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."
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."
"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?"
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?"
("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.
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."
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..
(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.
"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.
"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-
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.
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.
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?"
"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."
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.
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."