Thanks to everyone for all the reviews! This should hopefully be the second to last section in Naples, so we'll be getting back to Rome soon as well as moving on towards the climax of the story (yikes!).

Disclaimer: Really, I don't own it.

Part Twenty-Four: Asperges Me

"Pity me, O God, according to Thy great mercy."

Tomas Luis de Victoria, Psalm 51

He could feel his lungs burning as he ran through the dark, smoky, twisting hallways of the factory. Cross didn't care, though, for he had something more important on his mind. To be honest, the entire situation seemed like a coincidence, an extremely bad stroke of luck. Perhaps Noah were unconsciously attracted to the schemes of their other family members. He really doubted that they'd meant to be here on the same day as Neah, and he was certain that the Noah of Destruction wouldn't have thrown them intentionally into danger. Well... he wasn't absolutely certain about that last part, but knowing how much effort Neah had put into this plan made him doubt his own doubts.

Once again he reached the main hallway and his thoughts turned back to Sophia. He severely regretted leaving her alone earlier. Perhaps if he'd insisted on going with her then she wouldn't be trapped in the warehouse oh so very close to mortal peril. His heart beat rapidly when thinking back to the transmission from earlier, the calm and largely indifferent tone of Sanjiv as he told them of her current plight. Cross knew that he needed to calm down and keep a straight head on, but everything seemed to be spinning wildly in a tornado around him, a tornado that wouldn't pass until he knew that Sophia was safe.

When he came to the hall where he'd parted with Sophia naught twenty minutes ago, he found the way blocked by two very large, threatening looking guards. Cross knew instantly that they were with the Camorra. Whoever was negotiating with Tykki and Fiidora must have placed the guards there to keep everyone else out. Something told Cross that asking nicely to pass wouldn't work in this case. He doubted even a busty woman batting heavily made up eyes could get past those guards. It made him want to yell and throw something at their matching bald heads, for as they stood there the clock kept ticking and surely Tykki and Fiidora would realize that there were more than three people in the warehouse...

He had to think. There was no time to fret over the obstruction of two mafia oafs in his path. All it meant was that he couldn't go through the hallway. That left a couple options. The first would be to sneak outside and find a way back into the factory preferably on the other end of the hall. Of course, this could very well mean he'd have to climb into the warehouse itself, making himself a moving target for the two Noah and the Camorra member who most likely carried a gun. That would be a complete waste of time. The only other option would be to somehow get the Noah and whoever else was in there to come outside. It would be far more difficult unless he took off his hat, stood on a box, and started shouting 'Hey! Remember me?! I'm Gitano!' The thought left a bad taste in his mouth. He'd leave that as his absolute last option, for being a moving target would be better than giving away any kind of protection Rhian had given himself and in turn Mana. Then again, Mana would probably run away before they could even bat an eyelash in his direction. Damn juggler.

An older man carrying a crate of steel bolts in front of him tripped over a crack in the floor, causing the little metal bits to scatter across the floor. "Hey!" barked one of the goons. He glowered at the older man. "Watch where you're going! Don't make me call the foreman on you!"

So that was who was in the meeting with Tykki and Fiidora. It made a lot of sense. Even an underground crime ring like the Camorra would want their senior members in high positions in a legal environment. As the older man bowed his head, apologizing profusely, an idea struck Cross. It wasn't a great idea, but it was better than anything else he'd thought up, and he was running on a tight schedule.

He joined the crowd of men who moved in to help pick up the fallen bolts. The second goon now flung a tirade of words at them, causing most of the men to grumble discontentedly to themselves. "I'd like to see him try to carry this crate around," muttered one man darkly.

"He'd probably have an easy time of it," replied another. "Look at the muscles on that guy."

"How come he doesn't carry this instead?" asked Cross, trying his best to seem disinterested.

"He's a pal of Signor Bonaducci," explained the older man who'd dropped the box.

"So that means he gets special treatment," scoffed Cross, rolling his brown eyes. "It's pathetic what pigs like him can get away with."

"What do you mean?" inquired the first man. The others didn't look at him, but Cross could tell they were listening.

"Well," he began, "I've heard that they give special jobs to people who are friends with the boss, easier work that gets more pay." He felt rather silly, talking like this. It reminded him a bit of the office clerks in Headquarters. Luckily, since those women didn't like leaving him alone he had a lot of practice with this kind of gossip.

"How much?" questioned the second man.

"I'm not certain," responded Cross while waving a hand in front of himself. "I imagine it must come as a kind of bonus from Signor Bianchi. I mean, the foremen get paid twenty ducat a month."

He was glad that he'd gone over all this extra information about the factory with the others. Cross noted he'd have to thank Sanjiv for mentioning that bit later.

"Twenty ducats a month!" hissed a boy about his age. "With that kind of money I could pay the rent for an entire month, plus buy bread for my siblings, my parents, and my entire extended family!"

"What would they need with that kind of money?" asked another man bitterly. "A lot of those foremen aren't even married yet. They don't have kids to care for."

"Those pigs!" spat the first man. He said it a bit loudly, startling the other men. Cross, though, took it in stride. After all, he'd wanted to get them upset.

"Quiet!" bellowed one of the guards.

This action only upset the man even more. "I don't need you giving me shit," hollered the man, glaring daggers at the guard. "Now I picked up the damn bolts for you lazy oafs! What else do you meatheads want?!"

The guard, now red in the face from being called both a lazy oaf and a meathead, moved forward from his post to confront the man. While this occurred, the older man who'd originally dropped the box turned to Cross. "Is this a strike?" inquired the man.

Cross thought about it for a moment. He knew that foremen hated when workers attempted to strike. It seemed to be as good of a draw as any for Signor Bonaducci.

"Um... yes," he replied. The men around him began to talk hurriedly amongst themselves.

Suddenly the boy who'd complained about the twenty ducats stood up on the box of bolts. "STRIKE!" he bellowed.

The two guards looked at each other stunned as the workers dropped their things and began shouting. Soon there were hundreds of men milling about throwing boxes and bits of unfinished steel. Several men jumped on the guards and began pummeling them. It hadn't been exactly what Cross had had in mind, but it seemed to be doing the job. Around a dozen foremen and other supervisors descended on the scene, attempting in vain to return the men to order.

Cross found himself being pushed through the undercurrent of this riot, feeling slightly guilty but rather pleased with himself at the same time. He must have caught the trouble bug from Mana and Neah at some point in his life, although he couldn't think of an instance where any of their schemes made things get this out of hand. He came into the main workroom, a good distance from the place in the hallway where he'd started this mess. Unlike in the blaster room the smoke here rose in pillars from men burning wood, paper, or anything else flammable that they could get their hands on. Cross was suddenly hoisted up above the crowd by a few of the men he'd been talking to in the hallway.

"Hey!" he spluttered. "What the hell are you doing?! Put me down!"

They ignored his protests and continued along their merry way, singing some spirited number in Italian that was probably some union's ballad. He continued to curse them out with every single derogatory term he could think of (Mana had been teaching them to Allen until Neah had finally put a foot down blithering about how it wasn't polite or some shit like that) until he found himself face to face with several menacing looking men. The men who'd been carrying him about ceased their singing although the strike continued behind him. Cross noticed a much smaller better dressed man in the back. He peeked out from behind one of the bigger men and looked them over. Finally, he said, "Bring the redhead up to my office."

The large man closest to Cross grabbed him by the arm and began pushing him up the stairs. He looked back to see the men wave mournfully at him before scurrying away. "Cazzo," muttered Cross.

It wouldn't be until later that he'd realize that he'd lost something extremely important. Somewhere, most likely due to all the shoving he'd experienced on the lower floor, he'd lost the rosary that'd hung around his neck…


Sophia knew that voice. She felt the tension in her muscles and her throat melt away for it wasn't Fiidora. Carefully she poked her head out from behind the crate. "Mana!" she whispered. "What are you doing here? How did you even get inside without them seeing you?!"

He gave her a wicked grin. "Never underestimate someone who has lived among acrobats," he chided, jumping up onto the crate. "I saw Tykki and Fiidora come out through the wall, so I climbed up on the other side and went through a window. Don't worry, though. I closed it before climbing down. They won't even notice the difference."

"But they locked the door!" exclaimed Sophia. She clambered onto the crate to stand next to Mana. "They'll be able to see that it's unlocked when they come back."

"Did they lock it from the inside or the outside?" asked Mana, huffing a bit in thought. It reminded her a bit of Cross when he was thinking deeply about something. Seeing this look on Mana made her want to laugh.

"The outside," responded Sophia, a bit unsure of where he was going with this train of thought.

"Hmm..." said Mana. He jumped off the box and began walking towards the door. Sophia followed him, looking about warily in case if Tykki or Fiidora suddenly returned. Mana began examining the door like one would go about observing a new species of plant. He paced back and forth, lay down on the ground to look through the crack under the door, put his eye up to the crock between the door and the door jam, and even wiped a gloved finger across the handle and licked whatever came off of it. It didn't seem to bother Mana, but Sophia was certain her face must have been green at that point. "Steel handle, must be new. Of course, that isn't surprising since we're in a steel factory. From what I'm seeing I think it's a Mortise lock that's also secured by a large latch."

"Alright," stated Sophia, "but what are we going to do about it? We can't pick this lock open."

Mana looked at her aghast. "Sophia!" he cried, placing a hand over his heart. "You pick locks? Did Neah put you up to it?! That rascal!"

"No!" she retorted, waving her hands in front of her. "It's just what I've read in books."

Mana sighed. "Good," he commented. "As long as it wasn't you two picking locks after you left Walker Manor... Although it does bring to question your taste in literature-"

"Mana, we don't have time for this," complained Sophia, tapping her foot a bit impatiently. "They could be back any minute."

"Right," agreed Mana. He rubbed his hands in front of him before pulling several things out of his bag: a long piece of fishing line, a small metal hoop, a stick that she'd seen him use to twirl dinner plates, and a knife. After cutting the line into two pieces, he handed them and the hoop to Sophia. "Tie one end of each of those to the hoop."

"Okay," she replied. Quickly she did as she was told and handed the new contraption off to Mana. "Now what?"

"Hold on a minute while I feed this through the crack at the top of the door," he stated. Sophia watched as one half of the fishing line and then the metal hoop disappeared through the crack. It banged lightly against the door as Mana continued feeding the other end through about a third of the way. He began moving slowly towards the right until they heard the sound of metal hitting metal. "That's the latch! Now I just have to get the hoop around it... alright I think I have it. Now use that stick to pull the other end of the line back under the door."

Sophia got down on her belly, the stick in hand. She could barely make out the fishing line on the floor, but with a bit of effort she spotted it rising off the floor like a dancing serpent in a basket. The stick luckily fit under the door and it was only half a minute before she dragged a portion of the slack line under the door. "I have the line," she told Mana.

"Good!" he quipped. While she'd been working on the line he'd bent down to grab the knife. "I'm going to slide this between the door frame and the bolt to loosen it up. Then you pull up on that end of the fishing line to open the latch while pushing down on that door handle- mind you, use a cloth or something. It won't do any good if they can smell you on the door handle. My family has some pretty outrageous senses. Last, we'll both pull back, and the door should open."

"The door should open?" she questioned as she pulled out a kerchief from Mana's bag.

"Well, there's a really small chance that it won't, but I'm not a scientist or whatever Cross would call himself," he elaborated with a gesture of the knife. Realizing that it would be a bad idea to swing it too far, Mana restrained himself. "I do know, though, that the door definitely won't open if we don't try."

Sophia knew he was right about that. "I'm ready," she said a bit nervously.

Mana gave her another grin before turning back to the door. "Here we go!" he called out cheerfully. There was a bit of a hitch in his own voice, making her feel a little better about her own anxiety. He slid the knife into the gap between the door jam and the bolt. When he ceased moving Sophia pulled on her end of the fishing line. She heard the click of the latch opening, and when she pushed on the handle it swung just like it would if the door were unlocked. Without even looking at each other they pulled back, and as Mana had said the door did open.

Sophia gasped in surprise. Even Mana looked like he couldn't believe that his trick had worked. However, they didn't pause to celebrate this small victory. Mana picked up his bag with one hand, and Sophia hurried out of the warehouse. He continued pressing on the bolt as he moved slowly to the other side of the door, closing it behind him. Once the door was again closed, Mana finally pulled his knife away from the bolt. It clicked back into place. Sophia pulled the hoop and the fishing line off the door and coiled the two loose ends around the hoop. Finally Mana pushed the latch back down.

"There!" he exclaimed while placing the knife back into his bag. He took the stick, the kerchief, and the fishing line bound hoop from Sophia and replaced them in his bag, too. "They won't even know the difference. Now let's get going!"

They took off down the hallway towards what seemed like a shouting crowd. Because of the noise Sophia nearly missed Mana asking about Neah.

"What?" she inquired.

"Have you heard from my brother?" he finally yelled over the noise. His gaze seemed serious and utterly frightened. It was so very unlike him- unlike the Mana she'd been living with the past half of a year- that it unsettled her.

"No," she responded truthfully. "I haven't even heard from Cross or Sanjiv. He probably still hasn't gotten the message."

"R-right," replied Mana. She could see the disappointment written on his face. Now she understood why he'd come to the factory. Neah, though, would probably have an aneurysm if he even thought about the idea of Mana coming to look for him. He'd say something along the lines of not needing help because he knew what he was doing and he's the one with Noah powers. The younger Walker had a way of making everything that someone did out of instinct seem like a foolish idea. It couldn't change the fact that the sentimentality of Mana's presence made her smile.

Her thoughts were hijacked once they reached the opening of the corridor. In the hall were swarms of people running about smashing things in a mob-like mentality. Sophia was pretty certain that she saw someone swinging a long steel rod about in the hall. However, she didn't have much time to take in the scene of the riot for the way was blocked by a thug. His overalls were torn and the blues of his eyes only stood out more because of the black eye on the left side of his face. He looked positively furious to see them.

"What the fuck?!" he thundered. "Where the hell did you two come from?!"

Mana put on a strained smile and took a step forward, flourishing his hands like he often did. "Well, you see, sir, we were in the lavatory when we heard all of this noise-"

"I didn't authorize you to use the lavatory," spat the man. He sauntered forward until he was inches from Mana's face. "Furthermore, there isn't a lavatory down this corridor, at least not for employees."

Mana laughed nervously, his bravado fading fast. "Oops, I forgot," he muttered.

"Where the hell did you come from?!" repeated the thug. He drew back a fist, most likely to pummel the juggler into the next century before dragging his body off to talk with Signor Bonaducci, so Sophia pushed Mana down before punching him in the stomach. This decision wasn't the smartest she'd ever made, and the thug didn't seem to be placated. In fact, he looked even more pissed. The only good thing was that her fist didn't hurt despite the thug being made up almost entirely of muscle. He just wasn't as strong as a member of the Clan of Noah.

The thug pinned her up against the wall. "DID YOU THINK YOU WERE BEING SMART, YOU SON OF A BITCH!" he shouted. Sophia could feel spit flying out of his mouth hitting her face. She wanted to cringe, but she remained firm. Mana looked up from his spot on the ground, his expression turning from shock to fear once he saw the thug holding her against the wall. "I WAS THINKING OF GOING EASIER ON YOU, BUT NOW YOU CAN GO FIRST! THIS IS A HELLO FOR YOUR BOSS, CAMORRA BASTARD!"

This definitely was not what she'd been hoping would happen. The only thing that could make this situation any worse would be if she egged him on, telling him to give it his best shot. She braced herself for the impact, but it never came. As the shadow of the man's fist crossed her face he suddenly faltered and dropped her. Sophia stumbled a bit upon her feet hitting the ground, but she was oriented enough to see the boy who had felled the thug. He didn't appear much older than herself if the lack of any sign of facial hair on his olive complexion could tell her anything. In fact he could potentially be even younger for his muscled physique looked odd. Dark brown curly hair hung limply around his round face. The boy offered Mana a hand up, which the juggler took hesitantly. "Well, here goes my cover," muttered the boy.

"Pardon?" asked Mana. Sophia punched him lightly in the arm, causing him to recoil more out of surprise than pain.

"Thank you for helping us," she stated with a slight nod of her head. From what she could recall that was the only way she'd ever really seen boys show their appreciation. She wondered briefly if they ever got tired of all that head nodding.

The boy shrugged. "I don't really care for Pietro anyways," he replied nonchalantly. "He's just a bid nuisance, so I'm more than glad to have him out of the way."

"If you don't mind me asking," interrupted Mana, "why did you do that? I know we were in a bit of a tight spot, but most rational people wouldn't go up against a giant like that guy even if they think he's a nuisance."

A cross look came over the boy's face. "I keep my reasons to myself, thanks," he sniffed. "Now I'd suggest you two keep moving if you don't want to be caught up in the mess out there."

Some of that mess staggered into the hallway at that moment; a huge, bruised, sweaty mass almost identical to the one on the floor. Little streaks of blood dripped down this thug's chin due to the recent loss of several teeth. However, he was still very cognitive for upon looking down at the floor he recognized his compatriot immediately. "What the hell, Ricci?" blurted the conscious thug. "How the fuck did two little worms like these guys take Pietro out?!"

The boy- who Sophia presumed must be named Ricci- only paused a moment before launching an attack against the new thug. They weren't very smart tactful blows like the ones Sanjiv seemed to prefer, but rather hard impact punches aimed at the face and kicks below the waste in an attempt to destabilize the bigger man. At first, the second thug only blocked the blows.

"What the fuck, Ricci?" he seethed in confused outrage. He seemed to realize the true story behind his unconscious comrade, for his countenance turned very venomous in a matter of minutes. "You son of a bitch! How much did those Camorra bastards pay you to become a turncoat?! Just wait until I take you to Signor Bonaducci! See if you feel so good about being an underhanded bastard then!"

Sophia crept over to stand beside Mana. "Do you think we should help him?" she questioned, gesturing to Ricci.

He gaped at her. "Sophia, there's a difference between helping people and just being reckless in the sake of virtue. This case would be one of the latter," he responded.

Perhaps Mana could be satisfied with that validation, but the boy Ricci really looked outnumbered. The thug by now had knocked him back a couple times even though Ricci had probably done him more damage. From having observed his fighting style more, it was easy for her to tell that he was used to fighting with a small knife.

Ricci procured such a weapon from his left shirt sleeve and began pushing the fight towards the opposite wall. The second thug eyed the knife cautiously, waiting for the opportunity to wrench it away from the boy and use it himself. Sophia did not want to see it come to that. It would be easy enough now to leave, but she couldn't very well abandon Ricci after he helped them. Sure, he might be a spy as the second thug seemed to conclude, and a gang member to boot, but there was the chance that he wasn't so ingrained in the underworld. To leave him here to kill or to be killed just wouldn't be right. She took Mana's bag from him and began looking around inside. He yelped lightly in protest, but stopped upon seeing her objective.

"Weren't you listening to what I said earlier?" hissed Mana. As he continued to berate her judgment Sophia took a pin from the bag and crept up behind the thug. When he seemed distracted enough, she swung the pin at his head with all her might. It broke with a loud crack, but the impact did its job. As the second thug tottered about Ricci took the chance to knock him out like the first one.

"Well that's just perfect," he mumbled darkly. He inclined his head just as she had earlier, but didn't voice his approval. "I won't be able to get away with this one."

"I don't really think it matters much," said Sophia. "So these guys were with another gang?"

"Cosa Nostra," stated Ricci, while spitting on the ground. "Of course, they thought I was with them, but loyalties lie elsewhere as Guiseppe just told you. I can tell you're not with them or the Camorra. Don't recognize either of you. Still, why was Pietro after you?"

"Wrong place at the wrong time," sighed Mana, looking up at the ceiling. "It seems to be happening a lot today. I hope it doesn't become a habit."

"Well, the best thing you two could do is leave, then," remarked Ricci. He jerked a thumb towards the hall. "I doubt anyone will care to stop you."

"Right," commented Sophia. "Before we go, though, could I ask you something? Have you seen-"

"A boy about your age?" asked Mana. He looked at the boy intently, completely serious with desperation pouring through his eyes. Sophia realized that he must have been more worried about Neah than she'd originally thought. "He isn't very tall, and he's on the thinner side. Messy black hair… sort of broody… oh, and he might have been wearing glasses. Please tell me you've seen him."

The boy thought for a bit. "Can't say I have," admitted Ricci with a shrug. "Of course, I just might not have noticed him. I was a bit too preoccupied with the redhead that started this whole mess."

"Cross did this?!" inquired Mana incrediously.

Sophia felt her stomach clench uncomfortably. He'd probably started this whole mess in order to get Signor Bonaducci, Tykki, and Fiidora out of the warehouse. "Did you see where he went?" she questioned.

"The redhead?" replied the boy. He jerked his head towards a flight of stairs. "They took him up to Doriano Bianchi's office. Don't know what they'll do about him. Signor Bianchi doesn't seem too happy with him."

"I wouldn't think so," murmured Sophia. She nodded her head at Ricci. "Well, we'll be off, then. Thanks for the information."

She walked over to the stairs and began climbing up. Someone grabbed the railing beside her. "You're going up to Doriano Bianchi's office?" inquired Ricci, his expression aghast.

"I don't see why not," she responded. "The redhead is one of our friends, so we've got to do something."

"We?!" asked Mana. "I don't think this is a good idea. He probably doesn't want us to follow him up there, anyhow. We should just go, Soph-ocles."

Ricci fixed Mana with an odd look before turning back to her. "You can't do anything about your friend. Most likely Doriano Bianchi will ask his advisors for their opinion and they'll tell him to turn your friend over to the authorities. He'll be out in about a month- maybe only a few weeks if he's really good."

"That's not very reassuring," retorted Sophia. She could feel a bit of color come to her cheeks. "He's up there because of me, so I'm going up there even if you won't go with me… Manuel. Besides, he might know where our… other friend is."

Mana bit his lip and looked between her and the hallway. Ricci now fixed her in a bizarre look, obviously not entirely convinced about their personal motives but not daring to question them. With a sigh Mana ambled over to the stairs to follow her to the office.

Ricci threw his hands in the air. "Do what you like," he grumbled. "Good lot of help my intervening earlier is doing. You two just walk right into danger. Don't expect me to help you again."

"We won't," she replied simply. "Take care of yourself, Ricci."

His face flushed red. "What is up with you two?!" he spluttered. He pointed at Mana. "You're just carrying around a bag of blunt objects, and both of you not knowing each other's names. And now I think your friend is coming on to me cause he's acting all sweet and… and cute! What's with that?! Why do I like this?! Am I supposed to like this?!"

Mana and Sophia shared a nervous glance. "What are you talking about?" he asked innocently. "Sophocles is always like this, though I'll admit he's a cute little bugger. Maybe he should become a drag queen. Well, we've got to be going. Ta-ta!"

He grabbed her wrist and began dragging her along like one would a small child. She could hear Ricci continue to fume behind them. At the top of the stairs she pulled her arm away from Mana. "Why'd you do that?!" she questioned. "And a drag queen? Really!"

"Sorry, it was a close call," he responded while pushing his bangs out of his face. "I don't think he ever would have left us alone if he found out you were a girl. I know I told you to act like a lady before, but you can go ahead and chuck all the 'thank yous' and nice stuff out the window for now. Can't be seducing people on the fly, Sophia."

"Seducing?" she blubbered. Mana winked at her before putting his game face back on. "I didn't do anything!"

"Ah, naivety," stated Mana dramatically. "It has it's time and place. Right now we need to see what we can do about Cross and then get back downstairs and find Neah. Try contacting Sanjiv to see if he has heard from my brother."

Sophia pulled her pendant out of her shirt and was about to speak when she heard a voice. "What the hell is this?" the voice asked. It was the voice of a man now familiar to Sophia: Signor Bonaducci. He might have continued speaking, but it was out of their range, for the transmitter cut out.

They looked at each other over the silent transmitter. Someone had picked up a transmitter, and it belonged either to Cross or Neah, for Sanjiv could have cut all the lines like that. Mana bit his lip, his thoughts obviously elsewhere. Collecting herself, Sophia strode forward. It would do no good to stand there and fret. As soon as they got to Cross they'd be able to determine who'd lost their transmitter. "Let's go," she said, glancing back at Mana.

"R-right," he agreed. They ran off down the hallway, trying to keep their footsteps as quiet as possible.


He'd been very lucky. Perhaps it had been his Noah senses that led him to choose the third warehouse, but it didn't really matter to Neah. He now stood inside the warehouse full to the brim with sleeping akuma. Neah felt a smirk spread across his face. Everything from here on out would be relatively easy. Well, as easy as rewiring akuma could be. He'd have to ask Cross his opinion on that one later.

Silently he strolled through the aisles counting the number of akuma in his head. There had to be at least a hundred. If they could rewire twenty-five before the others realized anything was wrong and he had to order those ones to self destruct then he'd consider this day successful. Of course, they might get lucky, for there was a chance that some of the akuma might convert willingly. Akuma were like pack-animals. If one could convince ten of them to do something then often the others would follow suit. He knew this from experience, albeit it be a rather silly occurrence (Uncle Wisely hadn't known what to think when he'd returned to his townhouse in London to find all the furniture bolted to the ceiling. No one, though, had suspected sweet little eight year-old Neah).

Neah returned to the outside of the warehouse and shut the door lightly. He reached into his pockets to retrieve those ugly glasses- he didn't understand why Cross hadn't thought of some better kind of transceiver for him- that he'd taken off once he'd left the main workroom. Just as he raised the transceiver up to his mouth, he heard an unfamiliar voice over the air..

"What the hell is this?" asked a gruff, angry voice. Before the voice could continue, the line cut out. Neah listened to the empty silence that followed.

He wasn't entirely certain what he should do. Obviously someone had lost their transceiver either through accident or through force and Sanjiv had cut the line. It was probably the best choice, for it would be impossible for someone to track the other transceivers now. Still, it left to question what the hell was happening. Neah began pacing back and forth going through options in his mind. His most viable options at the moment were to either wait here or go back and see what had happened to the others. He was certain that Mana was fine, and Sanjiv had the akuma kid with him plus he was a Bookman. They were about as stealthy and tight-lipped as humans came. So if anyone was in danger it was Cross or Sophia. He shoved his hands into his pockets and frowned.

"They'll be fine," dismissed his Inner Noah. Neah wished that he were as certain as the Inner Noah. Still, he didn't have too much time to worry about it. He'd have to take a chance. His head turned back to the door behind him and he stopped pacing. "Take the risk. You'll never know unless you try."

Yes, he wouldn't know unless he tried. Even his heart and his gut agreed with this statement. There was, though, the tiniest inkling, a voice in his head that protested. Many people did say that it was better to be safe than to be sorry. Was he willing to accept the consequences if something bad were truly occurring?

Neah put his hand on the door handle. He trusted everyone he'd brought with him today. Cross and Sophia were both very capable and could take care of themselves. Besides, if experience told him anything Mana was the most likely candidate for losing a transceiver. He'd probably left his hat on the steps of the church and some disgruntled passerby had picked it up. Mana was a slob (he could barely stand sharing a room with his brother- of course he wasn't much better in the cleaning up department). Neah ducked back into the warehouse and shut the door quietly behind him.


"Why are we still sitting here?" asked Allen. Sanjiv looked up from his journal to the kid. The kid stared at him inquisitively like any child might do, so he decided it would be best to supply him with an answer.

"I'm waiting for them to speak," he replied. "I'm still taking a log."

The kid frowned at him. "I know why we came here in the first place, but I don't think that the old plan applies anymore," he said. He crossed his hands in front of his chest. "Shouldn't we go help them?"

"You can do as you see fit," stated Sanjiv. "I will remain here."

"Why?" inquired Allen.

Sanjiv wondered just how Bookman had survived travelling with him at the age of ten. He'd forgotten until now just how many question children posed. "I'm a Bookman," he commented.

"So?" questioned the kid with a quirk of his eyebrow.

It was the same thing every time. Neah had asked the exact same question of him when they'd first met. "A Bookman must never interfere directly unless it is required for his own safety," recited Sanjiv. "He is to remain unbiased and only observe the facts around him."

Neah had stopped asking questions at this point, as had Mana and Sophia. Cross hadn't even bothered to ask about it, although he seemed to have a great understanding for this fact. Allen, however, didn't stop there.

"That sounds like a lot of bullshit to me," he grumbled. "How exactly are you supposed to define 'directly'? And I know the old man and yourself sometimes trade information for more information. I don't think that your safety hangs in the balance most of these times. Colluding with a traitor seems like a stretch under that whole 'unbiased' nonsense. From the way I see it your mentor and yourself have chosen a side. Is this doctrine truly useful at all?"

Sanjiv sat there in silence. For once his mind was completely blank, no histories or facts or thoughts of any kind to interfere. It was an unsettling kind of blankness, not the comfort of a clear mind brought about by meditation. No one before had bothered to question his principles. They were steadfast, permanent, and unquestioned. But now this one boy- or rather an echo of a boy, for he was an akuma- had put a crack in the logic of the Bookman Doctrine.

Allen stood up and began walking towards the door. "I'm going to see if Mana is still in the piazza," he remarked.

Letting the akuma kid go didn't seem like the best idea considering his situation and the absence of any kind of controlling presence. He weighed his options in his mind more carefully than he'd been accustomed to in the last couple years. It was like he was at the beginning of his apprenticeship once again. Helping the kid look for Mana would probably appear too involved, not to mention if they went all the way to the factory. Bookman would have him rewriting scrolls for weeks if he did that. If he stayed here, though, Allen could lose control of himself. Naples was the most populous city in the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. The Black Order and the Clan of Noah would surely notice if an akuma went wild in the middle of the main piazza.

His thoughts were interrupted as the radio crackled to life. He took up his pen to write down what came out, but he didn't take anything down. An unfamiliar voice spoke, "What the hell is this?"

Without thinking twice Sanjiv unplugged the radio from the jack in the wall. He looked at the silent box and down at his journal. Someone had gotten hold of one of the transceivers, and he wasn't entirely sure which one. It hadn't crossed his mind to check to see which one was transmitting. He ran through all the possible scenarios leading up to a stranger obtaining one of the transmitters in his mind, each one worse than the one before. Sanjiv stopped thinking after a moment, for he suddenly realized that this wasn't a thought process: he was feeling. He was worried. A Bookman shouldn't feel anything least of all worry.

Sanjiv looked at the open journal once again. He really should stay in the cafe and continue his log. But nothing was as it should be today. He took out some coins to leave a tip for the proprietress and shoved his journal in his bag. There would be time to finish it later. Right now he needed to do something, anything to keep his mind off of what he shouldn't be feeling. Carrying the radio with him he left the cafe.

The sun was high in the sky now. People milled about enjoying the warm early summer air. Open air cafes were full to the brim as those who didn't have work at the moment enjoyed lunch under broad cloth umbrellas. Sanjiv didn't see Allen anywhere, probably because he'd run to the piazza. He took a moment to duck into an alley where he grabbed a broken handle of a shovel and smashed the radio in half. It was a precautionary measure, for he wasn't certain if the Noah or some of their akuma would be able to trace the transmitter back to the main radio should the lost transmitter fall into their hands. Cross wouldn't be too happy about it, but the young Bookman knew the scientist was capable of fixing the radio in a few minutes with the help of magic.

He ran down several more streets in his search. Just before reaching the main piazza he finally caught sight of the kid. Allen sat next to a dustbin cradling his head in his hands and whimpering. "I can do this. I c-can do this. I'm in c-c-c-c-control-"

"Allen?" Sanjiv asked. The boy looked up at him, the whites of his eyes pitch black and his pupils flickering from gray to red to gray over and over again. He was obviously close to his limit. "Someone else has picked up one of the transceivers. I'm going to see if Mana is still in the piazza because I can't communicate with them through the transceivers anymore. After that I'm heading outside the city to the hill just on the outskirts. How about you go ahead and get out of here."

Shakily the akuma kid stood and nodded his head in agreement. "Tell Mana I'm sorry that I couldn't come," he breathed out through his teeth. Allen then retreated in the opposite direction.

The main piazza yielded no sign of the juggler, causing Sanjiv to frown. Either someone had grabbed him or Mana had left of his own accord. He was pretty certain it was the latter, for he didn't hear anyone mumbling about a boy being grabbed from the main square. There was talk of a coach, though, that had come through earlier in the morning, a black coach that had a silver rose cross on each door. Sanjiv didn't even have to overhear people talking about the Black Order to know that one of their members was in Naples. It meant that he'd have to be more careful in his investigation of the piazza. For all he knew they could be looking out one of the windows directly at him.

However, moments later he knew that they weren't anywhere close to the piazza. At first it had been one bang, but then the gunshots followed the first in a torrent. People in the piazza looked about in confusion, but no one appeared to be shooting or being shot. Sanjiv recognized the sound, though. During his training he'd seen all kinds of gun fights and wars, but only one kind of gun made the sound that he heard now. It was the gun of an akuma. At first, he was afraid that Allen hadn't made it outside of the city.

That fear was soon quieted by a young man who ran into the piazza. He appeared scared but excited at the same time. Brushing his sweaty mop of hair out of his face he exclaimed, "There's a fire at Bianchi's steel factory!"

Some of the locals began running in the direction of the factory calling to friends in excitement or crying out the name of a friend or family member they knew worked there. Others ran to check on homes or other property nearby the site. It always dumbfounded Sanjiv that humans always ran directly towards danger instead of fleeing it.

He wondered if Mana was in that crowd of people looking for Neah, Cross, and Sophia. The juggler was always the kind to be more concerned about the safety of those he considered close friends or family over his own, even if he scared easily. Sanjiv stood in the piazza as it emptied contemplating what he should do now. He could go observe what was probably an akuma caused fire. The Black Order, however, was sure to be there, especially if one of the people travelling in the coach had been an exorcist. His presence wouldn't help matters if they saw Sophia, Cross, or one of the Walkers with him. That exorcist Indivar Khanna probably had spread word about Bookman and himself, and that their allegiance appeared to be with the Millennium Earl. It really was a nuisance having a person with a personal vendetta against him out there. Khanna's hatred of his clan only seemed to validate Allen's earlier points.

Plus he'd told the kid he'd come meet him outside the city. He would've certainly noticed the fire and the akuma shots ringing inside of it. No doubt the kid would be frantic by now. It would be best for him to go prevent- attempt to persuade, yes that was better- the kid to stay away from the factory. Having thoroughly rationalized that he wasn't abandoning history for his own interests, Sanjiv ran towards the outskirts of Naples.


When he'd reached the main hall where the riot, or the strike as he soon learned, had started Signor Bonaducci wasn't pleased to find his two guards being beaten to a pulp by a mass of workers. It took himself and five other large Camorra members to break the two guards away from the fight. After scolding them, he moved on to trying to suppress the strike by first locking the door. He wasn't letting one damn man- Cosa Nostra, Camorra, or even just a plain civilian- leave their shift. The two Noahs would be back soon, so he had a limited amount of time to get this under control.

He passed the hallway again and gave an angry yell, for Guiseppe and Pietro were now knocked out on the floor. A fat lot of good they were as guards. The boss would definitely be hearing about this. Before he could continue on, though, he stepped on something hard. Bending down to the floor, he saw a wooden rosary clamped between his foot and the hard ground. Signor Bonaducci scowled. Picking it up he said to himself, "What the hell is this? I've told that damn brat Bianchi before that these stupid things are dangerous. Well, I'll just have to prove it to him this time.

He pocketed the rosary and stormed off, hollering orders to the other foremen and guards along the way. High above his head in the rafters, a shadowy figure watched him leave. After a couple minutes the figure climbed higher up into the rafters until they jumped onto one of the landings of the upper floor, where they then disappeared into the shadows…

Terribly sorry for the long wait between updates. School has been very time-consuming this semester, and I have finals coming up next week. Luckily I'll have a month after that to do nothing but write! :) Please review!