A Good Man

by

verus

Chapter 10: Old friends, new enemies.

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Six years ago.

Eli ran. He ran faster than he ever had. He had killed someone earlier that night and this time there would be consequences. In the distance he could see Victoria looming through a veil of rain. The factories had been shut down for the day, many of the citizens had probably gone to bed. Eli however, had no time to sleep, there were about twenty people trying to kill him, possibly more.

A car passed by, covering him in mud. For a moment it seemed like it was going to pass him by, but then it grinded to a halt. The door was thrown open and an enormous figure got out. Shaking Eli pointed his gun. “Not a step further Moose, I will shoot!” He shouted. Moose gave him a lopsided grin. “Come on Eli, we both know you’re not going to shoot an unarmed comrade.” She raised her empty hands. “I will if you don’t back away from the car and get on your knees.” Eli’s chances of surviving tonight had just increased and he was going to survive.

“You really didn’t think this through, did you?” Moose asked. “My family had a whole plan in place to get us out. You, me, Charles, everyone that matters, but you had to fuck everything up.” Eli tilted his head. “As if Charles would have followed, August was his hero, we both know that.” Moose scowled. “I would have been able to convince him, he loves me.” Eli snorted. “Not as much as he loved being August’s top dog. Wake up Moose, Charles kills kids, fucking kids. August has turned him into a monster, just like he turned us into his private kill squad.”

Moose eyes grew empty and cold. “You’re like a brother to me Eli, but if you keep talking like this I won’t help you.” Eli spit on the ground. “I don’t need your help, I don’t need anyone. I’m taking my money and I’m getting out of this crazy country. Everybody is insane here. Now step away from the car!” Moose got out of the way and Eli got in, still pointing his gun at her. “You can run Eli, but it won’t change what you are, who you are. You are a murderer, just like us.” Eli turned the key in the ignition and closed the door. “When you’re back call me, I’m sure we can fix things between us.” Moose shouted as Eli drove away. She shook her head and cursed.

Victoria’s banks are famous for two facts. They are accessible to everyone with money and they are open every hour of every day. Eli was nervously standing in line, his eyes constantly checking the entrance for angry assassins. When it finally was his turn his request was simple. “I would like to empty my account.” The clerical staff is used to shifty, shade individuals emptying accounts in the middle of the night, so very few questions were asked.

Without much fuss he was brought to the vault where the money was kept. He carefully oversaw the filling of a briefcase with red notes. “Are you sure you want the entire amount in bills of one, two and five hundred?” The cleric asked for a third time. “So long as it fits in one suitcase, and hurry it along, I’ve got places to be.” The cleric nodded and finished putting the bills in the suitcase. “There you go sir, have a fine eve..” Mid-sentence the man was interrupted by gunfire.

“Everybody on the floor, this isn’t a robbery!” Somebody shouted in the other room. The cleric pouted. “Friends of yours?” He asked drily. Eli had already pulled his gun, picked up the suitcase and moved to the other end of the room. Staring around the corner of the vault he saw nobody, even though he heard muffled voices.


“Is there any other way of this place?” He asked. “The roof has been modified for a quick escape to the lower district. Just follow the arrows and you will be there in no time.” Eli was running before the man even finished speaking. The muffled voices were growing louder. He rushed up the stairs, constantly looking over his shoulder. If he got out of this mess he would be on a boat by morning.

“Eli!” Charles shout was audible even from Eli’s position. For a second, he contemplated shouting something back, but he didn’t. He threw open a door leading to the roof. His eyes scanned the open space for the arrows, but he found nothing. “Lying sack of shit.” He cursed the cleric. He ran towards one of the edges of the roof, but only an empty pocket of air waited there for him. He wouldn’t survive a fall from that high. On the other sides there were crested roofs that would surely impale him if he jumped.

The door banged open and Charles burst through, wearing his body armor and mask. Some years back he had decorated it with a red hand. “It’s over Eli, there is nowhere left to run, you will pay for what you did!” Eli turned around his own gun raised. “This is the second time I pointed a gun at a friend today, I will tell you what I told Moose.” Eli breathed in deeply. “August had to go, he ordered us to kill children. Now step aside or I will pull this trigger!” Charles grimaced. “Damnit Eli, you never stop to fucking ask yourself why. You never let others explain themselves. The second someone disagrees with your misguided morals you pump them full of lead.”

Eli motioned with the gun. “Get the fuck out of the way Charles or I will” Charles snarled. “Or you will do what? What will you do Eli? There are five other agents downstairs, who won’t hesitate to blow your head off. We have the numbers, we have the bigger guns, stop and thing for one bloody second!” The rain was still pouring from the sky. “We could have talked it out. There is a perfectly fine explanation for all of this.” Eli growled. “Children Charles, some of them six or seven years old. How the fuck do you explain that?”

Charles eyes hardened. “Those weren’t children, they were weapons, made by the monarchy to kill us all.” Eli gave him a condescending look. “Six and seven-year-old weapons, you must feel like a hero for taking them out.” Guilt flashes on Charles’s face. “It had to be done, there wasn’t any other way. They will haunt my dreams, but I will carry that burden, knowing I kept Mercia safe.” Eli shook his head in disbelief. “If you think killing children is the only way to keep the country safe than maybe the world is better off without it.”

Charles shook his head in bitter regret. “You’re not going to let me explain or come in, are you?” Eli shook his head. “Not this time Charles, not ever again.” Charles flashed his characteristic smile Eli had grown so familiar with over the years. Eli didn’t wait for what would happen next and pulled the trigger. Like always his aim was true and as the bullet entered Charles’ skull his head snapped back.

Getting shot is nothing like movies like to depict it. People don’t fall stiffly backwards and have time to mumble a few last words, instead they crumble. As Eli rushed for the door Charles lay in a heap on the floor. His breathing had stopped, his eye was a bleeding mess and his heart had given out. He was dead.

Single shots resounded through the bank, shortly followed by bursts of submachinegun fire. On the roof however, it was quiet, the rain beating down on the corpse of a man deserted by fate. The door to the roof opened and a muscular man came through. His eyes were a sickly yellow and the corners of his mouth had been cut into a permanent grin. “I see the negotiations have failed.” The man’s crooked teeth bared into a mocking smile. “You should have fought, talking is overrated.”

The man knelt beside Charles’ corpse, not caring about the dirt that got on his expensive suit. He pulled off his gloves, revealing heavily scarred hands. “Now hold still or this will hurt a lot more.” He chuckled at his own joke as sparks of electricity danced across his fingers. Unceremoniously he punched the corpse in front of him.

Charles surged upright gasping for breath. For a second, he marveled at being alive, then all his pain centers flared at the same time. Excruciating pain made him spasm, as if he was a fish on land. The other man lips curled into a sardonic smile. “See the pain as a crucible, you will come out of this a much stronger man. If you don’t die again, that is.” He let Charles ride the pain for a few seconds as he put his gloves back on. “That’s enough of that.” He punched Charles in the face, rendering him unconscious. “You will make a fine king.” The King of the West said, his sickly yellow eyes sparkling with delight.

Now.

“Hello Eli, long time no see.” Charles’ eyes are cold, like a glacier. “Please take a seat.” My hand automatically goes for my gun, but I’ve given it to the guards at the palace’s entrance. “He’s reaching for his weapon; can I kill him?” The woman in the corner asks, leaning forwards. “Hush. Eli take a seat.” Charles commands.

“I don’t know how you survived, but whatever reason had you crawl out of hiding won’t be enough to compel me to do anything.” I say as I sit down. Charles gives me a skeptic look. “In hiding? I was never in hiding, I was just busy. Too busy to hunt somebody who would eventually end up right in front of me. I told you, you can’t run from what you are.”

I want to give a snarky reply, but Charles cuts me off with a gesture. “Eli meet subject forty-five, code name Olivia. She is one of the children I was supposed to kill.” Olivia bares her veiled teeth. “She’s more dangerous than you, me or any of our brothers and sisters. Show him.” On Charles’ command electric sparks dance across Olivia’s fingertips. Suddenly the sparks turn into a bolt and she flings it straight at me. It misses me by a hair, scorching the wall behind me instead.

“More dangerous than any gun we can bring to a fight, always armed, always ready to kill. Without that collar she would kill us and everybody in this building with not so much as a second thought. She feels no remorse or fear, a weapon forged on the operating table of the monarchy, rendering our entire branch of industry obsolete.” Charles always had a flare for the dramatic.

“After all this time does any of it even matter?” I ask. Charles stands up and slowly walks towards me. “It matters.” Charles softly says. It is unusual for him to be soft spoken. He stops in front of me and brings his face to mine. “It matters to me.” There is a lot of pain and anger in his voice. “Admit it. Look at her and admit it.” I look at Olivia and all I see is a bored young woman with a dental problem. “She’s a monster and she should have been destroyed, like the others. Admit it!” He yells the words in my face.

“You seem to have her well in hand. If you were able to train her, you could have done the same for the others. If the only answer is to kill children, then you are asking the wrong question.” For a second it seems like Charles will blow his lit, like he so often used to. The man in front of me however doesn’t. He calmly composes himself and returns to his seat.

“Good, you still hold on to your ethical views, that’s good. You see, I was worried with the track record you’ve built up you grew cold. That doesn’t seem to be the case, I’m relieved.” Charles is completely calm and firmly in control. “You are right of course. Over the years I’ve come to realize that August’s views were shortsighted. He was blinded by patriotism and wasted valuable resources.” I raise my eyebrows in disbelief.

Charles shrugs. “When children grow up they realize that their idols are just human. Wiping away nostalgia can make one see a lot.” Charles leans forwards. “I don’t feel wroth for what you did in the past, although I do feel you owe me. If nothing else, then at least for the eye. My marksmanship never recovered after they removed it. Speaking about that fateful day, how did you do it?” I narrow my eyes in suspicion. “How did I do what?” Charles chuckles, a mirthless sound. “I figured out the rest, from the countries you visited, to the reason you returned, but I never found out how you killed the assassins. Just like you and me they were trained by Cabaneri Incorporated, their abilities were on par with ours. How did you do it?”

I look at him and smile. My voice drops an octave and I growl a little. “Lower your guns, I’m coming down.” There is a glimmer in Charles’ eyes. “You pulled the Moose gambit?” I nod, for a second, we both smile and think of the shared memory. The moment passes, and we become serious again. “Those were lighter days, these are dangerous times.” Charles says, and I agree. “I’m going to stop lying to you now Eli.” Charles announces.

The words sent a jolt of electricity down my spine. “I have been pulling you in, because I believe you’re capable of making it out through this mess alive. By now you must have connected some dots.” I nod, I’ve seen some connection in my cases recently. Not nearly enough to see Charles’ hand in it, but I’m not about to let him know that. “When did you start?”

Charles shrugs. “I’ve started interfering directly with the Shaw case, using the factory owners as a front, but I’ve been keeping tabs on you since I recovered from our shootout.” I retrieve a cigarette from my case and light it. “Why meet now?” The smell of chocolate fills the room. “Because certain events are about to unfold that will destabilize Mercia. A nationwide revolution, which can’t come to pass.” I wave dismissively. “You’re a man of power now, you hardly need me to stop a revolution.”

Charles raises his eyebrows. “Traded in one addiction for another I see.” I glare, and he gets to the point. “Indeed, I don’t, but I need you for something else. Something my agents can’t be involved in.” I shake my head. “Whatever shady shit you’re doing I don’t want to be part of it Charles.” Charles sits back looking smug. “In that case Olivia will kill you and the girl you brought with you.” I tense and realize it as a mistake the second I see the gleam in Charles’ eye. “You care about her, don’t you? Eli de Winter, in love at last. And here we all were thinking you were a stone-cold murderer, a living weapon. It seems the gun has a heart, how unfortunate.”

I snarl, crunching the cigarette between my teeth. “I’m not going to kill anyone for you, not under duress or in any other situation.” Charles is the one waving dismissively now. “I never said I would be setting up a contract now, did I? In fact, I want you to save an innocent man.” I stay silent, waiting for him to elaborate. “I want you to do what you did six years ago. Assassins are coming for the prince of Armes, I want you to keep him safe. There is a catch though.” I take a deep breath. “Let’s hear it.”

Charles nods at Olivia. “She’s going to try and kill him as well.” I’m dumbfounded. “You’re going to set a murder machine on some innocent man, while hiring me to keep him safe? What kind of sadistic game are you playing?” Charles flashes one of his old charismatic smiles. “A very complex one, with many moving parts, in which you now play a vital part.” His expression becomes serious again. “It is for the good of Mercia. Olivia won’t try to actually kill you, but she is going to try to get as close to is as possible.” I growl at her. “I’m putting a bullet in her the second I see her anywhere near me or mine.” She bares her veiled teeth, which are really white and very straight. Whatever brand of toothpaste she’s using I want a crate of it.

Charles shrugs again. “Hit her, miss her, I don’t care. She’s tough, she will undoubtedly survive.” Olivia turns and gives him an amused smile. “That is probably the nicest thing somebody ever said to me. Watch out, or I might start thinking you want to be my mate.” I don’t have to lie, Olivia makes me feel uncomfortable, she would make anyone feel that way. The whole of her is just wrong.

“Apart from Olivia you will have to protect the prince from an individual known as Mister East. My agents haven’t been able to figure out his real name, but I’ve been told that you can put a face to the name.” I nod. “He and I have a short but uncomfortable history. He crossed a line, I harmed his business interests.” The whole briefing is eerily familiar. Charles and I must have done this a hundred times, maybe more, and we settle in the routine as if the last six years didn’t happen. “East operates solo, but he usually sends his left and right hand in first. We don’t have pictures and the names we picked up are fake. We know that they go by Huginn and Muninn and prefer blade work.”

I nod. “How will I get close to the prince?” Charles smiles. “I’ve already arranged an opening in his delegation, you will be at his side for as long as he is here.” I think about the whole thing for a minute. East being here is bad and good news. The bad being that by killing him I will exchange Aksokov for an unknown enemy. The upside of course is that I will get Aksokov off my back. “You must understand that I don’t work for free, not even when put under duress.” Charles smile broadens. “There he is, the assassin I know and love. Of the three of us you always did love money the most. Moose never really cared as long as it payed her drinks and I, well I never lacked anything, but you, you always loved having all those red notes pile up within reach. A true capitalist.”

I scowl, and he becomes serious. “If you do this I will compensate you with five hundred thousand crowns.” I raise my eyebrows. “You’ve climbed up in the world to be able to throw money like that around.” Charles wiggles his eyebrows. “The world becomes a bigger place when you get government funding.”

I stand up. “If that’s all?” Charles stands up as well, buttoning his suit. “The prince arrives tomorrow, by train, around noon. Make sure you are there to assume your role as head of security.” I nod, and he gives me a smug smile. “Happy hunting, try not to die.”

I leave the room, never turning my back on my old friend. We might have joked around and planned a mission like in the old days, but those days are long gone. I don’t trust Charles, and I certainly don’t trust his charged sidekick.

People throwing lightning around, ridiculous. Sure, this world has made odd jumps in technology, doing insane things with electricity, but even though I don’t understand it there is still a science behind it. Olivia however is unnatural, by both Earth’s and this world’s standards. As I exit the palace my concern grows, bringing Jesse here was a bad call. Thinking that she would be safer outside of Victoria was a mistake. In hindsight it is even more stupid, considering that I was summoned. I shake my head, what’s done in done, no use mulling it over. With a sigh I hail a cab.

Crown prince Antoines de Puissance of Armes was calm. Even though he was in the middle of foreign hostile country surrounded by enemy soldiers he was completely at ease. His delegation consisted out of fifty people, scattered throughout the train. He was sitting by himself in an isolated compartment. A book on Mercia’s history was lying open in his lap. At a young age the prince learned that it is always good to know one’s enemies. The prince pushed his spectacles up. With a sure hand he underlined a sentence in the book and smiled. His country might be on the brink of defeat, he personally was relishing the challenge.

As the train moved towards the capital the prince prepared for his uphill diplomatic battle, an assassin antagonized over the future and a pair of siblings wearing raven masks sharpened their knives.

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verus

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