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“Let me just see if he’s awake,” Nove said outside the large room the Red Company had given over to her and the children.

“He? How many of the children are here?” Kano asked, confused.

“Just Fifty-Seven. The others are all out working or doing errands.”

“What? I thought I told you not to let them work.”

“I know, I know, but things seemed to be settling down, and Bitest needs the help. Besides, they want to work.”

Kano was surprised and a little impressed at how productive they were being. If they were keeping that busy, they must be fitting into life in Shorinstown just fine.

“What did she mean just fifty-seven?” Ren asked after Nove had gone inside. “How many children are there?”

“That’s not what she meant,” Kano said, chuckling at Ren’s understandable confusion. “There’s only one of them here right now. Fifty-Seven is his name. All the children have numbers for names, remember?”

“Oh, right. That’s a strange choice.”

“What is?”

“Using numbers for names. Doesn’t it ever get confusing?”

“Not really,” Kano said. It was a little amusing for someone whose name was taken from part of their creator’s to be criticizing someone else’s name. Though she supposed the same could be said of her. At least Ren had chosen her name. Then again, maybe Ren assumed that was how everyone got their name. She didn’t exactly know many people’s names. Or people, for that matter.

Pulling the door open and sliding her bulk out, Nove said, “Okay, come on through. But try not to make too much noise. There was an accident at the factory, and he’s still recovering.”

“Are you sure this is a good time?” Kano asked. “We can always come back later if he’s resting. Besides, are you sure he’ll be okay meeting Ren?” She glanced at where Ren’s excess flesh had pooled on the ground, forming a colorful barricade that took up most of the corridor.

“I doubt he’ll mind. If anything, he’ll probably appreciate the company. He’s been quite restless lying around here while the others are out working.”

Out of points to argue and unsure why she was arguing in the first place, Kano relented. “Fine, let’s go.”

Slipping past Nove, Kano went in. Amidst scattered blankets and clothes, Kano spotted Fifty-Seven among them. He was staring at the door, gray eyes wide with expectation. His expression didn’t seem to change upon seeing Kano, but she’d never found the children to be very expressive.

“Hi,” she said.

She almost felt like she should introduce herself, given that she’d never really met the ghoul before, but that was ridiculous. Obviously they’d been around each other several times, and he must know who Kano was. Unless Nove had found another source of children and brought them here with the others.

“Hello,” he said, voice high-pitched and quavering. Kano wondered how Nove even remembered if they were male or female. They didn’t look or sound any different.

“Are you ready to meet my friend Ren?”

Still wrapped in his blanket, he nodded.

Kano turned back. “Okay, you can come on through.”

Fifty-Seven watched intently as the wave of flesh squeezed its way through the doorway. When a copy of Kano formed beside the actual Kano, he sat up and grinned. “Wow, that’s amazing. Can you do me as well?”

Both Kanos looked at each other, and the real one nodded. Ren’s current form melded back into her, and she created a new, smaller body. It was less exact than her copy of Kano, but it still bore a striking resemblance to Fifty-Seven. Other than being far more colorful than the original.

Ren slid it across the floor until it was right in front of him. He looked the replica of himself in the eye for a moment then burst out laughing. Ren’s duplicate did its best to mimic the laughter, which in turn only made him laugh all the harder. Sighing in relief, Kano wondered why she’d ever been worried. The two of them were already getting along great. Ren should fit in just fine here.

Assuming Nove didn’t have any objections, that is, but Kano doubted she would. If Nove was fine with Ren visiting, she was probably fine with her living there too. So long as there was enough room, and judging by what Kano had seen of the barracks, there was plenty of free space. Still, it was worth asking her about it, and now was a good time to do so while Ren was entertaining Fifty-Seven.

Standing near the door beside Nove, Kano said, “How’s living here been? Everyone settled in okay?”

“Yeah, it’s been pretty good. The children didn’t seem to mind the change one bit. If anything, I think they like it better here. There’s a lot more room for them to run around. They do ask about you, though.”

“About me?” Kano had assumed they didn’t have much interest in her. She’d barely interacted with them since she’d liberated them from Gresitosis’s control. “What do they ask?”

“Just when you’re going to come and visit again, stuff like that.”

“What do you tell them?”

Nove shrugged her muscular shoulders. “That you’re busy with important business.”

Though trying to keep the necromancers in check and attending to all the other potential disasters was indeed important, Kano felt a little bad for not being around more. She hadn’t thought they really cared if she was around, but it seemed like she was wrong. There wasn’t much she could do about it right now, but she intended to make it up to them later. If there was a later.

And just like that, her future accommodation was decided. “I think I’ll live here with you guys, once all this stuff at the citadel is dealt with.” If that day ever came. The necromancers weren’t likely to let her go easily now that she was an important specimen. Or they might be bored with her tomorrow, it was hard to say.

“Where else would you live?” Nove asked, brow crinkling in confusion. Apparently, she’d thought Kano was inevitably going to end up living with them again.

“I don’t know. Things are pretty complicated right now. Besides, you guys seem to be doing fine without me, so I thought maybe I’d be better off somewhere else.”

Nove gave Kano a pat on the back and left her hand there. Though Kano flinched at the contact, she didn’t try to move away. “You’re always welcome here,” Nove said.

“Yeah, I realize that now.”

“But if you don’t want to live with us, then you’re free not to. The children and I would definitely prefer if you did, but that doesn’t mean you have to.”

Feeling ridiculous for drawing so much attention to something so trivial, Kano cleared her throat. “Anyway, speaking of where people are going to live, is it all right if Ren lives here? She doesn’t really have a place to go.”

“Have you asked Quort?”

“Nope.”

“You probably should. But I don’t have a problem with it, and I’m sure the children won’t either.”

“Speaking of the children, what happened to him, anyway?” Kano asked, tilting her head toward Fifty-Seven.

“He was fixing a machine when part of it fell on his leg, messed it up pretty badly. But he’s healing up well, should be fine in a few days.”

Healing? Was that something ghouls did? As far as Kano was aware, they needed repairs for anything more than minor scratches and the like. Then again, the children were hardly typical ghouls. The more advanced ghouls that necromancers used as soldiers probably healed like that too. “That’s good. You had me worried there for a minute. Have any of the other children been hurt?”

“A few injuries here and there, nothing serious.”

“Still, maybe it would be better if they found safer work.”

“It’d be nice, but as you said yourself, there’s not a lot of safe work out there that they can do. I’m not sure there’s much safe work on offer period, especially these days.”

“How do you mean?” Had the industry of Shorinstown changed recently? She couldn’t think of anything like that.

“I’m talking about all the ghouls that have been disappearing lately. I think you said something about slime?”

“Oh, right. You don’t need to worry about that anymore. At least for now. I convinced the necromancer to stop his experiment, though he’ll probably start another one somewhere sooner or later.”

Nove blinked. “You stopped a necromancer by talking with them?” It almost sounded like she didn’t believe it. Her skepticism was probably well-founded. Necromancers were rather difficult to reason with. But Kano was surprised that Nove had picked up on that. The abomination must have learned more from her than Kano realized.

“Yep, it was quite the feat. It’s a pity you missed it. You’d have been amazed by my wit. He was a particularly crazy necromancer.” Though that was arguably why she’d been able to convince him at all.

“That’s great. Though I’m mostly glad you managed to solve it without violence.”

“Me too.” Since when had Nove had a problem with violence? She never seemed to shy away from it. “But I’m curious as to what makes you say that.”

“I just think there’s more than enough violence and death out there in the world already. We hardly need more. In your life, especially.”

Kano couldn’t argue with that. She doubted there were many people out there who’d experienced as much violence as her. Quite possibly no one. Not that it came as any great surprise to her. Obviously most people who were routinely exposed to violence ended up dead sooner or later.

Since losing her force field, she’d discovered a new appreciation for just how dangerous things could be. Especially given that she’d technically died within a few days of losing it. She was considering telling Nove about the other time she’d tried to reason with a necromancer and ended up dead when the screaming started.

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