"Dark Stag" - Chapter 13


            Sir Ruben sat on the throne, acting as King’s hand. He wore the gold Borgion seal around his neck, staring down at his subjects. A number of King’s Guards stood by in the throne room, being an intimidating wall of manpower that no one wanted to defy. Sir Leerwood approached the throne, bowing as he handed Sir Ruben a thick portfolio.
“These are the best people to oversee the Ministry of Defense, my hand. With Sir Gavin the head of the Ministry of defense, this shift should go smoothly.” Sir Leerwood said.
“I’m not your King… Don’t bow…” Sir Ruben said, flipping through the portfolio. It was dense with information, “Thank you…” Sir Ruben handed the portfolio over to Sir Rafale, an undercover Free Agent.
            Sir Rafale took the portfolio down the hall, through the lounge and out the terrace. He made his way through the courtyard to the plains down by the stables. He continued forth seeing Sir Yale and I standing with staves out in the grass.
“Your Grace,” Sir Rafale bowed, “Sir Leerwood has readied a portfolio for you to review of candidates for the Ministry of Defense…” He handed it to me.
“Wow this is thick.” I said, flipping through the booklet. There were a number of noblemen and Guards worthy of the task with detailed manuscripts of their accomplishments written, “I don’t know half of these people…”
“I’d say trust Sir Ruben and his men with this… They’d know who to elect.” Sir Yole said in that thick Slavic accent, “With that being said, I’d like to see it…”
            I handed the portfolio to him. He began flipping through the book, taking in all the details.
“All of these men will be under heavy observation. We’ll report any activities to you that we don’t like…” Sir Yole said, handing the portfolio back.
“Maybe I should continue to do paperwork…” I said unsure, “I just can’t rest easy having you and Sir Ruben do all my work…”
“Or maybe you should continue to practice hand to hand combat with the staff and trust in both Sir Ruben and I to make sure your plans are going through…”  He responded.
“Okay…” I sighed.
“What’s the first thing the staff has taught you?” Sir Yole asked.
“Balance and stature…” I said taking, a firm stance. The middle of the staff was tucked into my elbow as I held my arm out to the side. The very tip of the staff was mere inches of the ground.
“What does balance do?” Sir Yole asked, swatting at me forcefully with the staff.
“...Keeps you agile and light on your toes so you flow with the energy…” I said, dodging his strikes.
“And what does,” He said, twirling the staff over his head, “Stature do!” The staff came down from over his head with great power.
“....Keeps you firm and planted so energy flows through you, like lightning through the ground!” He said.
“But remember, where there’s lightning…” He said, his staff spinning over his head then under my foot, “There’s thunder!”
            His staff knocked my foot from under me before I could react. I fell hard on the ground, the wind knocked from my chest. It took me a few seconds to gather myself.
“Shit…” I said, slowly getting up.
“For this to only have been three days, you are learning fast…” Sir Yole said, reaching down to help me up.
“Maybe because I feel like it’s a race against time.” I responded with a grin.
“Don’t feel as such. You worry a lot, don’t you?” Sir Yole asked, smiling.
“Yeah…” I chuckled.
            The training session came to an end as I returned to my room. Knight Dior was standing guard at my door. I nodded at him as I entered my room. He eyed me up and down, seeing I was a sweaty mess before returning to proper post bearing. I couldn’t help but laugh.
            It was nice to be back in my room. The past week had been incredibly difficult with all the attempts to make my plans come to fruition. Every article of clothing I wore was coming off! I ran a scalding bath, filling it with the finest bubbly salts, preparing towels and robes for when I got out. Lastly, I pinned up my hair, it getting quite long these days. 
            Maybe it was time to start having faith in the Lutna men as well as the Free Agents. This week I had been impressive. I scratched my butt before climbing up the steps into the tub. The water was almost unbearably hot, steam rising through the dense layer of bubbles. I eased into it, the heat being somewhat refreshing.
“Yes…” I moaned, closing my eyes as I slid down. The water eventually crept into my ears as I lay there, relaxing. I zoned out of the world, nothing else mattering.
            Suddenly two firm hands pushed me under the water! I gasped, taking in a massive amount of water as I struggled against this attacker. Those hands kept pushing me further and further down as I flailed. I tried to see who this attacker was but the salty water burned my eyes. Screaming didn’t work, muffled by the water filling my lungs.
            I reached up, grabbing whoever was attempting to drown me. The palm of my hand slammed into their face. There was fabric, no discernible facial features to make out! Panic began to set in, a level of panic I had never experienced before. The fear that I was going to die hit me hard! I swung again, striking the attacker’s neck.
            The attacker took a hand off my chest to restrain my arms. I grabbed the attacker’s head, pulling them down towards the water. The assailant resisted. With some unknown of strength, I hoisted myself out of the tub by the attacker’s head! Whoever this was, was strong. My strength was fading though. As my grip failed, I kneed the attacker in the jaw with all my might. He fell to the bathroom floor as I fell back in the tub.
            My chest hurt so much from the water invading my lungs. I crawled out of the tub, collapsing to the floor. There was no way I could hoist myself up, my strength gone. I coughed up the salty bath water, steadily trying to get to my feet. My attacker did so first though. He got up, covered in black cloaks, some type of assassin. He reached down to his thigh, pulling out a knife. The man began to make his way towards me!
“Your Grace…?” Someone said coming down the hall.
“Help…” I managed to cry out, trying to crawl.
            I was heard! The expedient footsteps of a King’s Guardsman was the most relieving thing I could have heard all day. Knight Dior rushed in with his sword drawn. He glanced at me as the assassin stood his ground. Dior whistled, as he approached the assassin.
            The standoff between Knight Dior and the assassin was intense, Knight Dior edging his way between the assassin and me. Dior was upset, very much so. He twirled his blade, before lurching forward to go toe to toe with the assassin. The skilled assassin managed to counter Dior’s broadsword with his knife. The fight was going nowhere and I feared for Knight Dior life. He wore heavy armor which slowed him down compared to the assassin who wore black form fitting cloaks!
            A number of King’s Guardsman rushed into the bathroom.
“Your Grace!” Sir Ruben said, helping me to my feet. A younger knight got robes from the platter sitting on the counter, wrapping me in them. He kept me on my feet as Sir Ruben assisted Knight Dior in going after the assassin. Sir Yole and his Free Agents too joined in! The assassin began to flee, running into Roi’s room.
            The Guardsman followed, the assassin escaping off the balcony. Sir Ruben was incredibly upset, standing there on the balcony wondering where the assassin escaped to in the darkness. Dior turned, rushing back through Roi’s room to the bathroom.
“Your Grace, are you harmed?” He asked.
“I’m fine…” I sighed, my lungs still on fire. Dior had so much worry written deep in his eyes. He wanted to inspect me from head to toe but, out of respect, he couldn’t.
“How did this happen?” Sir Yole asked, not very pleased.
“I don’t know…” I shrugged, “I decided to take a bath, and next thing you know… I was being drowned by someone…”
“I was standing post all day… No one got into the room!” Dior said.
“What about, Roi’s room?” Sir Ruben asked, having reutrned.
“No… no one entered that room except for the housemaids…” Dior responded.
“And the housemaids have these giant, carts that could conceal a person, need be.” Another Knight added.
            It was a revelation to us all.
“I’m starting to see my stay here is wearing thin…” I said, leaning against the sink counter.
“I’m going to get to the bottom of this!” Sir Ruben said, marching towards the exit, “Dior, don’t leave the King’s side for any reasons… This was a bold attempt!”
“Yes sir!” Dior said.
“I need aspirin…” I said, slowly making my way back into my room. This was such a shock. Never had anyone tried to kill me before! It was so strange being so close to dying, so terrifying! Someone literally wanted me dead, this badly!
            I sat down in my study, rethinking the ordeal. Yole and Dior made their way over to me, to be sure I was alright.
“You know… If people don’t want to kill you, that means you’re not doing something right…” Yole teased. Dior got the humor, chuckling a bit but it was dry for me.
“This is… new.” I said.
“What? Having someone trying to kill you or nearly dying?” Dior asked with a thin smile.
“Both…” I chuffed.     
“Well, my King, that comes with the occupation. And you’re a rather controversial leader.” Yole said, “But still though, this is rather soon, if you ask me. It’s only been a week since things started changing…”
“I think whoever did this, is trying to make sure I die before the King’s Guard gets more man power.” I suggested.
“That is plausible. I’m reporting this to commander Gou. He’d want to know this for sure…” Yole responded.
“Make sure my brother and sister don’t know though. I don’t need them worrying.” I said, clenching my head.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Dior asked, deeply concerned.
“I’m fine…” I said back.
“What exactly happened?” Dior continued, seemingly feeling guilty. This did, after all happen under his watch.
“I didn’t hear a damn thing… I just felt two hands holding me down and I panicked for a little too long. Then, I started fighting back… I don’t remember exactly but somehow I got him off me…” I explained.
“I should have been more careful…” Dior said, his eyes falling to the floor.
“Don’t beat yourself up over this… It’s impossible to watch everything that goes on here! We still don’t know for sure what happened to lead up to this event” I said, grabbing his hand.
“I just don’t want you to think I’d let anything happen to you! Your life is precious to me…” Dior said, bearing his heart.
            Yole gave him a peculiar look, unsure of this type of affection from a subject. I wasn’t used to it as well. It was a strange feeling having someone this devoted to me, one that was completely new. I didn’t even think Kijus had this level of devotion.
“Your life is yours. Don’t devote it to anyone except yourself…” I responded.
“My King, how can you say this? All of us are devoted to you in this exact same way. Our life is yours…” He disputed. 
“That’s nice to hear…” I said back, clenching my head, “Get Sir Ruben back in here. We need to actually sort out what all we’ve gotten accomplished… I’m actually behind on information.”
“Is it of more importance to find who’s responsible?” Dior asked, somewhat vexed.
“Not at this hour… At the crack of dawn, maybe so. I don’t even want word getting out that this happened to me.” I responded.
“Understandable….” Yole said.
            I got to my feet, heading to the common space. Everyone followed as I waited for Sir Ruben to come. After several minutes he did. He still was very upset. He came over to me, checking to see if I was harmed.
“Are you okay, your Grace…” He asked.
“I’m fine…” I shrugged, “I got a few questions though…”
“So do I.” Sir Ruben said, turning to Dior, “How did this happen…?”
“I’m not sure, Sir but… we saved him!” Dior said in his own defense.
“This was too close… and too soon! It’s only been a week since we started making plans yet people have already begun plotting to kill you…” He said, turning back to me.
“I was thinking the same thing, which is why I need to know what all has been accomplished so far. I’ve been keeping my hands out of the dealings and I’m guessing that things must be going well if they want me dead so soon…” I chuckled.
“I have all the updated information in your study…” Sir Ruben said, going to fetch it, “Okay, Sir Gavin has been doing a great job with reassigning the newer Official Guardsman on his own. He’s been preparing for a massive turnover in a few days. He’s expediting things so the new Guardsman won’t have the proper uniform or armors. Orders have been placed for everything, including a handbook for the new Guardsmen to study since things are moving at a pace that would mean they wouldn’t be able to go through King’s Guardsman schooling. However, Official Guardsman school more than halfway qualifies the reassignments for the change, so everything is looking up.”
“That’s good to hear.” I nodded.
“As for the agricultural aspect of the talks, it is a much larger undertaking. So far, we’ve been getting land plotted for what will be grown where, where the plantations will be and how feudalistic we actually want this to be. Next will be to get people who know crops and livestock to agree to the terms of the feudal systems and to get them growing…” Sir Ruben said, reviewing his notes.
“Ah, okay. How long will this take…” I asked, tapping my chin.
“A few months at the minimum.” Sir Ruben said.
“I don’t think I’ll be here for a few months…” I sighed, worried about these plans.
“The taxes are also another thing that might take a while. I mean, we could impose them right away and get money coming straight to you but the current issue is that the current taxes are being undermined by Sir Socoshian’s drug pin and brothel which has money flowing directly to him. The empire has been bleeding money to him for over a decade and he now has more than we do. If we do impose the change in taxes, it would be double what the current rate is due to Sir Socoshian’s supply and demand scheme and conflict would arise… Again, people are indebted to him! It could literally start a revolt…” Sir Ruben warmed.
“I don’t like that but our funds… They’re slim and taxation is the easiest way to to get us out of the red…” I said, trying to think this through, “What about slaver taxes? We tax the slaves sold out of here for a high premium, even the prostituted ones that return. Tax them! It would prompt the brothels to raise their prices to compensate and considering how the sex slave industry is booming, the slight price change wouldn’t be noticed…”
“That’s risking it. That’s dangerously close to Sir Socoshian’s operations.” Sir Ruben, said. I sighed, this becoming frustrating.
“What do we export that Sir Socoshian doesn’t have his hands on?” I asked, clenching my overworked head.
“Not a damn thing…” Sir Ruben sighed, equally as frustrated.
“I’ll figure something out…” I said back, “What about the um… the council?”
“Well,” Yole began, “I’ve been having them under heavy surveillance. I haven’t seen anything to suggest they haven’t been playing by the rules. I’ve also been having eyes on sources close to Sir Socoshian. The higher up Official Guardsmen are all under his regime, whether it be debt or actual loyalty. This literally means that the vast majority of the Official Guard answers to him! It was a good call getting the newer Guardsmen because they don’t have debt to him and aren’t complacent with the way the empire is. They’d be less willing to oppose change and more willing to fight for you! So when they come, it is important to leave a good long lasting impression on these young men…”
“I’ll do so…” I smiled, ready to go to bed.
“You look tired, your Grace…” Dior chuckled.
“You have no idea…” I said, “I’m just gratified to hear that my outlandish plans actually are getting somewhere… It’s almost crazy…”
“Be proud… You’ll be a fine king one day.” Sir Ruben praised.
            I nodded, getting up and heading to my bed.
“Good night guys…” I said, forgetting all about the seal hanging from my neck, this tiresome Kingship. The stresses definitely were getting to me. I walked into the sleeping quarters where that big black bed was. It was so amazing seeing it! Knight Dior was right behind me. He watched as I climbed in the bed, wearing that thin robe.
“You think that assassin will come back?” I asked, looking at him. He looked at me, seemingly mesmerized.
“I hope not but I’m staying her to make sure of that…” He said back.
“Don’t you supposed to be turning over your watch with Knight Lius?” I asked.
“He’s on post! I’m just… I fucked up today, your Grace… And being here to make sure nothing else happens to you tonight… That’s the least I can do tonight…” He said, the guilt written across his face. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
“This isn’t your fault…” I sighed, it being hard to stay awake.
“I just want you to know I’d never let harm come to you! You’re my Lord and I’ll always protect and serve you! Always!” He said.
“Mmhmm, that’s nice…” I said, shutting my eyes, wanting him to stop with his brown-nosing banter.
            It wasn’t long before I was sleeping. The next day rolled in. As soon as the sun’s rays peaked through my glass, I was up. I leaned up, stretching, ready to begin this Saturday. A shimmering reflection in the glass made me turn. Knight Dior was standing there, startling me.
“I forgot you were in there…” I sighed. He didn’t even look at me, looking straight on.
“Um, your Grace…” He said wearily, making a pulling gesture around his groin.
            I looked down, seeing the bottom of my robe splayed open. My cock just laid across my folded leg, it caring as little as I did. I sighed, closing my robes.
“You’ve seen it before… There’s nothing to hide…” I sighed, getting to my feet, “Did you stand there all night?”
“Yes, your Grace…” He said.
“Who’s supposed to relieve Knight Lius?” I asked, not liking this.
“I am…” He said back.
“Fuck, you’re impossible…” I responded, heading to the bathroom.
“Do you not want me protecting you, your Grace?” Dior asked, sounding as though my words stung.
“It’s just that everyone needs rest. You’re lugging around seventy plus pounds of armor and you’ve been up for over twenty four hours… Get some rest, I’ll be alright!” I said back. Dior’s eyes slumpt to the side as he went deep into thought.
“It’s not that easy. This is my second chance at redemption after fucking up back in France. Sir Ruben said he won’t give me any more chances after this so I’m trying hard to prove to him that I can conform, that I’m better than what I was… Don’t take that away from me! Please, your Grace…” Dior begged.
            It took me by surprise.
“Well, what…” The boy tensed up as he could see curiosity getting to me, “Nevermind, I’ll grant you your wish…” This would bother me all day. I’d ask Sir Ruben what happened when Dior wasn’t around. The boy obviously had his few demons.
            I began my usual morning freshening routine, washing and revitalizing my face, brushing my teeth, selecting an outfit to wear, styling my hair and getting ready for the unexpected turns this long day would throw at me. The whole time, Dior watched me, seemingly fascinated. He squinted, detailing me up and down as I moved back and forth across the bathroom.
“I really miss my brother…” I sighed, looking at Roi’s side of the bathroom.
“He misses you too, your Grace…” Dior said. I turned to him, giving him a chuckle.
“One day soon, I’ll see him and my sister again…” I said, wishing for that day. They were all the family I had left.
            I went to my wardrobe, ironing my clothes for the day. Dior looked confused.
“Why don’t you have the housemaids do this?” He asked.
“They put creases in places creases shouldn’t be. I rather do it myself… and until we get to the bottom of this assassin slipping through security, I trust no one not in my immediacy…” I said, flipping the trousers over that I planned on wearing, “See, they would have gave these creases… These pants don’t need creases!”
            Dior chuckled a bit as I got dressed. I wore a teal button down shirt that was neatly tucked into nude colored slim fitting trousers. The trousers were tucked into slim mahogany boots, made from the rarest ural goat skin. Next was the nude colored trench coat followed by the dark brown brim hat. Lastly was the imperial seal.
            I looked in the mirror, liking the gettup. Still though, a piece of me was miserable, devoid of the joy I once felt. A sigh erupted from me.
“I hate my life…” I said, heading down the stairs. It caught Dior by surprise but he said nothing. I left the wardrobe, heading into the the living space. To my surprise, Sir Ruben was sitting talking to Sir Gavin. Sir Gavin looked very upset as I made my way over.
“So, he confronted you?” Sir Ruben asked.
“Yes!” Sir Gavin said back, “He asked me why was I supporting this and said that supporting him won’t benefit me… I think it was a very subtle threat.”
“When was this?” I asked.
“Around two days ago.” Sir Gavin said back.
“That about lines up.” I said, thinking hard on it.
“What?” Sir Gavin asked, looking at Sir Ruben.
“There’s another situation we’re trying to get to the bottom of.” Sir Ruben said back.
“Okay… I just thought you should know. Things seem to be ramping up…” Sir Gavin shrugged.
“Stay on your toes. Sir Socoshian won’t get his hands dirty himself but others will for him.” Sir Ruben advised.
“Most certainly…” Sir Gavin nodded, getting to his feet. He left, closing the door behind him.
“He’s a dead man…” Sir Ruben said, seemingly sad.
“Why’d you say that?” I asked shocked.
“You haven’t been around long enough to know how these things go. There’s a big fat target on his back…” Sir Ruben sighed.
“FUCK, I don’t want anyone dying because of me…” I responded, hating this all.
“It’s a willing sacrifice.” Sir Ruben said, deeming it worthy enough.
“Maybe so…” I sighed, “What about the assassin, any updates?”
“Sir Yole is doing an investigation right now. The Free Agents have their hands deeper in this than what we Lutna Clan do and they can squeeze out more information. I guess it’s a waiting game. I have more trust in them now…” Sir Ruben sighed.
“I don’t like sitting idly by. I want to see the shit storm before it comes, not have people tell me about it.” I said back.
“I know the feeling.” Sir Ruben said back, “Don’t you feel cozy, comfortable with these changes, having everyone do all of this work for you? That comfort, doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t it?”
“Right!” I said, glad to know he could relate.
“That’s actually how your mother felt for the longest… She’d tell me this everyday but at the time, there was nothing I could do.” Sir Ruben sighed. I rolled my eyes, not wanting to hear any stories about my mother. She was gone and with my heart being in such a dreary place, I didn’t want to think of anything that would make me slump to an even lower state, “So what do you have planned for today?”
“Don’t know… Now that I got up and got all dressed up and pretty and shit, I just want to go back to bed…” I chuckled.
“What’s wrong?” Sir Ruben asked.
“Everything…” I said, scrunching up my face, “I’m tired… tired of worrying, tired of plotting, tired of fighting… I just want to go stab Sir Socoshian in his little head and have this all be done…”
“I wish it were that simple… I would have done it years ago.” Sir Ruben smiled, “The thing now is that you managed to push out all the older King’s Guards, the ones indebted to him. The palace is now filled with us, Lutna and Free Agents… So as a result, Sir Socoshian wouldn’t dare do anything adverse here. As long as we keep an eye on you at every given moment, we shouldn’t have much to worry about…”
“Is this your attempt to bring up my spirits?” I asked.
“I mean, it was worth a shot.” Sir Ruben, sighed, sounding disappointed.
“I’ll keep trudging…” I said, getting to my feet.
            He followed me to the door as I made my way down. We headed to the throne room, Sir Ruben taking a seat on the large ebony throne. Knight Dior followed me, obviously exhausted. I poured myself tea, the man just standing there.
“You want me to make you some?” I asked, pitying him.
“No thanks, your Grace…” He responded.
“Too bad…” I said, pouring him a cup, “Any cream, sweeteners, spices?”  He looked at me so shocked.
“That will be all, you Grace.” He said, looking honored.
            To me, this never got old! I never had been idolized before and something about Knight Dior made it feel so right. It was something about him, something that made me so curious. Maybe it was how he hid himself behind his enthusiasm and devotion. I wanted those high bombastic walls to come crashing down, to know what was really underneath Dior’s shell! Something was telling me that it may had been something monstrous.
            In many ways, he reminded me of Kijus. He had this completely different presentation of himself which was not indicative of who he truly was underneath. It hadn’t hit me until now just how dark and brooding Kijus really was. Every time I’d catch Kijus alone, there was a deep frown on his face, his mind deep in thought, obviously calculating. I didn’t get that Dior was a calculating type of person. To be honest, he didn’t seem to be the smartest person. However, I did get that he was an incredibly passionate person, one’s who’s passion may have gotten him in serious, serious trouble. God, I just wanted to know!
            The more I sat, drinking the tea, the more I wondered was dealing with Dior like what it felt like for Kijus when he was dealing with me. Kijus could make me feel so dumb at times when he’d just know his way around everything, things I wouldn’t possibly imagine him being good at. Sometimes, it felt like Dior had that same marvel towards me. It felt weird, like he put me on a pedestal. No one ever made me feel like this before.
            Being away from Kijus didn’t help much either. Even from his letters, it felt like he was hiding something. He may have given himself to me, but what did it mean to him? Did it mean the same for him as it did me? I just didn’t know. With Kijus, it was hard knowing since he’d give you only tiny pieces of his heart dressed to mirror the whole thing. I don’t even know if what I felt for him was love. This was fucking hard!
            And what would this make of Kijus and I if I tried anything with Dior? He was a subject of mine, one’s who’s purpose was to serve me. How immoral would it be to use him for my physical pleasures when he’s supposed to be an expendable? What if my heart got attached to him? What would that make of Kijus and I? What if I chose Dior over Kijus? What would I tell Kijus? How could I face him?
            Fighting for Kijus didn’t even seem all that worth it anymore. I didn’t know what I wanted. Everything was so frustrating, all this thinking. I just wanted some type of bliss but it wouldn’t come! The entire weekend proved to be stressful, despite not a thing happening. That Monday morning had me in such a bind, as I rolled out of bed, I just burst into tears.
            These were tears of frustration, tears of not being where I needed to be. They were heavy, lip quivering, wheezing tears, as everything that I had endured unraveled that morning.
“Your Grace!”  Dior said, rushing over. I extend out my hand, the boy halting. I closed my eyes shaking my head as I sulked in the pain for a minute longer. These tears had to stop.
“Everything,” I said, my voice deep and sore from the sobbing, “just hit me… My mother’s death, my father’s death, my missing family, the love of my life is gone, and someone tried to kill me… I just… give me a moment to gather myself…”
            Sir Dior looked like a lost puppy. His eyes watered too as he struggled to find a solution to the problem. He didn’t want to see me upset, this being a problem he wasn’t trained to face off with.
“What can I do to make it better, your Grace? Anything… Just, please don’t be upset…” Sir Dior begged.
“I don’t know… I just, I’ve never lost so much before.” I said, “And all back to back…”
“I’ve lost too… My mother was killed when I was a kid. My father, he’s pretty much gone too… I’ve been training to be an assassin my entire life… that meant I got closed to people, then lost them. It’s a never ending cycle… You’d think after losing so many people I’d just grow indifferent but no, it’s made me cling to people more, made me want to cherish every moment with them more.” Knight Dior explained.
“I’m sorry to hear that…” I said, not expecting him to reveal so much, “How did you cope?”
“I’m not sure… I just… I’m not sure. You always are able to get through it. Always.” He said back, thinking hard, “You just gotta be strong… My whole life, I was told… Be strong, be strong… It’s hard, but I try…”
“I was raised somewhat similar. Though, I was never like told to blatantly oppress my feelings… I mean, my father always told me feelings are weak so keep them to yourself.” I said back.
“I don’t know but, that’s one of the things I like most about you, your Grace. Excuse me for stepping out of line, but you just care, so much! The way you talk to me, to everyone… You care just so much! No one has ever treated me with the kindness you have and I will never forget that…” Dior revealed.
“If things were different, Dior…” I said, “I think I might have fallen for you…”
“What’s keeping you from it now?” Dior said, looking at me with so much longing and intent.
“This…” I said, spreading my arms, pointing the the room, the palace, “I have so much at stake… My life isn’t truly guaranteed. You all are trying but I’m just not certain. And if this does work out, I’d have a nation to run. Not only that, but…. Someone else has my heart… I’m sorry, Dior…”
“But you seem so unsure…” Dior said, reading me well.
“It’s just a hard time for me right now, Dior…” I said, clenching my head, “I’ll get through it…”
            It seemed to shock and disappoint him. He nodded.
“Very well…” He said, resuming a post. This was not what I wanted. He seemed heartbroken at my denial of his affection. I didn’t want things be awkward between us, in fact I flat out refused! If that meant I’d have to fake a smile around him, then I would! I got dressed, heading down to Sir Ruben who was already on the throne. He didn’t look too happy as an informant explained something to him. He held his face, sighing as he looked up.
“Good morning your Grace…” He said.
“Good morning.” I nodded.  
“I have good news and bad news.” He said, not sure if I'd be happy to hear it.
“Start with the bad!” I said with false enthusiasm. 
“That really young Nobleman that you appointed over the agricultural sect was found dead in his study. He was stabbed to death with someone carving real mutiny is coming…” Sir Ruben explained.
“Okay,” I said back, “I can't say I wasn't expecting that. Poor kid, but better us right? What's the good news.”
“The same thing was tried with Sir Gavin last night…” He said back, causing me to scratch my head.
“How is it good news?” He looked at me confidently.
“Do you think the assassin succeeded?” Sir Gavin asked, “We actually have a body that the Free Agents are autopsy-ing. Piece by piece, we might be able to stay one step ahead of Sir Socoshian.”
“Is it just me,” I wondered, “Or does it seem as though Sir Socoshian hasn't been back here since the conference?”
“For obvious reasons, my lord! You've turned the upper ring into your playing field. You have amassed a large enough following to dent his plans to overthrow you. He'd need an army to back up his efforts.” Sir Ruben said, sounding proud.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
            Sir Ruben got to his feet, stepping off the the throne. He extended his hand out with a warm smile.
“Come with me, your Grace!” He said. I did so, the man leading me toward the terrace. Through the windows, I could see Sir Gavin standing, peering over the terrace ledge. He turned, hearing the door open, smiling at me. The man was bruised, covered in deep scratches up and down his neck and face. He extended his hand out over the terrace, ushering me fourth.
            I stepped around the table, blown away by the number of militants standing on the courtyard. They were at attention, wielding pikes and shields with an underarmor on. The sight made my heart pound!
“This,” Sir Gavin said, “Is your King’s Guard, your personal task force, your army! Yours! I’m still coordinating it, building programs for a select few of them that are really excellent…”
“What happened to you?” I asked, taken aback by his face.
“I had a run in with an assassin but he wasn’t too much I couldn’t handle. Someone really doesn’t want you to succeed!” Sir Gavin chuckled.
“I know… I’m doing everything I can to stay in power but breaking down Sir Socoshian’s holds is difficult…” I responded.
“That’s a sinister man… His evil knows no bound… You be careful, my king…” Sir Gavin said, “With that being said, do you have an address made for these men?”
“Sure…” I said, confidently. Sir Gavin nodded, slowly turning to face them men.
“THIS!” He shouted, “IS YOUR KING!”
“RAGH!” The number of King’s Guards said raising their pikes.
            I stepped forth seeing young men, my age, mostly uneducated and highly impressionable. To them, everything I’d say would have merit. I took a deep breath beginning my speech.
“Many of you might have questions… Who is this kid standing before you? Where is King Bourgion? Why did our jobs change? Well to start, I’d like to say thank you! Thank you for your patience with these adjustments! A lot of things have changed swiftly in a very short amount of time! You are here today because the royal court needs a military! A strong force that is close to the King and responds to his word! As a part of this royal court, you deserve to know what’s happening here…” Sir Ruben and Sir Gavin looked at me, “There are people in this city's walls that don’t like the fact that I am King now. They want me dead! These people don’t respect a birthright, only concerned with money, power, and position. They don’t care about what it would do to this city, to the people here. They don’t think about the small things, such as the people like you who have families, dreams and ambitions! You have lives that get affected by these changes too, their actions a thorn in the side of this Kingdom! I want to see this place grow, for everyone within this city to benefit! However the people challenging me are, want the suffering in this city to stay the same, while everyone else prospering to stay prosperity. It secures their positions in this nation. I don’t want that! I want everyone to have an equal opportunity for success and you all, my King’s Guard will be helping me there! That is all!”
“RAGH!” The men roared, raising their pikes.
            I headed back into the palace, Sir Ruben following closely.
“You scared me for a minute but like always, you played it well…” He said back, “True, Lutna blood runs through your veins…”
“Thank you.” I laughed, before thinking, “Wait, has any of the Council came back to the palace since the meeting?”
“No. I’ve been telling the guards to report any sightings of them if they do… I’m still waiting to hear back from Sir Yole… he said he’s made some discoveries that you’d want to hear about.” Sir Ruben revealed.
“I wonder what this will be about…” I smiled, growing anxious, rubbing the palms of my hands together.
“He didn’t say, but it sounded urgent…” Sir Ruben said back.
            The surprisingly good day came to an end. Sir Yole, Sir Ruben, Dior and a number of close knights came to my room. We all sat, as Sir Yole took a deep breath.
“My agents,” He began, looking bothered, “Have uncovered some details about the assassins… They are well trained combatants that belong to the Official Guard. They don’t happen to be some type of league, at least not yet. Now, they do pose an actual threat and are of highest priority! The issue is that there is a relatively endless supply for these assassins since they are literal volunteers from the Official Guard, so we can’t just smite them down! Secondly, the assassin got into the room through the housemade’s cart. The housemade didn’t know the assassin was camped out underneath her cart and when she left, the assassin was free to move around Roi’s room… It was very well thought out. As we did more digging, we couldn’t get the details on who was calling the shots. The assassins we got ahold of from last night were not speaking… He’s still alive, in holding beneath the palace…”
            This was shocking!
“Soo?” I asked, unsure what would come from this, “What am I supposed to do with him? Question him myself and wish for better luck? Order him to be killed? This is not something I know what to do?”
“I say we kill him!” Dior said. Everyone looked at him, not approving.
“Did you beat the information out of him?” Sir Ruben asked.
“Us Free Agents are not permitted to torture,” Sir Yole sighed, “But you can…” 
“Your Grace,” Sir Ruben asked, turning to me, “Are you comfortable with us beating the information out of the assassin?”
            I stood there thinking, this being a very tough decision to make.
“I… I want to see him first…” I said back.
“That’s not a good idea, but okay.” Sir Yole said, escorting me down into the labyrinth of service tunnels. We walked to the holding cells where the assassin was sitting. He was battered and bruised but these wounds were probably from him being taken into custody.
            The man didn’t look familiar. He looked at me with such bitterness as the cell opened.
“Don’t look at your King that way!” Dior hissed. I looked at the daring boy, wanting him to simmer down. Still though, his passion rained through, as he glared menacingly at the man.
“He’s no King of mine…” The man chuckled.
            This time Sir Ruben rushed forth, striking the man.
“He is and you’ll show him respect…” Sir Ruben growled. This brutality was beginning to unnerve me. However, I had to push through it. 
“Were you the assassin that tried to kill me before?” I asked, looking at the man intently.
“Assassin? We’re no assassins… We’re just people who want a real leader in charge… Not a kid…” The man said, causing me to grow frustrated.
“Beat the fuck out of him…” I said, leaving, “I want every answer snatched out of his psyche… Why he did this, who he’s working for, who is mother is, EVERYTHING… And his teeth… gone... All…” 
            It sent a shock through the guards, even the assassin.
“So you’re not as soft as I thought…” The assassin said, causing me to stop, “It won’t change a thing though. Your efforts are in vain. Your little games won’t last! They’re going to end… You’re going to die! Your brother will die… And your sister…”
            I smiled.
“After you get the information out of him…” I chuckled, “kill him… slow… I want Sir Socoshian to hear him scream from his mansion in the Bolt District.” I returned to my room, the words the assassin said having a deep effect on me. What if all he said was imminent, that all I was doing was in vain? What if my brother and sister were in danger?
“Don’t do linger on what he said….” Knight Dior said. I turned to him, not too enthused about seeing him.
“I’m not…” I lied, wishing he’d leave. He sighed.
“Knight Lius is relieving me. I’m about to be off watch…” He said, sounding disappointed, “But I just want to apologize your grace. My advances towards you are distasteful and out of line. They won’t happen again…”
            He left, Knight Lius entering. Knight Lius was the tall silent type, bright red hair and very pale skin. He never spoke to me without me speaking first. He was a very different breed of person compared to raw and passionate Dior. Lius was more reined in and controlled. Though it was relieving to not have to worry about Dior’s high energy, Lius was just vapid! He was not engaging at all. I’d relish in this though as I got ready for bed. Lius followed, having to monitor my every move for my personal safety.
            Sleep was rather restless and was this way for the next few days. The stress was really starting to get to me. As Thursday came about, this whole routine started to become taxing. It was early that morning, before the sun rose that Sir Ruben came waking me from my bed.
“He cracked…” Sir Ruben said.
“Finally?” I asked, wrapping my robes tightly.
“It was a given. He was another person in debt to Sir Socoshian and gave us some pretty poignant details about either today or tomorrow.” Sir Ruben said, sounding rather urgent. It had me concerned.
“What did he say?” I asked.
“Sir Socoshian has amassed a huge army in secrecy to take all of this over… From what Sir Yole has told me, they’ve already mobilized and are marching on us this instant…” Sir Ruben said.
“Okay…” I said, springing up, “What time is it?”
“It’s just after three in the morning, your Grace…” Dior said.
“Do you think they’ll have us completely blocked off? Like every escape route covered?” I asked, rushing to get dressed.
“The catacombs and service tunnels are a labyrinth that would take months to learn in total. There is where we can escape…” Sir Ruben said.
“I only know the middle ring where the catacombs are. Beyond that is the sewers and those are a maze…” I said back.
“I can get a map…” Dior offered.
“We’re too pressed for time…” Sir Ruben said, the franticness in his voice fully reining out.
“We can just wade through the aqueducts. They’re man-made and lead out of the city.” I suggested.
“Alright, everyone is already meeting downstairs… We need to hurry.” Sir Ruben said, heading towards the door. He pulled it open for me to come out.
            I rushed out, Dior right behind me. The two knights standing guard at the door, following as well. As we headed down stairs, we could see the Free Agents stripping out of their armor for black combat gear very foreign to this land. Not only that, but their weapons were far more advanced than anything we had. They had matte black guns with strange canisters they twisted onto the end. They loaded long clips into them as well.
            Sir Yole had two savage looking knives he sheathed onto his utility belt. Others had strange gloves that pulsed waves of energy while other gloves pulsed jolts of electricity. Some of the agents even had batons, those too having electricity. Lastly were these head dresses covered in scopes and lenses. This was all so new to me! This matter, it had to be extremely, extremely serious.
            Sir Yole began to communicate with someone through an earpiece.
“They’re at the aviary?” He said, staggered before turning to me, and the Lutna Clan members, “Go…”
“You?” I asked.
“We’re gearing up. We’ll be right behind you.” Sir Yole said, watching his men continue to put on their combat gear, “Hurry up! We have seconds…”
“God…” I said, my stomach twisting into knots.
“Come on…” Sir Ruben said, grabbing my hand as he led me down into the cellar. It was him, Knight Dior, Lius, Jigia, Pierre and Togus, all accompanying me. We reached the large kegs in the rear, Sir Ruben going to pull the lever.
            As he did, the kegs began to move on their own.
“Sir Ruben…” Dior called out. Sir Ruben rushed over, hearing the gears crank as the door moved without him touching it! The rotary latches began to pop one by one, until the last one remained.
“Someone’s coming…” Sir Ruben said as my heart began to pound!
            The door rolled open, revealing a number of mercenaries wielding guns.
“Hands where we can see them, hands up!” They screamed, rushing in. The lutna men weren’t fund of this.
“Men…” Sir Ruben said, “Surrender…” He said back. Dior looked at him, shocked he’d even say this. We all were surrounded by the mercenaries, each one pointing a gun at our head. More began to pour in, one of the men being Sir Socoshian. He smiled confidently as he walked between us.
“Boy oh boy…” He said, “You had a run, you had a run! But your fun… has now… ended…” He laughed, “You should have left with your siblings, Richard…”
“I should have?” I asked smiling. He looked at me peculiarly unsure what warranted my smile.
“You seem mighty happy for someone who’s about to face their end… It seems you’ve been trying to stay one step ahead, but not far enough ahead…” Sir Socoshian said, hoping for a plea.
“So… you’re just going to stand there and antagonize me? You’re going to brag? This warms your belly like hot oatmeal and mead doesn’t it? You feel gratified? You molested a child, made his father turn against him, killed his father and tore their family apart.” I said, “You’re gratified…”
“I’ve done much more than that! I’ve managed to put this whole city in debt to no one but me!” He said twirling around happily.
“And let’s not forget the molestation of your own son…” I smiled, causing Sir Socoshian to freeze. It sent a shock through all the men, “How does it feel to know that people only support you because you’re a monster with a very forced hand rather than a person who they genuinely like? I’m curious… At this point, I can’t even ridicule you! I want to know how that mind of yours works…”
            Then and there, I was struck in the mouth by the butt of a gun. The mercenary looming over me, glared at me with my impending doom on his mind.
“To answer your question,” Sir Socoshian said, slowly pacing over to me, “I don’t give a damn! People are living breathing vessels, that are so fragile, so easy to fuck with… You’re fascinated with my mind, I’m fascinated with everyone else’s! I like to see how deeply I can sink my claws in! I like it when I have control over someone without having to physically do SHIT! It’s wonderful! It makes me feel like the most powerful man in the world, to just rely on my mind, my money and the power within the pen!”
            I just looked at the man, utterly mystified. How could this short, skinny, raven haired man take down my entire family name, the whole empire! Everything about him was vulturine, from his posture, to that large crooked nose. Even the way he loomed over me, like I was his carcass. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Something funny?” He asked, confused.
“You…” I grinned, “Look at you… You epitomize the definition of a scrounge. Your power lies within deceit, how you can take advantage of others…”
“And look where you are… On your knees, at my waist…” He said, unbuckling his pants, “At… my… advantage…” I rolled my eyes, not being able to believe this man’s bold move. He whipped out his tiny little cock, it stiffening. My eyes darted around for several seconds, confusing Sir Socoshian.
“Where is it?” I asked.
            Sir Socoshian grew red in the face, incredibly angry. His knee came careening into my face, the blow sending me onto my back. I spat out the blood, reaching into the pocket of my coat as discretely as possible. As I leaned back up, I whipped out the gun hidden in my coat. The barrel was aimed directly at Sir Socoshian.
            Fear lit up Sir Socoshian’s face as he stood there. His stiff penis shriveled into itself as concern for his life began to write itself across his face.
“You’re such a joke… Is there even a single hard bone in your body…” I asked. He gulped.
“Easy… let’s not do anything too hasty…” He said.
“Are you stupid? You killed my father and as far as I care, killed my mother as well. For YEARS you did things to my brother that I don’t even want to imagine… And worse to your very own son! That alone is reason enough for you to be killed but extorting people, prohibiting this mutiny? All for what, power? You’re going to die one day of old age and won’t be able to take ANY OF this shit with you!” I said.
            Someone tapped me on my shoulder. The mercenary behind me had his rifle pointed to the back of my head with his hand extended out, wanting me to hand him the gun. Just as I was about to hand him the gun, the man dropped his rifle to take it. Behind me, sneaky Dior had unfastened the clunky armor of the King’s Guard, it hanging onto his chest loosely. He saw the man’s hanging rifle as an opportunity to strike! With incredible speed, the boy ejected two wrist blades, stabbing the man looming over me in the leg.
            Dior sprung to his feet, grabbing the man from behind, putting the other blade through
the back of his neck. Bright blood began to squirt everywhere. The mercenaries opened fire on Dior but Dior still had the mercenary he stabbed in his hands. He gripped the man’s hair, in one hand, pointing the man’s rifle in the next. Dior returned fire as the man in his arms took on bullets. He shot down two assailants!
            As he did, Sir Ruben snatched the gun from my hands, shooting two more men. He grabbed me, moving me to cover behind a row of kegs. We were pinned down! I looked over to Dior who had managed to get behind a row of kegs of his own. He continued to strip out of his armor, becoming lighter and more agile. This boy was some type of a killing machine. Assassin was written across his face! I had never before seen anything like this.
            Two of the four knights lay in a pool of blood, caught in the crossfire! The two survivors took cover behind the rows of kegs, having taken guns from the dead mercenaries as well! They too began to strip out of their armor , gaining mobility that the armor prohibited. Despit their efforts, we were still outnumbered. We were pinned under fire from, the mercenaries.
            Somehow, Sir Socoshian had disappeared, managing to snake his way out of dying. Soon, these soft gunshots began to fill the room, grunts of death following. Sir Yole, rushed in with his Free Agents, firing those silent guns of theirs. Despite not making much noise, they worked just as deadly! 
            The Free Agents seemed to be choreographed, flipping over one another, one moving something for cover, the next man covering another! It was an amazing sight! They continued to fight their way over to us. As the did, Dior made a run for the levers, pulling them to open the service tunnel passage again. The doors began to open, cellars moving as we all made a narrow escape into the tunnels. Two Lutna Clan were lost while not a single Free Agent was downed as we tallied things up.
            Sir Ruben was upset.
“Those two men didn’t have to die…” He said, as we rushed forward. He began stripping off his armor too.
“I’m sorry…” Dior said back, feeling Sir Ruben was blaming him. Sir Ruben looked at him.
“Those men were ours,” He said, “But you did the right thing! We didn’t know how far Sir Socoshian would go and you managed to wedge him away from King Richard…”
            Dior nodded, shocked to hear Ruben say this. It was clear Dior expected nothing but scolding and patronization from Ruben. We continued to run towards the aqueducts. We made it to the cold water, following its flow. We surfaced temporarily at the edge of the upper ring. A huge battle between the King’s Guard and the people loyal to Sir Socoshian unfolded. It made me stop in my tracks.
“Those poor kids!” I said, watching the slaughter.
“Come on! You don’t need to see this, Ruben said, forcefully grabbing me away. It put me back in the right frame of mind… escape, “Some of those men down there are experienced Lutna men… We have to leave them too…” It sounded as though Ruben’s heart was breaking with every word. Nonetheless, we persisted forth. 
            We followed the aqueducts above and below ground, eventually making it out of the city. As we did, Sir Yole pressed his ear communicator.
“We’re approaching the pickup…” He said.
            The water from the aqueduct fed into a giant reservoir. Within seconds of arriving a mechanical vehicle rolled up. Gou was driving it. It was followed by a number of others.
“Get in…” He said.



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