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93 Invisible Brute

    Standing in the middle of the collapsed hotel, I raise the scythe and bring it down upon my adversary.

    **Clang! Bang!**

    "Eira, stop it," Eden says, awkwardly.

    Still bitter, I continue to beat the scythe against the blood cage, which now contains nothing but a Crawler's corpse. "The stupid thing died! Committed suicide!" I shout while staring at the mutilated body of the Crawler with its teeth still sunk into its own flesh. "All that trouble and not only that but the stupid Brute is gone too!"

    "It's probably around here somewhere. It was tied up and injured after all," Eden says, "Also, you're scaring them."

    I glance at 'them' who are the three bear cubs curled together, staring at me with wide eyes. At the same time, in my mind, I hear a small whimper from the scythe's infant consciousness. 'Sorry,' I whisper in my head, 'I shouldn't use you for venting my frustration.'

    Letting out a long sigh, I plop down next to the cage and lean against it in exasperation. The three bear cubs rush over and gather around me cooing.

    'Getting out of those tunnels took way longer than I expected it too.'

    We managed to jog through the tunnels relatively unimpeded, excluding some giant worms who were digging into the tunnel walls. There were a lot of irregular noises, though, so I'm almost positive there are more than just those worms down there. But I think they avoid that area because those muddy tunnels that lead to the pool seem to be the worms' territory.

    That being said, we were definitely followed out by some Two Palm soldiers. They were pretty good at sneaking around, but the whining of whatever is under their clothes can't escape my sensitive ears. Since we didn't want to lead them back to the pool, in case they tried to destroy the way we came in, it took us a very long time to lose them in those tunnels. From what I can tell, the swimming pool entrance seems to have been dug by the warms, not by the Two Palm Society, so they probably don't know about it.

    But interestingly, whatever mind magic is on the facility seems to leak into that tunnel as well. When we finally returned, I had Aponi hold up a sign while I slowly walked backward through the entrance. As soon as I moved through the entrance my short term memory was thrown into confusion. Furthermore, both Aponi and Eden couldn't hear me asking them questions even though I was only twenty or so feet away.

    While all this was happening, Aponi never stopped fuming because of the Wendigo blood, so she had an attitude about everything. Along with her attitude, the cubs whined the whole time, thus making it even harder to escape our stalkers. All this combined, along with a "shortcut" that wasn't actually short, it took us almost a day to get back.

    "You know they were following us, right?" Aponi says, snarkily, "Almost the whole time."

    "Of course, I know that. That's the whole reason it took us so long. You just forgot because of a ward you tripped." I look at her with a frustrated scowl.

    "I tripped a ward?" she says, glaring at me.

    "Yeah, and you forgot a bunch of stuff because of it. It happened when we took that 'shortcut'. I tried to warn you, but you got angry and tripped it anyway. So please! I beg you! Control yourself, Aponi, because if you don't, I'm going to rip those antlers from your head myself."

    Aponi squats and rubs her temples while staring at the floor. "I-I'm sorry. I'm just so... so mad! I don't understand! It... it just won't go away. I try to think about something else, but then it just comes back worse than before." A few drops of blood leak from Aponi's forearm, where she has dug her nails into her skin in an effort to restrain herself.

    "It's fine. You probably just need to let it out. Some races were like that. Where they'd be beating each other bloody, and a few minutes later, they'd be drinking together."

    "Possibly," she says while taking a deep breath.

    "I don't understand, why is she growing antlers?" Eden asks with a furrowed brow, "I wasn't able to ask in the tunnels."

    "It's because of a Title," Aponi answers biting her lip, "Something about being a descendent of a tribe or something. I didn't know about this part of it, though!"

    Eden nods slowly and then gazes at me dubiously. "Why aren't you surprised, Eira? Did Aponi already tell you about her Title?"

    Aponi stops rubbing her temples and stares at me as well.

    I freeze and glance between the two stiffly. 'I've never actually told them about \u003cAnalyze\u003e before... It simply seemed like a bad idea. Still, it could be a good way to explain away a lot of things if I tell them. At the same time, it makes me seem less, "all-knowing," I guess. It's easier just to give credit for the ability to the Goddess. Though I suppose I could also just make up a lie, but those get harder and harder to keep track of.'

    Determining that keeping the mechanics behind \u003cAnalyze\u003e secret will just create more questions, distrust, and problems in the future, I explain the very basics of it to Aponi and Eden.

    "You can see our status screen? That seems unfair." Suddenly, Eden seems to have a realization. "Wait! Is that how you knew my name when we first met!?"

    Aponi follows suit and stares at me with wide eyes. "You did the same thing to us on that ship!? Calling us by name so casually! It really messed with my mind!"

    "Yeah, well, now you know," I reply with a laugh and a shrug, "It is what it is, and in the future, you'll both come to learn there are abilities that can do just about anything. One that can view other people's status isn't that amazing or even that rare."

    "But why didn't you tell us earlier?" Eden asks.

    "You both only asked the one time, and I wasn't going to tell strangers anything."

    "W-well, I just assumed the Goddess told you herself."

    "Well, I don't see how that's my fault." With a chuckle, I stand and crack my back. Glancing around, my eyes stop on the unconscious vampire 'man.' "You two try to wake Sam; he's been asleep since we got him back, and we need to know what happened to him."

    "Wait! Don't change the subject," Aponi shouts, "I wanna know about that hat of yours as well. How did you trick those people into thinking you were a different person!?"

    "Well, you say trick, but I'm not convinced it worked on that Doctor Wight character. He seemed to accept conversing with me rather easily while the soldiers didn't take me seriously at all. Then when I glared at him, he appeared to get a bit too intimidated. Maybe, I'm just overthinking it, but I'm not convinced it fooled him."

    "That's interesting, but it doesn't answer my question."

    "Sorry, I was just thinking out loud. Anyway, I'm not answering this right now; we've got more important things to do."

    "E-Eira," Eden stammers softly.

    "As I said Eden I'm not ans-" Discovering her pointing toward something, I swing my head toward a pair of curtains hanging loosely in the demolished hotel. The curtains are tall, tacky, and scream 'two-star' hotel to all who behold them. However, these curtains have three unique features: an extremely large lump in the center, a massive pair of feet jutting from the base, and finally, an ugly face with its eyes closed tight on top.

    The three of us look between one another, donning half-closed eyes. "I don't know what's worse, that it thinks it's hiding or that we didn't notice it earlier," I mutter.

    I take a few steps, and someone grabs my shoulder. "Is this really a good idea? Do we have the strength to fight it right now? Why do you want it anyway?" Eden asks, pelting me with questions.

    "I'm not here to fight with it. I'm here to negotiate with it, although, it seems stupider than I thought, so who knows what's going to happen."

    "Negotiate with it?" She looks at it with a raised eyebrow. "I-I... good luck.��

    Giving her a thumbs up, I gradually approach the Brute who continues to hide behind the curtain. I remove the biggest, meatiest bowl of ramen I have on me. "Hey, idiot. Can you understand English? I know Japanese also... not that I expect you too," I say in a mix of English and Japanese.

    "You know Japanese?" Eden whispers.

    "Japanese?" Aponi questions.

    "Yeah, we obviously had a lot of Japanese guests on the cruise ship."

    Ignoring them, I watch the Brute clinch its eyes shut even tighter.

    'I hate this. This Brute was ultimately just supposed to be numbers for my essence counter.'

    Grasping the chopsticks, I grip a noodle and fling it at the Brutes face. I smile as the noodle sticks to the Brute's face, but it remains unmoving. I watch as a long tongue extends from its flat face and pulls the noodle in. It opens its eye and then shuts it again immediately upon noticing me. This time I remove a piece of meat and sling it against its face. Again it pulls it in with its tongue except for this time it does not open its eyes.

    My eye twitches as I bend down and pick up a rock which I then hurl at the Brute. The rock, like the noodle and meat, is a direct hit.

    The Brute's eyes shoot open, finally realizing that it's been spotted it roars and attempts a charge. However, its legs get caught in the curtains, and it tumbles to the ground, revealing steel cable binding its arms and legs together.

    "Oh, yeah. They did say they tied it up with cables. Guess that explains why it didn't run very far." The Brute thrashes around, causing the ground to shake as it attempts to get back to its feet. "Hey, stupid, can you stop?"

    Abruptly the Brute ceases its action and opens its jaws to roar. As it does so, I dump a large amount of broth and noodles down its gullet. The Brute's eyes begin to water, and tears escape from its dark eyes as it begins to cough furiously.

    "Eira..." Eden remarks, "are you trying to drown it?"

    I shrug lightly. "No, but it didn't seem like it was going to calm down anytime soon."

    Looking at the exposed parts of its bodies, I find its loose white hide seems to still be covered in numerous cuts, but they seem to have stopped bleeding. Finally, it stops coughing; it licks its lip and stares at me with dirty upturned eyes. It slowly opens its mouth, and I pour more broth and ramen into it.

    'Alright, I'm not going to sit here and spoon feed this giant neanderthal.'

    I smile at Aponi and wave her over. "Hey, Aponi, please come do this while I wake Sam."

    "Come, do what!? Feed that ugly giant!?" she shouts.

    "Calm down, Miss Wen-da-pause. Just feed this thing until it stops acting aggressively. Then, well, we'll figure it out from there."

    "That's not funny! Why are you bothering with this anyway!?"

    'I wish she'd stop yelling her responses. Maybe, I need to get her something to relax or let her get some sleep or something, jeez. Not that I don't have any sympathy for her condition, but still, it's weird having to maintain a neutral attitude when the other person is acting so hostile... Is this how people feel when I talk to them? I'm not this bad, am I?'

    Shaking my head, I separate myself from my thoughts. "It's simple, assuming the Brutes took Sam, then how did Sam end up with the Two Palms?" I reply.

    "I-I don't know, but how do we know these Brutes even took Sam?"

    "We don't, that's why I want to wake Sam up." I casually wave my hand at the Brute whose eyes are darting between Aponi and I. "Regardless though, I'm sure I can find a use for the thing, and even if we learn that they can't be reasoned with then that information is still valuable on its own."

    "But even if it can be 'reasoned with' there's no way it's going to cooperate."

    "Never say never! I'd say this thing has at least the intelligence of a chimpanzee. If it has the same social structure as well, we just need to feed it and make sure it knows we're stronger than it. The fact it was hiding already means it knows we can cause it harm, so now we just need to make ourselves not seem so scary."

    "Chimpanzee social structures are pretty complex and varied, though," Eden adds.

    "It's just an example, Eden," I respond, pinching my nose, "I don't actually know that much about chimpanzee social structures."

    Aponi groans and rolls her eyes. "Whatever, I'll do it!"

    "Good, he hasn't eaten in... how long were we down there?"

    Aponi looks at her watch and thinks for a moment while maintaining a furious gaze. "Around sixty hours."

    "Sixty hours!?"

    "Yeah, you were in the warehouse for over half a day. Then we spent a long time searching for the bulbs and resting. After that, we took forever to get back here because those guys were following us."

    "Why didn't you say anything?"

    "Does it matter? Do you have work tomorrow or something?"

    "J-just feed the Brute."

    Handing Aponi two bowls of ramen, I ignore her protests with a smile and step over to the unconscious Sam. I kneel down and notice Eden walking up behind me. With her over my shoulder, I awkwardly pull the collar of my dress up.

    Seemingly not noticing, Eden stares at Sam, saying, "Do you know why he won't wake up? Is it drugs?"

    "I don't think so," I reply, inspecting Sam's forearms, "Well, maybe that plays a part, but I think it's mostly because of what they removed."

    "What they removed?"

    "Yeah, I think they drew a lot of his blood. They might have figured out what he is... hopefully not."

    "What?" Eden stares at the small holes in Sam's arm. "Does he need a transfusion?"

    I remove the top-hat and pull a blood bag from it. "Nah, he just needs to drink some blood. That'll be your job."

    Tossing the bag to her, she stares at it then back at me, unsure how to respond.

    "Welp, good luck."

    "W-wait!"

    "I'm joking... Well, mostly, but Sam's a starving vampire, so all you have to do is keep the pressure on the bag," she stares at me, confused, so I continue, "Here, squeeze the bag and hold it over his head."

    Following my instructions, Eden does so while I extend my nail. With the bag in place, I poke a small hole, and a drop of blood falls into Sam's open mouth. Suddenly, his eyes explode open, and he bites into the bag, just barely missing Eden's fingers.

    "He nearly bit me!" she shouts while blood quickly drains from the bag.

    "Yeah, well, he can't help it," I chuckle, "Anyway, I need to go find food for the cubs. "Otherwise, they'll never shut up."

    'Also, I really need to try to contact Ego again.'
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