Episode 88 – Light and Night
The two laughed merrily until their eyes were red from tears and their faces hurt from grinning too much. Several times, they managed to calm down, only to look at each other and burst into laughter once again.
It had been a long time since Elaru had laughed carefreely like this.
And for Kiel, it had been an even longer time. A time so long that he couldn’t remember ever laughing like this.
For a moment, Kiel forgot all his inhibitions. He forgot that he was supposed to be suppressing these feelings that overflowed with no rime or reason, this rampaging tide of emotions that he couldn’t help but fear.
For what Kiel feared the most was the loss of control.
He dreaded losing control of his own fate, yet, what he feared even more, was losing control of himself.
For buried deep down within him, there was a sleeping monstrosity that was everything he didn’t want to be. A dangerous, bestial creature ready to bare its fangs to anyone standing in its way. A ticking time bomb that just needed a trigger.
No matter how he despised it, no matter how he tried to ignore it – through his veins ran the blood of a Rroda.
In a small, secluded alley in the oldest neighborhood of Ashar, there was an old-fashioned bar. The wooden entrance to the establishment was rustic looking, while the blurred glass on the windows gave it a mysterious look.
The insides were just as old fashioned as the outside, filled with wooden tables and chairs. In the middle of the establishment was a bar counter, behind which stood a middle-aged argel appearing to be in his fifties. He was tall and thin, with sunken eyes and a stiff, emotionless face. His neatly combed dark brown hair was littered with many gray strands.
The man was wiping mugs and wine glasses, occasionally looking through the blurry windows to the outside, occasionally looking at the youth who half-sat at the bar counter and half-laid on top of it.
A sound of jingling bells attracted the man’s attention towards the entrance, where a giant black ball was trying to pass through the doorframe. The sight was quite bizarre, as if someone took a human sized airbalt ball, covered it with a black blanket and tried to roll it through the door only to get stuck.
Although the sight was nothing short of hilarious, the bartender remained as apathetic as ever, no humor showing in his black eyes.
After several seconds of wiggling, the ball managed to squeeze through the door and staggered to the bar, where it proceeded to occupy several bar stools.
The bartender waited for the ball to catch its breath before asking. “Goddas, how may I help you today?”
The black ball gasped. “How did you…?!?” Abruptly, the ball stopped speaking, realizing he almost gave himself away. No one was supposed to know who he was, that’s why he came wearing a black cloak.
The fatty coughed a few times before replying. “I mean… you have me confused with someone else.”
The bartender stared at him speechlessly. How many people were there in Ashar that looked like a human sized riceball? How could he possibly confuse him with someone else?
Goddas looked around himself, checking if there was anyone in the vicinity who could eavesdrop on his conversation with the bartender. His eyes landed on the slumped figure a few seats to the right of him.
The head of the elibu youth was lying on top of the counter, surrounded by several empty liquor bottles. His black hair was tied in a long, thin braid, that hung limply down the side of his neck, almost reaching the floor.
The youth was mumbling curses under his breath, seemingly complaining about something. Every few seconds a sneeze or a hiccup would shake his body, interrupting his mumbling.
“Don’t mind him. You can speak freely.” The bartender didn’t even bother to look at the youth.
Goddas kept quiet for a moment, deliberating where to start. Goddas, like the great majority of people that come to this old bar, didn’t come here to drink liquor.
This unremarkable-looking bar was actually one of many branches of the Shadow Lodge.
And this old bartender was a “handler”. A person responsible for providing information both to the clients and to the agents working for the Shadow Lodge.
If you wanted something done that wasn’t quite legal, this was the place where you could get it done. If you wanted to take a well-paid shady job, this was the place where you could get it.
Lastly, if you wanted information about the activities of the Shadow Lodge and its agents, this would be the place to get it. And this information was exactly what Goddas was looking for: “Recently I’ve been dealing with a certain…”
Goddas swallowed the curse word he almost spoke out, remembering that it might not be a good idea to curse a Shadow Lodge agent in front of another Shadow Lodge agent. “…gentleman… that I believe to be one of your Shadows. Therefore, I came seeking more information about him.”
The bartender kept quiet, waiting for Goddas to elaborate.
Goddas squinted his eyes and thought back to the blasted black cloaked buttcracker that always came unannounced and uninvited. He thought back to the face of the man, illuminated by the lightning flash and started to describe him to the bartender.
He described the man, however, he omitted the fact that he already had a clue as to what the man’s nickname was.
The bartender remained quiet for several seconds before speaking out. “The man you are talking about is most likely either Light or Night. The two of them are twins and SS ranked Shadows.”
Goddas sucked in a breath. SS ranked?!
The total number of mages ranked above S rank in the entire land of Halnea didn’t exceed two hundred. Since only a small percentage of those mages were working for the Shadow Lodge, there couldn’t be more than 20 SS and SSS ranked Shadows in the entire land of Halnea.
What are the odds of running into one of those monsters? Goddas cursed his bad luck.
The bartender gave Goddas a solemn look before continuing: “Night is the older of the two. He is vindictive, overprotective of his younger brother, and has a knack for getting into trouble. The younger of the two, Light, has a…sense of humor… He is patient and rarely loses his temper. Most of the time he has his hands full with keeping Night in check and out of trouble.”
The bartender paused.
“For your sake, I hope you are dealing with Light…”
Goddas gulped. It should be Light? Right, right?? He did say his nickname was Light!
The fatty fidgeted in his seat. The old wooden floor under him squeaked in protest. “Tell me more about them… what… what kind of Shadows are they?”
The bartender looked down on the glass he was wiping, pausing slightly before responding. “Night is a master at intelligence gathering. It is rumored that there isn’t a single person more capable at reading people in the entire Shadow Lodge. He is an extremely tricky person to deal with. It is as if he can read your mind, you simply can’t hide anything from him.
On the other hand, Light is a master of breaking and entering. They say that there is no place that he can’t break into.
Both of them are great fighters, capable of disabling their opponents in a single exchange of moves. They are also calculative, prudent and they never leave a trace behind.
Their mission success rate is 100%.”
In other words…they have never failed a mission?! Suddenly, fatty’s mouth turned dry.
The words of the bartender seemed to trigger a response from the youth slumped at the bar counter.
Suddenly he wailed miserably. “100%! My flawless success rate…*hiccup* gone! GONE!”
Goddas jumped up with fright, clutching his heart. It was quite startling for the half dead youth to suddenly become so lively. The bartender, on the other hand, didn’t react at all. He completely ignored the drunk youth, not even looking his way.
The body of the elibu jumped up with a particularly strong hiccup. Then he slumped back down miserably, letting out what seemed to be a sob. “Gone… all gone…”
Only when the youth quieted down once again did Goddas recover from his stupor and remember what he had intended to ask: “What kind of missions do they usually take?” Goddas squeaked. “Assassinations? Thefts?”
“They used to do all kinds of missions non-stop up to three years ago. Nowadays neither of the two stop by the Lodge often.
Back in the days when they were still doing missions, mostly they took infiltration, information gathering, trailing and client protection missions. There were occasional thefts and assassinations, but they were quite picky with their missions, preferring to take missions that target the scourge of the underworld.”
Huh? Fatty’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Shadows with a sense of justice? Queer!”
“There is no justice in this world!!” The half-dead youth suddenly screeched, making Goddas jump in fright once again. The youth continued his hiccup-filled speech: “It’s — not fair! I’m just trying —to earn an honest living…” A sneeze interrupted his speech. “…you know?”
This time, the bartender finally looked at the youth, his expression completely speechless. An honest living? You are an assassin…
Fatty’s expression, however, once the surprise passed, revealed what seemed to be empathy. “Right! Right! Me too! I’m also just trying to earn an honest living! It’s not fair! The bad guys always take advantage of us upright fellows!” Light’s face flashed in fatty’s mind, and his cheeks puffed up.
“Bartender, give me two shots! One for me, one for my young friend over there.” Goddas slammed his hand on the bar counter, the countless rings on his fingers clattering.
The bartender looked back at Goddas, just as speechless as before. He is dead drunk… and you want me to give him another shot?
Still, he complied, filling two glasses of liquor and passing them to the two idiots. Well… whatever… not my problem.
The fatty downed the liquor in one gulp and let out a breath reeking of alcohol. “So… basically… since I am not among the scourge… I don’t have to worry that they will off me in my sleep?”
The bartender gave Goddas a condescending look. “They are professionals. They don’t kill for personal reasons. Unless someone puts a price on your head, they won’t go out of their way to off you.”
Goddas let out a sigh of relief. His tense muscles finally relaxed, and he slumped tiredly onto the counter.
“Still… you should avoid provoking them. They might not kill you…but there are plenty of ways to get back at someone without resorting to murder. None of the people who angered them had a pleasant ending.”
The fatty who finally managed to relax his taut nerves tensed up once again.
“W…what do you mean?”
The bartender opened his mouth to respond, but the fatty suddenly interrupted him. “No… actually… don’t answer that.”
I’ll probably have nightmares. I’m better off not knowing.
“Better yet, tell me, what is their background?”
The bartender shrugged. “No one knows. However, they were introduced into the Shadow Lodge by the vice-head personally.”
The bartender gave Goddas a meaningful look. If the vice-head was willing to vouch for them, then their relationship with the vice-head wasn’t simple. One could say that the two of them had the backing of the entire Shadow Lodge.
Goddas rubbed his chin in thought, one could almost see the cogs in his brain turning.
The youth sitting next to him noticed the glass of liquor he had been handed and finally, his head rose up from the counter. He looked gratefully at Goddas. Whether it was because of the cold constantly making him sneeze, or the liquor, both his perky nose and his cheeks were flushed red.
He attempted to pick up the glass and bring it up in a cheering gesture, but he ended up spilling half of the drink.
Goddas stared at the youth like seeing a comrade in arms. “What’s your story? Did you get bullied?”
“You have—no idea!” The youth’s elibu ears seemed to perk up in excitement. Finally, there was someone on whom he could unload his grievances. “You won’t be—believe what happ—ened to me today! I got —robbed…” An especially vicious hiccup made him pause for several seconds before finishing his statement. “In broad daylight!”