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92 Negotiation

    --Eira POV--

    "A fourth one in the back over there," I say, pointing toward a turquoise bulb.

    Aponi nods. "I see it."

    To avoid the blinding burst of light, I turn my head away and stare at the ground.

    **Ba-Bang!**

    Gunfire echoes loudly, but something odd happens at the same moment.

    'That... That sounded like two gunshots?'

    The light fades, revealing a golfball-sized hole blasted into the floor.

    Suddenly, Aponi tackles Eden and shouts, "Get down!"

    Immediately I hurl myself toward the ground expecting more gunfire, but nothing happens.

    "Sorry! That was an accident," a voice shouts from within the warehouse.

    Aponi, Eden, and I all look toward one another, then back into the warehouse and then back at each other. "Did someone just shoot at us and then apologize?" Eden asks with a small whisper.

    "Yeah," I glance at the hole in the concrete and murmur, "That is definitely what happened."

    "Hey! Did you hear me? That was an accident,��� the voice again shouts.

    Aponi's face turns red with fury, and I hold up my hand to stop her before she blows a fuse.

    "How was it an accident?" I yell back, glaring at Aponi.

    "The light surprised me, and I accidentally pulled the trigger."

    "Bull**," Aponi whispers to me, "He shot at almost the same time."

    'So Aponi thinks he had basically already started pulling the trigger. Probably right. They probably wanted to stop us from shooting the bulb.'

    I nod in agreement, shouting, "Why should we believe you? Who are you?"

    "..."

    "Are you going to answer?" I ask.

    "Is there someone older we can talk to?"

    'These guys are trying my already minute levels of patience,' I glance at Aponi who is weirdly angry, 'But if they want to talk to someone else, I'll let Aponi vent a bit.'

    I motion to Aponi with an exaggerated roll of my eyes. She smiles and looks toward the noise. "What the ** do you ** spouters want!?" she roars.

    "Uh���" they go quiet for a while before answering, "Can we have the girl back?"

    Aponi laughs. "Nope! Now, why should we believe you? Who are you?"

    "We should be asking you guys that!? You're in our facility!"

    Aponi looks at me with a raised eyebrow. "Their facility?"

    "I think the papers said the ones who own this place are called the Two Palms Society," Eden whispers.

    I nod in agreement, and Aponi yells back, "Are you guys from the Two Palm Society?"

    "Goddamn it," the voice says, "Listen, this is our facility. You have no right to be here."

    "I disagree." Aponi holds out a middle finger, which she quickly retracts behind cover. "This place seems like the Crawlers own it."

    "Stop being so **in' unreasonable! Shit!" the voice shouts with evident aggression, "You're lucky we are even trying to talk to you at all!"

    Aponi clutches her fist tightly. "If you wanted us to be reasonable, then you shouldn't have shot at us!"

    From within the warehouse, the whispers of people arguing reach us. The whispers go quiet, and someone shouts back, "I already told you it was an accident!"

    "Do you think they have the others?" Eden whispers, "We haven't seen any sign of the others in the warehouse."

    I shrug while staring into the warehouse with narrow eyes. "Probably, but either way, there is a lot more to this facility. More than likely, they're there."

    "Hello! My name is Doctor Wright. I'd like to know if there is some way we could possibly de-escalate this situation?"

    Aponi and Eden look at me, and I think for a moment.

    'This situation is far from what I expected in pretty much every aspect. There is obviously no way I can just leave the others in the hand of some shifty humans. Not to mention all Blood Race are my responsibility in a way, so I need to get in there.'

    "Tell the Doctor to come out alone.," I whisper to Aponi with a small smirk, "Oh, and try to let them know as little about us as possible."

    "Is that a good idea... Actually, nevermind, it's not like we have many options, " Aponi grimaces, and yells, "Doctor Wright! Come out alone, and we'll consider that de-escalation."

    "..."

    "Well!?"

    "We'll send someone else out," Doctor Wright shouts back.

    "No! You come out alone! Not anyone else, just you."

    "Why? So you can take me as a hostage!?"

    "No, as a guarantee."

    "Then, take someone else!"

    Aponi frowns and looks at me. "What do you think, Eira? Maybe, we can try something else."

    "Ask them what they suggest," I whisper.

    Aponi nods. "Well, then what do you guys suggest? We feel a bit at a disadvantage here, so...?"

    "How about two of my men and I come out, and we can talk. How does that sound?"

    I shrug. "Whatever. Let's just get on with this."  I tap the flower and inject some mana into the top-hats, activating its deception ability.

    'Should probably disguise myself in case my reputation precedes me.'

    Aponi and Eden look at me confusedly, but I wave my hand, indicating them to get on with it and not ask questions.

    'I wanted to avoid them knowing about the top-hat, but they were eventually going to find out, and I don't have the luxury right now.'

    "Alright, come out. Try anything funny, and you won't last very long," Aponi threatens.

    "...A threat when we're being so cooperative," a loud sigh emanates, and Doctor Wright continues, "Alright, we're coming out."

    Aponi prepares her rifle, Eden readies her saber, and I raise the scythe. Footsteps and a whirring noise echoes from the warehouse as two men and a female step through the big doors. Out front, there is a man with a white coat, khakis, and a blue button-up. He seems to be a human somewhere in their sixties with short gray hair and a receding hairline. Behind him, a male and female soldier wearing a pair of goggles that slip over their face covering their eyes. They wear black military-like attire with a pair of white palms embroidered on the breast. The goggle's lenses glow with a faint green as the two soldiers look between us with flat expressions. They adjust their stances, and while preparing their rifles the whirring sound again reverberates from beneath their clothing.

    "Not human," the female says to Doctor Wright.

    'Seems those goggles probably have infrared... Wait? But does that mean the top-hat doesn't alter my body temp? That's a significant oversight... Come to think of it this is the second time this has happened. Last time, one person thought my body temp was normal and the other thought it was low. Wish the rules surrounding it were a bit more consistent.'

    Aponi shifts her rifle between the three and attempts to deceive them. "Not human? I think you need to get your eyes checked."

    "Right, just a woman with blood-red eyes and fangs, two high-schoolers with heterochromia, and three bears, perfectly normal humans. Besides, either you've all been in an ice bath, or you aren't human," the male soldier says flatly, "Where's the long ear girl with solid white hair and skin?"

    'Well, at least the visual deception aspects of the top-hat are still functioning.'

    "Sh-"

    Interrupting Aponi, I start attempting to take control of the conversation, "Who are you talking about? We don't know a girl like that. Now, do you want to talk or not? I'm losing patience."

    "Who are you runt?" the female soldier says mockingly, "Is this really the time or place for a high schooler to speak?"

    'Psh, this runt could take you out before that stupid smirk even falls off your face... Anyway, I should go ahead and plant the idea of my appearance in their minds to avoid future issues.'

    I point at Eden. "Like my sister here, I have blonde hair and fair skin. Do any of us resemble or look like someone who would be acquainted with such a person? Besides, no one asked for your input, you peabrain nematode."

    "Sister?" Eden mutters, "Blonde hair?"

    'To them, I probably still look normal, so I'd imagine to them this is rather confusing.'

    "Yes, you do! And what the hell do nemato-"

    The sound of someone laughing heartily interrupts the soldier, and everyone looks to the source. There, Doctor Wright, with his hands over his chest, laughs with tears in his eyes. "T-talk about rare insults," he says between breaths, "What's your name, young lady?"

    "People just call me... C."

    Doctor Wright smiles at me. "I like you, C, so I'm just going to ignore the fact you three aren't human and ask you to stop shooting the bulbs in the warehouse here."

    "Sorry. Can't do that. We're looking for our companions."

    "Companions? What do they look like?"

    '...Probably shouldn't mention Kardama is a companion. Just in case they know what demons are.'

    "The first is a man with a permanent goofy smile plastered across his face. The other is a man who looks like they would be one of the first results if you typed 'generic white male' in a search engine. The last is a person we were chasing, usually wears black, but... we've never seen his face."

    Aponi nudges me and whispers in my ear, "I'm just going to assume you know what you're doing, but with that description, he's not going to know who you're talking about."

    "Ah! I know exactly who you're talking about," the man says with a grave nod, "However, unfortunately, we can't give you all of them."

    Aponi sighs loudly, while I smile smugly, shaking my head. "I'm afraid I need all of them."

    Doctor Wright chuckles. "Afraid it's just not possible," he holds his hand up with his index finger extended, "However! If you leave immediately without causing any more trouble, I can give you one of your companions."

    "...Two."

    "One, or I'll make it my priority to eliminate you as a threat."

    "Oh? A threat. Interesting negotiating tactic."

    "The only reason I'm willing to negotiate is because of that," Doctor Wright says, pointing toward a big pile of gray goo, "The fact you killed some of those 'Palms' means you have some combat ability, but you also look rather beat up. Which means you aren't in a position to ask for more than one of your companions."

    "There's no way we can accept those terms!" Aponi whispers at me furiously without taking her eyes off the soldiers.

    'They can hear you Aponi. What happened to that military discipline of yours.'

    "Shush, you're acting weird," I respond, "Let me handle this."

    Aponi reluctantly nods with squinted fiery-eyes expecting me to do my usual thing. I look toward Doctor Wright with wicked eyes and a deep frown. "Doctor Wright."

    "Uh. Y-yes?"

    "You've got a deal! Give me the dumb one."

    ...

    ...

    ...

    We walk through the muddy tunnels while Aponi stares, not bullets, but atomic warheads at me. If it were possible for the vein in someone's forehead to burst, I'd be worried it would happen. However, I'm more interested in the man she is piggybacking with his usual goofy smile.

    'Well, we found Sam, but lost Kardama and Jimmy. Great. They didn't even give us the bags he was carrying... and they also returned him like... that.' I glance at Sam who is in a pink hospital gown. With Aponi's footsteps, the back of the gown opens and then closes again. 'Moron. Still, at least we have him back.'

    Aponi steps in front of me, carrying Sam's limp, unconscious body. "Something wrong, Aponi?" I say with an upward glare, "For some reason, I get the feeling you're upset."

    "Damn right, something's wrong! You think this is okay!? You think you can just leave Jimmy to those freak scientists?"

    "Oh, not worried about Kardama?"

    "I don't know him," her fang sinks into her lip in a fury, "and that's beside the point! Explain yourself now!"

    "We're too weak to cut through. We need to prepare," I shrug and continue, "That���s pretty much the extent of it."

    "Then, where are we going!?"

    "Back to the hotel," I look directly into her eyes and bare my fangs at her, "But more importantly, you better learn to keep your anger in check. If you weren't all so weak, I wouldn't have to constantly push myself to the limit all the time! If we go in there when I'm not ready, then we'd all perish. End of story."

    A crack appears in Aponi's expression. "H-how is this our fault? You're the one who dragged us into this life!"

    "No. The Goddess did... and I don't know how that has anything to do with you being weak. As for this situation, even if you do blame me I already said sorry for getting us into this," I roll my eyes and stare into space, "Now, just trust me to get us out of it."

    "A-Aponi your... your-"

    I hold up my hand toward Eden. "Don't say anything about it right now, Eden."

    "About what!?" She looks at Eden and follows her eyes. Aponi's eyes turn upward, and she reaches up and grabs onto something above her head. "W-what is this?"

    Sighing, I look at the two stick-like protrusions jutting from the top of Aponi's head. I shake my head and step around Aponi to continue the trudge through the tunnels.

    "Nice antlers, Aponi, they're adorable. Calm down, and they'll probably recede," I wave my hand and say in a flat voice, "Now come on, Little Miss Wendigo. We've left a prisoner on the surface for too long, and we need to attempt negotiation with him now. Hope he's still alive."

    I glance back at Aponi who is dumbfounded running her hands up and down the antlers. 'Wendigos, well known for their fits of rage and hot tempers. This is going to be annoying until we can get it under control. Probably due to the stress over the last day or so. Explains her bad temper when talking to both the Two Palm guys and myself. Maybe, I'll just have her and Kardama beat each other up later to get it out of their systems.'
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