“Dante, we’re going to need the full details of what you’ve witnessed. Let’s make this easy,” Dante hears at the edge of the darkness surrounding his vision. He couldn’t tell who said it. Groaning, he staggered to his feet and leant against the bars to get his vision back. “Dante. What happened?” Kagé’s voice. He shivered.
“Kagé, please, give me a minute.” Hei managed to grumble.
“We don’t have time. The Guild are capable of breeching our security. They could be here right now, and all you’re doing is aiding them, so tell me what the fuck happened.”
“Perhaps I want to aid them. They offered me a way out of this hell hole.”
“So you’re forgetting that they contracted both your parents?”
“At least they let me leave.”
“If you don’t tell me where The Guild are, I’m going to beat the shit out of you.” Dante heard the other Sectarians gasp. A voice spoke up from outside the bars,
“Lord Kagé, I don’t believe beating him is the way to go.”
Dante looked up at that. “You don’t know what he’s really like, do you?” He said to the darkness. “You all have no idea what he does.”
“We have a vague idea, Dante Hatake, but what he does is his own business.”
Kagé ended that conversation with a painful backhand that sent Dante reeling. “Jesus,” he spluttered as he tried to crawl away, blood dripping to the floor.
“Where are The Guild?” Lord Kagé roared, the sound echoing infinitely. He kicked Dante in the ribs so that he collapsed with a cry. “Where?” He repeated, kicking him again.
“Ah! Oh, God! Sir, I… please… oh no p--” Dante’s frenzied begging was cut off with the pressure of a knife at his ribs. He pressed himself back against the bars, wincing at the pain.
“Dante, for God’s sake, tell us where the Guild are hiding.” Kagé’s voice had turned chillingly soft.
“I genuinely don’t know Kagé. I promise you.”
“Are you sure?” Kagé crudely dragged the knife down his ribs, tearing his shirt and cutting to the bone. Dante moaned loudly through the blur of pain and retched. Kagé replaced the knife on Dante’s sternum, smiling as he watched his eyes widen in pure terror.
“I’ll… I’ll tell you everything I know. I will, please! But I don’t know where they are.”
Kagé let the knife slice down his chest torturously slowly. “They’re coming here for me! Look for the black ribbon, that’s what they said! You heard me Kagé. You heard me say.” Dante ranted.
“That I did.” Kagé didn’t stop.
“Master Kagé, please stop.”
La’liel. Oh, thank God. Kagé stopped and turned to her voice. She strode to the bars, pulling down the black mask that distorted her face like the rest of the remnants of Sector 1. The katana across her back was an ominous warning. Lord Heinako’s eye’s twinkled savagely as his comrade intervened. Dante’s head slumped forwards as he allowed himself a brief respite, trying to battle down the anger that Hei was exuding. Hei won. The calm, cool interior that was Hei washed throughout Dante’s broken body, mind and soul.
Standing and approaching Kagé’s side at the bars, Hei could see the lustful glint in his eye. Blood drenched Dante’s shirt, and the flesh behind his shredded clothing was bloodied and scarred. Hei raised an eyebrow quizzically at her, challenging what she had to say. Mistress La’liel didn’t falter at his gaze. Dante wanted to thank and thank her. “Master Kagé, I know where the Guild are. At least, I know where one member is. She’s at a university in the United Kingdom on Earth. I understand that’s your jurisdiction. We can find her. Black ribbon, that’s all we need to look for.”
“Oh yes, La’liel? And how do you know this information?” Kagé’s eyes darkened.
Heinako stepped forward, “That is Sector 2 business, Kagé.”
Their eyes locked, and Heinako’s hand fell to his throwing stars. Hei watched as Kagé hovered on the edge of pulling his pistol out, but his hands lifted in a harmless gesture and he stepped back. Heinako may not be in charge on paper, but Kagé knew who he was dealing with.
“Dante, you’re driving.” Kagé spat. “We’re going to catch the Guild.”
The convoy had been set up efficiently, and now Hei drove at the head of the 5 black 4x4s and two armoured trucks. Kagé sat in the passenger seat at his side, and a pale Stark sat in the back. His trembling hand was bandaged again and a healing laceration split his lip. His green eyes were hooded as he sat and stared resolutely out the front window. In the rear view mirror Hei could see him wince at the bumps in the road and his hand fell to his side. Kagé’s knuckles were bloodied.
“20 minutes go to, sir.” Hei murmured professionally, black eyes never leaving the road in front.
“Thankyou, Hei.” Kagé muttered conspirationally. Hei looked up in shock. Why that name?
Tristan Stark’s ribs throbbed abominably. Three broken? Maybe more. Kagé withholding Seri was taking its toll. Healing was too slow. The pain was too much. Dante’s chilling gaze caught Stark’s eye in the rearview mirror, but Stark couldn’t hold the eye contact. He was too afraid to be seen by Kagé, what Kagé might deduce from that look. Dante was strangely subdued. A professional soldier-like coldness hung about him in the way he sat back easily in his seat, relaying information about their destination to Kagé from his earpiece. This time they were taking orders from Overlord Howl himself, and the hushed voice gave a list of orders to the three men. Noone seemed to listen. There was an awkwardness between them, knowing that Kagé was going to take revenge for Dante’s betrayal at some point.
“Dante,” Kagé snaps, “Park up somewhere accessible. We’ll have to be out of here ASAP.”
“Yes, sir. The girl resides in this building here. She’s 21, and owns a flat to herself. Timetable suggests she would be home now. Do we investigate?”
“Yes, let’s move in now.” Kagé confirmed.
Dante stops for a moment, listening to his earpiece. “The Overlord is suggesting there are army forces on the move to our destination. Parliament is not happy about us making moves without their confirmation, particularly on undisclosed business.”
“They can fuck off. We’ll just have to move quickly.” That ends the conversation. Dante relays to Howl.
“Okay, let’s move,” Dante says, “Apartment 89. Squad 1 to 4, surround the building. Squad 5, come with us. Let’s go Stark.” He said more gently. Dante was appointed as mission co-leader by Kagé, after Kagé bludgeoned Stark beyond any form of command, and having had experience with The Guild. Stark didn’t miss the position.
Kagé strode into the building, shortly followed by Dante dressed in his usual black baggy shirt and his breeches. His astonishing array of knives caught the light of overhead fluorescent strips and winked red and black at Stark. Stark had never been a fan of carrying large amounts of weaponry, specialising in short-knife combat. He only ever carried 4 knives at once- belt, thigh, and twins across his back. Dante had two long knives strapped across his back, one strapped to his thigh and forearm, an array of kunai knives fitted into his belt along with another shorter knife and several pouches of poison. He also knew from experience that he had multiple leaf knives hidden in his soft leather boots. Kagé and Dante were conversing in hushed voices up ahead. The agitation on Dante’s face was clear and in his body language, the way he hunched his shoulders and lowered his head to challenge his master at his side. His whispers grew in volume until Kagé slammed him against the wall, abruptly silencing the poor boy. Stark sighed at the fear that suddenly etched his face. Kagé’s forearm was across Dante’s throat as he murmured, “This is your job. You’ve killed for me for years, and you’re still afraid to capture a little girl?”
“I’ve never liked killing, Kagé.”
“Keep telling yourself that, Dante. I’ve seen the way my men have had to hold you back from killing on missions. I’ve also seen the way you cower back from killing like it makes you ill. I remember your initiation, the way you were sobbing with terror, and yet the way you said you enjoyed it. The way you slaughtered those people… It was the best thing I’ve ever seen. There are two people inside your head, Hei Hatake, and I know which one I’d rather have on my side.”
A look of confusion and anger flitted simultaneously across Dante’s face, before an icy control settled about his features again. “Just around this corner,” He said flatly, breaking from Kagé’s grip and striding ahead.
Dante lifted three fingers in silence. His hand was trembling slightly, and Stark knew that like himself, Dante was trying to hide his Seri withdrawal. He was positioned on one side of the door, Kagé on the other. Stark stood with a knife drawn behind Kagé, but he knew he didn’t stand a chance if the girl put up a fight. The combat soldiers stood with guns loaded, ready in case something went wrong.
He folded a finger down, his gaze becoming darker and more dead as the seconds passed. His hands moved detachedly over his shoulders to his twin stilettos, and he held them in a ready stance at his sides. A short nod to Kagé, and they both turned at the same time, kicking the door with enough force to flatten it on the ground. All men rushed in together, and conducted a lightning-fast search of the room. There was nowhere to hide. Stark turned from searching behind the wardrobe, knife drawn, as did Kagé, and they both shared a knowing glance of a time long passed when they had worked in harmony. Kagé’s eyes found Dante at the same time as Stark’s, and they both stopped dead.
Dante held the girl round the mouth, silencing the look of panic on her face. A sword with a hilt bound in black ribbon clattered to the floor at their side. A knife at her ribs inhibited any movement. “Dante…” Kagé muttered cautiously, registering the dead look in his eye, the way they didn’t shine. Stark had seen that look several times before. Dante was in a killing rage, but he wasn’t allowed to kill. Anything could happen. “Dante,” Kagé raised his hands harmlessly, “We need to go. The military are coming. We need to bring the girl.”
“What’s your name, girl?” Dante murmured in her ear, his eyes never leaving Kagé’s and the murder there never fading.
“I came to your room but days ago. The Guild follows you.”
“I know it’s you, but I asked your name!” Dante snapped suddenly, forcefully. His grip on her tightened.
She squirmed, “Jenday. It’s Jenday, Hei Hatake.”
“Why is this happening to me?” Dante’s voice was soft now. Trembling.
Kagéspoke now, “It’s who you are, Dante. You’re a killer. It’s taking you over. The years are finally catching up, and you’re becoming a fully-fledged assassin. Like me. Like Stark.”
“I’ll never be like you.”
“You’re already much, much worse. One day you’ll be a Sector leader. Maybe even Lord of Atrocities.” Kagé smiled a twisted smile. The wail of sirens in the distance stopped Dante’s reply on his lips. “We need to go.” Kagé’s voice was anxious, low.
Dante put a knife to the girl’s back and pushed her ahead of him, “Move,” he hissed. Once outside the girl was taken into the custody of two of Kagé’s uniformed men.
“Alright, we need to get out of here now,” Dante commanded, “The armed forces are on their way and we need to get back to Syndicate Sector 1 HQ without giving away our position. If it comes to it, split up. Let’s go.”
Kagé turned to Stark, “Stark, I want you to drive that SUV, and transport the girl back to the primary holding cell ASAP. Dante will take the lead, you follow. You two!” Kagé gestured at the men holding Jenday, “You’re with Stark.” The two men looked Stark up and down. He recognised one of them as the man who had helped hold him down when Kagé was torturing him, in a sadistic bid to get information about Dante’s whereabouts. He shivered.
Dante had already disappeared into the driver’s seat of the first 4x4, and Kagé joined him. Stark took the wheel behind them and followed at a hair-raising speed through the city centre of Bristol. “Fucking hell,” he muttered under his breath at Dante’s erratic speed.
Once on the dual carriageway, the caravan of armoured trucks and 4x4s accelerated and virtually ploughed through the fastlane traffic. There had been no updates in regards to the military from Howl, having lost eyes on them half an hour ago. The nervous chattering from various contacts over his earpiece set Stark on edge. He knew the military wouldn’t give up trying to capture the Syndicate after such a national security attack.
“Stark. Stark,” Dante Hatake’s voice laced over the small speaker in his ear.
“Hatake, I hear you.” Stark replied as he coasted easily behind Kagé’s SUV. Traffic had fallen to almost none. It was 10pm and dark, which Stark preferred by far. Jenday hadn’t made a sound.
“Lord Kagé requests that we split up at the next intersection. We don’t know where the parliamentary military are, but chances are they’ll be tracking us. You’re to take the most indirect route available to you without compromising our position, and we’ll mee--”
Dante’s voice faltered to a halt and the SUV ahead of Stark jammed to a halt, catching him by surprise so that he had to swerve to its side, tyres screaming on the tarmac. Stark stared in horror at the roadblock that met them. Two police 4x4s and a wall of armed police stood guard but 100 metres away. “Oh shit.”
Dante’s hushed voice came over the earpiece after an excruciating 30 seconds of silence. “Syndicate Sector 1, move forward,”
Stark’s jaw dropped, and he heard the two men behind him gasp. “Dante? What?” Stark hissed.
He didn’t reply, but his car did screech forward mercilessly, heading straight for the block. Stark followed. 60 mph.
“Dante, what are you doing?”
100mph. The men on the roadblock turned and ran, some foolishly firing their automated weapons at the vehicle’s tyres and windows and failing to move. Dante seemed to be aiming for the gap between the two 4x4s. The Syndicate SUVs were indeed larger, but Stark didn’t trust that that would aid them.
The force of the crash sent the two police cars flying, crushing waiting policemen and creating an escape for the Syndicate. Kagé’s voice came over the earpiece now, “Now everyone fucking DRIVE!” And the battered SUV shot off into the darkness. Stark bypassed the roadblock and without a backward glance floored it away from the sound of gunshots.
Dante and Kagé were the first to arrive at HQ. Rain had fallen heavily throughout the night and the SUV trawled its way through the deep settled water on the dirt track to the underground entrance. Water flowed steadily down the dimly lit slope to the mechanical main gate, to drain into the storm drains at the foot of the doorway. Dante came to a halt and waited for the door to open, slowly rising up into the gloom. Kagé sat back and regarded him steadily, and watched with satisfaction the way he pushed his sweaty hair back from his forehead with a shaking hand and blinked exhaustedly into the darkness of the cave. They hummed slowly forwards into the cave just as the ceiling floodlights illuminated the entire space, even the darkest corners. Guards were sat playing cards at a table in an alcove by the door, but moved to unbolt the oversized vehicle vault door when they saw the car. Kagé exhaled tiredly. The day had been exhausting for everyone. “We’re going to arrange a debriefing in here,” he almost croaked. He cleared his throat and continued, “So we’ll park up and set up the briefing table in the main alcove.”
“Yes, sir.” Dante acquiesced quietly, driving around the outer edge of the central cage and into the main vehicle store. Rows upon rows of 4x4s, military vehicles and trucks, all in black, stood sentinel in the darkness.
The slam of the car doors echoed eternally in the void around them. Standing for the first time in 8 hours, Dante found his legs were much weaker than anticipated, and he sunk to his knees between two of the towering 4x4s. He was quaking uncontrollably and an inescapable exhaustion was enveloping him, an exhaustion that he knew was coming about with the final dregs of Seri in his blood. If he was left another hour, he would end up falling asleep for the first time in a decade. Dante groaned at the fatigue and tried to stand again, hoping Kagé wouldn’t see, but he knew it was futile. Kagé appeared before him with a look of amused shock on his perfect face. Dante finally managed to steel his will at that superior look and leaned against the car at his side to pull himself up. His knees knocked threateningly. He closed his eyes a moment against the darkening ring around his vision, pressing his face into his hand and grimacing at the unpleasant heady rush.
“What? I… I mean excuse me? I didn’t catch that.” Dante tried to sound alert to his master.
“I said, go and sit down for debriefing and I’ll get some Seri while we wait for the team.”
“Mmph, yessir. Thankyou.” Dante was genuinely grateful.
Sat at the huge round glass table, his back to the main door and his master out of his sight for five minutes, Dante took the chance rest his head on his arms and close his eyes while he waited. So much had happened over the last few weeks, and there was so much that Kagé was due to punish him for. Kagé was sure to behave slightly professionally in front of the others, but as soon as this was over… Dante didn’t want to think about it. He hoped Overlord Howl would have at least some involvement, maybe even the other Sectarians. They would provide some shield from Kagé’s insanity. Perhaps the Guild assassin would give him something else to think about for a while. After all, wasn’t she the girl who had come to Dante in the first place? Maybe he was out of the woods after all.
Kagé re-emerged with three servants in tow, clearly from his Tymerian office. They all carried a tray of various alcoholic beverages and tumblers. Kagé carried two Seri injections. “Here,” he said, sitting in the chair directly opposite and sliding one of the injections across the table to him. Dante took it gratefully and jammed it a little too harshly into his wrist, pushing the liquid into his blood. He winced, trying to block out the burning stinging feeling as the liquid increased the pressure in his veins, and then moaned loudly as the harmony in his body, the buzz took over. His shaking increased momentarily and he panted unwillingly, slumping forwards. Just at that moment the doors began to open and the remaining 3 4x4s pulled in, two of them disappearing straight into the vehicle store. The third stopped outside the cell door, and out clambered Stark. He stopped a moment and swayed dizzily. Dante forced himself to his feet and took the other Seri from the table. He needed to help Stark before he collapsed again completely.
Dante strode purposefully across the cave, reaching Stark before Kagé. “Stark, hold out your wrist,” he commanded, grabbing it and pushing the liquid in. Stark winced ever so slightly, and his knuckles turned white as he struggled against the rising power of the Seri in his body. He held himself better than Dante had, and Dante had a moment of embarrassment at the thought of Kagé’s pleasure in seeing his reaction.
“Thanks,” he murmured, shuddering slightly.
“I’ll be right back, you deal with the girl.” Dante responded, turning on his heal and leaving for his quarters. “I’m going to get a cloak, Kagé. I don’t want this girl getting a proper look at my face, she makes me uncomfortable.”
“Right,” Kagé replied brusquely as they passed.
When Dante returned, a hood shrouding his face and his knives all intact, the rest of the team were just returning in the two final trucks. Jenday was in the cage and under the strict supervision of five guards. Kagé was in there with her, circling her like a predator. She suddenly looked so vulnerable without her assassin’s garbs and weapons. Just another innocent claimed by the Syndicate. At that moment, Kagé struck out at her, knocking her to the ground violently. The crack of her knees against the stone floor was audible. Dante carried on up to the bars of the cage, halting at Stark’s side. “What’s Kagé doing?” Dante asked lowly in his ear.
“He wants to find the Guild. I think you know what that’ll involve.” Dante winced for the girl momentarily at what he knew that would involve.
“Stark, I want to talk with you soon. About… why… why Kagé captured me.”
Stark raised his eyebrows. “Taken you long enough to ask,” he murmured gruffly, trying to conceal his conversation from Kagé who was only feet away.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really wanted to know,” Dante replied sadly, knowing how different his life could be right now if they hadn’t taken him. He startled suddenly as Jenday was slammed against the bars before him, his skin prickling at her whimpering. He’d never seen Kagé beat a woman before, not like this. “Oh, God,” Dante said softly to himself, noticing that her hands were bound and that Kagé had a look in his eye that he knew very well indeed. “Lord Kagé,” Dante snapped loudly, catching his attention immediately, “Requesting permission to be dismissed, sir.” He just wanted to leave.
“Permission denied.” Kagé’s voice had gone husky and deadly quiet. The guards surrounding the cage shifted awkwardly, and the rest of the capture team seated at the table had turned a blind eye to the events unfolding behind them, focusing on their drinks and talk. Dante’s gaze hardened and he turned abruptly, heading straight for the capture team. At the table, he grabbed the fullest brandy crystal carafe and drank deeply. He moved around to the soldier with his back directly to the cage and put a hand on his shoulder, “Move,” he growled, trying to hide the tremor in his hand. The soldier turned to look up at Hei, a hand on the magnum at his hip.
“Hey, watch--” Hei didn’t let him finish, grabbing him by the collar and throwing him down on the floor, hard. He grunted, and scrambled back to his feet without hesitation, pulling the gun on Hei and pointing it directly at his head. Hei’s heart skipped a beat as Dante came to the front of his mind ever so slightly, screaming terror at the pistol, but he overcame the fear and his twin stilettos were in his hands. Behind him, Jenday started to scream at some unfathomable terror. The chaos around him made him frantic.
“Put the fucking gun down or I will fucking kill you,” he roared, emanating fury. He could see the fear and shock in the man’s eyes. “Now!”
“Lord Hei,” the man whimpered, holstering his gun and raising his hands. The other men at the table had stood, unsure what to do. “Please, Lord Hei. Please. We’re on the same side!”
“I entirely disagree.” Hei was conversing in Tymerian now, knowing only the Tymerians knew him as Lord Hei. The man seemed to relax, speaking in his own language. His hands dropped to his sides. “You forget where I come from, how I came to be here.” Stark was at his side now.
“I’m sorry my lord. Please, sit down. I’m sorry.” The sympathy in the man’s eyes was unbearable. He’d been here when Dante had first arrived.
Hei took the seat with his back to the cage, unable to block out Jenday’s frantic breathing and the cruel laughing of Kagé. Stark took the now-empty seat at his side, a detached look in his eyes. Dante sunk forwards to rest his head on the table, trying not to hear anything, trying not to feel. Men had resumed their seats at the table, eyes resolutely fixed on their hands. The man Hei had attacked sat opposite, eyes trained on him. Dante sat up and drank, eyes never leaving the man’s. A choked cry from behind him made Dante flinch visibly, attracting the gaze of a few more men at the table and a concerned glance from Stark.
“Those cuts under your eye. Self-inflicted or….?” The soldier didn’t need to finish the sentence, everyone knew what he was getting at. Everyone that worked with Kagé knew what he did.
Dante’s tortured eyes met the soldiers, a pain that went beyond words etched into his face. Sometimes words weren’t needed, and the man nodded conspirationally, looking to one side. “It’s Jaique.” Dante nodded in acknowledgement. Stark took a brief look back at the cage and blanched, bringing a hand to his face and suddenly drinking down the rest of his scotch. He leaned in to Dante’s side, and whispered gently, “Keep drinking.”
The debriefing was in progress and Kagé was sat indulgently adjacent to Hei. Nothing was said of the girl, and Hei didn’t turn back. It had been an agonising hour of ‘interrogation’, and Hei thought he was going to go mad with the sounds of pain coming from behind him still. The faces of the men around him bespoke similar thoughts, all but two. These two men sat side by side, smiling toothily and thoroughly enjoying themselves. They were the men who had escorted Jenday on the nightmare journey to HQ in the back of Stark’s car, and strived to become like Kagé.
“…is a strategic advantage.” Kagé continued professionally, lounging back in his chair with a tumbler of brandy in hand. “Though we have little information as yet, we are not going to give in to get what we want.” The Kagé wannabees laughed and shared a sadistic glance. It sickened Hei to the point of standing and striding around the table to stand behind them, looking down over them silently. Anger threatened to boil over. His gloved hands gripped the backs of the two chairs until he knew his knuckles had turned white.
“Dante…” Kagé warned. The two men had frozen. Despite their churlishness, Hei could tell his presence threatened them. Jaique sat to Hei’s right, watching with wide eyes.
“Hei.” Kagé stood abruptly, an amused but wary look on his face. Stark stood also, feet slightly apart. Kagé’s hand was behind his back. Stark noted the way Dante’s eyes had glazed over, like they had on their mission. Kagé backed from his place at the table and made his way slowly towards him.
Hei took no chances with his master making his way towards him. Before the anger would dissipate, he held the backs of the chairs more firmly and pulled back and down, stretching the two men flat out on their backs, groaning. “Hei…” Kagé’s voice was straining with fury now, and he decided now was a good time to pull out his gun.
“Fuck you.” Hei spat, and it conveyed his wrath perfectly. He drew his stiletto knives once again, and drove them cleanly into the hearts of the two men. In a smooth sweep, he was stood perfectly straight again, one of the pair pointed directly at Kagé.
“I thought you’d learned years ago not to defy me, Lord Hei.”
“Dante learned years ago not to cross you. Sir. I’m not Dante.”
Stark’s knees buckled and he sat, gaping at what he was witnessing.
Kagé laughed. “Am I going to have to go through the whole process with you again then?” A casual pull on the trigger made Dante duck suddenly. He stood again, seconds later, and hurled a leaf knife directly at Kagé’s head. The unexpectedness of this gesture was clear in Kagé’s face as he just barely escaped the blade. A tiny thread of blood stood out on his cheek. Dante put his hand to his shoulder, and it came back bright red. His hood had fallen from around his face, and in the light the grim determination that was so unlike Dante was clear. Kagé strode forwards, so much fury burning in his eyes, and suddenly Dante was Dante again. He backed up a step, not sure whether to run or stay. You never run from me. Ever. He started, terror consuming him, and was paralysed.
“My lord! My lord that wasn’t me, please, please. Please… Master…” A choked sob escaped his throat, and he dropped his knives. “I am not myself,” he started to beg in Tymerian. “Chaisuei.” Please.
The anger in Kagé’s eyes didn’t leave, and Kagé didn’t lower his gun. He reached Dante, halted, and without breaking eye contact, shot him directly in the thigh. Dante cringed, but didn’t fall.
“Sheathe your weapons.”
Dante complied stiffly.
“I’m going to have to retrain you when Hei decides to make an appearance.” Kagé sighed, feigning irritation. Dante backed two hitching steps, tripping over one of the bodies at his feet. He groaned, seeing what he had done, and considered running again. Fear and pain-sweat streamed down his face, and his heart was hammering in his chest.
“Sit down, and we can continue with debriefing, Dante. Then you may be dismissed.”
“Kai, Oujour.” Yes, Master.
“You can stop speaking Tymerian now.”
“Please return to your respective duties, you may all leave.” Dante stood with difficulty. The shooting pains in his thigh were almost debilitating, and blood soaked everything. He made a break for the door back towards his own quarters, leaving a trail of blood. “Not you, Dante.” The voice chilled Dante’s heart and dread seized him. He stopped, but couldn’t bear to turn to him. Stark was the last to leave, until he was alone with Kagé, and only Jenday to bear witness.
The footsteps came slowly, slowly behind Dante until he could sense Kagé behind him. The terror was too much, and despite the pain, Dante sunk defeatedly to his knees. “Please don’t hurt me Kagé,” he whispered hoarsely.
Kagé sunk to his knees directly behind him and kissed Dante’s neck tenderly, “Why, Dante, do you defy me when you know I’ll only make you regret it?” He felt immense satisfaction at the trembling of Dante’s hunched shoulders.
“It’s not me…” Not even a whisper.
“I can’t even begin to fathom what’s happening in your head, Dante Hatake.”
“I’m going insane.” The admission made him know it was true.
“Mm, maybe,” Kagé chuckled in his ear, a low rumble. He stopped suddenly, whispering savagely, “I think I like it. Now go.”
“Stark. Stark, it’s me.”
The half-rotten door swung open on stiff hinges to reveal Stark, shirtless, and looking very very frightening.
“What do you want?”
“We need to talk, Stark.”
“Oh, really?” The man swayed sideways slightly, jostling into the door.
“Are you drunk?”
“I believe so.”
“For God’s sake, man,” Dante took a step into his room, and then suddenly found himself pinned against the wall by Stark’s muscular arm. “Mmph. My shoulder, Tristan. My shoulder.” Dante bit his lip to stop the whimpers that threatened to grace his lips.
Stark let go, looking down at the red-stained bandages crudely tied around his leg and shoulder. “Who are you, Hatake?”
“I don’t know. I want to talk to you.”
“And what if Kagé catches us again? What then?”
“I don’t know. Please, Stark.”
He stood, pinning Dante with his sharp green eyes, just as he had when they’d first met all those years ago. The indecision was clear- who was Hei? Who was Dante? Would Kagé find out? Eventually he sighed. “Come in.”
The old armchair in the corner was surrounded by a litter of spirit bottles and used Seri injections. There were several new bloodstains on the carpet and chair, and one face of his empty glass cabinet had shattered. He hadn’t cleaned it up.
“What happened?” Dante asked in horror.
“This is the aftermath of Kagé’s attack on me when you ran,” Stark replied nonchalantly as he sunk into his chair. Dante remained stood.
“What did he do to you?” His gaze darkened.
“That’s not why you’re here.”
“What did he do?”
Dante punched the wall. “Tristan what the fuck did he do to you?! What he did was my fault!”
“Calm down. What happened, happened.” Stark didn’t react to Dante’s raging.
“I need to know why Kagé had me captured 15 years ago. Tell me that at least.”
“I don’t know much, but I know it was something to do with your Hellstone scar from your father. You’re better off asking Kagé.”
“I would never talk to him about it.”
“Then you’ll never know.”
Dante paced in frustration, anger creeping its way throughout his body. “Goodbye, then,” and he left.
“Jenday? Jenday, are you ok?” Dante hazarded. He could see her form on the floor of the cell in the darkness, curled up protectively in the centre. She shifted slightly, and the scuff of boots to Dante’s left reminded him of the guards keeping watch. He moved forwards.
“Lord Hei, orders…”
“I don’t care about your orders, soldier, and if it is that important to you then I’ll take it up with Kagé when he shows his face.” There was no reply. “Jenday. Girl.” Dante was becoming frustrated. The tiniest sound was audible from her throat. Crouching at the bars, Dante spoke gently once again, “Hey, girl. Come on over here. I want to speak with you.”
“You… Lord Hei…”
“Dante Hatake,” he corrected softly. Jenday came to her hands and knees, dragging herself agonisingly slowly across the two metre distance. Dante noticed the darker patch on the floor where she had laid, and the dark scuffs that revealed themselves behind her passage. Dante’s hardened heart contorted for her.
She was naked, and her face was bruised and cut. The bruises continued their way to her neck and down her back and stomach and sides. Her knees were virtually shredded and grazes were all over her body. A thin tendril of a cut at her neck told of Kagé’s knife, and closer inspection revealed one down the whole length of her protruding spine. Her luxurious dark hair was plastered to her face with fear and pain sweat, and her eyes were tortured. Dante knew what else had happened, and it was something that couldn’t be seen by external examination. “I’m sorry…” Dante barely whispered, horror welling up inside him.
“Did he do this to you too?” She murmured hoarsely, unable to make eye contact. Dante nodded ashamedly. “For me it was more mental torture than physical beatings… I don’t know what’s worse.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m so so scared.” Her voice took on a tremor.
“I’ll try and help you, try and make it easier. I don’t want him to do to you what he did to me. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Has he given you Seri?”
“A drug? No, no. He does that?”
“You don’t want it. You think it makes things easier, but it holds you in its grasp and never let’s go. It’s Kagé’s way of keeping a hold on you… Has he even given you water? I’m going to get you water.”
Dante took a crystal water carafe from the debriefing table left from earlier that day. Turning, he saw a movement shimmer out of focus by the entranceway into the cavern.
“Kagé.” Hei spat, his eyes turning an unfathomable black. He replaced the carafe and drew his twin stilettos. “What are you doing here, Kagé?”
“I could ask the same thing of you, Hei Hatake…” He couldn’t place where the ethereal voice came from. The familiar charging sound of the floodlights made his instincts kick in, and he shielded his eyes, all the while dropping into a side roll. When he stood again, he opened his eyes to Kagé before him, smiling wickedly. “Good idea, but it didn’t work.” Kagé kicked Hei in the stomach, hard enough to go reeling into the table at his back, scattering glasses and carafes.
Groaning and disorientated, he was unable to react when Kagé grabbed his shoulders and drove in face-first into the cage bars infront of Jenday. Clutching his knives defensively, Hei turned and recalled his years of training as Dante.
“Hei I think I need to do some more training on you, to teach you who’s in charge around here.” Kagé warned softly, his feet apart and ready to move. The two cyborg guards readied their rubber bullet rounds and aimed silently, in perfect unison. He smiled, and they fired on him mercilessly, dropping him to the floor immediately.
“Kagé I’m going to fucking kill you!” Hei roared as he was pinned face-down on the familiar sofa of his master’s office by five men. He could hear the sounds of Kagé moving around the room, clattering pottery or something. He knew this wouldn’t be good. One of the guards proceeded to lift his cloak and shirt, baring his scarred, bruised and muscular back. Hei hissed fury, writhing beneath the men. “You’ll never make me yours, fuck you!” All he heard was the low chuckle of the man he hated.
“So, am I graced with the presence of Lord Hei right now?” Kagé asked, mocking.
“It doesn’t matter who I am, but you’re about to defile Dante’s body. Your assassin’s body.”
“Nothing that will hinder him, I promise you.” With that he felt Kagé’s weight straddle his lower back, sending him into another rage, balking wildly. The guards held him still as a whining buzz started behind him. “Don’t you dare, don’t you fucking dare!” Hei fumed, trying to turn his head to Kagé over him. The tattoo gun pierced his flesh with a pinprick sting, resonating across his entire back bloodcurdlingly.
“Stop moving or it’ll go wrong, Hei.”
Hei went still, more from exhaustion than compliance, “What are you doing?” He asked defensively, tensing under the strange pain.
“I’m giving you a tattoo.”
Idiot. “What of?”
“You’ll see.” Hei growled. “That dragon pendant around your neck,” Kagé said inquisitively, “Where’s it from?”
“Well, you see, in Tymeria the dragon is the symbol of freedom. It intrigues me that you wear it.”
“I’ve lived in Tymeria for years. The traditions just caught on with Dante.”
“It’s ironic, isn’t it?”
“I consider myself as free as anyone.”
“Oh dear, dear me,” Kagé chuckled. “How you deceive yourself.”
16 hours later, Kagé released Dante, but not before a final warning. “Dante or Hei?” He demanded flatly, looking him directly in the eye, almost nose-to-nose.
He swallowed fearfully, looking to one side, “Dante.” His back stung abominably and he just wanted to leave and see what Kagé had done to him.
“Shame.” They were alone now, and there was a funny look in Kagé’s eye. Dante started to back towards the door, turned and ran. The next thing he knew he was pinned between the door and Kagé’s body, and Kagé’s lips brushed his ear. Dante whimpered, screwing his eyes closed. Hands snaked slowly down his sides to his hips, holding him still. “One day, Hei, I will have you in every fathomable way, and you will never escape me.” Dante found himself facing his master, Kagé’s lips on his, his hand reluctantly stroking the bulge at Kagé’s crotch. “Don’t stop,” he hissed, his hips pinning Dante in his place.
He kneeled at his master’s feet, trembling, and eyes downcast. “Permission to leave, sir.”
“Granted,” Kagé replied, re-fastening his trousers and turning to his desk, a cool and professional air about him.
In the corridor, Dante came face to face with Stark. Dante startled visibly.
“You were in Kagé’s office.”
“Yeah,” Dante turned to his door, hastily unlocking it and stepping inside.
“I heard you shouting earlier.”
“You heard Hei shouting earlier, Stark.”
He sighed. “May I come in?”
“Go ahead,” Dante back in his chair by the dead fire while Stark went around lighting the numerous candles that illuminated his oversized room. He tried to pretend nothing had happened.
The pair sat in silence for a time, staring into the now-blazing fire. Dante couldn’t hold back any longer. “Kagé tattooed my back. I don’t know what he did. It was when… I was Hei… Kagé is angry with Hei. He’s ‘retraining’ me.”
“He tattooed you.” There was complete disbelief in his voice.
“I’m going to see what it is,” Dante said as he stood and removed his cloak and shirt, heading for the mirror. He heard Stark behind him stand, “That cruel, cruel bastard.”
Turning his back to the mirror, he froze. A strangled sound escaped his throat. A dragon, matching that on his pendant was drawn out in immense detail, with stunning Tymerian patterning. Written along the dragons every edge in the Tymerian language, were the words “I will never be free, I am the slave of Lord Kagé, and I will always belong to him” repeated over and over again. His heart dropped, but he hardened himself to the truth.
“Fuck him.” Dante murmured to himself. “I’m going out.” Grabbing £10,000 in £50 notes from his safe, he turned and left.
“Mistress La’liel, my lady.” Dante bowed deeply.
“Dante..?” La’liel opened the door to her cottage wider, eyes glassy with disbelief.
“Been a while,” he replied, smiling half-heartedly.
“I should have come and seen you… I’m sorry… 15 years alone with…”
“I handled it, it is ok. I wanted to get away from Kagé for a few hours. Are you busy?”
“No, no. Dante are you ok? It’s the middle of the night.”
“I just wanted to get away…” he replied weakly.
“You’re in shock. What’s wrong?” Concern.
“So much has happened today, La’liel… I don’t know what to do.”
“Please, come in. We have a lot of catching-up to do. Last time I saw you, Kagé was beating the shit out of you and that was but two days ago. I thought he might have let up on you by now.”
Dante sat heavily by the fire and dropped his hood, staring torturedly into the flames. “He’s got worse. La’liel… there are two people in my head. I don’t understand… Kagé calls me Dante. The other… me… is Hei, and Kagé thinks he’s stronger, but also harder to control. I can’t control him… Kagé can’t control him…”
“So he’s taking action over it… he’s trying to control him…” La’liel finished. “How long has this been happening? This second personality?”
“I think it’s been happening since the beginning, but it was hard to distinguish between the two of us. Now, he takes control of me completely. I can’t fight him.” Dante rubbed the bridge of his nose in frustration. “The Guild assassin we caught, Kagé’s treating her awfully, and I can’t bear to see her go through what I did. I tried to help her but Kagé got involved… and then I got angry and Hei was there in my head. His cyborgs shot me down and he took me to his office… He tattooed my body and… and did other things to me… He can’t control us, so he tries to mentally incapacitate me. It’s working.”
“Oh, Dante…” La’liel was at a loss for words. In her eyes, he was still but a boy. “I don’t know what I can do.”
“I know,” Dante replied, standing suddenly, strengthening himself to go back.
“Dante sit down, have a drink.” La’liel offered a full tumbler of scotch. He took it gratefully.
“I just don’t know how much further he’ll take this,” Dante murmured, sinking down with a shuddering breath.
“This girl… you care about her?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t like seeing Kagé abuse her.”
La’liel sighed sadly. “I think, Dante, you must forget about her. Find any way you can, to get away from the reality of what’s happening to her. Take more contracts. Anything.”
“I hate that so, so much.” Hei gritted his teeth.
La’liel sat up, her eyes wide. “You’ve changed.”
“Hello, Mistress La’liel, you can call me Hei.” His eyes had turned glittering obsidian.
“Dante,” La’liel stood in alarm and headed for the door. “You need to leave.”
“But I’m not Dante.” Hei grinned wickedly.
Hei drew his belt knife slowly, sneaking forwards, prowling.
“Dante!” She shrieked, turning wildly and running into the courtyard. Hei wasn’t going to stop. “I’m not afraid to get Kagé involved in this if you don’t stop, please!” Terror etched her face.
“Hmm… Kagé. Oh dear,” he replied sardonically. Dante was furious with this invasion.
La’liel turned and ran, disappearing as she passed through the menagerie gate.
La’liel found herself in bright white corridors, and disorientated for a moment, began to panic. She bolted wildly away from the door she had just entered through and ran. “Kagé!!” she screamed, too terrified for dignity. The smooth laughter of Hei chased her every step. “Kagé!”
Ahead, she recognised the door of her ex-master, with its mahogany grandeur. Finding herself caught between two of the most terrifying men she knew, she burst through the double door to his office and stumbled to a halt on his Persian rug. Kagé was sat at his desk, stock still and his head tilted to one side. The shocked inquisition in his gorgeous eyes caught her off-guard, and she fell to her knees exhaustedly. He stood silently and glided smoothly across to her, kneeling at her side.
“What happened? Why are you here?” he asked gently, totally unlike the assassin and rapist she knew.
“Hei… He’s coming.” Kagé stood swiftly, drawing a knife from inside his modern-day suit jacket.
“Get behind me. Now,” he snapped, turning to face the door.
“Kagé?” a tentative voice hazarded from behind the ajar door. “Hei… he’s gone…”
“Dante,” Kagé snapped forcefully, reverting back to the cruel man La’liel had known all her life. She began to wonder if she should regret seeking him out. “Clothes, weapons, everything off and on the floor. Now!”
The voice seemed to calm, sounding like Dante once again. “Yes, sir.”
After a matter of seconds, Dante stepped from around the door, hands held harmlessly infront of him. Mistress La’liel gasped, taking in the sight of his scarred and abused body. The perfectly sculpted planes of his muscles were marred and tarnished with an innumerable number of scars, some looking deliberate. Three brands were visible down the left side of his neck and shoulder. A beautiful dragon pendant hung against his collar, catching the light filtering through the window. Visible curling around the edges of his neck and shoulder were tendrils of black ink.
Kagé took three strides across to Dante, and without a word grabbed his wrist, twisting him round and slamming him against the wall, his arm twisted high up his back. He grunted audibly. “If I do this will it make me see who I’m really talking to?”
“This.” Kagé put a pistol to his temple. La’liel watched Dante tense up entirely. His shoulders hunched and he turned his head as far as he could from the gun. The tremor in his body as he silently hid was enough to break La’liel’s trance.
“Kagé stop...” she whispered. He stopped.
“I leave you alone for two days and this is what I come to? Control yourself. I’m changing where you work. I’m posting you in America, New York on Earth. I own a corporation there. Weapons manufacture. I’m starting to do more work on Earth with this business. I can keep an eye on you.”
“But, Jenday? What about--”
“She’ll work in Tymeria. She’s nothing to me. Another assassin.”
“Do not question me, Dante Hatake! Get out, transfer begins tomorrow.”
“My room in Tymeria?”
“Yours to come and go to as you please. You’ll still have contracts there, and other areas of Sector 1 jurisdiction. Leave is as you wish, but you will have more permanent residence on Earth. Now get out, and I will find you tomorrow.”