What Lies Between…
Power & Bliss
Chapter 2: Pride & Fear
The pain was numbing, slowly. This time it was genuine, and not because of anger. I have no idea what they did to me, to make me feel so weak, nor what had kept me feeling that way for however long it had been. How long had I been out? Had I slept for days, hours?
Li and I made our way out of the cell, and into a hall. The air smelled phenomenally better out in the hall, and as we made our way closer to open air, it got even better. Along the way, we found large chests, luckily containing our things; armor, weapons, and apparently, some bags of tea leaves Li had with him. After we had our proper clothing on, and our things restored to our possession, we left the hall, and made out way beyond. We could see outside the prison; I could see the multi-colored trees of Aldeon beyond the fort we were in. Unfortunately, I could also see a full retinue of soldiers lining the walls. With what strength I had, I shoved Li back away from the door, before one of them had the opportunity to look our way. He and I tumbled into some strewn hay, grunting in the process of tumbling over each other.
“How many freaking guards are there out there?!” I exclaimed, though in a hushed tone to hopefully not be heard.
“It seems they really want us here,” Li said.
“We should feel flattered, that they need so many for just the two of us, but damn… how are we supposed to get out with that many eyes on the lookout.”
“Perhaps we wait for night time? Sneak out when there are less about?”
“They will not allow that. They are going to eventually notice that two men did not return from the cells and find them dead. We have to get out now.”
Li looked around the corner again, and I looked around us. I pressed a hand to the wall as support in the absence of Li’s shoulder. I had to brush some hay off of my shoulder. My eyes widened. “That’s it!” I exclaimed. Sudden silence followed, as I berated myself mentally while listening. No sound of discovery came, so I grabbed onto Li, and pulled him back. “The hay; the stable attached to this fort is on this end. It has to be nearby. There are probably less men in the stable, a few stable hands and nothing more. If the stable opens directly outside, we may be able to escape that way before they even notice us.”
Li helped me back up, nodding to me without commenting on it. We hurried back down the hall, the way we had come, and found another hall that split off. We followed it, and sure enough, it lead into the stables. Quietly, we tip toed through. The place was filled with more hay, and quite a few horses. We saw no one about, at first, but as soon as we attempted to get into one of the horse’s stalls, one of the stable hands found us.
“Hey! You, stop there!”
He was nothing more than a barn boy, there to make sure the horses were tended to in the stables, and had not been on the same level as any of the guards. He was only wearing loose wool clothes, and though work with horses had toned his muscles, he held no skill as a fighter. This time, Li actually leapt to action, and approached the man. A single strike was all it took, one hand pushed forth, a pair of fingers pushed into the man’s neck, and he slumped to the ground. I stared at Li in disbelief.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I hit a pressure point, put him to sleep.” Li answered, as he grasped the man under the arms, and dragged him off into one of the stalls.
“Such gentleness, you are not meant for Arvandor. You should return home as soon as you find your son.” Li moved as if I was not speaking, however. He helped me up onto the back of one of the horses –not having time to worry about saddles– before he moved to the next horse, and got up on its back.
The fort shook, and every horse in the stable protested. I gripped around the horse’s body with my legs, and was nearly forced to throw my arms around its neck to avoid being thrown. However, despite that, it took little nudging to encourage the horse out of the stall. Shouting was heard in all directions, but our best bet was as I had told Li before, through the stables. There was a wooden gate that allowed the horses into the stable without having to go through the Fort’s metal gates. Out we went into the open, but whatever had shook the fort was not happening inside. Seemingly waiting for us outside of the fort, was a battle. The soldiers, wearing iron plate, wielding sword, mace, or axe with shield –some with bows and arrows– was many people, wearing naught but cloth robes of colors varying from white to a light pink or grey, all with masks covering their faces. I growled lowly.
“What was that?” Li asked.
“Nothing, this just got more difficult, and we have even less time now. We need to get away from here without being noticed.”
“The prisoners are out!” came a shout from above.
“And the secondary plan of action is?” asked Li, who actually had the gall and temerity to laugh at his own joke at a time like this.
“No time for jokes, funny man.”
I urged my horse away from the fort, and ran off into the hills. Li followed, but I could tell he was not the only one. The sound of more horse’s hooves was in the distance. Clearly, they did not bother with saddles either. But this did not dissuade me. I squeezed at the horse’s sides, and emulated the slap of the reins with the back of my hand, directing the horse over one hill after another, hoping to bound into a place where we could not be easily seen; put some distance between us simply with a quickly taken curve.
Sure enough, a cluster of hills offered us a chance to duck behind some rock around the next bend. It would not save us entirely, because after that cluster of hills was wide open fields, and we would never convince them we had gotten so far that they could not see us. They would turn around, I was sure of it, but under the cover of that rock, I got off my horse. The pain surged, but I did it anyway and, as quietly as I could manage, I unsheathed my swords. It was good to have them again; a pair of katana, weapons forged in Higashi. One was a gift from a dear friend, one of very few in this world, if anyone could fall into that category so easily. The other was a bitter reminder of my past, but it was an excellent sword and it had served me well for years. When the men chasing us rounded the curve of the hills, and got into view of the open plains, they gave pause; as I had expected. I slipped out of our hiding spot, quickly slashing at them, wildly. Lightning churned from the metal of my blades, and though I never aimed for the horses, the supposed attempts to strike them spooked the horses. I missed, on purpose, but in their fright they reared up on their back legs, tossing their unsecured riders onto their backs on the ground. The horses ran off, and I circled the men, with blades pointed outward at them. There were four of them, so I could not put a blade tip to any neck without risking my own safety from any other of them. Li did not put forth any effort to keep them down either, and merely stood back watching. I did my best to not appear affected by this.
“Well now, we are going to confirm some things, fellas, what do you say?” I hoped I sounded convincing; intimidating.
“And vhy should ve be telling you anything?”
“You know, it is not wise to try and act tough to the person who has the means to end your life in an instant.”
“Dorian…” Li murmured.
“Do not interfere, Li.”
“You two knowing each other?” questioned one of the men.
“Yea, you know, you had us imprisoned together for… how long was it?” I passed it off as if I knew exactly, and was toying with them, I hoped.
“I was in there for five days. You were there before me,” Li responded.
“Yea, see? A week and you expect us to not know each other’s names? Seriously, Uncle hired himself some idiots this time around.”
“Uncle?” questioned them all, even Li, in unison.
I glared at the men on the ground. The idea that they would allow themselves to be hired for a job without knowing who their target or their employer was, was unsettling. I set my teeth, narrowed my eyes, and glared down at the men, but when I spoke, my words were all for Li.
“Yes, Li, Uncle. Black Mamba is a nickname given to him. My Grandmother, and all of her side of the family, just love snakes.”
“That is not entirely true, Dorian,” came a soft spoken, yet high pitched, voice.
I looked up from the men on the ground, and back to the cluster of hills. There, perched on the highest crest of one of the hills, was the figure of a woman in a flowing pink robe that disguised anything of her figure. She also wore a mask over her face, with a snake’s face painted upon it. She stared through narrow eye slits at me.
“Your words are less convincing, when dressed the way you are… Kiyomi.”
Kiyomi was one of the Cavanagh family, one of my grandmother’s people. She never officially declared where she fit into the family –she never officially stated anything, always giving her answers in a way that never officially answered what was asked– but I was sure she was Logan’s daughter; my cousin. She was the Cavanagh’s fetching girl, pursuing me ever since the day Grandmother sent that messenger boy for me. She was in the Serpent of Nishi the day I answered the message, and had been everywhere I had been, hunting for that object they all seemingly believed I had; the item my father had kept from them; the item they believed I got from him. Nonsense.
“Mother has very strict precedents for how we all dress,” Kiyomi said.
“I am sure she does; commanding and arrogant, as always. That aside, now is not the best time, even for your fruitless search.”
“It is only fruitless because you are too stubborn to give it up. Just hand it to me, and we will not bother you again.”
“If you snake lovers would get your heads out of your non-existent asses, you would know that father would never give me anything but punishment and brutality! Get that through your thick heads and leave me alone! I will not hesitate to kill any of you that get in my way.”
“Dorian…” Li intoned again.
Kiyomi and I both glanced at Li at the same time. “Stay out of this, Li!” I shouted.
“Making friends, finally?” Kiyomi asked.
“My life is none of your concern, snake bitch!” I could not see her face through the mask, but I had the sudden feeling that she frowned. It did not matter to me, really, but I hesitated slightly, as I turned back to the men on the ground, who had been silent this whole time.
“Now, back to these idiots. Did you guys think to question why the Black Mamba wanted me captured?”
“What?!” exclaimed Kiyomi.
I looked back to her, the anger intensifying on my face. I could feel my skin curling up as the glare intensified as I found her again.
“Do not try to deny it. Two of the men inside confirmed it was him. So do not act innocent and unknowing in this.”
“Black Mamba does not tell me all of his decisions.”
“You expect me to believe that Grandmother allows him to do whatever he wants without her okay?”
“Mother does not tell me all of her decisions either.”
“Right, heaven forbid she tell her spy, entrusted with tailing me every day of my life, something regarding the capture of her charge.”
My brow twitched, and I growled. This conversation was going nowhere fast. It was headed in only one direction; chaos. The longer it carried on, the longer I could hear his chiding in my head, along with his laughter.
“It is all a ruse. They only care to use you for their own ends. Remember, they do not care about you. Where were they when Liam hurt you and Raina? Where was Mother when you needed her? They only want this object, not you.” His voice in my head only served to further my anger even more. I was growling, without realizing it. Li was distancing himself, and I distantly heard him murmur my name a few more times. Kiyomi stood upright.
“Calm yourself, Dorian. Focus on me, not him.”
This gave me pause. She knew about him? How did she know about him?
“She has seen into your mind. She is a danger. She must be destroyed, or they will enslave you!” Jinnzou exclaimed within my mind.
The pain was a dull throb now, and was fading away once more underneath my anger. Sparks of electricity extended out from my eyes, my arms, my legs; my whole body. Earth tore up beneath me, and was tossed in every direction. I was not looking at them, but out of the corner of my sight, out of the corner of my mind, I saw the men on the ground scrambling to get up, but settled for crawling away on hands and knees just to get away from the bombardment of my wrath.
“Grandmother will not have control of me!” I exclaimed as I gripped the hilts of my swords firmly, and with a peel of thunder at my feet, I leaped at Kiyomi.
The blade in my right hand stabbed forward at her, as she danced to my right, leaping off the hill, and landing on the ground below, between me and the men crawling away. With another peel of thunder and lightning, the hilltop shattered as I pushed to pursue. Spinning about as I did so, my other blade arched widely, seeking to cut across her waist. Once more, though, she moved away, this time, upward; leaping into the sky as if she were suddenly capable of flight. She flipped, over my head, and landed behind me. I spun around as quickly as I could, slashing without hesitation, downward in an angle, from left to right. Still, she merely avoided me, not once raising hand against me. I noticed this, in the back of my mind; where I lay a passenger in my own body. Jinnzou had control, and that made me even angrier.
Jinnzou continued to press the attack, but this time, Li got in the way. A flat palm hit my wrist in mid swing, and as if he were the stone itself, my swing was instantly halted. His other palm struck me in the gut, and with some unnatural momentum, my body was lifted up, off its feet, and flipped in the air, only to land sharply on its back. My breath fled my lungs, and leaped out of my mouth in that moment, seeking refuge on the current of winds that was suddenly around us. I noticed briefly, my head never made contact with the ground. My anger was reined in, in all the confusion, and I lost consciousness as Jinnzou lost control.