“Alpha City. The best, the brightest, the gem of cities. Too bad the people are scum.” said Jysis d’Montaigne, sipping his Parisian wine.
“I can’t help but agree,” Selena Caitsborough said, smiling, “but you seem to be enjoying the wine, Jysis.”
He laughed. “Would that these men were wines. I’d be able to drink them up and savor the taste of victory.”
“You beast! You’re one of Jahansson’s board members, along with many men here! Eliminate them, and the old man’s suspicion will fall on you!”
He chucked her chin and said with a mischievous smile, “Would that Elric would attend the meetings. He’s been shut up with the generals for days now. Apparently, there was a mass desertion in the Demokratos.”
“Good. Maybe we can have some peace.”
“And there’s been a huge resurgence in raids, demolition attacks, and assaults on bases. Elric knew that the Demokratos would fall eventually. He never expected this.”
“I think that Seigneur Jahansson absolutely should have expected this,” said an unfamiliar voice, jerking both of them up. A young man and woman they had never seen before were standing not a foot from where they sat.
“After all, where should he have anticipated them to go? The Army?”
Jysis cocked his head slightly. He had never seen two people quite so intriguing.
The young man wore a handsome, flawlessly tailored business suit and a dazzling smile. His blue eyes twinkled merrily, sparkling like the wine in his hand. The girl, who looked no older than sixteen, wore an olive dress of a fine fabric. Her smile was demure, and she kept her eyes on the floor.
“And who are you?” Selena said, trying to keep her voice aloof.
“A man and his little sister, here at the whim of our father. A pleasure to meet you, Miss…?”
“Caitsborough. Selena Caitsbourough.” she replied, her face going pink.
“Enchanted. And you, sir?”
“My name’s Jysis. You still haven’t told us your name, stranger.” he replied, trying to keep focus on the man.
“Names are wind and heat. There’s a dance going on; would milady do me the honor?” the man replied lightly, offering his hand to Selena. She took it without a thought, and he whirled her out onto the floor, vanishing into the crowd.
Jysis sighed and turned to the girl.
“What’s your name, madame? Your brother would not give it, will you?”
The girl smiled and offered her own hand. Jysis took it without a second thought, and found himself being pulled out onto the dance floor.
He had never liked to dance. He preferred to be out of the center of attention, in the darkest corner with the best view. But now… now he felt like a king, a beautiful woman opposite him and his subjects happy and laughing around him. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the happiness that filled him, the grace of their dance, and the knowledge of good times to come.
Eventually, though, the dance had to come to an end. He bowed to her, drunk on ecstasy. She smiled again, a small smile full of warmth, and took Jysis’ hand, leading him out of the crowd. He barely noticed; the world was only her and him, and he followed her as willingly as a lamb. She led him out into the hallway of the mansion, and pushed him against a wall, her lips a centimeter away from his own! He moved to her eagerly, and for a brief moment their lips locked.
Then he felt himself fall backwards, through the wall and into darkness.
He tried to push himself to his feet, but something held him tightly in place. The door slammed shut behind him, and he became conscious of a woman’s soft sobs near him.
“Selena?” he whispered. The sobbing quieted at once.
“Jysis? Is that you?” she said, her voice much too loud.
He tried to shush her, but he suddenly felt himself being drawn up against a wall by powerful hands. The lights flicked on.
And there they stood.
The man’s suit was fading from his skin, turning into a strange grey covering Jysis had only heard about. The girl was still in her dress, standing directly next to the man.
Jysis gaped, then furious words poured out of his mouth before he could stop them!
“How dare you?! You’re abducting two Corporation employees, people who speak to Elric Jahansson himself! Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
“If I didn’t, would I have tried it?” the man replied evenly, unhooking a ring of metal from a sheath on the wall.
“I’ll make it fast. Me and my friend here need everything you have. Information, passcodes, credits, maybe even your lives. Let us know where you’ve got them stored, and we’ll let you go.”
“I’ll never talk.” Jysis said defiantly, struggling against his bonds.
A sardonic smile grew on the man’s face.
“You won’t have to.”
And suddenly, the girl was in front of him, with her delicate hands on both sides of Jysis’ face. Her eyes had vanished, replaced by twin purple lights that seemed to crawl out of her sockets. Her mouth was open in a silent scream, with that light radiating from her throat!
Jysis screamed long and loud.
Dante turned away, closing his eyes. It still made him a little sick to see this. Ariel was quickly becoming invaluable, but at what cost? He needed the information the man Jysis had, but was that worth the price of murder?
He resolved to have a talk with her when they got back. She was learning fast. Maybe another lesson would help.
Eventually Jysis’ screams died, and Dante heard his body hit the floor. He turned back around, and looked at the woman. She was white as a sheet, cringing away from Ariel. Dante walked over to his sister, and laid a hand on her shoulder.
“Something needs to be done about her, Ariel.”
“I know.” she replied simply, stepping to his side.
Dante stood there, thinking.
“Decide what to do with her.” he said, stepping back.
She looked at him, surprised, then turned back to the woman, and extended an arm.
“NO! DON’T TOUCH ME!” the woman screamed, flailing and trying to avoid the girl’s touch.
Ariel’s fingertips grazed her, and she immediately went limp, eyes vacant.
Dante looked at Ariel with a strange interest.
“You killed her?”
“I shut down her brain, then her organs. She felt no pain.” she said, her tone odd.
He nodded in approval, and gripped her shoulder. “We need to go home. I’ll convert the bodies, use the teleport module.”
She pulled it out, and in a flash of green she was gone.
Dante sighed. She used to just shut down the heart and let them die slowly of cardiac arrest. Instant death is better.
He touched the bodies, and willed the GIACA to begin to invade their body’s cells. Within minutes, the two had dissolved into a pile of clothes and grey slime.
Dante shook his head, and made the stuff flow up his arm and condense in a container at his waist.
She wants to know my history. That’ll be the lesson she’ll angle for tonight. Why? I’ll never know.
He keyed in the coordinates and flew home.
She was waiting for him in the dojo, doing pushups. He smiled.
When I found her, she was sticky-thin and weak. Three months, and she’s as strong as most men here.
He walked over to her, waiting for the end of the pushup session. When she stopped, she sat cross-legged at his feet. He joined her, and waited. After about a minute, she spoke.
“I had a dream last night. Do you want to hear it?”
“Gladly.” Dante said, smiling.
She smiled back. “I was in a black field, with a bleached night sky above me. I was lost in the field, but I knew that didn’t matter. I had to wait for something. So I did.”
“It took a little while, but something happened. I saw the sun rise. But it wasn’t the sun. It was a ring of metal, spinning in all directions, and behind it a great flaming bird. It was beautiful, watching the thing slowly rise into the sky. Do you know what it meant?”
Dante shook his head. “Many dreams don’t mean anything.”
She laughed. Her voice was clear and high, a singer’s voice.
“I think it was you.”
“What makes you think that?” Dante said, knowing where she was going.
“You’re the ring of metal, always on the move and orbiting around something. That's plain to see. But what about the bird, what do you call it?”
“A phoenix.” Dante murmured, his gaze straying to the tattoo on Ariel’s arm.
She looked at it, and laughed again.
“My little bird is nothing like that was. It was beautiful, shining like Alpha on a clear night. Who was your phoenix, Dante?”
Dante pursed his lips. Ariel drew close.
“What’s the harm in telling me what I’m asking to know? How can it hurt?”
“Some doors are better left closed.” Dante said, a note of finality in his voice. She sighed, and stood up.
“Fine. I guess I’ll have to wait to know anything about my brother. What’s the lesson for tonight?”
Dante stood as well, and looked her full in the eye.
“Why did you kill the woman the way you did?”
“Because it’s quick and painless. Because there was no need for her to suffer.”
“And there was a need for the others?”
“Yes. They were people who killed daily, who ruined lives for fun.”
“And not with Selena?”
“No. She was really just a consort, with no power and no malice.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I just do. I could sense it.”
Dante smiled. “Then there won’t be a lecture tonight, Ariel. You’ve already learned the lesson I was going to teach. Can you name it?”
She smiled as well. “Mercy?”
He nodded, and swept at her head with the flat of Blaze!
She ducked, barely dodging the whistling ring, and threw an uppercut. Dante sidestepped and jumped backwards, landing on the opposite end of the hall.
He called to her as she ran to her end. “Quick as wind-“
“-strong as steel!” she finished, sprinting toward him, her fist wreathed in purple light.
He grinned, and ran to meet her halfway.
Ten minutes later, Ariel was on the floor, out of breath, with one of Dante’s guns pointed squarely between her eyes. He was having trouble breathing as the GIACA began to reinflate a lung and rearrange several ribs.
He spoke haltingly, grimacing in pain.
“You almost had me with that blast. What did you try to make it do?”
“I was trying to make it a push, preferably one that would have sent you through a wall.” she said, smiling.
He chuckled, then winced as the last rib reformed in his chest.
“Do you know why you lost?”
“You’re too fast.”
He shook his head. “You let your shield down.”
“I let my shield down, but you move too damn fast for me! I can’t counter your attacks in time, so why bother with the shield?”
“Because nobody is quite as fast as I am. Because I am easily the best warrior you will ever fight. If you manage to adapt to my attacks, you can adapt to anything.” he said, holstering the gun and pulling Ariel to her feet.
“That’s enough for tonight. I’d prefer not to break any more bones. But you did well, little sister.”
She pouted. “I’m older than you!”
“You’re still half a child, Ariel. You’ve come a long way in a few months, but you’re not there yet.” he said.
She rolled her eyes. “Fine, whatever. What’s the next thing we’re doing?”
“Tomorrow, we need to go to Omega. I have a few things to show you.”
She nodded, and walked off toward her room. Then something seemed to occur to her, and she turned back.
“Will you at least tell me her name?”
Dante looked back, about to leave as well. There was a moment of silence.
“You’ll find out tomorrow. Get some rest, Ariel.”
She exited without another word.
Dante walked into the common room, and found Sarai waiting for him. She was reclining in a moth-eaten armchair, and her eyes were angry.
“How’s she coming?”
Dante sat down opposite her. “She’s doing great. Much stronger, more moral, and more in control of her powers.”
Sarai nodded, but her eyes were still dark.
“I hope she continues to do well.” she said, somewhat stiffly.
“Is there something you want to say, Sarai?”
“No, commander.” she said, her tone perfectly neutral.
He noticed that too.
“Do you dislike the fact that I’m training Ariel?”
“No! No… I’m sorry, Dante. I’ve had a little too much to drink, and I lost a friend today.”
Dante seemed taken aback. His tone was shocked as he said,
“Sarai? Drinking? It’s the end of days!”
She laughed, and he smiled.
“A soldier from White Dragon. He was a good man, a good warrior.” she said, her eyes straying to the ground.
Dante nodded sympathetically and rose. So did Sarai, swaying a little.
“I’m sorry. Try and get some rest, Sarai. You’ll probably feel better in the morning, depending on the drink.”
She smiled and nodded, and he hugged her. She felt heat rush up her face, and heard her heart beat faster as she returned the squeeze.
He let go and walked away, saying over his shoulder, “I’m glad you’re here, Sarai. You’re the best of my lieutenants, and a good friend.”
The door clicked shut behind him.
Sarai had to fight very hard to stop herself from crying.