Aisha pulls on my arm. I yank it free. No one will stop me. I ask Axel to keep her behind but he refuses. I slam the door on the both of them and teleport away. I’ve sat there for an hour already and it only gets worse. Fia’s gone silent and despite their best efforts, I can see through their facades. It’s time to have a more personal talk with Robin.
I steal the ball from the boy’s hands and throw it at the window. The storekeeper looks through the window and disappears back inside. I wait for the door but no one opens it. Already hyped up on an hours worth of pent-up anger, I kick the door down and enter. “I want to speak with Robin,” I announce, staring the storekeeper in the eyes. He falters under my gaze.
“He’s not here right now,” he responds, throwing his hands up. “Otherwise, I would have let you in. If you’re looking for him, he’s three blocks down Olie Road.”
I’m unsure of his truthfulness but I head down Olie Road as he says. I beat on my wrist the further along I go. I didn’t ask for where he’d actually be. I might end up spending more time searching for him than I thought.
But, as luck would have it, one building stood out among the rest. An instinctive feeling told me that Robin was inside. The image of Emile’s severed finger flashes through my mind again and I go inside without thinking. I traverse through the wide hallways peering into every room I pass. I see Robin read a book to children who all seem to be younger than ten. I resist the urge to lodge a knife in his throat. He suddenly closes the book and ends the class. The children rise and exit the room one by one.
“Welcome,” he beckons me inside. “I appreciate you not disturbing the class. There seems to be so much going on nowadays with monsters and my own business troubles. Would you like a drink? No? Well, go on and say what you’ve come to say.” he drops his pen into a half-empty inkwell and looks up at me.
“Why did you do it?” I asked him.
He sighs, “Why do all children play this game? This game where the ask such a vague question and fail to elaborate unless prompted? I asked a similarly vague question but I clarified. To answer one of your possible questions, I knew you would be much more hesitant to take my deal if the captain’s past was made known so I kept it hidden. If you mean the gift I sent you last night, that was for two reasons.”
“The first is punishment. I was informed by my little mole. You had the captain but you failed to kill him, why? Nevermind. I do not care about your reasons. If you wish to see your friend alive and well, you will hold up your end of the deal. That is my second reason, motivation.”
“I plan to hold up our end. You’ll hear about the captain’s death tonight, so don’t go cutting off any more fingers.”
“I will move the deadline to thirty minutes after ten, then.” he waves his hand dismissively. “This is more than fair enough after your failure.”
“Then what about the other man we killed last night?”
“Him? Well, good job actually. He would have been the third target had I assigned another. He was nothing more than collateral damage in last night’s attempt. That reminds me, kill the captain’s right-hand man as well.”
“Leave. You have your instructions. I promise there is nothing more you will gain in this conversation in your current position. Ah,” he stops me before I leave. “Rest assured that although these deaths are blamed on you, they will rest on my shoulders. I am the one who has signed their death warrants.”
You sick bastard.
Aisha and the others question me but I brush them off. “He’s extended our deadline,” I tell them, ending the conversation before it starts. Istruan asks for a plan of action. Iris, the one who usually has some ideas, refrains from offering anything. He accepts her silence, retiring to his room.
It’s possible I won’t find the captain today or his right-hand man but as night falls, I begin preparing. I count my knives, test the responsiveness of my bracers, and swing my staff. The sword, wrapped in bed sheets, peeks out from behind the bed, whispering to me. I won’t use it. Not on humans. Not if it can be helped.
I hide my weapons as feet shuffle in the hallway. Axel walks in and lays on his bed rolling the sheets over himself. A couple of minutes pass. “Rainen,” he says without turning. “No one blames you for what happened to Emile. If anything…” his voice weakens.
I call out to him and receive no response. It’s almost time. I glance over at the sword but force my eyes away. It’s not an option. I step out the door and am met with an audible “ah!” Blue Hair, with a book, stares at me, wide-eyed. Another night? Isn’t there enough time in the day for that already or do you just pretend to read when you’re sitting on the stairs? I, of course, don’t say any of those things aloud for her to hear. I’m just stuck in a rougher patch than I was a second before. I didn’t expect anyone to catch me as I was leaving. I should have left through the window.
I let a thin smile through. “There’s no reason for you to leave the inn. If you want to read, I’m more than sure the owner is willing enough to lend you a lantern for use in here just like the day before.” I turn back to my room.
“Wait!” she clutches the book in her arms tighter.
“What is it?”
“Do you…” she looks at her feet. “Think I’m a coward?”
“I don’t know,” I answer, closing the door behind me and locking it. I open the window and slip out. It takes me nearly an hour before I find any guards with a significant rank. Two men, both under the light of the moon, flash their red stripes. My right-hand feels slimy and almost numb. I stick it into the snow. The moonlight reflects off my bracers. How am I going to appear before them?
“Captain, why don’t you go home early today?”
Rook, the captain, chuckled at his friend’s request. “No,” he answered simply. “That won’t do. A man must never show weakness in front of his enemies or his men. Think about it. If I did leave early, there might be some in the watch who think I fear the boogeyman of the streets. That Robin doesn’t scare me.”
Vaal could only sigh at his captain’s response. Strong and tough as Rook was, at the end of the day, he was still only a man. A man who cared a little too much about the wellbeing of other people. His time in the army had changed him from a naive little young noble to a chiseled, battle-hardened naive man.
He wanted to do too much for the town. He wanted to do too much for the guards. Vaal knew the corruption was already rooted too deeply to be taken out without some sort of ensuing chaos. Nonetheless, he followed Rook’s orders, never uttering a word of contempt. He shared his thoughts and did so frequently but his friend’s mind never changed. The horrors of war still had a grip on him.
“At least don’t go patrolling tonight. Let that Saelac character handle it.”
“Complaining, are we?” Rook joked.
“Yes, I am. What if it turned out those kids who attacked you last night were the same ones who they’re looking for?”
“... Even more unlucky that we didn’t capture them then. We even lost Mandel.” he gripped his sword.
“Next time, Rook.”
“Right, next time.”
Vaal’s senses tingled. He cast a barrier around the both of them. A thud came from above. They looked up and saw the barrier break. A person clad in black stuck a knife in the captain’s shoulder. Rook pushed the assailant off and yanked out the knife. It only went in about three inches.
A stone bullet flew into Vaal’s chest. He staggered backward but the spell was weak. His armor took the brunt of the blow leaving him relatively unharmed. However, the assailant turned his attention to him. Vaal parried with ease. Rook came from behind and grabbed him, restricting his arms. Vaal pulled out his sword.
“Don’t!” Rook commanded, struggling to keep control. “We have to capture him.”
Vaal turned his sword over and struck the assassin across the butt of the sword. He went limp. Rook dropped him and grabbed his shoulders while Vaal took the legs. “Should I call others over?” Vaal asked.
“No, I don’t trust them. We’ll take him to the interrogation room. No one is ever there this late,” Rook said. He ignored the pain from his wound. The look on Vaal’s face was a mix of triumph and worry. “I’m fine,” Rook reassured him. “I’ve been through worse and so have you.”
“That’s what I’m worried about. Robin’s no idiot. Why would he send someone like this after us? He was too easy. Once we get inside, we’ll check that wound of yours and I won’t take a no for an answer. Losing you to poison isn’t the way I want to see you go.”
“If not on the bed surrounded by loved ones…”
“Then on the field surrounded by loved ones,” Vaal finished.
It was the phrase they chanted before and after a battle when they finished counting the bodies. The lukewarm ale they drank served as their relief from a day on the field. It was their way to cope and mourn. Rook, like other leaders, never broke down. The ale was his savior, the thing that loosened his lips and made him scream those words louder than anyone else.
“In that chair,” Rook pointed.
“Gotcha Cap. Tie ‘is arms. I got the legs. So, how do you plan to wake him up? Dump some of that snow on him? Truth be told, I don’t know if he’d even feel it down here. It’s cold enough to be a lake.”
Rook flinched at the idea. “Just… Slap him awake.”
Vaal sighed, “You’re too soft. Hey, wake up. I said to wake up!” Vaal smacked the assassin’s cheeks a couple of times. “If you don’t open your eyes I’ll take your mask off and drown you in the snow.”
He slowly opened his eyes. The two looked at each other. A sly smile touched Rook’s face and Vaal snorted. The man shook in his chair. Once he realized it was futile, he glared at them both, issuing a challenge. The captain, however, was not daunted.
“What’s your name?”
The assassin stayed quiet.
“Who are you working for? If you don’t answer, we’ll… We’ll hit you.”
He shook in the chair again. Rook glanced at his friend, pleading for help. Vaal once again sighed. He was strict on training and being on time but when it came to everything else, like interrogation and enforcement on other rules, he might have as well been a five-year-old girl sent to berate someone. It was more of bumbling so awkward it was almost cute. That’s how he met his wife and helped Vaal find his as well.
It was a few weeks after returning home from war. While they were heading to meet up with some friends, they stumbled across two women drinking in the streets. Rook, being the man he was, went up to them and began lecturing them. It came out more as a buffoon stumbling over his own words than anything. The two women giggled and showed him the bottles which were repurposed salt and pepper holders.
Vaal pushed the hood back and pulled on his hair. “I don’t care one bit who you are. I could have your throat slit and your body in a bag before the sun rises and no one would question me. If you don’t want to see the spirits, then you’ll tell us who hired you.”
He snorted, “Not a believer in God nor the gods?”
Vaal was almost dumbfounded. Of all the things to latch onto, of all the retorts to choose, he chose that one? He pulled the man’s mask down and nearly let go from the sight. It was a boy, not a man. Still, he pressed on. “Why did you come here to kill the captain? Robin ordered you to do it, didn’t he?”
He didn’t speak a word.
“Hold on,” Rook interrupted.
“I’m in the middle of something,” Vaal hissed.
“No, I recognize this boy,” Rook stepped closer. “I’m not one hundred percent about this but I think he’s one of the people from yesterday. The ones who killed Mandel. There’s no doubt that he’s working for Robin if that’s true.”
The boy was now struck stupid. His eyes were wide like a doe and his eyebrows twitched. His lips quivered and his leg bounced uncontrollably despite being tied to the leg of the chair. Fire spread from his fingers and coated his arms but Rook and Vaal did nothing to stop him. The chair was resistant to magic as well as the spell canceling ties.
“Let’s make an announcement in the morning. If we get this to spread far enough, maybe we’ll get Robin to come out of hiding. Or, at the very least, we can nab the ones who attacked you.”
Rook bit his lip and considered the proposition.
“Think about Mandel’s family,” Vaal nudged. He felt despicable for using the deceased in this way but it needed to be done. As the leader, he felt the most responsible for the deaths of his men. Rook never spoke about it but Vaal knew. He knew from the silent moments the captain would have when they reminisced about the men. Whenever the name of the deceased came, even if it was within a happy memory and they were surrounded by a table of friends, he would stay silent for nearly the rest of the day.
“It’s what must be done,” Rook concluded. “To rid this town of Robin, I’d do most anything.”
“You can’t!” the boy shouted.
“Then tell us who sent you and where you met them,” Vaal said.
“No!” the boy shook again but not like last time. He seemed to be in pain. He shut his eyes and grit his teeth.
Both Rook and Vaal stepped back. Something black sprouted out from his chest. Claws came out and then wings. A reptilian face and then a tail. A small spirit flew up by the ceiling and hissed down at them.
“What is that?” Vaal asked no one in particular.
“Where am I?” the boy asked.
The exchanged glances. “Was that thing controlling him?” Rook asked.
“Where are my friends?” the boy looked around the room. “Who are you?”
“Calm down,” Rook said, “We won’t hurt you. What’s going on? Why did you attack us?”
“Attack? Today? I don’t… I don’t remember what I did today.”
“Then what about yesterday?”
The boy’s eyes softened. “That means, you’re…” he gulped. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to. It’s just that there was this man, a man who took one of our friends. He threatened to kill him if we didn’t cooperate. I-I had no choice.”
Rook and Vaal exchanged another look, one of understanding. “So,” Vaal said, “What you’re saying is that a man took your friend and forced you to help him murder someone? Was his name Robin?”
He nodded, “Yeah, that’s his name. I can’t remember his face too well. I can’t seem to remember anything too well.”
“Do you remember your own name?”
“Rainen,” he responded. “I’m Rainen. Please, if you can, I need your help. Otherwise, my friend, he’ll die.”
Vaal looked at the boy skeptically. While he sympathized with his situation, it did not justify his actions. No matter what was at stake, Vaal believed that the ends did not justify the means. The loss of innocent life was not something to be taken lightly.
However, Rook did not see it this way. Vaal may have grown sour to the idea of good intentions and bad deeds but if placed in the same situation, Rook knew firsthand that Vaal would do the same. He placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder as if to lighten his burden. “You know it’s not right. We have to give him a chance. Besides, he has no weapons on him.”
“You’re right, captain, but I still can’t trust him. If we let him go, I at least want the ties to restrain his spell use.”
“Deal,” Rook said, unbinding the thin rope.
Vaal stood vigilant as the last binding came undone, ready to counter any spell but it didn’t come. “Argh!” he swiped at his face. The spirit from before jumped at him. He heard a loud crash and felt his body jolt.
The spirit flew away back to Rainen who stood over a stunned Rook.
“Why?” asked the captain.
Rainen was silent. He looked back at Vaal and asked, “What’s his name?”
Rook gazed up at him. “What?”
“If you don’t tell me his name, I’ll kill him before I kill you.”
“He’s…” he faltered. “His name is Asmund. Please, kill me if you must but not him. He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
“You don’t have to do this.”
“I do have to. You know my name, my face. Someone I know is in trouble, that much is true. I don’t have any other choice. I am… sorry.”
Vaal reached out as Rainen raised a knife. “Rook,” he said feebly.
The knife went into his neck. Rainen pulled it out and stunned Vaal. He stopped at the door and looked back at the body. His grip on his knife loosened and he left.
Rainen grabbed at his chest. Although he wasn’t injured too badly in the scuffle with the captain and the other guard, the feeling that he’d had his chest stepped on came again. The cold air only served to elevate his pain.
He wiped both his hand and knife in the snow despite the cold. He followed the steps until he found the knife he dropped earlier. He changed clothes and walked back to the inn. A faint light glowed from the back. He would have laughed had he the energy. Blue Hair didn’t follow his advice.
“If you want to keep that girl safe,” a man appeared from out of the shadows. “Then you’ll come along with me.”
Rainen, who had already taken one life today, didn’t want to take another, innocent or not. “Take me to Robin,” he said.
- The Odd Penguin
Bio: Started writing on this site because of Mushoku Tensei. I regularly read manga, my favorite revolves around a guy, that if he were to be the protagonist of a story, it would certainly be a tragedy. I really like Dark Souls.. If you ever have anything you wish to ask of me, feel free to pm. My hobby is reading and writing.