Chapter 25 [A Dagger To His Heart]
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“It’s weird that a rose has only five petals,” said Captain Hajime without looking back as they climbed up the stairs.

That statement came out of nowhere for Victor; he shrugged at the off-putting sentence and focused on The Rookie beside him.

Escorted up through a dozen floors, Kenn and Victor arrived at the top where the throne room was located. The throne was enclosed by a thin veil of bamboo curtains; behind it, a figure of a man can be seen sitting on the throne.

This throne room wasn’t what Victor had seen before. It’s more intimidating in terms of design. Giant red pillars with gold-encrusted dragons slithered around it lined the room from end to end. Even the architecture design was different altogether from Frozehaven. Twin large cauldrons of fire light up the room near the throne. Somehow, the gold is a familiar sight to behold. Even at Frozehaven, they used gold almost constantly to decorate the castle. It’s a popular way of showing wealth and power.

Captain Hajime took a knee before the throne, “My Lord, we have apprehended the two traitors.”

Kenn took a knee willingly, but Victor was forced to take a knee when a man behind him shoved the back of his leg and caused him to drop. Victor gritted his teeth and held his fist close to his thigh: the thought of hitting the man behind him was tempting, but due to the circumstances of his situation, he had to let go of his anger.

A bearded man with a little bit of gray in his hair appeared out of the shadow beside the throne. “High Commander Goro, it was you wasn’t it?” accused Kenn.

“I have no idea what you were implying.” Goro raised his eyebrow.

“You ordered The Pirate to attack our supplies, but why? Why the secrecy? What are you planning? Is it the weapons, but for what? Tell me please.”

“That's quite an accusation you have there. To think my own nephew would suspect me of any traitorous action against our kingdom. I am ashamed that you became such a petty man, I thought I raised you better.”

“It’s useless Kenn, he won’t tell you anything.” Victor spat at the floor as he wore a scowl over his face.

“High Commander Goro! I request an audience with the State Lord. If you don’t want to answer my question then he will.”

Commander Goro bellowed a laugh before calming himself, “You are just a rookie, to demand such a thing is unheard of, but if you are that desperate,” Goro nodded his head and the curtain was raised to reveal a healthy State Lord in his throne. No bondage, no sign of torture, just a healthy man on his throne with a gloomy gaze.

“You can stop this, my lord. All you need to do is order these men to stand down.”

“You don’t understand, Private Kenn. I have no power here," said The State Lord as despair dripped from his frown.

“You do! Your family is safe, my lord. My friend had escorted them far away from here. You don't have to be afraid anymore.”

The State Lord’s eyes were widened with relief and he instantly stood up with vigor, “Is that true?”

“It’s the truth.”

The State Lord glared at the High Commander and pointed at him, “Arrest that man for treason against the Kingdom!”

The Imperial Police stood there unflinching by the order. The State Lord looked around him confused as to why they didn’t listen to his command. Goro smiled: an arrogant one at that. “My men aren’t cheap, my lord. They are loyal only to me. However, since my nephew here did a foolish thing, I decided that I don’t need you anymore.”

The High Commander walked up to the State Lord and punctured his stomach with a Katana. The Lord grunted in pain before the blade was pulled back. He was on the floor in his own pile of blood. In front of Kenn, this man before him, his uncle had killed the man he swore to protect in cold blood. It was unbelievable. Victor tried to struggle out of the hold but was kicked on the back until his chest was slammed against the wooden floor.

“We used to share the same hate against the Empress, but now, he grew soft. He worried that his family might be in danger. Of course, they will be. Such as life, to change something great, you need to sacrifice everything. I mourn for him. I truly do,” said Goro as he walked over the State Lord while the man coughed blood out furiously. Without even looking back, the High Commander proceeded to take a seat on the throne.

“At least, we got one less loose end to worry about.”

“You are not the Uncle I once knew. What happened to you?” asked Kenn in disbelief.

“I’m the same man as before, the only difference now is I don’t hide behind a mask of the pretense of politeness and comradery.”

"At least tell me why, Uncle. I deserve to know."

"Because of changes. I believed in The Late Emperor. His rule was absolute, just, and fair. He put our people first before anything else, but The New Empress wanted to change it all. She wanted to abolish our tradition, from the slave system to our monetary system, even the Teikoku Keisatsu was going to be disbanded. I raised this group. Uphold its tradition with my blood and sweat, and she wanted to destroy it in favor of a more rigid and tight regulated organization that she can have absolute power over."

"It is as if she was calling our code of conduct a joke. The code we live by. At that moment, I had enough. I began to trade with Ghadah for a new type of weapon, and all they wanted in return were large numbers of metal ores from Frozehaven," chuckled Goro as he leaned back against the throne.

"But she is our Empress? We swore our lives to her."

"I swore my life only to The Emperor, not some whore who poisoned his own parents just to get the throne."

"Look at yourself. Look at what you have done. You killed a man in cold blood and took his power for yourself, aren't you the same as The Empress?" Kenn swung his arm at the empty air while he demanded an answer from his uncle.

“If I can’t change your mind then there’s no need to drag this any longer. Ready.” The Police pointed their weapons at the mismatched couple on the floor. Victor noticed that Kenn and Captain Hajime kept exchanging glances as if they had a plan. That's when Victor realized that they were stalling for time.

“Wait!” shouted Victor at Goro. The Commander raised his hand, stopping his men temporarily.

“Are you that much of a coward that you can’t face your own niece in battle?” mocked Victor at the power-hungry man on his throne.

“Funny you said that. I’ll accept that challenge, but I won’t do any of the fightings. You will.” Goro whistled at his men to let go of Victor and they did. The Police then tossed their swords at them.

“What? Why would I fight Kenn?” chuckled Victor.

“No, you wouldn’t dare,” said Kenn as he raised himself, and immediately, The Police bare their weapons at The Rookie.

"The Old Man lied to you, my friend. He had already found what you were looking for, months ago.”

“How did you know that?” asked Victor as he furrowed his eyebrows.

“He asked me for a favor, a small favor, indeed, and I told him what he wanted to know. He spoke to him then decided to withhold the information from you. To tell you the truth, I hate people like that, but such as life.”

“Don’t listen to him.”

Victor gritted his teeth as he clenched the hilt of the man-eater. “Take off your coat and shirt.”

“Please, Victor, listen to me…”

“Take it off,” said Victor calmly as he shut his eyes.

With a downcast gaze, Kenn took off his coat then proceeded to take off his shirt. Nothing but slender and a fair skin body, a bit feminine to call manly, but he’s a man nevertheless. However, it was what Victor had dreaded, a tattoo of the sea, the same one as Victor, and Keiko’s tattoo, on the right side of his back.

Victor loosened his grip and shook his head slowly. The sound of his raging heart was overwhelming everything, even the words coming out of Kenn’s mouth were muted, even if he did hear what he got to say, to him his words were nothing but lies.

“You knew all along... “ Victor and Kenn started to circle each other in the room.

“Victor--think carefully about this. He’s trying to wedge us apart.”

“Pick up the damn Katana.”

“I’m not fighting you.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

With a single pull, the fabric that held the blade tore apart and a heavy scent of rotting flesh proceeded to engulf the room and darkened the atmosphere.

***

 

The State Lord’s Mansion

 

Yemen was overwhelmed by the numbers of daggers his opponent had, but he didn’t shy away from the attack as he rolled to the left and fired three arrows simultaneously. However, his opponent was no joke, she had avoided it perfectly like a cat, her nimble footwork was something that Yemen admired but his abhor feeling for her outnumbered his admiration.

With only a few arrows left, Yemen decided to close in their distance by crashing through the paper-thin walls. A shorter distance means a more accurate and better-adjusted shot especially against a skilled enemy like her. However, his plan was outpaced when the girl already waited for him on the other side. Yemen raised his wooden gauntlet, but at that short distance, the daggers pierced through the wood and halfway into his forearm.

The Pirate yelped in pain as he launched himself through a door and into another room. Daggers followed him as it always landed one step behind him. A misplaced toy cart was Yemen undoing when he slipped and tumbled down against the floor.

The woman stepped through the new doorway Yemen had created. Ever cautiously. “Whammo!” shouted Yemen as he hit the woman with a toy bat.

After the surprise attack, Yemen took the chance to hide in what seemed to be the panty. He let out a sigh as he raised the longbow; the string had snapped. Another sigh when he looked into the quiver bag, no arrows left; he took off the bag and tossed away the bow. A grunt of pain followed as Yemen pulled the dagger out of his forearm and slid the daggers into his belt for later use.

A trickle of blood dripped between the plank and his arm. The pain was striking and slightly irritated, but it was nothing he couldn't handle.

"Bloody hell, to be frank, this fight is so boring. I would appreciate it if you threw a few banter in my way, but nooo, you wanted to be all silent and mysterious."

After glancing around the pantry for a weapon, Yemen found nothing but jar fruits and dried meat. However, between those wooden utensils, one object became the center of attention. The perfect tool for offense and defense.

“Clench your teeth!” Yemen busted through the door.

She tossed a couple of daggers at him, but with his perfect weapon, Yemen blocked it with a frying pan. Both daggers bounced back and gave a chance for The Pirate to slam his shoulder against the girl and caused her to crash into the paper-thin wall behind her. She fell hard against the floor when her back hit against a wooden counter, but she managed to throw a dagger at the man.

The dagger was so fast that it hit Yemen in his right shoulder before he could avoid or block it. Yemen screamed in pain before he stumbled his leg against the tatami mat and forced him to fell on top of the woman. Both of their weight crushed the wooden counter, the girl threw Yemen off her and they both rolled away from each other, grunting furiously.

“Serve you right...my-my stomach, but serve you right,” groaned Yemen as he barely raised himself.

The woman rolled over to the other side and quickly grabbed the nearest cleaver. She flung it carelessly, but Yemen managed to avoid it before climbing up the steps. He grabbed the frying pan and quickly turned to block the knife that was aimed at his chest.

Knife!

Knife!

Knife!

 

Fork?

Spoon?!

 

“Bloody hell! You were aiming that spoon at my junk?! Who does that?”

Another spoon! Yemen blocked it but threw the dagger he had at her. It was a quick reflex, purely on instinct and it hit her in the shoulder. She let out an audible groan of pain. Yemen quickly climbed the steps, but that was his first mistake: turning his back at his enemy. The same daggers planted itself onto the back of his leg. Yemen’s face planted in the hallway before turning and threw another dagger at the charging woman.

Second mistake: a decision made during a state of panic is never a wise thing. The girl easily caught the dagger and threw it into Yemen’s thigh. He cried out in pain, both his legs were temporarily disabled as he dragged himself away.

The girl walked toward him with a dagger in her hand; ready to finish it as soon as possible. However, she stopped when she saw the smile on the man’s face. For someone who’ about to meet his maker, there wasn't a shred of fear in his eyes.

“Right now about now, I would have a clever one-liner to throw at you.”

“And you would have this confused look on your face, and I would see it, but since you wore a mask, it ruined everything. So whatever, mate. I’m sorry I couldn't brighten the party.”

Yemen took out the bomb he had, and using his frying pan as a slingshot; he swirled it at her. Her eyes widened, but it was too late to do anything. As a cloud of flame engulfed everything in that hallway, away from Yemen.

However, it was too early to celebrate when a flame licked’s woman of char and burnt skin stumbled out of the fire and threw the last dagger before dropping to the floor. No way to dodge or block it in time. It was certain that it was going to stab itself into his heart, and so it did.

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