“I think you’re overreacting.”
“Overreacting? Really?” Anny groaned. “I can’t remember anything. At all. Doesn’t that seem weird to you?”
Kit shrugged. “I dunno. Magic can be finicky sometimes. Why dontcha ask Imagic what happened?”
“You think I didn’t try?” She sighed. “I could barely talk to him. It was like…”
He stared, waiting for her to finish. “Like what?”
“Ugh, never mind.” She turned away from him, jumping off the stage and onto the main floor of the club.
He followed, making a clumsy descent. “I’m just sayin’, all we saw was a bunch of wind and light and stuff. Like a storm, almost. ’Cept it was inside.” He laughed. “Sure freaked out the audience though. I think you toppled some tables!”
“It wasn’t me,” she said sullenly. “I had no idea what was going on.” She paused. “At least, I don’t think I did.”
“Maybe you’re tired,” he said, slipping past her on his way to the back of the club. The crowd had gone, but the mess of chairs and tables still covered the floor. “Maybe tomorrow you’ll remember it.”
She was doubtful, but offered no reply, trying her best to avoid the spilled drinks on the ground and the chairs in her path. She slid her hand over a table and frowned. “What’s this?”
Kit stopped. He glanced at the table, his eyes scanning the symbol branded onto its surface. “A big ol’ apple chopped in half.”
“I know what it is!” she said irritably. “But why is it on the table?” She looked around, realising that every table had the same symbol. “Why is it all over the place?”
Yawning, he brushed her question aside. “Coffee first.”
She looked away from the tables and focused her gaze ahead. She must have tired Kit out with all her questions. She would just have to wait. Another moment of silence, and Anny realised that she was tired too. Eyeing a couch in the far corner of the club, she gave another sigh, eager for a chance to relax.
The Ace of Clubs hadn’t been closed for long, but most of the staff had already gone home for the night. A handful of performers were the only ones remaining, along with a few VIP members lounging about the bar.
Kit took a seat beside Anny on the couch, reaching for a cup of coffee from a nearby tray. But one sip and he spit it back out.
She laughed. “What’s wrong? Is the coffee too ‘yucky’ for you?”
“Always smells better than it tastes,” he grumbled. “Why do I keep forgetting?”
Anny relaxed in her seat, watching as the others took their places in the makeshift lounge. Some had coffee, some had drinks, and others were simply enjoying the quiet atmosphere of the abandoned club. It seemed that this get-together was part of some routine; each performer had their usual spot in the circle. She noticed, however, that Imagic wasn’t present.
But no one bothered to point out his absence, a languid silence stealing over the company. The feverish hours of the early morning had all but ebbed away, fading into the part of the night reserved for more intimate conversation. It was a peaceful end to such a hectic evening.
Telekinetic, the last to appear, took advantage of a vacant armchair and sat down. “Ah, but what a show it was!” he said, already reminiscing. “Goblins will be talking about this one for weeks to come.”
“We all outdid ourselves tonight,” agreed Yin, sitting cross-legged on the floor. She nudged her brother next to her. “Yang and I did exceptionally well, if I do say so myself.”
He offered nothing in reply, staring at the floor.
Ignoring his silence, Yin continued. “I can imagine the Old Theatre struggling to sell tickets for quite some time.”
“Hmph! The Old Theatre!” growled Telekinetic. “I’m surprised they haven’t thrown in the towel. They should have guessed by now that they’re not welcome.”
“They’ve been here longer than the Ace of Clubs,” said a woman by the couch. Anny recognised her from the orchestra, a violinist with short red hair named Sakura. “I heard the building used to be a brothel, few years back.”
“It doesn’t matter to me when they arrived here, I only want to know when they’ll be leaving,” came his cynical reply. “The Old Theatre draws humans to the Market like flies to the dung. They come down every night and clog up these streets for no good reason!”
Anny, though her senses were dulled by her drowsiness, found the sudden turn of conversation to be strangely hostile. Her curiosity piqued, she made a quick scan of the group and realised that Jacky wasn’t around. Neither were any other humans.
“Don’t you start the old human-hating rant,” warned Yin. “Remember, they buy at least half our tickets.”
“It’s not the humans I hate,” grumbled Telekinetic. “It’s the fact that they get to come down here on a rampage, feed off our own dirt like a horde of greedy moles, and then return to the surface while they rest up for their next invasion.”
“Moles don’t eat dirt,” said Kit. “Worms eat dirt.”
“That’s not the point!” He slammed his fist on the table. “The point is that as soon as we want to go up and enjoy the sunlight, those Meddlers slap on another rule or regulation to keep us goblins on a leash.” He rolled his eyes. “No magic aboveground. No gold coins aboveground. No weapons, no local goods, there’s even clothing restrictions! I mean, this is discrimination we’re talking about!”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Sakura. “Pipe down there, Kinetic. You get so righteous when you’re tired. Let’s change the subject.” She poked Anny, sitting half-asleep on the couch. “How about you, kiddo? Did you like the show?”
Anny, aware of the sudden spotlight, tried to shake off her sleepiness. “Yeah, it was great.” But she quickly realised her answer didn’t satisfy. “I mean, incredible! I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Telekinetic snickered. “Yeah, I bet you haven’t. What was it like, I wonder, being up there with Imagic?”
The mention of his name quieted everyone in the circle. The sudden silence only made Anny more nervous. “It was… different,” she said, hesitant to answer under everyone’s gaze. It almost seemed as if they were afraid to speak, too. “This is all kind of new to me.”
Oblivious to the tension, Telekinetic continued to pry. “It was new to everyone. Never thought I’d see someone else touch his precious pearl. He doesn’t let anyone come within arm’s length of it, usually.” There was a wry smile on his face, he seemed to be enjoying her obvious discomfort. “He must think you’re pretty special.”
He had pushed her too far, with that last remark. Her timidity swiftly changed to annoyance. “I wouldn’t know. What’s your point?”
This time Kit was the one who snickered, the smile fading from Telekinetic’s face. Clearly irritated, he opened his mouth to say something more, but stopped as a firm hand clapped down on his shoulder.