Hunt 26: Cat in the Bag
“So, it’s fine if I’m the red zone… right?” Azalea tilts her head while wearing her a cunning smile.
The cold stagnant air in the room is then mixed with tension and silent doubt.
“Azalea!” Blair shouts; her voice echoes with anger and unrest. She almost slammed her hands on the table but Evan stopped her by grabbing her wrist.
“Right,” she said with a smug look while relaxing her back. After spending little effort to ease the tension inside the room, Azalea laughs gently. She continues on with a teasing tone which is neither provoking nor thoughtless. “I want to have this matter resolved in a more discreet way, so I’ll give you a gift in the form of information. To be honest, it’s not a secret; it’s easy to find out if you just searched my name in the internet.”
Upon hearing her suggestion, Hakusen, Daisuke, Ophelia, Lario and Brandon take out their PDAs to check the internet. They type her name and then few articles shows up. They check each page one by one. They spent few minutes carefully inspecting the articles, taking in as much information as they can, and at the same time discern the value behind it.
Meanwhile on Asylum’s side, not a single one of them check to confirm Azalea’s claim. Blair is looking down with a sharp glare, her jaws are clenched shut, and her lips are frowning, her arms are crossed, while she quietly sits leaning her back on the chair. Duke and Emil keep whatever opinion they have to themselves; they only continue to finish their meal all the while listening to the proceedings of their negotiations. Tristan secretly fidgets, unnecessarily fixing his gloves. Evan looks reserved and mute but at the same time he harbors an air of a calculatingly devious person while clenching the scabbard of his sword.
As the silence continues, Hakusen, Ophelia, and Diasuke turns and stares at each other like they are having non-verbal conversations. With simple eye contacts, it seems that they had fairly agreed on an answer.
“These are quite heavy, don’t you think?” Hakusen’s voice rings inside the room. “These articles are enough for some board members to enforce your transfer to the red-zone.”
Daisuke puts his PDA down. “These are the stuff I haven’t heard about before. You have a bounty, though it’s only effective in certain areas.”
“But what bothers me is the fact that the faculty does not know any of this.” Ophelia adds while fixing her eyes at Azalea. “Do they really not know?”
Azalea looks straight at her. She puts on a gentle smile and then answers with a cheerful tone. “I’ll leave it to your imagination.”
After hearing her answer, Hakusen then turns to Daisuke and nods at him.
“Aside from joining Smash… If you betray this alliance, I take it that we can do whatever with this information?” Hakusen says with a relaxed posture.
“Yeah,” Azalea responds nonchalantly. “I am very confident of my strength and value. Won’t that suffice?”
“We didn’t agree to that.” Blair mumbles with a salty frown.
Azalea chuckles. “Of course, we do not intend to let things end up like that. Let’s keep this deal as insurance.”
“Fair enough,” Hakusen settles then he looks at Daisuke. He signals something. “From now on, we’re on equal terms. We’ll give you the information we have, and your group will also report your findings to us.”
“Sure,” she agrees without a second thought.
“Let me continue from here on,” Daisuke declares with a wide skeptical smile after nodding back at their president. “Hmm… Maybe I should start by giving you a general idea of the situation in the bigger picture. And when I say ‘bigger picture,’ I meant the world, not just the academy in that small island. Outside the false peace of these large cities, the world is still overwhelmed by chaos.”
Their attention is then pulled seeking his voice, curious and wondering. None of them interrupted, they earnestly listen without complaint.
“Conflicts are all over the place, threats from monsters and demons are always around and more than that, the danger brought by humans towards each other is even greater. Even though ICA holds more than half of the world, there are still a lot of organizations that are at work blending within the shadows.”
“With the presence of these illegal organizations, even AB Academy is not an exception when it comes to their shady business. So, here comes the deal.” Daisuke pauses and then slightly lowers his tone. “Rumors say that some unknown person or unnamed organization is trying to break out some rank-S prisoners from ICA’s highest security prison, Tydlose Afgrond Penitentiary. It seems that they want to make a ruckus around the red zone as a diversion however, that’s probably nothing but the surface of the water.”
Tristan seems confused. “You’re talking about rumors. You’re saying that none of the information you hold is a confirmed fact.”
“Even rumors have certain level of value in them,” Hakusen argues back.
The sinister mood keeps radiating around Evan. “Are you telling us to risk one of our members for a movement caused by a mere rumor?”
“Don’t get too agitated,” Azalea meddles in. She lowers her head averting her gaze from anyone. She touches her chin and then falls into deep thought. “Rumors are like coded messages. There’s a certain level of truth in them, the information you can get from collecting seemingly thoughtless gossips depends on how much you can decipher it.”
“That’s how you survived, huh.” Daisuke grins. “That stupid rumor caused turmoil in the red zone, which is an undeniable fact. What brought it is another issue, which brings us different sides of the story. When this rumor started, the club leaders also started to strengthen their clubs. Just knowing that someone might be manipulating future conflicts puts the older students in a situation to be wary of each other. Conflict between the heads has silently begun and if not resolved, the red zone may end up having a single club of rebellious students.”
Emil’s brows furrow. “The red zone students are reveils from around the world that had been gathered by ICA considering the usefulness of their power and their state of mind more than anything. I admit we could be easily riled up. If managed poorly, we could become a huge enough threat to the faculty of this academy. That would also bring trouble to ICA.”
“With this information,” Hakusen explains in a gentle yet serious tone while playing with the steak knife on his left hand. “There could be two possibilities. First, they want to make a big enough disturbance in AB Academy to get the attention of ICA. There are very important nobles here so they will surely not leave the academy unguarded. While ICA’s army focuses here, they are going to break some people out of prison.”
“However, a rumor about that had already spread,” Tristan retorts. He clasps his hands tightly. “You don’t expect ICA to still fall from that simple trick, do you?”
“That is the trick,” Hakusen answers with gloomed expression. “The second possibility is that their real target is in the academy, and the rumors were purposely made to trap us into letting our guard down.”
“No way…” Tristan whispers in pure surprise. “It could be either of the two; we are in fifty-fifty odds of thwarting their plans.”
“But it doesn’t end there, does it?” Azalea adds while turning her eyes back at everyone.
“There exists a third possibility. What they truly after could rest in both places. Concentrating ICA’s force in one place means letting go of the other. If this rumor means to split ICA’s force in half, then does that mean they have the power to rival that force?”
Upon hearing those words, Ophelia fidgets. “If what you’re saying is true, then we might be crossing swords with a very huge organization that has a skillful leader which may as well be as strong as ICA itself.”
“No way, this is ICA we’re talking about.” Tristan says softly.
At that moment while most of them feel threatened by the said possibilities, Daisuke makes a wider grin and was not able to contain his laughter as if he found something very amusing. His menacing laughter echoes across the room.
“Dai!” Hakusen calls out raising his voice louder but he does not sound angry, more like he is doing it to alarm his subordinate and snap him out of such uncontrolled behavior.
“I’m sorry,” he answers trying to suppress his laughter while shaking and giggling. “President, I… I just can’t believe that Azalea could still think of a situation grimmer than what we are already facing. What praise can I possibly say… to a person who’ve been through hell?..”
Azalea sighs. “Is that all of the information you can provide us?” The members of Smash nod answering her question. She then looks toward Duke’s direction. “Have you taken notes of those, Duke?”
“No problem here,” he gestures OK.
“Very well,” she continues wearing a modest smile on her face. “In any case, we still don’t know their real objective. Learning about it is top priority.”
Diasuke makes a snapping sound with his fingers. “Now, proceeding to what I’m truly interested in… that Aesbyl thing!”
At that moment, Evan has been holding onto a grim expression with a sinister smile. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell them anything more.”
“Hey, we agreed to an exchange of information without specifying the amount we can give.” Daisuke peers at him with a mocking smirk while relaxing his back on the chair.
“That’s true,” she chuckles. “The exchange of information is for the alliance, please don’t forget that. However, the things that happened in Aesbyl, stays in Aesbyl.” The sudden change in her tone sends shivers to their spine.
“Is that the reason why you were called the Bewitched?” Hakusen deliberately questions her in a tone that it rubs off the wrong way.
“No,” answers Azalea directly while forcing a smile. “That stupid nickname was given to me a few months after my first hunt. Those cursed bastards.” Then she changes back to her casual tone with her arms crossed. Everyone listens earnestly while they fix their eyes on her. “I could be at fault for pissing of some idiots but not everything attached to that name is true. It’s a complicated topic to discuss. You can draw your own conclusion about it. I don’t mind.”
“That’s not something to make a joke off, Az.” Blair grunts but Azalea simply smiles back at her.
Hakusen crosses his arms while maintaining his relaxed pose. “That’s somewhat surprising in its own way. Nice try putting us in a bind. Do you trust all of these people in your club that much?” He smirks while standing up. He is then followed by the other four. “Don’t worry, we won’t be telling anyone about it outside this group of people here. Though, there are things that are simply inevitable.”
“Yes,” she agrees and stands up. “It can’t be helped then.”
Then Hakusen moves to stand in front of Tristan. He offers him a hand shake to seal their alliance. “We’re looking forward to working with you.”
Tristan forces a smile while trying hard to conceal his trembling hands. “We hope to have a good partnership,” he responds with a hand shake.
“Yeah,” he answers letting go of Tristan’s hand. He then turns his back and start to walk towards the door. Daisuke, Ophelia, Brandon and Lario are following him freely.
Azalea waves her hand at them as they leave the room. Brandon and Lario seem friendly enough to wave back at her, but then Daisuke calls and drags them outside while the door closes.
“Listen all of you,” Daisuke states after the door closed, making sure that no one else can hear him. “The real leader of that club is undoubtedly, Azalea Blakewood. Don’t ever let your guards down around her.”
“Can we really trust them?” Ophelia‘s forehead is knitted.
“Don’t worry,” he says reassuringly while they stroll in the hallway. “It may not sound like it but we are holding their leader’s life at the palm of our hands. Knowing that I doubt she’ll do anything that could meaninglessly put her life in danger. Just the information of her whereabouts is very valuable for those who keep a grudge on her. You have no idea what kinds of people are very eager to rid this world of her.”
“Whoa--! She got that much enemies?!” Brandon loudly asks while rubbing the top of his head.
“I don’t know what she did but there are a fair amount of people who’d start a festival to celebrate her passing to the afterlife. I’m sure.” He guarantees.
“Hmm… she appeared to be so sure that none of her comrades would double-cross their group.” Hakusen says with arms crossed.
Daisuke makes a menacing grin. “We’ll see about that sooner or later.”
On the other hand, while members of Smash are leaving the restaurant, Asylum is staying in the VIP room for a little longer to settle their own thoughts. Blair is still displeased about Azalea’s sudden revelation without consulting any of them.
“Okay,” Azalea says in a yielding pose. “I haven’t told them everything about me, you know.”
Blair pouts while crossing her legs. “But isn’t that thing enough to mess with you? Did you need to go that far?”
“If they expose you,” Evan says wearing half a smile. “You’ll be transferred to the red-zone, you know.”
“Why does it matter?” She says crossing her arms while making a mischievous smile. “I’ll just change uniform and dorm. Though, it’ll be quite inconvenient if they put one of those collars on me. They’re so not my style.”
“That’s what you’re worried about?” Tristan sighs heavily.
“I’ll really have to find a way to get that thing off without triggering the deadly functions, just in case.” Azalea continues to mumble. Then she turns her eyes at Tristan while wearing a menacing expression.
Tristan gulps. He can feel the chills crawling on his skin.
Emil looks around and then drinks a glass of water. He takes a deep breath while keeping a laidback position. “I don’t think we traded fairly though.”
“You’re right,” Azalea chuckles.
Tristan’s brow twitches. “You do understand that you were the one giving them disadvantageous information about yourself? You.”
“You are misunderstanding something, prez.” She answers while being smug. “I did not give them anything. I simply put them under the illusion that they have obtained the information from me. You see, the moment Daisuke recognized me; those “internet gossips” are already in their hands. They just did not realize it yet.”
Emil and Blair looks at her blankly trying to figure out what she means.
“But Daisuke did not seem to know anything,” Tristan argues.
Azalea snaps her fingers. “Okay, listen carefully. I’ll let you in on some secret.” She gathers them closer lowering the volume of her voice. “Daisuke Nekogami, considering that he is the vice-president means he is not a newbie freshman. I’ve only been a demon hunter for around two years, and if he heard about the Bewitched before then he most likely only spent a year here. At least he should be in his second year. He is lacking a year’s worth of information about what I have been doing, which I have confirmed when I told them to search my name. Those articles weren’t reported in international mainstream media. Since they don’t want to attract ICA’s attention, it was only a big deal in Surus. The information they thought I gave them is something they would have eventually come across with if they searched for my name later on.”
Tristan’s jaws drop. “Ah-! You decided to give them the information instead of letting them discover it for free.”
Evan looks calm wearing his pretentious smile. Emil listens carefully, his face looks confused for a moment but it seems that he is starting to digest what he just heard. Duke only keeps his silence. It seems that he has no questions.
“I don’t get it.” Blair mumbles.
“It’s like when they put some goods for sale in supermarkets.” Tristan explains. “Give lower prices to the box of cookies close to its expiration so that the consumers will be attracted to buy it before it’s completely inedible.”
Blair pauses for a moment and then turns to Azalea. “So, you gave them a rotten box of cookies. That’s nasty.”
“It’s not rotten, you mountain idiot.” Azalea replies. “It’s still edible but they have to consume it before it expires.”
Blair slightly tilts her head and thinks for a second. “Still sounds pretty scammy to me,” she whispers to herself.
“She has the talent of a con artist,” Tristan adds with a soft voice.
“Let’s snap out of this topic,” Azalea snaps her fingers repeatedly diverting their attention. “Duke, you’ll relay everything we talked about here to Prim too, ok.”
“Sure,” Duke nods then he stands up. “I can’t be separated with my li’l sis for too long.” He says with a teasing smile. “I might die if I don’t return immediately.”
“You are going a little overboard with the sis-con thing.” Tristan responds with a forced laugh then he stands up as well. “Let’s end this tiring meeting here.”
Blair follows enthusiastically. “We still have some time to have fun!”
The moment they all walk towards the door, at the corner of her eyes, Blair sees man jump onto the terrace forcefully grabbing Q. She shouts at the man while running as fast as she can towards the huge fiber glass window. Her unsettling action catches everyone’s attention causing them to follow her with their eyes which lead them into witnessing something uncalled for. The man, by that moment is alerted so he boldly takes Q and puts him inside a spell-imbued bag. The moment Azalea runs after Blair to see the situation, she can only watch at the escaping culprit with Q being taken away devoid of a chance to fight back. In the thick of the moment, even before Blair uses her D-shift, Azalea neglecting everything else, uses magic to shatter that tough glass and go after the person that has taken the sabercat.
“Argh--!! Az, don’t just run off like that!” Blair shouts but it falls into deaf ears as her friend fervently chases after the target in sight.
“I’ll go after her,” Evan says while stepping out onto the terrace with the broken glasses crackling under his feet. However, he is immediately stopped by Blair.
“Don’t,” she says blocking his way with her arm. “Emil and I will follow. You along with Prez go settle things here. We’ll send you our location later. Follow up quickly.” And then in the blink of an eye, she jumps of chasing after Azalea then Emil follows shortly.
Evan looks hesitant. He stands on the terrace briefly before turning his back. He walks calmly towards Tristan who looks completely taken by surprise. He taps the president’s shoulder, as if telling him to go. Duke follows while Evan inputs the keycode to open the door.
Without a word they leave the room.
Support the artist
The Bewitched Demon Hunter
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission/consent by the author.