It was still another hour before the Ace of Clubs was empty. Davey, of course, was the last to leave, shutting off the lights as he prepared to make his exit. Pulling out a set of keys from his pocket, he found his coat and hat and made his way to the main entrance. The room seemed so much larger without the audience and the spotlights.
But as he neared the door, he stopped. He felt the weight of someone’s gaze on the back of his head.
He turned, his eyes meeting another’s in the darkness. A silent figure, a man in a black cloak. Davey said nothing, though his gaze traveled from the man’s head to the floor and back up again. Strange as it was, he remained silent. Stranger still, he turned away soon after, recommencing his walk towards the exit.
Imagic continued to watch from his place in the darkness. He hardly moved, not until he heard the click of the key on the other side of the door, not until the Ace of Clubs was locked up for the night. And then he relaxed. At last, he was alone.
Shedding his hiding place, he made his way to the bar. The liquor was safely stashed in a locked case below the counter, but he drifted past the drinks and headed for a small door instead. Behind the door was a stairwell, wide enough for one person only, leading upwards to a small booth above the club. It was in that room that he stopped before a large panel, surveying the switches that controlled the sound and lights. He flicked one, the familiar single spotlight, and set it to its usual hazy glow. Allowing himself a moment of peace, he looked out the booth’s window and watched the light spill onto the stage. It was soothing to watch. The empty stage, the single light. But a minute later he was back down the steps, striding through the sea of tables and chairs.
His small table was already set up in the center of the stage. He stopped at the edge of the light, taking in the sight a second time before stepping forward. A door opened in the distance, its sound amplified by the emptiness of the club, but Imagic remained where he was. He reached into his robes, pulling out his white pearl and placing it on the table, just as he had done countless times before. And all the while he ignored the sound of approaching footsteps.
A light stirred within the pearl, he placed his hands on its surface. The footsteps were louder now, nearing the stage. Still, he did not move, closing his eyes as the glow from the pearl grew brighter.
The steps came to a halt at the edge of the light. Imagic, eyes still closed, turned his face to the ceiling, releasing a long, heavy sigh into the light above. When he opened them again, he found himself staring through a cloud of falling flowers. White, pure, they drifted past his face and came to rest on the floor by his feet. He reached for one, holding the illusion in his hand, and brought it close. But the moment he took his hands off the pearl, the flowers began to fade. A second later, and it was all gone.
“Fleeting…” His voice was quiet. “Like most good things. Feeble, weak…” He turned his head to the darkness, towards the stranger he knew was there. “You’re late.”
Hesitating for a short moment, Yang stepped into the light. His dark eyes were on the floor, his pale lips pulled tight. He said nothing.
“I understand your sister is watchful,” began Imagic, “but I shan’t blame her vigilance for your shortcomings.”
Yang refused to speak. The sweater he was wearing was faded, the shadow from his hood hiding most of his face. Although his hands were clenched, they were thrust in his pockets and invisible to Imagic’s prying eyes.
“Or perhaps it would simplify matters if she were to know,” he continued. “Perhaps the secrecy of this task is too much for you.”
His gaze jumped to Imagic’s. “No.”
He watched, his expression unchanging. “Very well. But be warned, this delinquent behaviour of yours puts both you and your sister at risk. Another slip on your part and I’ll have to–”
“No,” he said again. “D-don’t.”
His expression was unchanged, but there was rage in his eyes. “Are you disallowing me? Or do my ears deceive?”
Yang backed down, though his fists were now at his sides.
“Do you forget to whom you speak? Could it be that you’ve forgotten all I’ve done for you?” Met with silence, he continued. “Where were you and your sister, Aidan? Tell me, before you joined us, where did I find you?”
Yang fought the urge to step out of the light, his eyes now on the pearl instead of Imagic.
“Good as dead, both of you. You had nothing. There was nothing.” He stepped from the table and brushed past him. “I don’t ask much in exchange, Aidan. I really don’t. Just your cooperation.” He stopped at his back and leaned down, his lips inches from his shoulder. “And your… discretion.” Once again, he slipped past him, back before the table. “Who have you been talking to?”
He looked back up. “W-what?”
“Such delicate information should not be taken lightly. Wilson’s talkative nature poses a considerable threat to our secrecy.”
Yang wasn’t angry. He was confused. “I didn’t t-t-t… speak to anyone.”
“And yet he mentions not only the rumours, but the Old Theatre as well?”
Imagic waited, but the question was followed by silence. A sharp intake of breath, a moment, and he turned away.
But he spun on his heel a second later and seized Yang’s shoulders.
“I hear everything, Aidan! Don’t you dare take me for a fool!”
“St-stop!” He struggled under Imagic’s grip. “I d-don’t know where K-Kinetic heard it! I d-d-didn’t t-tell him, I… not anyone!”
“Then who did?”
“I d-don’t know!”
Imagic relinquished his hold, throwing him to the ground. “Then find out who it was! I won’t stand for babblers, not a one. Mark my words, not a single one!”
Yang picked himself off the ground, more irritated than frightened. “I can keep to myself,” he said bitterly. “If anyone d-d-d… needs scolding, it’s you. Why d-did you use the g-g… uh, girl like that? Everyone was watching!”
“I did what I had to,” he said. “If any of you had so much as a lead on that crystal, we wouldn’t be here at all!”
“It was a st-stupid thing to do.” Yang eyed him warily. “Do you know w-what will happen when he finds out?”
“He won’t find out.” Despite his words, his voice was laced with quiet anxiety. “And I know it’s within my grasp. I’m close.” There was that same weary sigh. “So close…”
A short silence followed. Yang shifted his weight impatiently. “C-can I leave now?”
“No.” He snapped out of his trance. “I need you tomorrow. There’s been a change of plans.”
“I’m w-w-working,” he said. “So is Mikau.”
“You can take the night off.”
“Not w-without making Yin suspicious!”
He looked away. “Sakura will be willing, but I feel she may be less dependable.”
“Of course she’s willing, she would d-do anything.” He was tempted to say more, but thought the better of it. “Now can I leave?”
Another pause. Imagic turned back to the pearl. “Any word on the child?”
“None,” said Yang.
“Strange. I wonder…” His blank expression concealed his thoughts. “In any case, I set you to the task of informing Sakura. Any delay on her part will solicit grievous consequences. Are we clear?”
He nodded, lips pulled tight once again. The silence resumed.
“Very well,” said Imagic, placing his hands back on the pearl. “You may leave.”
Yang backed away, his figure falling back into shadow as his footsteps filled the empty room.
The steps came to a halt.
“I can’t accept failure. Not from you, not from anyone.” He waited, turning back to the glowing light before him. “You’re not the only one with family to protect.”
No reply. Nothing, aside from Yang’s fading footsteps. Imagic listened, letting his arms fall to his sides. He was tired. Exhausted.
He heard the familiar click of a distant door and knew he was alone. The light from the pearl began to fade, the silence growing heavier with each passing moment. Desperate as he was for rest, he knew there would be no sleep for him. Not tonight, or tomorrow. And not any night after that.
Placing his hands back on the pearl, forcing his mind into focus, he shut his eyes and steeled himself for the long hour ahead, and for the endless week that was certain to follow.