“You’re going to regret hitting the General.” Kaien muttered darkly, his eyes flashing.
“Oh, I don’t know. It was quite funny.” I said lightly. Kaien punched me in the jaw and I yelped despite myself. “That, on the other hand, wasn’t.” I mumbled through the pain. He punched me again. I coughed up blood and spat it onto the floor. I wasn’t quite so alarmed by it now. It was pretty much permanent.
Footsteps coming down the corridor alerted me to Ayanami’s approach. He had cleaned up his bleeding nose and he wasn’t bruised in any way. “Your magic’s back.” Ayanami said as he strode down the corridor.
“No.” I said flatly in reply.
“Yes, it is though.” He said as he punched me in the stomach. Hard.
I doubled over as far as I could in the chair and coughed blood again. “No. That was just partial.” I gasped.
“I find that hard to believe. This is why you’re working against me, isn’t it?”
“Isn’t it?!” he roared in my face as he struck me.
“If I was working against you, I would’ve killed you already.” I shouted.
Ayanami went quiet for a minute and stared at me. Then he started to laugh. “You seriously think you can kill me? If what you say is true, your magic isn’t even fully back yet! My god.” His face switched from amusement to disgust and he punched me yet again. I groaned under my breath and tried to hide the agony I was in. “Taker, do the honours.” Ayanami commanded to Taker who came and stood infront of me, rolling up his sleeves and cracking his knuckles. Hell. “Vincent. Where do your loyalties lie?” Ayanami asked sincerely from Kaien’s side.
“With you. Always you.” I murmured, waiting for the inevitable punch. It came with such force that it drove me backwards further into the chair, and before I could sit up, another one landed on my stomach again. And a third time.
“You expect me to believe that?” Ayanami sneered.
“What do you want me to say?!” I asked through gritted teeth. He didn’t reply. “The Chancellor’s just an old friend—” I was cut off with another punch from Taker. “—I don’t work for him.” I finished quickly before he punched me again.
“You’ll never be able to kill me anyway. Don’t push your luck. Next question! Where has your magic been these last few decades?”
Oh no. “I don’t know.” I said flatly.
“I’m sure there’s a reason we should know about. Taker.” Taker punched me twice. He looked grim.
“No.” I grunted. “It was 50 years ago.”
“Oh, really? So you can’t remember that first day you took control of the army 300 years ago then? You can’t remember that day you killed Keira even though she loved you?”
“Shut up. Please, don’t. How do you know about that?” I begged.
“I heard that you never even had her buried.”
“Stop!” I roared suddenly, taking Ayanami by surprise. “What do you want from me?”
He smiled again. “What do I want... good question. I want.... I want power.”
“Well if you want power I suggest you let me go.” I snapped authoritatively. At my remark, Kaien stepped forwards, his dark eyes flashing dangerously. He drew his fine, thin blade and held it to my throat so that I had to sit right back in the chair. “...Not cut my throat.” I finished bitterly.
“You be silent, assassin.” Kaien ordered coolly.
“Major Zelt, untie him.” Ayanami commanded. Kaien looked up at Ayanami’s choice of naming but didn’t make eye contact.
“Yes, sir.” He murmured as he untied my arms from the chair. I stood immediately and walked away from Kaien and towards the entrance of the corridor. Ayanami’s blade came up to meet my chest. I stopped and growled at him. Pain washed through my body and I fell to my knees, the sword now at my throat.
“Going somewhere?” Ayanami asked. “We’re going to do our best to get your magic working. But you’re not going anywhere. Taker, Kaien, take him back to his cell.” I stood shakily and pushed Ayanami’s blade away so I could stride proudly ahead of the two men.
Once inside my cell I let Kaien shackle me roughly to the wall. They left me alone for a while but a short while later they emerged again with Jay between them. They threw him against the wall and locked the door, then left yet again. They didn’t even bother shackling him. Good. I didn’t bother saying anything and stayed in silence for a time longer until Jay seemed to notice someone else in the dungeon. “General?” He asked hoarsely in disbelief. “They still keep you down here?”
I didn’t bother replying.
It didn’t take long for Ayanami to come with the intent of getting my ‘magic back’. I knew it would be futile- magic couldn’t be forced out and Ayanami’s tactics would be no doubt less than orthodox. When Ayanami approached with Kaien and Taker on his tail Jay shrank back visibly- poor kid. They passed his cell without a second glance and came into my cell. I stood and waited for them to begin. Begin what? I didn’t know. Taker unchained me from the wall and Ayanami handed me my weapons again- sword, wrist blades, everything. “So, what first?” I said, laughing gutturally. I could see Jay further down the corridor trembling and staring wide-eyed at my predicament. I felt slightly self conscious infront of the young man who’d only seen my.... more compassionate side. Unfortunately Ayanami’s treatment of me had changed me for the worst. Kaien locked the barred door with a sadistic smile on his face. I drew my sword. “You’re not going to touch me.” I growled at Kaien who promptly drew his sword in response.
“Both of you. Halt.” Ayanami commanded tersely, taking a step between us. Taker moved towards me and drew his sword, threatening me back. I took a step forwards towards Kaien, who stepped forwards to me, his sabre pointed horizontally. The smile never left his face. “Stand down! Kaien, Vincent, that is an order.” Ayanami roared. Suddenly, Kaien made a move at me. I jumped backwards but I went into the wall, Kaien managed to get a slash at my arm with his razor-sharp sword. I cried out with the shock and spun sideways out of the way of another attack.
“Kaien! You will pay for this. Taker, hold Vincent!” Ayanami shouted over the commotion. He stepped between me and Kaien and drew his own sword. Taker had slammed me up against the wall and held his elbow in my throat, his sword jabbing into my ribs. He didn’t say anything throughout the ordeal, just pinned me down with those cold blue eyes of his. I watched over Taker’s shoulder as Ayanami punched Kaien in the stomach with strength supplemented by magic. Kaien grunted from the impact and staggered back into the wall before dropping his sword. Ayanami held him in place while he made a cut down the left side of his face. Crimson blood ran down his cheek and into his mouth, reddening his teeth and lips which he showed off in a great toothy grin at me.
“Now everyone will know that you have shamed me, Major Zelt. Your position is at risk.” Ayanami growled into Kaien’s face.
“My profound apologies, sir, I don’t know what overcame me.” He said in a low tone, looking at the floor. Ayanami took a step back and let Kaien stagger forwards. Credit to the man, he quickly stood straight and bowed to his superior, if a little stiffly and then collected his sword. I shook Taker off me and took a step towards Ayanami.
“So,” Ayanami said as he turned to me. “I suppose you remember punching me? Enjoy it?”
“More than you could imagine.” I replied.
“Thought as much. Come outside a minute, I want to show you something.”
Ayanami unlocked the cell door and walked down the corridor ahead of me. I followed him with the Majors behind me. The light of the prison exercise grounds was too much for my eyes after so long in the twilight. I was led out into the main court of the fort where about 20 of my soldiers were being held at sword-point by Ayanami’s elite soldiers.
I looked to Ayanami who was smiling like an idiot. “What are you doing?!” I roared into the silence of the yard. The rest of my men were nowhere to be seen. Kaien and Taker stepped in to hold me back with their swords- again- before I went after Ayanami.
“This, my friend,” Ayanami said, spreading his arms wide to gesture at the terrified men behind him, “Is why I require your cooperation.” And all my men’s throats were slit.
I swayed where I stood, not even trying to get to them. And then my magic was back. I felt it rush through my veins how it used to back 50 years ago. It felt good.
“Ayanami.” I said with a shaking voice through a deadly rage. “I am going to slaughter you.” And I pushed the Majors away with magic-strength. They both went flying away from me to land in a dusty heap with a thud. Ayanami looked shocked. I drew my sword and went at the guards who had killed my men. They were all dead in seconds. Then I turned to Ayanami. He had drawn his sword and looked more ready than I’d ever seen him. I could see Kaien in the corner off my eye stagger to his feet and brush himself off. Taker wasn’t moving. My magic was still wavering from long disuse, I could feel it fluctuating.
“I knew your powers would be back some day.” Ayanami said with a grin. “And this where a meythrill sword comes in handy.”
“What?” I said, taken aback. Meythrill is an incredibly rare metal known for its magic enhancement properties.
Ayanami launched into a full-on attack at me. He was using all his magic-strength, somehow channelling it into his sword.
“Fuck. Ayanami! Hold!” I shouted through the chaos. Ayanami’s and my magic were going to wipe out an entire city. I didn’t use my magic. My anger still remained but it wasn’t going to solve anything. He was still grinning wildly as he did a series of complex moves at breathtaking speed. I was no match for Ayanami’s magic-aided strength and I let him drive me back towards the fort wall.
“What’s wrong!?” He laughed over the clashing of out swords. He made a slash at my sword arm which I didn’t bother to block. I couldn’t win. I grunted as the sword cut deeply through my forearm and slumped forwards a little. Ayanami pressed his sword up against my throat and smiled sadistically. I looked into his hateful eyes and whispered, “I yield, Ayanami. Sir. I yield.” His face went angry very suddenly and he spat to one side. He backhanded me across the face and I flew a considerable distance sideways.
“You are despicable.” Ayanami said into the waiting silence. “You’re going to regret this. You had your chance.”
“I’ll do whatever you want!” I roared at him, though my vision was a blur. I sat up in the dust with a groan and looked around me. Ayanami was striding towards me angrily, Kaien was stood swaying watching me and Ayanami, and Taker was now on his hands and knees coughing up blood in extreme amounts. I forced my clamouring body to move away from him, dragging myself through the dirt back towards the main gate, though I knew it was futile. I felt pathetic.
“General! Freeze!” A voice boomed from behind me followed by the thunder of several horse’s hooves on the ground. Three guards on horseback rode past on either side of me. The first two both rode into Ayanami, knocking him to the floor with horrific force. The six guards jumped from their horses and pulled a dazed Ayanami to his feet with practised precision. Three guards held him up, roughly shaking him to keep him disorientated. Another guard held his sword drawn in Ayanami’s face shouting warnings while another disarmed him. The sixth guard was talking with Kaien. The conversation seemed heated from where I was. A troop of ten more guards galloped in and aided in the events unfolding around me. Kaien shouted something at the guard he was arguing with and swung his sword wildly, obviously still dazed from the force of my push. I must have used some magical technique that affects the mind unwillingly. The guard parried Kaien’s swipe and kicked him to the floor. Another two guards piled in and pinned him to the floor while he kicked and thrashed. Taker, on the other hand had finally found his feet and staggered towards two guards with his hands in the air. There was blood all on his face and teeth. The two guards grabbed him and threw him down on the floor. When my eyes finally focused onto a guard sat atop his horse nearby I recognised the colours as Farrow- Reignold colours. Bess. I released a groan of relief and collapsed back onto the floor. Ayanami wasn’t going to get me today.
Bess rode in with two more guards and dismounted next to me. “My lord General Vincent Frau Hacku. Are you okay?” She asked formally and emotionlessly. I sat up and inspected the cut on my forearm. It was deep, but pretty much healed.
“Quite.” I sighed and got shakily to my feet. Two guards moved in to steady me. “Please, don’t.” I said, fluttering my eyelids and waving my hands at the in protest. “I need my mask. I can’t let the cadets know who I am.” I staggered off to the prison and retrieved my mask- I’d become pretty much reliant on it- and then went and washed the blood from my body and donned a new outfit in my quarters. Upon leaving my quarters I could hear some sort of heated argument coming from the office. I limped in, determined to find out what the fuss was about. Bess was sat at the desk where Ayanami had sat and I before Ayanami. She was arguing fiercely with some man I recognised... “My lady, with all due respect, we need to move out of here as quickly as possible before we cause a war!” he said.
“Commander Trent,” Bess began.
“Trent.” I said in my shock, causing them both to look at me. “Kipp Trent.”
“General Hacku. My lord.” He said, bowing deeply. Bess mirrored his example.
“It’s good to see you, Commander.” I said, trying to maintain an authoritive cool. “Lady Bess. Where are the prisoners being held? I did not see them when I went.... back inside.” I finished uneasily.
“Sir, they are in the holding wing. Interrogation cells.”
“Thankyou.” I said and turned to leave.
“Vincent.” She said timidly. I turned to her. “It’s good to have you back.” I nodded and left.
The dungeons as I now referred to them as were colder than I remembered, though the bloodstained passage to the holding cells had been cleaned up as much as possible. The cells themselves had also been cleaned up. I approached two guards who quickly snapped into a salute.
“At ease.” I said gently. “Do you know who I am?” I asked.
The guards relaxed a little. “No, sir. But we were told that you are a man of notably high status.” The older one explained.
“On the contrary- I’m a slave. But I suppose you could say that. Can you tell me where Ayanami, Taker, and Zelt are being held?”
“Yes, sir. Last three cells.” He replied, pointing down the corridor where it faded into darkness.
I strode off towards the end of the corridor where the ‘interrogation’ chair still sat. I looked inside the third-to-last cell through the small barred window, and right in the back corner was chained Kaien. He looked quite badly beaten and ill from where I was and he didn’t bother to look up at me or even laugh at me. In the next cell was Taker who was stood leant almost casually against the back wall of the 10x15ft. cell. When I rapped on the bars and he looked up he looked terrible. I was almost certain that they had been beaten on an hourly basis. He couldn’t heal like me and Ayanami could- even Kaien had a bit of healing ability. Taker was still bleeding from his mouth and he kept coughing up blood and spitting it onto the floor. His eyes were dim where bright intelligence once was and he didn’t appear to honestly care about how he was treated anymore. I had seen how regardless of his surrender he had been brought down to the floor by guards and chained. I moved on.
Before I even saw Ayanami I saw how the cell walls were stained with fresh blood spatters. He had been stripped to the waist and then chained in the corner of the cell where there was a ledge that was supposed to be a bed. Most of the blood was around that area which told me that he hadn’t been unchained for any beatings, but left vulnerable and helpless. I knew how that felt. “Guards,” I shouted down the corridor, causing Ayanami to look up at me. He wasn’t smiling now. “Let me in here.”
“Sir.” They replied and came down the corridor to unlock.
“Wait.” I said before they could completely open the door. “Come with me.” I went up to the other end of the corridor and looked inside a cell. “There was a cadet being kept here- Jay. From...” I stopped myself saying ‘from my guard’ “...From the cadets who were captured here upon General Hacku’s downfall.”
“Yes, sir. He was taken out by Lady Bess’ close guards but hours ago. I don’t know where he was taken.”
“Ok. Let me into Ayanami’s cell.” I said tiredly.
When the guards had left me in Ayanami’s cell with the key, I spoke.
“Vince.” He replied with a sharp-toothed grin.
“Interrogation time tomorrow.” I said coolly. Then I left.
The next morning came quickly. It occurred to me that I didn’t know where or when Ayanami’s interrogation took place, and upon finding his cell empty, I began searching for where it would be. I hurried straight to the central room of the prison. This was the main room where interrogation and occasionally torture had taken place before I took over as General. It was a huge round room with a central area where prisoners could be chained and chairs around the edge where witnesses could be seated. There were several witnesses sat around the circle but many were shrouded in shadow- I didn’t know who they were. Upon entering through the huge barred doors I was confronted by Commander Kipp Trent.
“Sir, I’m afraid I can’t allow you in here.” He said in a hushed tone.
“And why might that be, Trent?” I said with false jolliness.
“Err.... um... Milady’s orders... You know.” He replied, looking intimidated.
“And you think that after all that time we spent in prison together I follow orders?” I growled dangerously. “And follow orders of those below me in station no less?”
“No. No sir.” He bowed gracefully. “My mistake sir.”
I strode up to Bess who was stood at the side watching as a guard punched Ayanami in the solar plexus. “You started without me.” I growled, getting angrier.
“That we did, General.” She said, not bothering to look at me.
“I’m taking over the interrogation.” I announced and ordered the burly guard torturing Ayanami to stand down.
Ayanami was stood with his hands chained loosely behind his back by a chain linking to the floor. I saw several of Bess’ guard look flustered at my taking over. Was that Jay sat in the shadows? Bess just looked icily angry. There was blood on the floor at Ayanami’s feet and upon looking at his face I saw how badly beaten he had been. He coughed and brought up blood, spitting it to the floor.
“Hello, sir.” I said acidly. “Ready to begin?”
“Always.” He said, but he seemed tired. He was swaying from side to side, I noticed.
“They drugged you.” I said. It wasn’t a question.
“Of course they did.” He practically shouted like I was an idiot.
“Question one. How long have you been a semper for?”
He laughed. “What kind of question is that?”
“Answer if I were you.”
“I don’t know. A long time.”
“Wrong answer.” I snapped and backhanded him across the face with added magic-strength. He didn’t even grunt. “Again. How long?”
He straightened up again and said, “How long have you been a semper?”
I backhanded him in the same place again. This time he did make a tiny noise. I smiled.
He stayed silent, staring into space flatly. I raised my hand again. “Five centuries.” He muttered quietly.
“And at what age did you become one?”
“32 years old.”
“Five hundred and thirty two years old. Interesting.”
“Five hundred and sixty seven.” He corrected me. “You know, when I killed your father five hundred and twenty seven years ago...”
My stomach seemed to plummet into the abyss. “You what?” I said dumbly. “You did what?! You.. That was you... you did that... I... I’m going to kill you!” I drew my sword and made a swipe at his head, but he dropped into a duck before I could cut him, but Ayanami was down now, I could simply hack at him until he stopped breathing.
“Hacku! Stop!” Bess shrieked. Several guards moved in to restrain me.
“Get your hands off me!” I roared as they grabbed my arms and pushed them behind my back. “Trent! He killed my father. Don’t you understand?!”
“Just calm down, General.” He said soothingly. “We’ll deal with him accordingly. No, don’t. Stop. Come along now.” He led me towards the door. I snatched a quick glimpse of a smugly grinning Ayanami as the interrogation officer closed in on him with a small dagger glinting in his hand. Trent took me to my quarters and I sat heavily on the armchair with a shuddery groan. He positioned himself on my bed across from me, looking all the commander in his grey uniform with brass buttons and cap. A grin began to spread across his face as he produced a flask of brandy from his breast pocket. “Oh, no Trent. Don’t. I... can’t. It makes me go crazy.” I stammered.
“Lighten up, sir. You need it. Honestly.” He handed it to me.
I cleared my throat uneasily and looked away from him as I placed the flask on my desk. “I think I need some time alone... Commander.” I murmured.
“Of course.” He said smiling sympathetically.
“And Trent?” I said as he reached the door. “Thanks.”
Night approached quickly and quietly. I stayed sat, not trusting myself to leave my quarters. I had moved my chair to face to wall away from the door so I could resist the temptation to go and kill Ayanami myself. The brandy sat untouched but it was beckoning me. I was afraid that I would become an alcoholic again, and that idiocy had led to the death of my beautiful Keira. Hell. I couldn’t resist the temptation. Damn Trent and his stupid habits. I took a swig from the bottle and threw it across the room angrily. Damn my temper. Damn everything! I sat in silence until even the sounds of marching boots outside stopped and the fort wound down for sleep. Even I began to relax a little. It was a mistake. I heard a sound behind me and my hand whipped to the dagger at my hip. I had it out and ready when I felt the familiar bite of metal on my throat.
“Drop it.” Ayanami’s voice growled as he twisted the dagger so it nicked my skin painfully. I winced and threw the dagger away from me in a savage flick of my forearm. I shifted my eye down at the hand holding the blade. It was covered in blood.
“Ayanami. What have you done?” I asked cautiously.
“I escaped. That’s what. Get up and come with me. Don’t try anything.”
I kept my hands in the air as I turned to face him. He was a mess. His hair was tousled and matted with blood and his face was cut in places. He was still bare chested and I could see multiply severs that had been made with a dagger during his interrogation.
“I’m not helping you, Ayanami. Not ever again after what you’ve done.” I said defiantly.
Ayanami cocked an eyebrow and grinned. Suddenly, he stepped in and spun around to stand behind me. I didn’t even have time to react- his magic was running strongly where mine had sputtered and died. He had a knife at my throat before I could get my hand to mine. I was strongly aware of his bloody body pressed against me as he leaned in and whispered savagely in my ear, “You, sir, are no better. You have killed as many as me, and if you don’t work with me, many more will die on your account. That is no idle threat.” He shunned me forwards and I staggered a couple of steps before turning to him. He looked dangerously serious. I didn’t move but tried to read the look in his eyes. Did he have a hostage? “Are you testing me!?” He roared suddenly, making me jump.
“No, no.” I said, averting my eyes and going to collect my discarded dagger. “Surely your little outburst would have alerted the guards by now?” I said.
“You’d be surprised.” He said with a smug grin.
“We need new clothes.” I stated blankly.
“It’s sorted. Just shut up and come with me.” He snapped. I followed him out into the twilit courtyard and wondered why no one had heard of Ayanami’s escape as yet. I caught the sound of movement to my right and my hand reflexively went to my sword. From the shadows emerged Taker and Kaien. Kaien still bore the shameful scar down his face similar to mine and Taker looked morbidly ill. “Gentlemen.” I said, bowing.
Neither of them were wearing their typical military uniform with Ayanami’s sigil. Kaien wore his black knee length boots and breeches, but he wore a plain black trench coat in replacement of his military jacket. Trent was wearing an off-white shirt with his sleeves rolled up under a brown waistcoat, a worn fedora hat, brown riding breeches and boots. I looked over to Ayanami and cocked an eyebrow. He grinned and went into the stables next door. He emerged again holding a violet large-collared trench coat. He tossed it to me and I tried it on. A perfect fit. I didn’t let it show but I rather liked it. I discarded my ‘uniform’ on the floor aside from my hat and wore my weapons belt beneath my jacket. It disguised them perfectly except my sword, but it wasn’t unusual for men to carry weapons anyway. It was just the hilt that was a major giveaway. Ayanami had begun to wrap bandages around his upper body. “We don’t need bandages.” I said.
“They thinned my blood. It won’t clot.” He said with a grunt of pain as he yanked the final knot into place. “So be silent. You’re still my subordinate.”
“Sorry sir.” I said with a mocking bow.
Ayanami disappeared off into the stable again leaving me outside with Kaien and Taker. Kaien was looking at me strangely and then turning his gaze on Taker and to me again. Taker was stood with his back to me making minute gestures with his arms. Kaien took a step forwards to me before Taker stepped into his path with a gentle, “Don’t.”
Ayanami emerged a short time later looking immaculate again and wearing a suit, but still with knee boots and breeches. I laughed when I saw he was still wearing a plain black version of his military peak cap. “We’re leaving,” he said with a controlled calm. “Come on.” He said, striding towards the unusually open gates.
“Ayanami.” I said, stepping infront of him to block his path. “What have you done here? Why haven’t the guards raised the alarm?”
“See for yourself.” He replied with a dismissive shrug.
I bowed and strode into the darkness of the stables. The horses nickered nervously at my approach. I searched the stableboy’s quarters and then moved on to investigate individual stables. It was eerily quiet in there and I moved silently from stall to stall. When I reached the last three stalls I had become sick of looking, but as I turned to leave an unnatural paleness in the dark caught my eye. I went closer to investigate. It was the stableboy. A look of pure horror was etched into his face as if in stone, his mouth a small ‘O’ of surprise. I could see no blood. He was simply crouched in a silent scream that no one could hear. It was highly disturbing and I turned and left to confront Ayanami.
“What did you do to them?” I shouted to his back. “You killed them!”
He turned to face me with a dreadful grin on his face. He waved his hand slightly and an almighty scream rose from the stables. “Clever, eh?” He sneered. The whole fort was going mad now. And then it stopped again. “There- I didn’t kill anyone. Nobody.”
“What?!” I stammered, flabbergasted. He looked at the floor and turned from me again to walk down the road.
“Kaien. Taker. Vincent. Let’s go.”
Ayanami led us through the streets for about an hour as the town erupted in our wake. I imagine that Bess was completely struck-dumb at Ayanami and his subordinate’s escape and my disappearance. Finally Ayanami led us up a narrow side-street. If I wanted to I could brush the mud walls at either sides of me with my fingertips simultaneously. He hadn’t told me where we were going but the others seemed to know what they were doing. We stopped suddenly at the doorstep of what looked like a small inn, with two tiny alleys leading to what I assumed was the stables. Ayanami rapped on the door twice and it was opened almost immediately by a short, stunted man with pig-like eyes and a sprinkling of lank greasy hair. “Lord Ayanami, sir.” He said bowing awkwardly to a disgusted looking Ayanami and then turning to Kaien and Taker and bobbing his head. “My lords.”
He looked me up and down, so I tilted my hat with a polite, “Sir.”
“I assume everything is as planned?” Ayanami said with a dangerous iciness.
“Yes, my lord. Of course- as always. I never let my clients down.” He babbled. “Please follow me.” And he trotted off around the back of the building. We emerged into a dingy back yard with a row of derelict run-down stables. The man waddled to a stable and led out a fine grey stallion. He handed the reins to Ayanami with a deep bow and a, “my lord.” Ayanami mounted up and looked down on the man with a sly smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “Just the others and then we’ll be off- noone’ll be harmed.” The man’s face drained of colour and he hurried to fetch us all high-quality destriers. My new horse was skittish and irritating beneath me, and I had to discipline it with a hard jab with my spurs that cut into its sides. That horse tossed it’s head in shock but stayed still all the same. Ayanami laughed at my sudden outburst, “Ooh. Feisty.” I stared at him blandly. He turned to the squat man. “Thanks, Godrick. Everyone is safe now.” The man gulped and bowed shakily before Ayanami led the way out of the alleyway and into the now lightened streets.
Once we were out of earshot I turned to Ayanami, “You’re a dangerous man to know,” I said, grinning despite my hatred for him.
“I’m even more dangerous if you get on the wrong side of me,” he hinted acidly. A smile curled my lips at his irritated response, but I didn’t laugh. “Who were you holding to make him get you horses?”
Ayanami smiled slightly and then replied, “His entire family- sons, daughters, wife, you name it.”
“And did you leave them unharmed?” I asked cautiously.
His grin turned slightly insane. “Of course not.”
“Disgusting,” I said solemnly.
“Don’t push it, Vincent Frau Hacku. I brought you to your knees and I will make sure you stay there. I may not have your army, oh, but trust me. I know how to hit you hardest- and not only physically.” He said quickly and heatedly.
I paused, on the brink of disobeying him again- attacking him or something. I wanted to. My head was in turmoil- what if I killed him? What if I failed? How would he seek revenge? What were the repercussions? No, Vincent. Obey. You are his. “Sir.” I said, looking down at my hands.
“Now, Kaien, Taker, Hacku. Are you ready to run?” Ayanami raised his hand in a gesture that sent a tingle up my spine. Nothing happened for about 40 seconds, and we carried on at a steady walk. Then the alarm bells began to toll. And we fled.
We rode quickly for about 3 weeks. Ayanami wouldn’t tell me where we were going but the others seemed to have a clear idea- as usual. We stopped occasionally at inns to pick up food for Taker and Kaien and to water the horses but that was all. Later on in the first week Ayanami decided to buy a horse and cart- it seemed he was carrying a fair amount of gold- and made me drive it while Taker led my horse. No-one spoke to each other except Kaien and Ayanami, who talked like as close to friends as a subordinate and general could get, regardless of the fact that not long ago Ayanami had marked him with the shame scar like my own. We followed the roads, but Ayanami had dyed his hair temporarily blonde and made me dye mine black, and had also bought us all deep-hooded black cloaks to wear within civilisation. I felt almost naked when I had to swap my familiar hat for the hood. At night we stopped and allowed the horses to graze. We left Kaien and Taker to rest in the back of the cart while Ayanami and I stayed watch all night. In the two weeks we had been drifting, we hadn’t spent a single night indoors, but upon the end of the third week Ayanami called for an uncharacteristic stop at a tavern in a small village south of Forge. We donned our hooded cloaks and left our animals for the stableboy. The inn was dim but pleasantly warm inside. The smells of stale alcohol and woodsmoke brought a stab of longing for a home again. I hadn’t lived in normality for at least two centuries now- it was depressing. It was even more depressing to think that I was under the control of a man two centuries younger than myself. I strode ahead of the others and seated myself in the corner at a small scarred table in the shadows. Ayanami came over also and seated himself across from me and was joined by Kaien and Taker. The tavern master quickly approached to take our order.
“Large glass. Strong brandy,” I slipped in, in a dangerous voice before anyone else could speak. I wasn’t in the mood. I saw Ayanami’s mouth tweak in a suppressed laugh but the rest of his face was in shadow.
“Drinking tonight, eh, Vince?” Ayanami said softly and mockingly.
“Fuck off,” I said, still in my rumbling tones. I saw his mouth pull in to a toothy grin and it set me off instantaneously.
“I think you’ll find that I give the orders, friend.” He said. I drew my dagger and stabbed it into the wood of the table, standing up and shoving the table into Ayanami who stood up in response. Before I knew it Kaien and Taker were both up and holding their daggers pointed at vital points on my body. The tavern master was completely frozen with shock and the entire room had gone deathly quiet. I looked around at the staring customers. I let go of the knife with gloved hands and left it to stay stuck in the table, sitting down without another word despite my fury. The Majors sheathed their daggers and sat down also. Finally Ayanami sat.
“Like I said,” I growled at the man still waiting to take our order, who scribbled it onto his notepad with shaking hands.
“Bottle of your best wine, if you will,” Ayanami said, sounding bored.
“Two ales,” Kaien said friendlily gesturing to himself and Taker. The two Majors seemed to be getting closer and more in tune with each other everyday.
The man bowed and hurried away to retrieve our orders. We sat in deathly silence until Kaien said, “So what brings about the change, Aya?”
“We’ve almost arrived at our destination as you’ve probably guessed. Even Hacku and I miss a drink sometimes,” he replied.
The man brought our drinks and we sat in silence until he left again. I took a mouthful of the brandy and grimaced as it burned my throat. It felt good. Taker leaned forwards suddenly, his eyes glittering underneath his hood, “No-one react.” He said in his husky, disused voice. It was the first time I’d heard him speak a full sentence, “Directly behind you, General. There’s a man showing a particular interest in our group.” I looked at where Taker had directed without lifting my head. A man in a green militia uniform was slouched in a chair watching us. Ayanami leant back and casually looked back at the man. “I suggest we take him out.” He said sadistically.
“Don’t kill him. We’ll question him.” Kaien added who received a cocky look from Ayanami. I just took a great swig of my brandy and took hold of my dagger off the table. “Okay.” He said, slowly moving his hand to the hilt of his dagger, “…and go.” As one we all leapt up, not even knocking over a glass in the process. Before anyone could scream or the man draw his sword we were all around him with our blades hovering over vital areas. The man didn’t even flinch but the whole room went silent again with anticipation and shock. “Relax, gentlemen,” he said in an unflustered and laidback tone. He looked at Ayanami, “I know who you are, sir. But your friends? Not so much.”
“And who might you be, friend?” Ayanami said in a low tone, his knife never wavering from the point on his neck.
“That could wait until we’re outside.” He said.
“Get up. Walk slowly and don’t make any suspicious movements.” Ayanami commanded crisply. The man got up steadily, putting his hands in a harmless position and walked for the door. Once we were outside in the twilit courtyard of the tavern Ayanami threw back his hood and confronted the man, “I know you. Where from? Who are you?”
“You might remember me as the lieutenant of your father’s armed forces. It’s Commander now. Commander Endol?”
“Yes I remember you. And why do you shadow us, semper?”
“Oh please, I’ve barely been one for 150 years. I don’t deserve the title. To answer your question, your father is aware of your.... discrepancies and resultant escape from confinement. He also knows you are on your way to his home. He sent me out to meet you.”
“Your father is alive?” I interrupted in bewilderment.
“Yes he’s alive, Hacku. He’s a semper. Shut up.” Ayanami replied.
“I suggest we go. We’ll be there in an hour.” The commander told Ayanami.
“I suppose we should.” He looked positively sick. I wondered why.
We arrived in good time at around midnight. The house we approached was set into the valley amidst the huge evergreens and oak trees. We rode along a ridge on the opposite side of the valley, slowly winding back and forth down its face. The great stone mansion was somewhat foreboding and beautiful at the same time. We reached the base of the valley and crossed a great stone bridge over a river to follow a cobbled road up to the house’s front court which held a great water fountain of a phoenix spreading its wings. Ayanami led the way to the stable and untacked his horse. I did the same, as did Kaien and Taker. Commander Endol had left us at the huge gates that marked the entrance to the house grounds with the excuse of ‘military business to attend to’ and ridden down the other road of the fork and through a heavily-guarded gate I hadn’t seen beforehand. Noone had spoken since. “It’s Lord Kage. Nothing else.” Ayanami said to us lamely as we left the stable, “He doesn’t like being called anything else.” He babbled, almost to himself. Was he trembling?
Ayanami approached the door and I followed behind the Majors. The front door was a great looming white oak slab, designed to intimidate. Ayanami knocked twice with the iron door-knocker and stepped back. A few moments later it was opened in a flood of warm light by the lord himself. He was a tall man like Ayanami and had the similar silver hair, except his eyes were turquoise in colour. He still held his youth due to the magic, but he still looked older than Ayanami. I, in comparison, looked like an unruly schoolboy. Lord Kage wore a crimson bed robe and looked down at Ayanami as if he were some garden pest dead on the doorstep. Ayanami seemed to squirm under his stern stare before sweeping down into the deepest bow I had seen this proud man make, and said, “My lord father. It is a pleasure.” The others and I also bowed. As soon as Ayanami straightened his father struck him hard across the face. Ayanami didn’t look back at his father or us. “How dare you?!” Lord Kage hissed, “How dare you assume that I would take you in after I sent you away?”
“I could only hope, sir. We are willing to...work...for a place temporarily in your home. I obviously don’t need a bed or food. This is my slave. He’ll make do in the stables. Major--”
Ayanami was cut off as the lord launched himself off the doormat and pinned him to the floor at the base of the stairs with a knife he’d been hiding. He was as fast as lightening- faster than Ayanami and me. He was powerful. I took a shocked step backwards as Ayanami and Lord Kage went careering past me and landed with a ‘oof’ on the cobbled ground. Kage straddled Ayanami and said something to him in a heated whisper. Ayanami layed on the floor with his head back and hands in the air. He replied in hushed tones. He look quite calm, but was betrayed by the trembling of his hands. I stood still, trying not to draw attention to myself. The lord stood and turned to me, “Your slave may stay in the serving quarters, but you may call on him whenever. Your men may use the guest quarters and you.... you can stay in your old room I suppose.” Ayanami blanched. What was wrong with him? “Major Taker, Zelt please follow me. Ayanami, show your... slave to the lower quarters. Then come to my quarters with him.”
“Of course, my lord.” Ayanami said, bowing. I bowed also. Why me?
Lord Kage left, talking avidly with the two majors.
Then we were alone in the courtyards. Ayanami looked crushed. “Sir?” I said into the silence, not daring to spark him off. Ayanami looked from the floor and stared into my eyes harshly. “Vincent. I’ll show you the serving quarters and then you’re coming with me to see my... father.” He said distantly.
“Yes sir. I know, sir.” I replied.
I followed him into the house and up a narrow set of stairs lined with a sap green carpet. A long thin corridor stretched back with doors on either side. Ayanami took me to the end of the corridor and showed me into a tiny dim room with three sets of bunk beds in it and a wash basin.
“There are four other servants living in here, but they’re out on some errand at the moment.” Ayanami informed me.
“I’m not staying in here, you realise.” I said, disgusted.
Ayanami almost threw me up against the wall, but instead huffed through his nose. “Yes, you are. Because my father doesn’t know what you are, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“I can move silently. No-one’ll know if I sneak out.”
“Oh, my father will. Trust me.” He said, turning his violet eyes on me like a weapon. I slammed my fist against the flimsy doorframe and then turned on Ayanami. He blocked my fist and drew his dagger, but I threw him off guard as I suddenly changed trajectory and elbowed him in the collarbone, causing him to stagger into the opposite wall of the corridor. I threw myself at him immediately, trying to use the advantage. I drew my dagger and went to hold it to his throat, but again he blocked at last minute. He tried to punch my face, but I spun out suddenly to catch him again. When I turned the full way around I came face to face with a ready knife, as did Ayanami who cracked his head back on the wall with shock. I was getting faster. I grinned. We both held position for about 15 seconds, just staring at eachother. A battle of wills. Along the corridor the sound of doors opening and closing up and down the corridor as household servants came to see what the commotion was about broke the silence we held. Finally we both slacked our pressure on one another and stepped back. I eyed him suspiciously as I sheathed my dagger. “You’re not going anywhere. That is an order.”
“I--” I was cut off as Ayanami stepped in and struck me across the face. Over the ringing of my ears I heard slight gasps from servants still at their doors. I tried to ignore them. “Yes, my lord.” I said reservedly, bowing.
“Good.” He said sharply. “Now, we’ll go to see my father.”
The doors into Lord Kage’s study were towering, graceful, beautiful. Each panel held tiny carvings of all sorts of scenes, mainly related to war. Ayanami rapped on the great door quickly and took a step backwards. A tall graceful lady opened the door. “Ah.” She exclaimed before bowing smoothly, “Master Ayanami. Sir. Please, come in.” Ayanami nodded to the lady and stepped inside. I followed with trepidation.
Lord Kage was sat ramrod straight in a great cushioned chair behind an immaculate desk. When we entered he motioned to Ayanami to sit, which he did, but he looked awkward and stiff. I decided it would be an idea to stand beside the door where the servant had stood when we entered, but had now left us alone with the Lord. “Father. Sir.” Ayanami said, breaking the silence.
“Fritz.” He replied. Fritz? His name? Whatever that was, Ayanami stiffened. “Vincent Frau Hacku,” He said, looking up to me. I froze, eyes wide like a startled rabbit. Ayanami spun to look at me, eyes just as wide. Don’t give the game away, they said. “S...sir?” I stuttered.
“I know who you are.” He said darkly, his eyes flashing.
“I....I don’t understand, sir?” The confusion not completely feigned.
“Don’t you dare say that to me!” He roared at me, standing. Ayanami stood also, striding out to intercept his father’s path as he came at me with fists out. “Father! Please ju--”
“DON’T INTERRUPT ME!” He practically screamed. What was wrong with him? “Come here. Here!” He said to Ayanami who had begun to back away. Ayanami shuffled to his father, who felt Ayanami’s jaw line, almost tenderly. Ayanami stood stiffly looking past his father as much as his father studied his face before he drew his hand back in a savage smack. Ayanami didn’t even retaliate. Didn’t cry out. Didn’t flinch. “Do you understand?” Kage asked, suddenly calmer.
“Understood, Father.” He replied, trembling. I just stood where I was, shocked into silence. This man had brought Ayanami to his knees with a few words.
Lord Kage said nothing of it again and turned back to me, “Now. Vincent. Don’t pretend you’re not who you are. What’s it like being under the control of my son?”
“Please, sir. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I began to back towards the door, but I was ready to draw my sword if necessary. Kage shadowed my movements, moving towards me as I moved away. “How did he get you under control?! My son! How old are you now?”
“My lord! I’m just a slave. I have the brand.”
“Hah! He branded you too! Hell, what did he do? Chain you up?!”
I was sick of this. He was making me feel more and more worthless and I didn’t like it. “Yeah,” I said darkly, my temper flaring. “He put me in a cell, shackled my wrists and ankles and then had two guards restrain me against the wall. Oh, yes and Major Zelt was also there for backup. Saying that, I was unarmed and completely exhausted from the preceding battle.” I stared him down maliciously and cracked my knuckles. Ayanami looked completely gobsmacked.
Lord Kage grinned, “You are him then. Certainly have the temper to match his reputation.”
“What do you know about my reputation?” I stared at him, never breaking eye contact and taking a step forward. My famous temper was certainly beginning to come out.
“Oh... I know that before Fritz was born, you massacred an entire city of people with your magic, and when the authorities finally caught you and had you beaten to a pulp in hopes of getting you to explain your motives, you practically spat back in their faces and slaughtered them all. No one knows what happened to you after that, or why you even did it. Those few who knew about your record when you became a general almost rebelled.” That was alot of knowledge about my past. Even Ayanami didn’t know that, judging by the look on his face.
I growled. “Those days are over. Long over.”
“Miss the rush of killing for fun?”
“Right about now I am.”
“So how long have you lived now?”
I held my silence. I wasn’t giving him the satisfaction.
Kage’s eyes flashed. “Don’t make me force it out of you. I might know the methods of torture, but I’m not willing to use them.”
I cocked an eyebrow. Show me what you’re made of.
Kage rushed forwards suddenly and threw me against the stone wall I’d been stood by. I didn’t resist, determined to show him that his fancy torture methods didn’t work on me. His dagger was at my throat now. He’d knocked my hat off and was now holding my hair, pinning my head back against the wall. I looked at him coolly down my nose. “Tell me your age.” He said calmly.
He repeated the order.
“No, I’m alright.” I said like he’d asked if I wanted a drink. He took the dagger and plunged it into my shoulder before replacing at my throat at lightening fast speed. My arm throbbed, but I barely even grimaced.
He didn’t even ask again, but waited for 5 seconds before stabbing my shoulder in the same place again. I wasn’t expecting him to do that and gasped despite myself. He smiled. I looked over at Ayanami who hadn’t moved from where he’d been stood when his father had struck him. I don’t know what he was thinking. Just as I turned my attention back to the lord he struck me in the shoulder again, this time a little closer to my neck. If he got me in the tendon in the side of my neck that was pulled taught, I’d likely lose use of it. I knew what he was doing, he was trying to make me panic. The terrifying thing was, I could tell he wasn’t going to stop for my benefit. I tried to push him off me but he simply yanked my head back more, pressed his body against me to stop me balking, and stabbed me again. I grunted and grimaced as the pain got more every time he knifed me. I was about to answer his godforsaken question, but I hesitated. Kage took the chance to knife me yet again, this time just catching my muscle so it would twinge but not kill. He knew anatomy well. I cried out at the agony that shot up the side of my neck and down my arm and threw myself sideways as a reflex. The knife tore out of my flesh as I moved away and that hurt even more but there was nothing I could do. I landed on the floor where I had slipped away from Kage’s grip. Within seconds he was back on me, pinning me to the floor. This time, instead of knifing my neck he got me twice in my left hand in quick succession. I writhed beneath him but my lean frame couldn’t displace him. He raised his dagger again in a threatening motion and I quickly yielded. “Okay! Okay.” I panted, my breath rasping. “768 years. 768.” He smiled in a manner that said I told you so, and got up off me after wiping his bloody dagger on my jacket. I got up quickly and tried to stem the blood flow from my neck and shoulder from multiple stab wounds. “I’m leaving.” I said in a voice strained from pain. I swiped my hat from the floor, turned and left for my ‘room’. No-one stopped me.
It had been about half an hour since I had last been to where I was staying, but when I opened the door, four servants stared back at me. The oldest looking, a fortyish man with big ropey muscles running through his bare arms and chest stood up from his bunk next to my empty one. “You’re Ayanami’s slave. A young one, too.” He stated. I nodded silently and sat on the bottom bunk of the empty bed to remove my jacket. The material had stuck to my wounds on my shoulder and I peeled it away slowly and painfully. Having done that, I dumped the bloody jacket on the floor at my feet and studied the wounds. Deep, but not fatal. More scars. The four servants were sat watching me as if I was a wild animal. I removed all my weapons- wrist blades, sword, dagger, throwing knives and poison etc. and placed them on the floor. The wounds on my left hand went straight through, but he’d precisely missed any major arteries, bone and muscle. Two of the servants were young women who gasped unrestrainedly at my scars and wounds. “You’re hurt.” The big man said.
“You’re one for stating the obvious, aren’t you?” I hissed in response, my mood still black.
“We’ve got bandages. Tod! Get the bandages.”
“Erm... yeah.” The other man said, about 19 years of age and lanky as a giraffe. The two servants worked together to put bandages on my neck and hand while the girls took my jacket and expertly washed the blood off it in the basin and sewed up the holes. “It won’t be dry until about midday tomorrow.” One of the ladies told me. So I’d have to walk around bare-chested all day. Great. After I was fixed up the servants went to bed. I just sat up all night. I occasionally heard the sound of footsteps passing the door, gradually increasing towards the morning. Eventually my roommates woke and prepared for work. I stood myself and splashed my face at the basin and donned my weapons. When I turned back to leave the room, one of the ladies who shared a room with me was staring at my turned back. I pretended I hadn’t seen and crossed the room to the door but then I stopped. “Uh... sorry to bother you. Where’s Ayanami’s room?”
“Oh!” The girl exclaimed as I caught her by surprise, “At the other side of the house on the third floor, it has a violet door. You can’t miss it.” She smiled. I tipped my hat at her and left for his room.
Upon finding Ayanami’s room I went to knock on his door, but I stopped short as I heard the sounds of shouting inside. I just had time to dodge out of sight of the door before Lord Kage very leisurely sauntered out and went down the steep stairs to the main floor of the house. After I was sure he was out of earshot I rapped on the purple varnished door. “Who is it?” A pained voice called.
“It’s Hacku.” The door opened a few seconds later and I entered into a large almost empty room. There was no hearth to burn a fire in or anything of the sort. There was a mixture of old and new blood on the floor. Ayanami shut the door behind me and stood ramrod straight.
“Ayanami, what happened here?” I asked.
“The usual. Where is your jacket?”
“Drying. After your father stabbed me bloody.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“Nothing at all. Sir.”
“Right. Remember how I said we’re going to work for a room? Well that work starts today. Yours, however is a little different to mine and the major’s. My lord father has... requested that you be sent on a contract.”
“I don’t have a choice, do I?” I said.
“No.” He responded.
I sighed. “Who’s it on?”