"Crux-san, I have returned," Anguis chirped as he and Itsuka entered the Shadow Remnants Guild Base. "And I've brought the child back as well."
"Child?" Itsuka snapped, glaring at the serpentine man. "I'm getting this from a little boy like you? I don't need a child less than half my age calling me a child."
"Excellent." Crux clapped his hands once, obviously pleased. "What did you learn? No doubt that they have become stronger, but we are even more powerful." Crux leaned in closer, almost pressing his face against Anguis'. "BUT JASON IS NOT BETTER THAN ME, OF COURSE."
As Itsuka raised a hand to reply, Anguis cut her off to make a comment of his own.
"Crux-san, we haven't brought the dandelion-head into the conversation at all," Anguis chuckled, amused by his leader's obsession with the emotionless man. Of all the people to have an obsession with, why did it have to be the man who had about as much emotion as that actress in those vampire motion pictures? "Is this what they call 'rivalry'?"
"I think it's what Humans call 'love'," Esmeralda cackled, emerging from the shadows, her golden and ruby eyes glinting with malicious light. "Has our dear Guild Master finally found someone to settle down with? Colour me surprised, I never expected it to be Orange Range — I thought you had a thing for the silver-haired girl in the basement."
"It's not love if you say 'no homo'!" Crux protested furiously, ignoring Vivian to avoid any confrontations. "On more pressing matters, get to the point and tell me of your exploits."
"Letter 'M'." Itsuka murmured, before turning and speaking sharply to Crux, "I can give you a far more detailed version of the information I gleaned on the Akatsuki if I simply give it to you in this memory." As if on cue, a thick data chip manifested in her hands, sleek and black in colour, and not too bulky in nature. While it seemed slightly out dated, when compared to the Magitek that was becoming standard, this chip held and organized all of the data Itsuka collected for Crux over the past few months.
"Their weaknesses are nothing to be surprised about," Itsuka continued, tossing the chip towards Crux, who caught it seamlessly, "Though I have to say their skills have improved considerably in the past seven years, I could find suitable weaknesses for every one of them, with the exception of a few. One such few is named Olivia Petrillo. She's...unique among the Akatsuki. I'd go into further detail, but everything I've collected is on that data chip. However...there's something else that concerns me..."
"I can just blast them with my light, or use Corpse Shell." Crux argued back- in theory, it was simple to defeat each and every single one of the Akatsuki members. Corpse Shell was a Black Art stolen from the Sejren clan- it seemed that Crux's creator infused it within his genetic makeup at a young age. "It's pretty easy." He continued, "What does concern you, anyway?"
"The implications are what's horrifying," Itsuka replied waspishly. "I don't even want to talk about it; trust me, the data is all on that memory chip. Just load it with Magitek later, or find an Archive user, and you'll know everything you need to know."
"Secrets, secrets, secrets..." Anguis slithered up behind Itsuka, his elongated tongue slipping out of his mouth and wrapping itself under her chin, before retreating back into the serpentine man's mouth. "It's not polite to keep such intriguing things to yourself, Itsuka. I can taste your nervousness, and that only makes me more keen to know."
"Then ask Crux when he's done loading the chip," Itsuka delivered a very sharp punch to Anguis' scaly chin, before moving as far as humanly possible away from the man.
"I'll muse over this later." Crux stashed the chip in his pocket. "Snake guy, stop trying to get in the personal space of a little girl, it looks suspicious. I was there when that happened 40 years ago to another person I know." Crux paused, "...I'm not even sure how old I'm supposed to be, really."
"True, we are getting sidetracked," Anguis agreed, nodding in Crux's direction. "Besides, it's time to move on towards the main event. Iris, if you please."
Slithering in was the pale form of Iris Tsubaki, Anguis' alternate gendered clone, who Crux had previous sent to scope out the Magic Council several months ago. Rearing her upper body up to full height, the naga-esque woman turned to face Crux, her sleeves covering her mouth as she spoke. "Crux-san, I'm pleased to report my reconnaissance mission was a success."
"Great, more snake peop- I mean, excellent work other Iris." Crux was pleasantly surprised, really. It seemed that his guild was bearing fruit after several years of no leads. "What do you have?"
"Well," Iris furrowed her brow, looking distressed for the first time. "I got quite a bit more than I bargained for when I scoped out the Magic Council, so I'll start at the beginning. Alexis is not human. This wasn't an observation gathered from listening in; her scent isn't human. Rather like you, Crux-san." Iris' eyes narrowed at this line, as if she was expecting Crux to contradict her. "What's far more frightening, however, is this." She reached into her sleeve, pulling out a rolled up scroll.
"What's this?" It was Anguis, not Crux, who slithered over to his daughter, and she handed her father the scroll. Anguis unraveled it, and his bespectacled eyes widened, and a dark grin spread across his face. "This is utterly fantastic. Blueprints!"
Crux sighed as he asked, "Too many people are vague these days. You can't even imagine how hard it was to grow up dealing with a mother who's exposition dealt with being intentionally confusing so that people would interpret them in different ways just for kicks was. So yeah, if, uh, you'd stop that, that'd be dandy. What the hell are these blueprints for?"
Unfurling the blueprints on the dark floor, Anguis knelt next to them, pushing his glasses along the bridge of his nose. The lenses flashed ominously as his grin only widened. "This find is truly remarkable. These blueprints detail the construction of a satellite. The schematics refer to it as the "Highlander", and if I am reading these correctly, the power this satellite possesses will be enough to exceed even Dosaman's Satellite Square: Etherion."
"With the power contained in this satellite..." Iris continued, interrupting her father's own speech. "You can raze hemispheres of this very planet to ash."
"Then why are you acting like that's a positive?" Esmeralda snapped, looking at Anguis as if he'd lost his mind. "If the council, particularly Alexis, completes a weapon like that, it'd be the end of everything!"
"Because this is a positive for us," Anguis hissed, rolling the blueprints up and slipping them into his robe. "After this is sufficiently analyzed, dismantling the finished product should be no problem for someone such as myself. I could even duplicate the end result if I so wished!"
"You mean Bob's Eternano Cannon? Yeah, I only called him Bob, because my mother did. His full name- especially his last one, is goddamn hard to pronounce." Crux clasped his hands in deceit. "Anyway, if we can get our hands on its parts, then we can use them to go towards OUR ultimate plan."
"There's no need to scavenge for parts like vultures circling over another predator's kill," Anguis waved this off dismissively. "Crux-san, forgive my crass language, but who the hell do you think I am? Leave me to my own devices, and it would be a simple task for me to replicate this myself."
"You don't even have pointy sunglasses, snake guy." Crux argued. "But do as you wish. While I hate the Akatsuki, I hate the Magic Council more. This should serve to be an effective thorn in their side."
As Anguis nodded in affirmation, Iris spoke up once more. "My observation of the magical council yielded another interesting find. There's been a staff change," She snickered at the phrase, as if enjoying an in-joke only she understood. "In light of Zinzolin's recent death, Alexis promoted a new scientist; Namisuki Garale. Due to her status as a relatively recently promoted employee, I don't know the full nature of her experiments yet, but she is referred to in the council as the 'Blood-Clad Devil Woman', so the possibilities are endless. She's currently in-charge of the Highlander Project, but as with any scientist, I doubt she's devoting her entire time to one little thing. Caution is advised."
"The other devil woman is better." Crux snarked. "Most scientists are like that. Blowin' all their money on one thing and sucking up ten years of their life on it. That's why I've come to the conclusion that you can't be a nerd like them, otherwise everything'll be for nothing in the end, really."
"Take my warning for whatever you will," Iris replied dismissively. "My task is finished, Crux-san, Anguis-sama, I believe I will go rest." Without waiting for a reply from either, Iris proceeded further into the guild base, disappearing into the darkness while Anguis unfolded the blueprints once more, perusing their contents.
"This design is truly remarkable," The serpentine man murmured. "Crux-san, I do believe the one issue will be the Lacrima; Alexis would have procured a very rare and unique crystal to power the Highlander. Obtaining a Lacrima that can only be found within the Forest of the Cold Hosts is no small feat; however, with some minor alterations, I could easily use the girl that Kagemusha captured seven years ago as the power source instead."
"Don't you dare." Crux's magical aura flared up. As he spoke, the entire base began to shake, with the walls and floor cracking as the very pressure of the magic weighed down on them. "If you touch Vivian, then I will destroy you and him."
"So terrifying. Crux-san, you needn't flare your magic so violently. You forget," Anguis's tongue slipped out of his mouth, waggling like a finger when reprimanding a child. "It was I who modified the girl to begin with after Kagemusha brought her here." His glasses flashed ominously as he spoke, and it almost seemed as if the man was basking in his own brilliance. "But I suppose, if you're that averse to it, a sample of her magical energy combined with Lacrima may be all I need."
"Damn right I'm averse to it. Just take ONE sample." Crux hissed from the bottom of his throat, pissed as hell. "...You know what, let's just release her, because this is weighing heavily on my conscience."
"I haven't the slightest intention on releasing a single jewel in my collection," The baritone that was attached to Kagemusha made itself known as the man appeared from what seemed to be the basement of the structure. "You know very well how I don't relinquish something once I've gotten a hold of it, Crux. Your conscience will simply have to bear with this for as long as we're associates in the same guild."
"I have to admit, it would be interesting to see how the Akatsuki break when we use that Dragon Slayer girl against them," Esmeralda sneered, leaning back against one of the walls. "Why pass up an opportunity like that?"
"Don't be a dick, Mushy." Crux snarled at him. "You're like a goddamn magpie." Crux turned to Esmeralda, "True, true. But it still doesn't feel right."
"I do believe that comes with the territory of being a Dark Guild, Crux," Esmeralda snarked.
"Either way, is this meeting not ajourned?" Kagemusha inquired, his expressionless mask meeting Crux's eyes. "It'll only be a matter of time before we have to move against the Akatsuki, or am I wrong, Crux? I think it's time we all made our preparations."
"It's ajourned." Crux was still somewhat dissatisfied by the results. In fact, he couldn't remember anything about what happened, at all. "Just go."
As the meeting as adjourned and the members of the Shadow Remnants filed out to their own personal quarters, a little girl with pale blonde hair walked over to the purple-haired man, and she tugged on his sleeve. "Onii-chan, is something wrong?" The girl, Giselle Alcide, looked at the man she considered her older brother in concern. "Did you swallow a Rusinurg?"
"The hell is a Rusinurg?" Crux asked in disbelief. "I'm just remembering stuff that I shouldn't."
"A Rusinurg is a small insect; if you swallow it, it'll inject poison into your throat that pumps right to your brain, and it makes you see upsetting things," Giselle explained, smiling brightly as her small pale hand connected with her adoptive older brother's face, the backside stroking his cheek. "You don't need to be sad, Onii-chan! I'm here now! I won't let anything bad happen to you, so long as I'm around!"
"...Where did you even learn that?" Crux remembered that all he was taught was shapes. "nigga we gon learn shapes" was actually a book. He supposed that the silver-haired dolt wrote it, and it even managed to confuse a square with a circle. "Heh, that's true. You're my Hikari."
"I am your Hikari," Giselle repeatedly softly; her normally perky demeanor changed to one of tenderness. Her free hand reached for a bright green jewel attached to a golden string. "Remember when you gave me this, Onii-chan? The Ishinokū that you told me would always keep me safe?"
"Yeah, I remember that." Crux didn't know why, but as of lately, he could remember everything about small Giselle, whereas he couldn't remember his own past. Maybe it wasn't important, but then again, the days of past were the most peaceful to him. Maybe they were the most important, after all. "I think, after we tear Akatsuki a new one, I'm going to disband the guild. We can all leave somewhere else, where law won't bother us."
"It'll be just us, Onii-chan," Giselle cooed quietly, fully supportive of his decision to disband the Guild if it meant she could have her older brother all to herself. "That's the way it should be, right?"
"Exactly. There's no point in continuing this guild if our goal is completed. Besides, the memes of dark guilds must end here."