“I can’t bear anymore of this,” he whispered. A glass of brandy appeared under his nose. Dante took it and drank, trying to forget.
“I know, lad. I know. There’s no escape any more. Kage found out it was me who told you where to run to. He… did things to me. Tried to make me tell. In the end he used the tracker magae and found you in no time. He didn’t choose to use her in the first place because he wanted to hurt me. But now I see that there’s no escape. We just have to bear the pain.”
Kage entered the common room at that point, fully dressed and perfect looking as per. Dante tensed suddenly in anticipation of his approach. Stark’s hand fell on Dante’s arm.
“I’m getting us rooms here for a week or so. I have a job contract that needs two assassins too. Hatake. You’re coming with me tomorrow to do it.” Kage said, business as usual.
Smack. Kage backhanded Dante across the cheek. The empty brandy glass shattered on the stone floor and he managed to just catch himself from falling onto Stark. He sat forward and put his throbbing head in his hands while he tried to get his vision to focus again. Droplets of blood pattered the floor where his teeth had cut into his cheek.
“I mean,” Dante groaned, blinking heavily to try and get the stars from his eyes, “I mean yes sir.”
Around the room, men and women alike stared at the affair going on. Dante could only hide his face under his hood and hope no one saw the agony, shame and misery in his eyes.
The following morning passed swiftly before Kage turned up at Dante’s door, carrying a Seri injection. As soon as Dante opened the door Kage came forward and pushed him backwards onto the bed. His throat constricted in acute terror. Kage’s hand pulled Dante’s face to his and Dante forced himself to endure a deep kiss from his insane master. At the same time the Seri injection was plunged into his flesh- not at the wrist, but the neck. Dante moaned through the kiss in pleasure and pain, and Kage made a low growl of satisfaction, kissing more fiercely. His hand moved down Dante’s stomach…
Dante forced himself to follow Kage on their mission like nothing had happened back in his room. He was buzzing from the Seri, and his memory of the horrific pleasure of killing was fragmented and unclear the next day. He didn’t remember leaving the inn, nor arriving at the target’s location. All he really remembered was the perfectly timed kills both he and Kage simultaneously had to make to avoid detection. That and the rush. The oneness he felt with everything at that moment. Grinning. Blood spattered.
Arriving back at the inn had been interesting. Dante and Kage had both been wearing white uniform shirts to get into the target’s location. By the end of the mission, though it had been marked ‘CLEAN’ on the contract, both men were bloodied at the sleeves and blood was spattered everywhere. Dante had taken a painful cut to his ribs which had scarred over, but still served as a painful reminder of the carnage from the previous day. He hadn’t even noticed it at the time.
One week at the inn turned to two and three as Kage found more pleasures and more missions. By week three, Dante was next to mute. He spoke as little as possible and his hooded cloak became a permanent fixture about the common room. The days had become a miserable blur for him, but more than anything he feared the nights he spent alone in his room. The nights that Kage might turn up at his door. He resorted to spending almost all his time sat alone at the bar, or with an also-miserable Stark.
“Dante I haven’t had a word from you in almost two weeks now,” Stark muttered huskily in the silent midnight common room. Brandy was on the table. Kage was out whoring again.
Dante carried on using his hellstone knife to scratch at the table. “I have nothing to say.”
“There must be something… I haven’t even seen your face these last few days. That damnable hood.” Stark made an irritable attempt to take it off him. Dante swiped him with the knife with a sudden ferocity. It caught his forearm and Stark snarled, knocking Dante suddenly from the high stool and pinning him down on the floor. Stark froze and gasped. Dante grimaced from the knock to his head and then avoided eye contact with Stark when he realised why he was staring.
“He did this to you.” Not a question. Stark gazed defeatedly down at the three dark red spiderlike lines tracing down Dante’s left cheek from the bottom of his eye like extended eyelashes. Or cat scratches.
“He cut me with a knife and rubbed in a red dye so the colour wouldn’t fade. He said it was make me see that I was only his. He said he could… do more.” Dante was choking on his own words, shaking. His eye was red and irritated where the knife had nicked his lashline. Or was that the start of tears?
Stark drew away and helped his acquaintance… friend? His friend up. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know.” Stark murmured.
“I’m going out.”
“A walk. Somewhere.” Dante turned and fled.
The next morning, Stark found Dante at the bar again. “Kage is coming back in an hour. Then we’re leaving. We have a door-link back to the Sector-2… I mean 1 complex from here.”
“Sector 1.” Dante repeated doggedly, then laughed. “Jesus Christ.” He put his head in his hands tiredly and said, “He could get me all along, couldn’t he? Just a door away. He knew where I went, but he just wanted to enjoy the chase. The madness it brought me.”
“Yes,” Stark whispered, looking at his hands. He’d just removed the bandage on his hand, but he could still see traces of mangling where Kage had…
“Sector 1,” Dante repeated as he got up and left for his room to get his pitiful possessions.
Dante unlocked his room and welcomed the dark silence there. He sat on his bed and put his head in his hands. All that time he had spent running, he knew, had been futile. A game. Still, though, Kage would make him pay for this misbehaviour. “You have no fucking idea what I’m going to do to you.” He had said. The fear was torturous. Another game for Kage to play, like a wolf toying with its prey before the kill.
Right there, in the corner.
Dante pretended not to notice, his 26 years’ experience of being an assassin coming into mind. He casually put his hand by his side and drew a belt knife. Underneath the calm exterior of Hei, Dante was terrified. He could clearly see the shape of his assailant now, and it wasn’t Kage, but Dante feared more. Cyborgs? Another assassin?
A black blade briefly caught the weak light filtering into the room.
“I can see you.” Hei said, standing. When they didn’t respond, he made his way to the heavy curtains and pulled them back, never letting his guard down.
The light revealed a girl, about 20 years of age. She was slim and dressed in black loose trousers and a tight top that wouldn’t hinder movement. Her trousers were tucked into black hide boots that had been bound with leather thongs tight to her calves. She stood against the wall, leaning nonchalantly, her sword was held down against her leg. The way she stood bespoke relaxation, but Hei could see the way she had cleverly concealed her arm holding a knife behind her back, and the way she was ready to lift her sword at a second’s notice. Her green eyes fixed Dante.
“I have been sent by The Guild with a message. The Guildmaster wants to speak with you, and you will oblige. He remembers you. You are not alone.” The Guild had strongly believed in speaking as little as possible when Dante worked for them, and he could tell by the way her voice ground along that it was still the case.
“Master Tristan is still alive?” Dante blurted stupidly. He had been old when Dante left. Very old. No-one in The Guild used drugs. ‘Purity of mind’ was essential, so how Tristan had eluded death escaped him.
“He will come to you soon. Do not give up hope.”
“I do not follow The Guild.”
“The Guild follows you, Dante Hatake. Lord Hei.”
“Take me away from here,” Dante said quickly with sudden passion. “Please. Lord Kage… You have no idea what he does… I… Take me away from here.” Dante suddenly desperately wanted to escape. He had seen a way out. “I’ll do anything. I’ll kill for you again. I want out.” He started edging towards the girl, talking at her, begging to be released. The girl clearly hadn’t been expecting this behaviour, for she backed to the window slowly, like she was being stalked by a predator. Hei begrudged the look of sympathy on her face and finally managed to take control of Dante’s wits. He calmed, took a breath and looked the girl fully in the eye like an eagle. Now he really was a predator. “Please. Leave me. Tell Master Tristan I am… ready to see him as soon as possible. Don’t keep me waiting.”
“Master Tristan doesn’t keep people waiting.” The girl had mirrored Hei’s change in demeanour and straightened. “Look for the black ribbon.”
And then she was gone.
Stark was still sat at the bar when Dante arrived downstairs. It would be about half an hour before Kage arrived back to go back to the complex. Dante dreaded it. Back in his own territory, Kage could do anything. He was the king. Hood up, weapons donned and Seri in pocket, Dante sat and joined his friend. He paid the barman enough for a full bottle of brandy and then downed a quarter, ready to numb himself.
Stark’s hand fell on Dante’s shoulder. “Take it easy,” he murmured gently.
“I am taking it easy.” Dante replied irritably.
“I just want you to be careful, Dante.”
“I don’t need to be careful.”
“And what if Master Kage attacks you? What can you do when you’ve drowned yourself in alcohol?”
“There’s nothing I can do either way. I may as well numb the pain,” Dante said defeatedly.
Stark sighed, resigned. He knew Dante was right.
Kage chose that moment to walk in. Silently, he snaked behind Dante, motioning Stark to silence with a glare and a finger over his lips. From behind, Kage grabbed onto Dante’s throat and slammed him face-down onto the bar. Hei didn’t react, but remained still, looking tiredly up at Stark. Kage’s fingers found Hei’s left ear and pinched the notch that he had shot there only a month and a half ago. Hei winced slightly. Kage’s hand moved to play with the small black stud in his lobe. Dante had got it almost 10 years ago, just after Kage had begun giving him more freedom on missions around Tymeria. It had been a gesture of defiance, but Kage had barely noticed it since he’d got it.
“This must’ve been expensive. This is black diamond,” Kage observed. Indeed it had been- Dante had been taking a lot of money for kills. Kage, despite abusing and enslaving Dante, paid him well for kills he made from the bounty. Dante had spent his money on nothing for almost 3 years, keeping it in his bank in his room. By then he had accumulated the equivalent of almost £3,000,000. Not even Stark saved that much, choosing to spend on whores and gambling instead. So, Dante had chosen to buy the most expensive diamond stud he had found.
Dante became mute again, as he had recently in the presence of his master.
Kage suddenly stepped back as if nothing had happened. “It’s time to go.” He led the pair to a basement area, Dante still carrying the brandy and with his hood up. Kage closed the basement door briefly, and opened it again to the bright white now- Sector 1 complex.
“Welcome home,” Kage said.
Dante and Stark both disappeared off before Kage could get his hands on them. There was a silent agreement that they would go to Dante’s quarters. A first for both of them. Once inside, Dante lit a fire and settled heavily in his armchair at Stark’s side. Silence brooded.
“Why do you have two chairs here?” Stark burst out. Dante was a solitary man, and the arrangement interested him.
A sigh. “I have the occasional unwelcome guest. You might as well ask why I have a kingsize bed here, when we can never sleep. It’s just there. Kage visits sometimes… I’ve even brought targets here for a drink. What can I say?”
Stark ignored the grief evident in his voice. Dante still, after 15 years, couldn’t bear killing. But he loved it too. Everyone knew it. “Kage comes here?”
“You know there’s an unspoken rule that he doesn’t enter your quarters?”
“Try telling him that. And his cyborgs.” Dante drank to that.
“What does he… do?” Stark prodded. He didn’t want to know the answer.
Dante points to the dark red stain on the cream rug by the fire. “Target practise- he has a gun you know. I think you know what else he enjoys.” Dante sickened at the thought. “The Guild came to me today. Before we left.”
“The Guild? Holy shit, Dante! If Kage finds out…” He shuddered. “What did they say?”
Dante knew he’d already said too much, but he trusted this man. “They said the Guildmaster wishes to see me, and I should look for the black ribbon. Stark, I’m frightened. I’m torn between the two most powerful organisations ever, and I don’t want to associate with either. This will be a bloodbath.” He drained off his brandy bottle and, with a grunt, made his way to his drinks cabinet. He was running low but selected his half-empty gin bottle and took a swig.
“Just stop drinking for a moment, Dante.” Stark snapped, curious for information. Dante in his current state was hard to decipher, and he was making it harder.
“I most certainly will not stop drinking.” Dante murmured aggressively.
Stark sighed and looked at his hands. The things he did for this boy. He’d become nothing but a monster. He could never have saved him, he knew.
The sound of smashing glass and a whimper of pain caught him off guard. Stark stood and came face to face with Kage pinning Dante mercilessly to the wall.
“I think you should stop drinking.” Kage murmured.
Dante’s eyes were pained and wide with terror. Stark knew then that Kage had overheard the whole conversation. Kage’s eyes were dark with rage as he absentmindedly held Dante back and pinned Stark with his glare.
“My Lord Master Kage,” Stark forced out in as calm a voice as possible, bowing deeply.
“The Guild. I leave you two for a fucking hour, and this is what I come to?” Both men were frozen with acute terror. This was a categorical act of betrayal and PEC (positive enemy contact). “Stark. I most sincerely hope you were going to tell me about this.” He whispered.
“Of course, my lord. I’d do nothing else.” Stark stammered.
“Dante Hatake. I think you should come with me.” He says icily, drilling him with his blue stare. “I’ll deal with you later Stark. I know you weren’t going to tell me. You’re a traitor and a liar.” Stark blanched.
Dante froze with terror. Oh my God. Oh my God, his mind screamed, Kage isn’t in it for the enjoyment this time. This is real. Will they allow me to die? “My lord… please… I--” Dante is cut off by the sharpness of a punch to his jaw. He staggered sideways, and clutching his jaw with a shuddering moan of agony, followed Kage from the room, leaving Stark alone.
“I’m so sorry, Dante.” Stark whispered.
“I’m going to bind your hands, and you’re going to wait in that cell while I speak to authority.” Kage commanded. Dante had never seen him act so professionally. He allowed Kage to manhandle him into his old cell in the cave, and stayed silent while guards with guns filed in and the lights were switched off. Only then did he let himself go. He sank down the bars and put his face in his tightly-bound hands. Kage had said he can’t kill him, but will they make an exception now? Does Dante’s contact with The Guild make him a more attractive prospect? Dante knew there was a lot of pain to come.
Kage must have been gone at least a day. His last Seri was fading and his hands shook when the great door opened and six black 4x4s entered, lighting up the cavern and almost blinding Dante.
This is it.
Kage emerged from one with Overlord Howl, and the five other Sectarians appeared with two guards. “Dante, Dante, Dante.” Overlord Howl said slowly as he strolled to the bars of the cage. Hei stood and approached with a confident swagger. Let’s have some fun. “Hello, Overlord.”
“It’s nice to see you again after your… ‘escape’. How was the break?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t really call it a ‘break’, sir. It was all very tiring. I didn’t really get very far before Lord Kage caught up and did unspeakable things to me.”
Overlord Howl’s demeanour shifts ever so slightly, a slight strain of surprise on his face. Indeed, it seemed that none of Kage’s men had ever spoken so boldly of Kage’s discrepancies. There was a tenseness around the room, and Dante could see Lord Heinako was fuming. His eyes were fixed on Kage over his mask.
Speaking of which, where was Kage?
Dante found out soon enough when he found his face being driven full force into the bars of the cage. Unable to shield himself with his hands, he took it fully and folded to his knees as his vision blurred. A collective gasp filled the air. Time for Kage to have fun.