qdesjardin: (Default)

7

In the wide open field of roses, he wanders. The sky a vast, open vale of deep blue hues. He could call the tall flowers roses, but they are not all red, some of them are white and fuchesia and even golden, and they bear no thorns upon their stems, so it is alright for him to move freely through the field, for they would want no harm to do him.

A breeze blows, and some of the pollen from the pedals float up and get carried away in the airs, and some of them would get caught on his face, near his eyes and his nose, and it would make his eyes water, and his nose want to sneeze in pleasurable exhaultation.

He doesn't remember ever being allergic to anything, let alone these flowers.

It is ticklish, being in this field.

And who is that waiting for him in the distance, with her back turned? He sees her wearing a pure black-and-white silken dress, which wavers as the air blows, and the loneliness of solitude getting to him, he decides to run over to her.

He knows her black hair, and her delicate form.

The same sadness is there in her eyes, as he's always remembered. He can stare into them, and it is Chopin's music which echoes in his recognition of the depths and the hypnotic abyss where all notes echo in the emptiness.

And when she smiles at him, it is a real smile.

So he is with her, and now they are on a bare, dark stage, with the dim lighting revealing only her lithe silhouette and her face is cast in shadow, and he smells her very resonately as she cradles him in her arms as they dance, bare feet on the black ground.

One two three, one two three, like how his dance teacher would always say when the timely music is playing.

He is so close in her presence, and his skin is touching her bare skin, and it is both warm and cool as they hold onto each other against the chill air, for warmth is a feeling foreign to this abstract environment. They must make their own warmth, the warmth of breathing, of being, of their hearts beating and their exhaled breaths expelled from their lungs.

So she holds him against her ripe breasts, and her nipple rubs by his cheek as he feels the bone of her rib cage, her heart thumping faintly yet vividly, and the little quivers of her breathing now getting excited.

Her fingers slide down his back, her hands reaching under his arms, and it is like she draws out the sweat from within his epidermal shell, and a strange aura of excited arousal runs through him; he is spinning around and around with her, the eye of the vortex centred by the space between their feet, and the air whooshes around them, riding a merry-go-round at the amusement park, the ride floating over everything else on the Earth, blue oceans and green fields and all the city lights which resemble stars and Christmas decorations and the pinball machines at the arcade.

And he can see the game machines with which he used to so eagerly play, as a petite child, before they've renovated the area and it became a mere coffee shop, the tables lining by the windows, the serving counter where Contra and BioMenace used to be.

See, this was the game he's enjoyed so much, on BioMenace when all the mutant monsters have flooded the underground base, and it is up to him (as Snake Plissken) to set up all the turrets and obtain all the ammunitions before the mutants arrive in swarms after swarms, and it is an endurance test to see how long he can prolong their numbers until the timer runs out.

All the people would stand by and cheer him on, waiting until his win or loss, upon which he would relish the excitement he's felt and watch how the other kids (and sometimes grown-ups) would play the arcade game.

He teaches her the controls and time seems to fly as she tries and tries again, pumping an endless number of quarters into the machine until she makes it to the top #10 list, upon where she is asked to input her name to be recorded in fame for those to come.

As much as he wants to see her actual name, he doesn't get to; instead, she inputs his own name, because, as she tells him, he was the one who wanted her to play, indulge herself on a taste of his cherished fun.

Then he starts to grow tired, his eyes gnawing with the ache of his mind having exerted itself in continuous activity for too long.

He thinks of a cozy bed he would like to rest in, the best bed that he's known, and fear not, for he is in an exquisite bedroom where the dark rosy, velvet bedsheets await the imprint of his body weight.

But first, he must wash, and he enters the blank washroom without the curtains on the shower, and the tub is filled almost to the brim with comfortably steaming water, where he gladly sheds his clothes and peeks his toes into the liquid, finding it the perfect warmth (not too scalding, nor lukewarm) and dips the rest of himself, legs and thighs and torso and finally his chest into the ocean of peace.

What comes to mind is the yellow duckie he played with as a young toddler, when he would take baths with mother who would rub his hair and skin with bubbly lather from the soap; how he wishes he can relive such an innocent time, an era bygone before the word 'independence' is thrust upon his life and he must learn to endure the separation from the intimate touch and warmth of mere, and the eventual absence of his pere.

His eyes are closed and he imagines swirls of sparks and gaseous forms that emanate from the canisters of that shadowy figure, chasing him down the hallways, the school hallways whose layout is unfamiliar, and he remembers the desperation where it is like his voice is a mere squeak of a chased mouse scurrying from kittens, the kittens who make his throat hurt and ache with bittersweet bile when he looks at the mental image.

He is sad now, for some reason.

He can never come home again, even though 'home' is a place which has lost its lustre over time, and his real mere must be withering away with numbness, and he wishes she could be happy again, just like the way she was before it seemed she's lost all her purpose in life, her raison d'etre, and the wrinkles overcome the youthful, smooth skin and turn it all into coarse, dry sandpaper.

The tears pour out his eyes until he hears a squeak, and rubber duckie is floating on the current of the water slide, tumbling down the meandering curves, and he gulps with anticipating fear again as the other kids with their parents are standing in line behind him, awaiting the moment he slides down inside.

He has very little choice, for to turn back now would be tantamount to cowardice, and people would laugh and tell him "I told you so!" when he just wants to escape the cycle of normality, and only wind up proving them right in that he is only meant to be fixed down the life path they've set in stone for him. The grown-ups 'in charge,' like his teachers and principals.

So he leaps down the slide.

Into the blackness.

He feels himself being carried by a strange gravity, his direction uncertain, his ultimate destination a mystery that is found best by groping whatever comes next in the darkness.

The lights of the train subway pass him by, and he remembers the howling of the train in the tunnels, hearing it now.

And..

qdesjardin: (Default)

6 – visit

The first time she met Renton, there was a twinkle in his eyes that she saw. A special feeling she has no words for.

At first, she dismissed it during her performing. Maybe the mood happened to wash over her that time, like an old memory, a snippet of a song that just popped into mind.

But when he showed up backstage, and she felt it once more, looking at his face – she knew it then.

This boy is.. she wouldn't say handsome or beautiful. Cute?

Whatever it was, it tugged at a feeling in her that hadn't been felt for so long. Because she'd long since given up trying to justify its existing.

It was tenderness.

It was like finding your old childhood toys, and being able to play with them with the same joy you had before. Like being able to sit down on the couch, and worry only about missing your favourite show on TV, and the smell of dinner being cooked.

Not anymore, when you're 37 years old.

Not anymore, usually.

Even looking at him now, Renton, while in the air.. maybe that's what her petite Booker would look like, had she been able to see him grow and blossom into adolescence.

When the plane was lifting off, she felt his anxious hand over hers, squeezing, hanging on.

She'd hoped he wouldn't notice her blushing through her makeup, or the leap of her heartbeats.. or her eyes tearing up a little from the fond feelings that seemed to rush through her so suddenly, before she recovered her composure.

And would Renton understand what she's feeling, about him? If she tries telling him.. non, she doesn't want to spoil it. He just looks so happy and carefree, the way he is now – even though he's just been through a lot, just this past night.

If she tells him, he'll recoil. She'd overwhelm him. Not many people can take realising that they mean that much to this one person, when prior before, this one person is just some stranger whose personal life is otherwise none of their business.

So it's better just to keep quiet.

She sees him drinking the Pepsi from the bar (soft drinks are very bad for your body; most of them, if you distill the fizzy liquid away, it is just a sludge of sugar, caramel, and whatever other processed ingredients). And join in a conversation with Twisted Fate, and get taught how to play Texas Hold Em' – where Lulu and Heimerdinger soon join in also.

Card games, LeBlanc finds them only mildly interesting – it's fun to play if you're looking for a casual distraction, to pass the time, but she isn't particularly involved in winning or losing there. Not as much as say, Twisted Fate, who you'd see rambunctiously cheering when he'd get a Royal Flush, or downright throwing his poker chips against the wall whenever he'd lose.

And whenever Lulu plays, she pretends that the face cards are chivalrous members of the royal court, and you'd hear her whisper sotto voce, as if she were their hushed voices, coming to a decision on the next move, or whatever frosty cakes are being baked in the kitchen. (Twisted Fate exploits this as her 'tell' – a cue that lets him know of her degree of confidence in calling cards, or at least, the fact she has face cards in hand.)

"I could go for a Strawberry twirl!" Lulu goes, holding a Jack of Hearts.

LeBlanc is half-there, watching Renton get the hang of a straight flush valued higher than three Kings and two Queens. And half-absorbed in her ruminations about him, haunting her. Because she's never felt anything much for anyone else in a long while – not even her comrades in the Black Rose.

Even though she is living the uncertain life, what meaning is there to be able to delight in the strange and exotic locales all over the world, and face the dangers of her tasks.. the stealing, blackmailing, killing and intrigue – those things that would easily garner thrills in a movie, if there's no one else she can share it all with?

Non, this doesn't mean that she does not care about her mates. To her, they are quite good friends who will be there with her, today and tomorrow.

But they don't.. it isn't that she finds anything much wrong with them, as varied and different as each one of them are. It's that they don't have the right quality to their person.. the right temperament that she's comfortable with truly opening herself up to. The right kind of sensitivity, receptiveness, and understanding.

Lulu might be the closest person, and whenever LeBlanc is feeling melancholy, Lulu would be one of the first she'd confide with in private.

About loneliness, about feeling enclosed in a solitary bubble.

How it would be better if she could die, so she can come back and revisit her past.. before she'd became LeBlanc.

And most of all, those sexual urges she's had to repress, even from the Black Rose. It was a drug that overcame her in her adolescence, those feelings blossoming with her body, that eventually led to her child Booker being born. Before they took him and nearly everything away from her.

Renton is really getting into the poker game – he's made an allegiance with Lulu against Twisted Fate and Swain, and she's exchanging her Ace of Spades with his Seven of Diamonds, so he'd have a good chance at making a Royal Flush with the Spades on the table.

As the plane is about to descend, the Black Rose members change into civilian attire – they would look nearly unrecognisable from their flamboyant stage personas.

It is a late morning in Montreal, the sun hidden behind the overcast clouds, and when LeBlanc steps out, the crisp, conditioned cabin air gives way to the warm, humid climate.

This time, two taxis await them in the hangar. The first taxi, LeBlanc sits in with Twisted Fate and Swain, while Renton sits with Lulu and Heimerdinger, and Heimerdinger fills Renton in on the rivalry between the Black Rose and Team ROCHAT.

"We've had incursions with them for a good while now," Heimerdinger goes, the taxis proceeding from the Montreal-Trudeau airport down a highway.

"Who's on ROCHAT?" Renton asks.

"Oh. They have Viktor as their grand leader.. he's a scientist like me, but he specialises in Texhnolyze – augmenting or outright replacing his limbs with artificial ones that are like Swiss army knives.. his legs can sprint from 0 to 130 km/h in three seconds, for example. See."

Heimerdinger gives Renton his tablet, which is on Team ROCHAT's official site; the profile's section. Viktor looks a bit like Iron Man.. well, he is a real 'Iron Man,' except that his suit is his body. A gold sheen on his metal, almost as if you might unwrap him and find tasty chocolateunderneath. When he sprints down the football field, Viktor's arms also move with rapid motion. He's the 'brains' of the group, similar to Swain.

"Next, we have Veigar," Heimerdinger goes. "He's like Joe Pesci – looks small, but has quite a temper to compensate for his height. He loves disintegrating matter into bare atoms."

Veigar, the tiny master of doom! He's like Lulu and Heimerdinger – a childly midget. Except he's wearing dark outwear; you can barely see his face underneath his top hat and robes, just the glow of his demonstration clip involves splitting a statue of Buddha into two halves, revealing Ferrero Rocher candies inside for the petite kids to eat.

And the other three on their team: Rumble, who owns a giant mecha suit and handles mechanical matters; Singed, the chemist who practises intoxicating mixtures; and Zac, a green flubbery blob who was once a scientist before he volunteered in one of Singed's experiments, and got changed into mimetic material (boop).

All together, they comprise a formidable team, whose objective is to spread Quebecois pride and become one of the leading magician groups in the world, performing-wise and power-wise.

"They've been paining our bums especially," Heimerdinger explains. "Their main strategy is reacting to other groups' desires and getting there before the other group can, or otherwise, make petty squabbles over performances and try to win away the fans from other groups. We just happen to catch their eye more, as we're also a French group – a threat to their regional pride. I'm German though."

"Man.. this is like the Mafia, or gangsters," Renton says. "You guys ever seen 'The Godfather?' That's what it reminds me of."

"Meh. Boring movie," Heimerdinger goes, resuming a chess game on his tablet. "I'm not too much into those power struggle stories. It's bullies bullying other bullies. That's what it's like for me. I prefer 'The Ghostbusters!' Who ya gonna call?"

"Ghostbusters!" they all squeak.

In the other taxi, Swain discusses the logistics of their operation.

"The anti-coagulant used on me came from snake venom," Swain goes, recalling Heimerdinger's analysis of Swain's blood from yesterday. "It's Collett's snake specifically – a species native to Australia. Geez.. how excruciating. Perhaps our attacker might have come from Australia, or he might have just obtained the venom from some outlet. So far as we can tell, there's no one new hired for Team ROCHAT's roster."

"He could be some 'sassin-for-hire," Twisted Fate goes. "Or maybe it's a she even. I always like a gal who can kick some ass."

"In any case," Swain says, "we need to do preliminary checking on our main rivals. Sending a hired gun is quite new for ROCHAT, and it doesn't seem like their M.O., personally speaking. We can only guess, and see for ourselves if they're up to something."

"Hey, are you guys.." their taxi driver goes.

Swain stares hard at him. "No."

/

Their taxis arrive at theirdestination of an old apartment, in the middle of Greenwich Village – a residental neighbourhood that's grown over the decades, layered with trees and pizzerias and thin housing with the fire escapes.

The apartment has a spare room, which nobody questions its state of vacancy because Swain is good friends with the landlord. It's a place for them to stay, in their covert visit of Team ROCHAT's hometown. (Staying at a hotel would likely give away their presence; ROCHAT has eyes and ears here.)

When they enter the room on the third floor, Swain pulling the key from his sleeves, it looks just as fresh as the last time they stayed here, four years ago. No dust has gathered on the ornate furniture populating the main room, the kitchen and the washroom; one of Lulu's prior enchantments was a spell that repelled dust particles.

Renton inches past the table and counters to the balcony door, where stepping outside, he catches a good view of the whole street.

It is a little disorienting for him – he's never been out his hometown in his whole life, and seldom does he ever get to visit a new place. It almost seems like something from a dream, the bohemian feeling of the area.

Somebody pinch him.

He glances down at the people walking down the street, like they're figurines in a Lego set, striding along to some destination in their daily lives.

The sun is glaring through the clouds now, and he can feel its heat beating down on his face.

"Renton.." he hears LeBlanc say. "We need you for a second."

So he turns and back inside, he notices just how relatively plain she is, without all that stage makeup on. If she were a stranger on the street, he could easily pass her by without so much as a second glance.

With Swain and Heimerdinger, they're standing by the table, Heimerdinger's tablet showing a map of Montreal. In the North-Eastern quadrant of the city, a castle mansion where ROCHAT's headquarters lie.

"Now that you're with us," Swain tells Renton, "this will be your first operation. Our objective is to determine the identity of our assailant, and what we're wondering is if Team ROCHAT has anything to do with it."

He taps on the mansion's location, and the tablet shows the image of the mansion; it's like a cathedral, dominating the square – Quebecois and Canadian flags are flown over its frosted glass windows, with an archway bridge extending from the flat plaza to an elevated main entrance.

There's other doorways too into the mansion, that lead to the basement levels – those are the entryways usually taken by servicemen who would be delivering material to the organization.

"What you can do for us Renton," Swain goes, "is investigate the premises, look for any material, like documents, overhearing conversations, or if you get lucky, see the actual assailent himself."

Renton nods, the urge to yawn coming over him. He hasn't gotten much sleep on the plane. "You want me to find out if that guy who shot you is there or not?"

"Oui." Swain notions to Heimerdinger to get Renton an earpiece, along with custom sunglasses that have a camera attached in one of the lenses. "We'll be watching over you as you go along; if they see us anywhere nearby, they already know our faces, and our discretion will be blown."

The earpiece is a single earbud with a microchip, that you just shove inside your ear, and it'll activate. Renton takes it from Heimerdinger's hands and does just that – it feels a little uncomfortable at first, like it's air pressure building when the plane's landing.

He hears a beep.

"Testing, testing," Heimerdinger goes. "Renton, can you hear me?"

The petite laboratorian's voice sounds a little too quiet from the earbud.

"How's.. that?" Heimerdinger fine-tunes the volume from his tablet.

Now it's a little better.

Renton tries on the large, blocky sunglasses – it looks like the kind of sunglasses shady perverts might wear, and finds that he can see a laser display by the corner of his eyes, showing the signal connection strength, and the date and time. How conveinent.

Heimerdinger tests out this video feed on the tablet, and tries out if Renton can see the sample images he's putting out on the sunglasses; he might need to break a code, or look for an item in particular for example.

"All set?" Swain asks, whilst LeBlanc giggles to herself over the outfit Renton has on, as a Pizza Mutt delivery boy, red cap and all. He does look kinda silly, but in a cute way.

"Ready!" Lulu and Heimerdinger go, thumbs up.

Without Lulu's knowledge, Pixy is travelling along with Renton too, all cooped up in his jacket pocket.

/

Renton's riding a scooter that's loaded with boxes of steaming pizzas, various flavours (they were originally biscuits which Lulu polymorphed). The landlord Louis had been happy to lend out his son's scooter as a favour.

The wind rushes by Renton.

He's driving down the winding streets, often having to honk the people out of the stony roads – while back at the apartment, Heimerdinger has set the GPS to the mansion's location.

It's quite exhilarating for him to be able to explore the city all for himself. It's so fresh, seeing the mimes perform by a produce seller, the ultra-chic fashion sense the young women have, the horses pulling carriages carrying tourists along. He's never been able to see something like this before. What else has he been missing out on?

A Volkswagen Beetle rushes across Renton at a crossroads, narrowly missing him. Gee. That guy's in a rush.

Eventually, Renton is able to find the Jean-Baptiste square, where the ROCHAT mansion is.

It's 11:54 am.

He only starts to realise how peckish his stomach is getting. A gnawing feeling, along with a sense of general weakness – screaming out, "Food! Food! I wanna eat much a goodly!"

At home, he'd just grab the chips or microwave a frozen meal to sate himself. Munch it all down, and have some juice or Pepsi to go with it.

Here though, he's starting to think that Pizza's looking real appetising.

"Man, I'm hungry," he mutters, parking his scooter somewhere by a set of cars. "Can I eat one of the Pizzas?"

LeBlanc rubs her nose. "It'll look quite silly, a pizzaman eating the pizza he's supposed to be delivering, don't you think?"

"Oh. Gosh.." His tummy makes another rumbly, and he blushes – did anyone else hear that? "And I don't have any money on me, I don't think.." He searches his pockets, his hands bumping into a napping Pixy, and finds only a bit of pocket lint.

Damn, what a conundrum. They couldn't have provided him with a wallet too?

"We're in a hurry," Swain goes. "We need the Pizza being delivered to them, right around lunchtime. They're quite fond of pizza, and our best bet is to have you arrive at this time, unannounced. No time for forging a false ID in your wallet."

Hmph.

Renton stares at the stack of Pizzas at the back of the scooter. That's a hefty amount; maybe if he can ask them if he wouldn't mind a slice himself – as a tip of course.

He carries the stack; it's a little heavy, going up to his nose when he's carrying it by his hip.

Along the way, he almost stumbles over from the weight, and he hears one bystander say, "Waw, that's quite a huge delivery! Smells good too!"

It does smell good; the rich scent of pepperoni and pepper and onions and.. sweet cheese and BBQ chicken..

Renton is salivating quite badly – his only chance is to get to the double doors, and as he crosses the bridge, he notices how high the bridge is taking him over ground level. Even though the slope isn't too bad, carrying these Pizzas especially – it's like if this is the way the ROCHAT members enter and exit their place, they'd enjoy the feeling of towering over the common folk, up from their thrones.

Is it like that for magicians generally? He thinks of Swain and LeBlanc – imagining them making much evil laughter as they're standing on clouds, over the petite dum-dums.

It can be so intoxicating, possessing magical powers ordinary people don't have. If you have the power of poofing someone else into a cute, harmless bunny, then one of the things that come to you might be, "I want to get rid of that annoying bum in class. That guy who always cuts me off on my way to work. Etc."

You can do all those things nobody else can have a grasp on, and there'd be some people who'd resent this imbalance of power. If someone like LeBlanc can say.. make duplicate clones of herself, then it wouldn't feel fair if she gets to do that, but I can't.

But that sense of fairness, garnered from the imbalances between different people, of varying bodies, sensibilities, degree of intelligence and power, it is only illusory. Because it is only inevitable that there will be differences, the diversity.

Some people will have a natural aptitude for making beautiful art, while others excel in mathematical logic, and others are able to people cheer up in the dourest of moods.

Some people happen to be magicians, and one magician might turn cookie biscuits into pizza, while another one flings playing cards with deadly vigour.

It is that diversity which can be celebrated – that lends itself to a sense of individual identity. No matter how it might seem there are people smarter than you, stronger than you.. more charming than you, there is one thing you can absolutely excel at, that they never can. Being you. For all the things you are worth, the light you shine as a star bears its own unique wavelength, and there are moments when your wavelength will resonate the most out of everyone else's.

The initiative-taking leader excels at leading, but they bear only a limited ability to mull over and patiently reflect.. to allow themselves to take the moment, simply as it is, and allow the gradualness of subtle motions to seep through their awareness, in acceptance.

And sometimes, it is better to cherish the simple joys of a human life, than to take all the magical ability in the world to serve as extensions of a heart that's turned ruthless, disdainful of that humble happiness which makes life worth experiencing.

Now Renton's by the doors; he knows the cameras must be on him, and he gulps, as he lays down the steaming pizza boxes beside and – finding no doorbell (it's a public 'residence') he pulls open the doors and squeezes the pizza in with himself.

Another set of doors in front – glass and transparent. Luckily for him, they're automatic and they slide open in his presence, letting him wander into the lobby.

It is like he's stepped inside an immersive world of psychedelia. The mahogany layout, and the bright checkerboard floor; everything's lit from below.

The suits of knights and sentinels stand guard by the doorways, while the butlers and servicemen waltz around, some of them carrying toolboxes to and fro, or chemistry equipment up the stairs.

"Can I help you monsieur?" their receptionist asks, sitting by the widely-spanning desk. She looks at Renton like he is a mere distraction from the usual goings-on of filling in ledgers, and watching the screens.

"Erm, I'm here for a pizza delivery.." Renton goes, shyly wanting anywhere just to put the heavy pizzas down.

"Pizza delivery.." She is scanning through her timetable.

"Renton!" LeBlanc goes. "Assert yourself! You came all this way from Pizza Mutt, and you didn't come all this way, just to get the shaft from this woman."

"Right." Then Renton decides to take a step forward, landing the pizza boxes on an empty spot on the counter. The smell of it wafts from the boxes, catching his nose. "A dozen pizzas for Team ROCHAT, with various flavours from pepperoni to cheese and tuna.." (He's just making it up as he goes along.) "Fresh from the oven!"

"Sir, I'm not aware of a pizza order being made," the receptionist tells, frowning. "I'm afraid I might have to ask you to leave. We can't accept any unauthorised deliveries."

She's tough.

"Can't accept any 'unauthorised' deliveries..!" Renton says, playfully mimicking her. He smiles, and gives a pat on her desk. "Look, why don't you go tell them yourself there's fresh pizza down here, awaiting their hungry tummies. All paid for already. If you refuse me, you'll be the one who tells them that they missed out on some finger-licking good food. How's that going to look on ya?"

His tummy really starts to feel grouchy. Better get this going fast.

"Sir, perhaps you don't understand," the receptionist goes, her hand flitting under her desk. (A hidden button.) "We can't allow any unauthorised deliveries.. even though they are tasty pizzas.."

Pixy flies out of Renton's pocket, a brief glimmer before turning invisible. Renton doesn't notice – he's too busy in this hassle with a woman who seems in a bad need of a break.

"Hey, listen.." Renton has an idea. "I'm hungry too. I haven't had a bite to eat since dawn; and I just pulled off an all-nighter delivery spree. I'm thinking you in need of some slack. So tell you what, I can share with you one of them pizzas here, on the house. If they start complaining 'bout one missing pizza box, I'll just say 'my mistake,' and I'll get them another one. That fine with you ma'am?"

Now the woman looks enticed by Renton's offer. "Hmmm."

LeBlanc and Heimerdinger give Renton a thumbs-up; good idea.

"Yeah.." the receptionist goes, licking her lips. "What flavours do you have? Say, is there one with sausage in it?"

"Lemme see."

Renton sifts through the boxes – he wonders what Lulu's come up with. "Pepperoni.. chicken.. onions.." Alors, he finds one with sausage, with a bit of olive and bacon and mushrooms. "That's the one."

So they enjoy snacking on the sausage pizza together. It's so relievingly filling after just a few slices.

Even some of the butlers stop by for a slice or two.

Renton is grinning; he finds out her name is Camille, and she's just signed on as a receptionist only two months ago – the previous man had so faithfully served for 19 years since ROCHAT's inception, and now he's probably doing the hula dance with some chica in the Dominican Republic. Gosh, she's jealous! But at least, her pay's quite decent – it's $15,000 more than what a schoolteacher makes in a month.

It gets somewhat tiring though, having to multi-task doing their ledgers, while checking in with the working butlers and seeing the humdrum happen on the monitors. She almost prays for a nice magical accident to happen, just to break the monotony.

Then a loud explosion in the distance!

"Whoa!" Renton goes, leaping up from her desk. "Something's happened.."

"It sounded like it came from the chemistry labs," Camille goes. "Don't worry, the butlers will help take care of it. Singed's usually careful when he's tinkering with his ingredients – explosions usually shouldn't happen nowadays."

"Singed.." Renton mutters.

An icon pops up on his sunglasses's HUD. It's a short recap of who Singed is on ROCHAT; their chemist, a man who currently holds a PhD in Biochemistries from Concordia University – he originates from Amritsar, India. In performances, he parodies the witch stereotype, where you usually see the evil witches boiling frogs and chicken stew together. Instead of that, he invites the kids to step inside his giant beaker, where he soaks them in soothing solution that heals the skin, the bubbles steaming and floating from the froth, and then he pretends they're floating out at sea, bombarded by waves and the whales, and get involved in ship-to-ship battles with pirates. It's like a bathtub dream, come to life.

"He's the guy who makes all the kids cry from the fumes, right?" Renton goes. "I think I might have seen him on TV."

"Hahahaha – not quite," Camille says.

Renton glances at the ledgers on her desk. Maybe there's something that might let him know if they have anything to do with the bow & arrow assailant, or at least, what Team ROCHAT's blasting off about next.

He wonders what he can say next, to get her to share with him that kind of info.

"Well, from what I've heard of Team ROCHAT," Renton goes, "they're a very.. very proud group, yes? They're proud of their own French heritage-" (Just like M. Fourier. It must be like that with most Quebecois people, I suppose.) "And competitively speaking, I think they're on my top list of magicians I'd want to attend watching."

"Ooh, so you're a fan!" Camille goes. "I think you should keep that fact quiet though.. we've had our own fair share of fans, did you know, wanting to stream in the building for autographs or go dating with Viktor. We've had to bar them from casual entry – unless it's something truly urgent, they can be denied from seeing one of ROCHAT's shows. Of course, it's just a bluff; we don't have the resources to enforce a blacklist of offending fans. But it's good enough to keep them from swarming in."

"Huh.." Renton says, his eyes wandering around the foyer, the stairs that lead to hallways out of sight, the tapestries and coat-of-arms hung on the walls, while the daylight streams in through the frosted windows. "I guess it must be pretty busy with Team ROCHAT these days."

"You guessed right," Camille goes. She tosses her styrofoam plate and fork into the dustbin.

Heimerdinger is giving Renton a heads-up of ROCHAT's performing schedule: they've recently performed in Spain, and are taking a five-day hiatus before touring Malta and Italy on Tuesday. (It's Saturday currently.)

"What's up with them taking a five-day break?" Renton asks, and before Camille can say anything, Singed is plopping down the stairs, in his white laboratorian's suit, rubber gloves and blue goggles.

"Hello there," Singed says. There's a deep cyan stain on his suit, and he doesn't seem too pleased about it. Sniffing, he smells the pizza. "Ooh, what's that? Is that pizza?"

"Why yes it is!" Renton goes, grinning. "It's been paid for already, so you don't need to worry."

"Paid for?" Singed's at the bottom of the steps, scratching his chin. "Hum.. did Viktor ask for pizza today? Oh shushems, never mind, I'm starving! Just wait me a minute, I've got to get myself out of this stained outfit.."

And Pixy flutters back into the safety of Renton's pockets.

Singed heads in and out of a hallway in just under a minute; he's fabulously dressed in a nice suit now, like this is what he wears when making public visitations. Perhaps he's going to treat Renton to something, like lunch.

Renton is feeling quite full though. He's already eaten plenty from the Pizzas, and doesn't feel like wanting to stay in this place any longer, despite the possibility of further investigation.

"I think I'll go now," he says, before heading for the entrance-

"Non, stay please!" Singed goes. "You've been so kind as to bring us good food, and it does seem like you're a good loyal fan. Why don't you make yourself more comfortable here for at least.. half an hour, or so? Do you have any more pizza deliveries you have to attend to.. Monsieur what's-your-name?"

"Erm, Renton," he goes, blurting out his own name before he realises it. "Yeah. I do have more pizzas to deliver. That's why I'm going to go-"

"Hey, hey!" Singed nods at the still knights, who suddenly bar the entrance doors with their halberds. "Your accent.. you're not from around here, are you.. Renton?"

"Oh schisse..!" Heimerdinger mutters, starting to get visibly worried. "Renton.. I think we've been made!"

"Renton.." Singed is grinning, approaching Renton with stark steps – his figure tall, bald, menacing.

Up close, Renton notices the coldness in Singed's eyes. The wrinkles by his eyelids, betraying the apparently young and handsome face.

"Now I know why that name rings so familiar to me!" Singed goes, suddenly clutching Renton by his arm. "You know, I've watched you on their show, yesterday night in Vancouver. Dancing with LeBlanc on one of her gallivanting, self-pitying spiels. She smells good, doesn't she? Doesn't she?! Take those shades off, si vous plait."

Renton looks at Camille; she works for someone like that guy?! She's shrinking away, sitting on her chair, like she wants nothing to do with what Singed has in store.

"Or I'll take them off for you – there we go-" Singed tears away his sunglasses, holding them up in the air. "Salut mon amours! Were you hoping to use this lad to snoop around? Too bad." In his grasp he crushes the frame, the lenses fracturing into petite shards that clatter to the floor. "So sad."

Renton's heart is pulsing, he's breathing heavily. It's like when M. Fourier or another one of his mean teachers would take delight in his troubles. Except it's not going to be a mere strike on his school record; he could actually die.

"What did they offer you in return for this job?" Singed asks, thrusting poor Renton against the desk, as his hands frisk Renton's pockets. "Money? The chance to be one of them?"

Luckily, Pixy is able to flee invisibly before Singed's grummy fingers start prodding. He's fluttering over them, wondering what to do to help Renton out of here.

Renton shudders as Singed finishes patting down his legs.

"Or were you hoping to get your 15 minutes of total fame from the world's cameras?" Singed goes. (His garlic breath really reeks!) "In any case, I would have never expected themto get that petty.. a young boy like you ought to be studying for a fine vocation, don't you think? How old are you anyway, sonny kid?"

Then Renton decides to look him in the eye. You know what, this Singed guy is nothing more than just some bum at heart, no matter how many PhD degrees he's got, or what chemicals he's been brewing. "I'm 17-years old.." he goes. "And I'm not just some 'sonny kid' on any street. I'm Renton Thurston! And I'm doing this for them because I just want to! I've got nothing else to live for!"

Singed is actually taken aback by Renton's show of attitude. "Oh.. you don't say Renton? A desperate child who thinks he has nothing to lose.." He thinks to himself for a moment. "Putain.. why did I have to break your glasses? Why did I do that..? Anyway, why don't we let's find out.. where the Black Rose is hiding out in our city! You're going to tell us – whether I have to foist truth serum up your ass or not!"

And he tugs Renton along.

/

"Merde..!" LeBlanc slams the table counter. "Swain, we've got to get him out of there! They'll mess him up!"

"Wait.. I've still got audio!" Heimerdinger goes, hearing all of what Singed is saying from his tablet. "I think they haven't taken out his earbuds yet!"

"Pixy?" Lulu's voice comes from the kitchen; she's looking around for where her faerie companion has gone. "Where's Pixy? Has anyone seen my Pixy? Where'd he go..?"

"Okay.." Heimerdinger reconfigures his tablet to track Renton, based on his earbuds now. "They're taking him upstairs.."

"My Pixy's missing!" Lulu pips.

"Pixy.." LeBlanc goes, getting an idea. "I think he went along with Renton – Heimer, look for Pixy's frequency too!"

So Heimerdinger does just that, and Pixy's location is hovering just by Renton's side. "Lulu, Pixy's there with him!"

"Eh?"Lulu flouts over to the tablet. "So that's where you are! You've been watching over Renton all along."

"I've got a plan," Swain says. "TF and LeBlanc- you two go. I'll guide you along from here with Heimerdinger." It's too risky if Swain goes; embedded inside him is an emperium crystal – a super-rare mineral that allows Swain to grant powers to himself and the other members.

"Got it-" LeBlanc is already heading out the door with Twisted Fate.

"What you two are going to try-" Swain goes, talking into their earpieces while they call for a taxi. "Twisted Fate, you can set a waypoint somewhere close to their headquarters; you'll be the escape route. And LeBlanc.."

/

In a room of bookshelves, Singed seats Renton onto a leather armchair. The fireplace crackles and wavers and burns – the only source of light in this dense room with a piano.

"The others will be coming shortly," Singed goes, as he sits by the piano, unfurls the keyboard covering and tries tapping a couple keys. "Drats. I've always wanted to try out music, but it seems I don't have the talent for it. Oh well. Being a chemist is as good as anything; I put stuff in, it boils and fumes, and new stuff pours out."

The leather armchair is quite comfortable for Renton to sink into. He'd enjoy when his mum would go shopping at the mall, and he'd visit the furniture store where he can just rest himself on the new memory-foam beds, or sit on the chair and play Angry Birds on his phone.

But here, it is almost like having clasps holding his arms to the armrests.

The room is so foreboding. Do they usually conduct their business here in this darkness? (They must be like the evil villains Renton sees on Saturday morning cartoons.)

"Mwahahahaha," Singed goes, and in through the doors come Viktor and Zac. "There you guys are. Look who's decided to snoop around for the Black Rose!" He gestures at Renton.

"Ahh.." Surprisingly, Viktor isn't that tall – he's actually around Renton's height, more or less. "Renton, right? You were quite nice with LeBlanc on stage." The light glimmers on his metallic form.

Zac the blob plops himself on Renton, meshing into a constricting wrap that holds Renton tightly against the chair – as if he needed restraints! "Mmm," Zac goes, "I was made for doing this." Like being held by body-temperature jello; now Renton can't even move his hands to scratch his ankle bracelet itch.

Only his head isn't covered.

"You're Viktor..!" Renton blurts out.

"Right you are," Viktor goes, and he notions at Singed to put in more cinnamon logs for the fire – the bundles of special logs held in a bag by the fireplace, engineered by Zac and Singed, so that the logs don't char into ashes, but instead evaporate into aromatic, herbalscents. So Singed chucks a few more logs in there, and Viktor unleashes his laser ray – a robotic arm protruding from the top of his head, whcih zaps the fireplace with concentrated energy, and now the flames truly roar into life, giving the room an extra warmth. "I've been told you'd delivered some Pizzas for our stead, yes?"

"Yeah, they're quite good actually.." Renton goes. "I ate the sausages and bacon one.."

"I don't imagine the Black Rose would attempt to poison us all now," Viktor goes, musing. "The last thing anyone wants is to spark off another Magician's War. No.. no.. they sent you here because they must be wondering what we're putting up our sleeves, right?"

"Magician's War?"

("Renton!" Heimerdinger goes. "Don't worry, we're coming for you!")

Renton hears Heimerdinger's voice – what a relief, he's still in touch with them.

".. you don't know the Great Magician's War?" Viktor asks. "Well, I wouldn't expect you to anyway – it's not something they teach in schools, and anyone who dares ask about the event will look like a UFO conspiracy loon."

Renton feels like shrugging, but Zac's envelopment is quite confining. "Hey.. I've got an itch, I want to scratch it."

"Where?" Zac asks.

"My ankle."

Then Renton feels a slick rubbing sensation over his ankles – Zac is conforming himself underneath Renton's pant legs, and-

"What's that on your ankle?" Zac goes. "Is that also from the Black Rose?"

"That's.." It's a long story. "No, I was.. in trouble with the police."

"Ehh?"

This surprises everyone present in the room. "Ohh, you're a bad boy!" Zac goes. "Bad boy, bad boy, what'cha gonna do when they come find you.." Zac still continues rubbing that spot, and it's very comfortable.

"It was house arrest," Renton goes. "I punched my French teacher in the face-"

"Ooh!" Singed winces.

"—he poked an insult at my Dad," Renton continues. "I was so peeved at him that day, and I wound up paying for it with a Summer-long house arrest."

"Well, that doesn't seem too bad actually," Zac goes. "It's summer, you could-"

"No. You don't know what it's like.. my mum, she's so.." Renton sighs in exasperation, then he's aware of what he's feeling, under Zac's embrace. "Suffocating! I couldn't bear living under the same roof as her, and I always feel her restraining me even while she's gone out. So I broke my house arrest.. I took a chance and went over to see the Black Rose."

"But now you're here, because of them," Viktor goes, chortling. "Out of the frying pan, into the oven! Isn't that how the saying goes?" He walks over to the restrained Renton and leans a hand on his shoulder. "I will cut you a little slack, child – on two conditions. You tell me the truth, where they're hiding in this city, and.. you never see them again. I'm not asking much kid; it's not like I'm asking you to join us instead. You've been with them.. for just one night already. That's not that much time to form attachments to people, is it."

Renton is frowning, his eyes in contemplation. I don't have anyone else to turn to.. me, just leave the Black Rose like this? And LeBlanc..

LeBlanc..

(her sweet scent)

(her melancholy eyes)

No, I won't leave her. I won't!

He shakes his head. "I guess you have never heard of love at first sight.."

"Aww, our dear Renton's in love!" Zac goes. "I love you, you love me, we're one happy family.."

"No! Not- I'm not in love!" Renton goes, blushing to his very core. (He shouldn't have said that.) "I.. it's possible to just get attached to people in a short span, don't you guys know?" He's recalling what Sandra Bullock said in that movie 'Speed' (1994): "I have to warn you Jack, relationships based on intense experiences never work."

"Ahh, love," Viktor says. "Yeah. That LeBlanc woman, if she weren't such a total stuck-up on the Black Rose, I might actually consider dating her, if only to see what her favourite kind of food is. Anyways.. where are they hiding Renton?"

"I won't say," Renton says.

"Tell me boy. Where are they?" Viktor ignores what he's said, grasping Renton's shoulders harder.

"Nuh-uh."

"Okay. If it is going to be like this.."

And Singed pulls out an empty syringe – Renton seesthe bald chemist plunge the needle into a petite vial of clear liquid.

He squirms, but Zac is practically crushing him against the seat, outside-in.

Now the syringe is filled, Singed dripping out any air pockets within the needle – the chemist holds on Renton's exposed neck, and finds a jugular vein to inject it in.

..

It is much more painful than a regular injection; a sharp stab just in his throat, that makes him feel swollen inside after, and he can't tell when the needle is taken out until seeing Singed holding an empty syringe in hand again. (Owies.)

A sharp, bitter taste rises from the back of Renton's mouth, like bile.

He feels the urge to vomit – he manages to resist.

But moreso, his awareness starts to blur. It's like a heavy, dreamy drowsiness that washes over his head and eyes.

"Muhhh- I.. what did you.."

He hopes this isn't poison. There's just too much to live for.

"Renton," Viktor goes – and for some reason his eyes are filled with cute kittens. "Where are the Black Rose?"

/

"Pixy..!" Lulu whispers to the tablet. Heimerdinger has established a connection with the faerie butterfly, and they're seeing Pixy, looking over Renton slurring his words to everyone in that room. "He's going to tell everything – you have to save Renton now!"

And elsewhere, LeBlanc with Twisted Fate are getting out of the taxi, paying the driver a generous tip for breaking through traffic lights. They're in the plaza square, and LeBlanc sees the scooter-mobile Renton drove off on.

"Not a lot of time," Twisted Fate mutters under his breath, hearing Lulu's pleas over his earpiece. "Alrighty then. I think we can haul ass with this here scooter.." He looks around in both directions, like he's about to do something bad, and he slips in a Joker card onto the scooter's trunk. That's the waypoint – the card serves as his marker to do a teleporting to, from any place.

The further the distance though, the longer it takes for Twisted Fate to muster the ability up. Thus, it is about 7 seconds from within ROCHAT headquarters to back here again.

"Hurry," LeBlanc goes, taking Twisted Fate with her to the mansion. "Heimerdinger, which room's Renton in?"

"He's on the third floor," Heimerdinger goes, checking his tablet.

/

Pixy is fluttering above the unfurling scene, still unnoticed by the ROCHAT members below. Lulu's telling him to do something quick, but what can he really do? If he reveals himself – firing a glitterlance bolt at them, he could get their attention for a bit..

But Zac is strapping Renton in.

The fire flickers.

Oui.. they all have their eyes on Renton, and stoking the fire can really distract them.

"Mugnnh—" Renton mumbles.

"I didn't quite catch that, I'm sorry?" Viktor goes, leaning in his ear.

In Renton's state of drowsiness, it just feels like all of his inhibitions have been released. He'll tell about anything he's asked about. He's never gotten a good look though at the street where the apartment lies.

"Apartment.." he just says.

"An apartment?" Viktor goes, while Singed is busy glancing at his newest concoction in a vial; a yellow efferescent liquid that can instantly refresh Zac, without having to put him in the rejuvenation chambers for an hour.

"Yes," Renton goes, his voice monotone. "I don't remember where."

"Ok." Viktor muses to himself for a bit. "An apartment.. not at a hotel. Huh. What are the Black Rose going to do after their show in Vancouver?"

"They're going to perform in Las Vegas tomorrow," Renton goes, the memory of being in the limo flashing into mind.

"Why?"

"I dunno."

"Were they after anything during their stay in Vancouver?" Viktor goes – if his glowing eyes could say anything, it'll be that he's eagerly fishing out the contents inside Renton's head.

"I heard it's the egg of Xephon from a museum.." Renton says.

To Renton, he feels like he's fast-asleep in bed, and he's speaking out words just so his mum could shut up and allow him more moments for sleeping.

"Ahh.. I see." Viktor glances at Singed. "Rumble and Veigar should be back any moment now from lunch. Get everyone together; I think we're tripping off to Las Vegas tomorrow on short notice!"

"Can I come too?" Renton asks, his head now drooping down.

"Will you promise to be a good boy?" Zac goes.

"Yes, I promise, let me sleep mama.."

And the fireplace explodes, bursting into sheer spreading flame – the fire spreads rapidly outward, and Singed yelps, some of the flames catching on his suit.

"What the hell-" For an instant, Viktor sees a flicker of faerie glow.

Pixy has sprinkled pixie dust onto the fireplace, which in this case catalyses the flames into great intensity, and the heat devours the carpet, the flooring, the surrounding bookshelves..

"Merde merde merde!" Singed utters, rolling onto the floor to extinguish his fires. "Ouaahh! It burns! I swear, it wasn't me, I didn't do anything!"

Viktor gets out his foam extinguisher extension to blast the flames with anti-flammable foam, which sizzles as the gel lands on the fires.

"She's on fire!" Zac sings. "And the name of the game is to fuel her flame..!"

Damn! Zac's still attached to Renton.

How will Pixy get Renton out of here now? Viktor's attention is on the fire, and Singed is recovering from the flames – now's the chance! The faerie comes over Zac and sprinkles more pixy dust – this time, with various dust compositions.

"Hehe, ooh, stop it, it tickles!" Zac goes, his gelatinous mass wiggling in reaction. "Renton, what're you doing inside of me?!"

And Renton sees what Zac doesn't notice – Pixy's hopeful glimmer.

The boy wakes up; with grunts, he tries wiggling himself out of Zac's grasp, and he rocks the chair along with his motions.

"Knock it off, pal!" Zac goes, feeling his own mass give way to Renton's struggles, and the chair tumbles over on its side, with poor Zac spilling out onto the carpet.

Singed turns around and sees Renton trying to get up onto his feet. "Hey! We were just starting to be friends..!"

(At the apartment, Lulu has her hands clutched together in hopeful prayer. "Come on Renny.. you can make it out..!")

"You're not my friend!" Renton shouts, just as Viktor finishes putting out the last of the flames. "You guys are bums! Bullies! And I'm walking out of here back to the Black Rose!"

("Yes!" Lulu shouts, doing a jig! "Yippie!")

"Oh, really..?" Viktor goes, and there he sees that same glimmer again, floating around Renton now. "Ahh, you have a bit of help by your side, I see."

Renton starts to bolt for the door.

"You're not going anywhere!" Viktor lasers the area in front of Renton's path, setting fire around the doorway. "Mouwahaha. See, you decided to break into our home, and we'll make you pay for it Renton! One way or another!"

Renton really is trapped now, in-between the flames and the ROCHAT guys who are taking steps toward him. He has no idea where to go.

Then Pixy showers the door fires with soothing dust, and the fires dissipate, with a charred doorframe.

Renton notices this, and without hesitation he runs straight for the door once more.

Viktor fires again- this time, Pixy blocks the laser with a shield, and the laser deflects sporatically across the room in a shower of blinding sparks and thundering *pops!*.

It is a little hard to see; Renton makes out the pure gold doorknob on the charred door, and he tries pulling the door open-

it burns!

Renton yelps – he clutches at his poor hand; that handle's still very hot!

The mahogany door looks quite battered from the flames, charred with stress fracture lines running down its height.

Pixy can only hold his defensive stance for so long, under Viktor's barrage of lasers; Zac has managed to regain a cohesive form and has propped both his arms against the floor, stretching his body back – to slingshot himself onto Renton.

Renton rams the door by his shoulder. It doesn't seem to budge.

"C'mon!" he shouts, throwing himself again and again on the door, aching from each impact – and bit by bit, the door caves in until the whole inner frame is hurled outward in splinters.

Zac launches himself..

Renton narrowly avoids getting hit by the blob, as he quickly rounds from the frame, and Zac splashes onto the hallway wall instead, leaving a dent and a trace of slickness.

The exhausted Pixy follows behind Renton, too spent to do anything more besides keeping afloat.

All Renton does now is run.

Run like hell from those bums, as his heart just pounds away within his ribcage, and his legs are on fully automatic, his feet pushing away on the floor, his breath sending acid into his lungs expanding and contracting and expanding.

He doesn't know where he's going – just running by instinct, like a wild animal scared out of his wits.

Help me. Somebody please help me..

He looks behind him and sees their oncoming forms, vague in the shadows, the nightmarish monsters of his bad dreams.

He bumps past a butler, splattering aside the plate's contents of bubble tea.

He finds his way to the winding staircase at last, where he can see the main floor just miles below.

And..

There's LeBlanc, with Twisted Fate, who are climbing up the stairs.

"LeBlanc..!" Renton goes, so relieved by the sight of her. His legs are being propelled not by fear anymore, but by the desire to be by her side once more.. to be in her embrace and hold her tightly against him, and catch her beautiful scent..

And he runs, down and down, until he meets her halfway and he finds sanctuary in her.

She finds him in her arms. He's panting, visibly sweating, so scared, and with her fingers she brushes away the sweat and ash from his face.. from his lips. "Shhh.. it's alright."

"We've got Renton," Twisted Fate tells Heimerdinger. "Let's roll."

Relieved, Pixy tucks himself in Renton's pockets.

"HEY!"

LeBlanc glances up at where Renton's running from, and there, Singed and Viktor have emerged from the third-floor hallway, with Zac bouncing alongside.

Time to make a runnings!

It is Twisted Fate who leads the way down, and reflexively he's holding on the railings as the steps are a little narrow for his likings.

"Camille!" Viktor shouts. "Shut all the entrances! Now! We have the Black Rose in here with us!"

The receptionist who Renton had been talking with before – she locks eyes with him, sorrowful that it has to be like this; in nicer circumstances they could be dating in a nice restaurant with the salary she's got.

She hits one of the emergency buttons under her desk though, and an alarm klaxon sounds through the entire building – a metal wall suddenly expands over the entranceway, clanking sealed with a bang, and other such noises can be heard, muffled in the distances.

"Merde!" LeBlanc utters, as she stops a few steps away from the door. "Don't worry, everyone hold onto me tight—"

Twisted Fate and Renton do just that, and LeBlanc focuses – she imagines the bridge on the outside, and wills herself to that location.

But nothing happens.

"Come on!" Twisted Fate goes, seeing Viktor and Singed about to descend the last flight of steps. "What are you waiting for?"

"I.. can't!" LeBlanc wails – it's no use; it's like a mental block which prevents her from recalling the name of someone, except it's with willing herself out of here. "They must have shielded the whole building to prevent blinks in or out!"

Renton turns to Camille. "You don't have to do this," he pleads with her. "They'll kill us all! Do you understand?"

"I can't," she tells him, with a trace of fatality, stepping away from him, out of the room. "Only they can release the emergency shut-off now, not me." Then she runs off.

Twisted Fate slams on the metal plating. "Well, unless you're in for putting every chip down against those bozos, looks like our only ticket outta' here is through me. Gotta find a safe spot though." He points that way, a wide open hallway, and starts running down that direction. LeBlanc and Renton too.

Viktor wishes he can just launch himself directly from the staircase to get them – but Zac and Singed still need the stairs too. So he's pacing down to the bottom floor, where he's now able to risk the use of his augmented sprinting in this open space. (It's very hard to shift direction and turn corners at a high velocity, even with his current technology.)

He stands still, his feet transforming into hooked hooves, and his legs elongating into thinness. Drawing more power from his tex core, Viktor launches himself into the hallway, rapidly accelerating to 63 km/h – the fastest speed while still having a manageble maneuverabilty.

In one second, he is a small figure to Renton in the distance.

In the next, he is right in front of them, his feet-hooves grinding to a sudden halt on the floor, and he throws down a small contraption in their midst, which attaches to the ground and extends out into a zone of flat metal conductors.

From the conductors, a dome field is created, which takes virtually immediate effect on the trio being enveloped. A gravity field, that multiplies their current gravity up to five times.

Luckily, Twisted Fate manages to roll out of the field before he's helplessly pressed to the floor, and he flings out a couple cards in Viktor's direction – hitting him square on the chest and head, mildly disorienting his body with the electric shocks.

In the brief period where Viktor is dazed, Twisted Fate tosses a mini-explosive Ace of Hearts towards the gravity device, detonating it into fragments and freeing Renton and LeBlanc from its grasp.

LeBlanc shoots a chain from her right hand; it latches onto Viktor and a feedback effect occurs, where LeBlanc's end of her chain folds up on itself into black thorns, cascading all the way to Viktor, until the chain blossoms out into a tangle of ash rose thorns which envelop Viktor, rooting him to the ground.

His head is still visible, and Viktor projects his laser ray extension out-

LeBlanc fires a bolt of concentrated negative energy from her left hand, shocking Viktor's systems into immobilisation.

"I've jolted you with negative charge," she explains to him, her right hand reaching for him. "If I hit you with positive energy from my right hand, it will be like the electric chair in an instant." She snaps her fingers. "You will fall dead."

".. you won't," Viktor says. "If you kill me, you won't be shocking me only. You'll shock all the magician communities around the world with your act!"

Twisted Fate's face gnarls with stress.

"What do you mean?" Renton asks.

"The Great Magicians' War," Viktor tells. "I'll tell you – in the mid 1980s, every magician was fighting and killing each other in a huge massacre! You know what makes our magic possible? The Emperium minerals, which makes the group leader their leader for a good reason! And by that time, there was no more Emperium to be found in the world. The fear of scarcity overwhelmed many, and there was death everywhere, and the only end seemed to be total annihilation for all magicians.

"It was only when the surviving groups convened in council in April 1991, that it's been decided no more bloodshed will occur, under pain of council retribution! So if you kill me now LeBlanc, you'll damn your Black Rose to nonexistance! They'll kill you all and make it look like some freak accident!"

"He's right," Twisted Fate goes, nudging away LeBlanc's extended right hand. In her eyes, there's only utter frustration.

"Did you send an assassin after Swain?" she asks, sighing.

"You mean when someone shot arrows at him last night?" Viktor goes. "Non. That's absolutely not what I'd do. Even though I know you were there for a vital artefact, which Renton has thankfully shared with me as the Xephon egg, I wouldn't have been that desperate to obtain it. Besides, you people are such interesting rivals, it would actually hurt me to see you disappear."

"Let Renton go," LeBlanc tells him. "He's a boy – we can do this confrontation another time."

"Non," Viktor goes, his systems restoring their function, the negative charge fading. "For my purposes, I consider him as another member of your group, a recent addition at that. And I'll not let you go so lightly Renton, just because you happen to be new. Is that why you folks are here? Non non.. you couldn't actually have believed we'd have anything to do with that attempt on Swain's life. I think.. you're really here because you've grown suspicious of us! What must we be up to these days, to be taking such a break?"

LeBlanc and Twisted Fate are almost shaking their head no – that's just paranoid speculation from the likes of Viktor.

"We're going," LeBlanc tells, just as the fire alarm sounds off.

"Putain.." Viktor says. "I guess our butlers need help with something so simple as putting out fires!" (The bookshelf room had been practically drowning in flames when they were chasing Renton.) He struggles against the vines holding him, pulling out whatever gadgets he has in his body to try cutting the thorns away.

LeBlanc sees Singed and Zac at that end of the hall where they came from. Singed is now in his full gear; his biohazard suit, vials of chemicals on his belt, and carrying canisters of various fumes on his back.

Zac is preparing another slingshot leap towards them, and Singed starts to sprint in their direction.

"Heheh, you'll never escape," Viktor goes. "You're rats in our maze!"

"Oh shut up," Twisted Fate says, dinging Viktor on the head with another card.

Heimerdinger is twiddling his thumbs – he watches the three blips scurrying north upon the layout of ROCHAT's headquarters, a public blueprint of it from 1972. Gosh, he's hoping they haven't changed the fundamental layout up to now.

"Monsieur Wizard!" LeBlanc goes, and Heimerdinger gulps, nervous about having to find them another escape route. "Where are we running to?"

Phew.

"We've got to hide long enough for TF to get us all out of here!" she explains, and Heimerdinger is already scouring the nearby rooms, and branching hallways.

"Erm.." he goes, "let'see."

"Hurry, or we'll be their goddamn prisoners!" LeBlanc yells, as Singed is rapidly catching up behind them like some football quarterback.

(On the wall behind them, Zac is recovering his form after missing once again.)

Twisted Fate tosses a smoke-and-mirrors card in Singed's direction, and while it bursts into a hue of white smoke and sparks, it does nothing to slow him down.

Singed releases his incapacitating nerve gas from the canisters, eager to catch one of them.

LeBlanc shoots a chain at Singed's legs, but he is expecting that and dodges her shot with a side leap.

Then Pixy comes out of Renton's pockets, and fires a bolt of glitterlance at Singed, hitting him and affecting him with numbness – he trips over onto his sides, his canisters clanking against the ground with a *thunk!*.

"Phew," LeBlanc exclaims, as they manage to gain some distance from the fallen chemist.

But Singed is now recovering from the numbness, and he is rising onto his feet, pulling out a vial of stimulants (mixture of EPO, steroids, and hormones) to inject into himself.

"The hallway just circles around," Heimerdinger goes.

LeBlanc catches a glance of a room with filing cabinets and shelves and stacks of paper. "Never mind, I think we can- everyone, this way!"

They all run into the room, and LeBlanc slams the door shut – tautly chaining it locked.

"Let's out of here," she tells Twisted Fate, forgetting a word.

Singed is trying the door, but it doesn't budge against the chains. Zac manages to catch up to the locked door, while the thorns holding Viktor immobile, they gradually decay in LeBlanc's absence.

In the room, Twisted Fate begins channeling; all his cards fling out of their deck sheaths, and they flutter and fly around him like scattered debris caught in a swirling vortex.

Singed lets his gas seep through the small gaps of the door, as well as Zac squeezing his mass inside too.

Renton pants, staring at the door in horror. It's something out of 'The Outer Limits' when strange stuff oozes into a room. He only hopes that Twisted Fate is able to actually teleport them all out of here, this horrific place.

The cards converge, until they're fully enveloped in the house of cards, unable to see anything outside, and then they blow apart – revealing that they're outside in the Plaza, right by Renton's scooter.

It quite dazes Renton, to know he was once in the mansion one second, and the next second, he's out here. (The stone ground he's standing on is certainly real.)

"Clear as day," Twisted Fate quips, glancing at the scooter. "I don't think that'll carry us all."

Renton frowns – he's had fun riding the petite scooter here, and he'd hate to just leave it behind. That's the landlord's son's scooter, isn't it?

/

Zac finds no one in the storage room. He scours around the musty cabinets, all the paper scattered over the floor – wondering if they have camoflauged themselves. "I can't find them!" he goes, before he notices the chains on the door evaporating into smoke. "I think they're gone! You can come in now.."

Viktor and Singed enter the room; Viktor tries seeing the infrared spectrum of light, and finds heat emanating mostly from his two comrades.

"They've teleported out somehow.." Singed goes. "I thought our headquarters' shielding is proofed from zapping in and out the walls."

"Yes, the walls are shielded," Viktor goes. "But only if it is a straightforward 'from point A through to point B' teleport. But perhaps, if they can bend the fabric of space somehow.. then it's a different story. Our shields can only do so much- OR, they might actually still be around here, having blinked to a neighbouring room."

"What can we do?" Zac asks.

"Veigar! Rumble-!" Viktor talks to those two outside, who are currently waddling home in the vicinity of the mansion.

"Yes-sirrie?" Rumble goes, hearing Viktor's voice over his around-ear headphones. (Rumble always likes the idea of being able to listen to good music 24/7, and also, the headphones filter out crowd noise so he can concentrate on his own thoughts.)

Veigar is dancing away to "It's Raining Men, hallelujah, it's raining men!" just beside, having his own pair of earbuds plugged into Rumble's pocket player also.

"Do keep on the lookout for LeBlanc and Twisted Fate," Viktor goes. "We've almost had them, they might have escaped outside."

"Got it."

And by sheer coincidence, Rumble spots what looks like LeBlanc and Twisted Fate (without their stage appearances), walking away to where some taxis are waiting for fares at. Along with a boy in a Pizza Mutt outfit.

"They're with the boy, Renton," Viktor goes. "You know, there's a pile of steaming pizzas in the lobby, thanks to him."

Rumble nudges Veigar – pointing in the direction of the taxis.

"I think we've just found them!" Rumble goes, grinning. "Want us to nab them now?"

"Don't make too much collateral damage in the process," Viktor says, clapping his hands together. Knowing Rumble, the little guy ("Little! Why you..!" Rumble tends to grow red-faced with a temper whenever anyone even dares to mention his diminutive height) has a habit of causing far too much unnecessary destruction in carrying out a task. He's a jackhammer – a heavy-hittin' son of the bitch who, if you'd ask him to hammer in a nail, he'd wind up leaving a mile-wide crater just because the nail wouldn't go in all the way to his likings.

But maybe Veigar's sense of precision can counter-balance Rumble's unwieldiness.

Yes.

LeBlanc has picked a cab – she's standing by the driver window, negotiating the apartment's address with the cab driver, when she notices something in the background..

Rumble has gotten out his Rubik's cube, which is rapidly unfurling itself to reveal his bi-pedal mecha, that clanking, mechanised monstrosity he nicknames 'Tristy' because for some reason, there's a romantic feeling of piloting its hulking mass he associates with his long-term crush, Tristana. (As a kid, when he was together with Tristana, he made a joke about stomping all the bad guys under his feet, Transformers-style. She laughed, thinking it was such a cute thing to imagine. Well, looks like his joke did come true. If she could look at him now..)

"Hop on Veigar!" he tells his partner-in-crime, helping Veigar up onto the passenger's seat of his mecha. "Time for kick-ass action!"

And the mechanic boots up the mecha's systems, flicking the engagement switches, and 'Tristy' stands upright, now ready to move.

"All systems go," his mecha's on-board computer reports.

That is Rumble in the distance, LeBlanc surmises – and he's caught sight of her. "I need your taxicab," she tells the driver. "Urgent." Without waiting, she smashes the driver's window with a chain, unlocks the door, unbelts the old driver and pulls him out, and she leaves him with two $100 Canadian bills, as if to compensate for the rest of the cab driver's day ("Sorries!").

She climbs in behind the front wheel and – seeing that it's a manual stickshift, she changes it to first gear and floors the pedal, driving off, the wheels burning smoke in their wake.

The poor cab driver is wondering why the sudden shift in that woman's attitude, the breeze threatening to blow the bills away, and then he sees it.

The unnatural sight of Rumble's mecha, advancing rapidly towards him – the eyes of people peeled over its very existance, some even pulling their phones out to record.

Is he really seeing that? Before he could answer his own question, the former driver instinctively rolls out of the mecha's path, and each footstep left by 'Tristy' leaves an etch on the bumpy stone ground.

LeBlanc shifts the taxicab into higher gears, as she drives down the road where traffic is reasonably sparse enough for her to sift in-between the other cars, cruising casually.

"Right on your tail..!" Rumble goes, feeling the velocity winds breezing over his face, as his mecha accelerates to faster speeds, the leg servos audiably whirring, smoke spewing from the dual exhausts at the back.

In the cab's back seat, Renton is trembling as the mecha slams away the bystander cars in its path towards them. "Step on it!"

"I need faster road," LeBlanc goes, referring to the slow pace of this current traffic.

Rumble can show reckless disregard for the other cars who stand in his way; LeBlanc can't – even if she wanted to, this cab isn't meant for ramming away other vehicles.

"Mister Wizard!" Twisted Fate yells into his earpiece, as a thunk can be heard just behind; Rumble has fired his tow harpoon at their cab, but narrowly missing by an inch. ("Drats!" the petite mechanic goes, reeling the harpoon back.) "We're being chased by Rumble's mecha! Got any aces I can borrow?"

Heimerdinger is packing his equipment, as Lulu and Swain are heading out the room, out the building. "Swain says to rendez-vous with us at the Trudeau airport!" he goes. "We'll be getting the hell out of this city!"

"Any advice here, we'd greatly appreciate!" LeBlanc goes, as the road she's taking merges into a highway. "I can't shake this guy any longer like this!" She is shifting the taxi's gears to its highest, at about 115 km/h.

Renton's mouth is agape; the mecha is right behind them, and it's lifting its arms, about to lunge for the cab..

LeBlanc sees this, and she cuts the wheel, swerving the taxicab right and left across the lanes, narrowly avoiding the mecha's grasp.

Twisted Fate blows apart the rear window with a card, and he's tossing his cards at the mecha; the cards which manage to remotely whizz by the mecha's presence, they get deflected off from its energy shield.

"Drats!" he fumes.

Renton has his eyes shut; this is too much for him to bear. It is very likely everyone here could suffer a bad, torturous fate at the behest of ROCHAT's whims – because of him. Maybe it would have been better if he'd just stayed at home..

How he wishes it's all just a dream, a super-vivid dream that would wind up with a sudden interruption of his mum, standing in his room, scolding him for sleeping in very late at just 10 AM in the morning.

But no matter how much he tries shutting away his senses, he can still feel the taxi's sudden swerves, making him want to hurl.

He opens his eyes, and looks behind, and sees the mecha – noticing for the first time the two petite people behind its cockpit, one of them grinning with beady eyes (Rumble), the other one waving his arms around (Veigar) as if cheering their eventual demise.

The mecha has its arm cocked up, and the next second, it will swing down and catch the back of the taxi, putting an end to their escaping.

"No.." Renton's lips are pursed on saying.

Luckily, Twisted Fate thinks fast on his feet, and he tosses numerous cards out – not at the mecha anymore, but at the very road instead, and the bursts of opaque smoke.. the briefest bout of invisibility allows LeBlanc the opportunity to suddenly swerve lanes onto the incoming exit ramp.

Rumble feels his Tristy's arm impact something in the smoke- he hopes it is the cab itself, but then he notices a sudden jolt in his mecha, as if it got caught on something, and the body of his mecha swerves forward out of inertia, pivoting by the arm which has lodged deeply into the road.

The sheer inertial force dislodges the mecha from its stuck arm, and Rumble and Veigar are sent tumbling all over as the mecha's body eventually lands on its sides, in utter shambles.

"Poo-doo!" Rumble yells, slamming both his fists on the defunct cockpit, and Veigar slaps Rumble for being such a clumsy chaser.

/

"He's not back there, there's nobody chasing us.." Renton goes – the relief sending blushes through his whole body. The experience was much more intense than riding a roller-coaster, and his arms are wet with his sweat as he still clings onto his seat.

This is what Swain meant when he said that Death can come for them at any day.

He glances at Twisted Fate, who is pulling out a victory cigar from his pocket, and LeBlanc, whose eyes focus only on the road ahead, without much sign of nervousness.

They're driving down what looks to be the city's outskirts, the countryside where tall trees surround both ends of the unkempt road, the wind fluttering through the back window.

Twisted Fate gets his phone out to check their location – if they continue down this road to the crossroads, they can head south-east down the Autoroute Chomedey, where they can turn down to the Montreal-Trudeau airport.

"How.. how do you guys live like this?" Renton asks, a quiver in his words. "Is it always like this, everyday?"

"Most everyday," Twisted Fate goes, flicking some spent ash from his cigar. "We have fun."

"But aren't you afraid of dying? Or getting caught or something? We could have.. they could have just as well caught us, and we'd be in ROCHAT headquarters.."

It's that look on Renton's face which gets LeBlanc.

"Hey.." she goes. "Renton. Don't be so downcast by what's happened. It is just your first day with us, and.. most people like you aren't used to dealing with new dangerous situations so often. If there is one thing I'd admit, it's that you must have had such a nice time, growing up and living peacefully at home."

He frowns – how could she say that, when she hasn't even seen first-hand what it's actually like to live in boredom and sheer constraint from a repressed mother?

"I wish one day.. I could take a break from this sort of living myself," LeBlanc continues. "To experience a day as any ordinary person would. No risk, no danger of losing anything.. just the moments when you're able to breathe the air and walk freely down your neighbourhood. To greet your friends and acquaintences hello, and talk about anything jovially.

"But this is the life I've chosen. For over 20 years, I've endured countless situations just like this – and I would not trade away that experience for anything else. It's taught me one very important thing.. to cherish and savour the experience of being alive, making my decisions every day which passes.

"And do you wonder how I manage to strive on?" she tells Renton. "How I manage to 'shrug off' those traumatising events where a second's mistake can cost me everything? It is simple; it's like how people could visit the canyon cliffs, and there's no fence that prevents them from simply falling off, yet all of them manage to make it back home safely anyways. You don't regret on the bad and worse that could have happened. You don't pain yourself over the mistakes. It will only needlessly drag you down. You simply accept that you are alive and here somehow, after all those events, and your only true responsibility is in facing the present moment. The challenges that have arrived your way."

Renton nods, getting a whiff of sweetness from Twisted Fate, blowing second-hand smoke out of his nose.

After a brief moment, he asks her, "Why did you choose to be in the Black Rose?"

And she pauses, her eyes showing a tinge of sadness in the rear-view mirror. "Because.. I lost nearly everything at a young age, and I would have died a meaningless existance. If it were not for finding Lulu.. who introduced me to the Black Rose."

Maybe we're kind of the same, Renton thinks. Now I'm living on the Black Rose train, and you too – we've left our past lives behind when we boarded on.. and it's a one-way ticket.

"I'm feeling a bit peckish," LeBlanc goes, turning the taxicab down the crossroads. "I hope Lulu has spaghetti meatballs in mind for lunch."

qdesjardin: (Default)

5 – flight

The trip to the Charlton Best Western Hotel, it only takes around 40 minutes to reach. The entirety of the Black Rose have managed to leave before the police have arrived (thanks to a clause in their performing contract, which guarantees absences from these sorts of situations, where normally they're expected to stay for questioning).

They have their own rental limousine – the chaffeur was happily watching 'Robert Langdon Mysteries' on the petite screen, a syndicated episode playing late-night, when Swain radioed in for him to start the limo.

Inside, Renton gets what looked like apprehension from Swain and Twisted Fate; the interior of the limo is surprisingly spacious, where the seats are arranged such that everyone has leg room – it was more like a casual couch meeting than just some night ride in a car. And there's free cola from the dispensers, with ice! Mira, he's so parched after performing, he helps himself to a full glass which he gulps down in just two whole chugs. Then he burps plenty.

"Who're you?" Swain goes. "And why will you be tagging along with us?"

"I told you, that's Renton--" Heimerdinger begins.

"I know, I want to hear it from the boy himself."

Renton exchanges glances with the more friendlier members, like Lulu and LeBlanc, before he clears his throat. "I'm Renton Thurston," he says, like he's being judgmentally interviewed. "I watched your whole show – and I'm no fanboy or anything."

"Mhm," Swain goes, leaning in, his hands clasped.

"I.. I--" It almost seems like Swain is glancing through Renton's eyes, into his own skull – quite intimidating. "I don't have anywhere else to go. I have a home, with a mother, but it is complicated.." And Renton managed to get his story out in spurts, hoping that Swain wouldn't go into disbelief.

"Renton.." Swain says, after listening. "I want you to understand something. We are a dangeous group."

"I heard all the stories of the magicians-- they do crime and stuff--"

"Yes. What we do beyond the boundaries of stage performances, not all of it is savoury. And when I say 'dangerous,' I mean that we place our own lives at risk. Because of what we do. You were only a few steps away from the attempt on my life, you saw." Swain scratches at his shoulder.

All the sights of Vancouver's streets pass by out the windows, the white lamplights illuminating and casting shadows which waver in cyclic, repetitive motion in the cabin. Seldom does Renton ever get to see this part of the city in the night, the business districts – on earlier occasions perhaps, when his father took him out along to the restaurants to discuss some business with collegues. It brings back a few memories, Renton just savouring the smell of fresh seafood with cigarette smoke, brewed tea, and the slightly chilled air.

He's not going to be in Kansas anymore.

"We are in constant struggle against other magician groups," Swain continues. "And the reality which you are about toindulge in with all of us is without any guarantee of hope, promise, or even happiness. There are no promises that tomorrow will be a relaxing day, or that you'll even live to see tomorrow, for Death and Loss can wait around at any corner, at any wrong turn you make. I've seen first-hand members of the Black Rose die, or they lose emotional grip, or carelessly get caught out by the authorities or other groups.. that in which case, I have little choice but to retire their membership.

"I tell you this now, because you are still such a young boy Renton.. you are 17 years of age, and you still have the chance to lead a peaceful life, without any repercussion from your involvement. A life of mundane, yet bountiful moments.. maybe you'll meet a nice girl in college, and you can marry, have children, graduate with a degree and greet every morning day without terrible strain.

"Because if you do decide to stay with us, there will be no turning back." Swain nods,notioning at LeBlanc. "She was the one who lured you into our business."

And LeBlanc simply glances at Renton, in contemplation.

Under this sort of light, she looks a little weary and tired, in contrast with the dazzling stage persona Renton witnessed earlier.

"It's not like I have much left for me at home anyways.." Renton goes, catching her perfume once more. He really wants to see what she's like, behind that mask, up-closer.

"Don't you be so hasty to say that," Swain goes. "Because you've never really known a dangerous life.. it is like with all those young people throughout history, and they want to go to war, away from home, wanting the glory and excitement of violence.. and before they know it, it is too late – the old have sent their young into misery.."

"Swain—" LeBlanc intervenes. "I too had nothing left to turn to.." (Maybe for some people, life doesn't have much meaning without a real risk of death.)

"But you were truly desperate then, LeBlanc," Swain goes. "What Renton has can just as easily be fixed; we can clear his house arrest record and explain that he's been helping us out at the circus – there, all done!"

But Renton is shaking his head. "No.. I don't want to go back. I.. my life is so dull, it's like passively riding along the currents, and I'm not even allowed to do much about it. If you send me back home.. you might as well be leaving me for dead."

"I reckon," Twisted Fate goes, flicking his Joker card in his fingers. "You've got the spirit kid. You're a hustler. The cards life had dealt you with, they're okay, but neither is it goin' to take you high places. And you don't have to like it."

He tosses the Joker card to Renton, who barely catches it – the card is sturdy, feeling just like the usual playing card. It has a dark, gemstone back, with the Joker looking like he's having a wild time juggling balls.

"The card you've got now kid," Twisted Fate goes, "in some games, it's the most worthless of the deck. But in other games, it's the winning ticket. And in some cases, when you aren't allowed to change your hand, just change the game you're playing. In our game, it's all or nothing, everyday. In our game – you just might be someone."

Renton glances at the Joker, whose grinning gaiety seems to tug somewhere inside him. He hands it back--

"No no, you keep that one; I've got plenty of spares," Twisted Fate goes.

Then Renton tucks it in his pockets.

"So, you're deciding to linger with us?" Swain asks – while Lulu is giving his spindly fingers a manicure.

"Yeah."

"I'll have to arrange for one more plane ticket then, and on such short notice! We're taking off for Montreal. I think it's time we paid our rivals a visit.. maybe a chat about those arrows meant for me."

"Who..?" Renton goes.

"Team ROCHAT," Heimerdinger says.

"Sorries.. I haven't been keeping up with the whole magician gig – I've only decided to see your show a few months ago.."

"It's alright. Anyways – Team ROCHAT, they're our official rivalry. We've been knee-deep in business with them ever since the first year they formed, back in 1996. They wanted to be the forefront of French wizardry, and they've taken potshots against us along the years."

LeBlanc is sitting with her arms crossed, her eyes somewhat disinterested in hearing about them.

"So those arrows.. came from that team?" Renton goes.

"Most likely," Swain goes. "Maybe not. Tonight, we took an artefact from the art museum, just before the show you've watched. It's quite valuable for us, and luckily I've had the foresight to secure a showing the day they put the Xephon egg on public display – before anyone else did. Before Team ROCHAT.. they also wanted the egg too, quite badly in fact, and if it weren't for swift arrangements with the circus, it would have been them you'd be watching tonight."

Renton scratches his head. "I'm a little.. lost. You guys are actually here for the egg?"

"Oui," Swain says. "That, and the benefit of visiting a city that's never seen any magicians in more than 20 years. This is your first time that you've ever seen a live performance.."

"I've only thought magicians were just a sham," Renton goes, finishing up his bottle of pop. "People who just put up special effects so they can take everyone's attention. And also jerks too in that they steal, conspire and even kill.."

"Special effects?" LeBlanc goes. "Well, there are still some people who'd like to think so – the thought of all that magic, actually existing, it overwhelms their petite sensibilities. The skeptics who'd also enjoy debunking UFOs and Fortune Tellers. The UFOs, I'm not so sure of that myself. But magic.."

She nods at Lulu, who pulls out a blank white bunny from her pouch.

"Hiya there!" Lulu goes. She waves her hand, and gives the bunny a tap on its head – poofing it into a chipmunk. "Now you'd better call him 'Alvin!'"

"Whooaw.." Renton's mouth is gaping open. This isn't on the stage.. it's inside a limo.

"For someone like me," LeBlanc says, "my own abilities are.. I cannot demonstrate it right now, without great inconveinence. But trust me when I say that I can take you virtually anywhere you can see – the shorter the distance, the less taxing it will be on me. As well as extinguish your life in one small instant." She snaps her fingers. "Just like that. It's not a nice thing to do, you can imagine."

And Renton thinks he can see a ghostly copy of LeBlanc, floating mere inches from her, overlapping her actual form, before he just sees her, nonchalantly sitting beside Swain.

"Heimerdinger – check the news," Swain goes. "See if ROCHAT's hired a new member or not; someone who looks good with ranged weaponry. As far as I know, their current batch of bums aren't the sort for stealthy finesse.. they usually like to make a grand entrance, almost every single time.."

/

When they arrive at the hotel, Swain tells the limo driver to remain idling by the entrance doors – much of their gear and equipment have already been loaded in the trunk, and they're just grabbing what is left from their rooms.

"I want to call my mom back at home," Renton tells, notioning at one of the public phones. "Damn, I should have gotten my cell phone from that usher.. he took it in the show." His mum doesn't have an e-mail address he can think of, so, and it doesn't feel right for him to suddenly abandon his mother like that, without any word. She's probably still sleeping from the pills.

"Make it quick – we don't have a lot of time," LeBlanc goes, giving Renton a reassuring nudge on his shoulder, before she heads down the halls with the others.

So Renton proceeds to dial his home phone--

"Excuse me, sir?" the receptionist goes. "Have you booked a room here yet?"

"Oh, no – I'm just here to call someone--"

"The phone's only for staying customers; besides, a young man like you ought to have a cell phone handy.."

How it makes Renton sigh. The ability to communicate over long distances, it's almost become a human right in itself, and now he isn't allowed to use the phone here – even if it's only for one last call.

If not the hotel's phone, then, maybe LeBlanc or the others with her would have a cell phone.

"Aahh, forget it," he tells the receptionist, before LeBlanc appears with a suitcase and purse in tow; Heimerdinger has several duffel bags, and Lulu is hauling a sleek box – it's ornamented with white jewels across the top, with a fleur-du-lis embedded on the top's centre.

"Hey LeBlanc--" Renton comes walking along with her. "You got a cell phone?"

"What for?"

"I need to call my mum at home – I can't leave her without any explanation, she'll freak!"

So Heimerdinger pulls out a spare phone from one of his pockets. A Nokia, without any pass screen, just for the occasion if someone needs another phone.

"Oh, thanks--" Renton dials his home, and it rings for a couple of times. Then it's the answering machine. "Hello." (It's his mum's voice.) "You've reached the Thurston household, but we're not available right now. Please leave a message and we'll get back to you shortly! *beep*"

"Hey mama.." he begins.

Now they're walking out to the limo, and already LeBlanc and the others are packing their stuff into the trunk. Renton feels somewhat bare, carrying nothing except the clothes on him already. Maybe they could be nice enough to have him get more clothes and belongings of his own.

"I'm going away on a trip with the Black Rose societie," he says, getting back into the limo. "By the time you hear this message, I'll be long gone across the world. It's something I could have never dreamed of in a hundred years. They'll help take care of me – it's not kidnapping if you're asking; I simply don't want to face another dull, boring school year while being stifled at home. I'll promise to call home whenever I can.. and you have my e-mail address, I think.."

Then the phone line clicks – someone has picked up the receiver. "Mister Thurston," a strange voice goes. "Stay on the line please. This is Officer Jennings, and we're at your household right now. You said you're with the Black Rose societie? Where are you currently at? Can you tell me?"

Renton freezes. It's the damned police! What are they doing at his home? He shudders, trying to think of an answer. M. Fourier must have ratted on him back at the circus..

"Hello? Renton?" the officer goes. "You're supposed to be under house arrest, didn't you know? What did you do with your ankle bracelet?"

LeBlanc notices his hand quivering on her phone, before he decides to quickly hang up and hand it back to her like it's a hot potato.

"What's the matter?" she asks him, wiping it free of his fingerprints.

".. the police are at my house," he goes.

"You didn't tell them where we're going next.." LeBlanc is musing, then asks Swain, "We'll be out of Canada after Montreal?"

"Las Vegas," Swain goes. "Ours should be a low-profile stay in Montreal – they're not expecting our visit there, so next time people hear of us, you should be out of Canadian jurisdiction Renton.. at least over something as miniscule as punching your teacher."

"Yeah.." Renton feels a little better now, but the thought comes to him he's still in trouble while in this city. I'll never be able to go home again.. and my mum's going to think I'm a scoundrel.

"Are you worrying that the police will be after you?" Swain goes. "Unless it is a serious crime, like murder or grand robbery, they'll forget you over the months. They have limited time and resources on their hands, and the police tend to be more eager with solving major crimes, rather than petty grievances."

"Yippy!" Lulu squeaks, petting Renton's hair. "Renny! I will call you that! You could make a nice boy toy! The meanie police won't chase you – I'll zap away whoever comes. Here's my dearest Pixy.. my faerie butterfly, I'll show him to you.."

And soon, the limo is at the airport. It drives past the usual drop-off zone, right into the airfield where all the jets are parking and taking off.

Renton's been here only a few times, while his father was still alive. He'd wave goodbye as his dad Adroc hauled his black luggage into the terminals, going off on another business trip somewhere. He's never had the opportunity to travel himself though, so he's feeling very eager inside, like he's going to lurch off the top of a roller-coaster ride, down into a rush.

They're at a private hangar; it's meant for the aircraft not covered under the official flight manifests. Like the Black Rose's concorde.

When Renton gets out, he hears the low hum of the engines, the plane idly waiting. The steps leading into the cabin, where everyone hauls their luggage inside as carry-on.

He waits until everyone else boards, before he takes his last steps from Vancouver soil.

And inside, the cabin is very pleasing to the eye. The art nouveau design on the seats, the tables – the lamplights and the carpet that leads over to the drinking bar; the mood of it all is very.. absorbingly contemplative. It's a nice place to be in whilst the plane is alone in the air.

Sitting at the bar, Twisted Fate pulls out a victory cigar and lights it, puffing, and he breathes out and fills the air around him with the burning incense of appleweed.

Renton finds a seat by LeBlanc, where she's by a window in the middle of the cabin, and straps himself in with the belts. He notices her, staring out at the brightly hangar – her eyes withdrawn.

"Please prepare yourselves, as we are about to begin taking off."

A chime.

It's the humdrum of everyone else being preoccupied in the background, while Renton is alone with this one interesting girl-- no, woman.

Now he's justified it to himself in all sorts of ways. Maybe this isn't such a big deal, just a mild betrayal of the whole stable, cyclic lifestyle of school and studies and leisure time. It's him outgrowing being just a child, you know, that sort of thing. But let's face it, he's running away, abandoning everyone he once knew.

His mum – he hopes she can cope being just by herself, lonesome in the house, toiling away with the usual chores.

(The plane starts to plow forward, leaving the hangar.)

The people at school, well.. some of them would just as well be taking this very chance he's having.

And Fabrizio? Well, okay, he's going to miss him dearly. He's quite a nice pal, Fabrizio. It would have been so dreadfully dull if it weren't for him.

(The night sheens through the window, the runway strip lights, all aligning down a path. Renton thinks he can make out the dawn, just very faint over the sky.)

So why did Renton do it? He can offer a million answers, all false.

(And the tinge of melancholy, reflected in LeBlanc's face from the window. Renton behind her.)

The truth is that he's a flower, starved of real sunlight. But that's about to change. He's going to change. The rest of life is ahead of him now, and it's the last of him being a hapless child, sticking with routine. Now he's going straight and moving on.

And a beat, as he hears-- no, feels the impending roar of the engines, the plane on the starting line, taking its poise, before at last it accelerates, forward and forward, and the lurch almost feels too much to bear as Renton finds himself holding onto LeBlanc's hand, clutching it dearly, some of the appliances rattling with the motions as Twisted Fate tosses his used cigar into the wastebasket, a perfect hit--

He's looking forward to it all already.

The skies, the adventures, the risks of life and death, the real choices he'll have to face – the lavish stays as each day of his life holds surprises and suspense, the joys of being a real man as he explores new locales, attending the stages and performances and ravishing in the magic of people's disbelief, ready to explore a whole new world and culture hitherto unknown to his apprehension. The lush hotels, the queen beds, the exquisite cuisine of exotic foods, the new places.. new people, new moments..

It could be just like in the anime shows..

qdesjardin: (Default)

4 – wound

Swain's wound is a geyser, seeping through the white towel Lulu tries holding down on him. His blood trickles down, frighteningly without any sign of stopping.

On the bare, backstage floor, their maester is lain down. Most of the stage staff have left, while a few stay by to deliver more towels for Swain's bleeding.

"This is veddy strange.." Heimerdinger goes, seeing the expanding pool of blood. "Now normally, the bleeding should be recessing by this point, but he is bleeding just like when he was first hit. Get the towels out of the way, I want to see."

Lulu brushes the stained towels away.

It's a very mean wound. In that dark red hole, a canyon of severed skin, muscle and fractured bone. Even looking at it makes LeBlanc wince inside – she imagines the kind of pain Swain bears, and the fact that he isn't moaning, or showing any sign of his hurting on his face. Just his eyes staring out at everyone, while his mouth is too weak to talk.

"That silver arrow.." Heimerdinger muses. "It's an anti-coagulant – it prevents the normal blood-clotting process with open wounds. We've got to stop his bleeding, and fast! Lookit, he's going pale!"

From aside, Renton watches the scene unfold – the members of the Black Rose flitting about, trying to find a suitable option to save their Swain. Why don't they just get him to the hospital?

LeBlanc sips from her bottle of chrysanthemum tea; she's parched, and delivering all those lines theatrically, it just takes something out of you after the excitement of it wears off. She paces about on the floor, half-glancing at Swain and Heimerdinger, half-focused on her own thoughts about tonight, and the immense pressure she's felt, up to now.

Then she notices, on the sidelines, that boy, standing hesitantly – he was with her from that skit; what's he doing here?

"Urhm.." he goes, scratching his neck. "I.. I'm sorry if I'm intruding where I don't belong. But.. I.." How would he explain this? She's glancing at him, like he's stolen one of her possessions.

"What is it do you want?" she goes.

"I.. don't have any place to go." He lets his glance fall upon Lulu, who's returning from the hallways, a potion in her hand. Then he looks back at LeBlanc, her face apparently impartial, but her eyes studying him. "I mean, I.. I can't go back home. If I do-- I'll be arrested and put into jail, for five years."

"Whoever's heard of someone getting arrested for returning home?" She's heard news stories of police acting in very silly manner, like when they fined that third-grader kid for 'unauthorised wiretapping' when he was just wanting to record his bullies, taunting cruel words. Though LeBlanc senses that this boy here, before her, he is quivering – he was in the midst of it all, seeing the blood spurt out of Swain like that. It is not something you'd imagine a young boy like him to just shrug off – she's seen much worse herself.

Renton just wants to tell her, 'It's a long story,' what with the house arrest, his teacher.. but he gets the sense it would be on the trite side. So he tells her instead, "I don't want to go back there. I know it is crazy.. and I'm not an obsessed fanboy or anything, but I want to come with you, LeBlanc.. please. I laid my eyes on you, and I know, you are one of the most prettiest women I've seen. I've got no place else to turn to, and I don't know what else to do."

Lulu applies her anti-coagulant concoction onto Swain's wound, and he breaks his stoic silence in an utterance of pain – the blood that comes out noticably congeals, and Lulu gives him a thumbs-up. "You'll be just fine!" she daintily says.

"Do you mean.." LeBlanc goes, raising an eyebrow, "you have no friends where you could stay at? You can't rent a room in a loft for a few days?"

Lulu and Heimerdinger turn to Renton now, interested in the conversation.

"I.. friends?" Renton gulps. He feels like he's pulling his words out of a rabbit's hat. "I do have some friends.. I was recording your show, so a friend of mine could watch along too.. but it's not that.. I can't stay here. See, it's that.. I'm supposed to be at home, because I'm under house arrest--"

"Oh.." Lulu mutters, whispering to Heimerdinger. "He's going to get into trouble with the police!"

"—and.. I punched my French teacher, last month, so that's why I'm in house arrest," Renton rambles. "And my teacher's here, right now, waiting for me outside.."

LeBlanc nods. "He knows you're here? He's going to bring you to the police.."

"No.. no, he'll threaten to bring me to the police if I don't come with him, to my house – explain to my mother what I'm doing over here. She'll freak out.."

She glances upward, in thought.

"That sounds like quite a predicament, boy!" Heimerdinger goes. "You've punched him, and he's got every reason on his side to--"

"He's a bum," Renton goes. "Man, you should have seen him when he nabbed me outside the washrooms – he's like, 'I got your ass, Renton! You're playing by my rules tonight!' And I punched him because he pushed me so hard that day, insulting my father like that when I just wasn't even prepared for the finals.."

"Your ankle bracelet," LeBlanc goes. "How did you.."

A beat. "My friend showed me how to disable the modem," Renton says, pulling up his pant leg, showing the bracelet light, still green.

"Right – listen.. Ren-- what's your name? Renton?"

"Mhm."

"Renton--" LeBlanc says his name again, getting used to the taste of it-- "I think I can try having a reasonable chat with your French teacher, see if we can't work something nice out. I hope you haven't gotten a false impression of the French from him, he sounds like quite a jerk to me – not to sound judgemental of him, but French.. it's quite nice. And not all French people are like him, or like me or dear Lulu here even--"

Lulu tips her nightcap at Renton. "Pleased to meet you."

"But so you know," LeBlanc continues, her eyes reflecting over, "it is not a matter of a person's heritage that they come to be nice people, or not-so-nice. I bet.. just like you find good people at school to be friends with, and some mean bullies too – if you travel the world, you'll find that it's the same in places all over. Kind people, snobby people, the people who like to bring a smile to your face with their silly jokes.. it's just in different ways, different languages and customs. Like.. if you change the region of your Blu-ray player, and you play movies.."

"Yeah, I got it." Renton nods.

/

Whilst Heimerdinger and Lulu keep Swain company, LeBlanc and Renton head out into the foyer. By the snake fountain, M. Fourier is haggling over the phone – he's talking it over with the police, Renton's house arrest.

"Yeah," M. Fourier goes. "That kid is here – I even took pictures of him on the goddamn stage! .. I'm making such a big deal out of this? How-- do you know how humiliated I felt, in that classroom when he punched me? I lose the respect of my students, and my teaching life is going to be hell! They'll be jeering behind my back – it will happen, if I don't make it clear to everyone that I am not to be lightly trifled with! So do something! While you're busy investigating that freak incident on the stage, yes I know, get one of your guys to look for Renton."

"Excuse-moi?" LeBlanc gives him a tap on the shoulder.

"What do you want, can't you see I'm busy here-- oh."

M. Fourier is face-to-face with them. LeBlanc, and that boy Renton. For a moment, he doesn't believe what he's seeing.

The police operator on the other side of the call, you can just hear her saying, "Hello? Hello..?"

Then M. Fourier tells the operator, "I found him, Renton. I'll hold him here for you folks, nice and safe," and he hangs up. "Well, well – Renton! What a pleasant surprise, you have friends in high places looking after you, eh? I'm sure all those other people would be glad to know, they never stood a chance when that raven was fluttering all over the gym.."

"No, that was just purely by chance," LeBlanc goes. "And I am lucky to have met him, instead of someone whose conceited ass needs a nice spanking."

"Are you saying I'm a conceited ass?" M. Fourier crosses his arms. "That's rather presumptuous of you to say, Mme LeBlanc. For all I know, that boy.. he's been feeding you the wildest lies about me! I'm just his French teacher, M. Fourier.. and I taught him this Spring semester. He's been zoning out in my classroom, every day, and I try to get him to wake the hell up, pay even the smallest ounce of attention to learning French – he had the audacity to try and bullshit his way out in my oral finals..!"

LeBlanc raises her hand up, silencing him in his tracks. "You are.. where did you learn French, if I might ask?"

"I learned it in class too! And the teacher who taught me, he was my inspiration – if you knew how it felt, that connection with a long line of historical lineage.. of what it means to be a true Frenchman." You can see his face beaming with a sort of pride.

"Oh. In class?" LeBlanc asks. "I would have guessed otherwise.. I never learned French in that sort of institution, M. Fourier – I learned it everywhere else, on the streets, the movies.. the people around me. I would have been bored silly if I had to learn the language.. sitting by one of those desks, watching the teacher pace back and forth over the blackboard, as if he were a pendulum lulling his students' eyes to sleep."

Renton is beaming. What she says is actually true, and she put it best.

M. Fourier barely manages to conceal his frothing anger. "Ohh.. I just hate it! I wish I were in Quebec or France, so I could teach in that wonderous language without a hitch! But nooo.. there's no nice teaching jobs over there, and I just have my tenure at this school, and nobody gives a damn about the beauty of French! Nobody appreciates it, what I try and do for all my students.."

"Then I would suggest, show them the interesting French movies in-class--" LeBlanc suddenly hears Twisted Fate mumbling into her earpiece, and she puts a hand over her ear to listen.

"I lost the fella," Twisted Fate goes. "Disappeared without a trace. All I know is that he knocked out an usher on his way, and the usher ain't seen nothing. Just some well-dressed albino with a suitcase. I think I'll scope things out some more – how's Swain doing?"

"He's fine, Heimerdinger's looking after--"

"Oh, he'll pull through," Heimerdinger interrupts. "It's just what he's been hit with, it's an anti-coagulant – it stopped us from stopping the bleeding properly; whoever's after us must be quite determined.."

"We better keep ourselves on our toes," Twisted Fate goes. "It's sure betting that fella will be trying for Swain again soon, if not for us all the next day."

LeBlanc turns her atttention back to M. Fourier.

"What is.. who was that?" he asks.

"That was Twisted Fate – we're investigating the occurance." LeBlanc takes off her earphone. "But right now, if I could say anything about getting your students really interested with French.. you show them a taste of exquisite French beauty. The beautiful movies made in French, all the beautiful poetry in French.. the kind of French feelings you don't usually find anywhere else.

"If you know – in China, they attempted to replicate Paris, so nobody is tempted to leave the country. I don't quite remember the city's name, but.. even though they have the streets, the building architectures.. a replica of the Eiffel Tower too, it just isn't French. Because it lacks the proper French spirit needed to enliven it; it's like if you listen to someone singing the words to your favourite song, but they don't really know the music."

M. Fourier is thinking. "But.. aren't I already showing everyone how being French is? I mean, I tell them about the grand histories behind the culture, and the French heritage--"

"Screw that," LeBlanc says. "Nobody really likes those long, drolling history lessons, and I'm bored of them myself – just show everyone first-hand what being French has to offer, right here, right now." (Like a French kiss, hehe.)

He sighs. "I guess.. I guess you're right – I mean, who wouldn't feel excited about going to the movies?"

"M. Fourier?" Renton steps forward. "I'm sorry I punched you in the face.."

"Yeah.. that was a bit harsh of me, mentioning your father like that. But you'll still have to answer to the police too, because I'm not the one administering your house arrest terms."

LeBlanc glances at Renton – what is she going to do with the boy now, let him go to the doges? Maybe if.. she can take accomodations for him--

"No, he'll answer to me," LeBlanc goes, taking Renton by the shoulder. "I'll be looking after him, not you or the police – until I get him back home with his mere."

"Huh? What?" M. Fourier frowns. "No, you can't do that-- I'll hold onto the boy! Who knows what you could do to him.. even though he's in trouble, I'm responsible for his well-being and safety." He tugs back at Renton.

"Waaagh~!" So Renton is in a tug of war (of sorts) between the two. "Let me go!"

"LeBlanc," M. Fourier goes, "you better do what he says, let go of him right this instant—!"

Renton can smell both their perfumes; the sweet hues of LeBlanc, and the professional shades of M. Fourier.

"Both of you let go of me!" Renton shouts, panting – he shrugs off their hands, and puts a few steps distance from them. It's a little funny, how even the grown-ups can get downright petty.

"Renton, it's either me or her, or you face the police alone!" M. Fourier goes. "Now you better choose!"

LeBlanc sighs. "I won't goad you, Renton. At your age, you can make your own choices – and that you decided to come here to our one and only showing tonight.. instead of lingering at home, I think that is a very adult decision."

Inside, it makes Renton smile, what she's said. It is like a feeling being lifted off his shoulders, that he'd get into trouble in the end. Sometimes, you just have to trust your own gut instinct, what you really want, even if it means breaking free from what others expect of you.

So he steps by her side.

".. you'll regret this, Renton!" M. Fourier jeers. "You think you can just run away from your own responsibilities? Run away, into some damn faerytale existence? Ohh.. it'll all catch up to you, boy! If not now, then soon! Your world will come crashing down, tumbling into splinters!"

But Renton couldn't give much more of a damn, what his French teacher has to say, as he walks away with LeBlanc back over to the backstage.

qdesjardin: (Default)

3 – performance

First, there is the spotlight, hung over Swain. He gives a polite bow to the audience, his pet raven (Beatrice) squawking to everyone's delight, before he bursts into a flock of ravens that scatter over the entirety of the auditorium, the spotlight following their general path, where it finally lingers over the entrance doors where Swain rematerialises, and promptly exits.

But just as Swain leaves, Twisted Fate waltzes through the doors, and the audience cheers as he tap-dances down the carpet, before pulling out his dark of cards, tossing the Aces and Jacks into the air that make dazzling flashes of coloured poofs – people get distracted by the flashes, and Twisted Fate pops up onto the stage before they know it.

Then – Lulu comes in and turns Twisted Fate into a squirrel! She nabs the little critter by its tail, and pets it in front of the cooing audience.

"Let's go for a twirl!" she goes. She spins round and around, holding petite squirelly Twisted Fate by his paws. "Whoa, whoa- whoaaa!" Poor squirrel, he is flung out onto the audience, and they give a loud, audiable gasp before-

LeBlanc poofs along his trajectory and grabs him safe and sound as she backflips onto the aisle, and lets a cool smile out her lips, no sweat.

"Are you seeing this, meng!" Fabrizio goes over the phone. "Are you seeing it? That's so fricking awesome!"

"Waw..!" Renton says.

An usher comes by, notices Renton. "Excuse me, monsieur..?"

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry, but we don't allow phones on during the performance."

Renton can only frown. "Oh, right.. I'll just put it away.."

"Actually, I will need to take that – you can come and get it after the show, front desk." The usher has his hand out.

"Nonn..!" Fabrizio is slapping his TV screen, shocked of the scene unfolding before him. "Renton, whatever you do, do not let him take your phone away-"

But Renton has turned off his phone already, and hands it over to the usher. Little does he know that it would be the last he'd see of Fabrizio, for a while. Or his mama and home.

The crowd is in a roar over the introductory theatrics, and LeBlanc takes a swift bow by the bare stage, before the curtains close.

Behind the scenes, Lulu poofs Twisted Fate back into normal, so he can perform for his portion that is starting right next. The stagehands are hurriedly preparing the Wild West background, with a saloon, a horse stable, and the evening canyons.

"Going live in 5, 4, 3.." Heimerdinger counts, mouthing the last two numbers. (He has the double task of overseeing the technicalities of the performance.)

Everyone flocks out from the stage, while Twisted Fate poses himself, riding on a cow.

Then the curtains pull back.

"Mooo!" the cow goes! Twisted Fate trots his cow over to the stables, where he unmounts, parks the cow's reins over the hooks, and there is someone waiting by the Saloon steps. For him. It's Sheriff Lulu!

"Reach for the sky, Twisted Fate!" Lulu goes, her wood staff aimed at him. "Your outlawin' days are over! Why don't you throw down your cards and come in with me peacefully – I'll buy you a drink!"

"Says who?"

"Says this wanted poster right here!" Lulu points to the poster that's just appeared on the wall. Twisted Fate, wanted dead or alive, reward: $9,001.

"Oh yeah?" Twisted Fate puts his hands in his pockets.

"Hands out of your pockets!" Lulu pips, shaking her staff. "Or I'll blast you back to kingdom come!"

".. only two jokers in the deck, and I get dealt you. Let's play 'em hot." Then he throws a card in Lulu's direction, which pops and sizzles by her feet, and rolls out of the way just as Lulu blasts where he was with glittering light.

As Twisted Fate strafes, he tosses more cards at Lulu, smoke and flares erupting around her. Because it's a show, the effects he puts into these specific cards are more designed for flamboyant eye-candy than lethality. Lulu just hops and skips as her Pixy erects a shield bubble around her, protecting her from the dust and flying splinters while she fires more bolts at him – the audience dazzled by the lightwork.

Soon, they vary up the routine, where Lulu is pulling bunnies out of her pouches, and they skitter towards Twisted Fate, leaping onto him with great ferocity, and he is struggling to rid himself of bunny fever.

"Harrggh!" he goes, staggering, as he manages to fling a brown bunny through the windows of the Saloon, and an explosion of white smoke there.

"See," Lulu tells the audience, "I can apprehend outlaws just fine!"

Twisted Fate throws a bunny into Lulu's face.

"Owiee!"

The bunny explodes and Lulu is covered with grey soot. "Meanie! I'll show you true justice! To arms, my dearies!"

Suddenly, the cute critters come pouring out of the saloon. Squirrels, puppies, hamsters, and kitties! They threaten to swarm and pile dive Twisted Fate – luckily, he's able to whirl out his entire deck of cards; the cards flutter over him, and he is gone.

The critters are at a loss as to where Twisted Fate is.

"Oh my!" Lulu goes. "Where did he go?"

Renton looks up and about – the audience is having a gathering commotion. His first thought is that Twisted Fate went down a trap door.

Then, the spotlight hinges by the entrance doors, and there is Twisted Fate, waving his hat, a snicker escaping his lips. "Always on the run," he says.

And everyone bursts into massive applause. Renton is awe-struck – how did he do that!? That's like less than a few seconds.

"I found him!" Lulu pips. "You're not getting away from the law!" She mounts her wooden staff like a broomstick, and she glides off of the stage, "Vroom vroom!" – hovering over the audience, chasing after the card outlaw who is jigging a wild dance to taunt.

They continue their chase out of the auditorium, leaving the whole audience in an uproar.

Renton can't help clapping along too; this is so good.

Then Heimerdinger pops into the stage. "Hmm.. what an untidy mess! This looks like a job for my new Clean-a-Tron 3000!" He shooes the critters away, and then claps his hands, summoning his entourage Bertha to help dust away the debris with a broom.

"While we are getting ready for the next act.." Heimerdinger goes, the curtains falling behind him, "let me tell you a story about Science. You see, Science is a field that helps make objective understanding of phenomena possible, and it is through Science that you have your cars, your computers, your tablets and virtual eyewear that you all take for granted today! A hundred years ago, all of that would have been thought impossible, just only fiction that could be dreamt of by idle daydreamers and Jules Verne.

"But now that all of this is here – can you even imagine how your world will be like in the next 10 years? 50 years? A 100 years? The realm of future possibilities is a tantalising.. and should I dare say, even a frightening thing! Who knows what people will come up with next?

"Will it be jetpacks? Bubblegum stress balls? Specialised knowledge that you can eat in pill form, and you'll instantly grasp it like in 'The Matrix?'

"In my travels across the world, I have seen many wonderous and weird things, you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched.. C-beams, glitter in the darkness near the Tannhauser gate. But the most wonderous and weirdest thing of all, I have managed to bring to this stage, before your very eyes!"

The red curtains rise, and there is a lush aspen forest – a clear pathway, golden leaves scattered, that meanders through the white tree trunks. You can hear the birds chirping, and the breeze of a crisp wind sharing the sweet scent of the forest through the auditorium.

"Over a thousand years ago," Heimerdinger goes, "in the heavens, there lived a giant inside his gorgeous castle. The giant was a selfish man, who hoarded all the riches he could find in his travels. All the would-be thieves who desired the treasure were quickly discovered, and eaten by the giant – cooked in a meaty stew along with cabbage and onions.

"For hundreds of years, the giant stayed awake, day and night. He never slumbered.

"Then one day, sometime during the 1700s, the giant grew tired and sleepy. For you see, while a giant can stay awake for such a long time, he must eventually slumber for approximately 300 years to recover his wakeful gait.

"And to protect his home, he had placed upon his castle a protective spell that would expel anyone and anything who would dare attempt to intrude.

"Madames et Monsieurs.. what you are about to witness," Heimerdinger says, fetching a seed from his pocket, "is the first ever successful attempt at taking the giant's treasure! Because the difference between me and all the others, is that I have devised a counter-spell that could break through the giant's barrier! Mwahahaha~! For great Science!"

Then Heimerdinger puts the seed down onto the pathway, and covers it with soil. The seed bursts out and grows into a towering beanstalk that seems to reach far beyond the ceiling.

"Hmm-nngh!" That is his grunts of effort as he steadily climbs the magic beanstalk, and everyone watches him climb higher than the stage – hearing everything that goes on up in the 'heavens.'

The wind gales.

You hear the zap of the barrier being broken, and the clatter of rich treasure hauled into a bag.

Heimerdinger clambers back down the beanstalk, with a bloated bag over his shoulders, and people start cheering at the sight of a scientist with lots of goodies in tow.

He's on the ground now, and has his hands ready to untie the bag-

"FI FE FUM FO-!" the giant bellows from above. "I SMELL THE STINK OF A SCIENTIST. HE HAST STOLEN MINE TROPHIES, WITH THE HELP OF THIS TASTY BEANSTALK."

The beanstalk violently rustles, as a giant shadow is cast over the stage; it is Swain, over-sized! He's wearing a beard. "I'LL GRIND THINE BONES TO MAKE MINE BREAD."

"Oh noes!" Heimerdinger seems to panic, looking at the audience as if to ask them for any suggestions. "What shall I do? He'll kill me!"

"COME HERE, LITTLE WORM," Swain booms. "YOUR DEATH WILL BE SWIFT AND PAINLESS IN MY HANDS."

Then Heimerdinger has an idea. He gets a buzzsaw and tries cutting the beanstalk down – but Swain jumps down onto the forest, landing with reverberations. Heimerdinger stands just about as tall as Swain's knee.

"I WON'T DIE LIKE MY COUSIN DID," Swain goes, glancing down at the petite scientist.

"Well.. err.." Heimerdinger twiddles his fingers.

"I'M SURE YOU'LL GO EXCELLENTLY WITH HEALTHY GREENS!"

Heimerdinger raises his wrench, ready to defend his very existence. "Back you filthy, giant ape! You won't be eating me! I am a man of Science! Great Scientists shouldn't ever die to their experiments!"

And Swain is raising his foot, about to stomp the Scientist.

"Oh, I remember now!" Heimerdinger pulls out a shrink ray from his pocket and zaps Swain down into normal size. (Lulu had cast a spell on Swain to make him big beforehand.) "Try this on for fair size!"

"Aarrghgh!" Swain seethes in frustration. "You'll still be mine! Com'mere!" He swipes his arms inward, attempting to clasp Heimerdinger's oversized head. "Stay still, why don't you!"

"Mwahahaha!"

It may not look it, but Heimerdinger has perfected the art of dodging anyone trying to take advantage of his big head. He leaps left and right, Swain just too slow.

Heimerdinger leads Swain right into a trap – a net catches Swain, suspending him high from a tree, dangling upside-down.

"Ho ho!" Heimerdinger grins, while the audience laughs too hard. "To the spoils go the triumphant!" He heads over to his bag, where there are lots of lumps inside. "Let's see what we've caught.."

Unzipping the bag, instead of the golden trophies, LeBlanc pops out – she shoots out a chain, wrapping Heimerdinger by his arms, and soon rooting him stuck to the floor.

"Too late, dearie," LeBlanc goes. "I applaud you for your efforts, but the trophies are all mine now. Hehe." She kisses him on the cheek, and smiles at the audience who is making an absolute thunder, as the red curtains drape, closing over the stage.

"Stay tuned for Act Two after our 15-minute intermission!" the announcer goes.

Renton could only swoon over what he's just seen. It's what's on his thoughts while he makes his way out into the foyer, with the rest of the audience swooning over what's to come.

Amidst everyone else, Renton feels like the odd one out. There's families, friends, even intimate couples who have each other; Renton has no one, no one to share it all with – and he has the urge to slap that damn usher's face and nab his phone back, so Fabrizio can join back in.

While he makes his way to the washrooms, he overhears the conspiracy nerds who are debating the logistics of Twisted Fate, being able to make such a 50 metres leap in a second.

He's tempted to stay and listen to the interesting possibilities – most likely, it has to be a 'double' who stands by the doors, or for the ones who believe that the magic is real, Twisted Fate actually did teleport all that way.

But there's only so much time left.

And Renton has been holding it in the whole time; that's what you get for drinking so much ginger ale. He needs to make it to the washrooms, fast!

He goes into the 'Hommes' room, where all the urinals have been taken by fat guys, so he finds one spare stall that isn't being used, and feels the immediate relief from his bladder.

Phew..

Man, it smells so nice in here. It's like cherry blossoms.

So Renton flushes the toilet, and by the sinks, he splashes his face with helping doses from the faucet. It clears his senses.

By the corner of his eye, he notices the sweet blue glow of the aquarium on his right - the fish tank, where the fish seem to jolt and dance to the kids' tapping on the glass. Renton is caught by its submarine beauty, the serene piano which plays over the speakers.

He walks up close to the tank, pulling from a nearby towel dispenser.

A moustached catfish – it swims over the corals and past a snow globe..

Then, he notices through the glass, he can see clearly into the women's washroom. The ladies who have finished using the stalls, and are helping their hands to grape soap and cleanliness.

Even the kids are now bored of making the fish dance, and they're oogling at the vibrant, sometimes outlandish dresses the ladies have on, like they've discovered a Playboy magazine littered by the playground.

Renton chuckles at the sight – probably he'd do the same too at their age.

He's about to turn around and head out, when he sees her come out of the stalls.

It's LeBlanc, in her garb and ornate cape. There's no mistaking her. She's brushing her hair aside, and heading to the sinks' mirrors, she is re-applying white powder to her face (because some of it got smudged when she was hiding in the trophy bag).

"Ooo-aaahwow!" a little boy goes, cooing.

To Renton, he is only starting to see her now, as if for a first time. Up close, there's something delicate about her, that he can't put his finger on. Like if you were to suddenly leap upon her and glomp her figure, she could just crumble under your weight, disrupting the sheer fineness and grace in even the littlest of her gestures.

And while he can't see clearly the colours on the other side, he remembers the way her dress seems to glitter by the outlines, on the stage. One of her legs is covered by stockings, the other is laid bare. He sees the contrast of her noir lipstick against her white face.

And most of all, in her eyes.

Yes, she seems content, intent on her reflection in the mirror – her eyebrows light yet defined.

But if Renton could describe it, it almost seems as if her eyes were a shimmering pool; pretty and reflective on the surface, yet concealing a kind of depth.. a feeling that's akin to if you were listening to contemplative music, and your eyes are closed, and you're sifting through the images that surface from your memories.

Like a longing.

And it hits him, that across that watery world, she must be one of the most exquisitely wonderful beings he's ever laid eyes upon. His eyes are widening in wonder. He doesn't want her to go.. just stay here so he can keep gazing upon her form.

But she leaves anyway, putting away her powder, a fresh lick of her lips.

He's left staring at the door she leaves through. The anodyne intermission music continues on from the speaker, and the kids are rushing out now.

"5 minutes until Act Two!" the announcer goes. "5 minutes."

When Renton heads back out into the foyer, M. Fourier is walking to the washrooms – he catches sight of him! Oh non!

".. Renton?" M. Fourier goes. "Well, well, what are you doing, straying out of your house arrest? I guess you couldn't resist the magic tonight, huh? Does your mum even know you're here?"

Renton tries to run away, but M. Fourier grabs him by the collar, and hauls him over – pinning him to the wall.

"I got your ass, Renton Thurston," he hisses, glancing down at Renton's ankle, noticing the bulge of the tracking bracelet. "Ahh.. you've managed to circumvent their security system, huh. No matter; from this second on, you're playing by my rules tonight! I'll watch where you're sitting, and after the show's over, you're coming straight with me – I'm driving you back to your home, so you can explain to Maman what you've been up to.

"And if you even dare try to run away from me.." The grin on M. Fourier. "I'll call the police on you so hard, it'll make your head spin!"

It's like a big gaping pit has formed in Renton's gut, and all he feels like doing is wanting to collapse onto the floor, here and now. Where M. Fourier will have to drag Renton along to get anywhere. See how the bastard will feel.

"Oh, are you not happy anymore?" M. Fourier goes, seeing Renton's face. "I'm sorry.. I've ruined your fun! Just like you've made me a total embarassment in class!" He thrusts Renton out in front of him. "Now get along, back to your seat!"

And Renton recalls that day, everyone was staring at him when he had no French words to give.

He makes his way to his seat in the auditorum.

Somewhere behind him, he imagines M. Fourier, chewing his buttery popcorn, grinning to himself in smug satisfaction. (Ugh.)

Renton just shrinks into his seat.

"Our dearest patrons of the night," the announcer goes, "the show will resume in one minute! One minute. The second act is so immersive that all the doors will be locked shut until the end!"

Everyone is in such a rush to get back to where they were sitting, that you'd imagine that even missing one second of the show would be a let-down. Someone, a tall man in a top hat almost gets knocked over.

Then the lights darken, and the entire theatre is plunged into almost an absolute darkness. Everyone's murmurs hush to diminuendo.

And graceful, melancholic music starts to play.

It seems like a minute or two passes, before you start to see a lone, blue spotlight gradually illuminating a figure – LeBlanc.

"Madames et Monsieurs.." she goes. "Tonight, out of everyone here, I will invite one of you to the pleasure of a dance in my arms." Her smile is cool and captivatingly alluring, and in her delicate hands, she has a long and silver staff that has white gems at the top.

The crowd is whispering amongst themselves, sitting by the edges of their seats. Of course, they want to be with her, each and every one of them! Renton included, especially wanting just to be up close with that beauty.

"How will I pick, you must be wondering?" LeBlanc goes. "That is simple – I will send out one of Swain's ravens, who will decide upon one of you by pure.. chance. No judge of your character, no judge of what clothes you may be wearing. Are you ready?"

And she gestures – another spotlight shows a black raven, darting out of the shut curtains, its wings beating and fluttering as the bird flies over everyone's heads.

The shadow of the bird epilipticly flickers over the audience, as their eyes try to follow the bird's path, eagerly and wildly anticipating just who the bird will land on.

To Renton, it has the same odds for him as winning the million dollar lottery – none whatsoever. You're duped into something, taken in by that intangible chance that you could be the one. He lowers his head in a quiet, sullen disappointment, where he can only glance at that random lucky winner, who'll be up on the stage by LeBlanc's side, and imagine what their tango would be like.. with that grace she so possesses.

(imagine what she smells like)

Maybe he'll leave the circus with a memory of what could have been.

Staring at the carpeted floor, with bits of popcorn on it, the cheers of the crowd starting to sound like a torture to his ears, as if mockingly saying, "We're so excited to see someone like us on the stage! But not you! Oh non, not you!"

Renton sighs.

Then he notices the flash of the spotlight, engulfing him – he half-expects it to move away somewhere, but it doesn't stray. He feels a light pinch on his shoulders; the raven has landed on him. He blinks, and the raven's still there, its head cocking around.

It's like he could float away into heaven.

"Alors.." LeBlanc goes over the clapping audience. "Young boy, I think the bird likes you! Why don't you come down here to the stage with me?"

The aisles light up, a glowing pathway down to the stage, and Renton makes his way past people to the aisles, his feet feeling like they're walking on feathers, and at the back of his mind – if only Fabrizio were here, because this is something he won't believe if he told him in words.

Renton walks down the aisle, the spotlight concentrating on him, and he finds himself climbing onto the stage floor, where LeBlanc stands only a few steps away.

"Tell me, boy," LeBlanc says, holding her staff to his face like it's a microphone. "What is your name?"

"Uhm, Renton." He tugs at his collar.

"Renton? Oh. Such a lovely name!"

Behind them, the curtains pull open. Velvet light streams through the gap, and on the blank stage, the background resembles a clock face, the red and purple roses that partially cover the numerals, the minute hand spiralling around and around, as if a merry-go-round in its throes of maddening frenzy.

The light and shadow of it all play over their bodies, over the audience in the auditorium.

"Where are we going, you might ask?" LeBlanc plays with her staff, rubbing her fingers over the smooth pole. "Into a distant future, when humanity is all but gone, and only the barest elements remain on this Earth."

She slams her staff onto the floor, and the clock freezes – it fades away back into darkness, and another light comes into play; a dusk, violet sky over a landscape where nature has been allowed to ferment over the manmade elements. The ruins of a city (you soon realise), where the trees grow from out the high rises, and the roads have cracked, the weeds and grass protruding out of them.

But the plant life looks sickly. Where the leaves are supposed to be green, they look ghastly pale.

Renton is woozy from the sight – it just feels almost too real for his liking. He can even smell the heavy ozone, from the moments before a rainstorm pours.

"What year is this..?" the first question Renton asks.

"98,765 AD," LeBlanc goes, facetious. "This is what will happen once we drain our planet of its vitalities. Not even the cockroaches would survive. The fact that you and I are able to take in this atmosphere is because I cast a protective spell, so we breathe in the toxic air as comfortably as we could the air we take for granted today."

She takes Renton's hand, and together they walk down the desolate streets.

"Where's everyone..?" Renton asks.

"Oh, they're watching us safe and sound from their seats.. mm, if you mean this future-" LeBlanc snaps her fingers – nothing seems to happen. She snaps her fingers again. "Heimerdinger..!" she whispers. "Vite, vite!"

Off-screen, Heimerdinger gives his hologram machine a kick.

Then a video is projected for everyone to see: it is of starships launching out into space, emigrating towards a destination unknown.

"They've all left," LeBlanc goes. "Their planet to colonise, they call 'Nova Prospekt' in the Alpha Centauri star-system. But they left behind something very important.. that's why we're here."

She leads Renton to a vast meadow, of wildberry thatches which waver in the breeze. There, you see a square patch of bare soil, where LeBlanc gets Renton with her to dig away the soil, their bare hands feeling like ripping away at dried, hardened dough.

There they find it – a metal box. The lock has been corroded so much that LeBlanc easily tears the hook apart, and inside the box, the vinyl records are still intact.

"In 1992," LeBlanc goes, "a woman fell in love with a man, and she wanted him to cherish her love so. Thus, she bought the music she'd listen to everyday from the record store. The snatches of melodious sound she'd hear, he will listen to too, one day.

"So they made love, and a child grew in her. A boy.

"She buried her vinyls into the meadow, letting the man know of the day her child would be born, when she'd take him to this spot, and uncover her music, and he'd finally listen to the songs with his own ears.. and cry much like she would too.

"But the man left before she managed to give birth to her boy, and having no one left, she'd decided to leave her vinyls buried until her boy grew old enough to understand love.

"Her boy was taken from her as well, and for the rest of her lifetime, she avoided coming back to this very spot – it simply brought her too much grief.

"Now.. Renton," LeBlanc says, "shall we dance to the music everyone's forgotten?"

He is almost on the verge of choking up; he nods anyway, and LeBlanc picks a vinyl out of a faded jacket. She looks around, as if expecting something to have shown up already. "Heimerdinger! Where's my record player!"

The audience breaks into a laugh, and LeBlanc has to hide her blush of shy embarassment as the record player pops into existance – a bit too late for her likings, but oh well. She pops the vinyl onto the turntable, putting the needle in its start position.

Then the music plays.

It starts off modestly quiet, piano chords, and then it bursts into an up-cheery beat; LeBlanc is bopping up and down on the floor, and Renton is sucked into dancing along to it too –

Sun is shinin' in the sky
There ain't a cloud in sight

It's stopped rainin'
Everybody's in a play
And don't you know
It's a beautiful new day –

Even the scenery starts changing into something more amicable; it turns into a bright blue sky, and the meadow is rich with intoxicating yellows, greens and reds of roses. LeBlanc and Renton are now skipping across the fields, an idyllic moment, and everything is alright-

Until from out the ground, zombies rise up and groan towards the two.

"Oh non! Zombies!" LeBlanc has her hand up to her mouth in faux shock. The scenery quickly reverts back to its dilapitated state – oui, she knows it is such an overblown cliche nowadays to feature zombies. There's tons of books, movies, and memorablia on that already. But in the end, it must have struck a chord with her, because there's no other satisfaction like pitting her accumulated individuality against a horde of once-human beings who have long since surrendered their own individualities to a hive mind.

The zombies look the way they usually do in most fiction, like slow rotting corpses, with worn-out clothing and glowing eyes. (The stage actors don't get paid well enough for this – usually, they play roles like Laura and Tom in 'The Glass Menagerie.')

Renton puts his hand up to his mouth – he is giggling, like he can't believe he's in the scene straight out of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller.' He begins miming the Thriller dance, with the moonwalk and all, and the people in the crowd are hooting.

A particularly lanky zombie raises his arms, about to cudgeon Renton – LeBlanc pulls him back just as the zombie swings.

"Attention!" she shouts. "This is no time for laughs; just stay close behind me boy, and tell me if they're closing in by my back!"

Then she shoots out a chain, which connects with one of the zombies in the back, and she gives a hard yank – the hauled zombie tumbles forward, colliding with his other comrades, and they all tumble to their tummies in a chain reaction.

Renton stutters; there's a very giant zombie, and he's decided to pick up one of his friends like a rock, getting ready to toss him. "Watch out behind you-!"

LeBlanc turns her face, seeing the flicker of rapid movement of the thrown zombie, and she tugs at Renton – she blinks the both of them just out of harm's way.

"Phew, that was close.." she goes.

"Aaghh, that hurt!" the poor thrown zombie says.

LeBlanc gives the zombie a pat on his head. "There, there." And then she turns to face the hulking giant, who's actually a professional bodybuilder. She shoves Renton to the side, as she backsteps from the bodybuilder's swings, managing to dodge all but one of his jabs at her face.

She is sent spinning to the ground, and the bodybuilder makes his best evil laugh he can muster. (Damnit, you're a zombie, not a super-villain.) Her attempt to roll away from his reach fails when he catches her by her legs, and raises her high, upside-down for everyone to see.

"You are mine now!" the bodybuilder zombie says. "You belong to me! Who's your Daddy now? I am!"

Renton tosses a nearby pebble at the bodybuilder – it strikes his head, but he doesn't even flinch. Instead, he turns to Renton and smiles. Come and try me kid.

"You big bastard!" Renton shouts. "You let her go!

The bodybuilder starts walking towards the boy; LeBlanc sees an opportunity to trip him, and she fires chains from both wrists that attach onto the zombie's ankles and root him to the ground. He falls, face-first, and LeBlanc is sandwiched under him.

She has to have Renton hauling her out by her arms.

And then, to the roaring audience, she nods, and holds Renton's arm up high in a celebration of victory. But they stop cheering – there's another horde of zombies, entering the foray. Around 30 of them, surrounding the two of them on all sides.

When it seems like there's no hope, suddenly – a great burst of light, and an electric explosion! The time-travelling DeLorean car bursts onto the scene, skidding from its 88 miles per hour to a halt. The zombies turn their attention to the dainty car, where out the doors, there's Heimerdinger (as Doc Brown) and Lulu (Marty McFly).

"Great Scott!" Heimerdinger exclaims. "This is what our future looks like!? The year 98,765!?"

"Hey! Save us!" LeBlanc waves at them.

"Great Scott! We've encountered intelligent life forms! And two of them look just like us!"

The zombies turn back to LeBlanc and Renton, getting ready to devour the two of them with impunity.

"Doc!" Lulu goes. "You better do something quick! They'll be fish food any second!"

"Right-o!"

From the car, Heimerdinger pulls out one of his H-28G turrets, customly modified to shoot out custard pies for this performance. He arms the turret next to his car, and the turret immediately spits out pies, rapid fire, splatting the zombies all over.

LeBlanc and Renton quickly run to the car, and she has to blink themselves both out of the turret's targeting – everyone gets inside, and Heimerdinger sets his destination time to 20th July 2015.

The turret keeps blasting zombies until it runs out of rounds, as the DeLorean begins to rise up into the air, the wheels turned into turbojets, and swerving around to face the audience, the time machine blasts off right into the ceiling!

In a bright flash, the DeLorean disappears!

And on the brightly lit stage, there is every member of the Black Rose – Renton included with them, standing side-by-side in a bout of euphoria.

He can hardly believe the wonderful thing he's just experienced! In those moments on-stage, he felt.. he felt involved and truly alive with LeBlanc, that woman. The crowd crescendos, and Renton finds himself smiling more and more, as the people in the front rows toss out bouquets of flowers, and Swain steps forward, picking one of the bouquets up.

It's the last moments before it's entirely over..

Swain hands Renton the roses, winking at him – they're his now.

"We are L'Societe de Black Rose," Swain goes, "and we graciously thank you for your attention and hospitality. Vancouver City has been such a delight to visit tonight, and although we cannot guarantee any promises, we'll do our best to make another visit soon! Au revoir-"

Then a streak in the air.

A burst of blood from Swain's shoulder – an embedded silver arrow; Twisted Fate swiftly pushes Swain from his spot, as everyone but Renton dives away.

Another streak.

It cuts through Renton's sleeve, narrowly missing his skin, and the arrow lands next to Swain's head.

Upon the horrific sight, the crowd is screaming, abandoning their seats, so fearful for their own lives as they are clawing and scrambling their way through out of the three entrances.

"Where'd it come from?" Lulu squeaks. "Our Swain's hurt – oh non..!" Pixy emerges from her pouch, attending to Swain. The silver arrows evaporate, and just the holes they've caused remain.

Renton shakes himself out of his stupour; he quickly comes back to his senses as he looks around, seeing the blood drain out of Swain's shoulders, and the crowd who runs away.

He even sees M. Fourier at the back, glancing at Renton, pointing at him in a gesture to get out of there with him – his teacher will still be calling the police, no matter what.

Twisted Fate peers at the high balconies; he spots a flicker of movement, someone darting away with a crossbow. "I got him, he's way up there! Lulu, can you give me a hand?" So Lulu hands him her wooden staff, and taps it – "Zippy!"

Twisted Fate rides off on the petite broomstick, flying up to that balcony.

"Guys, give me a hand," LeBlanc goes, grabbing Swain by his wrists. Heimerdinger and Lulu are quite small, so they wind up carrying each of his legs, and they head out onto backstage.

And Renton?

He stares out at the nearly empty auditorium, at the doors.. there's nothing much left for him back home, except for more years of dullness at school, with his mere.. the record of his house arrest, and a disgruntled teacher. A brief bout of sadness comes over his heart; he'd be leaving everything behind.

But he glances at the trail of blood droplets, leading over..

Her beautiful, seductive musk still lingers in the air, if only faintly. It's like cinnamon apple, with cedar and traces of lemon. Earlier in that futuristic wasteland, he thought it was only his senses quacking out when he first caught whiff of it in the ozone.

The smell drives him to a rush.

So Renton too follows them backstage.

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