Part Five: Chapter Seven: Peregrinitas


So to dance, a dance with death
Oh mother give me earthly breath
So to dance, a dance with death
A mortal soul will soon be leaving

Hear my thunder break the sky
See their blood within my eye
Feel the fingers of my fire
I'll cry, burning desire

(from Camlann, by Alan Simon)

The Makamura Center is a small, square building hiding behind a grocery store in Õtemachi, east of the Imperial Palace. It is pressed into the corner where the Kõsokushinkaniosen, the inner loop expressway feeding a steady stream of cars into Tokyo's streets, and the train tracks of the Shinkansen Line, going north to Ueno Station and south to Tokyo Station, meet. In the hot, humid summers, the wind will bring the fragrance of Sakura blossoms from the Imperial Gardens when it blows from the west, and mix it with the less desirable odors of car exhaust, sweat, and train oil. From the windows facing south, the medical staff of Makamura has a not very exciting view over an endless snake of cars and train tracks that glimmer wet and white under the midday sun, blistering like arteries under the evening sun. During breaks, which are few and far between for the twenty men and women working in Kritiker's own small hospital, the Imperial Gardens with their ancient flare and impressive architecture are a welcome distraction from the bleak, cramped hallways of Makamura.

Twenty men and women. They have been recruited straight from underpaid positions in the larger hospitals and recovery centers of Tokyo; some of them are family members of Kritiker agents. One always hopes to not have to care for a family member one day, to not have to perform an operation on someone's friend, or mother, or uncle. It does happen, though. When it happens, the hallways of Makamura are even more quiet than usual.

Yet, it is not a place without hope. There is not one member of the medical staff who is not persuaded of the good they do.

Midori Anda, chief surgeon of the Makamura Center, washes her hands under the chillingly cold water in the antechamber of the operation room, watching pinkish suds vanish down the stainless-steel drain. Her hair, graying already although she has not passed her 35th year yet, is hidden under a green sterile plastic cap, wound into a tight bun. The mouth guard she wears during an operation hangs beneath her chin, occasionally rubbing against the skin of her throat. The air of the small, clean antechamber smells of disinfectants, soap and a trace of metal - the operation on the Kritiker agent injured in a car crash two hours ago has been messy, the floor beneath the operation table that at times becomes nothing more than a slab of metal for a dead body awash in blood. But the agent survived, and Anda is happy the operation was successful. The young medical assistant washing his hands next to her looks as tired as she does, his mouth drawn into a stern, thin line.

"How long?" Anda asks, reaching for the paper towels above the sink.

"43 hours." The medical assistant turns bloodshot eyes to her and waits until she has stepped away from the sink to reach for a paper towel himself. "Three hours to go still before my shift ends."

"And then?"

"Home, bed, and my wife. The last two preferably rolled into one." A boyish grin steals over his face. "Do you have any plans?"

"No, not really." Although Midori Anda does smile at his mention of what sounds like a good place to come home to, she feels a twinge of jealousy every time she listens to one of her colleagues speaking of what they will do once they are home. Yes, she always asks. But it doesn't change the fact that all she can come home to is a cat and the pictures of her husband hanging framed over what was once their bed, before he was reported as missing in action and she was forced to learn to accept that he is not coming back home to her. "How is the little one doing?"

"Growing every day. My wife swears he's growing out of clothes faster than we can buy them."

A nurse sticks her head out of the operation room, signaling to the medical assistant with a chart and a pen. He nods at her before turning to Anda.

"I'll talk to you later. Who's got nightshift today?"

"Saikaku, I believe."

"If you see him, tell him to check for the order of gowns we placed last week. They still haven't come in."

She unfastens the medical gown she wore during the operation - blotted with blood now - and throws it into the basket next to the door. After a last look and nod of good bye, Anda steps out of the antechamber and heads for the nurses' room, hoping the coffeemaker has not broken down again.

"Excuse me, sir."

The guard stationed just behind the door to the Makamura Center looks up from his book and rises, quickly adjusting his uniform, hand straying to the gun holster strapped to his belt. The tall man before him looks to be a gaijin [1]; he has black hair and wears a dark suit, polished shoes. His brown eyes twinkle behind the glasses the man now pushes up the bridge of his nose with one hand after letting the door fall closed behind him. His other hand carries a briefcase made of dark leather, and the guard can smell a distinctive cologne wafting off of him.

"I was sent here by Kritiker headquarters, Manx has given me this address. Could you please tell me on which floor I can find the head nurse?"

There it is, the magic word: Manx. It opens doors for those who know the name, giving them a reason to be where they are. The gaijin adjusts the briefcase, smiling politely and with just enough of a hint of deference to convey his need for help. His Japanese is without fault and nearly without accent, his smile very white. The guard can't help but smile back, relaxing his grip on the gun holster.

"On the third floor. If you take the elevator, go right to the end of the hallway, you can't miss it." Adjusting the tone of his voice to a tone of deference similar to that of the dark-haired man, he then says, "If you will show me your ID please? I need to put your name on the list, Mr. ...?"

The gaijin bows and smiles again. "Crawford. Brad Crawford." Then he reaches inside his unbuttoned dress jacket, draws a small gun out and shoots the guard between the eyes. The door ajar behind the guard is sprayed with red and chunks of gray; the heavy thud of the body hitting the floor follows the muffled 'pfft' of the silencer barely a breath later. There is an expression of intense surprise forever ingrained on the guard's face.

Without hurry, Crawford steps over the corpse and enters the guard room, taking a look at the technical equipment. He locates the controls for the video surveillance, set beneath seven screens showing pictures of the insides of the Makamura Center in gray. From the pocket of his dress jacket, he takes a pair of black leather gloves and pulls them on, his briefcase set on the edge of the guard's desk. The surveillance system issues a warning as he turns it off and extracts the video tape beneath the multiple screens, putting it into the suitcase. Then he drags the corpse of the guard into the small room, steps outside, and closes the door. There is a small trail of blood on the floor, and he makes sure to not step into it.

Pulling the door open, Crawford steps to the side, making way for Farfarello and Nagi to enter. The Irishman, deceptively quiet and almost sullen during the car ride, is filled to brimming with energy; Crawford can feel it and see it, the small tremors running along Farfarello's lean frame, the way his single eye flits from one place to the other. As he lets go of the door, the Irishman begins to walk down the corridor.

"Farfarello," Crawford calls after him, "Remember to leave a few fingerprints."

A silky chuckle is his answer.

"And a lot of corpses," comes Nagi's voice from Crawford's side. As the American looks at him, the youth shrugs. "Just thought I'd say something."

Midori Anda looks up at the small TV screen in a corner of the nurses' room, a coffee cup cradled against her breast, and leans against the table in the middle of the room. She laughs to herself at the sight of playing children in a news coverage and takes another sip, failing to notice the small red light on the video camera right next to the TV screen go out as though closing its eye to sleep.

A heavyset man in his fifties enters the room behind her, raking a hand through unruly strands of black hair. The way he looks at her face and then zooms in on the cup in her hands makes her laugh again, and he grins sheepishly as he heads for the coffeemaker, pouring himself a generous cup of the black, vicious liquid that, according to some of the medical staff, consists of 50% caffeine, 45% water, and 5% food color.

"That operation went okay?"

She nods, making room for him as he joins her at the table. "Sontoku asked me to tell you to - "

" - check for the order of gowns, I know." Saikaku Issa, anesthetist, glances at the TV screen, which is now showing one of those game shows where the contestants have to let themselves be bathed in hot wax in order to win. Shaking his head at the follies of mankind - and man's seemingly irresistible wish to make a fool of himself - he downs the contents of the cup. "How's that kid doing?"


"The one caught in the fire at Kourin." Another swallow. "What's his name, Ken Hidai?"

"Hidaka." Swilling the liquid in her cup, Anda frowns, pursing her mouth. "He's stable at the moment."

In the language spoken in Makamura, 'stable' equalizes 'not dying'. Saikaku Issa grunts at the information. Kritiker agents' ages vary - he can still remember how, a few years back, he and Midori Anda have performed an operation on a fifteen-year-old who had been rescued from a white slave ring, only to be sent back in undercover. The girl suffered gunshot wounds in the thighs and stomach, barely surviving the operation due to massive loss of blood. The uproar this had caused among the leading figures of Kritiker ended with a somewhat unspoken law being issued: no one under the age of 17 was to be used in any way by Kritiker, not even as bait.

"Brain activity?"

"Close to none."

"Damn." He sighs, empties the cup, and places it in the sink beneath one of the south-facing windows. "Poor kid."

"Yeah. I'm hoping he'll pull through."

Saikaku Issa leaves her alone with her thoughts, muttering about gowns and misplaced orders. Staring at the TV screen without really seeing it, Anda mulls over the conversation for a moment, only to come to the same conclusion: hope. Hope is everything Ken Hidaka has left now. A quick glance at her watch tells her she has a few minutes left before the routine checkup on the agent operated on is due.

Farfarello moves through the ground floor of the Makamura center like a ghost, the soles of his boots sucking at the floor. His shadow hisses through corners, over cheap replica prints of art and the occasional floor sign as he walks, nose twitching at the smell of cleaners and disinfectants. He passes closed doors, standing still, listening, listening for breath, for a heartbeat, for a sign of life behind the wood. Like a hound follows the scent of a wounded deer in fright, the Irishman follows the signs of life - laughter, voices, movement - through doors and around corners. To him, they are beacons. Beacons shining red and bright, luring the nightmares out of their hidey-holes. When he finds such a beacon, he will put it out, watching its red blood pour out onto the clean floor and over furniture, making way for emptiness and the sudden stillness of death. On this floor, there are no such beacons. There is no laughter, no voices, no movement save his own. The few doors to his left are all locked; storage rooms, most likely. One of them bearing the Japanese kanji for 'morgue'; he touches this door as he passes it, only his fingertips, but the cold radiating from the man-sized fridges kept behind the door reaches him nevertheless. The dead are of no interest to the Irishman.

He reaches the end of the hallway and turns to look back. At the other end, Nagi is a small, thin figure standing by the closed entrance door, staring back at him, his figure outlined by light pouring in through the glass of the door. The light of the elevator rising upwards a beacon between them; Crawford is in there, dressed in his black suit; the dark twin of Maria Immaculate, she who receives, she who is pure and blindingly pristine. Crawford, who gives, handing out small parcels inscribed with the word 'death'.

Farfarello grins and begins to ascend the stairs. His hands, pale, pale albino spiders, gliding over the wall to his left and holding the Poignard by the handle, one of its many edges tapping lightly against his thigh as he walks. He himself is someone who gives, too. But unlike Crawford and Nagi, he wants something in return: a fountain of blood, a scream. A pleading for mercy in eyes turned heavenward, from where no mercy comes. His presents contain mercy for fools believing in a God who does not give a shit about them, but who are too blind to see it.

Nagi closes his eyes as soon as the Irishman is out of sight and leans against the wall next to the guard's door, crossing his arms over his chest. His lids, like restless butterflies, flitter, lashes trembling as he seeks the power within him, the sleeping snake. It shivers through his veins much like a lover's tongue shivers over a loved one's skin, leaving coolness in its wake. Or fire. From his fingertips, digging into the material of his jacket, it spreads, taking root in the floor beneath his boots. He imagines a cask of invisible glass, only a thousand times stronger, sink over the roof of the building down to the very earth it stands on, and follows the invisible walls with his power until the entire Makamura Center is snugly enclosed in a veil of telekinesis. It presses against the walls and flirts with the glass of the windows, in some places hard enough for hairline cracks to startle patients, doctors and nurses alike.

She looks at the window and frowns at the crack down its center, setting the coffee cup down on the table behind her. Damn those earthquakes. Standing very still for a long moment, Midori Anda waits for the telltale shaking of the floor, but it never comes. Relieved the earthquake already seems to be have passed, she leaves the nurses' room and walks down the hallway. It is time for her checkup on that agent. As she nears the elevator, the door opens to the melodious 'ding' and a tall man steps outside and turns right, walking toward her. He carries a briefcase in one hand. Anda frowns as she sees the glove encasing the one visible hand, his other buried in the pocket of his very expensive looking dress jacket. His face looks young and clean-shaven, handsome. Not a Japanese.

He reaches her, his strides wide and conveying confidence. "Sir?" Anda steps into his way, keeping her face neutral as she looks up at him. She has never seen this man before, but she feels cold inside as his brown eyes light upon her, seizing her up like a dog looks at a piece of meat with hunger in its eyes. "Are you lost, sir? Visiting hours are over."

There are no visiting hours in the Makamura Center. This man has no reason to be here. He studies her for a moment, a barely there smile on his lips. Strands of black hair falling over his eyes as he has to tilt his head down to properly see her face.

"I'm here to sign a patient out," His voice is dark, calm, and cold like water from a river coming from the mountains. For a reason she cannot discern, Anda finds her eyes drawn to the hand she cannot see, the one hidden in the pocket of his dark suit. She hears a door open behind her, footsteps.

Screams echoing up through the stairwell, followed by laughter that chills her to the bone. The footsteps behind her halt, a throat uttering a sound of surprise and shock.

"Permanently," the man in front of her adds, drawing his hand from his pocket. It is empty and gloved.

"I was not notified of such an occurrence." Anda takes a step back, never taking her eyes from him. A moment later, Sontoku runs past her, headed for the stairwell, not even sparing the man in front of Anda a glance. She wants to follow him, but her mind screams at her to not take her eyes from this man. She becomes aware of rising noise coming from the floor below - footsteps, shouts, the banging of doors, what sounds like bodies hitting the floor. Laughter again, dark and sweet like honey but vile like poison. Sweat breaks out at her hairline and on her palms, a reaction to adrenaline pouring forth from its secrets ducts in her body. A telephone starts ringing in the nurses' room behind her, and she has to look over her shoulder, trying to tell herself she is not looking for someone to back her up. "I'll have to check with - "

The edge of the suitcase hits her in the left temple and successfully knocks her unconscious.

So to dance, a dance with death... [2] With an elegant swing of his right arm, Farfarello turns on his heel and draws the tip of the Poignard through the approaching man's left eye, cutting a deep gash into the bridge of the nose. Screaming, hands going up to his face and dropping the fire extinguisher he carries, the man stumbles back, tripping over his own feet as he tries to somehow stop the pain spreading like fire from his cleaved eye and nose. The Irishman takes a step forward and plunges the blade deeply into the man's throat, drawing it out so quickly that no blood is left on the stainless steel of the Poignard, finishing his attack with a kick at the man's head that throws him to the ground.

Behind Farfarello, the floor is splattered with blood and littered with corpses. His arms are red up to his elbows, his footsteps wet. He looks at the stairwell the man came down from and, seeing no one else attempt to descend, steps over the twitching corpse to be. At the end of the second floor hallway, nurses and doctors are huddled together, some of them crying, others hammering their hands against the window there, trying to break the glass; glass held in place by Nagi on the ground level. When the window shatters, the shards fall onto the people trying to get out, cutting hands and face as the telekinetic shield forces them inward.

"For God," Farfarello's voice rises over the din, clear, rich in intonation, almost like a priest speaking a blessing, "so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him," stepping forward, right arm raising to hip-level, eye fixed on eyes staring at him in terror, "shall not perish but have eternal life."

He charges forward as the last word leaves his mouth, covering the distance between himself and those in the end of the hallway quickly. Two doctors spring forward to meet him; brave, these two, brave and desperate. One carries a scalpel, held in a sweaty hand. Farfarello twists his body to the right as the scalpel is stabbed at him and curls his left arm around the doctor's, trapping it, his knee driving into the other man's gut. Right hand seeking and finding a throat as hands winds into his shirt, plunging in below the Adam's apple and ripping upward until one of the blade's edges hits bone. Blood sprays the side of the Irishman's face; he opens his mouth to receive it, this holiest of waters. He draws his blade back, bringing it up to the face of the doctor still hunched from the knee to the gut, and lovingly slips it into the place where the jugular vein beats thickly beneath the skin. Leaving both men to bleed dry, he steps past them.

"For there is darkness, and there is light," he goes on, stretching his arms out on either side of himself, "but light will always succumb to the kiss of darkness, for it is evermore powerful and shall cover these lands until all that crawls and breathes has received its blessing of truth, and the Liar himself will be thrown into oblivion again."

Like caged animals kept behind bars too long, the remaining members of the Makamura Center's medical staff cower in front of the window, eyes on the pale nightmare approaching them steadily. Two of them close their eyes, praying silently to their deity of choice. The other three stare wildly at the Irishman, fingers leaving bloody scratches on the walls. Shouting, whimpering, animals in pain, animals in fear, stench of sweat merging with the stench of the small hospital.

"...let me kiss all your ails better," Farfarello says softly, and descends on them like a harpy.

Crawford stands in the middle of the small room and listens to the sounds of receding screams, then listens to the sound of the monitor standing next to Ken Hidaka's bed. He takes in the plastic tent obscuring the occupant of the bed from his view and bends to place his briefcase on the floor. A brief glance at his watch tells him they have to be gone from this place soon - lingering too long over something is amateur work. Perhaps this is why he hated it so much when Farfarello and Schuldig dragged one of their still living victims off and out of view. Playing with the fire, drawing out the moment of death for their own pleasure, risking to be found. Death, in Crawford's opinion, should be dealt quickly and cleanly unless the act of drawing it out serves a greater purpose. The gleaning of information, for example.

In this small room, there is no information to be gleaned. Whatever Ken Hidaka knows, he has taken it with him into the confines of comatose sleep, out of reach of any man, any machine. Crawford approaches the plastic tent and studies the tubes and IV lines that feed the body beneath it. He has no intention to lift the plastic shroud - although there are few faces of death Crawford has not seen yet, there is no reason to look at what the fire and the explosion have done to Ken Hidaka. The medical chart hung on wall next to Hidaka's bed certifies him to be little more than a living corpse.

The monitor keeping watch over Hidaka's heartbeat gives of a shrill warning sequence as Crawford flips the switch on the respirator, turning the machine off. The lines running diagonally across its small screen, each heartbeat signified by a peak of green against black, start to become irregular, spiking up briefly as the assassin's heart attempts to withstand death.

Taking no chances, Crawford walks around the bed and cuts through the IV lines and tubes with a small, sharp knife. From some, clear liquid starts dripping onto the floor. He jumps back and curses softly as he accidentally cuts through the tube pumping urine from Hidaka's body, scrunching his nose at the acrid stench that quickly floods the room.


It has driven people to suicide, this sound that now fills the small room. It has shattered hope and stopped prayers, ripped families apart, marked a doctor's ultimate failure. The body beneath the plastic tent begins to move faintly, its nerves rearing their seared heads in pain as the life begins to fade and the heart slows down toward final silence.


Through the window of the small room, Crawford can see the sun begin to sink down behind the skyscrapers of Tokyo. He thinks the setting is dramatic enough for this young man's death, and is that not what people always say: that one should leave when the time seems fairest, to preserve the fair moment forever in their minds? Crawford does not know and does not care if he will remember this moment for longer than two weeks, but he steps away from the bed and picks up his briefcase and closes the door on the mourning song of the heart monitor.

One down, three to go.

In the hallway, Midori Anda comes back to consciousness with a groan of pain. Her head feels as though it wants to split in half, the incessant pounding behind her left temple reminding her of drums played at one of the many beautiful festivals in Tokyo throughout the year. She reaches up to her temple and encounters the stickiness of blood in her hair. Forcing her eyes open, it takes a moment for them to focus properly on the ceiling above her; she is glad they do focus; glad her vision is not blurry and distorted. Trauma to the head, especially to the temples, can have serious results.

Too weak to sit up yet, she remains in her flat position on the floor and strains to listen. She feels no fear at the moment, no, rather taking everything in with a sense of detachment. The smell of blood heavy in the air, much like during the operation on that agent some time ago. Half an hour? An hour? She does not know, feeling cut loose from time and reality.

A sound filters through. Instead of screams, she is listening to the well-known song of a heart monitor somewhere behind her; a door closes, the sound is gone. Footsteps begin to come toward her and stop in her immediate surroundings. They come from in front of her, not from behind her, she realizes. Lifting her head at last, breathing hard through her mouth to ward of the wave of dizziness and nausea, she sucks in a sharp breath a second later as a nightmare crouches down over her midsection. He is dressed in black and red - the red of blood. His face, narrow and fine boned, is colored by a spattering of red drops and a single honey-colored eye, the other hidden behind a black eye patch. She attempts to lift her legs to shove him away or shove herself away from him, whatever comes first, but the wet hand that descends on her face and holds her head still freezes her in her movement. Fingernails dig into the soft flesh of her cheeks as he leans closer to her face; his breath streaks her, and Midori Anda can smell blood on his breath.

"There is no salvation in God," His voice sounds young, and gentle as he speaks, contemplative as though he is looking at a piece of art at an auction or in a museum, "You are seeking the wrong mercy. There is no mercy in the Liar."

His words make no sense to her, but they are chilling. The need to get away from him becomes overwhelming, and she begins to struggle, grappling at his wrist. Freezing again as his other hand comes into view, holding a strange blade. It is too close to her face too fast for her to make out why it strikes her as strange, but that does not matter anymore a moment later as she feels the tip of the blade trace the curve of her cheekbone down to the corner of her mouth, fire in its wake. Her blood almost ticklish as it trickles down her face, onto his hand no doubt. Midori Anda wants to scream, wants to call for help, feeling utterly helpless.

"Leave her alone."

The demon crouched above her does not look away from her. "Why?"

"We need her as witness. Did you get the others?"


She recognizes the voice. It belongs to the dark-haired man she spoke to before her world switched to black and wind. As before, she does not take her eyes from the man in front of her as he slowly releases her head and rocks back and away from her, rising to his feet. Standing over her like a victorious warrior gloating over a victim, she watches him lick over the blade, cringing as he cuts into his own pink tongue, almost...caressing the blade. He shows no sign of pain and steps away from her, turning his back to walk away, his footsteps making sucking noises on the floor. She will remember those footsteps in years to come, when she wakes from nightmares.

The dark-haired man appears in her field of vision, his free hand once again carrying the briefcase. Anda, breathing hard, stares up at him. We need her as witness. That means they will let her live. She takes in the shape of his face, his nose, his eyes, as much as she can, systematically storing the images in her mind. Witness. Look at the thing that happens and the thing that causes it and remember, so others might hunt it down and bring it to justice.

"Give Weiß my regards," he says, and then there is another short, sharp pain in her left temple, and the world returns to darkness again.

"Time," Crawford says as soon as he and Farfarello meet Nagi at the entrance doors to the Makamura Center, walking briskly. Their business here is done.

"13 minutes," the youth answers, stepping away from the wall. He looks at Farfarello but briefly, revulsion showing on his face as the Irishman begins to lick at the congealing blood on his hands and forearms. Crawford, following the youth's gaze, wraps his hand around one of the Irishman's wrists and guides the blood-covered hand to the glass of the door, pressing the palm against it to leave a print smack in the center. "The telephone rang while you were upstairs."

"I know, I heard it." Letting go of Farfarello's arm, Crawford turns to look back down the corridor. On the second floor, the Irishman has left enough handprints on the white walls for an army of agents to have a field day with.

"I went through the guard's room," Nagi continues, holding up a rolled-up sheaf of paper. "There was a list of phone numbers in a drawer."

"Left some fingerprints?"


"Good." Crawford pulls the door open, realizing blood from Farfarello's arm is sticking to the leather of his glove. Once they are outside, he peels the glove off and drops it on the ground right next to the door.

The possibility of their fingerprints matching up with those of any recorded human being on the planet is scarce, Crawford knows. Schwarz, all aspects considered, do not actually exist as people with a birth name and a steady paycheck; the identification cards they carry are false, as are their driver's licenses, birth certificates, and everything else one needs in order to pass as a member of society. But it will give Kritiker something to do, and have them send Weiß on their tail.

A police checkup on Crawford's driver's license and ID card would reveal one Brad Jacob Crawford, born in California, USA, divorced from Catherine Crawford who is currently residing in New York as a stock broker. Crawford is the owner of a moderately large electronics business, which he sold to a company under Eszet's wing a few years back, making a small fortune while retaining his chair as advisor.

A call to his divorced wife would direct the caller to an Eszet representative in New York whose only job it is to pretend to have been someone's wife once, backing that story up with an impressive amount of honeymoon memories from Hawaii, complete with photos and love letters written in Crawford' s hand. Sometimes, when he remembers it, Crawford even wears the small, golden wedding ring that has With Love, Cathy inscribed on its inside curve, just for the hell of it.

The three members of Schwarz make their way to the front of the Makamura Center, divided from the back of the grocery store by nothing more than a narrow stretch of concrete walled in on both sides by office buildings. Farfarello pulls a light jacket from a trash bin and slips it on, hiding the blood on his arms. He wets the towel that was bundled into the jacket with the water bottle put in next to it and wipes his face clean of the blood, taking care to not forget his neck and collarbones. Nagi, watching the Irishman, notes the nervous energy that overcame Farfarello upon entering the Kritiker hospital is gone, replaced by calmness; he wonders if Farfarello has found what he was looking for in the files Nagi downloaded. When he knocked on the door to Schuldig and Farfarello's room before they left the apartment, the Irishman had already been ready to depart, sitting on the edge of the bed that now is too large to hold only one person.

The streets of Õtemachi are well-crowded in the late afternoon, by tourists and locals alike. Schwarz slip in among these mere mortals and walk away from the Makamura Center and its many corpses. Crossing the Shinkansen Line and heading south to Tokyo Station, where Crawford has parked the car, few of those whose paths they cross stop to take a second look at them; Crawford and Nagi too ordinary in looks to be noticeable, and Farfarello just one more of those punks that gather in the hot spots of the city these days.

"Takatori requested my presence tonight at a meeting," Crawford informs them as they are about to depart from Tokyo Station, waiting at a red light.

"What about that plan you wanted to tell us?" Nagi asks.

"Later," Crawford regards the youth from the side, taking a moment to look at Farfarello in the backseat. It looks as though the Irishman is asleep, lying sideways across both seats, one arm tucked under his head. "There are still too many factors I'm not aware of."

Words they are used to, the members of Schwarz. If it is a character trait or just Crawford's way of trying to stay ahead of them by giving information out bit by bit, Nagi doesn't know. He leans back in his seat, thinking ahead to the mountain of files he has to go through once they are back in the apartment. The matter of Weiß having left their flower shop and moving to a location unknown deserves some thought as well. It leaves Schwarz short one advantage.

They pass the invisible borders from one district into another, forced to slow down as the traffic in and around Ginza is heavier than in most parts of Tokyo. Having neither ears nor eyes for the attractions of Tokyo's heart, the three remain silent, each hanging after his own thoughts.

Crawford's cell phone rings. After a moment of listening to the speaker on the other hand, the leader of Schwarz glances in the rearview mirror and makes a U-turn, ignoring the honks and angry gestures from the drivers of the cars he cuts off.

"We're going to pay a visit to the flower shop," he announces at Nagi's questioning glance.

Her heart sinks as she nears the flower shop, seeing two white vans parked at the curb in front of it. There are two men moving furniture into one of the vans, their faces red and strained with exertion; Sakura Tomoe recognizes the piece of furniture they are carrying, it is the counter of the flower shop, where Aya is usually to be found. Sakura stops, uncertain, shifting her backpack on her shoulder, and watches the men wrestle the counter into the van, wiping sweat from their brows when they are done. She steps to the edge of the curb, trying to look into the windows of the flower shop without coming any closer, but the windows are covered with white paper from the inside, and a large CLOSED sign is hanging in the middle of the large window next to the door.

Closed. Just like yesterday, and no sign of any of the four men working in the flower shop. Chewing on her lower lip, Sakura finally walks in between the vans and the windows, trying to see something, anything. She can see shapes moving behind the white paper; hear the occasional thump and rough slide of furniture from inside. Taking a step back, she looks up at the windows above the flower shop, finding them closed, too, the shades drawn.

"Help you with something?"

She almost flinches, taking a step to the side at the voice suddenly appearing to her right, and looks up. The man in front of her wears a white worker's suit, quizzically studying her. Behind him, Sakura can see a black car stop at the curb. The woman who exits the car and walks into the side alley glances at her in passing, red hair artfully arranged on her shoulders, her body accentuated by a shapely dress jacket and miniskirt.

"Uhm...I was wondering where the men who work here are," Sakura looks at the tips of her shoes, then back at the worker. "I'm a friend of theirs."

"Sorry, can't help you with that." The worker tugs on his overall, glancing back over his shoulder. "They moved out, that's all I know. I'm just here to take care of the furniture."

"Moved out? Are they going to open the shop in another part of the city?"

"I don't know, miss."

"Yoshida!" The second of the two men in white sticks his head out of the door of the flower shop, giving Sakura an once-over before glowering at his work partner. "Get your lazy butt back in here, we haven't got all day!"

"Gotta go," The worker, Yoshida, bows curtly, then turns and heads into the shop through the door, which closes sharply once he is inside. Feeling a little lost, Sakura is tempted to sneak around the shop and see if she can find out something there, but then decides against it. The look she got from the red-haired woman was not very friendly, and Sakura does not want to stir up or get into any kind of trouble.

She resumes her path down the street, walking more slowly now. Aya, Omi, Ken and Youji are moving? There has not been any indication over the last few weeks that they had planned this. Although Sakura does not count herself among the hordes of 'fan girls' who loiter around the shop, she visits it at least twice a week, and there had not been any talk of moving. The atmosphere in the Koneko no Sumu Ie always cheers her up, even with the usually silent and glowering Aya there; she likes coming here and talking to the four young men, even if it is just for a few minutes. That these times are now maybe over makes her feel down at heart.

Contemplating how to spend the rest of her afternoon now that her original plan of spending it at the flower shop is shot, Sakura sighs, shifting the backpack from one shoulder to the other. There is always the library, or one of the many cafés and shops in Ginza, but she is alone there, with no one to talk to.

Four months back, Sakura Tomoe has been one of seven victims in Tokyo to be attacked on their way home and then transported to a location unknown, where an illegal operation has been performed on her. The resulting missing spleen is something she can deal with - it is the complete and utter disregard of her person, her self, that caused the greatest part of the strain she was and still is under. After the initial hassle about her person died down, she had to find out that most of her old friends and acquaintances, one after the other, pulled away from her. If it is because her face appeared in the newspapers and TV shows for a few days, or because she has drawn back herself, Sakura does not know, and she also does not know how to fix it. Her mother, bless her soul, keeps encouraging her to go out and meet new people, but it always ends the same way. Oh, you're the Sakura Tomoe? With the missing spleen? Conversations that follow are either spiked with almost morbid curiosity about the how and when of the incident that bought her short-lived fame, or laden with pity - neither of which Sakura wants. Suddenly, she is not the school girl Sakura Tomoe who wins running contests and is an average student anymore, who lives at home with her mother and father, no: she is Sakura Tomoe with the missing spleen, who appeared on TV.

The four men in the flower shop, with whom she previously always has been a little infatuated as every girl who goes there to hang out or just admire them from a distance, treated her no different after the incision scar on her abdomen healed. Youji with his flirting, Omi's friendly nature, Ken's sometimes admiringly cute blushes, and even Aya's trademark growls and sour faces are something she considers normal; it hurts her to even think for one moment that this all is over now.

At the corner of the street, Sakura turns and looks back. From afar, she can see the red-haired woman leave the shop in a hurry, almost stumbling on her high-heeled shoes. She is speaking into a cell phone, waving at someone across the street, but the white vans obstruct Sakura's view. Remaining where she is - because there is nowhere else she has to go to, really - Sakura watches the black car that drives down the street and past her a moment later, recognizing it as the same that brought the redhead.

Turning, she catches sight of two girls sitting at the windows of the café on the corner of the street, studying her. As Sakura looks at them, they both look away, leaning forward over their coffee cups, and one raises her hand to her mouth as though to whisper something to her companion. It makes her cringe, as do the hidden glances the two direct at her as she keeps standing there for a moment.

In the glass of the window, Sakura notes another black car passing by past her, unusually slow. She cannot see the occupants of the car, but a residual fear makes her stomach feel light until the car turns the corner and vanishes. Turning, she walks to the curb and watches it drive out of view, heading south. Berating herself after taking a deep breath - just a car, come on, Sakura, just a car, just because you were abducted, violated, used, that doesn't mean every car passing by you slowly means to harm you - Sakura then crosses the street. Heading home. There really isn't anywhere else she can go. In the solitude of her own four walls, at least there is no one to stare at her.

As Sakura Tomoe heads home, Youji Kudou slams the doors to his new closet shut in another part of the city, and lets himself drop onto his new bed, which feels so damn different from his old bed, and therefore alien. He stares at the ceiling of his new apartment, if it can be called an apartment, then at the blank walls, the dark carpet on the floor.

Just a room. Four walls, a door, another door leading to an adjacent bathroom used by them all, windows facing toward the Tokyo Bay if one has enough imagination to see the stretch of blue over the endless sea of roofs. This supposedly safe 'hideout' will now be Weiß' new home; three rooms, one kitchen, one bathroom, one large room that holds a TV and a few empty bookshelves. The door leading from the hallway into their apartment is plated with steel and has three locks from the inside, plus a metal bar to further prevent breaking and entering.

Youji already misses the flower shop and wishes the things that happened had never happened. Something is not right with the situation, with this apartment, with his life. He wonders where things took the wrong turn, sitting on the edge of his bed, what is wrong with Aya and Omi. The swordsman and the youth have been silent all through the drive and since they entered the new apartment, receiving the keys - one set for each - from the tired-looking Kritiker agent who had been waiting for them downstairs. Youji himself feels like punching a hole into something or someone. After Manx' order to vanish from the flower shop, his aggression has steadily been growing into a small, hard ball in the pit of his stomach.

He gets up from the bed and walks to the door of his room, refusing to look back at the desolate space that is to be is home now, or at least until the shit they're in has been sorted through and solved. From his door, a small hallways leads into the kitchen, from where he can hear someone opening and closing shelves. It is Aya, his back turned to the door, putting the few groceries they managed to snag from the flower shop fridge and cupboards away. Youji stops just outside the door as he hears the other muttering to himself, not wanting to give Aya a scare. The redhead seems tense enough to attack at a fly's cough from the way he moves, slamming cupboard doors; it will only be a matter of moments until Aya notes Youji's presence, anyway.

"I fucking said no," Youji can hear Aya mutter. It sounds as though he is talking to someone else rather than to himself. Watching him as he moves about the kitchen, his back still turned to the door, Youji begins to wonder if Aya has finally lost it entirely. Talking to oneself is fine, everyone does that once in a while. But this sounds more as though Aya is not talking to himself, but having a rather heated discussion, of which Youji is getting Aya's end.

"There's no use for that! I said - " Bending to retrieve a dropped box of rice, Aya finally notices Youji standing outside the door, and halts mid-sentence. His violet eyes become comically wide for a moment, enough to nearly make Youji laugh, but the icy expression of being a stone disguised as a human being settles back on the other's face easily and quickly enough. His hands wrapped around the box of rice, Aya gives Youji a glare before he turns and stores the box away, closing the cupboard door much more softly this time.

"Going to just stand there, or did you want something?"

Youji raises an eyebrow at the aggressive tone of voice and enters the kitchen, leaning against the wall next to the door. Their kitchen, as the other rooms, lacks each and every impression of ever having been lived in. There is only a counter, stove and sink, and a square table in the middle of the room, over which hangs a cheap lamp with a silly, red lampshade.

"I was under the impression you were having a rather heated discussion," Youji says lightly, and then adds, "with yourself."

He can see the muscles in Aya's lean form tense at the words, but the redhead's back remains turned to him.

"What's the plan now?" Youji asks as there is no further comment from Aya.

"We remain here until we are given new orders," Aya says, turning his head so Youji can see his profile. "Keep a low profile and wait."

"Is that all?"

"What else is there supposed to be?"

"How about going out there and finding out who's after us?" Feeling anger rise inside him, Youji crosses the kitchen and stands next to Aya, hands pushed into his hips. "That doesn't get to you one bit, does it?"

"What does?"

"This?" He describes an arc around them with his arm. "This mess here? This being us running from whoever is after us? This here being the result of someone breaking into Kritiker's computer? Of Ken being in a hospital? Of all that shit that's been happening since Kourin?"

"There is nothing we can do about Ken," Aya responds slowly, refusing to meet Youji's eyes. "And there is nothing we can do about the computer either."

"Oh, right, I forgot. Things like that don't matter to you, do they?" Youji grabs Aya's arm as the other turns from him, forcing him to stay put. "You've been acting crazy since Kourin went down, Aya. What the fuck happened back there? Who was that you helped?"

"That's none of your business."

"It damn well is!" Youji shouts.

Aya slowly looks up at Youji, although the difference in height is not that apparent between them. Violet eyes wander from the hand wrapped around his biceps up Youji's arm until they arrive at the Eurasian's face; the expression Youji finds himself faced with is cold, closed off, and utterly devoid of any emotion. Keeping his grip on Aya's arm just to spite him, Youji tightens his fingers, feeling the muscles beneath his hand bunch and strain against him.

"It is my business. We're a team, remember? You, Omi, Ken and me, we're a team. We're supposed to work together, not against each other." His voice softening a little, he continues, "Aya, we're your friends. We can help you with whatever is bugging you, but you have to give us the chance to help you first."

For a moment, Youji thinks he can see something shift and give way in Aya's cold gaze; the face he is staring at, white beneath the crimson shock of hair, looks terribly young all of a sudden, but it doesn't last. Youji can literally feel the wall beginning to slide back in place between them, like ice covering a window in winter. Aya turns his head away, stares at the cupboards.

"No one can help me," he says softly, lips staying parted after the words leave his mouth.

"No, we can't. At least not until we know what the hell is going on." Thinking he is on the right way here, Youji steps closer to his teammate, lowering his voice. "Look...Manx is suspicious of you. Omi is behaving strangely, and I'd love to know what you two were talking about when I came into your room this morning. But Omi doesn't want to talk to me, and Manx doesn't know any more than what she told us while you were there, in the kitchen.

I don't know what's going on between you and Omi, or why you helped those two strangers out. I'm sure you must have a reason. Whatever. I don't really care. But we're in a tight spot right now, what with Ken being in a coma and those happenings at Kritiker's. We have to stick together, Aya, and keep an eye on each other." Youji, surprised by himself at his little speech, takes a breath to continue, hoping his words will make Aya melt a little. The man is immune to most things, as far as Youji knows, but he would surely answer to reason, would he not?

All words die on his lips as Aya looks at him now. There is an expression on the fine face Youji has never seen before, and it shocks him almost as much as the words that leave Aya's mouth.

"Like you kept an eye on Asuka?"

Aya is grinning. It isn't a humorous grin, or a mirthful one. It is a cold grin, stretching Aya's colorless lips over white teeth, edging lines around his mouth. His violet eyes are twinkling - and this is amusement, if Youji has ever seen amusement. His hand remains wrapped around Aya's arm, but for the moment, he feels rooted to the spot, as much by surprise as by hurt. This is not what he had been expecting. Not from any of his teammates. This cold, amused grin directed at him while his greatest failure is held up against him.

As he stares at Aya, the grin melts, making way for a first surprised, then furious expression. Taking a step back, Aya rips himself free from a hand that lets go without protest and falls to Youji's side as though all muscle control has left the Eurasian. He turns his back to Youji and shakes his head, muttering something Youji does not understand. Does not want to understand.

There are failures, and there are betrayals. Both are things no one wants to remember, or be held responsible for, even if one is responsible for them. You expect to hear them fall from the mouth of enemies, or from those who do not care about you.

But you don't expect to hear them from your friends. From people you trust with your life.

And you certainly don't expect to hear them spoken with amusement. Meaning to hurt, to dig, to stab.

For how long he stares at Aya's back, Youji does not know. The air seems to be screaming in his ears, or maybe it is his own blood he feels rushing through his veins, pounding in his temples. Finally, when he feels he can regain control over his mouth, he utters a single word, no more than a whisper between them.


Aya does not respond, does not turn.

A soft footfall from the door makes Youji turn his head to find Omi standing there, his expression as much displaying an expression of shock as his own must have displayed at Aya's words. The youth is holding a cell phone in his hand, the display still uncovered, and Youji can hear someone's voice, still speaking on the other end. How long Omi has been standing there, listening to the exchange between the eldest members or Weiß, is anyone's guess, but from the look on his face Youji can guess he has heard either everything or nearly everything.

Finally, his large, too large eyes still fastened on Aya's back, Omi raises the cell phone to his mouth.

"We'll be there in a moment," he says tonelessly, and shuts the cell phone off. As he looks at Youji, the older man has the distinct impression that Omi is short of bursting into tears. Yet, his voice is surprisingly calm as he continues, "Manx. We need to get to the hospital. Something's wrong with Ken, she wouldn't say what."


She looks up from the floor and meets the concerned look of Shinnosuke Seto, known as Botan among Kritiker agents. He hands her a handkerchief, making no comment about the tears rolling down her cheeks, smearing her mascara and pooling in the corners of her mouth to mingle with the artfully applied red lipstick there.

In front of them, the plastic tent has been taken down from the bed that housed the shell of Ken Hidaka. The monitors are shut off, as dead as the body they kept watch over. Someone, most likely one of the agents, has thrown a few towels on the ground to soak up the liquids that pooled there after whoever killed Ken Hidaka has cut the IV lines and tubes.

"Too late," Manx whispers, and her hands clench at her sides. "We're too late. We should have moved him as soon as that hacker cracked our computers. Too late."

Botan sighs, shifting his gaze from the hospital bed to Manx' tear-smeared face.

"Did you move the sister?"

She nods, wiping at her face again. "She's on her way to a secured place outside of Tokyo. Only Persia and I know the address."

"Good. I wouldn't be surprised if whoever did this was after the sister, too." The man crouches down as near to the bed as the towels will allow, taking a closer look at the severed IV lines. A sharp knife, the cuts precise, no false starts, no second tries. When the agents entered the room, one thing had been apparent at once: the murderer of Ken Hidaka had not been in a hurry. The room hadn't be in disorder, nothing had been toppled over. Right now, the plastic tent was on its way to Kritiker labs, but Botan doubts they will find fingerprints; he doubts they will find fingerprints on the IV lines and tubes either. Botan has worked as a detective long enough to know cold calculation when he sees it.

At least, in this room.

The hallway downstairs and the ground floor are a different matter entirely. Down there, agents will be busy all day, lifting fingerprints from bodies and the walls, trying to find out which splatter of blood on the walls or on the floor belongs to which corpse.

"What do you think, Manx? Who did this?" He taps a finger against his chin, rising to his feet again. "Ken Hidaka was inactive anyway, and would've remained so for a long time to come. Why take him out? What's the use? Revenge?"

The possibility does exist, both know. As the currently most successful active group of Kritiker, Weiß have made more enemies than one could count on both hands, not counting the ones who are dead but including those dead peoples' friends, family members, work partners, business associates.

"I don't know."

Having been a detective prior to his work for Kritiker, Botan has an advantage over Manx, whose work up to the time when Persia, the current leader of Kritiker, recruited her consisted mostly of filing and calling - desk work, as any cop would put it. Boring. Botan knows how to walk the grid; he has worked in the trenches and gone every single step from murder to finding the murderer, filling in the gaps in the story with tiny details and hours of work. To him, I don't know does not exist in detective work. I will find out, on the other hand, does. The perfect murder does not exist. Something is always left behind.

"I'm going to ask Persia to assign me to your team," Botan announces after looking at the bed and the cut IV lines again. "Who's Weiß' main target?"

"Takatori Reiji. Well, not really." Manx purses her mouth. "Let's just say they've had the doubtable pleasure of most of their assignments somehow having something to do with Takatori."

"The Jingen party leader...interesting."

Another agent sticks his head around the corner. "They're here."

Manx and Botan leave the hospital room, leaving the door wide open behind them. From one of the cut IV lines, a single drop of clear liquid falls, much like a tear, soaked up by a green towel below.

On the third floor, the smell of the carcinogenic powder used to lift fingerprints is biting at their noses. It becomes worse as they descend, and finally, both Manx and Botan don the face masks they have carried in their pockets ever since they arrived at the Makamura Center. On the second floor, everyone is wearing one. Agents are busy dusting the floor and the walls, the stroboscope flashes of photos being taken like lightings from a too dark sky. Whoever killed the people of Makamura has left finger- and handprints on the walls like a child smearing paint onto its bedroom walls. Manx keeps her eyes fixed on her shoes as they walk along the hallway, but Botan looks at those fingerprints - the handprints telling of a man with long fingers and a narrow palm. Using both right and left hand as he makes those prints. Some of them are smeared, elongated, as though the killer has pressed his palm against the wall and then dragged it across.

Botan hopes Midori Anda will be able to tell them who left those prints.

As they reach the ground level, both take off their face masks, stuffing them back into their pockets. Botan, who has never personally met the members of Weiß but heard a lot about them, extends his hand toward them, then draws it back as no one takes it. Manx does not even try. The three young men standing near the glass doors at the end of the ground level are silent, white-faced, grief-stricken. None of them speaks as Manx tells them of the fate of their teammate, Ken Hidaka, whose body now lies in one of the man-sized fridges six doors down the hallway. As Manx introduces Botan to them, the agent studies each man's face as their respective names are spoken. Kritiker's best team they may be - right now though, they are no more than barely out of adolescence people who mourn the death of their friend. He remains in the background, watching rather than partaking in the soft-spoken conversation that is mostly held up by Manx.

"I'm looking forward to working with you all," is all Botan says as Manx announces the agent will be applying to Persia for the position of advisor and agent in charge.

Neu returns to the hotel room she shares with Tot and closes the door behind her with a soft sound, walking on light feet across the room and past the bed where the blue-haired girl is sleeping, rolled into a tight ball in the center of her bed. After talking to Crawford again, she had stayed in the café across from the flower shop for an hour longer, watching the men across the street pack furniture into their white vans and hang a sign into the large display window of the shop. Closed.

There is so much she wants to do, Neu thinks, as she slips her shoes off and sits down on her bed, her back to Tot's sleeping, motionless form. She wants to get back at Weiß. She wants her old life back. She wants to know what her future brings, other than fighting Weiß; when they are finished with them, what will she do? She has never been trained for a job, and being a member of society had never been required while she has been with Schreient. Of course, getting a new passport and filching a life prior to the one she cares to remember would be easy - but what then? Will she get a job and forget "Neu" ever existed?

Better to live in the moment, Neu decides. The future changes with every breath one takes, nothing is ever certain. She does not want to think about the possibility of dying in the next few weeks - if Farfarello's words to Tot hold a grain of truth, 'cannon fodder' is what her and Tot's job will be in the days to come. Reaching up to her short hair, Neu scratches at a scab on her face, slowly peeling at the healing skin until she can feel wetness against her fingertips; she does not stop until a drop of blood meanders down her temple, tickling the soft hair there; as she puts her finger into her mouth when the peeling becomes too painful to keep up, the taste explodes across her tongue as if she had put an extremely sweet candy in her mouth. Her brow creasing, she pulls the finger from her mouth and looks at it: clean skin, fingernail cut short. The cuticles a little irritated, and there is a dark patch on the back of her hand from a slowly healing blister.

She puts the cheap cell phone she bought on her way home onto her nightstand, the key to the hotel room next to it. As she moves, she thinks she can smell a faint residue of smoke wafting from under her arms, clinging to the short strands of her hair. The smell makes her close her eyes; no matter how many times she has showered since Kourin exploded, that smell will not go away. It sticks to her skin like a bad memory, lurking in the pores of her hair. Glancing over her shoulder, her eyes land on the soft curls of Tot's hair - how does she do it? How can she stand that smell, that smell that Neu thinks will be with her until she dies.

The sun bleeding her last warmth out over the city sinks down like a ball of fire, swallowed by the ocean that, for one perfect moment, takes on the hues of blood. From her bed, Neu has a perfect view of the water; she sits there until night begins to fall, chasing the last dying rays of the sun into the depths of the salty water. Plays with the cell phone. Plays with her hair. As Tot wakes from sleep, Neu turns to her, smiling a smile as red as the bleeding sun.

"Saijou Takatori."

Crawford looks up from his newspaper and stares at Nagi, and for one perfect moment in time, Nagi thinks that the Oracle of Schwarz has finally been surprised by something. Farfarello, already pulling on his jacket and on his way out of the living room, stops in front of Nagi, looks at the youth, then looks back over his shoulder at Crawford and steps to the side, hands clasped in the small of his back, the eyebrow above his black eye patch arching.

"What?" Crawford puts his newspaper aside and turns to face Nagi, his warm, brown eyes narrowed behind their glass shields.

"Saijou Takatori," the youth repeats, reading out loud from a sheet of paper slightly curled from the printer, the smell of ink still fresh. "Father of Reiji and Shuuichi Takatori, deceased 10 years ago. Reported a low-level telepath by an affiliate of Eszet's after having made a few business transactions that couldn't have been pulled off without him having known his business partner's, well, thoughts of the entire deal. He was the founder of 'Critic', which was later renamed 'Kritiker'. His two sons were tested when they were infants, by a telepath sent here to their schools, and again when they were in their late teens. They were non-Gifted. When Saijou died, Eszet lost interest."

Crawford sinks back into the leather couch and digests the information, blinking several times. Behind the Oracle's brow, a storm is brewing, spelling DEATH across a hunted sky. His eyes wander to the newspaper on the coffee table in front of him, the newspaper that is turned face-down, but he does not need to see the article. He looks back to Nagi, who is leaned against the doorjamb by now, holding the paper rolled up in one hand, the other one tucked into his pocket. Glances at Farfarello, who seems to be staring out of the window, and Crawford wonders what is going on behind that pale brow, if the wheels there are turning as quickly as they are turning behind his own brow.

"Yes, I double-checked the information," Nagi says before Crawford can open his mouth, foregoing the question he knows was coming, making Crawford wonder if he, the man able to see the future, is becoming predictable himself, then deciding he does not want an answer to that question. "I even checked the birth dates. They match with those on the photo of Saijou Takatori's gravestone from the 'Tokyo Inquirer'. Everything is matching."

Farfarello, hands still clasped behind his back, chuckles, the sound hanging in the air between him and Crawford.

"Seems that Takatori's old man was everything his eldest son is not," the Irishman says, then tilts his head to the side. "His other son, on the other hand..."

" the leader of Kritiker," Crawford finishes the sentence, drawing surprised glances from Nagi and Farfarello. Sitting perfectly still, the American looks from one to the other, and then utters a very uncharacteristic sentence. "I bet my ass on that."

"Are you betting, or are you knowing, Crawford?" Farfarello asks, tilting his head the other way, which begins to irritate Crawford to no end. "Or are you a gambling man and never told us?"

"I don't know - not for sure," he rises from the couch, gathering the newspaper up. "I have an inkling, nothing more. But I wouldn't be surprised if Saijou Takatori passed leadership on to the son who took the 'right path'. By the time Saijou died, Reiji Takatori already was hip-deep in political engineering and corrupt to the bone. Nagi, is there a way to check up on Shuuichi Takatori being Persia?"

"No. The person who leads Kritiker now is mentioned a couple of times in the data I downloaded, but the only name given is 'Persia'. Shuuichi Takatori isn't mentioned once in the entire data I have from the Kritiker database."

"Kitty cat," Farfarello says, grinning.

"However," Nagi goes on, taking a step away from Farfarello, who begins to sway on the balls of his feet, "the facts I have may prove you're right. Kritiker's database is linked to the main NPA[3] computer through a sub-base." The youth speaks slowly, piecing information together bit by bit. "Basically, it's nothing more than one shared portal for information that goes both ways - to the Tokyo NPA precincts, and to Kritiker. One-way ticket for NPA grunts only, but a few years ago Eszet managed to establish one of our people as system administrator in NPA headquarters, and Eszet had access to the police files and that sub-base ever since. It was just never needed."

"Shuuichi Takatori is chief of police," Crawford muses, "He would have access to that sub-base."

"Most likely. I can ask our contact in NPA to check it. Verifying who accessed that sub-base is easy. But that still doesn't help us a lot. As long as we don't know if that 'Persia' is Shuuichi Takatori, the info is worth zippo."

Crawford nods, tapping one finger against his lips in contemplation, studying the way Farfarello is gently swaying back and forth as if moving to a sound only he can hear. He wishes Schuldig would not be in a coma. It would take the telepath one minute to go into Reiji Takatori's brother's head at the next official meeting between the two and find out what Crawford wants to know right now; hell, Schuldig could just walk into the precinct and mind-rape Shuuichi there without anyone ever knowing. But Schuldig is not here, and the procedure to request another telepath from Eszet would take days - time Crawford is not willing to spend waiting. He is also not willing to have to put up with another telepath. As far as his personal life is concerned, he is fine without one.

"I'm out of here," Farfarello announces suddenly, abruptly stopping his swaying movement. He turns to the door and walks out, his voice trailing away as he vanishes down the hallway toward the elevator. "You know how to reach me. Back in the morning."

Outside the living room window, the sky is already turning a shade of midnight blue, sprinkled with distant stars. Across the black water of the canal, the faraway lights of Tokyo blink invitingly, but Crawford knows it is not the light that draws the Irishman. As Farfarello's footsteps are swallowed by the closing elevator door, the Oracle draws the blinds on the window and turns his back to it.

"If Shuuichi Takatori really is Persia, Takatori is going to have a heart attack," he muses further, the thought holding a certain amount of merit as he remembers the frosty atmosphere between the brothers at Masafumi Takatori's funeral. "The chief of the Tokyo police acting as the boss of an organization teetering on the edge between bringing justice and being nothing but killers would be too good. The newspapers would tear him to pieces, and by the time he's replaced they'd be hunting the members of Kritiker as though they'd killed the Crown Prince or planted a bomb in the Imperial Gardens, no matter how much they claim to be the good guys."

"Are we going to make it public?" Nagi asks, surprise making him lift his eyebrows.

"No. At least, not now. It would draw too much attention to the older brother, and we still need Reiji Takatori where he is now. We are going to play this quietly." Stepping toward the door, Crawford picks the paper from Nagi's hand, folding and putting it into his shirt pocket as he walks into the hallway, waiting until the youth follows him into the kitchen, where Crawford begins to fix dinner. "Takatori wants us to take out Weiß because they killed his son. We're going to do just that, and take Kritiker out on the way if we can."

"Are you going to inform Eszet of that?"

Crawford pauses and considers. "No. Their sole interest lies in Reiji Takatori and his possible rise to Prime Minister in the coming elections. They want to establish a greater hold on Japan by controlling Takatori, and whatever gets in the way of that has to be eliminated. It'll be enough for them to know that we took them out when we've taken them out."

Nagi, used to what Schuldig has once termed Crawford's 'sudden bursts of Martha-Steward-ness', stops at the kitchen table and watches the older man heat up butter in a pan. Shuuichi Takatori, younger brother of Reiji Takatori, the latter being, in the youth's opinion, one of the most corrupt people he has ever met in his life, the head of Kritiker? It sounds like a bad plot device written into a novel by someone who has watched too many soap operas. He has met Shuuichi twice on formal occasions where Nagi was chosen to guard Takatori; the younger brother bears an uncanny resemblance to their father and has inherited Saijou Takatori's friendly, well-meaning smile. And yet.Nagi knows how the eye can be deceived by looks. Although the evidence he has so far all points toward there being a high chance of Shuuichi being Persia, Nagi will not believe it until he holds hard proof in his hands. He is the most inquiring and critical of the members of Schwarz - a habit developed in years of hacking and relying on pure information gained from hacking.

Eve Drake, by now almost used to Farfarello appearing on her doorstep without any of the other members of Schwarz accompanying him, steps away from the door and returns to her kitchen, where she is fixing dinner. She is halfway through her meal when the Irishman appears in the kitchen, walking in confidently as if he owns the place, and sits down on the only other chair at the small table opposite her.

"How do I get a...soul back to where it belongs?" he asks, arms folded on the tabletop, looking at her as though he expects her to know the answer. "I mean, I'll have to find it first."

She blinks at him, owlishly, fork raised halfway between her plate and her mouth, and then puts the fork down.

"I've done some research," Farfarello goes on as Eve does not answer, frowning at the colorful melee on her plate before reaching out and spearing a piece of dark meat with a small knife that suddenly, and no, Eve does not want to know from where, appears in his hand. "What you said last time...about Schu's soul not being in his body anymore. Well, mind. Anyway, I think his mind just left his body when the explosion at Kourin happened. Can I have a some of that? I'm starving. I barely got out of the apartment before Crawford began to fix dinner."

He puts the piece of meat into his mouth and chews, watching the heavyset woman get up and return to the table with a second plate piled high with whatever she has cooked, and then nearly bursts out laughing as she demonstratively holds a fork in front of his face before stabbing it into the middle of the pile on his plate. The chair creaks as Eve sits back down.

"Research, eh?"

"Yes. I think I know what happened at Kourin. Schu must've called one of the kittens when that explosion happened." Drawing his legs up to his chest as he randomly stabs the food on his plate and examines it closely before he eats it, leaving Eve to wonder how anyone can eat in such an uncomfortable position with their knees nearly under their chin, Farfarello goes on, "He's done it once before, when we were in Canada."

"You were in Canada?" Eve interrupts.

"We were in a lot of places." He grins a grin that tells her everything she does not want to know. "We were trapped inside a cold storage room, and he called someone to the door and had them open it. I think that's what he did at Kourin. That's how we got out."

"How'd he get his 'soul' back into his own body back then?"

"He didn't leave in the first place. He wasn't injured, he simply called one of the storage workers to us. I've read that under extreme circumstances, telepaths can transport almost all of themselves into another person, say, when their own body is dying for example. I remember there was someone with us at Kourin after the explosion, I think that's the person Schu went into."

Eve remains silent, watching him eat - pick, stab, examine - his food. She has to digest the surprise of his little speech - what he just said is the most she ever heard out of his mouth in one coherent line; the other notion going through her head is something she keeps to herself for fear of his reaction. There is so much hope in his voice that the possibility of Schuldig simply being in an ordinary coma seems too cruel to her to even mention to Farfarello.

The rest of her mind is trying to cope with the fact that she is sitting at her own kitchen table with the demented Irishman, and that he does not seem to be demented at all. Once one has a fixed opinion and mental image of someone in their mind, it is hard to adjust either. Watching him eat for a few minutes, Eve thinks about what he said. It sounds reasonable. Not that Eve has great insight into the delicate workings of telepathy - never having been a member of Eszet's hounds has robbed her of the extensive fountain of information accessible to those - but where she comes from, mind over matter has always been a fixed point of belief. It is not so hard for her to believe in the possibility of Farfarello's words holding truth, leaving aside the lingering, nagging idea of Schuldig just being plain out of it. The Loa exist, do they not? So who is she to question the existence of something as mind boggling as body-hopping telepaths?

"So...what do you plan on doing now?"

He shrugs. "Find out where Schu really went to, and get him back to his body."

It sounds so easy.


[1] gaijin (Jap.) - foreigner, stranger

[2] "So to dance, a dance with death." - from 'Camlann', a song to be found on the CD "Excalibur - La Légende des Celtes" by Alan Simon.

[3] NPA - National Police Agency of Japan.

Part 6: Chapter 8   |   Fanfiction