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Chapter 10 - S & N

The Emperor had fallen to his knees, Three's sword protruding from his chest. He looked up at the sky and gave a dry, bitter laugh.

'Found some humor in your end, have you?' asked Three.

'To think you two would best me,' the Emperor said, his voice weak, 'Heh... I admit it. I underestimated you. You are, by far, the most powerful tools I've ever had the pleasure of owning.'

'Enough! We're not your tools any longer!' Three said, gripping his sword, preparing himself to silence the Emperor forever.

So, he thought to himself, the moment to kill had come yet again. The thing he hated most. The thing he would never grow accustomed to. Things were different this time, given that the man who stole away his humanity in the first place now sat at the end of his sword. But that didn't stop Three's hand from trembling.

'S...' Nine said gently, moving closer. 'We'll do it together, okay?'

Her typically light and relaxed expression was now serious and sincere.

'...Okay,' Three responded.

This was it. The moment where the two would put their tragic past to rest. Nine placed her hands on Three's, steadying his weapon. Her warmth abated his trembling ever so slightly. They moved to raise the sword together. In response, the Emperor spoke once more.

'Every arge of your path thus far has been stained with blood, just as the rest of your lives shall be. Your fates are immutable. Kill or be killed... Control or be controlled... You will end up no different than I. We will ever be one and the same.'

'You're wrong,' said Nine, 'We're no longer anyone's tools, and we'll never force anyone to be ours.'

'After this, we're done,' said Three, 'You're the last person we're ever going to kill.'

The two took a deep breath and spoke in unison.

'Farewell.'

Off in some far-flung region of Calvard, a horse-drawn carriage plodded along. Aside from trains, most terrestrial transportation had long since switched to orbal cars, so such an old-fashioned mode of travel was a rare sight to see. The more rustic method did have its certain undeniable charm, however.

A boy drove the carriage, while a young girl of about the same age lazed about within.

'It makes you wonder how he got that way,' the boy said, thinking back to the Emperor's face--the one that had been obscured by both cloak and helmet. His appearance had been a poor fit for his monstrous behavior. If anything, he had been rather handsome.

'Well, if you don't mind rumors and hearsay, I might have an answer or two for you.'

The girl's response came from within the carriage, delivered in her usual sleepy drawl.

'I'm listening.'

'Well...'

The girl's story went something like this.

In a small country in some corner of the world, there once lived a vile, oppressive king. His reign was tyrannical, his rule evil, and his people lived in fear. One day, he died, and his son, the crown prince, was enthroned. The prince--this new king--was, at his core, a kind and gentle soul who strove to govern in a fair and just manner. He was determined to avoid his father's errors. But perhaps because they were too accustomed to fear, no one met this new king's ideas with an open mind. Free assembly and speech had already been brutally suppressed during his father's reign, and the people's rage had already reached a boiling point. Violent voices grew louder and louder, eventually resulting in a revolution.

The revolutionary army launched an assault on the royal palace and forcibly converted the country into a republic, holding the new king accountable for his father's sins. Suddenly finding his life at risk, he had no choice but to flee, leaving behind his country and his entire way of life.

'You're telling me this prince eventually became the Overseer?' the boy asked, his brow wrinkling in thought as he turned the story over in his head.

'Who can say?' shrugged the girl, 'I don't know if a kingdom like that even existed in the first place.'

The girl rolled over to continue dozing as the carriage bumped and bounded its way along the road.

'Assuming this is more fact than fiction, then what?' the boy asked, 'He was too kind and lost control of his kingdom, so he developed a powerful desire to control others? It's hard to believe...'

The boy trailed off. He had no intention of giving the Overseer even a shred of sympathy, but strangely enough, he did find himself feeling a little pity for the man.

The boy and girl fell silent for a few moments, the only sounds that could be heard were the clopping of the horse's hooves and the creaking of the carriage.

'Um...'

The boy broke the silence.

'What is it?' The girl raised her head from her nap. Her voice remained as relaxed as ever, but the boy's tone suddenly grew tense.

'Is there any chance you could...ever forgive me? For what I did--for what happened between me and your brother?'

'No.'

The girl's response was swift and blunt.

The boy fell silent. He had no right to scorn her answer.

'Never,' she continued, 'Because he was my brother, and I loved him. He was the only real family I ever had. So...'

'So...?'

The girl paused for a moment. Her cheeks flushed red and then she continued in a much louder voice.

'So if you want me to forgive you, you can't ever leave me! We need to stick together, through thick and thin! You and me! N and S!'

The boy smiled, his fear a moment ago having left him.

'Of course! We'll always be there for each other. I'll have your back and you'll have mine.'

The girl could barely contain the emotions swelling in her chest at this point. Unfortunately for her, the boy continued talking.

'I'll do my best to fill his shoes from now on. And that includes making sure you get the education you need to grow into the best person you can be.'

This was, in fact, not the answer the girl had been looking for.

'I'm not talking about education!' she exclaimed as she started violently shaking the carriage in frustration.

'But what could be more important? Hey, calm down! This thing can't take too much abuse. It's rickety enough as it is! If you make it fall apart, we'll have to walk the rest of the way.'

The girl settled back down, still not fully satisfied with his response, but resolved to leave things be for the moment.

The topic changed again.

'So, any ideas?'

For the time being, their plan was to head to Liberl or Leman, just as the boy had initially planned. But where to from there? They had yet to give it much thought. They knew they would be pursued by any number of people from the Organization. Despite this, the two knew that as long as they stuck together, they'd find a way to manage.

For the moment, they reveled in the idea of an unknown future--a new path to tread that was all their own.

'In any case, we'll need to find some kind of work,' the boy said.

'Anything in mind?'

'Well,' he mused, a confident smile growing on his face, 'when we consider our skill set, how about something in theater?'

'Not on your life,' the girl swiftly retorted. 'Think about it, S. You're a TERRIBLE actor.'

'Hey! I'm not that bad! And I'm sure a play would be way less pressure than an assassination mission...'

A tad deflated, the boy sank back into his seat, but then threw out another idea--one somewhat more plausible than the last.

'I know! How about we become bracers?'

'No way.' The girl rejected the idea again, but with a bit less bite than before. 'I've heard they get super busy. No sense escaping one grave just to work yourself into another.'

There was also the question hanging in the air over whether the Bracer Guild would even consider taking on people with the duo's...unique background. All things considered, however, it wasn't the most outlandish idea.

'Fine, fine. What's your bright idea, then?'

'Me?' the girl yawned, 'All I want to do is lay around in bed every day. Just sleep, sleep, sleep.'

'You're ridiculous,' the boy sighed.

His face then lit up suddenly as he remembered something.

'Oh, right!'

'Hm? What is it?'

'Names,' he said with a hint of excitement, 'I just realized we haven't shared our real names with each other.'

'Oh, right. N is short for Nadia. That's my real name.'

'Mine's Swin.'

'...Huh,' the girl said, hiding a small smile, 'so S wasn't too far off, then. Pretty crazy coincidence.'

There was a good reason her nickname for him had been so close to his real name: her brother had mentioned it in one of his letters. She had known Swin's name before their paths even crossed. After they had worked together for a bit, she decided she wanted to call him by something that resembled his actual name, rather than his Organization moniker. This, however, was something she intended to keep to herself.

'Well, in the end, you'll always be S to me. And I'll always be N to you, right?'

'Yeah. You're right.'

The carriage continued its slow roll forward, as did their conversation. It was profound at moments, but was otherwise silly, lighthearted, and most of all...free.

The boy's name was Swin--S.

The girl's name was Nadia--N.

Together, they were travelers.

Travelers discovering their newfound humanity.


The End


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