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Time to Form the Scooby Gang

Time to Form the Scooby Gang As soon as Cindy hung up the phone, Tommy started grabbing his stuff. He knew from experience that he wasn’t going to have to seek out Cowell to get out of work, and sure enough, there he was a split second later, sitting calmly at the bar. “Going to save your brother already?” he asked nonchalantly. “Going to try. And not going to ask how you know that.” “Best not,” he made a funny face, then stood. “Well, it looks like we’re closing up shop early today…” ~~ o ~~ Aurum was studying the runes on the hilt of a thousand-year-old sword when Servus scrambled in, pantomiming a telephone next to his ear. “Lucius?” she asked after picking up the old rotary phone she kept just outside the office. “You’re calling awfully late.” “Something big’s happening, Aurum. We’re assembling a posse. Can we meet at the East Branch?” “Of course,” she blinked. “You’re on your way already, I take it?” “You know me too well. Thanks, Aurum.” She hung up the line, and put on a pot of coffee. It was going to be a long night. ~~ o ~~ The air was tense as Marcell and Cindy sped through the darkened streets in the Ford Falcon. Marcell kept stealing glances away from the road to look at Cindy. Her face was hard, nearly angry, but her hands shook. “You’re planning on breaking him out, aren’t you?” he sighed. “Of course,” she said simply. He shook his head. “Well, if we’re going to do this, we’ll need all the help we can get. I don’t suppose you know anyone who’d be helpful in a rescue mission?” Cindy only had to think for a split second. “Well,” she began. “There is someone…” ~~ o ~~

Lila was failing to fall asleep when she got the call. The old flip phone on the ground next to her head began vibrating violently, and the small screen lit up the room with a harsh, white light. Who the hell would call her this late at night? Figuring it was some robot telemarketer, she hit the button without looking at the name and held the phone to her ear. “Hello?” she mumbled, blinking. “Lila?” It was Cindy. Lila couldn’t help hearing the slight hitch of panic in her voice. “You know that favor you and Niko owe me?” “What do you need me to do?” She threw the blankets aside and stood, already fully dressed. Even after several months of hiding without incident, she still couldn’t get out of the habit. On the other end, Cindy sighed. “My brother’s in trouble. We’re assembling a party and meeting at the East Branch of the library.” “The library?” she asked. “Why there?” “You’ll… see when you get there,” was the only explanation given. “Alright,” Lila nodded, before realizing that Cindy couldn’t see her. “Count us in.” “Thank you,” Cindy whispered, before hanging up. The room went dark again as the screen flicked off, but Lila didn’t hesitate. She grabbed her katana which she had laid against the wall next to her and placed it carefully in its case. She remembered seeing this sword hanging on display at the dojo back in the city. She remembered watching it all those years she had trained there, needing to get better faster, needing to be stronger, more. So she could protect Niko. So she could be worthy to do so. Amada-Sensei, the master of the dojo, had known that she was going to put the things he taught her to much more practical use than his other students, even though she had never told him so. “Take the sword,” he commanded, as she left the dojo for the last time. “I’ve seen you watching it.” She blinked, taken aback. “But why?” she asked. “You said that sword has been in your family for centuries. I couldn’t possibly.” “I have a feeling you’ll get more use out of it than I am,” he smiled wryly, wrinkles deepening. “And this way, you’ll have all of my ancestors to watch over you.” Lila crossed the quiet hallway to Niko’s room, and knocked gently. No answer. Niko was a heavy sleeper. She opened the door a crack merely by pushing on it lightly and peered inside. He was hopelessly tangled in the bedsheets on the futon. He looked young when he was sleeping, even though he would be eighteen in a matter of days. His face was free from creases, and he lacked the hard look that often characterized his golden eyes. When she saw him like this, she couldn’t help seeing the young boy in the alleyway, betrayed and about to be offed by his bodyguard. That is, until she, a street rat with everything to prove, swooped in and pulled him out of there. But that had been a long time ago, and so many things had changed. And she couldn’t let him sleep forever. “Niko,” she hissed. “Niko!” He bolted upwards. “Wha…?” “It’s Cindy,” she said. “She’s calling in her favor.” “In the middle of the night?” “It sounded like an emergency,” she explained. “Something about her brother.” He sat up, rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Shit. Alright. Gimme a minute.” After closing the door, Lila flicked on the bathroom light to pull up her hair. She apologized to the poor, strained hair tie that had the job of keeping the tangled mess of carrot-top mane out of her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she glanced at her own face in the mirror. For some reason, she was struck at just that moment by how old she looked. Her face was thinner than she remembered, harder. It had been a long time since she’d really looked at herself. Niko’s door opened again, and through the mirror Lila saw him slipping his guns under his jacket. “Alright,” he said, “where are we going?” “The East Branch of the library.” “Uh… why?” “That’s all she said. She was a little panicked so I didn’t press. Apparently we’re meeting a group there.” “Okay then. Let’s ride.” That authoritative tone was so reminiscent of Mikhail, the senior Borozov, that she nearly stopped in her tracks.

Of all the crazy, dangerous things that had occurred throughout her life, the one she was sure she would never forget was the day that she was called into the office of Mikhail Borozov, the day she became Niko’s bodyguard. He had stared at her over the stately desk, his large office chair and the man himself dwarfing her in comparison. But she would not shrink back, regardless of how much she wanted to. To gain his respect she must meet his eye. “So, you intend to guard the life of my son?” He had a heavy accent, yet his grammar was perfect. She simply nodded. “And you understand that you hold the future of the Borozov line, my legacy, in your hands?” “With all due respect sir,” she closed her heart, made her eyes cold as ice. He could smell fear, she was sure of it. “With all due respect,” she repeated. “I don’t care about preserving your legacy. Sir.” Mikhail froze. People didn’t talk to him like that, and if they did, they were likely to end up dead in an alleyway in a matter of hours. “What did you say?” He was giving her a chance to redeem herself, to take it back. But he hadn’t heard everything yet. “But to protect your son, I would lay down my life in an instant.” He paused, considering this. “I just thought you should know where my priorities lie.” For a moment, there was silence. Lila held her breath. And then he started laughing. “I see, little firecracker. Thank you for enlightening me. I believe Nikolai will be safe in your hands.” She was a lot of him in Niko sometimes, every once in a while when he wasn’t consciously obscuring it behind a layer of bravado. It was this look in his eyes, that hard one that demanded respect. Williams street was quiet at night. Too quiet. Lila didn’t like it. You couldn’t blend into an empty street. But they persevered, and a half-an-hour later they were staring up at the East Branch, the large, domed building looming over them. It felt strange to be here, at a library of all places. Most operation meetings Lila had attended had been in smoky back offices, or in a few last minute cases, alleyways. But she knew for a fact that nothing Cindy was involved in was ever normal. So they pushed open the large doors and hurried inside. The East Branch was more like a collection than a public library, she noticed, as she peaked through the doors. A glass case contained an old, tattered tome while a lot of other books were simply inaccessible due to the height they were placed at on the rounded shelves. It was also rather dark. She assumed that during the day the skylight above would flood the room with natural light, but now there were only a few lamps struggling to hold back the gloom of midnight. Across the room, huddled around a cluttered desk was Cindy, and three people that Lila didn’t recognize. She hadn’t been sure what state she would find Cindy in, but apart from her wildly tangled hair she looked surprisingly composed. Niko coughed, and the four looked up. The pale man with his arm around Cindy’s shoulder tensed, but she put her hand on his before running over to them. She wrapped her arms around Lila’s middle and squeezed. Lila looked over at Niko, who shrugged. How did one ‘hug’ again? It took her a moment to remember how to position her arms, but then she hugged back. “Thank you so much for coming,” Cindy whispered. Niko smirked, attempting to get a smile out of her. “Hey, I’m a man of my word,” he cut in. “I said I owe you one, so here we are, even if it is the middle of the night.” “I’m sorry I had to disturb your beauty rest,” the corners of her mouth twitched upwards. She led them over to the rest of the group. “This is Lucius,” she gestured to the thin, pale man. Ah, so this was the Marcell Lila had heard so much about. He was good-looking, she’d give him that, in a tired sort of way, but much too tall for her taste. She nodded at him, attempting to convey that for now he had her approval, but she would not hesitate to hurt him very badly if anything happened to Cindy. “And this is Aurum,” the middle-aged woman with shockingly sharp fingernails, “And Servus,” the kid with the eccentric fashion sense. “She’s actually a dragon who runs the library, and he’s her automaton assistant.” “And that was a sentence I never thought I’d hear,” Niko blinked rapidly. “That’s a sentence I never thought I’d say,” Cindy replied. “And this is Niko Borozov and Lila Finn.” “Borozov?” Aurum’s eyes somehow managed to grow even wider. “Of the Borozovs?” Niko sighed. “Yes. Those Borozovs.” “More than that,” said a new voice from the door behind them. “He’s the heir of the whole operation.” They turned, only to see Cowell slink through the door, followed sheepishly by Tommy. “What are you doing here?” Cindy asked, pointing at the grinning daemon. “Sorry, Cindy.” Tommy ducked his head. “He insisted on coming.” Cindy just shook her head. “Tommy, you useless bisexual.” But before Tommy could defend himself, Cowell stepped properly into the room. “Aurum!” his grin widened until it was rather Cheshire-like. “It’s been a long time, my dear. How is that knowledge treating you?” The librarian bristled. “Not so well, considering I can’t really use it. You don’t make fair deals.” “My deals are perfectly reasonable,” he said. “It’s not my fault that no one asks the right questions.” “Oh please,” Marcell took a step forward. “’Perspective’ and ‘Permanence’ are bullshit words and you know it.” Lila knew about Cindy’s deal, of course, but the mention of ‘permanence’ was new to her. It seemed as if Cindy wasn’t the only one here who had dealt with Cowell. “Irrelevant,” Cowell chuckled. “But I haven’t come here to fight with you all. I simply want to help/” “How could you help?” Cindy spoke up. He approached the desk cautiously, and the rest grudgingly let him. “Information,” he grinned. “I know that you lot are going to spend the new few hours planning for every possibility come the morning. What if young Mike comes out of that school? What if he doesn’t? What if those precocious young revolutionaries are hostile, etc, etc. Except that I know exactly what’s going to happen there in front of that school, and since it would be so dreadfully boring to listen to you all squabble back and forth for hours on end I might as well just tell you.” There was silence for a second. “But I’ve been rude, haven’t I? Most of you don’t even know what’s happening yet and here I am blabbing off about having all the spoilers. I leave the floor to you, miss.” He bowed to Cindy, and all eyes turned to her. She took a deep breath, and told them about Mike, and about St. Adelaide’s. “And you haven’t heard from him in two weeks?” Lila asked. Though she didn’t say, she looked to Niko and could tell that he was thinking the same thing: that kid might be beyond saving. Cindy just shook her head. “Don’t worry,” Tommy said, ruffling her hair. “We’re gonna get him back.” “Alright, Cowell,” Cindy nearly growled at him. “What do you know?” “And it had better be good,” Marcell added, before Cindy put a hand on his shoulder. “Now,” Cowell clapped his hands together. “My precognizance is somewhat limited. I can’t give you a plan, nor can I tell you what will happen once you’re inside. That is all up to you, I’m afraid.” “Whoa whoa,” Marcell interrupted him. “Who said anything about going inside?” Cowell shook his head, clicking his tongue condescendingly. “Did you really expect any less? That would certainly make for a disappointing climax. So before I continue, does anyone else have any questions, comments? Snide remarks?” He paused, but was met with only silence. “Alright then. In the morning, all the rich parents and press will be gathered outside the gates of the school. Said gates will open, the children will come out, but young Mike, of course, will not be among them.” ‘Do you know why?” Cindy asked, almost afraid of the answer. “Not a solitary clue.” For the life of her, Lila couldn’t tell if he was lying or not. “All I know is you’ll have to barter your way in.” “Barter?” Tommy scoffed. “We can’t force our way in? They’re just kids, right?” Aurum shook her head. “The most brilliant, insane bunch of children in the world.” “I wouldn’t underestimate them if I were you,” Cowell corroborated. “Unfortunately, they won’t let any adults inside.” Both Tommy and Marcell bristled at this. “They’re not gonna let me in to see my own brother?” “It appears that in their eyes, adults are the ones who have caused all their problems.” “So which of us are still underage?” Aurum glanced back and forth rapidly between them. “Niko and Lila are both seventeen,” Cindy supplied, “and I could easily pass for that as well.”

“I’m coming too,” Tommy pointed to himself, but Cowell shook his head. “They’ll never let you in. You look far too old.” Marcell grimaced. “But there’s no way we can let the three of them go alone without some way of communicating with them…” Slowly, the group’s eyes all turned to Servus the automaton, who hadn’t said a word this whole time. Lila and Niko turned to each other, confused. “They’ll never let him take the digital camera in,” Aurum began. “Sorry,” Niko interrupted. “But I’m sorta lost. How could a camera help? I don’t see any livestreaming equipment around here.” “I can see through the camera!” Aurum beamed. “What?” Lila asked, blinking. Cindy shook her head. “Don’t ask. Even she doesn’t know.” “Now like a said, a camera won’t work this time around, but he’s a machine as well. It’ll be taxing, but I believe that if I focus hard enough, I should be able to see through him directly.” “Alright then, so what happens once they get inside?” Tommy leaned down over the desk. “Well, that depends,” Aurum shrugged. “We have no idea if they’re keeping Michael against his will, or if he has chosen to stay of his own accord, or any other possible scenario.” Even before he stepped forward, Lila knew he was going to put his hat in the ring. This was Niko’s time to shine. “You leave that to me and Lila,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of experience with uh… variable situations.” Marcell and Aurum examined the two for a moment, sizing them up. It was Marcell who nodded first. “Alright,” he said. “We’re putting Cindy and Mike’s lives into your hands.” “I can take care of myself, you know,” Cindy grumbled. Marcell grabbed her shoulder and pulled her in for a hug. “I know,” he muttered into her hair, “But I will always worry regardless.” “Well,” she pulled away after a moment. “The best thing to do is prepare. There’s a couple of charms I can cast in the next few hours.” “Use the back room,” Aurum instructed. “Servus will help you. He knows where everything is. Servus!” she said, and the automaton immediately faced her with attention. “Follow Cindy, do what she says.” He nodded once, and the two wandered off to wherever “the back room” was. The others broke off slowly, to prepare in their own way or sleep for a few hours. Niko and Lila slunk into a corner of the room. “I think there’s something they’re not telling us,” Lila confessed, after glancing around to see that no one else was watching. “You think?” Niko’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “There’s definitely something else at play here. Why would they want to keep such a close eye on us just to grab Cindy’s brother?” Lila took a deep breath, considering. “So, what do we do?” she asked finally. “For now, we play along. I dunno about Cindy’s boytoy or the dragon lady, but at the very least I trust Cindy. I don’t think they mean us harm.” Deep down, Lila couldn’t help feeling a twinge of excitement. It had been dull being cooped up in the abandoned house, now maybe Lila could stretch her muscles a little. She could tell that Niko felt the same. “Are you ready?” He scoffed. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

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