Chapter 18: Welcome Aboard

The young white rabbit sat down in front of Casper, a gentle smile on her face. He had heard stories about the Coalition, but he didn't know anything about their leader; just that they were wrapped up in secrecy. She was so innocuous looking, like the most normal person one could think of, just an ordinary white rabbit; but then again, he too was a rather plain looking individual. Wells watched from the sidelines, waiting to see how the conversation went. Ada started them off, "So, new guy, let's get started. Awassi says that you wanted to join because you found a journal of one of our late members?"

Casper nodded, "Yes, ma'am." He said, speaking with a great deal of respect, knowing full well who he was speaking to. "…And not exactly. It wasn't because I found the journal, I always planned on joining at some point, the journal is what sparked it."

"Right, right." She said, with a girlish giggle, she waved her hand. "But, hey, feel free to calm down around me. I'm not like the stuffy chairmen in the Empire."

Casper noticeably relaxed, his slouched posture returning; he was more relaxed at the cost of future back problems.

"So… What was it you wanted from the Coalition?" She asked, "You wanted something from us, right? A favor?"

Casper got ready to question just how she knew that, he didn't remember bringing that part up with her in ear shot. Only Rakkan and sort of Sprag knew of his half backed plans. Then, he stopped for a moment, mumbling under his breath. "Right… That sheep…" Awassi. The mysterious yellow eyed man. Who seems to have a greater presence in the Coalition than he even thought. "I'll get right down to it… Do you take hits?" He said, being blunt. Three people. Three people were the ones he wanted.

"Hits?" Ada said, her red eyes widening. "Um… I'm afraid we're not a mercenary company. We have a good relationship with one, but it's not like we're having assassins just taking out people we don't like. E-especially with the ceasefire going on between the Coalition and Empire right now."

"Ceasefire?" Casper asked, "That's the first time I've heard this. How long?"

"The past few months." Wells chimed in, "Ever since the death of Tham, the Chairman of Architecture."

Casper paused again, looking around the room, now fully slumped in his chair. He raised a finger, opening his mouth to speak… Then lowered it. Then, got ready to speak once more, repeating the same action. "…Okay you're gonna have to slow down, a Chairman's died?"

"He's not dead, Wells," One of the historians across the room called, the peanut gallery continuing to chime in. "He had a stroke and is barely responsive but not dead. His son is permanently filling in for him."

"Thanks, whoever you are." Casper called over to the Jambavan at the end of the room, before looking back to Ada. "I… Have been laying low for a while, after some… Incidents in the past. So, with that distraction out of the way: I take it I need to find someone in the Coalition who knows someone outside of the Coalition to do it?"

"I suppose so?" Ada nodded, crossing her arms. Despite the confidence she put on, there was still a small bit of nervousness in her actions. As she sat there, mumbling the occasional word "Er… There are a lot of people. Just curious, who is it you want to get rid of? Depending on who it is, I'm sure there is someone. If it's an Amalgamate, I'm definitely sure the Divers will help you without question."

"Three people." Casper said, holding up three fingers. He told her the same thing he told Rakkan. Yet this time, he spoke without any tears or hesitation. His heart made stalwart by all the previous confessions. "One of them lives in an Imperial City, so that might be hard… But they aren't anyone of importance. Another one… I don't know where he is. He's somewhere out there. All I know is that he works for the Empire. I can explain more to whoever wants to help me out." Casper then paused for a moment, his last finger held up still.

Ada now looked a mixture of disturbed and fascinated. Discinated if you will. "…And the third one?"

"…The third is a Slaver off in the Weald. The one who gave me this mark on the back of my neck. One I've had I was a baby." He took a deep breath. "I was born a slave. My mother was a slave. My father was a slaver. I want him dead…"

"The hourglass symbol…" Wells commented once more. As it was noticed by more and more people around the room, there were gasps from various people. "That's… That's the symbol of the Timmolt Family?!"

"Yes." Casper said, gritting his teeth. "I understand it's a tall order. One of the most influential, if not the most influential, criminal organization in the civilized world." Powerful enough that they had since moved onto the Weald in recent times. "To be willing to take out someone with ties to the Timmolt. But with him gone, the world will be better off, and I'll be able to rest easy. Not like we're going for the head honcho himself, right?"

Ada contimplated the request. She had met a lot of people coming into the Coalition for odd reasons. Some of them joined because their friends were in it. Others joined because they wanted part of the action. Some joined because they wanted to join specific groups, like Oryctes being a popular one. But she never met someone with a goal that was such a blend of selfishness and selflessness. Not to mention he barely explained the other two, outside of them being Imperial. "Right… But I'm afraid I can't make promises."

"I'm aware… But I'd still like to join." He said, digging his nails into the mark on his neck. "Gotta live for something."

"Guess so," Ada said with a nervous nod, "I also won't ask who the others are if you don't want to explain it. You seem like a guy who keeps your secrets." Clearing her throat, Ada coughed again into a handkerchief, coughing up a small bit of pink fluid "I'm curious what you'll do when you're done with your goals."

Casper shook his head, setting his hand back down on the table. "Well, I'll decide that when I get there. I'll be sure to find something to do around here. As a matter of fact…" Casper looked over his shoulder, at the small research base behind him. "I feel very at home here. This was my kind of thing as a teen."

"Got it, in that case, let's find some middle ground." Ada smiled, "Not gonna lie, but you look a bit out of it. But you got along with Rakkan and the Divers. That big lion sees the good in people and, surprisingly, can see past liars. So I can look past how suspicious you looked there for a second." Her words… They were so straight forward, yet her voice was so quiet and weak. Like a hammer made of paper.

"Was I really that bad?" Casper asked. "It's because I'm a Sphynx isn't it?"

"No no, not at all! One of our leaders is a Sphynx!" She said, hastily.

"I was joking!" Casper replied with equal haste. "Sorry, Gray Ham, right?"

"You've been talking to Sprag, haven't you? But yes, Grayham." She cleared her voice. "So how's this sound. Help out the Coalition. Go alongside us. Get to know everyone. Then, in a few months, weeks even, we'll have you all sorted out and see if we can help you out… Won't be the first time we crossed paths with the Timmolt. We're a team, a Coalition, after all." She said with a small pump of her fist.

"Sounds good to me." Casper said, smiling, seeing as the first stage of his little journey had finally reached a conclusion. "But one more thing, you don't mind me asking."

"Shoot."

"Who's Awassi?" the Sphynx said, straightforwardly. "You seem close to him."

"Him? He's my personal doctor." She said. Then, she tilted her head back, pointing to her neck. Her veins were visible, bulging through her skin, lines and lines were fur was missing. "My Arborpathy is rampant through my body… He knows more about the disease than anyone else here. So he helps me out with it. Without him, I'd be dead and several others would be too… He's weird, but he means well for us."

"I see…" Casper said, trailing off. "I'm sorry about… That. Your condition."

"It's no big deal. Just makes it hard to breath or move sometimes. There's the lethargy. But that's about it. If you have any problems with your Arborpathy, which all Ascendants seem to, talk with him, kay?"

"Will do. Will do." Such words, of course, didn't fully appease his steadily peaking suspcions towards the man. Even still, he swore he could still feel his yellow eyes staring at him in the back of his mind. "In that case, any more formalities?"

"Not really. Sorry for how short and quick this was, but I'm feeling tired. You can imagine, I'm sure." She said, standing up, using the table for leverage. Then, looking over to the researchers, she waved. "Sorry for bothering you all. Taking away from your research." She began to head out, leaving Casper and Wells together again. Ada, as she left the room, walked with a wavering limp. Someone that combined great power and great weakness.

Casper himself stood up and got ready to head off himself, but, before he did, he looked over to Wells. "Hey, kid, don't tell anyone else… But I want to tell you something. Once I'm done with all this."

"I'm not much of a kid… But, sure."

The two of them walked out into the hall of Terminus, able to see Ada going on her way as well. The serval and the sphynx were on their own now. Leaning over the railing just outside the Xha-Laotan room, Casper nodded. "I've been through a lot in these past few years since we last met."

"I was barely a teen then, yeah."

"So I've decided, once I've done what I've done. Killed someone with ties to the Empire, paid my dues, took a hit on the Timmolt Family…" Casper, with little such boldness and confidence in his words, made his confessions to his final plans, "I'm going to kill myself…"

Wells could only stare at Casper. He could only think and wonder, just what had driven the quiet teen he met years ago to this point. What thoughts lied behind his head. He didn't say a thing, other than look away from Casper and nod, feeling a tinge of sorrow in the back of his mind.

"I'm sorry, Wells. But it's all I have left at this point. But I can't die until I've done all I can. Til then, I need to survive… Just as I have been doing my whole life."

It was as his mother always told him. We don't live, we just survive.

Such words that she told him to comfort him. Such words that she told him when she struck him.

That was why she was the second one on his list.

From here, the two stood at the railing for a few more seconds. Neither able to respond after a bold blame such as thought. Suicide. Murder. Vengeance.

It was all too complicated to the aspiring young illustrator, Wells. Yet, he found his was to chime in, as the way Casper was leaning so far over the railing, was making him assume the worst. "Hey man… Let's go on to our bunk." Wells said, trying to find some optimism to quell the rising pessimism. "The boys managed to replicate an old Xha instrument and I've been practicing lately. You want to come?"

Casper scratched his arm. But, then nodded. The young teen was a lot like Rakkan, just far more naive and awkward. So optimistic. Such optimism, unlike Rakkan, must've stemmed from youth and obliviousness… Regardless, dismissed Wells. "Later. I'm going to go around the place. Then meet you there, alright?"

Meeting later seemed good enough for Wells, his ears perking up. "Sounds good to me."

Yeah… He hadn't lost sight of his goals. They had only begun. In his heart, his plan was finally moving forward to its later stages, only now truly beginning. Until they were completed, he'd do just what he had always been doing.

Surviving.