Chapter LXXI: Poisoned TonguesI limped wearily out of the hotel, a thousand aches and pains sending screams of complaint to my turbulent mind. Heather was gone. No matter how I tried to rationalise it, it was her connection to me that got her killed. That she was dying when I met her was immaterial, at least in my eyes.
Holding the wall for support, I gave myself a moments rest, hoping that some of the pains would heal before I returned to LaCroix's office. I closed my eyes, concentrating only on healing. That is, until a blast of white light caused me to open my eyes again. I looked at the figure that stood in front of me, and groaned.
'Shit. I'm really not in the mood for this. Let me die in peace.'
'Yeah, when I think of friends, you're the first person to come to mind.' I glared at the Kuei Jin priestess, waiting for whatever attack was coming. Not that I'd be able to do anything but take it. Still, if it was quick...
'Help me?' I laughed, feeling my head swim. The tainted blood from the Tzmisce pit was still affecting me, making my vision blur, my thoughts wander. Ming Xiao's voice was softer than usual, less imperious. Almost affectionate.
'Blessing? Sounds more like you want something from me.'
I looked into the priestesses smouldering eyes, my hand pressed against a throbbing wound in my side. 'Admiration? I find it hard to believe that a Kuei Jin would lower themselves to admire a test subject.'
Ming Xiao stepped forward, bringing herself in close, a finger-point grazing along my chest. I pushed myself back against the wall, trying to break contact. Ming Xiao instead pushed even closer, looking up at me.
'Nice try, but I doubt it's my form you're interested in. What do you want from me?' Ming Xiao stepped back, finger pressed against her lip, regarding me intently.
'I crossed paths with a few Kuei Jin earlier. Theirs ended.'
'It was anticipated that I die, you mean', I spat back at her, feeling my strength slowly returning. The throbbing in my side had settled into a dull ache, the deep gashes in my back healing. 'But why would you ally yourself with LaCroix?'
Every time I think it's not possible for him to sink even lower, LaCroix proves just how vile he can be...
'LaCroix worked with you, to eliminate the Anarchs? So why are you telling me all this?'
'It was you at Grout's mansion'. I exhaled heavily, watching as Ming Xiao's form changed, becoming that of the charismatic leader of the Anarchs.
Ming Xiao swelled in size, towering over me.
'So why did you enter into this pact? What was in it for you?'
Are the Anarchs the only ones who aren't continually fucking each other over? Alliance, counter-alliance, treachery...the Camarilla and the Kuei Jin are one and the same...
'And this bothers you because?'
I laughed again, this time with genuine amusement.
'I never trusted the bastard, not once. Why the hell did you?' Ming Xiao frowned, picking her words carefully.
'So that's where the key went.' The Camarilla holding one piece, the Kuei Jin the other...thanks Ming, you've just saved me a lot of trouble, and caused a lot for everybody else...
'We'll see about that.' I stood, testing my shoulder. 'Thanks for the information.' Ming Xiao looked as if she was about to say something else, obviously looking as if things hadn't gone quite as intended. I ignored her, setting off down the road to LaCroix's opulent offices, saw from the corner of my eye the flash of light as she disappeared.
I couldn't help but smile. The contemptible pair had spent countless nights manipulating each other, mutually trying to destroy the Anarchs before their greed set in. All thanks to me, that alliance was severely frayed. I decided it was time to make it worse.
Opening the door to the building, I grinned. 'Chunk!', I called, trotting up to the desk.
'Heh, that's one lucky bout of stomach cramps you had there.'
'They wouldn't have got through the front door. Glad to see you're alright, man. Is it alright if I go up?'
I bet he wasn't. I think I might go ruin his night.
'Thanks Chunk, I'll catch you later for that beer.'
'Sure thing chief!'
Arriving at the penthouse office, I stood for a second, composing my self, adjusting my clothing. Putting on my most irritatingly self-impressed smile, I dramatically threw open the doors and strode to the Prince's desk, quickly noticing that Beckett no longer stood by the Sarcophagus. LaCroix frowned upon seeing me, looking uncertain, and almost intimidated.
'Are finished in this city', I responded sardonically, rubbing the hilt of the katana. Petty, childish, but very satisfying. LaCroix was increasingly off-balance, and I was playing on it mercilessly.
You, share power? You're more likely to have me working the city for you...or buried under it.
'Well, once we get hold of the key, we can talk about our partnership.'
'Why, Ming Xiao herself, didn't she tell you?' I smiled unconcernedly. 'She mentioned that the alliance is off, by the way, I hope you're not too upset.'
LaCroix looked at me, stunned and apprehensive. Abruptly, his demeanour changed, angry and confrontational.
'Oh, it all makes sense to me. You couldn't control the Anarchs. For one thing, Nines was more charismatic than you. Unfortunately, it looks like he's smarter as well.'
'ENOUGH!', LaCroix thundered, slamming his hand on the desk.
'And doing so by having a primogen killed, and framing the Anarch leader for it?' I tutted, wagging my finger.
'Messy, LaCroix, very very messy.' I deliberately goaded the man. It seemed that when he was agitated, the Prince was letting things slip.
'You know, you really should stick to one alliance'. I laughed derisively. 'What makes you think the Anarchs would possibly trust you now?'
LaCroix looked at me with intense hatred. I had made him look a fool, and he wasn't the kind of man to let such things go unpunished.
I sneered at the man, bowing mockingly. I left the building, feeling his eyes upon me, boring into the back of my skull. It was time to keep a careful eye on my shadow. I left the lobby, walking towards the Last Round. I'd have to talk fast to get the Anarchs on-side, find out where Nines was. I felt stupid, for my unwitting part in his framing. He'd saved my ass twice, and that was how I repaid him...
Beckett ran up to me, his usual calm confidence gone. He looked around worriedly, fidgeting slightly.
'What about it? What's going on? You don't look too great.'
'What? Are you kidding me? You've wanted to open this thing since it arrived!'
'What's got into you? What did you find out?'
'Alright. I won't open the Sarcophagus. Promise.'
Beckett visibly relaxed, smiling.
'I just thought you should be given a chance. Good luck, young one, we may not meet again.' Beckett turned, running into an alleyway. Before I could think of following, the sound of a wolf howling came from the alley, the long drawn out cry fading into the distance. Puzzled, and more than a little concerned, I continued towards the Last Round.
'Yeah, I know, shut up. LaCroix wants an alliance. He wants to join with the Anarchs and push the Kuei Jin out of L.A.'
'You really have got a short fuse, haven't you. He's called off the bloodhunt on Nines as a gesture of goodwill, for what it's worth. Said that Nines was framed by the Kuei Jin.'
'Earth to Damsel! Stop talking shit and tell me where Nines is!'
'You do that. I'll go find Nines.'
Griffith Park. The name rung a bell for some reason, but I didn't know why. Mysteriously, the taxi driver was back, parked not far from the Last Round. Time to propose the alliance to Nines. He'd probably hate the idea more than I did.