The Emperor-in-Waiting was staring at him in disbelief.
„How did you...?"
Aidan only sighed in response. It was just his damn luck – the spell was probably defective or it malfunctioned right at the moment when Aidan was passing through. Or there was no spell at all, and somebody had lied to the boy.
Either way they needed to hurry. Maybe Aidan still had a slim chance to be killed off.
He was of course being too optimistic. On their way to the exit they encountered only a couple of savages, and Adnan Minn's superior skills were more than enough to easily deal with them. Other than that, they didn't see anybody, not even the generals that came here together with Aidan. This seemed a bit odd but since he didn't see any familiar corpses lying around he assumed everyone was fine.
By RPG standards the mission could be deemed a success – the key prisoner was rescued and seemingly no lives were lost in the process.
„General Minn," he saw somebody waive at him. He squinted and recognized the tall general in the distance. Now that he wasn't dead, he really needed to inconspicuously find out the guy's name.
He made his way towards his fellow „best fighter" and motioned for the blonde monarch to follow him.
„Oh thank Heavens, you found the Emperor-in-Waiting!" the general exclaimed as soon as he saw the boy. „I was starting to worry that our intel was wrong – I swear, we looked up and down the whole fort and couldn't find him."
„Where is everybody?" Aidan asked.
The handsome general frowned.
„Most of the guys are now busy collecting the loot – the fort has been captured. I think, we'd rather depart immediately without waiting for them. It's not safe here for the young Emperor. The savages might send reinforcements."
„Did we have any casualties?" Aidan asked.
„No, everyone's alive."
„We took the fort with just ten people? That's impressive," Aidan remarked.
„That surprised me too. But, as you know, savages are not particularly good fighters and they usually rely on their magic. Something happened today that suddenly drained all spiritual sources around the fort. So they were basically defenseless," the general explained.
Maybe it wasn't Aidan who was OP but rather these savages were nerfed? Interesting.
The way back went much faster as they were now riding the looted horses and not waddling through the woods on foot.
Soon Aidan was back in his room enjoying a warm bath, attentively prepared for him by an unknown benefactor. He would have preferred a shower but in this medieval setting he was glad he even got a possibility to wash himself.
While he was putting on Adnan's heavy combat attire and trying to figure out why would someone need three layers of clothing when one was perfectly fine, somebody knocked on the door.
„Enter," Aidan said, putting on his belt and hoping he didn't mess up too much.
His gloomy soldier came in.
„Are you done with your bath, General? Can I take the water away?" he asked.
„You prepared this for me? Thank you! It must have been quite an ordeal," Aidan almost teared up from gratitude. He wasn't used to people doing nice things for him out of nowhere. And here it was especially unexpected.
The soldier didn't respond. Instead he handed him a bottle of what seemed like red wine.
To say Aidan was over the moon would be a definite understatement. He quickly opened the bottle and took a sip. The wine was sour but strong. And that was the only thing that mattered to Aidan at the moment. He literally felt like kissing the soldier on the mouth right then and there.
„You're such a good friend!" he said out loud.
The soldier gave him a weird look.
Too soon? Too much?
„A pal. Good pal. Buddy," Aidan corrected himself. „In any case I owe you one."
„You don't owe me anything, General. It's my duty to take care of your needs."
„Thank you," Aidan felt a bit bad. Like he was taking advantage of this nice fellow. „I'll help you with the water."
„No need," the soldier shook his head. „I know my duties."
Well then, suit yourself. Aidan was not going to insist. He finally got some booze and was looking forward to getting hammered as soon as possible.
After the soldier was finally done, Aidan could breathe out and relax. The good times were about to start.
He didn't manage to even take two sips when he heard another knock at the door. Aidan was annoyed but he didn't want to be rude to the nice soldier guy who was doing all this manual labor on his behalf, so he unwillingly said: „Come in."
This time it wasn't just the soldier, though. Next to him was a young disheveled man, wearing all too familiar skimpy outfit. Aidan gave them both a confused look.
„General Kear wants to respectfully share his loot with you. He remarks, it's just for the night – as soon as we return to the capital all the captured slaves, as you know, will become the property of the Regent," the soldier explained, his expression unreadable.
Aidan was speechless for a while. Was this General Kear offering him a sex slave like it was nothing? What an asshole. He had to remember to stay away from that guy in the future.
Before he managed to say „Get the hell out of here", the soldier was already gone, and Aidan was alone in the room with the slave.
He just wanted to drink his wine in peace, for the love of god!
„You can leave now," said Aidan finally, breaking the awkward silence.
„Give this slave a chance, this slave will not disappoint you," the young man said, his voice trembling.
As he heard these words, Aidan felt he was just about to vomit up his precious wine. And that would be an awful waste – he didn't even manage to get buzzed yet!
„Are you deaf? I told you to leave," he said, hoping his harsh tone will convince the man to go away and never return. There was nothing he could do for him. The problems in this society were systematic and a random act of kindness would not solve anything – it would just make Aidan seem like a total hypocrite. He suddenly had the same feeling he got when seeing homeless people begging on the street. It was guilt, paired with helplessness, sadness and disgust towards the system that produced that kind of misery.
The slave didn't argue anymore and grabbed the door handle to leave. This was when Aidan noticed very familiar scars on the guy's wrists and suddenly felt a sharp pain in his chest.
„Wait," he exclaimed.
The slave paused and looked at Aidan.
„Fancy a drink?" he raised up the wine bottle. So random act of kindness it was.
The slave nodded and quietly came up to him. There were no glasses around, so Aidan just handed him the bottle. The slave took a sip and winced.
„Yeah, not the best quality. But it's the only one I could get my hands on."
„The grapes were not ripe enough, when they were harvested."
„Oh," Aidan whistled, impressed. „You're a connoisseur! I would probably not be able to tell grapes from apples. You know, they could serve me wine made out of cow dung and I'd drink it with a straight face."
He took another big sip out of the bottle, finally feeling the nice fog rising in his head.
„I see, you tried to... you know...," Aidan pointed at the slave's wrists.
The young man lowered his eyes and didn't respond.
„The human body is remarkably resilient. I also found out about it the hard way," Aidan laughed out loud. „I wish I could give you some pointers but, as you can obviously see, I haven't succeeded either."
„Forgive this slave but it's not what you think."
„All right then. Keep your secrets!" Aidan was getting progressively more smashed. „It's none of my business anyway. But I still want to bestow some of my superior wisdom on you. It's important to remember that when they violate you, they are destroying themselves, not you. Even if it seems the other way around. And if you accept that, you can bear life just a little bit longer. And isn't it what life is? Telling yourself that you just have to hold on for a little bit longer. And then one day the inevitable liberation will come."
The slave looked at him in fear, his eyes filled with tears.
Aidan actually wanted to cheer the guy up but his rant had an opposite effect for some reason. Well, he was never good at pep talks.
„If the master doesn't mind, this slave will respectfully leave," said the young man, looking traumatized.
„Do as you please," said Aidan. He was just trying to help someone like himself. Did he, maybe, project too much?
The slave left, and Aidan absent-mindedly continued to drink. After so many days he felt like himself again.
He was interrupted by yet another knock on the door.
Was this the night of endless guests?
„Come in at your own risk," said Aidan.
This time the Emperor-in-Waiting himself graced him with his presence.
„Welcome to my humble abode," said Aidan. „Unfortunately, you're too late for the wine. There's almost nothing left."
The blond boy ignored his words and made himself comfortable in one of the chairs.
„I actually came to officially thank you for saving me," he said.
„Well, consider me officially thanked."
„Did you know that only those who welcome death whole-heartedly can break the „Fear of Death" curse?" the Emperor-in-Waiting asked quietly.
„Now I know," Aidan laughed. Of course! That was a hilarious loophole. Maybe, if he tried really hard, he could convince himself that he was afraid to die and then one day he could try crossing the cursed line again?
„You're a scary man, Adnan Minn."
„Oh no, I'm as harmless as a butterfly on a marshmallow," said Aidan sincerely.
The young Emperor chuckled.
„I don't think so. I saw you fight – you're good, the rumours don't do you justice."
Aidan had nothing to do with that, so he didn't say anything, lamenting the last drop of wine and trying to calculate, how soon he'll have to be sober again.
„General Hayl Lox also told me that you were the one who came up with the rescue plan that ended up not costing us a single life."
„General Lox? Is that the tall handsome one?" Aidan asked.
The boy looked at him with curiosity, slightly squinting his eyes.
„I guess, he's handsome. So you like them dark, tall and muscular, huh?"
„It has nothing to do with what I like," Aidan waived his hand, as if swatting away an annoying fly. „I was just stating an objective fact."
The young Emperor's blue eyes shined mischievously when he asked:
„So, am I also objectively handsome?"
Aidan looked at the boy carefully.
„Nah, right now you're more pretty than handsome. But give it a couple of years – you'll grow into it," he said honestly.
„Do you realize, you just called your future Emperor „pretty"?"
„My future Emperor?" Aidan couldn't help but have a laughing fit.
„What's so funny?" asked the boy.
„Oh, nothing. Are you offended by any chance?"
„A bit," said the blond boy. His expression grew dark but Aidan, being drunk, didn't notice anything.
„Huh! Then do something about it, Your... Highness!" Aidan was on the brink of histerical laughter.
„Don't worry, I will," said the boy with a smirk.He got out of his chair and approached Aidan. Standing over him, he carefully examined his face and then his body.
„I liked your other outfit better," he said finally.
„You mean the slave one? Ha, ha, very funny."
„I'd like it, if you wore it again."
„Is there maybe something else you would like?" Aidan mocked in response.
„Only time will tell," the Emperor-in-Waiting smiled, as he walked towards the door. „I'd suggest you go to sleep now. You're really drunk and we are leaving for the capital early tomorrow."
„You and your suggestions can go to hell," Aidan thought to himself.
But luckily he didn't say anything out loud.