“That is going to cause a war.”
“My father wants her dead, because he thinks she has taken his second son captive.”
“You have a brother?!” I exclaimed.
“Half brother. I believe you know him. Jay Rauch.”
“I thought Jay was dead! I heard you killed him. He is your blood?”
“He doesn’t know.” Ayanami said calmly.
“But you had him interrogated! Tortured. How could you do that to your own family?”
“He betrayed me. I know how he was helping you. I just taught him a lesson.”
“Lesson?! I was the one who asked him to help me, you should have taken me, not him! Wait. That was why you took over my fort, wasn’t it? To control your half brother!”
“Father hates me. And he loves Jay. Even though Jay thinks he’s an orphan for his safety, father still loves him. I take over him, I gain recognition from father.” We began walking down the stairwell to the main landing.
“So I’m supposed to assassinate Lady Bess so your father can have his ‘captive’ son back even though the kid doesn’t know he has a father? What do you think is going to happen when he finds out you’re his own sibling? The man he hates most.”
“You kill Bess, we go free. Simple. I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation we are in. My father is currently one of the most powerful sempers alive.”
“I’m not doing that.” Ayanami stopped dead.
“I think you’ll find...” He pushed me up against the wall. “...that you will.” He muttered darkly.
“Ayanami, if you relieve me of duty I will work with you to kill your father. We’ll both be free.”
Ayanami punched me savagely with his teeth gritted, but it wasn’t whole-hearted, “Don’t try to make compromises with me. I don’t make deals with slaves.”
“I’m not even on the official slave list.” I said, offended.
“Oh, really? I just happen to have the paperwork here actually.”
“What!” I practically screeched. “Let me see that!” I snatched the parchment Ayanami had produced and read it carefully.
MASTER *Unknown* AYANAMI KAGE
OFFICIAL ROYAL DEED TO BATTLE SLAVE 1170KAGE4
Late General Vincent Frau Hacku
VALID FOR LIFE
VALIDATED BY THE KING & THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF DETRIBERGH 13th AUGUST 10234
“When did you get hold of this?” I demanded.
“About..... three months ago?”
“When we were at Durzo’s. You had the cheek to request that my closest friend make me an officially validated slave to you?”
“Yes, though request is putting it lightly.” He said with a smile. “You’re doing exactly as I say.”
“Shit.” I cursed. Royal decree made it absolutely compulsory that I obey my master as a slave, even a late general like myself. Failure to comply means execution by the hands of the chancellor, or in certain events, royalty- which was likely to be my case. Either way I knew them all well. Of course before even that your master could choose to do the dirty work himself. I now had a duty to obey, regardless of the nature of the task. Furthermore, your master could send you in to assassinate someone and let the unfortunate slave be prosecuted for murder if caught. I was too precious an asset to Ayanami- I didn’t think he would do that, but he wasn’t afraid to use and abuse me as he saw fit, I could take care of myself. “You are under strict orders to find and kill Bess. I think you know where she’ll be. I’ll come with you, just to make sure you carry out orders.”
“When are we leaving, sir?” I said, pushing down my hatred.
“Give it a couple of days.”
“Yes, sir. And in the mean time?”
“I need to talk to Kaien and Taker. I don’t know what my father expects of them. Come on.” I followed Ayanami silently downstairs and out into the courtyard at the front of the house. Our horses were out and we mounted up to ride around to the military barracks. When we arrived some of the soldiers were out drilling under the command of our majors. They both smartly saluted Ayanami, and became immersed in some uninteresting conversation about the soldiers and their ‘satisfactory’ skills. Ayanami informed them about my assignment and told them about how I had been enlightened to my current status which was cause for much grinning from Kaien.
“Major Zelt.” Ayanami said seriously, “I require that you stay with Taker here whilst I accompany Hacku on an important... mission. As you know, you greatly shamed me that night in the prison and I do not find it easy to trust you. I think you’ll be more likely to remember to follow orders from now on.”
Kaien’s face completely dropped. I found myself grinning. “Uh.... sir?” He said, his face a picture of confusion.
“You heard me soldier. Stay here and help with father until we return.”
We headed back into the house and Ayanami left me to get on with my own business. My jacket was in my room and dry, so I threw it on gratefully and then settled back on my bed in silence. The room was empty except for the girl who had been staring at my back earlier. She continued to stare at me. She was about twenty. “Is there a problem?” I said, looking levelly up at her.
She startled. “No, I… I.. you just have so many…”
“Yes…” She replied, blushing.
“Uh-huh. I know. You’re not the first to notice.”
“But you’re so young… Surely even Ayanami couldn’t inflict that many scars in such a small space of time?”
“I’m a semper, honey. Seven centuries in service to the crown.” I pointed at myself and grinned uncouthly, showing my unnatural youth.
“Oh..” She blushed harder, looking suddenly very afraid. “You’re Vincent Frau Hacku.”
“You got it,” I sighed.
“I’ve always wanted to meet you.”
“You just always seemed like a nice person. I lived in The City for a while. Followed your actions. Supported you with my mother.”
“I see… Well that was a few years ago now. I’ve changed.”
“I know. I didn’t recognise you.”
I coughed uneasily, sinking back on the bed.
“What’s it like to be a semper?” She persisted with her red lips.
“Hell,” I said bitterly. The truth. Simple to say, but so hard to understand if you haven’t been there.
“Surely not, I mean--”
“You have no idea.” I snapped. She shut up, fearful. I sighed and rubbed my face tiredly, “I’m sorry. I am. I’m just going through a hard time right now. Tell me, what’s your name?”
“Bess,” she replied, coming back to herself.
My breath caught a moment. “Oh,” was all I managed to say.
“Is that bad?” Her innocent amber eyes were wide and searching my face.
“No, no. Just… dwelling on… things.” I looked up and forced a smile. She returned it.
“What do you do for Ayanami? It must be a hard life to adjust to. General, to slave.”
Prince to slave, I thought miserably. “Ayanami has ways of making you settle in more quickly. I’m his personal assassin. Bodyguarding, not that he needs it, murder, intimidation, capture, other errands. He wants it, I do it.”
“How many have you killed?”
“In my entire life?”
“Yeah, if you don’t mind my asking.”
“Several hundreds of thousands, probably.” Strange thought.
“Does it not give you nightmares..?”
“My entire life is a nightmare. I don’t sleep.”
“I’ve come to terms with it now.”
After spending the next two days on my bed, forcing myself to talk nicely with the servants, Ayanami appeared at the door. All the servants- Bess, Tristan, Tod and Libby were in and playing cards at the table while I watched tiredly. It was The Day of Rest. Over those two days I had got to know Bess, and became sincerely attached to her. She was beautiful. Her amber eyes always searched mine carefully and seemed to know the truth. Her brown hair was long and silky. Her lips red and tempting.
“Hacku. Get up. We’re leaving.” The whole room fell silent.
I sighed and swung my legs over the edge of the bed. I grabbed my weapons and stood, making my way to the door. I stopped at Bess’ side. She was sat on the floor, looking down, very aware that I was looking at her.
“Bess,” I said softly, and stooped to kiss her, just once, on the lips. I left without looking back.
I followed Ayanami back to Lord Kage’s living quarters, and followed him in after he knocked at the door and received a response from Kage’s serving woman. I went and stood by the door again. “Ah, Fritz. Vincent.” The hairs on the back of my neck prickled at his naming of names. I bowed stiffly but didn’t come forwards. “You appear to have added to your collection of scars,” Kage said simply, looking at me harshly.
“Why would you care?” I snarled.
“You’re officially his slave now, aren’t you? Act like it.”
I looked down as a slave should, “Yes, sir.”
“Are you going to do the job?”
“Yes, sir.” I growled.
“We’re setting out now.” Ayanami added.
“Good. I want to see your skills, Vincent. Get out into the yard. Right now.” Kage rose and shooed me out of the house with Ayanami on his tail. “Elene, I want my sword!” He shouted as he went. Once we were out he stopped and waited for Elene, who appeared quickly with his sword and put the sheathe and belt around his waist. “Now, use what you want against me. I see you have no shortage of weapons. Go.” He whipped out his sabre and went for me, but I was quick enough to draw my dagger and sword and do a simple block. I had to stop myself from laughing at him. Kage smiled. “Got ya.” He said quietly, and then he swung his leg around and kicked me in the back of the head. How? I sprawled forwards on the ground and forced myself to my feet again. Kage was waiting for me. I’d have to be more careful. He attacked me with a series of blinding attacks. I kept up. Just. And then went at him myself with all my strength. Duck a swipe attack. Draw throwing knife. Throw. Right on target. The knife tore through the air and plunged into his shoulder. He didn’t even seem to react. Instead, he yanked it from his flesh and threw it straight back at me. I leapt sideways, just missing it. “So how’s Keira?” Kage shouted over the clanging of our swords as we came together again. He was smiling.
“You’re a tosser.” I said plainly, trying, so hard, to keep my face straight.
“You’re a slave and you should fucking act like it!” He roared, bringing his blade down hard. His anger made him blind. I dodged his attack and he somehow managed to hack his sword down so hard it partially embedded in the ground. I took the opportunity so smash him across the side of the head with the flat of my blade with all my strength. He went careering sideways and landed with a thud. Before he could even shout, I was on him. I dropped my sword and flicked out a wrist blade. I crouched over him like a wild beast on its prey and held it in animated suspension above his throat. He looked up at me in shock, not moving. I grinned down at him. “Happy?” I said savagely.
“You better assassinate Bess or you’ll regret that. Get out of my sight right now.” He growled after he had regained his composure. I left gladly, but I wasn’t looking forward to my task. Ayanami followed silently on my tail.
The impending doom of killing Bess slowly rose up inside me as our journey rolled on. I spent my silence frantically trying to think of a way to save Bess’ life. To no avail. Ayanami wanted to watch me kill her, so he knew I’d done the job. Back in the days of being a general I would have been disgusted at such a prospect. Even the thought of killing out of battle let alone a woman would have made me sick. Now I was different. Ayanami had changed me. We travelled much more swiftly without the Majors and simply changed horses at towns. But, the night before we were to hunt down Bess, Ayanami called a stop at an old abandoned barn in the empty plains. He tied the horses to graze on the sparse grass and settled just inside the rotten door of the old building. He sighed and then said, “Tell me about what you did all that time ago. Was my father telling the truth?” His voice seemed to come from the shadows, and seemed just as cold as them, but there was a hint of something else there too.
“Yes. He knew much too much.” I replied, sitting opposite him, caring nothing for ranks.
“I want to know what happened.”
I sighed. Would letting it all out heal my shattered heart? To this man? Somehow it seemed that way. I let most of it go. Most. “I suppose you’ve heard about Hacku’s Keira. Well. I know you have. That was years ago. Before you were even born. What I assume you don’t know is that I am of royal blood. It’s almost my only secret. Not very well kept, now. When I was 18, I was forcibly made a semper by some devil’s magic. The thought that I would be immortal drove me insane. I turned to drink. Lots of it. An immortal prince? Sure, great. A drunk, angry and hateful immortal prince? Not so much. But then I met Keira. I was charmed. I stopped drinking, and eventually we got closer. My father... my dead father, the King of the Four Seas, didn’t agree with my courtship. One night I had an argument. Hell, it was bad. I drank again, got so drunk I couldn’t think straight at all, which is hard for people like us. I tried to make Keira a semper like I had been, so we could run away together. You heard that I didn’t even bury her? Is that what they told you?”
“It is.” He said. No sarcasm. Just confirmation.
“There was nothing left to bury after what I did to her. I couldn’t make her a semper, not as drunk as I was. I was found in her chamber the next morning, knelt on a carpet of blood, and still weeping. They tried to take me. I killed them all with my magic and massacred my father’s home kingdom city, my place of birth- the City of the Coral. Everyone was dead. Bodies everywhere. The blood.... it was all over me. I can’t clean it from me. Never. Then I turned myself in, it was too much. I killed thousands, Ayanami. Men, women, children. Can you say you’ve done that and still have the will to live? Because I certainly don’t. The authorities came in from surrounding cities and kingdoms, locked me in a cell for weeks in darkness and no contact with the outside world. Then, one day all the lawmen of the Four Seas- the ‘Dirtyworkers’ they were called where I’m from, came and beat me and beat me and beat me, for days to try and make me explain my motives for killing an entire city aside from because of my lover’s death. I was young then- I made a mistake in that I screamed. It just fuelled them on. Those beatings....” I trailed off, fixated in the memory of the agony. “Those beatings set me up for the future, but they made me defensive in little situations, and totally against the laws. My legendary temper was simply made worse. The twelfth day that they came to hurt me, they brought a knife, they were going to give me a Glasgow Smile, Ayanami. So I killed them. All 16 of them. I escaped and came to these lands. I was the lone wanderer for months, and became self-sufficient in a way. I travelled, and as I travelled, I heard about the exiled prince. Durzo- Chancellor Durzo had been my friend when I was a young prince, and I heard from the travellers that he had left my country. It was after about another 3 years of being alone, with a new identity that I ran into him. He was a commander in one of the Guards, and he just happened to be taking part in initiation inspection when I went to join. He helped me from then on- made me a general after about 150 years and he had moved up to Chancellor. Some news of my past leaked- but it’s cloudy for the majority of the normal people.” I stopped and stared deeply into Ayanami’s eyes. I could see pain there, but not to match mine. “Then you came along.” I growled. Ayanami broke eye-contact. “Just as I was beginning to get my life on track. I’d even stopped drinking.” We sat in silence in the darkness for a while, then Ayanami got up.
“Let’s go. I want to get this over with.”
I sat upright in the wooden chair at Lady Bess’ desk, acutely aware of my throbbing back after spending too long in a cold hard cell. Bess was explaining to Commander Trent how she wanted the forces distributed throughout the fortress, and also on high alert for intruders. We all knew she meant Ayanami and Hacku, but no one mentioned it. Something had snapped inside her. She was almost pro-active, having to do something every minute. She didn’t believe in putting her men at risk for her own means, but she was obviously terrified of Ayanami who posed a massive threat at the moment. “Jay,” Lady Bess said, looking at me with dull, sunken eyes.
“Yes, milady?” I said as politely as I could.
“Do you know anything about where Master Ayanami and Sir Hacku may be at the present time? We need to find, and apprehend them as soon as possible, you understand.”
“Yes, Lady,” I paused, thinking. “I cannot think where Ayanami and Hacku would go, I have heard of Master Ayanami’s hatred for his for his semper father and vice versa, and I also cannot imagine what he would want with Hacku and his two men. Hacku would be unable to escape from Ayanami anyway. He was in a pretty bad state. But there’s always the possibility that Hacku has turned to work with Ayanami rather than just serve him. You got the slave conformation papers from the Chancellor, didn’t you?”
“I did. Sir Hacku would never work with Ayanami. There would have to be a good reason. I simply cannot comprehend why Durzo sold his best friend and ally to his worst enemy!” Bess spat.
Trent coughed uneasily. Since his father had come here to visit him after hearing he was no longer under any false imprisonment his mood was considerably better. His alcohol problem, not so much. “Lady Bess. I think we should try to avoid personal topics here. We need to get Vincent’s forces back into a routine, or we could have problems in the long run.”
“Mmm.” She mumbled, resting her chin on the heel of her hand. “Gentlemen, it is late and we have spoken for a long time. I am sure you are all weary. Please, feel free to leave. But, Jay, stay here if you would.”
I nodded my acknowledgement and tried to massage my aching back better. The other officers left swiftly, leaving me and Bess alone in the chill hollow of what was once General Hacku’s office. Bess sighed. “Do you know what I mean when I say that that I want relief? From this?”
I looked at her quizzically, trying to grasp where this was going.
“I want to be free. I’ve wanted to be free since Vincent disappeared. Since he was captured by Ayanami and then somehow managed to end up in my own dungeons as a changed man. Have you heard about the past of General Hacku?” She asked me softly.
“No, my lady.”
“Ah. It is a sad one indeed. I can certainly see why Vincent would want his life to be over. His has been painful, and I’m sure it isn’t going to get any better. What I’m trying to say is, I want relief, and I think it is here for me.”
“It will be painless, I assure you.” A familiar voice said flatly from the shadows. I saw a movement in the shadow of the curtains behind Lady Bess. Eyes glittered in the darkness, and then he emerged, tall and- strangely- terrifying. There was a cold calculating professional in Hacku’s eyes. An assassin. A slave. Completely devoid of emotion and feeling. I stood, my chair skittering backwards a little, clattering. But then the noise stopped short and a hand fell on my shoulder. “Shhh.” Another voice whispered into my ear. I could feel warm breath on my neck. The hand pushed me back into my seat, and I complied, frozen with terror. “Just wait.” Ayanami hissed gently and almost silently into my ear. It sent a shiver up my spine
“Good,” Bess said, not even turning around, but staring straight ahead. She almost seemed to relax. “I’ve missed you, Vincent.” She stood and turned around to face Hacku. He looked down on her emotionlessly, but I could see behind his charade. “If you would allow me.... just one kiss... I would die gladly.” Bess stepped in close and Hacku allowed Bess to turn her head up to him and take what she had wanted all her life. With passion, she cupped his face in her hand, and even Hacku’s eyes fluttered closed in released emotion. She stepped back again and said, “Ah, yes. I know you never loved me, but thankyou, Vincent. I am ready.” Now she turned back away from him and stood tall and still, staring off into oblivion. I shouted out for it to stop but Ayanami’s hand clamped over my mouth, cutting me off short. He forced me to my feet and pulled me backwards, to the corner of the meeting room. I watched in mounting horror as Hacku took up position behind Bess and drew his sword slowly, the metal hissing in the silence. With a practised motion he levelled his sword horizontally, pointing at the back of Bess’ head. Quickly, he muttered something in a different language I didn’t understand and I felt Ayanami tense behind me. Then, quickly, precisely, he drove the sword and pulled back just as quickly. Bess seemed to stand unharmed for a moment, frozen in time. But then her legs folded and she collapsed to the floor. Hacku still stood in silence, his sword still levelled, bearing Bess’ blood. He seemed to be looking at the sword. Suddenly, he turned his icy gaze on Ayanami. Once again in another language, he growled something at Ayanami. He let me go and shoved me forwards to stand before General Hacku. I tried to stand up still, and I quivered as my eyes kept flickering back to Bess’ body. I sob threatened to escape and I smothered my mouth with my hand to mask it. All coldness had left Hacku’s eyes and he looked at me compassionately. Bess had been like a mother to me over the last few weeks. I didn’t know what to do. No doubt Hacku had to kill me now. He looked past me and to Ayanami. “What now? What do you want me to do?” He articulated slowly, then looked back at me. His eyes were emotionless again. That’s it. He’s going to kill me, I thought. “Jay. I need to tell you something.” He looked back up to Ayanami again. “Ayanami is your... bastard brother. I didn’t want to have to tell you like this, but I’m bound to Ayanami by law. I cannot resist him, do you understand? Please,” he gestured to Bess and he clenched his eyes shut. “I didn’t want to. Oh, God.” He buried his face in his hands and walked out of the open door to the silent hallway. He didn’t go far- we could still hear him sobbing outside. It took a while for Hacku’s words to finally hit me. Ayanami was my brother.
“You,” I said, turning on Ayanami. “You... bastard. You had me tortured. You’ve had Hacku tortured. And to what ends?! Can’t you see that Vincent is being driven crazy by what you’re forcing him to do? He’s completely losing it! You’re mad, and I refuse to accept you as my brother, you vile man.”
Ayanami looked away a moment and murmured something under his breath before raising his voice, “It is perfectly fine that you would refuse me, but if you would see father--”
“Lord Kage!” I spat, “Lord Kage is my father. Unbelievable. I do not want to meet your father. Never.”
“Please?” Ayanami said, almost inaudibly, his eyes pleading.
“If Kage is enough to send a man as sick as you cowering I certainly do not want to see him.”
I could hear Jay confronting Ayanami. I didn’t care. I had just murdered Bess.
After I had insisted that I would absolutely not see my father, Ayanami began to lose his temper. He took a step forwards, trembling. Before Ayanami could do anything, though, Hacku came striding back inside. Right behind him came Commander Trent with his sword pointedly jabbing him in the upper back. “Stop.” The commander said. “What are you doing....” He saw Ayanami emerge from his shadowy retreat in the corner. “You!!” He saw Bess. “Holy shit. Who did this?! It was you, wasn’t it? You fucking tosser!” He accused, looking at Ayanami, who grinned at Hacku in response.
“Kipp. Kipp!” Hacku tried to get Trent’s attention, turning slowly with his hands in the air. Commander Trent went silent and looked to him. “It was...” Hacku gathered himself up. “It was me. I know, I deserve a life sentence in imprisonment for unlawfully murdering a military leader. But Kipp? For God’s sake, kill me. Give me mercy.” He pleaded. I was gobsmacked- this was the real man behind all the fancy sword wielding and the strong general I had known since I had come here. This is what immortality had done to him.
“You killed Lady Bess...?” Trent was quiet with shock. “After everything? She trusted you, loved you, and you’ve tried- and succeeded- to take her life twice! You shitty human being. Remember when I said that the conditions you were under bound you to slavery more than me, and it was not your fault? I was wrong. You’re a pitiful murderer. You deserve to rot in hell! You are no friend of mine.”
“Then kill me.” Hacku broke in icily. “Kill this pathetic creature that stands before you. I want to die. Just spare me the torture. The imprisonment. The agony. Surely even I have had too much of that for eight lifetimes? I’m too old to deal with it anymore.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.” The commander said morosely.
He put his fingers to his lips and whistled two ear-splitting notes. Suddenly, about twenty guards came rushing in. They took me by surprise, and I drew my sword as a natural response. Before I knew it, Trent had his sword pointing at my throat and I was surrounded by guards. Ayanami was in the same situation. “Put it away.” He said. The guards had been trained to ignore distressing things, I should know- I trained them, but some still gagged at the sight of Bess’s body sprawled on the floor. “You’re forgetting your training, boys.” I said, being my old self. Some shifted uncomfortably.
“What the bloody hell is going on here?” I heard bellowed from outside the door. A huge man strode in and then stopped dead at the sight of Trent. “Commander, sir!”
Any response Trent was about to make was cut off as I groaned openly, “Oh bloody hell. Not you again. I thought I’d got away from bastards like you.”
“Oh it’s the royal shitbag.” Hitch said, grinning.
My stomach dropped, how did he know about that? “Ok. I don’t know where you got that from, but I shouldn’t bring that up.”
“Why?” He smiled, knowing he had power here.
“Because that was a long time ago, a time that should be forgotten.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Sometimes I can’t help speaking my native language, even if it is a dead language to most people now. The amount of times I had cursed in Tyreannean and increased greatly since all my problems had started, but I’d already done it about three times today. I muttered a stream of curses to myself, much to Ayanami’s amusement who seems to understand it extremely well indeed. Trent jostled me with his sword. There was confusion in his eyes but he didn’t ask about our conversation, “You know the Sergeant?”
“Oh yes, we became very well acquainted in the Reignold Dungeons.” I said, too jovially for the topic. “Or more like, I became very well acquainted with his fists.”
“Want to be reunited, Vincent?” He butted in.
“Not particularly. I think your Commander has other things on his mind, you know. Maybe that corpse down there?” Hitch turned around slowly and looked down at Bess’ motionless body.
“Is that....? Shit. Oh shit. And this was you. You killed Lady Bess. Fuck! Oh, no oh no oh no.” He was cringing and grasping his hair with white knuckles. He turned to me, “You murdered her.”
The initial shock had kind of worn off that I’d killed her, but I still couldn’t bear to look at her.
“That’s it.” Hitch was trembling violently, and the look in his eye was that of death. “Commander Trent, permission to personally.... take revenge. For all our sakes.”
“Permission granted.” Trent replied almost immediately.