It was unpleasantly cool, damp and chill, and dark. What light there was flickered, emanating from a small, rickety wooden table set with three pillar candles the size of dinner plates. Each had three wicks, but they didn't manage to shed more than the barest illumination and gave off no heat or comfort. Aya-chan was lying on a pile of mismatched, tattered blankets and pillows. She wasn't too stiff, because she hadn't been poorly treated on the trip, while she was sleeping. The walls and floor were stone and covered in a thick layer of grimy dust, and shelf after shelf of stacked wine bottles lined the small room. There was one other individual in the room, a woman, wearing sunglasses and a battered brown duster, calmly smoking a cigarette and sitting on the stairs that led up.
Shivering slightly Aya glanced around the dank room, confused, trying to figure out where the hell she was and how she'd got there. Her eyes lit on the woman, widening in fear, "Wh-who are you?" She stammered, "What do you want with me?"
The woman glanced up, the lenses of the dark, reflective glasses turning to face Aya-chan. She couldn't see the eyes behind them. The woman was tall and lanky, and would have been pretty if she had taken better care of herself. Her honey-brown hair was stringy and her skin was pallid, like someone who had not seen the sun in years. The unremarkable black clothes she wore beneath the brown coat were dusty and frayed, and there was dirt under her fingernails. She was facing Aya, so Aya could see the sleek, dark butts of a pair of guns, worn slung low across her hips, the belts crossing at her waist. She exhaled a cloud of smoke and regarded the captive girl quietly. "De name's Guilbeaux," she said, a strange foreign accent twisting her Japanese. "An I'm here ta ask ya a few questions, cherie'. Dependin' on how ya answer...." She chuckled darkly and gestured with the cigarette. "Well. We be gettin' to dat later."
The shudder that ran through the girl's slight frame had nothing to do with the cold this time, and she rose to a sitting position, drawing her knees protectively to her chest. "Qu-questions? What sort of questions?" she asked the woman, wishing desperately that this was just a dream, that she was just going to wake up safe in her *own* bed with her big brother there to chase away the nightmares.
"De kind ya won't like," Guilbeaux said honestly, "but you listen ta me..." She rose slowly, an eerie, predatory grace in her movements, and crossed the room to crouch on her heels in front of Aya-chan. "Answer me true, and I'll know it if ya lie, and it'll go easy on you. Lie ta me and I'll have yer guts for garters, don't ya doubt."
Aya nodded shakily, shuffling back as far as she could to put distance between herself and the woman. "What do you want to know?" she whispered, closing her eyes so she didn't have to look at the stranger.
"Yer brother," Guilbeaux said flatly, taking a slow drag from the cigarette. It was unfiltered and wrapped in brown paper. The smell was harsher, and the smoke thicker, than the civilized, filtered cigarettes Aya-chan was used to seeing people smoke. "I wanna know where he's at." The other hand gave a shake, and a slender, shining blade slipped out of Guilbeaux's coat sleeve, dropping into her half-gloved left palm. "Now, he's been doin' what he's doin' for a good long time, that boy o'yours, and he's a professional, so I t'ink he wouldn't be tellin' you too much. Mais non, the more ya know, the more danger you're in, oui? But he mighta said somethin', or left a hint. Or you might have an idea," she suggested, spinning the blade between her fingers.
Wrinkling her nose at the cigarette Aya shook her head frantically, willing the other woman to believe her. "I don't know where he is, I swear I don't," she whispered hoarsely, trying to stop herself from crying. Her arms wrapping around her knees even more tightly, she raised pleading eyes to her kidnapper, "He hasn't told me anything."
"Maybe dat's true, maybe it ain't," Guilbeaux said softly. Her tone of voice was gentle, but the smirk on her face was downright feral. "But he tol' you somethin'. You ran away from home, Miss Aya. You went an' stayed wit a friend. I'm thinkin' Ran told ya ta do dat, am I right? And you woulda asked why. So tell me what he said, cherie', and tell me EVERYTHIN', or we're gonna play and you ain't gon' like dis game, I guarantee."
Still shaking her head, feeling the tears spilling down her cheeks, "I... he... he told me to stay with a friend... but he wouldn't say why, I promise. When I... when I asked him, all he would say was that... that it was safer for me if I didn't know," the girl stammered out between sobs, half-wishing she knew more just so Guilbeaux would leave her alone, half-glad that she didn't know because it meant that her brother was going to be safe for a little while longer.
Guilbeaux knew she was telling the truth. It was a side effect of her peculiar Talent. She exhaled another stream of smoke, settling back on her heels thoughtfully. "I assume you know what 'e does for a livin'," she remarked offhandedly.
Startled, Aya responded with a brief, almost unconscious, "Yes," thinking about the things Sakura-chan had told her after she'd woken up. She knew, from secondhand sources, what her brother did and, even if she didn't like it, accepted it. "Wh-why?"
"Jus' wondering," she said with a shrug. "Did he tell ya about the players on dis board? Eszet, Kritiker, Weiss, and Schwarz?"
Aya shook her head again, some of the names were familiar after her chat with Sakura-chan, but Ran had never really mentioned anything about his work. And she had never asked.
Guilbeaux made a disdainful sound. "And why's dat, do ya t'ink?" she wondered. "Don't he trust you?"
No, it couldn't be that. It *wasn't* that. The only reason Ran hadn't told her was because... because... "He doesn't want me to have to hear about these things, that's all. He just wants to protect me."
"So you're a child, zat it?" Guilbeaux wondered. "A lil girl dat needs protecting?"
"I... NO! That's not it." This woman was confusing her, bringing up doubt's and fears that she'd had over the past few months. "That's not it..."
Guilbeaux merely shrugged. "Den what is it, cherie'? Unless he knows if he tol' you de whole truth, you wouldn't be wantin' nothin' more ta do with 'im... maybe dat's it?"
What? That was just stupid... Ran was her brother, the only family she had left. There was nothing he could do that could make her turn away from him, hate him. Anger was starting to override Aya's fear, and she glared at Guilbeaux in a manner almost worthy of her brother. "I would *never* do that to him."
"Even if ya found out he was involved wit de very people dat tried to take your body from you?" Guilbeaux challenged. "Even if ya knew his friends weren't jes assassins, but men who made Tokyo's streets red wit blood while you were sleepin'? Men who were 'is enemies, de evil dark beasts he was s'pposed ta destroy?"
No... no, that wasn't possible. Ran would never do something like that, unless... "You're lying..." ... unless he had no choice. Unless any other option was worse... right?
"Ain't lyin," Guilbeaux told her, shaking her head simply. "Weiss and Schwarz were enemies. Schwarz was de bad guys, working for Eszet, de ones dat wanted to use you to resurrect their ancient hero." She snorted quietly at that, and lowered herself to sit cross-legged. "Schwarz was de ones dat stole you away and gave ya to 'em. Ya know Tsukiono? He had dis cousin, Takatori Ouka? De one who shot her, da Berserker, Farfarello? Any o'dis familiar?"
Aya shook her head, indicating that she hadn't known this. What little she knew about the things that had happened while she was in the coma had come from Sakura-chan, who hadn't known much more herself. "I-if that's true then... why?"
"Lil Omi had a girlfriend, 'till he knew she was his own blood," Guilbeaux said gleefully. "The telepath, Schuldig, put doubts in 'er mind 'bout him and set Omi up. He came runnin', the rest o'Weiss came runnin', dey fought Schuldig and his teammate, Farfarello, fuckin' madman with some anti-God vendetta who likes to torture and dismember for fun... kinda like me," she added idly. "Farfarello shot Ouka. Kilt her, broke poor 'lil Omi's heart. And what's your brother doin' wit him?" Her grin was evil.
"Why... why are you telling me this? What are you... what are you trying to do?" Aya questioned, not really aware that she was speaking aloud. What could Guilbeaux possibly gain from this? Was she just trying to make her doubt Ran? The girl stopped herself from shaking her head once more, trying her hardest not to let the words get to her... but… “What was Ran doing working with people like that?”
"Ran," Guilbeaux said serenely, her grin widening, “is SLEEPING wit people like dat."
"NO!" Aya jumped to her feet, momentarily forgetting the danger she was in as anger took over, "Ran would never do that! How *dare* you talk about him like that!" She clenched her fists futilely at her sides, feeling her nails dig sharply into the tender skin of her palms. "Don't ever... ever..." she trailed off, breathing harshly and unsure of what she was trying to say.
Guilbeaux just sat there and smirked at her from behind those damnable opaque glasses. "I saw 'em," she said simply, then hiked a brow. "Or did you jes not know e'was gay?"
Dark eyes filled with tears once more, though from which one of the many emotions swirling through her even Aya couldn’t tell. It wasn't true, it couldn't be true. Guilbeaux was just trying to get under her skin, trying to turn her against her brother by insinuating that he would ever be involved in any way with people who had tried to hurt her. "What... I... why should I care about that?" she was strangely calm about finding out something like that from a stranger, especially a stranger who had, not that much earlier, been threatening her. Maybe it was because, of all the things she'd heard that night, it was the easiest to come to terms with, whether it was true or not.
"I dunno, some people do," Guilbeaux said almost gleefully. "You kin believe me or not, cherie', but I saw what I saw, and what I saw was yer brother and that psychopath breathin' outta each others' lungs."
Dropping to her knees Aya buried her face in her hands, trying to gather her thoughts and take in everything she'd been told that evening. What if it *was* true. If Ran was working with his enemies then he had to have some reason for it, and as for the sleeping with them... well, she'd try to handle one shock at a time.
Guilbeaux left her alone for the moment, calmly smoking her cigarette there on the dirty stone floor. She hadn't told the girl anything new, of course. She would find out soon enough, Guilbeaux wagered. She was not as calm as Drake and Kellyn because she knew... she KNEW... that it had been too easy, that they'd been misled, that, of course, they'd underestimated Schwarz (Schwarz? Or just Farfarello?) and were going to pay for it soon. She felt war coming on the wind. And so she smiled her mad smile at the weeping captive and twirled her blade in her hand.