Acceptance ( Chapter 8 )
The hiss of the static ran through the monitor room like an angry wasp. Syrus frowned, tapping a few keys on the console. Each one lit up as he did, but the monitors in front of him still remained fuzzy. He pursed his lips, staring at the screen in thought before trying something new. Nothing. Just the cold black and white lines taunting him. He growled, slamming his hands down on the keyboard. The computer whined in protest, the red light coming from the keys illuminating his frustration.
He rubbed his forehead, attempting to ease the tension. The cameras for Hangar B and the surrounding hallways weren’t functioning, the latest event in a series that was causing a great uneasiness in him. Loshul had given him Rose to go and check on their status, and she was taking her sweet time in getting around to it. He thought about pulling Quinn in to help, but he was babysitting Norian and Bastian in Hangar A, waiting on Easton and Freya with Loshul’s newest pet and Loshul wouldn’t like Syrus overstepping his authority. He’d just have to be patient and wait for Rose to get off her lazy ass.
He tried a few more things on his end, sequences he’d tried before and knew failed, but he was desperate to feel like things were going well again. He got no better response this time around. Sighing, he tapped out a sequence and the broken monitors retreated from the main view and resided in the lower left corner. He brought up the security tapes again, reviewing them. Kerowyn thought he was being paranoid, but he knew the camera had to have picked up something. Something bad was going on inside Company headquarters, something that had raised more flags than he’d ever felt before. The attack on Veruca was just one of these flags.
The footage ended and Syrus was furious. What good was it to have cameras all over the compound if they didn’t pick up something that important? This was one time he really wished there were cameras in the rooms as well, privacy be damned. Without any evidence of foul play, Kerowyn had concluded her investigation and convinced Loshul that the only explanation was that Veruca had been messing with something dangerous and it had blown up in her face, so to speak. Syrus thought she was full of shit. He was closer to Veruca than most and knew her better than almost any other Company member. He also knew she knew what all her toys did before she ever messed with them. He’d brought that up to Loshul, but the man only had Syrus’s word and no matter how close they were, it wasn’t enough.
Syrus closed his eyes. It had hurt that Loshul hadn’t agreed with him, even if there were no facts. Loshul had always had an opinion of Veruca and hadn’t fully gotten to know the child. Even then, would he have done anything?
Syrus wasn’t so sure anymore. He’d become so rigid and rule-bound since Xenia had put him in charge. He seemed like he wouldn’t act unless he had something to act on and there was no sign of anyone but Veruca going into her room. Syrus was the only one convinced otherwise it seemed, so Syrus asked Praxis to dig a little deeper and see what had caused the problem. That would at least be a start. Praxis had at least been suspicious as well, so Syrus didn’t feel so alone in all this.
That train of thought made him pull up the monitors in the hospital bay to check on the injured. It pained him to see the beds full like this. Damian, Veruca and Kairi all lay in the bay and all of them were unconscious. Maya was there, helping Praxis wherever he needed and watching over them like a mother over her young. Maya’s arrival at Veruca’s door couldn’t have had better timing, according to Praxis. Syrus hadn’t really thought about it, but he owed Maya a great deal for what she’d done for his friend. Whatever had happened to Veruca had happened fast. Had it lasted much longer, Veruca as he knew her might have been lost forever. It had also happened to Kairi, but in a much lighter dose. She would be awake soon enough.
Syrus was more than a little surprised that Celine was not there. Ameys had literally dragged Celine out of the hospital bay, fighting all the way, to make sure she got to her room and got some sleep. He’d expected Celine to have snuck out of the room to be there and watch over Damian like a hawk. Ameys must have drugged her. He shook his head. He knew Celine cared for her twin, but the girl was wild and reckless and she needed to be reined in. She was going to hurt someone who only wanted to help before all was said and done.
“Syrus, come in.” Rose’s voice crackled over the speaker, her bored tone coming through clearly.
“I don’t see any issues here,” she said, her tone grating on him, “Must be something on your end.”
Syrus silently counted to ten. He doubted she’d looked at more than one, and even this one she’d probably only given it a quick once-over. “Just keep searching. Nothing’s working on this end. See if anything looks wrong on any of them.”
“Whatever,” came the response and the line went dead. Syrus drummed his fingers on the keyboard in silence, resisting the urge to get up, find her, and throttle her. Rose was a waste of his time. If he was in charge, he might have locked her in her room, just like James, to keep her from screwing something up.
“Find anything?” Loshul asked from behind him, startling Syrus up from his chair.
He sat back down as Loshul approached. “No. I can’t get any of the cameras back online from here and Rose says there’s nothing wrong that she can see.”
Loshul nodded, walking up on the platform. “It might just be some faulty wiring. We can work on it later and get them back up then.”
Syrus shook his head. “I need these back up and running before Easton and Freya return.”
“Forget about that. You’ve been working yourself too hard already. Ever since the mission started actually.”And why do you think that is?
he thought, though he’d never say it out loud. “Things need to run smoothly for this to be a success.”
“And it is one. The Princess and her Nobody are in our control. The King and his men are stranded, as are both Keyblade wielders. We’ve won, Syrus. We can take the other Princesses any time we wish now.” A triumphant gleam was in his eyes. “Xenia can now bend them to her will and we can use them to subvert any would-be heroes. We can live on as we were intended to.”
“To truly live...” Syrus said thoughtfully, a smile lighting up his face. “Can we truly achieve what the Organization could not?”
Loshul pulled Syrus from the chair and into his arms, looking down at the shorter man. He kissed him deeply, his tongue toying with Syrus’s and a wonderful feeling flashed through him. He ran his hand through Syrus’s blue hair as he pulled out of the kiss. “We can. Victory is already ours. All that remains is the cleanup.”
Syrus held Loshul’s hand in his, desperate to believe in it, to believe life could be theirs and that they could finally just be together, even if he had to share the man he loved. He lowered his eyes to Loshul’s chest as he ran a thumb along the back of Loshul’s hand. “Be careful, lover mine. Overconfidence was the Organization’s downfall.”
Loshul glowered, unhappy with the direction things were going. “Betrayal took down the Organization.” He looked as though that was supposed to be the end of this conversation.
Syrus wasn’t going to back down. Not this time. He had to make Loshul see the truth. “No. The Organization failed because it could not envision that it could fail. The same with the false Ansem before them. They could not imagine their own end and believed their plans to be infallible. That carelessness brought about their downfall and I could not bear it if the same happened here.”
Fury crossed Loshul’s face. “How dare you speak this way about our family?”
Syrus met his eyes. “They were our family, but what’s dead is dead, and they died because they were foolish. You cannot deny this! Even Xenia knows it.” That earned a punch to the face and Syrus knew he was treading on something personal to Loshul, but he needed to say it. “You must also become aware of this or you will fall to it like the others! Things are happening now that reek of something wrong!”
Loshul frowned. “Nothing is going wrong...” he said slowly.
“You may believe that. Praxis and I are not so convinced.”
“So you’ve dragged him along in this?” He gripped Syrus’s shoulders hard. “You are chasing shadows,” he said, emphasizing every word.
“Maybe I am,” Syrus countered, pulling himself out of Loshul’s grip and stomping for the door. He opened it and stood there in the light of the hall, looking over his shoulder. “But can you really afford to take that chance? Can you afford to take that chance with me?” He walked into the hall and headed for his room, listening to Loshul as he hurried up.
A hand fell on his shoulder, softly but firmly. “Syrus...” Loshul said, sounding contrite for the first time in a while.
Syrus paused, allowing for his past feelings to well up again. “I love you, Loshul. I knew you could never just be with me alone, especially since I knew you loved Xenia too, but I gave myself to you all the same. And I will do what’s best for you, even if I have to save you from yourself.”
Loshul hesitated. “You shouldn’t have to protect me. That was always my job,” he said in a low voice.
“I know, but you’ve changed. You did it for Xenia, and I stood by you.” He turned to look at the man who would always have his heart. “I would die for you, Loshul, and that hasn’t changed. But your quest for revenge blinds you and you’ve encouraged that blindness in others.”
Loshul looked abashed and his gaze went to his shoes. All the fire had gone out for this brief moment. “What would you have me do, Syrus? Abandon everything? It would sign our death warrants.”
“I want you to listen to me, Loshul. I want my opinion to matter again.” He sighed. “I just want the man I love back. The one who stood between me and James and protected me. The man who showed me what love was.” He turned away, unable to stare at him any more. “I’m willing to wait however long it takes for your revenge to be complete.” Loshul didn’t respond, and Syrus wondered if he was wasting his time. “I’m going to bed. I need some rest.” And some time to think.
He walked away.
“You and Praxis really think someone did this to Veruca on purpose?” Loshul asked. Syrus stopped and nodded, not saying anything more. Loshul grunted behind him and Syrus could hear him shifting as he thought. “Bring me proof,” he said after a minute, “then I can fix it.” Syrus sighed, heading for his room again. At least it was something now. Loshul called his name one more time, and Syrus half-turned, staring back at him. “I won’t keep you waiting long. I promise,” Loshul said.
Syrus smiled, then walked away from him. It wasn’t much, but something was better than nothing.
Damian had never felt pain like this before. He had imagined it at times, but it was nothing like his fancies. Opening his eyes, the brightness of the light forced them shut again. He squinted, feeling like he’d never used his eyes before as he tried to get his bearings. Slowly, he realized that he was in Company headquarters in the hospital bay. The brightness faded as his eyes adjusted and the white of the walls and ceiling became tolerable again.I made it...
he thought, closing his eyes again and allowed the hum of the generators, the random beeps of the nearby machines and the purr of the ventilated air to soothe his soul and allow him to focus on something besides the awful pain in his back. I’ve probably scared Celine to death.
Though he wanted to send to her, he doubted he had the strength.
He pulled the sheet off, letting it fall to the tiled floor, and tried to sit up. That was a mistake as the pain made it clear he wasn’t going anywhere. He fell back to the flat metal bed, panting. He heard a woman tsking, and she walked over to him. He expected it to be Celine or Ameys. Of anyone, Maya was not on the top of his list to be standing over him.
“Stay down. The heal is not complete.” The redhead had the look of someone under immense strain. He’d never seen Maya like this. This whole ordeal was taking more of a toll on her than he’d planned. Small worry lines were forming near her dark-blue eyes and the freckles were standing out against her paler skin. He must have scared her witless with his little crash.
Damian found himself agreeing. “What...are you doing here?” he croaked, his throat dry and sore.
“She’s helping me,” Praxis called from across the room. Footsteps echoed across the tile as Praxis joined Maya at his bedside. He definitely did not fit the stereotype of a medic. The man was large with only James challenging him in size. Celine had once joked that his muscles had muscles. He was also tall, having to duck through doorways and look down at anyone he talked to. He wore dark-tinted glasses that hid his eyes. He never complained of vision problems and yet he was never seen without them. His black hair was short and neatly trimmed, never a hair out of place.
But for all of his appearance, he was one of the quieter Company members. He was always gentle with others, his large hands able to do the most delicate of stitching. He was very intelligent and he had a strong sense of ‘duty’. His loyalty to the Company was unmatched, and he felt it was very important to keep the family together. Damian could only wonder how he was taking the deaths of four of his kin. He always stayed out of petty squabbles, but tried to nip major breaks in the bud. After all, this Company was all he had.
He handed Damian a cup filled with a strange purple liquid. “Drink this.” Damian sniffed it and wrinkled his nose. He supposed it was meant to smell like mint, but it also had a stale smell to it that was off-putting. “Go on. It’ll help you.”
Maya helped him to a sitting position and he closed his eyes, drinking it as fast as he could. The liquid burned his throat and he coughed, nearly spitting it back up. His eyes watered and he tried to speak, coughing a few times before managing to squeak out a curse. “What did you put in that?”
“Just a few herbs in the proper proportions,” he said, smirking. He took the cup from Damian. “If only Veruca was this simple...”
Damian looked at him, trying to ask a question but coughing again. Maya held his hand as he did, and he waited until his throat cleared. “What happened to Veruca?”
Maya explained the situation and he turned to see the two women who shared this section of beds with him. That explained more of her worry. It wasn’t just him after all. “I wish we knew what it was,” she muttered, anger lacing her speech. “Whatever it was knocked her down and nearly took her out.”
“Thanks to you, it didn’t happen.” Praxis said as he went back to his tests. “Sometimes I wish I had your luck, Maya.”
“I doubt you’d call it luck if you’d seen the shape ‘Ruca was in.” She shuddered.
“Indeed,” he responded, “I haven’t identified the source of the convulsions yet, but I fully intended to scour every aspect of this compound and purge her system of the substance. Hopefully, an analysis of the Princess’s tests will yield better conclusions.”
Damian blinked, running a hand through his green hair. “If you say so, Praxis.”
Maya looked over at Praxis. “How long until you get those results?”
“Possibly a couple of hours.”
“Then you need to go and get some rest yourself. I can watch these three for a while. You won’t do us any good if you run yourself into the ground.”
“But...but my tests...”
“Will still be here when you get back.” She gripped his shoulders and guided him in a motherly manner to the door. “I will call you if I need you, but you get yourself off to bed. Now shoo.” She waved him off when he tried to protest. “Go.” Damian knew that tone well. He doubted Praxis would argue any more with her, and he was right. Praxis slunk off, unhappy about being told to go like a little child and muttering all the way but not wanting to fight with her when she got like this.
Once he was gone, she sauntered back over to him and she was no longer smiling. “You reckless little shit. You had Ameys and Celine worried sick with that little stunt of yours.”
“I missed you too, Maya.”
“Don’t be a smart ass or I’ll tan your hide. You could have been killed. Ameys...”
“Ameys knew before it happened,” he winced, trying to keep himself propped up as his body was whining at him to lay back down. “It was a necessary risk, Maya, and I completed my mission.”
Maya looked like she wanted to skin him. “You go too far, Damian. You’re going to end up getting someone killed.” The plump woman sat next to him, a hand resting on his head. “Are you sure this is worth it?”
“Yes,” he said, gesturing to the two women lying in the beds as if that explained everything. “How is the little Princess faring?”
“Stable,” Maya said. Damian stared at her, his brown eyes searching for what she was hiding and she twitched a little. He knew she didn’t want to tell him more, but he did not stop staring until she finally spoke. “She’s fallen, just as Xenia wanted.”
Damian grunted, rubbing a hand up and down his arm. “I suppose it was inevitable. She’s such a fool.”
Maya’s eyes went wider than ever. “Are you insane? You’re a fool to say so. Do you want to incur her wrath?”
“Xenia knows my position on it and it hasn’t changed. I warned her Kairi’s power would be wasted like this. She is too concerned with degrading her to see it.” He tried to move to one side, groaning in pain. I definitely overdid things.
“I say we just stay the course and things will work out.”
“Easy for you to say. You didn’t see Veruca collapse in front of you, unable to yell for help. You didn’t see Kairi, wild with lust from the same sickness and trying to bash herself into the table because she was too bound to help it. You weren’t here when I set James loose and he went on a rampage.”
Damian gawked at Maya, too poleaxed to say anything. “You set him loose?
” He fell back to the bed, shocked. “Remind me of this next time you call me reckless, just so I can throw it back at you.” He felt a headache coming on. Things might have spiraled just a bit out of control.
“It was decided he needed to go, remember? Well, he did.” Her voice had dropped to a whisper, and she looked shaken. “I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Xenia said if he got out during the operation, his life was forfeit. She didn’t mention how it might happen. I never expected Syrus would miss him leaving.”
Damian saw the need for approval from Maya and he wanted her to feel better. “What’s done is done. We’ve both been a little overboard. Fair?” She nodded, though she still looked scared. “After all, it’s like Loshul says: ‘Battle is a highly fluid situation.’ It’s not like we could expect our enemies to just cooperate. Can I get some water?”
“Sure,” she said, standing and getting him a paper cup filled with it.
He drank it, letting it soothe his burning throat. “Speaking of enemies, has Namine shown herself yet?”
“She’s already here...with Yvette.” Her eyes searched him and he could see her unasked question.
He shrugged. “It’s for the best. Yvette won’t fail in her duty, friendship or no.”
“I know you wanted her placed with you.”
Damian shook his head. “I knew I had no chance. Loshul wants to test Yvette’s loyalty to him and Xenia.” He turned, staring over at Kairi and Veruca, then he pushed to get off the metal bed.
“What are you doing?” she hissed. “You need to rest.”
“I have work to do.” He pushed her hand, trying to get it off.
“Sit down!” She forced him down onto the bed. “Celine would kill me if I let you run off now.”
Damian gave a nod, mainly because the room was spinning horrifically. He figured a short amount of time couldn’t hurt. “Is there anyone else now?”
“No, not yet.” She loosened her grip.
Damian bit his lip. “I didn’t think there would, but I had hoped...” He shook his head, though very little. The floor was dancing enough. “I still haven’t dared approach Celine.”
“You should. The worst she will say is no.”
He sighed, glancing over at Veruca and Kairi. “Was it really that bad?”
“Yes. Things are getting out of hand and I don’t know why. Not only that, but Loshul has a new girl on the way already.”
“Don’t know. I just know he sent Easton and Freya to retrieve her.”
Damian brought his hands together, his right hand clutching his left fist just under his nose. Things were getting too complicated and fast. He’d have to step up his timetable after all. He took one more look at the women. “Help me up.”
“Damian, I just told you...”
“I know, but I can rest later. This needs to be done now.” He met her eyes with his own, pleading silently with her.
Maya grimaced, looking like she’d rather be doing anything else. “When you finish, I’m bringing you back and strapping you to the bed. Are we clear?”
Damian smiled, not surprised by this. She had to win, even when she lost. “Yes mother...” he teased.
“Don’t make me smack you. Save your lip, or you get nothing.” She helped him to his feet. “Syrus is going to be pissed over this.” She steadied him as he walked. “Just make sure we move fast. If anyone finds out you’re gone...”
“I’ll cloak us in the halls. You handle the rest. And we need to hurry before Praxis returns.” He pulled on the mana and set up the illusion. He knew what he needed to do. He also knew this was going to hurt like hell when he did.
Bastian sat on one of the many boxes in the hangar, keeping a close watch on Norian and Quinn. The two of them had been huddled together, whispering, and had been almost the entire time since Loshul had sent the three of them down here. Bastian didn’t like this development at all. He shared Celine’s dislike of the viper and her silver-forked tongue, but his dislike was not born of any slight she’d done to him. He didn’t like to watch her try and hurt Celine to get what she wanted. He also felt Norian was a deadly combination of dangerous and unpredictable that would be bad for anyone she felt was in her path.
He wasn’t so naive to know why she might want to get close to Quinn after not spending much time with him at all beforehand. The null of the Company would be a great ally to have to stop any of the others who she might not want around. The whole thing reeked right now and it made him uneasy.
He slipped off the crate for the first time in hours, stretching out the kinks in his body. He wanted Celine here in the worst way, and not just because he didn’t like the situation. He could never come out and tell her, because her feelings for Axel ran so deep, but he’d fallen head over heels for her. The longer she stayed by his side, the more powerful he felt. He dreamed of lying with her, raining kisses on her supple skin. It was a pleasant fantasy.
“Someone’s distracted,” Norian purred, somehow having snuck up on him without him noticing. She flounced up to him, ignoring that he started away, and pulled him back, her large chest pressed firmly up against his face. Her silver eyes peered down at him through purple locks like a predator with prey. “Something on your mind, young one, or someone?”
Bastian broke from her grip, turning away to regain his composure, but Norian latched on from behind. “I was just thinking about our guest,” he lied, trying not to wonder about her as her curves rubbed against his back. It was very distracting. He looked around for Quinn to save him, but the old man had conveniently made himself scarce. Damn him. He would disappear right when I need him.
“I don’t like this secrecy,” he added, flushing. He tried to get away again, but was surprised at how strong she was.
“Oh, don’t struggle so. I just want to get to know you better. We never really had the time before.” Her hands ran along his chest as though he were a doll for her to play with. “I must say you confuse me. I thought you supported Loshul.”
Bastian was having trouble thinking clearly. He was upset, but he also didn’t want to antagonize someone more powerful than he was. “I may follow his decisions, but I don’t...don’t always agree with all of his choices.”
“That’s interesting,” she said and Bastian could almost feel her gaze boring into his back. He hated the feeling of being fresh meat. She leaned across his shoulder, her lips grazing his ear. “Quinn’s gone to check something. Why don’t we become a little more...familiar?” Her practiced hands dove under his pants, gripping his manhood and stroking it gently. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”
Bastian stiffened, rage replacing his fear. The ground shifted and stone rose up quickly, throwing Norian back. The earth beneath him trembled, but he didn’t have to adjust at all, even as Norian tried to regain some footing against him. His power vanished almost as quickly as it had started, Quinn locking him down from the hangar entrance, but it had the desired effect of keeping Norian off him. He allowed his breathing to calm, giving him time to think of a way to keep Norian from being his enemy. “Never...without my permission,” he said, eyeing her with his cobalt eyes as she stood up.
Norian glared at him for some time as she brushed herself off, trying to act non-plussed. “It won’t happen again, I assure you.”
Bastian sighed. “I’m sorry about that. I just wasn’t comfortable with your aggressiveness.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” she stated, but there was venom behind her words still.
Bastian ran a finger into his long, black hair, trying to figure her out. He was always more comfortable with gummi ships than people. Out in space, it was just him and the controls. Dealing with people was so much more erratic. “I do,” he said slowly, “I wasn’t trying to hurt you. I just...”
“Saving yourself for Celine?” Her trademark grin returned with his reaction, that hidden laughter behind her eyes that looked like she was in on some private joke that no one else knew. She always acted like she knew more about others than they gave away. Bastian wanted to knock that smirk off her face. “You don’t have to hide it from me any more.”
He blushed, looking down. “Y...yeah.” He told himself that he was just trying to appear timid. He couldn’t even lie well to himself.
“Does she love you back?”
Bastian gulped, shaking his head almost automatically. She’s trying to get to you. Calm down.
His brain and body were not communicating however and he stammered. “I...haven’t asked.” It was better than the truth.
Norian seemed to know it as well, if her tone was any indication. “I’m sure you could always ask, but you might get the wrong answer.” She ran a finger along his chin. “I might be able to get the right answer, if you want my help...”
Bastian’s head snapped up, and he caught her approving glance as he did. He cursed himself for being so obvious with his wants, but she spoke to his desires so skillfully. She knew that he was curious and she was going to build off that. She was playing him so well he might as well have been an instrument she tuned to her beat. “What did you have in mind?”
Norian smirked, the cat having caught her mouse. “Something very special. You just leave the details to me.” She was relaxed, back in her sauntering form. “Do we have a deal?”
Any idea Bastian had about accepting the proposal vanished in that instant. She thinks she can flounce all over me, offer the moon and I’ll fold like paper.
It was a sickening thought. He was about to tell her to piss off when he stopped. “Give me a minute to think?” Something was nagging at him from the back of his mind.
Norian shrugged, though she was unhappy about this. “Sure, babe. I’ll just be over with Quinn. You can signal me when you’re ready.”
Bastian leapt back onto the crate, sitting in silence. He wasn’t sure why he was disturbed, but he felt that it had been too practiced. Like when he flew gummi ships at times to loosen up, he had routines he went through. Was it just like that for Norian and her game? If that was true, he wondered who else she’d snared with her charms. She’d have done it several times if she was so cocky and open about it. That made Bastian even more insecure, worrying about which comrades he could trust. He tried to figure out which she might have under her sway. Quinn looked like a good possibility. Probably also the weakest willed among them for sure. Did she think I was weak too?
As he watched her talk with Quinn, he realized refusing could put his life in peril. Norian was not someone he wanted as an enemy, but if she was actively trying to use him, he’d have to be dealt with if he wasn’t with her. He wasn’t sure how to handle this. If she was recruiting people like this, was there some plan? He wasn’t certain he wanted to know. To survive, do I have to join with my love’s foe? And is Norian really able to give her to me?
Bastian was going to call her back when he hesitated. Maybe there was another option. He wanted to know what her plan was and she wanted him to fall in line like a sheep. If he pretended to be one of hers, could he derail her twisted scheme? It was a deadly option, but he felt there was more coming than just simple sexual encounters and petty squabbles anymore. His guts told him something major was on the horizon, and it would involve Norian and Loshul. Did he have the skill to pull off a maneuver like this? He wasn’t sure.
He hadn’t lied when he said he didn’t agree with all of Loshul’s decisions, but he still felt Loshul cared enough to do what was right for the Company as a whole. He was crazy but devoted, and that was a reason Xenia put him in charge. Bastian had an alarming picture of what would have happened had Norian been in charge. She was the type to bring everyone down to boost herself up, smiling as she stabbed you in the back.
Bastian drew up his courage. He couldn’t let that happen. He wasn’t as weak as Norian thought he was. And he’d have to be strong to run a game like this. One slip up and death would be a pleasantry compared to what Norian would put him through. He smirked. Even that would be preferable to life under her rule. He waved her over, unable to keep the smirk off his face when she arrived.
“What’s so funny?” she asked, her voice still silk, but tinged slightly with worry. He wondered why he’d never picked up on things like that before.
“I was just thinking about how my first will be with Celine,” he said, thinking fast.
“I suppose I could help you out with some things. To make sure there isn’t any awkwardness.”I’d rather bathe in battery acid,
he thought sourly. To Norian, he just smiled. “I’d rather lose my virginity with her.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll make sure that stays intact. I’ll just help with the finer points. You come by my room later, and I’ll treat you right.”
Bastian supposed she thought he would think it was a great honor and, as disgusted as he was, he couldn’t excuse himself without ruining his game. “If you say it’s alright, then.” She was satisfied, and Bastian felt horrifically guilty, but he tried to test the waters. “You can tell me the plan, Norian. I won’t tell Celine, I promise.”
“But I want it to be a surprise, sweetie.” She pat him on his cheek, her condescension evident.
Bastian didn’t have to hide his disappointment. “Okay,” he said, shaking off his failure. She didn’t trust him. And why should she? She’s crafty enough to make sure of you first.
He needed to stop beating himself down. “I suppose it’s only my girl we’re talking about.”
Norian walked over to him, hugging him more like a friend this time. “Bastian, I wouldn’t do wrong by you. You know that, right?” She squeezed him just a little. “Trust me, okay?”
She was laying it on a bit thick and, for the first time, Bastian felt he had a small read on her. If he treated this like gummi ship combat, he might be able to negotiate the minefield he was stepping into. And just like combat, I’m going to stumble early and often.
It might even be to his advantage. Norian expected him to be weak, and his bumbling and hesitation might actually make her drop her guard around him. “Yeah, I guess so.”
She squeezed his shoulder harder than necessary. “Good.” She let go and made her way for the east corner of the hangar.
Bastian ground his teeth, nervous. He’d survived his first word-fencing intact, though Norian had made it clear she was better than he was and that she was in charge. She was not going to allow any shenanigans. He leaned against the crate, keeping an eye on both of them. He needed to plan and was glad for the time alone. He felt Norian was planning something, but he couldn’t just bring conjecture to Loshul. She’d never shown any signs of disloyalty, and his accusations would be met with scorn at best. Like Xenia, Loshul wanted to believe the best of the Company members, even Norian who he fought with all the time. Loshul believed in the mission and his fellow members. Bastian wondered if there was anything Norian truly believed in.
The sound of engines cut through Bastian’s musings. He watched as the ceiling to the hangar split apart, revealing the gummi ship overhead as it shut down its main thrusters and hovered. Wind whipped up as it descended slowly into the hangar. Norian and Quinn scrambled for the corners while Bastian remained where he was. The wind didn’t faze him and he knew the dimensions well enough to know he was safe where he was. The ship lowered to the landing pad, its wheels touching lightly on the ground. Bastian knew it was Freya flying. Easton would have slammed harder. The engines shut down and a disgusted “Finally” from Norian echoed in the following silence.
A ramp extended and the door to the ship wooshed open. Three figures emerged. Freya was a mousey-looking woman. She had ash-brown hair that fell just above her shoulders and curled up at the ends. Small brown-rimmed glasses framed maroon eyes. She was short, almost a foot smaller than Easton, and her dress was conservative, a brown button-up top that was completely done up and a long brown skirt that reached her ankles. However, Bastian knew she was not as timid as she looked. Freya was a fierce fighter, nasty when the need arose and a tongue like a whip. She was never afraid to give an opinion, especially to those who crossed her.
Easton was tall and muscular. Bastian had heard the girls call him dreamy. His skin was tanned and unblemished. He had short blond hair that never seemed to be out of place. His eyes were a crystal clear blue like the sky. His looks were rugged and chiseled. He looked as he always tried to appear: perfect. However, Bastian knew underneath his looks was a cold and cruel man who liked to prove he was superior by hurting those weaker than he. Both of them worked together and liked each other, but Bastian avoided them whenever possible.
The two of them flanked a girl whose head was covered in a shroud. She was wearing a schoolgirl outfit similar to the one Kairi had worn and it was torn in several places. You could see gashes in her skin through those gaps as well as welts that had been inflicted on her. Her arms were bound behind her back with nunchaku. Odd choice.
Even with the beating she must have taken, she was still struggling against her captors.
They forced the hooded girl down the ramp, her muffled cries going unheeded. Bastian wandered over after seeing the look on Norian’s face and not liking it one bit. She was trying to act casual, but there was a hunger in her eyes. Bastian felt the need to get the girl out of here and quick. “This her?”
Easton glared, not in the mood for stupid questions. “Yeah. One prisoner, as ordered.”
“Did you have
to rough her up?”
“She fought back,” Freya snapped, looking down her nose at him. “We paid her back in kind.”
“Loshul’s not gonna like damaged goods, you know? You should have been more careful.”
Freya backhanded him before he could react and he barely kept his feet, tasting blood. “Don’t talk to me like that. I don’t need complaints from someone who knows nothing of true combat.” She struck him again on the opposite side of his face. “Someone who hides in his machine and never has to stare down a true fighter.”
Norian caught Freya’s wrist before she could land a third blow. “Relax, Freya. I’m sure he was just being diligent.” Bastian saw the look the two exchanged, knowing a silent conversation was going on. Freya could link telepathically with any other willing person. He doubted they’d have done so now if Norian hadn’t wished it. If there was a group here, Norian was in command, though he couldn’t say why. He wasn’t about to stick around and see what they decided about his fate. “Well, I’ll just deliver her to Loshul as promised. You can give Norian your report, Easton.” He took the girl by the arm.
Easton grabbed Bastian’s shoulder, shoving him back against the gummi ship. “I didn’t tell you to do anything. We’ll handle the girl after the report. Don’t forget, you aren’t in charge here, boy.”
Bastian pulled Easton’s hand off his shoulder with effort, staring the man in the face. “Oh, I know I’m not. Last I checked, Xenia put Loshul in charge while she was gone, and he’s not the type to accept unnecessary delays because someone feels like having a pissing contest. I certainly don’t want to explain that to him. Do you?”
Easton was stunned and Bastian wouldn’t have blamed him if he was in his shoes. Bastian had never stood up to the stronger members at any point, preferring to stay in the shadows, but he was feeling his oats right now and he wasn’t going to back down from this asshole. Freya was fuming on the ramp, biting her tongue and glancing at Norian. It was Norian’s response he wanted to catch. The curiosity she showed was quickly masked but did not escape him. Good. Let that stew for a bit. See if I’m just swept aside.
“Bastian’s right.” Bastian had forgotten about Quinn for a moment and the old man cut through the tension as only he knew how. “We shouldn’t keep Loshul waiting.”
“Yeah, sure.” Easton pat Bastian on the head and threw the girl at him. “Wouldn’t want the errand boy to get his panties in a twist.” Despite the putdowns, Easton’s furious gaze told Bastian he’d be paid in full for his little outburst.
Bastian took the girl again and hurried out of the hangar. The girl struggled the whole time, but he held her tight. Loshul would be upset if his newest prize escaped as Kairi had. He kept up his false confidence until he was well away from the hangar. Man, oh man, what kind of hornet’s nest did I step into?
It was obvious now. He’d acted without truly thinking things through, a bad habit he had when it came to Celine. He had only worried about getting in to Norian’s good graces. Now he wondered what might happen if she felt he was a hindrance to her more than a help.
Then there was the problem with Loshul he’d failed to think of. If things were as bad as he thought they were, he couldn’t confide his actions to his boss because he had no evidence of anything. And if things fell through before he got his proof, his inclusion into this group could result in his execution, regardless of his intent.
“Why did things have to go and get complicated?” he puzzled aloud. The girl gave a muffled response, but he couldn’t tell if she was answering him or not. He pulled her along, deciding there wasn’t any point in dwelling in the past. For now, he’d just take it one step at a time and hope everything worked out. He just had to move forward and play it close to the chest.
The view from the cliff was amazing. When the lightning struck between the clouds and lit the valley below, the view of the forest below could truly be appreciated. Kairi supposed she’d like it a lot more if her small cage wasn’t positioned right on the edge.
She huddled against the far side, the cold from the bars and the wind sent her nude body shivering. It didn’t matter. She was glad to have a reprieve from staring down at her doom. Her tormentor was taking another break. She didn’t know who it was or why she was torturing her, and she didn’t care anymore. She wanted to be free, one way or another. She didn’t even have to look for the woman. The cackles from the shadows would announce her return.
Kairi had tried to call for her Keyblade for some time, her only hope in this situation, but it would not come. She hadn’t known why at first. It had always come before. Then, she remembered a story Sora had told her about when he’d first come to Hollow Bastion. Riku had managed to steal Sora’s Keyblade from him by having a stronger heart. I shouldn’t be surprised it hasn’t come back,
she thought, slumping forward. There isn’t much to be strong about anymore.
She picked up a rock and hurled it into the open space. She knew it would only be a matter of time until she followed it. Her captor kept moving the cage toward the cliff and she was running out of floor. Once the woman got tired of playing with her captive, the choice for Kairi would be learn to fly or die. She knew which one it would be too.
Pain ran up Kairi’s back and she ran from it on instinct, stopping just before she ran out of ledge. “Aww, still clinging to hope?” Kairi growled, seeing the woman in the shadows. She’d been lost in her musings and never heard her approach. “I don’t suppose it much matters. Hope will only keep you going for so long.” She laughed and chills danced through Kairi that had nothing to do with the wind.
Lightning flashed overhead, illuminating the cliff. Her persecutor was dressed in a simple, white, button-up top and a short, black, pleated skirt but, even with the lighting, Kairi could not see her face. “Why not just end this?”
“I’m not done playing yet.” She reminded Kairi of Norian with her walk and demeanor, but the figure didn’t fit. “Besides, I couldn’t help but show this to you.” She held out her arm, Kairi’s flowery Keyblade appearing in her hand. Kairi ran to the bars, stretching through them, trying to steal it back. She held it just out of Kairi’s reach, taunting her. “Pathetic. Look at you. Remember what you’ve done and what you’ve become. The Keyblade will never come back to a slut like you!” Then she kicked the cage, the gap inside widening. Kairi whimpered and pressed against the bar, trying to stay as far away from the edge as possible. There really wasn’t anywhere else to go.
Hands snaked around her body, running up and down Kairi’s skin. She elbowed backward out of instinct and it connected with the bar, making pain her reward for defiance. She tried to flee the hands, but was unable to escape her grasp or turn and fight. Her captor freely molested Kairi’s body. Her touch made Kairi feel soiled and she longed for a time where this wasn’t a common occurrence. When it became clear the woman was not going to stop this time, Kairi withdrew inside herself, desperate to avoid the natural reaction of her body.
Then her tormentor put her hand on Kairi’s sex and her detachment became harder to maintain. The woman knew just where she could touch to drive Kairi wild. Kairi’s struggles renewed with vigor, which excited her captor greatly. Their moans began to mix together. “Don’t worry Princess. You’ll enjoy this.” She licked along Kairi’s neck. “I’ll send you to heaven before this ends.”
“No...” Kairi quailed under the attack, fighting as best she could but to no avail. She knew her survival depended on her escape. She shifted back and forth, looking for any leverage to be gained.
“Oh yes. You’ve been given to me. Your life and death are in my hands and I will do as I please.” She plunged a finger in. “Just give in. It’ll be better that way.”
“You...want to...kill me.”
“Only if you make me.” The finger circled around and a lusty gasp escaped Kairi. “I wouldn’t mind having a pet to play with.” That word struck a cord within her, images of Veruca and Norian swirling with collars, leashes and chains. It all combined into a life of servitude that made her sick. And yet, was it worth it to survive? Would her death be self-serving, or could she find a way to escape this nightmare?
Kairi made her decision, relaxing into the woman. Death might be appealing, but would it help anyone in the long run? She didn’t think so. Her persecutor was also pleased as her movements increased. “Yes, that’s it. Let go. It will feel so good to surrender.” Her fingers glided along Kairi’s skin, dipping into her curves, playing with her breasts and pussy. Kairi’s struggles had ceased and she ground against the bars, trying to appease her captor. She just needed a chance to get out. “That’s right,” the woman said, her fingers pulling out of Kairi’s pussy. “And now...for your reward.”
Hands slammed into Kairi’s back and she was falling. “No!” She wasn’t sure if she’d said it or not, but it didn’t matter. She scrabbled to find a handhold but found nothing but air. Time seemed to slow to a crawl, stretching out into eons. The cliff came into focus and the darkness rose to swallow her forever.
Her fall jerked to a stop as a hand clamped on her wrist. Her arm felt as though it was trying to pull out of its socket. Sunlight broke through the clouds, shining down on the cliff. “Don’t give up!” Kairi squinted into the light, trying to see the owner of the male voice. He pulled and she crawled until she lay panting on the ledge again. He tormentor screamed in disbelief, but the man was calm as he turned. Light shone from his hand, bathing the woman until she cowered. “This is all in your mind, Princess. Do not give in to the likes of her.”
She couldn’t see what her rescuer looked like, the light obscuring any details, but she knew it was no one she knew. The voice was not familiar. “Who is she?”
“If you truly want to know, you will,” he said. He stepped aside and let her look. The other woman was getting off the ground, but Kairi knew who it was even before she saw the face. The hairstyle was much too familiar, as was the pendant around her neck. She looked up and Kairi was staring into her own eyes, though ones filled with hatred.
“No...it can’t be.”
“It is. She is your other half, the darkness to your light. She is the whole of the thoughts of lust, hatred, and despair. She is trying to destroy you to keep your life as hers.”
“Can you stop her?” Kairi hated to ask for this stranger’s help again but she was still stuck and weaponless.
“I have done all I can. This is your battlefield. I’ve just given you a chance. The rest is up to you and you alone. And if you can resist the call of the dark within you, perhaps we will meet again.” He faded away, leaving her all alone again. The clouds began rolling in, darkness closing all around, and the thunder rumbled around as though from an angry god.
“You can’t win,” her dark half said, giggling like a maniac. “It’s too late for you. Your life is mine.” She kicked the cage again.
“Not if I can help it.” Kairi held her ground this time. She wasn’t afraid anymore. She dug her feet into the rocks and ignored the pain as she shoved back on the cage. She had given into herself for the last time and her will kept the cage from moving. This was where she was going to make her stand. Even if she lost this war, she was going to go down on her own terms, not for the amusement of this mirror image. She held out her hand, calling for the Keyblade again.
This time, her heart was strong enough that it appeared in her hands. She was alarmed at how much she’d missed the feel of the hilt and the weight of the weapon. She felt whole again. Was this need natural to a Keyblade wielder? Was this how Sora or Riku felt when they used it?
Kairi wasn’t given time to marvel any more as the blade glowed again, returning to her dark self. “No! This is mine!” she yelled, panic and rage slicing through the air. “I will not relinquish this wonderful feeling again! You can’t shut me out anymore!”
Kairi growled, yanking back. This was her life and she was not about to have it stolen from her. Once she was safe, she’d deal with her inner conflict over those words, but for now she was still in danger.
The Keyblade darted in the air back and forth, unable to choose between the two masters. Eventually, it hung in the air between them. Sweat poured down Kairi’s face and she could see her other self tiring as well. She hoped she could outlast her. She couldn’t have been more shocked when the Keyblade glowed, condensed into a ball of light and shot away from them both into the distance.
Kairi stared after it, her predicament forgotten as she watched the light vanish. Why did it leave? Did someone else call it away?
The scream of her counterpart brought her back to reality, anguish, fury and hate tied into one sound. She rushed the cage and Kairi didn’t have the strength to fight it off this time. There was only one thing for it. When she lost her ledge, it would be fall or jump. It was now or never. She turned and leapt into the darkness below, just as the cage clanged above her. She angled herself away from the cage as it dropped by. The wind whipped past her as she fell. For all that she’d been afraid before, she was calm and resolute. Her fate would be decided in the next few minutes, but she’d made the choice herself this time. All that was left was the result. Time to see if I really can grow wings.