When Cadence entered the interrogation room, the boy with the scarred face let out a gasp and rose to a stand. The boy’s hands were cuffed behind him, and the chains jangled as he came around the table.
“Marzia, what are you doing here?!”
Yes, that was the face of the person Cadence currently wore. Marzia Belle, a fourteen-year-old orphan who often did odd jobs around the city. Small and slender with curly chestnut hair and gap teeth, she was often seen in alleyways alongside Duccio Carrego. Duccio Carrego who was a boy easily identifiable by a scar that ran diagonally across his face.
“D-Duccio,” Cadence stammered as she ran to him. “Are you hurt?”
Duccio looked away with a grimace. “I’m fine. But you. Why are you here?”
Cadence lowered her gaze and glanced nervously towards the mirror behind her. “I’m here for the same reason you are…” She met the boy’s gaze again. “I… think they know about it, Duccio.” A couple of blinks and tears began to leak from her eyes. “What do we do if they know?”
“Know?” Duccio repeated with a frown. His eyes then widened. “You don’t mean that they know about… damn!”
Hook. Line. Sinker.
“Will the others be okay?” Cadence whispered.
Duccio’s eyes widened and he stared bullets at the mirror. He then closed the distance between them and whispered under his breath, “We need to warn them somehow…”
Cadence did not respond and instead pressed her body against Duccio’s own.
“It’ll be okay, Marzia,” Duccio murmured, pressing his chin gently on top of her head. “We’ll get them out of the warehouse somehow…”
The warehouse. By the docks at the bay? No. The Foxmans owned all the docks there. Then…
“Maybe we could get them to move…” Cadence whispered, glancing nervously over her shoulders. “Trick them by moving to a different warehouse nearby. They won’t expect it.”
Duccio frowned and glanced down at her. “We can’t. Warehouse 13 is the only one that’s not owned by any of the city officials.”
A warehouse given the number 13. An abandoned warehouse. There was only one warehouse that fell under both of those categories.
Cadence pulled away from Duccio with a grin. He frowned in turn.
It was time for a showy revelation.
“Sometimes it’s better to live on in ignorance.”
Cadence’s head spun as the familiar, gentle voice echoed in her ears. She whipped her head around. Her reflection—rather, Marzia’s reflection—on the two-way mirror met her gaze.
Cadence ignored Duccio and instead tried to focus her spinning vision that began to dim and brighten in a dizzyingly repetitive cycle. A shadow flickered in the corner of her eye just behind her reflection in the mirror. It was the woman from before. Atiena.
They made eye contact through the mirror. Atiena’s lips were faintly upturned but her eyes were dark and far-away.
Cadence could feel it. Feel her judgment. Which was a strange sensation because it felt as if Cadence was expressing that judgment herself. Expressing that judgement towards herself. It felt so raw and real that she could feel it pressing down on her chest. Was this maybe real, maybe hallucinatory woman judging her? Like Nico had…?
Cadence had to know. Had to ask. But it would be be bad for her to talk to the woman now. If she did, she’d look crazy. And Cadence had to keep up appearances, after all. Because appearances were…
Atiena abruptly broke off their eye contact and looked away as she drew her arms around her waist. She said nothing but her smile remained as did her dark, far-away expression.
Even if Atiena was judging her, what did Cadence care? She’d been judged for doing worse things by people she knew for certain were real. So why now…?
The pressure on her chest increased tenfold almost leaving her short of breath. It was suffocating. Like smoke. Curling around her and strangling her by the throat.
“It’s alright, Duccio,” Cadence found herself saying as she turned to the boy. She pulled his head towards her shoulder and stroked his hair. “We’ll make it out of here somehow.”
When Cadence exited the interrogation room and entered the observation room, she was met with the watchful gazes of Francis and Verga. Unfortunate, seeing as how she’d just managed to escape the gaze of Atiena. Closing the door behind her, she retook her original form with a snap of her fingers and a flash of light.
“You looked like you’d seen a ghost or something for a second there,” Francis noted, v-cig hanging forgotten in his fingers. “Surprised you didn’t do your usual dramatic revelation act.”
“That wouldn’t be too smart now would it?” Cadence shrugged it off easily. “He could be lying. Can’t put all our cards onto the table.”
A clapping sound cut their conversation in two. Verga was grinning. “Well, you really are something else, Cadence. Your performance really does live up to the rumors.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Cadence waved him off before placing her hands on her hips. “We’re lucky he didn’t notice anything off. Any expert would’ve. Not enough info and too short notice.”
“Take a damn compliment, Morello,” Verga snapped before grinning again. “Anyways, since you worked so hard already, just leave the rest to me. I’ll send some of our men to handle that warehouse situation. To dispose of the trash, if y’know what I mean.”
The pressure on her chest returned, and Cadence frowned. “That’s a little bit trigger happy, don’t ya think?”
Verga raised a brow.
The pressure on Cadence’s chest increased. “ We still don’t know why the children are doing this.” The words felt strange in her mouth but she continued nonetheless with a shrug: “And then there’s the how they managed ta make a mess of the pub in the first place. Pretty sure the kid in there ain’t masterful enough to pull it off himself, and if he was that’d be pretty embarassin’ for all of us. Someone’s pullin’ the strings.”
Verga looked like he was about to burst a vein but Francis interrupted him with a hum: “I agree, Cadence. Warehouse 13….” He tapped his fingers over his mouth. “The Campana family might be involved in this then. If that is the case, Cadence, how do you suggest we go about answering those questions?”
“I’ll go in as Duccio.” Cadence shrugged again, and the pressure lessened.
Warehouse 13 resided on the very outskirts of the left side of the Twin Cities. It belonged in a cluster of fifteen warehouses that lined the Castor river. Despite its location, it did not see many ships because right across the river from it were the warehouses of the right city. Warehouses that belonged to the Campana family. At best, they were friendly rivals with the Romano Family. At worst, they were bitter enemies. The fear of the fallout of the friendly rivalry kept even the most desperate of investors away from the area.
“And yet I’m here,” Cadence sighed.
Despite the cold, she couldn’t even see her breath. The fog over the area was too thick and heavy. Like smoke. The haze of it even obscured the sun which was not even able to touch the top of the warehouse buildings despite there being no skyscrapers within the vicinity.
Warehouses 13 was built at the very end of a long line of wooden, rickety warehouses. A large steel-plated sign that designated its number hung above its doors. The doors were—to put it lightly—rotting off their hinges. Through the cracks in the wood, she could make out shadows shifting in a backdrop of light.
Shrugging herself more into the guise of Duccio Carrego, Cadence stepped into the building. The inside of the warehouse was unexpectedly warm. Several trash fires dotted the floor and coated the stray stacks of metal and wood in a red-orange glow. There was a wooden boat missing half of its hull at the very center of the room.
About two dozen people occupied the building, and when Cadence entered, several of them turned their heads towards her. Some nodded, some waved and smiled, one even came over to smack her on the back before dashing off again. Another came to clap a hand on her shoulder and gave her a shake—
“What’s wrong, Duccio? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Cadence stared into that person’s face. His wide eyes, chubby cheeks, and gap-tooth grin became burned into her retinas. Child. He was a child. Probably no older than twelve. In fact—
Children. They were all children. All of the occupants within the building were children. None of them could have been older than sixteen. Were they all being used then?
Cadence shrugged her shoulders with nonchalance. “Just waitin’ for the boss.”
The boy gave a returning shrug before thumbing behind him towards the boat. “Heard she was preparin’ a big speech this time ‘round.”
Cadence turned her eyes towards the boat just in time to see a figure walk out onto the very tip of the ship. It was someone of short stature—even shorter than herself, Cadence gauged. The girl’s hair was dark and frizzy, and her dark skin was splattered with vitiligo that was concentrated around her left eye in an almost butterfly-like pattern. A pair of plaid overalls were pulled up over her pin-striped blouse, and a pair of worn, dirty boots hugged her feet tight.
She couldn’t have been older than sixteen.
After a long moment of silence in which all eyes turned towards her, the girl finally spoke: “We did it, you guys. We did it.”
There was a beat of silence that seemed almost unreal. And then there was a deafening roar. Cheers, whooping shouts, claps, laughs, fist pumps, literal jumps into the air. Every child and adolescent in the area was absolutely ecstatic. Except Cadence, of course. She glanced around the room and tried her best to keep her bewilderment hidden.
“We sure are some devilish kids,” Cadence said to the boy who stood beside her, “ta be cheerin’ on the deaths of a dozen people like this.”
“Well, Duccio…” The boy’s smile faltered. “I mean they’re… they’re the ones who…”
He trailed off as an odd, reverent silence settled into the room. As the last of the cheering quieted to whispers which then died down to hushing, all eyes once again turned to the girl who stood on the boat.
“The families that run the city—we were nothing to them,” she continued, her squeaking voice ringing clear. “They probably didn’t even know we existed despite everything they did. We were probably just like ants to them. Something they didn’t even care or think about when they stepped down on us. Squashing us.” Here, the girl paused and seem to make eye-contact with every single person in the room including Cadence herself. “But we gave them a taste of their own medicine. We showed them what the bite of an ant can do.”
No one clapped. No one clapped, and yet there was determination in the air. All eyes were locked on the girl’s form, all heads nodding in agreement, all hearts coming together as one.
Cadence was missing something. She knew she was definitely missing something. Where was this animosity coming from? Sure, the crime families operating in the Twin Cities kicked in a few dozen people or so but that was business. They never did anything involving children. What was this?
“Tomorrow we’re hitting them even harder.”
Of course they were. Cadence resisted sighing.
“Thanks to Francisco and Frieda, we just got the conductors for the job.” The girl continued. “In three days we’re going for their cover-up joint in the downtown Gamma District. Now, they’ll have to see us.”
So they were planning to hit up a joint in the Gamma District. That obviously was in reference to the Geminorium Gamma dining spot that the Foxmans owned. Yet another front for the conductor circling business. A very, very busy and successful front… But what were these conductors the girl was mentioning? Where in the world were these kids getting conductors from? The Romano Family had tight control of the conductor distribution in this half of the city. Unless—
A clap resounded through the area, and its echo seemed to seep into all corners of the room. Cadence looked around. No one else seemed to be reacting to it despite it ringing loud and clear. So loud and clear that it kickstarted a migraine at her temple.
Cadence swept the area in search of the source and found her gaze settling on the very edge of the boat in front of the speech-giving girl. Sitting cross-legged on the pointed bowsprit of the ship was a woman with wind-tousled, curly dark brown hair that framed her sun-kissed face. Even from this distance, Cadence could see the woman’s long, dark lashes and the almost unnatural glow of her bottle-green eyes under them. The bright white smile that was cracked right beneath those eyes was unnerving. Regardless, the woman was stunning. Her sharp, cat-like features contrasted startlingly with what she wore, however. A loose and partially unbuttoned white blouse was thrown loosely over her toned frame, and a bright red sash hung at her waist. Tucked in that sash was what appeared to be a sheathed sword. She looked more like a picture-book privateer than anything else.
“How wonderful! I can’t help but feel energized when I hear such a passionate speech.” The woman laughed a musical laugh that put Francis’s to shame. The woman swept her gaze across the room before locking eyes with Cadence. “Things are starting to get excited, don’t you think, my mysterious friend?”
Abruptly the doors to the warehouse flew open behind Cadence, and she turned her head away from the woman and towards the doorway. Outlined in the misty darkness of the threshold stood a group wearing blank white masks. Cadence glanced back at the ship. The woman was gone. The girl who had been standing behind the woman was now wearing an expression of shock and horror. Cadence flicked her gaze back to the white-masked figures just in time to see them pull out objects from behind their backs.
There was a bright flash of green light, a terrible whine, and then a squelching sound—like the sound boots made when stomping on muddy wet ground. Cadence felt something warm splatter against her left cheek. Her gaze flicked in the direction. Lying on the ground there was the boy who had been talking to Cadence earlier. Half of his face was missing. Carved out, leaving only red.
As she stared at the blood pooling out from his head, Cadence couldn’t help but think that she hadn’t gotten to know his name. Distantly, someone screamed.
“We are ELPIS,” hissed one of the mask-wearers, “and we are here to bring you sinners to justice for peace.”