Maddest of Minds

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Chapter Three - A Strange Encounter.

Chapter – A Strange Encounter.

It was midmorning the next day when Blake entered her study and closed the door behind him. Freyja knew right then that this would end in an argument.

The dark-haired man didn’t meet her eyes, simply strolled to the minibar, and poured himself a drink. “Need one?” he offered, lifting his glass in question.

Freyja glanced out the window at the bright sun. “It’s the middle of the day,” she pointed out.

Blake shrugged. “Yeah,”

Yeah.

No disagreement, no sassy retort, no anger. Just one simple word.

Yeah.

Interesting.

“Red wine,” Freyja said, not commenting on his odd behaviour.

He made her drink and sat across from her, pushing the glass across the table. Freyja didn’t pick it up, simply stared at him in question. They were not people who sat with each other and talked about – anything, really. They were simply partners, sometimes employer and employee, but nothing more than that. She got along better with his sister.

Blake eyed the screen on her wall. A news reporter went on and on about peace and prosperity.

“Watching something interesting?”

Small talk. Freyja swallowed a disdain laugh and maintained a straight face.

“Not particularly,” Freyja drawled idly.

Blake locked eyes with her over the rim of his glass, expression unreadable. “When I was young and filthy on those streets, I used to think of running away from this country,”

Freyja blinked. She had not expected that. Was this what they were doing, then? Sharing their life stories? He was about to be disappointed since she wouldn’t participate.

“I’m sure you weren’t the only one,” she mused, leaning back with arms crossed.

The Armada Castle was a strange place. It was under complete military control with no government in sight, had strict rules and regulations, and yet got away with creating the illusion of being a country of peace. To the other three parts of the world, the Castle was a place of brilliance and beauty – which was the furthest thing from the truth.

The post-WWV world was not an easy place to live in – but that made Freyja wonder how any world could be easy to live in. Had it been easier for humanity before the fifth world war? Had it been easier before the fourth, third, second, or the first? She doubted it. If it had been easy or peaceful, those wars wouldn’t have happened, and they wouldn’t be here right now.

Armada Castle, or as the residents liked to call it, The Castle, was no magical place. The post-WWV world was a mess, just a hidden one. After the Global Treaty of Peace, when the world had been divided into four major parts – Armada Castle, Four Nations, State of Rebirth, the Modern Republic – it had been promptly decided that the Castle would be under military control.

As to why that was, since the Nations were run by the matriarch, and the other two parts had perfectly functionable government systems, Freyja didn’t know. People claimed there were several reasons for it. The military took over when the governments failed to do the job, but the Castle never had one to begin with. Perhaps it had been out of mere consideration, or maybe it was their idea of being diverse. Who really knew? She certainly didn’t and wasn’t curious enough to dig around.

“But it was more than that,” Blake continued, eyes fixed on her walls. “People think about it, but they never do it. I wanted to be different.”

Freyja made a sound of agreement. “Mostly because they’re too lazy to come up with a plan and actually attempt it. What about you, Blake? Did you make a plan and make a run for it?”

If you did, why are you here? What went wrong?

Can we really leave this hellhole behind and simply leave?

Perhaps more importantly, why are you here and telling me all this?

Blake put a toothpick in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. Freyja wanted to tell him to stop being disgusting but kept silent.

“There was this caravan of people. They called themselves The Gypsies. They were shady as hell, but who isn’t on the streets? They agreed to sneak us out of the country but at a price.”

“Your soul?” Freyja guessed drily.

A sharp grin took over his face. “Don’t have one of those.”

Freyja rolled her eyes.

“They wanted Mila,” he told her, sobering. “They wanted me to give Mila over in return for safe passage out of the country.”

Freyja wasn’t surprised. Even in a country where the military was shoulder-deep in everyone’s business, sex trafficking and all kinds of illegal businesses happened. It was inevitable, a part of life that she doubted would ever disappear.

Blake was chewing on the toothpick again. “That was the first day I killed a man,”

Freyja stilled in surprise, just a little. He had taken her by surprise yet again. What was with this man and his random confessions? She was extremely wary of him just for that.

When he kept silent, trying to gauge her expression, she realised he wanted her to say something. What did he expect from someone like her? She was too emotionally stunted to offer anything. If it was praise, he’d be wrong. If it was comfort, he’d be delusional.

But the words ripped out of her throat out of nowhere.

“The first man I killed was my brother.”

Blake’s eyes widened just a fraction and that was the only hint of surprise she saw. Bewildered by her own confession, she played it off by sipping her wine.

“No shit?” Blake said with a little grin.

Freyja merely nodded.

“Huh,” his grin widened, eyes taking her in. “Nice.”

Freyja ignored him. “You protected your sister. Good for both of you. What’s the point of this little anecdote?”

His smile slipped away. “I’m just saying that she’s my sister and I nearly gave her away once. It doesn’t matter if I was a kid and didn’t know any better. It nearly happened and I’m never letting it happen again, and that includes keeping away things that upset her.”

“If this is about Evangeline–”

“It sure is,” he interrupted. “I know she’s just a kid, and I’ve already looked into it. She’s clean, and yeah, a little weird but I’ve seen worse. She deserves to be educated, so I guess I can see why you sought Mila out.”

Freyja lifted a shoulder, a little confused. “Problem solved.”

Blake nodded, scratching his cheek as he looked at her. “Yeah,” he muttered. “I’m just saying she’s my sister and I’m always looking out for her. It wasn’t personal.”

Freyja thought there was some hidden meaning underneath his words, something he wanted her to know but hesitated to say, but she didn’t know what the hell it was, so she hid her sarcastic sigh and fought to be patient.

“That’s what you should be doing,” she finally retorted. “But keep in mind that she’s an adult who is perfectly capable of making her own decisions.”

Blake spread his hands in a gesture of I already know. “Yeah,” he said again.

Freyja blinked. “If you’re done here, get out. I have things to do.”

Before he could reply or leave, something on the television caught their attention.

“Lieutenant Franklin to award three new army officials for their efforts to make life easier for us…” The automated voice said. “Franklin has led us to believe that the great efforts will start to significantly improve the living standards soon…. Economic growth has been raised by…”

Blake let out an annoyed laugh. “The man’s a mess.”

Freyja’s eyed narrowed on the screen that displayed their military leader. Lieu Mark Franklin was represented as a fair leader who had done great things for the Castle, but he was no such thing. He was just as corrupted as every politician was, even more so. But democracy wasn’t a thing here, so he had been put up on the position and no civilian had been consulted. Only the opinion of the higher-ups mattered. It was all very absurd. And boring.

Freyja hid a yawn by glaring at the man on the screen.

When she had been a part of the Abolition, which was one of the organisations who took orphans in for training, she had met people who came from the Nations and some others who were originally from the Modern Republic. They had been surprised to see how oppressed the Castle actually was; how tightly regulated and rigidly controlled. It had given her the idea that the rest of the world believed they in the Castle were just fine, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the past, the military had been used for fighting wars and keeping countries safe. In a way, the army was still kept for that purpose, but the whole point of the Treaty was to avoid war and maintain peace. Freyja wondered how long that would really last. But when they had power, well… Freyja didn’t think it wise. They were callous bastards who were self-serving and didn’t let anything get by without strictly scrutinizing it. It got exhausting too quickly. They demanded too much of innocents and were too self-righteous and stodgy to let anyone live in actual peace.

Instead of orphanages, they had made organisations like Abolition and Expunge who took orphans in and instead of taking care of them, forced them to train and become soldiers, and eventually once they came of age, – in the Castle, one became an adult by the age of 15 – they had to earn their own keep. Freyja would still be stuck in there, miserable and serving the army that had made their lives hell, if it hadn’t been for what had happened. For that, at the least, she was glad. And if it would take being a criminal to stay clear of any such things, well, that would be fairly easy.

“He seems so unremarkable,” she mused. “Why do people like him?”

Blake fiddled with his earring, lost in thought. “They’re fools if they do.”

Mark Franklin, the “Legendary Leader”- which immediately made her dislike him, because who in their right mind let themselves be called legendary? – who was currently in control of their country was, in her humble opinion, a complete and utter bastard. He was a large and stout man, with a strong chin and sharp brown eyes. His head was already balding, the remaining blond hair streaked with silver. Really, there was absolutely nothing remarkable about the man. His expression always made her wonder if there was anything at all in that brain of his, and whenever he spoke he spoke only nonsense. Things that were slowly leading them to destruction. The old-fashioned moron would lead them to their demise.

Instead of addressing major concerns like poverty, unemployment, economic depression, or social injustice, or commenting on any criticism that came his way and answering anyone who doubted his methods, he simply spoke of how much of a failure the current generation was.

“When we were adolescents we had already fought in wars,” Franklin would say.

“I am sad to say employment rates have dropped drastically ever since our youngsters have come of age. I compel all parents to encourage their children to join our ranks. What greater honour is there, after all?” He would spit with the most annoying expression.

“This generation has no idea how bad things used to be. They should be grateful to me and my elite squad of soldiers who work all day and night to give every citizen of the Castle a better life.” He would claim most smugly.

If by a better life he meant strengthening regulation, putting taxes on simple things like sugar and milk, shoving people with mental illnesses into asylums, forcing children into slave labour, and causing inflation, Freyja thought he was doing a splendid job.

The report continued. “Mark Franklin claims that his efforts are directed towards the wellbeing of the youngsters… Huge amounts of money are being allocated to education systems and training… Franklin believes that the young people are the future and therefore…”

Blake snorted into his drink. “Future my ass. He hates our guts.”

“I doubt he realises that he’d already be dead if it were up to us,” Freyja remarked, staring at him thoughtfully.

Blake grinned back, expression a little more open than it usually was. “Stabbed in his sleep or hung naked on the castle walls. Pick one.”

“I’d say the former, but you’d accuse me of being a coward, and the latter isn’t my style. Neither.”

“Smart girl.” Blake’s tone was becoming more amused by the second.

Irritated by his presence all of a sudden for no reason, she waved a hand to the door. “Get out. I have work to do.”

Shrugging, he stood and strode to the door. He paused before opening the door. “How are things with Maxim?”

Her eyes snapped up to meet his. “Everything’s as it should be.” Freyja said, voice colder. This was one topic she was never discussing.

Raising his hands in a gesture of peace, he walked out of the room, leaving her alone with her reeling mind and thoughts that threatened to eat her alive.

It was only an hour later that she realised what he had been trying to do.

It wasn’t personal.

She’s my sister and I’m always looking out for her.

Blake Lance, king of boredom, chewer of toothpicks, scowler for no reasons, had been apologising to her. And Freyja had no idea what to think of the bewildering realisation.

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