The courtyard was colder than usual today. It didn’t help that the winter winds carried the snow over the mighty walls in the form of an icy vortex. That being said, the weather failed to keep prison folk from going outside. Even if they were lacking the necessary clothes to withstand the freezing temperature.
Around the yard, most of the inmates were hunched over their legs, trying to conserve what little heat they could create with thier body. Some folks were dressed as if they were partying on the beach, while others looked as though they had come from the surrounding slums of Hiron. And then there were those who could be compared to a character from a cartoon, or comic book. And I was friends with one of them.
Despite his imposing stature, the man seemed to be friendly with everybody contained within these walls. You couldn’t help but listen to some of his stories. That being said, I’ve got a knack for storytelling as well, and I wanted to shed some light on his tale. As I walk across the yard, I spot the man sitting near the Smoker’s Field, wearing nothing but a leather vest, shirt, trousers, and a pair of heavy boots.
“Hey! Hector!” I call.
Hector was sitting at the bleachers in the yard near the football field. Nobody used the field to play football so we called it the “Smoker’s Field”. The field was mostly occupied by smokers, hence the name, and occasionally used as a sparring ground by aspirants to the pit.
Hector was a large, muscular man. The guy was built like a truck, and probably strong enough to take one on too. That aside, what struck me most about him was his hair, which was as blue as the sky. You couldn’t help but feel calm around the man.
“Hey! Randall!” He shouts as he waves over to me. I jog over to the man and sit next to him on the cold metal benches. “Sorry we couldn’t meet elsewhere. When I’m not out here, grabbing some fresh air, I’m inside, getting ready for my fights in the pit.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “You doing alright, Hector? No one bothering you of late?”
“Yeah, life’s good. I’m on good terms with most of the folks around here, and those that don't like me would rather keep all their teeth . . . if you know what I mean ?” He chuckles.
“I get the picture,” I say with retained laughter.
“And how’re you holdin' up, Randall ? The prison treatin' you alight ?”
“Nahhh. Everything’s alright. Granted, I would like a thicker blanket, but hey . . . as long as I get to eat three square meals a day, have a cigarette every once in a while, I can't complain.”
“Sounds good to me brother !” Hector claps me on the back, almost shoving me off my seat. “Now then, I remember you wanted to interview me, right ?”
“That’s right,” I say, pulling out my notebook and pencil. “I’ve been trying to collect the stories of all of the top dogs in this prison. I aim to publish a book with all of your interviews, placed in something more akin to a memoire. Hopefully, my editor can get them published.”
“You were a journalist, right?” He asks.
“I’ve always wondered how you ended up in here,” he says looking at me with inquiring eyes.
“Ah . . . that’s a bit of an extensive story. But long story short, I was framed for a murder I didn’t commit. Some other charges were thrown in as well.”
“If that’s the case, why d'ya think it happened?”
“I probably stepped on too many toes with my radio talk show,” I pause for a moment, but quickly resume my momentum. “But I’m not here to tell my story ! I came to get yours. Hopefully get you a fair shake and all that.”
“Alright. So what did you wanna know ?”
“Well here’s how I do . . . I’m going to say something about you that I've heard through the grapevine, and you’ll tell me if it’s true or false. In either case, you must elaborate. Sound good ?”
“Sounds good to me,” he says as he reclines in his seat and watches the wannabe ‘Pit’ contenders duke it out on the field. I clear my throat, and get ready to begin my interview.
“Right . . . So my first statement is that you were born and raised in Dawnstar Village.”
“That’s true. Even though my parents were scientific researchers here in the capital, they thought it would be healthier to raise me in the countryside. You might have heard of 'em actually. They were Diana and Richard Hunt, lead researchers for the monorail.”
“Yep, I’ve heard of them. I found it a shame that they stopped doing their research. Your parent seemed like brilliant people. At the time, I waited with impatience to see what they would cook up next !”
“Yeah, but in Gorudo, things can get extremely expensive. It was easier for 'em financially when they had me. The money they got from the research and patents was enough to keep our farm runnin' for years. And don’t get me started on the quality of our produce ! Overall, I was pretty happy livin' out there. Clean air, good exercise . . . you don’t get that properly in the city.”
“True, true . . . which leads me to my next statement : you’re an exorcist.”
“Extremely true and proud to be one.”
“Would you mind elaborating?”
Hector pushes his sun glasses further down on his nose and gives me a somewhat sassy look with his electric green eyes. Somehow harsh, yet calming at the same time.
“Whadya wanna know ?”
“How’d you get started ? What interested you ? That sort of schtick, you see ?”
“Oh! Right, yeah,” he replies, pushing his sunglasses back up over his eyes. “So this needs a little backstory. You see, I was about five when I met my first, and probably my only, childhood friend. Her name was Bianca Buckler. Her parents owned a farm up the road from ours, and they were the only ‘human contact’ we had aside from the weekly market.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but how does this have anything to do with you being an exorcist ?” I ask.
“I’m getting to that. C’mon, man !” he looks at me somewhat impatiently, but continues his story as he sighs. “Anyways, one night when we’re sharin' a meal with the Bucklers, Bianca’s father, Grant, explained that they were actually from a family of exorcists.”
“I never knew that professional families still existed !”
“You’d be surprised by how much hasn’t gone extinct !” He smirks as if goading me with information I didn’t have. “Anyways, I forget what age I was when he told us that, but from the time I met Bianca until she was about to turn nine, she told me that she was going to start her training to become an exorcist.”
“That young ?!”
“Training only lasts three-ish years . . . or until the person’s ready.” Hector looks up at the sky. “Anyways, Bianca turns nine and begins her training. I still got to see her, but not as often as I’d hoped. As you can imagine, I wanted to see my friend, and kinda felt a little left out . . . if you catch my drift ? So one night, I think I was about . . . ten, I went ahead and walked down to her place. Knocked on the door, and I asked Grant if I could become an exorcist too. He looks at me and was like : ‘you serious? You know why you wanna do this?’ and I was all ‘hell yeah ! Let’s help some people!’ He just looked at me like, ‘kid knows his shit’, and let me train.”
“All that just to see your friend Bianca, yes ?”
“Bang on! You got it. Hold up, I’m gettin' a little thirsty.” Hector rolls over in his seat and grabs a bottle of water. After taking a nice long sip of the water, he sighs before placing the bottle next to him. “Right. So where was I . . . ”, he pauses. “Right ! The training sesh. So compared to Bianca who had a head start on me, I had to start from square one. Bianca’s doing all the interesting shit, backflips and learnin' how to fight, while I’m sittin' in a corner, tryin' to study the bible. At the time, I wasn’t a believer of the magical man in the sky. I still don’t. But some of the philosophy that the book carried seemed alright . . . SOME of the philosophy.”
“Sorry to cut you off, but through all this, I can’t help but wonder . . . what did your parents feel about all this?”
He sighs, rubbing his eyes as though trying to remember.
“I think they were cool with it. I mean, they were pretty cool with most of the dumb shit I was pulling as a kid. What mattered to them was that I was doin' something that interested me. And they aren’t believers of the supernatural. They’ve always prefered to believe in science, like the rest of Gorudo for that matter. Anyways, half way through my first year of training, Bianca’s been learning exorcism rituals, and I only just started my combat training. Grant tells me that even though I’d only been doing this for half a year, I seemed to have a knack for this kind of thing.”
“How do you mean?” I look at him, curious.
“Grant thought I had talent, especially when it came to destructive exorcism.”
“Destructive exorcism?” I ask. I genuinely do not know the difference.
“Oh, it’s a type of exorcism, mostly reserved for general hauntings, destroying spirits, etc. At worst, demonic manifestation, but that shit’s rare. If you’re dealing with possession, then you go the more traditional route with rituals and the like. But since I had a knack for destruction, Grant made me train twice as hard. I’d recite scripture while I was doing my exercises, I’d recite cantrips while doing combat training. He was trying to shove as much information into my noggin as possible. To me, it was just memorization that I can regurgitate at will. Still can.”
“Must’ve been rough,” I remark.
“It absolutely was. But I made up for lost time and eventually caught up with Bianca. Through training, I learned that I had an affinity for lightning magic. That’s the reason why I wear this thick metal bracelet ; it helps channel my energy,” Hector shows me the iron bracelet on his right arm. The iron looked worn, but the bracelet continued to glint in the dim daylight.
“Anyways, we finish our training together, and at this point, we’re both twelve. So hormones are startin' to get to work, ya feel ? I start developing romantic and sexual feelings for my childhood friend, but at the time, I was too shy to tell her. On top of that, we didn’t have time for that shit. Bianca’s dad had us get straight to work, and took us on a few missions here and there around Dawnstar. Sometimes he’d let us do it on our own and only intervened if shit hit the fan. Furthest we went at the time was Edgerest. And after a year of guided missions, we got to do some on our own, and started making a reputation for ourselves. Especially in Edgerest. You ever been to Edgerest?”
“Yeah, when I was learning to be a journalist. I was there as an intern in the local paper. The Edgerest Chronicler. I think I lived near Clipton lane around 2009. Lovely town ! I loved how close to nature we were.”
“No shit ! I was there too ! Same year if I recall correctly. But I’ll get to that.” Hector grabs his bottle of water and takes another gulp. As he drank, he seemed distracted by something.
“You’re fingers alright ? They look kinda blue.”
I look down at my fingers. They really were. “Ah, shit !”
“Here,” The man hands me his leather gloves.
“You sure ?” As much as I needed the gloves, I felt like I couldn’t accept them.
“Yeah man, my body handles the cold pretty well,” he grins. “Besides, I can always snag another pair from the guards when they ain’t looking.”
I take his gloves graciously, put them on and rub my hands together. After a few minutes, my fingers regain their colour. “Ready to rock,” I say. “Right, so you guys make a living in Edgerest. Do I have that right ?”
“I guess you could say that. Anyways, for the next couple of years, we would deal with hauntings, and a few possessions. When we were fourteen or fifteen, we would hit up the bars and get laid. Sometimes, I’d see her with some girl around her arm, which I thought was kind of strange.” I raised my eyebrow at this. I could already say with full confidence that I knew where this was headed, but I was curious to know how Hector reacted.
“At this point, Bianca starts asking me questions about the scriptures, being oddly specific about Leviticus 18:22. Knowing her like the back of my hand, I knew something was up, so I ask her. Bianca then tells me that she’s pretty fucking sure that she’s gay. Being the chill dude that I am was like, ‘why didn’t you tell me sooner ?’ But I was there for her like I had been since the beginning. After that, I start see her as the friend. One that I knew and loved ! We start acting as each other’s wingman down at the bar, rewarding ourselves after each mission. This goes on for a few months.”
Hector falls silent for a brief moment and takes off his sunglasses for the first time since the beginning of our conversation. He begins wiping what seemed to be tears from his eyes. “Sorry dawg, always get a little misty-eyed when I think about her then.”
“Did something bad happen to her?” I try to be tactful. I had heard too many stories and knew what was coming next.
“She died. Age fifteen. We had only done two years of missions together, all of 'em hauntings. At that point, we thought we were hot shit.” He continues to speak all while trying to hold back the water in his eyes. I could tell he was forcing his smile. It was clear to me that he wanted to maintain his image.
“We decided to take on a wraith. First one since the guided missions with Bianca's father. Someone told us about a house somewhere in the outskirts of town. A place that was colder than the rest of town. And so we went to investigate.” He pauses again, rubs the back of his head as he looked up at the sky. At this point, his smile was fading. “We weren’t ready for that fight. We were there for hours, but . . . I slipped up. She was alone in front of that abomination to nature, and it took her.” I sat there intent to hear the rest of his story, but it was clear to me that he was holding back his tears. His smile was gone now.
“It loomed over her, its claws in her liver. I recall getting angry, and after that, nothing. The last thing I remember from that night was holding her in my arms in front of a burning building.” He pauses once again, now staring out into the distance. Tears rolled down his face. I couldn’t help but feel remorseful, forcing him to remember such a terrible memory.
“She held my face, and told me with her final breath that it wasn’t my fault.” Hector sat in silence for a moment before reaching into his coat pocket to reveal a small photograph. “I wanted to help her. Save her somehow, but our naivety got the better of us. We just weren’t ready.”
“That her ?” I ask meekly.
“Yeah.” He shows me the photograph. The picture reveals a young boy, built like a brick (clearly Hector) next to a girl who’s right hook could put you out of commission. The little lady was clearly shorter than Hector, but what stuck out to me most was her orange, fiery hair, her emerald green eyes and her enormous smile. Even though she was fifteen in the photo, she was beautiful. I look back at Hector to return the photograph.
“Would you like to take a break and come back to this tomorrow?” I ask him.
“Yeah, sorry. Is that ok ?” He sat back up, retrieving the photograph in the process .
“Sure thing, man. I’m sure you’ll tell me how your story end ?”
“Sure thing buddy,” He says with a smile, patting me on the shoulder.
“Same time and place ?” I ask.
“Sound good,” he says, softly this time. In the process of leaving the yard, I passed a young woman with raven black hair, wearing a trench coat, walking in Hector's direction. I felt like I recognized her, but I couldn’t be sure.
That night, I went to bed. Hector's story was a sad tale, to be sure. Such horror at a young age would take a toll on anyone. But if I’m honest, I was genuinely surprised to find that the town I lived in for part of my college years was a hotspot for supernatural activity. As I was getting ready to sleep, I noticed that I still had his gloves from earlier. I'd better return them to Hector after we finish tomorrow.
We met back at the same spot on the bleachers the following day. That cool cat was sat there as if nothing had happened. He waves me over, and I wave back walking. It was warmer today. The sunlight managed to pierce through some of the clouds, and Hector's blue hair was even more vibrant than usual.
“You feeling better?” I ask him, genuinely concerned.
“Yeah. Took the night to calm myself,” he looked at me with the kindest of smiles as if something cool was going to happen.
“Well, let me just review my notes real quick and I’m sure I’ll have a question.” I take out my notepad and flip to where my notes ended. I had written in big words : Bianca dies, age fifteen. “Do you think we could pick up from where we left off yesterday ?”
“Sure thing, hoss.” Hector pauses for a moment, staring back into the distance. “I remember returning her body to Grant and Diana, her mother. I told them what happened, and Grant in particular, understood. He understood that the profession was a dangerous one, and he told me that her death was his fault instead of mine. They thanked me for returning her remains, and we held the funeral that weekend. My parents were there, too and even though I was already my own man at that point, they told me I could stay however long I needed.”
“How long did you stay?” I ask.
“About a year ? But even though it was a year of work on the farm, depression hit me like a truck. I barely ate, I smoked waaaay too much weed, and I remember that I had a stint of alcoholism for a little bit until my parents set me straight. Halfway through that year, I decided I would power through it. I needed to get my life back on track, and for the rest of that year, I worked the land and helped however I could. After the year end, I moved back to Edgerest as a barman.”
“A barman ? I’d have imagined you’d be the bouncer !” I say while chuckling.
“Ayep ! A barman ! Worked at the same bar I’d go to after every mission with Bianca. They taught me to serve up drinks. And the thing I appreciated most from that experience was that it forced me to socialise. Now . . . I’d never served a drink in my life, but somehow, just my being there made business BOOM ! The owner kept me on full time, and I settled down near Clipton lane.”
“Come to think of it, you do have a way about people, don’t you ? I mean, your smile alone lights up the room !” I give him a smarmy look.
“I guess . . . It might be that. I never really asked myself the question.” As he said this, Hector reached into his pocket and fished out a pack of cigarettes, lighting one up.
“Whoa ! I didn’t know you smoked ?” I light one of my own and realize that I was almost out, but didn’t let that deconcentrate me from Hector’s story.
“Yeah, well, I’m trying to quit,” he said, puffing away. “ Anyways, at the time it was nice . . . I don’t remember what I would tell ‘em, but I was able to get a lady to come home with me at least once a week. But this never filled the hole that was left inside me. I was still depressed, but the fact that I had a routine helped me a lot. While I worked, every now and then, one of my old clients from before would recognize me, and beg that I do a job. I would refuse ‘em because I still wasn’t feeling right.”
“So you were still affected by the trauma?”
“I was. It reminded me too much of Bianca. I just wanted to move on with my life, but my mistake from before was trying to bottle up those feelings.”
“But seeing as how you returned to the profession, I can only assume you got out of that rut,” I state.
“Yeah, it was all thanks to my wife, Joy.”
“Happily so,” he said with a giant grin on his face, showing me the ring.
“So how’d she help?” I look at him intently. He takes a drag on his cigarette and looks at me, matter of factly.
“Well . . . to be honest, it all just kinda spilled out the first time she asked me out.”
“She asked you out ?” I said, genuinely surprised.
“How’d that happen ?”
“Well, at first she was just a regular at the bar . . . and what I’m about to tell you is from her so . . . yeah. Anyways, she would always sit at the bar and she’d always come in once or twice a week. Joy worked a general goods store in town, and the days she came to visit would be her way of unwinding.”
“So what drew her to you ?”
“According to her, Joy said she could see right through the façade that I had while I worked. Originally, I wasn’t her type at all ; ‘A rambunctious fool who would make everyone laugh’ she’d tell me. But she somehow saw the sadness I carried, and became more and more intrigued, trying for months to get me to open up. We became friends for a while, and then she asked me to follow her one night after I was done.”
“Where did you guys go ?”
“We went up to the Axeman’s Folly.”
“The place is well hidden, but it’s a beautiful sight, especially at night. It’s a clearing in the woods on the eastern side of town. Used to be a druidic circle, filled with standing stones and on the northern side, there’s an altar that was later used for executions, hence the name. The stones are overgrown with a kind of moss that glows at night. And in the middle of the stone circle is a fairy ring that has the same bioluminescence. The night we went was at the end of the summer of 2015, and not only was it filled with natural light, but the fireflies were out, too. The beauty of it got to me, reminding me of Bianca and her optimism, while the fireflies reminded me of the fire. That was the first time I cried ever since the incident.”
“Dang!” I express accidently.
“I know, right ?” HEctor pauses for a moment with his cigarette lazily clenched between two fingers. “But Joy was there to comfort me as I proceeded to tell her about my friend. It was at this point that I saw Joy, not as some patron, a friend, or some piece of ass . . . but someone who would be there for me through thick and thin. As we began dating, and goin' steady, I started to feel like myself again.”
“I’m glad to hear it. But now I have to ask, how’d you get back into exorcisms ?”
“Right . . . that all happened after we got married about a couple years later. I was about 23. I was on my way back when I noticed that a house door was broken down. All sorts of noises were coming from inside the house. I knew something was up so I went inside. And you know what was inside ? A fuckin’ wraith. It was bigger than the last one I'd fought in the past. The family that had been living in the house had already been torn to shreds. Blood and guts were everywhere. I’ll spare you the details.” Pausing for a moment, I could tell that his mind went elsewhere for a brief moment. Perhaps he thought of his friend, Bianca ? I couldn’t say for sure.
“As I was about to get ready for a fight, I noticed that the wraith was already fighting a heavily cloaked man. I realized then that I’d stumbled onto this guy’s exorcism. The guy tells me to leave, but the wraith is already about to tear into me. At this point, all I can do is fight, and I call on all the knowhow that I’d put in the back of my mind.”
“Wait . . . a hooded man?” Either he ignored my question, or he didn’t hear it. The story continued.
“So I start fighting this thing. The hooded man started shouting at me, telling me what to do. I was into it. I’d done a tag team before and was used to the dynamic, and so we start whooping this thing’s ass. I’m giving this thing my exorcist’s one two, while the man is chanting some rituals and slingin' a few spells. We’re wearing this thing down slowly, but surely. An opening shows up and I finish the fuckin’ thing with my finisher : the Disintegration Palm.”
“Oh nice ! I've seen you use it !”
“Yeah . . . in the pit. I don’t like using it, but against that thing ? Any day of the fuckin’ week !” Hector looks at me intently with a huge smile. “The thing burst into a cloud of smoke, and the bones that made its body fell to the floor. The man then looked at me, and told me that I was wasting my talent serving drinks in a bar before he disappeared.”
“Just like that?” I ask.
“Just like that. Nothing more. When I got home, I told my wife what had happened, and said that I felt like returning to my old job. I explained that I felt like myself again. She was sceptical at first, but understood what I was getting at.”
“That’s an amazing woman you’ve got !”
“Yep. Every letter I get from her, I put it in a small box up in my cell. I treasure all of ‘em. Reminds me why I fight.”
“Come to think of it, this brings us to my last question.” I mention as I stare at my notepad, tapping my pencil against the paper.
“How’d you end up in prison ?”
“For that story, I suggest you talk to Raven.”
“Raven Grey ? Number 12 in the pit ?” I recall the woman from yesterday.
“That’s the one ! She tells that story better than I do. If you ever talk to her, tell her I sent ya.”
The Exorcist Samurai
Chapter two By Robin memmi
I've been interested in Cloverfield’s story for a while. Trials that ended in a sentence to this prison were uncommon, and hers was one of the few that I had witnessed on televison. Her story was plastered at the time on all news networks from here to Magneum. News that was often accompanied by hard-hitting titles and mugshots. However, due to the way it was told by those journalists, Katana's case seemed somewhat wanting in my opinion. Her story was lacking a proper motive, reason, desire.
Unfortunatly, as much as I wanted to talk to her and get her version, I had a bit of an issue ; the lady was a complete and utter ice queen. First time I saw her in the yard, I simply introduced myself, but all she did in turn was look at me with a cold stare before walking away. If I wasn't going to get the story from the source, I had to do a bit of investigation ; collect personal accounts, character observations, and so on so forth.
Seeing as how she was a higher ranking member of the Pit, I tried asking some of the other contestants to see if they knew anything about her. Either they gave me the cold shoulder (which happens a lot), or they would just give me the same piece of information : “She’s one bad motherfucker,” or, “ she’s an absolute bitch !” After a dozen cold shoulders and half a dozen comments, I was starting to get desperate for any kind of lead.
This led me to a brief, yet infuriating, conversation with an inmate at the cafeteria on the ground floor. The cafeteria at was well kept, furnished with circular metal tables and reinforced windows looking out into the halls. Additionally, the room was heavily guarded with officers watching from the balconies, all of them equipped with riot gear and stun batons.
Throughout the conversation, the man in front of me would repeatedly point to a picture on the table. A picture of a rabbit. The man would insist that the rabbit in the photograph was in fact Katana Cloverfield, and reveal that the creature was an extremely dangerous entity that had teeth as sharp as swords . . . or some bullshit along those lines.
As the man continued to express his passion for the 'demonic' rabbit from hell, I was falling deeper and deeper into a despair fueled by the belief that I would never get her true story. I began to think back on all of the inmates that I had asked during the day, each of them reminding me over and over again that Katana Cloverfield was an absolute ice queen. It was at this moment that Hector, thank god, arrived to save me from this purgatory.
“You alright man ?” he asked. As I raised my head up to him, I noticed an expression of genuine worry.
“Well . . . yeah, I guess I am. Why do you ask ?” I looked at him, puzzled by his demeanor. A question then sprung to my mind : did I do something wrong ? He motioned me to follow him, and without a second thought, I left the crazy inmate to himself.
As we exited the cafeteria, I noticed Hector looking over his shoulders. The man proceeded to guide me down a series of hallways seemingly at random. The halls gradually began to resemble one another as the white and grey of the walls looked the same around every corner. Despite the monotony, I couldn’t help but think that something was up. We eventually stopped in the middle of an empty hallway, somehow devoid of cameras and guards.
“What’s this about Hector ?” I ended up asking.
Despite the fact that I was with a man I could trust, I couldn’t help but worry. Why were we in a secluded area ? What’s going on ?
“What the fuck are you doing ?” He looked at me sternly. This was the first time that I had ever actually seen him with a serious expression on his face . . . a worried face for that matter.
“What are you talking about ?”
“What are you doin', goin’ around, askin' any ol' person with a mouth about Katana Cloverfield !?”
“What’s it to you man ? I’m just doing my job !”
“Yeah, well, if you keep goin' about it the way you’ve been doin' it, you’re gonna end up in a whole world of hurt, man.”
“What do you mean ?” Hector sighs in response, finally taking a breath and calming himself down.
“Listen man, I know you’ve only been here for a few months, but you can’t just go about your day like nothin’s happenin'. When you’re askin' about Katana, folks are watching, listening, and gabbin' about you. What you’re doin' here, while admirable, can get you killed if you’re not careful !”
“Why would anybody want to kill me ? I’m just grabbing information where I can find it !”
“That’s the thing, man ! You’re stickin' your nose in too many holes. I’m telling you man, somebody’s gonna notice !”
“Who’s going to notice ? The Warden ? She hasn’t stopped me so far !”
“. . . because she’s preoccupied by other bullshit, dude ! But if she learns that someone’s trying to get info on inmates and the prison, she's gone act. Best case senerio, she's gonna wanna talk to ya. Worst case, she'll send her elites to deal with ya. Either way, gettin' the attention of the Warden ain't a good thing man.”
“Then what do you suggest I do ? This story’s been on my docket for a while! I can’t just stop now !”
“Then be subtler about it . . . FUCK ! Is that so hard !? ”
“Alright, fine, I’ll stop asking publicly for information. But how am I going to get my info if not from the source ?”
“You get it from other Pit fighters !”
“I’ve be asking other pit fighters but it’s always the same piece of information !”
“Well I don't recall you askin" me !?” He exclaimed. I realized I hadn’t, and this made me feel like an absolute moron. They were both exorcists in the same region ! How could I have overlooked this !?
“Alirght, listen,” he continued, “I’ll give you the info you want, but you gotta promise me that from now on, you’ll be a little more patient with your research, ok ?”
“Alright . . . I suppose I should. So what can you tell me ?”
“That she’s the iciest bitch queen you’ll ever meet.”
“That’s nothing new.” I was disheartened.
“True, but listen, I ain’t done yet, alright ? So peep this : I used to work with her at the guild in Gorudo. We were like fire and ice. We never got along. But to be fair, she was an extremely diligent exorcist. Always did her research, and always performed with extreme precision. If she did a job, it was going to be done one hundred percent. To me however, the intensity in her work ethic came from somewhere dark. When she’d take a job, she would almost never asked any questions, and from what I remembered from that last mission-“
“The one that got her arrested ?”
“Yeah, that one – from what I remember seein' on the news, she did it guns blazin'. This wasn’t her usual M.O. Something was off.”
“You saw her in action ?”
“Yeah . . . She’s as precise as a marksman. But that night she was sloppy. Like I said, something was off.”
“I see. But I don’t suppose you got anything else for me ? Like, could there be another person in here that’s got their ear to the ground ?”
“I suppose, but I’d be careful if I were you. I knew him on the outside and he used to work with Katana and me. He’s a shrewd businessman. Very pragmatic, if you catch my drift ? The guy’s called Archimedes.”
“Oh! I know him! He’s the guy who gets me my cigarettes !”
“Yeah . . . but when it comes to trading information, he’ll make you pay through your ass. Be careful what you promise him. And for the love of god, DO NOT trade him a favor ! You never know what he’ll ask of ya.”
With that, Hector left me to my own devices. I stood there somewhat dumbfounded with all of this newfound information. My mind was abuzz with anticipation ! I finally had new information on the story, and this time it wasn’t the recycled bullshit that I had heard before !
I also had a lead even if it was going to be tricky. When it came to Archimedes, I had anticipated trading a favor, but if Hector believed it to be unwise, then I had best listen to him. After all, he’d been in the prison longer than I.
As I began walking down the corridors to where I expected to find the cafeteria, I progressively noticed that I was lost. I started jogging down the narrow halls, hoping to find someone, or at least a guard to help me find my way, but everywhere I looked seemed empty. My pace quickened until I was running through the corridors.
With a sense of panic creeping over me, I began to understand why this part of the prison was often compared to a maze. Every hall was the same, every door identical to the last, and every corridor lit uniformly. I was losing hope until I crossed the path of a human security guard accompanied by some androids. The man raised what seemed to be a Plasma Rifle as a result of my sudden appearance.
“Freeze !” he spoke. The androids followed suit holding up their own versions of the weapons.
Instinctively, I reached for the sky, hoping to god they wouldn’t taze me.
“Identify yourself!” he shouted again.
“Randall Paxton! Inmate 51033625!” I kept my hands up, dreading the electric shock of those guns.
“Why are you out of your designated area 51033625?” I had to think fast.
“I got lost while heading back to my cell.” The officer simply looked at me, gauging if I was telling the truth. He finally looked at his display to see my file, and lowered his gun.
“Some advice to you kid, stay where there are people. I’ll be lenient this time 'cause you got nothing on your record, but if I catch you again, I won’t hesitate to use this.” He put one hand on his weapon.
“Sorry sir, it won’t happen again.”
“See that it doesn’t. These androids will escort you back to your designated zone. Don’t try to pull anything, or they will use lethal force.” I nodded my head in silence as the android cuffed me, and brought me back to my cell block.
I was surprised by the guard’s leniency. Normally, if we strayed from the designated areas, we would be placed in solitary confinement, and if the stories are to be believed, the cells there aren’t simply closed spaces with no light, but hell in a room. Some folks told me that they heated the room to 45° C, some rooms were cooled to 0°. I even heard of rooms that were sound-proofed and deprived of light completely ! But I should count myself lucky at this point.
When we finally arrived at my cell block, one of the android removed my cuffs, and shoved me back into the cafeteria. With little to no people around to have witnessed the action, I decided to go back to my cell. I was exhausted by the experience, and also wondered where I could get my hands on a fresh pair of pants.
Archimedes was a somewhat illusive fellow. But he always had a set of usual spots where he would set up shop. This time, he was in the “library”, if you could call it that. The prison’s library was an unkempt repository of old unloved books and data slates that have been cannibalized into items with a different purpose. There were loose pages on the floor along with broken glass. Archimedes was sat at the far side of the library at one of the many disgusting tables reading a book whose front cover had been torn off. I noticed, however, that the table he sat at was surprisingly clean. Almost as if the table was maintained for him and him alone. The man was surrounded by four other prisoners whom I recognized from my previous dealings with him. Two of his bodyguards seemed oddly dangerous. Both of them carried a swords on their backs, and both seemed well-traveled. They seemed menacing in their own right, and bore Archimedes’ gang sign.
“Hello there, Randall,” he said without looking up from his book. “Come to get another pack of cigarettes? It surprises me that you have you have come back so soon.” He peeked from above his book, revealing his beady green eyes. His gold-rimmed glasses glinted in the room’s electric lighting as he finally put down his book.
“I’m afraid I’ve come for something a little more . . . particular,” I responded. I stayed standing, but I kept my notebook in hand.
“So I’ve gleaned. I heard through the grapevine is that you’re looking for info on Katana Cloverfield, yes ? I warn you though, if I've heard about it, I’m sure the warden knows as well. But I’ll keep this interaction secret, you can count on that.”
His voice was extremely smooth, monotonous, and yet, somehow musical. No wonder he could get what he wanted.
“You’ve read me like a book !” I said, chuckling.
“Indeed. Though, this information will cost you, as does everything within these walls.” His eyes were now fixed upon me. I felt a slight discomfort, but it was simply my nerves. I was outnumbered if things somehow went south. Nonetheless, I had to be careful with my words.
“Name your price.”
“How about . . . a favour?” He said slowly. He looked at me as he gave me an almost demonic grin.
“I’d rather not. I've heard how those could go rather badly for me. If you need something dirty done, just ask one of your goons to do it.” One of his guards gave me a slight grimace. I thought nothing of it.
“I suppose my ‘favour collections’ are somewhat infamous in this prison. Though . . . I also heard that you were rather desperate for this information, no ? I’m sure it’s worth a lot to you.” His words rang true, but I was sure there were other ways of getting this information.
“While true, I was thinking I could use a strand in your web of connections?”
“Oh ? You don’t think what I could tell you is worth your time ?”
“Honestly ? Not one bit. I think I could tell you exactly the information you would have used to entrap me. If I’m right, you give me someone who knows Katana like no one else. If I’m wrong, I’ll give you that favour. How does that sound ?”
He sat surprised with his book in his lap. His goons started shifting their bodies as if to jump me, but I could tell that in his look of surprise, was intrigue. Archimedes raised his right hand to stop his goons from doing anything that involved my bones getting broken, or my limbs chopped off. He was looking at me intently now, squinting his eyes, almost as if he was staring into my soul, or hedging his bet.
“How about this . . . If you guess correctly, I’ll give you the connection you need, but you must clean this library. If you fail, then I’ll be holding on to that favour. In other words, you avoid giving me a favour, but you still give me something I want.”
“I’ll take it.” From what Hector told me yesterday, I was feeling confident that his relationship with her was minimal, and at best amicable.
“Very well . . . so what is your theory?”
“I believe, that you’ve never known Katana personally, and never cared to know her as a person. From what I’ve deduced, you used to work at the Exorcist guild in Gorudo as its treasurer, hence the position you’ve given yourself within these walls. So your relationship with her was strictly business. I would also like to deduce that you were more than happy to let her in because of the opportunity it presented for you . . . not just for the guild, but for your pockets as well. You were more than happy to let her take the hard jobs because you knew that she would get it done. But once she failed that one mission, you saw your opportunity slip through your fingers and you jumped ship, taking all the guild’s money with you. Your actual thoughts on her character however, are like everyone else’s, I can only assume.”
“And that would be . . . ?”
“She’s a stone cold bitch.” My hands were on the table and I was looking at Archimedes intently. He seemed surprised. Either because what I just said was right, or that it was in fact complete and utter bullshit to the most extreme degree. Maybe he was impressed by how badly I had fucked up. He got up and began pacing about the table.
“Everything you just said was in fact correct . . . to a certain degree. There are a couple details that are wrong. But, the idea was there and your insight into my character, while rushed, was rather well observed. I can’t help but wonder if you were informed of my dealings beforehand. But I shan’t bother you with such a query. You shall have what you desire, Randall.”
“A name is all I need.” I was relieved. I had thought that he would have ordered his guards to attack me. But they were steadfast and not moving an inch.
“Indeed, and a name you shall have. Seek out one Victoria Steel. As you are aware, she is a contestant in The Pit, but she is the only one that Katana seems to actually trust. You’ll know her when you see her. She has long turquoise hair and an eyepatch.” I wrote her name down in my notebook along with her description.
“Great! I won’t bother you further! Thank you for this information.”
“Don’t forget, you still have to clean this place up. If it’s not done by the end of next week, then I may come by and take something of more value than your time.” With that I left.
I was giddy, and excited to finally have a direct connection to Katana, while I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of losing a piece of my body. I set to looking for Victoria, and this time, I kept my mouth shut. I began wandering the prison, even going as far as to attend some of the brutal fights in The Pit to see if I couldn’t catch a glimpse of her. As I did, I tried to stay out of the guards’ eye, as per Hector’s warning.
Weeks went by, and I tried working on other stories in the interim. In the meantime, I made the library spotless, and ended up going as far as to organize the books and data slates in alphabetical order. In the afternoon, my patience was rewarded as I saw Victoria in the cafeteria eating on her own in one of the far corners.
I decided that a soft approach would be best. I brought my tray on over to her table, and she gave me a hard look with her one good eye before turning her attention back to her meal. As I stood near her table, I could finally see her properly. Archimedes wasn’t wrong about her turquoise hair and eyepatch . . . but despite her rugged appearance, she somehow seemed familiar to me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt like I recognized her.
“Hello,” I said very politely. She simply looked in my direction, but kept eating. “I’m sorry to bother you, but would it be alright if I ate at your table ?”
“Do what you want, kid. I ain’t gonna stop you,” she said with her mouth full. I graciously sat in front of her, and began eating what I could only describe as slop with “meat” chunks in it.
“Waddya want,” she piped.
“I’m sorry?” I attempted to feign confusion.
“Listen, kid, I know you’re the one who’s been asking about Katana, alright ? So let’s cut to the chase. What do you want with her ?” I felt that Archimedes was somehow behind this. But I relented.
“I’m a journalist.”
“Well . . . upon entering this prison, I decided to write an investigation on the Pit. But I also want to get the stories of all of the contestants.”
“Why do you care ?”
“Because if I can get their stories to the outside world, and get them published, then there'll be written proof that our system is broken, and has been for quite some time.” I looked at her intently, but she simply kept eating.
“Why do you care that the government is broken ?” With this question, I lower my voice.
“Not just one, but all of them are ! Every story I’ve come across so far has been a story of injustice or poor maintenance of the truth ! As journalist, I simply want to get the word out. I want the truth !”
As I looked at her with resolve, Victoria simply cleaned out her platter. She then got up from her spot and motioned me to follow. At least I think she did. It was so subtle that one couldn’t really notice, but I followed her regardless. We left the cafeteria, and I found myself walking through corridors once again.
However, I noticed that the cells we were passing by seemed a lot larger and more comfortable than the usual top bunk bottom bunk sort of deal. Only two guards seemed to be patrolling the hallway compared to the veritable army in the normal cell blocks. I somehow felt a little more at ease. As we passed by the cells, I noticed that they seemed to be personalized as you would your student apartment.
We eventually arrived at the end of the hallway, and in one of the rooms sat Katana, polishing her signature blade. Her room was sparsely furnished with only the essentials. Compared to the other rooms I had seen, she only had a bed large enough for one, a desk with a lamp on it, and a shelf holding a few tomes. How she managed to get her hands on those is beyond me.
She was sat in the middle of the room in a way that could only be described as a traditional sitting position. She was garbed in an orange kimono top with a dress shirt underneath. Her expression was expressionless and yet focused on her task at hand. Her brown hair was cut short with only a few strands hanging over her eyes. I watched patiently as Victoria walked over to katana, distracting her inmate from her craft.
“Yo ! You got a visitor,” Victoria said coolly. Katana looked up at her, somewhat peeved, and finally sheathed her sword. She finally looked in my direction, rolled her eyes and sighed, clearly exasperated by the situation. While I did feel somewhat insulted, I couldn’t blame her. I did essentially stalk her after all.
“C’mon,” said Victoria. Katana became distracted. “He seems like an honest kid. Give him a chance.”
Katana sighed once more. She looked at me, scrutinizing my person as if trying to gauge if I was indeed a veritable threat. All I had on me was my notebook, pencil and my pack of cigarettes that I kept in my breast pocket. I was in my usual outfit : a blue jumper, a pair of jeans, and shoes that barely fit me. I felt meek in her presence, keeping my hands to myself and trying not to attract her ire.
“Fine,” she said in a disinterested tone. “Come on in, but don’t touch anything. Just sit there, and just do what you came here to do.”
I sat in front of her, trying to make myself comfortable. Taking out my notebook and pencil, I began my interview.
“To boot, I would like to apologize if it felt like I was hounding you,” I said. “It’s just that I did cover your story before having been convicted, and when I heard that you and I were in the same prison, I thought it would be an opportunity to understand the truth behind what got you in here.”
“I see,” she said with clear skepticism in her voice. Victoria looked on as she sat at the desk, supervising the conversation like a chaperone at a school dance.
“Yes, but not just that. I would also like to write a sort of character piece, if you will, to properly establish that the actions you took were in fact out of character for you.” At this, she breathed deeply as if remembering the incident. “But before we get to that, I want to know who you were before all that hullaballoo happened.”
“This is the first time anyone has been genuinely interested in who I am, aside from Victoria. But we’re more passive friends if anything,” she said in a rather emotionless voice.
“I see . . . in any case, I was hoping to simply ask you a few questions, and you could respond with what you are comfortable with. Is that alright ?”
“I suppose. Fire away.”
“Right . . . so, where were you born ?”
“Would you care to elaborate ?”
“How do you mean?”
“Who were your parents ? What did they do for a living ?”
“My parents were Hendrick and Fiona Cloverfield. My father was a police officer in the GCPD and my mother was a botanist.”
“How was your relationship with your parents ?” I asked. She took a moment to think about the question.
“My relationship was good. I can’t complain. But I had trouble maintaining a genuine relationship with my father due to his work. But thanks to his position in the GCPD, I could attend schools that not many could afford. And in the moments when we were together, he was a very kind person. He never yelled, nor ever hit me. The worst I would ever get was a look that expressed disappointment.”
“And your mother ?”
“-was home a lot. My mother had her own greenhouse in the garden, and stayed in for her botany gig. She would produce pharmaceutical herbs and plants that helped treat rheumatism for the elderly. We were on good terms, but as a child, I would often glean that she hid some kind of detail from her past. But it didn’t bother me. She was kind, and always set me straight if even I started becoming a little too rambunctious.”
“As far as I know, he was a straight-ish arrow. Never liked breaking the rules, but he would relent to harsh demand in order to protect us.”
“Did that affect you in any way ?”
“Well, I did look up to him for moral guidance, and I thought joining the force would let me spend more time with him.”
“When did you decide to join ?”
“I was pretty young when I decided to join. I wanted to be like my father. A kind person with a big heart. But my parents didn’t like the idea, so they asked me to think about it while I was finishing school. I can understand now why they didn’t want me to join. The rampant corruption was one thing, but I told them I could handle the physical danger. As I would continue my curriculum, my parents would always try throwing in some details to dissuade me from joining the force, but I was steadfast in my decision.”
“So did you join ?”
“As a matter of fact I did ! I was 18 when I passed the exam, but things ended up taking a turn.” Katana paused for a moment. I could tell that this was where the shit show began. “When I got back from the exam, I returned to a home that was devoid of life. The house was dark, and the air was cold compared to the summer heat outside. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the sensation, but I’ve come to know it as fear.”
“Kind of like when something strange just kind of touches your back ever so softly, right ?”
“Exactly. I enter and I find my father - the kindest man I’ve ever known - standing above the dead body of my mother. My father’s body turned towards me as I entered the living room. He then looked at me with these blood red eyes, and lunged at me. I ran into the hallway where my dad kept his spare gun in case of a break in and immediatly shot him. I remember shooting him until the gun’s magazine was empty. But the wounds didn’t seem to phase him.”
“How is it that the bullets didn’t affect your father ?” I asked.
“Well . . . I later learned that it was a demon. But before then I didn't know anything about exorcists and their methods until I was saved by one. A grey-cloaked man silently swooped in and decapitated the mangled corpse of my father. And when the deed was done, the man revealed too me that my father was possessed by a demon. I was too confused and scared at the time to understand what he was talking about, but he left just as the police arrived.”
“I’m sorry, but you mentioned a man clad in grey, yes ?”
“I did. What’s it to you ?”
“Nothing, really. It’s just that I’ve heard the description before.”
“Strange,” she dismissed my comment completely. “But do you want the rest of my story or not ?”
“Of course I do. I’m sorry, please continue,” I chuckled. She was clearly unamused. To her, I seemed to be wasting her time. I cleared my throat and began my string of questions again. “Right. So if I may, what lead you to study exorcism ? Why didn’t you stay and become a police officer ?”
“Well . . . it was because of my maternal grandfather, Samuel. While I was giving my deposition of what happened, he came to get me. I didn’t know I had one to be truthful, but I recognized my mother’s eyes when I met him for the first time. He’s the one who allowed me to tread the path I do now.”
“How so ?”
“Well, he didn’t out right tell me that he used to be an exorcist. All I knew when I first met him was that he was a retired soldier of sorts. Samuel had heard what happened and came as quickly as he could from the counrtyside. I began living in his home properly after the funeral. During the months after that, I suffered from these terrible nightmares. But there was always a recurring theme : red eyes. Then one night, in the middle of March, I woke up violently after a nightmare, and there stood Samuel. He told me to follow him into the basement and when I came down, he revealed to me exactly what he was . . . or used to be.”
“Well . . . it was because of my maternal grandfather, Samuel. While I was giving my deposition of what happened, he came to get me. I didn’t know I had one to be truthful, but I recognized my mother’s eyes when I met him for the first time. He’s the one who allowed me to tread the path I do now.”
“How so ?”
“Well, he didn’t out right tell me that he used to be an exorcist. All I knew when I first met him was that he was a retired soldier of sorts. Samuel had heard what happened and came as quickly as he could from the counrtyside. I began living in his home properly after the funeral. During the months after that, I suffered from these terrible nightmares. But there was always a recurring theme : red eyes. Then one night, in the middle of March, I woke up violently after a nightmare, and there stood Samuel. He told me to follow him into the basement and when I came down, he revealed to me exactly what he was . . . or used to be.”
“An exorcist, yes ?”
“I can’t help but notice that you’re always equipped with your sword. Is that for your style of exorcism ?”
“Yes actually,” she said with a tinge of surprise in her voice. “When I first began my training, he explained to me that not only had my father been possessed, but that it was a result of the Magneum Rift War in **00, and that the events of the war were the result of his absence. He then revealed to me that he was in fact an exorcist soldier who was specialized in both ritualistic and combat exorcism.”
“So if I’m deducing right, this style brought about the Destruction school ?”
“Popularized it more like. But this ‘breed’ of exorcist was known as the Samurai. But I can’t elaborate on that.”
“Why not ?”
“It’s meant to remain a secret to outsiders, aside from family members.”
“Well, think of it this way : if something bad happens to you in here, god forbid, I could prepare a record on the Samurai, and the breed could potentially-“
“Listen, if she doesn’t wanna talk about it, then she doesn’t wanna talk about it ! Geeze !” Victoria cut in. Katana seemed somewhat relieved, and I decide to abandon the line of questioning.
“Very well . . . sorry for having pressed you. Please, continue.” Katana was finding her thoughts again, but clearly found her place.
“Well, Samuel then revealed to me the existence of the supernatural. With all of this information, I asked why my mother didn’t become one. According to him, she wanted a normal life, but he believed that he should have done more to prepare her. This revelation showed me the path to my vengeance.”
“Your vengeance ? How do you mean ?”
“I wanted to destroy the demon that annihilated my family. I wanted to prove to the supernatural that they would never touch this world again under my watch. This was my way of seeking justice. I was nineteen then.”
“Nineteen and already burning with resolve ! When I was your age I was still in Edgerest pretending to get drunk so I could get a story.”
“How do you pretend getting drunk ?” She looked at me quizzically. Victoria looked over at me with the same expression of incredulity.
“I um… I have an extremely high tolerance for alcohol,” I said somewhat reluctantly.
“What !?” Victoria was genuinely surprised. “You ? Outdrink me ??? I’d like to see you try.”
“Well if you got the alcohol, then I’m game !” I realized that I could use this to my advantage. “But let’s put some stakes on the table.”
“Alright,” She thinks for a moment. “If I win, I get to use you for target practice . . . for a week.”
“If you got the bullets, then I’ll do it ! But if I win, you have to tell me all about you, Victoria Steel. got it ?” She looked at me, wondering if I did have that liver of steel that I claimed to possess. After a moment, she finally spoke.
“Deal !” She exclaimed. We shook hands and I returned my attention to Katana, who at this point had become impatient. She was staring daggers at both of us, and I settled right down.
“So you began to train,” I said meekly. She was not amused.
“Yes, it lasted four years.”
“It almost seems to be a standard.”
“My grandfather spent seven years training,” she said somewhat arrogantly. “By the time I had finished, however, I was nowhere near his level, but I continued training through the work I would find. Before I left, he gave me this very sword, which I have been tending to every day.”
“Now if I remember correctly from Hector’s information, you knew him and Archimedes, right ?” As I looked up, she seemed to have an almost infuriated look on her face. “Did I say something wrong ?”
“No . . .” she sighed deeply. “I just don’t like those two. Hector is annoying. And I just hate Archimedes’ face. What’s worse is that I still can’t tell if that man was really an exorcist.”
“I see . . . well, perhaps you could establish for me how you met these two men?” Katana once again sighs, and continues her story.
“I suppose I could,” she says, rubbing her temples. “As I was trying to find a community of exorcists, I traveled around the outskirts of Gorudo city. I went to all of the holy sites in the passing towns until one of the priests directed me to a church in the city. As I arrived, I was greeted by Archimedes. At that period in his life, he was an ordained priest as well as being an exorcist. He welcomed me into the community with no fuss, and just told me that I could work to my heart’s content. While I found his behavior to be rather strange, I was more than happy to begin my work, and over the course of the next year, the community became a guild.”
“Just like that ?”
“I’m lead to believe that it was almost exclusively because of my one hundred person success rate.”
“Somewhat of an arrogant observation,” I remark.
“Is it arrogance if it’s true ?”
“Touché! But tell me, what happened next ?”
“Well, as I returned from a mission, Archimedes directed me to speak with a young girl who had a mission for me and me alone, which I found strange right away. But I accepted to hear her out. She explained that her entire family was possessed to which I asked no more questions. In hind sight, my tunnel vision got to me when it came to possessions. It was a weakness for me. Every time I heard about a possession, I was there almost exclusively. And this time was no exception. I rushed to the address she gave me, and I began my due diligence. But within the first few minutes of my investigation, I saw them for the first time in five years : red eyes!”
“Sorry, this was the story I tried covering a few years back. I’m just excited that I’ll finally get the real one !”
“I’m happy to hear that my painful past brings such joy to you.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just excited by the truth of the matter.”
“I know,” Katana looked at me with a somewhat strange smirk. “I was simply messing with you.”
“Now let me finish won’t you ?”
“So red eyes. I had already prepared for such an occasion, and I decided to enter in the same manner he entered my home all those years ago. Inside the living room was the father, mother and grandparents. They all looked at me as I entered the room. I exorcised the three spirits inhabiting the mother and the grandparents. But as I kept glimpsing the red eyes of the father, there was not a single doubt in my mind that this man was possessed by the very same demon that had destroyed my home all those years ago. I wanted to take my time with him to show him exactly the same pain he inflicted upon me that fateful day. As I did, he taunted me, jeered at me sayingthat I was a failure. That I wasn’t good enough and that the death of my parents was on my head. This just resulted in me spending even more time with him. I wanted to enjoy the pain I would inflict. But in my hubris, I hadn’t imagined that he would have called the cops.”
“I mean . . . if it was your nemesis, I kind of would have as well.” She gives me a hard look, almost like she wanted to stab me right there, but she sighed, admitting that I was right.
“Yeah . . . but I was just so caught up in the moment that I didn’t plan for any of it. All I could do was admit defeat. When I was finally arrested, however, I saw that the little girl that had come to get my services was the one that had called the police. There was one thing I would never forget that night. The father and daughter shared the same expression of arrogance. It was no surprise that when trial came to pass, she testified against me. It was THE piece of damning evidence for my case and I was thrown in here.”
“So why do you fight in the Pit ?”
“It gives me hope that one day I can get out and properly kill that demon !” With this, I had all the information I needed.
“With that, I don’t believe that I shall take up more of your time.”
“And thank you..." she said with a tone sounding as if a weight had been lifted. ". . . for letting me tell the truth . . . I suppose. But I don’t know how a wider public would receive this.”
“You let me worry about that. But on a different note,” I turned to Victoria. “Friday. Ten P.M. We’ll have that drinking contest". She gives me a small salute of acknowledgement as I showed myself out. I was happy, but also dreading the competition this Friday. I hadn’t drunk in years.
The Bounty Hunter
Chapter three By Robin memmi
I was kicking myself for having agreed to such a stupid bet. How could I outdrink a person who’d been dubbed the hardest person in the prison ? Would I actually survive her target practice ? How good of a marksman was she ? Was she as good of a shot as she had announced ? What if I ended up puking out my guts ?
These were all of the questions that raced through my mind as I waited for Friday. The only thought that gave me some comfort was the idea that I had at least redeemed myself in some way with one of the most judgemental people in the prison : Katana Cloverfield.
As for Victoria Steel, I knew very little about her. All I seemed to know for sure was that she was a bounty hunter who used to work around Gorudo City. However, it felt as though she wasn’t truly from that region despite her accent. I paced about my cell and started wondering if I could escape this situation. It’s been five years since I had alcohol, and I had no idea how tolerant I was to the stuff. For all I knew, I had lost all of my tolerance. Finally, I decided to go out into the yard hoping to ease my mind with a cigarette.
It was March at this point. Time flew by like a bat out of hell in this prison. The air was warmer, but the wind continued to be unforgiving. It bit through my clothes as if it were some kind of omen. As I walked around the yard, I noticed some aspiring Pit fighters brawling in the football field. They were lanky, tattooed from head to toe. One of them was fighting with a wooden stick as if struggling to remember his techniques. His opponent was a woman who seemed to easily put him on his ass.
"That bad huh". I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself. Fortunately, they didn’t hear me. I noticed Hector pumping weights in one area of the park, but I didn’t want to bother him with my worries. I decided to keep on walking, and ponder to myself on the situation at hand.
Later in the cafeteria, I decided to eat alone, hoping to turn my mind away from the upcoming events with a book by the late great Aris Morian, a philosopher from Highern. His philosophy was something rather interesting as it dealt with the idea of forgiveness, and how bearing grudges concerning your own life and experiences can only lead to further suffering. That negative experiences are rarly the cause by one individual, and that they should not hate themselves as a result. I started to feel like that I had only myself to blame for my situation. I felt like I needed a new perspective on what I had done. I did previously try to see the prison’s councillor concerning my anxieties, but the woman made me feel like garbage, stating that what had happened to me was indeed my fault, and that I had only myself to blame. I couldn’t help but feel that such an assessment was wrong and decided to expand my mind on a philosophical stand point.
As I kept reading and eating, I hardly noticed the cafeteria empty out. A very nervous looking man walked up to me, his hands in his pockets and gestured for me to follow him.
“Did Victoria send you ?”
I asked. The man seemed to wince at the mention of her name, but nodded in silence. I closed my book and got up from my seat, carrying my tray over to the counter and thanked Jenkins, the cafeteria lady, in the process. I was still dreading what was to come. With what I had read, whatever the outcome, I knew that this was my fault and that if the outcome were to be in her favour, I had only myself to blame.
As I walked through the corridors, I made sure that no one was following close behind. Fortunately, my fellow prisoners were simply lollygagging in the hallways, talking and being friendly to one another. I thought I saw a support group convened in one of the recreation rooms, but as it wasn’t my destination, I simply kept note of where it was located.
As we walked through the long corridors, we finally arrived at another recreation room. A clock on the back wall displayed the hour: 21h30. A table was placed at the centre and sitting at one end, waiting like a tiger, was Victoria. There was of course an audience. Many unknown faces were present, but I knew two, for sure. Hector, who was in the crowd, and Katana who stood by the table. I took my seat opposite Victoria, and my actions were followed by a few cheers and audible whispers, clearly pointing out how crazy I was for accepting this challenge. I simply waited for the terms at this point to be reiterated. Before any of that however, one of the inmates in the crowd came forward with a crate containing bottles of alcohol. There were four bottles. Katana sighed, clearly showing her abject disapproval for whatever role she was given, including the situation at hand.
“SO !” Katana began. The room became hushed. “The rules are simple. First one to pass out, vomit, or give up, loses. The stakes as agreed upon by the two present are the following : if Randall wins, he gets Victoria’s story, and if Victoria wins, she gets to use Randall for target practice.” There was a small cheer from the crowd. Katana raised her voice in response. “I’m here to make sure there won’t be any cheating from either of you. If you do, you automatically lose.”
After executing her small speech, the same person who had brought the crate over to the table came back with makeshift shot glasses. They were set them down before us and quickly filled with the brew.
“What kind of alcohol is this ?” I asked.
“Palinka,” Victoria piped with confidence. “A drink made in Highern. Why ? Don’t like how it tastes ?” At this I put on a brave face.
“On the contrary, I love this drink ! Got black out drunk with it many times.” Parts of my expression veiled that I was actually shitting my pants. She smiled at me with a certain maliciousness as if not believing me one bit. But it was true. I loved Palinka.
“On my count!” Katana called. “3…2…1…DRINK !”
We drank the first shot as if it was nothing. The alcohol slid down my throat smoothly. The drink was a friend that I had missed, and the taste was delightful. Too bad I was going to guzzle this like water in a hot desert. As soon as we finished the shot, we both slammed the glasses back down where they was refilled, and once again, down the hatch. This went on until the first bottle was finished. Moments later, I looked over to Victoria and I saw that her face was a little flushed. Surprisingly, I felt in control. Although I did begin feeling the effects of the substance at the tip of my fingers. They felt warm as though the majority of my blood pooled under my nails. But the room wasn’t spinning, which in mind was a good sign. As I finished the last shot from the first bottle, I burped.
“You alright Victoria ?” I jeered, veiling my worry.
“Shut up ! Open the next bottle !” she roared. The palinka was promptly opened and service began anew. The crowd began chanting ‘drink drink drink !’ I found this somewhat hilarious and couldn’t help myself from laughing. Victoria, on the other hand, understood this as a provocation and began glaring at me as she downed her shots. I kept up as I could. I was surprised at how resilient she was. As the third bottle was opened, I felt my face flush with the alcohol’s influence. Victoria seemed a bit woozy as the next glass was served, but it was clear that she wasn’t going down without a fight. She slapped her face violently, and gave me a determined glare. She was staying in this until she was down for the count.
The situation was unreal. As I do find myself with a bit of a liver problem now, I do not attribute it to the excessive drinking I had done in my formative years. That being said, I felt alive. As if I could do anything. Maybe even take on Hector ! But fortunately for me, I was a high functioning alcoholic even if I did have a tendency to black out at times.
Victoria kept on drinking, and people began murmuring and making bets. The fourth bottle was broken open. As I looked over to Victoria, it seemed like she was a little worse for ware, but she was still determined. I became worried. The effects of the alcohol had started kicking in for me. The room felt like it was moving and my sight only started to dim a little. I knew I didn’t have long now.
“Can you keep going ?” Katana asked as she nudged Victoria to face her. She simply slammed her fist on the table.
“Bring it on you fucking bastards !” She roared. Katana rolled her eyes and came towards me, asking the same question.
“I can do this all night,” I said with a shit-eating grin on my face. I had a good start to this, and felt as though she was hiding the effects of the alcohol. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind now that this could be my victory. And so we kept drinking. She veiled the fact that she had trouble bringing the shot to her lips, and I could tell she also had trouble swallowing. This sensation was mutual though it was easier for me to send it down. Years of smoking had that effect on my throat, and the burn had very little effect. There were moments however where I did feel like voiding my stomach.
We were half way through the final bottle when my victory was sealed. Quite simply, she vomited. While absolutely disgusting, I simply stood up and cheered, raising my arms up asserting my dominance. The crowd that had gathered cheered as well. Some booed, probably because they lost their bets. But this meant I would get my story.
“Fuck !” She sighed. One of the inmates from the crowd went and brought back a bucket as she continued to heave her entrails into it. Katana tended to her, begrudgingly, holding back her hair, and simply patting her on the shoulder, telling her that she did ok even if the remark was insincerely. People continued clapping as water was provided.
“Water’s great and all, but could I get a bucket as well ?” I asked someone. My head was spinning from my sudden movement, and I began feeling queasy as well. I drank my water, and began firing the liquid from my stomach like a fire hydrant. It wasn’t pretty. Hector came and got me at that point.
“You insane fucker,” he simply said.
“What ? Thought I wouldn’t win ?” I said arrogantly as I continued to vomit like a hose.
“And what if you did lose ?”
“Then I would have been a practice dummy. Believe me, I’ve been kicking myself all day about this stupid bet.” I drank some water so I could continue purging my insides.
“I noticed. You were moping all day like some kind of sad puppy.”
“Awwww, you noticed!” The alcohol’s effects were clearly taking hold. I was at a stage where I just found everything…adorable. He simply looked at me as though he were done with my shenanigans.
“Alright you lump of stupid, let’s get you back to your cell.”
“Hold on.” I turned to Katana. “Can you tell her I’ll meet her tomorrow ? We’ll both be hungover, but at least she can be a little more…authentic…?” She rolled her eyes at me.
“Yeah, sure. I’ll do that as soon as she’s done regurgitating her entrails,” she said. With this, I was hauled away as I was gleefully dry heaved by Hector. I was returned to my cell in a daze, and was set down on my cot on my left side. The bucket was emptied, washed out, and placed beside me.
“I hope you learned your lesson?” he asked like a father would their child.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” I whispered.
“You do realize that people will be talking about you now, right ? If anything happens to you, I can’t promise I’ll be there to help.”
“I’ll keep my head down as much as possible,” I promised.
“I hope you will, you idiot,” he said. He left my cell with heavy steps.
I began nodding off to sleep. A few hours later, I assumed, I heard some very sharp footsteps come my way. I could only imagine that it was a woman, given the clicking, but I still had no idea who had opened the door of my cell.
“You know that was incredibly stupid, right ?” The voice was unmistakable. For some reason, Katana, of all people came to see me.
“I knooooooow !” I said, while nursing a headache.
“Your tolerance for alcohol is impressive, but people know who you are now. The mad bastard who outdrank Victoria Steel.” She began pacing the room, measuring her next statement. “It would be a miracle if the Warden hasn’t heard of you by now.”
“Why would the Warden care ?” At this point, I just wanted to sleep and deal with the repercussions later.
“Well you are messing around with her fighters. And there’s more to a pit fighter than what is portrayed in the arena. If a fighter doesn’t fight to the best of their abilities, it could change the flow of money given to the prison.”
“What are you getting at ?”
“These fights aren’t just for us prisoners, the rich and powerful bet on our fights. Sometimes they have enough clout to improve the system in this hell hole. Imagine if a fighter, Victoria in this case, couldn’t meet the expectations by her audience ? Or worse, if she were to die. Such a loss could dent the earnings of the Warden.”
At this, I sat up. I had no idea that such a thing could be possible. That fat cats would get in on the grift that was going on in this place. It was a wonder that our world hadn’t already gone insane. It disgusted me that people that were meant to be the pinnacle of moral standing would waste their time observing and betting on people fighting for the mere right to exist.
“But what does this have to do with me?”
“Imagine what she would do to you if word reached her ears that a non-fighter such as yourself was hindering the state of the fighters ?”
“I mean…I don’t want to make this a regular thing, by any means, but…”
“I know,” she cut in. “But I strongly suggest you try and watch your step. Already you were stepping on thin ice when you went out of your way to talk with me, but imagine where you are going now ? You’re going to find yourself on a boat without a paddle real quick.”
With that, she left my cell. The clicking of her shoes rang in my brain as she walked away. I could finally sleep. It was a deep sleep, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to dream and rest on my laurels from this evening.
I awoke to the guard banging on my cell door, yelling at me to get up. My entire body felt as though it had a case of dry mouth, and I still wanted to sleep. But knowing the guards, if I didn’t get up for the day, I’d be walking with a limp for the rest of the week. As I set myself up, I could feel my brain pulsating from the night before. I got up from my bed sluggishly, I gathered my things before making my way to the showers.
I made sure the water was hot and to stay as long as possible before it was someone else’s turn. Hydrating the body helps with overcoming a hangover. I then made my way to the mess hall where to my surprise, Victoria was sat in the middle of the room, nursing what looked like a hangover. Food was absent from her side of the table so when I went to grab some. I asked Jenkins, the cafeteria lady, if she could give me something REALLY greasy. She grabbed some of the gruel that was to be our morning meal and applied a hefty dose of olive oil.
“Can’t do better than that I'm afraid,” Jenkins said.
“It’s much appreciated nonetheless,” I responded with a smile.
“Getting over a hangover, right?”
“Yeah, you could say that.”
“Word gets around fast. I’d keep my head down for a while.”
“I will, but not before I claim what is mine.”
“And what is that ?”
“Her story,” I motioned towards Victoria, still agonizing at a table.
“You’re gonna need some extra coffee then,” she said, taking the coffee cups and emptying them out. She gave me an entire pot of coffee including the two cups. “You better bring it all back, or you’re ass is grass,” she said with a chuckle.
“I don’t doubt it Jenkins. But you can count on me.” With that I walked off with everything she gave me. I placed the platters on the table as gently as possible, but even so, Victoria groaned with extreme displeasure.
“That’s too loud,” she said. She was covering her eyes from the morning sun. it blared through the windows at this hour, but it would vanish again in about ten minutes or so. This place was built to keep us miserable.
“I brought food for a hangover and coffee,” I said as I served her up a cup of coffee.
“You didn’t come to gloat ?”
“Please. That sort of behaviour is beneath me. I came to collect what you owe me.”
“So you came to gloat.”
“Oh, stop it why don’t you. Eat your gruel and we’ll get started.” She sighed, audibly. Victoria proceeded to eating like a pig, and I swear, she almost fell asleep in her bowl at one point. I felt a lot better after finally eating. I took out my notebook. She seemed surprised.
“You wanna do this now ?” she asked with a tinge of disdain.
“Well, yeah. I have you in the rawest state. For someone like you, I feel like this is the best moment.”
“You bastard,” she sighed, pausing for a brief moment. “Alright, let’s do this.” I took a sip of coffee to think of my first question.
“Let’s start from the beginning,” I said, matter-of-factly. “Where were you born ?” She pinched the bridge of her nose as to gather her thoughts.
“If I remember correctly, I was born in Highern, but after my mom died giving birth to me, my dad moved to one of the outlying towns of Gorudo.”
“What did your dad do ?” I started to realize that my questions were very robotic, but quickly blamed it on the hangover.
“Listen, is this an interrogation, or do you want to know how I ended up here ?” She asked, glaring at me with visible disdain.
“Well, how am I supposed to know the circumstances that led you here ? I want to know everything, from A to Z. How did you grow up ? What did you do before you ended up in here ? How DID you end up in here ?” She grunted again, displaying her displeasure at her situation but relented, knowing that I was doing this for a good cause.
“Fine ! You wanna know so bad ? My dad used to be a reputable arms dealer in Highern, but after my mom passed, something went awry and he moved us to Gorudo, doing the same thing but on the black market. He would bring Highern weapons into Gorudo, dealing them to some unsavoury characters there. You happy ?”
“Yes, I am. I’ve always wondered how Highern weapons made their way to Gorudo. Never knew that your dad had a part to play in all that. Just for my own edification, what was his name?”
“My dad was called Victor. I was told my mom’s name was Sonja. With a J.”
“That name, Victor, it rings a bell. I’m sure we’ll get to that in a moment.”
“Yeah…I guess we will.”
“So my next question will be, how was life growing up ?”
“Fuck man, you don't really want to know everything now, do you ?” Victoria began rubbing her temples as she pondered the question for a moment. The fact that she was still nursing a headache definitely didn’t help, but I knew I could use this to my advantage. She was similar in temperament to Katana, but seemed more connected to her emotions than Cloverfield.
“Take your time,” I said, comfortingly. She simply shot me a look that said ‘don’t rush me.’
“Growing up was nowhere near as pleasant as your childhood, I bet.”
“You don’t know how I grew up,” I said. “Try me. I’ve heard all sorts of stories.”
“We lived comfortably, despite the fact that my dad lived with the stress of being found out daily. But because of his business, I barely ever got his attention. If anything, the people who raised me were his workers and the occasional hookers who would come by our house for parties. There was one person in particular who took care of me, and that was Boris. My dad’s second in command. Admittedly, he was more my babysitter if anything. I later found him to be a better father figure than my dad.”
“What did you think of your dad’s work ? I know you were a kid, but even then, I’m sure you had an opinion ?”
“Yeah...you could say that. Even though I was about six when I realized what he did for a living, I wasn’t really okay with it. He was always busy, would bring work back home with him. He didn’t just deal in guns, but drugs as well. So guns, drugs, and sometimes he invited strippers, but that was mostly for his own personal pleasure as well as that of his workers. There were barely any women on his pay roll.”
“So a generally unhealthy environment?”
“What are you, some kind of shrink? I thought I was talking to a journalist!”
“Well a large part of this kind of this kind of journalism is being able to empathize with the person you’re inter-”
“Yeah whatever, shut up,” she said cutting me off. “I only learned that my mom was dead because I asked Boris. And for some fucking reason it gave me a desire to try and become closer with my dad in whatever way possible. Mostly by helping in his business. When I proposed the idea, he was initially against it. Said : ‘kids shouldn’t get mixed up in this sort of shit.’ That just made me want to work for him even more. I still don’t understand my rational behind that.”
“Could it be because he was the only form of ‘true’ family you had left ?”
“I guess, but at this point, I’ve largely just told myself that this was me being a stupid idiot, and I’ll get to that if you ask the right questions.”
“Got it boss,” I jotted this down.
“So where was I ?” Victoria asked looking at me with a squinted eye. The sun was gone now, but the light in the cafeteria remained. I took another sip of coffee.
“You were talking about how you wanted to be a part of your father’s business.”
“Right…So let’s just get the record straight regarding his actions. He primarily dealt in the clandestine distribution of Highern weapons in Gorudo. As you know, Gorudo was and still is super high tech, and regular gangs didn’t necessarily have the scratch to buy that kind of shit. So they would try and get their hands on some Highern weaponry. The weapons are lower tech in comparison, but they're just as reliable and significantly less expensive.” I simply nodded, enticing her to keep going with her story. “Every time there was a business meeting or whatever, I would always go and ask him if there was anything that I could do. Just to humour me, he would ask me to do small tasks, but was still seemed pretty against the idea. Even though I largely did nothing, I would still observe what was going on. So between the age of seven and nine, I absorbed all that information like a goddam sponge.”
“What was the biggest piece of information you learned ?”
“Always do background checks on your client. If they got the cash, they’ll get the gas. Aaaaaaand...Fuck, I dunno. Too fucked up to remember off the top of my head,” she said rubbing her eye.
“Then let’s get to a memorable point. What was a significant turning point in this period of your life ?”
“Oh, well do I got a story for you !”
“I’m all ears.”
“I think I was nine at that point. No idea why, but my dad decides to show me what an actual exchange looks like. The meeting went tits up faster than you could say ‘bullet’.”
“Cause fuck you that’s why. So anyways, this thing goes south really fast. It was supposed to be a simple swap, but the gang we were dealing with decided to keep the money and take the weapons.”
“I’m surprised they had enough bullets to try that !”
“I know, right ?! Thinking back on the situation, I only made the remark later in my life. Anyway, before this event took place, I was sat in the truck with Boris, and noticed some fuckers surrounding the truck. As a result, I felt duty bound to warn Boris. As the shoot-out starts, I was kicking myself for insisting on coming. The gang had the advantage in this fight. Boris was told by my dad to get the hell out of dodge if shit hit the fan, and proceeded to start the truck, I saw my dad get shot in the arm so like an idiot, I grab Boris’ gun and jump out of the truck. I bolted for the some of the crates that were in the wear house in the hopes that I would flank them. And as they were occupied with shooting at my dad, who was behind cover might I add, I take a moment to aim and BANG !!! I manage to pop one and wound his buddy next to him. The gang is confused as they see a little girl goin' crazy with an assault rifle, and my dad uses this opportunity to finishes them off.”
“While an interesting story, how did this change your life ?”
“In every way you piece of fuck! When all was said and done, I was happy he was alive. And for the first time in my life, I felt his embrace. It was at this point that I came up with the assumption that if I did something useful, he in turn would show me affection !” Victoria realised that her story had caught the attention of surrounding inmates. “Fuck off !” She exclaimed. The people around us quickly resumed their business and the bustling of the mess hall began anew.
“More coffee ?” I offered.
“Please. This headache is still killing me.” I fill her cup back up.
“Same,” I said with a sigh.
“How do you look so okay ?”
“I’m a high functioning alcoholic,” I said flatly.
“Nah, I ain’t buying that bullshit for one minute.”
“Let’s just say, when your head was spinning, my fingers were only starting to get warm. That’s a perk of growing up in Highern. You drink to stay warm.”
“You were born in Highern ? I thought you were from Magneum or Gorudo.”
“Is it my accent ?”
“I went to college in Gorudo. I managed to get a scholarship to go to a trade school.”
“And journalism was your calling ?”
“Yeah. But I’ll be happy to talk about me all you want AFTER you finish telling me your story. So I see you had a misguided epiphany, and then what ?”
“Right…So I understood later that Victor showed me more ‘affection’ simply because I was willing to die for him. And as his only hereditary successor, he began implicating me in his business a bit more. He explained to me who were buying his weapons, why he sold dope, etc. etc. But what was more intriguing was how he was paying off the cops to keep a blind eye on the folks that shipped his weapons. A nice little box of cash and a bottle of alcohol. That’s where the money from the dope went. That aside, Boris begins teaching me how to properly shoot. We went over all sorts of weapons : hand guns, rifles, shot guns and so on, so forth. I felt a lot happier as a result.”
“Guess you made the best out of a bad situation.”
“You could say that, but so did my dad.”
“So one day, just before I turned eleven, my dad tells me that we’re off to a simple trade deal. It was far away, and he told me that we’d be staying for a couple of weeks. I was to pack some clothes for the trip. He said it was a business trip mixed with some quality time with his daughter. The truck was filled with crates, and we were off to the races. The ride was long. We were on the road until we reached the border of Highern. I found this strange, seeing as how our main clientele were gangs in Gorudo, but I decided not to question it. At the time, I trusted him with my life. Boy was I wrong about that.” Victoria sighed once more, this time as though she were still kicking herself about it. “We finally stop near a snowed on field, and on the side of the road was a group of people completely dressed in black. I found it surprising that there were only two people and one normal looking sedan. My dad stopped the truck and told me to grab my things. I tried to contest with whatever was going on, but he simply insisted. Me being the whipped bitch that I was followed his orders. “
“So what actually happened?
“Turns out my dad decided to sell his most zealous worker. Apparently, his business fell on hard times. The people he sold me to not only gave him the opportunity to expand his influence, but paid a hefty price for little ol’ me.”
“Dang, that’s rough.”
“At the time, I thought I had done wrong by my dad. That this was his punishment for me. But if you remember, my mom died giving birth to me, right ?”
“Yeah ? What’s the rapport ?”
“When I confronted him later in life, it turns out that the transaction was a form of revenge for him. I began looking too much like my mother that he could no longer bare the sight of me. I was an image of the past for him, and he despised me for having been the one to kill her. Honestly, I'm impressed that he was able to hide the emotion so well."
“If I may, who were these people your father sold you to?”
“I only knew them as the Agency. Very large network, fingers in all the pies, yada yada yada, you’ve heard the trope before.”
“Right… I hope you’re not yanking my chain.” At this point I wasn’t sure if she was telling the truth or not. I could only wait to see how this would play out.
“I swear to you on my guns that this is true. There is such thing as a puppet master in this world, and I’m sure there are other folks in here that have been affected by them as well. For all you know, they were the ones that pulled a few strings to get you in here.”
“Perhaps. But excuse me if I find this sounding more and more like a conspiracy theory.” Victoria slammed her fist on the table at this.
“I fucking swear to you that what I lived in the Agency was no fucking joke, and I have the fucking scars to prove it.” At this, I shut my trap. She looked at me with anger and determination. I sighed, releasing the tension in my gut.
“Alright, I’ll humour you. Where did you end up after you’d been taken by those men ?”
“I was sent to an academy to be trained as an assassin. They only took in young children because it was easier for them to condition us. As soon as I set foot in those halls, my things were confiscated, and I was given a set of uniforms to wear for my classes. The environment was harsh as there was barely any wiggle room to be you. If we laughed, we’d get smacked. Cried, smacked. Smiled, smacked. We were treated like nothing more than mere automata. I started missing Boris and, funnily enough, Victor. But it was at this point that I started dissociating myself with him on a personal level.”
“Would you say that the hope of seeing them again was what kept you going ?”
“I can. I hoped with every fibre of my being that I’d see them again. But another light presented itself in the form of an orphan girl called Nikita.”
“She a friend you made at the academy ?”
“My first and only friend at the time. Contrary to a lot of the kids there, she was had a positive outlook on her situation. She rationalized it as a better situation than what she had at her orphanage. It was like starting with a clean slate for her. She was like the only stable chair in a room of fucky ones.”
“That’s a comparison I’ve never heard before.”
“Well there will probably be more, so sit tight. But the one upside to this tough upbringing was that I had an actual education. Math, reading, writing, science, languages etcetera. Thanks to that education, I’m fluent in six different languages and I’m capable of simple conversation with a seventh.”
“What languages do you know ?”
“All the languages in Highern, so that’s four. I know both languages from Gorudo, and it’s the Magnese language with which I have some difficulties.”
“I see. So what happened after that first year at the academy ?”
“After the first year, we were separated into different sections. Different specialities, if you would. There was marksmanship, subtlety, magic, and the one feared by all of us, the eviscerator section.”
“What was that one about ?”
“It’s a form of assassination that includes a lot of drugs, and being able to kill everything on sight so that there would be no survivors. I however was placed in marksmanship.”
“I see. So what happened to Nikita ?”
“She came with me to the same specialization. It was where we met our handlers. I knew mine from the past couple years. We only knew him as Lynch, and I’m still unsure if that’s his real name. At the time, I thought he was a really cool guy, covering for Nikita and I when we were being idiots. When I was placed under his tutelage, I was extremely happy. I felt I could trust him. When I finally started learning however, he was particularly hard on me. He would push me to be better than the rest.
“How long did your education last ?”
“Six years…yep, six years. It was basically what I had done with Boris when I was a kid, but far more gruelling. We were taught to take care of our weapons, cleaning them, learning to make our own bullets…it was a whole thing. We still maintained normal education as well. But it was during this time that we were being programmed with certain phrases.”
“Would you be able to tell me yours ?”
“I’d prefer to write it out.” I gave Victoria my note book. She had written her phrase and all that was written was ‘would you kindly.’ I felt like I read this somewhere before, but I couldn’t say for sure.
“So what happened after those six years ?” I asked.
“We were to pass a graduation test. A scenario where we were given a directive, and upon completion, we would be sent out into the world and blend in with common folk.”
“So what was your test ?”
“It was the worst thing since my father sold me.” She paused, not just because of the headache, but also because she seemed to muster the strength to even talk about it. “I had to kill my friend, Nikita.”
“What ? Why ?”
“I don’t know. I’ve played those years back in my head ever since, and I still don’t understand the logic behind it.” She held her head between her hands, still pondering the reasoning behind it.
“If I may, how did things play out ?”
“Badly. I don’t have another word for the way things went. I remember it was set in the training grounds just like the other tests. It was supervised so we just assumed that they would stop the fight if one of us gave up or badly hurt. But we fought half-heartedly. We didn’t want to hurt each other. If anything, we were taking pot shots at each other, making sure to hit as close to cover as possible, instead of going for the kill. But when it was clear what they wanted us to do, neither of us could do it.”
“So how did it end ?”
“Nikita was the one with the balls to stand and say that she wouldn’t do it. She threw her weapon on the ground and began walking out. Before the actual test started however, Lynch gave me an earpiece in case I was ever in a pickle. He saw that I hesitated to do anything, and when she got up, he simply said those words.” Victoria pointed to my notebook. “He then said ‘kill Nikita’. My mind went blank and I pulled the trigger. In a mere split second, she was dead. I shot her in the head. I had hoped to give her a painless death despite my mindless state. But I regret never having stood with her.”
“I can only imagine how difficult things were for you after the fact. Did you receive any form of consolation ?”
“You’re joking, right ? After everything I had just said about how hard and unforgiving they were, you would think they would have even a shred of compassion ? The only consolation I got was a pat on the shoulder and a badge, showing me that I had ‘graduated’ from learning how to kill people professionally.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult.”
“No you didn’t, 'cause you had a cushy life back in Highern with parents who loved you and had money and an actual life.”
“Don’t play this game Victoria. I may be kind, but my kindness has limits.”
“What are you gonna do, little man ? Outdrink me again ?”
“You wanna know what my life was like in Highern ?” I finally raised my voice for the first time in months. An anger began boiling inside me. I knew it was misplaced, but the aggression spilled forth regardless.
“Yeah, enlighten me.”
“It was a hell hole. Fifty years ago, Haltop was a wonderful city to live in, but over the years, when crime and corruption started to set in, it became hell on earth. Yeah, sure, I had parents who loved and supported me, but do you think the government cared for the poor ? The only money we ever got was what my father earned in his shop fixing watches. Guess how many people use watches anymore…next to none. One top of that, in those neighbourhoods, you were sure that you’d get your ass beat just for looking at a fella wrong. Every time I came home from school, I would either run home or take the sewers. Every day was a new ordeal ; people stealing money and merchandise at gunpoint, people taking our rations through force. We lived in constant fear that our shop would get ransacked, and as a result, half the money we ever got always went to some bogus insurance company. The only thing my parents hoped for was that I could one day get out of that dump. So while I may not have had it as rough as you, I know what it means to live a hard life, Victoria. Everyone here knows what it means. Some of these people are here for the tiniest of crimes, and the rest were probably framed for some bullshit they never did. So don’t you fucking dare talk to me about having it hard.”
The cafeteria fell silent once again. I stood there at the table, glaring at Victoria. After my rant was finally finished, I felt that all eyes in the room were on me. When I finally realized what I had said, I sat back down quickly. I didn’t want to draw more attention than needed. She sat there as though she had somehow defeated me. Her eye was still small from the fatigue, but the look was unmistakable. I decided to sit there, and drink my coffee, stewing in my anger and embarrassment. The coffee started getting cold, but that didn’t bother me. I realized that I had begun denting the aluminium cup from the stress her antagonising caused. I cleared my mind, glanced in her direction, and returned to my notes.
“So then ‘you graduated’,” I said, breaking the silence between us at last. Victoria still had that smug look on her face.
“Yeah, you could say that. Once we graduated, we were asked to complete four missions minimum per year, or else we’d get sacked.”
“How does that work ? You just get fired or something like in a normal corporate environment ?”
“Let me clarify.” She drew her finger across her neck, illustrating that getting sacked meant getting killed.
“Why would they do that ?”
“Cause if we’re still alive and we were just fired like your average employee, we could get captured, interrogated and maybe spill the beans eventually. Tying up loose ends, you see ?”
“Yeah. But what did you do afterwards ?”
“We were told to blend in with civilization. My idea was become a bounty hunter. I felt it was the best way to maintain my skills. And it was easy money. At the time, if I got a mission from them, I would put everything on hold until their mission was done. This went on for another four years. So between the ages 19 to 23, I was pretty notorious in a couple of circles.”
“Why until the age of 23 ?” I asked.
“Cause that’s when everything went to shit…again.” She said this with an unnerving amount of nonchalance.
“How can you say that with such an emotionless tone ?”
“Cause at this point, I’ve considered it the norm that I find myself in some dumb ass bullshit.”
“Okay…so what happened ?”
“I get a mission that I’ve been wishing to get for a very long time : kill Victor, my dad. After so many years, not only would I get the chance to meet my dad again, but I’d be able to put a bullet between his eyes.” Victoria grinned, remembering the event. She was still tired, but she seemed to be regaining some of her energy.
“So what happened to your father over the years ?”
“Turns out he became so influential that he began properly dealing weapons in Gorudo. He of course continued his black market grift on the side, but gave that to Boris. He had a proper mansion with a lawn and a pool, and everything in between. But somehow he crossed the Agency, and they wanted him dead. Why they gave me the mission, I wouldn’t know for a while. So I got ready for this task, and walked up to the front gate with all of my guns, tightly packed into a suitcase. But who do I find rolling up in one of those fancy cars ? Boris, of all people had come to greet me that evening. Of course, I knew he’d be there at that hour and I used our old friendship as a means of entering the estate. As we drove in, we caught up with one another. I told him a bogus story about having been separated from dad and for all these years, and that I’d been trying to find him again. We roll up to the front of the house, go inside, and entered one of the many rooms. I set myself up to start the execution. My dad came into the room, yet to be informed of my arrival, and eyes locked momentarily. He recognized me, but before he could speak, I started shooting. Boris was confused, and not wanting to kill him for his role in my childhood, I just konked him on the head. BAM ! On the ground.”
“Wouldn’t there be any repercussions if he survived?” I asked.
“I’m getting to that. So my dad hoofs it like an overweight horse. The guards are alerted to the noise so I grabbed all my guns with their mags and I start shooting anyone and everyone there. Even the servants. I hated that this man who was supposed to be my dad made such a cushy life for himself without me. At this point, I just wanted to take everything away from him. Shots going left and right, blam blam blam. People dying around me. It was awesome.”
“Tell that to the people who died.”
“They would agree with me,” Victoia claimed with a smirk, but whinced as she felt her headache again. “So I finally managed to get to my dad. He’d been hiding in one of the guest rooms under the bed like a child. Like the bad ass that I was, I dragged him out by his ankles. Of course, he tried fighting, and pulled a piddly hand gun on me. Needless to say, he missed his shots cause I kicked the gun out of his fat sausage fingers. I then picked him up by the collar, and threw him against the wall."
"You threw him against the wall ?"
"Yup. And as he fell to his knees, I asked if he had any last words. He babbles on for a couple of minutes that he regret what he had done. I wasn’t taking none of his bullshit, and decided to end it there. Boris comes in with a gun with one hand nursing his head wound. I was surprised he managed to get back up so quickly. Boris aimed his gun at me, screaming something about the good old times, and how I could do this in cold blood and blah blah blah... I just decide I was done giving extra chances. So I shot him. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to kill him. But now that he was awake, I couldn’t save him. "
"So when that was said and done, I called up the Agency and let them know that the mission was done. But as I was calling them, one of those tomahawk helicopters flies in and blows up the place. The first explosion took out half of the villa, and it continued raining fire on the rest of the estate. It looked like a war zone, and I was caught in the blast. I would have been dead had it not been for that random guy in a grey coat. He dragged me out of that mess when all was said and done. I would have liked to thank the git, but I went in and out of consciousness throughout the journey to the hospital.”
This piqued my curiosity. Once again, a man is mentioned without mention of his identity.
“Did you see anything else about this man in your state ? Did you get his name ?” I asked.
“Nope, just saw he had longish brown hair. Why ?”
“Let’s just say I’ve noticed a pattern. Anyways, I didn’t mean to distract you from telling your story.”
“No no, what’s this pattern you’re noticing?”
“I’m not sure yet. He’s just appeared in every one of your stories so far. Like I said, nothing’s solid yet. What happened after you blacked out?” Victoria looked at me quizzicaly. In the end, she shook her head, and continued with her story.
“Right, so I ended up in a hospital. Apparently I was burned real bad with a few broken bones. I was in the worst state of my life. I started telling myself that the helicopter had to have come from the Agency. So I decided to watch the news, and wouldn’t you believe it, the story was completely changed. The fifty people I killed and that were later blown up ? A gas leak. Blew up the estate and everyone inside.” She chuckled at this. “I knew it was fake news and I knew who was behind it. So I decided to disappear. I asked the surgeons to give me a completely different face, and change the body from what I had originally. Even asked them to give me a little extra around here.” She indicates her chest with pride, sticking them out like they were a pair of ripe melons. As glorious as they were, I was not personally interested, nor in anyone for that matter. However, something in her story didn’t add up.
“What about your eye ?” I asked
“Oh ! Right. Well back when I was still in the academy, they had given us a surgical augmentation in our left eyes. I was convinced that the Agency had added something extra in there like a tracking device or something, and I asked the surgeons to replace it with a bionic. I wear the eyepatch to hide that fact.” Victoria looked about her before revealing what was underneath her eyepatch. The bionic looked almost like the real deal, but I knew it was fake due to a slight glow in the retina.
“Damn ! But now that I think about it, how was life in the hospital during your rehabilitation ?”
“It was calm. I hated it. I’ve been conditioned to always be on the move, and this just felt like hell for me. On the plus side, I did meet a woman who shared the same room with me. She was ex military, and she’d just lost her arm. Jenkins.”
“You mean, like the cafeteria lady ?” I asked. She looked over at the counter. Jenkins was still there. She noticed us looking in her direction, and tipped her head at us in acknowledgement.
“Yeah. That’s her. I like her. She reminds me of Nikita in a weird way. “
“Really?” I ask astonished.
“Yeah. She’s got a positive attitude. That’s it. Otherwise, when I first met her, I found her to be super chatty. She just wouldn’t shut up. THat bein said, it was nice to see a positive person.”
“That’s nice to hear. But what did you do next ?”
“So I knew two things. I’m still alive, and the Agency doesn’t know it yet. So I was pissed off, and I wanted pay back. So for the next seven years, I start planning. On the side, I continue my work as a bounty hunter, and moved closer to the capital city under a different name.”
“Was it during this period you met Katana ?”
“Yep. I was around twenty nine, twenty eight when I met her.”
“And what did you do to prepare ?”
“I tracked down Agency workers and persuaded them to talk. Spill some beans, you know ? Like what I’m doing now. I would also be sure my arsenal was prepared. I’m pretty sure that that’s what tipped them off. Or maybe it was because after a time, I started getting pretty reckless in how I got my information. After a while though, I got caught, given a bogus charge and here I am.”
“But why here of all places ? You could have easily been sent to a more ‘normal’ state run prison instead of here.”
“Like I said, they have their fingers in aaaaaaaaall of the pies. I’m sure they reached out to the Warden here so that she could incarcerate me.”
“That’s a huge allegation. Would you be ready to stand by that ?”
“Absofucinglutely. But after hearing myself say all that, I realize there’s a lot of shoulda, woulda, coulda. It annoys me.”
“I can get that.” I said. I finished my last note, and closed my notebook. As we sat in silence, finishing the coffee pot, one of the prisoners came over. I recognized him as that support group leader from the night before.
“I couldn’t help but overhear your story,” he piped. “I just want you to know that none of that was your fault.” He said this with the kindest smile. However, Victoria simply shot him a glare and clenched her cup.
“Who the fuck asked you, you fucking git !!!” She yelled. She ended up sending the man to the infirmary.