Walking back to the group with new blood splatters adorning my clothes, I received a few curious or thoughtful looks upon my return. Most notable of which belonged to Alex, but luckily for me it wasn't disgust or fear I saw in her eyes.
I had been worried about my companion's reaction to my actions as necessary as they may have been, although I will admit to having enjoyed some of it. I knew from what she had told me of her past that she hadn't lived a life of privilege either, but I still knew we would need to address it at some point. For now, however, I was just happy to not be reviled by the one non-family member I seriously cared about, even if I was still a bit too scared to admit it.
I caught her eyes and held them for a second while trying to tell her we could talk about it later, which luckily she understood and nodded at. Deciding that I would need to share with the group some of what I had found and check up on the children before we took care of other things, I turned to the group.
"Marco, firstly, I want to say I'm sorry for the loss of your friend, but luckily his sacrifice was not in vain and the children are safe again. Secondly, after my little chat with the ex-survivor of the kidnappers, I found out some very interesting things. This was their first real journey, after having had a trial run previously to test out the security, and best of all I have a lead on where to find out who is responsible for it all. It doesn't seem like your family was specifically targeted though, so they should be safe after all of this." -Thomas
He had a look of sadness and then relief after hearing what I had said, and spoke up after a few seconds of thought, "Thank you for your condolences Thomas, and especially for helping to rescue my precious niños. I'm glad to hear we don't have to worry once we go back, but what should we do about all of this when we get back to the city?" -Marco
"Alexis and I will be following up on the lead when we get back to the North American city, you won't have to worry about anything other than taking care of your children. We'll do some investigating ourselves and find out who is really responsible and bring them and their colleagues to justice, I promise we won't rest until it is taken care of. But for now, why don't we take care of the criminals and the children." -Thomas
They all seemed to agree to that and went about looting the fallen criminals and their summons, the bodies of the killed summons weren't worth all that much, but we had the room for them and money is money. We all came to the conclusion while we talked as we looted that any money would be going to their fallen comrades family, but we could look through their watches before selling the contents and take anything that we really needed as long as we donated a bit to the pool.
It seemed more than fair to us, but we likely wouldn't be taking much, Alexis and I could make plenty of money and most of the dead were low-level criminals aside from the leader. All that was needed was to take the watches to the Summoners Association and get them scanned and unlocked for us, the criminals would be noted in their database as deceased and their crimes recorded.
With the dead bodies moved and anything of value including weapons and cores taken from the battlefield, we were ready to head back with the children who were starting to wake up now. We had wrapped up their comrade, (who I learned was named Ricardo), in some extra sheets I had in my inventory and Marco stored him in his for the trip so that he could be buried. We couldn't exactly have children riding in a wagon with a corpse.
Marco continued on back to the city alongside his friends, who were sharing their favorite stories about Ricardo. The most notable one consisted of a banana peel, whipped cream, and lots of feathers, which all seemed to have the effect of leaving them gasping for breath as they laughed at the story. Alexis and I would be in a similar state if we didn't have other things occupying our minds, not to mention the distance made it a bit difficult to hear the others and their storytelling.
We shared a look between us that seemed to say now was as good a time as any to start talking about what had happened. I sighed out in acceptance despite any anxiety or reluctance I felt about the topic, it wasn't that I was ashamed of what I had done, I was simply concerned about what she would think of me. She is one of the few people in this world I care about, and her disgust at my actions would destroy me. It's not that I think she will react that way, but there's always a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that she will react exactly as I fear.
"I suppose I might as well address the elephant in the plains, obviously as you probably guessed and/or heard I did indeed torture that man to get the info we needed. I'll wait for you to respond before elaborating, but I want to preface that I feel no remorse for my actions since they were warranted and necessary, but I reserve those sorts of actions for scum like him." -Thomas
She scoffed in return at my mini-speech, "At least you're not trying to hide it or questioning my intelligence. I'll go ahead and clear out any worries you might have, I'm not horrified by your actions, in fact, I'd probably have done similar to him if you hadn't, although I can't say I would have enjoyed it nearly as much. I didn't have much of decent childhood either, so I understand the necessity of killing and torture, at least as a means to an end. I do have a few questions, however." -Alexis
We continued on our slow pace on our mounts as we continued with our discussion, following along behind the rest of the group and watching out for any ambushes. "First, I'd like to know just what you did to him, just to ensure he got the suffering he deserved. I'd also like to know exactly what you learned and what you plan on doing about all of it, I'm with you all the way, but we definitely need to plan on a course of action together." -Alexis
I couldn't help but feel a little bit of relief at the lack of disgust from her, it's not exactly a pretty world we live in, but torture goes a bit farther than most are willing to accept even now. I think the only reason Marco and they didn't intervene is that they had just lost one of their friends to the group, and it happened to the scum that had helped kidnap children for a life worse than death.
"Why don't I recap some of what I found out and then I'll get into what I did to the bastard. Turns out the kids were unsurprisingly going to be sold to pedos and the like, for their entertainment or whatever else. This wasn't the first time they had done it, but luckily not nearly with this amount of children, hopefully, we can save them soon once we take down the operation." -Thomas
"I'm horrified, but not even a bit shocked. It makes sense that this wasn't their first go-around considering how quick about it they were." -Alexis
"Anyways, as you know, there is a man in our city named Walter Crown who is the person we will be hunting down for the other names of the smuggling ring. He is apparently the go-between for the smugglers and his clients, so I'm sure he has all of their names somewhere that we can use. Before I get into what I did to the bastard, what do you think we should do when we get the names from Crown?" -Thomas
She thought for a second or two before replying to me, "Aside from obviously killing Crown for his part in this, we have two options before us, which likely heavily relies on what we find. Our first option would be to personally take out all of the buyers when we discover their names, but that has its' own flaws such as our strength relative to theirs and taking them all out before they connect the dots and flee. Secondly would be to turn over what we discover to the Summoner association and create a joint task force to take them all down at once, but this relies on no info getting out and for people to take action against them." -Alexis
"That's what I was thinking as well, but if clients turn out to just be influential or rich we can get rid of them ourselves. If they turn out to be powerful summoners that we can't take on, then we obviously get the association involved. But if they turn out to be both, then we will redact their names for now and take them on when we are stronger or more equipped. Luckily assassination is a bit different from fighting them head-on, so power won't matter as much if we catch them off guard." -Thomas
We both mulled on that for a second before reaching a consensus, "I'd much rather take them on ourselves if we are capable of it, especially since they are likely rich and influential, and so there's a high chance of info leaking to them. But depending on the number of people, we will likely have to join up with the association to take them all down, but I think there's some middle ground in that. We can take out the rich and influential, or high up members ourselves, and then bring the list to the association to take the rest out." -Alexis
"Sounds like a plan, but it really just depends on what we find out, but I have a feeling we'll be up against some tough odds, gods decree or not. Now I suppose I owe you some satisfaction after all this planning, I just hope you won't think any different of me." -Thomas
She listened as I regaled her in all of the gritty and nasty details of what I did to the man, and even had a bit of a smirk as I told her of how I got Brutus and Jotun play tug of war with his body. After that I just waited for her to say something or react in some way, I still wasn't sure how she would feel about me after all of this, but I didn't hold anything back from her. She was my partner and lies would only hinder us in the future, not to mention no real relationship can be built on lies no matter how small, but this certainly wasn't something small.
Eventually, she brought Hemlock over and gave me a hug, whether it was to reassure me or something else, I just don't know. But I felt much better after she told me, "Thank you for trusting in me, I know it wasn't something easy to admit. Just know I'm your partner for now and ever, we are in this together, through good and bad. It doesn't hurt that he deserved his punishment, not to mention I'm not all that averse to some bloodshed considering the world we're in. Granted I doubt I'd go to the lengths you did, but that's just my personal tolerance for it." -Alexis
It seems that everything had gone fine, and it could have gone a lot worse. Since she seemed to accept this part of me, I suppose in time we will share even more of ourselves. It was a great progression for our relationship I felt like, and hopefully, it continued this way in the future. I don't know how our relationship would continue as, but I was certain at this point we would continue to be in each other's lives.