But now that I think about it, against the ifrit…”

“Hey!” Col cut in with an expression deep in thought. “If they can mind control, why they didn’t try it with us? Even if Anna could deal with the threat, she wasn’t around most of the time.”

“It… It’s right.” The cop in the room stopped her line of thought from earlier as this detail seemed more important. “We got quite bad there, so if something like a sudden mind attack happened…”

The theory made the room go quiet for a moment. That was the problem of only having one person who had any idea of how evil eyes worked.

But to be honest, Annabeth couldn’t understand the situation that well too. Dealing with abnormalities like evil eyes was too troublesome and, even if she knew a lot, Anna wasn’t that smart. She needed more information to be sure of anything, and it was a little hard to get that.

More than that, right now she had to deal with other things.

“Hey, gals…” The inquisitor at the opposite head of the table called, breaking her silence and the one of the room. “What ‘bout goin’ to get me some sweets, ay?”

Her words broke the whole seriousness of the situation and called many stares of disbelief, but Anna continued without minding it.

“I need to’ve a personal talk with our lady boss ‘ere.”