Chapter 6 - Nine of Swords
My mother died soon after I was born. From that point, it was just me, my older brother, and our dad. As far back as I can remember, my dad was a monster. He took the mira Mom left us and used it entirely for himself, spending each day drinking it away. He made no effort to put it to good use--to do anything that might help our family. And when he was in a bad mood, what little safe haven we had was violently wrested away. My brother acted more like a parent to me than Dad ever did. Whether at home or out somewhere else, he always protected me. I really hated that house, but I always felt like it was bearable when he was there by my side. Those days didn't last for long, however.
I was still quite young when the household ran out of money and Dad decided to put us to work. There weren't many options for a child to earn much mira, though, and even between my brother and I, our income barely made a scratch in the mounting debt.
One day, my brother vanished and Dad announced he had 'let him spread his wings.' In other words, he had abandoned him. It was at that point that I stopped thinking of that monster as my family. Even in such an awful situation, I still held on to the idea that my brother would come back to me one day. That meant my only option was to stay there until he did.
Three long years later, I finally received a letter from him. He wrote that he was in a miserable place, but that he was managing to stay alive. I was able to send him a reply via the same method, thrilled to have a connection with him once again. I eventually found out he was being forced to work as a killer for a shadowy society called 'the Organization.' The things he said he had to do were awful. Inhuman. Just from reading his words, I could feel his pain as though it was my own. He said that the Organization was nightmarishly strict and that it was only thanks to his partner that he was able to send me letters in the first place.
My brother wrote a lot about his partner, describing him as a true friend--almost like a younger brother. This was the only topic where I saw his writing soften--where he seemed happy. Naturally, I found myself wanting to meet this person. But that was impossible and I knew it. I couldn't even meet with my own sibling, let alone his partner in some secret assassin cabal.
We continued exchanging letters like this for some time, but even that came to an end. The household ran out of mira again and I knew what was coming. I could tell it would soon be my turn to leave. I wrote my brother, telling him as much. He wrote back, telling me that he and his partner had decided to escape the Organization. I could sense from his words just how resolved he was to do it. He followed his declaration with a promise to come for me--to get me out of that hellhole of a home. What followed, however, at the very end of his letter, was a grim note.
'If this escape somehow ends in failure, I'm going to prioritize my partner's life over my own. If it comes down to it, I'll sacrifice everything to make sure he at least gets out of here. You can trust him. If anything happens, you can rely on him to help.'
That was the last letter I ever received from him. In the end, he never came back for me, and our dad kicked me out, just as I thought he would. He had become a slovenly mess. From the look of it, he had gotten himself addicted to some especially nasty substances--the kind that tend to quickly drain one's finances. I knew they were destroying him physically as well, but I had stopped caring long ago. I was done with that disgusting scumbag I once called my dad.
I used an intermediary to secure an opportunity to join the Organization. It was right as I was entering training that I learned of my brother's death. I was told he was killed by his own partner. It was then my world began to fall apart. I threw myself headlong into my training, not thinking of anything else. I was distraught and trying to escape reality however I could. I ignored everyone around me, and even myself. I let my soul slip into hibernation and fully assumed the role of one of the Organization's tools.
During the day, I would follow orders, not thinking for myself. But then night would come, and I'd have nothing to distract me. My mind would be tormented by thoughts of my brother's passing. The realization that I was now truly alone in the world shook me--as did the notion that my hands would soon be irreversibly stained with blood. Once the fear set in, there was no escaping it and I gradually lost the ability to sleep properly. The body does have a limit, of course, and I'd eventually fall unconscious for about an hour a night. Two, if I was really lucky. But it wasn't sleep--not really. It was far too shallow for me to physically or mentally recover much, and what little rest I did get was plagued with nightmares. Even after I had woken up, those bizarre, horrid sensations remained...
A year passed like this, with no improvement whatsoever. Despite that, I was able to graduate from the factory at an exceptionally fast pace. That was when I finally had a chance to meet him: the boy who had fought alongside my brother as his partner. He had just finished his own 'reeducation'--a consequence of betraying the Organization. As fate would have it, we were assigned as partners.
He was the one who had stolen my brother from me, so I was resolved to despise him from the moment we met. I quietly kept a close eye on him, observing each and every one of his movements.
Before long, though, something unexpected happened. Perhaps all of my pent-up fear and exhaustion had finally boiled over; perhaps it was just my instincts telling me the truth I had been ignoring. Whatever the reason, one day, we were out on a mission, and I found myself able to sleep when I was next to him. I mean actually sleep. Deeply and soundly, for the first time in an entire year. There was something about his presence that gave me a sense of security. It wasn't unlike how I remembered feeling being next to my brother, strangely enough.
When I woke up from this much-needed rest, so many things came rushing back. Suddenly, without warning, I found myself bawling. And as those tears came pouring out, the chains that had sealed away my heart slowly began to loosen. I started feeling human again, I could feel my emotions for the first time in what felt like an eternity.
As soon as he saw me crying, the boy quickly came over to console me, but that just made me sob harder. I quickly discovered my new partner really was the person my brother wrote so fondly about. Blunt and a little awkward, but overall a deeply kind person and a very thoughtful partner. Despite being shackled to the Organization and forced to kill for years, he had yet to fully surrender his humanity. He did seem to be bearing a great sorrow--one far more intense than anything my brother had described. I could tell he wasn't the kind of person capable of betraying and murdering a friend to ensure his own survival.
Given my brother's letter, it wasn't hard to work out what had really happened. After making their escape, the two were backed into a corner, and their prospects were grim. Rather than both of them being killed, it was better that at least one of them survived. The only way for that to happen was for one to kill the other--to gain forgiveness in the eyes of the Organization.
My brother knew his partner would reject the idea outright, and that even if he did accept it, he would insist on playing the part of the sacrifice. I was absolutely sure of that much. That's why my brother ended up feigning betrayal in order to get his partner to fight back and ultimately kill him. It was a plan that would spare his partner's life, but also deeply scar him in only the way an unexpected betrayal could.
From that point on, being near him was the only way I was able to feel secure enough to sleep. And sleep I did, every chance I got. Midday, during our missions... If there was even the slightest opportunity, I was out like a light. After all, I needed to catch up on the year of rest I had been robbed of. It was a truly surprising turn of events for me, to say the least.
I soon learned the boy was tormented by constant nightmares. I imagined the incident with my brother played a big role. There were so many moments where I saw how he was suffering and wanted to tell him the truth. But I would always stop myself at the last second, telling myself the time wasn't right.
Our missions occasionally called for performances of a sort, to deceive onlookers. He was always pretty terrible at it. It was hard to say why exactly that was, though. His movements were fine enough, as were his facial expressions. The factory emphasized all those things in its teachings, so he had received ample instruction there. It was just that he always seemed to overdo things--or drastically underdo them. I wondered if it may have had something to do with the unshakeable seriousness he always seemed to have about him. It could be a real problem sometimes, even to the point where he would become more of a liability than an asset. Any onlooker with half a brain would be able to tell something was less than genuine about his performances. I came to the conclusion he was just naturally bad at deceiving others. That's why I had to keep my plans from him--to prevent his terrible poker face from giving us away.
He'd been earnestly working on his escape for a very long time. I, of course, understood the immense difficulty of his task, and why he had to keep it to himself. Still, it made me a bit sad that he never spoke to me about it. He was in a precarious position, given that the Organization still had its doubts about him. I wasn't about to do anything to put him at risk, of course. But his shaky acting alone could very well have led to the Organization seeing through his carefully-laid scheme. If that happened, it would be the end of him, no question about it.
The situation hadn't quite reached that point yet, but I knew it was only a matter of time before it did.
After the Halldor Baarn mission had wrapped up, I went to make my report. The man I reported to had an aura unlike anything I'd ever felt. He was the evil bastard who managed the two of us. The Organization's Overseer, the Emperor. He was the one forcing us to kill. His face was always obscured by a robe, but it failed to mask the malice that overflowed from him. That day, he had a quiet, deadly exuberance about him, like a hawk that had locked onto its prey. There was no mistaking it, I knew he had caught onto my partner. He knew he intended to betray the Organization again. I knew he would gleefully purge him when the time came and that time was getting closer with each passing day.
If that's how things were going to be, I told myself, I would just have to get ahead of them and put my own plan into motion. The Emperor's intentions were obvious. Aware of the cruel history my partner and I shared, he had made us partners in a bid to slowly push me toward revenge. He knew I'd eventually break and sell my partner out, forcing him to go through another bitter betrayal. The Emperor was looking forward to watching it all unfold. We were both tools of the Organization and the personal playthings of the Emperor's.
So I decided to give him exactly what he wanted to see.
Once I'd finished my mission report, I told the Emperor of my partner's intent to betray the Organization. I then shared my plan to lure him to a specific place, where I would then eliminate him. I gave a detailed explanation, making it as enticing as possible for the Emperor. It was easy enough to gain his consent. Even with his face hidden under his cowl, he could hardly contain the excitement in his voice over the coming slaughter.
The laugh that escaped his throat was a sound so vile, it still haunts me to this day.
Later that evening, my partner arrived at the designated location: the base of a hill deep in the mountains. At first, he was horribly shaken by the realization that he'd been betrayed again. When he learned who my brother was, though, his face changed. I watched his surprise turn to despair, which in turn shifted to absolute acceptance of his fate. To call what I saw 'heart-wrenching' didn't do it justice.
I focused my efforts on giving him the most vicious glare possible, one equal parts mocking and murderous. I came up with the foulest, most malicious things I could bear to say, trying to cut him as deep as possible. After all, the Emperor was standing right next to me, and if I was to be convincing, I couldn't afford even the slightest hesitation.
I stepped forward. I was going to eliminate him. I shifted closer to my partner, in order to facilitate my wire attacks--or so I made it appear. My true objective was to put some distance between myself and the Emperor. Once I had my wires around his neck, the battle was as good as over. From there, I knew I could end his life with the flick of a finger.
'This is the end.'
I meant those words from the bottom of my heart.
A transparent cord ran through the center of the web of wires under my control. Manipulating this cord allowed me to set off a chain reaction that twisted it into a complex spiral shape I would often use to trap distant foes during missions.
Fully focused on watching his toys in the throes of bloodthirsty vengeance, it was the Emperor who had relaxed his guard the most. Right at the climax of our battle, I seized the opportunity, and with perfect timing, I was able to ensnare the unwitting Emperor, leaving him shackled and immobile.
The key was the transparent cord. It may not have had the same cutting power as my metal wires, but it was more than twice as strong. Even so, I couldn't count on it to hold the Emperor for long.
Without a moment's delay, I summoned all my strength to pull on another cord. A low rumble sounded out, and a section of the rocky hill collapsed, dropping a torrent of rubble below. I had taken my time to find the perfect location--one with brittle bedrock that I could have break away on cue. The stones roared and tumbled in a huge wave, hurtling down toward the Emperor. In the middle of it all was a giant boulder more than 10 arge across.
Time seemed to slow as it fell directly down at the Emperor's head, the thunder of the rock slide drowning out all other sound.
Finally it all came crashing down.
The aftermath looked as though a catastrophic earthquake had just taken place. The Emperor had taken a direct hit from a massive boulder. There was no way he could have survived that. Even if he somehow had, he was now buried alive. My partner looked on in confusion, still processing what had just happened.
'S!' I cried out, finally able to use the name I preferred to call him by.
I ran over to him and buried my head in his chest. This was where I felt the most safe--by his side. I nuzzled up against him, holding him tight, never wanting to let him go. I had never hugged him before then...I had always been too afraid to do so.
'I'm so sorry I said those horrible things...' I sobbed, 'I'm sorry I couldn't tell you the truth...'
There was so much more to explain, but those were the things I wanted to say to him most. Even though he was still reeling from everything that had just happened, he was still kind enough to hold me close and try to calm me down.
'Nine, what in the world--'
Before he could finish his sentence, something I never predicted happened. The small mountain of fallen rocks and boulders shifted slightly. Pebbles began to ride up into the air. It was slow, but unmistakable.
Dumbfounded, all we could do was look on in confusion.
'Is it some kind of space-element art? There's no way...' I mused aloud.
No, that didn't seem right. Perhaps it was some kind of device that functioned the same way as an airship's anti-gravity components? I didn't understand what was happening. I just sat there, staring blankly, my mind racing for an explanation. Before I could reach one, however, my partner spoke, his voice steeped in panic.
'That's the Overs--the Emperor's power!'
'But...that would mean...'
It meant the Emperor was still alive.
More and more rocks began floating upward, taking their place among the ever-increasing collection gently balanced in the air.
'Nine! We need to move!'
I continued to sit there, absolutely dumbfounded. Three grabbed my hand and we set off at a sprint.
We were able to cover a good amount of distance before we heard what sounded like a massive explosion behind us. We turned to see boulders and rocks of all sizes being flung upward into the sky, like a volcano erupting before our eyes.
To be continued
それが正確にエンペラーの頭上目掛けて “ズゴオオンッ” という轟音と地響きとともに、落下した。
TO BE CONTINUED
Continue Reading Three & Nine
|⇐ Chapter 5: The Overseer & The Report||Chapter 7: Tears & Promises ⇒|