Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > Prince of Thieves

11. Going to Town

by Myshu 0 reviews

Going to Town

Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: R - Genres: Drama - Characters: Freya Crescent - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2007-10-11 - Updated: 2007-11-02 - 8574 words - Complete

11. Going to Town

Luth dozed away the next day; he apparently needed the rest more than he thought. When he finally woke up, at the crack of some noon or another, he first wondered what happened to his GamePocket. It was that trifle that finally broke him out of his drowsing and got him moving. He took a rejuvenating shower and meandered around the vacant office until restiveness drove him onward.

He checked the downstairs lobby next; he didn't want to intrude on Boss's space any more than he already had. Sheryl had some stern scolding and a stack of files for him, and Luth had some tactful explaining to do. Sheryl wasn't convinced that Boss was honestly ill rather than "sick of partying," but Luth figured he got off light, considering.

Luth took his paperwork to the café to mull over through lunch. He sorted through bagels, official documents and what little he knew how to handle, making his best effort not to think about the truth and everything in the past few days that had led to it.

He wasn't sure what to think about it, anyway. The whole "King of Thieves" gimmick was uncomfortably easy to believe, and Luth didn't want to be gullible, but... why would Boss lie about something like that? Luth really wanted to have faith, but his father's words on Genomes never eluded him: 'They're sharp little monkeys, but beguiling and delusional--completely out of touch with reality. If you ever meet one, never take what he says at face value.'

He had nearly finished sorting the past week's outbound ticket stubs when a bulky, fuzzy frame filled the seat across him. "Hey hey, it's Lu, right?"

"Oh!" Luth squeaked at someone who recognized him, looking up at a familiar badger. His coveralls and face were scrubbed clean for a change, and Luth could actually distinguish white bands of fur across his cheeks. "Hi there, Mister Gribbo."

"Hell, pup, just call me Gribbo, already," he insisted, his voice gravelly like a coal miner's. "Figured Boss woulda worked that 'mister' stuff outta you by now."

"Old habits, I suppose."

"Speakin' o' that lug, where's he abouts?"

"Sick in bed, last I saw. I'm afraid he was--" Luth pawed his nose diffidently, minding his words. "Um, I mean, he caught the flu or something, I'm sure."

"Aw, no shit. Tell 'im he needs to get his sorry tail better in time for the festival. Me and the fellas got tickets to the boardwalk. Gonna be a great view. No bleedin' our noses out in th' towers like last time."


"Yeah, din'ja know the Festival o' the Hunt's comin' up this Friday?"

Luth wished it was a more timely festival. His first year away from home, this would also be his first chance to participate, but he really couldn't afford to go because, well... "It slipped by me, really."

"Heh, too bad. A dragon slayin' fella like yerself would stand a fair chance! Boss sez y'can whack a mean monster." A bear-sized mitt toyed with one of Luth's yellow envelopes. "So what're ye up to? Looks like a heap o' fun."

Luth frowned at the stack of files. "Some paperwork, yes. Nothing much."

Gribbo snatched one of Luth's bagels and swiveled in his seat to watch the hanging television across the café. Luth pleasantly ignored him and resumed his business, until the badger remarked weightily, "Ain't that some shit--nickin' all those crown jewels."

"What?" Luth followed Gribbo's crumb-dusted finger to the news blurb on screen: JEWELS STILL MISSING, AUTHORITIES IN PURSUIT OF "RED ANGELS."

Gribbo leaned over the counter to gravely remark, "Y'know, people say when you git 'em all in one place, y'can summon eidolons." He tossed his head back with a high snort. "Wouldn't that be a regular calamity? Just like the ol' war."

Boss's portent echoed in Luth's head. 'Letting all the Jewels fall into the hands of some crazy murderers? It'll be the Mist War all over again, is what.'
"Eidolons..." he murmured at a cargo routing form.

Gribbo's muzzle puckered with a dismissive sniff. "Aye, prob'ly more crap 'n anything, 's what I say. Those suckers have been extinct for almost two hundred years, am I right? Nuthin' even those Red Devil nutjobs can do about it." He finished his pilfered snack and rose, smacking his lips. "Ya ever been to Chubby's, on 11th Street? Got some great zaghnol wings. Me'n some of the fellas hang out there on Wednesdays. You should stop by on yer own sometime, play some cards with us. You'll have a blast, pup."

Gribbo gave Luth a hearty clap on the back and plodded off, leaving the Burmecian to cough up his own bagel.


It was late afternoon by the time Luth had sorted out all the tickets. The only thing left was to check on Boss, which he'd been rallying the nerve to do all day. He opted not to go in unarmed, a small saucer with some muffins balanced in the offhand as he rapped on the Genome's door.


Only a whispering fan responded. Luth tested the handle, found it unlocked, and pressed inside.

"Sir? Hello? It's me, sir," he announced the obvious. Once his eyes adjusted to the curtain-muted daylight, Luth realized he was talking to an empty bedroom. The covers were unkempt, the wardrobe was left open, the ashtray on the nightstand was running over and several empty bottles littered the foot of the bed. The only other sign of life was the stark shaft of light from the adjacent room.

Luth wasn't sure he wanted to go farther, but he was already invading, so he might as well. He set the saucer of muffins in an open chair and tread cautiously into the bathroom.

"Sir? Are you there?" Another disarray greeted him: a toothbrush wilting out of its holder, a dislodged hand towel, an ajar toilet seat, a veneer of lime around the sink's dry edges, a crooked shower curtain, a bathtub filled with silent water... There was neither sight nor scent of anyone through the dank air.

Why was he sniffing around someone else's water closet? 'I'm being ridiculous. Nobody's home. I just wonder where he ran off to, especially without Miss Sheryl noticing.'

...And why was the bathtub filled with water? He'd only glanced into that corner before, but a second look registered something else there, behind the curtain, peacefully submerged in the peach porcelain.

Without a second to reconsider, Luth shucked the curtain flush to the wall, squinted bemusedly into the tub, and then had a small stroke.

"Oh my God!"

Luth dove in and frantically splashed around a stoic body, which he clumsily propped up and over the rim of the tub. He fussed over Boss's soaked, prone form, prodding his clammy neck for a pulse and drumming on his back to spur some breathing. The Genome absorbed the treatment with a sponge's grace, his complexion grey and slimy like a mollusk. His only stirring was the water steadily dripping off his hair and clothes and feeding the puddle on the white tiled floor.

As Boss's condition gradually dawned on Luth, he started to lose his own breath, gulping desperately like a fish. 'Oh gods oh gods oh sacred dragons he's drowned he's dea--'

A soggy tail lashed the still water, and then Boss's whole being rippled with a gross spasm. He jolted awake, gagging and heaving onto the floor. Luth leapt in recoil, accidentally bunted his head against the towel rack and sank back to the ground, his world spinning.

It took a full minute for Boss to spill his lungs enough to speak, and he wasted his first breath on a bubbly belch. "Ugh." Bleary, bloodshot eyes swam around the room before landing on the Burmecian. "...Lu?"

Luth nodded lamely at the reanimated corpse, flabbergasted.

"Did you pull me out?" Boss asked hazily.


Too spent from his revival to even lift his arms, he just glowered sidelong at Luth, absurdly annoyed. "Wha'd you do that for?"

Luth blinked hard and sputtered, his wits boiling to the surface, "What am I--what were you doing?!"

"Trying something new," Boss croaked as he watched tiny rivulets race down the creases between floor tiles. Luth clambered up, shaking and damp, the bath seeping between his toes. "You--it's--you could have drowned!"

"That was the idea."

"You're impossible, sir!" The back of his mind tugged against his shrieking voice, bidding him to stay calm. Luth wasn't listening well. "How long did you plan on staying in there??"

"Until it worked. Why, how long have I been under?"

"I don't know, sir, I just came in and found you!"

"What time is it?"

Luth stopped and actually thought about it. "It's a little after five."

Boss rubbed his eyes and blinked, groggy and nonplussed. "...AM or PM?"

"Oh for Reis's sake, get out of there, please." Having heard enough, Luth took him by the arms, scooped him out of the tub and propped him on his feet. The Genome staggered listlessly, his buttoned white shirt and oversized jeans steeped in bathwater and phlegm.

Luth scoured the cupboards for something useful while Boss clutched the towel rack and shivered. "...'m cold," he observed dimly, staring at the backs of his hands. "...and pruny."

"I would think so, sir," Luth cut him down, terribly exasperated with the situation.

He fumbled with his belt, pulling his sagging pants more snugly over his hips. " crazy wood," his drunken murmurs continued.

"Didn't need to know that, sir." Luth passed a towel into Boss's sluggish arms. "Here, dry off, and I'll get you something to wear."

Boss didn't say any more while he changed clothes (Luth uncovered some cotton threads at the bottom of a drawer that smelled clean enough.) He moved like a sloth as Luth led him back to his bed, where he buried himself face-first in a pillow.

Luth didn't know what to do about his torpid companion until he spotted the saucer of goodies left in the chair. He fetched them and stood over the bed, appealing, "Perk up, sir. Look, I brought you a muffin. Well, two--I didn't know if you liked strawberry or blueberry."

"Mn," the pillow moaned, "No thanks, Lu. I lost my appetite, and I don't think I'll be seeing it ever again."

"Oh, sir," Luth gently prodded, "It's been several days. You need to eat."

"Or what? I'll starve?" Boss flopped onto his back and huffed at the ceiling. "God, if only."

"Sir..." Luth sat on the edge of the bed and frowned at his pasty-looking charge. "You'll never get better at this rate."

"In case you haven't noticed, Lu, I'm not trying to /get better/," Boss mordantly spat.

Luth shrank an inch, cradling his shunned muffins. His innocent reaction vexed Boss's temper, and the Genome turned away with a guilty shrug. "...Sorry. You didn't deserve that."

"I'm just trying to help, sir."

"Want to help? You can wake me when the world ends."

Luth shook his head. "Oh, sir. What's the matter? Still feel ill? Is it the chimera venom?"

"I feel like a walrus carcass. I think that's the longest I've ever been... y'know."

"Yes, about that," Luth's censuring tone followed that imagery, "Why on earth did you do that, sir?"

After a moody silence, Boss muttered, "...My son hates me."

"Oh." That thought hadn't occurred to Luth before. He'd been trying so hard to move past all the bad tidings of late that he hadn't considered Boss's reaction to the same. "No he doesn't, sir. Nobody truly hates his parents."

"He tried to kill me."

Luth bit his lip. "Okay, maybe he does a bit."

"Did you see him back there?" His words were like ripples, small and wobbly as they leaked out of his knotted chest. "He wanted to kill me. He was trying--he was--he wanted me dead, Lu. Even if I didn't bleed dry, he wanted me to die from that poison--a nice, slow, painful death. Did you see his face? It had so much... hate. I'd never seen so much pure hate." He swallowed a sob. "That's my son. My son murders people. What have I done...?"

"Sir..." Luth was hardly qualified to console a heartbroken father, but he tried a reasonable tack. "You can't blame yourself. He ran away, you couldn't know--"

"No, I ran away," he wailed. "I abandoned him. If I had stayed..."

"You couldn't," Luth insisted. "And you didn't abandon him; you left him with his mother. You did what you thought was best for him. It was his choice to run away and take this path, and his choice alone. You can't be at fault for that."

"Hrmn," Boss grumbled as he rolled under the bedcovers, "Thanks Lu, but I don't think I'm in the right mood to listen to reason today. I think I'm just going to keep wallowing like the big idiot I am."

Luth fretfully knitted his brow. "I wish you wouldn't talk like that, sir. It's unbecoming of you."

"Oh really? Unbecoming? Hah!" he laughed one harsh, histrionic note. "Give me a reason to care. My wives are dead. My past is buried. My only son hates me to death. I killed my grandson! There's nothing left for me. Give me one good reason I should stick around this cold, cruel world another minute."

"Well, I..." Luth trailed off, overwhelmed by the task. The next moment was filled with nothing but the buzzing of the fan.

"Don't hurt yourself here, Lu."

"I... might have a few answers," Luth gingerly conceded, "But I don't think you'd appreciate them, sir."

"Oh, perfect. That's it." Boss sat up and casually demanded, "Where's a gun?" He reached under a pillow and, to Luth's horror and amazement, procured one: a little black revolver, which he aimed between his eyes. "Awesome. I'm outta here."

Luth slapped Boss's wrist like a frenzied old hen, and the firearm was dropped. "No, sir, stop that! There'll be no suicides while I'm here."

"Spoil'sport," Boss pouted.

"It's not funny, sir!" Luth scolded as he took the revolver out of reach. "Why do you keep one of these under your pillow?? And I thought you couldn't kill yourself, anyway."

"I just haven't been trying hard enough."

"I really wish you wouldn't talk like that, sir."

Boss collapsed into the blankets with a long, sodden breath, and resumed brooding at the wall. "I wish you wouldn't care so much, Lu. Makes it harder on me."

Luth pinched the bridge of his nose, stymied. He was never going to understand, much less know what to say, and he was only grateful that he had enough judgment to stop arguing before he got a headache. He was just going to sit there until Boss sorted things out for himself. He could afford to wait--he had nothing better to do, actually--and Boss didn't have the nerve (or strength) to kick him out, Luth knew.

His patience had nibbled away half of the blueberry muffin when he overheard a dusty, resigned sigh. "I just wonder sometimes: which god did I piss off to deserve this?"

"Apparently the god of death, sir," Luth blurted.

Boss hitched onto his elbows and narrowed an alarmed look at Luth. "What did you just say?"

Thinking he gravely misspoke, Luth retracted, "I only meant the Great Necromancer, the one you beat--no disrespect, sir."

Boss's glare fell out of focus, and he started cackling at nothing. "...Huh. Heh. Heheh. Hahaha. Ha!"

"What's funny, sir?" Luth asked, vaguely disconcerted.

The Genome slithered up to Luth and squeezed his shoulders in a simple hug. "Ah, Lu. You're a genius."

Luth blinked. "I am?"

"Of course. What would I do without you?"

Luth was too relieved at his boss's change of heart to question it. "Your own laundry."

"Hahah, geez. When did you become such a smartass?"

"Must be all the good influences I've been hanging around lately."

"I'm so proud. ...Ayup." He languidly tumbled out of bed, hitting the ground with a wooden thud. "Let's get rolling."


"If you're not going to let me have any fun," he decided as he rooted along the floor for what Luth could only guess, "I might as well take care of some business."

"That's encouraging to hear, sir." Luth glimpsed the neglected food and strictly ordered, "Eat your muffin, first."

"Did you know that after three days without eating, you stop feeling hungry? Scientific /fact/."

"That's no excuse, sir."

Boss stiffly rose and took a muffin with a miffed grunt. "Fine, mother."

Luth nodded primly while Boss rummaged on his hands and knees around the skirt of the bed, the half-chewed muffin held in the coils of his tail. "That's a good Sir. So, where are we going?"

"Mph, 'we' aren't going anywhere," Boss stressed around a full mouth. "You're staying here. I'm going to--is this strawberry?"

"Yes, sir."

"It's delicious. Anyway, I'm going to hunt down Althier. Where did you put that gun?"

Luth flinched at the notion. "Sir, I don't think that's wise, especially in your condition," he advised, ignoring the gun request.

"Fuck my condition. ...Hmm," he paused to admire that quip. "I should use that line at the club sometime."

"Really, sir," Luth admonished, "You don't even know where to look!"

"No, but I know who to ask." He stumbled, fell onto his shoulder and broke into profane verse, "Fucking undead son of a god, my fucking knee/, what the fuck, who the fuck--" He plucked the obstruction off the floor and examined it. "What the fuck is a /battery doing down here?" Sitting up, he finally spied the handgun Luth had relocated to the nightstand. "Oh hey, there it is." He tossed aside the battery and traded it for the revolver.

"I thought those were illegal to carry in public," Luth carried on the lecture, as futile as he was realizing it was. "Actually, I think they're illegal to carry at all, unless you're police or military."

Boss shuffled over to the wardrobe and into some jeans and a light denim jacket. "Geez Lu, you act like it's the only illegal thing I own. Besides, there aren't gonna be any cops where we're going." He hesitated, to reinforce his own wording. "...I'm. Where I'm going. You're holding down the fort."

"Sir, I have to object."

"I know."

"Where exactly are you going? And who could possibly know where--oh!" Luth's ears pricked intuitively. "Althier's been working for Boss Pevy, hasn't he?"

He unceremoniously stuffed the gun into his pants, and then fastened a dagger to his belt. "I like the way you think, Lu. Always on top of things."

"So Pevy's the one behind all this--the Red Angels, I mean?"

"No, Althier is the one behind the Red Angels and Pevy is a big goddamn retard. But he might know where Althier is now, so I'm heading down there to find out."

"'Down there'? I hope you don't mean Gatortown."

"Two in a row, Lu."

"Um, aren't you wanted for Don's murder there? Don't they have 'hit men' after you?"


"Doesn't this strike you as a little suicidal?"

"I should only be so lucky," he murmured into the back of the closet.

"What??" Luth all but yelped, not even wanting to hear that right.

"That's why I'm going alone, Lu," he clarified.

The Burmecian sprang to attention. "No, sir. I'm going with you."

Boss leaned out the cedar doors to shoot him a stern look. "I appreciate your balls, rookie, but this is serious business: guns, violence, guns, death, /guns/, ect cetera. I don't need you gettin' fragged over my lousy tail."

"This won't be any different from Burmecia Palace, and I helped you there!"

Boss stamped a foot, rattling the floor. "This will be different! Did I mention the guns?"

"You know what I mean, sir."

"No, I don't think you get it--"

Luth stamped back, likewise adamant, "Like hell, sir! I'm a Dragon Knight."

Boss held his breath, struck by that assertion. He looked Luth over, saw the grim dedication in his stance, and dispelled all his hot words with a sigh. "...And you are. But when I saw you jump off that balcony the other night, I about shit my pants. I thought you were gonna get stuck up like a pin cushion. If something happened to you because of me, I don't think I'd ever forgive myself. I can't risk it."

Luth nodded anyway, his mind set. "I can handle it, sir. I don't want you to go through this alone. I'm your partner, aren't I?"

Boss wavered, passed one more appraising look over him, and finally relented. "Get a weapon, and stay /sharp/, okay?"

"Absolutely, sir." Luth started for his room, not waiting on a second thou--

"On second thought..." Boss caught him at the door and handed him the revolver. "Hang on to that. No offense, but you'll need it more than I will. You know how to use it, right?"

"I..." Dragon Knights were a special branch of Burmecia's military, more ceremonial than effective; though the old combat arts were their specialty. Some were trained in firearms, but they weren't standard issue. Luth preferred polearms, of course. "I can handle it, sir," he fibbed, and scurried out to gather his things.

Luth breezed through his room, picking up the essentials: beaten leather bracers, nylon footpads, a faded blue tunic, a canvas travel bag and his dragon halberd--all he had on first setting foot in Lindblum, and as far as he was concerned, all he ever needed. He stowed the gun in his pack with no intentions to use it.

He skipped back into the hall, nearly slamming into Boss in his anxious haste. "Slow down, tiger," Boss drawled as he locked his door behind him--something he never used to do, but it was sadly understandable nowadays. "We ready to go?"

He caught Luth's nod, donned a pair of black sunglasses and strode purposefully towards the elevators. Luth was going to dispute the choice of eyewear when he noticed something more significant.

"Uh, sir? Shoes?"

"Missing?" Boss returned, not losing one barefooted step.


He didn't even turn around. "Perfect. Let's beat feet."


Boss's hair wasn't even dry by the time they reached the sewer crawl, and he tore blindly through the dingy, dark maintenance grid as if it were his own back yard. Luth could barely keep up.

He had a serious look about him that Luth hadn't seen before, and it was just a little frightening. A stable personality wasn't one of Boss's choice qualities, so there was no telling what he would do in this state. That was largely why Luth insisted on accompanying him.

The other reason was a small, itching one, and Luth had been looking all day for the best opportunity to scratch it. He finally took a shot while navigating the pitch, gurgling conduit that led up to Gatortown's threshold.

"I've been thinking a lot, sir, about everything you told me the other day."

Luth could practically see the black shadow ahead of him roll his eyes. "This sounds like trouble."

"I was only going to ask: what should I call you from now on?"

"Wha'd'you mean? I dunno, Lu. Same thing you've been calling me."



"No, I mean that's what I've been calling you."

"Oh. Well, whatever works."

He heard a rustling splash as Boss hopped an invisible sinkhole, which Luth accounted for in his next few paces. "I'm sure, sir, but, it's just--this puts everything I know about you in a whole new light."

"Why?" He sounded more exasperated than intrigued.

"Why? I mean, you--" Luth couldn't get over Boss's apathy. "You're the King of Thieves! You fought in the Mist War!"

Another soft splash, and Boss stopped. "Look, I'm still the same guy!"

"But you're a hero!"

"Nooo," he groaned, and there was a clap like a hand to his face. "Don't even start that. I'm /not/."

"Sir! Don't you see what this means? You're exactly what I've been looking for."

Luth couldn't see how Boss expressed his, "...," but he imagined a raised eyebrow.

"I mean, not like that, but I mean--" Luth nearly slipped on something meaty and slick that grazed his feet, and he choked back a yelp.

"Your ancestor."

"Yes, Freya Crescent, sir. You knew her personally! You fought together, and saved the world!"

"It's not... I didn't..." All Luth could make out was flustered panting.

"Didn't you, sir?" It felt like the day they first met--Luth standing in his office, pleading for his own validation. He had wanted so badly to become a real Crescent, not just in name, but in spirit and motive as well.
...Did that matter now? Now that the diary was lost, his Pilgrimage was abandoned and they were standing in the middle of a sewer, about to challenge a slumlord? Have his motives changed? Has he changed? "Can't you tell me anything about her? Anything at all?"

Boss sighed, defeated. "Ask me about this tonight, okay?"

Maybe not--not really. Luth smiled, with or without him. "Promise, sir?"

"Promise. Now let's keep moving. We've got a date with Pevy, and I want to make this as quick and painful as possible."

Luth sneezed at the deluge of smog and neon light that hit him at the end of the tunnel. He wiped his eyes and tailed Boss through Gatortown's plaza, trying to ignore the gawking they received from passers-by. A sour old man sitting on a crate with a beer in one hand and a shotgun across his lap even spit in their direction.

"We're attracting a bit of attention, sir," he eventually had to comment.

"They're probably surprised I'm showing my face down here. Hey, is that Arpy?"

He pointed into an archway along the outer wall, and there the moogle was, conferring with the type of woman Luth would not have been surprised to see around Boss's room any given night. She was wearing two spangled bandanas, a wildcat tattoo and little else. Arpy hid his pom-pom under a pink, zebra-striped derby hat.

The moogle appeared very commanding for someone the woman had to bend down to look in the eye. "If you see Conner, you tell 'im if he fucks or fucks with any of my hos again, he's going to have to answer to me! Now mush, bitch!" he barked as he jumped up and smacked her on the ass, spurring her away with a dainty yelp and the loud clacking of stiletto heels on cobblestones.

Boss approached him with a jovial grin. "Hard on work, I see."

Arpy squeaked like a dog toy as his rump hit the pavement. "Fuck me black and shit me blue; you're alive!"


He regained his composure with a flurry of curses. "What in the super white-water blue-balled fuck are you doing here?! You're not crazy; you're the single dumbest motherfucker I ever seen. You're so dumb you go to school with fish and eat sticks. And to think I just finished telling all my dawgs that you got shanked. Kupo."

Boss stuck his hands in his pockets and smirked down at the moogle. "Wha'd you do that for? No faith in me at all, I see."

"For your own damn protection, you stupid duster! And now you've waltzed right up in this joint and ruined your image."

"I wasn't aware I had a 'dead' image, but I am touched, really."

"Go fuck yourself."

Boss scooped him into a bear hug and twirled him around. "Awwww, Arpy likes me! He doooeeees."

"I said cram it up your ass, you fucking jungle fruit!" the moogle grouched as he squirmed free. He reclaimed his hat and smoothed the ruff of fur on his chest. "You know, if not for that thing in Burmecia and the fact that you're one of my biggest patrons, I wouldn't be talkin' to your shit-flinging dumb chimp ass."

"Chimps don't have tails," Boss caviled.

"Shut your fuck up, smartass." He then aimed a tiny, pointed digit at Boss's nose. "Hey hey, I had Lucy crawlin' up my tailpipe about you. Said you pulled some kinky shit on her. You know I don't 'preciate any roughin' my hos."

Boss shrugged defensively. "What? Com'on, I don't play like that. Who's Lucy? She that real young one?"

"Damn straight. She's my newest--totally twenty, by the way," he assured his questionably legal audience.

"Psh, she's just new. She'll get used to it."

Arpy dragged Luth into their circle. "You hearin' this? Your boss is a freakin' deviant. The Regs keep a list of guys like him--like Teddy Gambask, fuckin' kiddie porn freak."

Boss rolled his eyes and pirouetted on tar-smeared toes, disregarding him. "I'm not hearing anything!" Luth exclaimed as he applied appalled hands to ears and turned away.

Arpy tugged on Boss's pant leg to draw him close and rasped confidentially, "Seriously, what the hell're you doin' here?"

"I'm here to see Pevy. You know if he's around?"

"Pevy?!" the moogle's small voice cracked. "You must have acorns for balls, 'cause you're nuts if you're thinkin' of goin' after him here."

"You let me worry about that. Where is he?"

"You didn't happen to forget that Pevy's area of expertise is /guns/, right? There is a strong chance that he has many of them. And bullets! You can't forget the mutherfuckin' bullets, with which he will proceed to cap your ass."

Boss impatiently waved him down. "Look, I'm very aware, okay? Are you going to tell me if he's down here or not?"

"Yeah, he's in his corner, but you'll never get within pissin' range of 'im. His door thugs are gonna look at you once and shoot you. And then they're gonna drag you inside and shoot you again. And then Pevy's bitch is gonna shoot you. And then his dog. And /then/, Pevy himself is gonna step outta his office, kick you in the balls and shoot you in the head. You're gonna be one pepperoni pizza special motherfucker."

Boss swiped the moogle's hat and batted his pom-pom on his way off. "Thanks, Arpy. Keep it real."

Arpy bounced in place like a hot potato, his inept wings buzzing in distress. "Were you listening to me, you crazy fuck? You can't go that way!"

Boss heedlessly marched on, weaving through happy hour traffic at a pickpocket's pace. Not forgetting his locale, Luth protectively clutched his pack as he skipped to catch up. Two blocks, the caved-in corner of "Kino's Bar" and a fenced-off water main later, they stopped across a brick-strewn, noisome gully from a steel door and its pair of bouncers.

Luth studied the strange rifles strapped across the shoulders of the guards and the intent expression on Boss's face before enquiring, "You don't think you're impervious to bullets, do you, sir?"

"Now would be a good time to find out, wouldn't it?" Boss chirped, brazenly optimistic.

"No, sir! Honestly."

Boss rubbed his nose. "Nah, I guess we'll play it safe." He winced in afterthought. "Well, as safe as this is gonna get."

"So Pevy's behind that door? You don't have a plan for getting past those guys, do you, sir?"

"Not a one."

"This is the most reckless, thoughtless thing you've ever done," Luth declared.

"Phbt, nah. You haven't seen anything yet."

Luth sighed, scratched his ear and mused, "Well, at least there's only four. We're not too badly outnumbered, I suppose."

"Four?" Boss cocked a perplexed look towards the two guards. "Where do you see the other two?"

"I was counting their guns."

Boss harrumphed and folded his arms. "Bah. Guns. Why's everybody so scared of a bunch of noisy little sticks?"

"Everybody isn't /immortal/, sir, and I'm not wholly convinced you are, either. Really, we need a plan."

"All right, all right." Boss sat cross-limbed on the ground, taking a turn at thoughtfulness. It didn't suit him--just sitting still didn't suit him, but thankfully within seconds he was up again. "Okay, we're ready. You let me worry about the guns, Lu. Just stay behind until I get through the door, keep cover, and try to keep up."

"This sounds like a horrible plan," Luth was frank.

"Horrible /like a fox/," he remarked guilefully, slid off the bank of the sewage canal and bounded to the other side like a... well, monkey. Luth stood back and watched as he sauntered up to the bouncers and brightly announced, "Good evening, gentlemen. I see you have a pretty rusty door, there. Those hinges are about to fall apart. But you're in luck! I happen to be a door-to-door salesman. Of doors."

Luth's jaw dropped. The guards, a short, dorky young chap with glasses and a tall, bald, sharp-shouldered man who shared Boss's proclivity to wear shades indoors, exchanged bored looks.

There was no way they were going to buy tha--

"The boss said that if we see you, we're to shoot you on sight," the bigger grunt reported with an uncompromising scowl.

"Oh, did he?" Boss set his hands on his hips and cheekily riposted, "That's such a coincidence. I told my righty the exact same thing about him."

No questions asked, the rifles rolled into ready hands and leveled at Boss's chest. The Genome recoiled a step and threw up open arms. "Whoa. Hey, let's take it easy. You don't want to shoot me."

"What makes you think that?" the smaller one retorted, his peregrine, callous voice making him sound more threatening than he looked.

"If you were really gonna shoot me, you'd have done it already."

Not the types for slick reasoning, both guards grabbed Boss by the arms, slammed him face-first into the wall and stuck the barrels of their guns to his head. "You raise a very good point," came the sinister reply of the smaller guard.

Luth's nerves were as taut as a bowstring. He was ready to spring over there and bludgeon those goons any second, armed or not, but the thinnest thread of trust in Boss's scheme bound his feet. Boss chuckled through a bloody nose, flushed and babbling like a drunkard, "Ahaha, wow, can't put anything past you guys. You're professionals."

The guards held their steely positions. "What do you want?" the short one was direct.

Boss squirmed against the bricks and swallowed a cough. "Ah, the crux of the matter. What do I want? Hey, here's a thought. How's about you wrap me up and take me to see Pevy? I know orders are orders, but hell, I bet I'd make a much more tasty prisoner than a corpse. Besides, the dead can't talk, and he might want to hear what I have to say. It's important information--you know, serious business."

"Somehow I doubt it," the short guard cut him down, but the tall one rode over him. "What kind of information?"

Boss curbed a grin. "Well, I can't just out and tell you, now can I? It wouldn't feel right to confess under pressure like this."

"Confess what?" Now the small one's interest was piqued.

"I told you, I can't say, but if you bring me to Pevy you can find out. Hell, you'd be doing him more of a favor than me. I'm a dead man either way, right?" With a challenging leer, he added, "Unless you don't think you can handle me alive..."

The guards conversed in hesitant glances until one nod led to another. The big guy reached for the doorknob and gruffly instructed the other, "Search 'im, Drew."

Boss quietly withstood Drew's rough hands as they stripped away two daggers and a switchblade Luth hadn't even noticed before. His only complaint was a low gasp, almost like a growl, "Ah... ah! Watch the tail, buddy."

"Shut up," Drew snapped, and once satisfied with his looting he took Boss by the wrists and shoved him through the door.

They slipped out of Luth's sight, and then he heard, in succession: a heavy metal clang, the screeching of heels, a clipped, "What the--" and a thundercrack. Luth jumped off the mark, flew to the unguarded door and threw it open to behold Boss standing over the still bodies of the two guards, one of their rifles held at a clumsy angle in his hand.

"What the..." Luth echoed Drew's last words.

Boss flashed a smug grin and gestured over Luth's shoulder. "Shut that door and stay behind me."

Luth did as he was told while Boss reclaimed his blades. Luth stole a second look at the wasted guards; the larger had buckled knees, a knot on the back of his head and a brutal gash over the left eye, and the smaller... Luth grimaced. From where the bullet took him, he wouldn't need his glasses anymore, to say the least. It was hard to tell if they were still alive, but at least they were out of the way.

"What the hell was that??" ricocheted down the corridor. Boss hissed, "Shit, we gotta move."

It was a long, narrow passage, grimy red bricks on each side and dangling lamps spotting the rough-swept cement floor every ten feet. Luth saw two more men skidding around the corner when Boss raised the rifle and shot out the light bulbs. Each fizzled out in a row of dainty explosions, carving a swath of darkness down the hall.

Luth could have asked why Boss didn't just shoot the men instead of leaving them blind with broken glass everywhere, but then he was running and Luth was following and the men were cursing and confused and there was gunfire like lightning, pinging off the walls and pipes in the ceiling. In a cracking silhouette he saw Boss falling on one of them like a mantis, daggers bared like pincers. The other man spun his gun and Luth felt a hot flash graze his leg, but he didn't stop until their collision threw him into the back wall and the gun out of reach. The Burmecian danced to keep his balance, skipped off his left foot, planted his right in the grunt's gut and then brought up his left to kick him in the face, knocking him flat out.

Luth stood back and tried to get his bearings in the dim light at the crook of the passage, where another array of lamps revealed two plain doors. Out of the sudden quiet Boss wiped his bloody nose and snickered. "Heh, that was fun. You okay?"

Luth nodded uncertainly. His heart was still racing down the hall and there was a searing tingle near his ankle, but he felt like he was in one piece. "Where is Pevy?" he asked, hoping he wasn't standing on him--everything was shadows and crazy.

Boss shrugged past him and stopped at the first door. "In here, I hope. This is his office." He held his chin and stared through the wall at a lost memory, before whirling to Luth and asking, "Man, you know that movie--ah, shit, what was it called? It had Berry Strife and Jacob Steploth."

"/Time Trigger/?" Luth stabbed at it.

Boss snapped his fingers. "No, no, the one where Berry knocks down Don Cornhole's door and shouts, 'Where's my money, bitch?' and he don't know so Berry knocks his kneecaps out with a crowbar?"

Luth brightened with recognition. "Oh! /Dirty Gil/."

"Yeah yeah, that's it." Boss's excited mien then dropped into utter deadpan. "This is going to be like that." He wrapped his hand around the door handle, and then paused. "Stay outside."

"But sir," Luth offered a whiff of protest.

Boss's tone was dead firm. "Do it, Lu. That's an order."

Luth bit his tongue and held back. He would admit he didn't want to be the first one through that door, but he still wanted to help... Boss rarely made his job easy.

He all but kicked the door apart, making a dramatic ruckus. Luth peered tentatively around the doorframe and saw Pevy seated at a comfortable wooden desk in his drab, austere office, on the phone and seemingly oblivious. He looked just as Luth remembered from the party--heavy-set and glowing with wispy, fire-orange hair and ruddy anger.

"You're late," he rebuked the intruder with plain annoyance, his face buried in letters. "You're still late. You owed me six yesterdays ago. Why have I not had you shot yet?" he nonchalantly posed.

"That's a good question," Boss responded on cue, and at the unexpected voice Pevy dropped the phone's receiver and stared at the Genome in baleful shock. "You!!" he croaked. "You're dead."

Boss patted his heart and feigned enlightenment. "Really? So that's what's wrong with me. And I thought it was just indigestion."

When the Genome boldly encroached on his desk, Pevy bolted out of his seat, a gilded pistol appearing in his hand. Boss froze for a considerate moment, nothing but morbid curiosity in his bearing--silently asking, "/Are you gonna use that or what/?"

Just as silently--just as lethally, Pevy answered. He mashed his jaw square with gruesome conviction and pulled the trigger. The air shuddered like a bursting drum and Boss crumpled to the floor.

"Sir!!" Luth barged in despite orders, and his fur prickled at the sight of his mentor in a slain heap at his feet, one conspicuous hole blown through his middle and out his back. He was almost too stunned to notice Pevy's gun turn to him next.

"And you! You should have stayed ho--"

The Genome rolled over, groaned and painstakingly crawled to his feet, rendering the room dumbfounded. "Owww..." Boss complained mildly as he rubbed his pierced chest.

Pevy's bug-eyed aim bounced from Luth, to Boss, to the blossoming red wound in Boss's shirt, and then he shot him again. Luth and Boss jolted in unison, and the latter took a longer second to recompose himself. He drew a shaky breath, stood up straight and passed a thumb's-up back to Luth. "Yep, impervious."

"What in God's hell!?" Pevy exclaimed while punching another bullet into Boss, who staggered and writhed in high dudgeon.

"Owwww! Son of a fucking /bitch/! Would you /stop that already/? That hurts!" He drew his blood-mottled clothes into his fists and glared daggers at Pevy. "God /damn it/, I liked this shirt, too."

Boss lurched forward and smacked the gun out of Pevy's shocked hand, just as it fired another round over his shoulder and into the wall. Luth cringed to avoid the wayward bullet as well as the spattered blood down the floor, up the wall and across the ceiling, like sprinkles on a grizzly cake. The Genome charged on, rammed Pevy into the corner and forced a dagger against his lumpy throat.

"I don't like guns," he hissed in Pevy's face. "They're kinda impersonal, y'know? If I'm gonna kill a man, I want to feel him die on the end of my blade."

The larger man trembled, his countenance turbid with flashes of fear and outrage. "How did--w-what are you?!"

Boss snorted. "Heh! 'What.' That's a great question. But from now on I'm going to be the one asking the questions. Lu! Get over here."

"Y-Yes, sir?" Luth was shaking, too, but he obediently stepped forth.

Boss pushed Pevy deeper into the corner and then slid around his desk, rifling through the drawers. "If he moves, split him like a log."

Luth's halberd didn't falter, gladly taking the dagger's place. "Of course, sir."

While Pevy stewed in furor, the fine edge of a dragon's steel wing about to slice out his voice box, Boss scrounged up a roll of tape. "Wow, duct tape. You keep making this easy for me." He handed it to Luth and indicated the chair with very clear instructions. Boss then picked the golden gun off the floor, squatted on top of the desk and surveyed the situation with an insidious smile.

"Woo, that's tight stuff, Lu," he commented on Luth's knack for bondage. The reel of tape was almost completely spent strapping Pevy to the seat. "Have you done this before? Looks like Pevy has--he's just that type. That's what Arpy tells me, anyway."

Pevy wiggled haplessly in his cocoon and spit at Boss, "What the fuck do you--mplhphlmm!" Luth wrapped a flourish of tape over his mouth, muffling him.

Boss paid him no mind, interested instead in the box of cigars on the desktop. He sampled one, lit it with a silver lighter (cleverly shaped like a gun) found nearby and took an experimental puff. He then rejected the cigar with a sour frown, turning it over in his hand. "Ugh. Look at this thing. This is just too much. It's obscene. Who wants to be seen with a big smokin' dong hangin' outta their mouth? Just looks like you're compensatin' for something." He propped the cigar in the corner of his mouth and turned to Luth. "What do you think, Lu? Do I look more manly?" He snuffed it out on the clean veneer of the desk without waiting for a response--fair enough, since Luth wouldn't know where to begin. "Eh, I'm not feelin' it."

Boss finally pocketed his sunglasses and fixed a dark-rimmed glower on his captive. "Listen Pevy, this is how we're going to do this. I'm going to talk a whole bunch, and then when I get to a question I'm going to stop, and then you're going to answer it, and then you're going to stop, and then we're going to repeat this whole wonderful exercise until I'm happy. And hell, if you make me happy enough, I might let you live. You like living, don't you, Pevy?"

The tape was helpfully sheared off his face, taking a few hairs with it. Pevy choked on a cry, stared six degrees of hate at Boss and said nothing.

The Genome steepled his fingers and lectured, "Now, this is your turn. You're supposed to talk now. But I'll give you this one, 'cause I'm such a nice guy. See, it seems to me these days that people don't enjoy their life as much as they're afraid of death. Are you going to cooperate with me because you want to live, or because you're afraid to die?"

"You're insane!" Pevy belted out, and Boss retorted with a bullet in the man's calf. "Yep."

Pevy's nostrils flared as he watched his own blood stain his left sock. "Grraaah! My leg, you--fu--/what the fuck/?!"

The Genome's demeanor turned grave. "You fucked with my company. You fucked with my family. You fucked with my /people/. Now you're gonna fuck with me."

"I don't know what you're talking abou--"

"You helped them frame me for Don's murder, you son of a bitch!"

"What?? I was never the one who said you did it!"

"No, you only hired Griffin to finish me off, right? Don't bullshit me anymore, you stupid cocksucker. Let me just ask: were you stupid enough to pay him up-front? Because I think you were. You know, you always were a big dumb shit. I remember when you and my son were nine years old--used to play on the trampoline in Gator's backyard. You tore a hole clean through the tarp, you tubby bastard."

"What?" Pevy blustered, apparently confused. "Have you cracked your nut? The hell're you talking about? You don't have a son! …That was you!"

The icy-hot look Boss dealt him was on the fringe of madness. "Yeah. That's right. And for the record--and of course you already know this, but I didn't kill him. Maybe I should have. Maybe I've been too, too... /benevolent/, especially to people like you."

"What the hell do you want, already?!"

"Where's Althier?"

"I still don't know what you're talking abou--"

Bam. Boss shot him in the other leg without skipping a beat.

"Um," Luth hazarded his input, "I think he only knows him by ‘Maroon,’ sir."

"Yeah," Boss flippantly agreed, "I figured. I just wanted another excuse to shoot him."

Pevy bucked and thrashed in the chair, which Luth had to hold steady before it overturned. "What the--fff-fuck! You! /Fuck/!"

"Gosh, such language. I'm not going to ask again. /Where's Maroon/?"

"I don't know!" he caterwauled, his complexion as ripe as a tomato. "He's not my problem! He comes and goes whenever he wants! I haven't seen him in like two weeks!"

"Oh, that's such a bad lie. Did you know that centuries ago they used to cut off your nose for lying?" Boss illustrated the thought by leaning over and tracing the tip of his dagger along the ridge of Pevy's face, leaving a glittering red trail across the freckles and beads of sweat. "I wonder how easy that is, to cut off a nose..."

"Goddamnit, it's the truth! I swear it!"

"Tch, now you're swearing. Okay, let's say that by some miracle of humanity that you're telling the truth. Now I gotta ask: Why, oh why would you help someone like Maroon get the Jewels?"

A wicked grin tamed Pevy's roaring. "Hah! The Jewels? Help /him/? What makes you think it was his idea? We were in it together! He had the men and the guts, and I had the brains and the guns. We were gonna have the world eating outta the palms of our hands. Those Jewels have more power in 'em than anyone's ever held in history! If somebody's got a hold of those, they can do anything they want! Just like that old wizard Ku--"

Startling even Luth, Boss slapped Pevy savagely with the pistol, screaming, "SHUT UP! Just shut up, you rat bastard!"

Luth grimaced at the epithet. It had been taboo for nearly a century, losing its "political correctness" in the modern world and its anti-racism trends. It was actually offensive to call a Burmecian a "rat" at all, though Luth wasn't so naive to expect not to hear it, often behind his back.
It was a little ridiculous, but despite everything he never expected Boss to be that crass--then again, it was probably a more innocuous expression in the age he grew up in.

"What did you think he was gonna do once he got the Jewels? Just hand them over to you, share nicely and have a goddamn world domination tea party? He ran off with them!"

Pevy sneezed something bloody through his broken nose and kept sneering. "No thanks to you! You and your--your damn flunkies! If you hadn't busted up their ring at Burmecia, at least one of us would know where the Jewels are now! I had a guy on it!"

"Oh, fuck you!" Boss shot Pevy in the arm, adding further injury to insult.

"Ahhhhhhrrgggh you /bitches/!!"

"Yeah, it hurts, doesn't it?!" he fired back, maniacally loud. "Maybe you'll think twice before pumping people that walk through your door full of lead." He slammed the pistol flush onto the desk and jumped off, storming away. "Let's go, Lu."

Luth scurried after him, abandoning the duct-taped Pevy in his chair. He didn't want to stick around any second longer than necessary.

"Wait!" Pevy whined after them. "Wait, you assholes!" He was frothing like a hot kettle, three different shades of red painting his face and bullet-pocked, sandy suit. "What're you gonna do, just leave me here to die??"

"No," the Genome replied, clear and calm and more vindictive than ever. "I've got a better idea." And slammed the door.
Sign up to rate and review this story