The Distortion Detective

Chapter 21: Roadtrip

“Yeah, let’s help ourselves to a fair bit when we get there.”

It seems five Fixers out of the seventeen of Dou Gui Office have survived. They’re just as badly wounded as we are. Some have lost their arms, and most are drenched in blood. It’s evident that Vespa’s end goal wasn’t senseless murder. He exerted the precise amount of violence that was needed to carry out his mission. He most likely withdrew from the hotel as soon as he secured YuRia’s body.

“…My father has passed away.”

Fei said.

“I suppose you’re responsible for it, and it’s also thanks to you that I could leave that room.”

“…Sorry about that.”

"…It was my father’s choice to work in such a perilous business.”

“…True, our work is a risky one. Who is the current representative of Dou Gui Office? I’d like to settle up the charge for this request.”

“As per the tradition of Dou Gui Office, Miss Fei here will be inheriting the position as representative of the Office.”

One of the Fixers spoke. A hereditary Office… A combat Office with a hereditary system. This Office values loyalty above all else, as I suspected. Moreover, the new leader is a student who hasn’t reached adulthood yet. It’s unfortunate, but it’s as clear as day that this Office will disband sooner or later.

“Well then, Fei of Dou Gui Office. Let me ask this straight. Are you going to hold us responsible for this?”

The room fell quiet. My contract with Zhang Lei was a verbal one. There’s no document to prove that Zhang Lei died protecting us as part of his work. The worst case scenario would be her escalating the situation into a violent conflict as payback. We’d have to fight tooth and nail against people with equally tattered bodies. Our fate is in the hands of this young representative.

“Everyone. Let’s take time to heal up before we continue the conversation. I have a lot I’d like to hear from you.”

Fei suggested with a calm voice. She’s a wise child.

Ezra broke into Vespa’s car and extracted YuRia’s body. Her body was untouched just as Vespa said. We returned to our Office with it. Vespa was surprisingly gentle about combing through our vacant home, it seems. Our Office looked nearly identical to how it was when we left. Ezra and I took an HP tablet and went to sleep. There was much we wanted to discuss, but we were on the verge of collapse, physically and mentally. We decided to save talk for the day after.

Dou Gui Office: Lunchtime. The three of us sat on a sofa. Fei modestly sits on the leather sofa where her father used to frequent.

“President Fei. May I explain our situation and stance first?”

“Yes. Go ahead.”

“I made a deal with Zhang Lei, the previous representative of Dou Gui Office. The contract was to hire all Fixers of Dou Gui Office for two weeks. I needed their help because we broke the taboo of District 14 and a taboo hunter began pursuing us. I agreed to pay as much as they demanded according to the rules of the Office. However, we only vaguely discussed the payment and never decided on an exact sum. And I didn’t disclose the identity of my pursuer to them. If I told them I was being chased by a taboo hunter… most would refuse to take the request. So Zhang Lei gave me another condition: To solve the strange happening taking place in his house. I had informed him that I run an Office that solves mysteries and unsolved cases, which likely led him to bring it up. And the peculiar occurrence in his house was related to you, President Fei. I followed Zhang Lei to his house, and saved you in my own way, thus fulfilling one of the conditions of our contract. Shortly after I solved the case, the taboo hunter came to the house to capture me, and Zhang Lei died in the process of defending me as part of the contract. This is the way things happened.”

“You’re telling the story in such a dry tone.”

“I also risked my life to save yours, mind you. Even though there’s no physical proof, I can say with certainty that I made a deal with him that involves lives and money.”

“I know. It’s not that I distrust you. I just hoped to hear you express your condolences to my father.”

“…Yes. I personally feel quite grateful to Zhang Lei as well. Even after knowing that his opponent was a taboo hunter, he didn’t hesitate to brandish his weapon against him in order to protect me. Although, it would be fairer to say that he did it for your sake, Fei. And I heard from Ezra that she managed to safely escape from the hotel thanks to the Fixers of your Office. My appreciation and condolences to Zhang Lei and all the other Fixers of the Office who passed away knows no bounds.”

Ezra slowly nodded next to me.

“Yeah. Your words hopefully comforted my father’s spirit a little.”

Fei looked down for a short moment.

“The request our Office has taken isn’t over yet. We will protect the people of Moses’ Office for the remaining 13 days.”

“Yes, boss!”

The Fixers of Dou Gui Office answered in unison. I’m quite touched by her kind heart, but I must say it feels like a child playing boss more than anything. The Office has already lost most of its strength. A cool-headed representative should nullify a baseless request like this and focus on reorganization.

“I know that my decision may seem silly to adults. You’re probably thinking that it won’t help us in the long run. But here’s something my father once told me: ‘Our Office is bound together with loyalty.’ So I’d like to repay you for staking your life to rescue me. …Besides, you promised to ponder on my troubles together, and you’ll have to be alive for that, right?”

She got me there. This child may have a faint heart, but she is a person of will.

“Crane. Please contact our sister Offices. Tell them that Dou Gui Office is requesting help.”

A Fixer standing next to Fei nods.

“Thank you, President Fei. Our Office is deeply indebted to you.”

I stood up and formally showed my gratitude.

“My father taught me what to do in case this day arrived. From now on… I’ll have to learn from the people here.”

Fei stared into space for a short while, immersed in thought.

“Let’s settle up the request fee now. I’ll set the amount based on the customs of Dou Gui Office.”

She’s meticulous in her business dealings, at least.

“Ezra, I’ll leave this to you.”

I came up to the rooftop. I fished out a cigarette from a pack with my left hand and held it in my mouth. I have to light it up as well, what a nuisance… Blowing out smoke, I thought about what lie ahead of us.

“Detective Moses. What will you do about your smoking pipe?”

“That’s what I’d like to ask. What will you do about your workshop?”

“My atelier will be out of commission for a while. I’ve wrung out all my brain power, so I won’t be able to reopen the atelier anytime soon, and conjuring up bears to work for me is another mental chore.”

“Huff… Both you and I have become useless. Actually, no. At least I can still see the Distortion.”

“…I’ll work like a dog once my atelier is back in business.”

YuRia spoke in a tiny voice.

“Detective! Detective! I got a huuuge discount! Hehe…”

Ezra came running with a delighted look. Looks like the negotiation was a success. I pulled another cigarette out of the pack. Ezra deftly lights the cigarette in my mouth.

“Detective! Where will we get a new arm for you? Oh… and what about the smoking pipe?!”

“You’ve come at the right time, we were talking about it just now. I’ll have to get a new arm before we head to District 11. Ezra, may I leave you to choose the right model of prosthetic for me?”

“Yeah! You bet! I’ll find one that suits you real nicely, detective!”

I’m taking it off for my real arm once I get it back from the pesky bee. The last time I saw my right arm, he stored it in a stasis preservation cube.

“Maybe that stupid hornet will starve to death if we keep him trapped in my atelier for long enough?”

“Waiting it out is one way, sure. But a Fixer at Vespa’s level can take procedures that allow them to last long without food or water. We don’t know what kind of augments Vespa has, which means we don’t know when or if he’ll actually die of starvation. Tell me, how will Vespa rampaging in your workshop affect you?”

“It’ll take some time to restore the atelier, first and foremost… And by some time, I mean a considerable amount of it… I’ll be dead weight for a good while…”

“At least it’s a relief to know that your body and mind will be alright. I’ll use my brain to work out how we’ll deal with Vespa, so you can let yours rest. And Ezra, how did you manage to manifest your Psychoment?”

Ezra is wearing her mask now. Her distortion has become visible again. I bit a new cigarette in my mouth. I miss my pipe.

“Ehehe… I consulted with my junior here about it, actually! I was thinking maybe I could get stronger if I learned to use Psychoment! So she taught me the knack of it!”

“YuRia, I don’t believe a knack alone is sufficient to manifest the Psychoment?”

“I gave her a pendant in addition to that. Another prototype of mine. I watched the footage of Ezra seonbae fighting the skeleton titan in Tae-young Produce Co. over and over again, and carved a pendant that I thought would be compatible with her. The pendant I made is a catalyst for manifesting Psychoment. It also helps shape the Psychoment according to the carved mental image.”

“That will be quite useful in the future.”

“Carving one is a time-consuming process that I need my atelier to even begin, though…”

“I could become stronger thanks to you, junior!”

Both of our problems come down to Vespa being trapped inside the atelier. I need my smoking pipe back, and YuRia needs her workshop back to fully realize her capabilities. Nothing has really changed. I need to meet up with Han Hee-joon in District 11 and dump this beehive on him.

“What should we do with your body, YuRia?”

“Oh! About that, when I explained her situation to Fei, she said she’ll take care of the body until we get back!”

She’s being too nice to us. Perhaps she wishes to ensure that her father’s life was not lost in vain by providing safety and comfort to the people he died to protect. In any case, I’m in no position to refuse the hospitality. I took the cigarette out of my mouth and ground it into the ashtray. It’s time to start preparing for the trip.

A funeral for Zhang Lei and his deceased subordinates was held for three days. The funeral was conducted according to the traditions of the east, Zhang’s region of origin. Fei remained in the funeral parlor from start to finish of the ceremony. Looking at the portrait of Zhang Lei smiling at the camera, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a photographer I met some time ago.

I had to accompany Ezra on her shopping tour to workshops for some time. The Fixers of Dou Gui Office and its sister Offices escorted us throughout the leave, as though we were noblewomen. In fact, the escort didn’t stop when we were back inside. They stood guard vigilantly around our Office and made sure that no intruder could dare approach or harm us. I spent the rest of my time talking with Fei about the Distortion. About what happened to her, and how she should live out her life hereafter… The time passed steadily.

30 minutes until the WARP train departs. I puffed my last cigarette in the smoking lounge. WARP trains… They always reach their destination in the blink of an eye. Ezra waves at me from the platform, carrying her dimensional bag over her shoulder. She must be thrilled about this. I put YuRia in my coat pocket. I made sure to tell her to act like a doll for a good while. Fei and the Fixers of Dou Gui Office came over to see us off.

Ezra and I sat in our seats on the train.

“We’re finally leaving.”

We’ve faced so many vicissitudes up until this departure. Alas…

“Ehehe. A trip, I’m so excited for it!”

“Ezra, what awaits us there might be even more intense than the things we’ve gone through recently.”

“And food, too! I’ve only seen the food of the southern districts in pictures, so I’ve always wanted to try it myself!”

“Yeah, let’s help ourselves to a fair bit when we get there.”

“Oh yeah!”

I closed my eyes.

And when I opened my eyes, we were already at our destination.

The WARP station in District 11, where the Nest of K Corp. is located.

Where Han Hee-joon is.

And where that person is.

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