Clockwork evaded the knife slashes. With the elegance of a performer, he danced around her movements.
“Just as I thought. All barks and no bite.” Seeing an opening, Clockwork slammed his elbow into her spine. Ragna groaned and fell on her knees.
She would get him.
Tightening her grip, Ragna pulled herself up and attacked anew. But no matter what she did, Clockwork remained unfazed. Her shouts and grunts became more frequent, and her slashes lost their technique. She attacked him like a common thug, and for Clockwork, this wasn’t a fight. It was a comedy, a show for entertainment.
Even his goons paid little attention to the fight and preferred to talk about the current geopolitical climate. She tried to stab and slash. Clockwork merely danced. And each failed attempt he met with a cackle that increased in tone and mockery.
“Let me guess. You’re a cadet, fresh from the academy, thinking ‘bout being a hero and changin’ the world. You're making me laugh, and it’s not even funny. Your arrogance’s revolting. So, let me teach you a lesson.”
He took a swing and punched her in the stomach. Salvia flew from Ragna’s mouth, and she cawed, falling to her knees. Ragna dropped her weapon, and her arms wrapped around her stomach. Clockwork widened his arms. His smile had faded into a frown; the elegance he had, cast away. Not bothering to pretend, he showed her his true face. His eyes burned with disgust and loathing.
“You know nothing about this world.” Clockwork slammed his boot into Ragna’s rips, kicking her away. “Living in your pampered bubble, you never encountered true horror.” He walked forward and hit her a second time. “Starving in the slums. Fighting for daily survival. Crawling through the ground, wondering if you live tomorrow.” Again, he dished out a kick. And a fourth and another, turning them into punctuations for his sentences. “Have you ever taken a step outside your safe city before? Of course not. Spoiled child living in your high houses. Look around. This is the real world. The real world’s cruel and ugly. It doesn’t care about you. Your dreams and hopes mean nothing. And if you want to live, play by its ugly rules. Murder your enemies. Rob the blind. Betray the strong. Trample over the weak. For idiots like you will just die.”
Seeing Ragna’s body arching in front of the jail bars, Clockwork stopped. He picked up the knife Ragna had dropped. Swinging it like a pendulum, he kneeled and grabbed her by the hair. “I'll make it easy. For thirty seconds, I won’t attack. I won’t protect myself. Hel, I won’t even move. It’ll be just like losing your virginity. So, if you want to kill me, then just do it.”
His goons tried to intervene, but with a hand movement, he ordered them to halt. He let go, dropped the knife, and walked five steps backwards.
Ragna lifted her head.
Did she hear him right? He let her kill him? That sounded too good to be true. It had to be a trick. Or was he that arrogant? Whatever it was, if there’s the slightest opening, she would use it.
She removed her arms from her stomach and took the knife. Forcing herself to stand, she pointed her weapon at Clockwork.
And she froze.
It was a simple maneuver she had followed countless times. Every cadet knew how to strike an opponent with a knife. Then why did she stop? She just had to ram it inside him. He was a monster, and their lives were at stake. Who knew how many more lives he would ruin?
Inside her head flashed a thousand reasons and justifications to kill him. Yet, her body didn’t move. Her arms and legs trembled, and the knife quivered from the tremors.
Move, you damn body. Why was it so hard? It’s just one movement. One movement and the world would be better.
“Pathetic.” Clockwork snatched the weapon from her, and within the same breath, before Ragna could react, he rammed the blade into the back of her hand. Ragna screamed. Blood gushed out of her wound. She pressed her hand against it, trying to suppress the bleeding and the pain.
“You just parrot words whose meaning you don’t understand.” He pulled the knife out and swiped off the stains. The droplets fell to the ground. “You want to be a soldier? A Valkyrie? What a joke. You can’t even kill me. And I’m as bad as they come.”
The bars opened. Clockwork grabbed Ragna’s throat and lifted her.
Ragna groaned. She tried to formulate syllables, her mind unable to decide what she would focus on: the blood running from her wound, his fingers crushing her windpipe, or his eyes looking down on her. Brimming with revolt, he might as well have been staring at a cockroach rummaging through garbage.
“What will you do in a war where you can’t separate the good from the bad? Wake up and face reality. You’re not fit for this world.”
The jail opened, and Clockwork threw her inside.
“Ragna!” Altera shouted. She tried to run to Altera, forgetting her shackles that brought her movements to an abrupt end. Ragna’s body crashed on the floor and rolled over to Altera. She caressed Ragna by the shoulder, and the bars closed.
“I’m doing you a favor here. You can spend your remaining days like a dog,” Clockwork said. “You don’t have to speak. You don’t even have to think. Just bark and follow the orders of your master, and you’ll live in moronic and ignorant bliss.”
He was about to turn when he stopped. “Wait. Did you just say Ragna? As in, Ragna Griffin?” Clockwork narrowed his eyes and came closer to the cell, inspecting Ragna’s face. His gaze shifted to her body. She was bending and crooking in Altera’s arms, whimpering in pain. “You certainly resemble the girl pictured in the darknet.”
Clockwork’s frown turned into a grin. Walking backwards, he performed a pirouette and lifted his female minion in the air. Smiling like a little child, he shouted from his lungs, performing another revolution. “We hit the jackpot, Eris.”
His minions stared at him in confusion. Clockwork put the girl with the neon-rainbow unicorn hair on the floor. She staggered and stumbled, overwhelmed by the centrifugal force, before finding stable ground.
“There is a change in plans,” Clockwork said. “But first, let me thank you.” He focused on the prisoners and bowed before them. “Perhaps I underestimated you. Attacking the princess, collaborating with Vaix, and escaping custody: That’s quite the rap sheet you got there. And a big bounty too. Not just money, but also a high rank, and being pardoned of every committed crime.”
“That’s impossible,” said Altera.
“Face it, angel. Officially the government has kept everything tight, but on the dark web, it’s open season. I don’t know why, but they don’t care who finds you as long as they do. Not that I complain. No more hiding in forests. Fame, power, and riches. It will be all ours.”
“That must be a lie.”
“Don’t be like that.” Clockwork rubbed his hands. “Be happy at this twist of fate. Your friend won't become a slave. Anyway, for now, this is farewell. Gotta secure a connection.“ He bowed again and turned to his men. “Keep an eye on them.”