Chapter Seven: Rogue
"Alright, let's see your form."
Kion gripped the sword tightly, stepped back, and waited a moment. First closing his eyes, then wrenching his face into an intent frown, he rushed forward, slashing the weapon diagonally twice and tracing an "X" into the air. Feinting back a step, he drew the blade parallel to the ground and thrust it forward, pausing at the end of the lunge before regaining a neutral posture.
"Not bad," Salamando congratulated, "You don't need to grip the sword that tightly, but still, it's not bad at all. Where did you learn all that?"
"Picked it up from my customers," the blacksmith replied, testing a couple more slashes.
"Now why can't you do that in a real battle?" the Fire Elemental queried.
The young man stopped and, with a glare, said: "I'm sorry if I've never been in a real battle before."
"It's your nerves, then," Salamando deduced, tapping his staff into his left palm. "You're lucky those Sahagin didn't kill you."
Kion tightened up his glare and sheathed his weapon. Sayoe stood up, having taken the opportunity to rest her feet. The rough gravel road was testing their resolve; the only thing less desirable to walk on was the freshly soaked field around them.
"Maybe you should try a spell now," she suggested, "While we have the time."
"Well, how far is it to this Mandala?" Kion asked Sylphid.
Floating up to him, the Wind Elemental answered, "Only a couple more miles; we are almost there."
"And it's not a 'big city?'" he asked Sayoe.
"No," she said with a smile, "It's one of the Mana Holy Cities." The young man's shoulders dropped in exasperation, and she could barely contain her amusement. "The Mana Holy Cities used to be colony city-states of Wendel. A few centuries ago, they were granted independence, and were absorbed by the countries around them. They've always been run by members of the Tribe, though, and are unofficially loyal to Wendel."
With a hopeless frown, Kion said, "And there's no other city for miles. Is this going to be worse than the last place?"
"Hopefully better," Sayoe replied, suddenly not so amused by his dejected reaction.
"I guess if it's worth saving money on supplies..." Lifting his shoulders and facing the three Elementals, the young man said: "Well, I'd probably better learn this, or I'll look like an idiot to these people."
"Right," Salamando agreed, "Start by closing your eyes. You're going to have to concentrate pretty hard the first few times, until you get used to it." Kion followed the instructions, and the Fire Elemental order him to extend his hand, palm up. "You need to find the center of your consciousness that has the energy imprints from the three of us; they'll all be near each other, so any one of them will work."
"What exactly am I 'looking' for?" the blacksmith inquired.
"You'll be able to feel the energy pretty clearly once you find it, like a tensed muscle."
Kion opened an eye. "That doesn't help."
"You first have to remember the moments you bonded with us," Sylphid offered. "Search your subconscious memories."
"That's right," Salamando pointed. "I shouldn't have said 'consciousness.'"
"Alright, quiet," Kion ordered. Gnome moved to speak, but Sylphid halted him. Bowing his head, the blacksmith frowned and fought to clear his mind, which was difficult to do with the knowledge that he was being watched. Sayoe, seeing his frown, turned away, walking a couple of paces and folding her arms. Kion kept searching, soon ignoring the presence of the young lady and the Elementals. His arm began to tire, and he frowned harder to crowd out the sensation. A horde of empty thoughts began racing through his mind, and he uncertainly passed by familiar feelings hidden for years. Suddenly, a wad of the near past lumbered through his thoughts, and he stumbled on it. Foreign and well-known at once, he knew it had to be what he was supposed to find. As he focused on it, a hot, crackling feeling enveloped his brain.
"I think I have it," he announced uncomfortably.
"Good; now force it into your hand with your will, and channel it out that way," Salamando commanded.
Kion imagined the sensation traveling down his arm, and the energy moved erratically to his outstretched palm. Instantly engulfed by the odd power, his arms seized up, and he reflexively opened his eyes in time to see a ball of flame erupt from his skin and hop into the air, settling on the road not far from him. The blacksmith jumped back, but quickly grew a wide grin across his face.
"I did it! That's it, right?" He pointed at the fire.
Sayoe walked up to him and looked at the dying conflagration. "Yes, that's it!"
Kion turned to her and was instantly overtaken by a spasm of fear. With a frantic grunt, he scrambled back a couple paces. Startled, the young lady jumped back as well.
"What is it?" she blurted.
Clutching a hand to his chest, the young man caught his breath. "I... I... nothing," he stammered. The odd fear quietly slipped out of his mind, and he truly forgot what triggered his reaction. "It was nothing."
Sayoe paused for a moment, as if unsure whether he was telling the truth, then looked at the blackened patch of gravel on the road. "Not bad for your first try," she observed cautiously.
Kion tended to an itch behind his right ear. "Thanks," he sheepishly replied. His eyes wandered to the Elementals. Salamando nodded his head approvingly; Sylphid folded his arms with mild uncertainty; Gnome seemed preoccupied with something in the grass, and was not watching. Clearing his throat, the blacksmith stood tall, shrugged, and said: "I guess I'll try another one."
"Okay," the Fire Elemental answered, "Look for another wavelength this time."
Kion frowned, and assumed the same posture as he had before, first shaking the numbness out of his arm. Trying with a little more difficulty to find the same area of his mind as he had previously, he clenched his teeth and knotted his brow. In time, the odd familiarity grew, and he forced a notably different sensation from his brain into his arm. A gust of wind spontaneously erupted from his palm, rattling his arm with a chaotic burst of power; reflexively shaking his arm out, he seemed to have to command the wind to stop. Wandering a few steps to the side, he stared at the spot where he had been standing, as if it was tied to the unpleasant wind burst.
Sayoe approached him, asking if something was wrong. Kion turned back to the road, avoiding her face as he picked up his leather bag and muttered: "Let's go."
The young lady pursed her lips in thought, and hesitated before following the blacksmith further down the road to Mandala. Salamando was the first of the Elementals to join Kion, and tried as unobtrusively as possible to get a look at the young man's visage. Failing that, he simply said:
"Well, now you see how Elemental powers are primarily a mental exercise. You can manipulate them in almost any way imaginable, once you are familiar with their nature." He looked at Kion again, and the young man gave no indication that he was listening. Sylphid calmly floated to the Fire Elemental's side, nearly matching Kion's aloofness. Gnome hopped along not far behind, and the blacksmith eventually took notice of the Earth Elemental. Ignoring the other two, he addressed Gnome. "So, what happened to you?"
The elf creature stopped hopping as high as before, and looked at Kion through the corners of his eyes. "Got jumped; all it takes is the right moment, and anybody can be surprised."
"Indeed," Sylphid agreed, "And that moment cost you dearly. You haven't nearly the strength you used to."
"That's enough, Jinn," Gnome announced, making it clear that he was holding back his irritation.
Kion cocked an eyebrow. "Why does he call you--"
"Sylphid is my name," the Wind Elemental interrupted, looking at Gnome and not Kion. The Earth Elemental narrowed his eyes to counteract the stern expression aimed at him.
"Well, Sylphid, I may have been knocked around a little by those chumps, but I'm still in good enough shape to match you any day."
Salamando covertly neared Kion, and spoke in a low voice. "Elementals in a complementary pair are like twin siblings. That's how Sylphid knew about Gnome's weakness--" he coughed, or made a sound like coughing-- "And why they get along like that."
"Real cute, Sal," Gnome called out, "Don't make me get started on you. You let that kid talk to us like we're regular people."
"I'm not a kid," the blacksmith corrected irritably.
Gnome started hopping higher, and approached Kion, nearing his face. Kion kept walking, staring down the small creature. Gnome's usually genial visage twisted into an etched personification of contempt as he hopped backwards just inches in front of the young man.
"Listen, you," he growled, "I've been alive for longer than you can imagine. I'm the master of the dirt that'll suck you up when you're dead. I'll be dancing on graves after you humans are long gone. If it wasn't for me, this planet would fall apart; I'm the Pulse of the World. Show some respect, you little clown."
Kion kept staring, saying nothing and not stopping. Gnome stared back with all the more ferocity; without warning, he leapt at Kion, shoving the young man to the ground.
"Enough!" Sylphid roared, placing himself between the Earth Elemental and the fallen man. For a while, nobody spoke or moved; Gnome stared at Sylphid, and Sylphid countered with the most unimpressed expression he had. The elf creature slowly reared back, subtly assuming a fighting posture. Sylphid remained statuesque.
"You will not fight me," he pronounced slowly and clearly, "We do not have time for you."
Gnome said nothing, but narrowed his eyes a little more. In the time that passed, Kion found himself creeping backwards a pace or two. Finally, the Earth Elemental quietly relaxed his posture and vanished, looking almost as if he was absorbed by the gravel road itself. Sylphid remained still for another moment, then turned to Kion.
"We do predate humanity by a considerable length," he said calmly, then backed up to allow the young man to stand. Sayoe approached Kion and offered to help him up, but he quickly refused. The blacksmith promptly stood and resumed walking, acknowledging nothing. The young lady and two remaining Elementals set after him as if hesitating would cause trouble. They crested a hill, and Salamando quietly told the young man:
"He'll be back after a while. He just needs to brood. It was bad timing that you learned about him being hurt by those scientists."
Firing a sideways glance at the Fire Elemental, Kion raised his eyebrows a little in response, then pointed beyond the foot of the hill. "Is that the city we want?"
Sayoe trotted up to his side and looked at where he was pointing. "Yes it is," she answered with an uncertain amount of interest.
"Then let's go," the young man replied impatiently, wasting no time in descending the hill and finishing the last mile to the small clot of houses and modest shops that made up the town. Sayoe stayed closely behind him, almost hiding herself; he glanced over his shoulder at her once, and she made a solid effort not to return his look. Picking up his already brisk pace, Kion addressed the Elementals. "Why did you disappear when we got into that city?"
Sylphid and Salamando exchanged a subtle look, and the Wind Elemental spoke. "We cannot stay by your side constantly; there are others who need our aid."
Kion frowned. "So, I'm supposed to learn your abilities because I can't count on you being around? Is that why you want me to learn this stuff so badly?"
"No, actually," Sylphid replied. "Using Elemental powers is, in effect, summoning that Elemental himself."
"But you won't always be around for me to summon you."
A small grunt escaped the Elemental's throat. "If two people need the same powers at the same time, a compensation can be made; you would not know the difference, except that the Elemental may not physically be present at the time." The blacksmith turned a suspicious eyebrow at Sylphid. "In your case, we would appear, as your skills are only rudimentary."
"I'd say so," the blacksmith remarked flatly, rotating the shoulder of his still-numb spell-casting arm.
They continued briskly in silence, but by then the populace of the town ahead could be discerned; a fairly energetic bustle of activity filled the place called Mandala. The town sat near a lake, bordered on its opposite edge by a small forest, and seemed more genuinely lively compared to the electrically-driven artificiality of Forcena. The decor and buildings of the village were simple, and not wholly unlike those of Kakkara. It was an oddly familiar sight to the blacksmith, and before long he had slackened his pace to a more comfortable-looking stroll. It soon became clear that some of the townsfolk saw them, as a small disturbance ran through the crowd near the edge of town. In response to their approach, a figure began running towards them.
He wore brightly colored armor, with a narrow cape trailing behind him. A blaze of reddish-blonde hair flailed about his head as he ran up to the travelers. He was probably about their age, within a year or two, although his demeanor seemed much more youthful. The armored lad galloped right up to Kion, stopped in his tracks, feinted to one side, and ran around the blacksmith, quickly seizing Sayoe in a headlock. Initially dodging him, Kion spun around and faced the youth. "What the hell are you--"
"Hey-hey!" the lad called, grinding his knuckles playfully against Sayoe's head. "If it isn't little Ishiba! Where'd you come from?"
"Okay, okay," Sayoe pronounced, diplomatically trying to pry herself from the armored lad's grasp. "I'd like to keep some of my hair, please." The youth spun her out of his arm and took a step back to face her.
"Man, you've changed," he said, folding his arms with a nostalgic smile.
"You, too," she answered, calmly sneaking her tousled hair back under her crown. The two of them stood in a growing awkwardness before Sayoe snapped to attention. She beckoned to a tight-lipped Kion, who had placed a fair amount of distance between himself and the two acquaintances. "Kion, this is Rook, a friend from my hometown. Rook, this is Kion."
The armored lad took a step towards Kion and proffered his left hand. "Rook Conlaoch, Comet Knight." Still silent, Kion refused the hand, nodding mechanically in recognition instead. It was not until the armored youth shrugged that the blacksmith noticed that Rook had no right hand. The heavy gauntlet on his right arm was capped by a small metal dome in place of the appendage. Rook gave no indication that he saw Kion's notice, and faced Sayoe again.
"Well, Sa, are we going to stand around here saying 'hi' all day or are we going into town for some lunch?" He started off towards the town, waving the pair after him. Sayoe quickly joined him, followed by Kion once the blacksmith acknowledged that the Elementals had again vanished, most likely before Rook saw any of them, since he never mentioned them.
As the three walked into the village, Rook looked back and asked, "So, how long have you two been traveling together?"
"Just a day," Kion replied after a silent prompt from the young lady.
"Really," the armored lad thought aloud. Leading them to the center of the town, he waved at the vast majority of people they passed along the way, addressing most of them by name. In general, the reception was warm, and only a few onlookers fell to staring at the visitors. The blacksmith could not help but think that there was a familiar quality to the townsfolk, although not in the same way as the buildings themselves had looked familiar. It was as if he had seen them in a completely different capacity before.
Noticing that she seemed almost as unfamiliar with the locals as he, Kion asked Sayoe in a low voice: "This is not your home, then?"
"No," she answered in a similar tone, "I thought I told you it was several days away."
"If I had remembered hearing that..." Kion replied, allowing the sentence to finish itself.
The young lady sent a sideways glance over her shoulder at him, abating only when he cocked an eyebrow past her to where Rook was very clearly keeping an eye on their exchange. With the two of them looking at him, Rook grinned and gave a friendly nod before he returned his gaze to the path he was walking. "Just a day," he repeated with subdued amusement.
If either of them was about to speak, Rook interrupted. "I knew the Ishibas years ago, when we were kids. I've been living here for the last ten years, though, as part of my studies. When Sa told you I was from her hometown, she didn't mean here."
"Right," Kion said.
Sayoe cleared her throat. "Are you still in training?" she asked.
"Well, sort of," Rook explained. "I had to take a few years off to help that expedition to Mog's Island. Just got back last year. They wanted me to start my last year over, but I don't need to; we've kind of been arguing about that on and off since then. I've still been training, just not in the school."
"I see," she replied, knotting her brow slightly. They were quiet until Kion piped up:
"Training for what?"
"Knighthood," Rook said quickly, as if he expected the question. Spinning around and walking backwards in front of them, he pointed to his armored chest. The chest-plate bore a globular jewel set in a gold ring near the right-hand side of his ribcage. A wisp of gold trailed from the ring, pointing up at Rook's left shoulder. "I'm the Comet Knight," he explained, "But only in name for now."
"Really," Kion thought aloud, quite visibly knotting his brow.
"Hey, you find me a Luna birth with as much schooling as I have," Rook challenged with a knowing grin. "We're a dying breed."
"A what-birth?" Kion frowned.
Sayoe bowed her head a little as she raised a halting finger up at the armored lad. Waiting a moment before she spoke, she addressed Kion as they continued to walk. "In the Mana Tribe, every baby is assigned a guardian Elemental based on the day of the week they were born. Usually, those who travel in their vocations are given the opportunity to learn some of the abilities of their guardians. Rook was born on Luna's Day, so Luna is his guardian."
Kion nodded with an attitude of resign. "Okay. Luna is one of the Elementals, then."
"Here we are," the armored youth announced suddenly as he turned back to the road and motioned towards a large hut sitting at a fork in the town's main road. "I was going to have lunch with the elder today anyway; he'd love to have some company." The house, larger but no fancier than the rest, was bordered by a short fence, and Rook swung the front gate open as if the place was his own. He waved the two visitors after him again, but Kion quickly stepped in front of Sayoe and threw a halting gesture in front of her.
"Wait a minute," he ordered. She stopped awkwardly, and the blacksmith studied her face for a moment. She looked back into his eyes at first, but soon started darting her gaze around her, then diverted her eyes to the ground. As she did, Kion looked around himself at the villagers mulling about; just as Rook started back towards them, the young man spoke.
"These people," Kion said. "The women have the same things on their heads as you," he deduced, referring to the single-jeweled crown around Sayoe's forehead.
"Well sure," Rook declared with a pat on Kion's back that made the blacksmith jump and recoil. "Didn't you know she's one of us?"
The blacksmith narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips; Sayoe slowly raised her head to meet his gaze. They looked at each other again; his an expression of study, hers an expression of guilt. "I guess I should have," the young man pronounced calmly.
She started to look past him uncomfortably, as if appealing to Rook for something. Kion finally broke away, stepping aside and allowing her to proceed past him to the house. Slowly, almost mechanically, he followed the two of them into the dwelling, from which was emerging a tall, bald, mustachioed man.
"Master Higashigawa!" the armored lad called with a wave. The tall man waved back and descended the pair of steps extending from the modest porch of the house. By then, Rook had reached him, and the tall man nodded slowly as he shook hands with the armored lad. Quickly turning to the two travelers, Rook commenced the introduction. "Sa, have you ever met Master Higashigawa?"
"No," the young lady answered as she shook the tall man's hand with a slow nod.
"This is Sayoe Ishiba," Rook explained to the mustached man. "Do you know the Ishibas of Wendel?"
"Wendel?" Kion repeated loudly. The two men looked back at him questioningly, but Sayoe kept her eyes forward, and closed. Startled a little by his own outburst, the blacksmith found nothing else to say.
Motioning towards him, the armored lad said: "And this is Kion, from... the desert." When the young man frowned in suspicion, Rook told him, "Well, you're dressed for the desert, right?"
"Kakkara," the blacksmith specified, eyeing his own clothing against the stiff, almost uniform-like attire of the tall man, Higashigawa. The only relaxed item of the man's outfit was the sash perched on his left shoulder and running diagonally across his frame.
"Nice to meet you," the tall man said in a deep, albeit a small, voice, stepping towards Kion and offering a handshake. "Nao Higashigawa." When the young man made no motion to join the handshake, the elder waited an extra moment, then stepped back with a concerned and awkward attempt at a reconciling smile. "Well," he announced, "Shall we go inside?"
Leading them inside, the tall man addressed a servant who had been waiting at the inside of the front door. She promptly dashed into the kitchen as Higashigawa motioned for the visitors to leave their baggage by the door and enter a large dining room just to their left. Boasting two sturdy cabinets and a table that held twelve chairs, the modestly decorated room was easily the most inviting thing Kion had seen in a while. Although everything looked very stately, upon closer inspection one could see tiny imperfections in the furniture that suggested that it was all made by hand. The mustachioed elder sat down at the head and beckoned for the three to join him on the side of the table opposite from the entrance doorway. Rook sat the closest to Higashigawa, and Sayoe sat next to him, leaving Kion the farthest from the elder. None of them said anything for a while, and Rook and Sayoe appeared to be waiting for something. The elder had his hands folded in front of his mouth in thought, until he finally rested them on the table and asked: "Sayoe, what brings you into our town?"
"Well, actually," the young lady began quietly, "Kion met up with some of the Elementals--"
"Did he?" the elder interrupted. Sayoe promptly stopped talking, and, after an unsure pause, Higashigawa addressed Rook:
"Young sir, I know we had a council planned for you this afternoon with the Academy Board Director, but if you will excuse me, I have something to discuss with young Ishiba first and foremost."
Rook glanced at Sayoe in uncertainty. "So... you knew she was coming?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes," the elder replied. His eyebrows twisted a little apologetically.
Standing slowly, the armored lad narrowed his eyes a little. "But--"
"Please," Higashigawa interrupted again, "Forgive my rudeness. This will hopefully not take long, and we will have your meeting tonight. Inform the Director so she can tell the Board, if you will."
Frowning suspiciously, Rook slowly started for the doorway. "Okay," he said quietly. "In town for a while, Sa?"
"We'll see," the young lady replied.
"Let me know before you go," he asked, and, to Kion, said: "Good to meet you, friend."
"Right," the blacksmith absently agreed, almost as suspicious about the atmosphere as Rook.
Higashigawa stood and led the armored lad to the front door, possibly apologizing again as he sent Rook on his way. Quickly returning to the dining room, he sat and, in a near whisper, addressed the travelers. "I thought I could feel something in the Mana Field; some of the Elementals are together, aren't they?"
"And with us," Sayoe continued.
"I wondered as much," the elder said, "Just now it felt like they were here, in town."
"They're with Kion," Sayoe explained, "He has to find all of them and take them to Wendel."
"Kion," the tall man repeated in worried thought. With a short glance to Sayoe, he stood up and left the room, excusing himself. While he was gone, a servant entered the room, noticed that the travelers were alone, and quietly backed out. Soon after, Higashigawa rushed back into the dining room with a rolled-up parchment.
"This is the most complete map I have," he declared, unrolling it and laying it across the table. Sayoe and the blacksmith stood up and watched as the elder began tracing a route on the map with his finger. "You'll want to head north and east, across the Strait of Narcissos to the Ice Country; Undine should be somewhere in Kary's Pass, probably at the Palace. From there, it's your choice where to go, because Wendel is not very far at that point."
"I think we'll be able to find Wendel," Kion remarked, glaring at the young lady next to him.
"Wendel is called the Center of the World in our culture," Sayoe explained to the blacksmith. "All of the hidden Seeds, and their Elementals, are supposed to be equidistant from Wendel. That's why we'll have a choice once we reach it."
Kion said nothing in reply, but took note of the young lady's seemingly pre-rehearsed speech. She was once again making a solid effort not to look at him.
Higashigawa leaned in, and scanned the room before speaking. "You know, it might be worth your while to keep your eyes peeled on the people you meet along the way; I've always had a thought that the Mana Hero--"
The room was suddenly seized by a sharp tremor that quickly knocked one of the cabinets open and tossed a few ceramic cups onto the floor. All three stood up, and another quake rattled the house, dull and persistent, slowly growing in intensity. Before either of the other two could speak, Higashigawa said the very thing they were hoping he could answer:
"What is that?"
She walked purposefully, passing others in the hallway as if they were obstacles. As she stalked down the staircase to the basement level, she took the white coat in her hands and threw it around her shoulders, donning it in mere seconds. Reaching the bottom floor, she negotiated herself around a scattered flock of security guards. Although notable shorter than all of them, she held a staunch air that maintained a solid unapproachable barrier around her. Nonchalantly checking that the bun in her hair was still intact, she dodged around the ruined door and slipped into the laboratory, wafting the thin but still lingering veil of smoke from her face. In seconds she found the fat man and marched up to him.
"Doctor Kalin," Zeno said, trying to imitate the blatant anger and disappointment that he saw in her face.
"Don't," she retorted sharply. "I'm not interested in seeing you pretend this isn't your fault."
"It isn't," the fat man contested. "I blame the Guardian Systems people; if they had wired their security units properly--"
"And you made that judgment in less than six hours, without having to examine a thing," the lady interrupted patronizingly.
Zeno wrenched his face in irritation. "But look what they did to the door," he nearly whined, motioning to the ruined portal. "And they dug a hole to the surface in a matter of seconds. I don't think they were average burglars."
Kalin folded her arms in mock interest. She nodded as if she was truly thinking about what he was saying. "Really. Now tell me: what are you going to tell my bosses?"
Again, Zeno's face twisted in frustration. "I can fix this," he thought aloud. "I can find them and bring it back before any of our benefactors know it was lost."
"No, you can't," Kalin replied, pulling her coat back and retrieving a small black object from a clip on her belt. "He's arriving this morning."
She flipped the object open, revealing a small display screen and rows of buttons. "You know who I'm talking about," she scowled. "You got the memo last week."
"What memo?" Zeno inquired nervously, wandering near one of the tables. "I can't use that electronic thing; you know I want all my memos by phone."
"Too bad," Kalin replied coolly as she began pressing a series of buttons. "We're on the cutting edge of progress and you--"
"Who is coming?" Zeno said slowly, halting her speech with an outstretched palm.
She stopped, looked at him as if she held a devastating secret, and was enjoying it terribly, then spoke. "Geshtar."
Zeno tried quite unsuccessfully to force a smile. "You mean... the Geshtar?"
"Yeah, the Geshtar," Kalin mocked, clearly not amused by the bearded man's melodrama. "His plane lands in an hour."
The fat man gazed about the destroyed room, looking twice at the ruins of the holding tank, still being inspected by security personnel and a few of his co-workers. He swallowed and wafted his coat as if the room had suddenly grown very hot. "Alright," he said with a manufactured calm. "I'm... going to the men's room."
"I... don't care," Kalin replied in the same tone as he, finishing her dialing and placing the object on her ear as she walked towards the back of the room.
Zeno shuffled out of the room, past the security guards, and picked another room at random. Fishing a ring of keys from his coat, he pulled a small one up and anxiously rammed it into the keyhole, twisting the door open and almost falling into the darkened room. Without turning any lights on, he wandered to the right-hand wall and searched for the telephone with his hands. After clumsily knocking the receiver off its nest, he picked it up and slowly dialed a number, straining his eyes to make sure he found the correct buttons. Tapping his foot until the other end took the call, he fought to keep his voice low amid his near panic:
"Hello, Bill? It's Paul. I need you to find Koshiro. Quickly. It's important; I need him to hunt someone for me."