Gender: Female Age: 18 Location: UK
|Introduction: NOTE-- This is not a 'sex story', but a story about a man who is forced into becoming an assassin at the hands of an abusive master. It's badly written and I don't care- It's literally what I was thinking spontaneously splurged onto the page. Opinions would be appreciated. And I know. I'm sick/sadistic/disgusting. There's a bit of sex, if that keeps you interested but it's not pleasant. No 'OH FUCK ME BABY' shit. This is still a working progress and was written over a very long period of time. If you like it, let me know. I have another, longer one with less sex and more killing. Oh, and also- the lack of italic for Dante's thoughts... I couldn't be bothered to go back and correct it. Apologies. -LoneKiller.|
Dante sauntered lazily into the classroom that morning, unaware of his easy rolling swagger that caught the eye of all the girls. Unaware of how his perfect, rugged profile and messy black hair brought a hitch in their breath. Unaware of how the other guys hated him with the terrifying intensity of an angry swarm of bees. He wove his way through the maze of desks to his at the back corner, away from the people who bothered him so. Registration was set to take place in five minutes, at 8.50, and he knew that his name’s recent addition to the register would be forgotten again, and that he would have to explain that he was new and had been here last week again, and would have to put up with standing infront of the whole class while the girls drooled and the guys glared again.
He sat back and folded his arms across his muscular chest, and was acutely aware of the ‘popular’ group of boys talking and laughing in hushed voices, occasionally looking back at him with disdain and unsuppressed malice. He was also very aware of the gaggle of girls at the other side of the classroom nattering restlessly or putting on makeup. He took in all the events around him with a quick glance and settled back again. The unwanted attention he received irritated him. He didn’t want it, and he couldn’t help the way he looked, walked and talked. It was who he was.
The movement of a guy caught Dante’s eye immediately. His bottomless black eyes flicked up from his desk in an instant and met his eyes as he hulked across the classroom. He didn’t seem bothered though. He had the self assurance and presence of a bully, and Dante had taken that in the first day they met. Sid was up to something today, he could tell, and he was ready. As far as he knew, Dante was the oldest in the class at 18 years and six months old, but that by no means meant he was the biggest. Sid was, he’d heard, pretty new to Danauby School too. No wonder he was already so ‘popular’ after seeing the way he threw his weight around. His weight, however, was not necessarily muscle as Dante’s was. The mood in the room switched as quickly as everyone’s mind took in that Sid had made a move, and anticipation hung as heavily as musk in the air. The silence was deafening. Dante kept a straight face as he approached, openly taking in his gross teeth in a skewed, overshot jaw and the considerable absence of his ginger hair.
“Get up, Hatake.” Sid said huskily.
“Sit down, Sid.” Dante replied disdainfully, unfussed. He’d confronted him before and failed to do anything remotely interesting. Dante was sick of his games. Sid stepped in close and planted his huge hands on Dante’s desk, leaning in and grinning uncouthly in his face.
Dante grimaced, “Did I ever mention how vile your breath smells?” he said flatly, never breaking eye contact.
Something akin to a death stare passed over Sid’s face. Dante allowed himself a little quirk of his lips. Cheeks turned from pasty pale to red to purple in a matter of seconds and then he shoved the desk sideways suddenly, causing the girls to scatter with a shriek. “You’re going to pay for that, mate! No-one talks to me like that and gets away with it.” He roared. Other classes gathered at the doorway, hooting and cheering like a pack of wild animals. They were all cheering for Sid, who, fuelled on by the support jumped into the gap he’d created and drew back his huge fist with slow and giant-like movements for a punch. Dante stood suddenly, his chair sliding back with a hiss, and vaulted the chair to his right easily. Sid’s punch missed by light-years. How many times have I moved schools because of these damnable affairs? Last year of school. I’m not moving again. Dante thought, the constant flame of anger in his heart beginning to roar again. Sid’s face dropped at Dante’s liquid dodge. He smiled. If Sid could have got any angrier at that point, he would have exploded. He tried, and failed miserably to swallow the rage inside him. He shoved the desk fully at Dante, who to his surprise leaped up onto the desk like a cat, hampering his movement. His jaw dropped with shock and Dante took the chance to kick him in the mouth. Hard. Blood fountained from his broken nose and shattered teeth. He rocked backwards, then forwards as if time had slowed, then pitched over sideways, taking a couple of chairs with him. The silence was back again. Everyone was staring at him with mouths agape. Two girls ran from the room, obviously to find a teacher of some description and the sound of their pounding footsteps receded until silence descended again. Dante was panting as rage crept up from the depths and he struggled to hold it in. Beating a pathetic bully like Sid did nothing what-so-ever to make him feel better. “Friends” went to check on Sid, giving Dante a wide berth as if he were a wild animal, which he supposed was how the others saw him.
Being the centre of attention like that was suffocating for Dante, he felt the need to be out in the clean air, to be able to move in sync with the melody of the blood in his veins, and that’s what he did.
“Move out of my way.” He said dangerously, and a path cleared between him and the door. He leaped from table-top to table-top like he would’ve done in the training grounds of the Guild, and flew down the fire escape onto the field. He stopped. The stillness of outdoors was beautiful. He stopped and allowed his fury subside and his blood to flow in harmony with the earth. Taking a breath of the chill air he glided to the far end of the field. Two four-inch kunai throwing knives were in his hands before he knew it, spinning in a dizzying sequence from finger to finger that only he could master, lost in thought. Would there be any loss if I left? He thought dismally, I live alone. No-one would notice. Why don’t I just end it now. A decision was made, then. The knives stopped their furious whirling and came to a chilly halt. Jugular or wrist? He knew it well. Both would be painless, effortless. An end to the pain. He began spinning the knives again.
A shout brought Dante back from the brink. He stopped spinning his knives and jammed them into the holsters hidden by his blazer before his headmaster would see as he stormed across the field towards him. “Dante Hatake! Come here right now!” Dante stopped and allowed him to catch up, puffing from his little jog.
“Sir?” He responded.
“Is it true what Leiaa said you did to Sid? You do understand that physical violence is strictly forbidden?”
“Yes, sir. But I did it in self-defence- Sid acted first.”
“That’s not what I heard from every witness I asked,” he continued to bluster.
“I’m sure it isn’t,” Dante replied sedately, suppressing his irritation.
“Well if you would care to--” Headmaster Dukes was cut off as the shrill wail of the fire alarm knifed through the silence. Dante sighed, the tiniest external sign of his irritation. “If you would care to follow me to the tennis courts...” he said as if expecting it, and started waddling to the fire-assembly point on the tennis courts. Already Year 7 students were gathering in their PE kits, jiggling about in the cold. “Just go and stand with your form. Don’t attract any attention,” he ordered Dante and then, strangely smiled sadly. Dante frowned at him and then lined with his form as he had been told. Sid was there, holding a bloody bandage to his nose and standing with the nurse in the line. He looked nervous. Dante was forced to endure standing next to a girl who looked up at him, eyelids battering as if he were a god she’d like to bed. Ignoring her and the boring fire-drill related events taking place around him, Dante studied the field opposite him. Trees and bushes lined the perimeter to separate the outside world from school property. Something moved amongst the shrubbery and caught Dante’s eye. “Hey did you... Never mind,” he said as the girl goggled him again. He searched the horizon again but saw nothing.
“Ladies and gentlemen, be quiet please,” Mr Jukes, who now wore a fluorescent yellow jacket and stood on a step ladder said through a microphone. Silence quickly began to fall. “Due to new health
and safety regulations we have been forced to call a fire drill and try a different technique. Instead of doing a separate register for each form, we’re doing one per year group.” Groans erupted as it dawned that this would take longer than usual, meaning longer stood in the cold. “Please cooperate here! Raise your hand and say, ‘yes’ when I say your name. Okay. Year 7. Jenine Aberford.”
“Yeah.” A hand stuck out of the rabble.
“Bethany Axe.” Another ‘yes’ was shouted, accompanied by a hand. The process seemed to go on forever before he reached Year 11. “Right,” Jukes announced, “Years 7, 8, 9, 10 return to lessons please.” Another groan from year 11 and 6th Form. Dante stood in displeasure as he watched the rest of the school file away. He looked around again, totally disinterested in the events around him. Something moved again. He looked behind him, and again he saw something. The wind, surely. There was no wind. The register finally began but Dante continued to watch as more and more tiny movements seemed to take place at the edges of his vision. He’d move to get a better look and there was nothing there. Paranoia. With Hatake being about a third of the way down the register, Dante had a fair, agonising, shifty wait before it was his turn.
“Here.” Dante called.
“Dante Hatake. Wave your arm please, are you present?”
Of course I’m present, you were with me twenty minutes ago, you dolt! Dante thought savagely as he did an emphasised wave at Jukes, pulling a face causing a few titters to go up around him. Mr Jukes just looked at him for a moment, and then shifted his eyes quickly to somewhere behind him. Dante turned too, and there was definitely someone moving through the crowd towards him. There were definitely people in the shrubbery. Dante froze, but remembering his training, palmed a knife, never taking his eyes off the figure. The man wore a long black coat that was flapping gently as a gentle wind plucked at it, his wavy, shoulder-length hair was casually messed and his piercing blue eyes were locked onto Dante, a smile of bitter contempt twisting his lips as he easily navigated the crowd.
Another two men, similarly dressed in smart clothes were also weaving through towards him, their black attire standing out easily against the hideous red-and-gold of the school colours. One broke into a run as Dante saw him. He had a knife. A very, very long knife that flashed in the watery sun as he pulled it smoothly from a holster. Dante wasn’t sure what type it was- he’d never seen a single sided, curved blade like this, the blade sculpted from some lustrous black stone that seemed to glint red as blood where it caught the sun, but he knew one thing. That knife was destined for his flesh. The man was shoving students now, who began to scream at the sight of the knife. Chaos erupted. Dante forced his body to work, forcing his training to the forefront of his mind. He fixed the man in his mind, aimed and threw his knife. The man took it right between the eyes, staggered sharply sideways and dropped like a fly. Dante hadn’t killed in a long time, and he didn’t like it. “Shit,” he cursed loudly, staring at the body metres away.
The other men leapt into action, suddenly a few more than Dante had originally seen they all ran forwards, except one. Blue-eyes. Dante had no time to think. He bolted through the gap he’d created and onto the field. With free space, he picked up pace easily, sprinting from one side to the other in seconds. A flurry of throwing knives whizzed past him, but never close to lethal spots. These men weren’t out to kill him. Dante chanced a quick look behind him. Mr Jukes was watching calmly while the rest of the school panicked. Just leaving the confines of the crowd were five men all dressed in black and eyeing Dante up with practised precision, but Blue-eyes wasn’t there. He turned back and darted for a hole in the fence that he knew was just behind this tree... Two men jumped out, taking Dante by surprise. One however, quickly ended up with a knife in his jugular thanks to Dante’s lightning reactions. Now, weaponless, he was pitted against the second man who appeared to be wielding a crossbow. A crossbow? He skidded to a halt and managed to throw himself into a side-roll just in time to miss a crossbow quarrel to the kneecap. He shivered at the thought.
Wheeling around, he saw that his pursuers were moving forwards slowly in a semi-circle. He had no chance of escape. The man behind wasn’t shooting anymore, and three more men were appearing to circle him. Dante turned in a circle, looking for a gap but these men were well organised, it seemed. Blue-eyes had emerged now and was stood out of the perimeter of the circle, watching. He seemed like the leader, so Dante faced him squarely and tried to look confident, standing tall and looking him in the eye aggressively. Blue-eyes grinned.
Suddenly the sound of running feet approached behind him and a mass slammed his body sideways. Dante groaned as pain shot up his back and he tried to blink shooting stars from his vision. An unmistakable cold nicked his flesh near the jugular. Dante laid back his head and looked up at his attacker. Cold green eyes looked down the shaft of a one-foot knife. In an instant three other men were on him including Blue-eyes. He kneeled and conducted a lightning body search while others threatened him down with knives and crossbows. Who the hell are these people? Dante thought, stunned. “Ok. Get up. Up up up!” Green-eyes snapped cruelly, disorientating Dante. He struggled to his feet and was impatiently shoved by Green-eyes who then put a knife to Dante’s throat. A wave of nausea washed over him and he stopped, gasping for breath. Green-eyes was having none of it. He punched Dante in the stomach and then kneed him forwards as he retched drily. When he straightened again he saw that the population of Year 11 and 6th Form were watching in stunned silence. Blue-eyes came over, “Put your hands behind your back,” he said cooly.
Dante complied immediately.
“Good. You learn fast,” he whispered into Dante’s ear from behind as he put a set of manacles on his wrists. He put a slender hand on Dante’s shoulder and almost too gently guided him across the field towards Mr Jukes.
Jukes stood tall, looking down at Dante hunched forwards in pain still. “Kage.” Mr Jukes said to Blue-eyes.
“Is this him? You didn’t mention that he was armed.” He said calmly, but with a dangerous undertone as he gestured at the two bodies being carried away by soldiers in black military gear. Jukes blanched.
“It... it is. Tell me, what will you do to him?”
“That, is none of your concern. The Syndicate will do as required, you know the drill.”
Dante suddenly felt angry and frustrated. He refused to move as Kage tried to push him away, “You gave me up. You coward. I’ll be back for you, sir.” He hissed through gritted teeth as Kage ‘gently coaxed’ by applying more and more pressure with a knife until Dante felt it draw blood. When he still refused to move and continued staring daggers at Jukes, Kage kicked the back of his knee savagely and he fell to his knees. Yet he still retained eye contact with Mr Jukes as Kage put his knife firmly to his throat and whispered, “Come along now.” In response he tried to get up. Kage helped him and then led him to the back gate of the school. Dante limped along, his body broken, but not in spirit.
“Who are you?” He dared to ask.
“Your worst nightmare.”
Dante didn’t reply. He’d just been crushed with a block of ice and his entire body turned cold. Even his heart turned cold as all hope and defiance seemed to betray him.
Kage was telling the truth.
The other men were already waiting outside the gates. Dante gasped in shock and almost stopped at the sight that met him. Every parking space that had been cleared along the road, and for about 150 yards each way was parked a caravan of black 4x4 vehicles. Placed at regular intervals were men with crossbows who upon seeing Kage and Dante emerge cocked a bolt to their bows and aimed at Dante with easy precision. With that he decided it would be best to get out of the line of fire and tried to drag Kage back to the shelter of the gate. His lean frame betrayed none of his strength. It seemed to take nothing for Kage to lock Dante in place and threaten, “Don’t, Dante, you’ll make it worse,” in a low voice. Dante was breathing quick and panicky as he was pushed towards the central truck. He was tensed in anticipation of being pierced by one of those 12 bolts. The mad-man who had tackled Dante earlier was stood by the car door with a sick smile twisting his lips. “Open it, Stark,” Kage ordered. He bowed and climbed in to the far seat. Kage pushed Dante in next and then sandwiched him in. Suddenly sitting still made Dante realise just how much he was trembling. Both Stark and Kage had a knife drawn in expectation of him baulking. Not likely. The car pulled out behind the armoured truck infront of it and set off at wheel-screeching pace down the street as cars swerved to avoid it. The windows were blacked out on either side, but Dante could see out the front window, and the two soldiers on the back of the truck with guns. It made his skin crawl to think of the amount of guard he was under. What do they think I’m going to do? Knife them with invisible knives with my hands tied behind my back? Dante thought. Just because he did some training in knife, and unarmed combat didn’t make him this special. Something was going on.
In no time Dante had completely lost his bearings, and after about an hour he began to get restless. His arms ached from sitting back against them, but he didn’t dare to move. Time went on and it became painful to remain in the same position. As slowly as he could he tried to shift his arms further up his back, but as soon as he started to move a jolt of the car caused his arms to move suddenly. Both Kage and Stark leapt into action, drawing a second knife from under-arm holsters and laying the first across his neck, pinning him to the seat. “What are you doing?” Kage growled dangerously. He didn’t even look at him.
“I.... I was shifting position.... my arms--”
“Get comfy now, we have a while to go yet. Stark.” Kage moved his knife aside and Stark mirrored his actions. Reluctantly. Dante moved his arms around as much as he could and then sat back again.
Dante didn’t know how long the journey was, but when they finally came to a halt the environment that he was shoved out of the truck into by Stark was barren. A dirt track was still depositing dust into the air in the caravan’s wake, and aside from shrubbery and an old abandoned car there was nothing. He staggered on wooden legs and fell to his knees in the dust. Dante counted about 10 military vehicles parked on the track and men armed with tomahawks, knives, guns and crossbows were dressed in black. The men with guns were in black military gear, whereas the crossbowmen and knifemen wore suits and trenchcoats. Kage stood out from the others with blue trims on his jacket to match his eyes. Stark took Dante’s shoulder and forced him to his feet with a growl, and then produced a piece of cloth from his pocket. Dante looked at him quizzically.
“Goodnight sunshine,” he said. It seems he met it literally, for he took the cloth and crudely tied it across Dante’s eyes. He was then marched forwards in silence to some unknown destination. Dante didn’t feel that they went far, but it definitely felt as if they went down a steady incline. Soon, the sound of many feet echoed around them, and the sound of a large door slamming shut completely split the almost-silence, causing him to jump with shock and jolt the knife that suddenly pressed against his kidney. Being forced to stand still, he listened to the sounds of keys turning in a rusty lock, and then hinges screeching in protest to a metal gate being opened. He was then pushed forwards a few paces, his blindfold roughly removed, and shown the huge cavern around him, and the round barred cell he was caged in. The gate clanged shut, echoing loudly. The ceiling went up into the darkness and the edges of the cave were almost completely shrouded in shadow, except for a small white door with light leaking around the edges. The huge door that had caused Dante to startle truly was huge and operated by some sort of electrical mechanism. Tiny square windows about 20 feet up the door allowed a small amount of unnatural-looking light in, but it wasn’t enough to penetrate the dark. Dante looked to who had shut the gate. Kage. Stark still gripped him with a sadistic determination. Positioned around the outside of the cell were more military men. Stark unshackled Dante’s wrists and then stepped back to the edge of the cell, smiling. Dante rolled his shoulders gratefully, but the feeling of blood rushing back hurt. In the darkness Kage made some gesture, and suddenly blinding floodlights came on with a mechanical whump, shocking Dante and forcing him to squint. He groaned.
“Do you know why you’re here?” Kage asked, his voice ringing and eyes flashing.
“No,” Dante replied blankly, still disorientated. Before he even had time to react Stark had appeared infront of him. He punched Dante in the nose precisely and then disappeared back behind him. Dante tottered back a couple of steps in shock, and then the pain dawned on him. Somehow Stark hadn’t broken his nose, even with such a forceful punch, but it was still bleeding profusely and agony overwhelmed him. He put his hands to his nose and doubled over with another groan. “That’s sir to you,” Stark barked. Dante nodded madly in response, unable to speak, but that quickly change when Stark jumped around and punched again. Dante heard a cracking noise in his ear. Even his attempt at a block had failed miserably against this man’s amazing speed. He yelped with shock and sank to the floor, quivering with pain and anger. “You’re pathetic!” Stark exclaimed almost gleefully as he savagely kicked him. “Get up and speak!” He shouted cruelly in Dante’s ear as he yanked him up by his collar. Dante sagged in his grip but looked up under his eyebrows at the sound of a low, evil laugh from Kage.
He trembled with fear and rage, but forced himself into submission. “No, sir. I don’t know why I’m here.” This man was bad. Stark let him go and left him to stand swaying in the centre of the cell. Kage produced a knife and offered it to Dante hilt first, who flinched expectantly. “Fight me,” he said, “and that’s an order.” Dante stood, gawping, but took the knife. Kage smiled and then charged. He didn’t even draw any weapons. Dante dodged a backhanded sweep and managed to get his balance. He found that it wasn’t hard to attack with intent to kill. He dropped into a crouch, easily missing Kage’s roundhouse kick, and then spun on his haunches to swipe at his exposed back. Dante had him- he knew it- and then was on the floor with Kage pinning him down. The knife Dante had held in his hand was still there, but Kage had bent his arm back and was holding the knife to the back of his head. All he needed to do was drive it home. How the hell did he do that? Dante didn’t move. Didn’t breathe. “You see,” Kage whispered gently in his ear, sending shivers up his spine. “It’s all about deception. It’s how I live.” Then he got up and stood back, leaving the knife with Dante. “Now here’s what you’ll do, and if you don’t I’ll make you very unhappy.”
Dante looked at his blood pattering the floor, “I am very unhappy.”
Kage ignored the comment, “Kill Stark.”
Dante and Stark’s jaw dropped at the same time. Dante looked at Stark, who was staring at Kage. “I’m sorry, Stark, you’re just not useful to me anymore.” Kage shrugged. “Dante, do it. This man hurt you. He beat you.”
“Wait! Dante! You don’t understand.” Stark cried. He’d drawn two knives and was backing away.
Dante firmed his grip on the knife and crept towards Stark, whose eyes widened in shock. “Don’t! Oh, God no!” He shrieked. Thinking back on the things Stark had done to him made Dante all the angrier. Anger was lethal. His hands were slick with blood- his blood. Dante rushed forwards and dodged the clumsy cross handed block he made. “Don’t--- I can’t—I--” Stark stuttered wildly. Instead of cutting him now, Dante reversed his grip on the knife and crushed Stark’s knuckles with the hilt, causing him to drop the knife in his right hand with a yell. Dante caught it. Stark made another swipe, but it was clumsy and miscalculated. Dante moved out of its way lithely and drove one knife into his stomach simultaneously, then kicked him forwards to sprawl on the floor. He coughed, and he brought up a great globule of blood. Dante couldn’t work out what had come over him, but he liked it. He knelt by Stark and pulled him up to slump in front of him and pushed his two knives to either side of his neck. So easy. Cold-bloodedly, he said nothing as he whipped the knives across Stark’s neck and held him as his body drained of life’s blood and convulsed. Dante flung him forwards again so his face hit the floor with a wet crunch. “Yes. Perfect.” Kage praised quietly, “And that is why we want you.”
Kage left Dante in the cell with the body in the dark. When his bloodlust had dissipated and he could see clearly what he had done, he threw up. Over and over again. Stark’s blood pooled around his head and clotted, turning black. Dante began to tremble and managed to stagger as far from the body as he could before he legs gave out and he collapsed against the bars. How long he was there for, he didn’t know. Any sense of time was lost and even the guard shifts didn’t help, for they were uneven and staggered. He couldn’t bear to glance at the body at the centre of the cell. He began hallucinating. Sometimes Dante would sit and watch as the body of Stark rose and turn those hollows where eyes were on him. It would lift a black finger and point accusingly at him. Murderer. Multi-murderer. He would whimper in terror, his dignity long forgotten, and draw back as it dragged its limbs slowly across the floor to him. He would close is eyes. Scream. And then a guard would pull him back from insanity with a good hard smack with the butt of a gun through the bars that caged him from normality and relaxation and calmness. Dante reached a point where the hallucinations were so common that he didn’t react anymore. He would let the vile stone- cold fingers of his mother trace the line of his jaw as it’s hollow eyes searched him for regret, self loathing. It found it. He would let his father shout and rant and rave with shattered teeth about his weaknesses, blood and spittle flying. Dante’s eyes had fully adjusted to the dark and he could see everything. He didn’t eat, sleep or drink. He became an animal of the night, and he was brimming with hate and anger. Anger was lethal.
Kage came whenever it was. The floodlights came on again with their familiar sound and unexpectedness. Dante sheltered his eyes as pain flooded his head and crouched as far from the door as he could, listening to the sound of Kage’s footsteps circling the cage. Dante’s nerves were shattered, and he cried out when Kage reached through the bars and ran his fingers down his spine. “You’ve been getting thinner.” Kage laughed.
The clanging of the gate alerted him to Kage’s entrance. He let a small amount of light to his eyes, bit by bit. “Dante, I have someone to see you.” Kage’s icy voice said into the silence. Me? Why? Dante forced himself to look up, finding it hard to focus because of his dehydration and starvation. Kage was stood infront of him, shielding his view of the body 10 paces away. Someone moved behind him and Dante’s suspicious eyes flicked immediately to Stark. Alive and smiling. Dante gawped at Stark and then stood shakily from where he had stood for far too long. His pool of vomit was still at his side and he almost stood in it as his legs protested at standing.
“You’re alive.” Dante managed to force through cracked lips.
“Better than ever. You like his acting? Wasn’t really acting though, was it?”
“Who is it?” Dante said flatly, strangely calm.
“Why don’t you find out?” Kage suggested, smiling slightly. Dante steeled himself and tottered over to the unknown dead. The body was cold. Hard. He rolled it over, forcing it to unstick from its bloody bed. He retched, but had nothing to bring up. The dead eyes looked up from his bruised and broken face. Sid wasn’t smiling anymore. Again, he retched. “He did nothing.” Dante growled. I killed him. Murderer.
“He worked for us. We can do what we want with him. He hunted you down and relayed back to us. Nothing indeed.”
“He worked with you...” Dante’s mind wasn’t working. “But... but I killed Stark. It was him!”
“It’s a spell. An Influence. I manipulate exactly how he acts and looks. What you saw as you.. took him out was the Influence being affected by Siddartha’s adrenaline. Unfortunately it’s very hard to maintain when he was shitting himself as much as he was.” Kage said disdainfully. “Now, come with us.”
“I killed Sid.”
“Yes, you murdered him in cold blood you pathetic creature. He was no match for you.” Stark interjected.
“Come with us.” Kage repeated more firmly, his eyes flashing dangerously as he took a step forwards. Dante moved.
Kage led and Stark pushed Dante through the small door in the cave wall. Through that door the change was almost too dramatic to comprehend. It was like walking into an office building. Bright lights fitted into the ceiling glared down at them and there were doors at regular intervals along the walls, but the windows were blacked out. Each door was completely different, ranging from steel enforced mahogany to glass patio doors. After what seemed like a maze of corridors, Dante was shoved through a very beautiful mahogany carved door, with small fronds of ivy carved delicately into the wood. The room was warm with red furnishings, a wooden floor with a red rug, and mahogany wall panels. It was like stepping back in time. “Sit down,” Kage commanded, gesturing at a red armchair by the fire as he seated himself at the mahogany desk that dominated the room. Stark positioned himself by the door. Dante glanced at the window. It was curtained. Kage opened his mouth to speak before somebody knocked at the door. “Come in,” Kage snapped, irritated. Two burly men strode in, dressed in boots, breeches and a shirt with rawhide lacings up the front. It reminded Dante of the 1400’s. “Oh, yes. You have the clothes I presume? Good. Wait outside until it’s time.” The men bowed deeply and left again. Dante sat in confusion throughout the exchange. Outside the door as the men left wasn’t the sterile white corridors he had entered from. “Where the hell am I?” Dante demanded in alarm, standing up. Stark forced him down with a knife.
“This is my home. My world. My time. And where you will work from now on.”
“You can’t force me,” Dante said defiantly.
“No, we can’t. But we can... encourage you.”
“Hah! And how exactly will you do that?”
“Why, like this.” Kage said smugly. At that moment, the door snicked. Dante stood immediately and was instantly wrestled back into his seat by Stark who was suddenly infront of him. “Get off!” he yelled, beginning to panic. The two servants were back and ran to Dante, pinning him down. Kage stood slowly and took a wooden box from his desk. He struggled feebly against the three men as Kage produced a huge syringe. He smiled and waltzed across the room torturously slowly. “You’ll like this. No words can describe how attractive it is. See for yourself.” Kage plunged the needle into Dante’s wrist.
Dante thought back to the days at school when girls had had cervical cancer injections. The boys had used to laugh and joke about how pathetic they were. Then when it came to the boys having jabs, you could see the fear in the other’s eyes. Dante had felt it too. They were nothing though- you could barely feel it. He had felt like such an idiot when he came out with nothing but a bead of blood on his arm.
This injection was completely different.
The needle was much, much thicker. Dante could see the effort it took Kage to force it the full way into his wrist and push out the green liquid into his bloodstream. With normal injections, Dante could remember, you could feel the liquid go into you. It was a nasty sensation, but not pain as such. Here, the volume of liquid looked to be about ten times as much, and Dante could feel it. He felt as if his vein were about to burst. He cried out in pain as it shot up his arm and baulked, trying to displace the men. He almost did it but Stark suddenly thumped Dante’s leg and he fell back, groaning. The other servants then took their chance to pin him down fast. It seemed like an eternity before the liquid was gone and Kage yanked the needle from Dante’s flesh. Dante sat there, panting with pain and terror. “What was that what the hell was that why are you doing this ohhhh God what the fuck was that!?” he rambled. Everything around him tilted, and he panicked again.
“No! Sit, relax. Feel it.” He did as Kage bade him. The strange liquid was there; he could feel it from head to toe rushing through his system. Dante felt stronger than ever. It was so good, regardless of the pain. “Yes, you see?” Kage said passionately as he saw Dante lay his head back and shudder with the ecstatical climax. Kage smiled. Dante didn’t.
“What is that shit?” He spat, trembling with exhilaration.
“It slows aging, you don’t need to sleep, food or drink, it heals you faster, and makes you stronger, faster. You can feel it.” Kage was right. Dante’s nose was fine now, the constant ache gone.
“That won’t be enough to keep me here.” He said defiantly, already having doubts.
Once Dante had been injected Stark took him roughly by the arm and dragged him out of the warm room, and- somehow- into the whitewashed corridors of the main complex. He took him back to his cell and shoved him in, so that he fell against the bars of the opposite wall. Dante’s senses were on overdrive, and unfortunately that mean he could feel the bitter cold between waves that of warmth that rushed through him. It was an odd experience. His eyes adjusted more quickly this time, but he still had a hard time getting a good look around. Dante didn’t know what was going to happen to him, and he didn’t want to know. The body- Sid’s body- and blood were gone from the floor, which was a relief but he still shuddered when he thought of it. Was Sid in the same position as I? Dante thought morosely. They are going to pay for doing this to me.
Dante was sat, relishing the thought of what he would do to Kage and his men when he got the chance, when a pinprick of sound caught his attention. He had been in prison long enough to get used to the absolute silence and occasional loud scuffs of the guards moving around. This was different. The tiniest sound. Dante turned his head sharply, trying to catch the noise, straining. No. Nothing. I’m going insane. He thought, much to his amusement. He started laughing, quietly at first, but then it came out hysterically. The kind of laugh that really was terrifying. Another noise silenced Dante. It was closer this time, he was sure. His heart began to pump faster, adrenaline rushing through his veins, mixing with the serum. Dante couldn’t see. “Hello?” He said to the darkness, knowing the guards were but 20 paces away. No response. He was paralysed with fear- not daring to move. Then suddenly the charging whump of the floodlights gave Dante a quarter-seconds notice to the light that blasted him. He shielded his eyes as a natural reaction, but then forced himself to look up. Kage, Stark, and five other guards had formed a semi-circle around Dante, pinning him into where he was crouched.
He cried out in shock, throwing himself backwards into the bars.
“Stand up.” Kage said, “Do exactly as I say.” Dante stood slowly, eyeing the men suspiciously. “Now take off all your clothes and put them there in a pile.”
Oh, now that’s awkward. Dante opened his mouth to protest, but before he could even squeak all the guards had raised their guns and loaded them to fire. He threw his hands up in response. Kage ordered them to stand down. “Do it. Now.” He said dangerously. Dante complied, stiffly, and then stood naked in silence before them. He could see Stark smirking. He wanted to kill him.
Kage looked Dante up and down with a shadow of a smile on his handsome face, then his eyes locked on to his chest. “What’s that?” Kage said.
“It’s personal.” Dante replied, even more stiffly. What Kage was looking at was a scar that diagonally spanned his chest.
“What. Is. That.” Kage growled, his eyes flashing.
“I.... I.... Ah....”
“What is it!”
“It’s a scar.”
Kage’s eyes fluttered closed and he swallowed. “Let’s try that again. What is that?”
“No!” Kage roared, his temper flaring. He strode over to Dante and smacked him across the cheek. Dante could taste blood. “Where did you get that scar? Who did that to you?”
“I’m not tell--”
“Yes, you are.” Kage said flatly with a smack.
“Don’t even bother!” He kicked him in the shin.
“Oh, God! Oh, no! Ah!” Dante cried as Kage kicked him again so he was down on the floor.
“Get up.” Kage grabbed Dante, forgetting his nakedness, and shoved him against the bars with a bodily clang as the bars shook with the force. “I want to know who scarred you so. And you will tell me. Or I will hurt you more. Until you tell me. Do you understand?”
“I said do you understand?” He kneed Dante’s crotch, who tried to double over and made the tiniest screech through his teeth as he tried not to betray himself.
Dante panted for a moment, shattered. “Yes.” He forced out.
“Yes, master. I understand.” Dante was subdued and looked off into nowhere, still panting softly.
“Good. Who gave you that scar?”
Dante sighed, desperate not to share his information. “My father. He’s dead.”
“Would you care to share what happened?”
“I was given a contract from The Guild against him and mother. I killed her, but father knew it was coming. He fought me and died.” Dante hadn’t been the same since. He had been bound to The Guild and had to kill them, but he hadn’t wanted to. He’d been 11.
“So why does your scar bare residue magic from Hellstone. Like that of a Hellsword?”
“I don’t know. God, I don’t know. The Guild took his sword. Oh, God, Kage. Please, no.” Kage had drawn a dagger and was looking down between them thoughtfully. “Kage? Kage. That’s all I know. Look at me. Look. I don’t know any more.”
“I believe you.” He put away the knife and stepped backwards, a funny look on his face.
Dante sighed shaggily, his eyes fluttering shut with relief.
“If you resist this, I’ll be forced to hurt you.” Kage now warned blandly as a guard dragged in a hose pipe. Dante knew what was coming, but he still wasn’t prepared when bone-cold water blasted his face. Uncomfortable on its own, yes, but the serum had heightened Dante’s senses and he felt the cold more than ever. He gasped and leapt back with shock. “Stand still!” Kage commanded over the roar of the water. Dante cowered back but didn’t move as the guard gave him a thorough cleaning. When it was over, he was trembling uncontrollably with cold. Kage bade him dry off with a rag and then tossed a pile of black clothing and boots at him. Dante pulled on a black pair of breeches and strapped a thigh holster to his leg before Kage could do anything. Next, a loose black roughspun cotton shirt with rawhide lacing up the collar to loosen it in hot weather. Black riding boots, and weapons belt and wrist guards came next. Kage looked Dante up and down and smiled. Dante seethed.
“Well then. Let’s get you geared up.”
“Oh, what the hell?” Dante groaned.
Kage strode out, walking towards the door. Dante followed after some encouragement from Stark. The other guards took up position around him, as if he’d attack them with Kage around. After walking in a solitary daze for a bit, it dawned on Dante that Kage was going to make him a killer. He didn’t want to kill again. He stopped dead. Stark stopped also, hovering over Dante’s shoulder like a bad smell, waiting for him to move. He didn’t shift. Stark leaned in and Dante tensed.
“Come on, lad. There’s no escaping the bitter business.” He said almost gently. Dante turned and looked into Stark’s eyes. There was pain there he hadn’t seen before. He’d been like me. The realisation crashed down him. This man was a slave too. And look what it had done to him.
Dante walked rigidly on, trying to hide the trembling in his hands and the light headedness he felt. Kage opened a black wood door with chipped paint and stepped into darkness. Dante followed in just as Kage opened some shutters on barred windows to let light into the dusty room. It was quite large- long rather than square, and along every wall were knives, swords, bows, different arrows, morningstars, cudgels. Every weapon you could think of. They lit up perfectly in the warm sunlight that poured in from outside. They were in a city now, Dante saw. Carts rattled by lazily in the red morning glare and ladies and peasants alike bustled through the city past the glassless window, their chatter a perfect melody to Dante’s sound-deprived ears. Something was strange though. As people walked by there was a more hurried attitude as they passed. Some glanced worriedly into the gloom inwhich we were concealed and many gave the building a wide berth as it was. This was obviously Kage’s property, and people knew it.
Now Dante looked at the weapons the memory of the man back at his school with the black knife was etched into his mind. Every weapon had an aspect of that stone here. Arrow heads, knife blades, swords, even the Morningstar had black stone spikes. The red sun made them glint blood red, turning slightly transparent. Dante was mesmerised. “Hellstone.” Kage said as if it would bear some resemblance to Dante. “It’s one of the best weapons materials around, and top secret. I think.... you will need knives, obviously.” Kage wandered down the rows of weapons, carefully choosing several different sized knives. He came back and put them on the table in the centre of the room. The widest foot-long knife went at Dante’s hip, the smallest kunai knives in his belt. Two long thin stiletto knives went down his back between his shoulder blades, about two feet long, a smaller one at his thigh. A couple more leaf-knifes slipped into pockets inside his boot.
“Ok, follow me. Stark, keep an eye on Hatake here.”
Kage turned and savagely burst through another door and into the streets. A few ladies shrieked and then quickly averted their eyes, hurrying away to do their business. Three horses were already tied down an alley next to the small, dark fortress-like building we had just emerged from. It didn’t fit in at all with the sandy-coloured stone of other buildings and carefully cared for window boxes fixed to windows several stories high around us. Despite the height of most of the buildings, they didn’t seem to crowd you in like would be expected. Dante liked it here. The air felt clean and fresh, and the calmness of an early summer morning was joyous.
Kage, Dante and Stark rode through the brightening streets at a trot, so the crowds parted like the red sea and then flooded back together in their wake. Dante kept constantly aware of what Kage was doing. The way he looked this way and that and seemed to leer at young ladies as they passed, smiling charmingly. When Kage abruptly slowed to a walk Dante went on high-alert. He watched Kage as he seemed to lock eyes with someone and his face darkened with hate. Dante searched the crowds and saw another man, dressed in black and with red throwing stars around his belt. He wore black gloves on his hands but the sleeves of his tunic were rolled up. Around his neck and mouth and nose he wore a red scarf, obscuring half of his face. His eyes lit in a malicious smile at Kage, who in turn forced his stare into a smile. He scared Dante. Kage continued to smile and gave the young, blonde-haired man a slow and deliberate salute of mockery. He nodded in return, then his eyes fixed onto Dante. Dante broke eye contact quickly and stepped his horse up into a trot through the streets after Kage who had sped off again. Behind him, Dante heard Stark say, “My lord,” and then the sound of him following. Curious.
After a while the streets became wider, until the road was a beaten dust trail and only a few golden houses, ruins, fields and fences littered the village they now road through. There was less traffic too, and so Kage pushed his horse for a gentle lope. Looming ahead was a cliff, its face golden in the sun like that of the buildings that dominated the area. To either side of the road the cliff closed in, sheltering the town from the wind. Up ahead, the road became a small track that disappeared into a glade of trees, before appearing as a white zig-zag line up the face of the cliff until it reached the top, where a small tower and a cottage were isolated from the gentle buzzing of the now afternoon heat. “That is our destination.” Kage said plainly, and then continued up the road.
From the top of the cliff the view was astounding. The city spread out like a tapestry below them within the confines of the cliff edge, and a few similar towers to the one Dante now stood below were placed around the mouth of the cliff, standing sentinel over the city. Beyond civilisation, golden sandy plains spread as far as the eye could see, only broken by a grey scar cut into the land. Some sort of road Dante supposed. The cottage here was small and humble next to the seemingly abandoned tower. Weeds and ivy grew up the tower face and many windows were boarded. It wasn’t tall- only about four floors, but it was enough with the height advantage the cliff gave it. Across the dusty yard the three men had emerged onto was a small menagerie with two horses grazing lazily in the sun on hay. By the house were two goats picking at weeds, and around the yard area were a few scattered hard-wearing shrubs. Kage and Stark dismounted and took their horses to a post by the house to tie them.
“Put yours in the field there with the others.” Kage commanded coldly as he strode off to the cottage. Stark was glaring at him while his back was turned. Dante released the horse and started towards Kage who, after failing to get a reply by knocking proceeded to kick the door down. With an impressive 360 spin on his toe and a lash out with his heel he sent the door almost flying off its hinges. He disappeared inside for a moment, and then reappeared carrying a slender young woman by her waist who was shouting a whole manor of curses at him. Obviously they knew eachother well, for Kage just smiled at her angry attempts to get out of his hold. He dropped her and was immediately attacked by the flighty woman, who spun quickly towards him with her fists ready, her brown glossy hair whirling with her. They fought blindingly quickly for about a minute, exchanging blows harmlessly until the young lady managed to fool Kage into punching too hard. She stepped out at the last second, and not meeting the resistance he expected, Kage pitched forwards with a curse. He managed to catch himself, but spun around again to a dagger touching his throat. He looked down at it and smiled, then leaned forwards against it, testing how far she would take it. He began to draw blood before she winced and put the little knife away.
“La’liel. How lovely to see you.” Kage said, bowing deeply and professionally.
She tossed her head and batted her eyelids. She was beautiful, “Don’t kick down my door next time. You know I hate it when you do that. Sir.” She had an accent, but Dante couldn’t place what it was. “What brings you here?”
“I want you to find out what weapons Hatake here can use effectively. He used to assassinate for The Guild but he quit after he murdered his own mother and father at 11. I gave him the serum to keep him around and he’s already having withdrawal symptoms- his body can’t bear not having the drug in his veins.” Kage gestured to Dante’s trembling hands. He clutched them behind his back and scowled, not daring to say anything that would betray the sorrow or fear he felt. Kage continued, “He’s very adept with knives and silent killing methods, but not so much in battle. The Guild are the best assassins in the world, so it’ll be good for us to have one on our side.”
“I’m not on anyone’s side.” Dante snarled.
“Dante. This is Mistress La’liel. She’s a mercenary and a skilled trained. You’re going to be working with her for a few weeks.”
Dante scowled more and looked at the Mistress. She was just a bit shorter than him, and as lean as a pike. He looked her up and down and took in the smooth curves of her waist and breast, somewhat disrespectfully, not hidden at all by the shorts and tight-cropped top she wore with an array of various scabbards and blades.
Either she didn’t notice, or she was pretending not to, for she turned to Kage and said, “Where do I need to start?”
He started out with the long range weapons- crossbows, longbows and the likes. Dante’s skill with a longbow was considerable, and by the end of the day he was able to hit a bullseye at 200 paces, though his fingers were bloody from the drawstring. Mistress La’liel was impressed. Kage and Stark had gone down into the city on business and so Dante was blessedly alone with La’liel when night began to fall. By then his entire arms were shaking violently from the drug. He couldn’t hide it. Mistress made him follow her to the dining bench outside her cottage with the Aquerian longbow he’d been exceeding with, though now he could barely hold it. Dante put his head in his hands. He was exhausted and felt feint from the combination of the rigorous training and the drug finally leaving him in a state.
Dante didn’t want to admit it, but he couldn’t go on without it.
“He gave you a big dose, huh?” La’liel said softly.
He exhaled sharply, and that came out shaky too. Tears welled in his eyes. He looked away.
“Listen to me.” She said, gently commanding Dante’s attention. “Master Kage is a very, very dangerous man to get on the wrong side of. I’m begging you, don’t try to kill him, because when you fail, he will make you suffer so much that you want to die. That drug is potent stuff, and he’ll keep giving it to you- get you totally reliant on the shit and that’ll be how he keeps you with him. Don’t try to stop him giving it to you, because he will hurt you. All I ask is that you don’t fall into its grasp. I want to give you the talent you need to beat him but I can’t, that’s up to you. And one more thing. Don’t scream when he brands you; he likes it.”
“Brands? What are--”
“Shh! He’s back. Please, just do as he says.” She looked worried.
Dante could hear voices penetrating the darkness now. Then they appeared from the little dirt track that wound its way up the cliff face. They both stood to greet them. Dante left the bow behind, not sure he’d be able to hold it. As he approached, Kage staggered sideways sharply into a deadly serious Stark. When Dante got closer he realised what was wrong with Kage. He was completely and utterly drunk. La’liel approached first, and curtseyed politely, carefully. “Sir,” she said. Kage grunted and pulled her up into a rough kiss, his hands all over her. She looked disgusted, but accepting. She was used to this. Dante watched in complete and utter hatred and despair. As Kage went down to kiss her neck gently and slowly, his eyes locked on to Dante’s. He slowed to a deliberate and mocking pace, his eyes laughing cruelly as he saw the hatred blossom in Dante’s eyes and their natural darkness became a black pit. Kage’s hand slipped down to her thigh and between her legs. The he stopped and looked down at her breasts intently. “Come on girl, show me what you’ve got.” He took her by the wrist and pulled her to the cottage. He was stooped forwards with an uneven gait as he staggered determinedly to the house. Kage didn’t even bother to shut the door, just pushed La’liel up against the wall opposite the door and started mounting his body against hers as he undressed her. Dante felt sick. They disappeared around the corner, and from there all Dante could hear were the occasional grunts and excited moans of Kage taking his pleasure from her. He didn’t even care what they thought. He was too powerful and no one could do anything about it.
Dante turned away from the house and to Stark, trying to ignore the sounds of a weeping woman and flesh on flesh. He looked exhausted. In his hand he held a black-red dagger and was cleaning it on a hooded black cloak he wore over his black jacket and dark red scarf tight around his neck. Dante didn’t bother trying to agitate him, “Sir?” he asked warily. Stark’s bright green eyes shifted dangerously to Dante’s from the dagger. “May I enquire as to where you have been?”
He sighed tiredly and then said, “All you need to know is that Kage’s job went very, very wrong, and that you will have to face Kage in a very bad mood tomorrow.” He looked haunted. More sounds of crying burst from the cottage, but this time it wasn’t La’liel. Kage was crying, hard.
“I’m taking you back to your cell,” he Stark said sharply, grabbing Dante by the upper arm and shoving him through the menagerie gate---
---and into the sterile corridors of the complex.
Dante was gasping for breath with shock at how that had happened. It was like walking through a normal door from one room to another, except it was from one time and place to another. Stark dragged Dante through the corridors expertly, and to his cell. The guards around the cell perimeter were back, all armed with assault rifles. This time Dante managed to stay on his feet as he was thrown into his cell. Stark slammed the barred gate and left, the lights around the cell switching off in quick succession. Dante removed all his knives and then found himself drifting off to sleep with the absence of the serum in his blood, and drifting away from the horrible withdrawal symptoms, disturbing thoughts and cold.
Dante woke of his own accord and sat relishing the silent darkness for as long as he could. About an hour later the lights switched on and Kage came striding in, looking black. Dante stood immediately and followed him with his eyes. Stark followed a moment later, also looking angry, but suppressing it as well as he could. Kage shoved his way through the cell door with a clang and came right up to Dante, who tried not to flinch.
“Stark,” Kage snapped, “get the branding equipment.”
Dante’s stomach did somersaults. He didn’t know how to react. Don’t scream. He likes it. Dante did his best to look unflustered and squared up to Kage, looking him right in the eye. “Give me your wrist.” Kage commanded, not breaking eye contact. Dante broke eye contact and watched in dismay as Kage pulled another syringe out of his pocket. As much as he hated it, Dante found himself yearning for it. He forced himself to look away as Kage found the old, tender wound from a couple of days ago and stuck the needle right in. He screwed his eyes shut tighter and held his face in his free hand to try to take his mind off the pain, shuddering. Then it was over and he felt the blessed ecstasy take him. Dante panted a couple of breaths as his heart rate soared and then he fell back against the bars of the cage, exhausted. It felt incredible. His hands slowly stopped their shaking and he felt in equilibrium again. Kage was smiling cruelly, and they both knew that this was what bound Dante to him now.
Stark returned carrying a leather roll in his arms. He put it at Kage’s feet and rolled it out, revealing a multitude of iron bars and brands that Kage owned. Kage took one out and waved it Dante’s face, looking bored but sadistic at the same time. “This one,” he swallowed, “is what I use on badly behaved visitors, and this one here,” he lifted out another one that had an emblem on the end, “this one is yours.” Dante tried to focus on it as Kage waved it about, but couldn’t. Now he gestured at the whole lot. “As I decide, you’ll be moved up through the ranks, and you’ll get a new marking.” Dante hid his fear well.
“Stark, get him down.” Kage ordered. Stark came forwards and grabbed Dante by the collar. He pitched forwards and stumbled. Stark kicked the back of his knee and his leg buckled. Dante went down heavily, the wind being knocked from his lungs. Before he could recover, Stark was on top of him, all his weight put on his knee that was dug painfully into his back. Dante gritted his teeth and forced himself to put up with it. He could hear Kage’s footsteps coming up behind him. “There.” He said, and Dante felt a finger fall on the left side of his neck. Dante cringed. It was going to hurt. “I want those Syndicate bastards to know to whom he belongs.”
Dante’s shirt was pulled aside and he heard Kage murmur something, followed by a whoosh as a blast of heat rolled over him. He was using magic to heat the brand. Stark forced Dante’s head to the side and sudden warmth caressed his neck. “Ready?” Kage said to Stark. In response he put yet more weight onto Dante’s back and twisted his neck further, forcing him still with an iron grip.
It was cold at first. Freezing- Dante felt no pain, just a heavy pressure on his neck and the cold, making him gasp. Then, almost in mockery it burned hot. Dante balked and thrashed as the pain exceeded any he could bear, but Stark held down fast, only putting more weight on his already screaming back. Time seemed to slow, and he somehow managed to think of Mistress La’liel’s words. Don’t scream. Dante shut his mouth and bit his lip to try and stop the whimpers and gasps that escaped his mouth. Tears streamed down his face.
Kage peeled the brand from his skin and Dante forced himself to stillness, closing his eyes against the world. Stark released him, but he didn’t get up. Dante opened his eyes at the sound of Kage’s voice by his ear, whispering softly. “Now, lad. You did good. Well done. Not too bad, hey? That’s the way.” He pulled Dante upright so he was kneeling on the floor, swaying. “Good lad, here we go, this’ll make it better.” He soothed as he wrapped a treated bandage around Dante’s neck. “The serum will heal you up nice and quickly. It’ll be over soon.”
Dante took a deep, painful breath, “With all due respect, fuck off. Sir.”
Kage froze, a strange expression on his face. Stark strode forwards, but Kage stopped him with a hand. Then he got up and left, commanding Stark to follow. Dante was plunged into darkness and left.
The next morning, Stark came alone into Dante’s cell and pushed him to his feet to take him to training. The skin on the side of his neck felt stiff and rubbery under the bandage, and stung like hell with any movement. Kage’s serum wasn’t working fast enough for him. As they walked, Stark seemed to become rougher and rougher in his handling of Dante, like he was taking out some pent up fury on him. It reached a point where Stark’s hand was around Dante’s neck, grasping the tender wound on his neck. Dante tried desperately to put up with it, but ended up kicking off. He turned the wrong way abruptly at an intersection in the corridors so Stark’s grip slipped free. Dante rounded on him.
“What the fuck is your problem, you shite?! You treat me like I’m a fucking dog you can drag wherever you want and I won’t do a fucking thing!” Dante rubbed his sore neck. He temper was soaring, and he wasn’t about to let it go. He hadn’t slept, of course, because of the serum and he had had to put up with the pain of the brand all night. Kage’s absence made Dante overstep his mark a little. Stark stared at him in horror, and then his eyes flashed dangerously. He went to grab Dante by the neck again and slam him against the wall, but he dropped into a low stance Mistress La’liel had taught him to use if he were attacked while using a longbow. His anger was still building, “Don’t touch my neck you bastard!” He shrieked. “Don’t even touch me!”
Stark took a step back and smiled knowingly. He rubbed the side of his neck and his eyes went sad.
“It hurts, doesn’t it?” Stark said softly. He untied the dark red scarf he always had on concealing his neck and turned his head to one side. He had a brand, too. Dante gaped at him. “Follow me.” Stark said, and turned down a corridor Dante had never seen. It was dark and musty-smelling. He floor was mould-stained wood and an old moth-eaten red carpet lined the middle of the floor. The walls were once red, but the wallpaper was peeled to reveal brown-splotched plaster walls and wooden panels. At one point on the wall beside a beaten up old door was a big dark red bloodstain. The blood was flaking off the wall with age, but it still looked relatively new. Stark entered the door, and it rattled unhappily on its hinges. His quarters were dilapidated and dark. A wardrobe, an old wing-backed chair, a writing desk and a glass cabinet full of the serum injections, whiskey and other drugs and herbs were placed around the small room. On the far wall there was a multitude of various weapons hung. A crossbow, longbow, knives, daggers, swords, you name it. There were no windows or a fire. Only a lamp nest to the chair cast a yellow glow across the room. “The doors in the corridor are to my current mission locations. When I’ve carried out a contract, the door is replaced by Workers and I follow that one through too.” Dante turned to Stark. He stood bare-chested. His skin was a lattice of scars, big and small. They were everywhere, and many of them looked very, very deliberate. He didn’t quite know where to look. He turned to one side and showed his brands. He had six down his arm. He’d been through it six times. “It hurts a lot.”
He pointed to the last one. It looked quite recent. “This frees me from slavery to Master Kage, but it doesn’t mean I’m not a slave. Kage’s used that as an unofficial excuse to keep me in his service. I’m with him until I die, and once a slave, always a slave. You have long, long a while to go yet, lad.”
“I’ll get away. He will not break me. I will not be broken.” Dante said solemnly.
“Sure you will.” Stark said disbelievingly, but hopefully.
It was late morning when Stark and Dante emerged from the complex through the menagerie gate. Stark knocked on the door of the small cottage and swept into a perfect full court bow when a scowling La’liel emerged. “My Lady,” he said, averting his eyes.
“Stark.” She replied brusquely. “You may leave now.”
“Yes my Lady.” Stark turned to Dante, “Kage will be back tonight, and he has an erratic temper. Act like you should to your slave-master, or you might have a few issues with his fists.” A shadow of a rather- forgotten memory passed over his face. “He’ll be back for you later, but he might have other things on his mind first.” He said as he walked away. La’liel stiffened.
When Stark had gone Dante turned to her and smiled helplessly, then winced as his neck twinged. He put a hand up to his wound, and instantly regretted it.
“He’s branded you.” It wasn’t a question. Dante plucked the bandage idly in embarrassment. “Hell. I didn’t think he’d do it so early on. I’m so sorry. I suppose… something was seriously wrong with him that night. I’ve never seen him like that. He was distraught… gentle with me.”
He looked away. “It doesn’t even hurt that much,” he lied pathetically.
She snorted, “I’m an herbalist you know. Do you want a paste or something?”
“No. Thanks. Kage’d just confiscate it.”
“I see. Well if you need one, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ve been making medicines for ten years. I see your withdrawal symptoms are gone too.”
“Yeah. He’s really drugging me up. I can’t do anything about it.”
“He’ll continue to. I’m not going to lie to you. Any day now he’ll give you your own room in the complex to do with what you want, and a supply of the serum. The only advantage here is that Kage will never enter your own room. It’s your own bit of privacy he won’t intrude on.”
“Great.” Dante said sarcastically.
Dante and Mistress La’liel spent that day working hard at knife-to-knife combat and unarmed combat, inwhich Dante almost defeated Mistress twice, much to his delight. He finished the final practise round early afternoon breathless and exhilarated. Then, they rode in to town together so that La’liel could collect some herbs and supplies. The busyness of town had died down in comparison to how it had been last time. The gentle humming of a warm afternoon was pleasant. It took about two hours for her to collect many strange herbs for her medicines, and then the two of them sat on a nearby bench in a busy little courtyard. La’liel nibbled on a pastry while Dante sat alert, staring all around him intently. Passersby seemed to hold him in threat. Many stared accusingly as they edged past and others hurried determinedly by, only to stop and stare afterwards. Dante felt awkward being so heavily armed with blades in a public place, and did his best not to look menacing, but it was very difficult being his height and build. He was very aware of how unnerving his black eyes were to people.
A man’s feet stopped in Dante’s field of vision as he stared at the floor. He followed the body up to red throwing stars, then a red scarf, and blonde hair. Dante sat up abruptly and glared at the young man he’d seen the other day, standing over him. La’liel jumped up to her feet, shocked and curtseyed. “My lord. What a pleasant surprise it is to see you!” He nodded silently and continued to watch Dante with an amused, and unwavering gaze. He stood with his gloved hands in his pockets and his rolled up sleeves revealed a multitude of black and red dragon-like tattoos winding up his arm. “You are Dante Hatake.” He said, his voice as clear as a winter morning. It seemed to ring in the air.
“Yes, sir.” Dante said, standing and bowing to the stranger. “I’m afraid I do not know who you are.”
“I’m Lord Heinako. Leader of Syndicate Sector 1 and Master of House Protection. I understand you are working under Lord Kage Sector 2 leader?”
“Umm... yes, my lord.”
“Wonderful. Mercenary La’liel. Have you carried out my contracts yet?”
La’liel stiffened. “No, my lord. Two are on their first course of...” she paused, shifting her eyes to Dante, “..poisons,” she said ashamedly. “The other three, I’m still working out doses.”
“Let’s go up to your home and carry on this conversation there. I’d like to know why you have failed to meet my deadline, and get to know young Dante here.” Lord Heinako said levelly, his eyes glittering murder. Dante shivered and La’liel blanched.
“Ah... yes of course, my lord.”
“So, mercenary. Tell me why you have so failed at my task.” Lord Heinako and La’liel were sat outside the cottage on the bench, deep in conversation while Dante stood respectfully to one side as a slave was expected.
“My lord. I apologise gravely,” she said desperately, “Poisoning is an art- it takes a long time to prepare, so that it is perhaps... a convincing suicide or a heart attack. I cannot kill five men in a week, it is simply impossible. Please understand.”
Dante narrowed his eyes. Herbalist indeed. Mistress La’liel was a poisoner. Not a healer.
Lord Heinako sighed, “Yes, I suppose I shall have to. And you, Hatake. What brings you to work with Master Kage?”
“I assure you, it was not of my choice.” He said earnestly.
“You have a bandage. What happened? Or... I think I may have an idea. Master Kage branded you. You are a slave. I wouldn’t expect anything better from your so-called master to be honest with you. I am terribly sorry, Dante. I want to protect you from him, but even though I am one rank above Kage the Syndicate Overlord wouldn’t have any of it. If anything, he isn’t even aware of his... habits.”
“I don’t need your help.” Dante snapped, suddenly angry.
“That’s fine.” He replied, lifting his hands.
It was dark when Kage rode up the track and into view of the cottage. Lord Heinako was still with them, and when Kage saw him he stopped. Lord Heinako stood abruptly and locked eyes with him.
“Heinako.” Kage said. “Tell me, have you been fucking my whore?”
“Lord Kage! Unlike you, I wouldn’t dream of doing anything of the sort. The fact that you believe I would do such a thing is an insult to me and my Sector!” Heinako exploded, his eyes flashing.
“Oh really?” Kage shouted back, his voice wavering slightly. He’ been crying again. “I’ll give you insult!” He grabbed two knives from his belt and savagely drew them.
“You dare? You dare draw arms against me?” Heinako said quietly.
“No. No, I don’t.” Kage said, and suddenly he ran forwards. Towards La’liel.
Dante stood completely transfixed, unsure what to do about this fight between two of the most dangerous lords he could possibly meet.
“No!” Lord Heinako cried, appearing between Kage and La’liel in the blink of an eye, two knives drawn in a cross-handed block. Heinako lifted a booted foot and kicked Kage back across the yard with inhuman strength. Kage smacked bodily into a tree with a crunch. He sat back and grimaced, then coughed as blood from his lungs choked him, sending it spraying out in a crimson shower.
“Oh, so you do bleed, then?” Heinako taunted, enjoying himself, then he strode across the yard to him and forced him to his feet, slamming him back against the tree. Lord Heinako had pulled his red scarf down off his mouth and nose, but had his back to the others, and was speaking in low tones to Kage, whose eyes had grown wide with horror, and tried to avoid eye contact. “This isn’t your world,” Kage spat defiantly and angrily.
“No, it isn’t. But it isn’t yours either and neither are any of my assassins or mercenaries. They work for me, so I suggest you keep yours, and leave mine alone. Including La’liel. There will be consequences, you’ll see tonight.” Heinako said dangerously.
Kage replied softly to a question, looking down, and then Heinako left him, pulling his scarf up over his face again.
Kage stayed in the shadow of the tree for a few minutes, glaring across the yard as La’liel made her final farewells and Heinako his final threats to her and Kage. When he had disappeared through the gate and into what Dante could only assume was his own complex, Kage emerged, limping slightly but breathing easily. “Hatake,” he snapped, “We’re leaving for a Syndicate meeting. Now.” Dante nodded, refusing to bow to the bastard. “Whore I want brandy. I’m not talking to Heinako or Overlord Howl or any other Sectarians sober. And you,” he said, pointing at Dante while La’liel went inside, “You will bow next time, and you will make me look damn good infront of the rest of the Syndicate. And take that bandage off.” Dante gritted his teeth and bowed elaborately as he had been taught working with the Guild, though he’d never put it into practise as he’d never worked in other worlds like this. His bandage was easy to remove and his brand pretty much healed, much to Dante’s relief.
Kage downed half a flask of brandy like it was water and then wheeled on Dante. “You need to tidy yourself up. Follow me, and shut up.” Kage led Dante through the menagerie gate and back to the complex, then through a winding series of corridors that Dante didn’t know if he’d been down or not. Kage half-dragged Dante into a chilly room with stone flooring and plain white walls. The only piece of furniture in the long rectangular room was a glass cabinet to the right of the door, and inside were about 50 Serum injections, and there were no windows.
“This is your room. You can do with it what you want. This room is part of a brothel the Syndicate owns, and you have easy access to the city of Tymeria, the largest city in my home world of Rievendal and Sector 2’s HQ. Now make yourself look presentable. You have five minutes, and your cloaks are on the peg by the fireplace.”
Kage left, and Dante took the silk black hooded cloak from a selection of about 7 different colours and styles, and ventured into the brothel. Dante’s room was in the cellar of the building, it seemed, and he quickly found a set of stairs and stumbled out into the common room, where beautiful women in silks and chiffon glided amongst mainly empty tables. Dante guessed it was about midday here, then. These time changes were confusing to Dante. He didn’t even know where of when he was most of the time.
A young golden-haired lady approached Dante and pressed herself against him seductively. “You’re Lord Hei, a friend of Master Kage. Am I right?”
Dante was confused for a moment, but then smiled. He took her by the waist and looked deep into her hazel eyes, bringing his face close to hers. He was enjoying the attention and couldn’t help it. “I am indeed, and you’re very beautiful. Can I have a basin of warm water and a cloth please? Right now. Master Kage and I are currently on business.”
The lady looked Dante up and down and licked her lips. “I’ll bring it to your room. Two minutes.”
“I’ll get it here thankyou.” Dante said nonchalantly. She pouted and skulked away for a moment, reappearing with the basin. “I’ll be back for you later.” Dante said. She grinned and sauntered away.
Dante took the basin to his room, washed his face and swept his hair over, and had finished just as Kage knocked at the one door into his room.
“Do you have all your weapons?” Kage said.
“Good. Let’s go. We’ll be driving- there’s no other way to the meeting house. I’m afraid we’ll have to blindfold you for the first twenty minutes or so.” He said insincerely.
Stark was by the door with his blindfold when they came out, and he roughly grabbed Dante and blindfolded him as he closed the door. As he walked up a steady incline, and out of the secret complex, Dante could feel a knife jabbing his kidney. Stark still wouldn’t trust him. Once they were back at the cars, Stark took the wheel and Kage sat in the back by Dante. With a knife. Dante sighed miserably.
True to his word, Kage removed the blindfold after a while. Dante looked out of the front window. They were back in Dante’s normal time and world, alright, but he didn’t recognise anything. Neither Kage nor Stark had spoken throughout the journey, and still after 40 minutes no one spoke. The journey seemed to be going on forever. Dante realised where they were at the same time as Kage seemed to realise he shouldn’t be letting Dante see his surroundings. “Shit! Stark, pullover now!” Kage turned to Dante and grabbed him by the throat to drag him into the seat face down as Stark swerved the 4x4 sharply sideways and came to a stop. Kage opened the door and roughly dragged Dante onto the grass verge by the side of Sideway road, heedless of the passersby that would see. He slammed Dante up against the car and held him still as he silently stared into Dante’s eyes. He sighed violently. “If you were just anyone, I’d kill you right here. Right now. I want you to understand that I’m not allowed to do that, but that doesn’t mean I can’t hurt you very very badly. You know where we are. And no doubt you’ll know our destination when we see it, and if you go squealing to anyone you meet as to where it is, I will come very close indeed to killing you. I’m warning you Dante. Keep your mouth shut.” Kage hissed. Dante nodded, terrified. When Kage released him he staggered forwards slightly and then straightened. He climbed back into the car.
The meeting house of the Syndicate was in the centre of Manchester. Dante recognised the building, but didn’t know what it was. They entered a back door in an alleyway and then immediately descended a set of steep stairs. As the darkness became deeper, Kage seemed to become more and more at home. He wasn’t shifty and suspicious like he normally was, and his brisk jaunty pace became more graceful. He was in his element. Dante, on the other hand became more and more uncomfortable. He felt like he was being suffocated by the narrow staircase. It was a relief when they reached a set of double doors and they entered into a round room. There were about twentyfive people in the room. Six groups of three were sat at curved tables around the circumference of the room. They made the seventh. Kage sauntered in lazily and took the largest seat at the mahogany table. Stark sat to his right and Dante followed, sitting to the left and slightly back from the table. At the focal point of the room, a raised platform beheld a grand table, at which another three people sat. The man at the centre was old and wise-looking. As Dante entered his eyes had locked onto him and looked into and beyond him. He wore a grey cloak with silver trimming, and a white clasp at his throat bore a panther sigil. His grey hair looked silver and seemed to shine in the dim light of the lamps at each desk. “Overlord Howl,” Kage said to the central man, bowing his head, smiling drunkardly. “High Councillors.” He said to the two other lords on either side of Overlord Howl.
“You’re late, Master Kage.” Howl said, biting off the end of each word.
“As usual. Surely you can’t expect any better from me?”
“And you’re drunk. Master Kage I am sincerely considering downcasteing you to Sector Three leader.”
“No, you’re not.” Kage said, suddenly deadly serious. “I’m the only man who can possibly keep control of all the madmen you keep sending me to train.”
Overlord Howl drew back and closed his eyes, muttering under his breath. Suddenly Kage’s chair shoved forwards, trapping him between the fixed desk and the chair back. Kage coughed and leaned forwards on the desk, grimacing. The chair continued to push forwards into the desk until a bone in Kage’s chest cracked audibly and Kage yelped. Then the chair went limp again and fell over backwards with the amount it had been pushed in. Kage pitched over backwards and laid on the floor, panting. The room was silent until he stood again and righted his chair. He was hunched over forwards in pain. “Overlord Howl, apologies. I don’t know what came over me.”
“I have heard that apology too many times from you, Kage. Good afternoon, Sectarians.”
“My pledge is with you, Overlord.” The seven group leaders echoed, including Kage. Master Heinako was sat opposite to Kage’s table, and staring across at Dante. He was leant forwards on the table with his masked chin on the heel of his hand. At his sides sat two men completely dressed in black. Both wore silk masks, with only a slit for the eyes and over their right shoulder was the hilt of a katana. From the hilt hung a red silk ribbon, designed to put the opponent off during a fight.
The other desks were occupied by other Sectarians and their men. One of the Sectarians was a lady, dressed practically in knee-boots and black clothes. They flattered her slim figure. Her eyes were red, Dante saw, and the two men at her sides also had red eyes. Dante shivered.
“The first issue that needs addressing is one that has been raised by Master Heinako, who feels strongly that you, Master Kage, have been breaching rights of those in Heinako’s employ. What say you?”
“I say that it’s true, and I don’t give a shit.” Heinako stiffened.
“Kage, keep your place!” The Overlord snapped, “You are now under strict orders to not interact with any of Heinako’s men.... or women. If you are found to be breaching these orders I may have to get rid of you. Permanently. You are getting out of hand, Sectarian.”
Kage smiled and stood slowly. “Lord Heinako. Sir. My sincerest apologies. I’ll just have to allow my men to take your dear servants. Over and over again. How does that sound, Stark? Hatake?” Dante stiffened, and didn’t reply. “I’m sure I can find someone out of my own sector to quench my thirst.”
Dante looked across to Stark. He was grinning.
Heinako stood suddenly and drew a crossbow. “This is an outrage!” he roared. The crossbow was already loaded, but he didn’t aim it at Kage. He turned it on Dante.
“Lord Heinako. My lord, I’d never do anything of the sort. Never. Please stop threatening me, sir.” Dante said as calmly as he could, his heart in his mouth.
Kage had gone very quiet indeed. “Now now, Heinako. There’s no need to act so rashly. Put it down, my lord. I don’t think it would be a good idea to kill Dante Hatake before Overlord Howl even gets to meet him.” He looked terrified.
“That’s Dante Hatake? The Guild assassin?” Overlord Howl said in disbelief. “Heinako, put your weapon down. Now.” Lord Heinako lowered his crossbow slowly. Dante breathed a sigh of relief.
“Apologies, my lord.” Heinako ground out, staring down Kage.
“Dante Hatake. I didn’t think we’d ever get our hands on you. Stand there.”
Dante got up and went down the step to the centre well of the circular room. He felt eyes on him from all around the room. “Do you have the scar I have heard so much of? Take off your shirt.”
Stiffly, Dante complied, removing the knives on his back, his cloak and black shirt and standing bare-chested. The Overlord gasped. “The Hellscar from your father? So it’s true. The Guild have been using Hellstone for more than ten years now, and we didn’t even know. Tell me Dante, when did you last kill?”
“A few weeks ago. Two of Kage’s men, but assassinations? Years ago. I’ve retired.”
Kage laughed, “Not while I have anything to do with you, you haven’t.”
“Look at you,” the Overlord said in wonder. “You’re perfect. Built to kill. You’re as lean as a pike. A smaller target, and muscled like a panther.”
Dante masked a bitter smile and dared, “Thankyou, my lord. May I be released now? I assure you, sir, you will see nothing of me again. I do not work for the Guild. I do not work for anyone.”
“Dante. The brand you bear is the emblem of Master Kage Sector 2 Leader and lord of Atrocities. You belong to the Syndicate. Now and forever.”
Rage bubbled from inside Dante, a warmth in the cold pit of despair of his body. He looked back to Kage seated behind him. He was smiling. He saw the despair in Dante’s eyes kindle to frustration, and then a murderous hate, and he said softly, “Now, and forever.” He took great pleasure in seeing Dante’s fire splutter and die, and watching him as he went down on one knee, weak again.
Dante looked at the floor, seeking freedom. He tried to look through it and into the abyss that would save him from this nightmare. His knives, at his feet were beckoning him. He wasn’t afraid anymore. He took them and they welcomed his grip. “I do not belong to anybody!” He cried, and drew the twin knives. One quickly ended up in the chest of one of the High Councillors. He fell over sideways, blood bubbling from his mouth and nose as he choked to death. Overlord Howl stood and pointed to Heinako’s masked assassins. “Get him on the floor and make him stay down!” They stood and suddenly appeared before Dante, katanas drawn horizontally. One stood infront of him and one behind, sandwiching him in with their swords. Dante twisted suddenly and dropped into a roll, escaping the kicks they made at his knees. He backed up into the wall and fought them both off, blade on blade for a minute before the assassins came together as one and pinned him there, his blade dropped from a bloodied and broken hand.
“Keep him still, I need to fix that broken hand of his for the initiation contract! Do you not think?” Kage spat as he rose, brandishing a serum injection.
“We do what we can to fulfil our orders, my lord. How we do it does not matter,” One of Heinako’s assassins growled in a disused voice.
Through the blare of pain, Dante managed to register the serum. He groaned and strained back against the men holding him. Kage took his arm forcefully and pushed the needle into his flesh, then released the serum into his blood. Dante cringed back with the pain, and then shuddered with the familiar ecstasy. He heaved a couple of breaths and then found the courage to look up at the Overlord. Despite the chaos around him as medics swarmed to try and save the dying High Councillor he was seated still, looking down on Dante with a neutral and frightening gaze. “Lord Kage I get the impression that your slave doesn’t like having the Seri forced upon him.”
“He may not like it, Overlord, but he certainly enjoys it. I assure you.”
“Hmm. Jai and Taake, wait outside with Dante until I have finished this conference. I will call you back when we have finished discussing other matters.”
Dante didn’t know how long it was that he was forced to stand in the claustrophobic darkness with the assassins before Overlord Howl ordered him back. His hand was recovered already, so it can’t have been bad. He sat uneasily back in his seat and waited for Howl’s eyes to fall on him again.
“You’re quite the violent one, Hatake. I think I have the perfect contract for you to do to.... bring down your ego a little.” He gestured to Dante’s discarded knife and clothes. “Dress, and take your knives. We go to Yttri.”
“But that’s a warzone!” One of the Sectarians cried.
“That’s my Sector.” The red-eyed lady snapped in a snake-like voice. “Why do we go there? I am in charge of the base there.”
“You will see, Jemea. We’ll be using my portal to get there. Follow me.”
Dante dressed and collected his knives, before following Kage and Stark to a door that had been concealed by a curtain. Through the door it was a concrete room, with a low roof and one small square window in the wall, which looked out onto a dusty yard, filled with men dressed in khaki talking in groups or cleaning strange silvery guns. Instead of the air feeling clean and fresh like it did in Tymeria there was a tang of blood, and it was dusty and humid. It was bright outside, but great black clouds loomed overhead like before a storm.
Mountains surrounded the somewhat small complex, and the only way in and out was a tunnel carved into the mountain face. Above them, clinging to the mountain side were landing pads for strange flying machines, and then Dante saw that the entire complex was infact carved from the mountain. High above there were holes carved into the mountain as windows, and balconies fashioned from wood. It was a military base working with the forces of nature herself. Dante and the others followed Overlord Howl along the base of the natural valley, as tiny as it was. There were soldiers drilling in the dusty valley base and weapons being issued. Howl carried on past and ignored the stares he received. A hanger was carved into the base of the mountain, where trucks and armoured vehicles were lined up for dispatch. Next to it, alone was a door. It was here that Howl went.
Inside it was dark, and so Jemea took some sort of chemical light from a basket on the wall and when she held it, it light up so brightly that the entire room was visible. Along the back wall shrank back people, dressed in rags. Women, men and children alike were cowering against the wall, about fifty of them. They all looked half-dead. Thin and malnourished. “War prisoners of the rebels.” Jemea said dispassionately. “They are nothing.”
“..and they are perfect for Dante Hatake’s initiation. You are an assassin...”
“Was,” Dante cut in.
“....and so you have been trained to ignore all aspects of a situation but the target. Well. There are your targets.” Howl gestured to the prisoners. Some cried out in terror at the sudden movement.
“I do not kill the weak and helpless.”
“You work for Master Kage. You’ll be doing a lot of that.” Howl replied.
“What are you trying to suggest, my lord?” Kage asked, flashing his teeth in a wolfish grin.
“Kill them all.” Howl said blankly.
“Don’t make me do this.”
“This is your initiation.”
“What if I don’t want to be initiated?”
“We will kill everyone you hold dear and make the rest of your life a misery.” Kage prodded.
“I’ve already done that.”
Kage grabbed Dante and slammed him against the cold stone wall. Dante grunted. “And we can do it all over again. Do it.”
“Please,” Dante started to beg. He didn’t want to kill these prisoners. “I’ll kill someone in a fair fight. I swear. Just not these.”
“I want to see that cold killer we’ve all heard so much about.” Howl said, coming behind Kage’s shoulder and drilling Dante with his eyes.
Kage shoved Dante again, harder. “Fine. Fine. I’ll do it.” Dante closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Kage watched with deepening interest to see what he was doing. He seemed to fall into a meditative state and his hitched breathing adopted a slow rhythm. When Dante opened his eyes, Kage thought he would pass out. It was amazing. The look in his eyes was of murder and shadows and death and pain and the way of the knife. They were bereft of love and compassion. They didn’t sparkle anymore, not even with a hint of defiance. Just cold, calculating deference to his master, and total focus on his task. His eyes were black pits of death. Kage backed out of his way carefully.
Slowly, Dante drew his back knives, turned and said, “I am yours, Master,” then disappeared in a whirlwind of flashing steel. Kage watched with fascination, but even his eyes could not follow the dance that Dante danced in those five seconds he seemingly disappeared for. Most of the prisoners didn’t even have time to scream or run before their throats were cleanly slit by an invisible entity. Even children, as young as five and bleating for their mother as they were trampled or mercifully slaughtered by death himself. When Dante stopped, blood spattered his face, and covered his arms halfway up his forearm. His knives were away. All was silent behind him as he stared at Kage. Kage was afraid.
Before anyone could move a cry erupted behind Dante in the corner of the room. In the pile of fifty bodies a child moved. She can’t have been any older than four. She crawled out and wailed hopelessly as she saw the death around her. At the sound, Dante’s eyes fluttered closed in irritation and his shoulders tensed. “You know,” he said quietly, his eyes still closed, “I always try to do it before they scream. I hate it when they scream. It reminds me of what a bastard I am, and then I get angry.” The child was coming forwards now, crying something about her mother. She was dressed in a white dress, covered with blood. Kage felt horny. He wanted to fuck that child, and there was nothing her mother could do about it. His loins were tingling.
In the blink of an eye, Dante turned and kicked the girl square in the face. Bone crunched under his boot, and the girl flew back, dead. She lay like a broken doll as blood pumped its way out of the mush that was once her face. Jemea screamed at that. It had been too much for her, but Kage was totally engrossed. He wanted to fuck the corpse more than the live girl.
“My god!” She cried, “Dante stop! Stop dammit!”
Dante froze, and cocked his head slowly as his eyes bore into Jemea, then they cleared, the obsidian shine back. He stared at her for a moment longer, and then buried his face in his hands.
“Oh, god.” He moaned into his hands. “Oh, my God. Not again.” His body shook with the force of his sobs. Jemea came forwards timidly at first, then more quickly, and she embraced him as he collapsed in her arms. Kage watched as Dante’s arms slowly folded around her and gripped her as if he were afraid of falling. He sobbed openly now, trembling. “I like it, my lady. I’m a monster. I fucking enjoy it. I quit being an assassin because I knew what I’d become, and now I can’t escape it.”
“Calm, now. Calm.” Jemea said passionately, but she had moved back a little.
“That was incredible, Hatake. I’m glad to have you working with us.” Overlord Howl said.
“I don’t work with you.” Dante spat.
“Yes, you do.” Kage said, “Get over it.”
Dante trembled with rising fury and then forced himself to submission, “Yes, my lord.”
He’d get away one day. He would.
Luther cried and begged as the man in black he’d just tried to pick-pocket dragged him through the narrow alleyways and pools of dirty stagnant water. “Please, sir. I’ll never do it again, I swear! Just let me go. Please!” He whimpered. The man stopped and slammed Luther up against the bowed red brick wall in a deserted and narrow alley. If Luther had been able to, he could easily put each palm to the walls and walk along the middle.
“No kid tries to pickpocket me and gets away with it, do you understand? Do you know who I am, boy?” The man shouted in Luther’s face in a gritty voice. Beneath the hood that shrouded his face in shadow, Luther caught a glimmer of obsidian black eyes.
“No, sir.” Luther stammered.
“Jesus you kids are ignorant.”
“Wh... what’s jesus?”
“Je..? Fucking hell. I can’t believe I still do this,” the man mumbled to himself, then opened out his cloak suddenly. Luther flinched. Under his cloak were stashed knives in a belt and strapped under his arms. Even to his thigh and then sticking out over his shoulders. Luther gaped, and saw a flash of white teeth under the man’s hood.
“Oh, sweet Lady. You’re Lord Hei. My lord, I am so sorry, please don’t kill me. Please. Oh, no.” He fell to his knees in the street and waited to die.
Lord Hei grabbed Luther by his shoulder and dragged him on through the streets in silence. Finally they came out into the central town square, and trade was in full swing. Lord Hei fluidly dodged horses and pigs and merchants hawking their wares. It was hot and sunny today, and Luther thought Lord Hei would be very hot under his cloak.
Lord Hei dragged Luther out of the crowd and onto the doorstep of the most expensive and lavish brothel in the city, the Four Maidens. He stopped. “Now shut up and walk with me.” Hei hissed in a voice that brooked no argument. Luther nodded, mute. He followed Lord Hei into the brothel and through an empty common room full of beautiful women dressed in silks and gowns.
A girl stood and crossed the room to Lord Hei who stopped abruptly so that Luther almost walked into him. The girl had golden hair, long and shiny. She pushed herself against him and trailed her fingers down his muscular chest. Then she reached down to his leg and slowly drew the knife from his inner thigh holster, purposely jostling his crotch. Lord Hei grunted with pleasure, but then took the knife from the girl and put it back in its place. “Not now, Daenerys. I’m busy,” he said reluctantly, and then pushed past her gently to set of stairs descending to a door behind a set of red curtains.
Through the door was a long rectangular room with no windows, but well lit with lamps and candles. The plain white walls were home to large paintings and bookcases filled with old books, and shelves with yet more books and ornaments. Red and brown rugs covered the floor, some decorated and some plain. A fire burned low in the hearth and in front of it was a red wing-backed chair. There was an oak table in the far corner littered with parchment and quills, and situated around the room were plinths with vases or larger ornaments on them. By the door was a glass case filled with strange green vials with needles, medicines, and several bottles of expensive alcohol and drugs. Most curious was the entire far wall that was covered in different weapons. Long bows, knives, swords and many other things, all made out of black-red stone. Lord Hei now proceeded to take off his cloak and put it in a wardrobe, and fill in the gaps for missing weapons with those he wore.
As soon as he had done that he took off his shirt and tossed it onto his chair. Luther watched with awkwardness. Hei went to his glass cabinet and removed a green vial and a glass of brandy, then took a long swig of alcohol once he was sat in his chair. Luther saw that Hei’s hands were trembling violently. He took the needle-vial and pushed it into his own wrist with a grunt, then pushed the green fluid into his blood stream quickly with a grimace. When he’d done it, he slumped forwards in his chair and panted tiredly before removing the needle from his flesh and throwing it in the waste bin. He massaged his wrist as he turned his obsidian black pits of eyes on Luther and watched him silently in steadily growing irritation at the world.
Luther took a step back, wanting to escape this frightening man and his frightening habits.
“The door is locked,” he said flatly.
“You are looking at me strangely.”
“I.. aaah.... uh...”
“You’re younger than I thought you’d be.”
“I am thirty two,” Lord Hei said in an educated, but unusual accent that Luther couldn’t place.
“You look... about...”
“I know. It’s nothing.”
“Why have you brought me here, my lord? I took nothing and I want to go home and...”
“Shut up,” Lord Hei said, putting a scarred hand to his brow and closing his eyes. He took a deep breath and spoke again, “In 14 years of working here I’ve never known anyone steal from me. Try, yes, but succeed? No. I’m getting complacent, no doubt. Give me my pendant back.”
“What? I... I stole nothing!” Luther said, backing to the door some more.
“It is locked, boy.” Hei said, standing and stalking slowly towards Luther, cowering back. “Now give it back.”
“Please.... oh, please.... my sister.... she...”
“I don’t care about your fucking sister! Give it up.” Hei roared suddenly, throwing his empty brandy glass at the door directly next to Luther’s ear. Luther had heard it whistle by his ear, he swore. The shattering glass cut Luther’s cheek a little, and Luther screamed.
“Ok! Please, just don’t hurt me! Here, I’m sorry.” Luther took the pendant from his tattered pocked guiltily and put it in Hei’s hand. Hei tied it around his throat quickly. The pendant was shaped like a dragon, and made from silver, except its eye was that of a slightly glowing red stone. “I’ll never be keeping that in my pocket again.” He said, then went to the door and shouted into the common room, “Someone get in here and clear this glass up now!”
The blonde haired young girl from earlier quickly came in and cleared the glass from the floor without making eye contact with anyone. She looked no older than 18.
“Daenarys… Daenarys I’m sorry,” the young lord keened to her, approaching carefully. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I’ll pay for that glass, too. And all the others.”
The woman seemed to gain confidence again at Hei’s personality switch, and came timidly to his call. “My lord, you need only to pay for one thing when I’m around. And I am.” She let him kiss her softly and then pulled back, stroking his crotch and smiling.
Lord Hei panted a couple of short, ragged breaths like a stallion and backed Daenarys to the wall, pushing his body against her and kissing her neck avidly. His hand moved down her body and between her legs, disappearing under her dress. She moaned softly in his ear and her breathing got louder and faster.
There was a loud banging at the door. He pulled back suddenly and looked guiltily at the door.
“Dante! Dante open the door, I’m giving you a promotion! How exciting.” A man’s voice said at the door, and then laughed nastily.
Lord Hei’s eyes closed just a second too late to hide the fear there.
“Boy. Sit at my desk, and don’t say a word. Do you understand? A word.” Luther complied.
He turned to Daenarys and opened the door at which Luther had just heard the voice. There was no one there. He ushered the girl out and closed the door. Then he re-opened it.
When Lord Hei opened the door a man in a black jacket with black messy hair swept in carrying a leather roll. Another man followed in silence. A red tie was wrapped around his neck. Hei looked to the second man and nodded silently. He nodded back, looking sullen and wary. Outside the door was no longer the brothel. There was a white corridor. Cold, cruel and heartless.
“My lord.” Lord Hei said, bowing. Luther watched with growing interest.
“Dante, are you getting into boys? I went through that phase too. It was wonderful.” The man’s face twisted in a sick grin.
“No, sir. Another reason.”
“Stark, get the third brand out. Now, Hatake, do you think we can do this without restraining you this time? I seem to recall the first and second time took a bit of encouragement.” Lord Hei’s hand moved to two brands on the side of his neck.
“Stark, help me.” Hei said quietly.
“Yes. Lord Kage? The brand.” Stark approached Hei and suddenly and brutally slammed him up against the wall, facing it. Hei turned his head on a side and stared determinedly at Luther as Lord Kage heated the brand with magic- a well known magic in Tymeria- and then put it to Lord Hei’s bare shoulder. He tensed and closed his eyes. Stark shoved him against the wall harder. He bit his lip until it bled and a thread of blood ran down his chin. Apparently that wasn’t enough to numb the pain, so he proceeded to kick the wall. Hard. When it was over, Lord Hei took a step back and shivered. “Ow.” He said.
Lord Kage smiled. “Congratulations. Your next job is up. Green door, second left.”
“You’re drunk again. Is this job another suicide expedition? I don’t trust you when you’re drinking, so sober up before you hire me.” Hei turned away and started across the room to his weapons.
Click. “Don’t take another step, Dante.” Lord Kage growled dangerously, holding a pistol pointed squarely and the back of Lord Hei’s head. Luther gasped. They were unbelievably rare, especially one so ornate. “I don’t hire you, Hatake. I own you. Do the job.”
“You have a gun.” Lord Hei- Dante- said in wonder, a look of pure shock on his face.
Click. “Twin pistols, actually.”
“You... How long have you had those for?”
“14 years, would you believe.” Kage swayed sideways on his feet, then steadied himself.
Dante turned slowly and faced Kage, his hands up. “You’ll do the job.” Kage said, angrily waving the two guns he now pointed.
“Kage. Calm down. You’re drunk, you don’t need to do this....”
An ornate vase at Dante’s side shattered, sending white and green porcelain flying an all directions.
Dante flinched sideways and closed his eyes. “I liked that vase...”
“You will do the job.”
“What is it?”
“Kill the Godkind of Memeleth. Five million emthels.”
“That’s mental. I can’t.”
A bullet whizzed past Dante’s head, close enough to disturb his black hair. Everything went silent, and then Dante’s hand went to his ear. Came back bloody. The top of his left ear had a great bloodied notch in the top. Dante groaned.
“You. Will. Do. It.”
“Yes, sir. Whatever you say, sir.” Dante said, dropping eye contact and sweeping into a perfect court bow, blood from his ear staining the cream rug he stood on.
“Good. Let’s go, Stark.” And they left.
“Fuck!” Lord Hei cursed angrily, taking a rag and cleaning his ear until it stopped bleeding and then smearing a paste on his branded shoulder.
“Who are you...?” Luther asked in timid wonderment.
“Ah dammit. I’m Lord Hei!”
“I’ve heard Lord Hei is the best assassin in Tymeria. Not a man who’ll let himself get shot up or branded by anyone who walks into his room, or lives in a brothel.” Lord Hei froze from fondling a glittering black stud in his left earlobe.
Luther cried out as a black leaf knife buried itself in the table between his fingers.
“Shut the fuck up, you little shite. That wasn’t just anyone, so don’t bother telling me who can and can’t beat me.”
“I never said he beat you.” Luther said, narrowing his eyes.
“I... I mean shoot at me!” He spat and began re-arming himself from the weapons on the wall. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Well, Luther. Go home, and don’t come back.”
Luther knew he should be grateful this mysterious man was letting him go, but he wanted to know more after all he had seen. “I want to stay.” He said stubbornly.
“No. Leave, I have a job to do in Tymeria, so you might want to stay out of my way.”
“I want to stay,” he repeated stubbornly.
Lord Hei turned on Luther with a foot-long knife in his hand, but all Luther found himself able to do was focus on the lattice of scars that criss-crossed Hei’s chest.
“Get out of my room.” Hei said, a dead look in his eyes.
“No,” Luther said, feeling his courage failing.
Lord Hei took a step back and lifted his foot for a deadly kick to the head, bringing his knee to his chest in a smooth fluid motion. Luther gasped in fear, knowing he was going to die for his nosiness. Lord Hei was a man with no conscience- barely a man at all. He kicked out, but then suddenly threw himself sideways and stopped, staring into the abyss looking mortified.
The girl stumbles forwards, her white dress no longer white. The blood of fifty helpless men, women and children taint it a bright, fresh crimson. She keens for her mother, shuffling forwards in the disorientated gait of a young child. She doesn’t realise that he is her parent’s murderer. Dante stands, his back to the girl. His heart rate is soaring at the exhilaration of killing again and bathing in his victim’s blood. Oh God. He thinks, knowing that it’s too late to stop himself as he turns in a 180 degree kick directly into the girl’s face. She crunches under the impact in mid cry, and falls back against her mother and father and brothers and sisters, dead.
Dante stopped and looked at the boy. He was terrified. Why wouldn’t he be? Dante was the best assassin in Tymeria and here he was killing children, taking drugs and fucking whores. Who was he? He was becoming like Kage, and the worst thing was, he couldn’t stop being like this.
Dante fell pitifully to his knees, clutching his head and groaning as if he could rid himself of the images of dying children branded into his mind. 14 years without shedding a tear for the innocents he’d killed and slaughtered were suddenly all flooding back. 14 years of perfect discipline and sterile heartlessness. “I’m so sorry.” Dante gasped. It was the alcohol, he knew, but that didn’t change anything. “Please, I’m begging you, just leave, Luther.” He lifted his hands, and threw the knife away as if it scalded him, “These hands have killed too many. Too many. But I cannot stop, do you understand me? My master commands me by law. The laws of this world and many others. If he told me to kill you, I have to. If he told me to beat you, I have to. Please. Run.”
Luther looked down at Lord Hei, looked down at his scarred and broken body, and then looked through his scarred body and into his scarred mind. The pain there was immense- not only physically, but mentally. Images suddenly flashed inside Luther’s head as they had many times before, but never had they been this terrible. ‘Get up, Dante Hatake.’ A man says to Lord Hei, not any younger looking than he is now, but his naked chest doesn’t bear the hundreds of scars that it does now, except one. Hei’s face is younger too, somehow. The lines of thousands of deaths do not etch his face. Only the lines of pain and fear that are still there now are present as he is savagely kicked by a man. Lord Kage. Suddenly the images flit to a new time and place. Lord Hei is running frantically down a strange street. The buildings are so high, glinting transparently in the afternoon sun. Machines like that Luther has never seen before rattle by noisily and frighteningly quickly on a black and perfectly flat road, letting out a great screech sound as Hei runs out into the middle of the road, his black coat flapping behind him to reveal quick glimpses of his small arsenal of knives he carries. The machines come to a standstill in the road and Lord Hei freezes, looking around madly for somebody. Hundreds of people are staring at him from the sides of the great road, and they all wear unusual clothing in a style Luther has never seen too. Most wear black, and Dante is afraid, his eyes flitting nervously to every tiny movement.
Suddenly a knife is at his throat and his face is slammed into the front of one of the strange vehicles. Dante’s vision blurs as a shower of sparks is thrown across it. His arms are twisted painfully behind his back and Lord Kage leans against him and whispers into Dante’s ear, ‘You’re going to regret that. You never run from me. Ever.’ A huge black machine pulls up nearby, screeching as it comes to a stop after going at such a speed. Kage pulls Dante up and pushes him roughly into the vehicle. Lord Hei is sobbing with terror.
Again a new time, a sunny market unfolds in Luther’s mind as Lord Hei had seen it that day. Lord Hei’s eyes are hard and detached like stone as he threads his way through the streets of Luther’s world and time. A knife is held concealed against his forearm as he makes his way through the Trade Market and towards his first official target. Inside, Dante is sick. He hasn’t taken the serum because he doesn’t want to inject that foul liquid into his body, and his hands are trembling with fear and the after-effects of his last dose forced on him by Master Kage. Somewhere in this crowd, his master is watching him. His target is a lord who has been conspiring to turn against the Syndicate-controlled royal family, his doublet a deep sea green of House Anedisa. The old lord had really done nothing wrong. It was the foreign government that had taken over the city of Tymeria many years ago that was corrupt. But now, his doublet is turning a deep brown at the throat, the lord’s jaw working as he tries to understand what is happening, and what he has or hasn’t done doesn’t matter anymore. Dante continues walking as if nothing has happened and he listens to the shrieks of the lord’s loving wife as he collapses to the floor, gasping and frothing at the mouth. Dante makes a round sweep of the court to look for spies or suspicious spectators, and then slips into the Four Maidens. He staggers through the busy common room full of lords and whores, ignoring the golden haired woman who tries to seduce him. Inside the safety of his room, he throws up again and again, trembling. He reaches shakily for the serum injection and a bottle of whiskey.
Luther came back to reality with a gasp, just as Dante did. Dante was shaking and smothering his face with his hands at the old memories forced upon him. “You... You’re a repeater,” he gasped. Luther could see where Lord Hei’s nose had been broken from being slammed into the vehicle. It was crooked and had never been re-set.
Luther had acquired a sense of calm now that Lord Hei was subdued and he understood his deepest thoughts, although he didn’t know how he had managed to repeat so much and unintentionally. “Who are you? You are not a lord.” Luther asked.
Lord Hei stood and made his way to his cabinet, taking out a full bottle of brandy and downing a quarter of it, grimacing. “No, I’m not.” He said, sitting in his chair by the dead fire. “My name is Dante Hatake, and I am a slave to Master Kage Sector 2 leader and Lord of Atrocities. I work in a multitude of worlds to assassinate the best, and worst of men, women and children in hopes that my master will release me. So no, I am not a lord. Is that sufficient?”
“I... Yes.” Luther said weakly.
“And who are you? You are not a street boy, are you?”
“No. I’m a lord’s heir, but I… ran away. I don’t want to have control over men.”
“Then leave. I cannot bear to deal with those who no doubt look down upon me. Get. Out.”
Dante spent the rest of that day and evening in bed with a whore, drunk, and trying to forget his troubles. When they were done, they lay together in the tangled sheets. The girl was young, perhaps 16, but she was experienced. She was still breathing heavily when Dante sighed and said, “Are you afraid of me?” The girl stroked his scarred and knotted chest wistfully.
She crawled over Dante and straddled him, her naked femininity grinding gently against Dante’s erect masculinity. He moaned softly and put himself inside her, pulling her down onto the bed again and going for another round.
Dante lay on top of the girl now, keeping himself inside her as he panted into her soft neck and convulsed with the aftershocks. He looked into her blue eyes and saw the uncertainty there as he sat up and took yet another great swig of the whiskey he’d brought with him, and then rocked himself back and forth on her, gently grunting. “My lord,” She said very timidly, obviously having dealt with drunks before, “My lord, please, it grows painful.”
“Does it, now?” Dante said like a snake, forgetting any modesty he once may have had. The memories that Luther had forced him to repeat had made him want to shut his feelings away, which is exactly what he did. “Does this hurt? Oh dear.” Lord Hei moved faster, and the girl tried to squirm away from under his weight. Suddenly Dante stopped and held down the girl’s hands. He repeated, “Are you afraid of me, sweetheart?” She squealed, but Hei clamped a hand over her pretty little mouth and forced himself deeper inside her. The girl panicked but couldn’t stop Dante from doing what he did for the next five minutes. Eventually she even stopped screaming and moving. When he stopped, the bedsheets and her legs were sticky with blood. He climbed off her and washed himself off with the pitcher and dried himself on the sheets. Then, he came right up to her face with a knife, “I think you should get rid of all this evidence, and not say a word about what just happened, do you see what I mean??”
She nodded fearfully. Lord Hei smiled, and went back to his room drunkardly, leaving his shirt undone at the front to show the entire thriving brothel his scars. The rest of his night he spent with a headache as he sobered up. He took herbs to stop most of the pain, but still wished he could use paracetamol like he could have done back on Earth. By one, he was completely sober. The serum injection he had taken meant that he could remember everything that had happened whilst he was drunk, and he felt more hollow than he had before he had raped that girl. He had hurt her, like so many before her, and he knew he’d probably hurt her again. He had enjoyed sharing a bed with her young warmth. He’d almost felt safe. He sighed sadly and poked his fire back to a blaze and relit some candles around his oversized room.
When he became sick of listening to his own deathly thoughts in his head whirring round and round, Dante finally got up from his chair, put on his floor-length black hooded cloak, and ventured into the common room of the brothel. He needed the fresh air to run its fingers through his hair. It was dark in the common room. A few late-night clients were still sat lounging on the sofas with whores in the warm candlelit glow, and Dante’s old favourite whore- Ilyanna- was sat tiredly at the main desk. When Dante came through she sat up expectantly, but looked away again when she saw his disinterest. He made his way to the front door out into the street and took a step outside into the cool air, savouring it.
“Hatake.” A familiar voice said. Only one man would use his name so in this world.
“What do you want, master?” Dante said, turning to face the dark figure seated in the corner with two girls.
“Why aren’t you in Memeleth?”
“I have been busy.”
“Oh have you indeed? Doing what, exactly?”
“Private things.” Dante said sharply.
“I do not have an obligation to tell you about my private life. Sir.”
Kage stood abruptly, scattering the two whores, and pointed at the nearest door. “Get through there, right now, and I’ll show you how obliged you are to obey me.”
“No. No, I can’t,” Dante said, backing out of the brothel door.
Master Kage was trembling with barely subdued rage. “By declaration of the standard worldwide law of Earth, Rievendal, Ymmria, Bweer, Thyio, Jaeger, Eer...”
“Ok! Okay. I’m going.” Dante said, defeated. He couldn’t stand against the laws of 16 different worlds that all bound him to Kage. He just couldn’t. Dante closed the front door of the brothel, reopened it, and stepped into the familiar corridors of the Sector 2 Syndicate complex, or more like was shoved into the corridors of the Sector 2 Syndicate complex. Kage slammed the door behind them, and turned on Dante.
“I’m surprised that after 15 years of working for me, you still don’t understand the fact that you have to do what I say.” Kage hissed, squaring up to Dante until his back was against the wall behind him.
“You gave me the contract last night! You expect me to be in Memeleth already?!”
“Think about it, you stupid mindless slave, he’s got a five million bounty on his head! There’ll be competition.”
“What makes you suddenly so interested in money?”
“This isn’t about money. I’ve been offered a promotion to Sector 1. No more being put down by that bastard Heinako. If you kill the Godkind, we rank up.”
“Well if it’s so important to you, why don’t you do it.” Dante said dismissively, pushing Kage away and making for his room further down the corridor.
Kage watched Dante stride down the corridor and into his room, forcing himself not to just shoot the bastard. He’s getting far too confident. He thought, I’m going to have to bring him down a bit. He turned to the communications pad on the wall and keyed in to the security room. “Sergeant Deliann, I want two armed officers sent to retrieve high battle-slave Dante Hatake from his quarters and taken to the holding room immediately. ...Actually. No. Make it two cyborged battle-slaves. I want good strong battle-slaves sent for him.”
“I authorise the immediate use of extreme force.”
“Acknowledged.” The mechanical cyborg voice of the sergeant repeated monotonously.
I don’t have time for this. Kage thought grumpily, and headed off for his meeting with the Sectarians.
Safe inside his room, Dante sat in his old chair to get friendly with a bottle of scotch and sighed discontentedly. A feeling of inevitability was gnawing at his stomach- that feeling you get when you wake up from a dream where you’re running, but no matter how fast you try to run, you don’t go anywhere. Dante had the feeling that, no matter what he did to please his master, he would never be released from him by the Syndicate. He would be stuck here forever. Dante downed a quarter of the bottle in three seconds. What made it worse, was that in the corridor, Kage had given up so easily. Too easily. Normally, right now Dante would be laid on the floor with a kick to the guts, or clutching at a knife-gash in his side and staggering to his room, bloodying the white walls. Kage was up to something.
Almost in answer the door shattered inwards, and two cyborg battle-slave secmen ran in, in perfect unison. Dante didn’t react violently, for fear he may end up with a rubber-based bullet or twenty in his back from their assault rifles. It had happened before. But these cyborgs weren’t being peaceful. One jumped in the air, it’s black-tinted plastic face shield reflecting the light from the remaining candles, and kicked Dante- chair and all- over backwards and onto the floor. The second straddled Dante’s chest before he could defend himself and shot him, twice, in the collarbone with his gun. Just to show who’s boss. Dante balked under the cyborg in pain and shock, and then cried, “You’re not allowed in here!” As if that would stop them.
Two guns at his head made him fall still, his collarbone throbbing and a pain-sweat beginning to bead on his forehead. The secman on top of him levered himself up, and Dante grunted. “You will come with us.” They said, again, in perfect unison, their voices indistinguishable.
“Yes, yes. I would have come fucking quietly anyway.” He said angrily.
That earned him five shots in the stomach. He fell back from getting up and rolled onto his side in a fetal position, retching drily.
“Get up.” They said.
“Yes.” Dante replied distractedly, and then allowed them to bind his hands securely behind his back.
He stumbled, hunched, down the corridor between the two secmen. They led him into the holding cell, where he’d first been kept all those years ago. It hadn’t changed. They left him there in silence, to await his fate.
By Dante’s estimation, Master Kage took six hours to finally come to see him. Dante’s eyes had long-since adjusted to the dark, and despite long ago being unable to see in such darkness, a combination of experience, rigorous training, and potent drugs meant he could vaguely see his Master silently gliding towards him in an attempt to take him by surprise. Dante didn’t move from where he sat, facing Kage. “I can see you,” he said, looking at the floor between his knees. Kage didn’t falter as he continued to stride forwards soundlessly. There was something odd about him that Dante couldn’t place, a strange vagueness in his gaze and a perfect balance to his walk that Kage didn’t usually have as a result of his constant swagger. Surely even Kage should be making some sound on the floor that would echo around the huge cavern? Then Dante realised, just a second too late, as the figure flitted out of focus and then back into sight. A puppet. These are magically-controlled replicas of the magae’s body, that, with a large enough amount of control, can be made to confuse or attract the attention of a target and mimic perfectly an individual. Kage had been practising for a while perfecting such a technique, and it seemed that he was still having problems. He couldn’t maintain the illusion, nor could he get it to have the same facial expressions or movements. Still, it took Dante too long to realise, and so when he flung himself forward, aware of Kage’s presence inside the cell with him, he flew straight into Kage’s oncoming fist, which took him in the stomach. Kage dropped his invisibility charm and stood looking down on Dante who was now curled on the floor, coughing.
Kage forced Dante onto his feet and smashed him up against the bars of the cell with inhuman strength. Dante’s eyes went out of focus for a moment, but then they managed to find Kage and his black eyes bored into him hatefully. “You fucking bastard,” He coughed. Kage pulled one of his pistols from its holster and put it roughly to Dante’s temple, hitting him with it hard enough to make him flinch. “You seem to be having a few issues understanding your duty around here. I can see your discipline is slipping slightly, but if you want me to re-train you in what’ll happen if you push me one notch further,” Kage whispered, caressing Dante’s cheek with the gun as if he were a lost lover. Dante’s eyes glassed over. “...I will.” Kage moved his face right up to Dante’s and went to slowly kiss his neck, gently and seductively, and then down to his collarbone with the gun still pointed directly at Dante’s temple as a constant warning. Dante stiffened and his knuckles turned white where he clenched his fists against the urge to sob, to scream, anything.
“How is your shoulder? And your ear. Ah, yes I seem to recall I missed your favourite statuette and got you right... yes. There.” Kage pinched Dante’s notched ear, who tensed suddenly in concealed pain. “Take off your clothes.”
Dante did as he was told, not wasting any time that Kage could use to hurt him further. Nothing he could do would shame him. He was aware of the guards around the outside of the cell wearing night-vision equipment, but tried to pretend they could not see him. Kage trailed his graceful fingers down Dante’s neck, over his brands, and then over his newest one. It stung painfully when Kage touched it, but Dante did his best to hide it. Then Kage moved to trail his fingers down his chest, following the threads of scar tissue and muscle, lower and lower until Dante was at the height of his discomfort, and Kage knew it. He touched Dante’s thighs softly, pulling himself closer to Dante’s body. He was hard, and Dante felt that hardness against himself, pushing. He cringed and pushed himself back from Kage and against the bars.
Kage held Dante still with an iron grip with one hand and opened his trousers with the other. “Suck me, Hatake, or I will hurt you very badly,” he growled sensually, starting to force Dante to kneel before him with the barrel of his pistol. Something inside Dante snapped at that point, and he couldn’t bear it anymore. All the anger he held concealed bubbled to the surface and was released. Dante gathered his strength, both mental and physical, and pushed Kage back from him with a snarl. The cage door was unlocked, so he bolted around Kage and for the door. Dante heard the sound of 15 assault rifles being cocked and aimed simultaneously, but still he sprinted for the door. Kage laughed sickly, and then ordered the men not to shoot. Kage set off at a playful sprint after Dante, and Stark joined him from somewhere. Through the maze of corridors he ran, trying to escape them. He had no weapons, and so was at a serious risk, but Kage wasn’t going to kill him- he would’ve done already. Dante was exhausted after running and hiding for almost an hour, and managed to force himself to stagger unseen to his quarters, which had been apparently left unguarded. Dante knew better though. He treaded silently and opened the door slowly, looking carefully into the blackness. No candles were lit, nor the fire, but still Dante was careful. He was freezing in his nakedness, and after taking in the whole room he decided to venture inside. He dressed himself in new boots and gear and took a travelling cloak. Weapons were a difficult choice as his best were back at the holding cell, but he found several suitable knives, a sabre sword, and a magnum pistol he had stolen from Earth, regardless of the strict rules that had been placed by Kage. In a pocket inside his coat he placed a flask of brandy and three serum injections. One week’s worth to get as far away as possible before he went insane. He knew his best bet would be to escape back to Earth, but he hadn’t lived there for 15 years and was assumed dead after he apparently went missing when an unknown organisation stormed his school and took him away, as well as Sid Tate. He had no passport, or money and he had probably forgotten how to drive. He’d be in jail in no time. Much better to stay here where the technology was worse and ID wasn’t a necessity. Dante couldn’t stay near Kage anymore.
“Dante.” A voice said softly from the door, the sounds of the brothel at night pouring in momentarily. Dante froze and his hand went to his sword.
“Stark.” Dante said stiffly, turning to face him. He had closed the door.
“Where are you going, friend?”
“I can’t stay with Master Kage. I can’t.”
Stark nodded, shifting his feet.
Dante said desperately, “Please don’t take me back to him. I know you are stronger than me. You could.”
“You’re combat skills are almost as good as mine, but I’m more experienced. You have a long way to go yet, kid. Do you want to know how many years I’ve stuck with that fucker? 300. And it’s changed me.”
“Why don’t you come away with me?”
“I... I have nowhere to go.”
“I have to be quick here. Kage’s waiting with 15 guards in the Trade Square to take you down, and he has a tracker magae. I know you need to stay in Rievendal, but take another door. Run, and don’t come back. The magae’ll take a while to find your trail. You’re too good for Kage.”
“Save it, kid. Go.”
Dante sighed, his mind working to find a way to make Stark come too, but then resigned himself to failure. The routine of 300 years of abuse would be hard to escape. He nodded, and then bowed. “Thankyou, Stark.”
In the city of Danash, about 920 miles from Tymeria, Dante still didn’t feel safe. Danash was the largest city after Tymeria, but was rougher and darker by far. Dante approached the West Gate aback his 5th horse of the journey, exhausted, and with no knowledge of this alien city he approached. The journey had taken 15 days of hard riding from dawn until late night, camping where he couldn’t find an inn, without shelter and often in the pouring rain. The three injections he’d stolen still remained untouched, but his whole arms were trembling and he couldn’t stand straight. The brandy, however, was gone within 2 days of his journey. He’d spent those first days thoroughly drunk and violently depressed, killing two thieves in a drunken rage and leaving another three unconscious and bleeding in an alley. His magnum pistol was still in the back of his breeches also untouched, but paranoia snapped at his heels at every step and he was ready to use it.
The rain was falling hard, and Dante had his deep hood up over his eyes. The hour was late, and it was dark. Traffic in through the gate was scarce and mainly peasants on foot carrying crops home in baskets from a hard day at work in the fields, and so when the four guards on the gate saw a man hunched over a black destrier with his face shrouded by his cloak, the spears came down.
“State your name, stranger,” the main guard said from his post.
Dante lifted a trembling hand to remove his hood and coughed hoarsely. In the last week he had developed a terrible hacking cough, but hadn’t bothered to seek medical attention. He stalled for a moment, not sure what to say his name was, “Hei Hatake.”
“Ok, Hatake, what is your business here? I don’t want no funny shit.”
He remembered how old he was supposed to look, and a story came easily to his lips, “My mother... ah... sent me away to make money.” He chanced.
“Open your cloak.”
Hei still carried a multitude of weapons that he had pristinely cared for over the last two weeks, with no regard to himself. This wasn’t going to go down well. Trembling with the drug and cold and anticipation, he opened out the soaked through cloak that he had been huddling in. The guard gasped, taking in the score of weapons he carried, then suddenly broke out into laughter.
“Your mother certainly knows how to take care of you! Hah! Move along, and let’s hope you can use those weapons sir,” he said. Hei breathed a sigh of relief. A night spent in prison wouldn’t be great for the first. He nodded and moved with haste through the gates and away from the guards in search of accommodation.
The guard was stood inspecting something he shouldn’t be. A magnum. Hei gasped- it was cocked and loaded. “Sir, I suggest you put that down,” he said, dismounting from his horse and striding forwards to the guard, somewhat unsteadily on his trembling legs.
“This... what is this?” the young guard said in wonder, turning the gun back and forth in his hands. “The metal craftsmanship... is like that of gods...”
His finger circled the trigger, and he pointed it up at his own face.
“Guard!” Hei snapped forcefully, “Put. It. Down.”
The guard looked at Hei quizzically, but lowered the gun.
The shot rang through the dark courtyard of the West Gate, causing Hei’s horse to startle and scream, and then silence descended. The dark, calm exterior of Hei fell away as Dante’s gun-shy reflexes kicked in again at the memory of Kage shooting playfully at him back in his quarters. His voice cracked as he shouted, “I told you to drop it!!” into the silence in fear concealed by irritation at the unexpected gunshot.
The guard dropped the gun, his hand slack. Then he crumpled, and fell face first onto the cobbled floor, making ‘kh....kkhh....hukkkk’ noises as he died. He had a bullet wound straight through the bottom of his jaw, and blood gushed from his mouth, tainting the grey cobblestones.
Dante snatched the gun from the floor at his side and staggered backwards a few steps, away from the two guards stood in shocked paralysis. “I.... I told him to drop it...” Dante spluttered, clutching the gun and mounting up. “I’m sorry....” He started to turn his horse away and down the pitch black street, wanting to escape.
“You’re not going anywhere, my friend,” a tall, broad man dressed in the city guard uniform said gently, taking hold of Dante’s horse. Dante took in the guard’s uniform badges. A commander. Dante trembled, and folded, his nerves completely shattered.
“Oh, God...” he gasped, “I can’t do this anymore.” He took the gun and held it to his head with a shaking hand.
“Drop it, friend, drop it. You won’t get anything out of that,” the commander soothed. Dante’s hand shook more, as if he were straining to hold a great weight, and then he dropped the gun with a clatter to the floor. The second it hit the floor, the big commander grabbed Dante and dragged him from the horse. He pushed him up against the wall and removed all Dante’s weapons, while he sobbed against the wall. Dante waited to be brutally shackled and thrown down the road, but instead the commander let go of him, and quickly talked to the small gathering of guards at the gate. He returned and guided Dante through the streets, and finally to a large military building outside the main city fort. Inside a fire was burning and it was warm. Dante stood, shivering and exhausted, in the office while the commander sat at his desk and looked Dante over.
“Who are you?” he said with a tired sigh.
Dante coughed into his hand, “I... I am Hei Hatake....” he said. The guard wrote something out in a book.
“Well, Hei Hatake, I’m afraid I am going to have to look into your case. We are going to get some royal guards in tomorrow to.... talk to you... about these strange weapons and possessions of yours and your intentions. For now though, Hatake, I am going to have to assume you’re dangerous, and with the amount of weaponry you’re carrying I have no reason to think otherwise. How old are you, kid?”
“What the hell are you doing with all those knives... can you use them?”
“Yes, I can.”
“No shit? Follow me and I’ll sort you a cell for the night. I don’t think you’re going to hurt me, friend, but you seem unstable, and I don’t want to be a victim of that instability.”
Once in a 10x10 cell in a darkened room in the basement of the building, the commander turned to Dante once again upon leaving and warned, “The royal guards don’t take no nonsense, and I don’t like their methods. I just want you to be careful with them alright, kid? You seem far too vulnerable for this treatment, but it’s too late now.”
Dante shuddered and drew back against the wall in his cell.
Hei sighed and looked the guard straight in the eye, “I can deal with it, commander.”
The next morning Hei didn’t pretend to have slept when the Commander and two royal guards dressed in black leather stood outside the cell. He stood and went quietly between the two silent men into the office from last night.
“Sit down, please, Mr. Hatake,” One guard said, gesturing at the table in the centre of the room. The guards sat opposite Hei, silent again. The Commander approached and laid out each and every knife that belonged to him, including the magnum pistol and Seri, and then sat at his own desk in the corner. They filled the entire table. Hei sat back coolly and folded his arms, raising an eyebrow at the two men.
The man on the left removed his black steel helmet and sighed, looking at the array of weapons, “You’re not here to do breadwinning are you?” he said.
“No. But neither am I here to kill anyone,” Hei replied flatly.
“Too late for that,” the guard replied, “Tell me why you are actually here then.”
“Just passing through.”
“Then why did you lie to the gate-men?”
“Because I have so many weapons.”
“Why do you have so many weapons?”
Hei paused at that, the word ‘Kage’ stuck in his throat. Would they know who he was? “An old enemy.”
“Who is this old enemy of yours?”
“I can’t discuss that.”
“Sir, we need as much detail as possible here,” the second guard said testily.
“It has nothing to do with why you are here. Why you are here is because a man killed himself using that.” He gestured at the gun.
“You killed him. You used magic to trigger that weapon.”
“We have witnesses, Hatake. Don’t deny it.”
“I’m denying it right now,” Hei shot back.
“Get up.” The first guard said emotionlessly, his eyes showing nothing.
Hei stood hesitantly, eyeing the guards suspiciously.
The guards shoved the table at Hei to throw him off balance. It worked. He couldn’t think straight without the Seri. He staggered backwards and grabbed for the wall for balance. Instead of making the wall, he was yanked in the opposite direction as the first guard threw him down face-first against the table and then pinned him down.
“Are you going to tell me what that thing is?” The guard hissed into Hei’s ear. Hei watched blood from his re-broken nose stain the lightwood table and wondered when he’d finally escape the pain. He felt a knife point being pressed into the back of his head, where his spine meets his skull. He grunted from the pain as the guard increased the pressure until it felt like a sword through the brain.
Dante’s body began to tremble against the table uncontrollably, and he buried his face against the table to mask the sobs that tried to rip their way out of his body. Hei was pushed to the back of his mind and the terror took hold. His grunt of pain escalated to a yelp and choked sob as the guard jabbed him harder as he watched the strange transformation take place in his prisoner.
“Officer,” the Commander said from his desk in the corner, “He’s only a young lad, and he’s obviously a little unstable. I think you should take it easy.”
The royal officer holding Dante looked up at the commander and laughed. “You don’t understand,” he brought his elbow down forcefully in the small of Dante’s back. He took it silently, but fell against the table in pain, “…what it takes to get what you want out of these scumbags.” The officer finished.
“I don’t control it with magic…” Dante begged helplessly. “I’ll show you. Just let me go…”
The pressure on his skull eased up slightly, but the guard didn’t let him go. With the new found relaxation that came about from the relief of pressure on his skull, Hei seemed to repossess Dante’s mind.
“I will show you how the weapon works. Get off me.” He said with the natural confidence of Hei.
The guard let go of Hei entirely. The commander took the gun from the scattering of knives on the table and handed it to Hei with a wary look in his eye. Hei returned the eye contact with a detached lifelessness in his black eyes. He took the magnum pistol and cocked it easily with a well-practised motion from hours of training under Kage’s harsh thrashings in Modern Combat. Then he held it perfectly still and aimed at the torch burning at the far end of the room- one of two sources of illumination.
He pulled the trigger and it disappeared in a shower of sparks. With lightning speed he turned on the second torch, and with a final impressive flash, the room became pitch black. The two officers and the commander had no time for their eyes to adjust to the darkness and chaos broke out. Or that’s what Hei had expected. Instead, in the darkness he saw the commander stay at his desk, looking bewildered but calm, and the two officers dropped to their haunches in the darkness with eyes wide for movement. Very well trained indeed. Hei had been taught that as Dante many years ago when his eyes had not been so adept.
He quickly and silently swept up the select 2 weapons he’d chosen- his twin Hellstone 2 ft. knives, and collection of kunai throwing knives- and his money pouch and the Seri. The gun he jammed into the back of his breeches. He moved slowly in the deepest shadows and to the locked door. It was so easy he could laugh, the shadows were his closest ally. It wasn’t too hard either to kick in the plain wooden door lock with a 180 degree roundhouse kick and speed into the darkened streets as the guards made a run at the door.
Hei wandered the streets for the rest of that night, keeping his head down and hood up. He kept to the darkest alleys and listened to the sounds of running guards and barking imperial dogs as they tried to hunt him down. By morning , the incessant rain had stopped, but it was still damp and unpleasant. He had been constantly on the move in the city the entire night, and was exhausted. The absence of Seri in his blood left him shaking, sleepy, and hungry as he staggered down the main road carelessly in full view of everyone. Finally his will gave in and he disappeared down the nearest alley and sank down against the wall. Out of his breast pocket he pulled a Seri syringe. He held out his wrist and forced the needle into his flesh. He almost cried out at the pain as he missed his vein and had to start again. When he was done he sat back and let his body regain its composure slightly. He was still shaking violently from not having the drug in his body for so long, and it reacted violently, leaving him almost as bad as he was without it. But he felt stronger than ever, and he could take anything on.
He got up again and returned to the streets, holding on to the wall of the houses as he stumbled down the road. His hood was up over his eyes and he clutched at the front of his cloak to hide the knives he carried. Dante found himself, apparently, on Noble’s road. “Got some guts bringing your half-dead corpse down here, beggar,” a passer-by dressed in a tailored suit spat down at him.
“Oh fuck off,” Hei snarled, pushing himself up off the wall and standing to his full height of 6ft. and towering over the man. “Hurry along and I’ll consider letting you live.”
The man turned purple, his eyes bugging, but ran on all the same cursing to himself.
Hei felt no satisfaction, and decided to sit at the side of the moderately quiet street, his hood shadowing his face, and his knives pointedly showing under his cloak. He became a shadow in the noon day drizzle. Passers-by noted his presence, but left him to himself. The shadow wondered what to do next. It had fled without thought. But anything was better than the abuse suffered at the hands of Kage. Hei came back to himself suddenly, craving a drink. He stood and managed to walk normally as he retraced his steps back to the tavern he saw earlier that morning. It looked clean and comfortable. Inside, he took a seat at the bar since it was packed with that afternoon’s patrons.
“A bottle of your strongest brandy.” Hei requested to the tavernmaster.
“A… bottle?” He asked, confused.
“You heard me.”
“Well… if you insist…” He plonked a bottle of the golden liquid on the table. Other men at the table went silent and turned to the strange shadowy man in their midst. Obviously regulars. Hei didn’t drop his hood, instead hunching forwards at the table and downing a third of the bottle easily. The men gawped. Another quarter of the bottle went. Hei slipped out of a sober state entirely, almost pitching off the barstool and knocking roughly into his neighbour. He’d only been there for ten minutes.
“Steady on mate, you’ll be on the floor in a minute, I’ll wager,” the brawny man at his side said. He wore an axe across his back.
“You’d be surprised, friend,” Hei responded from the shadows of his hood, not turning to look at him.
“I’d say you’re pretty far gone as it is. And you’re young, too, from what I can see. Say, drop the hood why don’t you? I like to see who I’m talking to.”
The alcohol made Hei bold, and instead of keeping his face hidden, he threw back his hood. Still, he looked ahead across the bar and avoided eye contact with the man. The man looked carefully at Hei’s face and took in the scar that spanned the whole length of the left side of his face and the notch in his ear before noticing the numerous scars around his throat, on his face, and his demolished nose. He didn’t mention them.
“Even younger than I thought- twenty? Twenty one? You’ve fallen pretty low, friend.”
“Circumstances can cause a man to fall very low indeed.”
“You speak as if you have more life experience than you do. Don’t assume you’ve had it all yet.”
“I’ve seen a lot,” Hei said sadly, moving his cloak aside to show the Hellstone knife strapped to his thigh and finally turning to look at the man face-on.
“Assassin?” He said, dropping his voice.
“I don’t know.” Hei replied honestly, slumping forwards on the bar.
“There’s a lord that visits here frequently- Lord Kage. He does a lot of that kind of work here. You could go see him for work. He seems pretty hard to get hold of though…”
Dante sat up and froze, his eyes wide. “You can’t be serious…” Dante said hopelessly, his heart dropping.
“You know him…?” The man asked.
“I… Fuck,” Dante muttered, putting his head in his hands. In silence, he drank the last half of the bottle of brandy to try and escape the truth. It didn’t work. “You have to tell me where he visits most often. Now,” he managed to slur through his misery.
“Erm… I… I’ve seen him around Noble’s Road and West District a couple times--”
“What district is this?”
“Bordering South and West. Pretty heavy drinker, ain’t he. I remember about 15 years ago I heard that he went to do a job in Tymeria but he was so drunk after he killed his apparent ‘lover’ that he got caught by the town guard, but he slaughtered them all and he got away. Now the guards let him do his own thing and don’t complain because they’re so terrified of him.”
“I remember that day. Hmm… You have no idea.” Dante said, resting his hand on his first ever brand and vividly remembering that day. So that’s what happened to Kage. Shit. “I give up. Take a look around for me. Is he here now?” Dante was scared.
The man sat up from where he had hunched in to hear Dante’s morbid whispers and looked purposefully across the whole room, carefully taking in every face. He stopped and leant in again. “Yeh… He’s here. How did you know?”
“Intuition, I guess. Intuition.”
“He’s looking at you.” The man said nervously.
“Tell me, what’s your name?” Hei said, taking control of Dante’s damaged mind.
“Dunnerfree. Markus Dunnerfree, the woodcutter.”
“Well Markus, I suggest you get up and go home. Don’t even look at Kage. Just get away. And thankyou, friend. It was good talking to you.”
“Is there a problem with Lord Kage? I’m sure we can sort it out.”
“No, I don’t want you to see this. Go.”
“Alright mate, it was nice to meet you. Best of luck. You’re a good guy,” the woodcutter said.
Hei sniggered as he put his hood up again. The woodcutter left the bar, but he didn’t leave the tavern, Hei knew. Instead he took a seat in the corner of the room and watched.
Hei stayed where he was for another half an hour, unable to leave his freedom and surrender himself to Kage again. The thought of what Kage was going to do to him made him feel sick. Not only had he run away, he had given up a contract that meant Kage’s promotion and managed to hide for 17 days. He had stopped Kage having his wicked way with him in that cell back at the complex and he had stolen from him. The courage to approach his master failed him. How long had Kage been on his trail for?
Then, a hand fell on his back and his master slid onto the empty seat at his side. His insides turned to water and he held back tears as he stared across at the shelves opposite him.
“Dante. Nice to see you again, it’s been a while. Let me buy you a drink,” that icy voice laced.
“Yeah.” Was all he managed to force out.
Kage placed a large glass of brandy in front of him. With it, a Seri injection. Dante looked down at the green substance miserably and took a swig from his brandy. Kage was watching every move he made with a smile. Dutifully, Dante took the syringe, pushed it onto his flesh and forced the liquid into his already tender wrist. He couldn’t physically talk with the terror that consumed him, and so remained silent for another half an hour while he finished his brandy.
“You are very very drunk, Dante. Any occasion?”
He shook his head, looking at his hands. Kage smiled.
“Well you’ll be pleased to know that you don’t have to kill the Godkind. I had Stark do it. I’m Sector 1 Leader and Lord of Atrocities now. Heinako is Sector 2 Leader.”
Dante was trembling. A tear rolled down his cheek.
“Is something the matter, Dante? I can’t see what the problem would be!” Kage mocked, grinning.
Dante stood unsteadily and made for the door. Kage followed him. “Dante Hatake. Where might you be going? If you’ll look over to the left you’ll see your old friend Stark. Come along and have a sit down,” he said jovially.
Dante stopped and swayed, staring longingly at the door. Next to the door, he noticed, sat Markus. He was watching everything with interest. Dante made eye contact with him and begged him to leave with his eyes. He shook his head.
Dante followed Kage to the corner of the room and sat silently at the table, after almost falling over twice. There sat Stark, mulling over a glass of red wine. They made eye contact. Dante dropped it. Stark had several new scars on his face that hadn’t been there when Dante left, a split lip, black eye, and one of his hands were bandaged.
“I understand you two had a quick chat before Dante left. Unfortunately Stark wouldn’t enlighten me as to the circumstances of this talk, despite my… efforts.” Kage said dangerously. Stark continued staring into his wineglass. Silence fell for a long, long time.
“Now then!” Kage said sharply, slamming his hands down on the table. Both Dante and Stark startled at his sudden movement. “Let’s make a move, shall we?”
All three of them made their way out onto the street. Kage and Stark walked steadily, whereas Dante, despite sobering up, staggered his way onto the street. Once outside, Kage stopped Dante and handed over all his old weapons. Dante added them to his stockpile gratefully, then froze when he saw Kage looking at him strangely. “And I believe you have something you shouldn’t.”
Dante took it and handed it to Kage guiltily, his hand shaking.
Kage snatched the gun and quickly turned it on Dante, cocking it and pointing it right at his head. Dante whimpered and stood absolutely still, paralysed with his old fear of guns. Kage marched up to Dante and slammed him against the external tavern wall, the gun at his temple. Memories of his time in the cell back at the complex at Kage’s mercy flashed through Dante’s mind. He closed his eyes and unwillingly lifted a hand to the gun at his head to try and bat it away. Kage brought his face close to Dante’s. “Do you remember what I told you the first time you tried to run? Do you? Yes. Well you didn’t seem to remember!” Kage roared. Dante stayed mute. “You stole from me, you ran from me, you disobeyed me, and you refused me. Oh, Dante I can see the regret and fear and pain in your eyes but you have no fucking idea what I’m going to do to you!”
“Lord Kage get off that boy!”
Kage froze, rage still in his eyes. He lowered the gun and turned to face the woodcutter stood in the doorway. In the light, he looked about thirty years old.
Kage burst into hysterical laughter, “Boy? How old do you think he,” Kage waggled a thumb at Dante, “is?”
“He’s like, what? Twenty, isn’t he. It’s plain to see.”
“He’s thirty two! Hah. And he’s worked for me almost half that time, haven’t you, Dante? Or Lord Hei? Which do you prefer? This ‘boy’ can handle himself.” Kage pulled the trigger. Markus’ brain spattered the door of the tavern and he crumpled instantly, dead.
Dante covered his eyes and let a sob escape, his entire body convulsing. “No more…” he whispered, broken. “No more, my lord. Please…”
“Will you fulfil your duty to me now Dante? Will you do whatever the fuck I tell you to?” Kage hissed, locking eye contact and pressing the gun hard against Dante’s ribcage.
“Y-Yes. Yes my lord.” He slipped out from Kage’s hard grip and backed a couple of steps towards escape. Kage shoved his hands in the pockets of his suave black suit trousers and lifted his chin slightly, looking coldly down his nose. I dare you to run, his look said through the messy strands of hair that hung down before his eyes.
Dante looked aside helplessly, concealing his face inside his hood. “I’m yours, sir.”
Kage’s disposition quickly switched back to its coldly cheerful self when he saw Dante’s idea of running dissipate with the drunken stagger and ashamed downturn of his eyes. “I fancy sticking around town for a bit. Should be nice. Tymeria gets boring after a while. And the whores.” Kage said with a soft detached sadism. “I know a good place to go near here. Come along gentlemen.”
Dante nodded his head once, barely noticeable, and followed Stark and Kage past the body of his brief friend. Three streets away, as the assassins faded into the consuming night, a scream erupted from the direction of the inn. Kage grinned.
The brothel was well furnished and clean. The common room was busy at this time, but everything seemed to quiet when Kage entered. Dante was still heavily drunk, and stood in the brothel doorway to lean against the doorframe while Kage stared down the guards around the room. He kept his face shaded under his hood. Lords and locals alike looked nervously to the three assassins in their midst. Kage looked hungrily around the room. “You, you and you.” He said, then moved to the nearest room, motioning to them to follow. The current patron in there startled with a cry that was heard around the whole common room before stumbling out with his girl, half naked. Kage disappeared with them and got to work.
Stark more humbly picked one girl and found an empty bedroom, gently taking her by the waist and leading her away with a lustful look in his eye. Dante instead chose to close the brothel door and settle against the wall next to it, still remaining hooded. All of a sudden people seemed to want to leave, but Dante’s presence held them back. Slowly chatter began to resume and men got back to kissing and nuzzling young girls sat suggestively on knees. The guards shuffled nervously. Hei waited an hour before Kage stumbled out of the room, clutching a towel around his waist and sweating profusely, his hair a dark tousled mess. He was panting slightly still. The room fell silent and Kage grinned wolfishly around the room until his eyes fell on Hei.
Hei had sobered up slightly and managed to lift his head from under his hood and look flatly back into Kage’s eyes. “What do you want?” Hei growled defensively, crossing his muscular arms over his chest. All eyes fell on him.
“You know,” Kage’s grin became manic.
“I’m not giving you that,” Hei replied stiffly.
“Girls,” Kage called over his shoulder, “help me out here.” The three girls he had taken slipped out of the door, slinking across the floor seductively. A hand fell and Hei’s crotch, his chest, lips against his ear. He melted. Let them guide him to the bedroom and into the hands of his master. Kage closed the door behind them and stood, barring Hei from escape as he watched the girls work their magic on him. His cloak was off. Shirt. He fell back on the bed and let the girl’s hands snake down to his breeches, slowly unlacing them.
Suddenly Kage was there, at Hei’s side. They were both naked now, but Kage’s member was erect for a different reason. “I… I don’t want this, my lord…” Dante stammered, sitting up and moving away from Kage, towards the girls. The strong hand of Kage fell heavily on Hei’s chest, forcing him to lie back down against the bed. He whimpered with terror. Kage growled seductively and smiled. He climbed up on top of Dante and kissed his neck, grinding his crotch against Dante’s. His breathing was heavy and lusty. “Dante Hatake, you’re going to do exactly as I say, aren’t you?” He rumbled into Dante’s ear.
“Oh God…” he whispered, “I… Yes, sir…”
Kage stood in front of Dante. “Get on your knees.”
“My lord, I…”
“Get the fuck down.”
Dante dropped to his knees, defeated. He had spent 15 years of his life avoiding this moment, and now he was trapped. Tears streamed down his face. Kage’s hand fell on the back of Dante’s head and pulled him resolutely to his length. Dante sealed his lips closed against his master, but Kage quickly righted that with a kick to his stomach and then thrust his entire length into the back of Dante’s throat. He gagged, and tried to pull back, his fight-or-flight instincts kicking in. Kage locked his grip on the back of Dante’s head and forced himself in and out of Dante’s defiled mouth. He carried on gagging, now baulking back against his confines. Kage just carried on going. And going, until he felt the familiar tingling in his loins, stronger than ever. He climaxed with a moan and relieved himself in the back of Dante’s throat. He responded with a yelp, and threw himself backward out of Kage’s grip, retching and spitting the white liquid on the floor.
“Ohhh, why, Kage? Ugh… God… Why did… Ugh…” Dante stammered, crawling across the floor away from Kage, sobbing. He collapsed when he reached the door, still shaking. One of the girls approached with Dante’s discarded clothing and helped him dress while Kage sat and watched from the end of the bed. Once dressed, Dante threw up his hood and left the room. The common room fell silent again, everyone turning to look. He felt his cheeks burn. Did they know what had just happened? Stark was sat alone at the back of the room, Dante moved slowly through the room, his eyes just an obsidian glitter under his hood, and settled next to him.
“I heard everything.” Stark said.
Dante looked to the floor so Stark couldn’t see his face, “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.
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