“I’m more interested in hearing what you have to say. Do you want to take my life?”
Blood is flowing out of my severed right arm. All I can do at this point is run my mouth.
“Doctor Moses. I do not enjoy killing people. I don’t wish to stain my body with blood that I don’t need to see.”
“So… What is it that you want?”
“First and foremost, the most important task: retrieving the original footage that was recorded.”
Vespa shook his hand to check his watch for a moment, then resumed his speech.
“…Second. Moving you, Ezra, and YuRia, the three people who broke the taboo, to N Corp. Apparently, YuRia was not the only one guilty of violating the taboo.”
“You don’t immediately kill those who break the taboo? How considerate.”
“…Well, that’s how things are.”
“But, no one who’s been sent to N Corp. for infringing the taboo has ever returned, to my knowledge?”
Vespa glared at me and readjusted his glasses.
“…Doctor Moses, make no mistake. I could decapitate you right now and store your head in a preservation cube.”
“Then why aren’t you doing so?”
…Vespa has something he needs to coax out of me. Something he can get from me… Knowledge about the Distortion? It doesn’t make much sense for a taboo hunter to inquire about the Distortion. Vespa’s objective is to bring Ezra, YuRia, and I to his employer. He seems to have located me easily; then he might be aware of Ezra’s location as well. …Perhaps he already took care of her. However, he would have no need to hesitate if I were the only remaining target. Now I get it; finding Ezra and I should be easy for him. But YuRia? Even if he found Ezra and YuRia in the hotel room we booked, he’d only have an unconscious body on his hands. It would be difficult to imagine via common knowledge that her conscious mind has been transferred to this small teddy bear of all things, not a replacement body or any conceivable alternative. And Vespa is pressed for time right now. If he had enough to spare, he would’ve severed my head like he threatened to do just now and searched my brain for the relevant information. This shows that he has no time to do even that. This gives me leeway for a negotiation. He needs to know something only a conscious YuRia knows; he’s yet to find the original recordings. Only YuRia knows where they are. They’d be inside YuRia’s workshop. In that case, I have time and information as my weapon.
“Looks like I’m the only conscious person who has a lead on the whereabouts of the original footage. And you’re running short on time.”
Vespa furrowed his brow.
“It seems it’s my turn again. What happened to Ezra?”
“Fine, then. Let’s show a bit of honesty to each other. After I answer your question, you’ll answer mine in return.”
“I’ll take it. And you still haven’t given me an answer for my last question.”
“I lost Miss Ezra. She was a quick-witted one.”
I was quite relieved to hear the news. I still cannot fully trust him, however.
“It’s my turn. Doctor Moses, do you know where the original copy of the footage you’ve recorded is located?”
I know that the footage is in YuRia’s Atelier. At the same time, I don’t know how to access her workshop.
“Yes. I know where the footage is. I don’t know how to get there, though.”
Vespa raised his eyebrows.
“What did you do with YuRia’s body?”
“It’s in my car. And I haven’t laid a finger on it. I answered your question, so let me ask mine. Can you figure out how to access the location where the footage is?”
I can figure it out; I can simply ask YuRia about it. Even if I had no way of knowing, this is a question I am obligated to answer with a “Yes”. If I said otherwise, my usefulness would expire to him. Vespa believes what I’m saying. This question is one asked by someone expecting to hear a truthful statement for every question. He’s more honest than he seems. I’ve gained all the information I need from him. Vespa is likely to be telling the truth; that would mean Ezra is alive. YuRia’s body is fine as well. All I can do next is have faith in Ezra.
“I can. What happens to us once we follow you to N Corp?”
“…I’m afraid I don’t know that. All I do is hunt down those who violate the taboo and send them to N Corp.”
Vespa looked at his watch again.
“Alright. I believe we can now make a deal. As you have pointed out, I have little time to spare. I will only take you along with the original footage, Doctor Moses. I will forfeit the hunt for Ezra and YuRia as of now. I would advise against attempting to bargain for more, for your information.”
“Fine. YuRia, open the atelier for him.”
YuRia squirmed out of my coat’s pocket. Vespa quietly stares at us, showing no reaction to the moving teddy bear.
“I told you, you should trust me.”
“…Understood. A door is needed to get to my atelier. We could use ones in Mister Zhang’s house.”
“Can you make some time to go back up the apartment?”
“If we must, we’ll go up as you ask. Your arm… and this smoking pipe will be in my possession. You’ll have to come with me anyway.”
After I nodded, Vespa came to my side. He took out a stasis preservation cube from his inside coat pocket and stored my right arm in it. Putting the cube back, Vespa covered my shoulder with a dressing. He then put Fei on his shoulder, who was still lying on the ground unconscious. He bent his knees to lower his position and stretched an arm at us. YuRia and I watched Vespa’s bizarre series of movements in silence.
“We have no time to take an elevator. Come over here.”
“Do we really have to do this?”
“Doctor Moses, I cannot waste a second.”
…Disgusting. Vespa leapt to the seventeenth floor of the apartment with Fei and I in his embrace. He has tremendous muscular strength. He must have gained it through a multitude of augmentation procedures, and I assume he partakes in ceaseless physical training as well. We were back at Zhang Lei’s house in an instant. All the furniture in the house is now severely damaged or broken. Blade cuts were vividly showing on the walls. I could guess how fierce the battle was despite its length.
“I merely acted in self-defense while executing my duty. I hope you don’t have any hard feelings towards me for killing an acquaintance of yours, Doctor Moses.”
He’s a dangerous kind. He switches his attitude in an instant and entices people into bringing their guard down with honeyed words, saying that he didn’t do it because he wanted to. This man could’ve easily neutralized Zhang Lei without killing him. In that sense, Vespa is a pro when it comes to hunting people. He knows when to apply psychological pressure on his targets and when to loosen them up. Every action of his is calculated. Vespa gently put Fei and I on the floor.
“YuRia, open the workshop.”
YuRia climbed out of my pocket and touched one of the closed doors. The door vibrated briefly.
“I want you to enter first.”
Vespa said, adjusting his glasses. It had to be an unfamiliar sight for him, but he doesn’t appear fazed at all. I picked up YuRia, who was standing in front of the door, and placed her on my shoulder. I opened the door to the now familiar staircase to YuRia’s Atelier. I slowly walked down the stairs. Vespa follows us from behind, keeping a distance. After coming down the stairs, we’re walking along the corridor leading to the hall. This is where the real battle starts.
“YuRia, the bears.”
Right as I whispered the words to YuRia, I rolled forward. All the bears in YuRia’s Atelier rushed out at once. Teddy bears armed with blades on their paws jumped at Vespa. There was a flash of yellow light. The heads of the bears dropped to the ground before they could even reach him. A large bear with an axe descends from the ceiling, aiming for Vespa. The bear is split in half before touching the ground. While Vespa’s sword was busy cutting apart the bears, I desperately ran toward the exit. Numerous bears gang up on Vespa. Every single one of them is sliced up before they can touch him. Keeping Vespa occupied is good enough work for us, however.
“YuRia, you can’t pump out an unlimited amount of bears, can you?”
“Of course I can’t. I’m about to faint from dizziness. I’m squeezing my brain right now.”
YuRia struggled to speak, clinging to my shoulder.
“Doctor Moses. I am disappointed.”
Vespa’s quiet mutter reached my ear. I arrived at the stairs leading up to the outside. And I told Vespa.
“You’ll find the footage you’re looking for at the end of that corridor. You’d best settle for retrieving the footage.”
Vespa is surrounded by a legion of teddy bears. It’s physically improbable that he’ll come for us immediately in that state. I just need to take a few more steps up the stairs.
“…I intend to keep my word. I am taking both you and the footage.”
Light flashed for a split second. I fell down on my face with a groan. A spear penetrated my left thigh and nailed itself to the floor. This is a tool for hunting humans. It’s a harpoon, not an ordinary spear. Damn it, the hornet was embroidered on his clothes for a reason. Vespa unhurriedly approaches me, slicing up the bears around him. I tried to pull the harpoon out of my thigh, but it wouldn’t budge. I don’t have the strength to remove this. YuRia tries to help me but to no avail. Fallen on the stairway, I lifted my head. All I had to do was climb up those stairs. Vespa was now right behind me. The exit seems so far and faint now.
“I suppose taking your head was a better idea, after all.”
Vespa adjusted his glasses.
“…This will not happen again.”
…So this is how it ends.
“Hectopascal kick!!! Ten times the acceleration!!!”
Ezra landed her foot on Vespa’s chest with incredible force. Vespa was flung far away at a remarkable speed.
“Detective!!! Are you okay?!”
Ezra was also covered in injuries.
“…Just look at me and tell me if this looks okay.”
YuRia hopped excitedly. Ezra responded with a wide smile. She must have been worried about YuRia because she couldn’t protect her body from Vespa. But it’s still too early to be relieved. Most foes would’ve been reduced to pieces of flesh and bone the moment they came in contact with Ezra’s flying kick coming down from the height of a long stairway at full force. However, Vespa was only knocked away by its impact. That monster of a man.
“Ezra. Please get rid of this thing stuck in my thigh.”
“Kay! Detective… Hold still for a bit!”
I grit my teeth. The harpoon was removed from the ground once Ezra gave it some force.
“Detective! Can you get up on your own?”
Ezra has no time to help me up. She has to face Vespa, who will come back for us in no time.
“Seonbae. I’ll help detective up with my bears.”
“Okay! I’ll leave it to you, junior!”
Small teddy bears appeared and lifted me. They’re probably manifested from the last of YuRia’s mental strength that she could squeeze out. The bears carry us and speedily climb up the staircase.
“Ezra! Follow us right away!”
With a blast of sound, a yellow light sparkles from the end of the corridor and dashes toward us. In the fraction of a second, Ezra caught the yellow blade between her palms with a clapping motion.
Vespa remarked, shaking his rumpled hair with his vacant right hand.
“Detective! You should go first!“
“Ezra! Get up here as soon as you see a chance!”
I shouted back.
“Hehe… Don’t think I can do that! Sorry.”
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