A Good Man

by

verus

Chapter 9: An unexpected encounter

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Thirteen years ago.

“You are concerned?” doctor Meier asked. “I risk my life weekly, more than a few of my comrades have perished and the assignments have been getting increasingly difficult. I have a reason to be concerned.” Eli answered. “However, your team has performed well out in the field, there is no reason to think that things will take a turn for the worse.”

Eli remained silent for a while. “Fine, let me rephrase. I’m not worried for my life, but the nature of the contracts. In the beginning every third or fourth mission would be a masked one. Us taking out criminals that slipped through the court’s grasp. But now, things are different. The last time I went in recognizable was months ago.”

Meier made a notation. “Isn’t that a good sign? It means that you’re taking on weightier contracts, bringing to justice enemies of the state.” Eli shrugged. “Sure, I’m serving my country, but we’re no longer informed who exactly we’re taking down.” He raised his hands before the doctor could respond. “I know a lot is classified and on need to know basis, I’m just frustrated.” Meier nodded. “And worried too?” Eli nodded. “Yes, worried about the increasing collateral damage and what it is doing to my team.”

Meier tilted her head. “Have there been problems?” As she speaks her hand writes along. “We’ve been fighting lately. Me and Charles mostly, me and Moose sometimes.” Eli shifted in his chair uncomfortably. “They are convinced that the collateral damage is acceptable.” Meier waited for him to elaborate, but when he didn’t she took the initiative. “Mister Cabaneri would agree with them.” Eli snorted. “Of course, he would, he set out those guidelines.”

“But you don’t?” Meier asked. “No, I don’t. The sins of the father shouldn’t be payed for by the son. I don’t believe it to be right, or fair. Especially not if the son, daughter or wife is punished for being near the father.” Meier noted this down. “You will discuss this with August, won’t you?” Meier nodded. Doctor patient privilege wasn’t a thing in this world. “I think we should be better, taking out the target without collateral damage.” They already tore families apart by eliminating the target, the collateral damage just made it worse.

“You understand that the company cannot be brought into association with the contracts. All unnecessary deaths remain illegal after all, even if the government sets the contract.” Eli’s expression turned dark. “Isn’t that what the fucking masks are for? We go in unrecognizable, wearing nondescript body armor and masks, yet we still kill everybody that sees us. What is the fucking point?” Meier gave him a disapproving look. “Language young man. I understand that you’re upset, but that is no reason to abandon civility.” Eli inclined his head, calming himself. “My apologies, that was uncalled for.”

It was called for, but profanity was heavily frowned upon within the institute. Apparently, August was convinced that a person who kills others for a living has no excuse to lack manners. It had been months before Eli’s accent was considered to be even remotely acceptable. He still had to go to a mandatory language course every Tuesday.

“These fights that you have with your team members, how do you resolve them?” The doctor asked. “Usually we decide to go drinking, to take the edge off. It is hard to stay angry when you’re having a good time.” A good time was an understatement. With the new club membership every pleasure he could imagine was only a few crowns away. One of the benefits of his ordination was sheer amount of money he earned. By the time his contract came to an end he would be rich.

“How many hits of Breath do you take when you are having a good time?” Eli frowned, all their conversations always seemed to loop back to his Breath consumption. It was vexing, and he was getting sick of it. “Let’s not do this doc, not today. We can talk about it some other time.” The doctor nodded and made a notation. “Next time it is then. I take it your family is off the table as well?” The cool gaze she shot him was returned as a frosty glare. “You are making this hard on me student de Winter, banning all these rather important topics.”

Eli shrugged, it wasn’t his problem, August would have to live with a less complete picture of Eli’s life for once. “I’m going to propose another line of inquiry and this time I want you to except it, or there will be consequences.” Eli nodded a bit stiffly. “Good. How are your nightmares?” Hadn’t she warned him Eli would have shot down the question instantly.

Hadn’t these sessions been mandatory he would have stopped showing up a long time ago. Doctor Meier might be following her ordination as a doctor, but she is far from a good person. Meier doesn’t keep the sessions secret, nor does she make any attempt to put outbursts into context. She pries information out of students they don’t want to give and hands it to her superior.

Eli sighed. “They remain the same, I talk with Randal, I kill him.” He was lying, and he could feel that she knew. “You are sure nothing has changed about the room, the tools or the target himself?” Eli has spoken many times about Randal, but Meier never acknowledged the man’s name. Instead she simply called him the target like she just did. In her mind he is nothing but a name on a list. “No, nothing.” Except for the little girl he decided not to kill during his first masked mission. She is there for the whole of it. From the moment Eli enters the room, right till the point where he kills Randal. At the end she always asks the same question. “Will you protect me from the monsters now?”

Eli looked at the clock hanging above the door. “Can I go? I have class in a couple of minutes and still need to get my books.” Meier looked at the clock as well. It is made of steel and glass, pretty much like everything in her office. She stands up. “Student de Winter what is the most important thing to remember from our sessions?” The same question she asks at the end of every session, and it only has one right answer.

“That I walk my ordained path, which makes me a good man.”

My office is a ruin. My windows have been shattered, there are bullet holes pretty much everywhere and somebody tore through my desk and file cabinets. My carpet has been ruined by the snow that blew through my shattered window. The whole thing has awakened something in Jesse however. With a bright smile she has been calling carpenters, decorators and several contractors who I suspect are going to change my home and office into something else entirely. I’ve decided to just let her, there is something about seeing her this happy that warms me.

Since I’m mostly in the way I retreat to my office, where I clear my desk by throwing everything off it safe for the telephone. When it promptly I sigh and pick it up. “De Winter, how can I be off service?” The voice on the other end of the line is monotone. “Mister de Winter you’ve been ordered to travel to the capital for a special commission.” I raise my eyebrows, nobody has ordered me to do anything for a long time. “Ordered by whom?” I suspiciously ask. “Ordered by the senior council of aldermen. Attendance is mandatory, attempts to circumvent these orders will be severely punished.” The line goes dead. “Sonofabitch.” I mutter, pinching the bridge of my nose.

I don’t know what the hell has been happening lately, but between getting screwed with shitty contracts, getting stabbed, being shot at by the mob and discovering that my secretary is a trained ISB agent I’ve sure been in the center of things. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get out from under this summoning. The senior council of aldermen control are at the very top of Mercia’s needlessly complicated bureaucratic system.

“Jesse, can you come here for a minute?” I say. Normally I would have to stick my head out of the door or shout, but since I don’t have a door anymore that is hardly necessary. On some level I’m impressed that someone managed to shoot my door down, the hinges being on the inside and all that.

Jesse enters my office, raising an eyebrow at the clutter that is now on the floor instead of my desk. “Don’t look at me like that, the place already was a mess.” Her lips curl into a smile. “What can I do for you?” I light a cigarette, offering her one as well. “I’m going to the capital for a while.” Jesse nods. “I know, I already packed our bags.” I give her a confused look. “I just got the call; how could you know?” She gives me a confused look of her own. “We were going to see the Armerian prince?”

I vaguely remember a promise made in a diner, but I have other priorities right now. “Actually, I was hoping you could take care of things here.” Jesse beams a smile at me. “I already did, by the time we get back everything will be fixed. It will look even better, now that that ugly carpet is gone.” I pout a little as she insults my carpet. “You know, I really liked that carpet.” She arches her eyebrows. “That carpet was horrible, I ordered a new one, a better one.”

A short while later we’re heading for the station. Jesse has convinced me that I will return to a completely restored office and that my possessions will be safe in the meantime. Not that I’m overly worried about any of my things getting stolen. Crime is nearly non-existent in the upper district. City Hall likes their elite to feel safe and secure at all times.

In the distance the station appears. Even after fifteen years its sheer size still impresses me. There are only two train stations in the whole of Victoria. One in the factory district, which primary task is to provide the factories with all the raw materials they need and this one, Victoria Central. The city’s main train station is accessible from all four districts. Yet, upper district citizens never have to mingle with lower district scum. From restaurants and terraces on platforms up high the rich and powerful can watch the unwashed masses mill around below. I must admit that it is a fascinating sight.

I once spoke with an administrator who told me that almost thirty percent of the country’s goods pass through Victoria Central at one point or another. Jesse shivers, it is cold on the platform, the terraces covered in snow. “Are you cold?” I ask, she nods. “I hate this snow, every year it seems to be getting colder.” I should probably offer her my jacket or something, but I see the train approaching.

For long distances the train is your best mode of transportation. The capital can’t be reached by ship and the more land inwards you go, the shabbier the roads get. There is something like a highway, but it is reserved for troop and cargo transports. The rail system however is highly developed.

The train compartment we’re traveling in is nice and warm. I generally live a life of luxury when not out on the job. I watch out of the window as Victoria becomes smaller. It has been a while since I left the city. From a distance Victoria looks like a number of spires sticking from a plume of black smoke. I exaggerate, in truth it is just the factory district that produces a lot of smog, but it tends to linger in the morning. Apparently, the city spends a small fortune cleaning away the fog’s residue from the upper district’s buildings.

Slowly the residential areas are replaced by farms. For a nation that is quite advanced there are still a lot of people employed in the agricultural sector. Still, the ordained farmers are probably happier than the ordained laborers. I’ve wondered how God choses who gets which ordination. Especially when I meet another yet incompetent manager or banker I wonder. Maybe the ordinations are a complicated ruse the church started to not become irrelevant. Or perhaps it is a way for a government to control the people. Or maybe it is God and the bastard just likes to screw with people. It is not like it actually matters, I can’t change the system by myself.

“You know, I come from a family of farmers.” I turn to look at Jesse. “All my other siblings became farmers, like mom and dad. Only Caiden and I were different.” Jesse never told me much about her family. I know her brother Caiden serves in the army, but that’s pretty much it. It is not like I invite others to talk about their private lives, never sharing anything about my own. “If things work out like my dad wants to my youngest sister will marry into the Oakheart family soon. He has this dream you see, he wants to unite all the local farmers by tying them to him with family bonds. He’s going to succeed as well, in his last letter he told me that only the Oakhearts are holding out.”

As we ride past several villages she talks about the family farm down in the south. You always hear stories about how things are slow in farm areas, but you probably have to live there to properly grasp it. I’m a city man, always have been, even before I came to Mercia. Listening to Jesse’s stories about harvest festivals and cozy nights around the fire I can understand the appeal.

“What about your family?” It is a question I saw coming, so I’m not surprised. “We got out of touch when I migrated.” Jesse gives me a sad look. “I can’t imagine not seeing my family for so long. Don’t you miss them?” I shrug. “I used to, especially when I first came here. I thought my stay would be temporary and I would go back to my hometown.” The longer I followed my ordination the less I wanted to go home. I doubt that there is anyone who wants to tell their parents that the reason they disappeared for years is that they were off killing people in another world. Besides, I was an addict, I couldn’t stand the idea of never taking Breath again.

“Tt turned out that I would be staying quite a lot longer. Honestly, I don’t think I would go back even if I could.” I say. “Maybe your family will come over as well, have you tried reaching out to them.” I shake my head. “My parents would never leave, even if I offered to set them up for life. My sister might, but I don’t really know anything about the person she is now. Regardless, I can’t reach them, there is no airship, boat or train that will be able to take me to them.”

Jesse gives me a sad smile, but I wave it away. “I’m sure my parents are alright, they still have my sister. I was a bit of a brat when I was younger, while she was more compliant. We got up to a lot of stupid shit together. Actually, now that I think about it, I got up to a lot of stupid shit and dragged her along. We did have a lot of fun together though and she never got into serious trouble. There was this one time though that I almost blew up the neighbor’s cat.” Jesse chuckles and before I know it I tell her the whole story.

As we glide along the endless tracks Jesse and I share more stories about family members and our childhoods. It feels a lot more like a vacation than an ominous summoning by the rulers of my country.

The King of the North marches through a long nondescript corridor of doors. It reminds him a lot of an institution he worked for a long time ago. He passes by two agents, who hastily step aside and salute. He gives them a stiff nod and marches on. Het stops in front of room 221 and knocks on the door. The metal hatch is shoved aside, revealing a pair of red goggles.

“Identification number?” A muffled voice asks. “0101456B” The King responds. “It is an honor to have you sir.” The muffled voice says as its owner opens the door. The King gives another stiff nod. “Will you need an escort sir? The prisoner is dangerous and unpredictable.” The King shakes his head. “That won’t be necessary soldier, I have the situation well under control.” The soldier salutes and stands down.

The King marches on, passing several security measures, until finally he approaches a steel cage. Inside is only one person, a woman, she is naked. The King frowns. “Could you please cover yourself up?” The woman looks up and grins at him. “And why would I do that, while I feel so comfortable like this?” The woman is the picture of health, muscled like a ballet dancer or a fighter. “I would say because it is immodest to walk around uncovered and, with the weather we’ve been having, also quite cold.” The King responds.

The woman’s grin broadens. “You’re going to let me out.” It isn’t a question. “That depends on you.” The woman walks to the bed on which clothes lay neatly folded. “I will have to wear the collar, won’t I?” She nods at the metal contraption stacked on top of the clothes. “I’m afraid so, you’ve gone rogue before.” Electric sparks flash from her fingers. “I did have a lot of fun.” The King raises his eyebrows, but doesn’t say anything. “So, what is the job?” She asks.

“You are going to make sure that a man keeps his promise.” When she grins she bares a row of veiled teeth. “And if he doesn’t?” Her voice is almost a growl. “Then you kill him and destroy everything he loves.” Fully dressed the woman approaches the cell’s entrance. “What’s his name?” The King unlocks the door. “Eli de Winter, one of the most dangerous men alive.

The train slows down as it pulls into the station. Unlike Victoria’s massive station Kinestorm’s central station is small and refined. It reflects the capital rather well. Opposed to Victoria Kinestorm doesn’t just accept any citizen. Only men and women of a certain standing and level of wealth are allowed to live within the city’s walls. All servants and other low entities live in a separate walled of section. Much like Victoria there is a clear separation in status in Kinestorm.

Jesse and I are awaited by a small entourage of pompously dressed servants. That there is an escort at all surprises me, I’m just hired help after all. “Mister de Winter your presence has immediately been requested in the palace.” I raise my eyebrows, the senior council of aldermen like to keep people waiting, this is a known fact. I never actually met them myself, but I know people who have and from them I got the impression that I’ve been summoned by a bunch of self-entitled pricks. Not that they do a half bad job of running the country, they’re a lot better than the complete idiot who rules the monarchy.

“As you can see I have a guest, so if you don’t mind.” The servant shakes his head. “I’m sorry sir, but this meeting is confidential. We will escort your guest to the suite we reserved for you.” All of this is strange. I haven’t been summoned to the capital before, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t how they treat assassins. It is not like I can protest against the situation either. One word from an alderman and I’m heading for the gallows.

A few minutes later I’m driven to the palace. Kinestorm’s streets are pristine white, not a speck of dirt in sight. Marvelous mansions line the streets, each more beautiful than the next. You can say a lot about Mercia and its problems, but when the bureaucrats want to build something they don’t hold back.

The King of the North briskly marches through the palace. His eye doesn’t fall on the beautiful decorations adorning the walls, or the magnificent view of the capital visible from the window. Much slower a rather strange woman saunters behind him. Her lips are permanently curled into a sarcastic smile. With every step she takes the beads in her dreads click together.

I walk through the palace, my eyes never settling on one place. It is hard not to gawk like a peasant amidst the splendor around me. I thought I knew what luxury was when I entered the club or entered Victoria’s townhall, but this is a whole new level of extravagance. I really wish I had more time, but my escort is rather impatient.

The King of the North angrily opens a door and enters a conference room. “What do you want me to do?” His prisoner asks. “Just stand in the corner, I will give further orders when the situation arises.” The King says. His eye is itching, an unpleasant experience which becomes irritating rather quickly. Not that he is going to take it out, he wants to look as dignified as possible when his guest arrives.

“It is through here, sir.” The servant points at a door and then quickly leaves. It is the sort of treatment I expected. I take a deep breath, I’m about some of the most powerful people in the world for reasons entirely unknown to me, I have a right to be nervous. However, I’m not one for dilly dallying and full of confidence I open the double doors.

However, I’m not greeted by a group of pasty old white man. Instead I’m greeted by one, who seems to be in very good shape, for a dead man. I would recognize this man everywhere, yet he shouldn’t be here, since I killed him six years ago.

“Charles?”

“Hello Eli, long time no see.”

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verus

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