Title: Steam Chapter VIII: Aerodynamic
Warnings: Violence, gore, sex
Summary: For Konnichipuu. Steampunk AU: Civil war has torn the country of Nihon apart. On an abandoned battlefield, a scrap-scavenger stumbles upon the sole survivor buried amongst the wreckage. Why this man, why now, after everything that has gone before?
"Okay – that's not working! Kill it kill it kill it!" The thick black smoke spewing from the exhaust port billowed out in one final, sputtering gasp before tapering off in time with the slowing pistons. Fay backed quickly away from the engine, still bent nearly double and swiping wildly to keep the smoke and soot away from his face. "We're still not getting enough thrust," he mumbled irritably, and peeled the goggles from his face to reveal two perfectly clean patches of skin circling his eyes – a stark contrast to the rest of his sweat-mottled and soot-stained face, "Need a bigger combustion chamber."
"I think you're right," Sakura popped up from the far end of the engine with a frown. She was cleaner than Fay, though not by much; her face may have been relatively unsmudged, but her thick, leather work apron, gloves, and even the dainty pink scarf she used to hold back her hair bore the black markings of a day spent battling dry gears, oil slicks, and irritable combustion chambers. "But, I think," she said slowly, shading her eyes against the glare of their mirrored lanterns to get a better view of the stockpiles across the workshop, "We'll probably have to forge a new chamber and possibly a new exhaust port to fit it. This was the biggest one we had…"
Fay frowned. They'd already had to forge new parts for most of this beast of a machine's clanking innards and he didn't want to deal with the delay this would inevitably cause while Syaoran fought with the forge – melting, casting, then recasting (probably several times – lord love the boy, but metal work just wasn't his forte) because it hadn't set properly. All told, it would probably be another two days before they could fit the finished product, and if there was one thing that drove him absolutely insane here in this shut-off corner of the world, it was the boredom that came of not having an immediate project at his fingertips.
He sighed and swiped a tatty rag from his workbench, rubbing roughly at his face to loosen the caked-on blackness. "I don't suppose we have a mold already made…?"
Sakura's face lit up at this, much to Fay's relief. "I think Brother still has his collection of molds from the old shop. I'll look for him after dinner. I'm sure if I'm the one to ask-"
The door at the landing above them clanked open against the wall just then, drowning out the remainder of Sakura's thought. As luck would have it, she wouldn't have to look very far for her brother at all, as he came barreling through the doorframe seconds later alongside a slightly less enthusiastic, but certainly no less grumpy looking ex-soldier. Fay balked and stuffed down a chuckle – Tomoyo had clearly taken it upon herself to personally oversee outfitting the pair of them for shop work and had done so in a style that was at once functional and flattering. Large silver eyelets, twisted through with thick cord lined the borders of their bibbed leather aprons to weight down the edges and keep them from flapping or curling during work; the sleeves of their shirts were crossed with a legion of straps and buckles that could pull the material tight against their skin or loosen it to breathe as needed; and their gloves had been fitted tightly to the wrist, from where they flared loosely out to the elbow, allowing free movement of the forearm while still shielding it from flying sparks and other flotsam. He liked their boots the best, though (he always liked boots best) – polished black leather up to the knee with enough brass button hooks and criss-crossing straps to keep them tightly closed and prevent chafing, while still managing to be a subtle work of art in their own right. He had to hand it to her – Tomoyo was as much a genius with clothing as Sakura was with machines (and equally skilled with stitching wounds at that). Between the two of them, they could probably arm and outfit an entire regiment for battle. Which was why they were here, after all, he supposed with a frown and looked away.
He pushed the thought to the back of his mind and whipped his head back toward the winding staircase a moment later – there was no sense in wallowing in circumstances he couldn't change. He grinned, a bit maniacally, "Touya! Looks like you decided to get yourself some boots after all," he lifted his eyebrows, "I knew you were jealous."
His taunt was lost on its intended target, however, who was too occupied at the moment with attempting to strong-arm Kurogane to one side of the staircase and push his way to the front. This was proving to be difficult, party because neither he nor Kurogane were about to fall second in line, but mostly due to the fact that both men were locked into (what appeared to Fay to be, anyway) a glaring competition, their faces twisted toward one another just enough to keep one eye on the staircase, but still far enough off of their path to leave their unsupervised feet shuffling and clanking clumsily against the metal steps as they continued to elbow and casually snarl at each other for the remainder of their descent. Fay dragged the rag down his face despondently – this was shaping up to be even worse than he had imagined. Touya, for all his disgruntlement and snippy commentary, was easily dealt with on a one-to-one basis; so long as Fay kept a steady stream of antagonism directed at him, the older Kinomoto sibling was usually content to hammer away in irritated silence. Kurogane, however… Kurogane was shaping up to be a real problem, if the previous night's midnight encounter was anything to judge by, because Kurogane thought he knew things and was developing an annoying habit of asking questions that he had no rights to the answers of. If Fay had a choice in the matter, he would have kept him as far from the workshop as humanly possible, but Yuuko's word was ultimate and final – there was no point in arguing it now.
"Alright boys," he chided as Kurogane's foot hit the cement first. Their shoulders locked for a moment as Touya attempted to muscle forward one last time, scowling between Kurogane for being in his way and Fay for being a general pain in his ass. "What am I supposed to do with a pair of brutes like this, anyway?" Fay lamented to no one in particular, "I need careful hands down here and she sends me couple of thugs who'd be happier hammering dents into my engines than tuning them." He dragged a hand melodramatically across his forehead, forgetting for the moment that his hands were covered in engine grease and cursing himself silently as he felt the viscous slime ooze a broad stripe across his skin and begin settling into his pores. He grabbed the rag back quickly and scoured this away as well, eying up his new recruits from beneath its tattered fringe.
Touya had scrubbed all signs of irritation from his face and was quickly making his way over to his sister, who was waving happily and talking a million miles a minute about the adjustments she and Fay had spent the morning sweating over. Touya seemed interested – which was a fortuitous development, as it increased not only the likelihood that he would willingly go to sort through his old collections for molds, but also the likelihood that he would be doing something other than playing the role of the ruthless overseer while he was down here. Touya was nearly as gifted as his sister – or had been, once upon a time, and it seemed unlikely to Fay that this sort of talent would just fade away. His recent absence from the workshop was better described as a self-imposed exile; after Yukito had arrived, he had announced that he had no further interest in building machinery that could be so easily bastardized and corrupted into instruments of war. (Which was not to say that the years before this had been terribly productive for him either; his mistrust and suspicion of Fay had limited his production to simple household gadgets which, while useful for trading purposes, failed to produce anything new or interesting and left Yuuko smarting over the incalculable lost hours of research.)
Kurogane looked less sure of himself, now that he had reached the bottom of the staircase, and Fay relished the brief flicker of uncertainty in his eyes as he gaped at their massive work area. Perhaps he wouldn't be so insufferable now he was completely out of his element…
There was still the question of what to do with him, though. Fay certainly didn't want a one-armed amateur anywhere near his workbench where he could muttle up god-knows how many hours of painstaking craftsmanship (or anywhere near himself, for that matter, where he would almost certainly continue to pick at open wounds and pretend to see some sort of truth he could never understand), and that just wasn't going to fly. Which left…
Fay grinned. That might not work out so badly, after all. In fact, it might be just what his eternally flustered young apprentice needed – an overly gruff thug that he could order around to his heart's content. Teaching, Fay knew, was often the best way of cementing one's own learning, and between that and keeping Syaoran too occupied to gawp at Sakura like a lonely puppy, Fay foresaw many fewer explosions and mishaps for the lab under this direction.
He turned to face Kurogane, eyes sparkling wildly. "Tell me, Kuro-sama. Have you ever worked a forge before?"
Kurogane's lip pulled back into a hesitant sneer. Fay practically jumped for joy.
Kurogane, Fay decided as he hauled a heavy carton of supplies onto the flatbed of his fully rebuilt and operational speeder, was quite possibly the most irritating bastard on the face of the earth. Normally, he wouldn't complain about having his baby up and running in record time (or about the practically exponential rise in overall productivity for the shop over the last several days) but knowing that a large percentage of this owed directly to Kurogane's contributions left Fay wanting to do nothing so much as punch the smug bastard right in the face for being such a golden boy. He'd mastered the blasted forge – with one arm, nonetheless – in less than a day and had not only produced perfect casts of the exhaust and combustion chambers on the first try, but had spent the intervening three days tutoring Syaoran on the exact techniques he had so recently learned from the boy himself.
He slammed another chest down onto the speeder. Irritating.
"Don't break all the glassware," Touya groaned, setting down a third crate atop the ever-growing pile, "It's expensive enough as it is." He shot Fay a withering look before bending to grapple with the wadded canvas covering and cords as his feet.
"Right," Fay smiled, forcing his aggravation down beneath a cheerful façade as Touya draped and secured the canvas. No sense in letting any of them know how much this entire exercise was getting to him. "Sorry about that." He patted the shaken crate affectionately, as if it were a small child.
Touya's face twisted with something approaching concern. "You sure you're up to this?" he demanded, "Because if anything happens to Sakura while you're in town-"
"I'm fine," Fay laughed and waved this away, "And it's only a trading mission – what could go wrong?"
Touya turned his back, busying himself with looping and knotting the final cords into place over the crates and canvas, and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "She'll pick up another insufferable halfwit to dote on," but otherwise ignored him completely.
Fay chuckled genuinely at this and ran a quick tally of everything they had packed – medical supplies, sacks of grain, dried food, seeds, knives, utensils, a handful of gadgets, and few bits of clothing. Not bad, he supposed, though he wondered if it was a bit much. Normally they would head into to town with only one type of good, but with the speeder in need of repair for the past few weeks, they hadn't made any trips at all and Yuuko's stockpiles were growing fat. It would probably be alright – the villagers were likely as eager to bring in new goods as they were to unload them – and so he set about scouring the shop for his companions on today's trip. He didn't have far to look – Tomoyo was eagerly goading Sakura into reciting a very educational, if a bit embarrassed, lecture on the finer points of miniature engine maintenance (which included drawing diagrams in the dust on Fay's workbench and was really too adorable for words), while Syaoran hovered around the two of them, looking nervous and out of place. Kurogane leaned against the bench, looking disinterested and still mildly annoyed that he wasn't permitted to join them. "You kids ready to head out?" Fay called.
"Of course!" Sakura looked only too happy to be relieved of her teaching duties as the three piled onto the large, circular flatbed of the speeder and pulled the cords up and over their laps.
Fay grinned and pulled his goggles down over his eyes before mounting the long saddle seat behind the handlebar controls. "Alright then," he fastened the lap restraint over his legs, "Kuro-tan, can you get us up?"
Kurogane's expression shifted from disinterested to confused. And possibly a bit disgusted. "What the…?"
"The roof, Kuro-rin," Fay laughed and motioned to a large set of gears outfitted with a large copper crank, "I need you to open it and lift us up."
"How the hell is opening the roof going to-"
"Hovercraft!" Fay trilled before he could finish. This was much better – Kurogane was best kept blustering and second-guessing himself. "But it's going to make a mess of the lab if you don't open the roof and jack up the landing platform. So kindly put those enormous muscles of yours to good use and crank us up, would you?" He smiled sweetly and batted his eyelashes – not that it especially mattered behind the goggles.
Kurogane glared for a moment but stomped his way over to the gears and set his hands at the crank. His face strained and muscles of his arm bulged as he worked the pulleys – round and round, up and up, dipping at the knees to begin the next cycle – and gradually opened a split in the domed, corrugated metal ceiling. As each half of the split pulled further down into the walls, the section of floor the speeder was seated on jerked upward toward the light. Kurogane spun the gears; the platform lurched higher. The awkward dance continued until the speeder had reached a height equal to the tallest wall and Fay kicked the ignition into action, leaving Kurogane and Touya to duck quickly out of the way of the propulsive wind.
"Ease up on the regulator for the back engine a bit!" Fay shouted into the mop of ginger hair fluttering into and around his face. He loosened his grip on the handle bar with his right hand to tap meaningfully at the white knuckles next to it – Sakura occasionally needed a reminder as to which hand worked which set of controls, and starting into a landing with the speeder stacked with all of their trading gear and two of her dearest friends wasn't the best time to quiz her mastery. Touya was already going to tear him limb from limb if he caught wind of Sakura being allowed to pilot the speeder like this, even if they were riding double on the saddle seat with Fay directly behind her and able to correct any beginner's mistakes with a quick flick of his wrist. Not that Fay was terribly concerned with what Touya would do; Sakura's older brother was over-protective to a fault and besides which, it was silly for an engineer to be forbidden to pilot the vehicles she designed and worked so hard to build. How was she supposed to improve on her designs if she didn't develop a feel for the machines themselves? She could plan out all of the fantastically intricate engines she wanted and calculate their efficiencies to her heart's content, but what was the point of all that if she couldn't appreciate their performance? Fay grinned; luckily, Sakura enjoyed piloting almost as much as shop work and was a quick study, to boot.
Most of the time, anyway.
"Keep easing off – slowly," he shouted again and lifted his arm to point ahead of them, "You want to land right on the edge of the forest, but close enough to the village walls that we don't have to carry this stuff too far." Sakura twisted the handle appropriately and their forward momentum slowed. "And now put out the wind breaks. It's going to jerk, so be care-" his words were cut short as the compartments on either side of the speed that stored the broad-paddled wind breaks opened and thrust their contents out into the air stream, disrupting the currents around them and jostling the speeder violently as they rotated to vertical. Fay clapped Sakura's shoulder, "Good job! You didn't flinch this time! Now," he yelled, "Give the back engine just enough steam to boot us the last little ways-" he leaned as far as he could to the side to get a better view of the ground below them as they approached the edge of the forest, "Now kill it completely."
Sakura twisted the handle and the back engine whirred to a halt, leaving the speeder hovering, motionless, above ground by the work of the bottom engine alone. Fay felt Sakura tense in her seat ahead of him; this was always the trickiest part. "Alright," he said, with much less volume now that the engine noise had been cut in half, "You can do this! The new stabilizers you built into the controls worked really well – we didn't tip at all when you slowed the back engine. All you have to do now is slowly – slowly – choke off the bottom engine."
Sakura nodded resolutely and reset her grip on the handlebars; Fay held his breath. Slowly, her left hand twisted at the handle-
Fay's heart jumped into his throat as the speeder dropped several feet in the space of as many seconds. "Too much!" he shouted again and quickly twisted the handle back to its original position. Sakura yelped and let go the handlebars, digging backward into his chest. "It's okay," he reassured her, laughing, once he had them stabilized once again, "You just have to get a feel for it. Try it again."
Their final descent was far from perfect – marred with too many sudden dips and hasty corrections – but they managed to set down, in the end, without any major casualties and only minorly bruised egos. (Or possibly majorly, Fay mused as he watched Syaoran stagger off to lurch discreetly into a bush. Thankfully, Sakura was too busy warding off praise from an overly-effusive Tomoyo to notice.) All things considered, though, this was probably her most successful landing, and Fay swelled with pride. His little girl was growing up so quickly…
"Fay?" Sakura was staring expectantly at him.
"Sorry," he shook his head clear and peeled his goggles back to perch at his hairline, "What were you saying?"
"It looks like we're expected," Sakura repeated softly, nodding toward the creeping line of children gathering at and peeking around the village walls.
Fay smiled. "They'll be after the candy," he chuckled and began unfastening the canvas covering, "Why don't you and Tomoyo take some of the food boxes ahead and set up right away? Syaoran and I can handle the heavier stuff. Be generous – Yuuko managed to get in a ton of sugar at a reasonable price and they look like they could use a bit of fun." The last bit was all too true, he thought, looking sadly at the children's hollow cheeks and hungry stares. They were all too skinny, and had been for as long as he had known them – the inevitable result of the ravages their homes had sustained. Too much work and too little food for hungry mouths. Half of them, he knew, though he couldn't see much beyond their peeking faces, were covered in worse reminders of the war than hunger – ragged scars, reset bones, angry patches covering joints where limbs once attached. The last battle in this area may have been fought nearly five years previously, but many of these children would never forget.
Sakura, ever cheerful and doting, beamed and hefted one of the larger boxes from the pile. "Sure!" she answered and headed, with Tomoyo, toward the village gates.
Fay turned to Syaoran, who was still busily wiping the corners of his mouth, and grinned. "Feel better?" he asked casually as he began sorting through the pile of crates. Syaoran nodded a quick affirmative and blushed a deep shade of red. "Good," Fay chuckled, "How are your eyes today? Ready to sort out the keepers?" Syaoran blinked at him in confusion, clearly not taking his meaning. "Scrap metal," Fay reminded him, "Are you ready to sort the junk from the valuable?" Syaoran's eyes widened and he nodded vigorously, hefting a heavy box of medical supplies as he did. "Gets easier with practice, hmm?" Fay hummed from behind his own crate, "Though, you should probably err in the villagers' favor today. It's been a few weeks since we dropped by and the kids are looking a little hungry."
"But won't-" Syaoran stammered, freezing in his tracks, "Won't Yuuko-"
"I doubt it," Fay murmured, though he was still uncertain himself. Their benefactor always upheld the public persona of a cold, calculating merchant. All of their goods came at a price; nothing was ever given for free, and that was the way it had always worked. Still, one would have to be blind to notice that the prices she demanded of the villagers were things they could easily acquire and had little use for themselves – scraps of metal, discarded weapons and ammunition, broken bits and bobs of old machinery. These were all melted down, rebuilt, and resold to her wealthier clients (except for the weapons, Fay had no idea what she did with those); the profits she earned there were put back into shipping in goods for trade with the villagers once again. It was an endless cycle, and Fay hadn't the faintest idea how much wealth she created or lost in the process. He had noticed, though, that she never seemed to mind a bit of…uneven trade with the villagers, so long as some scrap was obtained for their efforts. Which was probably a good thing; his blasted, bleeding heart would have gotten him in far more trouble with a stricter boss.
They hauled their wares just inside the village gates and set about arranging them for easy perusal. Tomoyo had quickly and cleanly set up her instruments atop one of the largest crates and was already attending her first patient – a small boy with a badly infected scrape up his calf – antiseptic and bandages exchanged for a rusty nut and bolt. Sakura had happily pacified most of the lingering children with sweets and was now skipping around with the remainders of them, playing a game of tag that involved spinning the loser by their hands until they were too dizzy to stand. Syaoran gaped at her from his perch next to Fay, where he was meant to be assessing the value of the scraps brought in by the villagers but was mostly confining himself to a vicious cycle of day-dreaming and being snapped back to attention by his older comrade.
Little by little, their piles of goods decreased and were replaced by a stock of metal shining in the afternoon sun. Most of the villagers were cheerful enough, Fay found, despite their absence for the past weeks, though more than a few were aching to vent their frustrations.
"This is sick," the man standing just in front of Fay spat as he lifted two heavy sacks of grain up over his shoulders , "You disappear for three weeks and we've got next to nothing, then you come back like some sort of fucking saviors. How much money is that witch making off of us, anyway? What kind of a sick fuck do you have to be to profit off of our pain like this?"
"I don't think," Fay started, then looked at the ground. It was hardly worth the fight – he knew the man was right. The harvests in the village had been getting slowly worse over the last few years and the villagers themselves were depending more and more on the supplies hauled in by them; what had started as a luxury was quickly becoming a necessity and Fay couldn't blame the man for feeling trapped by it all. But how was he expected to respond to that? Suggest they move away? Where to? With what means? He sighed and looked around the man's shoulder, eager to end the transaction and move on to the next."
"Not so fast," the man stepped back into his line of sight, "You're not fucking listening to me. You've been looking awfully well-fed since you took up with these criminals - coming in here with sugar - sugar!" he laughed as Fay's eyebrows raised, "Yeah – I remember back a few years ago when you were just a shitty artist, scraping away here like the rest of us. What's so special about an artist that he gets picked up and taken care of by that witch while the rest of us starve?" The man narrowed his eyes threateningly, "You must be as much of a criminal as they are."
Fay sighed and jumped to his feet. The last thing he wanted today was a fight, but it never hurt to be on his guard. "I'm sorry," he said firmly, "We've brought some seeds for you to try replanting again. Hopefully this year's growing season will be better. I can't even imagine-"
"You're goddamned right you can't!" the man bellowed before he had even finished, fire flashing in his eyes, "You're probably the ones poisoning our fields! If you think you can-"
"I think that's quite enough, Mr. Mayuge," a quiet voice said from behind. Fay felt some of the tension slip from his shoulders and relaxed his stance a bit. The voice was familiar and commanded a fair deal of respect in this town; Fay breathed a sigh of relief as Kakei – the pharmacist and closest thing the village had to a doctor – stepped into view. "I think you should take your grain and go to your family."
The man looked for a moment as though he might disregard this completely and escalate the argument with both of them, but relented after a moment with a huff and stomped away. Kakei smiled sadly at Fay and shook his head. "You'll have to forgive him," he said with a flick of his long brown hair, "They're all getting a bit restless. Worried that the time is soon upon us to abandon the village and find new homes that are more sustainable," he drew in a deep breath, "Still, most of us stubborn idiots are determined to stick it out through one last growing season, at least, in the hope the weather gods are a bit kinder to us this year."
Fay smiled at this, and darted around the crate he had been sitting on. "I wouldn't want to forget this," he said, unstacking and restacking a number of smaller boxes until he found one marked with Kakei's name, "Yuuko sent this for you especially."
Kakei's eyebrows lifted at this. "She'll have me run out of the village in no time if she doesn't stop this," he murmured, only half-joking. "Still, it's a fair price for the information we've gathered, I think."
"Oh?" a shudder of cold ran down Fay's spine. Kakei's partner was notorious amongst the right circles for his ability to obtain nearly any kind of information one desired (provided they could pay), be it troop movements, political scandals, or how this week's horse races had been tampered with. Fay had no idea what his connections were, and had no real desire to; Yuuko trusted him and that was suitable for Fay's purposes, even if it wasn't particularly satisfying. "Good news this week?" he asked hopefully, knowing full well that this was probably futile.
Kakei frowned and waved over his shoulder. "I think, perhaps," he said slowly, "You ought to come back to the store with me to discuss it."
So not good news, then. "Alright," Fay said, turning to look at Syaoran, "Can you manage things here for a bit?" Syaoran snapped once again out of his daze and nodded. Fay returned the gesture, "I'll only be a minute. Call Sakura over for help, alright?"
"Sure," Syaoran replied, and turned his attention back to the villagers. Fay watched him for a moment to be sure he didn't float off into starry-eyed bliss again before heading further into the village with Kakei.
The drug shop Kakei ran had, like all of the buildings here, fallen victim to disrepair with the passing years, yet still managed to maintain an air of dignity that much of the surrounding village had not. "How are you staying in business?" Fay wondered aloud as they pushed through the entryway, "Everything else seems to have closed down."
"Oh, they're still open," Kakei assured him, "Whenever they have something to sell. Vegetables, game, pottery - not much, mind you, but enough to keep their hopes up. I imagine after the harvest this year, things will pick up again. Come now, I think Saiga will be eager to tell you what he's heard."
"I see," Fay frowned. Kakei was winding a deliberately complicated path through the dusty shelves for reasons that were beyond him – perhaps to keep Fay on his toes or simply to keep him too occupied to ask further questions. By the time they reached the backroom, they had likely wound twice the actual length of the shop. Inside the room, to no great surprise (and certainly not looking at all eager), sat Kakei's partner, reclining in a large chair behind a rickety desk with his feet resting on the surface, an unlit, hand-rolled cigarette dangling from his lips, and his eyes mostly hidden by large black glasses with ornate silver rims. He didn't rise at their entrance, nor did he make any smaller gesture of greeting; instead, he merely huffed and mumbled, "You're late."
"We had transportation problems," Fay explained.
"You build transportation, don't you?" Saiga grunted, still not moving.
"Which is why we're here today," Fay grimaced. He hoped this wasn't going to continue – Saiga's teasing bouts were entirely capable of dragging on for hours and he didn't really want to leave Syaoran alone for that long…
"Hmph," Saiga finally kicked his feet to the ground and spun the chair to face Fay, "Well then," he rumbled gravely and folded his hands together on the desk, "I'll cut right to the chase. It appears that our good friend General Reed has finally managed to coax some bio-units into operation."
"Bio-units?" Fay's blood ran cold. How had that bastard managed to get his hands on…? It was impossible. That technology was supposed to exist in only one place – in schematic form – and its inventor was too stubborn to even assemble a prototype, too afraid that it might be bastardized into just the monstrosities Saiga was portending. If General Reed had gotten his hands on the plans, then that meant-
"Calm down," Saiga said, pulling a yellowed folder from a pile on the desk and flopping its contents open for Fay to see, "It's not your designs. Looks like someone has put this together from scratch. I don't know who or how, but I did manage to finagle a copy of these plans." He scratched at his head, "Thought Yuuko would be interested."
Fay stared mutely at the ink scratches on the paper before him, twisting and weaving across the weathered surface into the framework for a walking nightmare. Guns where arms should have swung, cannons fitted to chests – bodies warped and tortured into machines of war. This was wrong; this was an abomination – there was no way these altered humans could survive for long with so many of these cold metal pieces soldered to their flesh-
"You don't look very well," Kakei's hand was at his shoulder, rubbing comfortingly, "But then, I suppose it is a bit of a shock."
Fay shook head, trying to force the numbing stupor that had all but consumed him away, and looked back at Saiga. "How long have you had this?" he rasped, his voice sounding small and weak in his own ears.
Saiga shrugged. "A week, maybe two. Hard to tell, really. I'm up all night, all around the province – makes it difficult to keep track of dates-"
"Thank you," Fay cut him off quickly, but not impolitely. He gathered the papers strewn across the desk and turned to Kakei. "Will the payment be enough?"
Kakei nodded. "Of course. And send dearest Yuuko my regards." He paused for a moment, stroking his chin thoughtfully, "What do you suppose you will do?"
Fay shrugged. He hadn't the faintest idea – this would be a drastic turning point in the war, to be sure, but what it meant for their group personally… "I couldn't say," he admitted at last, "But I had best return and give these to Yuuko."
"Of course." Kakei did not lead Fay through the winding course once again as he accompanied him back to the front door, instead traveling a straight route and quick clip and hurriedly shuffling him out the door. Fay broke into a run as he left the entranceway to the shop, shielding his eyes as he checked the position of the sun and hoping that it was late enough in the afternoon for them to pack up and return.