Through the eyes of an assassin - a RWBY fanfiction
A/N: Okay. This is the first update in more than a year. There were a bundle of reasons for the delay and being busy in real life is only one of them. To be honest, my muse pretty much dried up for some time and as some of the reviewers already noticed, this fanfiction needs a fair amount of original energy. I want to especially thank midnightandmoon for her really encouraging review. Funnily enough, now that I have laid my mind to rest for almost a year, I have managed to finally finish this particular chapter. Seriously, I am never ever writing about nightlife and partying in detail again. I am really not suited for this kind of setting.
This fanfiction is also a full-blown AU effectively right now. For those readers who remember, Ren's and Nora's backstory as shown in Volume 4 canon already contradicts some of the backstory bits I have hinted in my story until now. To be honest, canon Ren's past as well as Nora's is in my opinion really lackluster. Of course Renora's backstory here will be much more dramatic and awesome in turn... if I ever get far enough to tell it.
Just kidding. If I do not declare this fic dead, it will be updated someday. Even if it has to lead a zombie life in the meantime.
This chapter sees the introduction of the first OC who is more than just a side note. He will appear occasionally after his introduction, but I will do my best not to let him take centerstage. This is Lie Ren's show after all. There is also a pretty big reference to Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World'.
Chapter 9 – Nightlife
I closed the buttons of my black waistcoat and gave my reflection inside the mirror a short, decisive nod. Black trousers and shoes, a silver chain adorning the waistcoat and a dark green shirt. Certainly an outfit that was a little bit more sharp than what I usually wore, but for facing Vale's nightlife it should be appropriate.
"Reeen, you look awesome."
Nora and Ruby were still tinkering with Storm Flower and the floor around them were strewn with blueprints, tools and mechanical parts. Jaune was buried in history homework and Pyrrha went around the room to make sure that everyone was properly hydrated and got occasional intakes of sugar.
"And you are going out dancing without me. How can you be so cold?"
"Nora, concentrate on finishing the upgrade. We have an agreement."
My excitable partner attacked me with one of her weapon grade pouts, but I steeled my heart and endured. "Next time you go out to dance, I am sooo coming along."
I turned to Pyrrha and gave her a meaningful look. She gazed back and seconds later, a smile played around her lips. She nodded back. "Next time, I think we should go dancing as a team", the redhead said.
Bless you, Pyrrha Nikos.
"OK. Sounds good. And I want my pancakes tomorrow, Ren."
"And don't forget my chocolate chip cookies", Ruby chimed in. After she entered our dorm to immerse herself in the eclectic art of weapon upgrading, her mood had significantly improved. Nora probably played a role. Her cheer was infectious on a bad day and positively contaminating otherwise.
"I live to serve."
Yang entered our room. "Hey Silent one, you ready?"
"Yes" I took in her outfit: black and white biker jacket, black bloomers, thigh high socks with garters and violet accessories - a semitransparent cloth that stuck out from the right side of her hip and a bronze necklace with an inlaid amethyst. They were color-coordinated with her eyes. All in all, it was quite a get-up.
Yang gave me an appreciative once over, before she jerked her thump towards the door. "Let's go."
"Have a good time, Yang", Ruby said.
The other occupants also said their goodbyes.
Yang showed us a loop-sided grin. "Don't stay awake the whole night, sis. And see you around, nerds."
Nora suddenly stood up. She struck a pose and pointed her finger straight at the blonde brawler. "Next time, victory will be mine, Yang Xiaolong."
"Good luck with that, hammer maiden."
We left the dorm wing in companionable silence, but it did not took long until the blonde started a conversation. "You and Nora are quite close, aren't you?"
"Well, its kind of strange, but somehow both of you fight similarly. Despite her carrying that crazy war hammer and you basically going bare handed."
I turned to the blonde and gave her an inquisitive look. "How so?"
"Well, both of you are much tougher than what your Aura would make me believe and there is something sneaky about the way both of you attack. You somehow do the unexpected."
"You were not bad yourself. Nora is not an easy opponent to beat."
"Say that again. She had me down on the ropes. I had to resort to my Semblance to win the duel."
"Your Semblance. You mean, when you catch fire?"
"Curious, Silent one?"
As a matter of fact, I was. Visual effects notwithstanding, I had a hard time figuring out the mechanics of her qi-circulation, especially when she caught fire. It actually seemed like her qi reservoir spontaneously multiplied itself, which did not make any sense at all. Qi was an exhaustible resource inside our bodies and while it certainly replenished itself it did not simply became more all of a sudden. No, my senses were probably dulled after the fight against Ruby.
"I can always observe."
She smirked. "Then, that's what you will do. We are being ranked and I don't want to make things too easy for the competition."
No matter the exact mechanics or magical aspects of her Semblance, the effect was more than impressive: Yang came on top when wrestling Nora without anyone of them using the recoil of their weapons as force multipliers. I shook my head at the absurdity, for I always considered Nora's physical strength to be completely inhuman and unmatched. But apparently, the old saying still held true: There was always someone better.
We entered the garage and the blonde lead me to a massive bike painted to the likeness of flames. Its rear tire was far wider than the front one. I did not know much about motorcycles, but while drinking in the sight of that monstrosity I took some guesses.
"Like you wouldn't believe. This is dad and mine's pet project. Meet Bumblebee."
Strange name. A fire themed one would had been more fitting. But perhaps that was too obvious.
Yang mounted her monster bike, swapped her scroll across the handlebars to undo the lock and revved the engine. The booming sound of a combustion engine echoed through the underground hall. She put on a bright yellow helmet out of a compartment at the right side, put on dark googles and finally turned her head around, giving me an expectant smirk.
I eyed her critically. "Spare helmet?"
"My driving is totally safe."
"Come on, don't be a scaredy cat. If anything happens, you have your Aura to protect you."
"Aura does not work well when it comes to blunt or concussive trauma, which happens to be the kind of damage most likely to happen during a driving accident."
She folded her arms and gave me a glare. "Are you being difficult on purpose?"
I sighed. "Just detecting some double-standard." I mounted the gigantic bike, albeit with some reluctance.
"You can hold on to me if it makes you feel safer." The blonde haired brawler turned around and gave me a well practiced grin, equal parts challenging, mocking and flirtatious. "Just don't let your hands wander where they don't belong."
I kept my hands to myself and gave her a cool look. "I am good."
Yang cocked a single eyebrow. "Suit yourself, Silent one." She revved up the engine again and brought the machine to life. As acceleration took over I almost gave in to temptation to just wrap my arms around the boisterous blonde, but even someone like me had his pride. I pumped qi into my legs and pressed them forcefully against the metal monstrosity.
So began my first expedition into Vale's nightlife.
Beacon's garage – though car park would be more appropriate – was connected to Vale via a tunnel which spiraled down to ground level. The school itself was situated atop a cliff and I had thought until today that the only way to reach it was through flight. As the artificial glow of neon light mounted on the tunnel walls flickered past me I was disabused of that notion.
I leaned towards Yang getting a face full of vibrant blonde hair as a result. I endured it and raised my voice above the deafening engine sound. "Say, is this tunnel used by trucks?"
"How did you guess?"
"I doubt that school management employed construction workers to carve something like that into a cliff-side for the sole sake of allowing you to drive your bike onto school grounds."
"Wow, I think that was the longest sentence I have ever heard you say. Probably over twenty words."
She turned her head slightly, just as we were reaching the end of the tunnel. "You seriously counted?"
"Yes", I deadpanned.
We shot out into the city. The starry night sky parted before my sight like a diamond studded curtain of black eternity. We made good speed and I realized with some relief that Yang was indeed a safe driver. She did not treat traffic lights as mere suggestions and while she did accelerate her bike to the very edge of speed regulations, her handling never faltered or showed even the slightest hint of shoddy control.
We stopped in front of a club called 'Freezer Burn'. The entrance was flanked by two burly bouncers in black trenchcoats. Broad shouldered, heavily muscled and crude qi-control. Another pair of cheap generic bodybuilders. Stairs with an aluminum sheen led straight down and the steady but dampened beat of amplified music was pulsing from beneath.
Yang swaggered towards the stairs as if she owned the place. Her gait did interesting things with her hips and rear – the bouncers' gazes were literally glued to her ass – and we entered the place without any inconvenience.
The sparsely populated dance floor was the first thing to greet my sight. The overall lighting was dim, almost plunging the place into darkness. Occasional streams of blue light rotated across the dance hall like an oversized laser-scanner used to verify scroll-IDs. The dark outlines of the few people already here were sharply illuminated for but a brief moment before merging with the shadows again.
I saw Yang changing direction, saw her move her lips and arms in greeting, heading straight to a trio of persons lounging on sofas in the far corner of the room. I followed her while trying to discern the identity of these newcomers. Emphasis on try. The lack of light made the task nearly impossible, but considering their qi-signatures were easily Huntsmen level, it was not difficult to guess where they came from.
When we reached the distant corner the noise level had lowered enough for me to actually understand spoken, or rather shouted, words again.
"Hey folks." The boisterous blonde greeted the three students. Now that I was closer, I recognized two fellow first years. A girl from team IDGO who had her arms wrapped possessively around a guy from team SLVA. I had yet to memorize their names, but in lieu of school work, training and mapping the entire Beacon campus for surveillance blind spots, I excused myself for not having started on all the dossiers about my fellow students yet.
A stream of blue light washed over us again and I got my first good look at the last member of the student trio. She was a young woman who looked like a glamorous fashion model, although her gigantic and polished qi-pool - it was bigger than Yang's - was proof positive that she was part of Beacon's student body.
She wore a black, stylishly asymmetrical dress with spaghetti straps that revealed a copious amount of well toned legs. The dress was studded with little crystals which formed a wave pattern which subtly accentuated her curves. At least I thought that the glittering stones were crystal. I refused to humor the possibility of them being actual diamond. Clothes made the person, sure, but there had to be a line somewhere when it came to fashion.
The biggest oddity though was the beret she wore on her head. Compared to the rest of her get-up it seemed cheap, crude, even out of place, but the asymmetrical ensemble which continued in the way she wore her accessories, the way her massive scarf was draped around her and the way she styled her hair, turned the beret into another piece of her idiosyncratic appearance.
She certainly made it look good.
"Hey, Irika, Anthony. Still trying to get yourself busted for public indecency."
The brunette mock glared at the boisterous blonde before placing a wet kiss on the lips of her, well, probably boyfriend who seemed content where he was. "Is that envy speaking, Yang?"
"Nah, Anthony is cute, but he is not really my type. No reason to mark your territory, or is that lack of confidence speaking?"
Irika rolled her eyes as both of us sat down.
"I, for one, am glad you showed up", the fashionista said. "Watching these two plastered on each other was starting to get old." She gave Yang and me a cursory once over before grinning. "Like your styles." Her gaze rested on my lock of pink dyed hair. "Especially yours."
I tilted my head in acknowledgment while locking my sight on her own dyed hair lock. Her grin widened.
"So Irika, how about a round of introductions?", Yang said.
The petite brunette smiled as she turned to the fashionista. "Coco, these two are fellow first years. This is Yang, from team RWBY. An friend of mine from Signal. I think I mentioned her in some of my letters."
"I remember, barely." Coco crossed her legs and leaned slightly forward, resting her chin on a manicured hand. She wore nail polish, though I could not discern the color. Going by first impressions it was probably coordinated with the rest of her fashion ensemble. "Your team leader is that fifteen year old, right?"
"Her name is Ruby, not 'that fifteen year old'." Yang's expression turned aggressive.
"Coco, Yang is her sister."
The fashionista took in the information like it was tomorrows weather forecast. "I see. Ruby it is." She looked Yang in the eye. "I apologize."
Irika cleared her throat loud enough to be heard over the music, probably to dispel the tension. She turned to me then. "And this is...Ren?"
"Yeah, Ren, member of team JNPR."
Coco raised an eyebrow. "Pyrrha Nikos is also part of your team, isn't she?"
She smirked at me. "You are not one for words, aren't you?"
"Well, whatever. I'll finish introductions. I am Coco Adel, a second year and team leader of CVFY. Irika here is my sweet little cousin."
"Oh stop it, Coco."
"Now that introductions are over", Yang pointed with her thump at the bar, "let's grab some drinks."
"Good idea." Coco stood up taking her black handbag with gold highlights.
"We are good", Anthony said pointing to him and his girlfriend.
I followed them, but took another short glance at the place where Coco's handbag was laying previously just as another stream of light bathed us in ultramarine illumination - I saw a deep, squarish indentation on the sofa.
An umbrella, a riding crop and now a lady handbag? Compared to Vacuo with their utilitarian approach to weapons, this seemed almost playful. But as someone who knew the worth of concealed arms, I admired the way these women basically hid their weapons in plain sight. On the other hand, a handbag seemed kind of unwieldy.
Yang ordered a Strawberry Sunrise, Coco a Cyanider and I went with a simple Gin Fizz.
"If memory serves me right, you and Irika were in the same class."
Yang smiled. "Yeah, we were the heartbreaking duo at Signal. Irika provided cuteness appeal, I went with sex appeal." Her voice took in a distinct note of fondness. "Of course, she had to settle down with a guy and break up our invincible combination, that traitor."
Coco broke out in pearls of laughter. "You treat heartbreaking as if it's some kind of sport. I pity all the guys who flocked to you two and got burned in the process."
Yang's grin turned predatory. "Who said it was only guys?"
Coco tilted her head in acknowledgment. "Point."
"So, which combat school did you attend, Coco?"
"None, I was privately tutored."
"And you made it into Beacon? Your tutors must be pretty good."
"They are some of the best money can buy. Just ask your team mate. I think Weiss Schnee also has some experience when it comes to private tutors."
Yang snorted. "I just bet. But you are awfully well informed about us first years."
"Just the outstanding ones." She turned looking both of us in the eye. " Make no mistake, but your two teams are pretty much the talk of the school right now, up to the forth year students."
I sighed inwardly. So much about low exposure.
When the bartender brought the drinks he also slipped us some small plastic packets. "On the house, as always." He grinned winningly at the young women, before turning back to take further orders.
Yang and Coco broke their packets with well practiced ease. They took the white pill inside and swallowed it.
I stared at them, broke my own packet and took out the pill. Pearly white. The form was also familiar. "Is that Soma?"
"Well, yeah", Coco drawled. "Never had any?"
"I was just surprised they give it out for free. You have to pay for the stuff in Vacuo."
"Seriously?" Yang raised both eyebrows in surprise. "And what about unhappy people?"
I shrugged. "They have to deal with it, I guess."
The blonde frowned. "That's pretty risky, if this unhappiness festers, it could draw in the Grimm."
"It's not like the Vale government forces people to take the pills as opposed to Atlas." Coco intervened. "People here are free to be unhappy. Most simply choose not to. Besides, Soma is merely a stop-gap measure. It does not remove the root cause for people's unhappiness."
Yang nodded. "That's true. But solving the deeper problems behind people's unhappiness usually takes time." Her expression darkened. "If it's possible at all. And I still don't understand why you have to pay for Soma in Vacuo. The Vale government basically takes it upon themselves to distribute the stuff."
"Subsidizing a pharmacoactive product like Soma costs money." Coco said. "Money that the Vacuo government lacks, I guess."
I nodded. "Vacuo has to import the pills at a steep price. Due to the place being mostly desert cultivating the raw material for Soma is not an option."
Our conversation died down as each of us nursed our drinks.
"Okay, that topic was definitely depressive." Yang's voice had a perked up quality she previously lacked. Probably the substance taking effect. "Let's get back to Irika and Anthony. It's time we have some fun."
The rest of the night went by in a flash. We mostly stayed at Freezerburn, for after some small talk to break the ice between us the club began to fill in. After that words were not needed as we entered the dance floor. Irika and Anthony mostly danced with each other, but me, Yang and Coco mingled freely with the crowd. I ended up facing Coco more than once and despite the strapped high heels she wore, she performed some really impressive moves.
Judging from the way she initiated skin on skin contact several times, I certainly hadn't lost my touch on the dance floor. There was no doubt she came from big money, but she lacked the stuffiness I often encountered in members of high society, quite different from a certain Schnee heiress. In other words, I actually enjoyed her company.
We changed location around midnight entering a club called 'Dance Fever'. Cliched name aside, the music turned out to be horrible, so after ordering and finishing one cocktail, we escaped to the streets again.
Irika and Anthony wanted to find a private place for themselves. Yang and Coco rolled their eyes, before letting loose a barrage of teasing on the couple until both of them turned as red as tomatoes. In the end we broke up our little group with the horny pair seeking out a love hotel, Coco returning to Beacon and Yang driving me to Junior's bar like she promised.
"Thank you." I dismounted from the vibrating monstrosity of a bike, glad to feel contact between my feet and solid ground again.
"Don't mention it. The night was fun."
I gave a non-committal nod.
She eyed the entrance to Junior's Bar. Then she focused her lilac eyes at me. "But I get the feeling you did not ask me to show you around Vale to have fun."
"Because I refuse to enhance the experience with Soma?"
"No. You can have good fun without them, but... I don't know. Call it a gut feeling, but the way you became part of the crowd - dancing, drinking, talking up the people, when doing that, you somehow slip away. The way you mix and fit in, its too smooth, too unobtrusive. You somehow become invisible among people."
Quite a sharp woman. "You still seem to have caught on my...intentions."
"Because I have special training. And we kinda know each other already."
"I will be honest. I did not expect this night to be as enjoyable as it turned out to be."
Yang grinned. "You like Coco?"
"She is decent company."
"That she is." Then she frowned. "You are dangerous."
"Everybody who made it into Beacon is dangerous."
"Maybe, but something about you is different. Ruby is not an easy opponent to beat." She echoed my own words right back at me. "From what I have seen today she has vastly improved the last time I saw her go all out. And as Goodwitch and Nora said, you were clearly outmatched." She shook her head. "No forget I said anything. Ruby seems to like you well enough and she can always use some more friends."
"It sounds like you are merely tolerating me as an option to broaden your sister's social prospects."
Yang's frown deepened. "That's a fancy way to say that I am using you."
"Nothing to be ashamed about. I also used you today. You just happen to call it 'friends helping each other out'."
Her gaze was starting to become menacing. "Very cynical, Silent one. So, your understanding of people using each other, does that include Nora?"
"She is different", I shot. Then I paused. "She is... family."
Her expression softened considerably. "Then you know what I feel when it comes to Ruby."
"You are not blood related. At least not fully."
She grinned wolfishly. "Is it that obvious? We are half-sisters. Besides, Nora and you do not exactly look like siblings either."
"We are orphaned." A very loaded phrase rife with implications.
"I see. I am sorry."
"Don't be. We manage. Besides, the loss of a parent is something you are familiar with."
"How..." the blonde brawler eyed me suspiciously.
"Coco's remark about you mothering your sister back in 'Dancing Fever'. Your reaction was telling enough. You probably lost one of your mothers, so I guess both of you have different ones?"
"You figure out things quickly, Silent one. You are not completely right though. Ruby lost one mother. I lost two."
I let the words sink in. "I see."
"You are still pretty good with your observations."
"I merely put two and two together."
"Is that supposed to make me underestimate you?"
I shrugged. "Perhaps."
She scowled before her face took on a more neutral expression. "Rubes told me that Ozpin stuck you together with her to help each other 'develop your fighting styles'".
Words were traveling fast. "We are to help each other acquire the right frame of mind. There is more to fighting than just the physical aspects."
"Really? Are you gonna spout something about mind over body or crap like that? My dad is an experienced Huntsman. He taught me that thinking in the middle of a fight gets you killed."
I nodded. "Correct. The secret is to think without thinking."
Yang scoffed. "That doesn't make a lick of sense."
Memories of old resurfaced. My master once told me the same koan and I was as clueless as Yang was now. I smiled. "Believe me, it does."
"Right", she said with skepticism pouring out of her voice. "Well, do whatever that headmaster tells you to." She then grinned, but calling it wolfish would be the same as calling the open maw of an Ursa major inches from your face slightly menacing. "But as I said, becoming friends is okay, just don't give my sister ideas about boyfriends and stuff. Breaking all the bones in your body would be the least of your troubles."
I could not help but looking amused. "Are you going to extend the same warning to Jaune? He gets along a lot better with her."
"Vomit boy? Nah, he is too spineless to try anything. Besides, I suspect he fancies Weiss."
And here I was, standing in the middle of an industrial complex, planning to strike a deal with a top information broker of Vale's criminal underground while gossiping about my team mate's dating prospects with a boisterous blonde. Hell truly had frozen over.
"See you." I turned to Junior's Bar.
"Need a lift back?", Yang called.
"No. My business will take a while. I will return to Beacon next morning." I glanced back at her. "Have a good night, Yang Xiao Long."
Entering the club felt like stepping into a world of bright monochrome. The dominant colors were black, white and the occasional splotch of red. Kind of morbid, to run the Grimm color scheme in a dancing club. I thought back to the interior of the other places I visited tonight and had to admit: There was a pattern. The people here in Vale seemed to appreciate a more contemplative style, be it buildings, clothing, even the advertisement. Less garish and bright, less 'in-the-face' than what I was used to in Vacuo, far more subdued. So why not allow for colors that reminded people of the biggest menace to mankind, the number one reason for the high mortality rate in this world? For the reach of death was all-encompassing, even inside this temple of carnal stimulation and escapism.
Memento mori. I liked it.
Looking at the sea of bodies that were swaying to the echoing pulse of the bass, I noticed the regulars and employees mostly adhered to the color scheme. The amount of security was high - men in black suits, red ties and blood tinged sunglasses patrolled every corner of the hall and its entrance points. As I took in their movements from the corner of my eye, I realized that their patrolling pattern centered around a pair of young women who very much acted as control towers.
The subtle flare of their qi shone through the mass of party animals, tickling my senses which laid outside the traditional ones. I focused my gaze on their lovely figures, before I let it wander upwards - modest breasts, slim necks covered in fur, raven hair, straight, glossy and lustrous, pale skin that was almost white, eye shadow color-coordinated with their dresses and most surprisingly, a pair of identical faces.
Their costumes - they were too attention grabbing and unconventional to be called otherwise – shared many similarities evoking the image of a pair of peacocks, but while peacocks were peaceful animals this pair of twins most definitely were not. No matter how pretty their plumage, it was incapable of hiding the sharp claws lurking beneath.
I could not detect any weapons yet, but that was not much of a reassurance. Even the seemingly harmless accessories they wore could very well contain something hurtful and lethal.
I stared at them a smidgen too long, for they became alert to my scrutinizing gaze. I saw the one in white frown. The one in red gave me – interestingly enough - a wink. I also saw both of them moving their hands in simple patterns. It was far less complex than sign language, but as a tool for group coordination it obviously sufficed as I saw myself being cordoned by the bodyguards.
Seems like Yang's rampage left them security conscious. Not that I blame them.
I moved leisurely towards the bar, braving my way through the dancing crowd, shielding my mind from the ecstasy of sweating bodies, glittering accessories, the stroboscopic shine of circling disco lights intermingled with squirming, moving flesh and the smell of alcohol, nicotine and powdered drugs.
I took a deep breath, tasting the stale air and its contaminants. Siatix, HGY, Jive and of course the ever-present Soma. Seems like the regulars frequenting this place belonged to the financially well-situated part of Vale's social strata. This kind of drug mixture was something I only ever encountered in Vacuo's most high-end dance clubs.
I finally made a breakthrough, leaving the crowd behind while going for the nearest unoccupied bar stool. The bodyguards were still being wary of me, though they kept their hands off their weapons. A good sign.
"A Limescape please, with extra grenadine syrup, less apple spirit and crushed instead of center ice." The bartender nodded curtly. I turned my head slightly and made a sweep out of the corner of my eye: The bodyguards were still on alert. The twin peacock sisters were closing in on me. Their stride was, well, distracting. It was the walk of seductive predators, confident in their looks as well as the effect they had on their surrounding. I turned back to the counter, careful not to appear hurried just in time to see the bartender serving me the cocktail.
"That's seventy Lien."
I needed to act quickly. "I will give you hundred, if you tell me the favorite drinks of the two ladies approaching me."
The young man who had mixed up my cocktail smirked. "This kind of information is worth much, much more."
I looked at him and only now did I notice the green tinged monocle atop his nose, different from all the other male employees in the club. He wore a black waistcoat like me, but his shirt was a lighter shade of black with gold pinstripes. His hair was heavily spiked standing up equally in all directions. The color was a dark brown that could pass for black if the illumination was just right. His face had a hawk-like quality despite his nose being stubby and his one visible eye - I looked into it and felt myself being sucked in. The iris was an electric blue with bronze speckles, but the truly unnatural part was the pupil: Vertically slitted, completely unreflective, a window to a microscopic black hole.
Then, I finally felt the sliver of qi, dancing around his body hinting at the vortex below.
I found myself to be the frog parading before the snake. I did not even took notice of him when he was mixing up my drink.
If he wanted, he could have killed me during my slip in perception.
The twins flanked me from both sides. They were barely more than one meter apart. I looked at both of them, finally noticing their weaponry: The White Rose wore heel blades. The Red Rose gloves with retractable knives.
So the hidden claws were to be taken literally. There had to be an inside joke somewhere.
"Hello ladies", the bartender greeted smoothly. "This gentlemen here just asked me for your favourite drinks."
Both of them raised their eyebrows in perfect synchronicity, but while the White Rose gave me a mocking, if slightly amused smirk, the Red Rose granted me a warm smile. Contradictory signals all around, for their weapons were still readied, so I was obviously not outside the danger zone.
"Outright telling him would be boring though", the bartender continued, "so let's make a bet. You, my friend, try to guess their preferences. You get three tries. If you are right on both counts, we will let you be. You will also get the opportunity to flirt with the two most capable and loveliest guards in the club..."
The white one glared at him, but he just waved her off. "Oh, don't start Melanie. You are as interested as Militiades. At least your sister is honest with her attraction."
I summoned every sliver of mental fortitude to calm body and mind. I was not completely successful, though when I finally spoke my voice sounded steady:
"What if I get it wrong?"
"We will interrogate you thoroughly – in the backroom. Preferably with the help of sharp implements. You waltz into the club and the first thing you do is checking out security, entrance-exit points as well as these pretty control towers. Oh, there is also the fact that you possess quite a respectable amount of Aura. There was an incident about three weeks ago and we would rather not rebuild the place again." His smirk turned ferocious. It reminded me of a shark. "Nothing personal."
Nothing personal. Right. He was oozing killing intent. Probably did it to psych me out.
I pictured a crystal clear stream. I deepened my concentration imagining the aroma of roasted green tea. I focused my consciousness to cling to these associations. A moment later, my mind became clearer, more focused.
Despite the bartender's bet, I was sure he planned to interrogate me no matter whether I fulfilled his ridiculous request or not. Given his remarks I suspected that he was ultimately responsible for the guards in the club reacting as fast as they did. While I was not consciously suppressing my qi, I was very much in the habit of not flaring it around like a signal fire and so far, the qi-sensing abilities of the inhabitants on Remnant did not impress me much.
The man in front of me did not look like Junior, but he seemed to occupy a similar position of authority within the club. Adding his superior skill in concealing his qi as well as qi-sensing and I was left with few valid conclusions to his true identity.
All the preparatory information I dug up on Hei Xiong to win him over as an intermediary – wasted. Instead, I was sitting face to face with the enigmatic man behind the man, the person I wanted to speak to in the first place.
I glanced at the pretty guards flanking me. I could simply spit out the pass-phrase to move the whole conversation to the next level. The twins were really, really alluring though. I felt myself looking forward to the challenge the bartender posed. Besides, if he was true to his word, flirting with these black-haired beauties would be a nice change of pace - perhaps even a hidden opportunity.
It had been quite some time since I last made love to a woman.
I looked to my left, taking in the whole of Militiades, body language, dress, her scent, the expression as our eyes met, the curve of her lips, the little tells in her eye-reflexion. I committed her name to memory, every scrap of her bodily appearance that might help me differentiate between her and her sister if they were not wearing such an obvious get-up. It was often a good way to earn the favor of identical twins by learning to tell them apart as fast as possible.
Then I looked to my right. Again, I strained my senses to their maximum as I perceived Melanie in her totality. Flashes and pictures, words and logical chains that slithered on the edge of consciousness. All I did was being aware not to focus on them, only to let them flow.
To think without thinking. An ability not restricted to the domain of martial arts. The capabilities of the human mind were vast, inconceivable even. One just needed to know how to utilize it.
As the answers popped into awareness, I did not waste any time to mull on their veracity.
"A bloody Sundrive with extra mint for the lady in red. A milky desert-lily for the lady in white."
I saw both of their eyes widen in surprise, though Melanie's body language immediately became defensive.
"Milky desert-lily is not my favourite drink."
"I am aware. Your favourite is the Albedo, but right now both of you are on the job. Considering both of you take your duty serious, that means no alcohol. Take the cactus-spirit out of the Albedo, replace the white grape juice with ripened splashberry extract and you get the milky desert-lily. If you were to drink a non-alcoholic beverage when on the job, it should be this one."
The bartender laughed. "He nailed your choice, Melanie. It's what you drank the last three times I was here."
"How did you guess?", asked Militiades.
I put up my most sincere expression. "Perhaps I am a mind reader. Or a seer."
"A mind reader? A seer?" Melanie interjected, her voice a mixture of incredulity and bemusement. "Now, that sounds like a rare gift."
So she was sufficiently intrigued to play along with my obvious ruse.
"Is that perhaps your Semblance?", Militiades asked.
"Perhaps", I reacted while wondering furiously if the woman was serious. I knew painfully little about Semblances, but if she earnestly thought that they could manifest as something as ridiculous as mind reading, then this whole concept the Huntsmen on Remnant took for granted sounded pretty much like magic to me. "I could read your fortunes."
The twins moved closer to me, close enough that their different perfumes intersected to become a single fragrance. Sandalwood combined with jasmine carrying just a hint of honeyed sweetness. I abhorred heavy perfumes that bludgeoned one with their aroma, but the smell surrounding me right now was positively intoxicating.
No reason to lose my head.
"Show us", the twins chorused, their voices laced with silent promises. "Your fortune telling."
"Please give me your hands."
Delicate hands encased in shimmering red and green tinged white stretched themselves out to me. "Ladies, I must ask you to remove your gloves. I need to see the lines."
"Are you going to tell us our time of death?", Melanie asked.
"Or our prospects of finding true love?", Militiades added.
"Whatever fate has in store for you, it is all written on your palms."
They took off their gloves with painfully aesthetic slowness. The incessant rustling tickled my anticipation as I watched crisp, silk-like fabric slid down to reveal even more unblemished skin. Their movements perfectly mirrored each other.
I would call that a preview to the kind of foreplay these twins were capable of.
No reason to lose my head. Business before pleasure.
I took their now exposed hands, while rattling down some generic lines of fortune I cobbled together from memory. I gave a silent thanks to Nora for her habit of laying her girly magazines strewn around her room waiting for me to clean up after her. Who would have thought I would one day feel lucky to know about phony horoscopes?
At this point of the seduction game, what I was talking about did not matter much. I modulated my voice, kept eye contact and applied subtle pressure, all the while holding their hands.
When I finished my so called fortune telling, predicting success, money as well as excitement coupled with danger for life and limb if they were not careful, both women leaned towards me. They whispered simultaneously, making their lips move as if they were about to kiss me.
"You free tonight?"
They certainly knew how to corner a man.
Good thing I was something of an escape artist.
"After I have a talk with your boss." I teared my attention away from the twins, transformed my whole demeanor into a mask of indifference. Then I turned to the bartender. "We have business to discuss."
The spell of intimacy and sexual tension evaporated like mist. I felt the two girls' discomfited stares boring into my sides, but I also sensed their curiosity that made them stay despite my sudden snub.
The bartender gave me a queer look. "Now that is quite a turnabout. It has been some time since the last guy took a stab at seducing these two. And he performed not nearly as smoothly as you did. Your finisher needs some serious work though."
"You are Hei Lang 'Senior', right?"
The man's eyes turned sharp in an instant. "There are not a lot of people aware of this moniker. Did someone sent you?"
"The golden dragon lost its fifth claw battling the spawn of Yama."
For the first time I saw him lose his composure. Up until now he was in total control of his body language, giving away nothing but what he wanted me to see. He recovered fast though, returning to his carefully crafted veneer of coolness and slightly disdainful amusement.
"The saints cried rivers of azure, for the heaven's decree was lost", he answered.
I smirked. "I believe we have business to discuss."
Senior's words were spoken in a deadly calm voice. "Yes, I believe we do."
** [WOR] **
World of Remnant addendum 3: Soma
The Kingdoms always had a fairly ambivalent relationship to mind-altering drugs. In the old days, when humanity was still scrambling with sticks and stones, barely controlling the few pieces of Nature's Wrath, drugs were used mostly as stimulants or to reach a higher state of mind. Force marches over thousands of kilometers to evade Grimm hordes were often only endured through copious use of kaspes nuts, the raw material for a drug that will become Siatix in the future.
Singulo leaves were used to broaden the perceptive state of the mind, mostly utilized by spiritual people back in the days, although there are shamans in certain Faunus tribes who are using such even today.
When human civilization advanced, followed by the emergence of cities and nations, the usage of drugs started to get frowned upon until they were outright banned by law. The risks as well as disadvantages were too severe to be ignored: Physical and psychological addiction, toxicity through overdose coupled with the high costs of producing them followed by the health hazard that resulted if unscrupulous people cut costs during production.
That state of affairs kept up until the discovery of Soma, the wonder drug. A substance that did not cause physical addiction, had low toxicity reducing health damage through overdose to a bare minimum. Its only effect was to elevate the consumer into a mental state of moderate bliss and happiness, moderate being the key word here, with steep diminishing returns lowering the incentive for overdose even further.
A true designer drug in the most literal sense of the word.
For the Kingdoms the emergence of Soma became a godsend. Their populations kept growing, but the expansion of land could not keep up with demand until it hit total standstill, because permanent settlements outside the natural borders of the Kingdoms ended in disaster again and again. Unrest and unemployment grew as nations were bursting at their seams. When the Council introduced the Citizen Tiers to finally put a hold on population growth, there was much resentment. As such, the governments of all nations except Vacuo took the production and distribution of Soma into their own hands, using it as the ultimate pacifier.
The Mysterious Narrator